Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tax Cuts

I am sorry, but we can't afford them. The Federal government needs revenue desperately. Its present and future obligations, both for bonded indebtedness and for entitlements (Social Security, Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, etc.), exceed its revenue producing capability as the current tax system is configured. Further, the US must rebuild the armed forces it has squandered so wastefully both by use and by abuse such as the F35 and the Zumwalt destroyer.


The deficit in the recently ended fiscal year* (FY 2017 ended 9/30/17) was $666 Billion Dollars, which was 3.5% of the GDP. Of course the deficit was financed by issuing bonded indebtedness. At the turn of the century, the US Government ran surpluses for the FYs 1998 through 2001. FY 2001 ended 30 September 2001 -- just 3 weeks after 9/11. FY 2002 began a string of deficits that peaked in FY2009 when the Panic of 2008, and the political panic spending in its wake, produced a post WWII record deficit of 1.4T$ (pseudo-scientific notation here, T stands for Terra or Trillion), but the string has not ended. The four year period, FY 2009 through FY 2012 saw 5T$ of deficits. Since then we have settled down in the 500G$ range.
*A Fiscal Year of the Federal Government begins on October 1 of the previous calendar year. FY 2017 began on 10/1/2016 and ended on 9/30/2017.

The GDP is about 20T$.  So is the gross Federal Debt. You could say that we have reached the point where the Debt equals, and soon will exceed, the size of the economy. But, only about 15T$ is in the form of outstanding bonds that are owned by persons who are not agencies of the Federal Government, mostly Social Security*. As such, the bonds owned by the Federal Government in so-called "Trust Funds" are just promises to keep paying SS pensions, medicare benefits, etc. even though the payments exceed the payroll tax revenues that have funded them for most of the past 80 years. (CBO is currently projecting that will happen in about 10 years).
Note: the CBO Web Site has lots of very informative reports and data. Their budget projections are here. Spend enough time with that stuff, and you will join the late, great B.B. King in singing: "I've got a mind to give up living, and go shopping instead, buy me a tombstone, and be pronounced dead") It is that depressing. Who is the CBO? The Congressional Budget Office, a supposedly non partisan body created and tasked by Congress with tracking the budget and Federal finances and explaining to Congress the cost of its folly. They do excellent work.
While we are at it, I should add some links to web sites that track the Debt and the deficit: U.S. Debt Clock National Debt of the United States Truth In Accounting. If you really want to wallow in it try: Financial Report of the United States Government
*The Federal Reserve banks own another big chunk of the total Federal Debt (~2.4T$), but economists and budget nerds regard that as being held by the public because the it is the  backing for all of those nice crispy Federal Reserve Notes in your wallet. What? You don't have any? Don't look at me, I haven't any either.
The optimistic political line is that the debt can continue to grow indefinitely as long as the economy grows faster. And this is true, until it isn't. The larger the debt is in relation to the economy, the more difficult it is to service. The nightmare scenario is that the interest on the debt starts to compound above the growth rate of the economy and simply compounds to the sky.

One might say, that only the publicly held debt represents an obligation that must be repaid. Much of it is owed to foreigners who might get testy if they are not paid. Especially the Chinese, who own about 3T$ of bonds and a whole bunch of ICBMs. But, even though Congress could lawfully stiff the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, it is absolutely inconceivable that they could or would politically.

If Congress cannot not pay, then perhaps we should think of those obligations as being ones that we should recognize upfront. Truth In Accounting linked above says that the National Debt should really include 76T$ in future obligations of the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Economists Laurence Kotlikoff and Alan Auerbach, have claimed that the relevant number is what they call the Fiscal Gap which is the difference between the present value of all of government's projected financial obligations, including future expenditures for Social Security and Medicare and servicing outstanding official federal debt, and the present value of all projected future tax and other receipts. They have pegged this amount to be in excess of 200T$.

Further there a few trillions of dollars of debts owed by agencies or instrumentalities of the Federal Government, such as the alphabet soup of mortgage lenders that floats the price of houses far beyond the ability of the mass of homeowners to afford*, such as Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association or FNMA), Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation), Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association), and FHA. These entities have issued trillions of dollars worth of bonds and mortgage guarantees. If they were subsidiaries of private companies, the SEC would make the parent companies include their operations in its financial statements. but, the Federal Government doesn't have to do that. Why? Because they don't want to, and they do not want to scare the peasants.
*In the early 1970s, the median price of a house was less than 3 times the median annual household income. The median Family, i.e. the middle class, could afford the median house. During the inflationary period of the 1970s the ratio went up to 3.5 In the 1990s it went to 4. After 2002 it took off until it hit 5 at the peak of the housing bubble. During the Panic of 2008, it dropped back to 4.5. But fear not. The bubble has been re-inflated and the average is now almost 5.5. You have nothing to worry about, it is as safe as houses. If you want to learn more go to Political Calculations. He has lots of interesting, but not comforting information.
If you are inclined to whistle past grave yards, you can point to the example of Japan, which has a publicly held debt of about 250% of its GDP. I really doubt that the US could get away with that for a a few reasons. First, the Japanese people are thrifty, and they have not run a trade deficit. Therefore, almost all of the Japanese Government bonds are domestically owned. Second, those bonds pay very little interest. Even the 30 year bonds pay less than 1%. US 30s pay about 2.8%, which is low, but not that low. Third, Japan has an extraordinary amount of social cohesion and trust. The US is closer than most of you think to a shooting civil war.

Another comeback is that the US Government cannot go broke because it can print the Dollars it needs to pay off its obligations. The response to that is yes, it can. But, how much will those Dollars be worth. If they are so abundant as to be worthless, we have hyperinflation. Welcome to Argentina. Or worse, Wiemar Germany.

Here is the way I see it. The Federal Debt is too large, and we are running large deficits even though this is a time of relative prosperity. The bigger the debt and the deficit are, the smaller our margin for error and unforeseen events is. There could be a worldwide recession not caused by the United States. War is always a possibility. We did not foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union, or 9/11, we may not foresee the next war.

Risk of a truly catastrophic event, like the collapse of the Federal Government is asymmetrical. If it doesn't happen, we go on from day to day suffering the slings and arrows. Some people say that we should throw down the Federal Government because it is corrupt and oppressive. But, history suggests that such an event is far more likely to cause enormous chaos and suffering than to lead to a happy solution. Louis XVI called the Estates General because he was out of money. What followed should be a cautionary tale for us. I have already mentioned the Soviet Union and Wiemar Germany. Bad example abound. Happy endings are rare.

Prudence suggests that this is a good time to get our financial house in order.

What follows are statements from pundits who have said good and prudent things about tax cuts. First Robert Samuelson from the liberal Washington Post:

Under-Taxed America
November 9, 2017

WASHINGTON -- We Americans are having the wrong debate. Almost all the arguing over the Trump administration's proposed tax cut centers on two issues. Will the tax reduction stimulate faster economic growth? And is the proposal too generous toward the wealthy and too stingy toward the middle class and poor?

Interesting questions, to be sure -- but mostly irrelevant to the nation's long-term well-being.

The truth is that we can't afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes ..., how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven't yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven't covered our spending with revenues from taxes.

Of course, there are times when borrowing (that is, budget deficits) is unavoidable and desirable. Wars. Economic downturns. National emergencies. But our addiction to debt extends well beyond these exceptions. We have run deficits with strong economies and weak, with low inflation and high, and with favorable and unfavorable productivity gains.

Since 1961 ... federal budgets have been in surplus in only five years. ...

Based on present policies, it's doubtful that things will get much better. Aging baby boomers are inflating Social Security and Medicare spending. ... the Congressional Budget Office projects that the budget deficit ($666 billion in 2017) will grow as a share of the economy.

* * *

The unspoken assumption that justifies big and continuous deficits is that -- rhetoric to the contrary -- they pose no serious danger to the economy. We can run deficits forever without suffering ill effects. ...

Excessive federal borrowing poses three theoretical dangers. First, it could raise interest rates and "crowd out" the private investment essential for higher living standards. Second, it could trigger a financial panic, if private investors would no longer buy Treasury securities except at exceptionally high interest rates. And finally, a large national debt could make it harder for the government to borrow heavily during a true crisis.

* * *

But that's not us. By now, it must be obvious: We are no longer responsible. The urgent need is to plug the huge gap between government spending and tax revenues. Naturally, we aren't doing that.

Next Robert VerBruggen from the conservative National Review:

Cutting Taxes with Borrowed Money: Will a growing debt eat away at economic growth?

November 9, 2017

* * *

The House GOP’s new tax bill would reduce revenue by almost $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). ...

Normally, the argument against raising the deficit is put in simple terms — by whatever party is out of power, of course. Our debt is already about 77 percent of our GDP, a number that will rise to 91 percent by 2027 under current law and will only get worse from there. Realistically speaking, this is going to force a combination of tax increases and entitlement cuts at some point in the future, and the longer we wait, the more brutal those measures will have to be. Starting from such a precarious position, we have no business making our deficits even worse, whether by cutting taxes or by increasing spending. ...

But there’s an additional layer of complication to the debate over tax cuts funded through higher deficits, one amply illustrated in competing studies of the GOP tax plan from the Tax Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The former says the plan would boost economic growth and create jobs, and that as a result we would lose significantly less than $1.5 trillion in revenue. The latter, by contrast, says the bill would have essentially no long-term effect on the economy.


*    *    *

We’ll start with the Tax Foundation. The organization predicts “3.6 percent higher GDP over the long term, 3.1 percent higher wages, and an additional 975,000 full-time equivalent jobs.” Furthermore, it projects that the “after-tax incomes of all taxpayers would increase by 4.4 percent in the long run,” a benefit fairly evenly distributed across the economic spectrum.

The group says the plan will reduce tax revenue by $1 trillion when economic growth is taken into account. Interestingly, without accounting for growth, it pegs the revenue loss at almost $2 trillion over a decade, higher than the estimate from the JCT. (The gap apparently stems from some differences in the data and assumptions the two groups use in their modeling.) This means the Tax Foundation foresees enough economic growth to create $1 trillion in federal revenue, and to cut the total revenue loss in half.

That huge gain doesn’t come from the reforms to the individual income tax. In fact, the Tax Foundation estimates those reforms’ effect on economic growth at zero. Instead, “the larger economy and higher wages are due chiefly to the significantly lower cost of capital under the proposal, which is mainly due to the lower corporate income tax rate.” The statutory corporate rate would fall from 35 percent to 20 percent under the plan, putting the U.S. roughly in line with the average for other developed countries.

... the CEA wrote, “by lowering the user cost of capital and making more investments profitable, multinational corporations and foreign capital can be attracted to invest in the U.S. economy.”

*    *    *

The Tax Foundation’s analysis is more or less what conservatives have had in mind when pushing “dynamic scoring,” as opposed to the old “static scoring”: Tax cuts benefit the economy, and a stronger economy means more tax revenue, so tax cuts “pay for themselves” to some significant degree (if not entirely).

But it turns out two can play at that game. The Penn Wharton study is dynamic, too, and its results are shockingly different. It finds that there would be some economic growth by 2027 -- but not much: GDP would be a whopping 0.33 to 0.83 percent bigger. ...

Why do the GOP’s tax cuts fail to boost the economy in Penn Wharton’s analysis? ... The simplest way to put the argument ... is this: When the government borrows money ... people will lend the government money that they otherwise would have invested in the American private sector. Thus the deficit “crowds out” private investment, counteracting the pro-investment effect of cutting the corporate tax.

This is hardly settled science. A Congressional Budget Office paper in 2014 rounded up the literature and reported a “high degree of uncertainty”: “For each dollar’s increase in the federal deficit, the effect on investment ranges from a decrease of 15 cents to a decrease of 50 cents, with a central estimate of a decrease of 33 cents.”

The Tax Foundation doesn’t even model this effect. “While past empirical work has found evidence of crowd-out, the estimated impact is usually small,” it contends in the new report. “Furthermore, global savings remain high, which may help explain why interest rates remain low despite rising budget deficits.” ...

Penn Wharton ... points out that “since the year 2000, foreign savers purchased about 40 percent of annual increases in Treasury security issues impelled by higher federal deficits” — implying the rest had to have come from U.S. savers, who most likely would have found other domestic investments otherwise.

*    *    *


First, even in the Tax Foundation’s more optimistic analysis, the bill would reduce federal revenue by $1 trillion over a decade. So Republicans should stop pretending that they won’t be making the debt significantly worse if they continue down this path. If they think it’s a good trade to hike the debt in exchange for (hopefully) boosting the economy, they should make their case openly.

And second, the uncertainty around economic growth is important in itself, because it means we need to plan for numerous possible outcomes.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Italian Spice Meatballs









Ground Meat
1 lbs.
Whatever you like. 
I used turkey



Liquid
1 T Red Wine
optional



Fat
¼ cup olive oil
This depends on the meat. 
The Turkeywas 2% fat
and needed some oil.



Eggs
2




Bread Crumbs
1 cup
Depends on meat and fat. 
The Turkey,eggs, and oil
were very runny



Salt
1 t Kosher

Sugar
1 t

Ground Black Pepper
1 t

Red Pepper Flakes
1 t

Paprika
1 t




Garlic
4/6 cloves, crushed

Onion
1 cup chopped & sauteed




Oregano
1 t

Parsley
1 t

Fennel Seeds
1 t





In a mixing bowl. (I used our Kitchen Aid mixer on the lowest speed.) Start with the eggs and the liquid. Start mixing. Add fat, and onions. Then meat and garlic, followed by salt, sugar, spices and herbs. Add bread crumbs until you get a texture you can form into balls.

Form the mixture into balls. I made 15 about 2” diameter. Cover the bottom of a baking pan with a small quantity of olive oil. Place the balls in the oiled pan.

Bake 40 minutes in a medium oven. Turn the balls over hallway through. 

Serve with pasta in a marinara sauce. 

Note: I use a free hand with spices and herbs. More is not a big problem. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Leftist Intellectual sets out to prove that a Criminal is good, and her victims are evil.

I read "Fanaticism and the New York State Parole Board: The case of Judith Clark" By Paul Berman, dated April 25, 2017 last night. The experience left me shaking with outrage. Berman wrote some interesting things after 9/11, chiefly "Terror and Liberalism", but I have not followed him in recent years.

The instant article tells the story of Judith Clark. Clark was a member of the 'Weather Underground" a violent radical leftist group. One of the founders of that group was Bill Ayer's who later mentored Barack Obama. Clark was part of the group that stayed underground after its formal dissolution in 1976 . She was part of a conspiracy of her group and others that robbed a Brink's armored car in Nanuet, New York on October 20, 1981. The robbery was accompanied by the killing of a security guard and of two police officers.

Clark was convicted of three counts of armed robbery and three counts of murder, and was sentenced to three consecutive twenty-five year-to-life sentences, with eligibility for parole in 2058. There is no doubt that she did what she was accused of and no doubt that she received due process.

By my lights Clark got off very lightly. In a more civilized era than our own she would have been hanged. But, she wasn't. And now she has reappeared.

Clark claims, or rather the true believers acting in her behalf claim that she has repented, that she is remorseful, that she has taken responsibility for her crime, that she has been rehabilitated, and that she has become a model prisoner. They think she should be released, 41 years before the end of her sentence because she is so good. And, they talked Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York into commuting her sentence to the level where the Parole Board, if it so wished, could release her.

So Clark's case was plead to the Parole Board. And the public roared in disapproval thinking it unjust that she should breathe free air whilst her victims lay in the dirt. I can't say I blame them.

Cuomo, is, like most politicians, a weasel. If he were truly convinced that justice was no longer served by keeping Clark in prison, he would have commuted her sentence to time served, but he didn't. He wanted the leftist litterati of New York to support him in his future political endeavors, but he was afraid of the anger of an enormous swath of middle class and working class of New Yorkers. So he waffled, and the Parole Board, seeing the trap, hung him out to dry.

Thus, bringing the wrath of Paul Berman down not on the Parole Board, but on the 10,000 citizens who opposed freeing Clark. Berman says: "The 10,000 signatories want to keep her in jail out of a sense of justice, or of vengeance. It is a principle, for them." Well, those are principles.

Berman goes on to ask: "But what is the principle? I think it is a principle, implacable and unyielding, that renders people deaf to human suffering." Huh? Whose suffering? The suffering of the three men Clark and her crime partners slaughtered in cold blood? The suffering of their families, who had to trudge through endless days without them. No, not their suffering. Clark's suffering of from the just punishment she has received from a merciful state.

Berman then begins his rhetorical pirouette. He says: "It is a principle without a human element—a principle that chooses to overlook the human face and the details." That is simply a lie. They know the details, they know the human faces. Not just the face of the killers, but the faces of the slain, the faces of their families, the faces of communities wracked with grief.

But, Berman is not done yet. He must turn the victims into the criminals and the criminal into a victim. "It [the popular insistence that Clark must serve her sentence] is the original sin in this tale of tragedy: heartless cruelty pursued in the name of a severe ideal. It is one more crime, on top of the other crimes—one more crime committed by people who, as they go about committing it, think all the better of themselves."

To which I can only say Holy $#;+. Clark is a murderer. She became a murderer out of her revolutionary zeal. Berman claims she was an "idealist", just like her Stalinist father. He then equates one form of "idealism", one that is understandable and, at least forgivable in the leftist literary circles in which Berman runs, with the rather ordinary belief that murderers should be punished for their crimes. And he then uses that equation to turn the moral universe upside down. Clark may be a criminal, but her victims are heartless and cruel, which makes them just as evil as Clark.

No it does not. Clark is the evil one. "Idealism" excuses nothing. Hitler was idealistic in his own warped way, So were the number 2 and 3 villains of the 20th Century, Stalin and Mao. Hitler is not excused, Stalin is not excused, Mao is not excused, and Clark cannot be excused.

And the ones who want Clark to complete the just sentence that was imposed on her. They are not evil in any way. They have done nothing wrong. They have been exemplary citizens.

Not only am I disgusted by Berman's moral inversion, but I am also disappointed by Tablet. It claims to be "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture." The insistence on justice is one every Jew should know and espouse. The Torah, in Parshat Shof'tim (Dt 16:18-21:9) is quite clear about this:
    You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord, your God, is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. ... Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you. (Dt 16:18–20)
You may respond that Jews are also supposed to show mercy and compassion. To which I think the correct response is to say, yes, we should be merciful and compassionate just as is our Creator (Lv 19:2, Ex 34:6), but we must discern to whom we will be merciful and compassionate. We must also understand that mercy and compassion are ideals, but justice is a commandment. We, limited creatures that we are, must do as we are commanded first before we try to imitate God, by our own very limited lights.

Even here the the equation Berman sets up fails. The first object of our compassion should be the widows and the orphans. (Dt 14:29 Ps 146:9). Yes, the ones that Clark made into widows and orphans, not Clark, who is neither. Yes, she is human, made in God's image, and deserves compassion and mercy. But, she has received more mercy than she has earned by committing murder because she was allowed to live.

I have a couple of side notes. First. I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago at the time when Clark sojourned there. I did not know her, all though I am pretty sure that I saw her on some occasions. It is a small school. She was expelled for taking part in a "sit-in" demonstration over the firing of some sad sack instructor. The administration was tough about that. Berman tells how Clark's father inveigled his literary friends to appeal the expulsion to the President of the University. He was tougher and more insightful than Berman and Andrew Cuomo. He said "No. She’s a bad one." If some of our spineless current college administrators were equally tough, there would be fewer terroristic acts on campuses like the assault on Charles Murray a few weeks ago.

Second: And much more importantly, this story is a small window into the class warfare that has infected America's politics over the past couple of decades. Berman gives a great glimpse into the world of the leftist intellectuals that spawned Clark, and him. In that world, Stalinism was an understandable quirk of youthful idealism. Even more radical ideologies are understandable, and the murderous actions they impel are excusable.

Against this world is set the world of ordinary working class people. They are the cops and firemen, the first responders who will lay their lives on the line to protect the good order of society and the lives and property of ordinary people. They honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. They cannot understand why anyone would think a cop killer like Clark deserves to walk free.

Berman's attack on the people who opposed freeing Clark is just like Hillary Clinton's declaration that Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables". It is an open declaration that the left may love the working class in theory, but that they loathe the working class that really exists in our time and space. This is all too clear to the actual working class, and is the meaning of Hillary's failure.

Be warned. Trump is just a buffoon who got lucky, the Washington Establishment is already grinding him down. He will make no real difference. As the spiritual said: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time."

Finally. Humor. Berman makes a great deal about how Clark's father was involved with the magazine "Dissent". In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen says that:  "I had heard that 'Commentary' and 'Dissent' had merged and formed 'Dysentery'." Actually, both Dissent and Commentary are still being published.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What Am I? Chopped Liver?

 Chopped Chicken Liver, which I guess you could call pâté de foie de volaille if you were so minded.

It is tasty, and as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4:

1 lbs. chicken livers, drained, and sauteed.

2 Tbs. schmaltz*

3 onions chopped and sauteed

4 hard-boiled eggs

Rough chop the cooked ingredients, mix them, and put the mixture in a food processor.

Run the food processor until you like the texture.

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Rendered chicken fat, but you may vary the type and amount of fat to your liking.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Black Bean Chili

3 12 oz. bags of frozen mixed colored bell peppers and onions

4 15 oz. cans of black beans

2 15 oz cans of red beans*

2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes

1 6 oz can of tomato paste

2 Tbs. of chili powder†

cooking oil.

1. Open the cans of beans dump them into a colander and rinse the goo from the can off of them. The goo contains calcium chloride and is there to keep the beans from turning to mush.

2. Cover the bottom of the pot with the cooking oil. Saute the pepper and onion mix until the onions are cooked and most of the water has evaporated.

3. Add the chili powder to the cooked pepper and onions mix, and stir and cook a bit until the chili powder has dispersed and dissolved a bit. This should only take a minute or two, but you do not want the powder to lump up.

4. Add the diced tomatoes to the pot and stir. Cook until they the ingredients start to simmer.

5. Add the beans and bring to a boil.

6. Add the tomato paste.

7. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer for at little while.

Makes about 3 quarts.

*Yes, I know, it says black bean chili. But, it is my recipe. I detest the very existence of kidney beans and would never put them in a dish I prepared. If I could not use red beans, I would go with white beans, or maybe pintos.

†I use the Regular Chili Powder from Penzeys. I have also used Spice Islands. If you want to use hotter mixes, or you want to add cayenne, Tabasco, or Sriracha, go for it.


Baked Salmon with Sauce

I should begin by stating that I really don't like fish very much. If I had my druthers, it would seldom be on my menu.

One of the problems of eating fish these days, is the limited assortment of fish species available in most stores and restaurants. I assume, but do not know, that this is a consequence of the growth of the population and the simultaneous decline of world wide fisheries. Particularly where I live, far from a large body of water, most of the available fish is farmed.

One of the few farmed species that we find acceptable, and which can be cooked without large quantities of additional fat (which is always an issue in this house) is Atlantic salmon. Please note that Atlantic and Pacific salmon are different species of fish, that differ quite a bit in taste and texture. Both of us find the pacific salmon to be hard and more strongly flavored than we like.

We prepare the salmon by marinating 8 oz fillets in Kikkoman teriyaki sauce for an hour. I only use the original variety of Kikkoman Teriyaki sauce. I once tried the "Less Sodium" variety and found it to be vile. I have not tried any of the other variants.

I then drain and bake the fillets in an open pan in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.

For a sauce, I mix the following:

6 oz. plain yogurt*

an equal quantity of mayonnaise†

a palmful of dried cilantro‡ rubbed between the hands to crumble it and release the flavor

a heaping teaspoon of ground cumin seed

*The exact type of yogurt is up to you. A regular yogurt will produce a thinner sauce, A Greek style yogurt will produce a thicker sauce. I recently discovered a 6% Plain Yogurt from Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy Ohio which contains 6% butterfat. It is creamy and wonderful. It appears have some distribution outside of its native turf in Southeastern Ohio.

†Go ahead and make your own if you wish. I use Hellmann's (Best Foods West of the Rockies) Real Mayonnaise. People who use Kraft are on their own. People who use Miracle Whip are beyond hope.

‡I have also used dill.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Spaghetti Sauce


Ingredients:

2 6 oz can of Contadina Tomato Paste. It is pure tomato, skinned, seeded, pureed and concentrated. If you look at the ingredient list of any commercial tomato sauce, the first two ingredients are tomato paste and water. I buy Contadina because the only ingredient it uses is tomatoes. Most other brands in grocery stores include other ingredients such as onion, salt, and spices. Not necessarily bad, but not necessarily what you want. Buy Contadina, use your own herbs and spices.

16 oz of liquid. I read on the inter-tubes that you need to cut tomato paste with liquid in the ratio of 4::3 to use it as a sauce base. Today I used 12 oz of beef broth and 4 oz of sweet red vermouth. They were both just sitting around. YMMV.

About 2 medium onions diced. Actually I use frozen chopped, and I cook big batches of them, which I then freeze. It saves a lot of effort. A medium onion is a cup of diced onion is about 1/3rd cup of cooked chopped onion.

4 cloves of garlic.

palm of oregano. I don't measure I pour a bunch into my palm and rub it to break up the dried leaves.

bigger palm of basil.

24 oz mild Italian chicken sausage. I cut it up into little disks. You could use any kind meat or sausage you like or substitute mushrooms.

olive oil

2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes. I try to buy ones with minimal added salt and ingredients.

Process:

I poured the oil into my 6 qt Le Creuset pot, and put it on low heat. I added the sausage in batches and cooked them until they were nice and crispy. (The sausages were pre-cooked, but browning them doesn't hurt.). I took them out of the pot and reserved them.

I drained most of the oil, and put the onions in the pot on low heat, and crushed the garlic into the onions, so it could mellow a bit. It would take longer if you started with uncooked onions.

I added a little liquid and stirred, then the herbs, and let it cook for a couple of minutes.

I added the rest of the liquid and waited until it came to a boil.

I added the tomato paste, and stirred it into the liquid. I let that come to a boil.

I added the 2 cans of diced tomatoes, stirred, and let that come to a boil.

I added the cooked sausage, and let the sauce come to a boil.

I reduced the heat to simmer, put the lid on the pot and let it go for a while.

Makes enough sauce for two or three packages of spaghetti. (actually, I use linguini which I like better than spaghetti because it is easier to cook to al dente.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Leonard Cohen ZT"L

Leonard Cohen died two weeks ago. Those of us who knew his work mourn. The initials in the title of this post ZT"L signify zekher tzadik livrakha,  a Hebrew phrase meaning "may the memory of
the righteous be a blessing". They reflect my estimate of Leonard's importance as a spiritual figure in our time.

My daughter, who used to work in the music industry, had the privileged of working with Leonard within recent years. She worked with a lot of pop stars, and has very little use for most of them. She loved Leonard, whom she said was a better human being than he was an artist.

Many of Leonard's fans thought that he deserved the Nobel prize over Bob Dylan. I don't have a strong view on that. I love Bob's music too. And it was Bob who pioneered the use of popular music as the vehicle for lyric poetry in the modern age. Leonard, who was older than Bob, and who had embarked on a literary career before Bob burst on the scene, followed Bob.

On the other hand, Leonard's lyrics are to me profound and moving, more poetic than musical, but ultimately they are rewarding and will endure for many years.

The following is a list of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, with links to YouTube video's of them and a brief comment  that reflects nothing more than my naive view. I urge to try some of them, you will be glad you did.

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"Suzanne"
Leonard's first hit, which he first published as a poem, and later set it to music. It was recorded by Judy Collins and became a hit for her in 1967: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3WOAqtRRvQ
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever

Leonard Cohen early recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX0CfFdk-jw
The truth is that Leonard couldn't sing. In later years he got better at hiding behind his back-up
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Leonard knew it:
"Tower of Song"
 (Live in London) --https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW9jCUQgX9g
I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song
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"A Thousand Kisses Deep"
Leonard Cohen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46cSksKVzzs

Leonard had an many loves
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"In My Secret Life"

Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpGAAgBl8Ww

Leonard struggled with Eros.

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"Everybody Knows"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lin-a2lTelg
You did not want to be one of his ex girlfriends:
Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows
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"Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodby"
Except sometimes
Roberta Flack's cover is killer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz38Vxkyow4

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Speaking of Covers
Willie Nelson covers one of Leonard's first songs so well, you might think Willie wrote it.
"Bird on a Wire"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdixrnnQrCw

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"Sisters of Mercy"
Leonard Cohen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XGpHqtc5z0

One of his first songs, but best sung by him at age 73 in 2008.

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 "First We Take Manhattan (Then We Take Berlin)"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTTC_fD598A

Kind of funny, but it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

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 "Dance Me to the End of Love"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGorjBVag0I
For your wedding and your fiftieth anniversary
The video will make you cry.
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"Hallelujah"
David and Bathsheba, with a touch of Samson and Delilah, and Leonard and one of his ex girlfriends.
Studio version by Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttEMYvpoR-k
Leonard's London, UK concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q
Best Cover by Jeff Buckley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIF4_Sm-rgQ
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"Here It Is"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WaBpScRGuo

Leonard flips the script and identifies with a King

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"If It Be Your Will"
Leonard Cohen (with Jennifer Warnes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR1m98xnl5c
A prayer. See Ps 98:8
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"Anthem"

Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDTph7mer3I
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Based on the Kabbalah of Rabbi Issac Luria (1534-72) and the "Zohar" (Book of Splendor, a medieval mystical commentary on the Torah).
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"The Future"
Leonard Cohen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFjVWYgSFcQ
Leonard's dire prophecy:

You don't know me from the wind you never will, you never did.
I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible.
I've seen the nations rise and fall.
I've heard their stories, heard them all, but love's the only engine of survival.
Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going any further.
And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil's riding crop.
Get ready for the future -- it is murder.
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions.
There won't be nothing you can measure anymore.
The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and has overturned the order of the soul.
When they said repent, I wonder what they meant.
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"Who by Fire"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgMaBreDuF4
Great instrumental work on this version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuUgTxgoyaI
Leonard answers his own question from "The Future" in this song. It is from the liturgy of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah new year and Yom Kippur day of repentance). The section called Unetanneh Tokef, says:

On Rosh Hashanah the Book of Life is written,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed,
Who shall live and who shall die
Who at the measure of days and who before
Who by fire ...
The song uses some of the traditional wording, and adds a couple:
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt
Who by avalanche, who by powder
But, to me, the brilliant addition that makes the prayer much more immediate is the repeated line:

"And who shall I say is calling?"

The prayer, but not the song, ends with the refrain: "Repentance, prayer, and charity temper the stern decree"
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"By the Rivers Dark"
Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk09wZhiGoI
Leonard strives with God.
Gen 32:28 Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."
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"Slow"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVegcCcMNS4

Leonard mocks old age
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"Going Home"
Leonard Cohen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6jvfSBZvn8

God and Leonard discuss the end of life
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"You Want It Darker"
Leonard Cohen" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0nmHymgM7Y
The song was released on September 21, 2016. Leonard died on November 7. The song is very clearly his his vidui (confession) and valedictory. It features Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the men’s choir of Montreal synagogue Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven), where Cohen grew up, and where he was buried.
The first refrain is:
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name This is the beginning of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for Mourners
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame A reference to Jesus, or perhaps
A million candles burning for the love that never came The Holocaust
The second refrain is:
Hineni, hineni, I'm ready, my Lord

Hinneni is a Hebrew word used in the Bible: “Here I am!” (Abraham to God, Genesis 22:1); an by God: “I promised and am now at hand (hinneni)” (Isaiah 52:6).
It is the essence of the song.

The song is very difficult for me to listen to. It is somber, sad, frightening, and very beautiful.

Curried Carrot Soup

Continuing my recipe series from last weekend:
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This recipe based on a recipe in a Penzey's Catalog*

Ingredients:

1 lb. carrots peeled, trimmed†, and rough chopped.‡

1lb. potatoes peeled (4 or 5 medium size red or golden potatoes, although I do not think the type of potato is important), and rough chopped‡


1 onion**

1 garlic clove (more is better)

Cooking oil.

2 TB. Curry Powder (sweet or spicy, your choice)
5 Cups chicken or vegetable broth

Directions:

Coat the carrots and potatoes with oil and roast them in a medium oven for 30 minutes. They should be cooked but not browned.

Heat oil in a large pot. Saute the onions and garlic.

Add the curry powder, and let it dissolve in the cooking oil. Adding the curry powder to the broth runs the risk of having the curry powder lump up.
 
Add the carrots, potatoes, and broth to the pot.

Add the stock, Curry Powder, salt and pepper to the pot.


Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer for 45-60 minutes.

Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree  the soup.

Return to the pureed soup to low heat to allow it to warm.

Salt and pepper
to taste.
 
*Penzys has stores in many metros. They have a very wide selection of dried and spices. They also have a web site and a catalog. Generally, I like Spice Islands brand hebs and spices best, but they are not widely distributed, and they do not sell many things you might want, e.g. whole coriander seeds.

†probably 1.25 lbs. or more before peeling and trimming the gnarly bits at the ends. I bought a 48 oz bag (3 lbs.) and got 2.5 lbs of peeled trimmed out of it.

BTW Digital scales are cheap and accurate. Buy one.

A "rough" chop is a culinary term that explains to the cook that the appearance of the chopped food isn't an important part of the recipe, whereas if the recipe were to request a precise cut, such as large dice, or "chop into a small dice," it means that the size of the food chopped into equal cubes is important for the outcome of the recipe. URL I assume that running them through the Cuisinart on the thick slicer disk will do the job.

** equals 1 cup of frozen chopped onions. I buy 6 12 oz bags and cook them all at once. I freeze the cooked onions in small containers. About 1/3rd cup of frozen cooked chopped equals 1 cup of uncooked frozen chopped. You can defrost a container use part of it, and refreeze the rest. It can make preparing all kinds of dishes more expeditious. 

Never believe anything you see on TV

I don't watch cooking shows on television. Indeed, I watch very little television other than sports. But, I had seen and heard of Guy Fieri and his Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives ". I figured he was a man after my own heart. Wrong again:
TV's Guy Fieri says he's hooked on greens
 
By Associated Press  • 


Of all the celebrity chefs out there, there's one you'd least expect to sing the praises of spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts: Guy Fieri. The spiky-haired champion of American comfort food is more associated with greasy chili dogs than salad, the fryer over the fig. But that's not where his food passions lie.

"I'm a big greens fan. I'm a big vegetable fan. I'm a big whole-grains fan. And I exercise alot. That's how I keep this petite dancer's figure," he said, laughing. "A lot of people misinterpret what I do."

Fieri has built a food career on a certain amount of flash with a rock-star image complete with tattoos and jewelry, a fleet of yellow muscle cars and high-octane dishes including Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese Burgers. But he's also raised a family in the same northern California house for the past 20 years, eats a burger maybe once a month, considers culinary innovator Jose Andres a hero, and says things such as "I cannot get enough farro."

Both sides of the chef are featured in his new cookbook, "Guy Fieri Family Food," ...
Another TV image turns out to be tinsel. I am too old be very disappointed, but sheesss.