Monday, January 31, 2005

Quail Mail

When Tom told me he had some quail for me to cook he said it like this:

"Hey, Bill, I've got some quail for you. You do know how to cook quail, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah, sure thing."

I'm sure I exuded confidence. My reputation as a camp cook was being tested in real-time because we were out there in the woods, miles from civilization and more importantly for me, miles from an Internet connection where I could Google "quail recipes." Time to transform into Iron Chef!

I ordered a fire to be built mostly to stall for time. More fire. More fire! More COWBELL! Meanwhile I rummaged through my provisions and took stock: bacon, mushrooms, tortillas, jalapenos, onion, some kind of sausage, tomatoes, cilantro and an assortment of spices. Hmmmm, eeess pozzible eef only I had Moose and Squirrel.

The basic blueprint went like this. I minced the mushrooms and some onion and sauted them. Then I minced some tortillas and mixed it in with the mushroom-onion to make a sort of stuffing which I seasoned. I did something similar with the sausage which I stuffed into split jalapenos.

The quail had been dressed and looked like itty bitty chickens, which I guess they are and that should lead into a whole raft of "tastes like chicken" jokes which you will thank me profusely for avoiding. Thank YOU. I stuffed each quail with one of the stuffings and wrapped each one in a strip of bacon. Then I arranged the quails in a Dutch oven, tossed in a few chopped onions and carrots for fun, added a little water and and butter and stuck it on the fire, rather covered it with coals.

Then I got distracted.

So, I'm out there joking around and having a grand time while my quails are being incinerated in a firey Dutch oven not under my watchful eye. Finally, I glance over to the fire and I see smoke coming out of the Dutch oven. Not steam. Smoke.

Not a good sign.

Casually, I sauntered over to the fire and removed the Dutch oven as if I were in complete control (as opposed to complete panic which is closer to what I was really feeling) , wrangled the pot to my camp kitchen and lifted the lid. The quail were in obvious distress and my first thought was to lower the temperature so I poured in some water which hissed and spit, boiled immediately and created a huge cloud of steam. It was very impressive.

When the steam subsided and the pot cooled a bit I stirred the bottom and discovered that the quail were perfectly cooked and the water had turned the incinerated onions and carrots into a nice gravy. Thinking fast I garnished the dish with some chopped cilantro.

It was the stuff of legend. Nothing like a bunch of starving guys in the woods to appreciate a near disaster. After all the chomping and gnashing, replete with yum-yum noises, subsided someone said "Man, that was great quail. You gotta give me your recipe."

Uh, yeah, I'll mail it to you.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A La Cart

I don't mind shopping for food. In fact, I like it. I'm transported back to my cave man ancestry braving the wilds, foraging for dinner, unknown dangers lurking at every turn.

Granted, the local supermarket is not exactly the great outdoors and the food doesn't run from the shelves at my approach as would deer and quail. Nevertheless I have a feeling of satisfaction as I load the truck with bounty deftly acquired. It's not easy, you know, foraging. Sometimes I return to my expectant family only to report that I failed to score a mango. Sorry, guys, I think they're out of season. They don't buy it. They know the mango got away, and they're right. It did.

I didn't expect my cart to get away, though.

I was at the meat and seafood counter waiting my turn. The meat and seafood counter is cool because they have a recording of a seagull that plays at random intervals. The seagull is cool.

So, the lady says "Is the shrimp fresh?" "Yes, m'am, from the gulf this morning." "How 'bout the snapper? Is it fresh?" "Yes, m'am, from the gulf this morning." "What about the Alaskan King Crab? That fresh?" "Yes, m'am, from the gulf this morning." "Hey, how can King Crab be fresh from the gulf this morning?" "They migrate, m'am, they migrate."

"OK, I take 10 pounds fresh Alaskan King Crab."

Finally, my turn came and I asked for 2 pounds of fresh, gulf filet mignon. Did it migrate from Alaska this morning, I enquired.

You know, you'd think the meat and seafood manager would have just a little bit of a sense of humor. Alas, not so.

I turned to drop my kill into my cart, and I know this is hard to believe, but my cart was gone! I imagined myself a Neanderthal ancestor about to drop his haunch of mastedon into his, uh, well, into his...what? What would a Neanderthal drop his haunch of mastedon into? Oh, yeah, his Volvo!

Imagine my Neanderthal ancestor's surprise when he turned around and his Volvo was gone! That must have been some surprise! Well, my cart was gone and I felt the same way. Exactly.

The meat and seafood manager offered, "I think that blonde lady took your cart. She went into the ice cream aisle." Yeah, and a dingo aite your baybah! I hustled off to the ice cream aisle and sure enough there was my cart being filled with Blue Bonnet Dark Chocolate ice cream. Now, I was quite torn by this dilemma. On the one hand the rogue lady was putting stuff into my cart and on the other hand she was putting good stuff into my cart. What to do, what to do?

I decided that she might start loading my cart with frozen okra which is a definite clash with Blue Bonnet Dark Chocolate ice cream, so I intervened ever so politely and said "Excuse me, I think you have my cart."

To which she replied, "Well, it's not my fault! I bought mushrooms, too!" Then she stalked off.

I dropped my steaks on top of the ice cream and strode off to the checkout lane. Whistling. Dark Chocolate ice cream. Yeah, baby!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Alien vs Predator

In the kitchen arena I think Predator would win. It all comes down to presentation,. Alien would be all messed up with food spread everywhere. Predator would have a few dishes, mostly human, set out in an attractive arrangemenet with flowers and a nice sauce.

Well, that's my opinion.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What Happened Later

What happened later was that the light burned out. Not exactly out out but that sort of half-death that fluorescent lights do for 20 or 30 years. A half-assed flicker that drives you insane and blind at the same time. (which reminds me of a drink I had once in Flagstaff, Arizona, but that was a long time ago and all the damage was paid for and most of the people who were locked up have been released by now, or at least I think so.)

Ordinarily I'd let a burned out light bulb ripen for a while. I'm a great believer in ripening. I've determined that many tasks get done green. It's bad for the task and it's bad for you. Work must be savoured and you can't savour work if it's green. Most people say that I put things off until the last minute. They miss the point entirely. I'm merely allowing the work to ripen so I can savour it properly. A burned out light bulb, for example, might take a year to ripen.

A half-dead, somewhat scorched fluorescent light fixture in my kitchen that requires beaucoup de photons, however, ripens very quickly. So, on the way home from work the other day I made an unprecidented visit to Lowes to buy a couple of replacement fluorescent tubes. I don't think I've ever been in Lowes on a weekday. It was weird to say the least. Dead. Hardly anybody there. Maybe five people.

They were all buying fluorescent tubes. I walked down the aisles. Nobody in Paint. Nobody in Kitchen. Nobody in Lumber. Nobody in Tools. Five people in Lights. Very strange. I picked up my tubes and headed for the checkout line.

If you've ever been to Lowes on a weekend you know the place is packed with masses of people. And they're buying big things. Fence posts. Bathtubs. Farm buildings. Riding mowers. Or lots of little things. 200 paint brushes. 15,000 half-inch hex nuts.

Checking out of Lowes on a weekend is the pits because they only have 4 out of 16 checkout lines open. I don't know why they bother to set up 16 lines when they never use more than four. Who are they trying to fool? On a weekend I always go to Lowes packing a lunch and a canteen of water. I'm going to need it just for checking out.

Weekday, I figured I was in Fat City. Four lines open, no waiting, check out at Warp Factor 5. I was on my way.

On my way to One Line open. One Line. One light lit. Number 6, open for check out. Nine people in line. It went something like this. The first person in line had a basket of about 10 items. The checker examined each item as if it were a museum piece and very gently slid it over the barcode reader.


Then the next item. The checker was very careful with the box of nails apparently manufactured by Hummel. Finally, she got to the last item, the customer handed over his credit card and the checker said, "Sorry, the credit card reader thing isn't working. You'll have to go to Customer Service so they can do it by hand." Not realizing what was going to happen next I allowed myself a Beavis and Butthead chuckle and mumbled, "heh heh heh heh! She said 'do it by hand' heh heh heh heh"

My mirth was short lived as she patiently examined the cart of Customer Number Two and once all the items in his cart had been thoroughly examined and skillfully, albeit s.l.o.w.l.y. passed over the barcode reader, announced "Sorry, the credit card reader thing isn't working. You'll have to go to Customer Service so they can do it by hand."

At this point I realized I wasn't in Beavis and Butthead but the Twilight Zone! Seven people were in front of me with enough hardware to rebuild Hoover Dam and had two tubes and a dark kitchen to fix. They all had credit cards at the ready. And they were all totally clueless. Could they not see that the Credit Card Thing wasn't working? Oh, the humanity!

A full thirty minutes later, I kid you not, I became Customer Number One and the checker dutifully, and very, very carefully, because I was carrying radioactive glass covered in tarantulas, registered my purchase and as her mouth began to form the word "Sorry", in fact, I heard her say "Ssss", I broke in loudly and exclaimed "I HAVE CASH!"

Momentarily, it crossed my mind that she may have never seen cash and wouldn't know what to do with it, but surprise, surprise, she pushed a button, change clattered into the little change bucket (I love those machines) and thirty minutes and 10 seconds after I got in line, I was free. Kicked loose. Matriculated. Out. Of. There.

I scuttled to my car clutching my purchase close to my body lest a fluorescent tube mugger make off with my well-earned goods, muttering to myself like Gollum, "My Precious bulbs! My Prescioussss!" Young mothers hustled their children away from my path. "Going to Lowes?", I sneered, "I hope you have lots of CASH! Hahahahaha!"

Finally, I got home, climbed up on the gas range island, in the gloom, and removed the scorched, plastic light diffuser from the light enclosure. If you're wondering what the "scorch" is about, read Lightly Toasted below. Replacing the tubes proved anticlimatic compared to the Fooming and the Twilight Zone experience. As I wrestled the plastic diffuser back into place I noticed that my fingers left a streak in the soot.

Streak in the soot? Hmmmmm, could it be?

I dampened a sponge and to my great amazement cleaned all the soot from my beloved diffuser and soon it was good as new. Once back in place the light looked totally unfoomed. I scampered across to the light switch and in my best Ace Ventura voice rasped, "Let there be LIGHT!"

And there was. And it was good. Bathed in photons I poured myself a Gin & Tonic and rested.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lightly Toasted

Light infuses my kitchen. Many windows invite billions and billions, well, OK, zillions of photons to stream through every second, except at night although a few rogue photons manage to find their way having traveled all the way from Alpha Centauri, or wherever.

But I digress.

Most of the light comes from my fantastic four-tube flourescent light fixture centered smack dab over my gas range. The tubes are 48" long, encased in a box built into the ceiling and protected by a thin, white, plastic diffuser which sends light streaming into every nook and cranny of the kitchen. (All these details are important, so pay attention.) A large kitchen with high ceilings provides a great environment, condusive to preparing grand and adventurous meals.

Did I mention I like fire? That, too.

Given the chance I'll flame anything, but mostly I like flaming beef, chicken, pork and occasionally shrimp. No, I don't flame armadillos; I prefer them boiled.

Brandy is my faviorite fuel for flaming. It delivers a clean taste, just a little sweet, but doesn't overpower the food like whiskey or kerosene. I've tried other libations like vodka, rum, gin and saki with mixed results. I wasn't keen on the aftertaste of vodka. Rum succeeds with fruit, like bananas, peaches and apples, and leaves a memorable taste. Gin was pretty nasty and saki just sat there and bubbled. I didn't really think that saki would ignite because the alcohol content is so low; about the same result as vermouth.

With all this experimentation and experience you'd think that I'd have a handle on this flambe business. You would be wrong. Occasionally I get one of these "Hey, y'all watch this!" notions and things usually go south from there.

Such was the case when I toasted the light.

It started as beef stroganoff and in retrospect the stroganoff turned out to be one of my better efforts. At one point during it's preparation I didn't think I was going to have enough to feed all the firemen, but since disaster was averted I never had to find out for sure.

I sauted the beef for my stroganoff in butter in my large, 12" saute pan that has two-inch sides. Some water cooked out of the beef and I waited for that to boil off before I added too much brandy. The operative words in that last sentence are "too much." How much is too much? Well, that's hard to say because I generally don't measure things when I cook. I approximate. Sometimes I 'proximate a little bloop and sometimes I 'proximate a couple of glugs.

This time I 'proximated two glugs and a glerk.

Mistake two was probably letting it sit on the stove a tad too long. What is a tad too long? Normally after a bloop or a glug I wait about two seconds for the brandy to start to boil, then I tip the pan so the gas flame ignites the vapors. There's a little foom noise and a flame shoots up about two feet to the Oh's and Ah's of any bystanders.

This time I waited the customary two seconds, then said "Hey, y'all watch this!" That added another two seconds. Now, it's a well known fact that here in Texas the final, resting words of most people who die, usually in a horrible way, are "Hey, y'all watch this!"

By the time my audience had turned around the brandy had created a huge, invisible vapor cloud which, when I tipped the pan, ignited with a terrific FOOOOMMMM, flames leaping eight feet vertically into the air, then several feet horizontally as they blasted across my 4-tube flourscent light fixture.

Instead of the Oh's and Ah's I usually hear, the crowd was shouting "Holy shit" and running for the front door. Cowards.

The flames died down in a few seconds. The smell of the brandy flambed meat filled the kitchen and completely masked the odor of burned hair. The light, on the other hand, was lightly toasted.

I'll tell you what happened to that later.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Dale's Special

I don't know who Dale is; he might have been the cook or the owner or a customer of Bayou City Seafood and Pasta at 4730 Richmond Avenue in Houston. I put that in bold because it's a plug for one of my favorite restaurants in Houston and I've eaten there many, many times. The menu is extensive and all the offerings look, sound and smell delicious. But, in all the times I've eaten there, over several years, I've eaten only a single combination:

A cup of seafood gumbo and a Dale's Special.

That's what I had the first time I went to Bayou City and that's what I had the 50th time, and two through 49 as well.

Why tempt fate? What if by the infinitesimally small chance (did I spell that right?), what if by the infinitesimally small chance I tried something else and it just wasn't quite as good as a Dale's Special? That would be like wasting a Dale's Special. Like ordering one and not eating it. I might go to my grave having had one less Dale's Special than I could have. People would talk.

"Crying shame, don't you know." "Coulda had one more Dale's Special." "Yep, downright sad it is."

So, what is a Dale's Special?

To be honest, I don't really know. I've tried to duplicate it because I know what's in it, but it never comes out "right." Close, but no ceegar. This doesn't taste like my mama's meatloaf. Needs more cowbell. More cowbell!

A Dale's Special has two parts. Part 'A' is rice. Easy enough to do. That part, Part 'A', I've got a lock on. Rice, I got.

Part 'B' is the seafood combination. Not easy to do. That part, Part 'B', I've got no clue. Seafood combination, I don't got.

Part 'B' contains shrimp, scallops, fish, lobster, crab and crawfish. Also onions, chopped tomato and (I think) fish stock. It's all sauted up and served next to the rice. The sauce is thin; butter, stock, something spicy. That's the part that eludes me to this day. I think it's cooked in a very hot pan very quickly. It's not something that's been sitting around all day and dumped on a plate, like a chowder or gumbo. It's fresh, hot and, apparently, addictive.

I have come close with myDale'sSpecial Version 1.2 beta, but it's still buggy. Not quite the same. Not the Real Thing.

Oh, and if you get a chance to visit Bayou City don't bother trying to order a Dale's Special. It isn't on the menu. Well, not by that name. They renamed it the Brigantine. I don't know why.

And that's it.

Geeze Louise I forgot the gumbo! Yeah, it's probably the best gumbo I've ever had. Did I tell you that I've tried to duplicate it at home. Yes, indeedy, true story, I've been stirring this roux since December and...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Pre-Camp, Camp, Post-Camp


I went camping this weekend, so this is a three-fer; three days with one posting. It's not exactly a cheat since I vowed to post every day, but some days I just don't have a *gasp* Internet Connection.

The schedule on Friday was tight. I was supposed to fly in to Houston in the morning, spend a few hours at the office doing very critical things that would alter the stock price and possibly ignite the next Economic Boom, go home to repack my pack, pick up the Kid and head for the hills.

Most of this went OK but plans are subject to the whims of Mother Nature, Human Nature and Adolescent Hormones, the last of which cause the brain to go numb.

Mother Nature provided fog. Thanks, Mother Nature, the fog was really cool and I especially liked the part where the wheels came down as we descended through thick cloud and we were all, like, wha? why tha wheels goin' down when we're so high up. The pilots, bless their pea pickin' hearts neglected to tell us that we were flying blind as a bat into Houston and barring any mountains that appeared by magic we'd be OK. Well, mountains or tall buildings or trees or power lines or light poles or other planes or that furry thing in Twilight Zone that tried to rip up the wing and scared the hell out of William Shatner.

I continued to read my Mad Magazine. What, me worry?

We broke through the soup at like zero feet and thumped down on the runway as our flight attendant chirped (as if this was ROUTINE) Welcome to Houston, y'all.

As we got off the plane the folks watching us from the terminal probably thought we were all Muslim because we were walking down the steps from the plane, falling to our knees and kissing the tarmac. Hey, whatever works I always say.

The Camp

No Internet Connection is not that bad. OK, yes it is, but with the correct mental attitude it can be tolerated for a short period. However, I found myself looking at a tree and wondering "Hmmm, what kind of tree is that?" and being frustrated by not having access to Google. I expect in the future, just six months before we all have anti-gravity belts, that there will be a cool device that I can just point to the unknown tree and it will read out "Hickory, stupid." I also expect future electronic devices to have an attitude.

Camp was cool. No, let me correct that. Camp was downright cold. Yeah, I know that Frostbite Falls, Wisconsin got down to minus 50-something but so what? Anything less than about positive 40 feels the same. Chilly, cold, it's only a matter of degrees. (ha! that's a joke, son!) We got down to 25 F which is below freezing and I was in a mood to sing Kumbyah with my cheesehead friend just out of sympathy.

Hill Country, Texas, can get a bit nippy. Forecast was for 22 F and 30 mph winds. It was cold and it was windy. We camped in a grove of trees and were quite sheltered. We didn't get much wind on us but we could hear the wind in the trees.

Food wise it was pretty basic: oatmeal in the morning, cold tuna fish in a pouch for lunch and some kind of rehydrated rice thing for dinner.

We survived.

Post Camp

If one acts pitiful enough following a camping trip, one can get a meal cooked for one. That's my philosophy and I'm sticking with it as long as I get a free meatloaf after the trip.

"We're having meatloaf tonight, is that OK?"

"No, that's pretty unimaginative considering I've eaten oatmeal and rehydrated rice-thing in the freezing cold for the past two days. Try again!"

An unlikely response.


Who doesn't have a meatloaf story? I used to hate meatloaf as a kid. I think most kids do.

And, I don't know why. Meatloaf is a hit at our house and maybe it's the recipe or maybe it's the beatings if you don't eat it, go figger.

Our meatloaf is a mixture of many ingredients and although similar is never the same each time. We mix hamburger and pork sausage, onions, mushrooms (sometimes), an egg, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, garlic, black pepper, dried onion flakes, basil, garlic (yeah, twice, so sue me) and nutmeg if I do it. All that raw stuff is kneaded for at least 5 minutes, formed into a loaf, placed in a bread pan and cooked at 350 F until done. "Done" is when an instant read thermometer reads 160 F or about 2 hours. I pour in a quarter-cup of water to keep it moist.

Meatloaf has been a favorite at our house mainly because we always use fresh ingredients, it's served right out of the oven and it's just darned tasty. You can't beat that combination!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Thai a Not

Never take a friend to a restaurant you like. This is a Law of Nature, or, at least, it should be. Your favorite restaurant, you know the one where the waiter softens your path to the table with a carpet of rose petals, where the hostess purrs "So nice to see you again. Your favorite table is ready and we are warming up your seat." That restaurant.

They're jealous of you. That's the truth. If you bring a friend you are diluting yourself in their eyes. You are cutting your single malt presence with river water. And they will get even. Hell hath no fury like a restaurant scorned.

So, years ago I had a favorite Thai restaurant. I knew the staff by heart. Fawn, the hostess. Guiseppe, the waiter. Ishmael, the cook and Simon, the busboy. Family owned. From Bangkok, I think.

My favorite dish, aside from Fawn, was tom yom soup, a tart, hot broth accented with lemon grass, mushrooms, lime juice, chili pepper, onions and cilantro. Variations added shrimp, fish or squid.

Of my favorite dish, tom yom, squid was my favorite tom yom. Bits of delicate squid, nicely chopped up and cooked to perfection. Ishmael knew his squid.

One sunny day I felt like violating a Law of Nature by taking a friend of mine to the Thai restaurant for a bowl of squid tom yom. Immediately, it began to rain but I failed to pick up on this subtle sign that the gods were displeased. We arrived a little damp but our spirits brightened with some hot tea and we entered into some lively conversation while picking rose petals off the soles of our shoes.

"You must try the squid tom yom", I offered eagerly.

"I dunno." (a tepid reply) "I'm not a big fan of squid. Tentacles and eyeballs sort of freak me out."

"Tisk", I countered," Ishmael is a master squid chef. You'll get all the flavor and none of the horror. Trust me."

At that precise moment a flash of lightning crossed the sky and thunder rattled the restaurant. The lights flickered and swayed.

"Simon, my good man, squid tom yom for my friend here."

Simon melted into the kitchen. We heard muttering and low laughs.

Soon, Simon returned and with a flourish presented my friend with a steaming bowl of squid tom yom.

My friend leant over the bowl and drew in its fragrant vapours. Mmmmm, smells great! Indeed, it was the best looking bowl of squid tom yom I had ever seen.

Tentatively dipping a spoon into the golden broth and ever so carefully sipping the tiniest amount, my friend looked up with great delight and satisfaction.

"This is fantastic!" and with that picked up the entire bowl as if to drink its contents in one gastronomic gulp.

Suddenly, out of no where, an orchastra screeched Psycho music! Reeek. Reeekk! REEEEKKKK!!

Large tentacles reached out from the bowl, suckers latching to the cheeks of my friend! The eyes! The eyes! I'll never forget the bulging, angry eyes of the giant squid as it pulled my kicking and screaming friend into the bowl. My friend despately clawed the sides of the bowl in a futile attempt to gain purchase, but the strength of the squid was too much, and relentless. With a mighty tug the squid broke my friend's grasp and my final image was that of rose petal covered soles slipping beneath the surface of the broth. A few bubbles popped at the surface. And that was that.

The orchastra departed. The storm abated and the sun came out. Somewhere a bird chirped. I looked around helplessly then did the only thing that I could think to do in a situation like this.

"Check, please."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Half a Cup Short of a Full Cup

If there isn't a law already there should be a law that makes it illegal to operate a coffee machine, in the morning, before one has had a cup of coffee to drink.

I know, I know, it's a Catch 22. How can you operate a coffee machine before having a cup of coffee that the machine produces? It's not fair. Who said laws had to be fair? Laws are there to protect the innocent and the weak and those of us who are incapable of operating a coffee machine without first having coffee in their system.

So there I am, dark thirty, standing in front of the company coffee machine, a machine I've operated a zillion times before. The sequence is as follows:

insert cup
press double
press extra strong
press Pacific Blend
wait for cup to fill
go on merry way.

And that's just what I did...almost:

press double
press extra strong
press Pacific Blend
watch coffee pour into empty space
listen to co-workers ask "Why'd you do that?"
reach into cobweb infested brain for a plausible answer, failing that, any old answer.

The first answer.

The least cobwebby answer.

Well, you see, you have to clear the coffee pipes every once and a while. That's why they have this little plugged up drain thing, to catch the, er, coffee...pipe...effluent. Yes, the coffee effluent from the pipe is important to catch.

Right there.

In the coffee effluent catcher thing.

Meanwhile my automatic functions were as smooth as James Bond sliding a plastic hot cup into the slot and pressing single, regular, Morning Swill. Anything. Just so long as it is hot, brown and in a cup.

Machines. Who needs 'em?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Usually there's no pressure when you go to a restaurant. After all, you're going there to relax, have a meal, maybe some conversation, but, unless you have small kids in tow, it's not a big deal.

Same here. I can handle a new restaurant with a huge menu like a pro. I've been eating for half a century I should be a pro by now. Menus are no problem. Appetizers here. Soups and salads there. Drinks on the back.


Unless it's a fast food joint and the menu is on the Big Board. Then the pressure is on. I know for a fact that every other person in the joint practically lives there. They know the menu by heart. They've named their kids things like Big Mac and Small Sprite.

Everybody except me. I am totally deer-in-the-headlights with the Big Board and can trace it back to my very first experience at Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. Faced with so many choices (and unknowns. hey, I don't know what "spumoni" is to this day!) I froze and ordered "chocolate." I was mortified to be such a coward and remember how I slinked out of the store with the Simpsons soda jerk's words ringing in my ears: "Ha, ha. Chocolate."

My fallback is to order Combo Number 5. Whatever it is. I don't care if it's Klingon Qagh (properly served live) so long as it comes with a medium drink.

This year I decided to overcome my fear of the Big Board and memorized a combination at KFC, a dark corner in my closet of fast food nightmares. Confidently, I walked in, stood tall and said in a clear voice: box lunch, two pieces, biscuit, no gravy, medium drink. The cashier looked catatonic. I repeated the order: box lunch, two pieces, biscuit, no gravy, medium drink.

Blink. Blink. No reaction.

I felt a bead of sweat form on my brow as I hastily scanned the Big Board. Finally I squeaked: lunch.

Cashier: box or tub


Cashier: two or four.


Cashier: biscuit or slaw.


Cashier: gravy


Cashier: gravy


Cashier: gravy

Yes, for the love of Pete, gravy, yes, yes, yes great heaping steaming gobs of gravy! And throw in some Qagh while you're at it.

Cashier: live or recently dead

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cat 1, Man 0

Cats have a sixth sense that lets them know exactly where you want to sit next, with about five minutes advance notice that gives them a headstart. The cat can, and does, sleep in about 40 places in our house: couch, stairs, kid's bedrooms, front rug by the window where the sunlight comes in, back porch, flower bed, car hood...well, you get the idea; about 22 more places than those mentioned. The cat is king when it comes to sleeping places.

About once a week the cat decides that the computer chair is the best spot in the house. The cat decides this about five minutes before I show up to pay the bills, work on a website or surf the web. Forty places and the cat decides to hunker down his furry carcass in my chair right when I'm about to hunker down my furry carcass in the same chair.

"Why are you sitting like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like that, all perched on the end of the chair about to fall off. Looks uncomfortable."

I point over my shoulder and down. "Cat."

"Well, now we know who's boss." The taunt hangs in the air like day old tuna breath.

I stand up, stretch, yawn and say to nobody in particular, "I think I'll go downstairs and sit by the fire in my favorite chair, the Blogorium. Might even take a nap there. But, first I need to file these papers."

It worked. Thirty seconds later the cat quietly hops off the computer chair and heads downstairs. Heh, heh, heh, the chair is mine. Mine!

After a few minutes of filing papers I sashay over to the computer chair savoring sweet victory which...

...turns to bile as the sneaky, orange ingrate is just settling in. He looks up at me, blinks a couple of times and falls asleep.


"Why are you sitting like that?"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Meatie Zeetie

Meatie Zeetie has its roots in the posting a few days ago on Spag sauce. We never chow down enough to eat up all the spag. If Day Two was great on the Spag front then Day Three should be gorgeous. Yes, Mommy is gorgeous. Oh, sorry, wrong film. That was from Kill Bill 2 which had nothing to do with Meatie Zeetie although I think many of the actors would be alive today if they had sat themselves down to a meal of Meatie Zeetie instead of cutting themselves into sausage links with samuari swords.

Wouldn't we all.

So, Meatie Zeetie has its roots a the Spaghetti Warehouse which was Claire's favorite place unil she discovered Cafe Adobe, Carrabas Italian Grill, PF Changs and a dozen other restaurants.

Here's the blueprint: spag sauce, pasta, cheese, baked.

The perfect food. If an avocado was composed of spag sauce, pasta, cheese and baked it would be the perfect food. People who call the avocado the perfect food are imbalanced psychopaths and should be avoided at all costs.

Serve it hot, warm or cold; with a side salad or not; with garlic bread or not. Meatie Zeetie is very forgiving. For the pasta we tend to use ziti (Oh, geeze, I get it now!) but we've been guilty of using up any pasta we have like a quarter bag of. Sometimes the Zeetie is bowtie, elbow, twisty, shells and funny colors. Cheese varies, too. Rat cheese, mozzarella, Swiss, pepper and not goat.

"Why'd you put goat cheese in my Meatie Zeetie, Dad?", Claire the inquisitor inquired.

"I don't know", I whimpered, "because I'm a bad person?"

"Oh, Dad, you're not a bad person. You're my favorite person", intoned Claire. Then she got up from the table, took five steps and collapsed on the couch in front of the TV.

Or was that Kill Bill 2?

So confusing.

Small people and New Year's Resolutions

Have you ever tried to eat low-carb at a Mexican restaurant? It’s not the easiest thing in the world, I must tell you. However, when you have small people in your family, you can do amazing things. Our 8 and 5 (almost 6) year olds are huge fans of Casa Bonita or any other meal place with a game room. Both my husband and I have very fond memories of it as a child growing up in Tulsa. I’m not sure exactly why we have these fond memories since I’m sure our parents said similar things to what we said last night. “No, you can’t have that 2 dollar light up thingy that will be dead or broken by morning.” “Yes you have to eat your dinner and sit at the table until we’re finished.” “Wait.” “Hold on.” “Be patient.” “Why did mommy promise herself she wouldn’t have a beer for 30 days?” "Sorry no more tokens." All music to a child’s ears. Somehow we don’t remember those things, we remember the caves, the treasure room, the waterfall and especially the game room after the meal. What’s not to love about Casa Bonita?

Well I’ll tell you. A very low carb meal plan for at least 9 more days. Find something; I dare you, that doesn’t have a tortilla in it, near it, or surrounding it. And if you can, then try to ignore the piles of chips on the table with state of the art synthetic cheese queso and the hot, sweet smelling sopaipillas (with honey). It’s especially hard when you’ve used up all your will-power right before the sopaipillas arrived trying to avoid ordering a beer. Gazing over the menu in line before the cashier rings you up, very fancy, I was thrilled to spot fajitas. The perfect low-carb item. Just eat them with a fork instead of the soft flour tortilla. The chicken was breast meat and tasty, the green peppers were a bit under cooked but crunchy and fresh. The cheese, guacamole and sour cream helped liven up the meal. Problem solved. But Craig orders a beer. I must kill him in his sleep.

Okay. I can't kill him, but only for the small people, as he certainly deserves it.

New Year's Resolutions

Since the New Year started, I have seven categories of commitments. Written down, typed, in black and white. 3 tries on whether or not food has anything to do with one of them, and the first 2 don’t count. Of course, food, or sometimes the nastiest of all words, “diet” is at the top of the list. I have work goals, family goals, financial goals, fun goals, personal goals, but why-o-why is food at the top of the list? Because it’s fuel for our bodies, but it’s also love on a plate. Too much of it, can make your hips spread like warm butter. I’m focused on body fat or the lack thereof, so I’m pumping up the protein and reducing the carbs. Really strict for 2 weeks. Then if I survive, or more importantly I’m not jailed for killing anyone for lack of food, I’ll check my progress and adjust.

Two more pieces of bad news: The first of which is exercise is included in this food thing. I started my official goals this week. 3 times to the gym already. Even when my husband worked late on Wed (one of our planned gym trip nights), I loaded up the kids and headed there on my own. I ran on the elliptical for 20 minutes then worked on biceps and triceps. Today, I can’t fully extend my arms. I’m not sure I knew the elbow was a muscle. Evidently it is, because it hurts. The saddest thing is that I went into the “men’s” side of the gym, trying to act very cool. Totally had my game face on, and my pink OU hat (very intimidating). I’ll grab a dumbbell, sit on one of these benches facing the mirror and do some triceps, I thought to myself. It’s been since October since I was in the gym, but I’m sure I can still do the same weight. HA! What I used to do with one arm, about cracked my head open when I tried to lift it above my head. My arm wobbled side to side and I was sure the newspaper wouldn't be kind. Game face or no. So instead of admitting defeat, openly and slinking to the rack to reduce my weight, I just used two arms to do what should be done with one. Sad.

The worst news of all: I’m giving up liquor for 30 days. I think less for the carbs and more to see if I can make it through an actual work week without the obligatory glass of wine or low carb beer. I remember when I was gestational diabetic with my first child. I had to give up all sweets and eat 5 times a day from a strict menu given to me by a Nazi nutritionist. (I still hate her). My thought, shared verbally with many people during the rest of my pregnancy, was: “I already had to give up beer for this kid and now chocolate? They (not knowing the sex at the time) will be grounded until their 25.” Jade wishes she hadn’t done that to me to this day.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Gumbo. I really don't want to open this can of worms 'cause I'm likely to add them to the gumbo. Can't help myself. Personality flaw.

I hated gumbo as a kid. Gumbo at my house was made with turkey. It was less like the gumbo I crave today and more like a thin, watery turkey soup with bits of tomato and soggy okra floating in it. That's my recollection and I might have never become a gumbo cook if I hadn't had a bowl of seafood gumbo at some hole-in-the-wall oyster bar in New Orleans.

I didn't even know it was gumbo. All I knew was that it looked good, it smelled great and some total stranger was eating it and I grabbed the waiter by the lapels and said (OK, maybe I snarled or hissed) "I want some of THAT!" And shortly I got "that."

Later they told me it was gumbo and I was like, no way! Gumbo is thin and watery and yucky and smells like dead turkey. They all laughed, and backed away from me...slowly.

Soon, I learned that every gumbo starts with a roux. Flour and fat (or oil) cooked ever so slowly over a very low heat until it goes through several stages: blonde, peanut, pecan, light chocolate, mahogany and dark chocolate. Whatever stage you stop at will be the color, and flavor, of your gumbo. It takes time and patience.

Well, enough of gumbo. You get the idea.

The same folks who produce Tortilla Soup (see prior postings on that subject) also produce gumbo on Friday. It's not bad. A few weeks ago they skimped on the seafood part of seafood gumbo and that wasn't too good. Last week they had some woody okra and that definitely wasn't good, but today the stars were in alignment and the gumbo was rich and tasty.

Later I'll tell you about the Great Frog Leg Gumbo Adventure.

Home again, Home again, jiggity spag!

Nothing better after a week on the road than a home cooked meal even if it is a day old.

Some things age well. Cheese. Wine. Me.

In fact, I've resemble an old cheese, but I digress. Today's topic is day-old spaghetti sauce. Something happens to a sauce when you refrigerate it overnight that turns it from a thin, watery, tasteless soup into a thick, rich, flavorful sauce. Actually, I'm being overly critical of the freshly made sauce because it is very good to start with. It simply becomes scrumdiddilyumpcious on the second day.

Once, and only once, I tried making sauce in advance knowing that a day in the icebox would add that je ne sais quoi, but the steaming proto-ambrosia was discovered by a ravenous teenager and that was that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tortilla Soup

I think there is one gigantic vat of tortilla soup. The company orders a truckload and it's pumped out of the vat, hauled to the cafeteria and dispensed into the soup pots from which we daintly dip our daily dose of tortilla soup. The company has two cafeterias separated by 550 miles, but the soup is the same.

It has a calming effect, tortilla soup. Little bits of chicken trapped in its orange clutches. Green peppers or are they chilis? Chunks of tomato or are they red bell pepper? Oregano or is it bay? There is a mystery here.

"How was the tortilla soup today, Ed?"

"I dunno", says Ed, "I had the beef and barley today."

The cafeteria goes quiet. Two hundred people eating tortilla soup, minus one...Ed. Then the whispers break out.

Psst, psst, psst, Ed's eating beef and barley, pst, pst, pst, what's up with that?, pst, pst.

The next day. Ed's gone.

Uh, he took a transfer to Bumstump, Montana. Left last night. Sudden.

I think I'll have a second bowl of tortilla soup, if you don't mind.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I don't think about food on Monday. It's not worth the effort. Too much going on. Weekends are about five days too short. Monday it's back to a bowl of Special K, soup and salad for lunch and nothing for dinner.

Scout night. No time. Home, change, go. Unless...

...a miracle occurs and someone comes home early with enough energy and inspiration to whip up a tasty bar-b-que, sort of like tonight.

Lamb kebabs, cucumbers in yogurt with cherry tomatoes, potato salad and grilled zucchini. Feast for a king or at least a Scoutmaster.

Tomorrow the king is on the road. Who knows what awaits, but it's not likely to be nearly as good as tonight.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


"I started the stew but I need you to finish it."

How many times have I heard that?

"I skinned the mastedon and put it over a half-lit charcoal briquette, but I need you to finish it."

"Hey, I put all these raw vegetables and other stuff I don't remember in the pot and added water or milk or tomato juice, but I need you to finish it."

And that, I believe, is the difference between heating something up and cooking. Finishing it up. Yep, indeed, adding the spices, watching the water, adjusting the seasoning along the way, careful, patient attention.

Heating it up is like 2 minutes on High and "Dinner!" Cooking is a roux that you stir for 40 minutes. Cooking is a roast you baste every 20 minutes for 3 hours. Cooking is hand chopping the basil, hand smashing the garlic and climbing the Karalammapallamalla Mountain in Nepal for that perfect pepper corn. That's cooking.

People from every continent ask me for my secret to stew. Why, just the other day, Dubya and L were in town and L said that George wasn't too impressed with her stew making and I asked her one question: "Time, Laura, how much time?" She shuffled her feet and looked at her shoes for a few seconds. I thought I saw a tear course down her cheek. Then she looked up and wimpered, I dunno, 45 minutes?

We hugged and I whispered in her ear, 2 hours, Laura sweetie, 2 hours. She went away, hopeful.

Who knows, I could have saved the free world.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tail of Two Woodpeckers

"That's a woodpecker!", and Don was right. Yep, diving off a branch of a tall pine tree the little peckerwood soared into the forest leaving us with an image of his white-feathered butt, a sure sign of a woodpecker.

Then Don made a big mistake. Instead of just letting the image of a woodpecker in flight linger in our minds as we adjusted our backpacks, he went on. It's a big mistake to "go on." I do it all the time.

Don said, "I think it was a yellow-footed hooked snout Marmastat woodpecker."

"Ya think?", I said encouragingly, "whoop-de-doo. Looked like a two-winged in-the-air getting-the-Hell-out-of-Dodge woodpecker to me. I don't think that's the Scientific Name, though."

And that, so I thought, was that on the woodpecker front for the rest of the day. As usual, like "going on" I was wrong and I would have to nail that pesky little peckerwood down later.

But, for now, the hike.

We took the Scouts up to Lake Houston State Park for a training hike. Not a big deal, just 5 miles or so along Peach Creek, so named because the water is sort of, well, peach-colored. I guess Rust Creek didn't have quite the same marketing appeal.

So, where's the food, you ask? Right here at lunch. The adults try to outdo each other with exotic lunch fare and today was no exception. I may have held an edge with kippers as a starter followed by black beans and couscous. My trail mix included cashews, dried mango and pineapple. Larry nearly topped that with a wedge of Mexican cotija but he lost points for the packet of Star Kist Tuna. Sorry, Charlie, tuna doesn't trump kippers for the exotic lunch.

The woodpecker returns.

Back in the parking lot after the hike, Don has obviously been ruminating about the woodpecker and offers this: I think, in retrospect, that it was a pileated woodpecker and, in fact, I'm sure of it. He walked off satisfied.

I, on the other hand, couldn't resist. I'm not so sure, Don, because they migrate from Mexico usually in December. To see one here now, a month following the main migration, I think it might be a belated woodpecker.

I did not hang around for a response.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Silver Turtles

Posting for January 7th.

Silver turtles otherwise known as foil meals.

I "discovered" silver turtles teaching Scouts how to cook for the first time. A requirement is for them to cook something over an open fire. Silver turtles are perfect for this.

Take some heavy duty foil. Put whatever you want to cook in it. Fold it up, heat it up, serve it up.

One of our standards is to take some potatoes, slice them up. Take an onion, slice it up. Alternate the potato slices with onion slices. It forms a long potato-onion log. Surround the potato/onion thing with carrots, zucchini, corn or any combination of veggie you like, or no veggies at all. Season to taste. Seal the foil and roast in an oven or on the grill for 30-40 minutes. It's very forgiving.

The key to foil cooking is to seal the packet properly. This enables steam to cook the food. You can also cook meats, chicken, fish, shrimp and rice.

What's great about foil cooking is that you can prepare your veggie dish in advance, put it in the grill while it's warming up and leave it there while you cook the main course.

And, clean-up is a snap. Wad up the foil and you're done.

Can you do foil meals in an oven? Absolutely! It tastes the same, too. Wrap it up, toss it in, serve it up.

Slippery Slope

Missed a day.

I'm on the Slippery Slope. I've been here before. First, it's one day missed. Remorse follows. Then sentences no verb. Before I know it I'm on a headlong, Indiana Jones, flailing arms, screaming plunge down the Slippery Slope, off the edge, cartwheeling freefall into the pit below.

Fortunately my fall is cushioned by the journals, diaries, logs, accounts, essays and other aborted jottings that line the bottom of the pit. Pick a journal. Here's one: 365 Days of Your Life.

Page one: Happy New Year!

Pages 2-365: blank.

They all read the same. This time I double-dog swear it's going to be different. Yeah, there will be days when I don't make a posting because I'm on the road or off the road, like camping. But the rule will be that for each day missed a posting must be made.

Now to business. January 6, 2005. Dinner was a simple affair, although it had it's moments of excitement. Claire wanted a bar-b-que so we picked up some chicken at Kroger's on the way home. Helen whipped up a marinade for the dead bird parts while Chris and I went out to buy hiking boots and lifting weights. Actually, the weights were a spur of the moment purchase, not that anyone gives a rat's ass. The exciting part about dinner was running out of propane in the middle of grilling. Not by chance do I keep two full propane bottles in the garage.

On to silver turtles.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

5 5 No Cook


I wrote the New Year for the first time today and I need to work on my 5's. I had a pretty cool 4 going by November and I hope to get the 5 figured out by at least February. My worst number is 8. I suffered all through the 80's and 1988 just about killed me and by November of that year I was sure that I'd developed some variant of carpal tunnel syndrome typlified by writing 8's that look like dehydrated paramecia. The 90's were pretty cool, except for 1998 which started off strong but ended looking dehydrated, and the new millenium is absolutely killer. Sometimes I do my 0's upside down just to be different and to see if anybody's paying attention. So far, I'm getting away with it.

Pei Wei cooked tonight. I don't know what it was but I was able to eat it with chopsticks and I have a theory that everything tastes good, by definition, eaten with chopsticks. OK, if I had to guess I'd say we had beef lo mein, Mongolian beef, spiced chicken, shrimp with orange peel and salted edamame.

That's just a guess.

Don't forget the tsunami donations. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Not the Birthday!


"Not the Mama!" If you weren't there 1991-1994, well, you missed it. What can I say?

Sarah provided culinary delights for Not the Birthday slaving away to produce a most excellent carrot cake and spaghetti Bolognaise.

Large pot with a little water.
Chopped tomatoes (can or box)
tomato paste
Onion, chopped, sauted
Hamburger, sauted
Fresh mushrooms, sliced or whole
2-3 rashers bacon, sauted
red wine
head of garlic, crushed
dried onion flakes
black pepper
beef stock cube (Knorr)
Cook for a couple of hours, adjust water, seasoning as necessary.

Alter ingredients to whim: red pepper flakes, Italian sausage, red or green bell pepper (or both), more red wine, Worcestershire sauce.

Don't alter cooking time. Two hours simmer minimum. Actually, best reheated after day in the refrigerator.

In other news, before it gets lost in the shuffle, please visit the Tsunami link in the Recent Posts column. Thanks.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Bathed in Electromagnetic Radiation

Today, I finally sorted out the electromagnetic radiation in the house and things are a lot better, I tell you. The Blogorium (see posting for 12/22/2004), of all places, was in a dead zone meaning the wireless reception was 20-30% and sometimes zero. Finally, I installed a Hawking HSB1 signal booster, connected it to a 6dB omnidirectional high-gain antenna and configured the Linksys wireless router to use a single antenna. Now, the Blogorium is bathed in radiation, the megahertzs are coming through the walls at the speed of light and I'm getting a great tan.

Alas, today is the last day of vacation. Tomorrow work begins anew, but, hey, my travel budget has been reinflated and I'm good to go. Literally. Better get packing.

Finally, check out the Tsunami posting below and donate generously.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Woot Longhorns and Mr. Plow!

Happy New Year, 2005!

Woo Hoo to the University of Texas Longhorns defeating the University of Michigan Wolverines in the Rose Bowl tonight 38-37. It came down to a field goal kicker. Imagine the pressure on a 20-year old kid, all the marbles on the line.

12TuTuFondue represents alumni from both schools. Everybody's a winner, although I'm glad to see my tuition dollars going to a worthy cause; UT that is.

New Year's Eve was celebrated in style here at Fondue Central Houston. Seafood gumbo, jalapeno corn bread and black eyed peas with ham were on the menu along with generous quantities of pinot noir, champagne and Corona. 2004 ended in true couch potato style watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi channel (the only marathon this blogger is going to run for a while!) and The Simpson's on DVD - the Christmas Specials.

Woot for Mr. Plow.

Recipes. I once told Joe that I had found a great new recipe for corn bread and Joe said "Cornbread has a recipe?" That simple statement, though, is the essence of cornbread. It does not have a recipe. It has a feel. Feel the Cornbread, Luke. Gumbo is the same. Any recipe is at best a guide.

More later.