Friday, October 26, 2012

Pro Cooking Tip

You should probably not attempt to make any of these recipes. But if you do, it will be awesome.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pro Cooking Tip

After measuring cayenne pepper by hand, resist the urge to scratch.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Naked Singularity

Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity is the most impressive debut novel I've read since William T. Vollman's You Bright And Risen Angels. And though I suspect that book is unfamiliar to you, I request that you trust me when I say that this is high praise. Want more familiar touchstones? Well, that would take a less interesting novel.

A Naked Singularity revolves around a young defense attorney named Casi who has never lost a case that went to trial. He lives in Brooklyn, a place the author bio on the back assures us that de la Pava does not live. We begin with a series of interviews he performs with the night's arrested, followed almost immediately by their bail hearings, a section of the book that is openly hilarious as well as clearly questioning the justice system. From there the book proceeds to continue with both the humor and questions throughout its remainder, to great effect. Often a loner at the office, Casi befriends a fellow attorney named Dane who is interested in the pursuit of perfection, a cause which in the past has lead him to smoke crack. Dane draws Casi to plan a perfect crime using information from one of Casi's clients, a cause which seems in no way complicated by the fact that Dane never appears when anyone else is around. In opposition to their proposed crime is a larger-than-life character called Ballena, who may exist or may be symbolic (This is not to say he does not exist in the world of the book. He certainly does. However, I favor a slightly-less-literal interpretation). Does this have your attention yet? If not, I don't think I want to spend time with you anymore.

Sprinkled throughout are scenes with Casi's family, Colombian immigrants on both sides of the law. These never really tie into the book's main themes, but they have the courtesy to not drag. As things progress, Casi's views of justice shake and change, leading to one especially wonderful legal brief. He runs afoul of both the judges he defends clients in front of and his co-workers. He has lengthy discussions on the nature of God with his Landlord and said authority figure's roommates, one of whom is attempting to bring Ralph Kramden to life by watching The Honeymooners endlessly via DVR (Other letters are involved in the acronym). And once again, yes, this is a comedy.

Are there bum notes along the way? Absolutely. One philosophical discussion with his fellow buildingmates involves the exponential pace of human invention, a conversation which calls into question the reverence the book places on Television, a noun which is always capitalized. Some of the family set pieces are not at all necessary. And the book does drag a bit in the middle part. But with the scope of the issues the novel tackles, which come to a semi-climax in Casi's co-defense of a mentally-challenged man sentenced to death in Alabama, more than merit a misstep or two for the insight and impact the book places on many of the issues we as humans face nowadays, both those covered by Dostoyevsky and those which have come up since. If you are interested in contemporary fiction in almost any way, and especially fiction attempting to push for importance beyond the medium, you should have stopped reading this a while ago and found yourself a copy of this book. And as to how it ends up, as they say:

"We're going to be all right,"he said.
"No," I said. "But we're going to live."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How To Know You've Been Working In A Kitchen Too Long

In the bar bathroom above the sink, someone has scrawled the words "You look good". When you see them, the upper-case L keeps curving into a 'C'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Working In A Kitchen

I've heard it said that working in a kitchen is nothing more than a 24/7 dick-measuring competition. I cannot think of anything that could be both more accurate and more wrong, all at the same time. Kitchen work is a survival of the fittest sort of thing. And I mean that in a very literal sense. You very rarely see people who have a similar body type as the customers standing next to the grill all night. And if that does wind up occurring, they either quit or sweat it off pretty quickly. Spending forty plus hours a week in that sort of environment is a challenge that many people are not up to. Forgive me if this gives those of us who can do it, sometimes well, a bit of an ego to match the callouses on our knife and saute hands. There is a continual showing off aspect to the whole thing, a bit of stage show provided, not for the customers, who will never be allowed near the whole lurid spectacle of professional food preparation if management has any idea what is good for them, but for one's co-workers. The basic premise of the enterprise is that, as kitchen work is not an office job, the goal should be to commit some sort of act that would get one fired from any self-respecting office at minimum once per hour. Working through hangovers, or while in the bag or on most any ingestible substance, is the mark of the line cook. If you manage to somehow (Probably through some sort of misunderstanding or trickery) find yourself in a stable relationship, you have committed a minor sin. Not vomiting over the railing of the deck to close the night because you wish to spend time in the company of said other may up the deal to felony level. Why would you want to go home for sex when the waitstaff is in such close proximity? In short, it is all about the Three B's: Booze, bluster and bullshit. And it is wonderful.

 Now, make no mistake, there is no actual dick-measuring competition going on back where your food is prepared. For one thing, there is little use for a ruler in a kitchen, and kitchens tend to get trimmed down to the essentials. This would leave any sort of serious contest woefully imprecise. But more importantly, unless you're running El Bulli, there is likely a limited amount of space in the back of house (If you are running El Bulli, the extra space is probably filled with unpaid interns. Perhaps stacked). To have a dick-measuring competition would likely mean having to wash your cutting board, and given the usual state of affairs in the dish pit, it's almost always best to simply keep it zipped up unless/until the new host walks by. Instead of taking a physical form, this leaves the favored game as verbal abuse.

There are rules to this sort of thing, but they vary from kitchen to kitchen depending on the backgrounds of the crew contained therein. The general policy is that if you think you can say it without getting stabbed, it will be coming out of your mouth. Sometimes even these remarks get uttered if it seems likely that their emittance will remain unpunished. If you ask anyone in a kitchen about this atmosphere, they will tell you they're just busting someone's balls. Nothing more to it than that. But this is incorrect. You see, there is an eventual goal to this eternal show of machismo. What everyone is trying to do back there is to be the one who pushes a fellow employee over the edge, dropping the final insult on some poor bastard who didn't have the intelligence or opportunity to choose a career path better-suited for his particular temperament. This goal remains unacknowledged, as talking with your co-workers about your continual attempts to get them to kill themselves would probably put a damper on the sort of camaraderie needed to get through a busy Saturday night. Yet it still exists. And the undiscussed reward is just as widely known as the contest itself: The winner gets eternal free drinks from the remainder of the staff. To help him forget.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pro Cooking Tip

When making New England Clam Chowder, it is comforting to see the words "Made with natural clams" on the side of your bottle of clam juice. This way you are assured that your chowder is not made with gay clams.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Really Important Site News or Something

I talked about this blog with a man who knows about this sort of thing, and he said that it's not dead. It's merely mostly dead. So rather than going through the site's pockets for loose change, I have decided to hope for a miracle. It recently moved its head (The blog, not the miracle), so I have hope that this endeavor may be successful. For now I am going to make a list of my assets. If anyone has a wheelbarrow or a Holocaust Cloak, please let me know.

Thank you,

The Management

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Supposedly Steven Sondheim is some sort of musical theater genius. But from the two shows I have seen that prominently feature his name on the marquee (Into the Woods being the other one of these, that being a show that was completely derailed by a terribly-written second act featuring the most painfully obvious overarching metaphor I have ever had the misfortune of being exposed to), I will dispute that claim with anyone who cares to get into an unwinnable argument likely to leave both parties angry. Now, it is true that my issues may not be strictly with Sondheim, as I believe he sticks to writing the music and/or lyrics of his shows, not the scripts, which is where the majority of the fault lies. To this I say: tough. Either write it yourself or find a better scriptwriter. Odds are they'll all work for food, so cost is unlikely to matter. Go for the quality.

As you may have figured out, I recently saw a Sondheim piece. Company, to be specific, showing at Renegade Theater in what I'm sure the tourism department refers to as beautiful downtown Duluth. As you may also have figured out, it is not overly good. In fact, it fails on almost all counts. Perhaps the music was amazing. Whatever. Don't care.

More to the point, Company revolves around the central character Bobby, a man whose name is repeated a minimum of 5 million times by the various cast members. Bobby has problems, and we (the audience) are lucky enough to get to see them play out. You see, Bobby is unmarried and seems to be somewhere around his thirties, at an age where most of his friends have settled down. This makes him the titular company when he comes over for dinner, which he seems to do with great regularity. Beyond saving vast amounts of money on Bobby's food bill, this allows us a glimpse into multiple short, comedic marriage-related set pieces, which we shall discuss shortly. It also gives us some insight into Bobby, apparently quite the Lothario, as the parade of names his friends throw out as past romantic foils attests. But as things go on, we learn that Bobby actually really wishes to be married, he just hasn't found the right girl (Actually, this seems to be the only problem Bobby has. I shouldn't have pluralized that earlier. My bad). To show this, we are treated to scenes involving three romantic matches, ranging from recent to current. Two are presented as dimwitted (Technically I suppose one was more of a post-hippy stoner idiot, but I have no qualms about lumping them both under this banner), while the other one is never given more than a couple lines, leaving her a completely forgettable and unused character. If these are the types of women Bobby finds himself spending his times with while secretly yearning to be married then he is most certainly doing it wrong. Fortunately for the play as a whole (And audience by extension), the writers decided that this was all the characterization Bobby would be given in two and a half hours. This leaves us with, not a main character, but an utterly unconvincing piece of furniture who exists solely for the reason of giving us access to a number of marriage-centric vignettes, which occupy the bulk of the play.

These are certainly the foremost strength of the play, primarily the first scene, which is outright hilarious at points. After the opening high this brings, however, the rest could be safely skipped by an efficiency-minded theatregoer without missing a beat. The only impression these give off in the end are to repeatedly say that married people sure are wacky. This concept comes very close to matching in overall profundity Sondheim's follow-up masterpiece, Women Be Shoppin'. What we have here is an empty shell of a play, with a vacant hole where the lead should be, and nothing of any substance to say. It feels as though someone involved wrote a couple of the marriage pieces, showed them to someone who encouraged him to write more, then gave it a thin concept to try to tie it all together without bothering to put any effort into it. Then songs were tacked on at the end for no possible comprehensible reason, as many of them seem completely awkwardly shoehorned into a near-total void of a script that somehow still doesn't make room for the music. Some of the transitions are worse than mine have been so far here. I'm sure that the music is excellent, and I'm simply missing Sondheim's brilliance here. But you know what? Once he bothers to learn to write, I'll see if I can be bothered to care about his songs. Until then, I remain thoroughly unimpressed.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Dear Sir (Or, if we are now close enough friends that I may return your greeting of "Dude!" in kind, Dude),

I regret to inform you that I will not be attending your party tonight, July 7th, at ten p.m. Instead, I shall be working, and therefore occupied. My co-workers will not be attending either, as, depite your request, I will probably not bother telling them about this party; and if the topic does come up, it will probably not be in an overly positive light. Rest assured that should I somehow get out of work before this time, I will also not be attending, as I am somewhat averse to gatherings of people I don't know advertised by men in tight t-shirts drinking beer on the street at one o'clock in the afternoon yelling at random passers-by.

Thank you for your interest in spending quality time with me.

Regretfully yours,

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Conversation That Apparently Happened

Broadway Producer 1: So, Fiddler on the Roof. That's Jewish, right?

Broadway Producer 2: Yeah, I think so.

Broadway Producer 1: So we'll make them speak with Brooklyn accents.

Broadway Producer 2: Can we mix the Brooklyn accents with Boston ones?

Broadway Producer 1: Why?

Broadway Producer 2: I don't have an answer to that question.

Broadway Producer 1: Perfect! Let's do it.

Dialogue Coach: Do you want me to work in some Slavic accents?

Broadway Producer 1: Whoa whoa whoa!

Broadway Producer 2: Hold up there. We freed those people. We can't call them that anymore.

Dialogue Coach: What? But...

Broadway Producer 1: I'm starving. Who wants lunch?

Broadway Producer 2: Pastrami on rye?

Broadway Producer 1: You know it! Who's buying?

(Dialogue Coach sighs, slumps shoulders)

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'll Miss You: Ween Break Up

The key to being a (I'm just gonna go ahead and say it here; we're discussing Ween for God's sake) successful smart-ass is never letting on when you're joking. With that in mind, perhaps Ween will announce the impending release of their new album next week. They will almost certainly announce the dates of their new tour in a couple years, though it might be better for all parties concerned if they don't. After all, Ween were a band built largely upon spot on, unflinching musical genre parodies and the ingestion of anything not tied down that could fit into the mouth. And for everyone who chooses to travel down that road, a point arises when it has passed from questionable idea to very bad plan. Ween hit that point over a decade ago, and only with the news of the band's break-up has it become apparent that this isn't just some joke from a band waiting around the corner ready to laugh at us when we believe them.

It is now 2012, 28 years after two fourteen-year-olds decided to form a band, and fifteen years after they released their last good studio album. So what is the big deal? Well, that would be what came in the middle. In a span of eight years, Ween released six albums that ranged from absolutely brilliant to completely unlistenable, each of which was fairly mind-blowing even to those of us out there who plumb the varying ranges of sobriety. Beyond this, they recorded what seems to be an equal number of brilliant pieces which didn't even make their albums proper, spread out across soundtracks, compilations, EPs and probably their garage sales if they ran low on funds for drugs (Though even I wouldn't pay for the masters for Candy). This period saw them inexplicably given a major label deal which they responded to by recording their most bizarre album ever, which resulted in Push th' Little Daisies getting actual money pushing it on MTV, a situation which probably had some suits soiling their drawers at Elektra. The duo then became a full band, for the first time sounding as if they were recording songs that were clearly written on a load of drugs while actually fairly sober. Then they released a country album. It was a remarkably fertile creative span, and one that gave them a massive catalog to draw from during their marathon live performances, songs that stayed perenially fresh as the band changing from two guys with a drum machine to a five-piece rock powerhouse forced them to reconstruct the songs for each new stop along the way. And they toured those songs hard.

Every time they put out a new album, and quite a few times that they didn't, for the last decade, Ween would set out to play every town in America that would allow them to display their particular blend of drunken genre-hopping and jamming, playing gloriously extended versions of their songs that they inevitably seemed unlikely to remember upon waking up the following day unless someone had fortuitously taped the proceedings. And many times, it turned out someone had. And then Ween would release the tape. All in all, they wound up releasing six live albums over ten years. Granted, some of these were old tapes documenting prior iterations of the band's career, and they were usually somewhere between very good and excellent. But man, that is a lot of live albums for a span of years which only saw them release three proper studio records. That should probably have been the clue that the party was nearing its end. That and the rumors of rehab which constantly dogged the band. But every time the rumors seemed to threaten to overtake them they were back onstage, and look how much fun they're having! Of course they're still going.

At least until they weren't. It ended the only way it could, with most of the band not being aware of it. It happened after one of their last stage performances ended in a complete meltdown. It happened five years after their last studio album, without even any rumors of another one in the works. And when it happened it became apparent that they had actually been done for years. This is perfectly okay.

During their heyday, Ween had more ideas than they knew what to do with, throwing out brilliance and trash at a rate not seen since Robert Pollard lost the ability to write five songs on the can, three of which would be good (He can, however, still write five songs while in the can). And this furious pace is what keeps them alive. That track a couple lines above didn't make it onto one of their studio albums. Also, it is a gorgeous ballad. Yes, they did that. They also did everything else. How well and how fast they did it made it possible to ignore the obvious with each passing year after the release of The Mollusk, when it became apparent that the brilliance would be concentrated only in flashes rather than sprinkled over the bulk of their recorded output going forward. There was simply so much to catch up on. Sure, the entire second half of Quebec was incredibly dull, but have you heard this new collection of previously unreleased material? They've still got it!

While it seems inevitable that Ween will tour again down the road, it is entirely possible that they shouldn't. The odds of them releasing music that adds to their legacy seems very slim, outweighed by the possibility that the combination of Dean and Gene Ween may no longer be good for people who at this point in life may have a greater need for sobriety than they used to. If they do come back, it will generate money, not art. Until they die, they will likely enjoy playing music together, even if they no longer have any reason to record music together. Even if they shouldn't play music together anymore. When they do reunite, they will put on a fun concert, but it will be a nostalgia-laden exercise, as it has been for years now. There's nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia here and there, but it cannot compare to the sheer joy of diving into the things the duo did in the past and hearing them communicate through a prog-rock epic that sounds like it is being written from the point of view of a child molester the simple message that they cannot believe they are being paid to do this. We had the best time at their party. I choose to thank them like this. By writing about them on the internet (Naughty words in the video below).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Adventures Of Stealth Goat Pt. 1

Barista: Here's your latte, Mr. Johnson.

Man: I'm not Mr. Johnson at all. I'm...

[Rips off man costume]

Stealth Goat: STEALTH GOAT!

All: [gasp]

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Death of the Celebrity Chef

Here in America, the celebrity chef is a relatively new phenomenon. And, as so frequently happens, we are screwing it up incredibly badly. Rather than have it be about the quality of a chef's cooking, here it is more about who can get their face put on the greatest number of items readily available at Target™. As does most of our celebrity-worshiping culture, this treads a fine line between wasteful and completely ridiculous. These people are elevated more for how they look in half-hour segments than for how their food tastes, and this has created a television food culture that is somewhere between nauseating and embarrassing.

This is not to say that putting chefs on television is some sort of quixotic endeavor. Julia's ghost would probably turn all my rouxs to ash for even suggesting it. But rather, that we as a country are doing it wrong. In fact, the two best food shows currently on television are actually run by food personalities rather than chefs. I speak here of Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown. Bourdain cane up through the ranks as a chef, though he has since left the profession for a lifestyle that he would probably call significantly easier and more opulent. Brown attended culinary school for the purpose of creating a tv show, and spent years making the wonderful Good Eats, a show which has now sadly ended, leaving Food Network with exactly zero shows worth watching. Most of the chefs we have running things on the magic box these days are more of the Guy Fieri "Watch me indiscriminately shovel things into the hole in my fat face while yelling vacuous catchphrases" school of television. There is an air of condescension that you do not get with Bourdain and Brown, who do not seem to feel the same contempt for the audience's collective iq that seems to accompany most other food-related programming. Which brings us to the current nexus of the problem: Paula Deen.

This is a fairly old story by this point, so forgive me for the rehash I am about to go into. Paula Deen has become of of Food Network's biggest stars by pandering to her audience with a big ol' Southern accent that has become more exaggerated and cartoonish over the years. She cooks good ol' down home food, which she seems to define as massive portions of fatty, sugary food drowned in butter. She is a wonderfully succinct symbol for most of what is wrong with the American diet, a woman whose recipes are the best possible solution for the Social Security crisis.

Yes, that is exactly what it looks like

So when the news came out recently that this symbol of ridiculous American excess has diabetes, it was somewhere between obvious and not at all surprising. If you spend years foisting what she has on the general populace, there are obviously going to be severe and painful health issues. If you can look at the above image and not understand the ramifications, well, I'm going to file that under natural selection. No, the surprising part was that she was diagnosed with diabetes years ago and has been hiding it, so as not to hurt her business. That's pretty slimy stuff right there. So why the change of heart? Well, it had been a long-running rumor that she had diabetes, so it was probably going to come out sooner or later. So why not put the story out there to pre-empt a messy revelation, as well as try to put your own spin on the matter? That's not how it happened.

No, in the end the Butter Queen made public that she was afflicted with the only possible endpoint for her own cooking because she signed a multi-million dollar deal with a drug company to promote their diabetes drug Victoza®. Part of the deal for her getting these millions was making her condition public. That is borderline despicable. But it gets better: Victoza® causes thyroid cancer in lab rats. Don't you go to hell for this sort of thing? Immediately after the announcement Deen's publicist, a job which requires you check your soul at the door, quit over moral issues with what Deen was doing. Making her the only person involved in any aspect of this mess who has a conscience.

In Bourdain's book Medium Raw, there's a scene where the author overhears two celebrity chefs discussing a potential endorsement deal for a new product. Not once is there any mention of the quality or usefulness of the item. Rather, the only aspect of it that is talked about is what the company is willing to pay the chef, and what the chefs are willing to put their name on a product they clearly have no intention of ever using for. This is where we stand. The entire celebrity chef culture has gone past the tipping point, and is currently striding the line between self-parody and actual destructive institution seemingly hell-bent in actively hurting us. Welcome to America, circa 2012. We're doing it wrong.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Signs You Work Back Of House In A Restaurant #1

When you pick up something hot that burns your hand, you find someplace safe to set it down rather than dropping it.