A lotta noise, a little muscle

Appearance versus reality.

Effort versus results.

The first: a traditional philosophical question. There are some in the baggy-pantsed intellectual crowd who would say it is a question easily erased by a tight analysis of the use of language. Others in this hemorrhoidal, boring group would consider it a legitimate division, worthy of continued contemplation.

The second: a practical consideration. The stuff for more blue-collar, meaningful brain work.

I am in the gym the other day, in a place dominated by practical concerns, lifting heavy objects and putting them back down again and, as part of my losing battle against gravity, I endure what is a regular show: An apparently massive effort, with few results.

In walks a guy and his girlfriend. He is, say, 35 years old. He is far from bulky, but he wears a shirt with no sleeves, so as to display whatever slender meat wraps itself around the bones of his arms.

I have seen the guy before, and many guys like him.

All show, and no substance.

He goes to a bench with a couple dumbbells and he begins with a set of shoulder presses.

The noise that comes out of him is extraordinary. You would think the guy is trying to move a fully-loaded truck. I generally ignore noisemakers since, despite the fact oh-so-many egos require it, making a lot of noise is really not mandatory and, in fact, is usually used as a signal, and not of strength:

“Hey, look over here. My shirt has no sleeves. I have a goatee and a tattoo. Whaddya think about that, huh?”

This time, I look. After all, I am old and in dire need of amusement, regardless of its lack of content. You must realize, I watch Paris Hilton’s New BFF.

The guy making this extraordinary amount of noise is lifting baby weights.

You read it right: Baby weights.

My daughter, Ivy, is getting ready to hurl a son from uterus into the bright light of day and my bet is the infant could lift these weights two to three days after birth.

The clown lifting the baby weights confirms a gym rat maxim: If the weight lifted was proportionate to the noise made, the guy would be Hercules.

Effort versus result? Big efforts, small return.

Appearance, at least in terms of what is heard: A monumental event.

Reality: A 35-year-old guy who is hardly strong for his age, hardly bigger than his girlfriend.

All show, and little substance.

As I watch, and listen, I realize the gym phenomenon is a metaphor worthy of many applications in times such as these.

Especially with the political season upon us.

In short: There are plenty of people making a lot of noise, but lifting very small weights.

This, of course, is typical of the species, and in particular of those members of the species who have the luxury of self-indulgence, but it is particularly typical of the political animal. And the herd is big this year, isn’t it?

If one simply listens, the noise is astounding. One is tempted to think there is some heavy lifting going on; people must be dealing with very serious matters, conducting critical and revealing analyses of gigantic national, state and local problems. These human marvels are, no doubt, keeping the idea factory open overtime and, surely, are running one spectacular solution and program after another down the assembly line and onto trucks for delivery to the Common Good Market.

But, no.

It’s just noise. We get canned responses, debate trips to the cranial CDs for practiced lines, key words and phrases. All while a gaggle of goofs in the audience, unable to distinguish appearance from reality, woof and yodel and, all too often, shout out base and violent responses to the pap dribbling from the podium.

Big effort, no results. Glittery appearance, skimpy reality.

Probably nothing better forthcoming.

At least there is something to be done when it comes to avoiding mere show in the kitchen, at the dinner table.

So, I retreat from gym and television with one goal in mind: As always, to eat and drink well. And, in this case, to seek out foods that deliver substantial muscle.

Turns out I have a chance to confirm that the table can bear items that are simple, but delicious, that the kitchen can deliver sustenance that delights without pretense, that satisfies the demand of the season and the palates of the diners.

It’s fall, it’s rainy and cold, there are guests due at the house in eight hours.

I am going to braise something. Not just something, but in the interest of irony, I am going to transform the equivalent of the geek in the gym into a product with real value.

I am going to wring results from ingredients in which scant potential ordinarily bears scant fruit.

The item, as labeled at the market: Beef chuck short ribs.

As with gym boy and the swarm of politicos, this is loud stuff, big noise. Short ribs. Wow!

Only, just as when the noisemakers are examined and show no substance, these are not really short ribs. These are boneless hunks of chuck, cut into thick strips. No bone. No short. No rib. I could cut my own from a slab of chuck, i.e. ordinary stew meat.

I prepare for the transformation. I slice up a white onion. I peel eight cloves of garlic. I peel and roughly chop a couple carrots. I hack up half a stalk of celery. I chop a slice of bacon. I put the hunks of flesh on a baking sheet and salt them.

I take out the trusty slow cooker and turn it to low.

I heat my enameled cast-iron pot over medium high heat, splash in a bit of olive oil and toss in the bacon. When the bacon is moderately crisp and has given up its fat, I take the bacon from the pot. I brown the hunks of “short rib” four at a time, removing them when done to a heated plate as the next batch goes into the fat.

With the meat browned, I remove most of the fat from the pan and toss in the onion, carrot and celery. I sauté for a while, then toss in the cloves of garlic. I deglaze the pan with half a bottle of drinkable red, add some ground black pepper and a mess of herbes de Provence. I pour in a can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes.

I arrange the “short ribs” on the bottom of the slow cooker, then pour in the contents of the pot. On goes the lid and the mix cooks on low for seven hours. Notice: no salt. Not yet.

I remove the “short ribs” from the cooker, put them in a heated bowl and cover the bowl with foil. I strain the liquid into the cleaned pot and press on the solids to get out every last bit of goodness. I reduce the sauce over high heat while I sauté a pound or so of mixed mushrooms in olive oil. Into the sauce they go. And, now, I visit the sauce with a second run of seasonings, including herbes de Provence and some chopped parsley — and salt, as needed. When the sauce has reduced by half, back in go the “short ribs.” The heat is turned off and the lid goes on.

I cook some egg noodles and dress them simply, with garlic butter and parsley. A bowl of freshly shredded parmesan is put on the table so each diner can make a cheese decision.

A sautéed medley of squash, with a bit on onion and garlic goes well, as does a salad of mixed greens, dressed with a balsamic/oil/shallot/mustard mix, highlighted with just a touch of the same herbes de Provence used in the braise.

Bread, anyone? Butter? Of course.

When I deliver the “short ribs” to the table, I will make a show of it. I can grunt and shout with the best of ’em.