An Orgy of Tomato Goodness as the Garden Comes a Cropper

August 13, 2008

Fresh tomatoes in abundance adorn my daily table. This is my best crop ever. Fresh salsa and tomato-laden entrees are nightly dinner fare. After the backbreaking initial work and the tenacious nurturing the rewards of growing one’s own are many. I’ve been making sandwiches and tortilla wraps with Boca spicy organic chicken patties and combos of my own garden tomatoes, peppers and store-bought lettuce, ranch dressing and cheese. My fresh salsa recipe is simple: cut up a medium-sized tomato and supplement with a couple of grape tomatoes to add a tinge of sweetness, cut up a little onion (I only had some dried onion lately, as the pix attest, but they will do), cut up some of my home-grown jalapeno peppers, add a little black pepper and some cilantro (dried will do)—and that’s it. This is pretty basic, but the freshness can’t be beat, and the chunkiness and texture differ from the slimy store-bought stuff. Note that I had to use a champagne flute for my Sauvignon blanc because I finally broke the last of my wine glass set. Anyway here are some pix from some healthy, low-fat meals of the past few days. -EG


I Ate Spunk o’ the Otis … But Don’t Misunderstand

July 30, 2008

OK, so I know this is juvenile, but hey, I’m reading Howard Stern’s Private Parts right now so I’m in that mood. Normally I’m a fairly clean-living fellow so eating a processed industrial transfatty type thing like an Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate muffin would not happen. But a co-worker down the hall sells this junk for 50 cents, which is half the price of the friggin’ vending machine, and as I had an unrequited sugar/choco craving it had to be done. The quick and dirty food review: Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate muffins are not bad as plastic-wrapped industrial muffins go. They’re dry, but the list of ingredients is not as heinous as a lot of snack-cake type foods, the chocolate chips lend an extra richness, the portion size is ample and the taste is not overly chemical-like. This seems like damning with faint praise, but I ended up buying another one the next day. When I do things like this, I alter my diet the rest of the day and cut out further sugar or carb portions to help balance things out.

Heh, heh, heh, heh. Hey Beavis, he said ‘spunk,’ eh heh heh heh.

-EG


Tomatoes Beat the Prediction

July 10, 2008

I planted my backyard tomato and jalapeno pepper garden on Sunday May 11, a week and a day after the Kentucky Derby, and predicted a couple of weeks after that upon seeing the fast progress of the growth that I would be harvesting the first ripenings by July 20, but a number of factors seem to bode well for a harvest well before that date. First of all, the climate this summer in Kentucky, so far, has been superb for gardening – not too hot, adequate rainfall, relatively low humidity. Second, I really put a lot of work into proper soil preparation this time. Last year my first batch of tomatoes had to be tossed away due to rot, due to poor soil and underwatering. This past winter I composted a thick pile of leaves and pine needles from my yard and my next door neighbors’ and plowed as much of that under this spring as I could. Excess amounts were shoveled out into a compost pile outside the garden fence. Prior to the first turning of the soil by spade I added a few hundred pounds of peat humus and cow manure ($1.50 a bag at Meijer x how ever many bags) and then turned the soil over three times, once each weekend, before planting. Ever since I have been diligent about daily watering and weeding as much as possible. My weeding methodology is simple and organic and time-consuming: I pull the roots of the errant grass and clover and other undergrowth by hand. As of last week my first grape tomato was turning red and probably will be ready to pick by tomorrow or so, more than a week before my prediction. But let’s see how we do where it really counts: with the regular, full-sized tomatoes. I have some romas that are three inches long and looking about ready to turn. I have a good variety of tomato types: Mr. Stripey, Early Girl, Better Boy, Roma, grape and maybe a couple more. Also, the jalapeno peppers are coming along nicely. The mole who had dug a hole on the eastern edge of the garden has not been seen and evidently has not hurt the garden at all. Here are some pix of the lush garden. There won’t be any salmonella or pesticides in this harvest – just good eatin.’ -EG


Dow’s Port 1994: The Most Expensive Bottle of Wine I Ever Drank

June 24, 2008

It used to be that some male work buddies and I would assemble regularly after work at the home of one of the said acquaintances for drinking and guy films. However, the habit of my good compadres of knocking up their womenfolk led to a new era in which their babies became their new entertainment. Thus, “guys’ night out” fell victim to the monster who eats time and schedules and reasonable logistics. In other words, those days were gone.

Until a few weeks ago, that is. The wives of my buds were out of the picture for at least one night, so the dudes were able to revive the ole tradition and, as it happened, we did so without missing a beat. As usual I picked the films. I had built a good reputation in the group for selecting crowd-pleasing cinematic oddities not generally seen or known by my fellow revelers.

I brought my DVDs of 1971’s Vanishing Point and the 1978’s The Driver, two semi-poetic, vaguely existentialist car-chase cult movies from the decade that defined excellence in the form. The boys picked Vanishing Point as the lead-off, with The Driver as the alternate second movie if we still had the stamina, which we did. The first film, Vanishing Point, was the hit of the evening. The second film, The Driver, was liked by two out of three. I love them both, but consider The Driver the real masterpiece of that selection (and the only film in which Ryan O’Neal is actually a cool badass; I kid you not). I’ll spare you the film reviews for now.

A major reason for our assembly, though, was to enjoy various wines. We had an old vine zinfandel and a cheap sauvignon blanc, as well as some Pacifica beer, along with various olives, cheeses and a wheat-crust pizza.

The monster wine of the evening, though, was a big-boned, ultra-complex 1994 Dow’s Port, a wine that I had put down for cellaring after I bought a half-size bottle in the mid-1990s for about $25 (a full size bottle at the time was selling for $50 or so). In the interim, the value of that wine—considered one the greatest ports from one of the greatest port vintages of the century—had doubled. So, in effect, measured by the standard full-size bottle, we were drinking a $100+ wine. I’m not one with a big wine budget, so uncorking this baby was a special occasion, indeed.

Renowned wine author/critic Robert Parker had given this wine a 96 rating, making it the highest-rated wine I would so far consume.

We were not disappointed.

The first clue was the smell of the cork and sniff of the top of the bottle. The wine, which potentially could age successfully for decades, smelled luscious.

As a wine taster, I’m a bit of a disaster. I’m not the kind who can ascertain the particular herbs or spices or fruits of earthy tones that comprise the constituent parts of a “flavor profile.” But I do know when a wine has layers and complexity, and this one had those in a big way. So in lieu of that, I found this review at a blog called the Repository of Useless Information that does a good job of delineating/identifying some of the flavors I was tasting.

Dow’s 1994 was lifted and dark toned in fruit, mulberry, tar, blue flowers, but also some savoury notes of green tea and peach kernel. Sweet but savoury, very harmonious with no edges sticking out even though it is obviously very young, persistent and the aftertaste grows in the mouth. Lovely.”

Yes, it was a powerhouse. I’m not a fan of dessert-type wines, but there was so much going on in this one, including a cognac-like aspect that made it a lot better than icky super-sweet liqueurs and the like.

This was one of the best two or three wines I’ve ever tasted, about on par with some ’90s vintages bottles of French Burgundy (Pinot Noir) that was rated 95 and French Sauterne that was rated, I think, around 93.

That leaves my amateur cellar completely bare of any expensive, highly rated vintages.

Oftentimes disappointment follows upon tasting the results of a high wine expenditure, but in this case the most expensive wine I ever bought, and tasted, was worth every bit of the outlay, especially when sharing the experience with friends.

-EG


Ethanol Madness: Shove a Corncob You Know Where

June 12, 2008

I’m not a religious man, but I’m pretty sure that if there is a God he never intended corn to be burned for fuel, and to pollute the atmosphere on top of that.

The resulting squeeze on foodstocks and price rises that result in a time when so many are hungry has got to be a sin. (Not to mention the senselessness that producing corn in order to burn it wastes more energy than is ultimately produced). Surely, there must be a limit to the free market when it inflicts this much pain on so many. Those who really deserve the pain for letting this happen—the farmers who sell food to burn, the Archer Daniels Midland-type executives profiting from this insanity, and the politicians like Bush who allow it to continue—should all have big fat corncobs shoved up their asses.

-EG


Copyright Infringement is Your Best Entertainment Value

July 25, 2007

negativlandcopyrightinfringement.jpg(image from the website of that notorious culture-jamming band, Negativland.)

Now that I have your attention with that mildly transgressive idea, I don’t have much to tell you.

A whole lotta stuff in my life is heating up right now (plus I’m becoming a lazy blogger), so the postings during the summer are going to be few and far between.

I state this only in a desperate bid to ward off any thoughts by my regular readers and blogroll buddies (all three of them), to keep me on the radar and on their blogrolls.

Quick stuff and random thoughts:

** This is how an excellent music blog, Electric Mud handled its summer blogging status: He simply posts, “Closed for the Summer.” I won’t go that far, but it’s pretty close to what I’m doing here.

general_patton.jpg ** I remember my parents taking the family to the George S. Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Ky. back in the late ’60s. In those days the museum was in an unglamorous, almost barracks-like warehouse-type building painted a faint green. On the walls above the windows (which were open during the summer; no air-conditioned comfort back then) were painted large scenes of Huey helicopters in action, tilted downward and ready to swoop on the Red enemy (and whomever or whatever else was in the way). Accompanying these images was some kind of banner or tagline that in my fading memory read something like: “The machines that are winning the war.”

It was as ludicrous then as it is now.

scotts-classic-mower.jpg ** Just bought myself a Scotts Classic non-gasoline, non-electric, good ol’-fashioned human-powered lawn mower. They’re officially known as “reel” mowers, but most people I know refer to them as “push” mowers, which doesn’t quite work ’cause even most gas mowers need pushing. I haven’t had time to do the whole yard with it, but a test run on a patch of grass was successful, Anyway, I remember my grandparents having their own version of this, a rusty old hulk hanging in the garage, unused for years. By then they had succumbed to the temptations of the infernal gas-powered machine…

…the machines that are winning the war on weeds and grass.

It was as ludicrous then as it is now.

tomatoes-1-month_0730-11pct.jpg ** After a scary June in which my first batches of tomatoes rotted on the vine and I had to throw out at least two dozen, the veggies have since come in mostly unscathed, starting around July 4 and since then I haven’t had to buy a tomato, and probably won’t have to until September or so. I have 20+ various tomato plants this year, the most I’ve ever planted, including yellow/orange varieties and cherry tomatoes.

tomato-plate_1001-12pct.jpgI used no chemicals at all, the garden is wholly organic, except for the fluoridated & chlorinated tap water I reluctantly had to use for watering due to the sparseness of rain this summer ’round these parts.

That’s led to some good healthy snackin’–and a fresh tomato with dinner every night.

I’m also harvesting the hottest jalapeno peppers I’ve ever tasted…

white-castle-demo1005-13pct.jpg** What you’re seeing here is a very rare occurrence: the demolition of a White Castle restaurant. This is the one that until last week stood at what is now the corner of Westport Road and Hurstbourne Lane. (A new store opened a few yards away; see my previous posting about that…).

white-castle-demo1007-14pct.jpg

I happened to be biking by when the demolition exposed the wall insulation. It’s amazing how many interesting things you can capture when biking around freely and armed with a digicam.

I know when I was driving a car, having the time or inclination to do something like this (when getting through the green light was the most important thing in the world) would not have been possible. The blinders are off…

I leave you with this shot taken from the parking lot of the Kroger at approximately the same location a few weeks ago (July 7, 2007):

parkinglot-2-7-7-07.jpg

Enjoy the summer.

-EG


Rolling Rock: From the Mountain Springs of, er, Newark

June 11, 2007

Pardon me for being out of the news loop on this one, but somehow the whole controversy about last year’s demise of the original Rolling Rock beer and the closing of its Latrobe, Pa., brewery completely passed me by. That might be because I hadn’t really thought about or consumed this beloved product for many years.

A recent sale at Kroger and elsewhere that knocked $2 off the case price (from $11 to $9 for 12 bottles) made it an attractive buy again, so I decided to give the old “33” another try. It always was a nice, refreshing, light summer beverage, and so the timing seemed right.

Not being a connoisseur or of particularly sensitive palette, I had no idea whether the beer tasted any different than it used to. I assumed that everything was the same as before. The bottle looked the same… but then I looked closer.

On the front of the bottle, the locale of St. Louis was there instead of Latrobe, and on the back the famous old “pledge of quality” had a suspicious preface:

“To honor the tradition of this great brand, we quote from the original pledge of quality:”

After which followed the original pledge text: ” ‘From the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe / We tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the Mountain Springs to You ‘ ” ” ’33’ ”

The label changes alarmed me, so I looked at the 1-800 number on the case and noticed the words “Anheuser-Busch.” I called the number and got your garden-variety uninformed customer service rep and asked the question: “Where is Rolling Rock brewed and what is the water source?” And continuing, I asked, “Does Rolling Rock, in fact, come ‘from the mountain springs’ to me”?

After some hesitation, and the old ‘let me ask my manager’ schtick, I was told that Rolling Rock was bought by Anheuser-Busch and its brewing operation moved to Newark, New Jersey.

Rolling Rock is brewed from the municipal water supply of Newark, New Jersey.

That’s right, Newark, an EPA-Superfund site nightmare…

**(see rebuttal)

These are hardly mountain springs.

The customer service rep reminded me that the pledge comes with the caveat of its preface, which I understand, but still I believe it is entirely disingenuous, and fraudulent, to continue to run the old ‘mountain springs’ claims on the bottle.

The one bright spot is that the Newark Municipal water supply is not contaminated with added fluoride, unlike most big city water supplies across the country.

As for the taste of the “new” Rolling Rock, this fellow detected a decided difference.

As for me, I thought the beer tasted OK. Pretty much the same old refreshing summer beverage as far as I could tell.

My palette is not sophisticated enough to discern if the evidently heightened citrus taste is actually dioxin or herbicides or whatnot.

-EG

** I’ve been effectively rebutted on this point, as you can see in the comments below and on this posting issued by our playful ombudsman: Rick Was Misinformed About the Waters of Newark.


Does Evian Give You the Runs? Verdict Inconclusive

May 23, 2007

100_0565-13.jpgI’ve had lots of bottled waters but have to admit that I’d never tried the much-vaunted French H2O, Evian, until this weekend. Walgreen’s has it on sale this week for $1 for a large 1-liter bottle, which makes this usually pricey item affordable to me, and thus worth a try. I have to say, it’s pretty good, not as soft as I might have expected, but nicely neutral with no hint of plastic that I can detect; the product comes in what seems to be a pretty good grade of hard PET plastic. By chance, I was store hopping on my bike on Sunday and crossed paths with my next door neighbors. I mentioned to them that I had just bought this Evian for the first time and the good lady informed me that she had tried it once and got such a severe case of the runs that she was laid up for a day. “That’s ’cause it’s mineral water,” she explained. Sounded kinda unpersuasive to me. Although Evian does have a lot of dissolved minerals, I don’t think they’d cause diarrhea. As it turns out, though, I’ve been a little excessively “regular” ever since I started drinking this stuff a few days ago, but that’s probably because I concurrently developed a craving for raisins that I have satisfied to excess by downing handfuls of the sweet shriveled grapes. I think it can be reasonably assumed that my regularity-in-overdrive can be attributed to this, not the water.

Anyway, there is another question that comes up in regard to Evian that I can’t seem to find a good, conclusive answer for (at least in searching the discussion boards via google)—and that is: Why is there a tiny “do not refill” command on the label?

The various posited internet speculations include things such as:

** “Evian knows that if consumers are so stupid to buy bottled water in the first place they will blindly follow any command on the bottle and continue to spend more money on new bottles instead of refilling them.”

** “The plastic in the bottles begins breaking down immediately, putting excess chemicals into the water.”

** “Unscrupulous entrepreneurs and bartenders have refilled empty Evian bottles with tap water and sold them as new.”

All, some or none of these may be true, or not.

Since the 1-800-633-3363 Evian consumer number is printed right next to the warning, I decided to go ahead and give them a call and ask.

A rep by the name of Sofien politely explained: “Evian is bottled under strict sanitary conditions,” which are not replicated when consumers refill and reseal the bottles.

So Evian considers it a customer safety issue. I find it hard to argue with that reasoning. Whether it’s entirely true or not is up to you.

-EG


Mexican Granola and Other Crap

May 22, 2007

Pardon me for being effusive, scattershot and probably tangential. And also lightweight.

But I’m going to be.

You see, ever since I’ve been doing this blogging thing, I’ve accumulated notes-filled paper scraps about stuff I want to write about here at Gravy Bread.

And the ideas—and the little sheets of paper—have outpaced my ability and time to address it all.

So in this super post I’m going to sort of “bullet-point” some of these nagging bits and get them, and the sheets of paper, out of the way.
That won’t leave much room for essay-like detail or probing analysis.

Maybe another time.

I start with something we all like and sort of need: food.

100_0338-10.jpgHere we have a new product: Nature Valley Crunchy 100 percent natural cereal with granola bar pieces, made by General Mills—an attempt to morph its popular granola bars into a mini cereal version. This ain’t a review, but for the record the cereal would be better with just the flakes and without the much-touted granola bar pieces, which are way too sweet. So I’m not recommending…
What really disturbed me about the product, though, was a little info offered at the bottom on one side of the box. I think you can read it. It says: Product of Mexico. That’s right. Somehow, I always assumed that major, everyday brand-name flag-wavin’ and ‘Merkin as apple pie General Mills food products like this would always be made in the USA. After all, how is it efficient for a US company to make a food product and then have to ship it all the way back into the country?100_0342-10mex.jpg

So, now food has gone the way of other manufacturing, jobs and everything else that corporate America has shipped away. I don’t think we can last long as a nation of burger flippers or paper pushers trading stocks on the internet…producing nothing but electronic zaps of hope and greed. As for food cleanliness standards abroad, do the words, “pet food” sound any alarms? Then again, we had our own self-inflicted dirty spinach fiasco of last fall, and e. coli and salmonella scares all the time, thanks to our severely screwed-up, de-toothed, de-balled and underfunded inspection system.
So, in conclusion, add General Mills to your list of corporate American traitors…

100_0528-103rdeye.jpgIf you’re out there on the road on a bicycle you might want to get past the initial sticker shock of paying $15 for a tiny 1-inch mirror and go ahead and get it anyway. That’s because the Third Eye Pro bike helmet mirror is one of the best safety investments I’ve ever made. I picked one up at Bardstown Road Bicycles, slapped the little two-sided glue sticky slab onto the oblong attachment surface, placed it onto the left side of my helmet just above and to the side of my eye and now have a great view of everything behind me. No more dangerous and nerve wracking head-turning every few seconds to see what’s doing in the rear, as it were. The alternate idea of100_0526-15-3rdeye.jpg putting a mirror on the handlebar is a bad one, I think, (rattles around, interferes with hand movement and grip, prone to theft and breakage, etc) compared to this compact and easy helmet solution.

I love this thing and find it indispensable out on the dangerous streets. Plus it makes you look like the Borg and is thus a great conversation starter. I’ve noticed that women seem fascinated by it, for some reason.

labrea-breads.jpgSmart shoppers know that checking the deli bread area at Kroger every few days can pay off, because the expensive artisan breads often get slashed in half or more in price as the expiration date looms. Which means the chance to try expensive products I might otherwise overlook. So when I saw a “$1.05” markdown sticker on something called “La Brea” honey rolls. I gave ‘em a shot. They’re packed in a yellow paper sack with a plastic view window (nice to make sure there’s no mold). There are about six of these three-inch rectangular semi-hard buns in the bag. I ate a couple of them at room temp with cheese and was not too impressed, but when I heated them for a minute or two in the toaster oven and schmeared some real butter on ‘em they were kickass delish! (OK, so this time I didn’t “buy local;” they come from California.)

100_0524-60moon.jpgGood grief, I’ve already run out of energy and there’s still dozens of little sheets of paper. Sorry this ended up sounding like a bunch of product reviews. But in that vein, here’s a shot of the moon I took about 6:40 a.m. two weeks ago, with a lowly Kodak EasyShare digital camera. Not bad, considering…

Anyway, the super post will continue when we meet again…

–EG ( who made no money on any of these endorsements!)


Postal Service Joins the Price Gouge Parade: or, Peanuts Don’t Cost Peanuts Anymore

May 14, 2007

costbill.jpgI knew postage would be more expensive today. The news media has been saying so for weeks. And I was prepared for a modest hike.

But consider this.

In order to help myself get by in this increasingly expensive world, I sell small items on Amazon and sometimes Ebay, mostly VHS videotapes and CDs that are out of print or rare or relatively so, and mostly at $6 or less.

Normally, sending a videotape via media mail has cost $1.59, almost without exception.

Today, it was $2.13, each. That’s $4.16 just to send two videos, one of which I only sold for $6, minus the various fees and commissions. (First class would be even more, around $2.50). In the end, the best I made in profit was $1.50.

Guess where all my $6 videos are going from now on? In my mother’s yard sale. I’d rather clear a straight up $2 than put up with any more of this shit.

So, thanks USPS for joining the price-gouge parade and driving the super-small businessman further into the fringes of the black-market economy.

For my part and doubtless the thousands of others who will follow, Amazon will get a taste of this when I de-list several hundred small items from my current listings.

I know Amazon is in no danger from this and that they don’t care.

Everytime Amazon ups the amount they charge buyers for shipping costs, the amount they reimburse me is supposed to increase to cover that, but in fact is always eaten up by the concurrently rising commission that Amazon, Ebay and the rest always end up charging.

So, enough’s enough.

coststoomuch_.gif

You can add postage to the list of things that used to be marginal, insignificant costs of living that now have gotten out of control and become luxuries: things like health coverage (remember how this used to be like, $25 a month, and that was with real insurance, not HMO crap). My family coverage—and this is not even the high-end product—is more than $500 a month. In other words, not too far from the cost of a home mortgage.

And I’m stuck with it.

Despite the spurious cost-of-living index malarkey we’re always fed (somehow the index never seems to surpass 1 percent even as gasoline, home heating oil, health insurance, car insurance and everything rises in double digits), you literally have to be Rockefeller today just to eke out a pale imitation of the decent middle-class lifestyle we had in the 1970s and before.

costpeanuts.jpg

A couple of bucks worth of peanuts

A can of peanuts, and I’m talking a tiny 9 ounce can of lowly Planters Cocktail nuts, pushes the $3 to $4 range.

Are you friggin’ kidding me?

And paper towels. not only are they now about the circumference of a measley baseball bat, but they all cost more than $1 each. A two-pack is more than $2.

Give me a friggin’ break.

One item that seemed to be holding the line was Vo5 Shampoo. This staple bottom-of-the-price-line hair cleaner always stayed under a dollar, but not anymore. Kroger finally succeeded in getting even that to surpass its vaunted dollar price point: $1.05.

There’s a lot of stuff I wanted to comment on regarding how this all came to be, but I just don’t have time to do the analysis.

I’m too busy trying to make enough bread to buy peanuts. Or should I call them “caviar on trees”?

-EG