Myriad Randomness – Drought Edition

As you may have heard, there is drought in California.  What does this mean to me, specifically?  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s what I’ve changed.

  • I have a bucket in the shower. I catch the “warm up” to water the tomatoes.  That’s new.
  • I reuse my shower towel “many” times. It is 85+ most days and it dries quickly.  That cuts down on washing.  I did this in college and in my younger days.  No longer is my hamper full of towels.  (You know, that subtle status symbol of being economically stable.)
  • I only run my sprinklers 2 days a week. Usually after 9pm when the sun goes down.  My once envied super green lawn looks like every other sad, green lawn in the Nor Cal.  I haven’t decided to kill it yet.

What does this mean?  We are mandated to cut our usage by 25% from 2013.  May I was down about 50%.  No earth shattering changes.  Just lots of little ones.

I know I’ve been a bit outspoken politically lately.  Quite honestly I’m both thrilled and heartened by many (but sadly, not all) of the responses I have gotten.  Don’t go by the comments here, there aren’t many and I delete all the “I want to kill Ashley” or “I want Ashley to host my Bukakke party” comments.  Most are far worse.

But seriously, how can things continue to unravel in our world?  Pope Francis works hard to bring the Catholic Church into the 20th Century and Fox News calls him the most dangerous man in the world?  People I know on Facebook call him “EVIL”.    I guess the world still must be flat, the sun revolves around the earth and Torquemada was misunderstood.  Really?  You know what I think.  I just can’t understand how some conclusion could be reached, held so tightly and preached so violently.  We know the gene pool is flawed, just saying.

I still love my coffee.  Have you had Equator Coffee?  I’ve been buying their stuff on line (their roastery delivers for free for a $50 order and I have it in 2 days) and now they opened a shop next to the Warfield.  We know mid-Market is on the upswing, but this is huge.  Granted it’s a mile walk from the office, but I get exercise, the coffee is great and they have food too.  Check it out.  Only downside is that their bean selection is limited.  No fear here, I don’t mind the online thing.  The sweet spot is the 2 pound bags.  I’ve been drinking the Brazil 45 Espresso (it makes a mean, well rounded regular cup).  $13.25 for 0.75 lbs.  That’s $17.67/lb.  Or $30.05 for 2lbs.  $15.03/lb a savings of 15%.  Compare that the various coffees at Peets’. They are $14.95-$16.95.  So the same price or less and much more complex and delicious.  And honestly, smelling Major Dickasons at home today, it smelled burnt.  Fantastic coffee doesn’t always mean expensive.  But there are expensive options too.  Ping me if you need coffee advice.

Sandra Bland was in jail for 3 days.  She was arrested for an illegal lane change.  Later, she hung herself in her cell (allegedly).  She was college educated.  She was back in her college town for a job interview. And she was black.  I have about 400 questions.  If you don’t, stop reading this now.  You probably shouldn’t ever come back to this page. I’m sure incidents like this have happened far more often than “white” America realized in the past.  It is glaringly obvious now.  Our blinders are off.  They need to stay off.  I’m not going to pontificate on this today.  But I am outraged.  You should be too.  How can you not be?

I’m pondering a long piece on the death of middle management.  Clearly, I’m not in the top 2% and I see so many fixable issues that are allowed to fester.  That’s what 30+ years of working in corporate America will do for you.  Of course I worry about being to self-centered and whiny.  And that you won’t care.

And for those of you that don’t know, R+L=J.  It is known.  It always has been.   Three words: Tower of Joy.

I’ve read a few things lately that you should might enjoy.  I loved the latest James SA Corey Expanse entry Nemesis Games.  It is getting mixed reviews from my friends, but I’m firmly on board and can’t wait for the show on Syfy.  It looks fantastic.

Tex Thompson’s second book Medicine for the Dead builds on her debut, One Night in Sixes and shows vividly what a fantastic writer she is.  Seriously, in 10 years you’ll wonder how you missed this.  She’s going to be huge.   Trust me.

Did you like Flowers in the AtticJR Johansson’s Cut Me Free builds off a similar premise.  It is defiantly YA, but sometimes I act as if I’m 14, so it makes sense.  I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff.  Especially those that are painted in horror tones.

I’ve never given Leigh Bardugo column space here.  Her Grisha Trilogy is fantastic.  Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising are all great reads.  Her next novel, Six of Crows, is set in the same universe with new characters.  It is scheduled to come out later this year and I’m excited for it.

In the kitchen this year I’ve mastered hummus.  Who’d have thought?  But homemade is so much better than store bought, especially when you can spice it to your tastes.  More lemon? Yes.  More harissa? Yes.  More fresh onion, garlic and herbs? Yes.  Hummus it’s not just for hippies anymore.  No need to wear the tie dye today.  Tomorrow you can.

I’ve also kicked up the frequency on my bacon jam. Bourbon Maple Bacon Jam.  It goes well on crackers, bread, grilled cheese sandwiches AND on your burger.  I made a huge batch and my guests inhaled it.  Guess I’ll need to make more soon.

The view from my building

And I love working in SF.


Introducing an Unexpected Villain

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab).

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lima beans have always mocked me.  There is no gilding that lily.  As an adult I more than avoid them; I run screaming from them.  As a bit of a foodie, I see them on menus as an accompaniment  and immediately eliminate that entrée from the range of possible solutions.  Even now they influence my worldview and limit my choices. Yes, I am scarred.

Growing up my mother made vegetables every night.  Well, not every night.  There were no veggies when we had spaghetti or pizza.  Or omelets for that matter.  Whatever.  Most of the time we had frozen vegetables.  I liked peas.  I liked peas and carrots.  My sister hated peas, so we didn’t have those two as often as I’d have preferred.  We never had asparagus; daddy hated asparagus. (My mother calls him daddy.  I call him Pop, but I refer to him as Dad.  Sorry to digress.)  My mother often chose the mixed vegetables, frozen of course.  We didn’t eat canned vegetables nor do I recall fresh veggies, other than carrots and corn.  No, I will not be hearing arguments that corn is not a vegetable.  It was when i was 10 and it still is now.  Mostly.

In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t eat canned vegetables. Let’s be honest, they basically suck.  I often keep a few cans around for emergency pantry meals, but as I have gotten older even that bothers me.  I like my vegetables fresh.  No, I am not going out of my way to eat a ton of vegetables.  But I eat some.  Celery, carrots, bell peppers and root vegetables often find their way on to my table.  I make a mean butternut squash soup and Lambchop often requests my brussel sprouts.  Yes, they do happen to have a fair amount of bacon hidden in the bowl.  No one will accuse me of trying to force vegetables on my spawn, but I try to maintain the illusion.

But I digress. My mother fed us the house brand frozen vegetables from the store she shopped at.  Safeway? Lucky? Nob Hill?  Doesn’t really matter, does it?  What I recall is that the peas and carrots in the mix were fine.  The stunted string beans were weird and there was an over population of  lima beans that tasted like dry bat guano.  I hated eating those.  Ok, hate might be a bit of an understatement.  They mocked me as I was forced to eat them.  I could not get them down.  I tried. I failed at least as often as I succeeded.  Do you think that encouraged my mother to not buy those vegetables?  Of course not.  I think once or twice she even made “just” lima beans.  At least she only made liver and onions once.  The same with “salmon burgers.”  Canned salmon sucks, period, especially to a 12-year-old.

The details are fuzzy, but I recall some bits.  I must have been somewhere between 8 and 11 — maybe younger.  When dinner was done, I had 10 minutes to finish those vegetables that mocked me.  How do I know I had 10 minutes?  There was an egg timer.  Seriously.  I often tried to wash them down with milk.  Two problems with that solution.  One, they were too big for my petite throat to swallow whole.  Second, I was not allowed a second glass of milk.  This might not seem like much to you, Gentle Reader, but to my fragile psyche it was the seventh circle of hell.

I might have left out a few salient points.  If the timer had been set, my father was already pissed.  How dare I not eat the vegetables my mother bought with his pay that he labored for!  At 10, I didn’t do well with pressure.    I’m sure you are thinking, fine so there is a timer, it’s just vegetables — it is not like it was Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  You’d be wrong.  The bell would ring, my very large father would yell and I’d be ushered off to bed, crying at my failure.  I’m sure it was 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest. Being early, I would be wide awake, reminded of those mocking beans; a telltale heart continuing to echo my incarceration and impending doom.

Clearly you realize that this blog is cheaper than therapy, not that I really need it. My upbringing is reasonably rich history from which to pull ideas and topic.  On the other hand,  I’m sure that many you know I make sure my parents don’t forget about lima beans the egg timer.  Or the preferential treatment my brother got.  I think he’s appreciative that I took those 9 years to break our parents in for him.

And just like that mediocre independent film, this post just ends, leaving you wanting more.  But no more lima beans please.

Nights of White Bacon, Never Reaching an End

Bacon.  The final frontier.  And running the risk of becoming a cliche’.  But not if I can help it.

Let’s be honest shall we?  I love bacon and so do you.  Yes, my kosher friends are excused.  They just don’t know they love it.  Well, some do.  Those are the keepers of kashrut at home.  Bacon is allowed when you are on the road, right?  When I rewrite history, I plan on making several minor changes.  World War 1 had nothing to do with some minor Archduke; Germany was hording bacon.  Watergate was about the break in at the local bacon smokehouse.   I don’t know why Thomas Jefferson rewrote the phrase, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of bacon.”

Most importantly, it won’t be the snake giving Eve an apple; the snake will tempt her with a bacon explosion.   That’s right, I said it, and you were thinking it.   Let’s just get this on the table, shall we?

Growing up,  my mother made bacon for us “on occasion.”  More than once a year;  less than once a month.  (If I am remembering it incorrectly, let’s recall my mother had the audacity to point out the gray in my sideburns, daring me to call her on her weekly trip to the colorist.  Funny, she never mentions that my goatee has substantial gray.)  In those dark days, the late 60s to mid 70s, bacon came home from the grocery store, packed by that Oscar M guy.  It went into a pan over medium high heat, gave up its grease to create a kiddie pool to swim in, and burned to a crisp in that over-exaggerated deep fry of a baste.  As a kid, bacon was nothing special.  I always ate it  when served, but I would have much rather have had another spare rib, slice of ham or piece of flank steak.

When did it change?  I know that about 6 or 7 years ago  I started buying apple wood smoked bacon from the butcher counter at grocery store I frequent.  Lambchop likes bacon, potatoes and biscuits (which she makes) for brunch, leading me to buy it more often than I might have.  I generally had used bacon as an ingredient, a highlight in a dish not as the main attraction.  Rice pilaf loves a kiss of bacon.  So does Macaroni and Cheese (ok, I don’t use macaroni, its generally penne and its far more than a kiss), filet mignon and several different chicken sautés.  Now I buy thick, luscious, apple wood smoked bacon regularly.

A few years ago,  a good friend introduced me to Sriracha bacon.  It is very difficult to make. Not. You lather good bacon with Sriracha and then grill it over coals.  Easy and exceedingly delicious.  Why didn’t I think of this?  Earlier we saw the rise of candied bacon, bacon chocolate and bacon flavored dishes.  Perhaps McDonald’s was on the forefront when they brought the bacon and egg biscuit to the market.  Sadly, however, they didn’t go far enough.

In 2008, the bacon world exploded like Teresa Guidice in her full rainbow of lunacy.  A competitive BBQ team in Kansas City invented the Bacon Explosion.  It might be the most decadent dish ever foisted on the world.  But damn, it is good.  It is elegant in its simplicity, devilish in its construction and deceptive in its preparation.  It rewards creativity and patience.  It helps if you know someone that makes it.  At its core, a bacon explosion is bacon, wrapped in sausage wrapped in bacon and smoked.  No, it is not greasy.  The traditional recipe calls for lots of bbq sauce.  I have reduced the bbq sauce and replaced it with Sriracha.  I also try to add different components to tweak the recipe.  I have included a layer chopped jalapenos – which is not as hot as you might think – and a whole andouille sausage in the middle to mixed results.  The first several times I made a batch of Bacon Explosions everyone got a slice and one nameless friend ate all the rest.  I got the scraps from the cutting board. I think I didn’t get any until the 4th time I made them.

I believe my latest batch was my best ever.  It was also my biggest batch. I usually make 1 or 2, this time I made 4.  I mean, there were going to be 14 of us for dinner and, clearly, 2 would not be enough.  I cut the sausage from 2 lbs to 1.5 lbs.  I made my mats of bacon in 6×6 squares (7×7 is floppy on the edges).  As flavor highlight, I made a puree of jalapenos, garlic, parsley and oregano; a touch of pineapple juice was to accent the fruitiness within the heat.  The key to a successful Bacon Explosion is the 2-4 hour smoke.  I use hickory and rotate them for even cooking.  A thermometer in one making sure it gets to 180+ is also important.

When I volunteered to make these bacon explosions for 14, a few people were skeptical.  The amount of work and the ability to produce them for a dinner 40 miles from home was questioned.  The occasion was Le Dîner à San Francisco.  Le Dîner is akin to a picnic flashmob.  A few thousand people show up at a secret location in San Francisco, dressed in white for a dinner party.  The party starts at 5 and the location is announced at 3.  Living in the burbs, I take the day off to cook and prep.   Parking is limited and taking BART/Muni is not an option for me with as much stuff as I need to bring.  This year I brought the main course, wine, wine glasses and a few other things.  Last year my mango chicken served on a bed of cannellini beans did not arrive much hotter than tepid.  I made my plans knowing that I needed to deliver fantastic food that was warmer than warm.  I’m not much for cold food.  Last year it was at the bandstand area between the Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum.  The tables were in the trees, it was great and reasonably warm.  Would it be as warm or as scenic?

I spent the morning and afternoon making my bacon explosions.  When they finished around 3, I wrapped them tightly in foil, put each in a large Ziploc to manage leakage and put them all in a thermal bag. Yes I also made some brined, grilled chicken – I am the king of overkill. Because they were still whole, I needed to bring a cutting board and slicing knife.  As I have about 25 knives, this was a non-issue.  I also made a garlicky spicy chimichurri sauce for the chicken, but most of us used it on the bacon, to our mutual delight.  We left at 4 to get to the location by 5.  We actually arrived and parked by 5:10.

There we were, well at least most of us, dressed in white, setting up a table for 14.  LEDs, lanterns, fancy white napkins, practical plates and metal utensils.  Platters of food.  Lots of wine poured into mismatched wine glasses (I have tons, but bought over the years, so different sets.)  Oh yes, I neglected to mention where we wound up.  It was the Marina Green, 100 yards from the bay. At 5pm when we got there, the fog was rolling in and it was damp and cold.  The bay is lovely by daylight, but the sun set at about 6pm.  One victory was achieved; the bacon was served hot!  Well, at least pretty warm.

I wouldn’t want you to think we didn’t have a great time, we did.  I’m glad I brought my fancy black leather “shirt,” that was in the spirit of the evening, but far from the white that was de rigueur.  I needed it by 5:45.  By 7pm I was slicing bacon explosions and had traded the leather for an apron.  Even the skeptical took the bacon and sausage like ducks to water.  By 9:15 we were packing up to go home. Unlike last year, there was no entertainment and the cold broke our spirits degree by degree.  As members of our party gave up the ghost, it was clear that it was time to go.  As we packed up, we realized we didn’t need to keep things refrigerated, everything as nearly the perfect temp.  Getting back to the car was a tad easier than getting in.

We had a ton of leftovers.  For dinner I had rolls and cheese and bottled sauce on the table, on the off chance anyone wanted a bacon explosion sandwich.  At home, I slice off  .75 inch rounds and fry them gently, with a bit of the jalapeno sauce on them.  When they are lightly caramelized on both sides,  I top them with a bit of the chimichurri sauce and serve them on rolls, like a burger.  With 1.5 of these decadent treats left, we’ll be eating like kings for a while.

A shadow over lunch (appologies to HP Lovecraft)

The four of us sat at ease, each with a different sandwich, eating amongst the din of the crowded restaurant.  Except for Dave; he had a salad.  The topic had started at issues related to one unit’s inability to deliver quality services and had slid into the feminization of Russian surnames.  Our coworker with a Russian last name confirmed to me that her and her mother shared a last name ending in “ova” while her brother and father’s last name ended in “ov.”  It was an interesting conversation and I was amazed that I had never noticed that before.

The concept of gender in Russian names came to light when my friend Leigh Bardugo described her process for developing names in her debut novel, Shadow and Bone, and the other atrocities she allegedly performed on Russian culture.  I was perplexed why she would admit this, as the audience was mostly 14 year old girls and a few of their mothers.  There was no real reason to call attention to facts less than 2% (yes, I’ve done careful scientific research to reach this number) of her readers would notice.  I was only minimally out of place in seating area, with Lambchop sitting to my left.  I was the only male member of the species and I’m pretty sure I was the only one over 50.  Nevertheless, as much as I like to tease Leigh that she is the 2nd of my name amongst the roll of Awful, Awful Knights, I wouldn’t dream of missing her book tour.

Here I was in an independent book store in Petaluma with 20 teenager girls, listening to five authors talk about their just published debut novels.  I’m there because one of the authors is my friend.   It makes me think about why the others are there.  Clearly, the obvious answer is marketing.  And the marketing becomes more sophisticated and viral every day.  On a whim, I had looked at the reviews of Shadow and Bone on Amazon.  One of the first was a scathing incitement of how Leigh’s use of Russian culture and language as seeds in her world building was an affront to all people of Russian heritage.  Whoa?  Really? 

The reviewer’s point was that since some of the names, culture and items in this fantasy world were inspired by Russian culture, and unabashedly so, they should have been grammatically correct and exact in all details.  The reviewer went on a very long rant and gave the book 1 out of 5 stars; only because 0 stars wasn’t an option.   I believe this redefines myopia.  Not only that, this was in the first week of publication.  Don’t we have better things to do with our lives than be trolls on the internet?  Remember, this book is categorized as “Young Adult.”  Do we really think the same 14-year-old girls that believe in sparkly vampires care if the heroine’s last name is given the proper gender in a world that doesn’t exist?  I can see writing a critical paragraph on this topic in a balanced review, but not 1 million trolls on a death march.

I am beginning to think there is too much weight given to online criticism.  Yelp, Amazon, Good Reads, Angie’s List etc. all give outlets to the common man (woman, child or wombat) to take someone, their book, business or product and trash it with no accountability.  Why?  Even if 90% of the reviews are good or even fair, people focus on the shiny objects, the fireworks, and the circus parade.  On the Internet that focus is the trolls and the nuclear weapons they bandy about with little forethought.  Far be it from me to tell the world that negative criticism should end.  I won’t.  But people need to put a bit more thought into why they feel the need to trash someone or their work.  If they think they are helping form opinions, they are wrong.  They are the monkeys dancing for an audience of sheep.   I think the sheep need to move along – there may be dogs about (non-obscure Pink Floyd reference.)  They aren’t tastemakers.  They are the freaks at the sideshow.  I prefer to think for myself and edit out the extremes.  Sadly, I do enjoy a good sideshow from time to time.

For the record, I read the book with the eyes of a 50 year-old world weary consultant.  I think it was 3 round trips on the train and a few 20 minute sessions at home.  It was well plotted, interesting and definitely well done for its target audience.  The book was an enjoyable diversion and cared about the main character. That’s what a book in this genre should be, in my opinion.  I will be reading the sequels; I believe it is meant to be a trilogy. Had I read this as a young adult I would have loved it.  It made me think of Jon Carter of Mars with a feminine twist.  Of course I had criticisms — none of them terribly important to a book written for the YA market.  I don’t need to impress you with how smart I am.  Clearly, you think I’ve something interesting to say.  At least some of the time.

At lunch I was eating a Cobb sandwich.  Think of it as a BLT with avocado.  While I had not noticed the gender of last names, I did notice a bite of tomato landing on my shirt.  I took my napkin in hand to attack the offending red bit and remove it from my already colorful shirt.  As I pulled the napkin away, I realized I had left a green smear of avocado on my shirt.  I hadn’t noticed the napkin protecting my lap had done its job too well.  It wasn’t in any shape to remediate shirt born messes.  It made me ponder the concept of trying to help solve a problem, but making a bigger mess.  And I was thinking of work again.