Friday, December 26, 2008


My big Christmas project was a genuine Bûche de Noël, or Yule Log for those of you who didn't have the privilege of having Brother Donan beat French into you.

The French have a tradition of making a rolled cake decorated to look like a log. I saw Jacques Pepin do this last year right before Christmas and I gave it a shot. The cake itself was OK, but the chocolate frosting I made was pretty bad.

This year I used semi-sweet chocolate for the for the frosting instead of bittersweet, and voila!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cool Toy

Debbie made her annual Holiday picks last week, now it's my turn. A few weeks back Megan went to a birthday party at MetroMall in Middle Village. I had some time to kill and decided to wander around BJ's.

My parents have a BJ's membership- we actually got a free membership from Debbie's Aunt, but I never cared for the place. I used a free trial to shop for our annual Belmont party and even though I was trying to feed thirty people, the damn portions were STILL too damn big. Does anyone except Warren Jeffs need to buy ten-lots jumbo sized jars of Skippy?

Still, mooching at BJ's was a better choice than watching five year olds hula hoop to Hannah Montana, so off I went. After drooling over the flat screen TV's, I ran across the AeroGarden.

AeroGardens are tabletop hydroponic gardens that can produce salad greens, herbs, (or if you're a complete loser, flowers). According to the AeroGarden people NASA actually tested the thing, though I'm not sure if that impresses me anymore. It has a computer and the growing medium is some kind of soylent green-like substance, that's gotta be better than plain old dirt. These things appeal to both my inner geek and my inner chef.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


We had friends over yesterday for brunch. That gave me the excuse to make one of my favorite meals- waffles. My father is the family pancake specialist. When I was little he used to pour the batter into "R" shaped pancakes. He still can make "M" and "D" pancakes when the girls come to visit.

While I still love flapjacks, I get the biggest kick out of making waffles. As my legions of loyal readers already know, I'm a big Alton Brown fan, and one of the first episodes I watched was "The Waffle Truth" (usually his titles are a bit better than that).

AB's pointed out that pouring Aunt Jemima mix into a waffle iron is a really bad idea. Pancakes may look a bit brown on the outside, but are light and airy inside- cake. Waffles are crunchy and crisp- you are almost frying them on the hot iron, especially if you coat the iron with PAM. You can check out AB's recipe here, the video is here. Hint- go with a round waffle iron.

Now all I have to do is find some real Maple Syrup that goes for less than $25 a gallon. . .

Saturday, November 22, 2008

No Relation

I have Google Toolbar installed on my browser. It's handy for quick searches and checking my Gmail account. One of the neat little features is that the toolbar makes suggestions as you begin to type your search (Yahoo tried to rip this off- they should have sold out to Microsoft before the crash).

As I started to type Groppe, I came across this suggestion: Groppetti Mastiffs. I have always loved dogs, especially OTHER people's dogs. The kind I don't have to walk at 5 AM-- in the rain.

I'm sure I am in no way related to the Gropetti's. But these dogs are freaking HUGE!! Kudos to anyone who can run a kennel and specialize in these monsters.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

City Island

Debbie and I took the kids to City Island for lunch today. City Island is one of our favorite spots, we almost always head to Johnny's Reef, which is at the very tip of of City Island Ave. It's right on the water and serves great fried clams and shrimp.

You can eat outside on picnic tables 0n the edge of Long Island Sound; the girls love to feed their leftover french fries to the seagulls. Now seagulls are maybe one step above pigeons in the flying rat hierarchy, but they get a kick out of it. I have to admit, I enjoyed getting one to take a fry directly out of my hand.

There are still some party boats based there. City Island has been a recreational fishing spot since at least the early 1900's. Lou Gehrig used to keep a rowboat there, my father rented a skiff more than a few times, though not with The Iron Horse. Back then, nobody had outboard engines, if you wanted to fish you rowed.

I've been meaning to rent a skiff from Jack's Bait and Tackle sometime myself, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The girls are still a bit young for me to take them out in a boat that small by myself.

City Island is in a great spot if you like NY History (and who doesn't?). Back before the America's Cup boats started to be more complicated than spaceships, The Minneford Boat Yard on City Island used to build most of the ships that defended the Cup. The island was a big bootlegging center during prohibition; I once met a guy who had rowed booze in from ships in LI Sound. That stuff ended when the mob moved in to control the flow of booze; they had their own unique methods of reducing competition.

Just to the East (you can see it from Johnny's Reef) is Hart Island. The ferry to Hart Island leaves from City Island. Hart Island is where the City buries paupers- I think they're now called the indigent. If you don't have a family or friends who will pay for your burial, this is where you go. The City has been burying people there since 1869, more than 750,000 is the number I found on the web, and that means it MUST be true. Anyway, my old Agency, the Department of Correction, actually handles the burials using inmate labor. My grandfather was briefly stationed there at the end of his DOC career, he hated it. Since most of the unclaimed bodies are infants, you can see how it would be a depressing place.

Hart Island was also the setting for one of the WORST movies I have ever seen, Don't Say A Word. I figured out that the loot was stashed inside a coffin on the island about ten minutes in- spent the rest of the movie trying to stay awake.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Screaming Cookies

I saw this photo on the food channel website. The cookies look exactly like The Scream. They're my next project. Stay tuned for an update. I guarantee they won't look as good as the ones here.
This is the same expression I get when I contemplate SU Football.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Perfect Fish

I’m a bit tardy with this, but better late than never. A couple of weeks back I took Devon and Megan on their first real fishing trips. Since the girls are still young I decided to take them separately; the fact that this let me go fishing twice in one week HAD NO BEARING ON THIS BRILLIANT PARENTING DECISION.

Since the girls are four and five (shortly to be six), I thought a half day trip was about all they could handle- good call there. I decided to take them on the Sea Queen VII which leaves from Sheepshead Bay. Forest Hills is only a 20 minute drive from Sheepshead Bay , so making the 8AM departure didn’t mean we had to get up at some ungodly hour. I could have done the afternoon trip but like most superstitious fishermen I always think that earlier is better. Now the rational part of my brain knows that tide and weather are important, but rational takes a holiday when it comes to fishing.

I took Devon on the first trip- since she is the younger child she is usually the second one to get to do things- going on the first boat trip was a huge treat. We caught a small fluke on the first drift. One of the things I was worried about was that the girls would be disappointed if they only caught small fish- no problem there. Devon was as happy with sea robins and skates as she was with the fluke- not having a fish in the cooler wasn’t a problem either. I think her favorite fish was the second one we reeled in- it was a sea robin that has narrowly escaped a bluefish and was missing a tail. It must have happened a while ago the would was completely healed.

Kyle the mate on the boat, was fantastic. He went out of his way to be friendly to Devon, he brought over all kinds of fish to show her and checked with us all day to make sure things were going well. Some boats think young kids are a pain, but these guys were absolutely fantastic.

Megan made the second trip of the week. Now getting Megan out of bed can be an adventure, but as soon as I told her it was time to get up, she popped out of bed raised her arms in the air and was ready to go- gotta love the enthusiasm.

For this trip I decided to take a shot with something new. I bought a package of Berkeley Gulp squid. I tried to get sand eels, but there were none at the Sports Authority.
Since Megan is a bit older I let her hold my rod (with a little help) and dead sticked a rental with the Gulp squid. Megan landed a fluke on the first drift, and I was shocked to find one had swallowed the entire squid even on my dead stick. That stuff really works. After about an hour Megan decided it was more fun to have Dad hold the rod until a fish bit- then she would take over the reeling duty, so we fished the power bait for the rest of the day and had steady action. Once again Kyle and his fellow mates worked their tails off and went out of their way to be friendly to Megan. We didn’t land any keepers, but the crew gave us the fillets from a keeper fluke that they caught along with a couple of cocktail blues. The fluke made great fish and chips.

We sandwiched in a visit to Yankee Stadium in between the two fishing trips. All in all a classic week.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ten Commandments

Debbie just finished her latest project, the Ten Commndments done as pictograms. For those of you who don't know what a pictogram is, think MEN AT WORK, (not the vegamite loving Australian guys).

As someone who has lusted in my heart for an IPHONE, I completely identify with Commandment 10.

Check it out

Monday, July 21, 2008


So I fixed the kitchen sink.

Not quite up there with building a twin seat turboprop in your backyard, but still.
I fixed the sink.

Growing up, my father handled all the repairs around the house. He could do oil changes, winterize the boat, put wood paneling up in the den (not such a good idea once we all escaped the ‘70’s and realized that paneling sucked), and in general did all the manly stuff.

Unfortunately, that part of the “Y” chromosome seems to have skipped a generation. I can assemble Ikea furniture (that’s how I learned all those cool Swedish swear words). I put Megan and Devon’s cribs together. I can change the vacuum cleaner bag, but the DIY channel won’t be giving me my own show any time soon.

Some reptilian part of my brain thinks I should be able to strap on a tool belt and make a six piece dining room set out of a single oak log. Especially if I cut it down with my own chainsaw, but it’s not gonna happen.

Every time I manage to make the smallest repair around the house it gives me an entirely unreasonable amount of pleasure. I have been turning the water on and off all afternoon and if I listen carefully I can actually hear the crown roar.

Of course since I am a geek at heart I have to confess I looked up instructions for changing a ball faucet on a YouTube video which cuts down on the macho factor by at least 50%. I especially appreciated the tip about blocking the drain so you don't send the parts for a tour of the sewer system.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Horror

When I was a kid I used to love to watch Creature Features. Creature Features was shown on Channel 5, one of New York’s then low-rent independent TV stations. It used to be broadcast at 8:30 on Saturday nights and I would tune in while my parents played canasta with our neighbors.

I never got too scared by the movies- though "The Blob" did give me a nightmare or two. Ever since then I have always enjoyed a good scary movie and I still love the campy 1950’s stuff, but it’s hard to find on broadcast TV. For some reason the Sci-Fi Channel hasn’t re-run “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” recently, even though Michael Landon makes a more convincing lycanthrope than Michael J Fox ever did.

I remember bits and pieces of these movies (I really can’t call them films), and one of the scenes that made an impression on me was a movie on featuring New England Witches. And I mean real witches, none of this eco-friendly wiccan crap- 100% genuine EVIL (and kinda hot looking at least to my 11 year old libido) WITCHES. I don’t recall any of the plot, but I clearly remember the hero of the film using the shadow of a cross to make all the witches burst into flame. Now if we were living back in the stone age (like say 1999), I would probably never be able to find out the title of that cinematic classic. But now thanks to billions of dollars in technology, countless hours of research from some of the finest minds in the world, I was able to type the words “film cross shadow witches burst flame” into the search window on my Google toolbar and I instantly discovered that the film was called “The Horror Hotel.” It’s also known as “The City of the Dead”- one title just wasn’t enough.

I tried to Netflix “Horror Hotel”, but as a result of some bizarre corporate oversight, no copy was available. I am going to have to go to Amazon and plunk down $9.99 for this little trip down memory lane.

As I recall the Creature Features portfolio leaned heavily on the 1950’s radioactive monsters. Channel 5 used to also run a lot of horror movies on Saturday afternoons, that’s when they also worked in a lot of Japanese Monster movies. The original Godzilla is a blast, watching how they inserted what appear to be almost random clips of Raymond Burr for the American audience is almost as much fun as watching Godzilla incinerate Tokyo. (For the record I prefer my Godzillas to be evil. No helpful Godzilla with cute offspring fighting off Monster X for me.) Channel 11 seemed to specialize in the more traditional Dracula and Frankenstein stuff, which I also like.

Anyway, I hope “Horror Hotel” arrives soon so I can see if it measure up to my memory. Maybe I can even get Debbie to watch it with me- but probably not.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wilderness Adventures

Well, our big trip into the wild is over. The laptop I borrowed didn’t have an antenna or a wireless card, so I couldn’t make any real-time updates, sorry to disappoint my thousands of loyal readers.

Kudos to the folks at Brookside. They run a nice little operation. It’s not a heavily wooded place, but there was plenty of stuff for the kids to do. They had a nice pool, a couple of mini-playgrounds including a thirty foot long replica of a wooden pirate ship. We split most of our time between the pool and the small brook than runs through the back of the campground.

If we had been staying for more than a weekend we probably would have made the trip over to the HiWay Drive-In Theater over about halfway between Catskill and Coxsackie. Debbie and I love the Drive-In and the kids are about old enough to give it a shot. They had a great compromise at Brookside, though. They show a kids movie on a big inflatable screen in the area that just happened to be next to our cabin. Big win for us, Debbie and I could stay by our campfire while the girls got to watch Ice Age 2. They felt very adult doing that by themselves (and we could still see them).

We left a bit early today, stopped off to laugh at the hippies in Woodstock and were home by mid-afternoon. All in all a great weekend.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Great Outdoors

This weekend is our first family camping trip. I have taken Megan camping twice before; we had a nice tradition of going with my cousin and his two sons. Unfortunately our weekends are both so full with birthday parties, T-Ball and soccer we haven’t been able to coordinate another trip.

Since Devon is now three (as she would say “Three and a half” accompanied by a look that implies I only have four functioning brain cells), she is ready for her first trip to the woods.

Well, not exactly woods. While the Brookside Campground has plenty of trees, it also has indoor plumbing. At Debbie’s insistence we are renting a trailer for the weekend. No need to share one of those communal bathrooms that bring back memories of college dorms. Megan and especially Devon are most definitely City kids. They are convinced that bears, and maybe lions and pumas may be lurking behind every tree. I’m a little more concerned with ticks and poison ivy. We’ll all smell like we swam in an “OFF” lake all weekend.

Still, I love sitting in front of a campfire toasting marshmallows. Debbie enjoys throwing them into the fire and watching them burn. (I've actually made my own marshmallows, quite deliciousand easy to do with a stand mixer). The campfire is the best part of these trips, global wrming be damned. Even without fire, there’s a lot to do in the area. If I can get our Wi-Fi connection to work, maybe I’ll make some trip-in-progress posts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indy Kicks Commie Butt

Sorry for the delay in my review of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. I have been overwhelmed with a flood of requests for my views. Since Indy only took in $375 million since Thursday, I’m sure Spielberg and Lucas are quaking in their boots.

I liked it.

Oh, you wanted more? I liked it quite a bit, there. Happy? As I said in my earlier post I went to opening night at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld, the perfect place to watch a “big” picture. The place was sold out; it’s always fun to watch an action movie in a packed theater with an excited crowd. This can sometimes mask an awful stench (yes, I’m thinking of Roland Emmerich's Godzilla), but a high energy crowd adds something to the experience as does top quality projection and sound.

The movie opens with Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, a dominatrix-cum commie leading a crew of Stalinist drones filling in quite nicely for the now vanquished Nazis. They are raiding the massive government warehouse holding every secret treasure from George Washington’s underwear to a familiar looking Ark. Blanchett makes a great Eastern Ice Queen/Villain, and is supposed to have some kind of mind control powers, forever endearing her to Comrade Stalin himself. I don’t know what kind of “paranormal” research the Soviets did, but the Nazis actually did perform what passes for “research” in the field. Himmler was especially interested in this stuff, many of the top Nazis were big believers in Astrology. I wonder if the expanded DVD- (and there will be several expanded DVD’s) will have some deleted scenes of Irina doing the whole mind control thing. Maybe bend some spoons or tell us these are not the ’droids we’re looking for.

Interesting aside--- Some whack jobs are actually managing to be offended by Spielberg/Lucas portrayal of Soviet KGB agents as villains. I guess those tens millions of people starved, shot or sent to the Gulags were just a bunch of whiners.

Anyway I’ve always viewed the Indiana Jones movies as comic book fare. And no, that’s not an insult. I’m not looking for a deep exploration someone’s inner torment, I don’t want a radical re-examination of post colonialism in a neo-Marxist light. I just want to see Indy kick the crap out of the villains, kiss the heroine and maybe dump Short Round off at an orphanage- hopefully one run by some really angry nuns- never could stand that kid.

The plot, such as it is, involves Indiana and his son, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) looking to rescue Karen Allen and John Hurt from the clutches of kidnappers in South America who are trying to learn the secret of the crystal skull. Of course the kidnappers turn out to be Cate and her merry band of Stakhanovites.

Indy and company travel up the Amazon and encounter a lost tribe of tomb guarding Amazonians (not the good kind, the all male poison dart blowing kind), ants with a taste for human flesh, monkeys with Shia LeBoef haircuts and, oh yeah, space aliens that seem to really, really like archeology.

It’s all held together by great chase scenes, a couple of pithy one-liners (my personal favorite is Indy choosing “I Like Ike” as his last words in front of a Russky execution squad). I’m glad Spielberg won the fight over using real stuntmen rather than the CGI stuff that overwhelmed the Star Wars prequels; it’s an old-school movie- it needed an old-school vibe.

Some folks have complained about the whole Alien thing, but is it any weirder than vengeful ghosts springing from the shattered Ten Commandments?

Two Thumbs Up.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indy Cinema

Tune in tomorrow for my review of the new Indiana Jones movie. My birthday present to myself is a night at the Ziegfeld in Midtown for the real premiere (the one where you don’t have to be named Turtle or Drama to get in).

The Ziegfeld is probably New York’s last single screen movie palace; most of the others have been either torn down, converted to other uses or made into multiplexes. Radio City is still operating, but hasn’t shown a regular schedule of movies since 1979. If they had held on a few more years they might have been able to ride the second wave of Disney animation, or they might have shut down entirely.

I’ve been to the Ziegfeld twice. Once for The Phantom Menace and again for Hannah Montana in 3-D. In retrospect Hannah was better. At the time I hoped the Star Wars prequels would improve instead they only sucked more.

Let’s hope that Lucas has done a better job with Indiana Jones. I saw the original and loved it; I even brought my then six year old brother to see The Temple of Doom- he was probably about six. Watching Amrish Puri rip someone’s still beating heart out might not be the best thing for a six year old, but since he never tried it out on any of the neighborhood kids no harm no foul. The third movie with Sean Connery was cool; the best part may have been River Phoenix playing the young Indiana where we learned exactly why he hates snakes (and where Indy got his fashion sense).

Anyway, will post a review tomorrow.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Confess

I confess. I am a food geek. I don’t have the time or the money be a foodie, so I’m inventing my own term. To be a foodie, you have to eat out six nights a week and order $100 entres. Not for me.

I’m not sure how I got started on this slippery slope. I used to cook back when I lived in my fraternity house. We were a little unique in that we didn’t have a professional cook. The brothers signed up to cook during our Sunday House Meetings. The $5.00 (Lunch) and $15.00 (Dinner) payments added up- do a couple of meals and you had beer money for the weekend.

I pretty much gave up cooking anything more complicated than a steak after I graduated, but about three or four years ago I started cooking again. I can’t really remember what set me off, but before I knew it, I was gazing longingly at pictures of Viking Ranges and All-Clad copper core pans (and yes I am aware of how pathetic that is).

Maybe it was reading Tony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential. Maybe it was to distract myself from the hideous implosion that is Syracuse Football.

One of the advantages of living in New York is that we have access to all kinds of food and produce. The Union Square Greenmarket and its’ numerous mini satellites bring incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables; many of the farmers sell heirloom varieties of produce that you will never see at the Wal-Mart superstore. You know you’re shopping at the right place when the guy next to you is wearing chef’s whites and he is being followed by a couple of commis with handtrucks.

No matter how good the fruits and veggies are, there is no danger of my becoming some kind of demented vegan. New York also offers easy access to top cuts of meats at places like Ottomanelli’s or Florence Meat Market. The kind of stuff that just isn't for sale wrapped in plastic in your supermarket. And every ethnic group on the planet has a New York based outpost selling the most obscure (and occasionally delicious) ingredients for their native dishes.

I have been aided and abetted in my newfound obsession by the Food Channel. Quite frankly most of their shows are pretty lousy, but there are some gems hidden in there. Last night I made zeppoli from a Giada Delaurentis recipe. (I did have to explain to Debbie that Giada's stripper-like low cut dress was actually NOT the reason people refer to the Food Channel as Food Porn). While the Megan and Devon were unimpressed, Debbie, our friend Lucy and I all enjoyed the zeppoli- much lighter and doughier than the little balls of cement you get at San Gennaro. I use a great steak recipe for coffee rubbed rib eye from Bobby Flay, I think I made some good Mario Batali minestrone once or twice.

My favorite TV chefs are Alton Brown and Jacques Pepin. Brown has been with the Food Network since almost the beginning. He mixes some great tips with all the science behind the cooking, which also give my inner science nerd a thrill. I got my fried chicken recipe from Good Eats, his show. Brown has so many rabid fans they actually post transcripts from his shows on a fan website- I’m not sure even Star Trek fans are that obsessed. While AB worked in commercial kitchens, Jacques Pepin is a classically trained French Chef who spent decades cooking professionally. Pepin does a great series called “Fast Food My Way,” the recipes are generally simple, really fast and pretty tasty.

My hobbies used to be much more macho- wreck diving, skiing, and watching SU sports (OK that one is not so macho). Still the logistics of making great sausage and peppers are slightly easier to manage than a trip to the Coimbra. Not that I’m getting old. Or boring.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Go Fish

I made my big fishing trip out to Georges Bank on Sunday. The first surprise was that we weren’t fishing on Georges Bank. We went a bit further north around the top of Cap Cod’s fishhook and were actually on Stellwagen Bank in the Gulf of Maine.

I left the house around 8:30 Saturday night and pulled into the parking lot for the Helen-H at around 12:30 AM. One of the “Groppe” genes I am most grateful for is the one that allows me to fall asleep almost anywhere, so I was able to put the car seat back and catch about an hour’s worth of shuteye. At about 1:30 a fair number of maniacs (I mean fellow fishermen) had arrived and were milling around waiting to board. The Helen-H allows you to board in order of when you made your reservation. People have favorite spots on the boat, some swear by the bow, others are convinced that the stern corners are best. I’ve seen more than one shoving match erupt over fishing spaces. I was the second name called and I immediately staked out the starboard stern corner. I think I disappointed some of the “regulars” by taking a spot they wanted, but they didn't seem to mind too much. Since there were only 27 anglers on the boat, we all got bunks, a key when you leave the dock at 3AM. After staking out my fishing spot and claiming a bunk, I rigged up with a 14 ounce LavJig, and crossed my fingers that all the knots I tied would hold.

I woke up a little after 6:30 and went out onto the deck to look around. The sun was low in the sky and the ocean was a dark, dark blue. Even more important, the seas were only 2-3 feet, since I tend to get seasick, this was a big win. As I looked out at the horizon, I saw something I had never glimpsed north of Florida, a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the boat, maybe twenty yards off the starboard side. Since stepping on a fishing vessel makes the most hardened science loving atheist as superstitious as a medieval villager with a pitchfork and a bonfire, we all immediately agreed that dolphins were good luck. The lone dissenter was immediately thrown overboard, which is also good luck. For us, not him obviously. Though it may end up being good luck for a passing shark. (OK we didn’t really throw him overboard, but don’t you hate people who try to harsh your buzz?)

Anyway, we started fishing a little bit before 7. Now jigging for cod is pretty straightforward. You drop your tackle over the side and wait for it to hit bottom. You can either let it bounce along the bottom as the boat drifts, quickly lifting the rod tip six inches then lowering again or you can go with a more aggressive up and down lifting the rod tip three or four feet. I didn’t have much time to decide what technique to use, I had a fish on as soon as my jig hit bottom. (I think I hit my fish on the head)

The cod was maybe about a foot long, well short of 24 inches the legal minimum, but still a great way to start the day. Five minutes later I had my first keeper fish in the cooler, I don’t know what felt better, knowing that the knots I tied had held up or that I wouldn’t have to stop off at a fish store on the way home to avoid being mocked by a five year old and a three year old who expected, nay demanded, a fish dinner.

We had a steady, if slow pick of fish for most of the morning, by noon I probably had five keepers maybe 8-pounds each. At that point, the fishing really dropped off and the captain decided to head to another spot. When we arrived there was another party boat and a large catamaran from the New England Aquarium. I assumed they were whale watching, and they seem to have picked a good spot for it. Suddenly a pod of whales surfaced about fifty yards off the stern. I had never seen a whale in the wild before, it was an amazing sight. For about twenty minutes the whales surfaced to around us, I think they were feeding, but since I can't do the Mr. Spock Vulcan/Whale Mind Meld I couldn't ask them directly. At one point they must have decided to go a little deeper, the suddenly raised their massive tails above the surface and headed down. The whales were gone. They probably ate so many sand eels that the cod left with them- anyway we weren’t catching anything, but I certainly didn’t mind. It was worth it to be close to something that amazing.

While I was happy with a nice catch and a glimpse of Moby Dick, some my fellow fishermen weren’t all that thrilled. They blamed the whales for eating all the bait and chasing away the cod. When you make one of these offshore trips you expect to catch a massive amount of fish and at least a third of the boat was getting skunked (no fish). The captain moved a couple of more times, then finally around 3:00 or so he put us on a nice patch of fish. For the next two hours I was into cod pretty much nonstop. A couple of my nearest neighbors still hadn’t caught anything, I’ll give them credit, they were nice about it. Not everyone can manage to be civil when their cooler is empty and the guy standing next to them is complaining his arms are sore. Not that I did that (loud enough for them to hear).

By the end of the day I had nine keepers on ice; I probably threw back at least three borderline legal fish. I had more than enough and didn’t see any point in keeping more. All in all a great trip. Next on tap is flounder or maybe fluke with Megan and Devon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gadus morhua

So this Sunday I am going codfishing- I hope. Like most saltwater fish, cod has greatly declined over the last thirty years, one of the only places you can reliable catch fish is Georges Bank. Georges Bank is basically a flat-topped underwater mountain off the end of Cape Cod. It holds an abundance of marine life, but the same conditions that fish love- the mixing of cold and warm water combined with a rapid change from abyssal depths to rocky shallows makes the weather completely unpredictable. These trips get cancelled a lot.

I have no logical reason for enjoying codfishing. They’re hardly gamefish, like tuna or striped bass, they fight for a few seconds then you’re pretty much hauling dead weight to the surface. You usually go in the dead of winter when the guys fishing on the bow (and it’s almost always all guys- women are generally much too smart to codfish) actually have to bring their rods into the cabin to melt the giant iceblocks that formed on their rods during the ride offshore. I like eating cod, but there are better tasting fish a lot closer to home. Still, if I could pick any trip as my favorite, it would be this one.

Maybe it’s because my Dad always enjoyed codfishing. When I was small he would take my older cousins out to Montauk. I was insanely jealous even though I knew I was much too young for an offshore fishing trip of any kind, never mind one where ten foot seas were considered pretty normal. When I was finally old enough to go I felt so adult I didn’t even mind not catching anything. It wasn’t until I was in college and we made a trip out of York Beach in Maine one summer that I actually landed my first cod.

The trips out of Hyannis to Georges Bank are a bit different than the ones I went on with my father. Most of the fishing is done with HUGE metal jigs. These suckers can weigh more than a pound and you tie them to your line with some extra hooks located anywhere from six inches to two feet above the jig. It’s not unusual to catch two fish at a time. Even a rank amateur like me has done it a couple of time. For most types of fishing you can buy ready made rigs (that’s the part of your fishing gear with the hooks), not so for these trips, you have to tie your own. My know tying skills are. . . well.. let’s just say I wouldn’t have gotten a merit badge for knot tying even if I had joined the Boy Scouts.

I do get a charge out of the, (and I’m keeping a straight face here), historical value of codfishing. There is a good chance Basque cod fishermen were landing on Newfoundland a couple of hundred years before Christopher, “Thanks for the corn and potatoes, here’s some smallpox”, Columbus blundered across the Atlantic, though some think he got the idea of a short westward journey to land from those same Basques. Since cod can be salted, dried then sold hundreds of mils inland, it was an invaluable source of portable protein for Europeans. The prospect of catching cod was one of the main lures of settling in New England. Mark Kurlansky wrote a short but great book called Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. A fun read, highly recommended even for those who wouldn’t go fishing on a bet.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alice's Broken Teacup

This morning, Debbie and I brought the kids into the City for brunch at Alice’s Teacup. There are at least three of these Alice In Wonderland themed places in Manhattan. I think they are trying for the Serendipity 3 vibe but without the rat and roach infestation.

After this morning’s experience, I might think I might have preferred the rats. When Debbie and I approached the hostess and asked for a table for four, the manager asked her “Are two of them kids?” When it was clear that the answer was yes, she told us there was a two hour wait for a table. Kinda surprising when there was an open table for four right behind her. I asked about the empty table, and she said it was reserved. Strange, since they only take reservations for parties of six or more. What was even stranger was that they seated four adult tourists with no reservation at the same table three seconds after turning us away.

Want to guess what the odds are of a return visit?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

St Patrick's Day

Well. It’s less than a week to go to St. Patrick’s Day. I remember watching the parade on TV with my parents; it was funny how Jack McCarthy, the announcer had an Irish Brogue that got thicker every year. Really funny when you found out he was born in New York.

I’ll be working on the 17th, but Debbie and I are throwing a St. Patrick’s Day party on Saturday. Since I’ve become obsessed with the Food Channel over the last couple of years, I’m in charge of the meal. It’s going to interesting trying to make enough corned beef and cabbage for 15 people, I’m probably going to have to boil them in shifts.

One of the great things about living in New York is that I can find top quality meat and produce. Ottomanelli’s has real old fashioned corned beef, cured in a barrel, not in a vacuum packed plastic pouch.

I’ve been to the Ottomanelli’s on Bleecker Street and to the one on Union Turnpike in Queens. I think there are four Ottomanelli’s in total, the original Ottomanelli had four sons, each got their own shop. The grandsons run them now. Every time I go there it’s like time travel, sawdust on the floor and enough red meat to make your average vegan choke with rage- which is pretty much their ground state.

Tony Bourdain nailed them perfectly. "Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein." ---End Rant

Corned Beef and cabbage may be one of the easiest meals to make- if you know a couple of pretty simple tricks. First and most important, DON’T BOIL IT. Bringing the corned beef to a full rolling boil for any length of time will turn it to rubber. Second, buy some good corned beef, well marbled with fat. Hey, you want healthy, go eat granola on Arbor Day.

Bob’s Corned Beef Recipe

One 2-2.5 pound corned beef – buy the good stuff from a butcher or see Alton Brown for a great way to make your own corned beef from a plain brisket.
One jar pickling spices
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Put the corned beef inside a large 8 quart pot, cover with about three quarts of water, the coned beef should be covered by about three inches of water. Add the pickling spices and salt and heat over a medium/medium high heat until it just starts to bubble. Adjust the heat so that it slowly bubbles. If you hit a full boil turn it down. Check it every 15 minutes or so to make it stays on the simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered for three hours.

And that’s it. I never cook anything in with the corned beef, though you can add spuds and cabbage at the end. I generally add some of the corned beef water to the cabbage pot- I find that neater than trying to do it all together.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bottle of What?

I feel compelled to respond to the overwhelming flood of enquiries regarding the title of my blog “Bottle of Smoke”. No it’s not the latest spice mix from Alton Brown, it’s one of my favorite Pogues songs.

I first heard about the Pogues back in 1984. I used to pick up copies of NME, the British music magazine. It had all kind of insider references that I couldn’t follow, but they kept printing articles abut a bunch of drunken Irish reprobates who were tearing up every music pub in the UK. I was able to find a copy of Rum Sodomy and the Lash and Red Roses for Me at the mall. Yes, at a chain music store in a mall. In Syracuse New York. Don’t ask me how those two chunks of vinyl found their way to the "Imports" section in the whitest of whitebread cities, I’ve always suspected divine intervention.

It took more than a few spins (and a few dozen beers) to get what they were trying to do, but I was hooked. Shane’s voice was still strong, his lyrics were amazing and the rest of the band had enough energy to reach right into my head and give everything a good spin. While they might have come out of the London punk scene, they could actually play their instruments, not always a given back then.

Now after a lifetime of whiskey and cigarettes (and no teeth) Shane sounds like Ernest Borgnine with a bad cold, but it almost doesn’t matter. His songs are beautiful, but never pretty.

For the last few years I have been celebrating my birthday at Belmont Park. It’s a surprisingly pleasant place to have a picnic, though I have always wanted to bet on “A Bottle of Smoke”
Bottle Of Smoke
By Shane MacGowan / Jem Finer (1988)
Thanks and praises
Thanks to Jesus
I bet on the Bottle of Smoke
I went to Hell
And to the races
To bet on the Bottle of Smoke

The day being clear
The sky being bright
He came up on the left
Like a streak of light
Like a drunken fuck
On a Saturday night
Up came the Bottle of Smoke

Twenty fucking five to one
My gambling days are done
I bet on a horse called the Bottle of Smoke
And my horse won

Stewards inquiries
Swift and fiery
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Inquisitions and suppositions
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Fuck the stewards
A trip to Lourdes
Might give the old fuckers
The power of sight
Screaming springers and stoppers
And call out coppers
But the money still gleams in my hand like a light

Bookies cursing
Cars reversing
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Glasses steaming
Vessels bursting
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Slip a fifty to the wife
And for each brat a crisp new five
To give me a break on a Saturday night
When I had the Bottle of Smoke

Priests and maidens
Drunk as pagans
They had the Bottle of Smoke
Sins forgiven and celebrations
They had the Bottle of Smoke

Fuck the Yanks
And drink their wives
The moon is clear
The sky is bright
I'm happy as the horses shite
Up came the Bottle of Smoke

Saturday, February 16, 2008

REM's Latest

I really, really want to buy the new REM record (yes, I still call them records- I’m a geezer, I admit it). I also really, really don’t want it to suck. But I’m not hopeful.

I don’t know what happened in 1991, maybe it was bad juju stemming from their fight with Peter Holsapple, maybe they just ran out of ideas. Did Bill Berry leaving take something away? My theory is that huge amounts of money mixed with universal critical acclaim generally produces crappy Rock and Roll.

Have they recorded one good song in the last 17 years? “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” and “E-Bow the Letter”, just ain’t making it folks.

REM meant quite a lot to me, over the years. Growing up on Long Island in the 70’s , I had been bombarded with 70’s Classic Rock, mostly supplied by WBAB. This was back when Stairway To Heaven was considered the greatest rock and roll song of all time, and Southern Rock (just typing it makes me want to retch), was at the top of the charts. About halfway through my senior year of High School, I tuned into this radio station that was playing stuff that was completely different, WLIR. While the AOR stations were not only playing the same songs, but even playing them at the same time EVERY FREAKING DAY, ‘LIR was playing Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, and every once in a while these guys from Athens Georgia. I was so bored with pop music and suddenly there was something new and alive- some if it was actually intelligent too.

My friend Pete was really the first one who turned me onto REM in a big way. He even bought a 12-string and could do the opening riff to Pretty Persuasion. It took me about a year to admit I had no idea what their lyrics were about, then I found out that the guys in the band probably didn’t understand all the lyrics. Who cares, it still sounded great. I was lucky enough to catch them live a few times, including once in the Onondaga War Memorial. Michael Stipe wore a dress- a Lenny Bruce inspired tribute to the anti-war movement. I had a hunch that the band would be staying a few blocks away at the Hotel Syracuse and I was right. Have to confess to a HUGE fanboy rush when Peter Buck and Michael both responded politely when I complemented them on the show.

For me they may have hit their peak at the MTV Unplugged session they did back in 1991. I recorded it onto a VCR and a cassette, then later bought a bootleg CD of the show from some company in Singapore. If I remember correctly I actually mailed them cash. Since I have bought at least half a dozen of their albums twice, once on vinyl again on CD, I don’t feel too guilty about cheating them out of royalties just that once. Mills, Stipe, Berry and Buck (along with Peter Holsapple) played a fabulous mix of newer and older tunes. Perfect Circle can still get me choked up, even though I can’t articulate why. My wife and I danced to their cover of “Love Is All Around” at our wedding.

And it’s been downhill ever since.

After all this blather I’ll probably still take a chance and download the new album from I-Tunes. I may even spring for the extended version with some live tracks. Fanboy wins over the cynic in me--- this time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why I can't do comics

The "Graphic Novel" seems to be the next great idea for both Hollywood and publishers. I've read a few, I liked Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "V for Vendetta" though both ended up as mediocre films. I haven't seen the film version, but Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis was amazingly brilliant.

I started reading "Y: The Last Man" a couple years ago, the plot twist grabbed me right away, every last man on the planet except for Yorick Brown (Y) suddenly drops dead of some unknown plague. Y was originally released in a series of comic books (yes I know 43 is a little bit old to still be reading comic books), but I didn't pick it up until the first two years or so were collected into softcover books.

I enjoyed them enough to continue reading the series right on through to the end, issue number 60 which I just finished. Even though I stuck it out until the end, it reminded me why I could never become a true comic geek. I simply don't have the patience.
I can bang through an issue in about 15 minutes. Then I'm supposed to wait six weeks for the next chapter? Not happening, think I'll wait for the thing to be collected in book form.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Most Annoying Children's Book

On Sunday mornings my oldest daughter Megan takes a cooking class. This morning Debbie took her to class while I went to Barnes and Noble with Devon, our youngest. Barnes and Noble is probably Devon’s favorite spot. She loves to pick out the books and have us read to her. A nice father and daughter morning--- UNTIL. . . she picked up Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. When I started reading it seemed like a normal NYCentric kids book. Drawings superimposed of what looked like Park Slope. The plot was pretty simple, girl (Trixie) goes to pre-kindergarden carrying her favorite toy, Knuffle Bunny. That should have set off warning bells, (what kind of parent sends their kid to school with a stuffed animal?), but I read on. It seems another girl has the same bunny. Since Trixie and her bitter rival can’t agree on who has the correct pronunciation of “Knuffle”, they end up fighting and the teacher confiscates both rabbits.

The teacher returns Trixie’s rabbit at the end of the day and she heads to the park, then home and later, to bed. However (and I’m sure you didn’t see this coming), Trixie realizes that “her” bunny has been switched. She comes into her parents’ room screaming “This is not my Bunny!!” Little Trixie demands that her parents IMMEDIATELY call their counterparts and arrange a hostage exchange.

At 2:30 AM.

Now in any civilized part of our planet, said child is, at best ignored, and at worst, well ACS has definite “Views” about that sort of thing nowadays. But in Park Slope Dad gets out of bed and is actually about to phone the other set of parents (AT 2:30 AM) when the phone rings. It’s the other parents calling to get their little princess’s bunny back. I’d say it must be something in the water, but since I used to do NYC DEP’s budget I know I’m drinking the same stuff. And no way in hell am I making that call at 2:30 AM. And I made sure to tell Devon that too.

I’m already on a bit of a rant here, so I don’t want to go overboard here, but who thinks that calling another family in the middle of the night is anything other than an
act of war? Or more accurately, an admission that you never should have reproduced in the first place.

What kind of person writes a book like this with a straight face? Mo Willems, that’s who. And I can’t tell you how disappointed that makes me. I absolutely LOVED Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Cute illustrations, the bus looked like it was Ralph Kramden’s ride. And when you have to read the same book fifty or sixty times, trust me, it’s nice to actually enjoy what you’re reading. I guess there’s a market for everything and someone has to write books for the “I’m raising a little god/goddess” crowd, but I wish someone else had picked up the gauntlet on that one.