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The Bookshelf

Doug's bookshelf: read

AntwerpWarsaw BikiniIcelandHow the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneThe Original of LauraBrief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Time Since Reboot

  • 1122 days, 4 hours, 47 minutes, 59 seconds ago

Virginia Recap

UVA Rotunda

The majority of this past week was spent in Charlottesville, Virginia: my first time visiting the quaint little college town, my first business trip with my new company, and my first as an internal rather than an external auditor.  As I was there for work, I did not bring the DSLR; but I did try to capture some of the more interesting moments and vistas with the iPhone’s camera.  Obviously, one per day was posted and archived over at Schnappshusse!, but I will take this opportunity to share some additional snapshots.

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The hospital complex itself was in a very pretty setting, maybe a half mile from the University proper.  It was below freezing with snow on the ground when we arrived on Monday; by Thursday afternoon it was in the low seventies and made for a gorgeous, if abbreviated, day of sightseeing around Virginia’s campus.  Edgar Allan Poe’s dorm room was a highlight.  We drove the ten minutes up to Monticello, but by that time we A) were dead tired and dreading our break-of-dawn flight out on Friday (which I came way too close to oversleeping for, despite trying for an early bedtime), and B) didn’t feel like paying the fifteen dollar admission fee that I’m pretty sure isn’t covered by our per diem.  So we just saw the visitor center and gift shop.  Another time.

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I snapped the following sequence from the second floor: these two students dancing on the steps of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda.  What a fun end to the engagement.

dancers

For anyone who ever finds themselves near UVA and hungry, the local places we ate and found acceptable to very good and fairly moderately priced were: Carmello’s (Italian), Guadalajara (Mexican), Thai ’99 (Thai, go figure), Rhett’s River Grill & Raw Bar (Seafood), and South Street Brewery (American).

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Next audit is Tyler, Texas in two weeks.  I’m thinking we might have to work a little harder to find interesting and picturesque things to see/do/eat there.  But maybe that’s me being too closed-minded about the Lone-Star State.

Many kudos to Hipstamatic.  I’m rediscovering it after having migrated to more hands-on/heavy-handed photoediting iPhone apps last year.  (The new Made In America pack is awesome.)

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A Multi-Front Invasion

 

from blogs.telegraph.co.ukWith apologies to one of my favorite authors, Martin Amis — I must complete the cycle and re-blog an article by Mark O’Connell of The Millions. Its subject is an early 80’s arcade game guide book, Invasion of the Space Invaders, penned (and now, by all accounts, abhorred and disowned) by Mr. Amis around the same time he was writing his acclaimed novel, Money. The article and its subject matter are fascinating enough by themselves, but a day after its initial publication two additional blogs I subscribe to (and I don’t subscribe to that many) picked it up and re-blogged the thing:

1.  curator of internet miscellany Jason Kottke, somewhat expectedly — falling squarely within the realm of kottke.org‘s normal web-oddity subject matter

2.  college football blog Every Day Should Be Saturday, unexpectedly but awesomely (and, as my wife pointed out, not too absurd — Spencer Hall being the internet’s finest sportswriter-poet and all)

So, screw it. I’m re-blogging it too. It is a fantastic read. And the book itself, while understandably cringeworthy in light of the author’s catalog and stature, sounds like it is an extremely well-written bit of geek-fluff. I want a copy. Sorry, Martin.

 

Recipe: The Doug Steak

raw steaks

This past week I happened upon this unfortunate culinary tip and decided it was long past time for me to share my simple instructions on how to cook a perfect steak. As best I can recollect, this is a modified amalgam from instructions gleaned from Mark Bittman and one or two Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations shows.  Here goes:

Step one is choose a good piece of meat.  If you go to Walmart and get a vacu-packed T-bone, you’re going to have a rough go at it.  Go to a grocery store you trust to have a quality butcher setup.  I normally go for steaks that are around 1 pound and 1 1/2 inches thick, give or take.  I also favor bison over beef — it may be a personal preference, and this technique works well for both, but the bison I buy is always leaner and bloodier and just tastes better.  The cut is also important.  I always go boneless but there is no reason my recipe wouldn’t work with a bone-in steak.  Ribeye is the best.  New York strips are good too.  Filets are more tender but have less flavor.  Go T-bone or porterhouse or sirloin at your leisure… not my cup of tea but it doesn’t matter.  Your call, really.  Just don’t try it with a skirt or flank steak.  I’ve got my own method for these cuts.  It owns, but is beyond the scope of this article.  Take them home and refrigerate them, but don’t get silly about it.  Cook those bad boys within two to three days of purchase.

Step the second:  When you’re ready to cook your steaks, let them sit and warm to room temperature.  My rule of thumb is thirty minutes.  My electric oven (yes, we’re doing these in the oven… grills are for cavemen, campsites and tailgating) in Albuquerque took about 20-30 minutes to heat up, so I could take the steaks out of the fridge at the same time I turned the oven on.  My gas range here in Birmingham takes less time.  This timing issue is about as complicated as the planning can get.

Next (or simultaneous) step:  preheat the oven.  The setting?  Bake.  As high as the dial will go.  Mine is 550 degrees.  While you wait, season the steaks heavily with course ground black pepper and sea salt.  That’s it — no marinade, no Dale’s seasoning, no celebrity chef steak-rubs… I have left those conventions behind. 

When you’re 5-7 minutes away from putting the meat in, fire up a skillet over maximum heat.  Once the oven is ready, throw the steaks into the skillet and immediately slide the skillet into the oven and note the time.  You will turn them once.

Now, I like my steaks still screaming in bloody agony.  Rare normally equates to 3-4 minutes per side. Medium rare would probably be more like 5 per side.  More well done than that — what are you, a communist?  Again, this is assuming a Doug-sized thickness.*  If your cuts are more like 2 inches, add time accordingly.  If it’s an inch or less, you may want to go as short as 2 minutes. 

When the second side is done, pull the skillet out (with pot-holders or a towel or something… you would think I wouldn’t have to include this instruction but I proved myself wrong one painful night) and let the steaks sit for 8 minutes.  This is important.  It is still cooking in there, don’t mess with it.  Don’t slice into it and check it.  Just let it sit there.  Don’t even look at it the wrong way, okay?

In all seriousness, this technique has never failed me.  It produces a juicy, tender, tasty-as-hell steak every single time.  I would add this caveat, though:  I utilize this method when cooking one steak for myself or two for me and my wife.  This past November I tried to cook six at a time at a lake party.  That got a little hairy, mostly because of the different cuts of beef and different temperature preferences of everyone involved.  Next time the old grill might be the way to go, since, while less precise, it doesn’t require you to open and close oven doors and slide the meat in and out.*

To recap: 

1-2 16 oz. bison ribeyes (substitute your favorite)
warm to room temperature
preheat oven to max
lots of salt
lots of pepper
heat skillet, max for 5-7 mins
add steaks to skillet and immediately…
bake for 4 mins, turn, additional 4 mins
let sit 8 mins
enjoy

* Note: any hint of meat-themed sexual innuendo is totally and completely unintentional.  Shame on you.

Revisiting Infinite Jest

In the summer of 2009, I settled in to the massive undertaking that is reading the late David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

It was mesmerizing and maddening.  DFW’s extensive use of endnotes (a convention I found fascinating at first, but as I plodded through began to find unnecessarily pretentious) requires the use of two bookmarks and an irritating amount of page-flipping.  Wallace’s language is hard language.  He invents jargon and deploys his own sometimes too-long and not-always-intuitive acronyms at will.  His sentences are grammatical wonders — true to preferred structure but strung out clause after clause until the idea started half a page ago becomes hopelessly lost.  If I left the book unattended for a few days I would completely forget where I had been and have to read back at least twenty pages or so to find the narrative again.  And at the conclusion of the entire endeavor, the story just stops.  Smash cut to black.  The end. 

I wailed, and probably cursed, out loud on the living room couch when I hit that final page (I remember because my wife demanded an explanation), and I shelved the finished novel with heavily mixed emotions.  Even now if I make reference to it in passing, my wife will ask "you mean that book you complained about for a month and a half?".  And I can’t explain why I talk about it fondly and passionately, because she’s right — she watched me try to digest that beast for weeks. 

This past Tuesday we had another one of those moments.  She quoted the "I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest…" line from Hamlet and said "hey, you know… like that book" — to which I responded excitedly that yes, and did you know that Poor Yorick Entertainment is the name of James Incandenza’s production company, etcetera, etcetera… right back swept up in the never-finished plot.  A night or two later, blog led to blog led to a link to an NPR story on the Decemberists’ Eschaton-inspired "Calamity Song" music video.  God help me, I watched that thing like a child gazing into a candy store window.

 

 

What is it about this book that I cannot let go of?  Why this annoyingly complex and unsatisfying novel out of so many worthy others?  Then I listed, in my head, the books over my entire lifetime of reading that have that same quality — that my mind often connects present events to, whose scenes replay themselves in my private theatre, and whose language weaves its way into my own language (yes, even DFW’s acronyms make weird appearances in workplace emails… to be cringingly re-read after sending).  There are five:  Lolita, The Book of Disquiet, The Lord of the Rings, London Fields, and The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll.  Five out of so many.  What qualities bind all five, or six, of these books together might be an exploration for another time.  But for now: what is Infinite Jest doing on this list?

This is the best answer I can form:  I love Wallace’s work because it demands you immerse yourself in it — and Jest more so than others.  It is not a book for lounging absentmindedly with the television on.  You become an active participant or it doesn’t work.  The story is epic in its way, and alive.  The world has its own mythology; its myriad inhabitants are fully-formed — tragic and complex, doomed from the start.  DFW opens this brief window into an electric world, enough to give us a glimpse of the life within, enough to make their reality our reality while we turn its pages, and that’s it.  And that is a massive amount of information.  And that is enough.  And for those of us who dwelt within the pages of Infinite Jest for our time, it is also and eternally never enough. 

It may be that the best art is the art we carry with us, long after the precious time we spend with it is over and done.

To never know what happens to the denizens of Enfield Tennis Academy and Ennet House, to Hal Incandenza, Don Gately, Joelle Van Dyne, et. al., is a tremendously unsatisfying consequence of reading the novel; just as David Chase’s decision not to give us Tony’s fate at the end of The Sopranos seemed unfair to those of us who tuned in every Sunday night for the better part of a decade.  But that dissatisfaction with Infinite Jest quietly melted away with time, while the immensely satisfying journey remains bizarrely lodged in my memory — its travelers sharing those inner spaces with Humbert Humbert, the Gaviero, Nicola Six, Frodo and Sam, Pessoa’s heteronyms, and Tony fucking Soprano. 

If this blog is just a journal of the mind, then it ends here.  But if it is a two-way conversation with those who stumble upon my humble corner of the web, then I suppose I should conclude with this directive: set aside some alone time and read Infinite Jest.  It is worth the effort, and if you’re anything like me you will love it, you will loathe it, and you will love it all over again.