Archive for February, 2010

Chipotle Ketchup

Friday, February 26th, 2010

After making this I realized that ketchup is just a sauce. And my motto, if I have a motto, is: It’s all just a vehicle for the sauce. It turned out well, but I would like to try it with fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Next time I will put the celery seeds in cheese cloth and boil them in the vinegar for a few minutes. So, with thanks to Homesick Texan, here is my version.

Chipotle Ketchup
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
1 Medium onion
1 Clove garlic
1/2T Olive oil
1 1/2T Red wine
1/2C Cider vinegar
1/3C Light brown sugar
1t Blackstrap molasses
1t Celery seed
1/2t Cardamom
1 Chipotle in adobo with 1T of the adobo sauce
1/8t Black pepper
Sea Salt to taste

Wrap the celery seeds in cheese cloth. In a small pot bring the vinegar to a boil. Add the celery seeds and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep.

Dice and saute the onion in the olive oil till it starts to brown. Add the garlic, chopped, and saute for another minute. Discard the celery seeds. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for one hour.

Transfer to a blender and puree. Return to the pot and simmer until it thickens to the consistency you would like. Add salt to taste, but it will get saltier as it cooks down.

I used this as an excuse to go to Five Guys Burgers and get fries today. If I had not had the ketchup I probably would have just used Friday as an excuse.

Haute Cuisine via the Alabaster Fortress

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Willy ran toward the park. Each stride contested by the cold blustery January wind. It was already bitingly frigid and dark had not yet fallen. He had been afraid that he would not be able to arrive while there was still some daylight. His Mom had made him help his Aunt clean out her attic. It had taken forever, at least half the day. By the time they had gotten home and he had cleaned his own room the winter light was already dimming.

Worst of all he had not gotten paid anything! His Aunt said that hard work built character. Maybe so, but it sure did not buy candy. Worse still she had put up the candy dish she usually kept in the foyer. To be fair they had stopped at the diner on the way home and she had bought him a hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream. He had hauled a lot of old trash out to the bins. Even in the sun it had been chilly. The hot chocolate had tasted like a dream, hot and sweet and chocolaty and creamy. His Aunt and Mom had laughed at him as he took the last sip, cooler than all the rest, the one where the extra chocolate settles thickly in the bottom of the cup that you had to turn all the way up to the sky to get out. His Mom fussing with the napkin afterward to wipe off his mouth had made it almost not worth it, but only almost.

He wanted to get to the park before dark. His Mom did not like him out after sunset. She liked him inside so early only marginally less though. Something about too much candy and bouncing off the walls. More importantly right now though was that the park had far more dog walkers while the sun was still up. Especially on Saturday. And dog walkers were Willy’s chief source of income. Willy had discovered that quite a few people found cleaning up after their pets disgusting. Some smaller percentage of those found it disgusting enough that they were willing to part with a nominal amount of cash to have someone else do the cleaning.

Willy’s Mom approved of his efforts. Besides her hair, eyes, and chin she shared with her sister annoying notions regarding cleanliness and character building. Pooper scooper for hire was one of those character building tasks. Come to think of it the cleanliness bit applied here as well. However, it was one that Willy could tolerate much more willingly than most. It could be tedious and yes, it was possible to gross out an eleven year old boy, but the results were worth it: candy. And in the pantheon of Willy’s gods candy was pretty much Zeus, Odin, and Jupiter all rolled into one.

Willy broke out into the park and sighed with disappointment. Today would be tough. It was cold and few people were out. He tucked his chin in his jacket to guard against the wind and headed for the nearest six legged pair. It was a numbers game and he did not let the rejection get him down. All they could do was say, “No”. After all, his Mom said “No” to him all the time. He still had all of his fingers and toes and eventually a request would elicit a “Yes”. Willy figured the same principal applied to a man and his dog. Or woman.

Almost an hour later Willy had exhausted all of his prospects. As cold as it was there had been few people out. Willy had only found four willing to part with their cash for his services and they had been none too generous. His take totaled only $4.75. He could get one chocolate bar and a pack of gum, but it would be mostly hard candy this week. Oh,well. It was easier to get away with eating that in class any way.

It was past dark and Willy decided that he had better start back home. He headed toward the fountain. The small detour would not extend his trek by much. The park was his favorite place to hang out and in the park there was no place he loved more than the fountain. Last summer had been a scorcher and Willy had almost lived in the fountain. So had most of his friends. His Mom had said that if he spent any more time there he would have to start paying rent. Not tonight. Willy had not realized just how cold it had been.

There was a rime of ice over much of the fountain. The freezing spray had turned the familiar cavorting figures into fairytale creatures. Willy laughed. The sly dolphin’s fins had transformed into drooping ice wings. The beautiful merwoman was sporting a long ice beard. The other figures were altered in similar fantastical ways. Willy’s favorite was the fierce merman’s ice skirt. It was more modest than his accustomed conch shell and far more fun. The night time lights made the ice sparkle and glitter like a fairy’s wings. Willy circled the fountain twice and then set off at a trot for home.

He had only gotten a block when he stopped as though slamming into an invisible wall. The delectable aroma of grease, frying beef, and steaming onions formed an impenetrable barrier to his progress. His stomach, quiescent for the last two hours, rumbled to life with seismic ferocity. Saliva threatened to drown him. Unconsciously Willy felt the pocket holding his hard earned cash.

He was suddenly aware of how cold his feet were and the wind swirling around his ankles. If his feet had not frozen off his Mom was going to kill him for going out in only tennis shoes in this cold. And if Juan had been around he probably would have made a less than charitable comment about Willy’s cords and his preparation for a flood. Willy shrugged. He had grown another inch since Thanksgiving and his Mom had let the pants out as far as they would go. Willy almost debated with himself for a moment. But free will had deserted him from that first whiff. Cold and the biological imperative of a growing child drove thoughts of candy out of his mind and replaced them with an overriding compulsion: burgers.

Six minutes later Willy resumed his journey. In his left hand he clutched the top of a sack rolled tightly closed against the depredations of the cold wind. In his right he held one of the marvels of modern society: a slider, with extra pickles. Then he held only a half. And then his hand was empty, but his stomach was not and he had four more in the sack. His impetuous acquisition had set him back severely. He had only enough change for a few of pieces of hard candy. And that was probably with the generous application of the have-a-penny-give-a-penny, need-a-penny-take-a-penny tray at Ahmed’s. He did not regret it a bit.

Willy moved further toward the curb as he approached the next alley. He was glad he had done so because he was assaulted by a raucous clatter as he drew even with it. He stopped and looked in warily. The streetlights provided plenty of illumination, but it still took a moment for him to make out a figure digging into the dumpster. It was Smelly Frank. Willy walked a little closer to the alley.

Smelly Frank was a little off. Hey, he was a lot off. He talked to people that were not there and made airplane noises like a five year old. He waved his arms around and yelled gibberish. And he most definitely avoided the shelters. If he was digging in the dumpster he was hungry. Willy knew in the bitter cold that hungry was not good. He looked down at his sack of burgers and then back at Frank. It really was not too tough of a decision.

Compassion does live in the hearts of children. Unfortunately, in the case of little boys its roommate is recalcitrance and its landlord is mischief. Willy’s rent was always paid up in advance. He shifted the bag to his right hand and wound up. Rollie Fingers had never thrown a better slider. The sack hit Smelly Frank right in the side of the head. He turned and looked at Willy, his mouth frozen in an “O” of surprise. Willy doubled over laughing as Smelly Frank launched into an amazingly creative tirade. He turned and skedaddled for home. Smelly Frank would check out the sack soon enough. Willy had accomplished his objective and was pretty sure that he had learned a new word. He did not know what it meant, but he was sure that neither his Mother nor Aunt would approve of it.

Willy pondered his day as he made his way up the steps to his apartment. He frowned. Smelly Frank would never stop being hungry. Then he smiled. That was o.k. He was pretty sure the dogs in the park would never stop pooping.

The Fairy of Infinite Possibilities

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Willy activated the flamethrower and a gout of incendiary plasma blew the alien monster into gobs of steaming meat and smoking chitin. “Watch your back!” he yelled as he swung around the corner and triggered another blast blindly. More bugs, more smoking bug corpses. Another dropped from the ceiling. It was too close to torch! He ducked a poison covered claw and shattered the thing’s head with a butt stroke. Then he was running out of the city and into the cooler shadows of the trees in the park.

It had been great fortune to find the flamethrower. He had discovered it languishing between two refuse cans on the curb. Someone had used the last of the wrapping paper off of it and tossed it in the trash. Miraculously the careless garbage men had neither folded it nor crushed it. The cardboard tube had served as a magnificent pirate sword for two blocks before it became the bane of the hive.

Moving out onto the grass his flamethrower became a shotgun as Willy rolled and came up prone. “On the ground now!” he shouted and payed absolutely no attention to the surprised glances of some of the nearest adults. His goal was the fountain. He could see several of his friends already there. A couple were in the water. Hanging out at the fountain was not the necessity it had been during the recent blistering heat, but it was still a great place for a young boy on summer break.

Willy waved as he trotted past the fountain and plopped down on a bench on the far site in the shade. He carelessly tossed the now thoroughly floppy cardboard tube down the the bench beside him. It had fared only slightly better than the nemeses he had faced.

Juan had his silly yellow plastic ball again and a complex game of catch was evolving in the fountain. Smelly Frank was holding down a bench. Willy looked around and contemplated his options. There were some older boys playing touch football on the sward. They would would welcome him; he was small and skinny, but already wickedly fast. He was hard to catch. The guy ranting on the milk crate and the “performance artist” held no interest for him.

Willy’s forehead scrunched up a little in concentration. His bike, skateboard, and scooter were at home. There were the dog walkers. Someone was always willing to pay an enterprising kid to play pooper scooper for them. But it was not too hot and he was not thirsty. And, Bingo! He had candy so he did not really need any money.

He had two pieces of candy: a peppermint and a butterscotch. He had grabbed them and a couple of those nasty red wrapped cinnamon ones from his Aunt’s candy dish last night as he left. He was not supposed to, but she and his Mom had been animatedly engaged about someone’s new baby and neither had spared him enough attention as they made their way out. His Aunt kept it filled up from a five pound bag that she bought at some super club warehouse place. It had peppermints and butter scotches and lots of stuff that he did not even know how to name. It certainly was not candy that any self respecting eleven year old would buy, but candy was candy. Especially when you did not have to scrounge for change to get it!

Willy hiked himself up on one hip and shoved his hand down in the opposite pocket. His questing fingers found two small round items wrapped in crinkly cellophane. A grin of anticipation stretched the edges of his lips upward. The cinnamon candies were gone. He did not really like how they burned his mouth, but then again they were candy. So he had eaten them already to get them out of the way. He had saved the good ones. Peppermint or butterscotch? He loved the way the peppermint filled his mouth with a tingly coolness when he pursed his lips and inhaled. But then again he loved the rich, heavy sweetness of the butterscotch. They felt the same.

He decided to let chance surprise him. He reached all the way down and grasped the one deepest in his pocket. He slowly pulled his hand out to the edge of the pocket and then jerked his arm up in front of his face with the closed fist hiding the treasure. He had done well. Even the wrapper was hidden. That would have given it away. He knew the butterscotch had a dark yellowish wrapper, but not even an edge peeked from behind the clenched fingers.

He played a fanfare in his mind and opened his fingers. There nestled in the palm of his hand was…a little man…with wings? Willy frowned. The man stood up and straitened his tights. Willy smirked and it was the little man’s turn to frown. Willy’s first concern was for his candy. He slapped his free had across to his pocket and found two lumps. How had he pulled out a tiny man with wings when he knew he had grabbed a piece of candy?

“Why were you messing with my candy? And who are you?” Always address the most important issue first.

“I am the Fairy of Infinite Possibilities.” The reply sounded big for such a small man. Someone with a larger vocabulary might have uncharitably thought it sounded a bit pompous.

Willy snickered. “You certainly look like a fairy. Do you dance in the ballet?” Eleven year olds have notoriously poor social skills to begin with and public school offered myriad of opportunities for corruption. Willy did not miss much school.

“Fairy with a Capital F!” the little man said with a chuff. Willy was suddenly reminded of Mrs. Perez’s chihuahua with its ruff up. He giggled.

The man rose from Willy’s hand on a blur of diaphanous wings. They caught a shaft of sunlight filtering through the trees and scattered it in a rainbow of sparkles all around him. He hovered in his cloud of shimmering iridescence in front of Willy’s face. “I am magic. I am the Fairy of Infinite Possibilities.” he repeated.

And then time stopped. The sounds of the busy park cut off in mid clamor. The only sounds were a silvery-purple hum from the Fairy’s wings and the rustle of Willy’s clothes as he shifted on the bench. He looked around. A penny glinted in suspension over the basket of a merwoman. Willy’s eyes held there just a little longer than anywhere else and a quick smile crossed his face. The mouths of the fishes, merpeople, and various aquatic creatures still spouted water, but the streams were frozen ropes of fulgent diamond interspersed with drops of lustrous pearls arching down to churn a choppy mirror of aquamarine glass. The flight of a yellow ball was captured, motionless in its reflection..

Willy looked past the fountain. A football frozen in mid-spiral. A dog caught soaring an improbable distance from the ground, his jaws within a hairbreadth of closing on a scuffed Frisbee as a sparkle of saliva broke free. A stream of liquid joined a thermos and cup. A baby carriage popped a petrified wheelie, its back wheels on the grass and its front wheels hanging suspended over the sidewalk. A shopping cart filled with plastic grocery bags stilled in mid-ruffle. A spray of pigeons in suspended scrum as a piece of popcorn hovered over them. A knight taking a pawn.

“I can offer you anything you want.” the Fairy said with a wave of his arm.

“And what does it cost?” Willy asked.

“Absolutely nothing.” the Fairy replied.

Willy had learned a little more in school than the things his Mother would have preferred him to know. He had learned much more from her than she might have dared to hope. “I don’t think so.” And time crashed back into place. The penny made a plinking sound as it dropped into the water filled basket and the tourist turned to go to wherever tourists went after the fountain and Juan was no longer buried to his knees in shimmering glass.

Tyler caught the perfectly thrown football in stride and promptly tripped. A college student picked up the disc dropped by the dog and sent it sailing away again. A laughing girl took the offered cup from her beau and he reached into a basket for a couple of sandwiches. The doting Father carefully levered the back wheels of the carriage up onto the sidewalk. Smelly Frank snored on with his cart and bags of worldly possessions next to him. An old couple tossed another piece of exploded maize to the ravenous rats with wings. An old man continued beating or being beaten at the chess tables by another old man.

“Why ever not?” the Fairy asked.

Willy just reached down to the bench beside him and grabbed his Louisville slugger and brushed the Fairy away. He stood and swung for the bleachers. As he rounded third base to the roar of the crowd he made sure that he grabbed the butterscotch this time.

Wavering Copper Dreams – The Penny

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Willy sat on the edge of the fountain, feet dangling in the cool water. The laughter and splashing of the other children washed over him like the oppressive heat that blanketed the city, immersive and pervasive.

He looked around. The park seemed washed out, faded and the breeze brought no relief from the heat. Desultory joggers slogged through their daily paces watched by wilted picnickers. A couple of policemen walked their bicycles on the bike path. They probably would not run the kids out of the fountain unless there was a lot of horse play going on or the kids splashed the tourists or took the coins. Taking the coins was a real no-no. The last time someone got caught they had been banned from the fountain for three weeks. That message was clear. The other kids had seen the police too and had quieted down. It was too hot to lose access to the fountain. They should be o.k. today unless one of the cops wanted to hassle them. But the fountain was in the sun and the bike path in the shade. Willy snickered, not today. Dark blue was too hot in the open. The police would stick to the shadows where there was at least the illusion of cooler temperatures.

Willy turned back. There was an old man on the bench. Where had he come from? And he was blind. Willy could have guessed that from the red tipped white cane leaning on the scarred bench next to the man. But it was the face that gave it away. He was smiling. But it was a blind man’s smile, a little to big or a little too long. Like a Ray Charles or a Stevie Wonder smile. The smile was there, but without the real time visual feedback, the tiny visual clues reflected from the surroundings, the ability to gauge it in a mirror against a thousand other smiles it could not be a real smile. It had something artificial in it. There was more of grimace than mirth in it as if it were a placeholder for true emotion. Willy could not have put it in those words, but he recognized it and it reinforced the message the cane had delivered: blind.

Willy looked away and wiped sweat from his forehead and then dipped his hand in the fountain. Whew! It was too hot to even attempt to smile. A tourist tossed a coin in the fountain and Willy stole another glance at the old man. This time he was really smiling. Then Willy giggled. Why shouldn’t he look or why should he feel guilty about looking? After all the guy couldn’t see him! But the guy turned his head. If he was sighted he would have been looking right at Willy! And then the head moved to face the latest splash from a coin.

He must have just heard me giggle Willy thought and he turned again to watch the old man. He still smiled. The smile waxed with each plink of a penny a tourist tossed in the fountain and then slowly waned until the next one fell. And it was not a grimace or a put on. As Willy watched he came to realize that there was true joy behind it. It was an expression of how the man felt. The sounds of the coins hitting the water made him happy.

But the sounds were not loud and the bench was ten or twelve feet from the fountain. Willy watched for a while. Every time a tourist threw a coin and it hit the water the man’s smile got bigger even when Willy couldn’t hear anything. The man must have great hearing.

Juan had brought a small plastic yellow ball and an errant throw brought it within Willy’s reach. He splashed his feet and hopped up heading around the edge of the pool, the ball caught up with the unthinking inerrancy innate to an eleven year old boy regarding throwable objects. A brief furor of keep away ensued until three boys landed in a heap in the water. Everyone laughed and the game moved on and Willy moved back to the other side of the fountain.

The old man was still there, still listening. Willy felt his pocket. He had three pennies. He fished one out. It was bright and shinny, the copper reflected the burning sun. He wished for ice cream and flicked it. Arcing through the air it landed in a bowl held in the mouth of a fish, but Willy was not watching the coin. He had already turned to watch the old man.

Bam! Like a sledgehammer hitting a gong. With the incandescence of a burning sun the old man’s smile exploded. Willy frowned and impossibly the man’s smile seemed to wax even hotter in response. Certainly he had not seen Willy’s frown. He was not even looking in Willy’s direction What was going on? Could the old man really see? Willy shuffle walked around the edge of the fountain kicking up water. The cool drops wet his skin and cooled his already sweat and water soaked shirt and shorts. He turned around and shuffle walked back. He splashed water at the improbable central sculpture. The fishes, merpeople, and other cavorting creatures had no answers to the anomaly sitting on the bench. Willy wanted answers, but all they spat were sparkling, frothy streams of water.

Willy hopped up on the edge of the fountain and then plopped down on his butt. The denim of his shorts made a wet splotching noise. He drummed the heels of his tennis shoes against the concrete for a moment and then before he could decide against it stood and walked to the bench. He sat with only a light wet squish on the end opposite the old man. The man turned his smile on Willy for just two heartbeats and then faced the fountain again.

Willy worked up his courage. The city went silent. The squeals of the other children, the splash of the water, the sound of traffic all faded. “What do you see?”, he asked intently.

The old man turned his silent eyes on Willy. “See?”

Like the blind man’s smile Willy could not explain cause and effect. But he understood falling meant a skinned knee, a found dollar meant a soda from Ahmed’s, a cardboard box meant a fort. “You must see something. You smile every time a penny lands in the water. But nothing I can see is different.”

“Are you sure?”

Willy reached into his pocket. This penny was older, its surface tarnished and its edges nicked. He wished for a popsicle, no a BOX of popsicles and tossed it underhanded into the fountain. Nothing changed. “Its just a penny. It lands in the water and it’s gone.” But the old man’s face was lit up from inside like a search light. Willy’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“To me it is not a penny. It is a wish. It is a dream. Every one that is tossed into the fountain has a story, a life. And they speak to me.”

“What do they say?”

The old man laughed, a laugh low and expansive and full of richness and delight. “Why everything. You just have to listen and see.”

Willy nodded, not truly understanding. He sat for a few minutes silently, one leg swinging, the toe making scritch sounds each time it made contact with the gritty concrete. He stood and walked back to the fountain, hopped up on the edge. The old man just sat on the bench. And smiled.

Willy reached into his pocket one more time. The last penny was neither shiny nor tarnished. It was not nicked up either. It was pretty normal as pennies go. Willy closed his eyes. He wished. He wished for a giant frozen Coke Slurpee, one of the big 44 oz ones that gave you a headache if you even began to finish it before it all melted. He opened his eyes and flicked the penny toward the dolphin’s tail.

He did not look at the old man. He knew what he would see. He watched the penny. It arched up, scintillating in the sunlight and Willy tried to listen to it. It spun and flashed in his eye and he saw an ice cream truck surrounded by delighted children, he tasted ice cold lemonade under the shade of a spreading oak, he heard the whisper of a baby’s breath on its mother’s cheek, he felt the flush of a lover’s first kiss, he smelled the scent of a light rain on new mown grass. And then the penny hit the water with a plink and sank past starfish and sand dollars. The world slammed back down around Willy as the penny came to rest on the bottom, a wavering copper dream.

Willy turned and shared a smile with the old man on the bench.