Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 98 of The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of all Time.

Number 98
Greens-stuffed Meatloaf.

            A meatloaf in my Top 100 Meals? Yes—meatloaf. And, yes, greens-stuffed. First, let’s look at what we have so far. Number 100 in the Top 100 Meals was leftover Shrimp & Eggplant Casserole, and number 99 was the Southern-Style (Chicago) Hot Dog. Yum. Can a measly meatloaf rise to such heights as to be named Number 98? Well, if it’s Greens-stuffed Meatloaf, indeed it can.
When you’re feeding a large family, as I had to do for many years (Our family consisted of two adults and four kids, aged 5, 10, 14, & 15 when my wife and I married and I was named head cook—a story unto itself), finding ground-beef-based recipes that are liked and will be eaten by everyone involved is a necessity. It can also be a chore. As a rule, everyone loves “The Big-Four Beefy Dinners”—tacos, lasagna, spaghetti, and California. (I’ll explain California later. It’s higher on the list. It’ll also be one of your Big-Four Beefy Dinners) Those four are obvious winners, loved by one and all, but meatloaf? Stuffed with greens? It’s difficult enough to get kids to eat greens, no matter how you fix them, but to “ruin a good meatloaf,” as my kids liked to say, is “heresy.” Actually, the greens in this dish are almost tasteless. The hard part is getting kids to try it. That’s why the greens are hidden.
2 cups frozen greens (turnips, mustard, or spinach—2 -10oz. pkgs.). Cooked!
1 onion, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ lbs. ground chuck
1 ½ lbs. Italian sausage (ground, or removed from casings)
4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 eggs
1 jar good salsa (I prefer Jardine’s—expensive, but oh-so-good)
Spray oil. I like canola.

            Cook the greens first. Actually, choose the greens first. Even I wasn’t brave enough to try turnip or mustard greens on our kids. I used spinach. It’s milder in taste and well-known. Ask a kid what mustard greens are, and he’ll most likely shrug his shoulders and pretend you’re from outer space. My advice is—especially, if this meal involves children—use spinach. Once the kids have flown the coop—or have been pushed out of the nest, as must often be done—you can get a little crazy and try the stronger greens. In fact, I’ve never tried collards. I love collards, but I’m afraid they’re too strong for this dish. My advice, therefore, is use spinach the first time you attempt this dish.
My main point is, if you’re trying to plan ahead, and you’re on a schedule, don’t forget this step. Cook the greens. Cook ‘em and drain ‘em. Then preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When I cook, I like to plan the meal so everything comes together just before we plan to eat, and with kids, if you don’t plan to eat at a certain time every night, you’ll be sitting at the table with your mate, and that’ll be it—especially, if the kids find out you’re experimenting with them again. I have a bad habit of scanning a recipe like this one, and missing the precooking part. For instance, I’ll say, “Okay—fifteen minutes prep and one hour to cook. Let it sit five. Giving myself a ten-minute margin of error, I come up with a total of 80-90 minutes.” If I forget the pre-cooking, not only will my “margin of error” disappear, I’ll most likely be ten to fifteen minutes late with the meal. Maybe your kids don’t grumble—mine sure did. Hell. They still do.
            So . . . after you’ve precooked the greens, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft—about five minutes. Add the cooked greens. Cook three more minutes. The oil will be taken up by the greens so keep an eye on them and don’t let them burn.
            Wash your hands. Wash ‘em good. Combine chuck, sausage, toast, Tony C’s, eggs, and salsa in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Yes—you must plunge your hands into the gooey mess. Be brave. Don’t over-mix but be sure all are well combined.
            Next comes what I call the “cater-to-my-wife” part. You see, my wife, Linda, won’t eat greens. Not now. Not a one. When we had kids in the house, though, she did. I can’t recall her ever complaining when I prepared greens. She now claims it was her “solidarity plan.” She was gonna back me, no matter what I fixed. Well, this isn’t entirely true. Linda was right beside the kids when they mutinied over my many attempts at fish soup. And calves’ liver. I’m sure there were more, but they don’t come to mind right now.
Anyway, Linda’s a native Southerner, born in Montgomery, Alabama, and was raised by a Southern father who grew greens in his garden, loved to eat greens, and tried to feed greens to his children. Yet, I have never seen a collard, mustard, or turnip-green pass my wife’s beautiful lips. She pretty-much bypasses the mustard family. Linda will eat cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, but hides when I fix kale, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi. I’ve never seen my wife try horseradish, one of my favorite condiments. In fact, I’m not sure she likes the condiment, mustard. She’s a ketchup woman. She’ll eat spinach, but only as a last resort. And spinach, as any good Southerner knows, is not Southern. Did Popeye have a Southern accent? Have you ever seen what happens to little spinach plants when the first hot day in Alabama in April hits them? They bolt. They bolt like Linda when I fix collard greens. And, most of all, spinach isn’t in the mustard family—it’s a durned old goosefoot. That’s right—spinach is in the goosefoot family. Why would anyone eat goosefoot plants when they could devour mustards?
Therefore, and anyhow, when I make this dish, now that the children are gone and my wife doesn’t feel she needs to set a good example for them by showing “solidarity,” I leave all hint of greens out of her portion of the meatloaf. Even the goosefeet greens. Or is it geesefeet? And back in the days when we were feeding a horde of children, I used spinach, knowing I’d have a war on my hands if I tried to make my wife eat real, as-good-for-you-as-they-taste, Southern greens. Dutifully, my wife ate the meatloaf stuffed with spinach. Nowadays, when I make the dish, I suit myself—I use mustard or turnip greens, or whatever I have in the freezer—for my portion, and I make another pan just for my wife that’s all meat. It gives us fodder for dinnertime conversation. “Feeling a bit superior, are we?” Linda will say. “A bit,” I answer, chewing my greens as distinctly as I can. Let’s face it—ground beef takes little chewing. I prefer the turnip greens with chopped turnips in them—they resemble little potatoes—and I can hoist them up on my fork, waving them about in the air before I shove them into my mouth. I know she can see the little “taters.” And, yes, when I eat my meatloaf with greens in front of my wife, I do act and feel superior. I must. You see, this is the same woman who can work the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle in the same time it takes me to finish the Tuesday one. She’ll hold it up for me to see. I cheer. I praise her. And I take my own boasts when and how I can.
            So . . . since I must make two different dishes, I divide the meat portions in half. Using two disposable aluminum pans (8”x 3 ¾”x 2 ½” deep), I spray them both with canola oil and put half of the meat from my portion in one pan, and all of the other portion in my wife’s pan. Hers is ready to cook. It is also oh, so plain, so pedestrian. Oh, well.
In my pan—the portion that will taste oh-so-much-better—I add the cooked onion and greens mixture on top of the first layer of meat, then add the rest of the meat. Back when I was cooking for a crowd, knowing they were going to eat the spinach, whether they liked it or not, I used a larger pan—an 11 ¾” by 9 ¼” by 1 ½” deep, or a 9” square pan—for the entire batch. If you are so lucky, so fortunate, as to be able to make a single meatloaf, rather then two smaller ones, use the larger, single pan. 
In mine, I don’t care whether it looks like a traditional meatloaf or not, but in the larger version, you should. In yours, place the greens in the center of the meat, keeping them away from the sides a tad, and place the second batch of meat on top. Once again, stick your hands into it, forming a sidewall and seaming the edges together, so that when you un-pan it, the result looks like it’s an all-meat meatloaf. It’s much more fun this way. Imagine yourself sitting there, watching an unsuspecting child who thinks he’s about to dig into an all-meat meatloaf. He slathers it in ketchup, cuts off a huge bite bigger than his mouth when it’s wide open, and his fork freezes, an inch from being devoured. Oh, the joy. Oh, the laughs. Oh, what a liar I can be. I only wish that you, too, will have as much fun as Linda and I had convincing our children there was nothing else in the house to eat and all the pizza places were closed for the night. Greens-stuffed Meatloaf is not a dish for the timid to prepare.
            Onward! Cook for one hour. Have a beer. Have two or three. You deserve it. Plus, you’ll need the courage beer will give you. The hard part—getting the kids to eat your creation—is just beginning. Take the pan or pans from the oven and let it or them sit five minutes. Using gloves or hot pads (I use a wad of paper towels because my wife gets upset when she has to wash the hot pads, and they’re about to get greasy), pour off accumulated grease. Please don’t pour it down the sink. I save glass jars and tops just for this purpose. Then—over the sink—if you used the small pan, take a wad of paper towels, about four plies thick, enough to cover your entire palm, and holding the paper towels against the top of the meatloaf, flip the pan and shake the loaf loose. If you used a large pan to cook the loaf in, cover a plate with two plies of paper towels and use the plate, not your palm. Holding the loaf in your palm, minus the pan, put a serving plate on top (the bottom of the meatloaf) of the loaf, and flip it back over. If you’ve poured off most of the hot grease, you’ll be okay. If not, and you burn yourself, consider it a part of cooking. Without battle scars and wounds, how can we truly say our job is worthwhile? Knife cuts, hot-pan singes, and stupid hot-grease burns, are the merit badges we proudly wear to show our dedication to the Crazy Cook’s Club—we who slave away for little praise, living in the belief that we are preparing good-tasting meals that are inherently healthy, to boot. We deserve to act superior.
            Okay—it’s time to enjoy the meal. I would place a huge bottle of cheap ketchup on the table for the kids and the wife. On my end I’d have a smaller bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce. I didn’t share the good (expensive) stuff with the kids. Still don’t. The wife? Sure. But only if she asks. They all prefer plain ketchup, anyway. And now the hard part—getting the “others” to try your creation. I mean, seriously, when covered with either ketchup or chili sauce, the greens can’t be tasted. Go ahead, dig in. You can eat while all the others sit and fume, wondering why you’re so mean to them. If I’ve heard “Can’t we just order a pizza? We’ll pay for it ourselves,” once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.
            This dish reminds me of a story. In our house, where I was the cook, our kids were told that they could invite their friends over to eat whenever they wanted, as long as we had a little advance notice. Kids don’t think these things through. Not many kids visited us at suppertime more than once. For one thing we had rules. The first and foremost rule was no telephone calls during the meal. Not even I could rise to answer the phone. I’d turn the ringer down or off, so we wouldn’t be tempted. Nowadays, with hand-held devices, it’s much harder, but we still enforce the rule when the kids visit—we’re having dinner, not a gabfest with strangers. The second rule was that everyone—everyone, even the guests—had to read a newspaper article before we ate. I’ll go deeper into this one at another time, saying only that this rule saved Linda and me from strangling our kids through their teenage years. Well—to continue the story—after three or four of their friends joined us at various times and sat—with a recently read newspaper article in their heads, and the prospect of eating an entire meal without even one phone call, and staring mystified at a mound of greens-stuffed meatloaf, or a pile of braised Brussels sprouts, or a steaming bowl of hot fish soup—we spent most of our meals without the presence of strangers at our table. To tell you the truth, not having strange, unruly teenagers eating with you isn’t so bad—especially when they’re smarmy young boys who are there only because you have a pretty daughter for them to gawk at. Hey—try serving up some Greens-stuffed Meatloaf and see if you don’t feel the same way.

   Here’s good cookin’ comin’ at ya. Earl. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hey, guys--They posted another of my blogs on The one below, on the "Southern" Chicago hot dog. Read all about it and let me know what you think. Earl.

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of All Time. Number 99.

Fantastic Meals
Number 99 in the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of All Time.

The Southern-Style (Chicago) Hotdog.

            I have changed the name of my Top 100 Meals of All Time to what you see above. It makes more sense to me. Number 100 was Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole, and Number 99 is—The Southern-Style (Chicago) Hotdog! And we do need to get something straight right away—it’s way more Southern than Chicagoan. I use the city’s name because that’s what this hotdog was called when and where I found the basic recipe, in the June 2008 issue of Men’s Health magazine.
            First of all, to be a Chicago style hotdog, it must be beef. Beef hotdogs are okay, but I’ve been too many times to the Alabama State Fair and the Montgomery Biscuits’ baseball games—I’ve been ruint. If I fix a dog, and it isn’t a big ol’ Southern sausage-dog, made mostly of pork, then I don’t want it in my hotdog bun. It’s like the difference between real Southern barbecue and Texas barbecue—real Southerners prefer pig barbecue. Pretend Southerners—the Texans, for instance—prefer beef barbecue. I’ll be the first real Southerner to admit that beef barbecue is not bad. It’s also not great, unlike real Southern barbecue. Of course, real Southern barbecue, like most Southern foods, would never be considered a health food. Eat it in moderation! If you can.
            So . . . you must start this hotdog with the correct ingredients—and the first is a quality chunk of Southern sausage. You can pick and choose among thousands and still end up with a great dog. I prefer Hillshire Farm sausage, the ones that are hotdog-sized, but Sam’s Fireside Gourmet and Johnsonville are good, too. Just don’t look for cheap sausage dogs. This isn’t a mess-hall-feed-‘em-all-cheap-junk-food recipe we’re talking about here.
Unpack your dog or dogs, boil them for ten minutes, then sauté in a half-tablespoon of butter (the tablespoon amount is marked on the side of the butter wrapper). Cut a slice and begin sautéing the dog in a frying pan until crispy, about two-three minutes.
            The second ingredient is just as important—a whole wheat hotdog bun. Don’t you dare purchase a soggy white-bread hotdog bun! Never! I find it difficult to believe that everywhere I go, people still purchase and consume, for God’s sake, white bread. Don’t do it. The stuff is tasteless and bad for you. If you’re going to buy white hotdog buns, you may as well go ahead and just fill them with cheap, chicken-filled hotdogs. My favorite buns are Nature’s Own. I think you can buy them everywhere. Take a bun, spread it apart, and drop it in the toaster. This step is crucial! The bun must be toasted. But be careful—they’re easy to burn in a toaster. Watch the bun closely. I always have to hit the cancel button on my toaster to keep the buns from burning. It’s all part of cooking. Cooking isn’t an easy-going pastime where you can toss a bunch of stuff in a pot and forget about it. If you do burn your buns, toss ‘em. They can’t be saved. The burnt taste will come through no matter how much of the crusty black stuff you shave off. Steel yourself and start over, this time paying attention.
            Okay. You should be ready—one chunk of sautéed sausage, and one tanned whole-wheat bun. Don’t forget the “eat it in moderation” phrase a paragraph or two above. Next: using real mayonnaise, which to me means Hellmann’s or Kraft, in that order exactly, apply at least a tablespoon to both leaves of the bun. Add some mustard—and not any silly gourmet mustard either—use plain French’s Classic Yellow Mustard or Mister Mustard Hot Original—and a tablespoon of each of the following: sweet relish, dill relish, drained Ro-Tel Chunky Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles, and banana pepper rings (mild, hot—your choice). Sprinkle celery salt on it and dig in.
    Now—pretend you’re in Chicago, the wind is blowing icy cold off whichever Great Lake that fair city sits beside, and some Al Capone lookalike is shooting his sub-machine gun in the next block. But you don’t care, because you’ve got something no one else in the Windy City has—a genuine (sure—go ahead—pronounce it like we do—gen-you-wine), Southern-Style Chicagoan hotdog. Ahh. Life is good. It’ll be difficult to limit yourself to only one.
            The Ingredients: Per One Dog:
1. Good quality sausage dog.
2. Whole wheat bun.
3. One tablespoon butter.
4. One tablespoon each: mayo, mustard, sweet relish, dill relish, chunky tomatoes, and banana pepper rings.
5. One teaspoon or less, celery salt.

That’s it. Gobble it down as slowly as you can. Eat another.

    P.S. A note on Mister Mustard. This mustard is my favorite, but it’s difficult to find in any of the local grocery stores. I order it online. It’s well worth it. It’s made by Woeber’s, in Springfield, Ohio, where the founder, Carl Woeber settled when he arrived from Germany. It’s the only mustard I’ve ever found that has a kick to it, yet still retains a decidedly mustard taste. I prefer the Hot Original, not the Sweet. Scott Raab, in Esquire magazine in 2007, said that for him, finding Mister Mustard was like meeting “the true love of mi vida loca con condimentos,” and it was “a blessing upon every cold cut known to humankind.” Scott prefers the sweet. I think he’s from Cleveland. I don’t think he’s a Southerner. Stick with the Original. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Published nationally!

Hey, guys--I hate to stop any of you from reading the next opinion, but Earl was just published nationally in They took a re-write from his 500opinions blog, The Top 100 Best Books Ever. Yeah--from this blog! Check it out!

For those of you having a hard time leaving comments--it is hard! here's the trick--you have to comment as "anonymous" if you don't have a g-mail blog yourself. Or something like that. Here's how: 1. Click on comment or no comments. 2. Enter your text in the window. Add your name if you want me to know who you are, and e-mail if I don't have it--in the window! 3. Select: comment as anonymous. 4. Select publish. Try that. If all else fails, e-mail me at Later!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Top 100 Books of All Time--Number 100.

    Number 100 in my list of books is actually a set of books--the Encyclopedia Americana, in 30 volumes, 1947 Edition. Am I strange, or what? My parents, God bless them, were great believers in encyclopedias. We had at least three sets I can remember in our house during my school years. The Americana set was probably our first one, and being the hoarder that I am, I still have it. Yes, I know it's ancient and out of date, but I don't read it to find up-to-date stuff. I began reading it about 35 years ago, mining its words for ideas to use in stories I was writing at the time. I decided, back then, to read the entire 30 volumes. I longed to be able to store all of the information in the encyclopedias inside my head. Alas. My brain was not cooperative. Instead, I took notes as I read, and still have the files I started, covering everything from astronomy to weapons--lots of good stuff every person should know about.
    I'm currently in Volume XVI, Jefferson through Latin. How interesting. The third listed Jefferson is Thomas, a hero of mine, and in junior high I took Latin I and II. I was never accomplished in the language, but I not only still have my textbooks, I've had a lifelong love for all things Roman. In my list of 100 books there are two, Caesar's War Commentaries and Working IX to V, that have Roman themes.
    And while it may sound impressive that I'm in Volume 16, this doesn't mean I read from 1 to 16. I skipped around. I've actually only gone through 1,11, 14, 18, 25, and 26. Six of them. My studies pale to those of A. J. Jacobs, who not only read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, he wrote a book about it, and though he praised himself rather highly for my tastes, the boy probably made a mint. That's the story of my life--put in the work and someone else does the same thing and makes a mint. I guess you could say A. J. Jacobs ticks me off, which isn't fair, of course. I'm the one who didn't see the potential of reading an encyclopedia all the way through. Oh, well.
    Jacobs, who is called, or calls himself, among other things, "the know-it-all, a humble, self-deprecating man, a disarming man, a son of a brilliant attorney, an hilarious, enlightening man," etcetera ad nausea. He claims he read the whole blessed thing, from A to Z. Good for him.
    In his writings about his trip through the pages of the encyclopedia, Jacobs seems preoccupied with getting his wife pregnant, proving to his father that he's not a ne'er-do-well, and cross-eyed women. Not me. I take prodigious notes, and file them away. My file drawer with notes from the Americana is filled with eccentric people, Greek history, literature, myths, Roman battles, and all sorts of weird stuff that appeals to me. I'll give you some examples. The ancients believed that hyenas changed sex every year and could imitate the human voice. An apotropaic eye is the painting of an eye or eyes as a symbol to ward off evil. The Greeks used them on "eye cups" as they drank wine, to keep spirits from entering their mouths. A Dane named Finsen discovered a method of curing lupus and tuberculosis of the skin with light rays. It's claimed he cured smallpox by installing red curtains on sickroom windows. How come I never learned any of this stuff in school? If I had, I could be sitting here drinking wine out of cup with eyes all over it, staring out of my red-curtained windows, instead of diagramming each of these sentences before I let them be published. Okay, okay--I don't diagram sentences. I really hated doing it in school, however. The teacher could have been teaching me about hyenas and Finsen's violet lights.
    Anyway, there you have my number 100--an ancient set of encyclopedias that I'll never, in this lifetime, finish reading. But, oh, the joy they bring me. I'll paint eyes on my wine glasses and hang red curtains at my windows. Let Jacobs make his millions with his book about reading the encyclopedia. When that small voice outside the bedroom window in the darkness of night calls out, "Help me. Help me," sounding like the tiny fly with a human's head in The Fly when he was caught in the spider web, Jacobs will probably step outside to investigate. Not me. I'll know it's a damned hyena. You see, even though my encyclopedia is ancient, I learned that a hyena has jaws so powerful, he can grind bones with ease. Crunch! Crunch! It won't be my bones he's grinding up. Thanks to the Encyclopedia Americana! Number 100! Way-to-go, encyclopedia!
    As we move through my top 100 lists, I'll share what others have as their top books, movies, etc. For instance, Entertainment Weekly has The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, at their number 100. It's about overbearing Chinese mothers and their resentful daughters. Oh, boy--just my kind of reading. Sorry, I have not read it. Nor will I. My list is of books I loved to read the first time (I simply put most books down if they don't grab me by page 5), have read again and again (I still have almost every book on my list. Those missing I loaned out.), and plan to read again some day. Books like the Encyclopedia Americana. In fact, I just read an entry on the pirate, William Kidd. It seems there was some booty missing when he was hanged. Many believe it's hidden on Long Island Sound or along the banks of the Hudson River. Anyone up for a treasure hunt? Or would you rather read about fighting mothers and daughters? Not me. I've seen enough of that in real life. Don't need to go there in a book. How about you?
    Some other picks for Number 100 are: The Magnificent Ambersons (Modern Library--Board), The Satanic Verses (Modern Library--Readers), The Orchard: The Bostan of Saadi of Shiraz (the World Library), and The Death of the Heart (Time Magazine). If you wish to peruse these books, have at them. Me? I'll stick to the Americana. My advice? Sure, e-books are the coming thing, but if you come across an old, out-dated set of encyclopedias for a small sum, make the investment and start reading. You'll have a blast. For years. And if you want to irritate me, write a book about it. I dare you.
    Next--my Number 100 best TV show ever! Admit it--this is the most fun you've had in years!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Who, What, When, Where, WHY.

18 August, 2013

    It's not just you, by the way. I keep asking myself the same question--why another blog? And why this one with the the strange title--500 Opinions? The Fisher Remodelers blog-site is obvious--it's related to my job. So is the Love and War Among Young Zombies blog--it's an attempt to find a readership for a book Linda and I wrote. But why write a blog about a bunch of opinions?
    What was it Richard Ferguson e-mailed me? "Don't blog me, bro!" Hah. That was pretty cool, Richard. The sentence has a wonderful consonant repetition, blog and bro, as well as an onomatopoeic rhythm to it--"Don't blog me, bro." Why do I think it's onomatopoeic, which means a word or words that have a sound that imitates what they mean? It's the word blog. If one heard the word, and didn't know what it meant, the similar words block, blot, or bludgeon might come to mind. If I blog Poor Richard, it could be I'm not being very nice to him. So, I won't.
    This blog is for me, to me, and about me. You and Richard are welcome to read it. I hope you do. But my expectations of a vast readership are non-existent. Maybe my kids or grand-kids will read it one day and learn more about me than they would have if I hadn't written it. I wish my own dad had written one. This blog is my diary, of sorts. The difference is that it's open to the world.
    The "500 Opinions" part of the blog refers to the lists I plan to include--my 100 top books, songs, TV shows, meals, comics, and movies--of all time. I guess this is because I believe we are what we read, dance to, watch, eat, laugh at, and pay money to watch. I doubt my lists will be anywhere close to ones you would come up with. My lists are me. These are the influences that have molded me into what I am. For instance, more than five of my top 100 books are self-help books. At first I wasn't going to include the Bible on my list, because I felt it was an attempt to push my religion on others. I've re-thought that. It'll be there. It won't be the King James version, though. It won't be number one, either. Number one, I thought, will be easy to pick. It'll be my favorite. Here is the problem--is my favorite the one I enjoyed the most, the one I opened and read the most, or the one I learned the most from?
    Nothing is easy in this old world. Not even writing a blog.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Don't forget to check out my other  a young-adult novel that will be published within the blog, starting Sunday, August 18th, and a site with hints and ideas about remodeling and home and garden design.
Comments are welcome.
Thanks, Earl.

What do I mean by "The Top 100 Meals of All Time?"

    I love to cook. I've been the family cook in our household almost from the beginning--more than 25 years now. Cooking, to me, is not a chore, it's a creation, akin to my writing. Every meal is different, every meal is made up of choices. I'm the type of cook who likes to use recipes, rather than start with something and experiment with it. Then I alter the recipe to fit my needs, my taste. I started to entitle this part of my blog the "Top 100 Recipes of All Time," but some of my choices aren't really recipes, they're just meals. You'll see.
   I do consider myself a good cook. And I'm not a gourmet cook, by the way. I was chatting with some friends once, and when I mentioned I was the family cook, another man said he was, too. He started listing the many gourmet meals he liked to make--most had French titles to them--and when he was finished he asked me what great recipes I enjoyed using. I told him I mostly fixed spaghetti, bacon-fried rice, and a dish I called "California," so-named by my mother. As far as he was concerned, our conversation was over. What he didn't realize was that I didn't cook for two people, two adults, I cooked for two adults and four children. When you're trying to feed your wife, two pre-teens, and two teenagers, you'd better watch what you fix. You can mess up now and then, as long as you've got a backup, but if you make three or four meals in a row that are losers, you'll be out of a job.
    Let me give you an example--fish soup. I tried fish soup on my clan about four times in twenty-five years. I got burned all four times. Kids won't eat fish soup, no matter how good it may taste. Me? Well, the first two times, I agreed with the kids--it was good only for the garbage can. But the third try was pretty good. Not to my wife and the kids, however. They'd got it in their minds that fish soup sucked no matter how it was fixed. Okay. Okay. I got the message. So, once the kids left home, I started experimenting again. Man, I made some great fish soups. Well, I got to eat them all by myself, too. Linda, my wife, wasn't going to eat fish soup any more than the kids did. Nowadays, I only make fish soup when Linda goes off to visit grandkids by herself. I get to savor it all by myself. For days. When I'm done, I don't need to make it again for a year or so.
    So--here goes. Number 100, in what I believe are the Top 100 Meals of All Time. Keep in mind, listing them in order is tough. By the time I get to the top ten, I may shuffle some of them around a little. And since I do use recipes for my basic ingredients, I'll try to give credit to the original cook whenever I can.
    Number 100? Leftover Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole!
    The ingredients: 2 - 4 cups leftover shrimp (and sausage, if you have it. If you start from scratch, you don't need to boil the shrimp first. Just use peeled, raw shrimp, and saute them with the onions.); 2 large onions, chopped; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 can chicken broth; two eggplants, par-boiled, peeled, and chopped; three tablespoons oil (olive, grape seed, or canola, with at least one of sesame); 1/2 cup of parsley; 3 eggs, beaten; 1-2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning; 2 cups breadcrumbs; 1/2 cup real shredded Parmesan cheese (not the Kraft grated Parmesan, unless it's all you have--it's too salty for me); spray  cooking oil.
    Directions: Don't forget to par-boil the eggplants first! I always forget to do this, so I'm warning you--peel the eggplants, chop them up, boil for about five minutes, and then drain in a colander. Now you're ready to begin.
    Preheat oven to 325; put oil in a large pan or pot, and fry (saute, if you prefer) onions and garlic; mix shrimp, broth, eggplant, parsley, eggs, and Tony Chachere's in a bowl and add cooked onion/garlic. Spray a casserole dish, or an aluminum-foil-covered metal baking dish with spray oil; add ingredients; top with bread crumbs and then Parmesan. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.
    Originally, this recipe came from Justin Wilson's cooking show, then from his book, "The Justin Wilson Gourmet and Gourmand Cookbook," which was, and still is, one of my favorite cookbooks. I loved to watch this rascal cook on his show because he drank wine as he cooked. Lots of wine. I'm not a wine drinker, so I substituted beer. Works great. Justin likes using red cayenne pepper, genuine Louisiana hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce in most of his dishes. I prefer Tony Chachere's.
    I start my ingredients with "shrimp and sausage" because when we fix shrimp, it's the "Frogmore Stew" variety, which adds sausage to the boiled shrimp. You won't see my version of Frogmore Stew until I get to the Top Ten. Since there is always sausage left over with the shrimp, I add both to this dish.
    You can substitute squash for the eggplant, using 6-8 yellow or zucchini squash. Or both. My favorite bread crumbs are Ian's Panko Breadcrumbs, whole wheat style. If you're feeding kids, don't mention the eggplant. Kids, for some reason, think they don't like eggplants, which have no real taste to me--they take on the taste of whatever they're cooked with. I wouldn't tell kids there's squash in it, either. Just tell them it's plain old shrimp casserole. They'll probably pull out all the stuff they can't recognize anyway, eating only the shrimp, breadcrumbs and cheese. It's amazing kids live as long as they do.
    So there it is--my Meal Number 100. It's pretty darned good, too. I'll probably move it up later.
    Next--the Top 100 TV Shows of All Time--starting with, you guessed it, Number 100!

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm back. I'm going to start with movies. The Top 100 Movies of all Time! These are not the Academy Award winners, the blockbusters with big name actors, these are simply the most enjoyable movies of all time. There will be no Godfather here, with Marlon Brando mumbling so bad no one can honestly tell me they understood a word he said.
    What I look for in a movie first is "good writing." Yes, whether or not it's written well is a matter of opinion, but if all the actors do is curse, the writing sucks! I look for great minor parts, because if the minor roles are skimmed over, so are the major ones. I also look for movies that don't have the same writer and director. There will be no Woody Allen movies in my top 100. None! A great movie is usually a collaborative effort. It takes more than one person, as a rule. Now, having said that, I do have a few movies with the same director and writer, but there aren't many. At least I don't think there are. And one other thing I look for is humor in the dramatic movies and drama in the comedies. Ya got to have a little bit of everything, I say.
    All right! let's start the countdown. Number 100 is . . . The Kid. Yes. A Bruce Willis movie, and not a bad one either. I laughed, I cried. I marveled. They swept me away. I could identify with both roles. I did get beat up when I was a kid, and I longed to help my own kids keep from getting beat up. The movie had a different director and writer--Jon Turtletaub and Audrey Wells. And something strange--there isn't another movie done by either one I like. None. They got me on this one, though. How about minor characters? Well, anytime Lily Tomlin has a minor role, the minors are flat out gold.
   Let's keep going. Next will be the number 100 meal. Yay! Can't wait, can you?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Okay. It's 2:30 a.m. and here I am, wondering what in the hell I'm doing writing a blog. In this time-crunched world, why would I do this? I tell myself it's for my own good, especially this blog (I have two others. One is company-related, meaning my job, and the other is a book Linda, my wife, and I have written--are writing. You'll have to look at that blog to understand what's going on. No space here.). I'm doing this--this blog--for myself. I'm sorting things out. And at the same time, I'm sharing my sortings with anyone who might want to tag along. I'm seventy years old, so there's no way I'll get rich or famous writing this blog, because, in all seriousness, there isn't enough time left on this world for me. Maybe I can share a few insights with others, help someone out along the way. I'll probably gather a crowd of kooks. Hell--I am a kook, so the more the merrier. Linda will get on my case for using hell and damn, but I like those words. I enjoy using them, where needed, to put emphasis on things. Plus, I must admit, using a curse word now and then is cool. And let's face it, hell and damn are pretty mild. They don't make my musings here not for children. Hey--I'm rambling.
    Back to my first question--the one that should set the tone for this blog. Why? Why am I doing this? I said "for my own good," and that's what I meant. The title of this blog is "500 Opinions." That's because I plan to outline, over a long period of time, the "Top 100" of five different lists. I love lists. These lists of mine--so far--will be the "Top 100" books, movies, TV shows, meals, and funny papers--the top 100 of all time. Yes, yes, yes--pure opinion, and an egotistical one at that. By the way, I can't think of a better word or phrase for funny papersCartoons doesn't work for me, so unless someone out there has a better phrase, I'll stick with funny papers. Comics might be better--as in the web site, Go-Comics--but I want to differentiate between comics, as in stand-up, and comic books--my list is the top 100 funny papers. Of course, I doubt it'll reach 100. More like 25. I'll re-title it when I'm done.
    Yes--I know--you don't have to tell me. These lists are merely my opinions. You will not agree with my lists, I'm sure. That's not the point. Remember--I'm doing this for myself. How? How will sharing my egotistical opinions help me? I'll give you an example in my next posting. This blog-writing is time-consuming. I hope I find it worthwhile.