The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Three Guys in the Kitchen

It was a great idea the Great Mushnik and Silent bill had the other night -- to try out the Bernal Supper Club, which is nothing but three chefs who cook together on their night off from working in other joints. They have been operating out of a house in Bernal Heights but currently use The Corner on Mission and 18th Streets, on Monday nights only.

A small menu with few choices and really good food. That risotto above was delicious as well as the millet cake with a fried egg down below. You don't see Plottie's split pea soup which was maybe the best of all.

Everything is changing. A chef has to find it difficult to open the doors of a restaurant six or seven nights a week -- not only rent, but all the up-front costs and city permits to deal with. This way, these guys have a paycheck coming in six nights a week and get to do what they love on Mondays.

Apparently, they come in at 11am with the ingredients for the food they're going to cook, then make everything up fresh and serve it out that night. When the food's gone they're gone too.

It was a lot of fun. This will be a new paradigm for sure, around the country. It already is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Endorsements Phooey

Plotnik saw an article in the Morning Bird Wrap about the country singer Randy Travis performing at a benefit for Michelle Bachmann. Now Plotnik wishes Travis would take Bachmann, turn'er into overdrive and toss her off a cliff somewhere, but forgetting about politics Plotnik remembers that he likes Randy Travis's voice. The music bores him silly but he is always taken in by the sound of that pure country voice.

Now that it's politico season 24/7 for the next two years, there will be other singers and bands performing for various candidates, most of them doing it, Plotnik suspects, out of a commitment that is 10% candidate, 40% good business and 50% because their manager told them to. Musicians and politicians just don't partner up all that easily, because musicians like to take stands. They have to write or sing their songs about SOMETHING, not just against EVERYTHING.

So Plotnik is thinking he could invite Randy Travis and Bruce Springsteen and Mick Fleetwood and all the others who have done plugs for politicos, into one room, pull out the chips and guacamole and hang out with everyone having a great time. The musical compromise would probably be The Rolling Stones. The discussion would be about songs and music and guitar strings and microphones and other great stuff like that. Government would not come up. Politics would not come up. Maybe football, but maybe not.

Now, imagine a room with Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney in it. What would be their choice of music? Plotnik thinks Yanni. They all love Yanni, he's sure of it. Bachmann's husband loves Barbra Streisand, of course. But the others adore Yanni.

Romney would be furious he couldn't talk anyone into watching the PBS Pledge Drive.

Plotnik thinks there would be a scuffle and Bachmann would be the only one left standing, though if she set foot in Texas afterwards Perry would execute her.


Monday, August 29, 2011

California Smile Jalapeno Hot Sauce

Hot red chilies have finally arrived at the Farmer's Markets. Saturday Plotnik bought these Thai "Smile" chiles at Allemany, called "Smile," the lady said because "dey so hot dey make a people smiles." Then when he got home he checked the chiles to discover too many were already drying out. To make the very tastiest Louisiana-style Hot Sauce, you need the freshest chiles. So yesterday he went down to City Hall and found red jalapenos. It doesn't really seem to matter what kind of red hot chiles you use in terms of taste. Classic Tabasco Sauce is made with Avery Island Tabascos, but every culture has a hot sauce made from whatever hot chile they've got growing nearby.

So this year's hot sauce will be called California Smile Jalapeno Hot Sauce and if it's anywhere as good as last year's we will all be very happy.

What you do is you cut the tops off the chiles, chop them all up in the food processor (open ALL windows please), then blend half by themselves and half with a lot of garlic cloves. Then put the mash without garlic in one crock and the mash with garlic in another crock. You add kosher salt and wait as long as you can while they all ferment together. Plotnik usually allows one month, until the smell gets pretty intense when he takes the covers off the crocks. (The McIllheney Company, who makes Tabasco Sauce, ages their mash for three years in oak barrels, like they're aging wine.)

When you're done aging the mash, you add distilled white vinegar, let that sit another week or two, then strain the liquid into bottles. Zingo true 'dat.

This year, Plotnik is making twice as much as he did last year, and hopes to make up four different hot sauces as the chiles become available. They will go into small bottles and be given to selected teflon-coated family members who adore hot sauce. The thing about this stuff is once you start putting it on one thing you try it on another and before long it is on the table at every meal.


However! There is one thing to make sure you remember, if you are making this sauce, and you are male. You can imagine what it is. Please be careful not to forget to wash the hot chile off your hands BEFORE you touch any sensitive part of your body. Do this first, no matter HOW much you think you have to pee.

Or else you will end up screaming like the Great Plotnik, running around the house and then stripping off your clothes and jumping into the shower, only to discover that water, especially hot water, just makes it worse, and so you figure you'll try using shampoo, but then forget, in your distraction, to take the shampoo off your hands before you rub both of your eyes, so now you've got chile chaos down there and shampoo chaos up there and don't say The Great Plotnik didn't warn you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Night Irene. Hello Joan and Kim and Lorna.

The P-Dunk family is in Kingston New York, the Great BZWZ is back home in Providence, The Great Sparker has been evacuated to her brother's house in Atlantic City, the Great LargePants is probably getting rained on, and Tropical Storm Irene is passing out to sea, as understood by everyone except CNN who hoped for a stall over Manhattan and 500 mile an hour winds in Rockefeller Center.

This is how columnists and reporters and weather people make their bones -- with wars and/or natural disasters. They dream of these things. The finest moment for a weather man would have to be a cyclone inside a hurricane on top of an earthquake half a mile from his camera truck.

They may get their chance -- Irene was only the first of many.

BZ reports the St. Lawrence River was beautiful and that the meteor impact crater they went to study was filled with interesting stuff for a geologist. She got one night in Quebec city, which just happens to be where her parents spent their honeymoon.

In September 1970, Plotnik and Ducknik drove from New York City up the Thruway - past where the PDs are right now - all the way to Montreal, then up through Trois Rivieres to Quebec, and then down through Maine and New Hampshire, along the mighty Kennebec River where logs floating to the sawmill were so thick that you could not see the water. Is this still true today? Or do all our trees come from China?

Speaking of trees, Plotnik bought a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood the other day at Lowe's, for Ducknik to turn into doors for BZ's new closet and attic cabinets. But Fritz the Plotmobile can't really carry a heavy piece of plywood on the roof so they had the kid cut down the sheet into exactly the sizes they would need. He made six cuts, each one precise, and presented a little piece of paper to Plotnik with a bill for his labor: $0.75.

"I only charged you for three cuts," he said. Twenty five cents a cut? Jeezo, this isn't a bargain, it's robbery.

Plotnik asked if he was allowed to accept a tip and he said no, he couldn't. So Plottie put a fiver on the saw bench and said "If something got left here do you think you'd be able to find it?" and the kid smiled and said "Yeah. Probably."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Forgot About the Dog

They closed the campground on Cape Cod where The Greats PD, 5H and BB were scheduled to stay until Sunday, so they had to pack up and drive across the Hudson to 5H's old friend Molly's house for the weekend. With all the expected rain it seems crazy to go back to Brooklyn, though Plotnik can't help thinking that he might rather be in his own apartment in Clinton Hill than on the New York Thruway trying to get home on Sunday or Monday with the other 2 1/2 million people who were ordered to leave the city and New Jersey.

This will turn out to be a lot of rain, most likely not much else. But you can't criticize government for not taking appropriate precautions, and then turn around and criticize them for over-reacting.

The Great BZWZ will be driving home from a field trip in Quebec. Providence is on the map of towns with potential weather problems. The East side, where Brown University is, is up on a bluff between the river and the bay. All of Rhode Island is between a river and a bay, or two bays or three bays. Plottie is glad BZ still has a week left in her apartment on the 2nd floor, rather than on the ground floor in the new place where she'll be living ten days from now.

The Great LargePants is riding it out in Provincetown, convinced nothing will happen. None of his neighbors are packing their kimonos and copper cookware into rented U-Hauls either.

Sparky might still be on the Jersey shore, though, and this can't be good.

They say they're going to cut all power in lower Manhattan and probably on the West side of Brooklyn too. So what do you when you live on the forty fourth floor? Plus, all the stores were surely hoarded empty by last week so you can't buy a roll of paper towels or bottle of water, and no delivery trucks can get in, and that goddam dog that got left in the apartment downstairs will NOT stop barking.

Yeah, 'way better to stay away until it's all over.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Remembering the Important Stuff

The Great Plotnik couldn't remember what he'd written in yesterday's post so he went to see. Turns out he hasn't posted anything since Tuesday.

Then he reads that basketball coach Pat Summit has been diagnosed with dementia at age 59. She had trouble remembering where she put her keys.

Plotnik forgets a lot of things these days -- words, mostly. And he watches his mom as she tries so hard to comprehend things -- you have to speak slowly and not try to say too much at once. Somewhere there is a continuum and Plottie and Mummy P. are on it (and you are too).

Memory is precious. Plot used to think it was only about remembering dear things that have happened to you in the past, but it's so much more than that. What do you hold the dearest? What would you do if you couldn't remember how to do it?

When Sal's Mom didn't realize Sal was her daughter, it really struck Plotnik. People outlive their own systems. Plot is hoping his fingers will remember where to put themselves if some day he can no longer communicate with them consciously. And yet Mummy P. was once such a wonderful pianist and now she doesn't touch her piano from one year to the next.

She gets no pleasure from it -- is this because she can no longer do it the way she used to, or because she can't remember how to do it at all? (She also can't hear much and refuses to go for a hearing test.)

OK, this is good. Plotnik just made a note to himself to sit down at the piano with her the next time he's in Stiletto City. She probably can still play even if she's not sure she can. And he knows she will enjoy anything she can create, even if Chopin's Minute Waltz should now be Rosie's Two Note Samba.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Elegant Solution

The Great Plotnik would like you to stare at that photo above and realize, as he does, how elegant a solution The Great Ducknik came up with. It looks so simple. It is not simple.

Of course Ducknik has many other, more traditionally spectacular talents. But lots of people are beautiful and lots of people are smart and lots of people are fabulous moms. How many of these, Plotnik asks you, could stare at that mechanism in the toilet tank (the one where as the tank fills with water after flushing, and the black ball begins to float until it gets high enough to trip the black lever on top, and then the lever flips upward, closing the valve which has been letting water into the tank through that white plastic tube, and thus the cycle is completed and the water stops rushing into the tank, except when it doesn't, when it stops working, always in the middle of the night, and the water does not shut off at all, but keeps running out that white plastic tube so it makes just enough noise that you think you can fall asleep again anyway, but you can't, so you shuffle into the bathroom, take the top off the tank, slam the blasted black lever with your finger, grumbling all the while, until the water stops) -- just stare at it, until she figured out not only what the problem was but had several ideas about how to fix it?

Plotnik could do the staring part. In fact, he DID do that. He owns power tools. He loves the fiction that he can fix anything that goes wrong and therefore he and Ducknik will never have to call an expensive electrician or butt-crack plumber.

The truth is Ducknik does all that. Plotnik can only do the stare part, not the figure-it-out part. He knew he could just buy a new mechanism for $40 bucks or so and spend two hours putting it in. He's done that before.'s only one little tiny plastic piece that wasn't working. Why not? He stared at the damned thing and couldn't figure out why it wasn't working or what to do with it.

Ducknik was already at the bat rack, putting on her helmet. Plotnik moved out of the way.

Ducknik realized right away that the three black prongs at the foot of the little black lever were supposed to revolve on a thin white plastic pin (no longer visible because it has been replaced by You Know Who), which was now obviously no longer functioning so the lever could not rotate on it. The pin was impossible to lubricate because it sits in a tiny cavity you can't get to unless you have fingers made out of -- well, copper wire. Hmm, copper wire.

Somehow Ducknik managed to bust the little plastic piece out and replace it with just the right length of copper wire (copper will not rust), on which the little black arm could now rotate, after the black ball rose just enough to activate it, after the water began rushing back into the tank after flushing. It looks so easy. It was SO hard to figure this out.

A little green electrical thingamabob finished it off. Plotnik doesn't know what it is doing there but he is sure there's a reason.

All those weddings he and Brother Jimmy Street played, two or three or sometimes four every weekend for a lot of years. All those toasts, all those Lionel Richie songs, all that I Will Love You Forever. Nobody EVER mentioned repairing a toilet tank mechanism or changing someone's flat tire or being willing to carefully trim the arugula or do a special wash or help the other person when they've spilled something stupid on the rug or take the time to find that lost ear ring or hurry down to Walgreen's for cough syrup or the million other things that people in relationships that have lasted do for each other.

But it's always all about the details, isn't it? Plotnik doesn't want to make too big a thing out of this but he has been flabbergasted for more than forty years and he is still flabbergasted this morning. How does she do it? How does she see these solutions? Where does this creativity in understanding how things work come from?

It's not from his family, that's for sure. And the good thing is the gene seems to pass from the mother to the children.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pappardelle with Mushrooms, Oregano and Pecorino

Haven't posted food pictures in awhile. So how about Pappardelle with Mushrooms, Fresh Oregano and Pecorino. marinated red peppers and taboule with preserved lemons?

The secret is to cut off all the stems from the mushrooms and cook them down in 2C chicken (or vegetable) broth until the liquid is reduced to 1C. Then you strain the broth and use it to make the sauce with the mushrooms, fresh oregano and pecorino. It gets better every day it's left over too.

Preserved lemons are so easy to make and they last in the fridge forever -- Plottie's still using the one jar he made in February and that'll last at least another year. In addition to them, this tabboule has arugula, mint, parsley, scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, allspice, a lemon vinaigrette and plenty of salt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Plotnik just took an unexpected jaunt down memory lane. In The Great Mushnik's blog this morning, he was lamenting being unable to find anything to watch on TV on a Saturday night, to the point of even having surfed past Lawrence Welk. He's still on!

Grammy and Grampy Plotnik LOVED Lawrence Welk. In the 1950s they would make us watch with them if we were staying over on a Saturday night. It was dreadful even then.

The only other show Plotnik remembers his grandparents watching was "The Goldbergs." It starred Gertrude Berg, who was known as Molly Goldberg on the show, and who wrote, produced and owned the show, first on radio in the 1930s and then on into the mid 1950s on TV. Grammy and Grampy P. would laugh hysterically at the warblings of the stereotypical Jewish mama living in a tenement in the Bronx. Plottie's grandpa had come from Rumania and his grandma from Ukraine, and neither had ever lived in the Bronx, but Molly Berg really made them happy. She was their soul food.

So Plot Googled her this morning. What an interesting story. A fascinating sidelight is that on radio she had a husband, Jake, played by an actor who died in 1945. So she just continued the part, always having him off-mike, so she would repeat the words he would have spoken if he'd really been there.

Then, when Berg convinced CBS execs that her show would run successfully on TV, the husband was played by Philip Loeb. But there was a problem: Loeb had been accused of being disloyal by Senator McCarthy, and so he, like so many others, was blacklisted. This meant nobody in Hollywood or New York would hire him.

When CBS asked Berg to drop Loeb and get another 'husband,' she refused. So they canceled the show. There was such an uproar from the public that NBC decided to sign the show for the following year, but only if Berg dropped Loeb.

So she did -- others played her husband on the show - but she continued to pay Phil Loeb his salary through all the years he was unable to work anywhere as an actor, all the way through 1955 when he committed suicide.

And then NBC decided to 'modernize' the Goldbergs and move them from the Bronx to a suburb, and there the show died.

What does TGP remember about The Goldbergs? Just the old lady, Molly Goldberg, sticking her head out the window. She seemed like Plotnik's and every one else's grandmother, though he knew nothing at all about tenement life. Each show began the same way: Molly would yell "Helll-LOOOOOO!" Grampy and Grammy would also yell "Helll-LOOOOO!," he in his easy chair at the end of the room, next to the little wooden caddy with the holes for his pipes and humidor for his cigars, and her from the sofa, sitting on top of the plastic slipcover, which probably never came off all the years they owned it.

Gertrude Berg died in 1966, which was seven years before the Broadway Musical "Molly" premiered on Broadway.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday in Providence

You point the phone at yourself and you take a picture. The Great PD and The Great BZWZ had lunch yesterday in Providence, along with The Great FiveHead and The Super Belly Bone. BZ is heading off to Canada to research a meteor crater and PD, 5H and BB are on their way to the Cape for two weeks of camping and romping and swimming. Their friend, the chef, is joining them and PD and he have already planned the menus. Does this sound like anyone you know?

Since PD and family were leaving one P-Town en route to the other P-Town where The Great LargePants is in summer residence, Plottie thought he should tell them both to be on the lookout for the other. The tall poet walking by the shore, the beautiful family stuck in traffic on the highway.

But he didn't. The thing is, they could run into each other on the street and neither would recognize the other. Maybe L.P. would write a poem about them. Maybe PD would ask LargePants to recommend a great restaurant with salsa dancing. And no one would be cognizant of the chance connection.

Plottie had to finish the last episode of Season One of "Breaking Bad" by himself last night. The Duck finally just gave up and said "I hate these people." So it looks like Plot is on his own for Seasons two through four. Plot has to admit he isn't crazy about any of them either but he certainly sees where the story arc is going -- everyone breaks the law in one way or the other.

The problem is meth sucks. It truly does. So you've got to root for the characters. Ducknik has decided she's not gonna bother. Plot kind of agrees -- but he'll keep at it for awhile.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Muppets are Dead

It's a pity about Oscar, Kermit, Piggy, Grover, The Count, Don Money and the rest of them. They are apparently too old to work anymore, so they've been taken over by the younger generation. If you loved the old muppets, our advice is you don't go to see "gnurtsnU dna deffutS" which is the new Alternative show starring nosneH miJ's son nairB.

yggiP ssiM must be turning over in her evarg.

Ebola from too much trash did in Oscar, it turned out Kermit had hepatitis all the time and The Count was convicted on a ponzi scheme which took the life savings from Bert and Ernie. So now we get f-bombs and muppets with penises and technology that has finally decided we don't matter, only it does.

I heard the old stoop got razed for the new East Harlem Whole Foods.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ukraine vs. Lapland

Plotnik is watching a day game from Milwaukee right now, with the Plotzers absolutely destroying the Brewers 1-0.  They're MANGLING them 1-0. They're chewing 'em up and spitting 'em out 1-0. Watching the Plotzers is like watching Ukraine vs. Lapland in soccer.

Then, when the camera flashes on the crowd, Plottie realizes it's not Ukraine, it's Sweden. All these Norskies with their chubby, milky white Aryan faces? Fat, blonde kids eating hot dogs and smiling with goofy gloppy buck-toothed grins? They don't look like anyone on the baseball field. Where are the tats and nose rings and hoodies and murder weapons? Where is the facial hair? You call this baseball? What is this country coming to?

Maybe it's all the bratwurst. Maybe the kids are bonged out of their heads or maybe beer is only 75 cents and the minimum drinking age is eight. 

Plottie worked in Milwaukee years ago and it was a fun city, before the Plotzers came to town and depressed everybody. He remembers touring the Miller factory and the Blatz factory, where they give you LARGE samples of all their brews in the middle and at the end of the tour.

Ah, ha! That's it! These kids! Fresh off the Blatz Bus before the game. That'll make your blue eyes red.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Plot's friend Sal wrote yesterday that her mother asked her:  "Are you the only one in your family? Is your mother still alive?" and Sal answered "I think so."

This dementia business is serious stuff, and Sal's an only child. It makes Plottie realize he and his brother Shmeckl still have it easy.  Ducknik said this morning: "it sounds like your Mom is starting to enjoy life again. She sounds so much better." It does seem that way.

Plottie's partner WoG was at the hospital all day yesterday with his mother, who was having surgery. WoG's mom doesn't seem to do much these days when she's home -- just kind of sits on the sofa and stares. Sal's mom doesn't even know who Sal is. Plottie is feeling thankful right now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Up and At 'em

Is this the perfect Snowy Valley license plate?

There is a play at the New Works Festival sponsored by Theatreworks in Palo Alto. It is called "Upright Grand" and is about a dad who is a piano player and his daughter who becomes one too. This play should not be seen by dads who are piano players with daughters who are far away.

Two young sisters from Honduras just showed up at the door, with flyers advertising their home cleaning services. One look and you know they're honest, anxious to earn an honest living and will take any job they can get and do it well. So much talk about the people who are taking jobs from Americans -- Plotnik has not seen any locals at his door looking for work, except for Crazy Tony with the Eye Patch who smells like beer and wants a 'loan.'

It's Monday. Plot and Duck did a lot of touring last week. It's fun to hang out with The Counselor and the Gobbler of Cobbler, who go home tomorrow, but not in that car. And now it's time to get back to work.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Duck's Sort of Official Party

Ducknik's Sort of Official Birthday Party was last night at World Headquarters. Joe and Pat, Neil and Clyde and Ron and Kathy came too.

Neil and Clyde live in Mill Valley and have been roommates for more than forty years. The family is intertwined in many ways -- Neil and his much-missed sister Annie were Ducknik and Joe's good friends when they were children. Then, after Duck and Joe's mom died and Neil and Annie's dad died, Duck's father married Neil's mom and Neil, Annie, Ducknik, Joe and JJ-aka-PP became family.

Last night, for the first time, Plotnik looked at Neil and could see Ruth, his mom. He thinks it's the eyes.

Ron and Joe were buddies on the same destroyer during the Vietnam War. They've not only maintained their friendship, but Ron and Kathy have just sold their house in Oakland and bought one in Greenville, South Carolina, down the street from Joe and Pat.

It was a fun night: Green curry bbq chicken,, Pantzarosalata (beets, walnuts, garlic), Watermelon/feta/black olive salad,  Mango/avocado salad, Ducknik's hot corn sticks, and Pat's incomparable blueberry cobbler, made with South Carolina blueberries smuggled into California in a certain attorney's suitcase. The cobbler is so good that Pat now has a new name: The Gobbler of Cobbler.

We missed you, JJ-aka-PP, and our four kids too. But look where you all are: 
Atlanta, Brooklyn, Providence, Washington DC and Austin. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chez Panisse Cafe for Duckie's Birthday

The Great Plotnik and Great Ducknik had thought about going to Chez Panisse ever since they moved to the Bay Area, but somehow never had quite gotten there -- until last night. Plottie figured Duck's birthday was a good enough reason to drive across the bridge in Friday night traffic, and it certainly was.

They ate upstairs in the Cafe and split four of the items you see on the menu above -- the jellied chicken terrine and escarole hearts salad, plus the wild nettle souffle and Monterey Bay squid.

Plotnik looks at that list of foods and realizes there are very few people he knows who would think this was even a meal, let alone a good one. But man oh man this was special stuff!

The squid -- usually rubbery like eating a smurf action figure -- at Chez Panisse the chef bakes it in a cast iron pan in the 800 degree pizza oven and it comes out tender as a mama squid's love, with a little sea brine in the taste but not much else except the deliciousness of the calamari.  This was the best since South Africa and that is saying a lot.

The wild nettle souffle -- Duck loved it, Plot thought it was more of an appetizer than a main course, but it was tasty and very light. It came with a relish of corn and chantarelle mushrooms which was as good as the souffle. The terrine and salad, as well as the main courses, were not the kind of dishes you tuck your napkin into your shirt, roll up your sleeves and dive into -- which is to say you got five bites each. Each bite was fantastic -- where do they GET those tomatoes? -- but Plottie WAS thinking (he's only admitting this to you) he might need a rack of ribs after dinner.

But no. He was stuffed. OK not stuffed, but quite satisfied.

The straciatella ice cream was to drop over dead.

Wines: a pretty good Syrah and a delicious Italian weiss burgunder, which means white burgundy in German, though the wine was from Italy and was not a burgundy at all. Go figure. It was delicious.

Plot took no pictures of the food. He sort of -- couldn't.

The Cafe is half the price of the restaurant below. It's not cheap but it's not overstuffed expensive either and you can't get better tasting ingredients. You feel a little bit like you're kneeling at Alice Waters's feet, which is to say you know you're eating at the place that began the entire movement of locally sourced food prepared by French chefs, so you sort of have to love it.

But he did love it, even though he was thinking, beforehand, that he would probably be underwhelmed. He was anything but. He and Duck would go back in a heartbeat with anyone who truly loves to eat.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Zoo

Yesterday's zoo pictures and comments got Plotnik thinking about the different ones he has seen. Of course, he remembers his first zoo, the old one in Griffith Park in Stiletto City whose primitive cages are still up there on the hill behind the new zoo. The old zoo smelled like dried poop, like a stable. This must be Zoo Generic Smell, because Plot smelled it at SF Zoo the other day and it gave him a smile. A little boy was walking by and he said to his mom "Ooh, somebody poo'd." Actually, everybody did.

Plot's grandfather and grandmother used to take him to the Zoo in the green '56 Buick. What he remembers most is cotton candy, huge elephants in small cages, and the plush back seat of that car.

Then there's the Bronx Zoo, not the one with the Yankees in it but the other one, where somebody played a joke on a friend who worked with Ducknik. He called and left a message for his associate to please call Mr. Lyon at such and such a number, which was the zoo's phone number. The guy called the switchboard at the zoo and asked to please speak to Mr. Lyon.

The little one in Central Park which was always a disappointment before they just gave up and started calling it a children's zoo, which is all it ever was.

The Berkeley zoo, which was the University apparently, because by the mid '60s tour buses were cruising up and down Bancroft Avenue seeking anyone with a beard or sandals. When they saw us, they'd stop the bus and people in brimmed hats would stick their heads out the side of the bus and go "oooooooh." The women would hold their hands over their wide open mouths.

Do you think that's how the monkeys feel? Or the gibbons? Or the wallabies? What ARE these people staring at? Here, have a banana.

And of course, the biggest zoo of all -- the two day safari in Kruger Park in South Africa, which was as unforgettable as the big game parks there were hideous. Why would that be? Maybe because anything about Afrikaaners, who were the people who run all those game parks, in their green shorts with pith helmets and shotguns, made us vaguely ill at ease, if not nauseous.

The Kruger safari was another order of business: magnificent in every respect. You never knew when an animal would appear out of the bush -- or could be pointed out by the sharp-eyed Botswanan guide. Plotnik will never forget the moment they spotted the black leopard with their binoculars -- the guide had seen him with his bare eyes off in the distance, somehow, but the huge cat was completely invisible to the rest of us until he twitched one jet black ear. Then he stood up and looked like a sleek Greek god.

How about the snake circuses in Bangkok, where young boys dashed in and out of cobra pits and let themselves get tied up by pythons? Can you call it a zoo if there is nothing but snakes in it?

And who gets to have a zoo? There are small towns with big zoos and big towns with small zoos. San Diego is still the best Plotnik has ever seen, with Singapore probably second.

But to tell the truth, he is not completely sure how he feels about zoos, even after all this time. As a sanctuary for animals endangered in the wild, they are surely wonderful. But as a gawking photo opp for humans? What did people do at zoos before digital cameras and I-phones?

Uncle Joe was right though: Isabella would love SF Zoo. It's just her size and they've got popcorn.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

If it's Saint Plotniko There Has To Be a Zoo

Pat and Joe are in town, and when they're in town you go to the zoo. The Great Ducknik's brother and sister-in-law, who have been married three months longer than Plot and Duck, are traveling quite a bit these days and they hit the local zoo in just about every city they're in.

Plot and Duck hadn't been to SF Zoo in many years -- since before Tatiana the Tiger made a fatal mistake and only ate one of the trio of low-lifes that were tormenting her (not realizing if you get a tiger mad enough and it happens to leap out of its pen you are in serious trouble) and they had to shoot Tatiana and then the dead man's friends ended up suing the zoo and just about bankrupted it. Plot is still mad about that one, in case you couldn't tell.

The zoo is one of those many places you never go to unless out of town guests are visiting. But it's a mistake. There is a lot to see and learn. Did you know an Asian rhino weights 5,000 pounds and can run 50 mph? He's way bigger and faster than the grizzly or the gorilla. Luckily for you, he's got really bad eyesight and lives in China.

After the zoo came a delightful pass through the Picasso show at the de Young, many paintings of which Plot and Duck had seen a few years ago at the Picasso Museum in the Marais in Paris. Picasso was definitely a genius, but the show is 'way over-analyzed, especially on the audio, where they attempt to make political and psychological points about the artist's many artistic periods. Some make sense, some are just silly. So why bother?

it is Plotnik's opinion, and this is the opinion that really counts, that you don't sum up Picasso by his blue period or his red period or his Civil War period or his cubist period, but by his girl friends. Every time he took on a new mistress (and he was still at it well into his seventies) he was inspired into a new style of work. There's the Olga period and the Jacqueline period and the Dora period and probably a Flora and Cora and Shmora period as well.

There are two portraits on one wall, the left one of which is the famous painting of Dora Maar, with her crazy angular face and fingers. It is vibrant and full of bright colors. Next to it is another famous painting of a woman who is probably his wife at the time. The colors are muted and pastel. You can speculate that woman on left is coming in and woman on right is going out.

Picasso wrote that "it must be hard for a woman to see by my work that our relationship is fading."

No lie. Ducknik says she's amazed one of these women's mothers or big brothers didn't just walk up to the great painter and murder him on the spot.

Plotnik loves Picasso. He was sculpting well into his nineties, attempting to use his art as a shield against the inevitable. It worked for a long time.

After the exhibit it was time to eat (again) so after a fairly long wait for a table at Suppenkuche, there were sauerbraten and potato pancakes and herring and these wonderful bratwurst with sauerkraut.

Picasso could not have painted a better plate of brautwurst, though his may have been in cubes and they might have been blue, and a few, at least, would have certainly had breasts. Or they'd have looked like breasts, maybe, according to the guy on the tape.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another New Crew Member: Stella Grace

There is another new crew member in the world: Stella Grace Kass. She is the granddaughter of Captain Crow and Helmsman Finch, and daughter of lovely Sarah Lucas Kass and her husband Jonathon. How nice to know that when it's time to hand over the anchor chain, Cap'n Crow will have any number of willing and capable hands in waiting.

Sarah did it the old fashioned way: see the world, then get married, then boom and boom. Stella's brother Isaiah has someone to steal all his toys now.

Love and Congratulations to all the Lucases and Kasses of Deer Isle and D.C. This is a nice day.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Mnemonic and Delicious Lunch

The photos may not be the most flattering in the world but the food and the company were great. Somehow another year has rolled around and it was time for the Duck's Birthday Lunch with Mushnik and Silent Bill. Dogpatch is a neighborhood that has been down in the dumps forever, until now -- here come the hipsters and artists and new restaurants in the old industrial buildings. The big yellow one (Piccino's), where Silent B. said they have some of the best pizza in Saint Plot, turned out to be closed, but the owner was so embarrassed that they had taken a reservation for a restaurant that wasn't open that day, that she handed out four $5 buck bags of granola from their bakery to the birthday girl and her three friends.

That was a great start to the first B.L.T.C. in history where they left out the B. But they brought it on the side and everything was delicious. Best part, as always, is hanging out in a restaurant, eating food and talking about the previous food and the following food.

Which reminds Plotnik about memory tricks. How to remember the name of that sandwich? If you put the C (cheese) first it becomes C.B.L.T. which is a little like Cobalt -- easy to remember. This came up because, try as he might, The Great Brain cannot ever remember the name of the street you turn up from Cortland to go over Bernal Hill, and the street next to it that you turn down on your way home.

So memory tricks: Anderson (going up) Ellsworth (going down). Anderson Ellsworth, Private Eye, no better yet, Private B (for Bernal). Ellsworth Anderson won't work as well, and anyway you don't have to remember Ellsworth coming down because there's no other choice. But going up you have to keep Anderson in your head, or you'll keep going straight and end up drowned in the bay.

So here we are:

"Anderson Ellsworth, Private B
Picked up his very own C.B.L.T.
It was a very special day
And no one drowned in Saint Plotniko Bay."

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sunday Rendang

Sunday is Cook Something Day. Plotnik saw he had some stewing beef in the freezer that it was time to use up, so he went scrounging through his recipe booklet until he came to VENCIA'S BEEF RENDANG.

Plot has mentioned before about traveling to Singapore several times to play for weddings within the wealthy and complicated Jewish community there. You may remember that in Singapore there are eligible Jewish women but few eligible Jewish men (the term 'eligible' appears to apply to wealth and lineage). And in certain other overseas business communities (like Dubai or Oman or Bahrain) there are eligible Jewish men but no Jewish women. So when these men reach the proper age (35) they travel to Singapore to find a wife (20). The women are spoiled rotten and the men are starving for them.

Plot and Yosi were in Singapore to play for one of the wealthier families (electronics, publishing) whose daughter was marrying a diamond dealer from Dubai, via the London School of Economics.

Vencia had seen it all. She was Ramah's cook and Plottie and his partner Yosi were staying in Ramah's penthouse because the bride was related to Ramah. Ramah was never there but Vencia cooked three meals a day for Yos and Plottie, who were the only people in the house. There were plastic covers over all the furniture in the living room. The air conditioning had been turned off, even though Vencia lived in the house.

The penthouse was on the top floor of a luxury building on Orchard Road, the principle shopping boulevard in Singapore. It was August, so it was really hot on the top floor of the building. It was 'way worse inside than outside, but the smells coming from the kitchen made it impossible to leave the house.

Vencia was Filipina, like most of the other cooks and housekeepers servicing the wealthy merchant class in Singapore. She had had to learn how to cook the incomparable Malay-Sumatran-Straits Chinese blend that is the mainstay of Singaporean cuisine. So perhaps her beef rendang was not as pure as others. For one thing, it calls for 4T of curry powder, probably due to the presence of the venerable East Indian community in Singapore, along with the coconut cream and kaffir lime leaves and tamarind water that are pure Malay. No garlic -- but tons of shallots, ground into a spice paste with chilies and pounded lemon grass.

Speaking of curry powder, Plotnik thought this was a food story but maybe it's a travel story.

When he and Ducknik and The Great PD and Great 5H were in Johannesburg in 2005 they went to a small mall, in the back of which was a spice shop run by the world's grouchiest spice seller. When Plotnik asked her to please put together a curry powder blend, she took her large spoon, growled, then in the most disparaging way possible threw the spoon into a few canvas spice bags, a ladle of this, a ladle of that, a ladle of the other thing, then tossed the mix into a plastic bag, still snarling, and threw it all into Plottie's hands, with a sneer that made him think this would be one truly tasteless curry powder.

It turned out to be one GREAT curry powder, hot as hell but complex and delicious. He used it since then, but yesterday threw the very last of it into the rendang. Now, they have to go back to get more.

The Indians in South Africa and the Indians in Singapore came for the same reason at roughly the same time -- the British colonials needed workers. The workers brought their families and their spices.

Back in Singapore, after a few days Plotnik started asking Vencia for her recipes. He got this complicated rendang, which in its most basic form is simply beef sauteed in a chili paste and then simmered slowly all day in coconut milk, lemon juice and tamarind until every bit of that liquid you see in the photo has disappeared into the amazingly succulent meat.

He wishes he had more of Vencia's recipes. It's been ten years now -- and the Jewish community in Singapore has been shrinking. Much of it has relocated to Stiletto City, where they have their own Sephardic synagogues. Back in Singapore, Plottie hopes Vencia still has a job. Thanks to her, the next time you're coming over for dinner you might get chicken cutlets or yellow pea fritters or even beef rendang if Plotnik has a few days warning.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Puzzle

"There is NO way I'm ever going to allow my children to see me like this."

This is what you say when you're young enough to actually imagine an alternative. But here's the conundrum: As you age, your choices diminish, along with your friends. If you're lucky enough to have any old friends left, they are most likely either ill or disinterested in anything but their own health problems. So hanging out with them is, at best, an organ recital. People your own age will not be likely to lift your spirits.

You'll have to be around younger people, who still have dreams about something other than piddling or tinkling. You might still have a wealth of knowledge to offer, but let's say that as you've aged, you've become -- call it "difficult." You don't have a small army of disciples. The only younger people who will be willing to spend time with you are your own children -- the ones you say you're never going to allow to see you being less than the way you used to be.

No parent starts out wanting to be another of those little nagging obligations that keep our kids up at night worrying. That option is not included in the Parent's Manual. And all children want their parents to continue being their heroes.

Plotnik and Ducknik always feel like teenagers when they get back to Saint Plotniko after a trip anywhere, but especially these days after being in Stiletto City. They feel a little guilty about it, but what a relief! For awhile they can forget that they are working on that same jig saw puzzle as everybody else. No matter how complicated they make it, there will come a time when there is only one piece left and one hole into which to place it. You've got to avoid that place. You've got to find another off-ramp on the 101 to the 405 to Nowhere. Or an on-ramp. Any ramp.

What can Plotnik and Ducknik do to make things different later on, for themselves and for their children?

So far Plotnik only can think of one answer: Keep at it. Not only because there will never be anything more meaningful for him than writing a beautiful song, but because it's going to give him something else to think about, to talk about, to consider and share, down the road. He reserves the right to repeat himself, if at least he's still working on that puzzle.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

It's Tiring But It's a Good Thing

How can you get so tired doing absolutely nothing? Yet, every time Plot and Duck get home from a few days in Stiletto City, where they do little but sit on the sofa and watch Mummy P. try to get comfortable, they each feel like they've been hit by a truck and thrown onto the off ramp.

She's such an actress. it was her birthday on Thursday and Plot sat there watching her field telephone call after telephone call, sounding upbeat and strong-voiced into the receiver. Each person got off the phone saying to themselves: "My! For 97, she is really doing great!"

What they don't know is -- well, let's just say she's a good actress.

Plot and Duck hadn't been to Stiletto for over a month. Lilian helped her up so she could be standing when they walked in to the kitchen, but when Plot saw his mom shakily supporting herself by leaning against the counter, having lost at least fifteen pounds since she fell in June, dressed so nicely and hair styled, but clearly smiling only on the outside, all he could think was "oh, crap. She's wasting away." When he hugged her Happy Birthday they both held on to each other for a little extra. You don't hide those kinds of things.

So we scale down our expectations another notch or two. And she looks good, when she is feeling a little better. And she does love to open her presents.

Yesterday, Plottie actually managed to get her out of the house and over to Cantor's for a corned beef sandwich. It was to be her birthday lunch, since she hadn't been able to actually leave the house the night before for what was supposed to be her birthday dinner. The lunch at Cantor's -- well, would you have expected a huge traffic jam in front of the Hollywood Bowl at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on a Friday?

All right, on the count of three, everyone who lives in Stiletto City say: "Well, Duh."

Ducknik was stuck in the back seat. Plotnik could see she was steaming and Mummy P. broke the existing land record for the most times a passenger has complained about the pain while simultaneously asking if the driver had any idea where he was going?

"Why won't you tell me where we're going? Oh, I know. It's one of those, you know, Chinese places."
"No, it isn't."
"Oh, not Chinese, but, Asian, Japanese, that food you like."
"So do you."
"So that's where we're going?"
(steam released from back seat)
"Do you have the slightest idea where you're going?"
"Ouch. You just drove over a bump. It hurts."
"Mom we're stuck in a traffic jam. We haven't moved in five minutes."
"Why not? You don't know where you're going, do you?"
(steam released from back seat)
"Ouch, another bump."
"You should get LA to fix the roads."
"Oh, so yours are so much better?"
"Actually, they're 'way worse."
"Do you know where you're going?"
"Why won't you tell me where we're going?"
"Because if I tell you, you'll say no."
"How do you know?"
"Because I know."
"Ouch, you went over a bump."
(steam released from back seat)
"I want you to tell me where we're going."
"OK, OK! Achmed's Muslim Carry Out. Dog Our Specialty."
"Oh, ha ha."
"You're laughing."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"Ouch, a bump."

She told Plot and Duck at least -- count 'em -- at least a hundred times how happy she was they had come down from Saint Plotniko for her birthday. The first ten times it was nice to hear. So for The Great Plotnik, the bottom line is this: he knows his mom is now 97 years old. For the first 94 years or so, she fooled him too. But now he knows. He hates that this is true. He guesses this is why he feels so exhausted today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Sherlock Solution

BZ is right, it was just another First World Problem. And The Sherlock Solution was the answer.

It's not about our children starving, it's not about malaria mosquitoes stinging them while they sleep, it's not about having to walk miles with buckets on our heads to get fresh water, it's not about suicide bombers, it's not about the army bursting into our homes at night and hauling us away to be tortured, it's not about tsunamis or earthquakes or drought or flood, it's not about Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's or terminal cancer or AIDS. And it's not about jobs or housing or debt or the environment or immigration or campaign finance reform or electric freaking cars either.

It's just about who can scream the loudest and keep it up the longest. This is The Sherlock Solution.

Plotnik played b-ball with Sherlock for 15 years. Sherlock is a bus driver for MUNI, maybe 5'6" and close to 300 pounds. He isn't the tallest and he's not the fastest nor the best shooter, but he has the loudest voice. He is willing to stand in one spot and scream until he gets his way. You can't budge Sherlock. He's always holding onto the ball. The game cannot continue until Sherlock decides it can.

If Sher is on your team, you tend to win more. Nobody really minds, because Sher can stop a game but he can also keep it going. Nobody argues with him. Keep Sherlock happy and you keep playing, week after week, year after year.

So this is what we've got: a collection of Sherlocks. We don't get real solutions, we get Sherlock Solutions. Whoever can yell the loudest and longest wins. The President doesn't matter, heads of committees and congressional leaders don't matter. No one can do anything until Sherlock says so. Right now, the Tea Party is Sherlock, but people elected these guys. They want them to be doing exactly what they're doing.

And they're right: we ARE spending too much. I may think we should remove our troops from all these idiot wars against Muslims who hate us, and you may think we ought to stop providing school lunches for blind children with one leg, but both of us agree we can't keep doing what we've been doing. What we all need is our own Sherlock.

Think about Israel: Sherlock over there is the Orthodox Rabbis. Nobody in the country can stand them, but they yell the loudest and don't care who they hurt, as long as their little world remains the way they want it. So if there is to be any movement, on any issue, you have to cave in to the rabbis.

It's the Tea Party now but tomorrow it might be the Unions or abortion foes or the NRA or network TV executives. Who can yell the loudest? Who can pay the most? Who is the shortest, meanest and hardest to move?

The economy goes up, the economy goes down, we borrow more, we borrow less, we balance the budget, we don't balance the budget: do you think anything will ever change? Do you?

Not until Sherlock says so. Maybe someday we'll elect him. A lot of us thought we had.


Monday, August 01, 2011

Throw 'em All Out

What a surprise. The debt ceiling issue that never was real turns out to have been just another bag of hot wind. Can there be anyone left in America who doesn't hate Demicans and Republocrats?

Throw 'em all out. Hire seven new dwarves.