Kicking Some Food Around, Part 2

Several weeks ago, I discussed several highlights and lowlights of the then-current food-related Kickstarter campaigns. Now that the campaigns have finished, let’s take another look and see how they did.

We started with Keith, who was restoring a vintage fire engine to advertise his BBQ business. I correctly predicted that the Kickstarter would fail to reach its goal: pledges only reached 11% of the target number. Keith is determined, however. According to the project updates, he’s applied his tax return to the project, and is pushing ahead. Kudos to him for finding an alternate funding source. If determination can make a business succeed, the BBQ Beast will live.

I didn’t make a prediction about Rich’s campaign to get his Smoke Hog food cart rolling, though I did say I thought it deserved to succeed. Unfortunately, it fell well short of success at only 14% of the target. Like Keith, Rich is determined to keep his dream alive. He’s putting together a promo video to show off more of what he can do, and plans to launch a new campaign when that’s ready. Good luck, Rich!

Remember Bobby and his “Bah Bah BBQ sauce”, loaded with antioxidants? I expected Bobby’s campaign to fail, and I was right. Less than a week after the previous blog post he canceled the campaign after accumulating pledges that amounted to only 2% of the target. This is actually the third time he’s launched a Kickstarter campaign for this sauce and the third time he’s canceled it early. Not only does Bobby not understand how the food industry works, but he apparently doesn’t understand how publicity and crowd-funding work either. On the brighter side, each time he’s tried it, he’s gotten more pledges. At the current rate of increase, I estimate he’ll meet his goal on the seventh attempt. Think he’s determined enough to keep trying that long? No? Me either.

Moving on to Genelle and her plan to become the salsa baroness of Oregon, we see that, as expected, her campaign failed. She accumulated pledges totalling 20% of her target. Genelle has rethought her plans and launched a new Kickstarter campaign. This time she’s scaled back her ambitions. Instead of trying to get her salsa into stores “throughout Oregon”, she’s aiming for two local stores, and will expand from there. The new campaign also asks for a third less money. She’s at 19% with almost three weeks to go. I still think she’s going to come up short again, but at least she’s being more realistic this time around.

OK, I lied. Not all of the Kickstarters have closed.

Sosu Sauces’s campaign for their Barrel-Aged Sriracha is the only one of the five that I was sure would succeed. With two days remaining, they’ve accumulated over $82,000 in pledges against their original $20,000 target. The additional funds will allow them to make a larger batch of the Sriracha and introduce three additional products: a barrel-aged hot sauce, a sriracha salt, and a sriracha cumin rub. Not bad. They have one additional stretch goal. If they can raise another $18,000 before the campaign ends, they’ll be able to rent a permanent facility and hire an employee. They’ll be a real company! $18K in the last two days is a real stretch. If you’re a sriracha fan–and I know a couple of you are–you really ought to give them a hand. Let me know how the product turns out.

Short Takes on the News

America is thinking with its collective stomach again.

As I write this, the top search on Google–in fact, the only search with enough activity to make it to the Hot Searches page–is for information on a Hot Pocket recall.

I like a fresh-from-the-oven* chunk of processed food-like substance as much as the next guy**, but really people, is this the most important thing going on in the world today?

* Forget the microwave. A nuked Hot Pocket is a flabby, vaguely disgusting thing. A baked Hot Pocket may still be vaguely disgusting, but at least it has a crispy crust.

** I should probably get a new fact-checker. I don’t even know who this “next guy” is, but sales figures strongly suggest that he likes Hot Pockets considerably more than I do.


Yesterday’s top search was for information on the winning Powerball lottery ticket. Somebody in California is getting $425 million. That’s before taxes, naturally; if they go for the lump payment, the after tax amount is likely to be closer to $4.25*. Let me go on record here and officially announce that I am not the winner. Darn it.

* Do the math, Beth. $100 million is closer to $4.25 than to $425,000,000. See, I do know a little about taxes…

What I find most interesting about the lottery being the top search is its margin of victory over the next most common searches.. It beat out Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp by 2:1; ditto for Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold and for Olympic hockey.

I find this sort of heartening. Really. I’ve complained in the past about Americans’ search fascination with sports, scandal, and sex, so it’s rather pleasant to see them taking such a strong interest in someone else’s good fortune. (I have to believe that the majority of those million-plus searches were not people trying to find out whether they had won. Have to. I’m probably wrong with that belief, but if I need to maintain some illusions about humanity in order to live with them.)

Looking further down the list, we see America’s usual obsessions creeping in. We’ve already mentioned the Olympics, which some people consider to be sports (the rest of us think of them as more of an exercise in politically-themed performance art). Then there’s Ray Rice allegedly beating his fiancee, which qualifies as both sports and scandal. No, not sports like that. Ray Rice plays football–or at least he has up until now. It remains to be seen whether his employer (the Baltimore Ravens) will follow the example set by the New England Patriots in the Aaron Hernandez case last year and terminate Rice’s contract if he’s indicted.

Hmm. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner finished ninth in the search standings. Presumably her sixth-place standing in the competion makes her less than half as interesting as fellow American Gracie Gold’s fourth place. There’s clearly an exponential factor at work here: Polina Edmunds’ seventh place wasn’t even enough for her to crack Google’s top twenty.


Late update: There’s now a second search in today’s Hot Searches list: Olympic figure skater Mao Asada has made the list, trading on both sports and scandal: former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshior Mori, now chairman of the organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics publicly criticized Asada’s ability in the wake of her 16th place finish.

Americans are still more interested in Hot Pockets, however. A triumph of the stomach?

Kicking Some Food Around

Hungry? I hope not, because we’re going to talk food today.

I was cruising around Kickstarter t’other day when I noticed something. There are a huge number of “what the heck were you thinking” projects in the food category. There are also some darn good ideas out there. Allow me to share a few of the highlights and lowlights.

First up, here’s Keith. Keith is restoring a 1939 Dodge fire engine. Why? No idea. He’s pretty clear that it’s going to be a mobile catering station for his “BBQ Beast” business, but he doesn’t give us a clue of why he wants to use this vehicle instead of any other. Mind you, the Kickstarter isn’t really for the fire engine, even though it’s prominently displayed at the top of the page and most of the content of the video talks about it. Most of the Kickstarter funds will actually go to the purchase of a trailer to carry everything that won’t fit into the fire engine. As I write this, He’s a bit over 10% of the way to his funding goal, and even though there are two weeks to go, I don’t think he’s going to make it. Keith, give us a reason to want to help you. Any readers in Windsor, CA know what Keith’s thinking?

Then there’s Rich. Rich has a plan. He wants to start selling his own BBQ and tacos on 6th Street in Austin, TX. He’s got experience selling street food on 6th Street. He’s already negotiating for a location. He’s got a budget–and he even breaks it down for us, explaining how much of the Kickstarter money is for equipment, licensing, and so on. He’s got some interesting ideas for the menu: an ever-changing mix of “normal” and “unique to Rich” fare (beef tongue tacos, anyone? How about smoked fish? Or pork belly?) Heck, even his vegetable topping sounds intriguing: a mixture of four pickled vegetables: carrots, cabbage, red onion, and cucumber. Just like Keith, Rich is 10% of the way to his goal, but IMNSHO, he’s got a much better chance. Heck, I’ve got no plans to visit Austin in the foreseeable future, but I’ve pledged a few bucks, just because I admire him for doing his homework and setting an attainable goal.

Maybe it’s Californians who have trouble getting their point across. Bobby is looking for financial help to get his BBQ sauce into stores. According to all of his friends, it’s the greatest BBQ sauce ever. And even more importantly, it’s made with pomegranate, so it’s loaded with “real antioxidants”! None of those horrible fake antioxidants used in other products; Bobby’s BBQ is “unique” and “all-natural”! With Kickstarter funding, Bobby believes the only obstacle to his success is ensuring a sufficient supply of “the best, freshest ingredients”. R&D is done and the “initial market testing is all positive”. That $20,000 he’s looking for will cover “Manufacturing, Retail Distribution, Warehousing, [and] Shipping to stores and you”! Bobby, do you have any idea how the food industry works? Good luck, man, you’re gonna need it. (As of this writing, Bobby’s “Bah Bah BBQ Sauce” is 2% funded…)

OK, it’s not just a California thing. Genelle is ready to ditch the insurance business and follow her lifelong dream of having her own business. If she can raise $1,500 on Kickstarter, she’ll rent a commercial kitchen and “get my salsa into local stores throughout Oregon.” What could go wrong? Apparently the only risk is going out of business, and that risk can be mitigated “with the proper permits and business liability insurances”. I hope she’s got a friend who can design a logo and labels for her jars of salsa. And a plan to actually deliver her product to those “local stores throughout Oregon”… At least she’s starting small, with an attainable Kickstarter funding target. The project has only been up for a couple of days and she’s already 10% of the way there.

Let’s wrap this up with another highlight, if only to show that not all Californian food-related Kickstarters are clueless. Lisa and the gang at Sosu Sauces are kickstarting their newest take on Sriracha: aged in whiskey barrels. This isn’t their first time launching a new sauce, and it’s not their first time on Kickstarter. They know what they’re getting into, they’ve got a plan, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve already got contacts in the industry. They already have relationships with farmers, barrel makers, and distributors. I’m not fond of sriracha, but I can see the real fans going wild for their variation. They’ve got the same $20,000 target that Bobby does, but they actually know what they’re going to do with the money if they reach their target. Their confidence shows, and it’s inspiring backer confidence. As I write this, the project has only been open for a few hours, and they’ve already hit 6% with plenty of time to go. I’ll wish them good luck, but unlike Bobby, I don’t think they really need it.

Leftovers

Thanksgiving is known for leftovers, so allow me to share a few with you.


Literal leftovers first. The smart celebrator expects to have leftover turkey and plans accordingly. At this point, we have it down to a science. On the day after Thanksgiving, we have cold turkey and use up the leftover gravy, stuffing, and any other sides that didn’t get done in on Thursday. Saturday is turkey sandwiches for dinner. The next week, turkey sandwiches for lunch. Any remaining turkey goes into the freezer with the bones for use in soup.

Those of you who don’t eat meat may not be aware that there is a religious war over the proper semi-liquid for a turkey sandwich. Below is a poll to see how many sides of the war my readership represents. We’ll check in on the poll results next week, and I’ll let you all know just how misguided you are.


Thanksgiving’s post mentioned plans to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon. As it turned out, we never quite managed to turn on the marathon, so we fell back on our own collection of shows.

MST3K, for anyone who doesn’t know, was the show that popularized the concept of actors heckling a bad movie for the entertainment of all. Just as The Daily Show carried on under the guidance of Jon Stewart when original host Craig Kilborn left, MST3K had multiple leads. The show began in 1988 with creator Joel Hodgson in the leading role; he left in 1993, and Mike Nelson took over until the show’s end in 1999. Joel/Mike arguments continue to this day. Not to fan the flames of that war, it should be noted that Mike was the head writer for the show, meaning he was responsible for many of the jokes during Joel’s tenure.

We watched two shows, one each from the Joel and Mike eras. “Master Ninja I“, a “movie” created by splicing together two episodes of a short-lived TV show starring Lee Van Cleef, Tim Van Patten, and a gerbil, came from season 3. It’s perhaps best remembered for it’s contribution to musical culture: a stirring rendition of “Master Ninja Theme Song” by Joel and the Bots.

Season 6’s “Girls Town” is a stunning mish-mash of date rape, stalking, bad girls, and nuns starring Mamie Van Doren, Mel Torme, Paul Anka, and The Platters. Unfortunately, the MST3K version isn’t commercially available (the link leads to Amazon’s page for the VHS release of the original film), but if you’re OK with downloading a copy from the Internet, your effort will be rewarded. Mamie’s Van Dorens try to dominate the show, but Gigi Perreau’s crazed stalker Serafina steals the show, clearly scaring the heck out of Paul Anka who struggles in the role of Jimmy, the object of Serafina’s unnatural affection. The MST3K crew is in top form and the jokes fly furiously. This episode ranks high on my list as it even includes a Seattle Mariners joke.

Interestingly enough, Kaja, our own bad girl, seemed fascinated with Girls Town. She sat up with her eyes on the screen for most of the show; the other cats slept through it.


Finally, reports are coming in that this year’s expanded Black Friday was a resounding failure. Purchases were down almost 3% compared to last year. Analysts expect panic sales over the next few weeks as stores try to make up the shortfall.

I’m inclined to regard this as a good sign. Not that I think it will cause retailers to rethink this year’s “Black Thursday” approach that caused so much protest, but I do think it will result in next year’s starting even sooner.

“Wait,” I hear you ask. “Why is that a good thing?”

Simple. History shows us that retailers are blind to the notion of diminishing returns when it comes to advertising. Black Friday will stretch earlier and earlier until it takes over the entire month, smashes into Halloween, and collapses into disorganized mass mess indistinguishable from regular advertising.

And, as a special bonus, advertisers will be so busy pushing “Black November”, that they won’t have time to start the Christmas advertisements until December. Anything that saves us from a whole month of Christmas carols is an enormous win for our sanity.

Got Reservations?

I got an email this morning from Lior. Not that that’s a huge surprise, but this one was unusual in that he passed along a pointer for an interesting story on Ars Technica. Thanks for the tip!

For those of you who haven’t read the article, the gist of it is that a Bay Area geek got frustrated over not being able to get reservations for hot restaurants. So he did what any good geek would do: he wrote some code. First he wrote a program to monitor the reservation website to watch for new reservations and email him when one opened up. What he found was that slots for popular times would be taken in less than a minute. He attributed it to people using scripts to watch for openings and book them automatically, so he wrote his own to do exactly the same thing. And then he released his script to the world.

Lior’s tip said “Something a bit unethical, but technological brilliant if not a little sad.” More than a little sad, IMNSHO, but I don’t think I agree on either the ethicality or the brilliance.

Let’s take them in reverse order, just for fun.

  • Sad – Yep, no argument from me. In a city like San Francisco with thousands of restaurants (and probably hundreds of good restaurants), why do people get so obsessive about any particular one? Maybe it has the greatest food in the world (at least until the next great place opens), but I’d be willing to bet that the restaurant with the second greatest food has an empty table, or at worst, available reservations. Let’s be honest here: much of the time, a hot restaurant is hot largely because it’s hot: people want to be able to casually mention they ate there or want to be seen eating there. If it’s tough to get a seat, that must be because everyone else is trying to get a seat. For crying out loud, people: go to a restaurant because you want to eat the food, not to be seen eating it. If they’re booked solid, give it some time: once the novelty wears off, it’ll get easier to get in. You may miss an occasional goodie when quality implodes, but on the other hand, you probably would have missed it anyway, because you couldn’t get a reservation.
  • Brilliant – Nope. The article points out that his troubles started because others were using bots to make reservations and shutting him out. He used standard, freely available libraries to build his own bot. No brilliance, just yet another implementation of a technology that’s been around for ages. (Remember when you could buy something on eBay without using a sniping bot? Remember how quickly sniping bots appeared?)
  • Unethical – Again, I disagree. Is it unethical to ask a hotel concierge to get you reservations? I doubt anyone would think so: you’re merely tapping the expertise of someone who has contacts you don’t. Is it unethical to camp overnight outside a theater to get tickets to a new show? Again, no. Stupid, maybe, depending on the weather conditions and how long you wait, but not unethical. As long as you’re only getting tickets for yourself. I think most people would consider it unethical if you were waiting to buy tickets with the intent to resell them at a huge markup, but that’s not what’s happening here: this is a guy trying to get a reservation for himself; he’s not scalping it outside the restaurant. Note that this guy actually made his bot available for anyone to download and use: he’s giving up his advantage and making the same technology available to everyone; if anything, he’s being the ethical one here by comparison with the writers of the earlier bots who have kept them to themselves.

This is hardly a new problem. Remember Yogi Berra‘s immortal words: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” It’s not a new solution. But it is a sad state of affairs.

Procyonid Prejudice

How impolite and politically incorrect can you get?

KOMO TV (Seattle) has posted this video on their website. You may have seen the original video posted elsewhere; KOMO’s take on it is, IMNSHO, highly offensive.

They imply that raccoons are lowly thieves, just waiting for an opportunity to make off with whatever food they can get their paws on. Consequently, they say, you should never leave food out for your cats because it only encourages the raccoons villainy.

Um, a couple of points here.

First, raccoons are no more inclined to theft than cats. Anyone who shares a house with a cat can share stories of their furry companion sneaking onto the counter or table and making off with the turkey, roast beef, corn bread, or lemon cake. So let’s not demonize the raccoons, OK?

Second, what are those cats doing outside anyway? It’s well-established that indoor-only cats live longer and stay healthier than outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats. Keep them inside and feed them inside. Not only will they not have to compete with the raccoons, but you can eat the cats’ food yourself when they run off with your dinner.

Third, I don’t see anything in the video that even suggests that that’s a “cats only” bowl. I won’t get into the ugly side of such species-ist “separate but equal” treatment here (though I’ll note that our outside bowl welcomes all visitors, be they feline, procyonid, didelphimorphine, or even galliform (no, not gallifreyan–not that we would turn one away, but we suspect they’d be more likely to knock on the front door and ask for tea). If you insist that the food be reserved for the cats, then mark it as such. Good luck keeping the other-species activists on the outside of the red velvet ropes, though, unless you hire a bouncer.

Fourth and finally, note that the raccoon is willing to share. She takes a handful (pardon me, “pawful”) of food for herself and carries it over to the other side of the carport to eat. Do you see the cats being so considerate? No. Come to that, have you ever seen a cat being that considerate? I certainly haven’t. Note that in this morning’s post ‘Nuki and Yuki are eating from separate bowls. Over and over again, we see the members of our group try to monopolize the food bowl, only sharing when they’re bodily shoved away.

Now consider: is the raccoon’s behaviour that of the mindless thug portrayed by KOMO TV? I think not.

(One final note, if only to protect me from liability: don’t try to pat or hand-feed the raccoons that show up at your bowl. They may not be the evil-minded monsters KOMO portrays them as, but they are wild animals, and they do have strong jaws, sharp teeth, and sharp claws. Knowing they’ll wash your hand before eating it is likely to be of limited consolation.)

Hot Buttered Cats

As has been discussed previously, the most popular posts on this blog seem to be those about butter and cats. Not that this comes as any particular surprise, given the general popularity of cats artery-clogging. Clearly, then, the next step to a massive increase in readers is to combine the two. (“You got your cat on my butter!” “You got your butter in my cat!” “Two great tastes that taste great together.“)

WordPress tells me that this blog has 47 followers. Despite my comments last week about the uselessness of badges, there is something emotionally special about hitting round-numbers. I don’t expect this one post to jump the blog over 1,000 followers, or even 100, but I’d like to see it get past 50. If it does, I’ll share the badge with y’all. And if it does get past 1,000, I’ll certainly share the pony too.

Moving on. Cats and butter.

I’ve already dealt with the popular notion of using buttered toast and cats to create perpetual motion machines, so I’ll need to cover something a little different this time. Let’s talk about the idea that when you move, you should put butter on your cats’ paws to prevent them from wandering away and getting lost.

I’ve seen the idea put forth seriously in discussions of keeping cats safe when moving to a new home. I find it difficult to believe that there are people who believe this works, but then again, there are people who believe that prayer cures all illness, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Let’s break this down a bit.

There are several different explanations given for why buttering a cat’s paws will supposedly prevent it from straying:

  • Cleaning it off gives them something to do until they get used to the new house. Cleaning up the butter isn’t going to take more than a few minutes. I’ve been living in my current house for more than seven years, and I still find myself flipping the wrong light switch or fumbling for the door knob. Is five minutes really going to accustom a cat to the house? That seems unlikely. I’m willing to grant the possibility that cats are more adaptable than I am, but this just seems excessively optimistic. As a counter-example, I’ll note that when we moved in, Velcro spent the better part of two days hiding behind the toilet before he felt comfortable enough to explore the house. (No, I didn’t hide behind the toilet–maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be fumbling for the doorknob now.)
  • While cleaning it off, they pick up the scent of their new home so they can find their way back. Variations on this idea include bringing some of the outside dirt in and using the butter to stick it to the cat’s paws or applying the butter just before letting the cat out. Again, how much are they really going to pick up in the five minutes they spend grooming? And given some of the noxious substances they clean off of themselves, I’m convinced that cats have the ability to turn off their noses while grooming. OK, maybe not literally, but if you had to clean yourself with your tongue after using the toilet, wouldn’t you do your best to not smell what you were doing? More seriously, do you really think your next-door neighbor’s yard smells significantly different than your own, especially if you’ve just moved in and haven’t started spending hours spreading your scent around while gardening? Even more seriously still, if you want the cat to stick around, why are you letting it out in the first place? (I’m not even going to get into the statistics on the lifespan of indoor cats as opposed to indoor/outdoor or outdoor-only cats.)
  • It makes their paws too slippery for them to walk. This is just plain silly. Haven’t the people suggesting this ever heard of carpets? Leaving that aside, even if the cat is on a hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor, spreading the butter so thickly that they can’t walk is going to use a hell of a lot of butter, much of which is going to get spread over your floor, your furniture, and probably you when you make a futile attempt to keep the cat off the furniture. Even if it worked as intended, what would the value be in getting the cat all pissed off and over-excited? Isn’t the point to make them feel better about the new place?

The bottom line is that buttering a cat’s paws to keep it from straying is useless at best, and counter-productive at worst. The best way to keep them from straying is to keep them indoors. If you have to let them out, at least keep them indoors for several days to a few weeks after moving to get them thoroughly used to the new house, and then supervise their first trips outside using a harness and leash.

Oh, and there’s no reason not to give your cat a little butter now and then if they like it. Many people use it as a treat. We use it to encourage them to take pills, and Dad has used it to lubricate the passage of aluminum foil through the feline digestive system*. Note though, that unless there are medical considerations involved, the key word in the first sentence of this paragraph is “little”.

catbutter

* I’ll say it for you all: Blech! But Dad did assure me that everything came out right in the end.

I Yam What I Eat

I really had intended to post this yesterday, but I got my wires crossed and published the wrong article. Please pretend that today is yesterday and yesterday is today while you read this post.


Today, 17 June, is my most recent ex-boss’ birthday. I know she’s reading the blog (she does, after all, comment occasionally) and I know she’s been less than thrilled with the content of most of the food-related posts, so here’s a food post that she can read without a major “Eew” moment.

Spinach is something of a poster-child for under-appreciated vegetables. Yes, it’s got the association with Popeye going for it, but an informal and unreliable study I just conducted shows that only brussel sprouts get more citations as an “ick!” vegetable in popular culture. And spinach is still fighting people’s bad associations from the 2006 E. coli outbreak. It even gets put down by E Online in an article claiming that Alice Eve ate almost nothing but spinach for five months in preparation for her underwear-baring appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness. (Rumors that her recipe list included this “Stimulating Spinach Salad” are entirely non-existent.)

Today I’ll do my bit to redeem spinach with a selection of recipes that would be pointless without a touch of the green. And, in honor of You Know Who, they’re (almost) all vegetarian-safe. (Note that they are not all vegan-friendly, however. Many use butter and/or cheese.)

To kick things off, fire up your deep-fryer for (what else?) Deep Fried Spinach. Straight-forward, classic in its simplicity, and – unless you like the sensation of boiling peanut oil sliding down your throat – not worth the electrons the recipe is printed on without the spinach.

Allrecipes also has this recipe for a different take on fried spinach. It sacrifices the crispiness of the first recipe, but adds butter and garlic, so I’m willing to consider it a fair trade.

Giada De Laurentiis offers us a tasty-looking Penne with Spinach Sauce. Since it’s designed for whole wheat penne and uses low-fat cream cheese, it’s rather more heart-healthy than I expected. It also uses goat cheese to up the flavor. No indication if it can also be made with llama or camel cheese for additional variety.

Count on Paula Deen to come up with an offering that has one ingredient too many. At least this Spinach, Strawberry, and Hearts of Palm Salad goes overboard with the addition of walnuts instead of butter or heavy cream.

A rather simpler salad, this one featuring nectarines, is offered by Healthy Times Blog.

I’m firmly of the opinion that a spinach lasagne should be part of every cook’s recipe book. We use a recipe based on one distributed by the University of Texas, which does not seem to be available online. This one looks pretty decent, if a bit higher end than ours. That goat cheese is sneaking in again (persistent critters, those goats), and it does call for an egg, so non-ovo vegetarians should consider Martha Stewart’s take on the subject. Yes, Martha uses goat cheese too.

This one avoids the goat cheese – it uses Swiss instead – but it’s just too darn busy. By the time you get past the broccoli, carrots, green onions, and bell peppers, you may not even be able to taste the spinach.

If you think Martha did OK with the Spinach Lasagne, you might also want to take a look at her takes on Spinach Pie or “Spinach Bundles“, both built around spinach and feta cheese. If simplicity is your thing, you could do a lot worse than Martha’s “Sesame Steamed Spinach“.

Eating Healty wins today’s “I Wouldn’t Have Thought Of That” award for “Spinach Soup with Rosemary Croutons. They suggest that it could be done with chard instead of spinach. I suggest that making spinach soup without spinach is a lot like making garlic bread without the garlic, but who am I to judge?

Here’s today’s winner for “Most Misleading Name”: Spinach Brownies. Despite the implications of the name, they contain no chocolate at all. And – vegetarians take note – they do contain eggs.

If your ears perked up at the thought of chocolate and spinach together, allow me to suggest you investigate ISINGFORLIFE’s Chocolate Spinach Smoothies, Chocolate-Covered Katie’s Chocolate-Spinach Pancakes (although the latter doesn’t actually use whole spinach, but only a powdered supplement partially based on spinach), or Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious Brownies. Unfortunately, they all stress that they don’t taste like spinach, which seems to me to be sort of missing the point. Yeah, I know, I know: the idea is really to sneak something healthy into kids. So how about the Sneaky Chef’s Brawny Brownies? (As of this writing, the original site is down; the link goes to an archived version courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.) If you’re going to sneak spinach into them, you might as well dupe them into eating whole grains too.

If you really want a spinach dessert, you might be better off forgetting the chocolate and trying this vegan, no-freezer Avocado Spinach Ice Cream. Let me know how it turns out; while you’re trying it, I’ll be over on the other side of the store pricing deep-friers to make some of that crispy spinach…

Eating Spam

One of the most vexing aspects of writing a blog is the hassle of dealing with people trying to use the comment feature for spamming.* There are some good tools and techniques out there to make it simpler; for instance, WordPress-hosted blogs such as this one come pre-configured to use the Akismet service, which traps suspected spam for manual review. I’ve been seeing more and more spam hitting Akismet lately; I try to regard that as a good thing. Clearly, I’m getting more exposure, which is what I want, but it doesn’t make dumping the spam any less annoying.

* Some language purists would say that I really shouldn’t call it spamming, since that implies email; I should at least qualify it as “comment spamming”. To those people, I say “phooey”. The use of “spam” to refer to obnoxious, out of place advertising started out referring to Usenet posts and was then applied to email at a later date. If I choose to re-interpret it further and change the definition of “UCE” from “Unsolicited Commercial Email” to “Unsolicited Commercial Everything”, that’s my authorial privilege.

Most spam at the moment follows a standard pattern: the text of the comment is something innocuous that the spammer hopes will slip by the filtering process and get the link to their website out there. The website, of course, is either a commercial pitch, malware infection site, or both.

I get a lot of spam where the comment is something like this (taken from my current Akismet queue):
Hola! I’ve been reading your weblog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!
I hadn’t realized it took that much courage to say “hi”. Am I really that intimidating? I guess I must be: the comment is on the Google Glass Porn post from almost two weeks ago. And if you’re in Houston, why is your website (I’ll spare you readers the actual link – my skill with Polish is something less than zero, but the images suggest it’s a one-page come-on for an Internet gambling site.) hosted in Poland? Couldn’t you find a spam-friendly hosting site in Texas? Anyway, hi there. Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to the virtual garbage can.

Sometimes they get a little more creative. Here’s another one from the current queue:
It’s truly very difficult in this full of activity life to listen news on TV, therefore I only use world wide web for that purpose, and obtain the most recent information.
I’m glad to know that I’m easier to digest than the television news. On the other hand, if I thought this guy was serious, I’d worry about declining standards. Is TV news really so bad that the Web is a more reliable source? Or have we reached the point where “most recent” is more important than anything else? On the gripping hand, how much can I really read into this guy’s spam, given that he obviously missed the step in the spammer’s manual about either selling something or taking over computers to sell to a botnet: his website is a freshly-installed blog that has nothing but the default “first post” supplied by the install. *sigh* Also trashed.

And then there are the good ones. The useful ones. Every so often, something winds up in the spam trap that provides some actual entertainment or utility. Consider this gem that showed up a couple of weeks ago:
Include things like, should captured involving sixty minutes after or before consumed.
On the inside a method toilet bowl, do tomato vegetables, 1/2 goblet olive oyl, garlic clove, olives, basil, parsley, 1 tsp pepper and salt; blow okay that includes lumber scoop. You have to for you to get out of beds in comparison with healthy nose associated quality fruit.
Some people enjoy a drink an excessive amount of out without ever absolutely seeing a lot of a unique side-effects.

No, don’t skip past it. Go back and read it. Let it soak in. Glory in it. Get out of bed and become one with “healthy nose associated quality fruit”.

OK, moving on. I want to talk about the content of this comment, but before I do, I’ll just note that the website this person wants us to visit appears to be a one-page site trying to sell coffee makers. The site’s registered owner has a Los Angeles address, a comment-posting computer in New York, and a significant disconnect from either sanity or the English language. Or maybe both.

The post is, I believe, an example of machine-translated text and I wish I had had it available when I wrote about machine translation last month. I believe it’s machine-translated because I would really hate to think it was human-translated or – worse yet – written in English originally.

So what are we making here? We’ve got tomatoes, olive oil (I’ll skip the Popeye jokes), garlic, olives, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Without the tomatoes and olives, it could be the basis of a decent pesto. Adding them back in, though, about the only idea I’ve been able to come up with is a bruschetta. Presumably the bread got lost in the course of translation.

Oh, wait. We missed an ingredient. We completely forgot the Method antibacterial toilet bowl cleaner. What, you don’t think it’s an ingredient? Consider that the product website specifically says it contains no toxic chemicals and relies on citric acid. And it’s got a spearmint scent! By using this product, we avoid the necessity of squeezing a lemon and chopping mint. Slick!

OK, blow the ingredients with a lumber scoop. If you don’t have a 2×4 handy to fan with, you can probably substitute pounding them with a wooden pestle. Or maybe just mixing them with a wooden spoon. One way or another combine them and make sure they touch wood. That’s clearly critical.

Pour yourself a drink. Apparently as long as you drink it with this… um… concoction you won’t see a lot of unique side-effects. Just a few standard ones.

Lunch, anyone?

Pilot Bread

I speak to you today of pilot bread.

Since I don’t believe I have any Alaskan readers, and my Canadian followers seem to be back east, I suspect most of you reading this have no idea what I’m talking about. Allow me to elucidate.


(Image from the Anchorage Daily News)

Looks like a cracker, doesn’t it? Not surprising, as that’s what it is. Pilot bread is a close cousin of the much-better known Saltine cracker; they descend from the ancient “hardtack”. That gives it an ancestry stretching back at least 400 years – and one author links it to a flat bread eaten in the Egyptian navy as far back as 1300 BC. While 3,300 years might be a bit of a stretch, given the evolution of the ingredients over the years, it can certainly be traced back to the British navy in the 1500s in something very similar to its modern form.

It’s immensely shelf-stable – kept dry it can last literally for decades – hence its popularity with survivalists, campers, and others who stock shelters and remote cabins. Which brings us to Alaska, where pilot bread has transcended the label of “emergency food” and become a dietary staple. Interbake Foods, makers of “Sailor Boy” pilot bread is located in Richmond, Virginia, yet 98% of its sales go to Alaska, where the blue box is a cultural icon.

An annual Pilot Bread Recipe Contest is held in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s NYO Games in Anchorage. The 2012 winners range from a smoked salmon spread to a hot fudge sundae, but the contestants in the 2013 event came up with a much more interesting assortment: “Sweet Potato Surprise”, a “Breakfast Cracker” (featuring egg and “lunch meat”), and a traditional “Alaskan Harvest” recipe that uses frozen whale meat and seal oil.

Me? I generally eat them plain or with a little butter, but I’ll admit that only a lack of the second most important ingredient is stopping me from trying Sue Hoeldt’s Pilot Bread Moose Burgers. Anyone know where I can source ground moose in California? Somehow doing it with beef or buffalo doesn’t seem quite appropriate.

In 2009, Karen Jenkins, the chair of First Book Anchorage arranged a sponsorship with Interbake Foods under which a portion of the sales of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread were donated to First Book. The campaign proved successful and has since been repeated. According to Ms Jenkins, as of 2013, more than 10,000 books have been distributed to children across Alaska as a result.

The Second International Pilot Bread Festival was held in Ketchikan at the beginning of May. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, as I didn’t find out about it until June. T-shirts are still available, though (I’ve ordered mine.) It sounds like a good time was had, with the obligatory recipe contest, limerick and stacking contests, and a pilot bread skeet shooting event.

The IPBF sounds like great fun. I’ve reached out to the organizers to get some history of the event and try and get some hints about plans for a third festival in 2014. As of press time, I’m playing email tag with the festival founder. Once I hook up with him, I’ll write an update. And if I manage to attend the next IPBF, I promise photos and (network connectivity permitting) a liveblog event.

On the subject of cooking, pilot bread recently made an appearance on the Food Network’s “Chopped” show as a required ingredient for desserts. The chefs’ offerings were a “deconstructed sundae” and a carrot bread pudding. Both were popular, with the carrot bread pudding taking top honors.

Pilot bread is not, unfortunately, easy to come by outside of Alaska. It’s available in bulk at Winco stores in the Western US, but Winco stores themselves aren’t that easily found. You can also order from Span Alaska Sales but that $100 minimum is a bit off-putting. Sorry, I’m not going to share my supply. Perhaps you could consider the chance to try pilot bread an incentive for an Alaskan vacation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pilot bread, peanut butter, and honey sandwich with my name on it.