Saturday, December 29, 2007

Because It's There: An Adventure in Spatchcocking

First, obtain a chicken. Rinse it and pat it dry. Don't forget to remove the giblets.

Cut the backbone out with your kitchen shears. Remove the giblets if you forgot to before. Spread your bird out, as though you were opening a book or performing an autopsy. Lovely.

Flip it over. Cut slits in the skin and tuck the legs in neatly. Season assertively with salt and pepper and herbes de Provence.

Season the inside too.

Select a heavy object and wrap it in foil. Bricks are good. I used a rusty Lodge cast-iron grill pan. For indoor grilling it's ill-conceived and badly designed--it just doesn't work unless you get it so hot the seasoning burns off, hence the rust--but it weighs about ten pounds. Perfect. Spritz the foil with olive oil.

Heat a puddle of oil in a big cast-iron pan. Lay your chicken in it, skin-side down. Smush it down with your heavy foil-wrapped object.

Add additional heavy objects if desired. Cook for 12-15 minutes.

Flip your bird.

Wrap your heavy object in fresh foil to avoid cross-contamination. Smush your bird down again and cook for another 15 minutes.

Let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving. (I've really got to get a better camera.)

This is admittedly kind of a silly thing to do on the stovetop unless you've got some really dark violent urges to work out. Which is of course perfectly legitimate: who among us hasn't wanted to just rip someone's spine out every now and again? But for grilling a whole chicken I can see that this is the technique. I'll be trying that soon. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Home from the holidays

...Unshaven, unshowered, and travel-frazzled, sitting at a corner table in El Golfo, washing my yucca con chicharron down with an ice-cold Corona and listening to the Spanish-language Christmas music.

Cascabeles, cascabeles
Tra la la la la
Qué alegría
Todo el día y Felicidad
By GOD, it's good to be back.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nicholas Was…

...Older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once very year they forced him, sobbing & protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.



--Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors
I'm on my way down to North Carolina tomorrow for Xmax with the fam. There likely won't be much in the way of bloggage till I get back, so happy holidays and safe travels, everybody!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo

Hey, did you know "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence?

It means "Bison in Buffalo, New York--whom other bison in Buffalo, New York, bamboozle--bamboozle other bison in Buffalo, New York, themselves."

Another poster on the internet forum where I found this interesting bit of information noted the existence of the city of Badger, Iowa (pop. 610). Hence "Badger badgers Badger badgers badger badger Badger badgers."

I should be an ESL teacher.

Ye gods, what a slow, slow day.

58 notes per second

My guitarist friends and I used to joke that music was only useful as a means to superior lead guitar technique. Songwriting is for pussies. What the hell are you doing, playing chords? Wimp.

I went through a phase when I actually was like this. It was during my freshman year at the University of Georgia, when I was attempting to major in classical guitar. When I wasn't trying to burn through all the Segovia scales in under two minutes, I was "jamming" with a friend in my dorm, which basically consisted of going weedly weedly weedly wee at each other for hours. Everybody hated us.

If only I hadn't knuckled under to peer pressure, if only I hadn't been seduced by effeminate bourgeois notions like melody and phrasing and expression, I might have ended up like this guy. 58 notes per second. When you express your speed in terms of notes per second instead of saying something like "64th notes at 200 bpm," you know you've truly, once and for all, transcended music. And he's chewing gum at the same time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ITMFA, please, please, please.

Hey, if you're into the rule of law and holding our leaders accountable and all that good stuff that America used to be about, then go right now to and lend your support to Rep. Robert Wexler's call for hearings to impeach the Vice President. And spread the word. In the last three days the online petition already has gotten close to over 90,000 signatures. Pretty cool since Wexler isn't even a member of the progressive caucus. This is slowly becoming a mainstream issue. At last.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Epiphany

"We went to see the Who at the Cavern. It was wall to fucking wall of people. We muscled through to about ten feet from the stage, and Townshend was smashing his twelve-string Rickenbacker.

It was my first experience of total pandemonium. It was like a dog pile of people, just trying to grab pieces of Townshend's guitar, and people were scrambling to dive up onstage and he'd swing the guitar at their heads. The audience weren't cheering; it was more like animal noises, howling. The whole room turned really primitive--like a pack of starving animals that hadn't eaten in a week and somebody throws out a piece of meat. I was afraid. For me it wasn't fun, but it was mesmerizing. It was like, 'The plane's burning, the ship's sinking, so let's crush each other.' Never had I seen people driven so nuts--that music could drive people to such dangerous extremes. That's when I realized, this is definitely what I want to do.
--Stooges member Ron Asheton, quoted in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, a great book that you should read.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Well, I went to Buck's Fishing and Camping last night, and maybe I need someone to explain it to me. This is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in the city (per Don Rockwell, no less), and I just don't get it.

When you come right down to it I guess I'm a little dubious of comfort food as a haute restaurant concept. Not that there's anything wrong with shrimp and grits, barbecued duck, fried oysters, and so on, but dammit, if I'm going to pay Buck's prices, I want to be bowled over, stunned by the chef's ability and imagination. I could tell right off that wasn't going to happen. It's very unusual for me to go into a restaurant as hungry as I was last night and not immediately see two or three dishes I want to try. What's worse, there was nothing on the menu--really, nothing--that I couldn't make myself. That's a really bad sign.

Since my very cute and friendly waitress recommended the grilled whole branzino with a "winter salad" of baby greens and hazelnuts, I had that. I also had the deviled eggs, figuring (in my innocence) that for seven bucks they must have some cool interesting twist, because no chef would serve plain old church-supper deviled eggs at her high-profile expensive restaurant, right?

Well, the joke was on me, because that's exactly what they were. Both of them. That's right, seven bucks for two eggs. These people are killing on their food cost ratio.

The fish was beautifully done, crisp and flaky and tender, and if you get one yourself, rub it with olive oil, stuff it with sprigs of rosemary and thyme and a slice of lemon, and grill it for maybe 10 minutes per inch of thickness, you can see what it was like for yourself. The salad was very nice, absolutely the best part of the meal. Nothing spectacular, but very nice.

Which probably is the secret of the appeal of the place. It's upscale ordinary. It's a "fine dining" place where nothing will disturb or challenge you. There are no fancy highfalutin dishes you've never heard of before, no fancy ingredients with odd names (well, except for the branzino, but it's not even called that on the menu, it's a "grilled whole fish"). No wonder the place is so consistently packed.

I can't remember the last time I was so flat-out bored by a restaurant. And I'm still pissed off about those damned eggs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You're Still Sleeping Soundly?

On the one hand, there's this, from today's Salon.

"How dire is the climate situation? Consider what Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations' prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said last month: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." Pachauri has the distinction, or misfortune, of being both an engineer and an economist, two professions not known for overheated rhetoric.

In fact, far from being an alarmist, Pachauri was specifically chosen as IPCC chair in 2002 after the Bush administration waged a successful campaign to have him replace the outspoken Dr. Robert Watson, who was opposed by fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil. So why is a normally low-key scientist getting more desperate in his efforts to spur the planet to action?

Part of the answer is the most recent IPCC assessment report. For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world's top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra's warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date."
And on the other, there's this:

"For the past 16 months, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating allegations of political interference with government climate change science under the Bush Administration. During the course of this investigation, the Committee obtained over 27,000 pages of documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Commerce Department, held two investigative hearings, and deposed or interviewed key officials. Much of the information made available to the Committee has never been publicly disclosed.

This report presents the findings of the Committee’s investigation. The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming."
Sorry to be such a downer, but seriously, we are so fucked.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vaca Estupenda is one year old today!

And I think I've finally found the official VE theme song. Sing along!

Shut up and eat!
Too bad no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Fried Riceness of the Fried Rice

It seems kind of absurd to even think about making your own fried rice. It's kind of like making a Hostess Twinkie. Really, even if you had all the chemicals you needed and owned your very own countertop vegetable-oil-hydrogenating machine and could therefore turn out a horrible little pastry that was in every way identical to a storebought Hostess Twinkie, could such a homemade, handcrafted object really be called the same thing? Of course not! A Twinkie is a product of space-age food technology, of the American subversion of nature, of the manipulation of our tastes via advertising (without which our hunter/gatherer instincts would never let us even consider putting one of the wretched things in our mouths). A Twinkie is imbued with its Twinkieness by the culture of Big Food. If you create one yourself, it's merely a cream puff made gross.

Similarly, I can't help feeling that the basic meaning of fried rice is changed when you make it at home. As it's known in my particular corner of American society, it's a comfort-foody, too tired/overstimulated/distracted/ uninspired/drunk to cook, Sunday-night-after-the-session thing. It's meant to be shoveled into your mouth directly from the waxed-cardboard container that the guy from Tian Jin palace brought it in (along with the soggy dumplings you ordered so you could make the $10 minimum for delivery), preferably while you're drinking beer and watching lame TV. Is it really legitimate to make the stuff yourself? Moreover, is this really the kind of thing a serious eater would take the time for?

Eh. What the hell. If you have the ingredients on hand, fried rice comes together in less time than it takes to have it delivered, so it's still convenience food. Like Mongolian Lamb, it's a dish with deep, deep roots in the History of Rob, however it's made.

So, your meez. Finely chop a couple of garlic cloves and a scallion or two. If you've got one of those little red Thai chili peppers, chop that up too. Beat an egg with some sesame oil. Prep whatever veggies or meats you want: cut leftover roast pork or chicken into appropriate-sized hunks (and pre-stir-fry if you want); ditto leftover steamed broccoli, a carrot, maybe some nice cabbage; run hot water over a handful of frozen peas to thaw them. Have bottles of soy sauce and oyster sauce where you can reach them.

You need about a cup of leftover cooked rice. Fresh rice will make the dish soggy; with cold leftover rice that's been sitting in the fridge for at least a day or so, you can't go wrong. This is the only element of finesse. If you really want to be a dork, sometime when you have a half-hour to spare you can make a bunch of rice, divide it into individual portions, and freeze it.

Glug some peanut oil into your wok (or a big wide saute pan) and turn that sucker on high. When it's good and screaming hot, add the garlic and scallions (off the heat, so they don't burn), and the chili pepper. Add the egg and stir till it's scrambled and browned in places. Add the rice and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in a few splashes of soy and oyster sauces. Add your meats and veggies. Turn out into a bowl and dig in.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

See, this is why we can't have nice things.

I know it was an act of purest optimism to buy a floor lamp with a paper shade in the first place. Kyosaku and I have waged a battle over it in the two months I've had it. Usually when I'm teaching or practicing, she'll go over to the lamp and start clawing it, and I'll go "NO!" and put her out of the room. Last night, though, she finally had her way with it while I was sleeping.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of her as I found her this morning, curled up peacefully asleep beside the lamp, as though to say at last, my work is done.