I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.
~John Muir

It has been been propounded by neuroscientists and philosophers that insects, like bees, have consciousnesses, but not much in the way of ethical consequences. But, that they are aware, feel.

This is a sad tale of nearly epic proportions – a saga about vanishing honeybees and what their errant plight means to our agriculture and dining tables; a story of science, politics, threatened livelihoods and jeopardized crops; and a legend about environmental research and chemical imprints. Finally, it bespeaks even more than a tragedy about our species which so rarely pays attention until some brink is reached.

Just imagine. During the balmy weather in summer, honeybees are quite active, foraging through local flora sources for nectar while meticulously maintaining their hives and producing honey. To survive the winter, bees usually cluster together inside their cubist apiaries for warmth, enduring the cold on their own surpluses and food furnished by keepers. All seems so soul soothing, almost serene, over the years.

But then dating back nearly a decade, swarms of bees begin almost suicidally fleeing some of their beehives, with many dropping dead, and the rest having almost disappeared. Bees inexplicably abandoned their colonies en masse, leaving behind brood, food and bewildered beekeepers. Apiculturalists were perplexed. These otherwise marvelous eusocial critters began to flee confusedly, aimlessly, at epidemic rates, devastating apiaries and both smaller independents and larger commercial bee operations. Bees and keepers soon sadly and suddenly have discovered that hives have very few adults left in a colony, and the bodies are often not found. Seemingly healthy bees were and are leaving, some forever gone in this death spiral. The widespread collapse of so many colonies of this otherwise resilient species is a particularly vexing problem for these darlings, beekeepers, farmers, honey aficionados, scientists, environmentalists, and politicians alike.

While such disappearances have occurred throughout apiculture, and were known by varying names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, fall dwindle disease), etymological researchers have dubbed this current global epidemic as Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a continuing, drastic trend of honeybee losses that should not be countenanced and regulatory agencies and often irrational politicians should take note.

The culprits offered up for the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have formed a sometimes bedraggled landscape:

1) Systemic and toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, with the compounding exposure applied to fields (even when non-fatal) such as clothianidin and imidachloprid, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites;

2) Fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases such as varroa and tracheal mites (parasites) and pathogenic infestation, such as nosema ceranae – a gut fungi;

3) Nutritional deficiencies such as a lessening of genetic biodiversity (monocultures) that lack flowering plants and native pollinators and encourage immune suppressive GMO species; and

4) In the United States, beekeeping practices which disrupt colonies by moving massive numbers of bees in trucks across the country to pollinate crops.

Until now, a direct link was not directly found between neonicointinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees and other pollinators. However, a recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology in May, 2014, from Harvard’s School of Public Health has linked neonicointinoid pesticides with distressing Colony Collapse Disorder. Two widely used neonicotinoids appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies particularly during harsh winters, according to this study. There was a nexus made between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and perish. Researchers also found that low doses of clothianidin had the same negative effect.

Although other studies have suggested that die-offs in honeybee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, this Harvard study found that bees in the hives exhibiting Colony Collapse Disorder had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. Stated otherwise, bee populations in the control colonies began to increase as expected, but populations in the neonicotinoid treated hives continued to diminish. These findings suggest that the neonicotinoids are causing an unhealthy biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to Colony Collapse Disorder. While scientists rarely speak in absolutes, many across the world, including members of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides have labeled neonicotinoids more toxic than DDT. The bottom of the food chain is disappearing. Now, there is some emerging evidence that neonics impact human health.

More recently, after a meta-analysis of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids which reviewed some 800 peer reviewed reports a scientific board found that there is clear evidence of harm from neonicotiods to trigger regulatory action. Now published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonicotinoids (neonics) pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonicotinoids (neonics), a nerve poison, were first registered for use in the mid 90’s, are systemic chemicals absorbed vascularly into plant tissue and are often present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators, such as honeybees. These systemic pesticides are derived from nicotine and target insects’ nervous systems. There are some six types of neonictinoids with the most common one being imidachloprid. Neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used insecticides on the planet having been applied to vast swaths of farmland and home acreage. The residue often reaches lethal concentrations and persists in soil for months, even years, after just a single application. Honeybees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, increased susceptibility to disease, diminished fertility, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower remembrance skills, which all impact their foraging abilities.

A honeybee colony often contains residue from nearly hundreds of human pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But, remember synergy: where the accumulating interaction of elements is greater than the sum of individual parts. Together, these chemicals form a toxic medley which can substantially afflict the bees’ immune systems, making the population more susceptible to diseases.

Honeybees are simply critical to the grub supply as some 1/3 of what humans consume benefits directly or indirectly from pollination. Crops that would not grow without honeybees include apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds, and so on. Honeybees account for some 80% of all insect pollination. Some $15 billion of crops in this country alone depend upon these long heralded angels of agriculture. Some have even espoused that the honeybee may allay our world hunger crisis. Yet, honeybee populations are in steep decline as nearly one-third of colonies in the states have vanished with some percentages even much higher in some regions. To continue losing bees at such levels would prove catastrophic.

Seems demand should be made that regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined compounds may affect bee (and human) health before blithely approving toxic chemicals. As has been done in the European Union, the states should adopt a ban on some neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees and other pollinators. This prohibition could readily be revisited within a couple of years if there is a showing that bee health has not improved. This is at the core of the differing approaches to environmental regulation between Europe, Canada, Australia and others and the United States. While Europe, et al., is willing to remove products from the shelf until proven safe, the United States often allows industry to sell poisons until shown almost beyond a reasonable doubt they are harmful. The latter process can last years, even decades, while casualties mount and marketing/lobbying ploys run amok.

Colony Collapse Disorder is just another reminder that human society often threatens habitats and breeding patterns. Reducing exposure to pesticides and promoting the genetic diversity of honeybees, crops and expanding pollinators are critical steps toward sustainable agriculture and providing for posterity, not directed toward the short term profits of agribusiness. Reassessing the risk and curtailing the use of neonicotinoids should be promptly considered. Again, corporate “humanity’s” avaricious hand has sadly transformed our world.

Last but not least, ask more of your gardens. Promote and protect by cultivating varieties of pollinator plants that lure and encourage a diverse abundance of bee, butterfly, bat and bird species (et al). To create a more fecund life for critters, choose productive native species. The internet has numerous sources for local habitat and planting suggestions — for instance, http://www.pollinator.org.

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
~Henry David Thoreau

Honeybees likely evolved from hunting wasps which acquired a taste for nectar. Fossil evidence is sparse, but they probably appeared in tropical lands about the same time as flowering plants in the Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Some opine that honeybees were domesticated some 4,500 years ago in Egypt.

Apis mellifera, our current honeybee, is a species native to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and but was later introduced by humans to North America shortly before the 17th century. Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, intolerant laws or religious persecution brought thorough beekeeping skills here. Before crossing the pond, Apis mellifera had to adapt to a broad array of habitats ranging from harsh winters, late springs and hot summers, through alpine, cool temperate, maritime, Mediterranean rim, desert and tropical environments.

Honeybees are segmented in most body parts: three segments of thorax, six visible segments of abdomen while the other three are modified into the sting, legs and antennae. Honeybees are invertebrates, having an exoskeleton, which is covered with layers of wax. The main component is chitin which is a polymer of glucose and can support a great deal of weight. The wax layers protect bees from losing water and the chitin prevents bees from growing continually. So, during larval stages, bees must necessarily shed their skins. Bees also have an open circulatory system, meaning that they do not have veins or arteries, but rather all their internal organs are bathed in a liquid called hemolymph which is a mix of blood and lymphatic fluid. Bees breathe through a complex structure of network of tracheas and air sacs. Oxygen is vacuumed into the body through openings on each segment by expansion of the air sacs, then the segments are closed and air sacs are compressed to force the air into smaller tracheas until individual tubules reach individual cells.

Adult bees are divided into a single queen, female workers and male drones. The queen will leave the hive only once to mate with several drones, storing sperm in her spermatheca to last her lifetime. In order to rear and defend the eggs lain by the queen, worker bees develop stinging mechanisms, pollen baskets, dance languages and labor divisions. Tasks are divided according to age and colony needs. Younger worker bees tend to the queen, and older worker bees forage, construct wax cells, convert nectar into honey, clean cells and guard the hive. Ideally, a healthy hive is a collection of overlapping generations.

Honeybees provide essential pollination for crops, orchards and flowers as well as honey and wax for food, sweeteners and cosmetics. Nectar is a clear substance with about 80% water and complex sugars, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees amass nectar to produce honey and while collecting the nectar, they inadvertently yet scrupulously transfer pollen from male to female flowers. Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. It is produced by anthers, the male reproductive organs found in pollinators.

Since last year marked the hundred year anniversary of the abundant and cherished passenger pigeon dying in the largest scale human extinction of a species seems eerily paradoxical.

Now, on to a recipe for lamb, honey & herbs, among others. I am an unabashed honeyholic, so this is not only a natural, but often honey is used as a sugar substitute in these pages. Honey truly is the bee’s knees — it has a sublimely long shelf life, comes in varied infusions, has seasonal varieties and even unprocessed forms. Divine like fine wine (or better yet…).

HONEYED HERBED LEG OF LAMB

One 7 to 8 lb. bone-in leg of lamb, room temperature

1/4 C rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 C thyme leaves
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 C+ Dijon mustard
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C unprocessed honey
1/4 C lavender honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de provence or ras al hanout

1 C chicken or vegetable stock

Sauce (optional)
1/2 bottle red wine

2 shallots, chopped
1/2 T unprocessed honey

2 C chicken stock/broth
2 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put roasting pan with drippings back on the stove at medium-high heat. Add wine and reduce by half, scraping up any bits from bottom of pan.

Strain with a fine mesh strainer and put back in pot. Add shallots and honey, then simmer until the shallots are soft.

In a small bowl, whisk together stock/broth and flour. Add to reduction and simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Leg of lamb
Preheat oven to 500 F, then reduce to 375 F just before placing the leg on the rack.

Pulse the rosemary, thyme and garlic until minced. Then, add the mustard, olive oil and both honeys to blend, forming a paste. Slightly season the honeyed herbed mustard with salt and pepper, making sure that both are well mixed into the paste.

Season the leg of lamb generously with salt, pepper and herbes de provence (for a French lean) or ras al hanout (for a North African slant), massaging all into the meat, and then rub, cover the lamb roast with the honeyed herbed mustard paste.

Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Add the stock to the outside of the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and roast the lamb for about 1 1/2 hours, until an internal thermometer inserted in the center of the meat (not bone) registers 135-140 F or so, depending on your likes. In a lamb leg, the deep meat is the most efficient heat conductor, and using the bone to measure temperature is a “no-no” as the meat closest to the bone can end up significantly more rare than the rest of the meat. Remember, the lamb’s internal temperature will continue to rise by about 5 F as it rests.

Make the sauce while the leg of lamb reposes after transferring to a cutting board or platter. Let the meat rest for about 20 minutes, slice carefully and serve on dinner plates, ladling with sauce.

Pourboire: You may also wish to brine the leg in advance for about 6-7 hours. Afterward removing the meat from the brine and before apply the seasonings and paste, carefully wipe off excess seasoning and brine from the lamb. Simply use the brine solution outlined here in the roasted pork loin recipe dated November 24, 2010.

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.
~William Faulkner

Over the past few years, this site has become some form of writing, albeit ramblings or recipes. That medium allows me to fictionally, even idiomatically, lead those beloved, downy lambs to slaughter.

To do so, first ascertain a venue and gather the tools of the trade. Create a block and tackle from an overhead beam or improvise some sort of frame from scaffold poles. Then, garner a gambrel (an a-frame for hanging carcasses), meat hooks, a sharp 6″ blade, a small hook-shaped knife, a butcher’s saw, and a shotgun. Later comes separation, the act, hoisting the carcass, skinning, evisceration and butchery. The bloody details, angles, etc., are purposely spared, so precise imagination must suffice.

In the end, at the juncture of animal and human worlds, emerge blessed lamb chops. Numinous provender for us omnivores.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & SAFFRON

Lamb marinade:

1 t saffron threads
2 T warm water

2 C plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh black peppercorns
2 t orange zest
2 t honey

8 rib lamb chops, doubled (each 2″ thick)

Saffron baste:

1/2 t saffron threads
1 1/2 T warm chicken stock

3 T unsalted butter
3 T fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chutneys (optional)

Prepare the marinade. Place the saffron in a large, deep glass bowl and grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Add warm water, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Then, add the yogurt, lemon juice, onion, garlic, peppercorns, orange zest and honey to the dissolved saffron and mix well. Pour over and marinate the lamb chops in a large heavy plastic bag and allow to rest, turning occasionally, in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium high. As a reminder, hold an open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands retraction. Two (2) to three (3) seconds = medium high.

Meanwhile, prepare the saffron basting sauce. Place the saffron in a small, heavy saucepan. Add warm stock, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice to the dissolved saffron and stir over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is blended and heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the chops from the marinade, bring to room temperature on a cutting board, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the lamb chops on the hot barbeque grate and then grill, turning once, until cooked to your liking (about 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare). Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Brush the chops a couple of times as they cook with the saffron basting sauce.

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes on the cutting board, then transfer the chops to plates and serve promptly, preferably with dollops of differing chutneys to the side.

Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I must be fleeing from this distasteful inanity. With reason.

Over time, many have taken and considered various pragmatic stances, were accoutred with reasonable negotiating skills, took pride in remaining well-informed, displayed patience and equanimity, and stood by with a congenial, usually optimistic bend even in dark times. They sought resolution via compromise. This does not ever imply that they were blameless or free of criticism. Lamentably though, that species is becoming extinct in today’s political world now peopled by fanatical demagogues who care little for civility or progress — their extreme positions are so entrenched and illogically dogmatic that compromise is inconceivable. Those zealots, mired down by delusion and arrogance, hope and pray only to garner enough financial and electoral strength to claim that lowly office once more (and avoid being “primaried”). Government servants who avowedly detest government weary me.

Anyone in any trade, craft or business who had such dismal approval ratings would feel soulless and would be on the streets. Is that not metaphorical because are not some politicians really soulless beggars in a sense?

So, time for a recess from this dysfunctional, almost dismembered, institution called congressional politics and a return to the more rational worlds of food, culture, music, art, literature, history, and science. I may return some day, but your misguided mania has caused me and so many others to lose faith.

Before taking leave of you, I humbly beseech that each day when you are preening for your next feckless Congressional hearing, absurd appearance on the floor, perplexing press interview, or lunch with those sycophants called lobbyists (who profit from your dysfunction), ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?”

We are talking basic issues which deeply affect our young citizenry and our nation’s future. So, just try to avoid political obfuscation, encourage political and intellectual honesty, help to avert mass shoootings, address the rampant spread of guns, confront and curtail the dreadful impacts of global warming, assuage broad environmental concerns, reduce the costs of higher education, encourage an expansion of college grants, address our overall primary and secondary educational needs, assure that our precious ones have universal health care, feed hungry households, devote fervent efforts to the food system debacle, undertake to reduce income disparity, cease homelessness in our youth, withdraw from needless wars, and drastically lessen influence peddling and money in politics. These are some of the concerns which do plague, and will soon jeopardize, the next generation.

You will be gone by the time these woes really come to roost, but since most children cannot vote, apparently you seem not to care enough to help ameliorate their present and future problems. A form of exploitation. Yet, I still implore you to each day, while you draw that comb through whatever gray or dyed hair remains, again ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?” Until something is done in a concerted way on that surreal Hill, I fear you will sentence them to lives of doom.

For now, let’s return to the lambs — a kinder place with gentler pastures.

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C red wine or sherry vinegar
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 lemons, halved and juiced
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (4-5 lb) boneless leg of lamb, butterflied open

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Pat the lamb dry and lay in a large baking dish or on a platter, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the meat to coat well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or even overnight. Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator about an hour before grilling so that it reaches room temperature.

Prepare coals for barbecuing. Roll 2-3 full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it is right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form. Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the hot coals in a pile onto the bottom coal grate in the middle of the grill, and put the starter in a safe place.

Once the briquets turn very hot, spread and place the top rack over them. The fire is medium-high when you can hold your hand about 3-4″ above the rack for 3 seconds or so before you must retract. Grill lamb, fat side down first, covered, for about 15 minutes. Turn meat and grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throughout. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving behind a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias.

STUFFED LAMB SHOULDER

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 turnip, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for rubbing

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
Extra virgin olive oil, for searing

4 C chicken stock
1 head garlic, cut in half transversely

2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Add chard leaves to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to the ice water. Cool, drain, squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavvy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, and continue cooking about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chard-shallot mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the carrots, turnips, parsley, chives, and chard-shallot mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread the lamb open on work surface. Score the inside of the meat with a paring knife, making shallow incisions every 3/4″ while taking care not to cut all the way through the meat. Rub the opened shoulder on both sides with the halved garlic and season inside with salt and pepper. Then, spread the herb mixture over the surface, leaving a 1″ border. Carefully roll the lamb, tie with 5 or 6 pre-cut kitchen trussing strings at fairly close intervals. Brush with olive oil and season outside with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy sauté or roasting pan, heat the olive oil on high. Add the lamb shoulder to the pan and briefly sear until browned on all faces, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and then add the stock and garlic. Place in the oven for about 2 hours for medium rare to medium, or using an internal meat thermometer until it reads 155-160 F after resting. (Remember the meat’s internal temperature typically rises 5-10 degrees as it rests. So, remove lamb from cooking heat when the thermometer reads 5-10 degrees less than the ultimate desired temperature.)

Remove the lamb shoulder from the pan, place on a welled cutting board and tent with foil. Meanwhile, strain juices over a medium, heavy saucepan and cook on medium high until reduced by half, at least almost a silky sauce consistency. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Remove strings, making sure you have allowed the lamb to stand 15-20 minutes before carving into larger slices for serving. Ladle sauce over sliced lamb shoulder on plates.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
~Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Ok, Mitt…that’s it. For the most part, I have remained indifferent to this presidential election on here. But, I can no longer sit idly by and suffer this cluelessness and ineptitude. Romney has cavorted from flip-flopper to keenly out of touch to disingenuous and back. So, excuse my words, but they are deserved.

Just think of the last few weeks alone.  First, Mitt carelessly branded Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Then, he made his much ballyhooed jaunt to Britain, Israel and Poland, only to commit silly diplomatic gaffes upon gaffes. Later, Romney uttered the outrageous statement that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks” that savagely killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. Last week, when asked by George Stephanopolous whether $100,000 is considered middle income, he responded: “No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” Each time, the spin doctors emerged to try to quell the bleeding.

Now, at a $50,000-a-plate closeted fund raiser the former governor turned lifelong political candidate callously remarked that the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes are people who are: “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

He droned on dismissively to his “have more” base: “(M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It is crucial to remember this — Mitt’s lengthy rant was no brief blunder or momentary slip. No, we have all seen, heard, and maybe even done that. Instead, this was a premeditated discourse reflecting ingrained disdain for the common working man and woman. Romney was candidly sharing the wealthy elite’s long-held, shameful contempt for the unworthy masses. That is and was the overwhelming evidence. His speech alone, and the stream of GOP affirmations afterward are undeniable proof.

Those moochers, those serfs — real people like combat soldiers, college students, scholars, student athletes, public school teachers, seniors, farm workers, low rung researchers, child welfare and medicare recipients, social security beneficiaries, janitors, unpaid spouses, sale clerks, cooks, retirees, aides, mechanics, waiters, lower management, modestly paid workers, wounded veterans, laborers, welfare workers, low income families, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, and so on — just deserve no place in the GOP’s political calculus. According to Mitt’s mythical math, these freeloaders take pains to avoid paying federal income taxes and wallow around feeling victimized. Those good folks are just another of Romney’s many write-offs — lowly peasants undeserving of his concern.

By the way, what is it about contemptuously calling others “you people” and “those people,” Ann and Mitt? I suspect we all know.

Well, it always does take one of you people to know one of those people, Ann and Willard. Romney has by his own admission been “unemployed” for years choosing instead to carp and complain about others while hiding behind the lectern on his endless campaign trail. Ann does not work and has never paid federal income taxes from a job. Using a host of accountants and lawyers, Romney has also openly benefited from similar federal tax deductions, write-offs, credits and breaks that allow many “entitled” working Americans to avoid paying federal income taxes that would otherwise be due. In 2010 alone, a jobless Romney had a federal adjusted gross income of $21.6 million yet paid only $3 million in income taxes, a measly 13.9% of his annual income. Without the preferential investor treatment offered him under our tax code, Romney avoided federal income taxes at the top marginal rate of 35%, or $7.56 million — affording Mitt a tidy government subsidy on his federal income taxes for that year alone in the amount of $4.56 million.

This makes no mention of Mitt’s mother Lenore Romney’s words: “[George Romney] was a refugee from Mexico (and) was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities.” His own father was a public aid recipient as a child — just another one of those victims whose family believed he was “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” — the part of society’s dregs that Romney so fervently disses.

Seems one Paul Ryan was even tossed in that rank pleb bag with the other deplorable 47%, as an unemployed, student social security survivor beneficiary as well as flipping ­­burgers at McDonald’s, steering the Oscar Mayer wienermobile, and slinging cheap margaritas. But for politics, a slacker most of his life according to his running mate. Perhaps it’s time to peer into the mirrors again, Guv’nor and Robin, before you arrogantly fabricate reality.

Now the Romney campaign is in damage containment mode, feverishly shaking the campaign etch-a-sketch pad (again). Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidates in tight races have rapidly distanced themselves from their presidential ticket. Of course, there was no hint of apology or repentance from the Romney camp. Contrition, however slight, is just not part of their vocabulary. Ann Romney said her hubby’s comments were “taken out of context” and the notably subterranean Paul Ryan mentioned that his boss’ words were “inarticulate.” Right wing pundits used words like “confused,” “messed up,” “inartful,” less than “ideal language,” then inexplicably twirled to “factually accurate,” “the truth,” and a “win for Romney.” For his part, Romney first grinned saying that his comments were “not elegantly stated,” and “off the cuff,” then clumsily pirouetted to an argument against the redistribution of wealth, now asserting he believed in an America where “government steps in to help those in need,” because “we’re a compassionate people.” Really? Remember, Mitt, you spouted that those people on the back side are not worthy of your attention.

No amount of truth spinning or word warping can make this right. It is flat wrong, even insulting, to directly pander to the underprivileged, unemployed, and middle/lower income earners and then treat them with utter disdain behind closed doors. Romney has shown a merciless lack of empathy for and now has openly denigrated nearly half of the citizens of this nation. Apparently, that is just another plank in his bewildering and bleak political ideology that he prays will span to the White House (built by the 47%).

Seems a long simmering stew is in order.

RAGOUT D’AGNEAU PROVENCAL (LAMB STEW PROVENCAL)

4 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry thoroughly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T duck fat
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
3 medium heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C beef stock
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium eggplant, stemmed, cut into chunks
2 red peppers, seeded, roasted and cut into strips
2-3 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 300 F

Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Heat duck fat and olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the lamb nicely on both sides. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and cook the onions until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. While the onions are browning, peel, quarter and seed the tomatoes over a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reserve the tomatoes and juice. Pour the tomato juice into a 2 cup glass and then add enough red wine to fill. Deglaze the onions with the combined stocks, stirring up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add the wine and tomato juice mixture. Add the browned lamb, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and garlic.  Cover and bake about 1 hour 30 minutes.

While the lamb cooks, salt the eggplant and set in a colander to drain, about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.   Once the lamb has cooked as above, add the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, cover and cook for another 1 hour.

Then,  remove the lid, add the zucchini and cook another 30 minutes uncovered.

 Remove from the oven and discard the herbs. Spoon the lamb stew onto plates over artisinal noodles.

Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.
~Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
, The Mistress of Spices

Somehow, this became a three headed post.

Derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted,” biryani is a rice dish crafted from a sensuously transcendent spice medley and basmati rice layered with curried meats (often lamb, mutton or chicken), fish, eggs or vegetables. Biryani was born in the kitchens of ancient Persia, and was later transported by merchants to the Indian subcontinent where the dish developed even further. Whether made in India, South Asia or the Middle East, regional variants are abundant and often without boundaries, such as hyderabadi biryani, ambur biryani, bhatkali biryani, kacchi biryani, awadhi biryani, mughlai biryani, berian biryani, sindhi biryani, khan biryani, memoni biryani, pakistani biryani, sri lankan biryani and the like. That is a short list.

Yes, I have admittedly been cheating on biryani. The farmers’ market spice merchant has been effusively loyal and ever helpful. Yet, I have been shamefully, almost covertly, buying his superb admix which is damned good. So, it only seemed fair to concoct my own biryani blend (with a little help from my friends). Much like curry or ras al hanout, dry roasting and then grinding your own spice brew at home tends to create a more spellbinding and blissful union.

BIRYANI SPICE BLEND

1 T cardamom seeds
1 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 medium cinnamon stick, cut into pieces
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 T black peppercorns
2 t fennel seeds
2 t caraway seeds
2 star anise
1/2 t grated nutmeg
1/2 t turmeric

Dry roast spices over moderate heat until fragrant. Discard bay leaves. Cool and reduce to a powder in a spice grinder by pulses or by using a mortar and pestle. Store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place.

Now, on to the main course. Guests will be grateful for the effusive, almost contemplative, scents…

LAMB BIRYANI

Dry roast and grind anise seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds.

1 t anise seeds, toasted and ground
2 T black peppercorns, toasted and ground
3 T green cardamom pods, cracked, toasted and ground
2 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
2 T garam masala
1 t crushed red chile flakes
1⁄2 T turmeric
1 t paprika

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 1 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and minced

2 1/2 lbs trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
Sea salt
3/4 C plain yogurt

2 1⁄2 C basmati rice
3 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1⁄2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
4 whole cloves
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt
2 C water
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C whole milk
1 t saffron threads

Mint leaves, roughly chopped
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Cashews, lightly sautéed in butter and chopped (optional)

Heat butter and canola oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and then just turning golden. Transfer to a bowl and set aside for later use.

Heat butter and canola oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until shimmering. Add garam masala, chile flakes, turmeric, paprika, anise, pepper, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, and 1 cinnamon stick, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add garlic, tomatoes, chiles, and ginger and sauté, stirring, another 2–3 minutes more.

Add lamb, season with salt, and cook until lightly browned, turning, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked onions and yogurt, cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until lamb is tender, about 25 minutes. Place lamb in a glass bowl or dish, tent and set aside. Keep the empty Dutch oven available for the layering step below.

Meanwhile, melt butter over moderately high heat. Add the minced garlic cloves and sauté briefly but do not burn. Add the basmati rice, stirring well to coat. Add cinnamon stick, along with the cumin, cloves, and bay leaves, and season with salt. Add the water and stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to medium low. Cover and cook until the rice is firm and the liquid reduced, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside off of the heat.

Warm the milk with the saffron threads in a small saucepan.

Transfer half the curried lamb back into the Dutch oven, then top with half the rice. Clothe with layers of the remaining lamb and then rice and finally add the warmed milk with saffron. (Lamb–>rice–>lamb–>rice–>saffron.) Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender, about 10 more minutes.

Plate and garnish with mint, cilantro and cashews. Consider serving biryani with coconut curry gravy, daal (lentils), regional vegetable dishes, and/or naan bread.

Pourboire: instead of sautéing in unsalted butter and canola, ghee or ghi–a traditional Indian clarified butter–is often used due to its high smoking point and toasted flavor. A recipe follows:

GHEE

1 lb unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces

Place butter in medium saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a lively simmer or quiet boil, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and the butter will form a first foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns slightly golden, about 7 minutes. Brown milk solids will naturally fall to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool for several minutes. Slowly pour into ovenproof container through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth layers. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container and keep free from moisture.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.
~Mahatma Gandhi

These finger wielded morsels, carved from a lamb loin rack are sometimes dubbed “lollipops” especially when the bones are frenched (i.e., when the meat on the long bone ends is resected). At this house, the debate rages whether or not to french as some serious next-to-the-bone cooks and eats are discarded in favor of the look. Wasteful of the tasteful, to me. Others rightfully differ and prefer degloved–the chops do appear more elegant. Kitchen diplomacy is ever at work.

LAMB CHOPS WITH PORT, FIG & BALSAMIC

1 rack of lamb, evenly cut into single chops
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T thyme leaves, minced

2 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 rosemary sprigs

1/2 C ruby port
3 T chicken stock
1/4 C fine Provençal red fig preserves
1-2 T aged balsamic vinegar of Modena

Fresh rosemary sprigs

Season lamb with salt, pepper and thyme. In a large, heavy sauté pan, add the olive oil, butter, garlic and rosemary sprigs and heat over medium high until simmering. But, do not brown the butter or garlic. Remove and discard garlic and rosemary then add lamb chops and sauté until browned some and just medium rare, about 3 minutes per side. Remove lamb chops from heat and tent with foil.

Increase heat, add port to pan and reduce some scraping and stirring with a wooden spatula. Then add chicken stock and reduce further, occasionally stirring. Moderate heat throughout to maintain a lively simmer. Whisk in preserves first until dissolved and then balsamic vinegar, cooking and stirring until reduced to a saucy consistency which nicely coats both sides of the spoon or spatula. As needed, season the sauce with salt and pepper to your liking.

Briefly re-introduce lamb chops to pan and turn to coat with sauce and heat some.

Serve arranged on platter, drizzle with pan reduction and garnish with just a few fresh rosemary sprigs.

Pourboire: alternatively, you can briefly grill the lamb chops at the outset, dropping rosemary sprigs onto the hot coals. On the back end, consider a light touch of chopped toasted pistachios and chiffonaded fresh mint as garnishes in lieu of the rosemary sprigs.