25 July 2009

Odd travel, odd governments, odd people

On road trips, a meal is often a Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookie, cheese crackers and a Coke. Not so last night when I ate at Obrigado Restaurant in Louisa, Virginia, a town 60 miles or so west of Richmond. Service was slow and the locals were more welcome than strangers, but in a small town that's as it should be. The food was so good I didn't care. My order of noodles and vegetables, aka pasta primavera, was superior to any dish i'd ever had by that name.

The week began with a meeting in NY on issues facing the finance industry. Some worry that acts of the United States to stem the panic of the fall and winter may become policy and erode capitalism in my native country. Not impossible, but difficult, as capitalism is so closely aligned with human nature. Governments will always impair the flourishing of capitalist systems. It is their nature to meddle and overestimate their ability to influence outcomes. It's not the death of capitalism, but certainly a nasty case of the flu. A free market winter. It looks dead, but deep under the snow there is a flurry of activity, an invisible hand waiting for the moment.

The day also included lunch with a friend who blames me for his current career troubles, as does his wife. He is wrong and knows it, she does not. We discussed it, dealt with it, and now move on.

The next few days included a nice long train ride from Penn station to other meetings, other folk.
The weekend brought me back to the Cities and a cookout, featuring a different friend on an intense rant. He could not understand how those of his religion support a different political party than he does. His religion and his political party are linked in a way that gets more difficult for me to grasp, the older I get. I soon left the "guy table" and sat with the women and their discussion of husbands, high school events, summer plans. A buddy from Canada soon joined me.

19 July 2009

The weekend

Where I was: Willmar, Minnesota High School.
Mascot: The Cardinals.
What I did: Attended the last day of Sonshine Festival, a festival of christian music.
The Expected: Corn dogs, t-shirt sales, funnel cakes, prayer groups, mosh pits, headbangers, tents, RV's
The Unexpected: A wedding/christening combo. Bride in white dress with baby in tow, harmonica-playing priest. (How someone can make such a mockery of virginity and all the other symbolism of the marriage ceremony is lost on me. But I am being judgemental. I don't have all the facts.) Middle aged people hesitantly jumping up and down during the concerts, imitating their children/grandchildren.
The drive: A couple of peaceful hours past miles of corn, wheat and soybean fields.
Lunch: Classic road food, cup of coffee, potato chips and a doughnut.
Why I went: To catch the last day of an event that has become a big part of the summer for my teenage daughter.
The drive back: There is no place to stop for coffee after midnight between Willmar and Minneapolis.

16 July 2009

Listen to the pig


It's been a long time coming, but things are getting better when it comes to my pork ribs. After pondering this problem for a while, and trying to think like the pig, I'm slowing navigating the maze of rib cookery. I'm ashamed to admit it, but one of my mistakes was a sense of entitlement, that somehow the ribs deserved as much use of the smoker as a brisket or a pork shoulder. This comes from watching too much cspan.

A big cut of meat can handle error. If you start out too hot or too cold you can adjust for it. Ribs are a little piece of meat on a big bone and you must not overcook. 6-8 hours is plenty, not the 12 or so for a shoulder. I've cut way back on the rub. Before, I was using a lot of brown sugar, which would only carmelize and blacken if left in the smoker too long. The result was a few nice specimens but mainly hard blackened sticks of bone that only a dog would tackle. I've found a light rub of salt, pepper, paprika, a little garlic powder, works fine. Heck, just salt and pepper works alright.

Listen to the pig, brother, listen to the pig. The pig has been talkin to me this year and oinkin that less is more when it comes to a dry rub. My stimulus package, well meaning as it was, was too much. I went overboard! I was thinkin about what looked good at the beginning, going into the smoker, rather than what worked coming out. This made sense to me, but not the pig. It took a while, but I finally got it. There's an analogy here to real life but this is more important.

Last weekend I kept them ribs in the smoker about 6 hours at 200-225. I laid a sheet of tin foil over them, not sealed, just a gentle blanket. Like the way you set a newspaper on your head when crossing the street in the rain. I thought this would help capture the smoke flavor without a lot of smoke buildup on the meat. It worked well.

When I took them off I wrapped them in foil with a light mix of apple juice, mustard, a little ketchup. Just enough to get a little nice steam going later. Let them set for a couple of hours, then put them back in the smoker, still wrapped in the foil for two more hours. Not perfect but a lot better than what I was turning out in the past. One of the toughest things about smokin ribs is the multiple pieces to the puzzle. There can be loads of unintended consequences. When I've messed up a batch I know it right away, but usually spend a half day trying to convince myself that "this isn't that bad". Once I come to my senses, figuring our why it's bad can take a while.

14 July 2009

Baseball at the break

The All-Star break is here. As much as it is maligned, it is the only allstar game in any sport that gets any attention. And since it determines home field for the World Series, actually means something.

This year it's in St. Louis, the very center, the true nexus of the baseball universe. It should be there every year.

The United States' President will be at the game. The United States would be well served if Presidents spent every day of the season in a ball park. Spring training too.

Also worth noting, the astros are the team that every year bedevils the Cardinals. They can be 15 games back during the early season but no matter how bad or injury plagued they happen to be, in any given year they always manage to give the Cards a good scare. This is another such year. Ask me on any given day the team I worry about the most, the answer is always the same, the astros.

At the break....

NL Central
Brewers -2 1/2
Astros -3 1/2
another team -3 1/2
Reds -5
Pirates -9 1/2

12 July 2009

A welcome visit

My mother was here this week. A special time. 81 years old and still teaching her son so many lessons about life and living out the passing of time.

She refuses to let aging get in the way of enjoying every day as much as she can. Her mind is so sharp. She will recall an old story from years past, engage in debate on a political issue, quote a poem from childhood, defend the faith, and on and on. She is frustrated by the things she forgets but this is more than offset by the spirit and purpose she brings to all her days.

In the past few days we've been on walks, drives through the country, a picnic at Lake Minnetonka, a trip to The General Store in Minnetonka, and an excursion to the city for dinner at Amore Victoria. Today we'll go to church, where some of my earliest and best memories of her were formed. She'll ask me questions throughout the morning about our services and little differences between the way yankees worship versus normal people back home. Our church is bigger than hers but we all know this doesn't always translate to better.

We will discuss church a lot today and I'll refrain from cuttiing the grass, though it needs it, and honor the Lord's Day like I should and as she wishes. She is rock solid in her faith and a firm anchor for her children and her grandchildren. The storms of life have never swayed her and never will.

Our drive yesterday left the Twin Cities around 9 and drove through Hastings, MN and down 35 Highway to Stockholm, Wisconsin. It was a beautiful day and the scenes along Lake Pepin were the high point of the drive. Why Stockholm? A few little shops with a mixture of local crafts and salvaged wares from sales at Target or Walmart. It has the Bogus Creek Cafe and Bakery, which is a great bakery but a lousy cafe. In the fall it is our destination to pick apples and see the changing leaves.

Then across the Mississippi back into Minnesota and the town of Red Wing. Had a great lunch at Marie's Casual Dining & Lounge, in the basement of a building at 217 Plum Street. The tab for four of us was 25.55 plus a healthy five bucks to the waitress from Mom. From there we headed home and got back around 2pm.

Today we will have another nice lunch, watch a movie, play a board game. When the Cardinals game comes on this evening she'll watch a few inning with me. They play another national league team, one from Chicago. But the day will be waning by then and hard to say how much she'll stay up for. A day like this is boring fare for some, but for a guy who sees his Mom only a few times a year, a great way to spend a day.

11 July 2009


Roan Mointain, Tennessee, 1956-1958
208 Willow Road, Savannah Georgia 1958 to 1962
7754 Massasoit, Oak Lawn, Ill, 1962-1963
5805 Annette, Pensacola Florida 1963-68
627 Barton Ave, Panama City, Florida 1968-1971
910 Everitt Avenue, Panama City, Florida 1971-1974
1835 Oklahoma Ave, NE, St. Petersburg, Florida 1974-1975
228 New Mens Dorm, SBU, Bolivar, Missouri 1975-1977
309 West Jefferson, Bolivar, Missouri 1977-1978
3200 Mary Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 1978-1979
301 West 33rd, Apts 209C and 221F, Pine Bluff, Arkansas 1979-1984
1803 Elm, Pine Bluff, Arkansas 1984-1985
5805 Old Pine Road, Little Rock, Arkansas 1985-1991
109 Orchard Village Court, Manchester, Missouri 1991-1993
738 Spring Hill Farm Drive, Ballwin, Missouri 1993-2004
11061 Bluestem Lane, Eden Prairie, Minnesota 2004-2013
Victoria, Minnesota. 2013-

07 July 2009


In college, this was on my dorm room wall, though I was never one to hang pictures like this. More likely it was something about stopping a war, fighting the system, rock and roll, bringing down Nixon (long after he had fallen), or a political candidate who had caught my attention. Years later this is the only famous woman I can remember honoring with a spot on my wall.

There was something about her at that age and this picture. Perfect hair, teeth, eyes, everything. Even the name, Farrah Fawcett. Not before or since have I known a Farrah. It must have been hard to be a teenage girl in the 70's knowing you had to compete with this image and with the magical name that rolled off the tongue so easily.

Over the years whenever dinner conversation turned to movies or famous people, this poster was always mentioned when her name came up. There was Charlie's Angels and the poster. She continued to act into the eighties and nineties, but despite great performances, such as in "The Apostle", it always came back to the poster and "Angels". In a way very similar to the Betty Grable picture of WWII, this was the image of her burned into our minds. I can not name anything Betty Grable ever did or said or any movie she was in, but I know she showed off those legs for the troops in that famous picture of the 40's.

Farrah was overshadowed this week by the funeral of the guy who was not Billie Jean's lover. It happens often. Denied that final spotlight. Perhaps it is fitting. Her passing was more common, more normal. The painful agony of a long illness. We've all had loved ones go through it. Her death was the type most adults can relate to and pray they do not experience themselves. His was a little out of the ordinary.

When I think about college, I always think of my dorm room. Accounting textbooks, ragged jeans, coffee urn, overflowing ashtrays, can of tennis balls, Uriah Heep and Pink Floyd albums, a few quarters for laundry..... and that smile.