Archive for August, 2007

Rain Dance

August 31, 2007 - 2:01 pm Comments Off

If anyone knows a better way to make it rain, I’d love to hear about it. Big fat drops started hitting my back before I even had the second bag mixed. I swear, I could go to the middle of the freaking Sahara with an 80lb sack of redi-mix and a wheelbarrow and the local wildlife would start filing out two-by-two.

Someone else who writes while I don't

August 29, 2007 - 6:32 pm Comments Off

Between spending yesterday in happy debauchery celebrating making it all the way around the sun one more time, and a sleep deficit catching up to me and poleaxing me, I’m barely keeping up with my blogroll, let alone being a Pundit Of Interest.

I’d been scratching my head wondering what the all-fired big hairy deal was over Senator Craig’s… episode, other than “OMG TEH GHEY”, but Varifrank managed to drive the nail home on what had been bothering me about it. In style. With high-octane snark.

It’s worth the read.

More filler: Gumbo

August 28, 2007 - 11:25 am Comments Off

LabRat went to school in New Orleans. LabRat developed a taste for the local chow. I stayed here in the southwest, where food that resembles something dredged from a swamp is generally treated with suspicion. Since she generously agreed to come and put up with my ranting, various hobbies usually categorized as “compensating,” and general misanthropy, she occasionally puts in requests for food she likes. Usually this is simply code for “for the love of jesusallahbuddahvishnu, enough with the red meat already!” Sometimes though a craving really is just a craving, which leads us to today’s topic: gumbo. I remain by and large unimpressed with most bayou-based cuisine, but this one is actually tasty enough that it doesn’t take much torque to the arm to convince me to make a batch. The original recipe came from here, but as with everything else I get my hands on, I’ve tinkered with it some. I have no idea how much or how well any of you folks at the other end of this here internet tube can cook, and I labor under the delusion that more words equals more interesting (and it’s a slow morning stress testing an FTP server), so I’ll run through the whole process so that hopefully anyone can follow.

For those of you who don’t like following links, here’s the original ingredient list. It will be modified.
1 cup oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
4 – 6 cloves garlic, minced
4 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large chicken (young hen preferred), cut into pieces
2 pounds andouille or smoked sausage, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch scallions (green onions), tops only, chopped
2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
Filé powder to taste

Unless you are feeding a full battalion, the first thing to do is cut all quantities in half, except for the garlic, and bay leaves. Even doing this, you will have leftovers. So far we’ve gotten about eight bowls worth, and there’s still enough in the fridge for lunch. Toss the bell peppers entirely, because LabRat hates bell peppers like I hate hippies and chases me around the back yard flinging unripe prickly pears at me if any gets within 300 yards of her food. I try to work in a nice and logical order so as to minimize the amount of cleaning and such I have to do, especially in the middle of cooking such as when the feared and deadly raw chicken touches something.

Peel the garlic and onion and give them a rough chop. Toss them both in the food processor until they’re chopped to the size you prefer, because we’re lazy and chopping onions by hand is a nuisance. Just leave them in there for now, and keep the lid on to keep the kitchen from drowning in the tear-gas you just produced in there. Cut the celery stalks in thirds after trimming the ends and chop them by hand. It’s just celery after all, I’m not that lazy. Set that aside and chop the scallions, which you should also set aside. Now that all the greenery is dealt with, we can befoul and contaminate the cutting board with raw meat.

Split the andouille into quarters lengthwise, and then chop into roughly quarter-inch chunks. The place we get ours from runs about five links to the pound, but your mileage will probably vary. When chopped, set it aside for the moment and break out the chicken. The original calls for a whole bird, but unless you’re going to make your own stock afterwards, de-boning and all that jazz falls too far into the pain-in-the-ass category for now. I just chop up two or three good sized breasts into bite sized pieces. Spread those out over your cutting board (or over a couple of plates if you don’t have room), and hit them with a good dose of salt, pepper, and Cajun stuff. Don’t worry too much about how one side is seasoned and the other isn’t. It’s all going into liquid anyway, so everything will blend.

Now it’s time for the actual cooking. Take a non-stick pan and put it over medium-high to high heat. On the worthless piece of crap devil-designed glass-topped gutless inferior approximation of a stove we have here, I usually go for about 8 or 9 on the dial. Those of you with stoves not marketed by Fisher-Price as “My First Cooktop” may not need to go quite as high, but we’ll still need some high heat on the pan. When a drop of water dances vigorously on the surface, dump in half the sausage and sauté for a couple of minutes until the meat starts to brown. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with the other half of the sausage. When that’s done, try to keep as much of the sausage grease in the pan as possible, and add about half a tablespoon of butter. If the pan is hot enough, this will melt, foam, and subside and give off that nutty about-to-burn smell by the time you can get the chicken from the counter. Repeat the browning on the chicken, again working in batches to keep from overcrowding and cooling the pan. Be sure to replenish the butter between batches as needed. When the last of the chicken is done and the pan is still hot, kill the heat and pour in a couple shots of red wine. I’m not a wine snob, so whether different types make a difference is beyond me. For reference, the exact type of red I use is “bottled.” I think it has a cork, too. My rule of thumb is if it isn’t good enough to drink on its own, it isn’t good enough to cook with. There will be lots of sizzling and steam, so watch your hands. Also, keep open flame away at this point, or you may be asking for help drawing eyebrows back on your face. Let that reduce by about half, then pour it over the meat you’ve got sitting there tempting you to nibble while you cook and causing the dog to stare at the counter like the meaning of life is up there.

From here, I stick pretty much to the recipe. Get the oil nice and hot over medium heat in a big pot (look for it to shimmer) then add the flour and start stirring. Personally I wound up using about ¾ cup of flour to a half cup of oil, but we like a somewhat thicker roux. By the time the stuff in the pot is the color of a wet adobe brick, it’s ready. Be careful at this stage because that crap burns like Greek fire if you get any on you. When the roux is ready, dump in all the veggie matter except for the scallions and parsley, and stir like hell. Your previously liquid-seeming goop will clump around the moisture in the veggies and leave you a thick plant-filled paste. Stir this all around the pot for about a minute (the original four is way too long). Pour in the chicken stock or broth, and keep your hand out of the way of the cloud of steam coming up. Add in the pile of meat you’ve got sitting there, and scrape as much juice and reduced wine as you can off of whatever it was sitting on and into the pot. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Add in my final twist, ¾ tsp of mustard powder, and stir everything together. Bring it to a boil, then back it down to a simmer and let it sit there and get happy for an hour or so, as the original says. Add the scallions, parsley and file powder at the last minute (don’t let the file boil, or it’ll turn things stringy and nasty) and serve over a little rice with french bread, along with enough beer to make it look like soup instead of swamp water.

Second cousin to a bleg

August 27, 2007 - 4:02 pm Comments Off

It’s not quite one, but pretty close.
Threadless is having a ten-dollar sale on t-shirts. If you use this link or the one on the sidebar and find something you want, I get store credit for it. And then I will be able to feed my ravening addiction for novel t-shirts more cheaply and with the excuse that obviously My Public loves me and wants me to be happy, or at least wants the world to have plausible deniability for staring at my chest.

It’s a pretty nifty system, actually; all the designs are user-created and accepted and printed through ongoing competitions. Particularly successful designs are periodically re-printed when users vote for it. It allows them to keep a HUGE and tremendously varied design catalogue while keeping their costs low enough to, well, have ten-dollar sales every couple of months.

As a warning, though, they seem to assume that their primary customer demographic consists of skinny emo boys and even skinnier girl anorexics; order a size up from what you normally wear, especially if you have muscular arms or larger breasts.

Browse around for a bit- the selection is varied enough that even if you think 90% of the designs are crap (as I often do), there are bound to be a few that charm you, provided you like having anything on your shirt other than a flat color and some buttons.

Color me shallow

August 27, 2007 - 11:43 am Comments Off

Partly inspired by Tam’s link to an inane column on what your car says about your personality. This is one of those “I’m bored and I should post something” things, inspired the rest of the way by brooding at the car shows I periodically have to turn up at for spousal-support reasons. Contains 90% more snark than accuracy, but at least it’s a shorter read than the article.

Your color code guide to sports cars!

RED: “I want some pussy. If you have any spare, take it right here. I may not be sexy, but the several tons of fast, vibrating phallic object I’m sitting in sure is.”

BLACK: “I don’t need any more pussy, but I may be willing to sell some of it.”

YELLOW: “I like to be just a little bit more distinctive than every other schmuck on the road with a sports car. I also think my orange and green striped polyester shirt is distinctive.”

GREEN: “I’m British, or I wish I were.”

BLUE: “I’m too relaxed for red, not pimp enough for black, have too much shame for yellow, and hate washing my car too much for white.”

WHITE: “I am over fifty.”

PURPLE: “If you laugh, I will shoot you, or arrange for five of my friends to do so.”

SILVER: “Warp speed, Mister Sulu!”

ORANGE: “I believe I am a unique free spirit and wish for this knowledge to imprint itself on every retina in a five-mile radius. Also, the Volkswagen was just too damn slow.”

Dear Alton Brown

August 25, 2007 - 10:09 pm Comments Off

“Nutra” is the prefix to a popular artificial sweetener.

“Nutria” is a large invasive South American rodent infesting the gulf coast.  It is pronounced “Noo-TREE-ah” even if you are from the deep South, and even if you have no teeth.   I have field experience confirming the outcome of both of these conditions.

It bears little resemblance to the American Porcupine except that they are both largish rodents.  I am dimly aware there are people that care a lot less than I do about identification issues; I will be happy if you just stop saying “Nutra”.

Although, if you care about identification issues, if your initial reaction to your first sighting wasn’t “What the HELL  was that, Bigfoot?!”, it either wasn’t a nutria or it was only a baby.  You’d be surprised how accurate this rule of thumb is.

More Friday fluff

August 24, 2007 - 1:23 pm Comments Off

You heard it here first: twice as big and flashing red is a valid evolutionary strategy.

Really.

Well, sort of. If you look at it from the snake’s perspective.

Friday Fluff: Book recommendation

August 24, 2007 - 12:35 pm Comments Off

Thanks to a mild pollen burst from some rain last night, and the aforementioned convergence of temperature and humidity to the realm of Damn This Weather, my brain is not running at full capacity. When this happens, I tend to prefer something a little lighter than some of my usual brain food. Normally, a little Terry Pratchett fits the bill just about perfectly (and anyone who hasn’t read him is hereby On Notice until you’ve gone through at least “Small Gods,” “Hogfather,” and “Guards! Guards!”), but today it’s time for a blast from my past instead.

Patrick F. McManus is an outdoor humorist covering hunting, fishing, camping, kid camping, and growing up in dirt-poor Northern Idaho. He is a damn fine outdoor humorist, and has been one for longer than I have been able to hold a rifle, and sadly one who’s name I feel does not arise often enough. All of the books we have of his work are essentially collections of essays and anecdotes, easily digestable in small bites. As a warning, if anyone reading this was prepared to personally crucify Jim Zumbo and All His Ilk, you may want to shy away. Mr. McManus has, to my knowledge, not expressed any solid opinion on Evil Black Rifles or those who use them as Mr. Zumbo did, however they are reasonably good friends, and Mr. Zumbo appears in more than a few stories. Take that as you will.

Some of my personal favorites, plucked from various books as to encourage the reader to go find them and others on his or her own, include “Shooting the Chick-A-Nout Narrows”, “Pouring my Own,” and “Rancid Crabtree and the Demon Bat.” Since I used it in an elementary school speech contest, I also hold “Puttering” in something of a high regard, and if suitably plied with coffee and/or alcohol could quite possibly recite most of it to this day. Growing up in a resonably outdoors-friendly area, his stories on Kid Camping hit particularly close to home for many years and should not be missed. (“Kid Camping from AIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiieeeee to Zip” however varies from his usual story collection format, and while still damned funny, may not be the best introduction to his work)

Go buy a copy of any of his books. Find one at the library. Get lucky at a garage sale. If anyone can make it through the entirety of The Grasshopper Trap without getting a side-stich, then that person seriously needs his or her funny-meter recalibrated.

You might be a junkie if…

August 24, 2007 - 11:22 am Comments Off

…the local temperature and humidity are rapidly converging on This Sucks, and instead of giving up the caffeine fix or getting it through a lower dose medium, you roll the swamp cooler up to your desk, crank it to high, and brew a big pot of high test.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

August 23, 2007 - 3:24 pm Comments Off

diplomacy in action

Kang, the tan-coated little nipper above, is approaching the four-month mark. For the most part, this is a time of great jubilation, because with that age comes the first few steps out of puppyhood- or, more relevantly to us, the onset of better mental and physical self-control. She’s gotten a lot more civilized about mouthing, jumping, and harassing the cat, and better yet, housebreaking is starting to seem like something that will actually be a reality someday soon. Her puppy shots are all complete, so socialization is something that will really kick into gear in earnest now. Her first trip to a dog park (all regulars we know) was last night. Puppy kindergarten will start next month.

Less delightfully, her puppy pass has just begun to expire. Normal adult dogs give young puppies extra leeway; as with adult humans and young children, they recognize automatically that bad behavior is just a fact of life from one too young to know any better. Luckiest is the owner with a calm, stable, no-nonsense adult female who will guide and teach the puppy and build his or her manners from the day she first reconciles to the puppy’s presence.

We don’t have an adult female, stable or otherwise. We have Kodos. He would never deliberately hurt a puppy, but that’s not the problem; the problem is that he adores ALL young things, children, puppies, or kittens, unconditionally. That’s great when a strange child might decide he needs a hug, but it’s not so great when it means that his attitude toward our intense, super-confident puppy has been “Whatever Princess wants, Princess gets.” He’s let her jump on him, chew on him, treat him like a jungle gym, take treats from him, take toys from him, take food from him, take the water bowl from him. She has been, in short, a perfect little monster with him- and she has certainly been enjoying the rush of pushing around the big adult male. None of the breeder’s other dogs would have let her get away with a fraction as much nonsense, and she had been pretty clearly screwing with him just for the power trip.

Notice the past tense. She has reached an age where Kodos is getting a good deal less indulgent. For the principle of the thing, I am simply thrilled, as she could seriously stand to come down a notch or several. And that’s just what’s happening- he’s telling her to get her face out of his, that the toys were his first, that good food belongs to him if he wants it, and to stay out of his prize sleeping spots, especially the place of highest honor that he stays in whenever he’s not outside.

Unfortunately, that place of honor is directly behind my office chair. For the past two days there’s been a canine version of the Yalta conference taking place inches from my bare calves.  Like other Nordic breeds, Akitas have a wide vocal range and reserve barking as a warning to or about strangers; for their interpersonal conflicts, they roar, moan, growl, snarl, yowl, grumble, and snort.  It sounds like I have a pack of Velociraptors fighting under me, and the minor earthquakes as they roll around on the wheels of my chair doesn’t make it any better, nor do the times Kodos forces Kang to the wall and forbids her from moving.  It makes getting up to get more iced tea fraught, to say the least.

If I’m to think about something else with this going on, I haven’t happened on the trick to it yet.