What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Stomach. My stomach has been trying to kill me off and on for the last few days. It’s not debilitating or preventing me from getting on with my day, but it’s made food something of a dice roll, meaning that I traipse through the day mostly hungry in order to avoid workday unpleasantness as much as possible. Of course continuing to pour coffee down my throat probably is doing nothing to mitigate the issue. Realistically, though, if I’m going to be hungry also having me uncaffeinated feels like it’s just asking for more trouble than we’re trying to avoid.

2. Perceived time. We humans have a bit of an odd relationship with time. We struggle mightily to measure it down to the merest fraction of a second, but it’s really how we perceive the movement of time around us that matters most. I’m grown increasingly interested in the perception of time after sitting at my desk for 37 hours on Tuesday, but finding that the most recent Saturday lasted only 192 minutes.

3. Be nice. Someone from time to time will suggest that I should make an effort to be more understanding – to “be nicer.” I’m sure the suggestion is well intentioned, usually implying that I’d be more approachable, less apt to judge, or in some way become a kinder, more sensitive human being. Seriously? Have you met most people? Piss off with “be nice.” I’ll continue to respond and react to people as their actions and attitudes dictate. If you’d like me to be nicer, I’d recommend convincing people at large to be a little less dumb. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Of onions and people…

It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I keep extensive lists. Everything from books I want to read to what groceries I need ends up on lists I keep on my phone for quick reference and for ease of making additions or deletions. It’s an old fashioned model lightly updated by technology. It is not, however, foolproof.

A few staple items, like rice and potatoes, I usually buy in quantity because so much of what I cook is loosely based around five or so key ingredients. They get used quickly and replenished on a regular basis. Because they get used and replaced so quickly, I occasionally find that the lists haven’t kept up.

It’s on days like that – like today – that I find myself conflicted between two compelling, but mutually exclusive, desires. I can either make a quick run into town to pick up the onion necessary for meatloaf I’ve planned for Sunday dinner or I can stay home avoiding people and use onion powder as a sad substitute.

I deeply love a good meatloaf. I am also appalled by the idea of dealing with the general public when it isn’t strictly necessary. Surely you can see the hooks of the dilemma on which I find myself stuck.

This is obviously what’s meant when they “adulting is hard.”

Just a taste…

In a lot of ways I’m a simple guy. In a world where celebrity chefs and experimental cuisine are a thing, I’m sure some of my more sophisticated friends would find my taste in food horribly pedestrian. Cooking here at Fortress Jeff tends largely towards traditional – shocking, I’m sure. For most meals there’s a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. With a few exceptions, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday, my table wine is tap water over ice.

While my menus are not as limited as they once were, there are a few favorites that appear regularly in the rotation. I can make a roast that’s a dead ringer for the traditional Sunday meal at my grandparent’s house. My lasagna tastes like it came straight out of my aunt’s kitchen. I like the tastes, smells, and textures I grew up enjoying. I may not be passing them to the next generation, but keeping them alive in this one is important to me.

Some tastes – mountain bologna from B&B Meats, cheese steak subs from D’Atri’s, and cheeseburgers from Scotty’s – I’ve given up on ever being able to recreate. There are, however, a few tastes of home that I’ve been working for years to replicate. The longest running effort in my kitchen has been the effort to put together a basic ham salad that gets close to the taste I remember coming out of Love’s Grocery in Lonaconing. Finding that flavor has been something of an obsession of mine… and I think I’ve finally managed to crack the code.

I would never claim to have the ingredient list right, but I’ve finally got the flavor – or at least something close to the flavor I remember. The internet is thick with recipes that try to raise simple ham salad to an art form – but simplicity is the soul of the whole “salad” family. It’s a food specifically designed to stretch the budget from an era when people of necessity made use of every scrap of meat in their kitchen. To me, ham salad on white bread is the taste of summer, ranking right alongside the BLT and corn on the cob.

So what’s the big secret? Apparently in my incarnation the missing ingredient was Miracle Whip. Being a Hellman’s household I never considered it before, but switching between the two changed the entire “flavor profile” of my ground ham concoction. I can’t imagine that any scientist anywhere has ever had a more joyful eureka moment.

So this Sunday morning I’ve got that going for me. If I don’t manage to get anything else accomplished today, I’ll still consider the day a wild success.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You drink too much coffee. So you say. That’s purely a matter of opinion, but in a world where I’m not allowed to smoke, where all food should be salt-less, carbs are off limits, red meat is the devil, and cake is a hanging offense, I don’t care what your opinion about my coffee intake is. Too much joy has been sucked out of life for me to willingly give up my all-day infusion of warm, roasted, caffeine-laden goodness. Sure, maybe it would extend my life a few years… but is it a life worth living if you’re stuck drinking nothing but water and eating nothing but sprouts and granola? Feels like a decent trade off to me, so you can go ahead and stow your objections to coffee.

2. Primary Season. Every week we seem to find a few more would-be-candidates wandering onto the field of electoral combat. I know it’s primary season here in America and that’s what happens. That doesn’t mean I have to be the least bit interested in anything they’re saying at this point. I’m an educated voter and so far all I can really tell you is there’s a brain surgeon, a socialist, a guy who wants to make us use the metric system, Hillary Clinton, and a bunch of other people whistle-stopping around the country trying to scrape up enough money to stay on the road for another few weeks. There will be more of them before the field starts to winnow – then maybe I’ll start paying a bit of attention. Until then the whole conversation – the left-on-left, right-on-left, and right-on-right hypocrisy – is just too thick to warrant giving them any serious thought.

3. Rain. I spent a lot of the last three weeks complaining that the yard needed rain and was in danger of turning into my own mini-dustbowl. I was wrong. Now that the rain has come and (mostly) gone I’ve been giving myself a crash course of rainwater diversion and storm water management. Talk about things they don’t teach you in school. Well, they don’t teach them to history majors anyway. So far, my plan of attack seems to require a combination of roofers, heavy equipment operators, landscapers, air conditioning repairmen, and possibly a general contractor, soil specialist, and hydraulic engineer. All of these are skills I could probably learn myself given an unlimited amount of time, but as things stand I’m not willing to wait that long to bring good order and discipline to the free flowing surface water that finds its way into the back yard every time more than a light mist falls.

The best and the worst…

First I’d like to thank Chrissie for letting me off the hook to coming up with a new idea tonight. Since she asked three questions, I’ll do my best to take them one at a time. The first, and not just because I’m waiting for what’s cooking away in the stove is a response to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “the best and worst meal I ever ate.”

The best I’ve ever had makes it a bit of a loaded question as I’m not a foodie, per se. My tastes tend to run a bit towards the traditional. No surprise there I’m sure. I could tell you about the half dozen out of the way local crab houses on both sides of the Chesapeake between St. Mary’s County and Crisfield that are all in the running for best crab cakes and/or blue crabs I’ve ever had. I could tell you about a remarkable slice of beef served at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. I could tell you about the world’s most perfect cheeseburger, french fries with brown gravy, and strawberry milkshake combination that came from the kitchen of a health code violating former county sheriff in my home town. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve had dreams about that one.

With all that said, the best meal I ever had was actually a regular occurrence throughout my formative years. The local chapter of the Loyal Order of Moose had a steak feed once a month. They packed people in shoulder to shoulder at paper covered tables and served us the biggest bowl of buffet-style house salad I’ve still ever seen in person, a t-bone steak, and a potato. It was a monthly staple. It wasn’t the best cut of steak I’ve ever had (although they weren’t bad), but it was the company that made the meal. Steak at the Moose was one of the few times you could count on the entire extended family being together in one place. That was before my grandparent’s generation passed and the whole thing split into warring camps, before a couple of decades of hurt feelings and animosity. I’ve had better meals purely in terms of technical excellence, but I’ve rarely dined in better or more entertaining company.

The worst meal? In a world full of really appalling fast food options that’s a little more difficult to pinpoint. The only one that really stands out in my mind is more because it’s a meal I regret than it was because the chow was bad. The award belongs to some long forgotten Ethiopian restaurant in Adams Morgan. I was a college freshman in the city on a school-sponsored trip to get us hillbillies some culture in the form of dinner and a show. I liked the show well enough – I think maybe it was Rent – but I wasn’t quite evolved enough just yet to appreciate the virtue of truly ethnic food. The flavors were strange, the service was different, and I wasn’t a fan of everyone around me just diving in with their bare hands and some spongy bread. Between the end of the meal and when the time the bus showed up to deliver us across town, I managed to get a get across the street and wolf down a quarter pounder… and that’s what and why it ranks as my worst meal even though it says far more about 18 year old me than it does about the quality of the food.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Yeah, it’s a day of thanks and all, but it’s still a Thursday and no matter how thankful we are, that’s no reason to just ignore the annoyances that continue to be so plentiful.

1. Federalized healthcare. I’m really starting to wonder when the powers that be are going to fess up that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been a cluster and push it back. From my reading, it’s a goat rope that hasn’t seemed to improve much over the last six weeks and doesn’t seem likely to improve much over the next six. I think a president who stepped back, admitted that his people screwed the pooch, and focused in on Launch 2.0 might actually earn himself some goodwill. But you know me, I’m a crazy optimist.

2. Appeasement. I know that Prime Minister Chamberlain, errr… President Obama is expecting “peace in our time” with Iran, but it feels a bit like we’re giving away the whole damned store and getting nothing to speak of in return. Time was “because we said so” was a perfectly reasonable approach to take with a belligerent nation whose stated foreign policy is to destroy the United States and our closest allies. I’m not sure I even recognize what’s passing for foreign policy these days. The world is a dangerous place and doesn’t get any less dangerous when we roll over and play dead on the important issues.

3. Food. So. Much. Food. I’ve never thought about bulimia, but there’s a first time for everything.

Sunday traditions…

As often as not, Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house meant roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and all manner of home cooked food. While I may not have a dozen or more gathered around my table at 5PM on the dot, at least once a month, my house fills with the savory smell of roasting beef as I do my best to keep with tradition. Sure, I’ve made some tweaks to the recipes – I use more garlic than my grandmother would have ever dreamed of, for instance – but the underlying idea is still the same. Sunday dinner is important, if for no other reason than it’s a touchstone with the past.

While we’re on the topic of touching the past, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that this week’s posts from the archive are now available for your reading pleasure. Pulled into the present from the last half of June and July 2008, today’s posts are a bit more pithy than they’ve been in the last few weeks. They feature a few more explanations of some of the more colorful words and phrases that show up in my vocabulary from time to time. Get your dose of the archives soon, because from the look of things, in two months this particular Sunday tradition will be drawing to an end.