My Grandfather, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2015 by otfp

I’m nearing my 37th birthday and have gained what I think is a somewhat above average ability to observe. I occasionally use this power on myself. I don’t always like what I see, but as I mentioned last time, I am pretty sure my grandfather would be proud of me for what I have accomplished.

I’ve been pursuing some woodworking and construction projects since we moved to Wisconsin. In the first month we lived here, I built a semi-permanent wall unit for our TV and its component parts. When springtime came last year, I built a raised bed garden, installed rain barrels, and built a deck as a place to store our trash and recycling cans. Shortly thereafter, we put in a monster swing set for the kids. My current project is a simple, yet elegant, set of bunk beds for my 4 sons.

It’s been rainy here, and the humidity enhances the smells around the house. Good and bad. I’m usually happy about this. The air here is so different from what I am used to, in the Chicago suburbs. Wisconsin is close to Illinois but you’d never know it for the breathing. There are trees in my yard that might be as old as the United States. The maintenance is something else, especially in the Fall. But the scents are dizzying. Leaves. Wood. Pollen. Green grass. Mulch. Snow. Ice.

Inside the house, we have different smells. Cooking food. The occasional diaper or sweaty kid. Dryer sheets and laundry. Wood floors. Bacon. Dish soap. My daughter’s medications and other associated aromas of questionable acceptability.

I stepped into my garage. By some sort of mystery of chemistry and olfactory magic, I was transported through time. I stepped across the threshold and off the last step into my Grandfather’s workshop. Clean pine sawdust, chemical gasoline and bitter machine oil. Electrical ozone. Syrupy, hot maple on a burned saw blade. My garage has all of these smells because I build things the way he did, with the same woods, and even some of his tools. Probably over-designed and over-engineered, but building things to last is important. Nowadays, it seems to be undervalued altogether. But I do it. My father does it, and my mom’s dad taught him how to do many of these things. That I should follow along in the well worn path set out for me is inevitable.

And so, I have a couple hundred dollars of pine lumber in my garage, raw material for the continuing legacy of doing and building for the people who come after me. The aroma is astringent and bitter but welcoming and warm. Every cut of the saw and drilled hole adds to it. Every cut of the saw and drilled hole is the product and memory of each cut and hole that led to it.

My grandfather

Posted in Uncategorized on April 30, 2015 by otfp

My grandfather died over 20 years ago, and although there were many times when I did think of him as I went about my daily life, the days I didn’t do that outnumber the former by far. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t important to me. Next to my father, he has been the the most important male role model in my life.

Life, as they say, finds a way. It finds a way to mess you up and go smoothly and then just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’ll find a way to make you humble and take you down a peg. Or three. Or more. If you go and read my posts, or if you ever did read these, my mom commented on a couple of them, and she’s now been gone for almost a year. I tell myself I’m fine and on some level, the most important one, anyway, I am. Because life finds a way. In spite of the the suck. In spite of the answers to questions that will forever remain unanswered. In spite of things being incomplete. Life finds a way to go forward.

So I am here, and every day I think about my mom. And I think about how she’s gone to be with her brother and her dad. My grandpa. And I think about my grandpa now. I’m sure he’d be proud of me, and not just because we share the same name. We’ve done some of the same things, made some similar choices. He taught me a lot. Probably more than he knew at the time. Definitely more than I knew in those days.

Forgiveness. I was riding a bike next to his car once, and the pedals smacked into the hubcap of his car. The hubcap popped off, and I was sure that I’d done something terrible. I was sure I was going to get killed when I had to tell him what I did. The thing about my grandpa was, he was not a big man, but he was hard. When people talk about wanting to be strong, they work out and look at Arnold… My grandpa was strong without looking like Arnold. There was no showmanship in his strength. His strength needed no headlines or fanfare. He’d fall asleep outside in the Chicago summer and get sunburned. The sun would then run for its life, having inadvertently burned this man.

He took the news calmly, grabbed a hammer or mallet from his workshop and walked outside. I knew I needed to follow. He looked at the car, picked up the hubcap, and instead of crushing me with the hammer, he whacked the hubcap right back onto the wheel. Fixed. Relief swept over me like a wave.

I will probably never be that strong or conduct myself with that discipline. I’m actually ok with that most of the time, but he showed me what forgiveness meant better than any priest ever could.

 

This one’s about my truck…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2012 by otfp
Last weekend it snowed here in lovely Fox Lake. Not a lot, maybe 2 inches. We haven’t had much snow this year. But, it was enough for people to break out the shovels and the snowblowers and go to work on their driveways.

I have neighbors that I can only hope are not like everyone else’s.  One of them is a guy I like to call Burlyman. Burlyman has an ATV with a snowplow on it, and of course, this snowfall was enough to warrant the ATV. I guess you gotta have your fun somehow. Anyway, in order to use the ATV, he pulls both his cars out onto the street, double parked. Blocking the entire plowed street.

Enter my neighbor from across the street, Spazlady. Now, we’ve lived across the street from Spazlady and her husband, Drunkdude, for a long time. Both me and the wife really like Drunkdude because, a, he’s (unsurprisingly) always drunk, and b, he’s a genuinely nice guy. There’s a cosmic balance to Drunkdude and Spazlady’s marriage. As mellow and chill as Drunkdude is, Spazlady is, well, freaking crazy. Certifiable. Dangerous to herself and others. Literally.

So Spazlady decides she has to run some errands and she backs her G35 out the driveway, around my Titan, which was also pulled onto the street for snow removal purposes, and heads toward Burlyman’s house. You’ll remember that this is where his cars are double parked. And instead of just rolling down her window and asking Burlyman to move his cars, Spazlady lays on the horn for a solid 20 seconds or so. Burlyman is still driving his ATV, and he does what any veteran jackass would do in a similar situation: Nothing. 

This, predictably, causes Spazlady to do what she does best: Spaz out. She slams her car into reverse, punches the throttle and slams directly into my truck’s rear bumper. I learned a bunch of things all at once in the subsequent seconds. First, the G35 can’t really take a shot to the rear very well. Second, the rear bumper of the Titan is remarkably tough. Finally, Spazlady has a setting of ’11’ that she saves for when things really get out of hand. 

She erupted from her car, swearing like no woman should ever swear. Things were coming out of her mouth that no honest man should hear. It was both unbelievable and utterly expected. She slammed her car door, still swearing, and stalked toward me, overcoat flapping like a rumpled and very ornery umbrella.

“I think I hit your truck.” Really?

“Yeah, it seems that way.” I walked toward the Titan, expecting the worst based on what I could see of the G35. 

The bumper was only slightly twisted though. I didn’t see any other damage right there on the street. The G35 was another story though. I’m no insurance adjuster but there was an easy $2500 in damage to the rear deck lid, bumper, and tail lights. Shards of red plastic from her lights were on my bumper and in the snowy street, like drops of frozen blood from a wounded beast. 

“If it wasn’t in the street, I wouldn’t have hit it.” As if my truck somehow leapt in front of her.

I kept my cool. “Yeah, it’s pretty crowded here. Looks like Burlyman isn’t done with his driveway yet.”

She didn’t apologize, but she did bring over her insurance card.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2011 by otfp

“Keep the change, you filthy animal.” – Home Alone, 1992

 

This one is not about food, except that I work in the industry and the subject of this post also works in the industry.

Winston, you are a lying, forked-tongue devil.  You’d steal from your own mother if you thought it’d get you ahead.  You are a coward.  A sneaking, stinking, coward.  I’d be angry about your shifty, low down tactics except for one thing: I know you’re going to die how you live.  I regret that I probably won’t be the last person you see before that happens.

Marc, you’re a thief.  You take advantage of people, both your customers and the people who work for you.  You’re a career criminal.  You stole from me, from my wife, and from my children.  That 885 dollars you had to STEAL from me, that was my holiday.  I never forget people who wrong me, and you’re #1 on my list.

They say when you leave a job, you should take care not to burn bridges.  As a rule, I think that is generally good advice.  But the unique thing about bridges is that they go two ways.  Oh, sure, I don’t want to upset my opportunities in the future, but what about employers?  They should be equally concerned about the damage they do to the people who work for them, because in a small company in a small industry, your reputation is everything.  Rest assured, both of you, that I will never extend a friendly hand toward either of you.  You’re worse than scum, and I won’t have my good name sullied by your corruption.

Here’s to 2012, and I’m not sad to see the end of 2011.  I’ll make sure I’m getting the last laugh.

The Birthday Edition

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 14, 2011 by otfp

Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.

But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Unfortunately,
Birthdays
Only come once a year.

-Krokodil Gena, “Birthday Song”

We do a thing in my family where, on your birthday, you get to choose the spread for dinner – and no one can complain about it.  My birthday rolled around this year and I was faced with a dilemma.  See, what I want for dinner is a bloody chunk of ribeye, a 22 ounce bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some cheesy mashed potatoes.  Preferably, someone else will prepare it for me, and someone else will foot the bill for it, too.

Herein lies the dilemma.  If I want that, I have to do all the work, which diminishes my enjoyment of the meal by a fair margin.  Second, it’s hardly a present if you have to pay for it yourself, and considering the popularity of slave wages at my current place of employment, dropping 100 bucks on steaks for my family is pretty much not going to happen without me selling a kidney or skipping the mortgage for a month.  And let’s face it, with the abuse my body takes from coffee and beer, I need both of my kidneys, and I think the wife and kids would take a pretty dim view of being homeless.

So I didn’t get that birthday dinner.  I had to improvise.  Enter a lazy man standby from Stouffers: Family Size Macaroni and Cheese.  At 8 or 9 bucks per tray, the price is about as high as I can go.  The kids like it, and I think it is OK.  The problem is, over the last few years, they seem to have cost-reduced the cheese right out of the stuff and it’s been getting soupier and soupier, which I don’t like so much.  And, there comes a time when I’m so damn depressed that the idea of same old same old food just doesn’t taste good.  So I decided to try something new.

Anyone familiar with the product knows that you can microwave it or bake it and you get almost the same product either way.  I can’t settle for that though, so I fired up the grill and added some mesquite chips to the fire.

I then proceeded to bake this Mac and Cheese for about 90 minutes on med-low heat on the old Weber Genesis, rotating every 15 minutes.  I pulled it off the grill when the sauce in the middle of the tray was bubbling and the edges were slightly browned.

This doesn’t photo that well, but here ya go:

The end result is a startlingly delicious version of an old favorite.  The subtle smoke enhances the cheddar cheese and increases the complexity of an otherwise fairly bland, straightforward dish.

Further experimentation with the concept indicates that if you wet the mesquite chips, the smoke flavor becomes overpowering and the dish becomes pretty gross, so don’t do that.  When smoking cheesy food, less is more.  You can add a salsa garnish, sauteed jalapenos and onions, or chopped bacon if you want to further expand on the idea, as well.  All have been well received by my entire family.

Meals That Stick Around

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 5, 2011 by otfp

There are a few dishes that my mother made that stood out to me as a child. One of them was some sort of asian shrimp with gravy, served over rice. I think she might’ve made that twice. The first time, I remember my dad coming home from work and us sitting down to eat, and the dish wasn’t exceptionally well received. I don’t know why, but as a child, any seafood except crab legs was a hard sell at our table.

Not too terribly long after that, she made that dish another time. This time, I remember my parents arguing over it, and my dad actually got up from the table, took the recipe card from my mom’s file box, and cut it up using a small kitchen knife. The shredded index card ended up in the trash. My mom was upset, and I think as a child, I was probably a little scared.

I remember that dinner very clearly. When you’re five or seven and your parents act oddly, these things tend to stand out in your mind. Thankfully, my mom also made a lot of good food; dishes that stand out as equally strong, but for different reasons. One of them came from a large cookbook that I can visualize, but not remember the title. It may have been a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.

Anyway, this is the dish I want to talk about today. I don’t know what it’s called but I remember that it was delicious, and every time we had it, everyone left the table feeling happy and full. Basically here’s what you do:

Take 1lb of italian sausage links, sweet or hot, and slice them into 1/2” thick segments. Take about 1.5lb of new red potatoes and cut them so they’re roughly the same size as the sausage slices. Take 2-3 bell peppers, any color, and cut into wide slices. Slice 1 large red onion into wide slices. Put all these things into a casserole dish and bake them until the sausage is cooked through and the potatoes are soft.

Now, I know those instructions leave out a lot of information. So, the first time I made this dish after living on my own, I had to improvise because I didn’t remember the baking step. Instead, I fried the mix in a large frying pan. The peppers and onions burned and pretty much disappeared into a caramelized tar that coated the sausage and potatoes. It was good, but not like mom fixed it. I later learned that you should probably add the onions and peppers a little after the sausage is browned if you want them to retain their piece identity.

I’ve been playing around with this recipe since then, at times adding extra spices, olive oil, different potatoes, and different onions. It never seemed to me that it was ever bad. This is one of those dinners that’s comfort food. It’s good, filling, and has a nice ratio of meat to veggies. In fact, if you stopped reading right here and added this concoction to your repertoire of recipes, you’d probably thank me, and if you did, I’d say, “you’re welcome!”

But if you keep reading, you’ll discover what I did to take this simple meal up and over the top. You’ll need your grill, some mesquite chips, and a skillet that you’re not afraid to use on your grill. I used my cast iron frying pan. It’s non-stick by nature and is known to be fire-safe.

1lb sweet italian sausage, cut into 1/2” slices
1.5lb new red potatoes, cut into ~1/2” cubes
2 bell peppers, sliced 1/2” wide
1 large red onion, thin sliced

1 medium yellow onion, sliced 1/2″ wide
1/2c Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and sliced in 1/4” slices

First get your grill lit to a ‘medium’ fire and start heating up the wood chips. Then add the sausage and on top of the sausage, add the potatoes. Order of addition is important here because we want the oils from the sausage to help keep the veggies from sticking to the pan.

Put the pan on the grill and cover for about 3 minutes or until the oils start to sizzle, then stir. You may need to increase the heat to get the wood chips smoking well at this point. Remember to keep stirring, especially if the heat is cranked up on your fire. Once the sausage is about half cooked, add the peppers and onions.

Stir, cover, and stir again, repeating every few minutes until the potatoes are browned and onions begin to caramelize. Next add the sun dried tomatoes and keep alternating between stirring and covering. The more you keep it covered, the more smoke flavor will be absorbed, so if you really like that flavor, keep the grill closed as much as possible without burning the veggies.

Again, the sausage will be cooked through and the potatoes will be soft when the meal is cooked. A little caramelization on the onions and peppers is a good thing. Serve with something sweet or tangy, like applesauce, to offset the savory notes in this dish.  Serves 6-8.

There It Goes

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 by otfp

I could’ve sworn I added a post between September 2010 and March of 2011.  But it isn’t there.  The only thing in the empty space between today and back then, is a HUGE gap in time.  Way longer than I wanted it to be.

But I started my new job, the Holidays came, the weather turned arctic, and I lost a lot of time along the way.

My blogging mentor is going through some tough times, too.  That doesn’t help anything.

Right before the Holidays last year, I stepped on the scale and was shocked by the numbers.  They were way too high.  So I decided I needed to get that number down, and I haphazardly decided to go on a diet.  Except, I really had no plan.  No way to measure what I was doing, no discipline in the eating, no method to the madness.  I decided I’d just “eat less.”  And, surprisingly, that worked.  I cut like 15 pounds by eating smaller servings, but at some point along the way, my progress came to a halt.  I floated between 10 and 15 pounds under my pre-holiday weight.

Two weeks ago, I was talking with my brother and he recommended My Fitness Pal, a combo App/website for the health-minded.  I downloaded the App and started tracking my intake vs my input-based recommendations and I saw some interesting things.  Without getting into great detail, the premise for the program is a way to track your activities and your food intake and allow you to adjust both to achieve a goal.  The App is easy to use and the database for foods is shockingly comprehensive.  Your favorite Panera sandwich?  Check.  Chicago style Hot Dog from Portillo’s?  Check.  Basmati rice?  Check.  Beck’s beer and Doritos?  Check and check.  Seriously, it’s all in there.  And, you can even enter your own recipes and it saves them for future use.  It adds and divides all the pertinent nutritional info and gives you a good snapshot of what you are eating, meal to meal, day to day, and week to week.

I’m weighing in weekly every Wednesday and as of last week, I was down 6 pounds from where I started.  So there it goes.  Time goes fast, and so does the weight, once you find a plan that works for you.

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