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the adventures of Jack, the Great & Terrible

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Since I dropped off the radar of LiveJournal (while still living abroad), I have been finding my creative outlet better exercised in Facebook (the Wal-Mart of ideas, to a high degree). Truth told, I have enjoyed the efficiency and concision that FB demands (anything after about 80 characters is, as the old newspaper journos would say, "below the line").
That said, I believe I'm ready to unfurl my narrative-freak flag and let it fly, full-mast, once again.

You are all invited to share the journey.

Current Location:
Home, the Mission District, San Francisco, CA, USA
Current Mood:
resurgent
Current Music:
California Soul, by Marlena Shaw
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this afternoon, I was at the cornershop on Ladbroke Grove, waiting in a rather long queue at the tills, listening to the piped in 'BBC 2' radio. They were doing their Sunday evening 'revenge of the 80's' show. While I was scrutinizing the tonic waters (what the hell is India style tonic water, anyway) and club sodas (for mixing with campari and gin to make Americanos), several numbers came and went.
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As I was queued at the till, behind about 10 people, -- who, true to North Kensington demographics, all seemed to hail from different continents -- the radio burst forth with Cyndi Lauper's seminal 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun.' I can honestly report that all members of the queue, whether they be chinese, pakistani, iranian, French (or American), all burst into song -- each in his or her own language. One little Bangladeshi gent broke into what appeared to be a rather well-practiced dance routine.
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All I could think of (as I, myself, sang along) was how pleased Ms. Lauper would be if she were in the queue right then. 25 years later, and she proved girls (and boys) from all over the world really do just want to have fun.
Current Location:
Best-One grocery, Ladbroke Grove, W10, London
Current Mood:
nostalgic nostalgic
Current Music:
'Hip to Hip' by V.
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My previous ruminations on my-life-with-Pop-Tarts put me in a nostalgic mindset regarding favorite-family-food memories.

Before I even start down this road, I should say that both my mom and dad were accomplished cooks, and were capable of producing truly amazing culinary creations when they set out to do so. The following is a recollection of their innovative thinking more than their cookery prowess, however. I'll blog someday about the Gumbo, the Hot Water Cornbread, the Étouffée, the All-Day Stew, the Chocolate Merengue Pie, the Fried Okra, and the Devilled Eggs (my God, the Devilled Eggs). This is about making lemonade from lemons (or lemon juice concentrate, or whatever we had in the pantry).

We grew up in a farmhouse, 20 miles from the grocery store. We would make a weekly trek into town to do the food shopping, and then we'd haul it all back home, and put it all away. As proper rural southerners, we had a big 'coffin' freezer out in the garage, along with a large walk-in pantry in the kitchen.

It was those weekend days, when the whole family would spend the day outside, using mows (I was in high school before I learned that most people referred to the vehicle which clips grass as a 'lawnmower.' We just called it 'the mow.'), rakes, burning piles and, on occasion, 'brush hogs' to pull our 7 acre yard into a presentable shape, that my mom would have to get creative. Had she gone to town for food for the family, we'd have bolted like POWs -- since it would have been 95degrees and 100% humidity, it would've felt like Cambodia in Southeast Texas -- so she would walk into the pantry, see what she had on hand, and with a little guile and a little seasoning salt, she would provide for her family. Some of her on-the-spot creations were quite tasty, and made it onto the regular rotation. It is those of which I now recount. When described, they sound...unsalubrious, but I think it was these dishes which informed me, as a child, that innovative use of materials is a good thing.
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Mexican Cornbread. People think that everything in Texas must be shaded with Mexican cultural overtones, what with the proximity and vastness of the shared border. Think again. We grew up between Houston and New Orleans, and I had never eaten a tamale or black bean until I went to university in Austin. Our culinary traditions were Creole, so Cookye followed the dictum of middle-american cookery when it came to mexican food--anything with sliced jalapenos and browned hamburger meat in it is 'Mexican.' So, when we didn't have any bread for burgers, and she wanted us to have a protein, she baked hamburger meat, jalapenos, and -- oddly enough -- whole kernal corn into an iron skillet of cornbread, and -- BAM! -- Mexican Cornbread. I loved that stuff.
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Beef Salad. As a child, I was always captivated by our metal meat grinder. It was hand cranked, it had a lot of attachments, and it was heavy. We were all big fans of tuna salad and chicken salad, so one day--probably because we didn't have any canned tuna or chicken about the house, and I was playing with the meat grinder--mom had a eureka moment. We ground up roast beef, and combined it with all the staple ingredients of a good tuna salad -- salad dressing (never mayo in texas!), mustard, apple slices, sweet pickles (with a little of the juice), boiled eggs (we never ate egg salad, but we put boiled egg in tuna, chicken and beef salad), jalapenos, white onions, etc. etc. We ate it on toast. It was delicious, and I wish I had some right now.
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Gulyás (or, Goulash, as my mom would recognize it).
So, this one's mysterious. It wasn't the food itself that provided the mystery, but the name. With all due respect to both my parents, where did they come up with a Hungarian name? As stated earlier, we had creole roots, not eastern european. There were no other 'Hungarian' dishes, like the aforementioned, ersatz 'Mexican' foods. Where did they stumble on the name--way, way, way before Google. It obviously wasn't in a Hungarian cook book, as the dish actually bears absolutely no similarity to actual Gulyás whatsoever. I'm sure that Mom would say 'that's what we always called it.' Who knows... The dish itself was standard pantry-emptying fodder. Mini shell pasta, hamburger meat, diced tomatos (Ro-Tel was the canned, diced tomato of choice chez Douglas), whole kernel corn, and diced jalapenos. It was cooked on the stove top, in an iron pot, and simmered for what seemed like days. Mom would serve it on salad-dressing slathered toast, with tabasco al gusto.
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Chicken Pot Pie. (Interesting more for what it lacks, rather than what it contains.)
Mom always kept a few cans of Veg-All so we'd still have our 5-a-day after the bombs dropped. When it was time to get a new can, or she was having a salt-deficiency, she would turn out this stick-to-your-rib favorite.
INSTRUCTIONS: Bake 24 canned bisuits. Combine two cans of condensed cream of chicken soup (only now does the phrase 'cream of chicken' really alarm me) with two cans of Veg-All. Cover with the pre-baked biscuits (upside down) and bake again. The sodium content of this dish could kill a horse. However, we never actually ate the veg-all, we only ate the doughy, salt-encrusted (and mildly chicken-perfumed) biscuits, so we escaped with swollen ankles and cotton mouth.
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The corn thing. (Since it's character was always completely novel, it never actually picked up a name other than a simple description).
This dish embodies the very essence of what's-on-hand cooking. Instead of cleaning out the pantry, however, this is what mom whipped up when it was time to throw away all the old spices and get new ones. So, every time she prepared it, it was wildly different, based on whatever spices she'd bought over the previous 12 months or so. Sometimes it was turmeric, sometimes it was paprika (which she had for Devilled Eggs, and would NEVER have put in the Gulyás), sometimes it was bay leaves, sometimes it was clove. The only consistent ingredients were black pepper and gumbo filet, because they were the only two powdered spices that were always on hand.
INSTRUCTIONS: Combine two cans of cream style corn with two cans of whole kernel corn. Season with whatever is on hand (then throw away the bottles, as by then they've passed their sell by date). Cover with breadcrumbs (if available) and bake at 400*.
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This may all seem like a lot of housewifery, but the way I see it, my mom invented molecular gastronomy, so when I'm sitting at the Fat Duck or El Bulli, savouring the wildly popular, michelin star awarded cuisine, I know that I'm just trying to recapture the elusive essence of Gulyás Corneliaese.
Current Location:
ladbroke grove, london
Current Mood:
nostalgic nostalgic
Current Music:
'be gentle with me' / the boy least likely to
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Eleven months into my british residency, with V and the dog here, I can finally answer the question that I am most often asked by so many people: what do I most miss about the USA.
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Chocolate Pop Tarts.
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I have a deep, abiding interest in chocolate pop tarts. I always have. Since I was a little boy, one of my few acts of patience was standing in front of the toaster, waiting for the 'POP.' Kellog's (UK) does market a product called POP! Tarts here, but they're different. I wonder what sort of high-level research and development told the higher-ups at Kellog's that the standard US flavours of Pop-Tarts would never fly in the UK market, and anglocentric flavour schemes must be developed? It's all very mysterious to me.

Along those same lines (that would be the lines of international target marketing, for those of you not keeping up with this train-wreck of thought), Kellog's (UK) has done something quite clever; they've rebranded Nutri-Grain bars as 'Elevenses.' I must admit that I didn't realize that anyone outside the Hobbit's Shire took Elevenses. I can only assume that elevenses, in 2008, is a holdover of the Empire that is kept alive by the ladies who still take their cream tea at Peter Jones and wax nostalgic for the days of pre-decimal currency.

I would gladly make change everyday in farthings and sovereigns if I could, just for one day, luxuriate over a just-from-the-toaster hot Chocolate Fudge Pop Tart--either on the 5th floor of Peter Jones, or the 2d floor balcony of the flat in Ladbroke Grove.

So, if anyone back in america is thinking fond thoughts of me, and wants to make my day.....send me a box of chocolate pop tarts.
Current Location:
cold England
Current Mood:
thoughtful stroppy
Current Music:
'Chainsaw' / Daniel Merriwether
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When I was growing up (post-pubescently, anyway), I always got a real charge out of watching "Gay" movies--not porn, as much as just 'real' movies with gay people in them. I was completely blown away if one or more gay characters were central to the plot! When I was 16 & rented Fassbinder's Querelle from the BLockbuster in Beaumont, I remember returning it in the overnight drop box, because I felt like I was returning a porn tape! I remember seeing "Swoon" and "No Skin Off My Ass" at the 1991 AGLIFF (Austin Gay/Lesbian International Film Festival), and being abolutely gobsmacked. After growing up with no major media 'role models' it was amazing just to watch two men on a big screen, kissing, holding hands, just looking at each other with gazes that said that they knew--we all knew--what was going on.

Then something strange happned. More and more movies by, for and about gay people started coming out; last night, I was Jonesing for a sci-fi fix, and went to our Blockbuster to rent "Fantastic Four." While I was there, I picked up "The Fog" and -- oddity of oddities, a movie called Frankenstein starring Parker Posey off the new releases wall. The nice lady behind the counter told me that (for reasons not altogether clear to me) I could pick out a "non-new release" for each of the movies I'd rented for FREE. Well, I walked the store again, and found three films

- Sugar
- Leaving Metropolis
- 200 American

All have plots that revolve around gay characters.

I'm feeling a little weird now that I've watched the trailer that the producers so thoughtfullly included on each DVD, and decided that the movie looks too lame to watch....

What hath hollywood wrought, that there are so many gay movies that they're not all de facto good anymore? I feel like some innocent, impressionable part of my soul has had a strip mall built over it.
Current Music:
planet of visions::Kraftwerk
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Yesterday, I was reading an article in the new Vanity Fair, which included an interview of some starlet-du-jour at Chateau Marmont in LA. Every time I see a reference to C.M., it strikes a nerve with me. I never like feeling out-of-the-loop, and the Chateau Marmont always makes me feel provincial. You see, when I was an Advertising sophomore at UT, I took a class on the relationships between advertisements and consumer psychology. One project we had to turn in was a series of essays on indivual ads that we felt we, for whatever reason, unsuccessful. One of the pitfalls of advertising we had discussed in class was the occasional sin of leaping from cache to arcane, and creating an ad that no one understood. Lots of my classmates were using the then-current Benetton ad featuring the Jesus-figure AIDS patient that was creating quite a stir in those days.

At the time, I still took the seminole magazine for those really-and-truly-just-seconds-from-superstardom, Interview. I had never really been a fan of the Chateau Marmont ads back then; they usually featured a naked youth mid-somersault in a grassy field. No phone number, no address, no description of what a "Chateau Marmont" even was. I crafted a stirring essay on how the advertiser had cache-ed himself into quite a corner with this campaign.

My prof put a big "X" across the essay, with the simple remark: This ad is not too obscure---EVERYONE KNOWS what Chateau Marmont is."

Thank you, public education!
Current Music:
Mama Said/Carleen Anderson
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WHAT DOES SxSW MEAN TO ME? A steady stream of has-beens, wanna be's and those-just-struggling-to-be-interesting.

In just one day at work, I fielded questions about the state-of-the-art in self-check-out technology from Dwight Yoakum. He was buying some party-snack-fare, and was being put upon by a small pack of pre-teen Pakistani kids, yipping for autographs. I asked myself the obvious questions: Why does Dwight Yoakum care about self-check registers (he apparently has a friend who operates the self-checks at his neighborhood Ralph's in California) and, even more surreal--what's up with these Pakistani Tweens yapping for autographs from Dwight Yoakum? Is it his soulful country/western vocal stylings that have captured their hearts, or is it is penetrating roles in film?
I finished ringing up his stuff for him while he signed the autographs. When he turned and thanked me, shaking my hand, I wanted to say something, but didn't want to look like ... well ... a Pakistani Preteen w/ an autograph book. My best effort at cool-and-relevant was: "You were really great in Panic Room." He said I was the first person to tell him that. eeech.

Later that afternoon, the never-appealing Tara Reid was holding court at the Raw Foods Bar. I was really hopeing that she would spy Owen Wilson (over by the sandwich bar) and they could really, really make asses of themselves, but they were both too wrapped up in their individual vortices of sycophantic entourages. Those are the breaks.
Current Music:
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry: Sandy Bernhard & John Doe
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On the 2d weekend in May, buddha_is and I have been invited, by the gracious and glamorous parents of Cullen, our Katrina-Refugee from last semester, to visit New Orleans with them to attend his graduation from Tulane Law School. We're staying at La Pavillon Hotel. I haven't been to New Orleans since my freshman year of college, and I"m looking forward to the experience. Unfortunately (albeit obviously) some of the things I wanted to see are unavailable. The James Beard Award-winning "Commander's Palace" restaurant is closed "for an undetermined period" for rebuilding. My favorite semi-schmaltzy tourist stop, the Piazza d'Italia, seems to have weathered the storm with little ado, so I can't wait to wander through it again.

Of course, as we heard in the news at the time, the super-neato Aquarium of the Americas lost most all of its inhabitants when it lost power to the air circulators for ... months. My favorite "miracle" of the hurricane is the security guard who broke into the aquarium to feed the penguins. His doing so is the only reason they're still alive. The aquarium has allowed him to move in to the facility until his home (which was destroyed) can be rebuilt. Nice story, eh?
Current Music:
Love Glove:Visage
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Think you know everything, or at least more than most, about architecuture? This is a fun little pop quiz on pop- architectural knowledge. God Bless the V&A.
Current Music:
I Get Excited (You Get Excited, Too):Pet Shop Boys
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I recently filled out a sort of "getting to know you" form at work, for my new staff members to be able to read to ... well, get to know me a bit better. I said that my three biggest heroes were Nina Simone, Sandra Bernhard and my mom. While there's scads of pix all over the internet of the two former ladies, there's not a lot of my mom. Instead of posting up a candid snap, I thought this pic was a bit more ... heroic. My mom's name is Cornelia. The name is from classic Roman myth. Cornelia was the mother of the Gracchi--Romulus & Remus, the founders of Rome. The story of the painting is that, when a patrician woman was bragging of her wealth and possessions (she's holding up her jewels), she asked Cornelia to display her greatest possessions. Cornelia called for her children, and said "these are my jewels."
I love that story.
Current Music:
Waiting for Mommie::My Life w/ the Thrill Kill Kult
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