Saturday, September 30, 2006

Son of a Batch

A lot of time, people get defensive when I discuss using, say, fresh chicken stock instead of the stuff from cans, jars, tins, bottles or aseptic boxes. "I don't have time!" they'll say.

Well, neither do I. Do you think my daily itinerary is so devoid of activities and committment I can leisurely crush bales of tomatoes for fresh marinara or make stock or pesto, etc. from scratch whenever the occasion calls for it?

Hell, no.

What I do, instead, is engage in batch cooking. For example, tonight, after several roast chickens, I'm making chicken stock. All you need is the Most Excellent Roast chicken and what my wife jokingly calls "organic water." You hack up the carcasses, dump them in a stockpot and fill with water to the brim and simmer s-l-o-w-l-y. That's it. My stockpot has a colander-like insert and when the liquid part has turned a lovely golden/copper sort of color (like a Bass ale, say), I drain out the now-spent solid bits. THEN -- and follow closely, because this is key -- I simmer the liquid down to a concentrate. Figure that one chicken's worth of stock will cheerfully fit (once concentrated properly) in a 24oz Mason jar for refrigerator duty...or an equivalent zipper-lock bag for the freezer. No need to season it, or add vegetables or aromatics.*

The same applies to pesto, or basic marinara or beef stock, etc.

More to follow.

-J.

* By this I mean no need to add them to the making of this concentrate. If I were making some variant of soup, etc. naturally I'd add carrots/celery/onions and some cloves/salt/peppercorns.

Posted by Joke at 8:56 PM 11 comments

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Like Badger, but different

So.

This is what I've been up to for the last couple of days.

Yesterday I had wake up around 6:30ish to drop off NOS at school around 7:30ish to go pick up a client wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay across town (in the warehouse district, where his office is) to schlep WA-A-A-A-AY across the state to go look at an investment property in which he is considering dropping serious coin. After attending to all the business related thereto, I had to schlep back to arrive just in time to not miss rush hour, so I got home barely in time to get dinner going for the assembled. All with an espresso-deficit headache.

Oh, yeah, TFBIM had to take my ridiculous red car and when it was running on the last three drops of fuel, and she was running late and at the gas station, she couldn't work the bizarro Italian gas cap

Today, I had wake up around 6:30ish to drop off NOS at school around 7:30ish to go deal with a client wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay across town (in the airport district, where his office is) to go over some stuff he had to wrap up for a trade show. Some stuff that is due roughly around, um, today. So, upon returning to the office, I have had to go mental getting all these materials in order AND getting new software AND learning the new software (all in one day) so that I can get the stuff done on time. Which, in a rare break, meant 8pm EDT, because the place where it all needed to go is in California.

Oh, I had to do this with both kids driving me crazy at the office, because TFBIM had a full-on, "the works" salon appointment and, after her minivan broke down and she had to limp to the dealership and then the loaner broke down and had to get another one. Seeing as how TFBIM has believed the myth that stressing out is aerobically healthy, I figured I'd be kind and let her decant the offspring here so she could go and fulminate over at the ladies in the salon. So, with the two lads vying for the attention I needed to pay on recalcitrant software and the ticking, looming deadline and the spectre of a family history of hypertension rapping on the window and waving a breezy hello...I managed to choke out what I needed to do a mere 11 hours later and head home.

Oy.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:03 PM 14 comments

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The touching, poignant cookbook post...

...will have to be written by someone else, because I'm coming up dry.

Part of it is circumstances. Anything older than, say, 1961 was left behind in Cuber because the People's Revolutionary Gummint had need to confiscate it (literally) at bayonet-point. So whatever my greatgreatgreatgreatgrandmother might've had to pass along is now helping the Worker's Paradise stem the plutocracy.

The other part is that my family has always been a crew of very loyal recipe readers. The idea of substituting scallions for shallots or vice-versa is, frankly, unthinkable. Not only not done, not even fleetingly considered. So any cookbooks I'd inherit wouldn't have any neat notes scribbled along the margins to the effect of "Sherry vinegar works so much better than cider vinegar." My paternal grandmother's great life frustration was not being a For Real Pastry Chef, but for all that frustration, all she left behind were books on technique and her very own recipe for a cake she invented so she could practice all that piping-with-the-pastry-bag. I don't recall ever eating one of these cakes. She also had a recipe for butter-pecan ice cream (sans pecans for which she didn't care).

At some point my mom gave my kid sister a cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook) and even inscribed it. The irony is that my mom hates cooking and so does my sister -- fortunately she married a guy who'll pretty much eat whatever won't pounce on him and ingest him first -- so by default I got it and that was 1971 and just look at me now.

My maternal grandmother, being all Italic, was much foodier. But, being Italic, she eyeballed EVERYTHING. I remember watching her cook day after day for epochs, but she never used a cookbook. And I mean nevah. I doubt she so much as owned a cookbook. In fact, if I hadn't seen her reading through a Missal, I would have doubted the old girl's literacy. (My paternal grandmother only had one cookbook, which I've yet to inherit.)

She (we're back to the maternal grandmother) also liked taking standard fare from Spain or Cuber and Italianizing it. So, since I have nothing particularly heart-tugging to post, I offer my favorite recipe of hers:

Ropa Vecchia*

1 pound brisket (flank also works well, but is a bit too pricy for this use.) I have no idea what this cut is called in the UK/Canada/Aus./NZ, but it comes from the chest and it's thickish, and has a long and clearly defined grain; anything along these lines will work although this might require a longer or shorter poach)
6 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 cups crushed plum tomatoes with their juice (I like Pomi, use whatever you like)
1 medium yellow onion
2 teaspoons fresh oregano or basil, shredded (NOT BOTH!)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
Fresh ground pepper & salt to taste

Trim the beef. Poach it at as low a heat and as long a time as you have patience for. You want this to be VERY readily shredded. Reserve the broth to make stocks, soups, etc. Mash the garlic. Dice the onion. Put them in a small saucepan with the extra virgin olive oil and saute until the onion is golden, making sure you don't color the garlic too much. Add the basil or oregano and tomatoes. Season w. salt and pepper. Cook until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Shred the beef with two forks. Toss in sauce, as if this was a shredded (not ground) sloppy joe. Top with Parm. cheese, if desired. Leftovers can be reheated and topped with mozzarella to make a terrific sandwich/panino. (You can even add back a bit of the beef broth to make this more of a soup/stew thing.)

-J.

* In Cuber -- back when they had food -- there's a very famous dish called Ropa Vieja, which means, literally, "old clothes" because the beef is shredded so as to resemble rags. Vecchia is Italian for "vieja."

Posted by Joke at 4:21 PM 24 comments

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"The effrontery, sir, the damnably impudent cheek of it all."

Many of you, no doubt, are familiar with the "Steal This Look" concept as espoused by what passes these days for fashion magazines.

Well, it's one thing when you're the one exhorted to do the stealing. Quite another when it's your look which is the subject of larcenous suggestions. Exhibit A (photo) is a from a certain high-end menswear purveyor with retail locations scattered in the Best Places (y'know NYC, London, Paris, Rome...that sort of thing).

As Poppy will readily testify, the look encapsulated (minus coat, since I have enough sense to reside where coats are superfluous) by said photo is pure, unadulterated Joke. Besides the fact all individual components are truly snazzy, you'll note the subtle, sophisticated interplay of patterns and textures; the damn-near-imperceptible black & grey nailhead pattern of the suit against the subtle blue-on-blue check of the shirt, all highlighted by the "ruby port"/navy regimental necktie.

That's "me!"

Why are these people pilfering my look for profit? Especially when I see not a cent of that profit. God knows I'm as big a fan of profit as can be found, but one must be fair and share said profit with me. Especially since I had to ride out those hideous years when high-gorge near-Edwardian suits and monochromatic shirt'n'tie combinations were all the rage. Wasn't I steadfastly at the helm of the SS Timeless? Didn't I help navigate between the Scylla of Trendiness and Charybdis of Stodginess?

Isn't that worth a few ducats flung my way?

The prosecution rests.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:39 AM 7 comments

Blackbird's 15 Overrated Things Meme Thing

Swiped from Poppy who swiped it from Blackbird...

Automatic transmissions

Microfiber

That whole chewing your cuticles thing

Reality TV

Chai

The great outdoors

Books that make girls cry

Hip-hop/rap

Soccer

Serious, grand musicals

Winter sports

Tapenade

Crocs

"Red carpets"

Andre 3000

That is all,

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:02 AM 10 comments

New and improved.

The lovely and gracious Bec took the rather lame meme with which the lovely and gracious DIH was tagged (and tagged me, owing to her rather cruel sense of humor, even though she knew and admitted it was lame) and made it something far, far better. Still, I like the idea of being tagged by a Long Islander living in Minnesota -- who got it from who-knows-here -- and having the taggage tweaked by an Australian in Sydney.

Five things I wish were in my freezer:

Any one of my 4 favorite ice creams
Limoncello
Those steaks that were (inexplicably) on sale at the market
Pearl onions
One of those blue gel packs for whenever I injure myself

Five things that shouldn't be in my wardrobe:

Shirts the sleeves of which have shrunk 3"
Belts that need replacing
Tennis shorts from the 1980s
Earth-tone $#!+ people keep insisting on buying me
Those cheap @$$ rugby shirts with stretched out cuffs

Five things I hate about my car:

It doesn't get 40 miles per gallon
It only seats 2
The black leather interior gets around 300 degress when I forget to put on the car cover
It only has a cassette player
The optional hardtop needs to be fixed to seal properly

Five things I should throw out of my handbag/purse/briefcase/backpack:

Dried out pen
Dead PDA battery
Ruined MP3 headphones
Old copy of the Wall Street Journal
Old receipts

Five things I don't want to admit are in my bathroom:

Awful mirror
Hideous vanity
The faucet that has no cold water pressure
The pink tile
The grey tile.

WTG, Bec!

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:41 AM 9 comments

Friday, September 22, 2006

But it gets better

www.TeaPartay.com

In cursive,

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:21 PM 2 comments

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tagged from right field.

The lovely and gracious DIH, she hath tagged me with the "Fab 5" meme.

Five things in my freezer:

homemade chicken stock
real wild shrimp (not prawns, as they have no claws, but definitely prawn-sized)
the ice cream maker insert
extra homemade pot stickers
extra butter

Five things in my closet:

Too many suits
Too many shirts
Too many neckties
Suspenders (never too many)
Belts

Five things in my car:

Tool kit that came with the car
A Mag-Light flashlight/torch
A Leatherman multitool
Umbrella that came with the car
Car cover

Five interesting things in my backpack:

(Twenty years too late for a backpack...let's go with attaché case.)
PDA
MP3 player
Latest book I'm going through
Pen
Business cards

I agree DIH, not the most scintillating meme ever.

The 5 people I tag are the 1st 5 to read this.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:10 PM 10 comments

Quite the card.

Dear Internet,

As I go through this patch of life, trying my best to make sure those whom I have offsprung grow up to be, y'know, civilized...sometimes you have to emphasize the more mechanical aspects of being a civilized human being. Which isn't easy.

Even in the most overevolved among us, as of this writing, are sometimes remiss in R.s.v.p.-ing or derelict in issuing thank-you notes. So, basically, civilization is going to crash around us any moment now. To forestall this, we've always made it a point to make sure the lads saw us R.s.v.p.-ing or issuing thank-you notes. Most of the time, to be honest, I crank out something on the computer, print it out, sign it and maybe add a scribble or two. To be even more honest than that, only A-listers get the full-on handwritten treatment: Nice stationery, an effort at penmanship, some thought put into the words...that sort of thing. Given that A-listers are people whom I find delightful, I launch myself at the task with zeal. I rummage for a fountain pen, I pick a nice-looking note card and I dash off something warm and pleasant. These days I'm in an Italophilic mindset, so I use the excellent Rossi "Fiorenza" -- which is not as girly-floral as it looks -- for all my handwrittens, along with a neat Delta fountain pen loaded with [WARNING: SERIOUS GEEKERY FOLLOWS] ink I've blended myself. (2:1 Pelikan Blue : Waterman Purple) and I'm as happy as can be.

Anyway, as soon as a lad got old enough to wield a pen without a concern he might accidentally perform a tracheotomy, he was charged with sending thank you notes for birthday gifts and so forth.

Given the average Xth grade classroom is a veritable Germ Training Camp, it is not unlikely that once a month or so, some kid will have some 3-4 day malady befall him (or her). Part of the whole gentleman thing is to be able to send a proper note expressing the proper sentiment. This was always something of a struggle, because the child in question is forever engaged in far more pressing tasks such as GameBoy or Googling something about pirates or race cars.

So we hit a compromise. IF he would be good about sending out cards when they were appropriate, we'd let him pick the cards. This is what NOS chose:
Since ours is a Mom-Dad-Oldest Son-Youngest Son household and he thinks this was the funniest TV program ever, it struck him as a no-brainer.

It came very handy when we had discovered the lovely and gracious Poppette had contracted pneumonia. He wrote a brief, inscrutable, little "Get well soon so we can see you over Spring Break*" and he signed it and left a spot for NTS to sign it. The thing is that we had some discussion over the actual card he chose which was this gem:

We explained that pneumonia (or "Nomia" as Miz Poppette has christened her individual case) very often has suprisingly little to do with getting slugged and developing a black eye as a result. After somewhat frank and honest deliberation, he relented and chose another one. Which I shan't show because it'd ruin the surprise.

So there you have it, another dispatch from the trenches along the western front in the fight between civilization and barbarism.

Ovah and out.

-J.

* I fear this idea of meeting girls in Florida over Spring Break may carry future, unintended consequences.

Posted by Joke at 8:11 AM 6 comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

Which then got me thinking.

Over at her new place, Kim posted a recipe for Chicken Puttanesca...which got me thinking. Would the basic components of a puttanesca work in a "salsa" configuration? After all, I'm sitting on 87 cubic yards of fresh, ripe tomatoes which need using.

So I came up with this:

2-4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as your patience will permit
12 large leaves basil, torn (not cut, tearing makes them mushy)
1 pound tomatoes, roughly chopped, retaining the liquid but jettisoning the seeds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons capers (I like the salt-packed kind, rinsed of salt and drained)
1/4 cup tiny black olives (I like Picholines or Gaetas)
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1-3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, mashed into paste (or already in a paste, if you can find the kind made with only anchovies, salt and EVOO...Amore is a good brand)
OPTIONAL 1-1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste (I like the Italian stuff in tubes, again Amore is a good brand)

Warm half the EVOO and add the pepper and anchovy. You don't want the oil hot, just sort of at a poaching temperature. Stir until the anchovy dissolves. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine the oil mixture with the garlic, basil, tomatoes, EVOO, capers, olives, lemon juice, salt. Allow to stand in cool place for 1/2 hour.

Given the amount of liquid AND the salt (which'll draw out even more liquid) this might be a bit too watery for your tastes...I like to add a glob of tomato paste to balance things out. In such quantities it play along well with the other ingredients, "absorbs" any excess fluid, and doesn't overwhelm the salsa with a cooked (as opposed to raw) tomato flavor.

This goes GREAT with a hunk of grilled tuna or swordfish or even those big fat honkin' scallops you sometimes are lucky enough to get.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:59 AM 8 comments

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I guess next week we'll spend a day at the races.

We're culture vultures, or what passes for it, here on the very edge of the tropics. So, for some years we've had a subscription (or "season tickets" as my BiL calls 'em) to the opera.

Which is fine and good and enjoyable and all that. The hitch has always been the venue which, frankly, has always been a glorified barn. Finally, last year, they (along with the ballet crowd, with whom they'd decided to go halfsies) had mustered enough money to finish construction on a new Center For The Performing Arts.

Which is fine and good and better and all that. The hitch is that it being a new venue, it has a wholly different seating layout. They came up (or more accurately, said they came up) with some sort of equivalency thing for the seats. So, if last year we had seats 34Q and 34R and this year we have T89 and T90 and they're supposed to be just as good, only better, because now we have this shiny new hurricane-proof building in which to listen to the opera. And/or watch ballet, if I could get excited about the ballet, which I can't because every season there's one or two worthy of my ducats, but the rest are Modern and Interpretive. These give me digestive discomfort because I am hidebound and reactionary.

But anyway.

The good folk who decided on the seating equivalency thing had a "Meet Your Seat" sort of cocktail thing last night and that was nice too. We went not only to get out of the house and to push a few soothing beverages into our bloodstreams, but also to see if 34Q and 34R proved equivalent to T89 and T90. Which you'll be surprised to note, they were not exactly. There's a different between "just as good" and "the same thing." We'll live, but now we have people surrounding us and I just KNOW one of them will pretend to wave a baton and another one will show up late and walk across us.

Bastids.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:16 AM 2 comments

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"If he only applied himself."

The above, which has always struck me as a particularly apt epitaph for me, was practically a mantra among all those whose misfortune it has been to be assigned the task of teaching me stuff.

I have been cursed with a particular combination of genes that include a rather decent IQ with a desire for solitude and repose and a good book and some soothing beverage. So, my attitude to studying was always "Why kill myself...when I can sleep through it all and get a B*?" The good Sisters of St. Joseph and the good Jesuit fathers probably hacked off centuries off Purgatory (for others, if they were in good salvational shape themselves) in frustration over me. All I really had to do in order to achieve a decent enough score on a test was to pay attention in class and skim through the textbook. Considering a regimen of studiousness drove home, even during those tender years, the concept behind the Law of Diminishing Returns.

So I sat pretty, or so I thought. School was easy. I slept and got good enough grades to get on the waiting lists of some VERY impressive universities. When my father saw my SAT scores he freaked out, because they were commensurate with someone whose academic performance was substantially better than that of my "Not too bad" record. That's the first time I remember his face cast with the mingled look of disappointment and anger. It had finally hit home what all those "If he only applied himself..." bromides meant.

But even THEN I didn't learn. The combination of a very rigorous HS and my own coasting gene meant that I practically tobogganed through my bachelor's. When time came for graduate school, my friends were zipping off to Very Big Deal business, medical and law schools. I went to an OK school. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the sort of thing which burnishes people's view of you.

So that brings us to the present.

TFBIM had gone to one of those teacher and parent things, and was talking to NOS's teacher when she unbelted with one of those "If [NOS] only applied himself..."

Uh oh.

Hence my concern for my kids. You can't hang a waiting list letter on the wall and expect maximum ducats.

-J.

* "B" being the next highest grade/mark. It's a rough equivalent of "8 out of 10."

Posted by Joke at 9:49 AM 5 comments

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kiss summer goodbye in style

(or "hello" in the case of our Australian cousins)

When I went to that thing at the Museum of Art, I had a drink that SCREAMED summertime called a "Buena Vista" and it's sort of a love child between a mojito and a straight-up daiquiri. Two of them will have you absentmindedly trying to give your room keys to the wall. This is what I was able to guesstimate from watching the bartender. Play around with it.

Juice of 1 lime
1 T. superfine ("caster") sugar
3 oz. white rum (wherein, ideally, were steeped lime peels and shmushed mint leaves*)
2 oz. club soda
1 scoop ice
Lime juice and sugar for rimmage (optional)
Lime slice, to garnish (ditto)

Throw the juice, sugar, minty rum, and ice in a shaker and shake it like a bastid. Rim martini glass with lime juice and sugar. Pour into cocktail glass, top with club soda and garnish with lime slice.

Cheers,

-J.

* You may also, for the sake of time, shmush up the lime peels and the mint leaves in the sugar, and strain them out right before the club soda stage.

Posted by Joke at 9:10 PM 7 comments

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Y'know what I REALLY hate? (Part 2 in a series)

OK.

So I'm surfing the web, as the kids today say. I mosey on over to eBay. I spot something ridiculously cool and -- gasp! -- cheap. It's being auctioned without reserve*

So I spot this item going for practically free with 36 hours to go. What should happen? Two IDIOTS start a bidding war to the point it's now going for pretty much twice my maximum threshhold of pain. I hope someone snipes it.

BASTIDS.

-J.

*Usually it's our British cousins who, on top of being a taciturn lot, also seem allergic to reserve auctions. (No puns about being reserved, please.)

Posted by Joke at 5:46 PM 6 comments

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You decide.

Sometimes people who have been a major part of your life drift away. Sometimes that drift is permanent. You grow apart, you live far enough away or your professional lives bleed you dry.

It happens.

Sometimes, however, you marry VERY different people and the inability of the spouses to mesh properly, in the end, spells the quiet death of a friendship. It's not intentional, it's not malicious or rancorous. It just is.

I think I'm getting a dose of this. If you, dear Internet, have a friend who gets married and moves to the southern end of town and you get married and move to the northern end of town; have a time consuming career as does your friend, the chances of the friendship surviving are pretty slim. When getting to see each other socially involves more backstage work and correspondence than a summit meeting, the friendship has a very weak pulse. If the spouses are more likely than not to prioritize the relatively little amount of free social time to spend with his/her friends (Can you see I am straining to be fair and even handed ovah heah?) the friendship has a couple of tubes stuck into it.

Here's what I'm up against. As you may recall, on June 22, I sent out a little something to our friends to the effect that I'd be throwing a surprise 40th birthday party for TFBIM (who reads not this, or any other, blog) in DECEMBER. With me so far? The email goes forth, and all those informed report back to the effect of "got it...date saved." Anyway, fast-forward to today. A friend emails a whole group of us to say they're expecting their 2nd child and that we simply must get together, since we see so little of each other these days. I reply (to the group) something along the lines of "Well, we SHOULD get together soon...but in the worst case, we'll see each other at TFBIM's suprise party." This because they (the group members) had all Saved The Date, as requested by the Save The Date Card.

You can see where I'm going with this, can't you? It's practically parading up the street with a full marching band, isn't it?

I get a reply from The Spouse saying -- as if this mention of the birthday were news -- something along the lines of "Oh, no! We're having an event that night at our home. I'm sorry we won't be able to attend." Not being the impertinent idiot of my youth, I replied that yes, it's a shame, sorry we won't see you, you will be missed, I'm sure we'll make it up another time.

Basically, while this is not the last straw...it is one of the straws at the back of the box of straws. I'm getting the feeling The Spouse simply isn't so crazy about me/us. Probably not outright dislike, just not quite excited enough about the society of Joke and TFBJM to make much in the way of effort or to prioritize duly...at least that's my guess. Maybe The Spouse doesn't like the Person He or She Married and I had a significant overlap in our Wilderness Years and is being passive-aggressive? Maybe it's less passive and more willful? Maybe it's just bad luck, things that couldn't be helped, etc.?

I have no way of knowing.

But I do know that it seems as if all the effort to keep the friendship viable is one-sided. WHY the effort is one-sided I couldn't say beyond supposition or conjecture. But being one-sided, the one side shouldering the brunt of it...well, that side gets a bit weary.

The upside is that the list of people deserving of one of my kidneys looks as if it's definitely shrinking. This should please the lovely, gracious and talented Poppy who is one of the people on that list of three-soon-to-be-two. Whose spouse* I/we enjoy infinitely more. (And so does my wife...which may be a source of worry.) Whom we see far more often even though they live 72 states away because they actively reciprocate the effort of getting some face-time. Who actually continues to earn that spot and takes it not for granted.

In fact, Poppy even sends handwritten thank-you notes and she R.s.v.p.'s to invitations. Between that and the fact there is a latent Goldwaterness in her genes, I wish I had a daughter so that she (my daughter) could marry her son also, thereby doubling up the grandchild factor.

By the way, I'm not sure who the other person on my kidney list is, so Poppy could wind up with BOTH my kidneys if she plays her cards right, the renally greedy minx.

So there.

-J.

* The estimable Mr. Buxom, with whom I have knocked back a decanter or two while waxing encyclopædiacally until we were so.abysmally.late to meet The Girls for dinnah and had to speed across town, not entirely sober, in a taxi more at home in a demolition derby. I've never shouted "...and step on it!" to a cab driver, but this was pretty close. As you may well imagine, we were something of a sight upon arrival.

Posted by Joke at 10:03 PM 9 comments

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Here's a weird thing.

I only have four Australian readers. Yet all four comment regularly. I have 17 UK readers, I don't think I've seen Comment One from the Sceptre'd Isle since...um...ever.

Something to mull over.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:45 PM 13 comments

They don't make 'em like they used to?

Ovah at my other blog, I have been whining and moaning about things they don't make like they used to.

There is an appalling sameness in the pattern in which things are sold in the USA (I expect this is true of the rest of the civilized world, but I can only speak of the USA). Something comes out and it's judged to be VERY good. This chugs along for X number of years until the idiot grandnephew gets tired of running the family business. Maybe he wants to raise sheep in Montana, maybe he wants his own ashram, maybe he wants to market organic jute. Maybe he likes the family business but, being an idiot grandnephew, runs it to the ground. Whatever. One day Big Conglomerate, Inc. offers the idiot grandnephew much coin to go away and he takes it and, in fact, exits stage left. Big Conglomerate Inc. immediately shuts down production in the facilities it has here, and takes the whole thing overseas, preferably to a country where that sort of product is never, ever used by the local population. Quality takes a nosedive and prices, somehow, get higher.

I theorize that a people unaccustomed to wearing blue jeans, or sneakers, or buttondown shirts cannot possibly get all the nuances down.

Anyway, I got on this jag about all the items of apparel which have changed for the worse. I mentioned three, only one of which Poppy is good and sick of my discussing. (The original Izod Lacoste vs. the new and wholly inferior Chemise Lacoste tennis shirt*.) The list is long and sad and besides the aforementioned shirt, we have the LL Bean Casco Bay shirt, Levi's shrink-to-fit 501 jeans, etc.

Well, today I have a bit of good news. Someone got wise to the idea that people will pay ~$80 for the real sort of buttondown shirts such as Brooks Brothers used to make but no longer do, considering that Brooks Brothers now sells shirts it pretends are made just like they used to but in fact are made with inferior fabric in Lower Elbonia by a native population for whom sleeves are a foreign concept...and sell for $75. That guy is David Mercer.

He won't say it (although I will) but his genius lies in being able to CLONE, and I mean clone, the shirts that Brooks Brothers used to make. If you ever saw said shirts before the numerous buyouts Brooks Brothers had to suffer, you'll immediately get a memory whiplash. The fabric, the cut, the roll to the collar. The only thing Mercer's not yet fully figured out is the right shade of pink (the color of the pink Royal Oxford is the color the regular oxford cloth shirt ought be).

If he ever gets the idea to offer a MTM service -- let alone full custom -- he'll have a Hell of a job catching all the coin that will threaten to drown him.

So.

Finally there's ONE thing they make like they used to, even if it's not by the guys who used to make them like they used to. I'll take what I can get.

Now I need to see about who'll clone the old Lands' End rugby shirts, now that's almost that autumnal time of the year.

-J.

* I realize I'm a reactionary idiot, but what most people call a "polo" shirt is, in fact a TENNIS shirt. A golf shirt is just like a tennis shirt except the sleeves are hemmed. A polo shirt is like a golf shirt, save for the collar being more like a dress shirt's. Not that anyone cares.

Posted by Joke at 8:09 AM 7 comments

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remember?

Today marks the 5th Anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/01.

In this blog, I try to respect privacy, so I rarely (ever?) give out last names, infrequently first names. While still doing this, I'd like you all to specifically keep Tim in your prayers today.

Tim was 42 years old (the age I am now). He had a beautiful wife and an enviable marriage, with three gorgeous children who were then aged 5, 3 and 1. He had just gotten a great promotion at a certain financial services firm. Five years ago today, he and about 3000 other innocents were murdered. The first plane struck right at the floor where his firm's office was located. He never stood a chance, and died on impact. His family, I believe, has never recovered anything of him. I fear there was nothing left of him. So, I have no way of having experienced 9/11 through the prism of a "regular" person. Someone I knew (it'd be wildly presumptuous of me to claim him as one of my nearest and dearest) died.

Someone good and kind and decent and honest and loving. Killed by a murderous hatred given genocidal expression. So, today I remember him and his family, I remember all those who helped, all those who perished and those who survived them.

Today I am reminded of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:01 PM 3 comments

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Worth every last one of the eleventy gazillion calories.

We had a "thing" to attend last night at the Museum of Art. (Don't ask how I get roped into these things.)

The event was held in the atrium and for the first hour you were free to wander around, looking at the paintings and sculptures and pretending to understand what the Hell the artist behind "Dust Mop Breastfeeding Her Young" was trying to say. Afterwards, the bar opened and the exhibits closed (One supposes the Dust Mop doesn't wish to feed Whisky Sours to her young) and the revels began. More on that later.

Now, the part that had my heart going pitter-pat was dessert (dinner was pretty OK, but given the crowd size, it's nearly impossible to make enough foodie-grade edibles AND keep them warm for service...still, I've choked down far worse and the cliché ceviche in a martini glass was pretty damned good) which was a simple chocolate mousse cake. The assiduous reader of this blog will know I tread warily in the matter of desserts. Desserts rarely lend themselves to my eyeballing approach. Go too far over/under on the flour and you have a colossal mess on your hands. Yes, sure, you may find some categories of desserts which lend themselves to camouflaging this culinary handicap (anytime you are served poached pears, you may be 99.99999999999999999999999999999% sure the cook is a raving foody with just this weakness), but invariably if you wish to impress with your sweets, you will have to take out the implements of weights and measures.

Which is fine in this case, because this is so damned simple (for a dessert) that it'll have you giggling.

Anyway, as I was having this dessert, I was deconstructing it in my head. It was actually totally uncomplicated...a base of ganache, layer of chocolate mousse, layer of ganache, etc., etc., topped with a last layer of ganache and white chocolate curls. Ta-da. "Ain't nothin' but a thing." Naturally, given that there was an open bar, I omitted to find the pastry chef and press him (or, of course, her) for the recipe. The best we can do is use my regular recipes and try to ape the results.

Ganache

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli 60% or Valrhona, although with Valrhona, you'll have to chop it into shards yourself)
1 cup heavy cream (if at all possible, avoid that ultra-pasteurized $#!+)

Put chocolate in a medium bowl. Scald the cream over medium heat (i.e. when there are tiny simmering bubbles along the edge of the cream) in a small pan.

Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Lightly shake the bowl down on the counter to knock out any bubbles created by the cream-into-chocolate action. Allow to sit for 1 minute. With a silicone (or rubber, if you must) spatula, s-l-o-w-l-y stir the two together, making sure you're scraping clean the sides of the bowl. Go slow, you don't want to aerate the ganache. Stir until all the mixture is smooth and then keep going for about a minute.

Let the ganache sit at room temperature until it cools but remains pourable. (This is key) It can also be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Mousse

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, separated*
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
White chocolate shavings or curls for garnish

Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler). Melt the chocolate and butter together and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add the egg yolks to the chocolate, 1 by 1, beating with a whisk until incorporated. You want the chocolate mixture to be cool enough not to scramble the yolks, but warm enough to minimize any wee ferlie beasties microbializing. Put aside.

In another bowl (ideally a copper bowl) beat the egg whites until JUST foamy. Add the cream of tartar (you can skip it if using copper) and continue to beat. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff, non-droopy peaks form. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. DO NOT BEAT DRY. If you do, you'll have to start over.

Beat heavy cream in a chilled bowl until it starts foaming up. Add the rest of the sugar and the vanilla. Continue to whip the cream until it holds soft (i.e. droopy) peaks.

OK. Steady your nerves and here is the hardest part.

Gradually and gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. You just spent a lot of time getting all these things nice and airy so don't mangle it like a hamfisted idiot, stirring like it's a punishment, knocking all the damned air out. GO EASY. (Here's a demo, for the folding impaired.) Then, gently (there's that word again!) fold in the cream. Do not overwork the mousse.

Assembly

Get a 1 large or 4 small springform pans. Spray a nonstick spray and then line the bottom and sides of the pan(s) with parchment paper. You reallllllllllllllllllllly don't want anything to stick. Pour enough ganache to cover the bottom. Fill with mousse and smooth it level. Pour a final layer of ganache. Sprinke with white chocolate bits, chill for about 2 hours. Unmold slowly. Done.
NOW. If you want to be super-impressive, you'll alternate a zillion different layers of ganache and mousse...but the law of diminishing returns applies here. I mention it in the interests of full disclosure, but I'll never do that. If there's any leftover mousse or ganache you may pipe it all pretty on top of the cake, but this is also above-and-beyond the strict call of duty.

The nice thing is that this all lends itself to recipe multiplication, in case you have a large-ish horde descending upon your household, provided you have the refrigerator space.

So there.

-J.

P.S. This is a crazily rich dessert, so don't feel obligated to serve great honkin' slabs of this.

*RAW EGG WARNING! RAW EGG WARNING! RAW EGG WARNING! RAW EGG WARNING!
Be careful with raw eggs, due to the slight risk of salmonella or other similar nasties. To minimize the risk, use only fresh, organic eggs which have been properly refrigerated, are clean (give them a quick wash to make extra sure), and are graded AA and have intact shells. Avoid contact between the yolks, whites and shell. If you have a compromised immune system, make the damned poached pears and leave me with a clear conscience. And you've been warned so don't sue me.

Posted by Joke at 2:06 PM 7 comments

The thrill is gone, so we go back to normal.

So, now that it's a typical Fringe o' Paradise day with torrential rain, I have a moment to blog.

I was rummaging through my horribly-un-updated blogroll (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.) when I chanced upon the ancillary blogs of the blogrollees in question. I don't mention anyone else's 2nd (or 3rd, etc.) blogs, because I figure people are smart enough to click along the yellow brick road until they find the Emerald City of their choice.

At any rate, looking through these other blogs by my blogpals something struck me. It's a sentiment expressed mostly (but by no means exclusively) by the antipodean contingent. The fact that a whole chunk of the time, between my own Jokespeak, choice of slang and/or jargon, generic Americanisms, and fetish for acronyms and abbreviations...a lot of people have no idea what I'm saying a lot of the time.

Dear me.

This means that anyone chancing upon this place for the first time might see things like TFBIM or NOS or "yoinked" and be mystified. I mean, I try to give metric equivalents, so why not extend the courtesy to other areas. The problem is in knowing when to leave the language puttering along in 1st gear so the new kids can latch on to the narrative teat, and when to go in top gear so those who've already developed a Joke-to-English mental dictionary can get the maximum goodness therefrom. After all, Poppy and Badger (and Perceptive Reader and Jujube) who've already been subjected to my written ramblings for damned near nine years don't need me to go to first principles. (In Poppy's case, she's also been frequently inflicted with my society for the last 6 years, so I must be considerate enough to not make her eyes roll like a defective slot machine.)

So, here's an installment, in no order whatever.

TFBIM - The Fabulous Babe I Married
WDW - Walt Disney World
NOS - Numbah One Son (you have to make it sound like Charlie Chan)
NTS - Numbah Two Son (see above)
HTH - Hope that helps
IMCO - In my considered opinion
AMHIK - Ask me how I know
AFAICT - As far as I can tell
EVOO - Extra Virgin Olive Oil

If anything else proves puzzling, just ask.

-Mr. Helpful

Posted by Joke at 12:56 PM 3 comments

Friday, September 08, 2006

In which I throw the strong, silent Shaveblog visitors a bone before I move on to something else.

Ovah theah at Shaveblog, the estimable Corey Greenberg has posted his suggested Starter Kit. Aye, 'tis a good kit, too. So, in the interest of variety and all that, here's my everyday rig, although you new kids would do better to stick to Corey's suggestion, since he is a Professional. Anyway, here's mine:

Gillette Adjustable DE safety razor. Contrary to popular opinion, I far prefer the slim handle, with the year codes I through N. The loss of heft is more than compensated by the added maneuverability. You should also find what setting works with your choice of blades and quit futzing with it. With the blades listed below, I am at #6.
Israeli Personna “Super+” (aka “no-name”) DE razor blades. These truly kick arse, at a ridiculous price. You can also score them on eBay for a (yes!) slightly better price.
Vulfix #2234 badger shaving brush I even got it to match my scuttle. I can get my geek on just as impressively as anyone else, sue me.
Proraso shaving cream The fact it's insanely cheap and readily available at most Target stores is merely a fringe benefit. This cream shaves as good as anything else out there AND the mentholated cooling thing when you rinse is so-o-o-o-o-o goooooood. All this goodness for $6. S-I-X. It also gets my Italophile side squirming with pleasure.
The Moss Scuttle While not strictly necessary--you can get a lather going on the palm of your hand if you had to--I sure as Hell wouldn't wanna shave without it ever again
Alum block Because you will start out by nicking yourself. Just live with it and use the alum.

I'm pretty neutral on the moisturizing aftershave. My skin manages to issue so much in the way of lipids that it's never been an issue so far. Corey is probably right in liking Trumper, so go with that, or Truefitt & Hill's Ultimate Comfort, if you want something unscented.

Okay. Now go knock that 5 o'clock shadow off.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 5:34 PM 3 comments

Shaveblog and boys vs. girls

So here's the thing. In the last couple of days the readership of this here blog has shot up as a consequence of being mentioned over at Shaveblog. Here's what I've discovered. Men don't, as a rule, comment.

This is, of course, an evolutionary trait. Way back in the caveperson days, sitting next to the fire with his bride, if a caveperson were to start sharing a bit too much, the results would calamitous.

Bride of Caveperson: So, how was your day?
Caveperson: Good. I decided to hunt down some elk. You know that clump of mulberry bushes? Well, okay, I figured nobody ever goes past those for elk. Hell, nobody looks for elk anymore, but I figured they would be back there, so I went to the mulberry bushes, y'know, bearing right, okay? Humped right past the bushes to...um...do you remember that granite outcropping?
BoC: Aw...that's where you first clubbed me and dragged me by the hair.
C: Yeahyeahyeah! Anyway, if you climb un and over that granite outcropping you go down this, like, um, sort of gully thing, right? OK. So go a-a-a-a-a-all the way down the gully through the ferns...and here's the secret, JUST past the ferns were these, y'know, elk. So I look around, and figured some of the adolescent males would be about right. So I took out the #6 spear--it's along carry from the middle of the ferns, and I need the loft--and wham! Got one.
BoC: You handsome hairy brute, it is delicious. Thank you for sharing the details of your day, it helps us become closer as a cavecouple.

The problem is that caves are notoriously NOT soundproofed and other cavepersons would overhear the whole story and the next day there'd be no elk, no mulberries on the bushes and the cavecouple would starve to death, not passing their voluble genes. I only give you the basics, because Darwin covered this already last semester.

So this is why, I postulate, guys generally don't comment. Especially in other guys' blogs with other guys looking. They perceive a vaguely heterophobic something about doing so. I have to remind myself of that when I see the readership has increased by over fiftyfold in three days. In keeping with the first settlers and pioneers, the new arrivals to these shores seem to be a taciturn lot. And now you know why.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:04 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Welcome Shaveblog-ites.

Well.

Today I am doing my usual cyber-meander and I stop at the estimable Corey Greenberg's Shaveblog. Imagine my surprise when I see he has issued linkage unto this blog as a consequence of my channeling the good news of Old Navy (really!) and their excellent PJ bottoms.

Those of you who've come over from Shaveblog...welcome. You'll find amazingly little here related to shaving. Not "nothing," just really, really little. Corey's gone and cornered the market on shave-ish goodness in the blogosphere and let him enjoy it in good health. If you're looking for other stuff related to the matter of being a civilized man-type person, you're close. You really want my other blog, in which I explain what to do with yourself after Corey's made sure you are no longer capable of successfully striking matches on your face. I mean, sure, there's some stuff here related to arraying the outer man so your inner schlep is banished along with your outer schlep, but this is just a way station to where the good stuff happens to be.

Of course, you're all curious about how Mistah Greenberg and I became inseparable comrades. This is understandable. I wish there I could share some sort of giga-glam story behind it, like a rescue from a flaming wreck or organ donation or having been born conjoined at the facial stubble. But the real story is more underwhelming: I bumped into the blog, figured he was the guy who wrote A/V articles I enjoyed immensely a decade earlier (i.e. The Laserdisc Years) and dropped him a note. This led to a fun email exchange in which he gave me serious shavegnostic inner wisdom and I suggested sleepwear and explained the inner workings of the Federal Reserve. At some point there may have been an illuminating discussion of vintage guitars which he plays quite well and I use to make homeless cats wince.

Like most of you--and this includes my long suffering wife--he was curious as to WTF I do for a living.

So...what WILL you find on this blog? Mostly scattered thoughts. The odd meme. Book reviews. Recipes. Stories of what the Hell I did today at work and with the kids. More recipes. Opinions on matters of no consequence. Some insufferability. Trip reports. Rapturous paeans to high-end espresso machines and crazy old Italian sports cars. Reports of social events to which my beloved wife sees fit to drag me. Wine. Much italophilia. Maybe some golf.

AND

When I'm back to my slow season, a contest or two.

So get a soothing beverage and stay as long as you please. I'm gonna.

-J.

P.S. Poppy, you've already read all these, so don't get rattled by the links.

Posted by Joke at 9:28 PM 7 comments

To sum up.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words, public and private, about my great-uncle. I am amazed I was able to hold it together throughout the whole series of events. There were a couple of spots (seeing a picture of him and me at my 4th birthday, for example) where it was a close-run thing.

So now life grinds slowly back to...um...life. Kids have to get to school, the dentist, etc. Dinner has to be cooked, the roofing guy has to be motivated, the storm shutter guy needs to be violated by a platoon of rutting buffaloes. That sort of thing.

Carry on, then.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:53 AM 6 comments

Monday, September 04, 2006

Here's why.

Sorry to have been out of the loop these last few days. My great-uncle C. died on Friday. He is the last one of my grandparents' generation* to go, and he died at age 100 + a few weeks. Surprisingly, he had been in excellent health until Tuesday when his heart started failing. After that his decline was rapid and, thank God, painless. He was a good man, a gentleman in every sense of the word: kind, loyal, learned, wise, charitable and ridiculously erudite; full of enthusiasm and integrity. He had been a professor, then dean of the school of commerce and eventually president of the University of Havana until the [spit] Communists [/spit] threw him in jail for "counter-revolutionary activities." He became a senior partner at a Very Big Accounting firm and he helped train thousands of of the partners from Latin America until he finally REALLY retired around age 85.

He finally joins my great-aunt (he had widowed about 6 years ago), but down here he will be missed greatly. So that's why I have been out and will be until Wednesday-ish.

-J.

* Hard to believe he was "the baby."

Posted by Joke at 6:24 PM 7 comments