Monday, April 30, 2007

The end is really nigh now.

This is my last week of SAHD2007.

This means blogging will be rather light for a while as I return to the office full-time.

We all have, I suspect, an embarrassing-to-myself-only moment every rare once in a while. One of those smote me today. While I have been doing the SAHD gig for a while it's been only in the last, say, 3-4 years that I have had to engage in the school drop-off procedure and its protocol.

This is how it works.

You can approach the drop-off zone (the front of the school) from the south or the west. You arrive at an intersection where you will find a smiling member of the local constabulary with a whistle directing traffic. The cars move to the drop-off zone in groups of 10. The cars from the west make a left hand turn, then the cars from the south go straight. The children, in varying degrees of eagerness and wakefulness, emerge from the cars in the drop-off zone and proceed along the sidewalk to the open gate, entering the school's premises. Lather, rinse, repeat. Normally we leave chez Joke at 7:30am, since the bell rings at 7:45am sharp. Normally this is adequate to our needs. Normally.

However, the entire choreography is thrown into a snarl, for example, when it's The Science Fair and kids take twice as long in unloading their exhibits. That sort of thing wreaks havoc when you've been stuck behind a slow-moving sanitation truck, or had to stand in abeyance of the road work crew's flagman.

Anyway, as I was exiting the drop-off zone last Friday which ends in a "T-junction," I noticed that there was no reason to NOT drop off at the end of said T-Junction/Drop-Off Zone...there are no streets to cross, the walk is quite short, etc. All that need be done is proceed along the very same sidewalk from the opposite (and infinitely less trafficked) direction.
I've taken the liberty of preparing a rudimentary diagram to illustrate. The dark blue section is the Official Drop-Off Zone, the light blue is the main gate through which all children must proceed and the magenta -- or fuchsia, if you like -- is my new plan of action to avoid the whole thing.

So we tried it this morning and I am embarrassed it toojk me all this damned time to figure out this new and aggravation-free format for the decanting of offspring at school.


Posted by Joke at 7:54 AM 8 comments

This much I know.

People with bursting tonsils are a very, VERY fickle, treacherous bunch.


Posted by Joke at 7:53 AM 0 comments

Saturday, April 28, 2007

This is why I have readership numbers that make Dooce purple with envy.

Go to and type:


in the search box.

Only THEN will you understand how I manage to have -- and hold in my thrall -- have a spajillion readers.


Posted by Joke at 11:48 PM 10 comments

Friday, April 27, 2007

This is why I LOVE Australia.

"Sheep sold as poodles."


Posted by Joke at 11:29 AM 8 comments

Closing in on a killer oven frite


Last night I made another batch of oven fries. MUCH better, although not quite there. No, I didn't take pictures. Sue me.

The first time, if you'll recall, I made the frites with a steam-then-oven process. It was okay, but I didn't get that ultimate crunch I was after. The steamed potato bits didn't brown as evenly as I would have wished.

So I got to readin'.

Since I was using russet/starchy/mealy potatoes and I steamed them, the steam gelatinized the starch that was rushing out of the cut surfaces of the potato pieces. AHA! So this time I soaked the potatoes to leach out as much starch as I could. I cut up the potatoes, put them in a big bowl with cold tap water and sure enough, the water went all cloudy with starch. So I changed the water. The water was less cloudy this time. So after a coupla times of this "lather-rinse-repeat" thing the water was perfectly clear. Cool.

I put the potato pieces on paper towels and let them dry off (I patted them from above with additional paper towel reinforcements) completely. Water and sizzling oil are, as you might've heard, a bad combination.

I preheated (at 375F/190F) a nonstick roasting pan with a teeny drizzle of peanut oil. I tossed the potato with another drizzle of oil (quite literally, JUST ENOUGH to coat) and then dumped them in the now-hot roasting pan, shaking until I had one layer of potato. Into the oven, heat cranked up to 475F/245F and I let them cook for about 15 minutes.

Bingo. A much more even browning. A quick swipe or two with a spatula to flip the potatoes and back again for another 15 minutes. Done. Add coarse salt and I was good to go. These frites were FAR closer to something that emerged from the fryer, without worrying what to do with the eleventy gallons of boiling oil or the aerosolized lipid droplets migrating through the house and settling where they'd do the least good.

Things that I need to try in order to perfect this:

1- What size ought I cut the frites? I cut these so each potato yielded 12-15 frites. Smaller or larger? HOW much smaller or larger? I'm thinking the ideal cross-section is about 1/2" (1 cm) square.

2- Should the first 15 minutes in the oven be "dry?" Would the outside turn even crispier or would it go all leathery?

3- Should I stir them around more often at shorter intervals?

4- Should I drop the oven's temperature?


Posted by Joke at 10:12 AM 6 comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Give it away, give it away, give it away now. UPDATED!

I am HALFWAY DONE culling my cookbook stash for the giveaway. This means I have a stack of books 32" (80cm) tall and I am not anywhere near done yet.

UPDATE: Here is a picture of said stack. You have no idea how many books are still not pictured.

The lovely and gracious
Jaye already voiced a request* and that gave me an idea. I think that to be extra fair I'm gonna do this:

If there is something (cookbookwise) that you've always wanted, post that request ("I've always wanted an North Bulgarian baking book.") in the combox. If I have it in my pile, it's yours. Otherwise, in a couple of days I'll post the list.

Oh, and if the person making the request is outside the USA, I'll ship the book via whatever the "cheap and slow" service is.


* I have yours set aside.

Posted by Joke at 11:24 AM 14 comments

Back to inventing things.


Here's another one.

1½ oz white rum (I like Cruzan, more flavorful than Bacardí at two thirds the price)
1 oz amaretto di Saronno
½ oz coconut rum (Malibu is the most common, but I prefer Cruzan also)
2 oz orange juice
1½ oz coconut cream (I prefer to coconut milk sweetened to taste with sugar, which results in a less gummy/sticky thing than those "ideal for piña colada!" brands)

Mix in shaker over ice, strain and serve into hurricane glass with fresh ice. Serve with cherry and orange wheel.


Posted by Joke at 8:24 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How cool is this?

I just downloaded THE coolest skin for my WinAmp player. If you're a fan of SHAG, it's a must have.

As you were,


Posted by Joke at 1:57 PM 4 comments


WARNING! Serious post (with exactly zero humor upside) follows. I'm even turning off comments on this one.

Today, ANZAC Day, marks the anniversary of the Australia & New Zealand Army Corps landing at Gallipoli during the first World War. Now, being a hopeless Yank, the first I'd ever heard of this was via the Mel Gibson film Gallipoli. But as I grew in my knowledge of WWI (about which I have promised a very, very long being -- IMCO -- one of the greatest ruptures in history, certainly the biggest one of the last 200 years) I got an appreciation for the hardships endured and the heroism displayed.

It's also important to note, particularly from THIS side of the equator and THIS side of the International Date Line, that this commemoration expands (or ought to) our view of humanity. Too often we think of "our heroes who gave their lives for their country" and forget that we have friends who went into it alongside us, who also gave their lives for their country and in doing so made that sacrifice not just for their country but for the whole world.

Posted by Joke at 7:53 AM

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Crisis averted

I'm going to let NOS loose with the polisher and the tub of "rubbing compound polish" on my dad's car.


Posted by Joke at 7:41 AM 5 comments

Friday, April 20, 2007

Joke's Book Club, part _

I'm something of a fan of T. Coraghessan Boyle's.

So, when I saw this book in the "Last Chance!" bin, I grabbed it. I enjoyed Drop City and The Road To Wellville a great deal and I figured, The Inner Circle would be a great read.

Which it was. Only I wasn't expecting the subject matter. The more, um, sensitive among you might have issues with a book which deals with the (semi-fictionalized) devolution of Dr. Alfred Kinsey as a prurient-but-clinical Svengali, as well as his associates who suffer the consequences of allowing themselves to be molded by Dr. Kinsey.

The book, although it deals with sex, isn't a sexy book per se. It's definitely not a labcoat-ripper and it won't leave you putting your air conditioner on "Antartica" or beckoning your beloved to leave the office early. I mean, sure, some people do that anyway, but this book will probably not be catalytic in that regard.

The premise is simple. A rather stolid young college senior named John Milk (!) gets talked into attending one of Dr. Kinsey's lectures. From there, he gradually becomes one of Kinsey's closest associates and participates in the good Doctor's research, even when that research -- ahem -- starts becoming a bit unorthodox, and gradually encompassing other researchers and their spouses.

The story hits a few patchy spells, but TCB's prose keeps it from bogging down. The interesting thing is how he weaves what we know about Kinsey with fictional material in such a seamless manner that you'd be hard-pressed to know where one ends and the other begins. TCB's wit is evident, if sometimes subtle, and there are a few surprises to keep you on your toes.


Posted by Joke at 6:24 PM 4 comments

Let's try this again, shall we?

One of the things about getting to be my age, besides saying insufferable things such as "when you get to be my age," is that one's parents often turn into Old People. Not all old people, alas, become Old People. My dad has become one, my mom is looking at the brochures with disinterest.


Phone rings. I look at the Caller ID, see it's my parents' house.

Me: Hello?
Dad: When are you coming over so we can do the thing with the car?
Me: What thing with what car?
Dad: Why must you be so unreasonable?
Me: I get unreasonable when I have no bloody idea what people are telling me they expect me to do.
Dad: You get that unreasonableness from your mother.
Me: All perfectly true, no doubt, but I still have no idea what you're talking about.
Dad: Her dad was like that, too.
Me: How did Grandpa M. deal with people calling him up with cryptic requests?
Dad: Good lord, will you let me talk?
Me: Go.
Dad: When are you coming over so we can do the thing with the car?
Me: Which thing, dad?
Dad: The thing with the scuffs.
Me: You mean polish out the scuffs on your car?
Dad: What else could it be?
Me: Sometimes I wonder. But what do you need me for?
Dad: To show me how it's done.
Me: I already showed you how it's done.
Dad: Not with the polisher.
Me: It's the same thing only it's less work, dad.
Dad: How would I know that?
Me: The manual, I guess.
Dad: Those damned things never make sense!
Me: What part didn't make sense?
Dad: You are so much like your mother.
Me: Dad, if you are asking me to come over and polish out the scuffs, you'd save a lot more time by just asking so I can say I'm too busy. Take it over to one of those car detail places.
Dad: I can see there is just no talking sense to you.

And so the long day wears on.

Now, he is perfectly capable of doing it, but for some bizarre reason he has reached the conclusion that, having turned 70, he no longer need expend any effort and people (i.e., me not my kid sister) are to perform all sorts of tasks.

Which is pretty similar to what I get from my sons.


P.S. TFBIM asserts I'll be like that when I'm his age, I'll be the same way. In fact, when (if, knock wood) I get to be that age I'll just feel comfortable telling people to bugger off because I'm reading.

Posted by Joke at 6:11 AM 12 comments

Glory, interrupted.

Guess how ginormous and time-consuming was the post that Blogger ate.

Go on, guess.



Posted by Joke at 5:24 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Well, this explains everything.



Posted by Joke at 9:45 AM 4 comments

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The end is nigh.

With the cowered citizenry of the republic having paid their annual obeisance to the taxperson, the time comes for TFBIM to return to the more-or-less normal state, and I get to do likewise. We can each now spend the school hours doing office-ish stuff, but with flexibility to perform any parenting-ish sorts of tasks as the need arises.

The question which visits me annually is "what have you learned?" As usual, the answer is "Um, let me get back to you on that."

Part of what makes me different from all the other parents I run into during my "Mr. Mom" time is lack of introspection. I sit with the kids and I make sure they grind out the homework, but I don't particularly cherish this time, nor do I expect I'll ever look back on it with my mind's eye tinting the whole memory a roseate hue. I bathe them and feed them and schlep them around because these are things which must be done, not because I bask in some otherwordly parenting glow, or because I feel empowered or any of that. Kid has to go to the dentist and I take him and I sit in the waiting room and I read. We go for lunch and I buy him a treat for being all brave.

This year, becoming more firmly positioned as a temporal fixture, more of the SAHMs have seen fit to engage me in conversation. While I am generally vexed that my reading has been interrupted, I am polite and I make nice. Besides, this gives me a glimmer of an insight into the way they think. Mind you, I can't make sense half the time why they think what they think or even how anyone could even begin to make sense thereof, but I still find it fascinating. I expect the reverse holds true and they have no idea how I can think whatever it is I think. Which is fair.

I'll give you an example to illustrate.

We're waiting in the walker pick-up section. One mom I recognize starts talking to me about this and that and she admits that when she dropped off her daughter last week at ballet, she forgot ____ and had to go home and get it and bring it to the girl at the ballet class, arriving just in the nick of time. For reasons which I cannot fathom, this woman was wracked with guilt. So, there I am, talking in public to someone's wife who is on the verge of unbelting a bucket and a half of tears and trying to:

1- Sound vaguely sympathetic (which wouldn't actually do anything, but I have learned that one must be seen as trying) and
2- Making sure my shirt didn't get soaked and
3- Not looked as puzzled as I was by the thought percolating in my head of "What? You got her the ___ in time, right? No harm done, right? So what's the big deal?" You'll be happy to know I also learned to not articulate thoughts like these.

There are some people who have an automasochistic mechanism, I guess. As a consequence they aren't fully alive unless they have spotted and magnified 6 different flaws before breakfast. Which strikes me as an awful lot of effort expended towards the result of feeling terrible. Perhas we ought have a telethon or something.

To a smaller degree TFBIM feels some of that. She wants to be the one that goes to the parent-teacher thing and feels as if the teacher is inwardly scowling at her. I have learned it is unwise, when presented with this supposition, to say "So what?" One time, TFBIM was telling me she felt a bit bad because I had to attend a field trip with NTS and even though it made no difference to NTS and the field trip was somewhere she'd rather not have gone, she felt bad. At this point NOS appeared out of the kitchen and looked at her as only a 9 year old boy could and said "Mom, that's just weird."

Taking the forthright and honest lad aside, I explained to him that it wasn't weird. Well, yes it was weird, to us. But to other moms, this probably made eminent sense. It took some doing to explain that the differences between moms and dads was not only the plumbing but the wiring. We have strengths and weaknesses that, ideally, interlock and complement each other. The way I explained it was that, in the best case, moms were like painters and dad were like sculptors. Moms see bright colors, and muted shades and gradations and the subtlest shadings and contrasts; they sweat out the matters of warmth and light. Dads on the other hand, focus more on heft and shape and materials and dimensions.

Both are equally necessary, says I, to create a decent human being who can bring to the world not only shape, but also color; not only heft, but also light, not just warmth but solidity. Just because the way a painter goes about painting is unfathomable to a sculptor (or vice versa) doesn't make it weird. And he seemed adequately satisfied by the explanation.

But seriously, a lot of the stuff I get from these moms IS unfathomable to someone with only half the X chromosomes.


Posted by Joke at 4:19 PM 20 comments

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The glorious events of a misspent youth.

I want to thank the lovely and gracious E-Claire for hipping me to this video, from a band I saw and loved WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY back when I was traveling to Boston to secure (without success) admission to one of the nation's premier MBA programs.

I love Boston. Not that this would be obvious to those who have a passing knowledge of me, but I do. After all, the city's politics skew to the opposite end of the spectrum from mine, it has a VERY discernible winter, and that University didn't even have the good grace to put me on their waiting list. But I have never failed to not have a bad time in Boston, and for some reason my social life perked up whenever I visited. (More on this another time, remind me to tell you about the Card fundraiser in 1982.)

Part of why I do is because Boston, IMCO, has the best music scene, bar none, of any city in Creation, especially if you like your music (in PC's words) "Jangly, power-poppy* and slightly punky."

There, I said it.

Anyway, here they are:

The Neighborhoods


P.S. The second song on this clip is one of my absolute favorites, ever.
P.P.S. Not that I'm thinking of actually doing it, but I have always been very curious by how those New Wave bands got their hair to look like that.

* Not you, Poppy.

Posted by Joke at 10:39 PM 9 comments

I think I invented something


I was goofing around in the kitchen, taking all my bartending & cocktail & wine books from the kitchen (where the intoxicating potables and ardent spirits reside not) to the bar (where they do) when I got in the mood to experiment with the fluids in question.

So I looked in my bar to see what bottles were nearing emptiness and the following were the ones about to reach the end of their productive lives:

1- Bailey's Irish Cream

2- Kahlua

3- Amaretto

So this is what I did -- and I must preface this by saying it met with TFBIM's approval -- with them...I think I invented a cocktail. I haven't come up with a name yet but it's something in the Almond Mocha family. I mean Almond Mochatini is a bit too, y'know...twee.

Take 2 oz. of Bailey's.

1 1/2 oz. Kahlua1/2 oz. AmarettoPut it in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass if you want to be all hip and modern.Of course, you could rim it with cocoa powder, grate chocolate shavings over the drink, etc. I think this isn't necessary.


Posted by Joke at 9:27 PM 7 comments

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The great cookbook giveaway


For those still curious, the bathroom remodeling guy shows up this coming week. The plan is to see just how bad the thing is behind the walls -- we're taking the damned thing down to the wall studs -- and then we'll adjust our budget accordingly. Your kind suggestions (special thanks to the near-invisible, but lovely and gracious Perky) have been noted and catalogued.

But that's not what I came to tell you.

The thing of it is that after the bathroom is redone, the kitchen is next. This entails getting things in shape kitchenwise for when the revolution comes.

As you may know, I have a lot of cookbooks. A lot. The other foodies herein congregated would look at the 16 linear feet of excess books and purse their lips and shake their heads.

I'm a-give 'em away. Maybe I'll eBay some, but I'll just give 'em away. This isn't even a contest. I'll post a picture of 2-3 cookbooks and maybe a little blurb on each and whoever claims it in the combox first gets it. I'm not restricting how many cookbooks someone can take, although if I see someone collaring an unusual percentage, I'll adjust this. Oh, and only one claiming of a book per post.

Most of these cookbooks are excellent, and they have been relegated to their current status by my scanning and printing out the recipes which work for me. They have been superseded, in my life, by other books that are, say, more encompassing.

Still these books are excellent. Just because I no longer have the time to make "raviolis" out of white chocolate and filling them with chocolate and almond mousse, doesn't mean you mightn't.

Either way, they are yours for the taking. Shipping's on me.


P.S. Melvynadam snagged the pasta cookbook. The China Moon cookbook is still up for grabs.

Posted by Joke at 8:44 AM 8 comments

Friday, April 13, 2007

This is the important post of the day. UPDATE!!!

The unimportant one will follow.

(WTF is Blogger doing to the spacing????)

I am in dire need of any of the readers of this blog, who might find themselves conveniently situated in relation to a Pottery Barn store (or outlet) to please email me at ...


After conferring with the lovely and gracious Ms. C., the realization dawned that scoring these would take calling on a store-by-store basis. Well, we struck paydirt. While the Master Computer has all of these sold out across the fruited plain, said computer isn't, y'know, accurate. So, stores that were showing "0" actually had, say, 2 large, 2 medium, 8 small, etc. The correct number were ordered and these will be shipped to our nearest PB store.

Y'see, here's the thing. For my birthday, TFBIM went to PB and bought me SIX of the pieces seen here. For reasons which have yet to be adequately explained, she got me all six in the medium size. (The leftmost one.)

So, sensing there was something amiss by the puzzled look upon my face, she made inquiries of me and I explained that given our general sort of layout as far as serving food went, six medium of these in the medium size was not practical. More practical would be, say, 2 large, 2 medium and 2-4 small. I then proceeded to explain likely scenarios and she saw the wisdom of my views.

Only that these pieces were discontinued and our nearest PB only had -- you guessed it -- the medium.

Venturing further afield because I had also been in receipt of a Williams-Sonoma gift card and the closest W-S was in a mall that also had the next-closest PB we sallied forth. But it was lunchtime. While I suggested that we stop at the PB and effect the exchange, TFBIM was adamant we lunch first. On the way to lunch, I popped in and ascertained that all three sizes were well represented and we proceeded lunchwards.

You see where this is going, right?

Um. Yeah.

So we're still short on the large and small department.

Therefore, I implore you, Gentle Reader, to be on the lookout for these at your nearest PB, should that be convenient to you. Not only will I pay for the cost plus shipping, but I promise you there will be a very gratifying surprise headed your way.

Thanks in advance,


Posted by Joke at 7:07 PM 12 comments

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Drivelversary redux





We now return to less cryptic bloggery.

Posted by Joke at 8:22 AM 6 comments

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Of course, it's not all beer and skittles in Jokeville

Dear Internet,

Uncle Joke has been a very busy lad. NOS had a dentist appointment, and NTS had a cardiologist appointment pretty much back-to-back. Lest there be a tumult among the people, NTS's was a precaution because of a prescription he was, er, prescribed. The cardiologist said everything was fine and that we were very wise to seek his confirmation of what we already knew and, once he had seen what our insurance would cover, ordered a battery of tests that would bankrupt most 3rd World nations. "Just to make sure."

You'll be amazed these all came back fine.

Then I had to throw on my food-and-wine geek hat out to help a pal make some menu choices for an event in the summer.

This all against the backdrop of the looming end of tax season. For those of you who are not Infernal Revenue Service-conversant, the closer it is to Tax Day, the more frazzled tax professionals, like, say, TFBIM get. TFBIM is a woman of amazing strengths and talents but despite my telling her otherwise, considers stress equivalent to marathon training and nothing makes her feel more alive than having a gallon of adrenaline speeding through her system at all times.

This is dangerous turf for the SAHD. On the one hand, the SAHD has to be very supportive and understanding and patient. The work is vexing, the regulations laberynthine, the clients maddening, the deadlines jarring and the hours interminable. So a savvy SAHD shoulders even more of the daily burdens. I schlep across town at breakneck speed to handle errands after saying "Oh, don't worry dear, I'll do X and Y for you. Yes, it's no bother at all. Yes, I'm sure." NTS's baseball thing at 4pm, NOS's golf thing at 4:30pm, then back to pick up NTS at 5pm and then back again to pick up NOS at (barely!) 5:45pm. Then sling them in the shower in the order of sweatiness and plot dinner, making sure there are plenty of leftovers that will prove reheatably palatable at 10:30pm or so when TFBIM returns.


One must balance this obsequiousness with care. A woman stressed to her limits is difficult to mistake for a rainbow or a frisky kitten. After all, if I am to perform all this errandy, parental goodness I must avoid being decapitated with a spatula or having my throat chewed through. I mean, really, it only stands to reason. So one keeps a low profile, so as not to be the Nearest Target of Opportunity when the Wrathful Venting Muse strikes one's beloved. I make cappuccino offerings and just @#$%ing SCRAM from sight, that sort of thing.

It's almost as if your wife (or, husband as your case may be) was a spiritual timeshare, with a demonic party showing up during the off-season, and loitering freely. You can only ameliorate the circumstances and plan to ride it out in the cellar.

That's my advice, anyway.


Posted by Joke at 6:15 PM 10 comments

Sunday, April 08, 2007


I have been asked by one of you -- wishing to remain anonymous, for some reason -- to scribble down what are, for GREAT want of a better term, Joke-isms.

Some have traveled far via this blog, and some are more likely to be uttered than written. They all contain some kernel of what passes for my wisdom as accumulated through the years.

In the order in which I remember them:

"Stress is not an aerobic exercise."

"You have been relieved from all responsibility of enjoying your duty."

"Success in life is measured by results, not by process."

"You have not been granted the privilege to alter reality to suit your sense of the ideal."

"Once you are married, there pretty much aren't any good surprises."

"There is ALWAYS a way. The hard part is figuring it out."

"Difficult things take a lot of time. Impossible things take a bit longer."

"The people whose lives revolve around an internet forum are living proof of the limited practical applications of extremely high cognitive skills."

"Anxiety about your problems is like putting Cialis in the food supply of a rabbit colony."

"The first thing to do when you find yourself in a deep hole is to drop the shovel."

"You can't save everyone from themselves. But you can be far away when they turn into a fireball of flaming splinters."

"A day spent without laughter or serious thought was a damned waste of 24 hours. Which you'll never get back."

"There is a grave difference between involvement and committment."

"90% of everything sucks, and that's lowballing it."

"The only way to look at life and remain sane is as an optimistic cynic."

"Negative thoughts are like birds. It's not your fault if one lands on your head, it is your fault if it makes a nest there."

"There's enough misery out there to go looking for -- or worse, manufacturing -- more."

"The law of Unintended Consequences is the mother-in-law of your actions."

"If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be in any damned shape to take care of anyone. The strong can carry a lot of loads, the weak a few, the dead none."

"Be supportive. But not so supportive that people get comfy with the idea of not trying to fix the problem."

"Being unreasonable is only any good if you have perseverance."

"It's easier to get forgiveness than permission."

"Words have very specific meanings."

"75% of the feelings of guilt are there only to paralyze you."

"Learn to distinguish between being openminded and being idiocy-friendly."

"In any endeavor there are a million ways to @#$% up. If you're a genius you'll think of fifty."


Posted by Joke at 11:02 PM 3 comments

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Breaking the Good Friday fast.

Being all Papist and stuff, we observe a fast on Good Friday. Iberic tradition holds the fast to keep until after sunset (or, as it's called in Spain, "lunchtime") and even then, no meat or poultry need apply. So, I made one of TFBIM's faves, Black (i.e. Squid Ink) Spaghetti and Shrimp with Puttanesca Sauce.

First you need garlic (I used 4 big cloves, you non-Mediterraneans'll probably wanna halve that), sliced as finely as your patience your allow.
Several of you have emailed me asking what "as finely as your patience your allow" means. It means this:
Take a small yellow onion, and chop it to the limits of your patience, also.Assemble the rest of the ingredients.Anchovy paste (I like Amore, and in this case I prefer the paste over the whole fillets, because these dissolve far better in a sauce), capers, squid in spaghetti, red pepper flakes. [Not pictured: Shrimp, & dried herbs (oregano, thyme & marjoram)] Oh, and also olives (I prefer Gaeta) mrinated in herbs and EVOO. You'l need both the olives and the marinating EVOO.
Oh, and tomatoes. This is my favorite brand. You can use crushed, chopped or strained, depending on your desired chunkiness. I like it medium chunky, hence the "chopped."

Put a couple of tablespoonfuls of the marinating EVOO in a skillet over medium heat.

Once it starts shimmering add red pepper flakes to taste. I use 1/4 teaspoon, you might want to start with just a pinch and work on up therefrom. You want the flavor of the flakes to permeate the oil.
Throw in the garlic slices, again you want the flavor to be shot through the oil also. However, you don't want it to brown, so after 10-15 seconds...
You toss in the onions, stir a bit and then add the anchovy paste (about two inches). Cook over medium-low heat until the onions become translucent.
Add the tomatoes. Stir. Taste. Cook until the brightness is muted a little. Adjust salt & pepper. Keep the salt on light side, because the capers (about which, more anon) will also add saltiness. Put a large pot full of water to boil. Once boiling add a good tablespoon of salt and then toss in the pasta. When it's al dente (7-8 minutes, but start tasting at about 5 minutes, because there are a lot of variables at play here) drain the pasta (leaving behind a couple of ounces of the water). And return to the pot, set heat to low, add shrimp.
You may be tempted to get humongous shrimps (or prawns). Don't. Get someting in the "31-40" size, or slightly smaller. You want, ideally, for the shrimp to be half a mouthful, that you may twirl pasta and spear shrimp for the best taste...and still have it fit in your mouth. The ones here are 31-40s, and those were a touch large. 41-50s would be better. However, the smaller the shrimp, the easier it is to overcook. So watch it!
Stir. When the shrimp start changing color, add the sauce, stir and take the pot off-heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the shrimp. You should end up with something like this:
Add the olives.
And the capers.
Open the wine. You want something not too heavily oaked, with decent fruit and acid. This "lightweight" Chardonnay is ideal, with juicy pineapple-ish notes that play off the mild spiciness and good acid to counteract the saltiness.
Eat, drink. Repeat.

Posted by Joke at 4:38 PM 11 comments

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

At long last, our national nightmare is over.

Dear Internet,

You know how much I love my espresso. I have a machine at the office and you were here when I scored my supah-dupah eBay steal. You will also recall the heartbreak of last week when NOS got sick and after a harrowing day the superior filter, consisting of parts #10-663-A and #11-830-D (dark grey), snapped ferociously after a regimen of caffeine mania on my part.

I tried to use our backup machine one of those where you put the ground coffee in the filter basket thing attached to the handle, twist the whole thing in place and press a button and wait, pressing the button again to halt the flow of coffee. TFBIM found it acceptable for morning café con leche/café au lait/caffé latte but since I take it straight, the downward slump in quality was too noticeable. (After all "how are you going to keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Gay Paree?")

Brewed coffee is, frankly, completely out of the question. Coke -- especially now that Kosher-for-Passover Coke abounds -- was tempting but owing to my iron-willed Lenten discipline, out of bounds. Tea was okay in a pinch, but gallons would be needed to keep my synapses firing in the right order. I had to (and did!) do without.

Until now.

The superior filter assembly (a new, improved design, now featuring parts #10-663-A2 and #11-830-D) arrived by mail, ready to install. Serious kudos to these guys, who not only sped the upgraded #10-663-A2 and #11-830-D (in dark grey) to me, for free, as reported previously...but also sent an extra #10-663-A2 and #11-830-D (in medium brown) also for free.
The upshot is that I am now back among the alert and lively.


Posted by Joke at 2:10 PM 7 comments

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Because you asked.

Dear Internet,

As a foodie, I'm faced with a certain dilemma. One the one hand I could stand to eat hunks of cow on a regular basis, yet my vanity isn't down with that and my sense of mortality seconds that motion. The solution is to "stretch" the beef component, so that my tastbuds get to groove on all the beefy notes without needing to wrap myself outside a steak the size of a hubcap.

So, here is one of my fave ways of doing just that. Beef Negamaki.

Start with a fairly small portion of none-too-precious beef. Tenderness is not an issue, but deeply beefy flavor is.
Wrap the beef in plastic. (Cheapskate that I am, I use the same wrap whence it came.) Whack it with a meat mallet. You want it as thin and flattened as possible.
Once flattened, put trimmed scallion/green onion/spring onion/these things segments along the length. Roll up tight. You should be able to wrap twice around, otherwise use a toothpick to secure. (figure 1/2 lb. beef for 6 scallions)

Now, make a glaze, dipping sauce.
Let your taste be your guide. I like soy sauce, sesame seeds & oil, TINY bit of fresh garlic, TINY bit of red pepper flakes, lemon and [not pictured] a smallish spoonful of light brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Adjust to taste. (In my case the proportions of soy:lemon:oil are 3:1:1, but taste and adjust as you go.)
Coat the beef LIGHTLY with peanut oil -- or whatever you're not allergic to -- for two reasons, so the beef doesn't stick to the grates and so the seasonings don't draw out the juices of the beef. That done, salt and pepper the beef rolls and throw on the grill. (It was raining so we used the indoor grill.)Flip over and brush the TOP SIDE with the glaze/soy thing. You want it to caramelize, not burn. Then you flip over just a minute before serving and glaze the other side. You want a deep brown crust.
Plate with some spinach salad on the side and veggie potstickers. (More on that soon. I had some saved up in the freezer.)

The spinach is dressed with a miso-wasabi dressing, note the dipping sauce and the sake cups with the STELLAR Sam Adams Black Lager, because I'm geeky like that. (We kept the bottles in miniature champagne buckets filled with ice water. I know.) You're supposed to slice the beef into bite-sized rolls, like this. But it was late and we were hungry and I forgot.


Posted by Joke at 9:30 PM 8 comments

Monday, April 02, 2007

So as not to lose the habit

Dear Internet,

It's been a while since I got all foodiefied on you. Partly because NOS's tonsils burst into open flame, and partly because I didn't want this to be A Foodie Blog. But I figure you have to eat, and I can't put a light under a bushel (to riff off Sacred Writ) and therefore I bring you something springy. (At this time of the year, it should also work for the Southern Hemisphere types, if acted upon with no undue delay.)

Now is the time of the year when the Foodie thinks of risotto. Mostly because Spring has sprung and fresh new vegetables have sprung right along with it. Fresh basil, tomatoes are all starting to peek from the bins of the stellar folk who keep the Farmer’s Markets humming. A bounty is heading our way and we should do it homage. The Foodie mindset is filled not with restrictions, but with possibilities. Therefore, a risotto. It is a good and delicious thing, crammed to the rafters with the nutritional goodness of tomatoes (lycopene, beta-carotene and almost certainly oodles of as-yet-unknown-enes). This risotto straddles many divides, it is warming since the evenings and nights are still crisp, but light so you don’t feel leaden by 8pm. In our case, 9pm...but you get the idea.

The keys to this, as all Foodie things in the Foodieverse, are primarily portion and proportion. (This means that standing over the kitchen sink and eating it out of the pot with the wooden spoon is contrary to The Foodie Code.) This risotto makes a stellar side dish to accompany a bit of grilled chicken (liberally rubbed with Italian herbs, or maybe
gremolata) or some sauteed or grilled shrimp or prawns (my Lenten fave), with an accompaniment of some garlic/red pepper-y sautéed spinach or rapini. This is one of those recipes where it is really key is to use the absolute best ingredients you can find. The fewer steps something takes from farm to palate, the better it will taste, the more it will satisfy you and the greater the benefits.

1½ cups grape* tomatoes (halved & seeded…tomato seeds are kind of bitter)
2 tablespoons fresh basil – rolled up and cut into VERY fine shreds** in a chiffonade
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin*** olive oil
1 - 1½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt (start with the ½ and adjust to taste)
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
5 cups “pale” defatted chicken stock**** (if you are using store bought, try to get the kind that is low in sodium and is aseptically packaged in a box)
½ cup yellow onion, diced
1½ cups raw arborio (if you can’t find it but have a Spanish/Latin market nearby, “Valencia” will work in a pinch; if you want to be hyperfoodie, try carnaroli or vialone) rice
½ cup dry white wine, a leftover Pinot Grigio would work here
2 ounces fresh mozzarella***** cheese, diced (if you get the smaller sized ones -- bocconcini or ciliengine -- your life will be a lot easier)
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1- Combine the tomatoes, basil, half of the EVOO, ½ teaspoon of salt and garlic in a small bowl, toss well and set aside.

2- Bring stock to a simmer (don’t boil!) in a medium saucepan and keep it warm. Yes, you could “zap” it if you simply must.

3- Heat the other tablespoon of EVOO in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté it until it’s translucent (figure 3 minutes or so). Add the rice, and sauté for an additional minute. Stir constantly, since it’s vital to fully and evenly coat the in the EVOO. Add wine, and cook yet another minute or until it has been nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. (Make sure nothing sticks.)

4- Here is the key part. Add warm stock one ladleful at a time, stirring until each ladleful of stock is absorbed prior to adding the next ladleful…figure about 20 minutes total. Yes, you may switch hands. No, you don't need to stir it constantly. Every couple of minutes or so, just when the stock is pretty much -- +/- 75% -- absorbed. The purpose of the stirring is to help evenly release the starch molecules into the liquid, to generate the requisite creaminess.

5- Add tomatoes & co., cooking another couple of minutes, stirring GENTLY (so as not to mush up the tomatoes you just spent all that time cutting and cleaning.

6- Remove from heat, stir in mozzarella (slowly, in small batches)

7- Sprinkle each serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pepper.

8- Do your impression of Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally

VARIATIONS: Use half as much slivered sun-dried tomatoes instead, and the oil from the SDT jar instead of EVOO. Use fresh thyme instead of basil. Once you get the basic technique down (sautee aromatics, sautee rice, add wine & stock in increments, add flavorings) you can risotto-ize much fanfare. For example, swapping out the tomatoes for reconstituted porcinis, some of the stock for the porcini soaking liquid, thyme for the basil and gorgonzola for the mozzarella. Etc.

So there.


* You could use other types of tomato, but aim for the as small as possible to you have as optimal a ratio of tomato skin to flesh, to help them hold their shape. However, anything from "plum" on down will be fine, if that whole "holding its shape" thing doesn't mean so much to you. I expect it didn't to whichever Italian peasant grandma invented this.

** As fine as you have patience for

*** Since we’re trying to minimize greasiness and/or heaviness, it is vital to use the most flavorful stuff you can get your hands on. Otherwise you'd need a gallon of the stuff to be able to have some EVOO taste.

**** When you make your own stocks (and you simply must!) do not roast the bits you are using if you want a pale stock, as you would in this case. Just start with raw chicken scraps and cold water.

***** Use the “regular” cow’s milk—also called fior di latte—here. The nuances of the buffalo mozzarella would be lost by cooking.

Posted by Joke at 8:15 AM 19 comments