Chicken Fried Steak

It’s hard to find a good chicken fried steak anywhere in California — but not so hard in Texas.

My original experiences with chicken fried steak — school cafeterias and TV dinners — were so bad I never wanted to eat it again. Then Rochelle introduced me to good chicken fried steak, and I’ve been gobbling them ever since.

In the Bay Area it’s hard to find. We know of only one place to get a really good chicken fried steak, the Bluebird Cafe in Hopland, at least an hour’s drive once you cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

In Texas, where we just went for the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s a little easier. I ate four of ’em in five days, and all of them were at least pretty good.

The best was Hoover’s in Austin, with a fine piece of meat in a delicious coating that stayed crispy the whole meal, and excellent gravy. Rochelle had a fabulous grilled pork chop with mushroom gravy that was out of this world. About four bites into our meal, we decided that Hoover’s would be one of our regular places whenever we’re in Austin.

A close second was Heitmiller’s, in Waco, where the meat was a little better (Heitmiller’s is a steak house), the rest a little less. I only had a half-order, which was more than enough. I can only imagine what my arteries would think of a full order.

The Mouser

Billie knows how to make Rochelle scream in the middle of the night: bring her a mouse!

Last night, after we had switched off the lights to go to sleep, our bed started growling. Not creaking, not groaning, and not from us moving. From the fierce little monster underneath it.

Usually when Billie growls it’s because she’s fending off Basta, or just complaining that Basta is looking in her direction. But since we had just locked Basta away for the night, we knew that wasn’t it. And when she didn’t stop after a couple of growls, or even 10 minutes, we knew we had to do something about it.

Peering under the bed, I could see Billie, and I could see Five, the neighborhood cat who visits our house for food and occasional head scratching (she comes in an open window that’s a good 12 feet off the ground). But Billie never growls at Five!

Then Rochelle screamed.

She had noticed what I had somehow not: that Billie had a mouse hanging half way out of her mouth. That’s what Five wanted, and that’s what Billie was growling to defend.

It turns out Billie had been chasing the thing around our bedroom, including under our bed, all evening, and had finally worn it down enough that it was no longer fun to play with. Plus now Five wanted in on the action.

It took a couple of tries (she kept slashing at me), but eventually I got the mouse from Billie, and disposed of the remains.

Although Cecil is the all-time champion mouser in the household, it’s because he’s had 15 years to accumulate his kills. Billie is clearly out for the record, though, with two catches in as many weeks. Last time Billie caught a mouse she ate it and then…well, never mind. We just don’t need that to happen again.

Questions to Ask About BBQ

There are two crucial questions to ask your pitmaster. The right answers can mean heaven, the wrong answers let you know you should run.

When you’re searching for the perfect BBQ, there are two questions you need to ask the cook behind the counter. If you get good answers, buy something. If you get the best answers, program their Take Out number into your mobile phone.

Here are the critical questions, and possible answers, with the “Best” answer provided by Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie’s, when we interviewed caterers for our wedding.

Question: How long do you smoke your brisket?

  • Wrong Answer: Eight hours or less.
  • Good Answer: 12 hours.
  • Best Answer: 18 hours.

Explanation: Brisket is a tough, extremely flavorful cut of meat. It takes many hours of smoking to break it down until it’s tender, and for the smoky flavor to penetrate fully. Anything less than 10 hours and it’ll likely be tough, and boring. Most BBQ joints can’t commit to the full 18 hours, so when you find a place that does, you know they’re special.

Question: What is your philosophy of sauce?

  • Wrong Answer: Huh?
  • Wrong Answer: Baste early, baste often.
  • Wrong Answer: Slather it on, baby!
  • Good Answer: Served on the side.
  • Best Answer: Sauce is to hide your mistakes.

Explanation: BBQ that doesn’t taste great without sauce is not good BBQ. Sauce should enhance the flavor of the meat, not hide it. BBQ that’s coated with sauce is probably hiding something.

I Like BBQ!

Memphis Minnie’s is the best BBQ in the Bay Area. And we should know, we tried a bunch!

When Rochelle and I were planning our wedding reception, we wanted a Texas-style summer BBQ (Rochelle is a transplanted Texan). Among other things, this required us to serve real Texas BBQ, which turned out to be hard.

Rochelle started by reading restaurant reviews and other reference sources, looking for places that were considered “good”. We organized a taste test of four of the Bay Area’s “best” BBQ, literally driving 100+ miles to pick up all of our samples.

Brothers In Law, regularly voted the “Best of SF”, was so awful we fed it to the dog. I’m not kidding. Some samples were the favorites of others at the tasting, but were more Southern-style BBQ, coated in sauce with too much sweet for our tastes. In the end, none of the four satisfied us.

A fellow Texan told Rochelle about Memphis Minnie’s, but we quickly learned that the restaurant had lost its lease, and was no longer open. So Rochelle tracked down and called Bob Kantor, the owner, and asked about catering.

There are two critical questions to ask someone about their BBQ, and Bob answered both correctly. Further conversation suggested that Bob was a BBQ Master, but of course, the proof is in the tasting. We arranged to try a sample of his brisket, the quintessential Texas BBQ meat, and said we’d be in touch.

One bite into the beautiful hunk of brisket and we knew we’d found our man. 10 minutes later, there was nothing left of the smoked meat, or of the BBQ sauce he’d given us on the side. Memphis Minnie’s was hired, and did a wonderful job catering our wedding, where we received nothing but compliments about the BBQ (we served Bob’s brisket, ribs, and hot links).

And then we pined away for Minnie’s for months because, with the restaurant closed, we had no way of satisfying our cravings.

Then one Sunday I was laying in the bathtub, soaking in water too hot for Rochelle’s taste, relaxing, when Rochelle started screaming. I literally thought the house was on fire. She ran into the bathroom with the newspaper in her hands and tears in her eyes, and asked me what was the best possible thing to happen to the (then closed) restaurant across the street from us, what was the best possible new place that could open there?

Memphis Minnie’s, of course!

So now we’re regulars. You should be, too. 576 Haight Street, between Fillmore and Steiner. Fire engine red, you cannot miss it. Just look for the Sign of the Pig.

And tell Bob that Michael and Rochelle say hi!

New Channel: I Like

I’ve added a new channel to my Weblog, where I can give kudos to stuff I like, usually vendors with an outstanding product.

I’m a firm believer that voting with your dollars is the most effective way to influence the actions of giants. If everyone started buying In-N-Out burgers instead of Big Macs, you can bet that McDonald’s would improve the quality of their product in response.

This channel is all about leveraging my preferences via your wallet. If you’re a fan of high quality items, foodstuffs, and services, then you may find some good information here, especially if you live in the Bay Area. I.e., you win.

And if I can turn other people onto the things I like, like truly outstanding croissants or BBQ, perhaps there will be more of them in the world. I.e., I win.

So, check my recommendations out, and if you give them a try, be sure to tell them that Michael and Rochelle sent you.

The Jumper

Our littlest one, Billie, is constantly chased by one of our other cats, and hides out under our bed during the day. When we get home, she’s so starved for attention that she’s developed a cute trick: jumping. Onto us.

Our littlest one, Billie, is the most sweet tempered cat in the house. She is constantly chased and harassed by Basta, and hides out under our bed during the day. When we get home, she’s so starved for attention that she’s developed a cute / annoying trick: jumping.

It started off innocently, getting onto the refrigerator, or a shelf, or the TV, or some other high place, and then stepping onto our shoulders when we came to pet her. Then she started jumping from lower down, still up to our shoulders. The she started jumping from the floor.

As you might guess, jumping onto someone’s shoulders, for a cat, involves good leaping ability, but also good landing ability. In a word, claws.

This is usually OK when you’re wearing a sweatshirt. Less so when you’re wearing a regular shirt, and still less when you have no shirt on at all. Ouch!

Recently things have taken a turn for the weird. Instead of leaping straight up onto us, she’s taken to running up our bodies, climbing us like a tree.

But she still purrs when she gets to the top.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Fox’s new TV show, 24, is the best new show on commercial television. It’s intense, riveting, and frighteningly timely. If you haven’t started watching it yet, start this Friday with the encore presentation of hour #2.

Fox’s new TV show, 24, is the best new show on commercial television. It’s intense, riveting, and frighteningly timely.

The basic plot is that there’s an assassination threat to the Democratic presidential candidate, on the day of the California primary. Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) is the CIA counter-terrorist team leader who is called in to stop it. Each of the season’s 24 episodes is one hour long, both in the real world and on the show, and covers the 24-hour period on that one day.

If you haven’t been watching it yet, you should get caught up while you can (encore episode is Friday!). Once you miss the first couple episodes, I think you’ll be too far behind to get into it.

Keyboard Rant

Why doesn’t anyone make a good USB keyboard for modern Macintoshes?

I recently bought a new Macintosh, my first in three years. The new systems don’t have the old keyboard connector (ADB), just USB connections. They come with a keyboard, and mouse too, but both of them suck.

Oh, they’re pretty enough, but when you use them intensively, day in and day out, the form-over-function flaws start to drive you nuts.

I found a wonderful replacement for the mouse, a Logitech wireless optical mouse, which is easily the nicest mouse I’ve ever used. It’s also beautiful to look at, proving that highly functional does not require ugly. Wish Steve Jobs would learn that lesson.

Which brings me to the keyboard. The Apple Pro Keyboard is, as I said, beautiful to look at, but the actuators are kind of stiff, and the key action is spongy. This means that I’m constantly missing letters and capitalization, because the key doesn’t press correctly to my touch typing. And the combination is causing my hands to hurt, from hitting the keys too hard.

What’s truly awful, though, is that there is no decent third-party replacement for Apple’s keyboard. Oh, there’s dozens, or even hundreds, of USB keyboards, any of which I can use on a Mac. But they all have Alt and Windows keys, and no Option or Command keys, and Alt and Control are in the wrong places. The few that are Mac-specific, with the right keys in the right places, are not very good.

The thing that I don’t understand is that Apple once upon a time made a truly awesome keyboard. The Apple Extended Keyboard (the original, not the “II” version that came out later) is almost universally revered among Mac journalists as the best keyboard they’ve ever used, on any platform.

I’m certainly in agreement with them. I’ve had an Extended for as long as I’ve owned Macs, more than 10 years, taking that one keyboard from an SE with two floppies all the way to my last system, a Beige G3. It took a huge amount of abuse, never gave me any trouble, and the key action is, even after 10 years of heavy use, truly a writer’s delight.

But it’s an ADB keyboard, which means I can’t use it on my new G4, unless I buy an adapter. I don’t really want to do that, because I don’t trust it to be compatible long-term.

Also, Apple did do one thing really right on their Pro keyboard. The addition of Volume Up/Down/Mute and CD Eject keys are a real convenience, and those don’t exist on my 10 year old keyboard. I really want to find a very good modern keyboard that’ll work with modern Macs. So far as I can tell, such a beast does not exist.

If you have recommendations, let me know!

Microsoft Sucks, George Bush Swallows

In a shocking, I say shocking development, the Department of “Justice” has completely capitulated on the Microsoft antitrust trial, giving a convicted monopolist a light slap on the wrist. Just another example of George Bush helping the rich get richer.

In a shocking, I say shocking development, the Department of “Justice” has completely capitulated on the Microsoft antitrust trial, giving a convicted monopolist a light slap on the wrist. Just another example of George Bush helping the rich get richer.

A quick recap of history: in 1998, the DoJ sued Microsoft in federal court for alleged antitrust violations. After months of dubious legal strategy, damning evidence, and ludicrous courtroom behavior, Microsoft was in 2000 convicted by a conservative Federal judge of being a monopoly and abuse of monopoly power. Note the word convicted.

In 2001, seven more Federal judges — a full sitting of the appeals court, most of them conservative appointees also — unanimously upheld the bulk of the conviction. Note the word upheld.

Now, after weeks of “negotiation,” the DoJ and Microsoft have arrived at a “settlement” that is so full of ambiguities and loopholes that it’s not clear that it will have any effect on Microsoft behavior, let alone actually restore balance to the technology industry.

The appeals court ruled that any actions taken against Microsoft (a) must restore competition to the affected market, (b) must deprive Microsoft of the “fruits of its illegal conduct,” and (c) must prevent Microsoft from engaging in similar tactics in the future. The settlement fails on every one of these.

I’ve read a few objections to this position, penned by Microsoft apologists, or Microsoft’s buddies at the DoJ, and none of them hold water:

The proposed settlement is strong, and it really will modify Microsoft’s behavior.

No, it’s not. Ralph Nader (a man I’m not fond of) and James Love have written an open letter which details the deep flaws in the settlement far more eloquently than I can manage. Read that for the details.

And even if the agreement somehow managed to stop Microsoft’s current abuses, there are plenty more new abuses that are not even remotely prevented by the agreement. Read Bob Cringely’s latest column for more on that.

That letter assumes the worst about Microsoft’s behavior, but Microsoft is good, the settlement will have a positive effect.

History suggests this is not correct. Inserting weasel words and then using them to studiously adhere to their interpretation of the agreement while flagrantly ignoring the spirit is exactly what Microsoft did to the last consent decree with the DoJ. Certainly, depending on Microsoft to be “good” is a pretty flawed way to approach handling a convicted and unrepentant monopoly abuser.

This antitrust case is all about Microsoft’s rivals complaining, not about real consumer harm.

If that were really true, I doubt if eight (count ’em, eight) Federal judges would have upheld the conviction. It’s not as though they don’t understand the law.

And if that were really true, what’s up with Microsoft raising the prices on their products? The price of the operating system has been steadily creeping upwards. Windows XP is $10 more than the prior upgrade, and Microsoft is currently moving corporate customers onto new support programs which will cost twice as much as the old programs.

Explain to me how paying more for a product is not “consumer harm.”

But Windows XP delivers more value, that’s why it costs more.

Um, no. Look at other parts of the software industry where there is actual competition. Over time you get more value, and you pay the same or less. I’ve been upgrading Quicken for many years, getting lots more value in every release, and the price to upgrade is the same. Quicken has competitors, so Intuit can’t raise the price. Windows does not have competitors, so Microsoft abuses their monopoly power and raises prices.

Microsoft just wants to protect their freedom to innovate.

Aha ha ha ha ha ha! Aha ha ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one! Aha ha ha ha ha ha!

“Innovation” has nothing to do with it. Microsoft wants to protect their freedom to crush their competitors. Microsoft has never had a reputation for innovation, for good reason. They copy the best ideas from their competitors and put those into Windows in such a way to steer consumers towards other Microsoft initiatives (currently that’s MSN and Passport; if you’ve installed Windows XP, you know exactly what I mean).

But if Microsoft can’t integrate functionality into Windows, then consumers won’t get the benefits of that integration. The integration is the innovation.

Integration of extended functionality into a user’s computing environment is certainly desirable. However, that integration can be done in a way that fosters innovation and competition, or it can be done in an exclusionary way. Guess which way Microsoft has been doing things.

The current settlement proposal recognizes and acknowledges this, and is attempting to change Microsoft’s anti-competitive behavior in this area. But the language is so weak and riddled with holes, it depends on Microsoft to be “good,” something they have repeatedly demonstrated they don’t know how to do.

Final note: I’m not talking here about conspiracy theories in the total capitulation of the DoJ. I think it was a perfectly ordinary case of George Bush making sure that rich people can stay rich, by making the world safe for large corporations to do whatever they want.

But I don’t have strong opinions here at all. ;-)

Another Fine Mess

Now my wife Rochelle is in the mess, too.

OK, so it’s not bad enough I’ve started doing this myself, but now I’ve also set Rochelle up with one of these things. Should be interesting to see what she has to say when I’m not her editor!

Note: You can’t get to Rochelle’s Weblog from outside our home network, yet. Coming soon, if you pester her about it!

Site Details

Technical details of how I run and manage this site, using mostly Open Source technology.

This weblog is managed by the monaural jerk system. It’s a web application built in PHP, and uses the MySQL database as the back end.

The system seems pretty nice, though it doesn’t work quite the way I’d like it to. I’ve actually started writing my own application to manage a weblog, but don’t seem to have enough time to complete it. This’ll do in the meantime.

The server setup is actually pretty interesting. The MySQL database is running on my main system, a Mac running Mac OS X 10.1. Currently the PHP scripts are running under Apache on that same system, but I’ll actually be moving those over to our main web server at some point.

What’s cool is our in-house network makes that separation easy. All I have to do is change a hostname in a config file, and putting the Web front end on one server and the DB back end on the other is child’s play.

I love Open Source software!