The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

I recently posted a pic of a pirogi store next to a Mexican restaurant in Clifton, NJ. That was on the north side of town. Way down at the other end of “the big C” (on the map, Clifton is shaped like a “C”), down along Route 21 and the Passaic River across from Rutherford, is a venerable eatery known as Rutts Hut. This place is so historic that it earns its own Wikipedia page.

Here’s a shot of the take-out section of Rutts at night (there is also a bar and a sit-down restaurant on the other end). It’s late, but people are still lining up for fries and “rippers” (hot dogs deep fried in oil). Rutts is definitely a part of my childhood, and is definitely a local institution!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 15, 2018
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

Did you ever make a mistake only to find out that the outcome of your mistake was actually quite valuable? That recently happened to me. I had bought a big supply of apples in late autumn at a big food market, where the apples were very fresh and quite cheap (50 cents a pound). And there were a wide variety available. Anyway, I couldn’t store all of the apples in my refrigerator, so I put a bag of them in my car trunk, given that it was late October and the falling temperatures outside would be just as good as any indoor refrigerator.

Well, turns out that the weather here got surprisingly cold right after Christmas, and stayed well below freezing for two weeks. Just a few days ago, I finally thought of those apples, and went to my trunk to bring them inside. It turned out that the freezing temps had frozen them solid, and when they melted, they were all mushy and shriveled and brownish. It looked like they would have to be thrown out.

But just for the heck of it, I put one in the microwave for a minute or two, just to see what would happen. I took out the now-hot shriveled apple and got a knife and spoon to cut the skin and taste the almost-liquified flesh. And turns out that it tasted fantastic!! A bit like a baked apple, but not exactly. The inside got very juicy and sweet, and was quite delightful. The only problem was that with all the juice, eating the apple could be messy; you need a plate or bowl if you try this. Also, you need to work to avoid the pits and hard spots in the core, as they easily get mixed in with the soft, warm flesh.

Still, I think that a frozen and re-heated apple makes a very nice and tasty snack, and I will try this little ‘frozen apple mistake’ recipe again in the future!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, June 19, 2017
Food / Drink ...

One of my reasons for starting this blog (way, way back in 2002) was to share my impressions of the various craft beers that I had come across and have generally enjoyed. Over the years, however, I’ve found a bunch of other things to talk about, so I’ve only posted a handful of beer reviews. My last one was in September, 2014, with some thought on Duclaw’s “Sweet Baby Jesus”, an interesting porter style flavored with chocolate and peanut butter.

As to the flavor and overall “experience” from drinking Sweet Baby, I had reported my generally positive impressions about this concoction (it is indeed much more sweet than your usual brew, yet the hops keep it from becoming cloying). This is a nice drink to have once, but you might not want a second one right away. Anyway, it’s been almost two years now, but I finally have another interesting beer experience to report. This one is quite the opposite of Baby Jesus, though — instead of sweetness playing against the bitterness imposed by hops, i.e. the classic beer formula, I got rushed with with a flood of sour and astringent flavors. The beer in question is quite a bit different from your usual pour.

The beer in question is called “Cranberry Gose”, put out recently by Long Trail, an honorable craft brewer from Vermont. I came across a six-pack of Gose not long ago at a local high-end liquor store (shout out to Scott at Rutherford Wine Shoppe, who usually keeps a nice craft brew selection). To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the “gose” style; I actually thought this would be just another Long Trail flavored ale. And let me admit, I misread the label; I thought that the name was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:25 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Food / Drink ...

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a NY Times article about how to cook pasta like risotto rice. Instead of drowning the pasta in a quart of boiling water, the idea is to let the pasta continually simmer with just a small amount of water at the bottom of the pot, while frequently adding new liquid to replace what the pasta absorbs and what steams away.

This is also known as the absorption method of cooking pasta. The advantage of “absorption” is you can add and cook other stuff along with the pasta, such that when you’re done after 15 minutes or so, the whole thing reduces to a sauce (at least if you do it right). In other words, you don’t simply have plain cooked pasta, you have pasta and sauce right there in the pot, ready for the plate! The added stuff can include meat or broth, but being a veg-head, I add veggies and spices and a touch of olive oil.

So here is what it looks like in my kitchen. I’m cooking fusili with some fresh chopped tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper, shaved carrot, and a bit of basil, oregano and olive oil. The veggies boil down and mix with the starch from the pasta, making a rich sauce that nicely coats the pasta.

On my plate, then, is the coated fusilli with a dollop of veggie-marinara sauce at the center, along with some sauteed zucchini and mushrooms (top left) and kale, red cabbage, garlic and cranberry beans (bottom left). This all went down very nicely with a glass of red zinfandel. I’m looking forward to some interesting one-pot sauce experiments in the future, such as butternut squash (or even pie pumpkin) with pasta. Bon appetite!

PS, this way of preparing pasta works best with “chunky” pastas like penne, rigatoni, fusilli, shells, bow ties, etc. Long thin pasta like fettuccine and linguini (and good old spaghetti) tend to bind together into hard, thick strands when cooked this way.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Food / Drink ...

I made my bi-monthly trip to the Paterson Food Market over the weekend, despite the chills of mid-December. Being something of a vegetarian foodie, I’m always on the look-out for an unfamilar variety of produce to try (last time it was orange and purple cauliflower; this time, they only had regular white cauliflower, but it was selling at 2 heads for $1.00 — try to find a price like that in your suburban supermarket!). It turns out that they did have something new in store for me — i.e., left-over pumpkins from Halloween at 10 cents per pound.

Well that was interesting enough, but I’ve read on numerous occasions that the pumpkins that you carve into a jack-o-lantern in late October are not very edible (although not poisonous). I took a closer look at the pumpkin bin, and it turned out that these pumpkins were not the usual decorative variety that people place on their front steps and nasty kids smash on the sidewalk every autumn. They were smaller and rounder, and had stickers on them proclaiming them to be “pie pumpkins”. I was a bit dubious at first, but at 10 cents a pound, the round pumpkin seemed worth a shot. So I bought one, then checked out its bona fides on-line once I got home.

Yes, it turns out that there is such a thing as a pie pumpkin. As you might guess, it’s the kind of pumpkin that you can use to make pumpkin pie. It has a thicker meat inside its skin, so if you bake a pie pumpkin so as to soften its interior, you can peel off the skin and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:09 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Food / Drink ...

Not long ago I took a liking to cinnamon tea. I had purchased a bag of cinnamon sticks on eBay and when you take a handful and soak them in a cup of boiling hot water, they make a really spicy and comforting brew that goes down really easy. I don’t put any sugar in this tea, but it still tastes very sweet. I gather that the sweet sensation is some kind of trick that cinnamon oils play on your mouth, given that there isn’t supposed to be much real sugar in cinnamon sticks (which are dried tree bark).

Over the past 6 months I had gotten into the habit of drinking a small cup of cold-brewed black coffee right after dinner, sometimes with a few cookies (I drank the coffee cold, but would warm up the cookies a little in the stove or microwave — a nice little dessert). I am really sensitive to caffeine and coffee in the evening definitely keeps me up well into the small hours. But I was using decaf, and so I seemed to get to sleep OK after I finally hit the pillow (but as to sometimes waking up too early, that remained and still remains an issue with me).

Nevertheless, I had a doctors checkup coming, so I started taking my blood pressure to see if there were any issues with that. If things are ok, my pressure will dip down quite a bit after dinner, even after my stomach finishes digesting things at around 8:30 (surprisingly, blood pressure goes down for most people while digesting food; even though the heart is working to help the stomach do its thing, enough water is absorbed out of the blood and into the stomach and intestines during this time so as to lower overall blood pressure). My blood pressure crawls down throughout the evening, and by bedtime it often is only a few points higher  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Current Affairs ... Food / Drink ... Photo ...

Before I get to my culinary experience with shallots, let me acknowledge that the past week was an extremely important and tumultuous one for our nation. FBI Director James Comey recommended that charges NOT be filed against former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton because of her exclusive business use of external e-mail servers while serving as Secretary, despite the fact (according to the FBI) that classified information had been received and sent through those servers in a manner that would have easily allowed it to be “hacked” by foreign interests. And then came the very questionable shootings and killings of African-American men by while and Hispanic police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and St. Anthony, MN — followed by the equally shocking assignation of 5 white police officers in Dallas by an African-American gunman intent upon revenge. Various other violence was intentionally done upon police officers throughout the nation in response to these shootings.

I wish that I had some wise words to offer about all of this. Well, as to Ms. Clinton, that’s not all that hard. Comey cited the notion of “prosecutorial discretion” in abstaining from any further action by the FBI and US Dept. of Justice against Ms. Clinton, and I believe this was a legitimate decision. I am somewhat familiar with the workings of a local prosecutor’s office, and the idea that you can’t go after everyone whom you possess potential evidence of guilt against is very real. Justice in America is not completely blind, and never was. The enforcers of our laws only have so much money and so many people available. In the FBI’s case, they would have tied up a big chunk of their resources and US DOJ’s resources for many months and probably years in trying to convict Ms. Clinton for her mis-handling of sensitive national information.

However, even though the legal standard of “gross negligence” was clearly violated by the former Secretary (Comey used the term “extremely careless” to describe Ms. Clinton’s e-mail behavior, which is logically the same as gross negligence), there was no evidence  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Food / Drink ...

When I was a kid, I ate a typical suburban 1960’s breakfast — i.e., cereal and milk. What kind of cereal? Oh, whatever I saw advertised on TV. Maybe Frosted Flakes, maybe Crispy Critters, maybe Captain Crunch, maybe Cocoa Puffs. My mother was nice enough to stock the kitchen with a variety of popular cereals, so my brother and I had the luxury every morning of deciding whether it would be Kixx, Trix or Apple Jacks. As we got a bit older (say into the teen years), our tastes matured a bit — we would sometimes forgo the pre-sweetened stuff and go with Special K or Rice Chex or even Shredded Wheat (but actually, we still added our own sugar).

A lot of people gave up on breakfast as they got into college and then into the early adult years, but I never did. At some point, however, maybe in my mid 30’s or so, I gave up on milk and (soggy) processed grain in a bowl, and went over to yogurt, usually mixed with fruit or oatmeal. This wasn’t all that different from my earlier breakfast days (it still combined dairy product and grain), just a bit more cultured and fibered and whole-grained. That would get my day going for many years.

But in late 2000, start of a new century, I was trying to re-boot my career by going through a 4-month all-day computer programming crash course (Chubb Institute’s long-gone “Top Gun” program for mid-career professionals), and I decided that I needed to kick my breakfast up a notch. By then I was a committed vegetarian, so pancakes and bacon and sausage patties weren’t going to do it for me. I decided on a fairly unconventional breakfast item — cooked lentils. I have cooked for myself since I got out of college, and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:38 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Food / Drink ... Health / Nutrition ... Science ...

Here’s another “interesting article” post from me. Yea, yea, I know, people usually do this sort of thing thru Twitter, and do it with a lot fewer words. Seems much more efficient, right? Well maybe, but I try to squeeze all the “juice” that I can out of an interesting article and share it with the world. And that wouldn’t go so well on Twitter. So, here’s another article post for you, this time from the October, 2015 Scientific American (gonna be about science, right?).

This one is called “The Fat Gene”. Sounds like it’s about the question of genetics and obesity — many people claim that obesity is driven largely by genetics and not all that much by eating and exercising habits. Thus, the fact that they are overweight is not their fault. There is some solid evidence for the existence of such “fat genes”, although it remains that for most people, being overweight is driven more by eating and exercise patterns — i.e., too many calories go in, and not enough go out. Although heredity may make it harder for some people than others to maintain a proper weight, in most cases, genes are not destiny with regard to weight.

But the article in question is not about that. Instead, the authors are searching for clues about how modern humans evolved from the great apes and early hominids. Many aspects of our past are written within our genes, and scientists are  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Food / Drink ... Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

For the past few years I’ve been trying to grow flowers on a little plot next to the parking lot in my landlord’s back yard. The soil is pretty bad back there, full of red clay and rocks. Morning glories and moonflowers have taken pretty well to it, but most other plants (other than weeds) don’t do well, or never get going in the first place.

This past spring I tried to start a number of different flower seeds back there, but only the nasturtiums took to it (I also had some sunflowers come up, but they hardly reached 3 feet and then keeled over after pushing out a few small flowers). During July and August, a handful of petite yellow and orange nasturtium blooms would sometimes greet me on my return home from work. But this summer was quite dry, and by early September only the green leaves and stems remained. And as it started to get colder over the past few weeks, even they made their resolution with the coming of winter. But a few plants decided to play die-hard, and yesterday one managed to rage against the dying of the warmth by popping out one last bloom.

So, enjoy this last little act of defiance against the inevitable from my backyard plot. If all goes well and I’m still here in the spring, I definitely plan to buy a variety of nasturtium seeds in different colors and shapes (and maybe I’ll give them a boost by laying down a bag of manure). For now, one last look, and then on with another winter. Oh, PS — I see that nasturtiums are actually edible, all but the seeds. They are related to watercress, and the flavor is supposed to be a cross between mustard and slight sweetness for the flower, and the leaves are peppery. Perhaps I’ll give that a try — next year.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:30 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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