Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kodak Moment

No, this is not my cats' idea of dressing up as illegal immigrants in a car trunk for Halloween. Nor is it a nostalgic attempt to relive their pre-birth experience. You see, this morning was the annual "bring Willie and Lilly to the vet" ordeal.

It's amazing how two college educated adults can spend days planning to out-think two animals with brains the size of a walnut, and only partially succeed. Regardless of what other steps we take, and regardless of the fact that they only see the carriers once a year, at first glimpse of them the cats go into evasive maneuvers that would make a fighter jet pilot envious. (Contrast this to their daddy, who has people in his office that he's seen daily for years and whose names he still can't remember.)

We know to close off all the best escape routes upstairs. (If they get under a bed you might as well cancel the vet appointment.) I thought I'd be cool and leave only the bathroom door open, since it's a dead end and if they ran there their furry little butts would be mine.) Unfortunately, they figured that out a lot faster than I did. Consistent with their personalities, Willie tried to muscle his way out of the problem, and it didn't take very long at all before he was in his carrier. Lilly may be smaller than Willie, but it seems that the human world is not the only one in which girls are smarter than boys.

Lilly didn't outrun me. She out-thought me. After nearly an hour of searching there was no sign of her. I was actually getting worried; we'll never know for sure, but I strongly suspect it was trying to shimmy out of a too-tight spot that led to Skids' life-ending injury a little over two years ago. Then I thought of one more place to look. We have a large sideboard cabinet that comes all the way down to the floor in the front, but that has a small opening in the back; sure enough, I turned the flashlight there and a little pink
nose was staring back at me. It meant moving the side-board and several other pieces of furniture, but after a sword dance that included chasing, hissing (by both of us) and other elements of a good western's barroom brawl, eventually she was cornered on the stairs and tried to run past me. Game over.

Frustrated and sweaty, I told my wife I'd caught them both, and cautioned her that if ever I was looking for her, she was never to hide under the furniture. Having put up with this kind of thing nearly every day for the past 27 years, she agreed and went back to watching the weekend edition of the Today Show.

Back to the photo. We finally got to the vet and I pried Willie from his carrier - first you can't get them in, then you can't get them out.
I opened the door of Lilly's to get her and before I could stop him Willie scooted past me and into it. There were now two cats - one a little over 13 pounds, the other a little over nine pounds - packed into a carrier that was originally purchased for my previous 5 and a half pound cat. I think I saw this in a Marx Brothers movie once.

I Like Left-Overs But...
It's after 6:00 pm and I've had exactly three trick-or-treaters. (Based on previous years' turnouts, I'm prepared for 200.) If things don't pick up, this week at work I'll be brown bagging Sugar Daddy sandwiches with a side of Swedish Fish.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back in the Saddle

This past week was my second back at work after four or five weeks - I don't even remember anymore - on Family Medical Leave. It felt good to get back. Everything was right where I left it (which is mostly a good thing, but not entirely), no major disasters on my projects, my building pass still worked, and so far I've still got that rested-and-ready feeling. Structure, like anything else, is good if kept in moderation.

We're still fitting physical therapy into the schedule. If it's ok with some insurance company clerks who've never met my wife and whose medical background consists of putting a band-aid on their Winnie the Pooh doll's boo-boo at the age of four, we'll continue for the next couple of weeks. Progress is slower than my wife would like, but it's there. She's back to feeding the cats (so they don't have to like me any more if they don't want to), and doing most of the cooking again. (I did get to make a decent beef goulash with spaetzle and ginger-glazed carrots last night. At least I think that's what spaetzle is supposed to taste like.)

That ginger-glazed carrot recipe is interesting. It's from Alton Brown on, and uses ginger ale as the main element for the glaze. (It does benefit from an extra pinch of ginger, but the ginger ale gives it a better flavor than you might expect.) I never envisioned myself using ginger ale as an ingredient, but when you've got hungry mouths to feed you learn to relax certain standards. I've found this to be particularly true when one of the hungry mouths is your own. I draw the line at ketchup-as-ingredient, though. At least for now.

One final food note: this past week a chef originally from Jersey City (and a graduate of the county-run culinary school where I've gotten to take some weekend adult-ed classes) beat Morimoto on Iron Chef America. Most significantly, despite his Jersey City/Hudson County background, he appears to have won without any payoffs, threats or back-room deals. There's hope for us yet.

Why Bees Are Disappearing

The other day I was in the yard watching three bees working my basil plant. Basil is mostly leafy, of course, but if you let it overgrow a bit the branches grow small, pretty white flowers. The bees were sticking their faces into the flowers, doing whatever it is they do, and moving on to the next flower. A moment later another bee would come to the same flower, stick his face in, and do the same thing. Then the third. It got me thinking: is that sanitary? What if one of those bees has a cold? Maybe if we had some teeny-tiny surgical masks...

With Friends Like These...

It amazes me to think back at how hard it used to be to turn down Friend Requests on Facebook. It's a networking site, for goodness sake. Just because someone doesn't know me or any of the other 1500 friends in their friend list, or their profiles are offensive (defined here as expressing views different from mine) or not even in English, is no reason to risk offending them. But like learning to throw paper junkmail out unopened, it's something that gets easier every time you do it, and you'll get to wondering why it was ever hard in the first place. Enough requests to play Mafia Wars will do that.

I did make a Facebook profile in connection with this journal, and if you are of a mind to take a look, it's found under the e-mail address,, with the name T.M. Ben. And I promise I won't turn down your Friend Request.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joe Sixpack's Country Fried Late Night Comedian Make-Over

I won't dwell on it, because it ultimately does come down to a private matter between a man and his wife, but let me say this: I'm REALLY glad I'm not David Letterman right now.

That said, a few things to share:

Make THIS Over
Been getting to see daytime tv shows I (mercifully) don't normally get to watch. Maybe it's like when everything tastes salty because you're not used to eating salt, or maybe it's just a guy thing, but it seems as if every program during the day is making some middle-aged woman over. I have no problem with self-improvement, finding a new hairstyle that is more flattering than your current one, etc. Those are normal things, even healthy ones. What I'm seeing on a daily basis, though, is more like a parade of full-grown women who believe in their esteem-deprived hearts that some expert-to-the-stars can provide a new hair cut, make-up or style of dress that will validate their lives with meaning and purpose, and who have the encouragement of a cheering studio audience to prove it. One particularly henious ex
ample (won't mention the show, but the host normally does things that are yum-o) had women telling a stylist what "star" they admired, and the stylist made them over in that celebrity's own style. Remember, these aren't 14 year old girls showing up at a Mylie Cyrus concert dressed like Hannah Montana. These are grown women who have families, jobs, and the right, though perhaps not the stability, to vote.

It comes down to one of my favorite quotes, years old but completely timeless, from the funny and brilliant Brett Butler: "If you wait till you're rich and famous to be happy, you're screwed."

You Betcha!

Hard as it is to believe, there is finally something Sarah Palin and I agree on: it would be a great thing for this country if Levi Johnston would just go away, never to be seen or heard from again. It's not an easy thing to emerge as a bigger sleaze
(and one less qualified for fatherhood) than Jon Gosselin, but despite the odds Johnston has managed it.

This Isn't a Cooking Blog, But...
For some reason, the other day I found myself wanting some Chicken Fried Steak.

For readers outside of the U.S. (and probably some American readers too), Chicken Fried Steak - also known as Country Fried Steak - is one of the truly great comfort foods of the south. It may be described as follows:

  • a steak that has been "tenderized" (a genteel culinary term for having the living daylights beaten out of it by a stressed cook wielding a spiked hammer that looks like something out of a horror movie or fetish shop) then dredged, breaded and fried in the style of fried chicken, and finally smothered in gravy; and
  • an irresistably delicious meal whose fat and salt content will eventually kill you.

The catch, of course, is that having cholesterol issues, I don't fry. (Truth be told, I've made three or four attempts at frying things. In a cosmic effort to keep me from eating fried food, all failed miserably. Frying is a lot harder than it looks.) My desire for Chicken Fried Steak being strong, however, I set out to find a healthier, "oven-fried" version.

First I needed a base recipe from which to work; since I was looking for a southern dish whose fat and salt content will eventually kill you, I knew to check Paula Deen's recipes first. Taking her fried recipe as a starting point, I changed it to use the oven-frying methods I've been putting together from various sources and experience. I'm proud to present the result below. It came out right the first time, and that's something of a rarity for me.

When serving, make frequent use of "y'all" (a southern form of the more familiar New York "youse") and the adjective, "big ol' ".


Country Over-Fried Steak
Yield: 4 servings


4 – 4 oz. tenderized thin cut steaks

¾ cup Panko

¼ tsp fresh ground pepper

Seasoning Mix: 1/2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp fresh-ground pepper, 1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 cup buttermilk

3 - 4 cups beef gravy

½ bunch green onions, or ½ medium yellow onion, sliced for topping


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baking sheet in oven to preheat.
  • Combine Panko and ¼ tsp black pepper in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag.
  • Combine seasoning mix ingredients and season both sides of the steaks. Dredge each steak in the buttermilk, shake off excess, and coat with Panko, pressing crumbs in. Let coated steaks rest in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes
  • When steaks have finished resting, spray preheated baking sheet with cooking spray. Place steaks on the baking sheet and spray tops lightly. Bake until coating is golden brown and crispy, about 20 - 25 minutes, turning half-way.
  • While steaks are baking, prepare gravy using any preferred recipe. When gravy is ready, add the steaks and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Reduce the heat to low, put onions on top, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with mashed potatoes, smothering both with gravy.