Sunday, May 29, 2011

Upside Down Tomato Plants

My wife, who has a partial green thumb, became enamored with the Topsey Turvey Upside Down Tomato grower.  You know, As Seen On TV. A word of advice, if you are contemplating purchasing anything As Seen On TV, DON’T.  This is because whatever you think it will do—it WON’T!  Besides, I have enough trouble growing anything right side up.

I was very skeptical, because for the life of me I can’t think of anything that grows better, up side down.  I don’t.  You don’t.  My cat certainly doesn’t, in fact she gets real pissed off and scratches and hisses when I hold her upside down. 

My wife persisted, wore me down actually, so being a smart husband I agreed.  We went to Home Depot and bought the kit.  It came with a plastic basket, a wire harness, and a plan for building an elaborate trellis system. All this for only $9.99.  We buy three!  Then we had to get the dirt because even though the plant is growing upside down, it has to grow in something.  That was $24.  Next we bought the plants. That was $2 a pop.  I’m not done.  Since the plants will be growing upside down, they have to be attached to something.  Alas, they don’t just hang there in mid air.  So we had to get three shepherd hooks.  They were $15 each.  I’m into this thing for over a hundred dollars and haven’t seen one tomato. 

We get everything set up and hang the plants from the hooks.  They immediately begin to sag a bit.  This is not looking good.  We then water the plants.  The shepherd hooks bend so far over that the plants start to touch the ground.  I had to rig a rope from my fence to the hooks to keep everything off the ground. I look at the plans for the trellis and begin to understand why it calls for 4x4s and 2x4s, and a suggestion that I get a building permit.  These things weigh eight tons a piece. 

According to the geniuses at Topsey Turvey, gravity will force nutrients into the plants that will result in volleyball-sized tomatoes.  I’m not a botanist, but I always thought that roots are supposed to do that.  And speaking of gravity, you have to water these things two to three times a DAY because, yep, you guessed it, gravity also forces the water to run out the other end.

Another problem is, just like you and I don’t like to be upside down, neither do the tomato plants.  Yes, they do grow down for a while, but once they discover the sun, they reverse course and begin to grown right side up.  Normally you stake the plant to support the tomatoes.  However, with the upside down grower you cannot.  This results in tomatoes being ripped off the branches and being forced by our old friend gravity to fall to the ground.

Final tally—ten tomatoes.  That’s not a misprint, ten tomatoes.  Well, actually two had some funky holes in them so we’ll say eight.  That comes out to roughly $13 per tomato, not counting the three-hundred gallons of water.  This year I will be going to a farm stand.  Let me leave you with a word of advice.  If you are thinking, even remotely, about the upside down tomato plant grower...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Barry's Smokehouse and BBQ

Here at Barry's Smokehouse and BBQ we take our sauce quite seriously. I like a Kansas City style sauce. This a ketchup/vinegar base sauce with brown sugar and honey. It is a great interplay of taste. The sweet and tangy balances out the savory taste of the brisket.


2 TBL Butter
1 Onion Fine Dice
1 Shallot
2 TSP Celery Seeds
2 TBL Garlic
4 Cups Ketchup
1 TBL Worcester Sauce
1 TBL Gravy Master
2 TSP Dry Mustard
2 TBL Cider Vinegar
3 TBL brown Sugar
3 TBL Honey
1 Cup Water

Melt butter in pan. Stir in onion, salt and pepper to taster, cook 1 minute. Stir in shallot, cook one minute, Add celery seeds, cook 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add ketchup, Worcester sauce, Gravy Master, mustard, vinegar, sugar, honey, and water. Let it simmer for 45 minutes.  Naturally you can experiment or use another recipe.  My friends and family like this one though.

Naturally you can add some chile powder or hot sauce to for a "warmer" taste. Avoid store bought sauce at all costs.  More than likely the leading ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.  You know the poison that packs pound on your ass.  It's trash.

An hour before the brisket is done, I mop it with some sauce. There is a ton of info on the Internet for sauces, rubs, regional styles etc. I also do a mustard based sauce that is quite good too. It all depends on your taste. Well, gotta go for now. Add some more wood, and make my sauce.

You will notice that I omitted the heat in this sauce. That is because my lovely bride, HATES heat! True KC sauce is sweet and heat. Use about 1 TSP of Franks. Remember, you can always add hot sauce. You can't take it away. Like BBQ go slow. Stay hungry my friends.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Survived The Rapture--Barely.

Yesterday, I thought I had been admitted for early acceptance to The Rapture.  I literally had the day from Hell.  My day at work was one of the worst I could remember.  That being said, I was looking forward to my friends coming over to jam.  I have a little band that gets together every few weeks.  They play guitar and I play drums.  We relax, drink some beer, and generally have a great time.  We were really cooking last night.  Everyone sounded great.  It was getting late so we broke and headed upstairs for our usual coffee and sweets.  As we were drinking coffee, one of my friends says he’s not feeling well.  He turns white as a ghost and then gets violently ill.  A few underlying medical conditions cause us to take him to the emergency room.  They whisk him in for triage and evaluation, and we have a seat in the waiting room. 

As soon as we settled in, a smartly dressed young couple comes running up to the desk.  She is holding a bottle of water on her cheek and screaming hysterically at the top of her lungs.  The boyfriend explains that they were in the car and she accidently sprayed herself with MACE. She thought it was perfume.  I’m thinking that this sounds a bit odd.  I mean, who plays with MACE? Really!  As it turns out, the MACE was in a small, pink container that could have been mistaken for perfume.  I don’t know about you, but I want my can of MACE clearly marked.  I don’t want to mistakenly spray an assailant with perfume.  “Can you describe your attacker?”  “Yes officer, he was 5’10’’, a hundred-eighty pounds and smells like Juicy Couture.”

Sitting in the waiting room, I realize that I am surrounded by people who are having one of the worst days in their lives too!  In rolls a guy suffering from a severe asthma attack.  That can’t be pleasant.  A young boy is treated for a broken finger. Ouch!  Some lady is completely covered in blood.  I don’t even want to contemplate how that happened.  It looks like there is some sort of cosmic convergence of people having incredibly bad days on the day before The Rapture.

They decide to keep my friend overnight.  We go home and crash.  I wake up and, well, everything is as it should be.  The birds are chirping, the dog is snoring and my knee still aches.  Normal. The Rapture did not happen.  Harold Camping, the minister who started all of this, apparently made a math error in his calculations—easy enough for an eighty-nine year old to hit the wrong key on a calculator.  I call my friend and he’s fine.  Extreme exhaustion coupled with dehydration. Good news!  I vow to take each day as it comes, not dwell on the bad and be thankful for what I have.  Besides, I have lots of plans. 

Friday, May 20, 2011


Quinoa. What? Quin-o-a?  No silly, KEEN-wa, my new favorite food.  Quinoa is a grain, well actually not technically a grain but a seed of the goosefoot. Quinoa sounds much better than goosefoot seed. It was a staple in the Incan diet.  They referred to it as the mother grain and it was considered sacred. At any rate, it’s my new go to side dish. I wanted a new side dish other than rice.  I love rice, but it doesn’t love me.  It’s how shall we put this? Binding!  At 57 I don’t need binding.  Quinoa also has the added bonus of being high in protein, amino acids, fiber, vitamins and just about everything except flavor.  It’s a bit bland.  It has a slight nutty flavor and a great texture though.  It is also very easy to cook.  One cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, a pinch of salt and simmer covered. Fifteen to twenty minutes later; done.  Make sure you give it a shookle (shake or two) during cooking. Comes out perfect each time.  Smart Incas!

Getting back to taste though.  How to make it better?  I first started by sautéing in the saucepan one medium diced onion in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sweat the onions for a few minutes on medium heat.  Add a few cloves of chopped or minced garlic.  Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds, you don’t want it to brown and get bitter.  Then add the water and quinoa.  Simmer until done.  Tasty.  I also tried shallots and garlic, and leeks, scallions and garlic.  I’m very onion-centric.  The taste started to improve.  I next substituted a cup of water with a cup of homemade chicken stock.  Very nice.  A bit richer taste. I tried an Indian curry style quinoa.  I added two teaspoons of Penzys sweet curry powder for each cup of quinoa. That was particularly delicious.  Naturally you can adjust the spices to your tastes. 

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. I buy Bob’s Red Mill because it’s the only kind I can find in my area.  I’m sure if I went to a health food store I might be able to find some other brand but Bob’s suits me fine. The downside is it’s not cheap.  I buy mine at of all places Ocean State Job Lot, or as I affectionately refer to it “The Junk Store.”   I buy a 26oz. bag for $8. sells it for $10 plus $5 for shipping. Amazon sells four 26oz. bags for about $33.  I’ll stick with the Junk Store for now. 

Quinoa. It’s easy to cook, versatile and good for you.  Also, it is gluten free.  I guess mother knew best!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home Imporvement, Part 2

Being the good uncle that I am, I gathered up my strength and met my nephew, to continue working on his hardwood floor.  As I said a few days ago we are installing bamboo.  Bamboo is classified as a hardwood, but is actually a grass.  It is eco-friendly because it grows so quickly. It is also absolutely gorgeous to look at.  This particular style has a soft yellow color that mellows with age.  The grain is beautiful too. The nodes or “knuckles” give bamboo that distinctive look.

The day after we started the floor I was barely able to get out of bed.  I’m in pretty good shape but ten hours of squatting and kneeling took its toll.  My glutes, quads and hammies were all screaming in agony.  Thankfully on Tuesday they were just murmuring in agony.  We divided the labor, I would work on the floor he would work in the closet.  We bantered about the usual coming out and going into the closet jokes.  Curiously enough, they didn’t get old. We made tremendous progress.   At about nine I had to throw in the hammer.  We ended up more than halfway done.  I promised to return on Saturday to help finish. 

When they were looking for a house, one of the prerequisites was a lot of land.  That comes at a price.  The price being they needed to move out in the country.  They actually moved east of the middle of nowhere.  I thought I would simply use my GPS and be on my way.  Unfortunately, my GPS would not get a signal.  Now I have to follow his directions. He said go out take a left and then a quick right.  Somehow, my brain heard the opposite. Maybe it was being tired, maybe it was the few beers that made me not process that vital piece of information.  We will never know.   It was a very stormy night on Tuesday.  No moon, and since we are east of the middle of nowhere, no streetlights either.  As a matter of fact no light at all, just various shades of black.   I’m driving around and getting hopelessly lost.  It must have been divine intervention because I ended up back at his street.  A quick call to him and he sends me on my way. 

For some strange reason, gas stations are not found in abundance east of the middle of nowhere. I thought that I had enough gas to get there and back. However, I didn’t figure on the little side trip to west of the middle of nowhere.  Just as I get on the highway and breathe a sigh of relief, my low fuel light goes on. My predicament is going from bad to worse as my internal high liquid indicator has come on.  “Hmmm, if only cars ran on...” Well, they don’t so I forge ahead.  I finally find a gas station, fill up and head home.  I park the car, race to the bathroom and then throw myself on the couch.  I had DVR’d the Bruins game and gleefully watched them hammer the Lightning.  I will be going back on Saturday to help him finish. Incidentally, the floor is looking gorgeous. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Home Improvement Part 1

My niece and nephew bought a new house this past month.  Very pretty house with lots of land (I’m so jealous), but as with any re-sale, it requires some work.  They needed to redo the floor in the bedroom; the carpet was shot, so I suggested a bamboo floor.  Inexpensive, wears great and looks beautiful.  However, the installation is expensive.  So, Uncle Barry volunteers to help.  “Really?  I mean, you can’t even maintain a lawn!  You don’t sound too handy!“ Well, I have news for you. Despite what you might think, I possess a rare genetic mutation.  HJG.  Handy Jew Gene.  I have the ability to fix, build create and repair stuff.  Not bad for a member of the tribe.  Landsmen(fellow Jews) seem to lack this skill.  For whatever reason, they are incapable of doing the simplest repairs. I come from a long line of JWAAT.  Jews Who Are All Thumbs.  My father would break anything he touched, my genius brother could barely figure out the business end of a hammer.  None of my cousins can turn a screw without having a printed copy of “righty tighty, lefty loosy” in front of them.  My mother kvells (beams with pleasure) about this uncanny ability that I possess.  My nephew, has this mutation too. 

I load my car with hand tools, saws, drills, and off I go.  I’ve put in a few hardwood floors in my day, so I’m no stranger this.  My nephew rented a compressor and pneumatic hammer, which I affectionately refer to as the “ptsche ptsche” machine.  This will become apparent to anyone who has ever used one as the sound it makes as you smack it sounds like “ptsche.”  Well, at least to me. 

With any project, prep work is crucial.  Josh had ripped up the old carpet, padding and tack strips.  But the five million staples that held the padding secure to the floor still had to come up.  Then we had to cut the door molding with a dovetail saw to allow for the height of the flooring.  This room had five doors!  The floor needed to be checked for squeaks and all loose nails hammered down.  Then the most crucial step of all, a few beers to get into the right frame of mind. 

Now we are ready.  When laying a floor you need to snap a chalk line that is parallel to the wall.  This is where your first course of floorboards aligns.  That way, when you get to the wall on the other side of the room, your floor is still parallel and not perpendicular. Put a board down, tap it into place, and hammer it home. Repeat. When you get to the end of the row, cut a small piece to fit and continue.  Everything is going fine until we hit the closet.  Small space, two grown men, tools, and a wall that is out of plumb.  So we have few beers to think this through.  We get the closet sorted out and lay a few more courses of floorboards.   It is really starting to look gorgeous.  But the light is fading and so are we.  My knees are screaming, my back is sore, and my hamstrings and quads have gone on strike.  Some more beer and a shrimp scampi pizza are the just the ticket.  We decide to resume on Tuesday. 

We come to the conclusion that anyone in the trades earns every penny.  This is hard, tedious work. Lifting heavy objects, fitting into tight, cramped spaces, all very hard on your body.  And they don’t get to take beer breaks.  I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tanning Beds

Ah, the air is warming up, the leaves have popped, and summer is just around the corner. So how do you get ready for summer?  Well if you go to Planet Fitness it is obviously spending time, not working out, but chillin’ in the tanning beds.  I mean, why sit in the sun for hours soaking in those harmful ultra violet rays.  Simply sit in a modified coffin for a few minutes and voila, instant tan.  How healthy! And youthful! 

I read a few studies and they don’t really put tanning beds in a good light.  Ha. Ha. Light. Anyway, according to one study they said that tanning beds were as harmful as, get this arsenic.  Arsenic as you may have heard, is extremely poisonous.    “Kathy Banks, chief executive of The Sunbed Association, a European trade association of tanning bed makers and operators says, "The fact that is continuously ignored is that there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer." She said most users of tanning beds use them less than 20 times a year.”

I like that, responsible use of a sunbed. What would be an irresponsible use?  More than 20?  Who knows?  Kathy Banks, certainly doesn’t.  I know what you are thinking, Barry, you were a smoker, right? yes I used to smoke.  But I quit, after getting the memo about the whole smoking-cancer-link thingy.  I also exercise regularly, and am meticulous about the food I eat.  Except when I go to 5Guys. You get to a certain age and well, you need to start thinking about putting off the Grim Reaper for as long as possible. 

By the way, while people of all ages use tanning beds, the majority are under 30.  Great Britain, not known for its plethora of sunny days, has reported that melanoma, the most deadliest form of skin cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed of women in their twenties!!! 

When did looking like a carton of orange juice become sexy?  Anyway, if you want to look healthy try this.  Exercise.  Leave the fake tans to idiots of the world like Snooki or John Boehner. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Best Homemade Burger

I make a pretty mean hamburger.  I don’t waste my time adding tons of spices, or mixes or sauces.  I want to taste the meat. Here’s my secret. I use a mixture of half ground chuck and half ground sirloin.  Break it up in a bowl and form the patties.  Don’t pack the meat too tightly.  I put a small crater in the center because the hamburger tends to puff up from the middle.  I season it with salt, pepper, and a dusting of onion powder and garlic powder.  That’s it. Fire up the grill, and before you place the patty on the fire, take a paper towel, dip it in cooking oil and swab the grate.  Use a long handled tong.   You’ll thank me.  During cooking never press down on the patty.  Yes, you do get some nice flames shooting up, but you lose a lot juice.   One more tip, flip only once.  Cook until done.  Medium rare, about 4 minutes a side, Medium about 5.  Adjust the cooking times according to the thickness of the burger and intensity of the flame.  If you want a cheeseburger, use American cheese.  I mean really! Add it about a minute before the burger is done. Right before you remove it from the grill, toast the bun.  You can add a little butter for a richer taste.  Don’t leave the bun on too long.  A few seconds on a hot grill will do the trick.  Remove the bun, put the burger on it, some lettuce, and tomato.  Voila!  The Best Burger. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Planet Fitness, The Judgement Free Zone my A@#!

Planet Fitness bills itself as the “judgment free zone” gym where you can cheerfully work out with anyone being critical of you.  Sounds like a nice marketing gimmick, but I’ve got news for them and you.  We all judge.  We are all critical.  That’s half the fun of going to the gym.  Making fun of all of the other out of shape people while still feeling good about yourself.

When you go on a fairly regular basis, you obviously become aware of the other regulars, although I have yet to have a conversation with anyone there.  We are stretching, running, grunting and flailing.  Way too busy to talk.  We are all plugged into our iPods, either clipped to our shirts or strapped to our arms ready to battle with the Stairmaster or treadmill.    Here are some of the more notable people in my favorite PF.

  “Gut” is this incredibly fat, sweaty, bald dude that seems to be able to bench press his weight in Budweiser.   He’s always at the gym but hasn’t lost an ounce. I think his abs are literally six packs. 

“Nan,” short for Nantucket, wears the same outfit every time I see her.  She either has three-dozen Nantucket sweatshirts or one very smelly one.  Since she always works out alone, I’m thinking the latter.

“Preen” cannot go from one end of the gym to the other without looking in mirror at least fifteen times.  I ‘m sure there isn’t a mirror out there that he hasn’t tried to impress.  Does have big guns though. I’m jealous.  

 “Tat” a forty-something trying to look like a twenty-something blonde has this elaborate tramp stamp that she doesn’t mind sharing with the rest of the PF gang.  Unfortunately, she has a little too much junk in her trunk.  I while away my time thinking what that is going to look like in another 20 years, the tat not the junk. 

“Spaz” is the weirdest guy I think I have ever seen.  He does this bizarre routine, on the bike, treadmill or standing in front of the mirror.  It is a cross between the St. Vitas’ dance and an epileptic fit.  It consists of these wild gyrations, swinging his hands over his head in some sort of celebration, flexing his fingers, making sweeping motions with his arms and legs and hopping.  It must work because he is always drenched in sweat.  He makes Elaine Benis from Sienfeld look like she just won Dancing With The Stars. 

Then there is the guy who sets himself up in the middle of the treadmills so he has a good view of Sopranos reruns, CNN, and Sports Channel.  He has a smug look on his face as he passes judgment on each and every one who walks in front of him.  “G.O.D.,” is gimpy old dude. Me.