Thursday, July 23, 2009

Avocado, to some people you are holy.

Many of you who know me know that I enjoy a little adventure, and that the adventure does not stop in the kitchen. When I cook, I have fun with it, and over the years I have learned to turn that fun into something palatable, even delicious. When I cook I do it different every time. I have developed some vague guidelines, and developed some skill in getting things to turn out like I want them, like sauces, marinades and whatnot. Many of my dishes have been met with great accolades from my guinea pigs, and of them all, I dont think any have been accepted as unanimously as a good batch of guacamole. Over the past year, guacamole has been a common feature in my creations, it was a pleasant surprise when I found all of the essential ingredients in the market in the Bahamas, so it was often on the menu. The key to good guacamole is to pick the right avocados and to use them at the peak of their ripeness, just the right amount of squish. I like to use hass variety. The second most important ingredient is the cilantro, use fresh stuff and de-stem it as best you can, if you are going to use dried cilantro, you might as well use dried avocado, and they dont even make that, so just stop. Here is the recipe:

2 large hass (3 might be necessary) or 1 large Florida avocado (see below, the big smooth skinned ones... no good)
3 T lime juice, or half a lime
1/2 t chili pepper
1/8 t cumin
dash of parika
1/4 c fresh cilantro chopped (I love cilantro, you may want to use a little less)
1/4 c chopped onion
1/3 t seasoned salt
1/2 t salt, preferrably kosher or sea salt
1/4 t fresh cracked pepper
1 small tomato, seeded, chopped
some hot pepper, see below

Optional but highly recommended additions
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/8 c banana pepper diced
splash of EVOO
splash of Tabasco sauce
dash of garlic powder or a minced garlic clove

For the hot pepper, use 1 jalapeno for some kick, some seeded pablano for the weak of tongue, or for some extra kick, a habanero will do the trick, or the Bahamian goat pepper will spice up the guac with a mere square centimeter of the insanely spicey fruit. And the banana pepper adds some great flavor, once you use it you will be missing it every time you have bananaless guac after that. If I get a particularly good avocado, I like to chop it pretty rough, if the flavor can hold strong with a big chunk of pure avocado goodness, you have to embrace that, you can make a sort of guacasalsa with nice rough cut on the tomato and onion as well. Of course, all of this is subject to your own tastes, and actually I totally guessed on all of it, having just made it in a kitchen with absolutely no real measuring devices, I will probably come back and tweak the recipe here and there later. Good luck, I will leave you with a little ditty, original artist unknown, popularized my my father in the produce section of every supermarket he has ever entered.

Avocado, to some people you are holy, but you're just guacamole to me.

Edit: A few people have made the recipe and said it is great, thanks! I just wanted to add a couple comments. I forgot to stress the importance of letting the finished guac sit for a while before consumption, an hour or so at least, it helps to let the flavors meld. Also, when storing it, use saran wrap and press it so it is actually touching the top of the guac, removing all air, this keeps it from oxidizing and browning. And I just made a batch with a florida avocado which didnt turn out as well as it had in the past, but the only time I had ever used it before was when I bought it at a little street side produce vendor actually in Florida, so I may be spoiled. The one I bought here was strangely sweet and too watery, I think that I will only recommend the larger florida avocado if you are actually in Florida.

Friday, July 17, 2009

One Billion Animal Crackers

Our days in Vegas got my friends and I on a constant gambling rush. To fill in the gaps between stints at the tables, we played a game taught to us by Chris. The rules of the game: One person is asked a question that has a numerical answer, one that the answer is not definitely known and preferably that cannot be estimated with great accuracy. For instance, we asked questions like how many gallons are in the pool at the Paris, how many grams does a Ford Focus weigh, things like that. The estimator writes down the answer and his work is done. The others in the group then begin bidding on the number they think the estimator estimated. Bidding starts at, say, 10,000 gallons, if someone else thinks the number is higher, they up the bid, 20,000 gallons, 25, 30, 40, and it keeps going up until nobody wants to go any higher. At this point the real number is revealed and if it is indeed higher than the highest bidders number, then everyone owes that person (we played $1), if the actual number is lower than the highest bidders number, then the high bidder owes everyone else.
We chose zack to be our estimator, just because we knew he would give us some interesting answers. We were not dissapointed.

The Eiffel Tower is 7,500 feet tall
There are 23 million platypuses in the world
There are less than a million white people in Africa
There are 1 billion animal crackers eaten every day

So, ya the game is a good time, have fun with it.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I sat with a man named Bill on the flight out of Pittsburgh, it was his first time flying on an airplane. He is 68 years old. Bill works in the oil fields and was sent out of Oklahoma to Fayetteville PA to check out some work going on there. What do you call a funeral in Oklahoma? Karaoke. Frightened by his fathers bout with Alzheimer's, he finds comfort in the fact that he has a great memory, especially for some things, like jokes. He can remember any joke with detail, where he heard it, who told it to him, so well even that a few times he has told a friend a joke that he heard from them and they will laugh like they never heard it and ask where he learned that one. His brother told him the Karaoke joke. His oldest son died in a car accident in '91, his wife died of cancer in '99, his youngest hung himself in March. He still has 6 surviving sons and a daughter. He had lots more jokes. I wish I had the memory for them that he does.

Dallas to Vegas. I sat next to the reason so many people hate America. She was the incarnation of what I imagine maybe your typical European would think about when you say American housewife. Overweight with a pink frilly blouse on, a handbag that was probably a top of the line knock off bought by her also overweight husband, who looked like he was terrible at golf even though he plays a lot. I really am not a judgemental person usually, but I hated these people after seeing them for 4 seconds. She ordered a bottle of Aquafina soon after sitting down, not just water, but Aquafina, but she supposed it would be allright if they brought her another kind. Even after proving their imminent mundaneity, I put the bait out for a conversation by making a comment about the circular crops that she seemed so interested in and kept leaning over to see. She broke into a conversation about her facebook farmland and my brian turned off. I have no idea what happened for the next half hour or so, but I am fairly certain she kept talking about facebook. The rest of the trip was full of insightful comments like "there is another plane down there", "oh we are in the dessert now", "oh I can see cars ("honey you cant see cars from up here") oh, no those arent cars", and as we descend in altitude and are obviously flying over houses in the Vegas suburbs "those must be houses!" "I can see cars now!". It only made landing in Vegas that much sweeter.

On the trip in, my friend Chris asked if I would back him, giving 10% of his $1000 tournament buy in in exchange for 10% of the winnings. The kid is the best tournament poker player I know, so I went for it. He was playing in the tournament when we landed and Zack and I went to see him, which left me in the poker room with Zack and we both sat at a $1-3 table. The poker room in Ceaser's is possibly the toughest in the strip, maybe with the exception of the Rio, which is full of spillover from the WSOP main event, and I was sitting down at a real poker table for the first time in a lonnnnng time. I lost $500 my first 5 hours in Vegas. And then Chris tanked his well earned above average stack of 400,000 on an epic bluff, the same way I lost most of my money, so I certainly cannot get mad, he played well. So 4 hours at a poker table and I did not see a single hand better than 2 pair. I was not playing my best poker ever, but my aggressive style requires that I actually make a hand every now and then. If I make a big bluff and get caught in it, I can make that pay off later when a player makes a loose call thinking that I am bluffing. Well I can't capitalize on those loose calls if I dont have a hand that can beat anyone. To give you an idea of the crap for cards I was getting, I lost $400 in two hands, the two times I got 2 pair all day, the first I looked at K 10, both spades, the best hand I had seen all day, and it checks around the table so I check in late position hoping for big things on the flop. flop comes A K 10 rainbow and I am loving it. nobody raised preflop so I cant be facing any pocket pairs hitting trips or AK, maybe I should be scared of A 10. I raise, he reraises, I go all in, he shows AK. Whatever. And I lost a couple other big bluffs, and like I said I never got a chance to get paid from them. Well after that disaster I wasnt sure what I was going to do for the rest of the trip if gambling was going to treat me like that. Luckily I found my calling in a little game called War. What is it good for? Making lots of money.

We saw the table in the Paris hotel where we were staying, a big bright sign saying Casino War, and we had to figure out if they were actually playing the ol' classic for money. Turns out they are serious. I sat with $20 or so, a $5 minimum bet, the dealer doles out a card face up to each player, and, perhaps with a little dramatic flourish, he flips his own card. His is higher he takes your money, yours is higher you double up. For serious. And if you go to war, you match your bet and each gets another card, if you win, you win your original bet, if you tie again, you get double! And that is how I turned my luck around. for the first 2 days we sat at the war table for a bit every time we went through the casino and I didnt lose a single time for 2 days. It made no sense. I finally lost when I ventured out of the Paris and played at O'sheas, I lost $100, put up another $100 and lost 90 of it, I must have been off my game. I recalculated my strategies and turned my $10 back into 150, and when i stood up with that 150 I saw the roulette table had a streak of 7 reds in a row, surely it would hit black next time right? Apparently I was not the only one thinking this, because as I go to put down 50, there is a rush to the table, people putting everything they have on black. The little 8x3 inch black square was packed full of $5 $25 $100 dollar chips, and spirits were high as everyone was confident that black was sure to hit. She flicks the ball and gives the wheel a spin... a bit too hard... the ball was bouncing around on the wheel for something like 17 years and finally it tinkers to a hault. On red. The dejected gamblers sulk away, having put everything on the table. I however, am determined to get my $50 back. $100 more on black. Again she spins that wheel just a little too fast and just after my 60th birthday, the ball rests. On red. The rest of the tenacious who were smart enough to keep some of their bankroll in their pocket slink into the forest of slot machines. I am not losing my money. $200 on black. Red has now hit 9 times in a row. It can't hit 10 can it? Is that even possible? After the pit boss tells her to slow down the wheel, she flicks the ball into motion, and as it orbits the wheel, I realize it is possible, that ball does not know where it landed last time, I just put $200 on a 49% chance of winning. Again the ball rests. Of the original ambitious group, I alone remain, and along with a few newcomers, we watch as the wheel spins around, bringing that ivory little ball into view, resting in a bed of black. With a smile I took my 400 and walked.

A friend who was watching the roulette game play out told me I have great affects. That might be the best compliment I have ever received, she is a psychologist. I do not want to talk too much about gambling, but it is kind of the main reason for going to Vegas, the main reason Vegas exists really, so I have just a little more to say. I tried my luck at the poker table a few more times, probably spending another 4 hours or so playing, and in my entire time at the table i still saw nothing better than 2 pair. I was able to bluff my way into a profit once and I walked away even after about an hour of play another time, and I dropped 100 one night when everyone else was dancing at a club, though I don't consider that a loss really, I think it is worth $100 to get out of dancing. After such terrible luck, I swore off poker for a couple days and it wasnt until the last day that I sat back down at the table. I saw off Chris and Zack to their plane at 1 pm and had 12 hours till mine left, so I thought I would take another crack at the poker table. I sat at the Flamingo and play was going pretty well, I even hit better than two pair! Twice! It was great! until one hand... I was up about $50 to $250 and had A 10 to give me top pair, top kicker on a 10 7 4 flop. This old guy who had been trying to bully me around all night raised the flop 15, I doubled his raise, and he went all in on top of me, he had me covered so it put me in for around $230. After little deliberation I called, the guy showed his bluff, flipping KQ, and I was comfortable with my 10s. Flop came a K, I am now beat. River blanked and there goes my money. And just to add insult to the gross display of luck, the dealer pushed all the chips my way, thinking somehow that I had a pair of aces, so I got a good look at what was rightfully mine before her evil mistake was pointed out by everyone at the table. I was playing some good poker, and I was not ready to call it quits, so I put another 200 down at the table. I immediately started rakeing in the pots. There was an obnoxious lady at the table who would not stop giving me her money. It was all little 30, 40 dollar pots, but it was adding up, and her hatred for me culminated in one hand where her pocket Qs met my pocket Ks and I took her for all she was worth. It wasnt luck, she was just a bad poker player and I was on my game, the board was all low- 73427, she could have easily gotten away from pocket queens there, and I garnered a call there with the loose play I had been displaying. I sat for about an hour and a half with my second $200 and turned it into $700 before standing up, finally a triumph at the poker table, and 2 hours before I had to go to the airport. I needed that.

So all in all my vegas gambling experience went quite well, and my Vegas experience otherwise was even better. The Paris hotel we stayed in was wonderful and thanks to a little schmoozing, which Chris picked up while living in Vegas for a month, we got a nice room with a great view, overlooking the pool and the Bellagio fountain. It was a great place to crash after a long day at the tables or in the sun, and to wake up in the morning and head down to the huge pool we were overlooking. I would reccommend the Paris, but of course the only comparison I have is the Imperial Palace, which is well known to be one of the lowest quality hotels on the strip. We of course had our voyage downtown with a couple we met at the pool, that was a good time. Downtown seems like the most Vegasy part of Vegas to me, it is the epitome of the bright lights and over the top everything that makes Vegas what it is. And on my last day I headed over to the Rio to check out the WSOP main event, maybe that is what gave me inspiration for my successful run at the poker table later that day. It was cool to watch the best in the business do their thing, but I only recognized a single face in the crowd, though one of those people will soon be the recipient of the most prestigious title in the poker world.

And now I am back in the burgh, staying at Jon's for the next couple days and then flying back out to Philly just in time to start moving stuff from Jersey over to PA northeast of Philly. It will feel good to live in PA again. Even if it is Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jersey June

The past few weeks I have really been trying to find the finer points of the state of New Jersey and Philadelpha. Can't go wrong with a trip to the beach right? Or shore as they call it around here, which I think is because a beach implies sand, and the Jersey shore seems to be lined with dirt rather than sand, so "beach" might be inappropriate. My home for the rest of the last year has been, well:And now the closest I get is:
But hey, its better than nothing. Other than a trip to the shore, Kari and I also went to a jazz concert at the winery we visited a couple weeks ago, about 300 people showed up, and let me tell you, an odd crowd comes out of the woodwork in Jersey for a jazz concert. We were fortunate enough to put our lawn chairs next to a man who seemed to be posing for a photoshoot during the concert, I took it upon myself to capture a few of the good ones. With my new Nikon P6000 by the way!
So we enjoyed the jazz and wine, munching on some grub we got at a place called The Grilled Cheese and Crab Cake Co. We got... a grilled cheese and a crab cake, both delish, and of course went to visit our friend Giorgio at his restaurant. It was a good day in the dirty Jers.

Another adventure worth noting was our trip to the Mutter Museum. It is run by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and used to be open only to teachers and students for educational purposes. It houses all kinds of specimens exhibiting every medical anomaly you would ever wish to know existed. With siamese twin fetuses preserved in jars, well over 100 human skulls with holes eaten away by syphilis or chopped with an ax, tape worms, tumors, skeltons, every body part preserved in a jar, books bound in human leather, the famous "Soap Lady", well it was enough to make your skin crawl for days, and enough to satisfy even the most disturbed minds.

So, I have been having my fun, and now it is time for even more. With the 4th of July approaching, this is the time of year that my pyromaniacle disposition is most acceptable. It is liberating. I am headed back to Pittsburgh today to spend the 4th and on the 8th I will be flying out to Vegas with my friends Zack and Jon to meet up with our friend Chris who will have been out there for 41 Days and 40 Nights. And itisnow time to go pack andmake important decisions like whether I am going to bring my Heeleys or not, check back later for updates on how much money I have won.