Sunday, January 31, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #32: Beer-Cheese Soup (pg. 440) - 160131

After my heavy breakfast with sausages and eggs, I was happy to tick off a meatless soup for supper. Soup generally goes well with bread, anyway, and I'd bought some lovely beer at the local brewery in growlers.

Beer-Cheese Soup

I used Waterloo Dark for the beer, though I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes. The celery didn't soften as much as I expected. It wasn't crunchy, but it was more firm than I'm used to. Of course, most of my celery consumption comes out of my slow cooker, which turns most vegetables into brown paste regardless of starting characteristics.

The last ingredient is "Popped popcorn, if desired". I don't normally desire, but I have a bit of regret that I did not pick up any popcorn in anticipation of this recipe. Presumably there are other recipes that call for this American staple, so I can correct that oversight.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #31: French Bread (pg. 84) - 160131

My first yeast bread from this recipe book for this project! I decided to make this, as well as do some needed household chores, instead of going for a Sunday Drive this week. Every recipe in this book comes with a time estimate, usually broken down by major stages: prep, cook, stand, etc. The totals, however, can conceal a pattern of work / rest with more steps than simply "prep", "rise", and "chill". Betty Crocker's French bread suggests 25 minutes of preparation, 3 hours 15 minutes of rise, 4 hours of chill, and 20 minutes to bake.

These totals are probably accurate (except the bake time). There are three rise stages, each about an hour long, separated by blocks of preparation. I've baked bread a few times before, so I consider myself to know my way around kneading and yeast-handling. The big variant here is the repeated applications of sprayed-on water, and the pan of water in the oven during baking. This helps to develop a crispy crust, apparently.

The baking time was described as "18 to 20 minutes" but I think my oven struggles to acheive and maintain high temperatures, so I left the loaves in the oven for about 30 minutes before they looked the right colour to me.

French Bread 1

French Bread 2

I goddam love fresh bread. I couldn't wait, so I cut one loaf using an oven mitt to hold the hot loaf and smeared butter on the cut pieces. Fantastic!

Betty Crocker Cookbook #30: Mexican Scrambled Eggs (pg. 221) - 160131

I think the easiest recipe in this book is Scrambled Eggs, so I took on the variant, Mexican Scrambled Eggs. This is very similar to the breakfast burritos I sometimes do - scrambled eggs, stir-fried onion & pepper, wrapped in a tortilla with cheese - but with some chorizo sausage added. The sausage wasn't really "chorizo", it was whatever sub-category the sausage the Mennonites sell at the St. Jacob's farmers' market falls into. There are Mennonites in Mexico, and I didn't go for the garlic sausage, so I'm going to call this substitution "close enough".

No photo, so I can't show you how I made a rather large breakfast for myself. I was pretty stuffed.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #29: Broiled Fish Steaks (pg. 243) - 160129

I bought enough basa fillets for about four meals (at least!) so I decided to make more room in my freezer, still lacking a stand-alone unit, and broiled up a trio. I don't yet have a broiling pan, an oversight I covered with my metal trivet balanced on a cookie sheet, but I'll need to get a proper one before I tackle any other broiling / roasting recipes. The variant for this recipe is fillets, and the instructions are nearly exactly the same as for fish steaks.

Broiled Fish

These were actually kind of bland, but that's not really surprising, they were seasoned only with butter, salt, and black pepper. Still, not bad and nearly as quick as advertised. I'd picked up some sweet-potato oven fries and broccoli at the grocery store, mainly because I had the realization in the frozen isle that I hadn't bought anything that could be described as "prepared food" since I began this project. Frozen pizzas were a prominent part of my diet last year, and I'll probably break down and buy one or two eventually but so far I'm not really missing them.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #28: Pecan-Crusted Fish Fillets (pg. 243) - 160127

It took me a while to make up my mind regarding the fish to purchase when I was at the grocery store this week. Most fresh fish is pretty expensive around here, but I settled on Basa fillets (boneless and skinless) because they seemed suitable and were not nearly as pricey as (for example) the tilapia or the Atlantic cod. One aspect of this project I'm really looking forward to is the fish and shellfish chapter, because I eat very little fish normally. Aside from the occasional bit of tuna, I almost never eat anything from the sea or freshwater.

The reason it took me a long time to choose the basa was mainly because it is not included on the list of fishes on page 242 of Betty Crocker - there's a helpful table for classifying fish. Mostly it comes down to the texture of the meat. Some recipes call for "medium-firm texture", others for "delicate to medium" or "firm". I gather these differences would affect cooking times and temperatures, and the ways one might handle the fish pieces during cooking. A bit of googling reveals that basa is southeast-Asian catfish, farmed in the Mekong river. There's actually a fair bit of discussion regarding basa online, and I'm not sure I'll buy it a second time. This is part of the reason I so rarely eat fish: I don't want to contribute to an industry that has so many harmful environmental impacts across so many different ecosystems.

No photo this time, because somehow it completely slipped my mind. Chopping up the pecans took a bit of time, and only about half of them stuck to the egg-dipped fish fillets. So some of the pecans ended up fried directly in the pan, which was fine, it's not like nuts go soft in a frying pan or anything.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #27: Orange Smoothie (pg. 63) - 160126

This is labelled both "Fast" and "Low-fat", but I think the second one depends on the use of vanilla frozen yogurt, rather than the alternative built into the main recipe (this actually has no variants) of vanilla ice cream.

As usual, this recipe makes enough for multiple servings, in this case four. I cut it down to a single serving because a) it's just me and b) I only had a little more than 1 cup of vanilla ice cream anyway (and no frozen yogurt of any flavour).

Orange Smoothie

This was very sweet, but pretty tasty. Too sweet for me for breakfast, really, but this would make a pretty good dessert. Especially, I suspect, with frozen yogurt.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #26: Skillet Calzon (pg. 525) - 160125

I played Pathfinder with my friends on Monday night, starting about an hour after I got home. I threw together this meal from the "20 Minutes or Less" chapter, and even though it actually took closer to 30 minutes (this is a pattern for me) it worked quite well. Fortunately, I can mute my microphone through roll20.org, the website that lets us play this "tabletop" role-playing game (RPG) online: nobody else had to listen to me chew.

I guess you can buy mushrooms in little jars in the USA, because this is the second recipe I've done from this book in which I've substituted a 10-oz can of mushrooms for the called-for 4.5-oz jar. I like mushrooms, so it was no problem. The basic idea is to cook up this tomato / ground beef / vegetables sauce and slather it on some toasted French bread with Parmesan cheese. The instruction "French bread" is a little vague, though, I think they must be using much larger loaves than what I bought. I used what amounts to a baguette, though at some local grocery stores I know I can sometimes buy "French bread" that's wider.

Skillet Calzone

This handily made enough leftovers for a second meal. I'm not sure where the name comes from, as a calzone is a kind of stuffed pastry and this doesn't involve anything like that. Also, the use of a 10-inch skillet seems wildly inappropriate, the volume of sauce - even accounting for my excess mushrooms - is far larger than would comfortably fit in my 10-inch frying pan, and a quick Google Image Search suggests I'm not wrong in thinking "skillet" is a synonym for "frying pan".

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #25: Hungarian Goulash (pg. 291)

If it weren't for the 30-minute prep time and 1:40 cook time, this would almost qualify as "bachelor chow". It certainly fit nicely in my usual bachelor-chow plastic containers, and made enough for two and a half meals - I had it for supper, then for lunch, then for lunch again but with dessert (chocolate DOOM cake) the second time, to keep my total mass of food intake high.

Hungarian Goulash

Betty Crocker Cookbook #23: Chocolate Cake (pg. 101) and #24: Fudge Frosting (pg. 115) - 160124/25

Last Sunday was a remarkably productive day for this project, partly because this cake counts for two recipes.

Chocolate Cake 1

It's chocolate cake, so I'm not sure how much I can say beyond "Delicious!". Of course.

However, I ran into some trouble with the frosting. The recipe includes heating most of the ingredients to a slow boil, then cooling for 45 minutes before adding the powdered sugar and vanilla. I messed this up, by boiling everything, but I don't think that really bothered the icing sugar. The more serious error was my decision to ice the cake the following day. I had to re-heat the frosting, and then I didn't let it cool enough.

The cake came from my oven. The frosting came from Mordor. Notice in the photo it's attempt to cover the land (i.e. my countertop) with Eternal Darkness. I had to put the whole thing on my balcony to allow winter to stop the spread.

Chocolate Cake 2

Betty Crocker Cookbook #22: French Toast (pg. 79) - 160124

With bonus Shirred Eggs

Feeling the pressure to keep this project rolling, I threw together French Toast last Sunday before departing for a Sunday Drive. I had meant to half the recipe (but use 2 eggs instead of 1.5 and just fry the excess egg coating mixture), but I added the full amount of both eggs and milk and had to just roll with it.

Three eggs plus 3/4 cup of milk makes for a pretty runny mixture. This is good for coating bread, but when I fried the leftovers - I used 4 slices of bread rather than the full recipe's 8 - it didn't act like normal scrambled eggs. The sugar and vanilla were lovely on the bread, which of course was the point of this meal, but made the milky, scrambled eggs oddly sweet. In any case, this is a pretty standard French toast recipe and was delicious.

French ToastPHOTO



It's not a full recipe, just part of a general-guidelines table at the beginning of the "Eggs and Cheese" chapter on page 220, but the day before the French Toast I baked, or "shirred", some eggs for my breakfast.

Shirred Eggs 1
Shirred Eggs 2

I ended up baking them for about 50% longer than the guidelines suggested, and I'm still not sure how to "dot with butter", but they turned out quite well.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #21: Corned Beef and Cabbage (pg. 289) - 160120

I wasn't able to find corned beef brisket as described in the recipe, so I went with "Cured Navel Beef" because it was packed in brine; the recipe specifies beef with brine, and step 1 includes "add juices and spices from package of corned beef". I took this to mean I should add some of the red-tinted liquid my navel beef was floating in. I also did not find a small head of cabbage, so I used about half of a large head of savoy cabbage. Everything went into the slow cooker (onion, garlic, and enough cold water to submerge the beef being the other ingredients) and I went to work.

When I came home, my apartment smelled as good as I expected - slow cookers tend to release delicious aromas, almost regardless of their contents. I nuked some potatoes and settled in for my supper.

SALT!

After mentioning the brine, I'm sure most of you are completely unsurprised that this meal was basically salt with meat and salt and salt. Once I got past the SALT the flavour of the meat was quite nice, and the slow-cooked cabbage was interesting and not at all bad (the onions and garlic had basically dissolved, as is usual for the slow cooker). I ended up throwing the rest away because I couldn't bring myself to eat any more, especially after the fat congealed as a floating paste in the 'fridge. I only used about half of the navel beef, and I found another recipe that specifies soaking the salt out of the meat before cooking. 

No photo this time, I forgot to grab my camera while I was chugging huge amounts of water.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #20: Chicken Tetrazzini (pg. 140) - 160119

This is a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, suggesting the purpose is to serve as a sink for leftover cooked poultry - I used leftover, frozen christmas turkey (mostly white meat). Some of the other ingredients are very hard to find here in their exact specifications; I used a whole can (10oz) of mushroom pieces-and-stems rather than the 4.5oz jar that Betty Crocker seems to think I'll have. This recipe also finished off the chicken broth Charlie had made for me, so despite my wanton use of Meleagris gallopavo there was still some Gallus gallus domesticus in this.

Chicken Tetrazzini

This is also a fun recipe because it provides a lovely excuse to buy lots of whipping cream - I have multi-use plans for the cream (if I can find or make ladyfingers) and I'll probably toss some in to a morning smoothie.

Overall, this is the first even-slightly disappointing recipe. Don't get me wrong, this is pretty good stuff, but my expecations were perhaps unrealistically high given the record from this book so far. The picture in the book shows a side-salad that's probably what I'm missing - some bright, crisp vegetables and festive tomatoes would complement this slightly bland cream-sauce pasta very well. But! I only ate half of it tonight, so I can seek out salad components for the leftovers.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #19: Apple Oven Pancake (pg. 77) - 160117

I had planned to cook Popovers (pg. 76) on Sunday afternoon (I definitely slept in, well and truly, on Sunday, having gotten up rather early on Saturday) but my errand-running on Saturday afternoon had not netted me a popover pan. I trust the internet will be able to supply these extra-tall muffin tins.

This is a variant on Puffy Oven Pancake, prepared with a layer of apple slices and brown sugar on the bottom of the pie plate; the batter is poured over and into this layer and it takes a little longer to bake.

Apple Oven Pancake

My plan while I was making this was to eat 1/2 of it for breakfast on Sunday, and have the remainder Monday. However, I wasn't really full after 1/2, and I ate it all. I can rationalise this (easily, I ain't gotta justify nothin', really) by considering the ingredients - 2 eggs, a little flour, milk, and sugar, and one apple, is about the amount of food I'd have for breakfast, typically.

***

To have a hope of completing this project in a single year I would need to maintain an average of a little less than two recipes each and every day. Some days and recipe combinations are easier than others, for example the two or more recipes that can be combined to make a solid square meal. However, to keep up that pace requires a greater committment than I can really spare. At the beginning, I was on vacation with Charlie, who provided support and encouragement for that critical launch phase. Now, though, I'm back at work and generating more leftovers than I can eat in each following-day lunch. So, I'm pushing the deadline back to two years. I'm pretty happy with the pace I'm keeping now, a bit ahead of one recipe / day, and this will allow me to relax and enjoy this project rather than feeling pressured to keep cranking out exotic (to me) food.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #18: Skillet-Fried Chicken (pg. 321) - 160116

Highly unusually for me, I got up early on Saturday morning. I took a co-worker to the St. Jacob's farmer's market because she wanted to find a source of meat and eggs that she could trust - she would rather not eat factory-farm raised animals. Fair enough, and I'd been meaning to check out this locally-famous farmer's market anyway, for deals on large amounts of fruit to make into wine.

The market turned out to be a bit overhyped, I actually prefer Kitchener's farmer's market, it's less obviously trendy-and-bourgeoise. But I bought a chicken! From people wearing slightly-more-traditional-clothing! Plus some sausage, from a woman wearing a bonnet! When in Rome...

Prepare to Cut Up Chicken
Preparing to cut up the chicken. The steel bowl is for good parts as they come off, the prune yogurt container for garbage (in this case, mostly skin and fat; the spine and ribs went directly into the garbage can. I have no need, and no space, for more broth at this time).

I was happy to go to the farmer's market and buy a whole chicken because I feel like I'll never gain skills like "cutting up a whole chicken" if I don't practice them often enough; too long an interval between such attempts and I'll have to start over.

I think the bird I bought was considerably heavier than the 3- to 3 1/2-lb chicken this recipe calls for. A long time ago, I read a kind of write-in trivia-answers thing that I remember mentioned trends in chickens. Apparently, many (American) cookbooks were originally written in the middle of the 20th century, when typical whole chickens at local butchers were under 4 pounds (about 2kg). By the end of the century, average whole chickens for sale had increased in weight, leading to a mismatch between recipes and real-world experience. I experienced that mismatch, this took a really long time to cook!

Skilled-Fried Chicken

The basic idea is to "shallow-fry" (my own term; a continuous layer of oil boiling in a hot pan, insufficient to submerge the food) the cut-up chicken pieces, first for 10 minutes skin-side down, then 20 more minutes skin-side up. My chicken didn't fit in the pan, I only managed to get about 2/3 of it in for the first round. And that took around an hour to fully cook! The remaining 1/3 took less time, but still more than the 30 minutes the recipe suggests.

In the end, though, very tasty bird and the cutting-up process went pretty smoothly.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #17: Rice Pilaf (pg. 339) - 160113

Instead of regular chicken broth, I used the heartier chunky-chicken broth that Charlie made at the cottage from the parts of the first chicken I cut up. Rice pilaf mix - you can buy it as an envelope in the gravy section of a grocery store - is usually a somewhat alarming shade of yellow, which this recipe has taught me is because of the yellow chicken-broth-powder.

I like rice anyway, and I like chicken broth and onions, and what those things (plus butter) do to rice. I ate this with the stuffed pork chops, and some frozen peas I threw in the microwave.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #16: Corn bread- and Bacon-Stuffed Pork Chops (pg. 302) - 160113

I was unable to find cornbread stuffing mix, as called for in this recipe, so I substituted with regular (wheat-bread) stuffing mix. The recipe actually calls for pork chops on the bone, but I bought boneless chops and didn't realize what this would mean until I got home and started on this recipe. Cutting a pocket in a pork chop isn't difficult, but with a bone to run into it's easier to make the pocket blind, rather than cutting all the way through.

Stuffing the chops was a bit messy but the stuff mixture - bacon, onion, green pepper, bread pieces, cheese - cooled down fairly quickly once out of the frying pan and even turning the stuffed chops in the pan - to brown them before going into the oven - did not result in the loss of much stuffing.

Stuffed Pork Chops and Rice Pilaf

I think I overcooked these a little, they were a bit crispy, but delicious!

Betty Crocker Cookbook #15: Date Bars (pg. 175) - 160110

I forgot to take a picture of these rather tasty and easy sweets, and then nearly forgot to blog them! Not much to say - the recipe is pretty straightforward once you get the butter soft enough to mix with the brown sugar. I took to smearing the butter chunks against the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl, that seems to have been more effective than the chopping / stirring I was doing at the beginning.

They were popular at the first lab meeting of the semester, but I still had lots and lots of leftovers. Oh well, like I said, pretty tasty!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #14: Easy Bacon Cheeseburger Lasagna (pg. 142) - 160110/11

Lasagne is one of my favourite "entire meal" dishes to prepare, because it always generates lots of leftovers that are perfect for following-day (or following-week) lunches. In my experience, a frozen square of lasagne is about the most difficult thing to re-heat in the breakroom microwave, it's essentially an insulated brick of ice, which requires enormous amounts of heat to thaw and bring up to serving temperature.

In my previous opinion, it's not really lasagne if there's no spinach in it. This recipe lacks spinach, so I was prepared to mock it, but it's actually really good, except for the time requirement. I hadn't read the fine print, and while I had planned to prepare this on Sunday evening after my Drive, the minimum-2-hours in the 'fridge meant supper would be intolerably late; that's a big part of the reason I did Mashed Potatoes with leftover turkey, instead. So, I assembled this lasagne and put it in the 'fridge for the following day's supper.

Easy Bacon Cheeseburger Lasagne

I scaled the recipe down by 1/3 (kinda, I used the full amounts of cheeses (roughly 1 kg of cheese goes into this), because another opinion of mine regarding lasagne is that it is a vehicle for cheese) but still ended up with enough for multiple days of lunches. This is a recipe that falls into the odd category of "Americans turning not-hamburgers into simulacra of hamburgers", a transformation largely resting on the bacon in this case. I also used a blob of parsely-goo from a tube rather than fresh parsely because the minimum purchase of parsely is enough for about a dozen copies of this recipe and I had no plans to make any other recipes that call for parsely. I think I can keep this tube in the 'fridge for a few weeks, which is better than the few days that the fresh stuff stays fresh for.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #13: Mashed Potatoes (pg. 464) - 160110

I had some leftover Christmas turkey & stuffing taking up valuable room in my 'fridge's freezer - I still don't have a proper stand-alone chest freezer - and I didn't really have the ingredients necessary to tackle any of the recipes in this book designed to use up leftover cooked turkey or chicken. I also had a good supply of potatoes and this easy recipe is very similar to how I would prepare mashed potatoes anyway, before I started this project.

Mashed Potatoes

I did not substitute any ingredients, but I cooked the potatoes slightly differently than how the book instructs. Rather than boiling whole potatoes, I sliced them up and cooked them in my pressure cooker. Mashed potatoes is pretty much the only thing I use my pressure cooker as a pressure cooker for, rather than simply as a medium-large pot. Despite being about as old as me (or possibly older), the seal is in good shape and it builds up enough internal pressure to set the vent swinging noisily back and forth, a sound I associate with my childhood because this pressure cooker was given to me by my mother after she had used it for years. Thanks, Mom!

Betty Crocker Cookbook #12: Blueberry Muffins (pg. 67) - 160110

Muffins are, not particularly surprisingly, reasonably quick and easy, and while I was not particularly pressed for time on Sunday morning, I was eager to get out of the house with enough daylight to spare for a bit of a Sunday Drive. The downside of this recipe, and how this cookbook arranges and categorises recipes, is that there is now little point for me to try a variation on muffins-for-breakfast because other than Bran Muffins (and their variant, Date-Bran Muffins), all of the muffin recipes here are variants on the one I've just made. I plan to eventually try more muffins, this recipe worked extremely well, but such enjoyments won't count towards this project's completion goals.

Blueberry Muffins

I did not scale down the recipe from its target of 12 muffins because it calls for a single egg; eggs are often the limiting integer for recipe reductions, because I'm not interested in keeping fractions of whipped eggs in my 'fridge. No substitutions, either. I found I comfortably ate four muffins each morning, with a quick smoothie (yogurt, banana, frozen fruit, milk; not a recipe in this book) and a couple of cups of coffee, so this batch of 12 gave me breakfast for three straight days. Very convenient in a "daily life" kind of way, not so good for grinding through this project.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Club: War: A Crime Against Humanity

War: A Crime Against Humanity
Roberto Vivo
Editorial Hojas Sel Sur S.A.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2014

I was sent this book by an agent of the publisher after a brief email exchange in late summer last year. Because I was without a real fixed address until November, I arranged for it to arrive at my friends' home in Kitchener before I arrived in mid-October. Shamefully, I have since neglected to review this book until now.

I was sent this book because I had previously reviewed God's Hotel, a book I was sent by an agent of that publisher because of previous book clubs; somehow, somebody has actually been reading this blog. Weird. In subsequent emails, I assured the person who had sent me War: A Crime Against Humanity that my review would be posted here "within a few weeks"; this was back in November. I am sorry about my tardiness.

The main reason my review is so late is the disappointment I felt reading this book; this is not going to be a positive review.

When I first received the initial email, describing the book and asking if I would like to read it (for free!), I was already of the opinion that war itself could be described as a crime against humanity, in addition to the various war crimes committed during wars and other conflicts that already count as crimes against our entire species. I was expecting - and hopeful regarding - a book that constituted a full-length argument supporting this thesis. The various bits of you-should-read-this-book - the back jacket, on-line brief reviews, etc. - contributed to this feeling that this book would provide a foundation for future arguments condemning wars, warfaring, and the callous disregard for peace exhibited by some people.

The disappointment stems entirely from the singular failure of this book to provide that coherent, well-supported argument.

The structure of this book is four major chapters, each divided into a number of sections. The front matter lays out this structure clearly, and describes the history of various ideas and sections. The book was born from the author's sincere desire to explore and explain the origins and consequences of war, both as a recurring (and frequent) historical event and as a catastrophe each and every time it happens. Again, this laudable goal raised my expectations and hopes for this book!

The first chapter, "Violence and Man" is introduced as a kind of essay to discover whether war is something inherent in humanity and thus will always be part of our societies, or something that we might conceivably rid ourselves of, with the analogy - continued throughout the book - that we have successfully rid ourselves of several other historical horrors including slavery* and torture.

Unfortunately - and establishing a pattern for the rest of this book - the opening paragraph of Chapter 1 does not actually introduce the real topic of the chapter. First, we get a series of statements regarding the unjustifiable nature of war, the ways in which wars corrupt those who engage in warfare, and the immense damage inflicted on all societies and people by wars. The conclusion one draws from this - aptly stated by the author - is that no quantification of warfare, no meaningful comparison between wars or battles or strategies can take place because a single death a result of war is itself a crime against everyone. This absolute stand by the author is excellent! But then he goes and ruins the whole thing by proceeding to list wars by their deathcount, to distinguish between civilian and soldier deaths, and to explicitly rank history's greatest monsters! This is shortly after he states (pg. 44) that "the events related here are not comparable to one another" - then he rants about Hitler, Stalin, and Mao! and compares across millenia between the Mongols and the 20th century! If even 1 death is a crime, then how is one million deaths any more or less a crime than 10 million?

Then we get a paragraph at the end of Chapter 1 that tells us that we've just seen that war is not inherent in humanity. Wait, what? It feels like an entirely different essay was written and all I got to see was the first and last chapters, with the middle completely replaced by something else.

Chapter 2 is titled and introduced as a counterpoint to Chapter 1, as a chapter about the history of the world from the point of view of Peace where Chapter 1 was a history of war. Unfortunately, other than a brief, pointless list at the beginning of the chapter, it is no such thing. There are big chunks of Chapter 2 that constitute an apology for religion, including such ridiculous notions that when a religious authority or text declares itself to be devoted to peace, we can assume that's actually the case. Major world religions are described by their self-description as peace-bringers, and states (pg. 99) that "Buddhism has been transmitted to the present day without there existing at any time in history evidence of holy wars or violent colonisation of any kind whatsoever in the name of this tradition." If this were true, South-East Asia, where Buddhism runs into Hinduism and Islam (among others) would be expected to be the most peaceful region on earth. Do I really need to point out the violence in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia... ? Go tell the Rohingyas that Buddhism has never been violent. Go tell the Tamil Tigers about non-violence.

And then there's some filler that includes the requisite insult to atheism (by quoting a theologian) and lots of mindless blah blah blah about God and Mystery and Spiritualism. Mr. Vivo even mentions Peace, Justice and Hammurabi in the same sentence as the Old Testament (pg. 114) - the OT is just a story of blood, blood, and more blood!

Chapter 3 places various (mostly contemporary) societies along an axis of openness and closed-ness, with mature modern democracies such as Canada considered "open" and such nasty places as Belarus considered "closed". So far, so much in line with so many other writers I've encountered. These concepts clearly link to other concepts such as Liberalism and Radicalism, and these relationships seem to have led Mr. Vivo to contradict himself. Whereas he stated in Chapter 1 (and to some extent in Chapter 2) that no war could be justified, that war itself was unjustifiable, he describes in Chapter 3 how Liberalism helped to defeat "absolutism, fascism, and totalitarianism" in the World Wars of the 20th century - which to my reading counts as justifying the most destructive conflicts in history because they ended with greater devastation among the fascist and totalitarian regimes than among the democracies.

When a democratic country declares war on a dictatorship, that's a justifiable war, Mr. Vivo? So why do you spend so much of Chapter 4 on the American (Democracy) invasion of Iraq (Dictatorship) in 2003?

Sorry, I'm getting a bit out of order here (much as Mr. Vivo does in several paragraphs, discussing later events before earlier events without clear distinctions other than post-hoc-stated dates). The first part of Chapter 4 is a discussion of the other widely-recognised crimes against humanity, Slavery, Torture, and (institutional, national-level) Racism. This part is not really problematic, though at one point Mr. Vivo downplays the (pivotal, central) role of slavery in the American Civil War (it was about slavery. Full stop. Don't believe me? Read the articles of secession by each Southern state that formed the Confederacy. It's all right there, in their own words.).

I feel like the point that war fits the definition of a crime against humanity, right up there with Genocide, or the recruitment of children as soldiers (there are others, I'm not going to defend including or excluding a particular bit of awfulness on a list) is fairly easy to make. Every war is devastating to both the aggressor and the defender, every war kills huge numbers of people, both civilians and soldiers. Wars are built on the worst human emotions, with factors such as xenophobia and the dehumanisation of one's ideological opponents allowing otherwise non-violent individuals to kill and destroy on a large scale. Most of the crimes against humanity that have been identified are intimately tied to war, with wars providing both the opportunity and the motivation - and often the means - for the darkest side of humanity to rise up. Thus, it makes sense to include war itself as a war crime.

Mr. Vivo barely makes this point, and certainly doesn't make this case. He spends too much of the book fawning over irrelevant or counter-productive notions such as the announcements of peaceful intent by religious authorities (while they simultaneously call their followers to arms), and not enough time on the actually good parts of this book. Right at the end he does provide some reasons to be hopeful, in two areas: international justice and global trade.

There's a pretty good description of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the latter parts of Chapter 4, along with some interesting suggestions for improving its reach and effectiveness. He seems confused about the definition of sovereignty - having a country's national courts carry out an action after requests from the ICC is not really different from those courts carrying out those actions on the orders of the ICC - but I am convinced by his arguments that this organisation represents a strong push in the right direction on world peace.

The second argument, regarding world trade, is weaker. Wars destroy trade, both internationally - obviously between warring states, but third-party countries, too - and within nations. Trade matters. International and within-national trade is a pretty good working definition of the world economy, and major disruptions to trade cause hardship and suffering - and deaths! - even in the absence of wars or warfare. And reminding potentially war-mongering politicians about the financial costs of war may help to avert violent conflicts. But Mr. Vivo barely makes that point, and instead discusses the usual mindless "teach the children!" answer to pretty much every issue ever. Does nobody ever consider what teachers are doing already, and what they would have to stop doing to fit in a love-thy-neighbour curriculum, as worthwhile as that might be?

The other good point made is that "pacifist" is not to be confused with "passivist" (pg. 290). Peace is not simply the absence of war, but an active PROCESS of history in which conflicts and disagreements are resolved by dialogue and other non-violent means, and people are enriched and enlightened by interaction with other people from different cultures.

Overall, this book is a disappointment, written only moderately well (blame the translator here if you've read the Spanish-language original) and missing too many opportunities to really make a great point.

My opinion is apparently in sharp contrast to other bloggers, and is the minority opinion.

The Gal in the Blue Mask more-or-less repeats the glowing words printed on the outside of the book.
Smashwords calls it "exceedingly well-researched and documented", which makes me wonder if I we were sent the same book.
The reviews on Amazon.com are 6/6 for 5 stars
Forewordreviews gives it a more believable 4 stars (and apparently got paid for that review!)
Blueinkreview calls Mr. Vivo a "cooly elegant writer". Maybe they read his original words, rather than a translation?

And here's the webpage for the book, go see for yourself: http://www.robertovivo.com/the-book/

* OK, just to avoid a derailment regarding slavery - what I mean by our successful abolition of slavery, and what Mr. Vivo means, is that in no country on Earth is the ownership of other human beings officially legal within that country. Yes, there are still slaves today, in many places, but legally, at least, such practices unequivocally constitute crimes in much the same way that murder, rape, robbery, etc. still occur everywhere but are universally condemned as crimes. Similarly, torture and racism are nowhere officially sanctioned by laws and governments, but are still with us as crimes.




I hope this Book Club entry does not prevent other agents of this or other publishers from contacting me in future. I really enjoy reading and I feel like I should do it more - and having somebody expecting my reaction to a particular book is great motivation to get my ass back onto the couch. So far, I have received books FOR FREE twice, which is mind-blowing and awesome. Thank you!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #11: Potato, Bacon and Egg Scramble (pg. 222) - 160109

This recipe is labelled as "Fast", and indeed I probably could prepare this on a workday without jeapardizing my morning routine. In any case, I made this this morning - a Saturday - just in case. Also, this project is putting some pressure on my dish-washing lack-of-routine, and my one good frying pan was still full of bacon residue yesterday morning.

Potato Bacon Egg Scramble

This chapter is "Eggs & Cheese" and those things do often appear together. But this recipe lacks cheese, an oversight I was prepared to downgrade it for. The taste - especially the generous helping of green onions, and the salt & pepper I didn't measure as I added them to the eggs - makes up for it, though. I did add some West Indian hot sauce, because the stuff I have is amazing with potatoes, though I made sure to also evaluate this dish without such additions.

The recipes I planned before my shopping trip Thursday evening included a bit of my attempts at efficiency, with some ingredients appearing in multiple recipes. The broccoli that went into both Thursday's salad (carried over for Friday's lunch) and the Asian Noodle Bowl is one example, the bacon that appears here, in the broccoli salad, and in my plan for tomorrow's supper is the other. My cupboards are pretty small and pretty full, and my need for a chest freezer increases daily, but this kind of planning is helping. This simple little thing, that I'm sure many other people do as a matter of course, is a fairly large departure from my typical grocery shopping habits, in which I just look for those items I've consumed recently, and restock.

Part of the motivation for this project is my low-level lack of satisfaction with my typical diversity of meals; I had around half-a-dozen meals that I would eat regularly, with most of those being very easy to prepare and taking little time. I don't think I ate poorly (with the possible exception of last summer, though not in terms of quality, just quantity - I need to eat more!), but this project does seem to be leading to some appreciable widening of my daily intake.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #10: Asian Noodle Bowl (pg. 365) - 160108

There are numerous other "Asian-inspired" recipes in this book, but I find it amusing, as well as telling of the background of this cookbook, that a single recipe stands in for the vast diversity of noodle-based dishes created and consumed by the billions of people living on that continent - to say nothing of the spectacular range of such cuisine available in the Chinatown of any major Western city. Also, the photo for this recipe includes a pair of forks, but no chopsticks.

This recipe is in the Pasta chapter (subchapter: Noodles), possibly as a reminder to the reader that there is a world of pasta beyond Italy. It could just as easily fit into the Vegetarian chapter, because it contains no meat at all, though I confess I am unsure of the ingredients of hoisin sauce.

Asian Noodlebowl
(with apologies for the residue from a dropped onion piece on the table)

No substituions, though I did cut the recipe in half and I might have messed up a few of the relative proportions. In any case, this was very good. My chopstick skills need more practice; I gave up the painfully slow process about 1/2 way through my first bowl-full.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #9: Broccoli Sunshine Salad (pg. 384) - 160107

The final part of my supper Thursday night, a salad to provide some greenery. Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables, partly because it is so often served with cheese sauce (I am a cheese monkey).

In the past I have avoided broccoli stalks, concentrating on the crowns. After getting over my despair at the price of the chicken breasts, I went with full broccoli rather than the more-expensive crowns. There is advice on this page of the Betty Crocker cookbook regarding slicing up broccoli, but rather than make thin spears, I just chopped up the stalks (after roughly slicing off protrusions and leaves) into discs, much like how I typically chop carrots.

Some of the pieces were a bit too large for my tastes, but otherwise this was a smashing success.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #8: Roasted Rosemary-Onion Potatoes (pg. 462) - 160107

I've prepared this recipe before, sometime last year. It's pretty basic, just coat some cut-up potatoes (I used halved "baby" potatoes) in a mixture of olive oil and seasoning, then roast on a cookie shieet in a hot oven.

Because I'd just returned from the grocery store on a shopping trip specifically for this and several other recipes, I had no substitions for this, unless one counts the baby potatoes as a substitution compared to the cut-up medium potatoes actually called for by the book.

No picture, because these spuds appear next to the chicken in the photo for the previous entry. Again, delicious!

Betty Crocker Cookbook #7: Pecan-Maple Chicken (pg. 519) - 160107

Thursday afternoon I needed to get groceries, and because of this project I sat down with the cookbook and came up with a list of recipes to make that day and over the next few days. Supper, after a rather long time at the grocery store - some of the ingredients are not things I have purchased often, or in some cases at all, before - was a combo of three recipes, helping to keep me (close to) on-track on this project.

The meat course was from the "20 Minutes or Less" chapter, and indeed this recipe was completed quickly. I was interrupted by a phone call in the middle, so the actual elapsed time was a little longer, but it was still pretty fast.

No substitions this time, although perhaps an argument could be made about the "maple-flavored syrup"; I used real (home-made!) maple syrup, which certainly qualifies as maple-flavoured given I've seen the individual trees that my uncle taps for sap every year to produce the syrup I used. At the store I considered substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the breasts called for in the recipe, but decided to embrace this project, damn the expenses. And boneless, skinless chicken breasts are eye-wateringly expensive. I halved the recipe (no success on the buy-a-freezer front, yet) but even two breasts* was a considerable fraction of the (high) total cost of that trip; I paid around $11.50 for them, at over $25 / kg.

* I'm not sure if the two breasts each represent one half of a chicken's pectoral muscles, or each is from a separate bird. Something I'll have to keep in mind and investigate the next time I cut up a whole chicken.

Pecan-Maple Chicken meal

This was delicious, all things considered. I've included a photo showing the complete meal, rather than the individual recipe-components. Hopefully this project will improve my photography as well as my kitchen.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Betty Crocker Cookbook #6: Chai (pg. 61) - 160105


We had intended to make Chai yesterday, to provide us with some caffeine to stimulate our cleaning-and-organizing activities on Charlie’s last full day here at Skootamatta. We forgot to even consider beverages – hot or cold – until most of the day’s tasks had been completed, including the overwhelming majority of the physical activity. We got most of the tasks that directly benefit from daylight – chopping and bringing in firewood, fetching lake water (Charlie had to chop ice with an axe), and setting up the heating system for Tarrandus, my truck (her cabin-heating system is broken due to a jammed-in-the-cold-position blend door, so I used a small space heater that runs off household 125v alternating current to pre-heat her before today’s 2.5 hour drive to Ottawa International). Thus we felt we wouldn’t need a caffeine fix at 5:00pm and opted for an alcoholic choice, instead (wine!).

Also, we’re pretty frickin’ Canadian around here.

No photo again, because, again, I forgot to take any while Chai was being prepared. The recipe is basically “add milk to brewed tea” plus some spices – though we didn’t have any cardamom so that was omitted. The hot, sugary (sweetened condensed milk accounts for about 1/9 of the total dairy in this recipe) tea went into a big thermos we had with us and we drank it as we drove down Ontario Highway 417 eastwards into Ottawa. It was, once again, really, really good.

***

Charlie provided me with an Excel file that includes all 634 recipes in the 2006 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. So this cup of tea represents six down, 628 to go. Clearly, I need to increase my average rate to around two recipes / day if I’m going to complete this project in one year. Charlie convinced me this time limit should be my goal, because if I allow the project to drag out longer from the outset, I greatly increase the risk of never actually finishing it. A deadline is a useful thing for focusing my mind, and I’m already pondering options for completing some of the more ambitious recipes that require techniques I’ve never tried before such as deep-frying and candy-making as well as what to do with the tremendous amounts of food that some recipes will generate – there are three recipes that are built around whole turkeys (one involves a turkey-swallowing, propane-powered deep fryer), for example, plus half a chapter of casseroles. Not to mention the cakes, pies, batches of cookies, and general make-supper-for-your-whole-family recipes that form the backbone of this book.

I will be buying some non-food items to support this project, obviously. First on the list is a chest freezer, an item I’ve wanted ever since I gave my old one to a friend-of-a-friend when I left Saskatchewan. Other things I’ll be searching for include a candy thermometer, more plastic storage containers (to put in the freezer), and a waffle iron – I’ll be browsing the local thrift shops for this and a few other items, with Walmart and its ilk as my backup plan. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to have a BBQ at my apartment, so either I’ll be using a friend’s (helping with the what-to-do-with-all-this-food problem) or buying one for a friend, and visiting often.

Betty Crocker Cookbook #5: Chicken (Pork) Salad Sandwiches (pg. 452) - 160105


So far, this project is a remarkable 5/5 for successes. Charlie has been keeping me motivated during the launch stage (the first few days) of this cook-everything-in-a-big-cookbook project, and we ate Pork Salad Sandwiches for lunch today as I drove her to Ottawa’s airport. No photo this time because I forgot to take any during preparation, but I suspect it’s remarkably difficult to take a good picture of pork (or chicken) salad sandwiches as they are being created.

Substitutions this time include pork (obviously) for the recipe’s called-for cooked chicken (or ham, egg, or tuna in the published variations), using the slow-cooker pork we prepared in the Old Year (around December 30, if I remember correctly). And, instead of regular bread, we used pita pockets that we’d bought in expectation of regular lunches over this vacation. A typical daily schedule that included rising from bed around 11:30am precluded the use of most of our lunch supplies, but today’s pita-pocket sandwiches were excellent.