May 04, 2005
Jambalaya, Rousselle Style

Had some friends over a couple of weekends ago to show off the new house and the new baby, when one of our guests asked for my jambalaya recipe. "I posted it on my website, so you can get it from there," I said. But I had misremembered. So here it is, for the first time.

This recipe originally came to me by way of a good friend during our college years. I have no idea where he got it. He was a master at trying out new recipes and fine tuning them by using his housemates (including me) as guinea pigs.

Over the years, I've made a few modifications to the recipe, myself. In general, my cooking is not known for its subtlety (whereas my friend's is). What follows is a very basic, easy-to-follow recipe for a spicy, hearty rice-based dish full of flavor, meat & veggies, and kick:

In a big pot (I use a 5 quart cast iron kettle, and it *just barely* holds everything), saute:

1 big white Onion (chopped coursely)
2 Green Peppers (ditto)
6 Cloves (or more) Pressed Garlic
4 Ribs Celery
6 Green onions

(I usually throw a few dashes of hot sesame oil into the kettle as part of my saute ritual)

Then add
1 big can (20 oz) of Tomatoes (squished)
3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth (I sometimes use chicken bouillon made with white wine)
and cook for a bit.

Then, add
1 pound polish sausage (I prefer the precooked, all-beef style. You may also use Andouille sausage, as is tradition.)
1 cup cubed ham (whatever. I chop up a big ham steak.)
a chicken breast or two (or shrimp, or whatever. One pound. -- see note below)
2T parsley
and cook a while more.

Add
1/4 cup worchestershire sauce
4t tobasco (I sometimes double this)
3t thyme
and cook 20 minutes

Add 2 cups rice (I use jasmine rice)
Cook 25 minutes

And that's it! Enjoy!

***Lately, for the chicken, I've taken to cutting up the chicken and cooking it in a separate pan in Allegro Hot & Spicy marinade, and then just dumping it all into the kettle. Very, very tasty.

Posted by at 06:50 PM in the following Department(s): Recipes | Comments (1)
 May 11, 2005
The Last Guy Theory

The economy, as it works in the Western World in the early 21st Century, is pretty much a pyramid scheme. I have no doubt that this is the logical, albeit unintentional, result of the convergence of various financial instruments and institutions with mass culture.

Naturally, if you understand how the pyramid scheme works, you have a chance to protect yourself somewhat... although the best protection from a pyramid scheme is to avoid it altogether, and it would be difficult in this day and age to successfully avoid the economy.

Here's how it works:

Take any major economic market of your choice. The stock market and the housing market are excellent examples.

What determines the value of an item in that market? Economic value is determined where the price someone is willing to pay for the item meets the price someone else is willing to sell that item for. If supply of the given item is smaller than the demand for that item, then that price point will necessarily rise.

An interesting phenomenon creeps into any market system when the supply and demand are influenced primarily not by need or desire for the item as such, but by the perception of how much *others* need or want that item. For example, if you buy a house not because you need or want a house, but because you see that the value of houses is going up and you want to buy now and then sell later simply to cash in on the anticipated rise in value, then you are contributing to the prices going up because you are adding to the level of demand.

Likewise, if housing values are falling, you might want to sell now so that you can get out of your house before it loses any more value, and you thereby contribute to the falling prices because you've added to the available supply.

This phenomenon is an economic feedback loop, and it distorts the actual value of the item in question.

A pyramid scheme requires new money to keep coming into the system in order to sustain its growth. Thus, if Farmer Bob owns a share in a pyramid scheme, he can only make money if new people come into the system after him and throw their money into the scheme.

When the economic feedback loop I described above influences a major market, it turns that market into a kind of pyramid scheme. Farmer Bob sees that stock prices are rising faster than inflation, so he buys stock (and thereby drives the prices a little bit higher, himself). Once he has purchased that stock, though, the only way the value of his stock can go up is if someone else comes into the system after him to put even more money into propping up the stock prices.

Before you argue, "But a pyramid scheme involves the selling of something that has no intrinsic value," let me remind you that in the feedback loop I've described, there is a disconnect between actual value of the item in question and the economic value people are willing to pay.

Examples abound: the high tech stock race in the late 1990's involved people buying "shares" in "companies" that produced nothing but debt, and were therefore useless. The housing market in southern California now, likewise, involves people paying millions of dollars for houses that are arguably worth only a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of materials and labor on land that is in imminent danger from landslides, sinkholes, and earthquakes. The intrinsic value of the house has nothing to do with the prices people are willing to pay. And many people are buying simply because they reason they can turn around and sell for even more, thereby driving up prices even further. These "investment properties" make the bubble ever larger.

A pyramid scheme collapses when The Last Guy has put in his money, and there's nobody behind him to do the same. With no more cash flowing in, the value evaporates.

Likewise, in a major market, the bubble that was fueled by the economic feedback loop bursts when The Last Guy puts his money down and nobody stands behind him to do the same. With no more money coming in, values level off. With values being level, there's no point for investors to continue keeping their money in the system (and, in the case of a market like housing, there's real cost in the form of mortgage payments that are even more discouraging), so they start to sell. Demand drops, available supply increases, and the feedback loop now feeds itself in reverse. Prices plummet, and so on.

The difference between the stock market and the housing market and other economic markets versus a typical pyramid scheme is that they do, ultimately, represent items that have *some* intrinsic value. Stocks with no intrinsic value, of course, must necessarily disappear with the wind during a downturn in the market, but stocks that are backed by real companies that produce real value survive. Houses, of course, remain houses, even after the housing bubble bursts.

And how does that happen? Well, in the frenzy of everybody selling at a loss in order to not lose any more, someone eventually realizes, "Hey, that house [or company, or whatever] still has actual value, and I can buy it at these cheap, cheap prices now because the prices are currently below that intrinsic value."

Then The Last Guy, who has held on to his stocks or investment properties or whatever in the hopes that things would turn around, finally sells his investment because he reasons that the situation can never be salvaged. When the Last Guy finally sells, available supply is no longer a glut. Prices level off. The recovery begins, and the feedback loop renews (slowly, at first) its uphill climb.

I first explained my Theory of The Last Guy to a friend of mine in the late '90's when he explained to me that the high tech stock bubble was going to have to burst imminently (like, within days). I told him that I didn't agree, because I still knew people who were reluctant investors who were just then deciding that maybe they should get into the frenzy. Until they actually put their money in, I reasoned, The Last Guy hadn't spoken. And until The Last Guy puts his money down, the market continues in its up or down hill trajectory.

Sure enough, however, about a year and a half later, The Last Guy finally ponied up, and then the high tech stock bubble burst. My friend and I have joked since then that we know The Last Guy, because we actually know a few people who put their money in just *one day* before their stocks began to plummet.

So why am I telling you this now?

I'm seeing more and more articles in the newspaper talking about the housing market bubble in parts of the country, and there can be no doubt that such a bubble exists. But the very fact that newspapers are cautioning us about the nature of this bubble means that the Last Guy hasn't spoken. The Last Guy is the most reluctant investor. He doesn't put his money down until the market continues to surprise his expectations by continuing to go up, up, up, up. The Last Guy has money to invest, but is playing it safe until, finally, all indications are that this isn't actually a bubble, this is a permanent state of affairs, and he may as well get in on the game.

When he does, of course, the jig is up.

That's why the time to worry about the economy is when the economists all agree that, well, they were wrong before that the economy had to eventually slow down, so it must all be up, up, up, up for the foreseeable future. When they all agree that things are only going to get better and better, that's when the Last Guy gets in on the action, and that's when all hell breaks loose.

We haven't reached that point yet. But it's coming. The next economic shockwave that will rattle America will come from the housing market. It must happen soon (within the next couple of years). But not until The Last Guy puts his chips on the table.

So, what do you do with this helpful piece of information? First, you keep your eye on the Last Guy. If you *are* buying a house, buy it for its intrinsic value to you (my wife and I, for example, bought our house because we needed a bigger house, and not for investment concerns). This is the most dangerous time to get into the game. Don't invest in real estate right now.

But when The Last Guy who bought at the top of the market starts whining that it's time for him to sell that investment property, THEN is when you take a serious look at investing in real estate again.

The Last Guy always buys high and sells low. Study what he does, and then bet the other way.

Posted by at 02:45 AM in the following Department(s): Essays | Comments (1)
 May 30, 2005
Beef And Grape, Rousselle Style

One of my favorite restaurants anywhere is Typhoon!, located in the great Northwest.

They have a menu item called "Beef & Grape", which is quite simply out of this world. If you are ever in Portland or Seattle and have the chance, you should give it a try.

That said, I have attempted to recreate a similar recipe on my own at home. While I'll never be as great a chef as the folks at Typhoon, you might find my attempt interesting, nonetheless. This is for people who enjoy a little bit of spice.

First prepare a marinade using:

1/4 cup Fish Sauce
1 T (or more) lime juice
4 to 6 cloves of fresh garlic
6 Thai Chiles, sliced fine
1 dash of hot sesame oil (or Mongolian fire oil)

Then take:

1 one-and-a-half pound flank steak

Score it on each side and marinate it for an hour or so in a glass pan (get the marinade on both sides).

When you're ready to cook, you'll broil the steak in the glass pan, 7 minutes on each side (we're shooting for medium rare here).

While the steak is broiling, put some romaine lettuce and spinach leaves on each plate, and slice up a whole bunch of grapes, length-wise.

When the steak is done, slice it into thin strips, and place the strips over the lettuce/spinach beds. Then, put a handful of grape-halves (per plate) over the steak. Finally, there will probably be some marinade/drippings in the pan; take a spoonful and pour it on top.

---

This is a Thai-styled dish unlike your usual Thai restaurant fare. I'm still experimenting with the ingredients (I'm going to use more lime next time), but this combination seems to work quite nicely.

Let me know how you like it.

Posted by at 02:39 PM in the following Department(s): Recipes | Comments (0)

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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The author. January, 2010.
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