Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Fortune Cookie

So, we've had some interesting fortune cookies over the years--Becky swears she got one that said, "You will be married soon," just after we started dating--but one I got at a Vietnamese restaurant last week takes the cake for interestingness if not for its predictive power:  Worry not that no one knows of you seek to be worth knowing.  After puzzling over that for some time, I still have no idea what it means, and maybe that's the point:  make a fortune vague enough, and the recipient will find in it whatever meaning he or she wants to find.  Hmm. Maybe it means:  you're an ambitious son-of-a-gun, but don't sweat it, because nobody cares.  Ouch!  That hits a little near the mark.  Maybe those Chinese are on to something . . . 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Food Edition)

I wish I were one of those guys who gets paid to shamelessly promote name brand products to his friends and family (without telling them, of course), but I'm not. So, I'll shamelessly promote (and demote) products for free, and hope that the retail Gods smile upon me. There's also a nasty, vicious rumor going around that I have strong opinions about things like food, movies, and politics, but it's all lies, I tell you, lies, lies, lies! Just for kicks, I've grouped the following food recommendations into categories that I hope will prove useful: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

(1) Campari tomatoes. (Bet you saw that one coming, eh? That is, if you are one of the three people who regularly read this blog!) What can I say more? Best store-bought tomato out there. Worth every penny of the $6 bucks I routinely fork over for them at Costco. But then again: I feel more stongly about tomatoes than I do about religion.

(2) Redmond Real Salt. Salt?! you say? There's a difference in salt? I'm afraid so. Redmond salt is mined in Central Utah from ancient deposits and has a distinctive reddish white color that I recognize from my childhood, as we used to buy it in huge blocks that the goats would lick, apparently because they needed the salt and it tasted good. Back then, I suppose, any salt other than white salt wasn't considered fit for anything but livestock, but now that old red salt has gone upscale, and let me tell you: it's good stuff. Tastes waaaay better than the chemically refined Morton stuff you find everywhere, and I actually buy into the notion promoted on the Real Salt label that a clean, natural sea salt, replete with all kinds of minerals, and laid down a bazillion years ago during a time when the air was free of soot, mercury, and flourocarbons is better than what we typically sprinkle on our food.

(3) Dove chocolate. I've tried chocolate from all over the world, and I'll be danged if Dove doesn't make a really, really good bar of chocolate. Dark or milk, I'll take both, thank you!

(4) Trader Joe's chocolate covered pretzels. If crack cocaine came in food form, this would be it. I would probably eat myself into a coma if the bag lasted that long. Seriously wicked stuff, and I don't even like pretzels.

The Bad

(1) Produce from Dick's Market in Centerville. I've seen bad produce in my day, including C-Town on 125th Street in Harlem, where two shrink-wrapped bananas set us back something like $1.50, but even C-Town won't, far as I know, sell 20 rotten pineapples at the same time. I kid you not: I've been there when every last, stinking pineapple was full-on rotten, and they still had the gall to advertise them for $3 or $4 a piece.

(2) Grocery store cooking wines. Small, expensive little bottles of "wine" chock full of salt and preservatives. Yuck! But I haven't found a good alternative as--what am I supposed to do: waltz into the Bountiful liquor store and ask, "What goes well with a thyme and mushroom reduction?" Besides, I can't afford to buy a whole bottle when I only need a cup. Arrghh!

(3) Twinkies. Can't believe I liked them as a kid. 'Nuff said.

The Ugly

(1) Breyer's ice cream. This long time family favorite recently started adding a guar-gum/carrageenan type emulsifier, tara gum, to their "all natural" ice cream, in addition to watering down their brand with all kinds of gooey gooey ice creams with ingredient lists a mile long. (The beauty of Breyers used to be "Milk, cream, sugar, strawberries. Period.") And what makes me really mad is that, even with the tara gum, we haven't been able to find a better brand outside of Haagen Daz, so we still buy the stuff, giving the lie to all the threats I sent to corporate headquarters about "never touching their product again." Ed. Note: Again, I have no strong opinions about food.

(2) Cavanaugh's Chocolates (Bountiful). Look: these guys make a decent American chocolate, and I'll be a sucker for a Mindy Mint until the day I die, but--in addition to being reactionary anti-United Nations whackos--these guys put the "cheap" in "cheap skate." A few year's ago, we decided to take the kids to tour their new factory out by I-15--the tour that offers "free samples"--only to discover that the tour costs something like $5 per adult and $4 per child, with a "free" sample at the end. Gimme a break. Sad thing is: they know they're the only game in town, so they've made millions charging a premium for what is at best a middling collection of chocolates.

Ah, but I'd better bring this rant to a close. Still, I think this idea might have some legs. Please feel free to nominate your own "goods," "bads," or "uglies." Future posts may well take up the same theme as applied to things like cook books, movies, and politicians.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Master Gardener

I've read that it's really hard to grow tomatoes from seed--particularly from store bought tomatoes--and that all kinds of planning and complicated steps are necessary to accomplish this feat.  This made me sad, because I really wanted to try and grow some Campari tomatoes from seed. (See previous post on Caprese for why I'm such a big fan.)  

So--get this--I pulled it off.  And here's the trick.  Pay close attention because it's so complicated.  I took a Campari tomato I bought at Costco.  I ate the tomato (yum!) and took a few seeds off the cutting board and put them into a plastic bowl. Once they dried out, I scraped them off the bowl with my fingernail and planted them in a plastic cup full of potting soil.  I watered them once and ... voila! ... one week later I have several healthy looking tomato seedlings.  Pretty complicated, eh? This gardening stuff is tough.  Good thing I'm such a genius.  

I guess the moral of that story is:  don't believe what you read, except for this post . . .  

(Photo courtesy of Zeetz Jones on Flickr; available at: 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bird Brain!

I found another hummingbird stuck in the garage this afternoon.  They get in there this time of year, and, because the ceiling is higher than the opening for the garage door, they can't see a way out and start flying frantically around until they exhaust themselves. As a kid, I remember finding them dead on tops of the hay bales we had stored in our garage--not for lack of a way out, but because they panicked and couldn't find it.

So, I'm none to impressed by the mental capacity of hummingbirds.  Having said that, in no way do I wish to demean this remarkable little bird, which weighs, on average, less than a nickel; can move forward, backward, up, down, or side to side at will; beats its wings 60-80 times per minute; and migrates over a thousand miles.  Like a three year old let loose in the juice box aisle at Costco, a hummingbird can drink its weight in nectar or sugar in a single day, and burn all that energy just as fast.

For all those reasons and more, I admire the little guys, and wanted to find a way to help this little fellow out of harm's way.  (The bird was already nearing exhaustion, I could tell, as it kept landing on various perches with its mouth wide open, like an overheated dog.)

Inspired by the bright fake flowers I'd seen on hummingbird feeders, I took a bright, yellow plastic cup from Ikea and taped bright, pink, construction paper "petals" around the lip of the cup.  I filled the cup with sugar water and placed in on top of the van, hoping that the bird would either (a) come down and get a drink, and/or (b) finally see the way out.  Didn't know if it would work, so I sat down to watch.  Within a minute, the bird swooped down on the fake flower and tried to land.  While it couldn't land easily on the edge of the cup, the action was just enough to offer the bird a glimpse of sky, and with a whir of tiny wings, off he flew, away and free.   

(Hummingbird facts from  For a great hummingbird pic, see the following link:  

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tongue of Wood

I think anyone who's tried creative expression of any kind--music, drawing, painting, poetry, photography (you name it)--can appreciate this poem by Stephen Crane:

There Was a Man With Tongue of Wood

There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Mockingbird

In early March of this year I attended a conference in St. George, Utah (in the extreme southwest corner of the State), and, after the conference wrapped up one afternoon, I drove down to the Virgin River to enjoy the Spring sunshine.

When I got out of the car, I noticed a bird sitting on top of a telephone pole and singing the most beautiful music--a song somehow familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. "I should know that bird," was my thought at the time. And then it hit me: the song wasn't repeating, but changing, and--just like that--mystery solved: I'd stumbled across a Mockingbird, my favorite bird of the East, here in the arid West and singing its heart out, like Mockingbirds do.

I love Mockingbirds. Unlike other birds, who repeat--endlessly--the same two or three note theme, Mockingbirds are masters of innovation. A single Mockingbird may have a repetoire of up to 40 different songs, many incorporating sounds from the world around it, including things like car alarms. Seriously. When we lived in Kensington, Maryland, and I often worked late into the night, a Mockingbird down the street would often start calling at about 1:00 a.m., and that particular bird loved car alarms, doing any number of variations on the same, basic, car alarm theme.

What a great bird. If you have them in the area where you live, consider yourself fortunate, 'cause they can sing like nobody's business.

(Photo courtesy of trisheroverton on Flickr; available at: