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My sister-in-law in Los Angeles has a very nice backyard and, in days past, she used to have a flourishing vegetable garden. However, between the drought and the gophers, the vegetable garden is now only a memory. Los Angeles, and much of Southern California, hasn’t had any rain in the last three years and the watering restrictions make it difficult even to maintain a lawn. Perhaps as a consequence of the shortage of water, even the lemon tree in my SIL’s backyard is not yielding any fruit. As for the gophers, they devoured the roots of her vegetable plants and destroyed them. They seem to have disappeared now, searching for greener pastures no doubt, but the damage is done. The only plants in my SIL’s vegetable garden now are four chili pepper plants. And what plants!
They are among the hottest chili peppers extant. They are the fearsome Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Chili( 900,000 – 1,100,000 Scoville Heat Units), the even hotter Naga Viper or Cobra Chili ( 1,250,000 – 1,320,000 SHU) , the Fatali ( 350,000 – 500,000SHU) and the comparatively mild but still potent Chili Pequin ( 350,000 to 5000,000 SHU).To give you an idea of how hot these chilis are, compare them with the Jalapeno ( 3,500 to 8,000 SHU) and the Serrano ( 5,000 to 23,000 SHU). In other words, the Bhut Jolokia or Ghost pepper is about two hundred and twenty times as hot as a jalapeno !
Now, I know that there are “chiliheads” who glory in eating the hottest peppers and even rubbing them in their eyes and seeing how long they can stand the pain. My sister-in-law is not one of these chili fanatics. I asked her why she was growing these ultra-hot peppers. She said she got into it after the gophers destroyed her garden and she just got interested in the different varieties of peppers that were available in the garden store that she goes to. She likes hot food but draws the line at peppers that are as hot as these are. What she does is freeze them and use them sparingly in her cooking. A little goes a long way. While we were in LA she prepared a wonderful mutton curry and for two and a half pounds of meat, and she used one of the Bhut Jolokia chilis. Just one, but even so our lips tingled. She also dries the peppers and grinds them into a fine powder which she uses sparingly in her cooking.

While we were still in LA. it was time to pick the chili pequins and I volunteered to pick them. These peppers are barely half an inch long and they stand up rather than hang down from the plant. When fully ripe, they are a beautiful red color which makes them easy to see and harvest. The more conventionally shaped cobras, however, are like cayenne peppers except that they turn from green to black to red. The Bhut Jolokias look like Habaneros or Scotch Bonnets , but they are of course much hotter.

Anyway, back to the chili picking. When I started, it was pleasantly warm and I soon got into a rhythm. Early in the process, I decided that I would have to be very systematic as otherwise it would take me much longer to harvest the chilis.I concentrated on one branch of the plant at a time and picked all the chilis starting at the top and working my way to the bottom. Only after that branch was completely denuded of its chilis did I go to the next branch. In half an hour, I had garnered 500 or so of the chilis and there was not a speck of red on the plant. By that time, the sun was much higher and the sweat was beginning to trickle down my back.

Working in the garden is conducive to thinking because after a while the physical part of the job becomes automatic and the mind wanders to this , that and something else. In my case, I couldn’t help thinking how hard it is to work in the fields. I’m sure you have seen photos or videos of farm laborers bent over as they transplant rice seedling. It is back-breaking work and they endure it hour after hour, day after day in the planting season. I didn’t have to bend as much and I only worked for half an hour and I was happy when I was done.

P.S Many of the world’s hottest peppers originate in India, specifically from the northeastern states of Assam and Nagaland. Both the Ghost Chili and the Cobra chili are from there , as are many other hotties. When the imaginatively named Ghost Chili shot into prominence about four or five years ago, it was the hottest chili in the world but it was soon overtaken by the Naga Viper or Cobra Chili. Now that too has been superseded. Today the two hottest chilis are The Carolina Reaper ( 1,540,000 SHU0 )and the Australian Trinidad Scorpion Butch T ( 1, 464,000 SHU).

Parallel Universes

Flying back from LA, my wife had aisle seats in the same row ; we were next to each other, but separated by the center aisle. The middle seat, in both our cases, was occupied by a tall young woman. Both of them were very slender and well groomed with faces that were striking rather than beautiful : high cheekbones, well shaped lips and big eyes. Both of them of them spent a lot of time on their iPhones, checking their messages and texting. One of them then began fussing with her make up but the other curled up and went to sleep. Neither of them was very communicative. Something about them was different and, finally, it came to me. I whispered to my wife that perhaps they were models. It was a good guess because, later, I couldn’t help noticing that my neighbor was looking at photos of a model posing in various dresses. Perhaps photos of herself ? When we arrived at Newark, the two women pulled down their bulging carry-ons from the overhead racks and began discussing how they would get to Kennedy. Apparently, they had another long flight ahead of them , perhaps to somewhere in Europe.
Afterwards, I thought to myself how different their lives were from mine. Theirs were full of travel, waking up in different cities each week, denying themselves so as to maintain their sylphlike figures, their minds totally focused on looking their best and landing the next gig. Their experiences , their thoughts and their interests were completely different from mine or my wife’s or from  those of the business traveler in the widow seat completely absorbed in the sports scores. And all of us , in turn, had nothing in common with the husband and wife team of gardeners tending my brother-in-law’s garden in LA. Everyone of us is totally focused on himself or herself and in the details of our lives. We might as well be living in parallel universes.

Cross Words

I am depressed… and it’s all the fault of Amazon.

I wanted to buy some crossword books and decided to check them out on Amazon. There were several categories of crossword books available, among them Crosswords for Seniors. I clicked on that and the first title I saw was Easy Crosswords for Seniors for Dummies. . Other titles were:

Easy Large Print Crosswords book

Crosswords for the Elderly

Special Puzzles Designed to Keep Your Brain Young

and

Alzheimer’s Association presents The Big Brain Puzzle Book

Failing Eyesight. Loss of Brain Power. Alzheimers. Is this what I have to look forward to?

No wonder I’m depressed. Thanks Amazon.

Good Neighbors

Our garbage is picked up late in the mornings, usually around noon on Mondays and Thursdays. That gives me plenty of time to put it out; I usually do so around 9 AM. Last Thursday was also the day for pick up of the recyclables; so after I put the garbage out, I headed back to the street with an armful of cutup cardboard. As I was about to deposit it curbside, my neighbor Art came over and said ” They came early today but they’re just down the street and, if you hurry, you can catch up with them.” Sure enough, the garbage truck was only a couple of doors away so I galloped after it with the cardboard tucked under my arm, yelling at them to stop. Luckily, they heard me and waited and I was able to unload the cardboard. Just then , Art came jogging up with my trash can containing the bottles and cans. I was able to get rid of them too. As we walked back, I thanked Art profusely and thought to myself how lucky I was to have neighbors like him. We’re new in this neighborhood and , prior to last week,I’d only spoken to Art a couple of times. Yet, here he was , this seventy year old man, looking out for his new neighbors and even running after the garbage truck to help me get rid of my trash.
Art is very nice but so is everyone else we’ve encountered in this community. Next door to Art, and directly across from us, live Don and Sue and these people are exceptional in this or any other neighborhood. A couple of days after we’d moved in, they knocked on our door and welcomed us with a loaf of Sue’s homemade banana bread. When he found I played ping pong,Don took me under his wing and introduced me to the members of the local club. Don and Sue are always ready to help anyone in need and they do it without fanfare. Next door to them is a man who has been afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a terrible affliction that has left him completely paralyzed. Somehow, his wife manages to care for him at home with the help of 24-hr nursing care; it doesn’t leave her time for anything else. Don and Sue quietly take care of her garden shrubs, weeding and mulching and keeping it in good shape. They also help in untold ways whenever she needs anything.

This is a still growing development and several houses were completed and occupied around the time we moved in. A month after we did, Don and Sue hosted a wine and cheese party at their house for all the newcomers, us included. It was not only enjoyable but gave us the springboard to get to know several of our new neighbors. Prior to moving here , we’d lived in three different houses but never experienced this kind of welcome. People were nice but we never got beyond the ” Hi, how are you today ?”stage. I can only hope that our friendships continue to grow and that our neighbors come to like us as much as we like them.

Summer Corn

I never think of eating corn except in summer and , when I do, I always remember the Virginia gentleman that Lucius Beebe the gourmand and historian wrote about. This gentleman had a standing order with a local farmer: every day, during the summer, the farmer was to deliver six dozen ears of his best corn at the mansion. All through the summer that was all the gentleman ate, morning, noon and night. Just picked corn still has all its sugar content ( unlike the supermarket corn which has been lying around for a day or more and could lose most of its sweetness) and the gentleman would eat it steamed, accompanied by drawn butter and copious quantities of West Indian rum. Not just any rum, but rum from a favorite distillery. When the distillery was forced to close down, the gentleman stepped in and bought all its already bottled product so that he would never have to be without it. I don’t know any more about the gentleman but I can visualize him at the dining table, a bib around his neck, a pile of golden corn before him along with a dish of melted butter and, close at hand, a brimming glass of rum. I can’t see myself eating just corn all through summer but I be happy to join him at his repast every now and then.

I do like corn in the summer, though I don’t much care for it grilled. Normally what we do is to boil it with a little sugar and a some milk. This leaves the corn sweet and juicy and, before eating, I like to rub it first with a stick of butter and a cut lemon which has been dipped in cayenne and salt. Like most people I eat it in a circular motion and I ‘ve never met any of the 5% who use the ” typewriter method” and eat it from side to side.

P.S Recently, a friend suggested another method of preparing corn. What he does is to remove the outermost husk, leaving the inner covering intact. He then heats it in the microwave for four minutes. He says that it leaves the corn moist and juicy .It sounds intriguing and I’m going to try it next time.

The Two Dollar Knife

Of all the kitchen utensils, knives are the most personalized. We’ve all seen what good care chefs take of their knives, honing them, cleaning them, and putting them away carefully. Other tools belong to the kitchen, the knives alone belong to the chef. Home cooks may not be as particular about their knives but they too have their favorites.

In my case ( and my wife’s), that would be the two dollar knife that our friend Sandy gave us almost two decades ago. She had picked up a bunch of them for two dollars apiece at a close-out sale and she let us have one. It is the best knife we’ve ever had, and we have had a few. Some of them have been quite expensive. There were two Cutco knives we bought from a friend of our son’s who was a high school senior working for a knife company that summer. They cost $ 108. Later , we bought some Henckel knives which were even more expensive. All of them were pretty good but the one that we prefer, the one that we always search for, is the two dollar knife. I don’t know its manufacture, never did, but it is just perfect to use. It has a serrated six-inch blade, has perfect balance, and is just as sharp, just as good, as when we first got it. We use it for everything. I only wish Sandy had given us two of them !

This whole issue of cost vs. value occurred to me the other day when I was out driving. It was stop and go traffic and I had plenty of time to notice the makes of the cars around me. There were all kinds : Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai when it occurred to me that if it weren’t for the logos I’d have difficulty telling them apart. No doubt the interiors were different and some had more options but, considering that some of them were twice or three times as expensive as the others, was the difference in cost worth it? Was an Avalon twice as good as a Corolla? A BMW three times as good as a Sonata? Not in my book but I know how cars can be a status symbol, proof that one has arrived.

What is true of cars is even more true of wine and food. Is the 300 dollar bottle of wine that much better than the $ 20 one? I can see that to some it might be but, any day I would go for fifteen twenty dollar bottles rather than a single three hundred-dollar one. As for the thousand dollar pizza which has toppings that include caviar and lobster I would not want at any price. It doesn’t sound good at all.

What something is worth is a highly individual matter and there are as many opinions as there are people. For me though, I’m happy with my two dollar knife.

A Small Indulgence

Most people have a small indulgence, something that they splurge on. In other respects they might be careful with their money but, for this one thing, they loosen the purse strings and let themselves go. Some people are into gourmet coffees, others collect Hummel figures or Wedgwood china. Or Lionel trains. Or Cabbage Patch dolls. Or comic books.

I used to collect cookery books but gave that up some years ago. For one thing, any recipe I want is available on the internet. I can also borrow what I want from the local library. Besides, books take up space and, as time went on, I found myself referring to them less and less. When we moved last year, I gave away most of my collection to a friend and it was easier than I thought.

Nowadays, I am into scented bath soaps.

I have always liked scents but I find cologne too strong, too artificial. Aftershave is too aggressive and, besides, the choice is limited. Soaps however are refreshing and I have a feeling of well-being as I lather myself up in the shower. The spray of hot water, the hard soap that dissolves into soft foam and the refreshing scent that envelops me make for a sensual experience and a great start to the day.

It has to be bar soap; the body washes don’t do it for me. Unfortunately, there is not much choice in bar soaps at the local supermarket and it seems to be narrowing even further. There are only Dial, Irish Spring, Zest, Caress and Ivory and some of them are unscented. I used to like Coast but I don’t see it on the shelves any more. Luckily for me , there is a variety of scented soaps available from companies that specialize in bath products, and some of them are available at discount stores.

I started out with Pears translucent soap ( $ 1.29 each) which I got at the local Indian grocery store. It comes in two varieties, both great. The scent is refreshing and distinctive, strong but not overwhelming. From the same source, I was able to get a variety of Indian soaps with unusual scents that took me back to my childhood days Rexona and Hamam and Moti (try the sandalwood). All of them are about the same price. From this starting point, I went further afield in my quest for new soaps.

Currently, I am luxuriating in Rosewater and Olive Oil Shea Butter soap from Greenwich Bay Trading , Raleigh NC. I like everything about them, the shape, the color, the scent, the box they come in. The cakes of soap are a beautiful ivory color, square-shaped with an embossed floral design. The scent is, to me, the smell of clean and, unlike some other soaps, it doesn’t fade away; it remains all the way to the end. I don’t know what Shea butter is but it’s great. The set of four 4.25 oz. cakes comes in a beautiful square box with a floral design and at $7.00 it is well worth it. It’s about twice as expensive as supermarket soap but so what? It will last for about 3 months and it’s certainly affordable.

I have seen several other soaps in the same price range and they come in a variety of scents. There’s lavender, lemon verbena, almond, red currant, eucalyptus-mint and others. I am intrigued by a Vermont company that sells goat milk based soaps with lavender and apple scents ( $ 18 for a set of three) and another that offers a choice of lemon verbena , rose, lilac, honeysuckle or patchouli ( any three for $ 13.50). Caswell Massey offers exotic combinations such as Almond-Aloe ( $6.70 ea), Coriander-Mandarin , Fig-Bamboo, Vetiver and Cardamom( $ 8 ea) , and Gardenia- Jasmine, Orchid-Honeysuckle, and Grapefruit-Green Tea( $ 11 ea). Crabtree and Evelyn has Pomegranate with a burst of citrus and fig leaf( $ 21 for a set of 3).These are all a little pricey and I don’t know that I would be comfortable spending so much for soap. I do know that I would not be buying products from another company that advertises Black peppercorn, Pink pepperpod, eucalyptus, Japanese Orange and Ginger Lily soaps ( $ 30 each). Definitely too rich for my blood.

There are certainly many advantages with soap. It’s a necessity, it only costs a little more than the regular variety and it gets used up, unlike other collectibles which take up increasing amounts of space. It’s a small indulgence but it has many pluses.

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

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A journey through 47 prefectures to capture the stories of Japan's farmers and rural communities

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