The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category


As a kid I realized that my interests were different from those of many my age.  The boys were interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would make it into the World Series.  The girls wondered whether they could make their Barbie even more alluring if they put some of their mothers’ lipstick on her.  I didn’t understand why kids were interested in either of those subjects.

I had been taught by my parents  that one of the first responsibilities of being a civilized person was listening to others, no matter the subject matter or what their opinion was.  This resulted in several occasions where I had self-inflicted wounds to the palms of my hand, caused by my nails digging into the flesh as I tried patiently to wait for the subject to change to something in which I had an interest.  There were some days that never happened – many days.

At a fairly early age, I realized and started to accept the fact that I was “different” from other kids my age.  In fact, I could readily picture myself growing up and being “different” as an adult.  This was not a judgment about who was better but merely an understanding that I had an alternative path to follow than others.  I thought that path might not have many fellow travellers on it – and that has proven to be the case.  And I longed to be transformed somehow so that I could change my route and find myself happily treading the road that so many others followed and with which they were content.  That never happened either.

One of the manifestations of my self-realization came in the form of a nightmare which repeated itself over several nights.  I was buried in Times Square in a glass coffin.  I could look out and see people walking over me on their way to work or one of the girlie joints that existed at that time – or perhaps rushing to the Automat to grab a quick bite to eat.  I remember crying out, “I’m here.  Somebody help me get out.”  But no one seemed either to hear me or to care enough to make an effort.  Fortunately, that nightmare went away, although mentioning it these many years later still sends a shiver up my spine.  Years later I realized that the line from “Cool Hand Luke,” ‘What we have here is failure to communicate” was pure plagiarism.  But not being a litigious person, I have no plans to sue the screenwriters.

One morning at breakfast one of the great questions of all time overwhelmed me.   Two eggs over easy, hash browns, three strips of crisp bacon and a couple toasted slices of Grandma’s homemade bread.  (I had already drunk the small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice – with pulp included).

There I was looking at breakfast. and it hit me as I cut into the yolk of one of the eggs and tore off a piece of the bread to soak up the yellow liquid.  “Who invented toast?,” I thought to myself.  This seemed to me, at the moment, to be the most profound and interesting question that anyone had ever posed.  Even though I was really hungry, I was tempted to set down my fork and walk over to “The Encyclopedia Britannica” and read about the history of how toast had come into existence.  But based on previous experience with eggs over easy, eating them cold wasn’t very appealing.  So I ate breakfast quickly, forgetting to enjoy it, and then, after bringing my plates into the kitchen, stood on the couch so that I could reach the “T” volume.

I thought that all the knowledge of the universe was contained in my encyclopedia.  I anxiously thumbed through the “T” articles, “Th,” “Ti”, “To” finally I was almost there.  Finally, I came on the entry.  The EB described (briefly) what toast was – but there was no reference to what I’m sure must be a very dignified pedigree belonging to the individual who invented it.  What a let down.  I already knew what toast was.  The book was absolutely no help.  So I turned to Grandma, my go to backup source.

“Grandma, who invented toast?”  She always looked at me very lovingly.  But somehow I felt that I had an insight into her mind and after I asked that question, I could see her thinking, “What a special child.”  She always liked to keep her inner thoughts quite charitable.  “Sweetheart, I really don’t know.”  A lesser person might have had a different thought after being asked that question by a ten year old.

Frustrated at being left in the dark, I gathered my books and went to school, making sure that my homework was ready and with me.  Sometimes, when I was in the middle of solving one of life’s mysteries, I had a tendency to leave things behind, absorbed, as I was with my great thoughts.

I didn’t pay much attention at school that morning.  How could I?  I debated whether or not I should ask my teacher, Mrs. Bounds my question.  She was a very wise person and very nice.  But a couple of times she had mentioned how she and her husband were going out to dinner at this restaurant or another – so I didn’t think she cooked very often and probably wouldn’t know the answer.  So I waited for lunch.

When we all filed into the lunchroom, I grabbed a tray, the silverware, a napkin and a container of milk.  We had beef stew that day and I helped myself to two slices of bread to soak up the gravy.  Mrs. Johnson served my stew and handed me my plate.  She was quite elderly and obviously she must have cooked or she wouldn’t be handing out beef stew to little kids, so I blurted out, “Mrs. Johnson, who invented toast?”  As I read her inner thoughts, I saw that they contained little of the gentility that I had experienced when I had asked Grandma the same question.  They were more along the lines of, “Only two more years of this and I’m going to retire.”  But she replied quite politely, “I really don’t know dear.”  And she smiled somewhat dismissively, suggesting that I was holding up the line and should move along.  So I did.

I asked several of my classmates and my friends my question.  But the boys were more interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would be in the World Series and the girls wondered if putting their mothers’ lipstick on Barbie would make her more alluring and I could tell they really weren’t interested in discussing my question – since they told me so.

More than a half century has gone by and I still don’t have an answer to my question.  Fortunately, I only think about it once in a while so it’s not a source of great emotional distress.  But, if you’re reading this and know “Who invented toast,” I would greatly appreciate your getting in touch and telling me.  And if you have the answer, you’re just the kind of person who must be walking my somewhat lonesome path and probably can answer my next question.  “Who invented butter?”

Let’s walk along together.  I’m sure we will have a lot to discuss.




Whether it’s first rate sushi, shabu shabu or teppanyaki style cooking, I really enjoy Japanese cuisine.  Alas, I fear my days of being able to enjoy them in this country may be marked.  That is truly tragic.

If you’ve ever been to a Benihana restaurant then you’ve experienced teppanyaki cooking.  The meal is made at a counter where the master chef, with great flair, prepares your meal on the griddles that are in front of him, placing your food on your plate with a cleaver.  Part of the joy of seeing a teppanyaki meal being prepared is watching your chef throw his knives in the air, juggling them and then catching them as he then applies himself to slicing your shrimp or chicken or filet of beef.

A wonderful teppanyaki meal is both delicious and at the same time you get a show which makes an evening out less expensive and more filling than buying a ticket to see Cirque de Soleil.

Recently our esteemed Attorney General, Eric Holder proposed creating “smart” guns which would only be able to be discharged if the actual owner held and fired the weapon.  Naturally, our government will supply some of the cash to help bring about this technology.  If you’re not in the military and might have to pick up someone else’s gun to defend yourself, on the surface I guess that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.  Naturally, we will have to round up all the thugs and their illegal weapons, retrofit them, and then return them to their owners in order to get this plan to be really effective.

It is understandable that in the wake of multiple shootings, most recently the one that occurred at Ft. Hood in Texas, that once again we turn our attention to the issue of gun violence.  If there were a workable solution to this problem, I would be the first in line to support it.  And although at one point in my life, I pooh-poohed the statement that, “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people,” I have to admit that as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully a bit wiser), I do see the merit of that comment.

Several days ago in Murrysville, PA a high school sophomore came to class, armed with several of his family’s kitchen knives, and then used them to slash or stab twenty of his fellow students and a security guard.  At this point there is no known motive for his behavior.  He is described as a “quiet young man who seemed to get along with his fellow students and teachers.”  That didn’t preclude him from going on a rampage for whatever reason.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities as a result of this attack.  But there might well have been.  After all, knives – even if they are designed simply for preparing meals – can be misused as this episode demonstrates.  Does that mean that Atty. Gen. Holder should proscribe their use in society?

Consider another potential hazzard to society, unveiled and documented for us by Hollywood. In sequel after sequel moviemakers have shown the potential for violence that the useful chainsaw can cause if it falls into the wrong hands.

Or let’s consider another recent event.  In Houston, Ana Trujillo was convicted of killing her boyfriend and today was sentenced to life in prison.  Her weapon of choice was one of her 5-1/2” stiletto heels.  Watch out shoe manufacturers.  Your product might well become the subject of lawsuits since you are apparently foisting on the unsuspecting, fashion conscious, unregistered lethal weapons.

Our world is fraught with danger.  I simply didn’t realize how readily available “weapons of individual destruction” were in our Discount Shoe Warehouses, Home Depots and Sur la Table stores.  But at least one good thing came out of these tragic stories.

Now I understand why, in traditional Japanese restaurants, they ask you to remove your footwear.

Pass The Butter … Please.

Once upon a time in the Dairy State (Wisconsin) it was illegal to sell margarine. The margarine people complained that this was unfair to them and a restraint of their right to sell a butter/alternative product. Read through to the end of this excellent article and you’ll see maybe those old dairy farmers were on to something.

Oyia Brown

This is interesting . .. .

Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back.

It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter.

How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavourings….

DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter?

Read on to the end…gets very interesting!

Both have the same amount of calories.

Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine..

Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to…

View original post 314 more words


If everyone were like me there would be a lot of vacant buildings in America which are currently housing fast food outlets.  I eat out at these places five or six times a year at most.  Well, last night was one of those nights when I had become involved in a small project, time had slipped away, it was late and I was hungry.

I remembered that I still had a receipt from a breakfast I had purchased at Jack In The Box which offered me a 10% discount on a future purchase attached to the fridge with a kitchen magnet.  Best of all, it was good on any meal and there was no expiration date on the receipt.  As Jack In The Box is only a couple of miles from the house and I knew that they were open 24 hours a day for drive through, I took myself and my six month old receipt and drove over there.

I was sort of in the mood for a chicken of some kind sandwich.  It took me a few seconds to locate the “chicken section” on their menu display and then to eliminate the “nugget” selections.  That brought it down to a “Sourdough Bread Chicken Sandwich” or a “Western Chicken Sandwich.”  I had ordered a sandwich on their sourdough bread before and didn’t care for the consistency of the bread – so by default I leaned toward the Western Chicken.  And as I was in a mood for some fries I decided to order the “Combo” since they offered lemonade as a drink choice.

Confidently, I edged my car forward to the ordering station where the little screen greeted me with, “Welcome to Jack In The Box.”  Within seconds a young woman’s voice magically broadcast the same greeting and asked if she could take my order.  So I replied, “I’ll have the number nine combo with lemonade, please.”

“Do you want a small, medium or large?,” she queried.

This through me for a loop.  I wanted the number nine combo for $6.29 as listed on their menu.  I wasn’t sure what further choices I had to make.

A bit flustered, I repeated my request for the number nine combo with lemonade.

“Yes, but do you want a small, medium or large?”

“A small, medium or large what?,” I asked.

“Combo,” she replied.

I could see that we were caught in a circular conversation which was going nowhere.  So I asked her, “What kind of number nine combo do you get for $6.29?”

She answered, “A small.”

I said, “Fine, I’ll have that.”

“What do you want to drink?”

Despite the fact that I had told her I wanted lemonade twice before, I repeated it calmly a third time.  I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

A few seconds later my order appeared on the screen and the young woman asked me if she had my order correct.  Frankly, at that point I would have settled for a couple of tacos with a side order of jalapenos and no beverage because I was really getting hungry.  But I glanced up at the screen and noticed that she was charging me $6.49 for my number nine combo – not the $6.29 that was listed on the menu.

I pointed this out to her.

“The reason for the difference in price is that there is tax,” she said.

I was beginning to get a little steamed at the foolishness of this remark and the difficulty of placing the order in the first place.

“No, it’s not a matter of tax.  I understand that there is tax and that is clearly shown on your screen.  The problem is that your menu says a number nine combo costs $6.29 and you are charging me $6.49 for it.”

“That’s because of the tax.”

At that point a car pulled up behind me – another late night diner.  It was nearly midnight.

“Excuse me ma’am – it’s not a matter of tax.  I understand that there is tax.  What I’m trying to tell you is that your menu says that my order costs $6.29 before tax.  Your screen says my order costs $6.49 before tax.  That’s the problem.”

“Would you please pull up to the pickup window?”

I refused to move – my apologies to the driver behind me whom I inconvenienced.

Within a minute a nice young man wearing the ever-present headset with which people who have careers in “fast food” restaurants are born came out to resolve the issue.

“What seems to be the problem?”

I explained that the price for a number nine combo was $6.29 and I was being charged $6.49 for it.  That was the problem.

“That’s because there is tax.”

I was exhausted, very frustrated and feeling moderately homicidal at that response.  But I said, “Excuse me sir.  Look at your menu.  It says a number nine combo costs $6.29.  Now look at the first line of your screen.  Please note that it says a number nine combo costs $6.49.  Do you see the problem?”

I hoped that with the visual aid of both the menu and the screen in front of him we could finally resolve the issue.  And we did.

“Oh, that’s because the menu is ‘messed up’.”

I said, “Well, since I ordered from your ‘messed up’ menu, I expect to be charged the ‘messed up’ price.  So just adjust the screen to $6.29 plus tax, I’ll pick up my order and be on my way.”

“I can’t do that.  I don’t have the override code.”

At that point, ten minutes after starting to order, I had lost my appetite for a number nine combo or anything else on the Jack In The Box menu.

I said, “Well, thanks for trying to resolve the problem.  You have a good night.”  And I drove off.

When I got home I pulled some bacon and eggs out of the refrigerator and enjoyed them with an English muffin and some fig jam I had made a few months earlier.  It was a delightful meal and I put it together in little more time than I had spent at the window trying to get a dose of “fast food”.

After cleaning the dishes and pan I pulled the 10% discount receipt on a future Jack In The Box purchase from my pocket and put it back on the refrigerator with the magnet.  It’s not that I plan on using it.  But it will serve as a reminder of why I will not be using it.

They say that eating fast food regularly is not the best thing for your physical health.  I don’t know if that is true or not.

But I can certainly attest to the fact that trying to order it plays havoc with your mental well-being.


If you have ever visited Las Vegas in the winter, then you know that it sometimes gets below freezing here and that, of course, means that it’s “Chili Weather Time”.  We are in one of those weather spells now and there is nothing I enjoy more than some homemade chili to take the edge off our delightfully brisk weather.

Yesterday I assembled all the ingredients that I use, ground beef, hot Italian sausage, crushed and whole tomatoes, kidney beans and chili powder and some other spices and set to work preparing a vat of the stuff.  One of my neighbors had given me some roasted Hatch chilies and they went into the mix as well.

When cooking, I generally don’t follow a recipe exactly unless it’s something new that I’m trying.  That way, if I like a recipe but think it could use a little improvement, I have a baseline from which I can adjust in the future.  Having made many pots of chili over the years, I adjust the simmering pot of goodness – but in the case of my chili that adjustment is made by sight rather than taste.  I look at the color of the contents to determine whether I need to darken it by adding more chili powder.

Well, I am pleased to report that I was in chili heaven at dinner last night.  A large bowl of my concoction accompanied with some homemade bread, smothered and baked with lots of freshly crushed garlic and olive oil and I’m sure that I had a smile on my face as big as the Cheshire cat’s.  My color test had once again led me to bring this bubbling pot to the desired heat level that I enjoy.

A color test works well for me in preparing my chili.  It really doesn’t speak well, however, to those who represent us in Congress.  By that, I refer to the Black Congressional Caucus.  Why this racist group exists is beyond my understanding.

It would be hard to deny that blacks have had a tough go of it in the United States.  Most of us or our forebears arrived on ships – but for blacks it was on slave ships.  That’s certainly a hard way to get started in a new land.  But as tough as that was, if you look at the conditions in which many blacks in modern Africa still live, I think that most American blacks would prefer being here rather than there.  I don’t see any major exodus being organized or undertaken by the black leadership to move to Liberia.  Perhaps I have missed that news item.

Can you imagine the outbreak of righteous indignation if someone were to propose establishing a White Congressional Caucus – or an Asian Congressional Caucus or an Hispanic Congressional Caucus?  I think the only one who might institute a Native American Congressional Caucus is Sen. Elizabeth Warren – if she can get her genealogy straight.

It’s one hundred fifty years since Abraham Lincoln spoke the words of The Emancipation Proclamation.   Perhaps he chose New Year’s Day as a symbolic date for giving this speech – a New Year and a new beginning.  It’s time those black representatives in Congress buried the hatchet of race (my apologies to Sen. Warren for using that metaphor) and defined themselves by their accomplishments and not their skin color.

Racial prejudice is a poisonous potion – and only a mindless fool will choose to drink from it.  But those who see their world as being defined by their own skin color, inadvertently are the first at the bar to order up this beverage.  They keep this lethal drink popular and on the market.

To our Congressional representatives who happen to be black, I would like to offer a little advice.  It’s time for “Last Call”.


I was bad, really bad.  Perhaps the more appropriate term is lazy.  Although I again have the three goldens with Gracie and me, I didn’t have the energy yesterday to bake the dog biscuits that they love.  And to make matters worse, I was nearly out of the other little goodies that they get each morning when we come back from the park.

It was too early to stop by Pet Smart to pick up a stash, so I stopped at my local supermarket to see what they had in stock.  Well, they had the treats I normally include as part of the kids’ morning mix, but they were significantly more expensive than at Pet Smart.  So I looked for a short term alternative on the shelf and found one.  As they were on sale they were quite inexpensive and appeared to contain a preponderance of natural ingredients.

As with products I buy for my own consumption, I checked to see whether they were made in the U. S. A. or if, like so much in the pet food department, were a product of China.  I looked all over the package but was unable to find the country of origin listed.  The only statement was that they were “distributed by Del Monte Foods’ Pet Division”.  The term “distributed” led me to believe that they probably were not made here.

When we returned home, (the kids patiently sat in the car waiting for me to get them their goodies), I called the number listed on the package to speak with Del Monte’s customer service department.  The young lady in New Jersey was very helpful and assured me that this product was indeed made in the USA.  And that’s when I learned something.

I’m not sure what law Congress passed that applies, but as my contact at Del Monte put it, “Only products which are made in foreign countries must indicate the country of origin on the packaging.  If you see a product with no indication of where it is made, you can rest assured that it was produced here.”

I wished I had known that earlier as it would have saved me five minutes scrutinizing the package and the time it took to call her and for her to answer my question.  I did suggest that since there is a lot of printing on the package, it might be helpful to the consumer if they simply added the statement, “Made in the USA” to the package, removing any question from the mind of the consumer who cares about that sort of thing.

She agreed and said she would “Pass that suggestion along.”

Well, the good news is that the kids liked their new treats.  And the better news is that I got motivated to bake them two batches of their biscuits.  That is good news for them and for me.  (I have gotten in the habit of eating a couple of them every morning for breakfast).

Don’t laugh.  They are not as hard as Milk Bone biscuits.  In fact, they have the consistency of scones.  And all of us find them rather tasty.  They go very nicely with my morning coffee – and I’m looking forward to breakfast tomorrow morning now that I’ve laid in a new supply.

For those of you who have companion dogs, I have included the recipe below.  If your dogs are like this pack, they will love them – and you may as well.


Dry Ingredients

1/2 cup of original Oat Meal flakes

1/2 cup of yellow or blue Corn Meal

2   cups of flour (I use equal parts of garbanzo, barley, brown rice and whole wheat flours).

1   Tbsp. of Toasted Wheat Germ

1    Tbsp. of Toasted Sunflower Seeds (unsalted)

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together all ingredients until thoroughly blended

Wet Ingredients

1/2 cup of filtered water

1/2 cup of oil (Safflower preferred)

2  large eggs or 1 jumbo egg

1 Tbsp. of pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsps. of honey

3 Tbsps. of chunky peanut butter (almond or pecan butter make a nice variation)

In a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk blend all wet ingredients thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients and blend until all liquid is absorbed.

Turn out dough on a wooden board and form into a ball.  Roll out until about 1/2 inch in thickness and cut into shapes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet place cut out biscuits and bake in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes.  (I normally make two batches at a time and exchange the baking sheets from one level of the oven to the other after 10 minutes so that they bake evenly).  Turn oven off.

Let rest in the oven (door ajar) for another 10 minutes.  Put trays on a wire rack to cool.  Store in air tight containers.

(I have no idea how long the shelf life of these biscuits is because two batches only last us about three days).

“Bone Appetit!”


Mary was born, raised and lived her whole life in the big city.  She was industrious and held a good position and as she had never married, devoted herself to her work.

She was careful to make sure that she saved something out of each paycheck and had invested her savings wisely.  She felt certain that her savings, together with her retirement benefits, would enable her to enjoy a comfortable if not luxurious retirement.

One day she received a call at her office from an attorney, informing her that her favorite uncle, Steve had passed away suddenly and had named her executrix of his estate.  This news floored her as she had spoken with her uncle just a few days previously and he seemed to be in excellent health.  She wept bitterly at the news of his death as she and he had shared many pleasant evenings together at his beautiful and historic cottage about an hour’s drive from the city.

Mary made an appointment to meet with her uncle’s attorney the following day.  Much to her surprise, not only was he her favorite uncle but she was his favorite niece.  Uncle Steve had left Mary the cottage in which he lived as her inheritance.

Mary loved going to visit her late uncle at his home.  The cottage had been built in the early 19th century out of brick and flagstone.  It was small but beautifully picturesque, almost as though out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  After the affairs of his estate were settled, Mary began driving to the cottage as frequently as she could, usually every other weekend.

Uncle Steve was a gentle and kind man and at his funeral his neighbors attested to his good nature by fully filling the church at which his services were held.  All of them had the kindest words to offer Mary and his other relatives who had attended his funeral.

Like Mary, Uncle Steve had never married nor did he have any children.  He was from an older generation when getting married normally preceded having offspring.  But he was a very nurturing man and, perhaps because he didn’t have children of his own he turned his attention to gardening, raising some of the most wonderful vegetables in his community.  He always had an oversupply of this vegetable or that and frequently brought bags of them that he had freshly harvested from his garden to neighbors who greatly appreciated them.

Mary was an excellent cook and she noticed how much tastier the meals Uncle Steve prepared were using his own garden’s vegetables, than when Mary made the same thing using store bought produce.  She particularly noticed this taste difference in Uncle Steve’s carrots which were Mary’s favorite vegetable.

Mary loved carrots in whatever form they were prepared.  She loved the sweet taste and beautiful color of freshly squeezed carrot juice.  She loved making carrot salad with some golden raisins and slivered almonds.  Her neighbors in the city always were delighted when Mary would make a carrot cake and come by to offer them a few large pieces of it.  Whether they were steamed or raw, pureed or in a soufflé, there was no way that carrots could be prepared that Mary did not enjoy them.

Well, a year went by and Mary retired.   Her co-workers took her out for a very festive evening at a fancy restaurant and, to Mary’s delight, the restaurant had carrots on the menu that night.  After the many years they had worked together, Mary felt bittersweet about leaving her many friends at her company.  But she invited them all to come and visit her at her new cottage in the country.

So in mid-winter Mary packed up the remaining things from her apartment that she would need in her new home and moved to the cottage.  She looked forward to the spring when, keeping alive the tradition her Uncle Steve had started, she would plant her new garden.

As I said, Mary was a city girl and the specifics of gardening were new to her.  But she bought a few books on the subject and attended a class at one of the local nurseries to get a better idea of all that was involved in vegetable gardening.  Although she was inexperienced, she was bright and felt that she was up to the challenge.

Spring finally arrived and Mary, following the instructions she had received, had readied her garden to receive the plants she had bought.  She had purchased tomato plants, Bibb lettuce, a variety of herbs, several different kinds of beans and chili plants and had allocated space to each of them.  And she had, of course, bought an ample supply of carrot seed – the only thing that she was going to start from scratch.

The weather report suggested that the possibility of frost had ended and so Mary took her plants from the nursery and began placing them in the garden.  She had done a good job adding compost to the already rich soil and stood back to admire her work as she saw these little plants all nestled in their new beds.

Of course, Mary had reserved half the garden to her favorites, her carrots and, according to the instructions on the seed packet and the advice she had received from the nursery, had created three rows of furrow into which she placed her carrot seed and then covered them gently with earth.

Mary dutifully tended her garden, watering it in the morning and evening.  She could see the growth in all the other vegetables and herbs, but her rows of carrots showed no evidence that they were germinating – until two weeks went by.  Mary came out one morning and saw the smallest little green growths popping their heads along the three rows where she had planted the carrots.  She was overjoyed.

Pleased with herself, she continued her twice daily watering and could see how well her tomatoes and chili plants were doing, but the carrots showed a much slower growth than they.  Yes, she thought, the growth is now a bit taller, but I wonder how the carrots underneath are doing.  So she gently dug around one of her carrots to inspect it.

When she pulled up this carrot, she was delighted.  Although the carrot was very slender, perhaps only an eighth of an inch in width and an inch and a half long, it was truly a carrot.  So Mary gently replaced it in its little spot, tamped soil around it and went into the cottage do so some cleaning and washing.

A week went by and Mary noticed, when she watered the garden, that the carrot she had inspected did not seem to be doing as well as its neighbor carrots.  There had been no growth in its green top – in fact, it looked as though it was beginning to wither.  So she pulled that carrot out again and saw that the carrot had, in fact, died.

She wondered, “Did I not fertilize and prepare the soil properly?  What did I do wrong?  Are my other carrots going to have the same unfortunate end?”

So Mary pulled up the carrot next to the one that had died.  To her relief, this carrot seemed to be doing just fine.  While it was far from mature, it had grown to three times the size of the one she had dug up the previous week.  Mary breathed a sigh of relief and put this second carrot back in it’s place.

But as another week of dutifully tending to her garden went by, Mary noticed something disturbing.  The green top of this second carrot, like its neighbor, seemed to be withering.  So she pulled it out from the bed and looked at it.  Despite being larger than the first one, it too had died.

Mary suddenly realized why these two carrots had not matured.  By pulling them up, she had interrupted their growth and so she left the rest of them alone until they were ready to be harvested.  She had an abundant crop of her favorite vegetable and used them in all her finest carrot recipes.

Mary had learned an important lesson about carrots and about life.

Moral:  Whether it’s butterflies or blue whales or babies or carrots, most things, if left alone, will become what Nature intended them to be.  Whether or not that happens is up to us because we have the ability to make the choice.


A national food magazine sponsored  a contest to decide who made the best roast beef in the country.  Naturally, there were thousands of hopeful gourmet chefs who submitted their recipes.  The staff of food experts read through each of these and then invited the five contestants whom they felt had the most original ideas to come to their test kitchen and prepare their entry.  After sampling each, the award went to one Shirley Simpson.  Mrs. Simpson received a ten thousand dollar cash prize and she and her family were treated to an all expense-paid one week vacation at a beautiful resort.

When the family returned home, Mrs. Simpson was doing some work around the house.  The phone rang and it was Meg, the woman at the magazine who had organized the contest.  She said, “You know, Shirley – we were thinking.  We would like to do a video of you preparing your fabulous roast beef in your home.  Who knows, this might even lead to your own cooking show.”  Needless to say Shirley was very excited at this idea.  She couldn’t wait for her husband to come home to tell him.

So several weeks later Meg and her film crew came to the Simpson house.  Shirley had purchased her usual six pound piece of beef, had laid out all the ingredients for her marinade and started preparing her award-winning recipe.  After the beef had marinated for its appropriate time (they used time lapse photography), she took a large knife and sliced approximately one third off the piece of meat, laying it next to the larger piece in her roasting pan.

At that point Meg asked, “Alright – now tell me why it is that you cut the roast before cooking it.”

Shirley said, “That’s the way my mother taught me how to make it.”

Meg said, “It’s too bad we can’t ask your mother why she did that.”

“Oh, you can,” Shirley responded. “She lives with us and in fact I hear her car pulling up in the driveway right now.”

So Shirley’s mom, Laura came in and Meg asked her why she cut her roast beef before it was cooked.

Laura said, “That’s the way my mother taught me to make it.”

This, of course, frustrated Meg who said, “I would love to get to the bottom of this.  It’s a pity we can’t find out by speaking with your grandmother, Shirley.”

“Oh, you can.  Grandma Pat lives with us – only in the guest house.  I know she’s home and we can go over and ask her.”

So the entourage left the Simpson’s kitchen and went around to the lovely little cottage in the back where Grandma Pat lived.

She opened the door and Meg explained why they were there.  “Please, Grandma Pat tell us why you slice your beef into two pieces before you cook it.”

Grandma Pat said, “Well that’s very simple.  My late husband loved nothing more than a good piece of roast beef and some Yorkshire pudding.  He liked it hot – but even more he enjoyed it cold the next day or even after if there was anything left.  He was English you know.  So he would ask me to buy a large piece of meat so that he could savor it for several days.  The only problem was that we lived in a very small flat which had a very small stove – and cutting it to make it fit a very small roasting pan was the only way I could get it in the oven.”

Ah, tradition.  Throwing salt over your shoulder if you spilled some; avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk lest you cause your mother to seek the care of a chiropractor;  avoiding the path of a black cat if one should be in front of you; knocking on wood; not walking under stepladders.  Well the list goes on and on.

Some of the things that we do traditionally are no doubt born of superstition.  But as our story points out, others have a solid and practical basis underlying them – although we may have forgotten what that originally was.

Tradition serves a purpose.  It gives us the opportunity to respond in a certain way – a way which most of the rest of us understand.  I have never had anyone ask me when I said, “God bless you” in response to another person’s sneeze, the reason  I made that statement.  Tradition is an anchor in a world of turmoil.  It helps bind us together and let’s us feel connected.

The alternative to following tradition is abandoning it in favor of something we think better – namely change.  Those who nihilistically want to ditch all the traditions of yore make the assumption that whatever we do, as long as it isn’t traditional, will be an improvement.  How sad and empty their lives must be – and how uncertain they must feel.

Before specific traditions became that, no doubt our ancestors had others to which they held but which later fell by the wayside.  Not everything which might become a tradition later actually survived the test of time and usefulness.  And so it will be with the changes that those who insist on abandoning the past will implement.

Tradition and history are inextricably linked.  By definition, a tradition began at some past time in history and is perpetuated in the present.    And during man’s brief, almost negligible history, we should have learned the lessons it can teach us if we are willing to look and to listen.

Of course, those who propose we should go down the path of change, perhaps merely for the sake of change usually miss one important point in their dialectic.  That is that if we change something, we are required almost immediately to change it further lest it start taking on the vestiges of a tradition.   As for me, that’s a little too frenetic.

I know it might be old-fashioned but I think I’m going to hold on to some of my traditions – and hold on to them tight.

And now I’ve got to go.  I’m making roast beef for dinner.


As this is Mother’s Day I would like to pay a small tribute to my grandmother for a valuable lesson I learned from her.

Grandma was the textbook definition of the “comparative shopper”.  If she needed to purchase an item, such as baking soda, she would examine the small and large versions and determine which would cost her less per ounce.  Normally, the larger quantity was less expensive on this basis.

She always took advantage of “twofers” – a common pricing strategy at grocery stores – where one can cost $.15 but you could buy two for $.29.  It may seem trivial to us today, saving that penny, but five of those purchases was enough to buy a Hershey bar which today costs nearly a dollar – and the candy bar was significantly bigger than the ones that are now for sale.

Of course, grandma had to do the math in her head as this was an era before we all walked around with cell phones that had calculator features.  It was also before the grocery stores were required to have little tags on the shelves which did the math for us.  I may be mistaken but I think that came about as the Federal Government made the announcement in the mid-1970’s that the U. S. was going to go “metric” – something that has never really happened.

Frankly, while metric is a much more logical system, I shuddered when I first heard the announcement.  I had spent way too much time in grammar school learning how to convert pints into quarts into gallons; inches into yards and ounces into pounds.  Well, the full conversion to metric never happened and the only vestiges are that products are still sold using the old avoirdupois system with the metric equivalent showing up next to it in parenthesis.

Having been raised in this tradition of trying to stretch my shopping dollar as far as it could go I followed grandma’s example and added to it by clipping coupons – something which really didn’t exist when she went out for groceries.  But, of course, I also still compare prices between different quantities of the same item.   I don’t rely on the little tags which the stores have on the shelves as I seldom bring my reading glasses which are necessary if I want to be able to see the calculated price.  But since math has never been a challenge for me, it’s a very simple process.

Generally speaking, larger quantities of the same item cost less per unit than smaller packages.  That is something that I have come to expect over many years of grocery shopping.  Occasionally a smaller quantity will be on sale while the larger version will not and it is actually less expensive to buy the product in the smaller version.  But as a rule and without having to resort to doing math, I have found that it is usually less expensive on a per unit basis to buy a larger quantity of an item than a small one.  Until now.

One of the items that I purchase regularly at my local Smith’s store, the name under which the Kroger Corporation does business in Nevada is chicken jerky.  Gracie loves the stuff and it is part of her breakfast most mornings.  I have tried a variety of different brands.  Most of them have ends that are highly pointed and I am always concerned that in her enthusiasm in eating them she might gulp the treat down without fully chewing it causing herself a problem.  By contrast, the version at Smith’s has flat ends – so I began buying them.

The product comes in two different sizes.  I began reaching for the larger package when I did my little price check just to make sure I was getting the best value.  In fact, I wasn’t.  The larger version actually cost more per ounce than the smaller one.  I double-checked my math by putting my face within an inch or so of the two little price tags on the shelf.  My math was impeccable.

I thought that this was strange and brought it to the attention of the very pleasant lady in Customer Service.  Perhaps the store had mispriced this item.  If so, I wanted to bring it to their attention as this was something that I anticipated buying on an ongoing basis. The lady in customer service thanked me and said that she would bring this to the attention of the store manager.  So I left feeling that I had done something positive for all the other shoppers who would purchase this chicken jerky for their companion animals.

Well, a month went by and then another and the prices on the chicken jerky never changed.  As it happened, I needed to purchase some oatmeal as I had begun baking doggie treats at home for Gracie and this was a key ingredient.  So I went to the cereal aisle and took a look at plain old-fashioned Quaker Oats.  I was a little surprised to discover that purchasing this product in the larger version cost more per ounce than buying it in a smaller quantity – just like the chicken jerky.  So that started me thinking – is this a strategy rather than an error?  Well, I didn’t have time that trip to fully investigate but determined that I would do so.  And I did.

After spending about an hour in the store on an investigative trip I discovered more than twenty items, detergent, fabric softener, cereals, plastic wrap, and pet supplies among others, all of which were more expensive on a per unit basis in larger quantities.  Now I will admit that defining this as a strategy based on a handful of items in a store that stocks thousands of different products is hardly conclusive.   But I do think this is more than a coincidence.

The grocery business is a low margin business and I understand why a firm like Kroger or its competitors try to squeeze every penny they can back into those margins.   It’s the same theory that grandma had in trying to squeeze out every penny of her shopping dollar that she could – but in reverse.

If I am correct in my theory, there is certainly nothing wrong, immoral, or illegal in Kroger’s pricing strategy.  And I am not calling for a Congressional investigation into the matter.  The firm very correctly tags the unit prices of its products and the consumer who takes the time to analyze those can make an intelligent, money-saving purchasing decision.

So the moral of this story is let the buyer beware.  I will continue to do my math computations when grocery shopping.  And if my brain is feeling a little tired when I go on my next outing, I’ll just have to remember to bring my reading glasses.



As I was thinking about the meaning of Easter and preparing for it in a practical way, in other words planning the menu, I was pleased that one of the local supermarkets had collard, mustard and turnip greens on sale for only fifty cents a pound.  These simple vegetables were my introduction to “soul food”.

Although you can find almost anything here on the buffets in Las Vegas, greens have a tendency to be overcooked in the first place.  And when they sit for any length of time on a steam table they almost inevitably meet that fate.  So I prefer the ones that I make which are gently steamed and then finished with a topping of sautéed caramelized onions cooked in chopped bacon.

Although it was late January in 1972 it was a bitterly cold day when I arrived home somewhat later than usual.  I scurried to get in from the cold and the wind which was fierce – to be greeted by Tristan my Irish Setter and his companion, Josh who was a Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix.  I had only a few minutes to warm up before taking them out to attend to their duties.

I sincerely hoped that Josh wouldn’t dawdle as, with the protection off his extremely dense coat, he seemed to enjoy this near zero weather.  Perhaps it was the fact that I had come home a little later than usual or that the dogs took pity on me but they both did their thing quickly and I gratefully cleaned up after them and returned home.  My fingers were still cold even though protected by heavy gloves.

After I took off my outer clothes and heated up my hands under some warm water, I began preparing their dinner and turned on the little portable television that sat on the kitchen counter, primarily for the purpose of providing some background noise.  I went about getting the kids their food and had just placed their bowls on the floor when a news flash came across the screen.

Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel Music had suddenly passed away in a suburb about fifteen miles south at the young age of sixty years.  I remember the chill that ran through me when I heard this – as though the kitchen windows had been flung wide open and the bitter cold had found its way into my apartment.

Although I had been raised in Christianity’s more liturgical traditions where services were very specifically laid out and where the rituals were well defined, from time to time I would visit other churches run by members who had come from a different tradition of the faith.  There were no small number of Southern Missionary Baptist churches on Chicago’s South Side from which I could choose.

These were the churches which were the birthplace of Gospel Music – the music over which Mahalia reigned.  So different from the Gregorian chant and the works of Mozart and Bach which I knew, these were hymns written by people who had the genetic memory of slavery firmly etched into their experience and into their minds.  They were the religious version of the more secular music known as “the blues”.

There was an honest spontaneity on the parts of the congregants to the minister as he would preach his sermon on the selection of Scripture which he had chosen – with enough “Amen-ing” to fill Carnegie Hall to the rafters.  There was a great deal of swaying in the seats as they received the Word of God and a great deal of fanning of the face – as though to disperse the Holy Spirit among all the members of the church who had come that Sunday.  And, of course, there was the music.

Mahalia sang the hymn, “Precious Lord” at the funeral service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was written by the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas A. Dorsey after his wife died in childbirth and their newborn daughter died the day later.  I present it to you for your enrichment while wishing you a wonderful Easter.

This is the real soul food.

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