Dysfunction circus

I saw an article today that was honestly too inane not to tear apart. It’s to the point where I’m considering making this dysfunction circus thing a regular feature, inasmuch as I have such a thing as regular features at all. What you’re about to read is a story about a truly awful thing that may or may not have happened at all—by which I mean even if the story is true as told, so much was left out that it’s literally impossible to tell if its central premise is correct—where the teller paints herself as a victim but fails at every conceivable opportunity to recognize that she’s every bit as much to blame. There are no winners in this story. Continue reading

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Perkins pancake ruminations

In the past I’ve talked about my search for a Perkins pancake copyright recipe. This seems to be a popular topic, because it apparently drives a lot of traffic to my blog.

I haven’t tried making pancakes from scratch in quite a while, but as you know if you’ve read my past posts on the subject, my experiments never bore a lot of fruit. Frankly if I’m going to the trouble of making pancakes, doing it from scratch is a lot more effort than I want to put into it. But I had a thought recently that might make it worth experimenting again.

If you Google hard on this subject, you’ll find a post from years ago in which a former Perkins manager says that the only things they use in their pancakes are flour, buttermilk, eggs, and oil. The flour mix is proprietary, and that seems to be where the real magic happens. Obviously that’s going to include your basic wheat flour—some variety, whether it’s all-purpose, cake, or what have you—and either baking powder or baking soda; given the flavor of the pancakes I’m guessing they use baking powder to keep a slight acidity from the buttermilk. The manager also said that the pancakes needed to be flipped before bubbling on the surface, and proper doneness was a tricky technique to master.

In my experiments I knew I had to replicate a sense of sweetness, and so I went with other pancake recipes I’ve seen that include a little bit of sugar. But the sugar never seemed to work right: It made the pancakes too sweet, and not in the right way.

Recently it dawned on me that I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. The subtle sweetness in Perkins pancakes can’t come from sugar—or at least not from very much of it. No! It’s probably from a naturally sweeter flour, such as oat flour. Oat flour makes so much more sense! It doesn’t produce gluten in any realistic quantities which would explain their signature thinness, and it should lend a very slight sweet note to the final product.

So the next time I try to replicate Perkins pancakes, I’m going to start from a basic pancake recipe that uses no sugar, and cut the all-purpose flour 1:1 with oat flour. That should be a good starting point for my next try. And rather than use the buttermilk powder (mine is expired), I’m just going to go the lazy route and add 2 tbsp. of lemon juice per cup of milk; it’s not the same but it should be easier for experimenting.

On a similar note, I’ve recently taken to making Bisquick pancakes—my go-to—differently. On their box you’ll notice two recipes, one which is rather basic and another that’s fluffier and includes lemon juice, vanilla, extra baking powder, sugar, and oil. I’ve met them in the middle by adding the lemon juice, baking powder, and oil, and also I’ve taken to letting the batter rest for 10-15 minutes before cooking, and cooking on only medium heat. The lemon juice gives the batter a consistency very similar to buttermilk batter, and the extra rise is very important to me.

Also related to the subject of Perkins pancakes, I was thinking recently how I’d like my lair to have a vending machine that would cook and dispense sliders of grilled cheese, bacon cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. That’d be an awesome machine to have. But then I thought: No, screw that. I’m installing a 24/7 Perkins in my lair. I used to enjoy their lunches, because back when you could eat there at any time you didn’t have to just order the magnificent pancakes.

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Prometheus and the boxed macaroni

I lost track of Cracked a couple of years ago, but I used to watch their After Hours series regularly for the laughs. In one episode, the comedians are all discussing which alternate TV-commercial universe would be best to live in, and one put forth the idea that the best choice might be the universe of “as seen on TV” products, because the people in them are incapable of functioning at even a basic level. You would be like a god there, just by being able to perform simple tasks. Then someone else pointed out how that’d be great right up until you needed a doctor. That sketch always comes to mind for me not just because it’s hilarious, but because the terrifying truth is that I’m going to live in that universe someday; the transition has already started.

Railing against millennials is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel, with a BFG and a tactical nuke, but I’m going to do it anyway. They make such easy targets, after all, because the typical millennial—I know plenty of exceptions—is an idiot. Having been indoctrinated with the idea that objective truth is not a thing, they’re so warped they don’t understand basic cause and effect. (Case in point: I had to chew out somebody today for making excuses for a supposed 16-year-old who didn’t realize ahead of time that committing actual fraud on a legal document was wrong. That happened.) The typical millennial has an abysmal work ethic, has no taste, and thinks the Power Rangers and/or Shia LaBeouf were ever cool.

Let me put it another way: Have you seen the movie Idiocracy?

What got me thinking about this today—although it’s not a new thought, for me or anyone else—was that I saw a meme posted by one of my cousins (ironically, a millennial) about how having memorized the instructions for boxed macaroni and cheese is the most impressive thing about the memer. And then I remembered: That’s actually pretty important, because these days the instructions are wrong.

As a fan of Kraft macaroni and cheese, I’ve known how to make it for a long time. But I usually prefer to make the spirals or shapes rather than the classic, because the classic macaroni makes 3 cups and that’s too much to eat in one sitting. Spirals and shapes make 2¼ cups, and that’s something I can make a meal out of. (Relax; I do it infrequently.) Several years ago, however, on those boxes they started to make a change where they switched to “healthy prep” instructions that are—if you understand the truth that fats are not evil but sugars are—a steaming pile of garbage. The classic prep, i.e. the actual correct instructions, was relegated to a small corner at the bottom.

Nowadays, the classic prep instructions have been eliminated. This is a loss to all mankind, and so like a modern day Prometheus (for you typical millennials, that’s a mythological reference, not the bad movie), I’m going to do the right thing and share my knowledge with mankind so that it is not lost forever. You’re welcome.

With regular mac & cheese, the original style in its original 3-cup box, once you boil the water and cook the pasta, you add the cheese sauce, then you add 1/4 cup each of butter/margarine (half a stick) and milk—and you never, ever use skim milk. That’s all. For any other variety, it’s the exact same recipe but it scales with the amount. A box of spirals or shapes is 2¼ cups, which is 3/4 the size of the original, so you use 3 tbsp. of each instead of 1/4 cup (4 tbsp.); except I cheat and use a full 1/4 cup of milk, because it’s creamier and I don’t have to worry about trying to eyeball it.

So that’s the classic prep. Per 3 cups of cooked pasta, it’s 4 tbsp. each of butter and milk. If the box tells you anything else, it’s lying.

Now I’m gonna drop some real knowledge. First, you should salt the water a little before cooking the pasta, because it will bring out the flavor better. Second, use whole milk for crying out loud. I only buy whole milk, because it’s creamier, the fats in it are not bad for you, and skim milk is basically just sugar water which is terrible for you; yes there’s more fat and calories, but it’s better for you and it’s more satisfying. Third, I’ve found that a little sprinkle—and I mean very little—of MSG in the final product really rounds out the flavor beautifully. Don’t buy into the myths about MSG either; it’s not poison, at least not for humans.

I’m still on a mission to figure out what my grandmother did to make macaroni and cheese so delicious. My sister’s working theory is that since she often used milk reconstituted from powder, that could be it. It’s also possible that adding a little dry milk powder to the end product would be enough to create that flavor. Eventually I need to find out.

The moral of this story is that Kraft makes bad decisions. They bowed to pressure from so-called experts to change the box instructions in favor of something worse-tasting and worse for you. Then recently they caved in to a social media campaign launched by the freaking Food Babe, as complete a moron as you will ever encounter, whose understanding of both chemistry and nutrition could make zoo animals shake their heads in sad disappointment, to remove artificial colors even though there was nothing wrong with them whatsoever. (Seriously, you should look up a guy named Myles Power and check out his videos absolutely destroying the Food Babe. They’re hilarious, and also very very sad.) But no matter what bad decisions Kraft makes, you owe it to yourself to prepare their product the way it was meant to be.

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In search of: straight macaroni

This is a serious question, and if anyone can answer it I’d be thrilled.

Where in the frell can you buy straight macaroni, like the kind used in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese?

I was watching a video tonight from Todd’s Kitchen where he made crock pot macaroni & cheese. Although I was screaming in my head at the stuff he added for the sauce (onion: no; mustard: no; cream of frickin’ chicken soup: holy crap no; sour cream: no; mayo: frell no), I noticed the macaroni he used was straight. Todd is from Australia, where they have some different things available. By the way, apart from my recoil from his ingredient list in this particular video, I’m actually a fan.

In the US, and even on Amazon, I can’t find straight macaroni for anything. I can find elbows. Lots and lots of elbows. I like elbow macaroni just fine, but I think there’s a lot to be said in favor of the tiny straight tubes that Kraft uses, and darn it I’d like to know where I can get those for my own purposes—without, obviously, wasting a perfectly good box of Kraft Mac & Cheese.

Todd’s macaroni was, I noticed, more like elbow macaroni in size when it cooked up; I’d actually love to find something even smaller. But even a straight version of the basic elbow wouldn’t be bad; you can’t find anything straight at that size. Bigger sizes, sure, but anyone can find ziti or penne on a shelf. And keep in mind, I shop at frickin’ Wegmans. What I can’t find at Wegmans, I can sometimes find at Tops, Walmart, or—in some special cases—Target. But if you live in the United States of America, the land where selection is supposed to be infinite, you can’t buy straight macaroni on its own, even on Amazon. It’s like there’s some kind of law blocking it. This makes absolutely zero sense.

I suppose there’s one possible other option. There’s a place near me that specializes in Italian imports, and they may have a greater variety of pasta than you can find anywhere else. Even though it’s close, to me it’s not worth the special trip to search, because I’m lazy. But I find it mind-boggling that I can’t find such a thing on Amazon.

I mean seriously, search for straight macaroni on Amazon and you’ll just get packaged stuff.

Ugh. I don’t get it. But when I become a supervillain, I’m going to appoint a Minister of Infinite Selection to get to the bottom of it, and heads will roll.

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Pointless controversy: 1992 was the greatest music year in history

2016 was a terrible, terrible music year. Utterly dreadful beyond any that I can remember, including 1996 when almost literally the only things playing were that one Celine Dion song and that one-off from Tony Rich Project. And I mean that; all pop stations alternated between those two songs and played almost nothing else. Gads I wish that was more of an exaggeration, but I lived through it.

And yet 2016 was worse, and 2017 so far has been every bit as bad. The airwaves are befouled with amelodic muck, half of it in an annoying Caribbean patois and the other half with vocals that are whiny or screechy. I could probably, given a big list of songs from 2016, find enough I could tolerate that I could count them on two hands; but songs I actually liked, maybe two fingers—and then if I’m being generous. Those two can’t include the middle finger, because I’m saving that for all the other music.

I listen to pop stations—which, let’s be honest, stopped being purely pop stations years ago—in the hope of discovering new music to enjoy. Sometimes I do. Sometimes they’ll even play it more than once. But not lately.

So anyway, that brings me to the point of my rant. I recently saw this article that claimed 1977 was the greatest year in music history. I was a toddler at the time, but I remember nothing admirable about the music of that period. Granted, much of what that article lists was not among my parents’ favorites, but even so, I have to be honest: I never connected with David Bowie. Not one bit. I recognize his greatness as an artist, but even so I just can’t stand his work; not because it’s bad, but because it’s such a lousy fit for my sensibilities. And it’s the same for a lot of artists of the time. I grew up in the ’80s, and anyone who tells you any decade other than the ’80s was the best for music is lying, wrong, or both.

Going back to my title, you may have noticed a bit of a discrepancy: I claim that 1992 was the greatest music year ever. And it was; the ’80s were simply better as an overall decade.

Allow me to make my case for 1992. In the early ’90s, music of the ’80s was not only still played, but still having an influence on artists. Synthesizers were still in use, even if hair rock ballads were dead, so that the sound of the ’80s still lived on and was beginning to morph into new forms—not quite ’80s in their entirety, but musically interesting offshoots. And it’s no coincidence that ’92 was littered with one-hit wonders, because there was a lot of experimentation with new sounds. Whatever hip-hop became in the late ’90s and afterward was still listenable in the early ’90s, holding onto the idea that a song can’t live without an actual melody line. Rap died in ’91—what replaced it was unworthy to bear the name—but its extended family intermingled freely with other genres that had wide appeal.

See, whenever anyone talks about ’90s music as if the decade had any kind of thematic sound to it, I shake my head and seriously downgrade my estimate of that person’s intelligence. Because there was no cohesion at all to ’90s music; it was wildly in flux, and in fact pop music remains desperately in flux to this day. 1992 was the very cusp of an evolutionary change, where the stylings of the ’80s were blending with other genres and exploring new ideas. And good gads, nearly all of it worked. That greatness was in the making in ’90 and ’91 of course, both good music years in their own right, and most of ’93 was pretty great too—but by the end of that year, it was clear the wave had crested and music was about to enter a great dark age. In the mid-’90s pop fractured, and the best stuff to come out was often labeled “alternative”. Boy bands and TLC waged war and music lost. And then the music industry, already reeling from an onslaught of mediocrity, threw conniption fits over emerging technology and responded not just with fingers in their ears and lawyers on speed-dial, but by shrinking their rosters and falling into a protracted death spiral.

(The publishing industry today is doing the same thing the music industry did then. They’re killing their midlist and with it their long-term prospects, and ultimately all of their credibility. And gaming has been doing the same for quite a while too. People respond to variety. One of the worst things about music in the past 20 years is the disappearance of top 100 stations in favor of top 40, which really means top 5.)

It hasn’t been all bad since then. Some music years have been terrible and some middling. 2007-10 was a fairly decent stretch, as was 2000-2003. The summer of ’95 was almost a return to ’92’s glory days. You can find spikes of improvement in places here and there. But holy crap have the last 14 months sucked.

Now to compare 1992 and 1977: I submit that 1970s music has a different musical sensibility for later generations. You hear it on ratio stations that try to make it play nice with ’80s and ’90s music; it just doesn’t. For my part I hate most vocals of the ’70s: the men sang too high and the women sang too low, and yes that’s a major reason i can’t stand Adele or Florence Welch or Nate Reuss. But 1992 had all of the greatness of the ’80s feeding into it, the substrate of so much new growth, and on that basis alone 1977 can’t compete. Sure 1977 saw some acclaimed albums by great and enduring artists, but was the overall landscape any good? The landscape of 1992 was frickin’ awesome—the long-term perception of its albums not so much.

One thing I should say: I’m only talking about pop here. I don’t know what country fans would have to say about their genre. For rock music, there was some amazing stuff out of the ’70s but for modern rock I think ’95 was a hard peak. You still hear a lot of ’95 stuff played on modern rock stations, because it was awesome.

Do you have a different opinion about pop music? (And by different I mean wrong.) Sound off and let’s hear it.

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In search of: murdering the winter blahs

I’ve mentioned before that I believe I suffer from mild Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is self-diagnosed, not anything I’ve seen a doctor about, but it fits everything I know about myself. In late winter it manifests as the spring madness, an overwhelming need to get out in the sunshine and enjoy a nice day—which is a big problem if the weather doesn’t cooperate, which at that time of year it usually doesn’t. As spring approaches, or rather as it should but typically doesn’t, this sets up a vicious cycle of increasing agitation. But before that we have February, an excremental month of misery; winter is still well in swing but everyone is over it and wants desperately to move on.

(I swear it’s a coincidence that this post comes on Valentine’s Day. While I’ve had reasons to loathe the holiday in the past, I don’t anymore. But if today gets you down, feel free to use the pure awfulness of February itself as a cover.)

This past week in particular I’ve been feeling the blahs a little more strongly, so today I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s anything I can do about it. The problem with these blahs isn’t that I don’t have things I want to do, but rather that they’re dragging me off-task from the things I need to do. I’m blessed that my boss is me, but my boss is yelling at me to get my crap together, and darn it, he’s right.

For a little perspective, we had some decent bouts of snow recently. This has been a weird winter where the temperatures haven’t stayed cold, but nowhere near as weird as five years ago. Over the weekend we got hammered, but today the temperature has been in the high 30s or low 40s all day and it’s been sunny, so the snow is melting slowly; my car however is still buried. In spite of the relative warmth outside it’s still felt very cold upstairs where my office is, and today I noticed that I felt a persistent inner chill, like the backs of my shoulders could not get warm.

I did a little quick research on ways of improving the winter blahs and specifically how to increase energy, and holy crap is the advice out there terrible.

The main thing I keep running across on every site is exercise. Now believe me, I get it: being in better shape will make you feel better, and when you’re in a regular routine of exercising it can actually boost your endorphins. But if you’re not in such a routine, this advice is like telling a brick to try flying. The one consistent problem with all exercise routines, and the main reason many people don’t start them and don’t stick with them once on them, is that you have to get over the hump of a low-energy state to begin with. How am I supposed to exercise as a way of gaining energy if I don’t have the energy to exercise? Duh! Fire doesn’t start on its own, except in highly energized environments; it needs enough kinetic energy to begin with to set the reaction in motion.

And I love that all the articles show a woman jogging on a treadmill or something. Right. I don’t own a treadmill nor have a place for one. Going out and running isn’t an option, because it’s frickin’ cold out, there are icy patches on the ground, and after a minute I’d have exercise-induced asthma kick in. Besides that, I twisted my ankle something nasty a few weeks ago, and even though it feels better, every now and then it still wants to turn again if I’m not vigilant with it.

I get that lethargy is largely a mental problem for most people, and that’s clearly the case for me. But knowing that doesn’t really help; I want some way to kick-start the internal fires and rev up my metabolism, so the mind can follow the body. Exercise can’t do that easily because to get there you have to talk yourself into doing it in the first place. And it takes getting into a routine and staying there to really see any serious endorphin benefits, which is another thing the health junkies don’t like to admit. In other words, it takes discipline, and the precise problem I have right now is a lack of mental discipline.

Let me put it this way: I know that I could, at this moment, get up and find a space to do a few quick jumping jacks. Never mind that it’s probably bad for the floors, or that I know I’d get tired of them pretty quick. The point is I know I could do it; nothing is physically stopping me. But there is a powerful mental “Ugh” that holds me back. It’s not unlike the force I felt when I was a teenager and faced with a zip line for the first (and so far, last) time. I looked down from that tree and calculated that the fall would probably not kill me if the rope snapped, but boy would it hurt and I’d break something; and that fear paralyzed me, for several minutes. When I finally talked myself into stepping off the ledge I choked and grabbed for the rope, and ended up with nasty rope burn on my fingers for the rest of the day. This “Ugh” is not fear, but the power behind it is the very same.

So anyway, exercise is off the table. I’m negatively inclined to do anything aerobic and that’s all that I think would help—and even then only after it became a habit. Light therapy is off the table, because it’s been a nice bright day and that isn’t the problem. Drinking tea is off the table, because I’d literally rather puke. And another thing all the articles say is to get cozy and get plenty of rest—when hibernating is the exact opposite of what I want to do!

There has to be a better way, and I’m sick and tired of the vapidity of the articles out there that all say the same things. It’s like the last time I had a cold. There are a million articles that tell you to get comfy, wait it out, and use various home remedies to at least try to feel a little better. But I said screw that, and looked high and low for a more aggressive approach. I found a little hope in some places that suggested not just vitamin C and zinc, but fresh garlic—and I decided that this time I would megadose with all of the above (although to be honest, my vitamin C dose could have been even higher). I kicked that cold right in the crotch, and the next time I get sick I’ll do the very same and more.

Why isn’t there something like that I could do for a little winter lethargy? It would seem aggression is exactly what the doctor ought to order for that kind of thing. Telling someone who can’t stay on task or find the pep to get things done that they should exercise is like telling the castaways on the island to just already have a boat—when what they should do is eat Gilligan. That mental “Ugh” is a powerful force, but it is not indomitable; there must be something, somewhere, that can do violence upon it. That is what I need, and that is something you’re not gonna find on WebMD or Livestrong or eHow or Prevention or a hundred other sites, because they don’t have the balls to think in terms of getting mean with your problems.

But someone, somewhere, must have that answer.

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The new year in flux

I haven’t posted in a while, and rather than let it slide any further I felt an update was in order. A number of things are going on right now, so I’ll try to organize this as best I can.

First: About a month ago, I finally got my new computer. And I love it, mostly. I switched back from Pale Moon to Firefox, but added a whole boatload of extensions to undo the damage done by Mozilla’s stupid UX team, and that means I have a modern browsing experience again—and YouTube performs well. Even Facebook video, which is horrid, performs well. I’m still very much in the process of re-adding programs, but I had to prioritize work stuff first. And to be honest the chaos has thrown me way off my pace, but I’m finally getting used to the system.

I have a love-hate relationship with Windows 10. (Keep in mind, I came from Windows XP which was darn near perfect where its interface was concerned. Settings were easier to find, it gave me choices about things I should always have choices about, and the Start menu made sense.) Some of its issues I was able to fix with programs or some registry research. I have to fix some more of them, like the fact that since Windows 7 they’ve had auto-arrange on by default in all folder views and you can’t turn it off. This is a usability nightmare, so it’s something I need to fix soon; I’ve read there are some options for doing that, though they involve restarting the shell and I’m too lazy to do that just yet. The system sleeps when I’m not using it for a while, but annoyingly it also hibernates overnight—which it explicitly isn’t supposed to do, and of course the problem is Google-proof. Hibernation is way more annoying than sleeping because it takes longer to start up.

Below is still coming out soon. I got my proof copy just before Christmas, but I discovered a flaw (of my own doing): on right-side pages that start a new chapter, the page number is on the inside instead of the outside. Whoops. I need to generate a new PDF and get that uploaded, but I keep forgetting and putting it off. When I do that, I think I’ll skip another proof because I want to send the cover artist a copy anyway. But I need to get moving again on that. Writing has been totally on hold otherwise. I don’t have Word on the new system, and don’t plan to replace it; instead I think I’ll just switch over to using OpenOffice, period. Call me petty, but I hate Microsoft’s ribbon interface; it’s a deal-breaker, and so is the price of Microsoft Office. Good gads the price.

I did make my favorite cube steak sandwich over the Christmas break, but I did not make any fancy melty cheese slices like I was planning, or an interesting custom cheese blend either. I still want to do so. Chex mix I did make, and it was decent, but it could have been a lot better. Next time I’m mixing in a way bigger bowl, and I’m using more Worcestershire sauce than the recipe calls for and way more salt.

At the moment, and I confess this is one of the things that made me want to post tonight, I’m kind of in Bad Idea Mode again. I’ve posted before about steak-flavored potato chips, and my search for the perfect steak-flavored seasoning for chips or popcorn. My last effort produced a passable seasoning for chips, but popcorn is a tricky beast. Yet I’m thinking I want to try again with chips, and that this time I want to try with some beef bouillon to give it actual beef flavor. So I’ve been pondering: use a decent amount of granulated bouillon, cut back a smidge on the salt and the MSG (but still use some of each), eliminate onion powder entirely because you can’t get bouillon without onion in it anyway, and still include the smoked salt, pepper, and garlic. Grinding that fine should, I think, produce a mighty nice steaky flavor. But I think it’s going to take several experiments to get it right.

Speaking of bad ideas: I bought teriyaki Spam the other day because I’d never seen it before, and I do like Spam on occasion. I haven’t tried it yet, but the reviews say it makes a better stir-fry than fried slices, so I think I’m gonna make up some nice fried rice soon. I have some leftover pilaf, which I love to mix with a little butter, soy sauce, and egg; why not throw some teriyaki Spam in the mix? I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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