Tuesday, October 25, 2011

As I sat in church this Sunday.....

     I have always said, that you get out of church, what you put into it.  I do not claim to be any more or less religious than I appear to be, but I do try to attend church regularly, and to put some effort into getting something out of it, that is....  most weeks.  Sunday, however, was not one of those days.  The readings were tried and true, but I'd heard them before, of course, so my mind started to wander.  This blog centers on those kind of days and some things I do to amuse myself in church.

     I've been taught better.  One time, my Dad was so upset with my antics at church, he made me and my brothers sit down and come up with a list of 20 things that you don't do in church.  We got to our mandated 20, and my brother Aquaman and I kept going (Dad was on a donut run and not back yet). 
You can't see me, cuz I'm already in position
 My brother, Redface, called us stupid, as we were only told to do 20.  Dad arrived home and scanned our lists, and immediately saw that Redface had done less work than us, so he made him catch up, while we we got to eat donuts. The lesson there is, sometimes overachievers change the benchmark, so always be prepared to do more.  My behavior in church improved, but I still tended to have my mind wander sometimes,  but what would I think about?  The number one daydream that I have  is how I would react if an armed man came in and tried to take over the church.  Probably not a likely scenario in the sleepy little city of Canandaigua, but if it happens, one of us has been preparing for it, for a while.  The first trick is to drop to the ground before he gets set in place at the front of the church.  This gives you a huge tactical advantage as you can crawl under from pew to pew until you are within striking distance.  The rest of the plan involves a full on rush, and an amazing lying tackle, but counts on the people in the front pew feeding you information on when he's not looking your way.  I'm always successful in my attempt to disarm him, as I have the advantage of taking him by surprise.  I gather up the collection basket and hand it back to the stunned priest, and the congregation claps for me as I sit back down in my pew.  That's just one errant thought, I have many others.

     When I served as an altar server, I used to daydream about filling in for the priest if he was suddenly
taken ill. I'd finish the Mass, as I knew all of his lines.  I'd do everything except the consecration, I think you need to take a class on that or something.  I think it requires you to be celibate too, and I am a dismal failure in that department.  I think I could do a good job of getting the congregation worked up, but I probably would be better in a Baptist church or something, but not at being an actual Baptist.  They can't drink, so enough said there.  As in my other daydream, it all turns out well.  I attached a picture of me a a trade show one time here, and tell me I don't have these nun's attention.  

     My favorite way to pass the time in church, is to pick out my next wife (This is not my current wife's favorite thing to have me do in church).  I know that, as an guy who is very happily married, that if something were to happen to take my spouse from me, that I would quickly want to get back into that type of relationship.
It makes sense, since it worked out so well the first time (well, at least for me), but don't we all know a guy who has remarried too quickly and married poorly?  Sure we do, and that's part of the reason that 2nd marriages have a higher divorce rate than 1st ones do.  One of the only ways to avoid this, well except for exercising patience and intelligence, is to pre-shop for possible candidates, just in case.  My wife does find it laughable that I think I even have a chance of surviving her, as there is longevity on her side of the family, and heart disease on my side, but I never said my daydreams were realistic, I told you about the gunman in church, right?  Anyway, I scan the church picking out possible candidates and then spend the rest of the Mass eliminating them.  They don't kneel at the right time or for long enough, Gone.   They don't sing along, Gone.  Don't shake hands during the sign of peace, Gone. When all my kids used to attend Mass with us, they used to help by spotting some of them and pointing them out to me.  Mom did not join us in this activity, but that's ok, she doesn't get a vote.   Of one thing I am certain, and that is, I will need to remarry someone holier than me, just like I did the first time.  Why?  Just look above and see how I spend my time at Mass. 

     To end this missive on mass musings, I'll simply say that I do give it some effort each week and try to pay attention, but the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak.  I suspect some people are hearing the adage "Standing in a church does not make you a Christian, anymore that standing in your garage makes you a car", right now, and I really can't blame them.  I'll try to do better in the future, but leave me my future wife watching, a guy has to plan you know. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wedding Follies

     I haven't been to a lot of weddings lately, but it seems like these things go in spurts.  A large number of your friends and siblings get married around the time that you do, but then there is a lull.  The next batch might be your nieces and nephews and your own offspring, and maybe even some kids that were close friends with your kids.  The last spurt might be the next generation of kids in your lineage, if you are fortunate enough to be around for them (I suspect I will not be), and then you are done.  After this, it's likely you'll attend more funerals than weddings, but this blog is not about funerals but about some weddings and receptions that I've attended, and the good times that followed. 

     If you were invited to my own wedding, then you got a good idea of how I was going to behave if you invited me to yours.  The way I looked at it, our wedding was the best party we ever threw.  We got to pick the music, the date, the guests, the booze, the location, and most people that were invited came, as it is only a one time event (Well at least in our case it was ..... so far). 
My bride and I
There was no way that you were going to drag me out of there til the last song had been song, and no one did.  After that my wife had a 3 hour drive with me to Niagara on the Lake, and I'm reminded often how I sang all the way, and why wouldn't I?  Weddings are supposed to be celebrations, aren't they?  Sure they are, and we have been known to celebrate.  We were the first in our group to get married, but the others quickly followed suit.  They came so quickly they kind of blended together, but here are some highlights of those.  At one, a bunch of forks got mysteriously stuck into a banquet hall corkboard ceiling (I was not invited to this one, just heard of it later, I did get invited for his second one).  Another time we had a 2 hour wait in between the wedding and reception, so we took over a local small bar in Messina NY, and scared half the locals out by telling them there was a new dress code to the bar. After we got to the reception at least two girls
"shot the boot" and drank from one.  Another friend had his wedding at the Inn on Canandaigua Lake, but it was delayed a few hours due to a power outage, and then it was held by candlelight.  
An early wedding
They opened up the bar, to make up for the power, and I think that one remains one of the most fun receptions I have ever been to.  After the 4th hour of drinking, my friend asked me to do the prayer, prior to dining (They said I did I fine job, but you couldn't prove it by me). My friend Dan has a great story from that reception, how he was standing at a urinal, lit only by a candle on top of it, and laughed so hard at a joke that was told, that he blew out the candle and plunged the room into total darkness.  At still another of our friend's weddings, I was dancing with an inebriated partner and she let go on a spin, and tumbled directly into the 5 piece band.  Of course that reception had to be at the fanciest place around at the time.  I interacted more positively with bands and DJ's at almost every wedding I went to around that time, with most of those evenings ending with me singing (unsolicited), with the band.  My favorite go-to song was American Pie, and rarely did I have to look far to get some partners in crime to sing along with me.  Not to belabor the point, but I like to have fun at weddings.

     A wedding buzz can be a difficult thing to keep, as some folks have a habit of shutting the bar down, mid wedding and re-opening it later. 
I went to such a wedding, one time, with my pregnant wife who had offered to DD for me.  Not to be outwitted, I proceeded across the hall and crashed another wedding that was still serving.  I stayed for one, but then they played "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, so I had to dance too.  A family friend came in a little later and dragged me away during a dance with the bride, but she still has the video to remember it by.  As I have said, I like to have fun at weddings, even those I'm not invited to.  The bride thought it was hilarious that I crashed, and her group mixed it up with ours coming through in a Conga line later that night.  I've crashed a few weddings since then, just to dance and such, but they say you never forget your first, and I haven't. The first wedding that I actually attended was my brother Paul's.  I wore a new dark blue leisure suit, but while serving on the altar, I kicked a candle while carrying it, and spilled white wax all down my pant leg.  I would have loved to dance or carry on that wedding, but as a 12 year old boy with a guilty conscience and a large white stain down his pant-leg, even I couldn't do it.  That's probably why I make up for it now.   

     One of my funniest wedding stories (and one of my wife's most embarrassing) was when we were invited to Boston to a cousin's wedding. 
Young Russ should have had this
We caravaned out with about 12 family members to attend, but at the reception my wife and I found ourselves at a table of almost complete strangers.  I started by trying to have a conversation with another cousin and his wife.  I didn't know him very well, and when he asked my opinion on something that sounded like it would be a possible felony, I turned my attention to the other couples at the table.  Left around me were Old Russ and his wife next to me, and Young Russ and his wife across the table from me.  I engaged Old Russ in conversation by asking how he was.  20 minutes later, I was still listening to the monologue on his ailments, though admittedly I can now hold my own in a conversation on knee replacements.  In desperation, I shouted to Young Russ across the table and tried to engage him by asking " How about you Russ, how long have you been a Deaf Mute?"  I'm not sure if it was the kick I got under the table from my wife, or it was from watching the color drain from her face, but I knew almost immediately I had nailed it.  My wife could see the hearing aid behind his ear from her angle, and his Mother confirmed it by saying, "Oh Russ doesn't hear too well, and he hasn't spoken in years."  That's right, I called a Deaf Mute, a Deaf Mute.  My wife insisted we move to another table, but I got the best wedding story out of it.  I later asked my cousin, why he placed me where he did, and his answer was "Because it was next to the bar".
Yet another wedding, this time with family at the table
  He made a good point, but couldn't I have been next to the bar, and not mixed in with potential felons, the elderly and handicapped?  Probably.  That's one of the problems with weddings though, you never know who you are going to draw as your table-mates.  I have fun, regardless, but sometimes my jokes fall on deaf ears. 

   One of the last weddings and receptions we went to, was for a favorite nephew of mine.  He stocked my brand of Gin at the bar, and I took full advantage.  I laughed and danced and even remember the bustiest girl at the reception  falling all over to dance with me (She was top heavy).  We hosted an after hours party, and the last guests had to be walked back to their rooms propped between others.  One girl spent a good amount of time sprawled out on the grass, and I don't think she was a star gazer.  Now, that, was a reception.  As I close this blog on weddings and receptions, I'll leave you with this bit of advice.  If you do invite me to your wedding, fully expect that I will come prepared for a good time.   I'll hit the open bar hard, dance my feet off, may end up on stage, probably embarrass myself or others, but will definitely help you celebrate and create some wedding memories.   You've been forewarned.

Having fun, even with a cheesy mustache.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to make Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder (serves 100)

     It's not really my recipe even, but it has become known as Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder.  Truth be told, I was one of 5 guys standing around a big pot on a family camping trip, who created it and we all contributed our own little bit to the recipe, but after that trip, I was the only one who kept making it, so it became Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder.  I make it at least once a year at my sister Meter Maid's Pig Roast (A Swine Time), and have been known to make it a few other times each year too, but in smaller batches.  It is a lot of work to make, so I thought I'd pass along the recipe in case, some time, I'm not able to make it, or someone else might step up to do it.

     I would recommend that you get some ingredients from a foodservice Cash and Carry, or from a restaurant that you frequent.  You will need...

Ingredients, minus the milk, bacon, base, butter and spices
3 lbs thick cut bacon
7-8 # 5 cans of chopped ocean clams
12 cans diced potatoes
6 Spanish onions
6 large carrots
4 heads of garlic
6 peppers any color
1 small jar of chicken base
2 heads of celery
white pepper and salt
2 lbs of salted butter
6-7 gallons of whole milk

      Start by cooking all the bacon, crisp, and then set it aside but reserve all the grease.
The garlic, already smashed and ready to cut
You will then peel all the garlic, my friends John and Stacy taught me to smash the garlic to bring out the flavor, so do that, set it aside and then finely chop it after a half an hour or so. If you don't want your hands to smell like garlic later, the best trick I know for removing the smell, is to rub your hands on a stainless steel knife, or faucet, it really works well.  Peel and finely chop the onions next, if the fumes bother you, set up a small fan next to you and blow them away from your face.
About half of the onions

You are now ready to start the sauteing.  I use a 16" non stick skillet that I own and tend to cook the ingredients separately, but it can be done together.  Start by sauteing the onions in a little olive oil, butter, and bacon grease.  You want them soft and slightly darkened.  When they are finished, sprinkle some flour into the pan to absorb and bind all the oils.  Simmer it for a few minutes, stirring frequently.  You are basically making a partial roux right now, and collecting all the flavors that came out while cooking.

You repeat this step with every item you saute. The peppers get done next, dice them fine.  I like to mix the colors.  I add the garlic to each of the items as I saute them, so that it doesn't get overcooked. It only needs a few minutes to brown and picks up an off flavor if you burn it, so you can cook it separately if you wish.  The celery gets chopped while the peppers are cooking, chop this a little larger than the other items, then saute it like the rest of the ingredients.
The carrots. I cool the ingredients, then bag them to be added
I did miss an important step in the process and ingredient list, which I have to correct now.  Start the whole process by opening a beer.  At many points during the chowder making, beer will spill into the pots and pans, that is both expected and normal, don't sweat it when it happens, just add the amount you want to.  If you omit this step, please take my name off from the recipe when you serve it (Uncle Bill has a reputation to protect).  The carrots go in next, (my wife wrinkles her nose at this step every time), dice them small and cook them until they caramelize a little.  I like what it gives to the chowder, an understated sweetness, that works well with the whole blend. 
Onions cooking, celery cooling, bacon grease in bowl

You are now done with all the sauteing.  When the bacon cools, break the crisp slices into small pieces and set them aside.  You are now ready to make the roux and the chowder base.  I'm not going into how to do a roux, as I have never been trained and there are a lot of resources out there to teach you better how to do it.  I use the bacon grease, the chicken base (base is concentrated stock, you need one with meat first as the ingredient) and butter.  I use an equal amount of flour to the fat and cook it to a blonde color. 
A 1.5 gallon batch "finished" with no clams yet
When it looks right to me, I start to add the liquids, again I can't give too many specifics as to how much to add but the liquids are, some of the juice from the canned clams, beer, and the whole milk.  I whisk this and cook it until it reaches it's full thickness, right before it boils.  Don't let it boil, as it may "break" and separate back out.  Since this recipe makes about 9 gallons of finished chowder, I make this step in about 1.5 gallon batches. 

I add all the ingredients including the potatoes and bacon into the batches as I do this, except for the clams.  I season to taste with the white pepper and salt.  I like to refrigerate the batches for a day or so, before I reheat them, as I think soups and chowders always taste better on the second day. 
You are now almost finished with all the preparations for combining the batches into 9 gallons of Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder.  At this point you have probably also finished a six pack of beer. I like to have music playing while I cook, so as you can see you have to leave room on the prep table for the I-Pod player.
Finishing the chowder, note the beer is still needed

To finish the chowder, I use a double boiler system, I put one large pot into another and bring the water in the bottom pot to a slow boil and warm the chowder back up slowly.  I add all the clams at the end, right before serving.  You now have 9 gallons of Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder.  I suspect it got that name because my many nieces and nephews are so fond of it.  It's rare, in my opinion, to have kids get excited about a soup, especially a clam soup but they really do get excited about this chowder.  One niece posted on her Facebook last week how she was looking forward to it, and believe it or not, my nephew Jake asked to have it for his birthday meal this year.  If you make it, you'll have to let me know the results.  If you need some help to make it the first time, feel free to call me to come over, but remember to triple the beer in the recipe. 
Look at all the kids lined up to eat the chowder


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oh, my aching eyes.

     We all get older, and contrary to the postings on my activities each weekend, I am no exception.  Acting immature does, in no way, protect you from the ailments of aging.  This blog speaks to my ever increasing need for vision enhancement.

     You've probably seen me at some point with my dollar store glasses perched on my nose, scanning a bar bill or a menu in a darkly lit restaurant.  I've needed them for about 10 years now and it seems like I am needing them now, more frequently.  It started innocently enough, reading the paper in bed at 10 o'clock at night and the type was starting to get blurry.  At my wife's urging (she was tired of, "what's that word, Honey?"), I went to see the eye doctor, the real kind, not the fake kind.
I don't know which is which but apparently there is a big difference between a "metrist" and a "mologist".  I went to the latter, but wouldn't let him put me under cuz of the bad incident I had with the ophthalmolestagist years before, the candy in the waiting room should have been a dead giveaway, but I digress....  After a battery of tests I was given an eyeglass prescription and several hours later I exited with my pair of $300 eyeglasses.  A week later, after wearing them for that long, I noticed, in bed, that the letters on the page of the paper were still blurry, but I will say the right side was equally blurry with the left side now.  The next day I bought my first pair of "cheaters" for $10 with a 1.0 magnification and put them on my nightstand, permanently replacing the expensive prescription pair that didn't work.   This allowed me, once again, to read all the news at 10 o'clock, that I had already read on the Internet earlier in the day, and to find all the misspellings and mistakes in my local paper.  It's nice to have a routine.

     My cheaters worked really well for a while and their use was limited to my bedside, helping my fatigued eyes see the small print.  This was true right up until people at work started to send me things in 8 and 10 font.  I know that this will seem ironic coming from a guy who just filled a page talking about his need for glasses, but seriously, if you are at work, and you keep having to reduce the font so your thoughts will fit on a page.....say less.  We old folks will appreciate it more.
Chances are your boss has to put his or her glasses on just to read the damn memo, that you felt was so important, and turns out, it's probably not.  Computer fonts should start at 14, period.  So I had to start moving my cheaters from my desk to the bedside, and inevitably they'd be in the wrong spot when I went to reach for them.  My office is 100 feet from my house in the top floor of my garage, so this resulted in a lot of 10 o'clock trips, across my driveway, in my jammies, just so I could read the already discussed, redundant, shabby excuse for a local paper. That's when I found glasses at the dollar store and started to buy them in bulk.

     I had moved up to a 1.5 magnification by then, funny how that happens, and I started to buy them a dozen at a time.  If I forgot them on a trip or something it would cost me $20 at the airport or a drugstore to replace them with a more expensive, but not better, pair of cheaters.  Those broke just as easy as the dollar store ones did.  Speaking of traveling, I can tell you that one of my greatest pet peeves is that hotels feel the need to put their brand on the shampoo/conditioner/mouthwash/body lotion in larger letters than the words that tell me what is actually in the bottles. I already know I'm at the Hilton, but can you tell me what the hell is in this bottle?
My current theory on my bad vision. back off, and you'll see it...
I don't wear my cheaters in the shower, so I frequently accidentally rinse with body lotion instead of the conditioner.  If you ever get in an elevator with a guy whose hair smells minty, it's probably me on a morning I confuse the shampoo with the mouthwash.  At least I haven't tried gargling with the shampoo...yet. These hotels at least have large lit up buttons for the floor numbers on the elevators, so that hasn't been an issue.   I do sometimes wonder though, if I should start learning the braille symbols that are above the lit numbers for the day I run out of all possible magnification.  I haven't really discussed why I think I have bad eyesight, but my prevailing theory is genetics, but my Mother's theory was entirely different, or at least she thought so every time she told me I'd go blind, point is, now, I buy a lot of cheaters.
My shampoo at home
They are everywhere in my house, on my nightstand, in my valet box, on the kitchen counter, in a living room table, and even in every vehicle I own.  I don't keep them in the shower at home, but we buy bulk shampoo and conditioner, so there's enough room to fit both the brand and what's in it, on the label. Char misses my minty hair when I am home.  Dollar store glasses can't be beat for the price, but they aren't exactly known for their durable construction either.  The tips for the ears fall off easily, they scratch, the screws pop out, and especially, they bend.  I know to throw them out when I walk by a mirror and see them sitting lopsided on my face, though I do admit to owning an eyeglass repair kit too (which I got at the dollar store). 

     I'll have to stop opining about eyeglasses now, less I have to change the font so it will all fit on this page.  I'll close where I started, talking about dimly lit restaurants.  What I used to find romantic, I now find annoying.  There is nothing worse than being escorted to a dark corner of a restaurant, and then getting a menu typed in a small font.  If you ask sometimes they'll bring an extra candle to you, to help, but it rarely does.  Inevitably the darkness creates a lot more questions for the waitress like "What's your favorite dish here?" or "Say I wanted to order an appetizer and I liked meat...." or "can you repeat the 12 side dishes again for me?".  If I worked at this type of place I'd buy a miner's helmet, just for older, big tippers like me.  Would I wear it? See below for my next anticipated purchase, I wonder if I can trade a barely used $300 pair of eyeglasses for it?

They don't have these at the Dollar Store yet, but when they do.......