Eatin’ Doggy Style

Homer: Well crying isn’t going to help. Now, you can sit there feeling sorry for yourself or you can eat can after can of dog food until your tears smell enough like dog food until your dog comes back, or you can go out there and find your dog.
Bart: You’re right. [Gets up and leaves]
Homer: Rats. I almost had him eating dog food.

The Simpsons, “The Canine Mutiny” (4/13/97)

——————————————–

OK, so here’s the scenario:

It’s time to feed the dogs. I know it because of the time of day, and also because the dogs have this obnoxious habit of flipping over their empty food bowls when they want me to feed them. They know it because…well, as far as they’re concerned, it’s always time to feed the dogs. Because they’re dogs, right?

The dog bowls are in the kitchen, but the food is in a closet in the next room, because I buy the big honkin’ bags from the Big Box Warehouse Store. I have this big plastic scoop that I use, and it holds enough food for the both of them. So I typically put the bowls up on the counter, which of course is cause for celebration on their part: “WooHoo! It’s supper time! We’re gonna get fed! Yay!” and they start jumping about and getting all excited and such.

Now I go into the next room and oh, boy, they’re all about that too. "Oh boy oh boy oh boy it’s SUPPER TIME! Food’s a-coming!” They actually start crowding me, as though I’m going to feed them directly from the scoop, or perhaps this is going to be the magic day when I’m just going to overturn the bag and let them have at it.

I have a scoopful of food and I’m heading back into the kitchen. Invariably a couple of bits of kibble will fall out and hit the floor. Or, perhaps more accurately, it would hit the floor if they weren’t there to intercept it. At this point, if they had guns, they’d be firing them into the air because this is the only way left to express their sheer joy. Manna from heaven! Can you stand it?

Finally, I dose out the food into their bowls. They’re practically peeing themselves with excitement. “Oh boy oh boy oh boy, here comes supper! This is the best day ever!” They actually follow my hands with their snouts as I put the bowls down onto the floor.

And that’s when they look at the food, and then up at me, and the attitude is, “Dog food? Really? What the fuck. man?”

And more often than not they actually SNUB their food for at least a half hour. Kills me every time.

Katering To Your Kulinary Taste

Tripper: Attention. Here's an update on tonight's dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight's mystery meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin who guessed "some kind of beef."

Meatballs (1979)

————————-

I’m pretty sure it’s a law in Maryland that if you come here, you must eat crab.

Restaurants are pretty much bound to have crab in some form or other on their menus. It doesn’t even matter much what the base cuisine of the restaurant is, You Must Have Crab.  Crab cakes, crab soup, crab dip, crab pretzels (big honkin’ soft pretzels with crab dip all over them), and so on. Many restaurants around here actually keep Old Bay seasoning on the tables alongside the salt and pepper. In my head, this whole emphasis on crab tends to dilute its specialness, but what the hell. It’s the local thing.

Crab, however, does tend to get expensive, especially if you’re buying packages of pre-picked meat. A pound of crabmeat costs roughly $15 in the supermarket, although you might be able to get a slightly cheaper version if you’re willing to settle for all claws or some such. The pricey stuff is the Jumbo Lump, which comes from the back end of the crab and is especially prized if it’s removed as one huge chunk. (“One Huge Chunk” defined as being about the size of a gumball.)

But once in awhile you can’t even afford the cheap claw meat, or you just want a little texture, or perhaps you want to use, god forbid, something akin to Alaskan King Crab rather than Maryland Blue but don’t want to pay for the Alaskan, which is even more expensive. What do you do? What DO…you do?

Mmmm...that's good Surimi!Krab SticksThe answer, in this case, is something called Krab (yes, with a K—shut up, spellcheck). Krab, which is sometimes accurately referred to as “imitation crab”, is typically made of a substance called surimi. Surimi is typically made up of hake, whiting and/or pollock, which is rinsed repeatedly to remove unpleasant odors, then it’s beaten and pulverized into a gelatinous paste. Add a few enhancers like starch, egg white, MSG and a few other goodies, then the whole mixture is extruded through a form, like a Play-Doh Fun Factory and then given a touch of food coloring to make it look something like the real thing.

All of the above is just a gateway to get you to understand the story of the word Krab. “Krab” isn’t Crab, dig? It’s Frankenfood, an artificial construct, dig?

After living in Maryland for nearly ten years, I’ve gotten to deal with another food besides an abundance of crab (and Krab). The other food that’s popular around here is something called Scrapple. This is something that, when I lived in New York, I’d never heard of. But Wife eats the stuff, and so did her late grandmother. Scrapple is hard to explain, so let me leave it to Wikipedia, which is about as nice a description as I’ve seen:

Locally called "everything but the oink" or made with "everything but the squeal", scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other scraps, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned to the pot and seasonings, typically sage, thyme, savory, black pepper, and others, are added. The mush is formed into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until set. The proportions and seasoning are very much a matter of the region and the cook's taste.

Seriously…the making of scrapple was actually featured on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. And Mike Rowe comes from a neighborhood just a couple of miles from my house. So even some of the locals think this stuff is pretty gross.

So imagine my horror when I found myself in a supermarket, and I came across this:

Skrapple

Skrapple? With a K? Really? What the hell could possibly be going into this product that they can’t legally call it Scrapple?

Grocery Adventure

Miracle Max: There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead…well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

The Princess Bride (1987)

——————————

So on the day after Christmas, I called my mother, thinking that I could take her and my grandmother out to lunch somewhere. My mom thought that it would ordinarily be a good idea, however my grandmother had been sick the whole night before, so they weren’t going anywhere. OK, I suggest, how about I bring something in? Mom agrees to this, so I toddle off to a Publix supermarket that’s on the way over there.

This particular Publix is on Little Road in Port Richey, and your experience at other stores may vary, but I kind of doubt it.

I took the first entrance into the shopping center, because I’m paranoid about overshooting it and having to turn around, etc. This means that I’m cruising along the storefronts until I get to the general area of the Publix. At this point I have to look for an aisle to turn into so I can park, but this particular shopping lot has the cars angled one way in one aisle and the other way in the next, so I have to find an aisle that’s angled correctly for my entry point. Plus, this being Florida, the parking lot has 156,000 handicapped spaces, so I have to avoid those as well. (It turns out that my being a moral cripple doesn’t get me a placard.) My first opportunity came at the point where they have the big painted crosswalk. I also saw a pickup truck bearing down on me, so I wisely decided to let it pass before making the left turn.

This, of course, meant that he was going to make the right without signaling the turn, and of course now that I’m behind him he’s going to go at a speed of approximately forty feet per year. We pass the blue spaces (they were all occupied anyway) and he finally turns into a parking space. No, wait, make that two parking spaces. REALLY? You’re driving a Chevy POS truck and you need to protect the rust on it somehow? In fact, he wasn’t even parking in the two spaces; he was pulling through to grab another space in the next aisle that was precisely one spot closer than the one he’d pulled through (and that I subsequently grabbed).

10 itemsIn the store, the only hassle I had with getting my groceries involved getting oriented to an unfamiliar grocery store, so no complaints there. However, now it’s time for the checkout. My choice came down to two lanes: the Express Lane and a regular lane, which was adjacent to it.

Before I move into this part of the story, let me give Publix some props for their Express Lane. The sign over it actually reads “10 ITEMS OR FEWER”, which is grammatically correct. If you can count ‘em, you say “fewer”. If you can’t, you use “less”. ‘nough said.

As I said before, I had two lanes to choose from, and each one had exactly one person ahead of me. I had five items, so either one would be appropriate. However, in the Express Lane was a woman who was sitting on one of those scooter thingies, perhaps because she weighed about nine thousand pounds. She also had—easily—thirty items on the belt. And, instead of the cashier asking her which ten items she wanted to buy, she was clearly going to just take the order anyway. So I jumped over to the other lane. In this lane was a woman who was about old enough to have been Jesus’ babysitter, but she had only four items. Piece of cake, says I, and I put my stuff on the belt.

Now, her stuff is at one end of the belt, and mine is at the other. There’s at least two feet of empty belt in between. This, naturally, means that Grandma Moses simply MUST get one of those order dividers and put it on the belt between our orders. The cashier, in the meantime, has already tallied up all of her stuff, and the bagger (yeah, Publix has those) has put everything into the bag. The total cost of the order: Five dollars and eleven cents.

loose changeIt’s at this point that Jeanne Calment says to the cashier, “I hope you need some change,” and—I shit you not—completely upends a change purse into the bagging area. There’s clearly at least enough money all over the bagging area to cover the $5.11 that she needs to pay for this purchase, but all she’s interested in is the eleven cents. Gloria Stewart has already counted out the five singles and is now handing the bills over to the cashier, who counts out eleven pennies and puts it in the till with the dollar bills. Then she, and the bagger, have to scoop up all this other change and put it back into the change purse. Meanwhile, in the Express Lane, the nine thousand pound woman is cruising out of the store with her completed purchase.

This is why Florida is a great place to return home from.

Breakfast for Dinner

When you’re doing the hard driving, sometimes the trips up and/or down I-95 can be pretty uneventful. My travels to Florida ran much in this vein. I’d packed some sandwiches so I didn’t have to stop for lunch, and in fact I stopped only for gas or to use the rest room. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever stopped for both. As a result, despite my leaving later than I’d planned, I wound up in Walterboro, South Carolina (approximately Exit 48) for the evening of December 23. This isn’t too bad; I usually stop in Florence, SC for the night and have a pretty long drive ahead of me the second day.

(Naturally, it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that Walterboro is maybe 10-15 minutes’ drive from some relatives of mine; I could have saved some money on lodging for the night.)

Bah.Here’s a tip if you’re traveling down the I-95 corridor: there’s just no good way through the Washington, DC area, so just skip it altogether. When you get to Baltimore, take either I-895 or I-695 to I-97 and take that down to Route 301 south, which will bring you back to I-95 just north of Richmond, VA. You won’t save any time at all, but you’ll be spared the madness of the Mixing Bowl south of DC, where there is NO GOOD TIME to travel through.

Anyway, Walterboro.

I stopped for the night around 8:00. I was kind of hoping to make it to Hardeeville (around Exit 10), but I figured, I’m hungry now and why stop twice? I popped into a place called the Country Hearth Inn, which is a small-ish chain, and got a room for the evening for only $31 after taxes and such.

In this part of the country, the location of your room is apparently pretty important. Rooms on the first floor are more expensive than rooms on the second floor. My room was cheaper because it was second floor. Go figure.

Here’s another aside: I don’t really get the mentality that a hotel room has to have fourteen thousand amenities when you’re on a road trip. I’m stopping to eat, sleep, and get generally relaxed for the next leg of the trip. I don’t need a pool, or chocolates on my pillow, or a flatscreen TV. This is a crash pad. I want a clean room, a place to take a shower and a clear picture on the TV. I don’t even need 75 channels, since the TV is just a talking lamp at that point; I’m happy with local TV plus CNN or some such. Everything else is just gravy. So for that little bit, there’s no way I’m shelling out $80 if I don’t have to. And fortunately there are plenty of places on I-95 which are willing to fill this request. Country Hearth Inn turned out to be one of them.

I took this picture only in the sense that I took it off of a Shoney's website. Once checked in, and with my bags and stuff in the room, I got back in the car and wandered the immediate neighborhood in search of food. Most exits on I-95 have lots of places to eat; a few have only a couple of options, and one or two have none at all. This was one in the second group. All of the choices were pretty typical: Cracker Barrel, Subway, Waffle House, Shoney’s, McDonald’s and a couple of others. I didn’t want -fast food, but I didn’t necessarily want the sit-down-meal-with-the-bum’s-rush experience that you sometimes get from Cracker Barrel, so I went to the Shoney’s.

I’d forgotten that Shoney’s had the option of eating via a buffet, so shortly after I’d reached my table I was greeted by a server who pointed out that the buffet was almost entirely breakfast foods. This really appealed to me. “Outstanding!” I said. I rather like having breakfast food for dinner once in awhile. Wife, for some reason, is not, so we rarely do it. The waitress then asked me what I wanted to drink. I ordered a Coke and hit the buffet.

My plate didn't look quite like this, but it was close. Sure enough, there was a wide variety of stuff available: eggs, toast, grits, biscuits & gravy, sausage, bacon, home fries, cheese (for the grits, I think), pancakes, French toast, etc, etc. I took a look and said, “Yes, please!” When I got back to my table, the waitress was just delivering two glasses of soda to me. I asked her, “Is this Happy Hour?”

She said “Of course it is!” Then, “OK, not really, but I figured you’d been on the road and you looked kind of thirsty.” Smart waitress, that.

And I, who have been eating quite sensibly for the last eight weeks as a side-effect of Wife’s diet, had myself two plates of breakfast for dinner.

Cookies!

Danny Concannon: You keep glancing over like you’re afraid I’m going to steal something.
Mrs. Landingham: No. I’m just not used to having members of the print media in here.
Danny: I’ll try not to get ink on the furniture.
Mrs. Landingham: Aw, Danny. And I was just about to offer you a cookie.
Danny: And now?
Mrs. Landingham: No.

The West Wing, “The White House Pro-Am” (3/22/00)

—————————

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I baked up some cookies for the Patti Rothberg concert, and they turned out to be quite the hit. No kidding; I was hearing good stuff about them from people who didn’t realize that A) I was nearby, and B) I was the guy who baked them. And, when I told them what the mystery ingredient was, they said to me “Oh…you have my attention.” It was almost a shame that Wife was there; I could have gotten me some of Patti’s castoff groupies that night based solely on my cookies. (note to self…)

So, being a generous soul, I’m going to share this recipe with you. I’ll note that I did get the original from the Washington Post several days ago, but I see in looking back that they, in turn, got it from somewhere else. I’ll cite that specific detail at the end. I’ll also add in a few of my own notes as I go along. Enjoy! And, if you make these, let me know how they came out.

 

Chocolate Chunk Cookies With Nutella

 

· MAKE AHEAD: The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

· Makes 38 to 42 cookies

Ingredients:

  • • 2 1/3 cups flour (level off in a measuring cup)
  • • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • • 1 teaspoon salt
  • • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • • 1/4 cup unsweetened or regular Nutella (may substitute hazelnut paste)—I used the regular Nutella and it makes for a sweeter cookie but basically works great.
  • • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • • Scrapings from 1 split vanilla bean (may substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)—I used the extract. Again, no problems.
  • • 3 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate (preferably 60 to 66 percent cacao content), coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces or larger—with this, I bought a bag of chocolate chunks from the supermarket. Nestlé makes them, but some places now have a store brand version, too.
  • • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts (optional)—I used walnuts. This recipe is expensive enough.


Directions:

  1. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Line 2 or 3 rimmed baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper.
  3. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed until creamy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, then add the Nutella and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, then add the vanilla bean scrapings, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed.
  4. Reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until the dough comes together.
  5. Stir in the chocolate pieces and, if desired, the nuts.
  6. Drop heaping tablespoons of the dough 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets, flattening them slightly by hand as needed. (At this point the mounds of dough can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to a month.)
  7. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes until lightly browned (or a few minutes longer for crisp cookies). (When I did 5 minutes, I got cookies that were TOO soft; they were limp rather than chewy. I went an extra minute or two in each period. Of course, this could just be my oven, so your mileage may vary.)
  8. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing. Repeat to use all of the dough.

Recipe Source:

From The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion, by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark (W.W. Norton, 2010).

130 calories, 6g fat, 4g saturated fat, 15mg cholesterol, 90mg sodium, 18g carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 11g sugar, 2g protein.

Just in Time for Autumn

Lisa: I can’t believe you’re just going to let your daughter live in a world where this…[waving Malibu Stacey doll]…THIS is their role-model.
Marge: I had a Malibu Stacy doll when I was little and I turned out all right. Now let’s forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.
[Lisa pulls on Malibu Stacy’s string]
Malibu Stacy Voice: “Now let’s forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.”
Lisa: That’s it; I’m calling the company.

The Simpsons, “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey” (2/17/94)

——————————————

Not long ago, I got into a debate with someone over the relative merits, and the similarities/differences among various frozen desserts. Because that’s what you do when you’re a few beers into the evening, you know.

The three desserts in question were Italian ices, snowballs and snow cones. One person insisted that they were all pretty much the same thing. I, however, being the least-impaired of the group, noted that they absolutely are not, although there are similarities. After all, we share a lot of DNA with chimpanzees, but that doesn’t mean I spend my day flinging feces at people (tempting as that oftentimes sounds).

So I offer to you my mini-treatise on these three confections. Let’s start with the snow cone and the snowball, since they have so much in common.

Snow cone

The picture to the left is a snow cone. It’s shaved ice and flavored syrup. That’s pretty simple, right? The ice in snow cones is pretty coarsely chopped up, consequently there’s a strong possibility that the ice could freeze back together, giving you a huge, nearly flavorless lump somewhere in the middle. That sucks. Snow cones come in a variety of flavors, but there isn’t usually a wide variety available. You can probably choose from maybe four or five flavors from your local snow cone dealer. Once the ice is shaved, the vendor will usually pour the syrup out of a bottle onto the ice. The ice, being in rather large chunks, isn’t usually affected much by this.

Snow cones usually come in one size, maybe two. And it’s a little tough to see from this picture, but they’re also served literally in paper cones, hence the name. Snow cones are usually eaten like ice cream cones, without utensils, so you have to squeeze the cup to push the ice & syrup upward in order to eat it. When you’re done, you have a flat triangle of paper because you’ve squoze the whole thing out. Often, when you’re a kid, you’ll invert the cone over your mouth and squeeze the last of the juice into your mouth. Snow cones are, as I said above, a very simple pleasure.

This snowball stand is pretty close to my house. It's actually a little tough to spot, and I think is often overshadowed by the one across the street, which wasn't even open AT ALL this summer.  This picture was nicked from bmoresweet.blogspot.com. Then there’s the snowball. Snowballs seem to be largely a Baltimore phenomenon, although I’ve seen it suggested that they’re also popular in New Orleans. I’ve never been there, so I couldn’t tell you.

The snowball is also shaved ice and syrup, however there are other differences as well. Snowballs offer a somewhat wider variety of coarseness to the ice; this depends on the stand that you go to. Some places have mechanical shavers that give you the same consistency every time; at other places the ice is manually fed and it’s going to depend upon how much pressure is placed on the ice plunger. For the most part, however, snowballs are a more finely-chopped product.

Once the ice is delivered into the cup, it’s usually heaped way up beyond the rim of the cup. This is because, once the syrup flavoring is applied, the ice usually starts to melt right away under the stream of syrup (which is often pumped out of a gallon-size jug rather than poured out of a fifth-size bottle, but this depends on the popularity of the flavor). Snowballs are also served up in styrofoam cups of different sizes. I’ve seen up to five different sizes of snowballs at some stands. Snowball stands also tend to offer a huge variety of flavors. If you look at the picture to the right, the sign in the right-hand window is the list of flavors. This place has something like fifty different snowball flavors. And, of course, some kids will ask for combinations so that the ice is striped, or dotted, or some such. That can happen with snow cones, but not often.

snowball with marshmallow Because the snowballs are served in styrofoam cups, you can’t squish them out of the container to eat them, so you have to use a spoon. The other reason you need a spoon is that you might have to put a topping on them. This is a huge debate among snowball aficionados—to top or not to top. The two most popular toppings for snowballs are chocolate sauce and marshmallow. Some people also like a blob of marshmallow somewhere in the middle, so it’ll be marshmallow/snowball/marshmallow/snowball as you work your way down. Finally, snowballs are also prone to re-freezing, but at least you have the spoon to keep chopping at it while you eat.

The beauty thing about snowballs is that A) they’re ridiculously cheap—even the biggest ones are maybe three dollars; and B) they’re absolutely everywhere in Baltimore. Remember when you were a kid and you had a lemonade stand? You’ll see snowball shacks all over the place. But besides those, you’ll also see people who have set up a table, an ice shaver and about ten bottles of syrup out in front of their house. (This is usually in the rowhouse neighborhoods; I have to go to a shack for my snowballs unless I’m traveling while at work.)

scooped italian ice Finally, we come to the Italian ice. I don’t even know why these are part of the debate because they’re so different from the other two, but what the heck. Italian ices (you’ll also hear the phrase “water ice”, which is just redundant and dumb) are finely shaved ice blended with syrup and/or juice, and sometime
s actual bits of fruit, and then put back into the freezer to ensure that the juice is frozen, too. The ice to the right is hand-scooped into the paper cup and can be eaten much like a snow cone, including the part where you smoosh the cup to get the last of the juice out of it.  marino's lemon iceHowever, you can also buy Italian ices in individual serving cups in the supermarket. Try that with a snowball. These have a couple of cultural issues that don’t come with the hand-scooped type of ice. First, if you bought it off an ice cream truck (common when I was a kid), they usually gave you a wooden spoon to eat it with.  And because it was frozen a little harder than the scooped stuff, you had to take this spoon and essentially scrape up the Italian ice in order to get enough to eat. wood-ice-cream-spoonsSo someone listening to you eat an Italian ice, at least at first, would hear scrape, scrape, scrapescrapescrapescrapescrape, scrape, slurp. Repeatedly. I’m sure it’d make you crazy if you weren’t the one eating it. As the whole thing softened, you’d start to break it up with the spoon and start eating it in chunks. But the best part—THE best part—of eating Italian ice came when you got about halfway down.

Let me digress for a minute. When they make a cup of, say, Marino’s Italian Ice, they’d blend the ice and flavoring at the factory, then they’d put it in the cups and then they’d freeze it. Then someone takes it out of the freezer and puts it on a refrigerated truck for delivery to a wholesaler. Then it comes out of the truck and goes into a cold storage at the wholesaler. Then it goes onto another truck and gets delivered to a store, or your friendly neighborhood ice-cream man. This means that there are numerous opportunities for the Italian ice to melt just a teeny bit each time. And every time it melts, the melt would settle to the bottom of the cup and re-freeze when it went back into the cold storage. So, more often than not—especially when I was younger and getting this stuff from the ice cream trucks—every cup of Italian ice has about a quarter-inch layer of ice crystals infused with the flavoring.

So we all knew about the change in texture and more intense flavor at the bottom of the cup, although at the time we didn’t know why, of course. But that meant that when we got about halfway down the cup, the whole thing had softened just enough that we could get the spoon underneath what remained and flip the whole thing over. Now we’re chopping into the ice crystals and eating them along with the Italian ice. It’s like two treats in one cup!

So once again, I’ve gotten you to waste several minutes thinking about some of those stupid little things that bring so much pleasure to our lives. Hope you enjoyed the ride and I rather look forward to comments on this one, since everyone’s got some insights into these desserts.

And The Horse You Rode In On

Rufus T. Firefly: Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it – I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.

Duck Soup (1933)

—————————–

So despite my worries—and I was getting kind of worried in the last couple of days leading up to the event—my Annual Pig Roast was a success. My mother came up from Florida and we got to play Tourist and see some of the sights in addition to the party prep. I picked up the pig on Friday night instead of my usual Saturday morning, and we iced it down (it was still semi-frozen anyway) for the evening so that it would be ready to go when we got the fire started.

Let me tell you: it’s kind of tough to get a fresh pig around here, despite being so close to farm country. To be more specific, I promised someone that I’d make an effort to get a pig from a local source, with a low cruelty factor and a few other criteria. This proved to be very, very difficult, and quite expensive for reasons unrelated to the pig itself. I called one place that couldn’t help me (and was 30 miles away besides), and when I did get through to someone who could, his smallest pig was far too large for our needs. Plus, we’d have to pay an extra $65 butchering fee—to the first place that was 30 miles away. And—AND—that place only butchered on Mondays. What was I supposed to do with this huge pig the entire week? So: I tried, but I had to fall back to my usual source, which is Fenwick’s Meats in the Cross Street Market. Fenwick’s, as it happens, gets its pigs from a place in Iowa, at least according to the sticker on the end of the box.

This design was something I came up with several years ago. About a year or two ago, my brother and I independently located a website that used a nearly identical design. Synchronicity! On Friday afternoon, Daughter, Wee One and I assembled the grill in the alley behind the house. We laid down a couple of sheets of aluminum, then a single layer of lava rock was thrown in. The cinderblocks (4 x 8 x 16, if you’re keeping score) are held in several places with rebar, which also provides anchors for the grills themselves. The grills, in case you don’t recognize them, are stainless steel industrial shelving. We’re able to remove (or pivot) several of the blocks to add or move fuel, or to squirt down flare-ups.

On Saturday morning, Wife woke me up at 8:00 and I stumbled downstairs by 8:30. I made a pile of about 10 pounds of charcoal and squirted lighter fluid all over it. Once that burned down to ash, I took an iron rake and pushed most of it to the sides (specifically the corners) of the pit. Then I put the pig, which had been butterflied by the butcher, on the grill. From there on out, about every 20-30 minutes I’d throw in either more charcoal bricks or a chunk of wood. Partway through the day, a co-worker of mine brought down pieces of apple wood and apricot wood, and while they were prone to burning outright instead of just smoking, they did a lot (I think) for the finished product. So the pig cooked on this arrangement from about 9:00 until about 5:30. Nice timing, that, since many of the guests were at the house by then.

I’m going to dance around a few details here, so my apologies if the next couple of paragraphs don’t feel especially linear.

My co-worker friend and I cut up the pig and put the meat into pans, and enlisted a couple of people to bring the pans inside. As we got near the end, I decided that I needed to wash my hands and took one of the pans in myself. So with my greased-up hands I went into the house and wound up ducking around some people who were blocking my way. I dropped off the pan (Wife and her mom were parceling out the food to people). On my way out of the room, I again found myself blocked by the same people. They hadn’t moved at all despite their standing more or less in a doorway. So, clearly a little impatient but trying to maintain some sense of humor about it, I said something in what I thought was a“ha-ha” tone of voice, and moved on through. (I don’t remember specifically what I’d said, but it’s not really germane to the story.)

Only, they didn’t take it that way. They got insulted, they got pissed off, they left the party. They said nothing to me about it, although at one point one of their kids came over ranting about something and I had no idea what he was talking about. But here’s the kicker: they weren’t so pissed off that they stomped out right away, no siree. They took their time to eat our food and then decide that they were too pissed off to stay. They were there at least a half hour before they left, which is one of the reasons I didn’t know what the kid was going on about. (The other reason is that he doesn’t always make a pile of sense anyway.)

Wife was annoyed at me as well, because I’d managed to drive them away and they’re such good friends. Really? These are the the folks who are such good friends that you gave them their Christmas presents at this July event because it’s been that long since we saw them? (They weren’t too insulted to leave those behind, go figure.) These are the folks who, when you look at the caller ID and see it’s them, you have to decide whether or not to answer the phone? These are the folks who left Pig Roast 2007, also in a high state of insult, because we didn’t want them in the house while we attended to two simultaneous medical emergencies? Really? Would those be the good friends you’re referring to? And, let’s not forget that these were the people who called around 11:00 the day of the party to say that they were having car trouble and wondered if we could go pick them up from their home an hour from our house. Because clearly on a day when you’re having fifty people over, you’ve got nothing to do before they arrive. Frankly, I’m not sure that she holds the same opinion at this point. Her mother probably talked her down a little bit; She pointed out to me that they’re probably not going to stay “mad at us” because sooner or later they’re going to need some favor out of us and by then, All Will Be Forgiven. She also noted that I say plenty of things to piss her off too, but she just writes it off as being part of my personality. Thanks, I think.

So their departure went largely unnoticed, and their absence was not at all conspicuous. The party continued on until a little after midnight and so far as I could tell, everyone had a very good time.

And if my mother-in-law is right (I gotta say it: she often is), then I’m just going to have to enjoy the peace until “sooner or later” comes along.

A Little Cream in the Coffee

Mike: Maryland is for… lovers. Bumper sticker?
Sue Claussen: Virginia. Virginia is for lovers. Maryland is for crabs.

Management (2008)

———————–

The other night I attended a Crab Feast that was held over at Martin’s West.

This is notable for a couple of reasons: first, because it was the first time that I’d attended this annual event, since it was the first time that I was a member of the school system’s administrators’ union; and second, because I’d never been to Martin’s West before. This, for some reason, surprised many of my co-workers. Then some of them decided that it was because of my skin color.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been invited to an event that large since I moved down here. I will concede, however, that I did feel a bit like the inside of an Oreo.

I got to the event and, despite getting there only about ten minutes after the scheduled start, the place was hopping. There were lots of principals and several of my counterparts there, and there was a DJ up front playing music. Let me tell you about this DJ: he was terrible. If I’d been in a crappier mood, I’d have gone up to him to get his card specifically so I could tell you “Don’t hire this guy”.

Believe it or not, I say that rather reluctantly. I used to be a mobile DJ and I know what a tough job it is sometimes, especially when you get groups of varying types of people. When I did, say, birthday parties? No problem because everyone’s the same age and has similar tastes in music. But when you get those multigenerational groups, you get complaints when the music is too modern, or when it’s not modern enough, or the older people think it’s too loud and the younger people think it’s not loud enough, and you wind up playing the same few songs at these events and it just makes your brain hurt. So I know it can be a tough gig.

However: when you have a group like this, who are mostly of similar demographics, the job becomes stupidly easy. From that standpoint he did okay, but he had no sense of being able to go smoothly from one song to another (dude, it’s called a “segue”). He also found it necessary to play several songs more than once. I was only there for about two hours or so, and in one case I heard the same song three times. I’m kind of pissed off that my union dues paid for this guy.

For those of you who are white have also never been to Martin’s West before, it’s a pretty typical big Wedding Factory kind of place. Big, gaudy chandeliers, columns all over the place, sweeping staircases, heavy draperies everywhere and relatively dim lighting. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a catering hall with a terrazzo floor before, so there’s that.

The food wasn’t bad: it wasn’t just crabs that they served; there was an assortment of non-crab food out there, and they had a kind of “crab station” where you picked up your crabs three or four at a time, set up whatever condiments you liked for them (e.g. extra Old Bay, drawn-butter-flavored grease, etc), and an array of desserts, plus hot and cold beverages, including beer (which, everyone knows, goes fabulously with crabs).

The most amusing part to me, however, was the little tent cards that were propped up pretty much EVERYWHERE throughout the place:

PLEASE UNDERSTAND OUR PROBLEM: Our food is served continually and the amount is unlimited as long as you eat it here. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TAKE ANY FOOD OR BEVERAGE OFF THE PREMISES. ALL BAGS WILL BE EXAMINED

One of my co-workers saw that and remarked, “That’s so ghetto.” I don’t know if it’s that, but it’s certainly something. For what it’s worth, I left with a cup of hot tea in my hand and nobody challenged me.

My Food Is Holier Than Thy Food

Stanley Tibbets: [corrupting the Gestalt Prayer] I was put on this earth to do my thing…and you were put on this earth to do your thing…and if, by chance, our things should…meet…well, that’s groovy.

Foul Play (1978)

—————————–

Lots of people in the world appear to be able to agree with the basic tenets of “live and let live”, with the obvious exceptions. Your right to swing a fist ends where my nose begins, and so on. It doesn’t matter to me what you do with your life, so long as nobody is unnecessarily hurt. As Lazarus Long reminds us, “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful – just stupid).”

tigerbrit There are folks out there, however, who insist upon shoehorning some portion of their life into others’, posing it as some form of moral superiority. A good example of this would be back in January, when the Tiger Woods thing started to really break open. “Fox News Sunday” anchor Brit Hume commented that “[Woods is] said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'" In other words, My god is better than your god. That’s some strong stuff, coming from a guy who’s working on the Lord’s Day of Rest.

Frankly, I have no problem with people who hold a given point of view. I have many friends who are devout Christians who may express things as “God’s will” or feel that they’ve been blessed by something, and that’s fine. Whatever gets you to the next day is all right, in my book. I also have Jewish friends of all stripes, from the ones who walk to Temple all the way up to the ones who come to my house because I make a great shrimp boil. And if they express things in those terms, well that’s OK with me too. This may be a result of me growing up in a town that was probably half-Christian and half-Jewish at the time. Either that or I just happened to have a lot of Jewish classmates. If I find myself in Synagogue, I wear a yarmulke and do what’s needed. If I’m in church, I sit when I’m supposed to and I stand when I’m supposed to. My attitude is pretty much “Don’t jam it in my face and we’ll get along fine,” and that philosophy has carried me a long way, thanks. It never hurts to respect the other guy’s custom you know?

But this post, believe it or not, isn’t (strictly) about religion. So, before it veers into "some of my best friends are Jews" territory…

Most of you know by now that I stage a Pig Roast every year. It’s a fun little gathering that My Child Bride and I hold, “little” being defined rather like the wedding scene in the film Easy Money:

The point of the Pig Roast is to gather friends, co-workers and family together in one place for a day or so. Sometimes people come a long distance and stay in the area for a couple of days; those folks have the most fun, I think. I know of a couple of rather tight friendships that began at some of my parties, so for some they’ve been life-changers. So while a roasted pig is served, and is sort of the “centerpiece” of the day, it’s not really the point. As I noted above, I do have some friends who don’t eat the pork. I have others who don’t eat meat at all. These folks do not go hungry at my parties, any more than the people who don’t drink alcohol go thirsty. This fact, I stress repeatedly.

Having said all that, what I don’t understand is when someone feels compelled to RSVP something along the lines of “I’d come but you’re cooking a murdered animal and I can’t abide that.” This is an exaggeration, but not by much. Look, I get that you don’t eat meat but if you’re going to avoid every situation where meat is served then you’re going to be running in awfully small circles. And you’re certainly not going to convince me, or most of my friends, to come over to your side of the fence with inflammatory language, any more than Tiger Woods would be convinced by Brit Hume’s comments. So I’m not really sure what the point of expressing it that way would be, other than to express some sort of moral superiority gained through diet.

There are people who don’t really like to see the pig roasting. That’s fine, I get that. It’s especially odd-looking when you first put it over the heat. It’s one of the reasons that we cook it in the alley beyond the fence; you have to make a bit of an effort to go see it. See? I have some sensitivity.

The part I don’t get is, if I invited the same group of people to, say, a Christmas Party, it’s not as though I’d get a bunch of people declining to come “because we don’t believe in Jesus Christ and can’t be around people who do.” I did once make the mistake of inviting a Jehovah’s Witness to a birthday party; their reply was a polite “no, thank you.” I didn’t get a sermon on the reasons why JWs don’t celebrate birthdays (it’s an interesting reason, though). So why the proselytizing on this subject? I don’t know.

I’ve spent a long time composing this post because I don’t want to anger anyone or hurt feelings but I realize that in the long run, that’s probably impossible. I will say this: this is not directed at either AW or LM; you handled it just fine so far as I’m concerned. But there have been a couple of other people…wow.

This is not going to get into a debate on the merits of vegetarianism vs. carnivorism or omnivorism (and I promise I’ll delete any comments which do go that route); the fact is that, unless you’re growing literally everything that you eat, you’re contributing to the death of animals. Do you think someone walks ahead of the combine swatting mice and rabbits out of its path? However, what I’m unclear on is why this particular group of people feels it necessary to couch their reply to a party invitation in rather rude terms. Come on, people, I just thought it would be fun to hang out for an afternoon.

Head Line

Bart Simpson: That place is weird. A man in the bathroom kept handing me towels, until I paid him to stop.
Homer Simpson: [holding a stack of towels] Should have held out longer, boy!

The Simpsons, “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield” (2/4/96)

————————

Restaurant This evening, when I got home, Wee One told me that tonight was No Cooking Night.

“No Cooking Night” is a fundraiser for her school. Each month, a different restaurant in the area sponsors a No Cooking Night for the school. The idea is, the family goes out and has a meal at the restaurant, and the restaurant in turn kicks a piece of its take for the evening over to the PTA. It’s a pretty successful program, and it’s allowed the PTA to do some nice things for the school.

Wife was upstairs with a headache, so it was going to be just Wee One and me. And, because Wee One has her tumbling class, we had to leave right away. I didn’t have time to take off my tie, change into sneakers or much else. Back out the door we went.

This also meant that, by the time we got to the restaurant, I had to use the rest room. But since time was tight, I had to wait until after we’d ordered our meals. At that point I finally made the proverbial beeline for the Men’s Room.

At first, I was in there alone, using the only urinal in there. Shortly thereafter, a young boy came in, perhaps in the third grade. “Hi,” he said. Now, as it happens, I spend a lot of time in Wee One’s school, so I thought that maybe he’d seen me go into the bathroom and knew who I was. Plus, I was still wearing my ID tag from work. So I simply replied, “Hi there.”

Then he said to me, “My name’s Bobby*, what’s yours?”

I said, “I’m Mr. Call.”

Bobby went into the bathroom stall and said, “Hi, Mr. Call.”

I asked him, “Do you go to "[Wee One’s school]?”

He said, “No! I’m going to the bathroom!”

Made my night. Thanks, Bobby.

*Not his real name, of course.