Monday, November 30, 2015

The Square Peg - Black and Blue Friday or Bingo Bob Goes Shopping

The Square Peg - Black and Blue Friday or Bingo Bob Goes Shopping
© S. Bradley Stoner

I ran into Bingo Bob last Thursday evening. I was walking off that extra helping of stuffing and a piece of pumpkin pie. Hey, pumpkin is a squash so it counts as a vegetable, right? Besides, Thanksgiving only comes once a year, so I’m entitled to a little self-indulgence. I mean, geez, I’m careful about what I eat all the rest of the year, except maybe for Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July... oh, and Halloween every other year. Okay, okay... so I get a little carried away periodically, but it’s not like I don’t exercise every day... except, of course, when it’s raining out, below 50° or over 110°. I mean, really, who wants to exercise in those conditions? You could catch cold, or, worse yet, die of heat stroke. Who wants that?

Anyhow, like I said, I ran into Bingo Bob. He was loading his folding camp chair... you know the one made out nylon with cup holders in the arms on a tubular steel frame that folds up so you can put it in a nylon tube with a carrying strap... and a sleeping bag into his truck.

“Whatcha doin’, Bob?” I called.

“Gettin’ ready for Ferguson Friday.”

“Excuse me?”

Bob shrugged. “The wife said ‘Black Friday’ is racist, so I figured Ferguson Friday wouldn’t be so offensive.”

“Geez Bob, I wouldn’t say that in public,” I replied, recalling the coverage of the protests over a police shooting in Missouri. “I’d stick with Black Friday.”

“Whatever,” Bob returned. “I’m gonna hit Walmart at midnight, then rush over and camp out at Best Buy... they’ve got some terrific deals on big screen TVs and video games.”

“Don’t you have a big screen TV?” I asked, recalling the 40 inch LCD in his family room.

Yeah, but I’m gonna get one of those 55 inchers to put in the family room and then I’ll move the 40 incher into the bedroom and get rid of that little one I have in there.”

“You know it’s supposed to rain pretty hard tonight.”

“Yep,” Bob beamed. “It’ll thin the crowd. Besides, I’m ready for it... got my rain gear and a big tarp right here. Hey... I’ll walk with you if you give me a sec... gotta keep in fighting trim. Got a six pack right here,” he added, patting his ample midsection.”

“Maybe, but it looks like you stacked a keg on top of it.”

Bob belched. “Whoa... ‘scuse me. Too much turkey.”

We set out, Bob babbling happily about all the different video games he was going to buy for his kids, his nephews, his nieces, and, of course, himself. He was really excited about some new Call of Duty thing. “Boy, you can really get into that... it’s just like the real thing.”

“Except for the real bullets, bombs and blood,” I mumbled.


“Never mind. You’re not going to get into any fights over stuff, are you?” I asked.

“Naw... that’s just the stuff they show on TV to scare everybody away from packing the stores. Besides, if you ever noticed those fights always happen in New York, LA or some other big city. Won’t happen here.”

“You do realize that we are the seventh largest city in the country, right?”

“Aw go on,” Bob scoffed. “I don’t believe it. Are you serious?”

“Dead serious.”

“Oh well,” Bob smiled, “this is Texas... not Jersey... now back there where I came from, you can bet there’ll be plenty of fights. Especially if they have limited numbers of sale items. I’ve seen some doozies in my life, but let’s face it... if you want the deal, you just can’t back down.”

“I’ll bet you’d save as much or more if you waited for Cyber Monday.”

“Maybe, but then you have to have somebody home all the time until it comes or someone will swipe your stuff off the porch... don’t you watch the news.”

I reminded Bob that I was retired and could pretty well guarantee that I’d be home during the interval I expected a package.

Bob suddenly stopped. “Hey, it’s been nice walkin’ and talkin’ with ya, but I think I’ll head home, visit a bit and take a nap. I wanna be fresh come eleven o’clock so I can get to the Walmart.”

I finished my walk in relative silence. Even the kids in the neighborhood must have been too stuffed to go out and play. So, the birds, the barking dogs, and the city traffic kind of had things to ourselves until I got back home.

I did see Bob the next day. He looked worse for wear... a lot worse. He had two black eyes, a cut on the bridge of his nose, and a big bruise on his chin. “Holy crap, Bob... I thought you were going to steer clear of fights!”

“Wasn’t a fight,” Bob said miserably. “I rushed inside with the rest of the crowd when Best Buy opened at five in the morning and made a bee line for those big screen TVs, and I didn’t see a small display when I maneuvered around a bunch of gawkers. To make a long story short, I tripped over the display, went flying, and smacked into about four of those big TVs on stands. That started sort of a chain reaction and two of the sets landed on my face. The manager also told me before the EMTs left that I owed them for seven big screen TVs.”

“Should have waited for Cyber Monday,” I said. I’m pretty sure that Bob gave me the finger, but who could tell with those hands wrapped up in bandages?

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Square Peg - If You’ve Got the Money Honey, They’ve Got the Thyme

The Square Peg - If You’ve Got the Money Honey, They’ve Got the Thyme
© S. Bradley Stoner

Being as how it is the annual season for me to do the cooking, I decided it was a good time to check my spice rack. I use spices, especially spices like ground thyme, ground coriander, ground and all-spice. And I like to keep rubbed sage, dried parsley, oregano, turmeric, fennel, marjoram. and savory on hand. Sooo, I checked my spices. I was running low on about half of them. That just wouldn’t do. I might need them, and with Thanksgiving bearing down, that just wouldn’t do. I jotted down the ones I absolutely couldn’t do without and added some I could get by without, but really didn’t want to, and took myself off to the store.

One stop shopping, thought I. I thought wrong. When did the grocery store start cutting back on the spices they carry? More to the point, when did they stop carrying the ones I wanted? The big chain here, HEB, didn’t have bottle one of coriander, ground or unground, not one ounce of all-spice, and savory was conspicuously absent. Needless to say, I was just a tad frustrated, so I asked a stock clerk where, oh where, I might find them? He tried to be helpful... walked me back to the shelves I had just spent ten minutes searching.

“They’ll be right here,” he said cheerily. “They’re in alphabetical order.”

“Okay,” said I, “show me where these are in your alphabetical arrangement.” I handed him my list.

Confidently, he stepped up to the rows of spices, running his finger along the shelves. After about ten minutes, he came to the conclusion that I had a few minutes earlier. Then a light bulb came on in his eyes. He whipped out his inventory reader, tapped on the keys and studied the little screen. He tapped again and again studied the screen. He repeated this until he had gone through my entire list. And then he sighed.

“Um, I guess we don’t carry those.”

Now understand, these are not exotic spices. They are commonplace. I know McCormick’s bottles the suckers... I have almost empty bottles of them at home. I told the clerk that. He just gave me a shrug and a blank stare, then said, “Well, most people don’t do their own cooking anymore... they buy prepared foods and they’re already spiced.”

I don’t know about you, but I found that a particularly unsatisfying answer, especially since this same grocery store sells all the stuff that you have to cook yourself. Even the bake aisle, which is where you find the spices, is filled with the raw materials for “make your own” stuff. They’ve even cut the brands and numbers of cake mixes and such, but they've added umpteen formulas of healthy flours, sugar substitutes, and other scratch mixables. While I was there, I asked him about the shrinking number of premixed cakes.

“Oh,” he replied, “most people just go to the bakery and buy already made cakes. The mixes are such poor sellers, we may drop them soon.”

Betty Crocker and I could have crowned him. Not because it was his fault, but for his cavalier attitude about it. I thanked him, recovered my list, checked out what few things I had in my basket without even telling the checkout clerk that, no I didn’t find everything I needed... because you don’t stock it any more, and left my friendly neighborhood store. I would seek those spices elsewhere.

I could have gone to the orient by sailboat and camel on the spice route quicker than I found a store that carried everything I needed. I probably should have. I might have gotten a better deal. I wound up spending more on a few bottles of spices than I did for the New Your Strip steak dinner I was fixing tonight. But, at least the spice rack is full again. Next time I’m gonna look on-line. Matter of fact, I should have done that today.

Oh well, at least my turkey, dressing, cranberries, gravy and pumkin pies will turn out okay now. Y’all have a Happy Thanksgiving... and I’ll see you sometime after... In the interim, I’m going to be cooking and eating... and watching football.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Square Peg - I Cooked My Goose, But Somebody Else Ate It

The Square Peg - I Cooked My Goose, But Somebody Else Ate It
© S. Bradley Stoner

I’m a cook... no chef, but still a pretty good cook, especially when it comes to traditional holiday fare. I love holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? I LOVE turkey... and goose. Come Thanksgiving morning, you can find me in the kitchen sharpening up my knives... especially my chef’s knife, or as my grandmother used to call it, The Big Lawyer. That came from her experience with a customer of my grandfather’s building and home repair business who was always trying to weasel out of paying and threatening to hire a big lawyer. When my grandmother finally got fed up with that, she reached into a drawer pulled out a big knife and said, “I’ve got a big lawyer right here.” Needless to say, the threats stopped, so apparently her Big Lawyer was better than his. But I digress.

Anyway, I use my chef’s knife for almost everything that needs cutting, dicing or slicing. I have other knives in the set, of course, but they just don’t get used as much. I keep that beauty razor sharp with the steel that came with the set I bought, ostensibly for my lovely, but as she said at the time, “I’m not going to get to use that much, am I?” Now some would be offended, but I wasn’t. Understanding that she uses knives for a lot of things for which they weren’t intended to be used, and these are a really nice set of kitchen knives... well, I guess you could say as she did, “You bought them for yourself.” I didn’t really, but if I had thought about it, I would have realized by virtue of quality alone, they’d be mine by default.

Back to turkey day. I used to raise and butcher my own turkeys... they sort of came pre-spiced one year because they got into the garden and ate the baby onions and anything else that was tender. I had thought that eight foot woven wire fence would keep them out. Silly me. Turkeys fly... at least mine did... really, really well. Back to current times. Now my turkey comes from a grocery store. Bird flu be damned, I won’t forego turkey just because prices went up a little. No sir. But I also don’t buy one of those fancy brands they advertise either... no siree... I buy the plain Jane turkey. A tom, to be sure, but no fancy schmancy pre-buttered, water injected, gonna be juicy all by itself, waste of money critters for me.

You want a pre-buttered turkey... here’s a hint. Once you’ve removed the giblets from the neck flap and the neck from the body cavity, shake some salt into your hand and give that bird a rubdown... not to excess mind you. Then take a stick (that’s a 1/4 pound for you newbies) and shove it up the turkey’s... um put it in the body cavity. Stick the bird in a roaster (actually those roasting bags work best, so put it in one of those before you put it in the roaster), and roast the bird at 350 (that Fahrenheit... don’t have a clue what it would be in Celsius) for an hour and a half... before you stuff it!

While your waiting, you make the rest of the stuff... you know stuffing, cranberry sauce, smashed potatoes, and gravy. I make my own from scratch, and no I’m not going to tell you the recipes... they’re secret. But I can tell you they are to die for, especially that turkey gravy. The only ones who know how I make it are my boys, and they had to pester me for years before I let them in on it. Anyhow, now I’m salivating, and that’s not what I wanted to talk about anyway.

What I wanted to talk about was the first Christmas my lovely and I spent together. We decided to make a big dinner for the whole family. Or rather we decided I would make dinner for the whole family, hers and mine. First I had to go shopping. I spent $300.00... and that was the last time she let me go shopping for holiday dinners. In addition to turkey, I happen to like goose. When I mentioned that to the rest of the family, everybody turned up their nose... nobody, and I do mean nobody liked goose. Frankly, I was ecstatic. I had a whole goose to myself... everybody else could eat turkey or ham.

I have a special way of preparing goose as well. It’s a secret too, but I can tell you it involves Grand Marnier and a glaze... it’s yummy. So, I spent the day preparing a Christmas feast. I made a veggie plate to start things off... I even made carrot and cucumber flowers. That’s tedious, but it looks nice and good food should look nice. I laid out the spread on a big table... ah a feast for the eyes as well as a feast for the stomach... and set my goose discretely away from the more popular foods.

I helped with the silverware and china while everybody else piled food on their plates, playing the good host, and went to fill my plate after everyone else. I made a bee line for my goose and... NOOOooooo! My goose had been stripped... the only thing left was a little thigh and drumstick. That’s all those greedy, goose hating freeloaders left me. A THIGH AND A DRUMSTICK... ON A GOOSE!!! Do you have any idea how small those are? My goose, my beautiful goose... gone!

“What happened to my goose?!” I demanded in a less than Chistmassy voice.

Came a chorus of voices. “I’ve never had goose that tasted like this... it isn’t greasy like the others... it isn’t gamy...” and on and on. They wanted my recipe... even my brother who had proclaimed he “hated goose and would never eat it.” I didn’t give it to them. It’s mine... and the next time I make goose... I’m going to do it in secret and eat the whole thing myself. I didn’t tell them where the remainder of the Grand Marnier was either. I planned on enjoying that after they all went home. I can’t believe those turkeys ate my goose!

Right now I’m looking at my shotgun. No, not for that. If I want goose again, I’m going to have to go bag my own. With the price of goose being what it is now, my Sweetie would never let me shop on my own again. Psst... don’t tell her what the shells, the gas, and the new hunting jacket are going to cost.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Asymmetric Warfare... Terrorism in Perspective

 Asymmetric Warfare... Terrorism in Perspective

In light of recent acts of terrorism, I am foregoing my usual light and humorous bent. I’ll return to it shortly, but right now, I think it’s important to remind people what kind of war the forces of freedom and openness are fighting.

I have been a student of warfare, it’s history and it’s methods for most of my life. Some think the advent of terrorism on the scale we have seen in recent years is something recent. It is not. Terrorism is simply one method used in asymmetric warfare, and the concept dates at least as far back as 500 B.C. when Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War:

“If the enemy is superior in strength, evade him. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared. Appear where you are not expected."

Asymmetric warfare has received significant attention in military circles for several years. In my electronic library, I have a copy of Asymmetric Warfare: An Historical Perspective by Franklin B. Miles, DOD Civilian that was prepared in 1999 for the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA, as a strategy research project. It was very cogent in its predictions regarding the path this type of warfare was going to take in the future in light of past and developing world political situations.

Speaking about the availability of modern weapons and technology, especially since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Mr. Miles says:

“...The availability of these weapons, technology, and expertise will give potential adversaries the means to feel more confidant in attacking US citizens and interests abroad and possibly within the borders of the United States.”

I think it is important to note that this applies to all of the developed western countries, not just the U.S., now. This is due to coalitions and alliances during the past dealing especially with Jihadists. The growth of such groups is fueled by actual conditions in the Jihadists’ homelands and their leadership generating perceptions about the West, no matter how inaccurate they may be. Mr. Miles put it this way in his study.

“The growth of poverty, extremism, and organized crime in the developing world, as well as the growing disparity of wealth between nations and between the elite's and working classes within nations, have contributed to making the US a prime target for asymmetric challenges. The poor, undereducated, and disenfranchised have historically been the primary source for recruits by extremist groups because they are generally the segment of a population who is suffering the most from the failings of their governments, and because they have the least invested in the status quo. In short, they have the least to lose, and the most to gain by engaging in anti-government activities.

Extremist groups throughout the developing world routinely utilize religious or ethnic ties and issues to legitimize themselves and their cause to the disenfranchised. They also attempt to convince them that their government, another ethnic group, or external entities such as the United States are the cause of their poverty, misery, or lack of equal political representation. These masses then become willing participants in what is often labeled as a "Holy War", or just cause against the perceived source of their problems.”

The fact that modern means of transportation, the openness of Western Culture, and the permeability of our borders emboldens groups like ISIS to carry out attacks against the West. These attacks, however small, are designed to create fear among out populace. Mr. Miles recognized this.

“The globalization of transportation, communications, and banking have made the United States and most of the developed world more vulnerable to asymmetric threats. Intercontinental travel in the past decade has become easier, cheaper, and more available than at any other time in the history of the world. With the millions of people crossing international borders every day it has become increasingly difficult to scrutinize or monitor them all. It is impossible today for immigrations and customs services to intercept every criminal or terrorist transiting their airports, ports, and border crossings. The signing of the Schengen Accords a few years ago has also made it even easier for terrorists to transit European borders. These accords eliminated most border controls between selected European Union (EU) countries. Non-EU visitors to an EU country now only undergo customs checks at their initial port of entry. Once they have cleared that port or airport, they are free to travel unmonitored across the borders of most Western and Central European countries. So a would-be terrorist can pick their entry point in the country with the most lax security checks (or a country with sympathies for their cause,) and then travel on unmolested to another EU country to carry out their terrorist acts.”

The goal of ISIS and others like them is to break the resolve of the West, and frankly all those who oppose them, by instilling fear and fomenting dissent among their people in hopes of destroying their will to make war on them. I firmly believe they are wrong. For the sake of freedom and progress, I sincerely hope they are.