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.