Friday, June 30, 2006

Foodies, you have a mission.

Your task for this week is simple, but hardly easy.

Find yourself a GOOD butcher. This means an independent operator (either an independent shop, or a good butcher dept. in an independent market), because moving plastic wrapped sirloins and boneless/skinless chicken breasts from the back to the refrigerated case is not that. You need someone who can score you the good stuff, and the hard to find stuff. You may want breast of veal, or a saddle of lamb or free-range capon or Kobe (or Hereford) beef, or some unusual cuts like flatirons or hanger steaks.

You need to find someone who knows his (or her) stuff. You need to hack away the distance between the front end of your personal food chain and you. You need to find a butcher that doesn't sell "ground beef" but rather, sells beef that he (or, again, she) will grind to your specs on the spot.

It is one of the pillars of food sense that the fewer the number of people involved with your food, the better it will taste and the better it will be for you. Food that has been lovingly--even passionately--raised will give you a huge-@$$ jump on getting something delicious on the plate. And a butcher is the person who can get you that.

Find one and cultivate that relationship. A butcher who is both knowledgeable and on your side will let you know when something beautiful has come in, when you should be guided into considering a different something, when you don't need that supah-pricy cut.

Of course, this is likely easier in the big cities that have enough of a population to make such a butcher establishment economically viable. But even mid-sized locales still have a good butcher shop somewhere. All you need do is find it.

Imagine how glorious that Thomas Keller roast chicken will taste with a real chicken; one that hasn't been swimming in weirdo ingredients and hormones and antibiotics.

Be a friend, make a friend.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:53 PM 6 comments

Me too, also.

Dear Internet,

Y'know what I hate?

I hate it when I've been working on a really cool post, something new and original and fresh...and someone beats me to the punch. This is what turned Brian Wilson into a first class passenger on The Disoriented Express. You slave, and sweat to release Pet Sounds and the Beatles issue Revolver...you go one better with Smile and Sgt. Pepper comes out.

What REALLY galls is when the post in question is by someone you like. It doesn't matter if you have an really unusual take on a thing, or it's exceptionally well-written, or it's hysterically funny. You're only gilding the "Yeah, me too!" lily.

So anyway, I had been working on a post (inspired by a RL pal who married a guy who's a vegan...oy) about how people who are finicky would be wildly incompatible with a foodie. In my case, a perfect dealbreaker. I was going to say that it happens more than you'd think. A client of mine married a woman who won't eat beef or anything with leaves. Another friend married someone who won't eat anything that didn't emerge from a can, box or (maybe) freezer...and considers (really!) A1 steak sauce too fancy. ("I dunno why they call it Hamburger Helper...it's so damned good by itself.")

In my case, I got off lucky.

TFBIM knew I was a foodie and my parents were foodie-friendly. (My sister got weird in her teens...we don't talk about her preferences. Well, not to her face.) So even if she thought that vegetables were ABOMINABLE (and she did) and any meal that didn't include a half-pound of cow might as well be grog and hardtack, she contractually agreed to let me feed her so long as we both shall live. Now that we have kids and we have to set a good example, I see her bravely eating porcini, or blue cheese, or lamb or sushi or Thai food or gnocchi. She may not like these (at least she no longer hates these) but she eats them. She still hasn't shaken her fondness for weird-@$$ overprocessed $#!+ foods, but we're making progress.

The lovely and gracious Gina said something (I paraphrase) that spoke to me: "I'd derive great pleasure in sneaking the hated foods undetected."

I could get behind that.

-J.

P.S. The foods I hate are: Bell peppers, olives, liver. The foods I WILL NOT EAT EVER are: liver and overpreprocessed "snack" $#!+.

Posted by Joke at 2:50 PM 7 comments

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What next? [REVISED just for Bagder Badger]

OK. You roasted off a brilliant chicken. But you have bits left over. What will you do?

I have 3½ suggestions.

½- Chicken Stock
Remove every last vestige of edible chicken from the bones. Casually hack up the bones. Put the bones in a big ol' stockpot over medium heat. Brown the chicken remainder. Toss a bit until the maximum brownage has been achieved. Add COLD water to cover the chicken bits by 2" (5cm) and drop the temperature as low as your stove will go. You want a bare simmer (any hotter and you'll be skimming and straining out impurities leached out by the excess heat). Leave it there as long as your patience allows. Me? I've left this to simmer 12+ hours, you do whatev. You may also add carrot/celery/onion...but I don't. Once the liquid has reduced so that the chicken bits are showing, strain (squeezing the last drop of poultry yumminess) and go back to reducing. You want to concentrate all of this liquid into whatever will fit in ONE ice cube tray, which you will then freeze and, once all froze up, store in a zipper-lock bag.

1- Chinois Chicken Salad

Take the leftover chicken meat and shred (use your fingers or, as I do, a coupla forks) into small bite-size bits. (Try to have about a pound-and-a-half or so of chicken for this recipe, which will leave you with another leftover chicken's worth of dressing for a rainy day) You will now make my famous deconstructed* version of the Chinois Chicken Salad from Wolfgang Puck's Chinois on Main.

1/3 c. PLAIN rice vinegar
3 T. "pale" soy sauce (I prefer San-J low-sodium Tamari, and not because of the low sodium)
1/3 c. hoisin sauce
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1½ t. finely minced garlic (as fine as your patience permits)
¼ c. toasted sesame oil OR peanut oil OR combination thereof (I like a 2:1 peanut to sesame ratio)
1½ lb. shredded chicken
½ head of bok choy/Chinese cabbage/Napa cabbage, cut into shreds
¼ c. red bell pepper OR (peeled) carrot, cut into "matchsticks"
6 scallions/green onions/spring onions (whatever they call them where you live) cut fine, at a 45 deg. angle
1 c. crisp chow mein noodles
Salt and pepper to taste

a) Whisk hoisin and oil(s) to emulsify, then add in (s-l-o-w-l-y) the vinegar, soy sauce, ginger and garlic.
b) Toss chicken with 2 T. of the dressing. Let it "marinate" while you slice and dice the vegetableness.
c) Add vegetable matter and toss, slowly adding the remaining dressing (no, not ALL of it!) until the salad is well coated, but no puddles form at the bottom of the bowl. You should have ½ the dressing left over for next time.
d) Plate it up, and sprinkle the chow mein noodles.

2- Iberic Chicken Salad w. Piquillo Dressing

½ c. EVOO
3 T. sherry vinegar (this IS Spanish, after all...use a 4-6 y.o. balsamic in a pinch)
1¼ c. roasted piquillo peppers (jarred is fine, in a pinch plain ol' roasted peppers will do), diced
2 cloves garlic, mashed to a pulp or minced as fine as you can stand
1 small shallot, minced as fine...blahblahblah
3 T. minced parsley (CURLY parsley, in this case, is authentic and preferable. If you only have access to flat parsley use a shade less, as it's stronger)
2 ribs celery, sliced SUPER thin and at an angle
½ c. olives (I like manzanilla or gaeta olives...you do whatever, just make sure you get the "real" thing with pits.) pitted and chopped roughly
5 c. shredded chicken
½ c. sliced almonds (I like them toasted)
Salt & black pepper to taste

a) Puree the oil and half the peppers (to emulsify). Add the vinegar, garlic and S&P. Puree some more.

b) Add remaining non-chicken & non-almond bits and stir.

c) Add chicken and toss. Let it rest a bit while you toast the almonds. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.

3- (the part I stuck in just for Badger) Thaiish Chicken Salad w. Peanut Dressing

½ c. peanut oil
3 T. smooth peanut butter (pop for the all-natural stuff, you can really taste the diff.)
½ c. lime juice (FRESH, none of that bottled stuff)
2 T. water
2-3 cloves garlic mashed to a pulp or minced as small as you can get
2 t. finely grated ginger (peel it, crated ginger peel is not yummy)
2 T. light brown sugar (or 1 & 1 each of dark and plain sugars)
1½ t. crushed red pepper flakes or 1-2 t. chile oil (taste first, these vary WILDLY in heat level...h/t Badger)

½ c. julienned cucumber
½ c. julienned carrot
4 scallions (or green onion, etc.) sliced VERY thinly on the diagonal
3 T. cilantro/coriander leaves minced
5 c. shredded chicken
½ c. crushed peanuts (unsalted, preferably)
Sea salt (fine, not coarse)

a) Emulsify the oil in the peanut butter. Then add the juice, water, salt (I use about ¼ t.), garlic, ginger, sugar and red pepper, and whisk until smooth.

b) Add chicken to dressing and toss to coat. Let sit while you cut scallions, carrot & cucumbers. Add them to the chicken and toss again. Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro and serve.

You're welcome.

-J.

* It took me FOREVER to figure this out, so you had better bloody well appreciate this.

Posted by Joke at 10:46 PM 10 comments

A fusion of confusion and a few confounded things.

The lovely and gracious Badger has posted what I will hereby dub the Roast Chicken Meme. The genesis therefor is a post by the lovely and gracious Jaye wherein she (Jaye) commented on and provided a link to Thomas (he of Bouchon & The French Laundry) Keller's Roast Chicken. It is an article of faith among chefs that roast chicken (or maybe a simple omelet) is the test for a cook. Whoever can roast a chicken well, can do (or learn to do) anything well.

I tried it and it was a smash, as it has been throughout the land. In fact, this is so good we must keep it to ourselves, lest villagers wielding pitchforks and torches haven't marched down to PETA offices from sea to shining sea, and possibly also the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

That said, I must remind all the assembled I am not a normal person when it comes to recipes. I simply can't look at a recipe (or, indeed, anything) without being certain it can be improved. Therefore, I have made the following tweaks:

(I am fully aware people reading this will almost invariably say to themselves--maybe even to my face--"Oh, dude, @#$% that." This is assymptotical stuff, a virtual doubling of effort for maybe a 10% improvement. So I'm not holding it against you that you're normal and I'm not.)

1- I brined the chicken. (Do NOT brine if you are using a Kosher chicken) I made a brine of (plain) sea salt and sugar and the water in which I had steeped some thyme and dried chives.

2- I THOROUGHLY dried the ckicken (this is key) and I went so far as to use a blow drier, but letting it rest uncovered in the fridge from the moment you leave in the morning to the moment you throw it in the oven will also do. The drier the surface area--which includes the cavity--the better. Moisture floating around the oven is the enemy of crisp skin.

3- I purposefully did NOT truss it. The problem with poultry is the leg and thigh cook slower than the breast. Trussing poultry compacts the legs/thighs so they cook even slower (see where I'm going with this?) and so I dispense with it. Yes, Thomas Keller has become the hottest restaurant chef since Escoffier, but he's not infallible and he is wrong on trussing. In fact, he writes: "the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out." which, if you look at the picture in the article, simply isn't so.

Also, in the places where the trussed legs make contact with the body, the skin doesn't get direct, dry heat and therefore turns out flabby, gummy and gross.

4- I put the chicken on a roasting rack. If you want crisp chickeny goodness all over, you need dry heat to reach every possible spot. That means getting it off the bottom of your pan.

5- I put in a thermometer in the chicken (I cook to temperature, not to pre-specified times) and hung an oven thermometer from the rack. 99.999999999% of home ovens' temperature readings are off, by an average of over 34F (16C) degrees. So that could ruin things.

The skin is potato chip crisp, salty and terrific. Jay didn't, but I opted for the thyme. I also forsook the butter/mustard in favor of a particularly sharp EVOO.

And there you have it.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:29 AM 13 comments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Badger made me do it.

Up To Three

I like this meme also, which I shamelessly stole from Badger who totally swiped it from her pal Bookhart.

Sez Badge: "Full rules (be sure to read the comments for the addenda) can be found here, but the gist of it is that you can put UP TO THREE answers for every question. One or two or three is okay. More than three is NOT okay. This was really fucking hard for me in some categories (see below)."

NAME UP TO THREE:

Song(s) That I Loathe to the Core of My Being*
That song from Titanic
"Europa" by Gato Barbieri
"Every Breath You Take" by The Police (a group I loved until they utterly fell apart on their last album)

Musical Artist(s) That I Loathe to the Core of My Being*
Barbra Streisand
Peter Cetera/Chicago
Barry Manilow

Rolling Stones Song(s) I Love*
Heartbreaker
Paint It Black
Mother's Little Helper

Beatles Song(s) I Love** (Sad but true, I'm not really a Beatles sort)
Love Me Do
Matchbox
Listen

Who Song(s) I Love *
My Generation
Roadrunner
Baba O'Riley

Reggae Song(s) I Love
"Buffalo Soldier" (fast version) by Bob Marley
"Kill All The White People" (OK, I made that one up)
"Jamaican Bobsled" by Herman & McBean (really!)

Country Song(s) I Love
"Move It On Over" by Hank Williams, Sr.
"Crazy" by Patsy Cline
"Streets of Bakersfield" by Dwight Yoakam (w. Buck Owens)

Movie Soundtrack(s) I Love
Valley Girl
Dance Craze
The Blues Brothers

Musical Sountrack(s) I Love*
Forever Plaid
Guys & Dolls
Kiss Me, Kate

Cover Song(s) I Love*
Van Halen's version of "Pretty Woman"
Agent Orange's version of "Miserlou"
The Reverend Horton Heat's version of "Liquor, Beer & Wine"

Contemporary Top-40 Artist(s) I Secretly Love**
Sorry. I have NFI. I didn't do Top 40 when I was keeping up with music, hanged if I'm going to bother now.

Song(s) That Bring Me to Tears
"Baby Mine" from the Dumbo Soundtrack

Song(s) That Make Me Shake My Ass*
"Numa Numa" by O-Zone
"Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode
"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order

Classical Composer(s) I Love
Mozart
Beethoven
Puccini

Rap/Hip-Hop Song(s) I Love*
"Funky Cold Medina" by Tone Loc
"Fight For Your Right To Party" by the Beastie Boys

70s Disco Song(s) I Love *
I got nothin'. Disco sucks. Disco is musical herpes.

70s Supergroup Song(s) I Love
"Renegade" by Styx
"Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner
"Rock 'n' Roll Band" by Boston

Metal Song(s) I Love**
"Enter Sandman" by Metallica
"Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue
"Living After Midnight" by Judas Priest

New Wave Song(s) I Love*
"Gates of Steel" by Devo
"X Offender" by Blondie
"Life During Wartime" by Talking Heads

Soul/R&B Song(s) I Love**
"Love Train" by The O'Jays
"Brick House" by The Commodores
"Tears of a Clown" by The Miracles

Power Ballad(s) I Love**
"2 Out Of 3" by Meat Loaf
"Beth" by Kiss (I agree with Badge)
"Dust In The Wind" by Kansas
Pre 1950s Song(s) I Love
They Can't They Take That Away From Me

Punk Song(s) I Love*
"Breakdown" by Agent Orange
"One Down, Three To Go" by The Meatmen
"99 Red Balloons" by 7 Seconds

Singer/Songwriter Song(s) I Love
This is a fake question, I can tell.

MTV Video(s) I Love*
"One Step Beyond" by Madness
"When Smokey Sings" by ABC
"Stray Cat Strut" by Stray Cats

Songs To Have Sex To

(Like I have time to fire up the sound system?)

I'm supposing these would be acceptable.

"Someone To Watch Over Me" by Linda Ronstadt
"What's New?" by Frank Sinatra
"Moonlight Serenade" by Glenn Miller

Guilty Pleasures
"Sister Golden Hair" by America (I used to play a fairly punky cover of this song)
"Queen of Hearts" by Juice Newton (ditto)
"Take It Easy" by The Eagles

-J.

* = I had a REALLY hard time limiting my answers to three.
** = I had a REALLY hard time coming up with even ONE.

Posted by Joke at 10:25 AM 4 comments

This is what I was talking about.

So you know, I prefer the all-black, so don't think I'm a savage.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:19 AM 2 comments

Warning: Input To Be Requested

OK. As you all know, TFBIM will be turning forty later this year. This means I'll have to pop for an "above & beyond" sort of gift. I have a rough idea what, but since a lot of you are savvy and up-to-speed and are sadistically honest, I'll pop up the possible giftage and let you guys opine freely.

Deal?

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:51 AM 8 comments

Monday, June 26, 2006

In which Caesar Augustus declares a census

I counted. I recounted.

I have 42 pairs of shoes.

That is all you need to know about me for today.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:40 PM 7 comments

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The flesh is weak.

Those of you with a weakness for shopping (or collecting or, worse, both) will know WTF I'm talking about.

At some point you subconsciously decide to get X and you're pretty much on an inexorable path to getting X, even if the better angels of your nature are trying to tell you there is no damn reason to...or better yet, plenty of good reason to not pull the trigger.

As you know, I'm a sucker for Italian sports cars of a certain vintage. The combination of rarity, appreciation, speed, beauty and (surprise!) efficiency just hits me where I live. Seeing as how a harem of concubines is something which TFBIM (an NRA Lifer) looks upon with great disfavor --aside from the negative tax implications--and unchecked consumption of assorted mood-ameliorating compounds, legal or otherwise, are deleterious to one's physical and fiscal health. Therefore, I must have some sort of outlet that at least gives the faint appearance of deviltry and decadence. So, I go for cars.

When the good news as re. the Big Spring Project hit, I was tempted to buy a lowball Ferrari (no, that's not an oxymoron) because, regardless of my being somewhere between "mildly enthusiastic" and "meh" on Ferraris, the various Ferrari clubs host the best events. The most beautiful venues, wonderful food and wine, top-shelf stuff all around. But, frankly, I'm not a Ferrari guy. The entry-level ones don't make my pulse move, and the ones that DO make my heart quicken (due to speed, beauty, or both) are ferociously expensive. And that's without having to pay for maintenance. The received wisdom is that if you can't afford an expensive one, you sure as Hell can't afford a cheap one. ($20,000 engine rebuilds are the norm.)

On top of that, even IF I bought one of those $30K cars AND it needed no more than routine maintenance, there is that eye-dagger factor with which to contend. It seems very flaunt-y and I don't care for that. However, I drive around in one of my current cars and it's all thumbs-up and smiles and waves and people stopping to ask me questions or engage me in conversation about the car. The fact I can buy a car that has 90% of the goodness, with none of the downside, for 40% of the price of a bottom-feeder Ferrari makes my rationalizing easier. Throw in an average of 20% annual appreciation and it becomes a no-brainer.

So, the point--and there's one buried here somewhere--is that I feel that inexorable pull to buy something. I haven't looked around very seriously, or otherwise made much of an effort, but I just know I'm going to wind up with something. I may hem and haw, I may backtrack, I may waffle or equivocate but the die has been cast and I'm powerless to resist.

The problem with this sort of car buying, as opposed to TFBIM going to one of five dealerships within a three mile radius, and driving off the lot with the automotive appliance of her choice, is that when one decides on a certain (i.e., old, rare and weird) car, the chances are quite high it'll be nowhere near where you are. By way of example, the first of my "recent" ridiculous purchases was in Cleveland, the second in Phoenix, the third (i.e. the car that sucked) in Philadelphia and the fourth in New York City. The next one could very well be in LA or Denver or Boston or Seattle. If you're in this, you have to travel. It's a fact of life.

Anyway, I want something that screams "classic." Not, you will note, "modern classic." Something that harks back to an earlier time. Something, y'know, iconic. The problem is that these sorts of cars have been appreciating at an annual clip of 20% and many of them have reached Officially Ridiculous Prices. Especially if this is yet another damned car. So that limits the choices right there.

I was commenting along these lines to both the lovely and gracious blackbird and the lovely and gracious SL because I had seen a car on eBay that I almost bid on. Well, perhaps "car" is too strong a word. "Rusted out shell and carcass of a former automobile" is perhaps closer to the mark. The price for a car that would need, um, everything redone was too rich for me when the time came for me to bid...and as it turns out it sold for almost $30K. THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. FOR A RUSTED-OUT HULK. As I mentioned to bb & SL, assuming all the bits and pieces were there (sh'yeah, right) it'd cost at least $80K to restore the car properly, which would leave the proud owner with a car worth, on the open market, $65K (for a tidy loss of $45K).

Things are tough all over. Jaguars--at least the ones worth collecting--are exorbitant. Equivalent Porsches are in nosebleed territory, as are Maseratis and even the (few really) good American cars have taken to orbiting the price ionosphere. So, to help my rationalizing mind, I can add the "let's not miss this opportunity" sort of thinking.

It's a sickness I tell you.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:20 PM 3 comments

The Morning After

No, I didn't melt. My liver is also doing OK, thankyouverymuch. Not great, mind, but definitely OK. I wish I could say the same for TFBIM who is still in bed and making the most disheartening sounds, and calling for a heating pad and ibuprofen. (Uh-oh...I fear her current lack of wellness has reached its nadir.)

Me? I just have that weird, icky taste in my mouth, but no more than that. But I see I'm getting ahead of myself.

The thing last night was fine. The linen* held up just great and I looked terrific. However, when we arrived there, it was raining buckets. The wizards behind it all had never planned for the contingency that, during the rainy season, in a place where rain tends to be heavy and protracted, it could actually rain like a muhfuh. Which, I hasten to repeat, it did.

Anyway, when we arrived, the staff were rolling in the tables and chairs and struggling with two "E-Z Up" 10'x10' (3m x 3m) tents. Besides the concrete gazeboid sort of structure where the bar was--and where I stationed myself--the two mini tents were all the shelter available for the hordes of people who arrived. And the tents were mighty wobbly, to say nothing of the fact they were taking on water and beginning to sag under the weight of same...not a good thing when they seem very rickety for starters.

Then the power went. Slowly, by section, light left us. The event was dying. Right there in front of my eyes, this shindig was about to join the choirs of angels and saint. I saw a Chairperson of the Board-type walking around with a disheartened, frustrated look and a large flashlight.
While TFBIM went to mingle and look for people to greet, I surveyed the scene from my strategically desirable spot at the bar. At this point, appetizers** began to wind their way through the crowd. My position at the bar allowed me the luxury of intercepting the tray bearers as they carried out their assigned duties. I even managed to score a very nice cigar***, which I lit reverently.

Much to my surprise, a woman in a red sequined top struck up conversation with me at the bar. As a very happily married man, this is something which hasn't happened to me in some years. She looked at my dinner jacket and said something to the effect "It's good to see a man who really knows how to go to these events" as she stubbed out her cig. "Well, I try." I said with a benevolent smile. She then began to tell me her biography, starting at DNA and winding up at Thursday. She asked what I did for a living and I told her, and she asked how I started down this path and I told her that also, and she asked me if I was one of those Straight-A sort of student. I told her the truth: I was always one of those students who could get away with minimal work and wind up with good, but hardly spectacular, score. Between that and my ability to stay up 48 hours straight during final exams, I did OK.

Oy.

This led to her telling me the following facts about herself:

1- She used all manner of illegal stimulants when she was studying. She catalogued them for me.
2- Her husband and her had a long-distance engagement while he was getting his Master's and they had agreed to have an "open engagement."
3- Her oldest son is a stoner. "I'm hoping this won't affect his grades."
4- Her youngest son only talks about "getting laid."
5- Where she lost her virginity. "Well, I THINK it was with..."
6- Her hopes her husband wouldn't have too much to drink, lest he become "useless tonight."

Pretty frank discussion from someone I had only met two appetizers and an a cigar ago. I felt like interrupting her and saying "Oh, how rude of me. My name is Joke." But I didn't and, fortunately one of TFBIM's pals (one of the few good ones) and her sister (local TV anchorperson, obligatory at these sorts of things) rescued me from this conversational purgatory I was enduring.

All of a sudden, the rain let up and tables began to be set up. TFBIM had been helping herself rather handsomely to Cape Codders and was in a benevolent mood. We sat with her pal and her anchorsister and respective husbands, where the women all commented sagely on who had hair plugs, lifts, tucks, enhancements. And boy, did this thing seem like a showcase for elective cosmetic surgery. There was one lady who, I am certain cannot simultaneously sit and close her mouth.

Things wound up quietly at around 1ish, with several people going to after-parties and us heading home, TFBIM feeling no pain.

That is, of course, until about an hour ago.

-J.

* There's a label on the inside that reads "Guaranteed to wrinkle."
** It is an article of faith with me that appetizers are the most delicious food at these things.
*** I have less than one a month, so shush.

Posted by Joke at 8:26 AM 8 comments

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stay tuned.

Only 30 min. to go until the Big Deal Outside Benefit Thing and it's raining BUCKETS. I mean, seriously, ridiculously, monumentally torrential rain.

And me in linen.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 6:38 PM 1 comments

Unwrung

My liver could stand to be hung out on the clothesline to air out.

As the assiduous among the readership may recall, yesterday I had a four hour lunch which involved, among several things, much in the way of Spanish beverages...figure 7 servings over the 4 hours I had to deal with international chamber of commerce-types.

But THEN I had to array myself in finery for a benefit. The lovely and gracious Poppy seethes when the paperwork reads Black Tie* but I like it. I don't like it because I can get away with just throwing on "the uniform." I like it because I look REALLY GOOD. At any rate, this was one of those multihour affair which, blessedly, wrapped up around about midnight (having started around 7ish).

Where it gets weird is when TFBIM pipes up with "I can't believe we're doing this again tomorrow." Which, I hasten to add, came as a total surprise. I thought the thing was next week. To make matters worse, this benefit is an outdoor thing, in the courtyard of a Very Historic Building. You must keep in mind the high yesterday was 94F/34C with 91% relative humidity.

Where I get very pleased with myself--relatively speaking--is that last year when I got roped into something along these lines, I went out and snagged an all-linen outfit. Off-white dinner linen jacket, linen shirt, black linen trousers. All unlined (french facings, for those of you who follow these things) and as comfortable as wearing PJs. Better still, I won't be wearing the same thing as last night because I'm the sort of husband who cares about this sort of thing. Even better is not wearing the same thing the other guys in their ::shudder:: polywool rentalwear, whose ensembles, beyond ill-fitting, are a-braising in said rentalwear. Schadenfreude, they name is Joke.

The part I'm not looking forward to is the relentless assault on my liver. I think I may go work out and hit the sauna. (One also gets a way better shave post-schvitz, BTW)

Yes. Sauna, Good call.

-J.

* If it ever read "White Tie" I fear she'd take a convenient bit of cutlery and die the honorable death.

Posted by Joke at 8:40 AM 2 comments

Friday, June 23, 2006

Designed to last a lunchtime.

I'm SO DAMNED SLEEPY.

At 11am, I had to wind my way downtown to attend this lunch thing. The aforementioned lunch thing is a more-or-less monthly event put on by the US-Spain Chamber of Commerce, and unofficially hosted by the Spanish Consulate. Basically it's a meet-and-greet, swap cards sort of thing.

The problem is that it starts at 11am and the second you're through the door you already have tapas and sherry coming at you for 90 minutes straight, followed by 150 minutes of lunch (consisting of salad, soup, paella, cheese course, dessert and coffee. Each of which is accompanied by its own damned wine or spirituous liquor.

The stuff is actually not bad at all, and the Spaniards in the crowd were quite pleased with Spain's performance in the soccer World Cup, and thus were in a benevolent mood. The Americans were pleased with the fact the Miami Heat are the new NBA champions and thus the bonhomie flowed freely, as did the sherry (Which was a Lustau "Papirusa" and very yummy.) and other potables.

The point is that I'm groggy from all the food and drink. That's not much of a point, granted...but it is an explanation why I will be useless from here on out today.

-J.

P.S. I also have a benefit to attend tonight.

Posted by Joke at 3:25 PM 4 comments

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

That was then, this is now.

Thirty years ago this summer, we went to visit our family in Spain for the first time.

My sister and I were already a globe-trotting pair, having followed our dad on many assignments for Big Accounting Firm* but we had never gone to visit what we now call the ancestral estate.

For reasons beyond the scope of this post, this was also the last summer my sister and I were something of an inseparable unit. After this summer, we'd wind up evolving into rather different people and things'd never be the same since. But anyway.

Franco had just died, so things were a bit looser but Spain was still rather sleepy. Well, if by sleepy you mean lunch at 3pm, snacks at 7pm and dinner at 11pm. Oh, and kids drank wine. (True story; we never saw ONE child drink milk or juice...it was wine or thirst for these people.) But I jump ahead.

I remember for the very first time, jet lag. When one flies from Detroit down to, say, Buenos Aires, sure, it's a grueling flight, but when you arrrive your body clock is still on, more-or-less the same time. We landed in Spain and we were all discombobulated. Day was night, up was down and to top it all off the people in the Madrid office insisted on taking us out for dinner which, if I remember it correctly, felt like it kicked off at 3am.

Beyond the perceived starting time, the thing sticking to my memory was my dad struggling with some truly Mutant Of The Deep sort of crustacean and, after much wrestling with the plateful of it, having eaten the part you throw away and vice versa. How my sister and I held it together to not laugh like a thuderhead, I'll never know. I think Divine Providence was at play, aided by all the sherry and Rioja and abetted by the fact our bodies felt as if we had just completed the Speed Course of the Bataan Death March in record time.

We slept a lot.

Two days later, we took our rented Ford Fiesta XR2 and schlepped to the region of Asturias, to see my great-aunt. She was one of those old-school toughies whose views on children would have made Dickens nod in recognition. Immediately we were put to work, something we didn't mind the first day because things such as milking cows and tilling and tractoring and so forth were new, grand adventures to us, having emerged from suburbia. At 4am, we were roused out of bed, fed a breakfast of fried eggs, home-cured bacon, espresso** with milk and something that looked like a croissant that had been successfully treated by a chiropractor. We were then sent off with Diego, who was in charge of all the other men who worked in the farm, to milk the cows.

What I'll never forget was the milk. OMG. I didn't even mind that the nearest chocolate--let alone Hershey's Syrup--was over 25 miles away. This was glorious. Unpasteurized, rich, creamy and wonderful. My sister took a sip and got sick, just like you see in the cartoons, only hers was a slightly different shade of green. It was at that point, precisely, when I believe her vacation experience turned sour. So I had her share. But after that, we still had a whole mess of cows to milk, and after that, we had apples to pick.

Yes, the apples were delicious (very similar to a Northern Spy, but not exactly) but after 3 hours of picking them, the delight one takes in the flavor fades. It was now 9am. My arms were aching and the sounds of my sister whining were driving me mental. Fortunately, our great-aunt showed up in her...well..I'm not sure what you'd call it, but it looked like a scooter with a pickup bed...with some pastries and hard cider. We were done picking apples.

All we had to do is press them. That part was okay, because one of the old donkeys was tethered to the staff that turned the center shaft of the press and juice would slosh down into a small tank. All we had to do was drop apples in the hopper, make the donkey walk around a bit, repeat until the tank was full and replace the tank and start over. One of the guys would take the tank, drop the juice into a barrel, and 3 others would take a full barrel to where it fermented.

This took us through to lunch time, which was a delicious but ankle-widening stew of white beans and all manner of porcine cuts and sausages. We were starving. Hell, my sister was so hungry she ate all her food even though she said she hated it. After that there was a nap, because only a lunatic would go out in THAT heat (110F/45C). After sleeping the sleep of the just, we were awaked again and instructed to feed the pigs. The pigs ate corn and spent apple bits, and the pods whence the white beans came. They also drank any leftover milk or whey.

Dinner was roast pork and my sister, again, was so famished she even ate seconds, even though I'm sure she was wondering which of the pigs (Porky? Petunia? Babe? The one who built his house of twigs?) had to make the ultimate sacrifice.

This, people, went on for A WEEK.

After this, we schlepped out to the coast to meet one of my dad's cousins who had a beach house. So, we departed from the upper midwest of Spain to the extreme northeast. After the 6th hour in the back of a Ford Fiesta with no a/c, my sister and I got punchy. We started swaying back and forth, causing the little car to yaw noticeably and angering Dad...which only made us laugh, which only made him angrier. Eventually we pulled into the town we were supposed to, but we couldn't quite make sense of the address we had, so my dad pulled up and asked one of the locals. What my dad (who is NOT "Mr. Stick Shift") failed to realize is that cars with a manual transmission tend to freewheel, and our car started rolling backwards ever-so-slowly.

Needless to say, this made us laugh hysterically, especially since Dad hadn't noticed. But Mr. Local Spaniard had, and he now had to walk to keep up with our rolling car so as to give Dad directions. Dad, for his part was angered we were laughing and was scolding us and telling us to shut up and not noticing the car was rolling, still. He also didn't notice the guy who was helping us walking at a pretty good clip to keep up. All dad did was get madder and madder which only made us laugh harder and harder. (Can you see where this is going?) Until he eventually rolled over someone bicycle--at which point we laughed ourselves into a hernia and asphyxia, respectively--and he had to step out and get bawled out by some old guy and pay him, like, $20 in pesetas.

At least he was able to get directions and we proceeded onward, him saying it was all our fault for "making him lose concentration." Mom just smiled benevolently, because she had a headache and laughing would have made it worse.

The rest of the vacation went fine. We spent that weekend at the beach, drove to Barcelona, and Madrid and did all those cultural things and ate at decent (well, decent-ish) hours. Finally we came home...our last"real" family vacation ever, over.

-J.

* Dad was one of very few native Spanish speakers, and thus was called upon to schlep to, say, Ecuador, Argentina, etc., as conditions warranted.

** Oh yeah, in Spain kids drink coffee also.

Posted by Joke at 8:10 PM 7 comments

So sue me.

At some point in my life--a life that, actuarially speaking, isn't yet half over--I stopped listening to new music. At some point after that, I stopped caring.

This was all prompted by the lovely and gracious Badger waxing wroth on the matter of James Blunt, to which I replied I had no idea WTF James Blunt is/was. Badger then said I'd recognize him because my ears would bleed were I to chance upon his music.

The problem with Badger's theory is that it takes little to cause my ears to bleed. Anyone who has ever showed up and performed on American Idle* would qualify. So would Barbra Streisand, even if she was a Goldwaterite instead of a Leninist. Peter Cetera (whose voice, in duet with La Streisand--singing the ouvre of Barry Manilow--graces the soundrtack of Hell) and Micheal MacDonald are two more. Whoever sang "Butterfly Kisses" yet another. Pretty much all disco**, almost all rap, and ¾ of country and countless ballads all qualify in the most effortless fashion. Folk music, as well, invariably causes torrents of blood to eject from my ears so I resemble Dracula's idea of a RainBird sprinkler. To fill in the gaps, almost anything to hit the top 10 between 1970-1979 would also easily cause aural hemorrhaging. Round it off with anything easy listening and you now have almost eleventy gazillion ways to kill me from the eardrum alone.

It's no so easy to describe the stuff I do like, although Badger has a better handle on that than most. Poppy and I are closer on matters of religion and politics than we are on music, which says a lot right there...although we have SO MUCH ELSE in common that this is merely an amusing sidebar to our pal-ship. At least we like the same operæ.

Even going wa-a-a-a-ay back, I liked what I liked and being the sort of ::cough, cough:: self-contained child I was, I neither knew nor cared to what everyone else was listening. I remember what my first album was (Elvis' Greatest Hits) for which I begged and received as an 11th birthday gift. I also remember the very first album I bought with my very own money (Talking Heads' Life During Wartime) plus 45s such as "Pop Muzik" by M and "Good Girls Don't" by The Knack and "Good Boy" by The Neighborhoods. My musical tastes ran/run two separate streams. The sort of 1970s Big Rock (as opposed to "little rock" like Foreigner and Journey...yech.) and its ancestors going back to blues and rockabilly and country, and also New Wave and its mother source of ska and surf. The fact the boys prefer this to TFBIM's rather more common tastes is cause for concern for TFBIM. Life, as we have noted on this blog previously, is not fair.

So it is to this day, only now I can afford to pay for downloading all the stuff I was too broke to buy 25 years ago.

...and the beat goes on.

-J.

* That's no typo, that's just me being a smartass
** Which P.J. O'Rourke famously described as being "rhythm and blues for Caucasians with neither."

Posted by Joke at 8:42 AM 6 comments

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Surprise, surprise.



I've begun planning TFBIM's Surprise 40th Birthday Party.

The problem with this is that her birthday is the week before Christmas and anywhere we'd hold it would be a a scheduling nightmare. Eventually I narrowed it down to Place A or Place B. Place A is "funner" and more elegant-casual but the food isn't the star attraction, vs. Place B, which is a little more grande dame, drop-dead gawjus, and ridiculously foodie.

TFBIM, like the lovely and gracious Poppy, is not really a foodie, just "foodie friendly." (Poppy won't remember the brand and style of bacon she served us for brunch at her condo in 2004...but I do.) Therefore, the foodie effort would be not-quite-worth-the-bother. Provided the food is good, TFBIM won't care if the salt is hand skimmed from shallow pools in the Celtic regions of North Spain or scraped off I-95 tarmac. The $$ would be the same-ish, so the pivot to the thing would be which place has the date we want.

The date we want is 12/2/06. This is close enough to the actual birthday to "count" in TFBIM's eyes, but far ahead enough to foster an actual surprise. It also is the date that poses the fewest problems for people here on the Fringe of Paradise, as well as the out of town crowd arriving from NY, IL, AZ, CA & MA. Other dates further afield would have worked also, but TFBIM is a fairly strict constructionist when it comes to Actual Birthdates vs. Party Dates. Poppy has the panache and swagger to pull off a surprise party for TSMSM a full month early, but seem to lack that gene. Alas.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised (NPI!) to find that Place A had space for us. The room looks nice enough, it has a great view overlooking the course and the gardens and the banyan trees (a hurricane's 2nd favorite target--after a trailer park--for abuse and mayhem) and all that. So, since I have to be in at the office today to sign papers and send faxes and all that, I asked the banquet/catering manager to send the menu.

The menu is okay. Well...maybe OK+. It looks like the sort of stuff that must have been considered somewhat edgy in 1997, but not terrible by any means. This is in keeping with the place, which must be flexible to accomodate wedding/christening/baptism/bris receptions, 1st Communions, Sweet 16s (or 15s, if'n you're all Iberic and go for that), graduation dinners, 75th (!) wedding anniversaries, and all that...likely hosted and attended by people who are not even likely to share a zip code with a foodie.

The theme--for reasons beyond the scope of this post, but which include a load of stuff that I ordered for JokeFest which arrived too late but proved non-returnable--will be rather heavily SHAG-inflected.

I therefore have a mission for y'all. Find me some cheap-o SHAG type knick-knack thingies (to stuff in the goody bags...40-50, give or take) available for purchase** online and you can have your pick(s) of the Joke Stash of Contest Stuff. I'll even update it soon, to reflect a treasure trove of stuff I found in a box from when we moved that I have yet to completely unpack. Naturally, there's no immediate rush on all this.

OK. That's it for now.

-J.

* This assumes it's cooked properly. Nothing survives a clumsy oaf manning the grill or sauté station.

** Or snap 'em up and I'll PayPal ya right back.

Posted by Joke at 3:27 PM 11 comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lost Friday

List Friday as requested by Loretta, asks for lost things.

None of these are things that I have "misplaced" or wonder where I have left them...these are things that are not merely lost, but vanished. Vanished like the KGB wanted them for questioning and came at 3am to get them.

The original remote control to my Denon ADR202. (This went missing at our old house, and when we moved and EMPTIED THE PLACE OUT TO BARE SPACE it had not surfaced.)

All my GI Joe action figures (much like in a KGB interrogation case, we have a good idea what the end result was)

The Jonah & Madagascar DVDs

My T-shirt where Mickey looks like the Ace of Diamonds and the one where the USA flag has li'l Mickey heads in lieu of stars.

My Uncle Scrooge fountain pen

My gold monogrammed cufflinks

My navy linen double breasted blazer

My Brooks Brothers eyeglasses

My Polo "hawaiian" PJs

That expen$ive @$$ Carl Barks lithograph. (Don't ask...hypertension runs in my family.)

TFBIM's black lambsuede skirt.

My original safety razor. (My dad gave it to me--empty--when I was 4 for me to "practice")

OK, off to plop down with a cold compress.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:31 PM 5 comments

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Awright, class...settle down, settle down.

Now that we have had our little moment with the new template, I bring you the summer reading* list:

The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal
A brilliant book on the matter of the horror film. A fascinating look at the genre, especially the classics from the silent era through the late 1930s. Skal, incidentally, writes like a muhfuh.

Big Trouble by Dave Barry
Think Elmore Leonard...now think Elmore Leonard goes absurd. Pricelessly funny.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler.
She is what Toni Morrison would give her liver to be. Hilarious, touching, with a glow and an effortless grace that seem sheer magic.

Another Sort of Learning, by James V. Schall, SJ
Get this despite the fact it's monumentally, inexpressively brilliant. Get it because the subtitle reads: "Selected Contrary Essays on How to Finally Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice About How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to be Found."

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Brilliant, hilarious-to-the-point-of-inducing asthma. Far better than that oh-so-cheery Brideshead Revisited.

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser.
First in a string of unbelievably funny novels of what can best be described as the evil love child of Bertie Wooster and Edmund Blackadder. Well, maybe not EVIL-evil, but definitely a lout of the first water.

OK, that's enough to get on with. Carry on.

-J.

P.S. Incoming freshpersons should have a solid background in Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves & Wooster and anything by John Welter.

* This "summer reading list" scam seems to be one of those polyps on the colon of modern education, along with "new math." I never had it as a kid, but then again, in those days there was nothing to do except watch 3 channels of TV and read.

Posted by Joke at 9:18 PM 6 comments

Well?

How ya like me now?

HUGE thanks to that Freaky-Tiki lunatic, the lovely and gracious Julia, who sent me to Luna Stone for this TOTALLY CUSTOM TEMPLATE that cost @#$%ing peanuts compared to what it rightfully should have.

Basically, it all started with Poppy, who up and went and got herself a couture template. After that, it was only a matter of time until I lemminged a custom template. Then Bec&Kim and Badger got themselves the full bespoke treatment.

So here I am. Tired as a muhfuh after a long day, and without anything to say, but happy with my Snazz-O-Rama new duds.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:02 PM 12 comments

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

In other news

NOS left this afternoon without shutting off the sound system. Being incapacitated by Antipodean Gastro I merely groaned in bed while the Chicken Little CD had been left on replay.

I now have "NumaNuma" seared into my cortex.

Will one of you non-enuretic/non-pacifist types please shoot me?

-J.

P.S. The picture explains how I feel better than I could with words.

Posted by Joke at 8:39 PM 7 comments

Live--via sattellite--from Australia...

I bring you...

GASTRO the Magnificent.

Just when I need to wrap up The Very Big Spring Project.

Blah. (Literally.)

Those of you who await wisdom from me via email, I apologize.

-J., who got it from having kids with tummy trouble.

Posted by Joke at 11:27 AM 3 comments

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A miniature film review

The best film of 2006 has been, EASILY, Cars.

I wasn't expecting it to be anything other than good family fluff, but the film blew me away. In particular, Paul Newman's performance as "Doc" Hudson was nothing short of scintillating.

More later.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:36 AM 17 comments

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Summer's here and the time is right...

The lovely and gracious Badger hath written of her summer memories running around with her brother during the summer of 1978.

The summer of 1978 was a pivotal one for me, because I had just wrapped up my freshman year of high school and had suddenly (much too suddenly if'n you ask me) discovered girls were Wonderful, Not Icky As Previously Thought. Alas, being a 14 year old with a 10-Speed Schwinn didn't cut much of a figure with the girls who populated my sphere.

Thus, I was stuck with my usual summer activity of holing up at the library whene'er the heavens threatened to open up and deliver deluges...or as we call that in SoFla "May through November." However, this being the 1970s (as David Frum rightfully noted, "that...ghetto of a decade.") when people had taken utter leave of their senses, I was no longer exclusively reading books about the Mercury astronauts or the history of silent comedy films or how to perform card tricks.

I was, instead, reading books on how to pick up girls and what one ought do if one had successfully conducted such an operation, in not insignificant detail. I'll leave it to your imagination what these books had as titles. I am amazed that taxpayer dollars went to pay for them and, that a 14 year old boy--walking around in a fog produced by the vapor surplus testosterone output--was able to check them out without so much as a second look from the librarian. But then again, only in the 1970s could aberrations like The Captain and Tenille (or, if you like, Peaches and Herb...I'm not picky about these things) have the means to generate income without having to ask people "would you like fries with that?"

This sort of reading, by the way, explains a lot of where the wheels fell off the wagon of my normalcy.

I also read a lot of books and magazine articles on What Women Want. Being a rather precocious lad, and an impulsive one at that, I glossed over the bit where it was explained the women in question were graduate students at cosmopolitan universities, not high school freshpersons for whom a perfectly confected Seabreeze or a clever turn of phrase meant less than a Corvette and Sergio Valente jeans and a Mr T Starter Kit.

All of these, I hasten to add, were absent from my arsenal. Mostly because I couldn't afford any of this, but also because it conflicted with my standards. So, being able to knowledgeably discuss wine vintages (when my target market was more preoccupied with how shagworthy Peter Frampton was) led to some moments of difficulty and "expectations adjustment."

For reasons well beyond the scope of this particular post, by the summer of 1978 my sister and I had sort of evolved in markedly different directions, so I was left to my own devices. As anyone who knows me halfassedly well will readily testify, "left to my own devices" is a very dangerous position for me and those in my immediate surroundings.

Musically, the summer of 1978 was a nightmare for me in SoFla. Disco reigned, and its oppressive miasma had to be experienced to be believed. Sure, there were a lot of young ladies who gravitated thereto with all of the moral flexibility one looks for in young ladies when one is a 14 year old lad, but I didn't know that then. I am not proud to say that musical apostasy was not beneath me. It would take a different decade to see my capacity for being a calculatin' Macchiavelli reach some measure of critical mass.

But I digress.

So, absent outlets for these ideas I had percolating in my melon, I had no choice but hone and incubate so that by the time I was an adult (albeit nominally) and in college, I could proceed to give my particular outlook on things a certain...er...expression.

So, um, where was I going with this?

Yes. Summer, 1978.

I remember sneaking in to watch National Lampoon's Animal House repeatedly, being an avid fan of the magazine for a year or so already. (What a 13 year old boy was doing reading National Lampoon I couldn't tell you. I sure as Hell wouldn't let my kids read it today. But I was reading it and my parents, pleased in the fact I wasn't making a racket listening to Alicia Bridges and Gloria Gaynor at full voice like my sister, left me alone to, as we have discussed, my own devices.) I always wondered why the preppies were the bad guys, not that I felt we should have marched on Washington* but other than admiring the persona of "Otter" I didn't feel too bad for my side.

It was around this time I had to start shaving. In those days the old-timey thing to do was get a safety razor, while the hip, Studio54-approved thing was use a TracII razor. My dad made a hand-me-down of his old Gillette safety Razor Adjustable and he went on a downward shaving spiral, from two blades, to three, to assorted cordless electric things where he is to this day, a broken shell of a once-proud beacon of certified public accountancy.

I still have the razor and, in lieu of using the cutthroat daily, I'm considering making it my everyday rig. After all, safety blades weigh in a $0.15 a week (vs. $2something for the new Gillette Hydra which grows a new blade every time it nicks you).

1978 was also the year that all-cotton Levi's corduroy jeans disappeared. I remember loading up like an idiot; my first act of hoarding. Navy, white and khaki in particular. It went very well with our very new Sony Betamax which was the size of a Samsonite and weighed like a bad marriage and recorded an hour, albeit in higher fidelity than anything VHS could manage until SuperVHS.

I remember most TV sucked in 1978. Although Charlie's Angels was worth watching with the sound off while I grooved to my music.

That was the summer of 1978.

So, do the math, and you can see why I turned out this way.

-J.

* Which would have been useless, since he's been dead for years.

Posted by Joke at 10:53 AM 14 comments

Friday, June 09, 2006

Whatever Happened To Me?

Miss me?

I miss me.

Work has been kicking mine arse--remember the Big Deal Spring Project?--and the only reason I have time to even post this teeny snippet is because I am staring at the world's longest fax, riddled with pages I am supposed to date, sign and/or initial.

Could someone remind me why I'm such a fan of capitalism, again?

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:30 PM 7 comments

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The long-awaited WDW post (1st Revision...to be revised again)

OK, these from EPCOT and Disney-MGM.
Offspring in the mist.Playing the part of crash test dummies.
Could NOS possibly be ANY happier?NTS is ready for nap time. (Doing ALL of EPCOT by 2pm takes a toll on you, I s'pose.)
Dig the dinnertime matching action at Disney MGM-Studios.
Ready for bedtime.

The Cliffs Notes of the trip were as follows:
1- We had fun.
2- We ate in yummy restaurants (Disney theme parks are pretty much the only fine dining places where you can go with a 7 & 8 year old and not have a nightmare on your hands.)
3- We ALWAYS match (this is for practical, as well as geek, reasons)
4- We didn't have to wait in line for ANYTHING (except Expedition Everest, which rocks, BTW) because we're experts and all that.

The kids were turned into paste by the end of each day and slept the sleep of the just, except for the evening of Day One, when NTS had a bit of a relapse with the tummy trouble. Fortunately, the hotel had a full-featured laundry room THREE doors down from us. So that was good.

Look for this post to be amended (and expanded) later.

-J.


Posted by Joke at 8:32 AM 6 comments

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cheating in the kitchen.

Yes, I know. WDW post is pending. I had a full-featured, action-packed day at the office and tomorrow looks like more of the same. You can't serve Blog and Mammon at the same time.

Anyway.

Raving foodie that I am, I sometimes (like, say, today) don't have the time to make dinnah for the assembled and have to throw something together. Invariably that will be some variation on pasta. Or, sometimes, you don't want to do that whole "from scratch" tap dance or worse, you wanted to, but didn't and know you're up against the clock.

The first of my cheats is Victoria Marinara Sauce. This is clearly an Italian-American sort of sauce, more "gravy" from the North End or Little Italy than anything you can imagine. It is medium-thick, orangy-red, pulpy with little reddened globules of olive oil. There is a savory cooked-in garlic/onion thing going on with an undertone of meatiness. There is no added sugar (or any other sweeteners) and there are no tomato pastes or purees* or anything like that. This would be ideal for braising bits of beef/pork/veal or meatballs for putting on the "macaroni for Sunday dinner."

Good base for turning into an authentic-ish bucatini amatriciana or fra diavolo (much better than Victoria's jarred equivalent) or as a solid building block for a very correct bolognese, too. Great price and available pretty much nationwide, including Costco, pretty soon...although you might have to buy a pallet thereof.

The next cheat is Pomi's Marinara. In contrast to the Victoria sauce, this is Italian-Italian. The sauce is an unmistakable fresh-tomato-red, moderately chunky and it is minimally cooked (probably no more than absolutely necessary for the purposes of its excellent aseptic packaging, synergistically heightening that freshness thing). Whereas Victoria has that long-cooked taste with a strong bedrock of garlic and onion with supporting herbal players, this one has it the other way around; more Brindisi than Brooklyn. Freshness is key, and the bright herbal hit is noticeable, with the garlic, etc. doing the supporting role, all of which are ably aided and abetted by a nice undercurrent of olive oil (EVOO, from what I can gather, because it has that decidedly EVOO flavor note), in decidedly non-Italian-American dosages. There is a trace amount of sugar, but not in any noticeable way.

If you need to pair some sort fresh pasta (especially filled pasta) this is your go-to sauce right here. It is also stellar with most seafood-inflected pastas (mussels, clams, squid, most fish and the smaller/brinier shrimp) and a good start for making a quick puttanesca or arrabiata.

My third cheat is de Cecco egg fettucine. Mind you, making fresh pasta is no big deal, but sometimes you can't even spare the 20 minutes to do that (or you didn't have the presence of mind to make extra and freeze, or you ran out). Under those circumstances this gets you 9X% of the goodness with out-of-the-box convenience.

Naturally, fresh (i.e. egg) pasta suffers from drying, but in this case it's compensated by the fact that de Cecco uses better eggs and flour than you or I have readily available. The only criterion in which this is a (close!) second to fresh pasta is in texture. The dried stuff can never equal the silky, elastic mouthfeel of fresh. That said, this pasta takes to sauce like a champ, both absorbing it and allowing it to cling. This, and its Goldilocks size, allows the pasta to pair well with the greatest variety of sauces imaginable, particularly with the variations on the aforementioned jarred gems.

Another de Cecco gem is their pennette, which is a typical "dry" pasta (i.e., egg-free) with a gloriously flexible--in terms of usage--shape and a wonderfully wheaty taste and a great al dente texture that holds up even on the plate. This isn't, strictly speaking, a cheat...it's a staple of the pantry, but I figured while we're at it, I might as well give it a plug. It also has teh benefit of being cheap. Good for chunky/meaty sauces.

I mention these because they should be available at supermarkets almost anywhere (the Victoria might be a bit rough for the non-USA/Canada crowd) at a decent price AND they are a "killer app." These are things you want in a cheat.

As great as other cheats might be (I'm thinking of Cipriani pasta and Citarella Lobster/Fra Diavolo or Coppola's Porcini-Marsala), not being able to score them without a ride to Williams-Sonoma or a doorbelling from FedEx or a steep-ish price tag (further bloated by minimum quantities and/or shipping costs) take them out of the running.

Now you know.

-J.

* The most expensive part of making tomato-based pasta sauces is the shipping of the tomatoes, which are 96% water. To make it cheaper, the tomatoes are processed to remove varying amounts of the H2O, which weighs a ton...making the shipping cheaper and the taste inferior.

Posted by Joke at 11:58 PM 0 comments

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I'm back.

Trip was great and the tummy trouble cleared itself up by the end of Day 2.

More later.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:33 AM 6 comments