Food is important...
It's the family joke, my dad's obsession with food. There were many manifestations of it, but probably the one that gave all of us the most amusement was this one: when we left to go on any trip longer than about an hour, you could be certain that within a few minutes of leaving, my dad would be wondering out loud where and when we were going to eat. On this score he was utterly reliable. Nobody in my family would ever take a bet on him forgetting.
On one of the trips I took with my dad in the '90s, we left our home in Chula Vista early in the morning. Debbie (my wife) and I had a private bet going on this food planning habit of his – not on whether he'd ask about when we're eating, but rather how long it would take him to do so. I bet that he'd ask before we got to the freeway, some 8 blocks from our home. Debbie thought he wouldn't ask until we were zooming northward on I-805. I won – he asked just one block from our house :) That wasn't really fair of me, though, as I knew that was a sucker bet.
But my dad's food obsession went much deeper than that...
My dad had traveled to nearly every corner of the U.S., and much of Canada as well. Some parts he visited regularly. In all of those places, he had uncovered good places to buy unusual kinds of (good!) food, or good little eateries of one kind or another. Even when I was quite young and we didn't have much money for such extravagances, he still knew places to go. I think that his mental map of anyplace was marked not with borders, towns, and roads, but rather with places to get food.
One example from my youth that pops right to mind: the part of Pennsylvania between Lancaster and Trenton. We made the trek to Lancaster regularly in the early '60s, because my dad had discovered that he could by tobacco stems very cheaply at the cigarette factory there, and they made good mulch. We'd go out there with our truck and they'd pile the stems on as high as they could. Back then, those tobacco stems were waste material so far as the tobacco companies were concerned. Later, they started grinding up the stems to use in the cigarettes, so that source went away.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the heart of “Pennsylvania Dutch” country, where the Amish and Mennonite farmers have some of the most productive farms in the world – along with some of the best cooks. We visited the Lancaster Farmer's Market – then genuinely a farmer's market – and bought ourselves several kinds of delicacies. I particularly remember cup cheese on fresh-baked bread, sausages and other meats, and apple pies. In those days you could buy a gut-busting lunch there for very little money – perfect for us. Not far from Lancaster, along the road home, some Amish women had a smorgasbord restaurant where they made (amongst other delicacies) the best turkey corn soup I've ever had. They just loved my dad, I think because of his deep and completely transparent appreciation of their fine food. We stopped there for a big jar of that turkey corn soup just about every trip out that way – and those fine ladies would slip little treats of one kind or another to any of us kids who happened to be along.
My dad was legendary for the sheer quantity of food he could eat. My mom attributed it, jokingly, to his “hollow leg”. While that certainly wasn't the actual physical source of his capacity, it was a decently accurate estimation of it. If, dear reader, you never met my dad, then you should know that he wasn't a big man. Far from it, in fact. For most of his life, his weight hovered near 130 pounds. He was 5'8" or 5'9" tall – not exactly short, but certainly not tall. He was intensely physical, with a wiry physique that was stronger than his appearance would suggest, and he had the endurance of a marathon runner. He routinely did hard physical work all day long for weeks on end. And oh, my, could the man eat! When people first saw him eat a meal, it was absolutely routine for their eyes to get big and round, their jaws to hang slackly, and for them to exclaim “Tom, where are you putting that?!?” His alimentary canal capacity really was remarkable.
On our trip together to Lassen National Park, in 2007, we looked for a nice little restaurant to have a few good meals in (mostly we ate food I cooked in our cabin). There were many kinds of restaurants that my dad would declare he didn't like, such as Italian or Chinese restaurants. My family had learned to ignore these proclamations, as we had a long list of counter-examples. In that spirit, I picked a Chinese restaurant one evening: Happy Garden in Chester, California (and I see it's still there!). On the way in, my dad was wondering out loud if he'd survive the experience, and made a point of looking for hearses in the parking lot. On the way out, he asked when we could come back. What made the difference? The soup he'd had there: a delightful, vegetable-stuffed version of wor wonton mein that was served in an enormous ceramic bowl intended for a family to share. We ate the entire bowl (about 3/4 to my dad, 1/4 to me), and my dad asked the waiter if we could get some more. That brought the cook out, after the waiter relayed the incredible story of the man who ate a family-sized bowl of soup and then wanted more. The cook and waiter were amazed – a common reaction to first sighting of my dad's eating – but that sort of thing was a routine experience for anyone who traveled with him. We went back there several times on that trip, especially when my dad's first question each morning was “Are we driving through Chester today?”
If I had to guess what kind of food my dad enjoyed the most, I'd have to say it would have been seafood. Good, plentiful, plainly cooked seafood. There was a place in southern New Jersey that made a very simple oyster stew that he'd happily drive a couple of hours to enjoy. Another place on the Maine coast where he loved the crab, clams, and lobster. On his visits with us in San Diego, if we planned to go out to eat, seafood restaurants would be at the top of his list. On a couple of his visits, when I could afford to do so, we took him (and once, my mom, too!) to Anthony's old “Star of the Sea” restaurant. Those meals he remembered often.
As for the source of his food obsession, I'm not sure. Some have hypothesized his Depression-era childhood, which included some pretty awful stretches of food. But I think not, as his brothers lived through that as well, and they didn't share his food obsession. I suspect several things contributed, possibly including the bad Depression-era food. One was simply his physicality – it would have taken a lot of fuel to keep up that level of exercise, day in and day out. Another contributing factor might be his culinary experiences in Italy, during the war – especially with seafood. Another might be that he married a most excellent cook: my family, though we didn't have much money, ate meals that were routinely excellent, and on special days, spectacular. And I think there might be yet another contributor: my dad had a fine sense and appreciation of natural beauty. That was very evident in the joy he got from flowers, beautiful plants, and scenic vistas. I think perhaps he thought of good food as another kind of natural beauty. His preferences were definitely for simple, wholesome foods with a beautiful flavor.
I'll close this post with one last memory of my dad and food. This memory was from our trip to the Big Sur in 2005. We were close to Monterey, justly famous for its seafood restaurants, and we went there one night to have ourselves a good meal as a special treat on the night before we left to come back home. I've forgotten the name of the restaurant, but it was along a pier downtown, and was Italian. We went in, were seated, and started examining the menu (an activity that was itself a source of joy for my dad :). They had cioppino, a seafood stew that my dad really liked, but only if it was made “right”. He started asking our waitress some specific questions about what was in their cioppino and how it was cooked, but she didn't know the answers, so she called out the chef.
The chef was a short, stout Portuguese fellow with a thick accent, and at first he looked a little annoyed that someone might doubt his food. But somewhere during that conversation, the two of them started to really enjoy it. I think the chef sensed a kindred spirit, and they had quite a long talk about the misery of overdone clams, the sadness of tough squid, and the criminality of a cioppino made with insufficient shellfish. That chef promised my dad the best cioppino he'd ever had – and he delivered. The joy and anticipation on my dad's face when that enormous bowl of cioppino was placed on our table was truly something to behold; the memory still instantly brings a smile to me. I'd give anything to have a photo of that moment. Of course he ate the entire thing; at that point he would have hurt himself to make sure there wasn't a single scrap left. After I'd paid the check and we were getting ready to leave, the chef came out with a huge leftover box filled with more cioppino – he apologized (with a huge grin) for not having a big enough bowl for my dad, and handed the leftover box to him with a flourish. My dad ate the leftover cioppino for breakfast the next morning, before we left for the long drive home, and swore that it was the best breakfast he'd ever had...
Friday, November 29, 2013
“Some sphincter in a suit.” How software companies die, a brilliant piece from 1995 by that I've never seen before. It's by, of all people, science fiction author Orson Scott Card. It's absolutely spot on. His conclusion:
The shock is greater for the coder, though. He suddenly finds that alien creatures control his life. Meetings, Schedules, Reports. And now someone demands that he PLAN all his programming and then stick to the plan, never improving, never tweaking, and never, never touching some other team's code. The lousy young programmer who once worshiped him is now his tyrannical boss, a position he got because he played golf with some sphincter in a suit. The hive has been ruined. The best coders leave. And the marketers, comfortable now because they're surrounded by power neckties and they have things under control, are baffled that each new iteration of their software loses market share as the code bloats and the bugs proliferate.Awesome.
Got to get some better packaging. Yeah, that's it.
One choice would be to assign a union worker with the physical presence of a baby bunny to the case, then give them a high caseload and enormous amounts of paperwork so that they might schedule a visit to the child's home every couple of months.
Another choice would be to assign a couple of tough bikers who get right in the abuser's face and promise to cut off his balls, then use him for a kitty toy in the tiger enclosure at the Wild Animal Park – and then show up twice a week to make sure things are ok.
I know where I'd place my bet...
Government – is there anything it can do well?
Issa's IRS investigation continues... The latest to testify is the IRS' Chief Counsel, who conveniently can't seem to remember anything of relevance. That One has stuffed his administration with ruthless, shameless, and downright un-American Alinskyite progressives – rather frightening to this citizen...
Should I laugh or cry? It's hard to do both at the same time. George Will has a Thanksgiving roundup of “turkeys” from 2013. His lede:
We are tomorrow’s past, so this Thanksgiving give thanks for 2013, a year the future might study more for amusement than for edification.It's a good read, but will leave you with decidedly mixed emotions...
Coincidence? Or jackboot grinding a citizen's face into the dirt? With That One's administration, unfortunately, one must be suspicious...
Syria ceded to Iran? If this quote bothers you:
"Rather than merely being feckless, the administration may actually have a long-term plan, and this initial nuclear deal is only a tactic in a broader strategy. The overall aim is a strategic partnership with Iran because the administration sees that country as the only island of stability in a sea of chaos and violence."...then you should go read this article.
Dr. Jasper Kirby of CERN notes that the present solar behavior looks remarkably like the period just preceding the Maunder Minimum (the “Little Ice Age” of 1645 - 1710). If that observation turns out to be reality, then we could see the beginning of another such “Little Ice Age” as early as 2015.
Remember: the science is “settled”, though, and there's a 97% consensus about AGW...
Remember: the science is “settled”, though, and there's a 97% consensus about AGW...