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Visual literacy, or how to tell if that guy in the next office is going to drive you out of your mind before he ever opens his mouth

Unless your photocopier is broken or you run a tanning salon, you probably won’t encounter this guy, but just in case you do…

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t take much more than a glance to get a good idea what the story’s all about. And so it is with new acquaintances, both social and professional. I find that being able to get a quick handle on new people is an extremely useful skill, as it helps you avoid the undesirable, the annoying and the certifiable before they can stake a claim on your time, your attention or your guest room.

Does my tendency to take others at face value make me a bad person? Nah, shallow maybe, but not bad. What it does make me is a happier person – one who rarely has to duck a neighbor, hide behind a newspaper in the employee cafeteria, or make good on a threat to file a restraining order, though of course that misunderstanding with Anthony Bourdain did involve an order of protection…sadly, not on my behalf, but we’re well past all that now. At least I am. I’m not so sure about Tony.

Anyways, for those of you who are not familiar with the more common hallmarks of the crazy and/or obnoxious and what they communicate, here’s a little primer on how to pick out some of the most easily recognized signifiers that say, “back away now while you still can.” An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of Tums.


Blond Dreads
“I hate my parents almost as much as I resent my trust fund. Sooner or later I’ll hate you, too.”



“High heels reduce women to sex objects. I refuse to be objectified.”



French Manicure
“How’m I suppostah know wheah ya’ check is?
I’ll ax Mistah Nussbaum when he gets back, ahright?”



Scraggly, Bald Ponytail
“I still got it, baby. You want some?”



Adult GRRanimals
“My wife dresses me (so I behave like an adolescent).”



Hideous, Inappropriate Footwear
“I dress myself (and I just made ten trillion dollars off an idea I stole).”

Giada is BUSTED!

Giada admits she doesn’t eat. Told ya’.

At about 90 seconds into the interview, she spills (the teaspoonful of lettuce in) her guts to Chelsea Handler.

I have long maintained you can’t trust the food of a skinny cook. They don’t eat; they couldn’t. Witness Sandra Lee, who obviously lives on White Zin, canned peas and sweet guv love. In the unlikely event she does nibble a corner of that Kwanzaa cake, I have no doubt she runs for the ladies’ and gacks it up almost immediately. Come to think of it, who could blame her?

“Another strand of linguine? Heavens no. I’ll blow up like Ina.”

Giada, too, has always been suspect in my book. Some would say that even a normal size body would be dwarfed by a head that big, but I don’t think it’s merely a question of scale. She’s just plain skinny, and the only way to achieve that is by not eating.

I’ve tried a couple of her recipes, and they’re middling at best, though they do require plenty of effort (bonus!). This just doesn’t work for me.  Except as a weight loss tool. Clearly, however, it’s working for Giada.

So while you may mock Paula, Nigella and Mario, at least you can trust them to turn out food you want to eat. And you know you want to eat the deep fried cheesecake.

Ditto normal sized chefs. Jamie Oliver is trustworthy provided you can get over the lisp and the herbs (that’s right Joe Hoover, I said ERBS, not Herbth). Anthony Bourdain, though lean, gobbles steak and potatoes with relish, and Julia Child will always be the goddess of my prep station.

Sooner or later, we must all accept that weight loss comes from eating small portions of foods we only half like (or nothing at all), while skipping the ones we do. Just ask Giada.

Dirty Little Secrets: Campbell’s Tomato Soup

In the not-too-distant past, I have railed against Campbell’s condensed soups, in particular the cream of mushroom and cream of celery varieties that are commonly substituted for béchamel sauce in casserole recipes across this vast and blessed land. On several occasions I’ve also remarked on the puzzling consumption of Velveeta cheese, for which I inevitably receive a handful of responses extolling its virtues, but let’s leave that for the nonce. People like what they like and the palate is a mysterious organ. How else to explain the existence of head cheese?  Witness the recipe:

I assure you, that is NOT cheese. Via Cheese Dip blog.

To make head cheese, clean the hog’s head by removing the snout, eyes, ears, brains and all the skin. Trim away all the fat from the head and cut it into four pieces. Place in a crock or enamel container. Cover with a solution of 1/2-cup canning salt to 1-gallon water. Make sure the pieces are completely covered. Let it soak for 5-hours to draw out all the blood…

There’s more, but I can’t bear to go into it. At least they remove the snout, though it’s unclear to me whether it gets tossed out or thrown in the crock. Anyways, you get the idea. Different streaks for different freaks, as they say.

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Easy Fish Stew REDUX

Though this is technically a “pre-loved” post, it’s among my favorites by virtue (if that’s the term I want) of the half-assed, utterly un-subtle sexual leitmotif. And the pictures of Peg Bundy and Lucy. I neglected to mention it in my recent 7×7 award post, but I think it merits a second look, if only for its utter scabrousness. Also, I’m too busy to come up with anything original at the moment. Bear with me.

Get warm with Easy Fish Stew

Why ruin a perfectly lovely afternoon with excessive dinner prep?

You know how it is, some nights you just cannot get it up for making dinner. It happens to everyone eventually. As apathy turns to desperation, you frantically flip through usually reliable triggers of culinary desire – The Naked Chef, Nigella Bites, The 60 Minute Gourmet – all to no avail. Nothing but nothing, not photos of plump pink shrimp glistening with teriyaki or video of Daisy Martinez expertly deboning a chicken or even the excitement of Anthony Bourdain filling in for Tom Colicchio, can get you in the mood to sauté, braise or fry no matter how hot your family is for a decent meal. You don’t want to cook; you want to want to cook, but it is just not happening. What to do, what to do?

Still nothing?

Enter the one bowl meal. If handled correctly, it’s easy, pleasurable and satisfying and from start to finish takes only minutes. As an added bonus it seldom causes much mess by virtue of its unfussiness and limited number of ingredients. So even if you have to close your eyes and grit your teeth to get through it, the whole ordeal is mercifully brief. Your family walks away from the table flushed with the glow of a hot meal, and you can feel serene in the knowledge that your duty has been done, even if you did have to fake it, at least to some extent.

Win win.

I have a few standbys for these situations: pasta with butter, broccoli and parmesan; spinach and feta omelet; leftover chicken and gravy on toast. These are the usual suspects, and really any leftover lends itself to this kind of cooking, but my best one-bowl, would-ya-hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with meal is a kind of slattern’s bouillabaisse (a quickie, if you will)….

Easy Fish Stew

  • Mince a smallish onion and a few ribs of celery and sauté them in a big pot with olive oil and a couple tablespoons of chili powder for about five to ten minutes. You can add red or green peppers to this if you want, though, as you know, I do not recommend green peppers for anything. But if you like ’em, have at it.
  • You can also add a small summer squash or zucchini (quartered and sliced) to the onion mixture after it’s been cooking for a couple of minutes if you happen to have one or both on hand. Not, strictly speaking necessary, but a nice touch.
  • To your sautéed vegetables, add a large can of chopped tomatoes (I use the Pomi brand in the box because it has less sodium than most, but if that’s not a concern to you, just toss in whatever you’ve got.), half a can (or half a box) of water, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional) and half a cup or so of frozen corn. Stir and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes or so, uncovered.
  • Check for taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Turn off the heat.

Now at this point the base is complete, and you can just leave it on the stove or the counter for several hours before adding the fish. In fact, it actually tastes better after it’s been sitting around a while, as is so often the case with soups.

  • When you’re ready to eat, just cut up about a pound of white fish into cubes (cod, scrod, haddock, even tilapia, but not flat fish like sole or flounder – they just fall to pieces) and throw it all in the simmering soup. If you like, you can also add shrimp (fresh or frozen) with the fish or use shrimp only. Whatever you’re in the mood for or can scavenge from the freezer, as the case may be. Fresh fish and shrimp take very little time to cook, so gratification is immediate.

And really that’s it.

By the by, quite often once I get going I find I don’t mind the act of cooking as much as I had thought I would, and sometimes I even kind of relax and enjoy it. At times like these, I’ve been known to make a little starchy side for the fish stew. Sometimes I throw together a batch of corn bread (from the recipe on the back of the corn meal bag – no big deal there) or whack open a baguette, butter it, sprinkle on a little minced garlic and parmesan then bung it under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Occasionally I even leave the lights on.

Never seen one that big before. You, Ethel?

Garlic dammit!

Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.

~Anthony Bourdain

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