Friday, February 29, 2008

Hey, Y'all, Take a Leap! (Friday Round-Up)

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Here is your weekly Friday Round-Up...

What the heck is Leap Year? Something to do with the sun and the Gregorian or Julian (or is it Caesarean?) calendar and how the days don't add up right, so we have to tack on an extra day every four years to make things even. Leap Year inventors chose to extend February instead of any other month because February is generally riddled with bad weather and takes its toll on individuals with seasonal affective disorder. And that makes March so much more promising. The contrast between February and March is so vast that just when you think you can't take any more of February, lo and behold, it's March! This provides a psychological boost to people the world over. So making February even longer makes sense. The postcard pictured here , however, doesn't. It was created in 1908, with the theme being Leap Year. I don't get it.

And a little more Leap Year knowledge ... From The year 2008 is a leap year. If you look at a 2008 calendar, you will see that February has five Fridays–the month begins and ends on a Friday. Between the years 1904 and 2096, leap years that share the same day of week for each date repeat only every 28 years. The most recent year in which February comprised five Fridays was in 1980, and the next occurrence will be in 2036. Well, hmmm.....who knew!
As if that's not enough to make you stand up and shout ... according to the Chinese Calendar, 2008 is also the Year of the Rat, which is also known by its former name of Wu Zi.

On the political front ... The democratic debate Tuesday night took a bizarre turn when Hillary paraphrased a couple of lines from a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE SKIT. I don't know when she's telling the truth anymore! One of the most humorless women on the planet led us to believe she watched the first SNL episode following the writers strike? Regardless of what you think about Hillary, though, you have to admit that her makeup was nothing less than STUNNING during the Ohio debate. Like a porcelain doll. We should all have such skin.

Hey, Let's Name a Baby! ... My sister is having her second child, and apparently all of the good names are taken and the leftovers are, well, leftovers. My brother-in-law's suggestions have gone largely ignored. Here's why: Albert, Amory and Calhoun. Blchhhh.... Tell you what, DAVE, you just step aside and let us come up with the suggestions, and then you can choose from the pre-approved list.

The toddler in the photo to the right will be the big brother.

The challenge in this case is in the last name: Templeton. So no matter what you do, the child's name will sound like a law firm. At the top of my list are Susannah (girl) and Cooper (boy). There's also talk of a Baxter. Perhaps the following pool of family names (for either first or middle names) will help you put that thinking cap on, or make you drive an icepick through your eyes: Powell, Lee, Frances, Winston, Herman, Ophelia, Travis, Bertrand, Ethlyn.

Again, have a very Happy Leap Day. Like the presidential election, it comes 'round only once every four live it up...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Al Gore Toilet: An Example of What's Wrong With This World

We have Al Gore Toilets. Four of them. And we aren't happy.

The problem has become so great that my 7-year-old created a new and improved "out of order" sign that she fashioned from a pair of Post-Its and some Scotch tape. The innovation in her new design is in the two-fold mechanism. The top Post-It: "Not"; the bottom Post-It: "Out of Order." Simply fold or unfold, attach or detach, depending on the current state of the Al Gore Toilet. (See photos.)

The Nobel Prize should go to HER because this is a major step toward paper conservation. We've had as many as three toilets AT ONE TIME be out of commission, all requiring "out of order" (translation: Wait for Daddy to get home) signs. That's a staggering statistic, especially when you consider that ours is a six-person household.

Some background: In the earliest years of Al Gore's movement to stop global warming, he was on a rant to conserve all kinds of water. In 1994, he practically stood up and applauded for a law that would require new homes and buildings be equipped with low-flush toilets. (And guess whose home was built pretty much the following DAY? Mine.) What does "low-flush" mean? Exactly what it says. These babies just don't flush adequately. And all in the name of water conservation.

Here's the Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Gore: WE'RE GOING THROUGH PLUNGERS LIKE THEY'RE ... TOILET PAPER!!! How many trees were sacrificed to make these handles? How much rubber had to be manufactured to construct the plunger part? How many gallons of toxins were dumped into streams in the manufacturing of the rubber? Sure, we may be conserving water energy, but what about my BACK? Do you know how much energy I have to exert to unstop a toilet? Well, the answer is "none," because that's what husbands are for. And boy, are his arms tired.

Oh, how I wish Al Gore had been a dinner guest in my home the night that our then-5-year-old flushed and flushed and flushed until the Al Gore Toilet overflowed and practically flooded the basement below. It was like RAIN. How proud would he have been to see how many towels we used AND THEN WASHED IN THE WASHING MACHINE to clean up the mess from the Al Gore Toilet?

I'm not alone. The following comes from Leon Louw, executive director of the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa, and adds further credibility to my complaint:

Using Gore's toilet can be the source of hours of perverse entertainment. Because they are water deprived, they often don't flush properly. Unsuspecting defecators do the obvious thing: a second flush. That this uses more water than a single old-fashioned pre-Gore flush, did not seem to strike the designers. The fact that neither of the two or more trickle-flushes needed provided enough thrust to flush a toilet effectively, means that the bowl fills and overflows. If you are doubly unfortunate, Al's toilet valve - the logic behind which I never established - doesn't close.

This explains why, when I used Walter and Connie Williams' Gore toilet at 5 a.m. in their Philadelphia home, I flooded their upstairs bathroom with a mess you don't want to know about!

Not wanting to wake them, I did my best. I opened the lid of Mr. Gore's anti-flush flusher, and eventually - grovelling around in sub zero water - stopped the flow. I placed their beloved guest towels across the door to stop flooding their hallway and stairs.

Being a typical American wood frame house, the floodwaters dripped through to the passage and room below. In this unfamiliar house, I eventually found buckets and tins to catch the dripping water. I found in their garage and garden (in the snow at night) whatever I could to try and unblock the toilet: a piece of garden hose, swimming pool chemicals, a coil spring, and more. Three hours later, after cleaning the mess as best I could, I capitulated, and left the toilet bowl filled to the brim with a view to calling a plumber at daybreak.

Happy NOW, Al Gore? Thanks to you, a business and economic leader from another continent was on his hands and knees cleaning up a toilet mess at 5 a.m. in Philadelphia, and a sweet little girl in Alabama is handcrafting "out of order" signs like she works in a child labor camp.

So, thank YOU, Al Gore for your hard work in saving this planet. Oh! And also for inventing the internet so that I can share my concerns with the whole world.

(Al Gore photo credit: BusinessWeek; Al Gore Toilet photo credit: David Prince)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Seinfeld Food: Drake's Coffee Cake Knockoff

Last week, I received a request for more Seinfeld recipes--specifically, the black-and-white cookie and Drake's Coffee Cake. I can't fulfill the first request because that particular cookie made Jerry vomit in the bakery, and I can't bear that burden. But I did find a recipe for Drake's Cake, which should be especially helpful to Southerners, as we don't have easy access to this product. Drake's has been baking for the northeastern corner of our great nation since 1888, serving up Coffee Cake, Devil Dogs, Ring Dings, Yodels and (something that would never sell here) Yankee Doodles.

Having never tasted the original Drake's Coffee Cake, I make no guarantees that this recipe compares. All I can do is all I can do. This recipe was posted in 2006 by someone from New York, where she probably could have found the original Drake's Cake in its convenient packaging but wanted to complicate her life by reinventing the wheel.

Source: The Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten Servings: 8-10

Ina writes, "This is the ultimate breakfast treat. My goal was a homemade version of a Drake's Cake, but better. As if the cake wasn't delicious enough, I decided to drizzle maple icing on top and give it an extra-special flavor. This recipe can also be made into sour cream coffeecake muffins."

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/2 cup cake flour* (not self-rising)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

*If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup cornstarch.

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream the butter and sugar for 4-5 minutes until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

Place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and spread it oput with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the cake, streusel- side up, onto a serving plate.

Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon. (Leave off the maple glaze to make it more authentic.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's the Color, Stupid

When it comes to cars, I know a lot. I know that a V-8 is better than a V-7, that a clean car drives better than a dirty car and that red is the common denominator in the majority of car accidents.

And because red spells D-A-N-G-E-R when zipping down the road, insurance companies jack up the rates on red cars like you wouldn't believe. So while shopping for a car for our 16-year-old recently, I steered clear of the red cars because, as I told the salesman, WE ALL KNOW that the insurance premiums would be sky-high on a red car. Insurance, accidents, speeding tickets... And that's when he and the husband stopped and looked at me. I think they both darted their eyes and shook their heads.

On the way home:"Where do you get your statistics?"
"Oh, EVERYbody knows that a red car is nothing but trouble. You've never heard that?"
"No. Because it's not true."

OK, Mr. Smarty Pants. I don't know WHERE I heard it, but I will tell you what I know NOW about the correlation between car color and accidents. And I learned all of it from the website, where one alert reader posted this:

Hi Susan . . . While I don't have an answer to your question about red cars getting more speeding tickets, I may be able to point you in the direction of a place to look for related information. . . Several years ago when I was contemplating repainting my car Red, a friend in the car repair business for many years talked me out of it. Why? Red cars, he said, get into more accidents than cars any other color . . . He said his experience with several car repair firms bore this out . . . It might be interesting to call a few repair shop owners and see what they say about this . . . Just a thought! Good luck! Ro

That's enough for me! OK, so what about green? Here's what I learned from another alert reader:
I lived in Indonesia. I never had any particular preference for car colors, so in the past I had many different colors. I've had white, beige, dark brown, blue, emerald green, dull green, even turquoise. Every member of the family is a good driver, there was only one accident within 10 years and it wasn't our fault. About 2 years ago, I got a very dark green metallic car. Within 8 months the car once fell into a small sewerage, hit a truck, got hit on the back twice, got the stereo stolen, vandalized, had a total engine malfunction on a real heavy rain, and several other minor mishaps. Most of these happened during the night. I sold the car afterwards, and bought exactly the same car but this time it's metallic red. Nothing bad ever happened to the new one. I talked to new owner, but he said it's doing just fine. That's odd.....Indonesia

So, mark out the green from our color wheel of choices; ignore his endorsement of the color red.

I thought we had the problem solved when we decided on a charcoal grey, UNTIL I READ THESE ACCOUNTS:
My cousin owns a body shop. Before buying my last car I asked which color would be best. "Anything but silver - grey. Those cars are over 65% of my business. They seem to get hit all the time!"

And then this one, apparently from a non-English speaking country, as evidenced by the spelling of "colored":
I was just broad sided by grey coloured car today. I did not see the car before I made a left hand turn. I did not see lights on the car, before I made the turn. It seemed to come out of nowhere. This is not the first time this has happened to me....the first time I escaped by the skin of my teeth. Grey car owners beware....turn on your lights when driving DAY or night....and watch out for people making left hand blend into the road too much.

So what's a mom to do? According to car owners the world over, no color is safe. And therein lies the secret: It's an ABSENCE of color that will ensure a higher degree of safety. Read on (note the use of the word "click"; I think the author meant "clique," bless her heart):
I drive a white car. Would never drive another color. Guess what? People who drive white cars are in the white car click. I always let people who drive white cars get in front of me. They always do the same for me too. From now on, take a moment and notice the white car click. You will always see 2 or more white cars together...even driving along the highway. We help each other out. COOL WHITE.

That's some kind of peace of mind, don't you think? Instant friends, people looking out for you, heightened safety? I'm SOLD, although white is harder to keep clean and therefore may hinder the car's driving performance...