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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
   passing as mac & cheese
Saturday, December 10 2011
Ray called me this morning asking if I wanted to go with him to an estate sale in Woodstock. It's the yard saling off-season, but occasionally such indoor sales present themselves. The sale was in that grid of streets and tiny houses to the southwest of Gypsy Wolf. The sale itself was disappointing; things were mostly far overpriced. But out in the garage, the tools were surprisingly cheap. So I bought a short-handled square shovel and a four-tined rake (a rake having the bite size of a hoe) for a couple dollars each. After that we bought bagels at Bread Alone, and Ray also got more coffee (I haven't had any caffeine since getting back from Virginia). My bagel was prepared the same way as I have it done in Virginia, with hummus and tomato. For some reason, though, it wasn't very good. The hummus wasn't very good and neither was the tomato. Indeed, the bagel wasn't all that good either.
On the way home, we stopped at both Sunflower (the health food store) and the Hurley Ridge market so I could buy many boxes of high-quality pasta suitable for macaroni and cheese. Gretchen had decided to enter a mac & cheese contest at today's "Frozendale" festival in Rosendale. The twist, of course, would be that Gretchen's mac & cheese would be vegan.
Gretchen spent the afternoon making her entry for that contest. Because mac & cheese is so simple, a lot of getting it right depends on appearances. So Gretchen went over to Andrea's place to borrow a spotless ceramic pan (ours are uncleanably-dingy Pyrex pans).

Sarah the vegan (who is staying this winter over at Susan the memoirist's house in Bearsville) came over and she and Gretchen headed separately to Rosendale. They were going to make a night of it and see Don Byron (a semi-famous person we actually know) at the Rosendale Café. As for me, I just wanted to spend a couple hours at the Frozendale fest and see what it was all about. That was also Ray's plan, so I picked him up at his house and he climbed into my car.
The streets of Rosendale didn't look especially packed for Frozendale. I mean, really, who wants to be out on the streets on a cold afternoon (and we weren't exactly experiencing a heat wave)? But we just barely managed to find parking in that sprawling lot behind the movie theatre, and even then we sort of had to park on the grass at the edge as far as possible from Rosendale's main street.
The idea for Frozendale seemed to be the same as that of a "first Friday" art opening event: galleries were open, some featuring refreshments. And there were fun activities like the mac & cheese bake off. That was being held at the Big Cheese, an Isræli-owned store specializing in cheese, sausages, and a tiny number of Middle Eastern foods that can be eaten by vegans (grape leaves and hummus; their lentil soup today had beef in it).
After dropping off the lasagna, we went on a dull tour of the open shops, most of which were displaying art. One guy whose works consisted of numerous primitive drawings filling large canvases was offering cheap rum as a refreshment, which one woman gleefully added to the hot spiced cider she'd gotten somewhere else. Eventually we ended up at the Rosendale Hotel, whose complete rennovation is nearing completion (it had recently been a series of rental units). The designer saw us admiring his handiwork from the outside and invited us in to give us a complete tour. There was now a beautiful bar, a lounge, and all the rooms are decorated with enlarged photographs from various stages of Rosendale's history. According to the designer, this village of cement mines had once been home to a non-trivial number of brothels, one of which had resided in this very hotel.
Gretchen hurried back to the Big Cheese to be there for the beginning of the judging of the mac & cheese bake off while Ray, Sarah, and I all went into the Alternative Baker for a much-needed snack. The Alternative Baker dude has developed a reputation of being something of a wingnut, given to yelling and threatening people he catches walking along the levee behind his store. He's even been known to verbally harangue soon-to-be-ex customers. But today, at least, he seemed to be going out of his way to be friendly. You can tell it's hard for him, because he didn't have a sense of the proper balance and was clearly overcompensating and consciously going through a mental checklist of things to say from lesson a life coach must have given. Both Sarah and I got soup and bread, and while the Alternative Baker's bread is always delicious, the soup (a supposed African White Bean recipe) required an enormous amount of salt and Tabasco sauce (things I added to mine after we went into the Big Cheese).
The judges for the mac & cheese bake off weren't professional gourmands, but they were judges. It turned out that they were two of the judges for the Rosendale Town Court. How cool is that, getting real judges to judge an uncomplicated food like macaroni and cheese? It made perfect sense. They took their job seriously, examining each dish for appearance value, then sampling the flavor of each, all without knowing who had baked what. Gretchen had initially wanted to tell the judges that her mac & cheese was vegan (as is possible in a televised food contest), but the rules were too anonymous to allow for that. It would have to stand on its own, competing with real cheeses (some of which had been clearly, and perhaps unfairly, bolstered with bacon bits). It's rare for a food that depends so much on dairy ingredients to ever be compared blindly to a completely vegan substitute.
The judges tallied their data and then ducked off into a back room to crunch the numbers so they could return with something close to an objective ranking. There were ten mac & cheeses in all, and Gretchen's entry tied another for bronze. (At least one of the two that had been ranked higher than hers contained bacon.) Still, that constituted an amazing success. The judges had found a completely vegan mac & cheese to be better than the average of a set of mac & cheeses, none of the others of which were vegan! When Gretchen revealed that her dish was vegan, heads began to explode and people begged for the recipe. The owner of the store actually said he thought Gretchen's mac & cheese was the best, but then again, he's probably not supposed to be eating bacon anyway.
After the judging, the dishes were opened to the general public (though of course, us vegans could only eat from Gretchen's entry). Amusingly, all the contestants were given hunks of cheese for entering the contest, though of course Gretchen (being vegan) received a tub of hummus instead.
The four of us eventually crossed the street and had drinks at the Bywater Bistro, sitting on a comfy couch near the window. The bartender was a surprisingly-convincing transvestite and there were practically no other customers when we arrived. Ray and I had Southern Tier IPA from the tap (it's not very good from a bottle and not much better from the tap) and the ladies had fancy mixed drinks. At some point a parade went by featuring musicians and some Bread & Puppet style figurines. But it was cold outside and the parade didn't last long.
While the ladies went off to get their R&B-influenced jazz on, Ray and I went back to his place and ended up drinking gin, eating popcorn, and watching the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. Ray, who is going through something of a zombie apocalypse phase, had already seen it numerous times, but his purpose tonight was evangelizing it as being an awesome new AMC series. I kept an open mind, but in the end I don't really get the fascination with zombies. They don't make any sense as science fiction, are dubious as allegorical characters, and they don't have much value in demented magical realism either. In The Walking Dead, they don't even break the stereotype of how a zombie supposedly behaves. (Picture a guy with ghastly injuries staggering slowly with outstretched arms.) My guess is that people who like zombie flicks have some sort of sublimated kink, perhaps a vaguely sexual one, that makes zombies compelling.

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