Check check check
A few years ago, I first told you about the story of A young Marine from Michigan, who lost his life in the Anbar province of Iraq. His name was Nicholas Manoukian, and he was 22 years old when he died.
Since then, I have posted about this dedicated young man several times, particularly on Veteran's Day. You see, I promised this young man's mother that I wouldn't forget her son, and that I wouldn't allow others to forget him, either.
Nicholas Manoukian is one of over four thousand Americans and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, of that country, and now that President Obama has said that all American troops should be out of that shattered country by the end of this year, I want to say something that I think is important.
You see, we Americans have short memories. Seriously short, if you can recall our last Presidential election we were concerned about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now all we do is quietly shake our heads about them. Those on the left have moved on to Occupy Wall Street and other things, and those on the right are up in arms about gay people and wrecking the ability of our goevernment to govern. Now, not too many people talk about these wars. I guess it isn't popular for anyone these days. Well guess what, kids? These wars aren't over, and Americans are still dying. You probably already know how I feel about the wars, but this isn't about that. I want to talk to you today about a particular young American. A young person who is probably fairly typical of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have lost their lives doing the bidding of our government.
This is Nick Manoukian. A husband and father from Lathrup Village, Michigan. He lost his life during his second combat tour in Iraq, in 2006.
Look hard, folks.... look and ramember that this young fellow died for his country. Look and remember that no matter what your politics are, this country, for the sake of it's own soul, has to remember that the actions of our government have consequences that mean more than political rhetoric.
By all accounts (I have been in touch with Nick's mother, Mary, and several of his Marine Corps comrades for a few years now), Nick was a great son, and a first class Marine. He was also a good friend to those who knew him. The loss of this young man is a loss to all of us.
I didn't post this on Veteran's Day this year, because I didn't want it to get lost in the general flag-waving and fist pumping that generally happens then. I want people to remember Nick Manoukian on days that aren't so special. I want you to remember this young man who left a grieving, heartbroken mother and wife & child. I want you to remember him for all of those who won't come back from those places.
Today, I am proud of my friends who are veterans. I am proud of my father, his brother, my father in law, my brother, and my young nephew who is crrently serving.
From my own persepctive I have to say that for all of your thanks my knees still hurt, so does my shoulder and my back. So do the injuries of countless other veterans.
You're welcome for (and to) my pain. Really.
While you pat yourself on the back today, feeling good about yourselves for thanking the veterans that you see during the day, remember this:
Thousands of veterans are homeless.
Thousands of veterans need medical care for injuries or wounds that they sustained while serving, and won't get it from Uncle Sam.
On this day, you might want to remember that hundreds of thousands of our veterans were used in atomic experiments. You might also remember that hundreds of thousands of veterans were exposed to chemicals like Agent Orange and other defoliants. You might also remember that hundreds of thousands of veterans were given unproven "anti nerve-gas" drugs while serving in combat zones... or have been exposed to depleted uranium, or have been exposed to nerve agents.
You might want to remember those things... and after you say "Happy Veterans Day" to the veterans that you know... call your Congressional Representatives (blue or red), and tell them that they MUST do a better job of looking after those who gave a piece (or pieces) of themselves IN WAR OR PEACE, to seve our country.
Further, while you offer thanks for our veteran's sacrifice, look inside of yourselves and critically analyze the reasons that we have asked these men and women to risk life and limb for their country. Ask yourself if all of the sacrifices that they have been asked to made were really for your "freedom" Ask yourself if your freedoms would be any different had we, collectively, not sent men and women to die for a particular cause. Ask yourself if the people that represent you/us are faithful stewards of the lives, health and courage of our military men and women.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, and Marines, train and prepare to serve our country at the risk of the loss of life and limb. The very least we can do is to be a little more careful with what we do with this gift of service.
Does it sound like I am bitter? Perhaps I am. Sorry if that harshes your mellow.
(This has been re-posted from Veteran's Day 2010, becausw I don't think I can sum up any more eloquently.)
I tried out a new recipe this week, and I thought that I should share it with you. As you can see in the title of the post, it was Ground Beef Wellington. Now, I have never had a regular Beef Wellington, but I have always wanted to try. The problem is that I don't like to experiment with expensive food items, so going the ground beef route seemed like a good place to start.
I'll present the recipe, and make my review after you've had a look at it.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and preheat the oven to 350 F. Add the onion, carrot, celery, potato, mushroom and rosemary. Cook, stirring, about 8-10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the frozen peas. The residual heat will do to thaw them. Cool the veggie mix a bit.
In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, half the beaten egg, salt and pepper and cooled vegetable mix. Just use your hands and mix it all up.
On a floured board, roll out the puff pastry. You can put the two sheets on top of each other and roll out one big rectangle (about 12×16″) and make a large Beef Wellington or cut that into 4 smaller rectangles, as I did, to make 4 smaller ones. I was thinking we’d be eating leftovers for lunch and thought the smaller ones would work better.
Place 1/4 of the ground beef mix onto each rectangle, brush the outside long edge with some beaten egg and roll up lengthwise, pinching the edges together to seal. Put on a large cookie pan, seem side down. Repeat for each. (You could of course make smaller portions if you’ve got younger children.) Brush the tops with the rest of the egg and bake for an hour at 350 F.
Review: This looked like it was going to be a good recipe. Generally speaking, I like the way that Jamie Oliver does things because his food never comes across as particularly pretentious. I only have one Jamie Oliver cookbook, and it is one of my favorites.
This recipe is easy to make, andmore impirtantly, it is easy to change. I say that because as the recipe is written it may prove to be very bland for the palate that enjoys a little more flair.
I didn't omit anything from the recipe, but I did add a few things here and there.
I added two links of uncooked Chorizo sausages (sans casing) to the ground beef mixture, and for the sake of time, I used about a cup and a half of frozen hash browns instead of peeling and dicing a potato. In addition, I used about a tablespoon of Gourmet Garden's Moroccan seasoning (which I really love). I also added a half teaspoon of curry powder.
I followed the rest of the recipe in all respects, and in an hour, I had a nice looking dish that had the house smelling quite nice.
When it was time to serve, the dish presented quite nicely, which made me happy, because it is important to me that the food that I prepare looks good as well as tastes good.
I served the dish to Mrs Gunfighter and Soccer girl and when they tried it, I was rewarded with a resounding "Meh".
I tried it, and came up with the same result. I was a good dish, but not a great dish. The next time I attempt this, and I do plan to give it another go, I am going to do my usual thing and go a wee bit bonkers with my rockin' spice rack.
The Bottom Line: Try it, but don't be afraid to change it to taste. This is a recipe with incredible potential. Make it your own and rock the spice rack!
Here is the problem of our times: In the early 1990's, the Soviet Union fell apart, and when it went away, the european Communist boogeyman went away. For the past generation, Soviet successor states and the nations they spawned have been eyeing each other warily, or have been actively killing each other. In either event, their threat to western europe and thereby, the United States, at least temporarily, disappeared.
What was America to do? We no longer had a ten foot tall giant to be afraid of.
Well, luckily, we didn't have to wait to long... Saddam Hussein, the toolbag Dictator-in-Chief of Iraq, was stupid enough to invade Kuwait, threatening American (business) interests in Saudi Arabia!
Well! We sure as hell weren't going to let THAT stand, now were we? (Insert remarks about Hussein being abetted and encouraged by April Glaspie and Donald Rumsfeld here).
Anyway, we smashed up a significant part of Hussein's army, and went home to live in peace, right?
Well, not so much.
At the end of the 20th century, despite not having any real, present physical threat to our security, Americans did what we normally do: We turned inward. All of a sudden, we decided that the threats to American security was our own government... and poor Mexicans.
All of a sudden, many (really stupid) Americans were convinced by powerful and dangerous interests (some of them from outside of the United States), that our own worst enemy was our (mostly) fairly elected government.
We started to buy into fear mongering to the point that homegrown (racist) terrorists (who call themselves "Patriots") started blowing up federal office buildings (and American children). This was bad enough, but we didn't truly start to lose our national security minds until our country was finally touched by international terrorism on a large scale.
I don't need to go into detail about certain events that took place ten years ago... You get the idea, right? So, instead of doing what we should have done about terrorism, we overreacted be came terrified of a bunch of idiots with bomb vests, and went to war (overtly) in two different countries and covertly (sorta) in at least 5 more.
Now, we have impoverished ourselves with the costs of war, and the (allegedly) most Patriotic among us are unwilling to pay them.
We have become, in the span of 20 years, an impoverished, anti-intellectual giant that hates itself (especially it's own brain). We are afraid of immigrants (and not just the illegal kind) unless they are white and Christian, we are afraid of our politicians, especially if they aren't white (or effing crazy). We fear all of these things while we waste our army, air force, and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing virtually nothing to counter the only credible military threat we face: China.
Whom do we have to thank for all of this? The modern Conservative.
Be afraid for our future... but prevent disaster by not being scared into inactivity.
Be active! Be bold! Don't be afraid to speak out against those that would drive us into the night.
For God's sake, do something.
As usual, your friend Gunfighter has food on the brain.
Not just any food, but a dish that has some real history with me.
Now, I'm not of Italian descent, but manicotti has played an important role in my life, as it was the first meal that I prepared for Mrs Gunfighter, when I began to woo her those many years ago.
True story: After Mrs GF had our first "non-date" as we still refer to it, I invited her over to my bachelor pad so that I could thrill her with my culinary skills. So, there I was, in my tiny Capitol Hill apartment, with it's 5x4 (and that is generous) kitchen, making manicotti for the first time.... apparently I did well enough to keep her around, and there you are. I have been cooking for her ever since.
So, last week, I decided to make manicotti because it is a fairly simple recipe and I didn't have a huge amount of time to cook something more elaborate for a mid-week meal. I gathered all of the things that I needed and went home to get busy. Well, I got busy and then I got really irritated because I forgot an important ingredient... the ricotta cheese!
It was getting late, and I needed to get dinner on the table so I did what I usually do when a recipe doesn't go right... I improvised. I remembered that I had grits in the cupboard (of course, I ALWAYS have grits on hand). I made six servings of grits, using chicken broth instead of water, and the rest is history. the recipe is below, but you know how I cook... I like to throw in a little of this, and some of that, so I may have forgotten something, but this is a pretty fair place to start. If you ever make this, feel free to add what you like and leave out what you don't.
Manitcotti… Southern Style!
1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
3. Sautee the cauliflower until mostly softened.
4. Sautee the onions until clear, and set aside.
5. Sautee the scallions until soft, and set aside
6. Cook grits in broth until done, then spread them out on a large plate (or two) to cool
7. Add manicotti & cook for 4 to 5 minutes, drain.
8. In a bowl, mix 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 cup of Gorgonzola cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, garlic, egg, basil, ¼ cup of spaghetti sauce, and grits.
9. Stuff cooked manicotti with the mixture.
10. Spread about 2 cups pasta sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange stuffed manicotti in the dish, and cover with remaining sauce (as much or as little as you like).
11. Cover with aluminum foil
12. Bake 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven.
13. Remove foil, Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan, and continue baking 10 minutes, until mozzarella is melted and bubbly.
I have been thinking about music for the past few days... not that music isn't regularly on my mind, but this is different. I have been thinking about sad songs, and songs that, no matter what, I simply cannot grasp. I plan to spend the next few days writing about music, not as a critic, but as a consumer. I wanted to start with my thoughts on a particular Beatle's song, but another song has pushed it's way to the forefront of my tiny little brain and won't go away. That song is MacArthur Park.
You know that one, don't you? If you aren't old enough to remember British actor Richard Harris' original recording from 1968, you might remember the more popular version recorded by Donna Summer in 1978. Anyway, the song has been covered by a long list of artists, including Frank Sinatra, Waylon Jennings, The Four Tops, Maynard Ferguson, Percy Faith, and Sammy Davis, Jr... even Maureen McGovern recorded the song (don't lie, you know that you know who Maureen McGovern is/was... Torn Between Two Lovers.... right?).
They say that if you want to know how great a song is, all you have to do is see how many different artists have covered it, and how many different genres of music it has been arranged for. If that truly is the test, and I beleive that it is, then MacArthur Park has to qualifiy as a true giant in musical history, and full credit must be given to Jimmy Webb for having written it.
Now to the point of this post: Here is the thing... I am old enough to remember both of the most popular versions of this song, and as much as I love the musicality, it still makes no sense to me. Now, I know that there are strong feelings about it, but let's be reasonable, no matter what Mr. Webb was trying to say with his lyrics, he cearly failed since most people still can't grasp his point without a study guide. Now, you talk about genius.... this guy writes a song that makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER and it is an unqualified hit by any measurement you care to use.
If you are a fairly young person and have to go to iTunes to hear this song for the first time, that's OK... go listen and come back, you'll like it, I promise you, but her are the lyrics for your perusal... tell me if any of this makes sense to you.
Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed,
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants
MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
The birds, like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers by the trees
If someonw were to ask me, and of course nobody gives a crap about what I think, this song MIGHT be interpreted as being about the loss of innocence, or virginity... or baby birds, or.... hell, I don't know.
What do you think?
So, summer is upon us and I have some reading to do. Well, you know me, I always have reading to do... but my summer reading list is usually about reading fiction, not as much this year, but there are some treats in store for me. So here it is, my list of books that I plan to read this summer.
Today is my wedding anniversary.
Seventeen years ago, today, Mrs Gunfighter and I tied the knot about 15 feet from where I am typing this. Our house tells the story of our marriage, and it is one worth reading.
The first chapter begins six weeks before the wedding, when we moved into this new place with it's white walls and slight smell of new paint and drywall dust. Over the next several months it became a home instead of a house with the addition of furniture and cookware.
The story moves on to being a place full of music and stacks of books that overflowed from our shelves (this part of the story continues to this day, despite the quadrupling of our shelf space and our efforts to donate books to the local library). Later chapters will speak of dancing in the family room while listening to a radio show dedicated to the disco years that we both remembered.
Other chapters will be filled with stories of rescued greyhounds, and the happiness we shared with them and through them. You could also read about the expansion of our family, not only through the adoption of dogs, but of the birth of SoccerGirl. That is a story in itself, but one I have told many times.
The story told in this house will include the discovery of new interests and new music. In these pages you will read about Bossa Nova; Frank Sinatra; Tuck & Patti; Nina Simone; Mel Torme; Peder Eide and an incredible host of others that have made us happy or kept us company.
Still later, our house becomes the home of local political activists; of a couple that has strong careers; and of parents dedicated to raising a wonderful, loving, talented, studious, multifaceted child. A family active in fitness, sports, and the church.
The most recent chapters of this little story will tell of the arrival of middle age... of small aches once laughed off that are now serious concerns. They will tell about respect, hard work, and more music and MORE books... because despite constant change, some things never change.
This story isn't a fairy tale. It isn't without loss, grief, discord or pain. The thing to remember is that loss, pain, grief, and discord are things to work past because all of the other things are what are important.
The story of this house has been and continues to be about love and family and faith and joy.
I can't wait to read the rest.
****This story is dedicated to Susan and Olivia (and Crystal, and Duncan, Zoom, & Charlie), without whom this house would just be a collection of walls.