The Ghost of Christmas Present

December 26, 2008


Sure, there are lots of reasons to hate Christmas, and my list only grows longer with each passing year. Holiday e-cards, for instance, or Christmas-morning text messages on the olde cell phone – both make me want to toss my fruitcake. But on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons not to hate the Yule, even if you’re a mean little Scroogy McGrinch like me. Here’s my short list of 5 things I’m not completely hating about Christmas this year:

1. Hard Times. Believe it or not, our recent financial implosion is about the best thing to happen to Christmas since Prince Albert stepped out of his can and dragged a dead tree into Buckingham Palace. Mrs. M and I decided to give each other the gift of not buying gifts, with jolly good results. We used the time, money, and goodwill we saved to take in a few shows, jaunt off on a short roadtrip, and generally indulge each others’ whims. And this year we actually celebrated our wedding anniversary, which usually gets lost in the wrapping paper, with a fine dinner at Lalime’s on the 23rd. Sure, we bought a few presents for our daughter and her young man – I mean, Christmas is for kids, even when they’re 26 – and we mailed off some kitchen-crafted goodies to the diasporic family, but that was the full extent of our gifting this year. No receipts, no returns, no regrets – and no scary Visa bills in January. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitless Pit BBQ

November 14, 2008


If you’ve ever tasted pit BBQ – whether Hawaiian, Mayan, or Texan – you know there’s no better way to slow-cook a big slab of meat to tender deliciosity. There’s just one problem: digging a giant hole in your back yard. Unless you own a backhoe or know a lot of Samoans, it’s probably never going to happen. Which is why I’m all excited about this recipe, which delivers nearly identical results on a standard Weber grill.

The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, California Rancho Cooking by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan. She in turn credits it to her cousin, Jeff Chavarria. I say big props to the whole family, and you’ve got to give this a try next time you’re working the Q for a big group. It takes two days from start to finish but it’s oh-so worth it.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Swarm

July 23, 2008

What’s funnier than a guy in a bee suit? Eighteen people in bee suits! I’m serious, put eighteen bees on a yellow bus, run a few bars, and hilarity is bound to ensue. How do I know? I just know.


My dream-team bee-day Swarm convened at Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland. Idling outside: the classic 1948 GMC motor coach of my good friend, Dr. Robert B. Flying in singly and in pairs: bees of every description; unshaven Belushi bees, south-of-the-border abejas locas, at least two queen bees, a dangerous Asian killer bee, a rare umpire bee, a sweat bee, a meat bee, and some punk bees striped in black duct tape.


After a few introductory beers and a quick stop at the nearby B Bar, the Swarm winged its way waterward for a private tasting and tour at the Linden Street Brewery. The proprietor, Adam, was so bee-struck that he not only poured gratis, but donated a keg for the bus. Bee-youtiful!  There’s nothing like free beer for washing down all those shots of Barenjaeger. On the sound system: seventeen variations on Flight of the Bumblebee. Get frantic, bee-yatch!


Read the rest of this entry »

Martinez: The Cocktail

June 4, 2008

I’ve lived within a rifle shot of Martinez for twenty years, and my great-grandmother Loreto was baptized there during the Gold Rush, but for some reason I had to drive halfway across the state to discover the Martinez cocktail. One of my fellow guests at the all-exclusive Shinola Resort, in the rustic hills west of Redding, was the celebrated mixologist Jay Crabb, of San Jose’s Martini Monkey. Jay hauled up a truckload of booze and fixings, and treated us to many classic cocktails over the course of a weekend – Sazeracs, Manhattans – but it was the Martinez that really caught my fancy, an ancestor of the Martini that’s considerably more nuanced and flavorful than its better-known descendent.

Read the rest of this entry »