Pasta La Vista, Baby

“Listen up … It’s all in the advance preparation,” the Teutonic giant growls, scowling directly at me.  He isn’t tall, but Goddamn he’s wide.  His shoulders make him look like a block of quarry granite.

I’ve signed up for a week-long cooking intensive in the hope that by week’s end I’ll be able to boil eggs without blowing them up like hand grenades.

Our chef-instructor calls himself, The Terminator.  Why, I don’t know … and thus far, I muse I’m not going to learn.  Oh well, after a week with The Terminator, at least I’ll be able to make egg salad without diving under the table dodging in-coming egg bombs!

I signed up for his school after being lured by an exceptionally large and colorful ad inside the front cover of my monthly snooty wine, cheese and fine dining magazine.  The intriguing part of the ad revealed his “boot camp” approach to cooking.

I think about the advertised trips I’d almost signed up for: Tuscany for Italian, Barcelona for haute Mediterranean and Provence for the ubiquitous French.  But, these all seem to be more about the travel, scenery and eating, with less emphasis on the cooking.

The Terminator guarantees that you’ll either be a chef or a casualty of the Kitchen Wars.  His approach is based on discipline, dedication and advance preparation.  He demands complete adherence to his style and approach or you’re “Terminated” without a refund.

Sounded scary and at the same time exactly what I needed.

Learning to prepare simple yet elegant dinners is high on my list.  I’ve tried many other ways to meet and impress women … all ending in dismal and humiliating failures.  Here I am, 42 still single and eating microwave dinners alone in front of my 42 inch flat screen HD surround sound system.

The only good meals I have are at mom’s condo.  Between my mouthfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy, she spends all her time asking, “Warren, when are you going to bring a nice girl to dinner?”

What a drag.

Anyway, I’m here and enlisted in “The Terminator’s Cook or Die Culinary Skills School.”

The Terminator bounds into the staging area, AKA the kitchen … a totally sparse and immaculate work space with maple butcher-block chopping tables, highly polished stainless sinks in the center, and commercial sized coolers and ten burner gas ranges lining the perimeter.  Huge metal racks hang precariously from the ceiling dangling all manner of pots, pans and bowls.  Every chopping, paring, slicing and peeling device known to man is displayed on the counters.  The ultra bright fluorescent lighting makes the room look like an interrogation cell … or a morgue autopsy room.

The Terminator strides through his domain assessing each of us individually.  Dressed in culinary fatigues topped off with a cammo chef’s hat, he sports knives, scrapers, whisks and spoons hanging from his utility-belted waist.  He’s armed and ready for kitchen combat.

After 15 minutes of warm-up calisthenics we disperse to our work stations.

“You will follow my instructions to the letter or this exercise will end in a complete disaster.  We take no prisoners when we prepare a meal in my school.  We cook to the death and we leave no man or woman behind.  Is that clear?” he shouts.

“Yes Sir”… “I understand Sir”… “I’m with you, Sir,” we bellow in unison.

“Take your stations.  We are about to begin.  And remember, it’s all in the advance preparation.  We will accept nothing less than perfection.  Now, load your wine glasses.  We are ready for ‘Pasta la Vista, Baby!’ ”


 The ingredients and the recipe are based on dinner for four adults.  If you’re an average eater by today’s serving sizes, two people will polish this off with no problem.


  • 8 oz. of dried linguine pasta
  • 2 teaspoons of salt for pasta water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 small shallots chopped finely
  • 8 oz. smoked wild salmon cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese (can substitute Parmesan)
  • 1 cup frozen baby peas
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • Bring a large lot of water to boil, then add 2 teaspoons of salt.
  • Add pasta to water.  Bring to boil.  Cook 11 minutes.
  • While pasta is cooking, melt butter in large skillet.
  • Add shallots to skillet.  Sauté on medium heat until soft – about 5 minutes.
  • Add chopped salmon to skillet.  Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add milk to skillet.  Bring to gentle boil over low heat.
  • Stir in Asiago cheese stirring continuously.
  • Add drained, cooked pasta to skillet, stirring to absorb sauce.
  • Stir in frozen peas and remove from burner to avoid over cooking.
  • Top with fresh dill.


Serve the “Pasta la Vista, Baby” to the plates and carry the plates out to the table with a big smile and a strong sense of power.   And remember to say in your best Terminator impersonation:




Serving Suggestions

I have found excellent accompaniments with this entrée are fresh steamed asparagus drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and topped with fresh grated Asiago.  Add either a Caesar salad, or an abundant garden salad with shredded carrots, bite sized cut and peeled cucumber, tomato and celery topped with either a light vinaigrette or fresh lemon juice and fresh minced dill.

 Advance Strategy


Any battle plan calls for a complete rundown of the situation at hand.  Remember, the Terminator’s warning:  “It’s all in the advance preparation.”


Make sure all ingredients for the entire meal are chopped, prepared and close at hand before you start any cooking. The entrée cooks very quickly and you want to serve it immediately.  If you wait even a few minutes trying to catch-up with the veggies and salads, then you’ll be serving a pasta blob, not a superb salmon prima vera type dish!


I prepare the salads ahead and keep them cool in the fridge.  The asparagus can be prepared in the microwave once you add the milk to your pan.


Once you start cooking the shallots for the pasta dish, you will be non-stop busy for 8-10 minutes and you leave the dish unattended at your own peril.

The Date Code Wars

There’s a never-ending holy war raging just beneath the surface at our house.  One of those Mars vs. Venus male vs. female things that never gets resolved.  I’m talking about irreconcilable differences over the potential life or death consequences of abiding by date codes.

You know what I’m talking about – those dates stamped on everything edible we buy.  They read like a litany of must do’s invented by the food police, “Best if used by,” “Best before,” “Sell by,” or “Use by.”

I’ll wager that the typical male shopper grabs the “better than butter spread” or the loaf of bread without a glance at date codes.  I’ve never heard from another guy, “Oh, Richard, those codes … they rule my shopping life.  I search through the shelf for the latest date before I flip any package into my cart.”

So I decided to get the low down on date codes hoping to prove that this business practice, alleged to protect us, is nothing but a marketing scam designed to pressure us to throw away perfectly good food and thus buy more from the Almost-Food and CheezWhiz conglomerates.

So I do the 21st century equivalent of research and type into Google, “history of perishable food date codes.”  Well, that was a mistake since it produced “about 198,000 items in .28 seconds.”  My hair hurts and I’m looking only at the first entry.

I, however, did learn a few things.

The only hard and fast enforced codes are for baby formula and some baby foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  They require a “use by date” which is the equivalent of a “hard” expiration date.  All the other codes and dates stamped on our food products are voluntarily placed there by the food manufacturers and are advisory.

The Agriculture Department (USDA) regulates fresh poultry and meats and requires labeling of the date when the item was packed.  However, many manufacturers and retailers have carried that a step further adding their own “Sell-by” or “Use-by” dates.  That again is voluntary and not legislated.

Talk about the foxes guarding the hen houses.

It didn’t take marketing directors long to figure out that if we consumers read an arbitrary date that implies we’re gonna die if we eat what’s in the package after said date, we will probably discard whatever is in the package and buy a fresh one.


We have just increased their sales volume and now turned these marketing clowns into corporate heroes.  Lemmings? Did I hear anyone say, Lemmings?

A little more reading and I find a passage that advises us that, if properly refrigerated, our pasteurized milk can remain fresh for as much as five days after its “Sell by” date.

Here’s my rule of thumb about dairy products: If your milk smells and makes you want to retch or contains lumps – not good.  If you see green fuzz in your yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese – not good.  If your cheese is packaged with green fuzz already in it – okay.  But if new green fuzz appears after cheese has been opened – not okay.

Are we confused yet?

Let’s move on to beer.  Yes, beer has become a part of the grand date code conspiracy.

Date coding beer started shortly after the end of Prohibition.    It was used to protect ne’er-do-wells from buying “green beer” – beer that had been rushed to the market without proper aging.  The date stamped on the bottle top had nothing to do with health or safety.  Only taste.

In the mid-1980s The Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams beer was among the first contemporary brewers to add “freshness dates” to their product.  For years no one other than beer makers, and maybe your Geeky beer gourmand knew about the dates.

Then in the late 90s, Budweiser marketing gurus decided it would be a good idea to advertise “beer freshness” and warn us about alleged funky beer taste.

Hence, the concept of “Born-On Dates” was started.

The date stamped on the bottle of Bud has nothing to do with when the beer must be consumed.  It’s only an indication of when the beer was bottled implying that if we don’t drink fresh beer, we’re somehow denigrating the world of beer.

Here’s my rule of thumb about beer: If it’s cold and you want it cold – drink it.  If it’s warm and you want it warm – drink it.

And finally, here’s my rule about date codes in general:

Trust your eyes – green fuzz no.

Trust your nose – retchy smells no.

Trust your tongue – funky taste, spit it out … preferably in the sink, not on the floor and never, ever on the white linen tablecloth.

Good health to ya’ll.

Fiesta Grill

My friend John Hayes was intrigued by the “flash fiction” I write and publicly issued me a creative challenge:  Write a story based on a visual prompt from a series of pictures he took recently at a Mexican Cantina overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.

The first image establishes a context; subsequent pictures hone in on plot possibilities.

Picture 2 Picture 1 oops Picture 3 oops Picture 4 oops


I’ve been coming to the Fiesta Grille ‘n Cantina for years. Too many for me to count and none of your business how many.

It’s a place where I can hang and not be bothered – too much. Most times no one really cares about anybody else’s business. It’s a show up, drink up, eat up, and don’t bother me with your goodtime place.

My senses are immediately assaulted as I walk in this afternoon. I forgot that it’s girls’ day, Saturday. I move to the end of the bar past the commotion caused by the families.

Soccer is a good all-American sport borrowed from the poorer countries where it’s enjoyed in the raw – no refs, no uniforms, no leagues – just a bunch of kids and/or adults on a vacant lot with a somewhat inflated or deflated ball — depending on your perspective. But, here in the good ole U.S. of A. we have waddled down our usual path and made soccer into a family affair, a middle-class extravaganza with official organizations, rules, structure, uniforms – and probably minimal fun.

Leave it to us to ruin a good thing.

There might be one future star in that bunch who will move to the next level, but I’ll bet it’s mostly kids trying to please parents, filling time and avoiding another lackluster Saturday. Welcome to the happy middle classes. The parents need to take a deep breath and step back from their kids’ lives. Let them feel a little freedom. The parents’ fear is transferred to their children. And so it goes from generation to generation.

I look around and think that one of the sweeties must have a birthday. Why else would there be painted faces?

Then I notice the trophies on the tables and decide the little twits have won some kinda championship. More than likely, however, they haven’t won a thing. They’ve all been given trophies for being terribly mediocre and abnormally compliant.

If any of the girls had guts, they’d say “screw you! I’m outta here and wana do my own thing.”

God I’m glad I’m not a kid and don’t have to participate in this shit.

Then that guy comes in again and orders his Dos Equis. He only shows on girls’ soccer day. The parents never pay any attention to him. They’re too busy making sure their little girls are all happy and preoccupied with “being nice.”

But I pay attention to him.

I do because the son-of-a-bitch has all the markings of a pervert and he straps a military issue K-Bar to his leg. The K-Bar’s not a utility knife used for cutting twine. That’s an ending-life knife. And it ticks me off that he brings it in here. I’ve seen what one can do to a human body – and it ain’t pretty.

I’ve also seen his kind before. Meek. Quiet. A loner. That old Lost in Space TV show with the robot’s warning races through my mind, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

The little twirpy creep wrecks the wa – the energy in the room. At least for me. The girls and parents continue not to notice him.

I continue to sip my Corona with a slice of lime. I know. I know. Only pansy-assed Gringos use lime. I doubt the K-Bar dude drinks Corona with lime. I probably shoulda ordered a Tres Equis and one-upped the punk kid.

I feel a real mad coming on. Not sure I can let this guy go without a bit of well earned intervention on my part. Look at him. Just sitting there staring at the TV. But he’s not thinking about the TV. I bet he doesn’t even know who’s playing.

I study the guy a bit. No muscle tone. Hands and knuckles are smooth … too smooth to be much of a fighter. Probably bought the damn K-Bar at the local military surplus store and actually uses it for twine cutting. This scene just doesn’t fit together. It makes no sense. There’s something about him that makes me uncomfortable. Something not likable.

My gnarly hand wraps around the neck of my Corona. One whack on the edge of the bar will change my beer bottle into a pretty good weapon. Not a K-Bar, but definitely something of an equalizer. I suck in a deep breath and let it out slowly, then feel my pulse slow down as my fingers ease off the neck of the bottle.

The families are leaving the Fiesta. That’s good. When the action starts, I don’t want to be dodging squealing little girls and panicked parents. I need to concentrate on the pervert. He’s my target.

I smile and relax just a bit. God has spoken to me and directed my eyes to the shelf behind the bar. Right there within my reach is the equalizer – a 6-inch stainless steel cutting knife. He’s mine. I know it. I sense it. I feel it. You’re going down. You’ve just met the meanest of the mean right here in the Fiesta Grill ‘n Cantina. Say hello to …

The alarm on my cell phone beeps. I glance at it.

Damn – I’ve got just enough time to make it to my last session. I let out a big sigh, twist my neck a couple of times to release the tension, crack my knuckles, flip a twenty up on the bar and head for my anger management group.

Session number 12 – I think I’m making real progress.

Cell Phone Etiquette

You know what really burns the hair off my ass?  It’s not the economy, the loss of jobs, the stupidity of the general population, the cost of Medicare or whether people who earn over $250,000 per year should pay more taxes.

It’s cell phones.

Cell phones and the resulting decline in our lifestyles as a result of the f’ing things being thrust on us.  Yes … thrust on us.  Sure, we have a choice.  We always have a choice.  But to buck the trend takes far more willpower and character than I’m willing to invest in my life.  And from the proliferation of the Gizmos I’m not alone in thinking that way.

To sum up the situation, one of the multinational-ruling-oligarchical-out-of-control companies hits it right on the head when they send some geeky looking nebbish wandering onto my TV screen shouting into his cell phone, “Can you hear me now … Can you hear me now?”  Yeah, dirt-bag, I can hear you now.  And that’s the problem, you freaking nebbish geek.  Oh, BTW … lose the nerdy grayish-black windbreaker.  They went out of style in the late 50’s right after the Eisenhower jacket.

I vote not to participate vicariously in the miserable f’ing lives of people.  If I want to know about your student-of-the-month six year old son, under aged pregnant daughter, pending divorce and how you’re going to royally screw your ex, I’ll ask you.  I’ll call you … maybe even invite you to join me and have drink.

But, don’t count on it.

I’ve concluded that the people who walk around sharing their miserable lives with us as we listen to their cell phone conversations are the Jerry Springer-New Jersey Housewives-Reality Show rejects.  Their situations are too miserable to be exposed to the general public via television.  So instead of not knowing about them or hearing their miserable little petty low life problems, we arm them with a device that allows them to batter down our doors of privacy and pour their personal shit into our laps – without an invitation.

Put a stamp on it, mail it to me and if by chance it’s delivered I may decide to open it, read it and then possibly send you a response.  Otherwise, drop me off your list of people who you think wants to hear about your miserable life and problems.  And save yourself forty plus cents – soon to be more.

I’ll bet AGB, the miserable bastard that started this whole thing on March 10, 1876, is laughing his ass off watching us from his own special ring in Hell.  A ring specifically reserved for people who did not think of unintended consequences to their puttering around in the garage and coming up with a “brilliant new invention which will undoubtedly improve our lives.”

You may think I’m over reacting to the situation.  But, please hear me out.  Don’t hang up.  Don’t throw this in the trash.  And don’t put your fingers in your ears while rolling your eyes and dangling your tongue out of your mouth saying Nah-nah-nuh-nah-nah.  Just see if any of these situations have become a part of your life … uninvited.

At first it wasn’t too bad when you had to have a cord to make a cell phone call.  We thought we were so cool we could talk while we were in our cars with the few people who also were wired.  In fact, we called the Gizmos, “car phones.”  Calls were infrequent since the phones were used primarily for conducting business, very few people had the damn things, and “bundling packages” that allegedly gave you “free minutes” had not become the business practice.

Then women (wives) discovered they could call hubby and ask him to bring home milk, pick-up the kids, oops I forgot bread … make sure what time he would be home, did he take out the garbage before he left, the dog’s at the groomer could he pick-up the dog.  In-short, she could harass him without being blocked by the receptionist or his secretary, who both were hired primarily for the purpose of blocking.

Then we “lost the wire,” became wireless and our cell phones went wherever we went.  To promote access and slyly introduce us to no privacy at all, companies started “giving” us great quantities of minutes to use our phones.  Their commercials showed everyone with a phone, planning social events, hoarding their minutes for fun talks with friends and classmates, worried parents checking on kids in college or traveling to and from, and with special deals pushing the use of the #%*& phone into our weekends.  All were more and more invasive.  They were down right insidious, evil bastards.

Then with competition, phone plans became more affordable and the number of phone users sky rocketed.  Towers were installed on every piece of available real estate including your neighbor’s back yard, church belfries, small town water towers – whatever space was available for lease. You could use your phone almost anywhere except the Grand Tetons, the Lincoln Tunnel and Promontory, Utah – where the east truly met the west.

And so here I am now, bombarded daily with life sharing idiots, ninety percent of whom think they must yell into the device to ensure that their voices hurdle clearly and magically thousands of miles to their destination without regard to me … standing or sitting less than three feet away.

I’m in the john the other night in an upscale restaurant standing at the urinal when a guy strides in stands right next to me and starts a conversation.  Thinking he’s addressing me for some odd reason, I glance over and start to answer him when I see an appendage in his ear that makes him look like Seven-of-Nine, the Star Wars Borg … only not nearly so sexy.  This son-of-a-technology-bitch is pissing with one hand, flushing with the other, and never misses a beat in his conversation.  Give me a break.

Unfortunately, my chance meeting with piss-talking guy was topped.  One day I’m minding my own private business while doing my private business, when a guy enters the toilet stall next to me.  The door slams shut and he starts a dump while talking loudly over the plop-plop of his gravity driven turds.  OMG, I thought I was going to puke.  I wondered if the person on the other end of his cell phone new just how great a multi-tasker this conversationalist was.

Here’s a question.  Why do people wait until they get into their car to make a call?  I can’t tell you the number of people I spot pulling out of their driveway, cell phone glued to their ear.  Make your call inside.  You can use your f’ing cell phone inside.  It works when you’re in your house.  Then get in your car … and drive with both hands.  Puh-leeze!

Cell phone etiquette is really pretty simple.

Assume no one else wants to know your personal business.

Do things one-thing-at-a-time.  There’s new research out that totally debunks the myth of the multi-tasker.

Drive with both hands and concentrate on driving.  You made it through a lotta years when you just drove.  Ok … some of the time you were stoned when you drove and it worked out for you.  But you were lucky.

And don’t ask me if I do all the above.

Beware the Bombogenisis

When did weather reports become “extreme sports events?”

Weather people no longer simply report the arrival of cold fronts, warm fronts, high pressure systems or low pressure systems.  They no longer point out bands of showers, snow, occasional hail or thunder storms.

Weather reports now rival the multi-media madness of a John Madden telestrator sport’s cast.  We’re slammed, battered and beaten by meteorologists as they gyrate and gesticulate wildly while hyperbolating about daily weather patterns simultaneously flipping 3-D maps that resemble the battle lines of invading armies.

The elevation of weather to “terror status” involves Arctic Air Masses, fast moving Alberta Clippers, Polar Vortexes (or should that be “Vortices?”) and, God forbid, the dreaded Bombogenisis, alleged to be responsible for the record-breaking Nor’easter that recently buried the battered New England coast in mountains of snow and ice.

Weather fear mongers now provide hallucinatory estimates of the number of people trapped in the pathway of “mega-weather-nados” clearly demonstrating imminent danger to at least half of the world’s population.

Terrifying video from weather watchers and storm chasers blasts through our wide-screen TVs.  Live footage of massive property destruction, distraught people searching for missing pets and the unleashed power of a vengeful and unkind “Mother Nature” is our breakfast partner, lunch date and evening dinner companion.

We no longer enjoy sunny days, because we’re subjected to a calibrated weather alarm system that warns us of UVA indices, heat indices and sunburn, a/k/a skin cancer.

Children can’t be sent out to play in the snow anymore without checking wind-chill data and the risks of frost bite.  Remember when the only parental warnings were, “Don’t eat the yellow snow” or “Don’t put your tongue on the metal stair railing?”

If you’re an allergy sufferer, you might as well give it up.  Pollen counts tell you there’s absolutely no way you can venture outside the confines of your hermetically sealed home without sneezing, coughing or suffering a debilitating asthmatic reaction as you tackle the everyday task of breathing.

When did reporting our daily weather take on this threatening language and painting Mother Nature as the latest incarnation of “Mommy Dearest”?

You might think it started with the Weather Channel (May 1982), whose staple is the fluttering stop sign in rain, hail, sleet and snow.  Snow drifts piled high, trees bending to kiss the beach sand or waves crashing over seawalls also occupy major portions of the Weather Channel’s time.

But for me, weather as the main event started in the 1960s, when a local Florida weatherman appeared on my TV with two cowboy hats; the white one for reporting high pressure systems which he dubbed, “the good guys.”  And he donned the black hat while describing low pressure systems he labeled “the bad guys.”

After that foot in the door, it took a mere wind gust to carry weather reporting from the demure, yet very well endowed “Weather Girl,” to the stomping Weather Storm Troopers and the Prophets of Doom who have high-jacked our wide screens.

I cry out … “Willard Scott, where are you when we need you?”