Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spam, Spam, Cherry, Apples, and Spam

The past few weeks have been apple season here at the Rookery, with my two mature apple trees bearing their little heinies off. One of the cruel effects of apple processing is that for every gallon of apple juice I get, I end up with about 2 1/2 gallons of fiber-rich apple pulp, and that adds up fast. I have frozen it, baked it into bread and waffles, spread it on toast, and am considering patching a crack in the concrete slab out back with it. Mostly, though, I am dehydrating it. The great thing about apple pulp is that it is strong enough to make regular apple leather, and mild enough to use as a carrier pulp for making fruit leathers out of things that are normally too delicate or too expensive to make into fruit leather on their own. So far, I have mixed berry, strawberry, apple spice, mango and black raspberry all in an apple base, and they are absolutely delectible.

Then, there is the cherry. I don't know what went amiss with the bowl of cherry-apple puree, but something did. Gallons upon gallons of the other puree mixes dehydrated right up to and end product indistinguishable from commercial fruit leather, except by the absence of non-fruit crap ingredients. The cherry, on the other hand, has dehydrated into an end product nearly indistinguishable from a massaging gel shoe insole. Seriously, the texture is exactly the same. Only the flavor is different (I assume, considering I have not gnawed on my shoe insoles lately to test). The cherry is tasty enough, but the texture is hard to get past. Worse yet, I still have a loaf pan full of the raw cherry-apple mix. What dehydrates into something with the consistency of a Doctor Scholl's product starts off with a consistency of fruity Spam, and I am still working on a use for what is left.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Another Note About Hooters

As I discovered on my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Hooters has the best steamed shrimp ever.

The Hooters is not actually in the Colonial part of Williamsburg. The only restaurants there are a few taverns, and of those, I must recommend the King's Arms Tavern, specifically the Game Pye, a combination of duck, rabbit and venison in a flaky crust. If you are going to Williamsburg with small children, I recommend not pointing out that it is the Disney Combo Platter, a gravy-soaked mix of Donald, Thumper and Bambi.

Who Approved This Ad Slogan?

Next week starts Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or as we call it at the Rookery, Hooter Consciousness Month. Advertising is already ramping up for the annual Assault of The Pink. Today, I passed a billboard urging women to get mammograms with the slogan:
Put the Squeeze on Breast Cancer

Interesting tactic. I'm still a decade off from my first appointment with the boob squisher, and I'm already dreading finding out what 3 to 20 decaNewtons feels like when clamped down on a body part. Reminding me of what is widely considered to be the worst part of a mammogram is not really likely to make me want to run out and make an appointment.

What's next? "Shove Prostate Cancer Where the Sun Don't Shine"?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Three Things That Should Get People's Larynx Privileges Revoked

3. "That's a great question." Listen to enough interviews--it does not matter with whom--and you will notice a trend. At least once in every interview--regardless of the subject, purpose or interviewee occupation--the interviewee begins an answer with, "That's a great question." You will also notice that it frequently comes in response to a question that is not "great" by any measure. This goes down as the longest verbal pause, as measured in syllables, in the English language.
Anticipated next sighting: Replacing "Better not tell you now" on the Magic 8 Ball.

2. Any formulation of "Wall Street/Main Street." Last winter, I actually waited in line for something like 3 hours, in 20-odd degree weather to hear Barack Obama speak in person. He can be a stunning, inspiring speaker and it would pain me to have that level of oratory silenced. Nonetheless, he has appropriated what was a clever turn of phrase the first 700 billion times we heard it last week, from politicians, news talking heads, and I think a sign language enabled chimp.
Anticipated next sighting: Dolls that talk when you pull the string on their backs (not to be confused with politicians).

1. "If I can do it, anyone can." This one is popular in weight loss advertisements, whether they are paid commercials on TV or unsolicited advertisements spewing forth from an actual person, possibly even a friend, physically in your vicinity. Let's think through this one for a moment. A person (paid or unpaid) is boasting about doing something supposedly so easy that anyone can do it. Doesn't seem like there is much to brag about there, now, does it?
Anticipated next sighting: If the universe has a shred of mercy, nowhere.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Laugh of the Day

A little early for Thanksgiving, the only time most Americans see a yam*, but funny nonetheless.

Alpha Yam Resists Being Candied

It's short. It's audio-only. Go take a bathroom break then give it a listen. You'll be glad of the bathroom break when you get to the part detailing the yam's defense against "aggressive marshmallow attacks."

*-sweet potato, really. The things sold in North American stores as "yams" are not yams at all. Good thing, too, since true yams can be up to 150 pounds. I doubt that there are many families whose Thanksgiving spread--or kitchen, for that matter--has room for a tuber that outweighs the entire population of the Kid's Table.


Ike blew through over the weekend. For some reason, hurricanes like to mosey through Ohio after they make landfall and cause all sorts of photogenic destruction along coastal areas. We got the remains of Katrina, which was just a really impressive rainstorm by the time it made it our way. That's how most hurricanes arrive here: they've blown themselves out hundreds of miles away, and are left dumping all the water. Ike got things backwards. Ike was dry, but still had close enough to hurricane force winds.

We are OK here. The wind blew down some twigs and tossed my neighbor's empty jars of pool chemicals into my yard, but we did not lose power for more than a couple of seconds during the whole ordeal. Judging by the incessant buzz of chainsaws and the local newspaper headlines promising power to 90% of people within a week, we came off this one unscathed

So far, the death toll from the storm is somewhere north of 50 people. To be fair to the hurricane, news media are reporting that many of those deaths are from carbon monoxide poisoning. I'm not sure it is fair to blame the hurricane for people who apparently fail to understand the concept of "Not for indoor use." I do not own a portable generator, but if my waffle iron has to carry the warning label, "Do not use in microwave" (really), I'm pretty sure every generator ever made has "USE THIS OUTSIDE, YOU IDIOT! IT CREATES TOXIC EXHAUST FUMES" plastered over it at least half a dozen times.

Almost as surprising as the number of people who cannot follow simple instructions to position a generator outdoors is the number of people who have had to shelter elsewhere because the power loss has rendered structurally sound homes uninhabitable. For a lot of people--especially city dwellers--the loss of power, even for a week, is an inconvenience. It means no hot water or hot meals, but with enough canned goods and beef jerky (not to mention all the stuff thawing out in the fridge), it is livable, temporarily. Then there are folks like me. I consider electricity an essential for everyday living because without it, not only will the laptop and coffeemaker not work, neither will the faucets. The Rookery is on well water, brought to the house with an electric pump. We lose power, we lose water. The toilets will empty, but won't fill again. Other folks have it even worse off, with septic systems that rely on electricity to move the effluvia from one stage of the system to the next.

Outside of municipal services, such setups are remarkably common. The Rookery is one of 15.4 million U.S households that relies on a private well. Even if we assume an average of only 2 people per household, that is still 10% of the population. One quarter of the population has private septic, and about a third of those are the type that relies on electric pumps. For those of us who rely on electricity to keep our hydration and sanitary facilities running, having a functional generator is the difference between habitable and non-habitable.

That is why I am surprised that permanent standby generators are not more common. Having one installed was the first big thing we did with the Rookery, and it has served us well. A permanent standby generator is a breed apart from the portable ones that get carted out in emergencies and disasters. These are hard-wired into the house and come on within 60 seconds of the generator sensing a power loss to the house, without the homeowner doing anything, including fueling it, since the standby generators hook in to either the natural gas or propane supply to the house. Ours is capable of running about 2/3 of our house as if nothing is wrong--the only things that don't work in a power outage are our laundry room, stove, barn and the lights and outlets in two of the 4 bedrooms. The Big 4 (water, heat, hot water and fridge) all keep humming through any outage, nice as you please.

The standby generators do not come cheap. Ours was about 20 times the cost of a little portable model. That is a small price to pay to know that, as long as our home is standing and not in water, we will always be able to hunker down in it. For us, that seemed like basic emergency preparedness.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Video Evidence of the Superiority of Real Minicopters

This is why actual remote controlled minicopters are superior to the video game (and, PengDad assures me, can be found for $10 less than the video game). Details are sketchy, but I don't think the helicopter sim has an "annoy the cat" mode.

That is my eldest cat, Chessie, and Emp. Peng.'s new Rapid Flight Top Toys R/C Helicopter, meshed into my first experiment with Apple's iMovie software and uploading videos to YouTube. For the record, it took me less than an hour, the bulk of which was trying to navigate YouTube's #@*%! interface since, when I tried to do the easy share from iMovie, YouTube did not want to recognize the password I had created fifteen seconds earlier. I am still looking for this alleged "Password" link on the accounts page.

And if anyone out there is still questioning our geekosity, yes, that is a rocket-shaped lava lamp and an R2-D2 cookie jar (Star Wars Episode III Kellogg promo) holding our Wii peripherals in the background.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Penguins Against Phone Phishing

Ever since we paid off our credit cards, the credit card companies can't seem to go 10 minutes without offering us new accounts, higher limits and lower rates. Discover Card has even forgiven me for that little unpleasantness with my first credit card about 10 years ago and is talking to me again (or at least sending me preapproved offers). The banks were none too keen on lowering my rates a few months ago when I asked because it would have been useful to me, but now that they aren't sucking money out of me on a monthly basis, we're on a race to the bottom of the APR.

They also want to sell me identity theft insurance on the accounts. If I actually answered the phone when these folks called me, I would feel compelled to inquire, "So, let me get this straight. You are offering to let me pay you folks more money so that, in the event that you folks just up and, oh, lose my personal information, I will be protected against fraudulent activity that you folks allow on my account because of your incompetent security?" Not that I have a whole mess of faith in whoever is supposedly regulating these credit card people, but if I had any less, I might think that their ID theft protection insurance sounded an awful lot like the baby sister of "Nice account you got there. Pretty credit rating. Shame if something were to happen to it."

ID theft insurance is still my favorite stupid offer. However, in a related occurrence, this voicemail I just received is right up there:
Don't be alarmed! [PP: Gotta love voicemails that open with that.] This is your final notice for lower rates on your account. Press 1 to speak to an account specialist and lower your rate today. Press 2 to discontinue further notices.
Oooookay then. If this is my Final Notice, does that not logically mean that there should be to be no further notices to discontinue? And wasn't the message last week supposedly my Final Notice For Lower Rates?

And, a word to the...I'm sure fine...folks at whatever phishy outlet is leaving me these messages: legitimate outlets wishing to lower our rates will usually mention which account they are discussing. Also, most people have caller ID these days, and anyone with 2/3 of a brain stem and a working knowledge of the U.S. telephone system knows that 062 is not a valid area code, and thus is most likely caller ID spoofing, which legitimate financial institutions do not do. Of course, I suspect you guys are looking to weed out anyone with 2/3 of a brain stem before you have to spend vital human-phisher resources on coaxing their identity and account information out of them.