Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the Radio

I’m not a political person. I don’t comment on the political climate. I don’t watch C-Span or CNN to see what the Presidential candidates are doing and saying. It’s not my thing. I don’t like watching it, hearing it, learning about it, and therefore I don’t often talk about it. When people ask me whom I am going to vote for, I avoid the topic. When they press me about it, clearly wanting to talk about various candidate’s attributes, I generally respond by saying that I am exercising my right not to vote. Invariably, they are appalled, which is the general idea. And ultimately, I’m joking but don’t ever give them the satisfaction of knowing that. But behind every joke is some truth, and here are my real arguments for my made-up stance.

I don’t think anyone who says they are anti-war is really going to be able to put in place a plan that brings our troops home in a year, and there are policies in place that will prohibit my being drafted. So the war debate, as either pulling out or pressing on is kind of a wash for how it would most directly affect me. I’m not a millionaire, as much I would like to dream that I am. I don’t have money in the stock market right now, as much as I would like to wish that I did. So violent economic changes don’t have the affect on me that they would have on say, someone who owns a bank. And, knock on wood, I am generally healthy, so a radical overhaul of the healthcare system won’t rock me to my very core either. I know that I will one day be more concerned about these things, but for now, it serves my purposes to make my argument the way I am, so I do. And besides those 3 things, what else is anyone campaigning on?

Here’s who wins my vote: I am voting for the candidate who makes the best platform on the practical application of alternative fuels in the immediate future. We all know that gas prices are at record highs. As a matter of fact, if one more person declares this in public forum like it’s a secret, I’m gonna scream. Diesel is already over $4/gallon, and regular is on it’s way. On the radio this morning, someone speculated that it is realistic that gas prices will hit as much at $10/gallon in the next 3 years. Personally, I don’t see how that’s possible? It seems to me that the economy will grind to a halt. Actually, it won’t even take that long. In the very near future, people are going to start to realize that it’s no longer going to be cost effective to drive to work. So either people are going to start walking, riding bike, taking mass transit, or work from home, there will be a breakdown in socio-economic stability, or we, as a population, are going to have to reevaluate the importance and dependence of oil in our economy.

People will tie this in with the war, and it will come from both sides: we need to withdraw our troops from the middle east to prohibit further damage to oil fields and to reduce the oil needed for waging the war! No we need to press on to win the war so we can have a great say and amount of control over these fields then prices will drop! You’re both wrong. Standard inflation will continue to increase the cost of going to work everyday. Assuming we pull out of the war tomorrow, or fight another 10 years, it’s not a solution. There’s no salvation, just a slower death.

So there you have it. That’s my political rant, and the only one I will have for another 4 years. Whoever has a plan to compel the country to apply alternative fuels, you get my one, small, individual vote.

Monday, April 28, 2008

This Year's Draft...

I have to say; this year’s NFL draft was a little bit boring. I know there are a lot of people out there that would have you believe that watching any draft is boring, but I’m compelled to disagree.

I know that a draft consists of hours of premeditation, and is on, non-stop for about 8 hours a day for 3 days in a row. There isn’t a lot of “sport” to watch per se either. There aren’t a great deal of highlights, and there isn’t anything to really root for. But for some reason, I really like watching at least some of the draft over the course of its 3-day presentation. And apparently, since there has been talk of moving the draft off of ESPN and on to a major network channel and shown on Prime Time, I’m not the only one.

But this year was dull. For the first time that I can think of, the top 5 prospects were taken with the first 5 picks. Yes, it sounds like that’s the way it should be. But usually there are trades, bartering, negotiations lasting well into the night with both players and teams. 1st round draftees and particularly the top prospect fighting for more money with a team that wants to make sure they are under contract before dawn; a multi-million dollar chess game so to speak…

2 years ago the Texans shocked everyone by negotiating with Mario Williams until dawn to sign them as the top pick and letting Reggie Bush fall to the Saints. How’s that working out for ya? Last year L.A. took JaMarcus Russell first only see him hold out for more money and better terms. And let’s not forget about Brady Quinn getting blown off until about a dozen picks later. Love that drama…

Not this year.

This year, the top 5 picks went to first 5 teams. No one seemed unhappy about their lot in life. No one was upset about going to a team that would be rebuilding. Jake Long, the top pick in the draft, was so thrilled about going to the 1 and 14 Dolphins that he signed his contract 4 days before the draft was held.

Where’s excitement in that?!?

On the bright side, the Bengals seemed to do okay for themselves. Keith Rivers from USC will hopefully shore up a struggling linebacking corps, and taking 3 wide receivers should help to fill the void that will allegedly be left by the frustrated Chad Johnson. Too bad about him too, he could really teach these kids something. A few big tackles and a safety will hopefully help plug the run defense and aid the secondary. We’ll see in a few months I suppose.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DWTS Update

Last night was the night that was supposed to start to separate the good from the less good, with the highly anticipated Latin round. Sambas and Rumbas abounded as the contestants were put to a test marked by shaking and gyrating.

Mario had a bit of a comeback this week after taking it on the chin two weeks in a row, particularly out of Len, and landing in the bottom two couples. Latin dance seemed to agree with him however, allowing him to cut loose a bit and improvise a little more. After the first week, I thought he would be one of the finalists, but I may have to reverse my field on that now. He seems to have some difficulty with keeping moves and lines clean and sharp, which will really start to catch up with him once they whittle down the numbers a bit farther.

Cristian was a little above average. He seems to be flying right under the radar the whole time. I think the Cheryl continues to be his biggest obstacle. Yes Cheryl, we know you’re good. We all know that you won this thing twice, and there’s all kinds of other stuff you’ve won in your young career. But when she dances, she is so dramatic about her movements that no matter how good he gets, he’s still going to look like he’s not keeping up.

The majority of the ladies seemed to run across a multitude of issues this week. Priscilla managed to do the splits, not bad for someone who’s 147, but she missed Louis’ hand a few times coming out of turns and just didn’t seem to do a whole lot. Marissa seemed thrilled about the idea of being able to cut loose and shake, but she seemed to have a hard time reeling it in. She just looked out of control the whole time.

Shannon was all right…that’s about it. She was just all right. She’s got to be the least graceful good-looking woman I have ever seen. Also, she is totally out of breath at the end of every performance. I realize the jive was high impact, but last night was pretty mellow, and last week’s Viennese waltz also had her gassed. I’m thinking she’s got to be a 2 pack a day smoker or something. On a side note, Derek is one of my favorite pros on this show. I think he’s a lot of fun to watch, and his goofiness makes him very endearing. But whenever they are working on something in practice that is supposed to be “passionate” he gets this silly little grin on his face and I can almost guarantee he is thinking “I’ve TOTALLY seen this girl naked in American Pie.”

This was the first week that Marlee seemed to really struggle. Some of the movements and directions associated with them seemed to get lost in translation somewhere between her teacher, her interpreter, and her. I really appreciate the inspiration that she’s been on this show, and she’s been better than most until now. However, when you can’t hear, starting a routine with your back to the person you are dancing with becomes quite and issue when you can’t hear a beat to start on. Last night was the first time I think that being deaf really caught up with her.

Not to be outdone, Jason and Kristy blew it up again. Well, not as much as they had in past weeks, but enough to once again lead the pack. Jason is one of the more graceful people I have ever seen on this show, professionals aside of course. He is smoother than most of the female stars this season. Carrie Ann said he needed to find something to do with his hands when at his sides and not being placed. And Len said that the choreography featured Edyita a little too much, and not quite enough of him. Bruno was Bruno. Straight 9’s for the NFL Man of the Year.

Kristy once again took a 29, not quite able to get that perfect score. Actually it’s not that she’s no yet able, but not it seems very obvious that she set the bar too high too fast, and the judges seem to be taking turns to be the one to give her the 9 between the other 10’s. They are going to scrutinize her the way they have been, which is harder than the other competitors. My only problem with her performance was that I didn’t get anything particularly Latin out of it. She danced to a well-performed John Mayer song, not Latin… she had a flowing blue dress on, and while it made her look fabulous, not Latin… and the tempo of the dance, while well choreographed, was mellow. Not Latin. None of that however, is her fault, and all that said she was wonderful from start to finish.

My guess would have been that Priscilla would be departing this evening, but she has a lot of staying power just based on the fact that everyone knows who she is. I’m thinking either Marlee or Marissa will be taking their leave tonight.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Elimination 3

Last night was the end of the road for another brave soul who would undertake the tribulations of the underground world of ballroom dancing. But the real story of the night, at least the way I saw it, was the performance of the special guests that joined the show.

Last night Sheryl Crow came out to perform a few songs which was all well and good, but more impressive were the up and comers. They stars and pros were joined by 2 new couples with an average age of 8.25 years. Yes, that means they had kids dancing on the results show. And dance they did. The first couple kicked off the presentation with a wonderful Rumba to the classic Disney song, Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid. The second couple danced a magnificent Paso Doble before the judges, audience, and millions of viewers. Make no mistake about it, these kids were no joke. The boys in particular were every single speck as good as the stars that are trying to learn the routines this season. And yes I know these kids have had more experience than this season’s stars, but seriously, they’re 8. What’s more, and it’s kind of an afterthought but important nonetheless were the costumes. They were very tasteful, as were the dance moves. Everything was tasteful and consistently appropriate considering the age of the performers.

With a tie atop the leader board for the best score of the week, Jason and Kristi were both quickly saved from elimination and will dance again next week. No real surprise there. The lights came on to signify the bottom 2, and the red hue was cast on Adam and Julianne and Priscilla and Louis. And with the lowest combined scores, we bid adieu to Adam Carolla. It’s too bad on one hand. He was, if nothing else entertaining. And he was making some progress as a dancer. But it was clear that he wasn’t moving along quickly enough to keep pace with the rest of the field. He was gracious in his defeat, encouraging all people to try to embrace something they are scared to do.

So far, the only thing that has been a surprise is how fast the leaders have reached scores as high as they are. Last season, we had at least one major upset in the early exit of Sabrina Bryan. But so far, so real shockers. Assuming the consistent level of progression that we’ve seen so far, and assuming no one trips and falls, exposes themselves to the audience, or just doesn’t show up, I think we’re going to see Marissa in the bottom two alongside Priscilla. Mario is on that block too if he doesn’t raise his game a bit. Len pointed out some lackluster moves last week, and the judges are starting to take notice of his opinion.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Stuffed Jalapenos

A fair amount of the blogs I read are culinary-based. A lot of chefs post various recipes for things they cook. I gotta say, I never quite understood why they do that? Tyler Florence displays in some of his cook books the recipes that he uses hopes to use in one of his restaurants. If you give people step-by-step instructions as to how to make what you make, won’t that prohibit them from coming to your place to get it? I guess what they are banking on is that fact that people won’t take the time to make things on their own, or have convinced themselves that they can’t cook on their own.

The stuff I make is far simpler than the complex concoctions produced by chefs who have received a Michelin Star. If you read one of my previous posts about my favorite thing to cook, you’ll see how easy it is. Point of fact, I have a binder of recipes that I keep with my wife and we add to it after having tried a recipe and deeming it worthy of a repeat performance.

But everyone is doing it, so what the hell. I figure I will start publishing some recipes that have been a success for me in the past, and will continue to make in the future. If anyone out there tries them, drop me a line and let me know what you thought.

Stuffed Jalapenos
2 Jars of pickles jalapeno peppers (generally 5 to a can)
1 can of white albacore tuna in spring water
1 brick of cream cheese, softened
Garlic powder
Remove the peppers from the jar and let sit to dry on a paper towel. Cut the stems off, and then slice them length-wise into halves. Again, dry them of the oil inside the pepper. While drying, drain the tuna and mix together with the cream cheese. Add dashes of salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Remove the seeds and membrane from the inside of the peppers, leaving a “boat”. Pack the cream cheese into the pepper, and chill to solidify each piece, and serve cold. If you want them spicier, leave a few seeds or some membrane inside the boats.

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Favorite Thing to Cook

A few days ago, I made a sandwich. It was a bologna sandwich. I am really not that big a fan of bologna. I don’t eat it all that often, and I haven’t eaten it by itself on a sandwich since I was probably 7 or 8. I made it on this particular day for Trina. It’s what she wanted, and there was a specific method of assembly that had to be followed. It went toasted bread, mayo, bologna folded, cheese, bologna folded again, cheese again, spinach, and then the other piece of toasted bread also with a little dusting of mayo. I wanted to put a little flare into it somehow. Toast it all together, melt the cheese, do some kind of seasoning, something like that. She told me not to, and the way she wanted it was how I made it.

People ask me, usually when I am cooking, what’s my favorite thing to cook? I think it’s mostly polite conversation mixed with a minor quiz about what else I know how to make. The truth is, I can make a lot of things. I can do meats, seafood, maybe some surf and turf, a few soups, tons of different appetizers, flambéed desserts, and we have even experimented with various flavored vodkas…which I agree isn’t really cooking, but still recipe sensitive and presentation worth.

But my favorite thing to make is what has affectionately taken on the name “The Spanglish Sandwich”. It comes from something that Adam Sandler makes himself in the movie, Spanglish, and Trina asked me one day if I could make it. I figured I probably could, so I took a shot at it, and the recipe goes like this:

2 pieces of bread
2 pieces of American cheese
a few slices of tomato
1 egg

Butter one side of each piece of bread, and place it butter-side down in a frying pan. Place one piece of cheese on each slice of bread, and cook until golden brown. If you’re playing along at home, yes, this is an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. While this is going on, fry the egg to whatever temperature you prefer. I usually do it over well with no runny, but it’s up to you. Once it’s all done, place the egg on one piece of bread, the sliced tomato on the egg, cover with the other piece of bread, cut it on the diagonal, and munch.

To be honest, it’s not my thing. It really doesn’t appeal to me all that much. I’m not a big fan of fried eggs, and it sounds like an odd combination of flavors, but I guess they go together. All of this begs the question, “why is this my favorite thing to cook?”

Simple…. Trina loves it.

Common Sense Never Set In...

I have developed a new recipe that I have now made three times in the past week. It’s become such an indulgence, that last night Trina went out after a long day at work to get ingredients after having been home relaxing. I guess to say that I developed this recipe is not all together accurate. I guess I just got motivated to put it all together. This tasty treat is loaded-down fries.

It’s pretty simple actually. Throw some salt and pepper on frozen fries, and into the over with them. 450 degrees until they’re almost crispy, then broil for a few minutes so none of them are soggy when it’s all said and done. Once they’re done, melt some mild cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Drizzle some Ranch dressing on top, and crush some crispy bacon on top. Nothing particularly difficult there. So why is this concoction worth of a blog? That has something to do with the first time I considered making them at home.

The plan was to do the whole thing from scratch, which would include making the fries. I pulled up several recipes online about how to make them, which sounds obvious enough, but we don’t have a deep fryer. Not to be outdone by the situation, I looked at the alternative methods for cooking them in oil in a stockpot right on the oven. I knew this could be a potentially messy affair, but I was willing to risk it.

And at no point did common sense set it…

I went to the store to get what would be needed. Anyone out there know how much oil fries require to cook? I’m not exactly sure what the amount is, but it’s probably a few cups at most. Totally unaware of this situation, I figured I better get a little extra incase I screw up once or twice trying to figure out the timing. By the way, any mistake involving oil is going to be messy, so keep that in mind in your future cooking exploits. But in my infinite wisdom, I figured 2 gallons of oil oughta do it. Unless you cook A LOT you have no concept of how much oil 2 gallons actually is, nor how long it will take to use it.

And at no point did common sense set in…

I went home at that point, thrilled with the prospect of things to come. I cut my potatoes and started warming the oil to what I assumed might be a decent temperature. No thermometer to be found mind you, I had it all figured out. About the time that the way-too-much amount of oil in the pot got way too hot, I figured it was time to have a go. When oil is smoking, it’s too hot for anything, by the way.

And at no point did common sense set it…

Too dark, too light, golden brown but raw in the middle. I just couldn’t figure out what the best combination of circumstances was going to be to make this thing work. It was at this point that a shrill sound coupled with my dog barking forced common sense to set it. The oil was smoking so badly that I had set off the smoke alarm, clouded the kitchen (and dining room, and living room, and part of the hallway), and everything was getting messy in the kitchen.

I had no choice but to concede defeat. I turned off the stove, let the oil cool, opened the doors and windows, and sat in utter frustration. Having made new recipes in the forms of tuna tartare, banana’s foster, crab-stuffed mushrooms, and potato and leek soup in the past 2 months, I now sat bested by a potato.

I’ve been to gun shy to try again with the fries from scratch and all. It’s probably better that way to be honest. It just never occurred to me that making fries would be so complicated, and surely an amateur chef of my experience could swing it. But as I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I have received a fair amount of knowledge and inspiration from various celebrity chefs, Rocco DiSpirito among them. His philosophy is that shortcuts are not bad things. Using premade purees, pastes, food processors, or in this case, frozen fries requires chefs to spend less time in the kitchen, affording them more time enjoying their creations with the people for whom they cooked. That generally is the point, after all.

So take a page from the books of the pros. Allow for the simplest idea to be the right one, even if it feels too simple to make sense. Otherwise you may fall victim to a pain-in-the-ass scenario where common sense just never set in.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Week 2 Elimination

The second elimination was handed down last night, and while unfortunate, I can’t say that I am surprised at the results. Names were called and the music played with the perilous red light shining all around the contestants. But in the end, we bid farewell to Steve Guttenberg.

I have to say that generally I’m not that big a fan of the elimination episodes. I’m always curious to see who is staying and going, but the rest of the show tends to be kind of dull. Last night however, they did well to keep it interesting. Julianne and Mark came out and danced to a live performance by Kylie Minogue, and they showed exactly why it they are the professionals.

Monday night’s performances were all in all, kind of lack luster. It seemed that the competitors on the lower scoring end in weeks past elevated their performances in a consistent manner, while everyone at the top of the food chain struggled. Jason Taylor was all right. Not bad, but certainly not as good as he was last week. I’m not sure if the jive just didn’t suit him with his size, if he was resting on his laurels, or if Edyta pushed him too far outside his comfort zone. And a hectic work schedule played into a mediocre performance by Mario. To be fair though, they were still better than the rest, by and large. It’s more a case of them having been so good in the first 2 weeks that any shortcoming was obvious.

Monday was also the first night Kristi looked like a mere mortal. She still took the highest score of the week, scoring straight 9’s from each judge. By the end of the competition, it will be difficult to tell who is the actual professional, Mark or Kristi.

For those who missed it, Jonathan Roberts and Steve Guttenberg had the most memorable tango…together… in the first ever Man-go. Steve’s partner, who is also Jonathan’s wife, was stricken with the flu while in training, and to keep Steve from missing too much training time, Jonathan came to his aid and danced the ladies part of a tango. It wasn’t a saving grace for Steve, but the live performance of the first even Man-go was one for the books.
Next week will bring another elimination. And this is the first time so far this season that I don’t think there’s a clear cut looser. In terms of talent, I think Marissa or Adam will have to be on the block next. But Christian better be careful sitting on the bubble.