Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned

by James Wright

I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main,
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sandwich Spread

Off to King's Gate today, so no posts over the weekend. Just thought I'd mention a quick follow-up to yesterday's recipe.

This barely qualifies as a recipe at all, but it's tasty and might be useful, so who knows? give it a whirl.

Deviled Sandwich Spread

2 T mayonnaise
2 T spicy brown mustard
1/4 t Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingredients together; spread on your bread. Ideal for roast beef. It's too thin to support chunkier additions like horseradish or relish, but a pinch of paprika wouldn't hurt.

Enough for 2 sandwiches

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Secret Ingredient

I'm going to share with you one of the special ingredients I've seen in most professional kitchens... and a new application for it that I came up with to save time.

You know all those fancy marinades you can buy at the store? Forget them. The marinade of choice in most kitchens I've worked in as the cheapest, orangest, nastiest-looking Italian dressing. Wishbone? Cheaper. Think house brand. It's got all the oil and vinegar you need for a good dressing, the corn syrup to caramelize the meat, and enough spice to make it worthwhile. It works brilliantly.

I rarely have time to marinate chicken breasts, though. Generally, I'm faced with a couple of rock-hard chicken breasts in the freezer and an hour top feed the family. So instead of marinating, I braise. That way I get flavor into those bland chicken breasts while defrosting.

Here's my technique - note that you can use these breasts for just about anything, from salad toppers to pasta ingredients. The sandwiches are just one approach. Follow your muse.

Braised Chicken Breast Sandwiches

4 frozen chicken breasts
1/2 cup cheap Italian dressing
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 kaiser rolls
1 tomato, sliced
1 head red leaf lettuce
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Mayonnaise

In a large sautee pan, combine chicken stock and dressing. Add bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil. Add frozen chicken breasts, and return liquid to a simmer. The liquid should come up to halfway up the sides of the breasts - if not, add broth or water. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes, turning once. Transfer breasts to a plate; the liquid can be refrigerated and used again if desired. Grill or sear the breasts over medium high heat 3-minutes until browned on each side.

In a small bowl, combine Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Toast the kaiser rolls. Build your sandwiches as follows: bottom bun, mayonnaise, breast, tomato, lettuce, mustard sauce. Serve hot and at once.

Serves 4


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chili Primitivo - BETA, Danger!

I was looking for a "primitive" chili recipe to post after my "presidential chili" recipe post. From my understanding, this ought to be a marinated beef recipe - no beans, no tomatoes. Oddly enough, though, that's not the recipe I found. My touchstone for historical cooking, Around the American Table, has the earliest recipe for chili posted int the 1800's...with beans. Beans have apparently always been a part of the equation. Go figure.

But I still wanted a meat-only version. And I found it. Hoo boy, did I find it.

The source is an odd, but strangely reliable, one - Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home. This oddity is a collection of herbalism, astrology, back history, and other pieces of color for Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's epic fantasy series for D&D, Dragonlance. The recipes for "Krynn" have always been of a far better quality than I have the right to expect, and I'll be posting more of them in the future.

This chili recipe, however, is called "fireball chili". And a few things about it make no sense to me. I intend to make it myself next week to test it out, but I'm eating it alone... and I have yet to see if I can make it work. So I'm letting you, gentle reader, review the recipe and see if you can make it work before then. I'll post my tasting notes after I'm done.

What I suspect this recipe actually is is a beef version of carnitas - a New Mexican shredded pork recipe. I worry that lean beef won't produce the liquid that the recipe demands. If I'm right, I'll try it with pork... if I'm sufficiently brave.

You have been warned...

Chili Primitivo

1 pound beef stew meat
2 tablespoons flour
2 T rendered beef fat or bacon grease (canola oil might be an adequate substitute)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
2 T paprika
1 bottle(!) Tabasco (I'm presuming this is a small bottle, but that's the only measure given in the recipe...)
1/2 t Chinese hot oil
2 t crushed red pepper

Mix all spices thoroughly.(Wash your hands immediately thereafter...) Marinate beef for 24 hours in spices; you may marinate as long as 48 if needed. Place beef in pot or dutch oven over low head and slow-cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to keep meat from sticking.

After 2 hours, heat bacon grease over medium heat in a small pan. Add flour and stir constantly until a light toast color develops and the roux smells of toasted bread, 5-7 minutes. Skim 1 cup of liquid from the beef (If, as I suspect, you don't have the liquid, try using chicken broth or water). Add liquid to roux; scrape the pan and whisk frequently until thickened and any "flour" flavor has dissipated (keep beer on hand if you're using liquid rendered from the pot as you taste!). Add sauce to beef and stir thoroughly, shredding the beef in the process. Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, tortillas, and anything else you can think of to kill the pain.

Serves 2-4 masochists.

Love Poem for an Enemy

by Richard Katrovas

I, as sinned against as sinning,
take small pleasure from the winning
of our decades-long guerrilla war.
For from my job I've wanted more
than victory over one who'd tried
to punish me before he died,
and now, neither of us dead,
we haunt these halls in constant dread
of drifting past the other's life
while long-term memory is rife
with slights that sting like paper cuts.
We've occupied our separate ruts
yet simmered in a single rage.
We've grown absurd in middle age
together, and should seek wisdom now
together, by ending this row.
I therefore decommission you
as constant flagship of my rue.
Below the threshold of my hate
you now my good regard may rate.
For I have let my anger pass.
But, while you're down there, kiss my ass.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Yes. We DID!!!

And now, with my loving wife's permission, I'm going to get schnookered. Read more...

Election Day, November, 1884

by Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,

'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor Mississippi's stream:

This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still small voice vibrating -America's choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)

The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland - Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,

The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,

The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,

Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's): the peaceful choice of all,

Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart pants, life glows:

These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,

Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama's The Better Cook

So I've got several reasons that I'm voting for Obama this year. Several of them, interestingly enough, have something to do with food. Here's an example from the Plain Dealer that sort of seals the deal for me: what both men like to cook.

You can tell a lot about a man by what he chooses to do in the kitchen.

McCain, it seems, likes to deep fry turkeys in peanut oil. This is, to be modest, and incredibly dangerous and risky prospect. You cannot find a deep-turkey fryer with a UL seal of approval... because blowtorches welded to aluminum cans just aren't safe. Sure, you can get some tasty results. But is a ham-handed approach to the problem. You can roast that bird and get excellent results, if you pay attention to details and don't race off for the quick and easy answer.

Risky, quick, ill-thought out tactics, without a serious strategy. Sounds sort of like the McCain campaign, doesn't it?

Now, Obama likes to make chili. That's a manly sort of cooking, in its own way - most guys claim to know how to make chili. But you've got so many options when you make the stuff. Do you go hard-core classic, with nothing but diced steak and chilis? Beans or no beans? How spicy? Slow cook or sautee? To be a serious chili cook, you have to form a plan, listen to your audience, pursue your plan with conviction, and follow through no matter what. These are all hallmarks of the Obama campaign, in my opinion, and they're also the hallmarks of a really good cook.

Here's the chili recipe I use at home. It's based on two fundamental needs for the house: No spice (my wife likes it mild, as does my four-year-old daughter); and on the table in less than an hour. See if you like it... and if you don't, well, then, I Hope you Change it.

Baja-Style Chili

1 pound lean ground beef (90/10)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large can diced tomatoes
3 T chili seasoning
1 lime
1 cup grated mild cheddar
Sour cream

In a large saute pan, brown the ground beef. Transfer the beef to a colander with a slotted spoon; reserve 1 T of beef fat. Sautee the diced onion until transparent. Return the beef to the pan; add the full, undrained can of tomatoes and chili spice to the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice of half of the lime into the chili; add cheddar and simmer 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot and at once, garnishing with lime wedges, grated cheddar, and sour cream.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ex-Basketball Player

by John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Theme in Yellow

by Carl Sandburg

I SPOT the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

Rashid Khalidi: Let's roll tape?

So a friend of mine who's still conservative argues that if the American public just saw that video - saw Obama partying with that dangerous extremist Rashid Khalidi - they'd turn against Obama.

This begs a rather interesting question: What does Rashid Khalidi look like? Is he such a scary individual that you'd immediately think he was a bomb-throwing terrorist?

Um, not so much:

Actually, he kind of looks like my Dad... or me, come to think of it. My wife thinks he looks like a well-groomed Dennis Kucinich. He really looks like a Columbia University history professor who went to Yale. This is probably because he's a Columbia University history professor who went to Yale.

Of course, it's not his face that's scary. It's his name. He's a Muslim, and that's enough for the madding crowd who wants the tape released as a rule. Mind you, Khalid's written some unabashedly pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian books. They also seem to be well-written, well-argued books. I doubt I'd agree with them all that much, but if I was a man who had to determine American policy in the Middle East I'd sure want to read them, just so I could hear all the arguments.

Indeed, his Wikipedia writeup mentions in passing that Khalidi argues that the creation of the Jewish state was unfair to Jewish communities in the Middle East - ones that had built stable relations with their Arab neighbors. I don't know if this argument is facetious or now, but it's not one I'd heard before, and as an inveterate news hound I'd thought I'd heard all of the relevant arguments.

Leaving aside the silliness of the argument that Obama's somehow unfit for office because he's "pallin' around" with Arab history professors... I'd be a lot more nervous electing a president who didn't know who Prof. Khaldi was than one who had met him and understands his arguments.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


by Carl Sandburg

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes.

Ten Minute Double Feature: The Hostage

Another BMW film. There were actually a fair number of these things made, and for a series of "car ads" they're startlingly good. John Woo rarely, if ever, misfires... I'll probably end up linking all of these at some point. They're pretty fun. Read more...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Books for Small Girls

I would definitely give this one a read to a little girl who, like her mother, is growing to love kitties and books. Read more...

Grilled Cheddar Apple Sandwich

9:30 PM after work at the restaurant. Nothing defrosted. Time to clean the fridge and get creative. Nothing fresh or interesting for ingredients... except for those lovely fresh Ohio apples. And that, with a little love, is enough.

Grilled Cheddar Apple Sandwich
1 gala apple
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, or more to taste
4 T butter
4 slices rye or whole wheat bread

Peel the apple; cut it into quarters, shave out the core with the apple peeler, and slice the quarters lengthwise as thinly as possible. Melt two tablespoons butter over medium-low heat until it foams; increase the heat to medium high and sautee the apples until lightly browned on the edges, 5-10 minutes. Set the apples aside and take the pan off the heat.

Build the sandwiches as follows: one slices of bread, 1/2 cup of cheese, half the apple slices, another quarter cup of cheese, the second slice of bread. Melt the remaining 2 T of butter in the still-hot pan off the heat. Over medium heat, grill the sandwiches, 2-3 minutes per side, until each side is toasted and the cheese has fully melted. Cut in half; serve hot and at once.

Serves 2

At a Window

by Carl Sandburg

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

Five Minute Theatre: Strangers

Here's something with a little more depth. Notice how the Arab/Palestinian conflict sort of got shoved off the front pages recently? Sometimes... on every level... there are bigger fish to fry. Or be fried, if you're not careful. Read more...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Harbor

by Carl Sandburg

Passing through huddled and ugly walls,
By doorways where women haggard
Looked from their hunger-deep eyes,
Haunted with shadows of hunger-hands,
Out from the huddled and ugly walls,
I came sudden, at the city's edge,
On a blue burst of lake,
Long lake waves breaking under the sun
On a spray-flung curve of shore;
And a fluttering storm of gulls,
Masses of great gray wings
And flying white bellies
Veering and wheeling free in the open.

Ten Minute Double Feature: Beat the Devil

A good "ad" from a while ago. You want to see Commissioner Gordon being a poofdah Satan? You want to know what *really* happened to the Godfather of Soul? You want to see a brief cameo by a native of Ohio? Look no father, gentle reader. Read more...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pasta Florentine

This recipe is an attempt to add socially redeeming value to my infamously rich Pasta Carbonara. What ought to be a simple matter of tossing eggs, bacon, and cheese with hot spaghetti invariably fails to satisfy me. I always end up with a pot covered with scrambled egg bits and unseasoned pasta. My compromise - a very, very rich alfredo sauce with egg whisked in at the last minute, garnished with bacon - is good, but not for the faint of heart. When I was young and foolish, I'd use a full stick of butter(!) in this thing; I've scaled back on the butter and added the greens to save my arteries as I get older. As it stands, this is a meal that you'll want to serve to your friends... but not often. Not if you want to keep them.

Pasta Florentine

8 oz. linguini or spaghetti
8 oz. (one full bag, if you get it bagged) baby spinach
1 cup heavy cream
2 T butter
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan (approx. 1/2 oz whole)
6 slices thick-cut bacon
2 eggs, beaten
salt and white pepper to taste

Pluck all the stems from the baby spinach. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the spinach in batches and stir constantly until wilted. Remove from heat and place over a paper towel.

Cut the bacon into 1/2 inch thick strips and brown gently over medium heat. Drain off the bacon grease and place the bacon crumbles on a paper towel. Boil the pasta in 2 quarts hot water until al dente; Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain, and rinse the pasta with cold water in a collander.

Take the reserved spinach and, using either your bare hands or paper towels, gently wring out the excess moisture into the sink. (It should be cool enough to handle by now.) Chop coarsely and set aside.

Over medium low heat, bring the cream to a very gentle simmer. Add the butter and stir until fully incorporated. Add the cheese, a small handful at a time, and stir until melted. Pouring in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg into the hot sauce. Continue to whisk over high heat until the sauce lightens from a lemon to a vanilla color and regains its thickness; if it becomes too thick and stands up in the pot, add a little reserved pasta water to thin it out. Salt and pepper to taste. Put a small (no more than 1/4 cup) of sauce over each pasta serving, garnish with bacon crumbles and chopped spinach, toss, and enjoy.

Serves 3-4


by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Five Minute Theatre: Rain

...and yet, you need the rain for life. Warning: Potential tear jerker. Do not watch in the presence of bad news or plaintive kittens. Read more...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Road and the End

by Carl Sandburg

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,
Where shapes of hunger wander
And the fugitives of pain go by.

I shall foot it
In the silence of the morning,
See the night slur into dawn,
Hear the slow great winds arise
Where tall trees flank the way
And shoulder toward the sky.

The broken boulders by the road
Shall not commemorate my ruin.
Regret shall be the gravel under foot.
I shall watch for
Slim birds swift of wing
That go where wind and ranks of thunder
Drive the wild processionals of rain.

The dust of the travelled road
Shall touch my hands and face.

Five Minute Theatre: Black Button

Very similar to that old Twilight Zone episode, eh? The producers insist they hadn't seen Serling's classic when they made this. And the plot is *not* the same. See what you think.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A November Night

by Adelaide Crapsey

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.


Cider-Braised Pork Chops

This is a recipe that was born out of an early-morning misunderstanding. I was trying to plan out the day's menu, half-asleep, and my coffeeless, groggy wife muttered something about "cider glazed pork chops". Bereft of coffee myself, I thought she said "cider braised". It's a lot more common to glaze pork chops, not braise them... but braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques, and both cider and apples are in peak form in Ohio right now.

I composed this recipe in my head while showering. The end result was terrific. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Cider-Braised Pork Chops

4 thick boneless pork chops
1 cup fresh cider
1 cup chicken stock
2 T butter
4 small Rome apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus leaves for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Salt and pepper both sides of each pork chop. In a large, high-sided sautee pan, brown each pork chop over high heat. Place the pork chops on a plate and cover loosely with foil. Remove the pan from heat; add butter to the still-hot pan and add the apples when the butter foams. Return the pan to medium heat on the stove and brown the apples, 5-6 minutes. Return the pork chops to the pan; add the cider and chicken stock in equal measure until the liquid comes halfway up the sides of the pork chops. Add red wine and thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover for 30 minutes or until pork chops are fork-tender.

Remove pork chops and apples from the pan. Bring liquid to a rapid boil until it reduces by half. To serve, garnish pork chops with reserved apples and thyme leaves, and pour braising liquid over the chops as a sauce.

Serves 4.


Cigars and finer things

So why cigars? They most certainly aren't good for me; I don't smoke them often enough to be hooked on the nicotine. When I smoked in college, it was pathetic - I had a pack a week habit. I was one of the world's worst smokers.

Some of it is conditioning, I'll grant you. Cigars are supposed to be a Manly Thing; they have been for centuries. I'll confess to buying into the mystique. Freud and the robber barons of the Gilded Age are hard to ignore.

But there's more to it than that.

Cigars share some of the same qualities that fine wine, or bourbon, or even coffee posses. In some ways they're better in theory than in practice - good wine, or coffee, or cigars smell much better than they actually taste. You have to fight your way past a lot of tannin and bitter flavors to find the true character of one of these drugs, too.

And they are drugs. That's something to ponder as well. High-end and elegant, but drugs. There are days when I wonder what, say, marijuana would be like if someone tried to grow it slowly and carefully, instead of pumping out as much as possible as quickly as possible. It might actually be something interesting instead of just a way to get high.

But there's still more. All these fine, wonderful drugs - wine, scotch, cigars, coffee - change as you taste them. A good coffee has a finish, a taste that lingers and changes well past the time it's left your mouth. Blackberries, leather, cloves, vanilla, spice - I've heard all of these things and more applied to coffee and scotch. And the finish, the taste, can change as well with time. It's often a subtle, almost ethereal thing, but it is real and definite, and to skip it by gulping your wine is to miss the better half of the experience.

Cigars have a finish that lasts... well, I can still feel the Punch Motecristo lingering in my pores. It's a little bit of cedar and a strong hint of humidor tobacco, and it's still hovering somewhere between my nose and tongue and in the hand I held my cigar with. And nothing changes and evolves like a lit cigar in your hand. A cigar can start sweet and end peppery, with a host of flavors in between, as the hot smoke travels over unlit tobacco and picks up oils and aromas from the warm tobacco deeper in the smoke.

You have to listen to find these ghostly finishes, these grace notes. That's probably another aspect of the mystique. You have to be quiet and pay attention to what your nose and tongue are telling you. How often do we do that in our world? Just sit and listen to one of our five senses? The exile that a cigar imposes on me - half an hour alone in the dark, smoking, relaxing, listening - can be one of my most treasured quiet times, when doubts and recriminations fall away as I just smell, and listen, and think.

A cigar is probably the most intense expression of that common mystery and focus that spans all the finer drugs in the world. The subtle change, the finish, the lingering ghost of pleasures past... I find these qualities are at their strongest in a mild, well-made cigar.

It's not something I dare try too often, less I end up injuring my health too much - or worse yet, becoming accustomed to an "everyday cigar", and taking some of the anticipation out of the next smoke. But that's all right. Some pleasures are best savored. Mysterious finishes are more magical if they're not everyday things.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bar Napkin Sonnet #11

by Moira Egan

Things happen when you drink too much mescal.
One night, with not enough food in my belly,
he kept on buying. I’m a girl who’ll fall
damn near in love with gratitude and, well, he
was hot and generous and so the least
that I could do was let him kiss me, hard
and soft and any way you want it, beast
and beauty, lime and salt—sweet Bacchus’ pards—
and when his friend showed up I felt so warm
and generous I let him kiss me too.
His buddy asked me if it was the worm
inside that makes me do the things I do.
I wasn’t sure which worm he meant, the one
I ate? The one that eats at me alone?

French Onion Soup

This is a restaurant staple the most people think demands high-end ingredients, back breaking labor, and general "chef" magic to make properly. Nonsense. I've made a delicious version while quite literally cleaning out the refrigerator, tossing in odds and ends like the last bits of a can of chicken stock, leftover grated cheddar cheese, and a tinfoil pack of Ramen Roast Beef bouillon(!) This version is a good deal less slapdash, but the technique is the same - and the end result is perfect for a cold autumn night. Enjoy.

Before I begin, let me make one point: there's a reason that the "beef bouillon in chicken stock" trick worked. Store bought beef broth, as a rule, is not very good. I'm testing Progresso's Beef Broth now, and will let you know how it goes... but as a rule, you can use canned chicken stock and trust in the browned onions to lend the soup the dark color and richness you're looking for. I avoid bouillon as a rule - too much salt.

French Onion Soup

4 yellow onions, sliced thin
3 T brown sugar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 T butter
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine
1 quart chicken and/or beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 thin baguette, or any leftover bread
3 cups shredded Swiss, Colby, and/or mild cheddar cheese

In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat the butter until foaming. Add the onions, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Sautee over medium high heat, stirring often, until onions start to char a tiny amount around the edges and are browning nicely, 15-20 minutes. Add garlic and sautee 1 minute. Add wine and reduce heat to a simmer; stir well, scraping up any brown bits. Add stock and bay leaf and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, slice the baguette into thin slices. Set oven to broil and toast the baguette on a flat baking sheet until crisp and lightly browned, 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Add baguette slices to the soup and top with shredded cheese (be generous with both cheese and bread.) Place bowls on a flat baking sheet and broil until cheese is fully melted and just slightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Serve hot as a first course, or with sausages for a meal.

Serves 3-4


Five Minute Theatre: Nines

NSFW. If Tarantino made a five minute short with no budget, it might look like this. F-bombs galore, but good.

What Work Is

by Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

Feeling your oats

When I'm staggering around the kitchen following my four-year old daughter Lindsay, I'll occasionally just toss something together in the for breakfast. Sometimes it's just Cheerios and blackberry yogurt; other times the muse strikes. This is my latest iteration on apple oatmeal; I'm really pleased with it. Not only do I have something tasty here, but it's a one-pot, one bowl cooking technique. Please note that all the measurements are very, very approximate - at seven in the morning with cartoons blaring, measuring spoons are not a high priority for me. Adjust to taste.

Apple oatmeal

3/4 cups whole oats
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
2 T brown sugar
2 T apple butter
2 T raisins
2 T butter
1 small apple

Peel, core, and dice the apple. In a small saucepan, melt the butter until it foams. Saute the apple until lightly browned, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes. While this is going on, place everything but the water in a small bowl.

Empty the fried apples into the small bowl with your other ingredients. Bring water to a boil in the same saucepan you used for the apples. Add all the ingredients to the water, reduce to a simmer, and cook until al dente (5-10 minutes).

Serves 2.


by Carl Dennis

Carpenters whose wives have run off
Are sometimes discovered weeping on the job.
But even then they don’t complain of their work.

Whitman’s father was a carpenter.
He was so happy hammering houses
That he jumped with a shout from the roof beam
And rolled with a yawp in the timothy.
This led his son to conclude wrongly
That all workmen are singers.

Whitman’s father was weak.
He had trouble holding a job.
He hoped that the house he was working on
Would be lived in by a man more steady
Than he was, who would earn his sleep,
Dreaming easy under a sound roof
With no rain in his face.

Of course, there are bad carpenters everywhere.
They don’t care if the walls don’t meet.
“After all,” they argue,
“We’re not building airplanes.”
But Whitman’s father measured his nails.
Many mornings, clacking his plane,
He crooned a song to the corners,
Urging them on to a snug fit.
No needles of heat will escape through a crack
If he can help it, no threads of light.

Cigar Review: Punch Rothchilds

I'll have confess before I start this review: I'm a cigar novice. I smoke one roughly once a month or so, to keep health concerns to a minimum and to keep my own budget under control. I like mild, toasty cigars that aren't too large; I can't imagine having the time to devote to a full corona.

Fortunately, I hit the jackpot with this one.

In the best circumstances, I like to dawdle over a cigar with a class of cheap (but good!)wine. This time, however, I smoked it while walking back from the restaurant. I reek of grease and salsa when I finish up work, so to say that my palate was a bit off is an understatement.

But this beauty had some nice, clean, crisp flavors that shone through. Let's start with the light and the draw. Some dense cigars take their time to light, or need to be relit halfway through. This beauty lit easily without feeling hot, and had a strong, easy draw. Pure white, clean ash, and soft white smoke. I immediately noticed a sweet, slightly vanilla note to this cigar that mellowed out quickly to mild spice note that hovered somewhere between cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemongrass. There was a juiciness to the finish made think of fruit (and crave that cheap wine even more). About halfway down the cigar, I noticed some strong tobacco-shop flavor - not the scent of a spent cigarette, but of a large, well-kept humidor. A mild black pepper note finished the cigar as it finally became too hot to hold... but I would have smoked this down to the nib, if I could have.

A lot of pleasure from the finer things in life - wine, cigars, bourbon - come from context. A mediocre wine takes on a lot more character at your best friend's wedding; a good Scotch becomes dull at your brother-in-law's wedding. Walking home from a long day cooking in a smelly, old commercial kitchen is not my ideal context for a good cigar... but this beauty's true character shone through without any help from the other pleasures of the day.


For those of you who know me, welcome to my new project. For those that don't, hail and well met. Pull up a chair, grab an imaginary glass of wine. Cigars are welcome. Feel free to wash off the garlic from your hands if you've come from the kitchen, like I just did.

Here's a place to kick back and enjoy yourself. Even with the economy crashing on the rocks, it's not hard to find some things worth savoring. When I lived in Atlanta, one of the greatest pleasures in life for me was a Barefoot Wines Zinfandel and a mild, vanilla and toast Romeo y Julieta Corona. On a steamy summer night, the combination was just perfection - the harsher elements of both wine and cigar dissolved in the humidity, leaving just the blackberry jam of the wine and the smooth, woody-vanilla cigar. It turned the dirty old garage where my wife exiles me to smoke into a personal spa.

I'm still looking for a good cigar store in Brunswick, Ohio. My wife and I did spot the Mayfield Smoke shop in Cleveland's Little Italy, but we didn't have the time or money to stop. Maybe next time. If anyone reading this gets a chance to visit them, let me know how it goes.

I am extremely pleased by the wines you can get out here in the Cleveland area. I've escaped from the blue laws of Georgia, much to my happiness, and grocery stores like Buehler's have a lot more wine than I saw in Atlanta. Any time your local grocery store has regular wine tastings, you know you've got something good at hand. I'm also pleasantly surprised by The Winery at Wolf Creek. Most East Coast wineries end up producing a very sweet, simple, flat product when they use the local grape. Wolf Creek doesn't quite escape this sin - Their sweet red table wine, Redemption, was a toothache in a bottle. But then again, Ohio's not well known for its grapes. It's apples, though... their Original Sin apple wine was startlingly good. My wife and I both love hard cider; this apple wine was much like a Woodchuck, but uncarbonated, not as sweet, and with a little more depth of character. Now to find a good cigar pairing...

Off to the restaraunt now. More later tonight. Keep the fire going for me.

Five Minute Theatre: Smile

Not socially redeeming, but a good scare by some film students out of Israel. Enjoy.


Five Minute Theatre: Dumbwaiter

Back when I was a drama student, I loved Durang, Pinter, Beckett, and other surreal playwrights. This is a nice succinct cartoon of one of Pinter's best.