Monday, September 22, 2008

Try Cedar Grove Cheese


I usually don't go in for picking a brand name something or other and insist that it's wonderful. Branding of anything has really gone to far with all the fetishing of labels, Nike etc.

I like sports despite the constant brand reenforcement, and I really think that one of the main reasons that NASCAR is pushed as a sport when it is not really a sport is because of the sheer amount of advertising that goes on. Really. And I think that soccer is not pushed as a sport in America (and to some extent this applies to hockey, too) is because the format of the game is not conducive to excessive advertising. The most they can manage for soccer is like a little Snickers bar logo around the time clock. With hockey, they kind of conceded to the complaints of advertisers and if you listen to the games on the radio, you'll hear the commentators say several times that they are on a television time out.

Speaking of which I was watching the Wimbledon men's final on a DVD the other day (vamos Rafa) and it was just presented in the British broadcast version with almost static camera, very little commentary and no stupid computer graphics and sound effects. I liked it. When you watch old football games, they don't have the whole screen crowded up. I remember watching some of the Wimbledon and French open coverage at my sisters' and there were so many graphics and crawls that when the commentators were oohing and ahhing over Federer's footwork, you couldn't even see his feet. This trend has kind of maxed out and probably should be dialed back a little. The whole "crawl" thing constantly came in right about 9/11, and I think, psychologically, it may be an attempt to push people into a permanent state of crisis mentality, but that's just me.

Anyway, I do recommend that anyone who cares for cheese give Cedar Grove Cheese a try. They have grass fed cows with no bovine growth hormone. Actually, so many farmers and food companies have phased out the use of rBGH that Monsanto even sold off it's brand to a smaller company. That's what they get for abusing the endocrine systems of the American people! Cedar Grove also has a really nice little web site at, of course, where they tell all about how wonderful their environmental practices are. I think that if Cedar Grove's six year aged grass fed cheddar (it's called "Prairie Pride", or something like that) required some serious environmental damage to produce, it would still be worth it.

The extra aged cheddar is a special cheese experience. I can never find cheese that is sharp enough. All the of the commercial American cheeses that are "Extra Sharp" are getting to the point where I can taste them. Some Canadian cheese are okay. But the Cedar Grove cheese six year aged cheddar is the most wonderful cheese I've ever had. It's fill of these little brine spots and has a taste that is tart, bitter, sweet, and musky before the true cheddar taste even hits. Their other cheeses are very nice, too. I like a milder, softer mozzarella, but it's still fine, and the other hard cheeses are just amazing.

I buy this at the farm store at the dairy where I get my milk. I guess you can do a direct order, too, but if you get the chance to try especially the aged cheddar, it's a must.

PS. I can hardly imaginve being in a situation where you'd have access to aged cheddar and no toothbrush, but there are substances in aged cheese which kill tooth decay germs. So, if you are done with a meal and can't brush, snack on a piece of real aged cheese, and you'll give your teeth a little protection.

PPS I keep seeing where there is more and more information coming out about the digital TV conversion. I keep hoping that some of the channels that I pick up now will adopt stronger signals, but in infact, as we get closer to the time, I am getting poorer reception on fewer channels that I did when I originally set up that converter. PArt of that is due to the fact that that broadcast equipment of the local PBS station is kind of broken right now, and won't be fixed for a few weeks until they get an out of state team to come in, but I hate PBS anyway. I will kind of miss seeing House in Febrary since we can't get digital Fox.

I'm getting more than a little fed up with stuff like that. Every time the powers that be "improve" something, it's like not being able to see Federer's feet. All this digital, HD stuff, and all of the new features on everyone's web sites? Can't use 'em, can't see 'em, they take too long to load, and I just move on to a different site that doesn't take too long to load. One of he news sites that I used to visit quite often because it was just text headlines go the genius idea of adding video to their page, and now I just don't visit that site anymore. That's fine, because I didn't really agree with their politics, and they were just starting to annoy me, but I dhave a little bit of news gap.

I hate to be a whiner about this stuff, but there you go. I used to think it was so important to check tha tnews so many times a day. Now that I can't get it to load on my computer, it just all goes on without me. Kind of like the stupid PBS station. They really just don't care until it turns out they want money from you, and I say, nope, I just spent my spare cash this week on some cheese that has spent the better part of decade in a cave in Wisconsin!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spending Some Time Thinking About David Foster Wallace

I've referenced David Foster Wallace before, I'm sure, when I talked about going to the fair earlier this year. Back, back, back, through the sands of time when I had pretensions of becoming a writer or an English professor I actually presented a scholarly paper on Infinite Jest at a conference and all that kind of thing. Just about the only constant between that period of my life and now is I still like Wallace's writing. Reading an article in the Buffalo News reminded me that I had heard a radio broadcast of a talk/reading Wallace gave at UB some years ago. I remember it was kind of funny and also very cool because he was basically pulling out pieces of writing that were in very rough form and just letting the audience in on what he'd just been writing possibly fifteen minutes before the talk was scheduled to begin. He also seemed to be in the midst of a constant, midlevel anxiety attack, but that didn't make the reading any less remarkable. This is what I wrote a few days ago:

I’m deeply upset all this week. I know it’s not all about me or anything, but I just want to riff about David Foster Wallace who is one of my all time favorite writers. One of the ongoing themes of his writing was always about depression and mental illness, and one of the things that I read in the Buffalo News about hearing that he was gone was that his eventual suicide was a shock but not a surprise. Instead of just writing about what this means to me, I’m going to just say that, even if the writing is difficult, anyone who wants a one of a kind reading experience should pick up any magazine article, essay, short story or novel by this man and give it a try.

There are two main reasons why people have been so deeply affected by the loss of David Foster Wallace. I would say that the main quality of the writing is a kind of deeply personal connection. In his novels, there is a tendency for him to get caught up in his own word games and plot devices. There are long sections in Infinite Jest which are just experiments in voice, where plot information is advanced through the point of view and the language of a very minor character who then never reappears in the narrative. These little pieces of editorial indulgence are some of the features of the writing which have drawn criticism.

If the reader will turn to the nonfiction essays, however, where Wallace is writing ostensibly in his own voice, there is a deeply personal connection which develops. Part of the reason for this is the format and the premise of the writing. A good deal of these essays and articles were the result of a mundane assignment: go to the fair, go on a cruise, etc. which Wallace then approached with an interesting and slightly disturbing mix of hypervigilance and a willingness to minutely document the variety of thoughts which sailed through his unusual bean while he was in the midst of these events. The fact that he had the ability as a writer to cobble together this giant ball of experiences and maintain an identifiable point of view is a testament to his creativity more than either of his long and difficult novels could ever be.

There are tons of blurbs on web sites all over the world that say how brilliant his writing is. The citation which I find most interesting, however, are the negative criticisms of the writing. Few people had bad things to say about Davis Foster Wallace’s writing, but his work has on occasion been accused of being ugly and just technically monstrous. I think this is absolutely valid. This is the second, and maybe more important thing, which is notable about the work of David Foster Wallace. Plenty of writers have developed an impeccable use of personal voice, but very few have created a style of writing that is instantly recognizable.

Wallace is best known for his pioneering use of footnotes, end notes and massive digressions which are tacked at odd angles all throughout his work. Think of the ways we are traditionally taught to write. I worked for years to learn how to carefully fold one thought into the next, outlining and trimming and rewriting. Wallace’s writing is grammatically correct, but each sentence is so elaborately constructed, so linguistically packed with bizarre references and games (some of which only become clear if you take the analysis of specific word choice down to the Latin root and the subsequent historic usage of a word), that it hardly matters that there are technically no rules actually being broken. The overall structure of the writing is , conversely, entirely transparent. The paragraphs appear under headings. Instead of a carefully planned segue, the writing just stops, a new theme is introduced under a title which often takes less time to explain than the actual length of the title.

The writing is like a giant Pull Me Push You machine constructed out of spare parts from a Dadaist found objects art installation, designed to go in about five directions at once while still having been cleverly constructed so that integrated cutaway sections allow any observer to witness the internal meshing and clashing of disparate parts. And then there are those digressions and foot notes and end notes which are tacked onto the work like so many beer cans dragging behind a car on its way to a firehall wedding reception. Reading Infinite Jest requires something of a wrestling match with the actual book. By the end, the spine of the book has gone wobbly, there is so much flipped between the main texts and notes and references. While the “rest of us”, as writers believed that if there was not an orderly way to integrate thoughts and events and observations into the body of the work, those things just didn’t belong, no matter how good the writing was and how central the thought was to understanding what was actually happening, DFW found a way to make his writing into an actual physical thing that not only communicated but was shaped more like the actual thoughts that it conveyed. How fantastically wonderful that throughout his career as a writer, he also consistently taught writing to undergraduates.

The writing is fun, too. It’s not depressing. Even the parts in various books which discuss suicide, depression, mental illness, substance abuse, and various crushing phobias, all of which obviously he wrote from a position of experience, have a spark of humor to them that is not just irony but true humor in the Shakespearian comedic sense. It’s not about the irony of the human condition, more like the humanity of the ironic condition, which is an entirely different thing.

Right now, though, I’m thinking of the end of Infinite Jest which kind of collapses and does not end into a kind of scary nightmare where everyone is kind of ruined and everything that people hoped would never happen to them basically does happen. But whole thing still has that kind of wonderful mental palate cleansing effect that happens when you come in contact with a real piece of art.

I hope that the relatively small body of work he left behind doesn’t cause his really valuable contributions to both literary and popular writing in America to fall by the wayside as a mere premillenial oddity. Too many artists and writers and musicians who end their own lives become the objects of a kind of morbid hipster/poser cache, and if that were to be the fate of David Foster Wallace, it would be a shame that the end of his life would unfairly color the way people are able to read his work from now on.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Food From the Late Summer Garden


It is a cool and misty morning, and we are trapped between a slow front that is the end of Gustav and the fast moving rainstorm of Hannah. Hannah is a palindromic name which is cool. And it am pretty cheery, as I’m getting some days off this weekend. And I’m using this time to get what I can out of the garden!

This time of year, that means tomatoes!

Let me explain this photo: There are various tomato activities which can take place at this time of year. The large white bowl is filled with ends from sauce tomatoes which are oblong and not actually very good to eat. Sauce tomatoes are usually hollow and dry and don’t have a lot of seeds. They are good for sauce because the flavor is really concentrated, and also there is less juice so there is less boiling down to get thick sauce. The big saucepan is full of quartered sauce tomatoes which have to cook about ten minutes before they are soft enough to strain for sauce. In this case, I’ll take all the cooked tomatoes and dump them into a different bowl and clean the stockpot. Then, I dip cooked tomatoes out of the bowl and into a sieve and let the juice and pulp go back into the stockpot. I like to stir the cooked whole tomatoes around in the sieve with a metal spoon to really squeeze the liquid out of it. I guess those saucers and ricers are really great for this, but I’m here to say a sieve is fine.

In the teacups are seeds which are being saved. I’ve written about this before. Things to remember: no hybrids, soak in water a few days to loosen the pulp, good seeds sink, bad seeds float. Seeds still need to be tested sometime over the winter to prove they’ll sprout. This year, I put a good amount of space between my tomatoes rows to avoid any chance of cross pollination.

In the little china serving bowl are two kinds of salad or slicing tomatoes I grew this year. The pinky pink ones are called “Momotaro” and this was the first year the seeds were available from Japan. The red ones with the yellow ring around the top are “Cosmonaut Volkov” a Ukrainian heirloom which I grew because I loved the description on the seed catalog and I’m Ukrainian on my mother’s side (with a little Georgian, and I’m Irish on my dad’s side, so people just need to watch out!) Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes are really red underneath and yellow around the stem. They are really fleshy and have few seeds and a lot of juice. Just a surprizing fruit.

I didn’t put these in the sauce because we’re having lunch at my grandmother’s house tomorrow, and one of my cousins is going to stop by. So, I’m going to make a very special tomatoes vinaigrette which it will I share here:

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Stir together:

1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/3 c. cider vinegar
1/3 c. veg. oil
1/3 c. olive oil
a few Tblspn. puree fresh herbs (or just use parsley)

I like to go for a walk and pick a nice handful of different varieties of basils, oreganos, and parsley, even a lovage leaf or two would be okay. I throw them in the little mini chopper and then just add as much as I feel like having to the vinaigrette.
Cut tomatoes into bite sized pieces and let them sit in the sauce for a while before serving. You can throw more tomatoes in after they get eaten, and reuse the vinaigrette for a day or two.

I’m going to quit writing now, because I have things to do other than mess around with the computer. Though computer messing is quite fun. I need to pick some corn from the three sisters garden. Very exciting. I got an article from one of the local newspapers were a gentleman planted a three sisters plot at the Wilder Museum in Irvine, PA. Tho’ he used manure instead of fish. He had manure. I have fish. That’s why you pick what you pick!

Speaking of which. Don’t microwave corn. It’s a travesty.

Cook corn like Betty Crocker says:

Husk out corn. Put in a pot and cover with water till it floats. Add a few tablespoons of sugar and a little lemon juice. My aunt Teena just squeezes a whole half a lemon right in. I use bottled juice. Bring to a boil and boil two minutes. Turn it off and sit ten more minutes. Eat it. It’s good!

Speaking of which, and this is the last speaking of which: Freezing corn is almost exactly like freezing beans. Blanch the corn for a couple minutes while still on the cob. Run under cold water to stop cooking. Take a serrated knife and slice off the kernels. Toss them in your handy dandy sieve. (People should not have to go through life without a wire sieve, I swear, I use mine twenty times a day.) When the corn is drained, pack into zipper freezer bags and freeze. You can’t can corn without a pressure cooker. It will just rot in the jars and get you really sick. Corn relish is different, though, and you can just use a recipe and a boiling water canner for that.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

August Was Busy. September Will Be Worse!


Gosh, it's been a while! I had to get a full time job, so I've been realloting my time to other things. I actually worked in a factory for about three weeks before I found a cushier job where they actually cared whether or not I had actually graduated from college let alone high school. One good thing about the factory was I was able to earn some money while looking for a better job, and I’ve given up cussing. I’ve seen where these things can lead, and I’m done.

A quick note about “American manufacturing”. The town where I live is a really typical rust belt town with a lot of little machine shops and steel mills which are only still there through a combination of miracles and ruthless management. (And, judging by the number of government vehicles that park regularly outside one of the forges, the defense industry, of course.) None of these factories maintain more than a token human resources department and instead, bring in waves of people through a bunch of different temp agencies.

The job that I was doing involved assembling presewn pieces that were brought in from China. Literally, it was the job that wasn’t worth having the Chinese do and absolutely depended on having a high turnover among the workers. There was no way to do that job without getting severe repetitive motion stress on your arms and hands, and if anyone was able to actually work as long as you had to work to get on the real factory payroll, there would be so many workers’ comp claims that the business would go under. The majority of the permanent people were men, the majority of the temps women. Men who came in as temps at the same time as the women who came in the same week I did were already getting bumped up into shipping while the women were being threatened with lay off because they weren’t meeting the number of pieces completed an hour that management wanted. Meanwhile, we were all getting paid what people in Erie get paid for working fast food because the temp agency gets contracted to provide a certain number of workers and then pays a smaller salary than what people would have earned had they been employed directly by the factory. Additionally, the temp agency is able to further skim the workers’ pay by offering “health care” for $18.00 a week which, of course, if you were too sick to work and actually needed, you’d no longer be purchasing. I’d like to see some of the political candidates this year address stuff like this!

But that’s not why I’m here! I’m here to tell you that food prices are going ot spike in September. Things seemed to have stabilized over the summer, but that’s not going to be the case anymore, and now is the time to think about stocking up, even if you’ve never done it before. I took my first full pay from the factory and went to the dry goods store. I didn’t buy the finest little hat in the store, but I did get a lot of dry cereal and sugar which I spent the day vacuum sealing into quart jars. Oh, people mock now, but when the fit hits the shan, they’ll be asking me for my jars of oatmeal. (And I’ll say, sure, glad to keep you from starving.)

I really couldn’t read Cormac McCarthy’s latest book “The Road”, even though I usually just pounce on all of the stuff he comes out with. I thought it was too horrible that the man was just wandering around with his starving kid and everything was dead and ruined, and I would rather just sit in my basement and chew on old cornmeal if things are going to go that way. I’m not sure that I’ll even go and see the movie of that book, despite the fact that it has Viggo Mortensen and was filmed on Beach 10 up at Presqueisle. They also filmed in Conneaut Lake Amusement Park which is partially burned down, and I happened to be at the movies down that way one night over the spring and I saw the filming truck coming in which was cool. I love movies, and the only bad thing about living in the country is the seventy mile round trip to go and see a movie.

But I’m not here to tell you this! I’m here to tell you that you need no special equipment whatsoever to freeze beans!
And if you’ve seen the prices for frozen beans lately, it may be time to give bean freezing a try. Everything is late this year, and there’s a good chance that you can still get beans either out of your garden or out of the garden of someone who is tired of them and just wants them gone before you even need to think about buying them.

Here’s how you do it:

You need plenty of cold water, a stove or heat source, a colander or sieve, a pot, and zipper bags. You can also use bags with twist ties. When I was little, we always used a vegetable freezing kit that you could get with bags and little white boxes so your frozen veggies looked kind of like the boxed ones that came commercially and stacked up in the freezer better. I’m not sure they even make those anymore. Then, of course, you need beans. Green, yellow, filet, bush, pole, flat, doesn’t matter. Also, the amount doesn’t matter, either. That’s what’s great about beans! Some beans freeze better than others, but they’re all okay as long as they’re pretty fresh.

Prepare the beans: Wash them, of course. Then, snap the stems. I usually snap the tails, too, and them break them into about one inch pieces. French beans don’t freeze too well, but they’re still nice in the middle of winter, so just snap the stem and leave the beans whole on those. You can also go to the kitchen store or even an upscale grocery store and get a bean “frencher” which is a neat little gadget you can run beans through end to end and get long strips like French cut beans. That’s a good option and easier on the hands than snapping pounds and pounds of beans, but we are talking no special equipment here, so you don’t need one.

Get a nice big pot of boiling water going. Then, you want to blanch the beans. This just means boil them for a couple minutes until they turn bright, bright green but are still hard and uncooked on the inside. Make sure the water is really hot before you dip in the beans. Blanching breaks up the enzymes in the beans that makes them ripen, so you are kind of freezing your beans in time before you freeze them. You can’t skip this step!

Take your bright greeny beans (or they could be yellowy) and dip them out of the water with the colander. If you’re not doing multiple pots of beans, I suppose you could just dump the water, but I usually have to use the same boiling water three or four times before I am done with my beans. You don’t have to boil new water every time. Run cold water over them until they get cold. This keeps them from actually cooking and holds them at the blanched stage.

Shake off excess water. Stuff whatever sized portion you think you would like to cook when it is time to cook into the plastic bag. Squeeze out excess air. Seal. Throw in the freezer.

Congratulations, you’re done. You just gave the Man a thumb in the eye. Especially if your beans were free.

Canning beans is much, much different. Unless you are going to make a pickled or a dilled bean, you can’t use regular canning methods to put beans in jars because they are not acidic enough, and you need to can them under pressure. A pressure canner is not cheap, and I don’t have one yet, but my aunt cans everything from beans to venison stew. But she is also the one that I have to borrow a bean Frencher from, as well