Monday, July 26, 2004

Cookin' with Oh, For God's Sake!
This week, we're in the Oh, For God's Sake! kitchen, where we're going to prepare a delicious noodle soup. This dish is a variation on the Vietnamese noodle soup known as "pho." Pho is an extremely versatile dish consisting of a rich broth, rice noodles, and whatever the hell else you want to toss in. Authentic pho calls for oxtail broth but the very idea of oxen wandering around without their tails is too gruesome to contemplate, so I always use fish or vegetable broth. The recipe below calls for fish, but it's easy to make a vegetarian version or one containing meat. In fact, pho is so versatile that you can modify this recipe by ignoring it altogether and going out for chicken fangos and fraz.

To pronounce pho, say the word "fun" but without the N: Fuh. But don't worry too much about the pronunciation. Vietnamese restaurants make it easy to avoid pronouncing the word by conveniently numbering the items on the menu so you can say, "I'll have number 21, please." It's the food equivalent of preemptively saying, "How are you?" to someone whose name you're not sure of or don't want to say (a trick I've used to avoid calling my mother in law "Mom" for years).

In Vietnam, pho is actually a breakfast dish, which doesn't make much sense to me. I am more of a cereal-and-berries man at breakfast. Pho is full of flavor and fiery hot, so you'll probably want to prepare it for lunch or dinner. On the other hand, the Vietnamese beat us in a war, so maybe they know best.

You can make pho as basic or as complex as you like. Here's a very basic recipe, suitable for college students:

College Dorm Pho

Black Pepper

Prepare noodles and drain, reserving some of the water, and pour them into a bowl. Stir in some ketchup. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve.

That recipe is probably a bit too basic for most non-students, so let's make a more full-bodied, fish-and-vegetable pho -- a tasty little pho I call Pho kin' a.

Pho kin' a


Whatever vegetables you like, but you can't go wrong with:
4 green onions
a coupla handfuls of snow peas
2 carrots
a buncha fresh spinach

1 quart vegetable, fish or shrimp broth
3 pcs. star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 filets Kentucky-raised catfish
5 Kentucky-raised freshwater prawns
8 oz. rice noodles

For garnish:
Sambal Oelek brand chili paste  (Not to be too anal, but I've tasted just about every chili paste and this one packs hand's down the best flavor, plus it's hotter than Ashley Judd driving through the desert in August with the seat heater on.)
bean sprouts
fresh mint (or basil or cilantro; just a pinch of something green and groovy)

Turn on some cooking music, like Los Lonely Boys or Patti Smith. Get out a very large bowl or pot, fill it with warm water, and put in the rice noodles. Rice noodles don't need to cook, they just need to wake up. The only rule with noodles is never, ever break them. Asians believe it is bad luck to break noodles and I personally defer to their judgment on this. They don't flout transubstantiation or compound interest; who am I to disrespect their noodle rituals? Let the noodles soak.

In a large pot, prepare your broth. The best broth is homemade, simmered up out of some fish heads and some shrimp offal or some vegetable scraps (especially if you tossed in some groovy root vegetables like parsnips or fennel). Some Asian groceries stock fish bouillon and shrimp bouillon and they're pretty good if you train your mind not to think about what might have gone into their creation. But any broth works well as a base for pho so just use whatever you've got. Tump about a quart of it into a non-denominational soup pot (this is no time for sanctimony) and set it on steamylicious.

While the broth is slouching toward brothdom, wash the vegetables and chop them up except the spinach. A good mix is two carrots and some snow peas and one small onion or a handful of green onions. Can you make up the amounts and ingredients as you go? Pho kin a! (Tip: If you shave the carrots into ribbons with a peeling knife instead of dicing them, they will thicken the broth a little. Plus, it looks cooler. Also, if somebody says, "hey, whatcha doin'?" you can reply, "Leave me alone - I'm shaving my carrot.")

Spinach is very vulnerable and more than a tad emotional and easily bruised and quite frankly given to histrionics if not handled very carefully, so just set that aside for now with maybe a kind word and a promise for later greatness.

When the broth is bubbling, add your star anise and your fish sauce and your cinnamon stick and let them form a subcommittee. Star anise is not only fun to stare at and will make you think about the universe and become tempted to believe in God, but it's also got a wonderful licorice flavor without which pho wouldn't be pho (unless you're in college). You'll find it and the fish sauce (Squid brand is my favorite) and the rice noodles in Asian markets. Fish sauce is not something to mess around with if you have sodium issues. One tablespoon has approximately five zillion milligrams of sodium, so go easy if you're going to be driving later and you're prone to road rage. Allow yourself an extra dash if you used homemade broth instead of bouillon.

Thank the onions, carrots, and snow peas for sharing their magical properties and tump them into the pot. Cook them at a slow simmer until they are overcooked and mushy and then travel back in time to when they weren't yet, because in pho, just as in life, you want your vegetables to have some texture. Don't cook your spinach yet. You'll just barely cook it a little at the end. (So in case I forget to mention it later, tump it in at the very end and let it cook just a little bit until it turns that shade of green that makes you think: Hey, who needs drugs when there's color like that in the world?)

While all of those ingredients are tea-baggin,' go outside and fire up your grill and cook the catfish and the prawns. Because they were raised in Kentucky, the fish and prawns are perfect and need no seasoning and already contain just the right amount of mojo and juju and will make your eyes sparkle and your hair shine and your tongue go Kee-ryst, that's a buncha yummy. Simply plop them on the grill and cook them until they are done: a few minutes on each side. Let them get nice and sizzly and a little crispy but don't overcook them.

When the fish and shrimp are ready, bring them back inside, eat one of the prawns (you made one extra), and marvel at its texture and flavor. Say, "Damn, that's fine." Mean it. Briefly wonder why you eat fish and shrimp, when you never eat beef or pork. Speculate that it's because fish and shrimp are healthier for you and better for the environment and that it seems less cruel to kill them because they're littler and somehow less real and less evolved and don't go "moo" or "oink" when you butcher them. Dismiss this reasoning as disingenuous. Forgive yourself for the double standard.

Oh my god, we are getting close now. Fish the cinnamon stick and the star anise out of the broth and discard them. Tump the spinach into the simmering pho (See? I remembered). Turn off the burner, remembering to appreciate the shades of green. Rinse the noodles and tump them into the pho to warm them up. Bite your lower lip, squint your eyes, nod your head slowly and think to yourself: hell yeah, damn straight, pho kin' a.

Get out two of your most spiritual bowls, the bigger the better. Other than the sodium, this dish is good for you, so now's the time to supersize. In the bottom of each bowl, put a dollop of the Sambal Oelek chili paste. How big a dollop? Only you can say. But this chili paste is hot and joyous and will make you feel alive, so don't overdo it unless you're into that kinda stuff. (You can always add more later but you can't take it out once you've put it in.) Next, put a coupla-seven tablespoons of the broth from the soup pot into the bowls with the chili paste and stir them around with a flourish, while humming and dancing sensuously. This step helps evenly distribute the chili paste in the broth, so you don't end up with more hot spots than a kiddie pool.

Divide the noodles evenly into each bowl, placing them on top of the chili/broth mixture, Place a catfish filet and two prawns in each bowl to be playfully found later, like Easter Eggs or WMD. Ladle the vegetables and broth on top. Now you have two big ol' bowls of paradise. Sprinkle some sprouts on top and a few sprigs of mint and squeeze some lime and serve with laughter and veneration and a spoon and chopsticks and more of the hot chili paste, which you can stir into the broth if need be.

Eat. Your stomach will be happier than a puppy chasing a flock of birds.

Serves two (or one really large, hungry person or a half dozen supermodels or you and you again tomorrow).

(Remember that pho is perfect for experimenting. Make the broth, spices, noodles and garnish the same, but tinker with whatever ingredients blow sunshine down your windpipe. Instead of fish and peas, try one of these delicious variations: chicken and roasted red pepper, crab and asparagus, tofu and turnips, corned beef and cabbage, White Castles and onion rings, Mary Kate and Ashley, or chocolate chip and peanut butter. )

Monday, July 19, 2004

At, not With
Unintentionally funny moments are everywhere. Like the other day I turned on the radio and heard a political analyst going on and on about handsome this and rich-guy that and phony this and no-military-service that and not-fit-to-be-President the other and I thought, boy, they're really letting Bush have it but oops, it turned out to be someone talking about John Edwards. It made me laugh out loud. Because if there's one human being on the planet not fit to be President of the United States, it's that megalomaniac hick who's currently holding the office. But that's just the tip of the unintentionally funny iceberg:
Academics should hold a homecoming
At Ben's freshman orientation seminar at the University of Kentucky, the presenters kept absentmindedly referring to basketball as if they were love-struck adolescents daydreaming about Orlando Bloom. At times you felt like reminding them that the basketball program has a university attached to it. One presenter mentioned important holidays: "Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ballgames..." And in an unintentional slap at the football program, one presenter provided parking advice for students attending a "ballgame or a football game." I guess "basket" needs no introduction. In the category of unintentionally funny non-basketball moments, the Parents-Association representative slightly oversold the benefit of the association's Web-based e-mail (as if that weren't available everywhere on the Web for free) by describing it as "e-mail for life."
Lawyers seeking lawyers
Indicator number 11,143 that the Republicans are in trouble: The city of New York expects to arrest as many as 1000 protestors per day at the Republican Convention. The National Lawyers Guild is plaintively pleading for lawyers to provide pro bono services to the thousands who will be arrested.  Seems some people believe the choice of New York as the site and September as the month is more than coincidence.  If you're going to New York to protest, don't forget your "Weapons of Mass Seduction" thong and your "Leave No Billionaire Behind" bumper sticker.  
Treat her like a lady
On a recent Saturday, Louisville radio station WFPK's Laura Shine -- one of the city's finest DJs -- took the day off. Sitting in was former commercial jock Duke Meyer, a man who has struggled to tame his rock-radio tongue since coming to hyper-laid-back public radio. When it came time for Laura Shine's signature "Woman Waves" segment -- a really cool show highlighting women artists -- Duke repeatedly referred to the artists as "ladies" and told a pervy story of wanting to rock Nancy Sinatra's signature boots, whereupon he played the camptastic "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'." Duke: Won't you please join us in the Two Thousands?
Demon businesses, is more like it
I grew up in a retail family, where the customer was always right. Well, it turns out the customer ISN'T always right. Banks and retailers and other companies are giving "demon customers" the boot for being troublesome and unprofitable. Some of these demon customers buy products that include rebates, send in for the rebate, and then return the products. Others simply annoy the companies by tying up salespeople but never buying anything. Gosh, those poor companies. Because THEY would never behave like demons. Those banks would never charge outrageous ATM fees or usurious lending rates or prey on financially strapped people by issuing credit cards charging 18% interest. And those retailers would never use bait-and-switch advertising practices or sell defective products or employ salespeople so rude they make Don Rickles look like the Dalai Lama. Earth to companies: HelLO? Some customers are assholes. It's a hallowed tenet of commerce. In her store, my mom put up with jerks, shoplifters, criminals, tightwads, and the certifiably insane for forty years and never acted like a crybaby about it. She could teach you a thing or two about running a company. "Demon customers." Ha, ha, ha. 
Three nice mice
Laura Rose is volunteering this summer at a pre-school. The other day she came home making fun of (chip off the ol' block) a variation on an old song they taught the toddlers that goes, "Three Nice Mice, Three Nice Mice, See How They Care." I suggested that we've been teaching our children gruesome nursery rhymes about getting things cut off with carving knives and babies falling out of trees and look where it's got us: war, violent crime, and brutality all the world over. So maybe three nice, caring mice isn't such a bad idea. And then after a couple seconds of silence, we rolled our eyes and had a good laugh.
Give a dog a bone
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta recently reported on a study that confirms that people prefer hard work over handouts. The study followed Prince Charles and that guy down at the end of the alley with the grocery cart full of aluminum cans and concluded that Prince Charles seemed less satisfied with his lot in life. No, really, they measured brain activity in two groups of volunteers who were playing money-based computer games. One group had to work to achieve money, the other won money without having to earn it. The brains of those who had to work were more stimulated. No big surprise there. But isn't it funny that the researchers, being American, used *money* as the computer-simulated reward to test the work-vs.-handout theory, presumably ruling out other things worth working for, such as love and happiness and freedom and compassion and beauty and art and romance and peace and honor and kindness and justice and, oh, say, heaven or fostering an attitude of loving kindness toward all sentient beings or even champagne bongs or tekka maki or sex or Krispy Kremes? Less funny: Emory, no stranger to money, got in hot water last year for using brain research to test how people respond to product marketing. Well, ick.  
First gas-station attendants and now this
If you've ever gone to a job interview only to be screened by an HR professional and you looked that HR professional in the eye and thought, "Gee, you couldn't possibly be any more vapid or more bureaucratic or less human or less compassionate or less competent to judge my suitability for this job," you were wrong. Employers are increasingly using *computers* to screen job applicants, forcing them to complete multiple-choice personality profiles online before being selected by the computer to speak with an actual human. At least we're starting to get a clearer picture about which workers can most easily be replaced by robots.
NPR: font of hilarity
A recent "underwriter" of NPR's Morning Edition was something called Dux, which meant that their smooth-voiced narrator had to say what sounded like, "Morning Edition is made possible by ducks." Quack! Another sponsor is an insurance company called Allianz (which sounds on the radio like Ollie Onz). They make the smooth-voiced fellow say, "At Ollie Onz, our vision is for all Americans to achieve financial independence." Now, I'm not one to diss ambitious goals, but I can't help but wonder if Ollie Onz really means ALL Americans, like the 12,000 homeless people in Louisville or the millions of working poor in America or this man and his dog. Hey Ollie, kudos for the optimism, but shouldn't we maybe first think about feeding and sheltering and educating and providing jobs for ALL Americans, ha ha ha?
Coffee of dictators
When violent storms blew through Louisville last Tuesday we lost power and I was forced to go to go to a coffee shop for my morning buzz. The shop is called Starbucks (maybe you've heard of it). It's fun to go there and order a "large coffee" because it drives them nuts if you don't order "grande" or "venti" or "Low-fat mocha valencia half-and-half macciato soy frapuccino chai hold the stupid, made up marketing lingo and leave enough room for pretentiousness." I didn't pay attention to the "Coffee of the Week" written on the chalkboard behind the counter; if I had, I'd have noticed it was something called "Ethopian Sidamo." Of course, the diminutive barista got pissed when I asked for a large coffee and bellowed what sounded like, "venti Saddam-O!" Terrified, I vowed then and there never to fuck with the Starbucks personnel ever again.
It's so important to laugh, don't you think? Send me your unintentionally funny moments.  

Monday, July 12, 2004


Dear Oh, For God's Sake,

Regarding the recent quiz item comparing the culinary output of God and Allah, aren't they one and the same? Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God, they just fight about who has the best messenger. It's kinda like arguing over whether CNN or Fox is better. The news is all the same, but you can choose which channel will cram it down your throat. Anyway, I think He's smart enough to come up with one cross-denominational foodstuff for all His followers. Maybe something with lamb for Mohammed's team, but supersized to attract Jesus' crew.



Dear Scott,

That is a widespread misconception. God and Allah are actually two distinct gods, who maintain a competitive veneer but are in fact quite close buddies, getting together for mojitos after work and occasionally vacationing together in Morocco or Vegas. People often mistakenly believe there is only one of them because they look so much alike. Despite their influence, both are subservient to more powerful gods, including Television and Money.


Oh, For God's Sake


Dear Oh, For God's Sake,

Since Bush has Kentucky in the bag, will you vote for Ralph Nader?

--Ronald Prescott, III

Dear Ronald,

I had a dream the other night that Bush lost the election again but that the Supreme Court gave it to him again and in my dream I started planning to move to another country but the Web was clogged with Americans researching other countries too and we all decided instead to form our own country called Liberalica and so we did and everything was going great and we were all enjoying fair laws and affordable health care and a leg-up for the poor and freedom of speech and regulation of industry and environmental stewardship and quality public education and freedom from economic oppression and equal rights for all and freedom both of and from religion and successful small businesses who had a chance against the giant corporations and freedom of choice and sensible gun laws and clean air and clean water and free beer (hey, it was a dream, OK?) and it was all going really, really well until Bush decided to liberate us by killing us and that's when I woke up in a cold sweat and remembered hey, it's still several months until the election and I am going to vote for John Kerry.

But I did vote for Nader in the last election (hey, are you rolling your eyes with me or at me?) but I only did it because I knew Bush was going to win Kentucky in a landslide, so it was a protest vote. And in Kentucky, choosing between a Demlican and a Republicrat usually means choosing between a right-wing conservative and a really, really, really right-wing conservative, both of whom just want to argue about who hates homosexuals more. By voting for Nader I was saying these two parties both suck so I'm not participating in the whole Republicrat thing and if we're ever going to get away from this huge problem, we're going to need a third party to do it and what the hell, Ralph has some good ideas (plus I got an icky feeling when Al gave Tipper that tongue bath at the convention). But that was back before it all went to hell. That was back before this administration stole the election and revoked personal freedoms and lied to the country so it would support a war and outted a CIA agent and killed, killed, killed, killed in a display so bloodthirsty that wolves and sharks and lions everywhere are probably going, Jesus Christ, George, you're giving me a stomachache over here, knock it off with the goddamn bloodletting, already, willya? That was back when we were worried about quaint shit like the dot-com bubble bursting and layoffs and the greedy health-insurance companies and social security's solvency. Remember those heady days? Seems like a million years ago, doesn't it? That was back when we were cocky enough to want a third party, whereas nowadays we'd gladly settle for a president who simply won't ruin the world in America's name.

But here's the thing: I like John Kerry. It's not just that I'm going to vote against Bush (although I will savor the living hell out of voting against Bush). Kerry's about restoring jobs and rebuilding the economy and making some sense out of Iraq and access to affordable health care and defending America and fixing Bush's education mess and a greener America and a principled foreign policy and making college affordable. What's not to like?

And is it just me or are the Republicans really struggling to find something bad about Kerry that the people don't see through? He's stiff? He waffles? He's too liberal? Is that all they got? He's not stiff: he's articulate. That's something Americans aren't accustomed to the past four years, so it sounds a little funny to the ears. Trust me, we'll get used to it. He's not a waffler: he's a thinking man. He carefully examines issues and understands that this is a big, ol' goofy country with a whole lot of different viewpoints to consider. That is also known as thoughtful leadership. He's too liberal? He's actually quite conservative on the war and gay marriage and other issues, but hey, nobody's perfect. Besides, even if we actually ever elected a truly liberal president and congress, it would take at least eight years to back this train far enough out of Right-wing-ville to even be able to spot a centrist government from here.

OK, I'm not delusional. I know things have gotten so ugly that no matter who wins, the nation will be harder to reunite than Charles and Diana. (Sorry. Too callous? How about OJ and Nicole? Still too much? OK, OK, Ben and J-Lo. Ya happy?) And I know that the Republicans will make sure Kerry's policies are more hamstrung than a Baptist virginity-pledge teen at a spring break Aqualube orgy -- what, again? Geez, you people. OK, more hamstrung than Ken Griffey with a new contract -- (see Clinton, Bill: health care reform). And that Kerry will have to sell his soul to get consensus (see Clinton, Bill: welfare reform; etc.). Uh, what was the question again? Oh, yeah. Nader.

Look, this is serious shit. This is no time for fooling around. I'm voting for the winner: President John Kerry. Won't you join me? He's going to win. And who knows, he might even take Kentucky.

And then after he wins I'll start complaining about him. Because, you know, that's my job.


Oh, For God's Sake

Write to OFGS. Link

Monday, July 05, 2004

So I was halfheartedly flipping through the channels and I decided to nurture this show called something like, "Not-in-the-mainstream-of-sexual-orientation Eye for the Pretty-much-would-schtup-anything Guy," and they got to talking about "product." For awhile, I thought they were talking about drugs because of the hushed and reverent way they were speaking but it turns out they were talking about stuff you put on your hair after you wash it.

Now, I am not exactly a slave to such things. I am that guy in the office for whom every day is "Casual Friday." My collection of pants includes blue jeans, black jeans, khaki jeans, and jean shorts. On the three or four occasions per year when I have to wear dress shoes, I whine about it to everyone I meet. I do not own a necktie. My belt has been known to not match my shoes.

So for the most part I am as blissfully unaware of fashion as George Bush is of nonviolent reconciliation. But I knew that. What I didn't know is how completely oblivious I was to the whole world of "product." The first thing I learned is that no matter how many of them you use, product is always singular. You can (and you will. Oh, you will.) use a dozen product but they will always be product, never products. Also, whenever you talk about your product, you should always drop your voice as if you were discussing the Immaculate Conception or a large cocaine deal or the towers coming down or a co-worker with an unwanted pregnancy or someone recently deceased. For instance, if you buy some hair-care items, then go out for a few beers with the guys, you might whisper as if slightly awestruck, "Dude, I just scored some new product." (By the way, "dude," like "product," is always singular.)

One reason I was oblivious to all of this is that I went for approximately twenty years without what most reasonable people would call a "haircut." I don't know why; it just never seemed like the time. For much of this period, I glistened with the lubrication of youth and my hair shone with the moisture of a L'Oreal model after a rosemary mint conditioning rinse, regardless of the fact that my life was product-free. My grooming routine consisted of shampoo, rinse, shake, and go. When my hair got in my way, I'd put it in a ponytail.

Somewhere in there -- I'm guessing during Reagan's second term -- I started conditioning. It was my first true experiment with product, though of course we didn't call it that back then. We didn't know the street names. I didn't really notice a difference in my hair, but I stuck with it. It was probably peer pressure. What can I say? It was a time of just saying no. And then rolling your eyes.

I continued to use conditioner loyally, believing I was doing my part for both proper hair care and the economy. I was pretty happy with the way things were going. But one day a few months ago it seemed like time for a haircut, so I got one. My hair isn't short now, but it's not long either. I can no longer put it in a ponytail. That's when the problems started. One day after a walk my hair was windblown, giving me a slight serial-killer or grunge rocker 'do. When I grumbled about it, Mary suggested I use some gel. I'm not sure, but I think I heard Jefferson Airplane music playing faintly in the distance.

Of course, I fought the idea. The way she said it sounded a lot like a scene from Dazed and Confused. But the problem didn't go away, so I finally tried some of her Citre Sheen. I was instantly sold. My hair did exactly what I expected it to do. The experience was just a tad bit more David Schwimmer than I liked to admit but that was a small price to pay for not looking like an extra from Night of the Living Dead.

I was still in denial but I'd already become a heavy product user. I was shampooing, conditioning, and gelling. I caught myself comparing product in magazine ads in the dentist's office. I found myself watching back to back episodes of "Not-likely-to-get-legally-married-or-even-access-to-decent-benefits Eye for the Can-barely-bathe-himself-but-drives-a-Porsche Guy." I was becoming strung out on product.

Then one day, Mary scored some new product. This time she had this tiny vial of product called miracle serum. I sneaked a peek at the label. It claimed to help "damaged" hair. I gulped. Could my hair be damaged without my even knowing? I thought I'd better give the serum a try. I felt silly because I didn't even know how to use it. The label said to apply just two drops. Two drops to my entire head? How was I supposed to do that? Finally, I squeezed two drops into one palm and rubbed it all around my hands. It seemed to disappear. I rubbed my hands through my hair anyway, figuring it was probably a scam. When my hair dried, I could not believe the difference. It was specTACular.

So now, I'm in deep. I'm shampooing, conditioning, gelling, and seruming. I have fantasies about revitalizing, detangling, pomading, balming, laminating, retexturing, emulsifying, curl-boosting, and reviving.

But the truth is, my hair has never looked better. And I think I could quit at any time if I thought things were spiraling out of control. I could go cold turkey. Sure, it might be rough for a few weeks, but I could tough it out. Maybe there's even a clinic where I could dry out without getting damaged.

But until then, I'm totally into product. So... anybody got a line on some loofah? I hear good things...