Published In The Great North Arrow, September 1, 2022: Great North Arrow - Now TWICE a month!

 Great North Arrow - Now TWICE a month! 

Dog On A Root Too!

- jim Young

“Double your pleasure, double your fun…” Paul Severson

When Jim and Cyndi first announced their intention to publish the Great North Arrow bi-weekly, I panicked. Would I be able to keep up? How would I find enough material to write about? My panic attack increased when I considered the possibility that
“bi-weekly” might even mean twice a week!

I reached for my bottle of Havana Club Rum that I keep close by to settle my nerves. While I’m sure many of our loyal readers would love to see the GNA published even more often, you’ll have to be satisfied with twice a month for now.

Yes, I have sometimes contributed more than one article per month in the past anyway but I’m not sure I could consistently keep up the pace. I am a “retired” racehorse afterall.

And while Jim and Cyndi have assured me that I would not be expected to contribute to every edition, I have developed this plan to try to keep up.

In the first edition of the GNA each month I will submit my regular Dog On A Root column. Consider this it, for this month.

On my Dog On A Root web site I have a section devoted to recipes I have tried, so my second contribution each month will be a recipe from there that I hope you will enjoy.

I freely confess that I am by no means a gourmet cook. But I enjoy creating new dishes in the kitchen as much as I enjoy eating them. You will find my recipes are pretty simple and easy enough even for beginners. If I look at a recipe that has a large number of ingredients or ingredients I have never heard of, I dismiss it immediately.

I grew up in a generation where gender roles were pretty well defined in the household and for the most part, accepted. My father was the bread-winner and my stay-at-home mother was the house-keeper and cook. I don’t make any apologies on behalf of my father or mother who were both very open-minded and accepted the changing roles when the so called feminist movement arrived.

But the result was, I didn’t learn to cook much. I remember one night at the age of 16 when my family was out and I was spending the evening with a friend. Later in the evening when Steve and I got the munchies we raided the fridge. I was making a plain baloney sandwich when Steve suggested I add Cheez Whiz to it. “It’ll be great,” Steve assured me. I thought Steve was a genius when it came to food. Baloney and cheese sandwiches remain a favourite of mine to this day. In fact, I am enjoying one as I write this article.

Steve was the same guy that taught my future brother-in-law in college to add some ketchup to a cup of boiling water and with a couple of packs of crackers, all of which were provided for free at the college cafeteria, you could have Tomato Soup for lunch at no cost.

Recently Steve sent me a jar of his home-made Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam that far surpasses some of his very early and simpler creations. Perhaps if Steve is willing, I might be able to share the recipe for that in a future edition of the GNA.

By the time I left home, Cheese Dreams and Whistle Dogs that I used to serve to the old TouchStone gang in high school had been added to my repertoire, but that was about it.

Once on my own, I relied a lot on TV Dinners. Not those tiny Lean Cuisine dinners that wouldn’t feed a bird. The TV Dinners at the time were made by Swanson, complete with man-sized portions of almost real food. I even ate all the included vegetables that I didn’t like because I grew up in the generation that was taught that if you didn’t clear your plate, somehow a child in the middle east was going to die of starvation. I just couldn’t handle the guilt. 

When I got adventurous enough to attempt real food, I started with fried baloney. I didn’t know how to peel a potato so I would buy a can of peeled potatoes to boil and serve alongside the baloney. And when I wanted mashed potatoes I turned to my friend Betty Crocker and mixed up a batch of instant mashed potatoes.

I was soon ready to take a wife and raise a family. By now, the feminist movement was well under way but my first wife was content to be a stay-at-home Mom and accept the traditional role of housewife that we had both grown up with. 

For the next 10 years my wife was content to do the cooking and I was content to let her. I avoided even the traditional role as the head of the household in the carving of the holiday turkey or flipping a hamburger on the barbecue.

Then came the day when my wife was away and I was required to make lunch for our two young children. They were tired of baloney and cheese sandwiches, cheese dreams and whistle dogs. I checked the freezer but there were no TV dinners to be found and I was out of ideas.

After scouring the cupboards I reached for a box of Kraft Dinner. I had always been a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy so I had no experience with either making or eating Kraft Dinner. 

“I’ve heard of this,” I said to myself as I read the instructions. “How hard can it be?”

That day I was introduced for the first time in my life to the ambiguities of “The Recipe”. At that time I mistakenly believed a recipe was more of a science than an art. If the recipe called for a specific quantity, I reasoned there was a reason for it.

So when the box read “boil 6 cups of water”, I carefully measured out “exactly” 6 cups of water to boil the pasta.

That’s when I ran into a problem. The second instruction read “cook for 7 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.”

My heart started racing as I set the timer. Well, which is it? Do I cook it for 7 minutes or until it’s tender? The timer will tell me when the 7 minutes is up but how will I know if it’s tender? Do I poke it with a fork? Is tenderness determined by the amount of force required to make the tines of the fork pierce the pasta? Is there some kind of resistance tool that will determine the degree of tenderness?

I decided to opt for the 7 minutes. At least I was given an option on that step. But what about stirring? How do I know if I am stirring it “occasionally”? My doctor said I could have a drink “occasionally” but apparently we differed on the definition of “occasional”. What my doctor really meant to say was “I could have a drink LESS THAN occasionally.” 

What if I was stirring it too much? Or not enough? I didn’t want to ruin the meal and let my children down. I continued to struggle through this step, guessing and hoping for the best.

Thankfully Step 3 was a little easier to follow although it did leave me a bit confused. “Drain the pasta. Do not rinse.” Wait! What? 

“Do not rinse?” Why was that instruction included? I wasn’t going to rinse it in the first place. Why would I? The previous steps had never even hinted at “rinsing”, so why bring it up now?

Shrugging it off, I skipped to the next step and added 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of milk, although I’m pretty certain that the tablespoons in our good silverware are slightly bigger than the tablespoons we use everyday. Which ones are the correct size? It’s no wonder Canada went metric.

The last step called for me to add the seasoning mix - it’s Cheese - why don’t they call it “Cheese”? Then, here we go again. “Mix well and serve warm.” How do I know when Kraft Dinner has been “mixed well”? Is that 10 stirs? 25 stirs? Should I measure it in seconds? How many seconds? If I overstir - it might get cold and not be warm enough to serve. Could I warm it up on the stovetop without burning it on the bottom? This was the early 80s and we didn’t have a microwave.

True to Kraft Dinner’s word in all their ads, I was able to prepare this simple meal for Mike and Ange in “minutes” but it was some of the most stressful “minutes” I have ever endured. How did my mother cope all those years?

On the bright side, my efforts were rewarded when Mike and Ange declared it was the best Kraft Dinner they had ever tasted. I bragged about my Kraft Dinner culinary skills for many years after that. I have since learned that most people don’t measure the amount of water used to boil the pasta. I think that’s the secret to making a really good Kraft Dinner.

It wasn’t until my second marriage that I took a particular interest in messing around in the kitchen and decided to give cooking a second shot. 

That was when I discovered the Kraft Dinner “recipe” was just the tip of the iceberg.

The recipes I had to work with all came from My Shirley, my mother, my mother-in-law and an assortment of aunts, sisters and female cousins and coworkers.

I was convinced it was a conspiracy to keep men out of the kitchen. They were all in code with instructions like “use a pinch of paprika”, “add some celery”, “sprinkle a bit of parsley over top”, “season to taste” and “cook until done.” 

“Season to taste”? Okay. I get that you can “season to taste” when seasoning is the last step. You season it, taste it and then add more if it needs it. Of course if you’ve already added too much, there’s nothing you can do about it then. But how do you “season to taste” in a recipe that calls for you to “season to taste” your meat BEFORE you’ve cooked it? 

When a recipe calls for you to “add flour” without specifying a quantity and you ask a woman “how do you know how much flour to add?” you will likely get a response like “you add just enough. Not too little, but not too much” or “you just know”. 

No, I don’t “just know”! That’s the whole point! Sweet Baby Yoda! How do you ever expect to make the same thing the same way twice?

This is when I really learned, as I mentioned earlier, that cooking is more of an art than it is a science. It should be a science. A recipe should contain an exact list of ingredients using ​​a very precise set of procedures. But most don’t and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

The only advice I can offer to the beginner is to jump in with both feet, give it a try and be willing to fail and learn from your mistakes. Some recipes will work and some won’t, but most at least will still be edible. If it’s not - your dog isn’t as discriminating and will love you for it.

And don’t be afraid to experiment. Think of my recipes as more of a guideline. Change it up according to your likes and dislikes. Add some of your own ingredients and make it your own.

Oh! By the way, I think maybe “season to taste” in a recipe might simply mean if you like a lot of the particular spice being suggested, add a bit more than you might otherwise add. If you prefer only a hint of that spice, use it sparingly. You’ll have a better idea next time you make it and can make adjustments then.

I’ll try to add some other tips like this along with my recipes. Look for my first recipe in two weeks “Tammy’s Meat & Potato Casserole”

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Tip for GNA Readers: Get an 8 ½” x 11” manilla envelope and mark it “Dog On A Root Recipes”. Use it to store my recipes that you cut out of the Great North Arrow every month. Be sure to start with my first recipe in the next edition of the GNA. If you don’t, you’re going to be kicking yourself in a few years when you think back and say to yourself “Gee - I wish I had saved ALL of jim’s recipes!” For practice, get your scissors and try cutting out this article to save with your collection. (But remember, “Never run with scissors.”) Your “Dog On A Root Recipe Collection” will one day be destined to become a cherished family heirloom that you will want to pass down to future generations or maybe even sell on ebay.

Tip for GNA Advertisers: Be sure to ask Jim & Cyndi to have your ad placed on the portion of the page that backs my recipes. Then, when the readers cut out my recipe, they will have your ad saved along with it. What a great way to increase your exposure! Do it now before Jim & Cyndi realize they can charge extra for this prime advertising spot in the Great North Arrow.


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