Saturday, October 10, 2015

Excellent Quotes: A Catskill Eagle

My Mom fled the long winters, seasonal affective disorder, and blue collar parochialism of her neck of New England for warmer climes as soon as she graduated from college. But, some of the family still lives there and so do many friends and I have been going back more often for work lately. My travel has been all in the summer and spring, when a fella thinks, "Yeah, I could live in Boston. What a pretty place." (Note: I also regularly think this about Chicago; I have been advised to visit during the winter months before making any foolhardy decisions.)

Now, the Cradle of Liberty has many things going for it, Puritanical weather aside. One of them is Janet Echelman's aerial sculpture over the new Rose Kennedy Greenway. Another less ephemeral thing is the legacy of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries. The books center on a laconic Beantown private investigator, known only as Spenser, with a sweetheart named Susan and A Man Called Hawk as a best friend.

I am a sucker for anything driven by a code of honor character--gimme an N, gimme an O, gimme an I, gimme an R, whaddya got? Heartache! Spenser indeed has an internal code. And Hawk has a code, too. Spenser's code makes room for a girlfriend--he is not actually a true Philip Marlowe clone--even if the relationship is sometimes rocky. Hawk's makes room for the occasional fine, foxy lady but his code is too close to the street to really let anyone all the way in. The bad guys don't stand a chance.

Spenser and Hawk are kindred spirits, but they cover their brotherly affection, book after book, with a steady flow of snappy, erudite banter as they track down the baddies. They are either the first post-racial detectives in history or they just don't give a crap what anyone thinks; they play the race card on each other like it was a long night at the card table in Vegas. In A Catskill Eagle, Spenser has just broken Hawk out of a false imprisonment and they are tracking down one Jerry Costigan, who has been horning in on Spenser's Lady Friend and may be involved in much more:

"Remember where Mill River Boulevard is?" I said.

"Un huh."

"Jerry Costigan lives off it on something called Costigan Drive in something called The Keep."

"The Keep?" Hawk said.

"The Keep."

"The more money you honkies get," Hawk said, "the sillier you get."

"Wait a minute," I said. "Didn't you grow up in a place called The Ghetto?"

"Shit." Hawk said. "You got me."

"See, you intolerant bastard."

Hawk drove quietly for a moment and then he began to laugh. "Maybe I move to Beverly Farms," Hawk said, "buy a big house call it The Ghetto." He made ghetto a two-word phrase.

"The Wasps would turn lime green," I said.

"Match their pants," Hawk said.

-- Parker, Robert B. A Catskill Eagle. New York, NY: Dell, 1985. P. 65.

There are a jillion Spenser novels. I think I have read every one. If you haven't read them, try out one of the forty on offer. If you haven't read one in a while--Parker died while writing a new novel in 2010--I suggest picking up a paperback for a long flight and getting reacquainted.

PS - Why the television series starring Hawk was set in DC, I will never understand. But understand this: "Time to Pretend" by MGMT is good stuff; now playing on iTunes.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Quite a while ago I went to the Noisebridge hacker space in San Francisco to be all rebellious and to learn me some hacking like a real hipster.

Now, I imagined that a Matthew Broderick figure dressed all in subtle greys and designer blacks would be teaching me to code my way past the corporate ice of the New York Times to list myself in their database as an expert news source on hacking and computer security issues. Shazam! Super-size my irony, to go, please. What I got was a middle-aged dude in cargo shorts who somewhat phoned in our lesson on soldering Arduino boards to make one of a number of prefab kits.

The good news: I picked a kit to work on that allowed me to assemble a master remote control that issues the "shut off" command for every known major brand of television. Bwahahaha! It works up to 50 feet away. I have tried it on my own tee vee and it turns off the boob tube like a champ.

If only I weren't such a non-hacker chicken and were willing to take it with me to bars and airports to flip the kill switch on the droning ubiquity of cable "news" in public spaces. But I worry about explaining to the flight safety mandarins how my exposed wiring and inexplicable mini-UV light bulbs are just a fun project and not, wait, no, I don't need to visit the special room, no, it is just a fun project I did, and I have a plane to catch, please, please take off the surgical glove, there is no need for that....

Still, it was fun to re-learn to solder -- turns out I had completely forgotten how to do it correctly -- and to brush shoulders with Fog City's energetic maker culture. Not that I can actually make anything else without serious coaching and supervision. But, I do have my one hilarious remote. If your television mysteriously up and quits, look out the door for my car coasting down your street with the lights off.

PS - Prior to that, I went to a maker space and took a lesson in lock picking. Yeah, I can't do that by myself, either. But, speaking of the waterless Golden State, I can listen to "The Golden State" by John Doe; now playing on iTunes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Recipe: Balsamic Salad Dressing

Recently I took a cooking class. Never done it before and it was a lot of fun. Our chef/instructor was very, how you say in America, high-energy, but she knew her stuff. We learned to prepare a few Southern Italian dishes and drank a Sicilian wine that was full-bodied and didn't threaten to kill anyone, you know, the way a lot of full-bodied Sicilians do in books and movies.

So, a win. Yum.

Without giving away too many state secrets that would put my cooking class host out of business, below is her truly yummy recipe for a balsamic dressing for a Panzanella salad; I think it would go well with a green salad,too.

1/8 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey

Combine all in a jar with a tight lid and shake until well-mixed.

PS - As noted, we had it over a salad of large, toasted bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, shallots, and basil. Golly. Also delish is "The Unguarded Moment" by a very young The Church; now playing on iTunes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

5-4-Fri: View Count Zero

I have a surprising number of blog posts that Sitemeter now swears nobody has read. This cannot be true because some of them have posted comments from readers. Still, in a shameless, cable-television-like effort to boost ratings without going to the trouble of actually generating any new content, may I recommend five of them to you this Friday:

Excellent Quotes: The Sign of the Four
5-4-Fri: Mixed Drinks
The Inaugural

Let's see if the old Interwebs tracker will acknowledge hits going forward.

PS - Looking back, it seems that I only posted ONE blog entry in all of 2010. Such shameful slacking. Oh, but Digital Underground is not slacking on "Humpty Dance"; now playing on iTunes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Recipe: Sauce Bolognese

The Italian cook and author, Marcella Hazan had an enormous influence on American cooking--bringing her Proustian memory of the great food back home to life in her recipes once she settled in New York. I think her most indelible contribution is the brilliant Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, published by Knopf in a sublimely beautiful green-jacketed edition as gorgeous as the meals inside. (The consistently amazing physical volumes produced by Alfred A. Knopf's crew ought to be the subject of its own blog post.) I got my copy from a couple of Foxes, but I have kept my Mom's meaningfully marked up edition, too.

My go-to Hazan recipe is Bolognese Meat Sauce:

1 T vegetable oil
3 T butter
1/2 C chopped onion
2/3 C chopped celery
2/3 C chopped carrot
3/4 lb ground beef chuck - get the butcher to grind a cut from the neck
1 C whole milk
1/8 t nutmeg (shaved from a whole nutmeg)
1 C dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pino Grigio)
1 1/2 C Italian plum tomatoes with their juice; cut them first
Fresh grated parmigiano cheese

In a pot that retains heat, such as the excellent, blue Le Creuset pot I bought expressly for the purpose, add oil, butter, and onion on medium heat. When the onion is translucent, add the celery and carrot and cook 5 minutes more. Add ground beef  with salt  and light pepper (Hazan makes a point of adding salt when sauteing meat to extract the juices). Brown the chuck. Add the milk and simmer, stirring often, until it has bubbled away. Mix the nutmeg in. Add the wine and simmer until it, too, has evaporated. Only then add tomatoes and stir thoroughly. Cook at the lowest simmer your stove top can pull off for 3 hours or more--more is better. Taste and correct for salt prior to serving.

PS - I serve it over orecchiette because it is SO. DAMN. GOOD. Oh, and "Gun" by Emiliana Torrini is quite a smooth morsel, too--listen to it during that three-hour simmer-a-thon; now playing on iTunes.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Everything Old is New Again

When I was a teenager there were lots of changes going on. I needed glasses, braces, and new medical checkups. It took adjusting to. I felt socially conscious about some of these things in ways that I never had before. Were people looking at me? Was I ever going to get used to them? Did other kids have them, and which kids did? And, as I entered early adulthood, checkups began to include what one of my doctors called "the pause that does not refresh."

(And let me tell you, people were indeed looking. Not only were braces not yet cool, I was wearing headgear; that has never caught on. And rightfully so. I felt like Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles. My dentists were flabbergasted by how quickly my teeth were moving. "Wear the headgear all day," they insisted. I did. To school. To Junior. High. School. My teeth flew past their desired alignment. Then back again all too quickly under readjustments. Finally, the head of the dentistry program--struggling to make sense of my anomalous data--opined that, just perhaps, the other kids were lying about wearing their headgear all day and my results could only be caused by actually doing so. They were shocked to learn of the mass deception. Clearly, no one had thought to visit any junior high school anywhere ever. I could have spared them their data analysis, time in gear had an inverse one-to-one relationship with my datability.)

Now that I am all growed up and playing on the back nine, I find that I am again adjusting to new glasses and am back in orthodonture. My hipster glasses--de rigueur chunky black plastic frames with a soupcon of purple--are really trifocals. Tri. Focals. It cost me a cool grand to ensure they don't have visible lines in the lenses. When I appear to be looking disdainfully down my nose at the menu choices, I am really just trying to find the optimal focal point under dim light to see the fine print on what the entree comes with. (I have a colleague who unabashedly asks me to hold the menu over on my side near the table candle so he can read it rather than suit up with magnified lenses.) I have a new invisalign retainer to counteract the ravages of orthodontic time by shifting my lower teeth back into the nice, straight smile position all that commitment to headgear had achieved. And the checkups now include colonoscopy prep, which involves a pretty grim night of waterboarding oneself like a masochistic Jack Bauer.

A time of change marked by new glasses, braces, and medical needs. I am keeping an eye out for acne just in case.

PS - Everything old is new again. See how I wove that in? Maybe I should close this story with "The End," the way I did when I was 13. Oh, and since the kids are all about the new hit, "Watch Me" by Silentó you oldsters should get hip to it, too; now playing on iTunes.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Excellent Quotes: Ready Player One

After hearing for quite some time from people whose taste I trusted that Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One, was a must-read I recently decided to snag an eCopy for my iPad and snuggle up with the bits and bytes.

Turns out it is a dork-fest that obsesses about what essentially amounts to my childhood. And it is a page-turner, too. Score!

Set in a dystopic future (as which current science fiction novel is not), the book follows the adventures of the alliterative Wade Watts--who goes by the handle Parzival (yay, English Literature!)--as he solves three challenges put forward by the world's greatest game designer in an attempt to win a fortune, get the girl, and change the universe.

By gad, it really is a dork-fest. A wonderful, unabashed, comprehensive, lovingly articulated dork-fest. Cline name-checks everything from "It's a Dead Man's Party" to the Dungeons and Dragons rule book, John Hughes movies to Blade Runner, the TRS-80 personal computer to Second Life, nerd bonding over video games to first crushes. RP1 functions as a storyline, as a kind of social history, and as a non-alphabetized concordance to the '80s. Fun.

Do I have any niggling complaints? Sure. It is game-obsessed. It is an obvious novice effort stylistically. But, come on, man, that stuff is nitpicking. The ride is worth it; even for those of us who never legitimately finished Zork on our own.

Speaking of Zork--the first famous text-based role-player game--here is Wade starting down the path to solve one of the clues:

"I took a look around. My surroundings were eerily familiar.

"The opening text description in the game Zork read as follows:

You are standing in an open field west of a
white house, with a boarded front door. There
is a small mailbox here.

"My avatar now stood in that open field, just west of the white house. The front door of the old Victorian mansion was boarded up, and there was a mailbox just a few yards away from me, at the end of the walkway leading to the house. The house was surrounded by a dense forest, and beyond it I saw a range of jagged mountain peaks. Glancing off to my left, I spotted a path leading to the north, right where I knew it should be."

-- Ready Player One. Cline, Ernest. New York (NY): Random House, 2011. Pp. 394-95 (eBook version).

If, like me, you once reserved the introductory sections of your cassette mix tapes for computer programs that you loaded into the microcomputer by pressing "Play," this book is a glorious romp through your youth. It has practically everything but my track and field kit and the Barrel of Hee. Even if you aren't pushing 50, it is still great fun.

So, if you haven't yet, drop the quarter and get started. Cline is ready, Player One.

PS -  The book prominently features easter eggs, and even functioned as one, with the author offering a DeLorean to the winner of his contest-within-a-contest. Oh, and if you didn't dance to it then, you can dance to "It's a Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo today; now playing on iTunes.