American Graffiti.

Some people call it ugly. Some people call it art. I call it urban enhancement.

Not Made To Last.

Most of the graffiti I find stays around a long time because it’s painted directly on walls. Unless somebody comes and paints over it—and it seems like there’s a certain amount of respect among taggers; if something gets painted over it’s usually erasure rather than replacement—most of it lasts as long as the paint does. So I can document it in photos but it’s not like I can take it home and frame it and hang it on a wall. It would take some pretty heavy equipment to do that. And a heavy wall.

So this collection was a surprise. You can’t really see it because it’s a photo but each of these painted rectangles is a standard 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper glued to the wall. I was able to partly peel one away and they’re on heavy card stock rather than standard printer paper, but still they weren’t painted directly on the concrete. They could, if someone wanted to, be taken away, even framed and hung on a wall. I was even tempted to do that. I like the one on the top left corner a lot, but it was glued so well I was afraid I couldn’t remove it without damaging it. Also it just didn’t seem like it would be right to break up the set.

This tag was added nearby:

I don’t know if this was the group responsible for the individual pictures, although the yellow has been there for at least six months, and “Creekside Social v3” was added just a few weeks ago, never mind what I said about there being a certain amount of respect among taggers. At least they didn’t cover it up. Anyway I’m not even sure if the pictures were done by a group or a single person, but they’re so different from each other I like to think there were nine different artists—or, heck, maybe even just three, who created individual works and left them there.

The paint and heavy paper mean they’ll hold up for a while but, unlike the brick, or even paint applied directly to brick, they won’t last as long as some of the other graffiti. Of course nothing lasts forever.

Happy Twelfth Night.

Leftovers.

At the end of A Christmas Story, just after the Bumpus hounds have demolished the Christmas turkey, which is really a terrible scene because, if you look closely, you can see there was a real dog fight on the set there which makes me feel guilty for laughing so much, Ralphie thinks,

The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!

And it always gets me. First I think, how in the world does a family of four get that much use out of a single turkey that wasn’t that big to begin with? Even using every part—okay, the boiled carcass would make plenty of soup, and the hash could be stretched with a lot of veggies and bread crumbs, but still, Turkey a la King? Given the Old Man’s love of turkey it’s hard to believe there’d be enough left over for Turkey a la Peasant—although you could stretch it with beef and call it Serf and Turf.

What always follows, though, is a wave of nostalgia for Christmas leftovers. We did usually have enough for a few turkey sandwiches, some broccoli casserole, a little dressing, but it’s the sweets I really remember. My mother would make piles of buttery cookies, a mountain of fudge, a whole tree’s worth of sugared pecans, and stacks and stacks of kolache. We’d nibble on these in the days leading up to Christmas, and I’d stockpile an assortment in my room for midnight snacking. It’s a wonder I didn’t have a roach infestation although for my thirteenth birthday I got a snake who would have taken care of that, although he seemed happy with his regular diet of nightcrawlers and guppies. I may even have overfed him a bit; he shed five times in a year and may be the only garter snake the size of a boa constrictor, but that’s another story. And then there was Christmas candy the neighbors shared with us, and cupcakes and frosted cookies I brought home from school. There was seemingly enough to last the whole winter, although somehow they never lasted until it was time for school to start again, not even as long as Twelfth Night.

The cornucopia of Christmas presents was fleeting, over in a few hours, but the Christmas leftovers lasted. So here’s to stretching out the holiday joy just a little bit longer. And being old enough to stockpile the leftovers in the fridge, away from the dogs and also the roaches.

Also depending on when and where you grew up this might bring back some post-holiday memories.

Not Over, But Easy.

Source: Pinterest

Every year on the day of Christmas Eve my wife has one wish: a dish of Eggs Benedict. It’s not named after either Benedict Arnold or the actor who played the Jeffersons’ British neighbor, although, in honor of the late and brilliant Norman Lear, I’ve been trying to think of one. It was on an episode of The Jeffersons that I first heard of Eggs Benedict—specifically “My Maid, Your Maid”, season eight, episode four. It just sounded very fancy and I was thrilled when I finally got to try it a few years later. That may be too tangential a connection, though. Eggs Benedict is allegedly named after a New Yorker named Lemuel Benedict who wandered into the Waldorf Hotel and asked for eggs, bacon, toast, and a shot of Hollandaise as a hangover cure.  Here’s the recipe I use for anyone who’d also like to give it a try. This recipe serves three, or six people if you’re serving it with a side dish, or one person if they’re really hungry and are trying to send their cholesterol level off the charts.

You will need:

  • About three billion eggs, or maybe only a dozen
  • A pound of butter (or two eight ounce sticks) at room temperature
  • Six tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Three English muffins (which are neither English nor muffins)
  • Canadian bacon (purely optional)
  • Wooden shoes

First halve and toast the English muffins. Classic Eggs Benedict calls for a slice of ham on the English muffin halves, but for some that may be too much. Tasty alternatives include slices of avocado or smoked salmon or nothing or whatever you want.

Poach six eggs. If you have an egg poacher you can use that. I’ve also poached the eggs by adding water and a small amount of vinegar to a shallow pan, but that’s tricky because you have to keep the water just below boiling. Place an egg on each of the English muffin halves.

You can now set this aside in a warm oven.

The Hollandaise sauce is the hard part, but it comes together quickly. Oh, wait, that’s why it’s hard. This ain’t a recipe you can walk away from. First separate the yolks from the whites or, to be more accurate, from the clears. It’s okay to leave some of the clear with the yolks. Since this version of Hollandaise sauce is basically a savory lemon custard–yes, you’re serving eggs over eggs–some albumen will help it hold together. 

Combine the egg yolks and the lemon juice in a pan over low heat.  

Add half the butter. Stir slowly.

Once the butter is melted continue stirring for about a minute then add the second half of the butter. Stir vigorously. At this point the eggs will start to cook and the sauce will thicken. This is when you have to work fast. Just after the butter is completely melted the sauce is culinary nitroglycerine. It won’t blow up but it is seriously unstable. Get it off the heat and evenly distribute it over the English muffin halves and poached eggs.

For some color sprinkle on a little paprika or some parsley or both for a seasonal red and green effect. In fact this is a recipe and those aren’t written in stone, so if you want to substitute actual muffins and Cadbury chocolate eggs go for it. Earlier this month I went out for brunch and had a version that substituted fried green tomatoes for the English muffins and skipped the Canadian bacon because it would have been too much. It was excellent, though.
Serve on hubcaps because there’s no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise.

The World In A Grain Of Sand.

Several birthdays ago my parents gave me this glass octopus dish. I like it a lot and always keep it in a place where I see it regularly. And now I have a new appreciation for it knowing that there’s a long tradition of sea animals made of glass. Specifically there’s an exhibit right now at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut of marine invertebrate figures made by a father and son, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, in the mid-nineteenth century. The amazing thing is these weren’t decorative figures. They were intended to be lifelike reproductions to be used by scientists to study the forms and anatomy of marine invertebrates.

What’s really interesting to me is they were working in Germany and produced thousands of these figures, a lot of them quite small—apparently life size—at about the same time a home aquarium craze was sweeping Victorian England. In the fall of 1846 Lady Anna Thynne (1806-1866) returned to her home in Westminster with some living corals she’d collected on a trip to Torquay. After aerating the water by hand and having barrels of seawater shipped to her home she tried adding plants and some other animals to her jars. This was how she created the first home aquariums, keeping specimens alive in her home for several years and eventually publishing a scientific paper of her observations, which ain’t bad for a Victorian housewife with no formal education. She even inspired the famous naturalist Philip Henry Gosse to create the Fish House at the London Zoo, as well as making marine aquariums popular fixtures in Victorian homes.

All this is possible because of glass which is made from sand, the tiny, broken pieces of corals and the shells of other marine animals.

Source: Sierra Club

And some of the Blaschka models really do look like living animals—you can check out 3-D scans of a few here. Others look like genuine works of art, like their model of a blue sea dragon (Glaucus atlanticus). If you’ve ever seen one of these, though, you know that’s really what they look like—the model is an eerily accurate interpretation. There’s no better inspiration for art than nature itself.

Source: Brooklyn Rail

Use Every Part.

Traditionally people who live close to nature and depend on hunting use every part of the animals they capture, from skin to meat to bones. This isn’t just true of indigenous people. People who live on farms who, say, raise hogs often take pride in saying they “use everything but the oink”. Anything leftover gets turned into scrapple. This is also true of the Sami people who, for thousands of years, subsisted in northern Scandinavia by, among other things, herding reindeer which provided them with meat, clothing, tools, and even milk.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Rudolph’s cereal it’s because I had a whole rant planned about how I couldn’t figure out who the target audience for the cereal was, aside from a few weird Gen-Xers like me who get nostalgic for the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials. And from that I was going to segue into the tired complaint about how streaming services have taken what used to be special, once-a-year events that brought people together and turned them into something you can watch any time.

I’d much rather praise the ingenuity of people who don’t let anything go to waste. And also the designers of the Rudolph cereal. The team behind it really put some thought into it. It only has a mild chocolate taste–not the “hot cocoa” flavor as promised, even if you heat it up–and the “marshmallows” are the standard crunchy sugar bits most commonly found in Lucky Charms, but there was serious effort put into making custom shapes just for this cereal.

My only complaint is what they claim each piece represents. Here’s what it says on the side of the box:

And here’s what each piece really is:

They also put a game section on the back and an “ornament” you can cut out. It’s not bad but I wish they’d found some way to encourage kids to use every part of the box.

Jive Turkey.

I’ve always had a fascination with advertising and the subtle, or not so subtle, ways things are sold to us. Sometimes I’ll see the way something is packaged and start analyzing all the decisions that must have gone into it and I’ll think, that’s very clever. And sometimes I think, wow, whose idea was that? Like when I saw these sugar cookies. That’s it. They’re just plain sugar cookies with a turkey design but what stands out, obviously, is the giant word TURKEY splashed across the package. If you see that you’re not going to think “Sugar cookies.” You’re going to think turkey. And I like turkey. I look forward to Thanksgiving, and also Christmas when we sometimes have turkey again. I think a lot of people have turkey at Christmas because they like turkey but also goose, which is considered more traditional, just isn’t that common in the United States.

My parents cooked a goose for Christmas one year. I’m not sure where they got it. I like to think there was one less Canada goose wandering around the park, but that’s another story. As for the taste, well, I don’t remember it very well but I think it was slightly gamey and closer to chicken than turkey. What I do remember is the globs of gelatinous fat that bubbled around it in the baking pan. Geese are a lot leaner than turkeys so they leave fewer leftovers and what is left is better suited for stews, which makes sense for large Victorian England families looking to stretch their winter food budget. Turkeys, for Victorian England families, would also be an import, unlike geese which could be sourced locally. Just not Canada geese.

The fact that this is all that I thought about after seeing the TURKEY sugar cookies just illustrates how terrible the packaging design is. I did at least think to go back and take a picture of the packaging but it wasn’t until the next day that I thought I should buy them for the sake of this post, and to see just how badly the design comes out once they’re finally baked, and to confirm that they do not, in fact, taste like TURKEY, but they were already gone. Maybe they were a Thanksgiving special—though they were put out after Black Friday. They’d been replaced by “ornament cookies”, which were also plain sugar cookies, but red with frosting.

That was a smart decision.

Light ‘Em Up.

A few weeks ago I saw signs around the neighborhood advertising professional holiday light hanging and installation. Before I could get a picture they were replaced by signs for professional gutter cleaning which seems like a bit of a letdown.

Part of me thinks that at least part of the point of having holiday lights on your house, and also part of the fun, is putting them up yourself. Then again that may not be everyone’s idea of fun. When I was a kid I begged my parents to decorate our house with lights because I loved riding around seeing other houses that were brightly lit. Finally my father got a few strings of candy-colored lights he draped around the holly bushes at either end of our house after Thanksgiving and I realized having holiday lights outside your house isn’t that exciting when you’re inside and can’t see them. Also we lived on a cul-de-sac so the only people who’d see our lights were our neighbors and people who’d taken a really wrong turn. Also they were one more thing that had to be put into storage at the end of the holiday season and, unlike the decorations inside the house, required going out in the cold. Strings of holiday lights also get bored during the almost eleven months they’re packed away so they spend the time wrapping themselves around each other which is why they always have to be untangled when it’s time to bring them out again.

That’s one reason I’m not going to criticize people who hire professional holiday light installers. The other reason is, according to their website, their introductory price starts at $699.00, and anyone who’s paying that much just to get holiday lights installed for, at most, two months, can afford not to care what I think.

Also really do I like the idea of giving people who want to put up lights but who, for whatever reason, can’t do it themselves a professional option, and it makes me appreciate those who do it themselves—there’s one house I drive by on my way to work that always has an inflatable Santa and an inflatable Hanukkah Bear. At least one night in December my wife and I will also make a couple of mugs of hot chocolate and drive around looking at different decorations. The professional ones may look a bit more polished—every string perfectly placed around the eaves with nothing dangling or irregularly draped around an untrimmed bush—but every one will still be slightly different.

Who Made This?

Source: Reddit

A friend sent me this chart of foods and we got into a pretty lengthy discussion about how some of them aren’t that surprising. I’ve heard the origin story of nachos several times: a guy nicknamed “Nacho” working as a cook at a club in Piedras Negras, Coahuila threw together some fried tortillas with shredded cheese and sliced jalapenos. General Tso’s chicken is another one that doesn’t surprise me. It’s so obviously an Americanized version of “Chinese” food I’m surprised it goes back as far as the 1970’s—although there’s a dispute over who actually invented it. The same is true of chicken tikka masala.

Others really do surprise me, though. Sticky toffee pudding only dates from the 1960’s? It seems like such a traditional English recipe I still believe it probably originated as a home-cooked dessert long before it made its way into the restaurant that claims to have “invented” it. That would be the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater, but, again, there’s a debate, with other parts of England and also Quebec claiming to be the point of origin.

And that gets me into what’s really confusing: how do you invent a food? Sure, you can invent a recipe, but this is the thing that I think must give most law students, and even a lot of lawyers, headaches when they start dealing with copyright issues. You can copyright the form that an idea takes but you can’t copyright an idea. With recipes that means you can copyright the exact wording of a recipe—and I know there have been some plagiarism fights over cookbooks—but you can’t copyright the idea. Nashville’s own hot chicken can trace its origins back to  Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, but the Prince family that still operates the place can’t copyright the idea of hot chicken which is why there are so many knockoff versions of it.

And that’s just talking about recipes whose origins are known. Nobody knows who invented most dishes. Whoever told me when I was a kid that Spaghetti was the name of a guy who traveled with Marco Polo and brought pasta from China to Italy was either seriously misinformed or outright lying.

All recipes are also just really combinations and recombinations of existing ingredients. With that in mind, and for your holiday entertaining if it sounds like something you’d like, here’s a recipe my mother invented she calls “garbage snacks”. It’s something she threw together for a party, combining stuff she just happened to have around, and, while the idea is hers, the wording here is mine:

Combine shredded cheese, finely chopped turkey or chicken lunch meat (thin-sliced works best), and diced black olives with mayonnaise. Exact amounts can vary as long as the end result is a fairly solid paste.
Spread on Triscuit crackers. Again the exact amount can vary but about a tablespoon is enough.
Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes, or until the cheese melts and all the ingredients come together.

For such a simple recipe they have a very distinctive flavor that people seem to either love or hate. Personally I love ‘em but that’s true of all recipes. Tastes vary.

In Memoriam.

Sometimes in the park or even around my neighborhood I’ve seen lost pet signs. I always stop and take down the contact information just in case, although I’ve never seen a loose dog running around our area. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose a pet like that and never know what happened to them. There was one time, not long after my wife and I were first married, that we accidentally left the gate open. We had three dogs. Two wandered out into the neighborhood. The third, the oldest, a tall skinny dog named Jacob who was also my wife’s first Dalmatian, stayed in the yard and barked to let us know what had happened. After we got Jacob inside we drove around the neighborhood and found the other two just one block over. They both seemed relieved to see us.

Of course losing any well-loved pet is hard, even if you’re with them at the end and get that chance to say goodbye. Because every pet is unique every loss is too, which is why they never get any easier. There are only two things I’ve found that help a little: time and being around others who know how it feels. Even years later talking to someone about a loss can help. It brings up the pain, but it brings up the love and the joy too.

I’ve never met Elizabeth but I hope sharing Buster helped her. I hope she knows it helped others.

Mix It Up.

My wife has enjoyed chai, I think, for as long as we’ve both been eating Indian food, which is a pretty long time. The first time I had Indian food, which was in Columbus, Ohio—it hadn’t reached Nashville yet—the beverage was mango lhassi. It was delicious but I wish I could go back and order chai, if it had even been on the menu. I don’t remember what the main dish was, but I think it was chicken tikka masala, which isn’t technically Indian—some sources say it was invented in Glasgow of all places, but probably by a chef from Bangladesh or Pakistan, but I do remember it was tasty.

Anyway my wife has tried for years to find a chai recipe she liked that she could make at home, including mixing her own, but only recently found one that’s as good as what we’ve had in restaurants. And sometimes I make it which leads to conversations like this:

Me: This chai didn’t turn out right. I guess I could…
Wife: I’m stopping you before you say “chai again”.
Me: Chai harder.
Wife: You’re on thin ice.
Me: Chai another day.
Wife: You’re chai-ing my patience.
Me: Tomorrow never chai’s.
Wife: That’s enough.
Me: The chai who loved Me.
Wife: I said…
Me: Live and let chai.
Wife: Get out.

And then the company that makes her chai blend sent her the “get rich or chai tryin’” sticker. I can’t get away with it but they can. Fair enough—they’re professional chai makers and I’ll leave the puns to them because they’re better at those too. For me, I’ve got no time to chai.

Source: giphy