Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Came Early To The Galley

This is a fictionalized version of something that really happened on the morning of 28 October, recently passed.


I was finishing my breakfast: one of The Galley’s great omelets, cheddar, mushroom and bacon (maybe a little heavy on cheddar, but great) and the hash browns were best of breed, when I heard behind me a voice.

It was of a baritone timbre with a certain amount of self confident well modulated volume – maybe like Robert Preston in The Music Man; it went on and on and on about nothing of any consequence but with everything of sincerely held vehemence.

As he passed my field of vision I had the impression that he WAS the huckster in The Music Man.

As he got to a table – with an apparently loyal male companion (“Igor, I thought”) – the monologue continued at volume but switched content: “Oh no need to help us right away; we are happy to wait for your convenience and … maybe some coffee though”.

Since the place was empty except for me and the young lady who was the server of record that morning, I assumed that the young lady was the target for this passive aggressive thrust.

The server, I should mention, was in the far corner of the dining room eating her breakfast; I had opted to wait for my check until she had finished; the huckster didn’t care.

And I guess that that is as it ought to be; I don’t really know.

Any way, the scene soon changed to one where the server was standing at attention at the table’s corner and the well modulated baritone launched into what I quickly realized was going to be a room dominating monologue of the never ending sort.

“So you’re new to the island?”

“No, I just left a while back; but I came back recently.”

“I figured you must be new; otherwise I would have known you.”

Respectful silence, then “one or two checks?”

“Just one I’m paying; Igor here works for me.”

“Great, that’s easy.”

“And you won’t forget, will you? Because if you forget and give us two checks I’ll have to turn you over my knee and spank you.”

Except for what I took for a swift inhalation the server remained silent.

“I guess we can’t do that anymore – turning young women over your knee – all that politically correct stuff, I guess.”


“Ol’ Trump has it about right.”

“Well that explains everything; I couldn’t figure out the Hillary button.”

“Oh that; the rest was covered up.”


“I used to be a teacher and …”

I had finished the omelet and needed to pay and leave; I was supposed to pick up my wife about then, and I could see that the monologue had no end.

So I picked up the check and went over to the pay station by the door thinking that the server would see me and break free from Mr. make America great.

But she was apparently in a catatonic state; she just stood there and let the “blah, blah, blah” wash over her and into outer space.

Finally I launched myself in the direction of this debacle saying “hey guys, I am really sorry to interrupt your important trump discussion but I have to pick up my wife and I need to pay…”

When we got to the pay station I said “shall we kill him?”

She just smiled.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So Let’s Do Another Food Post–Alcohol Being A Food

Bloody Mary- Now On Youtube

This drink is an essential part of a breakfast hour that is unencumbered by any follow on business or social obligations.


Celery seed
Tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
A lime
Celery stalks


Fill a big glass – I like a tankard style – with ice.  Put in some celery seed.  Cut the lime in half and cut one of the halves in half and squeeze those resulting quarters into the glass.  Splash generously with Tabasco.  Splash equally generously with Worcestershire.  Fill the glass half full with vodka.  Fill the rest of the glass with tomato juice.  Let the ice cubes melt for a minute to unstick from one another so you can get the stalk of celery in the glass and stir until everything is blended.

Two of these are about right.  Any more can cause problems.


For My Russian Readers If They Exist

One of your countrymen, Arkady Ostrovsky, is a pretty impressive guy.

I have read his book, The Invention of Russia.

That book explains a lot.

This week I am reading his contribution to The Economist:

That continues in kind.

If any of you do exist, after reading The Economist, you might want to read a blog post I put up in June of 2014:

And, if you exist, and if you hang in there with me through all of the above, I recommend that you read Mr. Ostrovsky’s  book: the last chapter, Aerial Combat, will give you the basis for a gigantic LOL; the chapter exposes the utter naiveté of my blog post.

Here is an absolutely non sequitur of an image; but I was proud to have taken it:

seattle small bird 102216 00000

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I’ve Never Posted About Food Before

This is the first of what may be an ongoing feature:

The Recipe Corner

Today it is:


Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict depend upon two deceptively simple-sounding, but in actual fact, viciously difficult processes: whipping egg yolks with butter and poaching an egg.  (If the person preparing the dish has, as I do, a toaster oven that requires not quite two times through the toasting process – the full two times producing charcoal – toasting the English muffin can prove a bit dicey as well.)  This recipe is a hybrid of several that I have tried, both from the proportional component of ingredients and also from the standpoint of the processes involved.  My one  personal contribution is the quantity of lemon juice to be added: none of the recipes calls for enough.  Somewhere just short of the juice of half a lemon – but more than a third – produces a wonderfully lemony, but still richly eggy/buttery taste (I have found, subsequent to writing the preceding directions, that 2.5 tablespoons seems about right). The recipes I have encountered call for lemon juice quantities that produce something tasting somewhere between scrambled eggs that didn’t get done and mayonnaise.  But be careful, because anything over that about-a-third-but-a little-more makes it too lemony.  If you use anything but fresh lemon juice you might as well chalk the exercise up to training to see if you can do it without screwing up the butter and yolk mixing process and throw the results into the garbage disposal or feed them to the dog.  This recipe is for two servings of two eggs.  I go really long on Hollandaise, however, so one might stretch it to three servings, but that wouldn’t be much fun.  I have stress-tested this recipe by occasionally doubling the ingredients, and it still works. 


Three egg yolks
Quarter pound of butter that has been allowed to come to room temperature
Juice of one lemon (I juice the whole thing so I can do an eyeball-calibrated  pour of the juice into the eggs and butter.)
Canadian bacon
Jumbo eggs


Staging and readiness is everything in this recipe. 
In the following order do the following: put a plate in the oven at a low heat; fill your poaching pan with water and put it on an element and turn it on high; fill your double boiler with water and put it on an element and turn it on high; put a cast iron fry pan on an element; split the English muffin and put it in the toaster; separate the yolks from the whites on the three eggs destined for the sauce;  I used to save the whites for some future theoretic use, but since I don’t make meringues, and an omelet without yolks is such a grim endeavor, I faced facts and just throw them out;  I’m obviously not a cook; juice the lemon; put the Canadian bacon in the pan; turn down the poaching pan and the double boiler to low; crack the two jumbo eggs into a water glass; cover the Canadian bacon and turn the element on to high; touch the surface of the interior of the double boiler – where you are going to put the ingredients – to make sure that it is pretty hot; you want to get the yolks hot, but you don’t want to cook them; I use a single piece double walled boiler with a little snout where I put the water in; I can tell things are about right by seeing that the water is about to boil out of the snout; I want it to remain just short of boiling; in any event, when the boiler seems hot enough, turn off the element and depend on residual heat in the water to complete the blending process; you might judge it desirable to turn the element on occasionally during that process; that’s a sort of “feel” thing; when the Canadian bacon begins to sizzle turn it to low; the objective is to slightly caramelize the bacon.

Put the yolks in the boiler and whip them until they seem to thicken – a little – and maybe a few bubbles appear around the edges.  By the time you are finished there will be some semi cooked and hardened yolk around the edge of the pan.  I haven’t figured out if it’s possible to avoid this, but I know you want to leave it alone; don’t try to blend it in – you will just add lumps to a sauce that is supposed to be without lumps.  When the yolks are as described, above, start adding the butter.  With a dinner knife cut pieces – about a sixth of the cube at a time – and add to the yolks and blend until it is melted and combined.  Repeat this process until all the butter has been added.  Whip a little longer to get the mix really smooth and maybe a little thickened – this would be a good time to consider turning on the heat, on low, again.  Then add the lemon juice.  The mix will turn from medium to dark yellow to a lighter tone.  Whip until the sauce thickens, keeping an eye on the heat or lack of it.  When the sauce is thick take it off the heat and put it on a back element.  Keep an eye on it because it will continue to thicken and before you put it on the eggs you may need to thin it with a LITTLE water.  If that is necessary you probably want to do so with the pan back on the element at low.  I find it best to perform this inspection and adjustment if necessary while the eggs are poaching.  The trick is to not thin it too much and cool it too much when you don’t have enough time to recover because the eggs are almost poached.

The poaching pan should have been bubbling along on low, so turning it up to high should bring it to a boil.  Start the toaster and when the muffins are close to being toasted, the water having been brought to a boil, dump the water glass of eggs into the water and turn the element to low and cover the poacher.  Eggs are weird and can’t be counted on to cook the same way in any sort of sequential lifetime pattern, so you have to watch them, which means taking the lid off and looking occasionally.  When they look somewhere near done I lift them gently to the surface of the water with a slotted spoon to see if the whites are too jiggly.  If the whites are somewhere near done the yolks should be hot but runny which is what you want.  So when the eggs are done turn off the heat, put the muffins on the plate; put the bacon on the muffins; put the eggs (you should have moved pretty quickly with the plate/muffin/bacon steps so that the eggs haven’t gotten over-done) on the bacon.

Pour the Hollandaise over the muffin/bacon/egg assembly.  If you have a double boiler like mine make sure that the snout is pointed uphill so you don’t pour water all over your eggs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Health Care v. Camera Repair

Old Americans are now in that irritating time of the year when they have to waste a lot of time and energy on making sure they have some sort of health care coverage for the impending year.

I am satisfied with the choices I made last year so in theory I can stay out of the annual frenzy and let everything just renew.

But my satisfaction with last year’s choices has one flaw: the cost.

What had started to be expensive but acceptable at the beginning of 2015 became substantially more expensive in April when Medigap bumped up – I was already committed to that plan for the balance of the year - and startlingly more so on pharmacy coverage with September’s announcement of a 25% increase on my Part D supplement for 2016.

Presumably Medigap would bump again in April 2017, this being America.

So when I heard that the exchange that I am required to use if I want to be reimbursed out of my HRA had a better deal for Medigap, I thought it might be good to look into it.

I decided that with great irritation.

The irritation set in because “looking into it” would require that I try to find something on the user unfriendly web site provided by One Exchange, a Towers Watson Company.

As a retiree of IBM I am required to avail myself of the privilege of using One Exchange if I want to get any money back from IBM’s HRA.

That HRA was IBM’s desperation attempt to provide to its retirees some degree of realization of the various increasingly desirable health care benefits the company had committed to in the glory years.

Negativity aside, I thank them for the vestiges.

I just wish they had provided an IBM quality/class way of availing myself of the vestiges.

But back to the story:

My irritation was further stoked by my near certainty that there would be no way to find out what I wanted to find out on the web site, so I knew that  I would need to go to the next step, that of calling One Exchange and hoping to call on a day when somebody other than the talking machine was there so I could avail myself of the service that they laughably call “talk to an expert”.

This morning I was pleased that the talking machine expeditiously turned me over to the services of “an expert”.

I had entered various things about me during my time with the talking machine so I knew that they should know all that they might need to know to service whatever it might be that I had had the temerity to call about.

But I knew that they always like to see if callers had lied to the talking machine.

So I answered all her questions.

Then I asked my question.

“I have heard that One Exchange offers – specifics excluded to preclude mutual terminally fatal boredom .”

Imagine if you will that you had called your health exchange but had actually been connected to the IRS.

You know, the IRS that can answer any tax question by having very nice but totally inexpert people go through various question trees, depending upon what those very nice people perceive you to be asking about.

So we went through fifteen minutes of question tree torture and got to the end that I could see when we started.

“I need to connect you with an expert” she said.

“I thought I was already talking to an expert” I thought to myself.

Fairly quickly I was connected to the expert and I  fairly quickly re-asked my question.

Imagine if you will that you had called your health exchange but had actually been connected to the IRS.

You know, the IRS that can answer any tax question by having very nice but totally inexpert people go through various question trees, depending upon what those very perceive you to be asking about.

So we went through fifteen minutes of question tree torture and got to the end that I could see when we started.

“I need to connect you with an expert” she said.

After an additional fifteen minutes of waiting, but with tasteful mandolin music this time, I was disconnected.

I really hadn’t expected much and I think they massively met my expectations.


But the day was young and I had another, completely different customer service issue to attend to.

One of my favorite Sony digital cameras had suddenly stopped working – intermittently – in September.

I had found a Sony support chat site that I used.

The upshot of that encounter was that the camera needed to go to service.

I asked the Sony chat guy what that would cost (I was just being a prick; I knew that the answer to that was going to be “duh, what?”) but the answer was a specific amount of money.

I was caught flat footed.

Being sure that the chat guy had just blown me off, I nonetheless went to the service link that he had provided and was presented with a pleasant, useable, understandable and almost automatic user interface.

I entered the information and got a repair estimate immediately.

The estimate was exactly what the Sony chat guy had said it would be.

And it included return shipping; I had to pay for sending it to the center.

“Bullshit” I said to no one in particular: “this is just bullshit; how can they know what this is going to cost and how long will it take and why do they think they are any better than One Exchange, a Towers Watson Company?”

But I sent the camera anyway; I sent it on the 12th; it got there on the 14th after closing time so it wasn’t delivered until the next work day which was the 16th.

It was officially in their system on the 17th.

That was yesterday.

When I did a “check your repair status” web query this morning (I like to think that to be analogous to One Exchange’s “talk to an expert”) here is what I saw:

precision camera

It’s going to be delivered by UPS on 25 October.

I can’t recall the last time I have been amazed and beyond description pleased.

And I can’t remember the last time I have been able to laugh so heartily at a real joke.

That joke is One Exchange: a Towers Watson Company.