Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stuffed Photo of a Pepper...or Vice Versa

Here's a photo of tonight's dinner. The stuffed peppers. Or, I should say, a single stuffed pepper I cut in half. The rest are gone.

Backyard Flora, Flood, and Fowl

Below are photos from today's exploits:
1) The flora hanging from the soffit seen through the large center pane of glass;
2) The flood of the fountain that I fixed (unavoidable alliteration);
3) A bird that is in the process of building a nest in a birdhouse that is hidden by the post to the right in the second photo (but the pole on which birdhouse sits is visible above the rear quarter of the bird);
4) Dragonflies that found a home in our garden and that became our pets;
5) Another fountain shot, from the outside looking in (at the reflections in the window);
6) Raul Rabbit, another of our pets;
7) A shot of the birdhouse, which is now chock-full of a bird family; and
8) Matilda the Duck, our most recently procured pet.

Meatless Stuffed Peppers, Paddy Paws, and Raw Meat Snacks

I shouldn't post this before I try the final product, but today I'm throwing caution to the wind.

I arose reasonably early today and made tonight's dinner, which will consist principally of meatless stuffed red bell peppers. Here's how I created this...100% original recipe:

Saute the following in olive oil:
  • 8 ounces baby Bella mushrooms (probably any decent mushrooms would do), finely chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium-sized yellow crook-neck squash finely chopped

  • Cook 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups water (boil, then reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes)
  • Cut off tops, remove seeds, and parboil four large red peppers (bell peppers) for about 5 minutes in salted water, then remove and drain

    After quinoa is cooked...
  • Mix quinoa with the mushroom/onion/squash mixture and add about 3 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese plus one can of Rotel tomatoes
  • Heat the above mixture on low until the cheese is melted and mixed through
  • Stuff the peppers with the mixture and place peppers upright in a lightly-buttered high-sided baking dish (small enough to just accommodate the stuffed peppers standing upright, with a little space between them)
  • Surround stuffed peppers with remaning quinoa mixture

    OK, dinner is ready for the final step tonight, which will be to put the baking dish in the oven at about 350 degrees for fifteen minutes or so...long enough to heat everything through and through and finish cooking the peppers.

    I will, of course, probably add some Tabasco sauce to mine, though the Rotel tomatoes might add sufficient zing to make that unnecessary.

    After getting that done, I washed all the dishes and ran a load in the dishwasher, then Internetted for awhile, where I was intrigued by a reference to pedi-paws. The pedi-paws reference made me think back to my childhood when I remember my mother making reference to something like that. I queried brothers and sisters via email and quickly got three replies, all of which ultimately reinforced, but corrected, my memory. It was paddy paws and it did, indeed, refer to hands. Upon more recollection, more is coming back to me.

    When my mother was in the kitchen cooking something, the ingredients for which I particularly liked, I would sneak a pinch and eat it. I remember one of those times, vaguely, when I snatched a piece of raw round steak (or some sort of raw beef) and she said, "Get your paddy paws out of there! It will give you worms!" I loved raw beef even as a youngster.
  • Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Persepolis: I Approve

    Tonight, my wife and I finally watched Persepolis, a video from Netflix that we've had around the house for weeks, if not months. Here's how IMDB describes the film:
    In 1970s Iran, Marjane 'Marji' Statrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah's defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However as Marji grows up, she witnesses first hand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny on its own. With Marji dangerously refusing to remain silent at this injustice, her parents send her abroad to Vienna to study for a better life. However, this change proves an equally difficult trial with the young woman finding herself in a different culture loaded with abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. Even when she returns home, Marji finds that both she and homeland have changed too much and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs.

    This animated film was, in my view extraordinary. It's not common for an animated film to cause my eyes to leak; this one did and I cannot tell you how much that pisses me off. Watch this film. You will be glad you did.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Periodic Gluttony is Good for My Attitude

    Grilled monster zuccini (on the left...the size of a car), sliced tomatoes, sliced avocados drizzled with fresh lime juice, pinto beans in ranch sauce flavored with sliced jalapeños, grilled strips of pork with my barbeque sauce (jazzed up tonight with pomegranate syrup), and charred jalapeños (and they were giants, too). Click on the photo to enlarge to incomprehensible size. Just a typical Monday meal for my favorite wife and me. I cooked tonight. Tomorrow, it's her turn again. Last night was her turn, too, when she made fantastic steak & kidney pie; but no photos.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Cheap Threads

    I needed another suit, one that does not show signs of a long life at the hands of an abusive someone who loathes to wear suits and who has ignored good eating habits for far too long. I need this suit because I have an obligation, soon, that will require me to wear one, despite my misgivings.

    Now, as much as I know it's a good thing to have a decent suit to wear, I also know that I find the price of men's clothing to be ridiculously high. The suits that I find attractive and "wearable" (when I can find them that will, with significant surgical effort by a master tailor with magical talents, fit me) run $600 or more...sometimes much more. So, I went on a quest to find a suit that would meet my needs and would not cause me to rant about corporate greed.

    It didn't take long. I visited a store just a few miles from my house, in a perfectly respectable shopping center, and found what I was looking for. ReThreads claims to have been in business for 30 years. It's been at its present location for as long as I've been in Dallas proper (as far as I know) least 12 years. I bought a black suit with grey pinstripes for $96 plus tax. It will cost $30 for alterations, so for $135 or thereabouts, I will have a nice suit to wear.

    I bought a couple of sweaters there a year or two ago, as well. If memory serves, I paid about $15 each for sweaters that easily would have cost $90 or more, each, new. If I were truly smart and willing to look harder, I suspect I could have found a suit for even less at Goodwill or another charitable organization's retail store.

    Back when I wore suits every day, I always bought new suits. In fact, I still buy most clothes new. It's just this most recent suit and those two sweaters that I bought "used." But I think I will start doing this more often. When I think back at how many suits I bought for $200-$600 and later discarded (actually, gave to Goodwill), it stuns me. And when I don't buy "re-threads," I will buy cheap, like t-shirts from Target. They're all made in India or Pakistan or China anyway, so why buy an expensive "name" garment when one priced at 15% of the higher-priced one will do?

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Pizza Party + Cohen Apparel

    First, here's my Leonard Cohen 2009 world tour t-shirt. Striking, yes?

    Friday nights sometimes call for blatant expressions of laziness. So it was last night. My wife and I arrived home from work at a very respectable 5:30 pm. But even though it was an early hour, we were famished. My wife suggested a frozen pizza, to which I readily agreed. As tasty as DiGiorno frozen pizzas are (we always buy the Supreme versions, with sausage and pepperoni, etc.,) they are a far cry from "made from scratch" pizzas, so we doctor them up a bit.

    Here are some of last night's "doctoring" ingredients: tomatoes and jalapeños. If it weren't for the fact that we were home, we had no interest in going to the store, and my creativity was on holiday last night, to boot, we might have jazzed up the pizza even more. I would have liked to have added some sliced green and red peppers, some sliced onions, and perhaps some fresh oregano leaves, torn and scattered about the pizza. But, no, the tomatoes and jalapeños were sufficient; if we were going to have a cheap pizza, by God, I wanted it to be cheap and I wanted it not to require effort and travel to the grocery store on my part.

    But a cheap, unremarkable pizza deserves some cheap, unremarkable wine, doesn't it? Of course it does! And we just happened to have a nice, cheap bottle of Rex Goliath shiraz on hand. So we added to the festivities by opening it. I've seen Rex Goliath in a few places, but the only place I can dependably remember where I can buy it is World Market. I think it's usually about $7 a bottle. Despite being a touch sweet and overly full of fruity flavors, it's a nice acommpaniment to a cheap pizza.

    So there you have it: we combined frozen pizza, tomatoes, jalapeños, and a bottle of cheap wine to make a nice Friday evening meal. And where, you wonder, are the photos of the pizza? I didn't take any. You wanted me to take pictures of a frozen pizza after it was cooked? Look at the box, next time you're in a store! But as compensation for the lack of pizza photos, which I know you wanted to see, here are some grapefruit and a poor little clementine almost hidden by it big brothers.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    29th Anniversary Dinner

    Yesterday was my 29th anniversary! Wow, that's a pretty impressive number. To celebrate, my wife and I went to the same restaurant we visited for her birthday last year (yesterday's visit was her idea).

    The restaurant, Bijoux, is spectacularly good and stunningly expensive. But, you only get one 29th anniversary, so we put on the dog in a big way. Here's what we ate:

    Complementary demitasse cup of corn chowder to whet the appetite
    Pan seared prawn as the starter
    Pan seared scallops with spicy polenta as the entre
    Duo of bleau cheese (an exceptionally wonderful Maytag and another one...don't recall what)

    My Favorite Wife
    Complementary demitasse cup of corn chowder to whet the appetite
    Parsnip soup with red beet gelée and Spanish olive oil as the starter
    Roasted salmon with a delicious sauce and some interesting, if odd, foams
    Dessert...which utterly escapes me as I write this

    We bought a bottle of 2006 Château de Parenchère Sauvignon Blanc to go with the meal, a very rare treat for us (we usually do wine by the glass if we have any at all with a restaurant meal).

    The restaurant also gives diners little delights like palette cleansers (like blood orange gelato and a smooth, light colored gelato that was fabulous though I don't know what it was.

    The finished off the dinner with a couple of glasses of champagne in celebration of our anniversary, and then a plate full of seven tiny dessert snacks.

    The meal cost a small fortune, but it was worth every penny, just like our marriage.

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Crippled Rabbits and Soon-to-be-Crippled Dell Computers

    Today is Easter. This is, of course, highly important to me because I dream of becoming a practicing magician who pulls rabbits out of his hat. Until then, I can be satisfied with Easter in other, simpler ways. Like viewing the Easter card my wife sent to her sister.

    On the card is an artistic image of a little girl, perhaps 5 years old, her back to the card-viewer. Sitting next to her is her cat. The little girl is saying aloud, "I hope the Easter Bunny has lots of chocolate Easter eggs for me." The cat's thoughts are shown in a little voice-bubble over his head: "I hope he has a limp."

    Yesterday was "It's Appropriate to Hate Dell Computers Day." It became "It's Appropriate to Hate Dell Computers Day" when I logged into my account to check into why my notebook computer had not arrived (I ordered it almost a month ago). When I logged on, I discovered that the order had been cancelled on March 20. This is the second order that was cancelled on me without any emails, no phone calls, nothing. The first cancelled order, a flat-screen monitor that was on sale, was cancelled for reasons unknown and they refused to give me the sale price if I re-ordered it...I declined. Back to yesterday...

    I called Dell's customer service hotline and spoke to at least four people, all of whom were highly apologetic but all of whom assured me I HAD been notified, both by email and by telephone. The reason? "The order was going to be delayed; if it is going to be delayed, we must have your approval, otherwise we will cancel the order. They INSISTED I had received both email and a phone call. I assured them that, no, I had not received any email (I checked while they were on the phone...I have several emails from Dell, including order confirmation and later an estimated shipping date, but no cancellation email). And, of course, if I had spoken with Dell, I am relatively sure I would have remembered it.

    Bottom line, Dell apologized and said the only thing that could be done was for me to call when their sales department was open and reorder. How about the sales department call me, I asked? How about putting the onus on them? No, Dell says, they cannot make that happen. Their policies prevent it. I explain to Dell that they can go fuck themselves and, moreover, they can expect me to tell the world about my experience with them. This is the opening volley of what I assure you will become a MASSIVE campaign to encourage the world in joining me in doing all within our power to PUNISH Dell for its abysmal operations and its utter lack of customer service orientation. I think it only appropriate on this day to say that I plan to nail Dell to the cross...and do my best to see to it that it stays there and doesn't come back to try to rip me off again.

    While you're at it, forward this link to everyone you know:

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Leonard Cohen--Live in London


    A Thousand Kisses Deep

    Single Rabbit, Double Dog

    It's a bad photo, taken (several days ago) toward the setting sun, through coated glass. But it's the best I could do at the time. The rabbit munched happily on my back yard grass for quite some time. He (she?) did not seem to mind the bizarre light reflecting from our bedroom windows back onto the fence and the two old windows I hung there (next to the metal sculpture of a saguaro cactus). Those windows and that sculpture may one day form the focal points for an outdoor beer-drinking room. Everyone should have one of those.

    And this was today's lunch. My version, anyway. My wife eschewed my offer to make her a Chicago-style hot dog, complete with bright green relish, mustard, sport peppers, tomato wedges, onions, a dill pickle spear, and celery salt. She said she would make her own "plain" version a little later. Hah! She is only fooling herself; no one could prefer a plain dog to an Alpha Dog!

    A Long Relaxing Drive and a Bad Highway Accident

    Yesterday, my wife and I decided to take another long drive. We left a little after 10:00 am, so it was a bit of a late start. Our destination was irrelevant to us, so we let the car decide. Apparently, the Bastard likes certain parts of northeast Texas, so it drifted northeast from Dallas, taking the back roads of Dallas County and getting only as far as eastern Collin County (adjacent to Dallas County) by about 11:30.

    As we were passing through the tiny community of Blue Ridge, my wife sensed a "downtown" area. She loves to look at the tiny downtown areas of towns that once attempted to grow up and be big towns and she sensed that Blue Ridge might have a downtown. So, I followed her directions and made a right at the light, then an immediate right at the next street and, bam, there we were outside of Cattleman's Cafe. There were many cars and trucks parked outside the place, so we decided to give it a try for lunch.

    Tiny is a good description of Cattleman's Cafe. There are probably only ten tables in the place and three or four booths. We spotted a booth and seated ourselves. Two older ladies (lots of grey hair, anyway) acknowledged us and brought us menus in short order. As I'd expect, chicken fried steak was prominently featured on the menu and, in fact, the menu claimed that D Magazine had once awarded the "Best of Dallas Award" to its chicken fried steak. So, both of us decided to give it a shot. I'd give it a 6 on a 10-point scale, which is pretty competitive with most places that serve CFS. The batter was too thick and not crispy enough, making it a bit doughy, but it was tasty. I suspect the place was given an award because it looks like the kind of place you'd hope would serve the real thing. The people were generally nice, but I think the near-Dallas location has taken its toll; there was not a true country hospitality about the place and the people. All in all, though, I'd go back.

    From Blue Ridge, we headed east and north, taking in the sites of Wolfe City (Hunt County), Ladonia (Fannin Country), Pecan Gap (also in Fannin County), and Roxton (in Lamar County), which is only about 18 miles from Paris, Texas.

    By mid-afternoon, we found ourselves in Cooper, Texas (Delta County). As usual, my wife directed me to circle the town square (where, in the middle, sits a huge gazebo instead of a courthouse) so we could get a sense of what the place was like. Almost immediately a sign advertising home-made ice cream caught my eye and I asked my wife (knowing the answer before I asked the question) if she'd like to stop and get some. We parked in front of Miller's Drugstore and went inside to investigate. An older woman, probably in her mid to late seventies, was the only person in the place, other than a young woman and her daughter who were served and left right after we walked in. The woman was talkative and more than willing to share that Miller's had been there since 1930, but the building had been there since 1919, she said. My wife ordered a cherry phosphate and I had a root beer float. The woman chatted with us as she made them, saying she made all the ice cream they sold in the store...both vanilla and chocolate. She said her hands are very strong because of all the scooping she does and, despite some damage to her right hand not long ago, she is "about the best there is" at scooping ice cream.

    I finished my root beer float in short order and decided to throw caution to the wind and order something else. She claimed to make the best limeade on earth, so I ordered one which was very good, but probably not the best one on earth (though I didn't tell her). I'm sure she would have delighted in regaling us with the history of the store and of the town, but we had to hit the road. Before we left, though, we did learn that she visits the doctor in Paris about three times each month and tells him every time that she's healthy and doesn't need him, but he insists she come back.

    From Cooper, we began a slow trek back toward Dallas, deciding at some point to drive south along back roads until we got to Interstate 30 or a road that parallels I-30. We got to the Greenville area, found the parallel road, and headed west. The road was almost on top of 30, so when we had the option of getting onto 30 or dodging back north to get on the side-road again, I decided to get on 30 instead of being near enough to watch it.

    Just seconds after we got on the feeder road, we saw red lights just ahead of us on I-30 and saw a van in the middle of the freeway, laying on its side. The accident obviously had just happened, as we saw people just coming to a stop behind the van and saw people running toward it. I pulled to the side and jumped out to see if there was anything I could do. There were probably 8-10 people there already, with one guy taking action by trying to climb onto the top of the vehicle (actually, the right side of the vehicle) so he could get inside and turn off the ignition. I helped him climb on top and he jumped inside the vehicle. The vehicle was still running and white smoke was pouring from the top. As he jumped inside, a woman who was talking to the driver (who was pinned in his seat) started screaming that man inside was crushing the driver's arm. It turned out she was concerned, but the driver did not seem to be in pain.

    The front windshield was smashed but still intact and someone slid his hand inside the side window from below and punched the window several times to open a hole. Then, he and a wrecker driver who had stopped started ripping away the windshield; it's a good thing they had leather gloves on. I was standing to the side of van by that time, pushing against it so all the action wouldn't cause it to roll over on its top. I covered my eyes with one hand and held against the vehicle with the other; tiny slivers of glass were spraying all over as the guys ripped the windshield off. By that time, a sheriff's deputy had arrived and was calling for help (which was already on its way, thanks to a dozen or more people calling 911). As the fire trucks and ambulances neared the area, I backed away from the van, knowing that I would just be in the way if I stayed there. The guy inside the van was the only passenger I could see and he confirmed he was alone. I don't think he was in any pain, though I don't know whether he was hurt; he could have been in shock and just not known the extent of his injuries. He did not seem to be trying to get out of the vehicle and I don't think he could have had he tried.

    I got back in my car and made my way around the stopped vehicles and entered the highway just ahead of where the highway was shut down by the accident. As we headed west, I noticed slivers of glass all over my shirt and then I could feel glass in my hair as I brushed it back off my forehead with my hands.

    Not five miles later, we came across another accident that shut the far left lane of three lanes on the highway. It appeared that a car had hit a large dog, which was lying dead on the side of the road. It looked to me like the driver had swerved sharply to avoid the animal, but had hit it with the front right side of the car, which was badly banged up. A police officer was already there and the traffic was moving to the right side of the roadway and going around the accident.

    By the time we got back home, I felt drained. Seeing the immediate aftermath of the first accident really ruined my sense of elation about the day. And if it ruined my day, I can only imagine what it did to the guy who was pinned inside the van as I left him in the care of people who were better equipped than I to help him.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009

    Leonard Cohen Live in Dallas

    I don't do "groupie." But I now own an official Leonard Cohen tour t-shirt and soon will have his Live in London CD. Last night, my wife (who's never been a fan) and I went to see the Leonard Cohen concert at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie (a suburb of Dallas). I've never more thoroughly enjoyed a concert. For me, it was the chance of a lifetime to see and hear an artist who's been my hands-down favorite singer-songwriter since my earliest college days.

    Cohen is far more than a singer-songwriter. He's a remarkable poet, a master of turning words and twists of phrase, and the images he paints with them, into raw emotions. It's indescribable. When I hear Leonard Cohen's music, I am transported. When I heard his music and saw him and his band, it was nothing short of transformational. He picked his band extraordinarily well. Joining him onstage were Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters (background and vocals); Roscoe Beck [from Austin](bass, vocals); Neil Larsen (keyboards & Hammond B3 accordion); Bob Metzger (electric, acoustic & pedal steel guitar); Javier Mas (bandurria, laud, archilaud, 12 string acoustic guitar), Rafael Gayol (drums, percussion); and Dino Soldo (sax, clarinet, dobro, keys). In my opinion, Javier Mas and Dino Soldo were incredible...but so was Sharon Robinson and the Webb were the others.

    Much of Cohen's music has religious content. But despite my utter lack of religiosity, I find even that content exceptional.

    What can I say? I'm a groupie after all, I suppose. I wish I could follow him on tour.