Ya buy ’em books…

An elementary school I drive by daily is emblazoned with signs announcing their ongoing book fair, and I will admit to a bit of nostalgia.  An only child, books were my constant companions, and book fair time at Horace Mann Elementary in Minneapolis meant my usually-not-overly-indulgent parents were willing to drop a few bucks at my behest.

Good stuff, Maynard.

I tried to indulge my own kids to an extent every time a bookfair rolled around, but those were different affairs – much more than books available for purchase.  Now, as a New Orleans teacher for the past nine years, I have encountered even more of the whole Scholastic book-selling-cases-on-wheels operation. A few years back, I was working at a K-12 charter school.  One afternoon, the delivered carts and cases full of books and related paraphernalia was pretty well in place in our school library, and I got to browse a bit. Many of the young adult titles and series looked familiar, and it was nice to see that many of the various series I remember from their younger days are still around, with new some titles in the series, to boot. (The gang from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type are still going hilariously strong – bless ‘em.) There was also an admirable selection of classics.

As I roamed our makeshift Barnes and Ignoble, one of the selections on the ‘Adult Bestsellers and Cookbooks’ table caught my eye. It was a cookbook entitled “9 x 13:  The Perfect-Fit Dish – More than 180 family favorites to fit America’s most popular pan.” For the record, had I been asked ‘name America’s favorite pan’ I would have answered, “Sauce”.

Only in America: a cookbook predicated on a specific size of pan.

Sorry, but I couldn’t see this in the same vein as crock-pot cookery, or Dutch oven cooking like we did in Boy Scout days. This is something else entirely. The phrase ‘lame gimmick’ came to mind.

The blurbs on the back cover of the book are intended to be, one supposes, enlightening. To wit:

“A 9×13 pan can do everything from roasting a chicken to baking brownies!”

Really?

But there was more…

“Feast on comfort foods you grew up with, including Beef Stroganoff Casserole and Tuna Noodle Casserole.”

Sure, let’s recycle the gastronomic 1950’s – only in the correct sized pan! Let’s also salvage the word ‘casserole’ from the culinary dust heap. (Personal, two-part aside: 1. I hail from the Midwest, where the term ‘hot dish’ reins supreme over ‘casserole.’ 2. I know of very few people who would make a hot dish in a 9 x 13 pan.  That is what ‘casserole’ dishes are for, Chucklebunnies.)

So continueth the back cover hype:

“Revel in new flavor twists such as Cajun Mac and Cheese and Chocolate Chipotle Brownies.”

Chipotle brownies? Last guy I knew who put spicy herbs in brownies ended up getting two years probation.

But there was additional hype – and we haven’t even left the cover of the book yet:

“Dig into potluck pleasers such as Smokin’ Tetrazzini and Herbed Chicken and Orzo.”

‘Smokin’ Tetrazzini’ falls somewhere between ‘Cajun blackened’ and ‘left under the broiler too long’ while Chicken and Orzo is shorthand for ‘chicken-and-schizophrenic-starch.’  Is it pasta? is it rice? Is it crawling around your plate?

Then there are the recipes – no! Wait! The cookbook opens with a helpful ‘Pan Comparison’ page in which they compare 9×13 pans, covering various and sundry pluses and minuses.

‘Glass or Stoneware’ 9x13s have more pluses than ‘Metal’ 9x13s – but also more minuses; ‘breakable, cannot withstand sudden temperature change’ among them. (Pyrex or Corning Ware anybody?) Chief plusses include ‘Clear glass makes it easy to monitor browning’ and ‘Shows off beauty of gelatin or layered salads’ (except for stoneware, I guess) and then my personal favorite glass-or-stoneware ‘plus’:

“Some pans come with lids.”

Golly, what will they think of next? And why haven’t those pesky metal 9×13 manufacturers gotten on this ‘lid’ bandwagon? They don’t have it listed as a metal ‘plus,’ so one wonders.

And we can’t forget our third category of 9×13 pan, the ever popular…

plastic?

Plastic pans? Containers, maybe. Vessel, receptacle, canister, holder are all reasonable possibilities. But plastic pans? As we like to say in our household, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

The authors state that while plastic 9x13s are ‘good for no-bake recipes, refrigerator salads and freezer desserts’ they do allow in the minus column that they ‘may not be used for baking.’

That’s news you can really use, though there is not a word said about lids and plastic nine-by-thirteens. The authors need a Tupperware intervention, stat!

A bargain at $16.99, even without reading the actual recipes.

Just out of curiosity, I wondered what the book sold for elsewhere, and clicked over to Amazon, where I found not only the edition of the cookbook that we will be selling, but also this rather curious entry:

9 X 13: The Perfect-Fit Dish (In Memoriam Volume III Exclusive Edition) In memoriam?
Volume III?
That is a lot of commemorating.

I kid you not -new and used editions available…but that’s all on-line. Curiously, no mention of just who is being commemorated via cake pan.

Though $16.99 for a 9×13 pan cookbook seems pennywise, but pan foolish.

Hey, it’s all for books for the kids, right?

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Signs of…

We spent our two weeks of Christmas break on the road, traveling from New Orleans to visit family in Minnesota and then back. A wonderful time was had, but we put in over 3800 miles of windshield time, with plenty of stops; ample opportunities for “Umm….?” moments.

This first one actually resulted in my coining a new phrase.

Driving through northern Missouri, I saw a billboard for a real estate guy; (First name) ‘Hoodie’ Hood. asterisk1I teach in an urban high school, I know nicknames and monikers. I know American culture, and I know hoodies. I see a guy who calls himself ‘Hoodie’ I’m thinking someone who is hip.

Happening, with it. Yo!  Ya know?

‘Hoodie’ should be pretty much anything other than a middle-aged, white bread, white guy, yet there he was, smiling (sort of), in his sportcoat and open neck shirt on a big ol’ highway billboard: ‘Hoodie’ Hood.

‘Hoodie’ is what I now call a ‘badassterisk’ – someone who thinks they are a badass*

*…but they really aren’t.

Feel free to use the phrase, badassterisk*. I think it has a fair number of applications. If someone is trying to look or act tougher than they could ever hope to be, or just posturing in a ridiculous way for whatever reason, simply comment, “Oh yeah, that guy is a real badassterisk*.”

Trust me. You’ll be using that one.

blackfridayAnother double-take-inducer was this sticker I noticed in the drive-through window at a Minneapolis area fast-food outlet.

Black Friday hours? Seriously? Black Friday is now an official enough holiday to warrant its own fast food drive through hours? As a promotion or public service?

Really? Breakfast for Black Friday?

“Emperor Nero, please phone your office.”

But the true pièce de résistance comes this masterpiece of modern culture from Memphis, Tennessee.

We stopped at a really small gas MemphisPosterstation/convenience store to get gas and use the restroom. While waiting in line for the restroom key, I noticed the poster at left posted on the store’s limited wall space. Next to the (fairly large, for a small store) beer cooler, I might add.

The poster’s wording itself was jarring enough: ‘Give Responsibly. Lottery Tickets Aren’t Child’s Play’ was one thing; the visual of the gift boxes (which I took to represent Toys for Tots or some other such donation setting) really pushed this one into a whole new realm.

Then I really started to think about it.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where this whole concept came to fruition? “Folks…we have a major issue here with kids being given lottery tickets for Christmas gifts. People are even putting them in donation boxes for charity toy drives! I think we need an ad campaign to tell people ‘this is really not okay.’ We’ll hang ’em up everyplace we sell lottery tickets. Preferably by the beer coolers.”

What I wonder is, what prompted the revelation that this was a problem? Dickensian waifs oliver1showing up to claim their winnings? Family shout-outs on Facebook? (“Happy ninth birthday, Johnny! So glad you enjoyed the scratch-offs! Hope you win big!”)  Maybe it was kids themselves, gleefully Instagraming themselves holding wads of scratch-offs.  

“Folks, we have a problem here…”

Yeah, that particular lottery department meeting and subsequent creative session would have been something to behold.

Bet the person who pitched this ad campaign is a real badassterisk.*

Random thoughts and sporadic observations

‘Huh, whatttayaknow!’ category, take 1:

I casually learned something recently about one of my favorite types of bread: In Italian, “ciabatta” means ‘an old worn-out slipper.’ I get where the name came from; coming out of an old Italian oven back-in-the-day, it’s what they looked like.(see pic above) Now I like ciabatta bread, so this just made me chuckle. Then…I got to wondering about other bread-type things and how they got their names.

My curiosity thus piqued, I looked it up: ‘Wonder Bread’ in Russian is ‘хлеб интереса’ – which is pretty much how it tastes; like a Sunday paper cartoon expletive.
 
хлеб интереса!!

WARNING: Rant Alert!

My primo pet peeve ( I may have touched on this before) is the alleged ‘Cookie Cake.’

You know, those big, pizza-sized chocolate chip cookies you see in most grocery stores. People refer to these giant cookies as ‘cookie cakes’ and most stores have the gall to label them as such.

Any self-respecting baker will tell you: cookies are made with dough, cakes are made with batter. These things are giant cookies made from cookie dough, regardless of what some Nimrod grocery store ‘baker’ labels them. When I worked at a grocery part-time this past year, I had the opportunity to spend ample time in the bakery area, and dealt with many boxes of the frozen cookie dough we used. They boxes were labeled, by the manufacturer, ‘Large (12 inch) Chocolate Chip Cookie’ so I feel vindicated and don’t need to belabor this point any more than need be, though for most I already have.

But it got me thinking about other baked curiosities. Such as cheesecake. Cheesecake is made with a batter, but is usually presented on a graham cracker or some similar-type crust, which begs the obvious question:

Why isn’t it called cheese pie?

Just sayin.’ More appropriately, just askin.’ I guess as long as they make real cheesecake with ricotta instead of acceptable but certainly not authentic cream cheese, I won’t complain.

Not that I am a purist, or anything. But…my late grandfather once owned a bakery, though I never met him (he died before I was born) or saw the bakery. It’s a family honor sort of thing.

‘Huh, whatttayaknow!’ category, take 2:

America continues to take the whole ‘super-size me’ mindset to odd heights, as I stumbled across this disturbing tidbit: Life-size chia pets?
 
The traditional, original, window sill-perching Ram isn’t good enough in these modern times. It wasn’t bad enough when they branched out to Chia Presidents – now we’re going life-sized…?

I’m not paying full retail, I’ll tell you that. I’ll wait until I see one at a garage sale.

I guess if you want a Chia Michelangelo’s David, go for it. Just be careful when you’re pruning it. Especially if any of your , um, more socially conservative neighbors are watching you garden.

Speaking of sales, I recently saw this chiropractic visit-inducing double take:

Turns out it’s a non-profit store, ala Goodwill, that benefits a local animal charity.

Some Saturday morning, yell out “Honey! I’m going to SpayMart to drop off a donation!” and see what kind of response you get.

And, just because it’s been a while since I have blogged about beer-drinking dogs: 

Til next time, then.

“I think I can, I think I can…but I prefer my beer from a bottle, thanks.” Episode II

Seventh grader Sam is running for student council vice president, and today he has to make a two-minute speech to the student body prior to voting. In mulling over speech possibilities the other night, I asked Sam if his whole class was done reading Julius Caesar. His reply? “No, dad – the class isn’t reading it; I’m just reading it for fun. And no, I am not going to do Mark Anthony’s ‘friends, Romans, countrymen’ speech. I don’t think anyone would get it.”

In brainstorming other options, we arrived at the following, more Lincolnesque opening:

“Four weeks and several hours ago, we began a new school year – a year filled with challenges: pop quizzes, detention, lunchroom food…”

Hynes students: vote early, vote often.

Hey, it’s New Orleans.

One night working at the store, a guy about my age comes in and he is wearing a t-shirt that says: “What part of Muwahahahahahah don’t you understand?”

I found the shirt amusing, posted the saying on Facebook, come to find that there are different spellings of the ubiquitous catch-phrase. So I ask, is it ‘Buhwahahahahahah’ or ‘Muwhahahahaha’?

Inquiring minds want to know.

I consider myself to me more in the ‘Muwhahahahaha’ camp, though can surely see the p.o.v. of the ‘Buhwahahahahahah’ faction.

While you can foster lengthy and reasonable debate over ‘Buhwahahahahahah or Muwhahahahaha’ there can be no denying the plausibility and favorability of ‘manamana.’

You know, manamana.

Manamana! Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee. Oh, let’s just go to the source. WARNING! Ear-worm alert should you click the link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM89T74MPnE&feature=related                  

Now that that’s settled…

In a small business and retail area of our New Orleans neighborhood, there is a very small (fills maybe an eighth of the block, square footage per floor on par with some of the bigger houses in the area), five-story office building housing some CPA’s, an attorney’s office, a notary, and a couple of other professional types. Its primary occupant appears to be a prominent property management company. A ride in the building’s elevator is always good for a smile by just looking at the buttons:

1, 2, 3, 4…Penthouse!

I’ll bet the view of the parking lot is spectacular.

As an added building amenity, there is a frozen yogurt shop on the street level. Quick and easy to get to…if you take the express elevator.

A final note:

I work four weekend shifts at the grocery store, and I know that at least a dozen times over the next few days, a customer will give me a $100 bill, and as I use my handy-dandy ‘counterfeit marking pen’ on it, then hold it up to the light to check its veracity, the customer will say, “Oh, it’s good – I just printed it this morning.”

I also know at least three of them will briefly have panic in their eyes when I casually respond, while still holding the bill up to the light “I can sure tell – the ink is smudging.”

Oh, c’mon. It’s just a brief moment of panic.

Happy Labor Day weekend.

Keeping it brief

Some time ago, I entered a contest with the fine forks from Jockey® underwear. I didn’t win, but at least their follow up marketing emails are an oddly entertaining read. A recent email subject line stated: Deal #3 | Get 50% OFF sleepwear with code PARTY

Now of course, when I think ‘sleepwear,’ I also think ‘party.’ This one may have been targeting a younger (or at least much different) demographic than I reside in.

Then there was this: Get 25% OFF classics with code BEACH.  The combination of ‘classics’ and ‘beach’ intrigued me, especially after seeing that ‘classics’ meant just that; plain old white, cotton underwear. It’s about the only thing you probably won’t see people wearing at the beach these days.

My personal favorite undiemail came just last week: Memorial Weekend Savings | Get 20% OFF with code PICNIC.  This one makes sense on so many levels; long, holiday weekend + underwear = picnics…eh?

I’m not good at long underwear division

Then it hit me; it’s not about price and savings at all. These messages are aimed at a much younger crowd – people who actually wear their underwear 25 – 50% off in their day-to-day lives….like my high school students. That must be why these emails bemuse me; in a given week at school, I see more underwear than Inspector 12 – you know, the one who always leaves that fortune-cookie slip of paper in the underwear packages.

Keep in mind those were just the subject lines of the emails. One of the actual ads was, um…eye catching: 

“This weekend only, get your mini brief keychain for $4.00 $1.00 (plus $.99 shipping)”

‘Mini brief keychain’ is a phrase I had to (at least in an investigative journalist/blogger duty mode) investigate.  Clicking on the ad bounces you to their order page, where, like any good retailer, they lay out their  product specs:

Jockey® Mini Brief Key Chain underwear
Style # 10310
• meet mini brief        
• created in celebration of our 75th anniversary of the brief          
• just like our iconic classic brief, only MINI!
• signature Jockey® logo waistband
• y-front® fly design
• approximate size: 4” x 3”

Fabric Content: 100% cotton (excludes metal key ring). Imported. WARNING: Choking hazard- Small parts. Not for children under 3 years. Additional colors on Sale

Note the red triangle in the top right corner: Only available online.

Gee; just in time for Father’s Day….or that special vintage G.I. Joe doll you have lying around.

Hey, 75th anniversaries are always worth celebrating, right? And if you’re going to do something, keep it authentic, make it count for something….in seven different colors, no less. But not white. Go figure.

Imported, too. Conjures up great mental images of people in China, sitting at an assembly line with puzzled looks, shoulder shrugs, and saying  ” 什么?” (“What the hell?”) to each other as these things roll by.

It does seem a bit elitist to me, though, the whole ‘only available online’ thing. I am not sure what demographic they are aiming at with the keychain, but it would seem to me that those most likely to buy and use it would be less likely to shopping for their underwear online.

I also wonder if anybody has thought through the natural consequences of using said mini-briefs for corralling ones keys on a day-in, day-out basis. If you keep your keys in your pocket, you’re likely to snag loose change and paper clips in the crotch and have them flying everywhere each time you pull out your keys. If you have your keys hanging from your belt as is the style these days, you’ll always have mini-underwear hanging off your hip.

Maybe that’s where the marketing geniuses have struck gold: this is a product aimed at those who want to be urban hip, but who still want to walk normally and don’t want their real undies and half their buttocks continually exposed. Now you can be a young stud without the plumbers-crack stigma and still listen to Barry Manilow on your iPod, looking hip all the while.

But there is a problem I foresee.         

Every keychain I have ever had tends to suffer a good amount of wear and tear from basic use. I would not want to see those mini-briefs after a week or so of getting in and out of the van, unlocking the door every day after work, locking and unlocking your bike to the rack at the frozen yogurt place, opening the moneybox buried in the backyard, etcetera.  A week in and you’re gonna have some tough looking undies.

Unless of course, you purchase them like you do your regular underwear and keep a drawer full to change every day, though that seems a bit impractical.

Mostly because the dark blue ones are out of stock.