Blooming Onions

One ring to fool them all, or at least the Chron

That was one effusive paean to the onion rings at Da Marco that a reader wrote in the August 8 Houston Chronicle:

"Incredible! A subtle melding of sea and vineyard flavors in one crunchy bite. But the piece de resistance is the dipping sauce, 'snail trail' butter, an onion-and-snail marmalade, brightened with a tart rhubarb coulis. Once you try them, other rings are about as exciting as women's swimwear circa 1900."

Only trouble is, they don't exist. The upscale Da Marco was temporarily swamped with onion ring orders that night and had to invent something on the spot.

Joe Espelage says he was annoyed by a too-lengthy onion ring story in the July 18 Chronicle, so he wrote to its "Whine & Dine" column, where readers bitch about uppity waiters or rave about favorite dishes. (Full disclosure: Espelage, who used a pen name featuring a semi-obscene bit of Italian derision, is a sales rep at the Houston Press; since Da Marco is a client, he loves to see them get ink. But Hair Balls knew nothing of his actions until last week and -- God forbid -- didn't instigate anything.)

Espelage's letter included an involved recipe for the nonexistent rings, which included "imported cipollini onions pickled in red wine vinegar and shrimp shells."

"The waiters were coming back asking if we had onion rings on the menu and I was saying, 'What the hell are you talking about?'" says Marco Wiles, the owner and chef. Gosh, does this mean that all those surly waiters Whine & Diners are always carping about don't really exist either? -- Richard Connelly

Heads Will Roll!

We all know the Astrodome is doomed unless somebody comes up with a surefire way to put butts in seats there day in and day out. As the Chron put it, the county was recently wanting proposals for "a creative money-generating idea likely involving an entertainment complex, a plan to build it and a way to pay for the whole thing." Hair Balls thinks there's a solution that meets these criteria rather handily.

To borrow an idea from the Taliban or People's Republic of China, let the state of Texas start holding public executions in the Dome.

We've read enough history to know that public executions were the most popular spectator sport from the dawn of recorded history. Still skeptical that it would sell? We have one hyphenated hint: pay-per-view. And think of the concessions. If you believe hockey fans drink a lot of beer, wait and see how much execution aficionados would knock back.

Of course, lethal injections would have to be scrapped -- even on DiamondVision screens that method lacks punch. It's not box office. Crucifixions would probably be offensive. In a pinch, hanging or shooting would do, but we're sort of envisioning bringing in the guillotine, or maybe have a retired Astro slugger whack their heads off with an ax. ("Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, your executioner, Jo-sé Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz!")

As for affordability, surely it wouldn't take a county bond issue to come up with the bucks to build a guillotine or the cash for an ax. -- John Nova Lomax

Waste Not

Question: What arrives to Hair Balls with only ten days left in August? Hints:

" It comes in a fairly large heavy-duty cardboard box.

" There's four feet of brown butcher paper wadded up inside.

" Within the box is another multicolored bag a foot-high, printed and assembled to look like a cartoon business and residence.

" There's also four typewriter-sized pages of printing and a laminated card.

Answer: The Dallas-based utility TXU's standard-sized CD on -- what else? -- the subject of conserving energy. -- George FlynnWaist Not

The Fort Bend ISD pamphlet for lunches can put parents' minds at ease about the quality of the food dished up to students there. After all, they were printed up by the Child Nutrition Department. And right below the "Welcome to the 'School's Café'" cover headline are drawings of all kinds of healthful veggies. Inside is the familiar food pyramid and explanations of proper diets.

So what about the cafeteria offerings themselves? Veggies don't even rate a mention. The little fatsoes at Fort Bend ISD can still chow down on some nice fried, fatty food. The prose gets the mouth watering and the arteries hardening with descriptions of "home style cooking" entrées like chicken nuggets, chicken-fried steak and steak fingers. The future gastric bypass candidates can also strap on a feed bag full of chips and candy. Home style? Maybe if you were raised by Colonel Sanders and Willy Wonka.

District spokesperson Marianne Simpson assures Hair Balls that the pamphlet is outdated and the district indeed offers salads and baked items. They even offer fish -- in the fried stick form.

Simpson says the school district complies with federal nutrition guidelines, but does add, "We need to…do a better job of marketing our more nutritional meals to our kids." -- Craig MalisowThe Right Stuff

Baylor University basketball coach Dave Bliss resigned August 8, shortly before tapes surfaced of him encouraging an assistant to spread stories that murdered BU player Patrick Dennehy's semi-lavish lifestyle came from drug-dealing and not under-the-table payments.

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