Mighty good eatin’ anytime

In recent years I’ve found that my physician has become increasingly strident in his demands that I consume more green leafy vegetables as part of my daily dietary regimen.

For some reason, he seems to think that my fighting weight of 230 pounds at 5-feet, 10-inches tall is, er, somewhat excessive. Poppycock and, I might add, harrrummmph…

I tried to placate the good doctor by eating an occasional salad or periodically popping a brussels sprout, but I soon discovered that vegetables have become increasingly risky to consume. Unfortunately for me and many of my fuller-figured friends, this whole green, leafy vegetable routine became significantly more difficult to follow during the past year when vegetable after vegetable fell victim to E. coli and salmonella.

True, if you consume foodstuffs contaminated with either of these bacteria, you’re sure to shed pounds. It’s the vomiting, dehydration and death that make them unattractive to most of us wannabe health food fanatics.Thus I was pleased to learn that the federal government recently announced plans to more carefully monitor both commercial fruits and vegetables as well as meat products. Hey, I guess we all know that if the U.S. government gets involved, we’re going to see positive action in a hurry.

Until this health-conscious federal task force actually gets under way, however, a lot of us are going to be feeling a little uneasy about what we place on our dinner plates.

What to do? What to do?

I was thinking about adopting a strict diet of extremely well boiled rice and soda crackers dipped in a diluted Lysol solution when I heard words of hope during a CBS news broadcast when an expert declared that the safest processed meat one could consume was probably smoked canned ham eaten right out of the can immediately after opening.

Now that’s what I call healthy and convenient.

Think about it, amigos. All you need is a can opener and a Buck knife to enjoy the healthy bounty of smoked American pork without a care in the world. Canned ham: Fast, convenient, appetizing and it probably won’t kill you or leave you semi-conscious in some strange restroom.

The next time my well-meaning physician begins to yammer at me about eating healthier, all I’ll have to do is reach into my jacket and produce a gleaming, life-giving can of smoked ham.

Mighty good eatin’ anytime…

And canned ham is so versatile. It can be eaten with the Buck knife alone, or consumed with the assistance of a gourmet gadget called a fork. For a real treat, foodies can turn up the excitement with a splash of Tabasco sauce, or walk on the wild side with a squiggle of bright yellow mustard from one of those handy squeezer bottles.

Light up a can of Sterno, pop a Yanni cassette into your dining room tape deck, drape a Harley-Davidson neckerchief over your shirtfront and you’re ready for a romantic evening at home, content in the knowledge that you probably won’t die from the after-effects of your sumptuous repast.

I know some of you militant vegans may be gnashing your teeth right about now, but as for me, I’ll take my canned ham. You take your chances …

Originally published March 18, 2007

Our recipe for disaster

I don’t often get overly agitated about the things I read in the newspaper’s food section.

Although I was once the most exacting of food editors – until I was permanently sidelined during an unfortunate incident involving catfish chili – I tend to take a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to the culinary suggestions offered up in The Reporter’s food pages these days.

And then, two weeks ago, a meal suggestion on the front page of the newspaper’s food section sent me staggering back in abject horror. Some geniuses – who were smart enough to remain nameless – had printed a fine and frolicsome recipe for “Shish kebabs the lazy way.”


What in the wide world of skewered foodstuffs were they thinking? Shish kebabs are, by their very nature, among the laziest of dishes one can prepare without losing consciousness. You take whatever old vegetables and reduced-for-quick-sale meat you might have at hand, cram them onto a skewer and leave them in close proximity to some heat source until they appear cooked.

This is, like, easy. If you’re barbecuing, you can manage this even after consuming the obligatory seven beers required by the California Barbecue Code. If you get any more laid-back, you’ll burn your face while snoozing on the grill.

So, of course, our food consultants suggest taking one lethargic step backward and simply eliminating those complicated and difficult-to-operate skewers.

“Just toss the fixings loose on the grill!” they recommend.

Yeah, that’s going to work just swell.

Now, instead of simply picking up your convenient skewer of incinerated leftovers, you have to fight with a half-dozen brew-fueled barbecue guests as they try to grab at bits of meat and vegetables rolling merrily back and forth across a red hot grill.

I should point out that this only applies to the meat and vegetables that remain within reach, since the smaller pieces are likely to have slipped through the grill and into the glowing coals.

The latter problem, our newsprint gourmets report, can be solved simply by putting your non-kebabs on a lightly oiled grilling grid or aluminum foil.

Wonderful. Now your “lazy” meal requires you to find or fabricate a grill for your grill before you can begin grilling.

Equally distressing is the fact that our food experts have clearly forgotten the best part of shish kebabing – skewers are fun.

You can use them to pop party balloons or make dramatic gestures while recounting your days in the Seventh Cavalry. Afterwards, your kids will delight in staging sword fights with the amusing, pointed instruments. Let’s face it, used barbecue skewers are one of the few remaining childhood joys of summer since lawn darts and bottle rockets were banned by a bunch of humorless Washington bureaucrats several years ago.

Shish kebabs without skewers? Not on my watch, amigos…

Originally published September 10, 2006

Rat-faced squirrel makes a comeback

There’s something gratifying about discovering that a species heretofore thought to be extinct for, say, 11 million years, is actually still hanging around.

If nothing else, it gives hope to the Republican Party.

(Sorry. This has nothing to do with politics, but I couldn’t resist and I’m easily distracted…).

The latest extinct species to make a comeback is none other that the seldom- seen, rat-faced squirrel of Laos.

According to the Associated Press, the whiskery rodent – once mistakenly nicknamed the Laotian rock rat – is actually part of a family of animals similar to tree shrews thought to have disappeared roughly 11 million years ago.

Scientists were overjoyed to find that the discovery heralded not a new species, but a really cool, really old species known as Diatomyidae. And although researchers have yet to capture a example of the prehistoric rat-faced squirrel alive, they’ve found plenty of dead ones in Laos, where hunters bag them for sale to meat markets.

Meat markets? Rat-faced-squirrel-on-a-stick, perhaps…

Best of all, Associated Press reports, nobody knows if these reclusive rodents are an endangered species or not.

And that means, amigos, they’re up for grabs until some tree-hugger decides they should be protected.

Does an 11-million-year-old species really need protection? I think not. They can obviously take care of themselves. And if they can take care of themselves in the Laotian jungle, they ought to do great right here in the good old U.S. of A.

Think about it – all we need to do is import a couple of healthy breeding pairs and America can have a new non-native species to liven up the continental United States.

This could be bigger than Sea Monkeys, fellow future importers of rat-faced rodents, and a helluva lot more profitable for everyone.

Remember all those LA fashion models who were striding around Hollywood a decade or so ago sporting cute little chameleon lizards as jewelry?

That was sooooo ’90s.

Ditto for morons who went staggering about with screeching cockatoos perched on their shoulders.

No, it’s the 21st century, amigos, and the discerning American pet fancier needs to find a new companion with which to make a statement.

The less affluent among us may be able to make do with a cuddly Norwegian wharf rat poking out of our jacket pockets, but those with a little disposable cash are sure to want a prehistoric rat-faced squirrel among their coterie of hairy traveling companions.

Super models will treasure them, jewelers will cash in on little diamond-studded leashes and kids will love ’em.

Rat-faced squirrels – they’re cute, they’re cuddly, they’re 11 million years old and, when you get tired of them, there’s always the aforementioned rat-faced-squirrel-on-a-stick.

Get ’em before they’re extinct again…

Originally published April 2, 2006

Adventure, intrigue and Dumpster diving

Dumpsters – don’t ya just love ’em?

A reader recently wrote to inform me that rummaging through neighborhood trash is much, much more than a pastime for inquisitive children with time – and possibly old coffee grounds – on their hands.

There is, in fact, a nationwide fraternity of Master Dumpster Divers who have taken sidewalk scavenging to a new level.

They’ve even got their own Web site, and it’s definitely worth a look. Diving through Dumpsterworld.com online is almost as exciting as leaping into the real thing out behind your favorite strip mall.

At this Web site you’ll find Dumpster-diving tips as well as tantalizing lists of startling Dumpster discoveries, links to preferred dive sites and a forum wherein seasoned Dumpster divers can reminisce about their triumphs.

This is so much cooler than some boring old National Geographic story about diving for lost Spanish treasure ships in the Sargasso Sea…

For novices, there’s a forum site that will enable less experienced divers to identify hard-to-classify Dumpster finds.

Have you found a sousaphone or an antique Hungarian fire extinguisher? Chances are, a helpful soul at Dumpsterworld.com will have the answer for you. They might even offer to buy it…

There’s also a place on the site where successful divers can proudly post photos of their greatest finds or, perhaps, their favorite local Dumpsters.

And if you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of any Dumpster divers in your community, Dumpsterworld.com can help through its friendly get-acquainted forum: “Meet up with fellow DDer’s and dive with them in your town!”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this site is the “Dumpster Diving Finds” section. Readers will quickly learn that there’s more to Dumpsters than moldy stir-fry and beady-eyed rodents who could use a bath.

Five-star Master of the Dumpster Jeff, for example, recently wrote of retrieving a dozen old fishing poles (which he plans to donate to a local Cub Scout pack), two log-splitting wedges and a small load of copper pipe suitable for making wind chimes.

(Add those two log-splitting wedges to the copper pipe and you’ve got one helluva wind chime…).These items, however, represent but a minor score for the enterprising Jeff. An earlier Dumpster diving adventure netted him a 12-volt car vacuum, a bagful of brand new cabinet knobs, a compass keychain, garden hose repair parts, a dozen white roses, a big bouquet of lilies and two vases.

This is a whole lot cooler than my long-ago college days when we used to raid the Dumpster behind McDonald’s to collect recently discarded burgers for our signature culinary creation, “Big Mac Stroganoff.”

Although the ambience is crummy, the legality’s questionable and the hours are decidedly irregular, it’s clear that these parking lot entrepreneurs have discovered their own retail rubbish paradise.

Remember the motto: “Dive like no one’s watching!”

Originally published January 16, 2006

Sink your fangs into this…

There’s hope for everyone who was left feeling empty and aimless as the bitingly popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series wrapped up its final season last spring.

The newest unauthorized guide to the series, “The Girl’s Got Bite,” is now available for hardcore Slayer fans from Berkeley to Brattleboro and it’s more fun than rolling skulls off a log.

girls got bite

Written by Kathleen Tracy, this exhaustively researched volume catalogs 131 episodes of the eerie series from its humble beginnings in 1997 to its next-to-last season in 2002, providing crucial details about the life and times of Buffy Summers, a typical high school girl – and later college student – destined to stand alone against voracious vampires and their ilk in a quaint little California town called Sunnydale, which was, unfortunately, built over a Hellmouth. (You’re following all of this, right?)

“The Girl’s Got Bite” (2003, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y., $14.95, 342 Pages) is, however, much more than a ho-hum catalog of dusty old television scripts.

Tracy’s unauthorized encyclopedia of Buffy lore includes cast lists, analyses of puzzling plots and detailed backgrounders on everything from little-known demons to appropriate vampire-slaying accouterments.

Can you slay a hellhound with a hunga munga? Not likely, but it helps if you’re a diminutive blonde high school girl who spends most of her spare time patrolling the local cemetery in search of wayward bloodsuckers.

“The Girl’s Got Bite” gives Buffy fans – and would-be Buffy fans – everything they need to fill in unfortunate gaps in their knowledge of Slayer lore.

For example, let’s just say that you’re enjoying a Bloody Mary at your favorite after-sundown thirst emporium when some loudmouth interrupts your beverage consumption with “Hey, betcha don’t know what happened on the ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ episode, Mr. Know-It-All.”

If you’ve studied “The Girl’s Got Bite,” you’ll be able to smoothly reply, “Oh, you mean the one in which a mystical seal is broken, letting a 500-year-old mummified Incan princess return to life as a toothsome 16-year-old who stays alive by sucking the life out of everyone who crosses her path? Is that, perhaps, the episode you’re referring to?”

Most likely, that loudmouth will slither right back into the shadows, thoroughly cowed by your commanding knowledge of Buffy’s complex world.

It’s important to remember that, although Buffy originally was destined to slay nothing more than vampires, the TV series added a score of otherworldly evildoers who had to be exterminated to save the world from perpetual darkness.

“The Girl’s Got Bite” will enable you to keep all these terrifying troublemakers in the proper order so you’ll never become the target of rude laughter if you somehow manage to confuse Eyghon with Mynhegon, or Drusilla with Dracula.

And if you had to ask “Who?” about any of the aforementioned characters, you really, really need “The Girl’s Got Bite.”

Pick it up before you’re branded hopelessly ignorant or find yourself dangerously uninformed when confronted by chaos demons.

Originally published September 28, 2003

Hamburger hackers: Threat or menace?

We’re all painfully aware of the phenomenon collectively known as computer hackers, those beady-eyed troublemakers who flood our e-mail with gibberish and pass viruses around faster than Typhoid Mary.

And we have, for the most part, gotten rather used to having them around.

They’re just part of life in the 21st century, much like $2-a-gallon gasoline and aerosol-powered cheese dispensers.

On a recent trip to the bucolic beer-brewing community of Fairfield, however, I encountered an even more frightening brand of urban menace – the hamburger hacker.

Trouble started at the end of a long day as I pointed my car to the drive-through lane of a nondescript fast-food restaurant and eased my way up to the speaker box to order a pair of cheeseburgers and a diet soda (OK, OK, call me a health nut…).

Although I’d seen the driver in front of me shake his fists at the speaker box and then leave in a rather precipitate manner, I was unable to detect anything out of the ordinary until I tried to place my order.

I was greeted by a mellifluous female voice, but as I began my two-cheeseburger order, the voice changed to that of a New York cabdriver who’d been gargling with roofing tacks.

“Two cheeseburgers? Whazzat – TWO cheeseburgers?! You some kinda pig?! Whaddya tryin’ to pull, TWO cheeseburgers?!”

The first voice returned a moment later and asked gently “Uh, could you try that again?”

Before I could speak, the growling cabbie was back.”Hey, getcha hands outta the food! Whaddya think yer doin’?! Yer makin’ a mess! Ya wanna keep this job, quit playin’ wit’ yer food, got it?!”

Somebody was playing with the food? How amusing…

Undaunted, I tried to make my order again and successfully reached the young woman to whom I’d originally spoken.

When she tried to tell me the cost of my gourmet selection, however, Mr. Raspy was back on the air.

“Fergit it, pal. Yer money’s no good here. We don’t like yer kind, so just giddoutta heah and giddoutta heah right now – G’wan!”

It took me awhile to figure out what was happening – I admit I’m no razor brain – but it soon became obvious.

Somebody nearby was using a transmitter to hack into the drive-through’s broadcasting system and wreak hamburger havoc.

Needless to say, I was somewhat taken aback.

And I got off easy because I eventually got my meal.

Think, however, what could have happened. I could have mistakenly gotten a (shudder!) salad.

Or three roasted chickens, a 12-pack of Oly and a rocket-propelled grenade.

Anything can happen to your meal once hamburger hackers take over the drive-through airwaves.

You might get onion rings or you might get bunion plasters.

If your hamburger hacker is a heavy breather with a little imagination, you also might just get slapped silly by the cashier when you finally reach her window (and have to pay for it, too).

Computer hackers are a problem to be sure, but hamburger hackers can ruin your whole day and most of your lunch…

Originally published September 21, 2003

Republicans blamed for recall

There’s been a lot of unwarranted whining lately about the effort to recall Gov. Gray “I Am Not A Weasel” Davis as being nothing more than another shoddy Republican conspiracy to take over the Golden State.

Poppycock.And, I might add, harrrrrumph…

Although a Republican was instrumental in getting the petition drive under way, the entire Republican brain trust (all eight of them) could not have gotten the recall on the ballot had it not been for the consistently bizarre efforts of one Democrat who steadfastly gave voters reason after reason for a gubernatorial recall:Gov. Gray Davis.

The easily annoyed people of the state of California were more than ready to bounce Gov. Davis long before the state’s canny Republicans climbed off their golf carts and jumped onto the bandwagon.

If anyone engineered the recall, it was Gray Davis himself, bombarding the voters with a virtual hailstorm of questionable campaign funding sources, goofy budgetary decisions, energy crises and a whomping big state deficit.

Although virtually any Republican politician could have done the same in the blink of an eye, only card-carrying Democrat Gray Davis managed to turn the whole mess into an enthusiastic statewide recall of none other than himself.

Gov. Davis couldn’t have done a better job of demolishing his own political credibility if he’d spent his afternoons running naked up and down Capitol Mall blowing on a trumpet.

(Which, when you think about it, probably wouldn’t have raised all that many eyebrows. This is, after all, California.)

Before you start accusing me of being some kind of Republican apologist who just fell off the pork barrel, you should be aware of the fact that I’ve been a registered Democrat for longer than I can remember – which is a pretty damned long time, although I can’t recall exactly how long…

To be fair, some savvy Republican politicos actually cautioned voters about the possible drawbacks of a gubernatorial recall.

“Let’s not be hasty,” they advised.

“This could set a dangerous precedent,” they warned.

“Consequences must be considered,” they cautioned.

Many Democratic politicians said the same thing.

The key word here, of course, is “politicians.”

These guys weren’t urging us to be careful out of legitimate concern for our well-being – they were simply running scared.

The people of the state of California, breaking free of benevolent political guidance from the good ol’ boys, were taking the electoral process back into their own hands.

What a concept – particularly frightening to those who’ve been happily heaping their plates from the public trough for decades.

Who knows where this ill-advised recall action may lead?

These upstart voters actually may begin demanding (shudder!) accountability from their elected officials.

Yes, this may be an unnerving experience for dyed-in-the-wool politicians, but don’t blame it all on the Republicans. They’re just along for the ride…

Originally published September 14, 2003