Random Conjectures

"Act locally; bitch globally."

Musings on Thanksgiving

Well, here I am of a Thanksgiving weekend, ensconced once again in my little hermit’s duplex in Pedro town, slowly drinking a breakfast Cafe Napoleon, courtesy of the corner mini-mart that has provided the filtered water and the two little bottles of E & J brandy.  The rest of the ingredients are at hand at my little domicile. My efforts at following the St. Philips’ Fast (starting Nov. 15th) have been shot straight to Hell by the previous week’s festivities, so I think that I shall just wait until the Feast of St. Andrew (starting November 30th), which is also my church’s patronal feast day, to get down to the nitty-gritty of the Nativity Fast. So it goes.

Still and all, it was an altogether wonderful time, this past week or so. Allow me to share with my three or four readers all of the details.

I suppose that it began on St. Philip’s day, November 15th, when I bought the goose. One of the nice things about living in Pedro (pronounced ‘pee-drow’ by locals) is that what with the community of Mexicans and Italians and Croats and middle-easterners, there is a healthy food culture here, and no-nonsense local stores that actually sell food that you can cook, instead of prepackaged yuppie chow, as at Traitor Joe’s or Whole Paycheck’s, or most supermarkets, for that matter.

One such store is Slavko’s, run by a local Yugoslav family here (don’t call them that to their faces, though, unless, like my friend Larry, you actually want a continuing argument. Folks here still tend to be a bit touchy about Tito and the Bad Old Days). But Slavko’s is one of the few places where you can actually get freshly cooked Colonel Sanders’ chicken in the old style, with the pressurized deep-fat fryers that the Colonel invented. Sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but most of the Colonel Chicken franchises these days have central processing units which mostly cook the chicken, which is then reheated at the local fast food places.

But in addition to excellent old fashioned fried chicken, Slavko’s also sells whole duck at $3.99 a pound, and whole goose at $5.99 a pound. I tried pricing things at Whole Paycheck (the less said about prices there, the better) and online, and my local store was the best value that I could find anywhere. I’ve already written about my encounters with duck cassoulet elsewhere, so let me tell you about my learning experience with the goose.

In point of fact, though, the whole deal was quite benign, and I would gladly do the whole thing again. In fact, I’m thinking of doing the whole thing again for Christmas day at Chez Brandt, the old ancestral manse. But that is another story.

No, what happened was that I walked the seven or so blocks from my house to Slavko’s, placed the order a week before, and on November 15th, I walked back, picked up the (11.5 pound) goose in a large plastic bag, and walked back home, but not before I shook the hand of the proprietor for his kindness in providing food of such great value.

As the bird was frozen, I put it in my freezer, and contemplated what manner of mischief I was to inflict on it. As that eminent philosopher, the Wicked Witch of the West, has said: “These things must be done delicately.”

Initially, what I had decided is that the bird would be ‘roasted’ in an oven, but not before it had been brined. I spoke with my nephew John, and he suggested a 3% of the total volume brine each of salt and brown sugar, with perhaps some olive oil, acid (like lemon or apple cider vinegar or wine), spices and aromatics, for 36 to 48 hours.

This seemed good to me, and so on Saturday morning (11/11), I took the bird out of the freezer, and put it in one of the vegetable crispers, with the idea of beginning the brine on that Monday morning.

But I was dis-satisfied with all of the roasting recipes I saw. Larousse Gastronomique, both old and new versions, were of little help to me. The best recipe I found for roast goose was one suggested by Gordon Ramsey, but, because I had lost most of my respect for him after watching Hell’s Kitchen, I decided to nix that one, too.

Finally, in desperation, I decided to try St. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m glad that I did.  Because on page 285 of Volume I of the Sacred Scriptures, I found a recipe for Oie braisée aux Marrons, or braised goose with chestnut and sausage dressing. A fair copy of that recipe can be found here.

And so, on that Monday, after a brief consultation with my nephew John, we decided to skip the brine, and proceed directly to the braise. But the recipe required two pounds of chestnuts, and I didn’t want to take out a loan to buy them at Whole Paycheck (and, in point of fact, whole chestnuts aren’t even available there). Fortunately, another excellent local store, Top Valu, was selling whole chestnuts at $1.99 a pound. I also bought two pounds of great Colombian green coffee for $9.99 at the nearby A-1 Market, where I also saw that they were selling chestnuts at thrice the price of Top Valu. So I praised the coffee, and kept silent about the chestnuts.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, after a late start, I managed to get over to my mother’s house by 1 p.m., to serve as kitchen bitch, prep monkey, bottle washer, and slave third class to my brother Bill, who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner again this year. By the time I had arrived, though, Bill had done much of the prep work and cooking for the dinner, including the creamed onions and other garnishes. So I contented myself with cleaning up the house, and repeated cleanings of the kitchen and garbage bins, as well as clearing the back yard of dog exhaust from my nephew John’s cute little Shiba Inu, Legion. And yes, my nephew named his dog after the demoniac mentioned in Mark 5:9. That’s kinda how my family rolls.

Sometime after 4 p.m., John showed up after work, and Bill, John, and I set up Bill’s rotisserie and cold smoking unit. The former item was an open box of 6″ x 3′ x 6′ feet of steel plate that Bill, master mechanic that he is, had designed, cut, and welded, together with the frame that supported the electric rotisserie. The latter was a stainless steel trash can with lid that he vented on the bottom, arranged with a hook on the inside of the lid, and connected from his state-of-the-art Traeger to the trash-can vent with about twelve feet of HVAC venting. I have remarked elsewhere that I am afflicted with a genius level IQ. But, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, genius is as genius does. I don’t at all mind saying that my brother Bill is the real brains of the family. Alton Brown has nothing on my brother.

I’m afraid that I had to leave at 5:30 p.m. or so to get to church, and so I missed out on helping to peel the ten or so pounds of Granny Smith and Braeburn apples that Bill used for his ‘little’ apple pie which he baked that evening. But he was kind enough to give me small slices of the blueberry, cherry, and pumpkin pies that he had already baked. Bill, although (like most of my family) he is somewhere on the ‘spectrum’, and is pretty much illiterate, is also a true genius at cooking and baking. Without benefit of reading recipes, he independently came up with a perfect pâte brisée crust. His pies were magnificent.

But instead I walked that evening to the nearby Green Line, got off at the LAX/Aviation terminal, waited a few minutes for the Beach Cities 109 line, and then walked a block from there to my little church at the end of the world. There, I met my choir director and friend Gabriel, found out that we would be the only ones singing for our liturgy of Thanksgiving that evening, and we soon cobbled together an affair where we sang melody/ison, or melody/alto, or tenor/melody for the forty or so pieces that compose a Divine Liturgy. No one of the ten or so people there threw rotten tomatoes or bad eggs at us afterwards, so I suppose that it was a success. And, as I always say, any liturgy you can walk away from is a good one. But I got to sing thanksgiving to God for His many blessings to my family and my country, which I suppose is the whole ‘reason for the season’.

Afterwards, Gabriel gave me a ride from church to chez Brandt, six or so miles away, so I didn’t have to use the minimal transit available at that hour. On the way, he gave me any number of pieces of good advice as to cooking one’s goose, particularly, to expect to have to pull a lot of rendered fat from the bird while it cooked.

When I got home, I admired the humongous apple pie that Bill had baked, talked with him and John for some time, and then went to bed, but not before I watched them connect the HVAC venting to the Traeger and Bill’s makeshift cold smoker, and put the huge brined turkey into the cold smoker.

In the early morning, the sky was blue and beautiful, and the grass of the back yard was bedecked with the dew of that morning. But, alas, the excrement had quite literally hit the HVAC unit. More to the point, though, sometime during the night, the Traeger had stopped its job of smoking, and the bird was innocent of the smoke ring which would indicate that the smoke would provide any protection against ambient bacteria.

In short, the bird that both Bill and John had worked so hard to prepare was ruined. Because of the risk of bacterial contamination, it could not be safely served to anyone. After a brief consultation, they decided to trash it.

For most people in my experience, that would have ruined Thanksgiving for them. Not so for either John or Bill, however. After a minute of thought, Bill went to the local market, which happened to be open, and got a turkey on sale within a few minutes. I started the almond wood fire which would be used to provide the coals for the rotisserie. John started tossing around ideas for the rub on the turkey, and by the time that Bill had gotten back with the bird, he had compounded a damp rub of salt and spices that he mixed with apple cider vinegar to make a slurry or paste, which he then applied to the skin of the bird. Within an hour, we had the bird on the rotisserie, to cook low and slow.

We three then proceeded to finish the prep work and the cooking for the evening meal. Periodically, Bill would call for the kitchen to be cleaned. I did so. More of the family and some friends came in over the course of the afternoon, and they each contributed to the cooking of the feast.

For my part, I peeled the chestnuts, made the dressing, stuffed the bird with it, and ten minutes later, the bird was in the pan, and the pan was on the outside grill on high heat, to brown the skin of the goose. Forty minutes later, the skin was browned, and the pan was briefly removed to drain the bird of about a quart of rendered goose fat. Then the braising liquid was poured in (1/2 cup of brandy and 2 1/2 cups of water to replace the white wine, as we wanted something that my mother could eat, and most white wines have added sulfates she can not tolerate), and the goose went in to simmer at 325 degrees for two and a half hours.

The goose was cooked about a half hour before dinner, so I helped out with getting everything to table, as did everyone else. The feast was wonderful, and just about everything turned out well

Now, the reason I’m mentioning all this is not to virtue signal (well, maybe just a little…) but to say to folks that all you need to do to have a great Thanksgiving is to give thanks, and to have something worth being thankful for. Maybe even helping out, so as to spare those who are working hard at it to help them to keep things, like maybe a family, together.

I suppose it’s worth a thought.







Sooper Genius!

sooper genius

I have a terrible confession to make: I have a high intelligence quotient. Worse than that, it is not just Mensa level. It is, quite frankly, Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking level. My mother tells me that I started speaking when I was three months old. She also tells me that, after she had been reading to me for about a year, starting almost from birth, I started speaking the words of the book myself along with her. By the time I was two, I was quite happily reading by myself.

It gets worse. My parents told me, later, that when I was six, and they had gone to my parent-teacher conference, the teacher told them that I was at that time reading at an eighth grade level. She told them this because she wanted their help in getting me to stop reading. She felt that I was embarrassing the other kids. And she thought that eventually, I would get to be ‘normal’, anyway.

I don’t know about the other kids, but she was definitely wrong about my becoming ‘normal’. It seemed that I always remained about eight years ahead of the other kids, in terms of both knowledge and reading interests. But fortunately, my father and mother had a large library, and I could pursue my own education at home, after enduring school during the day. And fortunately also, by third grade I had discovered the California public library, which in the days of my youth was once pretty good.

But unfortunately, I was stuck in classes where just about everything they taught was inexpressibly boring, because I had already learned it years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

This and That

La metro

Well, I’ve woken up, managed to make a strawberry croissant and a killer cup of coffee (roasted a week ago, ground a few second before using, perfectly brewed, and with a 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, two tsp white sugar, and some Trader Joe’s thick cream). Delicious.

I’m playing hooky from my studies today, and will be leaving my house soon, because it’s now nearly 9 a.m., and it’s 76° F. already. By noon, it will have reached 91°. My little cottage by the beach has many good qualities among it. Air conditioning, alas, is not one of them.

So, when I’m done with this little screed, which should be by the next hour or so, I shall be taking the air conditioned bus down to the air conditioned light rail train, which will in turn take me to the air-conditioned Barnes & Noble, which I will be infesting until about 5 pm, by which time the temp will have declined to an acceptable 82°.

And, in the mean time, I will be writing about this and that: idle thoughts worth examining further. Read the rest of this entry »

More Notes from the First Circle of Hell

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I’ve recently read something that has stirred up something vaguely resembling thought in me, and I’ve decided to put down those thoughts. Bad thoughts! Bad!

Seriously, though, the first of the writings in question is this one entitled Hikikomore and the Politics of Despair. The writer examines the lives of a growing sector of people in Japan who are described with the name in the above title. The name means ‘shut-in’, and refers to a large and growing group in Japan who have pretty much given up on Japanese society, and are living in their parents’ homes, or alone. They seldom go out of their rooms, and are pretty much bound to their computers, their televisions, or their video games.

The ultimate result of this way of life is called kodoyushi. It means lonely death, which is being experienced by more and more of the hikikomore, either as they age, or as they decide to give up. It is indeed a lonely death, because what often happens is that these people die alone, and their bodies are not found until days to weeks later.

The writer suggests that these hikikomore are the inevitable result of our modern society, that they are canaries in the coal mine: outliers who are showing the way that more and more people in the U.S. will be living in the not-too-distant future.

I hate to be the one to tell the writer, but it is unlikely to be as good in the U.S. as in Japan. It seems that in Japan, there is a much better social support network, in which people who can no longer cope are still taken care of. Not so in the U.S.

No, we have had our hikikomore for a long time now. We call them the homeless. Read the rest of this entry »

Cowboys Drank Better Coffee Than Most Hipsters Do Now

cowboy chuck wagon

Yeah. And I can prove it, too.

Ever since my favorite nephew gifted me with a copy of Modernist Cuisine, I’ve been making considerable use of it. This book, in case I haven’t told you, and I believe I actually have, is a graduate level course in food science, and discusses deeply, intelligently, and luminously, the physics, chemistry, and biology of food. While it gets a just a bit deeper in what some have called ‘molecular gastronomy’, and what I call ‘inorganic gastronomy’, than I at present particularly like, I don’t plan on kicking it out of my library any time soon. In fact, I can not recall when I ever in my life received a better gift. Thank you, John.

But I digress somewhat. Included in Volume 4 of its five volumes is a chapter devoted to the subject of coffee. The author’s opinion is that most restaurants and coffee shops have little idea as how to prepare coffee correctly, which is a pity, because the science is simple, and the steps necessary are few, in order to make really good coffee. Read the rest of this entry »

Progress Report, October 2017, Month 2

Well, it’s been a month since I restarted my program of Remedial Education. Since then, I’ve made the following progress: Read the rest of this entry »

Uncle Boris’ Voodoo Saloon

Well, here I am again, peddling some more food porn. Part of the reason, I suppose, is some of the things I have been reading lately. One of those things has been a recent article from the Harvard Business Review. The take-away idea from that article is that only 10% of the American public likes to cook, while the other 90% is about equally divided in either actively loathing the process, or just being indifferent to it.

In typical Harvard Business School logic, what the author of this disquieting article wants his audience to conclude is that supermarkets and grocery stores should re-organize, and exclusively give the people what they want, and good and hard too: only pre-packaged crap that can be quickly reheated and put on plates. The author even goes so far as to praise this Reuters’ article, which in turn is an encomion of the latest food technology, in which packaged, sterilized food-like substances with unlimited shelf life will replace that nasty real stuff that tends to spoil and reduce market value. Even better, this stuff can be shipped by Amazon drones, and we can cut the middle-man of the local markets right out of the picture.

I dunno about you, but two images which immediately come to my mind are visions from that demented genius, Terry Gilliam, who turns his jaundiced eye toward the immediate future. The first is from his movie, Time Bandits, where one of the running gags in this delightful piece of mockery is The Moderna Wonder Major All-Automatic Convenience Center-ette”, an automatic kitchen which the young hero’s mum praises as being able to ‘turn a block of ice into Boeuf Bourgignon in eight seconds.’

The second image comes from Gilliam’s somewhat darker film, Brazil, where the only existing haute cuisine in that alternate future is several scoops of… No, I can’t bear to say it. You’ll just have to watch it for yourselves, all seven or eight of you. Read the rest of this entry »

Dinner for Sixty



-Boeuf Bourgignon (bacon free, gluten free) for 20;

-Coq au Vin (ditto) for 16;

-4 Quiches (9″, mushroom, onion, shallots, and bacon and shallots) for 16;

-Uzbeki lamb pilaf for 8;

-Basmati rice side dish for 60;

-Hand roasted, freshly ground Colombian coffee for 60.

It’s a long story.

For the past two years since my wife Beth died, my one live entertainment has been to listen to these guys, Simon and James, when they play the local pub at Pedro, about twice a year, in the summer and the winter.  It’s about a mile from where I live, so I usually get a reservation at the bar, tip the bartender a ten at the beginning of the affair, with the promise of another if the service is any good. It always is, for some reason.

So, between the food, which is okay, the beer, which is better but more expensive, the cover charge, and the tips to the musicians, it comes to quite a bit. As I am rather impecunious, I doubt that I could afford such more than twice a year. But Simon and James play a variety of trad music that I seldom hear in LaLa Land, so I find it to be worth it.

I’ve gotten to know Simon somewhat these last two years, and I wanted to buy some of his CDs before he performed the next time. So, I messaged him on Facebook to ask how I could do that. He told me that he would be in LA in early August, and we could meet at a mutual friend’s house to do the deal.

“Why can’t we do it when you’re at the local pub?” sez I.

“Because the pub hasn’t picked up my gig for this summer,” sez he. Read the rest of this entry »

The Blood is the Life: An essay regarding a diagnosis of the ills currently plaguing the Roman Catholic Church


Many of us have noted that not all is well with the Roman Catholic Church. Some are rejoicing over its supposed schism, heresy, or apostasy. Others of us sorrow over its sickness, as one would the illness of one’s mother. We wish there were some way it could be cured. Still others sorrow, but conclude that there is no cure: the only thing left now is to abandon ship, leave the impending shipwreck, and seek refuge in a Church which still lives, wherever that might be found.

Since I for my part believe that the Church of my youth both can and should be cured, I offer the following meditation. I would ask that those who read it consider what I have to say, accept it to the extent that it is true, and correct it where it is false. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Year: Progress Report

Those six or seven of you who have been following this wretched little weblog, especially during the month and a half gaps between entries in it, will probably recall that I have been making attempts at a Remedial Education. Briefly, I’ve been attempting to construct a modern Trivium of Grammar (Linguistics, Language Acquisition, and Philology), Dialectic (Deductive and Inductive Logic, Algorithmic, and Heuristic), and Rhetoric (Classical and Modern Rhetoric and Poetics).

I have also been attempting to construct, at least for myself, a modern Quadrivium of Arithmetic/Algebra/Number Theory, Geometry/Topology, Astronomy/Physics, and Music/Theory/Voice/Composition.

On the other hand, I have been afflicted by several impediments, including but not limited to what appears to be a case of C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) secondary to witnessing the death of my first wife, Carolyn, 23 years ago, and nursing my second late wife, Elizabeth, at her sick bed and then her death bed just two years ago. Oh, that, and losing a liter and a half of blood because the ER was too busy and/or incompetent to stop a bad case of abdominal bleeding for TWELVE HOURS after check in, back in late April.

In consequence, it has taken me nearly four months to recover from the blood loss. During most of that time, I was unable to pursue ANY of my studies. I have only now begun to resume them.

And, on what Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle would call the Gripping hand, according to the weird little religious cult I belong to (Eastern Byzantine Christianity), September 1st is the beginning of our liturgical year. So, at least for me, now is the time to make New Year’s resolutions. As it is also a time of harvest, it is also time to review what accomplishments I have actually made. So, here goes… Read the rest of this entry »