Saturday, April 30, 2005


A friend of mine has been captivated by the Text Monkey for years. He wrote his own Text Monkey program on an Apple II computer and I think he still runs it. The Text Monkey takes regular text and scrambles the letters, but it uses the frequency distribution of the letters in the sample text to produce Monkey words that look like real words, and a lot of real words, too. The game we played was to take a Monkey word and give it a definition.

Fralrescroblem: FRAL reh scrob lem, noun, A problem that you find yourself facing that is bigger or more complex than the problem that you originally set out to fix.

Example: You go out to change the spark plug in your lawnmower and snap the plug off in the engine block. You reset a circuit breaker in the garage and fry your stereo system. You go up into the attic to investigate a noise and end up crashing through the ceiling.

You get the idea.

So, I went out to a well known home improvement/furniture store, who's big blue and yellow store shall remain nameless, to buy a set of shelves for the home office. Simple, you'd think. I had seen the shelves in a catalog and thought they looked cool: Two chrome end brackets holding a thick shelf made of beech or birch.

What are the odds of going to a store like this and actually finding what you're looking for in stock? Zero, right? Well, the first red flag should have been that there were stacks and stacks of these shelves on the warehouse floor. Buyer's choice! Score!

I grabbed two 4-foot shelf boxes and headed to the check-out. In short order I was home and ready to install. Required tools: Phillips screwdriver. Great, my kind of installation.

I've installed shelves many times. I know that you need more than a Phillips screwdriver. You need a stud finder, level, drill for pilot holes and a tape measure to get the height right.

I went down to the garage, loaded up with tools and headed back to the study. Piece of cake, I was thinking. After unpacking all the parts I checked out the Installation Instructions. One page.

Install a bracket, left or right, it doesn't matter.
Drill holes for the second bracket.
Slip shelf into first bracket, then screw in second bracket.

Using my stud finder I located the first stud in the wall for Bracket A. I drilled the holes and mounted Bracket A. Then scanned across 48 inches and located the second stud, drilled the holes for Bracket B. OK, ready to go.

I slotted the shelf into Bracket A, picked up Bracket B and...something was short. Or long. Did I measure wrong? Was Bracket B too far out? Nope, the shelf was short.

I measured the shelf.


No, that can't be right. These are 4-foot shelves; 48 inches, not 46. I measured again.


Dread welled up into my throat from my boots. Frantically, I checked the box. Contents: 2 brackets, 5 mounting screws, 1 birch shelf (46")

What? Who would make a 46-inch shelf? Who in their right mind would make a 46-inch shelf? Wall studs are spaced at 16 inches. Three studs give you a 48-inch spacing. Not 46. Forty-six is stupid! Insane! Crazy! What I got.


I like to mount my shelves on wall studs, not in drywall. I thought through all the possibilities. Stretch the shelf. No. Move the brackets to the very edge of the studs. No. Take the shelves back for a refund. No. Mount half the shelf in the stud and the other half in the drywall. Compromise.

I went down to the garage to get some drywall plugs. No plugs. Trip to Lowes. Wrong size plugs. Second trip to Lowes. No drill bit the right size to mount drywall plugs. Avoid trip to Lowes by using a screwdriver to make holes in drywall. Finally mounted shelves, 16 hours later, and loaded them up with all my software books. Quite a load. I hope it holds.

To this day people ask me why I carry a tape measure on my belt. Well, I say, do you know what a fralrescroblem is?

On the Verge

The first time I saw a driver escape the freeway by driving across the verge to the service road I couldn't believe my eyes.

"Did you see that guy?"

"What guy?"

"That guy! That guy just drove off the road, went across the grass and nearly got into a wreck on the service road! What an idiot!"

We would have this conversation frequently.

The weather brings out the best in Driving Weirdness. A little rain and people are all over the place: running red lights (more than usual), careening across the verge, backing up on the freeway (nothing wakes you up faster than 4 Grande Starbucks than to see bright back up lights coming at you) and, my all time favorite, driving up the median (yeah, it's a little bumpy, but that's what you've got shocks for!).

Accidents bring out the worst in Driving Weirdness. When stuck in traffic that's not moving the best thing to do is sit back and listen to a few dozen CD's. But, there are those who absolutely must get to their destination Right Away because they are Very Important. These people change lanes, attempt the verge maneuver and all sorts of other anti-social antics. You'd think they'd learn from experience.

Yesterday was just such an experience.

Four o'clock, a beautiful day, Friday and a bad attitude towards work conspired to convince me to get out of Dodge, head for the barn and just leave early. What the heck? I checked the freeway status on-line and everything was green. Flank speed, I'd be home in 30 minutes. Of course, you suspect that was not the case and you would be right. Twenty-five minutes into my run home, which, by the way, was a great 25 minutes, light traffic and everybody behaving, I came over a hill and was met with a sea of tail lights. No where to exit for the next two miles. I was stuck. We were all stuck. And all hell was breaking loose.

A quick check at the local AM radio station - News and Traffic every 15 Minutes, Keep Tuned Right Here, KTRH, Houston - brought the news that an overturned tractor trailer was blocking all lanes. Not good. Not good at all. I would do well to abandon the truck and walk home. It would be faster.

Looking ahead some cars were moving slowly. There were people standing in the freeway. Who knows? People were changing lanes back and forth. I could see the off ramp to the next exit. It was choked with cars moving at less than walking speed. I inched over to the right hand lane and crept forward. Creep. Creep. Sting changed to Aerosmith. Creep. Creep.

Suddenly, flashing lights caught my eye and a police car had pulled up on the service road. The officer got out and started walking directly towards me. I looked around. Nope, no felons to the left. The officer got up to my Explorer and motioned me to roll down the passenger window. Now what? Busted by a cop on foot? Was I speeding at 0.5 MPH?

"Sir, if it would help you can cut across the verge to the service road and get out of this mess."


"Yeah," the cop said, "today you can be an Honorary Jackass and move on to the frontage road, or you can sit here. Up to you."

"Thanks," I said. And I bumped off the freeway, across the verge like a Professional Jackass, like I've been verge hopping all my life, bounced over the curb onto the frontage road and zoomed home at flank speed. It felt good to be a Jackass.

I got home and checked the clock. Having left work an hour early I arrived at home five minutes before my usual time.

Five minutes sooner. So, I thought...

...five minutes early! Woo Hoo! Par-tay, it's the weekend!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Mo Power

I just installed Mac OS 10.4, Tiger, on my PowerBook. The first thing I noticed was that my wireless reception was a whole lot better. The antenna is maxed out. Must be the tail, yeah, that's it. Big ole Tiger tail is giving me mo power!

Can't wait to make more discoveries in the morning which is going to come all too soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Beet Goes On

True confession, I did not go 50 years without eating a beet. Not so many years ago on a fine English summers day around lunchtime...


I heard the word and I knew what it meant but my first thought was to beat a hasty retreat.

"Beet?" Aunt Gwen smiled and offered a small, delecate porcelain bowl filled with whole beets. Not slices. I could handle a slice. Whole beets. They were leering at me. I could hear them snickering, "Heh heh heh. Comin' to get ya, boy! Uncle LJ's comin' t' get ya!"

"Lovely beee-eets," Gwen sang! Even at her advanced age Gwen had a melodic voice. Stuff my ears with wax lest I fall prey to the Siren song, "Beee-eets!"

Gwen cooked as well as she sang. Everything from scratch, from memory, by instinct. She canned her own vegetables, created her own relishes. Her husband made fruit wine. Lunch at their house was an experience I looked forward to for years at a time.

No doubt Gwen pickled her own beets. No doubt she either grew them in her garden or selected them by hand at the local market. I had a vision of her humming to herself in her tiny kitchen, experienced hands trimming the beets, an exotic liquor of salts and spices simmering on her stove. She would have talked to the beets and packed them with care into jars selected especially for their beetiness. Nothing less than Beet Nirvana.

As if in a trance floating above my body I looked down and saw myself pick one, two, then three beets from the bowl and place them on my plate. Then, with a jolt, I came to, looked down and the beets were still there! Not a dream, not a dream. As a bead of sweat formed on my forehead I loaded up with some Stilton cheese, a few crackers, some celery and grabbed a large glass of apple wine.

Downing half a glass of wine as fortification, I focused on the beet willing it to disappear. The beet looked back at me and smiled. Carefully I sliced off a tiny sliver. No, it was no good. A tiny sliver would not get the job done. I had three beets to eat so I might as well get going. With the speed of a mongoose I sliced a beet in half, forked into my mouth, chomped it three times and swallowed fast.

As I paused for the dreaded beet flavour to permeate my sinuses the most amazing thing happened. A miracle, really. My mouth was making happy noises. My tongue signaled my brain for More Beet.

More Beet! More Beet!

Yes, it was true. I couldn't believe it. A tasty beet. Very tasty. Downright yummy. I polished off the remaining beets in short order and went into the kitchen for more. Although I didn't keep count, I think I gobbled down at least nine.

Ah, Gwen, you're a culinary genius if you can pickle a beet that I will eat, nay, relish. I pondered the secret ingredients she might have used. Cumin? Mediterranean Sea salt? Special hybrid herbs lovingly grown in her garden?

Finally I decided to simply ask her for the recipe. She had given me recipes in the past, and even if this was an instinctive recipe containing a little of this and a pinch of that, I might get enough of it to pickle my own beets.

I couldn't believe what I was thinking! Pickle my own beets? Was I stark raving mad? Yes, I was! Mad for Gwen's beets. Intoxicated by that ruby red, crunchy, briny-sour, mouth-watering unique beet taste. It was to be mine.

Later that afternoon, when the washing up had been completed and people were dozing in various chairs and on various sofas, and just before it was time to make tea, I caught Gwen alone in her garden tending to what looked like special hybrid herbs. I struck up a subtle conversation.

"Well, Gwen, you can't beat this weather," I said casually. "Nope, can't beat it."

I paused.

"Speaking of beets," I continued, "I must compliment you on the wonderful beets you served at lunch today. It's an understatement to say that I am not a beet fan, and, to be honest, I go out of my way to avoid them. But, your beets, Gwen, were fantastic. I've never had anything quite like your beets and, well, I have a big favor to ask."

Gwen put down her pruning scissors, turned and looked up at me. She knew I liked to cook and appreciated fine food. I had asked for her recipes before and she was so delighted she had written them out by hand on little yellow recipe cards decorated with Bo Peep and her flock. I was imagining the card already: Gwen's Beet Recipe. Bo Peep gazing up in admiration.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," I pressed, "I'd be honored if you'd share your pickled beet recipe with me. I promise to do my best and treat the beets with as much care and devotion as you do." I was starting to ramble, so I shut up abruptly.

Gwen paused. She furrowed her brow in thought, then turned to me and said, "Beets? Pickled beets?"

I nodded. "The ones we had at lunch," I said, "I'd like the recipe. Please."

"Oh," she mused, "I don't have a recipe for those. No, I'm afraid, no recipe."

"Just tell me how you make them!" I was getting a little strident. "I'll memorize it!"

"Well," she said quietly, "I don't make them at all."

"You don't?" I felt lightheaded. Things were going grey.

"Oh, no," Gwen continued, "I buy them at Safeway. They were on sale this week..."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Up Beet

You'll never guess what I had for lunch today?

Uh, based on the title of this posting I'd guess "beets."

Bingo! Yep, I ate a beet or more accurately three beet slices. Pickled beet slices. They were all dripping and red and tasted like dirt. I might have them again tomorrow.

Then, again, the wave of madness may pass and I'll go another 50 years (hopefully) before eating another beet slice. Fifty years is a pretty long time to hold a grudge. Especially against a vegetable, but there you have it in a nutshell. Many years ago I had a Bad Beet Experience that set me on a half-century of beetlessness. That's beet-less-ness not beetles-sness.

The Experience involved a young me, a beet and my uncle LJ who delivered the unwanted said beet to my little plate. I looked at the beet. The beet looked back. I picked up the beet and remember thinking "Holy Mackerel! This thing made my hand go red!" whereupon I dropped it on the floor.

To Uncle LJ it looked like I threw it on the floor and perhaps I did accelerate the beet's journey to the linoleum below.

Uncle LJ calmly picked the beet up, put it back on my plate and added a second beet.

What's this? They're multiplying! Even though I didn't even know what multiplying was, in any sense of the word, I did know that I had a bigger problem then before, so I tried an experiment. I took both beets and threw them on the floor.

Uncle LJ calmly picked the beets up, put them back on my plate and added a third beet.

Now, I never claimed to be a child prodigy but I remember having this distinct vision of a vast crimson mountain rising out of my tiny plate, bursting through the ceiling and reaching the moon.

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. I was expected to eat all three beets. Up until now all I'd done is manhandle them. Under Uncle LJ's patient gaze I picked up my first victim, took a nibble and...

...well, I don't remember much after that. Apparently, it took me about an hour to struggle down three small beets. The Beet Story became family legend and I was the "beet" of jokes for years.

I managed to avoid beets since that fateful meal. I never bought them. I never ordered them in a restaurant. I would not eat them in a box. I would not eat them with a fox.

Until yesterday.

And there they were at the salad bar. A new item. Never seen beets at the salad bar before. Suddenly I had a real hankering for beets, so I took a couple of slices and, well, the rest is history.

Who knows what vistas will open up to me tomorrow? Maybe they'll have fennel on the menu. Ah, yes, that reminds me of the Great Fennel Fiasco...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Take A Walk

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

"How about a pint, then? We can take a walk."

Finally, I thought, music to my ears. Nigel had finally said something worth
listening to: how about a pint. Oh, yes, how about a pint, indeed! Nigel
had my full attention. At least up to the word "pint".

On any other day in any other year I might not have been so expectant to the prospect of an ordinary pint of bitter in Wimbledon, on a Sunday, no less. But, today I had earned my wages. Nigel, a rare breed of British extrovert, had invited me only recent to the UK, to "Sunday tea", whether out of hospitality or malice I never knew.

This was the summer of '76. The Great Heat Wave, the Drought, the Hottest Summer since 1506. Whatever. The British were not prepared. No air conditioning. No iced drinks. No ceiling fans. No shade. No relief. The optimistic rolled their pants legs up and offered their ivory limbs to the sun gods in hopes of a tan only to be broiled red. The rest of us waited in
anticipation of noon when the pubs opened.

Nigel lived in south London, a far journey from my student digs. The heat made it worse as, even on a Sunday, the tubes were packed with people going who knows where (why couldn't *they* take a walk?) and carrying their worldly goods, to boot. A middle eastern lady reeking of curry got on the train carrying two large Harrods bags. Of laundry. I didn't know Harrods did laundry.

"Sunday tea" is a quaint British phrase not to be confused with "Sunday
dinner". The word "dinner" promises "starters", roasted meats, Yorkshire
puddings, steaming vegetables, cheese platters, ample drink and "afters". On the other hand, "tea" can be anything, or more likely, nothing.

As a newcomer to Britain I had confused the two: dinner and tea. I expected dinner. I got tea.

It would not have been so bad if I had stoked up. But, an impoverished student, I arrived on fumes, literally, having spent the previous hour being infused by curry and dirty laundry. I was ready for chow, Leg of Mutton, Haunch of Cow, Shoulder of Horse or Bark of Tree!

What I got was Water of Cress and Streaky of Pork.

Water cress is just that: a thin, green leaf composed of 98% water. Streaky pork is like bacon, streaky but without the pork part. I believe it's sliced by a microtome.

While my hosts nibbled their bits I skewered my entire serving on the end of my fork and chomped it down in one go, anticipating (wrongly) that this was just the first course, the starter.

What I did not know was that it was the starter, the dinner and the after.

My hosts ignored my barbarism and waxed contentedly on the streakiness of the pork and the wateriness of the cress. I put on a brave face and tried to suppress thoughts of canabilism.

"How about a pint, then?"

Donner Pass faded from my consciousness. I was at the door in a flash. Which way, left or right? It was nearly noon. Opening time. If we hurried we could get in six pints, easy, before closing.

Left, Nigel directed and we set off.

"Nothing like a Sunday stroll after a nice tea, what?"

I never figured out how to answer questions that ended in "what", so I always replied "Right!". Off we went, up the high street, past the church, through the school yard and into the Commons.

In retrospect, I believe that all Commons should be signposted "No Pubs in Here" if only to be humane. While Nigel turned Naturalist, "Oh, is that a pigeon?", I tried to maintain focus, "Is it a free house? Will they have snacks? I think I'll order two pints at once!". Nigel examined every shrub, bush, tree and grass, hoping, I imagined, to find the elusive Striped Grubwinch, while I kept a nose aloft for the aroma of stale beer and my ears tuned to the clinking of glassware.

Onward we trudged.

I became quite alarmed. It was nearly two. Even if we found a pub in a hollow log we'd only have an hour of drinking time; three pints, maybe four at the outside. Yet, here we were in Murkwood. My spirits sank.

Another half-hour passed as we dragged ourselves through the forest. The place was full of people. All happy from the look of them. Probably returning from a pub having had Sunday Dinner.

The Death March ended as is often the case in England on the High Street. We came round a turn in the path, passed through a turnstyle, and found ourselves on a street full of people, cars, buses, taxis, dogs and, and, and...

And, directly in front of us, the Fox and Hounds. Never a sight so dear to my eyes. I stumbled across the street mumbling "I'llgetthefirstround. I'llgetthefirstround. I'llgetthefirstroud." It was 2:45. Fifteen minutes to closing.

Unfortunately, everybody else knew it was 2:45 and the bar was packed. By the time we got our pints the publican was ringing the bell for last call. "Down in one!", I called, but was met with blank stares.

The pint was a memory and we were back on the street. "Which way?", I

"Right, then left!", chirped an ever optimistic Nigel. And, sure enough, just around the corner was the flat.

"You mean the pub was a hundred yards from your flat?" I was becoming rabid. Foam forming on the corners of my mouth was not beer.

"Oh, yes.", replied Nigel.

"Why?", I implored weakly pointing to the pub, "Why?"

"Because after Sunday Tea we always take a walk.", Nigel gasped as I squeezed the life out of him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Speaking of Which

Your Linguistic Profile:

55% General American English

30% Dixie

5% Midwestern

5% Upper Midwestern

5% Yankee

I thought this was interesting. I spent my K-7 years in Shreveport, Louisiana and my mother was from Baton Rouge. That must be the Dixie part, although I don't have any kind of a southern accent. I always thought I was western or neutral. Shazam, what a shock to find out I'm 5% Yankee. You'd think that if I was 30% Dixie then I'd be 5% Damn Yankee.

So it would seem.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Best

The other day I was asked what was the best restaurant I ever ate at. Ignoring the preposition at the end of the sentence I pondered that question for some time.

The Best Restaurant.

After much pondering I came to the great conclusion that: it depends.

It depends on the time and the place. At least in my case.

In the past I would have said the International in Carefree, Arizona where I first had beef stroganoff and wild rice. Also in the past would have been the Cave in Nogales, Mexico where I had the amazing shrimp dinner already immortalized in this blog. Or it could be Pepino's Patio, home of the best Az-Mex in Arizona. I doubt if any of these places are extant today.

Today, I'd have to break Best Restaurant into categories, based on where I live in Houston, Texas.

Best Lunch Restaurant: Bayou City Seafood on Richmond. Also subject of a blog. Dale's Special is all I eat!

Best Indian Restaurant: Bombay Brazier on Richmond. What's with Richmond?

Best Oriental Restaurant: Kim Son tied with Vietopia. Kim Son is an all rounder, but Vietopia has atmosphere and good food.

Best Sushi: Sushi Jin on Memorial and Dairy Ashford. The sushi chefs know me and start preparing ikura as soon as I walk in the door. It's touching.

Best Mex-Tex: Picos with locations in Bellaire and I-10 West. Again, chicken chipotle. What else is there?

Best Seafood: Goode Seafood Company. Seafood margarita and stuffed flounder will do you for a month.

Best All Round Restaurant: Daniel's Brazier in Seattle. Excellent food and service and view. What more could you ask?

Best Thai Lunch: Thai Cottage, Bellaire, Houston, Texas. Never ask for a Number 4 pepper level. Trust me.

Best Meat Fest: Fogo de Chao, Houston. Haunch of Brontosaurus on a sword. Served by gauchos. Women swoon.

Best Italian of all time: Piccola Venezia 39 Thurloe Place South Kensington London SW7. If you don't like what's on the menu, Mama will cook you something special. Ernesto, you must eat something! Many a long night with the owner here. Ah, to be a student again!

Best Fondue: Amy's house. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Is that funny or what?

Best pork tenderloin dinner: My house, Houston, Texas. It's not funny. I take it very, very seriously.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Yabba Dabba Do!

Fred Flintstone would like Daniel's Broiler (Bellevue Place, Seattle).

Pterodactyl Steak. Rack o' Brontosaurus. T-Rex Ribs. Size of Australia Lobster Tails. And do save room for the 10,000 calorie gut-busting Chocolate Volcano.

It was the waiter, Adrian, who started it. "Tonight's special is corn fed Iowan beef prime rib. We call it the Flintstone Cut."

Laughter ensued. "Heh, heh. He said Flintstone cut. Funny, huh?"

I opted for the small 9 oz filet mignon since I'm watching my weight. Well, I'm watching my weight go up but I figure "watching it" is the first of a twelve step program. But my colleague, Dave, went for the Flintstone. Love that corn fed beef, he said, can't get enough.

The evening started well with a nice cocktail, fresh seafood appetizer of oysters on the half shell, shrimp and crab, fresh baked bread and sparkling conversation as only a table of computer specialists can produce.

"Yeah, but if you route the IP framastat through a wombat switch you can get one-point-one times the throughput, and, yeah, the wombat switch will bite you in the ass a few times but for point-one improvement it's worth the skin graft." Stuff like that. Waiters would hold their breath before entering our private room then leave quickly before they started bleeding from the ears.

I should have known from the grunting and groaning that the Flintstone Cut was arriving, but I was taken by surprise when the Haunch o' Hadrasaur was ratcheted down in front of Dave.

Even for a person raised in a society of conspicuous consumption I was taken aback. On a very large plate sat a very large piece of meat. It had to weigh in at four pounds if an ounce. Huge. My 9-oz filet by comparison looked like a button mushroom. Dave looked at my dinner and scoffed, "You gonna eat all that?" My thought, bitten back, was "You gonna live through dinner?"

It got worse.

Adrian appeared again with three Australian lobster tails in tow. Who ordered pillows, I thought. Soon my petite filet was covered in lobster.

It got worse.

Asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, thrice cooked garlic potatoes, peas, carrots, some kind of fried thing (who knows?) kept coming and coming. My Mother's voice haunted me: "It's not polite to leave food on your plate." But, I was at the breaking point. I had long abandoned the notion of watching my weight. Now, I was just trying to survive. Each dish was more exquisite than the previous one. It would be a crime to waste the chef's talent.

Conversation gave way to the gnashing of teeth and devouring of the Flintstone Cut. Finally, the frenzy subsided and Dave was the first to speak. "I don't think I'll eat another thing for a month. I'm afraid to breathe lest I pop."

At that moment Adrian waltzed in and chimed, "Who's for dessert?"

Most of us were too stuffed to reply. Finally, Dave spoke up.

"I think I'll have the 10,000 calorie gut-busting Chocolate Volcano. And a decaf coffee. Black. I'm watching my weight."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Give Me a Break

Here in Seattle the natives were out in force because the sun came out. As a visitor to this fair city on the Pacific I couldn't understand what was the big deal until it was explained to me that the city could go for months without a ray of sunlight. Being from Texas where sunlight is manufactured I thought this might be a niche industry I could take advantage of.

However, today was sunny. The coffee was just as good as yesterday.

I took full credit for both.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Home on the Range

I am in Seattle this week.

The coffee is very good.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Dial "Nobbs" for Weather

As I poured myself a fifth cup of coffee and enjoyed the day breaking over the golf course, although the scene was jumping around quite a bit, I observed Nobbs sauntering back to the house. Nobbs has been AWOL for a couple of days, but that's not unusual for him. At least he wasn't dragging some half-eaten animal behind him.

I opened the door. "Well, hello, look what the cat dragged in!"

Nobbs flattened his ears against his head, his sign of affection, zipped inside between me and the door, headed straight for the food bowl and sank his fangs into day-old Cat Chow.

"You're welcome," I said.

Nobbs eats Cat Chow like a steamshovel scooping up coal, and spills about half of it on the floor. A nervous little cat he will glance left and right slinging a Cat Chow nugget with each twitch. After scattering half a bag of Chow between the kitchen and the dining room he proceeded to "groom" himself by pulling out tufts of fur, leaves, twigs, burrs and things that scurry under the furniture.

Once he was settled in I crunched over to him and asked, "So, what brings you to this part of town? Big storm a'comin'?"

No sooner had I needled the cat (my favorite passtime; count the scars) than it got noticeably darker outside. I looked to the north. The sky had turned a blue black. Hmmm, something happening up north. I went upstairs, checked my mail, surffed the news and finally clicked on the weather website just as the first drops hit the roof.

Severe Thunderstorms. Tornado reported north of town. Moving to the southeast at 30 mph.

Tropical downpour, they call it. Raindrops the size of watermelons. If one hits you it will knock you stupid, but I guess if you're standing in a storm like that it's redundant.

By this time Nobbs was asleep on my new charcoal grey coat, twitching and groping after some imagined unfortunate creature. I think I'll join him.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pho Pass

If you want to commit a faux pas go into a Vietnamese Pho restaurant and ask for "that soup thing." At a proper Vietnamese Pho restaurant you should be unceremoniously be tossed into the parking lot on your ignorant butt.

Pho is a word that you should let linger on your tongue for at least a week. Phoooooooooooooooooooooooo. That's about how long the flavors will last if you get a good Pho.

To say that Pho is a beef broth with spices would be to say that the Mona Lisa is a painting of a girl.

Pho is art. Good Pho is high art.

We have a new restaurant in town simply called Pho. It's a small place near a mall. I've driven by it many times and thought I ought to try it out. It looked like my kind of place. Small, simple and probably family owned. I was not disappointed. I was greeted by a family member who handed me an extensive menu of Pho combinations.

I probably glossed over that part. Whereas Pho is the basis of the broth, there are many combinations of additives: beef, chicken, shrimp, veggies and so forth. As a newcomer to this establishment I tried my usual ploy and asked the server what his favorite was.

His eyes lit up. "Oh", he exclaimed, "number 12. Most definitely. It's supreme!"

Well, I'll go by any server who refers to a dish as "supreme" so I ordered it and, in short, was not disappointed. The flavors were subtle but complex, meat and veggies prepared with skill and care. Most of all, though, the Pho base had been crafted. That's the only word to use: crafted. It was a rich combination of beef, ginger, shallots, pepper, mint and a host of spices carefully prepared. I detected a hint of anise.

Did this Pho pass? I'd say so!

Friday, April 08, 2005


The best piece of advice I ever got was in London. There at my feet, written in the street in big white letters were the words "Look Right."

Huh, I thought? Look right? Why?

Nevertheless, I looked right just as the biggest, reddest, meanest and biggest - yes, it deserves two biggests - bus thundered by inches from my nose. I remember how close it was because I could count the rivets on the side. In the microseconds before my life flashed before my eyes was the thought "hit by a bus."

Of course, I nonchalantly turned around and yawned as if to say "Yeah, I saw the bus. They come from the right, you know." To this day I look to the right, which, actually, is a bit of a hazard now that I live in Houston, not London.

Thus brings me to the meat of tonight's posting: bar-b-que sauce. (You know, there's just no way to segue between a bus and bar-b-que sauce, but if you have an idea send me an email.) Anyway, free advice and bar-b-que sauce.

KC Girl writes that KC Masterpiece as promoted by Bobby Flay, or Bobby InFlayted as I like to say, is manufactured to distract people from the Real Bar-B-Que sauce sold here at Arthur Bryants BBQ. Since KC Girl wrote with such clarity of purpose and single minded conviction, I'm going to take her advice at face value. Tonight I ordered a 3-pack of sauce and I'll report on the results next weekend. The AB website, by the way, is very straightforward, easy to navigate and had a one-screen order entry form. I like that. In and out, no muss, no fuss and an email confirmation seconds later. Class act. I can smell it cooking already.

Chicken Out

I'm not much of a fried chicken cooker even though I was raised in the South. As a kid we had fried chicken a lot. I always knew we were having fried chicken because when I got home from school and opened the front door all this grey smoke would pour out. Not thinking that the house could be on fire I would shout "Yippee, fried chicken!"

I did that once during a fire drill at work and to my great surprise nobody appreciated it. Philistines.

I read a fried chicken recipe I've always wanted to try out, but it requires a vat of hot (temperature wise) bar-b-que sauce. Basically, you take your chicken pieces, dunk them in the bbq sauce, dredge with flour (or maybe the other way around. whatever), coat with seasoned crumbs or batter - chef's choice and deep fry. When the chicken is cooked the hot, fried pieces are immediately dunked into the vat o' bbq sauce and served immediately. Sort of a Twice Sauced Chicken. It sounds like a really messy dish that would go great at a Toga Party where everybody is covered in sheets...or not.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Some years ago I read an article in a scientific magazine, I think it was Discovery or Omni or the National Enquirer, that you couldn't train a cat.

Cat's are independent, the article intoned. Cats have their own mind, the article continued. Cats are the masters of their fate, the article concluded.

Nonsense. My cat, Nobbs, has been totally trained and does exactly what I want him to do. Without question.

For example, I have trained Nobbs to leap upon my back in the dead of night, clutch me with all four legs - claws extended - and bite me on the knee as a sign that he wants to go out. I get up and let him out.

I've also taught him that if he doesn't want to go out at that exact moment, to wander into the kitchen by going through the den, up the stairs, around the TV room, through Claire's bathroom, back through the TV room, across to the study, down the stairs, through the living room and into the kitchen where I can pour him a midnight snack of Cat Chow. I can tell you it took quite a lot of training to get him to take that route which is about a mile in length in our house. I appreciate the exercise. Nobbs appreciates the Chow. Win-win, I say.

While Nobbs is Chowing down I'll wander back to bed. Just when I've drifted back to sleep I've trained Nobbs to leap on my shoulder and exhale tuna-Chow breath into my nostrils. The effect is accentuated by claws in the shoulder and a "Rowl!" in the ear. It's a complicated maneuver that took me years to perfect.

I then get up and follow Nobbs to the front door, via the upstairs study, pantry, guest bedroom, dining room table and bookcase where I let him out for the night.

As I stumble back to bed I think, Siegfried and Roy. Pikers!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


First, a contribution from Becky inspired, and I'm being very generous with myself here, by a posting about wasabe peas:

Becky said...

How about a wasabe haiku?

Cool hand, spicy tongue
Wasabe peas feed my soul
With the fire of life

...Thanks, Becky!

Now, Dooced.

The traditional definition of the verb "Dooce" has to do with an unfortunate confluence of blogging about one's job and retaining one's job. Enough said there. If by some miracle you're at this site not through Dooce then check out the best blog ever.

For the rest of you Dooce Fans I'd like to propose a second definition:

"Dooced - to have the hit count on one's blog jump from 20 to 6,000 hits per day from a single mention by Dooce."

I tell you Dooce has some powerful magic going on.

In addition to this great rush of hits I've received a whole bunch of really nice emails from people who have had experience buying, or trying to buy, the Weird Thing at Kroger's.

Thank you all.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pick Right

Picking the Right checkout line at Kroger's is an art. When I'm ready to sack, pay and go I'm sure everybody in the store is thinking the same thing. Actually, there's a game theory that predicts shopping checkout behavior and I've learned that when I get that Spidey Tingle, it's time to head for the chute.

By now I know my checkers. There's the thorough, scholarly checker who's slow but sure. Never misses a code and is looking ahead for things like groups of cat food cans. Then there's the Newby they've stuck on the fast lane. Trial by fire I guess. Then there's the Old Hand.

I always go for the Old Hand for one reason: produce. The Old Hand will know the code for kumquats, South African dog chilis and that weird thing I have no idea what it is, but I bought it to throw into the chili for flavor, assuming, of course, it has any flavor.

The Old Hand will know the code for the Weird Thing and offer some commentary to liven the experience, like, "What the hell are you going to do with this?"

Today was no exception. I spotted my favorite Old Hand busily scanning cans and weighing Weird Things, his hands a blur. Although there were more carts in his lane (could it be that someone had stumbled on my secret?) I slipped into Lane 9 knowing that I'd be out in short order.

I hadn't counted on the dreaded shift change.

Just as my cart arrived at pole position, Spot Boy showed up and told Old Hand that he'd "take over." Frantically, I checked around but by this time I was trapped. Carts to the left, carts to the right and my escape back was blocked by several gum smacking amateurs who were too busy checking out the latest exploits of Britney Spears in the tabloids.

I was doomed.

Finally, Spot Boy got the register sorted out, exchanged his money tray with Old Hand who, no doubt, departed for a retirement in Tahiti, and I was up for inspection.

It was predictably slow.

Spot Boy held up a bag and asked me "What's this?"

"Carrots," I answered.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Food Firsts

"It's a Mexican salad", my Mother chirped.

We weren't so sure. We were on our way to eat our first taco. Most people today probably don't remember the first time they ate a taco. My kids certainly don't.

Hey, is that a tooth? Woo hoo, taco time! Chomp that baby down, so to speak.

I didn't know what to think about my first taco. It was so long ago I'm sure they used mammoth meat. And the location of my first taco? None other than Taco Bell, a millenium before the mutt-ito made his millions in advertising. Taco Bell was just another joint like McDonalds or Whataburger. Only it sold tacos mostly.

The one thing I do remember is being such a hungry teenager that I ate my first two tacos without unwrapping them first. The paper was a bit chewy but clean-up was a snap.

After that first crunchy, salty, grease-dripping bite I knew that the taco would become my favorite food. So it is to this very day.

I've had tacos out the wazoo (mostly from Jack in the Box, but that's a story best told at the Medical Problems website). My favorite tacos were made at Pepino's Patio in Arizona. They used shredded beef and fried their own shells from corn tortillas. I thought the "taco bender" was a fascinating piece of equipment. Yes, I have one in the kitchen somewhere.

Yep, the good old taco. Put it in a shell and I'll add lettuce and cheese and call it lunch.