Sunday, June 29, 2008

Password Paranoia


Of all the things the Internet has wrought, the obsession with passwords is one of the most interesting. Not that passwords haven't been used and abused down through all the ages of mankind's natural inclination for privacy and/or exclusivity. Spies use them. Secret societies use them. During prohibition, all those lovely dens of iniquity used them. And who can forget the hapless soul who didn't have the password that would allow him to go through the Green Door in that catchy fifties tune?

Nor can I forget a childhood project wherein a group of us, having fallen heir to assorted cardboard boxes and scrap lumber, spent all morning cobbling together a most excellent clubhouse. We were hot and grubby and, as the building efforts drew to a satisfactory conclusion, I was sent back to the kitchen for food and drink. As the littlest, it was a given that I got the KP detail.

So I made a successful raid, scoring a couple of tubes of Ritz crackers and a lidded plastic pitcher of Koolaid and started back. Halfway there, I realized I'd forgotten paper cups. Back to the kitchen I went and then started once more for the clubhouse, now struggling with all the assorted elements of my plunder, sweaty and hungry and thirsty. I stood at the door of the clubhouse yelling, "Let me in!"

And my evil companions demanded, "What's the password?"

Fortunately, in that world, she who had control of the plunder didn't need a steenkin' password. Such is not true now. The longer we're on the Internet, the more passwords we need. Adding insult to injury, many of those password protected doors require you to regularly change the darned things. Security purposes, don'cha know? I now have more passwords than Carter has liver pills, to borrow a phrase from my checkered past. It is not surprising, therefore, that an occasional password glitch burps up from the tangled web, as it recently did for me.

I have mentioned the sudden dearth of notices when folks leave comments here. I also began to realize there were other email missives that normally come in on a regular basis and they were also AWOL. What was going on?

Today enlightenment struck. A couple of weeks ago my ISP nagged me to change my password. So I did. And I forgot completely that I needed to edit that change into my email clients because, without that little detail, mail going to the ISP-provided account would not be forwarded to the Gmail account. Awwwk!

Needless to say, once the editing was in place, the problem was solved. I know this because almost before I could blink my eyes, my Gmail inbox was slammed with a backlog of 90-some emails. Guess I've been let into the clubhouse again.

Next time they ask me to change my password, though, I might have to hurt somebody.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Picking Up Ooopsies


Just trying to gather up miscellaneous loose threads and oopsies in this post. Like, for instance, an update of sorts on the extended butter. We were warned that, although it can be used just like regular butter in many cases, it isn't necessarily good in most baking projects. It seemed to do okay for a batch of biscuits but didn't work out all that great in the last batch of lemon curd. The curd tastes fine but didn't thicken up like it was supposed to. On the other hand, the extended butter is great for slathering on baked potatoes or for sauteing veggies (in which case I always use equal parts butter and olive oil).

For some reason, I'm not getting email notices when people leave messages in the comments window. Until that gets fixed, I must try to remember to check for comments every now and then. Like in the weatherglass post, John, you mentioned one you'd made in school was still going strong. Don't suppose you have any photos of it? And Bill found a great link for rainchains, which I'd never heard of. Bill, you run across the most interesting things! You got me exploring dozens of rainchain links with Google. Found good stuff. Thanks!

Kate, glad the Feline Pine is working for your furkid. Whenever I recommend something, I always worry whether others will find it to be as terrific as I think it is. Which is fairly silly but there you are.

Wendy and Bonnie, I never even thought about using distilled water in the weatherglass. That's an excellent idea.

Oh -- I've added a Cartoon of the Day link at the top of the sidebar. If you click over there, use your back button to return to this page instead of the button they have at the bottom of the cartoon. That button says it will take you back to the home page but it turns out to be the Bravenet home page. (sigh)

What am I forgetting? I just know I'm forgetting something. Which would be one more oopsie, wouldn't it? Figures.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wolf in the Hen House

I can only sigh when I look wistfully at that photo. What you see there is currently residing in my very happy tummy and I wish I'd made twice as much. At least.

Wolfie started it. When I dropped in at her place this morning, she was sharing a most excellent recipe with us and if you hit that link, you'll be able to see why Manning, her fireman friend, has won well-deserved fame for his most excellent chicken hot bites.

Now, I didn't have the particular kind of hot sauce Wolfie mentioned but I have some perfectly wonderful Trader Joe's Jalapeno Hot Sauce that, as far as I can tell, worked super-good. So I cut up one breast of chicken (should have done two), shook enough hot sauce over the chicken so that each piece was well coated, then put a lid on the bowl and left it in the fridge for two or three hours.

I don't know what the fish fry batter mix is like but I suspect it's similar to the tempura batter I learned to make years ago, from my Japanese sister-in-law, Betty. If you'll forgive the alliteration, I've never found a better beer batter. Here's all you have to do:


In a small bowl, combine equal parts all purpose flour and corn starch. Add seasoning to taste. I usually use salt, pepper and either garlic powder or onion powder. You can also add just about any kind of spice or herb that seems to fit the occasion. It's your call. Stir all the dry ingredients together well, then crack in one egg and a little bit of beer. Start mixing with a whisk, adding beer as necessary, until you have something the consistency of pancake batter. Not too thick, or you'll end up with yucky, doughy fried food. Not too thin or most of it will run off the food. You don't have to whisk all the lumps out of the batter, surprisingly enough. But you can if you want to. Unless you're making an awful lot of batter, you'll have most of that can or bottle of beer left. That's nice to sip on while you're frying all that tempura over a hot pan of oil.

As you can see, this is a highly flexible recipe. The only hard and fast measurement is the single egg. Just so you'll know, the batter I made today started with 1/3 cup each of flour and corn starch. I knew I wouldn't need much batter but felt that was the least amount I could get by with to balance out the egg. I used Blue Heron pale ale instead of beer and the result was great. There again, use your own judgment. Follow your bliss.

By the way, I'm always reading that one should use room temperature, flat beer for cooking. I don't worry about that. If the beer needs to be warm, I'll nuke it briefly and call it good. Otherwise, it gets used cold and fresh -- which makes for pleasanter sipping of whatever is left over, don'cha know?

I don't know how many pieces of chicken I had. Maybe a couple dozen. Didn't take long to fry them up to golden brown and drain on a paper towel. Then I sat down with the chicken hot bites and a bowl of lemon curd for dipping and figured I'd nibble on, ohhhh -- six or eight, give or take a couple.

Oh my. It was magic. The way every single chicken bite simply vanished. It's not the sort of thing you can stop eating before it's all gone, that's all there is to it. If you make it to share with others, all I can say is you need to get your portion out of the platter right off the git-go and be prepared to guard your plate with weapons of immediate and painful destruction.

Wolfie, thank you for sharing the recipe and please give Manning a grateful hug from me next time you see him. Just so you know, you can hang out at my hen house any time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Weatherglass Groove

I just hauled this old water barometer out of its lonely semi-retirement. Well, okay -- it wasn't really retired. It was just sort of on the shelf. Literally on the shelf.

It turned up at a second-hand store, I dunno -- a good ten years or so ago -- and I fell in love with it. Until then, I'd never even heard of a water barometer or, as they're sometimes known, weatherglass or thunder glass. They do a pretty good job of very basic weather forecasting, utilizing the action of atmospheric pressure on the water level. High pressure forces the water in the spout down, denoting good weather and low pressure allows the water to shoot up the spout, sometimes bubbling over, letting you know bad weather is on the way.

I was still living in Bandon when I first used the weatherglass and the water there is very heavy with mineral content. Over time an unsightly crust formed inside the spout -- and you know how hard a mineral crust is to get rid of. Especially when you're dealing with a delicate piece of glass. A very narrow, delicate piece of glass. To make matters even more difficult, the spout has a graceful swooping curve, requiring a cleaning probe that is both strong and flexible.

Q-tips, I found, worked well but only went in a short distance. Furthermore, I almost lost the cotton tip while swabbing away and that would have been a disaster. It's hard enough to either empty or fill the darned glass with water via that narrow spout. Retrieving solid objects would have been a whole lot like sucking a bath sponge through a soda straw.

In any case, the glass lay forlorn on the shelf, waiting for me to figure out a solution. You know how you get so used to seeing something that you don't see it anymore? Yeah. But a couple of days ago, while rearranging things on the shelf, I saw it again. Hmmm, I thought. Now just might be a good time to clean this puppy up. Either that or drill holes in it and play it like a water flute.

A little bit of vinegar and a doubled-up length of hairy household twine solved the problem of cleaning the spout. The twine was stiff enough to yard back and forth but flexible enough to navigate the curve of the spout without putting undue pressure on it. Yay for our side!

When you look at pictures of the weatherglasses for sale, you usually see them filled with beautiful blue liquid. I didn't have any food coloring on hand but I do have some wine vinegar. Seemed to me putting some of that in with the water would work on any little residual bits of crust I hadn't been able to remove. Later, when I pick up a little box of food coloring, I'll empty out the vinegar water, give it another good roto-rooting with some more twine, then refill the glass with some pretty water. Maybe ruby red. What do you think?

It'll surely be easier to "read" the water level in the spout when I get the food coloring. The vinegar color thins out as the water rises and the higher it goes, the harder it is to tell what the level is. In the above picture, for instance, the water is right up to the top and there is, in fact, a drop hanging from the bottom knob on the glass from overflow. The sky is clouding up again and the fog bank is starting to roll in. By midnight, it's going to be damp and overcast again.

Of course, I don't really need the weatherglass to tell me that. Looking out the window works just fine. But looking out the window doesn't make me feel like I'm touching the seventeenth century, when water barometers first began to fascinate folks. Besides, I do enjoy the sight of gracefully shaped glass. There's something uplifting about practical matters enhanced by beauty. As long as the mineral deposits don't mess with my groove.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Recipe For Ludicridiculosity

Yes, I just invented that word: ludicridiculosity. A combination of ludicrous and ridiculous, to describe the all-too-prevalent content of our daily news. Let no one tell you our language is dead -- although the standards of some of our journalist wordsmiths may be on life support.

Now, I agree that it would be no fun at all to only have serious news to read. You have to leaven all that heavy stuff with a certain amount of light and airy. So when a newspaper or a magazine decides to run recipes shared by celebrity figures, I certainly have no objection. You never know when you'll run across one that speaks to your tummy.

I think what happens is, the editor says, "Hey, let's ask all the candidate's spouses to share a favorite family recipe!" Not that this is an original way to fill space but you could probably say it's at least traditional. So the reporter assigned this particular chore will contact the target spouses and will probably get the attention of a secretary or PR person or whatever. Fine. That person will email the requested recipe and the reporter will write it up, along with all the others that are emailed in, and everyone is happy, right?


Somebody always gets targeted for high dudgeon and accusations of (gasp!) plagiarism and then everyone jumps on the finger-wagging bandwagon. Before you know it, the hapless celeb has been pilloried to the point where any thinking soul knows, by golly, there stands a criminal of the lowest order -- all over a silly recipe.

It's Cindy McCain's turn in the barrel -- again. Yes, folks, this is her second culinary offense, all because some eagle eye noticed her recipe for butterscotch oatmeal cookies was nearly identical to the recipe at the Hershey web site. The media keeps forgiving Senator McCain for all his misspeaks and flip-flops but, for all her money, Cindy can't buy even a smidgen of ye olde benefit of the doubt.

I hold no brief for the McCains but I have a couple of problems with the Great Recipe Lynching. Aside from the fact that there are certainly issues out there more deserving of critical evaluation and honest anger than suspect recipes, I have to ask these self-styled investigative reporters if they honestly believe there are all that many different ways to make those particular cookies. If you Google "butterscotch oatmeal cookies," you'll get more than 80,000 hits, folks, and while there are certainly variations like the addition of lemon peel or assorted fruits, the basic ingredients are pretty much always the same. Good grief, if they were a whole lot different, they wouldn't be butterscotch oatmeal cookies anymore. They'd be -- uhmmm -- lemon bars or snickerdoodles or chocolate chip, for cryin' out loud.

I'll tell you what ... if I ever get rich and famous and they ask me for a favorite recipe, I'm gonna make up something that would be the envy of Marie Leveau, of voodoo fame. And it sure won't show up on the Hershey site, let me tell you!

At least, I don't think it will. They haven't done anything like chocolate-covered anti-muckraker potion, have they? That would just be ludicridiculous.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Litter Bugged

This is not, perhaps, the most delicate subject one could choose for discussion. On the other hand, those of you who, like me, have to deal with the dreaded Litter Box Protocol will understand perfectly how profound is the urge to stand up and testify upon discovery of what must be the world's best kitty litter. And, no, the Feline Pine people aren't paying me to say this. Not that I would object if they offered. Are you listening, Feline Pine?

I've tried several different types and brands and neither Ralph nor I have been happy with any of them. The last product tried nearly did me in. One of those perfumed jobs that are supposed to -- hah! -- eliminate odor but only make it worse. Awful stuff. That was the low point.

In desperation, I wandered into the local feed store Saturday and asked, "Merlene, what's a good kitty litter?" She got a big smile on her face, the smile that lets you know she recognizes the angst of one who has dealt with failed litter once too often. She led me over to where the litter box for the store's cat is kept and proceeded to demo the scoopable properties of the contents. She was able to do this because the resident cat (I forget her name.) had thoughtfully left a deposit for our convenience.

She told me the vet had recommended the Feline Pine because it was healthier for the cats. No added toxic stuff, no dust -- just very fine and fluffy yellow pine shavings. And for the cat's staff who had to deal with keeping the litter box pristine, disposal was a cinch. It will NOT clog your toilet! Not only that, it's safe to toss in compost heaps and won't be a problem in the local land fill. Very ecological.

Well hell. I bought a bag. A big bag. A big lightweight bag because pine shavings don't seem to weigh any more than feathers. You can imagine how much I appreciated that as I lugged my prize up the stairs.

What I appreciate even more is the smell. Just like freshly cut wood, clean and fragrant in a light, natural way. Oh boy, I thought. I'm already liking this. Now, if only Ralph likes it ...

Oh joy! Oh bliss! Ralph loves it. When outside, Ralph has always preferred soil of a texture that allows him to build impressive mounds when he covers his deposit. He'll spend several minutes working all the way around, scooping and piling, with a critical eye to balance and symmetry. Ralph is a cover artist and the Feline Pine has become his medium of choice.

And here's the best part -- I don't have to hold my nose when I scoop out the clumps. There's no nasty odor! This stuff isn't just yellow -- it's pure gold.

If you go looking for it, I should point out the scoopable, clumping version is new. The original Feline Pine is in pellet form and I can't vouch for it at all. You can go to the Nature's Earth web site to learn more about both versions and read comments from users. There is also a page with good advice from a vet, covering lots of different furkid subjects.

As for Ralph and me, we're happy to be no longer bugged by litter.