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Face Down in the Kool Aid

Face down in the Kool Aid....

I heard or read this phrase recently. It was used to describe the voters supporting Donald Trump. I think it succinctly sums up his voting block at this point in the election glide path;  a glide path that's likely going to result in a fiery crash at the end of the runway. Make no mistake - once Hillary wins, the shit storm will begin in earnest. A storm that no Aircraft of State will be able to navigate without fatal malfunction. Republican's will continue their blockade against the Non White Guy in the West Wing. Scandals will swirl like the water in a toilet with excellent plumbing - the suction down will be incredible. It will probably take a good many of us with it. And the blockading and the scandals will be the good news.  The land will be littered with roaming bands of disgruntled, angry, well armed Trump supporters who will no doubt be flogged into a raging froth of violence by their Dear Leader.  His campaign won't stop with the ugly beat down he's going to receive on November 8 - he will keep going.  His ego demands it. His rampant narcissism will lead him by the nose through biker club houses, rodeos, swap meets, stock car races, big buck nights, turkey shoots and cross burnings in a feverish effort to fan those hater flames and feed the seeds of sedition with his poisonous patriotism moonshine.

This election cycle revealed flaws in long time friends that I had no desire to see and chose to ignore for the sake of all those years we have been together. This election has tested those friendships and stretched my patience, tolerance and credulity to the breaking point. I have resisted asking my very best friend of over 40 years which way he's leaning and why. He has always been a conservative Republican and I think he's probably siding with the party's nominee. I don't ask, because I don't want to hear this sharp, quick witted and highly intelligent lifelong friend of mine rationalize why he is obligated to vote for Trump.  I would be afraid of hearing him say that it's not a vote for Trump but a vote against Hillary.  I would be disappointed. And getting disappointed by friends in such a way is always just sad.  But we take these flaws and disappointments in stride and keep ahold of those ties that bind despite all that.  I know that my friend T has a misogynistic streak that is buried so deep that it is always surprising to me when it appears.  I know he will hate having Hillary as president.  He says he loves women and he has a good deal of female friends who adore him. That said, his relationships have never panned out because even though he loves women, he does not respect them as equals.  Sadly, I don't think he views Trump's behavior with women as much more than his due as a celebrity and Man of Wealth and Power. And I don't pry. I'm keeping the peace because of all the good qualities about him that I like. They far outweigh the bad. But the safe things we can talk about seem to be getting less and less as the years go by.

 As for my other friends - its a mixed bag. I spent five days with a lot of them at a reunion get together this summer and I was able to take stock. Some I might as well write off because we simply have nothing in common anymore.  Others have not changed all that much over the years and continue on being who they've always been.  It's how it is with everyone and old friends.  Notably, my friend J, a retired Air Force colonel, got into a respectful intense argument with me about HIllary's e-mails and handling of Top Secret material. He complained of the double standard that allowed her to break the rules and stay out of jail while he would have been summarily sent to Levenworth Prison if he had done the same thing while on active duty. My contention was that I thought he was being naive if he didn't think there were different rules between the likes of us and the rich and powerful. It is the way America has grown to be and to cry about it while offering no other alternative than a pathological narcissist con man to lead us to a Great America is not only weak sauce but irresponsible and dangerous.  We called each other names. Perhaps we shouted. But in the end we agreed to disagree and smoked a joint to seal the deal.  Other friends were not so willing to bury the political hatchets for the sake of friendship and that made for an awkward few days of avoiding the elephant in the room. Small talk, talking about our kids, telling jokes and re-hashing old adventures became the rule. Which is probably how it should have been anyway.

 And now, here we are.

I've blocked no one from my social media and my feeds are filled with Trump's face. It is a testament to his mastery of self promotion that his visage is everywhere and even though Hillary's is  probably there just as much - it doesn't seem like it. I say I haven't blocked anyone - that's not necessarily true if you are counting hiding posts as blocking. I've done a LOT of hiding. I totally blocked a few long time internet friends long ago when Obama took office and their rampant racism spilled all over their pages.  I have a lot of chef/cook friends and it is appalling to me that they could be so outright racist when the backbone of many of the restaurants and food establishments they work for, or own rely heavily upon Latino, Asian, African American and yes, undocumented workers. Their blind hatred was intolerable and there was no good reason to remain in contact with them. They are lost and good riddance.  Although I do regret dumping them a little - I feel like I should keep an eye on those sort of people that I know. Like  Donald in the last debate when he asked that Muslims watch other Muslims and "report stuff", I feel like I should be on the lookout in my own back yard.  For those Trump fans that I know. Especially now, when it looks like all hell's about to unleash upon the land and getting a good heads up could make a difference.

My kid's boyfriend thinks its a great idea to open a Tiki Lounge here. He knows the owner of one of the nation's highest rated micro breweries who told him it was a great idea. I told the boyfriend to ask the guy for 100K in seed money in order to find out what his level of "great" really is.

I don't get into politics much on FB but I did dive into the pool a little today. A college friend of mine expressed his Fear of Trump in a very eloquent manner on his page and before I could reply with my own 4 sentence comment that took barely 30 seconds to finish, there were a dozen replies back from Trump supporter friends of his going on about how the media is misrepresenting the man and how if you just listen to him he makes a lot of sense. I wonder how many of my own FB friends on my feed would rise to comment about why they support Trump and how fast I would kick them off my page.

I'm probably going to post pictures of the food I cook here on Written Down Life, but I'm ambivalent about including recipes. I don't want things to get all Food Network/Pinterest around here.

My new boss is kicking ass and taking names. I'm trying to keep my ass intact but he already knows my name. So far so good, though. He's pretty much given me everything I've asked for, which I look at as either a good thing or the big coil of rope with which I'll hang myself.

Currently reading the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh and enjoying it very much. An historical fiction with more history than fiction. A study of the Opium Wars, the limits of empire and the birth of the modern world from the depths of the mid 19th century. Great detail without hindering the flow of the narrative. I particularly like how Ghosh uses the vernacular of the times and locations. He sprinkles his writing with Hindi, Mandarin, English, and Pidgin without bothering to translate. One learns the meanings of the words from the context or plot point. I like that. I'm almost finished with the trilogy and I'll be sad to finish.

Also reading one of the latest novels from Michigan author and legendary gourmand, Jim Harrison. I have loved this man's writing since the first book I read way back in high school. He's been at it for 40 years or more. His writing is masterful and other than that other giant of Michigan letters, Elmore Leonard, Harrison is peerless. The book I'm reading now is "The Great Leader" - a tale of a nearly retired police detective in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who is on the trail of a cult leader whom he suspects is deeply involved in kidnapping and murder. The writing is crisp, funny, and enveloping. I read Harrison and realize I don't know how to write at all. But that doesn't stop me. One day I will get better.

This weekend I will do my taxes via computer and I will be writing a big fat check for the last semester of my daughter's college undergrad education. A red letter financial weekend for sure. Afterwards I will have to decompress with some sort of trivial movie (Deadpool, most likely) and a trip to one of my favorite bars, The Pyramid Scheme, where I will have a few beers and play pinball on one of twenty some pinball machines they have scattered about the place. All this will serve to distract me from the flood of memories and feelings that come every few minutes now that the reality of my kid getting her degree in May is starting to loom on the near horizon. I cry every time I think about it. It's been a long trip to get here from where we were.


Epic Office Politics

Holidays focuses the crazy in my family, but I'm used to crazed holidays. I work in the food service industry after all. These last few years at work have seemed abnormal. The insanity has been spinning round faster and faster and I don't know if it's because of the Internet or because of Obama or its El Nino or possibly even the presence of the Great Satan - Gluten. I have a pet theory that it's mostly due to overpopulation. Too many rats in the cage; that sort of thing. Or it could be a top down, management leadership sort of thing. That old chestnut.

The big off kilter thing that's happened this past holiday season was that my immediate supervisor, T, the Assistant Director, got himself fired under mysterious circumstances that I'll likely never have all the details about, but can pretty much guess. He was a great manager and a fun guy; we shared musical/film/TV tastes. We even hung out sometimes. He did a lot for my work place and for me. But his Achilles heel was avoiding confrontation, playing favorites, and being one of the biggest flirting horn dogs I've ever seen. He was also a big proponent of nepotism - he hired his wife and two sons within 6 months of being hired himself. How did all of this unprofessional behavior go on unchecked? Well, his boss, The Director, (and ostensibly mine also) chose to look the other way because T made himself nearly indispensible. At least to his/my boss. T did all the niggling things his boss didn't want to do, thus freeing him up to move onward and upward in the executive chain of command. Moving up that ladder and becoming the big boss involves, near as I can tell, delegating all tedious work to your underlings and spending your days shuttling between committee meetings. Small colleges seem to be big on committees. At least the one I work at is. The committees don't actually have to accomplish much or anything at all; they're just an integral part of the small, liberal arts college infrastructure and social lifeblood.

But I digress.

T. was also great at picking the low hanging fruit of operational problems, but he pretty much hit a wall once all of the easy stuff was done and things got....hard. His HR skills were mediocre at best. This combined with the nepotism, favoritism, horn doggishness, and avoidance eventually combined into an HR train wreck of epic proportions. In the end, T's sexy texts to a young married mother of two under his supervision were discovered by her husband who promptly took the texts straight to the home office where our brand new corporate HR director had a small stroke before summoning T and his boss to a termination meeting overseen by the CEO and one of the VPs of the company. I got caught up in the malestrom when T was called out of a meeting with students we were both facilitating. I finished the meeting without him and went looking for him only to find him in our office trying to explain to his irate wife that the texts the angry husband had just shown to her before he jetted out to the home office were, in fact, no big deal. Uncomfortable doesn't even begin to cover that situation.

This whole debacle didn't come to a head quickly or in plain view. It developed over the course of about three years during which T became bolder and more confident in his behavior once he realized his boss, The Director, was totally in his pocket. The Director is a "no news is good news" sort of guy which is perfect for a guy like T who had near total control of the narrative. Many, many people came to the Director with concerns. There was even a time when T. was forced to explain himself to all of the supervisors in turn that, in fact, there wasn't anything going on between him and another married employee under his supervision. Once the official explanations were handed out along with T's wife's stamp of approval "I know my husband and he would never...." that whole incident was forgotten and we moved on and things got quiet. No news is good news. But only for about 18 months when it all happened again.
              And the two women involved/vicitmized? Divorced with custody agreements. T is working for one of our suppliers now. His wife and kids are still working for us. The Director is still here (much to my confused speculation). T's replacement starts on Monday and it's been disseminated to the whole staff that there's a new sheriff in town. And we all know what that means. Meanwhile, The Director's calendar is booked up with meetings, conference calls and webinars. No news is good news.

A personal epilogue to the whole T debacle:

Towards the end of T's tenure, when things were getting pretty weird, I let it be known to T that I wasn't happy with his favoritism, etc. and that he should be very careful or he could lose his job. I did this after he traded a weekend with me so he could take his wife to a U of M football game. Turns out he didn't take her. He took the employee he was focused upon instead. Her husband had people out looking for her because she had "disappeared" and he had had to leave the kids with relatives while he made his shift at work. I knew this, but didn't discuss it with him. I merely told him he was treading on thin ice. Not a threat - just a heads up. This was a tactical mistake. My yearly review was a few weeks later and it turned out to be one of the worst ones I've ever had. I know it was because I called T on his bullshit. I'm in the process of getting that report expunged from my file, along with anything else T put in there - nothing he did HR wise should have any credibility whatsoever.


This picture is making the rounds because NPR did a follow up on the girl seen here smoking and staring at the camera with a mature swagger that far belies her nine years of age. My first thought about this picture was that I'd grown up with a lot of kids like this. I was an army brat who bounced around the globe living in base housing along with other army brats doing the same thing. Usually a mixed bag of races and social classes crammed together in tenement-like conditions on military installations who's main focus was military defense, not civilian housing. Our family like most everyone else's was essentially a one parent operation with the military parent coming and going in chunks of weeks, months or years. It was tough in a lot of ways, but my family did alright. My dad was an intelligence non commissioned officer which got us a housing preference. Once he was even assigned as Base Housing Officer which got us a three bedroom apartment the same as the upper echelon received. Better housing didn't extend to the playground or school though. Everyone got thrown together - segregation wasn't really a thing even in the southern bases in the US. The Army had one color - O.G. - Olive Drab. Most of the people that chose a career in the Army were not your one percenter types. They were from the lower rungs. People who chose the Service because they had no other options in their lives, economic or otherwise. Mostly economic. The Army was a steady, if meager, income, a roof over your family's head and stability of sorts. My dad, somewhat at loose ends in his life had chosen the Army and in choosing, he found a home.

              I had any number of friends who routinely stole, played hooky, fought, cursed and even drank. All before they were ten. Smoking kids wasn't that common, but it wasn't rare either. It just depended upon how good they were at stealing and how attentive their primary parent was. Drinking was easier. Every household had a liquor cabinet that usually wasn't locked. Despite all this petty criminality, I have generally good memories of the near endless series of friends I made as we went from base to base every year or so, criss-crossing the country and the world.

              I was a timid kid with a mom addicted to pain killers because of her slow burning cancer and three older sisters who did most of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of me. When dad was home, it was like vacation for them - their duties decreased and they could spend some time being kids themselves. Dad was good about picking up household duties and making sure we got what we needed. For where and what we were, it was pretty typical. I didn't have trouble making friends, but I did have trouble following along with some of the bullshit they could get up to. I was too afraid of getting caught and ultimately having to face my dad once he found out. I inherited his temper but he had levels of anger I've rarely achieved myself.

               The base housing neighborhoods tended to be awash with groups of little kids ramming around like some twisted Little Rascals scenario where Darla's a smoking barfly in training and Spanky and his gang are petty thieves making their bones doing shoplifting jobs at the base gas station. Not all of the kids were like this, but a lot of the ones I remember were. I had my share of rotten incidents at the hands of bullies and witnessed some heinous crap of the sort that only felony-bound little boys can manage. I particularly remember a bunch of my partners in crime throwing dirt clods at a group of Down Syndrome siblings along with their older sister and chasing them home threatening to kill them if they ever showed up at the playground again. Their mother came out of her apartment with a broom and swatted one kid right off her stoop with a baseball swing that had major league potential. Despite this, we never saw them at the swing sets again.

                 As I got older, it got harder to brush off these incidents and I understood that I had to be more selective about the friends I chose to make at the next base we were sent to. This became solidified on Christmas of '67 at Fort Bragg when my new (they were always new) best friend took off with the brand new Schwinn bike I'd gotten. I spent most of the day running around the vast base housing area there searching for the little bastard, knowing I couldn't go home without that bike and tell my parents some "friend" had stolen it. It was dark and streetlights were coming on when he finally showed up telling me he'd rode into Fayetteville to go to the A&P for candy and thanks for letting me borrow the bike. I acted like nothing had happened. A few months later I stole one of the walkie talkies he'd gotten for his birthday and threw it into the woods.

So, when I saw that picture of the smoking little girl and her cousin, I didn't think of how exploited she was by the photog. How she could have used some of the money that got made from her picture being sold in galleries. I didn't think of the shit life she's had and the injustice of it all. I didn't think about her admirable resilience and positivity despite the poverty, drug addiction and general sadness in her life. Selfishly, I thought of my own friendships with kids like her growing up and the crazy stuff we used to do both good and bad. Mostly, I thought of what they must doing now and how their lives had wound out. I could guess, but I hope I would be wrong.

Trans I Have Known

I'm still processing the racist slaughter in Charleston and I'll address that when I can get my head together on that awful shit. Until then I'm gonna pick something from the current events file that I've wanted to talk to myself about.

Transgender Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and everyone loses their minds about how wonderfully positive for the transgender community this is and how its yet another milestone in the LGBT saga in this country. Thing is - I remember Renee Richards and her whacking tennis balls back and forth with Billy Jean King on TV. I remember staring at the picture of Walter Carlos on the cover of my copy of "Switched on Bach" and trying to figure what he looked like now as Wendy Carlos and how did that all work anyway? Famous transgenders have been around for a while sure, but this time it was different, this time people not only took notice, most didn't knee-jerk recoil in the sort of mild disgust and morbid curiosity reserved for circus freaks and mutant animals. A lot of people reacted with "Meh". There were no pitchforks and torches. And that's progress. Now the pendulum's swung the other way and people are taking things further than they should. Some are now saying that "Transracial" is a legitimate thing now that that deluded white girl Rachel Dolezal got called out for passing black all the way to the executive level of a local NAACP chapter. Jesus. Stop yourselves. No way is Transracial in the same realm as transgender. Transgender is a label dealing with reality. Transracial is a word fit to excuse somebody's pathology. The only white person that gets a pass for insisting he was born a poor black child is Steve Martin in "The Jerk" and that's only because that is some straight up funny movie shit right there.

My own personal transgender experience involves an author who wrote what I think is the best food fiction ever set to paper. Food fiction is kind of a small niche but my favorites include Jim Harrison's "The Raw and the Cooked" - essays he wrote for Esquire which were mostly him weaving pure bullshit with fact into a tapestry of culinary themed wit, whimsy and bombast. "The Banquet Bug" by Geling Yan, a novel that winds food, politics and social justice together in a story that skewers modern communist Chinese society, and "The Last Chinese Chef" a culinary love story by Nicole Mones that is equal parts filled with culinary love, romantic love and love of life.  All of these don't nearly seem to compare to the food fiction from writer, Poppy Z Brite (now Billy Martin) who wrote with no bullshit. He knew his stuff. He lived in New Orleans, one of America's iconic food cities, where he was born and raised. His husband (pre Katrina) was a chef at a restaurant there. The books are referred to as "The Liquor Series" and include the novels Liquor, Prime and Soul Kitchen. They chronicle the lives of a pair of gay chefs named Gary "G-man" Stubbs and John "Rickey" Rickey as they try to conquer the cut throat restaurant world of New Orleans. I was hooked immediately on these books not only because they were eminently relatable to me, but that they were so well written with humor, detail and great plotting. I came to these books in 2006 - the year the last one was published, Martin lost his publisher shortly after the last novel, Soul Kitchen. Coincidently, this coincided with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It seemed as though Katrina had basically destroyed Martin's will to write and continue the wonderful saga of G-man and Rickey. The New Orleans that those characters lived in no longer exists and Billy Martin can't bring himself to visit them again. This is evident in this sad last paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

"On June 9, 2010, Martin officially stated that he was retired, in a post entitled "I'm Basically Retired (For Now)" on his Livejournal.[10] He stated that he had 'completely lost the ability to interact with my body of work,' then went on to state that business issues were in part a cause of this issue. Along with this, he specifically mentioned being unable to disconnect from aspects of his life relating to Hurricane Katrina. He ended his statement by saying that he missed having relationships with his characters and that he did not feel the need to write for publication."

I can't figure how, as an author, you could miss your characters yet not want to write about them any more. Or maybe Martin has written about them, but only for his own amusement. I can only speculate what happened to Martin but I can guess that he had a Katrina like event in his personal life that directly reflected the devastation he saw all around him. The success of his books probably allowed him the financial ability to finally address his gender dysphoria and he became the man he was meant to be. I'm guessing the chef husband left the picture shortly after and then Katrina blew in obliterating not only Martin's personal world but his physical one as well. God knows what happened to him and his family during that terrible time. All fan speculation. It's all just guessing and gossiping. But it's just sad any way you see it - the reality or the speculation. None of it seems good for Billy Martin.

Selfishly, I'd like to stalk him on Livejournal and somehow help him get his mojo back. If he even wants it back, that is. These books really are extraordinary (at least to me) and it would be amazing to see Katrina through those character's lives. The film possibilities are terrific, IMO. That said, I realize this is the real world and not some Blind Side/Sandra Bullock Disney story where the guy comes back from a deep hole with the help of some stranger out of nowhere who has super human powers of persuasion and positivity. I must go on and be happy that I can re-read those wonderfully fun books and thank Billy's muse for sticking around long enough to let him give us those three novels at the very least. Oh, also - in 2007 I found out that there was a novella about G-man and Rickey called "D*U*C*K" that I promptly stole from the library once I found out it was no longer in print and unavailable anywhere. So that's my author creeper, super fan story.

Little bit of an Update from 2011ish:

Billy immersed himself in his love of visual arts and shares gallery space with his life partner in New Orleans. The art is available through Etsy and is heavily influenced by Voodoo hoodoo, Santaria and the many other Catholic-centric spiritual iterations you find in New Orleans. You can even purchase potions and such for whatever ails you or whatever ails someone else. He seems happy, so that's good. Here's a link to the gallery/Etsy....


Corporate Growing Pains and Gains


Passing the torch, transitioning, growing the brand, turning a page, writing a new chapter, continuing the vision....the company I work for is celebrating their 25th year in business. It's been a year of changes. We have a new CEO. The last founder has retired. We have a newly revamped HR department along with a new HR guru. We have a gaggle of new board members and many new managers. I just finished getting through the first year in a newly renovated dining facility. Lots to celebrate. I was recognized as one of the company's OGs. I was the fourth hourly employee hired when the company began and worked my way up that ladder to my present exalted management state. We've gone from a little company with a handful of clients and quirky business practices (home office was a broom closet for the first year) to 70+ accounts spread out across the country and a more conventional corporate culture. At the anniversary celebration, they gave me a medal in a box, which serves no purpose that I can figure. A symbol of my loyalty I guess, but I'd chalk up my longevity with the company more to comfort and inertia. I like where I work and see no reason to go elsewhere other than for a change of scenery and a larger salary. How large? I don't know what my price would be until it was in front of me. I'm not a greedy man - something that would make me and mine comfortable would likely do. Still, I'll probably stick with where I am until I get too old to stand all day in a kitchen for 10-12 hours expediting and cooking food, managing the krew, and kibitzing with the customers; in this case, college students who are eternally exasperating, entertaining and rewarding to be around.

The company also gave me this gift book full of appliances, gadgets, trinkets and such to pick from as a thank you for my service. The thing was like a SkyMall magazine. I flipped through it for days, trying to find something I liked. Finally settled on a pair of head phones even though I already have a couple pair. The ones I have are cheap, go anywhere sets that I use with my ipod. The ones I picked were a couple hundred dollars and literally something I would never, ever spend that kind of money on even though I love me some high end audio equipment. So this gift was a good thing however I would have appreciated just getting a cash bonus, but I get the logic. I would have spent the cash on practical stuff for the house or the kid, etc. Not on myself. The SkyMall idea was a good trick.

We had a 25th anniversary celebration dinner for the managers at a nice venue with an open bar and hors doevres. Everything was fine and about what you'd expect but the caterer was definitely not up to our usual corporate standards. The staff were all in mis-matched uniforms and looked like they'd been sent here by a temp agency based out of a homeless shelter. The food was beyond bad and embarrassing especially since this was a celebration for a Contract Food Management company. Whoever was on the catering committee was going to have some explaining to do. Much as I enjoyed being served and not having to cook the meal; had I known what sort of horrible shit was going to be served I would have gladly given up my seat at a table in order to cook food befitting the occasion and the client. The worst meal I've had in a while and it's at my company's 25th anniversary dinner. Oh, the irony. Being polite midwesterners, most of us have held our tongues but I'm sure the upper reaches, particularly the new CEO, have let their displeasure be known quietly, but firmly. That said, this dinner won't be forgotten amongst the chefs who were there and it won't happen again if we can help it.

We had our annual corporate meeting which was an all day affair filled with themed break-out sessions and sub committee meetings. We had an actual key note speaker which we'd never had before. A friend of the new Head Cheese who talked about something he called "Upside-down Leadership" which essentially is leadership modeled after how Jesus lead the disciples. My company is faith based in its mission statement and motto so this keynote theme was no surprise. I thought it was more of a sermon than a speech and at times I thought I'd been transported into a church service rather than a corporate meeting. But again, this sort of thing is no surprise with my company and something I've grown used to. I will say that working for a company that's faith based has been more positive than negative, but at times the spirituality seems out of sync with what we may be involved in on any given day. I'm still getting used to having a prayer before doing a food demo or having a catering strategy session. I've even been asked to pray with an employee before their annual performance review. I wonder what the new HR guru will make of that? We'll see.


It's What's for Dinner


I'm part of a social circle of disparate people joined by the common bond of love of all things culinary and anything remotely nerdy. Started out as a group of regulars at my local watering hole playing trivia and cards against humanity. The group has grown into a loose affiliation of people of all different ages, walks of life, etc. The bar lets people bring in their own food, so once a month or so we take over a couple tables had feast together under a common theme. The last couple meals revolved around Chili Creations (February), Hotshit (March) and Ramen Bowls (April). The next one is going to be Umami Steak Fest 2015 which will coincide with a farm market demo I'll be doing on July 4. The concept of Umami is one of my favorites because it celebrates the particular food genius of Asian culture particularly the Japanese. Umami is the name given to that previously undefined taste we percieve as "savory" or "rich". It is often referred to as the Fifth Taste next to Salty, Sweet, Sour and Bitter.  Steak with sauteed mushrooms is a perfect example of Umami in American cuisine.

It's fun and envigorating for me as a chef to mix it up with people who share my food love and are up for diving in and trying new things or learning traditional techniques. In preparation for the Umami Steak Fest a couple of the group members are going to dry age some beef for a couple months. I've never done this myself so I'm excited to take a crack at it. I've been cooking professionally for 40+ years and I'm still learning. It never ends and I love it. People always ask what is my favorite thing to cook and I always say, "Something new."



Honey! I'm Home!

Ok - so it's been a year. Or nearly. Not that I took a break from journaling/recording/whatever - I just took a break from here for reasons that include everything from being tired of LJ ddos breakdowns to merely finding it easier to scribble at length in a moleskine saving the non-work computer typing/squinting for the popcorn fun of Facebook. No real reason now for starting back again except for the symmetry of the dates and feeling like doing it here again. So there. A lot happened in the last year. But not going to enumerate it now - have to save it for days when I got nothin. Which hopefully won't happen. So this last year will go quietly into the past perhaps to be mined later. Maybe.

Recently my office mate, A, (third one in as many years) came up with an annoying idea in our weekly staff meeting. I'll never get used to the more tediously ridiculous parts of staff meetings i.e. when the boss asks at the end if there's anything new anyone would like to share. A, who I'm good friends with and like, even though I think he's a shameless striver and future executive toady, comes up with a brainwave to have the management team complete a Personality Survey as part of our annual retreat a month hence. Before I can spit out the words "Myers-Briggs" and "over my dead body", he quickly points out that this survey is NOT Myers-Briggs but something meant to highlight our strengths as individuals and to show us how we can play to those strengths in our work life. So, it's some other Fresh Circle of Hell within the whole Meyers-Briggs universe. Terrific. Fuck. Of course, boss LOVES this idea as it SEEMS to be more FUN and POSITIVE than the old Meyers-Briggs survey which was all the rage for us as a team over 15 years ago and which served to only solidify my position in the work group as the outlier iconoclast to be viewed with skepticism and maybe even a slight amount of dark suspicion. The survey clearly indicated I was the only one with a personality type that can be succinctly described as "Creative Pagan Intellectual". A type that didn't match up neatly with any of the other career managers on the team at the time and the only one my boss can still remember from that time all those years ago. He immediately points out my ancient Myers-Briggs results as an example of how USEFULL this exercise can be and how it helps bring a team closer together once we understand WHERE WE ARE COMING FROM. Godammit. At this point, I'm lasering A with my heat vision and he is pointedly avoiding eye contact as he describes something called StrengthsQuest which he found quiet easy to take and very enlightening. Blah-de-Blah.

So I take StrengthsQuest because I don't want to be hounded about the thing by my boss who can be as tenacious as a three year old wanting ice cream when he detects you are dragging your feet on something because you really, really hate it. So my results were positive (big surprise - its about strengths not weaknesses) and somewhat accurate - it says I like thinking (wow), I like achieving things, I like people but don't need a lot of friends, I'm creative and like ideas, I like to create projects but not executing them, I am committed to learning and hold education in high regard, I like encouraging people more than leading them (whatever the fuck that means), and I'm pretty tolerant with people I come across (Duh, I work in service - kind of a pre-req). So it wasn't as painful as I thought it would be and I even think this stuff could be useful. There's reams of data and PDFs the size of novelettes. I really didn't want to be singled out for being wildly different again - I know internally that I'm a weirdo, I didn't need scientific proof. Again.

That Time of Year


J sits across from me with concern, desperation and regret passing across his big mug like semaphore flags on a sunny day.  He's not hiding a thing, which assumes that he ever could. J is the proverbial open book.  "I have more to offer and since I'm about to be fifty I figure I need to move forward with whatever opportunities are out there. I mean opportunities here. I'm not looking to go elsewhere."  J's voice is a booming bass that echoes in this high ceilinged echo chamber of a room tagged onto the end of the Communications building like a silo attached to a barn.  J has the sort of voice that lends itself to singing Johnny Cash tunes at Karaoke bars, which is exactly what he does for fun with his wife on their days off. I hear they do a spot on version of "Jackson". I'm all for J getting ahead, and yeah, he could contribute. Maybe.  Trouble is, nearly every time he's been put in a position of responsibility beyond supervising a couple guys on a shift, he's fallen apart.  But this time it'll be different he tells me. This time he'll be ready, more prepared. Sure J - we'll get you more training and the next time something comes up that looks good, you throw your hat in the ring and we'll see what happens.

It's yearly employee review time and I am spending my days listening to all manner of stories, both guarded and completely open, about people's lives at work. People I work with every day. It's not my favorite time. Everyone wants something and no one likes to hear why they can't have it.  Or at least some of it. Some of these people are pains in the ass who need to grow up, shut up and just work. Others just put their heads down and grind through the every day. And a very few, take it as a challenge and point of pride to do their work above and beyond anyone's expectations including their own.  The thing is, I'm doing these reviews and handing out these raises with virtually no guidance or direction from my boss. He's trusting me to get things right with the staff. A staff of about 70 people. It's daunting if I think about it too much, but then I realize that I'm the one manager that has the most exposure to all of these folks, so actually I am the best one to do the evaluating.  Doesn't mean I'm wholly comfortable with it though. Not by a long shot.

Signal from Radio Free Albemuth

I'm a big fan of Ryer's and it's not for the obvious reasons - he's an artist that works in as many mediums as he can get his hands on, a quality I've always been attracted to in artists I like. Also, despite his love for and obsession with trains, he is willing and interested in exploring most any subject to bash his art against. I've collected art for a long time and besides being attracted to multi-medium artists, I like collecting pieces that represent an artist working outside of their box i.e. a printer creating oil paintings or a potter creating tapestries - that sort of thing. I've known Ryer for many years now and he's always had a talent, but in recent years that talent has started to grow into that undefinable something that helps him create wonderful work in whatever medium he turns his hand to. As I said, I've collected art for decades, and I've always followed the cardinal rule of art collection which is don't buy for an investment, buy what you like. and I have a favorite print of Darth Vader grilling burgers with a light saber to prove it. I also like Ryer's work and that little monsters are calling to me so take my money, boy! Here! Take it!

Guy was a pretentious, arrogant prick who captured the proto-punk zeitgeist of the 60's and 70's and rode that wave to the bitter end. Every pierced-up, no talent, two chord thrasher pissing on authority, writing shitty poetry and playing gigs in urine soaked basement clubs owe this guy a blood debt. My favorite record from him was "Metal Machine Music" - a double disc "fuck you" to his fans,his label and anyone else who didn't get it. Perfect.

Puttering around the house, writing, laundry, writing, dishes, writing, and putting off turning in my bottle/can deposits at the store...

Iron Butterfly providing the soundtrack to this Sunday groove. "Metamorphosis" is a little known, highly under rated album that followed the group's monster hit "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" by a few years. This record is a very tasty mix of vocal and guitars all wrapped up in a psychedelic blues burrito of rock. "Easy Rider" is probably my favorite tune if only because I think it should have been a bigger biker anthem than "Born to Be Wild" - it has everything- chugging rhythm section, amazing guitar licks, growling gumbo vocals and outstanding in your face lyrics. IMO - a great little gem of a record that sounds even better cranked up to 10.

Way to sneak back into it Bosox.

Fall light slanting in through my windows with that special golden glow suffusing my darkened office and this hovering in the air.....

A picture of Hellen Keller with her beloved cat, "Mittens".

I am going to Hell.

Yeah - don't feel so superior - I know you laughed too. So here, share a seat with me on the bullet train to The Lake of Fire...

Yeah I'd really like another beer but my ancient cat, Siam has found a comfy place to nap and I don't have the heart to disturb him. A small price to pay.

A lot of the point of Japanese food is subtlety. Today we are serving udon noodles with winter vegetables and beef at Hope Dining - it's hard to keep things subtle when you prepare 400 servings of miso broth and udon, but we're Americans and sublety isn't usually our strong suit.
Here's a clip from my all time favorite food movie, Tampopo. In this scene we see the Japanese version of the Heimlich maneuver. Let this stand as a warning to the dangers of over eating noodle soup.

Happy birthday to the great Jon Anderson...

Check out my sweet new wine glasses I got at work today.

This is true. I've walked by Secret Service like this, carrying a 200 pan and shouting "Behind!" for extra effect.

You can have your marathons, mudders and fun runs...running with the bulls takes REAL fortitude and bravery...:D

My Halloween season film fest continues with "Cold Fish"
Crazy creepy gory fun. If cold blooded murder, dismemberment and violent insanity is your thing then this one's for you. Bring mops and sponges for the clean up.
I give it 4 bad dreams out of 5.
Waiting for you now in the stream at Netflix.

Dog just posted this great recipe on Pinterest...

Oh yes...

What a delightful interview. A pair of brothers who brought a huge load of love and light into the world. If only their were more, just like them.

So flipping through the channels I get stuck for five minutes on a 60 minutes expose of "leadership PACS" used by members of congress to feather their nests and create generational wealth. Rage welled up from nowhere so I quickly dashed off a rant e-mail to my rep, Bill Huisenga and switched the TV to Netflix. I shall watch American Horror Story (how apropos) and drink beer while waiting for the Secret Service to knock on my door...

This amazing piece of Epic brought to you by my friend Janis of Tanuki.

Fall commute in Michigan...

Dressed for success...

Churrasco beef with chimichurri sauce - Lunch today! Phelps Dining Hall, Hope College

My co-worker and office mate Mimi Lixey left work at 5 today(early for foodservice folks) being chauffeured by our boss, BobV to the hospital in Grand Rapids so she could have her baby. About two hours later Baby Boy Lixey arrived! Congratulations to the Lixeys on the new addition!
BTW - Mimi, are you coming in early tomorrow to finish up the staffing schedules or are you taking the morning off? Just checking...

We really need those schedules ASAP.

And you have a couple interviews to do tomorrow, also.

Just sayin'...

Yes is finally being inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame. As a life long fan I'm so pleased. In their prime they were a mesmerizing live experience. I hope they have enough room on the stage at the ceremony for everyone that's been in the band over the years. And I hope we see the return of the amazing Jon Anderson to the fold.

So I'm custodian of Zoe's goldfish while she's away at school. His name is "Gordo", which is Spanish slang for "fat". Which he is - in his own charming goldfish way. Anyway, I've never cleaned his tank solo before and tonight was the first time. I housed him in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup while I rinsed and scrubbed his tank squeaky clean. I really got into it, letting my OCD take control of the situation. When everything was perfect and sterilized, I turned to the measuring cup to retrieve Gordo only he..wasn't..there. Oh. My. God. Where is he! He's a frickin' goldfish! What? Did he up and decide to take a stroll? A frantic few seconds and I find him wallowing around in the kitchen sink about to flipflop himself into the drain screen. I grab him and toss him unceremoniously into his tank with a quick look around to make sure no one saw this shameful episode. Good. No one around. Whew!

Great points and good overview of the unintended consequences of streaming music. Myself, I've always felt an obligation to throw money at artists I like and even extra dough to the ones I fan. I suss out new music by keeping my ear to the ground, so to speak and Pandora/Spotify is part of that process - for me they are tools to finding the New Music not sole sources of music entertainment. I'm old school in the respect that I like owning the recording medium in a physical sense - I grew up with the LP as part of the whole experience. I learned to live with CDs, but I prefer owning the vinyl. Right now I'm busy replacing my Peter Gabriel era Genesis vinyl and some Be-Bop/Fusion Jazz favorite discs. Small price to pay for the near-lifetime of listening pleasure these artists have given me.

Ryer's cool train that he built with his train buddies... I just keep thinking of "Bridge Over the River Kwai".

ames Dean's last film "Giant" was released on this day over half a century ago. It's not a great movie, but I like it anyway because of Dean. He makes everyone else look like high school drama students tripping over lines and stiff as two by fours. Love the little "see ya" wave he improvises at the end of the scene here.

Cabrera lights the fuse....

It's Breakfast at Dinner, Hope Dining style! Chef Steph peeling apples for tonight's stuffed pancakes at the vegetarian station...
It's Monk's birthday. Dig.

Yes! Keep battling, Tigers - don't give up!

Incredible. Most say, "Ohmygod, the piano!" but for chefs it's "Ohmygod the knives!"
Oddsmakers pick three of my favorites to win the Literature Nobel this year. Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates. I enjoy reading everything they write and you would too.

...and now he's playing the Big Room at Caesar's.

Babysitting brisket.

At GFS food show. I think I've found our new staff uniforms.

John C, Calhoun looks like Willem Dafoe. Oh, and an article about one party about to go supernova, taking us and possibly good portions of the rest of the world with it.


                                                               Back Yard Blue Chair