Friday, February 27, 2009

FRYDAY NIGHTS

Friday night for many people is a night out. After a hard weeks work, a restaurant meal, time with friends. For some it's a noisy bar, laughter and ringing sound. I'm all for some fun on Saturdays or Sunday afternoon but on Friday nights, I just want to decompress. No phone, no noise. Just a nice home made meal and a book and a comfy bed to curl up in.

There's a lot of speculation in the comments about what exactly I do during the week. My favorite was "Medical Examiner, Personal Protection and Contract Killer."


It's probably a lot more boring than you think, but I can tell you it's sensitive enough I'd best not talk about it. I can say simply that it pays OK and that I have a Dr. in front of my name, but it's not a "Dr. your patient is here" kind of doctor. My job has many hats, some fun for an adventuresome sort, and some simply involving massive books and piles of paper.
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Potential disaster, death and terror. Not typical dinner subjects, yet ones that often come up in my social group. People who spend part of their time dealing with the mechanisms of disaster gravitate towards people who, like us, have a job that sometimes consists of nothing more than waiting for someone to have a really bad day. I worry about fate less; yes sometimes you are simply the bug on the windshield by being at the wrong place at the right time but I've also found that a good portion of our misfortunes arise, not from fate or ill health or the vagrancies of the winds, but from human rancor, fueled by innate stupidity, and those ever present justifications of the same, hell bent idealism and proselytizing mania for the sake of religious or political effigies. I'm required to be dispassionate and get into a routine. Empathy is a great quality in a person, but so is efficacy.
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Like others who do what I do, I've seen a lot, learning the hard way that there is danger and dangerous souls in the world and I'm not one to shy away from it because maybe I can do something about it. It's not a glamorous job, but for me there is hope in it, there is order. I've never had the sense of clockwork conspiracies, or some kind of imposing order of evil. There's simply a sense of things falling apart. That's my sense of how most bad things happen, that it's not usually some kind of calculated evil driven by karma, but simply control disintegrating. Most times, things fall apart and happen out of stupidity and carelessness, not any one's personal jihad. And I'm there to either prevent it, or if I can't, pick up the pieces.

But it carries with it a load and by Friday night, I simply wish to be alone for a few hours, to savor that which affirms that I am alive.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

HAND KRAFTED


There is nothing like a pair of hand crafted grips on a favorite gun. Like some foods, some things can be made by hand, or mass produced. Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite foods. Probably a close second behind steak. But not the blue boxed kind. but When I have time it's made the way my Mom did. From scratch, with multiple ingredients, including ham and onions, slow baked until the top is just crunchy.

You can NOT get this in a box or a freezer case. (the recipe and instructions will be in the comments)
You start by sauteing some smoked ham and onions.

Then there is the cheese. Don't panic. This isn't a picture of a pound and a half of butter, it's Irish cheddar, fresh and pure and no orange chemical dyes.

You make a roux (don't worry, there's directions in the recipe) then add the milk and cheese, til a thick bubbly sauce is formed. There's all kinds of flavor in it, including a dash of hot sauce. Pour about half the sauce in with the cooked macaroni, add the ham mixture, then some more cheese, regular cheddar for a bit of color.





Then pour the rest of the sauce over the top of it all. By covering up the last bit of cheese, the top can slow cook without getting too brown.




Slow cook til it's perfect.

And plate up. Remember, if you try your hand at this, try to avoid stampeding house guests, barking dogs or marriage proposals. This dish would convert the most hardened dieter and is worth the calories once in a while.

Seconds? Sure.

This is a truly handcrafted meal, harking back to the days of our childhood, where dinner was neither takeout or delivered but a labor of a parent's love. This dish is neither particularly simple or cheap to make, yet in place of those frugal virtues, it provides a rich palate of flavors that bring back memory, or create a new one. Like the handmade grips on a great big gun in the household, some things are best in the memory as hand crafted. For this is the only blue box I want to see on my counter.

Monday, February 23, 2009

MOVIES AND POPCORN

Movies and popcorn. Even on a work night, you deserve it once in a while. Especially on nights where there's nothing on TV but more news on the Stimulus Plan.

I think I'll pass. I have a nifty collection of sci fi as well as Westerns. Tonight will be a Western and a snack that will make you forget politics for at least a few minutes. Corral Caramel Corn. Pair it up with a good Western and even with all the butter, it's probably better for your blood pressure than what else is on TV.

Here's my 25 favorite Westerns, not in any particular order. I tried to do just 20 but after viewer complaints :-) I felt compelled to increase the list to 25. So make yourself comfortable, curl up in front of the fire while the cattle low, the popcorn pops and hot wind blows across the Plains. Then tell me YOUR 5 favorite westerns.

1.The Shootist - (1976) (John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, James Stewart)
2. High Noon - (1952) (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges)
3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - (1948) (Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston)
4. The Magnificent Seven - (1960) (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson)
5. Stagecoach - (1939) (John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine)6. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - (1966) (Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach)7. The Searchers - (1956) (John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter)8. Rio Grande - (1950) (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara)9. The Outlaw Josey Wales - (1976) (Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke)10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - (1962) (John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles)11. Unforgiven - (1992) (Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman)
12. The Wild Bunch (1969) (William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan)
13. High Plains Drifter - (1973) (Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom)14. Ride the High Country (1962( John Anderson, R.G. Armstrong.)
15. Tombstone - (1993) (Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer)16. McLintock! - (1963) (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara)
17. The Professionals (1966) ( Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan_
18. The Alamo - (1960) (John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey)19. 3:10 to Yuma - (2007) (Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster), a new favorite which I discovered (and will return, honest) from Ahab at Gun Nuts Media
20. The Gunfighter - (1950) (Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott)
21. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral - (1957) (Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas)
22. A Fistful of Dollars - (1964) (Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch)
22. Lonesome Dove - OK not a movie - but a mini series. (Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones)
23. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) (Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson)
24. True Grit - (1969) (John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby)
25. No Country for Old Men (2007) (Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Goodness My Guinness

Peteys Powderhorn ran a What Beer are You? quiz yesterday. I have to go to Chicago tomorrow to speak at some shindig. Chicago. I think I'll need a Guinness or two tonight, just to get used to that idea. On the plus side I only have to be up there a couple of days.
"Okay, we all know Guinness is the best possible score on any "What Kind Of Beer Are You" test, so you can just go on and pat yourself on the back now. Like the world's most famous brew, you're genuine, you've got good taste, and you're sophisticated. What else can I say, except congratulations? If your friends didn't score the same way, get ready for them to say: Guinness is too heavy; it's an acquired taste; it's too serious--and they probably think those things about you at times. But just brush 'em off. Everybody knows Guinness is the best. Cheers"

But even if you don't agree with the test review, or the brew, I'd bet you'd agree to a Chocolate Stout Cupcake, a little offering to my coworkers who will hold down the fort til I get back.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hygge

It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.

I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or Congressmen. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.

When at school, I'd open up my lunch box, and find every given day, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, coins for milk and an ice cream and a small tinfoil packet I'd unfold with great care. Inside, the scraps of her making, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, soft and whole. I do not share. I scrape the foil clean.

Fast food was only a monthly treat when Mom had bulk shopping to get done or an occasional Dairy Queen cone in the summer. Dinner was taken around the table meal every night except Saturday,which was Barbecued Hamburger Night, even if Dad had to dig the grill out from under the snow, and we ate off of TV trays, as a family, watching old Westerns.

But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of family

You've asked me how I learned to cook, and why. This is why. It's a continuation of family tradition, it's nourishment, it's comfort. The smells of the kitchen warm me, the tastes, a sensuous dance across my tongue. Most days my house is empty but my heart is not. My spirit expands with the smell and taste, texture and touch of something warm from the oven. Something I have crafted from my own hands.

Sometimes there are kitchen disasters; we all have stories of such to share. My first was when I was in college. It was a huge roast which took pretty much all my grocery money for the month. I decided to cook it wrapped in foil, on a very low temperature, for a very long while. But having the usual "look a squirrel!" attention span of a young person, I forgot about it while I readied my apartment. The smell of over-baked bovine soon reached my nostrils as people arrived and we pulled from the oven what appeared to be a charcoal briquette wrapped in foil. Anyone have any Doritos?

There have been other disasters. You've had them too. Exploding Pyrex, "oops that's not cornstarch that's powdered sugar", fully automatic peppercorns spraying around the kitchen after the grinder top came off (cover me!).

But even with practice, the first time I made a meal for a very large crowd I was as nervous as the first time I testified as an "expert witness". It was at Thanksgiving, when I was still flying to put that bread on the table. With most of us on call, hoping to earn some dollars to pay next quarters tuition, or too broke to fly home commercially, many of us had no place to go on Thanksgiving day. So I hung a flier up on the instructors bulletin board at my airport, for any errant corporate pilot, commuter jock visiting a instructor friend or my coworkers. An invite to come over to my little place for Thanksgiving dinner.

I'd not say I was "friends" with all these guys from the perspective that we hung around outside of work together but we were "family". These were people I'd spent hours in the cockpit with, occasionally getting the &*#@ scared out of us, absorbing the wonderful colors and shapes and shadows of the sky, making temporary homes in a series of small apartments with multiple roommates, cramming as much as possible into the rare 24 hours we actually were off sometimes, laughing, singing and maybe crying together. So yes, we were family, if only related by adventure and empty pockets. And for that, I could think of no better reason than to peel 30 pounds of potatoes, bake 5 pies, and to to bat my big green eyes at the butcher to talk him out of that extra ham at half off.

Yes, 30 pounds of potatoes, for although I expected RSVP's from about 6 people, I ended up with 27. They arrived with beer and wine for those off duty, pitchers of ice tea for those that were and chips and dips and things to get us started. And thankfully, some extra rolls and pies from the bakery.

It was a wonderful evening, with massive quantities of food eaten, countless stories told and much laughter, eating until we couldn't eat any more. There was something starry in the kitchen that night, where I learned as much about my ability to organize and create as I did about the essential bond that a meal around the table creates, even if it's a bunch of card tables shoved together with white bleached sheets over them.

Did it mean that we all got along perfectly after that night? No, for there were still those days that intruded darkly on hours normally full of light. Those long close quartered days where we plowed through thick dark clouds to reach ice covered firmament, cursing the light long unending demands of West Coast air traffic, and long lines for takeoff. Days where the alarm clock snatched us violently out of wrung out sleep, sweeping us all back into the thrall, impotent for days against returning to home. As much fun as flying could be, after a month of such a schedule, even the best of crews could bicker for a moment like husband and wife. Add trying to go to college part time in there and it was a life of scattered adrenalin, little sleep and scant time for real relationships. Just like life for many of us, with families and jobs and pets and demands.

But that night of re-establishment of ourselves as a group of pilots confirmed that, occasional squabbling or personality quirks aside, we were all in this for pretty much the same reason. We were brothers and sisters in the sky, wanting to do the best for our passengers, our students while we, in turn, strove upwards to goals that were often far beyond the sky. Because I think we all knew, what defines friendship and family - connection, trust, honesty, unwavering support, is what we all needed to find our way home. Home to that table of shared communion, laughter, the fullness of Grace, the flavors of our lives blending into something memorable.


You don't have to peel 30 pounds of potatoes. You don't have to be a Martha Stewart kind of woman. You don't even have to be a woman. Anyone can create a memorable family meal with real food, without a lot of work. Like this: fresh bratwurst style sausage sauteed in butter with some bottled spicy orange sauce and a couple dashes of Tiger Sauce til the sauce caramelizes. Hot and sweet, served over a big communal bowl of fragrant rice sauteed with mushrooms and some chopped green onion (which counts as your vegetable :-) Add a glass of wine, or a jug of tea. It's a meal. It's a memory.

If you haven't done so in a while. If you've NEVER done so, some weekend soon, plan a meal around the dining table with your family. The meals don't have to be six courses, they will not always be perfect, some will be the subject for family laughter for years to come. But do it. For I do know that if you don't, you will miss out on something. Remove the mail and the junk that collects on that formal dining room table, turn off the TV, turn the cell phones off. Don't panic if it's a bit burnt around the edge, it's still a meal in which you'll reconnect. "Eating and drinking and being together with friends". You won't have these days back again.

Hygge.

New Jovian Thunderbolt talked about using a police qualification target for lack of anything else at the range. I agree, they're sometimes sort of hard to put up against a smaller backdrop, but they're SO much fun.

40 feet and a box of .45 acp, with just the sights the weapon came off the line with.

It's going to be a couple days before I'm off duty and get to have some days off at home, hopefully there will be some targets left by then.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dieters - Avert your eyes.


I agree with one of my friends, there is nothing better than just a good plain steak. No fancy sauce, no special rubs. Some salt and pepper and grill it just til it stops mooing and dive in.

But what to do when you don't have a lot of steak to serve and and a very welcome but unexpected couple of friends drop by? Or you are just hankering for something different, AND you want it from start to table in less than 30 minutes?

Home on the Range Smothered Steak.

Thick seared steak cooked in a totally foolproof bachelor version of horseradish laced, red wine gravy with mushrooms. Seriously, you can make this dish in less than 10 minutes plus bake time. The ingredients are ones many of you have on hand. Served with potatoes or some "from the box" wild rice pilaf to soak up the sauce and stretch the servings; two decent sized steaks will serve three to four people and you won't have any complaints.