Monday, April 26, 2010

No longer the cakeman

MARK’S ARTICLE -- April 24, 2010
“Piece of cake? Not so easy.”

I used to know cake. Considered myself somewhat of an expert. I’ve made a bunch. Chocolate with chocolate icing, white with chocolate icing, bundt with no icing and upside-downs with funky fruit toppings.

I’ve made layered, sheet and cup. I was the cake man. At least, I thought I was. No more. No, no more. From what I’ve observed of late, I don’t know cake from Cairo. (No idea. It just came to me.)

Cake’s cold light of reality first shown after Big Al invited me to go visit a bakery, owned by the wife of a friend. Al said it was free cake night. I told Al that he was mistaking a timeshare scam with free cake night. Happens to a lot of people.

Al assured me I wouldn’t be asked to buy a thing. His actual words were, “You idiot. Do you wanna come or not?”

If it’s cake and it’s free, I’m there… unless it’s a wedding or something where I hafta dress up. I just hate to dress up. Many people have been kind enough to point that out.

I didn’t have to dress up for free cake night. Al and I just entered and stood in line for cake. All kinds of cake. And, coffee! I kept waiting for someone to drag me into a room to discuss investment schemes. It didn’t happen. I credit my appearance for that.

The bakery is on 105 west, before you get to the lake, and it’s called “cake.” At least that’s all the sign had on it. Might’ve been in all caps – “CAKE.” I later learned that the official name is “Sweets to dream on.” I don’t know how you dream on sweets, but I didn’t care, ‘cause it was free cake. Thought I mentioned that.

Turns out, Brad Meyer wrote an article about the owner of Sweets TDO, Ana Hartwell. Brad did the story because Ana was to appear on the Learning Channel’s “Ultimate Cake Off.” My first reaction was “Ultimate what off?” Believe I said it out loud, too. The article didn’t mention if Ana and her team won the Cake Off, because the episode had yet to air.

Well, it’s since aired, and I got to watch it with Ana and her friends and family. Al said I was invited ‘cause I made such a great impression on Free Cake Night. Al is bilingual. He speaks both English and Sarcasmish.

I was the least bit hesitant to attend Ana’s Cake Off premier until Al told me supper would be provided. With free cake.

Well, long story beginning to drag, let me just say that while watching the Cake Off I witnessed some cake spectacles that left me flabbergasted. The stuff people can do with cake! Ana and her team were competing with two other teams in LA who were each designing and making cakes to honor firefighters at one of the LA fire stations.

Ana and friends ended up winning the thing with a 500 pound cake shaped like the inside of a house, with a fireplace and a boy inside holding a fire hose that moved back and forth. Oh, and the boy’s dog was next to him nodding its head. And, smoke was coming outta the fireplace!

Ana beat one team that constructed a high-rise of cake that had a helicopter on top. I think it was on top. The copter blades turned and everything. Another team made a life-size cake fireman sitting with his back against a firehouse wall. A little fire truck rolled outta the firehouse. And, it was a cake truck! You could eat the thing… just not the wheels and engine. And, you could even eat the fireman. Spooky, if you ask me.

It took ‘em ten hours to make the cakes. All the while the hosts of the show were talking to the teams and playing games with ‘em and urging them to get upset with each other. They didn’t say they were doing that, but I could tell they were trying to start a cake fight. Viewers like it when contestants go at each other. I don’t know why.

But, like I said, Ana’s team won. Won $10,000. I considered it not enough for what all they had to do. You couldn’t get me to make a 500 pound house, boy, dog, burning fireplace cake for under a couple mil.

I thought Ana’s spectacular cake accomplishment was just an isolated occurrence till I talked to a friend at church. Carol Dreesen showed me a copy of Rachal Ray’s “Every Day” magazine that had featured her daughter, Angela, and her bakery. Turns out Angela is a McCullough graduate who scored big in the cake making business. She owns Blue Note Bakery in Austin.

A photo of one of her creations was right there in the magazine. I found Blue Note’s website and broused through pictures of hundreds of unbelievable creations. Once again I was flabbergasted.

Apparently, the days of slapping together a cake and serving it to guests are over. You now have to be an artist, engineer, architect and sculptor. In other words, talented. That’s not me. Because of that, I’m now ashamed to even make a cake. Oh, I’ll eat ‘em. Especially when they’re free. But, I can’t compete with what’s out there.

Nowadays, cakes are made to look like anything you want. A bucket of crawfish? I saw one on Angela’s website. And, you can eat it, bucket and all! When I think back on the birthday cake I made for Larry, the one with his likeness drizzled out on top, well, I want to weep. Mark the Cakeman? I don’t think so. No more. No, no more.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

MARK’S ARTICLE -- April 14, 2010
“A reluctant restaurant reviewer”

I’m not sure I have the temperament to be a critic. Oh, I don’t mind criticizing friends or family. I do that all the time. After all, what are they gonna do? Hurt me? They just better not.

But, when it comes to publicly criticizing someone or someone’s business, that’s another thing all together. That’s scary. And that’s exactly what I got myself into.

You may have noticed that over the last couple of months I’ve mentioned restaurant critic Brad Meyer. Made no sense. I barely know the guy and I’m eating out with him. Except for family and the Plilers, I seldom eat out with anybody. And, for the most part, people are good with that.

But, awhile back somebody got the idea that Brad and I should do restaurant reviews together, record them and then put them on the Internet and/or radio. I don’t think it was my idea, and not even sure it was Brad’s. But, someone put the bug in somebody’s ear. So, we “did” lunch a few times to plan stuff.

Well, for better or worse, the planning part is over. We’re without plan. What we’ve got now is our first audio review in the can… as it were. Our first effort may come across as a bit awkward, but what first effort doesn’t? That’s rhetorical. Quit trying to think up stuff.

The presentation will run smoother in time. That’s a dream. Hey, it’s gonna take me awhile to even get to like Brad. The guy is such a meany. I’ve mentioned that. He doesn’t mind telling waitresses and managers, right to their face, exactly what he thinks of something.

At one restaurant staff the was bragging about their pie, so Brad ordered a slice. When he finished, the waitress was beaming when she asked him how he liked it. He said, “Not that great. I’ve had better.” Can you believe that?

Brad thinks that if you’re afraid of the answer, don’t ask, ‘cause he’s not going to lie. He won’t, either. If you happen to think you’re a good-looking elderly lady and want Brad to guess your age… uh, just don’t. I’ll miss your age by 10 years on the young side. Brad will nail it. Just take the wind right out of you.

That’s really what you want in a critic. However, it may not be what the owner or manager of an eating establishment wants.

Truth is, food critics show up at an eating place at one particular time on one particular day. They get one person out of an entire wait staff to take care of them. They order one entrée from a menu. Some menus have a whale of a lot of stuff on ‘em. The restaurant gets judged by one or two.

That’s not fair. I would certainly not enjoy being graded on just one article. Sometimes what I write really stinks. – Beg pardon? -- Anyway, you may have to read about five or six articles to find a gem. Or, less of a stinker.

The bottom line, when you hear one of our reviews, you’ll be getting an assessment from a guy with my tastes who orders one entrée. My tastes are highly unprofessional. That means I’ve never been paid to eat. I don’t like spicy food, don’t care for alcohol and am always concerned about the price of something. Even though Brad’s “Courier” budget is paying for my meal, I still hesitate to order expensive stuff. Brad gets after me for that. If a place specializes in steaks, he thinks I should order a steak. There is a chance we could get to be buds.

With Brad, you’re getting an assessment from a professional. The guy has been all over the place. He’s promoted hotels and restaurants in Vegas, Florida and the Caribbean. I’m fairly sure he’s not involved with organized crime, but, like I say, I don’t know him that well.

There is no doubt that Brad Meyer knows his stuff. I’ll ask him about something on a menu and he’ll say, “You don’t know what that is? Good grief, man, you need to get out more.” He can be pretty much a snobbycake.

Brad likes some of the same stuff I do, and just a whole lot of stuff I don’t. I’m not sure you could serve him something too spicy. He loves the heat. To me, heat is not a flavor. It’s just hot. If you put a lot of hot, spicy stuff on beef, chicken, fish or corn, it’s all gonna taste the same, just with a little different texture.

Anybody can do hot. I can do hot. I just won’t ‘cause it really messes up a meal for me. Brad calls that wimpiness… a word thought up by a real snobbycake.

I have not idea how this food critic tag team thing is going to work out. There’s a good chance it’ll lead to a big food fight. I only hope it won’t lead to a bunch of people hating me. I don’t care if you hate Brad, ‘cause he can take it. Me, I’d rather take a kick.

Oh, I should probably tell you that our first review can be heard by logging onto
If our findings upset any of you, let Brad know. He’ll probably welcome the criticism.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Mowing and major pruning

This did not happen at my house. I just thought it cute.

MARK’S ARTICLE – April 9, 2010
“Snake sticks to weedflowers”

ROOFTOP – Whoa, watch your step. This metal roof is still dew-wet. Don’t make today the day you slip and bust your buns. Put that off for awhile.

About settled down, are you? Good. Is this not the nicest of roofsitting mornings? Little bit of a breeze, clouds easing on by, cool not cold, oak tassels drifting like a light snow.

And, cats. Look at ‘em. There are two over by the birdbath. Probably a couple more in the front yard. For a guy who owns no pets, I sure have a lot of cats using and abusing my yard. If they didn’t keep down the mole and creapy critter population, I’d be throwin’ rocks at ‘em. They still suspect I might, ‘cause they run when I approach.

I’m pretty sure the cats also keep the snake population down. I haven’t seen a snake in the yard in a good bit. Never saw one up here on the roof. The day that happens is the day I jump. Forget the ladder.

When I was with the Texas Forest Service I was walking in the woods one morning after a heavy rain. I was getting ready to brush a tree limb aside, when I saw a copperhead strung across the limb. Messed up my whole day. Hard to confidently walk in the woods when snakes are at eye level. Impossible for me. If I got snake-bit on my leg, that’d be just terrible. If one latched onto my nose, I’d scream like a girl… up until the time my air passage closed off.

Like I say, I haven’t seen many in the yard. Oh, I’ve seen several snakesticks. There are a lot of those down there. I saw a snakestick in the driveway a couple of days ago and had to stand and stare for several seconds. A most convincing stick. Don’t know why God allowed such a thing. I’m sure snakes do something to balance nature, but a snakestick serves no purpose other than to tease. – “Ha, ha. Made you look.” That’s what they’re thinking.

What I’m thinking is that we need to get off the snake topic. Don’t know why you brought it up in the first place.

Let’s talk about that pile of wood down there at the base of the giant oak. A couple of weeks ago, I had just relaxed in the recliner with a can of cashews when a guy knocked on the door. Whatta bother. How many people knock on your door expecting nothing of you? Never have I answered a door and had someone hand me $20 or a bag of brownies.

This guy looked rough as all get out. A real working man. Asked if I had any trees I wanted removed. He didn’t get the word “removed” outta his mouth before I said “No, thank you.” I was gonna add that I don’t let any doorknocker touch my trees. Never have. It’s actually never come up.

The guy smiled big and turned to leave. Something in the smile made me rethink. “Uh, how about removing a couple of big limbs?” He assured me he could do that.

Long story less so, that guy grabbed a couple of ropes and a chainsaw and climbed that huge oak. Looked like he was on Circus Sole or Cirque du Soileil. (That’s for my three French readers… or two Italians. Whichever.)

The cutter was tied off seven ways to Sunday, but it was still scary as all get out watching him swing around up there. One limb looked like it would slam right into the roof, right where a couple of you are sitting. But, he had a special knot tied that allowed it to swing and then ease to the ground. That guy had to be both an engineer and an artist.

He ended up sawing the limbs into smaller pieces, and stacking ‘em at the base of the tree. Nalin, my nephew, said he’d pick ‘em up someday. Might make a table or chair out of some of the pieces. I don’t think the kid is thinking right. Doesn’t matter. I doubt he picks the stuff up. Nephews. I love ‘em a lot, but I think they’d tell me anything just to get me to change the subject.

Hey, you haven’t even said anything about the lawn. See? I mowed all the weeds. Actually, Kay did a lot of the mowing, while I worked on the weed-eater. Are you aware that weed-eaters hibernate? They sleep hard, too. Don’t like to be startled awake. Shutdown is what they do.

Kay tired of mowing about the time I got the weed-eater working. She did a pretty bad job, too. Kay tries to mow around all the wildflowers. Don’t know if you’re aware, but most weeds come with a flower. They’re still weeds, though.

You can’t just leave clumps of weeds in your yard. It’ll look scalped. The neighbors will stop and point. Before long a mowing guy will be knocking on the door just as I’m sitting down with a can of cashews. “Hey, how ‘bout letting me mow your scalped yard?” I just hate it when people come a knocking. Be okay if they gave me something. Like that’s ever happened.

(I wanted to take a second here to thank my Pasadena friend, Cora Beth, for continually reading and commenting on my bouts of silliness. I'm a better writer for knowing that you are a big part of my audience. -- Didn't say I was a good writer. Just better. -- You're a peach, lady.

Oh, and Jill, if you didn't read it'd break my heart. What would I do with out my sweeter than sweet Sis? Don't ever wanna know.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Al and Mark get major backstbbed

MARK’S ARTICLE –April 4, 2010
“Quiet on the set!”

“Quiet on the set!” That’s what you hear when somebody is making a movie. Hear it a lot. “Quiet on the set!”

When you hear “Quiet!” you’re supposed to shut-up or quit walking or stop clicking your ballpoint. Planes should exit the sky, cars brake, lawn mowing cease and squirrels sober up… like that’ll ever happen.

Director Chuck Walker sets the scene featuring Lorenzo Lamas and Tammy Barr

I would really hate to be a soundman on a movie set. The director will holler “Action!” Two seconds later the soundguy says, “Airplane.” Matt is our sound guy. A calmer person would be hard to find. Yet, yesterday he blew his stack. He kept hearing noise that would make Chuck have to holler “Cut!” Eventually, people started yelling at Matt for stopping the filming, so he quietly said, “Hey, I just record the sound. I don’t make it.” That’s about as frustrated as he gets. We all told him to calm down.

Beg pardon? Oh, right. I forgot to mention that we’re on a movie set in northwest Montgomery County. It’s being filmed at David and Pam Carter’s Chantilly Country. (I love David and Pam. So, book your wedding and family event now!) Absolutely scenic. Perfect place for this movie.

Chuck Walker and Sam Cable are the big honchos shooting the flick. What I like about this movie is that it’s a non-Western and I’m not playing a crazy guy. I’ve been so typecast.

Naveen Ramineni wrote the script. He’s supposed to be a surgeon in the Woodlands. I have trouble believing that ‘cause he looks too young. He’s a super nice guy, though.

In fact, everybody is nice on this set. Nicest crew and group of actors I’ve ever been around. The only mean person is Big Al, and he’s nice to everybody else. With me, it’s “Hey, Mark, you can slow down with the peanuts. They’re not going anywhere.” and “Just once you need to say the line the way it was written.”

Al sits amidst the greatest film crew in Western Civilization.

Fortunately, Al’s already been killed. This is a stabber, stalker kind of movie called “Backstabber.” I think I could do the soundtrack for it, but Chuck won’t let me. -- “He only comes out at night. He’s a backstabber!” -- I’ve already got a good start.

Like I was saying, Al got stabbed big time yesterday. He was crawling on the ground and everything. Zach killed him, because Lorenzo Lamas hadn’t arrived yet. Zach Cadwallader is the big brother of Michael one of the helper guys. Gaffer, grip, grabber. I don’t know what the crew people are called. I’m just throwing names around so fewer people will be mad at me for not mentioning them. Did I mention that Big Al was mean?

Lorenzo is on set today, so he will actually be killing me. I don’t wanna give anything away by saying that Lamas is the bad guy. Maybe I’m the bad guy and need killing. I play a really nice guy who everybody hates. I’m acting my buns off, ‘cause I am so likeable in real life. What? So much mumbling on a movie set.

Let’s see who else you might know. Tammy Barr was mentioned in Brad Meyer’s article about the movie. She’s in “Young and Restless” and she’s done a lot of other stuff. She’s a doll. She calls my character some bad names in the movie, but I don’t think she means ‘em.

You wanna know a nice guy? Leesa’s dad, Jack Zimmermann, has been on the set helping out. If I wanted a Raspberry soda about now, Jack would look for one. Nicer than nice. Oh, and Leesa is the girl who almost gets eaten by the alligator. Tammy saves Leesa from drowning and then Sean Busse kills the fake alligator. So much stuff going on.

Oh, yeah, Gary Parker with Quanah Parker Productions is the cinematog-something-or-other. In a normal world, I’d call him the cameraman. Gary’s cool. Al and I work with him on Jonathan Massey is another cinematog guy. I like him 'cause he’s so encouraging. He says stuff like “Mark, you weren’t all that bad. Besides, we’ll probably cut the scene editing.”

Who else can I keep happy? Let’s see, there’s Bea and Yankie, the two people really running the show. Annie puts on my makeup, and Bonnie will make me look stabbed. Grant Fratt (Gator), another technical guy, had the best non-recorded line so far. He said, “I’ve never seen a crew that had so many people with Alzheimer’s.” He said that after stuff kept getting lost. – “Hey, I didn’t have it Gator. I gave it to Tyler.” Tyler is the guy you’re always supposed to blame. It’s just an understanding we have.

And, then there’s Jared (Good actor. One of those pale vampire types.), Bardia (First Bardia I ever met. A funny guy.), Sarah (She acts like a whiner, but she’s a peach.), Erin (She had to wear high-heels out in the woods. Always had trouble keeping up.), David (Next to me, probably the loudest actor out here. Really sells a scene), Ben (plays a real quiet guy who really is.), Errol (He’s the cook and the first person killed. Just doesn’t make sense.)

Did I mention Lorie and Ginette? (Good workers and huggers. I like hugs.) I’m leaving out a bunch of names. Brad Meyer told me never to worry about leaving people out. Too many names make the piece less interesting. Brad said that ‘cause he’s meaner than Big Al. (Brad is the Montgomery County food critic. Remember? And, one day I’m gonna be reviewing with the big meany! I’ll try to turn him nice. *See the comment about sober squirrels.)

“Quiet on the set!” Oh, shoot, I think I get stabbed after this scene. I’d better go get—“Quiet!” Oh, yeah. Uh, next time.