Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Oh, what fresh Hell is this?"

Very, VERY sad news today.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.



P.S. If nothing else, a man who writes a book with the title Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription! deserves every accolade coming to him.

Posted by Joke at 12:35 PM


TFBIM is sick with (what we hope is only) a nasty cold.

NTS is showing no ill effects from having used his skull to batter my skull.


Posted by Joke at 7:43 AM 0 comments

The thrills never stop.

It's 3:20am. I've been awake since 11pm.


Because in a particularly brutal episode of co-sleeping, NTS (accidentally, but still) headbutted me with all the might his 55lb. body could muster...right on the bridge of my nose. I mean, he just CLOCKED me.

I was, quite literally, flash-blinded* for a second from the pain. I think perfectly masculine tears came out, unbidden. And the bridge of my nose has been throbbing ever since, regardless of what analgesic I throw at it.

This is on top of the massive blackout that covered the central and southern portions of the whole state and the traffic (and child activity related scheduling) snarls which ensued.

Now you know.


* Think "lightning-on-the-road-to-Damascus" but without any revelation from Jesus.

Posted by Joke at 3:18 AM 5 comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stay in school, kids.

Posted by Joke at 4:56 PM 5 comments

A very lucky three days so far.

I have managed to avoid any effusion of blood on my part.

Still, looking at it closely -- no easy feat considering the spot's location; the process involved three mirrors and a copy of Yoga For Dummies -- what appears to be a bright scarlet pinpoint on my skin is actually a capillary associated with my (I think) jugular or carotid. Just under the skin, where those mass-made, lowest-common-denominator razors can sever it again.

Medical appointments are being scheduled as we speak.


Because the fun never stops at Joke's Place, NOS got a cold that has devolved into a full on asthma attack. TFBIM's dad, for whom reality wields not the force it does for mere mortals, announced this had to do with the clutter of stuff TFBIM had in the non-badass minivan, and prioceeded to clean it out to his satisfaction. He was wearing one of those disposable surgical masks like Asian travelers do whenever there's an outbreak of bird flu.

NOS, poor lad, was miserable. Coughing and wheezing freely and frustrated he couldn't sprint madly in whatever direction his wont carried him. He has somewhat hypoer episodes when all his unspent energy bursts forth in one lump, and being unable to expend in such a manner without being reduced to sounding like Darth Vader's chipmunk displeased him greatly.

In the meanwhile, I have been slowly gathering material samples and ideas for the various renovations pending at the house. Oh, and I secured a length of fish tank tubing and will construct an elaborate siphon mechanism to extract my manly fragrance with minimum waste.

So our long national nightmare is soon to be over.


Posted by Joke at 8:37 AM 2 comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

All you need to know about the Oscars.

Read this.


Posted by Joke at 3:28 PM 3 comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

I bleed sports-car red

One of the cool things about the Internet is that you sometimes get to reconnect with pals from long-ago.

A friend from my undergraduate days found my stellar wine columns (by that I mean the columns I wrote on wine, not that I have some sort of of vinuous architectural features) and got in touch. Said ol' pal o' mine is now the Editor-in-Chief for a midsize automotive magazine.

Anyway, there was a classic car show happening down here and he asked me, Paid Writer that I am, to cover it for him. Seeing as how this show promised to be pretty posh stuff, I said sure. Tonight was the first event: "The hangar party."

With my journalistic skills -- envy me, what's left of The New York Tass Times! -- I was able to piece together that many people who were attending this show would be arriving via private jet and, at the private airport where these private jets would land, there would be a "Hey! Welcome!" shindig to show appreciation for affluent folks.

So, I went off to shower. Seeing as how there was a strong chance this would be a very upmarket sort of thing, I decided to shave. This'd be above and beyond any morning shavery. Now, being the hurried sort, I decided to shave in the shower, forsaking my usual cutthroat razor regimen. Foolishly, I decided to use one of those Gillette Mach Pi razors.

I shaved quickly and emerged. I toweled my frame dry only to notice no small amount of vivid red upon the cotton loops of my fave towel. I looked in the mirror and, to my chagrin, it looked as if I were clad in a bright scarlet toga.

I had nicked a particularly juicy capillary and it was bleeding quite freely with NO stanching it. It was bizarre to behold: the "wound" was maybe 1mm long. After two towels, some bathroom tissue applied to my neck (home of the nick in question) with manly pressure, I was able to swab it with some coagulant/liquid bandage thing.

The irony is that in all my years shaving with a straight razor or similarly antiquated gear, I have never so much as gotten razor burn, let alone losing a half-pint of my blood.


P.S. The car thing tonight proved to be more bling-bling than sophisticatedly posh. Most of the women there looked like porn stars who had just recently retired because they'd gotten a better offer from men with artificial hair. Lots of silicone implants, facial "work" and 6"(15cm) heels. And more Lamborghinis than at the VH1 Hip-hop Awards.

Posted by Joke at 10:44 PM 7 comments

Fragrance update.

Piecing together the various suggestions below, I have figured out this much.

I took the spray bottle of eau-de-musk-ox which the very lovely and terribly gracious Poppy gave me for Christmas, and disassembled the spray mechanism as far as I could without breaking anything. Which wasn't very far, because all that's there is the atomizer button (the thingy you push to produce a fine mist with a 10'/3m scatter pattern) and this spouty thing that goes up the aforementioned button.

Now, if you push down on the unbuttoned spouty thing you get a semi-healthy squirt of manly fragrance. The problem is that I see no way (thus far) of pushing down the spouty thingy without blocking the spouty thingy. That is, I wind up with several fluid ounces of manly fragrance dribbling down my arm.

Putting the bottle upside down to push against something, besides potentially blocking the spouty thingy, produces nothing, because the feeder tube is then nestling in a pocket of air.

My intentions therefore are to find some sort of thin, flexible-ish but rigid-ish tube (the sort used in fish tanks suggests itself), that will affix SNUGLY (so I can't type, Poppy, sue me) over the spouty thing that I may push down without blocking the spouty thingy and which will prove a conduit to the manly fragrance, to be decanted into the little sterling flask. (Which I think -- I'm not sure -- Poppy also gave me several years prior.)

Details to ensue,


Posted by Joke at 8:10 AM 15 comments

Thursday, February 21, 2008

YOU! You guys will know.

I'm fairly confident in stating that, at the core of my readership, reside some people who are very crafty/ingenious or health/beauty savvy or both. Here's my dilemma, and feel free to pipe up with a proposed solution:

Being the dapper bon vivant that I am, I generally swan about wearing a very light dose of a manly fragrance. However, these days I have only found my manly fragrance of choice (Polo Blue) in the abominable spray bottle configuration. What I used to do in happier times was decant a fluid ounce of my manly fragrance of choice (it used to be Monogram, but that was discontinued) into a small sterling flask. Thence I would dispense said manly fragrance and I would be ready to lock horns with a world axle deep in entropy and barbarity.

But there is no way of spraying the fragrance into the flask without unacceptable loss, and spraying the fragrance directly upon my person is absolutely out of the question. (So don't go there. In fact, resist the temptation to delve into the matter at all.) The question then do I transfer the fragrance from the spray bottle to the flask with no loss?



Posted by Joke at 10:45 AM 16 comments

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Correction

WARNING: Grownup-ish language follows. Shoo the little ones away. You've been warned.

Are they gone?


One of the things which vex me to no end about what passes for newspapers in the USA these days is that on Day 1 they will issue a huge font front-page story along the lines of:

"Person X Caught Sodomizing Livestock"
and then on Day 6, in tiny print, on page Q17,

"In our Day 1 edition we ran a story where, due to a printing error, it was implied Person X routinely provides sexual favors for farm animals. The headline should have read 'Person X is a prominent farm veterinarian' instead. Person X had been performing pelvic exams on goats when our reporter came by for the interview. The Morning Times Telegraph regrets the error."

Here at ST,BD this is not the done thing. When a mistake or omission happens, it is put out front for the world to see. It's not very often I do something wrong, and so it would be unfair to deprive my readership of the opportunity to witness the blog equivalent of Halley's Comet.

As you might recall a few days ago I posted an entry on crushworthy-to-me persons (I'm appalled that Poppy actually knew 20% of them. In the future I must try harder.) and with which I am rather pleased.

However, I saved the following narrative for its own entry, as it transcends mere crush-worthiness into an actual, y'know, thing. I should have used it in the other one, as a capstone thereto, and not all here by its lonesome.

So mea maxima culpa. Anyway.

This took place epochs ago, when my capacity to decipher what women (in general and my then-recently-affianced, now-wife in particular) are actually saying was not as keenly honed as it is today. I prattled on about this until my beloved's face turning a lurid garnet, accessorized by plumes of black smoke issuing from her ears and smallish flames visible from her nostrils made me wonder if anything was the matter. ("Nothing." she answered, which I, testosterone-addled fool that I was, took to mean "No, there is nothing wrong.")

(I had a conference out in Santa Monica. My we-had-just-gotten-the-week-prior-engaged beloved had a long weekend and decided to come loiter with me and take in a bit of touristy SoCal. There stage set.)

I speak of Bridget Fonda, and the story -- certainly a letdown after all this preamble -- is that we shared an interminable wait in line at a Starbucks. The "system [was] down" and the Mensa Brain Trust running the place could not see their way clear to do anything. It may have caused Colombia to shut down for 2-3 days, gauging from the efforts of the personnel. At any rate, Ms. Fonda (half-caf cappuccino and a bag of some specialty decaf, ground if memory serves) and I were pretty much in the middle of the crush of humanity queue and while there, she complained about the delay given that she was supposed to be somewhere else in short order. I may have said something that made her laugh. A few times.

A cynical person -- not you, of course, but a cynical person -- of an especially morbid outlook would have said it was flirting. Nothing of the sort. Airy, glib banter, nothing more.

She has a great laugh. The sort of laugh that makes you think the laugher is actually both happy and kind. She also smelled pretty nice. (My guess? Chamade by Guerlain, but very lightly so) She was also very, very pretty in a girl-next-door way and has a quick smile. She had just broken up, as it turned out, with the benighted Eric Stoltz after several years.

My then-fiancée was led to wonder, naturally, what had befallen me at Starbucks that had caused such delays. Of course, rather than explain the technical difficulties which had me standing by, I said "Guess who I saw? Bridget Fonda!" and then proceeded idiotically to regale my beloved with the story, omitting no detail however slight. Her mood, to my surprise, darkened visibly and a narcotized meteorologist might have mistakenly predicted thunderstorms from her look.

So there. Now you know my Brush With Fame.


P.S. She does not have an accent. But I didn't care.

Posted by Joke at 10:03 AM 10 comments

Crush with Fame

As you might recall a few days ago I posted an entry on crushworthy-to-me persons (I'm appalled that Poppy actually knew 20% of them. In the future I must try harder.) and with which I am rather pleased. I mentioned this in passing to TFBIM who cannot possibly be bothered to read this blog (or any blog, really) and she said:

"Why didn't you tell them about ____?"

She half-seriously/half-mischievously said this, because there is a story between me and ____ which, at the time, annoyed TFBIM to no end. This took place epochs ago, when my capacity to decipher what women (in general and my now-wife in particular) are actually saying was not as keenly honed as it is today. I prattled on about this until my beloved's face turning a lurid garnet, accessorized by plumes of black smoke issuing from her ears and smallish flames visible from her nostrils made me wonder if anything was the matter. ("Nothing." she answered, which I, testosterone addled fool that I was, took to mean "No, there is nothing wrong.")

Anyway, it took no small effort and no small expense assuaging her and, I had placed the matter (and its subj.) out of may head, abetted by the subj.'s low profile these days. In doing so, I omitted her from the Pantheon of the Crushworthies. Repressed it, if you will.

I speak of Bridget Fonda, and the story -- certainly a letdown after all this preamble -- is that we shared an interminable wait in line at a Starbucks. The "system [was] down" and the Mensa Brain Trust running the place could not see their way clear to do anything. It may have caused Colombia to shut down for 2-3 days, gauging from the efforts of the personnel. At any rate, Ms. Fonda (half-caf cappuccino and a bag of some specialty decaf, ground if memory serves) and I were pretty much in the middle of the crush of humanity queue and, while there, she complained about the delay, given that she was supposed to be somewhere else in short order. I may have said something that made her laugh. A few times.

She has a great laugh. The sort of laugh that makes you think the laugher is actually both happy and kind. She also smelled pretty nice. (My guess? Chamade by Guerlain, but very lightly so) She is also very, very pretty in a girl-next-door way and has a quick smile.

My then-fiancee saw her elsewhere in the upscale-ish shopping venue wherein the Starbucks resided and, when I emerged, she said "Guess who I saw?" I said "Bridget Fonda" and then proceeded to regale my beloved with the story, omitting no detail however slight. Her mood darkened visibly and a half-awake meteorologist might have mistakenly predicted thunderstorms from her look.

So there. Now you know my Brush With Fame and the Crush That Dare Not Speak Its Name.



P.S. She does not have an accent.

Posted by Joke at 10:00 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And environmental cataclysm

As you may all recall (and you ought), one of the things which I was about to discourse upon was NOS and his vegetable patch.

But then, all of the forces of a Nature aggrieved at my carbon footprint (9½ E) fell upon us.

Ah, but I get ahead of myself.


A couple of weeks ago, NOS developed a like for the new Jamie Oliver TV show wherein said chef putters about his garden growing vegetables and then cooking with them. This struck NOS as sheer brilliance and he pestered me mercilessly asked if we could do the same. Yes, we grew the odd tomato and chile pepper, lots of herbs and until recently citrus, but NOS wanted something more substantial.

Problem was we had nowhere to put something more substantial, as TFBIM had occupied all the planters which ring our house with "foliage" and two rose bushes. (The rose bushes are safe, but my crystal ball has an aura of foreboding for the "foliage" and their lifespan.) So TFBIM's dad (he late of the construction industry) popped by and he cobbled together they built a smallish wooden planter.

They filled the planter with soil, planted red onions and cucumbers and placed it in the general vicinity of the tomato plantation (NOS calls this his "Greek salad" planter) and went on his merry way.

You should have seen him, Internet, tending his small homemade crate filled with dirt planter every day after school. Then came the environmental disaster of which totally unbiased and agenda undriven celebrity-climatologists have been warning us about for months: it rained like crazy yesterday. Well over 2" (5cm) fell upon the Fringe o' Paradise in 24 hours, a climatological event so rare most people would have to hark back to December 2007 in order to have a meaningful comparison.

While I'll leave it to others to discuss the impending Ice Age implications, I was more concerned for my little boy, who was crushed -- crushed, I tell you! -- when the rains toppled over his planter, spilling seed and earth upon the, er, back lawn. His experiment in sustainable agriculture was in tatters and imperiled, the planter being unable to sustain rain. We scooped the dirt as best we could and righted the planter, and propped it up with biggish rocks and a nearby brick. He was heartbroken, and tried not to show he was on the verge of tears.

So I did what dads do best (besides hollering at him to go shower and stop tracking mud inside the house) and we went to buy several new packets of heirloom seeds.

Photography to ensue.

-Mr. Natural

P.S. Remind me to tell you about going into the hydroponics store.

Posted by Joke at 7:58 AM 10 comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keeping track at home

This are the entries on which I am working on these days to give you, The Internet, hours of bloggy pleasure:

1- The day the citrus died, and what's been planned in its stead.
2- Something I'm trying out in the kitchen, involving "cultures" and room-temperature dairy, there is a chance the mere mention of this project will send the lovely and gracious Gina sprinting for an oxygen mask and defibrillator.
3- NOS and his vegetable garden.
4- How I grew up in postwar Ireland with an alcoholic father who was abusive and a saintly-but-distant mother whom I never really knew until the very end when she died of some tragic malady, and then it was too late and so I bitterly left the Catholic Church. No, wait. That's a Frank McCourt synopsis.
5- NTS and his seemingly vocational desire to become a game-show host.
6- Car stuff.
7- Wine stuff.
8- On writing the meme-to-end all-memes

So stay tuned.


Posted by Joke at 2:47 PM 5 comments

The new Australian Prime Minister...

...made a very widely covered speech recently, expressing regret for some past transgressions. Some of us, far afield of Australia looked on with some cynicism, muttering darkly and wondering if he will ever apologize for this outrage.


Posted by Joke at 2:26 PM 8 comments


One of the dangers of being a dad blogger is the near-certain minefield of discussing, um, Naughty Interpersonal Activities. Which is not to say I'm not a fan thereof; on the contrary, little delights me more than my beloved breaching the citadel of my husbandliness.

But, let's be honest, when a female discusses this -- up to a point, natch -- it's kind of alluring. Yes, even if the appearance of said blogger is mora akin to a fire hydrant with a moustache, it's alluring. Now, a veritable Adonis has a far more difficult task, with a far smaller margin of error. He too-openly declaims his enjoyment of a romp with Mrs. Adonis and, well, it can come off a bit creepy. (It does to me, and, after all, it's what I think that matters.)

It gets even more interesting when said blogger proclaims a crush, in public, involving (rather puzzlingly so) some celebrity whom few would have considered crushworthy. "I just melt when Joe Pesci/Michael Gambon/David Attenborough..." The polite thing to do is just chalk up such proclivities to now-banned artificial ingredients in baby food and move on.

But a blog is a confessional vehicle of sorts. One where a man may proudly stand and where he may declare that he, too, has crushes on people not many would have considered. Which is not to say those herein listed are not attractive, because they are. But attractiveness is only the very minimum requirement for admission.

So, as promised in no order whatever:

Davina McCall. She's benevolently shameless, and a bit silly, and a bit loud, and cute and funny*.

Bonnie Hunt, because she is relentlessly (something few people regardless of age or sex are) funny, and that is eminently crushworthy.

Nigella Lawson, not necessarily because I think her cooking is "all that" (although it is pretty decent) but rather because I could stand to have her read the phone book aloud night and day. Sometimes, when in a particularly lurid reverie, I imagine her breathily shouting in my ear something like "I'm arriving! I! Shall! Arrive!"

Jodie Kidd. A supermodel who'd rather drive race cars than develop an eating disorder? Nice.

Michelle Pfeiffer. Not in spite of her being 49. Because she's 49. This genius cheated on her and so she dumped him. True story.

Elle MacPherson. I have a thing for women who are fetching and wildly appealing while in their 40s. Oh, and she has an accent.

Uma Thurman. Yes, this is a surprise to me as well. But she looks much better now than she did in her mid-20s, which compensates a great deal.

Leelee Sobieski. Cute in armor, wields a sword tolerably well, and descended from the king of Poland who defeated the Muslims in the siege of Vienna, thereby sparing Europe from Islamofascism for about another 500 years, give or take.

Milla Jovovich. Cute in armor, wields a sword tolerably well, and descended from an anti-Communist Soviet dissident.

Keira Knightley. Shut up.

Lena Headey. She's aerodynamic and lissom, with something of an edge. Looks good in sepia-tone. The accent doesn't help her quite so much, and her vegetarianism definitely doesn't help so much.

Greta Scacchi. Another one of those "Dorian Gray" types.

Diane Lane. The thinking man's Jodie Foster.

Bettany Hughes. Who? She's (along with Victor Davis Hanson) one of the historians who served as advisors to 300. She's attractive and she's brilliant and she has an accent and she has a doctorate.

Barbara Lynch. Cute, superchef, patriotic and has a very Boston accent. (Little mascara wouldn't, y'know, kill her.)

Miranda Richardson. Brilliant actress and can do comedy, wherein she played the definitive Elizabeth I. Threatened Jeremy Irons with a butter knife in Lolita and looks good when she perspires. Also gets the Accent Bonus.

The one who played Penelope in Trading Places

Annabeth Gish. Granddaughter of Lillian Gish and just so damned cute.

Bernadette Peters. What lungs. (Wow, is she really 59?)

Elisabeth Shue. Good cheekbones and she's erudite.

...and there you have it.


* You'll notice this is a recurring theme.

Posted by Joke at 7:51 AM 19 comments

Saturday, February 16, 2008

You didn't read this.

I'm not blogging anything today. I have a conference-type thing to attend. Try again tomorrow.


P.S. Ignore the time stamp.

Posted by Joke at 4:26 AM 1 comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Why does everything always happen to me?"*

This is one of those things which only happen in my house. At 3am, NTS came to our bed, where we were cheerfully dozing off the Laurent Perrier to announce loudly -- emphasizing the point by placing the object about an inch (2½cm) from my face -- "My foot is cold."


* Rabbit, from "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh"

Posted by Joke at 7:16 AM 12 comments

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hearts and Flowers

Today, of course, is St. Valentine's Day. All else being equal, of course, this is a C-Level Gift day. Now, for those of you who are new here might not be aware of how I categorize -- authoritatively, mind you -- these things.

A-Level Gift days are the BIG Birthdays and Anniversaries. Those divisible by 5, 10, or 25; the latter being the most A-Levelish of all. After all, you don't see many people making a huge fuss over their 42nd birthday.

The B-Level Gift days are "regular" Birthdays and Anniversaries, and Christmas (or, for the Jewish kids, Chanukah) and the C-Level Gift days are as above.

One buys one's beloved a lovely bauble, and ideally a lovely meal is shared and affection and sunshine and lollipops and blooming and Cupid slinging his arrows. Tra-la-la.

Naturally, this means that one must dance attendance. Since we have drained the bottle of babysitting privilege to its lees, this precludes our going out for an overpriced dine-and-dash on the most crowded night of the year. In lieu of that, I'm going all out on the dinner fixin's at home. This is a good and wise thing since TFBIM is still working brutal hours and she is having a Day Two kind of day. Ahem.

So I'm going with lobstah and champagne and chocolate (not together, relax).

Normally, by the way, I suggest Japanese food for St. Valentine's Day as it's clean and light and it doesn't weigh you down should the evening proceed into more, er, strenuous pursuits.

Anyway, here's the plan:

Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc*
Steamed Florida Lobstah with Saffron Aioli**
Amaretto Chocolate Mousse***


*4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into TINY pieces

In a saucepan combine vinegar, wine, shallots, salt and white pepper and bring to a simmer.
Gently simmer liquid until reduced to syrup. Off-heat whisk in 1 tsp. of chilled butter. As the butter is incorporated into the liquid add another piece and continue to swirl or whisk. Put the pan back over the lowest heat and -- don't stop whisking! -- add the bits of butter one at a time.

When all of the butter has been added remove from heat. Sauce will be thick and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately. (You can hold it in a Thermos for a while, but you're running a chance.)

** 5 cloves garlic (what?) MAKE SURE it's fresh and firm.
White pepper
1 pinch saffron threads
1 egg yolk, room temperature (if you are even remotely worried about salmonella, etc., skip this recipe)
1 cup EVOO
1/2 lemon, juiced
Pinch ground red pepper

In food processor or blender (I prefer blender), puree garlic. add salt and pepper and then the saffron and egg yolks. With blades running, S-L-O-W-L-Y add the olive oil in a thin steady stream. Add the lemon juice and red pepper and taste for seasoning.

*** 3.5oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) ideally in "chips"
10oz heavy ("double") cream
2 tbsp Amaretto (or espresso)
1 egg white
3-4 tbsp. sugar
handful of amaretti cookies or chocolate shavings, to garnish

In a small saucepan, heat half the cream until it starts to bubble around the edges. Take it off heat, add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted smoothly. Pour into a bowl resting over ice. Add the rest of the cream and Amaretto. Whisk to soft peaks.

Meanwhile, whisk (clean the whisk, OK?) the egg white until the soft peak stage. Add the sugar in a stream and continue whisking until you have peaks that are firm and glossy. Fold the meringue and the chocolate/cream CAREFULLY (you don't want to pop all the bubbles). Serve in chilled martini or margarita glasses.

Crush the amaretti (or shave the chocolate) and sprinkle over the chocolate mousse to garnish. Serve immediately or chill for up to two days.

Posted by Joke at 1:26 PM 4 comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bubble, bubble, articles on sparkling wines made in the methode Champenoise and trouble.

Just in time for St. Valentine's Day, the good folk at have posted my review of assorted Champagnes (and derivatives).

Go ovah theah and click thereon. (The more clickage the more excellent wines I get for free.)


-The Management

Posted by Joke at 8:35 AM 5 comments

Some additional explanation

Believe it or not, the Saeco espresso machine is functioning normally now, producing excellent espresso at the push of but a single button, sometimes at the push of the Timer button several hours prior.

The thing about Saeco is that it's Italian. And the Italians, God bless 'em, are a different people altogether. I have owned enough Italian cars over a long enough hunk of my life (I was 19 when I got my first one) that I am unfazed by some of the, er, Rube Goldberg*-like aspects of ownership.

For example, in my penultimate car, during the summer months, you had to start the car THEN turn on the air conditioning and THEN turn on the engine's fan (the factory set point for which was too slow for our summers). The air conditioning was also a bit interesting. Today it's fairly commonplace to see cars that have an air conditioning unit with two controls. But nobody has ever seen another a/c that had two units and one control. It turns out that the a/c units typically seen on Italian cars of those years were not conditioning the air to the satisfaction of anyone. So, rather than go through the inconvenience and trouble of engineering a new sort of unit, they went through the inconvenience and hassle of engineering a way to cram a second unit into cars.

Another previous car had an ingenious sunroof arrangement: It could slide backward or forward, to afford cabin occupants glorious sunshine while shading them from harsh exposure to the sun. This worked brilliantly. Working less brilliantly was closing the sunroof; since it slid both ways the only way to make sure you had a proper seal was to stand outside and wait for the ideal moment to stop the movement. It was like performing some unsavory hernia exam upon an elephant.

Then there's the issue of the batteries. In order to provide ideal weight distribution, the battery is located under the trunk** floor, opposite the driver, which was important in giving optimal handling. Less important was ease in jump starting a car with a flat battery; then again all these cars were stick shift and jump starting was a moot point. When you come to think of it, it's pretty unusual (very unusual in these here United States) to see even biggish family four-door cars available in stick-shift.

(On this latter point, I must confess I'm in agreement; as I view automatic transmissions as a combination of a Leftist plot and the work of Satan.)

The point is that doing things in the Italian way takes some getting used to. Yes, I s'pose I could have bought one of those Capresso units from Switzerland for $1200-$1500 that does the same wonderfulness without the annual purge and with a manual that could probably explain, in excruciating detail how to turn the cappuccino attachment into a manned space module and where the gold from WW II went. The fact is I'm a cheapskate, and getting this unit on eBay for a sliver of that price pleased me more.

Color me crazy, but saving $1000-$1300 is worth twiddling with a knob for 10 minutes.


*Heath Robinson-like if you are from one of the other parts of the Anglosphere
** Boot, if you are from one of the other parts of the Anglosphere

Posted by Joke at 7:55 AM 7 comments

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fraught with risk

We all have our personal tastes and likes and dislikes. That much we know. Some are guilty pleasures, some are affections which headlong run counter to prevailing fashion. The rest of our circle look on bemusedly as we prattle on about them, crouched down, stalking, eagerly awaiting the moment to pounce and prattle on about their particular "thing."

One of mine is Italophilia. A lot of us have [insert nation here]philia. The extremely lovely and wildly gracious Poppy has Francophilia, and the lovely and gracious Shula has developed such an acute case of love for India it wouldn't surprise me if her fondest subconscious wish is to be swept off her feet by the leading Bollywood chiropractor. So I know kinda/sorta what they're thinking.

As a consequence of my happy Italophilia, I tend to surround myself with items Italian whenever practical. Cars, for example. In this place and time one must have a car and therefore, why not an Italian one, right? Another is my abiding love for espresso and who better to manufacture machines that afford me much excellent caffeinated goodness than the Italians?


Which leads me to the subject of this post, the trouble with the Italian espresso machine.

Italians, by and large, are a sophisticated people with equally sophisticated manufacturing culture, especially in items which matter so deeply to them. Like cars and, yes, espresso machines. In these fields, in the aspects that really matter, they are peerless. In the aspects that don't matter, well, they have peers by the truckload. In the case of the espresso machine this is manifested in how the manual is written.

The manual which came with this machine like every single other manual I have ever encountered for anything even remotely Italian is of, er, modest usefulness. A lot of times a message will pop up on the display of the unit and it will take some deciphering to ascertain what one ought do. The descaling operation is one such example where the manual falls rather short of ones desires. However, in a manly show of sophistication, the manual is printed in EIGHT languages, probably including cuneiform. As a consequence, all peoples of the world may be equally frustrated when their caffeinated goodness is unavailable with no forthcoming explanation or readily discernible remedy.

Eventually one puts together the aspects of the instructions and manages to effect the fix. Muttering a few profanities, all is forgiven when the espresso hits the cup and wrath is distracted by one's base longings.

Of course, one then hits the wall when something not even remotely mentioned in the manual shows up on the machine's display. In my case it has been the rather ominous "Purge." Without any additional clarification, one is left wondering WTF is going on. "Am I being warned of impending Stalinist action? Is Siberia cold in February?" or "Is there some demonic presence which has possessed this machine and which is goading me to develop a eating disorder?" Nobody knows, because on this issue, the manual is silent. In eight languages, including cuneiform.

So, if one is bound and determined to have one's dosage of the pinnacle of coffee, one must get creative. This is husbandese, incidentally, for twiddling all the knobs and dials and pushing all the buttons possible to see what happens. Calling tech support is specifically disallowed as only the truly hopeless or those who are completely at the end of their tether may do so. Therefore, in order to help any concerned husband I will offer up what works so that you may impress your beloved by looking as if you really know what you are doing. Much like I did this morning. (It helps to wake up 90 minutes earlier, that you may have time to sweat, bleed and possibly blaspheme, not that I suggest this latter may live in a tornado/lightning zone.)

If you have a Saeco espresso machine and you get the "Purge" message in any language this is what you are to do. Turn on the hot water dispenser knob. (You won't be able to do much else.) The display will go from reading:




Hottish water will emerge and then it will stop. Then it will hiss and spit and issue a modest burst of steam. This is kind of like a 95 year old man with a cold yelling at you. It will then start dripping water slowly. Turn the knob off and quickly on. This will repeat the process. You do this a LOT. Eventually the display will go from


to merely:

And you, fool, will think you have won. You turn the water knob off and the display will now read:


Fool that you are, as determined above, and thinking you have won, will press the espresso button and the machine will whirr and just before it finishes dispensing your espresso of choice, it will halt and the display will read (you can see what's coming):


So you repeat the process all over again, only this time it will be marginally shorter. You will make another espresso and you will get the same damned display message of:


So you repeat what you repeated before (it SHOULD only be three times) and then, when you hit the "espresso" button you should get a larger and waterier amount than usual. That's when you know you have successfully banished the eating disorder to the gulag. Until next time.

You're welcome.


Posted by Joke at 10:22 AM 7 comments

From the draft file.

For some reason, I never got to post this on time, and I hope I am making amends by doing so, belated as it is.

George McD. Fraser has died. The author of the Flashman series died at age 83.



Posted by Joke at 10:11 AM 1 comments

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Milestones in idiocy.

Among my many stops in the search for edibles with which to feed my family, I detour every couple of weeks into my local Wholesale Discount Mega Warehouse. For those of you who are maladjusted, this sort of establishment is one where you can buy items only in enormous quantities. Beer is only sold by the case, sugar and flour in 20lb. bags, butter in 4 1lb. blocks, spaghetti by the gross...that sort of thing. Not every thing they carry is Super Foodie Grade A, but a lot of the stuff they do carry is and in those cases, their prices (on a per unit basis, anyway) are absurdly low, which appeals to my foodie and my cheapskate sides.


One day, on or about spring 2000, I went there to get, among other things some foil. I didn't think anything of the box I had grabbed -- I noted it was a touch heavy -- as my mind was elsewhere. It wasn't until I had gotten home and unpacked that my beloved asked me "What in the Hell is this?" I suspected the answer she passionately sought was not "Foil." With the insight I had gathered about women in general and my wife in particular, I held my peace.

Instead, I replied in the age-old safest way for a husband to reply when he has no idea* what his adored object is driving at: with an innocent question. "What do you mean?"

"Just look at it!" Which I took to mean that I was supposed to arrive at some insight she wished me to arrive, as opposed to actually staring at the item.

She then pried the box open to reveal an enormous roll of foil. Enormous scarcely covers it. I beheld 20lb. of tightly rolled alumin(i)um. In my idiocy I assumed the larger-than-usual box meant there were two "regular" rolls somehow stored therein. No. One massive roll.

Yes. It proved an inconvenience when we moved from Starter Home to Fallback House during the summer of 2004, lugging this log of foil. However, I am proud to say that in 8 years, we have never needed to buy a roll of foil, cutting down the number of cardboard tubes endangering our planet** by as much as 93%.Even better, by my rough guesstimate, we still have 40% of the roll still with us (when it was new, the edge of the roll extended flush with the edge of the frame which held same). Some quick work on the calculator shows we have zero to worry about, in relation to our foil needs, until the year 2013.Did I mention the unnaturally sharp cutting edge? The ridiculous 24"/60cm width? The fact I could use it to cover the floor of our garage? Twice? With enough left over to use in the kitchen.

Still, here we are.


* For some reason, starting off with something along the lines of "You lunatic, why did you buy a 20lb roll of foil?" and proceeding conversationally therefrom never crossed her mind.

** I've seen -- I'm sure you have also -- recycled foil. Setting aside the product's characteristics, which more closely resemble gauze or bathroom tissue for the Wizard of Oz's Tin Man than anything remotely useful in the kitchen, I am at a loss to explain why something which allegedly uses 95% less energy AND is made from recycled (which is presumably stuff that has been discarded) alumin(i)um costs 50% over the stuff that has to be dug from the earth and processed using the full whack of energy.

Posted by Joke at 11:02 AM 19 comments

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My 1000th blog entry!

Was the glow-in-the-dark one. It's just now I noticed.

Today's post is a mish-mash of miscellany.

1- Movies viewed from a HD source (HD-DVD, BluRay or HDTV) don't look materially better compared to a standard DVD that has been played through a DVD player that "upconverts" to HD resolutions. I confirmed this with Harry Potter #5 (which is a combination (HD-DVD on one side, "regular" DVD on the other) flipping back and forth in such a way as to arouse puzzled comment from the household. It looks a tiny bit better, but it's not an earth-shaking diff.

Of course, this is not the case with material shot in high-def (as opposed to shot on film), which looks AMAZING. Stuff like sports events, or travelogues or computer animated films really look jaw-dropping in high-def.

Just a thought about what one ought consider when pondering an upgrade.

2- We are booked and good-to-go to hang out with the extremely lovely and wildly gracious Poppy in California. (We won't travel 25 minutes to see some of TFBIM's friends, but we'll fly across the continent to hang out with the Buxoms. This is because we love the Buxoms and they are totally worth flying across the continent to hang out with them.) With luck we'll also loiter with Jennyfivetina, as well as meeting up with my minions.

3- St. Valentine's Day is nearly here. Not sure I have a gift in waiting. I must conduct an inventory.

4- By the way, children having socks is "school policy" and unraveling is, emphatically, not the same as "picking at" something.

5- I only gained 5lb. in my heavy work season. (Granted, this is combined with my having lost only 20lb. of the 25lb. I needed to lose.) I have hit the gym with a vengeance and I am ruthlessly paring my snack impulse.

6- South African wines are VERY underrated.

7- I don't get to catch it very often, but I love the few snippets I've heard of the Dennis Miller radio show. There is something very satisfying about getting his jokes, especially when nobody else does. Anyone who says [a U.S. politician] blinks so furiously it looks as if she's "signaling the Carpathia she's hit an iceberg" is a magnificent bastard.

8- Today, I refrained from buying shoes.

9- I got a very cheering email about being invited to bring my car along to a very prestigious event. (Sure, they want me to throw crazy money at them, but people who know say the invitation is completely legitimate and serious.)

10- Homemade creme legere RULES! (Gina, this involves leaving dairy products -- with live enzymes and cultures -- left out overnight.)

11- The problem with Ash Wednesday, apart from the fasting bit, is that you tend to forget you have ashes on your forehead and when your forehead starts to itch, you wind up spreading them all over your face in a thin, faint layer, so that people suppose you to be a very well-dressed but pathologically slothful coal miner.

As you were,


P.S. I gave up snacking for Lent; and I'm also going to try to get to pray on my TOTALLY COOL BLESSED-BY-THE-POPE glow-in-the-dark Rosary. Feel free to make requests.

Posted by Joke at 11:06 PM 9 comments

Monday, February 04, 2008

Some mighty weird karma.

Some people seem to get sunshine and lollipops from the Dept. of Karmic Justice, and others get some sort of Torquemadad 24/7 treatment from same. Me? I get some very, very strange stuff.

Having effected the school dropoff successfully -- if a bit in-the-nick-of-time -- I proceeded to run sundry errands. Edibles, fuel, banking, that sort of thing.

It is at that moment my cell* phone rings. It's the school. Such a call so soon after dropoff is never a good sign.

"Is this Mr. Joke Googlia?"
"Yes," he said with apprehension
"This call is regarding NTS Googlia."
"Yes," I reiterated
"Apparently he needs a pair of socks."
"He had socks this morning."
"His teacher reports he has unraveled them."
", you mean..."
"Yes, Mr. Googlia. He will require fresh socks."

And yes, apparently he was sitting amid a large skein or lewt or boule (or whatever it's called, I'm sure a stalwart member of the Knitter's Guild will issue the correct information) of white cotton yarn that scant moments earlier had been his Young Gentlemen's Hosiery.


* or "Mobile"

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Posted by Joke at 11:03 AM 15 comments

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A light in the darkness.

Part of the reason why my beloved says I do rather well as a father to 9 & 10 year old boys is that I can immediately summon the thinking of a 9-10 year old boy. This I shan't deny. In fact, I offer evidence on behalf of the prosecution.

One of the ways in which my more youthful thinking is given manifestation is in my thoroughly irrational love for things which glow in the dark.

Show me something which glows in the dark, and I immediately shed 75% of my age. The array of things I have accumulated bought for my kids is impressive. There are the cups and Frisbee-like plates from Disney World's Sci-Fi Dine-In (the very lovely and extremely gracious Poppy knows whereof I type) which are very handy during loss of electricity, to say nothing of getting NOS & NTS to drink that last consignment of milk at bedtime.

There are also stickers, magnets, cocktail stirrers, rulers, plastic models of movie monsters, and so forth.

Then there is the way I proclaim my religious witness to all and sundry: with a glow in the dark Rosary which I had a very dear friend, who was traveling to Rome, get blessed by the Pope. Yes, the Pope blessed my glow-in-the-dark Rosary. TFBIM's eyes rolled so much that I thought she might detach something.

The problem is that, being that kind of Catholic precluded me from adding the crowning piece to my collection. During a recent road trip, I availed myself of the gentlemen's facilities at a roadside service stop. In the men's room there was a vending machine which, in addition to tiny packets of aspirin, nail clippers, plastic combs, etc. had a small sealed square package for sale, about 1" x 1" through which a distinct circular outline (ahem) was plainly discernible. The item in question -- which was advertised as being something to "protect" me but in a "sensitive" way -- had the felicituous name of "The Glow Stick."

Oh, how it pained me to leave it unpurchased. Had I not had two small lads -- enquiries which I would not have wanted to address then and there and for the remainder of the road trip would have ensued -- in tow, I might have succumbed to the temptation.

I still harbor the daydream of teasing TFBIM by surprising her in the dark with such a sight, while uttering in a falsetto "Help me, Obi-Wan."

Yes, I am impossible.



Posted by Joke at 7:30 AM 17 comments

Saturday, February 02, 2008

That was dinner

I've been in an Italian-seaside-resort frame of mind recently. Partly because that's just how I swing and partly because visiting one such resort is a likely option for this summer.


One of the nice things about being on the Fringe O' Paradise is that seafood doesn't have to be flown in. Throw in the combination of having enough of an Asian population that positively fetishizes fresh seafood and you got something. Among my twelvety frillion errands today I had decided to include stopping by the Japanese seafood place. (It was my last stop.)

As usual they had a tank full of live shrimp and I managed to get a pound, shells and heads reserved. They also shucked a few scallops for me. I had decided to make Cioppino.

It's pretty easy stuff.

Shrimp & Scallop Cioppino*

+/- 3 Tbsp. EVOO
4 cloves of garlic, sliced translucently thin (you want as much surface area as possible, feel free to add 1-2 more)
1 small yellow onion, diced small but not freakishly so
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pinch fennel seeds
8-10 basil leaves, cut in shreds as fine as your patience will permit
1 14oz. aseptic package of diced tomatoes (use canned if you must, but I prefer the Pomi)
24 oz. seafood stock (I made this with the shrimp shells, but you can go 50-50 water and clam juice)
24 medium shrimp (31-40/lb. size)
1/2 lb. sea scallops
Salt to taste

Swirl the oil in a stock pot over medium heat. The nanosecond it shimmers, add the red pepper and fennel seeds -- you won't believe how much the latter will perfume the final dish -- and when that goes fragrant, add the garlic. Wait about half a minute and add the onion; this will "cushion" the garlic and help prevent its burning. When the onion is translucent, add the tomatoes and basil and stir, cooking until the redness of the tomato mutes to a brick-red...figure 5 minutes. Add the seafood stock and bring to a simmer. Add any accumulated juices (esp. if you used frozen) from the shellfish. Return to a simmer. Add the scallops. After 5 minutes, add the shrimp and turn off the heat; cover stockpot. 5 minutes later, the shrimp should be JUST pink. Check and correct seasoning.

Serve. I like mine garnished with "aglio/olio/peperoncino**" but you do whatev.

(You WILL need good bread to soak up the liquid. Either that or a straw.)


* Yes, yes. I know it's supposed to have every possible creature that swims the ocean thrown into the pot. But I wasn't in the mood.

** Garlic & Italian chile pepper in EVOO.

Posted by Joke at 12:12 AM 10 comments