Fixing The Gap

Put in a new garbage disposal. Everything went well but the dishwasher air gap. I read stuff. I watched stuff. I tried things. But I just couldn’t stop the leak.

Finally gave up and took the whole thing apart again and thought about what each part did. “AH-HA!”

Once I had it in pieces I could see how it worked. And once I understood how it worked, I knew just how to fix it.

28. Fix The Gap

I’ve always been like that. Don’t understand anything until I take it apart or break it. I was never very good at school. School is all about having things explained to you. I don’t learn like that. Never have.

Same thing with anything I try now. Coding projects. Management. Running my business. You can explain a new concept to me until you’re blue in the face. Usually, I still won’t get it. I need to try it out. Monkey around with it. Take it apart. Best of all if I can f__k it up good and proper.

Then I’ll know how to do it right.

That night after washing dishes, we found water under the sink. I couldn’t see a new leak when I ran water. Then I realized that we’d used a dishpan, and when a dishpan is dumped out it puts a lot of water down the sink at once, much more than just running the water does. And I was able to find the leak by recreating that. So the lesson is, when troubleshooting, it sometimes helps to retake the user’s steps exactly, rather than coming up with our own testing parameters.

How To Make An Awesome Cassoulet

“…I walked in the early dusk up the street and stopped outside the terrace of the Negre de Toulouse restaurant where our red and white napkins were in wooden rings in the napkin rack waiting for us to come to dinner. I read the menu mimeographed in purple ink and saw that the plat du jour was cassoulet. It made me hungry to read the name…”
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Things I’ve learned making Cassoulet:

(Note that this assumes a basic knowledge of making Cassoulet, in particular Julia Child’s from Mastering The Art Vol 1. If you’re a rank novice, I’d suggest making hers first and a few times until you understand what’s going on with this dish.)

19. The Cassoulet

  1. One bean is too few. Use two. The ‘magic’ of the Tarbais bean is that some of them melt and some of them hold together. Easier to just use 2 kinds of beans. I like cranberry and cannellini.
  2. Two meats are enough. You can go crazy here and use four or five. It gets lost in the mix. I like duck legs and these Merguez lamb sausages my butcher makes. I don’t bother with a proper duck leg confit. I just slow roast them at 295 for 3 hours, then fridge overnight.
  3. Cook the beans with some bacon or a hamhock. Go heavy on the beans. This is a bean stew.
  4. Beans should be very al dente. Not quite done.
  5. Julia Child says to use the bean cooking liquid to flavor the stew. I love Julia Child but I’ve got a better way: Make a paste. Saute onions, carrot, garlic in duck fat. Add tomato paste. Add stock or water. Simmer for 15 mins. Pour it into a blender. Pretend you’re making a thick cream-of-veggie soup, only it should taste too strong to eat.
  6. Sautee sausage patties in duck fat.
  7. Layers: Beans. Meat. Paste. Beans. Meat. Paste. Beans. Then pour the duck fat from sauteing the sausages over the whole thing. Trust me.
  8. To bread crumb or not to bread crumb. I say no. Not on the first go. You can always breadcrumb tomorrow.
  9. Cook at 325 for an hour and a half or so.
  10. Take it out, let it cool, fridge it overnight. Cassoulet gets better and better each day in the fridge. For how long? Hell if I know. It never lasts beyond three days in my house, no matter how much I make.
  11. The next day: Now is a better time to breadcrumb. 375 for a half hour, then hit it with the broiler for a few minutes.
  12. Wine: Gigondas or Grenache are the standard recommended wines. I must confess, my all-time favorite pairing was a good Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon I had with a cassoulet one chilly summer night at Rue St. Jaques in San Francisco.

Rib sticking good. Enjoy!

January In San Diego, Part 3

The Second Morning

I like a bar best around 4PM when it’s quiet and you just begin to sense the flood that’s coming.

Upstairs at The Field is one spot. Corner booth, in the window. Pint of Guinny and maybe a shot in front of me. The hostesses and waiters all up and down the avenue setting up their stations. Laying down sandbags. It’s Super Bowl weekend and the game’s at The Murph. A hungry horde from a thousand Des Moines-es is teeming.

That’s a special weekend though. Every few years. In San Diego my favorite spots are the workingman spots. Places where this kind of drama happens five days a week and especially on Friday.

Dobson’s is one. Just after five the courthouse doors burst open and here come the attorneys. 4:55 you were the only one at the bar. Ten minutes later it’s miniskirts and ties three deep behind you. Everybody’s pushing at the bar to get one of those bathtub martinis, and a big plate of seared ahi, and give us a dozen on the halfshell too. And it’s all the dirty jokes and jestering jeering of the profession, a fine thing to listen to, a living Ally McBeal barscene if there could ever be one.

Tne Waterfront, San Diego

photo by JoeInSouthernCA

Then there’s The Waterfront down in Little Italy. You’re just bound to run into someone there. Bankers, bikers, builders, bums… anyone might be at the next table. On one of those unbelievably sunny evenings in January you can stand on the other side of Kettner and see the place pulsating. It wants to spill into the street. In London it would. In London I’ve seen bars like the Waterfront take over an entire street so cars can’t get by. Just people in the street with pints. If we were halfway civilized in California…

Or here’s one you don’t know: Jake’s bar at Mission Bay Deli. You have to drive way out by the jetty. Jake’s is a tropical paradise but not in a tiki bar kind of way. More like the anti-tiki bar. Bunch of plastic picnic tables is about it. Yacht club men in their windbreakers guzzling beers out of bottles right next to work crews beat up from laying down the decking on that new 120 footer. The idle and hardarmed relaxing side by side as the sun sinks into Mission Bay.

All these places in San Diego. It reminds me of other cities I’ve lived in. How both Paris and San Francisco have an ethic of unwinding after work, of emptying the offices and work sites, of construction workers and financiers and cabinet ministers in there swilling it a bit, side by side. Around 5PM, with the right kind of senses, you can feel Paris start to wobble and the Seine slosh at its banks. The kir royales being pooured, the oysters shucked, thick slices of jambon coming out on little plates. San Francisco too, from breakers to bay, down in the Mission and up on Nob snob’s hill, tequilla bars to Italian style raw bars and all the neighborhood spots in between.

If all of this sounds wanton, or diseased, believe me that’s not the intent. This is joy. Delight. A line from one of my favorite short fiction writers comes to mind: In The Pugilist At Rest, Thom Jones points out the “overmastering pleasure tobacco can bring if you use it seldom and judiciously”. Maybe it can be the same with drink?

In my country, we’re just figuring out how to live romantically. Part of that can be the idea of wine and beer and cocktails as food. No need to binge or get off the hook. Just to relax. Slow the pulse. Disconnect from the necessary hecticness of a workday and become another person. The best happy hour bar is like a good coffee shop, because that after-work drink can be like a second morning. A morning for a sensual you.

Or maybe it’s that a good bar, more than anywhere I’ve ever been, more than even a temple or a church, has the power to remind me of the good things in humanity.

A votre sante,

January in San Diego, Part 2

Come home with a baguette. Put the block on the counter, in the sunlight coming through the open window. Put the baguette on the block, cut it in half. Drain a can of tuna. Dice shallot, wash arugula, rinse olives. Slice an egg. A few sprigs of asparagus are nice. Little glass of Pastis alongside? That’s nice too.

There’s a bowl of Meyer lemons she put on the window sill. Take one down. Roll it around in your hand as you eat your pan bagnat. Smell the waxy perfume on your fingers. The sun is all over the lemons and it’s on the cutting board too. Do you wonder where you’re at?

The alley out back. Bougainvillea cascading over the wall. Someone’s walking in heels and a skirt. She makes her car go bweep-bweep. There’s a fat kit-kat rubbing against the recycling bins. Palm trees. Street sign. The day’s fishwrap, the UT, all about the game tomorrow.

Oh yes, it’s San Diego…

2. Meyers

Later on, go out for a walk through the park. Sit in the sun, read your book. Quiet. No water lilies blooming yet. Still a little chilly for the zoo, or the fountains. Besides the game’s in Miami this year. Or Tampa. One of them.

Finish the chapter. Maybe a walk through the Timken before you head home. All your favorite paintings: Rome, Greece, Spain. South of France. The way a painter can conjure that Mediterranean light. This one painting. A peasant walking along a dusty road on a hillside in Spain. Down the hill a ways, in the shade of a tree, there’s another peasant drinking wine from a bota. Ahead is the village, just over the next rise. Neither the man drinking nor the village are seen in the painting, but they’re definitely there. How’d the painter do that? And did he know he was doing it when he did it?

Stop at the candy shop on the way home. They sell the candied orange blossoms you like. The candies taste alright but it’s the way the scent gets on your fingers. Walk past the cafe and across the foot bridge. Sun’s going down over the island. Time to head home, put on some Bowie, make dinner, think about who’s going to win tomorrow.


In my humble experience…

B work is usually being done by the hardest working student in the class. B work is noble. It’s the result of hard work and dedication. There’s also usually nowhere else to go for the B student. Outliers aside, in general it takes more effort to make B work into A work than it does to raise any other grade.

C work is the swing zone. It can usually be improved to B work through effort. It’s also very often in danger of slipping into D work through laziness or apathy.

D work is fun for a teacher or coach, because it has the greatest potential for improvement. A D student can usually become a C or B student through hard work. With effort, someone else’s D work can often be processed/edited into B work.

A work is special. Assuming the A is earned and the work is truly A work, it can only be done by someone with a combination of talent, hard work and luck. A lot of the hard work is learning to be patient and play the numbers game.

F work. I am an F trumpet player. I could play the trumpet 10 hours a day every day for a year and I’d maybe, maybe if the teacher was generous, earn a D-. There’s usually nothing for F work but to throw it out as soon as possible. F work is usually done by either someone who has no talent in the field, OR it’s being done by someone with A talent who either doesn’t give a fuck or is deliberately self-sabotaging.

January In San Diego, Part 1

Pessimism operates in a narrow field of vision that fails to take into account the possibilities at the outer edges of experience. But I’d been hugging the inner curb of experience too long in my hometown. So I moved to San Diego. To go to school. At SDSU. I was 21.

First few months, I didn’t get San Diego. What’s all this desert. All this dust. What’s with the profiteers with vacuous minds filling the malls, the sailors starting fights in all the bars?

Like I said, I was 21. I didn’t appreciate really anywhere or anything. Quick decisions, quick derisions. I figured I’d give it a year and then blow the place. Go back to the Bay. Or maybe LA. Or maybe New York City, or Europe, or Asia.

Then comes the first day of the Spring semester. January-something. I’ve got a 10AM class. Get up around 9:30. Go out on the porch in my boxers to see what’s it like. Guess what? It’s fine fine fine. Shorts weather. 80 in the shade. I put on a pair and a tank top, grab my pack, scoot up to class. By the time I hit the big staircase up to the BA building I’m skipping. Stairs two at a time to the top. Shorts, skirts, sun splashing on my face. In January! I remember thinking these exact words: Oh I get it now. This is why people move here. This is San Diego.

Those gorgeous January mornings. Sleeping in, waking up to that wonderful winter sun. My ass in class at 10, done by 2. Some days if I had all the notes I’d skip a class, find a sunny bench, spend an hour napping. I got straight A’s that semester – those naps in the sun certainly didn’t hurt. Get home, finish homework by 4, work until 6, then it was a drink in hand by six and time to play… those were the days.

Cold nights though. New friends by the carload, the best part of ‘going to school’. Bombing it down El Cajon Blvd. Live Wire, Red Fox. Pitcher of the Bastard keeps you warm. Nobody likes Red Fox but me. I can’t explain why a martini in a 4 oz glass tastes so much better than an 8 oz’er, let alone makes you feel better. It’s all dumb science, we’re college kids, alcohol is alcohol Jonny. A million miles from Hemingway.

Blind nights staggering home up ECB. Past the Vietnamese neighborhood, the Ethiopian neighborhood. Or is it Somali? Never figured that one out. Cars blowing up-down ECB. Those middle streets just like Mission St. in SF just before it goes up the hill and turns into The El.

Stars winking at me, just me, through the dust of a La Mesa midnight… maybe we’ll go to bed, or maybe we’ll go out for a drive, tear ass around the desert, find a rave, meet a beautiful teenage couple who look at us like we’re aliens “Goddamnit this life goes too fast”, drive til the sun’s coming up and we’re riding with lady luck, feeling so alive just like God or Tom Waits at least…