Dirty Rice; Dirty History

One of the weekly standby dishes easily found in Louisiana cooking is dirty rice. A boxed version of dirty rice located the grocery shelves offers a popular version of the dish, “just add ground meat” and you have a great family meal. There is nothing grand about the history of the dish though and today’s recipes for the dish are a far cry from its origins – thankfully.

 

Dirty Rice was a poor family’s cooking. While the slaughtered chicken went into the stew pot up in the plantation house, the slaves or the tenant farmers were left with the chicken guts, even the chicken feet. The Louisiana plantations planted rice in the bayou where it grew plentiful and cheap for the locals. The original dirty rice was cooked chicken guts, the gizzard, heart, and kidneys, cooked in a pan. Afterward the cooked organ meats were chopped fine while the rice cooked in added water in the same pan. The two ingredients were seasoned with salt and pepper before serving. Dirty rice tastes good but the appeal loses some of its luster when considering what was being served in the better houses.

 

For the poor of Louisiana, Black, White and Cajun, dirty rice was a filling staple dish. The dish required local ingredients only and provided stomach filling satisfaction. As a family gained more wherewithal, they kept dirty rice but added more ingredients. Andouille sausage was ground pig stomachs and spices, yet, cheaper than cuts of pork but more expensive than chicken guts. The sausage was added to the pot of rice. Vegetables came and went as they became available and then disappeared with the seasons.

 

Dirty Rice has not changed. Organ meats are still the least expensive items in the meat case. Ground beef and ground chicken are more expensive but adding more rice to the dish stretches out how many mouths one dish can feed, so penny-pinchers can still indulge. Of course, one can sauté vegetables and fold them in, or add hot sauce for an added flavor burst. The dish continues to be trash cooking at its finest, perfect for wilting greens and forgotten items in the back of the refrigerator that are still usable if cooked.

 

Just as an aside, after swapping out the organ meats for sausage, chicken meat and vegetables, the dish is called jambalaya. Add some chili powder for a kick if you want.

 

Dirty Rice is presented as “authentic Louisiana” cooking, a dish that every visitor to the state should seek out and savor. For tourist dollars, one can taste the echo of poverty. Everyone should and while sampling the food, a person should also appreciate the ingenuity and skills of these poor communities that turned the least desirable ingredients into a specialty.

 

Dirty Rice

1 lb.          ground meat (any kind will do)

3/4 cup   medium grain white rice

2 cups     water

Salt & pepper

 

Sauté the meat in a heavy pan (like cast iron) until browned. Remove and set aside, leaving the grease in the pan. Add rice and water, cooking 15 minutes or so until rice is soft. Return meat to pan. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

An American Riff on the Latke

Lifting the lowly potato-onion pancake latke to a seasonal ethnic cultural point is a yearly rite of passage in these United States among the Jews. The lifting is also absurd. The latke was not a symbol of great Jewish culture or ethnic identity in Russia or Poland nor was it meant to be. The latke was a symbol of persistent poverty. As Eastern Europe and its vast spread of peasants plunged into winter at the end of the calendar year, the poor family’s larder shrunk as the fall harvest bounty disappeared. Those who had a few more pennies stocked up on sausages and salamis, well-salted and suited to stay untainted through the long, cold winter. Potatoes and onions maintained well in cold root-cellars for everyone though.

If the history strips away any romanticized version of life in Eastern Europe, it is because of a more important truth. This persistent poverty with no hope of a better life was the engine of Jewish migration to the United States from 1880 to 1923. The Russian czars of the Romanov dynasty had turned Jew-hatred into an obsession. The Jews had to leave.

America was a blessing to these immigrants. Leaving the abject poverty behind, the lowly latke is allowed a remake in the United States – An American Latke.

  • 1 russet potato
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 carrot
  • (You can swap out an ingredient or simply add butternut squash, peeled and seeded)
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup potato starch (for you gluten-avoiding hopefuls)
  • 1 large egg
  • Oil for frying

Shred all the vegetables and place in colander. Add a small handful kosher salt and mix thoroughly. Allow the colander to drain in the sink for 45 minutes to an hour. Quickly wash out the salt with a burst of water and then squeeze as much liquid out of the mixture as possible. Transfer to bowl and add potato starch and egg. You can pre-season with salt and pepper if you like.  Let sit.

Preheat oven to 375º (F). Fill the bottom of your frying pan with oil and heat on medium until nearly smoking. Make a patty in the palm of your hand, squeezing out the liquid. Place gently in pan and do not crowd the pan. When brown on both sides, transfer to baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Let rest on paper towel for a few moments to soak up extra oil and then serve warm. Serve with applesauce or crème fresh. (I don’t recommend American sour cream products – read the ingredients.)

Daily Crisis in today’s world

Left phone at home!

Yes, you left your phone plugged into the charger on the counter. On the other hand, your phone is now fully charged.

Great lot of good that does me!! Will call later about when leaving and to arrange pick up but no way to notify if I have any problems.  Not good.

You are going through withdrawal. Your thumbs will twitch and your forehead will break out in sweat as generalized anxiety from the absence of digital stimuli sets in. Use medication and attempt human interaction to fill this acute void.

 cell-phone-icon

In Season

When I updated my climate change website and added pointers on approaches to purchasing food stuffs, one of my “friends” who may not receive another invitation to my table for awhile pointed out that my menu did not practice what I had preached. The first point was to buy in season.  This is November and there are plenty of winter squash recipes but few green vegetable recipes, such as Brussels sprouts. I will forgive but the public fault finding did send back into the kitchen. For the late fall in North America:

Fall Roasted Salad

1 small red onion

1lb Brussel sprouts

3 small beets

3TBS olive oil

Red wine vinegar

½ cup fresh parsley chopped

1tsp kosher salt

Salt/pepper

 

8 hours (or more) before serving: peel onion and slice thin. Shove slices in smallest mason jar possible. Add 1tsp of salt. Add red wine vinegar to top of jar. Seal with lid, shake, and store in refrigerator up to three weeks.

One and 0ne-half hours before serving: Preheat oven to 400o . Wash beets and either put them in pie tin and cover with foil or just wrap them in foil. Cut off stems of the Brussel sprouts and half them vertically. Roll them in 2TBS of olive oil and lay them out on a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt. Small beets cook approximately 45 minutes and medium sized ones about 1 hour. Brussel sprouts cook ½ hour.

Pull out the vegetables after roasting and let them cool a bit. Peel the beets and cut off the tops. Dice the beets and add to bowl. Slide Brussel sprouts into bowl. Add last TBS of olive oil and fresh parsley. Add pickled red onion to desired taste. Adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper.

Can serve warm or cold, but serve warm anyway.

A Lesson in the Demise of Senator Skelos

Former New York State Senator Dean Skelos is going to jail for steering government contracts to his son as well as constructing quid pro quo arrangements for his son. The man was president of the State Senate and now he is convicted felon. At a newsy level his story is just another corrupt politician in a state with a long history of government corruption; however, the Skelos drama was almost an immitigable tragedy for the environmental health of the state.

One of the contracts Senator Skelos was trying to steer to his son was a consultant’s post for a fracking consortium. The deal was contingent on the state legislature passing a bill allowing fracking and Governor Cuomo signing off on the bill. The bill passed, regulatory agencies waffled, and only at the last minute did the governor refuse fracking in the state.

In one of the depositions, Skelos stated something to the effect that nobody wanted fracking in the state anyway. For a sum of a few hundred thousand dollars, the senator was willing to ruin the groundwater across numerous counties affecting thousands of residents and to accelerate climate change with the release that much more carbon into the atmosphere. The greed is bad enough but there is more to consider.

The consequences of fracking cannot be remediated. There are no courses of action that can purge the contamination of aquifers due to fracking. Further, there is no method to recall and seal away the millions of tons of carbon that are released into the atmosphere by fracking. Fracking is destroying areas of the country for lifetimes to come at the least and accelerating possibly irreversible climate change, which is our worst fear. Skelos was willing to do this for $400,000.

At every stage of this fracking debate in New York State, citizens and environmental organizations fought hard, bring to bear the science, the community concerns, and the moral imperative to keep fracking out of the state. Skelos did not give a scintilla of a thought to the science though he did not dismiss it. Worse, he ignored it. He had no moral compass, meaning that all of those impassioned arguments against fracking were trivialized as well. He heard all of the rancor and discord, dismissing it all in a narrow quest for the money.

Those of us who fight for legislation based on climate science are a serious lot, taking upon ourselves this burden as a life or death issue. It is. Former Senator Skelos and his ilk repudiate our fight as if it is just another political skirmish, another opportunity for scoring political points or securing personal financial gain. Their approach is morally reprehensible. Humanists and God believers alike are repulsed for the same reason of short-sighted moral bankruptcy.

The lesson of Senator Skelos is that we cannot relent on the pressure we bring to bear. Dean Skelos was never going to listen but Governor Cuomo did. In any given legislative or regulatory push, we may never know where our voice of reason and merit will overcome the obstacles. So we push; we push everywhere. To friends and foes alike, let all take note that we will not stop until our planet is pulled back from the brink.

Reasonableness

Reasonably one can argue that the death of old ideas leads to new ones but there is a process akin to mourning when a cherished belief is killed off. Learning new ideas also includes learning how to discard old knowledge that is no longer relevant or just plain wrong; in fact, this sort of learning is a necessary skill set. Knowledge changes and evolves as human beings mature and gain life experience. The ideas of a five-year-old are not relevant to the ideas of an eighteen-year-old, nor should they be. Our decades as adults are also dynamic and ideas will continue to drop and add through the years. Saying goodbye to immature ideas is part of the human process of growth.

Ideas actually have parts to them. They begin with assumptions that are taken as true simply because they exist. From the assumptions come the arguments, the justifications of the idea. The last part is the conclusions, the idea itself that appears solid because the assumptions are true and the arguments are sound. When most people talk about ideas, they take the assumptions and arguments for granted and speak only of the conclusions. However, when the soundness of an idea is in question, it is the assumptions and the arguments that are reviewed.

The idea of God is subject to the same rules of assumptions and arguments. In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic worlds, the arguments for the belief in God have been disproved over and over again. Sometimes the weakness is the argument; however, the fatal flaw in all of the ideas about God is the assumptions. (See the work of Immanuel Kant.)

When the assumption is wrong, everything that follows from it is also wrong. A loss of a belief of this depth requires a fundamental reshaping of how a person approaches and operates in the world. The old responses are now empty and hollow because they no longer make sense. While the philosopher can hide in intellectualism and scientist can stand behind rationalism, most of us adhere to the principle of reasonableness, which includes the non-intellectual components of human thought such as emotions. For reasonable people, losing a cherished idea such as a God who is personal and personally involved, is also painful, something that may require mourning.

Ideas are not purely rational or utterly intellectual, contrary to the rigid strictures of the day. There is an interiority* to our search for ideas that resound. They have to also satisfy some need in our interior life or at least offer balm to the questions of why? and why not? of our deepest thoughts. That an idea would satisfy our cravings for answers about the meaning of life or the meaning of our existence is . . . reasonable.

Reasonable as a criterion is much more personal, more personally painful than purely logical arguments. They are also much more satisfying too.

*Philosophy term indicating inner dialogue and reflective thinking of human beings.

Adelphi invocation

We begin this commemoration with a small admission of truth. Every human being in this amphitheater has known failure, has known defeat and experienced moments of humiliation. The truth is that no one achieves even the slightest measure of success without slogging through the morass of insecurity, uncertainty, panic, and self-doubt. This is how human beings are built; this is how great human beings are built.

The joy of this moment was years in the making. The academic success each of you celebrates is all-the-more sweet when you reflect just how hard you had to strive, how far you had to traverse, how much you had to sacrifice. You are surrounded by family and friends who stood by you, encouraged and helped you, and even got out of your way when you hit your stride.

May the Divine Reality, called upon by many names:

The Great Spirit,

The Father in Heaven,

The Holy One Blessed Be He,

Allah,

Buddha,

The Dao,

One All Pervading Spirit,

and Brahmah,

Lead us from ignorance to Knowledge
and from darkness to light;
Move us from the fear of failure to the celebration of life.
To our Adelphi Graduates from all of the faculty and administration who have gathered here for your commencement:
May the ideals you have come to believe become the truths you live.
May kindness, justice and mercy be your friends.
And with your new knowledge and your new degrees, may you bring blessing to this world.

Amen.

 

My TEDx Talk

“God in the Public Square” has been posted here. This seventeen minute talk examines non-theist God beliefs, a huge part of our culture today that few even acknowledge exists. For non-theists, God is a “What” rather than a “Who”. Non-theists have been central to the conversation in the Public Square since the founding of the United States and are still in the middle of the great debate.

tedx004

TEDx Adelphi University | AU PAC | April 5th 2016. Copyright Chris Bergmann Photography

God for the rest of us #2

When I encounter a politician making a statement that includes God, there is a jolt of discomfort. The worst visceral reaction is when the politician declares with all the passion of an entranced believer, “God bless America!” My wincing is not a matter of patriotism or of affirming my citizenship but a matter of God belief. “God bless America” is a statement explicitly announcing to the audience that God is a self-conscious deity who intervenes in human history and takes action for those God favors. The cringe is the experience of absurdity, of a clash between reality as I understand it and a God belief that I do not accept.

If just the absurdity of a God belief I do not hold and reality as I understand it was the only issue, my complaint would be a minor affair. However, when a politician declares “God bless America!”, my denial of that statement leaves me open to a much graver accusation, an indictment that I am a poor citizen, lacking pride and respect for my country. “God bless America” is not just about God, but about me, and you, and you too.

The logic works like this: because I do not believe in the all-conscious God who intervenes (I call this God “The Parent God”), I may not believe in my country either. In reality patriotism and God belief are not connected, one does not inform the other. However, some promote that God and country go hand-in-hand. For the politician seeking a thunderous applause of affirmation, the accusation is subtle and pernicious – clap or you are a bad citizen.

Hence, the finch of absurdity and the desire to avoid all politicians on the campaign trail.

God for the Rest of Us #1

Many of us are seeking a God we can believe in without discarding all of the amazing knowledge that we use in this unprecedented age of human advancement. Evolution is a fact and the Big Bang Theory is a fact. Computers, quantum physics and genocide are all facts of life. With all of this information and the rush of new ideas and concepts that we rely upon daily, what is a God for the rest of us?

#1 God of the Bible

Torah presents God as the Parent God, intervening in history, granting favor to the obedient, and lending a miracle or two to His children, the Israelites. This God has to present principles by which people can live without resorting to violence and mayhem first. This God sets down laws that are derived from the principles. He rewards good behavior and he punishes bad behavior. Like any parent, God of the Torah loses his patience with His children quite a number of times.

In the middle part of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Hosea presents the image of God as the husband and Israel as His unfaithful, whoring wife. The prophet preaches that the relationship between God and Israel is not father and child but instead, husband and wife. This is not an equal relationship though because women were still property in significant ways and the husband was the final authority. Song of Songs softens the “authority and property” model with the erotic love poetry of two lovers. Rabbi Akiba, in his argument on why Song of Songs should be in the Bible, suggests we read Song of Songs as God the groom and Israel the bride.

The Book of Esther, in which God makes no appearance, presents the greatest challenge to those who want to believe in God. God is not in the story and He is not even in the wings. Through their own courage and tenacity, Esther and Mordechai save themselves. The Silent God, the God who does not answer, will haunt every person who finds themselves in harm’s way throughout the millennia. They will pray for rescue and salvation, and there will be no divine intervention.

The God who answers this dilemma of silence in the Book of Job offers no comfort. “You know not what I do. Even if you did know, you could never understand,” explains God in the whirlwind in a long piece of poetic prose in the last chapters.

The Bible gives us four major images: God the parent, God the husband, God the Silent and God who cannot be known. Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims embrace God the Parent and at times, God the husband. Atheists point to God the Silent and God who cannot be known and respond, “What’s the point then?”

If you are not Orthodox or Atheist, the search for a God for the rest of us must continue to look elsewhere.