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 bĂ©arnaise 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.