How Buffy the Vampire Slayer buys shampoo. Or at least how she should.

Dear Reader, I have unlocked the secret to buying shampoo in the most efficient way possible. So grab a notebook and calculator and play along at home. You’ll also need access to the Internet and a dispassionate perspective on your cranium. Your take-aways will be (1) a budget-conscious methodology to buying shampoo and perhaps other personal hygiene products, and (2) a reduced anxiety from being in Aisle 30 of H-E-B, where the shampoo and other hair products are located. After this beginner level application of my methodology, you may learn that you can apply the process also to your purchases in the dairy section, finding the optimum size bag of Tater Tots on Aisle 15 (toward the front) and even how much brisket to allot per person if the body mass index varies more than 20% among your guest list. (I must warn you, however, that an incomplete understanding of this process regarding the last application may leave some of your guests without enough brisket and others “over-served” and asking to sleep over in the spare bedroom.)

First, to shampoo.

As Buffy The Vampire Slayer once famously said, “It’s all about the hair, and never forget it.

Not only is it all about the hair as a forest, but it’s also about the hair as individual trees in that forest. To wit: as you all know, Buffy spent most of the show’s seasons as a blonde, or close enough. According to most studies I’ve seen — which is one or maybe two if you count the one I saw 15 years ago — blondes generally have more hair follicles than brunettes or redheads or blondes-in-a-bottle. If you are reading this and you are a blonde-in-a-bottle, please adapt the instructions below by multiplying my formula by 1.04, and you should have an accurate figure to calculate your optimal shampoo purchase.

As I was saying, blondes have the most follicles, about 150,000. (True.) Redheads have only 90,000 on average (also true), so you redheads can either multiply my formula by 2.2 to get the optimum shampoo purchase, or you can die your hair blonde and multiply by 1.04. Same result.

Now, here’s the beauty of what I have to share.

The way to buy shampoo is not to look at price, nor — as H-E-B would have you do — at cost per ounce, what they call unit price. No, the way to buy shampoo most efficiently is ounce-cost per hair follicle.

You see, I thought I was doing right by getting Alberto VO5 recently, because at $0.98 for a 14oz bottle it had the lowest “unit price,” $0.07/ounce, of all the shampoos on Aisle 30. That’s cheap, right? The correct answer is “maybe.” If I was Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and had a full head of blonde hair with all 150,000 follicles intact, this $0.98 bottle of VO5 would cost her $0.00000047 per hair: that is, $0.07 per ounce divided by 150,000 follicles. (See where I’m going with this?)

But Sarah Michelle Gellar wouldn’t buy VO5, would she It’s a shit shampoo.

Sarah Michelle Gellar would probably buy Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo. (There is no “.” after B) Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo has 11 L-Amino acids, protective silk, wheat and soy proteins that repair hair “at a cellular level.” Suffice it to say, my VO5 doesn’t have the soy part. If you Google it, reviews list the number of “Pros” in favor of Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo as 9. And “Cons” against? “None.” It’s basically the perfect shampoo. Imperial. Russian. Putin bought a tub when he was 28 and needed to look good hanging around the KGB water cooler getting the skinny on western…ahem, imperialists…, and he still has some left. Not a lot, but enough to last him.


$169 per 12oz tub. That’s $14.08/oz, or $0.000094 per hair for a blonde. That calculates out to 200 times as expensive per hair than VO5!

Now here’s the fun part, H-E-B shoppers: at nearly 60 years of age (on May 17 if you want to send a present or cash), and even though I grew up as a blonde, I have far fewer hairs than Sarah Michelle Gellar. I have more than Putin, but fewer than his Slayer. My guess is that I have aboouuut 23,000 active follicles. So for me, buying Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo would be enormously cost-prohibitive on a per-follicle basis. Like pouring liquid gold on my head, which I think is actually the point. So change that simile to a metaphor. Even using my VO5 costs me $0.000003 per follicle, which is 6.475 times more than it would have cost me if I were to buy it when I was 28 and had all 150,000 follicles.

But I don’t want you to think this post is merely a sauntering through hard mathematical realities.

We’ve come to the practical ways to apply this ingenious formula. Here are some actionable take-aways I can implement starting immediately, and perhaps you’ll come up with your own:

  • WASHING MY HAIR: Instead of the high cost of VO5 (based on the number of follicles I’m actually washing), I could use a lower-priced cleanser, like whole milk. At $0.03/ounce, it would be $0.0000013/follicle, 57% less expensive than VO5. But if I wanted to give my remaining follicles a little zest while still keeping costs down, I could use Hill Country Fare Lemon Lime Zero Sports Drink, at $0.04/ounce, still 43% less expensive than VO5.
  • PURCHASING TATER TOTS: Let’s apply the general principles suggested by my formula — that it’s not about unit cost but rather about end-unit affected (ounce-cost per hair follicle, for instance) — to purchasing Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Tater Tots. According to the label on the back of the bag, there are ~99 pieces, constituting 11 servings of 9 tots each. We know we can’t eat just 9 tots along with our burger. We’re talking more like 15 or 22 tots. Therefore, my formula would be applied as (3oz serving size) divided by (an 8 out of 10 Hunger Index) x 100 = 37.5% likelihood of having more than my allotted serving size according to Ore-Ida. Actionable step: buy two bags.

Let’s move to our third application:

  • BRISKET: This requires an advanced formula, to be implemented only after practicing with shampoo, Tater Tots, at least five types of yogurt and three different brands of tortilla chips, one of them being Central Market.
    • Let say you wanted to buy an H-E-B Prime 1 Packer Style Beef Brisket like the one shown, which is about 14.5 lbs and costs $3.99 per pound. (By the way, for those of you who are doing the math in your head, this is $0.24/oz and, if you were to somehow render this even to 50% liquid, it would be much less expensive to wash your hair with it than using Imperial Shampoo. We’re talking 29 times more cost-efficient. More expensive than VO5, but if you’re Sarah Michelle Gellar…just saying.)
    • You buy a 14.5 lb brisket and are having ten people over for dinner. This is an even allotment of 1.45 lb per person. Wait…that’s a helluva lot of brisket per person. Are you serious?! No way, invite another 12 people, and you’ll be able to serve a little more than half a pound to everyone.
    • Everyone has a hunger index of between 6 and 8 out of 10.
    • The heaviest guest, your cousin Ralph, weighs 260 lbs. Big boy.
    • The lightest guest is your other cousin Jane’s newborn baby girl, who won’t be having brisket, so this changes the formula, but not enough that I care to figure it out. In fact, you might decide to tell Jane to please get a babysitter, which gets us back to our original formula.
    • So then our lightest guest becomes Aunt Ruby, 82 years old and a chain smoker, now weighing 98 pounds. (Jane is only second lightest, even after losing her baby fat.)
    • Here’s how the formula can be applied:
      • ($0.24/oz brisket unit cost) divided by (number of people = 22) = $0.011 unit-cost/person.
      • (Average weight of all guests = 185) x ($0.011 unit-cost/person) = 2.035 units of potential hunger (PH).
      • (2.035 PH) x (7.3 average hunger index) = a final 14.86 actual hunger (AH) rating.
      • You’ve reached an inflection point. An AH rating of 14.86 is not great. Ideally, at least for Texas, it should be at least a 16, if not 17. So do you increase your AH rating by buying more brisket? Or do you keep it as is, ensuring that you won’t be invited to Thanksgiving at Aunt Ruby’s? (And, just for the record, it’s not Ruby who would uninvite you. It’s her asshole son Ralph, the heavy one with a hunger index of 8, who would.)

I’ve given you the tools.

It’s your choice what to do with them.

The shampoo aisle scares me the most

coffee at Pint and Plow in Kerrville

There’s an echeveria succulent on my table at Pint & Plow. Monday morning… a day I actually like even on a workday, which this is not. I gave myself the day off, since I accomplished a work goal last night after a long couple weeks. (“Accomplished.” Seems a dissonant word for a blog about coffee and, soon enough, getting one’s money’s worth at H-E-B using a coupon for Hill Country Essentials paper products. Oh yes, Dear Reader, we are indeed going there. I know you want to, because I know all three of you quite well.)

So: coupons.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the “big H-E-B” on Main Street. I say “big,” because we have two H-E-B stores in Kerrville. The other is on Sidney Baker South, and it used to be an Albertson’s. But H-E-B bought it out, because H-E-B in Texas is to Albertson’s what In-N-Out Burger in L.A. is to Whataburger. (Whataburger is not in L.A., as you probably know. Closest it gets is Phoenix, where there are 13. There are only 16 In-N-Out Burgers in the same area.)

So I’m in H-E-B yesterday — good grief, I wish I didn’t have to do that shift-shift-shift thing when I use the capital H, E, and B and the en-dashes in between, but WordPress doesn’t use predictive text to fill in the store name the way my iPhone does. (H-E-B: please buy WordPress. We know you already own Apple.) I’m in heb yesterday, near the end of my shopping list in Aisle 22, where paper products are, and soon to be in shampoos. Let me tell you, Dear Reader, of all the aisles and products in H-E-B, it is the shampoo aisle that most intimidates me. I am less intimidated by parking my cart in Aisle 39 so I can use the nearby restroom. If you don’t know Aisle 39, it’s where the “Maximum Absorbency Underpads” are. IYKYK, as those under 30 say, and since I turn 60 in May, the last thing I want is to return to my cart and find Schreiner College soccer players snickering at me for being next to the underpads. All in due time, my meal-plan friends.

But with 1,454 different shampoo-related items — ranging in price from “worth the cost of what I put in my hair for literally only nine seconds and then wash down the drain” to “Should I buy shampoo or pay off my student loans?” — I opted for VO5, which cost $0.98.

Dear Reader, an iPhone can render the outdated symbol for “cents” when you hold down the “$” key and move your finger one slot to the right, but the MacBook Air keyboard does not, to my knowledge. When you hold down the “$” key on a Mac, it comes out “$$$$$$$$$.” It’s an indication that pennies are increasingly worthless, but the good news is saying, “Well, that’s my two cents’ worth” is increasingly accurate. Imagine when two cents was a lot of money. (People in Colonial America actually gave a damn what you had to say.)

I had not yet had to skim the bottom row of the shampoo aisle looking for products measured in cents and not dollars, and I was in front of the toilet paper and paper towels. I couldn’t remember which we needed; I knew it was one of them. And then I saw a yellow coupon hanging from one of those metal loops that look like they’ve been liberated from three-ring binders. It promised I’d get $2 off my cart if I bought $12 or more in Hill Country Essentials paper products. Well, I figured, we’ll surely need both of those at some point, so let’s go for it. And this brand of toilet paper is much higher quality than say, Scott 1000, which touts “1000 sheets per roll.” This is great marketing, because you need 500 sheets per bathroom visit. So when you buy a 12-pack for a family of five today, you’re headed back to H-E-B for another pack tomorrow at 2pm before school lets out.

I plucked a coupon and after running the shampoo gauntlet headed for checkout.

I had 22 items — more or less — because if there’s a doubt if I have 10 for the self-checkout or 15 for the Express lane, I will count and count again, because the last thing I want is for someone behind me to send me evil looks the way I do to them. As I always quote from the Good Book, “And ye shall surely judge those who are merely doing the best they can in line at H-E-B and expect that when they shall judge you, ye shall surely remind them loudly and clearly and in the presence of others ‘who’s the damned judge and Who is not’.” And attention H-E-B shoppers: doesn’t it make you slightly uncomfortable when the store employee roaming along the congested checkout area tells you to take your overstuffed cart down to the empty Express Lane to ease overall store traffic, and then you start unpacking, all the while worrying that someone with 14 items will show up behind you and you’ll have to use your well-rehearsed line, “Haha! The lady who works here sent me down here. Haha!” And they give you a slightly judgmental stare, so you actually quote for them your life verse.

There actually is a story about the coupon — about how the cashier didn’t ring it up and I was strolling away and noticed that my receipt didn’t show a deduction and by that time I was near customer service and they retrieved the coupon from the cashier and then, checking my receipt to make sure I had bought $12+ in Hill Country Essentials paper products, which I indeed had, handed me two dollars and 13 cents (for the tax) — but what I really want to say is that I just stepped away from the table with the echeveria succulent to use the men’s room and came back to find my computer still here.

It’s Texas after all, not New York City. And then I went to ask for “more” coffee and not “another” one.

Because Texas itself is a “more” kind of place.

Foxes vs. coyotes vs. werewolves

A friend of mine brought me two dozen eggs yesterday from her farm.

I learned that hens produce more eggs in warmer months than in colder ones — which stands to reason, unless you’re from new York City, where eggs are produced in air-conditioned grocery stores year-round and 24/7 — and with it getting warmer here lately — it’ll be in the 70s+ for the next ten days — the hens are doing more of their hen thing. (What do they actually do besides lay eggs? And doesn’t the verb “lay” conjure up only two nouns: bed and eggs? More New York questions that I share with only you three who are reading this.)

I happened to ask her about foxes, given their rather too-cozy relationship to hens — “cozy” as in being the “big spoon” to their little one until hunger overcomes them and spooning transitions to dining — and given my experiencing a mysterious sound the other night that Karen later determined was indeed a fox and not a werewolf. (I was not about to admit that I experienced horripilation — read the post HERE — over a fuzzy red dog that probably was a hundred yards away.)

My friend said that, yes, there were foxes, but a bigger issue was coyotes. We discussed the unique bark of a fox — my now having expertise in distinguishing a fox bark from a werewolf growl — and then she said that coyotes, too, have a unique bark: “They sound like a bunch of drunken frat boys,” and she played a video on her phone taken from her property where, indeed, the pack sounded like inebriated males with underdeveloped frontal cortices. Grinning, I concurred with her comparison, though my smile was only half-sincere since she was not aware that I, too, had sounded that way when I was in college, and I didn’t have a fraternity membership to blame for it.

The baguette’s in the oven

The plan is to make a baguette, and if I want to eat it tomorrow, I must start tonight. I am using a recipe that its creator calls “Baguette (The Easiest Recipe).” In fact, it’s so easy that it’s a “no-knead” baguette. In case you’re wondering, the baguettes to the right are not examples of the “easiest recipe” baguette, which while it requires mixing only four ingredients and saves your forearms from kneading 10-15 minutes, it still takes overnight to rise.

The baguettes to the right are from a different recipe called “French Baguette Recipe,” which takes a total of 30 hours 18 minutes to make. The recipe creator’s online profile photo shows a young American woman who claims to be a “busy twin mom,” but she’s smiling and wearing make-up that’s not smudged, the photo was taken in Paris, and no twins are to be seen anywhere. This means, obviously, that she goes on holiday and stays at the Ritz and drinks champagne from 3 o’clock on, while someone else watches the twins and her husband works two jobs. She totally has a day and a half to make French baguettes.

What makes this latter recipe “French,” you ask?

Certainly one would expect to invest the time and attention to a food that is distinctly French. The model in the above photo looks French and, truth, doesn’t it look at first glance like she’s flipping us off? Seriously: ad directors, photographers with ascots and the French in general are famously subversive and would pull this stunt. After all, it was the French who came up with the linguistically subversive phrase double entendre, even if it was American country music singers who perfected its use in their song titles, like Jerry Reed’s “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”

“Oh!” you say. “THAT’s not a double entendre! It’s merely about how much the wife got when she and her no-good husband split. You have a mind as dirty as coal itself.”

To which I reply, Well if it wasn’t a double entendre before, good luck thinking it isn’t one now.

Few things are as comforting as a warm baguette just out of the oven with cold unsalted butter in chunks.

Apropos of that word itself being French and also in the broader category of food, I started using the H-E-B app yesterday for my shopping list. I’d been using the OurGroceries app, but after posting the use of it on my Instagram story a couple days ago, an H-E-B partner sent a message and reminded me that the store app is good not only for finding where an item is or if it’s in stock (previously my main use of it) but also adds those items to a list, organized by aisle number and store location, and even shows where coupons are offered.

This post was drafted on Saturday morning and finished this morning, Monday. The baguettes came out beautifully. I have never had a freshly baked baguette right out of the oven, sliced it and heard the crisp crust give way to a soft, chewy inside. Then spreading cold unsalted butter on it and biting into it, hearing that crisp crunch again.


Never, ever steam. Or GTFO.

An everything bagel, one of my first batch.

If you don’t know what a “schmear” is–where the word comes from and why its etymology makes its application to bagels clear and unarguable–go HERE. And if you want to experience a bagel from the vantage point of an experienced bagel-eater, go HERE and HERE. As you can see, I’ve given the subject some thought, more thought even that I’ve given to pizza, which somewhat surprises me since I eat pizza more often. I think it’s because Little Caesar’s deep dish pepperoni is so greasily satisfying and Comfort Pizza is such a symphony to my palate that I don’t worry about not getting pizza that’s not like “real New York” pizza. Only Home Slice in Austin offers me that and, even then, they try to Austinize it, and it doesn’t always work.

That is not the case with bagels.

San Antonio’s Boss Bagels are decent, and these are what is served at PAX Coffee Shop downtown. (As an aside, and only Kerrvillians will get this, I like what appears to be a name alteration: from “PAX Coffee and Goods” to “PAX” or “PAX Coffee Shop.” The former made it sound more like a mercantile business, which it has never been. It has been and is a coffeeshop, and new owner Katie has trimmed off any excess nomenclature and made substantive changes to its interior, a couple that I like and a couple that I don’t, but all of which show PAX’s evolution into a pure coffeeshop. And that, I like.)

There are a couple bagel places in Austin that are good in my opinion — Rockstar Bagels and Wholy [sic] Bagels — but most of us have to rely on the closer Boss Bagels, whose one of two locations is beyond the TSA checkpoint at SAT. That’s actually quite smart of them; bad for us.

Rockstar Bagels, center right: “A transcendent bagel experience”?

It was time to make some Freeman bagels.

I decided to use THIS RECIPE, mainly because the writer claimed to be a “real New Yorker.” Anytime someone claims that, it is ballsy and requires other “real New Yorkers” to kick the tires. And in the end, it’s as arbitrary as finding a recipe for a good meatball written by someone who didn’t grow up in Italy or near Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. In the end, it’s all about taste and very little to nothing about the cook’s street creds. Those are useful only in marketing.

A few observations about the process:

  • I had never worked with yeast. I was told to use Active Dry Yeast and, after letting it sit in some warm water with sugar, I was told to stir it till it dissolved, which was a chore. My mistake was that the yeast-water-sugar mixture never bubbled. It may not have been ready to be stirred.
  • Kneading the dough for ten minutes was exercise! Because of the yeast (?), it was rubbery and bounced back, rather than being like biscuit dough, which has no yeast and calls for kneading only so much as necessary. Good grief! Bagel dough, and I assume all dough meant for bread products, gives you Popeye forearms and calls for a good shoulder massage afterward.
  • Dough didn’t rise to “twice its size.” It was maybe 125% of its size after resting for an hour. Probably not sitting in a warm enough spot.
  • Shaping the dough into bagels was both easy and hard. After dividing the dough into 8 separate pieces, getting the dough into round balls was difficult for me. The technique suggested in the recipe was unnecessarily confusing, and even the writer said it sounded more confusing than it was. Let’s just say that it wouldn’t have been so confusing if I’d watched the accompanying video which, like the men of the 1950s driving across the country with the family and not wanting to stop and ask for directions, I wasn’t about to do. Full steam ahead!

And speaking of “steam,” if you have ever eaten a steamed bagel, you know it’s more like eating a marshmallow with sesame seeds on top.

Just don’t.

I “love my H-E-B”

Gotta be honest with you, I was a bit put out. Now that I think about it, that’s a great phrase: being “put out.” Random 4-hours-sleep-last-night thought: raise your hand if you saw the Flintstones cartoons and remember how the cats were “put out” of the house at night.

“Some day, maybe Fred will win the fight… Then the cat will stay out for the night…”

Used to be that at night people put out the empty milk bottle and the cat. That’s just what you did. You can see for yourselves in this closing to one of my favorite cartoons that they’ve literally been doing this for 100,000 years. Sadly, the milkman, Bronto Burgers, driving on I-10 using only your feet for propulsion and putting the cat out at night have gone the way of the… (I think it’s worth noting that purple dinosaurs were around long before Barney.)

In my case, and to my seemingly irrevocable sorrow, I was put out by H-E-B.

Now, you have to understand something about H-E-B and my fanboy status around this national grocery store of Texas. (“We” Texans love H-E-B so much that there are Texas-shaped stickers printed with the common saying “Love my H-E-B.”) My quick rise to fanboy happened in 1996, and I won’t recount the story here but rather refer you to it HERE. Whether or not you read that post now or were one of the three who did so then, you should know that this site is inspired by H-E-B. For a New Yorker who grew up on real bagels, real pizza, and had smörgåsbord, sushi/sashimi and Ghanian by the time I could vote, I developed early on a prejudice toward not only food that wasn’t Gotham-found but also any grocery story that wasn’t called Fairway and didn’t require the skill of a Formula-1 driver to maneuver around the end caps and jockey for position at the express checkout line. If you have watched the Netflix series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, you’ll know that cursing out the shopping cart driver who tries to overtake you is not unheard of. In fact, it’s encouraged.

You may not know this, but many Fairway shoppers themselves have sponsors ranging from Dave’s Killer Bread (this is indeed the Team Red Bull of grocery sponsors) to Post cereal to Le Colombe Coffee Nitro. At H-E-B, however, no sponsors are needed. No jockeying is needed. In fact, people are not even in a rush. Even the red scooter-basket-cart that people sit in go only as fast as a Chevy Suburban idling up Hilltop Drive.

I have veered so far off the subject.

Back to it.

I was put out.

Put out like a cat in the Mesozoic.

In addition to this site’s being inspired by H-E-B, I consistently post on my Instagram the items I buy from the store and cook. I also get responses from the store in Instagram DMs about my feed and stories that mention them. I am such a devotee that their coffee brand Cafe Olé is practically the only brand I drink. (We also occasionally drink Aldo’s Coffee from Greenport, New York, and Cuvee coffee I got at PAX here in town, but basically it’s all Cafe Olé.)

So I thought I’d try to become an “ambassador” for the brand and get free coffee for posting various kinds of H-E-B products. (Let’s be real, Red Bull-sponsored F-1 driver Max Verstappen drinks that swill publicly, but he probably eschews it privately. I, on the other hand, would drink Cafe Olé no matter what. Or would I…?)

I DM’ed H-E-B on Instagram, and they gave me the email address to write to in order to ask about becoming a brand ambassador. So I did.


Four times. Crickets. Not even an auto-reply.

So I complained, like a little pissy New Yorker who doesn’t get his way grocery shopping:

Gary Gulman with a riff about Trader Joe’s, that bastion of yoga-panted and entitled midday-shopping white women.

H-E-B’s Instagram monitor(s) have consistently responded to my questions and proactively commented on my posts and stories. It was obvious that if I wanted a response to my selfless (“yeah…no”) offer to be an ambassador, I’d have to ping the IG crew rather than wait for responses to my emails.

So I did.

And like a pissy New Yorker who thinks that grocery stores revolve around me — although they kind of do: me and every other customer. Ok… low blow. But pissy nonetheless, like I said — I even called the lack of a response to my emails, “rude.”

I said that. I know: harsh language.

You can imagine what I’d say to a New York City-based grocery store. In fact, you wouldn’t have to imagine it. I could show you how I responded to Gristedes one time if only I could find the post from my old blog.

H-E-B wrote back.

They wrote back and promised a follow up. And you know what? They followed up, because later THAT DAY, a woman named Shannyn wrote a very kind email and said that H-E-B didn’t have any ambassadors for the Cafe Olé brand. Shame, if you ask me. BUT, she added:

While we don’t have an official Café Ole ambassador program, we appreciate the love and really are glad you love brewing Café Ole!

We’d love to send you some Café Ole to say thanks- and if you post anything, wonderful — but if not, just know we appreciate you being such a fan!

Gracious H-E-B response to pissy New York complainant

Yesterday a box arrived. A heavy Box. From H-E-B with, I soon learned, a packing slip with Shannyn’s name on it.

In it were eight (8) pounds of flavored ground coffee, a 2lb bag of flavored coffee beans and various swag, including a “Love my H-E-B” sticker, which was quickly affixed to my otherwise pristine MacBook Air. Market value was easily more than $100.

Can you tell I love my H-E-B?

Learning to read

You’d think that the one ingredient you wouldn’t forget to put in a homemade pumpkin pie is the pumpkin filling itself. Right? It’s a bit like saying you’re a lawyer who didn’t go to law school, rendering you a yer. Or a merry-go-round without any merriment, which becomes a nauseating spin cycle. Or cotton candy without the cotton or the candy, which looks like a confused kid holding a thin white cone upside down.

My first pumpkin pie left me a confused Yer lacking anything close to merriment. My second attempt redeemed me, since I’d learned by then how to read.

You’ll notice that on each one, the crusts came out roughly the same. The recipe I used was given to me by a coworker in ~2004–a coworker who’d raised four kids and had made roughly 532 pies, most of them pumpkin. That’s an exaggeration to make my point: she knew how to make a good crust. And I had only ever asked her about apple pies, since that type was common in New England in the fall, during apple picking season. In fact, I made three pies at once that year using her crust recipe, because we had recently picked so many apples from Honey Pot Hill Orchards. It was that year that Bennett, still a toddler and with my help, would pick an apple and then, when I wasn’t paying attention, take a single bite and drop it on the ground. I’m sure half a peck met this fate.

Anyhow, Anne (my coworker) trained me to use shortening for the crust instead of butter, and to roll out the dough only once. If any dough tore, you were to simply and gently pat it back in place and use a little more flour. I actually have made all my pies using this crust recipe. (I did once bake with a store-bought crust and felt guilty.) My mother-in-law last night confirmed also that for most of her pies, like a lemon merengue, she’d brown the crust first before putting in the filling, but for a pumpkin pie she’d put the filling into the raw crust and bake it. She’s also made closer to 1,000 pies, since she’s raised not four kids as Anne had, but five.

Back to the pie filling.

The directions on the Libby’s pie filling can are fairly clear. (I say “fairly” because that adverb makes a distinction between the manufacturer’s professional recipe writers and my ability to listen to them. P.S.: Though it modifies “clear,” “fairly” here is an adverb of degree, not an adjective. I looked it up so that while my reading skills might be failing, my defensive Google skills are still rapier-like.) The directions say, “Stir in pumpkin…” and, yet, I completely overlooked this, because I was reading the can while it laid on its side, assuming a posture of not wanting to be opened. My hands were otherwise occupied opening the evaporated milk and mixing in the dry ingredients. Later, when I criticized Libby’s instead of worrying about my own side of the street, I would even claim they forgot to tell me to add the evaporated milk. (Of course I added the milk, because–pshaw!–who wouldn’t, right?!) I read over the recipe three times and confirmed each time that they forgot the milk step. I was ready to call the Customer Service line to graciously inform them of the omission, but when taking these photos before writing this, I noticed that the milk instructions were right after the pumpkin instructions. I had added the dry ingredients because I saw them mentioned, and I added the milk because that was listed up top (yes, yes, as the pumpkin was, too), and the cans were sitting in front of me. The Libby’s can was sleeping face down. Of course I’d miss that! Anyone would.

In the end (of both tries) the cross section of pie looked quite different:

The first one went into the trash, and it slid nicely off the pie plate, since I’d made the crust so well.

It’s “cupboard,” not “pantry.”

Let me tell you: it hurt a lot more than the photo might suggest. Sometimes the smallest injuries, like a paper cut, can rival the agony of being riddled with bullets like Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in The Godfather. After all, Sonny died, albeit after convulsing in the driver’s seat, through the front passenger door, then up against the side of his twelve-cylinder Lincoln Continental. So, after some production value on the New Jersey Turnpike, Sonny dies, goes back to his trailer on the Paramount Pictures lot, and has a double whiskey and a cigarette.

This was worse than that. By far.

It was a cooking accident. As are all mishaps in the kitchen. They’re “accidents.” And by definition they’re silly. I was making what turned out to be an epic meal.

I’m zipping around the kitchen finishing the appetizer in the Traeger while also checking on the roasted potatoes and trying to time them with the meatloaf, which still needs the glaze and another 15-20 minutes in the oven after that. The green beans and chipotle corn are canned, so I can heat those later on the stovetop. The potatoes are getting dry so they come out. I want to tent them so I can throw them back in the oven until the meatloaf, which is taking way too long, is done. (Remember, it isn’t “done” until it has the glaze baked on. The recipe says the glaze is to die for.)

I will need some aluminum foil. It’s where I store all my wraps/foils/etc., in a lower cabinet in the pantry. (I call it “the cupboard,” but Karen corrects me and says it’s a pantry. I think of “pantry” as a small room, something a realtor might include in a listing, while a cupboard might be small enough for only a pre-schooler or a hungry small dog to hide in. In that same category of misnamed objects and domiciled areas, I still call it a “bureau;” Karen says “dresser.” I’m right, of course, because this is my blog and that’s how I roll.)

So I yank out the aluminum foil–Texas Tough brand from H-E-B–but along with it comes a box of Glad plastic wrap.

You can probably see in the photo to the right that Glad conveniently includes a small tree saw with teeth not unlike those of a great white shark. When I’m putting away leftovers, I always use Glad Press’N Seal, which works so much better than plastic wrap. I use the plastic wrap primarily for the box it comes in and for this small saw, which doesn’t actually cut through the plastic wrap but does allow me to trim back the sage bush behind the house.

So the Glad Bush Saw comes falling out of the cupboard along with the aluminum foil and somehow–it happened so fast, like getting T-boned at an intersection, except people walk away from those “accidents” all the time; just ask my son: he rolled our Hyundai Santa Fe three times after getting hit in front of Papa John’s/Brew Dawgz and literally walked away without a scratch (true story; it was a miracle)–somehow I attempt to keep both foil and Shark Teeth Bush Saw from falling onto the floor and to do so I must have grabbed the saw in my left hand and also tried to push it up with my left knee at the same time while going for the aluminum foil with my right.

The combined effect of my left knee pushing and my left hand grabbing was that I thrust my forefinger along the triple row of teeth of a Great White Shark which, let’s face it, “Jaws” Captain Quint would attest–had he not been eaten–that it did not hurt nearly so much as my cut did. Quint actor Robert Shaw, too, went back to his trailer after he dies a gruesome death and splits a six pack with Caan, who’s already finished off a bottle of Cutty Sark. The two of them talk about directors, starlets and why Shaw didn’t beat out Duvall for the role of Corleone consigliere. Shaw is getting hot under the collar, but Caan shrugs him off saying, “Look, Bob, at least you have a shot at the sequel as a crime boss. I’m toast for the whole trilogy.”

So I grunt a low-throated “Ow!” because at my age, even while wearing a (manly chef’s) apron, you don’t scream or emit any high-pitched noise that might indicate that this actually hurt. Which it did. Like a motherfucker. It was the dignified yell of a black-hat gunslinger finally caught at the business end of the Dodge City sheriff’s rifle getting shot, falling off his horse and saying, “Ahh! Ya got me!”

“WHAT?!” Karen shrieked from the other room. (Because the women in Dodge City always “shriek,” even to this day.)

I went over to the sink and put my finger under the cool Texas water that we pay dearly for except the adjacent Comanche Trace Golf Course which buys its water from a very wealthy lady who owns the groundwater rights so golfers get free water all the time but we only get water if I pay my bill before the 5th of the month after the due date or I get a kindly written but clearly stated reminder that my vended water will be shut off by the 15th if the balance due is not remitted immediately by clicking here and they take all forms of payment except for Diner’s Club. (Does anyone still use Diner’s Club? My dad, a Madison Avenue advertising man, did. All the time.)

So I’m taking all that in–Diner’s Club, paying for water when golfers don’t, “cupboard” or “pantry” (although we all know it’s “cupboard”), and the inherent and schizophrenic bias for and against men named Robert getting cast in the Godfather saga–I’m taking all that in yet every time I move my finger out from the water it bleeds like a sunuvabitch, and my main thought is, “Please, God, let me not need stitches, because the meatloaf has at least another ten minutes at 375 before the glaze goes on.”

Like those made by a master Artist

“Shushi.” Pronounced SHOO-shee. That’s how my dad said it after he took a course in making sushi in…must-have-been 1990, 1991, 1992? Maybe it was as early as during my college years in the ’80s. I know it was at least a few years before he died. He was still generally in a good mood.

It was Dad who had taken me out for my very first sushi. Mid-80s. I’m pretty sure it was at Hiroshi Sushi on Third Avenue between 38th and 39th. I know it was just a block or so down from work, and it was quite near the Irish bar on the corner — now a TD Bank — where my colleagues and I went on Fridays for lunch, have corned beef and cabbage and three mugs of beer ($1 each), and then I’d go back to work and put my head on my desk for an hour or so. I could do that; my office door didn’t have a window.

Dad brought me into Hiroshi Sushi and we walked toward the back. If it’s the same place, the thin corridor of dining room opened up into an alcove with skylights, and it gave you the feeling of being in New York City with its urban sheen but not its cacophony.

I already knew how to use chopsticks, of course — in New York especially, kids learn how to use chopsticks about the time they learn the difference between a Four In Hand and Half-Windsor knot — but he taught me about wasabi and ginger, where to lay my chopsticks when not eating, and also that if we were sitting at the sushi bar itself that I should pay attention to the sushi chef as he did his work, because it was special, almost sacred.

Wags rips a yuppie a new one.

One summer while Mom, Jim and I were at our beach house, Dad took a course in making “shushi.” (Still to this day, I’ve never heard a single person pronounce it like that, and still to this day I wonder if his sushi teacher said it this way.)

He would make it at home, and he did a reasonably good job.

I must admit to you, Dear Reader, that just now I was looking up sushi terms to write a little more precisely — I have always loved good nomenclature since learning sailing terms as a teenager, and part of getting a skipper’s rank was a test on “nomenclature;” even “nomenclature” itself is cool nomenclature…but. Back to it. — I was looking up sushi terms and was reminded (Okay…I pretty much learned for the first time) that “sushi” refers to the seasoned rice itself, not necessarily the final product we’re served (with seaweed, rice, seafood or vegetables). In fact, if I’m going to be very vulnerable right now, I’ll admit that I thought “sashimi” was sushi without the seaweed — that sashimi was simply the fresh uncooked fish sitting on top of rice. Sashimi is in fact the fresh sliced fish all by its glorious self.

All that said, Dad did a pretty fair job of it. He was adventurous with eating. Not with everything, but with eating? Yes. He’d say, when anyone eating with him balked at trying something like salmon roe — which I still won’t eat — “Oh, c’mon! Live dangerously!”

“Live dangerously!” was always a tell that he was smiling inside. That he took great pride in his two sons and his daughters-in-law. That he was enjoying the company of anyone fortunate enough to dine with him.

It is said that people who enter a crowded room are one of two types. One type says, “Here I am!” The other type says, “There you are!” Dad was the latter.

After a while, Dad was neither.

Dad ended himself in 1998, and in looking back I recall that he hadn’t been doing much dangerous living in the kitchen. In his cooking heyday, in addition to sushi he’d have made various Middle Eastern dishes, most of which had no names, dubious ingredients, but were nevertheless quite tasty. He’d make pesto and freeze some of it in ice cube trays, so that when he needed it, he could pop out a block or three and add it to pasta. He always was delayed in getting dinner on the table. Mom would have to remind him to check the broiler for the Italian bread he was toasting: “My love! The BREAD!” The slightly burned loaf would emerge with blackened edges. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

At a certain point, it was he who did most of the cooking, not Mom, because Dad was at home a lot. He got fired when his firm went through a leveraged buyout and the new C-Suite men thought he wasn’t sanguine enough in his sales forecasts. He was a “realist” (his word), born in 1921 and growing up in the Depression and WWII, losing his mother when he was 9 and his father when he was 20, requiring that he quit college in his junior year so he could support his stepmother and three younger half-siblings. But the early Boomer ass-clowns now in charge of Dad’s company had experienced suffering no worse than whether the cuffs of their bellbottom pants got dirty. At the time, I hated them. I suppose I still do. A little.

I ask myself: should I remember Dad as someone whom I saw last as an inert corpse on his bed with an empty bottle of gin on a silver tray at his side and a clear plastic bag over his head; a farewell note nearby? Or should I remember him as the father who’d put me on his shoulders when I was four, wade out into the ocean to where we could both break through the crests of gentle waves after he’d remind me: “Hold your breath.” Should I remember him as dying alone and maybe afraid? (For who can know what went through his mind at the end.) Or should I remember him as someone who was nothing less than heroic in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s and 1960s and so on and so forth, as he became the mainstay of a family that extended over generations.

Well, Dear Reader, I have to remember him as all of that.

All of that at once, as we all get remembered, or at least as we should be, if those who remember us are being generous. For generosity, in time, is something we tend to outgrow or ignore. Or withhold.

The “worst” among us now were once children who shared an ice cream cone with the family dog. And the “best” among us then sometimes leave final impressions among their loved ones that become secreted away. Rarely discussed. Causing their wives to feel shame.

The contrasting and complementary decisions we make are like tiles placed alongside each other. Like those Dad placed around the edges of a cutting-board he made when I was ten.

Like a mosaic created by a master Artist.

It’s a yogurt, silly :))

Last night was the first time in a while that I made something that actually required a recipe. Seared salmon, Uncle Ben’s Rice, H-E-B frozen tuscan style vegetables, bacon — all those of course were straightforward — with a cream sauce for the salmon. That last one was made from a recipe by (IG handle) @LittleSunnyKitchen.

It was Teak who had suggested salmon. I always like the concept of eating fish, but H-E-B sells salmon for between $10.99/lb and (for organic, never-frozen salmon) $15.99/lb. Translated into beef terms, we are getting pricey. Go to Wahoo, which I love, and the price is practically double. Don’t get their shrimp unless you want to live high on the hog using your 529 Plan.

Nevertheless, we needed to eat healthily. (I was going to write “…eat healthy.” But the latter, being an adjective, is incorrect. It can’t modify the verb “eat.” It would be more correctly used in this sentence: “We eat only healthy salmon, organic and never frozen.” To “eat healthy” leaves off the thing that follows the adjective that is both healthy and also eaten. But to “eat healthily” means that the act of eating is healthy. Of course, I might have confused things because while “eat” or “eating” are verbs and would be modified by adverbs, the “act of eating” used as a whole phrase is a noun and would be modified by the adjective “healthy.” But also “the act of eating healthily” could be correct if you understood it to be that the eating was being modified rather than the act of it. I could go on — I actually could, so don’t tempt me — but suffice it to say, “We needed to eat good.”)

So off to the big H-E-B I went.

There’s something about entering the parking lot of the big H-E-B on Main street, slowing up for slow (and generally unhealthy) pedestrians who are crossing in front, when — Dear Reader, let’s confess this together — there is with some pedestrians the teeny-tiny urge to inch the car gently into their right thigh, rendering them either bruised, immobile or sufficiently frightened enough to move more quickly. And there’s something about, for me, finding a spot way out in the Hinterlands (so you get in a good walk), and then entering the foyer with all the big shopping carts, which makes me think, “It would be a crying shame to use this big cart and buy only enough items to go through the self check-out” — where actually more than two big carts don’t fit anyway — there’s something about all of that, that instead of getting only the ingredients I need to make dinner, I indulgently stop first at the olive bar just inside to the left. Why, you ask? Same reason someone climbs a mountain. Because it’s there.

Now…I love H-E-B, as you know. The title of this website honors a section of the old H-E-B. In fact, it honors a section of the long-gone Iteration 1 of the store that fed any self-respecting Texan or NYC blue-blood who aspired to be a self-respecting Texan: the biscuit section. In further fact, the old store’s biscuit aisle was replaced with an extensive yogurt aisle, indicating a cultural shift toward eating good from eating not-really-that-good-at-all-if-we’re-honest-with-each-other-remember-being-honest-about-maiming-slow-pedestrians?-let’s-keep-that-honesty-between-us-going.

We’ve had a new cultural shift.

We’ve moved away from Yoplait — tell me you didn’t enjoy the tactile sensation of peeling back that foil top, and tell me you didn’t lick it — and even away from Greek yogurt toward Icelandic yogurt in particular. My favorite is a brand called Umferðarmiðstöð. One time I wanted a mixed berry Umferðarmiðstöð. It caused a bit of a stir, followed by 12 weeks of intensive marriage counseling in San Antonio.

Since then, I have switched to Hill Country brand yogurt, so that we were able to recently celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.