Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Wilderness Years, Pt. 1


Mixwit


HUGE, colossal thanks to the lovely and gracious H&B, who shed light on this magnificent and glorious waste of time. Thanks to her, you may all be subjected to a sliver of some of the music which provided the background to My Wilderness Years (ca. 1979-ca. 1991).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have hours to kill.

-J.

P.S. That last track is Berlin's "The Metro" which, for some reason, isn't showing up properly.


Posted by Joke at 12:07 PM 5 comments

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dear Occupants of Room 665 and Room 764: We Know What You Were Up To.

Dear Internet,

The trip to Poppyville has ended, and too damned soon if'n you ask me.

Given the outrageous number of frequent flyer miles I have, we were able to fly in (on relatively conveniently scheduled flights) and stay at The Grand Posh Hotel. The only catch is that if we wanted to stay there under this "plan" we wouldn't be able to specify much in the way of a room. We'd get what we'd get. However, this hotel is ludicrously posh and close to the clients and Poppy and we had an event to attend, so we took our chances. Luckily for us, the room was HUGE, with a monumental kingsized bed for which a zillion geese had made the ultimate sacrifice.

This hotel, incidentally is obviously a relic from the age of Grand & Posh Hotels...and it's obvious because the hallways are ridiculously wide, the ceilings are vaulted and space is otherwise wasted in grandiose ways.

Anyway.

Friday we landed, checked in, and immediately traipsed to the extremely lovely and wildly gracious Poppy's pied-a-terre, where the full clan was there to welcome us with maximum Buxomness.

Now, Poppy will swear up and down that she is no foodie. Pshaw. That is the falsest of modesty. She managed to score some serious cheese and charcuterie that, frankly, would have thrilled us had it been dinner. Several Manhattans later, hoarse from catching-up-laughter, we sat down to a great dinner and excellent wine (a delightfully articulate Chablis) and then we repaired to the living room, laughed uproariously some more and when finally TFBIM -- who had had a Hell of a day -- started fading out we schlepped back to our hotel, fairly exhausted having been lavished with victuals and ardent spirits.

Saturday was Client Day. Our clients are less modest about their foodie tendencies and ordered in lunch from this place, which from all indications is a serious hit with the People in Poppyville. This place, incidentally, is colossally good. Deceptively downscale, it is hardcore foodie-good. So, we noshed and discussed and signed papers and all that clientish stuff. Later that evening we had a dinnah to attend at our very same Grand & Posh hotel (meaning we were free to enjoy the sommelier's largesse). This dinnah went fine, mostly discussion-ish stuff and roundtable-ness. Food was good. Wines were good.

So, once again exhausted (having been lavished with victuals and ardent spirits) we repaired to our chambers, to enjoy an evening of well-earned rest.

Well.

Turns out that our room was adjacent to the bridal suite.

You see where this is going, don't you?

Uh huh.

The problem is that at Ye Olde Grande Hotel the beds have real headboards, as opposed to those fake ones that are firmly affixed with bolts to the wall. This means the headboards have some sway. Hold that thought.

So we collapse in a tired heap in bed. We begin to snooze merrily. About 90 minutes into some excellent sleeping we hear this PWAP-PWAP-PWAP..........PWAP-PWAP..................PWAP.....PWAP....PWAP-PWAP-PWAP-PWAP. Somewhat alarmed, TFBIM asked me to find out what in the Hell that racket was. In a dark, unfamiliar room, trying to track down the source of mysterious tappeting sounds when half awake is the Devil's own job. So I stagger blindly and I notice the sound gets louder the closer I get to the far wall. So, I put my ear to the wall.

Um.

Yeah.

Then the room ABOVE us, in a classic example of morphic knowledge, starts making the same damned noise.

As we were checking out, the lady at the desk, seeing our room number snickered and said something to the effect of "Oh, my. You were next to the bridal suite, huh?"

So that's how I spent my summer vacation.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 5:20 PM 11 comments

Friday, July 25, 2008

Radio silence

We're flying out today. Have a conference and dinnah thing on Saturday and Friday, ideally, we shall loiter with the Buxoms. Either the very lovely and terribly gracious Poppy and TSMSM or, possibly, the full strength of the company, as determined by the babysitter situation. Either way, stellar fun is expected.

What is not expected, however, is much in the way of bloggery while I am away from the fringe o' paradise. Reports, etc., upon our return.

Ciao for niao,

-J.

P.S. Went to a client thing at a nightclub on South Beach. Any cravings for Mme. Nicotine I may have had evaporated in the haze of 2nd-hand smoke.

Posted by Joke at 8:05 AM 0 comments

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's awful, I know. No, I shan't backslide, so don't worry.

But there are days when, for no good reason whatsoever, I get a serious craving jab for sending some nicotine through my system. Something I haven't done in æons, lest you worry.

But I never entirely got over it.

That is all.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:05 PM 15 comments

Saturday, July 19, 2008

See what I'm up against?

We've discussed the luggage issue a few times here. Besides the impossibly posh set I mentioned previously, the ideal solution would be to get the set that was available as an option when my least practical and oldest car was available as a new vehicle. It's ideal because this car has a smallish and irregular-ish shaped trunk* and this set was designed to take up every last micron of space, optimizing what is, frankly, an impractically small storage capacity.

The problem is that there are so very, very few of these and those who have them generally know what they have, which means the very few times they cross my radar they do so at prices that make my liver hæmorrhage freely. This is especially difficult for me as I am a pathological cheapskate.

To give you an idea what I mean, look. (Different car marque, but the idea is, sadly, too similar.)

Now, for fun, try to imagine TFBIM taking the news with equanimity.

-J.

* "Boot" to the rest of the Anglosphere

Posted by Joke at 9:39 AM 6 comments

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy 11th, NOS

I quote Harry Potter's Hagrid:

"It's not everyday your young man turns 11."

Happy Birthday, Numbah One Son...your old man loves ya.

-J.


Posted by Joke at 7:09 AM 15 comments

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pointless cocktail trivia.

There is, officially, no such thing as a Vodka Martini. Such a cocktail is called a "Vespa." Those of you who enjoy such cocktails, please adjust yourselves accordingly.

That is all.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:23 PM 6 comments

Tenth Anniversary

Today, Internet, marks the 10th Anniversary of the day I almost died. And by "almost died" I mean "OHMAHGAWDIALMOSTDIED!" It happened because, sadly, whenever I am driving any car, the entire vehicle is encased in my Invisibility Force Field.

I was driving merrily home after a gym & swim session when some imbecile utterly ignored a stop sign and struck my car amidships at what the police estimated was 50mph (80kph) between the driver's door and the rear driver's side door. The impact was such that my car was driven sideways into a telephone (or maybe electric?) utility pole on the opposite side where it remained firmly wedged. The windshield shattered in my face. The force twisted the driver's seat 15 degrees and then drove my right knee hard against the dashboard.

Joan Claybrook and Ralph [spit] Nader* would be intrigued to note that such an automotive feature of the Nanny State as an airbag singularly failed to deploy but, because I was a veteran of motorsports by that time, my seatbelt held me fast.

The eleventy gazillion cubes of safety glass that had once been held together by the unity of purpose of serving as a windshield all showered me, lightly lacerating my face -- my now-ruined eyeglasses saved my eyes -- like some sort of Soviet dermabrasion. My sweatshirt was ruined by the glass dust which encrusted it.

Impact felt not so much like some imbecile had utterly ignored a stop sign and struck my car amidships, but rather, as if my car had plummeted straight down about 8-10 feet. I walked away, which astonished all the neighbors because I wasn't dead (some elderly Haitian lady sprinkled me with what I can only hope was holy water) and the policeman on the scene told me: "If he had struck you 3 or 4 inches further up, we would have had to take you out with a spoon." The baby seat where NOS sat (NTS was still happily gestating) was completely caved in. I'll just leave that there.

I had to do about 6-8 sessions of rehabilitative therapy on my knee and buy new sunglasses. TFBIM, with gestational hormones rioting within her system sobbed uncontrollably for hours.

The worst part is that I had JUST picked up the car from being serviced.

So, in sum, you can see why my Guardian Angel gets paid overtime.

-J.

P.S. I generally try to be circumspect about these things, but let's just say my views on Ralph [spit] Nader are not...er...uniformly positive.

Posted by Joke at 8:22 AM 13 comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cookbook review

I'm not a logical person when it comes to cookbooks.

I have tons* of them. I read them carefully, but only rarely do I cook from a recipe as writ. Normally it's more of "Thyme on roasted mushrooms? Hmm. That sounds good." With that inspiration, I am off and cooking.

Also, I am wildly disloyal to many of them, and my colossal eBay feedback is littered with the bones of cookbooks which no longer appeal to me...if they ever truly did. There are some, however, that earn their keep (and, indeed, greatly protected status) by having a recipe so spectacular that I cannot find any way whatever to improve upon it. Not necessarily in the plural, either. A cookbook where so much as one recipe is stellar is something that will be passed on in my last will and testament. Naturally, there are fewer of these cookbooks than there are taxes of which I approve, but I digress. Some of these cookbooks are surprising, and some are not.

One can readily imagine that any cookbook where there are several such recipes is a joy forever. I'm here to share one such beast: Cook's Illustrated's Restaurant Favorites at Home. The premise is simple...take a bunch of restaurant reviewers to send in their (duh) restaurant favorites and then give them the full CI deconstruct-reconstruct treatment.

This book leapt out at me from the bargain bin of a Border's bookstore and its piddly $4.99 (plus the loathsome sales tax) price proved irresistible. (If you haven't got a Border's nearby, check
here...it only goes for +/- $7, plus shipping) My guess is that it wound up on clearance because the foods recipe-ed within proved a bit too frou-frou-chi-chi/innovative for the CI crowd, which generally expects foodie solutions to regular (the best roast chicken, the best brownies in the words of one reviewer) weeknight meals. This stuff, frankly, is more suited to lunatics like me or people who'd like to go all out for a dinnah party or similar.

So far, I have made 7 recipes and they have all been hits. None of these are the sorts of things an average person would want to prepare after rolling home from a day of toil, but they have been sensational in every way. In fact, if you were to have a dinnah party and made a starter, main and dessert from this book, not only would it be surprisingly easy but you'd be a hero of spectacular, epic, legendary proportions.

It also throws in suggestions on presentation and some equipment and ingredient reviews.

You mightn't have considered it at the full-on $29.99 retail price, but for $5-$8? Steal it now.

-J.

* About 48 linear feet/15 linear meters, give or take

Posted by Joke at 3:21 PM 4 comments

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wheah ah mah manners?

In all the tales and narratives relating to NOS's birthday party, I forgot to issue thanks to the extremely lovely and terribly gracious Poppy, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Pull up a computer, dear Internet, and I shall tell you a tale.

About four years ago -- shortly before I started this sojourn into rum, bloggery and the lash -- I held the first JokeFest, to celebrate my 40th Birthweek* which involved, not only TWO birthday parties, but also some conferences, lectures, a driving tour and an after-party on Eastah Sunday. Poppy & Co. were able to fly down for the 2nd party -- JokeFest lasted from Saturday to Saturday -- and afterwards, we sat down with cooling beverages as I opened giftage.

Among the gifts from Poppy was a slim, magazine-like tome of recipes from Trader Vic's which was part of a promotion between Trader Vic's and United Airlines back in the early 1970s. During those years, 1st Class passengers flying to Hawaii were treated to Trader Vic's fare, and received a souvenir menu/recipe guide. Poppy, I expect, found it on eBay and made it one of my 40th Birthweek presents. (This is only partly why we love Poppy)

So, for 4-ish years, I would occasionally pull out the Trader Vic's souvenir, flip through the pages and sigh dreamily. But then -- haha!! -- NOS wanted the surfer/luau party and, thanks to Poppy's amazing foresight, I was able to produce the correct fare for the guests to consume cheerfully.

So, thanks!

-J.

*Mere birthday festivities would have clearly been insufficient, so I had to go this route.

Posted by Joke at 6:36 AM 4 comments

Harrowing tales from Golf Camp. Well, harrowing-ish.

As you may recall, NOS is a golfer. NOS, bless him, has inherited my dilettante gene and as such we don't worry about him in the way we might should he have turned out to be one of those kids who eat, sleep, breathe [insert athletic pursuit here] because he is going to be a professional [insert athletic pursuit here]-ist and therefore needn't worry about anything else.

I kind of like that dilettante gene.

Anyway, NOS attends golf camp for a couple of weeks each summah. This year it has been a bit different as he is now, by virtue of his age, in the "big kids' group" and whenever you lump your child into such a group for the first time -- especially a boy -- there are two* types of other boy about whom you worry. The first is the one who brings (ahem) certain magazines from home to impress the rest of the lads. I'm resigned to the fact that sooner or later my sons will run into one of these Mensa members.

Now, the other type of Awful Older Boy is the bully. NOS isn't the largest specimen of his age and sometimes there are defective lads who like to zero in on this. NOS maturely considers this a nuisance and he is now becoming more aware of the temper he has inherited from TFBIM. In a nutshell, when pushed to his limit, he goes all Incredible Hulk...except he doesn't get larger, greener or stronger.

Which happened last week.

Keep in mind the average bully is someone of very limited intellectual means. Very, very few Nobel laureates have sprung from their ranks. So they would not be fully conscious of the sorts of items generally carried by the participants at a golf camp. Perhaps if all these kid had been attending Sniper Camp they might be more aware of the peril into which their bullying would carry them. But they do not. Which prompts awkward phone calls from Golf Camp Secretary Lady to, say, me. Phone calls in which one's oldest son and heir's...er...forceful behavior -- aided and perpetrated with, it is believed, a #4 Titleist -- towards a tormentor is detailed.

It seems the bully in question, not finding NOS among those present, chose to vent his mood at another boy (apparently the latter was guilty of being "a fat dumbshit") and NOS, happening upon the scene, decided this was more of an accuracy shot than distance shot and opted for hurling the Titleist as opposed to, for example, a Callaway or MaxFli. I have it on good authority that such, hurled with all the might of an 11 year old at close range, when striking the rear of the collarbone, causes notable discomfort. (I'm relieved a putter or wedge was not employed)

At that point, things became rather livelier than one expects of a suburban Golf Camp.

Fortunately for all concerned, not much damage beyond a bruised ego ensued. The melee which naturally followed, captured the attention of the Golf Camp Secretary Lady and when she sorted out the various narratives, by acclamation it was ascertained NOS was in the right and Bully was not and the latter was been invited (with a few choice words on the side to Ma Bully) to not return next (i.e., this) week, without refund.

Being a preemptive -- I cannot overemphasize the importance of this -- sort of lad, I immediately called the parents of Bully and explained, in a tone that straddled between patronizing and indignant, our feelings on the subject. Then I magnanimously accepted the profuse apologies.

-J.


* Well, three, but that's a bit beyond the scope of this post

Posted by Joke at 6:31 AM 7 comments

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nothing major.

I expect the following will have VERY limited appeal to my blogpals, but I know there's one -- you know who you are -- who ought be well amused thereby, starting at the 1:36 mark.



-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:41 PM 3 comments

Status update

There is none.

I mean there's no update. There is some status, so to speak.

NTS started Surf Camp today and NOS continues at golf camp, basking in the adulation of having dispatched a bully with a well-flung #4 Titleist (that, and the ensuing melee being ascribed squarely to the bully who was tersely invited to not return) to the offender's left shoulder blade.

As mentioned in my previous lecture, Surf Camp is 87 counties away but, fortunately, the golf camp is a quick jaunt from Joke HQ.

Work is still, well, work. I remind the newer arrivals hereat that work, as Scripture carefully emphasizes, is something God made as a punishment. This is why my Chicago clientele is angling to have me up theah on or about the 26th-ish of July when Poppy & co. will be merely "hanging around" and recovering from the social whirlwind that envelops them when they become, for a not inconsiderable time, the glittering social axis of the City With The Huge-Ass Shoulder Pads.

As you may have read, the whims of my clientele have directed my travels away from several galæ, including one to which I might've been arrayed in my cherished offwhite dinnah jacket, a cruise along Lake Michigan, and BYO lobstah fest. To me, this is incalculable, Nuremberg tribunal levels of punishment.

Mind you, at some point soon we'll have to travel there with our lads, as there is the issue of arranged marriage to be ironed out -- Poppy is a fearsome negotiatrix, who'll likely use the fact NOS considers Poppette to be the.funniest.girl.ever to our disadvantage -- and in these cases, it's best to allow the intended victims to clap eyes upon each other every 6-7 months or so. It doesn't bode well for future grandchildren if the first things they say to each other are "Who are YOU?" Just not the done thing.

Fortunately for our end of the negotiations the tests at the endocrinologist for NOS have come back with not-dismaying results. He is a bit below par for height and it's either [insert scientific name I couldn't be bothered to remember, beyond noting that TFBIM also had these issues] or [insert other scientific name I also couldn't be bothered to remember, beyond noting that TFBIM's brother also had this issue] and both are, medically speaking, no big deal.

So that's that. Just life.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:11 AM 4 comments

Saturday, July 12, 2008

If it was so damned easy, why am I so damned tired?

NOS's party wrapped up (finally!) three hours ago, after the last kitchen item had been washed and set to dry.

Food wise, it was pretty easy, at least on paper. Heat a lot of Trader Vic's-ish storebought stuff (Polynesian meatballs, coconut shrimp, spring rolls) and only make a couple of other items: crab Rangoon (in the form of a hot dip with wonton chips, instead of the bundled in wontons and then deep-fried...basically the same taste with a fraction of the work) and grill off a coop's worth of teriyaki chicken*.

The Crab Rangoon, incidentally, was a smash and another of those absurdly easy things to make.

1lb flaked crabmeat (no need to get the super expensive Jumbo Lump, the lowest grade -- not lowest quality -- will do, because all those expensive chunks will be processed down into flakes anyway...so just get the cheaper flaked crab)
1lb cream cheese (I prefer Neufchatel-style, which is also 33% lower in fat)
3 cloves garlic mashed to a paste (use a light hand with garlic, as it's easy for the mild flavor of crab to be overrun)
3 good dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 good dashes hot sauce (I like "regular" Tabasco)
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
OPTIONAL: Some minced chives could be nice, and would add a splash of color.

Mix everything in a stand mixer or food processor. Put in a shallow-ish soufflé dish and bake at 375F (190C) until the top is golden brown. Serve with wonton chips. (Traditionally, the crab would be folded into a wonton wrapper and deep-fried. I couldn't be bothered.)

NOS and his crew all had a great time. One of them (not NOS) had his swimsuit shot clean off by the high-pressure jet of the FlowriderTM surfing simulator, which provided something of a highlight, but beyond this they all enjoyed a couple of hours of surf-ish fun. Further time was killed in making them fill the water balloons and squirt guns for the preprandial skirmishes and all was concluded with a Surf's Up tournament on the Wii.

Since my marriage is based on the very equitable (ruthlessly so) principle of "I clean, you cook" TFBIM was free to mingle and sparkle and play hostess and generally gab freely with her mom-pals. Once everyone left, I propped up my feet and exhaled with a beer or 3.

-J.

* For a coop's worth, you'll need equal parts soy sauce -- I actually prefer the taste of the low-sodium (San-J's tamari, to be precise) stuff -- and fresh pineapple juice, with a ¼ cup each of crushed ginger and garlic, marinated in a zipper-lock bag (squeeze all the air out) for 4-6 hours. Grill, basting with the marinade (which can be boiled to kill any wee ferlies, making for a suitable sauce) and it doesn't get any easier. The bromelain in the pineapple juice is a serious enzyme and it tenderizes the chicken (and also pork, if you want to sway that way) as the soy sauce performs some serious brine duty.

Posted by Joke at 11:23 PM 4 comments

This too shall pass, unless, of course, it doesn't.

With all the domestic squabblage flying around these days, it should come as no surprise when two of TFBIM's our friends call it quits.

Even when I can't stand the people involved it's TFBIM's friends, breakups make me very, very uneasy. Give me a sense of dread.

Here's what I've noticed:

One half of Couple AB: "I'm livid with A. Not talking to A at all. Do you know what s/he did? S/he went out and..."

The above is nothing worthy of immediate concern.

It's when there is no "Do you know what s/he did? S/he went out and..." that I get worried. That's because when it's something vexing or irritating or even garden-variety-infuriating, one generally wishes to vent such. When, in lieu of the venting all one hears is the deafening roar of sullen, smoldering wrath...run.

In this case weve been getting those terse "Nothing." replies to our general questions, so in hindsight it's no surprise they should have come out, attorneys blazing with both barrels. "Nothing!" I think, signals a sort of corrosive, cumulative, degenerative breakdown.

Not happy.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:32 AM 6 comments

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stupidly easy.

So, NOS's birthday party is coming up this weekend and we're going all Trader Vic's. One of the things that I learned very early on was to select foodstuff that could be made ahead, ideally well ahead. Throw in a few top-flight storebought* items and you're set.

Anyway, among the make-aheads is something so delicious and so absurdly simple and so ridiculously well-suited for the widdle hands of one's offspring that it'd be sheer evil on my part to not share. (I would have taken pictures of the first part, but my hands were hyper-sticky. I'll try to add some of the coating process.)

Coconut-Macadamia Truffles

1 cup crushed Macadamia nuts, toasted lightly in a dry skillet
1 cup sweetened condensed milk (lowfat or fat-free is fine, just not that "filled" $#!+)
1 1/2 teaspoons almond or vanilla extract
1/2 lb. dried shredded coconut (try to avoid the sticky sweetened stuff, I use the flaked stuff from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
3/4 lb. chocolate, chopped and melted (I like Valrhona "bittersweet" but you can use whatever)

In a steel or glass bowl stir together the macadamias, half of the condensed milk, extract and the coconut. Stir to combine, adding condensed milk JUST until the whole thing forms a cohesive mass. Depending on the humidity, the moisture content of the coconut, etc., you might not be using up the whole allotment of the condensed milk, so beware.

Scoop with a melon baller or (tiny) ice cream scoop and then roll with your hands into a smooth, tight ball. (Try to compact them as you roll.) These should be less than an inch. Let them rest at room temperature for at least 4-5 hours -- overnight is ideal -- or, if you really must, in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours...but there will be some condensation forming which might affect the way the chocolate coat adheres. You've been warned.

Once the coconut-macadamia balls are firm, with a fundue or cocktail fork (or whatever) dip into the chocolate. GO LIGHT ON THE CHOCOLATE and make sure you have even coverage. You may, if you feel like going through extra work, roll them into cocoa powder or shaved chocolate or grated coconut or crushed nuts or....

I just plop them on a nonstick sheet pan to set up.

-J.

* Coconut shrimp, wonton chips, spring rolls...we're doing a very "pupu platter" sort of thing

Posted by Joke at 8:37 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sometimes you have to abandon your principles and do what's right.

I know most of you will find this tough to believe but...I'm not perfect. TFBIM, were she ever to get a blog of her own* would happily eat up valuable bandwidth expressing, with a luxury of detail, my follies and foibles. She probably could go a full month without repeating herself.

At any rate, among these faults is my procrastination, which sometimes hits the "legendary" level. A great example of this goes all the way back to my last year at school. In order to graduate from the Jesuit Academic Boot Camp, one had to write a "senior thesis" on some important global issue. I chose world hunger (its history, causes, possible solutions, etc., etc.) and by all accounts this thesis was to be something of a tome. Which is why I started it 2 days before it was due.

And then spent 48 hours straight typing, fueled by ever increasing amounts of bad coffee. Keep in mind this was during the Age of Typewriters. I managed to grind it out and, forestalling a caffeinated delirium, turned it in to receive a pretty decent-enough score.

Regardless, the abysmal habit of putting things off has stayed with me.

In the spirit of mea culpa I hereby declare that yesterday I mailed off something I had promised a blogpal a while ago.

"A while ago" is code language for...April.

...of 2007.

It cost me an extra $1.18 in postage because the postal rates have increased** twice [pause while the above sinks in] since I promised to mail it off.

-J.

* Ha. As if.
** Memo to the Postmaster General: Could you please increase the prices in one lump and keep me out of the post office for the next five years?

Posted by Joke at 9:08 AM 8 comments

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It's that time again.

Click* me, please.

-J.

P.S. I've been asked by Winery Public Relations Person what sort of wines I'd like to review. If there's anything you can suggest, feel free to slap it on the counter of the combox.

*Your generous clickery keeps me in free wine.

Posted by Joke at 7:17 AM 3 comments

Monday, July 07, 2008

New and Improved! Now with 0% domestic strife!

There are some things, conceptual things, that I despise with every fiber of my being; to the very core of my innermost hunk of marrow.

Among these are losing things. For a brief shining moment, during that gap of time where I had made my egress from the nest but had not yet established a nest of my own, I lost nothing. There are some drawbacks to bachelor life, but losing things are not among them.

The other thing I really hate is having a plan derailed. I had a plan to become (in due course) President of the USA, and that was derailed less than a month from implementation and it took me years to get over it, although I still get a twinge now and again.

The plan which has gone up in a cloud of flaming splinters and acrid smoke involved eBay. One of my favorite eBaying habits is preying upon the abysmal spelling skills in evidence today. The steals I have lavished upon myself as a result of typos, etc. would stun a bison. I had, for the better part of a week, been stalking a particular item -- a leather luggage set from a VERY, VERY upmarket purveyor that was ideal for weekend jaunts with my beloved, without our issue in tow -- keeping tabs on it, seeing if the seller could be bothered to spell the maker's name properly. I kid thee not when I say this set retails for almost £3K, and I was on track to get it for 1/40th of that.

One has this sort of thing, and one readily envisions casually tossing a weekend's worth of raiments into the ridiculous old Italian car and driving a couple of hours to one of the posh beachside resorts in Palm Beach or the Gulf Coast just in the company of one's beloved. We did something like this about five years ago. It was our first "alone" weekend since NTS had been born and we were so overwhelmed by the romantic stillness of it all that we immediately leapt upon the bed and...slept. And slept. And, because I am a manly man, riddled with manliness, we slept some more.

And, to further dash any romance attached to the historic context (without, I hope, tainting the future) we didn't do this in any Italianate sports car, but in a minivan. Our luggage consisted of some squashy canvas stuff...and during the return drive, also a rolltop desk. So we must apply a generous helping of soft focus to our hindsight.

Still, given some judicious planning, we could merrily toss whatever impossibly posh luggage we have into the otherwise ridiculously impractical car and ride to the impossibly posh resort (conveniently, these are practically free during the broiling tropical summer off-season) laughing in a sing-song way.

But the seller pulled the auction saying the "item was no longer available." Which is code language for "I'm not going to sell it for 1/40th the retail price!" Sure, we could still go to the impossibly posh resort in the impressive car, but once the hotel minions see that our luggage is nothing but a motley array of squashiness bearing the logos of enterprises who flung them at us as samples, we will be pariahs at the posh resort, mocked by the other cheapskates perspiring freely alongside us in a half-empty hotel.

ARGH!

-J.

Posted by Joke at 5:49 PM 6 comments

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Blogwide domestic strife has a soundtrack

...and this maybe should be included therein.

-J.

P.S. Those among this readership whose tastes in popular music ossified around the time that Quiana and double-knit started falling out of fashion may be excused from clicking the above if they so choose, with no penalty.

P.P.S. It seems that in my case that Old Devil Estrogen is to blame and, if the tea leaves are correct, I ought lay low for a few days.

Posted by Joke at 11:18 PM 6 comments

So, as you can see, my concern was not unwarranted...if a bit overblown.

As I traipsed through my blogroll, I was disturbed by reports of domestic...tension at the households of several blogpals. These things have a way of catching, and given my fatalistic nature, I was wary.

It was therefore to be expected that yesterday, we we'd have a reenactment of the Cold War at Chez Joke. Oh, sure, we spoke of peaceful coexistence, mutual cooperation and détente, but I could tell that hostilities could materialize at any instant and the Soviet Horde could come streaming through the border posts at any moment without warning. So I was on my guard.

My beloved slept in late yesterday morning. So that was fine. But then she woke up and after getting her caffeine and toast fix she went to the garage and returned with the whole carton of those big lawn trash bags.

Uh oh.

She went into the boys' room and I could hear the sounds of rummaging and trashing. When I heard the battle cry "We will bury you!" "What is this!?!?!?!" as she stuffed some ancient, mangled toy or perhaps something awful from NOS's "scientific experiments" phase, I knew the time had come to face the bitter realities -- that my beloved had woken up in a foul mood -- and I had to make a principled stand. Not like the enuretics who flung themselves headlong into appeasement during the real Cold War, but not with the abandon of those old Cold Warriors* of yore (as they didn't have to sleep next to Chernenko after all was said and done). I did the wisest thing:

I hot-footed it for the open spaces.

"Darling, is there anything you need from StuffMartTM?" Then I grabbed the boys and sprinted like a muhfuh. I went and, as the song goes, stayed gone. A good long time.

This was a foreign policy that Western Democracies failed to explore during those days when the USSR was schlepping all over the planet. Imagine the embarrassment if the Red Army marched straight into downtown Anytown, USA and we had taken the kids shopping and were nowhere in sight?

There is, like in everything in life, a trick to doing this. Stay out too long and you face even greater wrath upon your return. Stay out FAR too long and you face police questioning. Stay out too little and face the wrath you left to avoid. The trick is to return when your beloved is too tired to really take out her frustrations on you and, ideally, is famished. An intelligent evader has thought of what to feed his beloved during his exile, and therefore returns saying something like:

"I'm back! How about [Favorite main course] with [favorite side dishes] for dinner? And [favorite dessert] afterwards?"

If you feel like a high-risk/high-reward strategy try: "Would you like a little wine?"

Should you be among us fortunates whose beloveds are ameliorated by ethanol** then you're home free. The Soviets, as you may recall, were not among these, highlighting the pitfalls of the strategy. Every one in a while, they'd overdo the Stoli thing and they'd smack Hungary or Czechoslovakia around, then they'd sit on the sofa in their underwear, flatulent and ill-tempered. So be careful.

Now, let's see in what mood the household awakens.

-J.

* Bill Casey, James Jesus Angleton, et al.
** One of those slushy cocktails is even better, but probably time is of the essence.

Posted by Joke at 7:35 AM 11 comments

Saturday, July 05, 2008

...and the flag was still there.

There is one thing that drives me mental is having to attend a party scheduled for an unorthodox hour. If one is invited to a party that starts off at 3:00pm...do you have lunch before you go? What if you have lunch and then platters of edibles come streaming forth at 3:30pm?

Whatever.

Yesterday's Independence Day festivities, bizarre time notwithstanding, were pretty good. Our friends M. & S. (Poppy, you remember them?) had a pool party and S. had secured some "picnic hams" (i.e. pork shoulder) and was giving it the slow-smoking treatment -- 17 hours by the time it was all said and done -- and I had been deputized to make the sauce and Cæsar Salad and potato salad. The latter is a wonderful item in spite of its real name being the Teutonic mouthful kartoffelsalat mit speck. But this potato salad has the advantage of not having any dairy or egg-based anything in it, so it can stay at room temperature with impunity.

It's ludicrously easy to make, practically a recipe-free proposition, but here ya go:

3 lb./1.3kg red potatoes, cut into ¾"/2cm cubes, skin on (the skin is crucial, so only get potatoes small enough that, thus cubed, will still have some skin attached in every piece...if your potatoes are skinless, by the time this is all done you will have wildly unsavory mashed potatoes)

1 medium white or yellow onion, diced as fine as your patience allows (I get the regular sort of onion, in lieu of the sweet onions, but you do whatever. And red onions will give the salad a weird pinkish tint.)

¾ c. (225ml?) distilled white vinegar. (You can swap out a bit of this for some malt of cider vinegar, but only a bit...this is all about an acidic kick)

½lb (450gm) of smoked bacon, trimmed of fat and cubed as finely as your patience will allow

1T sugar
1T Mustard (no flavored mustards and none of the bright yellow stuff)
Salt and pepper to taste (this will need more than you think)

OK. Boil your potatoes until tender (should take 10 minutes from the moment the water boils) and drain, reserving ½ cup of the starchy "potato water." Sprinkle with one third of the vinegar immediately and toss. Cover to keep warm.

While the water comes up to a boil, put the bacon trimmings -- spare them the chopping and dicing, i.e. leave them pretty intact for easy extraction later -- into a skillet over medium heat until they are rendered out. Remove.

Add the lean bacon and cook in the drippings until crisp. Remove and rest on paper towels to drain. You should have 6T/X ml. of drippings in the skillet. If you're a bit hard up, drippings-wise, add peanut oil (or whatever neutral vegetable oil you prefer, I like peanut oil) and then sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent.

Add the vinegar and potato water and cook to reduce by half. Off heat, add salt and pepper (I like a lot of pepper) and mustard, stirring to dissolve all. Toss warm potatoes with the hot dressing.

This may be served warm or at room temperature (best with rich-ish BBQ meats) or stone cold (best with sandwiches, et al)

Oh, and becaused I had promised the lovely and gracious Shula, here is the Cæsar Salad.

1 egg yolk*
3 T fresh lemon juice (strained of seeds and pulp)
1 T garlic, smashed to a paste
½ t. Worcestershire sauce
¼ t. chile pepper flakes
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 anchovy fillets, mashed (or 5 cm. of anchovy paste from a tube)
1¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil (try the palest stuff you can get, it can get overpowering -- not to mention expensive -- in this application)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Grana Padano...or whatever hard cheese you like. Dry Jack is nice, but good luck finding it.) 2 cups bread cubes, toasted and rubbed with garlic to make croutons.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and mustard. Slowly whisk in the oils to emulsify. This step is key. Just because you have emulsifiers (mustard, yolk) in a salad dressing doesn't mean you will get an emulsion. The oil has to be "dispersed" in something in order to get this to happen and just throwing things together and whisking will NOT accomplish this. So do it in this order.

To the emulsified oil add the lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire, pepper flakes, and anchovies. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put the lettuce in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with dressing (NOT to blanket every leaf!) and toss well. Sprinkle with Parmesan, black pepper and croutons.

Anyway, things went well until the sun set and, to save on fireworks, we were treated to a spectacular display of lightning. NTS, who hates fireworks, and who was also dog-tired ("Let's go. Let's go home.") had had enough and, at least we got to see the fireworks from the expressway. (In fact, there were cars parked along the shoulder, windshield wipers wiping furiously, watching them.)

So that was that.

-J.

*WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING!
RAW EGG alert!!! Be careful in eating raw and undercooked eggs, as this carries a (very slight) risk of Salmonella or other food poisoning. If you get organic, hyper-fresh eggs that have been properly stored, and you wash the shell thoroughly before cracking, that (slight) risk will be minimized. You have been warned.

Posted by Joke at 7:39 AM 3 comments

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why does it always have to be me?

Diligent readers may recall TFBIM's most recent surprise party wherein her friend M. showed up with a gentleman escort who was, unambiguously, not her husband.

Well.

I was minding my own business -- in this case having sent off the kitchen appliance guy with additional instructions -- when I see a phone company truck pulling up to my house. The phone company guy rings the doorbell and ta-dah! it's the ex-husband.

He had a service call half a block away and was waiting for the big truck to show up. So he started telling me his side of the story.

Starting with the part where the meteorite hits the earth and the dinosaurs die off.

It takes a special talent to turn:

"As it happens, when M. got the new job at the catering company, she started having an affair with the head* chef who was also married."

into a couple of hours. He spoke of how hard the divorce is upon their daughter, of M.'s manifest perfidy (I could have told him THAT) and how the chef's ex-wife took him for every last penny. Oh, and how M. neglects the dog.

I listened with the minimum required level of empathy, secretly wishing a plague of boils upon the truck driver who was apallingly late. Finally he materialized and I was released from my conversational fetters.

In other news, the cabinet maker guy is almost done. Don't ask.

-J.

* No puns. You know who you are.

Posted by Joke at 9:10 AM 5 comments

Where NOS got his idea.


(You can skip this one)

(This where he got the recipes he wants.)

(skip this one too, if you're not in the mood)

(No need to see this one either.)

Now you know what goes on at my house.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:01 AM 0 comments