C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Colonial Revival, Southern Style

It's not really much to speak of, but I'll share one of my hobbies with you guys, something that passes the time very agreeably for me out here on the prairie.

The first software I bought after I finally acquired a computer was a home design program.  I have no training in architecture, but I've been drawing and redrawing my dream house - or should I say houses? - for more than thirty years now.  I've drawn dozens of designs, depending on whether my imagination at a given moment leads me to think of a modest cottage or a grand manor, a townhouse or a ranch, an apartment or a suburban home.  Or just a new and improved version of somewhere I once lived.

I paid only ten bucks for that first program, which came on a floppy disk; but that was the best ten bucks I ever spent, because it gave me many hundred hours of creative play, and allowed me to go far beyond what I had been doing with pencil, paper, and ruler (I have no training in art, either, sad to say).  The challenge for me, and a great deal of fun, is to set myself a limit such as one might encounter in the real world:  a certain number of square feet, a certain shape, a certain architectural style.  Anybody can draw a big, rambling house that bulges out here and there; the satisfaction, though, comes from coloring inside the lines, so to speak - creating a lovely, liveable space within realistic limits.

Which, I imagine, is what real architects do, most of the time.

Now, modern architecture is not your Head Trucker's cup of tea, but I do dearly love traditional old homes like Colonial Revival - the sort of house I would have liked to grow up in.  Here's my latest attempt, based on an actual architect's design from about 1925, which I've elaborated a bit and, I think, improved upon.

I could show you fellas the floor plan too, if I thought you really wanted to see it.  But perhaps you can imagine your own floor plan, which is half the fun of looking at old houses, isn't it?

Of course, I have a much better program now than what I started out with, which generates these wonderful three-dimensional views of the outside of the house.  No doubt some or all of you are faintly smiling and saying, So what?  But I look at these renderings and imagine not only the house but a life lived there.

I wander sometimes through my houses like a ghost, drifting on the evening breeze that wafts the scent of magnolias and fresh-mown grass through the windows.  I watch the shades of a summer twilight lengthen, hear the distant crickets begin to chirp.  I watch the family as they finish up their supper at the big mahogany table in the dining room - is it someone's birthday, or the Fourth of July, or just a summer visit with the kinfolks from out of town?  There has been much talk and laughter; now the women, without missing a word of gossip, are carrying the dishes into the kitchen and filling the sink, while the men with their jokes and stories drift towards the den, or the back porch.  The girls giggle their way upstairs to the pink-and-white bedroom where there are new records to play, and hair curlers, and talk of boys.  The older boys head out to the garage and discuss fireworks and cars and girls.  The younger boys run across the porches and all around the yard, shrieking happily, playing hide-and-seek in the shadows of the big oaks, with the dogs excitedly joining in the game.  A train whistle blows for the crossing at the bottom of the hill, and is swallowed up in the muffled rumble of the cars.  Somewhere a church bell tolls the hour.  Nobody wants the evening to end anytime soon, not even the grandparents, who are already a little tired, but full of good cheer.

Life is sweet, and safe, and steady.  I am in their midst, gliding among them, the silent wraith who sees and hears it all.  They have no idea I am here, watching, listening . . . ordaining their private joy.  They will never know me, though I know them well.

It is not my house.  It is not my life.  But a life that might have been.  Could have been.  Should have been.

Update:  Below the jump, the floor plans.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Pork Boys Do KFC

A couple nights ago.  Didn't take any pics, it wasn't a big cookery thing for us; mainly the other Pork Boy was coming to get his good kitchen knives that he forgot to take home with him last time.  M.P. picked up a bucket of KFC and a bottle of wine on the way over.  I opened a can of baked beans and a can of turnip greens.  Added some microwave bacon to the last, you know the Pork Boys have to have some kind of pork for dinner, always.

Opened a can of biscuits and threw those in the oven.  Meanwhile M.P. applied his culinary wizardry to making some chicken gravy - without any chicken drippings, of course, since we didn't fry the chicken.  Don't ask me for details, you don't want to know - it's a dark art.  But some kinda good when he got done with it, yessir.

Oh and I slaved for all of 4 minutes whipping up some instant potatoes in the microwave.  So we loaded our plates, filled our glasses, and proceeded to chow down big time on all that good, gooey Southern stuff we love.  And watched the incredible Betty Hutton sing and dance her heart out in Annie Get Your Gun (1950).  Which took us about four hours to watch, because of all the interruptions for commentary on the film, the singing, the acting, and the set and costume designs.  Not to mention more interruptions to reload our plates.

Finished off the evening with ice cream and caramel and chocolate syrups, and coffee.  Nothing fancy, just goooood eating.  But we're working on a special menu for Mardi Gras, which of course will put M.P.'s Cajun heritage in the spotlight.  I can tell you that one item is already definite:  a king cake.  Which sure beats the hell out of boring old Episcopalian pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.  Being Anglo (Anglish as the Cajuns say) ain't all it's cracked up to be.  Grin.

And that's all the news from Texas worth reporting.  Except that it was 73 degrees outside today and will be again tomorrow.  Don't hate me, Frank.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Born This Way

Been meaning to tell you guys, there's a great new blog just started last month that you should check out.  I've got it listed in the sidebar under "Russ Recommends."  Really good stuff.  Seems I wasn't the only little sissy boy in the South, although it sure felt like it.  Nice to have the validation after all these years.

Go take a look, maybe you can relate too.  It's a wonderful thing that queer kids these days don't have to grow up all alone and isolated like we did.

P.S. - I'd almost forgotten about Race Bannon until so many guys mentioned him on the blog.  But does anybody else remember Ilya Kuryakin?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snowing Now

Here we go again. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Pork Boys Do Boeuf Bourguignon

Last night we honored our patron saint by cooking up Julia Child's famous boeuf bourguignon and let me tell you, boys - it was to die for.  You never had anything so good in your mouth, believe me when I tell you.

Original 1961 recipe we used can be downloaded here.  Be sure to also download the recipes for braised onions and sauteed mushrooms while you're there.

Now we have been researching and studying this recipe for several weeks, night and day. The Pork Boys are nothing if not serious about good eats, I tell you what. Of course, there are many different versions of this recipe all over the Internet. And come to find out, even Julia herself does it four different ways in her various cookbooks and videos!

Which just goes to show the truth of her very first sentence about this dish in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: "As is the case with most famous recipes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon." The truth is, as we discovered in our researches, it originated as peasant food, the same as good old Cajun gumbo: a way to make a cheap piece of meat tender and delicious, and enough to feed a family.

But even though Julia herself, as years went by, offered quicker and simpler ways to arrive at the finished product, we wanted to do it according to the original recipe - just to be able from hereafter to say we did, for one thing, and also to have a yardstick by which to compare any other versions in future. In Mastering, Julia's first and most famous cookbook, she was translating the professional-chef techniques she had learned at the Cordon Bleu in Paris into carefully thought-out recipes that any "servantless American housewife" could follow, and produce a scrumptious result.

And the Pork Boys can now report that if you just man up and follow Julia's directions to the letter, you will indeed turn out a mouthwatering meal. As shown below.

First of all, le menu. The other Pork Boy, M.P. - who is the real chef de cuisine here, while yours truly is just the photographer, reporter, and chief bottlewasher - well, he has been looking forward to making this famous dish with such excitement that he originally planned a rather elaborate series of courses, starting with oysters Rockefeller and ending with made-from-scratch peach cobbler, both of which he is very good at making. Alas, once we got into the cooking, we found there was no time left over to do the other big dishes - which was just as well, or we wouldn't have had room in our stomachs to enjoy the boeuf bourguignon, which took about five hours to prepare, first and last. But when we did finally sit down to eat, at quarter after 1 in the morning, we had something wonderful, and plenty of it.

Hors d'oeuvre - Potato chips and shrimp dip, something simple that M.P. concocted at home and brought with him as a snack to tide us over while we cooked. I didn't get a picture, but it involves cream of shrimp soup and some chopped green olives. Yummy, creamy stuff.

Appetizer - Lobster rolls, which M.P. also brought with him. The main ingredient, of course, is the meat from some lobster tails he bought and rolled up with veggies in prepared egg wrappers. Another light and lovely snack.

Side dish - steamed Brussels sprouts with homemade Thousand Island dressing. M.P. has made this simple, delicious side dish many times, and the first time I tried it, I was rather dubious about mixing the sprouts with the dressing - but counterintuitive though it may seem, it's a wonderful pairing, you should try it sometime. The sprouts are quickly prepared with a little water in the microwave, and some melted butter.

And the piece de resistance, the famous Boeuf Bourguignon - which you shitkickers ought to understand is simply beef stew in wine with onions and mushrooms; there's really nothing complicated about it. I didn't take a picture of every little step and every ingredient, but here are some of the highlights for you.

After you've fried up half a pound of bacon, and cut up a 3-lb. chuck roast, you brown the beef in the bacon fat.  Then you dump the bacon and beef, along with a chopped carrot and chopped onion and 3 cups of dark red wine and some garlic and herbs into a casserole, like this:

Which at this point admittedly looks like a dog's breakfast, and tastes like it too.  But it gets a whole helluva lot better after simmering in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, trust me.  After we put it in, we took a break and chitchatted most of that time, instead of proceeding directly to work on the onions and mushrooms, which would have cut down the overall cooking time, but what the hell.  We weren't out to break any speed records, just had a good time visiting.

Now the onions - two dozen of the small variety - first need to be blanched a minute in boiling water, to make them easy to peel.  Then as you peel them, Julia says to make a small X-notch in the end of each one.  I wondered why that extra little step was necessary, but we found out.  Next, saute your peeled onions in butter, shaking the pan constantly to get them browned on all sides.

But looky here, guys - your unnotched onions, when they get all hot and lubed, sprout a hard-on.  You ever have that problem?  That's why you have to nip them in the bud first.  Strange but true, fellas.

Then you simmer the browned onions for about 45 minutes in beef bouillon, which gives them a luscious flavor.  Meanwhile, chop up a pound of fresh mushrooms, and saute them in butter too, which takes only a few minutes and gives them the yummiest taste.

Actually, you could just serve the mushrooms and onions with some noodles all by themselves, I think.   They taste so damn good done this way. 

When your beef comes out of the oven, you have to pour it through a sieve, then put the beef aside while you skim the fat off the wine sauce.  Now here is where M.P. used a little trick he learned elsewhere.  Instead of trying to skim the fat off the hot liquid - a Sisyphean task if ever there was one - he brilliantly threw a bunch of ice cubes into the liquid and stirred them around until all the fat was congealed. 

At which point, it was very easy to dip all the fat out, and discard.

Now you have to cook the wine sauce over high heat at a rapid boil while it reduces in volume by about half.  This is the great trick that wonderfully concentrates the flavors of the meat and the wine, and M.P. says he will always do it this way - none of Julia's later shortcuts would add so much flavor, he thinks. 

Finally, you recombine the meat and the sauce, and throw in the braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, and simmer all together for about 10 minutes; only we cheated a bit at this point - the Pork Boys were hungry - and got it all hotted up in the microwave.  God bless Corningwear is all I can say - what other cookware do you know of that can go from stovetop to oven to microwave - and on to refrigerator and dishwasher, with nary a worry?  I don't know why it doesn't seem to be very popular these days, but we both love it.

Dish yourself a nice big helping of noodles on your plate, and add as much stew as you want on top of them.  Then get you a piece of plain French bread with butter, a glass of good red wine, a fork, and dig in. 

You will be so damn glad you did.  I tell you what.  Words really can't describe it, boys:  you just have to try it for yourself sometime.

For our in-flight in-meal movie, M.P. picked up - what else? - the totally delightful Julie & Julia.  Which of course features this very recipe as a recurring motif.  And so with good food, good wine, good cheer, and good company, the Pork Boys happily concluded another adventure in cooking - with renewed admiration for St. Julia, our guide and inspiration.

Bon appetit, indeed!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Myth and the Dream

Lately there has been a slew of news articles - practically amounting to an apotheosis - of Ronald Reagan and his supposedly wonderful legacy.

I don't know who is buying all this propaganda, besides the deluded, reactionary types who voted for him in the first place.  But even though at the time I was not nearly as politically aware as I later became, I vividly recall the bullshit he spouted.  No one in my family was deceived by his actorish posturing; indeed, his obvious cluelessness about what to do or say next when on some occasion or another he was momentarily jostled "off-script" was a source of mirth and indignation to us.

The man was an actor, first and last; the Presidency was his greatest role of all. 

I could reminisce further about all that, but instead I urge my truckbuddies to refresh their own memories with Ted Kennedy's "The Dream Shall Never Die" concession speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention - which has been recognized as one of the greatest American political speeches of the twentieth century, and deservedly so.  A few excerpts follow, but do read the full text or watch the video here, why don't you.
The serious issue before us tonight is the cause for which the Democratic Party has stood in its finest hours, the cause that keeps our Party young and makes it, in the second century of its age, the largest political Party in this republic and the longest lasting political Party on this planet.

Our cause has been, since the days of Thomas Jefferson, the cause of the common man and the common woman.

Our commitment has been, since the days of Andrew Jackson, to all those he called "the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers." On this foundation we have defined our values, refined our policies, and refreshed our faith. . . .

We cannot let the great purposes of the Democratic Party become the bygone passages of history.

We must not permit the Republicans to seize and run on the slogans of prosperity. We heard the orators at their convention all trying to talk like Democrats. They proved that even Republican nominees can quote Franklin Roosevelt to their own purpose.

The Grand Old Party thinks it has found a great new trick, but 40 years ago an earlier generation of Republicans attempted the same trick. And Franklin Roosevelt himself replied, "Most Republican leaders have bitterly fought and blocked the forward surge of average men and women in their pursuit of happiness. Let us not be deluded that overnight those leaders have suddenly become the friends of average men and women."

"You know," he continued, "very few of us are that gullible." And four years later when the Republicans tried that trick again, Franklin Roosevelt asked, "Can the Old Guard pass itself off as the New Deal? I think not. We have all seen many marvelous stunts in the circus, but no performing elephant could turn a handspring without falling flat on its back."

The 1980 Republican convention was awash with crocodile tears for our economic distress, but it is by their long record and not their recent words that you shall know them.

The same Republicans who are talking about the crisis of unemployment have nominated a man who once said, and I quote, "Unemployment insurance is a prepaid vacation plan for freeloaders." And that nominee is no friend of labor.

The same Republicans who are talking about the problems of the inner cities have nominated a man who said, and I quote, "I have included in my morning and evening prayers every day the prayer that the Federal Government not bail out New York." And that nominee is no friend of this city and our great urban centers across this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about security for the elderly have nominated a man who said just four years ago that "Participation in social security should be made voluntary." And that nominee is no friend of the senior citizens of this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about preserving the environment have nominated a man who last year made the preposterous statement, and I quote, "Eighty percent of our air pollution comes from plants and trees." And that nominee is no friend of the environment.

And the same Republicans who are invoking Franklin Roosevelt have nominated a man who said in 1976, and these are his exact words, "Fascism was really the basis of the New Deal." And that nominee whose name is Ronald Reagan has no right to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. . . .

The tax cut of our Republican opponents takes the name of tax reform in vain. It is a wonderfully Republican idea that would redistribute income in the wrong direction. It's good news for any of you with incomes over 200,000 dollars a year. For the few of you, it offers a pot of gold worth 14,000 dollars. But the Republican tax cut is bad news for the middle income families. For the many of you, they plan a pittance of 200 dollars a year, and that is not what the Democratic Party means when we say tax reform.

The vast majority of Americans cannot afford this panacea from a Republican nominee who has denounced the progressive income tax as the invention of Karl Marx. I am afraid he has confused Karl Marx with Theodore Roosevelt -- that obscure Republican president who sought and fought for a tax system based on ability to pay. Theodore Roosevelt was not Karl Marx, and the Republican tax scheme is not tax reform.

Finally, we cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must -- We must not surrender -- We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth.

The President, the Vice President, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the Federal Government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the President, the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, then it's good enough for you and every family in America.

There were some -- There were some who said we should be silent about our differences on issues during this convention, but the heritage of the Democratic Party has been a history of democracy. We fight hard because we care deeply about our principles and purposes. We did not flee this struggle. We welcome the contrast with the empty and expedient spectacle last month in Detroit where no nomination was contested, no question was debated, and no one dared to raise any doubt or dissent.

Democrats can be proud that we chose a different course and a different platform. . . . Let this be our commitment: Whatever sacrifices must be made will be shared and shared fairly. And let this be our confidence: At the end of our journey and always before us shines that ideal of liberty and justice for all.
Which all just goes to show:  the more things change, the more things stay the same.  You know what I mean, fellas?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Still Cold

All this week it's been bitterly cold:  down in the teens at night and wind chills in the single digits.  Weather reports say it's not going to let up soon, either.  At the moment, it's snowing lightly, 25 degrees and wind chill of 16.  Took a couple pics to show you guys. 

I know it's even worse in other places, but for Texas this is bad - real bad.  I have the faucets dripping night and day, and keep the thermostat on 70 (in real numbers, that means about 60), trying to avoid a whopping heating bill - which means I feel cold all the time.  Too cold to do anything but eat and sleep.

You can see the postman's tracks in the front yard.
Snow too deep to see where the curb ends and the street begins.
My poor birds perched on the frozen birdbath earlier, now piled
4 inches deep with snow.
Florida looks good right now.
The Pork Boys are due to have another big dinner do tomorrow but I don't know if the other PB can make it out here.  He slid off into a ditch the other night, swerving to avoid a speeding van; he was not happy about the hundred dollars it cost to have a tow truck pull him out.  We were hoping by tomorrow the snow would have abated, but it's only going up to 37 they say, and that may not be enough to clear the stuff off these country roads.  So we'll see.

Even with all the storm windows closed and the heat mildly on, I've been sleeping in my clothes all week.  It's that cold here.  You guys take care and stay warm, if you can.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today's TX Weather

Feels like it, too.
I checked, it's actually warmer in Nome, Alaska, right now.

From my kitchen window.  Too goddamn cold to go out in the yard for a pic.

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