Death by Tiny Invisible Pig


Hey, guys – Go visit any of the major news web sites. Cool stuff today. According to the CDC, the Swine Flu Pandemic is going to slam into us sometime in the next few weeks, slaughtering the population and destroying civilization as we knew it.

 

Finally.

 

I mean, just between you and me and the pigs, I was beginning to doubt that civilization as we knew it was going to end at all. It sucked to find myself being pessimistic about my pessimism.

 

Some days, I just wanted to smash my forehead into something, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to actually damage my brain. You know?

 

That Bird Flu thing just never seemed to be able to get off the ground. And it looks like Apophis is going to stubbornly refuse to smash the earth into molten flinders.

 

The Global Warming thing was coming along nicely, after we convinced Bush and his crew that it was all a liberal conspiracy against Hummers – and you know how insanely freaked out they were with Clinton and his hummers in the Oval Office. Then we messed up and elected an administration that actually believes in science. Who knows what the hell they’ll do to demonize GW the climate like they demonized GW the Bush?

 

Nuclear war? Well, the Soviets were a great disappointment to me, personally. They had the capability for about thirty years, and could never sober up from the vodka binges long enough to push the red button. North Korea and Iran are just laughable wannabes.

 

I’ve got a small bet going that Pakistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban next year and, maddened by the presence of infidels somewhere on the rest of the planet, will launch their hundred nukes at somebody. If they hit India, then my job is less likely to be outsourced, so this is a two-fer. They’ve got enough bombs to trigger at least a Nuclear Autumn.

 

But that’ll be offset by the damn global warming that we’ve been trying so hard to cause. Unless Obama or Steven Chu or Paul Krugman fix it first.

 

I’m immensely cheered by today’s news, though.

 

I went out this afternoon and bought my survival kit. Here are my top ten items:

 

  1. Three boxes of Kleenex – Will need them if I get the flu, and the allergies have been really nasty all year anyhow.
  2. Three containers of Crystal Light no-cal drink powder – I already got a bunch of iodine pills for purifying water, at Rachael’s insistence. Now I can drink both safely and deliciously.
  3. Three boxes of wet kitty treats – Little Tex and Secret Kitty are likely to get grumpy while trapped in the house for a month or so, and this will help. I’m contemplating buying some more catnip toys tomorrow, before there’s a run on them.
  4. A pound of Kraft Mild Cheddar cheese – It was on sale, and I like cheese.
  5. Two pounds of Skinner Vermicelli – Yummy and nutritious and would survive a nuclear war, I think.
  6. Two glass containers of Ragu Roasted Garlic spaghetti sauce – To make the Vermicelli taste even yummier. Also, the Ragu has catsup in it, which, as Ronald Reagan taught us, is an essential vegetable.
  7. Four pounds of Folger’s coffee – Life isn’t worth living if I don’t get my coffee in the morning. Also, it’ll be worth its weight in hummers after the apocalypse.
  8. Lots of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and microwaveable plastic lunches of various types and brands – I think I forgot to get crackers to go with these. Dammit.
  9. Four pounds of Imperial Pure Cane Granulated Sugar – Screw the Splenda if civilization ends. I want real sugar in my coffee.
  10. A 1.75 liter bottle of Bacardi Gold – Should make a great internal antiseptic to help me avoid getting infected. I forgot to get the Coke that potentiates its healing effect. Dammit.

 

***

Personally, I think I did pretty good, considering how off-the-cuff and panicky this was. I already had plenty of toilet paper. And you can use the Kleenex that way in a pinch, in case you didn’t know.

 

I think I’ll be able to survive in my apartment all through the Great Dying. Surely they won’t disconnect the Internet. It’s all satellite communications these days, anyhow, and the satellites will keep on working fine for years and years.

 

Then I can come out and the glorious dream of my childhood will begin – me, being one of the last ragged inhabitants in a post-industrial nightmare wasteland. Kind of like moving to Detroit, only more fun.

 

I’ll have my gun with me. I bet I can find some bullets for it, somewhere out there. Unless they’re all buried in some Teabagger’s back yard.

 

Rachael and Jesse will survive, as will all of you, and my sister and her husband, and all of my Goddam Neopagan Tribe™. We’ll form the nucleus of a new and intrinsically pessimistic society, as I’ve always hoped for. With motorcycles.

 

It’ll be great!

 

We should all meet at that filling station right outside Bastrop, where you turn to go to or from Austin, depending on the direction you’re traveling in. You know the one.

 

See you all in a couple of months!

 

*

*

*

 

Hey….

 

….I just had the inevitable thought…

 

The CDC says the Swine Flu is mutating. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll mutate into —

 

Zombie Apocalypse Virus !!!!

 

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

 

:

Iron Chef Pear or What I Did On My Birthday

I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee (the ‘nooga as us hep kids call it) at a combination writer’s retreat and birthday celebration (not mine, but our host’s, Mary Robinette Kowal.) It just so happens that her BD is one day (and fourteen years) after mine.

I was supposed to be the offeeeeeecial photgrapher for the following event but one of the Team Mary’s sous chefs came down sick and I was roped in.

Nobody really lost, especially all of us who got to eat it.

Baby Wants Cake

Growing up in Kearney, Nebraska, my mother knew a boy named Royal. Not an uncommon Victorian-era midwestern name (I didn’t blink when I heard this, because I’d read about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s brother-in-law, also named Royal). What was unfair to poor Royal, who likely went through life as Roy, was that his last name was Jester.

Yes, Royal Jester. Rumor has it that his father perpetrated this outrage as revenge against the world that had named him Courtney. Unless he went through life being called Bud or Butch or Sonny, that means he was referred to as Court Jester. Which leads one to ask: what were their his parents thinking? I grew up with a slightly unusual name at my time/place, and I got shit for it. I can’t imagine how a kid named, oh, I don’t know, Moon Unit or Frankincense or Apple or Bat Guano negotiates the playground these days.

Which brings us* to the curious case of a cake for Adolf Hitler Campbell. When the toddler was turning three, his parents ordered a birthday cake from their local ShopRite. They wanted his full name on the cake, and the bakery refused, saying it seemed inappropriate. So they took their order to WalMart, where they complied and wrote Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler on the cake, and the three year old was made happy.

Let me say first off that I’m a fan of cake. And birthdays. And three year olds. I don’t blame the parents for wanting a cake for their son. But Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, who the paper mentions as (among other things) Holocaust deniers, seem to be in denial about a whole bunch of other stuff. Like what’s going to happen to their children when they go to school. Cause it’s not just little Adolf who’s going to suffer the slings and arrows of schoolyard politics. His sibs, little Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Campbell, aren’t going to get a free ride either.

The parents don’t see it like that, of course:

The Campbells have swastikas in each room of their home, the rented half of a one-story duplex just outside Milford, a borough in Hunterdon County. They say they aren’t racists but believe races shouldn’t mix.

The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn’t expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don’t expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school.

Uh huh. The paper quotes a child psychiatrist to dispute this idea, but you don’t have to have a degree to think that naming your child Dracula Chan or Idi Amin Schwartz is going to get the kid some negative attention.

There are swastikas on walls, on jackets, on the freezer and on a pillow. The family car had swastikas, Heath Campbell said, until New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families told him they could endanger the children.

The swastikas, Heath Campbell said, are symbols of peace and balance. He considers them art. “It doesn’t mean hatred to me,” he said. Deborah Campbell said a swastika “doesn’t really have a meaning. It’s just a symbol.”

Um. The swastika does, in fact, go back as far as the ancient Greeks. But just a symbol? The whole point of a symbol is that it symbolizes something. And most people who see it associate it with the Third Reich, and again with the negative connotations.

Heath Campbell says he doesn’t force his ideas on his children and wants them to be nonviolent. ‘Kay. I’ll be interested to learn, when little Adolph is ten years old, what the kids at school call him. Bud, maybe. Or Butch or Sonny. Maybe even Dweezil. But at home, I’m sure that he’ll be Adolph, and every year, as long as WalMart cooperates, he’ll have a cake with his name on it.

* I got this story via the fabulousness that is Cake Wrecks, my favorite food blog.

 ETA: Keith Olbermann covered this story tonight (Wednesday) on Countdown.  I feel so, like, ahead of the curve!

It’s People!!!

I’m excited to be posting today because I’ve stumbled upon an idea that I believe will solve multiple problems that have proved intractable up until now.

First, there’s a terrible organ donor shortage that grows worse each year. People are dying needlessly, and I’m getting old enough that I’m fearful that I might be one of them. Considering the damage I’ve done to myself over the past decades, I’m likely to need a full-body transplant before much longer, and that’s not going to happen unless a lot more organs become available.

 

To begin, we need to make it so that organ donation is an ‘opt-out’ situation rather than ‘opt-in’. Currently, you need to file paperwork to consent to being an organ donor, and preferably to have this stated on your driver’s license, in case something abrupt and unpleasant occurs. This is completely ass-backwards. Research shows that shortly after death, most of us become unconcerned about what happens to our bodies. The default state should be ‘strip me to the bone, and then suck the marrow out’.

 

Also, according to the Mayo Clinic link above, about a third of consenting organ donors have their wishes over-ridden by relatives. These poor families are in the throes of grief, and shouldn’t be forced to make such important decisions at this juncture. It’s too much of a burden for them. Cut them out of the decision-making loop, I say.

 

According to this CDC table, about 0.8% of the US population dies each year. Since our population is a bit over 300 million, this is 2.4 million bodies, almost all of which are going to waste.

 

Let’s admit that many of these won’t be suitable donors, as a result of extreme age, endemic disease states, and so on. A quick glance at the CDC info indicates that probably only a third of the bodies will be usable. However, just this simple change to ‘opt-out’ will provide a massive oversupply of donors.

 

So, what to do with all those extra bodies, you ask?

: Continue reading

Return of the Big Cheese

Mozzarella Machine 

I am a fan of cheese, especially a nice creamy-and-stringy mozzarella. So I was saddened to read of the current buffalo mozzarella contamination crisis.

However, I don’t believe I’ve ever had real Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, which has been made in southern Italy from the milk of Asian water buffaloes since the twelfth century. And I’m positive that I’ve never had the version made from unpasteurized buffalo milk, which must be consumed within twenty-four hours of its creation. That cheese is widely regarded as the best mozzarella in the world, a true delicacy, and you pretty much have to be in southern Italy to get a taste.

But until the current dioxin-contamination problem is solved (or proven to be not-all-that-bad), it may be that not even Neapolitans will be able to enjoy unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella.

The silver lining to that dark cloud, however, may be that the world will finally rediscover Mozzarella di Mammotha Titana.

Continue reading

On the Lip of Chaos

A few weeks ago we took a deep breath and jumped off a cliff–which is to say, we ordered the cabinets for our new kitchen.

Forget the things you see on TLC and HGTV and all those other channels that cater to the home-remodeling-obsessed. Remodeling any part of your house is complex. And remodeling the kitchen is a particularly chaotic form of complex. Everything depends on everything else, see. So, for example, when we wanted to order the cabinets we couldn’t just order the cabinets. We had to pull up part of the vinyl flooring to find out what was underneath it (plywood on top of hardwood. Why would anyone put plywood on top of hardwood? For the same reason the former owners of our house covered all the panel-doors with veneer: to surgically remove all charm. That’s our theory, anyway). Once we knew what was under the vinyl, we had to choose the appliances, since their dimensions directly affect the layout of the cabinets.  Choose but not order, lest they show up weeks before everything else. Continue reading

Little Thailand

Thai Home Cooking

I would like to give you the impression that my culinary life is one amazing adventure after another. The truth is that much of the time I eat pretty boring food. But when I do have a food experience that I think could conceivably give the impression that I am living the high food life, I like to blog it. For a Chowhound, the ultimate food experience is the unexpected, the hole in the wall that turns out to be great, the different.

Once in awhile it happens just like that.

Many months ago, Bob and I read an article about a restaurant called Little Thailand. The legend is that Dick was in Vietnam back in the day and married a Thai girl. He brought her back to the states. It didn’t work out. But somehow along the way he ended up marrying another Thai girl and building a restaurant/bar called Little Thailand. She cooks Thai and he makes the steaks and Hungarian Goulash and the hot sauce.

A framed review on the wall calls Little Thailand ‘a trailer park temple to authentic Thai food’ and that’s probably as good a description as any. The restaurant is in the front of a low ceilinged building out past the airport. We drove into the Texas dark, out into country where Austin has not yet become cool and found it under the Garfield water tower as promised. It’s the kind of place that has handwritten signs stuck on the wall that say things like “Killer Thai Bloody Mary’s Awesome and Lip Smacking.” Bob orders one.

It is the spiciest-hot Bloody Mary either of us have ever tasted. It is the first time I have ever had a drink that required a glass of water to go with it. Continue reading

Leaves of Gold

We’re all high-tech here at the Mixon Gould household.

Let me ‘splain.

I am entire yards (uh, if you’re so high tech, Steve, how come it’s not meters? Cause it’s in the back YARD, that’s why!) away from Laura’s office in the house. And it’s no easy journey. Perilous, in fact.

First, as you step out of Laura’s office, you come to the utility room with its extreme hazards: laundry baskets, the occasional box of art supplies, the dogs water and food dishes in their metal stands, convenient to shin and ankle, the front loading washer with its soap and bleach and fabric softener tray sticking out a hip height (I have bruises!) and the most perilous danger of all, Tasha the Wonder Dog, lying there, but who will, as you step over her, stagger to her feet, neatly causing you to crash into the wall or floor (but not usually the ceiling.) Continue reading

Boy, Do I NOT Know How to Pick ‘Em

 Push-Button Transmission!  What's not to like?

About fifteen years ago, Maxwell House came out with a bottled “iced cappuccino” here in the States called Cappio. It was available in several flavors, including cinnamon, vanilla, and mocha . . . and man, I loved that stuff. Especially the mocha, which tasted as if coffee and cocoa had made sweet, sweet love to produce a God-Child who had descended to Earth for the sole purpose of making my poor tired brain happy again. World without End, Ah-men. Ahhhh-mennn.

It was moderately kinda sorta expensive, but it sure was tasty. Smooth, sweet, and a kick like a mule wearing velvet horseshoes. Hoo boy.

Then one day it went on sale. Everywhere. So I bought up a bunch, never thinking that maybe it was on sale for a Reason.

The Reason, of course, turned out to be that it had sold like crap at a stable-shovelers convention. So less than two years after introducing it, General Foods stopped making it for the U.S. market. All the stores put their stock on sale so they could clear the shelves for whatever came next.

The result: Once I knocked back my little stash, that was it. No more Soup for me.

A decade and a half later, all of the bottled iced coffee drinks on the U.S. market taste as if they’ve been filtered through a stevedore’s shorts. And they apparently sell like crazy despite being more costly than heroin. (Okay, maybe not the best heroin. But still – two bucks for a six-and-a-half ounce Doubleshot? I’d ask how those rapacious bastards sleep at night, except I’m pretty sure they don’t.)

Continue reading

Are You Sure You Want to Eat That?

I have a supermarket loyalty card. It’s that card you swipe at the cashier’s station that gives you “members only” discounts on certain products. Like, clementines one week are $9.99 for a box; the next week, with a Safeway card, they cost $4.99 (I, for one, wonder how seriously they expect me to take that “discount.” If they’d price the clems at $7 a box all the time they’d probably make the same amount of money–but then the customer would miss that sense of getting a deal). Be that as it may, I have family to feed and I wield my Safeway card with brio.

So the other day I heard an ad on the radio for a new service of Safeway’s and, in my ceaseless quest to go out and get the goods for my fellow Brains and Brain-eaters, I signed up at once for FoodFlex(tm).

What is FoodFlex, you ask? I always knew that Safeway was tracking what we bought–I mean, if their computer can keep track of how many cups of coffee I get at the Starbucks stand in the market (the 10th is free!) it’s certainly able to track everything else I pick up. But now they’re making a virtue of it: sign up for FoodFlex and Safeway’s computer will track all the food you buy and give you reports about your nutritional intake. Buy broccoli and tofu and you’ll get a gold star (well, I’m making up the gold star, but I imagine the report will shine upon you). But if you’re having a party and buy two bottles of wine, a bag of Tostitos, two boxes of Malomars, and a rack of lamb, what do you think the report is going to say?

It only takes a small jump to the point where your grocery cart (many of which are WiFi capable and can broadcast ads for products depending on your position in the store–stand near the Rice A Roni and **BAM** there’s an ad urging you to pick up some San Francisco Treats) notes that you’ve stopped in front of the potato chips and tssks at you.

Grocery Cart: Again with the chips? That’s not very healthy is it?

Me: We have people coming over. I won’t eat any, I promise.

Grocery Cart: Uh Huh. You know, you could at least get the baked chips. They’re not as bad for you. And for God’s sake, no onion dip! Salsa is much better for you. (the cart rolls along until we pause in front of the meat section). Pork chops? You didn’t buy that “other white meat” crap, did you? Please. You can serve nice white meat chicken.

Me: Great. You want to tell me what else I could serve?

Grocery Cart: (coyly) Oh, I wouldn’t presume. Two bottles of wine? Really? Don’t you think some sparkling cider and a nice fruit bowl would be a good way to end the evening? (Speaks loudly, to attract the attention of other shoppers). You don’t need all that alcohol, do you? I mean, it’s not a problem for you, is it?

Me: (head in hands) Grape Nuts and organic pomegranate juice okay with you?

Grocery Cart: Now you’re talking!

When I get my first report from Big Brother FlexFood I’ll report back.

Restaurant As Amusement Park

There’s a commercial for a service that allegedly protects against identity theft. In it a guy sings about why he is wearing a pirate costume serving tourists in a restaurant. (It’s because he was bankrupted when his identity was stolen.) When I think of restaurants that set out to entertain, that’s the first image that comes to mind. The theme restaurant. Mariachi guys serenading over bad fajitas. Chuck E Cheese, where your kids will be distracted enough you might get a moment to just sit and watch them spend your money on games, or it’s adult incarnation, Damon’s, where you can play a quiz using the electronic quiz thingy on your table and play, not only against the other geniuses in your particular restaurant, but against people all over the country eating at Damon’s and ignoring their food just like you are. And although Damon’s food is not horrible, it isn’t exactly a crime to ignore it, either.

There’s been a kind of an upsurge of food as fun for people who might even like to eat. Probably the bottom feeder of this is The Melting Pot, which is fondue. Fondue is a license to officially play with your food. But it isn’t particularly great food. I mean, any time you let the customers cook for themselves, the point is really not cooking technique. I like fondue, but mostly I like it sitting around with friends, getting drunk and threatening each other with the little forks—in other words, I like fondue the way it was done in the fifties, when everyone got a fondue set as a wedding present. The idea of opening a restaurant where I let non-professionals anywhere near hot oil for cooking seems rather scary to me.

My kid, Adam, is a meat eater. He, like me, would really like to be a vegetarian. But the fact is, if we were vegetarians, we’d have to give up meat. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. Now I cook with duck fat and constrain myself to a kind of low level sniping at vegetarians who I resent because I consider them morally superior to me. Texas is a meat lovers paradise and Adam is a fan of BBQ. But I found a restaurant recently that pretty much nailed the food as amusement thing, the Brazilian Steakhouse. I’ve actually eaten steak in Brazil and it’s very good. Brazil happens to be geographically sitting next to Argentina, where cattle is king. But when I was in Brazil, I never ate at anything like Fogo de Chao. First of all, the entire wait staff is wearing gaucho attire—shirts, short pants, black shiny gaucho boots. I said to Adam that at least they weren’t wearing pirate costumes and he gave me a withering glance. He was right, this wasn’t exactly an improvement.

There are Brazilian gauchos, but gauchos and gaucho cuisine—beef roasted over a fire and a drink called mate—are really Argentinian. I don’t know why Fogo de Chao isn’t an Argentinian steakhouse. But I am quibbling. And Brazil is a big country with a number of different cuisines, including Bahian—which figures big in Jorge Amado’s luscious novel, Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands. Maybe in the south, where the jungle gives way pampas, there are Brazilian steakhouses. Continue reading

Duck Fat

Roasted Potatoes
While everybody else is spreading good cheer and all that, I view major holidays as an opportunity to eat. I can’t actually afford to eat in the style that I wish I was accustomed to, so I cook. This Christmas is a traditional fat and carb filled extravaganza. Oh, we’re having roasted green beans, but that’s about the only nod towards rational healthy eating. Otherwise we’re having an artery-clogging, insulin cranking traditional feast. A big beef standing rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes.

When I was a kid, we never ate at my grandmother’s. Other people remember grandma’s cooking. My grandmother was not domestic. She didn’t actually wash her glasses, she just rinsed them, which my mother found so skeevy that I don’t think she ever drank so much as a glass of water at her mother-in-law’s, although she also never said anything until long after my grandparents were gone. We did eat there once. Overdone roast beef, potatoes, and those ice cream cups with the little wooden spoons. As a kid, I found the whole bag-of-little-ice-cream-cups thing enchanting. And I suspect it certainly saved on clean-up. But what I remember even more were the roasted potatoes. Brown and caramelized on the outside, meltingly creamy on the inside. I had never had a perfectly roasted potato before and to be frank, I don’t think I ever have since. I have always suspected it was an accident. Or maybe it was the one thing she cooked really, really well.

So when I found Nigella Lawson’s recipe for roasted potatoes, promising the secret to the perfect crunch brown exterior and the soft, creamy interior, I was instantly reminded of those wonderful potatoes from my grandmother. Nigella says that the perfect roasted potato is all a matter of one simple thing—the fat. And the fat is goose fat.

Continue reading

In Praise of Foreign Gum

BlackBlack!

Barb returned from another trip to Japan last weekend, and she brought back something wondrous for me:

BlackBlack Chewing Gum.

Now, if you’re like me (and I know I am), you’ll be asking, “What’s so wondrous about BlackBlack Chewing Gum? Does it have a unique, delicious flavor? Does that flavor last a long, long time? Do the packages contain decoder rings that enable one to discover Jessica Alba’s phone number hidden within the text of her Wikipedia entry?”

The answer to all of the above is “No, who needs that stuff? If I want a unique, delicious flavor, I’ll eat a nectarine. [Rory: A nectarine is a kind of fruit.] If I want flavor that lasts a long, long time, I’ll consume a clove of garlic. And if I want Jessica Alba’s phone number, I’ll look for it in my kitchen trash, which is where I threw it after hearing that she’s having a baby with another man.”

“So what’s the attraction?” you’ll ask. “If BlackBlack’s flavor isn’t especially unique, delicious, or long-lasting, and it’s no help in stalking starlets, then why all the BlackBlack love?”

One word, my poor, deprived Brainiacs:

Continue reading

Meme: A Year In Posts

Meme: Post the first line of your first blog entry of each month for 2007 (via Greg Van Eekhout) (And not one is about zombies.)

aztec calendar
December 1, Steve: From Oni Press: For centuries Jumpers have lived among us — special individuals with the ability to teleport or “jump” nearly anywhere in the world.

November 1, Madeleine: In honor of the first of November I invite you to check out Lupo the Butcher.

October 1, Morgan: NASA launched a probe last Thursday to study Ceres and Vesta, the two largest asteroids in the asteroid belt.

September 1, Caroline: How am I not Madeleine?

August 1, Maureen: I’m making dinner for Bob’s band tomorrow.

July 1, Rory: I don’t know shit about this guy, except what’s on the Wiki, and this article in my favorite music magazine, Paste.

June 2, Caroline: By now, everyone and their dog has heard the story about the American TB patient who ignored his doctor’s advice and traipsed off to Europe to get married.

May 1, Morgan: Update: Corrected carbon dioxide levels to reflect latest research.

April 1, Steve: On this day in 1957 8 million television viewers . . . watched a program on Spaghetti Trees.

March 1, Morgan: Katrina survivors rebuke President Bush, who is going to New Orleans for a series of photo ops.

February 1, Brad: It’s been said that Kansas, where I was raised, is the Buckle of the Bible Belt – which can only mean that I now live in the Zipper.*

January 2, Steve: Yesterday was Sunday, today is Monday.