Tag Archives: salt

The Cornucopia List: June 4

Sometimes it’s hard to think of just five things to appreciate in the week, whereas we can always think of a long list of ills, disasters and problems. But by concentrating on this it does take me away from the more dire thoughts. This week’s Cornucopia List includes:

  1. Mushrooms–Some people hate shrooms and consider them slimy, or get all squeamish about them being grown

    Irish shroom outside a Benedictine abbey

    in manure but the truth is that many of the vegetables that we eat are grown in some form of fertilizer made from cow, horse or fish excretions. That’s a lot of what earth is made of: decomposing waste in the form of leaves, bark, animals bones and wastes, and ground down rock. But mushrooms are just amazing in their variety of shapes and colors, are deadly poisonous or delicious, and can be found in many places.  They have flat caps or little pointy gnome hats, red spots, yellow stems, brown, grey blue. They grow round like puffballs (which I have yet to try) and ruffled like the chicken of the woods which grows on trees. And yeah, they are a fungus, unique in and of itself and reproduce through spores. There have been enough horrors stories spawned from this form of reproduction. And they do have a certain alien lifeform to them. But I like ’em, with garlic, in sauces or soups, or on their own, cooked or raw.

  2. Red Wine–Thankfully there are many brands to explore, some out of my price range for now. And of course there are different wines. I like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and if at all possible, a Bordeaux though they’re hard to get. Wine is a bit of an odd duck in flavors. Not particularly sweet, usually slightly bitter or tannic, and made of rotted grapes, yet I do appreciate the subtleties of the flavor.
  3. Salt–We may be made mostly of water but we are of many degrees salt too and it’s essential to a diet to maintain aspects of health that I can’t even explain; electrolytes are one. When we’re dehydrated we need to take in salt and water, what all those horrid Gatorade drinks have in them (yes I find them gross.) But salt, on popcorn, or corn, or eggs, or turkey is a very yummy thing and sometimes it’s salt we seem to want more than the other flavors. My family used to abuse salt (my mother still salts pizzas) and when I hit my late teens I cut down and stopped salting cheddar cheese. But without salt many of our dishes would be a lot blander.
  4. That some people appreciate me–We can’t all be liked universally, nor even hated the same. Some personalities mesh, some people change and some people blame everyone else for their problems. Even if just doing part of my job, it’s nice to know that some people think I’m doing it well. A simple thanks can make a big difference. A word of appreciation to a stranger on their coat, or hat, or shoes, can just add an extra smile to the day. And it doesn’t to do it. I appreciate that people sometimes appreciate me. It lightens the day.
  5. Sleep–Seriously, I love sleep. Of course, we’d be zombies without it but I love drifting away in a restful world and then ending up in all sorts of worlds. I love waking up slowly, though my bothersome cat doesn’t always let me. Slowly coming awake (as opposed to the obnoxious eeeee of the alarm), registering the sound of people talking, dogs barking, birds chirping, cars moving, and then feeling the shift from darkness to a lighter gray behind the eyes is great and languorous. I wouldn’t want to sleep all the time but I do like sleeping.
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Peppers and All Things Spicy

When I was a child the pepper shaker sat on our table like an icon to some ancient belief system. No one used it. Instead we liberally abused the salt shaker, over and over and over again to the point where my mother and my brother salt their pizza to this day. I used to salt cheese and my younger brother would make a bowl of vinegar with enough salt in it to make it murky and then dip his potato chips in…till his lips went white. We were heavy salt abusers but we shunned pepper.  

Then when I was in art college my boyfriend made tacos one night and had a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me, in fact I think he took secret glee in letting me use this medium hot sauce.  I had no experience with hot sauce, let alone pepper. Needless to say I turned red and gasped at the spiciness. Before long though, I was loving it and would use huge amounts of Tabasco on my food.  

Then I moved to Vancouver and met my friend Hanocia, who is from the tribal state of Meghalaya in India. She had a whole different degree of spiciness and would carry a bag of peppers in her purse. They were usually red but sometimes green and I believe Thai chillies. I learned to eat these chillies with my meal or whenever Hanocia cooked. At one point we were roommates and she, her boyfriend, and I would sit around eating our meal and chomping on chillies till we were all sniffling. 

Hanocia and I once went out for drinks one night and ordered bloody Caesars (for you Americans  it is a cocktail made of vodka, clamato juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce). We finally just asked the bartender for the bottle of Tabasco. He gave us one of the small, table-size bottles that was about a third full. We returned an empty bottle. The bartender’s jaw dropped.  

After that, Tabasco really was what I called the McDonald’s of hot sauces, lacking flavor and with too much vinegar. I came to enjoy the nuances of the different peppers, even eating habaneros (or Scotch bonnets) where are 10 on a scale of 10 for hotness. Peppers are rated on the Scoville scale. The hottest is the Naga Jolokia or ghost pepper. I have never tried this one. The second hottest is the habanero or Red Savina. This pepper is of course super hot but has a fruity flavor. I doubt many could eat a whole one. When I’m putting it into a meal I probably put in less than a eighth of a teaspoon.  

pequin pepper

 

 I had achieved full pepper assimilation. I always seek out hot sauces though due to now having rosacea (a skin condition exacerbated by cold, spice and histamines) I can’t eat as much spicy foodas I once could . Alas. One does have to build up to it slowly, or risk serious burn. The hotter peppers, like the habanero, can physically burn the skin as well as burning on the way down.Black pepper too has developed from those early days. It’s fresh now, not some ghostly reminiscence of flavor. I have a pepper grinder of course, because nothing but fresh pepper will do. I once made an Irish stew where I put so much black pepper in that it was pretty spicy in it’s own right. It’s not as common to have hot black pepper but you can get there. I’m glad I came to learn about the pepper family and appreciate the nuances of the hotters types. I don’t intend on turning away any time soon, even with rosacea.

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The Spice of Life

I grew up in a pretty whitebread Canadian family, where roast beef was served on Sundays with baked potato and frozen (but of course cooked) vegetables, which I always thought were gakky. Liver was also dished up once every couple of weeks, along with the ubiquitous brussels sprouts (which I do like). I figure this must have been one of the rare fresh vegetables of my youth.

Other delicacies included tongue, which indeed looked like a monster tongue, “beans I like,” which was an insipid concoction of watered down tomato soup, lima beans and wieners, and meatloaf with bacon laid across it. All of these things were liberally salted, beyond liberal really as my mother was a huge salt abuser, along with using some oregano, seasoning salt and other suspect spice blends. They made things salty but nothing was spicy.

Every set contains a salt and a pepper shaker and ours sat on the table like some iconic god, visible but unknowable. I’m sure the same shaker of pepper lasted ten years. Of course, the prepackaged pepper of yesteryear was mostly flavorless, like those little packets of pepper you get in fast food restaurants: mostly color and no taste.

So I knew nothing of spice. The closest my family ever moved towards spicy was chili powder in the chili. And lots of salt. Salty badness. My mother still puts salt on pizza, one of the saltiest foods out there. She’ll assault with salt before tasting.

When I was in art college, my boyfriend invited me for dinner to his place one night. It was student fare but tacos with a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me that it was “hot” hot sauce so I was a little overwhelmed with that first taste. But then…my tastebuds awoke and I began to experiment more with this. I also started drinking Caesars (for you Americans, it’s similar to a Bloody Mary but instead of tomato juice with the vodka you use clamato [tomato and clam juice and sugar–not as gross as it sounds] with Worcestershire and tabasco).

Then another of my friends talked about some manly man test they did which involved either drinking tabasco or putting a lot in the drinks. I think I particpated in the second part (I was never stupid enough to drink it straight) and my penchant for spice continued.

I then moved to Vancouver, where I met my friend Hanocia, from a tribal state in India. She carried a bag of chili or serrano peppers in her purse to eat with her food. We would go out and drink Caesars where we usually just asked for the bottle of tabasco. We returned an empty bottle to the bartender one night with at least two inches gone from it. His jaw dropped as he stuttered, “I’ve never seen anyone use so much.” And we weren’t even sweating the spice.

Then I moved in as a roommate with Hanocia and her boyfriend, where we would all sit eating the normally spiced food but with a bowl of chili peppers on the table. It wasn’t hot unless you were sweating and your nose dripping. By this time I had achieved the cast iron stomach needed for the truly ferocious peppers. I even had a poster of all the peppers on my kitchen ceiling (the only space for it) and it became my goal to try them all. When I went to India, Hanocia’s people, the Khasis, tend to eat their food plain but with a bowl of peppers. At the end of the evening I had more stems along the side of my plate than anyone else. Beau goggled and said, “Wait till I tell the girls at work, and you’re a white person too.” (A note: all peppers come from central America and did not originate in Asia.)

Over the years, I did sample as many peppers as I could find, right up to the scotch bonnets or habaneros, that rate 10 for hot on a scale of 10. They are so hot that few people can eat a whole one and they can blister you. Many people can’t eat these because the heat burns away any flavor, but I like habaneros because they have a fruity flavor under that atomic heat. (I”ve since found there are hotter peppers but I haven’t tasted them.)

I’ve made five pepper chili, which has included serranos, jalapenos, Thai chili, pequenos and habaneros. I don’t count or use bell peppers (I react to them) because though supposedly all peppers are of the nightshade family these are considered different. Maybe they’re nightshades but the others aren’t, but all are peppers.

My love affair with hot peppers has developed over the years and friends have gone to other countries and brought me back another bottle of hot sauce. I have about 15 in my fridge at any one time. It just goes to show that a white kid from the bland food sticks can attain heights of chili pepper hotness. But alas, my champion pepper chomping may have hit an end as rosacea is exacerbated by spicy foods. I’m still hoping though because I do love the taste way more than black pepper, though that will do in a pinch.

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