Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cheap Bastid's "The World's Greatest Pizza"

You know, the best pizza we ever had was along the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas about 3 or 4 years ago. Man, this pizza was terrific. Know why? Because it was midnight (long past our bedtime) and we were starving from a day exploring all the way to Hoover Dam and then taking in the show in Las Vegas’ incredible and fun downtown—an area we found much more enjoyable than “the Strip”.

Anyway, we’d gambled just a bit and wandered up and down the street, people watching and taking in the entertainment. Then it dawned on us that we were hungry. Hungry? We were ravenous. And we were hungry for something quick and easy not something in a sit down restaurant or anything like that.

So, we stumbled across a storefront pizza joint—maybe 12 feet wide and 30 or so feet deep with just a couple of tables. New York style. The owner was behind the counter. And I told him we were starving. He must have seen many a tourist looking like us---tired, hungry and a bit bewildered. “Go grab a table and I’ll take care of you,“ he said. It was a slice and a beverage for $5. So we each ordered one. And we devoured them.

Then we ordered another round. And devoured those, too. I don’t even remember the name of the place or what kind of pizza it was—pepperoni, sausage, combo--just that it was a big slab of New York style pizza on a paper plate, hot with gooey cheese and it hit the spot for 2 starving tourists up past their bedtime. Carolyn (Mrs. CB) and I still talk and laugh about that as one of the finest meals we’ve ever eaten out together.

Anyway, we like our pizza. There was this joint about a half mile from our apartment called Sonny’s Back East Pizza. And this place had what is still arguably the best topped pizza I’ve ever eaten. New York style; no gravy (tomato sauce apparently to non-New Yorkers). And it was called the “Benedict Arnold”. One time the owner told me that the name came from a disloyal employee who quit and left them high and dry, short-handed, to go work for another pizzeria. So when they created this particular pizza they named it after him—Benedict Arnold. I call it the “World’s Greatest Pizza”.

This pizza is absolutely simple. It’s a combination of toppings that are easy and Cheap Bastid cheap. And what a flavor combination. Unfortunately, Sonny’s closed a couple of years ago. I’ve made it myself in several different ways—with homemade crust (the cheapest and most “labor intensive” but arguably the most satisfying), with Boboli crust (the priciest way) and with flat bread rounds used as individual sized (OK, 2 each for us) pizza crusts.

And that’s today’s Cheap Bastid recipe. The “World’s Greatest Pizza”. Ready? Here goes:

Cheap Bastid’s World’s Greatest Pizza

2 Roma tomatoes
Jarred sliced jalapeno peppers
Feta cheese
Pizza crust (home made, Boboli, flat bread)

Slice Romas thin. Then cut each slice in half. Chop the jalapeno peppers (I use about 4 tablespoons chopped up—but then again, we like heat). Make sure Feta is crumbled pretty finely and plan on using about ½ cup.

Prep crust. If home made or Boboli pop into the oven at about 450 for a couple of minutes with a super thin skim of oil painted on top with basting brush or your fingertips. If using flatbread put down a bit of oil and put on cookie sheet without heating first (otherwise it just gets too crispy).
Put a layer of pepperoni down—as much as you want. Lay down an open layer of tomato slices on top (not solid—about half the coverage as you do with the pepperoni). Sprinkle diced jalapeno on top of tomatoes—we like enough to guarantee 3 or 4 little ¼” pieces in each bite. Finally sprinkle feta over the top.

Pop into the oven for about 12 minutes if using homemade or Boboli crust (or a bit longer if needed) and for about 8 minutes if using flat bread. Pull pizzas out, let cool for a couple of minutes, cut and enjoy.
It’s that simple. Your mouth will be so happy with the flavor combination. It’s incredible. A bit of heat, a bit of cheesy feta bite, pepperoni and fresh tomato all competing in you mouth to create a tasty cacophony of flavor. Give it a try.

The Cheap Bastid Test: Here’s what’s cool. We got the pepperoni at the dollar store for $1 and we got the flat bread there too for $1. The feta was on special for $1.99 for a 4 ounce package and we used half a package. And the tomatoes are on special for 4 lbs for $1 (they’re usually $.77/lb. So, the total cost for the pizza was about $3.50-$4.00. Now, that’s pretty cheap for pizza.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful


For a long time I’ve thought that it was somewhat futile for me to make any big deal out of haircuts. I started just getting my head peeled with a #2 clipper at least 10 years ago. It’s just easy that way. It was 15 years ago that I let a stylist clip me in what she called a “Bruce Willis” and sell me some of what is now called “product”. Naw, that ain’t me.

So, I went and got peeled this morning. I’m at that age now where I’ve got more issues with hair growing out of my ears than on my head. And looking in the mirror last night I noticed that virtually without any warning that there were several maverick eyebrow hairs that had sprouted and were hanging over the lenses of my glasses. Where the hell do those come from?

Ear hair is fun though. Many is the time when I’ve been driving on a several hour roadtrip and I’ve had a contest. From which ear can I pluck the most follicles in one tug? Sometimes the left ear wins and sometimes the right ear wins. I tried it with my nostrils but that’s not a good idea at 75 miles an hour. For one thing popping clusters of nose hairs makes you really tear up. For another, it makes you sneeze. Not a good idea in SoCal freeway traffic. Yeah, business roadtrips can get that boring.

But it’s hot right now and it’s been about 5 weeks since I got a hair cut. It’s amazing how much cooler your head is when you’ve just gotten it peeled and you don’t have that fur around the sides and back warming you up. I mention the sides and back because I don’t have enough on top to qualify for anything except a worn out toothbrush.

Now, I have to go trim my beard so it matches—wonder what it’d look like if I just went down to a “goat”?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Birthday You're Going to Die

Like a lot of people, when I get home from work I’ll do a quick check of any mail that’s come today. That’s what I did last night at 9:30 when I got home.

Sitting on the kitchen counter were 2 envelopes addressed to me. The top one I recognized. Well, I recognized my mother’s handwriting on it and I knew it was a birthday card for me. Cool. It gave me a little smile because my birthday’s this weekend.

(By the way, here’s something to listen to while you finish reading)

And I casually glanced at the second envelope before routinely throwing it in the trash. It was a business envelope—some kind of solicitation probably. Yep, the first thing that caught my eye was “1 Year No Interest!” printed diagonally across it. The one single word in the name of the return address caught my eye: “Mortuary”. Huh?

It was from Allen Brothers Mortuary, Inc., Family Owned & Operated since 1964.

What’ve we got going here? Some kind of alpha/omega thing? A birthday card from the person who brought me into this world and a solicitation from someone who wants to take me out of it? Damn. Happy freakin’ birthday! Gee which one should I open first?

Hey, all I wanted to do was change clothes, grab a quick cigarette on the balcony, plop down on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table for “Top Chef” and enjoy a bowl of pineapple sherbert on a warm evening. I didn’t want to have to contemplate how I will spend eternity and how I’m going to pay for it with “1 Year No Interest!”.

So I did what all reasonably well educated, procrastinating guys do. I didn’t open either one of them. Until this morning.

The card was a nice, sentimental birthday card from my Mom with an gift card for Barnes and Noble. Thanks, Mom. It’s absolutely perfect.

Inside the envelope from Allen Brothers Mortuary was this:

Now, without going into a great amount of detail, what I liked was the italics at the bottom of the flyer. It says:

“Delivery to a home where a recent death or illness exists is unintentional. Our apologies if this information arrives at a difficult moment.”

A difficult moment? IT’S MY FREAKIN’ BIRTHDAY!!! Oh, that’s not the difficult moment they mean. What are they trying to tell me? That I’m getting older? That I’m going to die? To quote the late George Carlin: “Thank you Captain Obvious.”

Life is full of these little surprises. Some are good. Some are bad. And I guess you have to take it in stride. I fully expect to live to enjoy my birthday and to not require the services of a mortuary until I’m at least as old as my Mom—who’s 79 and going strong.

Until then, here’s my response to the mortuary:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Stuck in The Middle of a Modern Family With You"

OK, let's talk a little TV. OK, let’s talk a lot of TV. I’m no fancy critic. I just have some stuff that I like to watch. And, I just have some questions and issues sometimes with the stuff I’m “compelled” to watch and with the stuff that critics, public relations types and those who make the nominations for things like the Emmys try to shove down my throat.

Plus, I’m getting old. I’m in the demographic that nobody gives a rat’s ass about anymore. (One of these days I’ll do a post about what a waste it is to put good stuff on at 10 p.m. or later when guys like me have a hard time forcing ourselves to stay awake later than 10:15—and how guys like me are just too cheap and technologically ignorant to get a DVR).


Yeah, but. But it’s been bugging me that in this year of 2010, there are 2 “family” sitcoms on ABC on Wednesday night. We really like one and can kind of be amused by the other. One is nominated for all kinds of Emmys and one isn’t. Guess which one we happen to like? Yep, the one that’s never mentioned.

I was off work Wednesday night and got to watch them (which doesn’t happen that often anymore). And it totally reinforced my point of view. But let’s start with just a bit of history, OK?

So, I’m thinking first of a couple of shows from the 70’s & 80’s which were African-American themed. One was “Good Times”. The other was “The Cosby Show”. Both were popular. Both were stilted. But which was more “real”, the one about a struggling family in Chicago or the one about the affluent family in New York City? Good question.

How good would “Good Times” have been if Jimmy Walker hadn’t constantly shouted “Dyno-mite!”? How good would “The Cosby Show” have been if Cosby had played the John Amos role and Phylicia Rashad had been a domestic named Florida? Do we identify more with an OB/GYN and a lawyer vs. blue collar folks?

And then let’s look a little further down the pike at “Home Improvement” vs. “Roseanne”. Forget for a second that Roseanne Barr was just basically obnoxious, because so is Tim Allen. Which of these is the prototypical family? Tim “the Toolman” Taylor or Dan Connor? Blue collar vs white collar?

I guess that’s my point. Historically, family sitcoms have featured decidedly “white collar” families. One of the earliest exceptions being Archie Bunker. OK, go back as far as the “Honeymooners” too.

At long last, here’s my point. I’m really disappointed and actually kind of pissed off that “The Middle” hasn’t received the accolades, nominations and attention that “Modern Family” has received. (Hell, Al Bundy was a blue collar schlep).

How many people can actually identify with a blended family with a rich, retired patriarch married to a Hispanic “trophy wife”, with a tight-assed daughter and son-in-law and their indulged kids along with a gay son with a partner and adopted daughter. Quite frankly, the only characters I find myself liking are the gay son and his partner, who I would like to see having their own show and to hell with the rest of their family.

Is it because we want to be like these folks? Narcissistic, self-absorbed, living what could be best described as a life with no economic or social worries? I don’t want to be like those people. I don’t want to watch people like that or have anything to do with them. Their “situations” aren’t amusing to me in the slightest (with the exception of Fisbo the clown squealing his way out of a kids party because of a bug).

But “The Middle”. Been there. Done that. Got both the scars and the t-shirt. Let’s hear it for the Midwest, that great hunk of land with real people and small cities and towns. And even people who aren’t from the midwest can laugh at it—because here it’s the “reality” of the situation which is funny. Where occasionally I might grunt at “Modern Family” in token amusement, Mike and Frankie Heck (Neil Flynn and Patricia Heaton) make me actually laugh out loud which is something that I do rarely, if ever, at something on TV shows or at the movies.

The premise of the show can be summed up in this quote from Mike Heck (Flynn was the guy who played “Janitor” on “Scrubs”). At the end of a trying day, he and Frankie are lying on their bed with an overhead camera shot. Mike says:

“I don’t think we’re lazy parents at all. I think we’re good parents who got stuck with crappy kids.”

This is Heaton as far removed from Ray Romano and Doris Roberts as she can get and she’s the central figure. A harried, working wife and mother living a “lower middle class” life in Indiana in “The Middle” of everything the nation. And it’s funny because so very, very many of us have indeed lived that life and raised those kids (or a facsimile of them).

The writing is incredible, capturing kids and parents. The pacing is outstanding—always moving. And the acting is fantastic. Flynn can say more by changing facial expressions in reaction to dialogue than most actors with a full script. He’s deadpan to Heaton’s frantic, hyper efforts at super-Momdom which tend to come up just a bit short of the kind of “live happily everafter” that is the norm today, especially on “Modern Family”.

(Brooke Shields was incredible as a "charismatic neighbor")

I guess we’re just weird, out of the mainstream people who don’t know good TV shows when we see them as to have so missed the mark by preferring “The Middle” over “Bundy Gets Class”. But, give me real people any day over the fantasy we’re supposed to think is cool. Bear in mind though, that I still think Sheriff Andy Taylor is a pretty cool guy too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Tale of 3 Al's

OK, so this morning Carolyn goes down to the mailbox and brings up several days of mail. One reason was to intercept her daughter Meg’s newest copy of “Entertainment Weekly” so she can read it first.

I just happened to glance down at the kitchen counter and saw the new “Newsweek” which was in the mail too. I was looking at it upside down and saw the cover with the headline “The Reinvention of the Reverend Al”.

Now, being an older 1960’s kind of guy, my mind took me to the Rev. Al. That’s right, the Rev. Al Green, a famous R&B & soul singer from the 70’s. But no, it’s a different Rev. Al. It’s Reverend Al Sharpton. Awww geesh, Newsweek, I was hoping for something a bit more interesting.

So, I decided to check out Rev. Al Green on YouTube to get a video to share and here it is, hope you enjoy:

And then that led me to thinking about Al’s. Here was a video of a terrific piece of music from Al Green. But, my single, all time favorite music video deals with Al. “You Can Call Me Al”. To heck with “Thriller”. As far as I’m concerned Chevy Chase and Paul Simon doing “You Can Call Me Al” in their deadpan, laidback, spoof of overly choreographed music videos is the most entertaining ever made. Here it is:

So that’s the 3 Al’s—Al Sharpton, Al Green and just plain old Al. Hope these gave you a smile today.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hey, Mr. Bassman! I Want to Be a Bassman Too

Of all the characters on Glee, my favorite is Curt Hummel (Chris Colfer). Even better is the relationship between Colfer’s character and Mike O’Malley who plays his dad. But that’s not my topic today. I also enjoy Curt’s performances the best too—arguably because I like his character rather than Rachel’s character—he’s gutsy and can belt out a tune.


Where are the basses? On “Glee” there are no basses. The lower voiced males barely eek out a baritone sound occasionally. When I was in high school and college, there were always far more baritone voices than tenor voices. It was hard to find guys who could sing 1st tenor. Most guys were baritones or 1st bass. I sang 2nd bass—low bass. We all aspired to be one of those guys who could croak out the low notes—and even better shove out a covered, rumbling string of low bass notes to provide the cellar and foundation to 8 part choir music.

And, there aren’t any on American Idol either. The preference being is high pitched male voices. Chrystal Bowersox could sing lower than the guys on last season’s Idol.

That might be a fun “plot twist” on Glee. Have a bass join Glee and then have “Shoe” find ways for his voice to be a part of the music. And, then razz the guy about his voice being the proverbial “foghorn”. And then they can do this song:

Just think of the career that Bowser’s had. Who’s Bowser, you ask? He’s the bass-man for Sha Na Na. Sha Na Na was at Woodstock for crying out loud. They were a “campy” group that was a throwback to the late 50’s and early 60’s with a terrific following that brought them to the stage right before Jimmy Hendrix at the 1969 festival. Bowser’s made a career out of mugging for the camera and carrying the low-end for this group that’s more “doo-wop” than rock.

Yeah, I thought it was really cool back in 1964 when I started 8th grade and was able to report to the Varsity Chorus at Madison Junior High School in Tampa, Florida as a baritone rather than as the tenor I had been the previous May when I tried out. My voice changed over the summer! I got puberty! And I made it to bass the next year.

My favorite singers have usually had lower vocal ranges. (OK, I’ve always liked guys like Frankie Vallee and Smokie Robinson too). And, I’m not talking about Barry White because he didn’t do much singing. What I’ve always enjoyed is someone who could bring out some low notes and still deliver one hell of a tune—and let’s eliminate Bing Crosby because that’s just too old even for me.

My all time favorite is the late Lou Rawls. I really became a fan of his in the mid-60’s when he came out with “Dead End Street”. But my all time favorite Lou Rawls song is “Lady Love”. He shows a vocal range here that’s really neat and brings a style of R&B to it that been one I’ve enjoyed and envied since it came out in the early to mid-70’s.

Except there are risks to singing bass. My very first solo in church was when I was 14 years old (nearly 15) in 1966. I sang “I Believe”. Afterwards, I was standing with my parents when someone came up to me and said, “I really enjoyed your singing. You sounded just like that Gomer Pyle guy.”

Now, to an almost 15 year old, more inclined to Elvis or Tom Jones as solo acts, to be compared to Jim Nabors/Gomer Pyle was nothing short of mortifying. Chicks don’t dig Gomer Pyle. He probably never got panties thrown at him on stage—a girdle maybe, but definitely not panties.

So, let’s go back to Curt just a bit. I guess when I was a kid and later as an adult, singing in the low ranges was a mark of “testosterone”. Men sing low. And yeah, it takes lots of work to do it reasonably well. Like I said earlier, Curt (Chris Colfer) can really bring it. His character shows more “balls” than any other male character in Glee and the relationship portrayed between him and Mike O’Malley is tremendous. I hope they both win Emmy’s. But damn, I wish the show would get some “real” male voices.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Something's Fishy--Cheating Scandal at U.S. Open

How’s that for today’s major “sports headline”. It’s all over Yahoo News and there is page after page about it on Google. But that’s what happens in the world of big-time sports when there’s big-time money involved.

This ranks right up there with steroids in baseball. And it’s in a relatively obscure sport—although one which attracts millions more amateur participants than virtually any other sport.

And this also dealt with artificial weight gain. It seems like professional bass fisherman, Mike Hart from Southern California added multiple 2 ounce lead weights to several of the fish that he weighed in at late July’s professional bass fishing Western Outdoor News $200,000 U.S. Open held at Lake Mead.

(fishermen are NOT Mike Hart)

Now, if you haven’t seen professional bass fishing, it’s now become a televised sport with boats and fishermen more resembling NASCAR cars and drivers than what we fondly remember as fishermen. To me, fishing was always done in a 14-15 foot Lund boat with a small outboard and we wore jeans and t-shirts with a sweatshirt along in case it got cold and windy.

But these guys wear outfits that look more like NASCAR—colorful and just chock full of advertising patches from sponsors. And their boats look the same. Plus, the boats have nearly as much power and can go up and down a lake nearly as fast as a NASCAR race car.

And there’s big money involved. This tournament isn’t one of the biggest but first prize was $40,000 and a new bass boat. That’s enough to lure some people to cheat.

Hart has been permanently banned from the professional fishing circuit. And he may even be facing state and federal criminal charges. The criminal charges might stem from the fact that Lake Mead is located in both Nevada and Arizona.

(weights photo from YahooNews)

Apparently 3 of Hart’s fish died and, of course, couldn’t be released back to the water. When that happens, the fish are clean and filleted and then given to charity. It was then that 3 weights were found in each fish. I’m sure that Hart uttered a suitable “ohhhhhh crap” upon finding out that he had been caught.

And finally—these fish are natural size without augmentation. I can’t necessarily say the same for the “angler”.