Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Happens When You Are Distracted Untangling Last Year's Christmas Lights...

Wishing I Was Here

It is cold and sunny and actually quite lovely for an Iowa day this time of year. That said, I really wish I were here instead with my fancy girl snowboard and about a foot of fresh powdery stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet Caleigh Jayne

I had the niece and nephews over for a sleepover this weekend. I am pretty sure my sister won't let them come back. Mission accomplished!

Kidding. Kidding.

They were nothing short of perfect angels and one day I may just steal them all. Besides, this little cherub is quite a kitchen helper, she hacked up all the potatoes for my mashers in no time. Then she made brownies, cracked a few eggs for a different project, did the dishes, and Clorox handi-wiped my entire kitchen. Come to think of it, maybe I'll just go steal her now.

Cranksgiving...and the Bad Monkeys Represent

Bad Monkey's very own Riggs represented at Punk Rock Cycling's second annual Cranksgiving this weekend. He showed up with his Surly, a bottle of beer, and took home the golden crank (OVERALL WINNER!). His speedy efforts and lady luck earned him this fresh pair of Oakleys, a piece of paper good for a tattoo, and a few cold beers. We could not be more proud.

I am fairly certain that next year I'll leave the fancy bike at home and opt instead for a bike with at the very least, cross tires. It was a teensy bit sketchy riding in blinding snow on the Ruby, albeit fun. Keely and I did not wipe out once, despite giving it a pretty good whirl at the bottom of a very large hill, and I am fairly certain next year we will also add a category to the contest, "coolest shades purchased en route." Keely would have taken that hands down this year with her diamond studded frames she selected in approximately 2.5 seconds at some Walgreens on University. As she said, "It was a whole other ride after we went and got those shades!"

We also discovered some new and different treehugger type grocery stores hidden in the enclaves of Des Moines that I never knew existed, one of which allowed me to purchase my very first $6.50 jar of spaghetti sauce...yikes. And none of which seemed to have any salt. Weird.

It was sweet to see so many single speeders and out of towners at this event, given the inclement weather, and it was also fantastic to see the load of yummy food in the back of the Rassy truck as it made its way toward the food bank. Good times.

Bring on the Big Wheel Rally!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Ham Balls!

Here is partial listing of what my mother deemed to be this year's "nothing fancy and a lighter spread" Thanksgiving which we celebrated at my grandparents' yesterday afternoon and which left me all fetal for the better portion of the evening and early hours this morning:

  • ham balls (really, is ANY good midwestern meal complete without a ham ball?)
  • turkey (two kinds, juicy/in broth stuff and um, dry)
  • stuffing
  • garlic/onion mashed potatoes
  • gravy
  • cranberries (straight outta the can...mmmm)
  • cranberry, apple, raspberry, nut some kinda jello salad thing that was actually in cupcake holders (weird. but tastey.)
  • sweet potato casserole with lots of yummy brown sugary nutty goodness on top
  • green fluff (again, see comment above about ham balls)
  • plain jello (in a mold of some sort)
  • jello squares, or, "finger jello"
  • cheese
  • deer meat
  • deer meat with cheese embedded in said deer meat (fancy)
  • wine from various Iowa aunt did the tour, we drank the results.
  • beer
  • deviled eggs
  • root beer
  • homemade rolls
  • homemade jelly
  • pecan pie
  • pumpkin pie
  • apple pie
  • brownies
  • pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting
  • peanut butter bars
  • green bean casserole

Oh, I am sure there are other items I am forgetting, but you get the idea. There were probably nine crock pots going all told. So many crock pots that a power strip was required.

It was midwestern food gluttony at it's finest. But in the end, I did not want this post to be merely a listing of food items, I wanted it to be about HAM BALLS. Because this a.m., when I told one of my non-Iowa based friends that I'd eaten the shit out of some ham balls yesterday, she doubled over in a fit of laughter and said this:

What in the fuck is a ham ball?
And how in the fuck does THAT work...I mean, how does one get the ham in the ball?

To which I replied:

Hell if I know....I am pretty sure I don't WANT to know either!

And then she promptly Googled and sent me this recipe, saying something like, "hmmm," which probably means she is very scared of the Ham Ball but cannot readily admit that yet being that she fancies herself for trying every culinary masterpiece at least once. And I am sure she was even more scared when I told her that the recipe looked way too fancy and much more elegant than the typical Iowa based ham ball recipe.

The telltale: I am fairly certain the sauce in the typical Iowa Ham Ball recipe nearly always contains grape jelly as one of its main ham ball sauce ingredients, sadly, not whiskey. And I would not at all be surprised to learn that the ham in Ham Balls is actually not ham at all, but perhaps something like oh, SPAM.

The ham balls I ate yesterday had somewhat of an orange tint. No shit. They also tasted mildly of grape suckers.

Ham balls seem to have been popping into the periphery of my existence for years now, and I find it hysterical that people from places other than the midwest have never even heard of them. When Brad and I were were living in Washington together and would travel back to Iowa for a visit with our respective families here, Brad's mom would go to great, great extremes to cook whatever she deemed as Brad's favorite meal for each visit.

This usually meant...ham balls and some jello salad, of course. Never mind that Brad hates ham balls and he also doesn't particularly care for jello salad either.

Nonetheless, Brad's mom thought he loved them both and would happily squeeze his cheeks like a four year old, and lament to everyone how she'd gone to great lengths to make Brad's favorite for his visit. And Brad and I would sit in the little loveseat in his parents' 85 degree living room laughing our asses off while we awaited our ham ball dinner.

Thankfully, one Ragbrai a few years back Brad began dragging his buddy Richard to Iowa for these visits, and Richard fell head over hells in LOVE with ham balls. In fact, Richard could probably be nominated president of Brad's mother's Ham Ball Fan Club. So now there are even more ham balls, Richard or not, and of course that tried and true story about how Richard he loooves those ham balls! I recall one visit when Richard stayed in Seattle, the suggestion that perhaps we should package some ham balls up and take them to Richard on our way through Seattle towards Bellingham.

And of course, if we are lucky during these meals, there is also green fluff, or some other flashy jello salad. Last time, if I recall, it was jello with snickers and apples and pretzels and broccoli or some other totally random vegetable that gave Brad great pause and made me kick him in the shins under the table to avoid my spitting my food across the room in a fit of laughter.

Yesterday Thank the Maker on this early Thanksgiving there were both ham balls AND green fluff! Ironically, (or perhaps not) Brad was safely in Washington, riding his bike up the side of some mountain and completely oblivious to it all, and I have no clue where his mother was; sadly she was also no part of this ham ball event.

I had a couple ham balls for Brad to mark the occassion anyways, and toasted him 2,000 some miles away with a big ole swig of Iowa wine from a very plastic cup. I am certain, whether he knew consciously or not, that he was very thankful at that very moment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

BOOK: When You Are Engulfed In Flames
By David Sedaris

When I read David Sedaris' Barrel Fever in the late nineties, I had little idea that it was possible to read a book and actually double over in laughter. Given that I had been a sucker for crappy hopeless romances up to this point, I was hooked. I also make no bones about my self diagnosed attention deficit disorder, and the idea of reading fast, funny stories that were over in a matter of pages were not only a relatively new thing to me, they were pretty darned novel and suited to my personality. I subsequently ran out and tried to get my hands on everything else the guy had ever written in his life, which at that point was very little.

And then there was the lull. I have written in the past about paltry sophomore works from both writers and musicians; I frequently have little taste for the churn and burn work that seems in my expert opinion largely reguritated from freshman efforts--stuff that is meant to pacify the desires of money hungry publishers and labels. Such was the case here, until Me Talk Pretty One Day hit the shelves and I was once again, doubled over.

And now again, we have When You are Engulfed In Flames. How seamlessly an author can jump from the tragedy of living next door to man shunned from society because of his love of sex with little kids, to a house burning down at the hands of a mouse and make it simultaneously side splittingly funny, is well beyond me, but somehow Sedaris does it. I read the entire book in one sitting.

I really needed a laugh that night. And I recieved many, many of them, all for the hard copied price of $29.95. Not bad, if you don't count the wine.

Tis the Season...To Be Scrooge'd

My blog will return to its normal colors after the passing of the Holi-daze.

In the meantime, it is great to know that the gas station owners of the world have united in their love of Jesus during this time of unprecedented profits. He, for all practical purposes HAS to be on "their" side.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sitting on top of the world

Printed originally in the Chicago Tribune:

Sitting on top of the world

Garrison Keillor
November 12, 2008

Be happy, dear hearts, and allow yourselves a few more weeks of quiet exultation. It isn't gloating, it's satisfaction at a job well done. He was a superb candidate, serious, professorial but with a flashing grin and a buoyancy that comes from working out in the gym every morning. He spoke in a genuine voice, not senatorial at all. He relished campaigning. He accepted adulation gracefully. He brandished his sword against his opponents without mocking or belittling them. He was elegant, unaffected, utterly American, and now (Wow) suddenly America is cool. Chicago is cool. Chicago!!!

We threw the dice and we won the jackpot and elected a black guy with a Harvard degree, the middle name Hussein and a sense of humor—he said, "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher." The French junior minister for human rights said, "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes." When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

The world expects us to elect pompous yahoos, and instead we have us a 47-year-old prince from the prairie who cheerfully ran the race, and when his opponents threw sand at him, he just smiled back. He'll be the first president in history to look really good making a jump shot. He loves his classy wife and his sweet little daughters. At the same time, he knows pop music, American lit and constitutional law. I just can't imagine anybody cooler.

It feels good to be cool, and all of us can share in that, even sour old right-wingers and embittered blottoheads. Next time you fly to Heathrow and hand your passport to the man with the badge, he's going to see " United States of America" and look up and grin. Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama, and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian.

And the coolest thing about him is the fact that back in the early '90s, given a book contract after the hoo-ha about his becoming the First Black Editor of The Harvard Law Review, instead of writing the basic exploitation book he could've written, he put his head down and worked hard for a few years and wrote a good book, an honest one, which, since his rise in politics, has earned the Obamas enough to buy a nice house and put money in the bank. A successful American entrepreneur.

Our hero who galloped to victory has inherited a gigantic mess. The country is sunk in debt. The Treasury announced it must borrow $550 billion to get the government through the fourth quarter, more than the entire deficit for 2008, so he will have to raise taxes and not only on bankers and lumber barons. His promise never to raise the retirement age is not a good idea. Whatever he promised the Iowa farmers about subsidizing ethanol is best forgotten at this point. We may not be getting our National Health Service cards anytime soon. And so on and so on.

So enjoy the afterglow of the election awhile longer. We all walk taller this fall. People in Copenhagen and Stockholm are sending congratulatory e-mails—imagine! We are being admired by Danes and Swedes! And Chicago becomes The First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels. Have a good day.

Garrison Keillor is radio host and author.