Hot Cider

I had a lovely Christmas, thanks, and I hope yours was as pleasant as mine.

We slept late–one of the advantages of not having small children in the house–and waited until the caffeine was ready before we opened gifts. I’d like to be able to say we opened them slowly and with due appreciation, but…We’ve been bludgeoning adulthood into submission for enough years that we’re not about to go grown-up now.

We stayed in our jammies all day, talked to family on the phone, watched one of our favorite Christmas movies*, had a nice dinner, gave the Backyard Bunch gooshy fud instead of the usual Kitty Krunchiez, and largely ignored whatever’s was going on in the outside world.

* It’s got its flaws, but it’s also got some of the most quotable lines ever.

Oh, yeah. We also tried a new spiced cider recipe. Since it was wildly successful, I’ll pass along our modified version. For those of you stuck in colder realms, it’s the perfect drink to accompany watching someone else shovel snow.

Credit where credit is due: the original recipe comes from Christine Gallary at The Kitchn. We’ve merely tweaked it slightly and adjusted it for a smaller crockpot.

Hardware and Ingredients

  • A 3-quart slow cooker
  • A tea infuser, small cheesecloth bag, or other similar device for confining spices
  • 1/2 gallon of apple cider. Not the alcoholic stuff (much as we love that) and not the sparkling stuff either. If you can’t get cider, get juice–preferably unfiltered. The important thing is to check the ingredients. If there’s anything other than apple juice listed, put it back on the shelf.
  • 1 baseball-sized orange. Maybe a little bigger, but don’t get up into anything suitable for softball. And no, you can’t substitute a couple of those little clementines that are so popular this time of year. The ratio of flesh to peel and pith is all wrong. Cut it into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends and any other pieces that don’t have much flesh.
  • 3 cinnamon sticks.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
  • A few pieces of crystallized ginger (yes, a very precise measurement), cut into half-inch squares.

Instructions

  1. Pour the cider into the crockpot. Hardest thing you’ll do all day.
  2. Toss in the ginger, orange, and cinnamon. Gently: don’t splash.
  3. Restrain the cloves and peppercorns into a single packet and drop it in.
  4. Put the lid on the cooker, set it on Low, and leave it alone for two hours.
  5. Stir. Make sure to shove the orange slices under the surface of the liquid. They’ll float back up, but it helps distribute the flavor if they’re damp on both surfaces.
  6. Leave it alone for another couple of hours.
  7. Ladle it into thick-walled mugs and enjoy.

Note: You will get bits of orange and ginger in your mug. Don’t sweat it, just drink around them. Or eat them. Your choice. Mopping up the spills after you try to pour the contents of a hot crockpot through a filter into another pot just isn’t worth the effort.

Proper Construction

It’s that time of year again–when zillions of people across the country are making a mess of their leftover turkey sandwiches. And that’s a real shame. The noble turkey should never be wasted on an inferior sandwich.

And it’s so unnecessary. We covered the making of a proper turkey sandwich four years ago.

To be fair, the blog had fewer readers then. So if you’re new here, check out that post and spread the word. As a bonus, you’ll get our mindlessly-easy recipe for turkey soup.

But that aside, there’s another sandwich-related problem plaguing America–a worse one, as it strikes at the very foundation of indigenous American cuisine.

As we noted four years ago, mayonnaise is the devil’s condiment. So why has it become the default on hamburgers*?

* Let’s not get into the argument about the ancestry of the burger. Sure, every meat-eating culture has a dish involving ground meat. It’s a great way to use up the leftovers. But the hamburger qua hamburger? American born and bread. (Sorry).

I blame Canada. No, seriously. Forty years ago, Canadians were the only people so lost to virtue as to put mayo on a burger. Today, everywhere in America, if you don’t say “NO MAYO, DAMN IT!” you’re going to get a thick, slimy layer of that white stuff on your burger.

Yeah, a thick layer. Even if I was prepared to accept mayo on the bun–which I’m not–it would have to be as a condiment, like the ketchup and/or mustard* it’s ostensibly replacing, not as an ingredient in its own right. But no, the default is a giant scoop of the evil stuff, outweighing the bun. Heck, I’ve occasionally gotten a burger where I’m fairly sure there’s more mayo than meat.

* You may be surprised to learn that a person of such definitive opinions won’t take a position on the ketchup/mustard debate. The reason is simple: my preference in the matter changes. Some days I want one, some the other, and sometimes both.

It’s a deplorable situation, folks, and it’s only made worse by the ever-increasing tendency for burgers to include lettuce.

I’m not talking about a big wad of shredded lettuce intended to make a fast food burger look as though it’s got some nutritional content. No, I’m talking about an allegedly legitimate food burger with a wad of iceberg big enough to have sunk the Titanic.

Does anybody think this is a good idea? Really. Serious question. Lettuce adds no taste. On a burger, it does two things, neither desirable. It bulks the burger up to the point where you can’t possibly open your mouth wide enough to eat it, and it delivers water straight to the bun, making it soggy.

Really, people, get with it. You want tomato on your burger? Go for it. Onion, raw or grilled? No problem.

But when it comes to lettuce, follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and Just Say No.

And that white, slimy stuff?

Hell No to Mayo!

SAST 09

With just a tiny bit of luck, this will be the last Short Attention Span Theater for a while. Barring unexpected events, Like Herding Cats will go out to the beta readers this week and I’ll be able to stop stripping my mental transmission by jumping back and forth among writing, re-writing, and copy-editing.

Which brings me to the first production on today’s program. I could use another beta reader. Now, before you immediately deluge me in requests, let me remind you what beta reading is and is not.

It is not an opportunity to read a book before anyone else. Well, okay, it is, but it’s also a requirement that you read the book critically. I’m not looking for “Hey, great book. I love it!” I want to know what doesn’t work. To that end, along with the book, beta readers get a laundry list of questions like, “Were all of the plot twists properly supported, or was there a point where somebody acted out of character in order to change the story’s direction?” and “Were there any jokes that just didn’t work for you?”

I don’t expect every reader to answer every question, but these are the things I need to know to make the book better, so the more you can answer–and especially, the more faults you find–the happier I’ll be. I want beta readers to find the problems, not agents and editors!

Still interested? There’s one more qualification: you must be familiar with modern urban fantasy, by which I mean you’ve read several works in the field which were published within the past five years. “Several” means “more than one, and by more than one author”.

If you’re still interested, drop me an email. Do NOT apply via a comment on the post, by Facebook Messenger, or by Twitter reply. Thank you.

Moving on.

And, speaking of jobs, I got a weird offer in email recently.

We bought our car from a dealership, and we take it in for maintenance every six months. They’ve got my email address because I like getting a reminder that it’s time for the next visit and because they send out occasional special offers. Yeah, imagine that, advertising done right: opt-in.

So then I got this latest note from them. “Join our team!” says the subject line. Uh-huh. Job listings. And not just sales positions. They’re looking for a mechanic and for a person to check cars in and out of the service department.

Apparently they consider recruiting to be a type of advertising. The email has their boilerplate at the bottom reminding me that I opted-in to receive occasional ads.

I find it slightly amusing, but also more than a trifle creepy. Imagine if the idea catches on. “Hey, I hope you liked the espresso you bought last week. How would you like to be a barista?” “Thanks for making your last credit card payment on time. Wanna join our team? We’ve got openings in the boiler room calling the deadbeats whose payments haven’t come in.”

There’s a place for everything–and that’s not the place for job postings.

Next time I take the car for maintenance, I’ll ask how many job applicants the email generated–and firmly request they remove my name from that list.

Moving on.

It appears our cats know there’s a place for everything. And once in a while, they take a vacation from playing “Gravity’s Little Helper” to put things in the right place.
14-cmf
We’ve taught them that fish comes in cans. So yes, that’s the current incarnation of Mr. Mousiefish, carefully place in a gooshy fud can–presumably so he can be eaten later.

Moving on.

14-psps
I can’t decide if this is so meta it’s hilarious or so clich√© it’s painful. Though I lean toward the latter.

Joe, ya shouldn’ta oughta done it.

Uh-Oh Again

Let’s start the week with a quick follow-up to an earlier post. Partly inspired by the Android Oreo discussion back in August, Jackie took a chance on “Mystery Oreos”.

I bow to her bravery. I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but I wouldn’t have dared try something even the manufacturer can’t–or won’t–identify.

She reports that they taste like Circus Peanut candies.

This is not a good thing. There’s a reason Circus Peanuts are a niche product, after all. (The niche seems to be “people who were traumatized by them as children feeding them to their kids”. Who says abuse isn’t a learned behavior?)

If anyone wants to take the rest of the package off Jackie’s hands, drop by her blog and leave her a note. Odds are, she’ll be happy to send them to you.

Does Nabisco really need to wander into the wilds this way? I think not. Granted, their parent corporation, Mondelez, cut about 9% of its workforce last year, but the layoffs weren’t because the company is in any trouble; according to the Chicago Tribune, they were part of ongoing cost-cutting measures.

And Oreos are doing just fine in the marketplace. According to Statista, Oreos are the top selling cookie in the U.S. after “Private Label”.

I’ll pause here to allow you to contemplate the nature of a “generic cookie”.

And no, that’s not a combined figure for the approximately ninety-eleven varieties of Oreo. That’s for Oreos, plain and simple. Note that the chart also has Oreo Double Stuff as a solid Number Four.

All those flavors? Window dressing and loss leader. Based on those sales figures, I can only assume that people are buying small packages of “Oreos Weird Flavr” and then following that with a big bag of “Oreos For Reals” to get rid of the taste of the officially-sanctioned imposter.

If so, a clever move on Nabisco’s part, but it can’t last. Sooner or later, they’re going to run out of vaguely plausible flavors, and we’re going to start seeing Sriracha Oreos, Bacon and Eggs Oreos*, and eventually Salmon and Toothpaste Oreos.

* All artificial flavors, so the cookies can remain kosher and vegetarian-friendly. (Note: Oreos can be cross-contaminated with milk. This is not, apparently, sufficient to impair their kosher standing, but it is enough to render them unfit for vegans.) The latest word on which varieties of Oreos are kosher may be found here.

What comes after that? Well, Nabisco will get a certain amount of press for the lawsuits over the Arsenic and Old Lace Oreos (“Now with even more lace!”), and we all know no publicity is bad publicity. But even that will only get them so far.

I don’t have a solution here–there’s a reason I’m not working in advertising–but Nabisco needs to come up with something.

Hopefully it’ll come before the world is introduced to Cuyahoga River Oreos.

Beeting the Heat

Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area, where the temperature is no longer into three digits.

Yeah, we had the hottest Labor Day weekend on record this year–several cities around the Bay had all-time highs, more had high-for-the-date days. The gods were punishing the Bay Area for something I did.

Well, maybe I’m overly self-centered. It might have been something Maggie did. “But how,” I hear you ask, “do you know it was your fault?”

Simple: Our air conditioner broke. We’re not sure exactly when, but it was either Friday evening or Saturday, when the heat was at its worst. Big thanks to our HVAC company for having somebody working Monday and for keeping their holiday service surcharge to a reasonable level. Of course, by Monday, temperatures were back down to normal levels–but we still had to run the AC for a couple of ours to get the temperature indoors down to normal.

Of course, the problem with this sort of punishment–smiting everyone in the area over the sin of one person–is that the gods never drop you an email to tell you what it was you did wrong. Which means you’re doomed to make the same mistake over and over again. So if you hear that the state of California has finally fallen into the Pacific Ocean, you’ll know whose fault it is.

So it wasn’t quite a restful a holiday as we might have hoped, but it wasn’t an entirely unmixed curse. Rufus, no fool he, spent most of the weekend in the master bathroom, one of the few rooms in the house with an uncarpeted floor. Not only is that new territory for him, it meant he had to interact with the other cats more than usual. As a result, this morning has been unusually free of feline drama.

Meanwhile, the Oakland As were so happy to not be playing in the heat here, that they kindly lost all three of their games in Seattle. Of course, once they left Seattle, Houston moved in. And it seems that floods don’t induce the same sort of friendly attitude. Can’t have it all, I guess.

And, on a more personal note, I discovered a new taste treat.

Yeah, I know. About four-fifths of you are making gagging noises. I’m well aware that beets aren’t a popular food item. I’m fairly sure they remain in salad bars almost entirely through inertia–and vendors not wanting to spend the money to retool their production lines.

But for those of us who appreciate a good beet, Trader Joe’s offering is rather compelling.

The beet flavor is present, but not so strong as to be overwhelming. The texture is similar to a thick-cut potato chip, crunchy on the outside and a little chewy in the center.

And check that ingredient list! How can I resist a single-ingredient food? No salt, no preservatives, just pure beety goodness. Yeah, there’s some natural sodium, and a lot of potassium–though that may be a good thing for some–but they’re low fat and cholesterol-free. Even better, unlike most prepared foods, the stated portion size is generous. Trader Joe considers these to be single-serving containers, but I got two quite adequate snacks out of the package. And they’re clearly somewhat dubious about their own recommendation, as they included a zipper seal on the package.

Two tasty snacks for three bucks? That’s a darn sight cheaper and healthier than the vending machine. Even if you’re not normally a beet fancier, you ought to give these a try. You might just be converted.

Uh-Oh! Oreo

The new flavor of Android is “Oreo”. I have mixed feelings about this.

Not because it’s a corporate tie-in. You may recall that I was in favor of Android Kit-Kat. And let’s be real here: Android itself is a corporate offering; it’s not like a little message cross-promotion is diluting some kind of ideological purity.

Nor is it because I dislike Oreos. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The problem is that I’m not sure what an Oreo is these days–and neither is Nabisco. Really. Have you looked at the cookie aisle of your local supermarket these days? Here’s mine:

Go ahead and click the image to see it full-sized. Soak yourself in the knowledge that there are now at least 21 varieties of Oreo. Yeah, I counted. (In case you can’t read the labels, even in the large image, they are:

  1. Heads or Tails Double Stuf
  2. Oreo Chocolate Creme
  3. Oreo Peanut Butter
  4. Oreo Mint
  5. Oreo Thins Lemon
  6. Oreo Thins Golden
  7. Oreo Thins
  8. Oreo Thins Chocolate
  9. Oreo Thins Mint
  10. Oreo Thins Coconut
  11. Oreo Golden Double Stuf
  12. Oreo Golden Birthday Cake
  13. Oreo Birthday Cake
  14. Cinnamon Bun Oreo
  15. Red Velvet Oreo
  16. Oreo Mega Stuf
  17. Oreo Golden Lemon
  18. Oreo Reduced Fat
  19. Oreo (aka “Milk’s Favorite Cookie”)
  20. Oreo Golden
  21. Oreo Double Stuff

The bottom shelf is larger packages of the same things that are on the higher shelves.)

And you know what? They don’t taste like Oreos.

Maggie and I did a little taste test.

Cinnamon Bun Oreos do not taste like any cinnamon bun I’ve ever eaten–and I’ve had some bad ones. That’s not to say these are bad cookies. There is a slight bitter aftertaste, and the cinnamon is partly artificial (the ingredient list includes both “cinnamon” and “artificial flavors”). But for a cheap, cinnamon-flavored cookie, they’re not bad. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s really the best I can say for these things.

Then there are the Red Velvet Oreos with their “Cream Cheese Flavored Creme”. The creme does not taste like cream cheese. Neither one of us could decide what it does taste like (other than sugar), but it’s not cream cheese. I’ll give them this: these cookies taste more like red velvet cake than the cinnamon bun cookies taste like cinnamon buns. And I’d be more likely to buy these again. Especially if they dropped the Oreo branding.

In an earlier, independent tasting, Maggie had some Key Lime Pie Oreos, which are not currently available in our local store. She reports that the somewhat-graham-cracker-crust-like cookies were reasonably successful, and the creme did taste sort of lime-like.

I haven’t tried any of the “Golden” cookies, and frankly, I don’t plan to. That’s just too far off-message.

Look, I’m old enough to remember when Double Stuf Oreos were introduced–I was nine–and I thought that was pretty darn neat. Even today, when I’ve decided that the original version has just the right balance of cookie to filling, I don’t have any problem with Double Stuf, or even, God help us, Mega Stuf, because they still have the pseudo-chocolatish cookie paired with the faintly vanilla filling that defines an Oreo.

As I said earlier, if they weren’t branded as “Oreo,” I might buy more of the red velvet cookies, and Maggie had a similar reaction to the key lime pie variant.

The name “Oreo” conjures up a very specific taste memory–and let’s not forget that psychologists say that scent/taste memories are among the strongest and longest lasting. By labeling these randomly-flavored items with that name, Nabisco is fighting with customers’ expectations. It’s an uphill battle that probably can’t be won.

Instead, Oreo is diluting their brand to little effect and fragmenting their own market.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly where Android stands. With thirteen flavors of Android in the market (“Cupcake” through “Oreo”), each of which has been re-skinned and reworked by hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers, there are almost as many varieties of Android on the shelves as there are of Oreos.

Is that really the image Google wants Android to present?

Fair to Middling

We’ve moved from July to August, and you all know what that means. No, not that. It’s county fair season again.

After a year’s absence, we returned to the Solano County Fair. And, much as I hate to say it, it wasn’t as good as last time.

There was a complete absence of Xathanael Todd in the art show. Yes, there were some nice pieces–I particularly liked Stephanie Liu’s “Succulent Pot Costume”–but nobody stepped up to give us the sustained off-kilter artistic vision Xathanael did so well.

Once again, the fair failed to provide strawberry shortcake.

And, while I can’t give firm numbers, I’m fairly sure there were fewer critters. Certainly the carousel lacked anything more than boring horses, but even the live animals seemed sparser than I recalled.

All that said, don’t think I didn’t have a good time, because I did. Just not quite as good as in 2015.

A few highlights.

This year was the year of the rabbit nose twitch for me. I just found them insufferably cute and took several videos.

I’ll note in passing that some of the artwork that wasn’t part of the art show was more entertaining than what was. In particular, the deconstructed chicken–part of an educational sign detailing “The Digestive System of Chickens”–should have gotten a blue ribbon.

It’s the row of violets on the ledge below the art that really puts it over the top.

This year won big on music. Two years ago, we didn’t hear anything particularly distinctive, but this year we caught Metalachi.

Full disclosure: We didn’t stumble over the band at the fair, we went intending to catch their show.

Heavy metal done mariachi style. Great concept, well executed. I’d like to hear them take on some original compositions. There is, after all, only so far you can go as a cover band. But in fairness, not every musician is a composer. And on that subject, need I mention that I was hoping they’d go for the multi-cultural trifecta and do a BABYMETAL number? I was and they didn’t. Perhaps a bit too much to hope for.

The video isn’t great. Between the backlighting and the demolition derby next door, I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did. If you go in search of better videos, be warned that they tone down the act for the family friendly venue.

And then there was the food. The “Shark on a Stick” folks were back, but I again declined. A BBQ beef sandwich did quite nicely for protein and vitamins and set me up well for the obligatory “only at a fair” food dessert.

Behold this wondrous offering from the “Everything Deep Fried” food truck!

Granted, the caramel comes off as something closer to syrup, but frying the sandwich turns the peanut butter into a delicious oozing mass and the jelly is transformed into sweet streams of liquid. The cereal adds a nice note of crunchiness that the syrupcaramel can’t soggify. It was well worth the experiment, even knowing I’ll be visiting my doctor to discuss my cholesterol later this week.

In all, despite the minor disappointments, it was a successful day at the fair. And remember: the Solano County Fairs for ewe.

No, really, it says so right over the entrance, lack of apostrophe and all!

Not a Health Food

Happy Independence Day. Yes, even you non-Americans.

I’m not saying anyone has to celebrate–especially those of you outside our borders–but why not have a happy day? All y’all, American or not, can enjoy the fact that for this one day our politicians are too distracted with celebration to bother you.

Or if that’s not enough of motivation, try this recipe. It’s been a while since I posted one, and since this one literally fell into my hands the other day, I figured I should share.

Yes, literally. We’re doing a major cleanup-slash-assault on the garage. Many of the boxes we’re sorting through haven’t been opened in more than two decades. Many things are getting donated or discarded*. But some things you just don’t get rid of.

* There were so many old magazines and other papers in the recycle bin last week, we were afraid the truck would tip over when the claw came out to grab the can. It didn’t–but it did creak quite loudly.

This recipe, which fell out of box of assorted papers, is one of the things you have to keep. It’s right in line with my “lazy cook” philosophy, but the results are tasty, indeed.

Cast your mind back to the late 1970s. A time when jogging was popular, Star Wars was huge, and granola bars were chewy.

Oh, you can still buy chewy granola bars, but back then it was the default choice. And so easy to make!

The origins of this recipe are shrouded in mystery. “Some magazine, I think,” was the best provenance my mother could come up with.

Note that these are not healthy granola bars. You want those, go buy ’em. Or find your own recipe, starting with making your own granola. This version is loaded with fat, sugar, and everything that makes junk food worth eating.

It’s also probably the simplest recipe I’ll ever post here.

Gooey Granola Bars

Ingredients

  • 6 cups granola – You can make your own if you want, but that violates the core principle of the lazy cook. Buy it ready-made. And get one with something more than just oats. Dried fruit, maybe, or some interesting nuts. I used Trader Joe’s ginger and almond granola, and the bars turned out very well–though Maggie says it needs more ginger.
  • 1 can condensed milk – The sweetened, sticky stuff. If your store has a low-fat or fat-free version, ignore it. Get the real thing.
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips – Or more. Two cups is better. More chocolate than granola might be excessive. I suggest using a dark chocolate, something with just enough bitterness to contrast with the sugar from the milk. And if you’ve got a local confectionery, hit ’em up for chocolate chunks.

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a baking pan with butter. No, not non-stick spray. Butter.
  2. Mix granola and chips in a large bowl, then mix in the condensed milk.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly into the baking pan. Push it into the corners, and pack it tight.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool, slice, pry out of pan, and enjoy. Hint: If the bars crumble or compress into cubes when you try to remove them from the pan, you probably didn’t let them cool long enough.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Sideways

I suppose this could be considered a Short Attention Span Theater post, but I’m not caffeinated enough to think about that.

Step One: The Bay Bridge is still standi–no, wait, I’ve used that joke before. Never mind.

Seriously, the Bay Bridge did take a step forward this week. The bike path between Yerba Buena Island and Oakland is now open seven days a week. That’s actually a very big step.

Mind you, it doesn’t help would-be bike commuters. The path is only open from 6 AM to 8 PM. Any techies planning to bike in for their usual seventy-two hour week are likely to hit the barrier in one direction or the other.

Well, actually, they’re going to discover that there’s still no connection between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island, so unless they’ve got an amphibious bike, they’re only going to get halfway to work. Of course, if they do have one of those gadgets, they don’t need the bike path in the first place. Never mind.

It’s unclear to me whether there’s a plan to open the path at night, and according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a bike path on the western span is at least a decade away. But a scenic ride that’s available seven days a week is a decided improvement over one that’s only open on weekends.

Step Two: I said Tuesday that I would be having signings outside of Seattle. I can now announce the second scheduled event.

On Sunday, July 16, I will be at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I’ll talk for a while about Scott Joplin and ragtime music, do a Q&A session, and then sign books.

This is breaking news, folks. Borderlands doesn’t even have it on their website yet.

But if you can’t make it to Sedalia or Seattle, I’ll look forward to seeing you in San Francisco.

And who knows, maybe I can arrange a signing in a city that doesn’t start with an “S”.

Step Minus One: Have you heard that McDonald’s has invented a new eating utensil? You probably have, but if not, the inevitable commercial is here.

Yeah. The “frork”.

As one might expect, the Internet is up in arms about this. To the extent that there’s ever a consensus online, it seems to be that this is the stupidest idea ever.

Having waded through more dumb Kickstarter projects than I can count, I disagree.

Seriously. I just can’t get upset about the frork. Come on, folks, it’s an advertising gimmick. It’s served it’s purpose: getting people talking about McDonald’s.

It doesn’t look like a frork uses any more plastic than the usual fast food restaurant’s plastic fork/spork/spoon, so where’s the harm?

Mind you, it is–as McDonald’s admits–completely superfluous. Toppings that drip out of a fast food burger (or even a slow food burger, IMNSHO) are meant to be scooped up with and licked off of an index finger. Preferably your own–or your date’s*, but whatever floats your boat. Personally, I think fries should be eaten with the fingers as well, but I’m not dogmatic about it.

* But not in a Tom Lehrer/”I Hold Your Hand In Mine” kind of way, please. Even if you’re a zombie, that sort of behavior doesn’t qualify as proper restaurant manners.

So, yeah, not the end of civilization. Not even a serious attempt at bread and circuses.

Teasing

If you were hoping for the deep insights that are the usual fare here, you’re out of luck today.

No meditations on the impending end of civilization. No searing critiques of the latest cutting edge triumphs from [Apple|Google|Amazon|Microsoft|Samsung]. No detailed dissections of America’s culinary obsessions.

I mean, yes, it does have matters culinary and technological, and it probably portends the coming apocalypse. But it probably won’t change your life for the better.

Sorry. Better luck Thursday.

So, with that said, here’s the key thought: “This household runs on tea.”

Many people would try to make the case that it actually runs on cat hair, and there’s some validity in that view, but I think it would be more accurate to say that it runs over the cat hair.

Not to be too blunt, but we haven’t found a way to metabolize fur. Which is a shame, really, because if we could, we’d never have to buy groceries again. Though now that I think about it, it seems likely to be a fairly monotonous diet. Sure, each cat’s fur probably tastes a bit different, but we’re going to a have a largely homogeneous mix.

But I digress.

Tea. It’s not that we’re anti-coffee. Maggie likes it and drinks it on occasion. I don’t drink it, but I’ve been known to eat coffee-flavored foods. But for real, day-to-day motivation–read that as “caffeination”–it’s tea.

We keep a variety of blends and flavors around, but naturally we both have our everyday favorites. (I’ll leave you to guess who prefers which. No helpful hints from those of you in the know, please.)

Making tea requires hot water, and microwaving just doesn’t work out for the high volumes* we require. Putting the bag in cold water before nuking produces less than optimum flavor, and adding the bag after the water comes out doesn’t work well either–pouring the water over the bag into an otherwise empty mug is the only way to go.

* Forget those wimpy eight and twelve ounce mugs. We start at sixteen and regularly go as high as twenty-two or twenty-four ounces. We take our tea seriously.

So that means we need a kettle. We strongly favor cordless electric kettles. (A point of clarification: they’re not fully cordless. As with cordless cell phone chargers, there’s a base station which does plug into the wall. But the kettle itself has no cord; it sits on the base station and draws power either via induction or a physical connection that’s shielded from accidental contact.)

We had a scare recently when we thought the kettle which had served us reasonably well for several years had died. That turned out to be a false alarm, but not before we had gone shopping for a new one.

And we discovered there are a heck of a lot of poorly designed kettles out there.

Kettles that give you no way to see how much water is in them.

Kettles that don’t shut off when the water boils.

Kettles that can’t pour without directing steam onto your hand.

We finally settled on this model from the well-known-by-nobody “Chefman” brand.

It’s not perfect. The fill levels are clearly marked, but only in liters. We’re probably not the only Americans who’d like to see ounces or cups. The temperature control can only be set in five degree increments and can’t be set any higher than 212*. Nor is the manufacture all that solid: the high-tech blue LEDs that are supposed to illuminate the water while it heats failed after less than a week.

* Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to set the kettle to use Celsius temperatures to go along with the metric fill marks.

But it works, and quite nicely. The blue light doesn’t actually do anything, so we haven’t missed it–especially because the three-character LCD in the base does a fine job of lighting up the water. The heat and hold function works perfectly: we set the target to 205 and pour the water whenever we’re ready, instead of as soon as it boils. The tea tastes just as good, and we don’t risk it getting cold while we’re doing other things. Very handy for breakfast time.

I thought the built-in (but removable) tea infuser would be a useless gimmick, but when combined with the heat and hold setting, it actually makes very good iced tea. Keep the water boiling while the tea brews, then remove the infuser and let the tea cool before refrigerating.