Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Like A Dyslexic Elvis...

...my unit is singing the "I. G. Blues". That dazed look on SGT Elvis Presley's mug is very similar to what most folks in my unit were sporting yesterday, as we completed the final preparations for our Inspector General's (IG) inspection this week. 

For those of you who have never experienced one of these events, you can get an idea of what an IG inspection is like by watching an episode of that reality show, "Hell's Kitchen", where British chef (and hypercritical "Adam Henry") Gordon Ramsay descends upon a troubled restaurant and figuratively blows it up.

I went through a number of these traumatic incidents in my early Army life. Back then, they were called "Annual General Inspections", or AGI for short. A team from Division HQ showed up, usually with several month's warning, and inspected every aspect of our battalion's operations and administration. In the motor pool, vehicle logbook entries were checked against deficiencies found by the maintenance team, and all those excess repair parts a good motor sergeant had accumulated to keep our elderly tanks and trucks running had to be carefully hidden in a neighboring unit's area, or in some cases buried out in the local training area. All the clerk's filing cabinets were checked to ensure every folder was numbered in strict accordance with the file numbering regulation. (Seriously...it was no coincidence that "Army" and "Anal-Retentive" both start with the letter "A".)

All the staff officers and NCOs spent long hours making pretty charts (this was before Powerpoint existed, so everything was hand-drawn by the battalion draftsman), which were compiled into briefing binders. Company Commanders, XOs, and Platoon Leaders micromanaged their First Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants who were busy supervising troops cleaning the barracks, cutting grass, painting rocks, and starching their fatigues/spit-shining combat boots for the in-ranks inspections. Pretty much nobody slept for the 36 hours before the inspection.

While I was fortunate never to be in a unit which failed an AGI, that sort of epic disaster used to occur on a pretty regular basis. If your unit blew an aspect of the AGI, such as vehicle maintenance, then you'd get 30 days to make corrections before the IG team returned to re-inspect that area only. Failing the re-inspection usually resulted in the commanders being relieved, which essentially ended their career.

 So with that historical perspective, I watched with mild amusement as selected case files were "scrubbed" and collected for the inspectors' review, desks were polished, empty computer cartons were jammed into storage closets, the grass and shrubbery surrounding our building was weeded and trimmed, and any cubicle decorations which might be found "inappropriate" were hastily removed. One big change from the "Old Army" is that we no longer have to starch our uniforms, or shine our combat boots. (I can't believe I just wrote that, but just like the WWII and Korean War veterans who still populated the Army when I came in observed, there have been a lot of changes over the past 30 years!) Since only one of my case files was identified for inspection, and I am not assigned any additional duties, nor do I have any leadership responsibilities this time around, I'm definitely getting over. (I did vacuum the office bay where my cubicle is located, so don't think I'm a total slacker, okay?)

While I probably won't report any specifics after the inspection concludes this Friday, there may be an anecdote or two of epic magnitude which I'll be compelled to share with y'all...after "the names have been changed to protect the innocent", of course! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

TURDUCKEN: The Culinary Equivalent to "ManBearPig"?

Anyone who has read through the Cabela's Holiday Catalog is familiar with the unique amalgamation of poultry called Turducken, which combines Turkey, Duck, and Chicken. When I first spotted this  culinary Frankenstein monster several years ago, I immediately thought of the South Park episodes featuring a supposed Al Gore nemesis named "ManBearPig". The difference between these two is that one can be deadly to humans, and the other is a cartoon character. (Oh, I just cracked myself up there with fifth grade wit!)

Seriously, I like pretty much every kind of cooked bird that I've tasted...even the roasted pheasant that I shot with my Dad and Uncles back in the early 70s which was seasoned liberally with lead pellets. (I had made the cardinal sin of blasting that bird just a few feet in front of my shotgun's muzzle due to my excitement at flushing it only seconds after stepping into the beet field.) Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and stuffing, is my favorite meal of the entire year. So when I learned about the tryptophan-laden combo, which by the way usually contains STUFFING (!), I added that to my gustatory bucket list.

Now while my Spousal Unit rightly accuses me of being prone to making occasional impulse purchases off the internet, the high cost of the Cabela's Turducken...over a hundred bucks...kept me from indulging this particular whim. But as the saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait", and so it was last weekend. While cruising the frozen food cabinets at our local Fred Meyer Superstore, (I was looking for frozen Maryland-style crabcakes, as the last time we dined on the ones from the seafood counter I found a big old deceased housefly embedded in mine.), I spotted a half-shoebox sized package emblazoned with "TURDUCKEN". I checked it out with a cynical eye, because finding such a gourmet treasure at a Western Washington Fred Meyer was surely too good to be true. Examining the box's bona-fides, this definitely looked to be the real thing. The next challenge was convincing my Spousal Unit to make room in our shopping cart for this grocery outlier. She is more skeptical of new, untried products than I am, and I think she even muttered something about being suspicious of any product whose first syllable is "Turd". That concern hadn't occurred to me, but she did have a valid point. On the other hand, she tends to be supportive of my adventurous approach to cooking and eating, so once the Spousal Unit realized there weren't any weird ingredients, she assented.

Once committed to a course of action, my Spousal Unit goes all in, so within a couple of nights she had roasted our bowling ball of bird goodness for Saturday Night dinner. While it had been cooked perfectly, and was clearly comprised of good quality poultry, our first Turducken experience was a bit underwhelming. The meat was a bit dry, and very salty. It was more than edible, but not what I had dreamed of. The remaining couple of pounds of Turducken went into a Tupperware container, awaiting its fate. I admit to a lack of enthusiasm for polishing off the leftovers, but then it occurred to me what this Turducken was missing...the STUFFING! This version featured pork sausage in place of traditional bread-based stuffing, which was good for our low-carb diet, but left us wanting.

Tonight, we rectified this omission with a vengeance. We picked up a box of "savory herb" Stovetop Stuffing and a jar of low-sodium turkey gravy at the market, and after dicing up the slabs o'Turducken we had a savory casserole simmering on the stove. This concoction was definitely "much mo' bettah", though just before she dished it up, my Spousal Unit noted we should have included a small side dish of cranberry sauce to make it perfect. She was right again, but despite that minor quibble, we dined happily, knowing the whole Turducken experience had been nicely salvaged.

I'm not sure whether we will ever buy another Turducken, but it doesn't matter. I've crossed that off my bucket list, and will be able to resist the urge to drop a couple of C-Notes with Cabela's...at least for another Turducken.