Monday, December 28, 2009

Male Jerk of the Year

The 2009 Male Jerk of the Year award goes to Richard Heene, aka the father of balloon boy. His wife wins a supporting role nod.

Richard concocted the scheme in an effort to score a reality show. Now he faces a different reality—jail.

According to a Huffington Post write-up, the prosecutor “portrayed the Heenes as increasingly desperate as their pitches for a reality TV show kept getting turned down by the networks…”

The runner-up is Tiger Woods.

Richard Heene nips Tiger by two strokes because he abused a child—his own—using him as a pawn both for the charade and the charade that followed under the glare of the national media. As such, he is even more unfit as a father than Tiger, whose children are as yet too young to have a clue about what he was doing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tis the Nutty Season

Well, yes, that kind, too.

For now I was referring to cooking with nuts, even if it means never allowing that sometimes sane aunt, cousin, or nephew into your kitchen. That’s where I keep the knives.

I keep all manner of nuts at the ready: almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans, pine nuts, and walnuts. I rarely use cashews for cooking, finding them sinful (salted, especially) by themselves, but difficult to find a mate for on

Like the healthy improbables, red wine and dark chocolate, much as been written lately about the health benefits of nuts, in moderation, of course. Nuts contain monounsaturated fats, which help lower low-density LDL (bad) cholesterol and may raise high-density HDL (good) cholesterol. Major studies have found that eating nuts significantly reduces the risk of coronary disease. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other goodies such as omega-3 in walnuts, and calcium and vitamin E in almonds. They are good sources of protein and fiber.

Just remember—key word—moderation. If using for cooking, never buy them smothered with salt.

Here are some ways I will be using nuts for the next week:

—Almond Shortbreads

—Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar & Spice Pecans, Pecans, Pecans

—Caramelized Walnuts

—Homemade Pesto with either Pine Nuts or Walnuts

—Pecan-crusted Red Snapper

—Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi-Mahi

—Roasted Haricot Verts with Toasted Hazelnuts

—Jack Daniels Chocolate Pecan Pie

It is that other “bad” stuff that does the damage. Even in moderation, weight gain over the holidays is rarely moderate. I just throw in the towel—after doing the dishes, of course.

A domestic engineer guy’s duties double over the holidays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tis the Season

Tis the season for braising, crock pot creations, and soups from scratch.

Since I live in Southern California I don’t pay much attention to seasonal cooking. I’m happy to braise a beef stew in July as in January.

Still, with a nip in the air and some nog in a glass, tis the season.

I recently rifled my recipes searching for several favorites, and set aside the following:

—Zinfandel Braised Beef Short Ribs

—Hearty Beef Stew, an Emeril concoction with a few modifications

—Potted Roast, my own blend of several recipes, and a part of my book

—Potato and Leek Soup, a personal favorite

—Butternut Squash Soup

—Corn Chowder, though corn is not in season—no matter in SoCal

—Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

—Rosemary White Bean Soup.

In the previous post, one of Michael Pollen’s consumption caveats is to avoid products that make health claims. To that point, allow me to list the ingredients of Campbell’s Healthy Request Cream of Chicken. Excuse me while I find my magnifying glass. Okay, here we go: chicken stock, modified food starch, cooked chicken meat, water, maltodextrin, cream (milk), wheat flour, vegetable oil, contains less than 1 % of: soy protein concentrate, lower sodium natural seasalt, cornstarch, beta carotene for color, potassium chloride, flavoring, salt, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, chicken fat, autolyzed yeast extract, soy protein isolate, sodium phosphates, spice, chicken flavor (contains chicken stock, chicken powder, chicken fat), spice extract.

How’s that for getting those taste buds salivating?—especially autolyzed yeast extract, chicken powder, and maltodextrin.

In contrast, here are the ingredients of a soup I made two days ago: ½ stick of butter, 2 medium leeks, 3 stalks celery, 2 large carrots, 1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, 1 jalapeno, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, coarse sea salt, 1 medium butternut squash, 4 cups homemade chicken stock, or water, ½ cup heavy cream, white pepper, and toasted chopped pecans. It was amazing.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food Caveats

Michael Pollan, author of the best seller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a new book out entitled In Defense of Food. At the end of it he lists tips and/or admonitions about food.

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.
  3. Avoid products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose syrup.
  4. Avoid food products that make health claims.
  5. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  6. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
  7. Shake the hand that feeds you.
  8. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  9. You are what you eat eats too.
  10. If you have the space, buy a freezer.
  11. Eat like an omnivore.
  12. Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
  13. Eat wild foods when you can.
  14. Eat more like the French. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. Or the Indians. Or the Greeks.
  15. Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
  16. Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
  17. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
  18. Pay more, eat less.
  19. Eat meals.
  20. Do all of your eating at a table.
  21. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
  22. Try not to eat alone.
  23. Consult your gut.
  24. Eat slowly.
  25. Cook, and if you can, plant a garden.

I offer these without snark, or humor, because most of the time I am quite serious about food.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Annual Power Surge

Living in a relatively high-end cul de sac brings with it responsibilities, especially during the holidaze season, when it’s time for the annual power surge.

It isn’t enough that we keep our property coifed and houses sufficiently presentable so that the association’s architectural committee doesn’t begin sending threatening letters.

Duding the place up for the holidaze has always been on the guy side of the to-do ledger so there is no BS in Domestic Engineering course to take, other than a memory one. This domestic engineer guy can never remember from one year to the next how he strung up the front-of-the-house lights, adding more stress to the stringing.

This year I was without my helper, our golden retriever, Dutch. We had to put him down in early November.

Three of our four closest neighbors (even the non-Christian Chinese family) defy tradition and hang strings of white icicles from their front roofs. Thank goodness for the Thai Buddhist family two doors down. Otherwise we’d be surrounded by four faux wintery symbols.

I’ll stick with old-fashioned multi-colored bulb lights—the ones that pop into a million pieces if jarred the slightest. They also create a power surge that causes a blood pressure surge when I open the January City of Anaheim electrical bill.

The other surprise is opening the credit card statements and seeing how much PJ overshot our Christmas gift budget. This will be the fourth year in a row we have vowed ourselves a minimalist Christmas.

But then I will remind myself that she is the family ATM, so I am restricted to minimalist mutterings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wiener of the Year

A Blog about guys, domestic engineers or otherwise, wouldn’t be about guys if football didn’t show up now and then.

The BCS pairings came out yesterday. Once again they proved their paranoid, mercurial, Dark Ages mentality. Another year of BCS BS.

For the unaware, the BCS has a contractual arrangement with six college conferences: Big Ten, ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10. Each conference winner automatically gets one of the ten berths, leaving the potential for four at-large berths. Traditionally the Rose Bowl matches the winners of the Pac-10 and the Big Ten, unless one of those teams is in the championship game. SEC teams usually end up in the Sugar Bowl.

As much as they would like to, the BCS cannot control the ranking systems that feed the final rankings. They cannot control teams from the “lesser” conferences and who and how they play on the field.

Each year 1-2 of those “lesser” teams go undefeated. This year there were two: Boise State and Texas Christian University. In order to avoid embarrassments from two previous years (Boise State “upset” Oklahoma a few years ago, and last year Utah “upset” Alabama), this year they made sure none of their pampered teams were at risk by matching Boise State (BCS ranking, 6th) and TCU (BCS ranking, 4th) in the Fiesta Bowl.

Florida, Iowa, and Cincinnati are all breathing a sigh of relief. Wimps.

The Big Ten, traditionally performing poorly in previous post-season bowls, once again has two teams in the ten BCS slots, both with two losses, thus guaranteeing the conference two major paychecks.

The BCS takes the top slot in the 2009 Wiener of the Year competition.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Salad Pesto Sandwiches

This is variation of a turkey sandwich recipe I clipped from the LA Times Food Section a few years ago.

½ cup toasted and chopped pecans

3-4 cups diced leftover turkey (white and dark meat)

1 cup red grapes, halved if small, quartered if larger

1 cup diced celery

¼ finely sliced green onions (scallions)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

1 cup of regular or low-fat mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

Freshly made pesto

Whole-grain bread

1. Toast the pecans.

2. In a large mixing bowl blend the turkey, grapes, celery, onions, tarragon, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and pecans.

3. Spread the pesto sauce on both bread slices, pile on the turkey salad, and presto, you have a great sandwich.

This will easily make six servings.

If you don’t have a basic pesto recipe:

2 cups basil leaves

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

1 garlic glove

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (virgin is fine)

1. Assemble all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor.

2. Process the ingredients while slowly pouring in the olive oil.

The original recipe called for using cranberry sauce as the sandwich condiment. If you like cranberry sauce (which I don’t), have at it.

How was my Thanksgiving, you ask? Quoting from my book, “It was the best turkey I ever prepared.” Everything else was pretty spectacular as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Massaging Your Turkey

Last year I broke from a multi-year tradition and did a dry-brine for our day of fowl play, spurred on by a favorite LA Times foodie writer, Russ Parsons. The process was simple; rub kosher salt all over the bird, wrap in an oven bag and let it sit for three days in the refrigerator. (Making room for it will challenge your organizational skills.)

Our reward was the moistest turkey in memory. No memory jokes.

This year I ordered my turkey early (from Bristol Farms) anticipating the same process.

But a week before Thanksgiving, Parsons scribed some improvements on the salty technique, sharing a reader-inspired concoction of kosher salt, fresh rosemary and grated lemon zest. I bit.

The bird went in the refrigerator on Monday morning. This morning I removed it and gave it a thorough massage. Hey, a guy can follow directions and the sage Parsons instructed me to massage thoroughly.

Later, the bird and I shared a cigarette.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Myths posted an article today entitled “5 biggest Thanksgiving myths debunked.” The article comes from Bon Appetit.

1. The bigger the turkey the better. Guys would always pick the bird with the biggest breasts. I think it’s in the DNA. Apparently when it comes to turkeys, large breasts are overrated. Think turkeys on steroids.

2. Fresh pumpkin is better than canned pumpkin. I always use canned pumpkin for a favorite pumpkin cheesecake recipe. For fresh pumpkin I would need a Ford F-150 and a back brace.

3. Turkey makes you sleepy. No, adult beverages make you sleepy, or if you eat so much you cannot move. In that case, you might as well sneak in a nap while down. You will also need a nap if you don’t plan, prep, and prepare as much as possible ahead of time and you’re in the kitchen from sunup to sundown.

4. Stuffing is the same as dressing. No, that is why they call it stuffing—it is stuffed inside the turkey. Dressing is prepared in an oven-safe, casserole-type dish. Go with the dressing. It is hard to get any crunch to the breading when it is getting all soppy inside the bird. The cooking turkey-correctness posse also suggests that using and subsequently consuming stuffing raises the risk of bacteria types I can’t spell.

5. Pop-up plastic thermometers work. Simply stated, they are unreliable and you need a reliable way to make sure that turkey is cooked (and not overcooked). Besides, the size of pop-ups allows too much juice to escape. I have tried a number of thermometers including instant read. I have yet to get it perfect with a turkey and my oven and end up using the zapper (microwave).

Bon Appetit left out a few myths.

1. Turkeys can’t fly. Actually the wilder ones can, albeit short distances. The domesticated ones are so fattened they have as good a chance of flying as emus. Thankfully, Europeans bypassed America and transported emus to Australia. Turkey Day has a better ring then Emu Day. The turkey flying myth was immortalized by a classic episode of a 70s’s sitcom, WKRP Cincinnati.

2. Deep-frying is the best way to cook a turkey. You’d probably want to check with your local fire department and find out the number of emergency calls on turkey day for exploding fryers. If you must earn your guy badge this way I suggest you cook the bird at least 100 yards from the house and any dry forest or shrub area, and don fireman garb.

3. Cranberry is a Thanksgiving staple. Not. There are about five hundred foods that go better with turkey. Okay, so I never liked cranberry.

4. The turkey waddle is the way they walk. Actually the turkey waddle is the word for the sagging skin on the turkey’s neck; also know as turkey neck. On humanoids, Botox buttresses that blight. Celebrating Thanksgiving-style throughout the year would also fill out that waggle, and cause one to waggle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guy's Guide to Domestic Engineering is Published

For those blog readers who found me independent of my friends and family emailings, Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering is now available on both and

My new website, is also live. Be sure to visit and check out my occasionally serious videos, and scroll through the cartoons spaced throughout the book.

This blog site will stay live—I need the blogspot process for new entries. All new posts will also be imported into my website, joining the archive already there.

The book’s chapters are short so don’t be put off by the number of chapters. Here they are:

Introduction—You’ve Been Jobbed

Separation Anxieties

Time for Home Schooling

Adjusting More Than Attitude

You’re a Y-Chromosome-Challenged Guy

A Short History of Guys and the Kitchen

A Slightly Longer History of the Kitchen and Me

Tools of the Trade

Guy and Carts—Provisions Procurement

Foodie Cookbooks, Magazines, Shows, and Following Directions

Expanding Your Vocabulary—More Brain Food

BS (But Seriously)

Blueberry Thrills

Guy’s Guide to Wine

Au Chocolat

Real Men Barbecue (with charcoal)

How Not to Choke on a Choke

Our Day for Fowl Play

Vaguely Vogue

Just Call Me “Franck”

Master of the House

Channeling Your Handy-Manly Side

iYogi, You Boo Boo

Mastering the Sanctum Sanctorum

Who Moved My Washcloth?

Gutting the Garage

Pulp Friction

Mastering Lint

Mastering the Zen of Ironing

How to Score (extra points with your bride)

The Care and Feeding of You

Bookish Club

Here’s to Not Dying

BMI and Thunder Thighs

No, You Did Not Ask, But Here is the Shortest Weight Loss, Weight Control, Long-Life Program You Will Ever Read (and the longest chapter heading)

Congrats Grad

The Ability to Cook Does Not a Metrosexual Make

Domestic Engineer Guy, the New Uberguy

Is My BS Enough

Recipes for Success

Breakfast of Champions

Dinner Spoilers (appetizers)

Salads Not Found on the All-You-Can-Eat Salad Bar

Where’s the Beef?—Here’s Your Beef

Cluckers and Gobblers

Pork for Porkers

Mary Had a Little Lamb—Which We Ate

Salmon-Plus Recipes

Something on the Side

Live Large—Eat Desserts

Cigar & Courvoisier

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trans-gender Papayas

Here’s a BREAKING NEWS story in today’s Los Angeles Times: “Papaya sex change is in the works.”

This is the kind of story that humorist Dave Barry used to write of, saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Okay, it didn’t make the front page, was buried in the middle of Section A, and topped out at around 200 words.

PJ and I love papaya but the only time we eat it everyday is while vacationing in Hawaii, where a papaya costs less than one dollar. By the time Hawaiian papayas reach our supermarkets they cost over three dollars, and they rarely taste the same. Papayas are good for you. How? Let’s just say they move things along.

There are three papaya sexual orientations: male, female, and hermaphrodite. It’s the third that produces the tasty cleansing agents. A hermaphrodite carries both male and female sexual organs.

A University of Illinois biology professor has been given a grant by the National Science Foundation to encourage more papaya sex changes to hermaphrodites, which supposedly would save on production cost and potentially pass on the cost savings to consumers. Like that could happen.

If perfect papayas grow in Hawaii, why wasn’t the grant given to the University of Hawaii? Urbana-Champaign (home to the U. of Illinois) is not a hot spot for growing papaya.

I have no idea how anyone could tell the sexual orientation of a papaya, but apparently the sexual orientation of papaya can only be determined when they have grown and flowered. So papaya growers have no use for the weaker sexes: male AND female.

When our son was between the rug rat and pre-teen stage, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the rage of Saturday morning TV. We bought him a turtle, which he named Donatello. It was only later when we took the turtle to the vet that we had a name change to Donna. There was just no way I was going to be caught trying to determine the sex of a turtle.

We had to find a new home for Donna. Our son couldn’t cotton having a female turtle for a pet.

I’m wondering if there is a trans-gender turtle and if that is the source of turtle soup, about the only thing of any value from a turtle.


I’m usually reading two books at a time; one, fiction, for my monthly book group obligation, and two, nonfiction, for whatever political, social, or cultural tome makes my heart beat a bit faster.

A current nonfiction book of interest is entitled In Praise of Slowness, which ideally will help my heart beat a bit slower.

This is not a review of the book, though I do recommend it. Just don’t speed-read it. The slowness movement, catching on slowly in the United States, has a slow food component. Its website is

I have blogged earlier about my resistance to speed cooking, hyped by Food Network shows like Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals.

Now, even my favorite chef, Mark Bittman ( has a new book out entitled Kitchen Express, “404 inspired recipes you can make in 20 minutes or less.” No doubt Mark was feeling the pressure to feed the short-term America phenomenon because speed is not what he usually touts.

Today I found a quote from his blog that I wish I had seen in time to include in my book Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, now available on both and This fits my kitchen philosophy to a tee. Question: “What would you say is the most important skill to develop in the kitchen?” Answer: “The ability to go in there and start. I am the least impressive cook you will ever see. I am completely without knife skills. I screw things up all of the time. When I’m in the kitchen I’m not obsessively trying to create the perfect dish; I’m trying to put dinner on the table. Comparing yourself to the people who cook on television is like comparing yourself to Andre Agassi. If you can drive you can cook.”

Mark is being too modest; he cooks on television regularly on The Today Show. That is how I first noted him. Even though his cooking segments are only a few minutes he always exudes a casual, calm, “I don’t take myself too seriously” style.

Cooking is like most skills acquired in life; if you don’t begin, you will probably suck at it. And the goal is to put something edible on the table in time to still be called dinner, in a casual, calm style.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beer Runs

I have been a nag in past blogs about the importance of shopping lists, sticking to them and double and triple checking them while in the supermarket.

Yesterday, during my weekly provisions run I was at my first of three stops when I realized I had forgotten my list—again. Rather then test my memory I returned home figuring that if I didn’t I’d forget several items and have to go back out again. I could pay the gas pump then, or pay it later.

At my final stop, while in the checkout line and paying my bill, I overheard a woman who had just gotten in line. She was saying—to no one in particular—that she couldn’t understand how her cart was so full of mostly junk food. She had only come in to buy beer.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Guys and Onions

Onions, dry and green (scallions) and their extended family members, shallots, chives, and leeks, are low in calories. Some of them make the tear ducts leak.

Tears can add a bit of salty flavor but generally get in the way of meal preparation. The worst offenders are dry onions and shallots, both of which I use liberally.

Guys don’t tear up as much as women would prefer, but tearing up in the kitchen is only appropriate if you’ve scalded something or sliced off part of a finger. Then both tears and expletives are kosher.

I have read lots of suggestions about ways to prevent tearing up in the middle of meal preparation. I have tried most of them with varying degrees of success:

—Chill or freeze them thirty minutes prior to slicing and dicing.

—When peeling dry onions, do not cut off the root (where tear-jerking agitators are rooted) but slice up to it.

—Light a candle next to the onion. Supposedly the flame neutralizes the sulfuric fumes. Keep the kitchen lights on.

—Buy a small fan and blow away the sulfuric fumes while chopping.

The only method that works consistently is the small fan method. I found a cheap one at Target and have it as a permanent fixture on my countertop. Stoicism reigns. If size matters, buy a bigger fan. A one-foot diameter fan is probably overkill. It will blow over the wine glass.

When sautéing onions use the back burner and turn on the stove fan. You probably shouldn’t stick your head over the pan while sautéing.

To rid yourself of onion breath, eat some parsley or chew fennel seeds. Then use a toothpick to remove the parsley or fennel seeds from between your teeth. Then go to the dentist to remove the toothpick fragments, unless your dental plan doesn’t cover toothpick removals.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Pre-cleaning? Okay, I have some s’plaining to do.

Twice a month, a cleaning service scours our home. I tried talking PJ into once a month service but tie votes end up on her side of the scorecard.

What you ask—domestic engineer guys don’t clean? Fair question. My answer is that I am allergic to vacuum cleaners. Not buying that? Fair enough. My cleaning skills, while good for a guy, come up short on PJ’s grading scale. I agree with Roseanne Barr who said she would vacuum when John Deere made a riding vacuum cleaner.

In my defense, I am a relatively tidy person. I keep the kitchen clean and the house clutter-free, most days. My idea of housecleaning is to sterilize the place four times a year, even if it requires using that sucking device. I consider dust a decoration. Then once it is removed it’s like looking at new furniture.

PJ, while less tidy, can smell mold at fifty paces, and tell if any room has been vacuumed by walking into the house blindfolded. Most blindfolded guys would ask, “What is that strange smell?”

Back to pre-cleaning—we tidy up the house before the cleaning service arrives. This means clothes off the floors (so they can vacuum), and stuff off desktops and countertops (so they can dust). It means that my office floor filing system is temporarily relocated on the bed.

The dishwasher is emptied. Otherwise the cleaners would load the breakfast dishes on top of the cleaned ones.

When our son was still ensconced in our house, we barred the cleaners from his two-room apartment. We feared that they might catch something and we weren’t sure our homeowner’s policy covered cultures transmitted to the hired help.

When PJ retires I’ve talked her into once a month service. She only agreed after I committed to vacuuming once a week. In anticipation I’ve put in a new product request to John Deere for a riding vacuum cleaner, one with a built-in TV monitor.

My dusting strategy is to borrow the leaf blower from the lawn service guys, open the doors and windows and blow the dust out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bookish Club Part II

In an earlier blog I wrote about my nearly 10-year membership in a north Orange County book club. In it I lamented the lackluster literary landscape of male characters. I wrote, “Sadly, there are too few Atticus Finches in the world, and in literature.” Conversely, the literary world has amassed a multitude of heroines.

In September our group picked our eleven novels* for our tenth year. Since the October book was taking longer than usual to arrive via Amazon, I began to read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks since we already owned it.

This is not a review of the book, though I will say that if the rest of the books on this year’s list are as well written and engrossing as this one, it will be our best year. Year of Wonders is a fictionalized recount of an actual event that occurred in central England in the 17th Century—a virulent plague—albeit isolated to one small village (Eyam) of less than 1,000 residents.

But (and isn’t there always one), the author dashed my hopes near the climax. Not with the lead female character (and narrator), but with the main male character. Rector Michael Mompellion emerges as a towering figure throughout the ordeal. Ninety percent though the book I am feeling that finally we have another authentic male hero (not of the ilk of Clancy, Grisham or Ludlum imagined swashbucklers) I can add to my woefully short list that begins with Atticus Finch.

She knocked that wish down and stomped on it. Damn her.

In her afterword the author wrote, “Where I have invented, I have altered or created names to indicate this. Thus, Michael Mompellion reflects the true rector of Eyam, the heroic and saintly William Monpesson, only in the admirable aspects of his character and deeds. The darker side I have given his fictional counterpart is entirely imagined.”

The narrator, Anna Frith, easily makes the top-40 list of literary heroines, with a bullet.

Not surprisingly, the creator of Atticus Finch is a woman, Harper Lee. Is it not possible for a male author to create an admirable, textured (though not flawless) male hero?

* Our books for this year:

Regeneration Pat Barker

My Jim Nancy Rawles

Huckleberry Finn* Mark Twain

White Tiger Aravind Adigo

Faust, Part One J.W. Goethe

Midnight Children Salman Rushdie

Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons

Requiem for a Lost Empire Andrei Makine

The Bridegroom (Short Stories) Ha Jim

Now in November Josephine Johnson

Year of Wonders Geraldine Brooks

Water for Elephants Sara Gruen

* Extra credit for combining Huckleberry Finn with My Jim, earning an extra portion of dessert.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Houseguest Rules

Domestic Engineer Guys get to establish most of the houseguest rules (after attaining sign-off from their live-in ATM). So, if you ever pass our way, here are the houseguest rules* for the Frohreich Funhouse.

—Arrival gifts are always a nice touch. Here are several suggestions:
A really good bottle of Syrah
A really good bottle of red wine (not pinot noir)
Belgium chocolate, unopened
An R-rated cook’s apron—full length
—The first morning here, guests will have to sit through a TV operations class.
—Changing the channel while the cook is in the kitchen and the football game is in his line of sight makes the cook cranky.
—The recliner in the family (TV) room is off-limits—always—unless PJ is in it.
—Guests must pat the dog at least twice a day, and once a day play fetch with his spittle-soaked toys. Walking him once a day with the pooper-scooper earns future invites. Guests with allergies are not excused. Tyveks, gloves, and masks will be provided. Any guest Dutch does not approve of doesn’t get invited back.
—If the stay is longer than a couple of days, the washer and dryer are available, but Domestic Engineer Guy, aka Laundry Man, is not.
—Anything in the refrigerator or pantry is fair game, except for leftover filet-of-beef or rack-of-lamb. Open bar is a 24/7 policy, though 5 PM is the preferred start of social hour.
—Interrupting Domestic Engineer Guy in the morning with trivial pursuits while he is engrossed in the daily crossword puzzle makes him cranky.
—Special diet or food and beverage preferences must be emailed to Domestic Engineer Guy at least three days prior to arrival. If your face looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy (only blushing), after you consume salmon, it would be good for the cook to know.
—The cook is an adequate mixologist (except for Mai Tais and Cosmopolitans). Special requests will be stocked with advance notice.
—Guests staying a week or more are expected to toss some jack into the kitty. It is the gesture, not the amount that matters.
—Guests are not expected to participate in any of the household duties. Helping clear the dinner table and stacking the dishwasher is fine. Unloading the dishwasher is a no-no.
—Domestic Engineer Guy is not a barista. But his coffee is better than Starbucks.
—Guest don’t have to love everything the cook prepares, but if it wasn’t on your this-makes-me-vomit list, then you are expected to eat at least half a portion. Moans and accolades are permitted. Trust me, you will eat better than at most restaurants.
—Offers to help in the kitchen will be rebuffed. But it’s okay to ask. The cook has enough trouble organizing himself. The cook usually does not need a sous chef. Besides, he is more of a shoo chef—as in get out of his kitchen.
—Chauffeur duties are free and available, though not unlimited. But you have to humble yourself and be seen in a 12-year old, bottom-of-the-line Saturn.
—Sitting at the kitchen dinette with an adult beverage, regaling the cook with stories is expected.
—You don’t have to make your bed each morning, unless Domestic Engineer Guy has let you sleep in his office, but at least keep the door closed.
—The kitchen is open for lunch, but the cook is not on duty. Provisions will be provided.
—Showing up for dinner five minutes before it is served makes the cook cranky, and not a good way to begin an evening. The cook is flexible. He just needs advance notice about the day’s plans.
—Sleep in as long as you like, but Domestic Engineer Guy is not a cook-on-call in the morning.
—Departure gifts are not necessary but adding us to your will, will earn future invites, access to filet-of-beef and rack-of-lamb leftovers, and passes on doggie duty and wine gifts.
—The number one rule is to enjoy yourself. You are our guest.

Y’all come.

* None of these rules apply to PJ’s nephew. He keeps the computers humming and shoots and produces Domestic Engineer Guy’s YouTube videos. He can do any damn thing he pleases.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Status

While this blog relates to (and with some postings, draws from) my book Guy's Guide to Domestic Engineering, I have not written about my getting-published experiences. I was afraid of TMI, too much information, and your eyes would glaze over.

I've been pretty focusd the past three months. As such, I've reread the book ten more times, and the publishing editors have read it four times. As I write this, the book is being proofed in final layout form. I expect those corrections within two days, and then I have one last shot at it.

I'm amazed at how much I still find, and have resigned myself to the reality that it will probably go into print with a few errors - hopefully less than the fingers on one hand.

The schedule should deliver a final product in about two weeks. At that time I will get my free contractual copies and the book will be available for purchase on the publisher's website, I have no idea what its value is, but iUniverse has awarded me Editor's Choice, a merit awarded to only ten percent of their authors.

For those interested I will post purchase instructions on this blog at that time, and send out an email to a preliminary list of friends and family. It will take another 6-8 weeks to go up on websites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or to learn if I'm getting any interest from the retailers.

Meanwhile, I have been hard at work piecing together my marketing plan. I am up to 600 email addresses, and another 100 snail mail addresses. Four videos, each about four minutes long, have been shot, edited and posted on my YouTube page. One more will be shot for an even five.

When the book is minimally available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble I will fire off an email blast announcing its availability and provide the link to the YouTube videos. The link will also be posted on my Facebook page. Hopefully those will be enjoyed enough to be forwarded throughout cyberspace. I will also launch my new website, This blog will then be available only on that site.

Yes, I am self-publishing. I beat my head up against the traditional literary agents' (and publishing houses') doors for nine months. No residual headaches. It is nearly impossible to become a first-time nonfiction writer without a platform. Platform? I am not a celebrity, sports professional, national politician, doctor-of-whatever, talk show host, or Julie* of the movie Julie & Julia. In other words, I don't have at least 100,000 followers who think I walk on water - which, by the way, I don't. That is why I learned to swim. If you are in the ozone layer of fame and/or fortune, you don't even have to write well. Publishers will hire someone to ghost write your book.

Self-publishing is swimming of another kind - upstream. Less than 7 percent of all published books sell more than 1,000 copies. I hope that when the time comes you will help me join that elite group and kick the odds in the ass - even without a platform.

* Maybe I should change my first name to Ernest, write a blog about replicating Emeril's recipes and dream of a movie entitled Ernest & Emeril. Then again, maybe not. Emeril uses too many ingredients with too many steps. My eyes glaze over.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Deeper-in-debt Dining

A blog that I link to,, recently gushed over a meal at restaurant outside of Barcelona, Spain called El Bulli. El Bulli has been designated the #1 restaurant in the world for the past three years. Reservations are nearly impossible at this 50-seat gem. The Amateur Gourmet tried for years and finally scored this summer.

Once there, he and his partner ate and drank their way through the menu and wine list, forking over $1,000 for the evening.

PJ and I will not be dining there soon.

Before the advent of the green economy (having less of the green) we used to eat out once a month. The tabs kept inflating, even if our waistlines didn’t.

In a recent blog I wrote about eating in on our anniversaries lately. Still, I read Irene Virbila every week in the LA Times. Irene is their restaurant reviewer. I like to stay informed in case one of our ships lost at sea finds land.

When Irene gives a restaurant three-stars I take notice. This week she lauded Studio, the restaurant at the Montage Laguna Beach Resort. The Montage sits of a bluff overlooking the Pacific. After diving for my Food Lover’s Companion bible several times while reading her review, I got to the meat and potatoes part—the prices.
Appetizers $23 to $29
Main Courses $43 to $53 (only $53? Must not be using Kobe beef)
Desserts $15

Writing of the wine list she opined, “ …there are enough good wines under $100 to keep anybody happy.” That’s a relief.

Speaking of diving for my foodie dictionary, ever wonder why it’s more and more difficult to translate fine dinning menus—even the ones in English? Guys don’t like looking menu-challenged, or sporting that deer-in-the-headlights look at a high-end restaurant, or the prices. And it’s a bit tacky to bring your Food Lover’s Companion with you.

Just when you think you understand menus, they change, not just the recipes, but also the terminology. Chefs need you to feel intimidated. That way it’s easier to get away with gouge prices if they call a puree, coulis; a dumpling, quenelles; or cake, gateau.

Stay on task, guys. Once you earn your BS in domestic engineering (and one of your ships docks), and you venture back to Le Glitzy Brasserie, you will be able to parle with the best of them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Costco Cruising

No matter how large the megastore, one-stop grocery shopping is not possible for any self-respecting cook. My list includes eight Southern California shops. Yes, I said eight. The list includes Vons, Ralphs, Costco, Trader Joes, Produce World, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, and the Wine Exchange. I’ve also added a farmer’s market on Thursdays. Vons earns most of our weekly business. I take out a loan whenever I shop at Whole Foods or Bristol Farms.

Costco is a monthly experience. If you don’t have a Costco in your zip code, think Sam’s Club, both of which are the size of zip codes.

I usually plan my Costco trips close to noon. That way I can do lunch. Not at their fast food concession, but sampling their samples.

For the uninformed or people who don’t get out much, Costco is like shopping at a warehouse. The aisles are wide, the carts are large, and the packages are daunting. Once I needed salt, but the only offering was something in a burlap bag weighing in at twenty-five pounds. I e-mailed Costco the next day explaining that I wasn’t planning on feeding the Third Army. No doubt this will shock you, but Costco did not reduce their salt packaging after receiving my e-mail.

I’m wondering how long it will be before you just drive your F-150 down the aisles and pile on provisions the way I used to stack alfalfa bales on the hay wagon back in Indiana. I find hay a bit over the top on the roughage daily requirement chart, so we limit our hay consumption to alfalfa sprouts.

Pound per pound, Costco offers the best value beef in the country day in and day out. All beef is minimally USDA Choice.

If you use the Costco’s of the world for most of your perishables, and you have a large family, you will need four refrigerators or a separate refrigerated public storage facility. Fortunately, as empty nesters, our freezer can handle at least a month of stored proteins.

If you use Costco for non-perishables, you will need space the size a car would occupy in your garage. But if your halfway house junk is already occupying that space (if it’s there, it is half way out of the house), then you need to kick one of your kids out of the house and stock the non-perishables in their bedroom.

It will be okay—builds character, and reduces your monthly household expenses. Tough call though—Costco versus children. I would at least wait until they’ve reached eighteen. I’m a softie when it comes to children.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting Hammered

No, not that kind of hammered.

When I introduced this blog I mentioned that I would occasionally toss a rant into the crockpot. This is such a time

This morning PJ handed me a document she had withheld from me since Friday because she didn’t want to ruin my weekend. Good move. It was an announcement from her deputy district attorney association that healthcare costs were going up again this year, this time by 16%. Not to be outdone, dental care costs are jumping 24%. In the past the County of Los Angeles has paid for such rate increases, without hitting the DDA’s paychecks.

So, we have our own personal context to the current healthcare “debate.” I use quotes because what we have is not a debate.

Earlier this summer my Discover Card interest rate was 8.9%. It is now 13.25%. This was no trigger tied to an introductory rate. I called Discover, knowing I was wasting my time, and knowing I would be talking to someone who just needs a job and cringes over calls like mine. I asked the reason why, also knowing that I have not missed or sent in any late payments. The answer—economic conditions. Let me see, the current Federal Reserve prime rate is 3.25%, the lowest in years. Economic conditions my ass. I’m going way out on a limb here and guess that just maybe the new regulations passed by Congress and signed into law in May of this year allows ample time for the jacking up of rates until the law takes full effect next summer.

Here’s a little tart morsel: penalty fees for the major credit card companies (there are six who control 90% of the business) increased to $18 billion in 2007, up from $10.7 billion in 2002, a 68% increase in five years. Talk about an ROI (return on investment) on ramping up their lobbying and campaign contribution budgets.

Paying the bills is a major duty for domestic engineer guys. I used to pay bills once a month. There was always a grace period. I screwed up and missed a payment maybe once a year, but not due to cash flow issues. It was due to screw-up issues. Now I pay bills throughout the month. Mistakes happen. Their “gotcha” devices are a maze to manage.

Managing a household budget is becoming as challenging as managing a small company. Most of us did not matriculate through college with a business degree.

On another front, I have a bit of a lead foot. Even so, my speeding tickets are few and far between. My recent infraction cost $370, nearly twice as much as the last time. PJ has a bum knee and recently forgot to hang her handicapped parking decal on the mirror, though it was in full view on the dashboard. The fine was $283.

Me thinks more major grumbling should be directed at the healthcare industry, the credit card industry, and the punitive fines from our municipalities, than flapping our jaws over taxes, which at least on the federal level have been holding even or going down for most of us. States are another matter.

These other areas are much more taxing.

Here in lies the end of this rant.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

This and That

When there are certain emergencies that require you to dial Men-With-Butt-Cracks, try to avoid scheduling your nap when they occupy your home. You might be able to expand your Mr. Fix-it credentials.

I confess to enjoying the company of my computer while these Bob Vila clones are around, especially if I know there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of my stepping up the next time the same problem occurs. But now and then, I pay attention, thinking, “I can do that.”

I am gaining bravado when it comes to the underpinnings of sinks, kitchen or bathroom—as long as I’m willing to dislocate a shoulder now and then.

Today was one of those days. I cleaned out a mostly clogged pipe under my second kitchen sink. Better yet, my shoulders are intact. Since very few scraps ever go down the backup sink, I have no idea how so much could congeal* there. Calcification, I get. I got rid of most of that as well.

I’m feeling so cocky, I just might tackle replacing a couple roof titles next week, or when the weather dips below 100 degrees. Must be September.

Last week I once again proved why women still need men. PJ had managed to entrap a large cricket under one of my serving bowls. The bowl had been handy in the bathroom because she had used it to soak her fingers. Women go soak themselves a lot. But she needed me to complete that icky task. I captured the cricket with a paper towel, but not so firmly as to harm it. I released it onto our patio table. For some reason it just sat there. I think it was an indoor cricket. I gave it a goose and off it flew into the wilds of Anaheim Hills, and smack dab into the middle of our palm tree. It fluttered to the ground, stunned.

With the current fire infernos in southern California, PJ is looking askance at our fire hazards. That would be our trees and bushes. She is hinting that I begin major trimmings, even if it meant yours truly pretending he is spider-man with a chain saw. Like that could happen. Men over fifty have no business out on limbs, endangering their limbs. I will get three bids. I have learned that what begins with a passing suggestion will erupt into a full-scale assault on my manhood, and time, in a few weeks.

That Tucson-style landscaping is looking better and better. Lower water bills, too.

*Okay so I used a cooking term, congeal, to describe a plumbing problem. It happens to cooks. It could be worse. I could have made a verb out of a noun and said, " so much could glob there.” Like that’s never happened before.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Halfway House

Residentially, a halfway house is a place for convicted criminals to transition from prison back into society.

Garages are halfway houses in reverse. If something is in the garage, it is halfway out of the house. How long stuff stays there depends on your garage’s size and how anal you are about a clean garage. Cobweb, rat and cockroach fetishes might be a factor as well.

We have a three-car garage but only have room to park two. We need the third stall to pile stuff. Basements and attics store our past lives. Garages store stuff just passing through, whatever won’t fit into the weekly garage pickup, and stuff that starts smelling enough for the neighbors to launch an eviction petition.

Aside from the cobwebs hitting you in the face on your way to a car, you know it’s time to dump the pile when you can’t see over it, reach your tool bench, the needles have fallen off the Christmas tree, or when the rats are building apartments in your Christmas boxes and their droppings are soiling the bottoms of your shoes.

And where do all of those boxes come from, even six months after Christmas? Every time you think you are cutting back buying stuff, save your boxes for a month. You will need a box-cutter. Granted, my monthly Costco run contributes 2-3 boxes, as does buying wine by the case. My reading habit spins off a monthly Amazon box. But I keep those in my office closet. They are the perfect size for small Christmas packages and sending items to our daughter in Europe.

We dump the dump every 4-5 years. PJ always has lots of advice, like contacting the Goodwill and the children’s hospital thrift shop. Their rejects could be parceled out in the weekly trash collection. And while we would have to stare at the reject pile for a while, it would all be gone in a month or two.

Since I don’t own a Ford F-250, I let my fingers do the talking and make one phone call to a haul-away service. They come the next day. Done. When I hate a task and finally get around to doing it, I have to get it done—fast.

In our neighborhood you can tell the messy garages. The door is always closed. People with clean garages frequently leave the door open just to rub it in. I hate them. These are people who clean their windows after each storm. Their cars, desks, and homes are always immaculate. Their houseplants never die. We, on the other hand, once managed to kill a fake Fichus. They probably have their clothes organized by season and occasion in their closets, and keep their cash organized numerically. Oops, I do that.

After our last dump dumping, I could reach my tools again. The downside—I was out of excuses for my lengthening “honey-do” repair list.

On the upside, the neighbors stopped their petition drive, and the spiders adopted the Christmas tree. We have started a new pile.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Anniversary Menu

Several years ago PJ and I began a tradition of celebrating our anniversary on our patio, menu compliments of her domestic engineer guy.

This year another couple joined us. Here are the highlights.

Special Cocktail: Mai Tais. This recipe is the closest I have found to the Hawaiian ones we have enjoyed hundreds of times over 15+ Hawaiian trips, including the ones at the infamous Mai Tai Bar on the beach at the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu.

Appetizers: Toasted Baguette Toppers. There are hundreds of toppings for olive oil slathered toasted baguette slices. Last night I served three: prosciutto, fresh pesto with shaved parmesan, and fresh pesto with diced pancetta and roma tomatoes. The last one was the big hit.

Salad Course: Watermelon Salad with Feta and Toasted Pine Nuts on a bed of arugula. Feta and Watermelon? The feta is a bit neutralized by the watermelon. Great summer salad. Three herbs, dill, basil and mint, are tossed in as well, and finished off with my Basil Dressing.

Main Course: Beef Tenderloin with Morels and Tarragon-Marsala Sauce. As much as I love a traditional béarnaise with beef tenderloin, this is my favorite filet sauce. It’s the morels—though I had to take out a loan.

Side Dish: Roasted Vegetables: haricot verts, red peppers, shallots, and carrots, topped with toasted pecans, lemon zest and Italian parsley. Roasting is my favorite method of preparing vegetables.

Dessert: Blueberry Cream Pie. The crust is mostly crushed and rolled Pecan Sandies.

Wines: Rosenblum Petite Syrah, and a highly rated (Robert Parker) but very young Conn Valley Vineyards cabernet sauvignon. I decanted it and let it breathe for two hours. Very nice. The $15 petite syrah more than held its own. Rosenblum, known for their zinfandels, has brought out some fine syrahs lately.

Even though I paid good money for the Conn Valley cabernet, the filets and the morels, I still estimate that we spent $200 less than if we had celebrated at a fine dining establishment someplace in Newport Beach or Laguna Beach, as had been our tradition. The view from our hillside backyard was just as expansive; the weather was perfect; the candles romantic; the music to our liking, and we didn’t have to drive.

However, there are those dishes. I didn’t have the heart to ask our guests to do them. Besides, they bought anniversary gifts. We left the dishes until this morning. No wine glasses were broken.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


No, not that kind of purging.

I just purged about half of my recipes. It’s good to purge now and then.

I have my recipes filed by:
Pastas/Rice (This one is gathering dust.)
Miscellaneous (This is where I file special occasion recipes like Thanksgiving.)

I purge every couple of years, mostly the ones that were not used in the previous two years. Some are older than that because during the previous purge I still had intentions to try it. You know about good intentions.

I say “my recipes” but they are mostly ones that I have clipped from magazines, newspaper food sections, or printed from Food Network or food blogs. My eyes remain larger than my stomach, or the days of the year.

I have my own recipes, about 100, and three-quarters of them will be in the book, Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, coming soon to a website near you, and hopefully a retail bookstore or two.

So, my advice is that if you haven’t prepared one in 2-3 years, and unless it is a family heirloom that only soils your kitchen when family comes a calling, chuck it, even if it uses chuck. The chefs will make more. So will you.

If you are a pack rat, and you need a room for food books, food magazines, and recipes, seek counseling.

If you’re anal enough, you can transcribe each saved recipe onto a Word document so that they are all the same size. (For those on the plus side of fifty I suggest a font size of at least 14, unless you have rigged up a way to attach one to your glasses.) This makes sense if you use some sort of display system in your kitchen for quick referencing while cooking. It would be better for those waiting in the chow line if you didn’t use recipes as your daily memory tester.

Recipes also stay cleaner this way. To which, I say, bite me, though you may need some Kosher salt, maybe some thyme. A well-seasoned recipe is a mark of a fully engaged cook, or a married one. As long as you can read it, and it’s not seasoned enough to be an appetizer, it’s fine. For guys, call it a badge—just like grease scars, and shirts and aprons with permanent stains.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Panic in the Family

A couple of weeks ago, panic erupted in the Frohreich fortress. The chow line realized that the chief cook and bottle washer was going to be gone for eight days. On previous trips (anything shorter than five days), PJ kept the supermarket rotisserie chicken stand in business.

This time, her nephew was basing in our home for a few weeks. Plus, I knew that our son, since moved out, would keep showing up for dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights—and to do his laundry.

I knew that if I didn’t put a plan in place, they would add to the rotisserie repertoire by buying meats already stocked in the freezer (they would forget to thaw something for dinner), or go out to eat, further depleting the cash flow.

Solution—pre-cook. I thawed salmon, chicken breasts, pork chops, and sirloin steaks in the refrigerator, enough for at least five meals, and two days later cooked them while preparing a regular dinner meal. It only added an extra hour to the kitchen duty that night. Then I threatened them with refusing to make my chocolate sauce for three months if I returned and had to toss out any meat. I love using their favorite recipes as weapons.

It worked—most of the time. One weekend evening when I called home, they were dashing out the door to TGI Fridays. I told PJ to make our son buy her dinner. His bank account is healthier than ours, partly because he’s still mooching off of us.

When I returned, the meat drawer was empty, the freezer was stocked with vanilla Hagen Daz, and my chocolate sauce recipe was propped up in my countertop recipe holder, ready for implementation—sort of a welcome home message. They’re so lame—I have that one memorized.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Trolling for Moles

It’s bad enough when the new lawn I put in over a year ago gets mangled by a 13-year old golden retriever who still thinks he’s a pup, and keeps on digging. It is bad enough that something brown (not the dog’s urine or the heat) blotches about 25% of the yard. Now, a mole, or moles, decided to burrow a highway network under our yard.

A year earlier our dog did his duty and dug up a varmint. That was because the mole made a bad decision. It was playing under the area where our dog does his business each morning. Our dog likes his privacy.

The dead mole’s cousins sought revenge and moved to the new yard. Now our dog just yawns.

Mole duty is on the guy’s side of the home-front duty ledger. As a domestic engineer guy, just about everything lands there. Besides, women get all weirded out about critters and varmints.

Mole campaigns conjure up images of grounds-keeper, Bill Murray, in Caddy Shack. Considering my options, I thought using dynamite a bit too disruptive. While my mom was still living on the old homestead in northern Indiana, my older brother once tried drowning moles by pumping water into their underground network. Didn’t work. They must have strapped on some snorkeling gear. I thought about using a rifle with night-vision, and staying up all for moles. Then I remembered that I don’t own a gun, nor could I hit the broad side of a barn during those farm days.

I bought some poison pellets at Home Depot, buried them in half a dozen mounds, and left town for eight days. Upon returning I noted no fresh mounds. The moles have either died, burrowed deeper, or moved on to a neighbor’s yard. I’m guessing they moved on since I also buried a map with arrows pointing to the neighboring yards.

Once again, guys have proved their superiority over varmints and critters. We rock. Now it’s time to strap on my apron and prepare dinner.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

California Choking

PJ and I, both California transplants, first encountered artichokes in a Pacific Palisades home in the early 1970s. Though it challenged my Midwest sensibilities, I remained intrigued and open-minded. Importantly, I did not choke, and passed a newcomer’s litmus test.

An artichoke is a perennial thistle. Someone, a long time ago, in North Africa, came upon an artichoke plant, peered at it, and exclaimed, “That looks like food!” His grub gathering partner noted the bulbous, prickly head at the end of a long stem – cut it off at its base, and then preceded to beat the crap out of his buddy, who had obviously been grazing on too much cannabis.

Fast-forward to today, and California is the home of both artichokes and cannabis, though I am just guessing on that second point. In fact, eating an artichoke without choking is one of the tests to become a Californian, third only to a valid driver’s license and choking on smog.

Today, it is not a staple in our house, but we enjoy one once a month. I have seen so many ways to prepare artichokes (or use as an ingredient) that this thistle could compete with the litany of shrimp uses recited by Forrest Gump’s best buddy, Bubba. But, you would expect that in California, home to nearly 100% of the chokes grown in the United States.

The choke migration began in North Africa. The French brought it to Louisiana, and the Spanish carried it to California. Those Spanish were everywhere in the 19th Century. Eighty percent of the production is in Monterey County, with Castroville claiming the title, “Artichoke Capital of the World”. A young Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville’s first “Artichoke Queen.”

Technically, an artichoke is a flower. If so, then deflowering one is something guys should know about, involving removing lots of layers, and careful handling to get to the heart of the matter.

Okay, since I have taken you this far, in the 16th Century only men were allowed to eat artichokes because they were considered an aphrodisiac and thought to enhance sexual power. As a former marketing maven, I have no idea why the California Artichoke Commission isn’t all over that tidbit. Knowing this, I suspect a lot of guys would eat them raw.

Eaten by themselves, chokes don’t have much flavor. Why else would they contain zero fat? I am not aware of anything called the Artichoke Diet, but when it comes to diets, nothing surprises. Chokes need dips to delight. The most common ones are melted butter and mayonnaise.

Think of eating an artichoke as similar to chips and dips – an American staple. The petals are the chips. After a couple of years of not choking on chokes, you will become Californianized. Zounds! Relax, you still can refrain from tofu and alfalfa sprouts.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Small Pleasures

Life’s small pleasures can enliven as much or more than an endless straining for those elusive peak periods.

Our herb garden is one of my small pleasures. My recipes require lots of fresh herbs. Most days I grab some scissors and walk outside – disappointing our dog, Dutch. Ever the optimist, he always assumes that I come outside just to play with him. Fortunately he hasn’t taken enough offense to dig up or pee on our small plot.

I grow fresh sage, mint, rosemary, chives, oregano and thyme. Rosemary, if you allow it, will become a large bush. Mint, if you allow it, will not only take over your yard, but the neighbor’s as well – on both sides. Originally I made the mistake of planting mint with the rest of the unsuspecting herbs. I’m still finding mint sprouts after thinking I uprooted them two years prior.

I re-planted the mint in two separate locations outside our kitchen alcove, giving them their own space, and am allowing them to become full bushes. As long as they don’t uproot our house, we will have a peaceful, productive co-existence. I have been preparing more lamb lately, so I’m using more mint.

I flunked the tarragon and dill classes, two more favorite herbs. They died a quick death. Or maybe Dutch peed on them behind my back. Herbs I still purchase, in addition to tarragon and dill, are basil and parsley. See my earlier Basil Me post. I use way too much to grow it. Nor do I have enough space for parsley.

I don’t know if herbal medicine works wonders or not. I do know that my HMO wouldn’t pay for it. Until someone comes up with a study to the contrary, PJ and I will remain herbally heavily medicated.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tour de France Groupie

Stay-at-home guys, domestic engineer or otherwise, have total control of the TV – at least during the day. Granted, there isn’t much on of interest during the day, unless you are a closet soap opera fan (if so you might want to kept that nugget of information from your best buds), or think Judge Judy is hot. You could watch Regis fawning over himself, or the catfights on The View.

I pass.

But for me, every July, primetime begins at 5:30 AM PST. That is the West Coast start of the Tour de France.

Okay, I don’t get up at 5:30, but close. Already a 6ish riser, in July, grabbing the remote is the first thing I do. Well, I put clothes on first. The broadcast is finished by 9 AM, leaving me with a full day to fulfill my Domestic Engineer Guy duties, work in some writing time, play computer Solitaire, and watch the grass grow.

I am a Tour de France groupie. Yes, I rooted for Lance during his incredible record-breaking run. But I also was a devotee during the three years he “retired.” I believe the Tour to be the #1 athletic challenge in the world, surpassing Ironman, triathlons, 100-mile endurance runs, and 50-year marriages. Any winner awes me, regardless of nationality.

Lance is back, at age 37. That still seems quite young to me. To the Tour, it is not. I’m pulling for him again, and not just because he is American. He is a walking medical miracle, not only because he is a cancer survivor, but because he is a cancer survivor who has won a record seven Tour titles.

After one victory he was quoted as saying, “I believe that the man who works hardest deserves to win. When it is pouring rain and you go ride for six hours with no one on the side of the road cheering you on or booing you, that’s why you get to nights like tonight.”

His above average femur bones’ length, one-third larger heart, and higher capacity lungs don’t hurt. Cap that with a 4-5% body fat at Tour time.

A native Texan, Lance is multi-lingual, fluent in English, French, and Texan.

The next few weeks will tell if the Tour has once again become The Tour de Lance.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

You're a Y Chromosome-challenged Guy

In Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys he writes, “To understand guys, it is essential to remember that, deep down inside they are biological creatures, like jellyfish or trees, only less likely to clean the bathroom.” Too true. But in our simplicity we can be efficient. There’s less to clean by leaving the toilet seat up.

New York Times superstar scriber, Maureen Dowd, doesn’t mince words, titling a recent book, Are Men Necessary? Her mother suggested her title be “Why Men Are Necessary” saying, “Men are necessary for breeding and heavy lifting.” Later Dowd debunks the breeding part with an exchange with Brian Sykes, a leading British researcher on sex chromosomes.
“Are men necesssary? I asked Dr. Sykes
‘Clearly not,’ he replied
Are men necessary? I asked British geneticist Steve Jones.
‘You don’t even need the sex slaves,’ Dr. Jones assured me.
‘You only need their cells in a freezer. You’d have to have a very good electricity supply.’ “

I have a one word response to this - British.

Dowd goes on to write, “The latest research on the Y chromosome shows that my jittery male friends are not paranoid. They are in an evolutionary pratfall…The Y chromosome has been shedding genes willy-nilly for millions of years and is now a fraction of the size of its partner, the X chromosome…Size matters, and experts are suggesting that, in the next one hundred thousand to ten million years, men could disappear, taking Maxim, March Madness and cold pizza in the morning with them.” Great, guys got jobbed from the get-go with one each of the Y and X chromosome. Women were gifted two of the X factor. Plus, the X chromosome has 1098 genes to the Y’s paltry 78. Making matters worse, the Y chromosome is smaller and still shrinking. That alone explains viagra.

What, me worry? My faith in evolution fortifies me. It took this long for our Y chromosome to dwindle to dwarf-like, what’s another one hundred thousand to ten million years of devolution? Besides, if women were born into gene wealth, what’s taking them so long to dominate? (About now, I’m heading for cover to avoid the incoming.)

Leave it to an American to stand up for us Y-types. Dr. David Page of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts calls himself “the defender of the rotting Y chromosome,” saying “I prefer to think of the Y as persevering and noble…not as the Rodney Dangerfield of the human genome.” Dr. Page later concludes, “The Y married up. The X married down.” That pretty much describes my marriage.

We Y-types are “persevering and noble.” When you consider our starter kit, we have made the most of it. Our Y is wimpier, but when comes to the Olympics, professional sports and heavy lifting, who ya gonna call? Regular Y-guys counter their wimpy Y with Smith & Wessons, Harleys, monster trucks, Hummers, triathlons, and when 40-something is in the rearview mirror, viagra.

Infinite changes notwithstanding, I say why fight osmosis? Let’s take our gene-shedding Y chromosome and fight back, chromosome-boosting in the kitchen. Where else can you dice, mince, chop, grate, pound, whip, peel, boil, broil, roast, flame, fry, crush, mash, toss, stuff, shake and bake? Legally. Bring out your inner-chef and come out of the closest. Just remember to bring an apron.

And women need men for more than sperm and heavy lifting. According to Jill Connor Browne’s The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love women want five things from guys:
Someone to talk to
Someone to fix things
Someone to pay for things
Someone to dance with
Someone to have sex with

Or, in my case, I have engineered a blockbuster trade - cooking in lieu of paying for things.

We have to work with the Y’s and wherefores we were given. Compensating by buying a Hummer doesn’t change anything, other than your tank account.

While I’m at it, let me debunk another myth. Men cannot multi-task. Bull. Any male cook worth his Harley-powered Kitchenaid mixer, multi-tasks every meal. Consider - the cocktails are being sipped, the appetizers are being plated, the wine is breathing, the pie is in the oven, the entrée is rubbed and ready for grilling, the sauce is soon to be assembled, the conversation is two-way, the CDs are mood-setting, the muted football game is in the sight-line, and he’s fantasizing about the post-dessert festivities.

That said, I bow down to my sister-in-law who can process three laundry loads, and prepare a five-course meal for 16, all while talking to three friends on the phone.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reality Bites

This is off-message from my usual postings, but now and then life intercedes in a way that gets my attention.

A few days ago I made a quick run to my regular supermarket – Vons – a California chain owned by the mega-chain, Safeway.

I only needed a few items, so I headed for the quick checkout line. Several people were in front of me, and directly in front of me was an elderly, short, Latina woman. I noted nothing else about her until it was her turn to checkout. She placed on the conveyor belt a single ear of corn.

The employee asked her if she had a Von’s Club card, the kind most stores promote, offering discounts for a litany of items each week. She did not. Yet, the corn was on sale for 25 cents an ear – with a Von’s Club card.

She showed me the 25 cents in her hand. Expecting she would have a problem, I began foraging for coins in my pocket.

To the credit of the Von’s employee, he handed her a Von’s Club card application, and rang up the sale of an ear of corn for 25 cents.

I have no context to this story – I know nothing about her. Our lives only crossed for a moment - a moment that gave me pause.

We all need more moments that give us pause, and touch our souls.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bookish Club

Like most guys, heretofore your reading tastes have not progressed much beyond espionage novels, the wit and wisdom of Yogi Berra, and fart-joke books.

Maybe writing the great American novel is not on your “to do” list, or any tome for that matter, but there is still time to correct that “C” you earned in English Reading and Comprehension. Just be prepared - there are few male heroes in literature, at least literary literature (as contrasted with commercial literature - think Tom Clancy and John Grisham)*. If you need male heroes, read romance novels. I tried once and did not make it past the first chapter, but my romance-novel-addicted-wife forces me to listen to passages all of the time. She may be trying to tell me something.

For the times you cannot laugh at yourself, read anything by Carl Hiaason, or Dave Barry. For you golf gophers, Hiaason just published a non-fiction rant entitled Down Hill Lie.

If joining a book club appeals, I have bad news - you actually have to read 10-11 books a year and mutter something reasonably succinct other than thumbs up or down, or “hated it.”

If you are a male minority member of your book club, be prepared for the pre-discussion gabfest to range from the latest dog obedience school certificates to the pros and cons of tile versus slate versus limestone kitchen countertops.

After a few years, you too can discuss the subtle distinctions between post-modern and southern gothic literature**. Your vocabulary will finally surpass 10th grade level. This strategy, plus the daily crosswords, will replace some of those dead zone brain cells.

If the group picks The Brothers Karanazov, call in sick. If you are having bouts of depression, don’t read anything by Sylvia Plath.

More bad news - you have to host 1-2 times a year. You could dash out and buy prepared grub 1-2 hours in advance, but where’s the challenge in that? Besides, if you failed to finish the monthly selection, you need to redeem yourself with the spread you prepare.

We usually open three wines, two reds and a white. This further makes for a lively discussion. Better parting hugs, too.

Our book club could more appropriately called a Book, Cooking, and Wine Tasting Club. After eight years we could assemble a pretty top-notch collection of recipes.

* The library shelves are quite bare. But, it would be hard to top the modeling of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, even if he doesn’t cook. Sadly, there are too few Atticus Finches in the world, and in literature.

** Southern Gothic Literature usually deals with the struggles of those oppressed by traditional Southern culture. Southern Gothic authors include Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Carson McCullers. As for Postmodern Literature, I still haven’t a clue. They let me stay in the club anyway. I think it’s because of my cooking.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pre-Cruise Regimens

PJ and I are off on a cruise this weekend in the Caribbean. My nephew decided he wanted to get hitched on a beach in St. Lucia. So, you know, family obligations.

Regardless, we are grateful to him and his future bride for giving us another excuse to spend a week with 3500 other people, closely billeted on the world’s largest floating septic tank, surpassed only by aircraft carriers.

The Caribbean islanders call these port-o-call stops “The Invasion of Very Large People Wearing White Nikes.” If you are not large when you board, you will be a few days later.

We are amazed that the happy couple has amassed so many close friends so quickly. I posted a special sign-up page on the Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas’ website for the “Hans & Tracey St. Lucia Wedding Excursion”. So far 2753 have accepted the invitation. It is a special surprise I arranged for my brother, Hans’ father.

Most importantly, as a veteran of three humongous-ship-cruises, I thought I would share some pre-cruise regimens I have found useful.

· Turn your air conditioner down to 70 degrees. Stay in the house for half an hour, then, if you live in a warmer climate*, go outside for half an hour. Return to your house and repeat this ritual several times a day for the next three days. If you catch a cold…don’t come. If you don’t, you will have built up enough immunity for the cruise. *If from a colder climate, turn on your shower to high heat and stand in the middle of your bathroom without any fans running.

· Buy your favorite adult beverage and drink mass quantities of it over three hours. Vomiting is allowed – you’re in training. Repeat for the next four nights. The key object is to be able to find your key and your room at the end of the evening.

· If married or you have a roommate, move into about 200 square feet or less of space for the next several days. Perform basic living exercises while in the space. Try very hard not to get into each other’s face. Try to find a place to “contribute to the ambiance” discretely. Women will find this easier to do than men. While on the cruise your best bets are the balcony or the bathroom. If billeted in an inside cabin, you’re in foul-air jail.

· Try to go several days without roto-rootering your nose or scratching yourself in your nether region…in public. For guys this is actually impossible. The ship photographers seemingly take pictures of everything. They have no compunction about posting all photos on the ship’s gallery.

· Don’t be bothered that your stateroom attendant makes sculptures out of your pillows, towels or whatever he/she finds available. Hint – do not leave your underwear lying around. They are just angling for bigger tips.

· Visit your local flea market. Practice your negotiating skills. This will prepare you for the island stops and bizarre bazaars. On a cruise stop, paying more than half of the asking price is lame.

· Buy a calypso CD and Bobby Ferrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Practice your favorite Karaoke numbers to the beat of steel drums.

· Find a local all-you-can-eat buffet and visit it several times over the next few days. Consume mass quantities of everything. The goal is to stretch your stomach. Again, if you vomit, that’s fine. You are in training. Vomiting on the cruise, however, is not permitted, especially on the party balcony.

· Dust off your favorite resort attire and get in the mood early. Just don’t wear it in public. You neighbors will talk. On the cruise you will be part of the Brotherhood of Pasty-faced, and Pasty-legged Men Wearing Hawaiian Shirts.

If you follow these pre-cruise regimens, I guarantee that all will have a memorable time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Grillin' and Chillin'

This is inaugural weekend for grillin’ and chillin’ – igniting the grill monster, and chillin’ on the patio.

Our dog is especially fond of this annual launch – he knows more pats are in store – his tail in perpetual motion. He is less enthusiastic while I’m around the barbecue. Experience has taught him that something will go awry, so he cowers in his pen while I fume over the flames and flare-ups.

Yesterday I braised (in traditional kitchen fashion) some short ribs with parsnips, red onion, garlic, rosemary, beef stock and zinfandel. Yes, I tasted the zinfandel first; just to make sure it wasn’t spit-out vintage Thursday. Forgive me, for I have zinned.

The side I chose was grill-roasted vegetables with pine nut pesto. While I have an in-door grill, I heard the siren call of the season and decided to grill outside. The vegetables were cubed parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts (try cubing those), butternut squash, and shallots, with a few thyme sprigs tossed in. Brussels sprouts is one of my anti-guy foods, but mixed in with other veggies is tolerable. I find parsnips pretty bland as well but pine nut pesto can salvage most anything.

Both recipes are from Food and Wine Magazine. I usually faithfully follow a first-timer recipe. Then I begin making changes. Next time - no parsnips in the short ribs recipe*. Maybe sweet potatoes instead – and in the roasted vegetable dish as well.

I like most root vegetables but parsnips, turnips and rutabagas have more subtle flavors – a bit too subtle for my taste. I’ll keep rutabagas in the mix because a veggie with such a great name must be consumed now and then.

The first dance with the grill monster went fairly well – it led, I followed.

Last season I made the mistake of buying some briquettes that were so chemically soaked that they ignited before I even reached for the match, soon spouting more flames than the Shrek dragon. They also threw off my timing. Thinking I needed about 30 minutes for the coals to be ready, I returned to the kitchen for other prep work. Wrong.

I haven’t decided how I will prepare the New York steaks tonight. I have fallen in love with simple technique using a cast iron skillet – searing them in canola oil on the stove, and finishing them (still skilleted) in the oven at 350 degrees for about two minutes per side, with some butter, garlic and thyme. Sea salt is preferred. Maybe tonight I’ll put the skillet on the grill monster. Live on the edge, I always say.

Sunday night I’m doing a whole chicken outside, not beer can, but something similar using white wine as the enema. Sorry – infusion.

PJ is mildly amused each barbecue season. She’s guessing that it will take another 10 years for me to earn my barbecue eagle badge. I have noted that she never ventures near the grill monster. She gets to chill, while I grill.

The good news is that I’m not so old that the singed arm and eyebrow hair won’t grow back.

*There is a reason that the Simon & Garfunkel hit was not entitled “Parsnips, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Breaking Fast

I just had one of my favorite breakfasts, and it included a leftover. For the record, my fast lasted 12 hours. That’s enough fasting for me.

The basics are pancetta, scrambled eggs, and dill hollandaise sauce.

Pancetta is Italian bacon - not easy to find. It is cured with salt and spices but not usually smoked. How discernible is pancetta from good old-fashioned American porkers? Very little. But because of its Italian lineage, stores can charge more.

Trader Joes sells four-ounce packages of diced pancetta. Dill hollandaise is a basic hollandaise recipe with 1-2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill added to the blender just prior to slowly pouring in the melted butter.

The dill hollandaise was leftover from an asparagus recipe I prepared for guests over the weekend. The asparagus is sprinkled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper and baked in a baking dish at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. The time depends on the thickness of the stalks. Asparagus doneness is a matter of taste. If you pick up a stalk and it collapses like al dente* spaghetti, it is over-cooked. You won’t even need teeth to process it. Process? That would be eating. Fork-tender is usually a good indicator.

The dill hollandaise is served on the side at the table. It is a rich sauce, so don’t water-board the asparagus with it.

For breakfast, first sauté a couple ounces of pancetta for 4-5 minutes, to a crispness similar to the way you like your bacon. Whip up whatever portion of scrambled eggs is needed for one person, or as hungry as you may be. Blend the eggs and pancetta together until the eggs are done (the whites of the eggs disappear), then top with the reheated dill hollandaise. There is a fair amount of salt in the pancetta and in the dill hollandaise mixture, so this concoction probably doesn’t need any more seasoning.

For two or more, simply adjust the pancetta and scrambled eggs’ portions.

*Al dente is a method of pasta preparation perfected by the noted Italian chef, Al Dente.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shopping Redux

Grocery shopping is not an Olympic event. Though now that there are so many guy shoppers and ESPN has so many channels with programming needs, this could be a reality show just waiting for a sponsor. When men get involved, a contest will soon follow. Consider the Food Networks Iron Chef competition.

Ever heard of speed golf? There’s already a grocery bag packing contest, and contests for packing as much food in a cart as you can in a limited timeframe. Why not speed shopping?

But until that time comes, grocery shopping is not for mag wheels and 100-horse-powered carts. If you must set records, compete against yourself. Just remember that there are old ladies and children in the aisle. Most of them have lawyers.

Be patient moving up and down the aisles, even if you’re on a timetable. For many shoppers it is the highlight of their day and they treat it as a special occasion, bordering on a religious experience. Those will be the ones always in front of you.

For guys, it is a hunt (consider it gathering), strictly for pre-determined essentials, with no browsing or impulse buying permitted.

Make a list. Remember to take it with you. Check it thrice. After a fashion (if you forgot the list) you can remember most if not all of the items, especially if you make the trip up and down each aisle. (Be alert - - just when you’ve figured out where most things are, they re-merchandize the store.) I cannot emphasize enough the need to make a list.

First, you’ll be less tempted by spur-of-the-moment purchases, and you can blow right by the end-aisle come-ons. Second, check it again when you think you’re finished. Don’t just scan it, READ IT! Otherwise this drama will play out. You are in the middle of a sauce preparation. You read the next ingredient and realize you forgot to buy it. Sauces are sensitive. Turning off the heat and rushing to the store makes for sorry sauces, let alone the three other courses you were in the midst of preparing. You could send your wife, but if she’s anything like PJ, she’ll take an hour to do what you could do in 15 minutes, and she will return with a bag-full of stuff you don’t need.

Check to make sure she didn’t stow something somewhere before waltzing into the kitchen. Snackers are notorious for hiding snacks.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Foodie Shows

Food Network can be addictive. I’ve watched my fair share of Emeril Live*, and even use several of his recipes. His Turkey Day turkey is now my standard. Emeril’s recipes can be a bit challenging and lengthy. I would hate to have to clean up after one of his cooking shows. Emeril’s Cowboy Chicken Casserole recipe has 26 ingredients, one of which is his Southwest seasoning requiring another 10 ingredients. Preparation takes three days.

Diners, Drive-ins & Dives is entertaining, and useful for the traveler looking for that quirky place where the locals go. You just have to deal with watching the host.

Sorry, I am not a Rachel Ray fan. A better name for her show would be A Valley Girl Does Dinner.

True confession time - - I’m a Giada groupie, head over heels in like with Giada De Laurentiis, and her show, Everyday Italian. Watching her taste her creations could go on any highlight reel. She can sell me anything, though I stay away from pasta most of the time. Her Stracoto with Porcini Mushrooms (that would be pot roast) has assured me a long-term marriage contract. Each preparation is worth two free get-out-of-the-doghouse coupons.

Food Network is currently programming several shows touting speed and competition - 30-Minute Meals (which seems like it airs 10 times per day), Quick Fix Meals, Iron Chef America, and Food Network Challenge.

Yes, if time is of essence and you know what you’re doing, speed matters.

If, like me, you cringe at the number of ingredients and steps of some recipes, size matters. That competition thing is just jumping on the bandwagon of the popular reality and stress shows. Apparently we feel better about the stress in our lives watching others in stress.

Not for me. Even if I am short of time, I enjoy the joie de vivre of cooking - - except of course those times I muck something up or have forgotten a shopping list ingredient. That’s enough stress for me. If I wanted constant stress in the kitchen I’d become a sous chef in a high-traffic fine dining establishment.

I’m more of a shoo chef, as in get out of my kitchen.

* We chef-wannabees should raise our spatulas to half-mast. Emeril Live is no longer on Food Network.