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Some Earth Day Grillin’ and Gardenin’

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Before we even knew the forecast, we had decided Sunday would be the day we dig the garden.

It’s convenient to now think of it as an “Earth Day” activity, but the truth of the matter is that my awareness of the comings and goings of the actual day of “Earth Day” is tangential at best. At some point I knew it was coming, but that didn’t really put it on my radar.

However, seeing as it was quite pleasant here in Seattle, weather-wise, and because we’d planned an earthy activity on an earthy (faux) holiday, we turned it into a bit of a family event.

Among my many neuroses, would be a persistent concern about food and all the nasty things that can happen to it between the time it’s gathered in its raw/natural state and the time it arrives on my plate.

Actually, the true terror isn’t really when it arrives on my plate, rather on the plates of my wife and child. I get the benefit of said concern for the well-being of the others, so…there you go.

Hence, in addition to wanting to make sure Owen grows up with a hard-wired love for Detroit sports and music made with stringed instruments, I hope to instill in him an adventurous palate and a strong understanding of food. I believe a key component to this is going to be giving him a life-long appreciation for where food comes from.

I’m certain that, had I been asked when I was in elementary school where food came from, my response would have included words like “cans” and “grocery store.” This despite the fact I count among my most treasured memories sitting with my grandfather on his Allis-Chalmers tractor traversing corn fields.

Same beloved grandfather would send us kids out to the fields to bring back large rocks for which he’d pay us on a per-piece basis. I now realize this was a very low-cost way to get some peace and quiet in the house.

George Doubrava was a wise man.

Anyhow, my point would be that I plan to put forward a focused effort on arming my son with as much knowledge and understanding of food as possible and hope it benefits him his entire life.

Turns out it’s not entirely difficult to sell a toddler on the idea of digging a garden. I don’t even think Owen was particularly psyched about digging in the dirt, which might seem a stereotypical sales point for a young boy. All we had to do was bolster his natural desire to be doing whatever he sees Mommy and Daddy doing with a tool he could use.

Orange watering can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it! That’s all it took!

Well, “all” includes refilling the can several times to account for both how little water it took to make the can too heavy for him to carry without spilling it all over himself, as well as for how quickly he was able to dump the water. Unlike the gentle misting effect of the typical Seattle rain shower, Owen likes to go for the midwestern-style downpour where no umbrella can really save you.

In a sort of celebration to the launch of our gardening operations, we also heated some charcoal for a particularly meaty, not-at-all gardened dinner entree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What better way to bust into the warm weather of “grilling season’ than with a giant sandwich of grilled meat? Other than vegetarians, who doesn’t love a burger?

Despite having turned myself off from the prospect of buying meat from most sources, I still am generally open to the products found at our local Metropolitan Market, which made it an especially sunny moment when I wandered over to the meat department to see them running a special on Wagyu beef. With enough meat to make two large adult patties and a toddler version costing me less than $6, I couldn’t resist.

I know Anthony Bourdain would think me an idiot for eating ground Wagyu beef, but after having it at Hubert Keller’s burger bar…well…I just don’t care. It’s crazy delicious.

The Missus had requested a pasta salad with the meal.  She also wanted tomatoes, artichokes, and Parmesan cheese in the salad.

Being the wise guy I am, I hit the market’s olive bar for some marinated artichoke hearts AND an artichoke lemon pesto thingy I thought would work for oil. Also, trying to be considerate, I opted for some sheep milk feta to help with any lactose issues known to rear their heads in the house, and a small block of another firm sheep cheese spiked with black truffles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Result? BAM! (What? NOBODY but Emeril get’s to use ‘bam!’ amy more? Please…)

I used a Barilla pasta that wasn’t quite like the rotini/rotelle I am used to getting, though, if I’m honest, I don’t remember whether it was called either of those things. It’s definitely spiral-like, as you can see, but can be stretched out, rather than being held to a certain length. This worked most advantageously for Owen who dragged a few spirals around his plate while making a snake-like “sssssssssssssssssssssssss…’NAKE!”

(It’s funny he can do the “ssssssssssssssssss” all day long, but always says he’s being a “NAKE” and that he takes his shoes and “DOCKS” off. Not sure when it’ll click he can put the hissing sound in front of “nake” and say “snake,” but it’s cute for now.)

Unfortunately, the Missus had particularly wanted the Parmesan to satisfy some need to salty something or other. She claims to really like the salad I made, though.

Moving on…

We supplemented the entire venture with the leftover Spring Asparagus Salad I had made the day prior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s my recipe. I am “Seattle Dad.” The secret is OUT!

Hearty, well-sourced meal provided the calories to go dig in the dirt for a while. It felt momentous to get started on something that will pay dividends potentially for years beyond our time in this house.

So, Happy Earth Day, even to you scrooges who turn on extra lights to spite the “libs.”

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Randall Reads: Is this a Lame Book, or What? ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian Produces a Dud

April 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m a baseball fan.

I’m not as big a baseball fan as most who have made it their life to work in and around baseball, I would guess.

With this in mind, I’ll have to at least admit that I’m probably not the ideal audience for Tim Kurkjian’s paean to the game he covers for ESPN, “Is This a Great Game, or What?

This would mean there IS, somewhere, an ideal audience for the book. From what I can tell, however, those people aren’t ever going to turn away from discussions about statistics and baseball anecdotes to do much other than watch a baseball game.

There are 16 chapters in the book, each centered on a theme. Each theme is addressed by the insertion of a series of anecdotes.

THAT’S IT! THAT’S THE BOOK!

May of the themes and related anecdotes seem to be meant to bolster Kurkjian’s opinion that baseball is simply superior to other sports in many ways. That is, until you get near the end where he laments the fact that the game seems to be losing the interest of people en masse due to an overall lack of interest in favor of sports with more action.

The fourteenth chapter is a series of 25 questions seemingly meaning to challenge long-standing bits of conventional baseball tradition, which would be fine, but they’re all delivered with a bit of a condescending, eye-rolling tone which makes me think that, when Kurkjian discusses an item such as, “Why do we rank teams by the highest batting average, not the most runs scored,” the underlying thought is that Kurkjian simply is understanding the game at it’s absolute best-level of appreciation and the rest of us all suffer from a similarly elevated level of enlightenment.

It wears thin.

Another major flaw with this book is the feeling it was slopped together. I can think of at least three anecdotes that were repeated in different areas of the book. There’s no doubt that it is interesting that Billy Wagner switched his predominant throwning arm after breaking an arm as a child, but it just needs mentioned the one time. The only thing I get out of it being told a second time is that you should have either hired or fired an editor somewhere between writing and publishing this book.

All that being said, there are some funny bits in the book. I thought the chapter about ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” was plenty entertaining. Plus, admittedly, there ARE a lot of interesting anecdotes to be had.

Ultimately though, there’s not enough cohesion here to make it a must-read. It might be a good bathroom book, in that you could pick it up and flip to any page and not be any more or less engaged in the whole of the book than would be someone reading it straight through. If the goal of the book WAS to change the mind of a reader disinclined to agree with Kurkjian’s assertions of the superiority of baseball, I think it’s a failure (much like his annoyingly persistent and Candyland theory that Babe Ruth would be as good as he was, if not better, if he were plunked down in today’s major leagues.)

And, to be clear, I’m writing this as I try to listen to and watch the Detroit Tigers baseball game in a different browser window. I DO think it’s a great game; I am just comfortable with my and your level of understanding and enjoyment of it…even if you believe that Babe Ruth nonsense.

Happy National Grilled Cheese Day!

April 12, 2012 3 comments

When you hear it’s “National Grilled Cheese Day,” you don’t necessarily want to know why such a day exists, nor for how long it exists. It’s probably all a conspiracy of bread producers and cheesemakers and those cheeky buggers at Hallmark who are always manufacturing holidays to bolster greeting card sales.

Well, I don’t. I shan’t speak for you specifically.

MY reaction upon learning today was THE day was, “We’re having grilled cheese tonight.”

But it couldn’t just be grilled cheese now, could it? I mean, we slap some Dave’s Killer ‘Good Seed’ Bread around a few slices of Tillamook Cheddar as a quick-and-dirty meal solution regularly, so if we’re going to commit first-degree grilled cheese-ing, it’d just need to be something other.

It did not take an enormous amount of time or thought to recall a grilled cheese experience so ridiculous that, once I’d considered it, there was no going back.

GIMME GIMME GIMME un Croque-Monsieur!!!

It wasn’t all THAT long ago when I’d never heard of such a thing. In fact, now that I think on it, a few of my French friends have some explaining to do…

Anyhow, the sandwich with the fancy French-y name is, in short, a grilled ham and cheese…wait, it gets better, topped with a Béchamel (white sauce( and MORE CHEESE..which you brown under the broiler!

No, you do not have to wait 364 more days to try one, but, depending on your dietary habits, it might not be a horrible idea to limit it to an annual treat.

Selling this as a dinner plan was not a concern. Both the Missus and the Bubba are among the most-prolific cheese eaters I’ve ever known.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
a few grates fresh nutmeg
4 completely hacked (my bread slicing skills are challenged by big loaves) slices of Macrina Bakery’s “Macrina Casera” bread
2 slices Dave’s Killer ‘Good Seed’ Bread (the Bubba will eat crust, but it isn’t his favorite)
6 slices Black Forest ham
6 slices havarti cheese (I understand gruyere to be more traditional, but I love the creaminess of havarti)
melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (again, I went with what I wanted because I’m the one eating it and not you finicky French person!)
To make the Béchamel, you start by making a white roux from the butter and flour. I know there is more of an art to it than what I did, which was melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir the flour into it until it was all gooey and roux-like. Maybe someday I’ll dangle some Abita Turbodog off the front porch and snag me a proper Cajun wandering randomly through West Seattle (you know, like they do…) and make them teach me to master the art of the roux, but, today, it was a working Dad trying to get dinner on the table before 7 p.m., so…slap-dash!

Once you have the roux, add the milk in small amounts, whisking to incorporate it into the roux with each addition. Once it’s all in there, you should have a big, semi-thick white-ish sauce. From here, go ahead and increase the heat and get the sauce boiling. It’ll thicken up pretty well, but keep stirring it so it doesn’t scald on the bottom (not a huge problem if it does, it turns out…).

I’m certain you know what to do with the bread, cheese, and ham to get them looking like sandwiches. Once you’ve done that, brush one side of each with melted butter. Cook the buttered side in a hot, flat skillet (medium heat should work) until it’s golden brown (or darker, if you like it like that). If you’re smart, you realized to butter the top of the sandwich so you can just flip it when you’re ready, rather than forgetting and then having an “Oh, sugar!” moment before rapidly slopping some melted butter atop the sandwich so you can turn before you burn.

While you’re getting the sandwiches in order, preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment if you have it and like to save a little bit of clean-up.

The grilled sandwiches (I like to write it “sammiches” for whatever reason, so I may or may not start doing that) go on the parchment-lined sheet. Top each sandwich with a generous spread of the Béchamel; as you can see, you have plenty, so get that sammich covered with a nice, thick layer! Sprinkle the shredded cheese atop the Béchamel in such a way you’ll get a nice layer of browned cheese over the sauce.

Then…yeah, you guessed it…put the sandwiches under the broiler until you get that browned cheese floating atop the Béchamel layer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies for the lame, blurry phone photo.

They’ll probably be easier to eat if you cut them somehow. I use a pizza cutter to hack the adult’s sammiches into halves and the Bubba’s into six small rectangles.

An acceptable-because-it’s-your-family sampling of the sauce (yeah, there was some finger-licking involved) told me my first go at making these was about to prove a HUGE success. The Missus saw the look on my face and started sticking her fingers into our son’s sandwich under the ruse of organizing it onto the plate for him so she could get a quick preview before getting to the table.

WINNING! (I know Charlie Sheen references are a bit dated by now, but it fits; trust me!)

To cut the fatty deliciousness of the sammiches, I quartered a pint of cherry Heirloom-style tomatoes and tossed them with salt, olive oil, a French dried herb mixture, and a splash of red wine vinegar. I love when the fresh tomatoes start to show up en masse. Hard to believe how much I used to fear/loathe tomatoes!

A story for another day…

The Bubba, as he is wont to do with melty cheese between bread or tortillas, peeled the layers apart to eat them semi-separately. He peeled the ham off some of the cheese and bread, held it out to me and said, “This is TOOKEY!”

“No Owen, that is ham.”

“It’s TOOKEY!” And, in the mouth it went.

I’ll eventually work on fixing that, but as he was eating it and was happy to believe it to be turkey…willing to let it go at 26 months.

A few moments later, the bits of dark skin from the edges of the ham came back out of the mouth accompanied by a bit of a squishy face and an “I no like this.” The Missus tried to explain that it was okay if he didn’t like it and that he could just put it down on his tray, but before she could finish, the Bubba had popped the not-so-offending bits back into the mouth for further examination.

They did not return to the conversation.

Randall Reads: “Deadwood” by Pete Dexter

April 4, 2012 1 comment

And “NO” it’s not that on which the HBO series of the same name was based.

Before you reach the table of contents, you do get a word from the author, saying:

“The large events and the settings of this novel–the fire that destroyed Deadwood, the assassinations of Bill Hickok and the China Doll, the weather, the life and travels of Charley Utter–are all real.
The Characters, with the exception of Malcolm Nash, are also real, and were in Deadwood at the time these events occurred.”

I know I read several times (granted, on the internets) before watching the first season of the television series or reading this book that Pete Dexter’s work was very much integral to the creation of the HBO series.

I’m not going to say I’ve done a whole lot of investigating since finishing the book this morning, but I wouldn’t even be all that surprised to know that nobody on the creative team had even opened the front cover of Dexter’s book, especially in light of the aforementioned quote. My sense is that both pieces of art were derived from researching real-life historic persons and events from that place in American history and invoking the creative spirit from there.

In other words, aside from some names, I don’t see much similar between the show and the book. Hence, they should be considered separately, other than that I would not likely have read the book had I not also recently enjoyed watching the beginning of the series (and then found a second-hand copy of the book during a timely visit to Pegasus Book Exchange).

My interest level in the old “wild west” was never that great, so my knowledge of people like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane was of such a level that I’d not necessarily have even though of them in the context of Deadwood, South Dakota any more than I would have, say, western Texas. Charley Utter, who is the central character throughout the novel, is someone whose name I believe I had never even heard, and, if I had, I’d completely forgotten the context.

Because of this and, again, because I’d just watched 12 hours or so of the HBO series, I entered the world of Deadwood as described by Pete Dexter with some very strong conceptions about characters the second they appeared in writing.  Within the first few pages, you have met Charley, Wild Bill, and Al Swearingen. If you’ve seen the HBO show, you know how strongly drawn those characters are on the screen.

It’s of great credit to Mr. Dexter that, writing the book without the knowledge his words would one day be competing with HBO-strength characterizations of the same historical figures, it isn’t long before you’re (mostly) considering the characters anew. It’s not only that he clearly staked his claim to the fictionalization of the history of Deadwood in a completely different manner as did the people with the HBO production, but also that he writes his characters in a very lively fashion. Maybe that’s partly a benefit of working within a genre such as the western, but I doubt it’s that simple.

I also happen to be a bit of a sucker for strong character development, so there’s that.

The style can be a bit tricky in some spots. The word “peeder” appears repeatedly and failed not once to give me a stop. I also think the use of “could of/would of/should of” in place of the proper contractions probably was meant to do something other than remind me of the fact that 90% of the people on the internet actually type those for all to see publicly without intention, but that’s what I got, again making me pause each instance.

Small, niggling things, but they stand out in my head. Should be noted that’s a small price for what was otherwise a very enjoyable book.

The narrative is divided into five “parts,” the first four of which are named for a character around whom much of the action within revolves. The fifth is a rather short summary of Charley’s life after leaving Deadwood that, honestly, adds little (if anything) to the story beyond a bit of closure .

Malcolm Nash, the one completely fictional character in the novel, plays an interesting thread through the story, but his role is a bit thin in the middle bits, which makes one wonder at the reason for creating him at all. It’s not that he seems out of place, mind you. It’s more that I had a natural tendency to wonder a little more about the character seeing as it was mentioned right at the top that he was not in the historic records and was, hence, created out of whole ink. Perhaps it is a failure of the reader to have expected more from such an entry into the story, but I can’t see how anyone would look at it differently.

There’s also a very realistic chance I’ve just missed something important in my reading. Wouldn’t be the first time.

On the front cover of the paperback is a quote from Jonathan Franzen, saying “If you want to call Deadwood  a Western, you might as well call The House of Mirth chick lit.”

Not even having read the latter, I can say I understand what Franzen was getting at with this, and think it’s a valid consideration. Calling a book a “Western,” much as “chick lit” or “science fiction” does have that effect of “ghettoization” of the work into its genre and is somehow looked at as something less. Or, that’s the talk these days, isn’t it?

What I’m meaning to clarify as being important here is that nobody who enjoys a good book should pass on this one with a “but I don’t really like “Westerns.” The work itself will survive such an err, but is a huge disservice to the “serious reader” Mr. Franzen likes to concern himself about. Pete Dexter has written a serious book for serious readers of all sorts.

Even those who have cemented in their brain the image of Wild Bill Hickok as the brother of the guy from ‘Kung Fu.’

We can overcome.

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