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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Adequate Mall

Em had a hoodie she needed to exchange at Aeropostale, which gave me the opportunity to aggravate the hell out of her by finding creative ways to pronounce the name of the store.

It also gave us the opportunity to visit the Adequate Mall in Olathe. They call it the 'Great Mall,' but it didn't meet my criteria for 'greatness' in the best of times. These days, it's looking like about 50% occupancy.

The firefighting museum with the ladder truck has been joined by a model railroad outfit that rivals what's in the lobby at Union Station.

They post signs saying not to touch the models, but kids were literally climbing on the stuff. One parent would pull a kid off and another kid would belly flop across the tracks to grab a model car. The exhibitors were cooler about this than I'd have been.


On a lark I made a batch of pretzels this afternoon. The girls love them, I love them, they're all gone.

It's basically the same recipe as my pizza dough:

1-1/3 cup bread flour
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. bread machine yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Knead in Kitchen Aid for 10-12 minutes, roll and twist, brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with rock salt and bake at 425ºF for 7-8 minutes.

Serve with horseradish mustard or whatever you like on a pretzel.

Remembering Marc Gaspard

Marc donated his body to science and specifically asked to not have a wake or funeral. Per his wishes, we got together and had a few beers, many of them from his cellar, and remembered our friend.

There were a couple of kegs of Marc's Belgian masterpieces, a sort of pot luck buffet of food, and some fairly exotic bottled beer.

I also learned Marc had gotten into Gamelan music in a big way in recent years. I hadn't know about that.

I couldn't stay long, my Mom was watching the girls and her babysitting turned into a pumpkin when KU took the court against K-State. It was still great to see old friends, I wish it was under other circumstances and that Marc could have been there.

The Moon (Again)

We were going to do Kaleidoscope, even though that's another rut for us, but we got kind of a late start and I fretted we wouldn't get to Crown Center in time for the last session.

So Mo said she wanted to go to Moon Marble, and we did.

I broke down and bought corn dog mints and 'chum' flavored candy. Both are repulsive, don't eat it.

And that Wasabi lip balm doesn't have any wasabi in it, it's just a fun label on plain old petroleum jelly based chapstick.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Best Kind of Bad Week

I've had a bad week, diet-wise. Wednesday, I made fried chicken for me and the girls. A lark, it's been ages since I made this.

The chicken I just dredged and fried, trying an experiment with some of it in the wok in a deep-fry situation and some in the pan in a barely halfway covered with oil deal. They turned out pretty much the same.

Then tonight I tried breaded pork chops adding some pepper, salt, garlic and paprika to the flour, then putting it in and egg/milk wash and then bread crumbs.

I realized pretty fast my oil was too hot, it was darkening almost instantly, and I ended up dumping the oil from the first two chops and starting over at a lower temperature.

I also bought two thicknesses of chops, some 'breakfast' chops barely 1/8" thick and some 'center cut' chops that were more like 5/16" thick, maybe closer to 3/8".

The thinner ones worked better, they fully cooked with about two minutes per side and that kept things from scorching. The Joy of Cooking said to use half oil with half butter, presumably for the browning advantages of butter, but straight canola oil seemed to brown before the thicker chops were done.

Gonna have to hit the trainer hard to pay for this.

Racking Oud Grendel

I don't know how this will turn out: I brewed it almost six weeks before racking it, which is too long, but we had that cold snap and the space under the steps kinda stalled the fermentation process. It was still a 1.044 gravity beer when I racked it, and that's not anywhere near finished.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Just Got Hot & Sweaty With Three Chicks

I just spent over an hour straining and sweating with a group of beautiful, athletic women. And it was free (first time 'test drive' deal).

And now I'm pretty sure I won't walk right tomorrow.

My friend Jennifer talked me into checking out Spin Class, which I feared would be a lot like riding my trainer at home. But riding at home, I just try to keep moving, get distracted enough by a movie to get through an hour. At Spin Class, there's an instructor, or drill sergeant or whatever you want to call her, telling you about how you're riding across the 24 mile bridge that spans Lake Pontchartrain.

And she makes you crank hard for five minutes and then gives you two minutes to do what I do the whole time left to my own devices. And I was doing my best to keep up. About twenty minutes in my right hamstring started to rebel, by a half hour both legs were in open revolt and I had to leave to refill my water bottle and stretch.

I fell of the bike and into the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain, but I got out, got back on the bike and toughed it out to the finish. Though when she was telling us to stand on it and really crank, I was just trying to keep moving without cramping up again.

Then we did fifteen minutes of yoga, which is more stretching that I probably did all riding season last year.

Could I work that hard at home? Not unless some chicks come over and watch me. No way I'd push myself hard enough, on my own, to cramp up my hamstrings. And if I did, by some miracle, manage that, I'd decide that was the sign to knock off for the day. In private, I can let myself be the guy who couldn't hack it after a half hour, in a group, especially a group with a large estrogen surplus, I get back on and do my best to pretend I'm not a big fat 40 year old guy.

In fact, I think knowing I've got Spin Class coming up is likely to make me more diligent about my half-assed workouts on the trainer: train at home to look less out of shape training at the gym. Plus, riding my trainer at home, I don't have to endure Lady Gaga or Metallica.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the So-Called Union

Okay, I get accused of being cynical a lot, especially lately. But, dude...

I often skip the State of the Union altogether because, really, if you've heard one you've heard them all. My liberal friends seem to think W. was some sort of conservative champion, but my conservative friends all hated him for selling them out. In part because of some shit he said in State of the Union addresses, promising massive funds for hydrogen cars and whatnot.

These kinds of platitudes are exceptionally pointless because they anger a President's base without actually scoring a single point with the other side. Witness all my liberal friends who's jaws drop when I say I wish W. had just been an earnest conservative, then I'd only hate him a little bit.

I heard my obstinately liberal boss today bitching about Obama, about how the Republicans get in and work hard for their agenda, so why can't the Dems do the same. Maybe a Republican agenda gets advanced, but nothing you could really call a conservative agenda has been advanced in the past 80 years by either party. Ever, and don't bring up Reagan, he promised to get rid of the (then) brand new Department of Education and instead immediately put his own cronies in charge of it.

So Obama maybe hasn't succeeded in advancing liberal causes, only Democratic ones.

Here are some of my modest injections into the national debate:

• The pregame had the talking heads referring to the Massachusetts Senate election as if it were 9/11. They kept speaking in terms of a post-Massachusetts world as if I'd no longer be able to carry a Gloria Steinem book aboard an airplane.

• Obama's talk about how a 'second depression' had been averted. By Obama's continuance of a set of polices that not only does nothing to alleviate the problem, but are the same moves that caused the problem to begin with. The economy needs more 'liquidity' from the Fed like Tiger Woods' marriage needs more girlfriends to get it on a stable footing.

• The Fed talk made me think of a Three Card Monty game, he'll keep moving the cards around, good luck if you can guess where.

• The Con Game vibe got even heavier when he claimed to have cut taxes for 95% of Americans. This was a campaign promise, but am I in the 5%? My tax burden hasn't gone down at all, not in any area. My property tax on my house is now based on a slightly lower number thanks to the bubble bursting, but the mill levy was adjusted to compensate, so I'm no better off. And if I were, I still can't sell my house for what I owe on it to move closer to my job.

• Claims that Obama has cut taxes, I just flat out don't get it. What taxes have been cut? Provide me with a single specific that is actually a tax cut and I might just eat my shoe.

• A Jobs Bill: Government does not create jobs. Not even public sector jobs, since those have to be paid for by a reallocation of private sector resources. There are not two million people working today who wouldn't be if it weren't for the bailout. If anything, there are less people working thanks to Uncle Sam. And claiming victory over the recession is a bit like the Iraq 'Mission Accomplished' banner.

• Capital gains on small businesses shouldn't be taxed, but apparently the same taxes on big business are fair game. What? I don't care if a job comes at IBM or I.B. Small Engine Repair, so why would I want to give the latter a break I'd deny the former?

• Shipping jobs overseas: dude, if someone can make the pants for less, you have to let him make the pants. This is how economies develop, and it's the height of arrogance to pretend other countries can do it without going through the same growing pains we did. The more partners there are in trade, the richer everyone can get. Including those poor SOBs in China.

• Cursing the housing bubble and vowing to not let it happen again is a bit like hearing Jeff Dahmer show how to keep captives safe. The housing bubble was caused by inflationary Fed policy, something that's supported by both the so-called parties. Inflationary policy is the culprit both for the bubble and its hangover, and going the hard money route is the only real solution, unpopular as it might be among the corruptly wealthy.

• Promises of a 'new generation' of nuclear power plants and exploring offshore drilling rings as hollow as W.'s promises of hydrogen cars. It looks good on paper, but the first nuclear power plant approved under Obama's rule, I really might eat my shoe.

• The idea that you can make college more affordable by increasing tax credits, Pell Grants and forgiveness for student loans is so absurd it's not even funny. All of these things will encourage people to spend even more recklessly on a college degree that may or may not be any better in the real world than a HS diploma or even a GED. We don't need more Federal involvement in education; the Department of Education is about as helpful as the Taliban at actually getting anyone educated.

• Obama claimed to be open to better ideas about health care reform than his own. Really? Including my idea that we end Medicare and Medicaid and treat health insurance the way we do automobile liability insurance? My idea would actually work, so I doubt Obama is actually open to it any more than he's really interested in seeing a single nuclear power plant started on his watch.

• Obama's claim that he'll freeze spending on a tiny fraction of the budget, and that this will make any difference in the deficit is just a flat out lie. We don't need a freeze in 12% of the budget, we need a reduction in every area. Not a shrinkage in growth, we need to actually cut back.

• He cites pay-as-you-go as the cause of the 1990s surpluses, which weren't even surpluses because Congress spent them twice over as soon as they were even theorized. The tech bubble, also caused by the Federal Reserve, is what made those pseudo-surpluses.

• As far as restoring faith in good government, I think Obama needs to be disabused of the notion that anyone with a basic level of intelligence will ever believe there is such a thing as 'good government.' When he speaks of 'deep and corrosive doubts,' I find myself shouting at the TV, How about deep and well founded corrosive doubts??? Don't give me this shit about the government we deserve, I want one better than THAT!

• Other surprises: he compares himself to JFK and Reagan in one breath. Wow, talk about delusional. I'll give you that he's charismatic, and I guess Regan and JFK were, too. And Kennedy did flirt with 'supply side' economics, though that was back before it was called that, but Obama's actual track record so far looks more like Jimmy Carter to my eye.

• Oh, and he hints that queers should be able to serve in the military without fear. They've been serving perfectly well in fear, so I'm not sure what we gain by lifting the ban. It's the army, it has its purpose. Some dudes like to bat for the other team, always have. I've never understood why the military would feel the need to exclude homosexuals, really, but anyone who expects their world to make logical sense would do well to avoid enlisting in the first place.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marc Gaspard, RIP

I got home this evening and racked Oud Grendel, the peat smoked Wee Heavy I brewed last month. Then I got online and saw an email letting me know that Marc Gaspard, a fellow brewer and beer judge, passed away yesterday evening.

I knew he was in the hospital, that his health had been poor generally of late, and had been meaning to visit him at St. Joseph when I learned he'd been transferred to Research and was in ICU. I don't know the exact cause of death, but when I met Marc over a decade ago, he was already a three time cancer survivor, and I know he'd been dealing with congestive heart failure in recent years.

Marc forgot more about Belgian sour ales, especially Lambics, than I'm liable to ever know, and he made some great ones. It's brave work, playing with all those wild yeast and bacteria to mimic the spontaneous fermentations that characterize these beers. Marc had the patience, daring, and willingness to experiment it takes.

I'm going to miss you Marc, I'm honored to have gotten to judge with you, drink beer with you. I'm going to miss all that, and I don't know where I'll ever find someone I can aggravate so thoroughly with my politics.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Maybe They Could Just Teach Genesis Instead...

Okay, I'm a sucker for the Weird News, it's the the first thing I read, even before Zippy. Today's, though, did not amuse.

Government in Action!

In January, the Berkeley (Calif.) School Board began consideration of a near-unanimous recommendation of Berkeley High School's Governance Council to eliminate science labs from its curriculum, reasoning that the classes mostly serve white students, leaving less money for programs for underperforming minorities. Berkeley High's white students do far better academically than the state average; black and Latino students do worse than average. Five science teachers would be dismissed. [East Bay Express, 12-23-09]

Conservatives have their hangups about gay marriage and insistence on an imbecilic and destructive 'war on drugs,' and liberals come back with this kind of bullshit.

If this school board is so focused on outcomes, why isn't the outcome they focus on getting their black and Latino students to succeed in science? That'd be a positive outcome, and to say that it's unrealistic or impossible is, in my view, a racist attitude. There's nothing about being black or Latino that makes a student incapable of dissecting a frog or learning to balance the equations that solve chemical reactions.

If they're behind their white classmates in the prerequisites, changes need to be made for sure. But these changes should be to remedy the problem that gets them to high school unprepared for high school classes.

Wonder what the Berkeley School Board would think of substituting pure Creationism for that biology class. It's a simple story, an illiterate toddler eating a steady diet of lead paint chips can grasp it, so surely even Berkeley's underprivileged could probably hold their own in that class. Or we could go Greek and tell the kids there are four elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.

I suppose these assheads could cut down on the number of DUI arrests by raising the legal limit to .30 BAC.

Me, I want to cuff the Berkeley School Board (and the morons on this so-called Governance Council) to uncomfortable chairs and make them watch Stand and Deliver until they see the light.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pizza Party

After the relatives party, a couple of Em's BFFs came for pizza.

I'm getting better at the hand-tossed thing. Don't even own a rolling pin these days, the one I had was splitting and worn out, so I chucked it. I came close to buying a new one, and I'm sure I will eventually because there are somethings you just need to roll out, but if you start with a good dough ball, it's easy to spin a good pie crust with just your hands. Centrifugal force stretches it super thin int he middle and leaves a lip of thicker rust around the edges to help hold stuff one coming on and off the stone.

You do get flour all over yourself, but that's just part of making pizza.

There was cake and ice cream after, too. Ben & Jerry's had been on a pretty good sale, so it wasn't any ordinary ice cream, either.

I'm stunned at how much racket three kids can make with just their voices. It's not the first time I've experienced it with this group, and you ad Mo to the mix and it's like the four horsemen of some joyful apocalypse are in my kitchen.

I know three pizzas is overkill for a party this size. But the leftovers are so good, and you can have some variety, though in this instance the variation wasn't all that astounding. Lots of times I'll mix it up, using different cheeses and sauces on each pie, but these all three had alfredo sauce and mozarella, and they all had meat, one a prosciutto & black olive (Em's fave), one a pepperoni (Mo's fave), and one a hot Italian sausage and jalapeño (I noticed the sausage in the freezer and it sounded good).

What I can't figure out, why am I so tired?

Belated Birthday Cake

The way the custody sharing worked this year, we had to celebrate Em's birthday on my side of the family a tad late (I guess we could have done it a tad early). I actually had the kids on her birthday, but it was a school night and didn't lend itself to a birthday party.

I love making my kids' birthday cakes. I can't believe I ever bought one from the store, though I did so for every single birthday until three years ago when I decided to try making one from scratch.

It was fun and it turned out well. I should try some other recipes, the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake from Joy of Cooking seemed adventurous when I first tried it but now it's just a cake I know I can successfully make. It's a good cake but there are so many other recipes, I think I need to stretch my legs a bit and branch out.

I did add a new twist this time. Mo's last birthday was the first time I made my own frosting from scratch, and I did that again but with a different recipe, making a cream cheese frosting.

Bright orange because that was the color Em wanted. I had to improvise a way to put the piping on, basically put some pink frosting in waxed paper and poked a hole, squirted it out through that. I don't have a lot of practice, so the result doesn't look like the Ace of Cakes was on the job, but Em was thrilled with it.

The two tones of icing were easy to get because after I'd added enough red to get the icing pink, I just removed some and set it aside and started dumping red and yellow die in. Especially yellow, I couldn't believe how much yellow it took to get the color right.

One of my favorite things in the world is to light the candles and watch my daughter light up as Happy Birthday is sung to her.