Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pete's Parm

You'd think, having a healthy dose of Italian heritage infused into her genes, Our Daughter would know where and when to order an Italian entree.

Not that I'm any connoisseur of world cuisine -- and there's absolutely no Italian blood in my veins -- but I did grow up on Long Island not far from Manhattan. You couldn't spit in our neighborhood without hitting a pizza parlor or an Italian restaurant run by someone who looked like an extra from one of the "Godfather" movies. Add a few hundred randomly placed delicatessans, each serving a meatball sub more delicious than the other, and it's almost impossible not to develop a keen appreciation for properly prepared Italian food.

Twenty-three years ago, when I moved from the Empire State to the Tar Heel State, the lack of diversification among restaurants was the most difficult change to tolerate. We were lucky to have a McDonald's, let alone a great place to get pizza.

My Mother-in-Law used to have little sympathy for my complaints. She had moved to North Carolina in the early 1970s and one of her favorite stories to tell was about the time she went to the local supermarket and asked for help locating bread crumbs. She would roll out her best Yankee impersonation of Southern drawl when she mimicked the confused store clerk: "You want cruuuuuumbs? Of bray-uhd?"

Her story always reminded me of the time back in the early 90s when I made a sales trip to Charlottesville, VA. Not knowing the area, I asked the front desk attendant at the hotel if there were any good ethnic restaurants nearby. The poor girl stared at me like I had asked her to provide detailed instructions for nuclear fusion. After a moment's reflection, she offered this nugget: "There's a Shoney's down the street if you like country." If nothing else, I was glad to know someone had developed a work-placement program for ex-Hee Haw Honeys.

Over the years, our community has been blessed with the addition of a handful of eateries that understand tomato sauce and ketchup are very different things. And they have names that lead you to suspect they might know what they're doing -- Vito's, Valenti's, Fratello's. Let's face it, if an Italian restaurant has a single-word name ending in a pronounced vowel followed by a possessive apostrophe, it's already halfway along the road to success. This is a fact Our Daughter should have learned by now.

So, when her boyfriend's parents took her to dinner not long ago to a restaurant in a metal building on the side of a semi-rural highway, she should have known better than to order chicken parm at a placed called Pete's. You don't order chicken parm at a restaurant called Pete's. You order chicken fried steak, or country fried steak, or fried shrimp. Heck, order just about anything fried you care to from Pete and he'll probably do it extremely well. Like hushpuppies! Pete probably has perfect hushpuppies, but I promise you parmesan was not a staple product in his parent's pantry.

And even though Pete's name ends in a vowel, it's a silent vowel. Had the restaurant's name been Pietro's, then you could have made an argument for ordering chicken parm, or saltimbocca, or even a linguini appetizer. But it isn't, so you can't.

When Pete attempts chicken parm, you get country fried chicken and a red-colored sauce topped with a cheese bearing little resemblance to parmesan. And when that plate is dropped in front of you, you're getting exactly what you deserve for ordering it from a guy named Pete.

Clearly, we have failed to properly educate Our Daughter.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mango Blech

I believe I've stated my opinions on fruit, but just in case you've missed it there is one overriding rule to which I hold dearly: fruit has no business being in, or anywhere near, cookies. I would broaden that rule to encompass all baked goods, if not for the total deliciousness of cherry tarts, banana bread, and pizza.

Pizza, you ask? Yes, pizza.

Tomatoes are fruit. Pizza sauce is made out of tomatoes. Pizza is a delicious baked bread with pizza sauce spread liberally on top of it. Therefore, pizza is little more than a baked good with fruit on it, very much like cherry tarts, only covered with gooey cheese and enhanced by the addition of pepperoni and mushrooms. End of argument.

The primary violator of the no-fruit-in-cookies rule is the raisin. I enjoy raisins as much as the next man, but they are best when performing solo. A handful of raisins scraped off the cardboard walls of those tiny red boxes makes for a tasty treat. Heck, you can even mix them with nuts and M&Ms to create a handy dandy trail mix. I ate plenty of that this weekend on the long drive to and from Disney World. Nothing wrong at all with trail mix. But trail mix isn't baked, is it?

The raisin's worst offense is when it pretends to be a chocolate chip. You know what I'm talking about. You're at a party, perusing the dessert buffet, and you spot a tray of chocolate chip cookies. You realize the mistake you've made in cookie identification only after you've chomped off a chunk the size of your fist. What should have been chocolaty goodness is instead a slimy smear of baked raisin goo, and you're left with two options: (1) keep chewing and politely finish what you started; (2) drop to your knees, gag like you're dying and spit it out on the carpet.

I would not fault any of you for choosing Option #2.

Some people think you can skirt around the no-fruit-in-cookies rule by making a cookie that tastes like fruit rather than baking actual fruit bits into the cookie. The Girl Scouts are guilty of this trick with their Lemonades. I realize the Lemonade contains no lemony chunks or chewy shards of candied lemon rind, but that's just part of their evil plot.

To make matters worse, this year the Girl Scouts unveiled a new violation of the rule by rolling out the Mango Creme.


I have never in my life experienced a desire to taste a mango-flavored cookie, and I have no intention of allowing a harassing gang of badged hooligans to pressure me into to trying this new abomination.

Described as "crunchy vanilla and coconut cookies with a mango-flavored creme filling," the Girl Scouts add insult to injury with their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Coconut, fruit and crunchy? Each of those factors on its own is enough to ruin a cookie. Throw them all together with vanilla and all you end up with is a shameful waste of some perfectly good vanilla. In the next few weeks, when the Girl Scouts start hawking their wares at storefronts and malls across America, I will protest the Lemonade and the Mango Creme.

But I won't protest all their cookies. Homemade chocolate silk ice cream is so much better with crunched up Peanut Butter Patties mixed in. Too bad My Lovely Wife doesn't like bits of cookie in her ice cream.

Some people have way too many rules about food...

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Non-Washer

Seven years ago, we splurged on a front loader washing machine. Now, two machines and countless service calls later, we are ditching the failings of the new-fangled for the tried-and-true of the traditional top loader.

Why? Well, let's begin with the basics.

Call us old-fashioned, but when we wash our clothes in a washing machine we expect them to exit the machine in a state of cleanliness. What we do not desire, yet have come to expect, is a proclivity for our fancy front loader to spread greasy, muck-like streaks on our clothes and linens.

I've never before owned or used a washing machine that made clothes dirtier than when they were tossed in. The worst part is we've grown accustomed to it. When items emerge from the front loader streak-free, it's like we've been given the gift of not having to treat and handwash everything all over again. In short, our front loader has us brainwashed, which is about the only effective kind of washing it has accomplished in seven years.

In addition to the random appearance of new stains, there also is the smell. Did you know the front loader washing machine has such a recognized reputation for pungency that there is a range products designed specifically for the purpose of removing the rotten egg odor from the machines? Nine times out of ten when the machine is running, I'm reminded of the time my parents took us to experience the sulfur pits at Yellowstone Park. And, while the front loader might regularly smell worse than the ass end of a pig farm, at least our laundry room is very close to our dining room, so we can all enjoy the foul aroma should we choose to run a load of laundry while we're eating.

Which brings up the point of proximity to noise. Our laundry room being where it is, we realized when we built the house we might experience a slight inconvenience when it came to noise. Perhaps the background hum of the spin cycle, or the gentle spritzing of water during the rinse cycle, might be discernible at times, but we were okay with the tradeoff if it meant having our laundry room on the main floor. Besides, we had purchased the ultra-quiet, super-silent, whisper mode 3000 model. How annoying could it be?

For the first few seconds of operation, the front loader makes little sound. Once it starts pumping water, the circus begins with a rythmic ear-piercing squeal that rises in pitch and volume to such a degree you have to wonder how many dogs within half a mile of your house are praying for it to stop. Then the drum spins like a rock tumbler -- the German got one for Christmas, so we're qualified to make the comparison -- stopping at intervals to let in more screaming howls of water. The show ends twenty minutes later with the front loader kicking into a spin cycle that rattles the china cabinet and shakes dust from the rafters more effectively than a freight train running through the middle of your house.

And if all that isn't enough, the front loader leaks. I can look beyond the smell, the noise, and the fact it requires more frequent and more expensive maintenance than my car, but it seems pretty fundamental and important that a washing machine be able to hold its water. So, this past Saturday when the front loader chose to piddle all over the laundry room floor, we decided we'd had enough. Our new top loader will arrive Friday.

My apologies to all the repairmen who will be out of work as a result of our decision.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Two Books and a Blog

It's amazing what can be accomplished when you apply small bits of time and attention over a span of years.

In January 2010, when I decided to start writing this silly blog, I hadn't written a thing in more than 15 years. And blogging? I'd heard about the practice, but didn't have the first clue how to make it happen and whether or not I could dredge up enough posts to last a month.

I felt the same way in May 2010 when I began writing my first book. Figuring out how to structure the novel, how to manage the small amount of spare time available to yield the greatest results, and how to maintain enough interest in the project when, at best, I could produce only a handful of pages each week, were daunting tasks. Had I known from the start it would take close to three years to move the project from first draft to finished product, I might never have attempted it.

Yes, the blog has suffered in quantity and quality due to time spent writing the books, but it's free, so you're getting what you paid for. That said, the books also have had to wait on the blog from time to time. The fact is I can't write when I'm supposed to be working, and I won't give up the fun of family and friends just to hunker in the solitude of my basement to write, so time really is limited.

Covers for my first
two books.
Yet here I am starting off 2013 with an almost-finished novel-length murder mystery, an almost-finished novella-length children's paranormal fantasy, and three solid years of blogging under my belt. If all goes well, both books should be available for purchase as ebooks within the next 60 days, which will be a big relief. I have discovered the only thing more annoying than not being able to write when you want to is having to wait on edits and feedback when, in your own mind, the book is finished. But all it takes is one person to point out several typos and examples of unintentionally poor grammar to make you realize you can not serve as the sole editor of one of your own books.

As hobbies go, writing is a rewarding experience I recommend to anyone considering giving it a try. The biggest obstacle to overcome is the fear of sharing what you've written. Once you move beyond that, the rest is easy.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler