January 2004 Archives

59 Years of Elbows

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I had breakfast at the Blue Benn Diner in Bennington this morning. The Blue Benn is a real one. That is, it�s a Silk City Diner built in 1945 and moved to Bennington in 1948. You walk in the door and there are maybe 6 booths and a long counter that is punctuated by the opening through which the staff bustles while serving the food. Folks used to suburban monstrosities that are all chrome and glass and the size of a roller-rink, with menus that read like War and Peace might be put off. It fit me like an old sweater.

As usual, it was filled with local regulars. The buzz of �Heya Joe, how�s the ice fishing going?� and �I�m late for work but I need another cup of coffee.� swirled around the room. Every conceivable space behind the counter was filled with plastic pockets holding signs for specials - �Gingerbread & Whipped Cream�, �Hungry Man Breakfast� and �Fresh Pies�. Being maybe 30 feet long and 12 feet wide, the intimacy envelopes you very quickly.

I swung my leg over a stool, sat down, and picked up a menu. As I looked down to pick my meal, I was immediately struck by the countertop. Now this top may or may not be the original but it sure looked it. It was covered in stainless steel and then a top layer of formica-type laminate. Over the years, thousands of folks like me have swung their legs over a stool for a meal. The evidence is there. In front of each and every stool there are two worn patches of laminate, right where your elbows land. Not just worn out, but completely worn away to five or six inches from the edge; smooth, contour map transitions from white to brown to shiny steel. They invite your elbows to settle in and get comfortable. They make you feel like you belong. They place you in 2004 and 1963 and 1948 all at the same time.

I was finishing up my bacon and eggs when the waitress dropped off the check. I mopped up the last of the yolks with my wheat toast and started to lean back to get up and pay the bill, but the counter called me back - to share one more cup of coffee with those 59 years of elbows.

Ultrasound Humor

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Wolly2.jpgI had to get an ultrasound exam today - no real problem, just a precautionary test because of family history. Being who I am, as soon as I laid down on the exam table, a stream of wisecracks and jokes because to burble through my head. Just as I was about to try my first bon mot on the technician, he told me to inhale deeply and hold my breath. That was probably fortunate for both of us, as it quickly dawned on me that hed probably heard these a million times before.

But, since they continue to burble through my head, I must release them here or inflict them on Nancy when she gets home. (Well, actually, you know Ill end up doing both)


JOKES I RESISTED TELLING THE ULTRSOUND TECHNICIAN

  • is it a boy or a girl?
  • can I get a wallet size for my wife?
  • gee, the last time someone squeezed out that much lube stuff (you finish this one)
  • let me try that - I've owned many a Wooly Willy in my time.
  • is that dime I swallowed in 1954 still in there?
  • yikes, my stomach looks just like Edward R. Murrow. Or maybe Edward R. Murrow looked just like my stomach.
  • that looks like a porn film from the 1920s.
  • is that my kidney waving?

There were more. Mercifully, theyve burbled out of my memory by now.

trANCHO CHIP COOKIES

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For a long time I've had this idea about combining chili powder and chocolate to make a chocolate chip cookie. The idea is not original, chilies and chocolate are combined all the time in Mexico and other Latin American countries. For this experiment, I chose to add a fair amount of cinnamon, also a Mexican standard with chocolate. I only found one recipe while searching the web but it produced a flat, hard cookie not to my liking. I combined Nancy's favorite basic chocolate chip recipe (via The Best Recipe) with the ancho/cinnamon combo and came up with these.


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The result is a chewy cookie with the smoky spice from the ancho chilies, the zing of the freshly ground cinnamon, and good old chocolate. These are not spicy in a Mexican food sense. The ancho delivers more flavor than heat.

Here's the recipe:

Pedigrees for the Masses

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Callie-Hat.jpgWhile browsing the Web a few weeks ago, trying to get a handle on what breed of cat Muriel might be descended from, I came across quite a few pedigree breeders. They all had pictures of their cats and listed their pedigree names and their call names. Almost all pedigree animals have call names because its hard to yell out Come on, Verismo Wotan of Valhalla! or Come on, Kittikmir Cosmic Phophacy of Jenew, when its time to feed them.

After reading about Archibald Mikita Mylordovich, Verismo Wotan of Valhalla, Blazers Pink Champagne Wishes, and Galatia Fallen Angel of Ambar I decided that we just plain cat owners should also come up with our own pedigree names. The typical pedigree name begins with the breeders kennel or cattery name, followed by names which denote the ancestral line, etc. Since pedigree is, by definition, a documentation of ancestry and since 99% of the cats and dogs I know are from dubious, if not unknown, ancestry, I propose that we simply use names that best describe our beasts.

Thus, Callie (shown above) might be Bigbutt Scaredy Rub Me or Shedsalot Pinhead of Buttrub. Muriel is still a kitten but enough of her traits are emerging to call her Hairytoes Longtail of Windex or Twist-ties Catnip Tailchaser .

Here is the challenge. Come up with a pedigree name or two for your pet and drop it in the comments. It can be a past or present pet. There are no rules.

Enough for Today

I've spent too much time already today on this redesign and it's time to quit. Most of the pages are okay now. The logo graphics need work and some of the layouts need tweaking, but I'm happy about how it looks at this point in the process.

Please leave a comment if you find any problems or have any suggestions.

Good night...

Rebuilding

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As you can see, I'm in the middle of redesigning the site. Certain screens will look funny for a while as I get to the archive and comments templates and make them match the main screen.

Yum Makes Me Gag

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I hope that you aren�t one of those people who I have been running across all too often lately who suffer from the serious vocabulary disability which results in a compulsion to use a monosyllabic utterance when trying to describe how good food tastes. If so, I would very much like to help you. Treatment recommendations are at the bottom of this entry. You can jump there now if this is something that has really been bothering you and my offer of help is the first that you�ve received. If you are having trouble seeing my concern about your disability, read on.

�This is a yum dessert.� �We had dinner at Antonio�s restaurant last night, yum!� �He made a really yum cake.� Try saying these out loud when you are alone. Then take this short quiz.

  • Aren't you embarrassed?

  • Does saying this make you feel uneducated?

  • Have you ever read a book?

  • I don't even know what the hell "yum" means.

  • It made me hum "Yummy, yummy, yummy, I have love in my tummy."
    and laugh out loud.

  • (Give yourself 1 point for each YES answer)

  • Do these make you want to get boob-job and dyed your hair blonde?

  • Are you over thirteen years old?

  • Did the descriptions make your mouth water?

  • Did you have to take the gum out of your mouth in order to say them out loud?

  • Have you used the word "yum" in the past year?

  • If Emeril can use the word, it's all right by me.

  • (Give yourself 1 point for each NO answer)

    Add up your score. If you scored 9 or less, go right to the treatment section below. If you scored 9 or more, you can feel smug and go do something else.

    Treatment
    Though a complete cure may not be possible, the following treatments may ease your condition somewhat. Since this is a relatively new field, only two established treatments are available.

    Aversion Therapy
    You come stay a week with Nancy and me in our Vermont home. We prepare all your meals. You can feel free to use the word �yum� to describe anything that we feed you. Each time you do, I will reach across the table and smack you hard across the head. �Yum� usually fades from the patient�s vocabulary within five days.

    Self-Directed Therapy
    For thirty minutes each day you repeat the following phrases over and over out loud in the privacy of your home:

    �Yum, I�m an ass.�
    �Yum makes me gag.�
    �Yum tastes like crop.�
    �Yum, I�m a moron.�
    �Yum, screw you!�
    �Yum, I need to vomit.�

    Soon they will be popping out in your normal speech. The rest will take care of itself.

    I hope this helps.

    If you�d like to read my research on the etymological roots of the word �yum�, click below.

    I have two sets of siblings. Of the seven children that my parents raised in our house in Queens, NY, we really break down to the four of us born in the post-war era (1946 - 1952) and the three born later (1958 - 1966). Let's call one set my comtemporary siblings and the other my LOBC (lack of birth control) siblings.

    Whenever I get together with one of my contemporary siblings I am constantly frustrated by their ability to remember events and people from our youth. Once described, the event seeps back into my consciousness and the characters form hazy memories, but they would be gone forever if left to my ability to remember. As the stories unwind all becomes more clear and the memory gets re-installed for some period of time.

    In order to compensate for this lost facility I have decided to re-invent my youth in my imagination. I will write about events that may or may not have occured and people who may or may not have existed. Most will be based on hazy recollections or snippets of recall that percolate into my brain. This frees me to embellish and entertain myself without the restrictions normally associated with memories.

    A word of warning to my contemporary and LOBC siblings. No postings will be allowed challenging my veracity, the accuracy of events, or the description of characters. I even reserve the right to invent new siblings as I please. I will treat our parents with all the respect and honor I have shown them in life (I know you are all rolling your eyes at that one) but they, too, will be molded to fit my imaginings.

    On the other hand, some stories will be essentially true because I've been able to recall them with some clarity. There won't be many of these.

    I'll call these entries My Imagined Youth - M.I.Y.

    So let's start...

    Muriel Recovering Nicely

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    muriel_recovery.jpgAs you can see from the accompanying photo, Murial is recovering nicely from her "snip and tuck" today at Green Mountain Veterinary Hospital. Though a bit weak from the 8 hours of fasting that preceded her "spay-job", as she calls it, her spriits are high and she looks forward to resuming her normal, active lifestyle tomorrow when she returns home.

    "Please thank all my well-wishers and blog fans for the beautiful flowers and cards," she asked. "They were delicious."

    National Gorilla Suit Day

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    National Gorilla Suit Day is an oft-forgotten January holiday. Invented by the cartoon genius Don Martin in Mad Magazine in the early 1960�s, the holiday was chronicled in the adventures of Fester Bestertester and his sidekick Karbunkle.

    The main, in fact only, activity of the day was for everyone to dress up in gorilla suits and then go door to door wishing all a happy National Gorilla Suit Day. Though Bestertester always asserted, "Everybody knows it's just a ploy by the gorilla suit companies to sell their products," he got no support in his quest for justice.

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    Unfortunately for Fester and Karbunkle, they seemed destined to have an unending parade of characters knock on their door and for various (and no) reasons, proceed to unzip their suits to reveal real gorillas and other creatures underneath. The visitors would then proceed to beat the crap out of one or both of the hapless chumps.

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    Don Martin died a few years ago but his delightfully warped sense of humor influenced a generation of MAD magazine readers. Fester's floppy feet were always a favorite of mine. Look in used book stores or Abe's Books for any of the dozen or so books that Martin published.

    Happy National Gorilla Suit Day.

    MS_POTATO-small.jpgBERLIN (Reuters) - German police are investigating after an angry man returned a computer he had just bought saying it was packed with small potatoes instead of computer parts.

    The store replaced the computer free of charge but became suspicious when he returned a short time later with another potato-filled computer casing, police in the western city of Kaiserslautern said on Monday.

    "The second time he said he didn't need a computer any more and asked for his money back in cash," a police spokesman said.

    Police are now investigating the man for fraud.

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    They've got some pretty sharp sales people in Kaiserslautern...

    It�s been well below freezing for a few days now. That is a bit of an understatement. It has been friggin cold here for a few days now with lows in the -12� range and highs around 3�. I�ve come to realize, though, that I�m one of those people with high metabolisms who can handle cold weather pretty well. It�s not really bad as long as you don�t decide to stroll down to the bookstore first thing in the morning.

    But this extreme cold is accompanied by dry high pressure systems and the house, which was at a relatively tropical 35% humidity until the humidifier fan broke last week, (not what you�d expect from a humidifier made by the Hunter Fan Company, now would you?) is down to 19%. The Sahara Desert is usually around 25%.

    Everything in the house has static now. Nancy & I exchange a good jolt whenever we kiss. The cat gets 3500 volts when I go to pet her. I wrap my hand in my sleeve before I touch a doorknob.

    This morning I got up, slid out of bed (making it worse), and pulled on my favorite hanging-out pants - a pair of polyester gym pants with those pass� stripes down the side and the zippers near the ankles that make them easy to pull off over my track shoes at the Olympics every four years. Instantaneously they looked as though I had shrink wrapped them on. I swear you could see my leg hair through the fabric. And, not wearing and underwear, (yes, I sleep in the buff - close your eyes and imagine it now�) it looked like the pants had a codpiece. It was when I tried to move that the first shock came.

    Static shocks start at 1000 volts and a good zap can be 21,000 volts or more. Every step I took gave me a good zap. Right leg - bzzzzt, left leg bzzzt, right leg bzzzzzzt, left leg bzzzzzt. By the time I made it downstairs my eyebrows were sticking straight out and I could feel the aura around me. The cats sensed it and ran.

    I managed to get to my trusty Zerostat gun just in time. Zapping up and down my legs, the static fell away in just a few seconds. I felt confident that I could touch the electric coffee maker without causing an explosion. The coffee was set up and started to brew. I walked over to the refrigerator to get the milk. 15,000 volts hit my ass.

    The gym pants have been retired for the time being. Maybe the humidifier will return from the service department soon. Maybe we�ll have a January thaw and a bit of rain. Most likely not. The pants will have to stay on their shelf. A man can�t live for long with static in his pants.

    Why I Love Vermont - #1

    VT Diner.jpgI know that this is not unique to Vermont, but it occurs here more than many places in the country. Nancy and I are already planning a road trip.

    A Short Order Revolutionary - NY Times Magazine - 1/11/04

    GOOD Coffee Isn't - #1

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    I like good coffee. Thats a little pickier than it first sounds. You see, I like GOOD coffee.

    GOOD coffee depends on just two factors: GOOD coffee beans & GOOD preparation.

    From time to time I'll drop an entry here about what I think makes GOOD coffee and why most coffee sucks. I'll try to limit my polemics but you have to know that I'll be finding it hard to do, so there will be many of these spread out over time. I'll separate them into what GOOD coffee is and isn't. Let's start with some isn'ts (did I just invent a new word?)

    ==================================================

    GOOD coffee doesnt come from a can - ever. Hardly anything good to eat ever comes from a can, if you think about it. Freshly roasted coffee gives of CO2 for a few days after roasting. It's part of the bean's reaction to roasting and it helps produce body and rich flavor. If the manufacturers canned fresh coffee, the cans would expolde at some point from the CO2 gas; so they let grind it and let it "stale" for a while before canning. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it? If that doesn't bother you, please don't invite me for dinner. Your coffee probably sucks, anyway.

    GOOD coffee isn't ever pre-ground - ever. Coffee goes completely stale within an hour after being ground. Even if you use one of those grinders in the market, your coffee is stale by the time you get it home. Worse, it's probably been contaminated by candy-coffee (see below) that was ground just before you arrived. And who knows what some snot-nosed kid has thrown in the machine when you weren't looking. Really... think about it...

    GOOD coffee doesnt come from Starbucks - ever. Starbucks coffee is over-roasted to the point where you loose all the taste of the coffee variety and just taste the "Charbucks" style of roast. People who tell you that they don't like Starbucks coffee because it is "too strong" are are right not to like it but wrong as to why. As coffee roasts the natural sugars start to carmelize, adding sweetness and flavor. Roasted too long, the sugar turns to carbon. Those "too strong" folks are really tasting the carbonized remains of the beans. I give you dispensation to use a Starbucks in an emergency. I do. But I wash my mouth out with GOOD coffee when I get home. I do.

    GOOD coffee isnt flavored - ever. Hazelnut, eggnog, almond, Irish crme, and chocolate orange are for candy, not coffee. Have a piece along with your GOOD coffee, but dont muck up your brew with chemo-flavor. Candy-coffee is for people who don't like coffee. If you like candy coffee, I'll just have to think less of you. (But by now you probably aren't surprised that I would...)

    More to come...

    Rebooting the Dishwasher

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    Last night I finished loading the dishwasher, pushed the start button and walked away. It is brand new and hardly makes any noise when running. That's why I didn't notice that it conked out until Nancy called me a while later to show me that all the lights were out and it wasn't responding to any of the push-buttons.

    The circuit breaker was fine, but I flipped it a few times anyway. Nothing.

    This morning I called the appliance place where we bought it and they sent a repairman a little while ago. Within 5 minutes he had it running.

    "It just had to be rebooted," he told me with a smile on his face.

    Yes - rebooted. Now it's not just the damned computer that crashes and gets hung up, it's your appliances, too.

    It must be running Windows in there. Linux wouldn't do that...

    Pete Rose

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    So Pete Rose finally admits that he bet on baseball games and that his banishment from basebell was based on fact.

    An admission after fourteen years of lying is supposed to wipe away the stain and pave the way for Hall of Fame eligibility.

    Doesn't that make it worse?

    Fresh Snow

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    Our snow was freshened again last night. About 2 inches coated everything when we rose this morning.

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    The snow doesn�t have much of a chance to get grey and brown here. It�s almost as though Vermont orders up a batch every few days just to keep up appearances. It causes no inconvenience. It simply assures that you see the ground snow through the spindles of the tree trunks when you look up at the mountains. It guarantees that the evening sun turns all the pastel shades as it bounces off the frosted hillside branches and steep-pitched rooftops. The sunrise is that much brighter and the earth seems more comfortable under its blanket.

    We�ll probably have snow on the ground until March or April. By that time we will all be aching for warmth and rooting for the buds and shoots to push past the last mounds and start to turn Vermont back into the Green Mountain State. But for now it�s just fine.

    With a few more inches we can put on the snowshoes and walk to where you no longer hear the roads, only the crunching of your feet and the sound of your own breathing.

    French Onion Soup

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    We are well into French Onion Soup (FOS) weather and I've made two batches already this winter. (Yes, I know, astronomical winter just started a couple of weeks ago, but don't get picky with me - winter starts right after Thanksgiving in Vermont...). FOS is one of my favorite foods and also one of my biggest frustrations. 90% of the FOS you are served in restuarants is dismal stuff filled with undercooked onions and bland broth. Chances are that they will plop mozzerella cheese on top, adding insult to injury. There are only two options - go to a good french restaurant or make it yourself.

    I must say that I make a damned fine FOS. So here's my recipe, with all proper acknowledgements to Julia Child for the spice recommendation...

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    6-8 medium onions sliced in 1/4" slices
    3 tbps olive oil
    2 tbps butter
    1 quart beef broth (make it from scratch if you've got all day and a load of beef bones, etc. otherwise use low salt canned broth)
    2 bay leaves
    a pinch of cloves
    2-3 tbs brandy or cognac
    gruyere cheese, thinly sliced
    1 baguette

    • Heat the olive oil and butter in a 2 quart saucepan
    • Add the onions and cook over medium heat. This is the most important step. The trick is to carmelize the onions slowly and gently. It is, after all, onion soup and you want the onions to go through several phases - first they get hot, then they start to sweat, soon they become languid and relaxed, their color deepens and they give off and deep sweet smell. They need occassional stirrring - don't let them get too hot and scorch. There should be no burning that adds bitterness. All this will take 1/2 hour or more. Do it right and you will be rewarded.
    • As the onions near carmelization, heat the broth with the bay leaves in a separate saucepan.
    • When the onions are done, add the heated broth and stir gently, making sure to scrape all the intense carmelized bits off the bottom and side of the saucepan.
    • Add the brandy/cognac and the pinch of clove (make sure this is a small pinch of clove. You want the person tasting your FOS to realize that there is a spice there but have to concentrate to figure out what it is).
    • Allow this to return to a simmer for 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can remove it from the heat and let it sit until you are ready for the final preparation.
    • Toast 8 thin slices from the baguette
    • Preheat the broiler and arrange the top rack about 6 inches from the flames/element
    • Place four ovenproof bowls on a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan
    • Place 2 baguette slices in each of the bowls
    • Ladle the FOS over the bread slices almost to the brim
    • Lay slices of cheese over the soup to cover the top
    • Heat under the broiler until the cheese is melted and begins to brown up
    • Serve with the rest of the baguette, butter, a big salad and a good red wine
    • There should be just enough left over for your lunch the next day if you don't let any of your guests know the pot isn't empty

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    This page is an archive of entries from January 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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