Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mrs. Beasley made me cringe

Halloween is right around the corner, and you know what that means...I'll be hitting CVS on Monday morning to buy bags of "fun-size" Three Musketeer bars at half-price. Ahh...I love me some Three Musketeers, especially when they’ve been stored in the freezer.

Growing up, my sisters and I would dress up on Halloween and hit the houses along East Main Street in Victor, NY. And like millions of other kids across America, we'd come home and dump the loot from our orange plastic pumpkins onto the floor and start pawing through, looking for our favorite sweets. Those homemade caramel popcorn balls? Sorry - right into the trash. And apples? Boring - hello applesauce! I'd make a big pile of the best stuff (anything chocolate, fireballs, and Pixie Stix) and hand those nasty Mary Janes and NECCO wafers over to my dad.

For several years running, my Halloween costume was a "hobo": tattered clothes, dirt smudges on my face, and a big plastic cigar (??) in my mouth. Isn't it odd that I don't remember any other costumes? One year, my younger sister wore a Mrs. Beasley mask - remember Buffy's doll from "Family Affair"? To this day, I remember being freaked out by that mask - something about the way my sister's eyes would move behind those slits in the plastic. And then she’d stick her tongue out through the mouth slit. Evil Mrs. Beasley!

When we lived in Boston’s South End, we’d get kids by the hundreds on Halloween night. One year, we had to skedaddle inside after giving candy to 500 kids – and realizing that the pot was empty as another mob of ghouls and goblins rushed up the street. We always made a night of it, sitting on the stoop with neighbors, eating homemade soup (usually shrimp and corn chowder – I’ll be posting that recipe soon), and sharing some beer or wine. Now we live on the third floor of a condo building in South Boston, so there’s no trick-or-treaters. Last year, we packed up some wine and visited friends in the South End and had a ball watching all of the kids and their parents make the rounds.

So a few Halloween-related questions: 
  • What was the best costume you ever wore as a kid?
  • What was your favorite kind of candy to get on Halloween?
  • Do you get trick-or-treaters at your house on Halloween?

Monday, October 25, 2010

What have you conditioned your pet to do?

I recently came across this post on the Mental Floss blog
“I like to chew gum when walking the dog. At this point, simply opening the cabinet where the gum is incites a “WE’RE GOING ON A WALK!” happy dog dance. Unfortunately, the same cabinet is where we keep the black cardamom and take-out menus. What are some of the weird things — intentionally or not — you’ve conditioned your pet to do?"
So it got me thinking what we’ve conditioned Otis to do – and not surprisingly, it all revolves around food.
When we go for a walk or even just outside for a quick “business trip” before bed, a “pee” = a “biscuit”. And lest we forget, a cold, wet snout repeatedly bumps our leg (directly below the pocket where treats are stored) until a biscuit is produced.
When I get into bed, Otis will come running from where ever he is. Even before I’ve pulled the covers up to my chin, he’ll leap onto the bed, flop across my lap, and stare at me until he gets his “good night” biscuit. But I can’t dawdle getting the biscuit out of the nightstand drawer, because once Otis knows I’m reaching for his treat, the drooling starts.
If we use the can opener, we can expect Otis to soon be underfoot in the kitchen. He got trained to come running because when tuna sandwiches are being made for lunch, a little bit of tuna somehow ends up in his food bowl.
We live on the third floor of an elevator building. And those times when I’m too lazy to take the stairs, and Otis is with me, he’s come to expect a biscuit when he enters the elevator and sits down.
And when we eat our dinner in front of the TV, we always have to give Otis a biscuit, or else he’ll just stand in front of us and stare us down.
An observation: man, that dog gets a lot of biscuits during the course of the day. And a more sobering observation: have we conditioned Otis, or has Otis conditioned us?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bicycle pants are not for everyone

You've seen "Modern Family", right? Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny show. Watch this clip from last week's show, where Mitchell recruits his sister to tell his boyfriend that his bicycle pants are, well, "not so hot".

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Try this: Caramel-dipped apples

Obviously, I’ve been on a cooking kick this weekend. First the cauliflower soup, then homemade dog biscuits, and I just finished making some delicious (if I do say so myself) caramel-dipped apples. These are a fall favorite. I put a tray of them in the refrigerator (they’ll keep about a week – if you can keep your hands off them that long) and then slice one up for dessert, or eat an entire one if I’m feeling piggish.

One tip: this recipe calls for using a clip-on candy thermometer. If you don’t have one, it’s worth the trip to the store to pick one up. My thermometer broke last fall and I neglected to replace it, so I thought I’d “wing it” today. Everything tastes great, but I think the caramel boiled too long, so it hardened up really quickly and was a little difficult to work with.

Let me know if you make these – maybe we can swap a taste-test?

Caramel-Dipped Apples
(from a 1999 issue of Bon Appetit, courtesy of Epicurious.com)

1 lb. box of dark brown sugar
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark molasses
¼ teaspoon salt
12 apples (I always use Granny Smith – love the crisp crunch and tartness)
12 sticks or chopsticks
Melted chocolate, dark and/or white (optional)
Walnuts, pecans, peanuts, etc. (optional)

  1. Combine first eight ingredients in heavy 2 ½ quart saucepan. Stir with wooden spoon or spatula over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth, occasionally brushing down the inside of the pan with a wet pastry brush. This will take about 15 minutes. 
  2. Attach clip-on candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high. Cook caramel at a rolling boil until thermometer registers 236 degrees, stirring constantly but slowly with a clean wooden spatula. Occasionally brush down the inside of the pan with a wet pastry brush. This should take about 12 minutes. Pour caramel into a metal bowl. Submerge thermometer into caramel; cool without stirring, about 20 minutes. 
  3. While caramel cools, line 2 baking sheets with foil. Lightly butter the foil. Push one stick into stem end of each apple. Dip apple into cooled caramel, submerging all but very top of apple. Lift apple out, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl. Turn caramel, allowing caramel to cover and set around entire apple. Place coated apple on foil. If caramel gets too thick to dip into, add 1-2 tablespoons of half-and-half or whipping cream and briefly whisk caramel over low heat. 
  4. Chill apples on cookie sheet until caramel is partially set, 5-10 minutes. Lift each apple and using your hands, press caramel that has pooled around bottom of apple up over the entire apple. If using nuts, push them firmly into caramel. If using melted chocolate, drizzle it over the apples. Chill again until caramel and chocolate is set. 
  5. Keep in the refrigerator. I usually wrap each one in plastic wrap.

Got dog?

On this date six years ago, a Portuguese Water Dog named Stella gave birth to seven puppies in Cambridge, MA. The first puppy to arrive (whose given name was "Petey") was so big that he got stuck on the way out, and caused his mom to have a caesarean section. That puppy, re-named "Otis" when we adopted him eight weeks later, is still a big guy - 80 lbs - which is pretty large for the breed. But as his very proud owner, I tell you that he's sleek and fit, thanks to two long sessions each day at the park with a tennis ball.

Here's a photo of Otis eight weeks after his birth, that cold day in December when we brought him home, a photo from this morning's birthday walk around Castle Island, and his "official" birthday portrait:

In honor of his birthday, we always make homemade biscuits for Otis. We got this recipe from some friends who were visiting from London a few years back - they gave us a special cookbook and some bone-shaped cookie cutters! Here's the recipe - it's really easy, and I always double the batch so there's plenty of biscuits. 

1/3 cup margarine or butter (Otis prefers butter)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup powdered skim milk
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 cup water, room temperature
1 egg, beaten

  • In a large mixing bowl, blend margarine/butter with flour (i use a hand mixer).
  • In a small bowl, dissolve powdered milk and garlic powder in water and whisk in beaten egg.
  • Make a well in the flour mixture and gradually stir in egg mixture until well blended.
  • Knead dough on a floured surface, about 3-4 minutes, until dough sticks together and is easy to work with. 
  • With a rolling pin, roll dough to between 1/4" and 1/2" thickness.
  • Use cookie cutter to cut dough and put biscuits onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  • Bake 50 minutes at 325 degrees, or until browned all over. 
  • Cool on a rack until hard.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Try this: Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps

We went over to the farmer stalls at Haymarket in downtown Boston this morning. Some great deals are always available, and there’s some amazingly fresh fruits and vegetables to be had. You need to be careful though – the majority of the vendors seem above board, but there are a few that try to slip the not-so-desirable merchandise in your bag. I tend to patronize the vendors who let me select my own stuff.

Anyway, we came home with bags and bags of produce for just over 20 dollars. One of the things we picked up with a beautiful white head of cauliflower, as it’s that time of year when I start thinking about making soup.

Here’s a recipe I’ve made before – and it’s really easy and good for you. It was featured on The Food Network’s “Great Deals with Dave Lieberman”.

Silky Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove then leaves and thick core of the cauliflower and coarsely chop. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned (about five minutes). Add the cauliflower and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the soup. You can also puree in small batches in a blender** and return to the pot. Add the ½ cup parmesan cheese and stir until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Parmesan Crisps

  • 1 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread one cup of parmesan cheese in an single, even layer. Bake about 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Break sheet of cheese into large pieces and use them to garnish bowls of soup.

** If you use a blender, fill no more than 1/3 of the way with the hot liquid. Also, don’t put the cover on too tight, and wrap a kitchen towel around the top. Blending hot liquid can cause an eruption – trust me, I know – so just be very careful.

Note: To spice this up a bit, before serving, I stirred a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne pepper into the soup. You can also chop up some chives to put on top. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

The storm

They were together in the house. 

Just the two of them.

It was a cold, dark, stormy night. The storm had come quickly

And each time the thunder boomed he watched her jump.

She looked across the room and admired his strong appearance.

And she wished that he would take her in his arms, comfort her and protect her from the storm.

Suddenly, with a pop, the power went out.

She screamed.

He raced to the sofa where she was cowering.

He didn't hesitate to pull her into his arms.

He knew this was a forbidden union and expected her to pull back.

He was surprised when she didn't resist but instead clung to him.

The storm raged on.

They knew it was wrong.

Their families would never understand.

So consumed were they in their fear that they didn’t hear the door open.

Just the faint click of a camera.


This was sent to me in an e-mail today. I don't know who wrote it or took the picture, but I thought it was hilarious. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You want fries with that?

There was a time, not in the too distant past, when my friend "J" (I disguise her name to protect her identity, but it starts with "J" and rhymes with "Ulie") and I would, every few weeks, treat ourselves to a huge lunch at the local McDonald's. Yup -- the whole nine yards: a Big Mac or Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a supersize order of fries (extra salt, please!), and one of those plastic buckets of soda. The salt and grease tasted so good, but about an hour after we returned to work, we'd call each other, complaining that our stomachs ached.

We eventually got smarter and stopped eating at the Golden Arches - and now when we get together for lunch, we eat at Cafe Asiana, which incidentally is directly across the street from McDonald's. And we laugh about how gluttonous our noontime meals used to be.

Anyway, I saw this post today about an artist in New York who last April purchased a McDonald's "Happy Meal", and instead of eating it, left it uncovered on her kitchen counter just to see what would happen. She's been snapping a photo of the burger and fries every day since last spring, and to her horror, the "food" looks pretty much the same as it did when she bought it.

Sure, says artist Sally Davies, the fries and the burger patty shriveled up a bit, but the bun shows no signs of decay or mold. "And now, at six months, the food is plastic to the touch and has an acrylic sheen to it," she says.

Here's what the food looks like after 171 days on the counter (Sally says that after just 48 hours, the meal no longer emitted any smell -- even her dogs lost interest):

Pretty wild, huh? One more reason to be happy about my break-up with McDonald's. So inquiring minds want to know: why is this food is not spoiling?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our get-away to the Cape

We escaped to Provincetown, at the tip of old Cape Cod, for the long Columbus Day weekend. Our friends Jan and Phyllis let us borrow their beach cottage (thanks again, ladies!), which is just a few doors down from where we've been spending our last few summer vacations, so the turf was very familiar. October is a great time to visit Provincetown, and this year, the weather was stunning: four days in a row of 65 degrees with a steady breeze. As usual, Otis was in his element on the beach (which makes sense, since he is a Portuguese Water Dog) and like always, he played hard and slept hard. We had no agenda but to drink coffee every morning at The Wired Puppy on Commercial Street and enjoy the beach. I even bought a book (gasp!) -- John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and read about 50 pages -- a major accomplishment! Here are a few photos from our get-away. (I also took some video on my Flip camera - but can't figure out how to load them into iMovie. Grrrrr....)

Our view from the cottage.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who knew Charo was even alive?

She may be the worst lip-syncher in the world, but Charo is still shaking things up at 69 years old! Cuchi, cuchi indeed!

Boston.com features my blog!

The front page of Boston.com, the website for The Boston Globe, regularly features local bloggers on its homepage. And today, when I scrolled toward the bottom of Boston.com, there it was - a link to "Mike's Short Attention Span Theater" and my post about my adventures at the Boston Rock Gym. Pretty cool! Also had 70 visits to the blog today - a new record! Thanks to everyone who visited - and come back soon!

This is what it looked like on Boston.com

I swear this really happens...

Urban rock-climbing

On Monday night, my friend Kim and I visited the Boston Rock Gym in Woburn for a three-hour introduction to indoor rock-climbing. We got geared up with special harnesses and very tight shoes and then spent more than two hours learning safety basics – essential because while one person is enjoying the challenge of climbing the wall, their partner is on the ground as the “belayer”. One end of the rope is attached to the climber’s harness; the other is attached to the belayer, who also wears a harness to which a special pulley system is attached. The rope goes through the pulley, and through a series of synchronized hand movements, the belayer takes up the slack in the rope as the climber gets higher. By keeping the rope taunt, the belayer ensures that if the climber tumbles off the wall, they won’t have very far to fall.

Kim volunteered (well, I “volunteered” her) to be the first person in our group to go up the wall and she did great. We then broke into groups of three to practice climbing, falling, and belaying.

I had actually tried indoor rock-climbing once before, more than 10 years ago, at the Lakeshore Athletic Club in Chicago with my friend Julie. No photos from that adventure!

Have you ever tried indoor rock-climbing? I’d certainly be up for going again!

The perfect Figure 8 knot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A family urban legend has been confirmed as "true".

There's been a funny story that's been told for years in my family, but I was never sure it was factual. So when I talked with my Mom the other day, I asked her for the "real story". Lo and behold, she confirmed that the story was true. So without any guilt about spreading a falsehood, let me tell you a tale about my Mom, some chicken, and a bag of potato chips.

There was my Mom, a pretty, young housewife living with my dad and three kids in Victor, NY, a little village about 20 miles out of Rochester. One afternoon, she decided to expand her cooking repertoire with a new recipe: baked chicken coated with potato chip crumbs. Sounds pretty good, huh? She got out all of the ingredients and put them out on the yellow linoleum counter in our kitchen. Chicken? Check! Egg? Check! Parsley flakes? Check! Potato chips? Check! But wait...the recipe calls for "potato chip crumbs" and the chips in the bag were whole. What to do?

I'm guessing that several options for turning those chips into crumbs passed through my Mom's head.

"Well, I could pour the chips on to the kitchen counter and then crush them with my hands," she might have thought. "Or better yet," she may have considered, "I could pour the chips into a bag and then crush them with my rolling pin." Her thought process evidently continued. "But wait," she might have said aloud, "I've got an even better idea!"

My mom left the kitchen and walked to our home's front door with two objects in her hands: the bag of potato chips and her car keys. Out the door, she descended the two steps that led to our front yard, and from there, walked over to the family car parked in our driveway.

Perhaps looking up and down the street to make sure our neighbor friends were watching to see how she had solved this particular kitchen issue, ("Look George -- Dorothy figured out how to make crumbs out of potato chips!"), Mom placed the bag of chips on the driveway, squarely behind the rear wheel of the car we affectionately called "The Bomb", stepped inside, and turned the key in the ignition. Perhaps she even snuck a glance of herself in the rearview mirror, smiled, and gave herself a little satisfied wink. My mom then dropped the gear shift into "reverse" stepped on the gas.

It rained potato chip crumbs in my front yard that afternoon. Of course, that vacuum-sealed bag of chips exploded all over the driveway when the back tire of The Bomb rolled over it.

I don’t remember if we ever got our potato chip encrusted chicken that night, and I don’t recall if my Mom actually told us what had happened, or if one of the neighbors witnessed the explosion and couldn't wait to tell us the story. In any case, we always give my mom a hard time about her unique method of using a two-ton vehicle to crush a 16 ounce bag of potato chips.

When I asked my mom if I could tell this story on my blog, she good-naturedly said, "Sure, but people are going to think I'm stupid!". Trust me - my mom is FAR from stupid – we all do silly things once in a while. So kudos to my Mom - one of the most pleasant and fun-loving people I've ever known – for being able to laugh at herself and letting me share this story with you. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rick Sanchez fired from CNN

I was wondering how Rick Sanchez managed to stay employed for so long. I've only flipped by his "news" program ("Rick's List") a few times but was always taken by his blowhardedness (I think I just made up a word) and his attempts to be outrageous. Seems CNN finally had enough of his showboating this week when he called Jon Stewart a "bigot" and said that CNN and other news networks are run by Jewish people. Oh - I certainly realize there's plenty of "news reporters" like Rick Sanchez around - both on liberal CNN, conservative FOX, and every flavor in between. How about we get rid of all these yahoos and return to the days when watching the news meant getting the news - not some entertainer's opinion. Bye-bye Rick!

For some reason, I can't embed this clip -- but if you're interested in seeing Rick in action, here's what happened last February when he was hosting a CNN program covering the tsunami warning in Hawaii. First, Rick interrupts a scientist who's explaining about a nine meter drop in the ocean to ask, "By the way, nine meters in English is...?". Then watch as he blows up at the guy as he's trying to explain that the nine meter drop doesn't necessarily mean there will be a nine meter rise. Check it out at about the 1:40 mark.


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