Archive for September, 2011

Firemen Are Not Very Social On The Job

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve hung out with firemen before. Usually they’re a blast. Hell, they’ve got a pretty intense job. They’re the ones you call when shit is on fire. I get it. That’s one hell of a responsibility. So when you run into one of these guys off duty, they have a lot of steam to blow off, and usually they’re the life of the party.

When they’re on the clock, however, it is different. I’m not talking about some Denis Leary world here, either. I’m saying that my real life interactions with firemen actually on the job have never been very pleasant. Even when there’s no fire raging, we’re not in a life or death moment, it seems like they really don’t want anything to do with you. If you’re not on fire, forget about it.

Tonight, for instance, I was out of town, but I heard that there was a fire in my neighborhood. Honestly, I was a little worried. After all, I have 2 cats in this little apartment we never practiced evacuation procedures. I know it’s a large area, and the odds are that my place was fine. Still, I was a bit nervous driving back into town.

When I got here, I see flashing lights circling my building. I live on a corner, and the side street was blocked off and there were cops and firemen standing out front. You could tell that the action was happening down at the other end of the block, so I wasn’t worried anymore about my place. But it still seemed like an invasion into my neighborhood. The entire street was filled with fire fighters, police officers, and reporters. It was starting to seem a little too much like a battle field for m tastes.

The fireman out front did let me through so I could park in front of my building. That was nice, because he could easily have let me the next block down.

Still, I needed more information. So I walked up to the cop who was monitoring the situation on my corner and asked what happened. There was no response. He looked away from me and spit on the ground a bit. No kidding, he seemed to be the bad guy in a mid 80’s movie. All I wanted was some info.

Still, I felt I had to ask what happened. He told me that there was a fire at the warehouse down by the train station. No further information was forthcoming. I did get him to nod when I asked him if everyone was okay, so I hope that means there were no injuries. It’s pretty obvious they don’t see their job as public relations. They control the scene, and the scene supersedes the actors.

Categories: Uncategorized

For The Love Of All That Is Holy, Use The Good Paprika

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

You don’t have a lot of disposable income. I get it. This is a recession, and even if it weren’t, if you’re reading my blog you probably aren’t rolling in hundred dollar bills.

So you’re probably living with a food budget, trying to save where you can. Maybe it’s the off-brand cheese. Maybe it’s the stack of coupons you clipped. Maybe you’re buying the dried beans instead of the cans. In fact, if your diet mostly consists of beans that’s probably a good sign that trying to keep the grocery bill down.

I understand, but there is one ingredient that I am begging you not to skimp on. Please, please, only buy the good paprika.

I realize that the cheap stuff is, in fact, really really cheap. $2 will get you something like a kilo of cheap paprika. Trust me, it’s not worth it. That stuff tastes like sawdust. It will actively make your dish worse. Do not buy the cheap paprika.

The good stuff costs more and you get less. But really, how much paprika are you using anyway? It’s not like this is a major new expense. You could start a “good paprika” fund, throwing spare change in when you clean out your pockets. By the time you run out, you’ll probably have enough. This stuff will last you months, but every time you make roasted potatoes or paprika chicken, you will thank your lucky stars that you cared enough to use an ingredient not made of pencil shavings.

The difference couldn’t be more striking. The good paprika has a rich earthy flavor and imparts an impressive burnt umber color to your food. The cheap paprika actually sucks the flavor out of your food. You might as well roll your deviled eggs around in sand and red food coloring.

Okay, you’re convinced? But you want to know what brand you should be buying? I’m sorry, I can’t help you there. You don’t need to order through some reputable online spice retailer, though that couldn’t hurt.  I can tell you that when you’re in the spice isle at your local mega mart, it’s pretty easy to tell. For instance, if it comes in a plastic container with a logo that looks like it was done in Microsoft Paint, it’s probably not the good paprika.

I’m not going to tell you how to cook, or what to cook. That’s entirely up to you. You’re the artist, and the dinner plate is your canvas. But really, don’t piss on your artwork and say your adding yellow highlights.

Categories: Nom

…But How Good Was Your Last Pizza?

September 29, 2011 1 comment

As I’ve written about before, I’ve been spending time training in an awesome Neapolitan pizzeria in Brooklyn. Once a week I show up there after work to help cook. The problem with dropping in like this is that you’re jumping blind. You don’t know how the dough has been, how the oven’s been working, how busy they’re going to be.

Bread can be temperamental on a good day. Working with a wood burning oven only makes it harder. The problem isn’t getting a decent product, but getting consistency. Trying to make a style. If you like a pizza with a certain level of doneness, you’re talking about roughly a 3-5 second window where you’re not too pate and undercooked, but also not too black. You’re trying to get the top of the pie to finish the same time as the bottom. Your oven’s temperature can change from minute to minute as a burning log shoots embers and then collapses in on itself. And to top it off, you’re juggling 2 or 3 pies at the same time.

This is where it becomes hard to have a style. But not impossible. I do feel that I’m becoming more consistent the more I practice. You get to learn the little cues that let you time your cook precisely. You get a feel for how the dough works. Today it was woking against us. I believe that it had over-proofed, and the gluten was starting to break down a bit. Every pie you made there’d be a little hole in it.

It’s probably possible to figure out an exact formula for the perfect pizza. X floor temperature + y dome temperature + z minutes = transcendence.  Except for about 50 more variables. So many variables, in fact, that you’ll never be able to write it all down. What you have to do is trust your brain to do all of these on the fly. Art is just science done in your subconscious.


Categories: Pizza

Fast Food America

September 25, 2011 1 comment

Is fast food really cheaper than cooking real food at home? If you do the math, it turns out… not so much.

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit, the cheapest way to get drunk?)

So why do we continue to eat so much of it? Mark Bittman argues “The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch”. I have trouble with that because, well, cooking is work. As someone who enjoys cooking, I can tell you it’s still work. It’s active and it’s time consuming. This is not a knock on cooking, but hey, lets be honest here. Cooking, and the clean up involved, is more of an effort that stopping at the drive through on your way home from work. This is true for all but the simplest of meals.

The important thing is to emphasize the rewards involved. Health is first and foremost. But cooking can also be a creative outlet. If you have a family, then it can be a shared effort to bring people together. And with just a little bit of practice, the food you can make at home can taste light years ahead of what you get from your local take out joint.

Fast food shouldn’t be illegal. Hardee’s don’t need to be picketed. Instead we should be investing in American food culture. We teach kids about art and music, but not about food, which to me is crazy. Cooking is just as much an art as painting and clarinet playing, and arguably more important. People should take pride in what they eat, and for the most part that means cooking yourself. Eating only fast food is like listening to only top 40 radio, but worse. At least radio doesn’t hurt your liver.

Categories: Nom, Politics

Where Were You When REM Broke UP?

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I have to admit I was pretty surprised to see that REM is calling it a day. They’ve been a an active band about as long as I’ve been alive. I kinda took them for granted. They’ve been indie rock’s work horses. Most of the last 15 years or so they’ve been quietly cranking out what appears to be solid hyphen-rock (indie? alternative?), touring occasionally, and just seemingly punching the clock every day as indie rock founding fathers. Why would they break up? You never hear any drama about them. I can’t imagine Michael Stype beating up a paparazzi or anything.

Maybe that’s the reason I could never get into them. They’re a band that you have to respect, but I’ve always found it hard to love them. Mostly, I didn’t seem them giving me a reason to.

I was too young to really get into the music when they were at the height of their powers. I didn’t have an older brother, but if I did I would imagine him listing to REM in mind 80’s. While I was still listening to Sesame Street songs, they were paying their dues, chiming up college rock and being decidedly NOT Whitesnake or Poison. Maybe they were so afraid of falling into those excesses, they erred on the side of, well, boring.

By the time the 90’s came around and my tastes had grown up a bit. I was spending a lot of time listening to The Beatles, and felt like I found my niche. If I had explored a little more I might have found that they were trying really hard to be a sort of Beatles themselves. They had the rare ability to be classicist and still look like they’re innovators.

We’re talking about 4 guys that really did write some good songs and play some great live shows. But they also seemed like they were afraid of ever hitting any real heights. Every REM single was pleasant, enjoyable, arty in a non-threatening manner. These guys should be commended for sticking it out and continuing to churn out that seemed to mostly be reminders normal folk can make some good music themselves.

So tomorrow morning, for the first time in a long time, they’re going get up and not have to punch in to rock and roll. Whatever else they have planned, I wish them luck.

Categories: Music

The Power Of The State

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

So if Twitter is to be believed, Troy Davis, a man who may well have been wrongly convicted of murder in the state of Georgia, was just put to death by lethal injection. I honestly don’t have much to say about the specifics of his case. Most of the stories I’ve read about him only gave the basic bullet points. Suffice it to say that there was doubt that this man committed this crime, even among those closest to the case.

This seems like a good time to talk about the Death Penalty in general. A state with the power to kill is a state that will abuse that power. Someone once said that the state does not have the right to take anything that it cannot return. Each of us are living every day by the graces of a government that hasn’t yet decided we need to be removed. Once we give the state the right to take a life, we change the relationship between the people and the bureaucracy. Citizens become dependent on the government  not to protect life, but to provide it. We are put in the position of asking the a bureaucracy to grant us not just our freedom, but our very right to exist.

And make no mistake. We all built this machine. We are all complicit in this death, and every subsequent execution.

This is where some of you are no doubt going to rev your Camero engines, put on your shades and say “not me, man. I don’t even vote”. Doesn’t matter.  You have an affirmative responsibility to make your voice heard. Vote. Call your representative, even if she’s not the one you voted for. You live in America. This is the price of admission.

Categories: Politics

BREAKING: World Supply Of Rolling Stones Related Puns Exhausted

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Most of the time, The Rolling Stones are more of a corporation than a band. It’s no secret that none of the members have been extremely close for years, if not decades. So when you see all four of them leaving the same London office building on the same day, you know something has got to be up.

2012 is going to be the band’s 50th (!) anniversary, so I can only hope they have something big planned. Details had to be hashed out. 5 story inflatable cowgirls have to be procured. Ronnie Wood needs to plan 3 or 4 more stints at rehab.

The band no longer does “small”. Reading about the Stones 60’s and 70’s tours was always interesting. They toured constantly, stopping only to record or get arrested, for about 2 decades. Everything about these tours were an order of magnitude smaller than what the Stones have done since the late 80’s. I think they understand that something has been lost, which is why the y insist on having a small “second stage” in the middle of the audience where they play a few songs per show with no supporting musicians. The purpose is not just to bring the band closer to the fans, but also to bring the Stones closer to each other.

The Rolling Stones are my favorite band, hands down (so expect more Stones-blogging in the months to come). I’ve seen them a half dozen times in the past decade, and each show was great. The really interesting at this point is  how these 4 very different people suck it up every few years, get together, and somehow become the Worlds Greatest Rock And Roll Band.

Categories: Music

Maybe One Day We’ll Be A Democracy

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Kevin Drum points out here that we’ve come to a point where Republicans can run any sort of shenanigans they see fit and no one bats an eye. Of course they’re going to cynically manipulate the political system for their own ends. It’s what they do. It’s not even news any more.

What gets me is is the John Cohn quote he uses to illustrate this, though. Speaking about the nomination of Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cohn says:

So is Cordray on track for confirmation? Of course not. As Shelby made crystal clear, he and his fellow Republicans really don’t care about Cordray’s qualifications right now. They care about the board itself. They don’t like it. Until Obama and the Democrats agree to modify it to suit conservative tastes, the Republicans won’t confirm anybody to run it.

….Brookings scholar and historian Thomas Mann has called this practice a “modern-day form of nullification.” I agree — and I think it’s worth pondering just what that means.

The consumer protection agency exists because one year ago a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting their procedural powers (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect.

That’s undemocratic. And I mean that with a small “d.”

Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War, it was very important for teachers to emphasize that America is a democracy. But living in a democracy means asking a lot of hard questions that they weren’t interested in. It became a slogan without substance.

Now we’re seeing the institution rot from the inside. None of the basic School House Rock level mechanisms have changed, but instead they’ve being subverted in a more blatant way than ever before. We’ve lost the pretense that everyone is working in good faith towards solving problems.

This is not to say that in the past we were ruled by a benevolent class of Jimmy Stewarts. The issue is how blatant the corruption has become.

It’s entirely possible that Republicans in the Senate truly think that their actions are in the best interest of the nation. I’m sure most autocracies believe in that from the start. The fact is they’ve made it clear that they’re not interested in the rules, in the principles, that used to be part of the national myth. Today, all that matters is results.

Categories: Politics