Am about to start cooking dinner…

But before I begin I need that critical first ingredient:

Making fish stock, preparing for New England clam chowder

Very happy this morning to use all the fish-parts that have accumulated over the course of several fish meals to make what I think will be a pretty good fish stock.

In addition to the fish parts — the skeleton and heads of three Robalo and a Flounder — I threw in chopped carrots, celery and onions  as well as a sliced lemon and a crushed tomato. Also in the mix: a couple of crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, a few peppercorns, some sprigs of fresh parsley, a cup of dry white wine and eight cups of water.

During the simmer I’m going to throw in a handful of dried Porcini and Shiitake mushrooms for a heartier flavor.

Later today I’m headed out in search of fresh clams so I can use this stock as a base for making clam chowder this afternoon.

Cereal killers

I received an email from a friend recently in which she outlined her favorite breakfast cereal. (I know… exciting. Yep, it’s practically Goethe-Carlyle when you trade emails with me, thank you very much.)

Anyhow, it got me thinking about a recent trip to the cereal aisle of my local supermarket.

I noticed a cereal that I hadn’t even thought of in awhile: Honey Smacks.

OK, forget that I remember this product from back when it called Sugar Smacks — long before the suits at Kellogg’s got their panties in a twist sometime in the 1970’s when sugar somehow became bad and they feared freaking out every mom on the planet. (Don’t bother changing one freaking ingredient, just tweak the name by referencing honey… ‘Hey moms! Bees make it! How bad can it be?’)

Here’s my real problem, though. It’s the frog mascot, Dig ‘Em. He used to be just a regular frog in a baseball cap that you see above,  encouraging the five-year-old me to eat this sugar-infused unhealthy bowl of tiny lifeboat-looking wheat puffs.

Now look. He’s gone gangster… hat on sideways, loose shirt, flashing gang signs… if we could look behind the bowl we’d most likely see his jeans down around his butt.

Pull your goddamn pants up, Dig ‘Em.

That’s not the worst of it, though. Take a closer look. He’s not really a gangster, is he? He’s what the extremely Caucasian Kellogg’s account executive who has not stepped foot out of Battle Creek, Michigan in 20 years thinks a gangster looks like.

I can imagine the conversation…

Account executive one: We need a new angle, Lou. We need to re-boot Dig ‘Em, you know… make him hip, for the kids today.

Account executive two: How about a gangster? Kids are all into that gangster stuff now.

AE one: Bingo, Lou! You’re a genius! We’ll dress Dig ‘Em like Dillinger or Machine-Gun Kelley… we’ll give him a pin-striped suit, he’ll carry a violin case for his Tommy Gun, he’ll give the secret knock at the speakeasy so he can eat Honey Smacks!

AE two: No, no, Lenny. I mean a modern gangster. Like, you know, how those rappers are.

AE one: Bingo, Lou! You’re a genius! We’ll dress him like some rap stars all the kids like… How about the Sugar Hill Gang?

AE two: Dammit Lenny! You saw the memo! NEVER MENTION SUGAR IN THIS BUILDING AGAIN!

My one wish for the fine people at Kelloggs. Get back to the basics. Call it what it is: Sugar Smacks. Don’t try to dress up the frog to please suburbanite moms and their whiny brats.

Take a look at this 1966 box of Sugar Smack, Kelloggs, from back when you had a pair.

Holy fucking shit! Now that’s a cereal I can buy! The box is boasting that “Space Energy comes from Sugar Smacks.” What does that even mean? I don’t know but I love it. (Screw you FDA! Just try and prove that Space Energy doesn’t come from Sugar Smacks…) But the best thing is Mr. Spock on the cover pointing a goddamn gun at the head of the mom who is deciding what cereal to purchase.

“Go ahead, bitch, I dare you not to buy me,” he seems to sneer.

Now that is gangster.

More adventures in Eastwood: The downside of having a corner lot

The way cars tear around our corner here on Eastwood and Leeland, I knew it was a matter of time before there was some kind of crash that sent a car flying onto the lawn.

We heard a crash this morning and popped our heads out the door to check it out. Apparently, so did everyone else. When this happens in my neighborhood, it’s high entertainment. (I’m guilty of walking a couple of blocks to gawk at an accident, myself.)

After the looky-loos showed, the tow-truck was next, then an ambulance.

Finally enough cops showed that you would have thought it was a triple-homicide. Sadly, it was not. That would have been something to gawk at.

Anyone know anything about the Great Tomball Parks Board scandal?

Calling Encyclopedia Brown. (Actually, my preference would be for the less-known Jupiter Jones, but either way…) I’m looking for some help in solving a mystery.

During a recent road trip I swung into Tomball, a city of about 9,000 a 40 minute drive north of Houston. I walked around for a bit and popped up to city hall. I’m a sucker for city halls. Weird, I know.

Anyhow, in front of Tomball City Hall is Heritage Plaza. It’s a small spot with flags, flowers and some benches. It was dedicated in 2002 and also contains a time capsule, according to the city of Tomball’s Facebook page.

There’s also a plaque at Heritage Plaza and it got my attention.

I noticed what appeared to be a smudge where the names are listed under the Parks Board section. I looked closer. It wasn’t a smudge.

A name had been removed… scraped off.

My mind raced. What might have happened? Was the Tomball Parks Board scandal so great — so embarrassing — to the good people of Tomball that the board member’s name had to be erased from the Heritage Plaza plaque?

Or is the current Tomball government taking a page from ancient governments and erasing the names of previous rulers from monuments?

I’d like to know what happened. If there are any adventurers out there solving mysteries — although that line of work has apparently fallen out of vogue with one ironic exception — please call.

A short illustrated walk around Houston’s Eastwood neighborhood

Eastwood is a neighborhood in Houston just outside of downtown and home to yours truly. My home is 3 minutes from my office, has a skyline view (you can just see the former Enron tower) and there’s a joint a block-and-half away that sells the best Italian po’ boy I’ve ever had.

I was out the other day and realized I need to take my camera out with me a little more often. There’s always something that I stumble across that I find interesting.

When today turned a very comfortable mid-60 degrees, I grabbed the camera and popped out for a quick walk.

Just a few blocks away are the cross streets of Dallas and Eastwood, where the most striking landmark is a stone church with a gothic feel to it. I don’t know much about it other than what it says on the church web site. In addition to the churchy stuff that obviously goes on there, I have seen it used for community activities. There was a recent arts and crafts show there, for example.

The church was dedicated to Archbishop John Sloan in 1954, according to this engraving on the side of the church. I don’t know who he was and some basic digging on Google didn’t reveal much. I’ll need to go knock on the church door and ask at some point.

Now, just to show how diverse Houston is, on Stiles Street — a 10 minute walk from from the Episcopalians  — is a Spanish-language synagogue.

Who knew?

I didn’t until the other day when I bumped into it.

Anyhow, speaking of diversity, these two signs in my neighborhood are within two blocks of each other:

Forget census-form diversity. Brother, in my neighborhood we got real diversity.

A short walk past the synagogue you run into Harrisburg, one of the main roads that passes through Eastwood. And right there is a dollar store that has everything in the frigging planet in it. It’s pretty astonishing how much crap they can stuff in there. You name it, they got it. And it’s packed from floor to ceiling.

That’s not why I like it, though. I like it because in a world of corporate greed and powerful institutions taking advantage of the regular Joe with their slick-talkin’ ways, the owners of this store are downright honest. “Yea, we’re a dollar store. But what you buy might be less. Or more.” Refreshing.

The last stop of the day was  Eastwood Park — also on Harrisburg — where we just missed the mayor (or designated flunky, we’ll have to watch the news tonight) dedicating the just-opened “Boundless Playground.” (And careful, pal, that’s trademarked.)

According to the news release and the sign, the charitable foundation connected with drug store CVS is footing the bill for a big chunk of the building of these kinds of playgrounds, which are designed to accommodate “children of all abilities.”

Good to know. I don’t think I would have guessed CVS’ involvement otherwise.

Seriously, you couldn’t have fit another CVS logo in this park today it was so packed with CVS logos. I mean, you could undergo a CVS version of the Ludovico technique and not had more images of CVS pounded into your skull that you would have at Eastwood Park today.

Oh, what’s that? What’s that other little logo on the sign?

Oh, hey! I helped pay for the playground, too! Who knew?

Actually, I happy I helped pay for the thing, because I now have the right to complain about something tangentially related to it.

I’m all for playgrounds. And I’m all for having playgrounds for “children of all abilities.” (Although I think that’s code for “playground for Johnny with cerebral palsy” rather than “playground for Johnny who keeps getting picked last for kickball,” which would have helped me when I was a kid.)

My complaint centers on the swing set. Just look at it. What’s different about it?

Look at the ground under that swing set. It’s grass. And I felt it. It’s the most luscious, groomed, soft grass you’ve ever seen. River Oaks Country Club doesn’t have grass like this.

I understand the concept of this playground and its mission, and I’m for it. But is this a direction that all playgrounds will soon go? Will meadow-like grass under swing sets and monkey bars soon be standard or mandated on all playgrounds?

If so, we are doomed as a nation.

When I was a boy, our park swing sets were set atop dirt — if we were lucky. Sometimes it was gravel. Other times, black top. And it was a bonus if the swing set legs were actually secured in the ground. And by Jove, that’s what made our nation what it is today: generations of youth falling from a swing or jungle gym onto cement, like it was meant to be.

Sigh.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to venture out again soon.

My annual Christmas rant: screw Bedford Falls… I love Pottersville

Every December, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life plays over and over on television with the intensity of a Jimmy-Stewart-shaped drill boring into your head. This sickeningly sweet staple of Americana is forced upon us, slowly dragging us into its yearly theme of “good outweighs evil” or “everyone matters” or “friends and family are more important than money” or “even if you’re deaf in one ear you can be useful to society” or who knows what all.

Well, guess what kids. I hate this movie — except for one beautiful, touching scene.

When Clarance is showing Jimmy Stewart what life would have been like without him, Stewart runs through what used to be Bedford Falls.

It’s now Pottersville. And you know what? That’s a town I can live in!

Think about it: Pottersville has strip joints, gambling spots and booze flowing from the fountains. The library is open late and the police force cracks down on what matters: They look the other way when it comes to prostitution and spend their time rounding up vagrants and recluses.

And remember Nick’s? That’s the bar Clarance and Stewart get bounced from. Nicks closing statement to the hapless pair, “We serve hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast and we don’t need any characters hanging around to give the joint atmosphere.” Hear hear! Nick’s is my kind of joint.

In comparison, Bedford Falls is a sleepy town where it appears “boring” is a zoning requirement. The only bar is Martini’s. And the best entertainment apparently comes in the form of high school shindigs on the gym-floor-which-opens-to-a-pool.

Pack up the U-Haul, honey. We’re moving to Pottersville.

Beetle Bailey puts the strip in comic strip

More creepiness in the comics today, this time from legacy comic strip Beetle Bailey.

Is this some kind of odd strip poker game? Camp Swampy’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy gone horribly wrong? Either way, I don’t need to visualize Beetle’s efforts to get a fellow soldier undressed. And I really don’t need to visualize where Cosmo will hide his cards after Beetle browbeats him into getting completely nude.

Shudder.

I guess this is what too much time without leave will do to you. Hasn’t Beetle been on base since the Korean War?

Comics that you don’t see on national TV but you should, Part I

Get to know these guys, because they will be rich and famous someday and you can say, “you knew them when…”

Or at least loan them some cash — which they probably need — and then when they don’t pay you back you can sue them for millions years from know when they’re fat and wealthy.

First off in my series of comics you should get to know… Red State Update.

These guys are brilliant. I love their humor. I can’t quite tell if they’re right-wing nutjobs or leftly wingbats and I think that’s great. (Maybe they don’t care about politics at all, but who cares. They are wickedly funny.)

They are from my former home of Tennessee, which is, perhaps, why I feel an affinity. They now live in Los Angeles, and I hope they get picked up by some major network.

I got hooked on them a few years back when they did a video that included a review of Brokeback Mountain. Check it out and then view every video they’ve done since.

Three of my personal favorite episodes:

Sheriff of Mousetown

George Tenet’s Sorry-Ass Book

Happy Independence Day From Red State Update

But check all their videos out.

Sexting in the Comics

I’m usually a big fan of the comic strip “Zits,” which features the cleverly drawn travails of  a high-school kid and his family. Today’s feature, though, is a bit disturbing:

Zits

I know the author is trying to pay homage to the tired “Love is…” comics. And he’s clearly mocking the trend of everyone and their brother putting every stupid screw-up on YouTube they’re able to shoot with their cell phones.

But today’s comic just comes across as creepy sexting.