Friday, March 12, 2010

Butter Me Up

For nearly every day of the week, the 6pm hour is completely ordinary.  Its a gateway to the usual tasks of a pedestrian weeknight evening; its a threshold that leads you only to laundry, cleaning, class work or maybe a few of your favorite shows.  (Well, from time to time, we all throw a night out on the town in there.) 

But the 6pm hour on Friday is different.  6pm on Friday is a high-speed on-ramp to over 60 hours of complete freedom. Each and every week, somewhere in this exact time frame, my expectations for the weekend take root.  A few ideas germinate, and by the time 7pm rolls around, activity has already begun to blossom.  
I've got some Tall Orders for this weekend.  As I drove home after work, my first thought was, "Do I have enough butter to get through the weekend?"   Don't let that be cause for concern;  I harbor no secret food fetishes.  Rather, I've got biscotti, cookies and maybe even some fresh pasta on my agenda for the weekend.  I've also got a Tall Order for a long run on Saturday.  And a long nap following my long run.  But first comes a night out on the town Friday night, and the opportunity to sleep in the next morning.

The 60 minutes from 6 to 7pm on Friday are my favorite part of the weekend. They're a Tall Order all their own, where the potential of the weekend itself eclipses the sum of all of the activities I'll undertake.  

Have you got a Tall Order for the weekend?  I'll let you know how mine turn out....

ps- don't use margarine in your baking.  go for the real thing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stressed Out? Let's Bake!

Right now there are homemade blueberry muffins in the oven.  A recipe from a Williams Sonoma cookbook that I've just cracked open.  And muffins are just the first item on my list to bake tonight.  I've also got dough for two stromboli rising on the counter;  they'll be stuffed and rolled with Boar's Head Black Forest Ham, Pepperoni, Salami, Provolone, Mozarella ("muutz-a-rella"), and Romano.  And, as I stopped at the market after work, I couldn't help but drop Anise Seeds (for Biscotti), and Almond extract into my cart as well.

People always ask me if I prefer to cook or to bake.  Baking wins every time. Hands down. My love of homemade, baked goods stems from my Mom, Godmother, and Grandmothers.  I'm a cookie snob and can tell the difference between a good "crumb," whether the batter or dough has been over-mixed, and if the leavening worked properly.  I know how to brown a butter pastry to a deep golden tone, and how to pipe royal icing with the best of the at-home bakers.

Baking is unique because its based on a chemical reaction.  You start with a combination of precisely measured ingredients, you impart heat & time, and your reward is a product in an entirely new form.  Baking changes things.  It changes ordinary flour, sugar and butter into sublime shortbread cookies. (And those Shortbread cookies were absolute show-stoppers at my wedding reception. Thanks, Mrs. Joseph!).

Doughs and batters change during the baking process in one of two ways.  Either a leavening agent gives off Carbon Dioxide causing the your baked good to rise.   Or, the cold butter cut into your pie crust or dough gets hot enough in the oven to let off steam. As that steam rises, something strange and magical happens. Your Result: golden, flaky layers that will change your day.

Yes, I like baking because it lets off steam.   Baking melts away my stresses and worries, and leaves me with a sweet treat to share with someone I love. And it leaves me in a better state of mind than the rest of the day has.   I've had a smile on my face all night as I've putz'd around the kitchen.  Tuning up my Kitchen Aid stand mixer; choosing between biscotti recipes to try, and even contemplating getting the Pizzelle iron out this weekend. 

Do you want me to make you some biscotti? I've been mailing biscotti to lots of out of town people lately.  Send me an email with your address and favorite flavor.  The momentary distraction, and baking at 350, couldn't make me happier.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Help for a Hoarder Like Me

The secret rituals of my double life are not what you'd expect.  You might never guess it, but I am a Hoarder. The fixation, the obsessiveness and the compulsion that comes with hoarding starts with breakfast and continues all day long.  But, at least its not junk and clutter that I hoard.   Its recyclables. 

There's something about that rounded triangle on the bottom of a plastic carton that strikes my fancy... is it a #2 plastic?  Or even better... a #5?  After I enjoy my morning Kashi cereal mixed with yogurt, I meticulously rinse the yogurt cup and leave it next to the sink, ready for the recycling bin.  Pop cans go there too.  I even recycle my contact cases when I swap out to a new bottle of solution. There's no such thing as a small step when it comes to saving the environment.  

There's a few things that are problematic about my Green Hoarding Habits.  Primarily, many will argue that the actual act of recycling (the truck, the workers, the recycling plants) probably has a bigger carbon footprint than the benefit of recycling the materials collected.  Who knows?   All that's important to me is that I feel like I'm doing my part to help out; that somehow I am stopping the degradation of the environment, deforestation, and abuse of natural resources.  Oh yes, every time I save a pudding cup and a Diet Dr. Pepper can, the world becomes a better place.  

The other problem with my GHH disorder was set off by the Wine incident.  I used to fill our blue recycling bin to the brim!  Cans, Bottles, Glass, all ready to be reincarnated and repurposed for the better.  Except for the first time I came home to find my empty recycling bin and a bowling-pin-arrangement of empty wine bottles in the driveway.  They could have told me that they don't take glass rather than broadcasting to the Bible Belt that I prefer reds to whites.  A few weeks later they took our recycling bin away.  As it turns out, no one on the street has one anymore. They collect recycling one street away from our house, but not on our street.   This has only exacerbated the hoarding issue.

Now I bag my recyclables, and then wait until the time is right.  When I finally have enough bags in the garage, I start out for my 5:30am run a little early and deposit 1 bag per house in the neighborhood one block over. I used to do this at night, but it embarrassed Paul and he thought someone might call the police.  Who are the gonna call? Captain Planet? 

The only help for a Hoarder like me is a company like SunChips.  They recently introduced packaging that is completely bio-degradable 4-6 weeks after you throw it away.  How cool is that? Yes, it takes away the sheer pleasure of recycling, but I think its a great move on their part in terms of responsibility.  It also is a very strategic complement to their core branding strategy.

Bravo, SunChips!  A small GreeK restaurant in Orlando is the only horse in second place at this point.  Upon closer inspection of the straws that came with our drinks, I found that they were made out of corn by-products!   Pretty cool. Straw Chewers, beware.  As I played with the straw a bit, it was very brittle and easy to shatter.   If you have questions about SunChips, go ahead an call their 1-800 number. Apparently it says that "there's no such thing as a silly question." 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Would you drive a Swagger-Waggon?

Do you trust car dealers?  Does the Pope smoke dope? I can only think of a handfull of people I know that actually enjoy the car buying process. Let's talk automotive today. I do think that local car dealers have been the unsung victims of the last year.   Local dealerships have had their franchises pulled with little to no notice and in many cases have been unable to adequately or profitably liquidate their inventory before being forced to close their doors. 

And now there's the Toyota Recall debacle.  Opinions vary as to the actual cause, severity, and sequence of misjudgements that lead to the largest automotive recall in history.  But once again, I think its the local dealers who share in victimization with actual Toyota owners.  Toyota Motor Manufacturing built a shoddy product, and now its the dealers on the front lines who have to cope with customer concerns, complaints, repairs, and inevitably wavering sales.  

But that's not my beef with Toyota today.  What I really want to know is who promised Toyota that they could reverse decades worth of culture with a YouTube campaign.  For years, the MiniVan has a symbol of one's ultimate concession to their role in suburbia as a soccer dad, grocery-getter, or grandparent.   After I saw a commercial for the Toyota Sienna I wondered if they weren't trying to divert our attention from the safety concerns of American's most popular vehicles with a shiny new marketing campaign?

I give you the "Swagger Wagon."
 [ I think Toyota's corporate marketing channel prevents you from embedding the actual video here, but go ahead and click away.]

We've got 2 parents who talk as if they're in the movie "Best of Show" and essentially get Dutch-Ovened in their new Sienna by their stinky, diaper-clad kids.  Maybe this happens in real life? Any parents out there who can verify this Slice-of-Life creative strategy?     Not sure if that makes me want to sign up for a test drive.  

Bottom line:  I appreciate viral marketing, sarcasm and thinking outside the box.  But I'm still not going to buy a minivan.