my first attempt at Mexican cuisine

Mrs. Geek and I had our first dinner party as a married couple on Sunday. We had her colleague M. and her boyfriend S. over for dinner. I had originally suggested fajitas (since I make a pretty good chicken fajita,) Mrs. Geek added on the option of chicken or fish. Because M. and S. lean toward being vegetarians, they opted for fish… and fish fajitas it was.

So, the question was, how does one make fish fajitas? Well, I looked around for some recipes for fish tacos online and that gave me a few ideas. What I ultimately did, however, was something more along the lines of a “blackened snapper fajita”. I modified a recipe I used in the past for cajun-style blackened snapper by adding some spices more endemic to Mexican cooking to the rub for the fish. I then cooked the fish over lower heat than I would for the cajun fish, in part to avoid having the noxious vapors from the spices render the apartment uninhabitable. I combined this with a little tequila to make a sauce, and some sauteed onions and red and green bell pepper. Throw that with a little cheese, salsa, and shredded cabbage on a warm tortilla, and voila! Blackened snapper fajitas.

I also had a lot of fun with the Cuisinart food processor we got a while back. We got some spice packets at an art and wine festival a few weeks ago that make some oh-so-tasty dip after being mixed with mayonnaise and sour cream. Not being a huge fan of mayonnaise, I thought I might have a better shot with the dip if I made the mayo myself.

This turns out to be surprisingly easy with a food processor. Cuisinart used to include a mayo recipe in the cookbook they sent with the unit when my parents got one in the 80’s, but no more. We live in the health conscious age of Y2K, and I guess that the Atkins people haven’t gotten around to pressuring Cuisinart into re-introducing it yet. No matter, the Web came to the rescue… and I made my own mayo.

I also got a chance to make my own salsa for the fajitas. I used a combination of recipes, mostly relying on the one from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse(a book I highly recommend) which used roasted chiles and roasted roma tomatoes. The Dinosaur recipe called for jalapeno peppers, but alas, my favorite local supermarket was out of them… so I substituted some roasted anaheims and roasted habaneros instead. I foolishly skinned these roasted peppers without benefit of latex gloves and somehow managed to live to tell the tale… (oh to tug on the dragon’s tail.) I combined these with the roasted tomatos, fresh garlic, red onion, green onions, lime and salt and somehow came up with a pretty tasty concoction. I will have to experiment more with this…. my friend H. used to make AWESOME salsa. I need to reproduce that, or come close.

In any case, M. and S. loved pretty much everything and plates were cleared and almost licked clean. Our first dinner party was a success! I’m really liking the ability to experiment more in the kitchen again.

Does anyone know any good Mexican-style cookbooks? Friends are big fans of Rick Bayless… and Amazon is pretty big on Dianna Kennedy too. Are there any other “must have” guides to Mexican cuisine out there?


fahrenheit 451

I happened to catch the American Library Association’s list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 today. I think the word “Challenged” is being kind. Let’s call it what it is: these are the list of books that people most often tried to ban from school and public libraries across the country. I found it to be an interesting and surprising list for a variety of personal and intellectual reasons.

Some books are really “no brainers” when it comes to people trying to ban them. Sex by Madonna is an obvious one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to at least think of banning a book that has Madonna (wwaaaaaayyyy before her latest oh-so-boring “you must call me Miriam” yogini Kabbalistic proto-Jewish Mama phase) pictured in sexually suggestive poses with Vanilla Ice? Any time I even think of seeing a glimpse of a nearly naked Vanilla Ice with that freaky streaked pompadour/flat top haircut of his, part of my brain starts screaming “make it stop! make it stop!” To ban that book would probably be a kindness were it not for the fact that I find the act of banning a book to be far more patently offensive.

More suprising is the number of books that I tend to think of as solid childrens literature. I remember reading (or having read to me) Bridge to Teribithia, How to Eat Fried Worms, and A Wrinkle In Time in grade school. I also see James and the Giant Peach and Where’s Waldo? on the list. Mommy Laid An Egg was recently used by a friend (and children’s book author) to explain to her eldest son where his new sister came from. Even the Harry Potter series is represented, most likely for its association with the occult arts.

I also did not know that I had such a controversial high school education. A lot of the books in the curriculum in my high school’s English program is on the list, including: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Lord of the Flies. Am I some kind of radical because I read most of these books for my English classes when I was in my teens? I tend to think of these as classic high school English class literature — books you didn’t necessary like to read at the time, but were glad you read later on.

I will never get why people want to ban some of these books. I remember that a friend gave me Harry Allard’s The Stupids Step Out to look at when I was a junior in high school. It’s a dumb book, both literally and figuratively, and I was suprised to see it on a list of commonly banned books a few months after I first saw it. Now I see that The Stupids (series) is still well represented on the list.

There are all kinds of authors on the list. There is at least one Nobel laurate (Toni Morrison), a respected author of young adult books (Judy Blume), the author of the greatest American novel ever written — according to Hemingway (Mark Twain), and the best selling American author ever (Stephen King). It seems that people are equal opportunity when it comes to censorship.

I don’t know what to make of it. For a nation that seems to so mindfully enshrine its freedoms, we sure do try to ban a lot of books… many of which are acclaimed by others to be among the best written. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to ban the Bible. That would likely get the average public library book censor in a tailspin, I’m sure.

another consumer returned from the hunt

I got to make a grand tour of three of the biggest department store retailers yesterday (JC Penney, Sears, and Target.) The object of my quest: a decent Dutch oven. Now that our yearlong war with boxes is more-or-less over, I’ve had the chance to look at all the cookware we’ve received and see if there is anything we still need. It didn’t take long to figure out that I’m still using the cheap $20 stew pot I got in the housewares department of a drug store over 10 years ago.

Alas, decent Dutch ovens are hard to find… Target (pronounced tar-zhay) had some surprisingly intriguing offerings, but nothing I wanted to buy.

My frustration about this gave way to a question as time went on, however: who lays out the sales floors of these department stores? In Sears, for example, I found myself proceeding up an escalator, leaving “great for campus” shag dorm-room furnishings in obnoxious solid colors (evidently loud, shaggy dorm room stuff is in this year) only to arrive at a table full of black-lace-over-pastel thongs that pair with matching peignoirs on the next rack. Maybe this is a not-so-subtle play on the budding sexuality of American youth headed back to campus?

In any case, my hunt was not entirely fruitless. I was able to locate a Rival 3-4 cup electric deep fryer for a mere $15! Mrs. Geek loves a well-made french fry, and I recently tried my hand at the home made version using the “dual fry” method in a 30 year old copy of “The Joy of Cooking.” Alas, temperature control is the key to great, crispy french fries, and something difficult to achieve on my electric stove. We tried it last night with superior results. I don’t care if the deep fryer doesn’t last long… for $15, it’s already worth it.

Oh yes, if anyone wants to get me this, let me know. I’ll tell you where to send it.

culture shock

Mrs. Geek is starting her new job this week. It’s proving to be something of a culture shock for her… in a very positive way. Her old school (St. Aloysius of the Perpetual Night Light or, School A) was in a somewhat depressed urban area that catered mostly to children of non-European ancestry. Her new school (St. Cyril Ostentatious or, School C) is located in a well-to-do section of a nearby commuter/professional bedroom community. Both are Catholic schools, yet they might as well be on different planets as far as her experience teaching goes.

Mrs. Geek found teaching at School A to be tough for a variety of reasons, some socio-economic, some not. She seemed to have more than her share of discipline problems in her 5th grade classroom last year. The school seemed loathe to threaten these students with expulsion however, for reasons that seemed equal parts Christian charity and an unwillingness to reduce the size of the revenue stream in the face of budget deficits. The parents were often not that well off themselves as well, and were busy working multiple jobs to make ends meet. So naturally, disciplinary follow through to help that teacher at school seemed to fall through the cracks… as did any similar follow through from the school administration. Schools often achieve results from students by demanding much of them; a culture to foster those demands was almost completely lacking at School A. The message of the day was not “do better!”, it was “get through it as best you can.”

School C is proving to be very different. Aside from the material trappings (like wine served with decent flatware and real cloth tablecloths at school meet-and-greet occasions), there is a real sense of order at School C that was lacking at School A. For example, attendance was a perpetual problem for Mrs. Geek at School A. When a student was absent, the student was required to bring in a note. If that note was missing (as it often was,) it often fell to Mrs. Geek to get the student to call home or to try to find the assistant Principal to take the situation in hand. That is a distraction under the best of circumstances and hell when you have a small cadre of troublemakers ready to make mischief as soon as her back was turned. School C solves this problem by not even admitting a student to his or her classroom after an absence until a note is presented at the school office. This leaves the teacher able to deal with the problems at hand.

Of course, socio-economic factors do figure into the equation. Where School A had to worry about whether its sixth grade girls were becoming sexually experienced, School C merely must worry about its fifth grade girls bullying each certain girls last year at the Spring Fair. Where School A must worry about meeting its budget, School C has to worry about how to deal with the donor waiting list for furnishings in the new Parish all-purpose room/gynmasium.

It’s a brave new world for Mrs. Geek right now. She keeps worrying that someone is going to come to her with a contract to be signed in blood to give up her first born. I simply tell her “This may be new to you but, you are trained professional. They are simply treating you as such.” She says “I understood every individual word you said but I don’t know what you mean.”She’ll adjust though. Just like a soldier home from a war, it just takes time to get over the shell shock.

acting your age

I remember when I was growing up that people used to occasionally say “act your age!” I find myself wondering what that phrase really means in this day and age. Does anyone still use it? Does the phrase even apply anymore?

I have my doubts.

I was reading two articles today on two widely divergent topics (college “study abroad” programs and Britney Spears) that both present pictures of expected behavior for people of college age. In the first article, Colleges Tell Students the Overseas Party’s Over”, Greg Winters explores how colleges are now attaching “good behavior” contracts to study abroad programs to help weed out students simply looking for an extended vacation abroad to “par-tay”. At the same time, Rebecca Traister’s article Don’t do it, Britney puts Ms. Spears’ relationship with Kevin Federline in the context of the sort of first “adult” relationship that many young people initiate; namely it is doomed to failure and excellent fodder for the old Saturday Night Live ad for “Bad Idea Jeans.”

The subject matter of both articles makes me want to ask “when does acting your age mean acting like an adult anymore?” I begin to think that its definitely not between the ages of 18 and 21, where the college experience is merely an extended form of adolescence where the toys are bigger and better, the underwear is skimpier and sexier, and real beer instead of root beer rules the day. There is a part of me who looks at a man like my great-uncle, who went to work in the coal mines at 12, and thinks he would see 18-21 year olds as lazy dilettantes if he was alive today.

Yet, I should be fair about this. I was, at 20, someone who was banned for a time from attending parties at an apartment inhabited by “five” housemates (four guys and a keg) for drinking too much… a feat one described by a friend as akin to “getting thrown out of a hockey game for fighting too much.” As I have also hinted in this diary, some of my early romantic entanglements were more than a little questionable from my current point of view. If other 18-21 year olds today are black kettles, I was definitely a black pot… who kept it together well enough to make Dean’s list and get into a decent second tier graduate school.

I suppose that acting like an adult was easier in ages past, as well. Looking back to 1904, I imagine that most people lived in small towns, horse and steam powered transport ruled the day, and a lot of folks never travelled more that 50 miles from where they were born. When you’ve seen a majority of what you are likely to see by the time you are fifteen, eighteen must feel old and “acting your age” is not a problem.

I cannot help but be suspicious of the importance attached to youth by society today, however. It is seen as the ideal state by many — innocent, pert, shiny, and new. We all seem to wonder how long the party can last. We also admire those celebrities who can make it last longer than the rest of us. Does the wisdom and maturity of age offer nothing to us anymore?

Ultimately, I think there is a fine line to walk here. It is the difference between pointing in a direction and forcing people to be a certain way at a certain time. As the Buddha once observed, we are all like waterlilies in a pond; some of use are still working our way out of the pond bottom into the water, some are lurking in the water just below the surface, and some are at the surface, in bloom. We’ll all bloom eventually. It’s just a matter of time.

anarchy now! if not now, when? if not when, why? how about just NOT!

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.
– Walter Sobchak,
The Big Lebowski

I’ve spent part of my day reading McSweeney’s Daily Reason To Dispatch Bush. I highly recommend it to those who aren’t fans of “El Jefe” Bush II. It provides nice, bite-sized bits of information about how the current Administration has apparently been up to no good with references to articles by major news organizations. (Most of these, however, are not Fox News and therefore are not “fair and balanced” — that phrase and its use by Fox still makes me think that Edward R. Murrow is spinning in his his grave.)

The bulk of my political thoughts lately have been devoted in a different direction, however: the Republican National Convention. Or rather, not the convention itself, but instead the protests by anarchists who want to cause mayhem in New York City while the Convention is underway. Evidently all sorts of rumors of sit-ins, civil disobediance, police brutality, riots, and distruction of property are floating around. All with the apparent goal of just showing the Republicans that people out there are angry.

While I am in favor of people exorcising Constitutional rights to assembly and free speech, I fear that these protests will backfire if they turn violent. As the radical liberals of the 60’s found out at the ’68 Democratic Convention, violence may do nothing but embolden Conservative Republicans and persuade the notorious “swing states” that the Republicans represent good, decent “law and order.” Sadly, I don’t think country can stand four more years of Republican law and order.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before. During my long tenure in graduate school, I put up with the disruptive effects of more than one student protest. A number of these protests were over statewide ballot measures that I, and the other students, generally voted against. It wasn’t the protests themselves that bugged me, as their aims — disruption for disruption’s sake. You see, a little check of the voting record shows that the county where I and the other students lived generally voted these measures down, usually by about 80-90% of the vote. The protesters were doing nothing but preaching to choir and getting themselves on TV.

So it is with New York. Yes, New York City has a Republican mayor and New York State has a Republican governor… but they are both moderates compared to the ideological zealots in the White House and New York is a firmly “blue” state where Kerry leads by a significant margin in the polls. So, aside from pissing people off and getting some skulls cracked by cops, will these protests change the minds of New Yorkers? Likely not.

I swear so many people don’t get it. In a democratic republic like the United States, the power of one person by themselves is practically zero. It is when one person can organize many others and deliver the votes of those people that people become strong. So as I have no doubt said before and will say again, all this “my non-vote is a protest” is “bovine scatology.” It’s the lazy way out.

So to all the angry young anarchists out there, I say this: if you are going to go out and organize something, try something a little more constructive. Vote yourself. Encourage lots of other people to vote. Make sure that lots of other people can vote. Read a little history. Brush up on your Constitution. Go to the Mid-West and peacefully protest there. Raise awareness. Create web sites.

They say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. If that is the case, let us review the recent history of anarchist violence. 1901 — President McKinley killed by an anarchist assassination. 1916 — Nephew of the Austro Hungarian emperor killed by anarchists, precipitating World War I. Need I say more?

i will write this entry, I will write this entry, I will WRITE this ENTRY!!!

This entry has been the devilishly difficult to finish. Every time I started it, something got in my way. Either I was called away from the computer, or my web browser crashed (silly me for upgrading to Mozilla Firefox, 0.9.3.) Well, I am now determined and resolute! I will finish this entry!

Mrs. Geek and I seem to be getting reacquainted lately… with a lot of things. I think we need some time to get reacquainted with each other — the wedding was an ever more looming presence as it grew near. That presence seemed to make us less “Dr. Geek and Fiancee S.” and more “planners of the wedding… and oh yeah, the Bride and Groom too.”

Perhaps more surprisingly, Mrs. Geek and I have been taking some time recently to get reacquainted with those near and dear to us. I called my father-in-law the other day and when is his wife answered, she made a point of chatting for a moment because she hadn’t talked to me since the wedding. Likewise, we attended the surprise 13th birthday party for A., the junior-bridesmaid-in-the-strapless-dress last Friday (a 13th birthday on Friday, 13 August — the karmic implications are probably astounding.) Several people at the party asked “How have you been? How was the honeymoon?” because they hadn’t seen us since the wedding. We also called my cousin’s wife K. to wish her a happy birthday last Friday (she obviously didn’t get the inter-family memo that Friday was supposed to be A.’s birthday, and A’s birthday ONLY) and she hadn’t heard from us since the wedding.

I suppose the reason that this surprises me so much is because Mrs. Geek and I have enjoyed a fairly full social calendar in recent weeks. There have been art and wine festivals, beer festvials of different kinds, and some BBQ-ing with friends. Looking back on it though, the circle of people we were seeing was limited.

Reconnection takes time, and time is something we have again. Soon we’ll have the apartment fit for company and we can have friends and family over for dinner. That will be good.