Doorstop Topper

The word nerd in me thinks it’s cool when one can be modified to make four others simply by changing the same vowel. Batter will be in abundance the next several weeks with all of the baking. The holidays are always better when shared with others. Colorado’s bitter cold winters are a thing of our past now that we’ve moved to the South. The chaos of the holiday season doesn’t really “bott_er” me (okay, that one’s reaching). But finally, we have butter. Ah, there’s nothing better than (or bitter about) butter, is there?

The topic of butter is brought to you today by an utterly ridiculous here-today-gone-tomorrow suggestion to make your holiday hosting more glam than your neighbor’s: butter boards.  When I saw this picture I didn’t even understand what I was looking at.  Even more insulting to this word nerd: the opinion piece I found describes a butter board as “charcuterie”.  No, it’s not.  Charcuterie is meats, not dairy.  This unappetizing appetizer is nothing but butter, spread on a board, with toppings designed to take your attention away from the fact that it’s, well, butter on a board.  I mean, if you’re gonna do faux-fancy at least go with peanut butter on a board, right?

Butter boards are an insult to butter.  I think we can all agree, butter stands alone.  You don’t need nuts or roasted garlic or dried fruit to hide dress it up.  As long as your butter comes from fresh, quality ingredients, it makes anything it pairs with better.  Except a board.

Can you tell I’m “bott_ered” by butter boards?  It’s because my wife and I take our butter so seriously.  Ever since a trip to Ireland, we learned the best butter is not only about quality, but quantity.  At dinner in a quaint hotel in the Connemara region north of Galway, the waiter brought us a big serving of bread with an even bigger serving of butter.  Seriously, the butter was more “brick” than “stick” (and certainly not “pat”).  Ever since, our go-to butter is a brick.  It also makes a great doorstop straight from the freezer.

Our butter dish is even designed for a brick, see?  A stick would be lost in this Irish pottery; a pat even more so.

Speaking of butter pats, I must make mention of the device in the photo below.  I wrote a whole post about it once called Sentimental Utensil.  Who knew this petit guillotine was a timesaver to make butter pats?  It showed up mysteriously in one of our kitchen drawers one day and I can only assume I inherited it from my mother.  But inherited it shall stay.  I can never get enough memories of my mother, as I alluded to in this paragraph from the past post:

And thinking about it even more, I can picture my mother using her butter cutter when I was a kid, leaving a perfect little pat beside the crescent roll that was positioned carefully on the bread plate beside each place setting at the dinner table. Because that was my mother. She was all about the dinner table. Everything had its place, even the pats of butter.

If you read the article on butter boards (please don’t) there are several dead giveaways on how forced this holiday trend feels.  The first is right up there in the teaser subtitle: “Butter boards have gone viral…”.  No, they haven’t, else this topic wouldn’t be worth warning you posting about.  “… because of their novelty and shock value.”  Their novelty?  Shock value?  Is one of your guests going to look at your butter board and say, “Well now, isn’t that novel?”  And just what about a butter board causes “shock” other than the writer’s excuse to use (part of) the overused phrase “shock and awe”?  It’s just butter, people.

The article should’ve gone with just the title so we could draw our own conclusions.  Instead, you’ll find phrases like “… how fun the concept is…”, “… what’s fascinating about butter boards…”, and “… extremely versatile as an appetizer…”; none of which are true.  The writing takes itself way too seriously and goes on way too long about something I will way never prepare.  Unless it were frosting, of course.  A “frosting board” would get my attention for sure.  Put out a plate of cookies with a frosting board and I’m all hands.

But enough of the butter boards.  You’d have to be blind as a bat to fall for this faux-fancy offering.  I’ll bet you’ve already stopped reading.  If you did make it this far, thanks for sparing a bit of your time.  Comment so I know you’re not a bot.

Some content sourced from the Food Network article, “How to Make the Perfect Butter Board for the Holidays”.

Feast of Family

  • The turkey reminds me of my father-in-law, who always assumed the carving duties and insisted all dinners begin precisely at the top of the hour.
  • The dressing reminds me of my mother-in-law, who insists you taste-test as you go to make her meal-in-itself recipe just right.
  • The whipped cream reminds me of my son, who would top off his pie and then tip the can directly into his mouth for a second helping.
  • The crescent rolls remind me of my other son, who never lets the meal go forward without them.
  • The sweet potatoes (in scooped-out oranges) remind me of my daughter, whose version is best described as a work in progress.
  • The Waldorf salad reminds me of my dear mother, whose recipe – as I discovered years later – is notably different than the one served at the famous New York City hotel.
  • The mincemeat pie reminds me of my dear father, with whom I was the only family member to indulge in this carb-laden throwback treat.
  • … and finally, the pumpkin pie reminds me of my beautiful wife, who always doubles the spices to make the dessert (and everything else about the meal) twice as nice.

Today reminds me of the bounty of family and friends; a Thursday best spent with those you love (instead of reading blog posts).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Decades to Decadence

Waiting in line for the bank teller, as I did last Monday, is decidedly old-school. It’s a face-to-face experience so much more inefficient than the drive-thru lane or smartphone options. But sometimes we still go brick-and-mortar, don’t we?  Stopping into the bank is either convenient in the moment or perhaps the transaction demands a real, live person. And so we wait.  But at least cashing a check doesn’t take thirty years.  It just seems that long sometimes.

Every now and then you see a headline and say, “Wait a minute… WHAT?”  And then, even with no interest whatsoever you still read the article.  Such was the case this week with a story about Kobe beef.  I’ve never eaten Kobe beef.  I’m too cheap to even give it a try.  I’ll concede the price is justified by the high quality, high demand, and low supply.  But what if you had to wait until Thanksgiving of 2052 to be able to enjoy it?

Here’s the gist of the story.  A small, family-run butcher shop in Japan makes a beef croquette so popular it’ll take you thirty years to get one.  Asahiya, about to celebrate a century in the meat business, began producing its croquettes shortly after World War II.  The deep-fried meat-and-potato dumplings were designed as a tease; a mere taste to draw customers to its larger, more expensive products.  The strategy didn’t pan out so well but the croquettes themselves became an Internet sensation, and the inevitable hype that followed created a line of customers thirty years long.

[Note: If a Kobe beef croquette sounds “decadent” you’re probably right, but you’re using the wrong word to describe it.  Decadent actually means “excessively self-indulgent”.  Instead of the food itself perhaps you’re talking about a customer willing to wait thirty years.]

I hear what you’re saying.  I wouldn’t pay big bucks for something like this Dave, let alone wait thirty years for it.  But go figure; an Asahiya beef croquette costs only $3.40 USD.  You could buy a box of ten for less than you probably paid for your Thanksgiving turkey.  You just need a very comfortable chair as well.  Asahiya makes only two hundred croquettes a day (or twenty customers’ worth) so it’s no wonder you have to wait so long.

Technology being what it is today, we’re not patient waiters anymore.  Amazon and others are getting close to same-day delivery on the items we consume regularly.  Many amusement parks and tourist attractions have adopted Disney’s approach, where you can pay more to “jump the line”.  Want tickets to the next Taylor Swift concert?  Pay a “line-stander” to buy them for you.  Want season tickets to the Green Bay Packers?  Okay, sorry, there’s no way around that one.  The seats at sold-out Lambeau Field simply pass down the line from generation to generation.  But you can still join the list for this impossible get, just to say you’re on it.

This week’s visit to the bank felt like an impossible get.  I made it to within one customer of the front of the line before things came to a grinding halt.  Only two tellers were open out of the four.  One was preoccupied by a woman who wanted cash and a money order, with terms so specific you knew she was going to be awhile.  The other was completely preoccupied by an older gent, carrying on a personal conversation while constantly losing track of whatever he was asking for in the first place.  Meanwhile, the back window drive-thru teller was cranking out transaction after transaction after transaction.  Shoulda, coulda… I know, I know.

I thought the beef croquette story was timely, not because I went to the bank but because next Thursday is Thanksgiving, when Americans wait all day long.  We wake up early, get the oven going, prep the bird, and spend a long time putting the rest of the meal together.  We eat earlier than most dinners (does that make it “supper”?) but it’s still a waiting game.  Hours and hours of anticipation before the food is finally brought to the table.

If there’s any good news about Asahiya’s Kobe products, it’s that they have options besides the “Extreme” beef croquettes.  There’s a more accessible variety called the “Premiere”.  You only have to wait four years for those.  When you consider how fast we’re going through U.S. Presidents lately, four years doesn’t seem like a long time at all.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “These Japanese beef croquettes are so popular there’s a 30-year waiting list”.

Sitting in the Catbird Seat

Though she’s only four, our granddaughter relishes being the eldest in her family.  She already demonstrates the authority associated with the role, especially in the presence of her siblings.  She seems to understand how her position in the order comes with slightly increased expectations.  Her sisters will challenge her command as they grow older (and won’t that be fun?) but for now, for the most part, they take her lead.  Not that I would understand “first position”, mind you.  I’m neither the oldest nor the youngest in the family I grew up in.  I’m what you might call an “off-center middle”.

If there’s a significant advantage to being a middle child (I’m the fourth of five) I’ve yet to discover it after all these years.  The eldest child experiences the “firsts” (driving, voting, etc.) while the rest of us wonder when it’ll be our turn.  The youngest receives a gentler version of parenting (and who can blame a parent after five kids?)  Meanwhile, the middle(s) are looking in both directions wondering where to take sides. Inevitably, to appease all, the middle child finds a way to agree with everyone.  Our son is also a middle and he’s neutral so often we’ve nicknamed him “Switzerland”.

Maybe we middles have it better after all.  It’s not often I fall into the vast minority on a topic but today I do, because… I prefer the middle seat on airplanes.  A recent survey says only 6 out of every 1,000 frequent flyers feel the same way.  My five outliers and I have our reasons; mine make flying more comfortable for me.  On the aisle I can’t help leaning out a little, to where beverage carts or those passing by brush up against me.  On the window (which I happily bequeath to my wife) I have less elbow room up against the glass.  Even when the passengers on either side of me take the armrests (a subject to toss about another day) I still feel my greatest sense of freedom is in the middle seat.

I can now reap rewards for my middle-mindedness.  In a promotion sounding equal parts creative and desperate, Virgin Australia (VA) is giving away prizes to make the middle seats on its airplanes more appealing. Just by choosing the middle, I enter a lottery for a million VA frequent flyer miles, a helicopter pub crawl (a what?), or a bungee jump (but isn’t Australia flat?).  I can even win tickets to the final of the Australian Football League.  Of course, entering VA’s “Middle Seat Lottery” assumes I want to fly somewhere within Australia.  I also have to join VA’s frequent-flyer program.  And I’ll need to figure out Australian football, which may be the toughest ask of all.  But you get the idea.  “In the middle” is now a little cooler.

Maybe the airlines should revive an old saying.  They could call the middles catbird seats instead.  After all, “sitting in the catbird seat” refers to a position of advantage or superiority.  I can win the helicopter pub crawl and you can’t (advantage) and I’ve deluded myself into thinking I have more elbow room than you do (superiority).  All from the catbird seat.

Try as I might, definitions of “middle” never stray far from “average”, or at best “neither one extreme nor the other”. The dictionary also labels me as “ordinary”, “mediocre”, “commonplace”, and “pedestrian”.  Even if I spice up the word to “middling”, I’m still defined as just “medium” or “moderate”.  I could stretch things a bit and go with “fair to middling” but even then I’m merely slightly above average.  Nope, the only “outstanding” middle I can come up with is our stomachs when we’re, ahem, not in the best of shape. 

“Sitting in the catbird seat” works well for today’s topic, because I moved to the American South just a few months ago.  The phrase originated down here a long time ago.  Literally, it’s a bird’s habit of singing from way up high in a tree, a sort of nyah-nyah-nyah to its predators who can’t climb nearly as high.  And maybe that’s my aim for today: to elevate us “middle-peeps”, even if I haven’t come up with much substance to do so.  But consider this: the more of us there are, the less likely you’ll be sitting in the middle seat.  As a thank-you, the least you can do is meet me in the middle and pick up my beer tab when I win the helicopter pub crawl.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “Airline launches lottery to entice more passengers to sit in the middle seat”.

Big Shoes to Fill-y

Last Sunday, the day before Halloween, our neighborhood hosted a lively parade. Kids of all ages dressed in adorable to “a-horror-full” costumes, to trick-or-treat past each driveway… on horseback. In a bit of a role reversal, we residents walked treats out to the horses and riders (because trust me, a stallion trotting up your front walk is not recommended). Candy for the kids, cookies for the parents who walked beside them, and carrots for the hardworking horses. As you would expect, a steady “clip-clop” filled the air for hours. Yet it could’ve been a lot quieter.

Here’s an idea I never ever would’ve thought of.  Take a pair of sneakers, break them down into their component parts, and reassemble them to fit a horse’s hoof.  Making a statement of purely fashion (vs. function), Horse Kicks allow your equine to sport two pairs of your favorite New Balance, Adidas, or Nikes. These giant “tennis shoes” are built on top of a pre-made protective boot so they really do support an animal weighing a thousand pounds or more.  Order yours today for only $1,200.

Sorry, I’m not buying.  I don’t think sneakers are a good look on horses, any more than when paired with formalwear on a human.  If a filly could talk, she would say, “Get those ridiculous things off of me!”, even though ladies love shoes.  Sneakers are best left to walkers and athletes, while steel horseshoes, as they have for thousands of years, fill a horse’s bill as comfortably as a couple of pairs of flip-flops (er, “clip-clops?”)

I can’t imagine the effort it takes for Horse Kicks to create their shoes (besides the seventeen hours of assembly time) but they don’t work nearly as hard as a traditional horseshoer.  That person, a farrier, might as well be an ironworker.  Watch one in action sometime as he/she trims a horse’s hoof or hammers the steel shoes to achieve the perfect fit.  It’s the kind of backbreaking work that can lead to early retirement.

Occasionally a horse throws a shoe, which is probably the origin of horseshoes as a game.  The first time I “threw a shoe”- besides getting it nowhere near the stake – I remember thinking, “Man, these are kind of heavy”. (A horse wouldn’t agree.)  And weight matters in the game because the shoe needs to fly a long way, like forty feet, for the chance for a “ringer”.  Yes, horseshoes is basic (and predates similar games like ring toss, cornhole, and bocce) but it has its finer points.  You flip a shoe to determine who goes first.  After players throw two shoes each you’ve completed an “inning”.  And a “dead ringer” really is a horseshoes term (too complicated to explain here), not just someone who looks like someone else. 

[Snack break.  Speaking of horseshoes, if you’re looking for “the best darn donuts in Colorado” you should check out Horseshoe Donuts, where we used to live just north of Colorado Springs.  You’ll pay upwards of $25/dozen but trust me, these shoes… er, doughnuts are huge and worthy of expensive tastes.  Most are shaped like traditional rings but the raised, glazed variety are giant horseshoes.]

Even if I never buy a pair of Horse Kicks, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  You’ll probably see several on display this weekend at the Breeder’s Cup races in Lexington, KY (close to where they’re created).  Part of the company’s initiative is to “bring awareness to the Bluegrass State”.  And 10% of the proceeds go to central Kentucky charities.  All of which makes Horse Kicks a worthy product.  Not that I expect to see any in next year’s neigh-h-h-h-borhood trick-or-treat parade.  It’ll be, as usual, clip-clops in steel flip-flops.

Some content sourced from the CNN Style article, “You can now buy $1,200 sneakers — for horses”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

First Class is now un-American

On our return flight from Denver last Saturday, the woman across the aisle coughed so many times I lost count before I had a sip of my complimentary beverage. Another woman ten rows back had a speaking voice so loud you wondered how she could hear herself think. And then there were the backpacks, so… many… backpacks. Nothing wrong with carrying your stuff on your shoulders, except when walking down the aisle and the slightest turn of the hips gives me a not-so-gentle whack as I sit in my aisle seat. Which pretty much confirmed what I already knew.  I should’ve flown First Class.

Heads up, weary travelers.  If your brand of travel abroad is a first-class seat, you’d better book one while you can.  American Airlines (AA) just announced they’re removing those premium seats in favor of several more in Business Class. Why? Because nobody wants them.  It’s not rocket science.  Airplanes need to be full (like, 97% full) or airlines don’t make money.  If a class of seat doesn’t interest a passenger the airline will find one that does.  Put the champagne on ice, flight attendants.

Even if dropping the very best seats makes good business sense, it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  I’ve never deliberately flown First Class but I still get to walk down their aisle on the way to the cozier confines of Cattle Economy.  As I do, I steal a glance to the left and to the right.  What are they wearing?  What are they drinking?  Most importantly, what are they talking about?  After all, these are America’s movers and shakers.

Except they’re not anymore, now are they?  Tell me who (or “what”) you see the next time you pass through First Class.  The domain of the rich and famous is now diluted with passengers who simply rack up enough frequent flyer miles.  Thus, next to the woman in the stylish suit with the glass of Pinot Noir, wrapping her important business call, you have the young tattooed character in tank top, shorts, and sandals, slurping a Rockstar energy drink while obliterating his latest Call of Duty foe.  No wonder these seats aren’t selling anymore.

My kids don’t believe me but there was an era when people dressed up to travel.  When I was young I wore a suit and tie on airplanes, as spiffy as a Sunday morning in church (although church attire has changed too, sigh…).  Instead of a palm-sized bag of peanuts in Economy, you still got something of a meal.  Flying was, back then, a classy step above other forms of travel.

Just because I can – and knowing American’s about to crash the party (poor choice of words) – I decided to book a first-class ticket to London for Thanksgiving.  Get me to jolly ol’ England the day before (so I can overcome jet lag before the big meal) and have me back in my own bed by Sunday night.  I know, I know, it’s practically Halloween already but guess what?  There are still plenty of first-class seats for my un-American Thanksgiving. They’re just a little – ahem – pricey.

My least expensive option on AA is $6,054, which includes two stops, choice of seat (but isn’t every first-class seat equally wonderful?), free baggage, and a full refund if I have second thoughts (which I will).  My most expensive option is $12,966, with identical terms as the first option except this ticket is nonrefundable.  Huh?  Whatever.  Even the least expensive option is more than my annual grocery bill.  Let’s not book this trip after all.  Let’s have turkey at home instead.

You can see where this is headed.  Next thing you know AA will get rid of First Class on all of its flights.  Then passengers will lose interest in Business Class so that’ll have to go too.  Premium Economy will be the last to fold, until all we’re left with is a planeful of Cattle Economy, every row and every seat.  But given the attire and attitudes of passengers these days, isn’t Economy a perfectly-fitting shoe?  As a friend described it, air travel these days is effectively a Greyhound bus with a couple of wings.

I just ran another itinerary on the AA website.  I can visit my son in Dallas over Thanksgiving, flying First Class, for just over $1,000 roundtrip.  That’s a bargain compared to London and I can get my turkey from a smoker (delicious!)  Maybe I’ll splurge.  After all, there may come a day when my grandchildren ask me, “What’s ‘First Class’?”

Some content sourced from the Fox Business article, “American Airlines ditching first class…“.

Drinkin’ Problem

Thanks to social media, product advertising is a complex challenge these days. Hiring an “agency” no longer suffices, at least not for major corporations. They depend on “brand builders” instead – Interbrand, for example. Interbrand boasts “…a global team of thinkers and makers [encouraging] bold moves to leap ahead of customers and competitors.” Interbrand also values the companies they help build. On their list, well inside the top ten: Coca-Cola.

My brothers and I gathered in Atlanta last week for a semi-annual reunion.  Our initial stop wasn’t Coca-Cola’s world headquarters but rather, its popular “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  If you haven’t walked through these doors, Coke has turned an impressive three-story building into a glittery three-ring circus to promote its products, with a side of historical context.  As if Coke needs more promotion.  The genius of this soft drink, as we learn on the tour, is the relentless, boundless effort to put Coke’s brand everywhere imaginable.  Cans, clothing, and cars, just to name a few.  But pixels?

Here’s a weird suggestion.  Go into your home laboratory, create a flavor, and label it something that doesn’t have a flavor.  This is Coke’s latest go-to gimmick to retain market share.  Coca-Cola Zero Sugar “Byte” has come and gone (limited-edition products are another way to retain market share) and you probably didn’t have a taste. And what does “data” taste like?  According to drinkers it’s pretty much the same as Coke Zero, adding in the sensation of the old “Pop Rocks” candy.

Coca-Cola also developed “Coke Starlight”, somehow determining the taste of “outer space”.  Drinkers said it tasted like Coke with an aftertaste of cereal milk (ewwwww).  Go to the store today and you can purchase the latest of these curiosities: “Coke Dreamworld”, which has been described as “Coke soaked in sour peach rings” (ewwwww again).  As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste… or should I say, with Coca-Cola there’s no caring for taste.  Instead, the bottles and cans promote music, videos, and other products through a QR code.  And there’s the branding concept in a nutshell.  You’re attracted to the purchase because it’s a Coca-Cola product, but the draw is anything but the drink itself.

I shouldn’t be surprised how far the taste of Coke has, uh, evolved in the one hundred and thirty years since its market debut.  The variations on the original formula are myriad, including Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke, and “Coke Zero” (no added sugar but plenty of artificial sweeteners).  Let’s not pretend any of these drinks are actually good for your consumption.  But at least vanilla and cherry are tastes we understand.  Dreams?  Not so much.

“Dreamworld” and the other recent flavors target “gamers and younger audiences”.  My brothers and I saw a lot of kids on the “World of Coca-Cola” tour so maybe the advertising is working.  Regardless, Coca-Cola has a bigger challenge to confront.  Sales of soft drinks are on a serious decline, in favor of bottled water and healthier options.  Coke recently cut its portfolio of soft drinks by fifty percent (bye-bye Tab) in an effort to improve its bottom line.  To me, that’s a sound business strategy.  But flavors that aren’t really flavors?  That’s desperate.

Coca-Cola had a big red flag in the 1980s (appropriate color, no?), one that should’ve discouraged future dabbling with their products.  Who among you doesn’t remember the debacle of “New Coke”? The flavor variation – the first in Coca-Cola’s long history – debuted to rave reviews, with claims it was better than Coke or Pepsi.  But here’s what Coca-Cola didn’t see coming: consumers immediately defended the original flavor.  Instead of buying New Coke, they cleared the shelves of the original flavor for fear it would go away forever.  Begrudgingly (and very quickly), Coca-Cola returned the original flavor to stores under the name “Coke Classic”.  But New Coke never found legs and eventually disappeared from the shelves altogether, while “Coke Classic” returned as simply “Coke”.

” Coke Dreamworld”, as you would expect, features prominently in the “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  The flavor that isn’t a flavor, along with a silly 3-D movie and a giant retail store, targets the youngest of consumers.  But let’s be honest, most people go on the tour for the tasting room, where they can sample Coca-Cola’s products to their heart’s content.  “New Coke” is not among those choices.  Pretty soon I don’t expect to see any flavors-that-aren’t flavors either.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Coke’s latest bizarre flavor is here”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Cute Tips

I find it interesting a horse has its eyes on the sides of the head, not on the front like us humans.  If a horse wants to “look you in the eye” he or she needs to turn its head ninety degrees one way or the other.  On the other hand (or hoof) a horse has a clear advantage here in that it can see in two directions at once.  If you think about it (er, “listen about it”) it’s the same setup as human ears.

Last week, my sister-in-law came home from an acupuncture appointment to discover a few needles still stuck in her ear.  Can’t blame her for not being aware, since those tiny needles are painless once they’re in.  But removing them must’ve been tricky, either by pure feel or with the help of a mirror.  You can’t see your ears.  It’s kind of like a backscratcher for those places you can’t reach.

So it is with ears.  Just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean they don’t need occasional attention.  The phrase has been lost on younger generations but parents used to double-check their kids’ hygiene by saying, “Did you wash behind your ears?”  I did, and I still do.  I also wash in my ears.  With cotton swabs.

We’re all built differently, which means some of us need cotton swabs for the ears and others can get by without them.  For me, it’s two a day, every day (that’s over 700 a year for you counters).  I’m an earwax factory and if I don’t attend to my canals regularly, I’ll be heading to the doctor for a rather awkward “irrigation” treatment.  So I swab.  Not like a sailor swabs the decks but you know what I mean.

I’m also built to collect water in my ears (the dreaded “swimmer’s ear”).  It’s not too bad after a shower but I can count on it after a dip in the pool or the ocean.  Sometimes swabs don’t do the trick and I have to resort to alcohol drops to dry things out.  It’s messy business, this cleaning of the ears.

Cotton swabs (or “buds” for you Brits) have a succinct history.  They were invented a century ago by a man who simply attached cotton to toothpicks as a way to clean his infant’s ears.  He gave his product the name “Q-tip” (the “Q” for “quality) and eventually sold the patent to Unilever.  About that time a woman came forward to say she invented the very same thing.  Unilever settled the claim with her, and a hundred years later they’re selling $200 million in cotton swabs every year.  That’s a lot of “cute tips”.

Cleaning ears with Q-tips, by and large, is discouraged by the medical community.  Most of what you’ll read suggests you’re putting your hearing at risk by inserting anything into the ear canal.  Common sense, yes, but there was a time Q-tips were marketed specifically for this reason.  Today the advertising is for anything but, like dabbing makeup or sanitizing computer keyboards.  The last thing a company wants is to promote a product that can potentially damage the body.  Like the person who forgot they had a Q-tip in their ear and then whacked the side of their head.  Ouch.  That’s a trip to the ER if I ever heard of one.

Q-tipping also feels good (to which those ER doctors say, “don’t try this at home!”)  It’s like a tiny massage inside the ear and it’s addicting.  You’re stimulating nerves that are hypersensitive because they don’t get much attention.  For some, it generates an itch-scratch cycle that is difficult to stop.

But enough about cotton swabs.  Enough about ears.  You can re-forget you have a pair on your head.  Except if you’re me and they itch a lot.  Or you live in the South, where gnats are attracted to them (a serious annoyance).  Just remember to wash behind them.  Use cotton swabs very carefully.  And be thankful you’re not an elephant.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Cim-ple Memories

My weekday breakfasts are routine.  Besides a cup of coffee I’ll have yogurt and fruit one day, eggs the next.  That’s about it, alternating between one or the other.  Something about this relatively healthy repeat comforts me.  On the weekends, however, we fancy it up.  Maybe homemade waffles or pancakes.  An omelet with whatever leftovers we can find in the frig.  Or even breakfast out, where someone else does the cooking.  And very occasionally, especially on Sundays, I’ll step back to my childhood and bake the earliest breakfast I can remember – homemade cinnamon rolls.

Last week, my son texted to let me know he was making breakfast with his young daughters.  The three of them were putting together eggs, fruit, and rolls to start their Saturday right.  The rolls – the Pillsbury variety where you whack the tube on the counter and separate the rolls onto a cookie sheet – are topped with a distinctive orange icing my son remembers from many of his childhood breakfasts.  Now he’s carrying on the tradition in his own kitchen, which warms my heart.  But I also realized it’s time he joined the succession of family members who still bake our trademark cinnamon rolls.

If you’re hoping I’ll include a recipe at some point in this post – something with secret ingredients to make our cinnamon rolls the best ever – you’re about to be disappointed.  These rolls are as simple as it gets.  Begin with… Bisquick.  Maybe you’re not familiar with this breakfast-in-a-box product from General Mills but it’s still on the shelf.  You just add milk to the mix and voila, you’re making anything from pancakes to biscuits.

Our cinnamon rolls use the Bisquick biscuit recipe with the dough pressed out flat, adding sugar and spice, and then rolled up to be cut and baked in the oven.  The process is designed to crank out the rolls in hurry, as for a family of seven on the clock before Sunday church.

Now here’s where I pay homage to my father.  He steps into the story because he was the one who made the cinnamon rolls, almost every Sunday without fail.  I’d shuffle into the kitchen bleary-eyed from the night before and there’d be my bathrobed, unshaven father, preparing what we affectionately called the “cims”.  As soon as he rolled out the dough, a kid could help the rest of the way.  Sprinkle brown sugar from one end to the other.  Add raisins here and there.  Dust with cinnamon for a final flourish.  Roll up the dough from one side of the board to the other and cut into segments.

Some of my brothers didn’t like raisins so Dad upped his baking game a bit by leaving them out of some of the rolls.  Eventually he even made “jelly rolls”, substituting the sugar and spices with one of our favorite flavors from Smucker’s or Knott’s.

Speaking of ingredients, our cinnamon rolls were brand dependent.  Besides the essential Bisquick, the brown sugar came from C&H, the raisins from Sun-Maid, and the milk and butter from a local dairy called “Edgemar Farms“.  Funny how those come back to me like yesterday, yet I never thought much about the names until now.  “Bisquick” is literally “biscuit” + “quick”.  C&H is the “California and Hawaiian Sugar Company”, their product refined from sugar cane (instead of beets).  Their jingle still dances around in my head (“C&H… pure cane sugar… from Hawaii… growing in the sun…”)

The updated “Maid”

Sun-Maid put the spin on “Made”, of course, but I never “made” the connection between the name and the woman in the logo until now.  They’ve updated her image several times over the years the way KFC and Wendy’s updated theirs.

Here’s the real point of this post.  My dad and the family cinnamon roll recipe are forever inseparable.  Even though his sons (and their children, I hope) carry on the tradition, it’ll always be Dad and the rolls.  One is not a memory without the other.  I realize – all these years later – Dad made the rolls to give Mom a break from the countless meals she made the rest of the week.  Honestly, the only memories I have of Dad in the kitchen are mixing drinks, tending to the barbecue, or making the “cims”.

Soon after my son texted, I sent him the cinnamon roll recipe.  I hope he “cim-ply” abides as part of his Sunday morning routine.  I hope he refers to the leftover dough bits as “collywobbles” the way my dad did and his dad did before him.  I hope his daughters mispronounce “cinnamon” as “cimmanin” the way I used to (which maybe inspired the nickname “cims”).  But most importantly, I hope he remembers his Grandpa every time he rolls out the dough, preparing breakfast for the family just to give Grandma a break.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Conifer Confetti

When you move to a new city and state, you deal with the expected and the unexpected. The expected includes boxes that don’t unpack themselves (but what a great invention, right?), over-the-fence greetings with neighbors (categorized as “nice”, “cranky”, and “utterly weird”), and enough wrong turns on roads where you finally pull over and mutter, “Where the heck am I?” Unexpected includes the drip of a leaky pipe ($$$, sigh), chew-crazy squirrels in the backyard (anything plastic is fair game), and, oh yes… pine cones. Lots and lots of pine cones.

Five acres may seem like a lot to some of you readers but to us it’s downsizing from our ranch in Colorado.  You’d think a property a sixth the size of the former would suggest lower maintenance.  After last Sunday I’m not so sure.  My wife came in from the barn the day before and said, rather gently, “We should probably pick up the pine cones in the back pasture before they get out of control.”  Simple enough.  After we fed and watered the horses, we went out to the field with the muck rakes and began picking.  A muck rake can hold ten pine cones.  Around the first tree I figured I picked up fifteen rakes’ worth.  Again, simple enough… except we have at least twenty pine trees.  Do the math.  Our pickup amounted to a motherlode of pine cones, somewhere between two and three thousand.

Back in Colorado we had, like, one pine tree on our property (a magical one actually, which I wrote about in My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree).  After last weekend I’m thinking I should’ve amended our purchase agreement on the new place to say, “Remove nineteen of twenty pine trees”.

I need the “giant” version of this

What does Dave do with all of his pine cones?  Nothing, for now.  The most efficient system of gathering is to throw them against the base of the trees and then haul them away to the “yard waste” dump.  But in the three hours we collected cones, I had plenty of time to think about better ways to do it.  The neighbors suggested a “pasture vacuum”, which is like one of those big spinning brushes you see in the car wash, dragged behind the tractor.  Others suggested a big bonfire, pretty much the last thing a person from Colorado wants to see in their backyard.

My new pet

Here’s thinking outside of the box: I could get a pet Parasaurolophus, the dinosaur with a distinctive crested head.  The Para has thousands of teeth perfectly suited for their favorite meal: pine cones.  But I’d need a time machine so I can bring one back from sixty million years ago.  Looks like it’s still me and the muck rake for now.

Conifer cones”, which include pine cones, play a vital role in the evolution of the trees.  Between all those little wooden scales are the seeds, first pollinated and later released.  It’s a sophisticated process which you can read a lot more about here.  In its simplest terms you have the smaller, meeker “males”, who release pollen for the “females” to catch.  Then the females release the seeds, even after they lay in my pastures by the thousands, seemingly dead.

“He” (lower) doesn’t even look like a pine cone

There was a moment in all that raking where I followed a squirrel as he bounded across the grass and onto the trunk of one of the trees.  Up, up, up he went until he disappeared into the umbrella of the branches above.  And that’s where, to my horror, I noticed how many thousands of pine cones sat poised above me. Maybe millions… almost all of them female.  It’s like having the world’s biggest sorority row above my backyard, and every house is about to disgorge its girls for a giant party on the ground.  Maybe I should hire Sticky Vikki & The Pine Cones for the music.

“Widowmaker” cone

I know, I know, it could be worse.  I could live in Maine, where there are so many pine trees the state flower is the pine cone (and a pine cone is not even a flower).  Or I could have Coulter pine trees, with cones so big they’re nicknamed “widowmakers”.  Seriously, these ladies are massive – you don’t want one falling on your head. Speaking of falling, the mere sound of a plummeting cone is unnerving enough.  It’s like a warplane flying overhead and releasing a bomb, only the bomb whistles straight to the ground without detonating. “THUNK”.

I’d have a massive herd of these Scandinavian toys

We shared the story of our pine cone bounty with my brother-in-law, who promptly encouraged us to do something creative with them.  Make wreaths for the holidays.  Turn them into coffee and jam like they do in Eastern Europe.  Sell them as the fertility charm they’re supposed to be.  Nah, I don’t have time for all that.  We’re expecting extra wind in the next few days courtesy of Hurricane Ian.  I have another three thousand pine cones to pick up.

Some content sourced from the HuffPost blog, “Thirteen Things You Never Knew About Pine Cones…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.