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Archive for January, 2010

What Italian Angels Eat

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

While Waiting to Whack Satan

Last week, I made the best pizza I had ever eaten. Then a couple of days later, I made the best pizza I had ever eaten. Today, just to mix it up and avoid monotony, I did the following: I made the best pizza I have ever eaten.

I’m actually freaked out, it’s so good. Not only is this the best pizza I have ever eaten; I did not realize it was possible for pizza to be this good. I know I sound like a nut when I say this, but I am genuinely shaken.

Funniest part: the pizza was mangled. I was lazy when I detached it from the pan to put it on the stone, and I put a hole in it. Then when I took it off the stone, an entire side tore off. I stuck all the pieces on my serving pan and ate it anyway. The torn-up, crusty pieces may have been the best parts.

The crust…

I am trying to describe it. Airy. Hot. Yeasty. Crisp on the edges. Crunchy on the bottom. Perfectly browned. Full of the buttery taste of cheap olive oil.

It got a tiny bit soggy under the cheese, and that actually made it BETTER.

I altered my usual cheese bill a little. What a change. My cheese is now unbelievably stretchy. Just sour enough to be interesting. Bland enough to work with the sauce instead of fighting it. Highly resistant to browning, but nicely crunchy at the very edges.

The sauce…I got lazy and used the Cento San Marzano tomatoes suggested by reader HTRN, all by themselves. I drained off the puree to make the flavor stronger. I was afraid they would be too weak, but the buttery cheese and yeasty crust combined perfectly with the comparatively mild sauce. I’m sure Stanislaus would have been just as good, in its own way, but this was shocking.

Let’s see. A pie has 12 ounces of cheese in it. That’s about $1.75, at Costco prices. That is not excessive. I can put that in a pizza for two people and charge enough to cover the cost. Not only would people line up to buy this stuff; they would trade their children for it. I would. Trade other people’s children for this pizza, I mean. But then I would also trade them for a glass of water.

It’s so good, I am worried about posting the changes I made. No one will use them anyway, and they are suddenly starting to look like trade secrets.

Pizza is a wonderful thing. If you open an ordinary restaurant, you don’t have to make good food, but you have to do a lot of other things. You have to pick a good location. You have to be nice to customers. You have to have great service. With pizza, quality is all that matters. If it’s good, people will do whatever it takes to get it. They’ll rappel up a cliff, to the worst location on earth. You can slap them when they order and make them pay with Burmese currency. They won’t care.

I thought I would go crazy and eat the whole pie, but I quit. When food is this amazing, you have a burning desire to eat it, but once you have a reasonable amount, you’re so satisfied, you don’t have to keep cramming it in.

This has to be from God. HAS to be. I could not do this.

Now I have to go put Shout on my shirt.

Perfect Sicilian Pizza Crust, in Your Best Buy Oven

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

I Live the Dream

I have this pizza thing totally figured out.

Today I made a pie, and I made adjustments to make sure the crust was cooked correctly. It worked great, although I didn’t time it quite right.

Here’s what I made. First the whole pie.

Now the crust. Those indentations are from my fingers. I made them intentionally.

I made the sauce with a 50/50 mix of Stanislaus Saporito and Cento San Marzano tomatoes (no puree included), and it was excellent, but truthfully, I think either product is better alone than with the other. You gain some of each product’s strengths, but you also lose some.

As for the crust, I rotated the pan once while it was cooking on the bottom rack. I had a hot stone on an upper rack. After nine minutes, I moved the stone to the lower rack (turned out to be unnecessary) and put the pie on it. I left the pie there for two minutes and yanked it. The crust was crisper than a crust finished in the pan, and it was darker.

Oddly, pizza crust always looks more done in photos than it is in real life. This crust was just barely darker than I would have liked; I should have pulled it after one minute on the stone. But it wasn’t brown, the way it looks in the pictures.

You don’t really need a pan with steep sides to do this. The edges that rested against the pan are good, but the edge that stood on its own was also good, in a different way.

If you do this, make sure the stone is hot before you put the pie in the oven.

The reason I moved the stone to the lower rack is that I was afraid it would cool when the pizza hit it, and I wanted it over the heat. But the stone held more than enough heat to get the job done.

By the grace of the good Lord, I have utterly defeated Sicilian pizza. Now I have to find something to do with the rest of my life.

Can There Any Good Thing Come Out of Hollywood?

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Someone Slipped Up

In pentecostal or charismatic Christianity, there is a thing called “walking by faith.” A famous verse says, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” We also refer to “the sword of the Spirit.” And we say that when we receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit, it leads to God writing his law on our hearts, so we will obey him in a very direct way, instead of relying chiefly on our interpretation of written law. We also believe the Holy Spirit makes the Bible comprehensible to us, as God permits (he doesn’t want the entire mystery to be revealed yet, so some things are withheld). A person who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit whispering revelation into his ear might as well be blind, when he tries to understand scripture. Your mind won’t get you there, because the Bible was written to be impenetrable to earthly reasoning. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how hard you try.

Nobody outside the church understands any of this stuff. It’s like Chinese to them (unless they’re Chinese), because you have to live it to understand it. You can’t explain sunlight to someone who lives in a mine.

The Book of Eli appears to have been written by a person who understands these things. Either he’s a Christian, or God handed him this understanding for some divine purpose. Sometimes the Holy Spirit acts through unbelievers or people who are at odds with God, as he did through Caiaphas, the high priest during the time of Jesus. Caiaphas prophesied, even as he was persecuting the Messiah.

The problem with writing about the movie is that I can’t tell you much about it without ruining it for you. This is a movie which is very sensitive to spoilers.

I can say this much: it’s about a post-apocalyptic world, in which only one copy of the Bible is known to exist. A man finds the Bible, and he believes God has assigned him to carry it through a hostile world, to a chosen destination. He encounters a villain who wants the Bible, because the villain knows it can be used to control people. If you can convince people a command came from God, you can make them obey it.

While I watched, my impression was that God had authored this movie in order to reach out to people, to bring about revival. But I’m not sure that’s right. If you’re not a Spirit-baptized believer, you can’t identify with the truths the movie presents. It won’t resonate with you the way it did me. Or if it does, it will be for a different reason. If it doesn’t resonate, it won’t draw you to God, so it won’t be much of an evangelizing tool.

I’m certain of this: it will strengthen anyone who knows what it means to walk by faith. It will confirm what you think God has been telling you. You’ll look at this Hollywood-made movie, created by worldly people in order to turn a profit, and you’ll realize it could only have happened if God had brought it about.

Throughout the Bible, God tells us he will order our steps. He will light our paths. He will give us assignments, and if we take them up and try to carry them out, he will see to it that we get where he wants us to go. He will make us succeed, even when it looks like we’ve failed. He cannot be stopped, no matter how bad things may look.

It also gives a glimpse of what life in the Tribulation may be like, when nearly all believers and Jews are gone, and there is little to restrain Satan’s hatred or God’s wrath. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah tells us God withholds judgment because of the prayers of the faithful. What happens when those aren’t in place? Look at Burma for your answer.

If you’re a Spirit-filled believer, you’ll love this movie. You will see God’s hand and hear his voice in it. If you’re not a believer, you’ll still enjoy the violence and the interesting story.

There is some foul language in the film. That’s about the worst thing I can say about it. Other than that, it’s pretty safe. I highly recommend it. It will restore your faith that God is in charge of this increasingly secular world.

Two Miracles

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

One Performed & One in the Works

I just saw The Book of Eli with my prayer group. I was shaken when I left. No movie has ever affected me so much. I can’t recall seeing another movie that demonstrated an insider’s understanding of Spirit-filled Christianity. Movies generally prove that the people who made them know virtually nothing about Jesus and Christians. It’s like watching Amos and Andy to learn about black people.

I don’t know if the screenwriter is a Christian, but however that script materialized, it is as though a very serious charismatic wrote it.

Unfortunately, I have not eaten today, so I can’t write about the movie until I make what I expect to be the finest pizza in the universe. I’m going to mix San Marzano tomatoes with Stanislaus sauce, and I’m going to put the pie on a hot stone for a minute or two after it bakes. If my understanding of the physics is right, this will be a pizza that has no equal. Hope it works.

The Alkan of Pizzaioli

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The Summit is in Sight

The Sicilian I made was beyond description, and it was STILL flawed. I don’t know what to make of it.

I tried Cento San Marzano tomatoes on one half and Stanislaus Saporito on the other. I used a heavy dose of Costco cheese (13 ounces on 9 x 12). I baked it on my cheap, thin GFS cookie sheet, on the bottom rack.

This time, instead of forcing the tomatoes to stand on their own, I added sugar and white vinegar, just as I do to my regular sauce. Last time, with the fake San Marzanos, I held back the sugar and vinegar, because the tomatoes were touted as superior and fit to be served with only salt, pepper, and oregano.

This pie is now the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, beating the mark set by a pie I made earlier in the week. The heavy cheese, more than the sauce, made the difference. That Costco cheese is pure magic. I think elves make it. It brings out the best in the sauce and crust. It melts beautifully. It’s stretchy. It’s a pretty, uniform white. Can’t beat it.

The tomatoes were surprisingly good. If I am tasting what I’m supposed to be tasting, San Marzanos have a strange and satisfying aftertaste that goes perfectly with cheese and pizza crust. It adds a dimension to the pizza. Still, they’re a little weak. If I were making this again, I’d just use the tomatoes and dump the puree that comes in the can with them. As it was, I used very little of it. I suppose a real psycho would reduce the sauce.

The extra punch of the Saporito makes it better than the San Marzanos, but I would be very content to save the driving distance and use Cento tomatoes instead of driving all the way to Gordon Food Service. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say Stanislaus Saporito is 15% better.

I learned something new about baking Sicilian. You need to rotate the pie, just like they do in pizzerias. Until now, they’ve been pretty uniform on the bottom, but this one was a little off. From now on, I’ll give them 10 minutes, with a turn at 5. No, 7. The first two minutes probably don’t do anything.

Another thing I did to make it brown better: before I slid it in, I opened the oven door and let it cool until the bottom element turned on. I waited until it was red hot to put the pizza in. That way, I was sure I’d get a lot of radiant heat on the bottom of the pan.

I’m positive a disposable aluminum pan is the best thing you can use for Sicilian, but I don’t plan to try it any time soon. I’m thinking I might start using a flat aluminum cookie sheet. Aluminum carries and distributes heat better than steel, and tonight I noticed that the unsupported side of the pizza, in the middle of the pan, was very good. It didn’t have the fried nature of the sides that were supported, but it was browned more. That’s acceptable. To make good Sicilian at 550° in a home oven without a lot of aggravation and tricks, you need a pan that will get hot really fast and spread the heat well.

If there is better pizza than this anywhere on earth, I have yet to encounter it. I am astonished by it. I guess I could let the dough poof up a little more, or I could make a sourdough or something, but there is such a thing as gilding the lily.

I think I’m done making thin pizza. I love it, but it can’t compare to this stuff.

I’ll give you the sauce recipe.

INGREDIENTS

4 ounces Cento San Marzano tomatoes (real ones), beaten to a puree
1 teaspoon light olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
generous sprinkle of salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2-1 teaspoon white vinegar

That’s all you need to know.

Now I have to throw out half the pie. I should be arrested for defacing art.

I’m convinced God gives me recipes for a reason. Food this good, cooked by someone as ignorant as I am, can’t be a pointless accident. But what’s the purpose?

Maters and Pan

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I Cannot Resist

This is really unfair. A reader mentioned a brand of San Marzano tomatoes he thought I needed to try, and of course, I had to exit my burrow and buy some. This is practically entrapment.

I just got some Cento San Marzano tomatoes, at my local grocery. They’re $2.99 for a 28-ounce can. I tried one. They have more oomph than the “San Marzano REGION” tomatoes I tried last night, but they’re not exactly bursting with flavor. They have some zing to them, which is more than I can say for the others.

I also found a 9″ square cake pan. I can’t tell if it’s nonstick or not. I hope not. I can’t use that around the birds, at 550°. It will give off poisonous gas. I stuck them outside, and I put the pan in the oven. I guess we’ll see what it does. If it doesn’t burn, it’s not nonstick.

It’s a quality pan, which is worrisome. I need an extremely cheap and thin pan. This one is thinner than the steel pan I tried yesterday, but it’s still a little thicker than I want.

I think the relatively high sides will be good for the cheese. They should block some of the radiant heat, which would make the cheese cook slower and give me time to get a nice brown crust. Another possibility: because this pan is small with high sides, I could throw a sheet of foil over it while the crust browns. It won’t touch the cheese and get stuck.

Stanislaus Foods claims it’s almost impossible to get San Marzano tomatoes, but then, they have incentive to exaggerate, since they sell California tomatoes. Their products are jam-packed with sweetness and tomato flavor, so I doubt the Centos will knock them off their lofty champion-tomato perch.

Time to make dough.

I Even Dream of Food

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Joseph was Better at This

I had the funniest dream this morning, not long before I got up.

I was in an old house that had been converted into a school. A little girl was in a room on the second floor. She was a demon-worshiper. She believed it was possible to be a Christian and worship other “gods” and benefit from all of it.

She was giving a presentation to her class, about the ways she worshiped this “god” and that one. She had colorful costumes, and she wore a different one for each demon. Each one required different rituals, and she demonstrated them, throwing things into bowls and so on.

Her teacher and I were downstairs, and we were pretty disturbed. We noticed that the ceiling was bulging down toward us, from the classroom above. Something extremely heavy was in that room. The pressure of its weight made a circular bulge in the ceiling. It was some sort of spirit, sitting in the room among the kids. They couldn’t see it.

We went up the stairs to help this girl. A black man was with us. I guess he worked with the teacher. We were going to make this kid understand that you can’t be a Christian AND a demon-worshiper. If you have even one other god, you’re not a Christian. Or you’re a Christian, but you’re going to have terrible problems.

When we got in the room, everyone was gone except the girl. She was dressed normally. She was unconscious, but she was standing in a far corner, facing the wall.

While we were there, food was served. It was chicken that had been fried in breading and then covered with sauce. There was rice under it. Someone asked me how it was, and I said it was okay, but the rice was a little overcooked.

When I woke up, I tried to figure out whether this dream meant anything. I prayed for an answer. I have never had a dream that turned out to be a message from God, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Here is what I came up with. The room is Haiti. The girl represents Haitians who worship demons yet think they’re also Catholic or other types of Christians. The problem with the ceiling is a problem with the rock under the island. It’s the reason they have earthquakes. The presence of the demons–their spiritual “weight”–causes it.

People who go to Haiti to provide spiritual guidance will have their physical needs met in abundance. That’s the food. There was nothing in the dream that I could apply to humanitarian aid.

Is this right? I can’t even guess. Maybe I just dreamed about a confused little girl.

The teacher was attractive. I don’t know her in real life. I don’t know the black man. He didn’t seem like a Haitian, although many Haitian-Americans have no accent.

I can only recall one instance of a dream that had application to the future. My friend Ivette gave me a Cohiba Esplendido, from Cuba. That part had already happened, for real. In the dream, I smoked it, and it had a wonderful flavor like cloves. Later, when I smoked the actual cigar, it had that same flavor, only with much less intensity. That was extremely odd. I had never had a cigar that tasted anything like cloves, but some Cubans have that flavor.

That was a pretty stupid dream, I admit. But it came true. And it’s all I have to offer.

My cornet arrived last night. It’s incredible. It’s a professional-quality horn, and it’s essentially new, even though it was made the year I was born. It has had a couple of minor dents repaired, and the seller thought they probably came from being bounced around in the case, but that’s it. Other than that, there isn’t a scratch on it. You could put this thing in a store and claim it was made last month, and no one would know the difference.

It’s too bad pianos aren’t like brass instruments. You can pick up the brass equivalent of a nearly new Steinway for under $500, because so many people buy horns and quit using them almost immediately. I paid $150. I’m sure this thing would cost at least a grand, new.

Now, if only I could play it.

I have practiced my embouchure for two days. I can go about fifteen minutes without fainting or losing my mind. I figure that’s enough. When you’re working a muscle and building a callus, it does no good to overdo it. That’s what I tell myself, because fifteen minutes are all I can stand at this point. I can make the mouthpiece do a few things, but the horn sounds like a cow with the scours.

My dad says I ought to be able to make a sound that isn’t horrifying within a week or so.

That’s all I have for now. I’m just enjoying my coffee and relaxing.

Tomatoes on Trial

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

San Elsewhere

I’m doing something stupid, even though I know it’s a mistake.

People talk about San Marzano tomatoes a lot. The other day, I posted a Youtube of a pizzeria owner using a sauce made from San Marzanos (he claimed), salt, pepper, and oregano.

I’m pretty sure I tried canned Italian tomatoes in the past, and that I was disappointed, but I thought I’d double-check. I’ve decided to try them again. I’m making a Sicilian pizza with half real sauce (Stanislaus base) and half sauce made from Nina brand “Region of San Marzano” tomatoes. I’m only using the tomatoes on half of the pie, because I’m pretty sure the San Marzano half is going to be bad.

People are easy to fool. For example, there’s a company that sells “Key West lime juice.” What does that mean” It means “key lime juice,” right? Of course not. That’s what they hope you think. It just means lime juice which is in some way connected to Key West. I spotted that instantly the first time I saw a bottle of this stuff. If it was pure key lime juice, it would say so, prominently.

San Marzano tomatoes are the same way. According to Stanislaus Foods, real San Marzano tomatoes are virtually unobtainable. They’re heirlooms. The farms that used to grow them switched to hybrids, which aren’t the same. This, surely, is why my can of Nina tomatoes does not say “San Marzano tomatoes.” It just says they’re from that region. If they were the real thing, each can would have a battery connected to it, with a flashing sign screaming “SAN MARZANO TOMATOES.”

I don’t know what kind of tomatoes Nina uses, but they taste like a can. And it’s not the can’s fault. It’s lined with plastic.

Ninety-nine percent of shoppers will buy any can of tomatoes with the phrase “San Marzano” on the side and assume they got the real thing.

Another sad fact: people will tell you their pizza is great, or that the pizzeria near them is great, when they’re totally wrong. You have to put everything to the test. When people make their own pizza, they really wish it were good, so they tell themselves it is, when it’s awful. And when you live next door to a bad pizzeria long enough, you’ll start thinking it’s really good. I don’t know why that’s true, but I’ve seen it. It has happened to me. I fell in love with Pizza Town, a joint near Columbia University. There were a lot of good things about their pizza, but their sauce recipe was very crude. I think it was just Stanislaus Super Dolce plus water.

Maybe the Youtube pizza guy has found a brand of San-Marzano-type tomatoes that’s really good. Or maybe he’s lying, to keep his real ingredients secret. Or maybe his sauce just isn’t good.

I would guess that Nina brand is highly regarded. I got it at Costco, and they have a great track record when it comes to picking quality stuff. But I don’t really know.

You can’t trust anyone (except me and Mike), so you have to test everything you hear. Hence today’s ill-fated test pie.

I plan to use one of my new steel pans. That should be interesting. The seasoning isn’t really developed yet. I hope the dough doesn’t stick.

I’ll come back with a report. I’m sure of this: half of the pie will get an A+.

Tomatoes: Acceptable. Pan: Fail

I just tried the pizza, and man, am I bummed out.

The pans are no good. I’m sure they’re great if you parbake the pie or go through other contortions to make them work, but they’re useless for my method. The metal is apparently too thick. I baked the pizza for 18 minutes, and it never browned well on the bottom. I finally had to put it on the stove, which sort of worked, but overall, it amounts to this: the pans aren’t acceptable.

The tomatoes, on the other hand, worked. I was shocked. It’s not that they taste good. Their redeeming feature is that they don’t taste bad. In other words, they have very, very little flavor, but what flavor they do have doesn’t hurt the pizza. If you like sauce that’s just barely there, these tomatoes will make you happy. If you like tomato flavor, go with Stanislaus.

Lips of Iron

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Musical Stuff Dribbles In

My cornet mouthpiece arrived last night. I started making heinous noises with it almost immediately.

My dad advised me to get the mouthpiece before the horn, and I did so, but only by a day. He says there is no point in touching the horn until I get my embouchure working on the mouthpiece.

How many people here think I’ll be able to leave the horn in the case that long?

Right. That’s what I figured.

I have a Hal Leonard trumpet DVD. The guy in the video says that in order to play the trumpet, you have to smile and pucker at the same time.

Try this. Seriously. It can’t be done. I’m not even sure what it means. Puckering moves the lips out. Smiling pulls them back. In my universe, back is not out.

I know he’s right. Whatever he’s trying to say. But I’m not sure he’s saying what he wants to.

I got my dad to help me out with the mouthpiece. He said I did fine. I thought I sounded like a boiler accident. And I nearly fainted. How are you supposed to stay concious while you’re blowing air as hard as you can? No wonder Gillespie was Dizzy.

My dad reluctantly informed me that he had been wrong about spitting in the valves. He says he learned that these days, the oil they make for valves actually works. Much better than the tar and molasses mixture they sold back in his day, I guess. I have two kinds of oil: Alysin and Five Starr. I’ll let him use it, if he promises not to get spit in it.

I watched Jazz again last night. It’s getting up to the Gillespie/Parker era now, or as I like to call it, “The Death of Fun Jazz.” Before these guys came along, it was possible for a person without a Ph.D. to enjoy listening to jazz. Afterward, not so much. As plummeting concert attendance and record sales show. Go on Youtube and find a video of Gillespie singing “Salt Peanuts,” if you want to see why jazz died.

It may be the most fulfilling thing an intelligent musician can possibly play, but who can listen to it? It reminds me of bluegrass. I loved playing it, but I couldn’t make myself listen to other people playing it.

I found a Salt Peanuts Youtube. Don’t click on it. I warned you.

It’s so bad, I’d rather listen to Edie Brickell.

I guess Gillespie was on cloud nine while they played that. Go figure. It reminds me of the Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life. He was represented at his heavenly trial by Rip Torn, a being so smart ordinary humans couldn’t understand him. When he missed a day of court, he told Brooks his excuse: “I was trapped near the intercircle of fault.”

They probably play Salt Peanuts there.

My trumpet book features the much-beloved hit “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie.” Can’t hardly wait to learn that. I remember hearing it in my childhood, when my aunt and my sister used to bang on my grandmother’s Acrosonic spinet. The big hits were Aunt Rhodie and Shortenin’ Bread. Somehow they never got picked up by a label.

Hope this works out. If not, shiny wall decoration.

Kneel Before Zod

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

And his Mighty Pans

My Sicilian pizza pans arrived. I ordered two, in case I have to make more than one pie in an evening.

They’re really beautiful. The steel is very heavy, by pan standards. The wire supporting the edges is probably 3/16″ thick. The pans have that nice cold-rolled finish, too. I guess all I have to do is wash them and season them.

In retrospect, I think a couple of 9″ cake pans without Teflon would have been a better buy, but these will last for a thousand years, and I know I’ll use them.

It’s hard to adjust to having this kind of power. When you can have the finest Sicilian pizza imaginable, at a moment’s notice, it can really go to your head. I’m feeling pretty froggy right now.

I may buy a TELEPROMPTER!

Free-Range Christian

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Smell That Fresh Air!

This is an amazing day.

Steady readers will recall the post I put up at the end of August, announcing that after a fast, I found that I had been supernaturally delivered from compulsive overeating. It had been a problem for me all my life. It wasn’t one of the issues to which the fast was dedicated, but afterward, I found I didn’t feel the overpowering urge to stuff myself. I lost 20 pounds, pretty effortlessly.

That has stayed with me over time. The holidays worried me, and after that I got sick, and I spoiled myself. The illness dragged on interminably, and I was afraid that when it was over, I’d be huge. I still have little traces of symptoms. But today I got on the scale, and my gigantic weight gain amounts to 1.5 pounds. And now that the symptoms are virtually gone, I’m back on my routine, so I expect progress to continue.

I still can’t believe God would do something this nice for me. This is just as miraculous as being healed of cancer, even if it’s not as dramatic. I feel like I’ve been freed from a slavemaster. And in my opinion, I have. Either God increased my discipline throught the Holy Spirit, or he drove off something evil that was goading me.

No one cares. I know. No one wants to hear about a guy whose big miracle is a drop from a 36″ waist to 33″. But if you’re fat, and this happens to you, believe me, you’ll be as amazed and grateful as I am. You won’t think it’s a small thing. You ought to listen to me and see if you can get the same kind of deliverance. Maybe your problem isn’t food. Maybe it’s cocaine or booze or women. I don’t think it makes any difference; it’s not like one thing is a bigger challenge to God than another. And he wants everyone to be free.

When I got freed from gluttony, I also found I had better self-control in a couple of other areas. I was less crabby, which was a big blessing. Being annoyed requires energy, and it’s an unpleasant state in which to live. After I got my miracle, I felt peaceful. My mind was quieter.

Unfortunately, the food thing lasted, and the peace did not. I eventually found that some of the irritability had returned. Maybe that was because of some sin I committed. I don’t know. I can’t see the supernatural world. I can’t hear God’s voice or the voices of the angels. I can only guess.

Today during my morning prayers I felt anxious for no good reason, and I took it before God, and I kept praying about it, hard. I exerted my faith. I prayed in the Spirit. I stuck to my guns. I felt as if something foreign was pressing into me, in the region of my sinuses. I know that sounds nutty. But I’ve felt that many times. It’s an oppressive, annoying sensation. I think it’s something that has been with me for decades, and I suspect that it’s a supernatural being.

After I had been at it for forty-five minutes or an hour, I felt that this thing had been pushed back. The anxiety left me. I felt peaceful. There was no hostility or irritability in me. I felt as if something was holding it back, like a bodyguard fending off an autograph hound. The peace I found back in August returned. I felt like I had been released from a stuffy room. And to make it even stranger, my breathing had improved. I generally get some nasal congestion in the early morning, and last night was no exception, but suddenly, everything was wide open.

As I went about my morning routine, over and over, the magnitude of the change came home to me. As it hit me, I would grab things for support and hold on. It’s like I’ve been released from prison. It’s incredible.

I hope I don’t do anything to mess it up. I don’t know what I did wrong last time, but I’m going to watch it. This is a tremendous gift. When you’re under psychological oppression, and it leaves, you resume your normal state, and in comparison, it almost seems euphoric. The difference is wonderful.

It may be that giving in to hostility, out of habit, caused me to lose my freedom. I will try to keep that in mind.

Here’s what I think. Over time, prayer in the Spirit fills you with something that overpowers and displaces hostile beings that affect your life. It fills you with something that “binds the strong man” so his house–you–can be spoiled by God.

Every person on earth has demons assigned to him; it’s not just people who bend steel bars and live naked in graveyards. These creatures warp our judgment. They cause diseases. They prevent our blessings from getting to us. They compel us to do evil. They addict us. They give us depression and other mental illnesses. They even cause wars.

These ancient things are far more powerful than unaided human beings. We can’t get rid of them in our own strength. For that matter, our own flesh can be more powerful than we are. It can be impossible to control. The answer is God. He “grows” us, like mustard seeds, to be more powerful than our enemies. He increases our faith. He improves our character so we do more good and less evil, which leads to fewer chastisements and more blessings. He gives us the gifts of the Spirit to fight the enemy supernaturally. And in the Bible, he provides the Sword of the Spirit: his promises, which we can cite, whether in defense or offense. God gives us the tools to get free.

I think we’re going to see a lot more teaching in this vein over the coming years. This is what Satan is afraid of. It’s why he worked so hard to get the church to deny and even ban the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The best way to get rid of God’s servants is to get religious people to crucify them and excommunicate them and burn them alive, and that’s what Satan got the church to do. He even got the church to ban possession of the Bible, which was the Satanic equivalent of gun control (unless gun control is the Satanic equivalent of gun control). But he can’t repress God’s work forever. He’s the weak, limited one, after all.

I don’t know if anyone will believe me, but I got something great, so even if I’m alone here, I have cause to celebrate.

The Obama Game

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Obama bin Laden, Dalai Obama, Obama Cass…

Can I just say something that will offend people?

I just saw an Internet link to a story about how Obama thinks Osama bin Laden’s latest video shows weakness.

I had to read it twice to figure out which one was the terrorist.

Can’t we just call him “Barry”?

Spit Tunes

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Play it, Don’t Spray It

I should be doing something, but I’m procrastinating. Procrastination is the one thing I never put off. I guess you saw that joke coming. Someone probably saw it coming in 500 B.C.

I’m reading about trumpets. I just bought a cornet, but the word “trumpet” is easier to find on Google, so that’s what I’m reading about.

I think it’s remarkable that you can get a $2,000 trumpet for $200. People must abandon the trumpet in droves, for the used market to be like this. If trumpets were pianos, I’d have two Steinway D’s; one from New York, and one from Hamburg. I’d get a third and hollow it out for a novelty liquor cabinet.

The cornet I got is a Buescher Aristocrat. It was made in about 1961, and it’s in new condition, except for a couple of repaired dents. It’s functioning right.

A few years after it was made, the company was taken over by Selmer, and the Aristocrat name was applied to a crummy horn for kids. When mine was made, it was a professional-quality horn, although not a particularly great one. I paid what most people pay for good used student horns, and it wasn’t hard to find. If I sell it, I should be able to get at least what I paid. But not much more. Because used cornets are cheap.

I figure what I got is about like a Yamaha grand piano. More than good enough, but nothing special.

There are two things about wind instruments that turn me off. One is excess volume. The other is spit. I just don’t like spit. I never have. I don’t let people drink out of my glass (except Marv and Maynard). I don’t take bites out of other people’s apples. If you’re going to do that, you might as well French-kiss them. Anything they’ve got, you’re swallowing. Mucus, germs, pus, bits of decaying food, whatever. I don’t even like to hold papers after somebody licks his finger to turn the pages.

I guess I can learn to tolerate a certain amount of spit, as long as it’s not someone else’s.

My dad says my horn is for losers. He has a Bach. What a snob. I suspect the Buescher is good enough for someone who hasn’t even figured out how to make an embouchure.

Learning the word “embouchure” brought me pleasure, because I’ve been hearing it all my life, and I never knew how it was spelled. People mumble it, and I think they do it on purpose, because they don’t speak French. It sounds like “armature” and “umbrature” and “omature.” It’s actually om-boo-SURE, with the emphasis on the last syllable. How do I know that? Six years of French. And the French love accenting the last syllables of words. It’s what whiners do, in all languages, and the French are no slackers in this regard. They have turned whining into a fixed feature of their native tongue.

Judging from the structure of the word, the literal meaning is something like “in-your-mouth-ment.” Which makes sense.

My dad says I have to spit in the horn’s valves. Oh, man! No way! I can’t stand playing an instrument that always reeks of dried spit. I got some fancy valve oil. He says valve oil doesn’t work, but they may have changed the formula since he learned to play, back during the reign of Thutmose III, the Musical Pharaoh.

I had to fork out big-time for a mouthpiece. You can’t get one in Miami, unless you want one from Home Depot, made from galvanized steel. I exaggerate, but I couldn’t find one that was made by a reputable company. I paid for two-day shipping so I can have the mouthpiece two days before the horn. I want to get a head start on the embouchure, and it’s worth ten extra bucks to me to get two days. The mouthpiece wasn’t expensive, but when you add in the extra shipping, I got dinged.

I’m going to have nightmares about drowning in spit. I just know it. If I were interviewed by James Lipton, and he asked me my least favorite word, it would be “saliva.” I cringe, typing it.

I have to find something else to do while I’m procrastinating. I would write some more, but I’m having a hard time rationalizing it. I hate when that happens.

Sicilian Pizza Tips

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I’ve Got a Little List

A reader says he’s going to try my Sicilian pizza recipe. Think I’ll hit the highlights, because there are certain points that are of special importance, and it might be hard to pick them out of my ramblings.

1. Use a thin steel pan, preferably seasoned. At the very least, use a generous amount of olive oil.

2. Let the dough rise very high before punching it down, and let it rise again after spreading it in the pan.

3. When you stretch the dough to fit the pan, turn it at least once so you’ll have finger indentations on the underside. This improves the crust.

4. Use at least 0.11 ounces of cheese per square inch of pan.

5. Use twice the amount of sauce you’d use in a thin pie.

6. Bake low in the oven, with no stone, at 550°. After 8 or 10 minutes, start lifting a corner to see how done the bottom is. Pull it when it’s brown.

7. If your broiler is coming on, put another rack in the oven up high, and put foil or a cookie sheet on it to keep the broiler from browning the cheese.

8. Use light olive oil, not the green stuff.

The more fat your cheese has, the less likely it is to get too brown. The risk is that too much fat will give you a greasy pie. Costco mozzarella is perfect.

I put oil on my dough, but not in it. On my next pie, I plan to bias the cheese toward the outer edges of the pan, because it tends to drift inward as the pie cooks. It seems like it’s impossible to put too much oil under the pie.

It may be that you can get a better result at a lower temperature, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t tell you.

This method isn’t good. It’s perfect. It’s unbelievable.

Good luck.

Fewer, Better Toys

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

And When I Die With Them, I Keep Them

Last night I watched Jazz with Marv and Maynard, and I enjoyed some Knob Creek and a Coke chaser. Then I went to bed, and while I was getting ready to sleep, I started thanking God for all the little pleasures in my life.

It was quite a list. It seems like the more mature I get, the better I am able to enjoy things. I eat less than I used to. I drink less. I quit smoking cigars. I try to curb my baser appetites, and I try to be more responsible. And I believe God works in me, making these things happen. As excess disappears from my life, the things I enjoy stand out more, perhaps because they’re not lost in the background noise of constant overindulgence.

Let’s see. I enjoy squeezing my pets and conversing with them. I enjoy the food I cook. I enjoy working on my musical skills. I love listening to good jazz and classical music. I love shooting and reloading. I look forward to having breakfast with my dad once a week. I love using my tools. I smile every time I see the ridiculous diesel pickup I bought. Every time I walk into my church, I feel like a kid running through the gate at Disneyland; I always know something good is going to happen.

The time I set apart for prayer and study is wonderful. Every session is a miniature Sabbath. It’s a sanctuary no one can intrude on, and more often than not, I sense God’s presence, and I feel like I’ve gotten a breakthrough.

You can have too much stuff in your life. You can have so much going on, you can’t appreciate any of it or do any one thing well. That’s very natural for me, as anyone who reads my blog knows, so I’m very glad God is adjusting me. Who knows? One day I might actually sell one of my motorcycles or even my flamenco guitar.

I’m keeping the milling machine and the Powermatic 66, however.

Covetousness. That was my problem. It’s not so much that I wanted what other people had; it’s that I wanted things that wouldn’t really bring me satisfaction. I used to buy stuff and then fail to enjoy it, because I thought too much about the things and not enough about the effort and time involved in deriving pleasure from them, so they sat and rotted. I still like to get toys, but now I get good use out of them, and I think that is because God is changing me and guiding me. It’s pretty unusual for me to regret spending money or time these days. I generally get a good return.

Somewhere in the Bible, it says something about how sad it is when a man has something he can’t enjoy. That’s what life without God is all about. You get rich, but you end up in rehab. You become famous, only to find that the thing you want most is privacy. Things like that happen. We don’t know which way we should go or what we should do, so we turn up blind alleys and end up with things that don’t bring us happiness. On the other hand, God promises us that if we’ll listen, he’ll guide us. He says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.”

We don’t know what we need or what we want. We can’t know. The world is too complicated, and we’re not smart enough to see all the angles. Only God can know. So he gave us a system in which we obey him and listen to him, and he gives us what we should have. He gives us things that are truly satisfying, and which have lasting value. And at the end of our time, we don’t stand before God poor and blind and naked, which is what happens to people who amass the wrong kind of wealth. The stuff we take wrongly, we lose. We only keep that which we were intended to have.

I wish I could go back in time to about 1971 and slap myself. But like the relatives of the rich man in the parable about hell, I would not have listened.

Long ago, when I thought I was about to have a comic strip syndicated, I cut photos of sportfishing yachts out of magazines, and I taped them to walls and so on, to give me motivation to work. That seems funny now. What if I had succeeded? I’d be a big, fat, conceited (more than I am now) lout who thought he made it without God’s help. I’d have shallow friends who drank all the time and never set foot in a church. I’d have no relationship with God, because I’d think I didn’t need one. The yachting crowd is coarse and venal; I know them. I would have gotten sick of them in two seasons. I’m much better off with the folks who attend church on Saturday night.

I thought I knew what I needed, but I wasn’t even close.

I don’t know where I’m going, and I admit, I wish God would hurry up, but I know that things are better than they used to be, and the trend is positive, and it’s a trend I can trust. I’m not building on sand.

I don’t know if buying a cornet was a good idea, but it will be fun for at least two months, and it will cost very little. I actually prayed about it, and I really felt like I should try it. Weird.

I feel like a piece of rough lumber somebody is jointing and planing and sanding into shape. Life gets more enjoyable all the time. I even appreciate the problems and setbacks. Now they seem to have meaning, and every one ends up blessing me. It’s hard to harm someone who walks with God, because God takes everything you throw at him and makes it a help to him.

All that stuff Jesus said; it looks like it’s actually TRUE. That’s wild. I never thought he was lying, but it’s still impressive when I see his words confirmed.