Thursday, July 29, 2010
(When I answer the door, the person never starts off in Spanish because I absolutely don’t look Hispanic but Carolyn, although light skinned, is unmistakably Hispanic.) After a couple of seconds the person paused—probably because Carolyn had a look of absolute non-comprehension. “Oh, you don’t speak Spanish,” she asked?
And of course Carolyn said no.
I overheard the rest of the conversation pretty well. The young lady identified herself as being with a church group raising money for homeless people in our community and, would we like to make a contribution.
Before Carolyn could say no, the young lady was able to add, “And, we’re selling chicarones. The money goes to the fund.”
“How much,” Carolyn asked.
“Only a dollar,” was the reply.
I sounded off from the kitchen that my wallet was sitting on the table right next to the door. It only had 2 bills in it—a single and a twenty. Carolyn handed over the single and came back with a bag with a couple of sizeable sheets of chicharones—each about 6x10 inches. Now in our neighborhood, it’s fun to stop in at the local bodego, Los Hermanos Reyes for some of their delicacies. I’ve seen sheets of chicarones in there that were a couple of feet square.
We’re reasonably religious but we tend to not donate when people are at the door seeking church donations probably because it happens 2 or 3 times a week. And while we like chicharones along with tamales, fresh vegetables and other things that people knock on our door regularly to sell, we typically don’t “bite”. But, this was chicarones for Jesus. That’s a good deal. Because there’s nothing tastier than fresh chicarones.
So, later on after dinner, we decide to pull out the chicharones. They’re crispy and light and taste vaguely of corn. I sampled them again. Same result. I looked closer. They were a uniform thickness and had marks on them like they were extruded. Hmmmm, these are fake chicharones. Real chicharones taste like pork, because they ARE pork—porkskin. These had just a real light oil taste like they were baked.
We got fake chicharones for Jesus. We got hosed. I hope that young lady really was from a church group and that the money went to their cause.
But the next time someone tries to sell us chicharones for Jesus, I want to see the chicharones first.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
But that’s OK. Except it’s hanging over my grill and now my grill is getting hummingbird crap on it. Damn birds.
And with 2 feeders you’d expect to be able to accommodate twice as many hummies. Nope. Now one a-hole male hummingbird can chase other hummies away from 2 feeders. It’s made for more interesting squabbles this summer and more near collisions between zooming hummies and humans. Just an hour or so ago I was standing and talking to my wife when 2 birds came zooming along diving below the rail. One cut in front of my belly the other behind me in a flurry of whirring as the butthead male chased a female away.
And I just went out and checked because I heard the chirping of the other birds that have discovered and tried to take over the new feeder. There’s a pair of Hooded Orioles which have taken up residence in a nearby palm tree and they like to hang out at the feeder and slurp up the nectar. Their beaks can get into the feeder. They’re probably 5 times as big as a hummingbird and they’re the ones who are probably slurping up all the nectar.
But that’s summer here on our balcony. Lots of busy birds. In about 2 months, when it’s migration time, there’ll be a lot more hummingbirds stopping by for a few days on their way to Mexico.
By then Ozzie and Sharon will have moved on and the hummies will enjoy the monopoly of the feeder. Ozzie and Sharon are what we call the oriole pair as in Ozzie and Sharon Oriole (named of course after the Osbournes).
Ozzie and Sharon are kind of shy. I’ve been trying like crazy to get their picture. They’re not like the hummies and won’t come over when there’s anyone else on the balcony so I try to sneak up on them. I keep my camera handy so all I have to do is get the balcony door open, stick the camera out and snap away but they take off well before I can stick the camera outside—just as soon as they see or sense the motion.
Looks like I got busted by Sharon! She's giving me the kind of dirty look my wife gives me when I'm being a jerk.
So I noticed that the feeder is in full view of our bedroom window. I put the camera on the desk and pulled the vertical blinds apart so there’s a full time view of the feeder. Then when I hear them outside slurping nectar, I go into the bedroom, turn on the camera and start snapping as fast as I can. The only problem is that the view is through a screen and the lightmeter isn’t reading the outside light. But, I finally managed to get a couple of pictures.
Hooded Orioles are really cool looking. The male is bright yellow with black marking on the wings and head. The female reminds me a bit more of a meadowlark with more of a lemon yellow and grey set of markings. And sometimes Ozzie and Sharon will be on the feeder together sounding almost as though they’re having an argument back and forth before bending back to their sipping and then chasing one another into the trees.
But, now I’ve got to go out and pluck the feeder off it’s nail because it needs more nectar. They’re like kids. They never, ever say thank you! Damn birds.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Now, I’m not going to get into the wording of the 2nd Amendment or the philosophical debate about what it really means. (Note that I used the high-faluting word philosophical because most people are as philosophical about this topic as a loud belch at a funeral).
I’ve got my own opinion but I’m not going to express it. Instead, I’m going to touch on a narrower aspect of it that drives me absolutely nuts.
Back in my younger days (in my mid twenties) I lived in Bismarck, North Dakota. In the fall, I dearly loved to go out with friends to hunt sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge and pheasants. Three or 4 times each fall I would spend a day or weekend out in prairie country outside Bismarck with friends walking the fields, enjoying the gorgeous fall weather, enjoy the comraderie and, with any luck, knocking down a few birds which would end up on the dinner table.
The second year I lived there, I saved my extra money for months to be able to buy a shotgun. For $75 I went to a sports shop and bought a brand new Mossberg 500 pump. It was as basic a shotgun as you could buy. I couldn’t justify the extra $15 it would have cost to upgrade to a Remington 870. But that shotgun was mine. I lovingly cared for it for years. I used it on many a hunt. I taught my kids to shoot targets with it and to hunt with it. And eventually I gave it to my son who still has it. That’s what it was, a full choke, 12 gauge hunting shotgun.
Every week “outdoors” store runs ads in the Sports section of area newspapers with its weekly specials on firearms. That’s well and good. It’s the first amendment and commerce at its finest. Interestingly, often the ads are on the same page as ads for the Boston Clinic (erectile dysfunction and sexual performance). Now I’m not even going to make any Freudian suggestions about that but the coincidence is interesting.
Nope what drives me nuts is that the ads are for firearms which have virtually nothing to do with the “outdoors” or outdoor sports as I know them. Take a look:
Take a look at the 2nd weapon down. It’s a Mossberg 500 but it’s not like any Mossberg 500 I’ve ever seen. I doubt that it would be much use out in the field hunting for birds. It’s got an elongated magazine tube and no stock. Hmmmm, I wonder what’s it’s good for? Oh, yeah it says “Persuader”.
I know what this is for. It’s for killing. People.
And take a look at the 4th panel. The “Freedom Package”. Limited Edition. “Call for Price”. I don’t even want to go there. Maybe someone has seen “Red Dawn” one too many times and called out “Wolverines!”.
I guess here’s my point of view. If someone needs a “Pistol Grip Persuader” to be safe then they need to do one of 3 things:
Change your lifestyle.
And if you think you need the “DDXV Freedom Package” to preserve your freedom, please let me know because I don’t ever want to get within range of you—especially since I’m guessing that most of these probably get converted to full, rock ‘n roll automatic with “handy dandy” conversion kits that are available online.
Now, I live in a not so nice neighbor in a fairly small city in California. Sometimes at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve there can be a short round of “guess that caliber” played with the revelers who have to fire their guns into the air in celebration. But I’ve never felt unsafe. I’ve never felt like there was a need for a weapon.
And I really don’t want to be part of a community where you have to have a “Persuader” or “Freedom Package” to feel safe or free. And I really don’t think that’s what those old guys believed way back when the Bill of Rights was attached to the Constitution either.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Discovery has had its share of excellent "reality" series including 2 of the most popular shows on cable networks, "Dirty Jobs" and "Deadliest Catch." And now "Deadliest Catch" has shown us the ultimate reality. The reality of when one of the show's main characters dies during the filming of the season.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
So I poked around just a bit. I wanted something to grill which would give us some left-overs because I had to work all weekend and wanted to be able to take something for lunch.
I stuck my arm in on the far left side where I keep the chicken and started pulling out freezer bags of stuff. God, it hurts when you drop a quart bag packed full of frozen chicken thighs on your toe when you’re wearing slides. Geez, damn! Anyway there were thighs and legs and boneless/skinless breasts and way in the back—so far back I literally had to stick my head in there was a bag with 4 bone and skin on breasts. Suddenly, there’s a voice in my head, “If you grill it, she will come.” Whoa! Since when did I turn into Ray Kinsella? I pulled my arm back like it was about to freeze off. I peered back inside, bags of other chicken parts beckoned on the counter.
Tentatively, I stuck my arm back inside the freezer. “If you grill it, she will come.” Gingerly I grasped the bag filled with the 4 breasts and eased it out onto the counter and then I slowly replaced the multiple bags of other chicken pieces.
“If you grill it, she will come.”
It started a few months ago. I had taken 2 bags of chicken out of the freezer. One bag had 4 thighs and the other 4 legs. It was going to be a feast with left-overs. We got a text while I was grilling the chicken. Miss Meggie was on her way over (Meggie is my 20 year old step daughter). OK, no problemo, we thought. When she got here we were sitting and eating our salads. Meggie dropped her bag and computer in her room and came out to get a tray. When we finished our salads we noticed that out of 8 pieces of chicken that there were only 4 left. We looked at one another and started laughing. Guess she’s hungry!
“If you grill it, she will come!”.
I pulled the bag of breasts out and put them on a tray on the counter to thaw (or as Carolyn says to “unthaw”). The first thought that crossed my mind was, “Hmmmm, I wonder if this is enough? The last 2 times I did bone-in breasts on the grill, Meggie came over for dinner.” Naw, it’s OK. I tell Carolyn what I’ve taken out for dinner and her response is, “I guess that means Meggie will be over. She’s been over the last few times you grilled chicken.” And then we didn’t think anymore about it.
But all day, I kept hearing in my head, “If you grill it, she will come.”
So, we let the breasts thaw and prepared for a simple dinner of grilled chicken breast and left over potato salad (homemade of course). It’s now coming up on 5 p.m. Carolyn’s sitting at her computer and starts laughing. “Walt, I just got an e-mail from Meg. She’s coming over for dinner. She’s going to think the only thing we eat is chicken breast.”
“If you grill it, she will come!”
She never spontaneously shows up on nights we’re doing canned soup and salad or hot dogs. But she seems to have an infallible radar for the juicy goodness of crispy-skinned grilled chicken breast.
But I’m grumbling just a tiny bit. There goes my fantasy of having chicken salad sandwiches for work or a cold left-over breast teasing me from the fridge in the break room, beckoning me to snitch bites on the fly throughout the day.
The really good news though is that with Miss Meggie coming over, it mean it’s time for an “emergency” ice cream run. I hop in my ageing Mazda and head on over to Stater Bros. (We’ve been on a plain old chocolate ice cream kick lately topped with sunflower seeds). Just for a few seconds I stand in front of the poultry counter fantasizing about picking up another package of breasts at $.99/lb but no, we’ve got enough and I can stock up later in the week.
To make a long story short. Miss Meggie came over, gracing us with her regal presence and there was enough chicken to go around. It’s just too bad she didn’t ask us if this was heaven. Because then we could have said, “No, it’s Vista.”
Now, somehow or another it seems that I’ve finally mastered the technique of grilling bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. It’s only taken me 30 years! I know that it’s not as healthy as boneless/skinless but it sure tastes better. And I have plenty of use for that healthier kind. Let’s put it this way, cavemen did not bone and skin the birds they killed and cooked. They skewered them and shoved them over an open flame.
So here’s how I do it:
Miss Meggies Chicken Breast
4 chicken breasts (bone in & skin on)
Salt, pepper, garlic
1 tbsp cooking oil
Thaw the breasts. Put them down on a tray big enough to hold them. Peel the skin loose with your finger and shake a bit of the salt/pepper/garlic mixture (my basic, go-to spice blend) under the skin onto the meat & cover it back up with the skin. Using a silicone basting brush, paint a really thin skim of oil onto the surface of the chicken and then sprinkle some of the spice blend onto the breast. Turn them over and paint the bottom (bone side) and sprinkle more spice blend. Now you’re ready to cook.
Prepare grill to medium hot (you should be able to hold your hand about 3” over the hot grill for about 4 seconds). Put the breasts bone side down onto the grill and leave them for 3-4 minutes. (As they say sometimes in poker: “no peekie; no lookie”). Then flip them over onto the skin side for 3-4 minutes. You’re going to be generating some smoke because what you’re trying to do is render the fat off the breast to moisten and flavor the meat.
Now, flip the breast back over to the “bone side” and move it to a slightly cooler portion of the grill. The smoke should be pretty much gone because the fat is rendered. The skin which is now up should be starting to get some color and have some grill marks. Let it cook for about 10 minutes. Then flip it again for 3 minutes and finally back to skin side up to finish, about another 3-4 minutes.
All total, it takes about 20 minutes or so to come out with chicken breast that’s done, that has a deep, rich, brown, crispy, tasty skin and meat that’s juicy with just a hint of the salt/pepper/garlic you applied in every bite. Let the breast rest for about 5 minutes or so before eating so the juices flow back in and the meat’s cooled enough to eat.
So that’s it. We like to serve this simply with either a garden salad or potato salad and it’s a terrific meal. Carolyn likes to peel the skin off her's and eat it last almost like a chicken skin Chicharrón. (I wonder why no one's every tried to make chicharrons out of chickn skin?)
The Cheap Bastid Test: This is easy. I buy these breasts on “special” at $.99 a pound. Each breast is about ¾ lb. So 4 breasts cost about $3. Add about $1 for the potato salad ingredients and you’ve spent $4 to feed 3 or 4 people.
And Meggie loves it too.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Now on the surface, both of these are good. One grant of $33 million over 5 years from the Department of Defense is going to San Diego to pay for a “40-bed rehabilitation center aimed at the most chronic homeless veterans with alcohol, drug and psychological problems.”
Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Denver are also receiving grants. These grants will be used to build new centers for veterans to receive care in a residential environment which might not otherwise be available.
According to the article, San Diego County is home to 235,000 veterans and the VA estimates that at least 2,000 are living on the street. According to Clay King, VA social work chief in San Diego, “if a veteran is going to have trouble with civilian life, it usually takes a few years for career plans to falter, bank accounts to empty and relationships to unravel.”
The effort apparently is designed to help the current generation of veterans avoid some of the trauma, lack of service and homelessness that have plagued many Viet Nam era vets.
Now I’ll get back to that in a bit when I start my rant but first I want to move on to the next grant that was awarded.
The University of Southern California has received a $7.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense “to monitor and address the social, academic and emotional challenges faced by children whose parents are deployed” according to USC’s School of Social Work. The research will study needs in several school districts in North San Diego County all of which have high numbers of students who have a parent in the military.
USC researchers will use “state data on after-school activities, student safety, drug use and school connectedness to determine where help is needed for military children.”
Now this is another piece of research which has relevance.
But first of all, aren’t both of these projects anywhere from 40 to 50 years late? Where the hell was the VA in the late 60s and 70s when Vets were coming home from Viet Nam as draftees who were broken men? And, if there are only 2,000 on the street here in San Diego then I have a full head of hair.
And, a 40 bed facility? How about a 400 bed facility? That might make a dent in the level of PTSD vets needing long term treatment, care and counseling just in our little corner of Southern California. I get the impression that someone’s taking a token approach and getting a sore elbow from patting themselves on the back. Whatever is being spent, and the article mentioned a figure of $3.2 billion, it’s not enough. Good Lord, we send these guys over to Iraq or Afghanistan multiple times and then don’t take care of them when they come home. And the outcome in terms of mental and physical health was totally predictable.
At least the VA and DOD announced recently that they are changing the rules when it comes to claims of PTSD so that the Vet doesn’t have to recall pretty much every bullet he or she ever heard (i.e. be able to document specific incidents which caused the PTSD). Hell, just being there is likely to cause PTSD and mess you up—let alone deploying 4 or 5 or 6 times.
As for the military dependents—I grew up a military dependent. My wife grew up a military dependent. All of us were messed up in one shape form or fashion. Maybe USC could save a few million just by buying a few copies of Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini”. (If you aren’t familiar with the book it’s a classic, quasi true story of a military family in the 1960s at a Marine Corps base in South Carolina). I long believed that there is a thing that could be called “Great Santini Syndrome” from which military dependents suffer. However a lot of it is also self-inflicted.
When a dad lives and works in a high control, potentially violent environment there is a carry over into the home. It’s as simple as that. And when military families PCS (that’s military-ese for moving) often times kids decide that they don’t like where they just moved to and they withdraw and engage in other negative behaviors. Yeah, the study needs to look at the levels of engagement that the kids have in their school life and compare the data—but they also need to take a look at the dynamic within the family which wittingly and unwittingly impacts on the entire family.
From my own personal history, I recall showing up for my junior year of high school in October, 1967 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I had never lived “on base” before. We were bussed the 15 miles to town each day for high school. My first day of school, I was sent to the office by the end of the morning for nearly getting into a fight.
I had never encountered comments before like “base trash” or “get the Raid out, fly’s here” (fly referring to someone whose father was in the Air Force). I was told by the assistant principal that by being “from the base” that I was an outsider and I was supposed to “take it” from the town kids and that the only reason I wasn’t being suspended was that this was my first day at the school.
The researchers can start by reading “The Great Santini”. Because that’s about the only way that the academics and student interns will have any hope of being able to understand it without having lived it.
And finally, yes indeed, kudos to the VA—even if the effort is a full generation late. Hopefully it can provide some service to people currently on the street and keep some of the most recent vets from a life which degenerates to the street.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Many is the time when Cheap Bastid has written about cuts of meat, and what I try to keep stocked in the freezer. I’m always looking for the best deal, waiting for meats to come on sale and then stocking up. It’s a rare occasion indeed when Cheap Bastid will pay more than $2 a pound for meat. Now sometimes that limits me a bit but 90% of the time it’s easy and with but a tiny bit of creativity you can feed a family really, really well.
Cheap Bastid's freezer. And yes, it's organized. Kinda.
This isn’t anything new. Shows like Top Chef have conditioned us to shop at places like “Whole Foods” with almost unlimited “foodie” budgets. But that’s not the case with most of us. We have to follow Gunny Highway’s mantra of “improvise, adapt, overcome”. And there’s one really easy way to do it. Do just a little bit of planning for what you stock up on and what you’re going to cook. Heading home after work with no idea of what you’re going to have for dinner is the surest way to kill your food and family budget. Spending a few minutes a day or per week planning some meals means that you spend less and eat better.
We have to look at the weekly specials closely and sometimes take a pass on an item until it’s at a cheaper price. And that’s getting tougher because this year, prices have been going up. Our favorite bacon at Stater Brothers has gone from $1.99 a pound to $2.99 a pound (all the other bacons have gone up to $3.49-$3.99). That means that we’re eating less bacon—and that’s a “sacrifice” because we love bacon.
So today, let me just show you how I go about shopping for just a few meat items. Maybe you’ll pick up an idea and maybe you can give me an idea or two or maybe you’ll think I’m full of crap. That’s OK, you’re still reading aren’t you?
Let’s start with pork. We love pork loin chops. But, their price has increased this year too. Now, the least I can find them is $2.89 a pound and that’s stretching the limit even though they’re pure meat and leaner than most beef. Plus grilled to a perfect well—cooked through and juicy—I’d just as soon eat one of these as a steak. So, recently pork loin roast was on special at the grocery store—it was $2.49/lb. So I bought 2. One to cook as a roast and the other to slice into chops. At the time, pork loin chops were $3.29/lb.
Cheap Bastid loves beef. But I can’t afford my favorite cuts anymore—cuts like New York strip and flank steak. They’ve gotten just too expensive for my wallet. I love tri-tip and wait for it to come on special, then buy a couple of them. Otherwise, I buy a lot of bottom round (sometimes called London Broil) and sirloin when it’s on special for $1.99/lb.
Ground Beef. Now, my grocery store will grind meat for free. So when bottom round or boneless chuck or sirloin is on special I’ll buy a package and have it ground up. That accomplishes a couple of things. One, is that I spend a lot less even on ground beef. Bottom round is about 95% lean. I buy it for $1.99/lb. Ground 95% lean beef is usually about $4/lb. Ground chuck is about 85% lean and is the tastiest but I spend $1.99 rather than $2.99 or more already ground up.
When I get home I repackage it into meal size bags. Now here’s another trick that I pull on myself. I make 4 packages out of 3 pounds of ground beef. That means that each package is about 12 ounces. So we trick ourselves into using ¾ pound rather than 1 lb. We eat less and spend less and get the same benefit. Besides, a 6 ounce hamburger patty is enough. You don’t need a half pound patty.
Last Friday, I bought 2 London Broils. I had one ground and the other left whole. I’ll use the whole one to make 3 totally different meals for my wife and me. That’s 3 dinners for 2 for a total of $6 for meat.
As for steak—you can do all kinds of good things with sirloin. I’ll buy a 3 or 4 lb. package and divide it into 2 major meals on the grill or use it in any number of different ways and have lots of left over meat that I can use for hash or put into fried rice or slice thin for sandwiches. It’s not going to go to waste. Right now I have a grilled half pound left-over chunk in the freezer which will soon be turned into either “Grish” or fried rice.
You can eat good. You can eat frugally. You can do both with just a bit of planning, and a bit of common sense. And then you can also do what we do, put your feet up on the coffee table, balance your plate with shredded BBQ beef or pork sandwiches and homemade oven fries that you cooked yourself for about $3 for 2 people and watch the “action” on “Top Chef” or “Next FoodTV Star”. And feel smug because you’re smart, thrifty and eating good.
Because, that’s the Cheap Bastid Way:
Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful