Archive for November 2006

Pointless Ads

November 20, 2006

I have been noting an increase in the number of TV ads that try to sell automobiles based on their superior sound systems. One even claims to have a convenient MP3 player connection and cup holders.

They never mention any of the automotive characteristics, features, or claims about reliability or economy of operation. The whole ad leaves you with the impression that their marketing department has decided that they can sell a $20,000 cup holder, mp3 player power connection or radio.

Makes one wonder, if they have such crazies employed in their marketing department, what sort of insanity is occurring in their design and manufacturing departments. Must be pretty bad if they can’t talk about the car, just the accessories.

Brined Turkey

November 19, 2006

On Thanksgiving two years ago we began a tradition of having two turkeys, one smoked, the other roasted normally.

Our first grandson was born on Thanksgiving so, for us, it is a double celebration. Thanksgiving and a birthday.

This year will be the same except for a slight difference in preparation of the turkeys.

The food network is not our favorite cable channel but it does have some useful information most of the time. Of the programs on the food network, good eats with Alton Brown is a favorite because of good recipes as well as background information on what makes them good. This season Alton is pushing brined turkey. Not sure, he may also have been suggesting soaking the bird in salt last season but this is the first season we have decided to take him up on his suggestion.

We are following his recipe but changing the method just a little. Instead of stuffing the turkey into a five gallon bucket we are using the original plastic bag the bird was packaged in as means of holding the brine. The turkey, in the plastic bag is situated vertically in a large pot and braced with paper towel packing so that it remains vertical and can’t fall over. Then the brine is poured into the body cavity until it overflows and fills the rest of the plastic bag to the top.

The whole assembly is then carefully set into the refrigerator and left overnight. The following morning, the bird is removed, washed, stuffed with the prepared aromatics, and either roasted or smoked.

The first one is going to be smoked. We use a smoker. It is a five year old Brinkman Smok’n Grill Smoker. It is a dome shaped metal can that holds a tray of charcoal. Just above the charcoal sits a pan of water. One grill is located right above this pan. A second grill is located just above the first grill.

The charcoal provides the heat. The water turns to steam and the steam as well as the smoke cooks the meat. For a more distinct smoky flavor we add hickory wood chips and wood strips that have been soaked in water overnight. The hickory is placed into an open aluminum foil pouch that sits on top of the hot charcoal. That makes for lots of smoke and lots of flavor.

The smoker runs for about ten hours after which the turkey is removed and baked in the oven at 350 degrees for another hour to ensure it is fully cooked. We normally smoke chicken and allow about six hours of smoking for a chicken. The turkey is about twice to three times the size of a chicken, hence the extra time.

Cut into the meat to determine doneness. We do not trust the pop out temperature indicators, don’t own a meat thermometer, and like our poultry well done. Cutting into the breast and inspecting is the surest way we know of determining if it is fit to eat.

We have never brined or used the aromatic stuffing before this season. It will be interesting to see if it make a significant difference.

Death of the Helpful Hardware Man

November 19, 2006

Less than half a mile from my house is a shopping center. In that shopping center is an Ace Hardware store that has been there as long as we have been here, which is more than 30 years.

That hardware store used to be a super nice place to shop. It had more than one helpful hardware man. Not only were they helpful but they were very experienced and knowledgeable.

This store had a very good reputation in the neighborhood. It specialized in stocking parts for nearly any plumbing item ever used in this area over the last 40 years or so. If you had a problem of a plumbing nature, you could take in the offending item and have a replacement part a few seconds after finding their plumbing expert. I mean a repair part, not an entire faucet or fixture. Unlike a home improvement center, this Ace Hardware store believed a ten cent faucet washer failure did not demand replacing an entire faucet.

Their prices were not especially low. They might charge $2.50 for a 50 cent faucet seat but that was better than spending $50 at the home improvement center for an entire faucet.

About a year ago they started a remodeling project and reduced their knowledgeable staff to one person. They ripped out the small appliance repair shed and installed additional racks of merchandise. The existing racks of merchandise were moved closer together and were stacked higher. All of this activity occurred in the span of a month. The final touch was installation of a new floor so that you could not tell the racks had ever been moved.

Soon after that, the one helpful hardware man disappeared and prices began to increase. The increase was only a few percent at first but eventually grew to much more than that. For instance, a good well designed electrical plug went from $1.20 to $4.00. This made absolutely no sense because you could go to the home improvement center and buy a six foot extension cord with molded in plug for about $2.00. Just cut off the unneeded receptical end and replace the entire cord on the lamp needing the plug.

I also notice that their radio ads changed. Their jingle about the helpful hardware man was modified to present the helpful hardware folk. I did not think much of that or about that. I figured the helpful hardware man was just another martyr cut down by political correctness. As long as I could get help with hardware, I did not care about gender. I also did not care that much about price. If I was going to buy in quantity for a major project, I would go to a building supply place. Ace with the helpful hardware people was a low volume place where higher prices were justified by convenience and the quality of the help.

So the next time I had a plumbing problem I went to the Ace store. This time it was faucet washers for the bathroom shower. To make sure I got the right stuff, I removed the faucet stems and took them into the store with me. I was met by two eager young men. I held up the the faucet stems and told them I needed washers. The younger of the two asked ‘what size’ and ran off into the nuts and bolts section. The other had a better understanding of my needs.

We found two nice washers that looked like they would last for a long time. He put them in a little bag and wrote $2.00 on the bag. I thought that seemed a little high, but what the heck. At the checkout the lady rang up $4.00. After some consultation it became apparent that they were asking $2.00 each for the washers. I won’t be going back there anytime soon even if have to cut the washers out of sheet stock myself.

Change is not always good for everyone. In this case it will probably not be good for anyone including the new owners of the Ace Hardware store. Most of their customers were old timers like me. Now, with the unrealistic increase in prices and elimination of experienced help, it has become more than worth the trip to fill my hardware requirements at the home improvement center.

Handy Homer

November 19, 2006

When I go to the home improvement center I tell people I am going to Handy Homer’s. Sometimes they ask me ‘what?’. Sometimes they just ignore the comment.

To call these places ‘home improvement centers’ might be a conflict in terms. Sure, they have lots of products used in the home, around the house, even building supplies, but improvement depends on how they are used not in what they are.

Over the years the area I live in has had several large home improvement type stores. All of them being places where you can buy hardware and building materials at a discount. At one time we used to have a chain of Handy Dan stores. Then came Homers. Now Home Depot and Lowes.

Handy Homer’s is a combination of Handy Dan and Homers. It is also a play on words referring to Homer Simpson of the cartoon character Homer Simpson. If you have ever watched even one episode of the ‘The Simpson’s’ you will appreciate the irony. Homer Simpson is anything but handy. Homer Simpson has far too many human traits that are self destructive. Home improvement centers have far too much material that could be dangerous when used by people with too many self destructive human traits. Hence the term Handy Homers.

Old timers, like me, appreciate the irony. Now, knowing the history, maybe the young wippersnappers can appreciate it too. Wippersnappers, you know, anyone under the age of 50.

Campaigning

November 17, 2006

Not long ago we had an election. In addition to the ‘public servants’ seeking election and re-election we also had a proposition to allow sale of ‘adult’ beverages in our local area.

Deciding it was about time our burg joined the 21st century, I voted in favor of the proposition. In truth I really did not care about the advantages and disadvantages of such a proposition. It just seemed that it was about time to repeal prohibition on a local scale.

Now it seems that was not enough. Apparently our burg is divided into sections and all sections are not covered by the approval of the original proposition so now those in the sections which were not covered have to collect 60k signatures to appeal to the governing body to hold an additional election. I may have some of the details wrong but I do know that there is additional effort required to approve this proposition for all of the burg we live in. A classic situation of the tail wagging the dog. (I am in favor of a petition to get rid of the idiots that set this up. This so called ‘governing body’ needs its ashed hauled, right now and before it has a chance to screw us again. )

That alone is enough to rub me the wrong way, because I know for a fact that all this complexity is caused by some undeserving clod rigging things to make it work for him regardless of how it effects the citizens. This is a common practice of politicians. Especially those who claim they are in there to make a difference. Only they don’t come completely clean in revealing that the difference they are striving for is the embellishment of their riches.

My phone rings. I am not expecting any calls so I let the machine answer. Imagine my surprise to discover that it is a call from a machine appraising me of the dry versus wet conflict resulting from the recent election. Furthermore they promise to waste more of my resources by sending around someone with paperwork for me to sign. A petition.

I just voted in favor of selling ‘adult’ beverages locally not a week ago. Why are you bothering me again with this waste of time!!?? At least that was the question in my mind.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Then I came to the realization that these miscreants had just used my private telephone and my private answering machine to ruin my afternoon. I have heard it said that it is better to pissed off than to be pissed on. I think I am suffering both.

Campaigning via private telephone using the private resources of the people you are seeking as voters on your behalf should be OUTLAWED !!! Why? Because it pisses people off! It is like spam in email. Do you really think that the offers submitted through spam are going to be acted on by people receiving this unwanted material?

I pity the fool they are going to send around to get my signature on the the petition. He might leave with a bill for unauthorized use of private property but there will be no signature on the petition from this house.

There is no way I can support the issues of people who do not respect personal rights and property. Even if I am in agreement with those issues. First impressions are all important. A bad first impression deserves an equally poor response regardless of the content.

Besides, I don’t consume enough ‘adult’ beverages to really care about the issue. I do support a 24-7 telephone system that I would prefer not be abused.

Fair and Balanced

November 16, 2006

I have never given much thought to the phrase ‘fair and balance’. I just accepted the term but lately it has begun to annoy me because it has no definite meaning when used to qualify a news program. Fair to whom? What about balanced, does that mean there are as many facts as fantasies in the reports? Or does it refer to an even mix of bad and good?

The term ‘fair and balanced news’ means that someone’s definition of fair and balanced has been applied before the story is told. Or, put another way, the story had been doctored and they want you to believe that it is okay because the doctorer is fair and balanced.

Any doctoring of a news story is done to be unfair to someone or something and people engaged in that action are anything but balanced. It takes a completely unbalanced person to think that such action will be accepted by any educated audience.

I am fresh out of patience with news that is made up, doctored, or non-factual. For a news program to make claims that their stories are more than just the facts, condemns them to be considered as part of an ever increasing group of silly propagandists.

The facts mam, just the facts. If you are not sure as to what happened, I am not interested in your version of what you think might have happened, or should have happened, or would have happened if you ruled the world.

Chicken Broth – cure for the common cold

November 15, 2006

It is a good thing that I don’t mind the taste of chicken. ‘It tastes sort of like chicken’ is a phrase you hear often enough to make you realize that nearly everything tastes like chicken.

Chicken is okay and it is inexpensive. We usually load up on whole chickens when we find them on a special sale. One whole chicken is enough for a whole week of suppers for two if you are careful about preparation and portion size.

We normally start by cutting it up. Legs, thighs, breasts, and wings are removed. I am partial to wings, thighs, and legs but also have never been known to reject a chicken breast.

Chicken is also good roasted whole or smoked. Smoked chicken is excellent but you may not care for it in soup.

Once those parts are removed, you are left with a carcass that still has some meat on it but nothing in sufficient quantity to make a couple of meals. So, we boil the carcass in a big pot with lots of water and herbs. Rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaf, sage, or whatever you consider makes stuff taste good. Let it boil for an hour or two. Then turn off the heat and let it cool.

When cool remove the carcass and pick off the cooked meat. Cut the meat into small pieces and set aside to make soup.

Use a ladle to skim off the liquid chicken broth and pour it into jars, a ladle full at a time. I use Prego jars. One carcass will make enough broth to fill three jars and still have enough fixings left over to fill three more jars with chicken rice soup. Or you can use noodles.

Once the three jars of broth have been filled, pour what is left in the pot through a strainer to remove all solids. Pour the strained liguid back into the pot, add several diced sticks of celery and a diced carrot. Add water until the pot is half full. Add back the cut up chicken meat. Bring this to a boil. Turn down the heat so that it is still at a boil but just barely. Add one cup of dry rice. Not instant rice! Just normal dry rice. Let that simmer for at least half an hour. Stir it every ten minutes or so. Let it cool and pour it into Prego jars.

You should now have three jars of chicken broth and three jars of concentrated chicken rice soup. Each jar of soup can be used to make four servings. The chicken broth is handy for use as soup stock, stew stock, rice flavoring.

The stocks are self explanatory. The rice flavoring might need some explanation.

There are lots of ways of preparing rice. Most of them involve the use of hot water. One of my favorite ways of preparation is in a large skillet. Cover the bottom of the skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Bring to temperature with the burner at medium heat. Pour a cup of dry rice into the skillet. Stir while it is cooking. Cook until it is light brown. Be careful not to let it get too dark. Stop the browning by pouring in a Prego jar full of chicken broth. Lots of noise, lots of steam. Stir well and put a lid on it. Let it sit for five minutes and check back to stir some more. The idea here is to let the rice cook completely and absorb the chicken broth. Add diced onion, diced bell pepper, diced carrots, diced tomato, or whatever vegetable you like. Or don’t add anything at all. If you don’t let this dish burn, there is no way to ruin it.

You can make the rice as fluffy or as soupy as you want. Just don’t let it burn. Burn it will too if you cook off all the liquid and let it sit without stirring. Soupy rice is best for use in casseroles. Pour the soupy rice into a casserole dish and cover it with a few fillets of fish seasoned with salt, pepper, and dill. Or use chicken breasts with the salt, pepper, and dill. You may also want to try to add a can of condensed mushroom soup to the rice. That makes for a very rich casserole but still fairly low calorie. It just tastes rich. Tastes good too, if you like mushrooms. If you really like mushrooms, just add a can of mushrooms to the rice and forget the condensed soup.

Put that in an oven at 350 degrees. Let bake for an hour or so. Remove from the oven and melt a couple of patties of butter on top of the meat. Serve. Given the amounts of rice used this will make four generous portions.