Sunday, August 24, 2014

Longtime Culinaire, First Time Briner

Lately anytime there's a cooking program, or a cooking spot on a talk show, dealing in pork chops, they brine them. Even in culinary school they didn't mentioned brine and pork chops. Brine for pickling fish, sure (we've actually used brine for pickling fish, so maybe "first time briner" is a bit misleading...). But brine for pork? It's weird, not having heard much about meat brine (outside of making bacon or ham) until recently, weird since brine seems like the answer to doctoring so much bland-tasting meat of which there is plenty of here in the US of A. (Meat from corn-fed animals have far less taste than grass-fed - it's why meat tastes so much better in other countries where they are primarily fed on other grains and grasses)
But what about the ins and outs of brine: what exactly goes in a brine, how much flexibility is in a brine, how long do you really have to soak the meat? Thankfully, there's the internet for that.

Brine is basically an oil-free, vinegar-free, marinade. Mostly it's a solution of salt and water, with (optional) aromatic herbs and spices thrown in to boost the flavor and moisture of some unsuspecting chunk of meat. Really it can be whatever things you think might taste good together. Avoid vinegars, as the acid in it will "cook" the meat (unless you're making a pickled fish of some sort - in which case vinegar is essential in most cases) causing discoloration and structural integrity issues of said meat.

After weeks of eyeing thick slabs of pork chops in the grocery store, inspired by local tart apples picked from a neighborhood tree on nightly walks, and fresh onions from the (mother's) garden - the onions in our own garden have not had a good year - it became time.
Time to brine.

Like with any recipe, you look at the bones of it, the ingredients that make it what it is. Most recipes have them, the essential ingredients - in this case salt and water - which all brine recipes reviewed had. At that point go to your cupboard, your fridge, your garden (herb or vegetable) and mix and match what you think might taste good "infused" into your hunk of protein (hey, you can brine tofu too!)

The brine invented today was great. The hint of ginger and garlic was excellent, and the meat was amazingly juicy. Combined with fresh local ingredients, Sunday dinner was one to be proud of:
Brined and grilled pork chop with garden fresh (white, orange and purple) carrots & potatoes sautéed with fresh oregano, red and white onions pan fried with tart local apples, and beet tops steamed with minced garlic. Garnished with fresh green onions.
Brine Ingredients:
4 c water
4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp agave syrup*
1 Tbsp country Dijon (grainy) mustard
1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped (or about 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or about 1 tsp dried)
1/2" thick slice of fresh ginger, rough chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
3 medium cloves garlic, crushed (or 1.5 tsp dried)
4 pork chops, thick cut (or 6 thin)
- Place pork chops in large glass pan for about 6 hours-24 hours (the longer the better, of course). If the pan is too shallow and one side of the pork is not submersed make sure to turn each pork chop halfway through your planned brine time.
- Remove from brine, remove any large bits of ginger or other ingredients to prevent burning, and trim any fat you might want to trim off (if there is excess, like real excess, otherwise why would you do that?! The fat is magical.) and season, as desired, with salt and pepper.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to dispose of the brine. Do not reuse the brine. Never reuse liquids you have soaked meat in, as they may cause foodborne illness)
- Cook as desired: bake, pan fry or grill.

For grilling preheat the grill to high, place the pork chop on and close the lid. Turn pork chop and close the lid for another minute.Turn the grill down to medium heat and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until the the center, after a three minute rest, reaches 145-160° Fahrenheit, depending on desired done-ness.
No matter how you cook your pork make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 145°F.

Handy Meat Doneness Graphic:
Image Source: Men's Health
*Agave syrup can be substituted with 3/4 Tbsp honey.
Note: Not all agave syrup is created equal. If you already use it and have never reached information about it you might want to fire up the old Google. If you plan to start using agave, for its several potential marketed "health benefits", make sure that you research the best types to use/buy, and logically think about the pros and cons people are throwing around about the product. Further, sugar is sugar is sugar if you eat too much of it. Not having real reliable sources about this "new" "hot" "trendy", dare we say "hipster", product called agave syrup, use at your own risk, like with any other manufactured sugar product. As always, use common sense.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Let's Talk About Suicide, Baby

This was going to be an issue that we let slide into the pile with so many other things we would have liked to write about this summer (there's been so much), but sometimes there are some people who write some things that crawl into this brain and gnaw at the edges. To eradicate it, is to write. To cleanse the mind...

Mental illnesses, like true chronic depression, is not reserved for the successful, or the talented...nor is it reserved for the poor or disenfranchised.
Mental illness is often due to chemical imbalances of the brain, among many other factors.
(Causes of Depression
Those chemical imbalances know no income level, or social status, or level of talent.

To spread a blanket over suicide and claim it to be selfish, or claim it to be for certain people who deserve it (whether it be because they lived a great life they couldn't handle, or a shitty one, or because they were an icon, or a nobody) is presuming you know the life or support structure, or health, or the mind, of the person who has committed it (or attempted it). You assume a lot the minute you judge someone for making a decision about their life, just because they weren't thinking about you (or the people so many claim loved them), or because their life was a certain way, or worse, because you feel the experience you had with the same mindset/illness is somehow the same for everybody else.

Perhaps the person doesn't have a support system, or if they do, that support system doesn't take their issues seriously, know...depression so bad that they can't imagine a way out other than to kill themselves, is selfish, "all in their head", not real, their fault...
It's not true, (even if you think it is) but often there is nobody in that support system that has ever truly experienced severe depression. In these cases, it's true that nobody understands.
But luckily there are countless people in the world that do. They aren't always easy to find, but if you can't be supportive, you can help find people who are. You can help. You can't help by being judgmental or selfish, you can help, by helping, by listening. Watching for the signs. Understanding the illness.

Depression is not simply about being sad, or being unhappy with your life, or being "bored". 
While those things contribute to overall depression, it's much more.

Another problem that is growing increasingly common for mental health disorders and issues is the prevalence of them (the terms) being depreciated in meaning by people who pretend for attention, or people who joke (for attention), or people who insert the term that describes very real symptoms as a verb, to sound relevant or make their report "pop" (such as in the media), or people who are simply uneducated and inexperienced with real mental health issues. Or people who are ignorant and hateful.

A good example of a depreciated mental illness going the way of depression, is schizophrenia. Over the last year or so there has been an increase in media personalities using schizophrenia as a verb to describe something random, or disordered; just like people saying they are depressed, when they are simply sad, this distorts the true meaning of the word. This devalues the seriousness of the issue, reduces the likelihood of people dealing with real symptoms to be taken seriously, or feel that they'll be taken seriously.

You don't have to agree, of course. But many mental illnesses, including real depression, have very real symptoms - physiological and psychological. Sometimes symptoms people have become skilled at hiding for periods of time. Sometimes signs and symptoms that are obvious - but in a world where people are increasingly concerned with self, they go unnoticed, or become demonized.

And just because you've experienced some sort of depression, and were able to overcome it, doesn't mean everybody can. You can't expect people to be as strong as you, but you can encourage them to be strong. Belittling people, making them a victim of your ignorance, is not a display of strength.

Mental illness is illness.

[BUT...don't forget: 'A Message To Your Diagnosis']

Bottom line...
  • You would no more tell a person's family grieving the death of someone who suffered from cancer that because you had cancer and got chemo and beat the cancer, that their family member should have been able to.
  • You would no more walk around saying "Man, I'm feeling so cancerous today".
  • You would no more tell a person with Ebola that because you had the flu pretty bad once you know exactly how they feel.
The one thing that does not help is making people who, sadly, are a victim of the chemicals in their brain, feel like they are victim of your hate, your ignorance, your scorn...your bullying.

You calling people who commit suicide selfish (or weak) is not going to stop them from taking their life, if anything, they want to stop hearing how their mental health issues are just them being needy, or wanting attention, or being weak.
People who think about committing suicide, or commit suicide, see no way out of their situation...of the hell in their brain.
You boarding up the door is not going to help them, talking about it openly and compassionately just might.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Countdown

Classes start in eleven days.

Meanwhile, painting "season" is coming to a close, there just won't be time (plus we'll have to deal with harvesting and preserving the garden!). Guess this means summer is coming to a close. <sad face>

{Meanwhile, check out the new website and domain for paintings at:}

The anticipation and anxiety have been churning up madness, and we've been doing the best balancing act possible. It feels like this brain is being crushed by the skull, all too often it feels a struggle to grasp a single line of thought and pull it out of the cloud. With only two semesters left before graduation it's the final countdown. The class load is heavier, the topics more focused...but for the forensic science class (yay!) and the class related to problems in political science. By the looks of the books for the POLSCI class, the problem being tackled this semester in the environment and energy in political policy. So...get ready to read a bunch of crap about that.

The mix of classes is really exciting this semester, and there are 12 books to plow through - some really interesting ones, like Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media is Not the Answer by Karen Sternheimer, and Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society by Dustin Kidd (don't worry, those links take you to Goodreads, not Amazon).

Oh, and there's another really cool nutritional study coming up that we'll be taking part in, which requires strict diet (set and provided by the scientists), heavy monitoring and staying at the facility (while still allowing for work and classes) twice, for eleven days at a time. Why would we do that, you ask?! It's going to cover just about all the remaining tuition costs for Fall semester, so,'s just logical. Plus it'll be a savings on
a) gas ($90 dollars for each eleven day stay)
b) groceries
c) alcohol
d) time (80+ minutes of travel a day).
It would almost be stupid not to do it. It would be. It would be totally stupid to pass it up just because of the inconvenience of not sleeping at home (and having all meals and liquids dictated by strangers).
But, we can have visitors. :-)

It feels like the summer went too fast and we didn't do enough writing. It's unfortunate because there were a lot of events some of us would have liked to cover, if only to keep our writing in check, because it feels like this semester is going to be heavy in essay writing, since there is only ONE actual textbook for one of the six classes, the others are destined to be springboards to further research and writing. Having not written all summer, suddenly it's hard to remember how to write anything, let alone in the style of essay, despite having written a stack of them last semester.
Surely just the most average of the anxiety creeping into the space between skull and skin.

So, eleven days and our schedule changes again (schedules are sort of a linchpin in our mental health)...we'll stay positive until proven otherwise.

As always, thanks for reading even though you probably had something better to do.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Midnight Birthday Poem

turned this body,
a new age;
many old pages,
keep sticking,
resisting decay.