Category Archives: Nothing in Particular

SARS-CoV-2 in the Time of Everyone Having the Same Idea for Blog Post Titles

Picture of biscuits I baked this morningSomewhere Gabriel Garcia Márquez is wishing people would actually read his book Love in the Time of Cholera rather than just making up riffs on its name for blog titles.

That said, dibs on One Hundred Years of Solitude.

To be honest, the fact that people are brushing off their old blogs is one of the better things coming out of all of this. Just yesterday (or was it the day before?) I saw that George “Loki” Williams (briefly of Cincinnati, now and forever in New Orleans) fired up his old blog. If you ever had one (or even if you didn’t) get off that book of faces or the tweet machine and give it a try. It’s therapeutic. Or maybe add it in to your mix.  There are lots of people I know who I’d read in a heartbeat. That’s a hint, if not a flat-out request. You have the time.  By and large, we all have the time.

So I made biscuits this morning. It’s the second time in a couple of days. Carla made up a huge batch of sausage gravy the other day (in no way a bad thing) and after finishing off the last batch I realized we had enough gravy left for another round. What’s notable about these (and why they rated a picture) is that these are the first biscuits I’ve made using something other than White Lily Self-Rising Flour in quite some time. Any of you who bake know that flour is one of those things that’s pretty hard to find right now.  The last batch exhausted the last of the White Lily I had, so this batch is using the venerable King Arthur All-Purpose and adding the baking powder myself. I’m very pleased with the results. The texture is a little different owing to the higher protein, but they rose well and were in no way tough. Grating frozen butter into the flour and worked the dough as little as possible did the trick. The next “test” will be some of my cinnamon biscuits.  Twice as much butter and 1/4 cup of cinnamon chips. They could probably be classified as scones (since there’s not that much difference between a British scone and an American biscuit anyway.  No egg.  That’s about it, as best I can tell).

The other thing I’m doing through all of this is coding what I’m informally calling the Events Engine for It’s essentially going to be an interactive calendar for beer events around Cincinnati (and eventually elsewhere). I don’t want to go into too much detail because, quite frankly, talking about it can get tedious pretty quickly. Here’s the proof.

I’ve been working on it for a very long time (essentially full-time since Christmas), but the ball is rolling now. My programming skills had become very rusty over the years and an awful lot has changed since the last time I’d done anything seriously. It’s been as much an exercise in learning two programming frameworks (Laravel and Vue for those scoring at home) as well as trying to make something usable for all concerned.

I recognize the irony of putting a lot of effort into a way to advertise and track the exact kinds of public activities that none of us have any business doing right now. If there’s any gift I have, it’s timing. There’s a reason I like to say that the purpose of my life is to serve as a cautionary tale to others. It occurred to me the other day, though, that there may be some real use for this during this time.  Breweries are, for the most part, still making beer (thank the deity of your choice). Buying it can be a bit of a challenge, though. It’s not worth going into a bunch of details here, but I think I’ll be able to roll it out here in a couple of weeks in a limited way so breweries can advertise when and how they’re doing sales. It’s something that changes frequently, so the ability to update it quickly and forget it could be handy. It’s given me a second wind, if nothing else.

The purpose of all of this, of course, is to distract myself from the horror that’s coming:

100,000 deaths.  Or more.  The next month is going to be more awful than anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. The world is already different. After this there will be no going back. No one will be untouched. Someone I know and love is probably going to die very soon. Maybe more than one someone. And I won’t be unique in that. I’m hunkering down and I hope you are too, but I know everyone can’t.

Get some perspective on what 100,000 people means.  Fill up the Rose Bowl. Then kill everyone. You still haven’t hit 100,000 (you’re about 7,500 short). You can go over by about the same amount by killing everyone in either Neyland Stadium in Knoxville or Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.  Given the shitty job their state governments are doing, they may not even have to leave their respective states to get that done.

(Never let it be said that I ever pass up a chance to point out how profoundly stupid Kentucky can be, but folks here — and I sincerely mean across the entire  political spectrum — have stepped the hell up.  Except Thomas Massie, Rand Paul, and the Turtle That Grifted, of course.  They’re eternal asshats).

That orange motherfucker in the White House is currently keeping himself half-erect by calling himself a “Wartime President.” Here’s a clue Skippy:  when your completely fucked-up response to an avoidable crisis gets nearly as many Americans killed as were killed by combat in World War I, you lost the fucking war.

Yeah.  I’m angry.  I’m always angry.

Wash your hands.  Stay inside.  Stay alive.  That’s your job.

Let me know if I can help.  That’s mine.

Damn it PJ

Carla and I are wrapping up a week’s vacation and tonight we got blindsided by awful news. PJ Neumann, co-owner of Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey, has passed away. Out of respect to his family’s privacy at a time when things are nuts and everyone is trying to sort things out I don’t want to go into details, especially considering I don’t have many of them anyway. From my perspective they’re exactly that: details. The only thing that matters is that he’s gone. And I don’t like that one bit.

Most people who knew PJ knew him better than I did. To me he was one of Carla’s favorite students ever. I don’t say that lightly. There aren’t that many. She’s been teaching for a very long time and you could fill up a pretty good-sized zip-code with them and have some left over. But there are a few that took up residence in her heart. PJ was definitely on the short list.

That’s not supposed to be in past-tense, damn it. This sucks.

We would be out somewhere on the town and if it was someplace PJ worked (Rock Bottom was where it started) we’d make sure to see if he was working. Or we wouldn’t know he was working and he’d see us and come over. The next morning or sometime later Carla would just blurt out “It was so good to see PJ.” And I’d agree. He seemed like a good guy.

We celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary this past July and we decided we wanted to have our meal at Boomtown. I’d never been there, but I’d heard so many good things from so many people. I spend much of my time in a daze and, while I knew PJ was involved in the management there, I’d somehow completely spaced on the fact that he co-owned the place. I’m an idiot sometimes.

The minute we were through the door PJ was there to greet us. While we had a really nice server who was well up to the job, PJ kept coming over to check in on us. It was during one of these interludes that he touched my life in an important way that will stay with me for the rest of mine. It’s probably going to sound silly, but I find life to be a largely meaningless trek from one moment to the next that occasionally gets interrupted by something worth getting out of bed for.

For me, one of those things is biscuits. (Cats are another). I don’t know if that make me simple or complicated, but it’s a part of my personal ontology. I’m 56 years old and I still haven’t made my best biscuit yet. The food scientist Shirley Corriher has an extended riff on how “tender-flaky” biscuits are a holy grail that can happen, but the odds are stacked against you. I’ve tried — and subjected Carla to — dozens of techniques. Some even came close to working.

I’d been making some good progress, and one time when PJ came out that night we started talking biscuits. Understand something: this is a restaurant that has the word ‘biscuit’ in the name. He could have copped an attitude. He could have gone the “secret recipe” route and what could I have really said? But he didn’t. He shared a technique I wasn’t aware of and has been transformative to doing a thing that makes me happy in a world where not much does.

Freeze the butter. Grate it into the flour, including some between each layer when folding.

Oh. My. God. Good low-protein flour (rhymes with “White Lily”), frozen grated butter and impatience (so you don’t work the dough too much). I’ve still not made the best biscuit I ever will, but I’m closer now than I was before. And I have PJ to thank.

We were talking about going back down sometime. I so wanted thank him in person for the hint. Now I won’t be able to and I’m equal parts pissed at him and sad. Carla is gutted. I’m gutted. Dude, you’re supposed to be here. I’m a casual acquaintance, really. I cannot begin to comprehend the pain for those who were really close. My heart goes out to all of you.

We touch the lives of everyone we meet. Most of the time it’s a good thing and we’re utterly unaware of it. PJ was a good guy and the world was better place with him in it. I doubt he knew. One never does. Keep his family and friends in your hearts. There’s an awful big hole in all of their lives now.

Thanks PJ. I’m thankful for what I learned and I wish I’d learned more. Rest well.

Mini Spoiler-Free Review of “Knives Out”

I remember a time they used to make movies like this fairly frequently. Now we’re in sequel-and-remake Hell, so this film doing well is important. Go see it. It’s both A Good Movie™ (in the Scorsese-sense) and fun. Actual laughs. Actual suspense. Great misdirection. Every performance — no matter how much screen-time — excellent. It’s a throwback in terms of quality and style but this is a movie definitely set in today.

True to the genre? Yep. Formulaic? No. I will say Daniel Craig’s low-country accent takes a couple (but only a couple) of minutes to adjust to, but it’s true to establishing his character. If it weren’t for those piercing eyes, you’d forget who he was. In a cast full of powerhouse box-office names, the movie lives or dies on the performance of Ana de Armas. I’d say “remember her name,” but I suspect we’ll all be seeing a lot of her, and that’s a great thing.

I’ll watch it again. And I bet I see something I missed before.

Can’t recommend it enough.