Monday, January 31, 2011

Birthday Black Cake Saga - The Layers

Ironic that this XKCD.Com comic came about cooking. 
At any rate, I have a cake recipe.  Yes, from scratch.  I can predict a few things about this particular recipe.  First, it will go wrong somehow.  I always forget something, and always recover.  One year I had the Butter creaming in the mixer and found out that I was short on flour.  This year it was that the chocolate squares were over warmed in the microwave and crystalized around the edges.  No big deal, it wasn't so bad that anyone noticed right?

Another is that it runs a little dry.  Not markedly so.  Just with this terrible oven I have, it isn't as moist as commercial cakes are.  I could add a little more fat (butter or shortening) to it, but that would change the taste.  It isn't DRY, it's merely not as moist as I like it.

Otherwise the recipe is a good one, predictable.  I can always get a very nice flavor out of it following it literally and a cake I can serve to others.   The results are in the refrigerator.  This time I got a very tall, three layer chocolate cake out of this. 

Whenever I bake I purposely cream my butter much longer than suggested.  It gives me a lighter batter.   I'm certain there are places where all that air will result in the wrong texture... I'll let you know if I find it. 

I also creamed the batter itself.  I think by the time I had all the air in this it doubled in size.  It is hardly necessary, more of a "ooh look what I can do" sort of thing.  The texture didn't suffer, and in fact it turned out quite nice.  Three layers of chocolate goodness.

If you never have made a chocolate cake from scratch it can be tricky but not something to run screaming from.  Melt your chocolate in the microwave at low to medium power.  If not then do it at full at a very short blast, maybe 10 seconds at a shot.  I turned around and got cocky and thought "Hmmm 30 seconds will do it!".  Sure, but it gave me caramelization that I did not care for.

You will need a proper stand mixer to do it the way I did, but a hand mixer will work if not as easily.  

The ingredients are:

3/4 Cup (1 1/2 stick) of butter or margerine
2 Cups Sugar
2 2/3 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking POWDER
 3/4 tsp each of baking SODA and salt

1 1/3 cup of milk (2% recommended)
3 eggs
3 squares unsweetened bakers chocolate melted and cooled
1 tsp of Vanilla Extract

Wax Paper
Shortening to grease pans
3 8 inch or 2 9 inch cake baking pans

1) Cream butter until fluffy

2) Sift Sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the butter.  Note: You will want to sift the flour into a measuring cup first and not measure then sift - sifting will make the flour expand some and that could be why my cake turns out a little dry since I usually forget this step.

3) Add 1 cup of milk and mix until the ingredients are smooth and dampened.  Remember to reserve 1/3 cup roughly of the milk.

4) Beat for 2 minutes vigorously.  (More air gets in there)

5) Add the remaining milk and ingredients while beating and beat another 2 minutes.  (This loves to be beaten the naughty thing!)

6) Pour into 3 8 inch or 2 9 inch cake pans that are greased and the bottoms are lined with Waxed Paper.  Make sure that the mix is evenly distributed. 

7) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in a preheated 350F Oven. 

8) Turn out on racks and peel off paper after pulling them from the oven.  Allow to cool thoroughly.

9) Frost with icing and enjoy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Kevin

I won't tell you just what the age is but there is a five and a zero in it.  He's not 5 so keep guessing!

Kevin and I last night went out for dinner.  Partly courtesy of my Godmother Kathie and her husband Larry, we went to use the gift card at Grand Lux Cafe in Sawgrass Mills.  We could have went to any of three in nearby areas, this one was my idea as I wanted to get to see the mall.  I haven't been there in over a year, and it was going to be a night out.

We got to the mall around 5:30 and immediately went to try to find the place.  Murphy's law being what it is, we drove 3/4 of the way around the mall before we went and started cruising the parking lot.  You see the lot was slammed with cars. 

Kevin's normal comment is particularly appropriate "You know... we ARE in a recession you see!".  Ok, yes, but sometimes you just have GOT to get out and see other people.  Sawgrass being a destination mall in a resort city in high season is just going to be busy.

Cruising the lot for about another 15 minutes, we finally found parking "way off over there" near "Needless Markup".  Or basically as I usually call it "Coventry" ... or East Naples.

We got in, immediately got a table and were seated.  The portions were large for anyone else, although my Asian Chicken Salad was what I am used to having when I make my patented dinner salad in a mixing bowl which is around 2 quarts of "stuff".  Roughly.

Kevin got an excellent Black Angus Burger with fries, and I have to say his portions were generous as we were warned, but more "reasonable".  We're both big guys with high metabolisms so we thought it was fine.  A smaller person might want to consider forgoing dessert.

On the other hand you see dessert.  That dessert in the background was a bread pudding made from a cinnamon sticky bun.  Rightly sized and excellent, or so I have been told...

I didn't sample Kevin's because I was working on that massive slab of Red Velvet Cake.   The cake was simply excellent.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was however, huge.  What I should have done was to have around 1/2 of the cake, then ask to take away the rest for today.  As a result it became a challenge for me to finish it.  I recommend the cake, as I did to the neighboring table, although I suggested that they split it between husband, wife and pre-teen daughter!

But finish it I did and that became the entertainment of the evening.  Both Kevin and I walking around feeling bloated with meals of size that we normally don't eat more than once a quarter.  While we are both big men, we are both reasonably fit. 

The mall presented an opportunity to walk some of our meal off, and it was needed.  On the other hand, the crowded parking lot meant a crowded mall.   It looked like the days before christmas in there as the place was crammed with people.  Oh well, it was literally for us, a once in a year opportunity. 

All in all it was a fun night, we did things we normally did and I got to spend time with Kevin in the mall. 

Happy Birthday, Kevin.

As I am writing this, at 10:30 AM we are both still digesting that dessert.  No breakfast for either of us!  On the other hand, dinner is cooking in the crock pot...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

10 Canine Commandments

I shamelessly borrowed this one from the I Can Haz Cheeseburger Network.  I'm sure they didn't make this up on their own, but if you would like to see their silliness about dogs, or their silliness about cats, you can click along.

I saw the pic and had an Awwww Moment and wanted to share it.

This all was spawned in the whole "LOL Cats" internet meme.  A lot of it is just mindless amusement, and if you're like me and have many web pages to read in the morning, AKA Job Search, you can break up your own "entertainment" with some of these. 

Click on the picture though, it's "Squee Inducing"!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Make Facebook More Secure with HTTPS

Simply put the "S" on the end of "HTTPS" is for "secure". 

It means that if you take your laptop to your nearest friendly coffee house you are less likely to have someone capture your password.  There are other ways to get onto your computer, to be hacked, but this plugs one hole in the most popular website, and one of the worst from the standpoint of security.

Really Simple Instructions, I promise.  I'll blather on afterwords but here goes.

1) Log into your Facebook account in your favorite browser.
2) Click on the link in the upper right of the screen for "Account"
3) Select "Account Settings" which is under your picture and on my list it is the third entry.
4) You will now be on the "Account Settings" page.
5) On my page, it is the seventh entry, "Account Security", select that by clicking on "change" on the right.
6) The page will open up more information.
7) Find the check box under "Secure Browsing (https)" and click the check box on.
8) Click Save - you are done.

Facebook exists to sell your information.  It is up to you to decide how much of that you want to sell.  Seeing that you get no money back from that, you get no direct benefits from their having your information, and that its basically a very creepy situation, take matters into your own hands.

I suggest that you may want to consider going through your profile in Facebook and ask yourself, "Do I Really NEED To Share This?"  If I don't know you, you will only see my name, my picture, and the city I live in.  There is an amazing amount of information tie-in that you can do from that, and if you doubt me, go to Google and type your own name in. 

After all, it is YOUR information so it should be YOUR choice.

It is ironic that I suggested for you to search Google for your own information since they exist to sell your information as well.  The creepy factor is on all of these New Media sites, you are being watched, so learn what they know about you or at least what you can.

Blogger, which is where this blog is hosted is a Google Site.  I use Facebook extensively to contact my family and friends, to find discounts on deals, and to try to win a Mac Book Air (Got a spare one? Let me know - this laptop is creaky!).  I'm part of the problem as well by adding content onto my own Facebook group, and that little stripe with the link on it is there so you can like the site.

I will continue to use all of those sites.  After all, blogging and Facebook are great outlets for verbal creativity.  If you read the site here, search for Ramblingmoose on Facebook and join the group.  You can let me know there.  After all, that's what Social Media is all about.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Story of Mark Pretzel

I had a friend all through high school, Jim, who went to the same University that I did, Drexel University.

We both started out with the same major, and we both changed them to other majors around the same time.  The first term that I lived in the dorms, we both were in Kelly Hall.   Kelly was this cinder block tower that was wrapped in the same bricks that gave Drexel the nickname that it wore through the years I was there, Orange Brick University.  The buildings were faced in Orange Bricks through the construction into the 90s when they switched to a more conventional brick because it was cheaper.

Inside of Kelly Hall, the rooms were uniform unless you were lucky enough to live in one of the end units. These had the best view of the city of Philadelphia from their perch in West Philadelphia.  Behind the room doors were nearly indestructible furnishings made of metal and thick wood with veneer.  These places were built to last.

Each door in the building were solid wood.  I had to assume that these were made to last in an environment of 18 year old plus men and women doing what they would which included water balloons, bowling and football games in the hallways. 

Most of these doors had little nails or hooks in them so the students could tack notes to them so you knew what the inhabitants within had on mind. 

That was where Jim came in.  You see this particular door was directly across the hall from Jim and he got to hear all of Mark's partying, listen to his music and experience when Mark was doing things that you would not be able to do in public.  Mark was, you see a partier. 

To call Mark a partier, is probably one of the better understatements that I could make.  More like Mark was an epic partier, he raised it to an art form.  Seeing that the Residential Assistant of that day was a partier, the bookish Jim was out of luck.   Jim would disappear to the library or my room on another floor or the lobby of the building so he didn't have to be assaulted with more Album Oriented Rock at small hours of the night.

Jim was a thin person, is to this day.  I doubt he ever packed more than 140 pounds onto his 6 foot tall or more frame.  Not the type that would be doing contact sports or having your back in a fight.  Nice guy but not good at that sort of thing. 

The strongest thing Jim would do was to drink cola, lots of it, and eat pretzel rings.   If you ever had the munchies for Bachman's Pretzel Rings, no matter what time of the day, you could ask him and he would cheerfully say "That's what they're there for" and hand you the bag.

One day Mark came back to the room in the middle of the night after partying with the frats, and crashed out on his bed behind that solid door with his Led Zeppelin screaming through the night and Jim had had enough.

Yes, Jim walked out into the hall and put a single round brown pretzel ring on that nail.

With Salt.

And went back into his room and went to sleep.

The next day we walked down the hill down 33rd Street in West Philly to class and he told me about it like it was a big deal. 

I suppose to such a "Nice Guy" like Jim, this little act of defiance was a big deal.  Telling the story, I had to laugh and said "It would be such a TERRIBLE shame if it happened again!".

You know where this is going don't you... Jim continued to do this day after day for the rest of that term and into the next.

Mark would come home, drunk, probably on other drugs as well, high as a kite and collapse on that cot of a bed and sleep through his classes.  His grades suffered predictably.

Just as predictably, Mark had a fresh pretzel on his door.

We got wind that he was failing out of Drexel.  It was for the best, the partiers never do all that well.

The final straw was when he did his partying a bit too hearty on finals week and slept through not one, but two exams. 

The screaming that came down the hall and up the stair tower was epic.  Mark was cursing out a blue streak.  He said that he didn't know if he would ever make it through another term of academic probation and was livid.  This was the proverbial Hitting Bottom scene we all have heard of.

It was at that point when he turned back to the door and there, sitting on the nail was a round pretzel.

He literally went ballistic.  It was as if every bit of rage he had came out at the one same second.  He was angry at the world, angry at the school, angry at the music that was skipping on the turntable.  That little ring of pretzel became the symbol for everything that was wrong in his life.

He opened the door, leaving the pretzel there, stepped inside and closed the door.   At that point the music fell silent.

The next day he was telling the story to me and Jim and the rest there and saying that he was going to kill the person who kept putting the pretzels on his door.  But there was something missing in his voice.  It was at that time Jim said "You know Mark, it was me".  Gentle Jim was the person who did the deed as a long running joke, owned up to it.

Mark looked crushed.  He said "If it were anyone else I'd strangle them, but Jim, you?"

It was that point Mark changed.  He begun to laugh, loudly and longly at all of us assembled.  Said thank you for the joke and went back inside.

The term ended, and the partying wasn't quite so hearty.  Animal Dorm wasn't the same.  Jim moved to another room then back to his family later in Medford NJ for the rest of his schooling.  I went to what was then called the New Dorms across the walkway.

Mark was never the same.  The Power of the Pretzel seemed to help him along.  He eventually graduated from Drexel University.  He wasn't at the top of the class but he did get a degree. 

The meek may never inherit the Earth, but sometimes they will hand you that last Pretzel you need to get along in life.  I may have moved away, but I will never forget the grace that Jim had when handling difficult situations.  I can hope that those who know him still appreciate that as I do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Single Ponderosa Flower is Pollinated

I can stand snakes.
I can stand spiders.
I can stand most creepy crawlies.

I can not stand bees.

They make me run and scream like a little girl.  I have always been afraid of the little blighters.  So while for you this picture may not be a big deal, it took a lot of mental preparation for me to get it.

What you have is one small blossom being pollinated in the back yard.  We have a Ponderosa Lemon in a prison, er pot.  It seems to like it there just like the nearby Meyer Lemon does.  There are dozens of flowers on the plant, petals about as long as your thumbnail.  Not a whole lot of scent to them, the Meyers are magnificent in bloom and our Meyer is in bud again.

But to get the lemons you have to have bees.

(I'll shudder here and save you the effort.)

The Meyer Lemon we have has given fruit, and it was wonderful, but they are seedy lemons.  I saved off quite a few of these lemon seeds and planted one pot with them.  I now have seven seedlings and if any get past the baby plant stage, I'll be passing them out.  For now, the seedlings are too small to count on and probably are getting overwatered so I don't expect much...

But we're still here making the bees happy.  They're not my Monarchs, but they'll do.   Once the blossoms are done, I'll be safe again in the back yard.

Anyone have a can of bug spray?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Subject: Christmas dinner gone wild! - Humor

Lately people who have liked my posting jokes, have been sending me jokes that they get in email.  They hope that I will like it and share it with the 100 or so folks who read my blog in the course of a day.  Well, this one is from Kevin, my partner in crime. 

Since there aren't any bad words but some great imagery, I couldn't resist. The funny thing is that I know someone who tried this to get onto the carpool lanes.  It didn't work forever.  I guess the Vinyl seam down the side of the neck didn't look right to the Trooper that pulled him over.

Subject: Christmas dinner gone wild!

As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them.

What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.

One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown.

If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go, you'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, 'What does this do?' 'You're kidding me!' 'Who would buy that?' Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section.

I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.

Finding what I wanted was difficult. 'Love Dolls' come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry. I settled for 'Lovable Louise.' She was at the bottom of the price scale. To call Louise a 'doll' took a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve and with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life.

My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy, but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.

We all agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. 'What the hell is that?' she asked.

My brother quickly explained, 'It's a doll.'

'Who would play with something like that?' Granny snapped.

I kept my mouth shut.

'Where are her clothes?' Granny continued.

'Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran,' Jay said, to steer her into the dining room.

But Granny was relentless. 'Why doesn't she have any teeth?'

Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, 'Hang on Granny, hang on!'

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me and said, 'Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?' I told him she was Jay's friend.

A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the mantel, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants.

Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh.

Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health..

I can't wait until next Christmas...

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Way To The Beach in Fort Lauderdale

Today, it is 70.  It is expected to get up to 72.  The sun is burning off the Marine Layer, there is a beautiful breeze out there. 

The breeze is blowing through the house.  There is the scent of blossoms on the air. 

I say this because a friend told me that I should be happy and to check the current forecast for Philadelphia, PA today.

According to the Weather at that time it was 13F, going "up" to 23F.  Tomorrow though it will "warm" to 41.

Ahhhh... A little Schadenfreude is good for the soul. 

I'm sure they'll remind me come July 1 when Hurricane Season hits but for now... 

Maybe the scene at the beach will make them feel better.  See the sun, surf, and sand?  Feel like a bike ride?  Actually when I took this I was stuck in traffic on A1A.  It usually is a line of stop and go from one end to the other when you're on there so basically it is strictly sightseeing.   You aren't going somewhere fast on that road unless you're going at 230AM.  Even then the Ft Lauderdale PD keeps an eye out for speeders.  Now THAT is a completely different story...There was this time at Sunrise and A1A that...

I'm going to get some rude comments in Facebook Group for the blog!  Go ahead!  I'm waiting! :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

True Story - 2 Duck Hunters in Wisconsin

Here in town we have a lot of characters.  One of the local characters, that I am truly proud to know, is Diane Cline.   Diane is known for telling jokes, some of which are even clean jokes... if you get my drift. 

I look forward to hearing her stories of days gone by in Wilton Manors back in the 80s and before.  She's the President of the Wilton Manors Historical Society and the meetings that they have that I have had the pleasure of attending are both informative and entertaining.  It all is in a large part because of Diane.

Diane has shared this joke with me and said "Thought you would like this one, and it's clean.".  

I am sharing it with you today.  Enjoy!

True Story - 2 Duck Hunters in Wisconsin

Absolutely a True Story heard on a Wisconsin Radio Station reporting on the incident...

        A guy buys a new Lincoln Navigator for $42,500.00 with monthly payments of $560.00. He and a friend go duck hunting in upper Wisconsin. It's mid-winter; and of course all of the lakes are frozen. These two guys go out on the ice with their GUNS, a DOG, and of course the new NAVIGATOR They decide they want to make a natural looking open water area for the ducks to focus on, something for the decoys to float on.
        Now making a hole in the ice large enough to invite a passing duck, is going to take a little more power than the average drill auger can produce. So, out of the back of the new Navigator comes a stick of dynamite with a short 40 second-fuse.
        Our two Rocket Scientists, afraid they might slip on the ice while trying to run away after lighting the fuse (and becoming toast, along with the Navigator), decide on the following course of action: they light the 40 second fuse; then, with a mighty thrust, they throw the stick of dynamite as far away as possible.
        Remember a couple of paragraphs back when I mentioned the NAVIGATOR, the GUNS, and the DOG...? Let's talk about the dog: A highly trained Black Lab used for RETRIEVING; especially things thrown by the owner. You guessed it, The dog takes off across the ice at a high rate of speed and grabs the stick of dynamite, with the burning 40-second fuse, just as it hits the ice.
        The two men swallow, blink, start waving their arms and, with veins in their necks swelling to resemble stalks of rhubarb, scream and holler at the dog to stop. The dog, now apparently cheered on by his master, keeps coming. One hunter panics, grabs the shotgun and shoots the dog. The shotgun is loaded with #8 bird shot, hardly big enough to stop a Black Lab.
        The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, then continues on. Another shot, and this time the dog, still standing, becomes really confused and of course terrified, thinks these two geniuses have gone insane.
        The dog takes off to find cover, UNDER the brand new Navigator.
        The men continue to scream as they run. The red hot exhaust pipe on the truck touches the dog's rear end; he yelps, drops the dynamite under the truck and takes off after his master.
        The truck is blown to bits and sinks to the bottom of the lake, leaving the two idiots standing there with 'I can't believe this just happened' looks on their faces.
        The insurance company says that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is NOT COVERED by the policy. And he still had yet to make the first of those $560.00 a month payments.
        The dog is okay....doing fine.
        And you thought all Rednecks lived in the South........

Saturday, January 22, 2011

First Time Bartender at the Island City Art Walk

Last night, Wilton Manors held a party.

It wasn't strictly a "Wilton Manors Party" it was more like a bunch of parties strung together all at once, all along the Drive.  This is the basis for the Island City Art Walk.  It's not an official event held under one official banner. 

Each individual store that decides to participate has artists with their works on display at their store to show off the art.  Some shops are always hosting artists, others drop in and out as time allows. 

It's a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and wander through some shops that normally you would not be able to go to.

Ok so that's basically the gist of how I see things as a resident and sometimes participant.

What happened with me was a bit different, at least as far as my own experience shows.  I'm not a bartender, I have never played one on TV.  I have tried to get a friend up to Wilton Manors so he could get to see it and those plans fell apart early last week so we went to the Wilton Manors Main Street offices to "help out".

Kevin delivered some cheese, chips and salsa from GFS Marketplace, another member delivered some wine and ice, and we set things out for the coming throng.  We were ready.

As time went on, Kevin, Krishan and I were playing host to a steady stream of people.  I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Vice Mayor Tom Green and a number of others as I was standing behind the bar and as time went on, we got our first lull in the traffic.   Krishan excused himself as things were quite under control for a bit of time out on the town. 

As parties go, they always have a lifespan.  Start out slow, build to a peak, then fade out slowly until the last one is kicked off the couch or told that since they crashed there all night it is their responsibility to make breakfast for everyone.

Make mine a sausage and cheese omelette, please.

Just as the party begun to build, a full 15 minutes into it, Kevin's phone rang.  He ran out to take a "quick call" and I was pouring wine and serving cheese.  I'm looking back at it and have to say it was "different in a good way".  I was able to basically host a party on my own introducing people to the artist, and telling them where we are on the Two Lane Initiative for Wilton Drive as far as I knew. 

That quick call was 45 minutes long, so I was on my own for a while.  On the other hand, it was a chance to visit with some friends in the neighborhood that I only partly knew and get caught up.  Funny how time will stretch and compress when you're having fun. 

The salsa was a hit, GFS had some good stuff, and the leftovers will go into the salsa chicken that is today's dinner.  I think we're going to have that chicken on top of chips with a layer of cheese chunks.   Funny how versatile "snack food" can be.  The recipe is simple - add to a crockpot 8 frozen chicken breasts and enough salsa to coat and then press cook.  Shred when done with two forks.   We used chicken from GFS that we picked up last weekend at the Fort Lauderdale store so this meal is all from them.

Considering what I experienced, I would say that the people who came in are expecting some changes in the city.  There was heavy interest in what the Two Lane Initiative was all about and what it's status was.  Basically, we have applied for a grant, and we are waiting to see if the grant application is going to be approved.   In the meantime, the City has a committee made of community members who meet to formulate plans to proceed.  Many questions also were being asked about the businesses that were closing on the drive in this difficult economic downturn.

We are basically waiting to see where we're going, and the people who I spoke with were very happy to hear that it hasn't died.

Once Kevin's 45 minute call was over, Krishan immediately appeared and I was off duty.  I got to enjoy the party by greeting guests from a chair while helping them find the artist and answering still more questions about what went on with the Art Walk and with the Two Lane Initiative and important things like where is the nearest ATM.

Both artists who exhibited their works at Wilton Manors Main Street were well received and were both saying that they'd like to come back.  I would say that the Exhibits as well as the Art Walk was a success.

The experience was a fun one, I did enjoy playing bartender but I'll have to remember next time - softer shoes!

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Border Collie has a Sense of Humor

I've heard people say that sort of thing before but I hadn't noticed it first hand until recently.

Dogs smile.   Furthermore, Dogs do it because they know what a smile means to us.  It is not a natural gesture in Wolf Society.  They have a completely different body language.   Over the last 13,000 or so years, as dogs and humans co-evolved, dogs evolved a need to please us.  They are eager to do things because of what they have become.  Wolves are just wild animals.  While wolves and dogs can interbreed, they are no longer the same species genetically.

Or so I have been told.

Down the block there is a house.   It is actually a duplex and it sits next to the Women's Club in town here.  I believe that the people that live there are renters, but I have no real idea of how that particular cluster of homes are connected.

One of the parts of the Duplex is inhabited by a man and a woman.  They also have a pack of dogs there.  There are at least three rottweilers in that half of the house and there are more that are in there.   I know this because when ever anyone walks by with their dogs, you are greeted by a chorus of yapping and barking.

Basically I know by this that the dogs are not cared for appropriately because the reaction is way out of proportion for what the dogs are seeing.   These dogs are charging the door and the window and basically tearing up the place.

The owner of those dogs isn't much better.  He's a rude individual, has had shouting matches with multiple people with dogs including myself.  The other day I watched him let his rottweiler defecate on another person's property and did not clean up after it.   After he started to move on, he tried to discipline the dog for some unseen infraction by kicking it in an imitation of Cesar Millan's "Touch".  The "Touch" was more like a Punt because that dog recoiled in pain, tail between it's leg.

I have to question whether this individual should have dogs at all.  He obviously treats them like he treats the neighbors and the rest of passers by.  That is to say rudely at best.

The next day as I walked past with Lettie, my border collie, we went through the gauntlet of at least four dogs barking at windows and general disarray.   She stopped in full view of the window and decided to make water.

She was taking WAY too much time so I said to her "Come On Girl, lets get out of here, they're crazy!".

It was at this moment I noticed her smiling.

As she took her own sweet time to finish emptying her bladder for now and probably the next five walks we will have, I was finally beginning to realize what she was doing.

Border Collies are extremely intelligent dogs.   If they know that something is wrong they will do what they think is right to make it better.   You may not realize it or you may not agree with it but they know what they're doing.

We walked away from the property and I said to my companion, "You know, I think she did that on purpose!".  "Look, she's still smiling!".

Dogs in the background barking their fool heads off, Lettie looked over at me and smiled even broader.

She had made her point!  She stopped there to annoy that overfull house of dogs!

Now I am realizing that at that point of the walk, she simply doesn't have anything left in her to empty out.   She ALWAYS without fail stops in front of that house and will pull me to that house's side of the street in order to relieve herself.

She does it to annoy those dogs.  It is a conscious act.

She also has let me know that she knows what she's doing.

So the next time you hear some person talk about a dumb animal, tell them this story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Cat - Humor

Velma did it again.  She sent me a joke that had me laughing.  I'm sure not everyone will like it but hey *shrug* what can I say... Here goes!

A cat died and went to heaven.  God met her at the gates and said, 'You have been a good cat all these years. Anything you want is yours for the asking.'

The cat thought for a minute and then said, 'All  my life I lived on a farm and slept on hard wooden floors. I  would like a real fluffy pillow to sleep on.'

God said, 'Say no more.' Instantly the cat had a huge fluffy pillow.

A few  days later, six mice were killed in an accident and they all went to Heaven together. God met the mice at the gates with the same offer that He made to the cat

The mice said, 'Well, we have had to run all of our lives from cats, dogs, and even people with brooms! If we could just have some little roller skates, we would not have to run again.'

God answered, 'It is done.' All the mice had beautiful little roller skates.

About a week later, God decided to check on the cat. He found her sound asleep on her fluffy pillow. God gently awakened the cat and asked, 'Is everything okay? How have you been doing? Are you happy?'

The cat replied, 'Oh, it is WONDERFUL. I have never been so happy in my life. The pillow is so fluffy, and  those little Meals on Wheels you have been sending over are delicious!'

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Solar Powered Border Collie

We all deserve our time in the sun.

Mrs L. Dog, Lettie to her friends, was glued to my left calf that morning.  Beautiful day, the tropical breezes blowing, not a cloud in the sky, and the scent of jasmine on the breeze.

I went out to inspect the flowers and Ponderosa Lemons that were just starting to bloom.  Mrs Dog followed me out to inspect then water the Oxalis in the yard.

When I went inside, she had parked herself on the deck.  I decided that since I was just about ready to make lunch, she'd stay there as long as she liked.  Starting to prepare a rather excellent hoagie on rather average bread, Lettie could be watched from the portal to the back yard.  There is a window that is behind the kitchen sink and it looks over this view.

Once out of sight, Lettie lost interest in watching for me and went about being a dog in the summer sun.  This being Florida, it was the winter sun and it was also around 75 degrees under the Lanai's steel roof.  Perfect Dog weather. 

Making the food was interesting but not as interesting as watching this happy friend of mine luxuriate on the wooden beach of my back yard.  Lettie is quick to smile, and dogs smile because as a species living around us they know what we mean when we smile.   She smiles to let us know that she's happy.  If you don't believe it, play fetch with a Labrador, swim with a Portuguese Water Dog, or watch Lettie the Border Collie doing her walk or recharging in the sun. 

She's also the personification of "In or Out but close the door!".  I was in the kitchen out of sight for all of 10 minutes and she was done.  By the time I had the Ciabatta roll soaked in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Italian Spice Mix, Salami, Ham, Provolone, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion, Lettie was standing at the door looking to come inside.

I'm done, she said smiling at me and walking past my left calf for a drink of cooling water and an afternoon full of sprawling on the cool tile of the Florida room chasing the little sliver of sunlight that sneaks in this time of year with her body.

All in all a wonderful afternoon to be a dog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hypnotist at the Senior Center

I'll admit it, I'm recycling a joke today.  I read this one from a friend and laughed loud enough to share it with you - even if I did have to clean it up a little.  Enjoy!

It was entertainment night at the Senior Center . Claude the hypnotist exclaimed: "I'm here to put you into a trance; I intend to hypnotize each and every member of the audience."

 The excitement was almost electric as Claude withdrew a beautiful antique pocket watch from his coat. "I want you each to keep your eye on this antique watch. It's a very special watch. It's been in my family for six generations."

He began to swing the watch gently back and forth while quietly chanting, "Watch the watch, watch the watch, watch the watch. . ." 

The crowd became mesmerized as the watch swayed back and forth, light gleaming off its polished surface. Hundreds of pairs eyes followed the swaying watch, until, suddenly, it slipped from the hypnotist's fingers and fell to the floor, breaking into a hundred pieces.

 "CRAP!" said the Hypnotist.

 It took three days to clean up the Senior Center .

Claude was never invited back to entertain.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Leaving the Ft Lauderdale Beach

When you have had enough sun and surf, it's time to go home.

I remember when I was talking to people who lived down here about how I used to enjoy body surfing at the Jersey Shore.  Dad would pile us all into the Buick and drive down to Atlantic City, NJ or Brigantine, NJ and splash the day away.

I had pictures of us with buckets of clams from Brigantine, not really knowing what to do with them when we got them back to our house.  Note to all parents, if you're going to let your kid dig up clams at the Jersey Shore, have them put them back.  If not, then at least have a clam bake.  They won't survive in fresh water.

Pat and I would try to catch just the right wave and see how far in we could go before our belly would scrape the sugar sand.  Quite a few times we'd make it in to below knee level, other times one or the other of use would end up rolling into some guy's legs like a giant piece of flotsam.  Amazing what kind of damage a 10 year old kid can do when the waves push them into you!

The beach at Fort Lauderdale has none of that.  I could have gone there and built a sand castle like I did all those childhood years, but the waves are not very common here.  If there's a storm out to see, surf's up, dude.  But normally it's a mill pond like you see in this picture. 

Those sand castles I'd build, by the way, were not terribly complex.  It was the moat that was the big deal.  Dig down about 5 inches and you would end up with water seepage.  If there's water it has to go somewhere, so I'd end up spending more time digging drainage canals than on the original castle.  By the time I grew out of digging castles in the sand, it ended up being a hole and just a lot of ditches to drain the stuff off. 

The biggest draw back to that was your back.  After about an hour standing bent over, face down digging channels for water, you would realize that your back was as red as that guy's bathing suit in the picture.  A good reason to stop building the things I'd say...

If you're at the beach today, you're sandblasted, but at least the breezes are coming off the ocean like they should.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Twice Weekly Bird Bath

There's a low spot in my driveway.  Every time it rains, there is a lake in Wilton Manors.  Since the soil here is basically beach sand, most of it drains off and percolates into the soil within an hour or so.  The house is at 15 feet above sea level, the street is around 10, so everything from the property drains to the road.

We're still under watering restrictions here, limited to twice weekly watering on the property.  Exceptions exist for Drip Feed Irrigation of course, and they basically say to keep that "reasonable and proper" like the old speed limits in Connecticut before the 1973 oil shock.  That means if you have thirsty plants, you can drip feed them as much as they need, but try to keep the watering to a minimum.

My house gets to water the grass on Sunday and Thursdays.  It is on a timer, and usually on those mornings, it is what wakes me up instead of the dog.  I hear the relay snap, the bedroom hum with a bass note of 60hz, and then the sprinklers in the front yard begin to hiss.   For the most part my irrigation system works well, it hasn't been changed in the two original zones save replacing broken parts due to a rather large moose standing on sprinkler heads. 

Sure, Florida has Moose.  They are rare, and just as clumsy here as their Northern cousins are.  Really they are...

Starting at 6AM, I got up and dragged the dog out for her walk, and came back stepping around the growing puddle at the bottom of the driveway, made breakfast and coffee and settled in to do the other morning ritual of the Job Search.   After a while, the sun came up painting the Island City with shades of pink and then blue, filling the air with the perfume of the morning breezes from the ocean just 2 miles away.

I finished my coffee, went into the kitchen to make new.  Walking outside, I dumped the grounds onto the garden to fertilize my plants and came back in to fix the next mug.  My kitchen has a window behind the sink that I can look out onto the pool through my bougainvillea and the other flowers I have.  As I was stirring the grounds of my second mug into a froth, I watched two Ringneck Doves fly in for a landing.  The two birds hopped onto the divider between the pool and hot tub and took a sip.   At that same time, my kitchen timer sounded off saying 4:30 are up and it is time to drink coffee.

The birds didn't like that so they flew off.   Apparently not everyone like a beeping kitchen timer.

Stirring the coffee and walking out to the front door, I saw the same two ringneck doves flutter down to the swale and begin to drink the ground water out of that puddle.  The birds traded places between bathing and drinking in the same water, and I stood there standing transfixed while sipping coffee and listening to the Hawaiian music from the internet radio station, Hawaiian Rainbow.  It is an uncommon format to listen to on the Mainland unless you're in a Theme Bar, but watching these two grey brown birds with the steel guitar and ukulele playing and "Bruddha Iz" singing gently in the background just seemed to make it all right.

The puddle will be there through the morning and into the late afternoon providing comfort for birds and entertainment for those who chose to watch.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Garbage Poinsettias

When I was growing up, Mom used to give away Poinsettias for the holidays.  It was a promotional give away that she'd do to keep her name in with potential customers as a part of her real estate business.

The holiday season would approach and one night we would get a delivery of around 100 poinsettia plants, wrapped in brown craft paper.  Our living room would be stuffed with these brown cylinders, each of which contained a flowering plant that would be given to a prospective client. 

My sister and I were allowed to keep one, and I managed to keep mine living for a while.   Eventually it would turn green, slowly it would lose leaves and then would end up being put outside to add soil to the gardens.  

This being New Jersey, poinsettias simply didn't have a chance to survive the winter.

Here, people actually have them growing outdoors.  They can grow to be a pleasant looking shrub, and add a bit of color to the yard.   Every one I have been given in the four years I have lived here are on the property still in some form, either in pots or in the ground. 

After the season is over, the businesses in the area have a habit of throwing theirs out. The holidays are over, you need to make room for the next shopping season.  I haven't seen valentine hearts yet, but the poinsettias are long gone. 

I have picked up some of them and put them in pots after they have been cast off.  Mostly they're missing leaves and are just the crown of bright leaves and a scrawny stalk, but after being outside on the drip feed irrigation, they fill in quite nicely.  I don't have to worry about the plants because in Wilton Manors, a poinsettia is pretty much about as carefree a plant as I can hope for. 

Despite the reputation, they're not actually poisonous according to most websites that I've come across, and as everyone knows, "the internet would never lie to you, would it?"...

The picture above is a three year garbage poinsettia.  It was on death's door when it was found, put into a big pot in the back yard on the drip feed irrigation line, and it's thriving.  When I look out my window at dawn, I am treated to a shock of red and pink just like you see here.   It is joined by two poinsettias that were given to me over the last two years from my godmother and her husband, Kathie and Larry.  This year's poinsettia is front and center in the garden in front of the house.

In the clean green land of Florida, as the state used to bill itself on the maps, a little shock of color is a nice thing, even in a place named after flowers.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Egret at Marriot's Harbor Beach Fort Lauderdale

When you live around beauty, take your camera.

This picture is all about being at the right place at the right time.

We were in the car driving back from Kevin's office where I helped him with the removal of a dishwasher.  He has this habit of driving home by way of A1A which gets me twitchy until I finally relax.

I'll admit it, I'm a much better driver than I am a passenger.  I will change your radio station, reset the seat for my liking, and generally just want to "be there, already". 

Backseat Driver's anonymous?  Charter Member right here.

I learned that while driving around in town to bring a camera.  I put a lot of pictures on this blog as a result and a picture may be worth 1000 words, but it also helps bring back the memories.

We were stuck in traffic, mid afternoon on last Sunday, January 9th, 2011.  It was as you can see brilliantly sunny.  My family up North were suffering through another snowstorm and I was comfy in the car.   We get our bad weather, I'll be finishing up Hurricane Prep Food for another month before we start buying more. 

The trip up A1A was bumper to bumper but the scenery really did make up for it. 

While the snow was falling in Philly, the traffic was slow in Fort Lauderdale. 

Just as we pulled up to the Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort on the beach at a stop light, I turned and saw this Egret.  Timing was perfect, so I ran down the window and fired off a couple shots. 

I've got a good 20 pictures of my sitting in the car through the sun roof, pointing at the beach and the surf, but this one was asking to be posted today.

The Harbor Beach is a fascinating building.  Its multiple story facade is built to look like a cruise ship that has beached on the shore.  There was a discussion of demolition and thanks to some negotiations, it got bought and upgraded.  If you want to stay at a one of a kind hotel, this one is a good choice.  It really is right on the beach.

If you do stay there, say hello to my little friend.  He may even be out front by the sign.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ponderosa Lemons Anyone?

In the middle of winter, a Lemon Blossom Opens.

For us it is cold, we are all huddling inside our leaky houses with windows that don't quite close.  Some have no heat, others have a heater for the entire house that a person in Minneapolis would have under their desk in an office.

Outside, flowers are still in bloom.  The breezes that are coming in from the North grasp the palm fronds, move the pollen in the Mango flowers on the trees, scatter the papery Bouganvillea blossoms.

Walking out to the corner, you can catch the scent of millions of Mangoes of the Future on the air.  There are also the scent of jasmine and citrus to join it.

After having excellent luck with the Meyer Lemon tree in the yard, we decided to try a different lemon tree.  The problem with the Meyer was that while it was prolific, it also had not survived the last two cold snaps as well as we would have liked.  Instead of moving the pot to where it was more sheltered, we found a Ponderosa Lemon and put it in another pot.  It's now in an even more exposed space, but it seems to like it.

Silly tree.  What we didn't realize was that while it was difficult to use up all of the Meyer Lemons, the Ponderosa will give a different problem.  The tree produces fruit at least the size of an orange, and I have heard that it can grow to the size of a grapefruit.  Even the blossoms are larger.  The bud in that picture is the size of your thumb nail.

I was given a large bag of Meyers by a good friend here in town and enjoyed them thoroughly, even saving off some seeds.  Then the tree I have had to be picked.  We ended up with enough to start drinking Meyer Lemon and Limeade, and tried making another Meyer Lemon Cheese Pie that I never quite got the proportions right on.  With four more Meyer Lemon trees started, plus the Ponderosa, I think I'm going to have to make quite a lot of Lemon dishes next season.

Anyone for a Lemon Cheese Pie?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lifeguard Huts at the Beach

I must like these little buildings.  I have a habit of doing these drive-by picture shootings of them.

Since you folks up North are having yet another Nor'Easter, another blanket of snow, I thought I'd share what it looked like here on Sunday.

The pollution from the Gulf never arrived.  The beaches in Fort Lauderdale are still pristine in 2011.

The weather that day hit the low 80s, although we're going to have a cold snap today with a high of just under 70F.  The breezes are coming from the wrong direction today which means the front has passed through.  

Granted it is not yet 8AM of this writing and the "Marine Layer" has not burned off.  The palms are swaying, the parrots are screeching through the sky like a flyover of a different kind of Blue Angels.  I haven't seen an Iguana in a year here in Wilton Manors so we can expect a safe walk without them falling from the skies.

Yes, you get snowfalls, we get Iguana Falls.  Or we did.  Now they're hiding at the river banks and closer to the intracoastal.  This may be Florida but we have some rather odd micro-climates.  I'm in Broward County which is the warmest zone in the state according to the USDA's current map.  The Keys supposedly get cooler which surprised me until I watched the last cold front come through and we were 5F warmer on average than Key West in Fort Lauderdale.

Maybe Paradise is defined by degrees... Five of them in this case.

I did manage to squeeze off some pictures on Sunday.  I'll post them here and there.  The nice thing is that when you go for a drive in South Florida and get stuck in traffic on A1A, you get to see this kind of scene.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Turned Off Texting

Why would I go through the effort of turning off such a useful feature as texting?

Simply because for the expense of the texting, I don't perceive any value - basic cost-benefit analysis.

So if you are sending me a text message, it's just going to go into a black hole and disappear.

Let me take this back a bit.  I was very late at getting into the whole Cell Phone Game.  I wasn't one of those people who was standing on the sidelines waiting for it to be perfected yet, I just didn't see a need for a cell phone in my pocket.   I had a wired phone, at home, with an answering machine all through the 80s and 90s.  At work I would either be in front of a PC, in a meeting, or on the office phone.  You know, actually doing my work.

I was always in a position where I was the lead of whatever job description I was doing.   When I was a programmer, I was the one people came to for help.   When I was an analyst, I would be in long conversations with the department heads, end users, subordinate analysts and programmers.   If I was away from the desk, everyone knew I was off fighting fires and doing something "Important". 

I even had a department head user give me a fire engine for my desk because I was her "Fire Chief".

This person was a real tough woman, and someone who didn't like someone because it was politically correct.  You had to earn her trust and when I left that job she said that if I didn't use her as a reference, she would "Hunt Me Down".

So even getting a cell phone was a concession.  When I was preparing for the move to South Florida, the year we decided to do it, I came down on a long vacation and got a phone with a 954 area code.  Broward County, Florida.  I've had that phone for more than 5 years now and all the time I had it, I had a basic plan.  When I'm working as a consultant, it serves as my office phone so now, I have the need for it so my clients can reach me.  If they do get the phone and I don't answer it, its because I'm doing something important and I'll get back within an hour.   It is turned on when I get dressed for the dog walk at 6AM, and I turn it off at 930PM every day of the week.

Getting a text that started out at being five cents a message then up to 20 cents a message was not going to make that any better, it simply got me annoyed.  Every time I heard the text message sound off on the cell phone, I'd go "Red Zone" and ask who the hell is doing that and telling the cell phone that "I don't do Text".  Thankfully most folks realize I'm a lost cause and just call and leave a message.

This weekend was the last straw.   I got a "junk text" from some low life business at 347-925-8858 and took matters into my own hands.  

First step was to call the number back.  They had a full voice mail box, most likely from people yelling at them for texting them with a junk text.

Second step was to call T-Mobile.  I got into their queue and turned off the texting.  FINALLY.  T-Mobile never had that feature before since their software had to be upgraded to turn off texting and leave the announcement that you had a voice mail message on your phone.  AT&T has had that option all along, if you have no plan for texting on your cellphone contract, you didn't get any texts from anyone but your answering machine/voice mail.  Very convenient and logical. 

I have been happy with T-Mobile all along even when I had to stand in the back bedroom of the third floor of the house and sit in the window well to take a call clearly.  I hear that situation improved in that neighborhood in Philadelphia.  Here in Florida, my cell service is perfect and clear.

Third step was to report the call as a junk call to which is the list that blocks you from the telemarketers here in the US.  I'm sure the UK and the rest of Europe have a similar law.  Telemarketers have no right to reach into your pocket to cause you to listen to their sales pitch. 

This particular spammer seems to be connected with Wal-Mart somehow since there are a number of websites with "Who Called Me" in their purpose.  It apparently is a New York City company that is doing the bidding of Wal Mart offering people between $25 and $200 gift cards and will not stop when you text them stop.  Mine was a generic $200 and a $25 visa card for "Visting our site".  Not very effective when you can't even say which site it was in the message.

Rule number one of Marketing:  Do Not Annoy Your Customers.

So friends, feel free to call if you have my number.  Telemarketers, if you call be prepared to be yelled at.

But forget the text.  After watching my Network Administrator break his discussions with me in meetings with the owner of the company to take and respond to a text, I'd probably ban texting within any department I manage in the future.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Facebook is NOT shutting down on March 15

Ok, who ever is starting these rumors, please stop.

Go back to contemplating your navel.  Find yourself some new toys to play with, take up knitting or origami.

There have been a lot of strange rumors lately about individual actors being dead or dying, and next it's that Facebook is going away.

It isn't.

The second coming isn't getting any nearer, the end of the internet world as we know it hasn't happened.  You can go back to poking your friends in Facebook.  The little economy and ecosystem that has sprung up around the website has gotten so big that it's the largest internet site in terms of hits. 

Facebook has become the CB radio of this era.  Remember those things?  When they were popular every third house had a CB and even luxury cars had one as an option.  Breaker 19 seems just as quaint now as a Poke will in another 20 years so enjoy it while it lasts.   After all... well, remember My Space?

You won't have to go back to Tagged or My Space for your social media fix.  It's not going away.

Why are we wasting time on someone's rumor?  Basically I went through the tech blogs over the weekend and every other blog and website had an article about how FB was not going to close.  I got up this morning at 4am (couldn't sleep) and after the dog walk and normal routine every tech blog I hit and news site, again, had articles about this.

Ok, I read them so you don't have to... but if you want more on this, check the Yahoo News article on the rumor.

Silly teenagers, Rumors are dumb.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Hide Your Cookies

My cookies are legendary, even if just in my own mind.

They originally were from a recipe I found online.  The trick with recipes like that is to try them a couple times, first following the recipe literally, then adding ingredients as you see fit.

Chocolate Chip Cookies are not everyone's favorite, and the recipe was originally a cookie without chips.  The chips were added by accident and a cottage industry was born.  I add extra Vanilla and some Pecans in a ratio of 2 parts Chocolate to 1 part Pecan by weight.

The specific recipe I use is a clone of the Mrs Fields recipe, and I'll let you go search for it.  I may have even listed it here.  A lot of the fun of baking is for a person to find a new favorite, and trust me "my" recipe is still online.

The thing is that when I get to my recipe, I add twice the amount of vanilla, all those chips and nuts and usually I bake it with home churned butter since it only takes an extra 5 minutes to prep.  Most commercial foods are using the "least common denominator" of  the cheapest ingredients they can get away with.  Since I'm making them a batch at a time, I can bake with what I like, and it shows.  Anyone who enjoys what they are making will have the same results, an excellent piece of pie, loaf of bread, or chocolate chip pecan cookie.

When I make the recipe, it makes up around 5 pounds of cookies which I roll into 1 pound rolls and freeze or chill to slice and bake the next day.  Slice and bake saves a lot of time trying to make 32 to 16 cookies per pound.  Trying to do it with a tablespoon is just painfully slow.

So I had a visitor who had my cookies once before and I had promised her some.  We never seemed to mesh our times of my baking and her visit.  The one time I hit gold - cookies plus my friend visited at the same time.  She's a wonderful person who I have worked with here in town on Volunteer efforts and I truly enjoy her company.  We both talk too much so when I have her on the phone, a short call is 30 minutes.  Visits are much better anyway.

As we chatted about the cookies that I had pulled out of the oven the day before, she told me that she didn't know how she'd get them in the house and past her hungry husband and daughter who was there for a visit.  With a twinkle in my eye, I told her I knew how.

Leading her to the kitchen I opened a cabinet and pulled out my secret weapon of cookie stealth, a nondescript plastic plain yogurt container, 32 ounces.

That boring bit of plastic was just the ticket.  If you raid the refrigerator, you just aren't going to say "Hmm, plain yogurt! It's just what I want!", are you?  It usually is one of the last things you will have as a snack, even if you are like me and like yogurt.  Add some fruit and some honey and we may be onto something, but usually it's a safe place to hide your valuables in the house.  Look at the back of your refrigerator shelves and you'll see that is where all the "boring" food goes to hide.

Stuffing as many cookies as I could possible stuff into a small space, I sent her on her way home with a smile on our faces.

She was able to enjoy a cookie a day for some time all the while with that boring plastic store brand container of "plain yogurt" sitting there in the back of the refrigerator and nobody being the wiser.

If you're trying to hide something in plain sight, that may be the ticket, boring food containers.  You just may be able to have your cookies and eat them too.

I recommend having the cookies with some coffee, it really brings out the chocolate flavor!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Indoor Livestock in South Florida

It started on a visit to my Godmother, Kathie and her husband Larry for the holidays.   We had a pleasant visit, and after Larry excused himself for some business he had to attend to, we went out to their little secret garden.

Behind the house in Wellington, there is a back yard full of Bonsai and fruit trees.  It is a compact space that has Tangerine and Orange trees as well as some other beautiful plants.  They seem to have the same idea that I do, you can have beauty in your yard but you should be able to grow something that bares fruit even if you don't get a chance to have any of it.

That Tangerine tree had on the order of 100 fruits this season, and I came home with a shoebox full of them. 

I also came home with some plant cuttings.

My yard is quite full, but every time I get a cutting from someone I care about I am able to look at the plants and think of them fondly.  Remembering the times that I had when I got the cuttings that are now a tree is a nice way to remember your good times.

I have in the back yard a Trumpet Flower tree that has salmon flowers on it.  Nice plant but after reading the fear mongering that the local news paper said about how they're poisonous, I'm afraid to go near it.  Many tropical plants have the same problem, they look beautiful but need to be handled with care.

The Trumpet Flower didn't like the last cold snap and died back, and it died back last year as well.  If it makes it to next season I will be surprised.

Coming home with three plumeria cuttings as well as an unidentified cutting that was in the way of the walkway meant that I had to root the things.  In the two weeks, the unidentified cutting lost all its leaves and almost all of its green so I am afraid it will end up in the trash bin.  

Of the three plumeria cuttings, one has a leaf growing from it and the other two seem to be alive but unhappy. 

All of these are in water as well as some hybrid coleus.  I have a row of jars all three of which are rooting plants.  As the natural process of shedding extra leaves goes on, the water turns into a pea soup and has to be changed.

This is where the livestock comes in.  You see, this being Winter in South Florida, I've taken advantage of the cool breezes blowing through the house.  The last front that came through put us on the Northern side of the winds.  The wind isn't coming from the ocean like it does in the Summer, and the land breeze is keeping us up to about 5 degrees F warmer than Key West.  The weather is backwards.  Metro Broward county is warmer than that of Metro Dade for some reason, and I suspect that is the water. 

All of that water that surrounds us in the Everglades breed Mosquitoes.  The little things are everywhere that aren't sprayed.  They did spray here a while back, but of course that never gets them all. 

Unless your house is very new, your screens may be missing or have holes in them.  All it takes is for one female to find a tablespoon of water with a little bit of plant material in it, and you will breed bugs.

This morning we have killed six mosquitoes.  The usual trick is to have a copper penny in the bottom of the pots and I missed the ones with the plumeria.  So of course I emptied all the wrigglers into the sink, added a penny and started swatting mosquitoes.

(Make that 7, the little blood suckers are coming out of hiding)

So today when the neighbor stops mowing the lawn, I will open the windows and hope that they all end up in the back yard.  Wind blowing from the front of the house to the back will keep the little blighters banging their bug brains against the windows and hopefully they'll just run out of steam.

Until then remember the helpful hint - copper bottomed plant pots or put pennies in the bottom of all of your "rooting pots" or else you will end up like I did.  I've got this big welt on the right knee and now I know where they came from!

Ok, those cuttings are getting planted TODAY!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Humor in the Courts

Kevin sent me this particular one.  I think it's safe for work, although the first one ... well, you judge for yourself.

These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and are
things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and
now published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm
while these exchanges were actually taking place..
ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS:     No, I just lie there.
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
WITNESS:     Yes.
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS:     I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?
______________________________ _____________
ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
WITNESS:    We both do.
WITNESS:     We do.
WITNESS:     Yes, voodoo.
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: Now doctor, "isn't it true that when a person dies in his
sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?"
WITNESS:     Did YOU actually pass the bar exam?
______________________________ ______
ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS:     Yep, he's twenty, much like your IQ.
______________________________ _____________
ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
______________________________ ___________
ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
WITNESS:     Yes.
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS:     Getting laid
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
WITNESS:     Yes.
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
WITNESS:     None.
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS:     Your Honour, I think I need a different Attorney.  Can I
get a new Attorney?
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS:     By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS:     Take a guess.
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS:     He was about 20, medium height, and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS:     Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male.
______________________________ _______
ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS:    All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.
______________________________ ___________
ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK?  What school did you go to?
WITNESS:     Oral.
______________________________ ___________
ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS:     The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And, Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS:     If not, he was by the time I finished.
______________________________ ______________
ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS:     Are you qualified to ask that question?
______________________________ ________
And the best for last:
ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
WITNESS:     No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS:     No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
WITNESS:     No.
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you
began the autopsy?
WITNESS:     No .
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS:     Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS:     Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and
practicing law.

And that my friends is a good example why, most politicians in our
government and courts have lawyers and our nation is so screwed up.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grenada is Gettin' Jiggy With It

Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!

This morning I took Mrs Dog out for her walk.  The entire time I had a particularly bouncy piece of Soca Music stuck in my head.  Destra Garcia was singing Max It Up and I was feeling an Island Soca Groove.  Really amazingly bouncy song and a really energetic format.  It doesn't hurt that Destra is beautiful woman as well.

In my head I'm hearing the song in my head over and over and the pump was primed.  I was whistling Soca Music on Wilton Drive at 620AM without realizing it until someone cleaning the bars was staring at me acting like a fool. (Oops!  Sorry!...)

Making the coffee and breakfast chicken and biscuit, I park in my chair, fire up the laptop and start all the needed browser sessions to do what I have before me for the morning. 

I'm still hearing that beautiful brown babe singing "Maaa aaax it UP!"...

Start the search and destroy mission...

I have this little box tied into our stereo system.  It's actually Kevin's, but shhhh, we won't tell him that will we?  It's called a Squeezebox, and it allows me to surf radio stations through a hand held remote.  You punch in what you want to listen to in the search like you would be texting on your cell phone and it will usually find it.

Soca music is short for Southern Caribbean Music.  It's a kind of culture that comes from T and T, mon... er Trinidad and Tobago, but also the Bajans in Barbados, the Vincies in St Vincent, and the Grenadians in Grenada are heavily into Trini Soca as well.  Ok, not Trini Soca specifically since they all have their own artists.  Mind you all those nations I have rattled off have fewer people in them than Miami Dade County in Florida. 

Yes, there is a world of music out there if you search for it.

I got into what we used to call "World Music" while listening to college radio back in 1990 and never turned back.  Every so often I'd get into a World Vibe, pick a format and I am off annoying people with something from another culture that I never expect to visit. 

It's ok, Destra's still a knock out...

I have about 5 Soca radio stations on the Squeezebox that I share.  Mostly from POS TnT, er, Port of Spain, Trinidad, so I decided to have a look around.   There was an artist that the one station from Toronto was playing from Grenada so I thought have a poke around to try to find something from a different island.

I settled in on three stations in rapid succession and realized that at this time of the morning, I wasn't going to find anything new.  You see, while I enjoy what we call RnB I wanted Soca.   My usual station wasn't coming in on the Squeezebox, so I ended up settling.  In the last 15 minutes, I've heard Gettin' Jiggy With It, three Michael Jackson tracks, a Whitney Houston, and now Tina Turner talking about the hero she doesn't need.

Grenada Broadcasting System?   So far, it's a good RnB pop station from ... 1995 in Philly.

Yep, I went 15 years into the past and flew to an island in the tropics just to listen to an artist from my back yard. 

Oh well.... I'll be gettin' jiggy wit it for a while still...

The nice thing about choice is that you can chose to enjoy something ... familiar.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why Do Birds Fall Down From The Sky?

That's actually a bad mangling of the old Carpenter's Song called Close to You.

The music cue's aside, there was a strange thing that happened New Years Eve.  The reports started coming in that thousands of birds were falling from the sky in Arkansas on New Years after everyone got up with a hangover. 

I don't want to clean up after all those birds, I have my own and he makes his own mess.   Cleaning Oscar's cage is one of the tasks I'll have today. 

At any rate, it wasn't just in Arkansas that this happened.  There were reports in Sweden and Kentucky as well.  What the cause was was a bit of a mystery until people pieced it all together. 


Apparently what happened was that in many areas, the birds were having a bad winter of it.  Stressed out by bad amounts of food, as well as bizarre weather there were flocks of birds that were having a bad time. 

Birds are an odd thing from time to time.  I can tell you that the parrot I have had since 1986 knows my comings and goings and thinks he knows what to expect from me.  I'm a bit of a "Big Kid" so I've been known to do strange things like have helium balloons in the house, flying toys across the room and put electronics or just knickknacks just out of reach for him to obsess over. 

If I could just get him to stop obsessing over my woodwork...

He's pretty unflappable though.  If he sees a balloon he'll shrink from it since he just has no idea what this thing that is twice as long as he is and again as wide.  The flying toys are another thing entirely but they're not always my doing.  Sometimes the dog grabs her cat/squirrel/monkey plush toy and whip it around like a Willow Smith video allowing it to go airborne.  Oscar doesn't like that either. 

Basically birds don't care for strangeness since they consider themselves mostly to be prey animals.   Just putting Oscar out on the table in front of the house will stress him out especially if the buzzards are flying around.

Now you have the back story.  What happened on New Years Eve that threw them off?

You did. 

Not necessarily you personally, it could be your neighbor.  More likely it would have been the local fireworks display that the city had nearby those particular flocks.  The birds had no idea why they were being awaken in the middle of the night by screaming banshees of light.  The weaker ones were stressed out and died.  In massive numbers.

Human beings being (hmmm) what they are, I doubt that we're going to change our celebrations.  Millions of birds live in China and their use of fireworks is what got Western societies celebrating with fireworks to begin with. 

I'm afraid we'll see more of these until the weak ones are gone and the species adjusts.  It would be better if we didn't disturb them... but I doubt that will change.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I Stayed with American Express

When someone does something wrong, Tell Them.
When someone does something right, Tell Everyone.

I've said that many times in my life.  Positive reviews on my blog are an illustration of that.  Being a Big Brother type, negative reviews are a warning, but that's a very different story.

We have all gotten used to horrendous support from companies.  The worst seems to be the technical sites like those from computer companies who have decided that in order to pay for upper management's ivory back scratchers, they lay off the US, UK, Canada, Australia or what have you based expert level support for a cheaper support based out of an emerging economy.  Nothing against the tech people in Bangalore, but when I hear That Accent, I have taken to asking them if they can forward me immediately to a US based group.  I have been almost universally sent back here to someone who has been able to give me the highest level of support that I could expect.

I have been a customer of American Express for years.  I have to say that being able to talk to someone who is much better than average is why I have kept the card.  I am talking to someone in the United States who knows what they're doing, and will be willing to do what it takes to make me happy.

Yesterday I broke down and made some Customer Support Service Calls.  I don't like doing that sort of thing, since I have functioned as a Customer Support Manager in a Call Center when I was the Lead Application Manager for a financial package.  I know what these folks go through from both ends. 

I literally wore out my AMEX Blue Card.  The stripe is worn with an even "clear" spot where the many reads of the card had eaten the magnetic stripe away.  The card has a neat dent in it where I took a center punch and a hammer and destroyed the RFID Chip on purpose.  It is now widely becoming known what kind of a "bad technology" RFID is for secure transactions so I won't go through it here. 

The lamination on the card began to peel up and the thing looks a mess. It got so that I was surprised when it would read instead of reject me.  Gas stations were reliable, the rest... nope.

So I called up American Express from the number on the card.  It was smudged so I got out the magnifying glass and turned up the lights and was able to dial out to them and got through to the call center in less than 5 minutes. 

I spoke with Tiffany.   If you are Tiffany I have to say thank you.  If you are Tiffany's Boss, you need to give her a raise or at least a bonus.  Tiffany was ... well, perfect at what she was doing.  We talked about how I had worn out the card, I mentioned that I use it for the vast majority of my purchases, and that she was happy to help me get a new card.

No muss and no fuss. 

As we worked through the security procedures of giving her the old four digit code off the card and other details, at no time did I feel lost or confused.   Everything was amazingly clear and concise.

The order for a new card was placed and she asked me if there was anything else.   This was where I threw my curve ball at her - could I please have a card with no RFID chip in it. 

She wasn't sure and had to check.  I sat on hold for under a minute when she found the information and was able to "Turn Off" the RFID chip. 

I feel better about that.  The report about the whole RFID mess and how you can be "Electronically Pickpocketed" has gone viral.  There are a number of reports on You Tube but this one says it pretty well and even shows how easy it is to do the deed.   When I get my passport, I'll get a foil sleeve and leave the chip alone, but the credit cards have a date with a hammer and a center punch.

According to hackers, you can read an RFID Chip up to 160 feet away.  Around 45 Meters for those who are Foot-and-Inch-Challenged.  Half a football field anyone?

You can see the TV News Report out of a Dallas station on this link here.  At least until it gets pulled.

Anyway once all that happened on the phone, I left Tiffany feeling like everything was done and I forgot about it.  The next morning, 10AM (Now) I am sitting in my chair and I hear the UPS truck drive up.  The friendly driver gave the horn a tap and I went to the door as he got there.  It turned out that American Express sent via UPS Next Day Air a brand spanking new American Express Blue Card.  I now have a new AMEX card with a sticker telling me to please activate it.  From Omaha to me in one night!

So now, I've got a call to make ...