Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Stuffed Bell Peppers

Growing up, my mom would make stuffed peppers from time to time. That dish along with pork chops, pot roast, pork roast, Americanized goulash, pork cutlets, and filet mignon on the grill (yes, that's right--my dad was a meat cutter, so we got it at cost) are emblematic of my childhood.

So I made stuffed peppers last night since some enormous ones were on on sale at the grocery. That dish coupled with my sudden, strange urge to drink RC cola took the Nasty household on a trip down memory lane last night.

Here are the ingredients:
4-5 bell peppers
1 lb. ground beef
1 half red onion, chopped finely
1 large shallot, chopped finely
2 cups cooked rice
2 eggs beaten well
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
large smidge of dried thyme
small smidge of dried basil
large smidge of red pepper flakes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Sharp cheddar cheese for topping

I used three large bell peppers but needed one more since I had leftover filling. Regardless, cut the tops off the peppers, pull out the insides, and blanch them in boiling water for approximately three minutes. Pull them out and let them drain while you cook the filling.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef with the red onion, half of the shallot, and some of the thyme. Once the beef is fully cooked, take the skillet off the heat and add the rice, eggs, tomatoes, the other half of the shallot, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Stuff the bell peppers with the filling and place them in some sort of baking dish with high sides for support (I used two loaf pans that worked rather well). Place the peppers in your oven at 375 degrees and bake for roughly 25-30 minutes, with topping the peppers with sharp cheddar during the last five minutes of cook time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Music Friday: "Soldiers Get Strange"

As you know if you've followed my blog for a while, I'm a big fan of Jason Isbell's solo work since he departed from the Drive-By Truckers.

One of my favorite songs from his second album is the one linked in this post. "Soldiers Get Strange" follows the Isbell playbook of storytelling as he describes a soldier grappling with PTSD and its effect on his marriage.

Here's a section of the lyrics:
You know she's a real good girl.
She reminds you that every curl
that whips in the wind of the world
is watched by the eyes of God.
But lately your mane's gone white.
You itch in your veins in the night.
Before you "came home alright,"
you wielded the lighning rod.

It ain't the time that made it go South.
It ain't the liquor that burns in your mouth.
Nearly nothing around here's changed.
It's just that a soldier gets strange.

She turns off the lights, so you can't see her body.
You can't make her fight when you know that you're wrong.
They call you a hero--so many still fighting.
This ain't where you belong.

Click HERE to watch him play this song in KDHX's studios.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shoot 'Em Up

It's good to see Jay Heinrichs' blog is back up and running (or maybe I just hadn't checked it in a long while) since Figures of Speech Served Fresh relates rhetorical figures in an entertaining way. The blog stems from his erudite and entertaining book, Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.

While his most recent post describes the rhythmic power of the isocolon, he also relates some bills that have been passed and the one up for debate in Virginia. Click HERE for the post.

Cold dead hands...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"I hate Illinois Nazis"

I came across this article via a friend of the blog's FB posting. Apparently, there's an idea to make the Blues Brothers into a TV show. Click HERE if you're interested in the short article.

Way to hammer while the iron is hot, TV execs! Excellent work. You're worth all that money you get paid. Jeesh...

This is absurd. That classic movie came out in 1980 when I was, gulp, nine years old. And now in 2010 they're spinning a TV show off of it?

When I teach argument-based writing classes, we discuss and analyze the varied argumentative moves that people use in spoken and written communication. And one such move is to "argue from sign." And this sub-argument is everywhere in our culture, especially morons who denounce global warming as a "hoax" because, say, central Illinois is cold right now in late February. The stronger argumentative move is that scientists, people who publish in peer-reviewed scholarly articles and sport actual scientific degrees in rigorous disciplines, look at lots of factors, lots of signs. And one important sign is the average worldwide temperature and how it's drastically risen, not the current temp at this moment in Mankato or Dallas.

For entertaining satire of this foolishness by The Daily Show, click HERE.

So what am I driving at with this rant about arguing from sign? [tangent averted with the overused trope of the rhetorical question]

There are lots of signs that TV is creatively bankrupt, which we could talk about in detail, but the fact that it took people three decades to capitalize on the Blues Brothers movie is certainly one.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Man, now I feel old. I watched a VH1 program about classic albums, and Nirvana's Nevermind was profiled. First, it's the Police being played on classic rock stations, and now this.

That opus came out in '91. I have always enjoyed the album, especially the songs "Lithium, "Stay Away," and "Something in the Way." But, hell, the whole dang thing is solid.

I still listen to grunge because, well, it's damn fine music. Pearl Jam still does good work, and Soundgarden has always had a special place in my troubled soul. The folks who did the profile of the album really showcased how Cobain was quite a singer, much better than I had realized. As a lyricist, he certainly didn't care much for linear structure, and as Dave Grohl pointed out in the program, Cobain's mantra was "the music, then the lyrics."

So while the lyrics are interesting thought-collages, there are songs such as "Breed and "Territorial Pissings" and "Something in the Way" that really connected to lots of folks on a visceral level. Cobain and the lyrics he bore presented the alienation that people felt, and the music rocked.

Thank goodness Nevermind kicked the music business "in the balls," as one person in the program related.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Music Friday: "A Boy Named Sue"

Click HERE for the classic video of Cash playing in San Quentin.

This one goes out to all of those with "gravel in your guts and spit in your eye."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Beefy Rice

I don't know if there's a Cooking for Dummies book (probably), but the following recipe should be in it.

It's a side dish. Or for frugal folks, it's a main entree.

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups beef stock
1-4 shallots, sliced thinly
1 onion sliced thinly
olive oil for shallots and onions
smidge of smoked paprika
smidge of thyme
cracked black pepper to taste

Slice the shallots and onion thinly and slowly sweat them on low-medium heat with the olive oil. Once those aromatics have cooked down substantially, put the rice into the sauce pan for a little while to coat the rice with the oil and oniony goodness. Then pour in the 2 cups of stock and cook covered for the recommended time of the rice you're using.

Of course, how much onion or how many shallots you use is up to you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Day?!?

A Snow Day!?!

Well, no, not really.

Some nasty little virus is running through the schools and day care facilities. First, my daughter got it Saturday. The poor kid would vomit about every 30 minutes, then the puke rate slackened after about six hours, and she had no more upchuck to give.

Now the boy has it. It began with him erupting in Mrs. Nasty's car this afternoon, and he had a rough evening.

So I'm out of the office tomorrow, with all kinds of stuff to grade and prepare for while watching over a two-and-a-half year old. I see the Imagination Movers and the Wonder Pets in my future.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Midwest

Reading Michael Martone's Running in Place has made me think about where I grew up and how it influenced how I look at life. I prefer Martone's Flatness and Other Landscapes over his more recent collection, but both books showcase how he's a Midwestern guy, born and raised in Fort Wayne as he's fond of relating in his essays, and how place and placedness is important.

From my perspective, the Midwest is comprised of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illiniois, and Indiana. I still debate whether Missouri and Ohio are Midwestern. Ohio just seems too Eastern to me even though the state has a mix of agriculture and industry, which seems to be typical of most Midwestern states. I like the Show Me State a lot. Hell, I lived a good portion of my life there--nine years in Kirksville, a short time in Kansas City, and five years in St. Louis. But it's too geographically and subculturally diverse, and to me the state seems like ten sub-states: northwest Missouri, northeast Missouri, St. Louis metro area, southeastern MO (Sikeston, Cape), south central MO, Springfield/Branson area, Columbia, the Ozarks, the Neosho/Joplin/Nevada sliver, and the KC metro area.

But maybe I'm just overthinking Missouri since I've been in all parts of the state. And the fact that it was border state South during the Civil War doesn't help its cause. When I think Midwest, I think Union. I also think Big Ten, which helps Ohio's chances.

Even though Midwesterners are known for being friendly and "nice," I think many Midwesterners have a fatalistic ethos, especially now with globalization spiriting away manufacturing and factory jobs. But that character trait was probably always there because the people who settled the plains were farmers, people who depended on the vicissitudes of the weather, folks who had to think somehow, sometime things aren't going to shake out right.

Shit goes wrong. All the time.

But maybe even that niceness is a bit stand-offish. As Martone relates in "Roads Lined with Running Fences," his friend from New Jersey ponders the meaning of how the Midwest doesn't have many walls but lots of "see through fences." As Martone interprets it, these fences are "an aesthetic compromise between private property and being part of a neighborhood. A fence allows its builder to say, 'I am alone. Separate, not different. I've got nothing to hide, but don't come too close.' It's a delicate balance" (98).

Cheers to not coming too close.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Music Friday: "Restless"

I was just introduced to Langhorne Slim artist a little while ago, and he has an interesting sound ~ folky with a maybe a rock sensibility, an plaintive but sort of odd voice. I haven't bought his album yet, but I may.

Regardless, click HERE to watch a video of his song "Restless," which incorporates a golem of wood as its main character.

For St. Louis folks, Mr. Slim is playing at Off Broadway tonight for $10. I suspect many 2x4s of PBR will be quaffed at that venue.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stay Positive: Buying from a Local Farmer

This evening I acquired a sirloin steak, a rump roast, some ground chuck, some hamburger patties, a pork shoulder roast, some bacon, and some brats from a local farmer from Sullivan.

Good eats, people.

I was first introduced to Lehman Farms (click HERE for their website) at the Charleston Farmer's Market during the summer a couple of years ago, and I've been a fan ever since.

The products are great, the prices are reasonable, and rather than buying meat from a massive conglomerate that is likely to squeeze farmers whenever it gets a chance, I'm buying a local product while supporting a small, family farm.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Willfully Obtuse

I've gotten back into reading poetry recently, and part of my interest was catalyzed by reconnecting with one of my friends from high school who is an accomplished poet. In fact, she wrote a solid collection of poetry titled Blood Almanac. If you're interested, you can buy it by clicking HERE.

Anyway, I recently purchased a chapbook that was recommended to me, and it jogged my memory of why I quit reading a lot of poetry.

The poetry is just willfully obtuse.

I understand playing with language, but when a poet goes on a symbolic space walk, he or she needs to stay tethered to something, some form of clarity, some form of words that congeal together to create meaning. I don't mind working for the meaning, but I don't want to be too taxed.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned and like "easier" verse.

While I do appreciate poets who can be difficult to unpack (take Eliot's "Wasteland" that requires an Encyclopedia of World Religions, the Bhadavad Gita, an Orphan Annie decoder ring, and a divining rod to help you read it), I gravitate to folks who keep it simple and play with the beauty, challenges, and memories of everyday existence--folks like Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Stephen Dobyns, William Stafford, Galway Kinnell, Hayden Carruth, W.S. Merwin, Sherman Alexie, Rodney Jones. Hell, I like also Sandberg and William Cullen Bryant.

For those readers out there looking down on Bryant, go ahead try to write some righteous blank verse, his best form. I dare ya. Go ahead.

The willfully obtuse make poetry a unhappy book report, an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

If I had my way, books of poetry would be sold at supermarket checkouts. But some of that stuff is just inaccessible to us, the hoi polloi.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Thoughts

A decade ago, an ice storm hit the Southeast when we lived in Tuscaloosa, and the Super Bowl in Atlanta had some wicked weather for the Rams and Titans, who got to play in the Georgia Dome.

This year two dome teams face off outside.

Where we live you see lots of fans of the Colts and the Bears. Although I followed the Vikings when I was a kid growing up in Iowa, my interest in pro football waned as I grew older, and then an obsession with college football was cultivated since I went to the University of Alabama.

But when we lived in St. Louis, I rooted for the Rams. Heck, I lived in the city, and my support of the Rams might have slightly offseted my support for the Cubs. That was during the Martz era though when all hell broke loose, and because of poor free agent signings, contract extensions, and horrible drafts, the Rams have imploded as a franchise.

I'd like to see the Saints win today. They've never won the Super Bowl, and New Orleans is a great city, one of a kind.

Go Saints!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Music Friday: "Youngstown"

Man, it's been a stinking week since I've posted. I'm becoming a lazy bones, good-for-nothing blogger.

In honor of a rainy day that is now producing wet snow here in central Illinois, I offer Springsteen's "Youngstown," a bleak song that matches the tone of this weather.

Click HERE if you're interested.