Coffee heat rising

Comfort Food(oid) for Times of Stress

When you’ve had it — had it had it HAD IT — what, really do you want?

Money?

Love?

Peace and  quiet?

God’s hand reaching down out of the clouds and lifting you Heavenward?

Any and all of those would be good. Very good. But really, when you come right down to it, nothing helps like…yes...JUNK FOOD.

Yes. Yes, you’re right. It’s extremely bad for you. But the heck with that noise. Bad as it may be for you, it does make you feel a great deal less crabby.

And here we have one of the finest, most effective, and most delicious comfort food(oid)s ever invented by the human mind: Coconut paletas.

These are treats that faintly resemble a Klondike Bar, only far more delicious and lacking the chocolate. And you can easily make them at home, because, though they look like they’re made of ice cream they’re not. They’re easy and cheap to whip up, and nothing could be more bad for you. Which is to say, nothing could be better for your mood.

A paleta is very much like a popsicle. Some of them are indeed popsicle-like: the strawberry varieties, for example. Some of them are a little more exotic. Among these is the coconut paleta, a treat made of sugar plus coconut stuff plus (sometimes) nuts plus…oh what the heck! Throw in some more sugar, because you deserve it!

Here’s what you need to make them:

Coconut Paletas

Popsicle molds, with a stand for them
1 can of coconut milk
1 can of coconut cream
1 pint heavy cream
a handful of nuts (optional)
about 1/3 cup white sugar

Typically, the nuts are almonds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been using a fistful of mixed nuts. Pecans would be great. Walnuts would, too. Or pistachios. Whatever.

You’ll need something to mix this stuff up with: a wire whip works well. Or a fork. Or a spoon. Maybe an electric mixer, if you want to go to that much trouble. If you’re adding nuts, a small blender to chop them up is highly desirable.

So, in a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the coconut products, the cream, and the sugar. Finely chop the nuts and toss them in, too. Mix well, so the batter is nice and smooth and non-lumpy.

Fill your popsicle molds with this batter, insert the sticks or holders, secure them upright in their stand, and place them in the freezer. Go away for awhile.

That’s it. In a few hours, you’ll have a bunch of icy sweet treats that are guaranteed to cool your temper enough to stop the steam from shooting out your ears.

You can make these things in just about any flavor you like. You can make them as frozen coffee. You can make them into boozicles. Whatever. You can add stuff to them other than nuts: strawberries, cherries, little angels kissin’ spring.

It’s all, every variety of it, so much better than a sick dog; locked-down veterinarians; a busted car; idiots blasting fireworks until three in the morning, starting in the first week of December; stoners drag racing up and down Conduit of Blight Blvd. and across Gangbanger’s Way through the wee hours; a raging plague; a cop helicopter rattling your windowpanes for half an hour; computer do-dads that you do not know how to use and do not want to know how to use; frost on the palm tree; constant discomfort from some chronic ailment you never heard of before; busted plumbing; busted-out drywall; parades of (presumably contagious) workmen traipsing through the house; a glitch in your email system that takes an Apple service manager to figure out and fix (and that, only by guess and b’gawd); a pool dude who feeds your sick dog Milk Bones….

Oh WTF… She’s refused to eat anything else for the better part of a week. Maybe Milk Bones have enough calories to keep her alive for another few hours.

Coffee…and Changing Times

Coffee Makin’s

So a friend wrote in passing about making cold-press coffee (all the rage these days), which reminded me that I’d learned how to make the stuff years ago…and caused me to wonder if you couldn’t make it very simply in a French press. I mean, think about it: rather than having to filter it through a Melitta or other type of filter, all you’d have to do is push the French press’s filter down…et voilà.

The idea is to measure out your ground coffee into a pot or carafe. Pour in the amount of water you’d usually dispense into the pot. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. Then, in the morning, run this slurry through a coffee filter (a Melitta filter would work well) and zap a cupful in the microwave. Or serve it as iced coffee.

But why not use a French press?

So I tried it. And by golly! It REALLY works!

The French press plunger did a fine job of filtering the brew. The result is a strong but also mellow cuppa. Very successful. Very easy. And exactly zero coffee-puttering chores in the morning.

There’ll Be Some Changes Made…

And in other precincts, other kinds of changes are majorly under way.

The covid-19 flap has inspired some serious revisions in the way business is to be done here at the Funny Farm.

Number one entails “Mormonizing” the approach to buying and storing food. I do not intend ever to find myself without necessary food and household supplies as a result of panic buying, whether the public panic is justified or not. After this I intend to have a bare minimum of three months’ worth of food and supplies in the house; preferably more like six. Or better: a year’s worth.

Costco now has paper goods back. This week I contrived to score a package of paper towels and a package of toilet paper, ô hallelujah! A package of Costco paper towels has 12 generous rolls (that are NOT loosely wound so as to make it look like there’s more on the roll than there really is… (Never buy Safeway PT’s!!). I figure that barring a major mess to clean up, one roll of paper towels lasts at least a week or ten days. To be on the conservative side, then, one package of Costco paper towels should last 12 weeks, or three months. In reality: probably longer.

So, in the stockpiling department, I figure if you can get two Costco  paper-towel packages on hand, you have enough to last six months. So the plan is to send the Instacart crew off  to Costco again to grab (among other things) one more package of PT’s, guaranteeing a six-month supply. Then, as the first 12-roll bag begins to dwindle toward two remaining, buy another bag. This would mean (in theory, barring another national catastrophe) at any given time I would have no less than a three-month supply. And if the things didn’t show up on the shelf over a period of three to six months…well…paper towels would be the least of our problems.

A Costco bag of toilet paper contains 30 rolls, which for me is effectively a lifetime supply. Same idea, though: start with two bags full, and as the first 30 dwindle down to around 15, get another package. In that case, you’d never have less than a bagful and a half: 45 rolls.

Grocery store shelves here are still half-bare, and many necessaries are unavailable. At Amazon, though, I managed to find a 2-pound bag of King Arthur brand yeast (King Arthur is about the best in the baking-products industry), which should arrive here in another couple of days. That will go straight into the freezer. Also contrived to buy some more flour.

And therein lies another covid-inspired Big Change: discovered that the bread I can make in my own kitchen, even the simplest version, is far better than even the very best, fancy, European-style bread from AJs. So that will improve the lifestyle, and at the same time save a bit of cash: those fresh-baked French- and Italian-style loaves ain’t cheap.

In the bread-making department, the other thing I wanna do is get a smaller, brand-new, un-greasy propane grill that I can use exclusively as a baking oven. The countertop oven DOES work to bake a loaf of bread. However, its capacity is limited. And, in keeping with a friend’s suspicion of the things as a potential fire hazard, every time I use it for anything other than toasting a piece of bread, I unplug it and drag it out of the garage and into the kitchen, where I can keep an eye on it all the time it’s baking the bread. The proposed propane “oven” could also be used to bake casseroles — again, the countertop oven will do that, but I ain’t lettin’ the thing mumble away to itself out in the garage while that’s going on. If this second propane grill were used only for baking bread and casseroles, it would never get greasy and so would go quite a long time without having to call the BBQs Galore guy out here to work on it. And it would save on hassle factor.

And also, in the prepping for catastrophe department, my present propane grill doesn’t have a stovetop-type burner on it. A couple of the small ones of the sort I propose to use as a bread oven do have them. If the power goes out for any length of time, the gas stovetop won’t work — to protect us from our idiot selves, gas stove burners now no longer will come on unless the sparker inside the unit is functioning…and of course, the sparker runs on electric. In that case, you couldn’t even heat a pot of water in this house, unless you have portable propane camp stove. Or a grill with a side burner.

Le Shopping

Another change in the strategies for daily living that I think will become permanent is what we might call the Shopping Mode. I’ve learned a lot about shopping with Instacart and through Amazon. My guess is that about 90% to 95% of the things you can buy that are not fresh meat or fresh produce can be had remotely. Some of this 90% would be a bit of a PITA to acquire online or through runners. But that would still leave maybe 85% to 90% of groceries and sundries shopping that need not be done in person.

So first, I’m going to sit down and think through, in a systematic way, about what items are best purchased in person — and where, and about what items can be ordered up online. Then make lists of what to get, where to get it, when to get it, and how to get it.

Of course, you have to pay extra for stuff you have delivered…BUT…my guess is you’d save that much in gasoline alone. I have yet to purchase a full tank of gasoline since the covid scare started! Back in March. Right now the Annoying Venza still has half-a-tank of gasoline, and I’ve only been to the pump once in all this time.

This will change the vendors that I use routinely. Alas, I fear, the beloved AJ’s is going away. Fry’s may, too: it’s a long drive from here to get to an upscale outlet. Meat and household goods will come from Costco; fill in with household stuff from Target, Fry’s, or Amazon. Fresh vegetables and fruits from Sprouts.

And in the fresh produce department, I’m going to get a whole lot more serious about growing vegetables. I think I’ll buy a couple of raised vegetable beds or large that are deep enough to accommodate root vegetables. Chard grows magnificently here, and I love the stuff. So that will be Crop #1. The tomato plants in back already have ten or twelve tomatoes ripening. The ones in front, not so much: they’re kinda stunted. I think that may be the soil, which is hard as a rock. That can be remedied with some compost and a man with a strong back. I’ll ask Gerardo to set the cousins to digging a few bags of Lowe’s best compost into that dirt out there, and while they’re at it, put them up to improving the drip system in that flowerbed.

Then I could have chard, possibly spinach (or not: it tends to struggle here), several varieties of leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, chives, little green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, possibly some new potatoes, possibly yellow onions. Most of these (except the peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant) grow only in the winter here, but it’s mighty easy to blanche and freeze any of them. Interestingly, even tomatoes can be frozen…who knew?

One of my friends has gotten artichokes to grow here (though they do a lot better in a coastal climate like Salinas’s or Hollister’s) — that might be worth a try. She also gets blackberries to grow in gay profusion…exactly how escapes me, but I intend to ask her. Apparently blueberries will grow here, too.  Looks like more trouble than it’s worth, though. Apples and pears used to grow at the ranch (which was up on  the Rim), but I believe the Valley is too hot for those.

And finally in the produce department: I may start buying most or all of my produce at farmer’s markets. A thriving farmer’s market does business in the parking lot of a church just east of the ’Hood. I could almost walk over there, though hauling stuff back here would be a chore. That’s assuming the market revives after the covid scare dies down.

Then there’s the wine cellar scheme: Get two crates of wine: one of reds and one of whites. Total Wine will sell you a nice boxful of wine with cardboard separators (i.e., a crate) and let you choose which ones you’d like for the contents. I think they give you a discount if you buy 12 bottles. These get stored in the closet of the spare bedroom/storage room, which is nice and cool even in the dead of summer. Then, when I use up a bottle of wine, I replace it with a new single purchase, so that at no time will this stash be down more than two or at most three bottles.

Come the Apocalypse, at least I’ll be able to stay drunk through it.

My son’s strategy, in the wine department, is boxed wine. And I hafta admit, he has found a brand whose deliciousness rivals the fine $9/bottle vintages I favor. That would be a simpler strategy — a box of red and a box of white, at any given time. I’ll have to think through the logistics of that: how to keep from (horrors!!) running out.

Kilt-Lifter, my current preferred beer, can be had at a ridiculous discount by the case from Costco. This stuff, too, could be stored in the “wine cellar.”

So that would make some significant changes in day-to-day and long-term ways of doing business here at the Funny Farm.

Even though setting up a garden is expensive at the outset, if you grew that much produce and froze it, over time you’d save a fair amount on grocery bills. And on gas: because most of my grocery junkets are occasioned by the need for fresh produce (I eat a lot of it), over the long term I’d make a whole lot fewer trips to grocery stores. Same is true if I walked to the farmer’s market every Saturday.

Meat would have to be purchased in person…but if you’re buying lifetime supplies at Costco and freezing it, you’d only need to go up there about once every two or three months. Same would be true of household supplies: you could probably cut the Costco junkets by 30% to 50% by not buying produce there.

Wine? Beer? Same thing: If you had a stash in-house, there would be no reason to buy booze at Costco more often than about once every two or three months. And that is stuff you can send Instacart to get. So really, you’d never make a trip to Costco or Total Wine to buy wine or beer: you could have the Instacart runners replenishing your supply every few weeks, as you go through a bottle or three.

And of course household products such as paper towels, TP, laundry and dish detergent, and the like, could also be picked up from Costco by Instacart runners.

So you’d do a whole lot less driving, on a permanent basis. If you actually walked to a farmer’s market or to a reasonably close-by supermarket, you’d get extra exercise during the cooler months (couldn’t do it at this time of year, hereabouts!). That would cut not only your gas bill but your car insurance: mine was already reduced by 15% this year. If I could show a lot lower mileage overall, they’d probably make that a permanent cut.

You’d get more exercise with the gardening, too. So overall, these kinds of activities would probably help improve your health, as well as your bank balance.

Interesting outcome, isn’t it?

“Why didn’t I think of that…?”

Ever have one of those “Why Didn’t I Think of That Before?” moments? 

The chore-a-day approach to household cleaning is one of those. Why did it take me 70 years to figure that out? How come it never occurred to my mother? Duh!

Well, I just came up with another one.

As you may have noticed, the price of beef — particularly of steaks — is through the roof. I no longer can afford to eat steak at all. However, I do require at least one serving of some kind of meat per day…sorry, I’m simply not the veggie type. I don’t like the icky flavor of farmed chicken and also can’t afford organic free-range air-cooled chicken. Nor do I care at all for farmed American pork (ech!). So one way of filling this gaping hole in my normal diet is by substituting Costco’s excellent hamburger (which really is first-rate) for steak.

But…really…I’m just not that nuts about grilled hamburger patties. Once in a while…okay, whatEVER. But I find the “while” gets longer and longer. So now what do I have in the freezer but a TON of hamburger, divvied into patties and frozen as single servings. Which — let’s face it — at the rate my enthusiasm is flagging, is not likely to be consumed anytime soon.

So I’m sitting here thinking am i gonna throw all that meat out? don’t think so…but what’m i gonna do with it?

While, no, I’m not nuts about grilled hamburger, I do love a pot of chili. Or Caribbean-style stuffed squash. Or curry. Or cheese ravioli or spaghetti or lasagne bathed in tomato sauce spiked with hamburger.

For all of those, you start with the same first step: sauté some onion and garlic (add celery and carrot if you want to go all out). Remove from the pan and then brown the hamburger in the veggie drippings. Then mix the cooked veggies back into the cooked meat. This is the basis of most American-style tomato pasta sauces. And it’s where you start when you make chili.

But it’s enough of a chore that when you’re tired and hungry at the end of the day, you just don’t feel like bothering.

But…but…wait…BUT? Why do you have to do that every time you cook one of those dishes?

Why couldn’t you cook up the foundation  for any of these sauces or stews ahead of time and freeze it? Why not take that mountain of Costco hamburger, chop a couple of onions, a couple of celery sticks, and a carrot, and sauté the vegetables, brown the meat, let it cool, and then divide it into meal-size portions, pack them into Ziplock bags, and toss them in the freezer?

Estimate how much of your meat mixtures would go into any one of the desired final dishes. That’s how much you’d pack into one bag.

Then, when you a crave a pot of chili (let’s say), you pull out a bag, defrost it, dump it into a stew pot (or a crockpot, if you’re in no hurry), add a hefty dose of chili powder, a big can of tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce or paste, maybe a little beef broth if have some around, and a generous splash of red wine. Allow to simmer long enough to blend the flavors, And voilà! Chili without the work. You could easily throw this together after a day of work.

Same for any other dish that requires a base of sautéed hamburger (or sausage!) and aromatic veggies.

It’s a weekend project that could feed you for many weeks to come.

Why didn’t I think of this before?

Currified scallops, greens, pasta, & stuff

Okay, folks. I just dreamed this up. And is it good to eat!

Here’s what you’re gonna do…

Assemble:

  • Get yourself a few raw sea scallops (I doled out three large ones for myself. Probably a man or a woman with a big appetite would like four or five.) In the absence of scallops, shrimp will do. Have some sort of leafy green veggies on hand: choice of the day is a fistful of the chard growing in the back yard, but fresh or frozen spinach or kale would do the job, too.
  • Pull a can or jar of decent curry powder out of the pantry cupboard. If you can find some, also retrieve some variety of dry aromatic herbs, like basil, tarragon, herbes de Provence, fines herbes, or…whatever.
  • While you’re there, retrieve some pasta. Just about any kind will do. I found some fettucini in the cabinet. If you prefer, substitute riced butternut squash. WhatEVER. Just haul out enough to feed the number of diners lurking around.
  • Get out some olive oil and, if desired, some butter.
  • Chop up a clove of garlic.
  • Chop up several small ripe tomatoes or a couple of large tomatoes. Add a sprinkle of the dried herbs and, if desired, a little salt; toss these around and set aside.
  • Rustle up some olive oil or butter, or what the heck…maybe even some of both.
  • Get out a pan big enough to boil the pasta in.
  • Got some pine nuts? Haul out a fistful.
  • If you have a fresh lemon, cut it in half.

Cook:

Defrost the scallops or shrimp, if necessary. Dry them on paper towels.

Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil.

While the water is coming to a boil,  cut up the greens to suit your taste. Personally, I like them roughly chopped but not minced — whatever pleases you, though. Place the greens in a small sieve or colandar that will fit into the pot. When the water is boiling briskly, set the colander into the hot water for a few seconds to blanche the greens. (This should turn them bright green. Not necessary to do this if you’re using frozen vegetables, which are already blanched at the factory. Just pour water over them in the colander to defrost them.)

With a pair of tongs, carefully lift the colander out of the pot and set it in the sink to drain. Run some cold tap water over the veggies to stop the cooking process and make them cool enough for you to pick up. When the water has pretty well drained out of them, spread some paper towels on the counter. Lay the blanched veggies on them, roll up, and (over the sink) squeeze the remaining water out of them. Place the colander back in the sink.

Add a little salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta therein.

When the pasta is cooked, pour it into the colander. Pour some cold tap over that to stop the cooking process, too. Dry out the pan, without burning yourself.

Place the cooked pasta on a serving plate. Top it with about half the chopped tomatoes

Add some olive oil and the chopped garlic to the pan and return to the heat, about medium-high. Stir in the greens and add curry powder to taste.

Stir this around until the greens are sautéed to your taste. Then layer the greens over the pasta. Layer the rest of the tomatoes over the greens.

Return the pan to the medium-high heat and add a little more olive oil or some butter, as desired. When this is starting to heat up, add the scallops or shrimp. If you really like the flavor of curry, you can sprinkle a little more on them, but it’s not necessary. It’s more subtle to allow the curried veggies to flavor the shellfish. Toss in a handful of pine nuts.

Sauté the shellfish and pine nuts gently, until the scallops and shrimp are cooked but not overdone.

Arrange the cooked shellfish and pine nuts atop the second layer of tomatoes. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top.

Et voilà! An exotic and very tasty meal.

You could, in theory, add Parmesan to this, I suppose. IMHO this would not combine felicitously with curry, though. If you want cheese on it, you might try a little feta. Rice can substitute for the pasta, making it a little more “authentically” Middle Eastern. If you’re on a gluten-free or low-starch diet, pasta made from winter squash would work, as would any of the riced or spiraled vegetables you can get at Sprouts and waypoints.

Eatin’, Workin’, Doggin’…Rainin’?

Workin’…

WooHOO! I’m halfway through the last piece in this issue of Chicana/Latina Studies, our semiannual client journal. This issue seems to be an especially good effort. One of the authors is such a good writer and she has such an interesting subject that, IMHO, she could be writing her stuff up for The New Yorker. She’d need to put out some effort to learn to write creative nonfiction and escape the academicese, but given the quality of her style, I’d say that would not be an unreasonably tall order for her.

What with The Kid’s project to streak through a new master’s degree program (while holding down her usual two full-time jobs…), I suggested that if she wanted me to do the whole job, rather than splitting it the way we usually do, that would be okay by me….

Yipes! Don’t break the Internet leaping at that one, Kid!

😀

So I’ve been reading all the copy for the entire issue, which is fine by me because a) not a lot of work is in-house just now and b) things having been mighty slow over the past quarter, I sure can use the monnaie.

It’s gone a lot faster than I thought it would. So I think, anyhow: these things will still have to be subjected to a second reading. But still, it appears that won’t take so very long. With any luck. the copy can wing its way back to the journal in another couple days, record time for a whole issue’s turn-around.

And lhudly sing huzzah, a new spectacular Chinese scientist is at the door, wanting an estimate on an arcane paper. This is good: we have missed our beloved Chinese scientists. It has been a slow 2018 Q4!

Eatin’…

By golly, I can not figure out why anyone spends their money and their time on third-rate fast food, when it’s so quick, so easy, and so amazingly delicious to toss together an amazing meal out of real, unprocessed, healthy food.

Today it was a few scallops sautéed with some garlic and some cut-up asparagus, tossed over some Italian pasta (tagliatelle!) and doused with some Pomí tomatoes, an Italian answer to canned tomatoes that comes in a box.

Failed to take a picture of that, but did grab one of some shrimp and spinach that was awesome…and now, having “organized” the 87 gerjillion images on the hard disk, have lost it. But…it was awesome. And took all of about 10 or 15 minutes to fix. To wit:

  • Defrost and peel a few big shrimp (once called “prawns”), per diner
  • Chop one or two cloves of garlic
  • Cut a lemon in half
  • Grab a bag of frozen chopped spinach out of the freezer
  • Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan.
  • Get some curry or cumin off the spice shelf
  • Optionally, have a tablespoon or two of butter at hand.

Sauté the shrimp with the garlic in the olive oil. Sprinkle the shrimp with curry or cumin, to taste. Don’t overcook. About the time you figure the shrimp is done, squeeze some lemon juice over it.

Remove the shrimp from the pan. Add a little more olive oil or, if you prefer, the butter. Add as much frozen spinach to the pan as you think the diners will eat. Stir this over medium heat until it’s defrosted and cooked to your taste. Add a teaspoon or so of sugar, if you so desire, to soften the flavor of the spinach.

Pile the spinach on a plate. Top with a few cooked shrimp. Et voilà: very easy, very fast.

Fill out the meal with a sliced tomato and some sliced avocado on the side.

Doggin’…

Cassie the Corgi steadfastly refused to use the doggy door installed, lo! these many years ago, for Anna the German Shepherd and Walt the Greyhound. So I shut it and locked it and forgot about it: it became part of the wall. As it were.

Welp…of late I’ve been invited on this day trip and that day trip. My son has indicated less than high joy at the prospect of babysitting Ruby the Corgi while I gallivant around the state, and my friends have evinced even less excitement at the thought of taking her along. I can’t leave her locked in the house all day. And I certainly can’t leave her out in the rain, heat, and coyote territory for eight or ten hours at a time.

Would she….? Could she…learn to use the doggy door?

Who’d’ve thunk it: the answer is she sure can. She quickly got the idea of pushing her way out. Coming in is a different matter: she doesn’t seem to remember that if she can get out through the plastic flaps, she can get back in through them, too.

I think a week or so of drilling (read “bribing with doggy treats”) will persuade her that she can come as well as go.

She’s a smart little dog. But one must bear in mind that she’s not a puppy. Dogs, like humans, tend to get sot in their ways as they age. So it will take a little longer for her to set both ideas in her mind: out and in.

Not real thrilled at the idea of going off and leaving that thing hanging open… She is, after all, decidedly not a German shepherd. A grown man can climb through that thing (and has). But I think I can disguise the area around the opening so it can’t be seen from the back wall. If someone’s going to climb over the cat barrier to break into the house, they’ll break in through the back door or a window, anyway. So though the dog door does indeed present some risk, it’s probably no worse than any other risk here in the ’hood.

Rain…

Not so much, despite the alleged “atmospheric river.” {snicker!} It had been sprinkling shortly before the dog and I rolled out of the sack this morning, but despite beautiful, plump, fluffy clouds floating through the blue, blue sky, no serious rain has developed. It is, however, perfect weather for a doggy-walk. Particularly if you’re a corgi.

 

 

1950s Yankee Lasagna: 21st-Century Update

So there I am in the Sprouts on Conduit of Blight Blvd, where I stopped off early this morning to pick up a few items I’d forgotten yesterday whilst shopping at AJs, the world’s most expensive high-falutin’ grocery store. While I was wandering around in there, what should I find to my delight but a display of perfect, radiant, photo-ready eggplants.

Hot dang! Eggplant lasagna, said I to my Self. The stuff will supply several meals, and these eggplants are too gorgeous to pass by. Not feeling inclined to buy two (a lifetime supply for one person), I picked up a zucchini to supplement it.

And hence to the kitchen, to cook up an impromptu dish of fake lasagna, something that tastes much like the real thing but is actually…you know…good for you.

We’re starting with my mother’s plain old Yankee spaghetti sauce: probably came from a recipe in a newspaper or a magazine.

My mother was considered a good cook in her day…friends loved to be invited to our house for breakfast or dinner. Good housewives mined Lady’s Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, and the women’s section of the daily paper for recipes. She had quite a collection. Truth to tell, though, she wasn’t crazy about cooking as a craft or as some kind of art. To her mind, cooking was drudgery, much like scrubbing the floors and hauling the laundry out to the clothesline. Soon as we got back to the United States and she discovered “convenience” foods (which didn’t exist in Aramco’s company commissary), we had TV dinners two or three nights a week.

As a young adult, I learned to cook, as did most of my friends, from Julia Child.  But still…there are some things you don’t forget. This is decidedly not a Julia Child sauce!

In any event, it would never have entered my mother’s mind to make lasagna with eggplant.

Alas, I did forget to buy ricotta at the Sprouts, and there was no way I was about to traipse back out in the traffic to get it. Or cottage cheese, which was my mother’s answer to ricotta (which no one ever heard of in 1955). Decided to substitute Greek yogurt, which I did indeed have in the fridge: another something my mother never heard of. Greek yogurt, that is; not the fridge.

Nor had she ever heard of fines herbes or herbes de Provence. The main herbs women of her time had were thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage, oregano, and bay leaves. And dried parsley. I never saw fresh parsley until I was in graduate school. “Garlic” would have meant garlic powder or garlic salt.

She would not have used actual tomatoes. She’d have used Hunt’s tomato sauce plus about half a can of Hunt’s tomato paste. The only canned tomatoes you could get in those days also came from Hunt’s; they were lumpy soggy things, packed in red water. She would not have added wine, because she didn’t have wine.

Few Americans had wine in those days.

As for the cheese: all we had was Kraft. There was no other cheese available in middle-class American grocery stores. For lasagne, my mother used several packages of sliced Kraft fake Swiss cheese. And Parmesan? What you got — and ALL you could get — was that powdery stuff that comes in cylindrical boxes coated in green tinfoil. I dunno what it was. It surely wasn’t cheese. It was just salty stuff. But what you had was what you got.

At the Sprouts, I found a kind of Kraftish knock-off. Not the real fake thing, but better than nothing. What passes for Parmesan casa mia these days is the stuff Costco is peddling in big plastic bags now that they’ve gotten rid of the real grated Parmesan they used to sell in big plastic jars. It’s not very good: if you’re going to try this recipe, buy a couple plastic containers of grated Parmesan from the grocery store’s deli case.

So here’s a way (among many) to do this:

Prepare the eggplant for cooking:

Wash it. Slice it lengthwise into pieces about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, or so. Lay these slices on a grate or oven rack laid over the kitchen sink. Sprinkle salt on one side of each piece of eggplant. Then turn the slices over and salt the other side. Go on about your business for a half-hour or more. Then rinse off the bitter liquids that have leached out of the eggplant and dry the slices well on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.

Sauté the eggplant in olive oil — it takes a lot, because eggplant loves oil and soaks it up with gay abandon. Just brown the slices of eggplant lightly on either side; then remove from the pan and set aside.

Make the sauce:

You need…

  • hamburger
  • an onion, chopped
  • one or two cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • a box of Pomí tomatoes (best of all possible choices) or several 8-ounce cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce plus about 1/2 small can of Hunt’s tomato paste, mixed together
  • red wine, if you have it
  • herbs to your taste (I used some dried fines herbes and also threw in some marjoram and some basil from the garden
  • olive oil

Pour enough olive oil into a frying pan to coat the bottom. Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is transparent and maybe just starting to brown. Lift these out and place them on a plate for a few minutes.

Add the hamburger to the pan. Cook this, stirring occasionally, until done through.

Now stir the onion and garlic back into the pan, combining well with the meat. Add a box of Pomí strained tomatoes or a couple cans of American-style tomato sauce (or more: till you have enough sauce). Add the tomato paste, if you’re using canned tomato sauce. Splash in a bit of red wine. Stir and let simmer slowly while you proceed with the other activities.

You can add a little sausage to the sauce, browned with the burger. Get country style, the kind that comes crumbled up like hamburger. My mother did not, probably because whatever newspaper recipe she used didn’t include it, or maybe because she wasn’t interested in slicing the skin off a bunch of sausages and crumbling them up as they fried in a pan. That much hassle was decidedly not her style.

To compile the fake lasagne, you need…

  • the sautéed eggplant (or eggplant & zucchini, as in my case)
  • the tomato sauce you’ve prepared
  • a container of ricotta, cottage cheese, or (with any luck this will work) Greek-style yogurt
  • sliced ersatz Swiss cheese, the kind that comes in plastic bags in the low-rent section of the grocer’s deli department
  • grated Parmesan cheese (use a decent Parmesan, not the powder that comes out of a cylindrical box)
  • olive oil

Get a rectangular baking dish. If you have a functioning oven (I do not: am using the grill as an oven), preheat it to about 375 or 400 degrees. Oil the dish generously with olive oil.

  • Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of the eggplant.
  • Then cover that with about half the cooked tomato sauce.
  • Layer the ricotta (or whatever) over the sauce.
  • Layer the rest of the eggplant over the ricotta.
  • Layer the Swissoid cheese over this.
  • Cover the Swiss cheese layer with the rest of the tomato sauce.
  • Sprinkle a whole lot of Parmesan over the top. Really coat it with grated cheese.

Bake at around 350º or 400º for 45 minutes or an hour, until the concoction is hot through and the cheese is seriously melted.

Et voilà! Enough eggplant lasagne à la mode de Yankee to last you for several weeks.

What if you want real fake lasagna? Easy enough. Use the recipe above, but substitute lasagna pasta for the eggplant. Simply boil the pasta until it’s al dente, rinse it in a colander under cold running water, and layer it with the sauce and cheeses. If you want nutrition (why???), layer in some spinach, too.