Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Happy Friggin New Year


So here it is at the end of 2012. It's been an ok year with ups n downs but overall it barely gets a 3 on the suck-o-meter. As I sit here pondering what the New Year might bring, I just want to say to all my friends, family and loved ones...

Stop forwarding shit others have forwarded to you! I have Twitter, and chances are I've seen what you thought was cute 2 months ago. Oh and guess what, it wasn't "LOL" funny, it was mildly amusing at most and by mildly I mean I probably never changed facial expressions.

A quick note…When I tell people to go fuck themselves as a collective group, you can take it to the bank that I was probably joking. You'll know when I'm not joking when I tell you directly to go fuck yourself.

When it comes to games you can count me in for a good game of hide n go fuck yourself...aside from that, I don't give a rats ass if you need magic watermelon seeds for your imaginary farm. I mean just how friggin old are you?! Back before computers there were people who played Farmville, they were called farmers and they had these things called farms they played with. 

If they were lucky they lived to the age of 30 without dying in a corn chopping accident. When they were finished for the day they had the sense and good taste not to hassle anyone about magic seeds. Magic seeds didn't appear much before the "summer of love."

As for you rotten bastards who want me to play lucky slots or blackjack, if I want to do either I'll go to a casino. Are you really paying real fucking money to play a game that pays you credits?! If you're that dim send me your money so I can buy Whiskey, drugs and hookers.... Then I'll waste the rest.

Facebook to you I say this, I understand you have gotten all grown up and now have investors to answer to, and need to figure out a way to make money on a service you were dumb enough to give away for nothing in the beginning. But for the love of all things holy on the Mayan calendar, stop asking if I want to pay to send messages to someone. I mean any messages of any kind my answer is no.

As I said, I have Twitter and nearly anyone I need to, I can get in touch with in seconds. If not that way, I, like nearly everyone on planet earth who can fog a mirror... has a cell phone. I'll text or call them directly. If they have a landline and no cell phone chances are I don’t need to get in touch with you, as you are my grandparents who have all been dead towards the higher side of three decades.

What passes for "important information" nowadays wouldn't have warranted dropping a dime back when pay calls were a dime, and back when there were payphones.  Bleeding to death doesn't warrant a phone call to me it warrants a drive to the emergency room.

My mother and my cat are the only ones who have given me true comfort this year and really my mom has no choice unless she decides to go all Joan Crawford on me. As she hasn't moved and forgotten to give me the address, or beaten me with a stash of wire hangers yet I think we're good. Besides she needs the snow blower fixed from time to time.

The cat loves me but even that comes with a price. He needs food and the occasional change of shit dirt and as he has no opposable thumb, he begrudgingly needs me. I mean who are we kidding, if he wakes up tomorrow with a thumb magically grown onto his paw I'm fucked, and there's a good chance my truck will be stolen. 
Have a safe and happy 2013 and for the most part, I love you all....if you wondered whom I meant by for the most part....go fuck yourself.

XXOO

P.S. Oh, and you people tracking "food trends" Bacon is not a trend, it's a way of life ...so get over it. As long as it's delicious and made of pig people are not going to stop eating it. You want to look for a food trend look at Soy Bacon...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holidays, Out in the Garage


Christmas and New Years growing up was great as my brother and I didn’t have any sports or other activities to be dragged all over hell and half of Georgia for.  This time of year was all about family, celebrating the holidays and on occasion we got to see the two converge. Dad wasn’t much of a drinker but when he did have a drink you can bet it was most often in the safety and security of my uncle’s garage, away from the eyes of the women in the house but more importantly…my mother. Who upon seeing my father at the end of the night would declare, “your father is funny faced”.


There was certain etiquette in going to my Aunt Dodie and Uncle Gene’s house. But Christmas and new years were different, there was hardly a boring moment in the garage and there was always something happening that chances are, were not going to happen again anytime soon. Those things would usually start with a rather innocuous phrase such as “hey this schnapps tastes like mouthwash”, and end the next day with “I’m not sure why your uncle was crawling out the window…can you ask your mother to get me some Alka-Seltzer.” 

I remember the garage being full of uncles, cousins and friends all laying claim to the odd milk crate, cinder block, old car seat, lawn chair or other perch in which to sit on. It started out as a group of discussions on all things mechanical or home maintenance related. The odd beer was distributed to any and all newcomers who made their way into the garage and greetings were made quietly while a dissertation was being given on say, a 63 Chevy Impala Z11 427 ‘mystery motor’ or other such important things.

Then the offer “highball?” was made by my uncle. Then me, my brother and any cousins available would make our way inside to ferry drinks and what would be platters of finger foods back to the garage. The drinks were made by any number of the battalion of women in the house and were usually a combination of Canadian Whiskey and ginger ale or half n half. Initially drinks were freely poured, later in the night the women would begin to ask who each drink was for and formulate weaker drinks accordingly.

Somewhere between ten and eleven the merriment was in full swing and everything from men dancing in the snow of the driveway in their stocking feet to the passing and sipping of some clear liquid from a mason jar someone had brought back from a trip. The night usually ended with my mother driving us home and my brother and I being fortunate enough to ride in the front seat, while my father said funny things and laid across the back seat happy as could be.

As my brother and I got older there were girlfriends, wives and eventually children. Over the years the gatherings got smaller, times got busy and visits were further apart as my brother and I moved from the area. When I go back now I see a dark garage and imagine my father and uncles dancing and singing in a snowy driveway. It was the one time a year I got to see my father not be so serious with work, finances and family obligations weighing him down. I got to see him live a little.

So on this first anniversary of my blog and also my father’s birthday which was my inspiration for writing in the first place, I want to say thank you very much for reading my ADD riddled pieces of angst. I want you to remember that it’s okay to go out in the snow in stocking feet, and drink from an unmarked Mason jar from time to time. The Mayans were wrong, but eventually the end is going to come, and the last thing you want to have the answer to is why your uncle was crawling out the window. Live a little…Highball?! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sears, Change in a Bad Way


My first memory of Sears was when I was six. Walking into the store with my father when it was still more or less a catalog location on Maine Street in Keene, NH. I recall a man at the counter greeting and shaking hands with my father as soon as we walked in. My father presented the man with a broken Craftsman box wrench and before my father could explain what had happened to it, the man was returning with a wrench to replace it. “No explanation necessary Bill” was all the man said. That's how Sears used to do business. 



Problem:

My mother has a Kenmore gas oven that since day one, a monthly tightening of the bolts that hold the handle to the door must be performed. The door itself works perfectly and in fact there is so much spring tension that if you don’t hold onto the handle tight enough, it will nearly rip your arms out of their sockets and slam shut. It needs tightening so often that my mom keeps a screwdriver in a drawer next to the oven just for that purpose. One day about 6 weeks ago my mom called and said she thought the threads were stripped because it wouldn't tighten back up.

I went over the next day and took the handle off to see what the issue was. Here’s what I found…A metal bolt that has no more than four or five threads going into a plastic handle with plastic threads trying to hold back a door that has something on the order of 20 ft lbs of torque when it’s closing! Genius…a design fail. So I went online to see if I could get another handle and tried to find the part myself. It was difficult even using the model number of the actual stove.

So I called Sears Parts Direct, explained the problem and gave the woman the model number to see if she could pull the part number. “Yeah it doesn't work that way sir I need a different number”…I said I’m not at my mother’s, isn't it possible to cross reference from the model number?! “No.” So there’s nothing you can do? “No sir I’m sorry…anything else I can help you with? I guess not. So after some digging I was able to find the part online. For an injection molded plastic handle that weighs less than one pound they want to charge $63.93 thirteen dollars of which is shipping. For thirteen dollars I can overnight a hamster to Zurich!

I refuse to pay for a handle that was poorly engineered from the beginning. So I thought a faster way of bringing attention to my problem was through social media so I tweeted and within five minutes had a response and was told to direct message my contact info so they could remedy the situation within 24 hours… it has been 5 and a half weeks. 

I have sent multiple messages and tweets and in return I am told a multiple of conflicting stories about how the problem resolution is being handled. In short… their customer service not only sucks, but is non-existent. The only response I got was 2 days ago a phone call from their Round Rock Texas call center with no message left in my voice mail as to whom had called or a number or person I could call back.

I have a solution to the problem which has cost me less than 4 dollars and five minutes to install. But What I’d really like is to get a properly made handle from the people who are supposed to stand behind their products (one with metal threads or at least a metal shim not the cheap injection molded plastic one that is already an engineering fail) and an apology for such obvious and gross disregard for customer service. 

The ball is in your court Sears, are you going to keep me as a lifelong customer, or are you going to drop the ball...again. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

IT'S JUST BEER


Sitting at a bar waiting on a friend I was approached by the bartender and asked, “What can I get you?” I never give beer any serious thought as I like most anything, which is to say anything so long as it has alcohol in it. I don’t go crazy over what hemp beer is being tapped this week. I find it hard to get excited about anything hemp, and if I wanted to drink a shirt I prefer Egyptian cotton with a nice French cuff. Beer and wine are the new gateway drugs to one-upmanship and snobbery in the drinking world, much the same way kale chips and kohlrabi slaw is in the food world.

“Guinness,” and off he went to begin the ritual pour which I had been certified to do at Guinness while I was in Ireland. Truthfully, had I been allowed I would have forgone the ritual and did a keg stand while the crowd sang The Irish Rover. But beer folk are a funny lot and take these traditions seriously. To me beer should be comfortable and familiar. Beer snobs are like twenty year old sailors in a brothel on payday. They want to try everything but leave broke, empty, with some kind of rash, and never seem satisfied.

Settle down beer aficionados, I love beers of all provenance and styles. When I go to a chef friend’s place they don’t ask what kind of beer I’d like… they give me a beer and I drink it. I've never had a bad beer this way. I have had bad beer when left to my own devices, friends, bartenders pushing beers, and “buzz” about a beer being great. As with coffee, wine and cheese I like what I like, and the so called experts insist my choices are the result of ignorance or being dropped on my head at birth.

I've had so many beers that my liver shudders at the thought, and at one time in my mid twenties I could have driven a large nail to flush with said liver. I've had everything from Sam Adams’ Utopias to Schlitz, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that if you have too many of any of them, you won’t notice a hint of apricot or how frothy the head is when you’re booting behind a dumpster at 2 am. So grab a beer you like. Grab one that helps you recall a favorite memory through taste, a place in time, a special event...

It was a warm fall afternoon on a patio overlooking a barren corn field at my aunt’s house. My father and uncle just got back from the farm where they helped bring in the last of the corn silage. They wore dusty white t-shirts and jeans that smelled of corn and diesel fuel. They looked like older versions of the 50’s era teens they once were. My aunt handed them both ice cold beers, and they both took mighty gulps to wash the day’s dust away.

I was nine, dad ruffled my hair then with a wink he handed me the beer and asked, “You want a sip?” My mother’s protest fading into the background I took a sip… a malted taste and icy carbonation I could feel, taste and smell all at once. Tipping it back again I started to chug. My uncle began to laugh his cackled laugh, and my father snatched the beer back while shaking his head and smiling his crooked smile. That was the only beer I ever shared with him. A rite of passage into adulthood usually reserved for your twenty-first birthday and I had done it at the age of nine, not knowing it would be the only time.

“Here it is” said the bartender startling me. I drink it in and in that first gulp I can taste for a brief second, that first beer I ever had. It’s not important that your beer was brewed using Icelandic glacier water, or that the hops are so rare that they are only grown in moonlight behind a man named Gunter’s house in Bavaria. What matters is that you like it. I’m certain that first beer my father shared with me was a mass produced can of ice cold crap to most beer folks. I’m equally certain that all these years and many beers later, it was the best beer I ever had.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving- Family Food Football...and Shopping?


Another Thanksgiving in the books as I finish putting away the last of the just cleaned dishes, and reach for a bottle of red nearly gone after having given much enjoyment to family and friends. I look back on Thanksgivings past and think of all the time spent in the kitchen preparing the family meal in the company of all those that came before me, and now I prepare it with those to follow. I think of all the family and time spent with them because it was Thanksgiving and that’s what it was about. To me that’s what it will always be about and I’m sure my cousin Bob would agree, right Bob? Bob?! Oh, looks like Bob went shopping.

I’ve always heard that Thanksgiving was the one holiday that corporations couldn’t figure out how to commercialize and until this year it was pretty much true, unless you consider 80 odd million in turkey sales a triumph for corporate America. To put that in perspective last year the US spent over two billion on Christmas cards. That’s a lot of money for awful writing or even more awful electronic cards with dogs barking carols. Good news looks like this year there’s an opportunity to sell even more of these thanks to some stores that decided families suck and profits rule. Good call corporate America!

So who were these fine folks who decided that none of their employees deserved to be with their families and should instead be in the salt mines of Greed Central Inc.? I’m sure they are so very proud of what they’ve done so I thought they deserved to not only have their company name out there… but their personal names as well…  Aeropostale CEO Thomas P Johnson, Banana Republic President Jack Calhoun, Big Lots CEO Steven F Fishman, Family Dollar CEO Howard R Levine, Gap Inc CEO Glenn K Murphy, Kenneth Cole CEO Paul Blum (soon to be gone), Kmart CEO  Louis D'Ambrosio , Old Navy  President Stefan Larsson, Sears CEO Louis D'Ambrosio, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz , Target CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel, Toys'R'Us CEO Gerald L. Storch , and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey…Let me be the first to tell you all from the very bottom of my heart I truly believe you are a blithering bunch of incompetent asshats, and if Caesar were alive today he would have you all chained to an oar.

There were others but these were the biggies. Walgreens and CVS I’m gonna cut them a break only because they have pharmacies and I consider people needing meds pretty important. What I don’t consider important are shelves full of dollar goods, a store devoted to toys or Sears selling snow blowers whose tires won’t hold air and won’t start after only three hours of use… more about that on Twitter Mr D’Ambrosio. Whole Foods really?! What made you honestly believe you needed to be open? Did you think people couldn’t live a day without organic short grain brown rice or the macrobiotic salad bar or were you just in for the money grab as well? 

The fact that these people not only made personal decisions to stay open, but they made decisions that affected the Thanksgiving holiday for tens of thousands of people. This is not only disgraceful but it’s downright cruel and leads me to ask these so called Presidents and CEO’s how many of them spent the day with their families? I don't mean you had to make your way to the office for a phone call I mean you spent the entire day away from your family and got a twenty minute break to eat your meal you selfish bastards.I’d personally like to know. 

In a work environment that has few full time jobs and scarce benefits leads me to believe these so called leaders decided to be open on Thanksgiving because what were these workers going to do...say no?! I personally believe someone needs to wake up the gimp to give these shit-bricks what they gave their employees. A good bending at the waist. Employees if you want to stick your time cards up there I'd understand. Oh and just so we are clear, I'm not buying the "I'm accountable to the stockholder" bullshit. Unless that stockholder wants to make their way down to their local Toys R Us and deal with grown adults fighting over the last Tickle me Elmo doll...Which oddly has a lot more meaning this year.

As for you America, I’m pretty disappointed there wasn't an outcry or outrage from anyone that said hey you know what…Enough of this crap! Surely we can have two holidays (counting Christmas) a year free from corporations. Only one store that I noticed had the guts to stand up and say enough is enough and that was P.C. Richard & Son and went so far as to say other stores that open on Thanksgiving have no respect for their employees or family values. I’d say that’s about right and thanks for doing the right thing PC Richard & Son. Hey I’m about as far from virtuous as one gets but for one day a year you should be able to hang with Uncle Raphael, and I can pretend to stand my cousin Bob… even though he is double dipping in the clam dip. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seacoast Food, the Truth.


I’ve lived in the Portsmouth, NH area now for about four years and a majority of that time I have been traveling to other areas of the country for work, and eating out non-stop. So when I come home I spend most of my eating time at home in the comfort of my own kitchen. Being a former chef it’s hard to beat the food cost, quality and drink prices at home. 

When I did decide to venture out to eat I’d check local reviews and “Best Of” lists. I was assured each and every time that I’d receive a great meal at a great price from great people giving great service as if I’d be going to Mister Rogers Restaurant with Elmo as my server! Sadly, on several occasions I’d come away wondering if I had been to the wrong place.

Within the past six months I’ve started talking to a lot of cooks and chefs in the area. With my limited experience of local restaurants I would ask these cooks if I had gone to these places on a bad day, or inquire about restaurants I wanted to try based on reviews and write-ups I’ve read, I mean can they all be “great”? I was met with eye rolling and laughter…”Haven’t you heard?! There’s no such thing as a bad restaurant or bad review on the seacoast!” I don’t understand, I’ve had bad meals and at least one of the local/regional reviewers has had a bad meal as well.

What followed from these cooks was in a word…Disturbing. Theories from the cooks/chefs went from “It has to do with advertising dollars/ It’s a money grab” to “A poor review from a critic would destroy them, the critic or restaurant” to “It’s too small of a town” and “it’s considered bad taste and it may hurt…feelings.” This may come as a shock to you kind and gentle people but my response to hurt feelings and poor taste as a result of a poor but honest review can be summed up in two words, tough shit.

Warm fuzzy reviews are not only a disservice to the cooks and restaurant owners, but to you and the local economy as well. A chef who is an owner put their name, money, personal life and reputation on the line. They need feedback good bad or indifferent to gauge whether their product is good or not. Smiling and nodding like the village idiot when what you really want to do is vomit on the chef’s clogs doesn’t help the chef improve.

Even if the chef isn’t an owner they still deserve the truth which in theory will benefit you with a better end product. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. Somewhere along the line as a young cook, they made something that prompted their chef and mentor to compare their food to something lower than whale shit. They are a tough breed of people who are used to dealing with things going wrong and fixing them, that’s what makes a great cook. A cook that can’t handle adversity or criticism is a shoemaker.

The restaurant owner of a bad restaurant, reading how “great” the restaurant is will make them question why else could the bottom line be so damned bad? They need honest feedback, they already have friends who kiss their ass and smile… they don’t need another. A restaurateur armed with good honest information will be able to make a better decision regarding menu, personnel changes or just plain pulling the plug on an operation gone pear shaped.

Tourists: Yup, the rumor is that the seacoast gets its share of tourists. When I go to a strange little hamlet for some R&R I check out local reviews, blogs, and “Best Of” articles to discern where I’m going to eat. If the reviews, articles and “best of” pieces are skewed popularity contests or fluff, and the places in reality suck… I’m going to write that town off as a culinary wasteland. This in turn is going to hurt local businesses because if there’s nothing good to eat why would you stay there?

I’m not saying we need to do bad reviews for the sake of doing bad reviews like Pete Wells of the New York Times did to Guy Fieri’s Restaurant in NY. If a place is that bad maybe just leave them alone and don’t say anything about them…ever. When it comes to a Restaurant that has a good concept, chef and staff just missing the mark…let them know about it like Brian Aldrich of @SeacoastBevLab did this week in his review of The Thirsty Moose. It was smart, honest, on the mark and, it was about damn time!

So heads up cooks I’m going to be out there eating…a lot. You cooks asked for it because as one put it “We deserve more than vanilla reviews.” I’m not looking to run anybody over, but if a restaurant or its food is not being delivered as advertised I’ll let you know. This upcoming spring I’ll be giving you a Top Five Restaurants of the Seacoast list that you can take to the bank and a Top Five “Up and Coming” List as well. The chefs and restaurateurs deserve it, the tourists deserve it, local businesses deserve it and seacoast…YOU DESERVE IT! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Podcast With Chef Evan Hennessey and Chef Matt Louis

Pavlov talks to Chefs Evan Hennessey and Matt Louis   In Dover New Hampshire.
Chef Hennessey Is the Chef Owner of Stages One Washington in Dover NH.
Chef Louis is Chef Owner of Moxy in Portsmouth NH.
We talk about everything from one of them being a candy junkie, to one using curse words. OH NO!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jesus and Cream Cheese


After a twelve hour flight delay, more beer than I can recall, with friends I’ve long forgotten and a bus ride to a place called Stansted Airport… we were finally leaving jolly, old England. Thinking back on the trip… I’d seen a guy with a Mohawk, a rat lashed to his shoulder, demanding cash to have his picture taken; I saw a guy get stabbed 5 feet away from me in Trafalgar Square and a guy getting sexual favors from a transvestite in the streets of Soho. In short, it was a bizarre little corner of the world, but little did I know my nights of drunken revelry would be relatively mundane compared to my plane ride back to the states.

After boarding the Boeing 747 Jumbo, my buddy, myself and a couple guys we’d run across from Staten Island, NY, were all seated in a row. The only stranger amongst us was sitting next to me, of course. He appeared to be American with a full long flowing beard and dreadlocks …I couldn’t help but think he looked like a Rastafarian Jesus in this outfit, and the fact that he rolled his own cigarettes only made it comical.  He was dressed in a long flowing white robe of the kind you’d see at an OPEC summit or a Christmas Nativity Scene, but, I guess, in reality, is called a thawb.

Settling in, and after an hour or so in the dark cabin, everyone started dozing off.  All of a sudden, the lights came back on and flight attendants started pushing their carts down the aisle, announcing it was snack time. Snack time?! Feeling somewhat hung-over and not being able to sleep, I needed something to kill part of the eight hours of flight still left before arriving back in Newark.  Besides, if memory served, where there are snacks, there’s booze.

I really enjoyed my snack. Jesus, on the other hand, well I’ll put it this way…one man’s snack is another man’s art supply. Now, anybody who knows art can tell you, you need crème fraiche to do anything worthwhile in the abstract department. However when life gives you cream cheese, you make post modernist expressionism on the back of the seat in front of you. Yup, some folks work in clay, others in metal or wood, Jesus… was a cream cheese man. 

He worked in forms and movement far too advanced for this young, un-art-educated man of eighteen years to wrap his head around. But I thought it smacked of smoldering sensuality… especially when he started embedding the goldfish into it. Move over Picasso….make way for Jesus at the Guggenheim! This is where it went pear shaped.  While I thought it to be some of his best work yet, Jesus seemed unconvinced, even angry to the point of being inconsolable.  Either that or he was tripping his balls off. He started beating the seat in front of him like it owed him money to replay his student loans.

The man in the seat, who until this point had been sleeping, woke up, turned around and asked “Do you mind, I’m trying to sleep?!” Jesus said nothing and seemed to relax for a couple minutes before commencing to beat the back of the seat a second time. This time the man stood up and calmly explained that if it continued, he’d have to call a flight attendant. Jesus calmed down again for a few minutes and lit a cigarette.  He then began to tap the seat and started to dab his fists into the creamy work of art he had created for me and my seatmates to enjoy. He began to poke the chair, as if trying to gauge the strength of tap needed to make the poor man once again arise from his relaxed state.  We didn’t have to wait long… as the man stood up and turned to say something, Jesus stood up and in his own silent way, commenced to slobber knock the man in his cake hole.

Thus began the scrum…the man was stunned and with his face covered in cream cheese, jabbed back, knocking Jesus’ lit cigarette into the chair behind him. This caused another half-asleep man to jump up and wearily try to grab hold of Jesus without really understanding what was happening. The first man saw an opportunity to throw a haymaker and after hauling back and letting go, Jesus ducked his head just in time for the newly involved man to get knocked the hell out. Jesus put up a decent struggle, but by this point there were multiple male flight attendants and either good Samaritans, or air marshals, pig piling on the still quiet Jesus, and cream cheese was everywhere.

Everybody sitting around Jesus was sent down to first class, for our safety, and given free drinks for our troubles. It was like an after party, where we drank and recounted our stories of what had just unfolded. After landing and waiting in a long, grumpy and drunk line to get through customs, a swinging door opened with a bang, and some half dozen or so of New Jersey’s finest busted through carrying a hog tied Jesus through the express lane…. to a full cavity search I’m sure. A cheer erupted through the crowd of weary passengers, some wearing a white schmear of courage. To be sure, it was a great trip with a thousand memories, but none as vivid as when I toast a bagel and grab for the cream cheese.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sex, Cocaine and Fried Chicken


It was my first place and by first place I mean a bedroom to put my stuff where if I wanted to leave my dirty socks on the floor for a week I could. Except that I had a girlfriend at the time who probably wouldn’t be too keen on having a boyfriend who wasn’t capable of picking up a pair of dirty socks and depositing them into the hamper five feet away. That being said I was king of my bedroom and had use of the kitchen, living room and my own bathroom. It was just like being home except now I was the one bitching about cable bills and not my father.

The problem with working from eleven at night until seven in the morning is that you are sleeping when the rest of the world is working and working when the rest of the world is sleeping so it ends up being a pretty solitary lifestyle. Then the weekends come and you have to figure out how to get your weekend back to the point you could interact with other human beings. In theory you do this by going home Friday morning and getting just enough sleep so you can be tired enough to sleep when everyone else is going to bed Friday night.

This is where being my father’s son comes into play where I only require a couple hours of sleep to stay up the better part of a decade. So after visiting with my girlfriend who still lived at home and getting the hairy eyeball from her mother at about midnight or so, I knew it was time for my weekly ritual of hanging out at the grocery store for a couple of hours. By this time I was a relatively accomplished home cook, but being short on money as most eighteen year olds are I was relegated to window shopping at the grocery store. Looking at all the ethnic food we didn't have growing up in New Hampshire and thinking, do I need guava paste? After a couple hours I’d take my ramen, rice, pasta and cheap cuts of meat back to my castle.

Charlie, the man I was renting from initially came across initially as a kindly seventy year old man who was fiercely proud of being Armenian and would regale me with the history of his land and his people. Not being very good at world history and having a short attention span besides, I would quietly nod knowingly and wonder how long I had to sit there before I could take my leave and tend to the pile of dirty socks that had accumulated before my girlfriend came to visit. It wasn't long before I came to see a different side of Charlie.

I came home late one Friday night after a weekly shopping excursion with shopping bags in both arms, using my elbow I flipped the light switch to expose a fully naked twenty something year old woman of color approaching me. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she approached me and asked “can you give me a bump?” Eh, ah… give you a… I’m sorry what?! You know, a bump… you have any coke?! Uh… no, I think all I got is ginger ale.

She chuckled and patted me on the shoulder as I stood staring into her dull sad yellowed eyes and dry almost cracked lips. “What’s going on?!” asked an annoyed Charlie who was standing at the top of the stairs wearing only boxers. The woman turned and ascended the flight of stairs and disappeared into Charlie’s bedroom with him following. After shutting the door they proceeded to have a muffled argument as I put away my groceries in stunned disbelief.

I slept in the next morning and coming down the stairs Charlie and his companion were in the kitchen making fried chicken and collard greens. Charlie introduced the woman looking fresh as a daisy as if the night before had never taken place. I sat staring as she used a brown paper shopping bag to coat the chicken and she explained how she grew up in Louisiana and this was how her mama had made it. As I had nowhere to go and a love for fried chicken I decided to stay and eat. It was some seriously amazing fried chicken and I remember being fascinated by the texture of collard greens with bits of ham hock and the magic that is potlikker.
   
I moved out of there a couple months, several of these situations, and many different chemically dependent women later to my own apartment. A couple of years later I read Charlie had been shot to death in his home by a young woman and it was apparently over a drug deal gone bad. Charlie was giving these girls money or drugs to support their habits in exchange for sex. 

No there isn't a happy ending to this story of one person taking advantage of another’s weaknesses but then again life isn't always a sit-com where everything gets fixed in thirty minutes. It was a life lesson on what comes around goes around. It taught me that you shouldn't always take advantage of a situation just because you can. And it was a primer on potlikker, collards and really good fried chicken that would serve me well when I moved to the south. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

EGGS, Lets Start at the Beginning


Marco Pierre White says you can tell a lot about a cook just by the way they prepare an egg. When he talks about fried eggs he explains it’s more poaching in butter than it is frying. “If you can hear the egg cooking when you put it in the pan… your heat is too high.” After the whites have set carefully spoon the melted butter over the top of the egg until the tops of the white are set and voila, the perfect fried egg complete with a yolk that for all intents and purposes is its own sauce. It compliments anything it goes on from a cheeseburger to pizza even the toasted bread of a simple egg sandwich. Today I know this to be gospel yet somehow, that wasn't always the case.

I started cooking eggs not long after “The Great Pudding Incident of 80.” This cooking thing was fun and easy and hey, I even managed not to kill anybody! I made fried eggs for sandwiches that were cooked past Silly Putty stage both in texture and flavor. I couldn’t manage to flip the egg without breaking the yolk which although being fine by me, it was sacrilegious to my father.  My scrambled eggs were surprisingly good being both creamy and yet somehow fluffy. 

Then there were omelets, sadly I made my parents eat all manner of omelets not fit for human consumption. Sure there were some winners with onion, peppers and ham topped with cheese. But then there were those oregano, garlic and ginger fiascos that they somehow managed to choke down. They were overcooked, rarely folded in an omelet like manner and most definitely awful. My parents never said an ill word about any of it… and today I have them to blame for my love of cooking.

Dad’s famous egg dish was the simple fried egg. To pull this off you need a white hot cast iron skillet heated to somewhere between 1200 degrees Kelvin and the sun, a dollop of bacon grease (you mean there are other fats you can use?) and an egg. Melt the grease then drop your egg into the pan then as soon as you can grab your spatula your fried egg is done. This will give you a perfectly laced nearly burnt egg white on the bottom, on the top you get the stuff that hangs from the jowls of a St. Bernard and the yolk will be nearly as cold as it was when the egg was cracked. Dad liked to dip toast into this mess and I liked to drown mine with ketchup.

Mom’s Idea was a little different with regards to eggs and actually had the right idea in theory if not in practice. She would crack a dozen or so eggs beaten with a touch of milk and a little salt and pepper, cooked slowly in a low cast iron pan. She cooked the eggs slowly taking care to keep stirring the bottom of the pan nearly constantly making sure to hit the entire bottom in a back and forth motion like a tractor seeding a field. I suggested she turn the heat up but she wouldn’t hear of it and kept stirring gently. The only thing mom did that made them less than perfect was she cooked them a little too long.

Her hardboiled eggs were incorrect in every way imaginable in that you cover the eggs with water, boil them just shy of a decade, and take them off when there was no water left in the pan, or the egg. This would make for a Sahara dry green yolk perfect for adding to everything from salmon pea wiggle to potato salad?! My mother dearly loves adding eggs to dishes and if you turn your back long enough they’d end up in who knows what and for some reason, I still love them. Yes I love a creamy yolk as well, but I never balk at a mom’s cooked to death hardboiled egg.

Today as I start making what I now know to be a perfectly “fried” egg I realize I can learn a lot about myself just by looking at that egg “not making any noise in the pan.” I can see the evolution of me in it as a cook, not only the present successes but also what I’ve learned from my past failures. Then I smile and turn the pan up just a little and hear the egg start to spit. I grab two pieces of bread to toast and reach for the Sriracha to do an over easy egg sandwich. A little bit over cooked, a little bit under cooked  to honor the people who faced odd combinations and botulism to help me become the halfway decent cook I am today. Oh and mom, dad… thanks for not becoming physically sick from the canned tuna and macaroni omelet.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fair Food


Last weekend I attended the 161st annual Carhartt convention in Maine or as some folks lovingly call it, the Fryeburg Fair. Since I was a little kid I went to fairs every year and to this day Fryeburg is still my favorite. They have the most animals by far, probably enough to sink Noah's Ark. They have tons of food vendors and not just your typical New England fair favorites of Italian sausage, fried dough, French fries and cotton candy. 

At the Fryeburg Fair you can get everything from a deep fried Oreo to Thai food and darned near everything in between. I even saw a vegetable stand and talked to the woman who owned it whom I had at first dubbed “the loneliest person at the fair,” but after talking with her and upon further inspection I saw that the veggies were battered, deep fried and covered with a mayo based sauce…way to keep it healthy veggie lady!

Growing up I remember going to the Cheshire Fair in Swanzey, NH every late summer as a child. The best part was after we were done setting up our vegetables for judging on the evening before the fair started, we were allowed to ride all the rides for free. In hindsight I’m not sure going on a thirty year old tilt-a-whirl for its “shake-down” cruise was such a good idea. 

But as children are immune to such logic, and are in their own minds immortal… I caught a lucky break and fate smiled upon mine and my brothers nights of fun. I remembered going into the main building which in winter was the ice arena my brother and I played hockey in and being in awe that this would ever be a rink again, especially with all that dirt, tractors, horses and of course horse manure covering the skating surface.

I always walked through the barns to look at the animals. I took the obligatory look at the cows and horses, but as I saw them at the farm all the time I was looking for the really exotic animals like turkeys, miniature lop eared rabbits and Lucifer eyed goats. After walking around for several hours through countless piles of manure smelling of animals, hay and sawdust, it was time to walk the midway and listen to the barkers cry. 

Since I had ridden every ride I wanted for as much as I wanted to the night before the fair opened, I was more interested in the food. Walking past the pretzel, cotton candy and candied apple stands (aside from six year olds, who’s eating candied apples and why?) I made my way towards the one constant at the fair that always made it seem complete…the Italian sausage stand.

This was one of those foods my father, my brother and I would always get at the fair and to this day it isn't a fair unless I have one. Mom wasn't much of a fair person and stayed home, as this left Dad to his own devices from a culinary standpoint we always went straight for the holy grail of fair food before joining my Uncle Gene in the stands to watch the tractor pulls. The traditional sausage stand had little diner seats along the sides and big circular ropes of Italian sausage along with onions and peppers sizzling away on the flat top. I don’t recall the first time I had one but I know it had to be at the fair as we never ate it at home, and to this day every time I bite into one it reminds me of my father and the fair. 

The most exotic ethnic food we ate at home was probably kielbasa sautéed with sauerkraut, which everyone but me smothered in yellow mustard. As I wanted to be authentic (to which country Poland or Germany I had no idea) I ate mine au natural.  Then there was “Spanish rice” which had nearly zero Spanish ingredients at all unless you count tomato as Spanish. Basically it was rice with ground beef and mom’s homemade meat sauce…Olé!

Of course I would eat the obligatory fried dough which is the north’s answer to the funnel cake. French fries smothered in malt vinegar, which being Acadian French was a given as we would eat a trailer hitch if it had vinegar on it, and a kiddies pool worth of lemonade. Today walking around I’m seeing lemonade that costs as much as my first apartment. Fried Kool-Aid which in as much as I could figure was Kool-Aid dumped into “clam fry” then deep fried, and eaten by people with a horrid contempt for their health and self esteem. 

I did see some good looking food in the way of wood fired pizza which had a nice “up skirt shot” and was crispy and bubbling, and Thai food which was probably as Thai as my childhood Spanish rice was Spanish but it looked hot and tasty regardless. That being said with only one day at the Fryeburg fair, barely enough room for a quart of Mylanta and a couple food items, I’ll take the Italian sausage with onions and peppers…it always makes the fair a fair. 

No...not from this mess! Sadly it's the only flat top pic I got...*sigh*

Ate BBQ sample at Fair in Northern NH earlier in the season...what was I thinking?!






UGH! Can't I go anywhere without politics?!












WOW...FREE DIPPING SAUCE?! Must be my lucky day!

As I told my friends relax I split this one... with myself! Hellz yeah I ate it all... I ain't scared... but my aorta probably is.

Same as above... who the hell wants boneless fried chicken?!

MMMM...Fried Kool-Aid! But uh yeah, I'd definitely eat the fried pickle chipe...wonder if they came with free sauce?

I saw the "up skir" shot on the pizza but in Northern Maine where guns are carried and cops are few, I didn't feel right asking the guy to take a picture of the underside of his pizza...go figure.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dear Serious Eats

Dear Serious Eats,

    After waking up on a Saturday you were the first thing after my morning coffee that I looked forward to. You were interesting, topical and fun. You used to not only inform me, but you also entertained me. Because you were engaging, actively participated in your own as well as other peoples stories and threads. You were wonderfully warm, personal and different from any other food site/community. 

There was always someone there to learn from or commiserate with on cooking, and even though it wasn't interactive per se it was interactive enough. Talk was topical and even if it strayed off course from time to time you would bring it back to center with a friendly post. You were different, you were unique and everybody noticed.

Things took a dramatic turn when you made a decision to make personnel changes and in one fell swoop a big piece of both your personality and charm that made the site special and welcoming were gone. 

Things were exciting for a bit as you added science with the food. This was interesting and most probably enlightening for anybody who had never read Harold McGee’s book “On Food and Cooking”. The person behind the science was fun, engaging and seemed to fit in nicely even though there was an obvious and large gap to fill. 

It wasn't long after this that things seemed to take a turn eventually becoming in my humble opinion, a downward spiral. Your staff became increasingly detached and less involved with the community only taking time to comment with other staff members threads to tell inside jokes, and cajole each other into telling even more inside jokes that made us feel more like outsiders looking in. 

I’m not sure what happened but the whole look of the site became sterile and oddly colored, ads became hair triggered and talk threads seemed to almost disappear and people became unattached. Meanwhile content became so bloated and uninteresting as to appear like overzealous children looking for their parents attention and approval. It looked like you had caught Food Network Disease or FND...you poor thing.

You have had opportunities with your social media to embrace the community and if not promote them at least follow, like or otherwise acknowledge they exist. Twitter has something called Follow Friday which is an opportunity to mention people you like, or people who patronize and support you. 

I can only surmise you either don’t like anybody or… don’t feel there is anybody worthy of your mention. I’m not convinced it’s either, but rather something even worse…you don’t know how to use social media. Your people are all very smart, super smart...hell probably even genius smart, and I know you and they have the credentials to back it up. 

Unfortunately as sometimes happens, very smart people have one inherent flaw… they are too smart. Some say “long on smarts, short on common sense.” It seems someone in your group should have noticed that social media has the word “social” in it and took that as a clue to be... social. Not a one dimensional billboard becoming so much noise in the ever noisy Twitterverse.

Now I never claimed to be a smart man, but when all you do is pedal your wares, self promote and in general ignore all but the crème de la crème of the food world, you’re not being social but rather snobbish and boring. I'm sorry I know that seems harsh. But you’re now "that person" that wants to come over and show your four hour slide show from a trip to Panga Panga, and you shush anybody that tries to ask a question.

I only go there now for the sake of one person’s musings and rarely anything else, and I hate that you've driven me to that. I’m sorry you changed for the sake of progress, money, influence or whatever it was you changed for the sake of.

I do however think you’re missing some opportunities, let me explain. 1) Improve your social media, it isn't very good and it's not social. 2) Improve your interaction with the community both in, and out of the site..If you don't have the time to talk, it means you don't have the time to listen either... I promise you there will be time to post soup dumplings tomorrow. 3) When possible try talking "with" people and not "at" them, this is called a conversation. I know it sounds cliché but people have conversations and learn from each other every day.

You can probably speak to unbelievably successful numbers and staggering growth since "The Change" and to that I'd say good for you. But just because you're successful doesn't mean you know everything. Don't stop listening and learning.

Sure you could tweet this story and get a million people to call this letter and me... bullshit. That's because you have a million followers, not friends. If you listened to, cared about, and interacted with, the people in your community...you'd have a billion friends and they'd not only follow you, but they'd care. No man is an island.

You might say it's a case of the site growing in scope and content, that people move on and find something else and that technology is ever changing, that you have added responsibilities. Those things are all valid no doubt about it, but there's one thing people always respond well to and want to treasure, hold close and not let go of... friendly personal interaction... you've lost yours, and I wish you would get it back.

Love always,

Pavlov

Friday, September 28, 2012

SAUCEAPALOOZA 2012


Looking inquisitively I asked “What is this?!” “It’s a hot pepper so you might not want to touch it… it’ll make your mouth burn.” My mother said. Saying this to a six year old is like saying oh heck you’re gonna love it, why not just grab a fork and help yourself!! So naturally I waited until my mother turned her back and began stirring the sauce…looking like a red bell pepper I took a nice sized piece and got maybe three chews in before my face felt like it burst into flames. Running through the living room past my bewildered father I ran into the bathroom and dunked my face into the sink where my face and lips remained for the better part of the next hour. This was my intro to canning and sauceapalooza.

I had always remembered my mother canning but this was the first year where I got to see it up close and until the pepper incident, very personal. Peeling tomatoes, seeding, crushing them right through to the processing when the windows were all flung opened and made our house look like a steam factory, but it prevented the kitchen ceiling from raining down drops of condensed steam and turning the floor into a slip and slide. My mom pretty much canned or froze damned near everything from our garden and from shared gardens of several aunts. Enough to fill a standalone freezer from top to bottom and a garage type metal 5 tiered rack until I was nearly a junior in high school.

Suffice it to say mom has canned or frozen quite a few things since she was a little girl at my grandmother’s side, using the old fashioned canning jars with rubber seals. From applesauce to summer squash and everything in between… but nothing was ever as much fun as spaghetti sauce, or smelled any better. By the time I actually started helping with the knife work of mincing garlic, dicing the onion, carrot, green peppers and learning how to separate the skins plus seed and dice tomatoes I was maybe eleven or twelve. 

The time seemed to fly by and at the end a sense of disappointment prevailed until we got to eat the fruit of that year’s labor. There was no comparison between spaghetti sauce to when I was helping to pick, sort and then freeze blueberries, or as I like to call it…eternal damnation. The blueberries were easy but offered no magic as a reward for preparation… only stained hands and faces.

Over the year’s mom’s canning slowed, first the green beans stopped then the pickles until my father passed. It has only been spaghetti sauce for the last four years. I always joked with mom and called it sauceapalooza, even going so far as to filming it the year before my father died… sort of an “every boring thing you ever wanted to see about canning, and then some!” 

It’s almost unwatchable as the audio is bad except for the parts when my father would come into the kitchen and being half deaf from being a tool and die maker/machinist his whole life and asking my mother the odd this or that question… then a smile and wave he’d give to the camera and out of the shot he’d go. Typical ham that he was makes the whole thing worth playing every now and again.

“So I guess that’s it.” Mom says as the final canners are wrapped and stored. I said “yeah… done for another year.” She gave me a strange look and said “no I mean that’s probably the last time I’ll be canning.” “You know I was talking about selling the house and if that happens then those canners are yours.” I guess she had told me she wanted to sell. I thought of it every now and then, but quickly set it aside. 

My parents bought the house in seventy three and it’s the only home I ever knew short of a few oddball memories of falling down stairs when I was three in Worcester, or waving down the milkman for a ten cent pint of chocolate milk in Hinsdale when I was four. I walked around the yard and thought of how the neighbors that used to stop and comment about how good the sauce smelled have all gone or have passed away. I want to be selfish and come up with reasons for her to not sell, but I know in my heart that it’s time.

Sure I can invite her to my home to do spaghetti sauce, but it’s really not the same. Until now it’s been the familiar rhythms of seasons, of enjoying each other’s company…of home. But I guess that’s what life is all about isn’t it, change. I can tell you this, if those canners are mine come next year I’ll be breaking them out more often than just for saucezpalooza. 

I see jellypalooza and picklepalooza not to mention a few others besides. Because even if I can’t have the feeling of “that” home anymore at least I’ll be able to share a few days doing something I love and enjoy. Plus I’ll be doing it with the person that not only taught me how, but made it a home for all those wonderful years. Whatta ya say mom…pickled ramps too soon for our first canning event?!