Category Archives: Humor


That other Walnut

Lately, I’ve been using this new product in my facial recon work — pig basement membrane, which takes the place of an autogenous skin graft. The sales rep was in the OR today, and I guess he was trying to impress me, because he’d google me (I guess) and wanted to let me know how amazing I am.

“How did you do all those things?”

I wasn’t sure what “those things” were, but since I haven’t done much professionally except collect degrees, I said, “I dunno, I just stayed in school a long long time.”

“Yeah, but you must be brilliant. I mean, you graduated high school at 16, college at 19, you were an engineer –”

At which point I interrupted him. In retrospect, I should have let him go on, because now I’m curious what all else that other Walnut did. Was he an astronaut? Did he climb Kilimanjaro whilst fighting off a swarm of killer bees? Win a decathlon? Learn to bend spoons with his amazing mental powers?

I disabused him gently of his misconceptions. We hate losing our heroes.

***

Karen’s BD today . . . for which I made lamb tacos, homemade guacamole, and for dessert a Duomo Tiramisu. You can ignore the linked recipe and just focus on the picture, since that’s where I got the idea. I used my usual recipe, but decided to make it more kid-friendly so that Jake would eat it for a change. Instead of espresso, I soaked my pound cake in root beer. I did not use any alcohol in the zabaglione, but used some cherry juice instead. Then I split the zabaglione in half. Half of it I kept plain, and to the other half I added 4 ounces of German chocolate (melted). I then added one thingy of mascarpone cheese to each zabaglione sauce, then folded in the whipped cream.

After I had created multiple layers, I still had a fairly large volume at the center of my Duomo that was empty. (Yes, I’d used too large a bowl.) What could I do? If I left it empty, the whole thing would collapse when I inverted it. I really didn’t feel like going through the bother of making more filling and buying another pound cake. So instead, I bought a champagne cake, a small one, and stuffed that in the center. Thus achieving a dessert form of Turducken!

Good but rich. I’ll be shocked if we even manage to finish half of it. All three of us had some, and I think we only ate about 20% of the total.

***

Writing proceeds apace. I haven’t done a total word count lately but I suspect I’m something like 35K or 40K words into this. If so, this is feeling like a 100 to 120K story, which is just about right. So: epublish or not? I’d like to think I’d have the time to ship it out to agents, but who am I kidding.

D.

Mee krob

Mee krob is one of those pain in the ass Thai dishes that even the Thai restaurants rarely make. Back in Crescent City, we had a lovely restaurateur/chef who would make it for us if we begged prettily. Aside from her* mee krob, most others have been overly greasy, or have used too much sauce such that the rice stick becomes soggy.

Every so often I get it into my head to try to make this stuff, and oh boy does it make a mess. Conceptually, it’s similar to Pad Thai, but the additional step of deep frying seems to raise the difficulty by an order of magnitude. Oh, well. Consider it part of the Thanksgiving feast, a few days late.

Here is, roughly, what Mee krob ought to look like:

meekrob

The basic idea is that you have fried rice stick (Chinese is mai fun) dressed with a sticky, peppery sweet/sour sauce, then tossed with sauteed green onions and red peppers, scrambled eggs, and a variety of other things, including garlic, tofu, fresh cilantro, freshly chopped green onions, and meat if you like. I used some leftover chicken breast and a few shrimp. You dress the thing with the cilantro, chopped green onions, some un-sauteed red pepper slices, and bean sprouts.

Here’s the basic recipe I used, but I had to adapt it. I knew the sauce would be all wrong — way too salty for starters.

If you can find whole tamarind, you can probably find tamarind paste. It’s at most Asian markets. I used two tablespoons of paste with two of water. But here’s my sauce — you can compare to the original if you like, but trust me, this is the real deal:

4 tablespoons tamarind juice (see above)
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce
1 teaspoons lime zest
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Chinese red pepper sauce

Combine the ingredients and simmer until it begins to thicken. Set aside. Ideal consistency is a bit thicker than room temperature pancake syrup. Too thick and it won’t incorporate into your fried rice stick easily, and too thin and it might soften your rice stick.

The sauce can be made ahead. The next step is to prepare your various vegies: separate the white and green parts of the green onion; chop your cilantro and your red pepper — I used red jalapenos; wash your bean sprouts. Dice your tofu and dry it on paper towels. Dice four cloves of garlic.

Lightly fry the tofu, then place in the oven to keep warm (I used a 300 F oven).

Saute the white part of the green onion with some of the red pepper, and once the onion is nearly done, add the garlic. VERY lightly saute the garlic (you don’t want to make it bitter!) Keep the sauteed vegies warm in the oven.

Saute your shrimp if you’re using it. I added a tablespoon of the sauce while sauteing to add flavor. Put the shrimp in the oven to keep warm.

Fry up your rice stick. Here are some tips: unless you have a huge deep fryer and want to use a ton of oil, pre-cut the rice stick using kitchen shears. Rice stick will fly everywhere, so put the “bale” of rice stick into a gallon bag, then cut it with shears. You are trying to create flatter “bales” so that they will submerge in less oil.

Set your rice stick aside on paper towels.

Once you’ve made the rice stick, the clock really starts ticking, since this stuff goes stale FAST. The only thing left is the egg. The linked recipe recommends dripping egg into the hot oil. I did this in batches, and the way I did it was to put two scrambled eggs into a sandwich baggie, seal it, then snip a little hole at one corner. Swirl the egg into the hot oil.

Everyone should do this at least once just because it’s fun. BUT. This is easily the greasiest part of the dish, so in the future I will forgo the scrambled eggs in oil bit and do it the Pad Thai way (make an omelet and cut it into strips).

Toss together your sauteed vegies, sauce, and rice stick. Use a big bowl or else this will be damn near impossible. You can put your other warm ingredients on top or on the side. Finish with garnishes of bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, and red pepper.

It’s beautiful and the flavor is decadent. It’s the closest thing that a main course ever comes to being dessert — probably because of all the greasy stuff and the sweetness of the sauce. You may note that I cut down on the brown sugar by 1 tablespoon, but it’s still fairly sweet . . . as it should be.

This isn’t something you’ll do once a week, or even once a month. But for an occasional treat, and probably for company (provided EVERYTHING else can be made in advance and kept warm), it would be a show-stopper.

D.

*Her name is Koon and her restaurant is Sea West, a true gem. Indeed, the two best restaurants in that town are Asian. Thai House (a Vietnamese restaurant — don’t ask) is the other gem.

Noise, and the nearly nonexistent lefty survivalist

About a week ago, I finished Darin Bradley’s Noise, a novel about college students responding to — and some would say helping to precipitate — TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it, an acronym common on survivalist web sites, along with WTSHTF: when the shit hits the fan). In some ways, Noise is an infuriating novel. Bradley wrote it following the completion of his PhD in English literature and theory, and it shows. He writes in the postscript, “So I had a head full of cognitive theory and nineteenth-century American utopianism, and I had loads of free time.” The novel often reads as though Bradley had just finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and said, “Hmm, you know what? Not lyrical enough.”

That said, I loved Noise and recommend it without any other reservation. Alternating chapters relate the first person narrative of “Hiram” (who, with his college roommate “Levi” have adopted new names to fit their new identities in the post-WTSHTF world) and The Book, a cobbled-together guide to surviving TEOTWAWKI. The details of TEOTWAWKI — referred to in Noise as “the Collapse” — are sparse, but Bradley suggests an economic bust so profound that governments and law enforcement fragment, its individual subunits going rogue in a last-ditch effort to survive. Hiram’s chapters detail his and Levi’s efforts to “get the jump” (predict the Collapse so as to get a head start on last minute preparations), put together a Group, bug out of their college town of Slade, Texas, and make it to their Place, which they have called Amaranth. The Book chapters would make a fascinating read all by themselves, as they provide a manual for how to survive and ultimately thrive in the most ruthless of new (post-apocalyptic) worlds.

Hiram is little more than a boy. The memories he draws upon to ground himself in this new world are of his days in the Scouts and his all-nighters playing Dungeons and Dragons. Bradley masterfully orchestrates the interplay between Hiram’s memories, the dictates of the Book (theory), and the things he must now do (practice). To commit sometimes horrific acts of violence, he and the rest of his Group have adopted new names, wear face paint or masks, carry out their actions in a somewhat ritualistic manner, and afterwards reassure one another with, “What you did was right.” That last essential closer is what in my opinion makes this a truly haunting work, for it is the acceptance of the perpetrator’s new society, his Group, which makes maiming and murder not just socially acceptable but laudable to them.

This book has stayed with me. I won’t spoil the ending here, but I will say that the closing image was predictable yet still remarkably powerful.

And this book has played into some of my own fears and anxieties about the world and the shit we’re getting ourselves into. I’ve been beefing up our somewhat meager emergency kits, trying to think both of the relatively trivial emergencies like breaking down on a drive over the Grapevine in the middle of winter, and the big ones, TEOTWAWKIs. In the course of doing my internet searches, it soon became apparent that survivalist types are largely right-wing and, well, religious. And that led to what I had thought at first was an innocent question, but has turned more interesting than I’d first thought:

Are there any liberal, lefty, left-wing survivalists, or are they all rifle-toting God-loving Obama-hating rednecks?

(more…)

Ah, Dave Foley . . .

Similar to his “bad doctor” sketch, and just as hilarious.

D.

‘kay, this is pretty damned decadent

Wherein I improve upon the original.


STICKY. TOFFEE. PUDDING. (Only not.)

A word about how this differs from the original. The Udny Arms STP is a date muffin with a toffee topping. There’s nothing pudding-y about it, but again, I suspect this is a Brit thing, some deranged interpretation of the word “pudding.” It’s a cake. This version, if you do it as I did it, will yield a moist enough result that pudding is not an utter misnomer. If you want something more cake-like, then use diced dried apples instead of fresh apples, and follow the original recipe (but add the spices, too).

Adding pie spices (I used cinnamon, ginger, and clove; nutmeg or allspice would have been good, too) did great things for the flavor. The original? Might as well be angel food cake — no flavor at all, save for the dates.

. . . And off we go!

Pudding

1/2 cup butter, softened, plus an additional tablespoon of butter to saute your apples
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
2 Granny Smith apples, diced into 3/4 to 1 inch chunks
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups water

Sauce . . . which I cut in half — yes, the original called for a full pint of whipping cream. And even this is too much.

1/2 cup butter
1 3/8 cups brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream

1. Peel and chop your apples, and then saute the apples and raisins together in a tablespoon of butter. I tried to brown the apples a bit, and I was consciously trying to drive off as much moisture as I could. As noted above, if you use dried apples, you’ll end up with a more cake-like pudding. Set aside the apples and allow to cool.

2. Cream together the sugars and the butter. Add the eggs and mix well.

3. Add baking powder to the flour and stir well. You can add your spices here if you like, or at the final step of making the batter.

4. Add one cup of flour, stir to combine. Then add one cup of water, stir to combine. Repeat. Finish with one cup of flour. (You’re alternating the flour additions and water additions, right? Standard stuff.)

5. Pour into a buttered 9 x 13 inch baking pan and bake at 350F (177C) for 45 minutes.

6. For the record, I again diverged from the Udny Arms recipe by letting my cake cool in the refrigerator overnight, then reheating it in a 225 degree F oven (107C). I’m not sure it makes a difference. In any case, while the cake is baking (or the next day, whatever) prepare your sauce. Combine butter, cream, and brown sugar, and bring to a boil.

7. Poke lots and lots of holes into your cake, then pour the sauce over the cake. You’ll only use about half the sauce. Now, one advantage of having cooled the cake overnight is that it shrunk a bit, pulling away from the pan. That allowed the sauce to penetrate all around the sides. Reserve whatever sauce you don’t use because if you are thoroughly committed to your heart attack, you’ll spoon some hot sauce onto your cake prior to topping it with a heap of whipped cream. But I’m jumping ahead. After putting a layer of sauce on the cake, I fussed with it for several minutes, because the sauce wanted to collect around the sides and I kept transferring it to the top with a spoon. But gravity eventually won.

8. BROIL this puppy until it’s all brown and bubbly.

9. Cut a square, top with whipped cream (unnecessary) and more sauce (really unnecessary).

Enjoy.

D.

Our story thus far

Well, I finished Book Five of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones yesterday (A Feast for Crows), and I lasted all of one day before buying Book Six, which I think is called A Gaggle of Geese A Dance With Dragons. Those of you who have read these books know that Martin’s literary sprawl knows no bounds — I mean, this guy makes Neal Stephenson look terse — and Dance With Dragons with its 1000 pages represents another leap forward in page count . . . particularly when you consider that Books Five and Six are actually one book that Martin has separated into two contemporaneous groups of multiple story lines.

dragons

Surprisingly, it all works. Most of the time. I must confess that when Martin goes on and on about what’s emblazoned on this or that House’s shields and banners, my eyes glaze over, and I skip ahead, invoking Elmore Leonard’s dictum about leaving out what other people skip (since I can’t leave it out, I skip it). And some characters are too loathsome to waste much time on. I skim Sansa’s chapters, as I do Cersei’s. Regarding Cersei, I don’t mind evil witches, but I really really mind stupid evil witches.

Most pleasant surprise among the various story arcs: that Martin was able to rehabilitate Jaime’s character. I didn’t think it would be possible.

Most annoying aspect of having to wait maybe another six years for book seven: Martin left Arya in some bad straits at the end of Book Five, and it irritates the piss out of me that I’m going to have to wait forever to find out what happens to her. I mean, book six is 1000+ pages, and I am going to have to wait nearly until the end to find out what has become of her. I dreamed about this story arc, I was so irked.

Best thing about having Book Six in hand (on cell phone, to be exact): I can finally catch up with Tyrion’s story line. Us little guys need to stick together.

D.

Beware novels which announce, “A Novel.”

Today, I finished The Shadow Year: A Novel by Jeffrey Ford. I wanted to read a good fantasy, so I checked out the World Fantasy Awards site. Noting that their 2010 award-winner was China Mieville’s The City & The City, which I liked a great deal, I decided I would trust them for another fantasy. Hence The Shadow Year: A Novel, which won their 2009 best novel award.

Setting: a small town in Long Island, late 1960s. Well, I thought, this should be fun, since I was the protag’s age at that time, too. And yet the moments of resonance were rare: a reference to Bazooka bubble gum (which did indeed cost a penny), occasional mentions of commercials which were on TV at the time. Despite Ford’s efforts to create a rich setting, with regard both to the town and the time, it all felt flat to me.

Plot: the unnamed protag is the middle child of a dad who works three jobs and a manic depressive mom who drinks herself to sleep every night. His younger sister is disturbed (and psychic!) and his older brother is cool, brave, and generic. There’s also a generic bully and a generic mean teacher and a host of generic loonies. Conflict arises first in the guise of a mysterious window peeper, then in the form of disappearances, murders, and a sinister man in a big white car. The brothers set out to unravel the town’s mystery and inexplicably never tell their father, who seems a reasonable sort, nor their grandparents, who are also cool and brave and nearly generic (they and the drunk mom were the only ones in the novel who came alive for me).

Gimmick: the older brother has built a simulacrum of the neighborhood on a model train platform erected in their basement. Movements of their neighbors, the peeper, and the sinister man in his big white car are eerily reflected by changes in the positions of their counterparts in the miniature town.

THEME! THEME! THEME! Why, loss of innocence, of course, which is telegraphed with a bullhorn at the end of the novel’s first paragraph:

. . . . Taking a cast-off leaf into each hand, I made double fists. When I opened my fingers, brown crumbs fell and scattered on the road at my feet. Had I been waiting for the arrival of that strange changeling year, I might have understood the sifting debris to be symbolic of the end of something.

Really, how big a dumb ass am I? I read that paragraph before I ever bought the book, and yet I still bought it. Jeez.

What’s wrong with it: oh, imagine any Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling. Got it yet? Smarmy. Rife with predictable ironies. Ultimately moralistic — and two-dimensional.

I’m thinking of reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris novels. Has anyone here read him? Or do you have any other fantasy recommendations to make?

D.

Happy Holidays

Not a bad Mariah Carey. But is she kosher?

. . . Because I can rerun Sarah Silverman’s Give The Jew Girl Toys only so many times.

D.

On reading

I’ve been thinking about Dean’s comment to yesterday’s post — how my life has taken such a different trajectory in this regard. I used to be an avid reader, too. When I was a grade schooler, I would check out eight or nine books from the library and I’d cycle through them, reading each one until I tired of it, going to the next, and eventually finishing them all. This drove my dad a little nuts, since he’s one of these OCD start, finish, then move on types. He couldn’t figure out how I managed to keep all the plots straight.

Then high school happened, and while I remember reading for fun during summer vacation (Frank Herbert’s Hellstrom’s Hive comes to mind . . . not sure why), I was usually too busy during the school year to do much pleasure reading. I have a dim memory of Dune, and Watership Down, and countless science fiction novels, but I think those happened during junior high. In Eight Grade, old Bud Camfield convinced me to start reading the classics. And while Crime and Punishment was a worthwhile experience, it wasn’t exactly pleasure reading.

It only got worse after college. The one novel I recall reading for “pleasure” was Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which left me hollow and depressed and convinced that I and my whole family were doomed. Yes, I think I had forgotten how to read for pleasure. (Oh, wait! There were Stephen Donaldson’s horrendous fantasies, Lord Foul’s Bane and the like. Tried to reread that one a few years back, couldn’t make it past the first page.)

And it just kept getting worse, what with med school and then (worst of all) internship and residency. I recall reading exactly one book for pleasure during residency: when Karen and I vacationed in Hawaii, I reread Heart of Darkness. Light fare indeed.

Then I got out of residency and started teaching, and I discovered William S. Burroughs and John Le Carre, Robert Graves and Roald Dahl. Maybe it was Dahl that got me out of my serious rut, led me to Doug Adams, then Terry Pratchett, and eventually Christopher Moore.

Dean, if you want to rediscover the joy of reading, you could do no better than to pick up Christopher Moore’s Fool. What a pleasure that one was. I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, which humor-wise is a much different experience. Enjoyable, but it’s Moore’s fool my mind returns to, wants to spend time with. (The audio version voiced by Euan Morton was spectacular, by the way.)

And stay away from Cormac McCarthy.

D.

I think I’ve finally lost patience with le Carre

John le Carre, pen name of author David John Moore Cornwell, elder don of the spy novel (The Spy Who Came In From the Cold still reads like a dream and is far, far more than a spy novel), roped me in with his 2008 A Most Wanted Man. I found it on a discount shelf and could not resist.

My favorite le Carre novels remain his George Smiley trilogy (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy; Smiley’s People), but I’ve enjoyed others, more for his masterful writing than for the stories themselves. In that vein, Single & Single had a climactic paragraph that I still reread on occasion just to see how a master brings off a cinematic shit-hits-fan scene, and Absolute Friends broke all writing rules yet shined because of it.

But the problem with le Carre is his predictability. As I read, I find myself thinking: What’s the most cynical, depressing ending possible? The one in which our heroes end up disillusioned or worse? The one in which the innocents are ruined, and the powerful prevail? And that will inevitably be the ending.

I had hopes for A Most Wanted Man. I could imagine an ending in which the various secret service agencies trip over one another in such a way that they achieve the opposite outcome of their desires. It would have been so easy. But no.

Karen says you read le Carre for the ride, not for the ending, and I think she’s right. But I guess I’ve become more demanding of my novelists — I want unpredictability, which is an elusive thing, really. For that, I may need to stick to someone like Terry Pratchett.

D.

PS Two years ago today: A yummy dinner in Las Vegas. Too bad my parents later decided they didn’t like it (after enjoying it that night). Otherwise, I’d make a point of going back there this Crhistmas.

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