Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I was Hashing in arctic conditions near Madrid last weekend, when the conversation turned to Scotland.

I mentioned to a fellow Hasher named “The Godmother” how much I enjoyed my first taste of haggis during a recent trip to Edinburgh, and she stopped in her tracks.

“Haggis?!” she said. “Why...I have a can of it in my car. I'll get it for you.”

The Godmother, I should mention, is married to a Scot—although, to be honest, that still doesn't strike me as a satisfactory explanation for having a can of haggis in the trunk. But I'm not one for splitting hairs.

And so it was that I drove home a few hours later with a can of Grant’s Traditional Recipe Haggis sitting prettily in the passenger seat of my car.

I haven’t eaten it yet. Haggis should be served with a “wee dram,” and my basement bar is currently out of Scotch whisky (I'll plead the 5th on that one). So I’ve chosen to wait until my next liquor run before breaking out the can-opener.

But that hasn’t stopped me from scrutinizing the label on the can. And let me tell ya...there's some “attention-grabbing” text on that label. For example:

Lamb Lungs (45%)
Oatmeal (19%)
Beef Suet
Scottish Water

Pretty much speaks for itself, no?

But there’s more! Turn the can 180 degrees, and you'll find the following cooking preparation tip:

Open both ends of the can and carefully push through.

So apparently, neither dumping the can’s contents into a pot nor scooping them out with a spoon are feasible options. To prepare a can of haggis, the chef must use the Play-doh Fun Factory method.

This may not explain why a can of haggis was in The Godmother's trunk last weekend, but it certainly explains why there isn't one now.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Just a quick, late-night note from your smokey-smelling Virtual Tapas Bartender. The Weber Bullet has struck again...and this time, the victims were chickens.

Well...you have to admit that it's a nicer photo than that of an aging exhibitionist contortionist.


Are you a Scotch whisky idiot?

I was a Scotch whisky idiot a few weeks ago. But then I dedicated myself to minutes and minutes of diligent research and analysis. And now...I’m a whisky imbecile.

And you can an imbecile, too!

Just boogie on down to The Spirit World
—Seattle’s most boozilicious new e-zine—and check out my latest contribution. All you have to do is click here.

Now, laddies and lassies...go forth and fortify!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


...I'm not brittle.

I took this photo in response to a challenge this morning. The challenger shall remain nameless...but she knows who she is.

Sorry. It's been a slow brain week, and I had little else to offer by way of new material.

BTW...does anyone have a tube of Ben-Gay that I can borrow?


Here is a conversation that I overheard at Bar Gema this morning.

PATRON: Antonio! Gimme an apple juice.

BARTENDER: We don’t have any apple juice.


PATRON: Then...gimme a beer.

Well...at least he can tell his wife that he tried.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Meals, booze and cross-dressing aren’t the only reasons why I look forward to my employer’s annual EMEA sales conference. There's also the sympathetic colleagues who keep me well-fed with foods from their home countries.

Last year, it was vodka and kielbasa smuggled into Malta by my amigo from Warsaw. This year, it was Scandinavia’s turn

Jesper—another Viking friend from Copenhagen—arrived in Edinburgh bearing the holy trinity of Danish gastronomy: herring, Aquavit and a dense, brown bread mix.

A few drops of Aquavit remain, but the herring and bread are now just a happy memory.

It just goes to show you. Whether you're Danish or Polish, there's a little Italian grandmother inside all of us.

Thanks, Jesper! Ingen svag vine.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


It’s January, and that can mean only one thing—the annual Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) Sales Conference.

And this year, my employer—Acme Low Carb Tongue-Depressors, Inc.—held it in a new location. Look at the photo on the left. Can you guess where? Can ya? Can ya?

No! Not in a Catholic High School! It was in Edinburgh, Scotland.

That’s me on the left, and my boss—who, despite my ruining the finish on his desktop with a hot pizza in 1998, graciously gave me permission to publish this photo—on the right.

At the risk of being called a brown-noser, this year’s conference was far and away the best I’ve attended. In fact, it was better than many of my past vacations.

Sure, the conference was full of technical presentations, goofy new buzzwords (e.g., “proofability,” “changing fact,” “learnings” and my personal favorite, “best of breed”) and skull-crushing hangovers. But there were three things that made this year’s conference especially memorable: kilts, whisky and haggis.

First, the kilts. For the awards ceremony dinner, Acme rented traditional Scottish attire for all of the men. It was my first time in a kilt, and I must say...I liked it! Kilts are warm and comfy, and they come with a little goat-skin purse (called a “sporran”) that holds your wallet, mobile phone and whisky flask. All in all, it was a helluva sight...100+ newly-enlightened men—from locations as diverse as the US, Finland and Lebanon—dressed in kilts and strutting around like peacocks. Not one embarassed soul in the lot.

This shouldn’t have been surprizing. When you think about it logically, it makes far more sense for a man to wear a skirt than a woman. Men do, after all, have certain design features that make them more susceptible to being squeezed, pinched or chafed by the inseam of a pair of pants. And I don’t need to mention the unique danger that a carelessly tugged zipper presents.

The only downside to wearing a kilt is the logistical challenge posed by the inevitable wee-wee break. Three hands are needed to manage this task. I now understand why women go to the bathroom in pairs.

The second highlight of the conference was the Scotch whisky. No, that’s not a cultural stereotype. Scotch whisky is, in fact, as bountiful in Edinburgh as is Dr. Pepper in Galveston. The menu in our hotel bar sported at least forty different brands. And all of them were single malt.

The third highlight was haggis. Haggis is a black, peppery mixture of sheep’s heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, spices and oats that’s stuffed into a sheep’s intestine and cooked. The photo on the left shows the plate of haggis that I was served. It was an exciting event in my life. Haggis is one of two disgusting foods (the other being durian) that, for years, I’ve been dying to eat. It was worth the wait. Haggis is great stuff!

What a trip! What a country! I should’ve known that Scotland had more to offer than the Bay City Rollers.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


There’s a new e-zine in town...and I’ll be a contributor to it. It’s called “The Spirit World,” and you can check it out here.

No, no, no...it’s not an e-zine dedicated to contacting the ghost of Elvis. That would be silly. Elvis is still alive.

It is, rather, dedicated to the wonderful world of liquor...and all the fun stuff you can do with it.

Regular features will include mixology, craft beers, cooking with liquor, drinks around the world and “happy hour at home.” I will be contributing as often as inspiration strikes. My first post is now on-line, and you can find it here.

The Spirit World’s cuddly and capable Editor is our friend Brenda from Culinary Fool.

Hey Brenda...thanks for giving me the opportunity to write-off my bar bills as a business expense!

Friday, January 06, 2006


My morning...
My afternoon...
My evening...
Anybody want to come over for dinner?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Ladies and gentlemen, meet “The Original Cow Pie!”

The Original Cow Pie is Wisconsin’s finest export since “Laverne and Shirley.” It’s a heavy-duty hunka mind-blowing confection—and one that I don’t recommend eating within an hour of jogging (which, unfortunately, is exactly what I did this morning).

But what is “The Original Cow Pie?” From the box, I quote:

“Rich Chocolate.”
“Creamy Caramel.”
“Fresh Pecans.”
“Featuring Wisconsin Milk & Butter.”
“From America’s Dairyland.”

In other words, it’s like a candy Turtle on steriods. And man-oh-man! Is it GOOD!

Yep...in India, they cook on cow pies. In Wisconsin (and now, Spain), they eat them.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Are Cow Pies really sold in Spain?”

Nope...they aren’t. I received three of these babies in the mail this morning from my good friend (and good samaritan) Lisa—Wisconsin’s finest citizen since...since...“Laverne and Shirley.”

Gracias, Lisa! I don’t think I’ll need any Conguitos this week.


During any given hour, how many times do you forcibly remove your cat from the computer keyboard?
(a) None
(b) 1-5
(c) 6-10
(d) 11-20
(e) The question is moot, because the cat fell into a wood-chipper.

The tenth person to respond will win a quality, pre-owned litter box...manufactured in Spain.

Monday, January 02, 2006


I’m back from a two-week trip to Chicago. It was a good trip for my daughter and me, and man-oh-man...was it nice to be in an English-speaking place for a change.

I’d love to tell you all about the trip in a fluid, James Michener-like manner—but my brain still has the numb, disconnected feel of one that has recently flown across seven time zones in the middle of the night.

So...I’ll do what other lazy writers do (particularly in the business world), and simply provide a bullet-pointed “executive summary” of the highlights. Here goes...

* I ate like a damn pig for the entire two weeks—with heavy emphasis on the type of spicy, ethnic stuff that has neither supply nor demand here in Spain. Do you want details? Do you? OK, here’s what I ate:

- One north Indian buffet (the *entire* buffet);

- One south Indian buffet (the *entire* buffet);

- One Polish buffet (eating the *entire* buffet was clearly impossible...if you’ve been to one, then you’ll know what I mean);

- Lamb biryani, chicken and chapati at a grungy-yet-killer Indian-Pakistani dabha ;

- Italian sausage with hot peppers at Portillo’s;

- Etoufeé at Heaven on Seven;

- Fried rice, hot and sour soup and pork dumplings at a friend’s house;

- Falafel, dolmades, coconut raisin basmati rice, curried chick-peas, naan and chai at another friend’s house;

- Apple and ricotta blintzes with apple cider syrup at a funky diner near Northwestern University; and

- A mountain of waffles, pancakes and breakfast sausage.

* By the way, the foregoing list is only the stuff that I ate outside my family’s respective homes. The stuff I ate *inside* the family compound included venison roasts, apple-brined smoked turkey, beef stew, prime rib, honey-baked ham, lasagna and rigatoni.

* And then there was Christmas Eve dinner. It had all the dishes that I described in my earlier childhood food meme post...plus a large platter of Cajun crawfish that was added for purposes of ethnic diversity. There were no jugs of Carlo Rossi dago-red, however. Even nostalgia has its limits.

* Despite the shameless display of gluttony that I’ve so meticulously described above, my Grandmother STILL complained that I am too thin.

* My grandmother and Uncle Tony made the fourteen-hour trip on Amtrak to spend Christmas with us. But as any seasoned Amtrak-traveller might have guessed, it wasn’t a fourteen-hour trip. It was nineteen hours. That’s the beauty of Amtrak. Their travel time-tables must be converted to dog hours.

* My daughter arrived in Chicago speaking 90% Spanish. She left speaking 90% English. It was an amazing transformation. That which she did in two weeks, I haven't been able to do in six years.

* Ten years and two daughters later, my relationship with my law school roommate (Tony) hasn’t changed a bit. My daughter and I spent a night at his home in Evanston (near the Northwestern campus). After a fabulous Asian dinner cooked by his wife, we put the babies to bed and tiptoed out the front door. Two pubs and 78 pints of ale later, Tony and I were slouched on his living room sofa watching “Full Circle with Michael Palin” on the VCR. This, by the way, is EXACTLY how we spent four impoverished, stress-filled years at the University of Illinois in the early ‘90’s.

* Nothing says brotherly love like three slabs of ribs on the BBQ smoker. Check out the photo above. That’s me and my nerdy hat on the left, my brother Todd on the right, and a very unlucky pig in the middle. We used the same smoker to cook an apple-brined turkey on Christmas day.

* Health issues run in many families. In mine, it’s skiing-related shoulder fractures. My mother must have envied mine, because now she has her own.

* Although I’m no fan of Starbucks coffee, I had to—just HAD TO—walk-around town with a big paper cup of Latte in my hand. I was feeling self-conscious. All the other pedestrians on the sidewalk kept staring at me as if I were nuts. I reckoned it was because I was the only one without a Latte in hand. Then—on the airplane flying back to Spain—I suddenly realized the true reason that they were staring at me. It was the friggin’ hat.