Thursday, April 29, 2010

where have all the hot dogs gone?

I haven't eaten a hot dog since my martial arts instructor put his knee on my chest and told me "My students DO NOT EAT HOT DOGS!" He meant it as a joke, but it's amazing how a knee on your sternum will assist with your willpower. In fact, on New Year's Eve when you make your resolution, if you had someone throw you to the floor, plant their knee in your gut and tell you to quit smoking, I bet you'd see results. Probably because your abdomen would hurt so much that you wouldn't be able to inhale for a while. But try it, and get back to me. It's certainly worked with hot dogs. I used to love me a nice hot tube steak slathered with toppings, and preferably wrapped in bacon. Now all I can think of is Phil's face, hovering above me like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. It's like the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange, for food. (See, it's still a movie blog- I just mentioned two Stanley Kubrick films.) It also doesn't help that I've been getting into the Slow Food movement and trying to eat less processed foods. This Easter, I ordered a ham from Newman Farm, which humanely raises heritage Berkshire pork. I honestly believe that their bacon could create peace in the Middle East, if only Jews and Muslims could be convinced that God is now cool with swine. It's that good.
The last hot dog I reviewed and loved was Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, last May. I had sausages at DBGB's this winter, but those are house-made and less likely to contain floor scraps and anuses. In fact, they are some of the best I've ever had, and they do make a frankfurter, so I'm bound to try it someday. A few places make their own hot dogs, but it's a dying art. The modern equivalent of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is watching movies like Fast Food Nation (starring Lou Taylor Pucci, plug plug) and last year's Oscar nominee Food, Inc., which give us a picture of how "farming" and "ranching" have become more akin to the automotive assembly line than anything in our imagination. Creatures that never see the light of day, penned in cages where they can't turn around, often bred to be so disproportionate that they can barely stand. Compare that to the legendary Wagyu cattle of Japan, prized for their stress-free lives that lead to the tenderest, most marbled meat ever tasted, and you can see that even if you don't care how animals are treated before slaughter, the factory farm creates tasteless widgets of meat.

Some of the best burgers I've had lately came from my own kitchen, made with organic 85/15 beef from Costco. They were certainly better than the Island Burgers patty I had the other night, which was drowned in toppings for good reason. Elevation Burger and even Five Guys do better than that. Elevation uses grass-fed organic beef, and manages to cost about the same as folks who don't. I recommend them highly. When I compare the heritage pork I had for Easter with the hickory smoked ham steaks I get at the market, they taste like two different animals. Happy pigs make happy carnivores. The organic chicken I roasted to Jacques Pepin's recipe earlier this month was fantastic, especially compared to the conventional chicken breasts I had for lunch this week. I don't know what they tasted like, but it wasn't chicken. Maybe tofu? When even chicken doesn't taste like chicken anymore, something is wrong.
So, I'll have a hot dog again when I find one that's worth eating. I'd certainly eat another Crif Dog, but right now my only wiener craving is to try DBGB's again, or perhaps pick up some made at The Meat Hook butcher in Brooklyn. Or if you're in Portland, Oregon, Otto's Sausage Kitchen still makes home-made hot dogs. I always knew what was in hotdogs- lips and assholes- but I didn't care as much. But after my last hot dog- an atrocity at Sonic- I had to ask myself, is this worth it? Life is too short to eat bad food. Does that mean I'll never stop by J.R.'s Hot Dog Truck in Nutley, or Rutt's Hutt? No. But I won't be sampling dogs at places unless I've heard they do something special. Same with burgers- I've had too many boring, bland burgers to not be a snob about it. It's not that hard to make a great burger with fresh ingredients. If I can do it, I expect the restaurant to. If Yesterday's Bar can make a memorable bar burger for $5, why can't places that charge $8, $10, $12 do the same? If HB Burger and Shake Shack, Five Guys, Smash Burger and Elevation can kick ass with a $5 burger, why the hell would I go back to 25 Burgers again?

To quote Bruce Willis in Fast Food Nation, "Everybody has to eat a little shit sometime." I say, life is too short to eat crap.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is one of my heroes. He was my favorite part of The Daily Show, and I was happily surprised when he got his own show. Its rampant success amazed me, for satire is not always appreciated in American culture, but he did it. His show continues to raise the bar for television comedy and news, going places that "real" news shows won't dare. He keeps his principles and uses his character to fight for them, and after the Presidential Correspondents' dinner with George W. Bush, you know he's pretty much got the biggest balls of any comedian on the planet. As influential Lenny Bruce without the heroin addiction, if you ask me. I got tickets to his show by following them on Facebook and jumping when they were available. As you can see, I have ticket #57, so that's my Wesley Snipes face:
That's Drossarian behind me. We have a trick camera that does the reverse effect of how they made Gandalf look so much taller than the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, so we can be in the same frame. He is actually 8 feet tall. Firecracker and "Beast" Katie East filled out our group. We waited quite a while for Stephen and crew to get ready, because they had to set up a crazy harem tent that would be used for a gag later. We got to watch the warm-up comic whose name I forget, but he was very good. He's a local NYC comedian who should say his name more often. He was very good at poking fun at audience members without being unnecessarily cruel, even when they are named "Dong." Now that's talent. He did call our two gals "bitchy" because they kept yelling about Steel Magnolias being a play before it was a movie. He didn't know that movie is sacred to Louisiana ladies.
I met Stephen in the lobby. He was in character, but felt a little flat. He must have had a rough night. Before the show, he does a Q&A session out of character. He was very gracious and funny, answering questions and reciting anecdotes. I wanted to ask if he'd do voice work for the Venture Bros. show again, but I didn't get chosen. His wife came to the show and was watching from the sidelines. What I like most about Mr. Colbert is not just that he's funny, but that he's genuine and has principles. I love when you can see them sneaking through his character and he has to nail someone that "Stephen" would love but that he personally disagrees with vehemently. He's very fast on his feet and like myself, has no dignity; anything for a joke. He had 11 siblings to compete with, I was a firstborn, so what's my excuse?
This was one of the better episodes in recent memory, with a pun so bad that he made himself fight a minotaur and conquer a harem for uttering it. He also calls Stephen Hawking an "a-hole," goes after Fox News''s attempts to make the Goldman-Sachs CEO seem like a regular guy, and interviews author Conn Iggulden, who wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys, and his newest, The Dangerous Book of Heroes. You can see us in the audience when the mascot fires the t-shirt cannon; I'm in the red striped shirt to the right of the gal who caught the first shirt, clapping my hands off. If I'd been paying attention, I would have tackled her for it. Katie caught one of many WristStrong bracelets that Stephen shot into the audience, so we didn't go home empty-handed. Or empty-hearted; these memories will last a lifetime, and I'll tell my grandchildren I saw Stephen Colbert defeat a minotaur.

Here's a screencap thanks to Julie, who is far more patient than I! The clip follows, and a link to the full episode is at the bottom of the post.]

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Hawking Is Such an A-Hole
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Watch the Full Episode on Comedy Central.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are one of my favorite bands. Pigeonholed as a stoner band, they began as a punk act out of Oklahoma City before their single "She Don't Use Jelly," off their more indie-friendly Transmissions from the Satellite Heart album became a hit. Since then they've evolved into a more ambient sound collage that varies from sweet and introspective to heart-hammering rhythms, none of it ever boring or predictable. They do concept albums now, from the anime-influenced Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to their latest, Pink Floyd-esque Embryonic double disc. And speaking of Floyd, they recorded their own version of Dark Side of the Moon for iTunes, and while that album is iconic, their version is quite interesting and enjoyable.
At the Wellmont in Montclair, their first encore was the end of that Floyd album, a minimalist emotional barrage of "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" with the audience singing along. They really are a band that must be experienced in concert. I was told this, but they mostly play festivals, which I normally loathe for their expense, remote location, weekend-long length, and the faux Woodstock feel of a place that charges $5 for a bottle of water. So when they booked a local show, I jumped on it. I ended up going with Firecracker and Milky, who'd both listened to the band but weren't as big a fan as I am, but they also had a great time. I bet you'd have a great time even if you didn't know any of the songs. Singer and front man Wayne Coyne is a charismatic and caring showman, and tells you straight up that they don't do a lot of shows because they want each one to be a unique experience.
Before they played, he warned that the light show might be disorienting, and that he was going to crowdsurf in a giant hamsterball- an inflatable sphere he calls his spaceball- so get to the sides if you don't want to hold it up. He got really close to us as they opened up and he rolled out. The show starts with a bang, with confetti cannons blasting, and a few dozen 3 foot wide balloons being released onto the audience, so you can play volleyball. They really engage the audience beyond all expectations, and make their show a memorable experience. There's a video screen behind them, which they walk out of an image of a woman giving birth- embryonic indeed. The stage is full of singers and dancers in costumes wearing cyborg sunglasses, giraffe masks, and day-glo orange clothes, who'll bounce the balloons back into the audience. Sometimes the band will pop the confetti-filled balloons with their guitars, or Wayne will put on a pair of enormous hands that shoot green lasers into the smoke-filled air. And they say thank you after every song, reminding you that they're having just as good a time as you are.
They played a good mix of their repertoire, new and old, but few songs off their biggest albums: Yoshimi, and The Soft Bulletin. That album was a fave of mine for a long time, but I didn't miss it. They did a sing-along of Yoshimi, a few acoustic versions of shorter songs, and a crowd-blasting rendition of last album's "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," off of At War with the Mystics, a favorite. The final encore was possibly their most famous song, dedicated to a 16-year old friend of the band who lost his father to cancer last Christmas. It's a song that's been used at funerals in movies, and the one that made me a fan of the band: "Do You Realize?" It has truly beautiful lyrics that simply remind you of the fragility of life and to keep focused on what's important.

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -

Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry

Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes -
let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last

You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
They also kept their promise of playing "Taps" at every show until the Iraq War is over, showing the audience a mechanical bugle that the military now uses for funerals, because there aren't enough trumpet players to keep up with the demand. I liked that even seven years later they kept to it, reminding us that we have soldiers overseas in harm's way. May they all come home safe and soon.
Amusingly enough, they sell a silvery t-shirt that reads, "I saw the Flaming Lips in concert and it made me a better human being!" And I think they mean it without irony, because it truly seems what they want to accomplish by making their music and playing it for us. There are a lot of gracious showmen out there, but Wayne Coyne seems the most authentic. I'm glad I finally got to see them perform, and I hope to catch them again the next time they come around. It may not make you a better human being, but you'll want to try, at least for a couple of days. Then play one of their albums to remind yourself again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Monday, April 19, 2010

We don't need no stinking badges!

When I go hiking, sometimes I see a couple loitering around a boulder looking suspicious. I used to think they were looking for a place to take a dump, but it turns out they were Geocaching. What's geocaching, you might ask, and how is it pronounced? It is the hobby of seeking out hidden containers in the woods, using an overpriced gadget that has since been replaced by an iPhone app. The container is anything from a surplus ammo can to a waterproof plastic box, and treasures unheard of are held inside. And like geoduck, it is pronounced gooey-kaching, for the amount of money you'll spend on a GPS to get into this amusing hobby, for which they are now awarding a Boy Scout badge.
Milky and I got into geocaching while hiking the wilds of northern New Jersey and seeking out strange locations depicted in Weird NJ magazine before a bunch of teenagers could burn it down, or cause such a nuisance that police officers began patrolling them to rake in lucrative trespassing fines. We both bought Magellan GPS units that are now horribly uncool and obsolete, despite still working fine. The new ones have the internet, so you can download new caches while you're sitting in a port-a-potty near the Appalachian trail. Maybe there's a cache in the toilet? As we would learn, this wasn't that unlikely. You locate nearby geocaches by looking them up on, where cache planters will post hints and coordinates to the nearby area. After that, it's a treasure hunt fit for a pirate with an annoying, clumsy device instead of a cool map. And instead of doubloons and blunderbusses for the treasure, you usually find toys from gumball machines and Happy Meals. The real treasure is the logbook, where you record your precious victory and sickening internet neologisms such as "TFTC" (thanks for the cache) and "RMcDMMAAC" (Ronald McDonald molested me as a child).

Our first geocache was a puzzler in a Bloomfield cemetery that tried to teach you some World War 2 history, by making you find the grave marker of a veteran awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and then using his birth date as coordinates. This was fun, until I located what should have been the spot, got frustrated and grumbly, and began kicking the tree stump in hopes that the treasure of the Sierra Madre would fall out. Milky instead looked inside the large stump and found the cache, a plastic waterproof case, suspended inside. He didn't even have a GPS at that point, which infuriated me. I had been betrayed by technology! The Happy Meal toys were rightfully his! Once he got his own GPS, I had to resort to giving him incorrect coordinates to get a fighting chance, as he was as crafty as a bloodhound in sniffing out these hidden coffers of treasures. And he still holds that against me.
Our next puzzle was a series of caches hidden in the parks of Nutley, our hometown. Best known as the butt of Futurama jokes, and the hellhole from whence decorating demon Martha Stewart sprang in a puff of brimstone and potpourri, it's the kind of place that if you walk with electronic devices looking under the bridges that span its many babbling brooks, it's likely someone will report you as a terrorist. Just try to explain geocaching to a small town cop, a few years after 9/11. Luckily we never saw the inside of the local jail, but our behavior elicited a many stares and awkward questions from dog walkers and parents who wanted to make sure we weren't trying to blow up the Mud Hole, the affectionate local name for Mill's Pond. Which when seen up close, looks like an open sewer populated with carp, turtles, and enough geese to cover the county with green poop, which they do nightly.

The problem with caches in populated areas is the chance that the average person will find your Tupperware container full of Happy Meal toys and a logbook, and mistaking this treasure for garbage, toss it in a trash can. So, many urban geocachers place what they call "micros" in tiny 35mm film canisters or prescription bottles everywhere from cracks in a building to behind false bolts in telephone poles. We tired of the constant subterfuge required to keep kids from hanging around until you're done and tossing the cache- and the precious logbook where you record your victory- into a storm drain. So we opted for caches near hiking trails, because I thought it would be fun to mix hiking and geocaching, to get some exercise for the feet and the brain, by solving puzzles deep in the Jersey woods. Maybe the treasures would be greater than little plastic soldiers and battered Matchbox cars, and the odd Where's George? dollar that Milky would inevitably pocket.
Instead of combining two activities into one, this ended up making our "hikes" consist of a drive to the parking lot closest to the caches, hiking as directly as possible toward it, and then stumbling around the woods for a half hour or so before we gave up and went to the nearest diner for pizza burgers. Oh, we found some caches. Many actually led us to interesting areas we might not have discovered while hiking, otherwise. Master New Jersey explorer and cacher Brian Sniatkowski stumped us many times with his deviously hidden treasures, but he also shared peaceful and interesting spots in the woods with us. Oh, how we cursed "briansnat" as he's known on the internet, for hiding his ammo cans and film canisters with such cunning! I think we found one, total. And when we cracked it open, we found... Happy Meal toys! But as they say, the real treasure is in the journey. At least the Boy Scouts will get a colorful badge at the end of their journey. Maybe they'll leave it in a cache? I sincerely doubt it.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dialer Turden

Sorry I've been scarce lately. Something to remember from a great, often misunderstood film.

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world."

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Like Starship Troopers, I see this movie largely as a satire meant to string along many of its fans and mock them. Do I think Chuck Palahniuk was suggesting bare-knuckle brawling and domestic consumer terrorism as the solution to the fatherless young male malaise that grips the navel-gazing, whiny office culture? No, it's just as amusing as making soap out of liposucted fat and selling it back to the women it came from at $20 a bar. I certainly agree that our materialistic culture has made us identify with pre-fab furniture and posh vehicles as our spirit totems, but I don't think that revelation is some sort of enlightenment.

This comes from someone who pays to get punched in the face twice a week at a mixed martial arts gym. Is that what makes a man? To paraphrase The Dude, that and a pair of testicles. Emptiness is as banal as evil; trying to be a modern caveman, the latest Fight Club-esque trend, is as ridiculous as donning medieval armor and championing knighthood as the natural state of man. There's nothing noble or pure about hunter-gatherers, if you study anthropology. Belief in evolution doesn't require that we adhere to its ruthless creed. Compassion for the weak is not weakness. We were all weak once.

Tyler isn't an unattainable ideal, he's a childhood daydream of the hard man the Walter Mitty in us wants to be, the lone killer Eastwood cowboy who solves our problems with a cold utterance and a gun. Or a clever quip and a few hundred pounds of explosive. We forget that in the end, "Jack" wins, sort of. Maybe Tyler's plan wasn't to blow up those buildings, but to get his other side to stop whining and stand up for himself. That's what I like to think the movie's final message is. Project Mayhem internalized. As much as I hate Starbucks, the wrecking ball should be aimed at the impatience that makes me a customer of theirs, ever again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An ode to the vanishing char-broiler

My love of burgers started in the womb. My mother used to send my father for grilled hot dogs, burgers, and fried clams at the Three Acre Grill in Lyndhurst, a grease pit lost to urban development. /The photo is from the '40s, when dining and dancing were offered; by the late '60s it was less fancy. Beef patties broiled crisp, frankfurters seared with grill marks, that blend of tantalizing char and rich fat melted under flame. Science has proven it is more addictive than cocaine, but at least it won't make you look like these guys.
Growing up, we'd stop for a summer treat at one of Route 3's many char-broil grills. The long-gone Red Chimney was my favorite, with its ridiculous '50s-era smokestack and counter-top dining. When it was gone, the historically named Anthony Wayne, after Revolutionary War Brigadier General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, took its place. They seared their thin patties on what fry cooks would call a "salamander," a brutally hot grill that finished burgers in minutes, then they slapped them on gummy white hamburger buns. You could get American or cheddar, but the hot burger relish was what made them memorable to me. They served orange whips and the usual deep-fryer fare, but the burgers with their crisp, carcinogenic broiled crust were the star.
The Anthony was in a horrible location in the armpit of where three major highways merged, and required dodging multiple lanes of traffic full of mall-seeking moms and teenagers headed for their driving tests at the Wayne DMV. You truly risked death to get one of their burgers, and it made them taste even better. You'd want one for the road, wrapped in wax paper. The little cozy restaurant was decorated log cabin style with pictures of the Mad General and his exploits. I bet in the old days they had fake flintlocks and Daniel Boone accessories festooning the rafters with the odd ratty stuffed raccoon. It too, has been relegated to Jersey grease stain history.
So when I was driving to High Point State Park for a hike with Firecracker and saw the garish brown and orange cabin decor of The Elias Cole, I knew I had to stop there for a bite. I'd seen the place years ago when I hiked there with Milky, but we were broke and they take CASH ONLY. Wow, they really take this retro thing seriously, don't they? Inside, we grabbed a booth and were served by friendly waitresses wearing bunny ears, for the Easter holiday. It was like stepping back in time to my char-broil days of youth- I prefer that term to "salad days." The menu was simple: burgers, franks, shrimp in a basket; the char-broil staples. This being Saturday, they had dinner specials of hot roast beef, chicken or pork with mashed potatoes and gravy, and several older couples were there to partake of the plates piled high with meat-stuffs. We of course, went for the cheeseburgers.
They come on a freshly baked French sandwich roll, and they make the burger shaped to fit it. It's capsule shaped, and seared with a fine grill crust that brings memories of summer when you bite into it. Just juicy enough and full of classic beef flavor, topped with two slices of American cheese melted to the roll and optional lettuce, tomato, and pickle, this is a classic roadstand burger with great taste. The roll really helps, crisp on the outside and still soft enough to absorb juices and squish down to make the burger easily edible. They also make great fries, standard and sweet potato. In fact, the sweets are some of the best I've had, better than the Cloverleaf Tavern, my previous fave.
You owe it to yourself to visit the highest point in the state of New Jersey- 1800 feet above sea level, and home to the Veteran's obelisk monument- and then drive on down to the Elias Cole on Route 23 for a burger. Who's Elias Cole? I don't know. It's not the name of the current owners. But it's a fitting name for a classic char-broiler joint like this. It rings of the '50s era frontier revival that these roadside restaurants thrived in. Some googling suggests he lead an Ohio regiment of volunteers in the Civil War. Next time I'll ask.
Some other char-broils I recall are St.Paul's excellent St. Clare Broiler, where I used to get liver and onions with Deneen "The Neener" Gannon in my Twin Cities days; she loved a good diner and the St. Clare reminded me of Jersey. One I have yet to try is the Montclair Char-Coal Broil on Valley Road, which is newer but has the right style. They're a dying breed, killed off by fast food chains that barely serve things that can be called meat anymore. Do your mouth a favor and visit one of these anachronisms while they remain, and remember what a burger was supposed to taste like.
But most importantly, if you visit High Point State Park, be on the watch for zombies and vampires, which infest the place:

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© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Belly Button Adventures

It all started Tuesday when I had my period. It came out of my belly button, like a misguided childhood nightmare after hearing about menstruation in health class. I'd had some pain there, but I thought it was because I had my belt tight because my pants were loose- lost some weight, might as well announce it and be smug- but it got worse. Like any American jealous of how much vacation time Europeans get, I decided to use it as an excuse to stay home from work. Unfortunately it turned into a valid reason, when I looked down and saw blood coming out of my navel.

I did what any man would do, I freaked. I called the doctor's office, who of course said they'd call back. If they'd let me speak to him and he said, "You big wuss. Man up!" I would have done the right thing and slapped a bandage on it and gone to work, but that's not how our health care system works. A few hours later, enough time for me to bleed to death, they called back and said they were setting up an appointment with a surgeon. When I think of a surgeon I think of a masked man hovering above me with harsh light reflecting off the bloody bone saw whizzing in his hand, so that sure helped. Later on, they called back and said they couldn't schedule me, and I should go to the emergency room. The ER?! That's like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles except everyone around you has an infectious disease. No thank you! I told the nurse that I didn't have a fever and the pain wasn't bad, and she scheduled me two days later. But thanks to the internet, where searching for "belly button pain" gives you gory photos of piercings gone wrong, I was concerned I might have a hernia, appendicitis, blood poisoning, or an alien egg growing inside me.

So I waited out the two days with that stoic nobility of American manhood, meaning I whined about it constantly to my fiancé, Firecracker. Years ago, I told her my theory that men evolved to take sharp pain because we were hunters and fighters, meant to deal with getting pierced by tusks and antlers and clubbed by jealous Geico pitchmen, while women, who get a monthly reminder that one day they will look like they swallowed a watermelon and have to pass a human head out their no-no, can take persistent achy pain like champs. Unfortunately for us Hunters, we're much less likely to be gored by aurochs and titanotheres these days. Instead, we get taken down by the ignoble enemies of sinus headaches, gas, and ass sprains from sitting in an office chair all day. For example, I recently heard a young friend of hers complain because her husband has had chronic sinus headaches that are so bad, he didn't want to have sex. Really? I should have told her that really good sex will clear your sinuses.

Apparently the headache excuse is now a male phenomenon. Now, I know how he feels. A few years ago I had a kidney stone, which male doctors will tell you, is worse than having a baby. (Female doctors will smack you in the head and tell you to man up). It actually turned out to be an infection, and the idiot tech at the lab I was supposed to get my MRI at told me not to drink any water for 12 hours prior. By the time I got there, it felt like Freddy Krueger was punching me in the kidneys after dunking his razor fingers in habañero sauce. A quick trip to the E.R. later, and I was in a hospital room with an old man with a bum foot, who got to hear me cry like Harvey Keitel in yet another performance overlooked by the Academy. Eventually I got Demerol, which made me a man again. My roommate turned out to be a soldier who stormed the beaches at Normandy. So yes, I wept like a little bitch for my mommy in front of a war hero.

That day I resolved to only be a whiny little minger about pain when I'm alone, or with my sympathetic fiancé, who tells me to sack up and stop being a whiny little bitch. So a day or two later I end up at the doc's office so he can probe my navel. Having once been a heaving human hog of 360 pounds, I'm smug about my current shape and also still sensitive about it. 35 years of fat jokes take a while to wear off. Thankfully, practically everyone in America is huge these days, so I look on the thin side. After filling out the forms proving I could pay, I was led to a little room, and shortly afterward Dr. Stylman came in, and didn't make any fat jokes. He made me lay down and plunged his fist elbow-deep into my navel, somewhere between reverse proctology and making an Alien hand puppet pop out of my chest. In reality, he just poked around with forceps and a Q-tip, but that's what it felt like. It's as close as I've come to the humiliation of an Ob-Gyn looking inside me with that periscope of a speculum, looking for Nazi warships to sink, and I hope that's as close as I ever get. At least colonoscopies are done with remote cameras on wires nowadays, so you can pretend they're defusing a bomb in your lower intestine.

So after all that, the doc told me it was an infected hair follicle, and I should continue putting antibiotic ointment on it. If it gets red or infected again, I might need an outpatient operation to remove it. In other words: sack up, you whiny little minger.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

24-second chicken recipe

I'd never roasted a chicken before. I picked up two 4-pound organic chickens at Costco and planned on giving one to Firecracker to make in her slow cooker, but as the weather got warmer I realized my oven roasting time was about to vanish. So I opened all the windows and tried to remember what I'd internalized from reading Julia Child, and watching her show with Jacques Pépin. "Jack" as she called him, is a knife wizard and an extremely pragmatic chef, while still honoring his French culinary roots. He shares many helpful shortcuts from his years as an apprentice, and his roast chicken recipe can be recited in 24 seconds:

You can tweet it. Set the oven to 425. Roast it 40 minutes on one side, baste it, and 40 minutes on the other side. End it with the breast side down so the juices soak in. That's it. Sure, you can rub it with salt and pepper and olive oil or butter, like I did; I put it on a bed of baby carrots, a sliced onion, and a cubed celery root. The prep, including cutting off the wingtips and removing the giblet bag, cutting the vegetables, took about ten minutes. In an hour and a half, I had one of the best chickens I'd ever tasted, and certainly the best I'd ever made.
When I flipped the chicken at the 40 minute mark, I added some olive oil to the pan because the veggies were dry. The chicken released a flood of juices, so this was unnecessary. When it was done I let the bird rest and put the roasting pan on the stovetop, added white wine, and deglazed the sticky bits off the pan, and let the alcohol cook off while I carved it. I'd also never carved one before, so I found this video: How to carve a chicken which helped, but the chicken was fall-apart juicy. The breasts were juicy as Jacques promised. I thought I'd removed the wishbone but actually I was reaching up the chicken's ass, apparently, and had broken two of its ribs. (That's a secret Mixed Martial Arts move.) The wishbone was no impediment to carving this small bird and came out clean.
I put the carcass in a freezer bag and saved it for gumbo or soup. You'll be seeing it again! With the vegetables in wine, the dish was one of the best I've ever made. I had a drumstick, a wing, a breast, and an oyster. The tenderloins even fell off the breasts, and I had one while I was carving. I saved half for lunch tomorrow. Yeah, with the amount of weightlifting, mixed-martial arts, and idiotic exercises like tire flipping I'm doing, half a chicken is lunch. This would have been even better with the addition of garlic, spices of your choice, or if I'd had more prep time and could have patted the chicken dry and left it salted in the fridge for a day to make the skin extra crispy. That was the one deficiency; the skin wasn't very crisp because all the fat soaked into it, even though I trimmed a lot of the hanging fat and skin off the neck.
Next recipe? Christopher Walken's chicken with pears:

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

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