we set off on our great adventure to discover the truth of Alexander

Late last summer, the haze still hung heavy over the alleyways of Istanbul. It was shortly after the most recent coup against the Sultan. The oppressive humidity matched the overbearing nature with which the Sultan’s men patrolled the streets. Fear hung heavy as teachers, professors, writers, and many others were wrapped up in the Sultan’s timed overreactions.

I found myself weary after arriving on the Express and eagerly sought refuge in a small but busy pub recommended by a friend. The journey on the Express was rather tiresome. I was constantly hassled by a Serb (or possibly a closet Moldovan) named Nikolai who was a far less interesting man than he thought.

Most seats in Zeki’s were taken, but I found enough open space at the bar. Smoke, conversation, Istanbul surrounded the place. It was good to be back on the road. It warmed me even before my first sip. But my first drink of scotch proved to be a poor choice. Even the most delicious of beverages can be drilled through by the worst of heat. At the barkeep’s recommendation, I switched to the raki, an inferior liquid but much preferable given the weather. Even the hint of ice, normally hated, was more than welcome to me.

“Good enough?” said the barkeep.

“Quite,” I replied, hoisting the glass toward him, “And your place I take it?”

He nodded, “Indeed, for many years now. May I ask how you found it back here, foreigner that you are.” “A friend,” I replied scantly.

“Ah,” Zeki scanned his establishment, “But what brings you to this city of life in these dark times?”

“Are these really dark times?” I asked.

“What? Oh,” he chuckled deeply, “No, no not really. What’s another coup?”

I smiled, looking down at my drink, “Just another day.”

He swiped his finger through the air, “Precisely!” He shrugged, “And after all, life doesn’t change, not even here.”

“No?”

“No, no, the Sultan shall be the Sultan, whoever that is, and life goes on. After all, the Sultan’s men do not change.”

“No?”

“They are the same, whoever they are,” he shrugged, “ I pay my bribes, the protection if offered, life goes on,” he said as if discussing why summers were considered hot. “But you Sir, you are here…”

I sipped deeply, “I seek Alexander.”

“Oh,” Zeki laughed heartedly, as if I’d just stated I intended to find The Prophet himself, “Well then, here he is, here he is, Sir.” Zeki mockingly pointed to a crusted framed picture, one of many, that adorned the wall atop the bar. And indeed, there among the many of history’s great faces was the greatest general himself. And off Zeki was, to another customer down the bar.

“Alexander’s dead,” from nowhere offered the man next to me. A man I’d not noticed thus far, so unassuming he was. He was far older than I, and also not a local. He slumped deeply at the bar, tired, his eyes closed, but not drunk, not wholly yet anyways.

“Yes,” I cautiously offered, “very much dead. But I seek the truth of him.” “Yeah, why, where?”

Not knowing this man, or his motives, I sought to learn more about him before ever speaking further. “And you Sir, I cannot place your accent for certain, though I can guess.” Without a shadow of guile the man gave himself forth, to a total stranger as I, “I’m Cornish.”

“Oh,” I said, shaking my head in pity and disgust, “I am sorry.”

He shrugged, resigned. And without any hesitation, he opened his life to me. “If you’re going after Alexander I’ll go too.”

So taken aback I was by his statement that I was dumbfounded. Seeking refuge in my glass, I found it empty. And so to pass the thought, I simply asked, “And your name?” “George,” he flatly stated.

“And where from George?”

“Cornwall…”

“No, no,…”

“Ah, Afghanistan,” he said, “a terrible place, and one that was equally as kind to Alexander as it was to me.”

And thus it all began to add up for me fairly quickly. The broken demeanor, the drinks, the resignation, and then, the pistol, carefully and professionally concealed within his clothing. The long look in his eyes, the old, but still strong frame of this man of the people of the English sea. I could use him, why not. Clearly here was a man in need of purpose. And men in need of purpose are the most useful of men.

“Not to Afghanistan, not yet, but certainly, if you need something to do, I’d welcome such a man as you.”

He nodded, slowly, pleased, grunted, and briefly hoisted his glass to me, emptied it, and motioned to Zeki for another. And another found him, and I as well.

“I hear all in my bar,” said Zeki to me as he poured.

“As any good bar should,” I responded.

“Our part of the world is generally unkind, especially to two foreign, eh, men, such as yourself,” Zeki capped the bottle with force.

I nodded, not knowing why.

Zeki leaned against the rail, his ear halfheartedly to mine. He drew incompressible designs on the bar’s surface, “Help, help is always helpful to those who need help.” I said nothing.

“A man on his travels in this part of the world needs friends, friends not in the fray,” Zeki spoke relatively softly, “I could perhaps…”

“I know you not.”

“Oh,” he smiled in a way that cleared my throat, “but even your presence here came at the recommendation of a, friend, yes?” Zeki scanned his pub briefly, “And in the end, I know who you are. And you shall thus see that I know your Guests, and have done business with them in the past. And yet,” he leaned back, proudly, “I have not presented you to the Sultan’s men. Though this would benefit me greatly.”

Sometimes knowing a man takes a lifetime. Sometimes you never actually know a man. Sometimes you have to take risks on men. Sometimes they take risks on you. And yet besides all this, I found not the need, but the desire to take a risk upon this Zeki. Here was a man, indeed recommended by my friend, but for what, a drink, or a chance? And here was this Zeki, self-assured, honest, even reckless to having met me a few minutes ago had yet already chanced to inform me that he had the Sultan’s men in his pay. That he thought nothing of the Sultan’s rule itself. Yes, yes why not risk this man, why not risk it when I had nothing else on offer. After all, even Alexander himself knew the importance of never venturing into the darkness without securing one’s rear area and homefront.

“And for you, so what?” I asked cautiously.

“Nothing,” he leaned back, “Not yet. But write to me,” he said, “when it is my time, you will know, and you will answer.”

Always the risk, but I nodded, once, hoping one day, I did not regret it. I could sense George’s uneasiness. He was back against his stool, one hand now always free. But it was my decision. Not George’s. And if George was to journey with me, he should understand this.

“But in the meantime,” Zeki held out his palm to behind me, “help, help for the two foreign dogs.” Behind us stepped forth two men. My attention first turned to the larger man, cloaked, and certainly a predator. “Mut,” (he pronounced it ‘moot’) Zeki named him, “And at your service. The finest of Oran’s backstreets.”

Mut fit his name’s spelling if not pronunciation well. His face and body, Berber, Arab, even if (dare I never have mentioned to him) perhaps a touch of Algérie in his complexion.

When confronted with an attack dog, directness is either the worst or best of options. I chanced best, simply stating, “And what is your talent, Sir.”

Mut opened his cloak, and contained therein was as throng of blades, edged weapons, decorated, sharp, beautiful. He closed his cloak. Joined his hands before him, and said nothing.

I chuckled, “Okay, you’ll do.” Surprisingly, George nodded, though I was unsure what George saw in this man that did not take his thoughts back to similar men he had undoubtedly met, and met sportingly or not, in Afghanistan.

The second man quickly stepped forward without giving Zeki an chance to introduce him. He thrust his small delicate hand forward to I, then to George, shaking with a brisk but firm strength, “Stelios, at your service,” he offered with a smile. “My talent? Quite simply,” he grunted softly, “is to relieve others of their possessions by my actions.” He clicked his heals. George shook his head in repulsion.

There could not have been a more Greek looking man on all the Earth. Short, solidly built, but with a deep refinement. His lengthy curled air, oiled, hung over a suit, tie, and shoes that if I had been told cost more than everything in this bar combined, would not have surprised me. But what use to us was he? Was there any meaningful nature behind the immaculate man? With such men, there is always an easy way to find out.

Off in one of the darker corners of the bar, sat a janissary and a few companions. Out of uniform, poorly armed, and looking deject, I could only assume they were now unemployed, perhaps even unemployed recently having found themselves on the wrong side of the coup. Now here, to drink their way to a future that was never coming. To the one closest to me I motioned with the greatest of care to Stelios, “I don’t like your kind, but see that man, go bring me one of his pistols.” Without waiting for a response, I returned to my drink.

Without offering a response, Stelios was off. It took him some time, but eventually I noticed he had found his way to the janissary’s table. And they talked, and talked, Stelios pulled up a chair, and he talked more. Mut became bored, sat down next to George, and drank, and drank again. After a good long while, I sighed, remarking wryly to George, “Theft is always far more boring in reality than in fiction.”

“Quite,” said George, deadpan.

So it went for a long, long time. Zeki was engrossed in conversation with men at the other end of the bar. The light outside began to fade. And perhaps, just perhaps the heat began to fade too. And I chanced a glance over my shoulder, and the janissary and his friends were gone and so was Stelios. Either Stelios had followed them out, or had given up and fled in shame. Either way, I cared not. I hated thieves anyways.

I grunted, sipped again, and then my eyes darted left, and next to me was Stelios. Shocked, I nearly reached within my coat, but before I could he planted before me with a delighted flourish a silver pistol of the janissary. He laughed out loud, took my glass, and finished my drink, his pristine teeth gleamed with the liquor’s remains and pride. “Oh,” he quipped, “and this too.” And he did plop atop the pistol my pocketwatch. George cackled with a partially inebriated humor. I looked down mournfully at my chest, and smiled without teeth.

“Okay,” I nodded slowly, “you’ll do.” And I clapped Stelios on the shoulder and guided him to the stool next to mine. And thus the four of us we drank for a while, as we resolved to depart on our adventure in the morning. For the night was ending, and when one starts to drink raki in Istanbul, one does not stop while the night is young.

And as often happens, but so rarely turns out to be the case, I felt myself being watched. And I wondered if this adventure was doomed to fail before its start. But I appraised Zeki, who was still involved in boisterous conversation down the bar. Mut and George were trying out their French, George by far the poorer of the exchange. Stelios was buried in a newspaper. I glanced about, subtly as possible, to see if only I could perceive the danger.

It took time, far too much time, blame the raki, to notice her. Off to the other corner, by the open bay window which led toward the busy alley. She was there alone, at the smallest of the window’s tables. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t seen her, but I instantly knew that she knew whatever I knew. It was written through the glean in her deep dark eyes. Without thinking, without fear, I rose from my stool and began to walk toward her. Was she a threat? Figure it out, immediately.

Yet as a approached her more and more I began to appreciate the inherent raw beauty that she was. And I began to unconsciously feel myself standing straighter, less drunk than I might have been, and intended to approach her with the greatest class possible. A threat she might have been, I was still a man, much to my detriment if she meant to end our adventure before it’s birth.

And in this state did I thus collide with a small dog that was darting across the floor. And thus did I partially tumble to the floor, only bracing myself on an occupied chair. Pulling myself up, I endeavored to appear the classy subject of a cruel joke played by the sharpest & wittiest of men, and not the victim of a scampering four pound nonsentient canine.

If I failed she did not show it. I sat down slowly, her eyes never moving from me at any point. Not alcohol for her, but coffee, Turkish black, black as her hair. The steam from the mug rose above to her face which gave her an ethereal quality which matched her beauty. Surely here was a face that matched the goddesses that Alexander would have sacrificed to. She drank her steaming coffee, not with delicacy, but with long deep sips like a barbarian Northman.

And thus with this thought on my mind, did she simply state, with the most delicate of slurs, “Alexander.” No lies, no lack of understanding, but I could say nothing. I knew not which way to respond, damned the raki and the heat which had taken all cunning from my brain. Or was it the way she looked, that I didn’t care to joust. Not at all. “I’ll go,” she stated flatly.

“Why?” I stated without resistance and even a slight desperation, “what are your talents?”

She smiled deeply, and I partially melted even more in the heat, “Many.”

I shrugged, she could have stolen one of my eyes if she’d wanted, I would not have cared, “Certainly.”

She smiled, even deeper, but perhaps, less genuinely as she hummed, “I might betray you.”

Ever the fool that I was, and beyond care, I blurted out, “Not if I betray you first.”

She cackled, rose swiftly, drained her coffee, slapped her palm on the table, “I am Alianna of Provence. And we, we shall find Alexander.” And before I was ably out of my chair she was already passed me, and at the bar. And Zeki was pouring more drinks. And I slugged over, smiling, suppressing all fear, and replacing it with optimism. Too much risk? For certain. But for the moment, I truly didn’t care.

And thus it began, this great adventure, as we set off to discover the truth of Alexander. I, the degenerate, George the Soldier, Mut of Oran, Stelios the Thief, and Alianna of Provence. And there Zeki, Zeki of Zeki’s.

And with the great Alexándrou Anábasis, the finest of all the works ever written about Alexander as our guide, did we thus begin. But not yet, for there was more raki, and Zeki was not charging, not yet anyways. And we drank until the day was gone, and even the streets of Istanbul began to cool down, a very long time.

Join us!

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we don’t delve into the mind of a madman while we help you plan your child’s upcoming birthday party

If you pulled six screaming children and two single supermodels from a burning car tonight while your own clothes were on fire, you’d still be less famous than the twisted scum that murdered more than 60 people yesterday.  This is what he wanted.  He wanted fame.  And yet folks are all about it.  He’s got that fame.  He wins.

Folks are all into getting inside the brain of this piece of filth.  What was his motive?  His reasons?  But if you remember back in 2015 when the psychotic German pilot also committed an act of mass murder via his airplane?  I wrote this.  I stand by every word I said.

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What was his motive?  Who cares.  He was evil.  That’s all that matters.  Fuck him.

But hey, just relax folks.  It’s all good.  You should just relax, because you have no choice.  No matter how you feel about guns or gun control or politics?  Your opinions, desires, etc, are all irrelevant.  You can either hide under a pile of coats or just live your life and hope you don’t get struck by lightening.

No politician or leader anywhere from either dysfunctional political party has any idea how to stop any of this from happening again.

If you are anti-gun:  Well, there are hundreds-of-millions of firearms on America’s streets today.  Even if you ban every gun purchase from tomorrow morning it won’t change anything.  Even the most fervent anti-gun types aren’t preaching confiscation as that’s too extreme.

If you are pro-gun: Well, I guess we are at the point where you need your own personal main battle tank.  For even if you were in Vegas carrying your own slung assault rifle at the concert, you were still out-gunned and out-positioned before the first shot was fired.

It might take half-a-century for America to come to grips with all this gun stuff, one way or the other.  In the meantime, you’re just a potential victim on your stroll through the park on a sunny day.

But hey, we at TAP are here to help.  So we created this handy diagram to help you intellectually plan how your kid’s birthday party should play out.  Please bear with us as we explain in detail how this is going to work:

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1) Family Picnic Area: Where you, your kids, friends, their kids, and other happy people eat a tasty home cooked potluck meal.

2) Emergency Dugout: When the shooting starts, this pre-dug four foot trench will serve as the bailout point for all individuals.  You’ll need to run drills at the start of the party with all participants.  It’s best to get in the face of the kids during these drills to ensure they know you mean business and you can properly simulate the stress and terror they’ll endure once the first person is struck by gunfire.

3) Bathrooms: You’ll need more than one bathroom, because all those kiddies will need lots of relief time after drinking that tasty sugary party punch.

4) Sandbag Bunker Sentries: You need to make friends with some folks who are heavily armed in their own right.  Become friends with cops, current or former military members, or former unemployed African mercenaries.  If you can’t become friends, you can hire a moonlight off duty police officer.  They set up shop in overwatch behind the sandbags and are thus in a position to immediately return sustained and disciplined fire against any threat.

5) Face Painting Booth: The little ones sure do love the colors and designs that expert painters apply to their faces.  I’m told boys want to be Groot and the girls a happy butterfly.

6) Counter Sniper Position: As we’ve seen demonstrated in Vegas and the south of France, the nutcases and terrorists are becoming ever more sophisticated in their attack methods.  Not even solid Bunker Sentry positions are enough to protect you.  You’ll also need to hire a trained sniper wielding a large frame rifle capable of disabling shooters at extreme distances, or disabling vehicles up to the size of a small delivery van or truck that’s being used to run over people en masse.

7) Baby Animal Petting Zoo: Nothing says fun like petting a baby lemur that’s half asleep.  Oh man, look at how closed the baby lemur’s eyes are.  He’s barely half awake even when you pet him.  Cute little dude.

8) Prepositioned Mass Casualty Aid Station: Let’s face it, even the best of well laid wartime plans go wrong.  You could have your fighting positions manned by Rambo and John McClain, but casualties are still going to occur.  So you’ll need an aid station on site that can treat the wounded while the police take 27 minutes to clear the shooter(s) and the medevac helicopter(s) can arrive.  It’s best to man this point with an experienced mass trauma surgeon.  Again, make friends with one if you can to keep your costs down.  Otherwise hire one off duty on a moonlight gig.

9) Clown Show: [insert joke here]

Enjoy the party!

Wrigley Field – temple of the baseball gods

Most of the time work can force you to do unpleasant things.  Sometimes work can force you to do awesome things.  And so I found myself directed to Wrigley Field for some work team building thing while on travel to my remote location.

I’ve only ever been to one ballpark and that’s my home team.  Wrigley was number two.  I had no skin in the game but my remote colleagues from Chicago were mostly Cubs fan.

The Reds beat the Cubs though which bummed them immensely.  Though the Cubs won the division again this year, so we’ll see if they can mount a repeat.  I don’t think so, but we shall see.

Wrigley is an interesting place.  It’s kind of a dump, but I love that about it.  It’s a wonderful place that it’s still in the old neighborhood and isn’t a super faceless corporate behemoth of a stadium.  I hope they never replace it.

But, the Toyota logo is on the classic Wrigley sign.  And there’s construction across the street from the stadium that will likely house luxury apartments and such.  So not even Wrigley can escape the Giant Octopus.

Still, it was a good time, and there’s so much history in the stadium you can feel it.  Oh man, think of the near one hundred years of games in that stadium.  Entire generations of fans.  All without a pennant.  Now they have one again.  Will they have two, we shall see.

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Update:

I realized after writing this, the folly of one of my above rants against the Giant Octopus.  For you see, Wrigley’s name in itself is the tool of said Giant Octopus.  Wrigley bought the name rights to the stadium long before this was even a common sports thing.  The field itself was wrapped up in corporate sponsorship almost from the beginning.

However, we, and I mean I too, don’t tend to think of it this way.  Wrigley is just called Wrigley and we don’t tend to think of the connection to the chewing gum.  It’s weird like that.  If you walked up to me and said “Wrigley” I’d automatically assume you meant the ball field and not the gum.

 

 

The Arcturus Sicilian Burger Spectacular! (with chips!)

I think I’ve discovered that naming a recipe is far harder than writing one. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure I can blame myself [aggressively points at self in mirror]. I’ll generate these wild ideas in my brain and they’ll become food and I’ll get all the way to the end and I have no idea what to name the dish.

So I make this awesome burger and chips with a rough Italian take and the best I can come up with is to call the thing an Italian burger. But everybody’s already done that, right? There’s got to be like 67 online recipes called Italian burger. Boring. And in any case, most of the Mediterranean blood flowing through my veins is Sicilian.

But wouldn’t you know that there’s also about 37 recipes online called Sicilian burger. So what I need to do is meditate another name for my tasty burger and, no, wait, you know what, whatever, who cares, let’s go!

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The Arcturus Sicilian Burger Spectacular! (with chips!)

 

the burger

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

salt & pepper

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

8 burger buns

 

the spread

1/2 cup mayo

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp dried basil

 

the relish

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

2 jalapenos, diced

1/4 cup sun dried tomato, minced

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3 portabella mushroom caps, diced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp cayenne

1 cup white wine

1 bag fresh spinach

1 pack fresh basil

 

the chips

3 large russet potatoes

1 to 2 quarts frying oil

salt & pepper

1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 Tbsp crushed red pepper

1 Tbsp dried basil

 

making the burgers:

In a large bowl combine the beef and pork, dust with salt & pepper, shape into 8 patties, then refrigerate. Remove from the fridge about a half-hour before cooking to allow them to come to room temperature.

In a small food processor or blender combine the mayo, vinegar, and spices and blend, then refrigerate.

Heat the olive oil in a large steel skillet over medium heat, add the shallots and cook until browned. Add the jalapeno and cook until browned. Add the sun dried tomato and cook until everything just begins to stick to the pan. Add the balsamic vinegar and deglaze.

Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Then add the thyme, rosemary, and cayenne. Cook, stirring every once and a while until everything begins to stick to the pan. Add the wine and deglaze.

Stir in the spinach and basil, lower the heat a bit, and cook until the relish slowly approaches a final slurry-like consistency. You don’t want it too dry, but not too wet, it should stick together. Remove the relish from the skillet and set aside, keep it warm.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter over high heat, add the burger patties, cooking 4 of them at a time. Brown the patties on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip them, top with mozzarella cheese, cover the skillet with aluminum foil, and cook for about 3 more minutes for medium rare, longer if you desire.

Toast your burger buns, add the cooked burger patty with the mozzarella, top with the relish and the spread. Serve immediately.

 

making the chips:

Slice the potatoes into thin discs using a fine knife or optimally a mandolin on the thinnest setting. Wash the potato wafers in a large colander with water, shake loose as much water as you can when finished.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat your fry oil of choice to 350 degrees. Monitor the temperature using a kitchen thermometer and maintain 350 degrees throughout frying.

In batches, fry the potatoes until they are at least light brown, or darker brown if you desire. Using a slotted spoon or similar tool remove the potatoes from the fry oil and set to dry on plates with paper towels.

When finished frying them all, add the chips to a large bowl. Toss them with salt & pepper and the spices until the chips are coated throughout. Serve them immediately with the burgers.

 

Let’s begin!

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To me, all beef burgers are boring.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but they’re so inferior to the mixed bag.  I go 50 / 50 with ground beef and ground pork.  The pork gives the burgers a better taste and keeps them moist and juicy.  Get ground beef that’s 80 / 20 fat ratio.  Don’t go buying that 90 / 10 or 95 / 5 crap.

80 / 20!  You only live once, so go all the way!  And I hear tell from Jesus himself from his castle in Hawaii that those who buy 90 / 10 or 95 / 5 ground beef worship the dark lord.  And you don’t worship the dark lord, do you?

When mixing the beef and pork with the salt & pepper do not overly squeeze the meat while combining.  You want air in there.  I typically shape the meat into 8 patties but if you want massive burgers go with 4 patties.  Or you can go to 12 or even 16 patties for small sliders.  Make the burger size you love.

This burger’s theme is indeed Sicilian or Italian or Mediterranean or whatever.  I channeled the ghost of Caesar himself but he got mad because he didn’t know why I was asking him about burgers.  So I use with fresh mozzarella cheese sliced from the ball.  But, you can use any cheese you want.  It’ll all taste great, but white cheeses will taste best.

Pick your burger bun of choice.  Buy good bread or cheap bread, just make sure to toast it, and it’ll all work great.  I think I got cheap potato roll buns, fine.  It’s all good!

The spread mayo is easy, just blend it all up.  If you don’t want to dance with sherry vinegar then use red wine vinegar.  But if you can, find and use sherry vinegar.  I’ve kind of become obsessed with sherry vinegar as an ingredient.  I’ve even found a way to incorporate it into Mexican dishes.  It’s so freaking awesome.  It gives forth a haughty laugh at the boringness of red wine vinegar.

You must, must refrigerate the mayo after blending so it can firm up into a spread.  Please kindly don’t skip this step or do it at the last moment or it’ll deconstruct when you put it on your hot burger and turn nasty.  Leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

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The star of this lunatic dish is the relish.  It will take some time to make, but trust me, oh dear it is great when you’re finished.  You’re essentially making this in phases.

Phase 1 is shallots, jalapenos, and sun dried tomatoes browned, sticking to the pan with a balsamic vinegar deglaze.

Phase 2 is mushrooms, tomatoes & paste, and spices, sticking to the pan with a white wine deglaze.

Phase 3 is a slow reduction into the relish / slurry with spinach and basil added for greenness, nutrition, and the necessary added final moisture.

I generally cook each stage to a very brown state.

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This adds flavor.  But, a lot of people don’t want to go with a lot of brown, they don’t like the bitter taste.  I totally get it, go with what level of brown you like.  Just keep in mind that whatever your final state is, the relish has to fit / sit on your burger.  If you make too much relish or you have a lot left over after topping your burgers it can become like a side salad or something.

While you’re slowly making the relish you can make your chips.

I’m just gonna go ahead and say this [sighs], I’m over fries [hates self].  I mean I love fries.  Who doesn’t love fries?  Nazis, and mythical Orc warriors.  But I’m kind of over fries.  I’ve eaten 73 different kinds of fries and they all blend together now.  Thin, large, light brown to dark brown, different toppings or no toppings, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.  It’s all the same to me in many ways.

I will always eat fries, but in the interest of variety it’s necessary to shake things up in life.  More and more places are thankfully offering homemade chips now.  So I decided to do the same.  Variety is awesome, it keeps you honest and open.

Go get a mandolin.  This tool is awesome.  You can slice up your potatoes in mere minutes.  And you can use the mandolin for so many vegetable needs later on.  Also make sure you have a deep fry kitchen thermometer.  Do not fry without this tool or you will fail.  The chips are very thin and consistent oil temperature is a must to get the right even brownness you need.

I fried using vegetable oil.  Lots of folks use peanut oil.  You can probably also use canola oil or corn oil too.  It’s up to you.  Just please, please be careful.  Frying at home is a mess and is inherently dangerous.  Never execute home frying operations without a plan to keep you from burning yourself, a means to cover the pot with a lid in an emergency, and a fire extinguisher.

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Fry in batches, do not crowd the pot.  You want the potatoes at least a little brown.  I find light brown to be the tastiest.  But you should shake it up.  Do some batches light brown, others medium brown, maybe one batch dark brown.  Again, variety.

Use the slotted spoon or equivalent to remove the chips from the hot oil.  Let as much oil drain off as practical via the spoon back into the pot.  The paper towels will help with this draining too.  You don’t want a final chip product swimming with any oil.

Let them dry out on the paper towels for a bit.  Then toss them with the spices in a large bowl.  If you don’t want to dance with smoked paprika use regular paprika.  But seriously, go get smoked paprika.

If you have leftover chips but them in an airtight container.  No need to refrigerate, but eat them within one week.  They’ll not have a long shelf life, they’re homemade.  If you eat them as leftovers and you might find they’ve turned soggy in the container?

If so, take a baking sheet, cover with aluminum foil, add the leftover chips, set your oven to 350 degrees, and bake the chips for about 3 minutes until they’re crispy again.  Do not preheat the oven first, I mean really turn the oven to 350, start, and immediately put the chips in.  They’re already cooked, this is just to get the crisp back.  Anything longer and they’ll burn.

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Oh my, I’m so fucking awesome.

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Keep the relish warm as you get towards completion, do not, do not let the relish get cold.

Get out a nonstick skillet for the burgers.  Some folks will say you need a stainless steel skillet to effectively brown the burgers.  They might be right, but to me homemade burgers with ground meats can get stuck and fall apart in a steel skillet far too easily.  Maybe that’s just my lack of skill?  Not sure, but this is how I do it.  Do it the way you prefer.

Medium rare timing will depend on your own experience with your skillet, range top, and other atmospheric conditions.  If you have a full moon out, add 13 seconds to each side.  For me, it’s 3 minutes a side over high heat gets me to medium rare.  Experiment to get to yours.  Cook longer if you like your burgers more well done.  Whatever you do, tend to trend towards the highest heat possible in your pan.  This will help with the delicious browning.

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Flip them, add the mozzarella slices, and tent the pan with foil so the cheese can melt as you cook the second side.  Sliced fresh mozzarella balls are not going to overly melt in only 3 minutes.  This is fine to me, see above, as I think it’s nice and creamy.  If you want it melted further just cook the burger a little longer with the foil on.  Or, like I said earlier you can pick another white cheese you like.  Or, you can always slice the mozzarella way thinner than I do.

Toast the buns, please.  This is an important step.  Non-toasted buns aren’t as delicious.  As soon as you’re ready, top the buns with the burgers, add the relish, and spread the mayo.  Chips on the side.  And you’re off to a delicious wonderland where meat and potatoes warm your stomach, brain, and soul.

Enjoy life!

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when heroes turn to evil

In these very strange times it’s helpful to listen to some words from history:

The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If ever we look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that just because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.

And who was the wise and just man that said this? Robert Mugabe, as in the guy who utterly destroyed and ruined an entire country to feed his desires for expensive wines, prostitutes, and fine cheese.

Believe it or not once upon a time Planetary-Stormtrooper-Goons such as the Castros or Mugabe were considered, and in some cases actually were, real heroes. They said and did many of the right things. They battled evil dictatorships, helped the poor, at least gave lip service to democratic principles, and so on.

Well that sure didn’t last. If you built a top ten list of history’s great monsters of the last century you could make a fair argument that Mugabe and Castro need their faces in the queue. These men who freed millions, provided hope to an entire country, and were recognized worldwide as potential icons of freedom ultimately turned to darkness, straight evil, perhaps even far more evil than the one they replaced.

 

This is sadly a theme you see all throughout history with revolutions and rebellions. But, still: What the hell happened?

Was it because folks like Castro and Mugabe were always evil from the start, or that they only became evil after they gained absolute power? I’m inclined to think it’s a little bit of both.

And so now enters upon this very troubled stage Aung San Suu Kyi who for all the political confusion, essentially holds political power in Myanmar. Once the darling of freedom and democracy throughout the globe Aung San Suu Kyi has seen her reputation and reality destroyed almost overnight as she’s presided over one of the more stark and brutal genocide campaigns in modern history.

For the uninitiated (or those focused on Dancing With The Stars or what Taylor Swift had for lunch yesterday) here’s what’s been going on:

– In Burma, about 1% of the population is Rohingya Muslim who live mostly on the northwest coast next to Bangladesh. This is in contrast to the nearly 2/3 who are Bamar Buddhist, the majority of the population. There are dozens of other minority ethnic groups in Burma beyond the Rohingya. Some parts of the country have essentially been in a state of civil war for five decades.

– After decades of house arrest for pro-democracy efforts, Aung San Suu Kyi is now State Counselor of Burma. She can’t be President because the Army rigged the qualification rules. So her party has a figurehead president, but Aung San Suu Kyi calls the shots. She holds executive power in Myanmar.

– There’s been ethnic turmoil in the west between Rohingya Muslim and Buddhists for decades with the last large scale violence in 2012.

– A few weeks ago Rohingya rebels and/or terrorists (depends on your point of view) struck various police and Army barracks killing about a dozen uniformed personnel. In response the Army did what it does best, it went wild. If you thought the scenes with the Myanmar Army in Rambo IV were part of the movie’s action packed nonsense, I assure you, the Myanmar Army got this reputation for a reason.

– Hundreds-of-thousands have fled to the border of Bangladesh. Untold thousands have been murdered, raped, whole villages razed. It’s humanity at its worst.

I think what essentially happened is at Myanmar Army Headquarters they had this plan on the shelf. It was printed on nice clean official paper and on the front it said “Rohingya Liquidation Campaign”. When the Rohingya rebels conducted their attacks a few weeks ago, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (a historically known miller of innocent human flesh) opened his desk drawer, took a swig of whiskey from a solid gold flask, said “Thank you very much, assholes,” and took the plan off the shelf and gave it to his goons to execute.

Everything after that has been on autopilot. The Army, assisted by local Buddhist militias, has done what one would expect them to do when ordered to exterminate a whole people. And where is Aung San Suu Kyi? Nowhere.

Apologists will make the argument that it’s not Aung San Suu Kyi’s fault. That the Army is actually calling the shots in Myanmar and she’s unable to stop the violence as she’s a figurehead. This ignores the apparent political power she wielded since the last election and which she’s been widely praised for using. It also doesn’t explain her essential silence and denials that anything remotely approaching genocide is occurring.

Nothing is stopping Aung San Suu Kyi from simply saying the violence has to stop. Instead, she’s made various inexplicable claims such as the Rohingya burned their own villages or are fleeing to Bangladesh at their own initiative.

Any reasonable person can only come to one conclusion. Aung San Suu Kyi supports the Army’s mission, thus genocide. Why? What the hell happened to this women? To me, when you really think about it, it’s actually rather simple:

1) Aung San Suu Kyi spent decades as a dissident and democracy campaigner. But, until recently she never actually held political power. She never ruled or ran anything. Nobody actually had a resume of hers to look at and say, this is who she really is.

2) Since the end of her exile, the restart of politics, and the last election a reputation has emerged that Aung San Suu Kyi runs her political party, the National League for Democracy, in an autocratic and closed manner. She doesn’t tolerate dissent or rivals, party policy is done at her whim behind closed doors, those who speak out are silenced or removed from the party.

3) Aung San Suu Kyi was born into, is, part of the central Bamar Buddhist establishment. Daddy helped found the country before he was assassinated. Daddy also founded the Myanmar Army. This was after Daddy had served in that oh so merciful organization known as the Imperial Japanese Army.

4) It was widely reported in the years leading up to the election that Aung San Suu Kyi could do business with the Army because (among other reasons) she still had an enormous amount of respect for the Army seeing as how Daddy founded the organization. In other words, despite decades of repression against her own person, Aung San Suu Kyi never checked out of the ruling Buddhist establishment.

5) Oh by the way, the majority of her voters are Bamar Buddhist and some of her most blowhard fervent supporters are Buddhist religious militants.

So what we have is a political newcomer, who already has autocratic tendencies, who was raised by a military man with a questionable background and record, who has always been a card carrying member of the establishment. And thus we get the picture of a woman who can very much share the vision of the Army that Myanmar is in fact a Buddhist nation, run by and for the Buddhist majority, with the Army as the cricket bat that enforces and maintains it.

It’s a very, very sad picture. And one that isn’t going to change any time soon. Aung San Suu Kyi is ruined in the international world. She didn’t even attend the United Nations meetings last week, so fearful was she of the criticism she would face. But does she really care? I doubt it.

Myanmar’s generals have been international pariahs for decades. They’re still rich, they’re still in power. And just like Castro or Mugabe, I suspect that a decade or two from now Aung San Suu Kyi will still be around. Disrespected, disgraced, and yet still calling the shots.

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retail stores are doomed

I didn’t choose my doggies’ brand of kibble (aka kibs).  Their kibs was chosen by another human who I no longer talk to.  But, it’s what they’ve always eaten.  They love it.

When I wake up in the morning they bounce off the walls because they know after a few short minutes in the backyard they get to eat.  The countdown towards dinnertime is when they’re most active and excited throughout the day.

So you better believe when I heard the retail store (Pet Valu) would no longer carry the brand on site I went into a bit of a mini panic mode.  Said retail store gave no valid explanation for why they were no longer carrying the brand.  They claimed that the company no longer makes it, which was untrue.

Anyways, I ended up trying to find another retail store but eventually gave up and went online to buy it.  How does one buy 30 pound bags of kibble online?  The thought never really crossed my mind.  Bags of dog food are large and heavy.  It’d be like buying huge bags of mulch online.

And yet, I found the brand online and for a decent and cheaper price.  I bought two bags.  What was my cost to ship 60 pounds of kibble to my front door?  $0.  Nothing.  It took me three minutes to make my purchase.  I did it from my cubicle.  I didn’t have to drive to a store.

Retail stores are doomed.  Doomed.  If they can’t compete on price, on saving you time, the only card they have left to play is that shipping things online can cost money.  But if online retailers just front the shipping costs?  It’s over.  There’s nothing else retail can offer you.

I’ll always buy my food in person because I want to handle my own produce and inspect it.  Other than that, I don’t really know what I wouldn’t have shipped to my front door.  Eventually we’ll all find out.

Niagara Falls – on a cloudy workday

You’re not supposed to visit wonders of the world ad hoc. You’re supposed to plan this stuff out, make a day of it, or whatever. As always though, when work sends you somewhere you need to remain flexible.

I was supposed to be in Buffalo with my boss for two days of stupid meetings. In his typical manner (I don’t like my job) this trip was booked on about two days notice. We get stuffed (for his loyalty points) at a hotel well to the east of Buffalo itself.

We get into Buffalo–Niagara International late Monday morning, and go straight to an office. But instead of taking the allotted four hours, it goes for like 90 minutes. Then the dude looks directly at me and he’s like, “Are we done?” Uh, yeah sure, why not. Don’t have to ask me twice.

So all of sudden it’s like 2pm and I have the rest of the day. I’m in Buffalo, so now what? Hell, Niagara Falls, that’s down the road right? Sure, why not. But he’s got the rental car. Fortunately, he’s probably more of a loser than I.  He just wants to sit in the hotel. So I get the rental car keys he kindly offers. So, apparently, now I’m unexpectedly driving to Niagara Falls. Okay.

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American Falls.

Once upon a time, before cheap discount air travel changed all of global travel, people vacationed or traveled to where a train or car could get them. If you lived in the American Northeast or Middle Atlantic, you didn’t jet set to Cancun or visit London or Iceland. Instead, you drove to places like Niagara Falls. For a good long while Niagara was the number one honeymoon destination on the planet. No more.

As I drove the back roads to Niagara from east of Buffalo I was struck by the starkness of the typical rust belt urban / suburban wasteland I’ve previously encountered. More than half the billboards were for things like opioid addiction, plastic surgery, and the like. It was like driving through other formerly paramount Northeastern tourist destinations that have been gutted by cheap air travel, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The swankiest looking building in downtown Niagara is (sigh) the freaking casino. Everything else looked burnt out, old, nostalgic from a different happier age. What’s been Cancun’s gain, is Niagara Falls’ loss. I’m not sure what to entirely make of all this, but it is what it is. That being said, Niagara Falls doesn’t disappoint.  It’s an awesome place to visit.

I was there on what turned into a cloudy summer afternoon. I kept fearing it would pour rain but I figured it was worth the risk. It misted a bit here and there, but otherwise the weather cooperated.

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Long distance shot of Horseshoe Falls from Prospect Point.  Note tourist boat getting a good soaking.

Niagara Falls is actually a series of falls. Combine them all together, and depending on how you count, it’s essentially one of the top three waterfalls on Earth.

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Handy map for reference.  Not my shot.

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Looking north down river into Niagara Gorge.  Note Rainbow Bridge, aka Department of Homeland Security parking lot #428.4b.

I ended up at Prospect Point. You can park there for a small fee. Walk over and you’re at American Falls.

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Out of all the places I’ve visited in America, this was the most international I’ve ever seen a tourist crowd. I was one of the only home team members there. Almost everybody else was from elsewhere on the planet. This was on a summer weekday. So my only conclusion is that the international community is more into Niagara Falls than regular Americans. I guess USA folks take it for granted? Or maybe Americans prefer hanging out on the beaches of Cancun over seeing a big waterfall? Not sure.

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American Falls Rapids.

Prospect Point is very crowded. You get a good view of the American Falls though. In the distance you can see Horseshoe Falls. But the best way to go is to walk a bit. Head across the bridge to Luna Island and Goat Island. It’s less crowded and your view of the Falls are better.

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American Falls Rapids with American Rapids Bridge.

You could truly make a whole day at Niagara. Maybe not a whole week, unless it was actually your honeymoon and you were otherwise occupied, but a whole day yes. You could walk the Falls on both sides of the border. You could take the old fashioned boat to get soaked by the Falls. There is also a walkway near the Cave of the Winds where you can get soaked on foot at the base of the Falls. You could also hike all the trails and get a good view of all the preparatory rapids. It’s truly a full day awaiting you.

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American Falls from Luna Island, where your doom over the Falls is literally three feet away from your face.  So awesome.

I was there for a few hours. I’ll be back.

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PS I posted this groundhog a few weeks back. The answer to the riddle was Niagara Falls. This dude was just going about his day about four feet from the edge of Niagara Falls. You can see the mist in the background of the shot. The little guy (or gal) knows his (or her) stuff. I’m sure the groundhog fatality rate at the Falls annually is zero percent.

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Toke up little buddy!