Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Up in Flames

Last night, Miss Healthypants came over after her yoga class for our usual Julia Child night. Last night’s menu consisted of Julia’s steak au poivre, creamed spinach and buttered artichoke hearts.

I was familiar with steak au poivre – steaks that have been coated with crushed peppercorns with a sauce made from beef stock, shallots, cognac and butter – but I’d never had it before.

I have to say that this is, hands down, the most delectable creation of Julia Child’s that I’ve ever had. I was surprised that such a simple sauce could be so incredibly appealing. My friend, Lorraine, said it best: “It’s beef crack.”

Part of the fun is getting to flambé the sauce. Julia says there’s no need to do so and that it’s a technique done to impress tourists.

Sorry, Julia, but it’s fun. Lot’s of fun as you can see from the video.

For this recipe, I used Angus rib-eye steaks. Miss Healthypants and I both like it pretty rare.

Here it is: Beef crack

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Sign of the Times

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved watermelon. So did my grandmother, “Budgie”, -- she was just nuts about it -- and no doubt I picked up on her love for it at a very early age. She and I could polish off a huge amount of it in a sitting. Eating watermelon with Budgie was almost a holy sacrament between us.

Here’s a photo of us sharing one back in ’92 or ’93. We were very happy.

So, all summer long I really enjoy the bounty of my most favorite fruit. My favorite way to eat it is to make a watermelon sorbet. It’s really easy now that God finally decided to invent seedless watermelons (something He should have done long ago in my opinion.)

To make watermelon sorbet: Cut a seedless watermelon into 1-inch chunks and freeze them. Blitz them in a food processor with lemon juice and sweetener of your choice. I use the artificial stuff. Watch out for ice-cream headaches.

I’ve enjoyed my watermelons all summer long until a couple of weeks ago when my usual grocery store no longer had them. Awwww. So sad. Autumn was, indeed, upon us.

Then, last week, I went to Trader Joe’s and they had a huge box of them right by the entrance. Yay! I had been expecting to go through an eight month watermelon draught and good-old Trader Joe’s came through for me. I didn’t have my grocery cart with me so I had to lug the thing home seven blocks away. It was worth it.

I wanted to go right back with my cart and get a couple more of them, but I didn’t. However, on Sunday I did take my watermelon-cart with me to church so that I could hit Trader Joe’s right after. I was hoping I didn’t wait too long and they’d still have them.

After church, I went whizzing around to TJs with my cart bouncing behind me, anxious to snatch up a couple of watermelons. The automatic doors swung open and there was the big box on display. Yay!

However, it didn’t contain watermelons.

It was filled with pumpkins.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Weight Loss / Sweater-Vest Update

Back in August, I decided to get serious about losing some weight. As we advance in age, extra weight (i.e. belly-fat) is basically poisonous, so I’ve been told. So, I joined Weight Watchers Online where you track everything you eat and it tells you how much you’re overeating. You’re allotted a certain number of points per day and if you go over that allotment, it’s bad.

The more you exercise, the more points you get to eat. The thing is, I really don’t like to exercise at all. It’s a shame, really, because my employer basically pays for us to have a membership at a really nice health club. What’s more of a shame is that this really nice health club is next door to my workplace and even connected to it via an underground walkway. I just need to get off by backside and slog over there.

Working out in the morning is a no-go. I’m basically a grouchy amoeba in the morning. When I wake up, my hair resembles a sea creature striking a defensive posture, so I’m not about to hit the gym looking and feeling like that.
Exercise before work? Yeah, rub a lamp.

You’d think that I’d go to the ever-so-convenient gym after work, but no. I’m really tired after work and besides, I need to get home to watch recorded episodes of Judge Judy each day.

So, I pretty much kept within my allotted eating points on Weight Watchers but wasn’t losing any weight. Oh, there was the occasional foray of hitting the fried chicken & tater-baby place, but I really did learn to change my eating habits pretty well. Sushi for lunch and my mango-lemon-spinach-parsley smoothie in the evening have been my friends.

Finally, I figured out how to hit the gym. Do it during my lunch hour.

It was perfect. By 11:00 am, I’m pretty much coffee’d up and anxious to get away from the office. Going to the gym in that state of mind actually wasn’t revolting.

So, for the past two weeks, I’ve “hit the gym” just about every workday. I have my nice music on my little iPod (this week, it’s Handel’s Messiah. Last week, Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Week before that, The Killers.)

And you know what? The weight has come off. I’ve dropped five percent of my body weight (from 230 lbs to 218 lbs) I’m actually in danger of getting a little bicep action going on, too.

Oh, and get this. I’ve bought my first pair of shorts. I’ve never owned a pair of shorts before. Miss Healthypants had the honor of seeing me in my gym shorts the other day. (I still haven’t been outside in them, though.)

Now, they say that you should reward yourself when losing weight. I really love argyle sweater vests so I went online to find one. It was frustrating -- every time I found one I really liked, it turned out to be for a toddler. Maybe I should get me one of those so I can order sweater vests that I really like.

Finally, I found one and ordered it.

Won’t it look great with a blue shirt and a new pair of jeans? Pretty soon, I’m going to be quite the catch, sweater vest notwithstanding.

I’d better get a pre-nup on hand. One never knows.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sex Sells

When did cooking shows become so sexy? Seems just like yesterday, I was watching good-old Paula Deen and Ina Garten, then bam! The Food channel became festooned with cleavage.

Sure, Nigella Lawson is voluptuous and curvy, but she plays up to it almost in a comical way. (She's also a brilliant food writer so that makes up for it.) But let's take a look at a couple of newbies on the scene and you'll see what I mean.

Laura Calder, French Food at Home:  

Laura is this French-Canadian young woman who glides around the kitchen in very form-fitting dresses. I'll take that back. She doesn't glide around the kitchen, she oozes around it. Nothing seems to get dirty or strenuous in Laura's world. Heaven forbid she should wear an apron for crying out loud.

The camera work is so obviously flattering to her as well; great camera angles and creative lighting. Only tiny snippets of food preparation are actually shown. She doesn't ever appear to actually cook. Oh and wait until you see her go to the fridge to get an egg. She slowly and seductively sways her hips from side to side -- it was so obvious that even I picked up on that.

After she's done slowly sashaying around the kitchen, voila! A full French meal appears with nary a dirty dish in sight. There's just something too unreal about the whole thing.

Chuck Hughes, Chuck's Day Off:

Not all sexy food shows are girl-flavored, mind you. Chuck is another French Canadian (what is it with this French part of Canadia anyway?) but his accent is totally different from Laura's for some reason. Chuck is the owner and chef at a popular, swinging bistro in downtown Montréal who cooks for various people on his day off. 

Chuck is a very handsome lad with a Pepsodent smile who likes to wear black t-shirts that show off his heavily tattooed biceps. One thing I've noticed about Chuck is that all his movements in the kitchen are highly exaggerated, even to the point of being overly-masculine. When he retrieves an egg, he'll walk over with big, broad quick steps, reach in with a big gesture and then hold the egg way down low to his side; almost gorilla-like.

But you can tell that the boy has spent a lot of time in the kitchen and has certainly paid his dues. All his movements, though exaggerated, are quick, sure, and deft. I can appreciate that. Too many of these food show personalities have obviously never spent any time sweating in a professional kitchen. (Giada De Laurentiis immediately leaps to mind.)

Like I said, Chuck cooks for various people on his days off. I've noticed a little trend with some of the people he cooks for, though:

A group of hunky firefighters
A group of hunky hockey players
His hunky personal trainer
His hunky beer purveyor
His hunky tattoo guy

Maybe he's just trying to pair up these guys with the female patrons. Who knows?

So that's the deal with cooking shows these days. It's a shame really. Do you ever think that Julia Child would have stood a chance among all these pretty teeth, cleavages and hip-swaying?

I think not.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Afternoon Scene - John Hancock Center

I'm attending a 3-day convention thingie that's being held across the street from the Hancock. This annual convention has been held in past years in Minneapolis, Orlando, and Portland. This year, I only have to walk down the street. That's nice.

The 100-story Hancock makes for a nice, symmetrical, geometric subject. I like that.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

You've Got To See This!

The other day, I posted a U-Tube of this guy climbing a 1,768 foot tall transmission tower with a video camera attached to his hard-hat. It was really amazing.

Then, the guy who uploaded the video had to remove it from U-Tube -- something to do with the technician's employer.

Well, it's available on another site: Click here to watch it.

It just keeps getting more and more intense as the guy climbs higher. It really makes me thankful for my office job with a Starbucks in the lobby.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Facebook - 400 years ago

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Yesterday at work, our server was down all day and we couldn’t email anyone. At first it was inconvenient, but actually, I got a lot of work done. Still, it got me to thinking how much technology has changed our working world since I’ve been working in the world.

When I was unable to email some documents to an agency in Peoria, I wanted to get out a typewriter, type a letter (with an actual carbon copy to keep on file) and mail it there with a stamp on it that I had licked. That’s how we actually corresponded when I had entered the workforce many years ago at the age of 17.
(The word for ‘fire’ back then was also ‘ga’.)

I remember when my employer first got inter-office email. It was the early 90s, way before the internet. We’d type an email and then immediately call our colleague: “Did you get it? Oh, that is so cool!” Do you remember doing that?

For the past three days, my bank’s online banking service was also broken. I had absolutely no idea how much I had in my checking account nor could I pay any bills. I wasn’t in danger of becoming overdrawn (remember, I couldn’t pay any bills) but it was still a little disconcerting not to be able to look at my money online. Keep a running balance in a checkbook? Are you kidding? What’s a checkbook anyway? For that matter, what’s a check?

When I was in high school and college, if you wanted money you actually had to cash a check or go to the bank and withdraw it. The teller would walk into the vault, find your cubbyhole with money it in, count some out and give it to you. (That’s how I imagined it anyway.)

Then, in the early 80s, we got Automated Teller Machines which never actually worked for the first five years they were around. Remember that?
I was working in a bank back then and one old crusty customer vowed that he would never use one of those “tit-less tellers.”
Real classy.

So, there we were at the bank, processing all these new applications for ATM cards. Each customer had filled out their application indicating what they wanted their four-letter/number PIN to be. As we sat there entering in hundreds of applications, a pattern began to emerge; a pattern that made the differences among men and women very obvious.

The most popular PIN that women selected was L-O-V-E. We’d all be sitting there and one of us would occasionally announce, “I got another LOVE one here” and we’d all stick our fingers down our throats.

The most popular PIN that men selected? Well, it was a four-letter word beginning with the letter F .

And there you have it; the difference between men and women.

Anyway, I hope our email is up and running at work soon. Otherwise I’m going to have to fax these documents to Peoria – that is, after I find out if we still have a fax machine somewhere.

On The Phone With Direct TV

Very friendly Direct TV person: “Oh, I see you’re calling from Chicago.”

Me: “Yes”

Very friendly Direct TV person: “Are you a bulls fan?”

Me: “A what?”

Very friendly Direct TV person: "A  bulls  fan."

Me: "What's that?"

Very surprised Direct TV person: “That’s the basketball team!”

Me: “I’ve never watched a basketball game.”

Very astonished Direct TV person: “Well . . . uh . . . it’s very interesting.”

She sets me up with the expanded service I called for.

Very helpful Direct TV person: “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”

Me: “No, that should do it. Thanks.”

Completely clueless Direct TV person: “Could I interest you in the NFL Sunday package?”

Me: (laughing) “Could you just remove all the sports stations instead?”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm a Jock

Today, during my lunch hour, I did something I've never done before and never thought I'd ever do.

I played basketball.

Yes . . . "hoops" I believe it's called.

Are you surprised?

Well, okay, I didn't actually play basketball, but I played with a basketball while at the gym.

Well, okay, actually, I shot one basket because no one was on the court at the gym and the floor was very shiny.

It's no wonder I got chosen last every day during phys ed while in school.


Epilogue: I made the basket.

I got game.

Monday, September 13, 2010


My friend, Miss Healthypants, recently informed me about a channel called MeTV which airs a lot of sitcoms from the 1960s and 1970s. It turned out that it was included on my cable line-up -- who knew?

Now I can watch reruns of Mary Tyler Moore rather than renting them through Netflix. How cool is that?

This weekend, I watched a bit of MeTV's lineup and wondered about the following:

Leave it to Beaver: Why was "washing up before dinner" such a huge event in the Cleaver household? Oh my gosh, Wally and The Beaver were constantly being sent upstairs to "wash up before dinner." It was a huge, two-story house. You'd think that there'd be a downstairs bathroom where this all-important activity could take place.

Dennis the Menace: If I'd had a kid like Dennis, I would have given him up for adoption. Not because he was a menace (hardly -- especially compared to today's kids) but because of that shrill, high-pitched voice. One day of listening to him screech like a pterodactyl and he'd be sent away. Okay, maybe not for adoption, but at least to a boarding school until his voice changed.

Family Affair: Uncle Bill was a city planner, yet could afford a five-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue with a butler and a terrace. Ridiculous. There are no five-bedroom apartments in Manhattan. And why did Buffy and Jodie have to scurry from one room to another? Scurry-scurry-scurry! Had they no capacity to walk?  (However, I did notice that Uncle Bill had an avocado green trimline rotary phone in the living room. I just about lost it over that and now I want one. I remember going nuts over that phone when I watched Family Affair back in the 60s. Trimline phones were so cool back then.)

My Three Sons: I don't think any series lasted longer than this one. It was never-ending (from 1960 to 1972) First, there were three sons. Then one went away and Ernie was adopted. Then Robbie moved out. Then Robbie got marriedand had triplets (three sons). Then Chip married Polly when he was only eighteen. Then Mr. Douglas got re-married to a woman who had that irritating little girl, Dodie.
That series sure passed up a lot of good stopping points along the way. . .
Oh, incidentally, there was always the same incidental music that played whenever the camera panned in on the house. I can play that on the piano. Everyone's heard it but can never identify it. Stuff like that is fun to play at parties.

So, those were my observations as I took a trip down memory lane this past weekend.

Oooo! I found an avocado green trimline rotary phone on ebay.
It is so gonna be mine. . . .

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Morning Scene - Christian Science Church

Actually, the name of the denomination is the "Church of Christ, Scientist." And since Christian Scientists don't believe that matter has any reality, they don't name their churches after "things" but give them numbers instead. So, this is the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

It really is an interesting piece of 1960s architecture. The church part, above, has no windows (why would you need to look at "things" in church, right?) and the lower part is all glass and extends one story below street level -- a really unique concept.

Some Chicagoans refer to this as the "UFO Church."

My friend, Iwanski, said it best. He said that whenever he sees the name "Church of Christ, Scientist", he always envisions Jesus wearing a white lab coat.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Holy Relic

In the Roman Catholic tradition, relics of saints are often venerated for their healing and mystical powers. Relics are divided into three classifications: A first-class relic is one that was directly associated with the life of Christ (part of the cross, the Holy Grail would be the holy grail of relics) or a body-part of a saint. All those are first-class relics.

A second-class relic is something that a saint owed; St. Thérèse’s rosary or her personal bible. A third-class relic would be something that touched something of hers; scraps of clothing. I think.

Even though I had spent a number of years as a Franciscan friar and a monk, I never could really “get into” the whole relic thing; probably due to my Southern Baptist upbringing. (I once filled a holy water font with plain tap water simply because I was unable to find a priest hanging around to bless it. I also put a few drops of bleach in the water, no doubt, due to my years spent as a restaurant manager.)

Like I said, I’ve never really held much veneration for holy relics – until now.

It turns out that my friend, Mike, (Michael, Mikey) had once taken a series of cooking classes taught by our dear Julia Child back in the early 90s. He was living in San Francisco at the time and these classes were being offered at an upscale hotel there.

At one point, Julia was demonstrating the use of a citrus zester (a micro-plane) and Mike mentioned that he didn’t have one.

“Well, what do you do?” she warbled. He explained that he used a box-grater to which she said that he really should have a micro-plane.

Later that day, Julia took the class to her favorite cookware establishment, Sur La Table; sort of class outing, a culinary field trip. A few moments later, Julia walked right up to Mike, held a micro-plane in his face and pronounced: “There. Now you have one!”

She had made it her mission to purchase one for him as a gift.

Last night, I was in Mike’s kitchen and asked to see the “holy lemon-zester.” I have to admit that it was just about the best micro-plane I’d ever held. It really did have a “special” feeling to it.

Here is Mike, proudly displaying a true relic.

(Technically, it’s a second-class relic, but I hate to relegate it to that level.)

When I snapped a photo of it, the light reflected off it as if it were a halo; no doubt, evidence of its supernatural qualities.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Roller Coaster

Back in 1990, I was an avid member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). It was a nationwide club of roller coaster geeks who would travel around the country riding roller coasters, meet at conventions and enthusiastically talk about new coasters, statistics, and endless details.

Total coaster nerds. I loved it.

I lived in Dallas at the time and the Six Flags park (the ORIGINAL Six Flags Over Texas) was building a record-breaking wooden coaster, the "Texas Giant."

Oh my gosh, us coaster nerds were NUTS about the Texas Giant being built there. During 1989 while it was being constructed, I and my coaster buddies, Tim, Gary, and Byron would drive out to the park every weekend to watch the construction, piece by piece.

Mind you, this was before the days of the internet or cell phones or texting. We actually had to go there -- and then actually call each other, breathlessly,  -- on a land line telephone, to report the progress. We took photographs of every board being nailed -- with a camera containing film -- developed the photos and gathered together to share the photos.

This was only 20 years ago.

It was wonderful.

One day during January of 1990, my coaster buddy, Tim, and I were parked outside Six Flags taking photos of the nearly-completed Texas Giant coaster. It was a cold, blustery day and we noticed that the workers had left the service entrance open. So, we wandered into the park so that we could get some close-up photos of the big wooden coaster.

We were able to walk right up to it and noticed that none of the construction crew were around -- none at all. So, we climbed onto the new, wooden track. Oh my gosh, this was so cool!! We were actually standing on the wooden track of this new coaster! We took notice of how many layers of wood lay between the rails and the base, how often the rails were screwed into the wood, etc. (Yes, we were total coaster nerds.)

Then, we noticed that there was nothing inhibiting us from climbing the lift hill all the way to the top. We were dying to see what the first drop looked like, so we started up.

Mind you, the Texas Giant was the world's tallest wooden coaster at the time, so it was quite a ways up there. On a cold, blustery day in January. Up and up  - - and up we went.

Finally, we reached the top! None of our other coaster-nerds had ever seen this coaster from the top of the lift hill, or could have imagined what it would be like, but there we were! I doubt that Sir Hilary had felt nearly such exhilaration when he reached the top of Mt. Everest.

My coaster-buddy, Tim, snapped a photo of me standing, triumphantly, at the top of the world.

(Even though we were dying to see what the first drop looked like, we were afraid to venture down it -- it was just too steep and scary.)

A couple of months later, we got to be some of the first passengers on this record-breaking coaster when it opened. (They test it with sand-bags and then put us coaster-nerds in.)

That was an incredibly exciting time.

The thing is, wooden coasters were never meant to be built that tall or fast. A seven-ton vehicle screeching down a 150-ft drop on wooden track at 65 mph is an incredibly rough event. Over the past 20 years, the roughness of this monster just got worse and worse.

So, for the 20th anniversary of the Texas Giant, a slick new steel track is being installed. It's being re-designed to be taller, faster, smoother, and much more exciting. The first drop has been raised higher and features a nearly 90-degree angle. No other wooden coaster has ever undergone such a reconstruction.

The old coaster-nerd in me is awfully excited. I'm back in touch with my coaster buddies, Tim and Gary.

Only now, we don't have to call each other or meet to compare photographs. Six Flags Over Texas has installed a daily time-lapse photo update of the reconstruction -- we can email each other, oogling over each piece of track that they'd lain, can discuss the angles of every drop, and once again, breathlessly anticipate what the ride will be like.

The first drop has just been completed and here it is:

I was standing on top of that drop 20 years ago. I would never have believed that it would someday look like this.

We may not be calling each other on land-lines anymore -- and I think "texting" is the digital equivalent of sending smoke signals and also believe it to be the absolute annihilation and destruction of the English language  - -
- - However, this would definitely be one instance when I would text "OMG!!!" to Tim and Gary.

I'm re-joining the American Coaster Enthusiasts simply because we'll be getting to be the first to ride this puppy once again when it opens in March of 2011.

I definitely think that Tim, Gary and I should get the first ride.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

I've Been There!

Business presentations. Not the most enjoyable things in the world, but I do okay at them. Even though I'm sort of a quiet guy, there's a part of me that almost enjoys getting up in front of a group of people and making all the right noises. 

There have certainly been times, though, when I've conducted a business presentation and have said something that wasn't too bright, something I've later regretted, or have been at a loss for words.

I sleep with CNN on the TV every night (never Fox or MSNBC -- too screechy) and I couldn't help but notice Gov. Jan Brewer's recent foible. While I don't agree with her political platform and my liberal pundits seem to have taken delight in her mishap, I genuinely felt sorry for her.

I've been there.

I'm not a governor; just a mid-level state agency manager, but I have had to give my share of politicized presentations in Springfield. During these presentations, I've left important things out, inserted jokes that shouldn't have been included, bee-ess'd my way through a few answers, and have stood there during some embarrassing silences.

It's not fun. I've been there.

Governor Jan Brewer's interview:

Now, like I said, I don't mean to take delight in her little disaster there.
I've been there.

She may have been exhausted, or maybe anxious and didn't get any sleep the night before, or maybe some medication wasn't working quite right. She may have been feeling a sudden bit of "gastric distress."

I know! I've been there: Anxiety, sleep deprivation, forgotten the SSRI inhibitor, intestinal distress and all.

I'd certainly hope that my whole reputation would never ride on the merits of one presentation. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a politician who is heralded by Sarah Palin.

And the moment I take delight in anyone's misfortune, I guarantee that karma will ensure that I will mess up even more.

However, I will never pass up the chance to acknowledge a clever bit of parody or satire:

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