When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Have Salisbury Steak

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns once again, this time to regale us with a tale of Salisbury steak. This ought to be interesting…

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Funny thing about me and food: I get a craving for something and, of course, it won’t be readily available right then and there. What to do?

Well, over the last 15 years or so, I bite the bullet, look up whatever it is I’m craving, and figure out how to make it from scratch.

Some of my previous attempts?

Off the top of my head: Eggnog. Macaroni and cheese. Shepherd’s pie. Almond roca. Mushroom soup. Custard pie. Fresh whipped cream. (No, not all were successes the first time around. I’ve since tweaked a couple of them during later attempts and made them work to my satisfaction. The really interesting one was my custard pie; it came out perfectly the first time I made it. The second time it didn’t work so well for whatever reason. As the saying goes: They can’t all be gems.)

Now… I’m well aware every single one of those items mentioned is easily procured if you simply jump into the car and head over to the local grocery store. But I’m not the sort of person who takes the easy road in such situations. I’d much rather go a’huntin’, get some hands-on learning in and gain the experience and satisfaction of doing it myself.

Last week one of those “situations” raised its head and its name was Salisbury steak. For whatever reason, the dish cropped up somehow, somewhere (I believe I saw a picture in a magazine) and I started salivating at the very thought of it. A little strange, I know… but a craving is a craving.

So, I went looking for a recipe. My intention was to make Salisbury steak to enjoy with The Golden Globes awards broadcast Sunday evening.

“Sunday night? I’m making Salisbury steak for dinner. I’m craving it for some reason,” I announced. “That work?”

“Knock yourself out,” I was told.

I found a recipe that fit my needs – it just so happened to be a slow cooker recipe – and, to my delight, I discovered I had all the ingredients at hand necessary to make the dish. Well… almost.

There was one item I lacked: A particular gravy mix. But I knew there were a few extra containers of brown gravy languishing in the pantry from the holidays. I figured I could doctor some to the point of edibility. (Despite the fact it was a name brand product, rarely does something that comes from a jar “work” in a recipe from scratch. Whipping it up fresh is usually preferable.)

Now… Let’s talk about my experience with Salisbury steak for a moment. Honestly, it had been a long, long time since I last had it. Truth be told, the memory of it was probably a lot more delectable in my mind than in reality. I did remember someone making it in the past and it being a taste delight at the time. Other than that? My Salisbury steak memories consisted of my mother tossing frozen TV dinners in the oven for us kids. Hey… We liked those TV dinners. They came with interesting potatoes and strangely attractive vegetables. The fried chicken was pretty damned good. And the desserts were always a surprise treat, too. (What did we know? We were young, culinarily-inexperienced, impressionable kids.) But I remember… I remember the Salisbury steak dinners were one of my favorites.

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It was meat (and, as a kid, I loved meat) but a different kind of meat. It was weird meat is what it was… but kids dig “weird.” Of course, what I liked as a kid didn’t always translate over to adulthood. I foggily recall having one of those dinners with about 20 years nestled between the last experience and it wasn’t what I remembered. In fact, it was pretty much inedible. Adulthood will do that to your taste buds, you know. Thankfully.

So, why I was all hot and bothered to reacquaint myself with Salisbury steak was a bit of a mystery. But I figured I could make it from scratch head and shoulders above what could be peeled back and exposed from beneath a thin layer of aluminum foil straight out of the oven, all hot and bubbly and oozing over into the other segments of that hot metal tray.

Sunday came and I got to work. I seasoned and formed the hamburger meat with CBS Sunday Morning speaking to me in the background. And then I browned the patties and drained the grease, wrapped them up and tucked them snugly away in the fridge for later disposition. Later, as the afternoon got on, I added the remainder of the ingredients into the crock pot, placed the patties at its bottom, covered all, and switched the pot to its lowest setting. In four hours, there would be Salisbury delight wafting in the air.

As the time got nearer, I made mashed potatoes and fried up Delicata squash to compliment the meal. With those condiments complete, I switched off the crock pot and lifted the lid.

The aroma that arose from the pot was appealing, comforting, beefy. I could hardly wait to dig in.

The table set, the food served, I began. That first taste was Salisbury steak, all right. But nothing I’d ever quite tasted previously. Yes… the hot, smothered flavors were there from my youth but there was a distinctive taste I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It wasn’t off-putting by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t anything I readily recalled, either.

I struck up a conversation after a few bites, “Remember Clifton’s Cafeteria in the mall when we were kids? How it had those long lines of cafeteria offerings, all the senior citizens milling about trying to decide what to put on their plates? I’m getting that sort of vibe from this. Not in a bad way, more in a comforting way. It brings back those memories…”

“No… it’s not bad at all. And it does bring back memories, all right,” came the response. “And, since you opened the door and started critiquing, I’ll throw in my two cents: It kind of reminds me of those TV dinners I had as a kid. There weren’t any I remember ever really liking. Sorry.”

Huh. Guess me and my nostalgia and my memories will be revisiting Salisbury steak all by our lonesomes next time around…

Thanks, Michael. I’m feeling an odd craving for a TV dinner right now. You can read more by Michael at hotchka.com.

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January’s Great Comic Book Cover Is By The King

29715I’ve said this before: When I was younger and first collecting comic books, I didn’t really care for Jack Kirby’s artwork. I did come to appreciate when I got older and had studied comic book art very closely and for a long time. Lately, I’ve been hearing other comic book collectors saying the same thing. Although they haven’t said how much they’ve studied the art, they have come to an appreciation and love for Kirby’s genius.

With this month’s great cover, I think I might have been a fan of Kirby in my younger years, if one thing would have been true. If Bill Everett would have inked more of the King’s work. In those days, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, or Joe Sinnott were teamed with Kirby most often. They were all fine inkers, but Bill Everett, a excellent artist in his own right, seemed to really gel with his fellow comic book pioneer.

Look at that cover (The Mighty Thor #171, December 1969). Penciled by Kirby, it has many of his telltale features. There’s the round biceps, the odd-looking yet expressive hands, and those great skyscrapers. And, of course, that dynamic struggle pose between to super-powered foes. Kirby was so good at dynamic.

On this cover, there’s also a more defined anatomy. More restrained somehow. More disciplined. And I love the expression on The Wrecker’s (he’s the guy in the green jumpsuit) face. There’s something about those eyes. I attribute these elements of greatness to Everett’s inking. Everett should have been Kirby’s inker far more often. If this cover is any indication, they would have made a hell of a team.

It’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s] signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

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And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

 

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My Favorite Christmas Songs

It’s Holiday again.

I mean, it’s Christmas time again. For the purposes of this blog I can call a ceasefire to my part of the War on Christmas and acknowledge the holiday that occurs every December 25th. Actually, there really isn’t a war on Christmas. I know, Bill O’Reilly is turning in his grave hearing me say that. (Is he dead?) But, seriously. The majority of Americans still celebrate it. We still get the day off of work and school. The specials still run on television. So retailers are opting to be more inclusive when giving Season’s Greetings to their customers. Big deal. Is that a war?

Be that as it may, I thought I’d list five of my favorite Christmas songs. As always, this is my list. Your results may vary.

In no particular order, here they are:

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Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt (1953)
Oh, yeah, it’s cheesy and the string breaks get a little annoying, but Kitt’s sultry gold-digging is quite enjoyable. It would be difficult for Santa to deny her requests when put the way she does it. Others have covered this song, but this version is the best. And the “boom-boom, boom-boom’s” are a nice touch.

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Snoopy’s Christmas – The Royal Guardsmen (1967)
This Christmas song was The Royal Guardsmen’s follow-up to their Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron hit from the year before. In fact, musically the two songs are virtually identical. I had to do quite a bit of digging through YouTube to find the first hit from 1966. Many people seem to think Snoopy’s Christmas is titled Snoopy Vs The Red Baron, but they are different songs. Apparently, this band had a thing for Snoopy.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Andy Williams (1963)
Yes, I know. This song is almost cliche, but I have to include it. It reminds me of all those Christmas specials that would play on TV in the lead up to the big holiday. Those specials helped mark of the days until Santa came and, at the same time, ramped up the anticipation of the arrival of that generous and jolly old fella. Andy Williams also came up with the only version of Twelve Days of Christmas, normally an incredibly tedious song, that I like. (I’ve linked to it as a bonus.)

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A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives (1964)
I first heard this one the way I’m sure most of the rest of you have: From The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas Television Special. Yes, plenty has been said in recent years about what a terrible message that special taught American television-viewing audiences in the mid-60s and beyond. The message was if you’re different you’re a freak and unwanted, even by Santa! And that only when that difference can be exploited are you then worthy of inclusion. Well, despite the horrible treatment of misfits, the song is quite rousing.

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Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)
This might just be my favorite Christmas song. As with most of the others, this one comes from a television holiday special – the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think the music for this program is what makes it so darn good. The Vince Guaraldi Trio really did something special here. In fact, the entire soundtrack is fantastic!

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Packing Peanuts!

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Pat DiNizio 1955-2017

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a memory of The Smithereens and patient persistence as a tribute to lead singer Pat DiNizio, who the world lost to cancer earlier this week.

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It was naturally sad to hear of the passing Pat Dinizio this week, lead singer for the moderately successful power pop band The Smithereens. I was a fan of their brand of music: Crunching, driving guitars, catchy, hook-laden singles with the occasional melancholy tear-jerker thrown in for good measure. And, oh…what a voice DiNizio possessed. Instantly identifiable every time…at least to my ears.

He will be missed.

Shortly after hearing the news, my mind went a couple places. First, I knew what my work night music menu consisted of – a healthy helping of The Smithereens’ catalog. And then my nostalgia kicked in and I remembered one of the times I went to see them live.

It was 30-some odd years ago. It was a friend’s birthday and it was just the two of us for a night on the town. I knew The Smithereens were playing the world famous Roxy in Hollywood and that, I’d decided, was our destination. I heard the show was sold out, but that never stopped me for going anywhere. Somehow, I would get us into the show.

We arrived and were promptly told by the box office the place was filled to capacity with no tickets left. We hung out anyway, my friend firing questions at me. Yes, we were going to wait it out; someone was bound to come by with extra tickets or some such so we could go inside. He was doubtful, commenting it was not the manner in which he thought his birthday evening would go. Me? I was my usual cheery happy-go-lucky and confident self.

20 minutes into the opening act, a staffer came out for a smoke. He saw us saunter our way over. “Waiting for someone he asked?” he asked. I told him yes, someone with a couple tickets to spare. He chuckled and walked off, puffing away.

Half an hour more passed. I could hear the opening act firing up their final tune of the night and, afterward, out came that same staffer for another smoke. “Still no one with tickets, huh?”

I shrugged.

“The place is packed. Matter of fact, the fire marshal came by earlier to check us out, make sure we weren’t violating any fire codes by having too many people in the place. And we were right on cue, not a person more in the joint than we’re allowed. I hate that damned fire marshal, always coming around and checking on us…”

He took a drag of his cigarette.

“You know what? Screw him and his fire codes. You want in? Follow me…”

And that is how we got into the show, on a lark.

At some point into The Smithereens’ set, I turned and noted to my friend, “Not a bad birthday after all, huh?”

Thanks for the memory, Pat and comrades. Rest in peace.

Thank you, Michael. You can read more of his writing at hotchka.com.

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Here’s This Month’s Great Comic Book Cover

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This month’s great comic book cover comes from the religious Treasure Chest series (volume 1, number 5 – August 18, 1966). I haven’t read this comic, but I thinking it’s a safe bet that, since in was published in 1966, it’s not going to have a very sympathetic view toward the Native peoples who were fighting for their land and way of life. The title – The March To Glory: The Story of Custer’s Last Stand – pretty much confirms my suspicion.

But, I’ll put America’s troubled and sometimes shameful past aside to look at what I think is a great cover by artist Reed Crandall.

Although, what exactly happened during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or the Battle of the Greasy Grass as it is called by Native Americans, will never be known, the image depicts Custer separating his forces as a Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, or Arapaho warrior observes. Since most of us know the results of the battle (Custer’s forces were soundly defeated), we can assume the splitting up of his men was probably not a good idea. Also, knowing the history, there’s a sense of foreboding to a lone warrior witnessing Custer’s error.

Crandall does an excellent job rendering the warrior. I don’t know if the garments worn are accurate, but the drawing is wonderfully done. It’s not a comic book superhero we see, but a realistically drawn man. The anatomy is right and looks real. There’s no exaggeration, no over-muscled physique. The coloring is muted with the exception of the bright orange markings of the Native’s battle gear.

Sometimes an illustration of a scene anticipating a great battle can be every bit as great as the battle scene itself. And that’s the case with this month’s great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Yes, but did I like it?

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Well, I didn’t hate it, but I nearly turned it off within the first ten minutes. I’m talking about Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic A Face In The Crowd, starring Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, and making his film debut – Andy Griffith.

This isn’t Andy Taylor. This isn’t Ben Matlock. No. This is “Lonesome” Rhodes. He’s a drunk and a drifter. A nobody. A face in the crowd. He’s discovered in a small Arkansas town jail by a fresh-faced, naive, but ambitious woman who works at her uncle’s radio station.

Her name is Marcia Jefferies, played by Patricia Neal, and she came up with the concept of “a face in the crowd” as an on-air segment for the radio station. She intends to interview regular, everyday folk. People who the public at large don’t think of, but might be every bit as compelling as any celebrity. She believes these people have a story to tell. And it was she who brings Rhodes to the attention of the modest audience of her uncle’s station.

Rhodes can sing, he can tell stories, and he speaks truth to power. The public loves him instantly. He rockets from the small town station to being the host of television’s highest rated show. Rhodes becomes a powerful voice in the American political scene with great sway over his sizable viewing audience.

But power corrupts. Actually, I think this story is more of a case of power revealing someone’s true nature. Rhodes was never a saint. He was just such a fresh presence that people either overlooked, rationalized, or even admired his rough edges. It was those rough edges that made him exciting and real to his audience. Until his attitude toward that audience was finally revealed, he seemed to be unassailable. However, that attitude was revealed and as quickly as he rose, he crashed.

It’s a fascinating film, but did I like it?

As I said, I didn’t hate it. The problem I had with the film, which almost had me shutting it of not ten minutes in, was “Lonesome” Rhodes. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to the calm, laid back, steady Sheriff Andy Taylor character that when I saw Rhodes it was almost too unsettling. Maybe, but if I never knew of that sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina I think I would still be put off by “Lonesome.”

Right from the start, he is so obnoxious I find it hard to believe anyone would want to listen to him in a jail cell, let alone on the radio or television. Griffith’s performance is as scenery-chewing as any I have ever witnessed. He’s crude, sweaty, wild-eyed, and loud. Oh, brother, is he loud. Half his dialogue is delivered at the top of his lungs. I’m surprised Griffith’s voice held up.

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This one image pretty much sums it up. How could anyone become a fan of someone so obnoxious?

When he sings that first song (Free Man in the Mornin’) in the drunk tank, a song he makes up on the spot, which he shouts and growls as much sings, I was feeling compelled to reach for the remote to hit the eject button. But I didn’t. This was an Elia Kazan film. I haven’t seen many of his films, but those I’ve seen feel real. They surprise me with a gritty truthfulness that films of the 1950s aren’t exactly known for.

It’s Kazan. I stayed with it.

I’m glad I did, but I’m still not sure I liked it.

Packing Peanuts!

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