Friday, September 07, 2007

So how do I recover from childhood sexual abuse? And will there be sandwiches?

The literature of recovery is full of some very hardcore accounts of abuse. In fact, if you're looking for something that with truly sicken you right down to the center of your soul, read some of the accounts in, say, 'The Courage To Heal'. But when it comes to recounting the actual process of recovering, the amount of reality in these guides tends to go down and the amount of cautiously worded guidelines begins to rise.

Recovery...rebuilding the life you want out of the ruins of your not a pretty process. Neither is it a politically correct process by any stretch of the imagination. Understandably, therapists need to make sure that their clients don't lose their shit, go out and and round up the abusers and their henchmen, throw them into a handball court and pour muriatic acid or flesh-eating bacteria on them, because therapists have insurance rates to think of. And then there's that whole thing about helping create well-adjusted members of society, too. Nothing wrong with that. But when they try and channel every impulse, sanitize the language, and guide every route through a moral high road, that strips a patient of at least half of the weapons they need in order to remake their minds.

The thing that lead me out of the darkness was ANGER. HATE and VENGEANCE were right there to my right and to my left. RAGE brought up the rear and kept the whole parade marching when all I wanted to do was pick up a gun and point it at my head. Hope? I had none. Children? Thought she'd be better off without me. Love? Please find yourself a normal woman you poor man.

Religion? Oh dear. (lengthy digression follows)

Religion played NO PART WHATSOEVER. Unless you count saying 'oh please God make it stop', that is. I can state conclusively that in my case there was no personally concerned deity, that the prayers of children are just wasted words, there are no guardian angels, no demons and nothing as sophisticated or as conniving as a Satan, and no power in blessings, or in curses for that matter. Salvation is a meaningless concern when your parents want you to die. 'Honor thy father and thy mother' is merely a lovely thought for a perfect world. The meek are not blessed. The meek are prey.

On the other hand I gained a whole new respect for Jesus the man, once I realized just what he meant and who he was saying it to. He genuinely did set me a good and brave example. But going to church, dogma, the bible, no. It's not that I didn't reach for religion, it's that when I did it turned out to be made of smoke.
Except for elements of Judaism, but I'm still working on that one.

My therapist was a very nice, almost grandmotherly woman. I surprised her with my 'ability to contact my anger' as she delicately put it. She spent a lot of time encouraging me to 'channel that anger' and to 'not let it carry me away'. All of which is perfectly good advice. It was indeed something that I needed to work on. But there was a particular intensity to her admonitions that I finally had to front her up on- and it all came down to her being taken aback because women don't generally express 'that'. 'That' being 'murderous rage'.

This had as much to do with old school feminism as anything else. Remember when feminist scholars were postulating 'woman' as naturally free of the need for hierarchy, daisy-covered estrogen fonts of passive, rational and civilized behavior, while all the bad ol' men were just barely controlled rapists running butt-wild all over the planet fucking everything up? That model.

It also had to do with some kind of Victorian left-over garbage...the thing that paints negative emotions as morally and spiritually 'bad'.

Negative emotions exist for a purpose. They are tools to be used, just like positive emotions are.
When you teach people that half the tools they are given are never to be used, that using them will in fact SEND THEM STRAIGHT TO HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY, you effectively cripple them.
When you socialize one half of the entire population into behaving as though this part of their psyches should not even exist if they are 'good', you damage their minds.
When you give them reason after huge reason to experience the press of this negative half and then viciously punish them when they break out, you make them psychotic.
Once they agree with this treatment? You've turned them into slaves.

Once a person has come to accept being down in the galley chained to an oar, they'll kill the first one among them who tires. There is nothing a person who believes themselves to be truly defeated and enslaved hates worse than someone weaker than themselves. That is the point at which a human being becomes a subhuman abuser, male or female. Half of them beat children up with belts. The other half press childrens' hands against hot stove burners and call it an accident.

The only sane, rational response to child abuse is rage, anger, hate and vengeance. Anger fuels change. Vengeance drives people to put an end to evil. Hate identifies the enemy. Rage feeds motion.

People so socialized against these things that they can't even say 'shit' when they have a mouthful of it are going to have a lot of difficulty making the transition from 'victim' to 'human'. And unfortunately, even in the 21st century, this still describes one hell of a lot of women.

In order to recover, you have to ask yourself "Whose rules am I afraid to break? And why?
You have to ask yourself " Who am I making happy by following these rules?"
You have to ask yourself "What if I was lied to?


This is what I worked out with my therapist at last. I think it was good for both of us. She grew braver and got in touch with something she needed to learn to live with, and I became less feral and more mindful, and stopped equating 'feminine' with 'weak'. It worked out pretty well all 'round.

Another thing you need in order to recover is MONEY. Money has to be the second biggest reason that people won't get help, after denial.

Nowadays there are actually some very effective resources out there available inexpensively, or even for free. Even in a small town. So telling oneself that 'therapy is too expensive' just doesn't wash anymore...although to be perfectly fair people are so conditioned to be afraid of therapy that they tend to avoid the entire subject, much less research it.

Let's stop doing that, OK? The phonebook is full of therapists. Call the damn welfare office, use the community resource directory in the front of the phone book, go to a church, the Salvation Army, a local school even. Make those calls, people. They don't mind if you cry and carry on.

But here's the thing: many abused people have health problems and/or psychological problems that either prevent them from finding work, or keep them just barely employed (the boat I was in.) And you need to kept fed and out of the weather while you recover or it's all kind of a waste of time. Hopefully that isn't an issue -it isn't a truism, but it's far from being unheard of.

At any rate, then, before you start your process, EXPECT that things WILL get shitty. Nobody every cops to this in the literature, but you WILL become incapacitated by stress at some point. Not permanently, but enough to shoot the shit out of that whole 'regular income' thing.

There is no way around this. You need to plan for a fallback position. If this means relying on a partner, or safe family members, or even living in a van, do it. If it means applying for welfare, do it. Using savings, trust money, selling belongings, couch surfing, do it. I had a partner I relied on. I also had a job with flexible hours cleaning houses. When that went down the toilet I did temp work. Restaurant work is good. Cleaning rooms. Night clerking. Bar tending. House painting. Selling pot.

Out of all these, I'd choose temp work or even day labor as the best solution. It can solve a lot of problems if things get desperate without breaking the law. You get a paycheck, you end up doing non-demanding things more often than not, and if you can't work you don't call in. They expect that.

The third thing won't apply to everyone, but it does apply to some, and that is IF YOU NEED MEDICATION, TAKE IT. Abuse can and often does cause actual brain damage, even if it was 'merely' psychological abuse. This is established fact. That damage can result most commonly in clinical depression and a whole host of other things I can't speak to because I don't have them.

At any rate, if you have it, you can't tough your way out of it. You can't. THIS IS NOT WEAKNESS. THIS IS NOT A MORAL FAILING ON YOUR PART. If you aren't producing the right kind of brain chemistry all the positive thinking in the world isn't going to change that. Not prayer, not a vegetarian diet, not Norman Vincent Peale. Take the goddamn medicine.

Antidepressant medication does NOT give you brain damage. Antidepressant medication does NOT make you stoned (unfortunately.) Antidepressant medication does NOT make you addicted. That isn't even how it works. Re-uptake inhibitors supply a chemical that your brain normally makes and needs-one which it isn't making, ergo depression.

Think of vitamin D. Your body makes that when sunlight hits your skin. But if you live way up north, they have to put it into the milk to keep people healthy. Nobody has a problem with this. The same principal inhibitors treat a deficiency.

You still get depressed when you take antidepressants, in fact. It's just that the depression goes back to being another emotion. It no longer lasts forever, it no longer comes on for no reason whatsoever, and it doesn't get worse and worse and worse uncontrollably any more.

Neither will antidepressant medication turn you into Kip Kinkel or make you go out into Stanley Park and start killing swans. The only thing it might do is enable you to get out of bed and get dressed so that if you feel so inclined you CAN go kill a bunch of swans in Stanley Park, but it won't put the idea in your head. That's up to you.

YOU TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANTS UNDER A DOCTORS SUPERVISION. You need a medical diagnosis. This is not to say that you won't react badly to a specific drug; you might. You take that chance with any medication. If you do, report the symptoms and CHANGE THE DRUG. This is not rocket science.

As for me? They will have to pry my Prozac from my cold, dead hands.


Ask anyone who's worked as an EMT and they'll tell you that injured people are not a barrel of laughs socially.

You are an injured person. Once you start going though therapy, you will not be a barrel of laughs socially.

Self pity? Acres of it. Oceans of it. You'll cry all the time, at the drop of the hat. Another thing that happens is, once you're able to put your abuse into some kind of narrative order, you will also not be able to stop telling people about it. Then you'll get upset and offended when people don't want to hear about it 24 hours a day, and you'll cry some more.

The nightmares will be horrible.

You will remember things (and I mean with the ferocity of an atomic blast) at the most inopportune moments. During sex. Changing lanes on the freeway. In the middle of class. Sometimes you'll be able to take a time out and go cry and scream, and sometimes you'll have to put that off until later.

All of this is normal. It has to happen and it's supposed to happen.

It sucks ass, too.

The good thing is, this time, the shit goes away. All this emotion and all this turmoil are what happens when this injured part of your mind finally gets to express all these things and resolve them once and for all. The shit gets intense, and that's when it's good to have a therapist to lead you through this dark wood. You went through all of this turmoil once already, as a little kid, and lived. Now you go through it again and live, but this time, you follow it out to a resolution. I don't know why the mind works like this, but it does.

And you get better.

It lasts a couple of years or more. It's not unrelenting shit, but it's a fucking rocky couple of years. Make your appointments and do your work, the less time it takes. Lame out on yourself and rot in denial, it takes more.

Toward the very end you begin to feel kind of lost and naked. This is because there is now a big hole in your life where all these unresolved things were encysted, with all that mental structure that was keeping it that way still in place. Someone removed the evil vampiric conjoined twin, but dammit, he was YOUR evil vampiric conjoined twin, and his name was Chuck.

This is the point at which a lot of people find religion hard.
I found the Italian Renaissance and classical literature, because I am a nerd.

This space seems to need to be filled with something you can love. I don't know what that means or why, but I've seen it and it's happened to me. Finding something to love seems to be the end point of the process.

Once the process is over you get to have the rest of your life. The bad experiences fade into the background of the weave, no longer the dominant pattern. They become just like any other memory, stripped of their malignant energy. You get to enjoy sex again. You get to see children again and not automatically wonder if someone is hurting them. You get to stop being on guard all the time. You get to stop being afraid.

This really does happen, and it really happened to me. And it's worth it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

not a nice one. might want to skip it.

Kids, you were warned. Some of this is disgusting.

I woke up in the middle of the night again thinking at 90mph, this time about my mom. So, here goes. This is THE STORY.

I've mentioned before that the woman who raised me wasn't my birth mother-I was adopted.
I go back and forth. Sometimes I call this person 'mom' out of habit, and sometimes 'the woman who raised me' because she was not worthy of the title 'mom'...yet for the purpose of clarity, let's just do the 'mom' thing, 'k?

I grew up in a home where my mother set the tone. She was the boss, no question about that. For one thing, she was sober, and for another, she was the only adult who knew how to read. The prevailing atmosphere there was one of strange meaningless secrecy, grinding resentment, rage, unbelievable cancerous guilt and a complete acceptance of life as a miserable practical joke with disaster waiting just around the corner. That was home, and that was her. To a lesser degree my father too, but he was usually pickled and so his part in the equation wasn't as strong.

It wasn't that she didn't have every good reason in the world to be as messed up as she was. She did. Her early life was an absolute nightmare of poverty, abuse of every kind, starvation and abandonment, something only Dickens could make readable. I don't know if I can.

Truthfully? I don't want to. This my story. I don't want to drum up any sympathy for her. She wasn't worth it. When she was a child? Yes. But not by the time I got her.

Despite how that sounds, I don't see it as selfish. You see, I was treated like shit for 18 solid years. It was constant and it was comprehensive. Every single level of what went on in that house was tainted with this woman's twisted view and motivations. And as far as shit goes, it was pretty bad shit, too.
Whenever I got up the nerve to approach an adult to make it stop, I got the same treatment...'What was your mother's childhood like?.... Oh! That poor woman! You should be more understanding. Anyway, you'll be 18 soon and you can move out!'
I mean, it's bad enough when things go wrong for someone with no power. When they feel like they have to turn the situation into a pissing contest with their abuser just to try and 'deserve' help... that's criminal. That's just fucking obscene.*

Anyway, that's crucial to the way I've had to learn to think about my mom. No matter what she had gone through, how bad she was, or why she was the way she was, I wasn't responsible for it. More importantly, no matter what her past had been like, this was the present, and these were the things SHE was choosing to do NOW.

The woman was a fucking sadist. Yes, she had problems, yes, she needed therapy. Probably medication, too. But not everyone that goes through disastrous things goes on to inflict disaster on everyone else. The thing was, past aside, she just really, genuinely enjoyed being...mean. It made her laugh. Remember those schoolyard bullies? Yes. Just exactly like that, except older and sneaker, with all those years of experience to draw on for ideas.

No shit.

Just take it for granted that all the revolting, twisted things that the typical Irish Catholic woman of that era believed about bodies and sex were passed down to me, OK? That's all a given. Women are disgusting, soiled pants ground into the face, check.

Now add this: The woman sexually molested me. Not just once, either. Of course, it wasn't really molestation, it was 'toilet training', according to her. Occasional toilet training. That I didn't need. That went on up until the age of 4. Using red-hot water out of the tap and adult-sized products to administer it. While slapping me, hitting me, knocking me up against the tub and the door, and kneeling in my stomach.

Not bad enough?

She invited the woman next door to help.

The woman next door showed her how to 'make it feel good.' So I'd stop fighting.

What memories do you have from when you were four?

Over the years I'd catch my mother spying on me while I was getting dressed, taking a bath or using the toilet. I began stuffing a bathrobe under my bedroom door after I caught her LYING ON THE FLOOR PEEKING IN UNDER THE GAP. She even used to call home and then quiz me about why I was so out of breath when I answered the phone and what was I doing, hmmmmm? Well, running to get to the phone, mom.

I didn't catch on to what her problem was until later, but her reason for doing this shit was that she was obsessed with catching me masturbating. And even though she did a couple of times when I was way older (as in, flinging the door wide and yelling"'A HA! CAUGHT YA! WHADDYA THINK, SHOULD WE BRING YER DAD IN TO SEE THIS?" ew, ew, unbelievably disgusting and perverted, ew), it's not like I was a spider monkey way back in grade school for heavens' sake; hell, I didn't figure that stuff out until way later. But yeah. Religious tracts about 'self pollution'? Going though my belongings and taking 'usable' items? Check.

And bear this in mind throughout....this is a woman going into her late 40's. This is what she was doing to a little kid.** You get the picture?

It all factored in to a greater obsession she had with spying in general.
She used to sneak up on me. Outside... in the stores...wherever. Suddenly I'd feel eyes on me or hear a snicker and there she'd be; God only knew how long she'd been there.
She lifted the extension and listened in on my calls. At random. For no reason.

Meanwhile, I was a wonderful little citizen. I gave nobody any trouble whatsoever. I was a good girl. Quiet, shy, timid, well-mannered.
Because I lived in constant, unrelenting terror.

She went though my trash-and kept things! Hidden in the pantry closet! I found them, and I mean a stash of stuff covering years, freaked out and burnt it all in the fireplace. This wasn't state secrets either...this was things I'd copied out of books or figure studies I'd torn up. Stupid kid jokes. Drafts of letters. Stuff like that. Her 'blackmail file', she called it.

And all during this time, while I was supposed to be some kind huge grammar school deviant, the woman knowingly allowed me to be sexually abused by my cousin. Over a period of YEARS, beginning when I was six. I mean, she busted this kid numerous times! She blamed it on me for being 'such a sexy little girl'. By the time I was eight? No longer a virgin.

The reason another cousins' 30 year old shitbag husband had grabbed my 13 year old breast? "Because you're wearing a bathing suit top, Miss Sexy-Suzie! What did you expect? Go change into some clothes and start acting like a lady!"

When I was stalked by an actual serial rapist (Milwaukie Journal 1973) several months later and almost forced into the guys' car, I'd learned my lesson. I knew way better than to even mention it to anyone. The police needed information and I had a complete description of the man and his vehicle. Come forward? Not a chance. Not a fucking chance in hell. Nobody would believe me and nobody would care. Screw that.***

Now the worst thing this woman did was not any of the above.
No, it was the lying.
Lying to me, lying about me. For no reason whatsoever. Lying about things that never happened.
Telling me that things I remembered had never happened.
That last one was the worst.

This was an alcoholic family situation, and so everything that went on between the members was secret anyway. Nobody acknowledged it, nobody talked about it, nobody thought anything was wrong and nobody from the outside ever saw a thing.
On top of all this, the lying that I'm talking about was a thing that went on daily. She lied when the truth would have sounded better. About anything. She interrupted me while I was talking to people to tell them that every word I was saying was a lie. Not that I was passing nuclear secrets to the Chinese; either, I mean during the course of a casual conversation, out of the blue she'd pop up with 'Oh, ha ha, now, honey... don't go telling little stories now, ha ha..." all weird The person would look down at me with contempt, and she'd smile at me.

Fucking smile at me.

Would you like a therapy issue? Here! Have a therapy issue!

I might happen to ask her an offhand, innocent question about an event that had occurred in the past- no matter how trivial, now- and it was pretty much a crapshoot whether she'd remember it and continue on with the conversation, or turn on you like a dog snarling 'What in the hellarya talkin' about? You just make up the biggest stories-! EVERY WORD out of your mouth is nuttin' but a stinkin' lie!'

One of her favorite weapons was food. Piss her off? She took a favorite item off the menu. Forever.
Really piss her off? She cooked garbage.
She cooked garbage a lot.
If any particular item of food could be fit into a pressure cooker or, better yet, boiled, then by God, that's what happened to it. You'd get the mess handed to you and then the screaming-literal screaming- would commence, about how it was a sin to waste food, and we never had nuttin and was glad to eat what was put in front of us, and we were lucky to get oatmeal, and nothing pleases you, and on and on and on. Yes, it was done on purpose. Not even the dog would eat the shit.

Did she shoplift? Oh my. This deserves a post of it's own. One of her favorite things to swipe was toilet paper. She was big on toilet paper out of public restrooms. I rode the #30 bus many times with a double-sized roll of asswipe from the ladies room at Meier and Franks under my coat. We had money- money wasn't even an issue. She just stole shit.
Hell, she even stole from me.

-Birthday presents, for starters. I'd see them once at the party, then a couple of years later I'd find them still in the wrappings in the top of a closet with one end torn open, as though she had slipped the gift out to see what it was and then put it back. Some of those things were re-gifted to other kids; I caught that happening a couple of times. Others are more than likely still there. A toy merry-go-round. A walking doll. Wind-up toys.

-Two inheritances. One from my grandfather, one from an eccentric lady in our neighborhood.

-My grandmothers' house. Held in trust for me.

No shit.

She hoarded, and I've already written about that. Mostly paper things, like pamphlets and books. Also food. We had food from-literally!-1962.

Alongside all this ran the constant bickering bullshit that went on between her and my father. People could hear it out in the street. I would ride my bike and be able to hear them from down the block. Lots of times I'd turn around and head back out until way after dark.

When she 'received the Lord into her heart' in 1974 it meant that she could no longer be a screaming harpy 24 hours of the day because that didn't look good. What happened to her then was like a form of satanic Tourettes...she'd be going along, all nice, and then suddenly out of nowhere say or do something just outrageously evil...and while you were standing there with your mouth hanging open, just keep right on going like nothing happened.

For example: I had an abortion when I was 19. My parents took me to the clinic. I look back on this now and I smell a set-up, but at the time I was desperate, and they were acting very human and supportive. So I (not in any position to look a gift horse in the mouth anyway) appreciated it. I was scared to death and completely ashamed.

My father left us alone in the car for a few moments to get some change for the meter. My mother suddenly turned around, smiled at me and said 'I just want you to know that I'm going to hell for this. Just so you know. Yep. I'm helping you commit murder. I just thought I'd tell you that. I just wanted you to know." She smiled again, I went in and had the abortion in a total state of numb shock, and she denied it ever happened for the rest of her life. Took me out for pizza afterward.

Oh, it gets better, though. She had the gall to recount the entire (edited) version of this story years later to my cousin Emily, with herself in the starring role as 'tolerant modern Catholic woman.' Imagine my joy upon hearing that secondhand. And from Emily, no less!

There's a perception about abusive families...that the primary abuser will be male. That women seldom sexually abuse...that when they do alcohol is a factor, and then it will be with a male relative. That most abusers are simply acting out learned behaviors. That women aren't 'as bad' as men.

None of that applied here. None of it. The first thing I ever saw or even heard of that sounded remotely like what had happened to me?
Sybll. Sybll's mother. Imagine my excitement.

And guess what else I had in common with Sybll? Her father knew, too.

Do I have anything good to say about my mom? I do, actually. I'm not going to say it here, because if one person in the comments mentions something like 'Oh, but you're SO lucky to at least have something positive to remember! ' I'll fucking lose my shit on them.
You see, when you survive something horrific, recalling those few moments when things didn't suck doesn't mean anything. It isn't even relevant. Its like saying 'Yeah, Ted Bundy was a killer and a necrophile and everything but the man did drive a very economical car!" There is no 'up' side to shit like that. The 'good things' don't make it better. You don't go' Damn, why didn't I think of that! That Bundy, boy, what a maniac... but he drove a Volkswagen! Wow! That sheds a WHOLE NEW LIGHT ON THINGS!"

She wouldn't stop. She never admitted to anything, she continued to refuse to talk about any of it, she refused to go to therapy with me, she refused to mend things. When she started writing letters addressed to my three-year-old daughter that said things like 'Why doesn't your mommy love me any more? We never did anything to her, just tried to love her the best we knew how...' I cut her off. 1987.

Not a moments' regret. It's been the best 20 years of my life.

I have a great life now. I've been through therapy, and it was successful beyond my wildest imaginings. Nothing in my life resembles my former world in any way, and I'm proud of that. Every now and then, though, this comes back, and reminds me that I have to say these things too.
Kind of a 'like me, like my dog' thing.

*I'd like to send out a big 'Die Slowly and Painfully' to Mrs. Mackie, my high school advisor. Another one goes out to Pastor Tomlin of the Adventist Church. Way to go! I hope someone who really needed it received the help they deserved!
And lets not forget to give a big ol' heapin helpin o' thanks to Dr. Lendon Smith, of 'childhood asthma is most often merely an attempt to get attention' fame, for providing my mother with a doctor-endorsed "reason" to deny me medical care.
I am also beholden to him for his assertion that 'frequent illness and allergies' were the sign of an 'overly sensitive or immature child' . I hope you died covered in seeping carcinomas, Smith. I really do.

**Not an out of control teenager, not an icky adolescent. A little kid with health problems.

I claimed that karma and I pay it back proudly. I was a helpless kid then, but now I can make a difference. When the chance comes to do that, I get involved.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Kiss me, I'm delicious!

The first and most important thing you should know if you are serious about good food is that QUALITY IS IMPORTANT.

The second thing is that you should OWN a copy of THE JOY OF COOKING and READ IT COVER TO COVER.
Here they are online:
You can link to their book from here. The 1975 edition is the best one.

There are better collections of recipes and there are more comprehensive and advanced guides to technique, but this one book will give you a correct and solid starting point in a very user-friendly format. That's right! Fuck La Methode! America kicks ASS! Rombauer-Becker! WOOOOOOOOT!!!!!11!!1!!

I grew up in a house were the preferred method of cooking was boiling and the preferred ingredients came out of a can. Because eating is kind of necessary and food can be, you know, good, I became a big fan of cooking shows at an early age. Whenever I had something delicious I was bugging people for their recipes. By eight had produced my first culinary triumph; a simple egg and cheese souffle, thanks to Graham Kerr. (Boy, did I get in trouble for that one! 'You're wasting eggs!" said my mom. "MM! mm mmmm mm mm!" agreed my dad, chowing down.) I was the only kid I knew with a table of equivalent measures taped into the cover of her diary.

I've been lucky to have had pretty good chefs for partners. The only loser in this regard was the Dishrag, but at least he had the sense to stay the fuck out of my kitchen and eat what I threw at him.

Margaret taught me how to make awesome hippie- style commune food. We ate really, really well and spent practically nothing. Yes, we were vegetarians. Yes, we made our own yogurt. Yes, we ate brown rice and miso soup. I like that stuff. Quit buggin me.

The Ex was simply a damned good cook, if somewhat messy, and he came from a line of people who could take, notably, Cheez Whiz and stale bread, and make it elegant and tasty. I still make his Yorkshire pudding, beer battered fish, the Red Delicious apple slices with brie, and stir fry.

The Biker is a fantastic cook. He and I watch food shows the way other couples watch porn, only not naked.
OK fine; sometimes naked. Anyway, we take notes. We critique knife skills. We heart Tony Bourdain and we hate Rachel Ray. We long for the return of 'Daisy Cooks'. We discuss saute pans and the relative merits of riveted handles vs. welded. The truly cool thing is, we play off each others skills and interests and ideas, and together we've come up with menus and recipes that I would be proud to serve to anyone, Michelin starred chef, head of state, Ina Mae Gaskin, anyone. Cooking is usually a lone occupation, but somehow we are able to team up and produce things that blow us both away. And at 450lbs combined, we're a tough audience.

You never want to go shopping with us. We yell across the store and brandish whole body fryers in the air. 'Whaddya think, with a glace? OH MY GOD THESE POBLANOS ARE FUCKING GORGEOUS! Leeks? Do you see leeks? Go check the white onions! Ooo shit, deal with the little new haricots verts; they're like jewelery. Where's the produce manager?"
At this point the Biker fades into the background. Produce Muk strides forth with a glint in her eye.

Produce managers all over Washington State have learned to fear me. I WILL go right into the back and knock on the guy's window if I have to. I do not care. I used to fight with the guys in the Pike Street Market just to get the green pepper I wanted, and then pay them in food stamps. Hell yes. This is people's food! This is important stuff!

I was solely responsible for the reinvention of Lynden Costco's produce department. Oh yes! True fact! It started when I had to go tear the produce manager a new one for the disgusting state of his cukes (he blamed the supplier) and bullyragged him again until he stocked his asparagus properly (on end in fresh water, not stacked lying on their sides like cadavers in a morgue), harangued him about the sad condition of his Mexican selections ( "This is almost insulting! It's like some kind of subtle discrimination or something!" I insinuated darkly) pointed out the less-than-optimum condition of the floors, and told his assistant when it was time to turn the stock. "Dude," I said, "come on. There's shit flying around here. Turn the kiwis."

That man shaped his shit up.

I used to go out of my way to tell him what a great job he was doing. He started carrying organics! The produce was glorious! The cukes were no longer coated in lard!

And finally, his department won an award! I shook his hand!

Then the store closed down. But it had an award-winning produce department when it did.

On the other hand we have The Green Barn. They are as close to a gold standard as you're going to get in this life. Not only are the staff the most service oriented bunch of people I have ever met, you could not ask for a more perfect selection of produce. Glorious stuff. Locally produced, many organics, lots of Middle Eastern, Mexican and European staple specialties...I cannot say enough about these guys. The place is fantastic. When they were in a little open-fronted building I shopped there in the middle of winterwith the snow blowing in and did so gratefully. That's how good they are. I told everyone I knew about them. I even conducted my own guerrilla promotional campaign...I'd sidle up to people shopping for produce in chain supermarkets and say 'You know, right down the road here you can get the same thing, only better quality and locally produced, for a dollar less a pound. Yup. I NEVER shop for produce here." And you know what? They just expanded! Bought property, built a new building and put in a dairy section! OF COURSE I am singlehandedly responsible for their prosperity. This should go without saying.

Like I said, this is people's food. It's important.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Will Jiro Save Grocery Coupon Double Cash Back?

Hey! look at this cool pocket watch!

Aha. Now....
Just close your eyes and let your mind drift........
You are seated at your computer. You link
You are happy. We are happy.
This makes us all very happy.
You think
this place is amazing. You cannot stop reading her archives. You want to give Subservient No More all your money. This is a good decision and it makes you feel very peaceful. Not reading Subservient No More will make you feel anxiety and fear. Unemployed people will hide beneath your bed and mess with your feet at night unless you read Subservient No More. Big greasy coelacanths will lick your steering wheel unless you read Subservient No More.
Oh yeah. They will.
Subservient No More.

....and three, two, one-

Recipes! As requested by the Stainless Steel Amazon...

remember, you so wacky foreign persons who are talk funny to my ear! use the handy american-to-heathen conversion tools linked at the end of this post!*

-Some ripe apples of any variety whatsoever, washed and cored, skin on
Now, theoretically you can stop right here and move on to the method. You don't have to add anything else.

If you want sweetening, I've had luck with

-1 large container frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
-brown sugar (the Bikers method)

Again, you don't have to add spices either, but here's what I add:

-The Biker adds cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and vanilla
-Chunk up apples and run through the Cuisinart, each batch into a large bowl aside.
-On the last batch, add in the sweetening and spices if you're using them. Add to bowl, mix well
-Pour into shallow baking pans-the shape doesn't matter
-Place in cold oven, set to 300
-After first 45 minutes stir and lower heat to 275, then check and stir every 45 minutes or hour or so
-Finished when reduced by: 1/3 for sauce, 1/2 for thick sauce-butter, 2/3 for a peanut butter consistency spread.
-Cool, run through Cuisinart, box up and freeze!

Pesto you freeze in cubes!
-Fresh basil, washed, spun dry, stemmed and flowered (basil flowers generally taste bitter although unopened buds are OK.)
-Olive oil-the very best you can afford, first cold pressing extra virgin.

Zip the basil leaves in the Cuisinart, stopping and scraping down if necessary, just to get them to the chopped up stage, not the mulch stage. Once you have about an inch of fragments in the bottom, begin to drizzle olive oil in until it just begins to mix by itself; in other words, you no longer have to stop the machine and scrape it down to get it to combine. It will go from a very dark green to a paler shade at this point.

How smooth or rustico you want the finished product to look is your choice at this stage of the game. I like liquefied. You can also add more olive oil; I just make it thick because some years I have space considerations...when I thaw it I add more oil if I need to.

You can stop here, dump it into ice cube trays and freeze. It should be so well air-emulsified that it will only separate a very little bit, if at all. Once the cubes are frozen, dump them out into a sealed container or bag and store in freezer.

I have added to the above:
-Fresh pignolia-not open stock or boxed. Buy sealed containers and a name brand (I've always had luck with Diamond) because when pignolia goes off it tastes like turpentine and old books.
note: do NOT use walnuts at this stage. Their flavor isn't stable in frozen storage. The only way this works is if you add ground walnut just before serving, off the heat. I think it's something to do with the natural oil in the walnut breaking down.
-Roasted cashews, unsalted
-Heavy cream
-Dry cheeses: Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Myzithra
-Grated Monterey Jack
-A sprinkle of chicken bouillon
-White sauce- Cream sauce-Bechamel, whatever neutral flour based sauce

Nowadays I just make the basic oil and leaves mixture and add the other stuff when I'm actually cooking with it.


Pate Brisee!

See Joy of Cooking for the recipe, but use a Cuisinart instead.

The butter and the water MUST BE ABSOLUTELY ICE COLD.

The processing is done by hitting the 'pulse' control. Dump in all the dry ingredients and whir for a second. Next, drop in four or five chunks of butter, 'zip-zip'. Drop in a few more, 'zip zip'. Drop in the rest, 'zip'. Drizzle in the water, 'zip, zip, zip, zip zip'. Then tip it out onto the counter-it won't look beautiful; it will be floury and grainy with chunks in it-and form it into one lump...just push it together like Play-Doh. Put the lump into a tupperware and put it in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight. Let it come up to room temp before you work with it; that takes an hour out on the counter in a bowl with a cloth over it. Now, if you have to work it a little longer for whatever reason it should still stay reasonably tender.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to use all these damn leeks.


*here is a nifty Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion
dealie...just enter a number and click!

and here is a conversion chart for all kinds of shit,
including cooking nomenclature. scroll down to choose the
conversion category you want:

Sunday, September 02, 2007

towmaytoes, towmahtoes, mayders, mates

Because of the recent overcast my tomatoes blighted off, and so I've had to go out two months early and stop them...trim off ALL the leaves and ALL the growth ends. There were a fair amount of unusably blighted tomatoes on the vine as well, and those I hove out into the easement for the boids.

Still, I'm pleased with the return I got on my 6.00 investment. Yes, I punked out and bought plants. They weren't bad, either. This years' saladette was a bit sweeter than I care for, but nice and meaty. Oddly enough, my Burpee 'Boy' series beefsteak was a nice balanced fruit, quite a bit more emame than I'm used to getting from a beefsteak variety. Another nice feature was that the fruit came more flesh than seed and wasn't watery a bit. It turned out to be more useful around the kitchen than the saladette.

Most of both went towards sauce, as usual. And as usual, I messed around with my sauce method.

This time I think I have the sapsucker knocked.

The first thing I learned when I started messing with tomatoes is not to season the product. Tomato sauce is not mashed up tomatoes with stuff in's just mashed up COOKED DOWN tomato. You're making one brick, in other words, not the whole house. If you make it the first way you end up with something that tastes overwhelmingly of the additions, not the tomatoes. I don't even add salt. No onions, peppers, anything. Just tomato is the best way. You can add what you want later when you're using it in a recipe.

Previously I've simmered off the excess moisture, which was a mistake. I ended up with a weak, red, pulpy substance that tasted of tomato, not tomato sauce.

Next, I froze whole tomatoes and thawed them over the sink. This worked somewhat better. The clear sugary juice dripped off and I was left with a nice soft fruit I only had to squeeze in order to process-it slipped the skin and the seeds effortlessly. Still, once I'd tasted the resulting cooked pulp I noted that I was still missing a significant portion of the whole flavor. Tasting the cast fluid told me where a lot of it had gone...down the sink. Tasting the skin answered the rest of the question. Skin adds flavor and color... and I'm convinced that's where any individual varietals' particular taste is held.

The only method of tomato preservation that I've ever used that left me satisfied with the flavor was dehydration. Unfortunately, I killed my dryer. Oven drying requires special racks, which I would have been happy to buy or make...but the sheer mess of the prep involved in processing tomatoes for drying kept making me stall on that.

Suddenly it hit me like a bolt from the blue...dehydrate the slurry, dipshit.

This makes the best sauce I've ever put up. It tastes like tomatoes. Not 'tomato substance' but real tomatoes, that mouth-filling whole flavor. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to give you

-Harvest and wash tomatoes. They should be full ripe (gel around the seeds will be red, not greeny-yellow clear.)

-Seed tomatoes...this is done by halving the fruit on it's equator. Then hold it in the palm of your hand over the sink, cut side down, and squeeze gently. The seeds will hang down or drop out. Any acrobats can be scraped away with a knife. You don't have to get them all. In fact, you don't even have to do this; I do because I like the mouth feel better without seeds.

-Process tomatoes - heave the tomato halves, skin on, into the Cuisinart and process until no longer in big chunks. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth at this stage. A couple of whirls should do it. ( if using a blender, chop the tomato halves into smaller pieces and process in smaller batches.)

-Fill a baking pan-doesn't matter what shape- 2 inches deep with slurry, spread evenly

Put into cold oven and set to 275

Every 45 minutes or so, stir the slurry. It might take several HOURS for this to finish...depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes and the humidity of the house. Have another project going. ( This is a perfect opportunity to train your gimp!)

It is done when it is reduced by half. Cool, then run though the processor once again. (At this stage it may not go through a blender without a lot of scraping. You could also use a stand mixer on 'High' for three minutes.)

-Dump into Tupperwares and pop into the freezer!

This gives you a product with a consistency somewhere between canned tomato sauce and tomato paste. You can go the extra distance and reduce by 2/3 for paste, but this will mean stirring the sauce a little more frequently to ensure that it all gets cooked evenly and the edges don't burn.


Here is a recipe I'm going to make next is sooooooooooooo good!

The first recipe is reprinted from Martha Stewart Livings' website. It's a good recipe overall except for the pate brisee, which sucks. Instead, use the Joy of Cooking pate brisee recipe. (Rombauer-Becker 1975 is the best edition, in my opinion.) The times and methods transpose seamlessly.

The addendum is my super high-calorie version, which will rock your world like a bad mammer jammer. DAYUM it's good!!

BRITS AND OTHER GODLESS FOREIGNERS: please use the handy conversion charts* I've linked to below for nomenclature and measurements!

Tomato Tart Serves 8 (or two greedy piggies for dinner!)
1 head garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 recipe Pâte Brisée
2 ounces Italian fontina cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 pounds firm but ripe tomatoes (4 medium), cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place garlic on a piece of
aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Wrap to
enclose garlic in foil, and place on a small baking
sheet. Bake until soft and golden brown and the tip of a
knife easily pierces the flesh, about 45 minutes. Remove
from oven; set aside. Raise oven temperature to 450°.
When garlic is cool enough to handle, using either your
hands or the dull end of a large knife, squeeze the
cloves out of their skins and into a small bowl; mash
with a fork, and set aside. Discard the papery skins.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a
1/8-inch-thick circle, about 12 inches in diameter. With
a dry pastry brush, brush off the excess flour; roll the
dough around the rolling pin, and lift it over a 10-inch
tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the pan with the
dough, pressing it into the corners. Trim the dough so
that it is flush with the edges; transfer to the
refrigerator to chill, about 30 minutes.

3. Spread roasted garlic evenly on the chilled crust.
Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Arrange the tomatoes on
top of the cheese, in an overlapping circular pattern.
Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining
cheese, and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil.
Transfer to oven. Reduce temperature to 400°, and bake
until crust is golden and tomatoes are soft but still
retain their shape, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer to wire
rack to cool for 20 minutes, and serve warm.

My version!! methods and times are the same as above.

Tomatoes sliced and drained, pate brisee shortened with salted schmalz. Smoked fontina cheese.
Spread for bottom:
-1/2 cup white onion, minced, BROWNED
-two tbl shallot, pressed, BROWNED
-1 tsp. garlic, pressed- raw
-olive oil to moisten
whir to paste with immersion blender


*here is a nifty Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion
dealie...just enter a number and click!

and here is a conversion chart for all kinds of shit,
including cooking nomenclature. scroll down to choose the
conversion category you want: