a black walnut, opened by a squirrel
a black walnut, opened by a squirrel

Have you cracked a black walnut?

Or, perhaps more precisely, have you tried to crack a black walnut?

I found this half of a walnut shell on my walk this morning. The squirrel who enjoyed the nutmeat at the heart chewed through against the grain, avoiding what little help the seam between the shell halves gives. His technique doesn’t translate well to human teeth: his grow back. Instead, we use saws, hammers, and snips to get inside. But, luckily for us, people sometimes do crack these walnuts and bake them into cakes or cookies. The effort is worth it.

What persistence one must have to continue until reaching hidden delights, or what hunger.


One of the marvels of modern society has been the ability of the packaged food industry to get our children to eat what are, essentially, leftovers.

Campbell’s soup in a can, for example. It’s already cooked. We just heat it up. How is that different from leftovers?

Swanson’s TV dinners: cooked, frozen, just thaw and eat. Leftovers.

Breaded and fried chicken cut into dinosaur shapes? Leftovers.

Chef Boyardee? Delicious! Last night’s pasta? Gross!

It’s a wonder of perception.

We Have No Choice

I read Underground Airlines yesterday. It’s fresh in my memory. This morning browsing through Edible Santa Fe I ran across an advertisement for work the Quivera Coalition is doing with the Southwest Grassfed Alliance. And a sense of why some arguments bother me congealed.

We have no choice. This is the only way we can [fill in the blank].

If you haven’t read Underground Airlines do so. It’s a quick read, a well done alternate history set in the present day whose initial conceit is that Lincoln was assassinated on his way from Springfield to Washington, D. C., which led to the passage of the Crittenden Compromise. At the time of the novel, slavery remains only in four states, though its presence, not unlike apartheid in South Africa, has tainted the economic relations of the United States with the rest of the world: The North is impoverished due to the high cost of its labor and the embargo, while the South maintains a veneer of prosperity because exploiting slave labor is cheap.

Handily enough the state conventions on secession published the causes of their course of action. First among them was that abolishing slavery would destroy the South’s way of life. What was meant was not a vague Heritage or Rightful Order of Things, but the economic underpinnings of the dominant industry. King Cotton was impossible without slave labor. As Mississippi forthrightly stated,

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

The South argued that without slavery the looms of Manchester would fall silent. They didn’t. Cotton was imported from Egypt instead. Which begs the question, who performed that labor?

Hand-in-hand with “this is way we’ve always done it” is “this is the only way we can do it.” Whatever it is.

I’m thinking at the moment of agriculture, but those twin arguments show up in disparate circumstances. You may have noticed some extremity in online rhetoric recently, often a holy war variety that will brook no disputation, only the flinging of insults which the other side wears as badges of honor. Yet even in those forums where an attempt is made at reasoned discussion, a few souls insist there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not unlike the proverbial Thanksgiving dinner of Hollywood legend. I lurk in a group of this nature which purports to discuss the hot button topics afflicting agriculture: to whit, conventional versus organic farming methods. Aside from all of the woo-slinging that results, someone usually brings up the Green Revolution and needing to feed the world. At which point they say, emphatically, we have to produce more! The only way to feed the burgeoning population, then, is to further intensify agricultural production by doing exactly the same thing we did yesterday.

The problem with this is that in many cases famine is as often a political and economic failure as one of environmental conditions: the Great Famine of Ireland between 1845 and 1849, the Great Soviet Famine of 1932-1933, and the Bengal Famine of 1943 come particularly to mind. That is, famine is not entirely a production problem but one of distribution and logistics, so why do we continue to focus on the production aspect of the problem, particularly when that aspect appears to be, in effect, eating the seed corn of future generations? There’s no other option, apparently.

It’s all quite beyond our control.

Grandmother’s Bread

By way of my sister’s recipe box, comes this memory.

Scald all together and set aside to cool:

  • 2 c. milk
  • 2/3 c. shortening*
  • 5 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp salt

Add 2 cups water to above mixture.

  • 1 cake yeast**
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 13-14 c. flour (approx, depending on flour)

Crumble yeast into water to soften. Sift flour into large bowl; shape a hole in the middle and gradually add milk mixture and yeast, beating constantly to keep mixture smooth. Mix until a medium stiff dough is formed. Knead on a floured board until smooth. Place in a greased bowl and brush with melted shortening.

Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down and let rise again, then shape into 3 or 4 loaves (depending on size of pans). Place in greased bread pans; let rise again until double in bulk on top of pan. Bake in hot oven (425) for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to moderately hot oven (375) and bake 25-30 minutes longer. Large loaves take a little longer. Remove from pans and brush crusts with butter. Put on a rack or cloth to cool.

* shortening, known in some circles as lard and in others as Crisco.

** fresh yeast = compressed yeast = active fresh yeast = cake yeast = baker’s compressed yeast = wet yeast Equivalents: 2-ounce cake = 3 X 0.6-ounce cakes Notes: This form of yeast usually comes in 0.6-ounce or 2-ounce foil-wrapped cakes. It works faster and longer than active dry yeast, but it’s very perishable and loses potency a few weeks after it’s packed. It’s popular among commercial bakers, who can keep ahead of the expiration dates, but home bakers usually prefer dry yeast. To use, soften the cake in a liquid that’s 70° – 80° F. Store fresh yeast in the refrigerator, well wrapped, or in the freezer, where it will keep for up to four months. If you freeze it, defrost it for a day in the refrigerator before using. Substitutes: active dry yeast (Substitute one package or 2 1/4 teaspoons for each .6-ounce cake of compressed yeast) OR instant yeast (Substitute one package or 2 1/4 teaspoons for each cake of compressed yeast) OR bread machine yeast (Substitute 2 1/4 teaspoons for each cake of compressed yeast) [I’m still deciphering this paragraph.]


Many cocktails call for grenadine, which, it seems, is much more than Red No. 40 and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s pomegranates! Who knew? (The FDA seems not to care.)

But more importantly, can we make it at home?

Once one finds Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe for grenadine, one can.

Morgenthaler’s Grenadine

  • 2 c. fresh pomegranate juice or POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate
  • 2 c. unbleached sugar
  • 2 oz. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp. orange blossom water

Heat juice slightly, just enough to allow other ingredients to dissolve easily. Stir in remaining ingredients, allow to cool, and bottle. Yields two cups.

But I’m missing a couple of ingredients.

Luckily, around the time I was looking for pomegranate molasses, I saw Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode on the pomegranate, and he covered the topic.

Pomegranate Molasses

  • 2 c. pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 TBsp. lemon juice

Dissolve sugar in pomegranate juice and lemon juice over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, simmer over medium-low heat until reduced by 3/4, or the consistency of a thick syrup. Remove from heat and cool. Yields four to six ounces.

I called a number of ethnic groceries in Dutchess County searching for orange blossom water, with no luck. Another recipe online used vanilla, so I substituted that. Thus we end up with


  • 2 c. pomegranate juice
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 oz. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Dissolve the sugar in the pomegranate juice over low heat. Add molasses and vanilla; stir to combine. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and bottle. Yields two cups.

Things to do with Vermouth

I have a rather large bottle of Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth in my refrigerator. One might ask why I have such a large bottle. That’s easily explained: it was the smallest vermouth sold at the store I visited the day I purchased vermouth. Why am I looking for small bottles of vermouth? Mainly because I use it slowly, and I do wish to avoid spoilage. The Cinzano has a much stronger flavor than the Noilly Prat vermouth I normally use, and so is being consumed even more slowly.

How else, other than a martini, would one use that extra liter of vermouth?

A friend from work recommended using it in potato soup. That’s a thought: cook with it. Does anyone have some recipe suggestions?

Buffalo Trace Bourbon Marinade

  • 1/4 c. Buffalo Trace Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Combine the ingredients, then let your meat soak in it for several hours before grilling, turning every now and again to ensure that the meat is covered. I just put the flank steak for tonight and the marinade in a Ziplock freezer bag. They’ll sit in the refrigerator for the next eight hours.

Grandmother’s Creamed Tomatoes

From my younger sister, Grandmother Cox’s recipe for Creamed Tomatoes

  • 1 pint whole tomatoes
  • pinch of baking soda
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 3 Tbsp butter

Empty tomatoes into saucepan and crush them. Add pinch of baking soda (prevents milk from curdling) and stir. Put over medium heat. While tomatoes are heating, whisk together in a bowl, flour and milk (or shake in a jar). Add milk mixture to warm tomatoes. Heat until starting to bubble. Stir in butter, salt and pepper. Serve over buttered toast.

These measurements are estimates. My Grandmother didn’t measure and neither do I. In her words when she taught me how to make these, “Sometimes you get them too thick and you have to add milk and sometimes they’re too thin and you have to add flour.”

A Pinch of Mustard

On the shelf is a bottle of mustard. Or, to be more precise, “You Could Win $25,000 see back for details French’s since 1904 Made with Real Honey Honey Mustard.” Mustard is the smallest word on the label. Let’s check what’s in this, shall we? The ingredients, listed in order of quantity, are “distilled vinegar, water, high fructose corn syrup, #1 grade mustard seed, sugar, corn syrup, carrot oleoresin (color), honey, spices and garlic powder.”

Not much honey in that “honey” mustard.

So what we’ve got here is honey- and mustard-flavored corn syrup in a vinegar solution. Compare that to French’s yellow mustard,

Distilled Vinegar, Water, No.1 Grade Mustard Seed, Salt, Turmeric, Paprika, Spice, Natural Flavors and Garlic Powder.

or to another Reckitt-Benkiser product: Colman’s mustard.

Water, Mustard Flour, Sugar, Salt, Wheat Flour, Turmeric, Citric Acid.

or a competitor, Plochman’s,

White Distilled Vinegar and Water, #1 Grade Mustard Seed, Salt, Turmeric, Onion Powder, Spices, Natural Flavoring

though none of these are honey mustard. What does Kraft‘s Grey Poupon Savory Honey Mustard contain?


That’s better.

Instead, try this recipe from Alton Brown, which consists of honey, mustard, and vinegar.

What is it about honey in the mind of product development that says it means sickly sweet?

Steamed Artichokes

Look for artichokes that are hard through, with the petals tight together. It’s OK if the petals have begun to open, but you do not want the base of the artichoke to be soft.

Cut 1″ off the top of the artichoke. This removes the sharp points.

Trim the stalk to within 1″ of the base of the artichoke.

Peel the outer layer from the stalk.

Rinse under cold water, spreading the petals so that the water can run into the flower.

Place base-down in a pot. If necessary, use a coffee cup in the center to keep the artichokes from flopping over.

Add sufficient water to cover the stem.

Add peppercorns to the water.

Cover the tops of the flowers with chopped garlic.

Drizzle olive oil over all.


Bring water to a boil, then simmer until the petals pull freely from the artichoke and are to taste, approximately 45 mins. to an hour.

— Concetta Visioni Clorofilla.

I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control, and Beer

The bagel shop is raising prices. The pizza place is raising prices. And a six-pack of my favorite beer has just passed $10 at the grocer.

What, you may ask, am I doing buying beer at the grocer’s? It’s convenient, but that’s beside the point. The point is that commodity prices are going up. The market is perturbed and passing the costs on to me. I might have to start drinking less!