Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sick

Everybody I know has a cold. In 1935 Laurence Durrell noticed the same thing and promptly moved to Greece. I'd do the same thing right this minute if I could manage to avoid being apprehended and quarantined.

I haven't been posting lately because my mucous membranes have been in overdrive and my fever was making me see slavering fanged Keebler elves at the far reaches of my peripheral vision. I've been existing on TheraFlu, cereal, tea, and canned Progresso minestrone (which soup is a lifesaver when I have a cold, but when I'm well makes me feel like I'm getting sick). At times like this I start to think of myself not as a human being, with all the profundity and wonder that title implies, but as a sagging, oozing, irredeemably vile bag of blood and pus and less savory things, shivering in wretchedness and despair, waiting for death to do the world a favor by taking me out of it.

To "have a cold." It's such an innocuous phrase. It conveys nothing of the sheer misery and awfulness of the disease. Why don't we name diseases more descriptively? The Black Death, now that's a well-named illness. You know what the Black Death is all about. But calling this thing I've got a "cold," or worse, a "common cold," comes nowhere near describing the hours spent drifting in and out of consciousness on my couch, the sleep lost by waking up in the middle of the night to cough, the trashcan full of sodden kleenex, the deep desire I have to remove my entire face like a mask so I can breathe again. The keen awareness of my mortality. The soul-crumpling, disgusting banality of it all.

Maybe you should go wash your hands when you're done reading this.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You GO!

...was what I was yelling at my TV the other night.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday Mix

Well, while all that was happening...

  • My use of cheap plonk to cook with has been validated by the New York Times. Those little $5 4-packs of Sutter Home are mighty handy.

  • Wolfgang Puck has jumped on the bandwagon and announced that his restaurants will no longer serve foie gras.
    Foie gras, produced by overfeeding ducks and geese through tubes slipped down their gullets during the last two weeks of their lives, has long been championed by Puck as an ingredient. But keeping foie gras on the menu, Puck said, would have undermined his stand on what he considers the more significant issue of confinement rearing, a practice he said he abhors.
    Sigh. All well and good, I guess, but I think this is a case of misplaced activism. I'd love to see some dust being kicked up over factory-farmed chicken, which is an industry that causes much, much greater suffering than the raising of ducks for foie gras. (The force-feeding is of course kind of icky -- after visiting a foie gras farm, an American Veterinary Medical Association delegate likened it to taking the rectal temperature of a cat -- but it's nothing to what your average Perdue chicken goes through.) The current stink over foie is ultimately going to impact just a handful of small farms, while the really evil disgusting practices going on in the big bad world of meat will be unaffected. What if Puck announced that he wouldn't serve chicken anymore?

    In the meantime, I plan eat as much foie as I can as often as I can while I still can. Well, actually I already eat it as often as I can, which isn't much. Alas.

  • I've found a new and very, very cool food blog, The Slow Cook. Highly recommended.

  • I just finished reading China Miéville's Un Lun Dun, which is fantastic. It's his first attempt at young adult fiction, and he clearly had a blast writing it. I'd file it right up there with The Phantom Tollbooth and A Wrinkle in Time.

    Today I was trying to find Miéville's essay wherein he describes Tolkien as "the wen on the arse of fantasy literature," but it seems to have gone away. I did, however, find Michael Moorcock's excellent discussion of Tolkien, Lewis, and other fantasy authors, "Epic Pooh." Definitely worth a read.
    I sometimes think that as Britain declines, dreaming of a sweeter past, entertaining few hopes for a finer future, her middle-classes turn increasingly to the fantasy of rural life and talking animals, the safety of the woods that are the pattern of the paper on the nursery room wall. Old hippies, housewives, civil servants, share in this wistful trance; eating nothing as dangerous or exotic as the lotus, but chewing instead on a form of mildly anaesthetic British cabbage. If the bulk of American sf could be said to be written by robots, about robots, for robots, then the bulk of English fantasy seems to be written by rabbits, about rabbits and for rabbits.
    This essay makes at least the tenth time I've run across Philip Pullman's name in the last two weeks. Somehow I totally missed reading any of his stuff while growing up a science-fiction-and-fantasy-obsessed teenager. I'll make up for that soon.

  • Dinner tonight: since Sara got me all excited about shrimp last weekend, I made shrimp and grits, roughly following the recipe for “Shrimp My Way” in Bittman's How to Cook Everything -- cut 3 fat cloves of garlic into slivers and cook them in 2 tbsp. olive oil over low heat till golden, add ¼ tsp. cumin, ¾ tsp. paprika, maybe ¼ tsp. salt and ten or so grinds of black pepper, and a half-pound of peeled and deveined shrimp. Stir, then stick the pan under the broiler till the shrimp are pink, 3-4 minutes or so, stirring a couple of times. Dump the pan out on top of a mound of grits, and just try to restrain yourself from licking the plate once you’re done hoovering it all down. I had a couple of glasses of gmörk with it.

    Mmmmm. Gmörk.

Addendum:
Tes suggested I put this quote from the Moorcock essay on the blog instead of burying it in the comments:
Like Chesterton, and other orthodox Christian writers who substituted faith for artistic rigour, [Tolkien] sees the petit bourgeoisie, the honest artisans and peasants, as the bulwark against Chaos. These people are always sentimentalized in such fiction because traditionally, they are always the last to complain about any deficiencies in the social status quo.
Which has a lot to do with what squicks me about Garrison Keillor, homophobia aside.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Further Thoughts on the Keillor Fracas

And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife's first husband's second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin's in-laws and Bruce's ex, Mark, and Mark's current partner, and I suppose we'll get used to it.

The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men -- sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts.
Somehow, only because this comes from Garrison Keillor and not, say, Rush Limbaugh, we're supposed to understand that it's not to be taken seriously. It's satire, we're told. Tongue in cheek. It's a shame we lack the wit to understand the subtlety of the humor.

Balls. Satire only works if you use it against someone more powerful than yourself. Otherwise, it's not satire, it's bullying. (It also helps if it's actually funny, but never mind.)

Keillor also wrote this a couple of years ago:
I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. I’m sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team.
Could he trivialize the issue any more? He sounds like some racist hunchbrain wondering why the darkies want equal rights when they can already have all the watermelon they want. Good lord, what a travesty.

Let me just be absolutely clear here. I believe this: Either you are ok with the idea of gay marriage, or, because you believe that there are rights that straights have that gays should not have, you are a bigot. The only reason for denying marriage to gay couples is homophobia.

There is no middle ground that I can see. And don't give me that sanctity of marriage crap, either, unless you're prepared to try to convince me that "sanctity" really means "for heteros only."

I am seriously disappointed in Garrison Keillor. I mean, sure, as a satirist he's long since faded into irrelevance, and he's been repeating himself for years. But I always thought that under the sentimentality and irritatingly inoffensive NPR crosswordpuzzly humor, he was on our side. Sometimes (rarely) he would reveal a seeming subversive streak. During the 90s he did stuff about the newly emerging angry rich white male wing of the Republican party that was absolutely wicked. I don't know what happened since then. Maybe he always was a doddering out-of-touch naif, and I've just now grown up enough to see it. I suppose I'll get used to it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

There goes another one

Garrison Keillor. Dead to me. Go read. Then sing along with Sonic Youth. Kill yr. idols...

Friday, March 16, 2007

More Power to our Well-Polished Elbows

So there we were at our gig at the Irish Embassy last night; the first few party guests were arriving, and we were playing a few tunes, just warming up, and up walks Ted Kennedy, and he says, "Hi, I'm Ted Kennedy," and I'm pretty sure I actually said "Dude!"


I'm not sure who the guy on the left is.

Later Tina ambushed Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach (i.e. the Irish Prime Minister), and we all leaped up for a picture, me not quite fast enough -- you can just make out my right eye between the tuning pegs of my guitar on the right.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Thursday Night Mix

  • I've had "Rio" by Duran Duran playing in my head for the last 24 hours. I'm having to take extreme measures.


  • To add insult to annoyance, I just found out I missed China Mieville's appearance at Politics and Prose last month. ARGH! I was in California anyway, so maybe it's ok that I didn't know. But -- damn it! Bad enough that I also had to miss Mastodon (the Greatest Band Of Our Time). This is getting to be a rough time for me and artists I admire.

  • Dinner tonight: meatloaf, via an old Cook's Illustrated recipe. It's in the oven right now, smelling really amazingly incredibly good.

    For the glaze, mix 1/4 cup ketchup and 2 tbsp. each brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Set aside.

    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Saute a small onion (medium dice) and a couple of cloves of garlic (minced) in vegetable oil till translucent. In a large mixing bowl, combine an egg, 1/4 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, a healthy squirt of hot sauce (I use Sriracha), and 1 1/2 tbsp. milk or yogurt. Add a pound of "meatloaf mix" (i.e., beef, pork, and veal ground together; I can usually find this at my local Giant Food), along with 2/3 cup bread crumbs, the cooked onion and garlic, and maybe three sprigs of parsley (minced). Mix all this together with a fork. Turn it out onto a foil-lined baking pan and pat it into a loaflike shape. Brush it with the glaze. Swaddle it with slices of bacon. Bake till the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, about an hour. Let rest for 15-20 minutes. Serve with the remaining glaze on the side.

  • I'm putting off taking action on the Goon situation. He's plainly well-fed and healthy, and I strongly suspect that he's simply wheedling me. He's a great one for the wheedling.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Goon



So as long as I've been living in this house, this big orange cat from next door, Goon, has been coming by to visit. He always acts as if he lives here -- sleeping on my porch, waiting to be let inside (which I never do), and so on. Mary Duke was looking after my cats while I was in California, and she put food out for him, which of course made him feel much more at home. And I'm starting to wonder. I haven't seen Goon's owner in a long time. My neighbors from upstairs haven't either. If she's moved away and abandoned this cat, I think I might be adding another member to my happy little family here before long.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

On Fish and Barrels

Update, 4/22/08. If you're among the one-quarter of my readership who found your way here because, for reasons far beyond understanding or explaining, you were googling for the extraordinarily disturbing photo of Herself that adorns this post: Welcome. I hope the pic is all you wanted it would be.

But really now. Rachael Ray? Are you fucking kidding? I can't fathom this. There's a far hotter and more suggestive pic of Padma Lakshmi on this blog, and it gets no hits! None! What the hell is wrong with you, you bunch of hairy-palmed troglodytes? If RayRay gets more attention from the typing-with-one-hand crowd than Padma, then I just don't know what the world is coming to. The terrorists have won.

(And no, I'm not going to link to that photo of Padma. You have to look for it, you pathetic little wanker.)

The original post follows...



Well, here I was, all set to turn out a nice reasoned defense of Rachael Ray. I was going to start by saying that once you get past the profoundly annoying way she presents herself, her basic technique is pretty sound, especially her knife skills. I was planning to voice appreciation for the example she sets by getting her mise en place together before she cooks anything: we see her wandering around her kitchen as she's talking about her menu, gathering stuff out of the fridge and pantry, putting it all where she can get to it when she needs it. As opposed to Giada De Laurentis, for example, who seems to have a staff of cherubim to put all of her ingredients into beautiful containers before she raises her elegantly cheekboned head from her satin pillow and botticellis into her kitchen on a big scallop shell.

I was also going to say how much I like it that RayRay cooks in real time. None of this putting a casserole in the oven and pulling out a finished one that was cooked earlier. I was going to boldly admit that I've learned a few cool little tricks from watching her cook. I was even going to say that in the near future I'll probably cook the entire menu from the episode of 30-Minute Meals I just watched: Cod en papillote with olives, fennel, onions, and garlic (which RayRay of course has to call "Cod in a Sack"), and a tasty-looking salad of steamed green beans, steamed asparagus, red onions, and tomatoes, tossed with a basil vinaigrette. Nothing wrong with that stuff at all.

I was going to lament the expansion of the Rachael Ray brand -- the talk show, the travel show, the Triscuits boxes adorned with her grinning visage -- and humbly suggest that in spite of all that anyone making the effort to show how easy and fulfilling it can be to cook decent food with honest ingredients is a force for good in the universe.

Then I found this:


(More Dork Tower here. Apologies to John Kovalic for the layout edit; Blogger wanted to make the strip illegibly small.)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Newbie Baker Gushes

Look at this.


Ok, I know more experienced sourdough people are scoffing at me, but come on! It's SO COOL. Right there in that little plastic tub are zillions of wild yeasts and lactobacilli, doing what they do, i.e. chowing down on available starches and sugars, excreting lactic acid and carbon dioxide and other chemicals, and breeding. The lactobacilli create acids that make the environment hostile to all but the right kinds of wild yeast, and they also eat the dead yeast, which keeps everything neat and clean. And this wonderfully efficent little ecosystem, which you can create just by mixing flour and water and leaving it alone, happens to be the magic that creates really tasty bread. This whole sourdough thing is as strong an argument for the existence of God as any I know of. It's also way cooler than sea monkeys.

I've got my first sourdough loaf rising right now. It's the same basic proportions I've been using -- three cups flour, 1 5/8 cups water, 2 tsp. salt -- plus a tablespoon of the starter, which I mixed into the water before adding it. I realize I'm tempting fate by going on about this before I know how the bread will come out. But it's incredibly exciting.

I wonder if my landlord will let me build a wood-fired bread oven in the backyard?

I also baked another by-the-book no-knead loaf last night, folding in a handful of whole pitted kalamata olives after the initial rise.


Yeah.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Heart Food

Bearnaise sauce has my vote for the single most delicious substance on earth. The lovely dry-aged ribeye I got tonight from Whole Foods tonight was merely a delivery device for it.

For one: combine two tbsp. red wine vinegar, a minced shallot, leaves from three sprigs of tarragon, and 1/4 tsp. cracked peppercorns in a small pan. Boil, reduce by half, and strain into a bowl that will sit nicely in the top of a small saucepan.

Spuds: batonnet cut, toss in olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, put in a 450-degree oven for twenty minutes or so. Shake them every now and then. Salt and pepper when they're done. Or follow John's directions for doing them the right way.

Pan-fry your steak in lots of butter or olive oil to an internal temperature of 120 degrees. In the meantime put about an inch of water into your small saucepan and bring it to a boil. While your steak is resting, seperate an egg and plunk the yolk into the bowl with the reduced vinegar. (Save the white for another use. Like meringues. You make meringues all the time, right? I know I do. Every morning I whip up a batch of them. I like to dance a merengue while they're in the oven.) Place the bowl in the saucepan over the boiling water, and beat the yolk into the vinegar with a fork. Keep beating it. This is supposed to be a difficult sauce to make, but it's dead easy as long as you keep beating that yolk so it emulsifies smoothly instead of scrambling. The yolk will thicken slightly. When that starts to happen, beat in three tablespoons of butter, tablespoon by tablespoon. Stir in about two more sprigs' worth of minced tarragon and spoon over your steak. There will be a lot of it, the better for dredging your spuds through.

Writing about this is making me salivate; never mind that I finished my dinner half an hour ago.

(The new blog title is in honor of the Latino grocery a couple of blocks from my house. It isn't really called "Super Cow," but for obvious reasons it should be.)