Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dinnertime - Low and slow, that is the tempo

Mmmm, Crockpottery goodness. Sometimes (often times, I suppose) simple meals are the best. Last night's dinner was no exception. It's 'cold' here in Florida, and the occasional tang of woodsmoke in the air just adds to that wintry feeling. I love comfort foods, slow-cooked meats and the unctuous mouthfeel of melted fat. Add to that a bottle of very nice wine and my Bitsy Pookums, and dinner was incredible. This is a little more involved than some crock-pot dishes, but well worth that last half hour of work, trust me.

In the morning, combine the following in your crock pot:

4# chuck roast
4 cups carrots, peeled and cut to bite-size
8 branches of fresh rosemary

1 unpacked cup flatleaf parsley (I just grabbed a handful off the bunch)

4 cloves garlic, slivered

1 cup slivered onions

1/2 cup red wine

1 Tbsp celery salt, sprinkled on roast

Salt & Pepper

Turn the slow cooker on low heat for seven or eight hours.
When you're ready to finish the meal, you will need:

8-10 pearl onions

4 cups rough-chopped mushrooms (I used cremini, shiitake, and oyster)
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red wine now
3-4 Tbsp flour
4 cups beef juices, divided (from the slow cooker, add water to supplement)
3 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
1/4 cup red wine later

Pierce the onions with a paring knife right next to the root end. Add to boiling water and boil for 10 minutes or until tender. My Julia Child trick, the piercing. I watched her belittle Jacques Pepin on national television for not piercing the onions, as they will expand uncontrollably without that release point. Drain and cool in ice water. Remove the root end and outer layers of the onions and reserve.

In a heavy saute pan, melt butter with olive oil until bubbling. Once bubbling subsides, add chopped mushrooms. You will want larger pieces, as they will cook down and you don't want them dwarfed by the other vegetables.

Something I learned about mushrooms that makes me very happy. DON'T TOUCH THEM. Let them sizzle away in one spot until you just can't take it anymore, then toss them. This allows them to take on a beautiful golden-brown crispiness instead of just steaming down. Do it. You will be rewarded.

Once the mushrooms are golden brown, add the pearl onions to the pan to allow them to soak up that delicious color. Sprinkle with two tablespoons of flour, and cook until flour has all but disappeared in the pan. Add 1/2 cup of red wine, and cook until all moisture is gone. Add half of the juices from the roast and stir, you'll see the sauce thicken. Because I don't separate the fat from the juices, this fat will rise to the top of the pan. Gauge this and measure 1-2 tablespoons of additional flour into a sealed container, then add the remainder of the juices and create a slurry by shaking the container vigorously. Add this to the saute pan and allow to simmer.

Remove the roast from the slow cooker and allow to rest, covered. Retrieve the carrots from the slow cooker and add to saute pan. Just before serving, add remaining wine and the peas to the saute pan and stir to combine. Spoon the sauce over shredded beef.

I love the egg noodles with this, but you can also serve over mashed or boiled potatoes. Parsnips and rutabaga would also be a nice addition. This makes four healthy portions, and you can adjust depending on the size of roast you buy.

As for the wine:

I had an open bottle of shiraz in the refrigerator, a Mollydooker Boxer if you must know. Thanks to early experiences and this Monty Python sketch, I've shied away from the Australians. The Mollydooker, when I opened it very long ago, was slightly reminiscent of cough medicine, so syrupy it was. But it still worked for cooking. From the same friend as the Mollydooker, I had an '05 Midnight Run Crow Eater, a blend of shiraz and grenache that was much friendlier than a full syrah. It was a bright, high-alcohol wine, and really stood out with the luscious earthiness of dinner. Certainly one of the best bottles we've had in a while.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fun Fact Friday - Science, it's what's for dinner

While I'm performing little science experiments with dinner and blogging about them, Lori has embarked upon her own brilliant project. She's barely a week in so far, but she plans to post a new photograph every day for the next year. You can see what she's doing here! You'll notice that, in contrast to my own photography, her pictures are studied, well-balanced, in focus, and level. I can't even do level without photo-editing software, and she throws around big photography words like - well, I can't think of any. I can be supportive, just don't ask me to understand the lingo.
Wednesday night I threw together some crab cakes, thinking they'd be a nice addition to Melissa's white corn recipe over at Alosha's Kitchen. They sell sweet corn at the grocery store this time of year, how bad could it be, right?

Bad. Little chewy nuggets of starch. If vegetables could have gristle, this corn did. In a willful suspension of disbelief (WSD), I allowed myself to buy something that is clearly not in season.

For any of you that might not be familiar with the general geographic, geologic shape of the planet that we all, presumably, live upon, the earth is a sphere. That orbits a big ball of super-hot gas we call the sun. Because of that orbit, we have seasons. And if you live in the northern hemisphere, it's the coldest damn part of winter right now. Even here in Florida they're expecting us to dip below freezing again.

Corn, on the other hand, is a summer vegetable. Growing up in Wisconsin, oft was the time I'd heard 'knee-high by the Fourth of July', meaning that sweet corn wouldn't really be in season until mid- to late August.

Funny thing about hemispheres, when it's winter up here, it's summer down south, and vice-versa. That means that mid- to late February is the perfect sweet corn season, if, say, you live in Argentina, or New Zealand, or Rand McNally.
Which brings me to the actual science-y bit of today's discussion.

Fresh-picked sweet corn, corn that self-justifies the term 'milk stage' when a kernel is popped, corn which is then soaked in icy cold water and grilled until the husks are almost gone, dipped in melted butter and salted lightly is a good thing. It is good, because fresh corn kernels are still filled mostly with sugar. And it's difficult not to feel joy as butter dribbles down one's chin.

However, the farther corn needs to travel from field to table, or the longer it sits on grocery store shelves, the more that sugar is converted to starch through an enzymatic process, especially if the corn is held at less than optimal temperature. Sweet corn for market is hypercooled to remove as much field heat from the ears as quickly as possible to slow this conversion process. However, a careless or hurried farmer may rush the process, damaging the quality of the corn before it's even loaded on a truck.

Additionally, when I'd buy sweet corn in Wisconsin, it was coming from a farmer who drove it a mile up the road to where he's selling it, and probably picked the ears that day. Right now, I'm approximately 4000 miles from Argentina and Rand McNally, making that trip significantly longer.

Fresh corn is doomed this time of year, because no grocery store has the capacity to hold it at optimal temperature. The warmer corn is, the faster it converts all of the sugar to starch. Corn kept in a humid, 33-degree environment will convert approximately 6% of its sugar reserves to starch in a day. Conversely, in an arid, 50-degree environment, one I'd say closely resembles my local market, corn will convert nearly 60% of its sugar reserves to starch in one 24-hour period.

So sorry, Melissa, to have sullied such a fantastic recipe with bad science. Next time I'm buying frozen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Random Acts of Thursday - Go with the Flo

Those were the days, carefree childhood days, when watching television was our version of crack. We were hooked and it was rotting our brains, but we just couldn't get enough. And despite our parents' efforts to limit our television intake, we soaked up as much 70's and 80's Philo Farnsworthy goodness as we could get our eyes on. Sure, who doesn't remember the grit-kissed Flo, cracking wise as she waited on the same five customers week after week. How did any of them make a living at this? However, while Alice was based almost exclusively at Mel's Diner (and Cheers and Taxi were based almost exclusively at their respective places of business) many of the other favorites of the day used restaurants, bars and other places of business as refuges from home life.

Or maybe those shows just had larger budgets. Two, even three sets? Capitalist decadence. I'd bet real money, a whole George, even, that these shows were used to demoralize captured Soviet spies during the cold war.

Anyway, this week's quiz is pretty simple. As such, I'm suspending the Google-rule for this Thursday, and invoking the Monday clause, being as with these, either you know them or you don't. It's not a simple game of who can Google the fastest. All you have to do, kids, is identify the television show where each of the following businesses was safe haven for the characters, their home away from home, if you will.
  1. Sam's Butcher Shop
  2. Arnold's
  3. Moe's Tavern
  4. Hooper's Store
  5. Monk's Cafe
  6. Floyd's Barber Shop
  7. The Max
  8. Pavlov's
  9. Brockett's Bakery
  10. Kelcy's Bar
  11. The Warsaw
  12. The Regal Beagle
  13. Central Perk

Extra special super bonus points if you can tell me which show featured 'The Hub'. I can visualize it, but Google is being very uncooperative and I just can't remember.

Hmmph. There might actually be something to that whole 'brain rotting' theory.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Behold, the power of cheese!

It's hard to keep a good blog down, my friends. All your well-wishing has been appreciated as we worked through the trying times of the last few days.Of course, we know how patient I am (not), and yet I actually managed almost two hours of experimentation until I was able to identify the weakest link and remove it from the equation.

We're back in business. Good thing, those news crews were wreaking havoc on my lawn.

To pay tribute to the glorious caseic delights, I felt it only proper to share with you James McIntyre's finest poem:

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese

Weight over seven thousand pounds.

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world's show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.
We'rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

Who said we're an uncultured lot around these bloggy parts?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cheeselessness - the crisis continues

Here we are in Day Two of the Great Blog Format Crisis of 2010 - I feel like we need Charlie Gibson reporting live from my front lawn, and a special ABC News theme song just for the crisis.

I also feel there needs to be some sort of 'Cheese Dance'. Like a rain dance, with a sideways half-step every third shimmy, and spontaneous hokey-pokeying.
As part of our ongoing educational services, and in an effort to call on the great cheese (or, as I prefer, El Queso Gigante), I thought we would create a chant that can be shared the world 'round. Initially, I was just going to translate cheese for you in the languages of the world, but Google, being ever helpful, suggested the phrase 'Your head is a block of cheese'.

How apropos. Now you can attempt, in rudimentary local tongue, to describe your favorite blog (this one...what?) to strangers around the world as you travel this fine planet.

Spanish - su cabeza es un bloque de queso

Norwegian - hodet ditt er en blokk med ost

German - Ihr Kopf ist ein Block von Käse

French - votre tête est un bloc de fromage

Romanian - capul este un bloc de brânză

Polish - głowę jest blok sera

Italian - la tua testa è un blocco di formaggio

Dutch - je hoofd is een blok kaas

Greek - κεφάλι σας είναι ένα μπλοκ του τυριού

Swedish - huvudet är en bit ost

Russian - ваша голова блока сыра

Portuguese - sua cabeça é um bloco de queijo

Behold, the power of cheese! Use it in a sentence today! And we thank you for your support. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Picture if you will...(updated)

A man, frustrated by technology. A man whose dominion is no longer held over simple, two-dimensional space. In a place we call 'The Cheesehead Zone'.

I'm having some technical difficulties that go beyond loss of power over my vertical and horizontal controls. (And yes, I know that's from the Outer Limits. I'm mixing creepy early sci-fi television shows. Get over it.)
This should be the background you see when you visit us here at CDS Industries. Instead, you get brown. And not even an appetizing shade of brown. (update: at least the gray isn't nauseating...)

We are hoping matters are rectified shortly. Until such time as this issue is resolved, please picture the above fromage du jour in your mind as you read our posts.

Thank you for your continued support and optimism.

Movie Mania Monday - You broke my heart. You broke my heart!

Ah, the incomparable Ms, identifying last week's quote from The Godfather: Part II. Excellent movie, tremendous locations and sets. I get sucked in every time it's on.
Sadly, though I teased some of you with Florida's beautiful weather yesterday, and announced my plans to go riding, Reuby just wouldn't start. I had the bikes out a month ago, and everything was just fine, so now with a fully-charged battery we'll try again at lunchtime today. That's more than I can say for Blogger this morning, it's being quite uncooperative.

Now for this week's quote (if it actually posts...). If you're new here, there are some rules. First person to correctly identify the original source of the quote wins the peoples' ovation and fame forever, along with the title of Iron Quote-Guesser. No movie characters quoting other characters, but the original film source. No Googling, no asking Jeeves, no Bing (you'd have to dig him up), either you recognize the quote and know the source, or you wait on the sidelines for your turn. Snarky comments are welcome, but should be accompanied by a guess. This week's quote, another easy one:

"Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes."

Allez guessing!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun Fact Friday - Which Came First?

Yes, kids, it's time we had that 'little talk'. When we were in the Poultry and Rabbit building at the fair, there was an entire wall of educationalish FFA artwork. Some of this revolved around the reproductive process of chickens.
Yeah. Lori and I just didn't get it, exactly. There were lots of snaky tubes, and pipe cleaners glued to cardboard, and it just wasn't making much sense.

And remember, if I find something disturbingly intriguing, you're ALL going to learn about it. And there are some things you can't un-learn, so it's not like doing a somersault or riding a bike. Turn back now if knowing this means you'll never be able to eat eggs again. I will not bear the responsibility for this, nor will I abide another toe. If you don't think you can handle it, go check out this post instead.

But really, how do chickens 'do it'? It sounds like a bad Mister Wizard question from my youth.
Like other reproductive systems, it starts with ovaries. However, chickens, while born with two, develop a 'dominant' ovary. This is the one that starts all the egg-laying. In fact, several of the chickens at the fair had eggs in their cages. That's one of those things that just happens, and if memory serves, it happens about 5.5 times a week. This egg-laying cycle is referred to as a 'clutch'. Chickens run on some weird internal clock, that allows them to produce an egg in just over a day, but once it gets to be 3 pm, no eggs. This ends the cycle, creates a break of a day, and then the hen starts laying again, creating a new clutch.

I don't know if Daylight Savings Time factors into this at all.
Hens have about two years of productive laying time in their lives, after which they become soup fodder. Egg formation itself starts when the ovary produces the yolk, with its runny, yolky center, a single cell. The outer membranes and layers get added as the egg passes through the chicken, from the infundibulum (or 'the funnelly bit'), and then through the magnum (or 'the Sellecky bit'). The Sellecky bit is responsible for the secretion of the albumen, or egg white, and on a good day, can encompass two yolks at a time. Magnum, indeed!
Then we move on into the isthmus ('the membrane-y bit') and into the shell gland. What? I didn't figure that one needed a scientific renaming.
Then, and only then, does the egg pass into the vagina. I can't type the word without hearing Phil Hartman as Charlton Heston. However, avian vaginas differ from their mammalian counterpart in this area. Between the shell gland and vagina, chickens (and other birds) have sperm host glands. Hens can maintain a rooster's sperm at body temperature, allowing it to remain viable for up to two weeks inside the vagina. Each time an egg squeezes through the shell gland into the vagina, sperm is expressed back into the earlier stages of egg development, each egg fertilizing its next sibling. Except for the first egg, I guess.

So how does the sperm get there?
Sweet, sweet, chicken lovin', that's how. When chickens mate, the rooster presses his 'sexual opening' ('the penis-y bit') against that of the female by mounting her, flapping his wings and biting the hen's neck to maintain his balance. The male's sperm enters the female's sexual opening (cloaca) during this time. After entering the cloaca of the female, the sperm, containing the male's genetic information, travels up the oviduct to the sperm host glands where it awaits the next egg.

Don't you feel better for knowing this? I know I do. Omelet, anyone?

A special thank you to Dr. Thomas Caceci, without whose graphic depiction of the avian reproductive system today's fun facts would not have been possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Random Acts of Thursday - Step right up, folks!

Ah, the circus. I always loved when the circus came to town when I was a kid, it was a once-a-year thing. Wild animals, motorcycles in rings, trapeze artists and clowns. Somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, my dad discovered that one of his one-time co-workers was now the head clown at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, so we trekked up there and both my sister and I got to be part of a magic act and meet some of the other circus folk.

Ah, the fair.
I always loved the fair as a kid, too. It wasn't until my teen years, however, that I ventured into the midway, experienced the sights and sounds at night. The fair was the place to people watch, better than the mall and better than downtown Milwaukee, for my money.
Carnival and circus culture has touched so much in this world, including the art of film. Obviously, I got to thinking about this after last weekend's trip to the Florida State Fair, and it's amazing to me how many movies I've seen over the years that feature the art of live, gripping entertainment. Freakshows, circuses, little county fairs, street performers, the thrill of traveling entertainers.
Like this guy, our little pygmy fire-eater from Tuesday. Doesn't he look like he wants to be friends?
If there was a decent living to be made at it for someone of my limited talents, I'd run off and join the circus or a side show tomorrow, or start raising fair-worthy pigs and chickens. Sadly, the most I can expect is to write about them, being a practical man and all.
But now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, if you would direct your attention to the center ring, Thursday rules apply. This means study hard, show your work, and enjoy something battered and deep-fried. I give you a few of the actors (generally not the main actor) and a memorable scene, you give me the film in which all three appeared in each case. I do grade on a curve, remember, so even if you don't get them all, you'll have learned something.

Jill St. John and Charles Gray - Jill eludes federal officers by sneaking into a sideshow act where a woman transforms into a giant gorilla.

Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce - A traveling carnival which includes an age-altering merry-go-round.

Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia - A wish is granted by a coin-operated fortune teller on the boardwalk.

Geoffrey Lewis and Sondra Locke - Wild West show performs in a circus tent made from American flags.

David Ogden Stiers and Barnard Hughes - Characters interact with a waylaid physician during the local squash festival.

Louis Jourdain and Maude Adams - A circus is used as an unknowing front for nuclear disaster.

Bernadette Peters and M. Emmet Walsh - Character runs off to the circus with his dog to avoid a madman.

Stockard Channing and Edd Byrnes - Students attend a carnival on the last day of high school, declaring their eternal friendship.

Yes, I make you jump through hoops and tie yourself in knots over these things, but it's worth it. Really, it is. Have at it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When in Rome

Way back in 2002, Lori and I made our first trip to Rome. It was a whim, conceived and booked inside of 24 hours, scheduled a mere three months in the future.

And it was exquisite. The flavors, the sounds, the smells, nothing could have prepared us for this journey. And it would seem I'm on a quest lately to recreate those flavors. Several weeks ago, the carbonara, Rome's signature pasta dish. Freshly made, hand-crafted pizza on Superbowl Sunday.
Last night? Bruschetta, toasted over hot coals, rubbed with garlic and covered with a beautiful mix of grape tomatoes, arugula, basil and fresh mozzarella tossed in olive oil with a little S&P. My taste buds were awash with the flavors of that first trip, of lunch at Florian's, on the Piazza dell'Indipendenzia where we could watch the cook practice his art at the wood-fired hearth. The picture is not my creation, we consumed it far too eagerly to wait for photographs.

Even last night's porterhouse, purchased on sale and grilled beautifully rare, couldn't erase that flavor from my head. Though it certainly tried. Good food feeds your soul as it nourishes your belly, and it shouldn't be any other way.

On a slightly related note, despite the hell that people gave Google when they created 'Street View', I love that I could go out and capture that first shot for you.

On a completely unrelated subject, my parents informed me that a new record sturgeon was caught in one of Wisconsin's larger lakes. Two hundred pounds of sturgeon. Speared and reeled in by one man. To give you an idea of what that might look like, the fish in the photo below weighed in at a mere 100 pounds.
Caviar, anyone? Perhaps on toast?

Several food notes. First, it's pronounced 'broo-SKET-eh', not 'broo-SHET-tah'. If you have to, go watch some Giada DiLaurentis videos to get the inflection down. Or to check out her boobies.

Second, bruschetta is the bread itself, toasted and rubbed with garlic. Anything else you add, oil, tomatoes, basil, cheese, mushrooms, those are all toppings. It bugs me to go to the grocery store and see a jar of chopped tomatoes swimming in oil labeled as 'bruschetta'.

You can have your soapbox back now, thank you for listening.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rodgers and Hammerstein never saw it coming

As a child, the Wisconsin State Fair was always about the animals, and the WonderKnife demos, corn on the cob and then the cream puffs. I don't even remember eating anything else there as a kid, except for the one time I thought fried rice from a trailer seemed like a good idea.

It wasn't.

This year, we decided we should make the effort to make it to the Florida State Fair, it being, presumably, our last year in Florida. What we encountered was light years from anything either Lori or I have ever seen in our lives.

Wisconsin holds their state fair in August, a nice, summery month where we can wear shorts and enjoy cool lemonade and not get hypothermia. Florida, contrary to popular northern belief (or at least mine), is not this way twelve months a year. What started out as a tolerable 55 degree day descended quickly to 40 when the sun dropped. Thankfully, we were dressed for it. Our parents raised us well, and Wisconsin weather means you ALWAYS expect it to be colder than you think it could ever get.The fair did have the original Batcopter, and for $30 apiece you could get a 45-second ride around the fairgrounds. Sorry, but unless I actually get to use the Shark Repellent Bat Spray, it's not worth $3, let alone $30. They had removed the wings, too, so it wasn't until we were right up at the booth that we even knew it was anything other than an ordinary helicopter.

Upon entering the fairgrounds, though, the first thing we encountered was Cracker Country. The purpose of the exhibit is to preserve and celebrate Florida's rural pioneer heritage. Am I the only one who thinks this might be a wee bit racist? Just me? Okay, then. Old turn-of-the-century buildings, craftspeople, overpriced touristy crap, ideal. Kind of like Old World Wisconsin, only without the diversity. I must admit, it was tempting to send our friend Bob, the whitest white guy I know, a postcard from the Cracker Country post office.Once out of Cracker Country (and am I the only person relieved they elected to keep the traditional spelling?), we emerged into the sea of food stands that comprises about 80% of the remaining fairgrounds. If it can be deep-fried, you can buy it from about 200 different vendors. Elephant ears and funnel cakes shared space with the more modern deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies, and the 18" corndogs shared their batter-dipped goodness with Swedish meatballs, bratwurst, Polish sausage and more. The fried green tomatoes were excellent, but I didn't try the deep-fried pickles from any of the vendors offering them up. Fried cookie dough, battered and fryolated bacon, fried butter, Hostess cupcakes, Ringdings, Mars bars, Pepsi Cola, potatoes both French- and spiral-cut, tons of pizza, tacos in a bag, barbecue from all regions of this fair nation, strawberry pies, shortcake, cheesecake (which could also be had deep-fried or chocolate-dipped on a stick), and grilled Italian, German and Polish sausages with peppers and onions, cheesesteaks, and a vendor making a killing selling cheap frozen burgers, fried and mashed into a Krispy Kreme donut for $6.50. For another $1.50, you could add cheese and bacon, but I will not sully my first Lutherburger experience by going on the cheap. Deli sandwiches from far and wide, including the ubiquitous Cuban. There were more turkey legs than I've ever seen, piled high next to grills and smokers. There was a pork chop on a stick. There was even the official 'Fried Wisconsin Cheese' wagon that usually graces the south entrance of the Wisconsin fairgrounds.

Disappointed was I, denied gator on a stick, denied any signature 'Florida Flavor', some gimmick that would suck me in for something unique, something that won't appear anywhere else.

Surprising, too, was the ratio of elements. Five Ferris wheels, but barely a sampling of livestock. Had we not been so tired from our six hours of wandering, we would have made it back to the freak show, with the world's tallest man, the gorilla girl, and one of the original Oompa Loompa's eating fire, all 39" of him. We missed the world's smallest horse, because I think $2 a person is too much to ask for a goat with a mane hot-glued to his head. There were funhouses and Whizzers and Himalayas and all manner of spinning, shaking nauseaters. When the nation's carnival companies winter in your back yard, I suppose there wouldn't be a shortage of rides, (ahem) scams, weight-guessers and side-show attractions, would there?

There were some animals, exotic chickens and lop-eared rabbits, goats and sheep and llamas and Watusi cattle and a six-day-old Guernsey calf, we saw a few horses but everything is so cordoned off, not like Wisconsin where we spent our childhoods walking right up to animals to pet them. We saw newborn piglets suckling with fury, fighting for prime position. They had exotic animals, wallabies and giraffes, frantic to eat the overpriced carrots being sold.

More than anything else, Lori and I got sucked into the mechanical bull riding tent. It's insane how much money this thing makes! $7 for your chance to ride the bull, for as long as you can or until the barker decides you've used your $7 wisely. Little kids, teens, grown men and women alike, $7. Make your eight seconds? You're done. Next? It was nice to see he was gentle with the little ones, let them enjoy themselves until they couldn't hang on any longer. Want a photo? That's another $7. Want a DVD of your eight seconds of glory to show to all your friends? $10. Lori and I watch for better than half an hour, for sure.

Every state fair should have one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Mania Monday - Where did you get those pants

Happy Monday, y'all! Congrats to S.B., who identified last week's quote from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. How can you not love the 70's with shirts like these?
For that matter, how can you not love shirts like these? Ah, the dense unbreathability of polyester!

Nice weekend, hope each of you had a sappy little valentine's day. Lori and I spent a great weekend together, complete with a Friday date night, rare for us. Tomorrow you'll get to hear all about the Florida State Fair. It's quite the event, a champion's tournament of the deep-fried arts, let me tell you.

For now though, let's fire into the miasma that is Movie Mania Monday. If you're new here, there are some rules. First person to correctly identify the original source of the quote wins the peoples' ovation and fame forever, along with the title of Iron Quote-Guesser. No movie characters quoting other characters, but the original film source. No Googling, no asking Jeeves, no Bing (you'd have to dig him up), either you recognize the quote and know the source, or you wait on the sidelines for your turn. Snarky comments are welcome, but should be accompanied by a guess. This week's quote, an easy one:

"I can handle things, I'm smart. Not like everybody says. I'm not dumb, I'm smart!"

Allez guessing!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fun Fact Friday - Ask the Nerdy Fat Guy

It's a grab bag of fun today, kiddies! Today would have been Abe Lincoln's 201st birthday. Makes me think of the Simpsons, when the robots in the Hall of Presidents went berzerk. Nothing like a dead president shooting sparks out of his mouth, right? I know for many of you, the shot above is what your week looked like. Lori just informed me that it's even snowing in parts of Florida and Alabama as you read this. That's some crazy stuff. Now of course, Abe was the man. Before becoming president during a rough time in U.S. history, before obtaining his law degree, he split fence rails for a living, among other things. He was also a damn fine wrestler. As such, Abe is our featured Dead Wrestler Trading Card of the week! Look at that smile. You just know he's flashing back to that time he and Ironbar Ulysses won that no-holds-barred cage match against The Mad Hessian and Crazy Robert Lee. Those were the days.

It's been a while, but I thought we'd visit the NFG files for a little session of Ask the Nerdy Fat Guy.

In deference to Lincoln, we start with a letter from Mary, in Springfield, IL who asks "We all love the song 'Midnight at the Oasis', but what films have showcased this fine piece of 70's musical treasure?"

Well, Mary, so glad you asked. We've discussed
Lost in Translation (2003) here before, where the lounge act in Bill Murray's hotel bar sang the song before he bedded the singer. However, in recent times, the song has also been on soundtracks for American Pie (1999), Whisper (2007) and Waiting for Guffman (1996).

Speaking of Waiting for Guffman, written and directed by Christopher Guest, it segues nicely into this question from Kevin, from Denver, CO: "You litter your posts with what many might consider an exorbitant amount of film and television quotes. In particular, you used 'Be honest, this is for science', which some of us know as a line from The Princess Bride. Are these uses intentional, or does it just come from a lifetime wasted watching movies instead of going out and doing something productive with your life?"

Kevin, that sounds like a bit of a dig. Yes, the film quotes are intentional. If something sounds vaguely familiar in a post, it's likely because I pulled a relevant quote from my memory banks filled with years of bad movies and worse television. But I do use them hoping narrow-minded whiners such as yourself would make the effort to look them up, since in many cases knowing the source of the quote only makes the post more vibrant. So suck it.

Moving to a more international and hopefully open-minded group of readers, Gjorge from Bitola, Macedonia writes: "Why isn't there a Row 13 on airplanes?"

Gjorge, I previously deferred to
The Straight Dope on the unluckiness of the number 13. It would seem, too, that the general consensus is that airlines choose to skip 13 to avoid the possibility that a passenger would refuse to be seated there. The rule isn't hard and fast, and seems to vary by airline. I did find that most international carriers skip this row, hinting that we're far less superstitious as Americans. Or maybe we can't count that high, I don't know.

I hope this has quelled some curiosity, dear readers. If this doesn't do it for you, I can only hope you work someplace that gives you President's Day as a holiday off.

***Do you have a question for the Nerdy Fat Guy? Click the fat guy button to email me!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random Acts of Thursday - It Takes Two

Lori made a brilliant home-baked version of a famous logoed chocolate sandwich cookie last night. She bought special cocoa just for such purpose, and the taste was surreal. The cookies were crisp, light and flaky, the filling just like you'd find in those 'store-bought' cookies, but better. Be jealous, because really, you're missing out.
But what you're not missing out on is all this movie-quizzin' fun! Lucked out there, didn't you?

Name Two Films...

1) ...based on board games

2) ...featuring characters named Chance

3) ...based upon video games, but that DON'T feature CGI

4) ...based on 'true stories of alien abduction'

5) ...starring Bill McKinney and Geoffrey Lewis

6) ...based in part on both Dashiell Hammett's book
Red Harvest and the works of Akira Kurosawa

Certainly, I expect you to do some research. Can't all be simple, that's what Mondays are for. However, I'm only asking for two of each, and some of these categories have more than two correct answers.

If you want to list more than two, hoping it gets treated as extra credit, you may. Doesn't mean it will be. You want extra credit? Name two actors who starred in films in more than one of the above categories. This is tough, because if you don't guess the films I'm thinking of, it'll be more difficult to get the extra credit right, though again, more than two actors fit the bill here.
What do you want, a cookie?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Where the days are longer, the nights are stronger

***I have been asked to place a disclaimer on posts where I might be a downer. This might be one of those posts.***

It is refreshing to see the faintest glimmer of daylight when I wake now. It doesn't help my already poor sleep patterns, but at least it doesn't feel like we've been plunged into eternal night. It's funny how that mid-Winter malaise can creep in, even when we don't have feet of snow blanketing our home. It's genuinely nice out, for February. My grass is starting to turn green again after our week of sub-freezing temps a month ago.

With all deference to Shakespeare, this hardly means that the winter of my discontent has been made summer by anything. Perhaps early spring, but not summer. I'm still adapting to working at home, and despite the fact that I'm working on central time, I keep waking up as though I still need to drive 40 minutes in traffic to arrive by 8, instead of walking fifteen feet to start at 9.

This does prove a benefit to you, cherished readers, since it means you get more consistency of posts. Of course saying it's a benefit is a wee bit biased, since it assumes that more Elliott is a good thing.

Speaking of which, I think I should start walking The Dammit in the mornings, I tore one of the few pairs of jeans which fit comfortably while Lori and I were climbing about an abandoned warehouse the other day, scoping out a new shooting location. It was very cool, like a modern version of the Colosseum, rows of columns and beautiful play of afternoon light. But the crux of things is that I've become even more of the Nerdy Fat Guy you've known and loved. And it's not more 'Nerdy' or 'Guy', I can assure you.

Of course, this means I'm down to one pair of jeans that are publicly acceptable, and I will not resort to either the public wearing sweat pants which is NEVER acceptable for a male in a non-athletic context, or the use of this. The Perfect Fit button is for when you've moved past the anger, denial and bargaining phases of your weight problem. I like how they suggest that you can also use it to reduce the waist size of your pants, as though that's going to happen.

As a completely inappropriate segue, I thought I'd post a picture of my pizza from Sunday. Mmm, pizza. I love that my grocery store sells fresh dough in the bakery, because while making dough isn't difficult, it is a bit messy and I'd rather not deal with that. I'm already messy enough without adding flour to the mix.
Strangely, though I have always known myself to have jars of sauce about the pantry, rely on it when time calls for a quick and easy dinner, there was none to be had. As such, I spread the crust with pesto, covered it with arugula (or raquette, if you prefer), cremini mushrooms, red peppers, Italian sausage and pancetta. Because everything is better with bacon.And I discovered a great site yesterday, had a little fun. My mood is starting to reveal itself though, and spring can't get here quickly enough.

Alligator lizards or not.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie Mania Monday - Okay, who brought the dog?

I feel for so many of you, dear readers, I really do. Even growing up in Wisconsin, I couldn't conceive of a 40-inch snowfall. Let's hope those of you who've been shoveling all weekend get a bit of respite. It's been cool here, at worst. We had several glorious days of 70-degree sunniness, and I even grilled burgers last night like it was summer. Charcoal's where it's at, people.

Last week, Samsmama was the first of many to identify the quote from Ghostbusters, and probably did so while wrapped in her Snuggie. A brilliant film from my childhood and yours, 1984 was a great year. Just ask George Orwell. It was a great retro-movie watching weekend, too. Saw bits of Striking Distance, before the 'disenchanted police officer with a heart of gold' character became too cliche for us to endure another Bruce Willis movie. Watched Hard Target, John Woo's first American film and featuring everyone's favorite action hero, Wilford Brimley. Oh, and Jean Claude Van Damme was in it too. Finally saw American Psycho last night, uncut on IFC and exquisite. Makes me want to go buy a Huey Lewis cassette or two and have new business cards printed.

Lori baked another pie this weekend, since we polished of her cranberry apple masterpiece on Friday. This time she drew a recipe from the 'Retro Pies' book we received as a shower gift from our friend Julie. I wasn't sure about it at first, but I think it could be a winner. Virginia Real Whiskey Apple Pie is somewhere between a custard tart and a liquored-up panna cotta, and I've never had anything quite like it. This is definitely not an office pot-luck pie.

I had a productive weekend, can you tell?

Ah, but here we are, finally, at the new week's quote. You've been so patient, dear reader.
Remember the rules. First person to guess correctly the original source of the quote wins a prize - no movie characters quoting other movies. No Googling or asking Jeeves, either you know the quote or you don't. The prize is a Major Award and consists of the people's ovation and fame forever (and the title of Iron Quote-Guesser):

"I don't know what we're gonna do with all these rabbits..."

Because I don't want to seem cruel, I'll give you some hints. They're probably not helpful hints, but they're hints all the same. The film in question has been referenced in a Random Acts of Thursday quiz from last October that nobody even tried to answer. The actor who spoke this line has spoken at least one other Movie Mania Monday quote this year, a pretty small window. These don't narrow it down much, but it could be of some assistance if you do your homework correctly.

Allez Guessing!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fun Fact Friday - Getting some culture

I don't know why we haven't discussed this before. Certainly, growing up in Wisconsin, I'm predisposed toward dairy products. Then last week, someone suggested I go into the caseic arts professionally.
And I do love me some cheese. Fat Guy, remember? It seems only logical that Fun Fact Friday should be full of melty goodness.
Cheesemaking fascinates me, and I love the concept of terroir as translated from winemaking to the science of cheesy comestibles. That all cheese comes from the same basic ingredients - milk, rennet and salt - yet maintains a worldly variety of flavors and textures, the idea kicks ass.

If you've never had a fresh cheese curd, you haven't fully lived. The sweet, salty, squeaky goodness is heaven. Batter them and deep fry them and it just gets better. Blue cheese on steak or in a Cobb salad? Yes, please. And what are carnitas without a little queso fresco?
And the nerdery of cheesemaking? Endless. There's so much involved in just adding the rennet enzyme (mmm...stomachy!) to milk, at the right temperature, treating the resulting curd to arrive at a soft or hard end product. Then there's aging, monitoring moisture content, adding flavors like horseradish, dill, caraway or wine, that make cheese so versatile.

And then there's dealing with the Whey can be used as fertilizer as well as a food additive, and I've known people who drink it for the protein. Somewhere down the line, nutrition stores caught on to this, and started isolating and powdering whey protein to help weightlifters bulk up.

Me, I prefer to bulk up the old-fashioned way.

By eating cheese.

Because there are times when my simple, country nerdiness isn't enough, go check here or here to find out the details of cheesemaking, and go here for a great interview about the modern science behind it all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Random Acts of Thursday - Socialism is for Twits

Despite claims to the contrary by my lovely wife, I am not a social creature. Sure, I've come out of the shell that cursed me through my entire childhood and a large part of my adult life, I talk to strangers as the character 'Social Butterfly Elliott' (or sometimes as 'Horst, the inappropriate German tourist'), but there are still parts of our lives that I prefer to be private.

And that's how it should be.

I will share a candid reaction with a stranger in line at the deli counter, or share my life's history with a waitress at the Waffle House, but these are still selective choices.

So I guess where I draw the line is with this Twitter thing the kids are doing these days.

Really, do you care to know the instant it happens that 'my second Guinness went down smoothly', or when I exclaim 'Mmmm, pie' five times a day? Doubtful. I don't judge, I know many of you have these 'Twitter' accounts, and many of you are datavores and need input. (Because Number Five is alive.) I just don't feel the need to be part of an instantaneous collective consciousness with millions of my fellow earthlings.

Anyone who knows me knows I generally shy away from any new technology. I still have a cassette deck in my car. I didn't own a cell phone until my last nearly fruitless attempt to find a pay phone in the city of Milwaukee, when I finally settled upon a greasy roadside receiver in a graffitied and recently torched phone booth, sucking bus fumes while trying to talk to my office. I have no iPod and I less-than-secretly hope our 20-year-old television dies so we can give up television, not so I can buy a 50-inch high-definition flat screen. Because I don't know the difference between plasma and LCD, since LCD is what made my Timex digital watch so cool back in 1983, and plasma has something to do with blood.

I can't be trusted to come up with something share-worthy even weekly on my Failbook account, do you really think I'm going to spend the time to share every thought I have, 140 characters at a time? Have you even seen my poor texting skills?

What sort of twit do you take me for?

(Especially since I am so clearly a nerd. Like this segue?)

Simple quiz this week, one question, one question only. Pass or fail, just like my typing class in high school:

What uncommon career opportunity do actors Sonny Chiba and Meredith Salenger share?

Show your work, kiddies.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Elliott

One would think, that at nearly 39 years of age, I wouldn't need adult supervision at all times. However, Lori was in Cleveland for just over a week, and I clearly can't be trusted to use my own judgement.
We all know 'Classic Surly Elliott'. We love the CSE.

We do. Really.

But I gave in to compulsion last week, since there was no voice of reason giving me an exasperated look that says 'Really? I won't be seen in public with you....' Because, like Bubba Zanetti and Billy Idol, I always wanted to rock the platinum 'do.
Didn't quite get there. Sure, the NSE has a certain 'newness' about it, but I really wasn't going for the King Midas look. I just gave up after two full sessions of the strongest lightener out there. A third and I would have been 'scabby, surly Elliott'. And surly I would have been, I'm sure.
Again, let us contrast Classic Elliott Eating Pie, which we all know and love....
Versus the NEEP. Still kick-ass, and how phenomenal is Lori, that she'd humor me AND bake my favorite pie, then photograph me eating?

Quite phenomenal.

In all, I like the new look. I wish it was lighter, but it's still interesting. I just don't see me maintaining this long-term. Another few days, and I'll be two-tone. Two more weeks, I'll be due for another haircut, and it will be all but gone.

Have I mentioned that I might be the king of bad ideas?

And in case you're curious, and I know you are, dear reader: the carpet does not match the drapes. I do have some sense of judgement.

Be nice and share!

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