the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  
2. --n. My weblog, focusing on food and drink, music, New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news, movies, books, sf, media and culture, Macs, politics, humor, reviews, rants, my life, my opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles my fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 11:29am PST, 11/30/2001

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Now reading:

The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King.

Inside "The Wicker Man", by Allan Brown.

Juno & Juliet, by Julian Gough.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
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Gareth Watkins
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Bloom County / Outland,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

Films seen recently:

Waking Life (****)
From Hell (***)
Mulholland Drive (****1/2)
L.I.E. (****)
"Hearts in Atlantis" (***1/2)
"Our Lady of the Assassins" (****)
"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (*)
"Jeepers Creepers" (***)
"Come Undone" (****)
"The Deep End" (****)
"Apocalypse Now Redux"

Lookin' at da TV:

"Six Feet Under"
"The Sopranos"
"The Simpsons"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"The X-Files
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"Iron Chef"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network

Weblogs I read:

The BradLands
David Grenier
Eat, Link and Be Merry
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jonno / now
Lake Effect
The Leaky Cauldron
The Making of a Restaurant
Mister Pants
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
The Other Side
Q Daily News
Therapy for the Inner Psycho
Web Queeries
Whim and Vinegar
World New York

Matthew's GLB blog portal

<< web loggers >>

Must-reads: (Progressive politics & news)
The Complete Bushisms (Quotationable)
The Deduct Box (Louisiana politics)
The Fray (your stories)
Landover Baptist (better Christians than YOU!)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (news 'n laffs)

The Final Frontier:

ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Recent Epinions:

1. John O'Groats: Home cooking, better than home

2. Bombay Sapphire: Gin haters, repent!

3. The Cajun Bistro, WeHo: Skip it

4. Absolut Kurant: I'd sooner drink Robitussin

5. Sanamluang: Best Thai food in L.A.

6. Volkswagen New Beetle: Fun fun fun!

What's in Chuq's Visor? (My favorite Palm OS applications)

AvantGo *
Launcher III *
Showtimes *
WineScore *
Zagat Guide *

(* = superfavorite)

(Just what do you think you're doing, Chuck?)

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Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit on an Apple iBook 2001 running MacOS 9.1 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work.

weblog and (almost) daily blather

  "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,
  From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me."
  -- Woody Guthrie

  Friday, November 30, 2001
All things must pass ... (*sigh*)   George Harrison died last night.

It's so true it can happen to you all; there,
Knock and it will open wide,
And it only takes time
'Til love comes to everyone.
Thank you, George.

Live Broadcast: Freddy Cole and Zim Ngqawana - TONIGHT! 6pm PST/8pm CST   From WWOZ: Jazz Journey, sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the University of New Orleans Department of Music/Jazz Studies and Department of Research and Sponsored Programs present "A South African Exchange" at 8 pm from UNO Performing Arts Recital Hall. The cast will be Freddy Cole leading on piano and vocals, Gerald Byrd on Guitar, Curtis Boyd on drums, Zackary Pride on bass, then a second set with Zim Ngqawana leading on sax, Hotep Idris Galeta on piano, Troy Davis on drums, and Roland Guerin on bass.

To listen on the Internet:

Big, strong SUV, worth every penny.   From the "Morning Fix": The Ford Explorer, the world's top-selling SUV, suffered extensive bumper damage in low-speed crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said. The 2002 Explorer sustained $5,432 worth of damage in four tests conducted at a wimpy little 5 mph, earning the institute's lowest rating for bumper performance.

In contrast, my 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle, in 5 mph crash tests with its front and rear bumpers ... bounced. There was no discernible damage other than possible paint scratches.

Morford, of course, continues ... "In similar tests, nearly every SUV on the market was shown to be a gimmick-thick marketing ploy to give testosterone-impaired owners the false impression of rugged manliness when in fact they're wimpier than a Honda Civic and handle like tanks and roll incredibly easily and explode and kill people and are uglier than a Pacer and have less cargo room than your average station wagon and suck gas and pollute and damage roads and hog parking but aren't they all so cute with their little American flags on their antenna?"

Lynne Cheney Sucks Souls Dry   I've got the day off and I'm lazy this morning, but the "Morning Fix" continues to enlighten and entertain as ever, so I thought I'd share another one.

Noted homophobe and adorable ultra-right-wing dragon lady Lynne Cheney said that Americans know too little about their country and the ideals on which it was founded, even as they fight in Afghanistan to defend both from foreign threats.

The loveably unappealing wife of VP Dick Cheney stressed the importance of teaching U.S. history during a speech at Princeton University attended by several hundred vaguely nauseated people. Mrs. Cheney is best known for fighting Reagan's cute little culture wars in the '80s and killing National History Standards legislation in 1994 because she thought it focused too much on women and minorities and not enough on white men.

She is also known for denying that she has an openly lesbian daughter and for being sort of morally repugnant to most sentient beings with active souls and beating hearts.

  Wednesday, November 28, 2001
Enough already!   Chef Jean-Louis Palladin died yesterday of lung cancer at age 55. He was a heavy smoker.

Unfortunately, it's been a while since anyone's been able to taste his cooking, as the Rio Hotel in Vegas were kind enough to close his restaurant Napa while he was sick, leaving a man with a terminal disease with no source of income. They damn well better have taken care of him.

Wes and I had the pleasure and delight to dine in his fine restaurant last March, and it was a memorable meal. Here's a reprint of my tale of the meal as posted in a previous Looka! edition.

There are now top-quality restaurants everywhere in Vegas; unfortunately our budget only allowed us to visit one. This time it was Jean-Louis Palladin's restaurant Napa in the Rio Suites Hotel.

I was a little wary as we approached; as usual, you have to worm your way through the maze of twisty little passages (all alike) that is the casino. Granted, the Carnaval parade with floats hanging from the ceiling was neat, but not conducive to a quiet night of fine dining. Once you get inside, though, the cacaphony of the casino and the parade fade away -- Napa is pretty, quiet with subdued lighting (but plenty enough to see the food). Service was prompt and extremely courteous without being obtrusive, and began almost immediately as we sat down with offers of water and beautiful, delicious, warm house-made brioche. (I could see it coming from the kitchen, and thought "Ooh! They're bringing us brioche!"  Gets you in a good mood right away.)

I started with an appetizer that wasn't on the menu, even though it's the chef's "signature dish"; they offer it as a special every night, but I suppose it's not on the menu because the preparation and accompaniments are frequently changed. It was Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras, served with a quince glaze, quince purée and wine-poached slices of fresh quince (the glaze and fruit accompaniments vary from pear to rhubarb to white peach). This is the first time I'd had roasted foie gras (usually it's been seared or baked in a terrine when I've ordered it before), and it was luxurious -- an enormous portion (priced accordingly) perfectly done, just barely pink on the inside (sometimes seared foie gras is a little underdone for me), beautifully seasoned on the outside. The quince motif, repeated via the richly flavored sauce, the purée under the foie gras and the crisp-tender slices of fresh quince, seems to be a style repeated through the menu, where several dishes offer different treatments and textures of one ingredient throughout the dish. The sweetness of the fruit, offset with a slight hint of tartness, was the perfect foil for the foie gras (although I must confess I would have really loved to have tried it with white peach).

Using the "hey, I'm on vacation" rationalization, combined with the "I'm spending this one fabulous food, and it's better than peeing it away in the casino" rationalization, I ordered a sweet wine to go with the foie gras -- I'd never tried Hungarian Tokaj wine (TOKE-eye), and the waiter recommended it as a particularly good accompaniment (and I was relieved he didn't recommend the 1955 Château d'Yquem at $75 per glass). I had been wanting to try one, and this was a good one at 6 puttonyos, meaning it's one of the richest and sweetest Tokaj wines. It was a 1993 Tokaji Aszú Nyulaszo, and it was glorious -- honey-sweet, full-bodied and was perfect with the foie gras and quince. I'd much rather have had this kind of appetizer, this culinary experience, then to have lost all that playing slots or blackjack, so it was worth what it cost.

Wes' appetizer was, fortunately, more reasonably priced, and wonderful as well -- Sautéed Rock Shrimp with Corn Flan and Corn Ragout. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and beautifully seasoned, the ragout was creamy and full of crunchy fresh corn kernels, and the flan was both rich yet full of the delicate flavor of corn. Lovely, lovely dish.

Next course I had soup, which was so intensely flavored that it seemed more filling than it probably was, with the menu description of Farm Hen Consommé, Fresh Chestnut and Wild Mushroom Cappuccino. The consommé was full of the flavor not only of chicken but the mushroom infusion as well, filled with tiny pieces of carrot, celery, onion and pepper that were cut into perfect triangles, and the whole thing was topped with a large dollop of chestnut mousse that made the whole thing look like a huge cappuccino. Great, whimsical presentation which is the kind of thing I've loved since seeing similar presentations at The French Laundry in Napa Valley.

Wes opted for a salad for the second course, this one being another whimsical presentation -- Baby Green & Red Romaine Caesar Salad with Parmesan Crackle. It consisted of perfectly dressed, perfectly chosen leaves of romaine arranged in the shape of a bow-tie, with the "knot" being a curved savory Parmesan tuile.

Since I was being bad by ordering foie gras, I decided to order red meat for my entrée (and as good as it was, I ended up wishing I had ordered what Wes ordered). Of all the wonderful dishes on the menu, the one that ended up catching my eye was Roasted Venison Loin with Banyls Vinegar Sauce, Lemon Confit, Roasted Asparagus and Julienne Prosciutto Ham. I ordered it medium rare, and the outside came slightly charred and magnificently seasoned, and the very inside of the center slices of the lion were red as carpaccio. More intense flavor combinations, all wonderful, and washed down with a 1998 Grgich Hills Zinfandel. I enjoyed it all very much, but I nearly passed out when I saw Wes' dish, that night's special -- Fresh Lump Crabmeat Risotto, made in the traditional style and then enriched with cream. Oh, my. My my my. The pieces of crabmeat were so big that he had to cut then in half. It was stunning, a crabmeat dish to rival only the most magnificent I'd had at places like Galatoire's back home. Bravo, Jean-Louis!

Amazingly enough, we decided that we had room for dessert. We were on the verge of being so full that the "there's always room for dessert" rule might not have applied, but after gasping at the dessert menu, we forged ahead. Once again, as great as mine was, I think Wes did a little better. He ordered another example of the chef's repeating of ingredients in different treatments, getting the Mango Flan with Orange-Caramel Coulis, Mango Spaghetti and Mango Sorbet. The flan was tiny, as tiny as the corn flan with which he began his meal, but so rich that it couldn't really have been any bigger. It was napped with just the perfect amount of coulis, adding a citrus tarness and the caramel sweetness to offset the richness of the flan. That was on the left; in the center of the plate was a small pile of long, thin strands of fresh mango that looked very much like spaghetti, dressed with a sweet glaze, and on the right was a small quenelle of house-made mango sorbet served inside a tall, curved crescent moon-shaped tuile. Beautiful presentation, beautiful flavor, and although it looked tiny it was the perfect way to finish a big meal like this.

I, on the other hand, ordered a soufflé that was the size of the chef's toque. Well, if I'm going to begin the meal with excess, I might as well end it that way too. The pastry chef offers two different soufflés that change every night; tonight's were Passionfruit, and Coconut Soufflé, served with sweetened double cream. The soufflé puffed up at least four inches from the top of the ramekin, but was very light and airy; with the cream serving to remind me of how rich this all was. I actually couldn't finish it all (but came close).

I didn't have a heart attack when I saw the bill, because I had prepared for it and because I knew this would be my big indulgence of the trip. I don't gamble and I had planned to eat at buffets for the rest of time we were in Vegas (and the buffets at the Rio, Luxor and Aladdin were all quite good and quite inexpensive). What the hell, I was on vacation.

Email of the day.   I have a fan in Portugal!

From: Pedro Miguel Leitão <>
To: Chuck Taggart
Subject: crazy
Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 16:33:04 -0000

are you crazy? what a stupid site is yours?go fucking
stupid...nobody understand your stupid ideas...wingnut hope to see you stupid!

(What's the Portuguese word for "straitjacket"?)

  Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Remember Chef Jamie soon by making this dish.   Aside from the latest Commander's Palace cookbook, start your next special meal with this fabulous appetizer, which will remain on Commander's menu indefinitely as Jamie's signature dish:

Jamie Shannon's Tasso Shrimp

Beurre blanc sauce breaks easily, so do this step first and keep it warm (not hot!)

Crystal Beurre Blanc:
1 tablespoon Crystal Hot Sauce
Pinch of chopped garlic
Pinch of chopped shallots (or onion)
1 teaspoon whipping cream
6 tablespoons softened butter

1. In a pan over medium-low heat, saute garlic and shallots in a little butter for a minute. Add Crystal Hot Sauce and bring to a boil. Cook until very little liquid is left. Add cream and cook about one more minute.

2. Lower heat to almost nothing and whisk in the softened butter, a little at a time, until it takes on a creamy consistency.

Commander's Five-Pepper Jelly:
1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers
1 jalapeño pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 oz. honey
6 oz. white vinegar

1. Remove seeds and inner membrane from bell peppers and jalapeño, and cut into small dice.

2. Dissolve honey into vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce until sticky.

3. Add the peppers and cook until the peppers are soft. Add salt to taste.

4. Pack what will not be used immediately in sterilized canning jars in the standard way.

(You may substitute a commercially prepared pepper jelly as well.)

Tasso shrimp:
12 jumbo shrimp (shelled and deveined)
2 ounces spicy tasso, sliced into matchstick-size pieces
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
12 pickled okra

1. Cut a slit down the back of each shrimp and insert a strip of tasso. Close the slit with a toothpick.

2. Mix the salt into the flour in a broad bowl. Dust the shrimp with the seasoned flour.

3. In a skillet, fry the shrimp in oil heated to about 375 degrees. Drain.

4. Place the cooked shrimp in a bowl with about 2 oz. of the Crystal beurre blanc. Toss to coat.

5. Spread a thin film of pepper jelly on the bottom of a small dish and arrange three shrimp on each plate. Place pickled okra between each and serve.

YIELD: Four appetizer servings.

iPod in hand.   Well, I couldn't wait. I gathered up my birthday money from various relatives (which helped take the sting off the price), kicked in the rest and got one.

It's grrrrrreat! So far the only complaint I have with it is its lack of a case or belt clip, but the third parties are already lining up to provide exactly that. I've been fine-tuning my playlist which will eventually include everything from Uncle Tupelo (their entire recorded output excluding boots) to Cordelia's Dad (all their albums too), plus a bunch of new stuff I want to listen to, all the way to a carefully selected cross-section of the best of New Orleans, Cajun and zydeco music. I'm up to about 875 songs so far, with room for maybe 250 more.

I never quite got it when I saw the ads that featured the iPod at "actual size", or when people said it was the size of a deck of cards. "Tarot cards, maybe," I thought. Nope. It's tiny. It sounds great. It doesn't skip. I've never needed to use it to the point where the battery would even be half-drained. It's incredibly easy to use. It's beautiful. And once I'm finished filling it up I'll be able to carry about 75 hours of music ... just as they say, in my pocket.

The guy at the Apple Store in Glendale said they were selling "briskly", and that they had no worries about running out of them. "We've got about ten thousand of them in the back," he said. "I'm not kidding. They're stacked floor to ceiling."

If you balk at the price ($399), think about the fact that if you were to buy its tiny 5GB hard drive as a separate component for your machine, it'd cost you that much all by itself. Plus I suspect that Apple will gradually reveal that the iPod has far more capability than as "just" the best MP3 player out there. Remember that it's also usable as a portable FireWire drive, and runs on an OS that has full PDA capabilities (address/phone book, appointments, to do list, etc.). Could be interesting.

Email of the day.   From someone calling him- or herself "Tater":

Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 10:59:27 -0500
From: tater@**********.com
To: Chuck Taggart
Subject: Credit


I guess I have to give you some credit. I made your gumbo for our right wing fundamentalist bible study a couple of weeks ago. It went well with our discussion regarding sins like non-missionary position, non-hetero sex and drinking alcohol. I told them you were from N.O. and now lived in L.A. They agreed with my fears that you are probably the anti-Christ (or will at least father it). At least someone related to something so evil can actually cook. Maybe the food will be good if I don't make it to that great McDonald's in the sky.

It was very, very good gumbo -- especially for my first time making roux (except for the sub-par oysters which is all we can reasonably get in Bubbalon/Atlanta). I passed the recipe along and, assuming my friends Falwell-approved-family-friendly ISP lets them onto your site, you should have some visitors.

As far as a donation, I mailed a nice check in your name to the Falwell Harry Potter is the Devil campaign (formerly known as the "Teletubbies will send you directly to Hayell" fund).

Hope all is well on the left coast.


Hee hee heeeeeeee. Thanks for making my morning, Tater.

Quote of the day.   Speaking of making someone's morning ... this happened yesterday. I had gotten into the elevator at work to head up to my office, but before it got to my floor it stopped and started heading back to the ground floor. I guess I hadn't pressed the button hard enough. I got off before it went all the way back to the lobby and caught the next up-bound elevator. One of my cow-orkers was inside.

Cow-orker: Chuck! What the hell are you doing on that floor?

Me: The stupid elevator kidnapped me! I was trying to go up, and it started going down on me!


Me: Boy, that didn't come out right at ALL.

Cow-orker (after laughing hysterically along with a woman from another company who was also in the elevator, and wiping tears from his eyes): Thanks for making my morning.

You're welcome, Jim. Any old time.

  Monday, November 26, 2001
Thanks for some of the best meals I've ever had.   Jamie Shannon, executive chef of Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans, died of cancer on Friday. He was only 40, and from what I'd heard everyone (including himself) thought he was getting better.


  Wednesday, November 21, 2001
Happy Thanksgiving!   It's been a busy week, and it's going to be an even busier weekend for me ... lots of cooking and socializing, so I'm taking some time off. Make my signature Thanksgiving side dish for your meal tomorrow, Sweet Potatoes and Pears with Bourbon Cane Syrup Glaze, and have a great long weekend. See y'all next Monday!

Yeah you rite ... have a mos' scocious boit-day, bra.   Malcolm "Mac" Rebennack, Mr. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya and one of the world's great fonkmeisters, better known to the world as Dr. John (The Night Tripper), celebrates his 61st boit-day today. His new CD "Creole Moon" is one of da best o' da year. Get him a nice present (and one for yourself too) by buying it.

Finally! "2001" in 2001.   Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" is finally being rereleased ... in a meticulously restored 70mm Super Panavision version that will play in only three theatres in the country ... San Francisco's Castro, Washington D.C.'s Uptown, and Los Angeles' Egyptian (woohoo!), with a few later 70mm releases to theatres that can handle it, plus 35mmm releases elsewhere. Kubrick had been working on this restoration up until the time of his death. I've never seen this film in its original 70mm presentation. It's out December 20. CAN'T WAIT!!

Bora! Bora! Bora!   There's a delightfully snarky review of the wretched "Pearl Harbor" in DVDfile today. It gets off to a great start:

Alright, let's just get the obvious question out of the way "Pearl Harbor" really as bad as they say it is?
Well, yes, actually it is.
Heh. Yep.

What is it that makes "Pearl Harbor" so bad? Oh, let me count the ways. Shot like a perfume commercial and edited like a music video, the script is absolutely terrible, the acting embarrassing, and [director Michael] Bay utterly fails in creating a believable, emotionally resonant recreation of Hawaii circa 1941. An obvious attempt to replicate the success and structure of "Titanic" -- at least that James Cameron's mega-hit managed to successfully stage a historical tragedy that felt authentic -- "Pearl Harbor" is a mass of tiresome cliches that has become an instant camp classic. This was supposed to be Bay's Schindler's List, but instead it's his "Heaven's Gate".
Ouch. (*snicker*)

Quote of the day.   Q: "Well, I know the guy over at gumbopages has a lyric archive. Does it amuse you when you see some misinterpretations of your lyrics?"

A: "Yeah, I've seen that. Actually, I've read some of the lyrics people have written out and liked what they thought I said more than what I actually wrote."

-- Jay Farrar, in a recent interview.

  Tuesday, November 20, 2001
Quote of the day.   "Whew ... he didn't fuck it up."

-- Wes, referring to Chris Columbus and his film of J. K. Rowling's book "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". (We both enjoyed the film, actually.)

Apparently UPN did, though.   We couldn't bear to even put a tape in for the UPN remake of "Iron Chef" last Friday, and just went to see Harry Potter instead. I didn't even want to watch it. Looks like I made the right choice, from the reviews ...

Los Angeles Times:
"Recipe for disaster."

San Francisco Chronicle:
"An abomination ... an insult to food fans."

San Jose Mercury News:
"Something's lost in the translation."

Oakland Press:
"'Americanized' in this case means 'overproduced' and 'dumbed down' ...
'If you can't stand the heat, change the damn channel' ... sound advice."

Detroit Free Press:
"Like a pitifully collapsed soufflé ... leaves behind a bad, cheesy taste."

Chicago Sun-Times:
"Too much ham ... idiotic decision to bring in William Shatner ... more cheese than anyone has the appetite for or ability to swallow. Most of the time, this pseudo-competition comes off as no more convincing than Chairman Shatner's hairline."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"... tinged with subtle hues of mediocrity."

You get the idea. I don't think we missed anything.

Long live Kaga-san!

One would think he had no feet left.   Jerry Falwell is apparently regrowing his feet at a rapid rate, only to gnaw them off and eat them again. Apparently everyone from left to right is getting tired of his bullshit.

  Thursday, November 15, 2001
TANJ?   Is it just me, or does anybody else notice the similarity between the world of the new Bungie/Xbox game Halo and Larry Niven's Ringworld? Did Niven get any royalties? I sure hope so, 'cause as soon as I saw the comercial I thought, "Oh my God, someone's finally set a game on the Ringworld!" But of course ... no Louis Wu, no Chmeee, no Teela Brown, no Halrloprillalar, no Harkabeeparolyn ...

Speaking of which, here are a couple of nifty sites, one describing the physics of the Ringworld, and the other some attempts at rendering some images of what it might look like. As always, the Ringworld is so incredibly huge that it's often difficult to wrap one's mind around its scale.

  Wednesday, November 14, 2001
"We're Knights of the Round Table, we eat when e'er we're able..."   No, it's not a Monty Python post, it's a how-many-people-at-the-table post.

The other night for my birthday dinner at John O'Groats we had 10 people around the table, and if we hadn't had some people getting sick at the last minute and having to pick up a late-arriving family member at the airport, we'd have had 16. That would have been too many to have at one table, and in today's New Orleans Menu Daily, Tom Fitzmorris talks about the best way to deal with such a situation (in a nutshell, two tables of eight; the VIP/guest of honor can always wander and mingle). You could always have smaller celebratory dinners ... or do it over two nights!

If your local public radio station sucks, here's why.   Locally produced specialty music programming falls to the bean counters.

During the final days of October, as the public radio station WAMU-FM in Washington launched an on-air fund drive, one particular group of former listeners began calling in to donate only their complaints. They were fans of a bluegrass show that had been dropped without warning four months earlier from its coveted slot during drive-time on weekday afternoons. Refusing to contribute money, demanding refunds of previous gifts, the protesters meant to deny WAMU its goal of raising $1 million. And this was only their latest piece of political theater.

In the preceding weeks, bluegrass loyalists had picketed two fund-raising events, one man carrying a sign declaring "WAMU = Fraud, Stupidity and Heartache." "Save Bluegrass" Web sites and e-mail lists had sprung up. Back before the terror attacks of Sept. 11 had consumed Congressional attention, Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina had taken to the floor of the House to declare, "Perhaps the WAMU management team needs to be introduced to the woodshed."

This sort of strife was not limited to Washington, either. Seven months earlier and 2,000 miles away, to the strains of Haydn's "Farewell" symphony, the public station KUER-FM in Salt Lake City ended 40 years of broadcasting classical music, bringing condemnation from the Utah legislature and the state's major newspapers. Meanwhile, in Maine, town meetings were being held to assail the state public radio system for dropping live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. (They were ultimately restored.)

It's the "NPRization" of public radio, homogenized news, information and syndicated programming that seems to rake in bigger bucks due to its being a lowest common denominator, while locally-produced specialty music programs are being axed, even if they have long-running popularity. It's all about dollars these days, and on many stations the programming suffers for it. Out with the bluegrass programs, in with the news and information and the same syndicated shit you hear everywhere.

It's also the Outside Consultant Syndrome, summed up very succinctly by former Xeroc PARC guru Alan Kay, who said (and I'm paraphrasing), "A 'consultant' is a guy who knows 500 different ways to make love, but he doesn't have a girlfriend."

All these controversies, seemingly so disparate, traced back to a common source. His name is David Giovannoni. A brilliant analyst of public radio's audience who it is, how much it listens, when it listens, what it listens to, when and why it donates money he is quite possibly the most influential figure in shaping the sound of National Public Radio today, the sound heard by upward of 20 million Americans weekly.

To Mr. Giovannoni's critics, however, the reliance on widely lauded programs typifies the problem. Ratings increasingly rule. Every NPR station is sounding more like every other NPR station, with the same "news stream" during the weekday, the same lineup of "Weekend Edition," "Car Talk" and the quiz show "Whad'ya Know?" on Saturday mornings. In both Washington and Salt Lake City, music devotees pointed out that nearby NPR stations already broadcast the same news and information shows that WAMU and KUER were adding. Even as NPR basks in the National Medal of the Arts it was awarded last year by President Clinton for its cultural programming, the very genres of jazz and classical music that the system was created in part to support are shrinking on the dial. Inventive new shows, Mr. Giovannoni's foes contend, will not survive statistical scrutiny long enough to build an audience. Jay Allison, an award-winning producer and station manager, likens the reliance on audience research to "a deal with the devil."

So they make money, but they're not worth listening to. Bleh.

If you listen to public radio, if there are locally produced specialty shows you enjoy listening to, it is more important than ever to support your local public radio station with your membership. Only 1 out of 10 listeners actually coughs up money, and this has got to change. If it doesn't, and you didn't, and you lose your favorite shows to the Giovannoni forces ... don't bitch.

Incidentally, KCSN doesn't sound like every other station. We don't have outside consultants, and our pledge drives take in more and more every year, slowly but steadily (and we have two bluegrass shows). For the most unique music mix in L.A. radio, tune to 88.5 FM or listen on the web.

Shiny happy people.   An airplane flight, 15 glasses of wine, misbehavior, an arrest ... the most memorably unpleasant image being Peter Buck covering himself in yogurt. (I wonder if there was fruit on the bottom.)

Because the Guggenheim and the Getty simply aren't enough...   there's the Museum of Condiment Packets.

  Monday, November 12, 2001
"So how does it feel,"   my sister asked, "to go to bed in your thirties and wake up in your forties?"

Um ... 'bout the same, I guess.

My new favorite restaurant in Pasadena.   Trattoria Tre Venezia, at 119 W. Green Street, kitty-corner across the street from Buca di Beppo. My friend Gregg had recommended this place, which I seem to have missed all the time I've been dining in Pasadena. Wes took me there for my birthday last night, and it's the best meal I've had outside of New Orleans all year (and it gave most N.O. restaurants a run for their money). It's got some of the best and most sophisticated food of any Italian restaurant I've been to in the whole L.A. -- of any restaurant, for that matter. It was stupendous, gorgeous, beautiful every moment and every bite.

Next time we go there I'm going to eat an extremely light lunch (maybe two slices of white bread slatered with Jack Miller's Barbecue Sauce) so that I can have a more substantial antipasto (but the salads we had were still fantastic), plus a pasta for primo before the main course and dessert. We had had a fairly large lunch (bad idea) compounded by the problem of an early dinner, but I think we chose wisely from the menu and still managed to do the full Italian meal of antipasto, primo, secondo and dolci.


Mango in Insalata (Chuck)
Fresh slices of mango and heirloom tomatoes topped with homemade ricotta affumicata (smoked ricotta, a traditional cheese from Friuli, drizzled with balsamic syrup and Italian extra-virgin olive oil.

I never figured mango to be a traditional ingredient from the Veneto (it isn't, as far as I know), but this non-traditional ingredient worked really well with this little salad, with all the ingredients splayed out like an eight-pointed star. The balsamic syrup was a tangy conterpoint to the sweetness of the mango, and that house-made smoked ricotta was out of this world.

Insalata dei Sospiri (Wes)
Salad of fresh spinach and thinly sliced red cabbage, sautéed red onion, raisins, walnuts and pine nuts, sprinkled with Italian extra-virgin oliveoil and balsamic vinegar.

This sounds simple but was delicious, and a good way to start if you plan on indulging on something monstrously rich later in the meal. We almost went for their pasta special, which was foie-gras filled ravioli in a cream sauce (JEEsus), which they said they refused to serve in entree-sized portion because "it's just too rich". I wanted this badly, but thought it might kill me for the rest of the meal, so we went for the risotto of the day...


Risotto with wild blueberries and cinnamon.
Oddly enough, this was not sweet at all, a completely savory dish unlike anything I've ever had. The closest thing I can think of was the Moroccan dish called bastila, the pigeon pie in pastry topped with cinnamon (although this was a completely meatless risotto). The wild blueberries were tiny and provided a rich blueberry flavor without much sweetness, and it made the cinnamon seem much less like the desserty spice we're used to. Really interesting, and really good.


San Pietro al Pistacchi (Chuck)
Filets of John Dory, breaded with ground pistachio huts and sauteed in a light butter sauce, atop a large bed of caramelized onions and green beans.

This. Was. Out. Of. This. World.

I love pistachios, and nut-crusted fish, but this was the best such dish I'd ever had. The flavor was amazing, a perfect compliment to the John Dory (which I love anyway, even without all those pistachios). I felt a little less guilty because of all the green beans -- I'm eating my greens, Mom! -- and they perfectly complimented the fish. The perfect finish to each bite of this course was the wine, a half-bottle of a 1999 Pinot Grigio from Sant' Elena in Friuli.

Anitra Muta all'Imperiale (Wes)
Muscovy crackling duck breast, served with apricot ravioli and duck sauce.

One of the reasons I love duck breast so much is that when it's cooked properly -- seared on the outside so that the skin is brown and crispy, with the meat perfectly medium or medium-rare on the inside -- it's like meat that comes wrapped in its own supply of bacon. (Mmmmm, bacon.) It was served with one enormous ravioli filled with apricots and crusted with fine bread crumbs and sage, plus the duck reduction sauce. Wes cleaned his plate.


Perfetto Veneziano (Chuck)
Ice-cold hazelnut zabaglione served with fresh blackberries and garnished with raspberry sauce.

I'm used to having zabaglione served in the traditional style, foamy and creamy with berries or whatever else it's being served with, but this was two triangular slabs of frozen zabaglione sitting upright on the plate. It was heavenly, much lighter than ice cream (since I don't think there was any cream in it, just egg yolks, sugar and probably Frangelico for the hazelnut flavor), with huge, plump blackberries, halved hazelnuts and a generous drizzle of the raspberry sauce. I'm glad I got this, 'cause I think the chocolate tart with fresh cherries softened in red wine syrup with whipped cream and chocolate sauce might just have killed me.

Crema del Gondoliere (Wes)
Venetian-style cooked cream, flavored with caramelized sugar and toasted sliced almonds.

We weren't quite sure what to expect here -- was this going to be like a creme brulee or a panna cotta? It turned out to be neither -- a scoop of a caramel-colored cream in a tuile cup with a deep, rich caramel flavor, topped with a drizzle of simple caramel and the almonds. It was lighter than either a creme brulee or a panna cotta, yet still rich enough to make you moan.

Wes finished with a beautiful 10-year-old Osborne tawny port, and I finished with the most amazing grappa I'd ever had -- Grappa di Freisa di Valdivilla "Mondaccione", Coppo, 1994. It was straw-colored with a touch of sweetness and a flavor and aroma redolent of honeysuckle, no harshness whatseover, but a great satisfying tingly-burn that swept from the tip of my tongue, over my gums and palate to the back of my throat, which thereupon transpformed to a wash of that honeysuckle flavor in the same direction. Wow. I really have to learn more about grappas.

We'd go back here in a second. There's the whole rest of that menu to try! The food, wine and grappa, combined with the small size, quiet atmosphere and impeccable service adds up to one of the best restaurant experiences I've had in the L.A. area in recent memory. I can't recommend this restaurant enough.

Stick out your tongue and say "quack!"   I love calf's tongue (as Marc Savoy once said, "It's so good I wish the whole damn cow was made out of tongue."), but I've never tried it from anything that flies. At 99 Ranch and other Asian markets I've gone to the meat counter and seen styrofoam meat trays filled with tiny duck's tongues, dozens of them, and thought it looked odd and kinda funny. I've never had the opportunity to order a duck's tongue dish, but I'm very curious. (Surely some place in Alhambra, San Gabriel or Monterey Park has them.)

I finally got a chance to see what a finished dish looks like, though. Hmmmm ... yum yum yum!

Hee hee hee.   A great "Doonesbury" from two Sundays ago, in which Mark thanks his conservative partner Chase for the return of the flag.

You guys hijacked the flag years ago, during the Cold War, especially the Vietnam era, turning it into a symbol of unquestioning, jingoistic nationalism. Now it's back to being a symbol of patriotism and love of country, not a particular political agenda. So thanks for restoring it to all of us!

A deeply religious people?   An interesting recent post by Bill Lindemann in soc.motss reveals that both former presidents Jimmy Carter and had used the phrase "deeply religious people" in praising the Afghans in their fight against the Soviet Union. A web search revealed some truly priceless quotes, "in light of the unthinking admiration for all things religious spewed by our leaders in times past (and present), and the current popular sentiment that a little display of good 'ol American military force will quickly teach Those Evil People the error of their ways." [Comments in brackets are Bill's, from the post.]


"At this moment, massive Soviet troops are attempting to subjugate the fiercely independent and deeply religious people of Afghanistan."

"But now the Soviet Union has taken a radical and an aggressive new step. It's using its great military power against a relatively defenseless nation. The implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could pose the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War."


"For 5 years the Soviet Army has waged war on the proud and deeply religious people of Afghanistan, and there is still no end in sight. Nonetheless, for 5 years, the people of Afghanistan, with legendary courage, have fought the occupying Soviet forces to a standstill."

"The Afghan freedom fighters -- the mujahidin -- remind us daily that the human spirit is resilient and tenacious, and that liberty is not easily stolen from a people determined to defend it. The Afghan people are writing a new chapter in the history of freedom. We Americans salute their magnificent courage." [Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the mujahidin evolve into the current Afghan government?]

"These Islamic fighters in a faraway land have given new meaning to the words 'courage,' 'determination,' and 'strength.' They have set the standard for those who value freedom and independence everywhere in the world."

"To demoralize and defeat the Afghans, the Soviets have unleashed the full force of their modern weaponry."

"Massive attack helicopters have been used against mere villages. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been injured or killed..."

"The Afghans, like the Poles, wish nothing more, as you've just been so eloquently told, than to live their lives in peace, to practice their religion in freedom, and to exercise their right to self-determination. As a consequence, they now find themselves struggling for their very survival as a nation."

"Nowhere are basic human rights more brutally violated than in Afghanistan today." [Said, of course, of the treatment of these "deeply religious people" by the Godless Commies. How little he knew of how their own "deeply religious" leaders would violate basic human rights in the years ahead.]

"Accordingly, I am dedicating on behalf of the American people the March 22d launch of the Columbia to the people of Afghanistan."

From a followup post by Tigran Spaan of the Netherlands:

It is good to see that not everyone in the US has forgotten. Yes, the [mujahidin] contained many current Taliban leaders, as well as Mr bin Laden, and what is currently known as the "Northern Alliance". The latter group seized power in, I think, 1992, and quickly brought the country to a complete economic stand still, as well as making it a completely unsafe place to be (it was virtually impossible, apparently, to travel from one city to another without being killed, robbed or raped). Another "deeply religious" group, the Taliban, used this situation to gain support for their movement, which overthrew the [mujahidin] bit by bit from about 1996 on, driving them more and more to the North where they hid out until they became our new deeply religious freedom fighters of choice, the "Northern Alliance".

That's what I get by simply following the news. Bottom line is that (even) under the communist regime, Afghanistan was a much better place to be than it has been since under the "deeply religious" crowd(s) that the US has so warmly supported since the early eighties.

Something to think about.

Shave and a haircut, two bits.   It is being reported that in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, recently captured from the Taliban by the Northern Alliance, women are discarding their head-to-toe burqa garments, music has begun to blare from windows, and men are lining up at barbershops to have their Taliban-required beards shaved off. (Via NextDraft)

Quote of our new era.   "I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer."

-- Paul Muad'dib, né Atreides, via Frank Herbert. (Thanks for reminding us of that one, Lynette.)

  Friday, November 9, 2001
Fuh ... fuh ...   (Hmm, not quite ready to say it yet.)

Sunday is the first anniversary of my 39th birthday. Maybe next week I'll be able to say the "F" word.

  Thursday, November 8, 2001
Happy birthday, Mike!   Go eat something fabulous tonight.

Baby!   And a belated congratulations to my friends Lou and Charlotte on the birth of their first child, Ethan Francis, on October 24!

The passing of The Greatest.   Chef Warren Leruth, the man who singlehandedly sparked the renaissance of New Orleans cuisine and who food writer Tom Fitzmorris calls the greatest New Orleans chef of the 20th Century, died yesterday in a Mississippi hospice at age 72.

The chef, food scientist and restauranteur gained fame as the owner/chef of LeRuth's Restaurant in Gretna, across the river from New Orleans. I grew up hearing my parents rave about this place, but unfortunately I never got a chance to dine there before it closed. Chef Leruth became a highly sought-after restaurant and food manufacturing consultant after his retirement from restaurant cooking in 1982. (I had no idea until I read his obit in the Times-Picayune that he had created Popeye's terrific red beans 'n rice.)

From Tom Fitzmorris' obituary of Leruth in today's issue of the New Orleans Menu Daily (added links are mine):

Quite simply, no restaurant passed from the New Orleans scene is missed as much as LeRuth's. Opening in the 1960s, at a time when New Orleans restaurants had interchangeable menus, he showed that you could be innovative and distinctly Creole at the same time.

At its peak in the 1970s, a LeRuth's reservation was harder to get than any reservation to this day. You had to do it months in advance. The wine list was incredible. He knew wine (in fact, he knew France), and he wasn't hesitant about going for the best. At one time, his house wines were Montrachet and Chateau Latour. You talk about the good old days.

The lasting legacy of LeRuth's is oyster-artichoke soup, Warren's unique creation, now universal in New Orleans restaurants. (To taste it the way he made it, try the one at La Riviera.) But the menu was full of great dishes. Some of those -- crabmeat St. Francis and the soft-shell crab with crabmeat meunière -- live on at Clancy's.

After he sold the restaurant to his sons, he embarked upon a consulting career. He was still quite busy up to the time of his death, traveling and advising and inventing.

He was a man of his times. Very funny, very New Orleans, always laughing about something. But very quick to identify nonsense when he saw it. Example: last year, he vented to me his anger at the chain restaurant industry, and its practice of buying fully-cooked food, warming it up, and serving it. "The kitchen of those places has moved from manufacturing to pure retail," he said. "But they still get the restaurant markup!"

We will not soon see the like of Warren Leruth. Not having his brilliant mind out there leaves a hole in my world. I will miss his talent and his friendship. And I'll be thinking about him a lot in a few weeks.

One good way to help celebrate the legacy of Chef Leruth is to make a batch of oyster-artichoke soup sometime soon. It's truly fabulous.

Our ultraconservative, religious fundamentalist Attorney General.   When President Bush nominated the former Republican senator from Missouri for attorney general, critics warned that he would use his office to promote his personal beliefs. They were right.

  Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Boucherie day.   The tale below of our visit to our friends' old-fashioned Cajun-style backyard pig slaughter in Eunice, Louisiana was contributed by my friend Mary ('cause she was there and already wrote this up and it's good and I'm really busy and lazy this week); this is mostly her with a little interjection here and there by yours truly. Anyone with tender stomachs and/or feelings about the eating of animals should probably skip to the next section.

We arrived at the Savoys at noon last Sunday, bearing covered dishes as requested:

Wes made his mom's famous Tang Fruit Salad -- like many an old-fashioned, regular-folks dish, it was overly
sweet and entirely good.

1 large can pineapple chunks
1 small can mandarin orange slices
3 fresh bananas, sliced
1 3.5-oz. package of Jello Instant Vanilla Pudding
6 tablespoons Tang
Enough juice/syrup from the cans to make a thick sauce
Nettie made Aunt Bea's Marble Cake Brownies, from the Aunt Bea's Cookbook, no less! They were
full of chocolate and margarine and were yummy.

Robin made a cole slaw of her own recipe with mangoes, satsumas
and sugared pecans.

Steve and Mary brought the Green Stuff Casserole: broccoli, Cheez Whiz and chopped onion,
topped with crumbled Ritz Crackers. It's the dish they had made from the Basile Junior League Cookbook
that was so popular before, and again -- it was the first dish finished up -- plus Aunt Bea's biscuits.

I made Mary's friend Rick's infamous Chili-Cheese Dip.

1 large jar jalapeño-flavored Cheez Whiz
     (although I used Tostitos Queso Dip, medium spicy)
1 can Hormel Chili without beans
About 3/4 small can Durkee French Fried Onions

Combine in a 9x9 Corningware dish and heat in microwave one minute at a time, stirring between each heating, until completely mixed and piping hot. Serve with tortilla chips or corn chips (we like the new Tostitos Scoops chips)

I know the dip sounds appalling, and it is, but ... goddammit, it tastes good. All the Cajun ladies scooped it up like there was no tomorrow.
We got there just in time for the pig to meet his maker. Before we left, Mary had led us on a little revivalist prayer circle, thanking the pig for his place on the food chain, wishing him good journey to Hog Heaven, where there will be lots of sows and slops -- and can we have a suuuuuu-WEE!? Afterward, the friends and neighbors-cum-butchers took a little time to clean it, and then the butchers transformed into cooks to take their respective pig parts and turn the critter into backbone stew, fresh boudin, cracklins, and absolutely delectable barbecued pork.

While we were waiting for pork products, we all sampled some of BBQ-Meister Todd Ortego's magnificent barbecued chicken, plus rabbits and racks of pork ribs out of the smoker, and some of the 30-plus other covered dishes that other guests had brought -- cakes, yam dishes, shrimp mold, hogshead cheese, corn bread, pasta salad, mac and cheese, it went on and on.

Joel Savoy's excellent girlfriend Tanya, (who's a nurse) gave Mary an anatomy lesson using leftover pig parts, carefully cutting into limbs to show off joints and tendons and how they attach and work, then the relation of the esophagus to the lungs and how the lungs vary in size from side to side, with us even blowing into them to see if we could make them inflate (we could).

Mary said, "I know this sounds disgusting -- and perhaps it is -- but it is interesting, it is what people need to know to do medicine or even just to understand their own bodies and how they can fail. You can far better understand the pain of sports or other limb injuries once you see an actual tendon in place. I also felt that if I got squeamish over animal bits in the raw, I had no right to eat animal bits when cooked. This isn't to say I don't feel I have now proved my good sportsmanship and can return to meat that comes safely packaged in plastic."

It was a lovely good time, with far too many interesting people, locals and Savoy out of town guests alike, to have enough time to properly visit with all, or hear the jam sessions that resulted (there were at least three on various parts of the property), or even sample everything there was to try. Marc ended the evening (he was tired and felt it was time for the party to end, NOW) in time for us to make it back to the Seale Guesthouse to see the Emmys (Ellen rocks!) and, at the insistence of a couple of our friends, the last inning of The Game (baseball, yawn). A candlelit room with good friends drinking Old Fashioneds, eating Zapp's Potato Chips, leftover Halloween candy and Moon Pies, was the absolute right way to end the day.

  Tuesday, November 6, 2001
"The swine is mine!"   I'm still full, I think. I ate more pig and chicken and rabbit this weekend than I really care to think about. All I will think about is that it was some of the best food I'd had in recent memory. (Thanks to Bob Merlis for the above quote.)

Needless to say, my quick weekend trip back home was tons of fun. After a fabulous dinner at Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge and a fun visit with my sister and bro-in-law, we headed further into Acadiana for the day's festivities. We kicked it off with yet another brilliant Cajun jam session at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice from 9am to noon, headed back to Lafayette for lunch and more family visiting, then the pièce de resistance of the evening -- our visit to the Swine Festival in Basile. The madness continues...

No no ... please, don't get up.   Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce myself?

I am the 2001 Basile (Louisiana) Swine Festival Hog Squealing Contest Champion.

You may line up to touch the hem of my garment.

At the jam session on Saturday we had been chatting with Todd Ortego, one of Earth's finest and funniest human beings as well as "disc jockey/party starter" and owner/manager of Eunice's Music Machine, who told us that among the festivities at the Swine Festival that evening would be a hog squealing contest. This isn't hog calling ("Soooo-EEEEE!"), hog grunting or hog snorting ... this is the squealing, the sounds you hear, as Todd put it, "when you take the young male pigs and, uh, do that lil' thing to 'em that makes 'em grow up all nice and fat". (You get the idea.) I had actually learned how to make such horrible noises from my friend Dan Comeaux, who was a USDA Meat Inspector and who worked in meat processing plants. He got to hear lots of pigs who weren't terribly pleased about becoming pork chops, and taught me how to do it once. I have a bit of an affinity for impressions and such ... ranging from my cinematography teacher in grad school to, apparently, a squealing pig.

Todd was mighty impressed, and said that I absolutely had to enter the contest that night. "First prize," he said, "is a case of beer!" Ooo, that sounded good! Uh ... wait a minute. What kind of beer? "Bud Light!" (Oh dear.) Well, I could always bring it to the boucherie on Sunday for use when the Abita ran out.

The Swine Fest was tons o' fun ... absolutely amazing barbecued pork sandwiches (a pork steak literally six inches wide by a foot long, with both ends dangling out from in between two slices of white bread, and slathered with warm Jack Miller's Barbecue Sauce, the best in Acadiana and perhaps anywhere), garlic smoked sausage grilled and served on a stick (beats the hell out of khlav kalash) and more that I'll describe later. The center of the event was the stage and dance floor, that evening hosted by DJ Todd (who played a great mix of rock, Cajun, zydeco, blues, swamp pop and country). We were getting a little tired and knew we had to get up early the next day to prepare the dishes we were making for the boucherie, but we stayed past the boudin eating contest and made sure we were there for the hog squealing contest, which, to my surprise and resignation, I actually entered. ("Of course you're entering," my friend Mary said. "IT'S THE REASON WE'RE STAYING THIS LATE.")

There were eight contestants -- mostly from Basile, one from Mamou, one from Opelousas ... and me. I made sure not to go first, which was a good move, as the first four contestants were pathetic. The key to a good hog squeal is to inhale as you're doing it; if it's an exhalation rather than an inhalation when you make the noise, it doesn't sound authentic. Todd leaned over to me and winked, saying "Man, none of 'em are inhaling! If you can do it like you did it earlier, you got it."

Finally, it was my turn. I stepped up and was asked to introduce myself, along with where I was from. I said that I was from New Orleans, but that I lived in California now. There were boos, catcalls and hoots from the crowd, and dismissive gestures like "Get outta here!". Obviously, a New Orleans boy from the city couldn't know a damn thing about a down home thing like hog squealing, which only folks from a little rural small town are gonna know.

I stepped up, cracked my knuckles, took a deep breath, lifted the microphone to my lips ... and squealed.

The crowd went wild.

Apparently Comeaux was a pretty good teacher. I got a standing ovation, and my friend Nettie said that a local guy turned around and said to her, "That boy knows what he's doing."

There were three more, including one local boy from Basile named Guidry who was really good -- he was raised on a hog farm. The big lady from Basile (whose name I never got, unfortunately) who was judging narrowed it down to four. We were invited to squeal again for the semifinals. This time I decided to give a little bit more nuance to my performance, and the crowd went even wilder. The judge lady gave me a big hug and kiss and said, "Baby, you sure you not fram Basile?" Guidry did very well himself, and it was narrowed down to the two of us for the final. I thought we were going to have to squeal again, but Guidry said, "Man, I can't do that again. My throat's raw!" Mine was too -- hog squealing is hard on the vocal cords. The judge lady wanted to pick me, but knew that it might be a bad political move to pick an out-of-towner over a local boy -- small town politics are like that, particularly in Acadiana.

Finally, it was decided that it would be decided by audience vote. It was so close that they had to do it twice. Because Guidry had his own cheering section, the audience noise level was incrementally louder for him, so they started to give it to him ... then Todd interevened and declared it a tie, and we were both given the Royal Order of the Pig Snout (a pig snout tied to a leather necklace that one may wear with pride and, um, dignity). Guidry got a Swine Festival t-shirt, I got a Coushatta Casino t-shirt and two cans of Bud Light (which I actually needed to soothe my raw throat, nasty or not). I got thumps on the back and congratulations from Basile locals for the rest of the night, with several folks saying "you'd'a won if not for the politics" and "I voted for you!".

Never have I had a prouder moment! :-)

  Friday, November 2, 2001
Sooo-EEEEEE! Pig! Pig! Pig!   I'm off for a very porcine weekend. This Friday through Sunday in Basile, Louisiana is the 35th Annual Louisiana Swine Festival! It's kicked off Friday night with a swamp pop concert by the legendary Johnnie Allan from 9 to midnight. Here's a peek at the weekend's events:

Saturday, November 3 - Fair Grounds, Basile

7am - 12 noon - Pork Cook-off and Judging
1pm - Announcement of contest winners
2pm - Announcement of Bike Show winners
2:30pm - Queen's Boudin Eating Contest
3pm - 5pm - Jody Austin (Country Music)
3pm - Greasy Pig Contest
5:30 - 7:30pm - Jeremy & the Zydeco Hot Boys
6pm - Teen & Miss Pageants
8pm - midnight - DJ Todd Ortego (Swamp 'n Roll)
Boudin & Hog Calling Contest during Swamp 'n Roll

Sunday, November 4 - Main Street

10am - 1:30pm - Street Dance with Don Fontenot Cajun Band
1:30pm - Parade on Main Street

Fair Grounds

3 - 7pm - Paul Daigle & Cajun Gold

Admission is a whopping two bucks a person. Can you beat that? Call (337) 432-5383 for more information.

We'll probably miss most of this, as the main reasons to head to Acadiana this weekend are to visit my sister and brother-in-law, to attend the weekly "Rendez-vous des Cajuns" at the Liberty Theatre in Eunice (this week, Rodney Fontenot, an 87-year-old fiddler and contemporary of Dennis McGee, with Tina Pilione and Ann Savoy), plus Grande Marais, with Vorance Berzas, with storytelling and more, all in French) and finally to visit some other friends in Eunice for their annual boucherie. It's an ancient Cajun tradition in which a hog is the guest of honor (and of which there'll be nothing but bones left by 6pm). There'll be lots of fine folk, family and friends, live Cajun music (ya never know who'll show up ... last time it was Aldus Roger) and the best barbecued pork, boudin sausage, cracklins and backbone stew you ever had in your life.

See y'all Tuesday!

  Wednesday, November 1, 2001
Kyo no tema ... KORE DESU! (*unveil with flourish*)   Some guy has "reverse-engineered" a bunch of recipes from "Iron Chef" and created a web site. This is either very interesting or very scary, I haven't decided which. The guy says he's made them, but doesn't mention whether or not they're any good. I must confess that I've been terribly curious about that Caramelized Sirloin with Cocoa from Battle Mishima Beef. (Thanks to Greg for sending this in!)

October Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron and Barry Enderwick.
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