Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pillow Fight!

Since I've already sullied myself by trafficking in viral videos, here's some more...

This one has the advantage of my favorite Charles Trenet song "Boum!"... what can I say, I'm feeling very French today.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cambot, give me rocket number 9...

I don't know if you noticed, Gentle Reader, but some of the earlier pictures I posted on this blog... sucked. Sucked like hull breach at Warp 9.

You see, somewhere along the way, a few months ago, I started thinking to myself that it would be nice to have a digital camera. Beenie has a digital camera, and I have borrowed it on occasion, it's nice. By happenstance and serendipity, my sweet Mom-in-law got herself a digital camera from one of her many sale shopping forays. It was an SVP DC-8690. Never heard of them? Neither have I.

Due to the complete lack of included manual and her less than complete knowledge of modern electronics equipment, she couldn't figure out how to make it work. So Beenie chimed in that if Mom didn't want it, she'd take it. So, Mom brought it with during her last visit and Beenie made a valiant stab at getting it to work... which she failed at horribly.

So the sucker got passed to me. Hey! 8mp camera? Hells yeah I'll take that off your hands.

I'm a gadget kinda guy, not even counting where I work and what I do for a living, so it took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to make it work. 5 minutes to figure out the features, the settings, the flash, where to put the memory card, how to set the timer... I even figured out how to turn it into a PC camera.

I spent the next month trying to figure out how the flippin' hell to get it to take a decent picture. Dark and blurry baby, that's just how we roll. Every damn picture I took looked like I was in a Noir piece and oscillating about 65rpm.

This lasted right up to my recent trip to Picnic Point to see the Morris Dancers. You may notice that the pictures I took there do not suck. This is because, after trying desperately to take ONE decent picture during the first dance, dearest Lisa (who eats paste) handed me her shiny Canon Powershot camera to use instead.

I imagine that this is how you would feel if you had just spent the last 12 hours rubbing sticks together and someone hands you a Zippo.

It was all too much to bear. I couldn't go back to that crappy camera afterwards. I lusted after it, I dreamed about it, I fantasized about taking frame after frame of decent quality pictures. So finally, with a little budget dancing, I bought one. After dealing with a little muck up on Amazon's part, I bid you greet my new little Blogging helper whom I shall call Cambot.

This is all just in time for me to correct the FAILure of my previous post. Fisherman's stew it was again tonight, so let us do it again, this time with pictures...

First, we fry up our fish...

Golden brown and delicious. Then we make a mass supply of crouton out of some nice Turano bread...

We mix, we season, we give it a good spin with the boat motor and finally...

... Voilà! I have food porn!

Hmmm... Man, plus Blog, plus Elph, plus web hosting... this is going to get very... graphic.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Food Porn: FAIL

Ghenne over at The Cutting Edge of Ordinary always has the best food porn. It makes me feel like a pathetic foodie cause I haven't been cooking as much as I should be lately.

But tonight was different. I get my inspirations from a lot of different places and tonight I was trying to reproduce something I saw on an episode of Cook's Tour, a fisherman's soup that involved purée'd fish, cream, a shot of Pernod and a variety of toppings like fresh garlic croutons and gruyere cheese.

Our local seafood shop, as such a shop is quite firmly positioned to do, makes it's own seafood stock out of shrimp shells and fish bones. At 2 dollars a pint, it's a very nice local foodie resource. Now if only other local meat suppliers would do as much (hint, hint Jacobson Brothers). So I picked up a few pints of stock with some potatoes, albacore tuna, chives and garlic at Willy Street.

It's actually a pretty easy soup to put together. I grilled the fish, warmed the stock, made my croutons with some slices of dense crusty bread brushed with butter, olive oil and crushed garlic, seasoned my stock with salt and white pepper (for the look), added three small diced potatoes and my chunks of fish (when they had finished grilling up GB&D), then I took the boat motor to the lot of it. Afterwards, I added a small shot of half and half. What you are left with is a very nice, thick, slightly gritty soup (the fish never quite purées all the way). I got stuck pondering the seasoning at the end. Salt and pepper added, it still needed that mysterious... something.

I would normally have reached for my trusty can of Old Bay at this point but for two things stopped me. 1. That's not what the original recipe called for and 2. Beenie doesn't like Old Bay. I started eying up that shot of Pernod.

Pernod is a anise tasting pastis that is consumed on hot days, sitting outside at a cafe, mixed with ice water. Think of it like a liquorice iced tea with alcohol. I suspect it wound up in dishes like fisherman's stew because of it's pervasive presence at just about every restaurant and cafe in France. Sooner or later, some Chef (probably plastered on that very product) threw some in his soup for the hell of it and liked the result.

Riding the indecision pony, I finally decided to give it a shot and made up a test batch in a coffee cup. I only added a little dribble, swirled it around the cup a few times and poured it out before adding a ladle full of soup. The Penod smell was so overpowering that I couldn't taste the soup through the smell for the first two bites. Finally my nose settled down and I managed to concentrate. It's different. Anise is peppery and kind of exotic tasting. It made an interesting undernote to the soup and seemed to complete the dish in a somewhat obtuse way. I wound up adding a cap full to the final pot, in retrospect, I probably could have thrown in a whole ounce.

The final product looked so good. Big bowl of creamy soup with a few toasted croutons floating on top with some shredded gruyere cheese and some snipped chives to garnish. I served it with a big pile of croutons and extra cheese to add as you went along. It was BEAUTIFUL.

I remembered about halfway through my bowl that I wanted to take a picture.


Soooo... you'll have to trust me that it was mighty. Beenie is half passed out on the love seat after finishing her bowl. This one definitely goes on the "do it again" list.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It is now, officially, Spring.

Fair reader, let it be know that it is officially Spring. The Morris has been danced.

It is almost impossible to explain to someone why I woke up at 3:30am this morning, dressed silently and slipped out of the house in the pre-dawn dark to drive out to Picnic Point with my old friend Lisa (who eats paste), where we hiked for 20 minutes through the twilight just to watch a "silly" folk dance. Trust me, I've tried. I took almost devilish delight in making my strange explanations to friends and co-workers just so I could see the odd, dumbfounded look on their faces. "You're gonna do what? Why? What kind of dancing?"

In case you are wondering, and I know you are, Morris Dancing is a folk dance that was old when Shakespeare was still writing. It involves a "side" of six dancers whose dances are performed with oak sticks that they beat together in rhythm or long white handkerchiefs that they wave about as they go. The best part, however, are the bells they wear strapped below their knees which jingle in time with their steps. It's rather comforting to know that when you attend these events, you will never have to worry about a Morris Dancer sneaking up on you. Traditionally, the most important dance of the year is done at sunrise on May 1st, the old first day of Spring. If the Morris is not danced and if nobody is there to watch it, Spring will not come. This is very true.

I am a reasonable man and an empiricist. I believe in truth, fact and evidence, but I also believe that if the Morris is not danced, and someone is not there to watch it, the seasons will not change. I believe this because their has to be an exception to the rule. I believe this because everyone should believe in something that isn't true, if for no other reason than as an exercise. I believe this because "A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the King." I believe this because cynical bastards are inevitably drawn to whimsy and absurdity to ease their soul.

I'm not a particularly big fan of folk dancing. I'm a big fan of folk music, but not dancing. I am, however a big fan of Terry Pratchett, whom I consider something of a inspiration and teacher. I am particularly a big fan of his books Reaper Man and Wintersmith, in which Morris dancing feature quite prominently. I have also been know to have custom with some of the more benevolent Old Gods when it suited my purpose and I do believe that respect should be paid. While I am nominally a philosophical Taoist, I think that all agrarian religions should stick together somewhat and I do consider myself a "pagan" under the blanket term. Besides, I love a good party and I've been wanting to drag my ass to a May 1st morning Morris dance since I first found out about Oakapple Morris five years ago. Now that I live in Madison, I figured I really have no excuses.

After a few wrong turns and a quick, lakeside cartographic consult, we found the parking lot and spotted Morris Dancers in their spring plumage heading up a darkened path. We grabbed our flashlights and with my trusty walking stick, we headed up the path onto Picnic Point.

After about 20 minutes of hiking and a few breathless moments we arrived at the end of the point to find folks already gathering and a fire already burning in the ring. It's right about there that I started wishing I'd brought some bakery items to share.

We were greeted warmly by Oakapple's accordion player and her ever-so-lovable puppy Angel. We spent a few minutes talking to everyone as we waited for the sun to rise. Somewhere in there, Lisa (who eats paste) got talked into keeping a leash on Angel. Hardly a horrible task for such a sweet puppy.

There is something really rather gratifying about being up that early in the morning. I've always been a sunrise person (though more from working on third shift than anything) and you could not ask for a more beautiful setting than a tiny spit of land, out in the middle of a beautiful lake, campfire burning, sun rising, a beautiful panorama of the capitol buildings in the background.

Finally, at the appropriate time, the dancing began.

There is something so wonderfully absurd about Morris dancing. What can you say about a dance that incorporates such characters as the "Fool" or "Betty", which is a big hairy guy wearing a lovely pink dress...

.. who danced his way back...

...and forth through the dancers without getting smacked by a big oak stick,

... and a "Hobby", which is usually a horse but, given that this is Wisconsin, around here, it's a cow.

I have always suspected that it's so much more fun to DO than to watch. But it's the absurdity of the whole affair that drew everyone together. "Here we stand, in the cold, at 5:30 in the morning, watching a bunch of people with bells on, waving handkerchiefs in the air." It's at that point that you realize that there is NO WAY for you to look cool doing this, so you stop trying, relax and enjoy yourself all the more for it. The funny part was watching the morning joggers running up the path, into the clearing, looking around with a puzzled expression and running right back out again.

After the side had completed their performance and received their meet of applause, we settled in for the traditional May 1st activity of gilding the Maypole (with reminders by me of what a Maypole supposedly represents, I just can't help myself, I'm 12.)...

... with musical accompaniment.

Afterwards we gathered around the fire for some traditional semi-bawdy folk songs and the burning of the "winter witch" as our symbolic last goodbyes to Winter. Then we headed out, having earned, as it were, our breakfast.

On the way home, denied my breakfast companion by the cruel march of time and the demands of corporate America, I stopped off for a breakfast bun and a bottle of juice before returning home and seeking my bed. As I walked across the parking lot, I couldn't help but be drawn to the sound of birds chirping. It seemed the sun shined a little brighter, the air was a little sweeter and the breeze a little warmer. Inside, I had to stand behind some poor, hectic executroid who was stressing about the dietary content of his decaf macchiato. I had this terrible urge to drag him outside, point at the sky and remind him... It's SPRING. Relax. Take the day off. Go fishing, go hiking, go sit in the grass with a six-pack and get drunk.

It's Spring, after a long winter, and today the world is full of potential.