Ginger Flowers in the Parking Lot

Walking around town at all hours of the day, I expect to see new things in random places.

I’m one of the first to notice when a neighbor does something to their property like adds new lights or has a bit of fun with landscaping.  I’ll notice when a new car shows up, or a business gets ready to open before most will.

It’s all a part of getting out and exploring your environment.   Get out, enjoy the world, and see what is around you.  It’s a requirement when you have a dog.  If you don’t take your dog for a walk, frequently, more than once a day, you’ll have behavior problems, guaranteed.

Besides, you could use a little time up from the keyboard or the couch.  I know I could.

This particular morning, my body woke me up at 5AM.  Just like a Swiss Watch, I’m up at 5.  I have no explanation for it other than I started getting up early when I was competing on inline skating races in Philadelphia and the habit stuck.

Throwing on clothes, the dog’s harness, and loading my pockets with bags and other needed things, I entered the predawn darkness.

We walked through the regular places in our regular routes when we came upon the Gables Wilton Park.  A rather large and well kept upscale apartment community here in Wilton Manors.  It has always looked as I would expect an apartment complex to be for what it is, and how it is marketed.  The buildings are immaculate, the plantings are interesting, and the grounds are clean. 

Pretty much like you’d expect.

They have much the same plants you see everywhere in South Florida, and set in the gardens in pretty much the same manner.  Low maintenance, and I would expect low water use plants, kept in neat rows so that maintenance workers can get to everything.

I couldn’t but I’m quite a lot taller than your average landscaper.

One of the things that was planted was some ornamental ginger.  I don’t know if the stuff is edible, but it is the same plant that goes into my cookies when I make ginger snaps.

I’m used to seeing them all over town.  They’re a pleasant plant for ornamental use, they don’t seem to spread, they don’t overgrow, they’re not invasive, and they’re about knee high. 

What I didn’t expect was the flowers.  I’ve never seen them bloom before.  I guess I’m still getting used to being in South Florida and the tropics, but this just struck me as being a bit novel.  Not odd, simply new.

The flowers weren’t overly scented, my own weak nose didn’t smell anything at all.  They weren’t large, the inflorescence was about the length of your hand.

Just novel.  A nice change of pace.

I made sure that Rack didn’t water them himself, and we wandered on about our business making a mental note to get a picture of the things later when the light was better.

So that’s what your ginger looks like before it gets turned into snaps.  Tasty!

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Peanut Brittle – or How To Turn Simple Syrup White, Then Into Gold

Never Multitask In The Kitchen.

Only do one thing at a time.

I’ve only got two hands.

Most of those things were said to me, loudly, at one time or another.

This time I was saying them to myself.

I settled down to make a snack.  The snack turned out fine, but it did spiral out of control a bit.  It ended with my making something else that was much nicer than what I planned.

I got on a tear.  After piecing together a list of things that I had to do over the weekend, I got to the evening and was thinking about it.  I had a lump of ginger in the fridge, and no plans to use it.  “It’s not getting any younger” I’m hearing from the next room.

So I set about to making that crystalline ginger.

Now that’s not really a tough thing.  I made it more difficult by trying to be slick, or to be thrifty.  I wasn’t really sure which when I did it.

I didn’t want a lot of simple syrup hanging around.  It’s when you boil water and sugar together and it’s used in many recipes.  You add equal parts, bring the mix to a rolling boil, and when it’s clear and dissolved, you take it off the heat and allow it to cool.

Easy, right?

I only had 2 ounces and a bit of Ginger when it was peeled and sliced thin.  Perfect!  I didn’t want a lot of that anyway.  I’d simply cut back on the simple syrup.

Er, well you know what I mean.

I made 1/2 the amount.  1 cup each sugar and water.

The problem is that when you make crystalline ginger, you have to boil that stuff for a good half hour plus.  Or until tender.

Or bored.  Take your pick.

I started stirring, backed the water down to a reasonable simmer and dealt with the interruptions.
Front door.
Dog.
Parrot.
My buddy in Atlanta that I was having a chat with between spurts of doing “other things”.

Around 40 minutes of my fidgeting in the kitchen later, I noticed that that nice clear mix had started to go thick and cloudy.  Like tar.  It was still white, but it was rapidly solidifying.

I hate throwing food out. That’s a rule I have.   I scooped the ginger out of the boiling sugar mix and put it on the rack to dry.  Ok, so it has a bit more sugar coating than normal.  I won’t coat it with sugar at the end and call it done.

The taste test was good, after all, how can you screw up ginger?

But what to do with that white, now re-granulated, ginger sugar?

I got to thinking.  The stuff is hot already.  Start putting butter in it.  It will make toffee.  I can make Pecan Brittle if I’m quick…

Butter is fat, fat and sugar chemically combine to make toffee, toffee plus baking soda for leavening, add Pecans…

Success.

The butter melted.  I had about 1 cup minus a little coating on the ginger to mix up.  I added a tablespoon of butter at a time.  The butter bonded with the sugar making praline.  Add more butter and up the heat back to medium.  All the water had boiled off now, I was left with butter and sugar.

By the time I was done, I had about 6 or 7 ounces of sugar with 3 tablespoons of butter added to the saucepan.  That got shiny, and started to smell like caramel.  The color was what I remembered from all that peanut brittle I have had as a child.

I reached into the cabinet and tossed a handful of pecans into the mix.  About 4 ounces.

Mixing it all together, the scent of cooking pecans wafted over me.  Rack, the McNab Superdog, became curious.

I tossed about a teaspoon of baking soda in the mix and stirred it even as it foamed and rose.

I had pecan brittle.

Pouring it on a sheet of aluminum foil next to the ginger that was now cooled, I had a big block of brown goo that would be light and crispy and taste well of nuts.

So if you are thinking about trying this, there are plenty of recipes. The first time I ever made Peanut Brittle was in Mr Bates’ 8th grade science class at Heritage Jr High School in Cherry Hill, NJ.  We used Ehrlenmeyer Flasks and beakers and I used that recipe for decades on the original paper before losing it to the ages.

The recipe is simple, and this makes a reasonable amount of brittle – so that you don’t have it sitting around.
proportions, or use espresso beans in 1/4 amount.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Pecans/Walnuts/Peanuts or 1 ounce of roasted espresso beans that are coarsely ground.
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda

Process:

  • To sauce pan, add the sugar and butter. 
  • Turn on heat to medium.
  • Mix well.  
  • The butter will melt and make the mix turn into toffee.
  • If you are looking for proper Peanut Brittle texture, cook until the ingredients are smooth, shiny, and tan to brown.  You will know if it is done by dropping a small drop of the mixture into cold water and it will crack – Hard Crack stage.
  • At this point, add the nuts, and a teaspoon of Baking Soda and mix well quickly.
  • Pour the Peanut Brittle onto a sheet of aluminum foil to cool or onto a cookie sheet.
  • When room temperature, you can shatter the peanut brittle into bite sized chunks with a couple raps with a spoon or butter knife handle.

Thoughts While Grating Ginger

Ginger.

I love the stuff.  I even love ginger people.  Ginger People making Ginger would be just beyond cool.

Yeah I know, silly.

But I do love the stuff.   I have gone so far as to make crystalline ginger on more than one occasion and will probably do so again.  Savory, spicy, and sweet at the same time, it’s not the kind of candy a 3 year old would like.

Here little kid, would you like some candy?

They’ll probably run from the room crying after that. 

I’m that guy who picks the pieces of pink ginger out of my “Asian Inspired” dishes and eats them first.  Or all together, like I do when I get a bowl of Marshmallow Enriched Cereal.

You mean you don’t eat all the oats first so you get a bunch of milk soaked, neon colored marshmallow hearts, moons, and stars at the end of your meal? 

You will next time, my friend, you will.

But making a dish with Ginger is one of those things that many people would just simply pass over because of the trouble. 

You have to find it first.  Luckily most larger supermarkets have it in the produce aisle with the other things you buy and let rot in the veggie crisper.  Bulbous and lumpy, with a thin skin, it can be very fibrous.  You may need some help in picking some.  The Ginger we got was slightly translucent but mainly opaque, smelled sharply of warm spices, and was smooth of skin.  Past that, I don’t really know how to choose it, I just get lucky.

Then when you find it you will either get too much or too little.  A piece the size of your thumb will grate down to about an ounce.  A piece the size of your palm is a lot unless you’re going to use the leftovers to make Crystalline Ginger, then by all means have a blast!

You need a weird looking gadget to grate it.  The one I have is white ceramic and has bumpy bits on the one side to grate with.  The edges are raised and it looks like a small pizza paddle.  Others are round which would constrain me because I’m sloppy.

Then there are rules.  You know, the kind of things that “Experts” say you must do with the stuff.  Peel it or not?  Break a small bit off or use the entire root.

Repeat after me – Whatever Works!  With Cooking, that is my favorite rule.  I find that usually the skin will grate off and is pretty easy to pick out so I do it that way to save time.  Making Crystalline Ginger needs it peeled though.

I trim the end and then rub it on the bumpy bits with some pressure and before I know it, the root has made a teaspoon of Grated Ginger and is perfuming the house with it.  Since I needed more, I kept it up for about another 47 seconds total and had my two tablespoons.

It really is that easy.  Just put a blob on the paddle, rub it on the bumpy bits holding it down with the heel of your hand. 

If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong – which really is a good rule for life.

But the thing is that while there are two kinds of people, Cooks and Non Cooks, the difference is whether you try or not.

Or as Yoda said – Do… or Do Not, there is no Try.

I’ll be Wearing Purple Today

In support of every person who has ever gotten picked on, every child who is bullied in a school yard for being different, no matter what that difference was,  I will be wearing Purple.

It isn’t just the spate of gay teens that had had enough of being bullied every day by people that think it was acceptable because a sick and twisted version of a “religion” has told them it is right to pummel them every day when school lets out.  It just isn’t right that it happens, ever. 

Being bullied is not a character building exercise.  It is violence.  It leads a child who should be brought up to strive to be the next Einstein to underachieve or to even take their lives because people around them didn’t care enough to notice that something went wrong. 

It is not normal to be taunted because you are of a “different” religion.
It is not normal to be beat up after school because you have different hair color.
It is not normal to be harmed because you are not in the in crowd because of some sick and twisted arbitrary standard.

It will get better, trust me.

I had went to a Catholic High School.  The place had a tradition of hazing by upperclassmen upon the freshmen when they got in.  It was well known by the school hierarchy of teachers and counselors and ignored.  I watched each of my friends and co-classmen get picked on by a motley crew of some pretty underachieving students.   They got to me in Sophomore year.  I had my own problems and didn’t need that.

I also stopped that tradition, personally. 

One of the ring leaders decided that one day he’d hassle me on the way to class.   It was right before the Christmas Break and it occurred to me that he didn’t have the right.   I got through that and went to class and had two weeks to think about it.  He was short, fat and not that good looking and felt he could take it out on everyone else.   Typical for someone like that – in a dog it is called Fear Aggression, the common displacement of your own inadequacies on others.

Two weeks later, I met the same dumpy little guy and had had quite enough.  He started by slowing me down by grabbing the jacket that I had to wear as a part of going to this hallowed institution.  They should have paid more attention to the character of the students than what they wore, but that is typical of most institutions of that sort. 

What Mr Short and Dumpy didn’t realize was that I had my growth spurt.  Over the two weeks of the christmas holiday, I grew 2 inches in height.  Somehow, subconsciously I realized this and subconsciously I knew I had more power than before.  

He hung on by my jacket and I stopped.   In front of an open locker, I turned around grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him inside and locked him in.  The rest of the wolf pack scattered.

Going to Homeroom, the word went around and everyone was silent, including the teacher.  They all knew what happened. 

Over the intercom, the Dean of Students read a list of two names, Mine and the Bully.

When at the Dean’s office I was asked Two Simple Questions:
Did You Do It? “Yes”
Would You Do It Again? “Absolutely”

Thank you, you can go back to class.

He got two weeks of detention.

I went on to single handedly break the tradition of hazing in Camden Catholic High School of Cherry Hill NJ.

So you see if you’re being bullied and think you’re alone, you are not.   People notice.  Once in a while that kid who is being picked will make a difference and make things better.   You will get through it.  

Even if you are in a backwater of a town where you’re the only one – what ever that is, you will get through it.  You will realize that it isn’t YOUR problem, it is Theirs.  Once you’re out of school you can make up your own mind whether you really need to stay in such a place.  After all the big cities are typically much more openminded since they have to be.  Join a crowd and no matter what your difference, you will find someone just like you.   If the town only has 1600 people, it is easier to stick out.

I hear that today’s schools have a zero tolerance policy in effect toward bullying in many places.  It is very different than when I went through that particular hell that was Camden Catholic High School and left my own stamp on their society.  Even with Diversity training, Teachers are not perfect.  Most are underpaid and undermotivated.  There were a few at CCHS that were shining examples of the philosophy of what a Teacher should strive to be, it wasn’t ALL bad even if at times it felt it was.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the suicide of the Gay people across the country for various kinds of bullying.  The videotaping of the guy at Rutgers was offensive in many ways.   There are people who will be bullied tomorrow, but at least now it is in everyone’s mind to try to stop it.

It won’t stop but there is no reason why it should be so bad that someone will feel the need to kill themselves.

You will get through it.  I did. 

Don’t go silently though – make sure that people who say they care about you know what you are going through.  Going through things alone will only make things harder to deal with.

Crystalline Ginger

Crystalline Ginger?  What on earth are you talking about?

Simply put these are sliced ginger root that are somewhat tenderized and I’m not quite sure how they do that, then encrusted with some sugar.  Ginger Root is a very pungent herb.  If you have ever had some ginger chicken at the local Chinese Restaurant, you know when you bite into a piece.  They’re spicy, even hot to taste. Very strong flavored, and rather woody in texture.  There are also some medicinal qualities to this herb.

Now soak them in sugar and lay them out until they’re ready with a little bit of fluid left in them.   I have found them in my favorite Asian Market down in North Miami Beach, and also they have a ready supply of the stuff in the fruit stand that I got the Honeybells at that are in my refrigerator.  Not the kind of thing I expect to find at a Publix, and Winn Dixie is way too low end for the stuff.  You may find them in a gourmet shop, but mind you the stuff is strong.  A little piece the size of a dime will clear your sinuses.

I have a pound bag of Crystalline Ginger in the kitchen, and some will go to work with me.  Just pop a piece in the mouth and let the sugar melt off, then the Ginger will give you flavor for an hour, or chew it for an intense burst of flavor.   If you like spicy food, I highly recommend the stuff!