Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Lazy Carnivore's Guide to Delicious Dinners.

Just a little announcement before we begin: Reflections of a Shallow Pond, from this point forward, will be a food blog. No more twisted fiction, no more raunchy rhymes, future posts will contain nothing but photos of my food—a bag of pretzels from the vending machine, half of a stale maple bar from two cubicles over—you'll see everything I eat accompanied by three to seven funny hash tags.

Aw, I'm just kidding. I'm actually getting started on a young adult series where our hero is a clown with rabies. Somehow he only manages to kill bad people, and you really start liking him by the end of book four.

Today, however, I really do want to discuss cooking because it can be fun, yes? In my opinion, nothing beats a leisurely Sunday afternoon spent preparing something delicious. Pot roast, salmon, maybe some grilled kabobs—most things taste terrific when we're bestowed with a relaxed timeline to really cultivate a meal.

Problem is, on those weeknights where everyone converges at home around six, a deadly tandem of low blood sugar and teen-induced, finicky entitlement can force a nice evening to break bad in a hurry.

Whether we're tapped out after riding the bus for an hour next to a guy soaked in Axe and Olde English or just can't justify going to the taco truck for the third night in a row, we need to crank something out and move on. Hit it and quit it, as the kids used to say.

I know most of you feel my pain, so I'd like to share the dishes I prepare when confronted with whiny family members, profound lack of motivation, or both. None are accompanied by fruit or vegetables, so feel free to shake out a bag of salad to ease your parental conscience. And as a typical work week essentially consists of four dinner days (Monday through Thursday), here are my top four hasty tasty dinners:

4) Pizza: Ive eaten so much of it in my life that my DNA has become indistinguishable from the genetic code of Canadian Bacon. So why not learn to make it, right? You know, teach a man to fish, yada, yada.

It's pretty straight-forward. Buy two boxes of Appian Way pizza crust and stretch out the dough on a greased cookie sheet. Try using latex gloves to reduce stickiness. Bake the crust alone at 425° for ten minutes, then remove from the oven. The Appian Way sauce is good, but take it a step further and mix another brand in with it, like Contadina or Ragu. Add your toppings and bake for an additional fifteen minutes. You'll be watching Wheel of Fortune before you can Sajak!

3) Beef stroganoff: Your brood will come a runnin' for this fun frolic of noodle and cow. It's nothing but meat and carbs, but even a tattered coyote would taste good after marinating for nine hours in the crock pot. Combine stew meat, two cups of beef bullion, a tablespoon each of ketchup and Worcestershire in a slow cooker. Go to work or your local bar for the day.

In the evening, add mushrooms and two tablespoons of flour and stir until thick. Mix in a cup of sour cream and pour over egg noodles. Hot freaking damn it's good, and the back of the recipe book makes it even better:

In this woman's world, crockery is no mockery.

2) Sloppy Joes: This is a lowest-common-denominator meal, whether you're in a crunch to get to the science fair or in front of Netflix for the season finale of Broadchurch. On the bell-shaped curve of food preparation effort, it falls somewhere between unwrapping gum and washing a fork.

Fry up a pound-and-a-half of ground beef (or a combo of beef and ground turkey), drain it and combine with the Sloppy Joe seasoning, a cup of water and tomato paste. Throw in some of that sauce from pizza night to give it an added zing. Toast hamburger buns and top them with the bubbling, saucy deliciousness. Add shredded cheddar and you'll discover there's nothing sloppy about these Joes, yo.

1) French dips: In our house, French dips continue to dwarf the other easy dinners. Why? They taste as good as the restaurant version and no one has to tip the bastard in the kitchen. You can go all Safeway on these, too, from the sandwich rolls to the frozen steak fries to the deli roast beef to the au jus.

With two minutes remaining for the fries to bake, lightly butter the rolls and broil. During that time, heat up the roast beef in the microwave. Everything comes together in a magical synergy as you top your French Dip with horseradish; grilled onions and melted provolone are optional.

Well, there you have it—a week's worth of dinners that take about the same amount of energy as scratching your tuchus. Try them and I promise you, your family will embrace their mediocrity with a watered down passion you haven't experienced since Ted Cruz picked a running mate.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Location—a short story

"Honest to God, that woman can be such a diva sometimes." Edward lifted the soaking paper and lowered it into the sepia tray. "Insisting that I use film for the shoot. And that I must personally process every print? Um, hello? Elton John called. He wants his bitch back."

"Ha! I like it." Edward's assistant Greg sat on a stool, trying to take notes in the amber light of the darkroom.

"But she can also be a goddamn genius, and I must admit," said Edward, "I am enjoying this whole film thing. Haven't produced sepia tones since the Nineties."

Which was also how long he'd known Mia Kirkwood, managing editor of Buzz magazine—compadres since their early days at art school, Edward now felt more like her obedient lackey than a renowned photographer in his own right. "Definitely a unique location, to boot."

"I don't know," Greg said, "Was I disappointed to leave that miserable place? Hell no." He watched Edward nimbly transfer another print from bleach to clean water. "Place made me shiver, like, the whole time. Think about what it was like living there."

"Or dying?"

"Okay, thanks, now I'm shivering again. Eddie, I'm not kidding, they need to take a fucking wrecking ball to that place."

"I suppose. But you have to admit it was amusing how disgusted those poor little models were." Edward clipped another sheet to the line. "Well tough shit, little girlfriends, y'all make more than I do, so you can just go ahead and put on your big girl panties. Edward noticed that Greg's arms were tightly folded. "What freaked you out the most?"

"Um...shit, where do I begin? The reception area?"

"True enough. Mental hospitals aren't most people's idea of home." Edward reached toward the wall, his hand cranking the amber light's intensity. "Let's take a look."

The five dangling photos slowly came to life as Greg's gaze sharpened. "Oh, God." He hugged himself tighter, unaware how his torso rocked as he absorbed the imagery.

Edward chuckled and clipped on another dripping print. "Mia Kirkwood, you've done it again."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trump vs. Hillary: Wake Me Up When It's Over.

Finally it's come to pass—Trump vs. Clinton—estúpido hombre vs mujer acostada.

Are you ready? If not, that's fine, because we've got a solid six months ahead of us to watch a muck-huckin' donnybrook not witnessed since Geraldo took a neo-Nazi chair to the face. We'll have a nice long exposure to this toxic spectacle, so let's just pace ourselves, okay?

And by ourselves, I mean me.

Four years ago, little intrigue marked the 2012 presidential primary season. As with every incumbent president over the past thirty years, Barack Obama sailed through spring and summer unopposed by anyone from his party. In fact, the last time that happened was 1980, when a cranky Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter ("We cahn't bayah fah mah yeeahs of wicked pissing failyah!").

On the right was Mitt Romney: tanned, rested and crisply mom-jeaned. After biding his time in the well-choreographed dancing order of Republican establishment candidates, he'd placed considerable distance between himself and the field by May, anti-climactically creaming Santorum in the final delegate count 1575 to 245.

That Obama-Romney matchup, while packing some considerable wallop due to the men's stark ideological and cultural differences (car elevators, magic underwear and Stanford vs. single moms, magic cigarettes and Harvard), seems nearly flavorless compared to this year's eminent insane.

Currently, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are polling historic numbers in the category of "strongly unfavorable." It seems that we don't just despise Trump, we want to take that orange mull-hawk and hurl it around the freaking room like Bam Bam with a granite easy chair. As for Hillary, she doesn't just lightly chafe our sensibilities, she fracks into our souls with her venomous guile and heaves around more baggage than Mr. and Mrs. Howell.

So yeah, this one's a little different, and there's no way to know how a contest between two such remarkably unappealing candidates will affect voter turnout. On the one hand, this November could experience record participation from non-white and young voters. Specifically Latinos, with their 48% turnout lagging behind African-African (67%) and white voters (65%) during the 2012 election, may go big on November 8. Why? A little refresher:

They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting. -Donald Trump, July, 2015

By the same token, over the past year both Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen to symbolize America's immense dissatisfaction with traditional insider politics. Not all who backed Sanders can be considered rubber stamps for Hillary, and certainly not for Trump, whose splintered his own party like the delicious inside of a Butterfinger.

This war of attrition will end in six months. Pissed off honkies who can't find it in their consciences to vote for either candidate will recycle their ballots and set their iTimers for 2020. Pissed off Latinos and African-Americans will vote in record numbers, but more as a referendum against Trump than an "atta girl" for Hillary. She'll win the presidency decisively.

Remember, though, there's still a long way to go, so you need to calm the hell down.

And by you, I mean me.