Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Delis

My family has always been a Brent's family.

For any out of state readers, Brent's is a family-run deli in a nondescript strip mall in Southern California.  It's surrounded by a bar on one side -- they used to do their cooking, and would pass orders through a hole in their wall you could see from the counter -- and a carpet store on the other.  The parking lot is perpetually full.

Brent's has been a staple in my family for many years.  It was my first outing as a child, as it was Patrick's.  My dad put the alarm in the deli, the owners' house, and their kids' houses as they got married.  He used to trade alarm service for food.  In fact, I remember going with him on a service call during the summer; it was 2:00 on a weekday, and still full.

I remember when Brent's was a tiny deli; the restaurant itself was two rows wide and stopped at the end of the counter.  Behind that was storage and restrooms.  It's expanded twice since then -- once to turn the storage and restrooms into more seating (a relatively modest expansion) and then when they bought the store next to them (a bakery, I think) and doubled the size of the restaurant.

If anything, the lines got longer.

We stopped going for a while after my dad died, and then again when one of the waitresses teased Patrick beyond his limit to tolerate it.  (Not "teased" as in "haw-haw," teased as in, "hey, maybe I'll take one of these action figures home!" -- she thought she was being friendly, but Patrick hated it.)

Once the new location opened in Westlake Village, we've been going there, generally on trips to the Costco in Ventura, which is the farthest south you can get Splash Cafe clam chowder.

Anyhow, aside from a few trips with a friend to a Weiler's Deli in high school (meh) because it was on the way to her house, and the godawful Country Deli with my grandparents (why they liked that place, I'll never know; I have noticed that grandpa hasn't gone since grandma died), it's been Brent's or no deli food.

Patrick threw a monkey wrench into that on Christmas.

The last few years, we've been left without anywhere to go on Christmas Day; my grandpa has been on trips with his girlfriend, generally, while my cousins are with their in-laws, and my other aunt and uncle are Jewish.

So, of course, Patrick generally wants to go to Disneyland.

That was the plan this year until about noon on Christmas Day, when he decided he wanted to stay home.

Okay, fine...except that there was nothing really to cook; I had been planning on making these until Patrick came up with the Disneyland Plan, but they require being rubbed the night before and several hours to braise...not something I could do on short notice like that.

So, around 7:00, we piled into the car on an expedition to find an open restaurant.  We tried the likely places first -- restaurants near movie theaters (oh, my God, were they packed!) but they were all closed.  So I suggested driving down Ventura, haven of all restaurants in the valley.

Lo and behold, there were quite a few open -- several delis, in fact.  The only one I recognized was Jerry's Famous Deli, so we pulled in and decided to try it.

At this point, it was about 8:00.  The restaurant was packed, and there was a 20 minute wait.  They were showing whichever Pirates movie was on ABC (with closed captioning on, thankfully), and then we were seated.

The menu is a big plus.  It's varied but has recognizable deli food everywhere, along with some surprising additions (like gyros...yum!).  Observing the tables around us, the service seems to be generally good.

(Now, understand, at Brent's, the service is impeccable.  You order quickly, your food is served quickly, bus boys are paid extra and do things like refill your drinks before they're even empty, etc. etc. etc.  But that's rare, at any restaurant...however....)

Our waiter clearly had ADD.

As in, Bulldozer has a longer attention span than this guy.  As in -- oh, look, a dust mote just flew by!

By the time he actually took our drink orders, he'd stopped by the table at least four times, started to ask what we wanted, saw something else that needed doing, and flitted away.

By the time we finished our -- very good -- meal, Pirates was nearly over, it was 10 minutes to 11:00, and it had passed the point of annoyance right into morbid gallows humor.

The plus side is that it seemed from watching the other tables that it was only our section that suffered thusly, and the food was very, very good, though a tad more expensive than Brent's.  Their eggs in particular were cooked just the way I like them (to be fair, that's drier than most people) and they were seasoned beautifully.  The bagels, while not Western Bagels, were also very good, and were served with a healthy amount of cream cheese -- so that I didn't have to beg, borrow, or steal some from other people.

All in all, I actually plan to go back -- among all the other pluses, they serve my favorite kind of ranch -- but nothing will ever be Brent's.  Nothing ever can be Brent's.

(I am now so craving a special steak and eggs...Brent's marinates or rubs or something their steaks with something that is unique and wonderful, and I'm gonna stop now before I drool on my keyboard.)

In totally unrelated news, Sci-Fi was showing a Christmas Stargate marathon, and aside from picking up the Canadian "ow" pronunciation from listening to Canadians talk for far too many hours straight, I was reminded of the following hilarious exchange:

Vala:  Blah blah blah, so we shall blah blah blah.

(Note:  She does not say "blah blah blah," although it sounds like something she would say, but I can't remember what she and Daniel were talking about.)

Daniel (firmly):  No, we shalln't.


Hee hee.

(What?  I'm easily amused by word play.  So shoot me.)



Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everybody, from a happy but frustrated nerd.

(I got a nifty new gadget for Christmas -- thus the happy -- but a power blip at the wrong time has rendered the accompanying software...messed up -- thus the frustrated.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Small Update

Sage is now part of the pot roast recipe forever.


Surprisingly Easy

I did my Christmas shopping for Patrick this morning (I was waiting for the promised funds to reappear in my checking account by, alas, they haven't yet...I sense another string of phone calls is in my future on Wednesday).  I'm not buying him much since we're taking our trip together, but I got the usual: a shirt, a couple of DVDs, paper (he's the King of Lists), and scotch tape.  I went around 10:00 this morning and made it in and out of both Wal-Mart (clothes and paper) and Best Buy in just over an hour.

The last thing Patrick really needs is more shirts, but it's a Routine, and one he'd be very upset if I didn't stick with.  I began buying him an outfit for Christmas and his birthday when he hit 12 or 13 and our mom was still buying him little boy clothes.  I believe that kids with disabilities have enough disadvantages in making good impressions with people, and that one thing I can do to help smooth the road is ensure his clothes are nice and stylish.

As he got older, as most people do, Patrick developed his own style.  He loves Hawaiian shirts -- the brighter and bolder, the better -- as well as button-down shirts and 80s style polo shirts.  So what did I find for him today?

Well, I can't find a picture online, but it's a dark purple fake-silk button down short sleeved shirt with a bold, bright swirly pattern of lighter purple and other complimentary colors on it.  It's loud and bold and perfect for Patrick.

Meanwhile, I'm taking advantage of the lull in activity to make one of my favorite meals for a long, slow, non-school day: Alton Brown's pot roast.

With, of course, minor variations.

Alton suggests using bone-in chuck -- 7 blade steaks, as I recall -- but I prefer brisket.  I've made it with chuck and just didn't like the texture of the meat.  Brisket is a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.

I use a bit more tomato juice in the braising liquid than he suggests, as well.  (Be aware that the acid in both the tomato juice and balsamic vinegar is strong when you're reducing the braising liquid -- you'll tear up as much as you do when you chop onions...or, at least, I do.)

Finally, this time, I added some torn sage leaves to the braising liquid, as well as a chiffonade of three more sage leaves.  When I rubbed the meat, I added some paprika and dried sage to the cumin.

Yum.  :-)

Also -- if you make a roux (mix together equal parts butter and flour) and then pour the liquid (only the liquid) left over after cooking, and bring it to a boil, you'll have a yummy sauce.  It's even better if you add just a little whole milk to cut the acidity.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Writer's Block Means to Me

I've started another video. It  all happened while driving -- my iPod was on random (as usual) and I heard "Don't You Need," and before I knew it, I had the insane idea to try to pull enough clips from "Blood Fever" to make a Voyager video.

Problem is, all the relevant clips from that episode are dark -- lit by the actors' handheld flashlights -- and they are filled with talky-face.  I may end up making slight exception, despite the generally accepted vidder's rule that talky-face is bad.

So now I'm left borrowing clips from other episodes -- mostly in the third season, when the producers randomly decided to go the Tom/B'Elanna route instead of the Harry/B'Elanna route -- while still trying to make the narrative make sense.

(The main narrative is, of course, the story of B'Elanna's increasing desperation as the pon farr makes her more and more...err...feverish.)

I don't have the series on DVD but of course it's -- cough -- available in other venues -- cough -- not that I would ever -- cough -- acquire the series that way.  I am, of course, simply -- cough -- story-boarding at this point.


What was I saying?

Oh, yeah.  Writer's block.

So the other night, just for fun, I opened most of my active stories in Word and just cycled through them.  Lots of words.  Some in script format, some in narrative format, and some half-and-half.

Dialogue remains my weakness, as does my tendency be very straightforward and information-dump-like in my descriptions, so I have a few stories I'm working on specifically to force myself to describe things better -- in particular stories that force me to work within certain limitations (for instance, a Blood Ties story from Vicki's point of view in near-darkness (she has night blindness, or a Sue Thomas story where I can't rely on Sue picking up on tone of voice).

One thing I've learned over the past few years is that different things draw me to different stories, characters, and even shows.

For instance, the large majority of my Farscape stories are centered around a few isolated moments.

Like, say, Aeryn in "Till the Blood Runs Clear," because I find the interplay between her fierce desire to be independent despite her temporary blindness and her wide grin when Crichton compliments her ingenuity to be fascinating.  I saw a brief snippet of that episode when it first aired, and for years after -- even though I didn't yet watch the show -- my memory of Aeryn was her abrupt "Don't help me, Crichton!"  In fact, my first Farscape story was based off that moment.

Most of my other stories are centered around the following: Aeryn's breakdown in "The Way We Weren't," the aftermath of Moya!John's death (which is one of only two stories written from anyone other than Aeryn's point of view), the aftermath of Aeryn's torture, and the aftermath of John's collapse in The Peacekeeper Wars.

With other shows, of course, it's other moments -- but that's why I tend to write missing scenes and episode tags.  I'm drawn to the moments and want to explore them more.

So, anyhow, when a bout of writer's block comes along, the first thing that begins to happen is that I watch these moments themselves, or I'm reading something, or listening to a song, and start thinking: "Wow, if only I had that gift with language."

Which brings me back to the beginning of this.  I realize song writing is an entirely different thing than fiction writing or prose writing.  But when I read the lyrics to "Don't You Need," I'm invariably struck by the powerful imagery -- and it's something that always seems like it's beyond my reach.

In fact, imagery is one reason I've always been drawn to Melissa Etheridge's songs, ever since a friend gave me a copy of her self-titled album because it didn't fit on her CD case and I liked the song "Come to My Window."

(That song was immediately over-played and is probably one of my least favorite of her songs now, but whatever.)

So I've got these open files, especially the ones that are in script format, and I wonder: Can I come up with words to bring the images in my head into being on paper?  Lately, it seems like the answer is no.  The images themselves are as clear as ever -- I generally picture it like a movie in my head -- but when I try to describe them, it ends up sounding like an instruction manual.

Writer's block, for me, is not a lack of ideas.  It's not a lack of story lines, of plots, even of dialogue.  Writer's block is self-censoring.  It's me stopping myself from writing something because I know -- I know -- it's not up to snuff.

It's times like this that I have to remember what I did during the Summer of Drama, when I finished my first long story -- write a little, every day, on every story -- even if it's just a word, just a sentence.

Even if it sucks...because I can always go back and change it later.

Today's lesson in self pity was brought to you by the letters W and B and the number 47.

(W and B for writer's block, of course, and the number 47 just 'cause.)