Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Well, I DO Mix a Mean Cocktail (for an Amateur)

A tip of the toque to Ken at It Comes in Pints?

Only one nit to pick -- a proper martini is stirred, never shaken.

Your Score: William Powell

You scored 19% Tough, 28% Roguish, 19% Friendly, and 33% Charming!

You are the classic rogue, a stylish rake with the devil of a wit and a flair for mischief, and you shake your martinis to waltz time. You are charming and debonair, but slightly untrustworthy, and women should be on their guard. If married, you are simply a bit of a flirt, even if it's just with your own wife...but if you're single, watch out. You usually rein yourself in to concentrate on one lovely beauty at a time, but with you, we never know. You're an inviting partner, but there's a playful devil behind your eyes, and those trying to get close to you should know they're playing with fire. You're stylish and fun, but you follow your own course, which may or may not include a steady gal. Co-stars include Myrna Loy and Carole Lombard, classy ladies with an adventurous streak.

Find out what kind of classic dame you'd make by taking the Classic Dames Test.

Link: The Classic Leading Man Test written by gidgetgoes on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Friday, May 25, 2007

Two Thousand a Day

That's approximately how many children, on average, are reported missing in the US. Every day. And that's just here in the US. Most are quickly reunited with their families, but we know too painfully the stories of those who aren't -- the ones who are found dead, or worse, are never heard from again.

Today is National Missing Children's Day. As a parent, this is a cause near to my heart. The idea of The Lad going missing, of anything happening to him, curdles my blood. Every time I see a story in the news about a missing or abused child, I want to go pick him up and hug him -- but usually he's asleep.

Please take a moment to check out these links. Consider doing something to help, or at least, please, be aware and look out for the kids in your life:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Missing Kids UK
Child Focus

Monday, May 21, 2007


That's the amount listed on the check in my wallet right now. It's a paycheck for one day's long work, plus tips -- the servers at this restaurant take care of their dishwasher. So do the cooks, for that matter, but their generosity goes straight into my belly.

That's not a lot of money, is it? It's roughly 1/4 of what I was receiving in unemployment benefits (while they lasted). But here's the thing:

I earned it.

That's the first time I've been able to say that in 10 months, and it feels damned good.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Good Wine, Better People

I get to be a hero this week, thanks to some former members of my father's church.

It began this last Thursday. At the beginning of class, we met with the two second year students who are executive chef and sous chef for this week's fundraising buffet dinner. The theme is Northwest cuisine, all local ingredients and flavors. One of the featured dishes is buffalo brisket braised in Pinot Noir. My chef instructor was bemoaning the fact that none of the local wineries here around Eugene would donate the two cases of Pinot needed for the dish. The alternative facing them was to buy a case of Pinot, and make up the rest of the volume in boxed Merlot. [shudder]

I raised my hand and explained that I knew some people who owned a winery and would see what I could do. One phone call and a call back later, and it was arranged. We drove the hour and a half down to Tenmile today, and now there are two cases of Pinot sitting in my garage, waiting to go with me to school this week.

So if you get a chance, and like good wine (and better people), and live somewhere where it's sold, pick up a bottle from Girardet Wine Cellars. Here in Oregon they're sold in Fred Meyer, among other places, and they're available in other western states as well. In addition to their Piont Noir, I highly recommend their Baco Noir, which is an earthy, fruity, full-bodied wine that is surprisingly versatile for a red, and their Grand Rouge, which does a great impersonation of a Cotes du Rhone, for a good price.

Losing My Religion

As many of my readers and friends know, I am a devout Single Malt Scotch Whisky drinker. It is almost, you might say, a religious devotion to me. The problem is, the Scotches I prefer are rather... pricey, to say the least. A great way to forestall alcoholism, but frustrating nonetheless.

In order to compensate for this, Ive let my love of Scotch lead to a general affinity for whiskies, with Irish and Bourbon whiskies playing second fiddle to Scotch, and Canadian a distant fourth. While I still like them, Ive considered them slightly inferior -- not necessarily in quality, but at the very least in my palate and preference. Until tonight.

I was called in to work to shadow the regular dish pit guy, in hopes I'd learn a few things that will help me avoid the weeds tomorrow and in the future. I DID pick up some time-saving pointers, but also discovered some duties I left undone last week, simply because I was not made aware of their existence. But that's beside the point.

The point is that after my shift, I went out to the bar for a drink. a patron was feeling magnanimous and picked up my tab for one drink, so I decided to try a Bourbon that the bartender recommended to me last week.

Dear Lord...

I hope my highland ancestors can forgive me. I've found a Bourbon that is, at least to my tongue, on a par with a good single malt. Ladies and gentlemen, I commend to you: Woodford Reserve. This is a small batch Bourbon, and I drank it in a highball, with a single cube of ice -- as God In Heaven intended. It wasn't peaty and earthy and smoky, the way I prefer my Scotch, but it was smooth, rich, and complex -- this whisky had something going on, and it was something good. The deep reddish-amber color, the easy way it rolled down my tongue -- I was drinking silk.

I am still a Single Malt man. There's something fierce and tribal about a dram of Uisge Betha. But for a sipping whisky that manages to come across as a bit less musty, but still just as distinctive and indepentend, you'd not go wrong by pouring yourself some Woodford Reserve.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Get Offal

A tip of the toque to Maximum Leader at Naked Villainy.

Mike links to a great site on the use of offal in cuisine, Offal Good. The tasty that that got his attention? Porchetta di Testa -- marinated and braised pig's head. Looks good. My experience with offal is limited, but I'm curious. I tried marrow at Christmas and loved it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Colored Threads

[Editor's Note: This was an essay I submitted this term for my writing class. It received an A, so I thought I'd share it here.]

I didn't know that I grew up poor until well after the fact, having been blessed with very resourceful parents. For most of my childhood, my father was a pastor serving in small churches in rural communities in Oregon and Idaho, and I don't ever remember a time when he wasn't doing other odd jobs to supplement the family income – grocery clerk, electrician, day laborer. My mother often worked outside the home as well, and in addition, she was a wonderful homemaker. She sewed clothes for us, gardened and canned the fruits of her labor, and was an extraordinary bargain hunter. My parents' deep faith and dedication to their congregations made them respected in the community, and people often expressed their appreciation with material and financial help in times of need. The combination of faith and resourcefulness meant that we always had our needs met, and often enough, would manage to squeeze out just a little bit for fun. And sometimes, what seemed like enough to get a little ahead turned out to be just what we needed to get by.

I remember the year the congregation passed the plate to give my father a Christmas bonus. The bonus was around three hundred dollars – not a lot, seemingly, but for a poor family in the late 1970's, it was enough to make a difference. Just what kind of difference, we would soon find out. We were heading to San Diego as usual to visit my grandparents, and the extra money meant a visit to an amusement park and perhaps a nice restaurant for my parents. Somewhere on I-5 south of Stockton plans changed when the family station wagon stopped running. We managed to pull off of the freeway and came to a stop at an abandoned gas station, which thankfully still had a working pay phone. After a phone call and a “quick” tow into the Central California town of Firebaugh (several miles off the freeway), we soon learned that the timing gear was shot, and we'd be spending the afternoon there. While my father stayed with the car, my mother looked after me and my sister. That day happened to be the day that Santa Claus visited town on the back of the town's fire truck, the closest thing Firebaugh had to a Christmas parade. He was passing out brown paper lunch bags filled with candy, peanuts, apples and oranges, and my mother managed to wrangle several extra -- that was our lunch. The repairs to the car took most of the afternoon and the exact amount of the gift from the church. There wasn't a penny of that check left, but it got us to San Diego and we had a grand time nonetheless.

Perhaps part of the reason my parents worked so hard to not only provide for us, but also to conceal the lengths they had to go to in order to do so, had to do with my father's own youth. His mother had died when he was five, and his father, heartbroken, took to the bottle and to the road. The family lived in countless places all up and down the West Coast, practically homeless an often hungry. Life didn't get much better for my father and his siblings until his teenage years when a family in Lorane, Oregon, took them in. The Rothages gave them love, a home, and responsibility, and my father and my uncle especially became fine young men thanks to it. But his childhood influenced my father's outlook on poverty for the rest of his life, and he did his best to make sure my sister and I were shielded from it.

The signs of our own humble upbringing were there, but my parents went to great lengths, even sacrificial ones, to downplay them. Every year when school started in the fall, my parents bough us new clothes and school supplies. Christmas and birthdays, while never the extravaganzas of excess we expect today, always included enough presents, both from my parents and maternal grandparents, to ensure a happy day. We had wonderful family vacations, we went to the fair, we even occasionally went to see a movie. What I didn't see were the sacrifices my parents made – doing without luxuries that they might have wanted, even making their own necessities stretch further, to give us kids what we needed (and sometimes what we wanted, as well). As a child, I didn't recognize the significance of the multicolored thread I noticed on the inside of my father's suit jacket. But I understand now. Instead of buying a new suit to wear to church, he had had my mother mend his old one numerous times, the money that might have gone to a suit instead going to God only knows what – trumpet lessons? Cub Scout dues? Groceries? Just what I had because he went without, my father never revealed, and I'll never know.

I was reminded of all of this when I was called upon in an earlier writing assignment to submit a photograph and write about what it made me think of. The picture is from a year ago. In it I am standing in my grandparents' house in Southern California, holding my son who was at the time fifteen months old. On the wall behind us hang several pictures of my ancestors. In that picture, I could see myself making a connection with them as I held my own son. Seeing them recalled to me my own father and reminded me of what he had done; seeing my son reminded me that I now understand why he did it. As a parent, I would willingly, gladly make the same kind of sacrifices for my child.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Beast Within

A tip of the toque to Ken at It Comes in Pints?

I don't know what sickens me more -- What this monster did or what I want to do to him in response.

It's Been a While...

since I posted a recipe. Mostly because all of the recipes I've been using lately have been the ones assigned to me at school, and none of them are of my own doing.

But today I had a chance to do it my way. My team is on the bake shop/dessert station rotation in the Renaissance Room. I was inspired by one of the desserts served at the restaurant where I work, and though I didn't have their recipe, I had a basic recipe from school that I was able to modify, and created the following:

Mexican Chocolate Creme Brulee
Serves 8

4 ounces dark chocolate, coarse chop
3 ounces pasteurized egg yolks
1 whole egg
3 1/2 ounces sugar
24 ounces heavy cream
1 teaspoon rum
2 teaspoons cinnamon
granulated sugar

In a large stainless steel bowl combine the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, rum, and cinnamon, whisk until smooth.

Place chopped chocolate in a double boiler and melt over simmering water. Do not overheat.

Place heavy cream in a heavy saucepan and heat over medium heat until you see steam begin to rise. Remove from heat and stir in melted chocolate until completely combined.

Slowly pour the hot cream and chocolate mixture into the egg mixture to temper it, whisking it as you go. Continue until all ingredients are well combined.

Pour through a fine sieve into a large pouring container. Let stand for 5-10 minutes, skim off any foam.

Pour into creme brulee dishes (large ramekins will do) to just below the rim. Place in a shallow water bath and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until set. Remove from oven, let stand for a short time and then remove from the bath, taking care not to splash water on the creme brulee. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Just before serving:

Sprinkle a thin layer over the top of the creme brulee. With a lit torch, slowly melt the sugar until it begins to cramelize. Move the torch back and forth across the sugar and pull away if necessary to avoid burning the sugar. Serve.

The results were pretty good, though I think I'm going to tweak a couple things. For one, I tried using turbinado (raw) sugar instead of whiote sugar for the crust, but the big granules would burn on the outside before they'd melt on the inside, so we switched to white sugar. Tomorrow I'm going to try putting the turbinado in the food processor to get it finer, because I do like the flavor profile. Also, I'd love to try a Mexican liquor, maybe some Kahlua or something. Just not tequila. But I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fred Thompson Says "No Moore".

A tip of the Toque to my old and dear friend The Reverend Professor.

Fred Thompson responds to Michael Moore from breitbarttv on Vimeo

That's gonna leave a mark. I so hope Fred runs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn!

I spent my first shift ever working in a restaurant last night, doing dishes from 4 until almost 2 last night. Long shift, longer than it should have been, just because I'm still a rookie and it was Mother's Day -- we were slammed. Unlike the line, in the pit, the closer you get to closing, the deeper in the weeds you get.

As you can see, I also got my first professional injury -- a beauty of a burn, almost second degree, from a saute pan that shifted in the bus tub I was carrying.

I even got a chance to do a tiny bit of prep, cutting limes for garnish.

The head chef told me at one point that I am the kind of employee he likes -- the kind he can ignore. I replied that that is my philosophy -- as long as the boss doesn't want to talk to me, I must be doing alright. He said if things progress well, I'll be doing prep work before long.

All in all it was a good first day. And as small as it will be (working one shift a week), I'm looking forward to my first actual paycheck in almost a year.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Musical Geography Question of the Day

What happened back in the bad old days in the heat of a summer night?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I GOT A JOB!!!!!

Starting this Sunday I'll be washing dishes at El Vaquero, one of the nicer restaurants in town. Doesn't sound like much, but once the school year ends, I'll be available for more hours, and everyone starts in the dish pit -- the fact that I'll be washing them in such a nice place is a leg up in this industry.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Musical Geography Question of the Day

What's the town that knew me when?

Just Remember...

Illegal Aliens only want jobs and a chance at the American Dream, and it is unreasonable to want to secure our borders.

What I'm Reading for Leisure

When I find the time:

Faithful - Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King

As a lifelong baseball fan and Yankees hater, this book about Boston's 2004 has intrigued me since I saw it in the window of a local used bookstore. Today I saw it marked down to $5, something even I could scrape up, so I broke down and bought it. I've no idea when I'll get to read it, but I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

In Case You Were STILL Wondering...

Oh yeah, one more bit of good news. A week or so ago, there was an event here (it's an annual thing) in Eugene called Chef's Night Out. It's a fund raiser for Food for Lane County. People pay $65 to enter the event, at which they stroll around and sample various offerings from some of the best restaurants and wineries in the area. Then they vote on the ones they liked best. Our LCC Culinary team won the Best Sweet Bite award for our chocolates, tartlets, and cream puff swans.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering...

Yes, I'm still around, and yes, I'm still doing AND thinking about more than musical geography. But school this term is crazy -- between lecture and lab, I'm in class 27 hours a week, though that's for only 14 credits. Add on top of that the time I spend caring for The Lad, and life's pretty darn hectic. But I thought I'd take the time to give you an update on all things culinary:

24 of those hours and 10 of the credits are spent in two classes: Cooking Theories 3 and Restaurant Lab.

Cooking Theories 3 is the third term of our class on basic cooking techniques -- sort of Chef 101. This term the focus is the bake shop and professional baking, and I've learned quite a few things, the most important of which is that I'm not going to be a baker.

Restaurant Lab, well, is pretty self-explanatory. We run the Renaissance Room, a student restaurant that is open for lunch Monday through Thursday (two days a week per group -- I'm in Group B). We're split into teams, and we're rotated by team through the different stations, including (*shudder*) the front of the house (I don't understand why they don't include Hospitality Management students in the Ren Room and put them up front, but eh... at least I have some knowledge of the front). The first week of term we weren't open. The second week, I was in the bake shop. Then the front. It wasn't until last week that I was finally rotated to the front line, and actually got to do some savory cooking. I didn't realize how much I'd missed it.

This week I'm on the back line. Today I had the priviledge of making the Amuse Bouche, which got rave reviews. Usually we take whatever tasty odds and ends we have available and throw them together for the amuse. One of my classmates recently made some pancetta and bacon, and had taken the pancetta trimmings and smoked them. For today's amuse, I took crostini and topped it with sundried tomato pesto, sliced smoked pancetta, and Manchego cheese, then baked it off. Tomorrow I'm the Potager, and I'm making the Northwest version of slumgullion (or at least the definition of it that my father taught to me) -- a soup based on New England clam chowder but with shrimp (and in this case, bay scallops) added. The clam chowder recipe I'm using calls for salt pork, but given the Western variation of it, I'm going to use bacon (or maybe some more of that smoked pancetta. Mmmm.... smoke....).

One last thing, a request for your prayers and well-wishes. Since I was laid off in July, I've been on Training Unemployment -- due to my status as a displaced worker, they've been paying me a stipend to go to school. That ran out several weeks ago, and things are tight. This past two weeks we've been getting by on about $50 worth of groceries, and last month's rent check bounced. This month's rent and daycare pretty much finishes off TFR's check, so we're back in the hotseat. But due to one of TFR's guests at work, I have an interview with the GM and the Executive chef of one of the best restauranteurs in twon, who is opening a new restaurant in two weeks. Please pray I can get the job, and please pray we manage to keep the wolves at bay.