Monday, July 30, 2012

#113 - Can We Have Another Spastic Bonfire Tonight, Daddy?

If only science existed to help me understand this.

Prepare for the inevitable! Download this or perish!

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Don't hate on the Olympics.  I watch the Olympics because it's unpredictable and a little weird.  I know some of the events are a little corny, but that is the point.  It only lasts for  2 1/2 weeks every other year, and you can watch unusual people do unusual things very, very, well.  It's a lot like a Vegas show.  

***

More essays about stuff and things coming up.

Thank you,

jim


Monday, July 23, 2012

#112 - White Trash Lobster


These dirty little 'maters will soon be sauce.

Food show.  Tasting menu available here.

Pressing on.  I'm writing even though I know no one is reading. I'm also writing a little better; sharper, and with more organization.

An apropos analogy:  My writing career is exactly like a man stranded on an island for months, who still lights bonfires every night.

I don't want to miss my boat.

Enjoy the vittles,

-jim

To Those Who Nit-Pick The Cool Things In Life




The internet has given us an absolutely insurmountable pile of opinions.  Besides porn, the internet’s true bounty is millions of opinions that are cast into the ether to be argued, disseminated, and mostly forgotten.  Everyone wants their voices heard, as I do.  I want people to know how I feel.  My friends and family aren’t enough.  I want strangers to weigh in, for some reason.  But that’s my problem.
Movies are one of the bigger targets because they are one of the last bastions of shared experiences we have.  We watch The Dark Knight Rises and we shuffle out into the hall and craft an opinion on smart phones before we get back to our cars.  I, personally, have class.  I wait until I come home.
 I love giving my opinions.  I have a podcast, for God’s sake.  I love when my kids ask me my opinion and I get to be a long-winded old fart.  It’s one of my only gifts. 
I cannot blame anyone for wanting to be heard and using the discussion or entertainment and its attempts to be art as a subject. But in the race to be different, edgy, or have your blog post get picked up by an aggregator or news site, we are all trying to come up with our own angle.  This film was fantastic, except…  The purists will love it, but…  It might be okay for a superhero film, but… 
I think we’re lying. 
I believe this because I don’t think we care as much as we say we do and I don’t think there can be millions of differing opinions out there.  Sure there can be…say…20 or so angles for the last movie in the Nolan trilogy, but 709 million results on Google?  For a Batman movie?  Somebody’s padding out there.  There are a few of you desperate to stand out so you are fudging the numbers and doctoring the books.  You are just looking for something to nit-pick.  If so, and you had that agenda before you bought your ticket, it’s not a legitimate review.  You’re a big faker-face.
I loved the movie. Here’s what I thought. I think I liked the previous one a little better because of Heath Ledger, but this stood alone as an epic with a brilliant villain and it was a successful finale to the franchise.  Are we having spaghetti for dinner? What’s next on Breaking Bad?
To the pseudo-hype: the notion that modern politics seeped its way onto the screen cannot be surprising to anyone. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. If it did, is this a shock to people?  Aren’t movies one of the first red flags of discontentment?  The sterility and McCarthyism of the 50’s, the generational clash of the 60’s, the frustration of Vietnam in the 70’s, and the cultural divide of the 80’s, all can be found in serious films and Spielberg blockbusters?  It’s in the air we breathe! 
But for this stuff, the superhero movies of the summer; the problem isn’t the studios.  We can’t decide whether or not we take them seriously or not.  We all know the stuffed shirts and old codgers out there who regard Batman as the spandexed goof who talks like Adam West and throws the Kiff! And Pow! jabs.  That’s all he’ll ever be to them.  Frank Miller never existed and Robin is always at his side.  Spider-Man is in his jammies all the time and Superman doesn’t deal with inner struggles of loneliness and abandonment, he kicks incoming asteroids into the sun.  You know, kid shit.
There’s a new generation who think differently.  The heroes are part of the psyche and the lexicon and the folklore.  This stuff means something to us.  We know they are stories and fables.  But they’re American and they are ours. 
Then the movies come out.  And we can’t help ourselves.  Our versions of the stories and characters and dialogues don’t match up and we have to blame Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.  Sam Raimi and Joel Schumacher.  Zack Snyder and Bryan Singer.  Then we say they’re just superhero movies.  There’s no need to get our panties in a bunch. 
What happened here?  Are these our folk heroes in action or are they just movies meant to entertain us for a few hours every May through July?
Well, yeah.
Folk heroes are awesome and cool and fun and the impetus of young imaginations.  They are a root system for power and individuality and creativity.  But, in the end, you only need them for so long.  At some point, you take a step back and enjoy them as a whole.  As your life becomes more complicated you appreciate the stories for having endings and resolutions you wish were around the corner for yourself.
We shouldn’t nit-pick. It’s unseemly and douchey.  It isn’t becoming and it isn’t very manly.  I know Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3 and that Hulk movie were clunkers.  Yeah, that was a waste of money.  I got over it pretty quickly.  The latest Batman may have been a little long, but I don’t care.  It was a good film and I’m satisfied.  Maybe you thought differently and the entire 7 or 8 hours of Nolan’s superhero series was a giant waste of time.  You’re wrong, but you are entitled to your opinion.  What I’m sure of is, we’ll both get over it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

They’re Only Smoked Ribs If I Can Hang Them On My Wall



I received a smoker for my birthday this year.  It is a charcoal and wood smoker; not one of the fancier, smarter, and more efficient electric models.  This is basically a black water heater sitting on its side, propped up by four legs, with a stove pipe sticking out of one side.  It is as simple as can be for the smoking process.
For one of my side projects to become a more employable writer, I am rewriting the manual to use this behemoth.  The original was bare-bones; and the primary concern of the two pages of instruction was to keep you from burning your backyard down with a misuse of charcoal lighter fluid.  I was lost when it came time to smoke my first few chickens.  The manual detailed nothing of realistic cooking times, the size of the fire, the type of fuel that should be used, and extra equipment needed to actually complete the desired task. There was also nothing about how much of your day would be consumed by cooking your dinner.
This is a running theme in my life these days.  How much should food be a concern?   It is just fuel and deserving of no fanfare?  Eat the required vitamins, stay near your calorie count and get on with your hectic American existence?  Or, since there are entire cable networks dedicated to preparing, caring, exploring, and discovering food, is there more for the brain itself?  Can you spend time on the planet devoted to nourishing your palette? We have art and music for the eyes and ears, what about my tongue?  What did he ever do to be so ignored?  Nothing, I say!
In our house, we cook.  There are no prepared frozen entrees of anything, save an occasional store-bought pie.  We never made a formal decision to put some thought into our food.  It is just the way it is.  My wife is a chef; but there were never home-schooled classes on how to chop onions or sear meats in a skillet.  Both of us come from families who cooked whatever was around.  Nothing fancy, nothing too exciting or even worth passing on to younger generations.  Cooking was an effort. You burned a few calories before eating a few.
With that labor to create our own food comes an appreciation when it’s done with flair and expertise.  I know the precision it takes to achieve perfect uniform pieces with a chef’s knife.  I can tell when the seasoning is just right.  My kids now know that a dinner with a protein, a starch and a vegetable doesn’t fall from the sky.  It’s not a magic trick.  It takes practice and time.
When I smoke my first slabs of ribs on July 4th, it took six hours of work.  The smoker’s fires have to be continually rebuilt.  I monitored the temperature of both the heat and the meat inside.  I have a remote thermometer that beeped when things were getting too hot or cold.  It was my afternoon.  I played some cards in between, but for an entire afternoon, I was tethered to my backyard.
I make homemade pizza when it’s a bit cooler outside.  My process for making pizzas for company can take up to three hours.  Preparing ingredients, dough work, and fighting with my oven to operate correctly.  My wife makes a giant mess to make chicken and dumplings.  She also discovered a fantastic fried chicken recipe that takes 30 minutes per batch to complete. There are no less than four batches whenever she gets the urge to fry.
There are rib places out there that serve them up hot in 15 minutes.  I could snag three pizzas from Costco for $30. I am renowned Popeye’s Chicken fanatic that has no qualms about the 20 minute drive to the nearest location.
So why?  Why all the effort? Why do people show up to all my wife’s restaurants over the years?   Why, in a time of chronic obesity, should we care at all about food? 
Like art and music and television and athletics, there is a skill to this.  Because an appreciation exists out there for a juicy hamburger, coq au vin, and leek soup, there are those of us who want to perfect them. It’s another thing we can get good at.  The entire willing world is out there ready to sample these creations.  You only need teeth and a modicum of bravery.  Most food needs no explanations, artist statements or librettos.  Granted, nuances are lost to the uninitiated.  But that distinction just upholds the similarities between art and cooking.
Whether or not you’ve ever spent ten seconds in a kitchen, you have some preferences to what you like to eat.  Keep an open mind.  It may seem insane for someone to spend a day working on chalk sketches on a sidewalk, or a sandcastle at the beach, only to have all the effort eventually washed away by the elements.  Is that so different from my wife’s chicken or my ribs?  Or a vegetable garden?  Or making mac and cheese from scratch? 
I’m going outside to smoke ribs now.  It looks like it may rain on me today.  In a few hours I will smell like sticky sweat and apple wood.  Before you even ask, I will tell you.  It is worth it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

#111 - A Real Live Wackadoodle


Waterfront Park, July 2012

Podload the downcast right about here.

Yeah, I've been thinking over and over lately about my place in the creative spectrum.  I think, if I'm honest, I have no place.  I'm as I've always been; a student, a questioner, a mocker and a learner of everything.  I'm just a vocal member of the audience.  A re-creationist, an editor. A critic.  A reviewer of other's work. I make mix tapes, not music.  A sampler.

It's a little sad because I thought I had a shot at writing. I really put the hours in. Other than being a family man, it's the only thing I tried to be good at. The truth is,  I wanted the audience more than I wanted the work to get done.  I think if I felt heard as a kid, I probably would have never picked up a pen and started writing 20 years of journals, projects, and notes.  

Even so, I'm trying to make a practical form of writing into a career.  The business of interpreting and explaining.  Why?  Because I've been doing it for 20 years.  I can't stop now.

And then there's the podcasts.  I still find things to talk about. I also love being a goof.  That's a thing, right?

It's warm in July in Oregon, and still not too bad-

jim




Monday, July 2, 2012

#110 - Come On, Italy Guy


It's about time I throw a personal pic in here.

You know that new sound you've been looking for?  Well listen to this!

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"How To Smash Your Pinkie Toe In 10 Simple Steps"

1) Order a smoker.  A heavy charcoal grill with at least three grates and a separate firebox will do.  It will have to be big enough to be shipped to your house attached to a giant wooden pallet.

2) Assemble and move the smoker out of the garage, but make sure to leave the pallet on the floor.  The more of an obstacle it is between you and your work bench, bikes, tools, etc., the better.

3) During a smoke in the backyard, forget several necessary items in the garage.

4)  This is important:  Do not wear shoes.  Be barefoot, even if you own a nice pair of sandals.

5) Walk through your garage toward the work bench and completely forget there is a giant pallet on the floor.  It helps if you believe you are in such a rush you don't have time to flick the light switch to the ON position.

6) Blindly kick pallet with your right foot, smashing your pinkie toe.

7) Curse nature for the existence of the pinkie toe.

8) Swear.

9) Limp back to the cooking area.

10) Enjoy.

thanks,
jim

PS - That is the correct way to spell 'pallet' for this use.  I had to look it up.