The Back Hairs I’m Not Sauteing

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“California is about the good life.
So a bad life there seems so much worse than a bad life anywhere else.”
(Sarah Vowell)

Last weekend/earlier this week my family traveled to Southern California. It was a personal and business trip, visiting my mother and my older sister and her family, and for the biz matters, doing another college exploratory trip for Belle. Monday evening, minutes after our flight took off from the Ontario airport heading for PDX, MH and Belle saw this sight, from the right/east side of the airplane.


It was a multivehicle crash, with even more emergency vehicles responding.  Strange, how an event so tragic looked so surreal and…well…picturesque [1]…from the window of an ascending jet plane.

*   *   *

As I have whined about described here previously, I am not fond of trips to So Cal (more specifically, Orange County) for a variety of reasons, and this trip included the cranky-inducing reason of getting up at 3:55 am to make our 6:15 boarding time. In what has become the proud tradition of American aviation, our two hour flight included no breakfast service [2].

After fetching our rental car we searched for the nearest non-fast food food venue near the Ontario airport. The first restaurant-looking place we came to was a Farmer Boys. Although the chain of restaurants is a “Southern California Icon,” [3] So Cal native moiself had never heard ’em. Guess their iconic status was achieved after I left the state.

But I digress.

Picking at my Farmer Boys breakfast, I realized how spoiled I’d become, living where I live in Oregon. What with the abundant local organic grocery stores, farmer’s markets and our CSA membership I have become used to the idea that eggs should taste like eggs and tomatoes like tomatoes.   Had I been blindfolded I would have had no idea what I was eating, as my over-medium [4] eggs and tomato slices were remarkably flavor-free.

I was in California, supposedly the produce capital of the US if not the world, and it was August, eighty-plus degrees, and a restaurant with the word “farmer” in its name can’t serve a decent tomato and a fresh egg?

*   *   *

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, Dissing So Cal, to ask readers to engage in a moment of bedlam on behalf of Men With Righteous Cojones.  Specifically, actor Mark Ruffalo, who sent a stirring letter to a reproductive rights rally in Mississippi, [5] In his letter Ruffalo defends women’s reproductive rights and shares his mother’s own experience obtaining an illegal abortion.

“What happened to my mother was a relic of an America that was not free nor equal nor very kind. My mother’s illegal abortion marked a time in America that we have worked long and hard to leave behind. It was a time when women were seen as second rate citizens who were not smart enough, nor responsible enough, nor capable enough to make decisions about their lives. It was a time that deserved to be left behind, and leave it behind we did, or so it seemed.”

 How I wish Mr. Ruffalo’s eloquently penned sentiments were also a relic. That is, how I wish I could show his letter to my children and their response would be along the lines of, Wow, what was going on back then?

It’s déjà vu all over again.  Nevertheless, it is with great appreciation that I bestow the Men With Righteous Cojones award to Mark Ruffalo.

    * *  *

When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California it raised the I.Q. of both states.
(Will Rogers

No recounting of a trip to So Cal is complete without my complaining about the region’s water usage. The state has been in a drought since the last time Anthony Weiner sent a weiner-free text,  and this year has been the state’s  hottest year on record, and what did I see during my morning walks around my mother’s neighborhood?  H-two-O, all over the sidewalks and running over the curbs and into the gutters and drains, runoff from all of those consequence-denying, Colorado River-sucking hydro-vampires watering their lawns, their stupid, ugly, vanity, royalty-imitating[6] status-flaunting lawns.  Not only that, I passed several houses with NEWLY SEEDED FRONT LAWNS, as in, the kind that require copious watering to keep the sprouts alive.  Made me want to slap somebody upside the head with a water witch’s dowsing stick.   Which would, you know, hurt.

I have three words for the average So Cal homeowner.  Okay, I have six, but the first three I shall keep to myself. [7]  The second three: Drought. Resistant. Landscaping.

*   *   *

 Back to reasons for the trip: Belle and MH sat in on an Admissions Talk for Claremont McKenna College & the Claremont Colleges consortium, on Monday afternoon.  K and I passed the time at Claremont’s library and then joined Belle & MH for the campus tour, after which we had a couple of hours before needing to get to the airport. Belle, exhausted from the tour (and the summer cold that plagued her during the entire trip) nixed MH’s offer of a drive to/tour of his college, Caltech, which turned out to be a good move as we enjoyed a scenic drive up the San Bernardino’s highest peak, Mt. San Antonio (more commonly known as Mt. Baldy).

We had dinner at the Mt. Baldy Lodge Restaurant, where my curiosity if not my appetite was piqued by the entrée menu item described thusly:

“And for all you healthy people….
THE PLUMBER’S WIFE: steamed vegetable medley with chunks of chicken topped with melted cheddar and jack cheese.”

They got me. I had to order it. About the “healthy” descriptor – yeah right. Not with that portion size.

MH was concerned that I might find it necessary to imitate the sartorial accoutrements of the entrée’s namesake.  I assured him that my pants and health would remain plumber-influence free.

*   *   *

Our friend LAH graciously agreed to house/cat sit during our trip to Southern California. We had her over to dinner last Thursday, the 15th, to enjoy the pleasure of her company and to give her house/cat care instructions.  Somehow, the table conversation was steered to [8] the story about the dinner many years ago wherein I first served Brussels Sprouts to a leery LAH.  Although LAH later came to appreciate the oft-maligned brassica, she gave me a hard time about it that night.  She reminded me that, after that momentous dinner, as she was walking home on a frosty night, she put her hands into her jacket pocket and found an unexpected bonus: a plastic baggie of the still-warm Brussels sprouts.

Inspired by L’s generous reminder of one of my better pranks, I launched into infomercial announcer mode:

But wait – there’s more! It’s a cruciferous-cancer-fighting veggie AND a hand warmer!

 Which prompted son K to share his opinion of the vegetable in question:

“Brussels Sprouts are the devil’s back hairs.”

Of course, I had to ask. Why, in K’s opinion, are Brussels Sprouts the devil’s back hairs?

“Because they grow in stalks and are disgusting.”

 Try sautéing your devil’s back hairs in olive oil with diced shallots. And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

[1] Or perhaps “cinematic”

[2] But the beverage service included complimentary beer and wine.  Yo ho ho for SkyWest Airlines.

[3]  Well, according to Farmer Boys.

[4] “Eggs served any style” the menu said, so I asked for poached.  “Any style” translation: any style but poached.

[5] New regulations threaten the state’s only abortion clinic, which has been targeted by an anti-abortion group, the ironically named Operation Save America.

[6] Historians tell us the 17th century European royals flaunted their wealth with lawns, which, besides  showing off castles and manor homes, let the neighbors know that the lawn owner was so wealthy he could afford to use his land as a playground rather than a source of food. Thus, the lawn became a status symbol.

[7] They are best shared with a sympathetic listener, both of us armed with an adult beverage.

[8] “Somehow the table conversation was steered to…” I should come up with a suitable acronym for this phrase, which, in my house, introduces many an anecdote containing (or excusing) a plethora of fart jokes or other stories of questionable taste.

The Classic Songs I’m Not (quite) Dissing

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   ♫ Chipmunks chestnuts roasting on an open fire…. ♫

‘Tis the season, oh yeah.

Belle has a pear tree in our front yard.  She purchased it, many years ago, using her allowance and babysitting money, and planted it (with MH’s help). Last Saturday she discovered, to her delight, that her father had wrapped the tree’s trunk and branches in green and blue lights.

Not to be outdone in the parental décor department, and because nothing says Happy Holidays like pranking your offspring, I gave myself a decorating project this week. Monday afternoon, walking home from the school bus stop, Belle was greeted by this festive site:

Yes, now she has a ____ in a ____ .  I can hear you, humming to yourself.

Belle’s response to my arboreal embellishment was the archetypal teen’s determined-to-stay-cool non-reaction. Part of what made her non-plussment so genuine was that, in a very basic way, she truly didn’t “get it.” MH and I had to explain the Partridge family reference.  Seeing as how we are the Cretins Without Cable TV ® family, if Nick at Nite or whatever has the reruns, we’re out of luck.

“Maybe we can check Netflix?” I wondered aloud during dinner. “Or, we can probably find a song or two for her, probably on YouTube.”

Her looked at me askance as she shuffled the cards and passed the deck to her father.  MH dealt the next round of Thirteen[1] and said, with possibly the greatest forced nonchalance known to humanity, “I think there might be a Partridge Family album up in the attic.”

After 24 years of marriage, you think you know the man….

Earlier this week I received the preliminary copy of the Marketing Plan my publisher, Scarletta Press, has drawn up for The Mighty Quinn, my middle grade novel. Reviewing the plans was both an exciting and gut-churning, where are my blood pressure pills? task for me. Although I can be the life of the lunch table (or lefse party, as attentive readers will discover next week) I am a pathetic excuse for a self-horn-tooter.[2]  The readings and book signing appearances I’ve done for past publications have been ordeals for me.[3] Ah, but who knew that watching a Partridge Family video could be so reassuring? No matter what happens in any public appearance I may have to may be fortunate enough to make, I figure it is highly unlikely I’ll look or act as dorky as the Laurie Partridge character does when she mimes playing the keyboards by robotically flicking her wrists as if she’s trying to dislodge some exceedingly sticky boogers from her fingertips.[4]

*   *   *

“I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.” —President George W. Bush, at a White House menorah lighting ceremony, Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2001.

That was a truly historical stinker of a Presidential quote.  And (how’s this for a segue) some folks think any dish made with Brussels Sprouts is a stinker. Some folks are occasionally right, but mostly, they are wrong. This week, I had some leftover BS – whoa, the judge’s ruling says that acronym has got to go. This week, I had some leftover B sprouts (just lying around, you know, keeping the house safe from bed bugs and Libertarians), and came up with the following for Wednesday night’s dinner.

Let Them Eat (BS) Cakes
– 3 medium shallots, peeled, stemmed & halved
– Brussels sprouts (~ ¾ lb before trimming), stem ends trimmed, outer leaves removed
-3/4 c low fat ricotta cheese
– 2 eggs
-1 t baking powder
-sea salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
– 1 ½ t or more ground cumin (toasted and freshly ground, if possible)
– ½ c chickpea flour, plus more, if needed
-EVOO (extra v olive oil) or canola or grapeseed oil, plus cooking spray or oil-mist-thingy

1. Place sprouts & shallots in food processor, pulse until shredded, or until evidence of Brussels-sproutness is camouflaged.  You should have ~ 4 c of shreds.

2. Use a fork to mix ricotta, eggs, baking powder & spices in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add shredded B-sprouts and shallots to bowl, stir until incorporated.

4. Sprinkle chickpea flour into the bowl and stir.  Add more flour if necessary, 1T at a time, until you have the desired consistency.

5. What is the desired consistency? Reflect on this, for a sec. Perhaps recalling those petty but entertaining family spats over the inadequacy of the Thanksgiving gravy[5] will help.
5a. If you’re going the fritter route (ala pakora[6] style) and like using a bucket o’ oil in which to fry foods because you don’t give a bodybuilder’s ass[7] about your arteries, you’ll want the mixture more moist.
5b. For “cake” style (think crab cake texture) you want the mixture just moist enough to hold together but not so dry that it falls apart.

5c. there is no “c” option. Make up your mind.

6. Line a large platter with a piece of wax or parchment paper.  Using an oiled or sprayed measuring cup, or just your lightly oiled hands and keen sense of proportion, scoop out ¼ c of the mixture, form/press into cakes, and place on the platter. Place platter in frig and chill at least 20m or up to several hours.

7. When ready to fry ’em up, film a large cast iron pan[8] with oil, heat pan over medium for two minutes, then add cakes, flattening them with the back of a spatula.[9] Sauté 5-7 cakes at a time (depending on the size of your pan), for 3-4m each side, until browned. Spray or mist the tops of the cakes w/oil before you flip them (quickly remove the fry pan from stovetop; do the oil-spraying thing over the sink, never near an open flame, unless you support the Firefighters Full Employment Act).  When cakes are done transfer them to a clean platter and keep ’em toasty warm in the oven while you cook the remaining batch.

Served with heaping dollops of nonfat Greek yogurt thinned to a sauce-like consistency with a whole lotta lemon juice and spiced with a pinch or so of cayenne.

Dateline: the last weekend in October.  MH and I had driven up to Tacoma, to visit son K for the University of Puget Sound’s Homecoming/Parents/Alumni weekend revelry.  On Saturday morning, MH participated in the UPS 5k Fun Run while K partook of his idea of Saturday morning fun (sleeping in). I made my way to one of the campus’ cafes, where I sipped the foo-foo drink of the day (pumpkin spice chai; foo foo is sometimes quite yummers), listened to KUPS  and read the local (Tacoma & Seattle) alternative newspapers.

Skimming through the events section of Seattle’s The Stranger made me feel young again and older still, all at the same time.  We were headed back to Oregon on Sunday the 29th, which meant – damn! I would have to miss the Zombie Speed Dating event scheduled for the 30th:

“All (undead) singles 21-39 years old are welcome”…

Oh, never mind.  Zero for three.

Scanning the newspapers’ lists of upcoming gigs made me want to extend my visit for another weekend.  Surely, I thought, I could talk MH into driving up to Seattle see an amazing triple bill: the bands Bruce Willis’s Smirk and Septic Flesh opening for Bitch Magnet. Or we could trot on over to an adjacent club and catch their house band, Diarrhea Planet.  But wait—there’s more.  Across town the joints are jumping with the mellows sounds of Truckasauras, White Coward, Bigfoot Accelerator, Laff Hole….

In my college Days of Yore[10] I spent way too much time in my dorm’s lounge, allegedly taking study breaks, which oft-times consisted of my fellow dormies and I dreaming up band and/or song titles of our own. Composing clever band names was easier than actually forming a group or writing songs, and much more practical, given our utter lack of musical talent.

I’ve always had an attraction for song titles that are a story unto themselves. The much (and often rightfully) maligned Country-Western field arguably leads all other musical genres when it comes to evocative titles. “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” – with a title like that, you don’t even need to hear the lyrics, do you?  What I would have given[11] to have composed the inspirational choruses of:

– If My Nose Were Full of Nickels I’d Blow it All on You
– Help I’m White and I Can’t Get Down
– Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart
– Who Bit The Wart Off Grandma’s Nose?
– My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don’t Love Jesus
– The Pint of No Return

*   *   *

Twenty years ago, driving home from an yet another unnecessary errand I’d undertaken to keep me busy busy busy on the day I was expecting amniocentesis results,[12] I was aurally assaulted by my car’s radio. Good thing I’m not superstitious, or I might have considered it a bad omen when, two times in a row, I switched the channel because a station was playing my most detested kind of song (“Oh baby come back, I’ll be lower than worm dung if you leave me“), only to find that the subsequent channels were also out to get me.

There I was, driving on a public highway, yelling a How the hell should I know?  answer to Michael Bolton’s plaintive (read: screeching) rhetorical entreaty, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?

Okay; cleansing breath; punch the radio dial instead of the steering wheel.  Punch punch.  Oh yeah, just what the doctor ordered: Laura Branigan’s version of the same damn song.

Punch punch punchity-punch. No. This cannot be happening. I’d punched myself right into Harry Nilsson’s plaintive, wailing, “I can’t live/if living is without youuuuu…”  Once again I found myself smacking the steering wheel, this time screaming, “Excuuuuuuuse me, but if you can’t live without me then why are you still alive?”

As soon as I returned home I wrote down the lyrics that were swirling through my festered mind. I borrowed an electronic keyboard from a neighbor and painstakingly, one-fingeredly, came up with a suitable tune. I figure the subject matter cried out for a country-western, full-twang treatment; thus was begat my one and only foray into songwriting, the mercifully unrecorded[13], “If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead?”

Attention, Garth Brook’s manager:  if the Garth-man is looking for that next big hit to lure him out of retirement…[14]

And they say nobody writes love songs anymore.

Hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

[1]  A card game we often play at dinner. We’re the geeks at the restaurant who pull out the mini-deck of cards after the server has taken our order.

[2] That sounds like some vaguely naughty, self-abuse practice. Not the kind of thing to be mentioned in the same paragraph as a children’s novel. See? I told ya I sucked at self-promotion.

[3] I’m of the writers should be read and not seen school of thought. Not a good fit for the prevailing attitude that everyone should want to be a celebrity, or at least in the public eye, for their 15 minutes.

[4] I hope I’ve redeemed myself for the earlier quasi-sexual reference.  Boogers are kid-friendly!

[5]  Aunt Erva wanted you to make it soupier and Uncle Anus prefers it clam chowder thick.

[6] An Indian snack or appetizer of almost infinite variety, typically composed of shredded veggies dipped in a gram or chickpea flour batter and pan-or deep-fryed.

[7] Probably not any smaller than the average girly man’s tush, but the musclemen’s gigantamous torso and thighs do give that illusion.

[8] You’re not still using nonstick cookware, are you? That stuff will kill you. Or give you herpes, or shingles or axillary lymph node tumors, or club feet. Whatever you’re afraid of.

[9] I love that word. Spatula.

[10] insert The Waltons theme music.

[11]  Well, okay, not much.

[12] Procedure performed due to maternal age, rather than family history of genetic disease, disability or malformation. Unless you think a family tendency to deem The Lawrence Welk Show the height of entertainment qualifies as a disability (and I do). But they don’t have a test for that. Yet.

[13] So far.  Hey, the century is young.  Any takers?

[14] He just may have to keep on looking.