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. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, Macs, politics, humor, reviews, rants, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 9:46am PST, 11/26/2003

If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author.
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Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

Regime change for America, 2004.

Dean for America

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Friends with pages:

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pat and paul
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tracy and david

Talking furniture:

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KPIG, 107 Oink 5
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KRVS Radio Acadie
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Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
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Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

The Sazerac Cocktail

   (A work in progress;
   Martin Doudoroff &
   Ted Haigh)

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

Food-related weblogs:
Hacking Food
Honest Cuisine
KIPlog's FOODblog
The Making of a Restaurant
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu

à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

Click here for a new daily recipe from Chef Emeril!
In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine

Wally's Wine and Spirits

The Wine House

The Wine Spectator

Wine Today

Reading this month:

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, by Al Franken.
The Joy of Mixology, by Gary Regan.
Best Food Writing 2003, edited by Holly Hughes.

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
The Proclaimers
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Uncle Tupelo

Miles of Music

No Depression


New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

San Francisco Celtic Music & Arts Festival

Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project


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

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

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

Xquzyphyr & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

The Pianist (****-1/2)
Chicago (****)

Lookin' at da TV:

"Six Feet Under"
"The Sopranos"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"Odyssey 5"
"The Simpsons"
"Iron Chef"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network

Weblogs I read:

The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
The Leaky Cauldron
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Ted Rall
This Modern World
Web Queeries
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

Must-reads: (progressive politics & news)
Borowitz Report (political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Daily Mis-lead
The Deduct Box (Louisiana politics)
The Fray (your stories)
Izzle Pfaff! (my favorite webjournal)
Landover Baptist (better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (news, opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (news 'n laffs) (not the actual White House, but it should be)

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple iBook 2001 running MacOS X 10.2 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

weblog and (almost) daily blather

  "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to
  stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
  morally treasonable to the American public."

  -- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

  Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Oh my Jaaaaaaaaaysis ...   Yer man Chuck is a bit of a nutter. He just bought tickets to a concert that's taking place next February. (What's so nutty about that?) In Ireland. (Oh.)

One of my all-time favorite bands is a traditional Irish ensemble called Planxty -- Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Christy Moore and Liam O'Flynn. They followed in the footsteps of Irish music pioneers like Ceoltóirí Chúalainn and The Chieftains, with some inspiration from the ballad singing tradition of the Clancys, but with a vibrancy, immediacy and sense of excitement that had never been seen in Irish music before. They, along with the sadly short-lived Bothy Band (1975-1979) were the two Irish supergroups, the Beatles and the Stones of Irish music. Planxty formed in 1972, parted ways around 1975, reformed in 1977 and lasted until about 1982, when Christy and Donal left to form Moving Hearts.

Planxty was one of the bands that changed my life. I set the needle to the grooves of the first of their albums I bought, After the Break, and within thirty seconds everything was different. I had never heard anything like this before, and by the time the first track was over I was so excited I was trembling. Twenty years later I still get goosebumps thinking of that moment. That one album, plus the first Bothy Band album, led to hundreds and hundreds of others -- all I had to do was follow the individual careers of each of those bands' members, who they played with, then who they played with, and so on. It took eight backbreakingly heavy boxes just to move the Irish records last January.

For many, many years I had been hoping for a Planxty reunion, since I only discovered them just after they had broken up. It didn't seem likely; Andy went off to form Patrick Street, Christy had a humongous solo career (with spates of retirement, hitting the road again, retiring for good this time I swear, then another week of concerts at the Point, then I'm never picking up a guitar again, etc.), Donal became the producing guru of Irish music, with several of his own performing projects over the years, and Liam continued to be the dean of Irish pipers, both in solo performance and recordings and even performing with chamber orchestras. Andy Irvine himself once told me it was "bloody unlikely."

Probably at least a dozen or so years ago, I had told my friend Paul in Galway, "Look, if you ever see tickets go on sale for a Planxty or Bothies reunion concert, just get some for me. Money is no object. I'm serious. If they're going to perform again, I'm going to come to Ireland to see them, no matter what." That's how much I love this band.

Yesterday afternoon Paul sent me an email, the subject line of which said, "Chuck, looks like we'll see you in February!", accompanied by an attached page from TicketBastard Ireland, annoucing a series of Planxty concerts at Vicar Street in Dublin at the end of January. Those sold out in six hours, and four more dates were added in February. My hands were shaking as I went to the website ("I must have these! They may not sell out!") and tried to order ... and the feckin' thing kept giving me error messages! I rang the customer service number, and they said the computers were down for maintenance until 4am Irish time (8pm my time). At 8:00:01 I went back ...

February 18. 8:30pm. Section Block F. Row D. Seats 7 & 8. €49.50 each.

(Chuck! Where are you going to get the money to go to Ireland?) Hush!

Looks like I'm going to Ireland in February! It's been 11 years since I've been, and I miss the place a lot. I'm either the biggest and most amazingly dedicated fan ever, or else I'm an awful eejit. Paul in fact confirms by email this morning, "You are nuts!" (Fortunately mostly harmless, though.)

Speaking of yer man ...   Christy Moore finally has a new website up, after the last one bit the dust for some reason. Worth checking out.

Din-dins.   I had a few vacation days left this year, so I took a couple of days off to make Thanksgiving prep leisurely and easy, rather than the driving-myself-to-the-point-of-exhaustion experience it is when I don't allow myself enough time. Of the nine dishes I'm preparing for Thursday, three are already done, three will get done tomorrow, then the turkey, gravy and 'taters get done the day of. Very reasonable indeed.

In case you're still looking for some ideas for Thursday (and if you're planning to cook and haven't started yet, you're nuts), here's what we're having for dinner on Thursday, a combination of my own traditional dishes plus some great ideas from various cooking magazines. As much as I love deep-frying a turkey, I'm also really in love with roasting, after massaging the hell out of it with butter and making a really lovely gravy (no drippings with fried turkey). Bon Appétit magazine usually has several excellent roast turkey recipes, and I usually go for one which involves rubbing the turkey with a wonderful compound butter of some kind and reserving some of the butter for flavoring the gravy. This year might be the best yet.

Roast Turkey with Prosciutto-Hazelnut Crust. Gotta have some pork in there somewhere ...

Turkey Gravy (made from giblets, drippings and prosciutto butter).

Italian Sausage and Parmagiano-Reggiano Cheese Dressing. I don't stuff turkeys, I serve baked dressing on the side. We're using sweet and hot Italian sausages from Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli, right here in the neighborhood, and screw this "Parmesan cheese" stuff. Only Parmagiano-Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses, please. <voice="Olympia Dukakis">Make this dressing with that stuff outta the green can, and I'll kick ya 'till yer dead.</voice>

Oyster Dressing. Traditional at my table since I was a kid ... too bad I would never eat it back then.

Baked Sweet Potatoes and Pears in a Bourbon-Cane Syrup Glaze. My own signature holiday dish. It's labor-intensive, but worth it, 'cause it's pretty and boy, is it good.

Scallion Champ. Mashed 'taters, to satisfy the traditionalists at the table, but with an Irish twist; we're definitely commemoratin' my forthcoming trip to see Planxty with this dish, and perhaps an appropriate cocktail later on as well. Champ is just regular old mash but you flavor the milk with greens, scallions in this case but you can also use chives, peas, parsley, nettles, cress, what have you. Oh, and tons of butter as well. It's my favorite way to eat mashed potatoes these days.

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs. Props to my cow-orker Jamille for turning me on to this one. Anyone who'd turn their nose up at this in favor of the stuff that slides out of the can had better bring along their own can. I tasted this stuff tonight, and it's fantastic.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake. Beautiful color, wonderful flavor (I doubled the Bourbon, which didn't hurt), a luscious Bourbon and sour cream topping ... shoot, I might not ever go back to pumpkin pie.

Sugar-Free Pumpkin Pie, because we have a diabetic guest coming on Thursday. I dug this recipe up somewhere, realized it was wrong, and fixed it a bit. Here's the modified result, and lemme tell ya ... you neither miss nor need the sugar.


2 eggs
2 tablespoons Splenda sugar substitute
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup orange juice
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine eggs, Splenda, spices and pumpkin; blend well. Add milk and orange juice gradually, whisking until blended. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake for 45-55 minutes until crust is light golden brown, and the edge are set but the center's still a little jiggly. Cool on a wire rack. May be made 1-2 days ahead.

Plus, someone's bringin' over the venerable Green Bean, Mushroom Soup and Fried Onion Casserole, without which many households just wouldn't consider it Thanksgiving.
I can sense the forthcoming food coma already.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Cocktail of the day.   Gary Regan's fortnightly column "The Cocktailian" is particularly apt this time around, as the Professor mixes us a cocktail based on Irish whiskey and named after one of Ireland's greatest writers. Wes and I have been enjoying this one for a while now, having gotten the recipe from an account of one of Gary's Cocktails in the Country seminars. Gary calls for Black Bush, but I think a Jameson's 1780 might be a bit more appropriate.

I'll have this one on Thursday to toast my forthcoming trip to Ireland (and to help drown out the little voices that'll be saying, "So, how the hell do ya t'ink you're going to pay for this, ya mad feckin' eejit?")

The James Joyce Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces Irish whiskey.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
We like a stemless cherry garnish as well.

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery," wrote James Joyce. Little did he know how well this can apply to cocktails, as the most popular drink at the wonderful little tiki bar in Silverlake called Tiki Ti is called "Ray's Mistake"...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 24, 2003
Cocktail of the day.   Gary and Mardee Regan have done it again; I learn so many wonderful things from these guys. They've dug up a book called The Speakeasies of 1932, in the course of Gary's researches for The Joy of Mixology. Among many other fascinating details about what it was like to drink in a speakeasy during Prohibition, they dug up this little gem of a drink.

I have to say I was skeptical about a cocktail consisting almost entirely of vermouth, and we were prepared to make one to try it (so that we could toss it if we didn't like it and not fret about wasting two drinks worth of liquor). Turns out we made another one immediately. It's terrific, light and one of those great examples of cocktail alchemy. I highly recommend this to anyone who wishes to exercise a sophisticated palate but doesn't want to get hammered too fast.

Vermouth Cocktail
(adapted from a Prohibition-era speakeasy cocktail)

1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 ounce dry vermouth.
2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
2 dashes orange bitters.
2 dashes grenadine.
1 lemon twist, for garnish.

Shake all the ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Add the garnish.

Spicy, complex and easy on the noggin. We likes it!

About a turkey.   Or, why your turkey will likely be dry and flavorless this Thursdsay (thanks to the decidedly unnatural techniques of factory farming), and why you need to go to such lengths as brining to make it taste good.

Brining will even help a factory-farmed supermarket turkey, although you should look for something better. This year we got a naturally-raised, free-range turkey from Whole Foods, and next year we'll go the whole Slow Food route and get a heritage turkey, from an old, pre-industrial breed that hasn't had all the flavor bred out of it.

An open letter to Mr. Berkeley Breathed.   Meant very sincerely..

Dear Mr. Breathed,

Thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Your pal,


Welcome back, Opus!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 19, 2003
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?   What do you mean? African or European swallow?

And while we're at it, what ... is the capital of Assyria? Heh heh ... *rub hands together* (Thanks, Steve!)

Fried chicken is health food?   Gee! And so is bacon, and fried pickles, and Monte Cristo sandwiches, and deep fat, and steak, and cream pies, and hot fudge, things thought to be unhealthy ... precisely the oppoisite of what we now know to be true!

Well, according to Kentucky Fried Chicken, at least.

Fried-chicken giant KFC said Wednesday it is ending an advertising campaign that touted its chicken as healthy and that had prompted a consumer group to complain to federal regulators. [T]he ads informed consumers how its Original Recipe fried chicken could be part of a balanced diet.

"This has been a PR debacle for KFC, trying to pass their fried chicken off as health food," said Michael Jacobson, the [Center for Science in the Public Interest]'s executive director. "It's just not flying, people see it as a joke."

One of the ads at issue implied that fried chicken can be part of a diet for people counting carbohydrates. In the other, a couple wanting to begin "eating better" sits down with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

A bucket. They sit down with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

See, this is what I get for having a TiVo and never having to watch commercials again. I miss these comedy gems! I'm sorry, I can't write anymore, because I'm laughing too hysterically. (A bucket!)

Quote of the day.   Actually from yesterday, but I had a busy day.

"The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples."

-- The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, November 18, 2003, in a 90-page ruling.

Religious conservatives on the verge of aneurysm, please note the use of the word "civil" in the above excerpt.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 17, 2003
Giant pocketwatches spotted drooped over trees in Griffith Park. Film at eleven.   It took me a little longer than usual to get a post up here today; I think that after the inauguration I was suffering from a wee bit of surreality overload.

The speech was full of not-unexpected platitudes, and for a minute I was half-expecting something like ...

"The official language of California will now be Swedish!"

"All California citizens under sixteen years old are now ... sixteen years old!"

"Underwear must be changed once every half-hour. It will have to be worn on the outside, so we can check."

A few lines from the real speech were encouraging, though:

I've appointed to my Cabinet Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- because I want people to know that my administration is not about politics. It is about saving California.

Today I ask all of you to join me in a new partnership for California. One that is civil and respectful of our diverse population.

Okay, so let's sit back and see what he does. It remains to be seen if he can be a governor and not a star. I gotta hand it to him, though -- so far he certainly seems to have no problem keeping his campaign promises, but where is that $4 billion in red ink you just added to the budget going to come from now, Arnie? If he can't figure that out ... it might not be long before he wishes he had made another Terminator movie instead.

Chicken George.   What a courageous leader. A fearless leader! (Er, no.) Actually, the man currently claiming the presidency of the United States, the commander-in-chief of our armed forces who is currently sending tens of thousands of our fellow citizens into battle, has declined the honor of giving a speech to the combined British Houses of Parliament, cancelling this previously scheduled event because ... because he's afraid he'll be heckled. Apparently he doesn't even have the guts of your average standup comic, people who get heckled every time they go to work.

He is perhaps terrified by having seen Parliament's Question Time on CSPAN, where once a week the head of government actually has to answer difficult and serious questions from the members of Parliament. "Gosh, Laura!", I can hear him saying now, "Sure am glad I don't have to do that!"

Not only is he afraid of a little bad PR, but it seems he lacks the courage of his convictions.

Where's Woody?   I added a header quote to this page a while back; it's from Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", and I posted it after having heard "God Bless America" so goddamn many times I felt as if I had been physically beaten by Kate Smith (which can really hurt, as aerial photographs of her might suggest). Woody wrote that song as an angry reaction to Irving Berlin's ditty, and it seemed a far more appropriate expression in song of my feelings about this country.

Regular reader Brian suggested that I replace Woody's quote with the Teddy Roosevelt one I've been repeating recently, and I think it's a good idea. As I pointed out before, it's a quote that these days bears repeating (almost daily). I hope to have Woody back in about a year or so.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, November 14, 2003
Yomigaeru, Iron Chef!   Okay, I'm not really an Iron Chef (more like an Aluminum Foil Chef), but it kinda felt like I was on the show, after I came home from work on Wednesday and faced our latest delivery of organic fruits and vegetables, two foul moods in the household thanks to rotten days at work and equally rotten commutes, and the need to unwind, relax and cook for a while.

Let's see, new stuff plus leftover prosciutto from the salmon dish we didn't make the other night, what've we got here ... okay, the Aluminum Foil Chef presents four dishes:

Prosciutto sandwiches with Muenster cheese and fresh basil leaves. (You can figure this one out yourself; make sure you use imported Italian Prosciutto di Parma.)

Spicy marinated cucumber salad. Thinly slice 1 large cucumber, about 1/8" thick. Combine 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup simple syrup, a few good squirts of Sriracha sauce or Thai chile paste, a few pinches of crushed red pepper, a half-teaspoon or so of dried basil or a half-tablespoon of chopped fresh Thai basil if you've got it, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Combine all the ingredients except the cucumber, then pour over cucumber slices in a bowl; allow to marinate for a half-hour or so at room temperature. Serve in small bowls with plenty of the dressing. About 3-4 servings.

Warm mushroom salad with citrus-peanut dressing. Stem and slice about 10-12 shiitake mushrooms about 1/4" thick. Heat some oil and add the mushrooms, add a few splashes of soy sauce and black pepper to taste, then sauté about 5 minutes; set aside. To make the dressing, take about 2 heaping tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter (the kind made of peanuts and salt only is best), several dashes of rice vinegar, a few dashes soy sauce, a tablespoon or so of orange juice, a few dashes of orange bitters and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whisk to combine and adjust seasonings, adding more vinegar and/or orange juice if necessary. Slice a couple of Roma tomatoes. In a large bowl, pour about half the dressing into the bottom, then add enough mixed salad greens for four. Toss to coat. Then add the tomatoes and mushrooms, pour over the rest of the dressing and toss to coat. Add a little black pepper, but it should be salty enough from the peanut butter and soy sauce (of course, add salt if necessary). About 4 servings.

Green beans with fried garlic. Blanch the green beans for about two minutes; drain and shock in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry thoroughly. Slice up 4 cloves garlic, then fry in hot oil until they're light golden brown and a little bitter. Lower heat to medium, add the green beans, salt and pepper, then toss to combine and cook until the beans are heated through.

All this off the top of my head in one hour. Not bad; I guess I was feeling inspired, although there wasn't a theme ingredient, or even a particular theme ("Um ... it's Ital-Asian! Sorta."). It was more like the Mystery Box assignments we'd get in school -- here's a box of some stuff we're surprising you with; make something good with it. That's actually a lot of fun.

Don't worry, though ... I'm not getting a big head. Sakai-san or Chen-san could still wipe up the floor with me.

I'm not addicted!   I can quit anytime I want to. Really.

Let's see, I've still got "Carnivale," "Jake 2.0," "Smallville" and "ER" on the TiVo from last week ... oh, plus "Will and Grace", two "Iron Chef"s, a bunch of other Food Network stuff, plus at least 15 hours of accumulated movies and stuff. That, and then we'll be recording and archiving the serendipitously-discovered all-night marathon of the short-lived Hollywood satire series "Action!" that's running next weekend, all 10 episodes.

But we're not addicted. Really.

Freedom.   (Lifted from Patrick):

November 11, 2003. In Washington, D.C.:

"The United States has made an unbreakable commitment to the success of freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq." -- George W. Bush
However, in Baghdad:

American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man's mouth as they arrested him on Tuesday for speaking out against occupation troops.

Asked why the man had been arrested and put into the back of a Humvee vehicle on Tahrir Square, the commanding officer told Reuters at the scene: "This man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements."

In the latter gentleman's case, perhaps freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose ...

He who controls the past, controls the future.   (Via Eliot) Remember my post a few days about abou how the DoD is quietly reviving local draft boards? In keeping with Bush administration policy (i.e., deletion of uncomfortable information, à la the robots.txt file that disallows searches containing the term "Iraq"), the notice has mysteriously vanished. Fortunately, the folks at the Memory Hole never forget.

Equating the president with the nation.   There's an interesting article in Spinsanity that takes a look at the "systematic effort" on the part of Republicans to tar any criticism of Bush, particularly by Democratic presidential candidates, as "political hate speech".

How many fucking times do I have to repeat that Teddy Roosevelt quote? Do I need to have T-shirts made up? Better still, do we need to carve it into the foreheads of certain politicians and pundits?

Quote of the day.   From the coverage regarding Roy "Above The Law" Moore, who yesterday was quite correctly removed as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court:

"I can't. Hell doesn't exist."

-- Larry Darby, president of the Atheist Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, after "Go to hell!" was shouted at him by a protester.

Now that's funny.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Er, no.   I know I have an addiction, and I often don't deal with it very well. That addiction is to French fries, and I love them (only fresh, hot and crisp, though; if they're reheated or limp or greasy I'll send 'em back). As much as I love fries, though ... this is just wrong. It's yet more vile, processed, poisonous gunk that's part of the reason why this country is suffering from a profound obesity epidemic.

Don't miss the section in the first article that mentions how they're going to try to put this stuff into school lunch programs. Parents, you really need to start paying more attention to what schools are feeding to your kids, unless you want obese, unhealthy ones.

Toy of the day.   In addition to his collection of church signs (including my favorite, a duplicate of one I saw in New Orleans that said "STOP, DROP AND ROLL DOESN'T WORK IN HELL"), Ryland Sanders also has a fun little tool to make your very own church sign.

Here's one I'd like to see:

Drinking AND dancing, *gasp*!

A cocktail named after a movie about dancing?! Truly for the hellbound only. And the drink is pink, which is one of the colors of ... Sa-TAN!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 11, 2003
The ultimate answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything.   That's me. Today I am 42.

It was very nice of them to design the Earth-sized and -shaped computer Deep Thought and have it work on me for billions of years. I only wish I knew what the question was.

Cocktail of the day.   Given the significance of today's birthday, there really can be only one drink with which I can celebrate. Robb was thoughtful enough in another comments thread to suggest Sazeracs -- a splendid suggestion, no doubt -- but today only this will do.

The best drink in existence is the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. The effect of drinking one of these is rather like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon, wrapped around a large gold brick. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will tell you on which planets the best ones are brewed, how much you can expect to pay for one, and which voluntary organizations exist to help you recover afterwards.

Fortunately, the Guide also tells you how you can make one yourself. (And, of course, it's gin-based.)

Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster

1 bottle Ol' Janx Spirit.
1 measure Santraginean seawater.
3 cubes frozen Arcturan MegaGin.
4 liters Fallian marsh gas.
1 measure Qualactin Hypermint Extract.
1 Algolian Suntiger tooth.
Zamphour to taste.
Olive garnish.

Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol' Janx Spirit (see page 15 of the actual Guide).

Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V -- Oh, that Santraginean seawater, it says. Oh, those Santraginean fish!

Allow three cubes of Arcturan MegaGin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzene is lost).

Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble thrugh it, in memory of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the marshes of Fallia.

Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint Extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet and mystic.

Drop in the tooth of an Algolan Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolan suns deep into the heart of the drink.

Sprinkle Zamphour.

Add an olive.

Drink... but... very... carefully.

If my brains are bashed out, I'll just get a second head.

Move over, fried turkeys.   Deep-frying turkeys and chickens is about to be so last year. The newest fabulous method of cooking is now upon us, and is available to you ... as long as you have an active volcano in your back yard.

Cocktail of the day, part deux.   Once again, it's CocktailDB to the rescue. Apparently Wes was impressed enough with my results from it last night that he consulted our cocktail oracle again tonight, this time looking for interesting-looking cocktails with one particular ingredient in mind. He chose this one, which fooled me almost entirely. I guessed wrong as to the base spirit, although I guessed the modifiers correctly. It's another one of those cases of cocktail alchemy where the whole is completely different from the sum of its parts.

Move Over Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Cherry Heering.
1 dash aromatic bitters.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain;
garnish with twisted lemon peel.

If you can't find Cherry Heering, try Cherry Marnier
or a good sweet cherry brandy/liqueur. For the aromatic
bitters we used Angostura; try Fee's, Abbott's (if you've
got it) or Peychaud's. I expect each one will produce a
drink of an entirely different character.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 10, 2003
Say goodbye to your day.   Because cat bowling is much more fun than working.

(It's pathetic; I suck just as much at cat bowling as I do at regular bowling.)

Cocktail of the day.   I love CocktailDB. This massive, years-in-the-making collaborative project between Martin Doudoroff and Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, still a work-in-progress, contains a database of over 4,700 authenticated cocktail recipes (from trusted published sources). When I'm in the mood for a particular spirit combined with a particular ingredient but can't think of a recipe offhand, I'll go to CocktailDB, input the ingredients and it'll give me a list of cocktails featuring those ingredients. (This is like Webtender, you say; not so. The main difference is that Cocktail DB doesn't contain 10,000 vile drinks thought up by college frat boys and you won't get those in your search results.)

We had a wonderful day on Saturday -- some friends came over and brought fixins for goi cuon, Vietnamese spring rolls, and I made Shrimp Creole, and we had lots of cocktails. On Sunday evening we were thinking of what we might want to have before dinner, and Wes pointed out that so far this weekend we'd had whiskey-, vodka- and gin-based cocktails. I thought, time for some rum. I was also keen to play with the bottle of Marie Brizard Apry (a fine apricot brandy, not an apricot-flavored brandy), so I input "rum" and "apricot brandy" into Cocktail DB ... and came up with this one. The database is still in its "black and white" version, so there was no publication attribution and I don't know this drink's source, but I'll find out. It's light and quite lovely.


1 ounce white rum.
1 ounce Apry or other apricot brandy.
1 ounce Lillet.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Combine with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker; shake and strain.
Garnish with a cherry.

I've seen some drier variations that look worth trying too: try 2 ounces rum, 1/2 ounce each of Apry and Lillet, and 1/4 ounce lemon juice. I'm guessing this version might be even better.

Meat!   No, this is not a food-related post, it's a music-related one. My most favoritest honky-tonk country band in the whole wide world, Red Meat, were down from the Bay Area for one of their twice-yearly visits to southern California, and they were as fantastic as ever.

They played at the beloved Cinema Bar in Culver City, a tiny venue which'll hold a few dozen people at the very most, and is a fabulous place to see a band like this. I ended up staying for all three sets, and was lucky enough to hear them play some songs that had never been performed in public before (woohoo, new album soon!).

The amazing thing about Red Meat is that they have absolutely perfect country music chops, I mean perfect; why country radio isn't going nuts over these guys is perhaps the sole testament necessary as to how stupid and useless commercial country radio is these days. They write great new songs, play great covers and have tremendous knowledge and respect for the brilliant country music artists that came before them. But ... they don't take themselves too seriously. In fact, not at all -- songs about getting in touch with your "inner redneck," about dating "the girl with the biggest hair and the longest nails" ("And I kinda like the way her perfume smails!"), and about having your girlfriend's name Lolita tattooed on your arm (and after getting dumped, having to find another girlfriend named Lolita). Their songs are a lot of fun, but they're also part of that rare breed of songs that after not much time at all become like old friends.

Sharing a story.   From Ted Leo, leader of one of my favorite bands (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists), tells a lovely story from his web site (thanks, Barry!):

Almost ten years ago, my old band, Chisel, was on our first full US tour. Nothing west of Chicago was particularly well attended, but that never really gets me down -- I try to keep hopes up but expectations low.

Anyway, what was getting me down, was a certain lack of respect I was often feeling from people in a lot of places, which reached a real boiling point in Portland, Or., at a place called the "O," where we were being treated less than kindly by the promoter. It was summer, and very very hot inside the club. We attracted about 20 people that night, and played a pretty ripping set, if I remember correctly, during which I asked the promoter if I could have one of the 7-Ups he was selling for a quarter each from a cooler at the back of the room.

He said, "For a quarter!" I thought he was joking, but he wasn't.

I sputtered through the sweat dripping down my face and across my mouth, "Well... Can't I pay you after we're done playing? Can't you take it out of our pay?" He just stared at me, then made some quip about, "What pay?" Which, since we'd only drawn 20 people, was a legitimate question, granted, but I was kind of dumbfounded -- I couldn't believe that he was going to not only NOT offer me a soda for busting my ass on stage, but was going to embarrass me in this way in front of an audience that was actually there to see us as well.

I had a serious existential crisis at that moment. What the fuck am I doing here? Why am I giving it up in this way every night? Why are people so petty in their power struggles? Is this all there is? Just then, a person stepped out from the 20 person crowd, put a quarter in the promoter's hand, and walked the soda up to me on stage.

It's largely due to that small gesture that I'm still playing music today, and in years to come, I got to know that person better, and count him as a friend. That person was Elliott Smith. And though I know he's now free from the very real demons that were gnawing at him... Man, I think I'm going to miss him very very much. My love to his other friends and family, and my love to you all. Spare a thought for Elliott today.

Since Elliott Smith died by his own hand recently, I've heard a lot more about him and heart lots more of his music, music that I'm now sorry I didn't get to know better before. I guess it's never too late ...

The thin line between satire and reality.   Via Tom Tomorrow:

Satire, last month; reality, today: "For example, on Feb. 20, a month before the invasion, Rumsfeld fielded a question about whether Americans would be greeted as liberators if they invaded Iraq.

"'Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?' Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS' The News Hour.

"'There is no question but that they would be welcomed,' Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces. 'Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda would not let them do.'

"The Americans-as-liberators theme was repeated by other senior administration officials in the weeks preceding the war, including Rumsfeld's No. 2 -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- and Vice President Cheney.

"But on Sept. 25, -- a particularly bloody day in which one U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush, eight Iraqi civilians died in a mortar strike and a member of the U.S-appointed governing council died after an assassination attempt five days earlier -- Rumsfeld was asked about the surging resistance.

"'Before the war in Iraq, you stated the case very eloquently and you said... they would welcome us with open arms,' Sinclair Broadcasting anchor Morris Jones said to Rumsfeld as the prelude to a question.

"The defense chief quickly cut him off. 'Never said that,' he said. 'Never did. You may remember it well, but you're thinking of somebody else. You can't find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said.'"

Democratic presidential hopefuls, when it gets down to one of you (Dean, I hope), make sure you have lots of facts like these at your fingertips, to show this country what the present administration is really made of (i.e., liars and brigands).

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, November 8, 2003
Happy birthday, Mike!   Wow, you're 45. I should get you a pile of vinyl singles for your present.

Dean Shouldn't Have Apologized.   An opinion by Ted Rall:

Gov. Howard Dean will be, with a little luck, the next president of the United States. I like him, but he shouldn't have apologized or his Confederate flag remark.

Only an idiot would choose to misinterpret what Dean said as an endorsement of the Confederacy or its treasonous battle flag, which I have come out against on numerous occasions. What he said, and he's right, is that Democrats need to get working-class Southern men -- good old boys, if you will -- back into the party. These hard-working guys need to understand that the GOP has played them for fools by dividing Americans by race, when what really matters is class. A poor white guy has a hell of a lot more in common with a poor black guy than he does with a rich white guy, and the Democrats need to spread that message.

That's what Dean was saying, people who attacked him on this damn well know it, and Dean blew it by issuing an apology. Let's hope we've seen the last of this wussish behavior.

Just once I'd like to hear a candidate (say, Dean) respond to criticisms by saying something like the above. I'm with ya, Governor, but let's get with the program!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, November 7, 2003
A minor milestone.   Last night's edition of "Down Home" was programmed and played down entirely from my iPod. It was pretty nifty, although second-best to playing down from iTunes itself; if you make a mistake when you're inputting your "On The Go" playlist into the iPod, you have to start over (which I had to do three times). One day, when I have a notebook with a big enough hard drive to fit my entire MP3 collection (so I don't have to haul my external hard drive around, which is a pain), I'll be able to easily program radio shows directly from iTunes. Nifty!

In other KCSN-related news, I just heard that we finally got a nice, fat grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and that our new Westside transmitter is speeding forth through nothing but green lights. Here's hoping that we've got another half-million potential listeners (not to mention members) throughout Santa Monica, West L.A., West Hollywood, Hollywood, Silverlake and beyond, maybe come Christmastime. That'd be a mighty nice present for a station that truly deserves it. Onward!

On, and speaking of public radio ...   You've probably heard by now that the Joan Kroc, the late widow of McDonald's gazillionaire founder Ray Kroc, has left $200 million to National Public Radio in her will, "the largest monetary gift ever received by an American cultural institution" and just one among many multi-million dollar bequests so arts and educational institutions nationwide. As a member of the public radio community for the last 15+ years ... thank you, Mrs. Kroc! This will be an enormous help in many ways: perhaps restoring NPR arts and cultural programming that had to be cut for budgetary reasons, plus a possible expansion of their news coverage and an income-generating endowment fund. It's nice to know that there are some billionaires out there who aren't evil.

The Cocktailian.   Today in Gary Regan's fortnightly column, the Professor and Doc sample a 1930 classic called the Blood and Sand, one I have yet to try and for which I can break out my bottle of Cherry Heering. Yumm.

Blood and Sand Cocktail

3/4 ounce Scotch.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce cherry brandy (the sweet kind, Heering or Cherry Marnier).
3/4 ounce fresh orange juice.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Don't miss Gary and Mardee's latest issue of the Ardent Spirits newsletter, too.

Part of a nutritious breakfast.   The folks over by Something Awful have had a very fruitful Photoshop Friday that could revolutionize this nation's concept of what to eat for breakfast. (Thanks, Sean!) I have to say, the prospect of starting my day with a big bowl of Habanero Hoops starts me going like Pavlov's dog, but I could probably do without Hot Dog Cereal or any product from Cloaca Mills. Still, some of these products, even the ones on page two, aren't that much worse than the "Mud and Worms" cereal I saw at the grocery the other day.

(Heads up. Page three is not necessarily safe for work, and don't be eating or drinking anything when you click the link to go to page two, or it'll end up all over your monitor. I'm only sayin'.)

I've got my fingers in my ears! La la la la la la la la!   The White House has announced that, due to its irritation with regards to all those pesky questions that the Democrats are asking ... they will no longer answer questions from Democratic lawmakers.

That's Democracy with a capital "D", baby! (I can't wait until these bastards are out of office.)

Horseshit.   (Via MeFi) Last May, Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times was the first American journalist to report that the whole Pvt. Jessica Lynch rescue story as being told by the military and the government was, basically, a wheelbarrow full of fertilizer. Bill "SHUT UP!" O'Reilly of Fox "News" called him "anti-American" and a "hater of the USA." The Pentagon called him a liar, saying that "Scheer's claims are outrageous, patently false and unsupported by the facts." Scheer, in his rebuttal, described the "expected -- and received -- hysterical belch of outrage from the right-wing media, led by Rupert Murdoch's Fox empire, which has already committed a huge book advance to the telling of this mythic tale," and labeled the Pentagon's manipulation of a gullible media as "a grave disservice." He took an incredible amount of flak for a story that had already been widely reported in the international media.

Well, guess what. Jessica confirms Scheer's initial reportage.

She said [in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer] she was grateful to the American special forces team which rescued her but, asked whether the Pentagon's subsequent portrayal of her rescue bothered her, she said: "Yes, it does. They used me as a way to symbolise all this stuff. It's wrong."

The Pentagon initially put out the story that Private Lynch -- a slight woman who was just 19 at the time -- had been wounded by Iraqi gunfire but had kept fighting until her ammunition ran out.

But she told Sawyer that she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that her gun had jammed during the chaos.

"I'm not about to take credit for something I didn't do," she said.

"I did not shoot -- not a round, nothing. I went down praying to my knees -- that's the last thing I remember."

Quel surprise. But we're expected to believe anything these people say, aren't we?

Meanwhile, Spec. Shoshana Johnson, who was shot through both legs and held as a POW by the Iraqis for 22 days, is receiving a 30% disability benefit for her injuries, while former Pvt. Lynch receives 80%, a difference of about $600 - 700 per month. Wonder why? That doesn't seem fair, does it? The Army claims that the benefits are based solely on medical records, but Pvt. Lynch was in an accident in which her vehicle overturned, while Spec. Johnson was shot through both legs. How does that work out to 80% pay versus 30% pay? What's the story? They were both critically injured while fighting BushCo's war, so why aren't they both being taken care of? When does Shoshana get her book and movie deals? What, does a heavy-set woman of color not make as good of a propaganda and ratings picture?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 5, 2003
Moltissimo Mario.   (Before you complain, please remember, realmente non parlo italiano.) While we're in the middle of our Mario Batali lovefest, I see that he's currently the featured chef on Epicurious, where he talks about a typical Mario day, how to cook at home like he cooks at Babbo, and what he considers to be pantry essentials (I was smugly pleased that we had most of them in our pantry).

You'll also find simple but wonderful recipes from some of his cookbooks, including Spaghetti with Sweet 100 Tomatoes (one of our favorite pasta dishes; I love how those hot little tomatoes just pop in your mouth), Pork Chops Milanese (which would make a fantastic pannéed pork poor boy), classic Osso Buco (braised veal shank, with an evolved gremolata that also includes horseradish and pine nuts), a suggested Christmas dinner menu and more.

He does make one odd statement in the article, regarding the lack of butter in his pantry essentials: "Butter is strictly for unsophisticated palates. Use olive oil instead." While I love substituting olive oil for butter in many dishes (try it on corn or in mashed potatoes), butter is fabulous ... and not four days ago I cooked an asparagus alla Milanese dish right from Mario's cookbook, featuring asparagus gently blanched and tossed in brown butter, which I know he likes. Strange ...

Trendy cocktails are black these days, black apparently being the new blue in the cocktail world. This is primarily due to to the relatively recent introduction of Blavod vodka, a product that looks almost black in the bottle due to the addition of black catechu, an herbal extract (that was also used in the century-old-and-lost Boker's Bitters). I've been avoiding this product, as it seems like a gimmick, but apparently it's been getting good reviews. The catechu does give it a "vaguely herbal-medicinal" finish, which already makes it more interesting than regular tasteless vodka, and it seems to mix well, at least from the Times' test kitchen results.

Still, for five years they couldn't give this stuff away, and now it's flying off the shelves. Fad, or lasting addition to the spirit world? We'll see ...

The Panther didn't eat me, fortunately. I upgraded to the new OS X 10.3 the other day and everything went swimmingly, unlike the many people who lost all the data on their hard drives. Apparently there's a big bug in OS X 10.3 Panther, which exploits an apparent flaw in a bridge device and firmware that's popular with drive manufacturers, causing one to permanently lose all data on an attached FW800 FireWire hard drive. Mine wasn't attached dring the upgrade, and is a FW400 drive anyway, so everything's intact (whew). Still, um ... not good, Apple. I hope none of y'all lost anything.

That said, so far I love the new OS, which is demonstrably faster than 10.2, and will be faster still once I finally get more memory for my iBook. As for all the myriad new features, well ... as Ash said in Alien, "we're still collating."

Quote of the day.   From Robert L. Wolke, writing in the Food Section of the Washington Post:

...the label on White Wave Silk Chocolate Soymilk says it contains "Naturally Milled Organic Evaporated Cane Juice." Whom are they trying to fool? When one evaporates cane juice, one gets something called sugar. Doesn't the FDA have a department of deceptive euphemisms? On the other hand, I'm so glad the sugar cane is naturally milled. Those supernatural sugar mills can be so scary.
That would be a bunch of wizards lollygagging around, waving their wants to make the sugar mill itself. Not so scary, just very Harry Potterish.

(Soymilk, bleucchh.)

Maybe I should paint my toenails purple.   Well, nine of them, at least. That way they'd match the one (the piggy that stayed home, on my left foot) that I rolled over with the garbage can yesterday. Who knew that two discarded pumpkins would be so heavy? (Actually, looking at the receipt from the grocery, those pumpkins weighed in at nearly 45 pounds.) Eep.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 4, 2003
Cocktail of the Day.   This was Wes' pick last night, and oddly enough it's one we'd never had before, although I've seen it in print and heard other folks talk about it a number of times. Dr. Cocktail sings its praises, and that's good enough for me. It's another of those amazing bits of cocktailian alchemy that makes you taste things that aren't even there (my first guess was that this drink had rum in it). In keeping with its name, it's a concoction that might just help you out a bit ... the morning after the night before.

Corpse Reviver No. 2

3/4 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes Pernod or Herbsaint.

Combine in a shaker with cracked ice; shake and strain.
Garnish with a stemless cherry.

As I write this, the night before the morning after, my corpse is feeling rather revived indeed.

Quote of the day.   This time I won't identify the speaker. I'm keen to have you guess. (Thanks, Atrios!)

Well, just as it's important, I think, for a president to know when to commit U.S. forces to combat, it's also important to know when not to commit U.S. forces to combat. I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire. Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government would we have? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shi'a government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular, along the lines of the Ba'ath Party? Would be fundamentalist Islamic? I do not think the United States wants to have U.S. military forces accept casualties and accept the responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. I think it makes no sense at all.
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The way to sure-fire popularity.   The folks at the Pentagon are quietly oiling up the squeaky wheels of the draft machine (Salon premium article, sorry; you have to watch a commercial to read the whole thing):

The community draft boards that became notorious for sending reluctant young men off to Vietnam have languished sinced the early 1970s, their membership ebbing and their purpose all but lost when the draft was ended. But a few weeks ago, on an obscure federal Web site devoted to the war on terrorism, the Bush administration quietly began a public campaign to bring the draft boards back to life.

"Serve Your Community and the Nation," the announcement urges. "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men ... receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service."

Local draft board volunteers, meanwhile, report that at training sessions last summer, they were unexpectedly asked to recommend people to fill some of the estimated 16 percent of board seats that are vacant nationwide.

Especially for those who were of age to fight in the Vietnam, it is an ominous flashback of a message. Divisive military actions are ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. News accounts daily detail how the U.S. is stretched too thin there to be effective. And tensions are high with Syria and Iran and on the Korean Peninsula, with some in or close to the Bush White House suggesting that military action may someday be necessary in those spots, too.

Even floating the idea of a draft in the months before an election would be politically explosive, and the Pentagon last week was adamant that the push to staff up the draft boards is not a portent of things to come. Increasingly, however, military experts and even some influential members of Congress are suggesting that if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's prediction of a "long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to consider a draft to fully staff the nation's military in a time of global instability.

I predict this will never happen unless Bush manages to get himself "re-elected" (by any means necessary), as he wouldn't dare do it before November 2004. The very idea of a draft to support this war-and-occupation-on-false-pretenses is beyond repugnant; however, as August amusingly pointed out, "speaking from experience with some of them at NYU, the most likely side benefit of a draft would be the College Republican Party dissolving overnight."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 3, 2003
The joy of cooking.   It's not that I don't cook at all anymore; I do, as much as I can. Thing is, weekday evenings get busy, my commute is getting worse, and sometimes when I get home at 7:30pm or later I'm tired; cooking dinner isn't exactly the first thing on my mind. I might even have the wacky idea to eat out or get delivery, so there's actually some time in the evening to read or write or watch a DVD or some TV.

Sometimes, though, it's really great to have the opportunity to have some friends over and do a nice five- or six-course blowout, one that takes three or four hours or more to get through, interspersed with wine and cocktails and relaxing conversation. It's so nice, so fun, so civilized. It's the kind of evening where you want to make sure your dishes can be primarily prepared in advance, so as to minimize your à la minute cooking and give you more time to socialize.

A couple of glasses of Coppola Bianco and a couple of Negronis kicked things off well, as did the first course, which is one Wes made for me a week or so ago -- I arrived home and was immediately informed that I was banished from the kitchen, as he was making something. This was rather surprising, as he doesn't cook, but ten minutes of maddening aromas later he emerged with something that just about makes your eyes roll up in your head. The boy can cook after all.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

16 large Medjool or Halawy dates
8 slices thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon
Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
Chopped curly parsley, for garnish

Heat oven to 500°F.

Carefully slice the dates open with a sharp paring knife, making a partial lengthwise cut. Carefully remove the pit, and stuff the cavity of the date with a chunk of cheese, enough to fill. Wrap the date with one-half of one piece of bacon and set on a rack, seam side down (you can secure the bottom with a toothpick to make sure the bacon stays wrapped around the date). Place the rack on a baking sheet and bake the dates for about 12 minutes, until the bacon is cooked and crisp. Allow to cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with parsley and serve. YIELD: 8 starter servings.

(Or, if you do like we did when we first tried these last week, you sit there and eat them all because they're so friggin' good, then say, "Oooh ... I don't think I need any dinner.")

I had been doing my shopping at Bristol Farms on Saturday, because I like their meat counter and because I'm trying to do my part to avoid crossing picket lines during the grocery strike. While there a guy was putting Comice pears out on display; I stopped to look at them for just a second and he whipped out a knife, seized a pear, cut off a big chunk of it and offered it to me to taste. Like butter, so soft and so sweet and nearly perfect. I bought a few, and they became the criminally easy second dish:

Prosciutto and Pears

4 extremely ripe Comice pears
16 paper-thin slices Prosciutto di Parma

Roll each slice of prosciutto into tube shape, and arrange artfully on a platter. Quarter the pears, core them, and arrange the pears around the prosciutto. Serve, and encourage your guests to wrap the ham around the fruit as they eat. YIELD: 8 servings

The asparagus looked beautiful at Bristol Farms too; I was hoping to get some but was expecting the typical late-season stuff that's as big around as your thumb. These were pencil-thin, with a great flavor and nice long tips. I got this recipe from Mario Batali, and it's a favorite early-summer antipasto around Milan (who cares of it's early fall and we're in Eagle Rock?):

Asparagus, Milanese-style

28 spears asparagus
1 stick (8 tablespoons butter)
A few fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches dried rubbed sage
4 eggs
Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Snap the bottoms off the asparagus and rinse. Bring a couple of quarts of salted water to a boil, then blanch the asparagus for 70 seconds. Remove and plunge into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain, pat dry and reserve.

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large nonstick skillet. When foam subsides, add sage, swirl gently and continue to cook over medium heat until the butter turns brown (just a little darker than a peanut butter colored roux). Add the asparagus spears and toss until they're coated with the brown butter-sage sauce and are heated through. Plate 7 spears each on small plates and hold in a warm oven or warming drawer.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. When the foam subsides, gently crack the eggs into the butter and cook for 2 minutes, sunny-side up. (I like to spoon a little of the hot butter onto the top of each egg to make sure the top gets cooked.) When eggs are done (and while the yolks are still runny), place one egg on top of each serving of asparagus. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then grate lots of Parmagiano-Reggiano on top. Serve immediately. YIELD: 4 servings.

This was really, really good. It'd be great for breakfast, too.

For the primo, we had an old favorite pasta dish of mine that I hadn't made for a while. It's really easy, has a great, intense flavor and boy, do I love good homemade meatballs.

Spaghetti with Pancetta, Peas and Meatballs

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
3 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 to 1-1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, as needed
A few pinches red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sauté the onions and garlic in a little olive oil until soft; set aside. Combine meats, eggs, cheese, onions and garlic, parsley, salt and peppers and 1 cup of the breadcrumbs. Mix together with your hands, but be careful not to overmix. If the mixture still seems a little loose, add more breadcrumbs. (Be sure to make your own breadcrumbs -- put chunks of Italian bread in your food processor and whiz them up until they're crumby.)

Coat your hands with a little olive oil and start rolling meatballs. You'll need four per serving, and you'll have plenty left over. (They freeze well uncooked.) Golf ball-size is about right. Heat about 1/4" of olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the meatballs and brown for about 5-6 minutes per side, turning only once.

For the sauce:
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup very hot water
3 ounces pancetta
1 cup onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
A few tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 pound small green peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the mushrooms with the hot water and set aside for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze the mushrooms dry and roughly chop. Carefully pour off about 1/2 - 2/3 cup of the soaking liquid, making sure you don't get any dirt or sediment from the bottom.

Stack the pancetta and slice into 1/4" strips, then across into 1/2" pieces. Sauté the pancetta, onions and garlic over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the white wine, raise heat and cook until the wine is almost evaporated (about 2 tablespoons left). Add the mushrooms, soaking liquid and tomato paste. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs, cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. When the meatballs are done, fold in the peas and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until the peas are heated through.

While your sauce is cooking, prepare your pasta -- about 3 ounces of dry spaghetti per serving. Boil 4 quarts of water with about a tablespoon of salt, then add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Reserve a half-cup or so of the pasta water and drain, then immediately add the drained spaghetti to the sauce. Toss to coat, adding a few splashes of pasta water if the sauce is too dry and needs loosening up. Transfer to large pasta bowl, toss to combine and serve.

We got lazy for dessert -- a small chocolate mousse cake from one of our favorite neighborhood joints, The Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli (where we get our prosciutto, pancetta, olives, etc. as well). Who says dessert has to be from scratch too?

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