Monday, December 31, 2007

Year in Review! Or "Books you won't read."

The original theme of this magnificent post was the unspeakably unoriginal The Best Books of 2007. But then I realized that I pay chronology exactly zero heed in terms of what I read. Mostly what I read (and like) is something which grabs my eye on a bookstrore shelf or table, or comes from the keyboard of an author whose previous effort(s) caught my eye. As a consequence I neither know nor care which books were written when.

It is here that I'll freely admit to not being -- nor desiring to be -- a particularly open-minded reader. This exacts a particularly heavy burden upon me in the category of fiction; the state of which is deteriorating rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that if you could get utter silence in a bookstore you could hear a faint fizzing sound.

The problem with fiction, and a problem which is accelerating faster than gravity would lead you to believe, is the unholy alliance between most authors and the pharmaceutical giants who produce antidepressants by the tanker. In short, the novel these days is as depressing as a conjugal visit at Lubianka and worse, the comic novel is in a Hell of a bad way. In America the comic novel is in even worse shape, pale as moonlit fog and coughing up blood. This means that if you wish to read a comic novel from an American author, you have to wait for Dave Barry (who has been known to intersperse his ouvre with tomes the main subjects of which are nasal secretions) or Chris Buckley, who has been known to wait several epochs between books.

Which leaves the American reader seeking intelligent comic fiction -- the only fiction worth a damn, says I -- training his eye across the Atlantic to perfidious Albion. Or re-reading stuff written at a time when his countrymenpersons were not such an intolerable gaggle of insufferable, navel-gazing, humorless, politically-correct busybody Chicken Littles and therefore could muster up the courage to mock and laugh and otherwise make sport of things.

You may ask, especially if you are new* here, what could possibly be the matter with "serious" fiction. Uncle Joke hears your cry and, filled with bonhomie and the spirit of the season (or at least spirits) I won't tell you to bugger off. Instead I'll sort of answer this, charitable bastid I am.

Y'see, dear Internet, serious fiction starts hobbling from the start. It is handicapped and fatally so, by the "serious" bit. Thence it devolves sharply in any number of directions. You have unhappy marriages, abusive mothers, alcoholic fathers, lesbians with rabies, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, the one sympathetic character dying of sputum or something, illegitimate progeny, someone leaving Ireland, someone committing suicide because the world is not ready to accept his zoophilic orientation ("Sir Wilbur's youngest, Ranulph, after leaving Eton, decided to enroll at Magdalene College, where he assiduously threw himself into the practice of animal husbandry, until one day lads from the village caught him at it."), someone being oppressed by the mores of the day, unrequited love, dysfunctional mourning, adultery, someone charming yet inexpressively evil, and, naturally, much death and betrayal.

Then there is the fetish to do one of two things with the characters: 1) Make them interesting, which means they will be so bizarrely improbable you'll hate them, or they will be so wildly flawed you'll hate them, or 2) Make them likeable, which means they will be an insipid bunch whose appeal reaches a mile wide but an inch deep.

The problem with all THAT is that most authors -- cheating from the old Spy Magazine parodies, I bet -- simply cannot be bothered to be elegant in their prose. And inelegant prose cannot be overcome by anything. Whoever said that "90% of everything is shit" probably got the idea from scanning modern fiction.

This doesn't mean that modern non-fiction is let off lightly. After all, there is a chokingly huge glut of "the world is ending" non-fiction. This trend, I fear if not checked soon, will see bestsellers such as Build Your Own Mud Hut or Well, YOU Wanted High Def TV, Now The World's Imploded...Happy Now? But setting aside the tomes that would have us rewind to those giddy, pre-James Watt, pre-I.K. Brunel days, there is still some daylight along the nonfiction aisles.

So!

Here is my list of books I enjoyed this year and which, if past is prologue, you won't read.

Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans
An exhaustive look at the McCarthy years from a somewhat different perspective.

Conversations With My Agent by Rob Long
This explains how brilliant writers collaborate with microcephalic Hollywood executives to bring us dumbed-down, cretinous TV fare with the odd exceptions.

How To Become Extinct by Will Cuppy
It's written by Will Cuppy and that should be good enough for you, especially if you are walking the benevolent misanthrope tightrope.

Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley
The idea of a breakfast-time TV show in a fictional Middle Eastern nation ("The Switzerland of the Persian Gulf") with the title One Thousand And One Mornings which features self defense advice for women to use against their boyfriends during Ramadan is priceless.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Look.

The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry
At last, an entertaining book about poetry. An honest one, too, admitting that most modern poetry is well-nigh unreadable.

View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
This is as close as I come to both chick-lit and Serious Modern Fiction. Elizabeth "No, Not the Actress" Taylor is one of the most underappreciated authors of the last 50 years. Her prose is VERY precise, with a very dry wit, and interesting characters struggling against their feelings when they run up against Stiff Uppah Lip mores of the pre-Carnaby Street days.

Hell and Other Destinations by Piers Paul Read
Now do you remember?

Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre
LC suggested this guy, and she was right.

Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John Welter
This is probably the greatest comic novel of the last 25 years and, through some quirk of fate, it happens to be written by an American. We'll not see the likes of it again. You'll laugh so hard you might get asthma medicines tossed at you. At least you would if you'd read it, which you won't.

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed by Lynne Truss
I'm not going to tell you again.

-J.

* Hi.

Posted by Joke at 3:44 PM 8 comments

The Year In Review In Review

Dear Internet,

This is what I am working on, blogwise:

1- A post highlighting my favorite posts in this blog of 2007
2- A post highlighting my favorite year-in-review/best of/worst of posts of 2007
3- A post on my favorite books of 2007

Not sure which of these, if any, will make the big time, but there ya go.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:50 AM 5 comments

Sunday, December 30, 2007

As promised.

Since I am widely held to be one Hell of a guy, and since I promised I would, here is my recipe for my Spain vs. Cuber Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) Roast Pork. There are a few decision trees along this recipe's path, and I'll note them wherever I can.

For this variation of the recipe, we're looking at a weight of about 8lb./3.5kg which will feed about 8 people, as a lot of that weight is bone/fat/etc.

Pork and Brine/Marinade ("Brinerade?"):
1 Bone-in, skin on pork shoulder, sometimes called a picnic ham; this is the shoulder and upper arm of the donor pig. A large "Boston butt" pork roast will also work, as will a fresh (i.e., uncured, unsmoked, un-everything except raw) ham, although the latter will be considerably larger. You may even go with a whole critter, which is THE most traditional thing. Multiply everything as needed.

3 cups sugar
3 cups coarse kosher or sea salt
2 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and smahed loose of their skins
4 cups juice of sour (sometimes called "Seville") oranges or 2 cups lime juice and 2 cups of regular (sometimes called "Valencia") orange juice. Although some recipes will suggest it, you cannot get away with using only regular orange juice; don't even try it. Using straight "regular" orange juice will not provide you the correct acid:sweetness ratio. Incidentally, using 1:1 lime and orange juice is a good-enough bit of jury rigging. The closest approximation is actually 2:1:1 orange:lime:lemon juice. But, we're talking diminishing returns here. Even for me.

If you really have time, you can break the process into brine, followed by marinade. It's probably a tiny bit better, but again, that's diminishing returns stuff.

Garlic & Sour Orange paste:
12 garlic cloves, minced as fine as your patience will permit (figure a 1/4 cup)
2 T. ground cumin (ideally, you'd toast the seeds lightly in a dry skillet over medium heat and then grind them yourself)
2 T. fresh oregano (you can get away w. 1 T. dry)
1.5 T. coarse (sea or kosher) salt
1.5 t. fresh ground black pepper
3 T. sour orange juice (or 2 T. regular orange juice & 1 T. lime juice)
2 T. EVOO
Optional: The zest of the assorted citrus fruits you just juiced.

For the Mojo* sauce
4 garlic cloves, sliced as thinly as your patience will allow...surface area is vital.
1 T. coarse salt
1/2 c. EVOO
1/2 t. ground cumin (see above)
1/2 c. sour orange juice (or 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/4 cup orange juice)
1 T. fresh (or 1½ t. dry) oregano, chopped
1/8 t. fresh ground black pepper

Score the skin (if you have patience, do this in a crosshatch pattern) and make sure you cut through the skin and fat -- you'll need a lot of surface area to render out the pork fat -- but make sure you do not cut through the flesh. In the various cuts you just made, stab cut 1" (2.5cm) deep slits in pork roast, spaced about 2" (5cm) apart. Blend brine ingredients in a cooler (or an oven bag if you have space in the fridge) and add the pork. Make sure whatever vessel you use provides a snug fit for the pork. Optional: Plug the slits with quartered garlic cloves.

Brine overnight, ideally, about 18-24 hours.

Make the paste by whizzing the garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper in a blender or a food processor to achive a rough sort of paste. At that point, with the machine running, add oil and then juice (in that order) in a slow dribble until smooth. You're looking for the approximate consistency of, say, mustard...something smearable that won't drip off.

Take out the pork from the brine. Pat dry with paper towels and, if you can, let it rest uncovered in the fridge; this is key to getting some crisp skin action going on. Smear paste all over the roast and make sure you massage some into the slits.

Now, I make this in a smoker thing, so it cooks low and slow (200F/95C or so) with a bit of oak added to the charcoal for a good 16 hours. I realize that normal people will not be interested in this sort of committment, so here are some variations on the theme...

Option 1:
Using gas grill: Turn all burners on BBQ grill to high with lid closed for 15 minutes to bring up the temperature of the grill to about 325F/163C. Then off all except one burner. Place roast with skin side up as far as possible from the lit burner. Lower primary burner to medium or medium-high (grill temperature should be about 325 degrees). Cook until skin is browned and crisp and internal temperature of meat is 190F/88C for sliceable about 6 hours, or (my preference) 200F/95C for fall-apart which will be +/- 7½, rotating the meat 180 degrees after 3 hours. Let meat rest for 1 hour.

Option 2:
Roast can also be made in the oven at 325 degrees, placed in a roasting rack and rotated as needed.

Option 3a:
Start the roast off in a charcoal grill with about 1 gallon/3.8L of charcoal. Bank the coal off to one side and once the coals have ignited, place the roast on the far side. Cover and do not uncover until the grill's temperature is 225F/107C, which will be around 3 hours. Then put the roast in a 325F/163C oven to finish off for about another 3 hours. Let rest as above.

Option 3b (my favorite alternative):
Start the roast off in a charcoal grill with about 1 gallon/3.8L of charcoal. Bank the coal off to one side and once the coals have ignited, place the roast on the far side. Cover and do not uncover until the grill's temperature is 190F/90C, which will be around 4 hours. Then put the roast in a 200F/95C oven to finish off for about another 6 hours. Let rest as above. This will be fall-apart tender.

Option 4:
Set oven temperature to 200F/95C. Place roast, covered VERY TIGHTLY (think hermetic) with foil. Put in a roasting rack and forget about it for about 12 hours. Uncover and brown the outside at 325F/163C for about 20 minutes.

While you are waiting for the completion of whatever option you have chosen, make the Mojo sauce. Heat olive oil, garlic and cumin over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes...DO NOT LET THE GARLIC COLOR. You want the garlic's flavor to permeate the oil, not to toast the garlic. Take off heat and add the rest of the ingredients. Blend (a hand blender is particularly useful) until it's as smooth as you like (I prefer to leave a tiny bit of chunkiness). I also like to add any defatted roasting juices to this saucy excellentness, but you you go whichever way you want. Serve this alongside the pork roast and let people slather their serving according to their individual tolerance for rather sharp savoriness.

There ya go.

-J.

P.S. Remind me to get the Cuban Sandwich recipe posted later.

* Mojo means "soak" in Spanish.

Posted by Joke at 12:02 PM 8 comments

A little knife action for blackbird

You may wonder WHY I have five knife blocks. And a drawer underneath the cutting board.
To say nothing of the magnetic rack thing.

In fairness, one of those blocks (extreme left) is NOS's, which I pretty much stole off eBay for him. As mentioned previously, we're big fans of Michael Graves and this set, originally retailed at Target, showed up for auction only the seller couldn't be bothered to spell "Michael" properly and thus had the listing under "Micheal" so I bought it for $1, plus S&H. This way when NOS is doing his share of the prepwork, he leaves my knives alone. Of the other four blocks, one is filled with Sabatier knives, which are extremely durable and after a couple of decades still look brand-new. Their only drawback is losing their edge within a minute of any sentient being looking at them. The rest are, OK, fine, assorted other knives. Predominantly Wusthof or Henckels. Sure, it may seem ridiculous to have a 10", an 8" and a 6" Chef's Knife, or to have a slicer with and one without granton edging, etc. But I am nothing if not thorough.

On the magnetic rack go the knives that are so sharp as to violate several non-proliferation treaties. (You'll see several have rubber guard thingies. All of these knifes are of a fearsome sharpness.)

Particularly eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the knife roll tucked in neatly behind the blocks. Whenever I am invited to help cook at someone's house, I pack up several knives and I am good to go.

On schedule for February is a complete gutting of the kitchen, wherein I'll have much (and I mean MUCH) better use of the space available in the kitchen. Which isn't all that much. It's also not that bad, but what space there is suffers from catastrophically poor space utilization.

I also need a special cheese space; I am, after all, all about the affinage.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:22 AM 5 comments

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day, in-depth

As reported previously, Boxing Day was a success. People whom we like showed up, people whom we dislike were miles and miles away, the food was exactly what I like (and exactly what those people whom we like have always enjoyed).

Bloody Mary by the pitcher -- kindly note, dear Internet, this pitcher is already one Bloody Mary short of full -- and champagne and fresh orange juice (that's kind of the point of living in FL, yes?)

and assorted espresso-based fluids (the above is a mocha cappuccino) establish the proper perspective.

Now, to facilitate casual brunching AND maximize the crust:interior ratio, I cut the pannetone into stick-like segments. (This was a trial run from Christmas Day.) The trick is to get the outside good and golden brown, leaving the interior pretty raw. Then, place the whole batch on a baking sheet and cook in a low-and-slow oven. This minimizes your stove time and makes sure all of the pieces emerge hot at one time.


The same applies to bacon. On the griddle, low-and-slow, to eliminate any curling. Take it to almost crisp, and finish off the batch of eleventy frillion rashers in the oven, again saving time and freeing up the griddle. Champagne California Champenoise. This is key.


I had a bit more to drink than was prudent and therefore I completely forgot didn't get a chance to take a photo of the scrambled eggs but I made them pretty much the was GR does in this video. I used a somewhat lower temperature and added the butter in bits for better emulsification (I also omitted that whole "fry-up" from the procedure) but otherwise it's the same thing. I'm not a big fan of following recipes, but I rather like following a recipe's concept, adjusting things to my own taste. Hence the variations I used. If you like scrambled eggs, this is the way to go. In fact, the only improvement possble is the over-the-top Haute Anglaise use of a double boiler.

Since the food and drink were pretty low-effort affairs, I was able to flop down in a chair and catch up with the aforementioned people whom we like. The weird thing is that some of these people whom we like live maybe 25 minutes away by car. Yet we see them once a year (if that) as opposed to the Buxoms who live 72 states away and whom we see 2x-3x a year. Anyway, I wish I would have taken more photos, but suffice it to say the mood-ameliorating effects of vodka (after a previous couple of days wherein I had to endure the psyche-ravaging pillocks whom my parents insist are related to me by ties of blood) made my efforts at being photo-diligent, er, wane sharply.

So be grateful for what you got.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:53 AM 5 comments

Friday, December 28, 2007

Chemical traces of an update

1- Boxing Day Brunch was a colossal hit. I learned the wisdom of a brunch as a means of entertaining from the extremely lovely and wildly gracious Poppy -- who also turned me on to Nueske's bacon in the process -- since the overwhelming majority of the foodstuffs are make-WELL-ahead, set-and-forget or thrown together at the last picosecond. Photos to follow once I can be bothered to rummage for the wire thingy. Panettone french toast seems impossibly posh stuff, and is an ideal use for the ones which rain upon me every Christmas. Tell people that you'll be feeding them "panettone french toast" and they will think you're training for your own TV cooking show. Throw in life-changingly creamy scrambled eggs, flutefuls of champagne, kickass espressi and cappuccini* and life is splendid. The only thing I planned to serve that I didn't was the salmon/blini thing, which I may save until New Year's, in case we throw a bash and not go out. Which has not been decided yet either way.

I'll go into this a bit later, but I want to address the "Why Boxing Day?" murmurs. The short answer is that Boxing Day is a day which fails, spectacularly so, to blip the Iberic radar in general and my family's tradition-meter in particular. That is, if Boxing Day were generally considered a big deal, then I'd have to suffer fools gladly YET A THIRD DAY in a row. Two days is, let's be blunt, the maximum adult dosage. My aunt A. was as insufferable as ever, compounded by the fact I am aging and therefore less inclined to deal with her. My cousin M. is still oblivious to the carnage and wreckage she has been leaving in her wake since early puberty (she's now 51) and she thinks she is beloved...behaving as if this hallucination were a law of nature. My sister is, well, there. She shines in comparison to all the other inmates but the self-evident truths of her parallel universe sometimes don't harmonize seamlessly with our world.

Anyway, since to that section of humanity Boxing Day is colossally devoid of meaning or import, it takes on great important at Uncle Joke's. The basic "feel" of our bash is that of a midmorning cocktail party. Drop in, nibble on something breakfast-y, knock back some festive fluids, compare toys and tales of woe** and otherwise just decompress.

2- Santa Claus as usual, behaved in a "minimum contractual obligation" way. People -- God bless them -- give me things as if the only knowledge of me they posessed came from friends of eyewitnesses and a slightly astigmatic police sketch artist. That said, I did get a couple of good ones: A watch winder and some Japanese kitchen knives and a few Williams-Sonoma gift cards. The stuff at which I hinted loudly...crassly, even...made no splash.

The hardest part of Christmas for an ruggedly independent consumerist harlot such as I am is not buying the things I like when I see them. I try to give those people who cry out I am "impossible to shop for" a fair shot. Not that many of them get it, but there you go.

3- Tiny Trapeze marshmallows make crack addiction look like a mild longing.

4- Nobody got a new car. Or an old car, for that matter.

5 - I have chosen sides in the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray format war.

That is all for now.

-J.

* This is the same espresso machine we currently have!
** The big point of friction this year was whether NOS ought get "Guitar Hero III" for the Wii. I wasn't so bloody crazy -- not admant, but hardly enthusiastic -- about the Wii last year for him and it took more explaining than she'd now admit without embarrassment to my beloved on the matter of why a 10-year old boy oughtn't be listening to delusionally toxic lunatics such as Rage Against The Machine. Instead he got THE CHEAPEST LAPTOP -- it was +/- $300 at Best Buy -- and a few innocuous sorts of games.

Posted by Joke at 1:35 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

As if any further proof were needed

I take time out from my brief hiatus, already in progress, to bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to some people, i.e., there IS a God.

It takes very little to amuse the innocent.

-J.

P.S. Happy Boxing Day or, if you are as ardently Papist as my grandfather -- or King Wenceslaus-- was, Happy St. Stephen's Day.

Posted by Joke at 7:55 AM 6 comments

Monday, December 24, 2007

Be prepared to go on standby.


Dear Internet,

First of all, as it turns out, I've been engaged in rampant bloggery for 3+ years now. (I missed my own anniversary, typical man that I am)

Second of all, it's Christmas Eve. For those of us down heah who are vaguely Iberic, this is a Very Important Night. It is the night we hang out with people we cannot stand and smile pleasantly throughout. Why? To make things just a tiny bit easier for Baby Jesus. Not everyone with whom I will (by sheer weight of unwritten contractual obligation) hang out is an inchoate mass of misery and annoyance, of course. This latter group is comprised of those stressed to the brink of dysfunction by their interactions -- or anticipation thereof -- with the former group. So you can see I have a lot of festive atonement awaiting me.

The payoff for all this aggravation and stress is Boxing Day, when I expect to drink a bit more Bloody Mary than is probably wise, hang out with people whose society is pleasant and instructive (a shock to my system, I know) and otherwise breathe pure, sweet air. Bloggery will likely be light-ish.

But that's not what I came here to tell you, Internet dearest.

I wanted to wish you a grand and wonderful Christmas, filled with laughter and love and hugs and kisses of those whom you love. I wish your joys to linger and your tears to pass quickly. I wish you to bask in the golden glow of affection and kindness and blessings, but also to be mindful of those whose Christmas will sadly run otherwise. I wish your prayers be answered and your heart touched and maybe -- just maybe -- this world will catch on to what it is we're celebrating at Christmas.

And to all a good night.

-J.

P.S. I wanted you to get my A-List cards this year. If you rub your fingertip very carefully on your screen and close your eyes, you might just feel the for-real engraving on the giga-fancy 100% rag off-white vellum stock. I spare no expense for you, dear Internet.

Posted by Joke at 3:01 AM 11 comments

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Press on regardless.

Dear Internet,

I have heard rumors. Insinuations. Whispers. It seems that many in the blogosphere are hinting -- if not shouting it from the rooftops -- that men spend the pre-Christmas period doing nothing. Not stated, but implied in some instances are assorted gaseous emanations and unseemly itch relieving maneuvers.

If this is true (and I am not saying it is) you know what it means these men are? Smarter than I am. Today I spent it on a fool's errand on behalf of my beloved. A while back, while attending to my side of the Christmas (and Hanukkah, because we're ecumenical like that) gift list, TFBIM asked me to, while I was wandering through the aisles of our local MegaStuffHutTM, seek out something in the gift basket family to give her best friend. Since this is among that rare minority of friends of hers whom I consider to be imbecility-free, I nodded assent and wandered off.

A while later that day, I reported a lack of success in securing said basket. But! Two days later I managed to score an Orrefors crystal fruit bowl-ish thing down to $20 from $150, because I am human tripod like that. Only to discover today TFBIM had some impossible-to-articulate issues with the Orrefors bit, and I was back on the hook for a gift basket.

As TFBIM was scheduled for a spa day and girl's night out to see some appalling Broadway revival (Broadway being as sodden with as much originality of thought as modern socialism) I decided to make a run across the state to see what sort of goodies attached themselves to my wallet and to score the Christmas Eve porky goodness at the greatest butcher shop in Creation.

So what am I doing now? Well, I am about to start shoving giftage into gift bags. This, incidentally, Badger assures me is the equivalent of a generic Christmas newsletter. Which is perfectly true, no doubt...but after examining my conscience, I have decided that, were this state of affairs to be true, I simply cannot be moved sufficiently enough to really care. Be glad I took the price tag off.

Then I have to ponder the matter of Boxing Day brunch.

-J.



Posted by Joke at 1:14 PM 9 comments

Oh, the irony!

Dear Internet,

As some of you may know, I count as offline friends several people who are Very Professional Writers. These have reached a reasonably high level of achievement in the writing field, too. So we're not talking about lame-o writers who are the weekend assistant copy boys for The Dacron Republican-Democrat. Writer-writers.

So what should arrive in my mailbox yesterday from one of these scribes?

Yes!

A generic Christmas newsletter. Wait! It gets better! EVERYTHING in said Christmas newsletter I already knew. All of it. Not a single shred of fact was revealed unto me by the GCN. It went on for several pages of previously overexplored and known facts. This is by someone who is a professional movie screenplay writer person with three novels on the resume' to boot.

Ha!

-J.

P.S. Poppy: MWAH!

Posted by Joke at 7:56 AM 1 comments

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas update du jour

All the major Christmas gifts have been purchased. We are awaiting delivery of one item and then we're done with the giftage.

The way it works at Joke Manor is that TFBIM handles gifts for her side of the family (except her brother) and her friends, while I handle the gifts for mine (except my sister); I handle NOS and she handles NTS.

Then she spends three of the four Advent candles wrapping gifts VERY prettily and complaining about how tiring it is. Y'see TFBIM has this sort of carpal type thing which requires her wearing these neoprene wrist things that she won't because she thinks they are ugly says she doesn't really need them. She really does put a Hell of an effort into the wrapping. Symmetry abounds, no ragged edges, bows and cards are chosen and arranged for maximum visual impact.

Me? I bought a carton of assorted (pretty, though) gift bags in seasonally-appropriate motif and BAM! My wrapping took instants. They're reusable, which matters to someone like me who is all about the environment.

My big chore (besides slinging foodstuffs for our Boxing Day brunch for people we REALLY like, as opposed to people to whom my wife compels me to be gracious and cheery on Christmas Day proper) is making cookies. I'll let you in on the biggest secret to assembly line cookie making. You need to get a tiny ice-cream scoop. Scoop and plop, scoop and plop.

This recipe is idiot-proof, relatively healthy (for a cookie), keeps well, travels well, and tastes yummy.

Here ya go.

(I'm giving you the plain brown sugar version, although you may use 3:1 white sugar : maple syrup)

1 1/3 cups (1/3 liter) regular flour (I use unbleached, you should too unless you like eating bleach)
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry/cake flour (if you can't find this use 2 cups regular white flour and 2/3 cups regular whole wheat)
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder (I know! I'm a wild man! I can't be stopped!)
1 teaspoon salt (if using some kind of coarse salt, grind and then measure)
2 cups (480ml) light brown sugar, well packed (dark brown sugar might prove too bitter)
1/2 cup (120ml)butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons (10ml) REAL vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Grease up however many cookie sheets you'll be using.

In a bowl, mix the butter and sugar until it's a golden-ish beige-y sort of color. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine remaining dry ingredients. Mix the two mixtures, you will get a stiff dough so don't panic. Now, you COULD go all Mrs. Cleaver and start rolling out the dough and using a cookie cutter and all that. (If you want festive shapes such as reindeer, etc. feel free, see if I care.) Me? I use a very small ice cream scoop that issues scoopfuls the approximate size of walnuts.

Put the scoopfuls in a cookie sheet about an inch apart and flatten to roughly a quarter-inch with a fork (wet the fork if it sticks) and bake for 7-9 minutes until the edges JUST begin to go golden-brown and the tops are puffy. You really have to watch the first batch because almost certainly your oven is not calibrated to be spot-on temperature. After the first batch, you can time the rest pretty easily. Anyway, let the cookies rest for a couple of minutes before sliding them off to cool. This makes 48 cookies and these will keep about 3-5 days.

There ya go.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 6:28 AM 8 comments

Thursday, December 20, 2007

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

So the Christmas thing at school was last night.

The bad news is that I have seen better organized riots. The good news is that NOS did his bit to much acclaim.

Keep in mind this school is not just "Catholic" but Catholic. With nuns in full habit, Latin everywhere, and all that sort of thing. Therefore, the Christmas pageant thing can't just be singinging and dancing in a hall with a stage. So, what Sr. I. did is have a Rosary that was punctuated with pageant-ish stuff.

Now, for those who are not fully Papist-conversant -- the rest of you may go off and have a soothing beverage -- the way the Rosary works is that you think about ("meditate upon") a particular bit of the Bible (called "a Mystery;" for example when St. Gabriel the Archangel shows up and tells Mary she's going to give birth to Jesus) and as you do so you pray an Our Father and ten Hail Marys, and a few other ancillary prayers, then you think about the next bit (Mary goes to visit St. Elizabeth, etc.) while praying the next batch of prayers, etc.

Before this kicks off, the school choir -- an institution that celebrates diversity, not only in matters of race and ethnicity but also in matters of ability and enthusiasm and choice of key -- starts things with a selection that culminates in "O Come, O Come Emannuel." NOS forgot he had been given a dispensation since he was narrating and sang from the lectern, drowning out the un-amplified choir for 3 and a half bars. Sister D. was not pleased.

Once a semblance of order had been restored (it's murderously hard to keep +/- 1000 children plus parents from chattering loudly, you kind of see Herod's point of view) NOS announced the first bit of the Bible, read the appropriate passage and then kids assemble in a sort of living, pantomime, tableau.

Here is where things got a bit touch-and-go. The child cast as St. Gabriel the Archangel, for reasons which were not listed in the Playbill, failed to materialize. At the last picosecond, an understudy had to be located and pressed into service; this entailed, most pointedly, placing the new kid in the costume. From memory, the original child cast in this role was a slip of a girl with luxuriant blonde tresses. The understudy was, um, a cheerful looking lad possibly four years older, with what I surmise to be an overexcited pituitary and of a robust build. A healthy blond boy with not so much luxuriant tresses as a Marine Corps flattop buzzcut. What he lacked in rehearsed polish, he made up in sheer joyful enthusiasm. As he gesticulated animatedly to the startled girl playing Mary, he made sure to put all the knowledge acquired during a childhood spent assiduously playing charades into practice.

He pointed eagerly at Heaven, stood on tippy-toe and spread wide his arms to indicate to Mary the magnitude of the Lord and then, to the hyper-thunderous acclaim of all the audience who were neither nuns, priests or parents, made a spherical sort of motion in the general vicinity of his midsection to inform a now-very startled Mary that she would conceive and bear a child.

After the audience recovered its wind, other children would file up to the microphone, unburden their vocal chords of the Our Father, etc. which they had been assigned, and shuffle off to give the next kid his shot at the limelight.

At some point, an artistic decision had to be made: "Do we cast the Junior High kids who can say things clearly and without congealing in a dopamine-fueled terror but who are, let's face it, not the most adorable of sights...or do we go with the little tykes who might interject the contents of their Christmas wish list throughout their assigned prayers but are SO ADORABLE?"

You guessed right, Internet. They went with the cuties. For sheer entertainment value, the choice was genius. Your average 5 year old has the attention span of a crazed rodent (even less if they were anything like I was) and is always staving off near-terminal levels of boredom. Which is precisely what you want to see in a Christmas verite' sort of production. Even more interesting is when the one conscientious child starts chiding his or her fellows near an open microphone, his (or her) piping child voice reverberating throughout the place.

The second Bible passage that NOS had to read concerns Mary visiting her cousin St. Elizabeth, herself carrying St. John the Baptist. The girl playing mary was obviously relieved to have playing opposite her a seasoned expert in the role of Elizabeth. What they didn't count on was that Elizabeth, who has to fall to her knees, would get nervous and emphasize the falling bit a bit too hard for her poor knees. She was a trouper, though, and gamely stayed knelt even though she probably wanted to have a good sob in the corner along with a healthy bag of ice. She gets my award for bravery, whichever son of mine doesn't marry Poppette Buxom would do well to hitch his wagon to her.

The third bit was the Nativity scene, and that went pretty incident-free, except for the shepherds shoving each other a bit and the real baby (as opposed to a doll) playing Baby Jesus decided to loosen a couple of lungfuls of air at 165dB, apparently never getting the instruction that "the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes." Even offstage the baby's wails could be heard, and you would have thought as a suprise encore they were doing the Slaughter of the Innocents from the sounds of it. Maintaining an amazing sang-froid was St. Joseph who yawned throughout.

The following section was the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, when Simeon prophesies. Interestingly, Simeon looked an AWFUL LOT like St. Gabriel the Archangel and not so much like the skinny Haitian kid I'd seen at rehearsal. Sure, the felt/cotton beard was similar, but the gesticulating pantomime gave it away. I must hand it to the child in question, because once he had discovered what worked best for him as an actor, he latched on to it like a lamprey, or possibly a moray. Maybe it was a limpet. No matter, this kid had worked out his system and got a chokehold around it.

The last section, of Jesus staying behind at the Temple discussing with the elders and scribes, went exactly as planned. Not much drama here.

There was much singing afterwards, both religious and secular and jingling of jingle bells and towards the end, Father D. went and sprinkled Holy Water on all the Baby Jesus figurines the kids had brought.

The End.

Posted by Joke at 11:07 AM 9 comments

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jinxed.

Not 24 hours after penning my well reasoned treatise on some Yuletide traditions for which I caren't, I went to my mailbox and retreived not one, not two, but FOUR Christmas mass letters. Sadly, NOS's Christmas Pageant thing is tonight and therefore I will be deprived of the opportunity to give these the dinnertime dramatic reading they deserve.

Now, mind you, I am not angered nor am I offended by these. No, no, no...as Poppette might say...on the contrary, I derive much merriment therefrom. It is precisely to this admittedly less than innocent merriment that my beloved objects, with considerable vigor.

The source of this merriment, at least from the ones I receive, is the dull, plodding, so-this-is-Hell sort of Year In Review prose. Invariably, the multipage letter takes the reader on a perambulator ride from the late Mesozoic until yesterday noon, wherein Little Wilbur's special problem with marsupials and Little Mildred's arrest for embezzling other first graders are discussed in all their chronological order. We get recaps of every.single.event and, what's more, what everyone felt about every.single.event at every.moment.of.every.event.

There were also several photo cards of offspring looking very displeased in Seasonal Garb in what seemed to all concerned to be midsummer conditions. Perhaps I am alone in this and you, dearest Internet, receive photocards of children happy and smiling in woolens as the temperature drifts into teh snowy end of the thermometer.

Of course, I like seeing the pictures of my friends' kids just fine. "My, but Little Mildred is filling out that prison jumpsuit! Oh, how Little Wilbur has grown...what IS he doing to that wombat?" But when the photo becomes the card? I shake my head and "tsk" audibly. A grey area are those cards where you stick in the photo around some Christmas-ish border. They are not malum in se but they often fall apart in the execution.

Basically, my rule is that anything which smacks* of "This is such a bother...how little effort can I get away with?" is fair game. This is not to say that mass-producing one's Christmas sentiments is necessarily bad. I myself yield to no one in my capacity to mercilessly grind out the stuff. As discussed in my previous works, unless you are an A-List offline friend ::cough::Poppy::cough::, you've never gotten, nor are you likely to ever get, anything handwritten from me...let alone anything with an actual sincere sentiment expressed in writing; B-Listers are lucky to get a hand-signed something. (Although that may change next year, depending on how successful my scanner efforts prove.)

Poppy may well be right. Maybe actual cards DO suck and only stickshift and razor throwbacks such as Uncle Joke care. It certainly is easier to send cyber-cards, and in my book those have far broader margins of forgiveness. Maybe people do enjoy seeing their friends' children sweating like a polygraph subject in a sauna while wearing sweaters with reindeer and ski caps. I am resisting the temptation to scan and post these. We just got one with a 7 year old girl, whom we know well as a happy and healthy child, with an expression that can only be charitably called "a scowl."

Perhaps most everyone enjoys reading impersonal biographies that begin with the sender's double-helix and wrap up with "...and then I decided to mail this letter." If I were not concerned for my wife's feelings (or about her markspersonship) I'd write a parody of these and send it out. But I am a caring, loving human being with a heart. A heart that functions better without ordnance. So I don't.

But, rest assured that I am well-accustomed to being in the minority in holding these (and almost all other) views.

-J.

* Actual lack of effort is meaningless, it is perceived lack of effort which is well-nigh unforgivable.

Posted by Joke at 4:48 PM 2 comments

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Because I care.

I'll be very kindly posting my hybrid Cuber/Spain recipe for roast suckling pig. The roasting method is from Spain, the seasonings from Cuber, with a teensy flourish of modern Americana.

Stay tuned.

Now, a Yuletide rant.

I've noticed that in the last 3-4 years the number of Christmas cards has leapt off a cliff. Partly it can be explained by more cyber-cards, but mostly I think people have talked themselves into believing they are simply too damnably busy. This, of course, we have conclusively proven to be a myth.

The upside of this shortfall is the absence of people sending us photos taken in mid-August of their dejected looking offspring arrayed in elf-wear, with sullen scowls that fairly shout "What the [bad word], man? This is bull[another bad word]!" At the risk of being Scrooge-ish, we have never gone in for that. Sure, we used to include photos of the boys for those whom we felt would frame it, etc., but that was it. Normally we just sent a proper card, one in keeping with one's status as an A-, B- or C-lister.

The cheez-o-rama kid's photo card cannot even begin to compare with the ultimate in Yuletide horrors. I refer, naturally, to that abject disgrace that is The Group Letter. At some point earlyish in our family life, TFBIM started culling the day's mail for these, because she believed my habit of opening these and giving them a "dramatic interpretation" at dinnertime would somehow affect the boys in a negative way.

I, of course, beg to differ. The boys stand to reap colossal benefits from hearing their old man declaiming, in a superb falsetto, the suspenseful tale of TFBIM's pal A. and the ordeal of getting the wooden floors refinished before her cruel, cruel stepmother and dad arrived for Thanksgiving.

Come to think of it, let me take a look in the mailbox.

The only thing, I believe, that is worse than this group letter is someone publishing his (or her) group letter with photos of the children dressed like reindeer and elves as they melt in the summer swelter in front of a mound of fake fiberglass snow.

But what can I say? I'm an old-fashioned sort of guy.

Oh, and -- Bill Murray aside -- I am sick to death of modern adaptations of A Christmas Carol. In fact, the original is pissing me off pretty well, too.

You've all been duly warned.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 4:02 PM 8 comments

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's begining to look sort of a lot like Christmas.

First of all, we awoke this morning to a rather crisp 55F (13C). This is pretty wintry stuff for the Fringe O' Paradise and as such we have been filled with Christmas cheer. Which is good, because TFBIM would otherwise be irritable a bit touchy from trying to wrap up her Christmas shopping amidst the teeming hordes of Mongols holiday crowds.

This year marks something of a turning point. NOS, having lost his innocent views on the matter of Santa Claus, has asked for more Big Kid stuff...a new laptop, a "real watch" and real kitchen knives, and so forth. (NTS still has a couple of years or so of this, lest TFBIM and I feel too old, too soon.) On the plus side, he (NOS) is now more of a participant and less of a spectator in the panoply of our Christmas tradition, appalling mish-mash that it is.

These traditions are the results of a curious combination of the assorted ancestors with which we have saddled the poor lads. There are things from Cuber (mostly TFBIM's contingent) and Spain (mostly my dad's side) and Italy (mostly my mom's side) and both bucolic and highbrow Americana, with a dash of old-school High Church Catholicism for piquancy.

For example, this is the first year NOS has had to sit down and fill out and send Christmas cards. There are many in this day and age who allow the daily stresses of life to, er, reprioritize the whole process. As I am not among those, I am also not among those who wish my sons to behave less than diligiently in this regard. Not being a Luddite, though, he is allowed to do the whole mailmerge tango for this corporal work of mercy.

Another Christmas tradition mish-mash concerns the food situation. In Spain and in Cuber -- when they have afforded their socialized medicine enough of a respite so as to accumulate food -- the big deal for Christmas Eve (which is the big night) dinner is a roast suckling pig, all tenderness and crisp skin. There are some discrepancies as regards whether smoke ought perfume the roast (Yes in Spain, no in Cuber...I prefer it Spanish style, but nobody else likes tampering with tradition.) what sorts of seasonings ought be present (EVOO, garlic, thyme and lemon in Spain; a cubic yard of garlic, lime juice and cumin for Cuber...I prefer the Cuban way), and what sort of side dishes ought accompany said roast (this argument goes to Cuber) and what sort of desserts ought follow (Spain wins this one).

In our family, we used to eat this on Spanish time, i.e. after Midnight Mass. In Ye Olden Days of Yore, Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence (oh, shut UP) and therefore the whole roast pig thing was shoved back until 1am which, if you're at all up to speed with the way people function in Spain, is roughly equivalent to your having dinner at 8pm. Late, sure, but nothing that'd raise any eyebrows.

Once kids arrived, though, we went to having it on the early side, shunting aside the Italian format of having a late lunch which they (the Italians) inexplicably called dinner even though it was at 3pm. Since Christmas Eve was traditionally meatless, the Italians on my mother's side had the "seven fishes" thing. Basically, you had seven seafood items at dinner, representing the seven sacraments. Since your average elementary school child cannot possibly be expected t0 work up much excitement over things such as salt cod or mussels, the whole thing was let wither on the vine. A loss in many respects, although not having to carry your girth in a wheelbarrow enhances, I think, the sense of celebrating the birth of the Messiah.

After that, we go hear Midnight Mass* and this year NOS and the rest of the Boys Choir have been compelled asked to sing in the concert immediately preceding Mass. Then, once we have arrived back at home base, we position the gifts under the tree and crash out. This is followed by two inviolable traditions:

1- A child of the household waking up at crazy o'clock demanding to rip wrapping off gifts, NOW, and
2- NOS telling the assembled the "real meaning of Christmas" which strikes people as an impressive as Hell show of fervor...at least to those not familiar with the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special and the appalling frequency it is viewed ovah heah.

Christmas Day is usually spent schlepping from house to house, hanging out with the people you didn't get to see on the 24th and sometimes, unfortunately, with many whom you did. The very best part of it all is our Boxing Day brunch, in which we (finally!) get to hang out with people we like and only people we like, having food that is unequivocally edible.

Cynics would tell you THAT is the real meaning of Christmas. Not I, you understand, but cynical people would.

-J.

* Last year, incidentally, Midnight Mass was a fiasco. Normally, it's a properly yells-bells-and-smells affair, all grand and solemn and Latin and formal, but last year, for reasons which have yet to be adequately explained, the whole matter went sort of bongos-tambourines-kumbaya with the priest singing the Gospel reading with an acoustic guitar.

Posted by Joke at 11:46 AM 6 comments

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Oh, you know I'm blogging this."

The party went swell.

Nobody helped. I don't say this to kick off a pity-fest, but rather to explain why I am so.dog.tired.

Anyway, we didn't have the R.s.v.p. issues we did last year, which was nice.

But.

There was a moment of "shock and awe."

TFBIM's friend M. arrived with a gentleman escort who was not her husband. And, er, chest implants. Both were rather jarring to behold, seeing as how these were great surprises to the assembled.

Let the record show, Your Honor, my opinion of M. has never been...er...sanguine. It is only out of great husbandly love I invited her. She is someone who, insofar as I can tell, has led a searingly dysfunctional life punctuated by behaviors generally associated with undomesticated cats. (Ahem.)

She is also someone whose general sense of taste and demanor is...um...not fully coincident with mine. (Can you tell I'm being diplomatic so Santa Claus will not look askance at my absurd list of requests?) TFBIM is fully aware of my views but seeing as how TFBIM cannot work in close proximity to anyone without wanting to a) set his/her family pet -- and this includes fish -- on fire or b) become his/her very best friend ever, she has an inexplicable fondness for the bucolic meretrix in question.

So picture the scene. We walk in, everyone yells "Surprise!" TFBIM wonders aloud "Again?!" and she and I filter through the room slowly doing the meet & greet thing. I come upon M. she has a long-ish perm, is wearing a low-cut something which reveal (more on this anon) two new, recent, gravity-defying items which stand in bold relief against her middle-aged frame. He countenance is tanned and also showing the effects of gravity upon a body which has had a, uh, lot of living. Then she introduces someone who is less bearded and more steroid-ed than the guy she brought to the thing LAST year. Recovering with lynx-ish reflexes I shake his hand amiably and proceed.

"Hm." I think*.

Now, the room where we had the party is The Courtyard Room and it, naturally, opens up to the courtyard. Since it was sprinkling on and off almost everyone stayed inside and mingled and ate and chatted, except for These Two, who kept shimmering out semi-discreetly and returning -- I don't want to say "disheveled" but definitely less heveled than upon egress -- and shimmering and returning.

It was so bad that even TFBIM took notice.

They excused themselves and took an early leave since he had an early call tomorrow. The way the room was in relation to the parking lot we could see them drive off and, once they were safely under way the room suddenly effervesced with conversation, about which these two were the main topic. The general sentiment was "What the [fornicate] was that?"

But then the flambee' desserts started and all was jollity and mirth once more.

Oh, and the goody bags were a hit.

-J.

* Turns out he is a co-worker of hers and that's how they met.

Posted by Joke at 5:54 AM 9 comments

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Australians, you may wish to look away.

This from the blog of one of the bigger comedy writer/director names -- M*A*S*H, Frasier, etc. -- in American TV. (The Mamarazzi contingent ought definitely have a look.)

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:33 AM 9 comments

Meanwhile, Oolon Colluphid freely walks around in robust good health.

Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's.

Dammit.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:21 AM 2 comments

The handwriting (in tiny print) on the wall.

Dear Internet,

If being attuned to nuance is part of your child rearing repertoire, you cannot fail to notice the moment your child starts to struggle with liking the stuff he likes vs. liking the stuff that "everyone" likes. Foreboding is a no-cost option here.

As a kid I was in pretty good shape in this regard because I was so Olympically self-absorbed I couldn't possibly be troubled to find out what my peers liked, let alone muster the necessary effort to actually like it. Mind you, this didn't guarantee me a trouble-free childhood/adolescence, it just meant I had new and exciting and terribly original trouble.

Anyway.

This all stems from the fact that NOS doesn't think very many girls like him. NOS, still being bright-eyed and innocent, expects girls to walk up to him and declare their undying affection in clear and unambiguous terms. And we all know the chances of that. So, he is starting to think there may be value and merit in approaching the likes and tastes of his fanatically bucolic peers. Which clashes with his sense of how the Universe is to be ordered.

Inner conflict.

Turmoil.

Then he recovers and keeps doing the right thing.

But it's among the torments of the damned to go through this as the parent.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:18 AM 3 comments

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Behold, I am the handmade of the Lord

As one meanders around the Internet (now available on computers) and especially the blogosphere, one sees people vowing to only do the handmade thing this year for Christmas* gifts.

This is fraught with peril, as not everyone is as skilled at making things by hand as they believe they are, hence the phrase "Ugly as homemade sin." Which, I admit, not "Ugly as handmade sin" but there an implicit thing going on there. At any rate, the point remains the number of people who can actually take raw materials (presumably all natural as well) and apply their loving labor thereto and arrive at an item with which the recipient thereof will be pleased to receive is, er, exceedingly finite.

I can't be bothered to look up the rules of this pledge (or was it a vow? a compact?) but I would think it against the spirit, if not the actual writ, to purchase handmade things. In which case it's shame because most of the things I particularly covet are, in fact, handmade.

(On the matter of handmade luggage, it bears noting I never check in luggage when flying. Ever. Ideally, the handmade luggage will be the custom-fit Schedoni pieces which were an option with my car back in 1985 but which the previous owner never troubled himself to purchase.)

Early on in my married life, when the number of people on my Christmas gift list quadrupled from the previous year, TFBIM and I decided to go all handmade. She can't knit or sew or quilt (or churn butter, so you male Amish readers may exhale in relief at the bullet you dodged) but she quite likes warpping things up in cellophane and tying it up in raffia and making gift baskets and things and I liked cooking stuff so off we went.

Here is the basic list of stuff we made and stuffed into baskets:

Some kind of infused vodka (lemon, cranberry or chile pepper)
Cheese straws
Sun-dried tomato pesto
Marinated olives
Lime marmalade
Sun (well, actually oven) dried mango strips
Chocolate truffles

I'll spare you the suspense and let you know it all went over exceedingly well. So that was nice.

But, dear Internet, it was Hellish work. TFBIM and I had been married a whopping seven months when we leapt into this volcano. The cheese straw episode had us thinking quite seriously about annulment, and the truffles? That episode had us thinking about homicide.

Then there was the evening (Dec. 23rd) we were assembling the baskets (I shudder at the actual number of baskets) which completely overran our tiny starter-home kitchen and spilled out into the family room. All this as we tried to decipher who was allergic to what and who was a vegan and would I please, for the love of all that's holy stop rolling my eyes at the mention of the word "vegan" and who was watching the cholesterol...all while each of us thought darkly about whether or not we had made a catastrophic nuptial error.

We somehow managed to get through it, and here we are.

-J.

* Presumably this applies to Chanukah as well.

Posted by Joke at 7:22 AM 10 comments

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I'm meme-ing of a White Christmas

OK, I have some catching up to do, so I'm taking the easy way out. I'm doing a meme I have brazenly pilfered from the lovely and gracious BabBab.

Ready?

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Gift bags. I am male and therefore too inept to wrap neatly and too lazy not to toss something in a bag.

2. Real tree or artificial?
Fake. I have appalling allergies to conifers; TFBIM didn't believe me when we were first married, and so I let her get a natural tree the first year...she still wakes up in a cold sweat. BabBab says "Artificial trees are an abomination in the eyes of the little baby Jesus" but I'm Catholic and, therefore, if she is right -- and I'm not sure her post-Reformation theology is sound on this particular point -- I can just confess it along with my manifold other sins, and be good-to-go.

3. When do you put up the tree?
Thanksgiving Saturday.

4. When do you take the tree down?
Immediately following Epiphany. January 7.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Nah. Tastes like someone spiked custard with vodka.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
My gifts always sucked dead wombats as a child.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes. This old intricately carved thing from Spain. Every year we get a new cast member.

8. Hardest person to buy for?
Me. I'm, uh, a complete and utter PITA very particular.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
TFBIM. Something in the jewelry vein that is not too "bling" and not too "funky" and I'm set.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
My parents got me a beard-trimmer three years ago. I've never had a beard. You'd figure that my parents who see me, on average, thrice weekly, would know that.

11. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail. See me previous published works for more details.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Hmm. A Christmas Story. My favorite TV show is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not a real big Grinch fan ovah heah.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Dec. 26th.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
If I've ever given you anything, or you've given me anything, the answer is "No, of course, not." (Although last year Poppy and I started a new tradition in regifting.)

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Nougat.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
Clear. Halogen.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
Religious: Adeste Fideles. (Yes, in Latin. That's just the kind of bastid I am.)

Secular: Run, Run Rudolph by Chuck Berry or B-b-b-blue Christmas by Porky Pig.

I know, I know...I am SUCH a child.

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?
Stay home. Keep in mind that Christ -- and it is His birthday we celebrate -- said to pick up our cross and follow Him, and I can think of no better way to do just that very thing than to let my family inflict itself upon me.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?
Yes.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Star. I stuffed it full of tree lights, for added excellentness.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas morning. We're too beat after enduring my extended family and then hearing Midnight Mass to do anything else.

We also don't do that "open up one gift on Christmas Eve" bull$#!+.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
My family, which I should specify is my mother's side. My father's side is almost all in Spain (except for the ones shot by the Communists during the Spanish Civil War or the Communists in Cuber) and so I get away with a stilted three minute transatlantic phone conversation.

23. What I love most about Christmas?
Christmas is just okay in the cultural sort of way. I love getting people gifts they will love, but people usually never give me anything that's all that great. The best part is our Boxing Day Brunch and then immediately flying off somewhere.

New Year's is pretty good, though.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:53 PM 7 comments

Thunder Berks Are Go

Dear Internet,

You may have some sort of an idea of what it is I do to earn my daily crust. Probably not a very precise idea because, even if I weren't as cagey as I am on the matter and I explained it all with a luxury of details, by the third sentence all your ears would be able to process is the sounds* the adults make in those Peanuts TV specials and just go back to your previously formulated notion my income is derived by, in some nebulous way, wrenching morsels of bread from the starving lips of the working classes.

So, to shed a sliver of light on what it is I do, and why I was under radio silence for a week, I'll illustrate by telling you the tale of my most recent assignment. The basics have been covered here before, so I'll spare you.

What I'll tell you is what this sort of show is like.

This sort of thing is a motorsports trade show and it is huge. Huge, in this case, is defined as being the size of two football (whichever version your own cultural paradigm flashes reflexively thereto) stadia. Crammed thereinto are thousands of manufacturers and distributors and attendees meandering about wondering what they ought buy to go faster. You may well imagine the Hellish racket going on. Machines that make transmissions and engines, machines that make machines, transmissions and engines, assorted other mechanical componentry are all whirring away at approximately a zillion dB for three days.

Fortunately the actual race cars have been moved outside to the forecourt. Last year it was raining and some genius decided to stick them indoors and by the time the third car had started up and revved its engine there was so much smoke that anyone would have been forgiven for thinking they had accidentally wandered into one of those hyper-sulfur coal burning Chinese electric plants the Kyoto protocol so conveniently ignores.

On the upside, it is a perfectly legal high.

Anyway, the racing world, like all human endeavors, has a rigid caste system. At the very summit of the ziggurat are the F1 guys, whose pores emit low-denomination coins. You can spot them by their unambiguously Euro-trash mien. Cartier sunglasses. Those overlong shoes with curled-up square toes. Shirts with patterns previously associated with heterophobic sleepwear. That sort of thing.

They are followed by the LeMans type who are (or affect) Euro old money, Indy car guys who are zillionaires who dress the same way they always did because they can't be bothered to get out of jeans, and Vintage Racecar sorts of guys who are usually American old money and would be off racing sailboats if this hadn't popped into their heads.

Next down are the NASCAR folks, and these all look like middle-management executives with distinctly Southern accents rattling off Wall Street buzzwords. They are followed by the rally car contingent who are, frankly, in utter leave of their senses. (Anyone who thinks it's great fun to hurtle a subcompact with a trillion horsepower through unpaved roads and snowed conifer forests at 150mph would have to be.)

Following them we have the dirt track racers, who are like the NASCAR guys sans polish and the autocrossers who are like the rally guys with the Sanity Button fully pressed and the rent-a-racers, who are like the F1 guys only married and wildly frugal.

Nearing the bottom are the drag racers, divided into the, er, more peculiarly groomed (curly mullets and tattoos abound, in an inverse relationship to digits and incisors) not-quite-urban sorts and the Asian (or Asian-wannabe) with facial piercings that make you wonder if dueling with pneumatic nail guns is the next societal phenomenon to be chronicled by Chuck Palahniuk and a general appearance of someone whose other hobby is stealing cars.

At the very base of this motorized Giza are the "tractor pullers" whose passions lead them to create farm vehicles with enough power to reverse the earth's rotation. Stop and think of it.

Of course, this being the biggest splash in the world of racing, a veritable United Nations of attendees cross my sights. The biggest difference being that, in sharp contradistinction to the real United Nations, these guys -- and they are 99.9999999% guys -- actually accomplish things.

On the racing insanity spectrum, the extreme at the far end is populated by Brazilians (usually with Italian surnames), Argentines (invariably with Italian surnames) and Italians. Then come the French (including French Canadians), the Brits, the Germans, the Aussies, the Spaniards, Americans, Kiwis and Anglo-Canadians. When you interact with these groups on a regular basis over many years, certain generalizations pop up. You can count on the Aussies asking you one or two questions (Can you make this? How much?) and then demanding you drink with them. The Germans will bring reams of data, charts, metallurgy reports, graphs and then demand you adhere to their specifications exactly. The Italians will bring twice as much data as the Germans and then demand you get "close enough" and then they discuss food. The French will haggle. The Americans will tell you endless stories, including a few entertaining ones. The Brits will tell you all the stuff they cobbled together "out in the shed" to compensate** for the failures they experienced when they were racing those British cars loosely screwed together by effort-shy socialists in the late-1970s. (In contrast, the French have never bothered cobbling anything together. When their cars, loosely screwed together by semi-communists, failed, they just took an extra week off with pay.)

This all requires enforced jollity on one's part, a hugely draining experience. When the Argentines, Italians and Australians rejoice/bemoan their new gummints, you are to make sympathetic sounds. When the Brit starts talking about some obscure car that somehow managed to be assembled between strikes, you nod sagely. You scoff at what they scoff, you cheer at what they cheer.

"Whither thou sneerest" is the motto. And it's VERY wearing.

-J.

* Mwahwahwahaahhwwha

** In fact, there is a thriving and lucrative industry in the UK of taking those very cars apart and, for a not-small sum, reassembling them properly.

Posted by Joke at 1:22 PM 7 comments

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The factoids of life.

Dear Internet,

The day is fast approaching when NOS will start parading an array of potential mates before our eyes. However, prior to his doing that, he has to get some details straight about the distaff side. See, the poor lad had just begun to realize that, to the benighted possessor of a Y chromosome, the female of the species simply makes no sense. (I might grant the opposite is equally true, but in this case this is monumentally irrelevant.)

At least NOS receives aid and comfort from having a dad like me, which is more than I ever got from my old man. In that regard, my dad was ideally unhelpful, teasing at woefully inappropriate moments and singularly lacking in advice.

Well, that's not true, strictly speaking. Following is the sum total of advice I got on making a splash with women:

"Ask them to dance. Girls like to dance."

Suffice it to say that what little I figured out about women, I had to learn on my own after much trial and even much more error.

Anyway, NOS is feeling a bit out of sorts because being Not The Tallest Fifth Grader makes him feel a bit inadequate...never mind that a gaggle of sixth grade girls have searing crushes on him --- to which he is utterly blind, and even if he weren't, he'd feel weird because they are much taller and a bit older -- and frequently send him text messages in the emergencies-only cell phone.

However, the Christmas spirit has taken hold, and he has been ASKED to the Something Something Junior Christmas Something. The girl (from another school!) might well be 6'3" and five years older, NOS is not the sort of kid that says "no" to these sorts of requests. Especially if he gets to wear a suit and get down with his bad self.

And I don't care how much he whines, I am NOT buying him that tuxedo.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:16 PM 6 comments

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mild warning.

Just got my new laptop and am in the (HA!) "EasyTransfer" process.

Find something to read in my archives and sigh longingly for the next day or so, will ya?

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:20 PM 4 comments