Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Stick Around

Okay, so I've co-opted a Rolling Stones song in my title.

But it's only because I went down to the crossroads and made a deal to get some barbeque joints in this town. And now I'm ungraciously mixing metaphors and ideas from separate songs, but what the hell.

While we've had a barbeque joint/resort east of town for a while that I wrote about a two summers ago, now there's a place here in the city limits.

Pop's Barbeque is a little shack-like establishment near uptown that purveys only in pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket, and occasionally rib tips. They also have a few sides. Their baked beans are really good, and that's coming from someone who doesn't really care much for baked beans.

The opening of this carry-out restaurant here in Chucktown has got me waxing nostalgic about barbeque places I've frequented in the past.

When I lived for a short stint in Kansas City, a town I consider the Capitol of Barbeque, there was so many places to choose from for solid barbeque. I lived in the suburb of Gladstone near the Smokehouse restaurant on N. Oak, so I fondly remember driving past that place and having my mouth water from the wonderful smoky smells. And then there's Arthur Bryant's and Gates, which are excellent.

Then when I made it down to Tuscaloosa, that area also has some excellent barbeque. Dreamland is famous for its ribs although I found it overrated. The decor and ambience of the restaurant was more interesting to me at least. And I always liked the barbeque place near me and Mrs. Nasty's first apartment together, the barbeque joint on 15th Street, which I think is called Thomas Rib Shack. That place would perfume our neighborhood with smoky goodness when the wind was blowing from the southwest.

That establishment's ribs were excellent. Now the ones I got the other day from Pop's were okay, not anything stunning but decent. But I think it's hard to find good ribs these days, or maybe my tastes have changed. I seem to gravitate to pulled pork nowadays. Perhaps it's another win for middle age or something.

The first time I went to Pop's, when I told the owner that I was excited to have a barbeque place in town, she informed me that another one was going to start up this summer in the "old Wendy's building."

I look forward to the barbeque wars of Chucktown, and I plan to be a double-secret culinary spy for both sides.

Friday, March 25, 2011

That Seems About Right

Often people like to focus on bizarre stories in the news. Instead of a newspaper featuring a story with the headline of "Dog Bites Boy," the high-interest article is going to be "Boy Bites Dog."

Not in these here parts.

Today I revel in the probable--two stories that made me think,"That seems about right," after I read them.

So I offer the mundane for your consumption, PlannedOb readers:
The second deserves a blues or country song written about it, but I bet songs about that situation have been done already. The kitchen knife is an interesting wrinkle though. 

Music Friday: "One"

I remember hearing today's featured song blasting from car stereos in my high school's parking lot quite often during my senior year. Metallica's ...And Justice for All was released just in time for the start of fall semester 1988.

Metallica's "One" is a video from my youth that creeped me out a bit back then, and it continues to make me slightly uncomfortable now because of the same reasons--the scenes from the 1971 film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun, the 1938 anti-war novel by Dalton Trumbo, which is the inspiration for the lyrics of the song.

I regret to say that I still haven't read the novel although I plan to do so sometime.

But I do know the main character of the novel loses his arms, legs, and all of his face, but his mind functions just fine. He's a prisoner of war in his own body. Or as the lyrics relate, "Body my holding cell."

Although the main character's horrible situation is an extreme case, the video reminds me of guy I saw at the Indianapolis Children's Museum this winter when we took the kids there.

As I was with my kids riding the carousel, there was a young man with possibly his nieces or nephews or perhaps even his kids. The gentleman, obviously a veteran of our violent excursions in the Middle East, had one leg and merely nubs for arms. His arms only went to about halfway down to where his full biceps used to be. He had to use a crutch underneath the arm opposite his leg to walk.

Back during the fall semester I think, one of my colleagues sent an email to a bunch of us asking about any song lyrics that would pair well with poems for the general education literature class she was teaching. I don't think I mentioned "One" when I responded to her query.

In retrospect, I think the song would pair well with Owen's "Dulce Et Decorum Est."

I don't intend to cast a pall on your Friday, but "One" is a song that floated into my consciousness recently since I worked out while listening to ...And Justice for All on Wednesday.

For the lyrics of the song, you can check them out after the jump.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fantasy Red Herrings

Since I know some readers of this blog are my comrades who will draft players in our fantasy baseball league this Saturday, I thought I'd write a post about players that GMs might want to target for the upcoming season.

But my fellow GMs might think this document is simply a list of red herrings.

Maybe players on it are.

Maybe players on it aren't.

Regardless, here are players to target or low risk/high reward players for 2011.

First Base: Billy Butler
Sure, he plays for the Royals. But he's a double-hitting machine with a strong OBP and will knock at least 20some homers. He'll hit in the middle of lineup in KC, and some of those doubles could turn into home runs. Fantasy baseball gurus have been touting him for the past few years as a breakout candidate, but that PR has died down because of his mediocre home run totals for a deep position.

Second Base: Eric Young Jr.
The only issue I have with drafting EY the Deuce is that I still haven't read anything definitive as to whether he has the starting job for the Rockies. But c'mon, are the Rockies really going to go with Jose Lopez? With the potential for 20 plus stolen bases or more, he's a guy to target in late rounds.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes
He's had injury problems for the past few years, but at one time not that long ago he was getting drafted as a top twenty if not top ten player in fantasy leagues. It sounds like he's healthy, and he's only in his mid-twenties. And he's in a walk year: $$$.

Third Base: Edwin Encarnacion
This dude has a starting gig in Toronto, a hitter's park. He'll DH but qualifies for 3B in Yahoo leagues. Last year he hit 21 homers in 96 games. If you project that production to, say, 150 games played, that's 32 home runs. Thirty-two, people.

Outfield: Austin Jackson
He had an outstanding rookie season, but the fantasy cognoscenti project him to have a down year. Why I ask. He'll bat leadoff for a good lineup, he'll steal at least thirty bases, and he'll score maybe 100 runs. Sure, there's the cliche of the sophomore slump, but I don't see what has made people think he'll do worse in his second year.

Starting Pitcher: Mike Pelfrey
I reaped the benefits of having this guy on my roster last year until he had an atrocious month (I think it was July), and then I promptly dumped him to waivers because he was ballooning my squad's ERA and WHIP. Then some other GM in our league picked him up after Pelfrey got it together, and he pitched well the rest of the season.

Relief Pitcher: Takashi Saito
John Axford took over for Trevor Hoffman after he imploded last season. Axford was major surprise for the Brewers, but he walks too many batters, and Saito has closing experience. If you draft Saito, you can thank me for this reassuring causal chain. And you can also thank logos. Conversely, this all could turn out to be a slippery slope.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Gentrified Tater Tot Casserole

That's right, tater tot casserole, one of the many offspring of the church potluck, another dish bound in unity with other baked comestibles that use that culinary duct tape--canned cream of mushroom soup.

If you look down your nose at dinner provided by a one-stop dish formulated for the needs of Campbell's, Ore Ida, and Green Giant, this ain't for you.

So move on, Rockefeller. Move your snooty ass on. Nothing to see here for you.

1 lb. of lean ground beef
1 package of Green Giant "Valley Fresh Steamers" cut green beans
1 large can of Campbell's low fat cream of mushroom soup
1 package of Onion Tater Tots
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
Large smidge of Herbs de Provence
Large smidge of thyme
Small smidge of smoked paprika
Healthy dose of cracked black pepper

In a skillet sweat the onions for approximately ten minutes on medium heat and then add the garlic for a couple of minutes. Pull out the onion/garlic in a bowl for later.

Brown the ground beef and then spread it evenly at the bottom of a greased casserole dish; distribute the onion/garlic mixture on top of the beef, spread the green beans (after they've been steamed) on top of that, slather the cream of mushroom soup over all that after you've put in the herbs, pepper, and paprika; and then put the tater tots on top. Put the casserole in a 350 degree oven and bake for approximatley 50 minutes to an hour.

I call it gentrified since I used fresh onions and garlic along with steamed, not canned, green beans. A guy has standards, you know.

Pride or Is It Garden Porn?

A number of years back when Food Network was turning into a more prominent ogre of marketing and banality--Where have you gone Mario Batali?--there were few articles that compared the structure/plot lines, cinematography, and dialogue of cooking shows to porn flicks.

The authors who make these comparisons offer some entertaining points about cooking shows, but I also think gardening blogs (there are tons of them out there on the InterWeb) lurch toward close-ups of produce and flowers.

In contrast, I offer a wide shot of my nascent garden. After we got back home from Florida on Friday, I planted more rows of produce, and I think I'll try growing potatoes this year too.

Chalk it up to pride, I hope.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The NFL: Soviet Bloc or OPEC?

I heard about a column on Yahoo Sports on the drive back from the Indy airport this afternoon. The author,  Michael Silver, examines the NFL lockout/labor situation from a political science perspective.

While I haven't been following the NFL situation too closely since I not invested in the NFL season because I prefer the glory of college football, it doesn't sound like the negotiations have gone well at all.

I will be pissed, however, if there isn't season since Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, and Mark Ingram all came out early as juniors for the draft. Those three would have been wonderful to have on the 2011 Crimson Tide team.

Regardless, if you're interested in reading some satire about the NFL, check out "How to Run a Business, Communist-Party Style."

Music Friday: "Choctaw Bingo"

This song by James McMurtry, the son of Larry McMurtry, isn't really about bingo much at all. It's about a family reunion narrated from the point of view of someone who is anticipating the event.

As he sings, "we're gonna have us a time."

McMurtry deserves more critical attention. I don't know why he hasn't garnered more. Maybe it's because his songs are dark and realistic commentaries on the American experience like "I"m Not From Here," "Out Here in the Middle," "Hurricane Party," "Holiday," "Too Long in the Wasteland," and "We Can't Make it Here," which I featured on a Music Friday back in September.

Dark realism rarely sells.

In this song, one of his "hits," McMurtry pulls off song lyrics that string together feeding kids vodka on a car trip, perhaps a mail-order bride, "a great big ol' blue cat," Uncle Slayton cooking up meth instead of making moonshine, an interstate smoke shop, a fatal car wreck, high school football in Texas, a couple buying rifles and handguns with ammo, Rolling Stones lips outside a lingerie store, the narrator being attracted to second cousins in Daisy Dukes, his imagined boner, his uncle filching people with bad credit, and the uncle drinking at a gentlemen's club.

As you can tell, he sees the world through dark lenses.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Power and Warmth of Personal Attention

Last night we went to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Thai Noodle in Mattoon.

We hadn't been there in a while since Mrs. Nasty stays up north to work during a good portion of the winter and spring's weekdays, so it was good to enjoy the establishment's tasty dishes. I'm no expert on Thai cuisine, but I like what they provide.

Another aspect of Thai Noodle that keeps us coming back is the charisma and warmth of the owner. She seems genuinely nice, and we've frequented the restaurant since it opened. Since we usually visit the place when Hannah is at dance practice, it's typically Quinn, Mrs. Nasty, and me who get to enjoy the spicy goodness the restaurant offers.

The owner is fond of calling Quinn "little man," and she's one of the few "strangers" he seems to take a shine to, which is a contrast to most folks since he's likely to act quite shy around people he doesn't see on a regular basis unlike his sister who seems to want to talk at length to everyone.

But the first title I had of this post was "The Power and Warmth of an Independent Business," but I decided to edit it to "Personal Attention" because some independent businesses are not necessarily "warm" and don't excel in "personal attention." Some independent businesses, in fact, don't make it because they don't offer those qualities of customer service.

The original title reflects my own bias for small, independent businesses since my father, initially through the grace of a small business loan, started his own grocery store and then then opened a liquor store after his retirement from the grocery store (sold it to my brother) during my childhood and early adulthood.

However, people consistently shopped at Virg's Foods and Independence Avenue Liquor (and at one time, Virg's Better Burgers, a diner) because my father was/is friendly, paid attention to his customers' needs, and provided fair prices while consistently using a loss leader strategy to attract new customers. When you price a 40 oz. of Old Milwaukee for 79 cents in Waterloo, Iowa, people flock, buy them, and buy other goods. When you run a special on chopped ham (a luncheon meat I hated to slice), people buy it and other items. When you run a special on baby back ribs, people need other foodstuffs or maybe some beverages. When Black Velvet is cheap that week, customers will buy 7-up to mix with it.

What I find, however, is that small, independent businesses do generally provide stronger customer service than the corporate clones, the big box retailers.

Personal investment and personal attention matter.

Or, to put it another way, as Quinn stated in the car as we left the restaurant, "That was good stuff."

Music Friday: "Trouble in Your Mind," "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine," & "Hit 'Em Up Style"

The Carolina Chocolate Drops is a band I've been listening to off and on lately after I purchased their latest album Genuine Negro Jig a few months ago. The band's story is interesting. From the sound of it, they're trying to keep a tradition alive.

The video above is the band playing "Trouble in Your Mind" at the KDHX studios in St. Louis.

The band plays old timey music from apparently a long tradition of African-Americans playing instruments (particularly the banjo, the fiddle, and the jug) and musical genres that are usually associated with white folks in the minds of most postmodern Americans. I would imagine if some racists were to discover this band, it would implode their minds.

For another traditional sounding song, check out "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine."

And they also enjoy making contemporary songs like "Hit 'Em Up Style" their own.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Notes from a Wandering Mind

As I was listening to "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin this evening on the drive back from Mattoon, I thought about how I'd like to see William Shatner do a dramatic reading of the lyrics.

I wonder if the kids will help me pick up the front yard. Those sweet gum balls aren't going to pick up themselves. "Kids, meet the Nut Wizard."

I caught a program tonight that featured baseball records that aren't likely to ever be broken. One I wasn't familiar with was Hack Wilson of the Cubs reaping 191 rbi in 1930. That's an astounding number, especially since they didn't play 162 games back then. And Hack is a great name for a baseball player--not a good one for a golfer though.

I rediscovered an old fashioned weight loss program a while back. Just get sick. I lost seven pounds. Now a number of my pants feel baggy.

I don't get texting. I mean, what the heck are all these people texting about? Then again, I've never liked phones.

On campus the other day, I saw a young lady texting while smoking a cigarette and crossing a major road.

Mrs. Nasty and my daughter bought tickets for a Taylor Swift concert this summer in Indy. The price per ticket was $84. That fact makes my head hurt. Translating that price tag to my concert-going inclinations, I could go to four shows for one ticket. Greed is good for Ms. Swift. I could say mean things, but I won't.

I was in a conversation the other day where people were discussing the merits of jazz music, which reminded me of my favorite elective course I had as an undergrad--Jazz History and Appreciation. And thinking about that class reminded me of Wynton Marsalis's Soul Gestures in Southern Blue trilogy of albums, which I listened to quite often when I was drafting my dissertation. Uptown Ruler, in particular, reminds of the room where I wrote the tome in our apartment in Tuscaloosa.

My favorite course in my undergraduate major was Mythology.

My least favorites were Victorian Literature (reading selections) and Intro to Poetry (professor).

I don't know why I can't seem to get interested in college basketball anymore. Alabama is back on the rise (won the SEC West), but maybe March Madness will pull me back like it usually does.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Garden/Game On Part Deux

A little over a year ago I wrote Garden/Game On because I was geeked up about my nascent spinach and lettuce emerging from the ground.

I'm getting a little earlier start this year. This afternoon I planted one row of spinach and one row of Concept lettuce. And then once we get back from Florida for spring break, I'll plant another row of spinach, a row of carrots, a row of shallots, and two more rows of lettuce, one of which is a red Romaine variety.

Why red-leafed Romaine you might ask? Why the hell not I say. You're not likely to find that good stuff in your local megamart.

Later on in the summer, I plan on beans, potatoes, bell peppers, different herbs, and possibly kale.

And speaking of spring break, which will soon be upon me at the end of the week, we're heading down to Florida to visit my in-laws, do the theme parks (or do they really do you?), and assorted what not. But this trip might be different since we're talking about going to a spring training game.

I've never been to a spring training game, so this is new territory.

With the tightness of our itinerary, there are only a couple of days where it's good to watch a game near where my in-laws call home, so it looks like we're going to watch a battle of perennial cellar dwellers: the Baltimore Orioles versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton.

I wonder if I can somehow write off the tickets for tax purposes since I play fantasy baseball. I mean, the Schlitzophrenics ball club is a multi-dollar organization.  At ten bucks a pop for tickets and six of us going to the game, that's a whopping $60 for this cheapskate.

So if that game happens to be on the MLB network that day and the announcers report that some guy is embarrassing his family because he's yelling at Nick Markakis about his crappy power numbers from last season, it could be me.

I could be that guy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Music Friday: "When My Time Comes" & "Love Is All I Am"

Dawes is a band that I've listening to a lot lately. When I first got the band's album, North Hills, I thought it was just okay. Now I'm addicted to the band's rock/soul sound.

Hell, I might as well just call them "Americana" since that's how they describe their music.

As Wikipedia relates, which is a decent resource for finding out about artists, the band "is part of the Laurel Canyon sound, whose influences include Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Neil Young, among others, centered in the North Hills area of Los Angeles."

In addition to Taylor Goldsmith, the lead singer, fronting Dawes, he's also part of a collaboration with the lead singers of Deer Tick and Delta Spirit, who named their group Middle Brother. That album came out Tuesday.

But for this Friday, I hope you enjoy "When My Time Comes" (above) and "Love Is All I Am."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Royals Flushed

Since the baseball season is approaching, I've been watching the MLB network's ongoing program that airs every evening, 30 Clubs in 30 Days.

Last night the program featured the Kansas City Royals, a team that hasn't had a winning since 2003.

People who know me know that I'm a Cubs fan. I've been a fan of the baby bears for a long time. As as native of Iowa, a place where there are many Cubs fans because of the reach of WGN via cable and the AAA affiliate of the Cubs is in Des Moines, it was natural for me to root for the Cubs. One of my favorite professional baseball players of all time is Andre Dawson. I loved listening to Harry Caray. Ryne Sandberg was one of the best second basemen ever.

But before I started cheering for the Cubs, I also followed the Royals, the American League yang to complement the National League yin. The first MLB game I ever saw was when I was very young, and the Royals played the Yankees in what is now called Kauffman Stadium. My parents and I visited my oldest brother, who lived in Blue Springs at the time, sometime in the 70s. I can't remember what year exactly.

The Royals teams of the 70s and 80s were solid with a host of great players: Hal McRae, Amos Otis, Al Cowens, Frank White, Willie Wilson, U. L. Washington, Paul Splittorrf, Mark Gubicza, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Porter, Bret Saberhagen, and of course George Brett, the Hall of Fame third basemen who flirted with hitting .400 in 1980 but ended up with an average of .390.

What the commentators on last night's program talked a lot about is the organization's very deep farm system and how the future looks bright for the Royals.

I sure hope so because I'd like to see the Royals get out the wilderness, and from the look of it, there are some serious athletes who will be major-league-ready by 2012.

I'd sure like to see them beat the White Sox head-to-head this season. But if they don't, there's always the Minnesota Twins, another team I like because they play fundamentally sound baseball and seem to be able to do more with less than other clubs. It's what's called "the Twins Way."

I'd like to see the Royals find their way out of loserdom.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Hopeful Wine Trail

On Tuesday in the local paper in these here parts, the Managing Editor had a column titled "New Wine Trail Adds to Tourism Opportunities in East-Central Illinois."

When I think of Illinois, wine is not a product I associate with the Prairie State. But the author, Bill Lair, points out the growing list of wineries in East-Central Illinois, many of which I had no idea about until yesterday. The one I did know about was Cameo Vineyards in Greenup, but some of the wineries mentioned are southeast of the Nasty family homestead here in Chucktown. They're located pretty close to Indiana in the Wabash River Valley, which isn't that far of drive.

But the wine areas I've frequented (the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, the Mt. Pleasant area and the quaint town of Hermann in Missouri), have a more concentrated aspect to them. All those wineries are bunched together. With the Missouri wineries, the towns are close to the Missouri River, and they reflect a Germanic heritage. You not only get Germanic style wines, but in Hermann there's also opportunities to get your wurst on.

Uhmmmm ... sausages. Meat in tubular form. Me like lot.

What I'm getting to here is that the wine "trail" Lair pitches seems to entail a lot of driving.

And if we're talking wine, I'm not fond of sweet wine, which is featured in the editorial for whatever reason. I like able-bodied red wines. Mrs. Nasty, however, likes the white stuff, especially that ice wine from Wagner Vineyards that we discovered from our travel to Elmira, NY when I presented a paper at an International Conference on Mark Twain Studies back in grad school.

So I'm for these wineries producing some strong red wines, maybe some of that native Norton grape.

But the editor is also idealistically calling for a microbrewery in the area. I'm for that too of course, but it'll be tough market with college students who inhale Keystone Light and a limited population when college isn't in session.

But when I think about it, over in Kirksville, MO where I went to undergrad and got my Master's, in a town of 17K there was and hopefully still is a small microbrewery in operation. It opened long after I left that dusty hamlet in '98. Damn you Fates.

And besides the town of Kirksville, there isn't much around in Northeast Missouri. At least if a brewpub opened here in Chucktown or Mattoon, the establishment could pull from larger neighboring towns.

Or maybe I'm just being idealistic.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Lentil Soup

The only lentil soup I've had up until this past weekend was the stuff out of a can. Or maybe I had homemade lentil soup once. I vaguely remember that, but I think I tried it when I was a kid and didn't like it for whatever reason.

So I decided to make it myself. This recipe is a basic one that I tweaked a bit.

Part 1
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Part 2
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Part 3
2 cups of dried lentils, rinsed
1 small can (14 1/2 oz) of diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of basil
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of marjoram
10 cups of water
Part 4
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste, roughly 2 teaspoons
Cracked black pepper to taste

Heat Part 1 over medium-low heat and then add Part 2 until the veggies and aromatics are tender. Stir in Part 3, bring it to a boil, reduce the concoction to a simmer, and simmer it for approximately 45 minutes. At the end, turn off the heat and stir in Part 4.

As you can imagine, this soup was much better than all the lentil soups I've had before, and it's certainly not as salty as that stuff.