Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There But For The Grace of God Go I...and Moi's Questions Answered

If you haven't seen this picture, it's friggin hysterical.  But my second thought after LOLing was - that could have been The Boy (and for the record - it's not).  

As many of you know, The Boy is a freshman at a Virginia collage and very active in politics - Right Wing Politics.  He's a student government senator (the Freshman Senator from New Jersey as he likes his family to address him), a school ambassador and he has a one-day-per-week internship with the local County Board of Administration (sans pay of course).  So with all of the political contacts and inroads he's making, he actually had the opportunity (a select few student government members received tickets) to go to hear the president give a speech a few weeks ago.  The Boy bailed at the last minute because of a test that he couldn't get out of.  I don't think he tried all that hard to reschedule the test because he's no fan of the president.  But how often does one get a chance to meet the president?  Knowing The Boy, there'll be a lot of them.

Anyway, Moi tagged me for one of these "intimate questions" MEMEs.  Like I don't have enough to do?  I am choosing Fight Club Rules where there are no rules - I'm just answering the F-ing questions.

1. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or The Boys Are Back in Town?

I'll take Thin Lizzy over Cyndi Lauper any day of the week.

2. Camping or the Ritz?

I'm a friggin' Boy Scout, so of course I'm going to take the Ritz.  Camping is for - boy scouts.

3. What food are you craving RIGHT NOW . . . did you eat it?

Cookies and ...yes.

4. The most thrilling place you've ever visited. Why?

San Francisco, 17 October 1989 - 7.2 earthquake. 

5. If you could slip into the skin of one public figure--celebrity, artist, politician--who would it be?

Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe.  Five words - Heather Locklear and Pam Anderson.  And you know he worked a threesome at some point with those two.

7. Look up from your computer. What do you see?

I see dead people...working all around me.

8. Sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence. You can borrow it from someone else, if you'd like.

I don't have a philosophy, just a reality - and it's the banner on my blog. 

9. The one thing you just don't understand about kids today.

Kid's fashion - How can boys walk around with their pants below their butts?   How can girl's parents let them walk around with tight, yoga pants that say "Love Pink", "Sassy" and "Naughty"?

10. If you could steal one work of art from a museum or gallery, which would it be?

 The The Card Players by Paul Cézanne because it was worth more than $250 million in 2011.

11. Regular toothbrush or electric?

Regular.  Power tools in my mouth should only be used by a trained professional.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Culinary Smackdown - Cabbage

There's an Irish Song that goes like this:

Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?"

The chorus:
Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry.
Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.

Yeah, I never heard of it either.

Anyway, Grumpy Granny is hostessing this month's Culinary Smackdown and she has named the theme - Cabbage!   These smackdowns encourage experimentation and the trying new recipes.  So I'm going for the latter because experimentation with cabbage just sounds wrong.  When I think of cabbage, I think sauerkraut or cole slaw, both of which I have made numerous times.  And of course, being close to St. Patty's Day, there is corned beef and cabbage.  And that jogged my memory on a recipe I came across several years ago while looking for something to make on St. Patty's - Colcannon.  Although it's a pretty simple recipe, I've never made it before, so it satisfies he challenge as far as I'm concerned. 

I looked at several recipes on and found this Colcannon recipe.  The actual name of the recipe is called "Diane's Colcannon" which I thought was a play on Dyan Cannon who I loved in The Last of Sheila.  Anyone? Bueller? She was hot back in the 70s and at one time was married to Cary Grant - but I digress.  Turns out the recipe was submitted by Diane F., go figure.

Anyway, here are the ingredients I used.  I bought shredded cabbage (because I just happened to see it at the store) and I had leftover bacon from Sunday breakfast (did he say leftover bacon? - yeah, I know but I had cooked up 1/2 lb for 2 of us). 

The Ingredients.  I cut corners using shredded cabbage and leftover bacon.

The potatoes are boiling and the mis en place - are in place
Because I didn't have any bacon grease, I used butter instead.  After I cooked the cabbage and onion for about 10 minutes, I added in the bacon to heat it up and get some of that flavor into the cabbage.  My mom use to keep a jar of bacon grease for this kind of cooking.  She used it a lot in her tomato sauce.  I need to start doing that.
Cabbage and onion are cooking in butter and I diced the bacon.

Colcannon in the pot, 1 minute old.
Here's dinner.  Yeah, big deal, but it's all I had time to do.  I actually had intended to do a ham steak, but we were out because someone left it off the shopping list.
Monday dinner.
The Verdict:  The Pudge and I thought this was really good.  You definitely get the cabbage and bacon flavor.  The onion not so much. And I don't know if green cabbage would have been better than red, but it would have fit the song better.  And like most of my smackdown food, I always have leftovers for lunch.  I will tell you that after a couple of days in the fridge, the Colcannon started to take on a bluish/purplish hue.  Not the most appetising thing to look at, but it still tasted good.

The Mrs. (who claims to be Irish) said it was just OK.  In fact, she never even heard of it before.  She offered a criticism that the bacon needed to be chopped finer than it was.  And I agree with her.

My office is going to have a potluck lunch for St. Patty's Day and I've already rogered up to make this.  We'll see how that goes.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Home Maintenance Triple Whammy - Epilogue

To bring you all up to speed on how my contractor party went, here's a recap.

8:00AM - Garage door contractor shows up (right on time).  He spent about 20 minutes looking at the opener with me working the Up/Down button.  Turns out the motor drive and drive gear are factory packed with grease, but this particular unit didn't get enough.  I suspected this but didn't want to pull it apart and void a warranty.  Plus, the installation is still within the installer's warranty - so this wasn't costing me anything but time - which I was already committing to other contractors.  Anyway, he greased it all up and it works fine.  Off he went by 8:30AM after I signed some stuff.

10:00AM - Both the refrigerator repairman and insulation contractor show up at the same time (what are the odds).  So I talk to the refrigerator guy first and get him started on his troubleshooting.  Then I talk and walk through the project with the insulation guys (2 guys).  They say they're going to be done by 2:00PM because the foreman needs to pick up his kid from school - perfect, I may be able to make meeting with The Pudge's principal. 

10:30AM - Refrigerator guy can't get the refrigerator to make the noise both The Mrs and I heard.  I suspected it was a low freon problem, but refrigerator guy says freon is good.  He was actually more interested in what happened to the tree on the deck.  Anyway, this was covered under our extended warranty (would have been $137 for the call) so this is one item where I'm glad we have the extended warranty.  I like the refrigerator (Kenmore Elite) but it has had some minor problems where the warranty has already paid for itself.  I have warranties on the dryer (LG) and the Microwave (Kenmore).  Anything with electronics I think the warranty is worth having.

10:00 AM - 2:30PM - Insulation guys work with minimal noise and dirt.  I inspect each section (as best I can because I can barely fit through the openings) and it looks like they did everything they were supposed to do.  I was going to take some pictures of the finished work, but that was too difficult.  I did take one though. 

The insulation guys set up their Atic-Cat pump system and pumped all of the cellulose through a 4" hose.  This wasn't near as loud as you'd think it would be.
 2:45PM  - I signed and paid for the work, just in time for The Mrs. to pull up.

3:00PM  The Mrs and I did our walk of shame over to The Pudge's school.  It's not far.  In fact, you can sort of see it in the picture behind the insulation guys trailer.

The Pudge's F

This is a long, involved story and quite boring, so I'll give you the Reader's Digest version.  There's an on-line software that the school district uses to allow parents to monitor their child's grades.  Most teacher will update it daily or a couple times a week with homework, labs, test and quizzes.  And it will give you an instantaneous grade snapshot.  We've been using it for years and have never had a problem until this year's math class.  The 1st marking period, we noticed the software indicated an A+ but for daily entries, it listed "X" or "1".  He ended up with a "B" for the marking period.  The 2nd marking period was more of the same, only this time he ended up with an "F".  Every other class gives number grades and an equivalent letter grade.  And for the 2nd marking period, The Pudge had A+, A+, A, A,  A-, B+...and an F.

The teacher never gave us any indication that anything was wrong.  On report card day, The Pudge had to wait 2 hours until we got home from work, and then proceeded to have a total melt-down including hyperventilating.  The Mrs. and I were furious with the teacher and school.  That weekend, we wrote a very detailed letter to the guidance counselor and principal (not the teacher).  We got a fairly quick response back from the principal and set up the appointment to see him on Triple Whammy Friday. 

The Thursday night before our meeting, while The Pudge and I were at scouts, The Mrs. gets a call from the teacher (this is around 7:00PM).  The first thing the teacher starts talking about is having to work late.  The Mrs. cut her off on that topic right away (The Mrs. routinely works until 9 and 10 at night) and told her to get to the point.  The teacher wanted to let us know that she realizes there is a problem with the on-line software and communication and that she and the school are taking steps to correct it.  Blah, blah, blah...we'll work to fix the problem.

We came to find out later she called at least 2 other parent that night.  The Pudge told us that a lot of A/B students in his class also failed.  We also found out that a bunch of students had problems with this same teacher last year.  So much so that at least one transferred out of  the class this year when she found out who the teacher was.  Now we're really furious - and off we go to the principals office.

So, the teacher is in the meeting with us, the principal and guidance counselor.  Everyone is all lovey-dovey and the teacher will now send letters home every two weeks with student progress (for everyone in the class).  I really wanted to give the principal an earful about a problem teacher that is causing problems for me and my family, and the school knew about it for at least one previous year.  This is one of the problems we have with the teacher's union and tenure (hopefully soon corrected by Governor Christie - love that guy).  I'm still thinking about writing another letter to the principal stating this.  Do I want to do the noble thing and try and prevent this from happening to next year's 7th and 8th graders?  I'm thinking on it. 

We get home and tell The Pudge everything and he feels a little better.  He thinks he can stick it out for a couple of more months, then he goes to high school.  The Mrs. and I decided to take him out to Don Pablo's for dinner.  We get there and there's a 30 minute wait.  We go into the crowded bar area and I go and get drinks.  The Pudge likes margaritas so I asked the barkeep for a virgin and a regular for The Mrs.  He brings them over and I ask which is the virgin?  He says "oh, I thought you said frozen."  The Pudge almost wound up face down in the gutter.  Bwahahahaha - now that's good parenting.  When I get back with the drinks, here The Mrs and The Pudge are talking to a family whose son is in The Pudge's math class.  And they were in the same situation although they didn't get an audience with the Principal.  Small world.

And that is how my weekend started.

The good news is that it got really cold Saturday (around 20 degrees) and The Mrs. said she felt warmer because of all of the new insulation.  It was worth it just for that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whitney Houston - New Jersey's Favorite Daughter?

It turns out, Whitney Houston was born and raised in Newark, NJ.  I honestly didn't know that until I saw on the news (ad nauseam) that her body was being flown here for burial.  Apparently, she still has family living here.  But I never heard of her returning to New Jersey to give anything back to the state or community and no one I know would ever associate her with New Jersey.  So I was surprised when Governor Chris Christie ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff on Saturday in her honor.  I was always under the impression that was an honor reserved for government officials, military personnel and peace officers.  You know, people that actually worked to better or defend the state.  New Jersey natives like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi do charitable work, bring business to the state, live in the state and are actually associated with the state.  When their time comes, I can see them getting this honor.

Roy Scheider died a few years ago and was a native of Orange, NJ (a stone's throw away from Newark) and was arguably more famous then Whitney Houston, but didn't receive this honor.  He starred in some of the most famous movies of all time (Jaws, The French Connection, etc.) and to my knowledge, didn't do crack.  Very few people knew he was from the state and was never associated with it.

So, does anyone think Whitney Houston deserves this honor?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentines Day to all of my blogger friends and especially The Mrs., without whom I would have nothing to blog about. 

And don't forget about the love of your life today.  Because you know she won't let you forget about it the rest of the year.  Bwahahahaha

Friday, February 10, 2012

Home Maintenance Triple Whammy

I've known for a long time (well, since I bought the house almost 20 years ago) that the insulation in the attic spaces was woefully inadequate.  The house was built in 1972 and the two roofs only have about 3" - 4" of insulation between the joists that has compressed over the years (from dust and settling) to the point where we are losing a tremendous amount of energy.  It's estimated (by some mythical government agency that I can't verify - but it sounds right) that 42% of a house's energy loss is through the roof.  I've looked into doing it myself, but the roof pitch is extremely shallow I have about 3 feet of head room) and there are very small openings to get into the spaces.  The old body just can't do it any more.

So I had an Owens-Corning distributor come in and he talked me into adding 17" of cellulose attic insulation (R-49 rating) and soffit vents.  I want to see how they're going to get the vents in because there is very little room because of the shallow pitch.  They estimate that doing this will lower my utility bill by 20% - 25%, with a payback of about 3 years - we'll see.  I have so little insulation now that it has to save me money.  How much is the question.  This happened 2 weeks ago and is scheduled for this Friday.

This is basically what they will do in my attic (illustration).  That roof pitch is pretty much what my roof pitch is.  Getting in between each rafter with a soffit vent is why I'm not doing it.

This is another illustration of the soffit vents.  Note that this guy has plenty of room because the roof pitch is twice what mine is.

This is not my attic, but is what it should look like when it's done.  They will put these gauges at different points in the space to make sure the insulation is spread evenly. 
Monday I started noticing our Kenmore Elite refrigerator was making gurgling noises after the compressor shut off.  Sometimes that's an indication of low freon or the evaporator is freezing up.  This is one of the few items in my house that has an extended warranty, so The Mrs. scheduled a maintenance guy to come this Friday.

We had our garage doors and one of the openers replaced about 2 months ago (again, I'm too old to do that hard labor crap).  Last week the opener started making a grinding noise from the drive motor.  I went through all of the troubleshooting checks in the manual and couldn't figure it out.  So after multiple calls to Home Depot, I finally am getting the installation contractor to come out and take a look at it - this Friday. 

Triple Whammy!  Contractor party at my house!

And to top it all off, if I can get these guys out of the house by 3:15PM, I will be able to attend our first meeting ever with the principal of The Pudge's middle school (otherwise The Mrs. will have to go it alone).  We got his report card last Friday and he failed math.  We don't fault The Pudge at all on this - it's a teacher problem.   We are now hearing from multiple parents that had problems with this teacher last year (thanks for the heads up).  The Pudge has never gotten anything lower than a "B" on his report card - ever.  I think that will be a post for another time.

And then there's the weekend...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Camping with the Boys

Ohhh, son-of-a...another scouting story?  Scouts has been taking a lot of my time lately, so it's only fitting that I torment all of you with my miserable life.  And you know it won't end here.
Our troop's winter camp was the 3rd weekend of January at one of our local state parks. We were really on the fence about going because the weather forecast was not good.  But, because of schedules, postponing the trip most likely meant cancelling and we would have lost our deposit for the site.  So off we went.
A view of the lake.
The temperature never really got above freezing, we had about an inch of snow Friday night (fortunately it was after we got set up) and we had freezing rain most of the day Saturday.
A very large pavilion with the lake just beyond.
Rather than tent-camping, we had "Lean-tos".  These were wooden houses with 4 walls, floor, roof, door, windows and a wood-burning stove.  The weekend before, The Pudge, The Scoutmaster, Simple J, Birch and I went to a church that needed some downed trees cut up and taken away.  This was perfect for the firewood we would need for the stoves and I ended up taking down about half a chord of wood - and it helped the church out too.  This was to be an advancement weekend. We would work on a bunch of the outdoor-type rank advancements that the boys needed. That didn't work out as good as we had hoped but we did get some done. 
A typical Lean-to.

Inside the Lean-to.  These stoves could throw some heat, but they had to be fed wood on a regular basis.  Getting someone to do it in the middle of the night was tough.
One of the main things the boys do on these trips is cook. We had 15 boys (whittled down to 13 because of illness) and broke them into 3 patrols for the purpose of patrol cooking.  The troop has organized patrols for meetings, but because you never know who will be going camping, we form temporary patrols on camping trips with temporary patrol leaders.  We also selected "Grub Masters" for each patrol.  Grub Master develops the menu (with input from the patrol), develops a shopping list, checks the troop gear locker for leftover non-perishables (like hot chocolate), does the food shopping and serves as the main cook during the trip.  He also assigns duties to the rest of the patrol members during the meal, such as food prep, table setting and cleanup. 

Our kitchen area.
 Demonstration of the Grub Master duties during a camping trip is also a requirement for the rank of 1st Class. The Pudge and 2 other 2nd Class scouts took on the challenge.  The adult leaders have the option of tagging along with a patrol for meals, individual cooking or adult leader patrol cooking.  We all chose the latter with more on that in a minute.

The adult leaders have been noticing a trend in the patrol cooking of - not really cooking.  Instant oatmeal, sandwiches and Dinty Moore stew keep showing up on menus with increased regularity.  I have taken an initiative to come up with a collection of standard meal recipes that would have instructions, utensil requirements and fill-in-the-blank quantity calculators that would make it easier for  patrols to cook with fresh ingredients.  I will do this after the Neckerchief Craft Night is history.  We also decided not to rock the boat on this trip because of the extreme weather element in this cooking challenge. 
The Pudge cooking up spaghetti and meatballs for his patrol's dinner.
The adults decided that each of us would take a meal (there were 5 adults). I got dinner because I'm really the only one who cooks on his own. The others all apparently have talented wives to cook for them (I wonder what that's like?).  So while the other guys made meals of a western omelet, homemade chili, campfire brandies (the adult "snack" portion of the trip) and raisin bread french toast with turkey bacon (this was good), I decided to get fancy.  I made Penne and Shrimp with Camp Fire Green Beans and Bananas Foster for dessert (I love  The toughest part is that I only have 2 propane burners and limited cooking utensils.  Trying to boil water in a 10 MPH wind with no lid is challenging (I used tin foil) too.
This is how the men cooked.
I made the beans at home and brought them in a ziplock. After I heated them on the burners, I had one of the men put the pot on a lean-to stove to keep it warm (a scout uses his resources).  The beans turned out good and may be one of the packaged recipes I develop for the scouts.  I will use fresh beans over canned next time.  The rest of the meal was pretty straight forward and I got it all in the mess kit - hot.
Penne and Shrimp with Camp Fire Green Beans (Almondine).
The dessert was a thing to behold. The boys gathered around to watch the flaming spectacle. Actually, a lot of the boys were watching me cook in between their cooking duties, and that was what I was hoping for.  I wanted them to see that with the proper planning, cooking is not that difficult and there are many choices other than stew. 

It's hard to cook when you have to keep putting your gloves on.

I think because of the cold air, the flambe didn't flame that much. But man was this good. I almost made a 2nd batch for the boys but thought better of it because of the rum. I told The Pudge we would make this at home.

Dessert - Bananas Foster.  This is flambe-ing but it's hard to  see in this picture.
 All-in-all a challenging trip for the boys. On Saturday, we gave the scouts the choice of staying in their lean-tos to play games that they brought with them or do advancements. The majority chose the games - and who could blame them? But the others that made some progress on advancements made the trip worth while. I led a handful of scouts on a short hike around the lake (after the rain finally stopped) and that was worth the trip for me. We broke camp late Sunday morning and everyone was glad to get home. The ski trip is next month...of course, I won't be going, but The Pudge will.

Dam at the end of the lake.
Some very dirty snowmen.  I think it was some kind of Calvin and Hobbes tribute.