Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Big Not so Easy

It's hard to be funny when there's a major disaster going on, like in New Orleans. The Big Easy is having a difficult time, but I'm sure in time it will be back.

Cities getting wiped out by disasters is not new. Fires, earthquakes and floods have taken their toll over the centuries.

My prediction is that come next year Mardi Gras will be held right on time and herald the birth of a new New Orleans.

Houston, meanwhile, will be home to thousands of displaced New Orleans citizens and we here at 12tutufondue welcome them to Bayou City. Glad we could lend a hand.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Paint Over

The painters came today.

We hired a company to paint our house and take care of some problems that haven't ripened enough for me to do. Yeah, the truth is that some of these problems were so unripe, in my estimation, that we'd be flying to work in anti-gravity belts before I got around to doing them. So, there you have it.

Painters have three things that make them successful: tools, skill and experience. I've got one out of those three which makes me a dangerous person to be let loose around the house.

In case you haven't guessed by now, of the three, I have TOOLS. Yes, I have great garage-loads of tools. I have a table saw and a drill press and skill saws out the wazoo and electric gizmos of all kinds. Check out a Sears Tool Catalog. Point to anything. I've got that. Maybe two.

On the skill and experience side, however, the meter reads zero, unless you consider being able to generate mounds of sawdust "skill and experience."

Our Painters, as we call them now, on the other hand, possess all three and they demonstrate their skills with panache. Each day we arrive home to new delights: the garage door, the gutters and the delicate trim. It's a very moving experience, that is, the neighbors think we're moving. Apparently they're planning a block party. We aren't invited.

Soon, however, Our Painters will be gone. No more delights. No more panache. I'll miss Our Painters.

I'm thinking that I don't quite like the color of the house. No, not quite. I think it need to be done again...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Out on a Limb

"Whatcha looking for?"

"Band Aid."

"Oh, cut yourself?"

"It's nothing."

"Let me see."

"It's Noth-Thing!"

"Let. Me. See."


"That's a cat scratch. Were you bugging the cat again?"

"No I was not bugging the cat again!"


"OK, I was engaging the cat in some meaningful play."

"Ah. Did you poke him in the ribs or pull his tail."

"Tail. And he's a lot faster than he looks. I don't know why we waste money on cat food. He could bring down a buffalo."

I looked over at Sandy as he lay on his back on the carpet. One eye open, watching me, he slowly flexed his right paw and extended his claws half an inch.

They say cats can't smile. They are wrong.

Truth be told I was looking for any excuse, even getting shredded by the bucolic Sandy, to avoid trimming the trees out front. The other day in the mail we received a Ding Letter from the Housing Association.

Ding. Tree branches too low. Ding. According to rule T-255.12 sub-paragraph G ... and pages later ... no shorter than eight feet ... Ding.

Eight feet. Bah! The poor little tree is barely eight feet tall. What am I supposed to do, chop it off? I shuffled out to the curb with my tape measure and ran it from the street to the lowest hanging branch: 7 feet 11 and 255/256ths of an inch tall. Rats. I'll have to trim half a leaf. I knew I should have voted against the Housing Association buying those laser range-finders, but they looked so cool!

I went into the garage to find my tree saw. On my way back to the street I noticed a sign in our neighbor's yard. Huh? That's weird. They just moved in two weeks ago and already their house is up for sale? I've given up on neighbors. Come and go, who cares? I go to work at dawn and return at nightfall and I'm gone on the weekends. Never met the neighbors. Frankly, don't care to.

I looked more closely. It wasn't a For Sale sign. Worse. Much worse.

"Yard of the Month"

I let out a string of expletives that should have brought down an immediate bolt of lightning and checked out their yard. Two weeks ago it had been overgrown and ratty, even by Housing Association standards which specify the Pantel green range of colors your lawn should be (see rule G-307.22 sub-paragraphs b-h). The neighbors had hired a crew to come in and clean the place up. Today it was mowed and had a dozen wilting pansies planted around the scraggly live oak tree.

Our yard, by contrast, was neatly mowed, the correct shade of green with geraniums and hibiscus providing bright contrast to the azaleas. All that, no doubt, eclipsed by the low-hanging branch. As I stared at the offending limb it appeared to bend even lower while the rest of the tree shrugged up and down as if chuckling.

"Very funny," I muttered and shuffled back into the house.

Sandy was stretched out on the carpet asleep. Dead to the world. His little chest rose and fell rhythmically. "He's out," I thought. Still grumped about the neighbor getting "Yard of the Month" and my unfaithful tree I noticed that Sandy's tail was outstretched and within grasp. I bent down and...

"Whatcha looking for?"

"Another Band Aid..."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Questions Questions

Learning to answer questions correctly is an important survival skill.

Take for example the following question:

"How long are you going to let that box sit in the kitchen?"

Now, there are several answers one could make to this enquiry, each with their own set of consequences.

"Well, I thought I'd wait until the box sprouted legs and moved itself somewhere else."

That's sort of a long version of "Huh?" Batten down the hatches because the storm's a-commin'!

Or this:

"You mean that box there?"

An attempt to prolong the agony. Yes, of course, that box there, you idiot and now, you see, it's getting personal.

Or this:

"It doesn't bother me that the box is there. I'll get around to moving it in a year or so."

Now, that's a truthful answer but it's all about me, isn't it? Helloooo, is there anybody else in the room?

Which leads to the correct answer which is this:

"Oh, my bad, I've been meaning to move that box but, you know..." followed by "Hey, tell you what, I'll move the box then we'll go out for some dim sum. How's that sound?"

Priceless. MasterCard. It's everywhere you want to be. Or whatever.

The moral of the story is to always involve food in addressing the transgression.

'Nuff said.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Abbey Road

Can you hear it too many times?


Can you cook to it?


He got feet down below his knees. He cooks a filet mignon on the grill.

Oh, yeah.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Alive Again

Thank you Mary I'm alive again!

Mary's comment down below had to do with cooking eggplant and she remarked to make a salad dressing your-own-damn-self and by golly that woke me up!

Yes, we made our own damn self salad dressings for years. Then we got lazy and started buying Newman's Own which isn't bad plus the profits go to good causes. (We'll continue to believe that.)

Last night I made a simple salad out of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocado and French feta cheese. Opening the fridge for the Newman's Own Italian I was greeted with an empty shelf.

Hmmmm, look, look, look and no Newman's. Shelf is bare. No bone for the dog. We're out.


OK, Plan B was to get the two-cup measure, dump in some good olive oil, Japanese rice wine vinegar, fresh basil from the garden, salt, pepper, a pinch of Coleman's dry mustard and whisk into an emulsion. Pour on salad. Toss.

Rave reviews.

"Whoa, Dad-0, what did you do to this salad? It's great!"

"crunch yum snarf good chomp snarf snarf salad chomp"

"Did Newman's change their recipe? This is REALLY good, like, REALLY good. chomp-snarf-gnash"

Yeah, there was a reason we made our own dressings. Control the ingredients, salt, acidity, oil.

Oh, and rave reviews. Somehow that makes it all worthwhile.

Sorry, Paul, we're going to be not lazy for a while.

Thanks, Mary, for waking me up. And, yes, you're on the Internet. You're famous!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Trudy's Austin

I spent part of the weekend in Austin helping my daughter move in to pretty nice digs near campus.

University of Texas. Go Longhorns.

Apparently, that's something I've gotta do every time I mention UT. Go Longhorns.

This is a test: UT. Go Longhorns.

I guess I'm configured correctly.

Before I get to Trudy's I've got to describe my experience at Target or as we upscale people are fond of saying "Tar-zhay."

There I am at Tarzhay in the computer furniture section looking at the " 'puter Hutch" and wondering if I really want to spend ninety bucks on a collection of faux teak pressboard when The Little Guy comes up and stands next to me.

Together we admire the Hutch.

"She's a beaut," says TLG, "Yep, 100% made. Somewhere."

TLG rocked back on his heels and continued, "You know, I got one for Thelma Lou."

"No, I didn't know that," I replied taking a step to the right.

"Yep, you gotta know women. You gotta know women," TLG inhaled importantly and rocked a little faster.

"I guess," I answered weakly.

"No guessing about it," TLG pressed, "Women have a Sixth Sense about quality stuff. They aren't impressed by a bunch of flowers or diamonds or stuff like that! Why, anyone could cut some plants or dig up some rocks. No, sir-ee, you show up with a Gen-U-Ine 'puter Hutch and she'll be all over you. If you know what I mean. You know what I mean, don't cha?"

I nodded. Then as TLG appeared to clarify his last statement I nodded vigorously and exclaimed, "Yeah, dude, I'm with you. Hutch. Yeah, I see the light."

"So, what's it going to be, man," TLG held out his left hand for emphasis, "hutch?" He held out his right hand, "Or eternal loneliness?"

I paused. TLG swallowed hard. I squinted into his beady eyes, leaned forward and in a raspy whisper said, "Hutch."

Soon we were wheeling the cart to the check-out lane, through the check-out lane and into the back of the truck. As TLG headed back across the parking lot he paused, turned to look back at me and shouted, "Wise choice, Grasshopper!" and disappeared into the ever-opening doors of Tarzhay.

Moments later my daughter met me in the parking lot.

"Did you get my computer desk, Dad-0?" she inquired.

"Yep, it's in the truck and it's a good one. One Hundred Percent Made Somewhere. Top of the line."

"Well," she went on, "I'm glad. 'cause, like, you said you'd get a desk and if you hadn't I was going to be, like, all over you. Know what I mean? All over you. So, looks like your job is done. Time to take the Princess home. Let's go."

And off we went.

Much later, 'puter Hutch delivered, we went out for a meal and ended up at Trudy's which is a rambling house-turned-restaurant that serves great food and great drinks. Perhaps I should invert those.

I started with the Margarita Martini which is a margarita served martini style out of a shaker with olives and a wedge of lime. The menu states a patron limit of two. I agree with that! Three would definitely be harmful.

The food menu is varied and interesting. I chose Chicken Chapotle with spicy black beans. Princess picked beef fajitas. The enchilada menu distinguished itself by not being an enchilada menu. Design your own was the mode. Pick the ingredients, sauce, tortilla type (corn or flour), and toppings. Fun with enchiladas; I'll have to write more about that.

Although we arrived for a somewhat late dinner, 8:30 pm, as we were leaving the third or fourth sitting was just arriving. College students! Don't they own watches? I think Trudy's was just warming up for the night.

I'm looking forward to my next trip to Austin. I'll take in Trudy's for sure to explore the menu.

Thank You Mary, re Eggplant

"I read your blog."

Music to my ears. Someone, anyone, reading my blog! Oh, joy!

Unless it's family member. Then, it's, like, "Uh, oh, what did I write? Whose butt did I make look too big?"

Tonight, though, not to worry, all is well. Turns out that the other cooking half of the family took note of a comment posted by Mary and decided to try it out.

Results are in: Score for Mary!

Grilled Eggplant a la Mary had been born. We made our own Italian dressing using this and that, something or another and a French fried bat. That's from my dim memory of a Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Fractured Fairy Tales. Anyway, the eggplant turned out great and, by Jove, we'll have it again.

Thanks, Mary!

And to replay Mary's comment:

If you want to try something tasty use italian dressing as a marinade for the eggplant and grill til a bit carmelized. I like the old school Good Seasonings mix-it-yo-own-damn-self dressing. Fabulous. : )

We mixed our own-damn-self dressing with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, and black pepper.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Host with the Most

Recently I've received some comments about cook show hosts. I've been watching cooking shows for a long, long time, although I have gaps in my history during times that cooking shows were out of favor or I didn't have a TV; usually the latter.

My impressions, of course, set the standard and anybody who has a contrary opinion is simply wrong by definition. Not really, but wouldn't the world be cool if it worked that way? My world, that is.

Let's start with Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. Who couldn't have fun with Graham Kerr, and to hear his ex-wife talk, who didn't. I liked Graham's style. Very enthusiastic and cavalier. When cooking with wine there was always a "slurp for the cook" which I greatly appreciated. Graham's dishes were straightforward and after watching the show between classes as a student, after all he was quite the Cult Figure, I gained my first appreciation for understanding food. Graham, who's show was produced by soon-to-be-ex wife Trudy eventually fell from favor not to return for many decades, or so it seemed.

Next, Julia Child: the way to cook. If there was ever a Taoist Master it was Julia. She made even the most involved dishes look simple because she broke down the preparation into small parts and never sweated the small parts. The main lesson I learned from Julia was to use the best ingredients: fresh food, fresh vegetables, butter, butter, cream and, dare I say it again, butter. In a voice only she could make she once intoned that, yes, yes, you could use margarine, but only if you didn't care how it tasted. Hers was also the voice of moderation and though her food was often rich it was never overly rich.

Justin Wilson typified the down-home Country Chef who was crazy like a fox. Following a first career of redneck comedy, Justin blew onto the scene with outrageous recipes for cajun fare that always entailed lots of spice. LOTS OF SPICE. I wrote previously about inedible pork chops. With Justin you had to watch what he was doing, and watch what you were doing. If a recipe sounded wrong, believe me, it was. Unless you're cooking for a thousand people you don't need a cup of cayenne pepper. Seriously. In my mind Justin brought out the importance of a roux in Southern cooking and treated the roux with great reverence. I learned that it really does take at least 30 minutes to prepare a decent roux, and you have to stir it all the time otherwise it will scorch and if that happens there is only one cure: start over.

Wolfgang Puck, a newcomer to cooking TV has been dragged to the stage against every instinct he possesses, or so it seems. I read about Puck years before I ever saw him on TV and the reviewers were in consensus: genius, enfant terrible. Watching him on television I can't help but get the impression he'd be happier cooking his audience, rather than cooking for them. His dishes are mostly impossible to duplicate and generally uninteresting. There may be other opinions, but I'm not interested in hearing them.

Bobby Flay. (See Wolfgang Puck) Bobby is not your friend. He will drink your beer and bring your daughter home very late.

Mario Batali. Mario, baby, it's only Italian food. You know, pizza and spaghetti. Quit pretending anything else. If you unzipped Mario, do you know what you'd find inside? Another Mario! He's that full of himself. And no, Mario, you don't need to fly to Naples to buy that special fish for your Italian dish. Catfish will do just fine.

Next a question. Is Alton Brown a cook, a producer, a performer or a scientist? The answer is "yes." I like Alton only because I can tolerate his manner as entertainment. His lengthy explanations of food, such as the two zillion varieties of rice explained

one. at. a. time.

do help those who have an interest in food and probably drive the rest of humanity to hunger strikes. I find Alton's recipes workable and open to variation, but I lose patience as he spends an hour to complete a 20-minute task. Yes, Alton, it's all about you. We know.

Finally, I end with a cook that invokes passion whether pro or con. Rarely will you find a person neutral about Emeril Lagasse. I confess it took me some time to warm up to this showman and the "BAM!" thing, but once I did I appreciated his show because he would consistently demonstrate 4-5 recipes that I could do with ingredients available to me (Mario, you listenin' babe?) and mix and match this and that. I realized that Emeril is the closest to how I cook; a lot by feel and intuition.

Emeril's greatest lesson is simple: it's cooking, not rocket science.

Lots of people don't cook, or don't cook well, because they're afraid of the complexity. Fancy words like souflee, sautee and all those French words really put people off. Emeril has gone a long way to make cooking accessible to people.

So, yeah, when I cook and I throw a handful of spices across the kitchen into a bubbling pot I do shout "BAM!" and my family knows that something good is going on in the kitchen.

And when I ignite brandy in my sautee pan I shout "FOOM!" and my family knows to start dialing 911.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Apocalypse Chow

Food blogs are full of great recipes, fun food experiences and the best restaurant ever.

However, we all know it ain't always so. Occasionally you have that great idea that turns out not so great, like Cayenne Ice Cream, the soothing burn.

Although I have a hankering to roast vulture, I fear getting the spice mix just right would be a problem. It doesn't help that TV cook shows aren't always rooted in reality. I recall the Cajun Chef with Justin Wilson in which he prepared Cayenne Pork Chops and basically dredged the PC's in cayenne pepper, then broiled them in white wine. I know, it doesn't make any sense at all to mix cayenne pepper with white sauce, but I was young, jotted down the recipe and tried it out. You guessed it: inedible. In fact, down right nasty. Deep down I had been hoping for a miracle because that was a whole lot of pepper!

Other memorable forgettable meals include:

Lamb Neck Curry with Honey. Skip the cup of honey next time.

Cabbage/Apple/Pork casserole. Don't let it boil dry, then sit in the oven for an additional two hours.

Toxic Waste Hot Sauce. Yes, it's too hot for human beings. No point in being that hot.

Fennel Parsnip Salad. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Yogurt Drinks. Simply against Nature.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream. It's just not possible to do it right.

Peanut Butter Salsa. The perfect way to ruin a good salsa.

Seafood Gumbo with Frog Legs. Generally good, except for one particular member of the family who Fairly Freaked Out.

Cat Food on Ritz Crackers. Hey, you gotta try it at least once.

Peanut Butter Margarita. What is it with peanut butter?

Monk Fish. Poor man's lobster. Nothing like lobster. One should never be that poor.

That's not a bad list for a bad list. Over the past 30 years or so since I've been cooking, excluding burned stuff, I've developed an awareness of what might turn out OK. Occasionally you have to try new things just to keep from getting stale and going against your instincts can bite you.

I'm interested to hear your stories of food disasters just for fun.

And finally, can someone tell me how to saute an eggplant in a tablespoon of oil? The stuff is like a sponge. One second and the oil is gone. So many recipes say "saute the eggplant in a tablespoon of oil" and it's obvious they've never done it! More like "gallon of oil." End of rant.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pleased as Punch

In no particular order the problem I had downloading from iTunes the soundtrack to Kill Bill 2 got resolved all by itself, even after I spent hours pouring over permissions and trying this and that. Suddenly, it just downloaded big as you please.

And, second, Sarah has returned from Ismir, Turkey, having spent the summer at Space Camp Turkey.

Well, I guess the second eclipses the first!

How cool is that? Sarah arranged her summer job, spent the summer in Turkey visiting Greece along the way, and making friends with students throughout the region including Bulgaria and Turkey. I hardly know where Bulgaria is and Sarah has friends there. How cool is that?

When I was Sarah's age I was pumped to have friends in New Mexico! I probably couldn't have afforded a stamp to Bulgaria.

We're keen to hear her stories, but she'll have to get some sleep first!

Updates later.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

For the Birds

I think birds are cool. I watch them all the time.

At my former office I overlooked a home, if you will, for turkey vultures. Basically, they would land on the ledges of the building opposite me and hang out. In time I became quite a turkey vulture aficionado.

The turkey vulture is a graceful bird, although with a face only a mother could love; a turkey vulture mother, that is. Audubon described the turkey vulture as one of the most acrobatic of fliers and, having observed the flights of many turkey vultures at close hand, I would agree. They are both graceful and acrobatic.

But, more than flight, vultures display a complex social behavior. There are teenage vultures. Yes, I know that's frightening. Teenage vultures exhibit all of the delightful behaviors of teenagers: pushing, shoving, insulting and distain for authority.

I watched teenage vultures every day pull pranks on each other: pushing a sleeping vulture off a ledge, pecking a pal when his back is turned, pulling tail feathers and pooping on friends resting on the ledge below.

After a particularly good prank, on the vulture prank scale, the prankster would hunch his wings as if laughing. I could just hear the Beavis and Butthead huh-huh-huh as the wing "shoulders" shrugged up and down.

Over time I learned that vultures go through a specific wing ritual when landing. They stretch their wings way out then fold them in using two folding maneuvers. As I watched them land hour after hour I found that I could mimic their landing routine. Also, I learned how to hop and hang my head vulture-like.

Could it be that the vultures were watching me, too? I conducted some experiments where I would stand on my desk next to the window and mimic vulture movements anticipating that they would do the same. At times I thought they were looking at me, but I failed to obtain consistent results.

Once I was standing on my desk, arms outstretched, head hung low and doing the vulture hop when my boss walked in. Apparently he stood in the doorway for some minutes before clearing his voice, audibly, and remarking "Uh, what cha doing, Bill?"

I turned around, arms still outstretched and thought: "Merde." I tend to think in French when I'm in vulture-mode. Don't ask me why.

"Uh, well, um, er, you see, ah, I'm estimating the size of the database we're building."

"Oh," the boss looked speculative.

"Yeah, I think it's going to be *this* big," and I held out my arms wide, "and I think response is going to be like this," and I hopped up and down a little.

"I tried this before with great results," I continued, and I hopped up and down for emphasis.

My boss looked reflective, then turned to me and said, "Make sure you write this up and send it to R&D. You could be on to something here."

I folded my arms into my armpits vulture-like and hopped expertly down from the desk. I heard the boss shuffling down the hall to cause trouble elsewhere.

Slowly I turned to look out the window. Several of the teens were on the ledge watching me. Suddenly one of them outstretched his wings and hopped up and down. The other vultures watched and started hunching their shoulders: laughing.

"Ha ha," I mouthed, but this seemed to set them to hunching faster. Very funny, I thought, very funny indeed.

I flapped my arms a bit and did my best vulture dance. Then the teen with outstretched wings turned sideways to me and held out a single wing feather.

I couldn't believe it. I was being flipped off by a vulture. It was too much. I lowered my arms, grabbed my bag, turned off the lights and shrugged off to the elevator.

Much later at home I heard a familiar refrain: Hey, what's for dinner?

"Chicken," I replied, "lots and lots of chicken."

Kroger's, it appears, doesn't sell vulture.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Nit Noi Redux

Yesterday my usual lunch partner and I went to Nit Noi, a recently opened Thai restaurant very close to the office. We had soft spring rolls, a soup featuring coconut milk and lemon grass, and a chicken pad thai. The restaurant is small, charming, well lit and features large photographic scenes from Thailand. The service is quick and efficient and, most importantly, the food is very, very good.

Today my lunch partner was "tied up" with some business activity (really, why can't people get their priorities straight?) so I called my pal Larry who's always available for lunch. Just like me.

"Yo, Larry, have you been to that new Thai place on Dairy Ashford, Nit Noi?"


"Wanna go?"


"Hey, babe, love the enthusiasm, love the enthu-si-asm! Tell you what, I'll drive, I'll select the best stuff to eat, I'll eat it and you pay."


"Look, dude, I'm doing three things and you're doing one. All right, all right! You can eat, too. How 'bout it?"


That's Larry for you, hard to get in a word edge-wise.

We met up in the hallway and moseyed out to the truck. I nattered on about Thai food, peanut sauce and the best way to grow lemon grass. Larry moseyed. Larry's probably about the best moseyer I know. At his pace, by the time we got to the truck I had finished with Thailand and was halfway through India. However, I cut short my culinary tour of India lest we get distracted and end up at the Bombay Buffet. I have only recently recovered from the last time we went there and ate 50 lbs of curry. There are people in the office who still give me "that look."

As we pulled into the Nit Noi parking lot I spied several empty slots. Great, we beat the crowd! Sure enough there were lots of empty tables. We eased into a couple of chairs and checked out the menu.

"Go ahead and check out the menu, but I already know what we're getting. No argument. You're going to love it," I enthused.

Our waiter materialized to take our drinks order and I ordered lunch. Same as yesterday: spring rolls, soup, pad thai.

With a loud POP our waiter appirated into the kitchen to place our order and I knew delights would be coming soon. Meanwhile, I hadn't seen Larry for a while so there was some catching up to do.

"How 'bout those Astros?"

"Huh?" Larry replied.

"Just kidding, old bud, just kidding," and I went into my theories of declining oil reserves, global warning, Africanized bees in South Texas, the inherent problems of anthropomorphic robot design, house paint formulations, the effect of fire ants on declining tick populations and a brief essay on what the Harry Potter novels would be like if they had been written by Charles Dickens.

Larry nodded occasionally.

Shortly, food arrived and we were enveloped in delicate aromas of basil, lemon grass, fish sauce and peanut. Remarkable! The soup is a little tricky to eat because it has slices of green onion, asparagus and lemon grass which look very much alike. Lemon grass, though, is tough like a twig and you have to be on your toes to avoid crunching down on it.

Between pauses to pick lemon grass stems out of my mouth I led discussions on how to use game theory to predict when everybody is going to decide to check-out at Kroger's, the effect of emoticons on writing skills, sexual preferences of Sims characters and the best way to lay a wood flooring in a humid environment.

Larry nodded occasionally.

I continued with an exposition Houston drivers, the hummingbird that pierced my cat's ear and how I finally got rid of a planters wart on my left foot.

I noticed that Larry had finished his lunch while I still had three-quarters to go. "Man, you must have been hungry!" I remarked.

Sensing a gap in the conversation I filled it with several humorous stories about my experiences at a tomahawk throwing school this summer. "And would you believe it? It just went *thunk* right into the target. Dead center. I took 50 or so pictures of it. Hey, I'll bring them in tomorrow and show you."

Larry checked his watch. I took the hint.

"Yeah, we better get going. That couple by the door have been staring at our table for half an hour", I noted.

The waiter materialized with our bill, Larry paid as per contract and in two shakes we were back in the truck and heading to the office. With exquisite timing I finished a discussion on refinishing kitchen cabinets - gloss or stain - and, as luck would have it, snagged a parking place close to the building. Woo hoo! Double score: great lunch and a close parking space.

We moseyed back to the office and I bid Larry farewell at the stairway.

"Hey, dude, great lunch, great conversation. Catch you later!"

"Uh huh," said Larry and he disappeared up the stairs.

Back at the office I called my lunch partner and told her I had gone to Nit Noi, again!, with Larry.

"How was it?" she asked.

"The food was superb, as usual, but you know the best thing about going to lunch with Larry?"

"No, what?" she replied.

"He's such a great conversationalist."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Now, this is an exciting topic for a blog about food and life.


I'll confess right here. I don't understand laundry and frankly, Scarlett, I don't want to.

Here's my idea of washing clothes: put them in the machine, add laundry powder, liquid or tablets, press the button that says "Medium Load" and have a beer. When you hear the buzz, raise the lid, put the damp clothes in the dryer, press the button that says "Dry" (imagine that!) and have a beer.

Two beers later your clothes are washed and dried. Following this the most efficient approach is to leave them in the laundry basket and pull them out as needed, but if you have to get all Domestic about it you can "put them away" where they "belong", which, if I ruled the world, would be in the laundry basket!

Is that so difficult?

So, in another life I heard a voice intone "You're not going to wash that with that, are you?"

Well, obviously I was so I immediately fell back to the defensive position and said "No, why do you ask?" Answer a question with a question I always say.

"Oh, well, that will turn that that color and that just wouldn't do," came the voice from beyond.

"Well," I replied, "I like that color and that color and if that color became a lighter or darker shade of that color that would be OK by me."


Over the years I've learned that *silence* in regards to laundry is a Bad Thing. The Intel 286 that is my brain quickly sorted through the alternatives.

"On the other hand," I said as if hypnotized, "I don't think I saw the dark, red thing that was hiding behind the nice white thing. Yeah, that's the ticket, stuff was hiding behind other stuff and I'm glad you were here to catch it."

(I added that last part for effect, but it seemed to work.) Soon the washing machine was humming along and I was able to crack open that beer.

Life is good, I thought. I contemplated the night...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Be Prepared

For what?

That's what I ask my Scouts. What do you need to be prepared for?

I get all kinds of answers. Be prepared for a hurricane. Be prepared for an earthquake. Be prepared for a volcano. Be prepared for an asteroid impact.

It's obvious that kids today are concerned about really big stuff. Adults, on the other hand, usually reply to be prepared for a tax audit, or a pulled hamstring, or a bad case of gas.

Yeah, been there and done that.

Then the precocious child will offer up the golden answer: be prepared for anything? They always phrase it as a question, unsure, seeking confirmation. That's the "right" answer, though. Be prepared for Life.

So, there we were in the forest. The August camping trip. As hot as hot can be in south Texas. My sweat was sweating.

I had spent the previous week in Seattle and could not perform my usual function of provisioning food and preparing a menu. I delegated that responsibility.

Now, as a bit of background, I have over the years amassed a vast collection of cooking tools, spices and ingredients. I think that without buying any food whatsoever and just using my "cooking box" I could feed an army for a week. Yeah, they would be eating pine bark but it would be exquisitely seasoned pine bark.

I was not too surprised, then, when my Assistant asked me if I had brought the "box."

"No," I replied, "I hadn't. I wasn't in charge of cooking on this trip so I just came with my personal stuff: tent and sleeping bag. No box."

"Oh," he said. "Well," he continued, "we really don't have much in the way of stuff. Like spoons and spices and stuff. I'm not sure, exactly, how we're going to cook for 15 people. I was sorta hoping..." He trailed off.

I surveyed the situation. We had onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, canned beans, tomatoes, orange juice, bacon, eggs, beef and chicken for fajitas and a bunch of other stuff. What was lacking was a plan.

At that point I heard in my mind the theme music for Iron Chef. Ah, so, the challenger, Scoutmaster Bill, has to create two dishes with the secret ingredient: canned beans!

No spices. But was that true? I thought, "What would Baden-Powell do?" I wear that bracelet, you know, WWBPD.

Well, BP wouldn't drain the canned beans because he needed the salt. So, in went the beans, juice and all. BP would have sauted the onions, peppers and jalapenos and that's what I did.

I grilled some onions and bell pepper with jalapeno. That would be heaped on the fajita meat in a tortilla to form the basis of the fajita.

I created a salsa with the red onion, fresh tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, cilantro and a splash of orange juice (pure genius!). The OJ took the edge off the red onion.

In short, the menu was boffo. Rave reviews on the salsa. Beans were "nicely seasoned" considering we had no seasoning other than the salt from the bean juice and pepper from the jalapenos.

I hope we did Baden-Powell proud. We did our best and although we were unprepared for our original plan, we were prepared to adapt and make the best of our situation.

Be prepared to do your best. Yeah, I think that will work.

Oh, and the results? We asked the kids at the end of the campout what they liked the best and what the hated the worst. The replies came as follows:

We liked the food. The food was great!
We hated the heat, humidity and bugs!

Woot! Food trumps bugs!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

MS Food 1.0

You've probably seen those gags that satirize what X would be if Microsoft built it.

The Microsoft Car:

A particular model year of car wouldn't be available until after that year instead of before it.

Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you'd have to buy a new car.

Occasionally your car would just die for no reason, and you'd have to restart it. For some strange reason, you'd just accept this.

You could only have one person in the car at a time, unless you bought a Car XP or a Car 2003 (even though it's 2005). But then you'd have to buy more seats.

Apple Computer would make a car that was powered by the sun, twice as reliable, and five times as fast - but it would only run on 5 percent of the roads.

And other Microsoft products:

If Microsoft made shoes, they'd spend billions on marketing and pennies on the actual product.

If Microsoft made wine, they wouldn't wait until it was time.

If Microsoft made candy, it'd include a coupon for a "Microsoft Partner" dentist.

If Microsoft made maps, Redmond and Washington would be disproportionately large compared to the rest of the world.

But the question is, what's the food really like at Microsoft? I mean, if you actually went there what would be your real experience?

Well, I'm here to tell you that there are two things at the top of the list for Microsoft workers: food and fitness. Yes, it's true. And let me tell you a few more things about the folks at Microsoft, taking into account that I do not work for the company, rather I've been there and seen this with my very own eyes.

They take their food and fitness very seriously. At a recent Microsoft "customer event" we feasted on salmon and asparagus, wheat berry salads and lentils. We savored blue cheese with walnuts, grape tomatoes with feta, haddock and mango chutney. Desserts were balanced with fresh fruit offerings and always copious quantities of water. For every coffee pot there were three herbal tea pots. That was the typical food.

In fitness the Microsoft corporate campus invites walking. Situated on a hilly site in Redmond the numerous buildings are connectged by tree-lined trails and walkways. Backpacks replace briefcases. Running shoes substitute for wing tips. And most employees don't even know how to use an elevator. I think there's a volleyball game that's been going on continuously for 20 years. Maybe it just seems like 20 years!

So, that's it. Food and fitness. What a concept!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Microsoft Food

Can you imagine if Microsoft controlled your food?

Whoa, well I've been eating MSFT chow for a few days now and it's pretty good.

I need another posting to make the selections clear, etc. and I'll do that soon.

Meanwhile, Seattle is like Phoenix to live. Sunny, clear skies, cool temps. What a wonderful place! And the Microsoft Campus to boot!

Oh, Nirvana.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Seattle Cuisine Part 2

Programmers must be a hungry bunch. That's all I can say. Plus, here at Microsoft, the team working on Office 12 have been writing code and eating overtime.

Tonight we had a delightful dinner of chimichangas, both seafood and beef, bodacious margaritas and a wonderful outside atmosphere under clear skies and mild weather.

The locals tell us that it's always like this: sunny and clear, mild, dry and nice.

After three or four margaritas that starts to make sense.

As for Office 12 all I can think of is William Shatner hawking Priceline: it's gonna be big, really BIG.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Sunny Seattle

Here I am in Seattle and it's sunny, again. What's with the weather here? I came for some cloud. I came for some rain. I came to get cool and what do I get? Sun, sun and more sun. If I wanted sun I could have stayed in Houston.

Oh well.

I'm here all week visiting my pals at Microsoft. Yeah, I know I'm a Mac user and, in fact, I'm typing this on my trusty PowerBook at this very moment. But, I must say, Microsoft Word on the Mac is pretty cool. Checks my speling and everything.

Tonight we went to a restaurant here in Redmond and I had fish tacos. For those of you who have not had fish tacos it's a good treat. You can make them yourself, too.

These used halibut, lightly sauteed with a tangy, spicy mango sauce. As with all fish tacos I've had it was served with a nice cole slaw, guacamole and salsa. We started with oysters and calamari.

The halibut was very firm and tasty and the calamari was cooked to perfection, very tender. The place is called Matt's and I recommend it.

As for Microsoft, tonight we saw a preview of the next version of Office, code named Office 12, and it was Way Cool. And for me to say that about Microsoft, well, you can take that to the bank.

More reports on food and software later this week. For now, it's late and this stuffed hushpuppy is turning in.