Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why I love Australia, Pt. 2



Posted by Joke at 1:56 PM 7 comments

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Click me, baby.

OK. My most recent wine column is up ovah at Vinapedia.net and I ask you to issue clickage duly.


P.S. No dogs were harmed in the writing of this post.

Posted by Joke at 3:00 PM 7 comments

A little flashback action for BabBab and the person who flamed her.


Posted by Joke at 2:43 PM 3 comments

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You don't wanna know how much time I wasted



Labels: ,

Posted by Joke at 5:25 PM 1 comments

Deja-vu, all over again.

Guess what just came from the printer? Go on, guess.


Posted by Joke at 12:07 PM 5 comments

Friday, August 24, 2007

Memory whiplash.

Thanks to the lovely and gracious Tere, I am reminded that today is the 15th Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. I had spent a good while preparing for the hurricane, since these are the only natural disasters with the good manners to R.s.v.p., something earthquakes and volcanoes simply don't do.

So I had helped my parents put down their shutters and board up the few windows which were unshuttered. Then I went to do the same at my then-future inlaws. I went and decided to ride it out at my parents' because their house had been built before the unnamed Hurricane of 1927 (still the meanest hurricane on record, implying that if your house survived THAT one, you'd pretty much survive anything short of Judgment Day) and set up camp in the walk-in closet of my former room. We had been warned that this hurricane was Very Very Bad, and my parents and sister and BiL were cramped in the hallway that connected my old room with my sister's old room. I (of course) "simply had to be different."

So I took my old Superman sleeping bag, unrolled it diagonally and took "my" phone, my cell phone (a brick, by today's standards), my Walkman (remember those?) a flashlight and a stack of books and went to ride it out.

Y'see before they invented Global Warming Miami hadn't gotten thwacked by a hurricane since 1965 (Hurricane Betsy, for those scoring at at home) and the only close-ish scare was Hurricane David in 1979. So, as a metropolitan area we were woefully unprepared. The population growth had led to a housing boom and, with nobody paying attention, many parts of of the Greater Miami area had housing that couldn't withstand a squadron of flatulent geese, never mind the first Category 5 hurricane in decades. (Ovah at the Fringe O' Paradise, which took the 1927 storm right in the zipper, the building code and inspection process was far more stringent. Still is, actually.)

I remember vividly how the wind began to howl and wouldn't stop. Oh, dear Internet, how it howled. My parents' house is about 2 miles from the Official U.S. Gummint National Hurricane Center Building where a wind gust of 164mph (262kph) was recorded, lasting thirteen minutes. They recorded a gust at 177mph (283kph) before "the instrument failed." What that evah-so-elegant turn of gummint phrase means is that the Doppler Radar tower was knocked ass over teakettle and Doppler toppled 13 stories, imbedding itself into pavement so badly that it was impossible to distinguish from the modern art sculpture for which the taxpayers had been sodomized county had paid to the tune of $185,000.

So, you can well imagine how it messed with my reading when my mom or dad -- God bless them, they were old even before they were 60 -- barged in anxiously to ask me if I had "heard that noise?!?" Either that or TFBIM calling every few minutes from her parents' place (right by Miami International) to report on an ominous creak or inform me that the hibiscus bush had been shorn. It really ruins a guy's hurricane when he keeps getting interrupted all.the.damned.time.

About three hard gusts in, the power went. It went in the way some mom or dad goes crazy and just drives away from his/her house and children and never returns and never explains. When, like good citizens, we called the power company to explain the outage, the automated voicemail thingy practically answered "YES. We know, awright?"

We were very fortunate. We were in a house, and an area of houses, that had been built of solid poured concrete or otherwise equally sturdy materials and processes, back during a time when building houses was some serious thing. We were spared the devastation that afflicted places immediately to the south and west of us. When I'd drive down to check on friends, or drop off ice, etc., I was amazed at how leveled and razed certain sections were. Hurricane Andrew was "a wind event" and those winds had been fed by a pressure that had dropped to 922mb...a figure that still makes me (and anyone hurricane-conversant) shudder freely.

I also remember the astonishing amount of debris. Trees uprooted, mile after mile after mile; to say nothing of branches, leaves, fronds, etc. Only very mature oaks and royal palms came through it unscathed. There were pictures of debris impaling trees. It's pretty impressive when you see a piece of lumber nailed to a tree.

What I remember most, though, was the powerlessness I felt. Not psychological, but electrical. Our electricity was out for three weeks, which is exactly what you want when it's the hottest summer (avg. 91F/33C) on record. I spent most of those three weeks ferrying ice and canned food to my tribe. If you know anything about Miami, you're aware that people over a certain age consider driving more than 10 minutes to be, frankly, an expedition not worth their time and consideration.

So I went, because that's just the kind of bastard I am.


Posted by Joke at 11:58 PM 5 comments

Not quite yet. UPDATED!

Ovah heah, with the huge numbers of people from Cuber and Spain and Argentina, etc., Spanish is (at least at "our" school) a mandatory subject now. The administration, figuring that not a few kids would have to hit the ground running with this new regime, had a language camp over the summer and NOS was conscripted into same.

Like most conscriptees, he went the first day kicking and screaming bloody murder. I thought his fingernails would leave gouge marks on the sidewalk from his reticence. But, as of that afternoon's pickup, he was fine. More than fine, actually. Even better, in the space of one summer, his language skills #$%&ing LEAPT forward. He took some diagnostic something or other and now that the school year's officially begun, he has been placed in the advanced group. What's more is that he came home and immediately proceeded to do his Spanish homework first.

That kind of caught my attention. Then, when I realized he had done his homework neatly, I figured something was up. This neatness and diligence has been repeated every day. NOS cheerfully conjugates verbs, composes relatively complex sentences, and all of that. This, as you may well understand, puzzled me immensely.

Anyway, today I had to drop by the office to sign some stuff and while I am rustling through the sheaf of things I have to sign, I hear one of the secretary-types say "Hello, Miss A."

"Miss A.?" I think to myself, "That sounds very familiar, as NOS's Spanish teacher's name is 'Miss A.' What a curious thing." So, I wheeled casually to glance and, it turns out that Miss A. is an outright hottie. As in "Wow." As in, "I'd better let my wife handle any parent-teacher conference." Think Sienna Miller with a tan and good sense.

So, my boy is at least struck by the notion that were he to be an examplary student, he would be in the good graces of a near-supermodel hottie teacher.

The thing of it is that this is just the latest in a series of indications to the effect that he's discovering that girls -- at least some of them -- are not, as previously believed, icky and annoying. This has led him to the point where impressing a certain girl (or a certain subset of the genus) is considered a key thing.

This all reminded me of a phrase in Italian that (roughly translated) means "He's our son but he's YOUR kid." See, the thing about NOS is that I see how his mind works, because it does so quite similarly to mine. Whereas mine didn't, um, quite work like my dad's or mom's (although mom was closer in structure) I know how to reach him in a way that he'll arrive at the result I'd prefer him to arrive. My parents, VERY early on, figured they had no idea why I was doing whatever the Hell I was doing and seeing as how I didn't seem to be committing felonies, pretty much left me alone. I vividly recall that being around age 9.

So now I have something to really chew on. Lord help me when hormones show up.


UPDATE! Seems the little #$%&er has been helping himself to my fragrance.

Posted by Joke at 5:31 PM 8 comments

Almost plagiarism.

Look. It seems one of America's most frou-frou soap/toiletries merchants has a very similar taste as (my beloved) TFBIM. Alas, they can use the near-GDP cost of these faucets ("taps" if your water drains in the opposite direction) and ancillary doo-dads as a tax dodge, and so far I cannot.

But, in other news, the medicine cabinets arrived today.



Posted by Joke at 5:07 PM 2 comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dear Badger: "Yes, you may."

It embarrasses me to consider how much I paid for these. They have, though, been handcrafted by artisans in the Schwarzwald region of Germany, by specialists who also work for NASA.
These are a solid plutonium/titanium alloy.
Each piece is individually carved from a solid block of the aforementioned rare space-age alloy.
All pieces are individually numbered and come with a certificate of authenticity, as well as a certified expert's appraisal, duly entered into the Official Record.
They cost me more than my first three cars combined.

Posted by Joke at 3:34 PM 14 comments

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wait for it...

The solid plutonium faucets have been installed.

Photos to be declassified by NASA soon.


Posted by Joke at 11:49 PM 2 comments

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Luddites Dot Com

(Flashback Friday, a day late)

As someone who is fairly conscientious about being regularly -- as the lovely and gracious Bec [because she apparently swiped it from the lovely and gracious Suse] puts it -- en blogge, as well as normally cranking out 20-25 emails a day, plus missives to assorted online groups, computer-drafted reports and epistles, etc., I have an inordinate fondness for stationery and fountain pens.

[I have also just mangled my shoulder trying to prop up my pillows. Ouch.]

Anyway, because I'm bored and because I'm (among other things) an anachronism of sorts, I just spent a delightful and instructive spell rearranging my stationery and doing a little maintenance work on the fountain pens.

The stationery thing started ages ago, when I was a callow youth. Maybe 18 or so. I spied (through the shop window) a rather comely lass working in a (duh) shop just on the shadow of the Venetian winged lion. Bristling with the bravado that only youth (when flush with a reasonable dose of wine) can possibly have, I stepped through the doorway, the better to afford this young lady an opportunity to avail herself of the manly bounty that was Young Joke. It was my every intention, you see, to dazzle her in every respect, to intoxicate her with charm. I don't know exactly how much Valpolicella I had occupying space otherwise earmarked for hemoglobin, but I was fairly confident that within 20 minutes I'd have her loudly demanding to carry my child. (In contrast, these days my wife loudly demands I carry my child.)

What I had not counted upon was that she'd bedazzle me, and 20 minutes later I had transferred enough currency to her store's coffers to provide me with a small satchel of exquisite papers, cards, envelopes, and the like. All of which she had wrapped up expertly in a semi-glossy purple-pink paper, as if this were all one great Christmas gift. When I had envisioned her taking advantage of me, this walletectomy was not exactly among the highlights of my thought process.

But I, being the resilient optimist I am, took the whole episode in stride. I sauntered (as much as someone who has blown an shockingly high percentage of his funds can saunter) to a small bar-type place and ordered a carafe of what two honeymooner-types were having. I produced a cheap pen and started to muse upon what I might write on these excellent papers. My thinking was that I ought send lovely missives from this lovely spot to young ladies back home upon whom I had, er, designs. It struck me as a capital notion, when I was interrupted by my waiter.

Y'see, in Italy, people do not eat by themselves, let alone drink by themselves. Most of my tour (if you want to glorify it with such a term) had consisted of looking up at pretty buildings, occasionally peering inside, and more frequently, stopping at these bar-type counters where locals were loitering amiably and having a tipple of some local-ish wine or another. This was sociable and therefore acceptable.

So a guy with a stack of very expensive paper having a carafe of wine one late afternoon all by his lonesome, y'know, stuck out. The waiter, what with Italians being Italians, surmised that I was writing to Someone Special Back Home and before he deigned give me my carafe -- for which I was paying a 50% premium given that I was seated at a table -- he told me I couldn't possibly jot down anything on paper such as that with a cheap-o-matic pen. He was taken aback that I was perplexed. I was partly perplexed because he spoke in rapid-fire Italian and it toom me a while to process his Italian to my Spanish. At any rate, he claimed he had an uncle in the business and he took (!) me through a warren, along diminutive alleys, to a small shop which gave the impression of being The Smallest And Best Hidden Colored Pencil Museum In The World.

I was too stunned and cowed to ask what was happening to my carafe of wine. At any rate, Elio (the waiter) engaged Sandro (the colored pencil maven) in animated speech. As they discussed my predicament, Sandro nodded sagely. It was as if a general practitioner and a specialist were conferring. Looking around I saw all manner of inks, quills, pencils, etc. Sandro asked me, the way one would ask a lost and frightened toddler, what I liked. This was good because I could answer something and not feel utterly useless. I rattled off my hobbies and likes. I kept my more prurient interests to myself, although given the fact I was among Italian males they may have taken my silence to mean I had some sort of glandular deficiency.

Sandro nodded sympathetically, much like when a patient says "it hurts when I do this." Sandro looked at Elio.

Gravely, but sweating self-assurance, he uttered: "Omas."

I thought he had diagnosed me as heterophobic, but he produced a small box with a brushed aluminum pen, with a pleasantly discreet automotive motif. "This is the best thing for you," I understood him as saying. He then wrapped it up like a Christmas gift (along with an ink bottle, the color of which he chose and didn't bother to let me see), helped himself to my funds and bid me good evening.

Elio, looking as if he had saved me from ravenous marmots, led me back to our starting point, chattering effusively. Another, slightly older, waiter-type guy (Virgilio, I think) came up to us and handed me my stuff. My paper, my misfolded map which he had taken great care to fold properly, assorted brochures, etc. Elio then poured me a glass of wine and took his leave of me, returning to refill my glass with what must have exceeded the contents of my carafe and dropping off -- gratis! -- tiny plates of generally unrecognizable edibles.

That evening, dear reader, I started writing down for all the young ladies of my acquaintance some of the most frightful bilge imaginable. A young man on the cusp between high school and university, with his blood volume amplified by wine is capable of truly appalling stuff* in the quest to be (non-rockabilly) Romeo-like.

But the pleasure of feeling ink glide smoothly from a sleek fountain pen to the surface of a creamy off-white sheet has always stayed with me.

Unlike those poor girls to whom I wrote.


*That nobody struck me repeatedly about the head and neck is a small miracle.

Posted by Joke at 8:20 PM 12 comments

Brilliance, Part 1

From one of THE greatest (and most inventive, and most underrated) films ever made, Zelig:

Posted by Joke at 6:47 PM 0 comments

Flush with victory.

It only took until 8pm, but we have a working toilet in the kids bathroom.


Posted by Joke at 8:51 AM 4 comments

Friday, August 17, 2007


This is wholly unrelated to anything to do with this blog, but damn.

Go, read.


Posted by Joke at 7:25 PM 6 comments

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Dear Internet,

First, some background information.

Sometime in early September, my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My aunt C. and her husband just celebrated theirs March with something of a grand-ish affair. This kicked my mother parents into gear on having a soiree of their own. So, they talked to TFBIM and my sister into becoming the co-chairs for this event. I am relieved not to have been asked because, as you all know damned well, I am a lone wolf. My sister and TFBIM must find areas of agreement AND must deal with -- often dissonant -- input from my parents.

I have been assigned the task of the opening toast. I assure you this is something unlikely to be forgotten, as are the overwhelming majority of my extemporaneous remarks.

Anyway, this task of organizing the 50th Anniversary Party With Discordant Input is, interestingly, also really time consuming. So, TFBIM was delayed in her appointed rounds today, as was my sister; having become conjoined. So, around 10:30am-ish, I had to take delivery of my niece, take HER to run some errands, pick up NTS at his summer (swim) camp (he's as tanned as a flight jacket, thanks for asking) at noon, run an (unsuccessful) errand, followed by another (unsuccessful) errand, pickup NOS at his summer (language) camp, feed everybody lunch and then figure out WTF to do with all of them until the eventual arrival of the Marines to relieve the besieged garrison at Fort Joke.

Because my guardian angel seems to be well-rested and in fine fettle, the children all behaved angelically. (I know!) Until my niece and NOS decided they were going to cook crepes. Which presented a set of problems, starting with the fact it was 3pm and who the Hell wants to choke down crepes an hour or so afterwards? So, I had to make a strategic suggestion, for they seemed bound and determined to convert fluids and flour into something grandiose.

So, an idea struck me. I offered them the chance to make bread. I took out the bread machine, an excellent bread machine cookbook told them what we had on hand (all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, butter and assorted oils, eggs, etc.) and said they could pick whatever recipe they wanted if its ingredient list coincided with the inventory on hand. They also had to leave the kitchen immaculate. Which was good, because it was far from immaculate when this whole thing went down.
You have no idea the HOURS of merriment involved. Fully 3/4 of the time spent was done so establishing the "rules" who scoops what, the protocol for taking turns and the all-important "who pushes the 'on' button." Then they established rules for loading up the diswasher, squirting detergent, adding whatever the Hell additives are required and the all-important discussion of "who pushes the 'on' button." Somehow the kitchen would up immaculate, too.

(NTS deigned to supervise, but no more. Occasionally he'd peek at the bread machine and nod sagely. But that's it.)

Then I ordered the lot of them to shower (sequentially), made them help me fix dinner (beef negamaki and potstickers and some hosomaki) and set the table and by the time both TFBIM and dinner rolled around, they were too tired to do anything besides eat and behave properly.

Somehow, I'm tired.


Posted by Joke at 10:26 PM 7 comments


Well, the paint guy will (allegedly) be here today to paint the wainscoting to match the cabinets the cabinet guy mangled by finishing them in the incorrect shade, i.e., to match the wainscoting. As the lovely and gracious Shula noted, it was supposed to have been a blue and cream thing, but now it will be a blue and STARK #$%&ING WHITE.

We'll make it also the cigar room, in the (vain) hopes the nicotine softens the color.



Posted by Joke at 8:09 AM 4 comments

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The airplay it deserves.

The lovely and gracious Jaye hath posted an excellent Asian-ish shrimp recipe. OK, go look at it now, I'll wait.

Go, I tell you. (She also has some foodie excellence going on there, so feel free to linger.)


In discussing this, she mentioned that, while yummy, it really wasn't volumetric enough to achieve mealworthiness. So, my mind drifting backwards to those days when I was scrupulously observing an involuntary vow of poverty, I suggested that volumetric mealworthiness could be easily achieved by serving the whole thing on a bed of Asian-ish noodles. Or, as I used to do way-back-when, whole wheat spaghetti because it was far more available and far cheaper and (to the vast majority of the Anglosphere) indistinguishable from, say, soba noodles.


For dinnah, I'm making Jayesiatic Shrimp with simply dressed fake Asian noodles (Misura whole wheat spaghetti, which is what I happen to have on hand from a failed experiment with bigoli). Since the lovely and gracious Jaye has already put forth the recipe for the shrimpy bits, I'll only mentiion the noodle bit.

Incidentally, this can go hot or cold, your call.

Take one pound (450something grams) of whole wheat or buckwheat noodles, boil in salted water (figure a small palmful per quart/liter of water). Drain and dress with a vinaigrette made from 1 part toasted sesame oil, 3-4 parts -- you make the choice, I go with 4 -- peanut oil, 1 part soy sauce (I prefer San J's low sodium tamari) and 1 part rice wine vinegar. Add the vinaigrette in stages, because different noodles absorb vinaigrette at different rates. The remaining vinaigrette refrigerates nicely. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or snipped chives, mound shrimp atop.

The only real change I made to the shrimp recipe was to switch the peanuts for cashews, because that's what I have.

There ya go.


Posted by Joke at 10:17 AM 3 comments

It only took five days.

The cabinet guy has finally installed the fruits of his labor. The more eagle-eyed in the crowd will notice he got the color of the finish wrong.


Posted by Joke at 7:18 AM 4 comments

Monday, August 13, 2007

If you love someone...

Dear Internet,

There are things which, in se, are merely droll or amusing but which, by virtue of affording your beloved no small amount of vexation, can become hilarious. Hold that thought.

I was traipsing ovah by the lovely and gracious Bec's blog to get the inside scoop on her 40th birthday suprise party, to which the equally lovely and gracious Shula had alerted the world. This led me to think back fondly on the same stunt I pulled on TFBIM last December. Which led me to think how much fun it'd be to do it again, same time and same place. In fact, I am curious as to how many times such hijinks might be managed.


Now I just need a "fake" event to draw her in. At the moment, I am leaning to a faux Noel shindig. I also need to start gathering the goody bag, er, goodies.

More later.


Posted by Joke at 4:01 PM 9 comments

Saturday, August 11, 2007


If you were to traipse around the Australian segment of the blogosphere, you'll see that many of of the latest crop of Flashback Friday posts feature tonsorial nightmares.

While I, as such, don't have much to relate on that front, I figured I might as well get in the spirit of the thing and scribble some drivel on the subj.

Two drivels, actually.

Drivel Numbah One - I have had the same haircut for the last 25 years. I like it and it's not going to change. I'll tell you how it all came about, because I care for you, Internet. Y'see, I'd graduated and gone away to the University of Several States Away From My Parents as a callow youth of 17. Given that this was the very beginning of the Wilderness Years, my pursuits were not strictly academic. As a consequence of some unexpected budgetary issues involving my consumption of ardent spirits and the frequency of my outings for same, I skipped a couple of haircuts. This being 1981 and my not having particularly luxuriant tresses to begin with, it wasn't that big a deal.

Alas, my hair is such that it doesn't grow long so much as it does big and it started looking a mite unkempt. So, after firmly resolving to remain sober long enough save the scratch required to pay for a haircut (and tip...what am I, a savage?) one day I found I had enough for this procedure.

I asked a couple people where I ought go and I settled on the barbershop in the basement of the student union building. After classes on a Wednesday -- I was anticipating a weekend in which my social calendar would be full and I didn't want to look freshly trimmed like a rube -- I sauntered. When I got there I found the barber was out sick and the only person there was a hairstylist.

Mind you, I didn't think much of the idea of a non-barber haircut (for both sound technical and unsoundly illogical reasons) but being of an expedient mindset I concluded that any port would do in a storm and I struck the business note. She explained that although the barber handled the males and she the females and, although her book was full, it was early and if I could point to something in one of those books featuring haircuts, she'd do it.

So we went to "the catalogs" and narrowed it down to three and after some discussion and her professional input we settled on one called "the Rockabilly Romeo." Suffice it to say it was and has remained, a hit.

Drivel Numbah Two - We're short-hair-on-boys people. NOT skinhead/shaved/freakish short. But, yes, short. The rule -- one wisely established and to be explained later -- is for the hair to be JUST short enough that one mayn't be grabbed by one's hair. Anyway, NOS has always been fine with getting haircuts. His first one was at age 15 months. He sat up and got his hair cut with a vacuum of drama and get got down and that was it. Now, NTS, being Not The One With The Angelic Disposition held closely to the opposite approach. Upon being within a 10 mile radius from scissors he'd begin to wail and thrash and attempt to effect an escape of the most desperate sort.

Strong men had to wrestle him to the chair, and many more had to hold him still. The poor hair cut professional had a week's worth of aerobic activity whenever NTS rolled in. It goes without saying that NTS's haircuts weren't, um, hitting all our aesthetic buttons, and were at best, a compromise. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, worked. Eventually this was just something to be accepted. NOS sat down, was done in 10 minutes and NTS behaved like a rabid wolverine with a persecution complex. It was what it was.


One day about five years ago (when he was about three) NTS, feeling tired, or maybe viewing all of humanity with benevolence, or maybe experimenting with behaving relaxedly, allowed himself a proper haircut by only wailing. Afterwards, he was happy and cheerful and managed to look great!


Parades paraded, streamers were tossed, the White House called and newsgathering organization anxiously awaited for us to fax them an article written for them. All was a grand, sweet song.


We see NOS -- the angel, remember -- marching NTS triumphantly out of his room with a towel tied, capelike, around NTS and snipping away at the air (you know the sound I mean) and he looked at us. And he beamed. And he said "Mom! Dad! Look! I'm a barber!"



We saw NTS.

The best way I can think of describing our youngest, our baby, is by the phrase my late grandmother used: "He looked like the stamp of heresy." My wife, a woman of unusual strength and courage, wept bitterly. She may have also torn a garment in grief, I'm not sure. NTS looked as if someone had fitted him with a hairpiece made out of the hide of a dog with an unsightly dermatological condition.

Epilogue: We had to SPRINT first thing to the haircut place to get NTS (basically) shaved like he had just entered the Marine Corps. Ironically, he wailed and thrashed* throughout.

And there you have it.


* Even more ironically, he didn't so much as PEEP as his brother was taking the safety scissors to his head.

Posted by Joke at 1:58 PM 10 comments

Friday, August 10, 2007

Buy me.


You know you want to.


Posted by Joke at 1:52 PM 10 comments

A step in the right direction.

But only a step.

The cabinet people have dropped off the cabinets. So there we are. The NASA/aerospace grade faucets that work in zero-gravity and have been carved with lasers out of purest titanium.

The end, allegedly, is nigh.


Posted by Joke at 8:19 AM 4 comments

Monday, August 06, 2007

Close your eyes and repeat: "It'll look great, it'll look great, it'll..."

I have to report that I have received a shock to my system.

I clicked on a link to a travel offer from my credit card and en route it took me past a huge, monumental figure. That figure is the next credit card statement that will strike me between my manly eyebrows at some point next week. It is, by a factor of three, the costliest single invoice I will have ever been presented.

What keeps me from truly hyperventilating is that these are all what accountants call "non-recurring" items. But still, the cost of the tile guy, the plumbers, the masons, carpenters, installers and all their provided goods is staggering.

And we're not done...we still haven't gotten the invoice for the solid platinum faucets surfaced entirely in 3 karat diamonds.

I realized that, for all her manifold gifts, draconian cost-control and budgeting are not among my beloved's strengths. In fact, I'm starting to think that asking her to control the sorts of costs inherent in a redo is akin to putting a damp blanket over Mt. Vesuvius.

No, really. You'll be shocked. Even those of you who have undergone these traumatic redo ordeals will be amazed, especially given the cost:scope ratio.

I...I can't sit down yet.


Posted by Joke at 8:24 AM 9 comments

Sunday, August 05, 2007

At your convenience.

(For some reason, this post devolved into a rant. It probably sounds harsher that I meant it to. I had no intent to hurt anyone's feelings, of course...but I'm letting it stand nonetheless.)

Dear Internet,

As you may recall, I griped about the inexorable dumbing-down of cooking media.

The culinary media is on a downward spiral of its own devising and, much like someone who enjoys the taste of arsenic, loving every moment of the process.

This devolution is manifested in the fetish for not teaching people to make anything involving more than the dumping of jarred, tinned, canned, boxed and/or powdered stuff atop indifferent meats and produce. Anyone who has ever dared to mention making stock has been booted off or sent to gulag-like publications. Leaving us with hit-and-miss wonders on air. (Tere dislikes them for their whitebreadness, I dislike them for attempting to convince the more credulous that white bread is worthy of the effort of chewing.)

Mind you, I'm on record as not being utterly against all convenience products. I just bitterly resent the ever-encroaching assumption that this "always and everywhere" attitude is perfectly okay. A long time ago, when I was even more vain that I am now -- or, at least when my vanity seemed more evident in the way I pursued my nutritional and exercise regimens -- I subscribed to a magazine called Eating Well, which was a sort of healthy-eating-for-foodies. This magazine, sadly, was bought out by the same crowd who publish Cooking Light. The latter magazine is Definitely Not Foodie Grade stuff. So, the publishers promptly shut down* the former. This left readers with a magazine suffused with recipes that instructed readers to gather up tins, boxes, cans, frozen bags, etc. without even an option for fresh edibles.

This isn't meant to automatically slight convenience stuff, though. There are many things which one can buy that will speed the weeknight dinner with only small sacrifices in quality. The biggest eye-rolling a foodie gets from a non-foodie involves making stock. I won't go into a proper and correct and well-within-my-rights tirade on why everyone should, but even if you do, you might not have any, say, beef stock since your family doesn't usually eat beef meaning you usually don't have any for such a purpose.

In any event, you could go with the aseptic packaged Pacific brand. The final result won't be as sublime as if you had simmered (and saved in frozen form) your own, but it will be Not Too Bad At All. When it comes to convenience stuff, though, the Italian contingent pretty much leaves the rest of the foodverse bound and gagged. Not only could you go with the stuff I wrote about previously, but the Francis Ford Coppola sauces (especially the Amatriciana, the Arrabiata and the Porcini-Marsala) are divine, as is Citarella's Lobster Fra Diavolo.

There is also no big deal about getting that washed/bagged produce, or getting something already cut up from the butcher counter. Besides the cost, natch. But that's a damned sight mo' different than getting precut frozen chunks of cooked chicken.

At the risk of seeming like a proselyte, I believe there is something lost at the cultural/societal level when we make it a habit of outsourcing our food preparation further up** the distribution chain. When you choose to continually let commercial enterprises cook for you and your family you are missing out on so damned much. The ease of dialing up and having something delivered, or of dumping things from cartons and bags and the freezer is addictive and, I maintain, corrosive. The food will never be as good, the nutrition certainly won't be.

I'm not talking about being a foodie geek like me, pondering how to cure and smoke my own bacon or straining to find unpasteurized milk to make my own cheese or making my own sausages, or saving pounds upon pounds of bones and carcasses for stock. I'm talking about making an effort to put together something for your family to derive pleasure and nourishment therefrom. When you think about it, there is nothing you can do for those whom you love that will have the same immediacy. You could slave away and buy your son a Wii (like I just did) but in the long run it won't have the impact as you and he in the kitchen making maple-pecan pancakes for brunch. The Wii and the MP3 players and the toys and clothes and stuff are fun, but the fun they bring is ephemeral...just ask any parent whose kid "graduated" from a playing daily with PlayStation2 to whining for a PlayStation3.

Maybe I'm weird. (Wait, I know I am.) But to me having one of my sons tell me that the X we cooked is really, really good is priceless. There is a holistic manifestation of family-ness going on there. That feeling is fragile and easy to lose, unless it's nurtured and maintained.

This is not to say, that on a day when one arrives very late, dog-beat from work ordering pizza is a major personality defect, or that defrosting something is akin to an abdication of love and responsibility. What I'm driving at is the habituation of such a thing and, most importantly, the damnably sad fact that there are TV networks and magazines that stoke said habituation.

OK. Done with this subject.


* This magazine eventually resurrected and, while the recipes are pretty good it has come back with an inexplicable political slant I find abhorrent, thus letting my subscription lapse.

** This is like the foodies' equivalent of breastfeeding activism.

Posted by Joke at 6:13 PM 12 comments

Friday, August 03, 2007

I've got...

Good News
and Bad News.

As you can see we're about 2/3 of the way done with the bathroom re-do. All we're missing is the cabinets (the cabinet guy is handcrafting these out of solid, sustainably harvested Fair Trade, hardwoods using nothing but solar powered implements...or so says he in justifying his prices and timeliness), the, er, throne and the jewel-encrusted, solid 24KT gold faucetry.

The last picture ties in with Flashback Friday.

All bookish people will know the sad feeling that overwhelms you when a power greater than our own tells us, in no uncertain terms, there are too many books. In this case it was done by snapping a shelf in twain. One half of the shelf is off to the left of the red books -- about which more anon -- and the other half peeking out from underneath same.

About these books. This is my encyclopedia. When we moved to the Fringe O' Paradise area (I'm originally from Rust Belt City) around 1975, these books were in the house my parents bought. It was, even then, a woefully out of date encyclopedia; its meager usefulness protracted feebly with the addition of annual supplements. I didn't care. I was a book-mad, knowledge whore and I loved them. I have schlepped with them from dwelling to dwelling.

Alas, the shelf which held them has shouted "Enough! I'm done!" and split neatly in two.

Since all the other bookshelves are of a similar vintage, this means an expedition to upgrade the shelving situation, lest we all awaken to find ourselves aswim in tomes and volumes.

And there ya have it.


Labels: ,

Posted by Joke at 6:23 PM 7 comments

Christmas in July August.

If you have been paying any sort of attention, you'll recall that the very lovely and extraordinarily gracious Poppy and I have a rather bizarre yuletide custom*.

Basically, it's this: We try to get for each other the cheapest possible gift we're sure the recipient will love. This is pretty hard, when you stop and consider it. Anyone can get a praiseworthy gift with an unlimited budget...it takes a rare genius to harvest the same response for a buck-fifty.

Poppy managed to really steamroll me last year when she managed to find, in her dad's (dad's?) attic, a lovely vintage automotive print. I was very humiliated by this stinging defeat. I swore constant vigilance.

Yesterday, the Fates cut me a break. I was cleaning out my office when I chanced upon something I'd gotten as a gift-with-purchase for something I'd bought TFBIM around 1997. The minute I saw it steady and whole, I shouted in my heart "Poppy! Christmas!" and just knew she'd love it.

One of the advantages of knowing someone before she (or he) developed a blog-persona is that you know all the intricate likes and dislikes that really don't get airplay, blogwise. Some things are just dull bloggery, or wouldn't go for more than a couple of anemic paragraphs.

But, you spend an evening hunting down an illusory sushi restaurant in Boston, or riding in the same tow truck or discussing whether a certain garment overemphasizes a certain feature and, well, you learn things about people. This is key if you intend to be any sort of half-decent gift giver. So, when you find something that pushes multiple buttons on someone's giftage panel, your heart sings.

5 months to go, Poppy!


* Last year we established another one, The Passing of the Book. But that's not the point of this post.

Posted by Joke at 12:11 AM 0 comments

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A proud father beams

Today, dear Internet, I saw that NTS -- my baby -- has figured out how to slide down his briefs to one foot then KICK the aforesaid garment up in the air and catch it deftly.

It's like watching my life all over again.

I'm all verklempt.


Posted by Joke at 10:48 AM 4 comments

Soup Update

I want to publicly thank the lovely and gracious Julia who, in the combox, mentioned the soup in question being a bit too winter-ish.

That got me thinking; and I had the following discussion with my inner chef:

Me: Why can't I just have it cold, then?
Inner Chef: It'll be too thick when it's cold, you dumbass.
Me: I could thin it out further.
Inner Chef: If you add more stock it'll be bland, idiot.
Me: I could season it more.
Inner Chef: Salty AND watery. People love carrot-infused seawater.
Me: I could thin it out with something else.
Inner Chef: Like?
Me: Well, it has butter in it, so maybe a touch of cream?
Inner Chef: That could work, actually, but you'd have to adjust for seasoning.
Me: Okay.
Inner Chef: You'd also have to rethink the garnishes a little bit. Badger thinks jicama is a PITA and the Aussies are totally lost, jicama-wise.
Me: I could use only apples, say.
Inner Chef: Yeah. Maybe a tart and a sweetish one, if you feel all frou-frou. Otherwise just a tart one. Or diced water chestnuts, if you want to add an Asian kind of thing to it.
Me: And I wouldn't have to worry about how to heat the crabmeat without drying OR breaking it up.
Inner Chef: Badger'll love that.
Me: Maybe she has colander issues?
Inner Chef: Idiot. How ARE you married?

Posted by Joke at 10:24 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Made it this far.

I'm pretty sure I have the carrot & crab soup wired properly. The breakthrough came when I realized two things:

1- There was no effort to emphasize the sweetness of the carrots. In this context it would have devolved into "sugary."

2- There was no effort to emphasize the seafood-y nature of the crab. In this context it would have come across as overly piscine.

This soup pretty much hangs on two factors: the greatness of the stock and the freshness of the crab.

So, this is what I'm thinking, pending the trial-and-error runs:

1/2 lump crab meat (ideally you'd buy it very fresh from the fishmonger, but the refrigerated canned stuff is okay IF it's fresh...check the "sell by" date)
1 lb carrots (or if you're trying for a more winterish thing, parsnips)
1/4 lb unsalted butter*
Coarse sea salt (kosher is fine) and fresh-ground black pepper (white pepper if you are using parsnips)
6 cups vegetable stock (you COULD buy some, I'spose)
1 small jicama
1 tart (braeburn, granny smith, whatever) apple
extra virgin olive oil

For vegetable stock:
4 large carrots
4 celery ribs
2 whole leeks, sliced open and rinsed free of grit (1 large white or yellow onion would work)
1 fennel (bulb, stalk and frond)
1 head garlic
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
extra virgin olive oil

Start with the stock:

Cut off the fennel stalk. Peel the outermost layer of the bulb, and core it out. Dice the carrot, celery, onion and bulb roughly. (Reserve about a handful of fennel fronds.) Cut the head of garlic in half and loosen as much of the papery outer skin as you can.

Swirl oil (twice around the inner perimeter) into a stockpot and put over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, toss in the chopped vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Sweat the vegetables making sured they do not color, figure about 2 minutes. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves and stir. Then, add cold water to just cover the vegetables. Wait for the first TINY bubbles to show up and then lower the heat to whatever temperatures allows for a pleasant simmer, leave it uncovered for about half an hour.

(You need cold water to extract the flavor of the vegetables. Hot water would cook the surface areas and not let the flavor components leach out into the liquid.)

Strain the stock (a mesh insert is IDEAL). No need to be fanatical about it. If you feel extra-diligent, mash down on the vegetable matter with a ladle. The juices emanating (from the vegetables you're abusing) are GOLD, baby. If you're smart, you'll make 2x - 3x the amount called for, as this freezes beautifully and tastes eleventy zillion times better than anything store-bought. To say nothing of not screaming with sodium. Oh, yes, look at the label of that canned stuff...you're begging to hold water with that stuff.

Drain the crabmeat and, still in the strainer, give it a GENTLE dunk in the strained stock. Figure a minute to warm it through. Quarter the carrots (or parsnips) and GENTLY boil in the stock until soft; start checking at the 4-5 minute mark. Fish them out, set aside.

Immediately place carrots (or, you got it, parsnips) into a food processor or blender (or another pot in case you want to use an immersion blender). Add a couple of tablespoons of butter to carrots (or parsnips). Add pinch of salt and pepper. Add a couple of ladles of the stock into the carrot or parsnip and blend. (If using a blender be careful because the steam can make the whole thing distribute itself very evenly on your walls, ceiling, floor, face, hair, etc.) Repeat, one ladle of stock (up to four) at a time as you puree again. At this point it will be rather thick, so add more stock depending on how thin you like your soup, reserve and freeze any leftover stock. Place soup back into the pot, and back on the stove over medium-low heat.

Peel the jicama (if you use parsnips as the soup base, try to get the golden Caribbean jicama, for a nice color contrast) and dice, core the apple and cit it into a large julienne (think the size of "McBurger Hut's Drive-Thru Fries" or maybe a bit smaller). Toss these two things in water with a teeny splash of lemon juice or vinegar to keep them from browning.

Make a small bed of jicama on a soup bowl, add crab to that pile, and then garnish with the apple and chives. Ladle the soup around the solids.

Serves 2 very generously.

I'll let you know what tweakage this needs.


* Notice the 4:2:1 ratio of carrot:crab:butter, this is key to multiplying the recipe.

Posted by Joke at 1:50 PM 9 comments