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

Unsolicited advice may be hazardous to your health

Ever notice how some well-intentioned people always seem to offer bright ideas about how best to raise your kids, regardless of your lifestyle, where you live, what you do for a living or if they’ve ever raised any children themselves?

If you’ve got offspring from 1 to 18 years of age, you’ve probably heard heartfelt advice from hardware store clerks, law enforcement officers, schoolteachers, bartenders and any number of thoughtful in-laws.

And the news media are always ready to add their advice to your already jumbled child-rearing formula.

We may not be able to tell the IRA from the IRS on any given day, but we’ve always got a sackful of bright ideas about how you should be bringing up your kids.

Just last month, Universal Press Syndicate sent out a helpful list of summertime activities “to keep you and the kids busy for 50 days!”

Uh-huh …

Rent a canoe, start a hobby, go to the library, do weekly science experiments, plant a garden, learn about nature, visit a farm or go berry picking, the article suggested, along with about 40 other activities to fill the doldrums that occasionally crop up during the lazy, hazy days of summer.

A trip to the library? Sure. No problem. The worst the kids can do is drive the librarian into a complete mental breakdown or set their pet tarantula loose in the reference section.

On the other hand, “do weekly science experiments” could lead to more excitement than most parents really need, even during the final days of August.

The summers of my own childhood were, of course, filled with a variety of scientific experimentation that my playmates and I engaged in before the dreaded return to elementary school in September.

We were all patriotic kids, so national defense was a major consideration whenever we launched a summertime research project.

Growing up during the height of the Cold War, it seemed as if we were always in the shadow of potential Soviet aggression. In response, our carefully planned summer science projects expanded to include such devilishly clever offensive weapons as the dreaded “Cannon Cracker in a Dead Catfish.”

This little-known but vital part of America’s Cold War arms race was devised by one of my 9-year-old neighbors who grimly announced, after a deafening explosion, “The Russkies may have Sputnik, but we’ve perfected the anti-personnel catfish – messy but effective.”

Placing a large firecracker in an overripe catfish was, of course, just the beginning. If memory serves, this was the same summer that we future physicists also discovered the remarkable properties of the gasoline our fathers kept in little red cans to fuel their lawnmowers and chainsaws.

I think we were trying to make a hot-air balloon out of a big shopping bag one sweltering July afternoon when the first explosion occurred, which somehow led to the fire which eventually spread to the front porch …

Needless to say, it’s always a good idea to have kids’ summertime science experiments conducted under strict parental supervision. That way, the neighbors will know where to send the bill when your daughter inadvertently blows up their new Winnebago …

Originally published July 9, 2000