Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Halloween has always held a special place in my heart. Even as a middle-aged man with no children, I still get a kick out of the decorations and the costumes and the horror movies on TV. I feel sorry for those who shun the holiday as promoting devil worship and such nonsense. To me, Halloween is a celebration of that dreaded emotion: fear. I say celebration because we have to recognize that we as human beings all fear something at one time or another. Overcoming fear is a challenge we all face, so having a holiday that revels in the emotion and, in a way, belittles it is one way of breaking its hold over us. Besides, it’s all great fun!

I always feel creative right before Halloween. When I was little, I loved creating costumes, carving pumpkins, and decorating the front yard with scarecrows and ghoulish stuff. One year, my brother Craig, the electronics geek, rigged up a speaker device in our pumpkin. He situated himself in the basement so he could look out the small window next to our front steps. With the cord from the pumpkin hidden under a towel, Craig could talk through his mic and his voice would come out of the pumpkin. Since Craig couldn’t see much from his vantage point, I would whisper to him which kid was coming up the walk, and he could greet them by name. One kid in the neighborhood really believed the pumpkin was alive and kept coming back to talk to him. It was only after the blanket slipped and the wire became visible that he finally realized what was going on.

This year, the holiday had snuck up on me and by Sunday, I realized I hadn’t done anything creative this year. As I sullenly watched the football game, I remembered that I had some old action figures that I had always wanted to do something with, but they had some really ugly headsculpts. I then thought about the old monster action figures that Mego put out in the mid-70s, and I got an idea. In a burst of activity, I repainted one of the figures to look like Frankenstein and the other one I transformed into Dracula (he already had a widow's peak). Scrounging around my boxes of doll clothes, I put together a gray-and-black outfit for Frank and I used one of my James Bond tuxedos for Dracula. I also remembered that my wonderful wife had given me a cool action figure cape for Christmas, so Dracula was complete. Frank just needed a couple of bits of plastic glued to his neck to create the electrodes.

The next day, I went to the crafts store and bought a Styrofoam platform to use as a diorama for my figures. The graveyard decorations from last year came in handy, along with the mulch and sand I had from another diorama project. Now I have a little display for the porch while I sit outside and distribute candy!

Happy Halloween Everybody!

Monday, October 15, 2007


Thursday, October 18th is National Meatloaf Appreciation Day, according to the people at While this blog is usually devoted to memories related to pop culture items like toys, comics, movies, and TV, I think food memories can be just as important in forming our perceptions (good or bad) of the past. Personally, I have plenty of powerful memories regarding my mom’s cooking, and I was particularly enamored of her meatloaf.

My mom’s meatloaf was not fancy; more along the lines of the fast-easy-feed-my-family-something-nutritious-on-a-budget variety. Still, I’ve never been able to duplicate its unique flavor. From what I can remember, she used all ground beef and mixed it with 2 eggs, Italian bread crumbs, and Spatini spaghetti sauce mix. She molded the resulting mix into a dome on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, then baked it. She must’ve had some other seasonings, though, because I’ve tried to duplicate the taste, and I’ve never quite gotten it right. The outside of the meat dome was crispy and the inside was firm but tender. Served with a baked potato and French-cut string beans, I was in childhood heaven. One evening when I was nine, I got so carried away, I ate half of the meatloaf by myself! Little did I realize then how much trouble my hearty appetite would get me into.

Traditionally, meatloaf is made with a three-way blend of ground beef, pork, and veal. Ground pork and veal were not readily available to my mom in the 70s, but supermarkets today often sell all three ground meats of equally measured portions in one package, ready for instant meatloaf making. God bless America! With this ground meat, I usually follow the basic meatloaf recipe provided in The Joy of Cooking (a must-own cookbook for anyone who cooks at home on a regular basis). While it’s a fool-proof recipe, I sometimes make adjustments depending on what I have in the pantry or how creative I feel. The rest of this post is devoted to my latest meat loaf creation:


9.6 oz. ground beef

9.6 oz. ground veal

9.6 oz. ground pork

11/2 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic (mashed)

2/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon ground thyme (I usually crush it in my palm)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2/3 cup ketchup

1 cup plain breadcrumbs

3 large eggs

½ cup of your favorite cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While the oven preheats, prep your ingredients. Then combine all the ingredients, except the cheese, in a large bowl.

Gently fold the mess into a blended blob. Don’t mix too aggressively or the mixture will become tough. Take two thirds of the mixture and spread it out on a baking tray covered with aluminum foil. The mound should look roughly like a small loaf of bread.Using your fingers, form a trench down the center of the mound, being careful not to poke all the way through to the bottom. Fill the trench with whatever cheese you like.

Cap the trench with the remaining meat mixture and blend it so that the trench is sealed.

Pop the finished loaf into the oven and cook for 1 hour. During this time, you can prepare your sides and clean up. For this particular meal, I roasted some baby red bliss potatoes. The potatoes were sliced and coated with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. I nuked them in the microwave for several minutes to get them started, and then I put them in an aluminum-foil-covered baking tin and cooked them in the oven along with the meat loaf.

With all this prep work on the meatloaf and potatoes, I went the easy route with the vegetable and used microwaveable broccoli in cheese sauce.

Once the hour is up, pull the meatloaf from the oven and allow it time to rest (about 10 minutes). This will let all the juices and gooey cheese settle into place.

Then you are ready to slice it up and plate.

To me, meatloaf is one of the all-time great comfort foods. It’s really worth making the time to create a meatloaf every once in a while just to experience that comforting sense of satisfaction that it brings.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Time-Life, Inc. has recently announced that they are releasing the entire run of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episodes on DVD starting November 27th. I guess that’s as good an excuse as any to post pictures of my custom Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin action figures!

Seriously, I’ve been waiting for these shows to be put out on DVD for some time, but it’s a bit of a good news/bad news arrangement. Since Time-Life was so successful in releasing the Get Smart! series through a phone-and-Web-site exclusive offer, they’ve decided to do the same thing with MFU (that’s a rather rude acronym, now that I look at it). In other words, you have to buy all 105 episodes at once, through their Web site or by phone, and pay five “low” payments of $49.99. That's $249.95 altogether! And since it’s sold exclusively through them, there's no chance of getting a discount through Amazon or some other DVD retailer. As much as I want to see those episodes again, uncut and digitally remastered, I think $250 is a bit dear for the set.

I wish they had released them the way CBS-Paramount is currently releasing the Mission: Impossible and Hawaii 5-0 series. That is, put out one season every six months or so and sell them through regular retailers. Slap a retail price of $49.99 or $59.99 on them, but let the retailer offer a discount. That way you have the chance of getting a full season for about $35.00. If that were the case with MFU, you could get the whole series for about $100 less. It’ll take 2 years, but it’s cheaper. Time-Life, Inc. hinted that it may be available through retailers in a year, so I hope the set will then be discounted.

The frustrating part is that this series has been held up for years because of legal wranglings over the copyrights. Now that it will soon be released, I may have to be patient for another year in order to pay the price I want to pay. I could even be taking a risk because the set may never be offered at a discount, and I might have to pay even more if it’s discontinued. I’m sure this is some dastardly Thrush plot! Here's your next mission, men: The Overpriced DVD Box Set Affair!

Friday, October 05, 2007


Kathy and I will have been married for seven years on October 7th. I said this last year and I still mean it: where did the time go?!! It’s been nine years since we started dating and it seems like last week. Of course, if I really flog my brain to recall what I was like back then, it can feel like ages ago.

In 1998, I was a pretty up-tight, closed-off workaholic who’d rather have a root canal than go on a date. My last date had occurred six years earlier and that was a blind one at that. I can honestly say I was a complete gentleman and did nothing that could be viewed as an offense to the woman. Still, she never returned my phone calls. It was fine with me if she didn’t want to see me again, but I was really hurt that she didn’t think I even deserved to be told that over the phone. Pretending I didn’t exist put a major wound on my fragile self-esteem and I plunged into a deep depression for about six months (there were other factors leading to this emotional collapse, but I won’t go into them now). Anyway, once I had pulled myself together, I swore off dating and preoccupied myself completely with work. Not such a great plan since I hated my job almost as much as dating. After six years of long hours and virtually no social life, I was a pretty miserable soul. God knows what Kathy could’ve seen in me then, but thankfully she saw something and prodded me into a first date.

Looking back, that first date was kind of a mini-tour of Baltimore kitschiness. We actually double-dated with the couple who introduced us, which was great for me since I was completely at a loss as to what to do. Kathy kindly set the itinerary. First, we had dinner at the Paper Moon Diner on 29th Street. Situated in a converted house, the Paper Moon Diner is painted in garish colors and decorated with funky odds and ends (the front yard sports a naked mannequin in a bear-claw tub and a toilet with flowers growing out of the bowl). Inside, the walls and ceiling are speckled with action figures and toy planes. The primary colors continue throughout and the furnishings are a mixed bag, from 50s-style diner tables to rickety wooden ones that have seen better days.

The current menu looks to be pared down to diner favorites, but back then they had some more adventurous offerings. Although I really wanted the meat loaf, I tried to show my versatility by ordering the veggie quesadilla. Kathy thought it was an odd choice and my style of eating was even odder. I was so nervous on that date, I was terrified that sour cream would dribble down my chin or a chunk of artichoke would fly from my mouth. As a result, I practically buried my face in my plate while I ate. Kathy later said she felt sorry for me. I guess I did seem kinda pathetic, although I had no idea how stupid I looked at the time.

After dinner, we went to The Senator Theatre to see John Waters’ Pecker. I mean to say his motion picture titled Pecker. For those who don’t know, The Senator is the only functioning single screen theatre in Baltimore; a throwback to a time when movie houses were palaces of fantasy and escapism. For anyone who has never experienced such a movie theatre, it’s hard to explain how special it feels to walk up to such a place on a busy city street, step under the glowing, neon marquee, pay for your tickets at the outdoor ticket booth (you don’t even have to specify which movie since there’s only one), and step through the glass doors into the round art-deco lobby. The rest rooms have furnished waiting areas, and the interior of the theatre is aglow with spears of colorful, indirect lighting emanating from the walls and ceiling. Before each show, the theatre’s owner, Tom Kiefaber, provides a pre-recorded lecture on the theatre and its upcoming attractions. Most of the speech is the same, so regulars can recite key sections of it like a sing-a-long.

That night, we saw the latest John Waters movie. I even learned a new term: tea bagging. I won’t go into its meaning here. John Waters, of course, is a Baltimore fixture and the city’s documentarian of all that is quirky, seedy, and crass about Baltimore (I mean that in a good way). He’s also someone you will most likely spot somewhere if you live here long enough. His house was only a block or so away from where Kathy lived back then. It may sound silly, but it feels kinda special to have such an internationally known celebrity in your midst, especially someone who’s made a living out of celebrating your hometown.

After the movie, we went back to Kathy’s house where our friends departed. I was pretty wiped from painting my kitchen earlier in the day, but I didn’t want the date to end. I was so grateful when Kathy made me a rich, strong cup of coffee that fortified me so we could talk into the wee hours of the morning. I was amazed at how easy the date was. We had so much in common and what we didn’t have in common, we found fascinating in each other. Given how little I had dated, the odds of hitting the jackpot so quickly were astronomical. Somebody upstairs must’ve taken a shine to me.

I don’t have any coherent way of tying this together. I’m reminded of a line from Our Town that was spoken by Dr. Gibbs to his wife prior to their son getting married. I say I’m reminded of it, but I can’t remember the exact words and I don’t have a copy of the play handy. Anyhow, in effect he said that, on their first date together, he was so nervous because he thought they wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Still, they dated and got married and stayed married for many years and the whole time, they were never at a loss for conversation. When Kathy and I sit across from each other after dinner every evening and chat about the day’s events and politics and gossip and pop culture, I think about how incredible it is that we’re never at a loss for things to say and we’ve never lost interest in each other. I look forward to many more years of conversation.

Happy anniversary sweetie!