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Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Good Clean Fight by Derek Robinson

I’m in the middle of A Good Clean Fight, the second book of Derek Robinson’s RAF (Royal Air Force) quartet. Right after A Piece of Cake and before Damned Good Show and Hullo Russia, Goodbye England.

Hornet Squadron is in the shifting sands of the Sahara and the shifting fortunes of war, as the armies of Germany and Britain push each other back and forth across North Africa. Yes, the Italians are there too, but no one seems to worry or care. Neither are the British all British. Pilots from the far-flung Commonwealth, as well as overrun European nations and America have put on the RAF uniform and joined the fray.

The British Special Air Service (SAS) races through the desert, blowing up German air bases and depending on only the vastness and harshness of the unforgiving landscape. Finding them is more difficult than locating a lost diamond ring. The Sahara’s spread across 3.5 million miles and has a landmass as large as the United States or China.

While the SAS attacks German forces on the ground, Hornet Squadron tries to rain havoc on a Luftwaffe that has pulled in its claws and is refitting for the next great push. But, this is not as benign a task for Hornet Squadron as it seems. As they expand their offensive actions, they take great losses in men and in the over matched Curtis P-40 Tomahawks they fly.

If you’re an aviator who has been to war, you know what it’s like to suddenly have comrades disappear, or even meet their fiery fates while you helplessly watch. Only whoring and vast quantities of drink provide mental and emotional relief and even then it’s only temporary. The squadron’s men are exhausted from heat and from gut wrenching three or four or five sorties a day. The stench of death unmasks their fear and the stifling and unrelenting desert adds layers to their fatigue.

Derek Robinson knows war and slaughter in the smoke and fury of World War II. He brings it to you in ways that make you smell the smoke, live the stark terror, and unblinkingly stare aghast at the bloody smear of dismembered bodies. And yes, there is dark humor that only the aviator knows. You laugh out loud because you’re one of them now. Your mouth is dry and you pour yourself a drink. A strong one. You know these men and women and their fate is your fate. Derek Robinson has made you a squadron member.

And what is a fighter pilot, or at least a World War II RAF fighter pilot? “They’re just decent, friendly, hardworking fighter pilots who want to be loved. Give ‘em a bucket of blood for breakfast and they’ll kick an orphan to death if you promise them a kiss afterwards.” Tongue in cheek, of course.

Sometimes they love each other. Sometimes they fight each other, throwing blows they later wish they hadn’t. Do they hate their foe? No. It’s not a hate or love situation. Usually no time for that in this scrappy, edgy fight to the finish. It’s always a guts and glory matter of survival, unless the foe makes it personal and kills one of your mates right in front of you. A Good Clean Fight is the last thing you want. When you press that trigger, you want people to topple like bowling pins. You want them to see them die wretchedly. The more the better. And all the while you’re asking yourself: Can this war go on forever? And, can I make it through another day?

This is the second time I’ve read this book. There will be a third. This is fiction that blinds you with desert dust and makes you cough and sputter as you climb into the cockpit of a P-40, slide the canopy closed and pray you’ll live long enough to savor the oblivion of hard whiskey and the enjoyment of just one more piece of ass. Even brilliant non-fiction can’t do that for me. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Laura Pops a Cork!

Laura Burgess, or Lara Borghese as she is known in the vineyards of Europe, is the kind of friend every wine drinker needs. Ok, she's cute and vivacious, but let's dwell on the important stuff, like her in-depth knowledge of the grape, which she readily dispenses without even a hint of snobbery. If you guessed she’s a sommelier you’d be correct. But more than that, she’s learned her trade from stomping grapes in California, making Port wine in Portugal, sloshing a few buckets of heady vintages in Germany and France, touring most of the major wine regions in Europe, and getting dirt under her fingers and staining her palms with the juice of thousands of grapes. Most recently, as a guest of wine merchants, Laura strolled the banks of the Mosel and Nahe rivers, chatting with their best vintners, sipping nectars that most mere mortals can’t afford, and watching the whole, engaging process of winemaking in Germany’s richest river valleys.

She doesn’t stop with watching and sipping. You can also find her on TV, thrilling viewers with ‘Dare to Pair,’ a show that takes wine into your kitchen and suggests all the ways to show off your dishes with delicious, and easy-on-the-pocketbook wines. Remember I said ‘without snobbery?’  She’s paired such disparate foods as mac and cheese, Cheetos, and a host of other handy snacks.  This woman writes for the masses!

She's making a real name for herself, doing what your momma always told you to do: Follow your dreams. If you’re fortunate enough to have her over to your house, you're in for a real treat!  But even if you don’t, you can follow her blog, Laura Uncorked (Link below), She'll fill your head (and palate) with super ideas about wine and how to find exactly what your own particular taste is. I listen.  I learn.  I find myself awash in tastes of wine, dreams of wine, passion for wine.

One question I often ask myself is: what the hell is Lara Borghese up to now?  I am always surprised.  Make that astounded!  She and her partner, Chris Walsh, work on a budding vineyard called Little John Lane Vineyard & The End of Nowhere, in Pioneer, California.  Their wines are just beginning to come on the market and having had several bottles, I can hardly control my taste buds.  They ain’t good, they’re delicious!

Here’s a tip and Laura’s key advice:  Throw out the superfluous numbers from the 'expert' magazines. Follow your taste buds and follow Laura Burgess on her website as she leads both the connoisseur and beginner on a grand journey, from planting to drinking!

Want a better and more thorough introduction to this young woman?  I’ll give you a double glassful in just one of her blog entries and the most thorough lashing together of vintners, their passion for their vines, and their juicy products that I have ever read.  She has a knack for entwining and bringing to life the whole process of wine making, from the planting to the wine growers and their almost miraculous mental blending of art, science, and sense of discovery.  You’ll gain a new understanding, not just of wine, but the artists who create it, all done with a down to earth writing style, edged with humor.
Yep, that’s Laura!  The knowledge of a sommelier, with the experience of a vintner, and the heart of a wine enthusiast.  This is a special woman, with a special blog that everyone who loves wine will adore.

I apologize for the silly way this text is formatted. The white background appeared without warning. I have followed internet solution known to man and nothing will help.  I didn't ask for this change, but now apparently I'm stuck with it.  Thank you Google, thank you Blogger for your sticking me with a format I didn't want and leaving me without a way to repair it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Return to Metz

I’ve written about Metz, France before, given you background and history.

Metz is such a fabulous city.  Guess that’s why I return a few times a year.  Old, stone place with history that drags on right through the 20th Century and World War II.

General George Patton’s 3rd Army got stymied near here, right before he turned his entire army north to relieve the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the battle of the bulge.  Humbling to realize a huge gaggle of an army moving and marching almost overnight.  In my mind that can’t be done, but it was done.  And, I can’t get my family in the car to be on time for a movie.  You’re going to say, the difference is the quality of the leadership and rather than fight you, I’m going to agree, take the easy way out and pour myself another beer.

But, back to Metz.  Here’s my routine, although I often branch out and take cobblestone streets where ever they lead, drop into an outdoor café and follow other spur of the moment impulses to amuse myself and make myself seem more French than tourist.

First there’s the cathedral, St Étiene, St. Steven, a magnificent structure that will give you pause to ponder and introspect, whether you’re Roman Catholic or not.

I’m not, but out of goodwill and just in case, I always pay my 1 Euro and light a candle in each cathedral I visit.  It’s not superstition, it’s hedging my bets, and besides, a short prayer for others never hurt anyone.

“OK, Bozo,” I hear you saying.  “Although I’m normally fascinated by religious proclivities, right now I want to hear about Metz.”

I hear you my brother.  Let’s cut to the visceral.  Food and drink.  Across from the Cathedral is a large U-shaped building once planned as the bishop’s palace.  Then a little commotion called The French Revolution and its anti-clerical face interfered with a well laid plan.  The bishops’ loss was our gain, in the form of a world class covered market.  Sometimes I buy, sometimes I only salivate, but I always walk the walk.  Fascinating place to gander at more cheeses than you can shake a herd of cows at (or goats for that matter), cuts of meat that lead your mind straight to charcoal grills and bottles of icy beer. 

So, you’re looking for fruits and veggies?  Oh, you’re in for a feast for the pickiest of vegephobes.  The French are sticklers for which meat or veg is used for which dish.  That’s why you find an array of chicken, each to fill a different pot.  Potatoes?  At least a dozen varieties.  Fruits, the same.  And breads?  Ou la la!  Seafood fresh from the bobbing boats.  Mais oui!

Makes me hungry, which is why I speed straight to the grand spread of outdoor cafés.  
Metz is in Lorraine, so what do I always order at my fav bistro?  Quiche, 
with pomme de terre frites (fried potatoes) and salad.  (Et voulez vous du vin aussi, 
Monsieur?) “And would you like wine with that, sir?”  Oui, bien sûr, and leave the bottle.
Metz is always worth the trip!


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Porn Kitchen

One of my faithful readers complained.  “Your recipes taste wonderful, but the writing needs something.  Can’t you add some porn?”

Yes, my perverted friend, I can do that.

Chicken Thighs

The tall blond sitting next to me at cooking class, leaned over and whispered, “I like the sound of chicken thighs.”  It must be the way she said thighs that made a shiver race up my spine, then turn around and race down, before making several other stops on its way out of town.

She gave me a slow wink.  She must be six feet tall, lanky.  I was thinking nice breasts. Must have said it out loud.  Mildred, our Chef Aujourd’hui said flatly, “You can use breasts, but thighs are juicier.”  She had a point.  The blond winked again.  Not sure if the blond meant breasts or thighs.  Either way, it would be a tough choice.  Maybe I can pick more than one.  The chicken wouldn’t mind.

“Peel and slice the onion,” Mildred said, but I was still doing an enney-meany-mine-moe on the parts of the chicken I would most like to fondle… I mean sauté.

The blond said, “I’m a few inches taller than you.”  What did she mean?  Did she just imply I’m a few inches short of what she needs?  She smiled and put a hand on my knee.  The knee was very happy and began to celebrate right away and passed the news on to my reptile brain which sent an urgent message to the sausage delivery boy.

“You’ll want to add butter and seasonings to the onions while they cook.  Don’t let them brown.” Meanwhile, the sergeant major in charge of my artillery and the first knee to get the news were still celebrating.

“Remove the sautéed onion,” said Mildred, which I did not agree with.  I was not in the mood to pull anything out.  Cookus interruptus was not in the plan.

“Put the chicken in the pan with a little oil and add a pat of butter,” Mildred said.

“Thighs, “ said the blond, “Chicken thighs.”  I put my hand on her knee. 

“Tits,” I said, “Chicken tits.”  I admit I was a little giddy. The blond squeezed my knee. Mildred scowled. She’s not known for her humorous side, wherever that is.  I know I haven’t found it.

“I crush my own tomatoes,” Mildred said.  She looked at me and squeezed her fist when she said it.

“I like olives,” said the blond, “the kind with nuts in them.”

“You mean pits,” I said, but quickly changed my answer.

“I do a lot of cooking,” she said.

“What kind of cooking?” I asked, hoping to get an answer that would please the Sergeant Major and the sausage delivery boy, whose chest was now swelling with pride.

“Lots of stuff,” she said.

Lots of stuff would do the trick for me.  Lots and lots of stuff.  “Ever use Crisco?” I asked.

“I use it on my body to you know firm me up before I go out naked to sunbathe.”  Actually that’s not what she said, but she did mention olive oil and I helped out her memory.

“Add the wine to the tomatoes and then you just let it simmer for a couple of hours,” Mildred said.

“Sometimes I simmer,” the blond said, “And sometimes other stuff.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I can imagine.  Other stuff is great for long weekends.  Crisco is too.  I’m also a huge fan of simmering.”

The blond moved her palm up my leg to shake hands with the sausage deliver boy.  “Thighs,” she said.

Pollo Piero: Peter's Chicken

8-10 bone in, skinless chicken thighs

1 large red onion sliced thinly

1 Cup pitted, spicy olives

3-4 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (I crush the tomatoes by hand)

1 Cup dry white wine

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon butter (I use unsalted)

A spring of fresh rosemary really helps

Crushed red pepper to taste (I prefer this dish mild)

Salt and Pepper

Use a high sided pan , set the heat to medium, toss in some olive oil and butter, add the sliced onions, along with a pinch of red pepper and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes.

Set the onions aside.  Raise the heat.  Add the chicken and more olive oil.  Turn the chicken as needed to brown on all sides.  

Lower the heat, add the cooked onions, tomatoes, and wine.  Cook for about ten minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Uncover and cook 15 minutes more.  The dish is done when the chicken is tender to the bone..

Pressed for time?  Make it the day before and refrigerate.  Warm it up in the oven.  Even better!