Saturday, February 26, 2005

Shufflin' Along

The first Walkman I bought was huge. I needed a belt to wear it and I think it ran on "D" cell batteries. What a monster. After years of skips and trips I decided that a portable cassette player wasn't something that would work for me. I bought a Walkman Radio as a replacement and have used that for many years.

The Walkman Radio is great for jogging because it doesn't slip, you have 10 channels of AM/FM to select and it runs on AAA's which makes it light to carry. The only drawback to the radio are commercials. Radio stations seem to gang up and all do their commercials at the same time. There you are jogging along enjoying the music, the weather, ignoring your aching feet and suddenly you enter a patch of commercials that lasts a mile. Bummer.

Today I experienced the ultimate in jogging audio pleasure, all of the advantages of the surprise of radio and none of the drawbacks: iPod Shuffle.

I'm hooked. The iPod Shuffle is about the size of a pack of gum but weighs less. I have the El Cheap-0 version that "only" holds 200 songs but it was plenty for me as I hobbled around the 10k race course this morning. Furthermore, I created my own Race Playlist and stocked it with Green Day, Metallica and the Police. I was grooving to the scene, man.

The iPod Shuffle has a lanyard attachment that's perfect for jogging. I slipped it around my neck and under my running shirt with the ear buds snaking out of the top of my shirt. I didn't feel it there the entire run. What I did feel was the beat of the music encouraging me to hang in there, in the rain and the cold, to finish the race.

It's so cool I think I'm going to wear it all the time.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


"Jeremy doesn't have homework."

That's how the conversation started. Jeremy doesn't have homework. Who in tarnation is Jeremy, I had no clue but he didn't have homework so, I guess by some Law of Nature I missed in my 20-plus years of schooling, if Jeremy had no homework Nobody Had Homework.

Homework Free Day!

Better than President's Day because you *could* have homework on PD. Yep, that's a fact I didn't learn in school. President's Day is n.o.t. immune from homework.

Homework Free Day was just that. No homework. Free day. Play video games until your thumbs were raw and your mind was a pool of unset Jell-O. Yeah, baby, Home-work-Free-Day!

Back to the original statement I said, "Well, that's cool that Jeremy doesn't have homework, but Jeremy probably isn't taking Algebra II and I think there's a test on Friday, so homework or not you probably have to DO SOMETHING!"

I think I cracked a tooth.

And that was that. No homework for Jeremy the Genius and no homework for anybody. Yea, Jeremy!

Much later, after the Algegra II Test Debacle, Yelling Match, Grounding and All-Round Bad Time, I had the opportunity to inquire...

"Just who is Jeremy? A friend of yours? Have we met Jeremy?"

And the answer was, "No, Jeremy is the kid in 'Zits', you know, in the paper."

I paused because I could feel the pressure building that would blow the top of my cranium into the kitchen light fixture I had just cleaned.

Jeremy? Zits? Paper?

"You mean Jeremy the cartoon character? The car-freaking-toon character?"

"Yeah. He doesn't get homework."

"He's a cartoon character", I replied with great restraint although I think blood was spurting out of every pore, "a cartoon character."

"And your point?"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


iWatched the FedEx website every day this week because something iOrdered was en route. iLove package tracking sites because it's like a little drama. iCan visualize the product leaving the factory, speeding it's way to Bakersfield, then to Memphis, then to Atlanta, down to New Orleans, over to Dallas, down to the Stafford Distribution Center and finally, at long last, the best three words in the English language: Out For Delivery.

Woo Hoo! (doing the End Zone Dance)

Today iSaw those magical words on the FedEx website and iCouldn't wait to get home to claim my prize. iWas especially anxious to get my hands on this particular morsel of new technology because in a fit of madness iHad committed myself to run in a 10k race this weekend. iHoped to sport the latest love of my life as iShuffled along pretending to be a runner and not an outpatient.

Actually, iNeed to find an iA chapter very, very soon.

iPodaholics Anonymous.

Nobody *needs* four iPods. iF you know someone with eight ears let me know and I'll amend that statement. But, there you have it. The pody count is as follows: 1 Original with a real wheel; 1 New 'n' Improved with a touch wheel; 2 Shuffles, brand spanking new, right out of the box, not a day old. His and Hers.

iWasn't sure that a Shuffle was my kind of music player, but iConvinced myself that, after all, iListen to the radio and iDon't control the playlist. Radio's OK. But what settled the issue for me was the little control that lets you shuffle the play list or play it straight through. Best of both worlds, iThought.

iThought right.

So, i'M good to go...almost. iNeed to build my 10k playlist. ZZ Top to get me started, some Pat Benatar to keep me going and Mozart's Requiem Mass to finish me off. That would be the play list straight through. Shuffle would have ZZ Top playing the final movement of Mozart's Requiem.

Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus, I'm Nationwide!

Hmmmm, could work...could work...

iLet you know on Monday.

What's your best coffee?

I’ve decided that Starbuck’s actually doesn’t charge for the coffee. They don’t charge for their well trained friendly staff. They don’t charge for their atmosphere, which is like Disney World for adults; “the happiest place on earth.” They really could charge extra for those comfy chairs.


Actually to tell you the truth, Starbucks charges by the syllable. Think about it.

It makes sense. “I’d like a grande ½ cafĂ© ½ decafe (what’s the point?) cappuccino, extra foam,” I heard one woman bark commandingly as I glided into the local Starbucks anticipating my turn. I saw the cashier punch the cash register as if she was doing a merger and acquisition transaction. It was 80 buttons. I swear I saw her counting the 12 syllables on her fingers and toes. The cashier looked up and said “what name can I put on your cup?” The multi-syllabic woman responded “Janet.” I thought maybe Reno, but surly not in Oklahoma. The cashier then asked for the $13 it would require to finalize the transaction. Janet handed the barely post-pubescent girl a swipey card, and immediately slid to the side, so someone else could order.

This, I thought, was going to be a good morning. Quick, efficient, and soon I’d be sipping my own poison.

Then the gentleman, who came in just before me, didn’t take Janet’s hint. Instead he kept “the gap” between himself and the counter, like someone else was standing there. I stepped closer, thinking he would feel the line forming behind him and respond appropriately. He would move forward and bark his order. Alas. Not today. Charlie, as I later learned his name, had no business being in a Starbucks. He hadn’t trained for weeks to prepare himself for the coffee Nazi treatment awaiting him. He asked his first question, “What is your best coffee?”

Geez. My morning has been shot. Unless the fresh-faced coffee chick offered a quick solution, while surgically removing his Larynx, I’m sure he’d be asking more questions. You could tell, just from the tone of his insecurity. I rolled my eyes; standing behind him, knowing only the cashier would see me and give me a smirk. Then I tossed her my sympathetic look.

That lasted about 3.4 seconds. Unfortunately Charlie’s order did not.

Finally after much deliberation, Charlie ordered a breakfast blend coffee. Almost there. Then she asked the size question, which stumped him. She politely pointed to the cups 3 inches from his face and he pointed to the “tall.” Tall? Why bother? Then the most frightening question of all. “Room for cream?” I thought Charlie was going to collapse from the pressure. The line had started forming out the door. The cashier called for reinforcements. She said it so fast, Charlie had no idea what she said or more importantly how to answer. He quietly replied “excuse me?” “Room for cream,” she energetically said, obviously completely amped up on the stuff she was pushing. You could see Charlie searching his mind for what she possibly could have said. She might of well have been speaking in Greek. He tried to act like he was getting it, but it was no use.

Finally, Charlie’s head exploded. But at least he was only charged $1.79.

At least I wouldn’t be too late for my meeting.

“Hi Amy,” the barista said to me. I grinned ear to ear, stepping over Charlie. “I’d like a vente sugar-free hazelnut latte.” “$40.00 please.” They were happy to be on a roll again.

I’m not sure the formula for the syllable charge model quite yet, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out, just a few more trips to Starbucks.

Now if you're wondering why I think this is funny, it's only because it happened to me. The only reason that I can haze other Starbuck’s freshman with no conscious to their feelings (only sympathy for those standing behind the counter), is that I too was a freshman once. I come from Tulsa, where once upon a time we had no Starbucks (the year was 2002, can you imagine). And I thought I’d try out one of these famous coffees that everyone talked about. And why not in the coffee capital of the world, Seattle, Washington? Lucky for me, the emergency room was only a block away, and they had a very good plastic surgeon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Driving Miss Daisy

I'm the only driver qualified to be on the roads in Houston.

That's a fact, Jack, and you can take it to the bank.

Why other drivers are allowed on the roads without my explicit permission is a mystery. However, I have a theory that everybody needs some practice time and that's what all these other drivers are doing: practicing.

Therefore as a Professor of Driving I would like to make the following observations about my students.

The Tailgater. Obviously, tailgating is no longer taught as a bad practice in driving schools. Most drivers I observe close the gap as quickly as possible and ride, NASCAR-style on the bumper of the "leader". Often you hear about multi-car pile-ups but the connection to Tailgaters has not been made. Obviously.

Le Mans Driver. This is the person who thinks that other cars on the road going along at 70 mph or so are stationary, because the Le Mans Driver is going 100 mph. So, he weaves in and out of traffic at a terrific rate of speed. We read about this driver every week in the obituary column. So and So hit an off ramp at a high rate of speed and lost control...

The Switch-a-roo. This is a manevour in which the driver switches lanes at the last possible moment to avoid slowing down. Of course, it causes cars in nearby lanes to swerve and occasionally the switch-a-roo ends up ramming a stationary object the rest of us were stopping for.

The Cell Phone Argument Guy. This is the person who is having a violent conversation on a cell phone that includes wild hand movements that the other person on the call can't possibly see. This person is also going 35 mph in a 70 zone, weaving from lane to lane. Slowly.

The Mad Guy. This is the person who is behind you flashing his lights and waving around like an ape because you're only going 75 in a 55. If you let this guy pass he will only torment the next person in the lane. This is the kind of person whose final words are "Hey, y'all, watch this!"

Lane Changer. I've found that the middle lane, over time, geologically speaking, is the best lane to be in. It avoids all the people taking exits who slow down for some unknown reason and it avoids all the nuts in the "fast" lane who are, well, changing lanes. The Lane Changer switches lanes every 100 yards because he thinks the "other" lane is faster. It's a false hope because the center lane is the fastest in the long run. Unfortunately, the Lane Changer has the attention span of a flea and "long run" is about 5 seconds.

With all these weird drivers how does one survive? I think the best strategy is to adopt a Zen Driving Mentality. Become One with the Road. Have a good CD changer or plug in an iPod. Zone out and let the bad Karma flow around you. That's my strategy. Mozart cures a lot of ills on the road. Requiem Mass. I recommend it.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Coffee Coward

If you read the posting for January 18th, Menuphobia, then you know that I'm like a deer in the headlights facing the Big Board. So many decisions, so little time, so many people, so much pressure.

Menuphobia magnifies in my mind if I'm not quite awake. Ergo, the absolute worst place for me to be in the morning is Starbucks.

Now, you'd think that Starbucks would be the best place to be in the morning. Coffee, the elixir of life and awakenedhood, in all it's many varied forms lies within. The perfect cure for the morning challenged.

Not for me, though. Starbucks is Menuphobia on steroids, well, caffiene, actually, but you get the picture. So many choices, so many combinations and so many people who know exactly what they want.

The first time I went into a Starbucks I was spellbound. The person in front of me ordered something that sounded like raspberrywalnutfrappachinomochahighoctane - hold the cream, and my only thought was "WTF? I thought this was a coffee shop!"

My turn came and I ordered:

"Coffee, black."

"Grande, Super Grande or El Monstro Grande?"

*blink* *blink*

"Coffee, black."

"Super Grande, OK?"

*blink* *blink*

"Coffee, black."

By this time I had convinced Coffee Boy that I was a Certified Moron and I got a large cup of coffee. Of course, I was totally rattled and dropped my money on the floor, handed Coffee Boy a dollar which I thought was a five but it was a one and had to fish around for another dollar.

Finally, Coffee Boy whispered something to Coffee Girl who came around the counter and guided me by the elbow to the cream and sugar stand, explaining in slow and concerned tones, loudly, too, I might add, that I could put some cream in my coffee, did I understand?

I decided that speaking in tongues would be good about now so I said "Oh tay." and let it go at that. Coffee Girl smiled nervously and beat a hasty retreat.

On my way out I passed a display of take home menus and pocketed one. I decided that I would take home the menu, study it like the Dead Sea Scrolls and return to conquer Starbucks. Yes, I, too, would be able to order a raspberrywalnutfrappachinomochahighoctane and I would not hold the cream. Certainly not! In fact I would demand Double Cream!

Days later, armed with menu knowledge, a plan in hand, I marched into Starbucks with more confidence than Rocky V. I owned Starbucks and the next few minutes would be immortalized in song and statue, I was certain.

Striding, nay, swaggering, up to the counter I confidently ordered: raspberrywalnutfrappachinomochahighoctane with double cream.

Coffee Boy was impassive. He didn't blink, he didn't move. He just pointed over his head to the Big Board and muttered incoherently, "No got no more out finished done for nada SOL too bad Charlie" and the drift was that raspberrywalnutfrappachinomochahighoctane - cream or no cream - wasn't on the menu any more.

"So, whaddaya want instead?", Coffee Boy inquired.

I had no Plan B. No Plan B. I was so confident of Plan A that I had no Plan B.

I stared up at the board trying to piece together a Plan B, but it was no use. The guy behind me wearing a hardhat sporting a sticker that read "We serve our customers cheerfully!" muttered to his workmate, " front of us..."

It was no use. I capitulated.

"Coffee, black."

"Grande, Super Grande or El Supremo Rancho Grande Grande?"

*blink* *blink*

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Up in Smoke

"You smell like smoke."

"Yeah, well, I've been camping for a couple of days and there's smoke out there in the wilderness and I got into it."

And that was that. She went off to do soccer stuff and I worked at home to de-smoke-ify myself, put the camping gear away and figure out what was happening for dinner.

In the fridge were beef ribs.

Ohhh, beef ribs, I did in my best Homer Simpson. Must marinate. Beef ribs...

So, I set off gathering stuff around the house: bbq sauce, red wine, garlic, onion, hot sauce and some other stuff. I put all the "stuff" in a large plastic bag, cut the ribs into two chunks and put the whole mess back into the fridge to do its thing.

Here's the plan. Marinate the ribs for a couple of hours. Soak some mesquite chips in water. Fire up the grill. Seal the ribs on the hot side of the grill, move them to the cool side and load in the chips for smoking. Smoked beef ribs. My favorite.

Much later the soccer pro returned home and started clanging around in the kitchen.

"Whatcha doing?"


"It's under control."


"The ribs! I've got them marinating and the chips are soaking and I'm about to fire up the grill."

"Ah, change in plans, I have a new recipe." At which point the ribs are tossed into a baking pan with all sorts of good things I didn't know were around: potatoes, peppers, spices, onions and stuff.

New recipe.


Well, sitting here the smells are starting to permeate the house and I'm beginning to like the new recipe already.

At least at the end of the day I won't smell like smoke.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Chili Nights

I've always been a fan of chili. Ever since I was a kid I always looked forward to Chili Night. It wasn't a regular affair, like every other Thursday. Rather, I'd get home from school, barge in the front door "Mommy, I'm home!" and get a nose-full of chili smell. Although I can eat chili every day of the year, it's best to me when the weather is cool. On the turn. Not too hot, not freezing, just a little nippy.

After many years of making chili I found myself volunteering to judge a Chili Contest. Why it couldn't be a Beer Contest I'll never know, but chili it was and I had to learn, get certified, actually, how to do it properly. For our region or whatever there were five attributes to chili:


Each worth 20 points to total 100. I was amazed that "taste" was worth only 20% of the score, but one could argue that "bite" was part of taste, so maybe nearly half the points were taste.

The first year I was a judge I handled the First Round Chilis. I was like the Chili Filter so the "real" judges wouldn't get poisoned. I got to sample the Chocolate Ice Cream chili, and the Roadkill chili (there's always a "roadkill" chili and it often does not contain bone fide roadkill, but you never know) and Experimental Chili Number 1-thru-999, and Aunt Bertha's Killer Lint Chili, and you get the drift.

Most of those first round chilis never make it to Round Two.

As a learner judge I thought what could go wrong with chili? Just cook it for a couple of hours and it's good stuff. Time, as we cooks know, cures many ills.

How wrong I was.

In chili contests time can actually magnify mutations. Time can yield yuckiness. Time can produce a patina sheen on a chili that you have no idea what it is, but the taste is metallic. Iron Chef, yes; Iron Chili, no.

However, I survived my trial by fire and roadkill and graduated to Round Two the next year. Round Two is where it's at. The filtered chili is judged at Round Two and we were presented with some very delicious entries. In my book the chili that was best was the one you could eat all day, every day for every meal, forever. To the end of time forever. Good stuff chili. We had two or three of those every year and they were worth waiting for. Perfect balance of meat, tomato, onion, chili and spices. No weird stuff. No roadkill. Just skill and love in a pot.

And that brings me to this weekend. We're going camping and I think I'll to a Dutch oven chili. Cooked for many hours over wood coals. Yep, I can smell the oak fire already.

It' will be a winner.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Shrimp Fest


The hotel waiter proffered a tray of golden brown, coconut encrusted shrimp in my direction.

Delightful! I took two, paused, and snagged two more. Fresh, gulf shrimp prepared to perfection. My favorite.

I was hanging around waiting to hear Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, talk to a select group of customers and partners, including, strange as it may seem, me. Yep, me and Steve-O-rino, chompin' a little shrimp, sippin' a little champagne and enjoying a beautiful Houston evening in the middle of a cold front that dropped the temperature to a frigid 70. Hey, this is Houston in February; it could be 90.

Mmmmmmmm, shrimpppp, as a drooling Homer Simpson would moan.

I can't get enough shrimp. When I'm reincarnated I want to come back as a shrimp boat net. That would be cool. Tons and tons o' shrimp, all for me, well, for a while at least.

Shrimp takes me back to my earliest memories of Going Out to Eat. I put that in CAPS because when I was a kid Going Out to Eat was a very big deal and we only did it a few times a year, mostly when on vacation, although during a lot of our vacations we cooked in a cabin or on a bar-b-que.

At a restaurant I scanned the menu like a raptor seeking the shrimp dinner. There was always a shrimp dinner. Here's the basic blueprint:

4 batter-fried, golden, butterfly shrimp
potato salad or cole slaw
French fries

That's your basic Restaurant Shrimp Dinner. Occasionally I would score 6 Batter-Fried, Golden, Butterfly Shrimp and that restaurant would hold a special place in my heart forever.

Fast rewind to Nogales, Mexico on the Arizona border. We went down there for a short vacation, staying on the American side, of course, but venturing into Mexico for a day of shopping and dinner. Our destination was a place called The Cave and it was quite a hike to get there, up long staircases in a dark part of the city. Eventually, we found The Cave and it was exactly that: a restaurant built into the cliff face. We asked for a table as far into the cave as possible to experience the full ambience!

Being in Mexico I had no hope of getting shrimp. Miles from any water and, well, it was Mexico and we were at a Mexican restaurant. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, all of which I liked very much, would be offered and I was cool with that.

Imagine my surprise when I spied Deluxe Shrimp Dinner. Imagine my dismay when that's all I spied; no shrimp count. My dilemma was whether to order a yummy Mexican meal (bird in the hand) or venture for the Deluxe Shrimp Dinner, unknown shrimp count (bird in the bush). I solved this problem by actually asking the waiter how many shrimp came with the Deluxe Shrimp Dinner. The waiter didn't speak much English and basically shrugged his shoulders.

I rolled the dice and went for the Deluxe Shrimp Dinner, then spent the next 30 minutes regretting my decision.

Finally, it arrived.

The Deluxe Shrimp Dinner was a misnomer. Expecting 4 perhaps, at the outside, 6 shrimp, but being Mexico, far from water and all that, maybe 2 shrimp I was presented with a

Shrimp Fest.

No less than 30 shrimp. A huge, heaping platter of shrimp mound. Shrimp Mountain. The Mother Lode. More shrimp than I thought existed. All the shrimp, all for me.

I was shrimply overwhelmed.

It took me quite a while to munch through all that shrimp, but every bite was a delight. I nibbled, I gnashed and I got shrimply revenge on all the 4-6 cheapskate shrimp dinners I'd had in my life to that point.

I was so impressed by the Deluxe Shrimp Dinner at The Cave in Nogales, Mexico that I tell the story to this day.

Just did.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blog Imitates Life

A strange thing happened tonight. Life imitated art, or the other way around.

Here's the blueprint.

Normally a haircut is a sedate affair. Sit there and have your hair cut. Simple.

But tonight we entered the Twilight Zone.

So, Bill, what's new.

Well, my microwave is new.

Oh, tell me about your new microwave.

And I did. I repeated the blogs of the past few days about the psychowave and the Quest for Replacement and the Salesman and the installation and, finally, Nirvanawave.

By the time I was finished the entire shop was silent. Everybody having their hair cut, and everybody cutting hair had been in rapt attention about my story.

Could it be that the transition from blogger to world famous stand-up commedian is not that big?

Hmmmm, I wonder....

Third Time's the Charm

Garlic, arglglglggahhh. Homer Simpson style. Eyes rolling back, drool rolling forward. Gaaaarlic!

The air conditioner just kicked on, (it's February in Houston, what do you expect?) and the smell of roasted garlic filled the Blogorium. The blogger twitched, flinched, sniffed and finally enquired (ever so subtly), What the hell is that incredible smell?

Oh, just a little something I read from one of your Gourmet magazine books: Ultra Garlic Chicken.

Oy, vey, I thought, we had Gobi Desert chicken enchiladas last night. Could it be they've been reincarnated with garlic. It's possible, yes, just possible. Garlic has magical properties.

Incorrect, as usual, I was told that it's a new recipe: chicken, garlic, garlic and more garlic, lemon, black olives and vegies (potato, red bell pepper and carrot).

OK, I'm listening.

Well, you roast a head of garlic, and you toss those chunks in. Then you mash some more garlic and spread that on. Then you add the veggies and stuff and bake until the dogs howl.

Since we don't have dogs I guessed it was my job.

Ultra Garlic Chicken proved to be every bit as tasty as it smelled, judging from the gnashing of teeth, snarling and lack of dinner-time conversation.

Ugh, Thag say do again.

By the way, the lemon underneath the chicken was a very nice touch. I'll have to remember that.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Cold Chicken Enchiladas

To be a great chef you need great excuses. Set those expectations!

Tonight it went something like this:

The enchiladas are a disaster. We didn't have any chicken stock. I used the left over chicken instead of boiling it. The enchiladas will be dry like the Sahara during a drought. Had the wrong kind of sauce. Used pizza cheese. The tortillas smelled funny. Also, they were dry like the Gobi Desert in August. I baked them too long, and they're really, really dry, but that was two hours ago.

Now they're cold. And dry.

Cold I can fix. So I spooned in some salsa, tossed the bowl into our New Microwave, pressed the Repair Dinner button.



Wow, these enchiladas are great! You must give me your recipe.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Annie Lennox


Get it.

I'm serious. If you don't have this album you are seriously out of touch. Took my breath away.

Put it on your iPod. Crank up the volume. Sit in a public place. Ignore the stares. Just groove to the tunes.

I'm here for you.

Cold Chicken Curry

What goes into Cold Chicken Curry, I asked?

The recipe's on file, you want me to get it for you?

Naw, I just want the general overview. I don't want to publish a clinical recipe, I want it to be from the heart.

Which will clog up if you eat it.

Ah, so.

The Story of Cold Chicken Curry (cue Oriental flute music)

Many years ago, in a land far, far away...

Hey, I promised to make Cold Chicken Curry tonight for the student's House Night, but I have to spend the day in lab. Would you be a sweetie and roast the chickens for me?

Yeah, sure, but I've never roasted a chicken before. What do I do?

It's nothing fancy. Just pop 'em in the oven for an hour and a half. You can tell when they're done 'cause they look done. Pull 'em out and put the next one in. I'll be back around 7:30 and they should all be cool by then. Thanks much, sweetie!

And with a peck on the cheek, a slam of the door, I found myself alone with four dead chickens, a roasting pan and a small oven barely large enough for the pan.

I got to work.

Bird out of package. Take out all the stuff, neck and parts. Plop him in the pan, into the oven and hang around for 90 minutes. I decided Tale of Two Cities would be a good diversion.

No sooner had the French Revolution started than the dinger dinged and the first bird was done. To perfection, I might add. Golden brown with a crispy skin I was quite enamoured with my first cooked chicken. I should have had it framed or, at the very least, bronzed.

Bird Number 2 slid into the tanning booth, and I was back in France living large with love and honor. Ding! Bird 3 and the revolution was in full swing, how will it end? Ding! Bird 4 roasts as France burns. Let them eat cake! We're having Cold Chicken Curry! Ding! It is a far, far better thing that I do than I've ever done. It is a far, far better bird than I've ever roasted. Four golden birds lined up before my eyes. Sydney Carton would have been proud.

Helen returned on time and we set to work assembling the dish. First, pick the chicken from the bones and chop coarsely. Then add mayonnaise, cream, a teaspoon of sherry, curry powder and a couple of tablespoons of Major Grey's Chutney. Adjust all to the amount of chicken you have so the resulting mixture is well coated. Four chickens requires a small jar of mayonnaise, a pint of cream, a couple of teaspoons of sherry and a small jar of chutney. Chill until served. That's the cold part of Cold Chicken Curry.

Return to the present

So, the essence of Cold Chicken Curry is this:

curry powder
Major Grey's Chutney
Chill, baby, chill

Rich and slightly sweet (that's the chutney) but spicy if you use hot curry powder or kick it up a notch with ground jalapeno powder. Mayonnaise adds a tang and cream makes it smooth and saucy. Except for roasting the chicken, no further cooking is required. Way cool!

Serve with rice, Chinese noodles or pasta. My favorite.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Death of a Salesman: Microwave Part Deux

First, a moment of silence for a great American playwright, Arthur Miller.

In keeping with Willy Loman's demise, a salesman today earned his pay.

Microwave Part Deux (cue Kill Bill 2 introduction music)

The massacre at the Houston Appliance Store has become legend. Who was there, what happened, how many salesmen bit the dust, and what was the outcome has been hashed and rehashed. What lies before you now is the true story.

Rewind to the Day the Microwave Died. What happened was the micro went psycho. At this moment we had an obedient microwave happy to reheat a cup of coffe, cook Mac & Cheese or defrost a haunch of yak. And at this moment we had a psychowave capable only of POP. Forever POP. Unplug. Replug. POP. POP setting forever. Had we been able to learn how to warm our coffee, cook our Mac & Cheese and thaw our haunch on POP, we would have been One with the Universe.


We tore the psychowave from its built-in kitchen cabinet home and discovered that replacement would be a Journey. A journey of length and width and depth. A journey into Mind. A journey fraught with peril and death.

Fast forward to the Day the Microwave was Replaced. The psychowave was 10 years old. GE, white, 900 Watts. Since then GE "improved" the model and now it's GE, white, 1100 Watts, and, more significantly, 50 mm wider in length and 400 mm deeper in depth. It might just fit the Home. With some coercion.

The Two Pines Appliance Store

Enter She-Who-Is-Disgruntled-About-The-Psychowave. Enter the Salesman-Who-Has-Been-Working-Two-Days.

Somebody is going to die.

"Is this the same size as the JE 1560?"

"blank stare"


"Er, hew nads spik wid managar." Scuttles off in fear of life. (Historical note: First salesman, although branded a coward, lived to tell the tale.)

"Hello, Madam, I see you are looking at our finest microwave oven. You must be a woman of discriminating tastes!"

"Will it fit?"

"Of course, Madam, it will fit."

"Our enclosure is 16 inches deep and this microwave is 18 inches deep. Are you saying it will fit by magic?"

"Er, no, Madam, perhaps you'd like to speak with the Vice President? I get him."

"No, I'll speak with you. Do you have a trim kit?"

"Trim kit, Madam, certainly we have trim kit. I'm sure we have trim kit. Yes, indeedy, on my Mother's grave we have trim kit."

Scuttles off. Returns downcast. "Alas, Madam, trim kit supply has been depleted!"

"Nevermind, we'll take the microwave. It should fit, shouldn't it, with some coercion?"

The Register of Truth

"Zip code?"


"Ah, here we are! Just a few clicks and we're done."

"Wait a minute. That field says 'Receive Ads'. I don't want to receive ads."

"Oops, too late, I already press button. Sorry!"

"Excuse me, but not sorry. I don't want to receive ads. I just told you I don't want to receive ads and you pressed the button anyway. Why do you need this information? Are you going to sell it on the Internet? Yes, that's what you're going to do you're going to sell it aren't you. Aren't you? AREN'T YOU?"

"No, Madam."


*people gather*


"OK, OK, look, I start over. Fake name. Fake address. Fake phone number. But, you listen to me! If you have problem with microwave we no have way to find you!"

"Don't worry, my little kumquat, I'LL FIND YOU!"

And with that the salesman blanched, spun around in a 270 and fainted dead away. Klunk. On the floor. Out Cold.

I grabbed the dolly with the new microwave on it and headed out the door. As I was loading the box into the back of the SUV I asked, "You don't much like shopping for appliances, do you?"

She just grinned.

Cue Kill Bill 2 credits music.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Who Gets Pounced and Who Gets the Pounce?

Ah, home again, home again, jiggity jig!

Two days in a 1980's hotel with dysfunctional Internet service was enough for me to Really Appreciate the Blogorium, bathed in WiFi radiation comin' at you at 2.5 Megabaud, KOMA broadcasting 50,000 watts out of Oklahoma City, all hits, all the time.

That thought takes me back to the 70's when we would pick up KOMA on the AM dial late at night and not every night. Those nights were special nights because KOMA was the Way Cool radio station of the 70's broadcasting something totally new: Talk Radio. Yep, the DJ would engage truck drivers, aliens, Bigfoot and that waitress from Dan's Diner to expound on a whole raft of subjects from politics to particle physics. Cool beans, except we didn't have that expression back then.


I confess to have said "groovy" in all seriousness. Later I would commit the sin of uttering "heavy", truly, in all seriousness. I skipped "righteous" but lapsed into "tubular" which, to this day, I have no idea what it means. But, I said it in all seriousness. Tubular, man. (head nodding sagely) Now I say "Wazzzzzzzzup?" only to invoke nausia in my kids. It works, too.

That extended stream of consciousness leads me back to home again. Welcome Home, said the fish. Good old Twinkie the 8-year old, nearly fin-rotted dead gold fish who has more lives than 100 cats and who, according to the depressing How to Raise Goldfish book, may live 20 more years and I swear if he does that there will be only a pair of fish lips floating in the tank nibbling at the shrimp flakes I toss in every morning. Anyway, of all of the House Zoo inhabitants, only Twinkie the Wonder Fish showed any excitement at my return. Good old Twinkie. I'm sure the pinch of shrimp flakes boosted his enthusiasm.

Nobbs the Cat, also known as the Pretender, "appeared' to acknowledge my return with an arch-backed purr around the ankles followed by a dash to the food bowl.

In my euphoria of actually being acknowledged by Nobbs I breached protocol by picking him up and saying something stupid like "Who's a nice kitty?" only to experience the Five Claw Paw Exploding Hand technique, whereby Nobbs scratches you at five pressure points and bites you on the hand. I staggered five steps and poured him a bowl of Cat Chow.

After I staunched my wounds, I poured myself a G&T.

Sandy the Cat then came down the stairs and hopped on my lap purring and basically getting in my face. That earned him two Pounces. "Pounce" is a cat treat that Sandy will nearly do cartwheels for. He's a Pounce nut. Sensing that I was at Death's Door, he capitalized on the opportunity for one or two more Pounces before I expired and I did not disappoint him. Two Pounces down the hatch Sandy curled up on the couch and went to sleep. Now, that's a cat with priorities.

Nobbs, on the other hand, never gets a Pounce. Probably because they're not made of human blood. Which, apparently, he prefers.

Pounced or Pounce? You decide.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Yesterday I experienced Internet cold turkey for the first time in I don't know how long. Although the hotel boasts Free Wireless Internet, yesterday we basked in Wireless InterNot. Our machines connected OK and all looked well, but the server took a vacation, went to Tulsa and we were Sorry Out Of Luck.

No news. No weather. No email. No blogs! I felt like a pioneer from the 80's, and not the 1880's. I thought back to those days, my 80's not great-great-granddad's, and reflected on how much things have changed since then. We had a lot more time back then, or so I thought. Actually, we had the same amout of time; it just wasn't all filled up with Internet, email, blogs and stuff.

So, I shuffled aimlessly around the hotel wondering what to do when I found what looked like a mouse with about 50 buttons. Cool, I thought, I wonder what this is?

One button was labeled "Power" so I closed my eyes and pressed it.

The TV turned on and I thought, wow, this is so cool! I haven't seen one of these since 1984!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Social Dis-Ease

I am not the most social of people, in a social sort of way. Sociable, yeah, I'll wear that label but I don't go around trying to get my picture on the Society Page of the newspaper. In high school there was a definite group called the "Soshes" and I have no idea how a word like that would be spelled. It's was pronounced like SO-shez. Anyway, these folks were the ones who ran for student government and stuff like that. I'm sure they all got their pictures on the Society Page. Somewhere.

My group carried miniature slide rules in our pocket protectors, were very serious about what Plato had to say and occasionally snorted when we laughed. We never got our pictures on the Society Page, which as I mentioned earlier, was not a priority anyway.

How I found myself at a black tie dinner for the Chinese Delegation is a long, involved story the point of which is being at the dinner. So there I was surrounded by SO-shez of Eastern and Western variety and I might as well have been a zebra among a pride of lions. But, after a while I found the reception was going OK. The champagne helped.

My blueprint was to do the following:

A. Not spill the champagne. Looks bad and such a waste to boot.
B. Smile and nod. I had no idea what anybody was talking about.
C. Try to introduce the subject of tin production in Bolivia. I read somewhere this is a cool thing to do.
D. See A.

I actually got briefed on how to behave at the dinner. Basically, be seen and not heard. That was going to be a stretch from the git-go because I'm usually heard first. Just zip it for one night, Bill, and you'll get through OK. How big a deal could that be? After an hour at the reception I'm thought so far, so good and I began to imagine myself on the drive home. Mission accomplished!

The tinkle of a little bell signaled dinner and we started to file into the banquet hall. I am a huge fan of Chinese food and I was actually looking forward to this part of the evening. I was sure that we would be having more than Sesame Chicken and Egg Drop soup.

I was not disappointed, but I was surprised.

The first dish served was, well, let's see, hmmmm, what was it? It looked like a dumpling but it tasted like a squid and the stuff that squirted out all over the tablecloth might have been ink, except it was green. Anyway, I chewed it up quickly and swallowed hard.

The next dish was something fried, it was hard to tell what, but I think I crunched a beak and feet. Is there such a thing as soft shell sparrow? Everybody else was munching away so I did the same. Swallowed hard.

The next dish, I swear, was a sponge. It looked like a sponge. Smelled like a sponge. And, like a sponge, resisted all attempts to chew it. Finally, after much tongue action I managed to roll it into a compact ball and. Swallowed hard.

By this time I was ready for dessert and coffee, but nooooooo. Not yet. The Incredibly Squishy Thing appeared next. Again, I was at a loss to identify this delicacy and actually longing for Sesame Chicken, or Any Chicken, or something that Tasted Like Chicken. The Incredibly Squishy Thing resisted all attempts to pick it up with chopsticks. It just divided into smaller and smaller Incredibly Squishy Thing pieces. Finally, I looked around and most people were raising the bowl to their mouths and sucking it in or something. I did the same and the whole lot went down like a huge sinus drainage and once it started I couldn't stop so I...Swallowed hard.

The next dish brought tears to my eyes. A salad. An ordinary leaf salad. No beaks. No Squishy Thing. No thousand year old dressing. Just a salad. I never thought I'd be so grateful. That waiter has probably told his children the story of the guest who kissed his hand at a banquet. A lesson in the dangers of drinking too much champagne and watching too much MTV!

I savored the first lettuce leaf. Mmmm, lettuce, as Homer Simpson would say. I glanced down for my next acquisition and what did I see awaiting my chopsticks?

A beetle.

A live beetle.

Not a nicely cooked grub with a nutty taste, but a half-inch long, black, live 'n' kickin', June Bug lookin', ready to be chomped by my teeth...beetle.

I couldn't make a fuss because I was told to be seen and not heard. I musn't embarrass my hosts. At all costs. Even to the point of eating a live beetle, whom I assume wasn't consulted about his part in the dinner preparations.

That's when I drew the line. Now, I'm a self-proclaimed gourmet. I like fine food, I cook fine food, I own a Binford 3000 Titanium garlic defibulator, but, and this is a Big But, I draw the line at intentionally eating live insects. (Qagh, a Klingon dish best served live, is more like a worm than an insect or grub, however, and I can handle that.) Live bugs, no thanks.

So, what to do, what to do? Most people around me had finished their salads and I'm stuck with the bug. I decided to take the low road and with a deft flick of my chopsticks I grabbed the bug, the leaf below and inverted them. In the blink of an eye the bug went from top to bottom. Presto Change-o, all leaf, no bug.

It would have been the perfect crime except my waiter, (remember the hand kissing thing?), saw it all and proceeded to tell the Teacher. Within seconds I was surrounded by a frenzy of activity, waiters, head waiters, chefs, hosts, body guards confused about what was happening but they had their hands in their coats, the entire banquet hall looking at me.

Suddenly I was on the Society Page and I didn't like it one bit. Seen but not heard, without uttering a word I was the loudest person there.

And, now, the rest of the story.

Of all the "delicacies" on the menu, Mr. Ink, the beaks, Sponge Bob, the Squishy Thing and all that. Of all the unknown things I had Swallowed Hard, of all the stuff that had presented to me in my honor...

Of all that...

The beetle wasn't supposed to be there.

The beetle was a gate crasher.

And, because I deftly tried to hide the offending beetle underneath a lettuce leaf and, thus, save face for my hosts, who would have committed a grave breach of etiquette by serving a live beetle to an honored guest, I was the hero of the night.

They drank a toast to me. Yea, me. I smiled but gave no speech. Seen but not heard, you know.

The next day the Society Page featured pictures of the Chinese Delegation banquet. Everybody was there smiling and beaming and looking all social.

Everybody except me. Just as well.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Can't Pump This

MC Hammer runs my local gas station. Not really, but that song was going through my head this afternoon as I tried to fill up the truck.

Not a big deal, I've been to this gas station a thousand times. Pump 9. So often it says 6, 7, 8, Bill, 10, 11...

My pump.

So, I run my card through the reader, so far so good, select my grade, El Cheapo, and pump.

Click. Click. Clickity-click. Wha? I wait a few seconds. Click. Click. Click.


Then I notice a lady at Pump 8 having problems, too.

"Is this thing working?", she asked.

"Dunno", I replied, "mine is just clicking and no gas. Oh, now it says 'See Cashier'. Not a good sign."

And I wandered up to the little booth where the Cashier is imprisoned and I rapped on the window: Pump 9, is it working?

"You did something wrong and pump screwed up! It fixed now. You try again."

I tried again and nothing. Nada. No gas. Clickity-click. I looked around and everybody was having the same no gas experience. I went back to see the cashier.

"It your fault!", he exclaimed, "You no how to pump gas."

I refrained from the obvious reply and decided to cut my losses, head down the road and gas up elsewhere. I wasn't the only one who came to this conclusion. As I was getting into my truck the lady from Pump 8 caught my eye and, boy, was she furious.

"He says I can't pump gas!", she fumed, "Why I've been pumping gas since Daddy lost his arm in the grain thrasher."

That was enough info for me and I headed out to the highway wondering if Daddy had wished the thrasher had run out of gas a few moments earlier.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

All the Wrong Reasons

Super Bowl Sunday.

I'll give it a miss. To say I'm not much of a football fan is an understatement. I don't even know who's playing. Better to spend the day foraging for a new microwave and take advantage of everybody else in Houston watching the game; the stores should be empty!

Don't ask me why I'm looking forward to shopping after the experience I had in Kroger the other day.

Electrified shelves.

I guess the vegie section is grounded, organically speaking, that is. I got through that OK. The fruits and vegetables gave me no static. But down the chip aisle things took a definite turn for the worse. Now, I'll admit that I shouldn't be buying chips, bad for you and all that, but I heard those voices in my head singing "Chips, ahoy, matey!" and I couldn't resist.

I should have resisted. As my hand closed around a Double Saver bag of South of the Border Restaurant Style, a bolt of lightning a full six-inches long leapt from the shelf, into my index finger, across my kidneys and down to my left knee.

"Ouch-y, wa wa, ouevos rancheros, chingata!", and I don't even speak Spanish. Several people near me muttered "Buenos dias.", and shuffled off.

Freak accident, I thought. Later in the condiments aisle I reached for a jar of mayo, not on my shopping list, but the opportunity presented itself when

ZOT! Ten thousand volts, if a volt short, hopped from the shelf into my outstreatched hand, straight through my heart, down my spine and into my shorts. "Oh, my god!", I yelped as I dropped to my knees, "Jesusss Aiche Christttt, Oh Baby That Hurt so Good!" Alarmed by my outburst, a lady in a wheel chair got up and sprinted towards the door. I guess my prayer worked.

(Mental note: Buy a big tent and reserve the city park in Beaumont. There's healin' to be done. PTL.)

Further on I tried some experiments. I stood in front of the hot sauce selection. There it was, Pace Picante with Lime (medium). Sweat dripped from my palms. I knew that would only serve to increase conductivity. With shaking hand I reached out, slowly grasped the bottle and withdrew it from the shelf. Unshocked. I dropped it in my cart and breathed heavily.

"What's wrong with that man, Mommy?", a little voice piped.

"He's an unfortunate person", Mommy answered, "He's doing the best he can. We'll pray for him."

Oh, great, I thought, here I cured a cripple on the maoynnaise aisle and now they're praying for me. What's next?

I turned around and my cart was gone.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Texas Chili

Yes, I've judged chili. I'm a certified Texas chili judge. That and a buck will get me a cup of coffee, except at Starbucks where it will cost me $1.73.

The aroma permeating my house is an award winning chili in the embryonic stage. Just a little green. Needs time to ripen.

Tincture of time.

Flashback many years ago. I was finishing up a physical with my local sawbones and I said that Helen was down with the flu. Fever, achy bones, tender skin. Miserable by all accounts. Got any words of wisdom, I asked?

Tincture of time, he said, an old Indian cure, meaning "just wait it out, kid, it will run it's course."

I heard "tincture of thyme" an old Indian infusion of herbs that would relieve the symptoms of flu. Off I went to the local drug store to ease my wife's flu misery. Tincture of Thyme, hmmm, never heard of that. Oh, well.

At the drug store I scanned the shelves for Tincture of Thyme. I found Tincture of Iodine and Mint, poultices and oils but no Tincture of Thyme.

Finally, I decided to ask the pharmacist. Yep, swallow the pride, can't find the Tincture, ask, goddammit, ask!

"Ahem. Er, where can I find Tincture of Thyme?"

The pharmacist stared at me like I was some kind of bug. "What are you looking for?"

"Er, well, my wife has the flu and my doctor said that Tincture of Thyme would help. Do you sell it?"

The pharmacist turned around and appeared to have a fit of some kind, it almost sounded like uncontrolled laughing. Turning around and wiping the tears from his eyes he said, "Usually we do, but we're fresh out. I think we'll have some more on Wednesday." At which point he turned around and had another fit.

Well, I'd had enough excitement for one day and went home to my flu-y wife. Sorry, I said, you'll have to tough it out. They're all out of the Miracle Cure.

Miracle Chili. It's chilly here in south Texas, down in the 40's and it's been like that all week. I've been hankering for a chili since Monday but just haven't had the time. A proper chili takes many hours to ripen, at least three. Mine's been on for two and a bit and it's just starting to smell like chili instead of meat and water and stuff.

OK, since you're dying to know, here's the blueprint:

In the chili pot: chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh), tomato puree, water, chopped jalapenos, dried onion flakes.
Cook up: 2 red onions (chopped), garlics (lots minced), 3 lbs steak (cut into 1/2 inch chunks)
Add: salt, stock cube.

Simmer for 2-3 hours. Add tomato paste for a thicker chili, but if it's OK then don't bother. Check the seasonings for bite (add more jalapeno or hot sauce or pepper flakes) and salt.

Serve with cornbread or tortillas or biscuits, salad. Beans are up to you. A Texas chili has no beans by definition. Beans cooked on the side and added are cool, or sometimes I break the rules, devil I am, and add beans directly to the Texas chili instantly transforming it into a liberal, anything goes, tax & spend, California chili.

And there you have it.

Best Buy

I went into Best Buy with the best intentions to buy a microwave. (Read "Microwave Madness" to find out why.)

I came out of Best Buy, satisfied I might add, with a cordless phone to replace the phone in my office, a cool headset for the phone so I can talk and Google simultaneously, a couple of CD's and DVD's I didn't need and no microwave oven. They didn't have the right model.

What does that say?

Microwave Madness

The microwave turned on by itself the other day.

You know, that just shouldn't happen. The procedure is that you push the door button, toss in your cold whatever, hit a cook button, wait for the beep and snarf away.

Not this time. The microwavce turned on by itself. No door button, no cold whatever, no cook button. Just started up.

Worse yet, I couldn't turn it off. All the buttons were frozen. Only opening the door stopped the madness. I reset the circuit breaker. No effect. Once power was reapplied it started up again. All by itself. Not a good scene, I assure you. The microwave can't decide when to cook on it's own, especially when there's nothing to cook inside. So, to add metaphor to metaphore: our microwave was toast.

That has led me on a not so merry chase to find a replacement. Of course, our microwave is built-in and not any old microwave will fit. All the building-in was done a decade ago and guess what? Microwaves have changed since then. So, now I'm looking at a Major Project instead of simply replacing the thing. Oh, well.

The Home Depot guy said, "We get you folks in here all the time. We don't stock a replacement, but, then again, nobody does. Good luck. Oh, by the way, you might as well move, or remodel you entire kitchen. Have a nice day."


Who needs a microwave, anyway? Well to be in my house everybody does! How am I going to warm my coffee, cook my oatmeal, thaw out the mastadon? It goes on and on. Yep, the microwave has become one of those kitchen appliances as necessary as an oven or a sink.

The good news is that GE does make a replacement. The bad news is that it's not "exactly" the same size as our dead microwave (actually, it's not dead in a technical sense, just crazy) and something will get bent when I install it.

It's not looking good for the home team.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day to everybody who won't experience six more weeks of winter. Here in south Texas I can tell you if it ain't 52-degrees by Friday I'm going to write a letter.

Groundhog Day, a good film, too.

I had my own personal Groundhog Day many years ago in California. I was out in Anaheim for a week and on my first day I stopped at a breakfast joint. Nothing spectacular, something like a Denny's or Bob's Big Boy, I don't remember. It was a breakfast joint and the parking lot was full of pickup trucks. Always a good sign.

The hostess seated me at a little two-person booth and after scanning the menu I settled on a Captain's Breakfast: two eggs, sausage, hash browns, two buttermilk pancakes, juice and coffee. All for $4.95. What a deal. It was an OK breakfast, nothing special, but OK and soon I was on my way.

The next day I stopped for breakfast at the same place, was seated at the same booth and ordered the Captain's Breakfast from the same waitress. Hey, weren't you here yesterday. Yep. You had a Captain's Breakfast yesterday, huh? Yep. Whoa, that's one of those things, ain't it? Yep.

The third day I made the mistake of stopping at the same place for breakfast. They were waiting for me. At first they told me there were no tables ready, but the place was practically empty. So, I hung around for a few minutes. No big deal. At last the hostess seated me at what had now become my Usual Booth and my Usual Waitress brought out a Captain's Breakfast automatically. I feigned surprise as I had planned on having waffles that day, but no matter. They were having fun so I joined in.

As I left the staff gathered around the cash register and asked if I would be having breakfast in the morning. I wasn't sure what to say. I could have lied and said that I was flying out that afternoon, but they looked so eager, so keen for me to say, sure, I'll be back for one more, final, Captain's Breakfast in my Usual Booth served by my Usual Waitress.

And as if in a trance I said all that. I kicked myself all the way to work for being such a coward.

My last day was quite spectacular. True I was really flying out that afternoon and wouldn't return forever. Guaranteed. The staff pulled out all the stops. My Usual Booth had a floral arrangement. The staff sang. I was King for a Day. And breakfast was on the house. Imagine that. In four days I went from customer to King.

Like Groundhog Day the film I was caught in a loop of my own. I wonder if my Usual Waitress has ever told the story about the customer who came for breakfast four days in a row.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Sometimes I find myself in a rut. OK, to be truthful I jump from rut to rut.

The other night I thought about the ruts I've been in, cooking-wise, over the years and discovered that they're not so much ruts, something one gets stuck in, as tracks; something one follows.

Hamburger surprise. As a student I lived for hamburger surprise. Of course, it never appeared as a surprise; I cooked it every night. Yet, every night I looked forward to cooking it because it was hamburger and a surprise. What could be better? Often the surprise took form as a mushroom soup-based sauce of some kind ladeled over rice. The surprise became whatever I had to put into the mixture to jazz it up a little; jalapenos, sour cream, onions, garlic, bell pepper and stuff like that. Always an invention, hamburger surprise kept me going for many years. Ah, youth!

Culinarily speaking we follow tracks for a while then switch to new tracks, or the tracks change. Take Chicken Kiev, for example. When's the last time you made Chicken Kiev? It's a chicken breast stuffed with garlic butter, breaded and deep fried. Depending on which diet plan you're on at the moment I've just described a horror of horrors: deep fried stuffed with butter. But in it's heyday Chicken Kiev was a rave dish. To this day I remember the raves. And, diets be damned, it's a very tasty dish!

Fondue. Obviously near and dear to my heart has been a track. Fondues were all the rave a while ago but now they come and go. Again, it might be the diet factor. All that cheese. Although in the proper setting with some restraint "all that cheese" can be controlled and the fondue experience preserved. Once in a while, which is when you typically have fondue anyway, what's the harm?

Casseroles. What's up with those? I avoided casseroles as a kid on General Principle Number One: Avoid Casseroles! That's because casseroles were synonymous with "leftovers." Grate some cheese on that old whatever, toss in some macaroni and bake at 350 until brown. Yummy...not.

So, tonight, in celebration of cooking experiments past (and, really, what cooking isn't an experiment) I'm celebrating my hamburger surprise by serving my family...hamburger surprise. Hamburger, mushrooms, onions, red wine, garlic, seasoning and cream; over rice with steamed vegetables on the side.

Steamed vegetables. The Marquis de Sade's favorite dish.