Sunday, October 29, 2006

CDC Warns of Virulent New STD

Gonorrhea Lectim

The Center for Disease Control has issued a warning

about a new virulent strain of sexually transmitted

This disease is contracted through dangerous and high
risk behavior. The disease is called Gonorrhea Lectim
(pronounced "gonna re-elect him").

Many victims have contracted it after having been
screwed for the past 4 years, in spite of having taken
measures to protect themselves from this especially
troublesome disease.

Cognitive sequelae of individuals infected with
Gonorrhea Lectim include, but are not limited to:

  1. Antisocial personality disorder traits;
  2. Delusions of grandeur with a distinct messianic flavor;
  3. Chronic mangling of the English language;
  4. Extreme cognitive dissonance;
  5. Inability to incorporate new information;
  6. Pronounced xenophobia;
  7. Inability to accept responsibility for actions;
  8. Exceptional cowardice masked by acts of misplaced bravado;
  9. Uncontrolled facial smirking;
  10. Ignorance of geography and history;
  11. Tendencies toward creating evangelical theocracies;
  12. A strong propensity for categorical, all-or nothing behavior.

The disease is sweeping Washington. Naturalists and
epidemiologists are amazed and baffled that this
malignant condition originated only a few years ago in a
Texas Bush.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Experiences in the Kitchen

No outrage today. No torture-crazed Vice Presidents or rants about Tesco's Peekaboo Pole Dancing kit for the four to sex year old set although that is really foul. Nope, I've finally started something I've been meaning to do for quite a while. I'm making sauces.

Back when Raymond Sokolov was food critic for the New York Times and had his wonderful monthly column in Natural History magazine he wrote books. There were excellent history books like Fading Feast which chronicled the disappearance of regional American food and Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed The Way the World Eats. He also wrote a number of cookbooks such as The Cook's Canon: 101 Recipes Everyone Should Know and How to Cook. I picked up Saucier's Apprentice, a guide to the classic French sauces and let it sit on the shelf for a long time. The idea of spending two days watching glace reduce down from twenty quarts to five was a little daunting.

A while back I figured it was now or never. Between Gartner's Meats, the last of the old style butchers and Pastaworks which lives in symbiotic bliss with Powell's Books for Cooks I was able to get all the ingredients, twenty six pounds of cut up veal and beef bones and so on. All of the professional cooks I talked to and all the butchers liked Saucier's Apprentice. Most had copies of their own. All of them thought I was a little mad to be doing this in a small home kitchen.

Mr. Sokolov was right. It's painstaking and requires a lot of time and energy, but it's not that difficult if you devote a weekend to the task and are willing to do an unchristly amount of skimming and straining. By the end of Sunday there were five quarts of classic demi-glace in one cup containers. The dogs were happy to help get rid of the strainings and a few of the boiled bones. I did change a couple things. He recommended leaving the stock to cool on a counter overnight. Couldn't do it. The County Extension Agent would probably have descended on our house and confiscated the Master Food Preserver's badges. We'd have to leave town in shame. Bad all round. The stock went straight into the fridge in open containers. In the morning removing the fat was trivial.

Tonight we tried it out. Was he blowing smoke when he said you could make really good meals quickly with the mother sauce? As it turns out, no. A few minutes, one sautéed onion and a quick reduction produced Sauce Robert which was nothing like the stuff you can buy in the store. The wine expert at Wild Oats who used to be a chef gave some very good advice about modifying the Robert for use with beef instead of pork (a tablespoon of sun dried tomato paste). Hollandaise turned out to be just about as quick and easy. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but the emulsion took and didn't separate or get too thick.

Next week it's on to other mother sauces: chicken and veal Veloutés, Glace Viande Blanc and Sauce Allemande. It doesn't take any longer to make a gallon than a cup, so it's good that the stock pots didn't get buried again.

We'll probably go through the classic sauces at least once. It's a fascinating look at one of the most important parts of canonical cooking and opens up some wonderful possibilities. If you're interested give it a try. It's straightforward, and the results are well worth the time invested. Be warned that this is industrial cooking. A regular kitchen is going to be cramped, especially with all the tools and cookware that need to be cleaned. Now I lust after deep sinks, a stock cooking gas burner and a deep refrigerator.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Congratulations to Neil and Maritza

A year or so back two of our favorite people, Neil and Maritza, called.

Maritza said "We'd like you to marry us."
"OK, but I'm already married. You'll have to check with Tiel first."
"No, you *bad words in Spanish*. We're getting married, and we want you to do the ceremony."

I'm not a judge. The IRS dropped the Big Hammer on the Universal Life Church some time back. Yeshiva would probably take too long, and besides I don't look good in a beard. A quick web search turned up the Church of Spiritual Humanism, a sort of grandchild of Unitarianism. Free ordination with a wide choice of titles. Unfortunately "Crazed Degenerate Cultist of the Great Old Ones" wasn't on the list. Close enough, though.

Enough time went by that the wedding became a running joke. Then a couple weeks ago Neil said that they'd set the date for October 7, right in the middle of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Greater love hath no man than to forgo the pleasures of Great Cthulhu for his friends. Something came up, and the wedding was moved to the 14th.

The bride was beautiful and nervous. The groom was surprisingly laid back. The women of his family put together the reception meal. Nobody fumbled his or her lines. Tiel read a poem from Rumi that started with "Love comes with a knife" which pleased the couple and shocked the audience. Neil gave back the engagement ring which we had lent him after he lost the old one in an accident.

The paperwork got filled out and mailed off to the proper authorities. We were gratified to see that "race" is no longer required on the license application. When we got married some fifteen years ago it caused problems and required some friendly Legislators and a new State law to change that bit.

It's great to see them finally married. Congratulations and long life to the new couple.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Think he hit bottom? Fred Phelps pulls out the shovel and digs.

Fred "G-d Hates Fags" Phelps of the unspeakable Westboro Baptist Church isn't content with interfering with the funerals of US servicemen and women killed in Iraq or gay teenagers. Now he wants to picket and disrupt the funerals of the Amish girls murdered by a killer-rapist in Pennsylvania. According to what passes for logic in his mind the deaths were a punishment for Governor Rendell's mockery of Phelps on Fox Radio.

Mike Gallagher headed off the whole sordid thing by giving the WBC an hour of airtime to rant. Good on you, Mike. You may have negotiated with terrorists, but you did save the bereaved from a truly hellish experience.

One wonders what Phelps' next stunt will be. Does he plan on breaking into maternity wards to berate new mothers for bringing homosexuals into the world? You really can't put much past a man who brings a crowd bearing "Thank G-d for IEDs" to soldiers' memorial services.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Empty Store Fronts in a Brightly Colored Building

Twenty years or so ago Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland was a sleepy, artsy place, home to antique shops, a shuttered movie theater across from a dance studio, a few restaurants and an aging Fred Meyer's supermarket. Then, as such things happen, it was discovered. The supermarket got a facelift. Junk shops gave way to more upscale boutiques and many of the artsy bohemian crowd which gave the neighborhood its character either got better jobs or moved out.

Oregon has a notable history of segregation. In fact, when we got married we ran into the last vestige of the old Oregon Constitution which forbade a "member of the White race" from marrying a "Mulatto, Free Negro, Kanaka or Chinaman". The actual miscegination law was toppled by the US Supreme Court in 1954, but there was still a requirement which we objected to. You still had to put down "Race" on the marriage license application and could only put one. The wouldn't accept "human" or "pongid" for me, although when I finally scrawled "1500 meters" illegibly they gave in. Tiel could honestly tick every box except "Hispanic" and "Australian Aborigine". They didn't much care for that either. Eventually we gave in and were married. During the next legislative session our State Senator was kind enough to introduce legislation to remove the requirement.

What does this have to do with that brightly colored building? Quite a lot as it turns out.

To this day the demographers tell us that Portland, Oregon is perhaps the most integrated large city in America for those of Asian descent. Chinatown has shops, but nobody really lives there. The same goes for the Vietnamese businesses in the Northeast Hollywood district and the pan-Asian spread on 82nd Avenue. You find concentrations of businesses but not homes.

It is also arguably the most segregated for African Americans. From the early days it was "Nigger, don't let the sun set on you in this town." There were only about 11,000 in the whole state up until 1950. Most of them lived in Vanport, a quasi-city in the Columbia River floodplain. In 1948 the Vanport Flood forced the (Black) residents into Portland itself. Most were packed into the Albina district in Northeast. Redlining was a matter of policy. Banks, insurance companies and realtors would not allow Whites who wanted to live in the area or Blacks who wanted to live pretty much anywhere else. No houses shown. No mortgage approved. No insurance sold. In much of Northeast the only business loans were for liquor stores, bars and pawnshops, hardly the stuff that a healthy local economy is built on. While it was officially forbidden in the 1960s it was common into the 90s.

Rising housing prices and city administrations which wanted urban renewal ended the practice. Unfortunately for the people who lived there it meant that many were priced out of their homes, and newcomers started the businesses. Such is gentrification in an insane housing market. On the other hand, it is much safer and life is generally better. When I lived here in the late 1980s Northeast Alberta Street seemed to have declared unconditional surrender in the War on Poverty. There were few businesses. Many were liquor-related or the traditional auto-body, valve-grinding, garbage company sorts of places you find in commercial space in poorer areas. During my brief stint with the Guardian Angels we met in a rickety abandoned building with boarded up windows, no heat and only a couple of lightbulbs on the corner of 15th and Alberta.

That building is now the mostly-organic Alberta Food Co-op. It's brightly lit, freshly painted and has lots of windows.

Business loans and relaxation - though not elimination - of informally enforced segregation completely transformed the neighborhood. The last of the idle buildings are being brought up to code and house shops, restaurants, the Oregon Tradeswomen, and a few civic organizations. The area has switched from mostly rental to mostly owner-occupied. And in all fairness many of the new owners are old renters. Turning a tenant into a stakeholder changes his perspective and attitude like nothing else. Most of the businesses will fail. But the investment they made in the infrastructure and the area's new attractiveness will make it easier for their successors to get started. The entrepreneurial earthworms will make soil from the detritus of dead shops.

I suppose you could say that Tiel and I were either the last of the old or the first of the new. Ethnically mixed, educated, not much money, upper middle classupbringing. We were on the cusp.

If you turn South at the corner of NE 15th and Alberta and head walk four or five blocks you'll find yourself on NE Prescott. For a long time there was a house on one corner, a dilapidated drug house on another, a rundown convenience store on the third and a long-closed unlicensed social club on the last. The drug house was sold, remodeled and sold again. The convenience store is still rundown but has been repainted, Lord only knows why, in battleship gray. There is talk about how much more valuable the land would be as practically anything else. I expect it will be sold, torn down and sprout a mixed-use complex pretty soon.

The dull, dirty social club is the interesting one. Its history resembles nothing more than ecosystem succession. First there's nothing. Then the small first colonizers arrive and a simple ecosystem develops. Populations succeed each other. Eventually a balance is reached until the next chance occurence or change in the environment alters conditions and the mix of species again. World without end.

A few years ago the building was sold. A video store moved into part of the space. Then a really good taqueria opened up. More of the building became a carniceria, a hair and nail place, and a Mexican specialty store and so on. The carniceria folded and was replaced by a panaderia. The rest of the businesses mostly owned by Latinos and most of them from Guerrero or Chiapas. I had some doubts about the bakery. The owner didn't charge nearly enough for what he sold. A hand decorated half sheet tres leches cake should cost more than fifteen dollars. Flan at three for a dollar is a steal. No matter. He seemed happy.

The building lost its old gray/black shades a piece at a time. Chilango's Taqueria went through a couple of shades before settling on its current hue. The whole building has been repainted in colorful greens, yellows and reds.

A few months ago the panaderia, the Mexican goods and the hair and nails place all went out of business at pretty much the same time. Chilango's was closed during what used to be prime business hours, and a few familiar faces were gone from counter and kitchen. When we asked we were told that Immigration had done a big roundup. The missing businesspeople were probably illegal immigrants. I believe pretty strongly that a nation has the duty to defend its territorial integrity and should only allow in those whom it deems in its national interest to welcome. But the loss of productive businesses in a formerly blighted area doesn't seem terribly productive. It should be difficult. It should be expensive. It shouldn't be as easy as "You broke the law for enough years that you get in ahead of the people waiting honestly in line." But there should be a way for people like that to legitimize their residence.

Chilango's is still there. The video store closed. A barbershop and a coffeeshop, both owned by lifetime neighborhood residents, have just opened. The Mexican goods store is an upscale bar, and the panaderia's space is going to re-open as a barbecue joint. Life goes on. Alberta becomes Hawthorne. Hawthorne becomes Northwest Twenty Third. Somewhere there's a can of paint in a different shade waiting to be brushed onto the storefronts on the corner of 15th.