On Route 66 in Gallup, N.M.
Quick scene from the road. Ron took my picture looking competent with my guitar at the Rudolfo Anaya sculpture park on Route 66 in Santa Rosa, N.M., yesterday. The lighting was weird — hence the strange color — but I kind of like it. If you didn’t know better, you might almost be fooled into thinking I know what I’m doing. (You’d be wrong, but that’s why I’m posting a photo and not a video.)
If I ever get run over by a bus or come down with bubonic Ebola pox or something, go ahead and run this shot with my obit. It’s about the hippiest photo anybody has ever taken of me.
The only thing better than doing a bunch of hippie crap is teaching somebody else to do a bunch of hippie crap.
The first time I did anything along those lines, we lived in Belleville, and a colleague who was particularly impressed with my salsa recipe came by for a canning lesson. We had a lot of fun. I got some help with the prep work, which can be tedious, and I sent her home with a few jars of salsa and a new skill.
A couple of years ago, I taught a neighbor to extract honey. That was mostly penance for a dumb stunt he’d pulled involving one of my beehives, but he really liked the bees and wanted to learn about them, and I won’t be at all surprised if he ends up establishing a hive of his own someday.
Last week, one of my editors mentioned she’d like to learn to can. She’s kind of fascinated with the DIY stuff we do around here, so I promised her I’d schedule my next salsa-canning project on some Sunday when we’re both off.
I like showing other people how to be more self-sufficient — partly because I’m an old teacher and enjoy watching their eyes light up when they learn something new, and partly because it feels as if I’m repaying a debt to someone who unwittingly did me a favor before I was born.
About 40 years ago, my mom worked for the school district in my hometown. A counselor who worked in her office made killer homemade bread. When Mom asked for the recipe, rather than simply scribble it down on a card, he invited her over and spent several hours teaching her to make bread from scratch.
One man’s willingness to share one afternoon of his time with a young secretary is still paying dividends 40 years later.
I like to imagine that 30 or 40 years from now, the children of the people who have spent an afternoon in my kitchen, learning to do something I enjoy, will be standing in their own kitchens, remembering their parents’ lessons and smiling at the thought.
To teach is to own a little piece of eternity.
I’ve wanted a cider press ever since last fall, when I remembered that Cape is about a 30-minute drive from some great Southern Illinois orchards, but most of the plans I found required a bigger investment of time, money and storage space than I was willing to put into something I’m going to use once a year. After looking at various ideas, I jury-rigged something together that worked better than I’d anticipated. Bonus: You can store it under your bed when you’re not using it, which makes this a fairly apartment-friendly project.
You will need:
A cast-iron griddle (the kind you lay across two burners to heat)
A sturdy plastic cutting board roughly the same size as the griddle
At least two 4-inch C-clamps
A plastic storage box big enough to hold the griddle and cutting board when they’re clamped together
Apples (6 lbs. will yield about 3 pints of cider)
Apple wedger (trust me: This will make the project much easier)
After cleaning all your equipment thoroughly, wash the apples, core and slice them with the wedger, and use the food processor to grind them to a coarse pulp. A standard food processor should handle about two pounds of apples at a time.
Cut a piece of cheesecloth about twice the size of the cutting board. Put the cutting board in the bottom of the storage box, lay the cheesecloth on top, and scoop two to four pounds of pulp onto it.
Wrap the cheesecloth around the pulp, lay the griddle on top, smooth side down, and carefully clamp the griddle and cutting board together with the pulp in between. (I used two clamps, but I think it would have worked better with three or four.) Tighten the clamps as much as possible to press the juice out of the apple pulp.
Remove the clamps, pour the juice into jars, and either compost the pulp or save it for another project, such as apple butter.
It took me less than an hour to assemble the press and process six pounds of apples into three pints of cider — and that includes 10 or 15 minutes I wasted searching the garage for some extra clamps I am pretty sure we accidentally left behind when we moved.
I think by this point, we have long since established my fondness for Mexican food. Pretty much everything I cook around here is either Mexican or Italian. The latter comes from growing up in Herrin, Illinois, where everybody is Italian but me. The former comes from developing a taste for hot sauce at age 4 and never outgrowing it, I think.
Anyway, in my travels in the Southwest, I’ve come to appreciate horchata. Good horchata is hard to come by in Southeast Missouri. We had a little taqueria in town that served it, but it closed a few weeks after it opened — a bit too authentic for the gringo palates around here, I guess — and the stuff you get at the Mexican grocery store invariably contains aspartame, which tastes nasty.
I finally got tired of driving all the way to Carbondale to buy horchata at the Neighborhood Co-Op and decided to make my own.
I started by reading this Nosh On It post about the various methods of making horchata, then — in my usual fashion — figured out an easier (read: lazier) approach.
1 c. sliced almonds (I buy mine in bulk at the health-food store)
1/3 c. white rice
Generous pinch or two of ground cinnamon
Simple syrup to taste (mix a cup of sugar with a half-cup of water and nuke until sugar dissolves)
Put the almonds, rice and cinnamon in a standard (not wide-mouth) quart Mason jar, screw on the blade assembly from your blender, and process to a fine powder.
Fill the jar with hot water, put the lid on the jar and let stand overnight.
Put the blades back on the blender and give it another good whirl until it’s smooth. Strain through fine cheesecloth or a permanent coffee filter. Divide the resulting liquid between two quart jars, add another cup of water to each jar, and sweeten with simple syrup to taste. (Don’t get carried away with the syrup; you can always add more, but you can’t undo it if you make it too sweet.)
Chill and serve with your favorite Mexican meal.
This is one of my favorite songs. Bob Dylan ripped it off from an British folk tune. Unlike some of his stuff, it’s fairly easy to play. If you’re interested, Ultimate Guitar has chords here.