Monthly Archives: January 2012

How can something that looks so bad, taste so good?

There is one additional thing I did on my MLK holiday this week. I made a pot of black bean soup. As is the case with many things in our family, black bean soup has a story behind it. (Not necessarily an interesting story, but a story all the same.)

Black Bean Soup with onions and sour cream

Having grown up in a very meat-and- potatoes family, I don’t think I had ever heard of black bean soup until I had graduated from college. The summer after I graduated, I was working a summer-replacement job for a radio station in Vero Beach, Florida. (WTTB-AM “Where The Tropics Begin”) I spent most of the weekends that summer driving to visit my then-girlfriend, either in Gainesville or at her parents’ house in Clewiston. But on one particular weekend, I was stuck in Vero without much to do. The GM of the station, Pat Hazel (a really great guy) invited me to share Sunday dinner with his family.

“My wife is going to make her fabulous black bean soup!”

I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t sound particularly appetizing to my rather naïve and inexperienced palate. Of course, I went to dinner anyway and had a great time. Pat and his family were warm, engaging people and they made me feel very welcome. And I loved the soup.

In the late 1980s black bean soup started to show up on restaurant menus, and I was reminded of that evening. I thought I would give it a try myself. I investigated and tried several recipes and settled on the one below. Once they overcame the initial problem that the soup doesn’t look very appetizing, even my children started to like it.

One step is to puree some of the soup in a blender and then return it to the pot to thicken the soup. One time I used a long ice-tea spoon to stir it around in the blender, but it accidentally came in contact with the blender blade. I never knew that black bean soup could be explosive.  There was puree’d black bean soup all over the white kitchen cabinets, the ceiling and me. It took hours to clean up that mess.

Today, black bean soup is “comfort food” in the Poolman household.

Here is the recipe.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

Here’s what you need.

  • A bag of dried black beans—cleaned and rinsed*
  • A ham bone with chunks of meat still attached or some cut up left over ham, about two cups.
  • A “ton” of chopped onion and celery (just like the chicken soup above.) Easily two large onions and 4-5 celery stocks.
  • A bay leaf.
  • Salt and pepper.  (Go easy on the salt to start. Ham is naturally salty. You can always add more if it’s not salty enough.)
  • A little dry mustard (powder) if you have it, but it isn’t crucial.

*Before you do anything with the beans, put them in a bowl, sort through them with your hands and pick out any stones.  Yeah, that’s right, stones, like the kind you find on the ground. Occasionally you will find them. Most beans were harvested in third-world countries and their processing isn’t the most sophisticated. You definitely want to catch these before cooking. Nothing will ruin a good meal faster than having someone unsuspectingly bite down on a rock. Once they are “clean,” use your colander to rinse them well under running water.

First thing you have to soften the beans. There are two ways to do that. The first is to soak them in a bowl overnight. The other is to put them in boiling water and simmer them for about 10 minutes and then let them sit for an hour. In either case, you should drain the beans through a colander before cooking. Do NOT cook them in their soaking water.  The major issue with beans is the gaseous by-product that comes several hours after eating. Draining them before cooking with reduce that significantly.

Once your beans are soft, put them, the ham, the onions, celery, spices and bay leaf all into a pot with a couple of quarts of water. You should have so much onion and celery that it should look like they are the dominant ingredients. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow it to cook for at least an hour, maybe more. The more you cook it, the more everything will meld together, which is what you want.

Note: Keep a close eye when it starts to thicken that you don’t allow it to scorch on the bottom. Stir frequently and adjust your heat as needed.

When the soup is almost done, take about a cup or two of the bean mixture and put it in your blender. Whip the beans into a thick paste and stir it back into the mix.  This should thicken the broth and give it a creamier texture.

Serve with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.

A hint: Most ham bones are extremely fatty. So I usually cook the ham bone by simmering it for an hour or two the day before I plan on cooking the soup. Refrigerate it overnight and much of the fat will congeal on top of the water. You can spoon it off and throw it out. It will reduce the fat-content of the soup significantly, without affecting the great taste.   

“One Day”

We had a slow weekend, followed by an even slower Martin Luther King holiday. Mrs. Poolman had to work Monday, but I had the day off.  I have to say that as much as I love my wife, and enjoy doing things with her, it is occasionally nice to have a day just to myself.  I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it. I get lonely and bored too easily, but a single-day now and then is nice.

I spent it mostly being a house-husband. I did several loads of wash; cleaned up around the house; went grocery shopping and so on. I have such an exciting life.

I finished up by watching a movie we had rented over the weekend, “One Day,” with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.  I had read the book last summer and thought it was OK. The book “checks in” on a couple on the same day every year from the day they graduated from college and for another two decades. The movie sticks with the book very closely. The biggest problem with the story is that the guy, Dexter, is an arrogant, self-involved ass. As the couple gets together, breaks up, becomes friends, breaks up again, and so on, it is very difficult to understand what the Anne Hathaway character, Emma, sees in him.

That having been said, the movie is a refreshing break from the teen-oriented movies and the standard boy-meets-girl formula flicks that are so common. I’m glad I didn’t spend $20 to take Mrs. P to the theater to see it, but it is definitely worth a couple of bucks from Blockbuster Express or Redbox.

If you see it, tell me what you think.

The book and the movie have something of surprise ending. Since I had read the book I knew it was coming, but it still sat me back. No other information. Don’t want to spoil it.

OCD running wild

I’m a bit of a geek, and, as I’ve already discussed, I am mildly OCD.

I’m not an expert on anything, but I know a little bit about a lot of subjects. Almost all of it is totally useless trivia. I “play” Jeopardy when the show is on almost every evening and usually do pretty well. This trait came in handy as a journalist and still makes me a good partner in Trivial Pursuit. Otherwise it is pretty useless, and sometimes annoying to friends and family. Sorry ‘bout that. 

Some of this trivial knowledge comes from the fact that I have always read a lot, and remember a lot of what I read. Some of it, especially science and art, comes from the outstanding high school I attended (Mt. Lebanon HS in suburban Pittsburgh), and a rather diverse collection of courses at the University of Florida (That’s what you get when you change your major three times.)

As a high school senior, I took a course in “Humanities” from an excellent teacher, Joanne Bailey.  It covered art, architecture and music from ancient through modern times. As a result, I have a superficial knowledge of art and art history. (For the most part, music was a lost cause for me.) I’m no expert by any stretch, but I am just slightly conversant in some of the periods of art history, styles and some of the major figures.

This brings me to an incident a couple of weeks ago. Mrs. Poolman and I were watching the ABC sitcom, “Suburgatory.” 

In this episode, “Tessa” talks her neighbor “Dallas” into taking her into New York City for an afternoon. In one scene, the two are standing before a painting in an art museum and arguing whether it would be for sale. Dallas wanted to buy it, but Tessa said, “It’s not for sale.”

I looked at Mrs. Poolman and said, “I doubt it would be for sale. That’s a Degas.” I don’t recall ever seeing that particular painting before, and everything I knew about Edgar Degas could be written on the back of my fingernail.  For some reason, I was able to ID the artist, or so I thought anyway. However, quickly I had self-doubt and felt the compulsion to see if my impulse ID  was correct.  (That’s the OCD part.)

I did what anyone else in the 21st century would do; I Googled “Degas” and “Metropolitan Museum of Art” to try to locate the painting. I searched high and low and could not find the painting in question, certainly not at the Met. Finally, I expanded my search and eventually located the painting. Here it is.

Dance Foyer at the Opera -- Edgar Degas

I couldn’t find it at the Met, simply because it isn’t there. It’s permanently housed at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, and to the best my search could find, has never visited the Met.

Then I realized, “Stupid me!,” the producers didn’t go to a museum to shoot the scene with the painting. The show is probably shot in Los Angeles anyway. They simply got a poster of a painting and used it in a studio shot.

The bottom line is –the poster in the TV show probably is for sale, for about $19.99 on line or in a museum gift shop.

I shared this experience with Mrs. Poolman, thinking that maybe she would be interested in the solution to the mystery. She just sighed deeply, and her eyes rolled back into her head. A little cartoon balloon appeared above her head:  “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Hello! Who’s there?”

Much has been written regarding the sharp decline in the art of writing notes in this age of text messages, email, Facebook and Twitter. Recently, I realized another decline in the art of communication – telephone etiquette.

Obviously, I date myself by evening bringing up the subject.  When we were younger, we were taught how to properly make a telephone call, answer the phone, and so on. The parents of one of my friends were so strict about the proper way to answer the phone in their house that she persists with it today.

“Hello, Smith residence, this is Mary speaking.”

And she is single – the only person living there!

This came up when we recently received a phone call from one of our 11-year old relatives.

“Hello”

Silence….finally “Hi”

“Hello. Who is this?”

Silence…finally, in a baby-like voice “This is Mallory!”

“Hi, Mallory. What can I do for you today?”

More silence….finally, “Oh, nuthin.”

And so it went on. Like trying to dig a splinter out of my thumb.

When I mentioned this to Mrs. Poolman, she said, “Why are you surprised? Have you talked with her parents lately? Who do you think is supposed to teach her?”

I realized that Mrs. P was right. We have received frequent calls from relatives in their 20s who call and simply say, “Hey!” and apparently wait for the recipient of the call to guess who they are and why they are calling.

You would think someone of our generation (50s) would know better, but they don’t. We have several friends who almost never identify themselves when they call. And some of them show annoyance when I ask, “And who is calling, please?”

I would recognize the voices of Mrs. Poolman, my two children and my father. After that, it’s a crap shoot. Caller ID works some of the time. I only look at it part of the time anyway. And if just shows a number and not a name, it’s not much help.

That last part is courtesy of the contact list built into my cell phone. I don’t even know Mrs. P’s cell number without looking it up. All I know is that it’s in my cell phone contact list under “Mrs. Poolman.

Recently, I received a call from the middle of my three sisters,  Margaret. I recognized her voice, but I thought I’d “zing” here anway.”

Margaret: “Hi Poolman! This is your favorite sister.”

Me: “Oh, hi, Kathy! I’m glad you called. I really want to hear more about what you were saying about Margaret yesterday.”

As they say on “The Big Bang Theory”…Bazinga!

And Mrs. Poolman says I still don’t understand why people don’t call me.

Perils of an injury-prone childhood

My new blog friend, MJ Monaghan, recently wrote a post about “boys will be boys” accident he had when he was a child.

It reminded me of all the injuries and mishaps my brother and I had when we were children.  At the time, they didn’t seem to be so many or frequent, but in retrospect, we must have driven our parents crazy.  We were a walking (or not so walking) orthopedic ward.

My brother and I are the oldest of five children. When we were growing up, most of our mother’s time and attention was consumed by our three younger sisters.  Once we left the house in search of friends and activities, we were pretty much on our own, without the benefit or the burden of parental supervision.

We lived in a small and fairly isolated neighborhood that was surrounded by hills, woods and some old farm fields. There really wasn’t much opportunity to cause trouble. However, there were plenty of opportunities to cause damage to ourselves, and we took full advantage of them. From the time we were nine or ten to our early teens, we accumulated:

Me: Fractured arm, fractured foot, dislocated shoulder, stiches in my head (courtesy of a hammer wielded by my brother), and a cut leg that required stitches

Brother: Badly fractured humerus (upper arm), fractured finger, sprained ankle

These were all acquired in the course of playing sports, climbing trees or generally screwing around. Looking back on it, I wonder how many of those injuries started with someone saying, “I’ll bet you can’t…”

We kept our family physicians busy. In fact, one of our regular physicians was, not surprisingly, an orthopedic surgeon.

When I was in ninth grade, a bunch of us were “studio wrestling” in a friend’s front yard. One of our larger kids picked me up over his shoulder and dropped me. I landed on my right shoulder, It did not seem to be broken, but my arm just sort-of hung there. Seeing it was a Sunday, my mother suggested I go to school the next day and show the shoulder to the PE teacher/coach.

“Oh my God, son. You have a broken clavicle. Why haven’t you already been to a doctor?” he asked.

So I called Mom and gave her the report. She said she would call ahead to the orthopedic surgeon’s office. I should walk the few blocks down the street to his office and report to him. If needed, my father would come collect me later.

When I walked in the door, the receptionist just looked up and asked, “All right, Poolman, what did you do this time?” Let’s just say, we didn’t need an introduction.

As it turned out, I may have dislocated the shoulder, but it was back in place and there wasn’t much for him to do, except to tell me not to be throwing any balls around, or doing any studio wrestling for a while.  Eventually, my dad did come to collect me and, I assume, to pay the bill.

That was my last injury that required medical treatment until I was introduced to the joys and perils of motorcycle riding after I graduated from college. That is a story for another day.

The Tebow train keeps on chugging along

For a Steeler fan like myself, it was tough to watch the Steelers-Broncos game at our house last weekend. There were two reasons.

1. The Steelers’ defense, #1 in the league, made the NFL’s worst quarterback look like the second coming of Johnny Unitas.

2. Mrs. Poolman actively cheered for Tim Tebow and the Broncos the entire game.

Actually, I have really enjoyed all the fuss and controversy over Tebow this year. Of course, we have followed him since he was recruited by the Gators, his four years of playing for the Gators, a Heisman Trophy and two national championships. These days he has been driving people crazy, again for two reasons.

–As a man, he is the “real deal.”  Critics have been searching for some evidence of hypocrisy in Tim for years, but haven’t been able to find any. He is what he is, and that is a strong character and good person.

–He has marginal skills as a traditional NFL quarterback, but that hasn’t kept him from being a major player in a story-book season for the Broncos. The team’s performance, most recently against Pittsburgh last weekend, has caused all kinds of “experts” to eat their words.

It has also given editorial cartoonists plenty of material to work with.

Frankly, I don’t know if Tim has a long-term future as an NFL quarterback. I’m not enough of an expert to make that kind of judgment. But in the meantime, the story has been a lot of fun to watch.

Another reason Timmy has been fun to watch is the criticism and outrage over his public displays of faith.  The term “Tebowing” has entered the language. (I also thought it was hysterical when, during one game this season, a defensive player sacked Tim, and then took a knee in the “Tebow pose.” Now that’s funny!)

I ran across this piece from Fox News featuring commentator Bernard Goldberg, who addresses the criticism and defends Tim. As usual, Bernie is right on target.

We’ll be watching the Denver-New England game on Saturday evening. We’ll see if the miracle train continues on down the track.

Go DWAGS!

I hate to abuse my Georgia fans on the day after their DAWGS blew a 16 point lead to lose an Outback Bowl they should have won. However, this picture says it all.

I wonder how many of my DAWG fans even “get” this post.