Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fifty-Five and Five

Well Monday was my 60th birthday--6 decades, 3-score years. Dayem.

When I got home from work Monday night, my wife had a "special" cake waiting.

See, we have this thing which has now taken on a life of its own. We don't like to go out and buy those big number candles that a lot of people put on their cakes. We like to "make do"--one time we even cut the top off a "7" to make an extra "1". Now, Carolyn wasn't about to load up a cake with 60 candles. But she didn't have any big "6's". So, she got creative. Here's what she came up with:

(By the way, the chunk of flame between the 2nd and 3rd "5" was a "plus" sign made out of 2 regular birthday candles).

And now, back to doing research on all those places where I can get a "Senior"discount. We already know that you have to be 62 to get a Senior Discount at Kohl's. Carolyn has promised to take extra good care of me at least for the next 2 years.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheap Bastid's Mac & Cheese

It seems like every time there’s some cooking show on or one of the chef’s competitions like Top Chef or Next Food Network Star, someone always does Macaroni and Cheese.

If you check out recipes like I do, you’ll find a whole bunch of different recipes for Mac & Cheese. And there’s a lot of “foo-fooing” going on. Exotic cheeses, different ingredients—even truffles!

It’s always seemed to me that Mac & Cheese is a family dish. It’s supposed to be a simple dish—and it’s evolved to one which is most usually prepared out of a box. (I’ve had it many times out of a box and never thought twice about it). And, it’s associated with “soul food” which is usually home cooked, inexpensive cooking that has 2 main elements—it tastes great and it’s inexpensive.

So, Cheap Bastid set out to make Mac & Cheese that will fulfill these 2 critical “soul food” criteria. To make it taste great and to make it as inexpensively as possible. (Notice I didn’t say cheap. I quickly discovered that this isn’t necessarily a cheap dish at all). And, if I were going to do it, I vowed to use that most American of cheeses—Velveeta.

So here’s what I came up with. It’s simple, but it takes a bit of time to prep and make. It’s reasonable, but by no means “cheap”. And it’s thoroughly customizable.

Cheap Bastid’s Mac & Cheese

• 1 lb elbow macaroni
• 1 lb Velveeta Cheese
• 1 8 oz. bag shredded cheddar (or whatever shredded is on hand or that you like)
• ½ lb bacon cooked
• 2 tbsp chopped jarred jalapeno peppers
• 1/3-1/2 cup milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole—it doesn’t matter)
• 4 slices bread (white, wheat—whatever)

First of all, notice that some of these ingredients are based on what you have on hand or what you prefer. That’s the way cooking is. Cook what you like. Substitute for what’s in the pantry—for example if you don’t have any bread, use saltines or Ritz or even hamburger or hot dog buns. This ain’t rocket science.

If you don’t want to use bacon, leave it out. If you don’t have any but want a bit of meat use spam or ham or bologna or hot dogs. Like the homegirls say: “Whatevah”.

So, let’s cook. Prep first! Get out your pasta pot, a small skillet, a casserole dish, cheese grater (don’t have a cheese grater? Just cut the cheese into small cubes), 1 gallon freezer bag, rolling pin (or meat tenderizing mallet or the bottom of a sauce pan), a big mixing bowl, a medium bowl, cutting board and a small baking sheet.

Turn the oven on to 250. Put the 4 slices of bread on the baking sheet and then put it in the oven for about ½ hour.

Put the skillet on a burner turned to medium and put the bacon in it to cook. Start grating the Velveeta into the mixing bowl.

Remember to check the bvacon while it’s cooking—don’t get too focused on grating the Velveeta. We’re multi-tasking here! When the bacon is browned, put it on a plate covered with a paper towel to cool. When cool, chop it into about ½ inch or smaller bits.

Put about a gallon of water into the pasta pot and put it on the stove turned to high. Bring to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and add the pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes. Keep grating that Velveeta! Cook about 8 minutes—just a bit “al dente”. Pour the cooked pasta into a colander and shock with cold water to both stop the cooking and cool it down. And if you’re an anal retentive foo-foo foodie who would say that rinsing the pasta removes the starches, just go ahead an have an ice bath set up an put the drained pot full of pasta into a bowl and then into the ice bath.

When the bread has been in the oven long enough to thoroughly dry-out, take the pan from the oven and let it cool When it’s cooled you’re going to put it 2 slices at a time into the freezer bag and then use the rolling pin to turn it into crumbs—if you’ve got a bit of hostility to release, feel free to use the bottom of a sauce pan and whomp it into submission and crumbs. (When my wife does that I know without asking who she is metaphorically “whomping” if you get my drift).

Put the bread crumbs into a medium bowl and mix them up with a generous handful of shredded bagged cheddar (or other cheese) and then sprinkle about 1 ½-2 tbsp of your favorite green herb (parsley, cilantro or basil—and if you use another “medicinal” herb add an extra tbsp, but I don’t want to know about it).

OK, so now all the prep work has been done. Pasta’s cooked. Bacon’s cooked and chopped. Jalapenos are chopped. Cheese is grated. And the oven should be pre-heating to 350.

Take all the ingredients (pasta, bacon, jalapenos, rest of shredded bagged cheese and grated Velveeta) and dump them in the big mixing bowl. Add the milk. Stir everything together in the casserole dish. Smooth it out and then evenly spread the bread crumb mixture over the top.

Pop this into the oven at 350 for about a half hour. Take a peek—has the top browned up? If not, turn your broiler on for about 2 minutes (do NOT leave the room when the broiler’s on!), then take another peek and see if it’s browned. But remember, under the broiler anything in the oven can go from toasty golden to charcoal in about 14 seconds if you’re not paying attention. If it’s starting to brown at 2 minutes, turn the oven off and just leave the casserole in the oven for about another minute. Then remove. Let it cool for about 10 minutes and then dish it up and enjoy!

The Cheap Bastid Test: So how’d I do? Well, the pasta was the cheapest part. It cost me fifty cents (on special at the grocer). The bacon was about a third of a pound at $1.99 per pound for a total of $.67. The jalapeno was out of an open jar in the fridge and I used a couple of tablespoons that cost maybe a quarter. The cheese, that’s the big ticket.

I used a pound of Velveeta which cost me $4.50 and about 1/3 bag of shredded cheese (that’s all I had) which cost about $.80. So the total if my math is right is about $6.75 (I had to add a bit for the milk and 4 slices of bread). We got about 8 servings which means that they cost $.84 apiece. The bottom line is that’s not bad! Not bad at all for 2 dinners for 3 and a couple of lunches.

Next Time: We went to Fraiser’s Farms the other day and checked out the cheeses. I really want to get under $4 a pound for cheese. I can get a 2 lb block of mild cheddar for $3.29 a pound and Mozzarella for $3.99 or real American (not the crappy stuff that’s individually wrapped) for $3.79 a pound. So, next time I think it’ll be Cheddar and American mixed together.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Makin' Whoopee

There’s no instruction manual for raising kids. And there’s definitely no instruction manual for when your 21 year old (in my case step-daughter) moves in.

Now, we’re smart enough to know that when Megan moved in with us (in our small 2-bedroom apartment) last November to leave her alone and pretty much let her come and go as she please. She works full time and she also takes classes on a part-time basis. Her work schedule will vary from day to day. Some days from 1 to 10 p.m., others from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. It keeps her hopping.

We know that on Wednesday nights she likes to go out for hot wings with a bunch of friends—what she calls the “Wing Nuts”. That’s cool. And she’s good about e-mailing her work schedule to her mom each week. And that’s cool too.

Where things get a bit iffy is whether or not she’s going to be home for dinner—so I get a better idea of what and how much to cook. And sometimes she gets off work and goes to the gym or comes home for a bit and then goes to the gym.

So it’s not the easiest thing in the world to predict when she’ll be home, how long she’ll be home, etc. But that’s all right. Mostly.

The hard thing is…OK, so how do I put this delicately? The hard thing is, well, it’s “makin’ whoopee”.

Look, some people might consider me an old fart at 60 and some might even consider my bride “old” at 49. And most assuredly, the young woman my wife gave birth to just doesn’t want to even “go there”—you know think about her Mom “making whoopee”.

It’s scheduling. My work schedule is a bit goofy too. And trying to coordinate with Meg’s comings and goings makes it trickier.

And, well just figure that we’re of an age when going to bed at night pretty much means it’s time to go to sleep. We get tired. A 21 year old can get up at 4 to go to work and come home at 2 and then go out half the night knowing that she’s off until the next afternoon and then crash and burn a couple of days later when she’s got a day off. We can’t do that. We gotta go to sleep at night.

So, we wait until we know she’s gone. Gone all day, gone all day when I’m home from work. We put off other things waiting in anticipation. Waiting until after her lunch time to make sure she’s not going to pop in during her break.

And then…..oh yeah! And then. “Afternoon Delight”.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cheap Bastid's When McDonald's Becomes Comfort Food

Last Wednesday night, I had promised to make spaghetti with home-made meatballs—and believe me, I can make some wicked good meatballs. Well, when I got home from work, Carolyn and I got talking.

She’d had kind of a bummer of a day. She was still trying to get things done with her Mother’s house and that afternoon we took care of the 2 cars that were occupying the garage, selling them to a guy I know who owns an auto repair shop who offered to take them off our hands. And the day before, Carolyn had taken Stucco, the dog, to the ASPCA shelter. So she was a bit bummed by the finality of things—and the house which now lacked occupants or life.

So, with just a minimum of whining, I let her talk me into a treat for dinner for her. For Cheap Bastid, a treat for dinner is a trip to McDonald’s for some McDoubles. I was dispatched to get a half dozen McDoubles off the dollar menu for the 2 of us and step-daughter Meg along with fries. OK, not bad. It’s reasonably inexpensive.

I got home with them while they were still hot. OK, they were warm—what passes for hot at the “golden arches”.

We dug in. Oh man, it was a burger orgy. Now I make a pretty mean burger either in a skillet or on the grill. But every once in a while you just get a jones on for a “gut bomb”. You taste the grease—beef fat—and you taste some salt as you chomp into the brownish-grey blob of meat. As the meaty fat hits your palate you get a hit from the pickle and mustard and then a dollop of sweet from the ketchup. And you feel guilty. You know this isn’t “good food”. It would make a true foo-foo foodie barf—but they don’t know what they’re missing while they’re chomping their $30 Wagu beef burger on a fresh-made "artisan" roll.

Then after a bite or 2 you dive into the fries. They’re perfectly golden—you can never get that perfect shade of yellow-gold at home. Salty. A hint of crisp on the outside and tender ‘tater on the inside. These are heaven. It’s no wonder that McDonald’s has a reputation for making the best “fast-food” joint fries.

Oh, and by the way, why is it called “fast-food”? It took 6 minutes from the time I placed the order for 6 McDoubles and 3 large fries for them to appear in a sack in my hand. I don’t call that “fast food”. I remember as a kid ordering them at a walk-up window at McDonalds. A dime for a burger and twelve cents for a cheeseburger. The person in the window processed the order, took the money, turned around, grabbed the grub, flipped in a bag and handed it to you. All in about 15 seconds. That’s fast food, Bubba.

But what would a Cheap Bastid piece be without some sort of rant? A double-cheeseburger is still a “value” at $1. And, if I were smart, I would have opted for the $1 small fries. But no, I wanted lots of fries and ordered 3 large fries, one for each of us. They’re $2.50 apiece! Damn!

I can get 10 lbs of potatoes for $2.99! $2.50 for a large fry? They’ve got to be making at least 2 bucks for each order. Holy crap! Two-fifty! My six bucks for the double-cheeses ended up being right at $15 by the time I was done. How damn stupid am I? And I didn’t even order sodas—no way, I’ve got soda at home. Cans for the “girls” and my 2 liter bottle of Vernor’s for me.
Yeah, I know, they’re good! But, I just Googled the calorie count in a large order of fries from MickeyD’s. 570. That’s a lot. Damn, they’re good. But that’s a lot. And there’s 30g of fat. And there’s 390 calories in each McDouble. That’s 1350 calories. And I wonder why I’ve been gaining weight.

But…Yeah, here comes the but…they’re good. An occasional binge on McDoubles and fries isn’t all that bad. Or is it?

But, (here’s the real but), when your wife needs a special comfort food—like McDoubles and fries—because she’s bummed from losing her mother and is having to take care of a lot of stuff from the estate, it’s worth it.

And...have you ever noticed that all the pictures in ads for McDonald's fries show the fries over-flowing the container? And when you fish your fries out of the bag they don't even get up to the front lip? Are we getting hosed? Oh yeah, a two-fifty hosing!

So, do you think we overdid it with the bowls of ice cream an hour later? Naw, me either.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Uh-Oh, The Feds Are After Me

A rare advantage of posting my blogs on Blogspot is that I have it linked to “Sitemeter” which lets me see the number of visits, what post was seen, the ISP of the visitor and often the city of the visitor. OK, don’t get bored and move on…hopefully this will get just a little bit better.

Unfortunately, far too many of the “hits” to this site are for people looking for pictures of Giada DeLaurentiis’ cleavage, Joy Hickey, banana hammocks, the V-22 Osprey, used car salesman cartoons and Sarah Palin as a Zombie (actually I’m kind of proud of the Sarah Palin/zombie connection). Oh yeah, and Buckwheat.

Yep, Buckwheat. You know, the cute little African-American kid from “The Little Rascals". The one who Eddie Murphy parodied on “SNL” and in his shows. That Buckwheat. The one who’s brought me to the attention of the Feds.

The Feds. As in Federal Government. As in Department of Justice. As in Drug Enforcement Administration.

You see, I wrote a blog post in September of 2010 featuring Buckwheat and how my wife and I like to talk in his unique language that we call “Buhweet”. Like, “Otay Buhweet”.

This particular blog post was inspired by a newspaper article I read which said that the Atlanta DEA office was looking to hire translators—in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Farsi and…are you ready?...Ebonics. So that got my imagination going and I made the connection to Buckwheat. And I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post. Here’s a link:

So how does that bring me to the attention of the DOJ and DEA? Well, in the interest of interesting illustration, I did a Google Image search and included a DEA logo in the blog post. And, the other day (see this is where Sitemeter comes in handy) I noticed that someone had spent the better part of 6 minutes in my Blogspot blog. Hmmmmm, I wonder who? The ISP was “US Dept of Justice” and the ISP is “”. The search was for "DEA Logo". To quote Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”: “Oh fuuuuuddddggggge.”

And I asked myself, “Self, do these guys have a sense of humor?” And, of course, the answer is, “Hell no.”

Anytime now I expect to hear the sound of doors slamming on several Crown Vics, the sound of multiple feet thumping up the flight of stairs right outside our door and then the crash of a sledgehammer on the door as they come after this serious miscreant. Half a dozen guys in jumpsuits and bullet proof vests and helmets wearing windbreakers that say “DEA” on the back.

Will they Mace me? Will they tackle me and kneel on my back (hey guys I’ve got some pretty bad arthritis in my right shoulder so take it easy when you cuff me, OK?).

The music from “Dragnet” is going through my brain. “Dum, dee dum dum. Dum, dee dum dum, dum!” “Just the facts, ma’am,” they’ll tell my wife.

And it’s all DEA’s fault for stepping on my funny bone about hiring Ebonics translators. If they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had my brain-fart about Buckwheat. I wouldn’t have started writing. I wouldn’t have uploaded their damn logo into a blog post.
But that’s OK. I know they have to do their job of protecting the American public. From no-good-niks like me. At least there’s no one at checking out Giada DiLaurentiis’ cleavage.

And if I have to go to the slammer all I have to say to my wife is, “I wubbu”.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Tale of Momma Stella, Stucco and WillBear

It’s been a long summer in our little corner of Southern California. I never realized that so much crap could come oozing along to upset our merry little daily routine of just getting by. Up until the third week of April we were comfortable in our routines and happy in our little apartment in a not-so-good neighborhood here in Vista.

All that changed when we got a call at 6:30 a.m. from Carolyn’s mother. Momma Stella said she had just called 911 because she thought her son was dead. Her son, who was 45, lived with her in her home in a neighboring city. We quickly threw some clothes on and dashed over kind of hoping that she was the kind of wrong that a little old lady can be sometimes but at the same time afraid that wouldn’t be the case.

We got there to find 2 police cars in front of the house. Yes, the ambulance had already been there and left. Now we were waiting for the Medical Examiner to show up, make the official pronouncement of death and take the body away for autopsy. He had died in his sleep and they needed to find a cause. Turns out he went to sleep, had a heart attack and never woke up.

So we were faced with taking care of arrangements and working with Momma Stella to help her get set up and totally on her own at age 71. You don’t need to know all the details but her son had been in and out of jail for several years for drug possession, addiction and other various and sundry offenses that the addicted commit while under the influence or while trying to get under the influence.

Things were going along fine for about 6 weeks. Momma Stella was getting along fine and lo-and-behold her money was starting to stretch out and last the whole month. Until a morning in June when we got a call. It was Momma Stella. She was dizzy and disoriented; feeling really sick. Carolyn sent me off to work thinking it was just a bug or something and then went over to her mother’s house. By the time she got there, it was obvious that an ambulance needed to be called.

And it all deteriorated from there. Five weeks later this 71-year old lady was dead of ovarian cancer. We watched her deteriorate day by day. She managed to take one treatment of chemotherapy and her condition worsened too much to ever take another. Within 2 weeks of her diagnosis she was no longer ambulatory and had to go back into the hospital, then to a nursing home for several days to gain some strength and eventually when her condition continued to deteriorate to in-home hospice where my wife, Carolyn provided the 24/7 care.

Stucco the dog, was confused. She didn’t seem to understand the change in her routine. She was “banished” outdoors. She’s a happy dog and loves to roughhouse. She loves to chase a tennis ball around the yard just as long as I would play tug-of-war with her to get her to let go of it and throw it again. I just love tossing around a slimy tennis ball!

We’d make sure she had plenty of water and a full food bowl along with some babbling to her about what a good dog she is. And then she’d give off a goofy doggie grin and want to wrestle some more.

All through this I witnessed a level of tenderness and care provided by Carolyn that was in its own way a beautiful thing to behold. The loving way she cared for her mother and the ways she tolerated the natural cantankerousness of her dying mother were moving each and every day. They would occasionally fuss with each other but they knew that it was the natural relationship of a mother and daughter and within a couple of minutes tempers would be sheathed and everything would be OK.

Before the in-home hospice, Carolyn would load Momma Stella into the car for doctor’s appointments. It only took a couple of weeks before Carolyn bought her Mom her very own transport wheelchair with a bright red seat and back which Momma Stella loved. All too soon though even that was over because she came home from the nursing home bedridden. She never got up again.

I was over there on many days to say hello to my mother-in-law, check on how she was doing and to give my wife some hugs and a few kisses to let her know how much she was missed at home and how much she was appreciated.

I was also there to take my turn from time to time so Carolyn could go and run some errands. And also so she could just get away for a bit to relax, breathe deep and, if need be, have a good cry.

The last week, when Carolyn was able to slip home for an hour I encouraged her to take her Christmas Guardian bear WillBear with her for company late at night when she was alone with Momma Stella and she was lonely and scared.

WillBear is this cuddly stuffed teddybear that Santa brought Carolyn for Christmas. His job is to watch out for Carolyn and take care of her when she needs it. He usually spends his days sitting on our bed at home, the keeper of the TV remote and his nights perched across the room so he can keep his eye on things.

WillBear made it a point to stay by Carolyn’s side during that long, stressful last week. He slept in her arms every night when she was lonely and scared. He reassured her when she had to start using morphine to help ease the pain. And he was there with her when Momma Stella drew her last breath, watching over Carolyn and Momma Stella and Stucco letting them know that they had all done the right thing.

Momma Stella is gone now. Seventy-one years. And she never really seemed to get the chance to enjoy many of them. But she’s at rest. She’s no longer in pain from the cancer which ate at her in her last days. Stucco will unfortunately probably end up with the ASPCA for adoption. We can’t keep an 80 pound moose of a dog in a small second floor apartment. I hope she finds a happy home with some folks who will love her and wrestle with her and make her part of their family.

Carolyn is home now. She misses her Mom and still wants to give her a phone call each day. She’s trying to figure out the best way to handle giving the house back to the bank because the mortgage is seriously “underwater”. Otherwise the house on Hilldale is empty of people and pretty forlorn. Stucco’s looking after things for a few days and we stop by each day to feed her and “rassle”.

WillBear is home now, back on duty. Except now he sits in the living room in his own small rocker—keeping an eye out on all the goings on in our modest home.

There’s a hero in this story and that’s Carolyn. Her compassion and patience and love and dedication were a shining light to her mother. She’s still pretty sad, but she’s had a lot to contend with these past 3 months. Carolyn’s buddy WillBear is looking out for her and that’s good too. Stucco will be all right, someone’s going to get to adopt one terrific dog. But that Carolyn, she’s quite a lady.

Momma Stella’s not around anymore—but in her own way, she still is.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Politics and the Debt Ceiling--Shamey on You, Goddammit

When I was a kid, the worst thing my father could ever say was when he would bend over and look right in my face, lower his voice and say “Shamey on you.” It didn’t matter if the offense were slight or perceived rather than real or if, later on, it was something that was just a matter of a difference in opinion. Shame was the weapon of choice, the weapon of mass destruction.

I’ve been thinking about that recently in those times when I allow myself to think about what has been going on in our Congress and in the White House and in the relationship of the “governed” to the “government”. I don’t let myself think on this very much because it’s just too infuriating. Debt ceiling talks, war, the economy, health care coverage debacles…the never ending litany of contentiousness never lets up.

The biggest reason I don’t let myself think much on these things is the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that I feel day in and day out when it comes to things in my government.

And lately something else has dawned on me—I’m ashamed.

I’m ashamed of my government. I’m ashamed of those who represent me at the local, county, state and federal level. I’m ashamed of America.

None of this crap over the last several weeks about debt limits had to happen. It’s all been about power and posturing and positioning. (Notice that neither the word “govern” nor any of its permutations appeared there). And I’m sick and tired of it. I’m ashamed of my government which means that I should probably be ashamed of myself because of the “of the people, by the people, for the people” bull-crap.

I’m ashamed of the “teabaggers” who, even though they are actively engaged, have an agenda which, to me anyway, is both selfish and racist. I’m more ashamed of liberals like me who weep and wail and shout out “no fair” like petulant whiners on a playground when not given a turn at being the server in four-square.

And I’m ashamed of the whole stinking, lousy system which has degenerated into one where the only concern is power for the sake of power and money for the sake of money. For all intents and purposes we have devolved into an affluent (for now) 3rd world nation.

And when I really think about it, I’m mostly ashamed right now of our Congress. It’s seems to be all about power and contentiousness with not a lick of concern for governance. Not a lick of concern about “the consent of the governed”.

I don’t have to go any further than my own “backyard”—except I don’t have a backyard. My Congressman is Darrell Issa. He lives in my city. His business is in my city. He rarely, if ever, shows up in my city and especially not in my neighborhood which is largely made up of lower-income Hispanic families. He doesn’t care about this part of his district because there’s no money here. No money.

But he’ll show up occasionally on the other side of the highway in the gated communities. Where all the white folks are. Where the teabaggers live.

That’s what we have to put up with today.

And yes indeed, I am also ashamed of our President. In this whole debt limit debacle he never, ever came up with his own plan or proposal. That’s not leadership. He reminded me more of the “Great Appeaser” Neville Chamberlin than of a president of the United States. His “audacity” disappeared a while ago. Now I wonder if there’s any more “hope.

Lastly, here’s a video clip from YouTube. It’s one of my all-time favorite movie scenes—Al Pacino in “And Justice for All” for which he received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination in 1979. There are 3 statements in here that to me are incredibly moving and important: “Don’t you care?” “They’re people.” And the pain and frustration driven, “Goddammit”.

To all you Washington politicians from the Congress to the President on down: “Shamey on you”