Ken Wheaton’s Bacon and Egg Man

Filed under:Authors,Books,Cool,Food,Politics,Reviews — posted by Anwyn on April 11, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

I bought Bacon and Egg Man because I liked Wheaton’s first book, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, but I bought it thinking I wouldn’t be able to read it for months because law school. I haven’t read anything without a case name or a blog heading in months. Instead, I started it on the plane out for spring break and had it finished before I had to get back on the plane to come home. It is a snappy, hilarious read that brings up serious issues without taking itself any too seriously. In two words: thoughtful and funny. And since it’s well written and doesn’t make me claw my editor’s eyes out of my head, what more do you want?

Wes lives in the northeast corner of what used to be the United States. New York and its surrounding blue-state cohorts have seceded, and in the resulting Federation, original Bloomberg’s original soda ban has led to the illegality of fat and sugar and basically everything that tastes good. The people eat tofu and vegetables and visit the doctor by mandate to have their body fat monitored. Strangely, this has not stopped people from dying of heart attacks or cancer, but nobody seems to grasp the implications of that. Wes lives the life of an average guy who works a job, makes a living at it, and keeps to himself. But he’s a drug dealer and a user—not only does he get bacon, eggs, real milk and butter, ribeyes, sausage, and yes, soda for his clients, he eats them himself, cooking them up in a black cast-iron skillet (whose appearance, all by itself, won my heart in the first chapter). And soon he gets caught.

Wheaton has a positive gift for loading a lot of entertaining, detailed exposition into a short stretch that doesn’t weary because it doesn’t feel like lengthy or unnecessary narration. As in his first book, we are introduced to the characters swiftly, but in a perfect medium—we’re not plunged directly into the middle of unfamiliar action but not subjected to a tedious process of setting the stage. From there, he scatters details that round out the future vision he’s created, note-perfectly hilarious. He’s like a Sherlock Holmes in that when I read his projection of the future, I thought, “Of COURSE that’s the way it’s going to go, based on the trends we have now,” but I wouldn’t have thought of it myself. (Holmes used to get irritated with Watson for saying how simple things were once Holmes explained them.) In that sense, he’s also like a good mystery writer, since in a mystery, when you find out who the perp is, you should say “OF COURSE,” but you shouldn’t have seen it coming too easily.

Here, we’re left in no doubt as to who the villains are up front. The scenario of the government taking away stuff that’s good, and that in moderation is quite good for us, theoretically for our own good, is all too believable. (And, as a law student, I also find completely believable the cops’ ever-spiraling obligations to arestees as they’re pointing weapons at them. “We are considering firing upon you. This shot is not designed to be lethal, but it will hurt. In some cases, the charge has proven lethal. The government is not responsible for any damages to your person or property. Do you understand this?” I was dying laughing, imagining the Miranda-style case law that generated requirements like this.) Honestly, as I read this book, I was kind of amazed America ever came back from Prohibition. But at the same time, life goes on. The cops do their jobs; there is not an uprising brewing over these laws; it’s a dreary institutional utopia instead of either a smooth façade with sinister underpinnings or a hotbed of seething chaos waiting to explode. Again: all grimly believable. People can get used to a lot, if they have to.

I won’t get into any more of the plot, but there is a girl (and you know I’m a sucker for a love story), and there is a villain with a face (as opposed to the oppress-you-for-your-good government), and there is a back story. And both the girl story and the back story are awesome. As a reader, my highest respect is reserved for authors who both have insight into human nature and can paint it accurately and entertainingly, and both the girl story and the back story are chock full of the reality of human nature without being maudlin. And, even more difficult to pull off, both the girl story and the back story are woven into the larger story seamlessly. And the whole fabric is light enough to build a nice warm blanket of story that makes you laugh and think, not a smothery coat of moralizing that makes you squirm and roll your eyes. (Like my metaphors might be doing now. I ain’t no novelist.) And there’s a twist—a lovely twist that I saw coming a page before it happened. (And that is not either a compliment or an insult to Ken Wheaton; it’s a compliment to myself. I am an author’s and a screenwriter’s dream in that I never see anything coming, ever. So the fact that I saw it one page ahead means I’m ever so slowly getting smarter as I age.)

There are only three things about the book that I didn’t think worked just right. First, one of the characters—well, see here how Wheaton himself describes him. But this is a matter of taste. I’m a bit uncomfortable with this kind of character, but I can distinguish him, at least, from a character that invades my mind and makes me think “garbage in, garbage out” and want to stop reading. This guy is a lighthearted blowhard that it’s easy for me not to take too seriously, so I got used to him quickly.

Second, what’s left of the United States outside the Federation suffers under none of these food restrictions, which is supposed to be a good thing, right? But the people are described as fat—really fat. As I was reading it, I shrugged that off, thinking, “He just threw that in for ‘balance,’” since my impression from his blog is that he’s more libertarian than anything else and therefore not in favor of the kind of restrictions he’s talking about. And I know he loves proper food. But it stuck with me that this portrayal really just flatly undermined the larger point. The point seems to be that regulations like this won’t stop people from being unhealthy in some form or other and certainly won’t stop them from dying of natural causes at young ages, and therefore they certainly aren’t worth restricting people’s freedom so greatly. But if everybody else is depicted as fat and unattractive, then it makes the restrictions look a bit more desirable, doesn’t it?

Third, and I don’t know if this is a matter of taste or of the “rules,” whatever they are, of novel construction, but I felt it in Rabbit Festival too—the ends of both books seem rushed. In each, I’d have liked more information about how things all shook out and a little more depth of feeling from each of several characters (which I know from earlier parts of the book they’re totally capable of). But the wrap-up is too fast for me, and I don’t see a need to whiz on to The End quite so quickly.

I can’t tell you every single thing I liked, loved, and related to in this book, or else I’d spill the whole plot and write a book myself in detailing them. But as a, shall we say, well rounded girl who grew up on bacon, biscuits, and gravy and whose cast iron skillets are the best things in her kitchen, I like that Ken Wheaton can write about the things he does in the way he does without either schmaltzy nostalgia or petty resentfulness. His characters don’t have a chip on their shoulders that they spend the books magically getting rid of; they’re just people struggling with their everyday lives, in this case seen through a prism of somewhat fantastic events. And one more thing I have to thank him for: While I have done ribeye steaks in my cast iron for years, throwing half a stick of butter in at the very end was a new idea to me. But not for long. Yum!

Way Ahead of My Time

Filed under:Food — posted by Anwyn on January 8, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

When I first moved out on my own, once upon a time in the mists of antiquity, I ordered a Domino’s pizza. I never did so again.

Apparently enough people did the same that they finally noticed.

Sweet

Filed under:Cool,Food — posted by Anwyn on January 7, 2010 @ 11:52 am

A bunch of my favorite games, and a bunch I’ve never heard of, rendered in … cupcakes.

H/t: Daddyman.

Move Over, Hobbits

Filed under:Food,Heh,Sports,Tolkien — posted by Anwyn on August 13, 2008 @ 10:52 am

Wow. Twelve thousand calories a day. And what calories! I think even Pippin would have turned his nose up at pizza.

Via Hot Air.

Whew, I’m Not the Only One

Filed under:Cool,Food,It's My Life — posted by Anwyn on August 10, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

I’ve taken on quite a devotion to cooking in the last couple years. I love my cast-iron pans, I love broiling steaks in them, making pasta sauces in them, making everything I possibly can in them, and next weekend I’m going to try a giant apple pancake in one of them. I’ve always suspected, though, that I would be looked down upon by serious enthusiastic cooks and food lovers, because there are so many different foods I don’t like. These fall into a few categories: Foods I like okay but probably wouldn’t choose if given options (shrimp, for example); foods I don’t like but will endure if I have to (citrus fruit, cilantro, others); foods I don’t like on their own but will accept in other things (blueberries in pancakes or muffins, avocado in guacamole); foods I simply cannot stand and will not eat under any circumstances (beets, mushrooms, artichokes, any of the weirder types of fruits like mango, nuts other than peanuts, tea, coconut, etc.).

Recently I’ve become completely enamored of the Smitten Kitchen, so it was with glee that I came upon her entry of some of her food weirdnesses and discovered that even serious cooks have a lot of stuff they don’t like.

2. As the above should suggest I’m really quite the curmudgeon about food; cooking allows me to hide this: I hate beets, green peppers on anything but pizza and even then not really, find cilantro (the green, not the powdered spice or seed) distasteful, as well as most teas, broccoli rabe and kale,all chais, cardamom, caviar, cheese-stuffed or coated items, dolma, minestrone, coconut curries, mustard that looks like yellow paint, the vast majority of fruit juices, nectars and smoothies and the vast majority of California cabernets and chardonnays I have tried.

Awesome. I don’t like smoothies myself because of a very limited relationship with fruit in general (strawberries, apples, grapes, and bananas, essentially, make the cut, and sparingly). She hates beets and dislikes cilantro! Just like me! Woo! But best of all was this bit:

1. After being a vegetarian for more than 15 years, the thing I took most quickly to was bacon, followed by any sort of pork, mussels and then beefy stews in butter-enriched sauces. Perhaps I wasn’t so much a “vegetarian” all those years but “rebelling against Jewish food.” Meanwhile, I have no love for typically easy-to-love non-vegetarian items such as chicken, turkey and shrimp. I’d pretty much rather eat a beet than a grilled chicken cutlet, which I will insist to my dying day tastes closer to cardboard than something edible.

Hallelujah. I have only recently come to the conclusion that the main reason I haven’t worked with raw chicken in my kitchen for a year or more, other than to roast a whole bird now and then, is because I really don’t enjoy eating the results. I made a heavy-duty chicken stir-fry the other night because of a sneaking suspicion that I’d been going too heavy on the beef lately, and it just. is. not. worth. it. The slimy, raw chicken that you have to pull strings of bloody tendon out of, and what do you get? Little chunks of white, dry, tasteless protein only marginally rescued by the glory of veggies around it. Yuck. I’m with Deb: Bacon, pork, beef. (I’ve never tried mussels.) Give me a steak to slap into the cast iron, any time, or chopped bacon on my spinach salad, or pancetta in my mashed potatoes, or pork tenderloin … did I mention the steak broiled in cast iron? Yum.

Caring for Cast-Iron Pans–Seasoning and Mythbusting

Filed under:Food,It's My Life — posted by Anwyn on May 20, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

Almost everywhere I look up information about caring for cast-iron pans, people are hollering at you not to put soap in your pans. They say in the most definite terms that this is extremely undesirable for your pans and will ruin the seasoning. This just isn’t true–I wash my pans with soap after every use, like my mother before me, and our pans are in perfect condition. Dish soap does not destroy the seasoning–it merely removes the layer of grease that you just cooked in, which is the point of washing something to begin with. As long as you oil the pan after every washing, at least for the first few months after the initial seasoning, you will build up a fine layer of season and your pan will last you indefinitely. You should see the way wash-water rolls off my most frequently used pan–the seasoning is almost waterproof at this point.

How do you get it seasoned like that in the first place? Easy: wipe it with a thin layer of lard or shortening (I use lard; I tried liquid vegetable oil the first time and it gummed up and I had to start over) and put it in the oven for an hour. Some people recommend an extremely high oven temp for this (450-500); others say 350 is fine. Both will work, but the key is a thin layer of grease–if the grease pools it will harden into a stubborn little nodule on your pan. Check the pan 20 minutes into the process and again at 40 (these times are for 350 degrees; if you use higher heat, check at shorter intervals), and if there are grease beads standing on it, wipe them away with a paper towel. Then, each time you cook in the pan, wash and thoroughly dry, then set the pan on a burner to heat for a couple minutes, put more lard or shortening in, wipe it all over the pan (again, thinly) and let the pan sit on the burner a couple more minutes, until the grease is very hot and well soaked into the pan. Turn the burner off, wipe pan with paper towel, and let it sit until cool. It’s okay if the pan remains slightly greasy to the touch.

For especially crusty, old, or rusty pans (or to clear off a botched seasoning job): I cleaned all the gunk of the ages off all my heirloom pans by putting them in the oven during a cleaning cycle–put the pans in the oven while cold, then turn on the cleaning cycle and leave them alone until many hours after the cycle is over, so that they cool gradually. Warning–some people say their pans have warped or cracked during this process, but mine withstood the heat and came out clean as a whistle–well, clean under the flaky ashy stuff, the remains of the formerly crusted-on stuff. From there, just wash, dry, and season. If they’re rusty, take some fine-grain sandpaper or a sanding sponge, sand on them for a bit, rub them with your seasoning medium, then wash with soap and dry thoroughly. Repeat sanding, oiling, and washing until rust-free. Then follow seasoning procedure outlined above.

This is what has worked like a charm for my pans–your mileage may vary.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Filed under:Blogging,Food,Heh — posted by Anwyn on September 30, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

1) Docweasel asked for my contact info. It’s now in a page linked off the sidebar until I can figure a better way to display it.

2) Karol asked for recipes. My “signature” dish, so called because I’ve made it enough never to screw it up and it’s a yummy, nutritious meal, is pepper steak. I’m making it tonight, in fact.

–1 lb. beef for stir-fry (if your grocery store packages this already sliced into strips, so much the better. If not, get something in a sirloin-class cut and slice it perpendicular to the grain into two-inch strips)
–two or three cloves garlic, chopped
–one white or yellow onion, chopped
–two or three bell peppers, various colors, sliced into thin strips
–two roma tomatoes, quartered
–olive oil
–salt and pepper
–soy sauce, approximately 1/4 cup
–2 tbs. cornstarch
–1/4 cup water
–rice prepared according to box directions

Start your rice simmering according to box directions.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add approx. 1-2 tbs. olive oil. When oil is hot, add chopped garlic. When garlic is sizzling (if garlic begins to brown, turn the heat down!), add steak, salt and pepper to taste, and stir-fry until well browned on all sides. Remove beef and garlic and any liquid from frying to a bowl, add 1/4 cup soy sauce and set aside. Return pan to the heat and add a bit more oil, enough to stir-fry the onion and peppers until crisp-tender (they will be lightly coated with oil and take on a more intense color, but not brown or soften noticeably). Return beef to pan and add a dash more soy sauce. Soy should mix with beef broth and come to a boil. Lay quartered tomatoes on top of the mixture, cover the whole thing with either the pan lid or aluminum foil and turn heat down till the mixture is simmering enough to steam the tomatoes, about five minutes or until tomatoes look cooked. If there is not a reasonable amount of liquid in the pan, add water, soy sauce, or both and bring to a boil again. While the tomatoes steam, add 2 tbs. cornstarch to a bowl, add the 1/4 cup water, and mix well with a fork or a whisk until liquid is smooth.

When tomaoes are well steamed, add cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir. Sauce should thicken.

It’s done! It can sit on the very lowest “simmer” setting for a while without hurting it if your guests are late or you forgot to cook the rice, as I’ve done many times.

Serve over rice. Enjoy! When I make it tonight I’ll try to measure the soy sauce and update.

Update: If all goes well, 1/4 cup soy sauce is about all you’ll need, and I’ve updated the recipe accordingly. If, however, you cook the beef till the liquid boils away, you’ll need to add some water (1/8-1/4 cup) to your mixture after returning the beef to the pan, with maybe a dash more soy sauce. Mine is simmering and steaming the tomatoes right now, which means I’m live-blogging a recipe, which makes me some kind of serious fusion geek, I think.

3) nk asked for the tank/bra boobage pictures in order to judge whether it’s a traffic-stopping look or not.

Well, you don’t get everything you ask for.

Got Still More Tomatoes and Zucchini?

Filed under:Food — posted by Anwyn on August 24, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

Then give this recipe a try–a baked casserole that looks a lot less labor-intensive than my pomodoro. I’ve got to try something that uses an entire pound of green onions. But I will have a hard time resisting the urge to layer the veggies with some mozzerella and breadcrumbs. Yum.

I Can Finally Make a Perfect Omelet

Filed under:Cool,Food — posted by Anwyn on August 20, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

Thanks to this. And despite what it says, you can use butter if you prefer it to cooking spray (which I do). Just keep the heat low, like it says, and make sure to coat the whole bottom of the pan with butter. And the non-stick, shallow pan with rounded sides is key–as much as I love my cast iron, and I do use it to make plain scrambled eggs, it just won’t work for this.

Tonight’s Dinner

Filed under:Food — posted by Anwyn on August 9, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

…was yummy and a good way to use up summer garden produce. Of course, with two steaming pots on the stove, it helps if you have air conditioning, unlike my mother’s Midwestern kitchen, which this time of year feels like the tenth circle of hell, only sweatier. But it was worth it.

Zucchini Pomodoro

Four small-to-medium zucchini, chopped
Two small-to-medium onions, chopped
Two cloves of garlic, minced
Five medium-to-large tomatoes, preferably fresh from the garden, peeled, cored, and chopped
Two big handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley, basil, and purple-ruffle basil, proportions to taste
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
Optional: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into medallions, or Italian sausages, sliced
A pound or so of spaghetti, thin spaghetti, or linguine according to preference
Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic to the pan, and when it begins to sizzle, add onions and stir well. Add zucchini and stir-fry till crisp-tender, five to ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour veggies from skillet into bowl and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and pour in all your chopped tomatoes. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Let boil until juice reduces to the thickness you prefer, probably a minimum of twenty minutes. While tomatoes are boiling, add medium handful of herbs to both the tomato mixture and the zucchini mixture in the bowl. Stir both.

Heat water for pasta; saute chicken medallions in a little olive oil till lightly browned, or fry sausage rounds. Set meat aside.

When tomatoes have reduced to your preference, add zucchini mixture back in and stir. Cook till zucchinis are heated through. Turn off heat and stir in remaining fresh herbs. Set aside.

When pasta water is boiling, add pasta with salt and return to boil. Cook ten minutes; drain. Serve sauce over a bed of pasta with meat at the side. Sprinkle with parmesan.

If you prefer meatballs to chicken or sausage and don’t have a good recipe, my mother has a tasty one I can post.



image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace