Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Must Choose My Words Carefully

As many of you know, I've been substitute teaching for a little while, and I am currently trying to get those jobs where the state needs to be somewhat careful about WHO they hire. Therefore, I feel I must curtail my sense of humor somewhat, as the internet has been known to be used as a reference for czeching up on people. After all, Jonathan Swift didn't publish 'A Modest Proposal' because he was trying to get some extra work in daycare.

I thought I would recap and/or summarize the things you, my friends, have already learned about me by reading either this blog or anything else on the internet which might offer insight to my character.

1) I spent three years serving the country as a Coast Guard mess hall stir-fry consultant. I concocted, researched, and executed on a daily basis delicious meals for our men and women who guard our waters and borders (and coasts). To be quite honest, and I would never admit it myself, but it has been said of me by others that I can make some delicious things happen with green bell peppers.

I find myself attracted to the culinary qualities of the green pepper for a number of reasons, but I think the primary reason I use it in so many stir-fries is that the green bell pepper is actually at it's most robust quality while it is unripe. If one waits until it ripens, then the flavor can get too sweet for many dishes (i.e a good deal of southwestern recipes). There is far more than simply the convenience of not having to wait for your peppers to ripen; although arguments could be made for both sides... On one hand, yes it's convenient to have your peppers be ready for chopping up the moment you get them in. They are the minute-men of the Portsmouth Harbor U.S. Coastgaurd Station (lol!). But seriously, on the other hand, you do have to use them before they ripen (for most dishes you have planned for them), which can counter the convenience of having them ready right away, being as you might not always be ready TO USE them. The fact that their flavor changes after they ripen actually mirrors the inconvenience of other types of vegetables that one must WAIT for to ripen.

In addition to the sometimes-tactical advantage of being able to utilize green bell peppers right away while their texture and flavor are at their most ideal; there's something very gung-ho about the fact that green bell peppers do not want to wait around before they spring into action. They don't want to be nurtured and teased into a five-minute window of robustness like Pinot grapes, or an adult woman with whom an adult male is having consentual sexual intercourse. No, the green bell pepper is Leroy Jenkins and wishes the world to know that it's interested in one thing and one thing only: making delicious, often southwestern stir-fry dishes NOW. This is not to say that I glorify everything in life with shoot-from the hip qualities, but when we're dealing with food, we're dealing with the appetites. Appetite is the one thing that connects higher life-forms with lower life-forms. It is behavioral desire fueled by the instincts for each organism to carry out its metabolic duties. Essentially, appetite IS life itself. You don't see rocks and chairs and dimes yearning for anything, do you? But trees long for the sun, their appetite for its light is often so great that, without any muscles or joints or sinews to grant them motor skills, they will reach out with nothing but the power of sheer growth towards their giant bell-pepper in the sky. Squirrels have appetites for the nuts. Female praying manti have appetites for cannibalistic mid-coital mariticide. Phoenix Boys Choir director George Stangelberger has an appetite for the highest notes and richest tones. All appetite, all necessary for the survival, proliferation and dominance of the respective species. All life. Life, life, life.

There is, for the benefit of those of you out there who don't believe my accused modesty when I discuss my arguable mastery of the green bell pepper, some manner of what one might call 'secret tricks' when preparing the bell pepper for it's destined stir-fry. I honestly don't mind sharing, if only to show you that I have nothing particularly special, but only that knowledge which any experienced stir-fry consultant will have garnered from his or her hours in the kitchen.

When I first arrived at New Hampshire's Portsmouth harbor, I was taking over for their previous S.F.C. who was quite inexperienced. This is not to say that I've had many years myself, keep in mind I'm only 24 right now so at this time I was 20, coming into a new world of culinary delights and coastal security that I had hardly ever dreamed of! The only difference between me and Rudy, the aforementioned inexperienced gentleman who wasn't really doing things correctly, was that I was willing to do the research. I studied hard during my brief summer session up at Auburn Culinary School, and found that even though there is no education quite like experience, there definitely is also something to the old saying that my father and soothfull Nana used to say, "Knowledge isn't a heavy burden to carry.". Which is why I found my natural love of studying helped me a great deal as an fledgling stir-fry cook and adviser. Rudy had a problem with his green bell peppers, specifically the storage thereof. Since feeding the coast guard in New England didn't exactly call for green peppers every single day, Rudy found himself having a hard time keeping stock. The peppers he stored would over-ripen so that when he actually needed them for stir-fry or southwest casseroles, he wouldn't have any usable peppers, just useless over-ripe throwaways. Tons of them. Between you and me, there really aren't very many genteel recipes that call for over-ripened green bell peppers. The only dish I feel I can personally get away with using ripe green peppers is in a type of Ghanaian beef and spinach stew called Shoko, and I still honestly felt like that was pushing it (plus, you can only get away with making stew recipes from Ghana for these Patriot and Red-Sox loving mics once or twice a month, tops...)

So after Rudy left, I realized why he had so much trouble keeping his green bell peppers fresh. It was actually two-fold. First, whenever a sack of peppers came in, he tossed them around like the sack contained the corpse of his mortal enemy. I heard he would literally throw them in a pile rather than taking the extra two seconds to place them down gently. Again, not that they need to be lovie-dovied, but when the skin gets bruised or punctured, the oxygen will cause a rapid increase in the production of the simple hydrocarbon gas ethylene. Ethylene is what triggers the ripening process, it acts as a catalyst which creates enzymes to hasten the breakdown of chemicals in the flesh of the fruit. It creates, for instance, amylases which accelerates the hydrolysis of starch into sugar. Also, pectinases to speed up the breakdown of pectin, which is what keeps unripened fruits and vegetables so firm. Ethylene is the biggest culprit with any ripening fruit. Rudy should have known this, which is why, much to my amazement and disgust, on my first day back in the kitchen I saw that was keeping the sacks of peppers in the same bin as something else... Bananas! Ripening bananas are one of nature's biggest producers of ethylene. Any chef, maitre'd or bus-boy worth half his salt can tell you that you don't store bananas with any fruit or vegetable that you want to keep around longer than a week! Unbelievable!

So what's my secret for keeping green bell peppers fresh for oh, so very long? Simple! I spread them out around the kitchen, keeping them away from other fruits and vegetables--and, when possible, each other. The lack of proximity to each other and other ethylene producing produce kept my peppers fresh for god-knows how long. A pepper in my footlocker, a pepper hidden in the antique chandelier that we didn't actually use anymore, we just kept it for show. I'll be damned if I didn't have peppers scattered about the grounds like some kind of obsessive compulsive, spacially challenged Johnny Appleseed. I know what you're thinking, "just keep them in the fridge!" but that wouldn't have been perfect for a number of reasons, most notably, the cold temperature can affect the color, and hey I think I've made it somewhat clear that I have an over-active attachment to all the excellent qualities of the green bell pepper at it's finest state.

2) I try, whenever possible, to give as much time and money to local homeless shelters and orphanages as I can humanly afford. I used to live in a somewhat larger residence than the one I occupy now--which I had afforded from the good deal of money I made running my own business. You see, I got a pretty big state contract from New Jersey when the former governor, Jim McGreevey, had his moment of fame by coming out as being a homosexual. I won't say exactly what service I provided, but let us suffice it to say that it involved driving my pickup around to every truck stop on the turnpike and parkway, and setting to work with my caulking gun, spackle and drywall.

Now I work part time as a social worker, and part time at a small Ghanaian Restaurant, where I make stews, mostly for catering (and I'll take no jokes please about how eating at my restaurant can give you Ghana-rhea! lol). So I don't get much income to help the community, like I would wish to. But I still try to offer my spare time to as many community outreach programs as are available to me.

One thing I do delight in, is the occasional opportunity to take sizeable portions of extra broths over to the homeless shelters in the Philadelphia area. I think it's important for people to help each other as much as possible, although I do acknowledge a great deal of concern towards drugs and alcohol as a problem which holds some people back from achieving functional excellence. These social ills concern me mostly because of their connection to poverty, and of course, poverty's connection to crime. However, I look forward to teaching youngsters how to incorporate critical thinking in their plan to keep drug and drink free as way of helping to keep inner-city crime at a minimum.

3) I used to pray to St. Jude. As almost everybody knows by now, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. I use to think that this was just a generally good saint to pray to, even if your cause is strong, because I used to think, "as long as the cause was noble, St. Jude wouldn't discriminate and deprive me of help..". Well I got to thinking about it, and I began to realize that praying to St. Jude was starting to have a negative affect on my attitude. Because calling him the patron saint of lost causes is really just a nice way of saying he's the patron saint of all those who suck. I feel that praying to him is just admittance of your own inability to get anything done right. We all struggle from time to time, but lets have some self respect, and pray to a saint who actually knows what it means to accomplish something. How about St. Peter... First Pope. Not to FUCKING shabby, eh? The man had his name personally changed from Simon to Peter by Jesus himself, and then this fucking douchebag Jude comes along and thinks that there's some honor to the fact that only the biggest losers in the Universe are praying to him!? I would like to officially go on record as saying that St. Jude can suck my balls.

Thank you.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Well done.

If you're worried about schools looking into this, they now have the impression that you can talk for hours about nothing and may be possibly insane.... which makes you qualified to teach about 95 % of high school classses, particularly art, english, religion, philosophy, history, and pretty much everything that isn't math.

But math sucks, so you'll be ok.

NICKEL said...

I think you should get Jeanne a spa certificate and something that smells nice. A large basket filled with her favorite lotions, bath soaps, etc. And chocolate.

For your mom.. that can be a little tricky. Does she have a favorite store? If so, a gift card is always the way to go. And some chocolate.

Chocolate never fails. Unless they're allergic.

Drew said...

Well, I'm gone in Mass until Wed morning and have to work, then I'm back to Mass on Friday afternoon till Sunday afternoon...but I'm free Wed and Thurs night, and I do really love Tecmo...

Anonymous said...

I didn'nt think it was popular to prattle on about green peppers for that long. I was wrong.

Good show.

Anonymous said...

Well if that's how they do business at your restaurant, I'm not Ghana go there.


Sorry. Had to.