The cold that nearly ate Christmas vacation

The night before Christmas Eve, my wife came home with a sore throat. Colds are very bad news in our house, because often we both catch them and when I get a cold, it tends to go to my lungs. This of course was the worst timing, so I decided that if I got this thing, I was gonna kick it in the teeth. And Christmas night, my sore throat began. It was time to spring into action.

I went after this cold with nearly everything I could. After doing some online research, there seems to be some consensus that vitamin C is helpful after all, and so is garlic, and zinc I already knew about. I’ve been out of my preferred zinc lozenges for some time, that have echinacea as well as vitamin C, but I decided to forge ahead using my wife’s Cold-EEZE. Online it was said that rather than take these every four hours as I’ve always done, it should be every two—so I did just that, that night and on the following day.

When Monday rolled around my sore throat was of course worse, but it was time to go beyond lozenges and really get tough with it. I took a 1500 mg vitamin C pill early in the day, along with 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 that also is known for boosting the immune system and other goodness. (It’s not like I was going to go out that day, so sunshine would not have gotten the job done.) I gargled with salt water right away to help my throat. Then I opened up a squeeze container of minced garlic, poured off the excess liquid, squeezed out a couple of cloves’ worth onto a spoon, and swallowed it down. Then, a zinc lozenge.

Throughout the day I repeated the garlic and zinc every two hours, and the salt water gargling a few times whenever my throat got very bad. I had another 1500 mg of vitamin C and a multivitamin later. By the end of the day I didn’t feel as horrible as I thought I ought to, and I slept incredibly well that night (with the help of generic NyQuil of course). And the next day most of my symptoms were practically gone. Sometime on Tuesday my nose did start running, but not for very long, and while I did eventually develop a bit of a cough it was mostly a dry one with hardly anything in my chest. I lapsed on the zinc and garlic around midday that Tuesday, because I felt they’d done their job. I did however make sure I kept up with vitamin C and D3.

I kicked my cold in the teeth. By that Friday, just before New Year’s Eve, all I had was the dry cough and that was fairly easy to control. It never set up shop in my chest in any serious way, which is a rarity. And I think for the most part, the accelerated zinc schedule and especially the fresh minced garlic did the trick.

What I read online about garlic is that fresh is better, so I figured the stuff in the squeeze bottle was close enough. The ingredient you want from it is called allicin. If you have a fresh clove, you want to crush it to get the allicin production started and then eat it after a few minutes. Cooked garlic loses some of this, but it’s better than nothing.

The next time I get sick, this is what I plan to do:

  • Immediately start taking zinc lozenges every two hours.
  • Immediately start eating about 2-3 cloves of fresh minced garlic every two hours.
  • Take about 3,000 mg of vitamin C a day.
  • Take about 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for the first 2-3 days.

It’s all about getting aggressive with the virus right off the start. It worked wonders for me this time.

As an interesting footnote, not only did my wife’s symtoms persist for longer (she took zinc less often, and no garlic), but she had a bit of a relapse around New Year’s Eve. She’s better now, and as colds go this one wasn’t the worst we’ve ever encountered, but I think this proof of concept worked out marvelously.

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Christmas vacation on short notice

Christmas is sneaking up on me this year. I’ve been listening to Christmas music of course, and the tree is up, but we’re at less than two weeks now and I still have a lot of shopping to do. It’s actually quite alarming how much remains. The fact that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year is a huge fly in the ointment, and it’s made planning get-togethers a lot more difficult.

This year I got my new tree, because the old one was shedding exponentially more needles every year. The bad news is, the new tree is hinged. Apparently they all are now. Hinged trees are supposed to be a snap to assemble, but try doing it in a corner sometime and then tell me that with a straight face. And that includes lighting the thing. I think next year I’m going to have to physically move the tree further out into the living room—a process that involves moving a chair that has nowhere to go—to get this thing done. But at least it looks nice. The lighting troubles meant I ran out of tree before finishing the colored lights, so I ran the rest of them through the middle instead of the blue strand I used to do. I miss the blue strand, because that was kind of a tradition when I was a kid, but I can live with it this way; I ran out of time and patience to even think of adding it this year.

The next two weeks leading up to Christmas are also going to be pretty full. Right now I’m trying to tie up some work projects, getting my next book ready to upload, getting ready to market said book, preparing for some work flow changes that promise to be both annoying and exciting, and somewhere in there I have to get more shopping done. And wrapping; I can’t forget the wrapping.

But with time flying by I need to do one other thing: It’s time to seriously start planning my Christmas vacation.

This year instead of big movie or TV marathons, I’m thinking of doing some gaming. It feels more active somehow. (Stop snickering.) Still, I’ll have to work in some time to watch a few movies, and especially some MST3K and Stooges. The reason for that is, of course I want to cook up some special food and you can’t play an RPG while eating a cube steak.

I’ve mentioned my favorite sandwich before, and this time I won’t bother linking to it because it’s come up enough. Two years ago I tried to cook it sous vide, but I realized it just didn’t have enough time to soften the meat to make it worth my while, unless I was willing to get up early which defeats the purpose. Last year I got a mini broiler pan, and that actually worked a lot better for cooking, except of course that did nothing to soften the meat either. What I’m starting to wonder is if this cube steak approach is all wrong, and I should be using a top-quality cut instead, like maybe a thin ribeye. And maybe I’ll have to try that before Christmas, just to see. The problem with that of course is that such steaks are not sandwich-sized.

Let’s talk cheese. Cheese fries are on the menu at some point. I also want to experiment again with making slices of melt-friendly cheese via sodium citrate and, now that I have some, sodium hexametaphosphate. And it’s been quite a while since I last made any mozzarella. (I very much love my homemade mozzarella, prosciutto, and basil rolls, but they’re a lot of work. I’m thinking I should just buy some for the break, instead of making them. But still I should make mozzarella anyway, either straight or marinated.) Oh, and this year Hickory Farms brought back their bacon cheddar.

Basically my dreams are small, but I’m expecting to enjoy them thoroughly. Games, meat, MST3K, mushrooms, more games, cheese, Stooges, popcorn. Maybe I’ll build a Lego set too, which is always a fun time. At the closing of the year, it’s always worth it to revel in the holiday and enjoy the freedom I’m blessed to have; not everyone can get that week off, after all. And it’s important that I punish my body for getting older, with all the things it could consume with ease when I was half my age; it needs toughening up.

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Poor man’s cinnamon rolls

Cinnamon is a weird spice for me. I like it, but only in moderation. It’s a spice that doesn’t know its place, because it shows up in all kinds of things where it doesn’t belong. Applesauce, for one; oh sure, some people like it that way, and that’s fine, but I want my applesauce to taste like apples. Sara Lee puts it in their cheesecake bites, proving their famous slogan entirely wrong; cinnamon distracts from the flavor of the cheesecake. Most coffee cakes are better without it, and when it comes to donuts I’m always incensed that they stick the cinnamon ones in the middle of the variety pack—where the strong flavor contaminates the plain and powdered sugar donuts both!

But I do like cinnamon, when it isn’t being abused.

This is the prelude to a story about my grandmother, and one of the ways I fondly remember her. She was an excellent cook, although I never did go in for rice pudding (her signature dessert) or a lot of the Italian food she often made, because I’ve always been picky. Her chicken cutlets, though, were second to none, and even typing those words my mouth is watering and my stomach is gurgling at the thought of those pan-fried goodies. I haven’t had her chicken cutlets for many years, and yet the memory of their taste is crystal clear. Even when she made boxed macaroni and cheese, it came out tasting a lot better than normal. (My sister thinks maybe it’s because she used powdered milk for everything. Someday I want to try that.)

One of the things I remember best about her was that she was always up early. Incredibly early. But she’d also be up and about a lot of times in the middle of the night. So when my sister and I would stay over, many was the night that we’d wake up and then hang out with her in the kitchen with a bowl of cereal for a little while before going back to bed. (Funny thing about that: It’s how people always used to sleep before the Industrial Revolution, breaking up their night so that there was a quiet hour or two between sleeps. I kinda wish we’d get back to that.)

In the ’80s she got a microwave, and she began experimenting. While the rest of the world had to learn slowly how microwaves can be temperamental, she was a natural. She was the one who taught me to make poor man’s nachos—break up taco shells, cover with cheese, melt, enjoy—which I still do now and then to this day, because it’s tasty and fun and sometimes I can’t be bothered to make anything else. But she also created a simple instant dessert.

What she would do was butter a piece of bread, sprinkle on cinnamon, roll it up and pin it closed with a toothpick, and then microwave it until warm. Of course you had to do this with several pieces of bread, because just one is not enough. And so the poor man’s cinnamon roll was born: soft and hot and comforting. Grandma was a genius with the microwave.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve done this too, but I found out that white bread isn’t the very best vehicle for this sort of thing: leftover dinner rolls are. You know those rolls—the pull-apart ones you don’t have to bake in the oven, that line up like squares in the package. They’re basically white bread too, but in the shape of a dinner roll. They’re cheap, they’re delicious, and they make the very best poor man’s cinnamon rolls.

Usually my wife and I are the ones bringing rolls to holiday dinners, so I like to buy an extra package for home. That way if there are leftovers, the rolls go great with them. And if not, I can use up those rolls for a million things—like breakfast sausage patty sliders, or mini cold cut sandwiches. And for a treat, I’ll split a few of those rolls, slap on a pat of butter, sprinkle on cinnamon sugar (even better than cinnamon alone!), and nuke ’em until they’re warm and the butter has melted completely.

This time of year especially, the poor man’s cinnamon roll is a late-night delight. There’s nothing better for watching a little late TV. And whenever I make them, I think of my grandmother.

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Fast food calories: nobody cares!

A new study has determined that calorie labeling on fast food menus does not impact consumers’ choices in any significant way—which is to say, pretty much at all. What were the odds?

100%. They were always 100%.

Let’s leave aside any possible methodological issues and take this study at face value for a sec. Or even pretend it away entirely, because it ultimately doesn’t matter. The study was done based on Philadelphia already having such labeling laws, but in May all major fast food chains will have to follow suit. Is it even worth it? The study says no, this is yet another bonehead move by the government to combat a problem with a bad solution. Oh sure, it’s better than that stupid rule in NYC that you can’t get more than a 16 oz. soda with your meal, because at least it’s putting information in front of people and letting them make their own choices rather than forcing them to accept whatever arbitrary rules they’re given, but it’s meaningless because this information simply does not matter to most people.

The problem with this approach is blindingly obvious, and yet the irony is lost on those who conducted the study.

To be effective, nutrition labeling must be clearer and larger. It must also reach regular fast-food eaters—people who expressed more concern with cost and convenience than nutrition, [study author Andrew] Breck and his colleagues found.

Say what now? Breck hits the problem right on the head without acknowledging the fundamental reality that it’s intractable, or understanding the folly in thinking otherwise.

People who prioritize cost and convenience over nutrition will never respond to labeling, even if it’s shoved directly in their faces. In fact the more onerous such labeling gets, you might even reasonably expect people to straight-up rebel. After all, nobody likes the Food Nazis but themselves, and even that’s questionable. (I’ve always suspected Food Nazis suffer from the kind of deeply internalized self-loathing that tends to push people to boss others around.)

Everybody, literally everybody knows that a steady diet of fast food is simply not good for you. (Although funnily enough, researchers who’ve tried it while practicing reasonable portion control found they could still lose weight on fast food.) Having a Big Mac or a Whopper for every meal is just plain stupid, which is why almost nobody does that. In fact it’s pretty much always cheaper and healthier to cook at home. But fast food wins when it becomes the most attractive option, and that happens under several circumstances:

  • You crave a particular food item.
  • You’re out of the house and hungry, and quicker is better.
  • You’re home, but nothing you have in the house sounds good.
  • You’re home, but cooking anything will take too long and time is severely limited (by hunger, schedule, or any other reason).

That list is by no means exhaustive. The point is, nutritional labeling will never, ever make a dent in any of those reasons. By the time someone reads the label, they’re already planning to order. If you want to get people to eat less fast food, you have to give them better options to deal with the situations that send them to the drive-thru. The place to redirect towards better eating habits is in the kitchen and around the home. And that is a very, very difficult prospect.

Hence why people run to simple but pointless interventions at the wrong end of the decision chain, because they think doing something, even if it’s useless and stupid and possibly costly, is better than nothing at all. Almost no problems actually work that way. If you’ve ever had the impulse to defend a stupid decision based on the idea that it’s better than nothing, even if there are arguments as to how it can make things worse in some way, give yourself a mighty slap. And if that kind of thinking is ingrained in you, keep slapping until common sense prevails or you bleed out.

Flailing does not solve problems. Limiting what people can buy for themselves is flailing. Forcing restaurant chains to engage in labeling that will have absolutely no effect is flailing. Just because the status quo sucks doesn’t mean you can fix it by throwing darts. Breck correctly identifies why the labeling fails, but has the audacity to suggest that making the labels bigger and more obvious—which addresses none of those reasons—could accomplish anything different. If you want to attack the obesity problem, you have to look at the whys. And that will lead right back to:

  • The food pyramid is a load of steaming garbage.
  • We have an imbalance of omega-6 fats in our diet instead of also getting plenty of omega-3. (Reason: omega-3’s go bad faster; packaged food makers don’t like them.)
  • Family dinners are less common than they used to be.
  • Home cooking is less common than it used to be.

None of those problems have easy answers either. But you won’t fix any of them by flailing.

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Pointless controversy: Thursday night football has to go

Question asked: Should the NFL consider ditching Thursday night football? Yes. Yes, they should.

As an occasional diversion from the regular schedule, Thursday games are fine. They’re a Thanksgiving tradition, and in the late season, sure, why not a Thursday game now and then? But every week?

The short week is brutal to players who are still coming back from the effort of a Sunday game, and they hate it. This alone is a reason not to do Thursday games every week. This is the same reason why moving to an 18-game schedule, proposed a few years ago, was such a bad idea. Football is already rough enough on players’ bodies without making it more difficult.

The way the Thursday night games fly from network to network is just confusing, and unreasonable. There’s no call for it. Pick a network and stick with it.

The “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night games are hideous. Gads that’s so stupid. Whoever had this rotten idea should be taken out behind the shed by Goodell himself and shot. And needless to say if it was Goodell’s idea, he should shoot himself twice. Not fatally, but someone at least deserves a serious limp for it.

As a viewer, I hate the Thursday games. It’s hard to commit to watching something in that time slot on a weeknight. I hate the Monday games and the Sunday night games for the exact same reason (among others). Dudes, of course your ratings are going to be lower for night games. It’s not like the frickin’ Superbowl where people plan their whole year around it, and besides, the Superbowl airs earlier than a typical night game. After 8:00 is too late.

The Thursday night games need to go. Not entirely, but mostly. Have a few now and then as a special thing, and be done with it.

Now about London: Screw it. No more London games. It’s not that I begrudge our friends across the pond a taste of actual real football, but the travel and jet leg are murder on the teams. The time difference means fans on the east coast have to tune in in the morning, and fans on the west coast have to get up even earlier. It’s just not workable! At least these games are uncommon; there’s apparently been some talk about adding teams to the league in the UK, which would magnify this problem a thousand times.

Let’s be done with Monday night football. On ABC it was understandable; on ESPN it’s a joke. I know they’re under the same umbrella, but that umbrella is shoddy and full of holes. ESPN stopped being a decent sports network a couple decades ago, and the network deserves to die in a ditch. I hate watching anything at all on ESPN. The network is too political, commercial to the point of chopping up coverage of everything they show, and not even good at commentary anymore. People are supposed to stay up late for a dose of inferior broadcasting?

Sunday night football needs to go too. NBC is bad with sports, the opening song every week is a cringefest, and after a day of games it doesn’t make a ton of sense to throw in one more. Fatigue sets in. Sunday nights I just want to relax, pointedly not watch crap like 60 Minutes, and dread the coming Monday.

These night games feel like a chore, not a joy. They take the fun out of watching football for me, and Thursdays in particular are hated by the players. Why put them through that? It’s not helping anyone, not even the NFL’s faltering bottom line. Get rid of it already, except for a one-off game here and there and Thanksgiving. And while you’re at it, London, Monday nights, Sunday nights, and the New England Patriots too. That last one is for me—and justice.

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Let’s blog a parade: 2016

All right, here we go. 2016 is most of the way behind us, and that’s something we can all be thankful for. The TV is on now, and I just missed most of a cooking segment at the end of the Today show. I’m not sure I’m awake enough to deal with Billy Fuccillo’s car ads; no offense, Billy. I have a pumpkin muffin standing by, so let’s do this thing. Once again this is a live post, so refresh here and there to keep it going.

Continue reading

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Pointless controversy: Pretzels aren’t salty enough

I have never made Chex mix. I consider this a personal failing on my part, because it’s apparently super easy to do, and homemade Chex mix beats store-bought every time. Plus, you can put in whatever you want. My wife likes those little bagel chips they add, but personally I could do without them. This did get me thinking, however, about mini pretzels.

Is it just me, or did mini pretzels and pretzel sticks, even big pretzel rods, use to be a lot saltier in the ’80s? Because I remember them as a lot more flavorful than anything I’ve managed to find in the last 20 years.

If my memory is not faulty and pretzels have gotten blander, then I know exactly who to blame: Rold frickin’ Gold. Their mini-pretzels became ubiquitous around the late ’80s and early ’90s, but they brought with them a signature awfulness predicated on a lack of seasoning. Their pretzels were incredibly plain, exceptionally “dry” in texture, and criminally under-salted.

But since then, it seems that all other brands have followed suit. I can’t find a pretzel rod these days that’s crusted with salt as in days of yore. Pretzel sticks have more in common now with regular sticks. And mini-pretzels, while typically more flavorful and possessing a better texture than Rold Gold, nevertheless remain under-salted.

In fairness to the brand, though, I suppose I can’t entirely blame them. I also blame the “health” crazes that suggested salt was evil. Bad nutrition advice is always with us, always in new forms, and of course the Food Nazis love to push new bad advice on us all the time. Lately there’s been a tidal wave of opposition to their stupidity, including new research that points out the whole thing about salt vs. blood pressure was largely hooey to begin with. (It turns out table salt isn’t so great for you, but that’s because of the additives—not the iodine, but the anti-caking agents that basically amount to food-grade glass. Kosher and sea salt, on the other hand, are much better.) So while pretzel salt was never evil, I suspect manufacturers were swayed by the buying public who were in turn swayed by a bunch of chattering yakholes, and therefore they reduced the salt content in the pretzels to follow the trend. And to bring it back full circle, I believe—as a suspicion only—that trend was led by you-know-who.

And if I’m right about that, can I really blame manufacturers for merely following a trend?

Yes. Yes, of course I can blame them, and do. It wouldn’t be the first time a bad trend has ruined foods for us. Pork used to be much more flavorful and moist a couple of generations ago, but the whole low-fat bandwagon (again, another case where the nutritionists were way wrong) led pig farmers to breed for leaner meat. Lean pork is an abomination, and when I become a supervillain, we’re gonna fix it. Meanwhile every other grocery aisle is stuffed with foods that are tailored to the low-fat fad, adding sugars to (incompletely) make up for lost flavor, and then we wonder why there’s an obesity epidemic.

Why can’t pretzels be better? I’m certain they used to be. And how am I supposed to include them in homemade Chex mix without deep and abiding shame? I need either a brand that didn’t follow the others into the abyss, or a way to saltify the pretzels before I use them. The former seems hopeless, and is certainly Google-proof. The latter seems like a ridiculous extra step to take, but pride and taste demand it.

Apropos of nothing, I’m adding a reminder here that my annual parade live-blog starts at 9 AM Thanksgiving day. Enjoy the Macy’s parade with pumpkin muffins and a little snark on the side.

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