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Accidental Collections

I was talking to a guy the other day about his tennis shoe collection - he has over 200 pairs of Nike basketball shoes.  He has a special room where he keeps them and the collection is worth thousands.  He went on about some of his cherished pairs and about the culture of shoe collectors.  Pretty interesting.  I had no idea.  It got me thinking about my own collections.  I really don't have many beyond my vinyl record collection that I've had since junior high.  I suppose my obsession with cheap watches and fountain pens could count as collections.  Along with the Japanese sake sets and teapots I inherited from my mother's estate.  But that's not really a collection since I haven't added anything to it.  I have a lot of art - paintings, photos, sculptures, etc. but I don't look at those as collections.  I'm not purposeful about purchasing art, I see something I like and if I have the means, I'll buy it - sometimes I'll save up to buy something I really want. But I haven't been building any sort of collection.

               In the last few years, I've been trying to simplify and whittle down my possessions.  Clear the clutter.  My house is very small and it doesn't take much for things to start looking like a pre-hoarding gathering of useless material things.  My records have been trimmed down from about 500 to 150 - I gave away most of them once I got onto a few streaming music services.  It's not so important that I physically have the medium since all I really want to do these days is listen to the music.  I kept the albums that had beautiful art or had sentimental value.  I still have the first few records I bought with my own money - Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Elton's Madman Across the Water and my Jazz Fusion phase highlighted by Mahavishnu Orchestra's Between Nothingness and Eternity and Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior.  Same deal with books - I prefer digital or audio versions now and my collection is down to one shelf in the living room.  My last house, where Z-girl grew up, my wife and I had two rooms filled floor to ceiling with books.  When we moved, I secretly gave away or pitched a good amount of those books that I knew E would never miss.  And since that time 12 years ago, I've steadily gotten rid of the books I could do without - mostly the esoteric arts and crafts books my wife collected.  I didn't need 4 or 5 volumes devoted to the Art of Tatting or books on processing raw wool or building looms or mixing oil paints from scratch.

               The one category of books I've held onto that I'd definitely say was a collection are my cookbooks.Collapse )

I have been slowly getting rid of them and am down to three or four cardboard boxes in the basement. There is also a shelf at work that is a sort of communal work library filled with cookbooks I still use a lot and would be missed if they were on a shelf at my house. This is sort of an accidental collection.  A consequence of my career.  I don't know any chef who doesn't either have a ridiculous amount of knives or a massive amount of cookbooks.  For the record - I don't have many knives, which is a whole other rabbit hole we can go down another day.  So as I slowly whittle down these cookbooks to an essential few I thought I might codify those books here and explain just why each one is important to have on your shelf if you ever get the urge to really get into cooking.  I'm setting aside baking books because I've never been a very good baker and have limped through my career by either throwing myself on the mercies of some talented Pastry Chefs or muddled through on my own with my copies of "Beard on Bread", The Joy of Cooking and Julia's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".  What follows then are books that I feel are either really good cooking primers or just plain personal favorites that helped shape my own particular culinary view....

"A Treasury of Great Recipes" Vincent and Mary Price

Yes, THAT Vincent Price.  Not only was he a famous character actor, but he and his wife were also accomplished cooks and world traveling gourmands.  This book was the last birthday gift my wife gave me before she passed. So for that alone, it is dear to me, but there is much more emotion attached to this book. It is indeed a treasury of recipes, but not just any recipes.  The Price's visited some of the most famous, important restaurants in the world from the mid-fifties through the 60's.  It is a wonderful time capsule of reproductions of actual menus from iconic restaurants that should be known to any serious foodie or chef.  There is Chef Fernand Point's La Pyramide, Paris' famed Tour d'Argent, Harry's Bar in Venice, The Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam, and The Ivy, London.  There is the legendary house that Beard built, The Four Seasons, Henri Soule's La Pavillon that brought French haute cuisine to America, Locke-Ober's in Boston and Antoine's in New Orleans.  The book is an incredible snapshot of a time when the Jet Set crossed the globe in search of good times and good food.  The Price's did an enormous service in putting this book together and I can't recommend it highly enough. After being out of print for several decades, it has recently become available in a newly polished edition put together by the Price's daughter in honor of the anniversary of the original publishing date.

"Techniques of Healthy Cooking", "The Professional Chef" & "Garde Manger" By Culinary Institute of America Press

Chock full of deep-dive cooking instruction and detailed, no-fail recipes, this trio of books should be handed to every student prior to their entrance to cooking school or their first restaurant cooking job. And with the advent of the internet and the wonders of YouTube, many of the subjects covered are available on the CIA channel.  I've owned several editions of The Pro Chef and it's an event every time a new edition rolls out - THE comprehensive cookbook for professionals in America.  But amateurs, foodies and hobbyists can benefit from these books also - they will replace every other basic cooking tome from some celebrity chef that you own.

FYI - "Garde Manger" is French and  refers in general to all things in cold food preparation.

"Larousse Gastronomique", "Escoffier Red Book"

These are just about irrelevant in the modern age, but they serve as markers or touchstones on the culinary history timeline.  The Larousse came before "The Professional Chef" and served the same purpose - a comprehensive collection of techniques and recipes used in the industry. In the 50's, 60's and 70's.  The Escoffier has recipes, but they are hardly used today and hopelessly out of date - the book is more useful in its outlining of Chef Escoffier's plan for organizing a kitchen workforce.  This military style "Brigade" system is still used today in most professional kitchens.

"Culinary Artistry", "Complete Techniques"

When people ask me how they can know what flavor goes with what protein or how to use a particular spice, I answer and then I refer them to "Culinary Artistry".  This book lays out, with the aid of a multitude of graphs and charts, what foods pair well together, what foods are available when, and what techniques one should use to get the most out of your food.  For me, this book is a book for inspiration and ideas.  When I've been stumped for a dish to put into a menu, I'll flip through this book. It's full of info that will never go out of style or relevance - these are basic food truths and jumping off points which the authors play with in order to illustrate some of the creative directions a cook can explore.  Jacque Pepin's "Techniques" is a classic illustrated book of every French cooking technique he learned over his long career.  The small black and white pictures can be somewhat cryptic, like Ikea furniture directions, but Pepin provides very good step by step instructions.  This book, along with Julia's book on French Cooking, are all the references you need about classic French cuisine.

               "The Art of Mexican Cooking", "The Japanese Kitchen", "The French Laundry Cookbook"

I have a multitude of what I call genre specific cookbooks - ones that dial in on one style or ethnicity of food.  Here I've picked three that I feel are well organized, easy to read and have great recipes and advice.  Thomas Keller's French Laundry book is a love letter to modern American cuisine - not only is this a beautiful book, but it is Keller's manifesto on his philosophy of cooking.  Sourcing locally, artisinal cooking, great attention to detail and total respect for the food  are hallmarks of Keller's approach.  This book allows us behind the scenes at one of the best restaurants in the world for the past 20 years.  "The Art of Mexican Cooking" is Diane Kennedy's best Latin cuisine book, IMO. She covers the entire country of Mexico, cherry-picking the best, most unique dishes from each region in order to highlight the rustic beauty of the cuisine.  In the decades since this book was published Mexican cuisine has exploded into an on-going phenomenon in America.  Dishes that were once exotic, like Black Mole, Escabeche or Elotes, are now familiar and common fare.  When I want an authentic Mexican recipe prepared in an authentic manner, I use this book as a guide. "The Japanese Kitchen" like Kennedy's book, is a short, but well organized, comprehensive guide to the subtle, complex world of Japanese cuisine.  This book is as solid a primer on this cuisine as I've ever seen.  Clear writing, good illustrations and great, somewhat easy recipes.  The first third of the book is all about how a typical Japanese kitchen is stocked and organized from food staples to equipment. It even gives you internet sources to find the more esoteric items.  I point to this book when someone asks how they can  get into Japanese cooking beyond just making California rolls and Teriyaki Chicken.

"Tender at the Bone", "The Apprentice"

I feel that part and parcel of a good cookbook collection should be some biographical food books.  There are a lot of well written ones out there, but most of the ones I have are specific to chefs I know or I'm interested in.  Books that aren't that interesting to anyone outside the industry.  Marco Pierre White's "Devil in the Kitchen", Michael Ruhlman's "Soul of a Chef" or MFK Fischer's "With Bold Knife and Fork" come to mind.  Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" is in this same vein, but it garnered broad appeal because of its particular point of view and Bourdain's snarky, gossipy and profane writing style.  Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone" is a charming, very funny, wonderful story of her growing up in a family dominated by a mother who was a terrible, but fascinatingly eclectic cook.  Reichl, famed food critic and one time editor of Gourmet magazine, relates the story of her early childhood and the process of teaching herself how to cook as a survival mechanism.  In the process she becomes closer and more understanding of her mother's peccadilloes and her mom even becomes a better cook herself. This book is the first in a trilogy of autobiographies from Reichl that are each different in their own ways and terrifically entertaining reads. Jacques Pepin's account of his beginnings in the kitchens of France and eventual emigration to the US is straightforward and full of detail.  His journey up the ladder to become one of the pre-eminent chefs in the world and a fixture on PBS cooking shows is an inspiration and a testament to his determination and hard work. Pepin is an illustration of a cook who has taken his modest amount of talent and through on the job training,  shrewd career moves and a will to work hard, has taken himself as far and high in the industry as you can go.  I see a lot of myself in Chef Jacques and I refer back to this book often for inspiration and advice.

"Plate", "Art Culinaire"

Lastly, besides cookbooks, there are many cooking magazines that you can buy to get recipe and technique ideas from.  Besides the usual suspects like "Food and Wine", "A Taste of Home" and "Gourmet" which I've used on occasion - the two magazines that I've always looked to as useful and  good sources of inspiration are "Plate" and "Art Culinaire".  "Plate" is a magazine with its finger on the pulse of the current restaurant scene in America.  Each issue is thematic and the publishers gather restaurants and chefs together in a particular issue that highlight the theme.  "Plate" has great recipes and is very up to the second on trends going through the restaurant industry.  Since I take a lot of my cues for planning menu trends in my job from restaurants, "Plate" is an invaluable tool.  For the foodie hobbyist, "Plate" will give you recipes from the best restaurants in the country to cook at home.  That alone is worth the price of the subscription, which is free if you lie and tell them you work in the industry someplace.  "Art Culinaire" is the mack daddy of food magazines.  It comes out 4 times a year in large, hardcover form and a year's subscription is $75.  All worth it.  "Art" has the best photography and the best food writing. Period.  The recipes are somewhat enigmatic and geared towards highly skilled chefs.  But it's the beautiful pictures of plates that are the draw.  Many chefs have a hard time composing a plate to look beautiful and appealing.  I had some issues with this early on, but practice and a subscription to "Art" helped me get better.  It presents the cutting edge of food presentation from the best restaurant/chefs in the world working today.  Many standards of presentation that you take for granted today were first illustrated in "Art" - the parsley sprinkled on a plate rim, sauce brushed on a plate as a back drop for food, powdered vegetables dusted across an entree, the balsamic squiggle - all of these appeared in "Art" long before they appeared on your plate at Appleby's.

               These are cookbooks from my accidental collection that I consider basics.  Later on I'll write about my favorite food fiction books.  If you want to own any of these books I've talked about - don't buy them new.  Most are hideously expensive brand new.  Go to a discount book website like Thriftbooks and buy them gently used - you'll save a lot.

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Dispatch from Devoslandia March 25, 2018

*My sure sign of Spring and the promise of warmer days to come is my cross-the-street neighbor Cheri putting out her giant Rainbow Flag announcing her Queerness to a hood filled with GOP Faithful and God Fearing, Good People who wear intolerance like long underwear. Citizens who have perfected the art of benign bigotry to articulate heights not seen since William Buckley slithered over the earth. This year Cheri has upped the ante by adding a second flag of the same rainbow design, but with a giant peace sign superimposed on top of the multi colored bars.  I've taken this escalation to be a passive aggressive "fuck you" not only to the Hood in general, but specifically to my next door neighbor. A guy who left his raft of Trump election signs up in his front yard nearly a year after that fateful day when America took a Turn.  (As a side note, I may or may not have pissed on said signs late one sultry summer night after wallowing around on the tiles of downtown Devoslandia)  Cheri has also plowed under or dug up her entire lawn and replaced it with some sort of ground covering plant that doesn't require mowing.  This move likely upsets people more than the flag thing does, because for a lot of them, their lawn is their pride.  As for me, I keep eyeing my small but time consuming lawn with a jaundiced, increasingly disenchanted squint. Cheri has the right of it methinks.

*Speaking of my next door neighbor on the Lake side - not only is he a staunch, supportive citizen of Trumpistan he is also a wholly unpleasant slab of humanity.  Imagine that.  He is one of these large beefy guys with an impressive beer belly and a persistent scowl on his mug. His girth isn't due to drinking, but to a diet full of Mountain Dew and Carbs.  I couldn't imagine what his general attitude would be if he were a drinker.  I try to deal with him as little as possible because absolutely everything I've "worked" with him before has been exhausting.  He is never happy - even if things go his way.  Property issues are a particular sore spot - he views our shared property line like his Hero views the Mexican Border.   Any sort of incursion in the slightest is blown into a sort of personal invasion.  I've got a major project planned for this summer that involves my garage which sits right on the line.  The hardest part of the project isn't going to be paying for it, getting city permissions for the project or simply getting it done.  It's going to be dealing with my MAGA neighbor.  People say National Politics doesn't really affect our daily lives that much. It's said that we can easily ignore what the politicians in DC do because it just doesn't figure into daily life.  Nonsense.

*  This Winter was nearly a copy of the year before... 3 months of non-stop Lake Effect snow with a few blizzards thrown in.  I don't like the snow. Makes it hard to get around and I'm physically not able to play in it. Ankle and hip issues make skiing/skating/snowshoeing problematic.  So what's left is the Chore side of snow - shoveling/snowblowing. So the charm of a Winter Wonderland is pretty much lost on me and the level of loss becomes greater with every passing year. I'd actually be alright with frigid temperatures if no snow came with the deal.  Every Winter brings some sort of damage or decline - this year was hard on my old garage and my old car.  My car was sideswiped twice - once right in front of my house and once in a restaurant parking lot.  No note from the perpetrators in either case and adding insult to injury, my insurance says I have to pay a deductible.  Well - I'm a cheap/stubborn bastard so I've become THAT GUY driving a jacked up car held together with tape and baling wire.  My garage has wood rot and developed holes in the roof and sides this Winter. So I have to decide whether to repair the thing or tear it down and put up a carport.  Either way - I'm scheming to hit up my homeowner's for the job - I'm lining up my arguments that wood rot is covered in my policy.  Hey - it's worth a shot.

*The binge viewing report:  I've moved on from the excellent "Babylon Berlin", through all 4 seasons of the fluffy Danish teacher Drama "Rita" (both on Netflix) to playing Current Season Catch Up with "Bob's Burgers" and "Rick and Morty" (Hulu).  I'm struggling with "Altered Carbon" (Netflix) - I'm a fan of the cyber punk/dystopian urban future oevre, but there's something about this one that's hard to get through. I'm trying too hard to like it, which is a sure sign that the show probably sucks and just I don't know it yet.   I'm also working my way through "The Alienist" (TBS) which has been good so far - I really enjoyed the book.  For some reason, as I'm watching this show, I keep having this thought that someone really needs to pick up Mieville's "Perdido Street Station" and serialize that - I'm guessing it's the similar mood and complexity.

*Movie Report:  Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs" and the next Star Wars installment, "Solo", and Brando month at the local art house cinema - that is all. Oh!  And "Whatever Happened to Monday" on Netflix - two thumbs waay up.

*Pop Culture Social Media Randomness - Through a friend's direction on FB, I've recently started following writer Samuel Delany's FB page.  I've just been creeping but I'll eventually comment or message.  I'm a Delany fan boy from way back in high school when I read my first Delany book - "Dahlgren".  It was one of the most dense, weird, compelling things I'd read up to that point and I was instantly hooked. A seminal dystopian SF novel. My gateway to many similar authors including the aforementioned China Mieville.  And now, all this time later, I'm reading Mr. Delany's near daily musings about his life in NYC.
What's good about FB?

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Come to the Cabaret, Old Chum.

Babylon Berlin is a period crime drama that takes place in 1929 during Germany’s brief 20th century dalliance with democracy called the Weimar Republic. The old Kaiser (king) is in exile and the country is struggling to right itself after the disaster of the Great War and the resulting, highly punitive Treaty of Versailles. The Great Depression is sweeping across the globe and helping to create even more misery for Germany. Unemployment, homelessness and poverty are everywhere. Corruption, crime and despair follow closely, covering every inch of the country, especially the epi-center of German life at the time – Berlin.

This is the story of police inspector Gereon Rath who has been transferred to Berlin from the hinterlands of Cologne in order to continue his investigation of a pornography ring that reaches into the very upper echelons of political and societal life in Germany. Soon after arriving in Berlin, Inspector Rath becomes involved with informant and aspiring detective Charlotte Ritter. Charlotte is an ambitious, struggling woman in the city willing to do anything it takes to survive and get ahead. When Rath meets her she is snagging piece work jobs at police headquarters as well as working as a prostitute at a downtown cabaret club called Moka Efti.


Gereon’s investigations quickly widen to include the hijacking of a train by Trotskyite Communists who smuggle it into Berlin proper under the noses of the Republic’s security forces. They do this with the help of a leading German arms manufacturer who is tied to nationalist forces bent on toppling the government and re-instating the monarchy. The unlikely alliance between the Communists and proto-Nazi nationalists creates only the first layer of intrigue and tension that also includes the machinations of a zealous Minster of Political Police, the scheming of Gereon’s duplicitous partner Bruno Wolter,  the sly maneuverings of  Russian countess Sorokina and the ambitious thrashings of Charlotte,  a fierce feminist woman breaking through the glass ceiling before there ever was such a thing. And the train – the train which carries both enough poison gas to kill everyone in the city and enough gold to buy the city twice over; all of this playing out in a perfectly realized depiction of Berlin before the rise of the Nazis and the cataclysm that came after.

The series captures the dark noir of the times in all of its shadowy glory. The club and bar scenes are filled with the frantic energy and breakthrough artistry of a society living in the moment and avoiding the reality of an unknowable, disturbing future. There are lots of dark alleys, menacing structures and rain. Lots and lots of rain. There is music. Some of it authentic to the times and some that is a pastiche of modern and 1920’s jazz. The music and dancing scenes are striking counterpoints to the breakneck, tension packed plot. The glittering clubs serve as loud, bright distractions from the grit and grime of Berlin’s pervasive impoverishment, simmering anger and fearful uncertainty.   Bertold Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera” plays a major role in a large plot point and characters whistle or hum “Mack the Knife” throughout the final few episodes – it was Number One on the Berlin hit parade in 1929. There are layers of subplots involving a dizzying array of minor players that all manage to have their moments to shine and contribute. . There is Gereon Rath’s drug addiction and crippling PTSD which is the hypo shaped sword hanging over his life and career. There is Charlotte Ritter’s relationship with her pimp/boss and her awful living circumstances with her fractured family in the Berlin slum of Wedding.   There is Charlotte’s reluctant revolutionary girlfriend and unwitting mad bomber, Greta, and Helga Rath, Gereon’s lover, who happens to be his brother’s wife – a brother who has been MIA since the war ended ten years before. Lurking in the wings is the mysterious Dr. Schmidt who treats Gereon’s psychic wounds with drugs and hypnotism in service to his own dark, unknown agenda.

The plot twists and turns so much its hard sometimes to know what’s happening and that’s a good thing. The action, particularly in the last few episodes, is worthy of the best far-fetched Indiana Jones scenarios. People are trapped at the bottom of a lake, there’s a plane flight that is the stuff of nightmares, someone nearly dies in a freezer, someone DOES die encased in concrete, a burglary worthy of Indy raiding a tomb occurs and there’s that train that’s both treasure and death. We come back to the train – one audacious McGuffin that somehow ties it all together in the end. A rolling plot device that leads us to another reality for our heroes and foreshadows the horror trains in Germany’s future. At the end, we see a city and country speeding towards what we know is a grim de-evolution into societal madness and self-destruction.

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Great Weather for the Medicis of Michigan

It's been unseasonably warm this month so far. For February that is.  Usually this blustery, clammy cloudy weather saves itself for late March around here. This is the second year in a row that February has been a bit of a respite from the usual arctic tundra conditions. I don't miss the constant Lake Effect snow that is normally part of the February/March axis here in West Michigan. Spring is almost here and I always appreciate taking my daily stroll without the 30 pounds of extra clothing.

               The recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos  to Trump's cabinet has focused national attention upon the DeVos family that we've lived with here in West Michigan for decades. If you want an idea about their influence and status here in the Grand Rapids/Holland Corridor think about the Medicis and Florence during the 1500s in Italy. The DeVos family very much thinks of this part of Michigan as their fiefdom and we are but the serfs who live here at their pleasure.  I myself have had many, many close associations with them in a service capacity.  I was personal chef to the president of Hope College in Holland for 16 years and as the DeVos family was one of the major contributors to the college; I had a lot of opportunities to cook for them.  The usual "rich people behaving badly" thing doesn't apply to them - they are well mannered, polite and pretty buttoned down. What I took away from my interactions with them was a sort of benign dismisiveness.  You never forgot that you were a servant when you were around them, but they never overtly treated you as such.  It was all in the look in their eyes and body language and tone when they said "Thank You." or "Could you get me..."  The children were about the same way only with another layer of  loftiness - to the kids you were truly invisible.  One time we were catering a barbeque at Betsy's brother's compound in the wilds of West Michigan - Eric Prince, founder of the infamous private army company, Blackwater .  We were schleping boxes of food prep through the main house to the back deck because for some reason we weren't allowed to wander around too much outside.  I remember a gaggle of the teenaged kids hanging out in the sunroom off the deck and having to open the door outside every single time while they all sat there studiously ignoring "the caterers" and not even getting up once or even offering to open the door.  Now this could be attributed to typical teenaged sloth and lack of awareness but I had cooked for nearly all of these kid's various birthdays, graduations and such throughout their lives and this behavior had been ever thus.  We were servants and therefore invisible.

               And all of us had to be vetted via security check each time we did an event at Eric's compound or at any of the DeVos' homes or event venues - I have been sniffed and snorted on by their security German Shepards many many times.  The worst time was when Eric gave a speech at the opening Tulip Time luncheon hosted by the governor.  All of us were forced to stand in a line against a wall and have the dogs walk up and down sniffing everyone for bombs and weapons that might be used to kill or maim Eric.  A lot of the younger college student help and young workers we had subcontracted from a local vocational high school were shook up about this - especially the younger girls who had to endure a dog snorting around up their skirts in front of everyone. This is the brother that Betsy grew up with. So I'm not surprised at anything she or anyone in her family comes up with. Particularly when it comes to how they view the Rest of Us and how they see themselves in the grand scheme of things.  Again, I refer you to the Medicis.

Here is a great overview of the DeVos clan and their legacy here in my neck of the woods:

Mind you I really love where I live and I think Grand Rapids is one of the better, more beautiful cities I've visited and I would love to live their someday.  I might just get used to seeing the DeVos name everywhere - hell, I already am.

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Bro TV and Free Floating Anxiety

I'm currently fascinated with the Vice channel which my cable company deigned to place on my service last month.  It's a channel aimed directly at 20-somethings in general and specifically 20 somethings who like hip hop culture, marijuana, partying, food, and street wise fat guys with unkempt beards and multiple irons in the hustle fire. Oh, and people sitting on couches  getting toasted while they make each other crack up over inside jokes and snappy, hip observations on life.  It's the perfect alternative channel to have going at a bar when there isn't any sports on.  I know this because  my preferred watering hole started broadcasting Vice alongside its usual  sports ball fare and re-runs of "How Its' Made" and  "Mythbusters".

               It's a channel that is decidedly masculine in a Millenial Bro-ish way meaning that there are a lot of women on the channel both as hosts and guests, but the sensibility is somewhat platonic. Even the girls are bros in Viceland.  The first show I saw was hosted by a very attractive young lady hosted a two hour travel show touring the hidden cultural gems of Scotland with a focus on the food, drink and party culture.  There were several segments where she is taken under the wing of one local or another (almost all guys - good middle class Scottish party lads) and treated very much as one of the lads who just happens to be gorgeous, female and public school English.  It was all very funny, informative and entertaining.  I learned what the official alcoholic beverage of Scotland was (it's not Scotch) and what pop is the most popular, something called "Irn Bru" which is like Mountain Dew with twice the caffeine and sugar. She watches a famous underground chef make barbeque sauce out of it while he's stumbling drunk on the nation's favorite fortified wine, Buckfast.  She drives a boat 90 minutes to a distillery on an island for a tour then drunk drives the boat back to the mainland after she's had a few too many samples in the tasting room.  This is a typical show on Vice where whatever the subject matter or focus of a program is, the first thing is to make sure there's lots of pot, booze and breezy chatter. And if it's a cooking show then the typical host should be a fat guy with a penchant for hip-hop, tattoos, snapbacks and facial hair. Lots of facial hair.  And lots of handling food with bare unwashed hands. Utensils are in short supply on Vice cooking shows.  The whole effect of the channel is that there's controlled anarchy going on here and we're all in on the plot. Or joke. Or clique.  I like it but I can see it wearing thin after a while - especially the cooking shows which tend to be too hip and too smug for my taste. Not to mention that most of the ones I've watched focus upon street food or foods you make when you come home drunk from the bar.  They have cute names like "Fuck, That's Delicious" and "Bong Appetite" which are almost the best part of the quickly tiresome shows.  These shows are good to have running in the background at a bar, though. Which just might be the point.  I like "Huang's World" though which I think is one of the channel's hits for me along with Gloria Steinam's travel show, "Woman".

I've been having long bouts of free floating anxiety that I know is being caused by work stress, family stress and now the outside stressor of the future of health care for Z-girl who is diabetic and soon to be kicked off my insurance because of the ACA dismantling going on.  I'm about to go into the poor house even though I have a decent paying job.  Z-girl is currently job hunting after moving back home from Chicago and leaving her sales job that she adored but couldn't make work financially. I'm working on buying out her lease and fretting over where she's going to get coverage if she doesn't find employment with bennies. I'm becoming exhausted with coaching her and being her cheer leader. I do the same with my cooks at work. It's mentally exhausting in the extreme.  I feel exactly the same way I did while caring for my dying wife back in '09. Only I'm older and less sturdy now.

                I'm not surprised that I have panic attacks out of the blue and a general over- all feeling of dread and tension.  Doesn't happen at work much because my mind is distracted, but once my brain is allowed to wander, the anxiety rises up and paralyzes me to the point where I can spend hours watching TV and not getting anything else done.  And I can't write - the creativity is being strangled by anxiety and my mind is not free to wander and spin tales like it used to..  I'm trying to work on strategies to help myself, but I'm no expert in that respect so for the first time in my life I'm thinking of seeking some mental health counseling and will even consider medication if it comes to that. Something which I really, really don't want to do. Even watching Eileen wither and die in front of me didn't cause me to consider counseling, but its different now. My support system is smaller and I 'm getting it from all sides with no bright spots.  At least, that's how I see things. Perhaps I should look harder. I don't know.  It makes me sad that I've come to this point in life and I have to do this. I'm sad that here I am at the ending few years of my cooking career and I won't be able to retire with any sort of financial security. I've been doing this work since I was 15 and even though I knew I wouldn't get rich doing it, I expected more than this.  And yes, a lot of it was my own fault - but life handed out a few yellow cards of its own my way too.  I joke and say that I'll retire about 30 minutes before my funeral, but like all jokes, there is a sad kernel of truth deep inside.

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Brake Job, Spotify Christmas and Kaiseki Dreams for Later On

I got a brake job for Christmas, which isn't what I asked Santa for at all, but experiencing near brake failure while hurtling into a parking lot tends to make the gift of being able to stop a good deal more attractive than most anything else really.  The point being made especially crystal clear as I shot towards the end of the lot, foot pumping pedal and yanking on the emergency, with a 50 foot cliff looming beyond the curb and a short launch to a frozen beach on Lake Michigan. Gratefully the brakes grabbed and I stopped abruptly with plenty of room to spare. Later on I  learned that I'd had something called "caliper failure" combined with a broken brake line that slowly leaked hydraulic fluid as I made my way out to the Big Lake  for an all day work retreat.  Of course, I chalked it up to the universe doing its usual occasional job of trying to maim, kill or just generally make my life miserable but my work mates insisted upon praying over me and giving thanks that my life was spared. Which was a very sweet gesture, even if the attention made me uncomfortable in light of my lackadaisical attitude towards most kinds of spirituality.
After spending  the better part of my bank account to make sure my car doesn't kill me, there wasn't much left for Christmas joy, but we managed anyway. I gave myself a Spotify premium account having recently re-discovered the service after abandoning my account a few years ago. I enjoy stringing together playlists for myself and being able to access the music anywhere without having to be online.  Also, except for records, I don't buy physical music any more. I like the old tunes from my youth but I like new stuff too and using Spotify lets me explore new music without the commitment. Cuts down on the buyer's remorse.

               I recently cooked a Chef's Table  dinner for 15 students who had signed up for the dinner ahead of time on a first come, first served basis.  I served a French continental menu composed of dishes from Escoffier, Joel Robuchon,  and other legendary French chefs. It was a meal I had done 30 years before for a different set of students and I reprised the menu as a sort of celebration of the anniversary of that long ago meal.

 Another culinary project that I've had on my list for a while is to do a Japanese style Kaiseki meal.   Kaiseki is a large multi course meal featuring local goods served with meticulous presentation and focusing upon a harmonious progression of traditional and modern dishes. The meal can be  up to 14 courses and is typically a parade of small plates executed to perfection.  It's like a culinary version of running a marathon. That is, if you ran the race perfectly, in a perfect setting, looking absolutely perfect while doing it.  In West Michigan we are blessed with one of the most diverse and bountiful agricultural regions in the country and despite the winter  shortened growing season, the main farming area stretching across six counties along the shores of Lake Michigan  produces close to 3 billion dollars in agricultural output every year.  With that in mind, I would plan out a Kaiseki dinner that would celebrate that agricultural bounty through a story arc of American home style dishes both modern and traditional, native and immigrant, I would plan a baker's dozen courses just because and pair them up with West Michigan wines, beers and ciders. I'd likely charge upwards of 200 a head in order to pay for the food and drink. Anything left over would go to charity.  I'm in it just to do it.  It's a lot to plan; it'll take months and I'm just now at the kicking around stages, but I'd really like to take a good crack at doing it this year.

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Writer's Group Update - The Memoirists Rule... Plus... A Dispatch from the Trumpland Desk


Last week, on a rare day off, I went to the bar in the afternoon with my laptop to work on my blog post for the art house movie theater here in town. I was settled in with a beer and deep into my commentary and promotion of the upcoming series on the Westerns of the 50's/60's when I got interrupted TimR, who had just walked in with his wife for a quick mug.  TimR is the facilitator for a writer's group I've belonged to for about ten years now, but truth be told, I haven't been to the group for over two years because of my work schedule.  I miss the group for so many reasons, but most of all because they are such a supportive and creative group of folks. Tim asked if I was working on anything and I said, in fact, that I was just now toiling away at a project right here and now.  I secretly patted myself on the back for being caught in the act of actually writing something.  Tim updated me on the doings in the group and told me to come if ever I get the time because people miss me. He actually said they/he missed my snarkiness and constructive criticism. This surprised me as I think a few of the folks there considered me to be somewhat of an asshole for being blunt and not sparing any feelings. Just on occasion - I'm not that way too often, but when I am people tend to remember and hold on.  This is not to say I don't respect the members - I just don't think it does anyone any good to blow smoke when you're there to help people get better.

               The group is made up of mostly memoir writers and two other fiction writers besides myself. Tim owns a small press publishing company with his brother, specializing in Fantasy/SF with a big emphasis on Fantasy. Not really my cup of tea and I've suffered through many readings of epic dragon and damsel tales from Tim and his brother.  But then again, he's been a sport about hearing my own clumsy efforts. So it evens out. I wasn't a fan of memoir going into this group but I've since come around. I was worried mostly that it was going to be a group of people trying to write their life stories without the tools to do so.  I've been in groups like that before and it is tedious.

                I have since been converted though and it's because of the memoirists in the group who've stuck with it and worked to get better. Some have even been published or took the leap and self published. I have my favorites from my time with the group...
There was  a memoir of a teen aged girl growing up in the Dearborn side of Detroit in the 60's. The memoir is a reporting of her years long obsession with a boy she nicknamed "Pink Cheeks" - a true coming of age story loaded with charm and adventure written in a straight forward, no nonsense manner. Instead of  a dry recounting of events, the straightforward writing actually somehow serves to heighten the sense of place and emotions of the time.  It's a delight to hear the woman reading these accounts while realizing that the dynamic, mischievous wide eyed girl she talks about is herself in another time and place. The fact that this woman still has her heavy Michigan/Detroit accent makes the story even more compelling when she reads.

Another memoir is from a retired Army officer who worked in Intelligence during the Vietnam era. It's the story of his rising through the ranks from callow lieutenant fresh out of Officer's Candidate School to seasoned, cynical, world weary Colonel working the grey edge between active duty and civilian contractor. The memoir is a combination of Catch-22 real life fantasy and LeCarre cat and mouse adventure with a little Hunter Thompson gonzo thrown in.  I know this memoir to be accurate and true because my father and my brother both had careers in the Intelligence end of the service and a lot of what the memoirists says rings true, even though it can sometimes be hard to believe.  Indeed, my brother is still in service, but not on active duty for the government.  He's currently in England where he's doing surveillance analysis of North Korean activities via a private Pentagon contractor... Last year he was in Afghanistan for 4 months doing god-knows-what, but still able to FB message me about how filthy everything was over there and how he was having fits trying to keep his side arm and rifle clean.
The strange doings that are chronicled in the Vietnam memoir are convoluted and chaotic, but the writer does a good job of keeping things organized and moving along.  There are dozens of characters which is problematic and the last time I was at the group he was wrestling with jettisoning some of that weight to streamline the tale.

The last memoir I like from the group is the story of a woman giving up her child for adoption after having the baby at an unwed mother's home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the late  60's.  The memoir, entitled "Baby Mine" after the Disney song featured in Dumbo, is harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately lacking in a lot of redeeming feel good moments. It is real life, not a Lifetime movie script.  The story starts with the young woman's months in the home where she spends her last couple trimesters in a dorm situation with other women in her predicament, all of them overseen by a group of nuns and one social worker. From the birth of her child and subsequent loss we skip ahead a few decades to the time in the woman's life where she attempts to re-connect with her child and does but the outcome is bittersweet. With the emphasis on the bitter.  This memoir was riveting to hear being read and the author was very brave and open about it. Many nights there were tears shed after she would read a new installment or passage.  We all eagerly helped her polish and tighten up her prose and after she was done with it she shopped it around to various agents to no avail - after all, it wasn't exactly an uplifting tale. But it was real.  Last I heard, the author had self published the book and had sold quite a few - I haven't bought it. I don't need to - I heard it straight from the horse's mouth.

The other fiction writer in the group besides Tim and myself is an older woman who writes what I call Ranch Romances.  She grew up on a ranch in Montana and has been a horse woman all of her life. She writes about one book every 18 months or so and self publishes them for her group of fans, friends and family.  Her stories are delightful tales of love and life in the insular, upright world of ranchers and ranching in the modern West.  These are not gritty true life depictions of the modern ranching life, but rather gauzy morality tales of ranch boy meets usually plucky, cute but old fashioned ranch girl.  Think updated version of the "Bonanza" TV show with a hefty dose of romance and life lessons for the modern world from the front porch of the bunkhouse. It all sounds very cheesy and unrealistic like Harlequin romances, but just like those novels, this woman sells them by the hundreds if not thousands.  She's a lot of fun in the group and very good with editing.  And I have to admit, her stories are addictive candy.
I'm going to resolve to attend more group meetings in the coming year just to re-connect and keep myself motivated.  My schedule is a bit more flexible now so I won't have that excuse. Hopefully this resolution will stick - it's not that drastic, like quitting smoking or losing weight, which I have a record of 1 for 1 on.  Quit smoking decades ago (minus the occasional cigar, mind) but I have not shed any pounds.  But then again - I haven't really gained any either which is a major accomplishment given what I do.

From the Trumpland News Desk:

The new regime has already affected me directly in a way that the Obama administration never did even with the advent and implementation of the ACA.  I have about 70 employees under my supervision in the kitchen area which is my ballywick.  30 of those are Latino who work in a variety of departments from prep cooks to maintenance to dishwashers. Since Trump's election, particularly now while we are on college holiday, I have had a significant amount of them take time off to deal with immigration issues within their families. All of our employees are document citizens but it's fairly common that they have one or two immediate or extended family members who are undocumented.  Right now, I have a dish room supervisor who is in Mexico  trying to take care of Green card issues with his wife. It's up in the air whether he'll return or not. He's worked for us for 13 years.  All of his three children were born in the US but the family will probably wind up living in Mexico.  I have a prep cook who's in Nogales right now with his father awaiting an appointment at the US embassy in Mexico City for Green card application review. If that doesn't work, his family will stay in Mexico.  My cook who runs our allergy-free service line is in Mexico now with both of his undocumented grandparents - his father is one of our pot washers.   And on and on to the tune of 8 employees who will likely not return to work in time for coming back from Christmas break. Our policy on leaves and absences is being tested to the limits - this sort of thing was unforeseen.  The Trump administration hasn't been sworn in yet and it is already creating havoc in my personal life and the lives of others.  Those people who say that government at the federal level really doesn't affect our day to day lives are wrong.  I will likely have to spend time hiring at least 6 new people to replace the ones who won't or can't come back to work. Not because of their own immigration status, but that of their family members - usually elderly.  Multiply this situation across the country and you're going to have an unprecedented talent drain from the food service industry. Not to mention a sudden influx of out of work individuals into Mexico.
               The immigration issue is presently ruled by fear and uncertainty. It will only get worse as Trump implements his scorched earth policy on families and workers who are truly the backbone of the service economy here in the states. We'll all be left holding that bag while Trump goes on his merry way and his supporters continue to cheer him on regardless of the chaos he creates in his wake - at least until it adversely affects their own personal lives - then we'll see what the limits of Trump loyalty truly are.

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Me and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week or The Short History of an HR Nightmare....

               As if the post election shit tsunami wasn't enough to piss in my life's Cheerios, the floodgates of crazy opened at work and  life has presented yet another speed bump to navigate around or over.

               My boss has been circling the drain ever since his second in command got himself fired for sexually harassing an employee. This happened almost a year ago, but like Justice itself,  the wheels of HR turn fast then slow then fast again. It all occurred right under boss' nose and although everything was kept very hushhush, theories abound as to  whether he either knew about and ignored the situation or was completely unaware and clueless. Pick one. Either way it didn't look good for Big Boss Man at the time. Especially since we work at a Faith based University with a strict moral conduct code.  Still - he managed to wriggle off the hook and retain his position much to the puzzlement of most of the staff including me.

               I am ostensibly fourth from the top in the hierarchy and at the time I did indeed bring up the situation both to my boss and the perpetrator who was my immediate supervisor.  Once my supervisor/perpetrator found out that I wasn't happy about his having a couple of  "work wives" among the staff and that I had informed our boss AND the home office of the situation; his not-so-subtle but very emphatic retaliation began. I received two of the worst performance reviews I've ever had in my 30+ year career as exec chef at the university. My supervisor set me to task on a list of "expectations" that ran two pages single spaced.

             Mind you, at this time I was performing double duty covering my job and another job for which there was an ongoing employee search.  This hunt was dragging on and on mostly because the salary offer was so low that most candidates who applied begged off when they found out the pay rate was lower than what most McDonald's unit managers make. There was also a benefits package that was equally laughable.  My supervisor came up with a great plan to make the financial pot sweeter though.  HIs brilliant plan was to shift me to an hourly position and cut my annual salary by 10K thereby freeing up more budget money to throw at a job candidate.  At this point I made an immediate appointment for an early morning meeting in a covert location with the VP of the company and told him that if this was the real plan they had all agreed upon then I just might have a problem with it. The VP was, of course, unaware that this was the plan for me going forward and told me to sit tight while he investigated. Months then went by without my knowing whether I was going to remain financially and professionally whole or whether I was going to spend the foreseeable future suing everyone within shouting distance of this ridiculous situation.
            Next thing I know - a friend of mine gets hired in at a decent wage, and even better, we were going to be partners sharing an office and duties. No mention of the aforementioned plan and I remained financially whole. The next few months were bliss. We cleaned up some HR messes in our kitchen that had long been festering. We put new systems in place for inventory control, ordering, etc.  We created committees. We purchased new equipment. We had things under control despite the best efforts of our supervisor, who was busily focusing on nurturing a new Work Wife.

               Then one day, the new Work Wife's husband shows up at work to confront our supervisor. An epic HR conflagration the likes of which I've never seen began.  Did I mention that my supervisor, the guy with the Work Wives, also had his Actual Wife working with us?  Yes - it was like some sort of sick twisted version of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy.  The supervisor literally gets kicked to the curb and corporate HR operatives swoop down on our location the next day like Nazgul from Mordor to pluck the guy out of his office and take him on a one way flight to Mount Doom.  But somehow, inexplicably, our Big Boss keeps his job. In fact, shortly after this whole drama ensued, the Big Boss hired a new assistant (and supervisor for us) who was decades my junior and with less managerial experience than the kid handing out clubs and balls at a Putt Putt park. Obviously this was someone the Big Boss could sit on his knee and feed lines to while he made the kid's mouth move in a life like fashion.
              This situation spelled the beginning of the end for my partner who bashed his head against that wall of stupidity for nearly 18 months until finally giving up and heading out for greener pastures completely away from the food business. He gave his notice last week. Which was bad, in and of itself.

           Two days before this, Big Boss fired a shift leader in our kitchen whom we had been vigorously trying to get rid of for over a year but couldn't because The Boss thought we were "picking on him". Boss told us we had to lay off the guy even though he was rough around the edges, didn't listen to us at all and was terrible to the people he supervised. He was a long time, entrenched and entitled employee who continually blew smoke up the Boss' skirt. Boss was forced to fire the guy because he was witnessed by the entire kitchen staff berating another shift leader to "Sober up and get it together." Trouble was - the guy he picked on is in alcohol recovery and has been sober for 10 years. Everyone knows this - he has been pretty up front about it.  For someone to mock him about it was not only bad form but against corporate policy to the tune of being a Level 1 infraction subject to immediate termination. According to corporate HR - people who are in recovery, who make it known in the work place, are a "protected class" and yelling at them to sober up is creating an instant hostile work environment bordering on hate speech. Big Boss was told to fire the guy immediately before he got us all sued.  And he did - reluctantly.
           And so - that is where it stands now.  The Big Boss is hanging by a thread. My managerial team partner is leaving for a plum job in the office furniture industry and I am, once again, doing double duty - triple duty if I include my own duties in this matrix of excrement - my own duties, the fired shift leader's duties and my now absent partner's duties. Happy Holidays.

The timeline for this debacle looks like this:
               3 1/2 years ago my supervisor starts diddling around with the staff and I call him out. I start receiving a rain of shit.

               2 years ago a person is finally hired for a position I covered for 18 months. Things get relatively better. The fight to rid ourselves of a toxic kitchen supervisor ensues. But both our bosses refuse to back us up in the effort. Kitchen morale suffers.

                1 year ago our immediate supervisor meets his career end at the hands of a Work Wife's husband and HR Nazgul from Mordor.

               1 year to present my managerial partner fights the good fight for control of his management destiny but is thwarted by our Big Boss' willful incompetence, ego and micro managing. He leaves for better money, better job, better life.  I am left holding the bag, pushing 60 and wishing like hell I had somewhere else I could go. Right now, I would work at a zoo hand clearing bowel obstructed elephants if they paid me enough to make my monthly household nut.

               The good news is - I got my kid through college and a 145K education with no student loans and free of debt. So there's that. but it's cold comfort and I'm questioning now whether it was worth it.

              In election news - I saw on a local news broadcast this story about a guy in Grand Rapids who wrote a blog about how he thought the election of Donald Trump was like that time when his now grown son beat cancer when he was a toddler. The kid went through a vicious chemo regimen. This and " lots of prayer" helped him survive.
Trump as chemo treatment for America's cancer.
 As good a theory as any, I guess. Not really though. People are idiots. The guy had over 5000 hits on his blog. That was the segment's hook.
I just can't stand it. 

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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.

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Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Bowie's Hunky Dory

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.

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    Lady Stardust - Bowie