Thursday, September 20, 2007


Last time, as you may recall (see Recipe Madness), I mentioned how my friend Margie and I are complete and total Bacon Whores; we believe everything is better with bacon.

(Margie: "Finally I know what to put on my tombstone--'Bacon Whore.' What better way to sum up my life?")

Then I posted about Bacon Brittle aka Bacon Toffee and wondered where the hell I've been that I'd never heard of such a thing.

Well, tonight we're going deeper into the weirdness.

Some of you may know I'm a big ol' fan of Warren Ellis, author of such little excursions into madness as Crooked Little Vein and Transmetropolitan. He's something of a 'Netslut as well, posting frequently on LiveJournal, MySpace, and his own personal websites, so, since I'm a complete geek, I check 'em all daily looking for interesting informational tidbits and singularly cool or obscene quotes to steal and claim as my own. Wednesday he linked to this saying,

"A few of my friend (sic) will know what I mean when I say that this may be a baconpunk object."

"Baconpunk"? WTF...?

"This" is Mo's Bacon Bar, "applewood smoked bacon, alder wood smoked salt, deep milk chocolate." $7.00 for 3 oz. (!) and currently out of stock, the little teases, but, oh yeah, baby, if anything is Baconpunk this is it!

And Margie and I will have matching tombstones.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Recipe Madness

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know... I'm posting recipes, of all things. First I told a brief story about my cat and now I'm posting recipes. Next thing you know I'll be camwhoring and posting surveys normally associated with 16-year old girls.

Anyway...confession time.

I like bacon. No, I love bacon. Oh, yes; I love bacon in all its trans-fatted, artery-hardening, coronary-inducing glory--which is why I rarely buy the stuff because, to my shame, when I do I'll cook up the entire damn package and devour every last piece over the course of an evening. On those rare occasions when I raid the breakfast buffet at Shoney's my plate is piled shamefully high with bacon, sausage patties, baked apples, maybe some scrambled eggs... but mostly bacon. I'm a Bacon Whore. Remember that poor, hyperactive dog on the old Beggin' Strips commercial? Yeah, it's like that.

From Pulp Fiction:
Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don't eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain't Jewish, I just don't dig on swine, that's all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Bacon tastes gooooood. Pork chops taste gooooood.
Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know 'cause I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I ain't eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense enough to disregard its own feces.
Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.
Jules: I don't eat dog either.
Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?
Jules: Well we'd have to be talkin' about one charmin' motherfuckin' pig. I mean he'd have to be ten times more charmin' than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I'm sayin'?

Sid-the-Cat likes bacon; in fact, Sid-the-Cat disdains all other people food except bacon. And Elvis Presley! Elvis liked bacon (more on this later)! And my friend Margie! Oh, sweet Jeebus, Margie is every bit the Bacon Whore I am; on more than one occasion the two of us have intentionally positioned ourselves in our favorite greasy spoon so as to have a full view of the kitchen griddle where there is always a HUGE pile o' bacon. You'd think we were watching porn the way we stare. And, though deep down we know it's not completely true, we both argue that everything is better with bacon.

I may be putting this to the test soon. See, I was cruisin' the Intarwebs the other day and ran across something called Bacon Brittle--toffee and bacon cooked up together--and had one of those "WTF?" moments. "Could this possibly be good?" I asked myself. "Toffee? Bacon? I mean, bacon tastes gooooood. Toffee tastes gooooood. But together?" Well, a few minutes on Google seemed to answer that question--search for "Bacon Brittle" or "Bacon Toffee" and you'll come up with a slew of positive reviews, recipes, and, to my complete surprise, a number of commercial outlets.

Once again, I'm late to the party.

This is what you do:

Bacon Toffee (aka Bacon Brittle)
1. Line a baking tray with a Silpat, or oil it very well.
2. Crisp 5 pieces of bacon in a skillet or a broiler and drain on paper towels. Break or chop them into 1/4” bits and set aside. Don’t go too small, because you want them to have personality in your mouth. Use a smoky bacon, ideally lightly cured. Mine had Niman Ranch bacon in it.
3. Place in a heavy saucepan, in this order: 1/4 cup (63g) water, 1 stick (115g) butter, a large pinch of salt, and 1 cup (200g) sugar.
4. Over medium-high heat, cook till the mixture reaches 285F, stirring often. In practice, this means that you cook it until it’s a good toffee colour, about the same colour as the old tan m&ms. I’m not kidding about the stirring, though.
5. Pull it off heat, mix in the bacon bits, and pour onto the baking sheet. Spread quickly to about 1/4” thick, and let cool for 2 hours.
6. Using a hammer or the handle of a large knife, break the toffee into shards. This is best accomplished by whacking it through a folded paper towel.

Guess I'm gonna be firing up the stovetop soon.

And since I'm all about Sweet 'n' Salty today, I thought I'd mention this: my friend Cathy's online friend Ewokgirl posted about banana bread; specifically, Peanut Butter Banana Bread, which made me smack my forehead and wonder why the HELL didn't I think of that? Okay, sure, it conjures images of Elvis Presley's Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, aka The King-Killer, aka The WBWT Coronary (White Bread, White Trash), but still, creamy peanut butter and ripe bananas were made for one another, though perhaps without the lard and (possibly) apocryphal bacon strips (then again, there's Bacon Brittle, so ya never know).

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
1/3 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups mashed, ripe bananas
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

In a large bowl, cream oil, peanut butter, and sugar; beat in eggs and bananas. Add flour mixed with baking powder, salt, and soda alternately with banana combination; mix with each addition until combined. Pour batter into a greased 9x5x3" loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Makes one loaf.

Sounds good, huh? Unfortunately, my tiny little gas oven is a bit on the temperamental side, which means I won't be experimenting with this recipe any time soon; however, should you be so inclined, well, uh, you know...

One more before I go:

Chinese Chews
(stolen from The New James Beard)

"I have no idea why these are called Chinese Chews, but I've been making them for over 15 years and I've yet to find anyone who doesn't find the combination of flavors irresistible. Makes about 30 cookies." --James Beard

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 lb (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix 2 cups of the flour, the butter, and 1 cup of the sugar until crumbly, and spread this in a shallow 8-by-16-inch baking pan. Bake in a 300F oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven.

Beat the ingredients for the topping together and spread the mixture evenly over the prepared crumb crust. Return to the oven and bake until light brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool. Cut into fingers.

I have made these before and all I'm going to say is "OMFG, Best. Thing. EVER!"

Y'all will visit me when I'm in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, won't you?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Buying Orgy II

Well, the title gives it all away, so I won't be constructing any clever, albeit derivative, openings such as "Hi! My name is G. W. and I'm a book addict..." or "Perhaps I'm in need of an intervention..." or "It's not my fault; no, really, it's not my fault..." (okay, so they're not clever; so sod off); I'll just come out and say I returned to Barnes & Noble Sunday and bought a bunch of books.


Let the rationalizing begin.

My original intent was to buy only three books: The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy, The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, and 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond by Nathan Lott. Some explanation:

During my last Book Buying Orgy I actually picked up The Wasp Factory but somehow managed to misplace it between the "Fiction" section and the checkout counter. When you're lugging around a huge-ass pile of books this can happen and when you're a leeetle obsessive this is annoying. Majorly annoying. My sense of...completeness...was disrupted and, sheesh, well, we can't have that, so Sunday's task was to remedy my neurotic discomfort. And to grab a copy of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond, inspired as I was by my recent rambles through Forest Hill Park and the alleys of the Carytown/Museum District (remember, if you will, that when faced with any drive beyond an hour I'm more than likely going to stay at home. Remember, too, that even though I've lived here over 16 years I barely know anything at all about this place which, yes, I know, is sad). Oh, and The Crossing because friend Kevin (the quintessential Cormac McCarthy fan: "Blood Meridian is the only book where I finished the last page and immediately started over with the first").said "youhavetoreadityouhavenochoice" since I just finished All the Pretty Horses.

Three books. One, two, three. That's all. But B&N didn't have a copy of The Crossing and I figured since I was expecting to buy three and I had budgeted for three, I may as well find a third because... because... well, just because.

Long story short--I bought six.

I have a problem.

I don't care.

I did find 60 Hikes and The Wasp Factory; I also found:

Men And Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem (see the Bookslut entry here), a collection of short stories by the author of Gun, With Occasional Music, which I enjoyed for its out-and-out quirky-assedness. The Bookslut review promises more of the same so I'm all a-twitter.

Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
To which I can only say Dudes! It's JOHN 'EFFIN' MCPHEE! I cannot imagine the subject he couldn't make interesting (and, believe me, I've tried), but TRUCKS and TRAINS and OCEAN TANKERS? Oh, sweet Jeebus, my inner 10-yr. old is having conniptions!

Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke
So I like Truman Capote's writing, so I think "A Christmas Memory" is one of the greatest short stories of all time, so I find the man with all his quirks and foibles and contradictions utterly, completely fascinating, so that doesn't make me gay (not that there's anything wrong with that!). No track lighting, Audrey Hepburn posters, or Tom of Finland collections in my apartment (okay, yeah, I've got a... few... musicals on CD and know the words to an awful lot of show tunes, still...). No, seriously, to me there's something about Capote, some strange... disparity... between the man and his work I'm hoping this biography will explain.

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
The darling little twenty-something Gothy/Emo female cashier with the nasal piercing, the all-black clothing, and the black-rimmed Nerd Glasses was dutifully scanning my books when she came to Consider the Lobster and said, "What do you think of David Foster Wallace? He intrigues me."

And, you know? For a moment I was at a complete loss for words. I mean, how do you sum up Infinite Jest? Or The Broom of the System? Or the stories in Oblivion? Especially when what I'm thinking is No, honey; you intrigue me! I want to marry you, to rob banks and knock over 7-11s so as to support you in a style to which you're unaccustomed, sell crack and run whores whereby to shower you with expensive hipster gifts from the profits, buy you Mark Ryden originals, gaze at you longingly by moonlight in Hollywood Cemetery, to...

Never mind.

What I said was "How do you feel about... footnotes? Because DFW's footnotes can run as long, if not longer, than his novels."

"I love footnotes. I love it when things take me all sorts of directions I don't expect."

And, oh, people, the... things... that were flitting through my mind... but I was good; I merely took my bag o' books, looked over my shoulder, and said:

"Infinite Jest. Grab a copy. You're going to have a great time!"

See that big ol' "L" on my forehead?


Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Cat Is A Pervert

So these are some of my...uh...action figures (not dolls!) artfully arranged atop my computer tower:

Looks like The Thing is moderating a philosophical discussion between Action Figure Jesus and Buddy Christ while Edgar Allen Poe looks on with amusement (not pictured: Cthulhu Action Figure).

Exit: me.

Enter: Sid the Cat, who feels to need to leap and swat and bounce around the computer desk.

Exit: Sid the Cat, to hide under the computer desk, hoping for the opportunity to attack my feet when I sit down.

Enter: me, to see this:

Feel free to provide your own caption or comment.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Weekend Roundup

To be honest, the default mode for my life is set at "pretty much uneventful," which is not necessarily a bad thing--I see plenty of drama amongst the Super-Secret Support Group people I hang out with and want none of it--but at times I wind up feeling a bit "restless, irritable, and discontented."

I forget that sometimes Life can be a case of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

Friday was yet another in a long string of utterly predictable, often boring, typically mind-numbing, frequently frustrating work days, but I managed to get through it without screaming, cursing, seriously fantasizing about a pre-frontal lobotomy, or opening up with automatic weapons fire. Came home, scratched the cat, fed the cat, changed the cat's litter box, scratched the cat some more, had a momentary lapse of reason, tried to scratch the cat's tummy, whereupon I was reminded suddenly that Sid the Cat was not named after Six-Dinner Sid; he was named after Sid Vicious. Thanked the Preparedness Gods that I had Neosporin in the medicine cabinet and spent the evening watching the Survivorman marathon while reading All the Pretty Horses during the commercial breaks. Sid, meanwhile, decided Neosporin is singularly icky-tasting while my chest looked like a good place to nap. At some point we both fell sound asleep.

Saturday was a stunningly beautiful day--deep blue skies, fluffy white clouds, cool temperatures--the kind of day when reasonable people are out and about enjoying the nice weather, so, naturally, I hooked up with Alex, Kevin, and Nick and spent the afternoon in a darkened movie theater watching the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween, which was oodles of fun for an aging horror whore such as myself--in-jokes a-plenty (White Zombie playing on a television in the background), a nicely ironic soundtrack ("Love Hurts," "{Don't Fear} The Reaper," "Only Women Bleed," etc.), and several cameos (ATTN: Cath--Mickey Dolenz alert!). And it's nice that Malcolm McDowell can still find work.

Saturday evening I went to the 11th Hour North Super-Secret Support Group meeting, after which a bunch of us headed over to our current favorite coffee shop, Common Groundz, and sat out front enjoying the cool night air and the Broad St. Impromptu Improvisational Theater--drunken college students attempting to unchain their bikes in a Monty Pythonesque display of ineptitude, drunken hip-hoppers trying to look cool while stumbling into brick walls, drunken cruisers showing off spinners costing more than their vehicles, drunken Club Kids in expensive-yet-disheveled clothing on their way home to wrap up the night with Jagermeister and unprotected sex, the Richmond PD converging on the nearby Hess gas station with five squad cars, a paddy wagon, and what looked for all the world like a SWAT van--yeah, a good time was had by all.

Sunday I decided I (1) needed to do something different while (2) taking advantage of the nice weather, so I grabbed my el cheapo work/combat boots, a GI-style canvas butt pack, a canteen full of water, a box of raisins, and drove southwards to explore Forest Hill Park, described here as "...hav(ing) been neglected for so long it has become beautiful again" and that's a pretty apt description. Once I wandered beyond the parking area and picnic shelters I was in another world, almost Myst-like, with decaying stone structures, paved, gravel, or dirt trails going nowhere in particular, a lake in the process of becoming a marsh, and only the occasional passer-by or trail biker. I followed a rocky, sometimes debris-ridden stream, passed through one long, massive culvert system, then another, and finally wound up on the south bank of the James River wondering why in hell I don't do things like this more often.

I woke up Monday morning with The Fever upon me--Book Fever. My zombie-like moans--"Muuust...haaave...boooooks!"--disturbed the cat, whereupon he graced me with the Kitty Stink-Eye (pat. pend.), m'rowred his little squeaky m'rowr, shifted position, and got on with the serious business of sleeping the day away. I, on the other hand, fired up Ye Olde Intarwebs and began the serious business of poring through my 15-screens-worth of Wish List in order to select the most likely candidates for purchase. My plan was to hike into Carytown, assault the Creatures 'N' Crooks bookstore, and load up on science fiction, mysteries, and horror novels; unfortunately, I hadn't considered they might be closed on Labor Day, something I discovered only when I grabbed their door handle and wrenched my shoulder, much to the amusement of the cute little smoothie-sucking giggly high school girls sitting nearby.

Okay, I thought, I'm a Big Boy, I can improvise, I can show a little adaptability. I'll go to Plan 9 Music, browse around the used DVD bins for a bit, then walk home and drive to Barnes & Noble.

Which I did, but this time instead of taking my usual, mundane, safe, predictable, boring route of Cary St. or Floyd to Nansemond to Grove, I decided to hike back through the residential alleys and see what there was to see.

Lots, as it turned out (and, no, that's not a pun); there's a whole 'nother world out there! Like the pepper garden someone has near Belmont--yellow wax peppers, green jalapeno peppers, red chile peppers, orange habaneros, bell peppers of various colors...who knew? Actually, there's a whole array of near-clandestine gardens in the area between Boulevard and North Thompson, clandestine in that they're not actually part of someone's back yard; they're sandwiched in between fences and the alley proper or growing in whatever otherwise unused strips of land happen to be available. Sunflowers, roses, morning glories, honeysuckle, random vegetables... lawn gnomes, gargoyles, sundials, gazing balls, decaying bird baths... once-ornate gates, dilapidated old brick garages encased in moss and ivy, sun-bleached children's playhouses... and none of them meticulously maintained which, as far as I'm concerned, gives 'em all a particular charm.

Add a light sprinkling of bikini-clad college-age women washing SUVs, elderly men fiddling with pre-Columbian lawn mowers, a few miscellaneous cats, dogs, squirrels, and chipmunks, and you have a perfectly delightful afternoon walk. I almost regretted arriving home so soon, but the Siren-calls of paperback books demanded I leave this green and pleasant land and re-enter the world of crass consumerism, an orgy I've detailed elsewhere.

Book Buying Orgy

So how do I celebrate (my lack of) Labor Day? Well, by heading out to my local Barnes & Noble and buying a whole bunch of books!

How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes For Great Food by Mark Bittman
I've needed a good, basic, all-inclusive, one-volume cookbook for years, but with gazillions of 'em out there from which to choose and new ones being printed by the forestload the question has always been which one? My mother swears by her Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook from the late 'Fifties/early 'Sixties and many, many people recommend The Joy of Cooking, but I dunno, they've always seemed kind of...frumpy...with too many recipes involving the perturbations of Jell-O and suspended fruit. The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was The New James Beard, this at a book fair in Harrisonburg where I had to fight--and I mean fight-- my way through a crowd of cooking-crazed militant Mennonite women (my friend Lynn suggested next time I should shout "Hey! Is that Jesus over by the technothrillers?" to clear a path) and I liked Beard's writing style, but still wanted something a little more detailed. My other cookbook was a gift, The Stuffed Cougar, which I think the city of Richmond requires you to own if you want to live here, having been published as a fundraiser for the hoity-toity Collegiate School. Compiled in the '70s, it's basically a collection of recipes most of which involve opening cans and crumbling potato chips (there's even a "Six-Can Casserole" submitted by the mother of one of my ex-girlfriends).

Anyway, praise be to the Intarweb, for diligent searching revealed the highly recommended How To Cook Everything--"...a more hip Joy of Cooking"--and it looks to be pretty close to my ideal.

I Got Somebody In Staunton: Stories by William Henry Lewis
Hey! Staunton, VA! Nine miles from where I grew up! Well, that, plus I love short stories, all the reviews are highly positive, and this was a PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction finalist.

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl
by Tim Pratt
Could be good, could be bad, but with a title like that I had to check it out! And an art school drop-out/barista/comic book writer as a main character fighting Primal Evil? Yeah, I'm there.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
Mixed reviews, but still--historical fiction about ol' Edgar's last days? Yeah, I'm there too!

Glasshouse by Charles Stross
"...a claustrophobic far-future helter-skelter ride through an experimental archaeology project gone horribly wrong." I've read a couple of books by Stross and this one sounded interesting, so why not?

The Sign of the Book and The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning
Look, I like mysteries and I like books, so when someone develops a character who's both a rare book dealer and an occasional private investigator I get all gooey inside. Dunning's previous books in the series have been decent enough, offering an insider's look into the antiquarian book trade (which I find utterly fascinating; Used and Rare: Travels In the Book World is something I re-read frequently and is a great companion piece for Dunning's mysteries) as an interesting backdrop for all the hugger-mugger.

The Rift by Walter J. Williams
Nine hundred forty-four pages about an American Apocalypse via earthquake? Have I mentioned recently how much I love The-End-of-the-World-As-We-Know-It novels? Lucifer's Hammer? On the Beach? A Canticle For Leibowitz? Alas, Babylon? Oh, yeah, baby, and now I have something new to add to the list!

Hit Parade by Lawrence Block
Bottom line: Lawrence Block rocks! Nah, it ain't Great Literature, but when I'm looking for a fun read, entertainment pure and simple, Mr. Block delivers the goods consistently. Here we have the third collection of stories about introspective, introverted hit man John Keller.

So there ya go, my stockpile for fall, because as we ALL should know by now, "Books will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no books."