Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rain first, then cats and dogs

The cat now visits and comes inside whenever an alien substance falls from the sky. (In California, we've taken to calling fog, drizzle; drizzle, rain; and rain a flood.)

So who do you think is winning the battle of wits in this household? (Hint: It's not me.)

And it's not him, either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day and pass the guacamole

It's a truth universally acknowledged that if you're not Irish or Catholic or living in Chicago, the local supermarket flyer is your only official St. Patrick's Day alert.

That this week caught me flat-footed, without so much as a cabbage to my name, I blame entirely on Ralphs.

St. Patrick's Day, historically, requires a circular featuring corned beef and cabbage at half price, plus a damned good discount on potatoes and Irish Whiskey, with clip-art of winking midgets and pots of gold in every corner.

So what's in this week's ad? Salmon and turkey burgers.

On this day of all days, no discount on Irish products? That's either a sin of omission (doubt it), or a shot fired across the bow.

I suspect a hidden agenda and a war on St. Patrick's Day. (Who owns Ralphs these days, anyway. Ever wonder? Not Ralph O'Toole, I'll tell you that much.)

If you're one of those people who choose to see the best in others, bury your head in the sand, then I have a story that may change your mind. When I visited Ralphs this morning, slapped down a side of Kielbasa (which sort of tastes like corned beef if you close your eyes, plus it's 30% off until Wednesday), the clerk had the nerve to say, "Happy Holiday."

And that's when I realized enough was enough. Time to take a stand. I leaned across the counter, grabbed her by the smock, looked her straight in the eye and growled, "That would be St. Patrick's Day to you, ma'am."

We all have our moments of heroism, I truly believe that. And though the people in line behind me said nothing, they looked stunned and amazed. I felt their tacit though timid support, and that was enough.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tightening the vice

The Seven Deadly Sins never seemed all that bad to me. Anyway, I've known worse.

Sure, they have their faults, who doesn't? One outgrows his jeans at an alarming rate, and another watches too much TV, and they all say nasty things behind your back. Still, half of the official vices as we know them, as they're named, are generally up for a good time.

Spend an evening with the SDS, and if tomorrow finds your set of collectible CCCP vodka glasses shattered in the fireplace, and you're a bit fuzzy as to how that all happened, it doesn't mean you didn't have a good time. Plus, you know the usual suspects -- Wrath, Gluttony, Pride, Lust. Sloth is off the hook.

Seems to me, had god and Moses and whoever really wanted to steer us to virtue, they wouldn't have gone toe-to-toe with such attractive competition. Lust; Vanity. (Why Vanity gets a bad rap is curious; I'd much rather not be beautiful but think I was, than be beautiful and think I wasn't.)

Had I written the scripture, I would have chosen vices that were thoroughly unpleasant, vices that left one begging for Purity and Fidelity.

Worry would have perched at the top of my sin list. Even in the short term, Worry doesn't make you feel better, eat better, sleep deeper, love longer. Worry just saps the joy right out of your soul, and that's what I call a proper vice. Which brings us to sin #2: Irritability. Then #3, Vapidity -- in the company of which you find yourself running into the arms of that most imprudent of all virtues -- Courage.

After Vapidity, I guess comes B.O. And then B.O. followed by Nit-picking. Nit-picking followed by Pontificating.

The thing is, and it's too bad I wasn't around to clue in the apostles at the time, the thing is to invite only vices with zero appeal to the table. In that way, guests will be texting Virtue for a ride before you can say, "Stand clear! B.O. just cut the cheese."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a thou or two

My bread-making phase lasted a couple of years. A purist, I used no mixer or bread machine, but got up to my elbows in dough and the kneading process, flour dust everywhere; measuring cups, proofing, lots of sticky bowls.

Most of the recipes I snagged from the internet, a hundred or more. A sound piece of advice: the dough is ready for oven when it has the same consistency as your earlobe -- plump and smooth.

I made white, rye, wheat; Austrian, Swiss, Italian; and experimented with all sorts of additions, with varying degrees of success -- olives, rosemary, capers, garlic, cheese. Truffle oil on top, anchovies inside. Square loaves, round loaves, twists, rolls.

Sometimes I took my eye off the ball, and the bloody thing didn't rise at all. But the best ones were lively; doughs so feisty, they sat up and talked back, and practically marched on their own yeasty legs to the oven.

I wasn't particularly hungry for bread; most (the edible ones) went to friends. So it was the journey, you know? Not unrelated to hiking. Effort requiring no explanation; effort, for effort's sake.

The high note, the pinnacle of my bread-making career, an olive bread, dense yet light (how is that possible?) so good my guests swooned. And then, that was that. It wasn't surprising that I stopped. The surprising thing was that I had started at all. Like when you fall out of love with someone. In retrospect, the real mystery lies in what seemed attractive about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Here's my recipe for No-Knead Bread, which I do make. The result is somewhere between what you can get at a good bakery and that which requires real work.

Invite a few people. This bread is only good for one day.

3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1/3 tsp rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 cups water
Olive oil

Smear olive oil in a good-sized bowl. Add dry ingreds, and mix them together. Add water and and combine with bare hands until you get a mess. Cover w/plastic wrap and terry towel. Leave it to rise for 18 hours. Punch it down using an extra dusting of flour and wet hands, form into a ball. Let rise for another two hours. Heat a dutch oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Toss the ball in, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove lid, pour a little olive oil on top, and bake for another 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Open the wine and cue the music.