Monthly Archives: May 2011

Racism is Stupid

Made by my very good friends at Plan B Improv. I love these guys.

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In Honor of Memorial Day

While Memorial Day is a day to celebrate those who have fallen, making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  At the same time, you have to admit, the American Armed Forces is pretty good at causing damage to the other guys too.

Just remember. Yes, sometimes Americans do fall in battle, and we’re both sad and grateful to them. At the same time, the ones that live can make you fucking explode when you’re hiding behind a brick wall from a mile away.

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Memorial Day Ribs-A Half Assed “How-To”

Today is memorial day.  A day intended for America to sit back and meditate on the fact that people have actually fought for our country and died for it.  Regardless of your feelings on America’s role as the world’s greatest war machine, the military industrial complex, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on that dedication at home with your loved ones.  And well, if you’re going to doing all that, you have the time to make something good to eat with all that meditation.

Ribs.  Ribs, in addition to surrounding vital organs with a bony protective cage, are delicious if cooked properly.  There are different kinds of ribs.  Today, we will be making baby back ribs.  If you go to a different foodie-friendlier, they can explain to you how the different ribs, spare, baby back, etc, are all the same ribs just cut from different sections. So, no, baby back ribs are not actually from a tiny pig, or from the thorax of an infant, no matter how ultra-metal that might sound.  Except for beef ribs.  Those actually come from cows rather than pigs.  Kudos to you if you figured that out.

So the first part is the easiest, actually procuring the ribs themselves.  Unless you choose to tackle a pig and proceed to slaughter and butcher it on the spot, they’re usually easily found at the grocery store.  Luckily when summer holidays start creeping up, they go on sale.

The ribs, still in packaging

So now that you’ve gotten your ribs, you want to give them a good rinse, as pork is often packaged in a saline solution that attempts to keep the pork moist and juicy when you cook it.  After rinsing it, depending on the size of the ribs you bought, you might need to trim it up to make sure it will actually fit on your grill.

Our ribs, trimmed up to fit on the grill

Now that our ribs are more managable, it’s time to put the rub on them.  In the picture above, the rub is the reddish-orangey-brown substance in the bowl.  Rubs are a way of adding a quick extra burst of flavor to your ribs and concentrating the flavor in the meat.  Again, more descriptive foodie blogs will give you exact details on how to make your rub simply superlative.  Yours truly simply prefers to mix paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, chipotle powder, cayenne powder, cumin, mustard, and salt and black pepper.  While some people have a very careful specific rub recipe, I simply like to mix ingredients together in what proportions seem correct to my eyeballs and stick my finger into it and taste it.  If it tastes like barbecue rub should taste, I stop.  Otherwise, I add what seems to be missing from the desired list of spicy savory and sweet flavors that are what make barbecue great.  I like to use other ingredients in my rub, but to impart these would ruin the age old tradition of barbecue secrecy… that is to say, if you knew everything I already put in my ribs, then why would you ever want to come over for dinner?

Rubbed Ribs

Ribs with rub applied, just begging to hang out in wood smoke

So now the ribs have received a thorough rub down in seasoning.  I like to leave the rub thick enough that after cooking, it becomes a crunchy flavorful crust upon the rib meat.  So now are ribs are ready, eager to spend some time in the delicious hickory sauna that will allow them to transform themselves from mere sections of a swine carcass that upset members of PETA into proper barbecue.

True, if you don’t have the ability to cook foods over flame or add smoke, then you could stop at this point and put them in your oven at 250 for 5 hours, and they’d be edible… sort of.  The key to making pork transcend its mere existence as simple sustenance and become the American art form that is barbecue is embodied in the phrase “low and slow is the way to go.”  This is because animals’ muscles are connected by tough stringy connective tissue.. membranes, ligaments, all made of collagen.  Collagen renders down at about 200 ish degrees and just melts away.  Cooking at low temperature allows the collagen to break down and soak into the meat.  Leaving it moist and ridiculous.  Add in fragrant wood smoke, and now you’re really talking.

Adding in just the right amount of smoke is where the real artistry occurs.  People have devised several different ways of adding just the right amount of wood smoke without over cooking the meat.  Today, I am using a Weber Kettle Gold 22.5″ model.  While it is not necessarily optimized for smoking like some other smokers, such as the Big Green Egg or Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, it is a great all around grill that allows both slow indirect cooking and high temperature direct heat grilling for things like steaks and hamburgers.

Fueling our Weber kettle today is Trader Joe’s charcoal briquettes.  While I have used Cowboy brand charcoal in the past, I’ve been a long time fan of all things Trader Joe’s and trust that I won’t be disappointed.  All I must do is load it in my chimney starter, a method of starting charcoal that requires no lighter fluid but gets the coals burning just as fast, and I’ll soon be grilling!

Chimney starter in the Weber Kettle

The coals take forever to get started, but soon enough, they’re ready and I can get my indirect cooking setup together.  Indirect cooking allows the cook to use the heat of the coals to cook their food in a way similar to that of an oven rather than putting the meat directly over flame, where it is more likely to burn.

Preparing for indirect grilling

As can be seen in the picture above, I am preparing to use the “Minion method” in which I put fuel in the grill before placing hot coals on top of them, so that as the coals burn down, the fire will simply move into the fuel below.  Also, I am using hickory, as it is a traditional smokewood that always goes well with pork.  I’m also using some oak and applewood chips to supplement the flavor that I’ve begun soaking before adding them to the grill.

Oak and Applewood chips soak up water for a slower burn during my rib cook.

Now that the chips are soaked and my coals are getting nice and hot, it’s time to add the hot coals to my unlit coals and put the chips in as well.  Additionally, I’ll be using the casserole dish as a water pan, making sure that the inside of the kettle stays nice and humid so that our meat won’t dry out.

indirect cooking ready to go

With our charcoal briquettes, hickory chunks, applewood and oak chips all ready and water pan in place, we're almost ready to go!

Now that everything is in place, we put the grate back on top of the grill and cover it up to let the entire thing get nice and hot. After five minutes is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Rubbed up, bathing in hickory, apple and oak essence, getting ready to render fat and collagen… A thing of beauty for sure!

But, unfortunately, there is an old barbecue addage… if you’re looking, you’re not cooking!  Time to cover it up and only peek every now and then to make sure there’s enough fuel.  After a few hours, I’ll wrap them up in foil and cover them up to make sure they don’t dry out.

My Weber kettle, vents all but closed to give me a good low barbecue temperature, covered up and cooking!

After about four hours, I decided to wrap them up in foil.  After about an hour in foil, I sauced them.

Foiled ribs get hit with sauce

What’s in the sauce?  Again, some other blog will tell you about how to make an amazing sauce, I just start off with Sweet Baby Ray’s as a base, and then add things like apple cider vinegar, honey, sriracha, etc. till I think it tastes like it should.  After a half hour or so, I took them off the grill.

Finally of the grill

Finally off the grill!


The outside got cooked a little more than I had planned on.  I probably should have foiled them earlier in the cook.  Using foil is paradoxical.  The longer the ribs are wrapped in foil, the less chance there is of them absorbing smoke flavor.  At the same time, the longer they are unwrapped, the higher the chance of the meat drying out.  Did my meat survive?

They most definitely survived!

The rub became a crunchy chewy layer of smokey meaty spicy goodness.  Below that was tender juicy meat with not a hint of toughness.

Perfection. The meat is almost falling apart, it separates cleanly off the bone, and the surface is a perfect combination of smokey rub and a pink smoke ring.


Happy Memorial Day!

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This is just awesome. Dabrye and MF Doom: Air (remix)

Seriously… this is just awesome.

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It’s Wedding Season!

This is the time of year when people have decided that if you love each other enough, you should get married.  A wedding is an odd affair (pun intended)… it’s taking the special bond between two people, a particularly intimate thing, and deciding that it needs to be shared with the most important people of your life, and their plus ones.  It’s the ultimate public display of affection.  Sure, I would imagine someone being fellated in Times Square probably has more eyes on them, and thus it is a MORE public display of affection, but let’s face it: it requires neither fancy outfits or the need to hire a caterer or DJ.

Because we all know, gay or straight, two people don’t really love each other unless there’s a guy wearing sunglasses inside a catering hall behind two turntables trying to get the crowd to get FUNKY!!!  On a random side note, there are those of us who feel especially uncomfortable at weddings, because well, we just don’t dance that well.   When I’m at a wedding, it always starts off like “Come on!!!  Get out and dance!!!  Come on!!! Everyone’s doing it !!!”  Five minutes after I’m dragged out onto the dance floor, there’s nothing but a crowd of people staring back at me, muttering “why would he do that to her on special day?!”  A wedding is one of the last big parties or milestones you’ll ever get to have in your life.

Weddings make sense if you plan on having kids, which is a bit of an egotistical act in and of itself these days.  In the time before modern contraception, producing children was just the natural end of one’s lust/love.  Too many drinks, and nine months later, your boo might be dead…  Child birth was nothing to mess around with.  Nowadays with all of the modern methods one can use to prevent a child being conceived, it almost seems like it’s more work to try to have a child.  And in this overpopulated world we live in, where resources are becoming harder and harder to come by, it seems a bit self-centered to think to ones self, ” obviously, my genes are so important that they need to continue spreading… and I am so smart, this child will obviously have the potential to be a productive member of society, but with my parenting, we’re talking future leadership of the world.”  Chances are you’re probably going to just breed another average offspring who will in turn father a really ambitious… blog.  Just kidding, we all know anyone who writes a blog has something important to say.

If you’re not planning on having children, then you’ll probably be getting married to show everyone you care about how much you love the person you’re with, and how absolutely stunningly beautiful you can be for a few hours, and how you will never ever have to try that hard to maintain your appearance again… if you’re a woman.

If you’re a guy, you’re going to this really big party your girlfriend wanted to have where she invited her parents and you had to go.  To quote a fellow stand-up comic and personal friend, Philadelphia-raised Norolk resident, Barry Jones, “a wedding is like a funeral.  But with a DJ.”  Because to men and women, one ceremony, and the state it entails can mean completely different things.  To many women, it is likely the epitome of everything she has strived for.  A fantasy that has roots in the genetic need compelling her to find someone to father her children and is fed like a cancer by Disney Princess cartoons.  The end result 0f which is either living happily ever after or finding someone else to make her feel happy.

For some men, marriage begins as making their bridezilla happy.  After the honeymoon, it becomes trying to keep his new wife happy even though she is depressed that the rest of the marriage cannot live up to the initial ceremony.  To save their failing marriage, they have a baby.  Soon she has gained weight from pregnancy and is further depressed that he no longer finds her attractive.  This depression soon metastasises itself into resentment that eventually ends in divorce.  In the divorce, the man likely loses custody but must pay both alimony and child support, but will not likely be able to see his children.  Okay… so marriage won’t necessarily end in either a fairy-tale come true fantasy or a man being married to a confused woman who takes his money and child.  It does happen, but it’s not necessarily the norm.  Lots of people have healthy marriages.  Like my parents.  They almost have one.

In all seriousness, a wedding is the last check point of a serious relationship.  If you’ve actually found someone who, you not only love, but you also think has the wherewithal to help you build the rest of your life, then you’re lucky.  The thing to remember is that a wedding is just a party.  The real part that doesn’t make it into romantic comedies starring Matthew McConnaughey, that they don’t have a great club-banger about is that relationships are work.

And open bars.  Remember to have an open bar at your wedding.  All this love talk makes me thirsty.

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And now, a blog referencing a blog, referencing a vlog

Aforementioned friend of Brendan Kennedy’s blog, the lab, again posted a link today, featuring Narduar interviewing NERD/Pharrel. What makes this video so impressive is that he knows so much about Pharrel and where he’s from and what he’s into, that the rapper/producer is left speechless. Video after the jump.

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Improv: Freeze Tag!

This is pretty much my favorite local show, and this is a really fun improv game.  When the performers are having fun, the audience enjoys it too, and something magical happens.

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In Defense of Carbs, Gluten

With my time being unemployed, I have had time to explore things that interest me, even things I never knew I was interested in. Before my employment ended, I spoke with my girlfriend’s sister who began making bread every Sunday as a cost-cutting measure. The logic of it all jumped out and slapped me in the face. Bread is simply flour, water, microbes and time, give or take a few extra ingredients (all my Jewish readers, if you like egg in your bread, challaaaaaah).

I’m sorry.

At any rate, I figured I’d start making my own bread. What first began as naan I made to go with the Indian Lentil and Chickpea soup slowly began to evolve, as I became enraptured in the mysteries of making bread. From three simple ingredients, one can go in so many different directions. Flour, water and yeast, and you have Wonderbread. Adjust the recipe/proportions just a little bit, and you have a ciabatta bread. Add some flour to your yeast as it proofs, and be amazed at the new complexity of microbes that will take your bread in yet a different direction.

One of the author’s early attempts

Amazingly enough, if you simply mix flour and water together and let it sit, microbes in the air will combine with microbes already on the surface of the granules of flour… and you will have a foamy concoction that will make your bread delightfully sour.   Indeed, from what seems like useless white powder, and water, one can make the very thing Jesus claimed he had turned his body into (if you’re Catholic). Transubstantiation in multiple forms… he who bakes is able to perform an alchemical act of sorts.

I am now addicted to the biological manipulations that are making bread… sufficiently making sure the proteins are aligned in the bread such that the dough will have proper structure… manipulating which microbes are in action… even manipulating the temperature and pace with which they act. Though modern technology lets me know what exactly I am doing, which chemical processes are happening, I am still part of something that has been happening since thousands of years ago someone accidentally let their grain get wet. Simultaneously, by making bread, I am exploring my own future and past at the same time.

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Misery Wheat Wine Style Ale

On a recent trip to Blacksburg, I was lucky enough to visit one of the most amazing places in all of Virginia, the Vintage Cellar. For the uninitiated, the Vintage Cellar is a small shop that specializes only in beer and wine. Their staff is solely populated by people who are passionate about the store’s product. My forays into alcoholic snobbery started at this place. So, on my most recent journey to Blacksburg, I had to visit this place. I felt like a kid in a candy store. A six foot tall hairy kid with a beer gut from drinking too much.

Glass bottles covered the walls and filled crates on the floor. Inside each bottle, a different adventure and a different back story. This one, a Zinfandel from California, that one a proper Chianti Classico from Italy. I walked deeper into the store and felt as though I’d entered some ancient catacomb, looking to find the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. And there I saw it.

Misery. Now, as I’ve learned through years of drinking, a fearsome name isn’t necessarily a good thing. Upon closer inspection of the label, I found it was a “Wheat Wine-Style Ale.” This intrigued me, as I’ve had many a tangy wheat beer, and several, probably too many barley wines, but never a wheat wine. The back label describes it as “a full bodied, dark golden ale with a thick, off white head and enticing citrus aroma that lures you toward its unique swirl of tropical fruit esters.”

So they’re being subtle on this one. Well that’s enough talk. Let’s put Misery in a glass and see what I think. And no, I’m not talking about Colt 45 this time.  In the glass, (finally) it’s truly a sight to behold.  Coppery orange with a fluffy head, likely helped along by the wheat’s higher protein content.  A smell of the bottle gives me a blast of tropical fruit esters, caramel, and a yeastiness that seems warm and welcoming.  Bold American hops come through in the initial smell… nice work on the late additions.

And that ends our review.

Oh wait, drink it?  Well, yea, I guess I could do that.


The taste is almost syruppy… residual malt sugar is balanced out by citrusy hops.  Wheat’s natural tanginess rounds out the flavor.  While there is enough bitterness to balance the maltiness, it won’t impress hopheads used to drinking double IPAs.  Rather, what IS very interesting is that rather than concentrate on bitterness, DuClaw Brewing Company has made a balanced beer with a hoppiness that puts more effort into flavor than IBUs.  It’s 10% alcohol content is not ignored.  Esters and higher fruity fusel alcohols give the beer a complexity of flavor that I know will lead to a complexity of hangover if I drink more than one of these in a night.

And so here I am, drinking the last bits of my souvenir from Virginia Tech.  And now I get it what the back label is trying to me… that when my glass is empty, I’ll truly be in misery.

Check out the Vintage Cellar next time you’re in Blacksburg, and if for more info on the other beers provided by Du Claw, go to Du Claw Brewing Co..

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Storytelling Night

This is a project that I run in Norfolk.  It all started one day when I was listening to my local NPR station, WHRV, and they played some samples from the Moth Radio Hour.  I was spellbound.  I’d heard of the moth being mentioned a few times on PRI’s This American Life, but I’d never heard the hour long radio show. People told stories, and that was it. And it was incredible. Some stories were hilarious, the kind of thing I’d have heard the grown-ups belly laughing to after a few beers at one of my parent’s parties. Then, some of them were touching in ways I would never have imagined could be touching.

There were times when I had definitive driveway moments, completely unable to cut the engine to my car, worried that I would miss part of the story.  And then I realized, they had set up shows like this all over the place.  People coming together and telling stories of their own.  Being a stand-up comedian, and one to spin a yarn occasionally, I wanted to see what was like it in my area of Hampton Roads.

There was nothing.

The first time I tried to do it, I tried it at a martini lounge in Chesapeake.  It didn’t go well.  I tried it in Norfolk at a bar that had earned a good following, thanks to the management of Bradford Davis, a guy who likes to make good things happen.  The one show we did was awesome, but the new management was impossible to work with.  Seriously, they wouldn’t answer the phone.

So we followed Bradford to a place called Hooligans.  Bradford had converted the top floor of Jack Quinns on Granby Street in Norfolk to an awesome bar that had much less of a bar that was begging people to come in, and more of a bizarre punk-rock speak-easy that you were lucky to be a part of.

Here, Storytelling Night was a once a week affair, and it developed a healthy following.  Unfortunately, due to a change in management, Hooligans as we know it ceased to exist.  Luckily, it’s now at the Belmont House of Smoke, located right smack in the heart of Ghent (maybe not geographically, but emotionally), at  the intersection of 21st street and Colonial.

So far, this night is getting stronger with age.  The people who have tried telling stories in the past have gotten better at it, yet the microphone is always open to anyone who wishes to try it for the first time.  We did it last Sunday, May 22nd, and it was amazing.  Talks are with management to schedule the next one, but stay tuned.

Also, for more easy updates to the information about storytelling night, check out the Facebook page, and become its friend: Storytelling Night at Belmont.

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