Category Archives: Legacy Blogs

Blogs prior to 10 October 2011.

The Dirty Vodka Martini

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I’ll never forget my first martini, which happened to be a dirty vodka martini.  I was in an upscale restaurant and the bartender really knew her stuff.   The martini was extra dry, ice cold and had a hint of olive.  The vodka didn’t overpower the drink nor did the olive take center stage.  It was smooth going down and pleasant to taste.

I’ll also never forget the first time I tried to duplicate that perfect martini at home.  Not knowing the slightest thing about vodka (or how to concoct a martini for that matter), I went out and got a bottle of Absolut.  I then grabbed the first bottle of vermouth I saw and grabbed a jar of “martini” olives, soaked in vermouth.  Reading some recipe found in one of those “bartender” guides you see in TJ Maxx for $1.99, I carefully measured 2 oz. vodka and about ½ oz. of vermouth.  I then added five olives …more is better, right?!  Well, the martini was not even drinkable.  One taste and I was sickened.  The vermouth overpowered the drink and the vodka was harsh and cheap.  Then I got hit with the brininess of the vermouth-soaked olives.  Yech!

Years later, I like to think that I have learned a thing or two about how to make the proper dirty vodka martini.  Better than the first one I had, I have tweaked my own recipe over the years.  Here’s a general description of how I do it:

First, start with some good vodka.  My friend loves the extol the virtues of potato based vodka, and to some extent I agree with him that premium potato vodkas are excellent.  But the bottom line is that you need to shell out enough cash to get a premium vodka that works for you.  However, finding the one particular vodka that is right for you requires serious (read: expensive) experimentation.

Next…what good is a premium vodka if you are going to add cheap or old vermouth?  A bottle of Martini & Rossi Extra Dry from your local supermarket is not exactly a bad vermouth…but it is not a good one either!  Gallo?  Nah…still cheap.  Martini Bianco?  Nope.  Cinzano?  Getting there…  Lillet Blanc?  Not really a vermouth…so not really a martini!    Noilly Prat?  Now we’re talking.  Vya?  Very nice.  And guess what?  Vermouth doesn’t last forever…it goes bad…and you need to replace it!  (Hint: Store in refrigerator)

Ok…so you went out and got some premium vodka and some top shelf dry vermouth.  Now what?  Olives.  My ideal pick is the feta-stuffed olives from Whole Foods.  At around $7.99 for 12 olive oil cured gems, they aren’t cheap.  But again, why add cheap ingredients to premium vodka?  For the brine, I tend to like the Santa Barbara olives (unstuffed)….but any olive brine will do.

Now that you have all the ingredients…time to make the dirty martini.  Fill a cocktail shaker (a stainless steel one) with good ice (not that white refrigerator ice-maker stuff).  Add 2 oz. vodka and about to ¼ tsp. dry vermouth.  Add about 1 tsp. olive brine.  Shake vigorously.  Immediately pour into a chilled martini glass.  Spear one olive of your choice and add it to the martini.  Now go savor the martini…preferably away from any kind of stressful situation (such as spouses, kids, etc.)

Like gin martinis?  Bombay is great stuff…but go try Hendrick’s and repeat the above recipe, replacing the vodka with the gin.  Enjoy!

The Free Car/iPad scam at Airport Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep

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My wife got the mail 4 days ago and one of the letters was from Airport Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Orlando.  The letter referred to a contest the dealership was running.  Simply match the provided number to one of three scratch off numbers and you are ‘guaranteed’ to win one of four prizes: a $250 gift card, a PT Cruiser, an iPad, or $100 cash.  I usually throw these things away, but in this case, I decided to take the time to read the fine print.  Amazingly, the fine print did not have any of the usual caveats.

Back in the day, the local news had an investigative consumer fraud reporter named Ellen McFarlane.  One of Ellen’s basic tenets was “If something sounds too good to be true…it probably is.”  One thing Ellen was passionate about was fighting scams that promised something for nothing.  With that in mind, I wanted to see just how shady and manipulative this dishonest car dealer could be…I decided to “take the bait.”

Upon arriving at the dealer,   the first thing that struck me was that you have to go through a whole layer of salespeople just to get into the showroom, only to then be harassed by another several layers of dealers.  And once you make it past these dealers, you can look at the vehicles.  Armed with the letter, we went in.  We went straight to the information desk, but got tackled by the young “Angelo” who was (you guessed it!) “new” on the job.

I produced the letter.  I showed it to Angelo.  He didn’t even break a smile.  He whisked us straightaway to a “conference” table.  At the table, he was matter-of-fact.  “Are you even in the market for a car?”  My answer: “Not really.  We came in for the letter.”  “No problem” he said.  He took us over to a large display board.  “So what this letter is about is you get a $2900 check to put towards a new car.  And you can compare against the dealer board to see if you’ve won something.”  And of course, we didn’t win the car, nor the iPad.  Nor the $100 cash.  But we did “win” the $250 gift card.

Now let me stop here for a moment.  So far, according to the terms of the flyer, we DID win something. And according to the dealer, we DID win something.  So far, everything seemed legal to me.  And as an aside, I was really prepared to duke it out with them, thinking the whole thing was a scam, but more on that later.

According to Angelo, the next step toward claiming the prize was to “have a look around” at some of the cars.  Angelo was green.  He had no idea how to sell a car.  No idea how to motivate a buyer.  He just sort of walked about, showing me Jeep Laredo’s when I asked to see SUVs and Trucks.  But whatever…I didn’t mind seeing them.  After looking at a few nice vehicles, we decided to go claim the prize.  Angelo did the right thing and got us some flyers and contact information.  After that, he said “let me go get your prize.”  Shortly thereafter, he came back with the gift card.  He said “Simply log on to the website listed on the card to claim your prize.”

When we got home, I went to the card’s website, entered the username and PIN.  We were then told that we had “$250 to spend.”  The problem:  everything to choose from on the site was pure junk.  These were items that the dollar store would reject!  Undeterred, I still decided to get a few pen sets for emergency gift reserves.  At $99.99 each, I got 2 pen sets.  Then I went to check out.  The checkout process said I needed to pay $39.99 shipping.  No problem, I thought.  The GC had $50 left on it… Unfortunately, the website said “gift card value cannot be used to pay for shipping.  Shipping must be via a major credit card.”

So that’s the scam.  Lure you in and have you “win” a $250 gift card.  Then find out that the $250 can only be redeemed for worthless junk IF you pay upwards of $40 of your own money for “shipping and handling.”

So what did I learn?  Like Ellen said – you can’t get something for nothing.  I also solidified my belief that this car dealer is unfair.  They are the worst lot of people, pun intended.  I bet these scoundrels would sell their own mothers for profit.  And guess what:  I will NEVER, EVER do business with them.  Imagine that…give a man a raw deal and then expect his future business!  That $250 gift card just cost them untold amounts of money on a future purchase + service calls.  The last laugh is on me.

And guess what…I am not finished with them yet.  My original mission was to expose their scam.  So I have forwarded a report to all of the major news stations – consumer fraud department.  There may not be a legal leg to stand on here…but there certainly is an ethical one.

Summer Break: An Important Time for Kids

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Just like everyone else around my age group, I tend to sometimes look back at the summers of my youth and recall how endless they seemed to be.  I can clearly recall the last day of school – impatiently running home to start the process of doing absolutely nothing.  Sure, my parents had me do some activities during the summer, but for the most part, I was left to my own devices.

Both of my parents worked, and I grew up in a lake house in what used to be a small town.  Our back yard was big, and the undeveloped areas beyond that yard were even bigger.  I had a bike, and I rode it every day.  We had a vegetable garden, which I learned to master in those harsh summer months.

One of the things about summer that I most dearly recall is that I always ended my summer break with some sort of wisdom, insight or experience.  Though left to my own devices, my parents did not let me sit idly by, watching mindless TV shows and munching on chips all day in an air-conditioned room.  They gave me jobs and duties, which I did, usually with some measure of reluctance.  But the point is, I did them.  And by doing those mundane tasks and chores, I found myself.  I found out who I was, and others gained insight into my character.  Did I do the job half-assed, or was it done right?

Summers also taught me to build friendships, and showed me how they can be broken down.  I learned a lot about fending for myself, recognizing danger, and making moral choices.  Summers defined me much more than did those droning days of public school.

Many things threaten to take away summer break from our kids these days.  Electronic devices, which were not prevalent (read: non-existant) in my youth are now commonplace.  Most kids these summers sit behind walls and play games or text message one another all day.  Most kids are not given responsibilities or tasks.  Most kids are not reprimanded for staying up past reasonable hours.  Most kids do not have the time, nor the desire to find themselves.  They do not develop their character.  Instead, corporations and academia seeks to entrap these kids in the endless loop of desiring money and material things.  Lazy parents, who don’t want to do that thing called parenting, drop off their kids at day-camps, sporting events, and other activities that expend energy but return little to nothing.

Reading over summer break is a thing of the past.  Most kids don’t even own a book.  Those that do can’t hold them in their hands.  Instead, they strain to see the text on Kindles, iPads and other distracting gadgets.  Before flipping to page two, they are responding to some cryptic text message.

If you are a parent, remind yourself that summers can be magical times for the development of your child.  Don’t dump them off in summer camp just to get rid of them.  Help them grow.  Give them things to do.  Let them experience danger and choices that might affect them.  See how they react, and shape them.  If you are not a parent and you are reading this, then put down the iDevice.  Do something physical…it will strengthen your physical body and will provide an opportunity to develop your mental/spiritual body as well.  Go out there and have a great summer!

iPod Touch and no Wireless Internet access?

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Hypothetical situation: You are sitting at work and you have an iPod Touch.  You want to be able to connect the Touch to the internet, but your company only has wired internet access. 

Out of luck?  Not so fast.  Now there are dozens of forums out there for this type of information, but most of these forums are infested with socially maladjusted lurkers who are just waiting for you to ask a question as simple as “How do I connect an iPod Touch to the Net if there is no wireless connection?”  They will either tell you it can’t be done or that you should not be considering it in the first place.  You will never, ever get any useful answer from a forum. 

Here’s how it is done.  You will need a computer with a wired internet connection and you will need the administrative priveleges to modify Network Connection settings.  I am also assuming you have a Windows box…I know nothing about Mac’s.  Next, you will need a (preferably) USB based wireless internet card. 

Start by installing the wireless internet card.  I mention a USB based model because you probably don’t want to mess up your laptop or desktop’s wireless settings unless you absolutely have to.  Also, when your IT guy walks by, you can always yank the USB stick and act innocent 🙂

So go to Network Connections from Control Panel and right click on the wireless device you just installed.  Choose properties.  On the Wireless Networks tab up top, click Advanced under Preferred Networks  Make the wireless device Computer-to-Computer (ad hoc) Networks Only.  Uncheck the box about connecting to non-preferred networks.  Now that you are back to the Wireless Networks dialog, click Add… under Preferred Networks.  Make up an SSID for the device you added and select WEP data encryption.  Put in a 5 digit passphrase for now.  Beef it up after this is working.

Now go back to Network Connections and right click on your wired Local Area Network connection.  Do Properties, Advanced and check the box on “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet Connection.”  Click OK.

On the iPod Touch, enable wireless and select the SSID of the wireless device you installed.  Emter your WEP passphrase.  You should now be connected to the net on your Touch through your wired connection!  If not, then I have probably left something out…the premise though is that you use ICS to share your primary wired internet connection.  By making your wireless card an ad-hoc computer to computer access point, your iPod should be able to connect to that device and share the wired connection.

Now…this is not a detailed walkthrough, but intended to show you that it IS possible to do the impossible.  Unfortunately, for every good thing humanity does, there is always an evil IT guy out there writing policies to make your life harder, less productive and more miserable.  So what I’m saying is that this may be against company policy…I don’t know.

Insert Name Here For The Cure

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Once again, I find myself blogging on the preponderance of what I call “Cure Causes.”  It started this weekend when I went to Whole Foods to get some heirloom tomatoes and carrots.  At the checkout line, the cashier said “I have added $1 too support “Pink For the Cure Women’s Health Care Awareness.  If you don’t want to contribute then I can adjust your ticket.”  This really got me on multiple levels.

I did not want to contribute, and I was perturbed at Whole Foods’ tactic of “charge first, adjust later.”  I suspect that 90% of the population would say “That’s fine” and go about their way.  But I have issues with this tactic.  Asking me is irritating, but forcing it on me is unacceptable.  If I want to contribute to something, I will go out and find something to contribute to.

Then there is the whole “Pink” movement.  Pink has somehow simultaneously become the spokescolor for both “Cancer Survivors” and “Breast Health Awareness.”  And 90% of it has gets filtered into the deep pockets of some bloated brass and glass “institute” like Susan G. Komen.   “Pink” has become a multi-million dollar marketing ploy all by itself.  There are pink T-Shirts, pink ribbons, pink coffee mugs and even pink colored topiaries in Home Depot for your yard.

My next irritation factor is that I know of no organization that has ever, ever, ever contributed to research that has developed ANY cure for ANY disease or factor.  Have you?  Has diabetes been cured?  Has AIDS been cured?  Do women now live a life without worry of breast cancer?  No, these diseases are still rampant.  Why?  Because people refuse to alter their unhealthy lifestyles.  I believe there are preventative measures for at least reducing the statistical probability of bad news…but I do not believe that Big Pharma holds the key to salvation from disease.

My final gripe is that a friend told me he braved wet and cold this weekend to participate in a 30 mile bike race “for the cure” of diabetes.  I asked him to which diabetes foundation his efforts would contribute.  His answer: “I think JDF, but it might be some other organization.”  I asked him if he had seen the charitable donation disclaimers and how much of his dollar would go to the actual cause versus “overhead and administrative costs.”  He stared at me blankly and said “but I rode 30 miles in the cold and rain!!”

Fact is, not many know what percentage of their “contribution” is going to fund research to “cure” these horrid diseases.  Some may be totally dishonest.  Some may not.  I did an investigation of this sort of thing many years ago and concluded that typically a dollar bill will be divided such that 66% of it goes to the cause and 33% of it goes to a fat cat’s wallet.  I have also personally known people at the top of these ladders, and I assure you that they were getting new Mercedes Benz automobiles every year.

I am just so tired of EVERYone trying to gouge my money, often by guilting me into contributing.  Some lackeys are on the side of the road collecting money in a boot.  Are they legit?  Who knows.  Kids are hosting a car wash…are they legit?  Who knows.  “Walk for the cure” spams me and cold calls me.  Are they legit?  Who knows.

I am very, very careful about my contributions, and I do contribute to certain causes.  You should also be cautious…and realize that you might be imposing a tax on yourself without even realizing it just to fatten some CEO’s wallet.

Manatees are still prevalent in Blue Spring

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We took a ride up to Blue Spring in Orange City this weekend to see the manatees.  We were not disappointed!  There were around 80 manatees in the spring on the cold Sunday afternoon, and the park was quite full.  In fact, we had to park in the auxillery parking lot and fight crowds to see the majestic sea cows.

Most of the manatees were at the river-end of the run, but there were some of them in the boil itself and along the run.  Most of them had deep scars, and there were a few young ones too. 

We took Lilly to see them (who is 4)…she was excited to see them and had many questions.  I hope she will be able to see them when she grows up.

One manatee in particular was very curious about us and very friendly.  He was marked “A6”.  I don’t know what that marking refers to or who is tracking the animal.  Perhaps it cross-references to a name and point of origin. 

Honey Toasted versus Honey Roasted Peanuts

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While on a recent flight, I was handed some Southwest Honey Roasted Peanuts.  In my carry-on bag, I had some other snacks, including a sleeve of Lance Honey Toasted Peanuts.  Naturally, that led me to this discussion, which is all about the difference between Honey Roasted and Honey Toasted.

First, let’s talk about Honey Roasted.  Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat.  Roasting using a dry heat source usually results in a Malliard reaction, or a form of non-enzymatic browning typically referred to as caramelization.  Dry roasted nuts are typically browned without the additional of oil.  But honey roasted refers to a cooking method in which butter and honey are mixed and applied to the surface area of the item that is to be dry roasted.  So, in effect, honey roasted peanuts are tossed in a butter-honey slurry and baked in an oven.

Honey Toasting is a slightly different process but it yields the same result, though the nuts will be browner.  Toasted nuts are usually toasted using a direct heat source, such as adding them to a skillet and stir frying them in hot oil.  However, many proprietors use “honey toasted” as a selling point against “honey roasted”, claiming that honey toasted nuts use less oil, and have less fat, less saturated fat, less sodium and fewer calories than regular roasted nuts.  In the end, the roasted nuts are probably better in that they come in less contact with saturated fats or cooking oils. 

Looking at the Lance packaging, I was surprised to see it say “Fresh roasted peanuts with a golden honey glaze.”  I was happy to see Honey as an actual ingredient, whereas the Southwest ingredient list read like this: Peanuts, Dry Roasted with Salt, Honey and Tapioca Dextrin.  The ingredient list of the Lance honey toasted peanuts is a bit longer overall: Peanuts, Sugar, Peanut Oil and/or Cottonseed Oil, Dextrose, Salt, Honey, Modified Wheat Starch, Soy Lecithin, Molasses, Guar Gum, Artificial Flavoring.

From this ingredient listing, you can see the difference in roasted versus toasted.  With roasted, the peanuts are put in an oven and allowed to dry out & lightly brown.  With toasted, the peanuts are fried in peanut and/or cottonseed oil until much browner. 

What about Tapioca Dextrin?  Tapioca dextrin is created by the breakdown of tapioca starch.  It is a filler.

In conclusion – I think Honey Roasted nuts edge out Honey Toasted in terms of health.  For flavor, toasted is the way to go, provided the oil used for toasting was fresh.