*

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pear pies, Mike Nomad and the Internet

I fear superlatives. If I use a superlative, I usually use it with caution. Claiming something is the most, the least, the greatest is always asking to be corrected. Yet, I am going to crawl cautiously out on the superlative limb and say that the Internet is the most amazing development of my lifetime.

In just a few short decades the Internet has burrowed deeply into almost every aspect of our lives. I lost my job partially as a result of the Internet and I owe a great deal of my pleasure in retirement to the Internet.

And now, I owe the dessert which I enjoyed with my wife Sunday to the Internet, and that dessert is intertwined with memories of a dear friend with whom I once worked.

I have an occasional feature I call "Buzzword of the Day." It wasn't too long ago that I would have tossed "social networking" onto the buzzword heap.

I'm glad that I didn't get the chance to write that essay; I wouldn't be eating pears but crow tonight.

A friend left a me a package of halloumi cheese with instructions on serving this "national cheese of Cyprus." The halloumi was delicious and inspired me to search the Internet for information on other goat and sheep cheeses from the eastern Mediterranean. Soon I was deep into the virtual world. (Oh, another one of those words I've got to reclaim from the buzzword heap - virtual. This is getting downright embarrassing.)

I appreciated my friend introducing me to halloumi but now, thanks to the Internet, I was learning about saganaki, the famous, flaming Greek cheese that isn't actually Greek - at least not the flames. Soon, I was a member of a foodies group sharing recipes over the Internet. I was flooded with new food ideas being served up by my new virtual friends.

One that caught my eye, and palate, was a recipe for autumn pear pie. I mentioned this in a post and almost immediately heard from an old friend - he, too, was intrigued by the idea of a pear pie. He even had a backyard pear tree kindly offer fruit. He and his wife made the pie and liked it.

I was off to Thomas Bros. south of the city for some ripe but not soft pears. My wife and I made the pie together; it became a small, pleasurable event. Our home filled with the aroma of baking pears, cloves and cinnamon.

Our opinion: good. A nice break from the traditional apple. Personally, I would cut back on the cloves and this might mean cutting back on the cinnamon, too. Without all the cloves, the cinnamon could be too strong. I'd play with these ingredients.

The big change that I would make is in the presentation. When I make this again, I'm going to put a dollop of whipped cream in the centre of the slice and then place a small, pealed, very ripe pear half right on top of the whipped cream. White, whipped cream should ooze out all around the pear half. It should look spectacular and the fresh pear will enhance the pie's pear flavour which is muted by the cooking.

Oh, don't be overly generous with the squeeze of lemon. I was and my pie had undertones of citrus. This is fine with a Sauvignon Blanc but not so good with a pear pie.

Cheers,
Rockinon

p.s. Thanks Mike for the encouragement. We all knew you were at ease around motorcycles, Italian roadsters and tanks but who would have guessed that Mike Nomad had the guts to wear an apron? And say hi to Steve.

Keeping to a Food Budget

This past spring my wife and I suffered some unexpected expenses. Retired and living on a limited income, we cut our food spending to balance our books. My wife managed to spend just under $150 feeding the two of us for a month.

Now, we do have a pantry and whenever we see an incredible buy, we stock up. For instance, when Primo pasta went on sale at 99-cents for a 900 g package, I bought a dozen packages in a variety of shapes.

We're starting to hurt again and my wife is tightening the food budget screws. Last weekend I bought two packages of boneless, skinless chicken thighs at $2.94 a pound. It is important to watch the food flyers as these were on sale at another store at $4.99 a pound.

We also picked up two packages of boneless, sirloin pork chops at 99-cents a pound. Each package held three chops and my wife cut these in half. We will get 12 individual  meat servings for about 33-cents a serving.

I noticed a young couple debating whether or not to buy the chicken thighs. I encouraged them, promising them I would post my wife's recipe by Tuesday night. As promised, my wife's recipe ends this post.

Each piece of chicken cost about 53-cents and if you are a healthy, not heavy eater (there is no reason to eat anywhere near as much meat as we do) one and a half pieces make a serving. Compared to some of my wife's other suggestions, this seems expensive at 80-cents a serving.

But, you can stretch out the chicken by unrolling a couple, cutting them into strips, and quickly frying them in a hot skillet. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the strips to some cooked pasta, tossed with a basil pesto mix and a some walnut pieces toasted in a hot pan. Serve with tomato on the side and you have a main course that will have set you back  just more than a dollar. 

These boneless, skinless, chicken thighs are versatile.

Recipe - preheat oven to 375 degrees
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp parsley flakes
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup white flour
2 tbsp olive oil
12-15 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  1. Mix bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley flakes and Italian seasoning with your hands. Pour them into a pile on a sheet of waxed paper. Sprinkle with garlic powder (you can be generous), salt and black pepper.
  2. Pour 1 cup of white flour onto the waxed paper, away from the bread crumbs.
  3. In a small bowl whisk 2 large eggs.
  4. Trim any excess fat from the chicken thighs. (You're looking for large full strips of fat. Some fat will add moisture during the cooking.)
  5. Unroll one chicken thigh at a time and dust on both sides with flour. Dip it into the egg and drop the chicken onto the seasoned pile of bread crumbs. Coat both sides with bread crumb mix and roll the chicken back up and place on a plate. These should be rolled with the smooth side up. Coat each piece of chicken in this manner.
  6. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan on top of the stove.
  7. Place chicken in pan, smooth side upthis will seal the bottom seam quickly brown, turning the pieces to brown all sides. As each piece is browned, place smooth side up in an oven proof dish or pan with a tight fitting lid.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and serve. Leftovers can be frozen and microwaved for later use.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brian Frank link: Cars in Communities

I enjoy the writing of London blogger Brian Frank. I don't always agree with him, uh, I don't always understand him. But I follow him on Twitter and when it sounds as if he has posted on something in which I have an interest, I hit him. (Figuratively, not literally. Although, there are bloggers with whom I would much prefer to do the reverse. POW!)

I don't agree completely with Frank. He wrote: " . . . listening to music is half the fun of driving (and driving is definitely un-fun without it)." I cringe. If you need a radio, you are not driving. My Morgan has never had a radio and never will. In 41 years of driving that car, I have never, not once, wished I had a radio. (A narrower, twistier road with smoother pavement, no traffic and no speed limits, now there are some Morgan driver wishes. Keep your radio. I don't even want an i-Pod.)

Still, Frank is onto something. And even if you don't agree with everything he says, I think you will agree, he has a nice way with words.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is it art?

I knew we'd get to this one sooner or later. An essay on art. As a photographer I am always hearing the refrain, " . . . but it isn't art."

Well photography is art, and it's craft as well. But often, especially with point and shoot cameras, a great deal of the craft is handled by the camera and this fools people into thinking there is no art. Not only is there art, but it can be almost pure art, devoid of craft.

The problem starts with the word art itself. The word means too many things. This is common in English, making one word, one group of letters, do double or triple dutymaybe even more.

You can bring cows in from the field, or field a ball, or in a similar vein, you can field a question. When you were young, you might have liked to play the field. You get the picture, uh, idea.

I'll let y0u play with the word art. The less I say here the better. It minimizes arguments.

If you hire an artist to make you some wine goblets, and give no instructions, you might get some incredibly imaginative goblets, wonderful to look at but completely useless when it comes to holding wine.

Once, I actually saw this happen when a well respected artist created a raku-fired, wine goblet collection. They were beautiful, they even moved when one walked by. The artist thought this was a neat effect; they were like the melding of mobiles and stabiles. Well, it was neat until the footsteps of a passing woman caused one to topple and break. I think Alexander Calder would have said these goblets needed more stability and less mobility.

Also, the very creative raku finish contained poisonous substances that would leach into wine. Not good. The artist made goblets that were great to admire, especially if you laid them on their sides, but they were not good to drink from.

Think of these goblets as approaching pure art.

Now, go to a craftsperson to order some wine goblets. Immediately, you will be asked about the type of wine that these goblets will hold. Will it be red or will it be white? It does make a difference.

When you pick up your goblets, you will find that the mouth is not wider than the bowl. Each goblet will have a good stem, easily held, preventing the wine from being warmed by the hand. And the foot of each delicate goblet will be fashioned such that it allows one to place the wine down without concern for it falling over.

These goblets will not surprise you; they will be just as envisioned. Dull but functional. Think of these goblets as approaching pure craft.

Let's try another example. Ask an artist to make you a lawn chair and give them no restrictions and you might get something like these, but I doubt it — these are just so creative, they are unique. Made by the Dutch artist Lisette Spee and architect Tim van den Burg these chairs can be found in het Valkenbergpark in Breda, The Netherlands.

Art is the creative thought while craft is the quality, the skill, needed to realize the art — the creative vision. Simple, right?

Most of us want a measure of both in what we simply call art. We want it to be creative and we want it to be something more than we would expect of a three-year-old. Well, take the blinders off; sometimes, even three-year-olds are on to something.

Our daughter, Ashley, when she was but 18-months sat on the floor with a piece of paper and some fine-tipped markers; she poked the colourful markers through the paper. Then, she turned the paper over and had one of those "Eureka!" moments. She discovered the back of the smooth, white paper was textured with small ragged holes, each one revealing, and reveling in, a burst of colour. The toddler toddled off looking for mom in order to share her work of art.

Creative? Yes!

Would you have thought of it? I doubt it.
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To learn what craft, skill, was necessary to shoot the image of the toilette at sunset, please check out my other blog: Rockin' On: Photography.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shout Out to Houghton Lake Michigan

To my visitor from Michigan, isn't Houghton Lake somewhere near what used to be called Mount Grampion? I skied there when I was a teen.

Cheers,
Rockinon

National Punctuation Day

I need help with my punctuation, and I know it. It is one reason that I miss having an editor. Well, today is National Punctuation Day in the States and the Huffington Post has an on-line punctuation test. Try the test; I did. I blew two.

After taking the test, check out the National Punctuation Day site.

There may be hope for me yet.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Global sequential hits. Odd. Disconcerting.

My computer sits in a corner the master bedroom. By 6 a.m. each morning I am often sitting at the keyboard tapping out my thoughts and hoping someone else will enjoy sharing them.

Lately, I have been getting over 155 hits a day on my various blogs. Very gratifying. Or is it?

What do the numbers really mean? For instance, I know that one IP address hit my site 77 times one day. 77 times! I traced the address back to a local company. I don't know why I was hit 77 times but I do know it wasn't because I was immensely popular. It was a one day event.

This morning I noticed that this picture, posted months ago, was hit four times overnight. What search criteria would one use to stumble upon it and why would three different sites in three wildly separated locations all stumble upon the same picture over the course of just a few hours?

Are these computers connected?

Why is this question important? First, the New York Times was hacked the other day and a virus attached to files on their site. They warned their readers and purged their file servers, but if it can happen to the NYT what about me? Could someone attach a virus to my blog?

And the next question is important to those planning on making money from their Internet hits; people like those who run newspapers. If their numbers are inflated, possible grossly inflated, then they do not have the number of Internet followers that they think they have.

If newspapers should decide to charge for their content based on calculations using their Internet hits, they could find themselves walking the plank into a sea of red ink.

When I worked at the local paper, we used to get a lot of hits out of Norwich, a little town some kilometres from London, Ontario. The folk in charge did not question those numbers, even when I raised questions. They liked to assume that for some unknown reason we were exceedingly popular in Norwich.

Well, my sites have attracted a lot of Norwich hits on certain days and I don't assume that I am exceedingly popular in Norwich.

I know of one company that bragged about its surprisingly large number of Twitter followers. When I checked their followers, I found fully 66% of the followers were meaningless - many were links to porn sites. (Since then I have learned that this is not uncommon. I have rejected at least 90% of the follower requests I have received.)

So, why was a picture of a Ford Focus reflecting a sunset in London, Ontario, of interest to surfers in Doha, Qatar, Istanbul, Turkey and Wilcox, Arizona? (I have blurred the IP addresses as I don't know the legalities of publishing them.)


If you work for a newspaper, you should check Newsosaur's take on inflated Internet numbers too often quoted by newspapers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Time-wasting trash in the old media

"I, who never never drink, was forced to go toe to toe with George. Because you have to man up. So we drank like four bottles of wine; I got (totally plastered). It was ugly." (So was the writing. The words were easier to clean up than than the values.)

Ian Gillespie, who writes The City column for The London Free Press, was onto something when he wrote his Wednesday piece, "Time-wasting trash poisoning youth."

Gillespie writes, "The experts call it "junk culture" and many are alarmed . . . "

Gillespie quotes Doug Mann, a professor with the University of Western Ontario's faculty of information and media studies. "Junk culture is inherent in new media . . . when you get new media moving in, it changes the way we see the world . . . "

Wait! I've made a big mistake. Please forgive me. I've taken a paragraph from a glowing article on actor George Clooney. An article that in its own words comes "precariously close to gushing."

How did I ever confuse a Sun Media piece by that insightful reporter Kevin Williamson, about the "perfect" manGeorge Clooneyand the Ian Gillespie column on ideas that poison our youth?

The behaviour condoned, no celebrated, in The London Free Press/Sun Media cover story, "Class act is no act", must be acceptable behaviour as it is clearly sanctioned by the old media.

Oh, oh! This blog is part of the new media. No wonder I got my stories mixed. As Mann points out, " . . . people's basic skills will fade away." Mine must be fading already.

But, I bet I'm not the only with fading skills. People who consume four bottles of wine at a sitting, just to prove their masculine prowess, will have grossly faded skills by the end of the evening binge.

Sadly, if they are small in stature, like many underage, youthful drinkers, even their skill to simply breath may fade. Alcohol poisoning fatalities do not happen all that often but these are totally preventable tragedies. When I was in high school, a good, bright young boy died from an alcohol overdose (AOD). He went to a high school dance, got drunk, went home, passed out in bed and was asphyxiated during the night. His mother discovered her dead son in the morning.

According to Gillespie, "Mann isn't optimistic about the future." Maybe Mann took a peek at his morning paper.

Addendum:

Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) began working on the problem of AOD (alcohol overdose) in 1992. Based on discussions with victims' families and county medical examiners, RID estimates as many as 4,000 deaths occur each year in the United States from alcohol overdosing: drinking too much alcohol too fast. Families learn, in the most difficult way, that alcohol can be a lethal drug.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to AOD.



Teens pictured on the site died from alcohol poisoning.




Another site for stats on alcohol and youth people is MADD.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bernie lost but half his clients won!

The following is an update of a June post which originally appeared on my WordPress site. I'm closing that blog, and because of recent events I am revisiting my take on the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

_________________________________________________________

Old Bernie Madoff carries the right moniker, Madoff. It was originally reported that Bernie made-off with 50 billion of his trusting clients’ money. It now appears that Bloomberg.com and others have over-estimated Bernie’s accomplishments.

Although it was claimed he controlled $50 billion, he may have had well less than $17 billion in deposits. If he had invested it, he might have grown it, but he didn’t and it didn’t.

Former SEC head Harvey Pitt said that Madoff “probably inflated the amount of money he had under management.” Pitt predicted the actual loss would fall below $17 billion. As of September 23, 2009, a search of financial records, including microfilm records dating back to 1979, show investors suffering net losses exceeding $13 billion — a mere fraction of the original estimates.

How much is left? Hard to say but as of September 23 the Huffington Post tells us that "authorities have identified more than $1 billion in assets that can be distributed to victims."

Wait, Bernie only lost 94% of the money — maybe less! That’s it! Edward Zore, Chief Executive Officer of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, said recently, “We have stocks in our portfolio that lost 95 per cent.” And do you remember Providian Financial? It lost 95% of its value amid a spectacular run of credit card defaults. Oops!

Investors who bought into the American mutual fund ProFunds UltraOTC,when it was at its peak and rode it down to its June 2009 low, watched 95% of their wealth disappear. Will anyone go to jail? Of course not. This is legal. Losing money in the market is an everyday occurrence.

Silly Bernie just cut out the middle man and lost the money directly. Dumb. He could have invested the money, taken his well-earned bonuses for losing the investments and gotten on with his life.

Now, The Huffington Post reports, "Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that a review of most accounts held by financier Bernard Madoff's customers when he was arrested show that about half of the customers had not lost money because they withdrew more money than they originally invested."

For fun, I took a quick look at Canadian mutual funds using globefund.com (my fave). Check out this winner. Just think, if you had invested in this fund less than a decade ago, you would have achieved Madoff like losses as of Sept. 23, 2009. Silly Bernie.

Jennifer Connelly's infamous red dress

On booting up my computer this morning, I was greeted once again by Jennifer Connelly in her shapely, red dress at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It seems Sympatico.ca — Where Canadians start their day — believes Canadians are a lecherous lot getting their morning-motor-starter not from coffee but from the sight of Connelly's breasts and nipples visible through her her now infamous fashion faux pas.

(The above picture, from Adorned, is not one of the pictures in question. The dress looks great here. I'm not posting the revealing pictures. If you must see those, use Google. Weirdo!)

What a bunch of kids! But kids who raise interesting questions about themselves and about the media in general. You see, I'm not sure if Jennifer Connelly meant to reveal so much. In a Canadian Press video, featuring reporters Catharine Benzie and Sunny Freeman, one of the two remarks, " . . . don't know if she (Connelly) expected the lights to do that to her . . . "

I agree. Oh, I think she meant to look sexy. The dress is clingy. But when seen in person, under lighting that is softer, less directional than the straight on strobe light under which she was photographed, the effect is totally different.

I have seen the Connelly-dress-effect before. Years ago, I shot a picture for The London Free Press of a young woman at pool side wearing a tight, body-hugging racing suit. When I saw the prints, I saw her naked. Nothing was left to the imagination. The strong, directional strobe light passed through the dark fabric, illuminated her light skin and any contrasting areas, and carried all that risque information back to my camera. I used Spot-tone to darken her swim suit for the paper and somehow those negs got lost (wink).

I did some searching and discovered that Linda Barnard, who reports for The Toronto Star but once worked for The London Free Press, saw Connelly in the flesh on the red carpet at TIFF.

This is Barnard's take on the infamous dress: ". . . as to Connelly's dress - it was not see-through at all - in fact the dress seemed to be made of a pretty heavy stretchy material and I was standing right beside her a few times. I think you're right though, it may have appeared so when hit by a powerful flash. It wasn't lined and she wasn't wearing a bra. But she struck me as a classy woman, very poised and extremely generous with her time for all of us. And, as we later learned, she was going through a rough time emotionally - it was the one-year anniversary of her father's death. So I say props to Jen for looking fantastic."

If you watch the CP video that I have included, you will hear at the opening, "I think it's about time that we get a little bit catty . . . " Look carefully at these two and then ask yourself who you would like to cut into fashionable ribbons — Jennifer Connelly or these two fashion losers. (Sorry, but I thought it was about time that I got a little bit catty.)

I don't imagine that it was a great trip to Toronto for Connelly. Canadians didn't show their best form. Harsh strobes weren't necessary to strip away the Canadian veneer of civility. A Canadian TV executive made Connelly cry with an immature outburst attacking Connelly for apparently not attending his party. What a boor!

The National Post reported, " . . . John Riley, Astral Media’s president of television networks, reacted to Connelly’s alleged no-show at his company’s opening night gala party the night before — due to travel delays, the report said — by ripping a photo of the actress in two . . . “This is my former favourite actress … I promised my kids we would shake hands.”

The day after the party Connelly responded, "My husband and I did go to your party last night but only very briefly and I had to leave early because yesterday was the first anniversary of my father’s death,” she said, struggling against tears. “And I’m very sorry. I would have loved to have stayed longer but was not able to. So please accept my apology.” "

Connelly apologized! What about the boor? Well, the best I could find was a report in the Toronto Sun in which Riley claimed his “remarks and actions were completely in jest . . . "

Connelly's dress was a definite fashion oops. Not a good choice for a night in front of the photographers' lights. But Connelly seems to have come through her visit to Toronto looking good, clothed in class.

Kudos to Jennifer Connelly.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Canadian Press reporters Catharine Benzie and Sunny Freeman question fashion choices made by Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly and Naomi Watts on the TIFF red carpet.
Updated 15th September 20



Addendum: Since writing this, it has been brought to my attention by folks in attendance that the red dress was not see-through at all. This was not a shear fabric blasted into invisibility by strong light. This was an illusion, best seen in photos, caused by the strong shadows cast by the harsh lighting and enhanced by the spectral highlights from the flash photography on the fairly thick, but rather light-reflective, fabric. Whatever, not a good choice for the red carpet.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Capitalism: the best system?

"Even Paul McCartney has admitted capitalism is the best system. And he was a big pinko back in the day." [source: Dan Brown of The London Free Press]

When I read the above I groaned, then I thought — this could be a blog — and finally I thought, "Whoa! There is a lot buried in those 20 words. If I'm not careful, those words could also bury me."

Paul McCartney caused a stir in 1972 with his song "Give Ireland Back to the Irish." The song was banned on the BBC. I'm old enough to recall all sorts of silly stuff being said about the Beatles when they were at their peak, but I don't think Paul McCartney was ever a communist — but that's just my opinion. Go google this and get back to me. I did, and failed to find a solid connection.

But, I don't think McCartney's politics are really relevant. You might say this talk of his being a pinko is a bit of a red herring. The statement we're really interested in is: "Capitalism is the best system." Is this true?

This is hard one, for someone who is not an economist, to answer. I'm going to answer but I'll come at the answer sideways. I want to slip out of this unscathed, I'm not looking to get deep into an economic or political argument, but it may be difficult.

You see, my first thought is that when I was young I would have agreed rather quickly with the statement. But with the passing of fifty some years I've changed and it is has not only me that has changed but capitalism. Capitalism today is not the capitalism of my childhood.

I believe the boosters of capitalism would say this is a strength of the capitalist system. It adapts to meet the demands of the day. This sounds good on the surface but what does it mean in reality? Are the changes that I have experienced through the past half century making capitalism better? If not, maybe the best system was some version of capitalism now adapted out of existence.

My grandfather was born on a farm in Princeton, Ontario. He was an outstanding student and I understand that at his graduation it was said he was the youngest pharmacist in the province of Ontario. It's hard to prove the truth of this statement as he graduated back in the early 1890s. Let's just agree that he was a very bright young man.

On graduation, he went to the States to work for Cunningham Drug Stores. This was an up and coming chain. My grandfather had a chance to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, but he declined.

He moved back to Canada, to Brantford, Ontario, where he started his own independent neighbourhood drugstore. He didn't get rich but he did have a beautiful wife and he raised a fine family. He never owned a car; he didn't need one as he walked to work. He lived in the type of walkable neighbourhood that is today thought so desirable.

Today, a young man graduating as a pharmacist would have a difficult time starting his own independent corner drugstore. The large chains pretty well control everything in the pharmacy business.

The Cunningham's Drug Store chain, the one my grandfather snubbed, went on to become one of the major players in the American Midwest but a few decades ago it was taken out by another player in the capitalist game. A lot of people lost their jobs.

When I was a boy, my neighbourhood had a least three independent drugstores. Each one employed people in the neighbourhood and provided an important service. There were no big parking lots at any of these stores as big parking lots weren't necessary. Most people walked to these drugstores — even the staff.

I worked for one of those drugstores; it became one of the first Big V pharmacies. Big V was formed by a small group of independent Windsor, Ontario, pharmacists intent on saving the neighbourhood drugstore. A few years ago Big V was bought by Shopper's Drug Mart. Today Shopper's is owned by Loblaws.

Capitalism, the best system? I'm not sure that my grandfather would recognize today's capitalism. And I honestly believe that he would tell you the system under which he started his business, a business that lasted him a lifetime, was better.





Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quality: Why We Travel vs. Reader Hot Shots

Quality: today's missing ingredient. (Actually, it was yesterday's missing ingredient, too. And it probably won't be as common in the future as it should be either.)

Quality is what drove Robert Pirsig to stumble about for hundreds of pages in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As I recall, Pirsig felt strongly that we all are able to recognize Quality. Maybe; I don't know. I do think we have a hard time with day to day quality. You know, the kind without the capital "Q".

Which brings us to today's little itemtravel pictures. The London Free Press devotes half a page of newsprint every Saturday to publishing snapshots of local folk on vacation. This weekend there was a couple from Sarnia in front of some greenery in Antigua, a little London toddler in the water at Tobermory, a whole mess of young people in Italy on a field trip with Clarke Road Secondary School . . .

The Free Press dropped the stock and mutual fund tables months ago. It was determined that the Internet was a better place for publishing that kind of limited interest stuff. Maybe it is time to move the Reader (not so ) Hot Shots completely to the Web.

I'm sure, for those who know these people, it is fun seeing them on holiday and in the weekend paper. For the rest of us, with no connection at all to these people, it' s not so much fun.

But, you know, I bet many of these people have some great pictures from their trips, some great stories and some good travel tips. It is too bad a reporter cannot be assigned to interview them. Each week the best pictures and stories could run in the paper with more on the Web. Hey, it is the Information Age, right?

All the vacation pictures could be posted on the web, on a site run by Sun Media and devoted to the sharing of on-line travel albums with relatives, friends and others interested in "zip-lining in Antigua." To add quality, the newspaper would work closely with these people guiding them through their first venture into the world of travel writing.

Now, compare the Free Press approach to that of The New York Times and their Why We Travel series.

London Free Press Gallery - Reader Hot Shots

The photo on the left should be run only on the Web. A picture with more action, one capturing the feel of the holiday, is needed for publication. Add some stories, tips on canoeing in Algonquin Park and you've added quality. This would serve the general reader and the people in the picture far better.

Why We Travel - The New York Times > Travel > Slide Show > Slide 1 of 30

Some of the pictures run by the NYT are admittedly amazing but I have seen travel pictures from friends and relatives that equaled the NYT stuff.

Newspapers should work with their readers. Strive for quality. Everyone would benefit.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Addendum: I actually tried this approach for my Rockin' On: Travel. All pictures illustrating the article were shot by the person on holiday and they were all shot with a simple point and shoot by a non-professional.

Friday, September 18, 2009

VW L1 Hybrid: "Most Efficient Car In The World" (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Though, it won't be available until 2013, the two-seater L1 -- which stands for its one-liter fuel capacity -- quickly become the talk of Frankfurt. The diesel-electric hybrid engine gets a whopping 157.8 miles per gallon and tops out at 100 miles per hour, according to CarConnection. The L1 also has an "impressive" driving range of 416 miles, which beats plug-in competitors

VW L1 Hybrid: "Most Efficient Car In The World" (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

A Recycled Blog

I'm shutting down my original Rockinon blog and I am moving some of my favourite posts to this site. I'm not being lazy; I'm recycling.

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It’s a weird world when David Gough, the blogger covering environmental concerns for The London Free Press, comes out against a bylaw designed to stop the practice of idling a car for more than a minute.

Gough wrote: “Five minutes makes sense, one minute just seems to be cutting it too close.”

He goes on to argue that dropping his son off at the arena might easily force him to idle his car for more than a minute while his son putzes around undoing his seat belt, turning off his video game and getting his hockey bag from the trunk. Gough says he could see his son costing him money.

Dave, the idea is to turn off your car. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s green. And, it’s old fashioned.

That’s right, old fashioned. When I was a boy, my father never let his car idle for more than a minute — not even in winter. He had been told by a mechanic that the manual choke made the carburetor fuel mix richer and this could cause a soot-like build-up on the plugs. This dirt, the mechanic said, caused engines to run-on when turned off.

Furthermore, the mechanic said the engine oil pump was not efficient when the car was idling. It worked best with the car underway and the engine reving higher.

Four decades ago, my father taught me: If you are stopping for more than a minute, turn off the car. If my dad could do it, we can all do it. And, my dad wasn’t even green.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saganaki: It's from Chicago and not Greece!

It's not from Greece! What a surprise! Saganaki, flaming cheese, is not a traditional Greek appetizer. It's American from Chicago.

My nephew Bob who lives in the Windy City called me with the news. He saw a report on Chicago television and knew I'd be interested. He even took notes.

It seems the well known appetizer was created by two Greek-American restaurateurs, brothers Chris and Bill Liakouras, co-owners of Chicago's Parthenon Greek restaurant on S. Halsted Street.

Before July 5th, 1968, saganaki was just fried cheese. Today, 31 years later, the brothers' flaming cheese creation can be found in restaurants around the world, even in Greece!

Now that I know flaming cheese is a flaming phony, I am not too concerned with the recipe. I once worried about the liquor I used to flame the cheese. No more. There is no tradition stretching back generations.

The main ingredient for making flaming cheese is, no surprise, cheese. This is usually kasseri or kefalotiri, both sheep's milk cheeses which resist melting when heated.

Dip the cheese slices in an egg wash, then lightly coat each slice with flour, and finally fry the slices in a small pan for a couple of minutes, flipping once.

While the cheese is frying heat two tablespoons of Ouzo for 15 seconds in the microwave on high. When the cheese is done add the warmed Ouzo and light using a barbecue lighter --- the kind with a flame at the end of a long tube. Do not use a short match or small lighter. Be careful. The flames may flare a foot or more above the pan.

Squelch the sputtering fire with juice squeezed from half a lemon and serve with crusty French bread and a dry white wine.

I like using Ouzo rather than brandy as it gives the flaming cheese a gentle hint of licorice. But the choice of liquor is up to you; remember, you are not constrained by tradition.

One last thing: when you flame the cheese, don't forget to shout, "Opaah!" No idea why, it's, uh, tradition.
_______________________________________

Ingredients
  • 2 slices of kasseri or kefalotiri cheese
  • egg wash made with one egg
  • a little flour
  • olive oil to well coat bottom of small frying pan
  • 1 tablepoon butter
  • half a lemon
  • 2- tablespoons Ouzo or brandy
I have found that the kefalotiri holds up better than the kasseri when fried. But, the kasseri had more flavour and it went well with the licorice flavour of the Ouzo. Just watch it carefully if using kasseri, or it will turn into a puddle of melted cheese.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My favourite science writer

My favourite science writer was the late Stephen Jay Gould. I discovered him many years ago when I picked a double book set as an introductory gift for joining the Paperback Book Club. It was an introduction to a gifted writer.

The twinned books were The Flamingo's Smile and The Panda's Thumbboth named after essays contained within the covers. I didn't mention: many of Gould's books are collections of his essays. You can read these books in short, but fulfilling, bursts.

Gould died in 2002 and since then I've been without a fave in the science field but the position is no longer open. Olivia Judson has stepped up to the plate and this lady can hit. And like Gould, she likes to write essays and short newspaper pieces. She a quick but rich read.

Judson rose to public prominence with “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex.” The book was written in the style of a sex-advice column to animals while detailing the variety of sexual practices in the natural world. It provides the reader with an overview of the evolutionary biology of sex.

Judson has been published in The Economist, Nature, The Financial Times, The Atlantic and Natural History. And today she writes a science and biology column for The New York Times. If you haven't read Judson, check her out.

Gould's essays are getting a little old, some haven't aged well, but good writing, thoughtful writing, writing that makes science and, by extension, our world more accessible never ceases to bring joy. Both Flamingo and Panda are good introductions to Gould's writing, but I also rate Wonderful Life highly. It is centred around the Burgess Shale found in the Canadian Rockies and so carries a Canadian tint.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Monday, September 14, 2009

Too green for the LFP green blogger

This is a tricky blog to write. It's both funny and disgusting. I thought of not writing this blog at all because children might stumble upon it. Then I realized kids talk about this stuff all the time. Kids love to be both funny and disgusting.

My tale involves The London Free Press and their green blogger. It seems the newspaper blogger first heard of a Brazilian water-saving strategy quickly becoming the talk of the globe while listening to local radio. What he heard was upsetting as well as unbelievable and he tried putting it out of his mind. He soon discovered he couldn't. The Brazilian story was everywhere. He even saw tweets about it on Twitter. I agree, it was an impossible story to ignore. I read about it on The Huffington Post.

The green blogger found the concept behind the Brazilian green strategy "gross." He got "the heebie jeebies just thinking about doing it." The senior online editor at the paper, showing his sharp wit, commented, "I smell a hoax. I saw this story, I don't believe it for a second."

The online editor had flippantly called the story a hoax without a second's worth of investigation. I thought that his lack of initiative reflected poorly on the profession of journalism. If a senior online editor can't confirm whether a story is a hoax or not, who can? ( Uh, I know the answer, a dedicated blogger.)

Let's not drag this out any longer. There really is no point in being so prissy. Why even Kelly Clarkson admits doing it. Clarkson reportedly told Blender magazine: "Anybody who says they don’t is lying." I wonder if that includes green bloggers and senior online editors.

And what deep, dark secret is Kelly Clarkson revealing? She pees in the shower. And Kelly is not the only one coming out of the (water) closet. Read this post by a blogger named Fran who confesses, "I often pee in the shower and have since I was young." Fran goes on to promise that she doesn't "pee in the bathtub or in swimming pools."

The Huffington Post reported Brazilians are being encouraged to save water by urinating in the shower. (It is important to note: if you are healthy, your urine is sterile. The Brazilian environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica says the campaign running on several television stations is using humor to persuade people to reduce flushes. The group says if a household can save up to 4,380 liters of water annually by following this green advice.

SOS spokeswoman Adriana Kfouri said Tuesday that the ad is "a way to be playful about a serious subject." The spot features cartoon drawings of people from all walks of life — a trapeze artist, a basketball player, even an alien — all are urinating in the shower. Narrated by children's voices, the ad ends with: "Pee in the shower! Save the Atlantic rain forest!"

If you are as put off as most folk, Tucson Citizen reporter Ryan Gargulinski will put you at ease on this and other germ-o-phobic myths. Read Ryan and stop worrying about that public restroom toilet seat.

So was this whole thing just a hoax? I wasn't sure at first. If it was it sure fooled a lot of folk. For instance, both the Toronto Sun and Canoe carried the story a day before our newspaper green blogger and the senior online editor dismissed it.

Using Orkut and Facebook I contacted people living in Brazil. I asked them if the campaign was a hoax. It took me but minutes using social media to become convinced the story is not a hoax.

When I googled some details of the story and added the word hoax, my only relevant hit was the online editor's comment. He may have learned not to pee in the shower but now he must learn what not to do into the wind.




If you'd like another way of saving on water, check out my post on dual flush HET toilets and water saving shower heads and faucets. I have installed all green plumbing fixtures in my main floor bathroom. It has cut my water usage and all without offending my wife or giving my house guests the heebie jeebies.

Michael Moore on the state of newspapers

Only the first part of the following interview applies to Canadian newspapers. It's good to hear someone else voicing some of my views. I like to say that the Canadian newspaper industry is now too big to succeed. Big corporations like Quebecor have gobbled up vast numbers of community newspapers and now must try to stay solvent while paying off the horrendous debt load they have accumulated.



The future does not belong to the one with the biggest press, the most trucks or the largest building. The future belongs to the organization that can pull together the largest group of talented, well-trained reporters and expert editors, and back their editorial A-team with great tech support. The Internet may prove to be the great equalizer when it comes to news organizations.

I visit the Internet site of my favourite newspaper, which sadly is Quebecor owned, and notice that their online editor may make a rash statement and then ask the reader, "What do you think?" This is not journalism. Bloggers often do more work.

Michael Moore is correct when it comes to advertising. I had an editor admit why the paper would not run an accurate article detailing the problems with the automobile industry's 0% loan programs - 0% loans that aren't 0%. Don't believe me when I say most, if not all, the 0% loans are a ruse? Read the fine print. Or go here, as I do not worry about advertiser support.

Ask yourself, "Why does the local paper accept double truck ads pushing the Amish miracle heater?" And if the local paper applies absolutely no standards to the ads running in the paper, how can we trust any ad running in the paper?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Social networking, not quite a buzzword

Social networking: not quite a buzzword (buzz phrase?) but it is doing more work than should be expected of any two words, especially two words in such a young relationship. Constant and repeated togetherness can be deadly to linguistic unions. I've seen it before: mission critical, alternative lifestyle, hidden agenda, office effectivity. Office effectivity? It may be hard to believe but it was once such an overworked phrase that it was banned by the unicorn hunters of Lake Superior State University, Michigan.

It is not just the the phrase that's in danger of early extinction; it's the social networks themselves. Do you recall Six Degrees. com? Once employing a 100 people, servicing a million registered members, it was valued at $125 million (U.S.) by YouthStream Media Network who bought it in 2000. YSM soon closed it, and in 2003 sold its patented approach to constructing a networking database for $700 thousand to Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Marc Pincus of Tribe.net.

In order to bid on the SixDegrees patent, it was reported that Hoffman and Pincus made an end run around their own social networking friend, Jonathan Abrams of Friendster. Social networking sounds so positive, so friendly but among the gurus of the movement it can be downright cutthroat.

Friendster may be almost off the radar in North America but it is a social networking force in Southeast Asia, and still boasts 105 million profiles worldwide. A quick check shows that there are still Friendster members in my hometown of London, Ontario. One is the heavy metal bank Kittie which is lead by two sisters, Mercedes and Morgan Landers from London. Note that Kittie has both the private profile and the messaging on their Friendster site turned off. Hmmm. Not all that friendly, but certainly wise.

Today, Facebook and Twitter are the big bullies on the social networking block. If you question the word bullies think of MySpace and how it was pummelled. Xanga has taken a bit of a beating, too, I believe.

With so many social networking sites, big and small, there is actually a social network aggregator - Spokeo.com. On their site Spokeo says they, " . . . set out to build search technology to automatically detect online identities associated with emails and URLs . . . " Note that Spokeo has an HR product as part of their Recruiting edition. Be careful what you post on Facebook and other social networking sites. It can come back and bite you.

What does social networking deliver? It's a mixed bag. I could have hundreds of Twitter followers but I block the vast majority. Most are ads and some are porn. I find in the computer world it is important to pick your friends with care. I don't want to pick up a social (networking) disease - a computer virus.

But the few contacts that I have made have had a positive affect on my life. When I expressed and interest in new urbanism a chap appeared out of the fog of the Internet to suggest a book to read. It was an excellent suggestion. And I've learned stuff, I've filled holes in my knowledge by paying attention to the comments elicited by my blogs.

But mainly, I find Twitter a great way to stay abreast of the news. I follow The London Free Press Twitter tweats. Facebook has become very crowded with oodles of suggested friends whom I have never met, never will, and have no desire to meet in either my real or my virtual life. And, I have a hard enough time pairing up real socks without accepting virtual socks on Facebook. A virtual sock?

Yet, it was through Facebook that I reconnected, a fragile reconnection I admit, but still a reconnection with one of my former students. I was then able to reconnect the long lost student with another friend whom we both have in common. I have to admit, all this was kinda cool.

So, if Twitter and Facebook are not my faves when it come to social networking, what is? GroupRecipes.com! This social networking site has a tight focus - food. Ah food, I think about it everyday. At my age, I enjoy it more than sex.

GroupRecipes allows you to search by ingredients or by flavour. Check your pantry and run a search and find dinner. I like this.

Or, click on the folder tabs: new today, popular, active users, and trends. There's a lot that I wouldn't let near my kitchen but there are also gems. Find something that impresses you, click on the cook's name, and if you like a lot of what they have posted, become a follower. In researching this I stumbled upon Midgelet and a recipe for autumn pear pie.

Midgelet may I follow you? Think about your answer. Spokeo may be watching.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

McDonald's full of surprises

Quite a busy today but I read a post which I would like to share. It was written by a Londoner living and blogging in Scandinavia. This post points out why McDonald's is such a global success. But Elle Hermansen's blog is not the only link to McD's story today. Please, read on.

Elle Hermansen writes well and she illustrates her posts with clean, stylish photos. There is a beautiful, classic, graphic look to her pages. Look at how she writes Elle - the two l's form a heart. I read her stuff with a critical eye and try to learn from her. I hope you enjoy Hermansen's blog as much as I do.

Now, have you ever wondered what fish goes into a McDonald's filet-o-fish? Read the New York Times article. If you're a green, this is an interesting read.

Cheers,
Rockinon

Monday, September 7, 2009

On a loved baby and a contented grandpa...

Well, Fiona is home and, for the most part, she is a contented baby. She makes funny faces, she waves her arms wildly enjoying her freedom and sometimes she cries. So far, when she cries someone usually picks her up and she mellows out.

Is this wise? I don't follow this stuff closely, at least I didn't, but I thought we were supposed to leave a child to cry and not reward them for bugging us. But, I pick Fiona up almost every time she cries. My hold-the-baby response just seems so natural and her hold-me-and-I-stop response also seems so natural, so expected, so right.

Time for some research.

First I found lots of links to something called "Attachment Parenting." Miriam Stoppard had lots of good advice. I don't know about the accuracy of the science but the close, caring relationship she promotes surely cannot be bad. She writes, "I shrink from leaving a baby to cry for long periods." But, what is a long period of time? I moved on.

Dr. Laura Markham tells me that Fiona thinks she's in mortal danger unless she's in some one's arms. I don't think so. Lay Fiona down and she's cool. Honest. When Markham told me to keep the baby close by, " . . . in the same bed," it was time to move on. This advice can be deadly.

Parents should never sleep in the same bed with infants or toddlers under the age of 2, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned. Sleeping in the same bed with your newborn poses a significant risk of accidental smothering or strangling.

"Don't sleep with your baby or put the baby down to sleep in an adult bed," Ann Brown, the commission's chairwoman, counsels parents. According to an agency study and published by the American Medical Association (A.M.A.), over an eight-year period 515 children under 2 – an average of 64 a year – died as a result of sleeping in a bed with an adult or much older person.

A safer option is a co-sleeper bassinet which is attached to the bed of the parents but allows the child to sleep in a separate, protected space.

So much for attachment parenting. I went looking for university sponsored sites.

I found the following on a site run by the University of California, San Francisco, (UCSF): "Babies cry one to four hours a day. Sometimes they cry because they are hungry, tired, have a dirty diaper or just want to be held. Sometimes babies cry for no known reason. Many babies cry more in the early evening -- just when you're trying to have dinner. Babies cry the most between the ages of 6 to 8 weeks."

O.K. We're in agreement: babies cry; it's normal. But, should we pick 'em up the moment they burst into tears?

I clicked on Soothing Your Crying Infant on the UCSF website.

I learned:

"When your baby is crying, you can try:

  • Changing your baby's diaper
  • Changing his or her clothes or blankets to see if your baby is too hot or cold
  • Feeding your baby to see if he or she is hungry
  • Checking your baby for anything that might cause pain, like an open diaper pin.

If your baby keeps crying, you may want to:

  • Rock your baby in a rocking chair or swing
  • Gently stroke your baby's head
  • Try offering your baby a pacifier
  • Take your baby for a walk or a ride in the car
  • Try giving your baby a warm bath
  • Play soft music
  • Ask a friend or relative to help you

If your baby continues to cry, understand that babies are exposed to many new sights, sounds, touches, tastes and smells -- all of which can be quite overwhelming. Crying is the only way babies have to release tension. Therefore your baby may be telling you that he or she needs to be left alone. Try swaddling your baby snugly in a blanket and lay him or her in a crib in a quiet, dark room.

Allow your baby to cry for 10 to 15 minutes. You may need to go to another room and shut the door during this time, but remember you are not being mean to your baby by allowing him or her some time to cry. Also, remember to consider whether your baby might be sick."

Did you notice that? Buried in all this advice it says, ". . . your baby may be telling you that he or she needs to be left alone . . . you are not being mean to your baby by allowing him or her time to cry."

Yesterday Fiona was supposed to be sleeping but she didn't seem to know it. She was oh-so-alert. And then she started to cry. But, her crying didn't seem to have depth. This wasn't anguish from deep within. She almost seemed to be crying to just get some low level practice. I didn't pick her up. She soon stopped and looked quite content.

I feel vindicated. I did the right thing.

______________________________________________

Addendum:

After writing the above, I found a bit more on the topic. I really liked the tone of this writing.

If you want to pick up your infant almost immediately, and do it, don't feel guilty. A loved baby is a contented baby. They feel confident and safe in their surroundings. I personally could not go more than five minutes without cuddling Fiona when she cries.

A loved baby is a contented baby and such a loved baby makes for a contented grandpa.

Featured Link: 01

Crimes Against the Soul of America by Caroline Myss, author of Sacred Contracts

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Della Reese and Dr. Drake

I've heard it said that lots of ill people go the the United States seeking health care but no American ever leaves. Not true. I can recall the American singer Della Reese coming to London, Ontario, and going to University Hospital in order to be operated on by Dr. Charles Drake. Reese credited Drake with saving her life when he operated on her brain aneurysm.

Later Reese rewarded the community by holding a concert at which $40,000 was raised for the Dr. Charles Drake research fund. The entire event was a big deal here in London and such a fuss was made that I can still clearly recall the event. Reese's decision stirred up a lot of civic pride.

Do I think that Della Reese could have received the same treatment in the States? Yes, I think so. But, Dr. Drake was a brilliant doctor and University Hospital an excellent facility. She made a good choice. I doubt she could have done better.

Are there any other cases of Americans leaving the States for treatment? According to claims on Democratic Underground.com, the answer is yes. So many Americans seek medical care outside the U.S. that a term has been coined for it: medical tourism.

If you can believe the numbers, thousands and thousands of Americans are active medical tourists. Why? My guess is cost. According to the information on Democratic Underground.com, " . . . data show that heart surgery, which costs more than $50,000 in the United States, can be purchased for $20,000 in Singapore, for $12,000 in Thailand and between $3,000 and $10,000 in India." Reportedly the quality of the purchased medical treatment is excellent. (My mitral valve heart repair was done robotically using the da Vinci system and it was covered by my OHIP payments. It was financially painless.)

As a Canadian, I'm torn. I would not want a system like the one presently in place in the States. Because of my open heart surgery, I would have a difficult time getting insurance in the States. If I was lucky enough to get, it would be out of my financial reach.

The Canadian system is not perfect. Having worked at a newspaper for years, I have met a number of people who were having problems with the Canadian medical system. But, with many of my relatives living in the U.S., I know that Americans can have problems, too.

What is needed is a careful, thoughtful discussion. The time for debate is over. It should be clear that with 45 million uninsured Americans, the system needs more than an adjustment.

I quoted infant mortality rate numbers in an earlier post. Not surprisingly, these numbers are suspect. And that is the problem with a debate. One-upmanship becomes paramount. We may even throw about numbers just because they prove our point. We may not look carefully at what the numbers truly represent.

When I was born, I was a small bundle of joy that cost my parents another small bundle but not a joyous one. If I had been born just days later, my delivery would have been covered by Windsor Medical. I believe, and I am going by memory here, that the doctors in Windsor, Ontario, in the late '40s banded together to form Windsor Medical and make medical treatment affordable to all.

When the government stepped in with its plan, Windsor Medical came to an end. I've often wondered if Windsor Medical was a superior system. I don't know and Google doesn't seem to have the answer either.
__________________________________________________
For all its problems, and it does have problems, read what it was like when my daughter gave birth just days ago right her in London, Ontario.




The halloumi staycation

This summer The London Free Press is running a little series called "Staycations." With the economy in the grip of a recessionary bear, many Londoners are passing on expensive out-of-province vacations. Staycations has tips for these stay-at-homes on how to have fun while learning about the immediate area drive no more than two hours from London and often much less.

Retired, staycations are especially appealing to me. My personal boom has past and I am now in a permanent bust cycle. My cheap, old geezer addition to the staycation idea involves only a trip to Angelos Italian Bakery, Cafe and Deli, some visiting friends and a bit of Internet cruising.

I'm making a quick visit to Cyprus thanks to Bill, a visiting friend. I took Bill to the Angelos on Wonderland Road near Southdale Road. Bill loves food; he is quite the cook; and, he loves Angelos. The fresh baked olive bread or the sun-dried tomato loaf are both worth a visit.

Angelos carries a large selection of cheeses. It was there Bill discovered the halloumi from Pittas Dairy of Cyprus. If you are like me, you are asking, "Halloumi? What's halloumi?" You may even be asking, "Where's Cyprus?"

Halloumi is the national cheese of Cyprus. Pittas Dairy is a well known, decades old island dairyand Bill, a well travelled chap, knew all of this. He lived for some time in the Mediterranean island country, found on a map to the east of Greece and south of Turkey. I mention both Greece and Turkey as the two have had dibs on the island for centuries and have had an open dispute over its control for decades.

I checked Loblaws for halloumi but found a Canadian made PC copy instead called Halloom. It may be a good cheese but it is not staycation cheese. Why the name change? Halloumi is registered as a protected Cypriot product in the U.S. and there are moves to protect the name worldwide. Loblaws wants to make cheese not waves.


More about Pittas Dairy, halloumi and even Cyrian politics later. For now, let's cut to the chase. What do we do with the stuff?

According to Bill, put a tablespoon or two of good olive oil in a frying pan and heat until a drop of water sizzles and dances on the surface. Add the halloumi, sliced about 3/8-inch thick, and fry. Grind a little fresh Telicherry pepper on the frying cheese, if you like. After a couple of minutes carefully flip the slices and lightly brown the other side. A squeeze of lemon juice is a traditional finish.

Halloumi, unlike most cheese, has a very high melting point. Traditionally made from sheep and goat's milk, the international product often contains a lot of cow's milk. If done right, the halloumi retains its resistance to melting despite this change.

That's the first part of our staycationfried halloumi, a little bit of Cyprus right in our kitchen. Thanks to the Internet we can enrich this experience.

With a bit of googling we learn that Cyprus, with its location in the Mediterranean Sea, enjoys a combination of climate and vegetation making it ideal for raising sheep and goats. It's no surprise that over generations Cypriot cheese makers have fused different Mediterranean cultures and blended the result with their own ideas, developing a rich cheese producer tradition and world famous cheeses like halloumi.

Finding recipes is easy but to serve my halloumi I made up my own recipe inspired by what I had read. I lightly grilled buttered slices of Angelos garlic baguette, placed the fried cheese on the grilled bread and then topped each serving with a grilled slice of lightly salted beefsteak tomato.

The cheese, as promised, had not softened from the heat but it did have a squeaky quality reminiscent of fresh cheese curds.
It was delicious.

Check out these recipes. The
BBC offers 12 ways to serve halloumi. Delia Online had an interesting recipe for halloumi with lime and caper vinaigrette.

Pittas Dairy offers not only
its own recipes but links to recipes on the Net. The 20 Pittas recipes are presented as a PDF booklet with lots of information about the dairy and the cheese. I downloaded it for future reference.

Bill had mentioned serving halloumi with eggs and bacon for breakfast. The Pittas booklet has just such a recipe.

Enjoy.

Oh, about the
politics of Cyprus. You are on your own on this. I'm too busy enjoying the food to concern myself with the politics. Hey, I'm on vacation!

Addendum:

I still had some halloumi remaining and so the next day I grilled a sliced garlic baguette, spread a small amount of basil pesto on the grilled bread, grated just a little Parmesan onto the pesto, laid down the grilled halloumi and finally placed halved olives on top of all.

Delicious.

Cheers,
Rokinon

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Babies and where to have 'em_Part Two

This blog updated and expanded Friday, September 4, 2009
__________________________________________________

She's here. A beautiful baby girl. Such a joy. Such a wonder. A miracle. And no small miracle at that, despite her diminutive size: 19-inches, six and a half pounds.

It is almost midnight but we got home around five. It has been family, food, talk and wine every since. Well, maybe wine, family, food and talk to be more accurate.

If you read yesterday's blog, my wife and I arrived at the hospital around eight thirty this morning. It is an old hospital with some wings dating back to the early years of the last century and some sections may be even older. There are recent additions and some not so recent additions but the overall look on arrival is one of a vibrant, aging well, facility. I dropped off my wife and went to park our car.

The parking garage is just across the street and after parking the car I hiked down the five flights of stairs. I had heart surgery some years ago and so I like to do everything to squeeze a little exercise out of life. No elevators for me.

The birthing suite was on the third floor of the hospital and I again took the stairs. The balusters, handrails, etc. were wood with the finish chipped and worn from decades of use. "Ancient," I thought.

On reaching the third floor, I had a long corridor stretching out in both directions. I thought the birthing rooms were in the east end of the building and turned left. I noticed lots of stored stuff lining the walls. When I walked past a row of portable cribs for newborns, I knew I was getting close. The hospital had been built before a lot of this stuff lining the walls had been invented, or even imagined, and I thought that storage space must be at a premium in such a building. (Also, there is a lot of construction going on and the congestion in the halls could well be partially a result of the construction.)

I came to an intersection of corridors and I was lost. The information and sign-in office was empty. A sign next to a wall phone said to call for assistance. A very pregnant woman entered the office, picked up the phone and called. Watching this I felt that the hospital might be a little understaffed but within moments a woman appeared to assist the caller.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was my son-in-law. He guided me to the birthing room wing, which was down two of halls and through a couple of sets of fire doors.

Entering our daughter's room I heard a heart beat — a loud, strong heart beat. It was the heart beat of my still unborn granddaughter. A sensor on her tummy was both recording and broadcasting the unborn infant's heart beat.

At first the sound was loud and clear and then it weakened. I must have looked panicked as my son-in-law stepped over and explained that the sensor was on his wife's belly and so, as the infant moved, the strength of the signal changed.

My wife was already in the room. She took the elevator. It was more direct and there were signs pointing the way. The world is designed for wusses. I'll teach my granddaughter to be an adventurer, a risk taker, an urban explorer and take stairs.

Beside the bed sat my daughter's nurse. Her nurse? Yes, expectant mothers are assigned their own nurse upon arrival. This woman would stay with my daughter throughout the day. She would monitor both mom's progress and the progress of the baby. There was some high tech equipment beside the bed and the nurse was checking a printout.

The monitoring equipment was connected to the main nursing station and the nurses on duty were also monitoring our daughter and soon-to-be-born child.

By 9:00 a.m. our daughter had dilated to 5 cm (about 2-inches). I believe the goal was 10 cm. The nurse told our daughter the first five is the difficult five. Our daughter smiled, leaned back and with a casual wave of her hand replied, "It was nothing."

Well, the first five may be the hardest but the last five were the longest. she was not dilated to a full 10 cm until early afternoon. And then, as they say, the hard part began. I wasn't there. My wife was there; her husband was there; and an increasing number of nurses and doctors were there.

By the time my granddaughter was born, there were five nurses in the room and two doctors. Both mom and child were being checked and both were looking good!

Later, sometime after the excitement had subsided, Dr. John Stoffman stopped by the room. Stoffman was the pediatrician conducting rounds at the hospital that day. Coincidentally he was the pediatrician who cared for both our daughters when they were both young. He remembered our daughter as having been once his patient and he will be the doctor doing the follow-up on our granddaughter. We all hope he will be able to be our granddaughter's doctor.

Little Fiona already has an OHIP (Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan) number. Someone has to pay Dr. Stoffman.
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Do all births go so smoothly. No, of course not. Stories like this are interesting but they are not the whole story. Good stories and bad stories are always there to be found. More important are the overall figures.

Let's look at the CIA World Factbook and deaths/1000 live births: Singapore 2.31, Bermuda 2.46, Sweden 2.75 . . . Canada was in about 36th place with 5.04. The much maligned, at least recently in the United States, health care systems of Great Britain (4.95), France (3.33) and others all sported better numbers than Canada.

And the United States, where did it land on the CIA list? Well, the U.S. came in lower than Canada. The United States rated about 45 with 6.26 infant deaths per 1000 live births. This is one notch worse than Cuba.

Americans are being so badly served, not only by their health care system but by their media. It would be so easy to write "fools like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs" but they are not fools. Why they don't report with more thoughtful maturity, more journalistic integrity, encouraging more productive discourse, I'll leave up that up to you.

The United States deserves a better health care system. Rating well behind Macau, Andorra, Slovenia and South Korea on the CIA infant mortality rate list is just not acceptable. But, the U.S. also deserves, and desperately needs, a better media. It is impossible to run a successful democracy when so much of the voting populace is being misinformed.

Cheers,
Rockinon.