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”.

Blue-Blood Spuds

As I was digging into dinner last night, I surveyed the contents of my plate and decided the food was looking rather pedestrian. Yes, I’d topped the roast pork with a tasty sour cream and onion sauce. I added lemon zest and shredded cheese to the broccoli. But the potatoes were run-of-the-mill, simply diced and baked with nothing but salt and pepper. I could’ve done more there; a lot more. Starting with potatoes from La Bonnotte.  It’s just, I don’t want to spend $300 for a pound of them.

$300 for potatoes – yikes.  It sounds ridiculous unless you’re British royalty or the finest restaurants in Europe.  A couple of medium-sized Russets – the ones we bake – weigh a pound, but the Bonnotte potato is more like the small red ones you cut up and season. 10-12 Bonnottes in a pound; so like, $30 each.  That’s a pricey bite (and not exactly “small potatoes”).  But if you’re willing, you can purchase your share of this delicacy; that is if you’re quick.  They’re only on the market ten days a year.

What makes the Bonnotte the aristocrat of spuds?  Here’s the meat and potatoes of it:

  1. La Bonnotte potatoes are found on a small island off the Atlantic coast of France, and nowhere else.  It’s as if they’re grown in some fortified castle, surrounded by a wide moat.
  2. The potato field is limited to fifty square meters, so they’re not even using the entire island.  You could walk the perimeter of the entire crop in about five minutes.
  3. Even though the island soil is ideal for growing La Bonnottes, the “secret sauce” is nearby seaweed and algae, mixed into the dirt by hand.  This is perhaps the first time I’ve heard of a good use for seaweed.
  4. Every Bonnotte is harvested by hand, then treated, cleaned, and sold by a small cooperative of local farmers.  Talk about an exclusive club.
  5. As I said, the harvest is only available for purchase ten days a year.  Mark your calendars for May 1-10, 2023.
The island of Noirmoutier-en-l’ile has a church, a chateau, and very expensive potatoes.

Here’s my favorite reason to buy this hot potato (and for heaven’s sake, don’t drop one): you don’t peel them.  You shouldn’t peel them.  Their unique flavor – tastes of lemon, earth, “the sea”, and chestnut – is most concentrated in the skin.  You eat them just the way they come out of the ground.

Luxuo is an online news portal whose mission is “to uncover the values which permeate the fiber of the world’s most recognizable luxury brands” (Got all that?) The Luxuo website has a dropdown menu for timepieces, yachting, motoring, properties…. and now you’ll find potatoes, because La Bonnottes (you don’t even call them “potatoes” at this price) are the most expensive potatoes in the world.  By some measures they’re one of the most expensive foods in the world.  Saffron, macadamia nuts, Beluga caviar, and white truffles are the top four, followed by La Bonnottes.  Blue-blood spuds indeed.

[Author’s Note: I just had to know why we refer to things as “blue blood”.  The term originated in Spain.  It was used to differentiate between people with light skin from those with darker complexions. The veins of southern Europeans appeared bluer due to their pale and translucent skin. Wealthy landowners or their descendents were part of an upper class in Spain, and somewhere along the line the veins were associated with wealth.  Not a look I prefer, but the money is tempting.]

Couch potato fare

After the La Bonnotte harvest and sell, a small number of the potatoes are reserved for a local festival, where they’re served plain, just as you see them in the entertaining video below (because no other ingredient deserves to share the pan).  Who can blame the farmers for throwing a party?  They’ve convinced the world to purchase potatoes for $300/pound yet again, just as they’ve done for decades before.

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

P.S. I Love You

When it comes to snack foods, I’m not a fan of variations on a theme. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts debuted in the 1960s with just four flavors: strawberry, blueberry, apple, and brown sugar cinnamon. Today you choose from more than twenty Tarts, including “Hot Fudge Sundae”. The original Triscuit cracker was a baked whole wheat square with a little salt. Today you’ll find a dozen Triscuit flavors on the shelf, including “Fire Roasted Tomato & Olive Oil”. Then we have the Oreo cookie. The original, of course, was two chocolate wafers sandwiching just the right amount of vanilla cream filling. Now Oreo flavors are too numerous to count.  But there’s one you can be sure is a whopping success: pumpkin spice.

 Welcome to mid-September, Americans, and the beginning of our pumpkin spice delirium.  For the next two months you can expect an endless parade of “P.S.” product advertisements.  My wife & I, we’ve already caved to the obsession.  We have a package of “Pumpkin Spice Snaps” sitting on the counter.  We have two leftover pieces of this year’s first homemade pumpkin pie sitting in our frig.  And it’s only a matter of time before my car veers off the road and right through a Starbucks drive-thru for one of their classic P.S. lattes.  (I’ll take a grande, if you please).

My daughter just reminded me Starbucks also brings back their pumpkin cream cold brew this time of year.  That’s a good one too but let’s be real: none of Starbucks’ P.S. offerings should be considered “coffee”.  We buy them for the spice and the sweet, not for the taste of the beans underneath.

Lest you think Starbucks gets the credit for our pumpkin spice mania, the record must be set straight.  McCormick and Company, they of the little red-capped spice bottles, debuted their “Pumpkin Pie Spice” in 1934.  At least three of the following are in the bottle: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.  Do I have this spice blend?  Yes.  Do I use it?  Heck, no.  My wife’s family recipe for pumpkin pie contains a different proportion of the individual spices than McCormick’s, which may be the secret to its delectable flavor.  Plus, pumpkin pie is easy enough to make without having the spices combined for you. Dump the ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Pour into a pie shell.  Bake. My kind of dessert.

Starbucks can’t even take the credit for the first P.S. latte.  That accolade goes to Mexico’s Candle Company in 1995.  The Starbucks version debuted eight years later.  But you could argue Starbucks kicked off the forever-trend where we infuse P.S. into everything imaginable, including the good (Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Cheerios, candles) and the ridiculous  (lip balm, deodorant, beer).  As of 2016, “pumpkin spice consumables” accounted for an annual market of over $500M. Yep, we’re hooked.

The “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Creme Oreo” is not even an Oreo, at least not in my pantry.  Nabisco attached the word “Oreo” but c’mon, let’s just admit it’s a seasonal wolf in sandwich cookie clothing.  “Golden” Oreo cookies… with “festive pumpkin spice flavored cream” (and is it cream or creme?)  Nope, the only Oreos in my book are black and white, though I will allow shelf space for the “Double Stuf” variety.

I’m not sure why this topic caught my eye because I haven’t had an Oreo in years.  The last time I did I realized the taste was different from the Oreo of my youth.  The cookies are not as soft, and there’s less cream filling in between (which is like messing with the ratio of chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s, a sin for all mankind).  Like the misfortune of many other snack foods though, size and ingredients change for the sake of profit.  And new varieties pop up to keep consumers buying.  At least we’re not talking about the Lady Gaga Oreo.  You’ll need your sunglasses for that one.

Now you’ll excuse me as I head off to a doctor’s appointment.  My drive will take me past several Starbucks, which means I could be caving to my first P.S. latte of the season.  Not that I’m worried about missing out.  As soon as the P.S. season is over I can look forward to Starbucks’ Chestnut Praline latte all the way through New Year’s Day.  Now we’re talking!

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Oreo is bringing back this flavor after a 5-year hiatus:, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Credit Guards (or AT&T pt. 2)

When my “favorite” service provider AT&T (tongue-clearly-in-cheek) challenged my creditworthiness last month amidst an adventurous request for internet service, I was forced to bow down before the Big Three. No, not Ford, Chrysler, Dodge – I don’t drive any of ’em. And not CBS, NBC, ABC either – I can now stream their programming (since I finally have internet). Rather, today’s big three are Equifax, Experian, TransUnion – those behind-the-curtains guards who man the credit rating tollbooths as sternly as passport checkers from former Eastern Bloc countries.

Credit guard companies are more difficult to deal with than credit card companies.  The moment I entered college, offers for credit came pouring into my mailbox.  I could qualify for ridiculous amounts on little plastic cards, even though I was a penniless freshman with little reportable income.  But they want you hooked on credit at an early age so you’ll pay back a lifetime of fees in interest.  Yet now, with decades of credit history under my belt (all of it positive, I say with muted pride), dealing with the credit guards is infinitely more challenging.  It’s like walking up to Fort Knox and asking for a bar of gold.

If you don’t check (or even know) your credit score, you may not be familiar with the Big Three.  They’re like triplets hired to do the same job: “consumer credit reporting agencies… collecting and aggregating information… on consumers and businesses worldwide”.  Equifax tracks 800 million consumers.  Experian tracks a billion.  In other words, the next time you use your credit card, you can bet the Guards will be watching.

The Guards help themselves to your transaction, blend it with the others you’ve racked up recently, look at how well you manage your total credit and debt, and come up with a score.  If you and your wallet behave, you get a number in the neighborhood of 700; if not, you’re closer to 500 (sounds like a college entrance exam, no?) 1.2% of Americans maintain an absolutely perfect credit score, though darned if I know how they do it.  Maybe they pay for everything in cash.

Consumer credit reporting agencies are b-o-r-i-n-g (I’m surprised you’ve made it this far) so I’m not fired up to write about them today.  Instead, let me tell you a story – humor at my expense, really – where the Guards were peripherally involved… and I was fired up.

When I was battling working with AT&T on my request for internet last month, the customer service rep stole took a full hour of my valuable time to botch set up the account, even though I already had another account with AT&T for wireless service.  He asked a million questions (including the oft-scripted “how’s the weather where you are today?”).  A marathon later – because I could’ve run one by this point – he said it was time to check my credit.  Here’s where I should’ve thought to hang up because AT&T owns decades of credit history on me (thanks to the Guards).  If AT&T couldn’t tap into my score already then maybe I shouldn’t be doing business with them.  But I really wanted internet so I surrendered cooperated like a good little lamb, supplying my name, rank, and social security number.  And this is where everything went horribly wrong.

“I’m sorry sir, but your credit is blocked.”

Blocked?  What the *$%^#! HECK does that mean?  When I asked him to please explain, my smooth operator countered by saying, “Let me run the check again.  Repeat <your> social security number”… which I did, only to hear the word “blocked” again.  When the third time wasn’t the charm he made a rather stupid bold announcement:

“I’m sorry sir, but you must have an invalid social security number.”

Invalid social?  So you’re saying the nine-digit number I memorized when I was like, oh, an infant; the one I’ve spoken or written millions of times in my life, the one I’ve been trying to protect from identity thieves since I was born, is “invalid”?  What kind of incompetent fool professional was I dealing with here?

More like “think twice”

Again I should’ve slammed the phone down hung up, but silly me, I surrendered more minutes of time to understand my “two options for service when I have blocked credit”.  One, I could set up the account in my wife’s name. Involve an innocent bystander in this circus request and risk divorce?  No way.  Two, I could pay AT&T a $250 retainer fee to offset my newfound credit liability. Okay, NOW I’m insulted.  When I declined both options, my customer service imposter temporary friend apologized, bid me good day, and hung up without another word.  Seriously, he hung up on me (without so much as a sales pitch for DirecTV). I suppose you could call it a fitting conclusion to a totally worthless call.

My story does have a happy ending.  Several days later I mustered the courage to call (A)nguish, (T)orment, & (T)orture again.  Maybe the more you call them the better the service because the next rep let me know my credit was frozen (not “blocked”).  Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!  Frozen credit, for those of you in the not-know, is initiated by the consumer (me).  A credit freeze is put in place to counter identity theft.  I totally forgot I’d done that, like, last century, but thanks to a smidge of online access (the Guards are more hospitable these days) I was able to drop the freeze with just a few keystrokes. Bingo. Credit check passed. Internet service permitted.

The inspiration for this post was a recent headline about Equifax.  The Guard issued millions of incorrect credit scores last spring, which meant consumers were either denied loans when they shouldn’t have been or charged higher-than-deserved interest rates.  One ambitious soul is leading a class action lawsuit to reclaim the interest she never should’ve have paid.  As for me, I choose not to deal with the Guards any more than I have to.  After all, I get enough credit check grief from AT&T.

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

Lost in a Dense Fog

When I first learned to play the piano, it was a challenge to master the weight of the keys. Weighted keys allow the piano’s sound to be louder or softer depending on how hard you press them down. Since fingers vary in size and shape it takes practice before the index and ring fingers (for example) generate the same volume on the keyboard. In hindsight, if I’d chosen the theremin over the piano I could’ve developed the technique much faster because this instrument makes its music without weighted keys. In fact, the theremin makes music without any touch at all.

I should’ve posted about the theremin closer to Halloween because it produces one of the eeriest sounds you’ll ever hear.  Click the red preview button on this list of Theramin Sound Effects and tell me if you disagree. Doesn’t your mind conjure up a ghostly apparition floating in the darkness of a haunted house?  The theremin provides the perfect soundtrack for all things scary. New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg once described the theremin’s wail as “a cello lost in a dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home.”  I like that (and it’s much classier than “pig squeal”).

How the theremin creates its unique sound involves too much science to keep your attention today (and more words than I want to type).  Suffice it to say, the instrument has two antennae; a looped one to control volume and an upright one to delineate pitch.  The player’s darting hand/finger movements – touching nothing but the air in between – create its spooky music. 

Now watch the following performance.  Seeing the theremin played is almost as jaw-dropping as listening to it.

I find the theremin to be a fish out of water next to traditional orchestra instruments, yet there are several other weirdos out there.  The bassoon features a tiny mouthpiece attached to a massive piece of black pipe and requires a deliberate overbite to create its nasal tones.  The glockenspiel (which gets points for a fancy name) is really nothing more than a metal xylophone.  The tam-tam is a giant gong, lucky to be struck more than once in a performance.  And the hand saw doubles as a musical instrument when you warp and release the blade (and sounds pretty darned close to the theremin).  But each of these outliers requires physical touch to make their sounds.  The theremin sings with mere jabs of the air.

[Author’s aside:  Every time I write theremin my brain wants to override with Theraflu, the over-the-counter cold and flu medicine (“Discover the Powerful Relief!”)  You don’t find many thera- words in the English language – therapy being the only other one I can come up with.  I’m happy to announce I need neither Theraflu nor therapy at the moment.]

The theremin was invented in the 1920s by Russian physicist Leon Theremin (whose life story involved a lot more than science).  RCA picked up the commercial production rights but the musical instrument never really developed a following.  Instead, its soprano voice showed up randomly in music and movies.  If you recall the Beach Boys’ hit, “Good Vibrations” you should also recall the theramin solo at the end of the song.  You’ll also hear its moan in the opening bars of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”.  But the theramin seems a more logical fit in the soundtracks of horror and science fiction movies like The Spiral Staircase, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World, and more recently, Monster House.

My favorite account of the theremin (and with this I close) is a collection of melodies recorded and blasted into outer space back in 2001.  The effort was an attempt to communicate with other worlds, including Gershwin’s Summertime and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  The name of this collection? First Theremin Concert for Extraterrestrials.  Seriously?  We chose the theremin?  Wouldn’t these classics have sounded a whole lot smarter on the instruments they were originally written for?  No wonder the (more intelligent) races out there haven’t stopped by our little planet to say hello.

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