Sit down near a window that overlooks a street or path or downtown or mountain vista or field or lake or river or hose left running so the water flows down the driveway into the gutter and then snakes around the corner, temporarily dammed by a small pile of leaves before disappearing through a grate and into an underground drainage system that you never really think about but is always under you, you realize, and must have been built after the city started to form, which would mean that roads had to be dug up and tunnels built and then those roads had to be repaved, and all that seems like so much work, and you’re thankful for the people who designed those tunnels and built them, shivering in the cold or sweating in the sun or maybe both depending on how long the construction lasted, working to feed families or support drinking habits or place money in collection plates or the delicate strings of stripper’s garments. Think about all this and then look at the steam rising from your coffee or tea—have something hot in front of you—then pick up the mug from the side that doesn’t have a handle. Feel the heat through the ceramic or glass with the tips of two fingers and a thumb. Slurp quietly. Breathe deeply. Nod. Look out the window again.
A while back I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a cheap technique to modify one’s oven to better mimic the results achieved by an actual wood burning brick oven. The latter works so well because it gets super hot. 700-800 degrees hot. A home oven can’t get close to that. As a result, homemade pizza comparatively ends up simultaneously flaccid and overcooked, not crisp enough outside, not chewy enough on the inside. This Times article posited that if one were to encircle a pizza with very hot bricks, then said pizza would cook in a manner resembling a brick oven. So now, after a $17 investment at a nearby masonry supply store, my oven looks like this:
I surrounded my pizza stone with more stone, which, when left in a 550 degree oven (the highest temp mine reaches) for an hour to heat up, ostensibly radiates absorbed heat directly onto the encompassed dough. I was skeptical at first, but excited enough to give it a go. It worked amazingly. In 7 or so minutes I had pizza browned and crisp like I had never before seen come from my oven. I was exhilarated.
Tonight pizza was taken to an even higher level when I applied an assembly technique that my friend Chris gleaned from someone employed at a local Italian place. Prior to this evening, I had always made my pizza sauce so that it resembled a smooth marinara. It tasted good and I had no complaints really, but then Chris suggested I simplify. Instead of making marinara sauce, just puree tomatoes with a little salt. After you form the dough into a thin round (I have found a 1 to 3 ratio of semolina to bread flour makes great strong dough that can stretch very thin without tearing), cover with some olive oil, about two cloves of diced garlic, a liberal sprinkling of red chili flakes, thin sliced mozzarella, then the tomato puree, followed by a coating of fresh Parmesan. Throw it in the oven and when it’s finished, top with fresh basil and, if you have it, sel gris.
Best tasting pizza I’ve ever made!
It was brilliant because you still get all the same flavors, but instead of compressing them all into the sauce, they stand on their own and create a layered effect, which intensifies each individual flavor while still contributing to a finished complete taste.
Do this at your house and you’ll never order delivery again.
A while back my band played a show up in Asbury Park at what has to be one of the better venues in the U.S., Asbury Lanes. It’s a bowling alley that puts on shows. It’s one of those rare venues where all the people that work there have more than likely played in a band in the past or are still playing in a band. This means that if you are a band playing there that evening, even if you are not a popular band, you will be treated very kindly and most likely given food and strong drinks. It’s a shame places like this are so uncommon.
So anyway, we’re up in Jersey at this great venue and the first band gets up on stage to start the show. Now as much as I want to say I watch all the bands we play with, I don’t. There are too many, and a lot of times, after being on the road playing punk rock for a month, I really really really don’t want to watch another punk rock band play. The year my band toured the most so far, we played about 150 shows. If you assume that there are an average of 3 other bands on each bill, that means that in one year I “watched” 450 bands. Now I put watched in quotes because by the time I got to band like, 200 or something, I rarely made it through anyone’s full set. Even if they were good. Everything sounded like how your fourth trip back to an all you can eat buffet feels.
Oh, yeah, Jersey. I had a point. I’m in Jersey, thinking about the show we have to play, we’re up 2nd, and this band gets up and plugs in. They’re young, like late teens/early 20’s, and I figure I’ll listen to a song. They play about 30 seconds of the first song and I’m floored. Like, it’s really good. I’d pay to see it kinda good. And shocking too cause the singer’s build is about the exact opposite of what you imagine a guy making this sound would look like. And I’m a little jealous that someone this young already has a voice this strong. I stick around for the whole set, completely absorbed and impressed and even a bit worried that I have to go on after this. After the show, by this time I learn the band is called The Great Explainer, I go up to one of the guys in the band and say like, “great job I really enjoyed that,” or something to that affect, with an emphasis on really to hopefully communicate that it was good and I wasn’t just saying that.
Later that night I got really drunk from the strong complimentary drinks and threw up in the grass by a Sheetz parking lot, and then again on the grass (and on my shoe) near the house we stayed at.
The next morning, with a horrible hangover, I decided to videotape myself doing flips on a trampoline.
Not a hangover cure I’d recommend.
A few months later The Great Explainer guys played in Richmond and stayed at my house. Good dudes. They gave me a CD of their E.P. and it’s so good yet regrettably short that I often listen to it a few times in a row. I can’t think of one other CD that inspires me to do that. I’m pretty sure this band doesn’t tour much due to college and whatnot, but if you find out they’re going to be in your town, go to that show.
She’s a very nice cat, amiable, affectionate in that she’ll sit on your lap while you watch tv, and she doesn’t seem to mind that my not quite two year old niece is obsessed with her in a big way, and frequently pets her (the cat) in that too rushed and poorly targeted way toddlers pet animals. Growing up we always had a cat or two around the house and I liked them enough (I did cut off the top third of one of our cat’s ears with a pair of scissors when I was three, but it wasn’t out of malice, just a curious sort of “hey look scissors, I should cut something!” In walks cat). I am not a “cat person” or a cat hater, rather, I simply feel the same general indifference towards cats that they appear to feel towards me. That was, until a few months ago. Then I heard the following segment of a Radiolab episode about parasites. Now, I’m constantly weary of cats. Turns out, a lot of them contain a parasite called Toxoplasma Gondii which has been loosely linked in humans with schizophrenia and, believe it or not, car crashes. When I was home and my parent’s cat—which is a really soft cat by the way, very soothing to pet—would jump on my lap, this Radiolab segment was never too far out of my mind, causing me to be tentative when I’d normally be relaxed.
From Bryan Garner’s, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage:
goddamned; goddam; goddamn; adj. Strictly speaking, the first form is the only correct one. Yet because of the way this word is spoken—the final -d usually being silent—the latter two spellings commonly appear in print. And since the prose in which such expletives occur is almost always informal, it would be pedantic to insist on goddamned. Further, the more loosely spelled forms make the word seem less literal, and therefore less offensive…
“You know those ultra-modern rifles, where the mechanisms of aiming far outnumber those of firing?…God am I worried about potentially ever being like that.”—David Foster Wallace, Little Expressionless Animals
About 7 months ago I bought Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook, Fat, ironically enough, while online at a militantly vegan coffee shop in Sweden. Aside from containing a recipe for the best roast chicken I’ve ever eaten, there is tons of information about the health benefits of eating moderate amounts of animal fats. To the French, this information would be painfully redundant, but it was all new and incredibly facinating to me. I read the entire cookbook in about a week. It wasn’t long before I was taking advantage of my neighborhood butcher shop (seriously, one of my favorite things in Richmond) and cooking my potatoes in duck fat, making tortillas with fresh lard, and tossing noodles in melted Amish churned butter.
One particular passage in the book that caught my attention while reading through it was in regard to poultry fats and eating chicken soup when sick. McGlagan states that the fat found in home-made chicken stocks/broths (from good quality chickens of course) contains a fatty acid that boosts the immune system. Apparently, good chicken soup actually can help make you physically well (I just had an image of chicken flavored Emergen-C…so gross)! Considering I’ve been a bit under the weather recently I decided to test this theory out. Today I made from-scratch organic chicken soup (broth and all), with tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, and brown rice, amongst other things. And just in case that wasn’t enough, I cooked some serrano cornbread in a skillet with hot bacon fat, you know, for health.
I just rediscovered the Onion A.V. Club. I used to read it all the time but then I slowly stopped checking in, soon forgot about it in that way that it’s so easy to forget about things on an internet overfilled and too chaotic to concentrate, to wear a path in the undergrowth. But last year the writers over at Onion A.V. Club made a list of their favorite records of ‘08, and, while I didn’t love every artist included, it was a really good list, I actually learned about a lot of cool bands from it, bands I still like a lot a year later (Los Campesinos comes to mind). This year they have made a whole bunch of lists commemorating the best in entertainment of the decade. While I haven’t looked at the all the lists, and while I definitely plan to skip entire sections (best comics, videogames), I do admire it. I admire anyone really who decides to make a list of stuff that he/she/they like. I like it when people like stuff and make their admiration public. Cause that’s hard to do. It opens one up to criticism. It makes one vulnerable. And when genuine admiration is made public by an organization that has made its name in the business of satire (read: The Onion), well, I especially like that. I like it because The Onion doesn’t need to like stuff. The Onion did just fine making fun of current events and telling jokes. In fact, they did/do more than just fine at it. They’re excellent at it. I’ve been consistently laughing at The Onion since I was fifteen, since they were making fun of Clinton. Twelve whole years. And when one is good at satire, it’s hard to do anything but. After all, satire is safe. Someone makes a mistake, you point it out humorously. Granted, there’s a risk in all humor, a risk one’s joke won’t be percieved as funny, but in the world of telling jokes, the smallest risk to take is when the joke is on someone else. So when a satirist steps up to the plate with opinions, serious opinions, opinions that are subjective and can be disagreed with and reflect the values and judgement of said satirist, I often take that serious satirist…seriously. Because someone who makes fun of stuff for a living knows more than anyone how easy it is to find fault, to be critical, they get paid to do it after all, and when that person decides to voice an opinion, it’s like stepping in front of the bullseye you usually shoot at. It’s not done flippantly. Rather, it’s done thoughtfully, it’s done with the full knowledge of how vulnerable you are making yourself, because any other day of the week you’d be looking to find those vulnerabilities in others. When someone makes him/herself that vulnerable, knowing full well what it means, well, that’s when I pay the closest attention.
I think I’m going to start reading the A.V. Club more often.
I’d also like to start making a point to be as eager with praise as I am with biting critique. It’s a hard thing to do. Sometimes it’s cheesey too. As cheesey as making New Years resolutions. Which I think I just accidentally did.