Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year's Message

I wish for everyone who reads this message a safe and happy 2009.

May the new year be rich in positive experiences, full of love and friendship, and overflowing with positive opportunities for you, your families, and all you hold dear.

And I hope all of us are able and willing to share our good fortunes, all year round, with people who are less fortunate but no less deserving than ourselves.

I wish goodness for everyone who's willing to give it in return.

Winding Down

Plans change and so do I. Yesterday, the plan for today was to go into Houston and explore. Instead, we wandered along backroads to Galveston.

After getting up very late (almost 9:00 am), we ate breakfast and decided to stay another night in the same motel, then head into Houston tomorrow. So, we set out toward Galveston. Along the way, we say considerable evidence of Hurricane Ike, from last September, though none as powerful as in Galveston proper. I took several photos that show the extent of the devastation; I'll post them here when I can hook up my camera to my computer to download images. Suffice it to say the storm was truly catastrophic. And the people who most needed, and still need, help in Galveston are the ones who FEMA somehow manages to ignore or forget.

We wandered all over Galveston, then settled on Joe's Seafood for lunch. It was a small place operated by an Asian couple; I don't know if they own it or not. The clientele appeared to me to be poor, but working, and was quite diverse; Black, Hispanic, White, etc., etc., etc. The oyster po-boys were excellent; I wanted to try the flounder and the shrimp, but I was too full and too concerned about my gluttony to do more.

Then, we headed southwest along the seawall, beyond Galveston proper, to an area where literaly hundreds of homes on stilts (telepone-pole-like posts) had been badly damaged. Photos later. Incredible damage; lots of people who once lived in those homes and others who are working on repairing them, but have no other place to live, are living out of travel trailers. It's a very strange scene.

On the way back, along the same road we took to get there, we came upon a place we'd noticed in the morning, the Bayview Duck Restaurant and Pub. We stopped in to see what it was like and to get, we hoped, a good beer. It was the right place! The guy who runs it is an Engishman who's very nice and accommodating. We asked about the English beers and he offered us samples of a couple he thought we'd like: a combo bitter and Newcastel ale (he calls it a Brown & Bitter) and another one that combines the Newcastle with something else that makes the resulting drink considerably sweeter. I opted not to get a combo, going instead for a Fullers ESB Bitter; my wife got the Brown & Better. We got a snack, too; fried, crab-stuffed jalapeno. Excellent place for a drink and a bite; I highly recommend it. To top it off, its decor is an eclectic mix of old wooden tables, bookcases, artwork featuring books, dark carved furnishings, photos and art of England, and well-worn chairs and tables. A great neighborhood spot.

Then, onward toward the motel. A brief respite there and we were off to an early dinner, aiming to go to a Mexican restaurant just a few blocks away, but deciding instead when we spied a Chinese restaurant to go there instead. We had a buffet dinner at Lee Palace at 6942 Garth Road. I cannot highly recommend it, but it's not bad and I have yet fallen victim to food poisoning, so it's still on the OK list.

Tomorrow, we'll head out before 10 am to my sister's in Houston, where we'll also meet up with a brother and a niece and nephew. We'll treat everyone to lunch (which we may have to bring in because of some medication my sister is on). Then, before it gets too late, we'll head back to Dallas where we have a week's worth of work to do before Monday.

If retirement is anything like this trip, I'm ready for it. The trip was not spectacular, but it was mostly relaxing and took my mind off work most of the time. That's a good thing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Southern Louisiana and So Forth

I seem to have lost track of space and time. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, I was getting ready for bed at the Hampton Inn in Natchitoches, Louisiana. It was December 28, a Sunday. The next morning, Monday the 29th, we opted to forego the "free" breakfast at the Hampton Inn and, instead, pay good money for a breakfast at the Huddle House, right across the parking lot. My wife asked for a pecan waffle, "extra crispy," which I gather is waffle house lingo for "completely cooked and toasted around the edges." The cook apparently was unfamiliar with the lingo, as he sent her a disk of batter cooked barely long enough for the waffle iron to leave its imprint. My "over medium" eggs were watery, but tolerable. I noticed something about the place that surprised me, but has since got me thinking there is a deeper reason than I initially believed: they had no Tabasco Sauce, not even any in back. "We have Cajun Chef hot sauce, sir," the waitress said. OK. So I ate my eggs with Cajun Chef.

Back to Huddle House. When I was a mere child, I remember eating at a place called Dobbs House, which could have been a twin of Huddle House. It was a diner style place, the entire exterior wall of which was glass. Formica counter, formica booths with formica-covered bench seats, stainless steel cooking utensils, etc. in plain view. Even their menu had its own special lingo, like the Waffle House of today. Somewhere along the line, I got the impression that Dobbs House and Huddle House were one in the same, or had been, or should have been. Somehow, I'm convinced they are related, in some way. Enough of my aside about the breakfast joint.

After breakfast, we went looking for the aquarium and fish hatchery, which we found in short order. We were among the only guests in days, judging from the guest book. There was no one there to greet guests, only a book and some photos and plaques about the fish hatchery (which is behind the aquarium but not available for a casual tour, it appeared). The aquarium had about 13-15 tanks with an assortment of interesting fish and a few reptiles, including an albino turtle that was doing its best to impregnate a snapping turtle as we walked by.

Next, we went wandering along the Cane River, taking note of some very nice homes right on the water, on both sides of the river. We noted that, on one side of the river, a growing subdivision looked like it could have been a lower middle class subdivision near Dallas. It was ugly and depressing to see a nice little town like Natchitoches sink into the suburban swill of Dallas and like cities. Those monstrous little brick cancers notwithstanding, the river area was very pretty, with enormous oak trees forming massive canopies above the roads.

Then, we went to a little scenic lookout on the river, a place complete with its own national park building (though I'll be damned if I remember the name of the park), made of sturdy logs and tastefully decorated to appear like an HGTV log home. The place was gorgeous and the scenery looking down on the river was just as attractive. There, we saw some courmorants and ducks and other such creatures. Nice viewing.

Before I forget, the only way we could fiew the birds was through our nice new binoculars (one pair for each of us) that we bought at the neighborhood WalMart.

By the time we got back to Natchitoches, it was time for lunch. We made our way to Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant on 2nd street, where we had a nice lunch. I had a nice sausage and chicken gumbo over rice, with a side of cornbread. My wife had an interesting Cajun chicken enchilada. We shared a single meat pie. The meat pie was interesting and tasty, but I cannot quite understand how it was successfully made into a local celebrity in terms of foodstuff. Good, but not great, I'd say. Success, though, trumps my personal opinion.

After lunch, we headed out of town, taking Highway 1 south toward New Iberia. Our plan had been to get to Avery Island that day, but we had dawdled a good bit and did so again on the drive, so we got only as far as New Iberia, where we spent the night in a Comfort Inn and Suites, which did not compare (in my opinion) to the beds of the previous two nights. We ended up having dinner at the Ruby Tuesday's next to the hotel and made a relatively early night of it.

This morning, we got up, had breakfast at the hotel (I had build-your-own waffles; my wife nibbled). We set out for Avery Island, only 5 miles or so away. We were looking forward to going to the place I had heard and read so much about. I was ansxious to see how Tabasco sauce was made and was looking forward to seeing the grounds around the factory.

We were greeted by a woman in her mid-forties who apologized several times for her hoarse voice; she things she is allergic to, of all things, Tabasco peppers. At any rate, she said, she was glad we (the group of 12-15 on the first tour) were there. She talked a bit, showed us an 8-minute movie about the history of the Tabasco brand and McIlhenny family, then directed us to walk down a corridor with glass on one side, looking into the factory area. Incidentally, this woman claimed to be a sugar cane producer; she said she had been in the sugar cane business for 21 years and, my later consideration would suggest, she was not very happy about serving the multibillionaire family down the road.

Watching the factory in operation was briefly interesting. The remaning museum-style information wasn't so exciting. So, off we went to the "country store" to see what they had for sale. Our guide earlier mentioned that there were several samples to taste, including chili, and advised us not to "double dip.'" We saw our guide in the store, where she continued to be pleasant. The other two women, not so much. Not at all. When our guide saw someone waiting at the counter to be checked out, she asked in a loud voice, "Are you waiting to be checked out?" The response was affirmative; "Someone will be with you in just a moment," she said. Neither of the other two staff bothered to look up. Our guide then say, very loudly, "Counter help needed up font!" One of the others, an older woman with a very sour face, said just as loudly, "I'm right here!. I'll be there in a second."

The experience continued. When we wanted to taste the chili, we waited around the area where the tasting materials were. The staff looked at us, walked on by, and continued to do stock the shelves. Finally, instead of spending $100 or so on Tabasco-related products, I opted instead to leave without spending a cent and, instead, recommend to anyone considering Tabasco brand think twice.

Remember earlier I mentioned that Huddle House didn't stock Tabasco? Well, our Tabasco guide commented a couple of times about how much (or little) the pepper pickers made when picking tabasco peppers; 50 cents a pound. She also commented in an odd way about how much money the McIlhennys have and how they recently closed the local school because not enough kids were attending.

I started wondering if there is a considerable dislike for the McIlhennys and their brand amoung Lousianans in general and people from around New Iberia and environs, in particular. Maybe there's nothing to it, but it seemed apparent to me that the company's brand would fairly SING at its own corporate store if they treated their people well and paid them a fair wage. The people at the store gave me just the opposite impression. So, until I learn differently, I say SCREW TABASCO BRAND PRODUCTS.

The rest of the day was spent driving west through hurricane-ravaged areas that still show open wounds from Rita and Ike. All along the coast we saw hundreds of abandoned buildings...businesses, homes, trailers, etc. We saw hundreds of demolished vehicles. It was an ugly sight. But we saw signs that recovery is on its way, though not quickly.

For lunch, we stopped at Abbeville, on the Vermillion River, and had lunch at a place called The Riverfront. We both had fried oysters, which were exceptionally good. For sides, my wife had fried sweet potatoes and cabbage & tasso, a very nicely flavored spiced cabbage with tiny but very flavorful chunks of sausage. My sides consisted of plain French fries and Macque Choux (pronounced mach shoo), which is kernels of corn, peppers, a little milk, and I'm not sure what else. It was not terribly good, but not bad. There are two other restaurants nearby that I would love to go to one day...I read a lot about them: Black's oyster bar and Shucks! oyster bar. We drove by them after we had lunch and they, too, were packed with people.

Today, I saw disconcerting signs that the business people who depend on customers for their livelihoods have learned their customer service skills from the McIlhennys. I really don't care whether, as the sign I saw today read, "Darly K's was the first store to reopen after Rita." What matters to me is that the counter help suggests the best thing for customers would be for Darly K to close forever and be replaced by a decent store.

As it was getting dark, we decided not to go all the way into Houston (my night vision is miserable), so we stopped for the night in Baytown, at the Hampton Inn. We didn't want to drive far, so we opted for dinner at El Toro, a local chain that, as it turns out, has excellent food. And here we are.

Tomorrow, we're going into Houston and wandering the city, then we'll get together with my sister the following day...New Year's Day. A brother will also be in town, so we'll see him, too, and if we're lucky my other brother who stopped communicating with me for no apparent reason may be there, too.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Riveting Vacation Stories

I'm following the plan, just more slowly than I planned. Tonight I'm at the Hampton Inn in Natchitoches. After lunch at the Mariner on the lake on the edge of Natchitoches (a beautiful place on the lake with great views...and a very nice, if expensive, buffet), I didnt' feel awfully well, so we decided we'd stay here for the we could check into a motel and I'd be able to take a nap.

After my 20 minute nap turned into an hour or more, we went wandering around the old historic downtown area, which is decorated for Christmas with extraordinary light displays and piped-in carols that fill the air. Lots of little antique stores, etc. around the riverfront street and, despite being very cool and rainy, it was a nice place to kick back and relax.

The day disappeared somehow. After darkness fell, we talked about where to have dinner. We ended up at Nicky's, a Mexican restaurant. The service was surprisingly bad; it's obvious to me the staff haven't been trained and, moreover, probably are not treated well. Lots of frowns, very rare smiles, poor service, forgetful waitstaff, etc., etc. But it was packed! I'd bet if they had competition with even moderately pleasant waitstaff, the competition would blow Nicky's away.

Tonight, I Am Legend was on HBO, so absent anything better, that was what we watched. My rating would be an F. Swill, pure and simple.

There you have it. Another day in the life of a vacationing crazy man.

Yes, We Have No Binoculars

The king size bed in the Hampton Inn was not what my back was after. After being unable to sleep most of the night, I awoke with a severely achy lower back and with an inability to move particularly well or fast.

Despite that ugliness, I got up and took a shower, which helped me feel better. Then, it was down to the "full breakfast" they offer here at the Hampton Inn. I envisioned cooking stations where experienced chefs would make eggs Benedict on order or Chinese omelets with congee and wildly exotic herbs and spices. I realized this was a fantasy vision, but I could hope. Instead, they served what I can only describe as twice-scrambled eggs, which was like scrambled eggs but the largest pieces were the sizes of small peas...sort of a scrambled eggmeal. Accompanying them were biscuits and gravy (actually, not half bad), cereals, yoghurt, bananas, apples, juices, and a nice-looking (but not nice-tasting) assortment of mild to "robust" coffees. They tried. Missing were breakfast meats of any kind, which I consider an offense against man and nature, and any attempt to assuage the hunger pangs of anyone other than deeply American travelers. I wanted to see something that might make Japanese travelers happy, but there was nothing.

Today, it's off to Natchitoches (which, my favorite wife told me, is known for its "meat pies"). There's no agenda, just driving and stopping when the mood strikes. My ultimate goal is to actually get the grand tour of the Tobasco Sauce operation at Avery Island, which may require another night nearby so we have a good part of the day to explore the area. I don't quite know what there is to buy there, other than Tobasco Sauce, but they may have unusual varieties that are not widely distributed, in which case I will almost certainly take some to try out. Tobasco is the only brand I would consider helping to promote by wearing its branded clothing; it's my equivalent to religion, I suppose, like wearing a necklace with a cross as some people do. And unlike religions, the Tobasco story is actually believable and based in fact.

Somewhere along the way, we'll find our way to wildlife refuges where we'll have to hope we can get up-close to the wildlife because, as I just realized, we forgot the binoculars! Dammit! We may have to buy another pair!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Devotion to the Hot Sauce Potion

Tonight, I sit at a desk in my motel room on the outskirts of Shreveport, Louisiana, thinking about today's accomplishments and looking forward to tomorrow.

I started the day later than I'm wont to do on weekends, but still before 7:15. A quick shower, removal of facial hair with a sharp instrument, and brushing of teeth all worked toward making me feel ready for the day.

Last night, I'd responded to a car salesman's lies by calling him on them and telling him that I found them, and him, reprehensible. But, I said, if he'd never again mention paint and upholstery protectorants and if he would cut $2000 off the jacked up price he gave me, I would likely buy his Honda CR-V. I gave him a deadeline of 9:00 am today but never heard from him. Such is life. The bastard will hear from me again, but this time it will be through the Attorney General's office, who will receive this criminal bastard's emails, which prove beyond any doubt that he was involved in "bait and switch," which I personally consider a capital offense. The state does not, of course, but it's not the state this motherfucker needs to worry about, is it?

Back to happier things. I'm in Shreveport. Left Dallas rather late, but still stopped for lunch in Terrell, a town not far east of Dallas. The Mexican Restaurant served swill, and served it badly, but it was non-poisonous, so I forgive them and so will not behead the staff and their families.

We pressed on and decided, again early, to stop in Shreveport. A Hampton Inn, overpriced but able to provide wireless Internet access, was a good selection, I thought, so here we are. Shortly after we arrived, we went for a drive looking for likely prospects for dinner. We found several places that would have served a starvig family whose members have no taste, but they did not meet with our approval. So, we went back to the motel and considered places "not" on the original list...places we drove by on our return to the motel, as we wandered through a decidedly "nonprosperous" part of town. As luck would have it, we hadn't bothered making notes of the names or locations of the places we'd passed by. But we went looking, after dark. The places had disappeared. So, after gnashing of teeth, Johnny's Pizza House was called upon to deliver one of its infamous "Sweep the Kitchen" pizzas, which included not only jalapenos but anchovies! And black olives and ground beef and Italian sausage and god knows what else. It was, unfortunately, not delightful, but it fed the weak and weary, which is all that counts.

Tomorrow, we'll head to Natchitoches (pronounced "Nack-i-tosh"), a place some magazines call one of the best places in the US to retire. Then, after we debunk that myth, we'll head to Avery Island, home of Tobasco Sauce, where I will bow and scrape and pay homage to the great ones who came before us and left us with a legacy of heat, and pain, and sweating necks, foreheads and tastebuds.

And then? Nobody knows. We'll eventually visit family in Houston and Falba, but we're not sure when. We may go south, first, to visit bird sanctuaries. But maybe not.

And I may buy a new car in an unusual place in Texas on our way back home. Or maybe not.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Thin Net

A friend I haven't talked to in years got me thinking today, with his email message to the masses who read his occasional diatribe.

Unlike him and others like him who have enormous sums of money to worry about in this tanking economy, I haven't reviewed my portfolio in months. I don't plan to, either. I just know it's ugly and it's getting uglier.

But ugly is a relative term. Ugly isn't so catastrophic to someone whose market losses amount to a few thousand dollars. Ugly is cataclysmic to others, who have lost or stand to lose many hundreds of thousands of dollars. My losses are painful and ugly but not catastrophic. If every penny I have in retirement (except for Social Security) were to disappear, I'd probably be able to eke out a life of desperate poverty, but I would not be likely to be homeless. I hope. I'd be uncomfortable and unhappy and bitter, but not homeless.

Not so my richer friend, I'm afraid. He may not be destitute, but he'd be in trouble. He'd have to worry about how to pay off his and his wfe's BMWs. He'd have to be concerned about the mortgages on their homes. He's semi-retired, but he lives like he's not. And that's the key. I live beyond my means, too. But my irrational spending could be stopped instantly without so much as a whisper; no more restaurant meals and cable TV and high-speed Internet access, and I'd have a zero balance on my credit card bills each month. Well, almost. Bothersome, but not ruinous. I hope.

So, I'm living a less "full" life than my friend, but he has a mighty price to pay for fullness. On the other hand, he has more to say, and that's not pretty.

He says, essentially: "It's not what you have and how much it hurts to lose it, it's what you keep that makes the loss so completely bearable. Because all the acquisitions are just moonshine. Your friends and family are what's important. Your bankers and brokers won't be by your side during the bad times; your friends and family will."

For me, the string of friends and family is very thin. And we're scattered everywhere. And there's no one close. So while the bad times, if they come, probably won't be disabling, they will be disheartening, because we've created such a thin net of family and friends to catch us if we fall.

My advice to myself in my youth: make and keep fast friends.

Pork Tamales on Christmas Eve

It's confirmed. It does not have to be a weekend day for me to pop up early; it only has to be a day when there's no requirement and no intent to go the office. Like today. Christmas day. I was awake hours ago, but didn't get up until around 6:00 a.m.

It wasn't the excitement of exchanging presents that had me up early, as we're not exchanging presents (the kitchen sink replacement and the new axle and rear struts on my car, at a combined cost of about $1700, took care of the "gift" part of Christmas). No, it's the simple fact that the day is mine. I am master of my own fraction of a year.

So, I got up, washed last night's dishes, and made a hellaciously strong pot of coffee, which is (as I type this) putting hair on my chest and causing me to actually feel the caffeine coursing through my veins.

Yesterday, we bought sausage kolaches for the office; this morning, I heated one of two leftover kolaches and decided warmed-over baked goods aren't very appealing. But strong coffee does help.

As is the tradition in my house, I made chile con queso (the lazy man's version, with Rotel tomatoes and white cheese), heated the tamales I bought last weekend, and chased that magic mixture with Tecate beer. The actual tradition would have had me create the chile con queso by chopping onions and peppers and opening cans of evaporated milk and tomato sauce and mixing lots of spices together and then slowly melting the cheese into that mixture in a pan on the cooktop. I've grown lazy in my old age, though, so the Rotel version is acceptable, though not nearly as tasty as the original.

In the "old" days, I would have found a little old Mexican woman who makes a few extra bucks for Christmas by hand-making and selling tamales, using a recipe handed down over the generations. Those tamales would have had the ideal mixture of pork and jalapeños and would have been flavored so perfectly that I would have sworn they contained magical powers. And I would have steamed the tamales for a good 15 minutes to allow them to reach the temperature and texture that made them the be-all, end-all of food. But last night, I nuked both the chile con queso and tamales in the magic microwave. Times change.

Merry Christmas, compadres!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Falba

Today was our staff Christmas lunch. We went out to a chain restaurant.

It was pretty special anyway. The "chain" was Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse where the "gaucho" servers slice off fabulous strips of top sirloin, botton sirloin, filet mignon, leg of lamb, chicken, sausage...I could go on. It was exceptional. We've never been to one of these places before...and I was impressed. It's not the sort of place I'd normally consider a target, but I have to admit it was some spectacular food. I probably won't be hungry until April 2010.

I even went so far as to have a dessert, a papaya cream, which apparently mixes papaya with ice cream. And I had an espresso, strong as an ox and served in a regular sized coffee cup that was like mainlining caffeine. Wow.

My staff seemed genuinely appreciative. And they were especially happy when I told them, later, that we would close the office at noon on Christms Eve. Hot damn!

And we won't reopen until January 5! My god, I could reposition my life by then and start a new business!

My favorite wife and I don't have specific plans for our time off. A visit to my sister in Houston on the day after XMas, probably, and a wander down the coast, but nothing in concrete. I'd like to go to Iceland, but that's probably out. Or Syracuse. Hmmm. Maybe Santiago, Chile. But probably just Falba, Texas and maybe a side trip to Galveston.

Monday, December 22, 2008

That's a Car? It Acts Like Rock Cocaine.

The good news is that my car, the 12-year-old Bastard (1997 Toyota Avalon), passed the state inspection this weekend. The bad new is that it should not have passed. I was the recipient of car-care pity.

I learned that the Bastard has "issues." Specifically, the front left drive axle needs to be replaced because of a blown 'boot' that's 'blowing grease.' And for only $275 this can be a problem of the past. Or, I could ignore it and risk a catastrophic failure and the attendant rolling and bouncing and explosion of the car as it bounced along on pavement after losing its ability to steer at some point. I'm allergic, so that's not an option.

It's not just the boot, though. There seems to be a serious oil leak, most likely coming from the main gasket on the oil pan. For only $47 they would have been willing to clean up the oil from the pan and then figure out where it's coming from. I delayed.

And, there seems to be a need for two rear struts. No cost yet; I'll find out in the morning when I visit a "Car Talk recommended garage. But knowing how goddamn loud the "crunch" noise is whenever I back out of my garage, turn a corner, or drive over a piece of gravel or a pea in a parking lot, I suspect it's serious and expensive.

So. Am I going to buy another car? Probably not. Why? The older I get, the more appalled I get at the price of or used. So, I'll probably throw more money at the Bastard until it regurgitates cash on me one day, when I will break out all its glass with an axe handle and scream at it until it melts into a whimpering puddle of steel at my feet.

Well, maybe I will buy another vehicle. I like the Bastard. I really do. But its increasingly expensive habit of mainlining my money is getting hard to swallow.

I don't know. Maybe I should challenge the Bastard to a duel.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Venison Stew

Tonight's venison stew was good! Here is the recipe I used, more or less (adapted from Lone Star Legacy Cookbook):

1 pound of venison, cut into bite-sized chunks, with all traces of fat and tendon removed
1/8 cup flour
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup hot water
2 cloves garlic, diced
Tabasco sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 medium onion ( I sliced it...should have been quartered)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
cayenne pepper, to taste
2 carrots, peeled, halved, and cut into chunks
1 parsnip, peeled, halved, and cut into chunks
2 small Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

First, clean and cut the venison, then soak it for about 2 hours in water with about 3 tablespoons of vinegar; then rinse thoroughly. Dredge meat in flour and brown it, in a large Dutch oven, in the bacon drippings. Add hot water, wine, garlic, parsley, thyme, basil, marjoram, onion, salt, and pepper. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and let it cook for about two hours (check occasionally and add water if needed). Then, add the carrots, parsnip, and potatoes and let is simmer for another hour.

What I would have done differently:
Add more wine about 30 minutes before the stew is ready to serve...maybe 1/4 cup.
Add a bit of flour to thicken the broth as it's close to serving time if the liquid isn't thick enough. Try some additional veggies (and don't slice the onion) like, perhaps, turnips, maybe some winter squash, etc. Also, more of the veggies...could have used more carrots and another parsnip or two.

The venison was tasty and tender, with not even a hint of gamey taste. It's amazingly lean, so I could probably get away with eating twice what I actually ate...which makes me think I should go re-heat the leftovers.

Reality Stew

It may not seem like much to people who are used to bitterly cold weather, but to me, the 24 degree temperature in Dallas right now is a horrible thing. I'm afraid my plans to trim some already freeze-damaged plants will be delayed yet again, thanks to these frigid temperatures.

When I woke up early this morning, I could tell the arctic front had swept through with its full force. My teeth were chattering and I got a charlie horse in my legs with every movement, something that happens to me when I'm very cold. Lest you think I've been forced to sleep outdoors, let me disabuse you of that notion; I slept in a warm bed. But I like the temperature to be cool when I sleep, so I had set the thermostat down last night to accommodate my desire. Despite the fact that the thermometer reads a balmy 65 degrees in the house, I know otherwise.

A hot shower, a shave, and a pot of strong black coffee have given me an entirely different perspective on the day. That's good, because in spite of my expectation that I would stay indoors to weather this cold snap, I realized yesterday that I still have not bought any Christmas tamales. I must have pork and jalapeño tamales on Christmas eve or the world will spin off its axis. So, with good fortune, the Dallas Tortilla Factory (which sells good pork and jalapeño tamales) will be open today and, just as importantly, will have at least a dozen tamales to sell. I'm all set on the other Christmas eve staple, chile con queso.

Speaking of food, yesterday was a good day for good food. I made a spicy Indian dish that combines and modifies several recipes I've read and watched play out online lately. I started out planning to make gobi Manchurian (a cauliflower dish that pairs Indian and Chinese food). But, I didn't have enough flour of the right types, so I adjusted my plans. Instead, I made a cauliflower, eggplant, and tomato dish into which I loaded a massive amount of mixed spices that approximated the spice mixture I use in my Chana Dal/Tomato, Garbanzo Soup. Served over basmati rice, it was wonderfully good. I'll ,call my new dish Ghobi, Baigan, & Tamatar Stew with Chavul. Now, I wonder if that's actually a reasonable use of those words?

And more on food. This evening, I'll make venison stew. This afternoon I'll spend time preparing the meat (removing tendons and fat, etc. and soaking in vinegar and water), then braise the meat, add veggies, and wait for the stew to become reality.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Money

I've been reading and hearing about horrendous weather conditions throughout the northwest, north central states, and the northeast. For all of you who are dealing with this miserable weather, good luck...stay indoors, if you can, and try to stay warm. I think of the people who have no homes to go to in this godawful weather and I feel too fortunate.

I'm not giving any gifts this year for Christmas. I couldn't, not in good conscience. My money is needed elsewhere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


  • A new client is, indeed, insolvent. Yet I've agreed to try to turn that around. But I have not agreed to work for free. I made it abundantly clear that I expect to be paid. We'll see.
  • Another new client is much, much more active than I thought...meetings of one kind or another at least monthly, sometimes several times in a assessment of the hours I estimated to spend is in order.
  • I've been eating either canned soup or boxed noodles (the microwave variety, complete with packets of seasonings, etc.) for lunch. I prefer this stuff to my typical sliced deli meats and mounds of chopped tomatoes. At least for now.
  • I'm planning my very limited travels for next year, or trying to. So far, my only business trips look like Houston, Austin, San Antonio (see a Texas theme going?) and Washington, DC, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. This could change, of course. And almost certainly will.
  • Enough bullets for now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Am I a Pantheist?

It's too close to Christmas. I'm not a Christmas fan, but there are feelings there that I can't deny. But those feelings don't address the spirituality of Christmas. They address the spirituality of human relationships. I read something this weekend that made me question whether I'm actually an atheist or a pantheist. Hmm. In any event, human relationships come into sharper focus this time of year. Whatever the reason, they just do.

Only Time

There is no reason you should understand, at the moment, why I'm going to write this, but you will eventually, if you continue to read this blog. You see, I'm not writing it for this blog, I'm writing it for a blog that I'll share with a fellow blogger. We're going to collaborate on a story. At some point, when you're older and able to understand these things, I'll explain it to you. In the interim, you may find that I write odd things that are irrelevant to anything else you read here. Well, when you see that, you'll know I'm capturing something for my blog collaboration or I'm slipping into perpetual dementia. Only time will tell.

His trademark expression was "It's a fucking pleasure!" He used it the way others would say "Thank you." But it was much more than that. He emphasized the first syllable of pleasure; that was how listeners could differentiate between his outbursts of anger and his honest expressions of appreciation. Or, at least, that's the way it used to be. The fact that he wore sunglasses whose lenses were damn near black helped confound the meaning. "Pleasure!" It sounded fake, but with him, it probably wasn't. He meant something by it. Oh, it fit his persona, but it really meant something. The question, of course, was: "What?" Dammit, I wish I'd asked him before he got on the goddamn train!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Let the Saw Do the Work

As I posted a comment on another blog this evening, I realized that my father often called me "Son," instead of calling me by my name. It seemed natural; still does. As I said to my blogger friend, whenever I see an old-fashioned brace and bit, I remember may dad teaching me how to use it. He taught me a lot about using tools, though I've probably forgotten the majority of what he taught me, since I don't use those tools very often.

I never even approached his level of skill on some of the simplest tools. I still can't make a 90-degree cut using a cross-cut saw. I remember him telling me how to use a saw, repeating to me over and over again, "Son, let the saw do the work." I tried to push harder and deeper to cut through the board, but it didn't work. But then he'd demonstrate to me how to use the saw and it appeared to me that he went through it like butter. "See? Let the saw do the work. Don't push down so hard, let the saw do the cutting for you, Son."

I wonder why he didn't call me by my name? I suspect it was because he didn't want to permanently scar me by running through the entire list of all my brothers' and sisters' names the way my mother did...and the way some of my siblings still do. Or, by the time he got to me, number six child, he'd simply gotten confused over which one was named what.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Give the Dog a Bone

When I'm not working (and when I'm not bitching about working too much), here's what I do. I come up with names for dishes that I envision serving in my fantasy restaurant. My fantasy restaurant is going to be a small place, with space inside to sit and eat and a large tin-roofed, covered area outside for dining alfresco. I'll serve food that people can eat in or take home. My place will be a very large, very strange hot-dog stand. Maybe I'll call my place something like Dog Chow or Dog Food.

One of the dishes I'll serve will be an over-sized hot dog on an oversized bun, stuffed to overflowing with mustard and sauerkraut. I'll call it the Alpha Dog.

The hot dog that's wrapped in a very large tortilla that's folded over itself so that it looks wrinkled (and is stuffed with Chinese cabbage, Chinese mustard, and other such delectables), will be called the Shar-pei.

The kiddie-sized version of the hot dog, which will be an under-sized weiner in an under-sized bun, will be called the...Puppy Dog.

The Police Dog will be advertised on the menu as being a "regular hot dog with a donut chaser (sorry, officer, just kidding). " The Deputy Dog will be the same.

My hot dog that's made with rice, bamboo shoots, nori, and rice wine will be the Akita Dog.

The hot dog with the 100% chicken weiner will be the Bird Dog.

The regular hot dog with vodka-mustard will be called Hair of the Dog.

The vegetarian version, made with tofu or paneer, will be called the Not Dog.

The Sheep Dog will be made from a lamb-based weiner served on pita bread with yogurt sauce and spices.

The hot dog served on a bun that's laced with jalapenos and habanero peppers will be either the Rabid Dog or the Snarling Dog.

My down home dog, topped with black-eyed peas and collard greens will either be called the Snoop Dog or the Soul Dog.

As I said, my place will be either for eat-in or to take out. So, when people enter, they'll see a sign that will direct them to one side for eat in (Sit & Stay) or the other side for take out (Fetch).

If I build a second level to my outdoor eating area, I'll invite people upstairs to have a Dog on a Hot Tin Roof.

Wednesday's will be specials, because we'll sell 3 hot dogs for the price of two; I'll call Wednesdays Three Dog Night.

If my place gets busy enough so that I have to give people numbers that we'll call when their order is ready, I won't give them receipts with numbers, I'll give them Dog Tags.

Outside, if he health department permits, I'll let people bring their own dogs on certain days of the week (Dog Days). We'll even have something special for the real dogs on those days, maybe an odd mixture of leftovers, Iams, Purina, etc. we'll call Dog's Breakfast.

We may have a section of the restaurant where people can sit back with their meal, relax, and read a book. We'll call it the Dog Ear section.

Oh, we'll have a Chicago Dog and a Corn Dog and a Kansas City Dog and a NYC Dog and a Coney Dog, of course, but we'll pride ourselves on being a wildly diverse, oddly perverse, totally crazy place. It will be fun. More fun than I have today in this Dog Eat Dog world I'm living in.

I'm still working on how to work in Bitch, Barking Dog, Bulldog, Dog Bite, Dog Meat, Dog Collar, and a hundred other words and phrases.

Do not steal this idea, please, lest I let Lassie the Dangerous Dog loose on you, turning you into Dog Meat.

You may think I'm not serious about this. Believe it or not, I'd love to make this happen. And maybe I will.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Insolvent Client

I've decided not to celebrate new clients, from here on, until I have vetted them a bit better than simply looking at the Statement of Financial Position they provide..."it's a few months old, but we don't have anything more recent." The reason: twice, now, the brand new client has been utterly insolvent...can't even pay us, much less its hotel bill for its recent conference. The last one to come in that way was shown the door three years later...but by that time we'd gotten them back on their feet and they were on solid footing, financially.

But now...I'm not sure I have the stomach for it again. Our two new clients may quickly become just one new client.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Stupid. It Stings.

I did it to myself. I knew that the Christmas season was the only time of year I could reasonably take off a solid week without guilt or too much of a backlog. But I signed on two new clients, anyway, right at the end of the year. This is on top of having some serious delays on another client, putting a huge amount of work on our plates right not.

But, looking at the good side, we've replaced the 25% cut in fees from one client, and then some. So, we're back to where we started, and a little better, financially (probably very temporarily, though), with only 2200 hours per year of more work. Hmmmm. That sounds like the stupid. And the stings.

With apologies to whoever came up with something similar that I read about not too long ago, but which my aging brain cannot recall in detail.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Church Service

I spent about an hour today in a Methodist church, the first time in many, many, many years. There were at least a couple of hundred people there, mostly teenagers, to pay respects to a boy who died just a few days ago at age sixteen. His body will be cremated, I'm told.

A girl who I'd guess was about 15 or 16 sat in the pew in front of me, between her mother and her father, with her much younger brother next to the mother. The girl wept during the entire service, tears streaming down her face and then building up in her eyes again and then again rushing down her cheeks and onto her blouse. Her mother and father tried to comfort her but it was no use. She was in pain and there was nothing anyone could do. Her sobbing only occasionally became noticeable to the ear; I think I may have been one of the few people to see her sobbing.

That girl in the pew in front of me was the only person I saw who seemed to be so utterly torn apart by the boy's death. I'm sure the parents were even more grief-stricken, but the girl was so close to me I could feel her sobs.

I've never had much use for churches, but I can see how some people can find comfort there. They want to believe a life is not over, that it's just beginning; the church and its teachings fill that want. They want to believe there was a purpose in a life taken early; the church lets them believe it. They want some greater power to give them hope in a time that's so very, very dark and ugly; the church encourages them to have hope.

When I saw that girl sobbing in front of me, I would have liked to have been able to offer her some comfort.

It's that sort of experience that makes me get angry with myself when I feel like confronting deeply religious people with a challenge to their beliefs. Who are they hurting with their beliefs?

So, in that solemn place where so many people were seeking solace, I chose to be forgiving and understanding of what I consider to be their delusions. And in that place, I think those people would have been forgiving of what they would have considered mine.

A Few Photos

OK, I'm ready to post some photos. A couple of photos of part of this morning's breakfast from The Mecca Restaurant. The plate that the cinnamon roll is on is a dinner plate....the roll is huge. A shot of my brother's neighbor and neighbor's girlfriend and the mountain man himself.

Normal Sunday Routine

This is more like it. It's 5:15 a.m. and I've been awake for quite some time. My allergies or whatever are causing my sinuses to be completely blocked can take some of the credit for the fact that I'm an early riser today.

I got a good night's sleep for a change. I fell asleep while watching Charlie Wilson's War and then decided to make my bedtime official just as the credits were rolling. I'll have to watch it again; I was enjoying it while I was awake.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Relative Value of Sleep and Certain Work

It's cold outside. Not the sort of cold that calls for sweaters and light jackets. No, it's the sort of cold that makes me shiver almost to convulsion. It's only 31 degrees, but it's evil cold, the kind of cold that normally does not come with temperatures so warm. I don't know how it happened, but it did. And I'm inside, sneezing, barring the doors against this freakish evil cold.

Our kitchen is now outfitted with a brand-new stainless steel sink, a shiny new faucet, and a new plywood base under the sink, a replacement for the rotted pressed-wood that succumbed to the silent, secret, drip...drip...drip of a badly corroded faucet. This seemingly-small-time fix-up was a nightmare of expense. But it's behind us now; now, I can go back to plotting how I can print earn enough money to build a place in the country. Hell, the place could be in the city, it would just have to be large enough and private enough to make it seem like the country. Such places can be had in Dallas. I just cannot afforrd them. George Bush can. Which is another reason to look out side Dallas.

It's late again, for me, on a Saturday morning. I've only been up for 20 minutes or so and it's approaching 8:00 am. I hate it when that happens. I feel like I've missed a key part of the day; it's so late now that it would be a waste of my time to make coffee because I'd be tempted to stay here and drink it and that would throwing away good weekend time! Damn, I may need to start using an alarm clock on weekends if this late-awakening doesn't stop of its own accord!

But wait, if it's freakish cold outside, what am I to do? Oh, no, I just realized, I do have to go out today. I have to go to the office to get some work done. THAT's why I didn't wake up earlier; my subconscious mind continues to assign value and worth to my work and measures that value and worth by causing more sleep.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Different Perspective

I got a call this morning from someone I know, but not terribly well, someone involved in my business. When I picked up the phone and heard her start to speak, I could tell something was wrong. Her words came haltingly and she seemed unable to complete a sentence. To hear this business associate sound so odd was confusing to me, until she reached the point of the phone call: "My sixteen year old son committed suicide last night."

I was stunned and expressed my sorrow at the news but my expression could never have been enough to help her deal with such a horrific reality. I promised to get the word out to her colleagues and she said she would be back in touch when she was able to give me more information. The experience of talking with someone who is so freshly devastated by the worst news they possibly could have gotten...what can I say to describe shook me.

When I called each of the ten or so people I told her I'd call for her, I had a hard time keeping my own voice from cracking.

Today, my problems seem remarkably small and petty.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Apologist for No One

As I was returning from my one-day visit to see my brother in Falba, I listened to the radio in my car. When I got to the south side of Dallas, I abandoned a fading radio station to see what else was on the dial. I stopped punching the "search" button when I got to a station that was broadcasting what I assumed was Indian or Pakistani music. As each musical piece ended, the female host of the program spoke, expressing regret, condolences, and anger in connection with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

During one of her sets of comments, which split mid-sentence between Hindi or Urdu or something and English, she said she was Pakistani and she encouraged listeners not to blame all Pakistanis for the terrorist attacks.

That was a sad thing to hear. The poor woman had to encourage listeners not to blame and her fellow countrymen for a terrorist attack. She had to apologize for something in which she was uninvolved.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate for us to express our sympathy for her, than for her to express her unnecessary apology for something she didn't do?

Bad Monday!

Returning to work today was like jumping into a boiling bath of vinegar and salt. Bad Monday!