Blogsam and Jetsam

Flotsam is the part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the water. Jetsam is cargo or parts of a ship that are deliberately thrown overboard, as to lighten the ship in an emergency, and that subsequently either sinks or is washed ashore. This is my personal blog version of the above. Loot freely.

My Photo
Location: The Hinterlands, Upstate NY

I'm annoyed that the world is going crazier faster than it used to be. But it's interesting to watch.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cooking Crockery

Did I tell you that my old crockpot died right around Thanksgiving?

Yup, Grandmom (HBF's paternal grandmother for whom I did hospice in 2002) had given us an old rectangular slow cooker when we moved up here that I didn't use right away but then grew to just love...and that looked exactly like all the ones people at the office brought in full of Good Stuff for pitch-ins. It was the kind with a fairly flimsy metal pot that sat on its own freestanding heating element and if I ever find a decent picture I'll hyperlink it here.

Cooked in the damned thing all the time and pretended not to notice when the non-stick coating started wearing away and pretended not to notice when the heating element got wonky, but once the cover cracked in not just one small place but two big ones I couldn't ignore that any longer and finally decided I had to get a new one. Mourned and whined far out of proportion to the loss, too, since it was Grandmom's crock pot...which was why I didn't rush right online and get a replacement.

HBF, overhearing all this, quietly ordered me not just a replacement crock pot but ">THIS replacement crock pot.

I wouldn't have gotten anything nearly that fancy so I'm glad he took care of it, y'know?

I've also decided my hotshot new crock pot is far more aristocratic than I am now that I've read through the companion Slow Cooker Cookbook. The first recipe is "Country Pate with Cranberries and Pistachios" if I could get ANYone to eat that! Next is "Savory Salmon and Chevre Cheesecake" which sounds gawdawful on multiple levels and uses the crock pot only as a steam bath (as do many of the recipes) since the second paragraph (after the long one that starts with "in the Cuisinart Food Processor....") opens with "Coat a 7" Springform pan...."

I think I've inadvertently obtained the Bentley of the crock pot world.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I Also Like...

Nativity scenes and Christmas cookies.

Nativity scenes because not only are they what one would use to best explain "Christmas" to the wandering extraterrestrials (and in fact I threatened to have only the Nativity scenes as decoration this year before I got a replacement tree) but because they're great art too. Like chess sets they provide a rigid framework within which one can have a fair degree of play: shepherds or wise men, how many angels, what kind of animals, what everyone wears. I like them all--the abstract, the blown-glass, the handcarved, the wooden, the fabric...and also the "standard" plastic ones with the flowing robes and the cows.

For the record, "our" Nativity set was made from felt and pipe cleaners the year Grandmom died and features both shepherds and wise men no matter how non-canonical that is (I always think of the wise men as "bride's side" and the shepherds as "groom's side" which is probably why I don't get asked to midnight Mass much.) We have sheep instead of cows or goats and also a giraffe and a duck. Yup, we have a Nativity Duck.

Christmas cookies are also a great thing: they prove that at least one person (and sometimes lots of people with some forethought and planning) thought enough of the holiday to spend time baking not just one kind of cookie but a bunch of different kinds of cookies: that's a great thing. Variety si the spice of life and there's nothing nicer than a plate of homemade cookies...except a plate of all sorts of homemade cookies. Too bad I didn't do any serious baking this year.

Hmm....maybe next year I'll be able to distill the holiday down to just my four essential elements. Preferably somewhere warm while I'm at it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

What I Like About Christmas

It's a short list, folks:

Secret Santas and outdoor lights.

Secret Santa is a great game. It boosts the morale of any group which plays it and it doesn't have to be just at Christmas. It's also a fun way to express mischief harmlessly.

Outdoor lights are just pretty and we need more "pretty" especially in the middle of winter.

The rest? Could do without all of it.
I'm just sayin...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Fortunes

I thought this was rather cool....

My Fortune Cookie told me:
Conquistadors have no use for radioactive waste materials.
Get a cookie from Miss Fortune


Toldja I hadn't been knitting, but I couldn't resist playing with my swell yarn gift:

It was very Yarn of the Magi because I found that very auction (expired) in my EBay "items I've bid on" file recently--small world!

They make swell afghan squares: the "Puff Stitch" one from Weekend Afghans

The centers are vintage Sirdar "Talisman."

If you like what you see you can get your very ownty-downty on EBay--please do!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Carl Sagan

I had been pondering the content of my next blog post (still not knitting but balled skeins last night so we're getting closer) when HBF told me about the Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon. Bingo, topic!

I loved Carl Sagan; his enthusiasm for science was more infectious than gastroenteritis at a daycare. I didn't start watching Cosmos till high school when my local public television station rebroadcast the episodes and my first comment was "THAT's who Carl Sagan is!"

He'd been part of the household lore, you see.

Everywhere we'd ever lived, we kept a Jim Beam bottle first on top of the refrigerator then on top of the china cupboard. Although that’s a very common place for spirits we kept the drinking booze in the cupboard: this bottle was filled with water from the Caribbean as a souvenir from my mother’s trip to Jamaica. I was the other souvenir; my mother was adamant about the fact that I was conceived when she went on that research trip with my father.

After quitting medical school but before becoming an auto mechanic my father got a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Oklahoma. His thesis had something to do with coral; he took several trips to Jamaica to gather data. The trip on which my mother tagged along involved taking a dive boat out all day for him to snorkel while she read. As she tells the story, one morning at the dock another individual wanted to tag along. A young very eager grad student in full wetsuit with his own scuba gear…who was interested in learning about primitive life in the ocean because it might be germane to the development of primitive life on other planets.

In addition to the diving, this fellow was interested in the book my mother was reading—some fairly heavy anthropology as I recall. She mentioned the title every time the story was told but I can’t remember it. Anyhow, he was so enchanted with the book he asked to borrow it for the night, read it that night and returned it to her the following day along with much animated discussion.

By now you will have deduced that the young man in question was Carl Sagan and you would be correct…but only partially. The point of this oft-told story was not just that my mother had met Carl Sagan but had met him "when he was still Carl Say-GAHN." Yes, accent on the last syllable. My mother would then go on to explain that he was "really Carl Say-GAHN but Johnny Carson botched his name on the Tonight Show and that’s why it’s been ‘SAY-gan’ ever since." She occasionally further opined that "it must have been short for ‘Saganovitch'" again with the accent on the "gahn" part.

That story was part of the family lore I’d heard since birth and wasn’t even the strangest thing in current circulation at the time so I never thought to challenge it…till I started watching Cosmos regularly. It was hard not to notice that Our Protagonist referred to himself not as "Carl Say-GAHN" but as "Carl SAY-gan." My mother didn’t take it at all well when I pointed out that fact and insisted that the good Dr. Sagan had just "given up" getting anyone to pronounce his name properly after the Johnny Carson incident(s).

Naturally that put the legitimacy of the entire story into question.

Once I was an adult living on my own, I read just about everything written by or about Carl Sagan. I also read an essay one afternoon that caused me to think "wow, this guy gets excited about weed the same way Carl Sagan gets excited about the universe" which gave me a huge laugh a few years later when "Mr. X" was posthumously outed. Nowhere was there any reference to any pronunciation of his name other than the one upon which we all, including the man himself, agreed. I couldn’t find any proof he’d been to Jamaica in January of 1966 either, but neither did I find proof he hadn’t.

None of which changes how wonderful his enthusiasm for science was nor how much I enjoyed that enthusiasm. He was an atheist as I am so instead of requiscat in pace I will close with "you are missed but your works and dreams live on."

Now go read something about what he really did.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You Can Tell It's a Pre-Holiday Monday...

...The Fates are getting their digs in early.

My Monday Unpleasantness: ran over the curb going into the work parking lot and shredded my driver's front tire, dammitalltohell. Fortunatly by 9am local time I had already 1) paid local tow service to put on donut and 2) driven the damned van to the dealership so they can replace the two front tires...yes, I let "Larry" talk me into doing both front ones which might've been dumb, I dunno. Anyhow the van is there and I'm back here and all will be well except for the price tag.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Miscellany

I almost never talk about doctoring but here's a recent slice:

Dr. D's Rapid Flu Test Kit:

Question one: how high is your fever? (eliminate anyone who hasn't broken at least a hundred and a half.)

Question two: Where does it hurt? (eliminate anyone who doesn't mention back and/or thighs and/or arms.)

Question three: What is your most annoying symptom? (eliminate anyone who mentions runny nose, sore throat or anything GI.)

One of the best lessons I learned in medical school was from an old country boy who had followed a mule with a plow before going off for higher education: he said that 80% of the time all you have to do is listen to your patient and s/he will tell you what's wrong without your even having to do an exam. An additional 10% of the time the physical exam will tell you what's wrong...therefore in only ten percent of cases does one actually need "diagnostics" to get a diagnosis. Most of the time the testing should be used to confirm what you've already figured out.


I'm absolutely UNhip but I've discovered a current pop song I really like: Year 3000 by the Jonas Brothers. It's just so hopeful, y'know? Although I liked it better when I thought the great-great-great-granddaughter was "so fine" as opposed to doing fine.

I suppose I should add that I heard the song on Radio Disney, which Youngest Duckling adores. The rest of us don't.


I'm going to miss Peter Boyle. He was one funny and cool old man.


Rachel Ray's super-easy fudge has become a staple at any party hosted or attended by Eldest Duckling. Use it to save your holiday butt at the pitch-in! It's soft enough at room temperature that we've also made "Reindeer Fudge" much to the amusment of Youngest Duckling.


Got a haircut last night--makes me feel like a whole new person.


Am I the only one who thought Alexander Litvinenko was attractive?


As of 12:30pm today, my Christmas shopping is DONE.


Speaking of which, I just love printed tissue paper. Particularly the kind with little holly leaves and berries...I don't know why. I do know that Christmas ornaments make great acquaintance gifts though.


This is my favorite rock Christmas carol although this and this both come in as pretty close seconds.


Another useful bit of medicine, this one not learned in school:

The Best Hiccup Cure I Know:

You will need one straw, one drinking glass with at least six ounces of liquid (preferably non-carbonated) and two hands.

Place straw in glass of liquid and position glass so that you can drink from the straw without using your hands.

Close both ears and nostrils by placing right thumb over right ear and left thumb over left ear then using middle fingers to press nostrils shut. Snugly--the whole point is to create a seal so that air cannot escape.

While ears and nose are closed, drink from the straw until you physically cannot any more. You should feel a tug in your middle--that's the vacuum you just created to get your diaphragm to stop spasming.

Repeat as needed. This one works far better than anything else I've ever read or tried...and I owe it all to a girl named Terri Peace who was the fourteen-year-old kid sister of one of my mother's friends the summer I was ten.


Speaking of drinks, thanks to Details magazine I discovered the French 75 which is my new favorite cocktail...although Tim Shirley's Long Island Iced Tea will always hold a warm place in my heart.


And on that libatious note, happy weekend all!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More Food Talk

I’m not currently knitting and Christmas is a boring blogpost so I thought I’d riff on food some more.

Now that you know I’m against additives in principle but eat a ton of them anyhow I’ll open up yet further: My kids eat Little Debbie Cakes for breakfast.

[pause for the collective gasp]

Yes, damned near every day. Wanna know why? Because they’re one of the few things I can get them to Actually Eat in the morning that is neither messy nor time-consuming for any of the concerned parties.

We tried other things but none worked nearly as well. Cold and hot cereal neither worked because they caused too many last-minute changes of clothes for Youngest Duckling and BIL is lactose-intolerant so he had to get a separate breakfast. NObody wanted anything to do with eggs in any form, toast got left uneaten and enough bacon to feed three kids plus special-needs adult was Just Too Much (both mess and time) for weekdays. Bagels or English muffins are well-received but the cream cheese gets eaten off the tops and replaced by Youngest Duckling (who then leaves the starch behind) and isn’t used at all by BIL…and the Mess Factor rears its ugly head again. Mess is also what precludes muffins; last time we had those the crumbs were strung across three separate rooms and the stairs just in the course of finding shoes and hairbrushes.

But a Little Debbie Cake? Everyone likes those. BIL gets his with juice but I make the kids drink milk so that I can at least pretend there’s a protein content to the meal. The kids go to school with a full belly and energy rather than lethargic from sleep and skipping breakfast which in my mind is a greater good than a "proper" breakfast they won’t eat.

Sure they like "breakfast pastries" too but that Little Debbie is a cheap bitch so she’s better. Also if Eldest Duckling runs late (as she is wont to do) the individual wrapping makes it easy for her to grab-n-go.

Before you ask, not one of my kids has a weight problem, either. However, I think that doesn’t have to do with what they eat nearly as much as the environment in which they eat it: I’ve gone out of my way to make sure there are NO emotional issues attached to the food. None of that "I spent all afternoon cooking this so you’d better be appreciative" crap at my house, youbetcha...and my favorite serving style is buffet.

Part of why MIL isn’t working out is because she is hugely invested in the control aspects of food: stands there over the kids and says "I know you like [food du jour] so you’ve got to eat some more of that" while piling on unrequested second helpings. She also constantly reports to me in great and worried detail just exactly what and when my kids are eating with all sorts of highly opinionated commentary. Insists on knowing first thing in the morning what I plan to have for dinner that night, which makes me completely nuts...especially when she then becomes completely inflexible about last-minute changes.

There are many food styles...mine is about as laissez-faire as one can get.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Food Thoughts

Okay, it's time to drag out the old tired "modified food starch is bad" soapbox yet again. Over the weekend I made nice healthy chicken salad for lunch and discovered there was modified food starch in the damned canned chicken. Ferpetesake do we really need to make everything tastier? Apparently we's in many salsas now, just within the past year. SALSA! Since when has a thickener of any kind been part of a freakin' salsa recipe?!

You can't trust "organic" either, not even that aging-well looker Paul Newman. A while back I thought I'd check out the "Newman-Os" in the organic food section thinking that would be ONE sweet baked product not entirely loaded with the stuff. Looked at the label and noticed "organic wheat" "organic cocoa" "organic cane sugar" tired of reading "organic" and just skimmed for "modified" and for "starch" or "gluten" all of which were absent. Threw cookies in cart, fed cookies to family, ate leftover cookies and found the filling yummy. Too yummy in that "umame" (Japanese for "mouth feel" or "tasty") way all the loaded-with-additives products are. Read the label again more closely and buried within all the "organic this" and "organic that" was a plain old "powdered sugar." NOT "organic powdered sugar" which it should've been.

The lightbulb will have gone on for many of you by now and if not the clue is "what makes powdered sugar different from superfine granulated sugar?"

The second clue is "why do you never want to substitute powdered sugar in your iced tea?"


Because "powdered sugar" is by definition superfine sugar containing up to 3% cornstarch.

We already know that "starch" or "gluten" can be legally used on a "clean" label to mean "modified" versions of those. I've also already noticed that many labels now say "Contains 2% or less of..." and hide the additives there. Although it's two layers of wording deep, the damned additives are in the "organic" stuff too. I might've known after hearing the big special on the Food Network (Thorn Industries' media outlet) which featured Newman's daughter walking around a farm all politically correctly beautiful and earnest a while back.

Oh and Breyer's has gone the way of all additives too. I used to riff on how their Natural Vanilla had started adding "naturally derived" artificial vanilla flavoring which was bad enough after their ad campaign but now they add tara gum too and yes the product has suffered dramatically. On the other hand they have this swell new line of ultra-smooth ultra-creamy postmodern flavors with abundant mix-ins and shiny bright cartons with ingredient labels half a box long, consumerism be praised.

Pity...I used to love Breyer's Natural Vanilla. Even melted, which was why I delighted in catching a bit of "Great Chefs of Some Big City Far Away" on public television years ( least one decade and maybe two) ago and learning that some cute young male chef cheated and used "melted premium vanilla ice cream" as a dessert sauce while I saw the easily-recognizeable black box go by. No more...and don't even get me started on all the new breakfast cereals (heavy on vanilla, cinnamon and maple) which don't even make it to the milk any more.

I think the only way to eat completely healthy is to eat things that have been around for two hundred years or more but even if one is willing to commit to preparing most everything from scratch, it's hard to do that if even the canned chicken can't be trusted any more. For a while I tried "minimize" but that's damned difficult as sneaky as the food conglomerates have become. Can't blame them though: they want their companies to profit same as any other...and have had six years now of a very agri-business friendly administration. Those additives make food taste good (and in my opinion they trigger eating binges and cravings too, which I doubt is inadvertent or unknown) which makes for a better bottom line.

So fine, I gave up, just like the subtitle of that movie . We're going to make some of those cute Pillsbury cookies for the holidays and wash them down with Starbucks frappuccino. Hell, I might even buy some Unilever stock while I'm at it...The Thorn Enterprise made money, right?

Now There's a Tree

When last I posted, you'll recall that I was feeling down about things generally and the holiday specifically. Part of the angst was due to not having a Christmas tree. I wasn't that sad about losing it in the flood last summer since it hadn't been a very high-quality tree in the first place and was starting to shed "needles" almost as fast as the real live kind but I was definitely dreading finding a replacement. So much so that I had been threatening to just have the Nativity scenes as decoration--they all survived the flood and look good on the credenza in the living room.

Over the course of last week both the Ducklings and my own sense of tradition persuaded me to get a tree after all...but I was still dreading the forty-five-minutes-each-way drive to anyplace selling pre-lit artificial trees. (Yes, "rural setting" is the polite term for "in the middle of nodamnedwhere.")

Last Saturday morning I had to get Eldest Duckling to her school by 7:45 in the morning for a sporting event, which didn't thrill me at all but which DID have a payoff...I got my Christmas tree without having to schlep! I figured that since I was driving by anyhow, I might as well check the local Ace Hardware for pre-lit trees. Wasn't that optimistic but thought it was worth a shot. Once inside the store I discovered they did have pre-lit trees--and better still, a multicolored pre-lit tree! (Plain white lights can be pretty and are fine...for someone else's tree.) It was a little on the skinny side but was technically seven-plus feet tall if you counted the ten-inch single spiky branch on top. I was so happy about not having to make a special trip that I was okay with both those things. One of the nice floor people (that Ace is very well-staffed with knowledgeable but not offensive employees--in equal gender distribution, even) asked if he could help me so I said that I wanted one of those [pointing to tree] and he went charging off to the back.

The guy came back with a not-as-happy look on his face and said "that's the only one we've got" while pointing to my tree. I was thinking "oh FUCK now I do have to schlep" just as he added "But I can sell you that one if you want it."

Hell YES I wanted it! He gave me the tag to take to the register and called on his microphone walkie-talkie for "Mike" to come help him carry it to my car. I quickly paid for it and went to open up the SUV hatch...then realized while standing there by the vehicle that I probably could have gotten him to knock about 10% off the price for it having been the floor model. Yeah, well, this ain't my crazy grandparents' house so nobody was gonna bitch that I hadn't thought of the discount and I still had a pre-lit tree for far less than I'd seen them advertised in the high-end junk catalogues (there's an oxymoron for you but I'm sure you know the ones I mean) a couple years back. So I got my tree then had to wait a good ten minutes while they rummaged in their two storage sheds to find the box...but I was still home with my find by 8:16am.

Pre-lit is definitely the way to go. As soon as I found an extension cord, we had A Christmas Tree without my doing anything else. I let the kids (okay, the girls...Middle Duckling wasn't into it) decorate and surprisingly enough we had scads of ornaments since not only did not as many of my own get trashed in the flood as I thought but also we had MIL's and Nona's (my husband's late grandmother for whom I did hospice in 2002) Christmas stuff in our basement, which the Ducklings happily found and hauled to the surface. The tree was SO covered with ornaments, in fact, that there's a whole second tree's worth of ornaments we didn't use.

There's still the mess of empty boxes and crap but at least the tree part of the stupid holiday is done so I'm feeling a lot less pressured. The plan is for this week to be "finish up Christmas" (ie get everything bought and wrapped and shipped if need be) then for next week to be "clean up the house" so that MIL can see how well we live without her input.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In Other News

I read Tommy Chong's memoir* over the weekend and found it...interesting. It's a quick read; go see for yourselves what it's like. I'm very eager to start Jimmy Carter's new book but haven't had a calm stretch of time in the past three days.

Finally snagged the recipe for the really good cornbread-sausage stuffing the mother of my BFH makes and have called it dinner two separate nights. Yes just the dressing. Hey, it's got meat and vegetables in it, right?!?

Also made Paula Deen's trifle the same night (hormonally-induced cooking fit; some of you understand) and it's good too. Makes a big bowlful of something that tastes like pumpkin pie but is texturally more interesting. Lots more work that slapping a Mrs. Smith in the oven though, so it may not happen again at our house any time soon especially since there are family members who prefer the cooked Jello vanilla pudding plain and wanted to know why I was ruining it with pumpkin pie filling and brown sugar.

Tried a new craft project over the past couple days...utter failure. Extra frustrating since it was difficult to collect the needed ingredients in the first place.

In the wee small hours of Friday-night-into-Saturday our Youngest Duckling provided a new winner in the all-time most noxious vomit contest: Pizza Hut stuffed crust pepperoni pizza with both plain and peanut butter Hershey's chocolate kisses. Twice. Once all over the bedroom and once on the freshly-changed sheets. She's better now.

My crock pot died last week. Yes the loss is deeply felt; no I haven't gotten a replacement yet.

A note of brightness: my first-grade teacher and I still, thirty-four years later, exchange Christmas cards and hers came last week.

* A special thanks to Dharma of my newsgroup for explaining how to do the hypertext links!


Not the feather or the direction but the feeling. That's what I am these days. I can tell I'm depressed because I haven't knit in over a week.

It's not just the season although consumerism is bothering me more than usual this year. Work has gotten harder and more frustrating, the MIL conflict has risen to a new level (she'll be moving into her place in NYC after her two-month stay in Brazil), at least half my holiday stuff was wiped out by last summer's flood, two mortgages are taking their toll and on top of all that I'm expected to pull Christmas out of my holly jolly ass?!?

Fuck all that.

Except we all know that's not really an option.