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I learned to cook from my father. He thought there was one temperature setting: Volcanic. He cooked everything fast and hard. “Braise” was not part of his vocabulary.

It took me a long time to unlearn that — burning through too many pieces of non-stick cookware was part of that re-education — but now I thoroughly appreciate the value of the entire heat spectrum. While the sear and the char are still part of my cooking toolbox, I am now quite familiar with the simmer, poach, braise, and other “go easy” settings.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a perfect example of “go easy” cooking. A few simple ingredients combined with proper (low) heat make for a lovely, light entree. I use capellini (angel hair) as opposed to the traditional spaghetti because I think it lends itself better to the thin, light sauce. Continue Reading »

Despite its many advocates, I loathe brie.

Even so, every year or two, when the opportunity presents itself, I give it another try just to see if, somehow, my taste buds have changed and I now agree with the world at large.

To date, I still don’t like brie.

I was reminded of this today when discussing the relative value of spending $500 on a meal for two in a Michelin star restaurant.

My position was that, a few times in a life, it’s worth it.

My opponent took the position that, like getting kicked in the gonads, it’s not. His opinion was that, beyond a certain high-dollar threshold, you’re just showing off. In addition, he informed me that my statement was flatly false, as he’d had a few high-end meals during his life and, in each case, it was never worth the money.

He did not realize that he had just proved my point.

You see, if he had not experienced those few very expensive meals, he’d have had no basis on which to form an opinion (other than his own preconceived notions). This is the essence of prejudice: to condemn a priori a book you’ve never read, a movie you’ve never seen, a meal you’ve never tasted, a person you’ve never met.

For my part, I’ve had three very expensive meals in my life.

The least enjoyable was at Morton’s, a high-end steak house here in Seattle. The most enjoyable was a fantastic meal with a great family of friends at Canlis (also here in Seattle). The most memorable was at the restaurant in the World Trade Club, located (when the WTC was still a thing) in the Ferry Building along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Were these meals worth the price these high-end restaurants charged? I mean, was the food, the preparation, the presentation, the service, and the atmosphere all worth the money paid?

No (though Canlis came damned close).

Were the experiences worth the price? Meaning, was the meal plus the company, the occasion, the conversation, and the memories gained worth the price?

Without question: Yes.

As a result of each experience, I gained something. After each meal, I knew more about what to expect from high-end dining. I had new anecdotes with which I could entertain, edify, inform. Most importantly, I now have real-life data on which to build an informed opinion. Just as, years ago, I gained first-hand knowledge that allows me to judge whether something is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, I now have first-hand knowledge of fancy-schmancy dining.

Would I spend that kind of money regularly? Fat chance.

Would I spend that kind of money on a meal in the future? Count on it.

Just as with my ongoing litigation of Brie vs. My Taste Buds, I think some experiences are worth the indulgence a few times in our lives. For me, I like to see exactly what all the shouting is about so that I might determine for myself whether or not I agree with the world at large.

Aside from the thing paid for, there’s the experience of the thing.

That is where I find value.

k

PS. Full disclosure: I was a guest at both Canlis and the WTC, and had a gift card that covered part of the bill for Morton’s. (I’m a fairly tight-fisted old fart.) I did, however, see the menus, and was aware of how much the meals cost.

 

 

A follow-up on my previous post about character names.

It’s clear from comments — here, on Facebook, etc. — that some readers disagree with my characterizations of the names I’m using.

Not a problem. And absolutely expected.

When I spoke of, for instance, Eleanor as a name that evokes impressions of “a longer view, a queenly aspect, strength, confidence, patience,” I should have said that those are the impressions the name evokes for me.

Your impression of Eleanor, the name, will definitely be different from mine, perhaps radically so. You may have had an evil twin named Eleanor, she may have been your overly strict second grade teacher, or a particularly nasty girlfriend. Or it may be that, try as you might, when you hear the name, you can only think of the ridiculous novelist, Eleanor Lavish, from A Room with a View.

That’s all fine.

For me, the name Eleanor conjures up images of Mrs. Roosevelt; Henry II’s wife, Eleanor D’Aquitaine (my 24th great grandmother, as it turns out); and the homophonically named Elinor Dashwood from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Those are my Eleanors, and they match well with the character I want to bring to life in this book.

Naturally, I cannot expect my impressions of that name to be yours as well. No writer can expect that, even if we use a name as well known as George Custer (as I did in my Fallen Cloud Saga).

No, my job is to make sure that my Eleanor comes across with my impressions intact. I must show you, through her actions, how she is patient, thoughtful, perhaps even regal in her quiet dignity. Then, maybe, the next time you hear the name Eleanor, your first impression will be more like mine.

For my current purposes, I need to have a name that fits the character I want to create. That is true, I believe, for almost any writer.

Onward.

k

Puget Sound

It began, as it often does, with Sam and Janet.

Sam and Janet, the couple of the oft-mocked enchanted evening, are a regular starting point when I’m trying to pick character names. I begin with these two because, frankly, I’d never use them.

Setting the names of my main characters is a crucial early step in my writing process. I have two main reasons for this. Continue Reading »

The Dread

Ever since publishing my last post, in which I stated publicly that I was gearing up to break my four-year-long novel-writing dormancy, I’ve been in a dark blue funk.

It took me a while to figure out why. Well, to be honest, I didn’t figure it out. A fellow writer (Todd Baker: grillmaster, metalhead, and memoirist par excellence) commented on my post, and his reflections shed light on my own internal strife.

I was suffering from “The Dread.” Continue Reading »

You might have noticed a bit more poetry on this blog of late. There’s a reason for this.

If I’m to be brutally honest, these past four years I haven’t been much of a writer. My last novel came out in late 2012, and since then — aside from the posts, vignettes, and poetry on this blog — I’ve only written one short story.

A lot happened to us in those four years. All of our parents died which meant funerals and family strife and estate stuff. We invited a young woman in need to stay with us for a year while she reestablished herself. I had an emergency appendectomy and my wife had an emergency cholecystectomy. Our only car died and needed to be replaced. I grew deathly sick of my job and tried to switch careers. Not all of it was bad (we paid off the house, and for our 30th anniversary we bought a classic sports car), but all of it, even the good stuff, sucked up a lot of time and energy, and brought a great deal of stress into our lives.

All of which sounds like a bunch of excuses and, for a long time, I viewed them as such. Now, though, I see them as reasons.

Am I splitting semantic hairs? Perhaps, but hear me out. Continue Reading »

as you look across
the room/table/bed
at him/her/them
your heart’s perfect home

remember this

skin wrinkles
waists thicken
hair goes thin/grey

know this

hearts grow
minds expand
dreams die/are reborn

expect this

we are inconstant
water in life’s river
evolving/adapting/learning

accept this

alive
we change
we are change

want this

life
is our fate
promise
gift

remember this
know this
expect this
accept this
want this

***

k

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