Vegan Jerkey

January 13, 2009

img_31891I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. Or the name of an indie band. But it’s a real product, available at a hippie grocery store near you. Vegan jerkey – now doesn’t that just sound temptalicious? Of all the mixed-up fake-meat products in the world, and there are plenty of them, from not-dogs to gardenburgers to smartbacon, this is perhaps the ultimate in faux-flesh merchandising for vegetarians who hate vegetables and secretly lust for meat. Or in other words, most of them.

Now I’ve been drying my own beef for years, and will freely admit to being something of a jerkey snob. I’m certainly no fan of the big commercial brands, chipped and molded into rubbery slabs, soaked in high-fructose corn syrup, and salted with a Jersey’s worth of preservatives. I’d like to be able to say that “Stonewall’s Spicy ‘Chicken’ Jerquee” was no worse than that. But I’d be a liar. A big, fat, meat-breathed liar. To my palate it was an abomination, with all the worst qualities of bad beef jerkey, compounded by a complete lack of beefiness. It had the texture of a pet treat, smelled like industrial solvents, and tasted like salty barf. But who am I to judge? To eliminate the subjective factor, I conducted an informal survey at my local  with what was left in the bag, and the results took me by surprise. Not everyone hated it – and I’m not just talking about vegans with their withered taste buds, who are used to everything tasting awful. Some meat-eaters considered it palatable, and a few actually thought it was pretty darn tasty.

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(Gun)Fire on the Mountain

January 7, 2009

deadnra_smallI can’t believe I’m the first one to think of this, but don’t these two American icons go together like pie and cheese? Like baseball and steroids? Like a bacon veggie-burger and a tall glass of Kool-Aid? If guns become hip, will only hippies have guns? Does the right to arm bears extend to dancing bears? 

Sorry I don’t have any merch for sale yet, but in the meantime feel free to download the large version of this image and print up your own stickers. They’re perfect for the back window of your car or truck and bound to confound the authorities, who may have to think twice now before pulling you over.

Global Warming vs. On-Balance Americanism

January 3, 2009

img_3151A pair of daffodils bloomed in my yard on New Year’s Day. And in that humble factoid, as a teacher of mine used to say, there’s some good news and some other news. The good news: this is traditionally a sign from the plant world that Spring is on its way, and I am Spring’s biggest fan. The other news, and I say other because I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, is that this may be a consequence of global warming, and pretty soon I’ll need a speedboat to get from Portero Island to Nob Island when I visit the water hazard formerly known as San Francisco. Which actually sounds kind of sexy, or at least sexier than driving cross-town at rush hour.

Indeed, a little more heat and a higher high-tide line would not necessarily be a bad thing around here, especially for a SoCal boy who’s never quite gotten used to these colder climes, even after 20 years north of the 37th parallel. Needing a wetsuit to swim in the ocean still strikes me as wrong, like putting rice in a burrito or not adding “the” to the front of a freeway number. But it’s just as wrong to see a crazy mixed-up Daffodil bloom ten days after the Solstice, which could be a sign that Spring is either early or nowhere in sight, el nino or la nina, and that I’m looking at either Hawaiian-shirt weather or another four months of thule fog with intermittant showers and random overnight freezes, or possibly a plague of locusts, or whatever this crazy mixed-up climate has to offer, no matter how much recycled grease I run through the Jetta or how many cloth-bag credits I get at the supermarket. Warming trends are fine, except for the storms and the droughts and the rivers running red.

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Best of the Bookshelf 2008

December 27, 2008


None of these titles were published in 2008, because I’m too cheap to buy hardcovers and I’m not special enough to get review copies. But I read these in ’08, and I liked them, and I thought maybe you might like them too. So here’s my year-end highlight reel from the action-packed world of Stuart’s bookshelf.


oscarThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

This book won so many awards, including a Pulitzer, that I figured it had to suck. I figured wrong. The narrative voice is amazing – unlike anything you’ve ever read before – and that’s what makes it fun from Page One. But it’s also a terrific story, at once a coming-of-age story and an epic family tragedy spanning three generations in and out of the Dominican Republic. Smart, funny, and heartbreaking – a modern classic. The only caveat I can add is that you might want to keep a Spanish dictionary handy, or a slang dictionary, or better yet a Spanish slang dictionary. Even then, some of the Dominicanisms are going to slip past you, and probably some of the pop-culture references as well. But still, everything is pretty clear from the context, and that wild language-shifting is an essential part of the narrative flavor. Asombroso!


savageThe Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Worth all the hype it’s been receiving, this is a great book. Pynchonian in scope, with an incredible cast of characters and a wild range of voices, all trying to piece together the cryptic story of two Mexico City hustlers and their self-styled poetry movement of the 70’s, “visceral realism.” Were they really poets, or just drug dealers? And what exactly happened out in the Sonora desert when they took off on the lam with a borrowed car and a teenaged hooker, hotly pursued by her pimp? It’s a tale that can only be told as an epic oral history, a kaleidoscopic narrative that spans three decades and at least 100 points of view. A truly outstanding work of fiction. 

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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.

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Not Easy Being Green

November 13, 2008


I’m a biodiesel user, so I know a thing or two about kicking the petroleum habit. For starters, you’ve got to find a supplier, and then you’ll probably have to join some kind of user group before they’ll let you fill up. Expect to pay more than you would for regular diesel – as much as $2 a gallon more – even though it costs the manufacturer less to make. Don’t even think about using the diamond lane – or getting a tax credit – since in the eyes of the law you’re still driving a stinky diesel. And if you’re converting a used car to run on biodiesel for the first time, go buy a six-pack of fuel filters and learn how to install one under field conditions, like on the side of the freeway when your ride suddenly stops rolling because all that old dinosaur gack has come loose from the lines. But at the end of the drive it’s more than worth all the trouble because (a) you’re not sending a dime to the Arabs, (b) your carbon footprint is EEE-narrow, and (c) your exhaust smells like Freedom Fries.


Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s only natural to want to take things up a level. Unless you’re smoking from Jim Mason‘s pipe, in which case you’ll want to take it up eleventy levels, and sign up for his “Escape From Berkeley” race, a mad rally to Las Vegas “by any non-petroleum means necessary.” Though I didn’t enter a car this year, I followed the event with great interest, and even played a role in helping to get the winning team across the finish line.

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The Very Very Long Now

September 11, 2008

When one of my favorite authors makes a public appearance, I’ll put up with a lot to be in the audience. For instance, when Hunter Thompson came to Cal  some years ago, I sat through an endless hour of Alice Donut, followed by a tape recording of jackrabbits being tortured with fire, to witness the good doctor drain a bottle of whiskey and mumble poisonous answers to stupid questions. So when I heard that Neal Stepenson would be launching his latest novel in San Francisco, under the aegis of the Long Now Foundation, I jumped at the chance to attend.

Drive an hour to get there? Not a problem. Stand in line for another hour to get in, even though I bought my ticket in advance? Sure, because I am a fan. I’ve read all this guy’s books, even the crappy ones like Zodiac and Snow Crash. Even (and especially) the 2,700+ page Baroque Cycle, which I chomped down like a Costco-sized bag of tasty, tasty popcorn. 

An hour and a quarter after the scheduled start time, and they still can’t get the sound system to work? I am filled with benefit-of-the-doubt, generously dispensing Slack. After all, I am a fan of the event organizers and their crazy clock project. If they skipped a step here or there, like the sound-check, who am I to point fingers? It’s an old, historic hall, and they’ve never done an event here before, and they are my friends.

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September 8, 2008

Once in a while even the most jaded film buff stumbles onto something unexpected: a forgotten classic from a director no one’s ever heard of. Alambrista! is exactly that kind of movie. Released in 1977, it won the Camera D’Or at Cannes but tanked at the box office and disappeared without a trace.  Its director, Robert M. Young, is similarly obscure, one of those Hollywood working stiffs who’s best known, if at all, as the answer to that fiendish, final-round movie trivia question that no one ever gets right.

Alambrista! is the deceptively simple tale of a young Mexican farmer who heads north to work illegally in the USA. The title comes from the Mexican slang term for border-crosser – literally “wire walker” or “tightrope walker” – which is in itself an interesting flip-side to better-known terms like “wetback.” Immigration wasn’t exactly a hot topic in 1977, which, along with the fact that the film is mostly in Spanish with English subtitles, probably explains why no one went to see it the first time around. Which is a damned shame, because this is one hell of a movie.

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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!


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