Update from Doggy Summer Camp

21 July, 2014
Rat Fink

It’s a full-time job around here, lemmetellya. We do enjoy it, though. Having one dog is plenty of work for us, since we basically treat Remy as if he’s our child. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s a good boy. Since the Friday arrival of our campers (Dusty and Oliver), however, he’s been a bratty, spoiled-rotten little monster, which somewhat increases the workload. :-)

They basically dictate the day for us, which is also fine. Their humans are on vacation; why shouldn’t they be as well, right?

The Ritual

1. Take all three — separately — to the ladies’/men’s room.

2. Feed breakfast (separately, of course).

3. Moderate the daily post-meal discussion.

4. Brief nap while breakfast settles. (Them, not us.)

5. Supervise random flip-outs as people begin their days by walking on the sidewalk in front of our house. The nerve, seriously.

6. Revisit ladies’/men’s room.

7. After human breakfast, take two for a fun walk in the park. (I’m glad we live so close.)

8. “Listening practice.” Do your tricks, get a biscuit.

9. While Dusty and Oliver recover (they’re 12 and 9 years old, respectively), take Remy to the dog park.

10. Return home, leash ‘em up and take ‘em out. (Why didn’t we pull the trigger on that back yard fence?)

11. Hit the showers.

12. In between petting and playing and conversation and breaking up arguments, get work done. (Today’s job is to order fall music, if it’s the last thing I do. Which it probably will be. At midnight.)

13. 5:00 p.m. — feed, then repeat numbers 6 and 12 throughout the evening.

14. Bedtime:  me, in the guest room with the guests, and the Thriller in our room with Remy, the toy hoarding brat dog.

Truthfully, this is not “work” for us, as we’re dyed-in-the-wool dog lovers, and Oliver and Dusty are sweet, affectionate, obedient and good-natured. We continue to discover new things about Remy, although I was hoping that food/toy aggression wouldn’t be one of them. Oh well…we work through the challenges, because he’s worth it, and deserves a happy life. Dogs are fascinating.

Tomorrow, Mavis and I travel to the Ohio State Fair to meet up with our aunts from Illinois and reminisce over lunch. Exciting! As for the Thriller, staying on the homefront? Well, you know the drill. :-D

Happy Monday!

Recipe Review: S’mores Bark

17 July, 2014
Rat Fink

J’ever notice how some things — no matter how fantastic they look at the get-go — just aren’t that fantastic? Hmm.

Last night I made a turkey pot pie and biscuits to take to my stepdaughter and her husband (he is recovering from surgery, so a bunch of us wanted to cook for Simone so she could focus on being Florence Nightingale). I know they are chocolate lovers, so I looked for something really fun. On Pinterest, I ran across S’mores Bark. I thought, perfect! 

Well…notsamuch. And this from a lifelong chocolate addict, trust me when I tell you. Anyway, more on the final verdict after you click through the picture show.

S’mores Bark

3.5 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup marshmallow creme
3 rectangular sheets Graham crackers

Instructions

  1. Melt 1.5 cups chocolate chips, and spread over a wax paper-lined pan. Be careful not to make the layer too thin. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Melt the white chocolate chips, then add in the marshmallow creme. Microwave until heated – about 30 seconds. Stir together, then quickly spread the mixture over the hardened chocolate layer.
  3. Crumble the Graham crackers and press them into the marshmallow layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Melt 2 cups of chocolate chips, and gently spread it over the Graham cracker layer. Freeze for about 2 hours. Take it out and break apart into bark.

(Click on first photo to advance through slide show.)

The really good part? Only four ingredients, and no baking.

The really good part? Only four ingredients, and no baking.

The recipe says to melt in the microwave, but I do enjoy the slower double-boiler method.

The recipe says to melt in the microwave, but I do enjoy the slower double-boiler method.

The instructions warned against spreading the melted chocolate too thin. I used the better part of a 9 x 13 jelly roll pan.

The instructions warned against spreading the melted chocolate too thin. I used the better part of a 9 x 13 jelly roll pan for the recipe, and it seemed the right size.

Melt the marshmallow creme and "white chocolate" together, and pour over the hardened initial layer.

Melt the marshmallow creme and “white chocolate” together, and pour over the hardened initial layer.

Instead of breaking up the graham crackers by hand, I ran them through my trusty coffee grinder because I thought it would look nicer. Turned out to be an unwise move.

Add the graham crackers and press into the marshmallow. (Instead of breaking up the crackers by hand, I ran them through my coffee grinder because I thought it would look nicer. Turned out to be an unwise move.)

Put it in the fridge; wait 30 minutes.

Put it in the fridge; wait 30 minutes.

Melt remaining chocolate, pour over the lot, and pop into the freezer for two hours.

Melt remaining chocolate, pour over the lot, and pop into the freezer for two hours.

Finis.

Finis.

While I absolutely do not rule out chef error, I noticed a few niggling things about this recipe:

  • If the words “marshmallow” and “bark” seem contradictory to you, it’s because they are. Frozen marshmallow is an undesirable texture. The creator of the recipe said, “Keep refrigerated for a more solid bark; leave it out for slightly more delicious, but slightly more squishy bark.” Squishy bark? I initially couldn’t penetrate the layers with my sharpest chef’s knife. After waiting a while so the knife could sink through the marshmallow, the texture of it was somewhat like taffy, but more, well, squishy. Chewy. Bad marks for mouth feel.
  • The top layer wouldn’t adhere to the cracker layer. This could, of course, be due to my using crumbs instead of individual pieces of cracker pressed into the marshmallow mixture. If I made this again, I’d still want to experiment with reversing the cracker/marshmallow order. The cracker pieces (or crumbs) would definitely stick to the bottom chocolate layer, and I think the melted marshmallow would have a much better chance of adhering to the top layer of melty chocolate.
  • It is cloyingly, overpoweringly, altogether utterly over-sweet. Not that I was expecting savory, mind. But with this dish, there’s no balance. You’re all in, and where S’mores are concerned, that’s pretty much what you’re stuck with, which is fine on occasion. But this dessert differs from traditional, over-the-campfire S’mores because the ratio of cracker to marshmallow and chocolate is completely off. Think of a traditional S’more; what’s the overriding ingredient? Graham crackers. Generally, it’s a sandwich of Grahams, with a thin slice of chocolate and one marshmallow. This ain’t that.
  • The chocolate. Milk chocolate chips by Hershey are not Hershey bars chopped into little morsels. The chemistry is totally different, and the taste bears that out. While it’s plenty chocolaty (overly so), there’s just a hint of artifice — especially in that heavy a concentration. It may not bother some people, but I noticed it right away.

Bottom line: This recipe is more work than necessary, and the extra time didn’t justify the resulting taste and texture. If you want to have a bark-like S’more experience, just pour some melted chocolate on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with Graham cracker pieces and miniature marshmallows, and let set. *Bing* S’mores on the fly.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give S’mores Bark:

Nostalgia IV

15 July, 2014
Rat Fink

Yep, it’s another one of those mornings. I’ll read something (in this case, it was Harper’s) that’ll get me thinking about other topics, and before I know it, I’ve got 16 browser tabs running, and I’ve forgotten what drew me to the magazine article in the first place. I love it. Free association, literary style.

Today’s side trip went back to my childhood years. As kids of the 60s and teenagers of the 70s, we experienced many of the then-incredible developments in the food and entertainment industries. In particular, I have vivid memories of new toys and snacks that were just so new and groovy (not to mention marketed with total Mad Men hipness and appeal), you just had to bug your mom to buy them – which, of course, was the entire point. Bait dropped; fish hooked. Ching! It seemed like there was a new product every day, hard-sold to a nation with little to no concern for trivialities like loads of processed sugar, preservatives, red dye, lead-based paint, and other sundry contaminants that lurked beneath the shiny, colorful, chocolaty surfaces.

From the “Remember When” category, behold some gems from my wasted youth:

Yes, Mavis and I each had one. And did you know that hula-hooping is now one of the hottest new fitness crazesHow about that. Everything old is new again.

And how about this awesome stuff that my mother refused to buy?

I think she allowed us to get it once or twice, actually. The taste is not particularly memorable to me (I can’t recall it at all, truth be told), and with no refrigeration, it couldn’t have been anywhere near pudding-like in consistency. Mother was probably wise to veto it.

Never got these, either. What could possibly be wrong with sugar-drizzled sugar inside a sugar cone? *thumbs up*

Never had these, either. What could possibly be wrong with sugar-covered sugar in a sugar cup?

I wonder if anyone else's family called this "Kraft Dinner." Although I don't buy it anymore, I still have to catch myself before calling it "mac & cheese."

I wonder if anyone else’s family called this “Kraft Dinner.” Although I don’t buy it anymore, I still have to catch myself and instead refer to it as “mac & cheese.” It was the 70s version of Ramen noodles. When I was in college in ’77, whoever made this in the dorm’s community kitchen was instantly popular.

And I thank my mother for never doing this to us.

A huge thank-you to my mother for never doing this to us.

Do you remember any of these? Over the years, as I’ve waxed nostalgic about foods here at RtB, I’ve found that much depended on the region where you grew up. What are some of your favorite prepackaged food/toy memories? Were they delightfully tacky, tasteless or dangerous to play with, but you loved them anyway? Like Jarts and Chuckles? You know — the “adult toy” (shyeah right) that had the words “Missile Game” in the title, and the little squares of sugar-coated rubber? Excellent. :-)

Stop the press.

10 July, 2014
Rat Fink

“Words I Love” will have to wait for another day.

(Iwon’twriteaboutLeBronIwon’twriteaboutLeBronIwon’twriteaboutLeBronIwon’twr—)

Alas, no. I need to address the video that’s gone crazy around the world. You know, the one that features a studio track of Britney Spears, singing without any enhancers such as Auto-Tune (software that, among other effects, corrects out-of-tune singing). First, listen to the recording.

Yikes. A bit painful in spots, but A-T can fix it, right? No big deal, so please, leave Britney alone. According to William Orbit, a producer who works with the singer:

 

I’d like to affirm that ANY singer when first at the mic at the start of a long session can make a multitude of vocalizations in order to get warmed up. Warming up is essential if you’re a pro, as it is with a runner doing stretches, and it takes a while to do properly. I’ve heard all manner of sounds emitted during warm-ups. The point is that it is not supposed to be shared with millions of listeners. A generous singer will put something down the mic to help the engineer get their systems warmed up and at the right level, maybe whilst having a cup of herb tea and checking through lyrics before the session really kicks off. It’s not expected to be a ‘take.’

Whomever put this on the Internet must have done so in a spirit of unkindness, but it can in no way detract from the fact that Britney is and always will be beyond stellar! She is magnificent! And that’s that.

 

Central to this sycophantic treatise is the kill-an-ant-with-a-Howitzer effort to defend her by inserting meaningless frabba-jabba about engineers getting “their systems warmed up” (whaa?), and basically stating with a straight face that it’s pretty much standard for professional singers to sing dreadfully — and repeatedly – out of tune during warm-ups. Dude really wants to take a bullet for this girl, Lawd. Strikes me as somewhat desperate.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my take. I’ve read lots of pro-Britney comments on several websites. I’ll paraphrase some here, followed by my response.

  1. It’s no different than Photoshop for photography. It’s designed to improve a performance; there’s nothing wrong with that. Well now, that’s a matter of how you define “wrong,” isn’t it? In my mind, there is plenty wrong with floating your image as a singer, and not being able to deliver the goods. To me, that’s lying to your fan base. It’s duplicitous and smug. Isn’t there an emerging movement to pressure magazines to take the Photoshop fakery and dishonesty out of photography? If you’re gung-ho about leaving one’s natural beauty to shine through, but all wiggle-neck and wave-finger about defending Britney’s artificial sweeteners, well…that makes you a hypocrite.
  2. She’s never claimed to be a great singer; she’s just a great performer. And that’s just a great huge subjective generalization. I guess it depends on what you want for your $170 concert ticket. Me? If I’m going to hear someone who has a song in the charts (and is therefore classified as a “singer”), my expectations are that the singing will be outstanding. I don’t want to hear the singing get short-shrifted because the singer is completely winded from all the ubiquitous dancing (as if concertgoers can no longer be entertained by a singer at a mic; they must have shiny, fast-moving, TV-like things to look at onstage and on mile-high projection screens, or else they’re bored). I don’t want to hear pitch doctors at work, tip-toeing through a minefield of possible clinkers, or worse — watch a lip-synced performance. Where’s the authenticity in that?  I watched Britney dummy along to her songs last night. It was clutch. Only in America, folks. Only in America.
  3. Everyone uses Auto-Tune nowadays. This statement is tragic in more ways than one.  A. I’ve read several comments from studio engineers who dismissively claim that A-T is “no big deal” — that it’s a long-established industry standard for correcting “small imperfections” in singers’ intonation. Long-established, eh? Auto-Tune was rolled out by Antares Audio Technologies way back in 1997. By my calculation, it’s been an “industry standard” for about 17 years, in an industry that began in 1889. What on earth were bad singers supposed to do before 1997? Fix the mistakesthat’s what, although some major misjudgments did slip through the cracks from time to time. As much as I loved The Association, they by-crackie screwed the pooch on Cherish and Never My Love. I can barely stand to listen to them, which is a shame because I like the songs a lot. The Mamas & Papas committed the same crime in Monday, Monday. While it’s not a singing gaffe, I can’t listen to Wings’s Band on the Run, because McCartney’s bass is so out of tune, it ruins the whole thing. And have you suffered through Club Nouveau’s 1986 Lean on Me bridge recently? Oh, you must. I’ll wait here. The point is, where were these hotshot producers then? Who let this stuff slide, and why? I’d love to know. B. Not “everyone” uses Auto-Tune. What bothers me most, I think, is that such a large portion of the music-listening public thinks it’s totally acceptable to lay down garbage on tape and let producers fix it. You know, in the “old days,” there was a method for fixing out-of-tune singing in the studio. It was called “punching in/out,” whereby the offending phrase was recorded over by the singer. The artist — the person with the ears and the voice — did the fixing. I’ve done it myself in my own recording sessions, many times. What happened to that practice, and why is it OK in today’s recording culture for singers to walk into a booth, take a musical crap, and leave it for others to clean up later? The reasons are multi-layered and outside the scope of music, so I’ll leave it there for today.

Of course, the cure is to not listen to artists who bother you, or who thwack your intonation sensibilities. Better still, do listen to three singers who never had the Auto-Tune option, yet rarely ever recorded a single note that didn’t ring true: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and John Lennon. In the studio or live onstage — it made no difference. They were as near perfect as anyone could be. And no one “cleaned up” after them.

As for Britney:  she’ll get through this without a scrape. Naughty bits of this girl have been exposed in the media before, and it’ll likely happen again. I think she’s not devoid of singing talent, by the way. I think she sings music in keys that are way too low for her, and as any singer will tell you, doing so is decidedly unhelpful in the intonation department. She is also Queen of the Vocal Fry, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to cold-cock her for it. STOP *sLAp* singing like an idiot! But to paraphrase Boston, there’s just something about her that continues to boost her record sales. We won’t go into that today, either. :-D

Hey, it’s almost Finkday! What does it MEAN?? I don’t know!! I’m on vacation!

Words I Hate

8 July, 2014
Rat Fink

Am I mental? Probably. But as some of you may know, there are certain words and sayings I cannot abide (which of course means that all my friends and family who read this will henceforth endeavor to use them in a sentence every chance they get).

Why do I hate certain words/phrases? Several reasons: icky mouth feel, pretentiousness, misuse, mispronunciation, overuse, just plain dumb. Behold a partial list, because neither of us has that kind of time:

Words and Phrases I Hate

Beaucoup.  Now I love French, but when people mispronounce this particular word (“boo-coo”), I think violent thoughts. “He’s got boo-coo bucks to throw around.” Seriously, if you’re going to impress us with your cosmopolitan foreign language flair, you really need to get this right (“boe-coo”).

Treacly. Please. Simply say “overly sentimental.” The extra five syllables won’t kill you.

Interwebs. Just…

My bad. I know this might put me squarely in the fogie category, but as a teacher of 10- through 18-year-olds, I might be justified in wanting to drop people who say it.

My AMAZING boyfriend! It’s not that the words amazing and boyfriend are offensive; they’re not. It’s the constant use of them together to describe your sweetheart that makes me want to punch things. What amazes you about your boyfriend, truly? To be amazed is to be filled with astonishment; astounded, stunned, staggered, in awe, stupefied. That’s a tough gig for anyone to live up to, dudes. Again, maybe you don’t hear/see these things as often as I do because you don’t spend nine months a year with hundreds of teenagers.

Clutch. In addition to describing the mechanism that separates two drive shafts in a manual transmission automobile, or classifying a great play in sports that came just at the right time, clutch is now being used as a synonym for cool. “Those new Jordans are clutch!”  Oy.

Kiddos. When used as a ruffle-the-hair term of endearment to ONE person, it’s fine. Using it ad nauseam to refer to one’s children (or a classroom full of students) is like chewing foil. I’ve heard school administrators use it to the exclusion of all other words meaning “children” while giving a 30-minute speech. Dreadful. Why? I ask you. Why can’t everyone just follow my rules?

____ Porn. Food porn, shoe porn, dress porn…I can’t think of any other examples. Does using porn after something you can’t get enough of make you feel naughty? Well, bless your heart and good for you. Now put yourself in time-out.

Yummo! I’m serious. *KaBLaM*

Panties. Don’t say this word around me — especially with the words big girl anywhere near it.

Cutie Patootie. If Rosie O’Donnell said it once on her talk show, she said it 3249869384669846 times. Totally ruined it.

Tuckus. While we’re on the subject of butts: I hate this word, too. It sounds like someone trying to speak after having just bitten into a huge lemon. It’s also creepy; ventriloquistic and sneaky.

OK, OK. Enough’s enough. I hope that, while I really dislike these words and phrases, you can see it’s all done in fun. If you use these words, or if you’re particularly fond of some of them, I will apologize ahead of time for offending. It’s never my intention. I’m also prepared for the Godwin’s-Law-like comment(s), “Well, I hate the word [something I said above].” Go for it. I deserve it.

In fact, to illustrate my good will:  Tomorrow — Words I Love! ;-)