Saturday, December 31, 2005

lobster lust

I like crustaceans. They're a food that I associate with special occasions, but honestly, I can eat them any time, day or night. The Chinese (Cantonese) word for shrimp is "ha," and in their characteristic way of equating things on the flimsiest similarity, shrimp is symbolic of laughter and thus joy. Shrimps, crabs, lobsters – they all make me happy. They're fun to eat.

Today I meant to pick up a crab, but the grocery was out. They did have lobsters, however, and after overcoming a stab of pain from the wallet, I splurged $40 on a 3-pounder. (Weightwise, lobsters have a lot of overhead, so the dinky ones are probably more expensive for what you get out of them.)

I told the mate that about fifteen years ago, while attending a conference in Laguna Hills, CA, I had a wonderful dish of chunks of lobster in a lobster cream sauce over fettucine or linguini. Since then I had never found a similar dish, so I thought to try my hand at making it.

I let the lobster (named Wilson) sleep on the counter while the water came to a boil. I admit to getting a kick out of this. You set it on its nose point, with the big claws folded down away from the nose and angling toward each other. Hold it lightly in position to keep the balance while it settles. In about a minute or three, the tail folds in, the walking legs stop waving around, and the sucker just starts balancing itself, on those 3 points. It's like a lobster lotus, putting it into a zen state. The claim is that when they're calm they taste better, but I have no idea.

I diced a red onion and two cloves of garlic, and sauteed them in butter over low heat for the 25 minutes Wilson needed to become one with the steamer. I also defrosted a cup of chicken broth. I turned both off and started dissecting Wilson. To my surprise, he started splurching liquid all over the place, some of which I was able to save and add to the broth. (I read later that I should have let him rest five minutes, like a roast, to re-absorb the fluid.)

I dug for as much meat as I could eke out. Tail and big claws, of course, but also inside the body where the legs join (not to be mistaken with the gills which are tough and flavorless), and even bits from his walking legs. In doing so I found that the cream-colored scunch between the flesh and shell of a steamed lobster tastes quite good. It's not fat, but it looks like it, and it can be found inside the claws, tail, and under the carapace. I scraped up all this stuff and the more shredded pieces of Wilson and added them to the broth. I chopped the better pieces into chunks and set them aside.

The broth went in the blender and I added bits of the waxy red stuff (roe, I think) until it was a pink color like the sauce in the restaurant. That took most of the roe, and I probably should have thrown the whole thing in.

Returning to the onions, I restarted the flame, mixed in two tablespoons of flour, and let that cook a minute or three. Then the broth went in, thickening immediately. When this was smooth I added the lobster chunks, a splash of white wine, and a half-cup of heavy cream, which ended up being a little too much liquid for it. Let it simmer a few more minutes.

Threw it over linguini and the mate and I ate like royalty. There's enough for 4 servings total. The mate loves it when I cook :-) but does not like me naming lobsters.

If I was to do this again, I would use less chicken broth and add more meat to the blender mix. This would give the sauce more lobster flavor. I'm hoping that overnight the strong flavor in the meat will leach into the sauce. And more cream is always a good thing, isn't it?

Friday, December 30, 2005

nice hawking surprise

I had it all timed to go hawking the one good day before the storm was supposed to hit. The first field I tried had a man repairing fences, so I figured it was better to go someplace else than face the dreaded "no you can't hawk here." He was mellow the last time I spoke with him, but I didn't want to push my luck. We went to a field a few miles down the road.

The parking spot had shrunk considerably, but the field was good! S&P had half a dozen good slips in 45 minutes. Finer yet, we flushed 2 rooster and 3 hen pheasants -- always a nice find, and something I'll come prepared for next time. (This is a 12-foot T-perch, which gives the birds a height advantage needed both for pheasant in general, and to compensate for the lack of high perches in that field.) There were mallards, too, but I don't have a stamp for them and they flushed very quickly anyway.

Then both birds landed on a 3-foot embankment, surprisingly close together. I was going the other way, but they didn't follow. Something was up. I walked back toward them, and when I was 40 feet away, both birds flap-hopped down the embankment and struck a rabbit that had been freezing directly below them. Apparently my approach had been too much for the thing, and it had twitched enough to trigger the birds into grabbing. I just had to laugh -- it was the most unspectacular catch I'd ever seen. But still a catch, and the birds were rewarded accordingly.

motion detection

The post above is an example of how strange predator minds can be at times. They recognize quarry, acknowledge its presence by their continuous attention to it. Yet somehow it does not become chaseable and catchable until it moves. Pheasants are particularly good at freezing, and in doing so become invisible to the hawk. I've almost stepped on as many pheasant as had good proper-distance flushes. (Proper distance for me is about 15 feet. Closer than that, and if the birds don't have enough height, they don't have enough time to react and get to speed.)

Some hawks are able to overcome this and strike frozen quarry very nicely; others don't. S has trouble with it, P is much better. I wonder if it would help to place a life-size picture of a pheasant in front of S, and reward him if he strikes?

Monday, December 26, 2005

music retro

Over the holiday I had a splurch of nostalgia, as sometimes happens when I'm in my hometown. This manifested itself in, of all strange things, an album someone gave me: Alfie Zappacosta's debut album from 1984. At the time I'd never heard of the guy by name or music, so it's not something I would have bought for myself. It turned out pretty good, and I listened to it a lot! My singing range was close to his, too. Being something of a Luddite, or at least unwilling to give up old technologies, I still have a record player, and put it on to spin.

It was kind of fun and funny to see the changes in my musical taste. From my present level of musical sophistication, the quality of playing is pretty good, not the best. Zappacosta's range was good, and had a pleasing richness, but was slightly unstudied, occasionally sliding into a note rather than striking it perfectly the first time. The melodies, however, remain fresh and interesting despite a slight tendency to repeat similar cadences across songs.

The lyrics are, well, quite inane. It's definitely eighties stuff, self-absorbed, I'm-sexy-hot-shit (which worked quite well for the teenage me, thank you.) I cannot think of any lyrics that use the word "I" so much, and it's apparent that forming a rhyme was more important than saying something sensible. Exceptions to this are "Can't Let Go" (straightforward story), "Passion" (straightforward attitude) and, if you view it as dryly humorous rather than earnest, "Start Again."

A little websearch on this guy turns up a career of modest fame and the hiring of so-so web designers who didn't bother proofreading his lyrics. He's had some health problems and his appearance is not aging gracefully. I listened to one of the MP3s and it seems like his voice has lost its old power. Nonetheless, he's remained employed, still singing, and acting on both stage and screen – something that cannot be done without sufficient talent (or, for creations, a lot of backing).

My favorite band, I admit without embarrassment, is Toto. They've always been session musicians: their employment depends on delivering precision sound and understanding music on many different levels. They've had good singers, though I personally think their choice of voice range tends to be too high (meaning both I can't do it, and it's not always what I want to hear.) I prefer hearing Paich or Lukather first; then Bobby Kimball, Joseph Williams, and Fergie Fredricksen in that order. Over the years they have changed, been experimental, played with other musicians' signature sounds. They have their winners and losers, but far more of the former than the latter. Listening to them spoils me. Same thing goes for Jean-luc Ponty.

Friday, December 23, 2005

yes, I like rain

A week of rain feels like a month, even when it's been as warm as this pineapple express. No hawk flying possible in this deluge. I'm sure to come back to find ponds or swamps, depending on the surface.

Planks soaked grey under grey clouds
damp dark concrete and limp brown leaves
a surprising bright flame at my feet
rusted chrome of the barbecue neglected all summer

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

palak paneer

A couple years back I was attending a falconry field meet in Yuba City, which is about an hour or so north of Sacramento, and straight north. The kind of place where you expect biscuit and gravy instead of garlic bread. Imagine my surprise to find a small but thriving Indian community.

After a fine day of hawking I invited two falconers to have dinner at the Indian restaurant. One of them, a Southern Californian and more than a little provincial, asked me hesitantly, "They do serve meat there, I hope?" He ended up really enjoying the lamb curry and tandoori chicken, and I had enough naan and palak paneer left over to make the other falconers at the field meet wonder what the heck I was eating for breakfast.

I'm glad to have gotten this one figured out, because seemingly all my favorite Indian restaurants have stopped serving palak paneer for lunch in favor of saag aloo (spinach with potatoes instead of paneer). The recipe will make enough palak paneer to serve two decent portions and freeze two more for another day.

Paneer (the cheese)
Don't use lemon juice or vinegar. Bring 1 gallon milk to a boil, and slowly add about 3/4 of a quart of buttermilk, stirring slowly. It'll separate into large curds. Pour the lot through a cheesecloth, reserving a bit of the whey. Wring dry and let it cool. Turn curds into a bowl, add a little salt, and knead to break them into finer bits. It should ball up, dough-like. If too dry, add a little reserved fluid.

Put on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, flatten to about 1/2" thick and let it settle again. With a smooth knife, slice into cubes or rectangles no more than 3/4" long. For the palak, fry the paneer cubes lightly in ghee.

It's really worth it making your own paneer. The flavor is totally better. Frozen paneer is available, but the texture is too dry to slice without crumbling.

Palak (the spinach)
Clean all the mud and crap off 3 buns spinach, or defrost and wring 3 10-oz packages frozen. Cube 2 small onions and start them sauteeing in 2 oz ghee. Mince a thumb-sized piece of ginger root and throw that in. Coarsely chop the spinach and throw that in, turn the flame down to medium-low and cover. Prod it once in a while so it's cooking evenly. Cook about 1 hr until everything is getting mushy (while it's doing that, you can fry the paneer). Add about 1 T ground cumin and 2-1/2 T garam masala, salt/pepper to taste, cayenne to taste. Add your fried paneer and fold it in (but if it breaks, so what.) Let it cook and absorb the flavor for 15 or so minutes or as long as you like. This usually tastes better the next day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The War on Christmas is all an act

The vast majority of this country is Christian, yet the right wingnuts on TV are saying Christmas is some kind of endangered species being foully bludgeoned to death by Jews (and any non-Christians they can think of, but mostly Jews.) Everyone is getting hyped up about it. Christians on the lower end of the average IQ suddenly have a cause, and say Merry Christmas with a defiant snarl. The non-Christians on the lower end of the average IQ are jumping in, slapping their foreheads and pointing out what kooks Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson are.

They're all suckers. I think the true purpose of this act to bring up ratings, get people talking about this issue whether pro or con. Some idiot once told me there is no such thing as bad publicity. In this matter, he is right. There's a whole contingency of O'Reilly haters who tune in twice daily so they have fodder for their anti-conservative rants.

A while back, I was channel-surfing the radio and listened to some guy rant about how Michael Jackson was a freak show (repeating the phrase about forty times), and how he didn't deserve all the media attention devoted to the trial. The guy did this for at least an hour – when I got back into the car after lunch he was still going – with no sense of irony.

The alleged war on Christmas is all just the same.

I'm an agnostic, but I was raised to say Merry Christmas, and so I do. It's like saying Good morning or Pleased to meet you, without regard for the actual feelings involved. I, my neighbors, and work colleagues don't give a sweet damn whether you say Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays or Stick It Up Your Ass (well, maybe not the last.) My Jewish genes won't freeze in oppression if City Hall puts up a Nativity scene. In fact, I think it should, alongside a Kwanzaa menorah, a Jewish menorah, and any other winter holiday symbols they can think of, with a big Happy Holidays slapped across the whole thing.

So what, in this rather jagged post, am I trying to say? Don't fall into the hype. America was celebrated as the great melting pot, the refuge of oppressed people. We should be honoring everyone's religion or lack thereof.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

cine extremes

I can't help but snicker over Aaron McGruder's strip, Boondocks, for the last few days. Grandpa and his Oreo neighbor are off to see Brokeback Mountain, under the impression that it's a cowboy movie, and the characters will do manly things with horses, sheep, and lassos.

A few months ago I caught its preview, and sunk in my seat with my hand clapped over my mouth to stifle my laughter. It was the matinee, after all, with an audience of not more than ten; The Constant Gardener was at the very end of its run. The rest of the audience, I suspect, was in a similar condition. Two cowpokes (hmmm) flailing arms around each other, looking more like they're wrestling than caressing, yelling endearments at each other, does not leave one with an impression of romance. Yet that's what it's supposed to be. I just don't see this coming off convincingly, so I won't waste my time.

Sex between heterosexual humans is strange-looking enough as it is, and the parties involved were intended to fit together. Sex between homosexuals of either gender has got to be considerably more awkward. Romance between gay men, to me, is stranger yet. Yes, I know gay couples who are completely committed to each other, but at the same time I also know that the greater proportion of the subculture is committed to cruising.

On the other end of the spectrum, I do intend to see The Chronicles of Narnia. To my disappointment, I've heard it's not nearly as well done as the Harry Potter movies, and that it's been called "boring." This seven-book series was a staple of my childhood, and occupies a few inches of my present shelf space. You could read the entire set in less time than for a single volume of Rowling's, and feel just as satisfied.

I was completely unaware of the Jesus metaphor until I was thirteen or fourteen, and by the time I was old enough to articulate social views, I was more disturbed that the bad guys were obvious Muslims. In my opinion, Lewis gave a relatively soft touch to the Christian theme. I suppose the parallel would have been clearer in fifties England with its more widespread Christian beliefs. Aslan's death on the Stone Table is not a sacrifice for all of humanity's sins, but for the betrayal of just one person. Lewis, perversely, calls this magic, and theologian that he was, the term is apt. Unless the producers have gone wildly overboard, I think even atheists could let their kids see this one and still have a pretty good time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

fictionsuit - a dabbling

I've just signed up with www.fictionsuit.com, a Petri dish for a possible ARG. At this point the PM, Misuba, is developing a story about a missing woman named Corin. Corin owns a display case of objects for which the members will be writing descriptions. Misuba has suggested the display case be akin to a Jorge Luis Borjes-style library, with a bit of Wikipedia thrown in for the descriptive format.

It sounds like a neat project and I've written up two objects for the case: The Unidentifiable Raptor -- completely coincidental that describing a bird should be one of my first three randomly assigned essays -- and a steel sunflower.

I'm not a person who gets deeply into ARGs (they're incredibly time-consuming) but I like them in principle. It will be interesting to be part of one.

Monday, December 05, 2005

got my life back

It had me scribbling over pages of scrap paper, making up paper cubes and drawing lines all over them, and begging for help in the forums, but I finally finished the Dark Complex.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

hard is relative

When I was in my early twenties, I worked with a guy who'd served in Vietnam. We installed networks, and he was always amused by the hysteria that came when something broke. The way he saw it, no one was going to die – literally – so upset was unnecessary. He had a point, I was sure, but in my relative youth I still believed that a hard life meant working lots of overtime under lots of pressure.

These days I regularly buy cigarettes and occasionally dinner at a liquor store/café run by a Vietnamese-Chinese family. They had a liquor store in a busier part of downtown, but recently moved onto the edge of downtown, and set up a kitchen. I'd stopped going to the old place years ago because of the parking, but the new place is easy, so I came back about two months ago.

Running the place are mom, dad, and 2 or 3 girls. I should call the girls women, but personality-wise, girls isn't inappropriate. They're getting in their forties now, but all have permed hair in youthful cuts, have bouncy figures, always wear makeup, and favor shorts and tight clothes. They always greet you with a big happy smile and a high-pitched, musical "Hiiiiii," invariably followed by a giggle. This could have me reaching for a blunt object if I had to hear it for several hours, but judging from the steady stream of regulars, the cheer works. The shorts help a lot too.

The girl who cooks told me a little bit about their past the other day. They were in a refugee camp in Malaysia for about eight months while waiting for an American agency to sponsor them to the US. She called it just "camp," and it took me a moment to see she was referring to the late seventies and not summer camp. She talked about how she cooked tapioca desserts and sticky-rice things in large volume, and how they'd all be gone in a couple hours. The recollection seemed a pleasant one, an experience that had given her confidence to start serving meals here.

A little later, she said that life as a refugee was "very hard." It wasn't much different from the way I would say it. But she had a little extra emphasis, strain flickered across her face, that made me realize that her concept of "very hard" is galaxies removed from that of someone who's lived all their life in peace. In a refugee camp you have no personal space, food shortages, water shortages, inadequate medical care, theft, and occasionally, someone goes nuts and has to kill someone.

This put a little perspective and a little introspection into my day, and possibly my entire life.