Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth...Bluetooth Speaker Hack

One of the coolest features of the iPhone is the ability to stream music using its Bluetooth capability.  Provided of course that you have a set of Bluetooth speakers.  Unfortunately I don’t.  I have a few sets of speakers lying around the house that will allow me to plug in an auxiliary source, but then I have to have a wire attached to my iPhone, making it less than portable.  My discretionary money account has been tapped because my dog is sick again, so buying new Bluetooth speakers is out of the question. 

I was pondering this dilemma on my commute home when I glanced up at my visor.  Sitting there patiently was a Bluetooth speakerphone.  I had bought this a couple of years ago when the state of Connecticut passed a law making it illegal to use your cellphone in the car.  I used it a few times but the speaker quality was so bad that I abandoned it and continued to TWD (talk while driving).  Hmmm, this might solve my problem.

I charged the battery, paired it to my iPhone and voila, it streamed the music from phone to the speakerphone and it played it through the crappy speaker.  I’m on to something.  I decided to see if I could hack the speakerphone to use it as a portable Bluetooth interface. 

I assembled the troops.  A soldering iron, two precision screwdrivers, Philips and straight, a drill with one eighth inch bit, wire cutters/strippers, a one eighth inch male to male stereo cord and some electrical tape. 

I carefully removed the tiny screws holding the speakerphone together and pried it apart. 

Next I removed the speaker and carefully separated the two wires soldered to it.  I put the unit together again and drilled a hole in the speaker side for the eighth inch wire jack. I cut about a foot of the male-to-male off and carefully stripped the insulation off the wires.  I threaded the wire through the hole and tied it in a knot to prevent anyone (meaning me) from accidentally pulling the wire out.

 Then I soldered the two wires from the now male only wire to the two leads from the speakerphone unit.  I covered the soldered wires with a bit of electrical tape and then put the unit together.  I plugged it into my speaker and turned on my iPhone.  It was already paired with the unit so I tapped the icon, selected the speakerphone and sat down and enjoyed some Neon Trees playing through my new Bluetooth enabled speakers.  

Total cost?  The speakerphone cost me twelve bucks a few years ago. I must have bought it on sale, because they currently cost around thirty dollars.  Go to eBay and search for Bluetooth speakerphones.  They are very cheap and the shipping will probably cost you more than the item.  I found the male-to-male wire in my junk drawer.  You can find one at Radio Shack for a couple of dollars if you don’t have one hanging around your house.  Total Time?  Ten minutes.  Total cost of enjoyment? Priceless!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Miracle Garden-Strike Two

As we celebrate the first day of autumn I am faced with figuring out how my Miracle Garden fared. If you’ve read some of my rants you must have figured out by now that my wife and I really don’t have much of a green thumb.  Black would more like it.  This year for the Miracle Garden, we decided to plant seeds from scratch.  We thought that we could get some fantastic softball sized, succulent tomatoes and torpedo shaped cucumbers.

We decided to get an early start this year, so in February we went to the Comstock-Ferre seed store to browse the seed offerings.  If you like gardening, this is the place.  It’s an historic building in the heart of Old Wethersfield.  Creaky floors, dusty tables, and cubbies filled with dozens of varieties of every fruit and vegetable imaginable.  We got a few varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers and promptly misplaced the packets.  It was April when we resurfaced.  We procrastinated for a while longer and then finally planted them in peat pots.  A few days later the plants began to sprout.  This was a good sign.  As soon as any danger of frost passed, we planted them in the Miracle Garden.  We even set up a soaker hose to make sure that these babies got enough water.  Sun was no problem due to the great weather we were having.  I had so many sprouts that I gave the extras to my niece and nephew.  More on that later. 

May comes and the plants are sort of growing.  Sort of growing means that they were not dying, which is a good thing.  We continued to water and let the sun shine away.  The cukes slithered their way along the ground spreading their tendrils.  The tomato plants grew tall.  One of them was four feet tall.  The only thing lacking was any actual flowers that would turn into vegetables.  None!  My neighbor was harvesting vegetables as if there was no tomorrow.  I think he was canning sauce. My four-foot plant finally produced a tomato.  Yes, a tomato as in one.  It was about the size of a marble. Or a pea.  Or something in between.  Also, some yellow sort of vegetable that could have been a cucumber was growing.  I wasn’t entirely sure because I’ve never really seen a yellow cucumber.  The chipmunks were kind enough to plant sunflower seeds and we had an abundance of those.  Some weeds added a nice, lush look to the garden as well. 

When I mentioned to my niece and nephew that the Miracle Garden struck out again for the second time, they looked at me with astonishment.  The plants that I had given them were producing so many tomatoes and cucumbers they were exporting the excess to third world countries.  They couldn’t believe that I only had a pea or marble sized tomato and a yellow vegetable-looking thing.  My nephew snidely asked if I had added some fertilizer to the Miracle Garden.  Well, I’m sure you know the answer to that. 

So this year I only spent $7.49 for a pea or marble sized tomato and a yellow maybe cucumber.  The sunflowers and weeds were free.  I think I got off cheap this year. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rocky The Wonder Dog

It's been nearly a year that Rocky has been cancer free.  I thought I would put together a small tribute to him.  Yes, dog owners are a breed apart!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Allman Brothers/ Santana Concert Comcast Music Theater

When I’m asked what is my favorite concert, I usually reply seeing Santana at Dillon Stadium back in 1973.  I went with my buddy Larry (yes, Larry and Barry) and we were absolutely blown away by the intensity of the music.  Carlos Santana is a master guitar player who fuses Afro-Latin music, rock and jazz.  He tours with a full rhythm section, horns, and a large percussion section including a drummer and two percussionists, which adds to the incredible sound.  When I heard that they were coming to Hartford and headlining with The Allman Brothers Band (more on them later), well I just had to get tickets. 

Concert day arrives and it is pouring. We park in the free parking lot and trudge our way over to the venue in the rain.  Ugh!  It’s hot, humid and rainy.  Our seats were in the center section.  I am really looking forward to sitting in my seat, 666, the sign of the beast so I could really enjoy “that thar devil music,” but alas that wouldn’t be the case.  Some schmuck had pried off the seat number.  It seems several schmucks had pried all the 666 seat numbers off! Oh well, we settle in and wait for the music.  Footage of Woodstock starts on the video screen and Santana opens with Soul Sacrifice.  Go to Youtube and search for the Soul Sacrifice Woodstock 1969 version.  Michael Shrieve performs one of the most amazing drum solos.  He was twenty years old at the time.  Nice!  I’m having a great time while being thankful that the forty-year-old stoned hippy is not dancing in front of me.  I’m air drumming to the music, but I can get away with it because I actually play the drums.  I’m sure most of the air guitar players couldn’t tell the difference between a G-chord  and a G-string.

The crowd is on their feet during Jingo.  The percussionist, Raoul Rekow  is really laying down a heavy groove.  I spot a guy wearing a Max Creek tee shirt.  Really?  We hired that band back in 1973 to play at a house party.  Rock on!  A real treat was Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman, a fantastic drummer in her own right, sitting in during Corazon Espinado.  She played a drum solo that had the crowd on their feet.  There is a great feel and style to her playing; a lot of energy with a great sense of rhythm.

An hour into the set, two rather large women finally find their seats.  Are you kidding me?  How hard is it to plan your day when you know you have a CONCERT scheduled?  They are bumping into everyone in that row.  Naturally their seats were on the other side of the row.  In addition to not being able to tell time, they had no sense of direction.  Hey, down in front!  The guy next to me is freaking out because people are standing a few rows down.  He stands up to see the show and the people in back of him start yelling.  I know I’m showing my age here, but really people, I didn’t spend 125 dollars to watch your jiggly ass shake; I want to see the band! 

Anyway, they start to play “Oye Como Va,” another favorite of mine.  Up on the video, more footage of Woodstock.  I was fifteen, when it happened and I begged my parents to let me go.  “No freakin’ way!” was essentially the reply.  I had a ride lined up and everything. 
Santana segues into “Maria, Maria,” an absolutely gorgeous song, and wouldn’t you know it, those two ladies are at it again!  As they are trying to get back to their seats, one of them stumbles and dumps her drink on a guy.  “Gee thanks, now I’m really going to enjoy the show sitting in in your beer!” 

An hour later, the show is over.  These guys were just as good as when I saw them thirty some odd years ago.  They brought everything to the stage and delivered an absolutely fantastic show. 

I’ve seen the Allman Brothers three times in the past.  Once at Dillon Stadium,  once at the Boston Garden and again at Watkins Glen.  They are a great southern, bluesy, rock, jam band.  They too have two drummers and a percussionist.  Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson and Butch Trucks have been playing together since the band’s inception in the late sixties.  Mark Quiñones, the percussionist has been with them since the early nineties.  I got so inspired I’m starting hand percussion lessons!

The Bros’ take the stage at nine-thirty and open with “One Way Out.”  Truly, one of my favorite songs of all time!  The crowd starts rocking and the place is jumping.  Jaimo and Butch are laying down a heavy double shuffle beat to Statesboro Blues.  They are driving this song hard.  The guitarists, Derek Trucks, (Butch’s son) and Warren Haynes are wailing and trading jams back and forth.  These guys are some of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen!  The rhythm section is adding an amazing amount of depth and texture to the music.  Otiel Burbridge is working it  on the  bass.  Greg Allman is singing “Done Somebody Wrong” with the same grittiness and growl he had when he was younger, despite having a liver transplant and being married to Cher. 

Santana joins the band and they begin to play a nice bluesy, swing beat and slowly break into “All Along the Watchtower.”  They segue into a few other songs trading guitar licks and drum solos.  All of sudden, the group of people who were sitting in front of us, get up to leave. I was very happy that they left.  There was a guy, girl, her mother, and some other assorted people in this group.  The guy was practically having sex with this girl while she is sitting next to her mother.  Oi Vai! 

The set ends and the band leaves the stage.  The audience jumps to their feet, hands clapping, and yelling for more.  The band is taking a long time to return.  They are probably getting a blow of oxygen; remember these guys are not getting any younger.  I call “Whipping Post” for their encore and sure enough it is.  The band kills it with some absolute genius work on the guitars.  See these guys when come around again.  I know I will. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some Girls Really Know How To Workout

So I’m at the gym the other day, minding my own business as usual, pounding on the treadmill, and wrecking my knees.  I’m listening to the Rolling Stones “Some Girls” album.  A great album for working out, mind you.  Anyway this older, rather overweight woman hobbles in on a cane and sits down on one of the LifeCycles in front of me.  She doesn’t look like the healthiest sort, but hey at least she’s in the gym and is making an attempt to work out. Right?  Not really.  She positions herself on the LifeCycle and proceeds to arrange her cane on the handlebars.  Then she re-arranged the cane, and yes, you guessed it, rearranged it again.  And again.  I’m beginning to think that maybe this is a new workout.  “Dude, I caned for forty-five minutes, I’m toast!”  Finally when the cane is in the optimal position, she then proceeds to re-arrange her butt on the seat.  And re-arrange and, yep, you guessed it again, re-arranged it one more time.  For two whole minutes she is shifting said butt to right, the left, up, down, and then she added some swirling motion. I nearly gagged! After her cane and butt were safely tucked away she began to cycle. But it was some slow-motion, time warp method, because she made one complete turn every 43 seconds.  Amazing.  The digital readout recorded that she expended a total of five calories and cycled a whopping fifteen feet.    She probably could have worked off more calories eating a bag of potato chips.  Then she picked up her cane, oozed off the LifeCycle, and hobbled out of the gym.  I was astounded.  So I’m thinking what in the world is this lady doing in the health club anyway?  Certainly not trying to get healthy that’s for sure.  Maybe she doesn’t have cable so she comes to the health club to catch up on her TV viewing.  But she wasn’t even sitting in front of the TV broadcasting Days of Our Lives. It was a hot day so perhaps she came into the health club to cool off.  But unless her living room smells worse than a gym, that was unlikely too.   Maybe she just likes to brag to her blue haired friends; “Whew, caned some ass at the gym today girls!” 

As the caning lady was walking out another shall we say extremely overweight gal comes in and plops herself on the LifeCycle that the caning lady just vacated.  This gal looked like she just cleaned out The Sports Authority; new Nike kicks, sweatpants, a sweatband and a shirt that read, “Go Hard Or Go Home!”  She looked like she was ready to rumble.  She quickly settles in and begins her workout; which consisted of texting for ten minutes.  She didn’t even bother to actually cycle on the LifeCycle.  After she finished this punishing routine she got up and left.  The sweatband was actually in better shape when she left.  I mean it was in pristine condition; not sullied by anything so horrible as a drop of perspiration.  Well if that that is the new go hard, then I’m going home! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Man Card, Don't Ever Leave Home Without It

I hate to admit it, but I think I misplaced my man card.  I don’t know what I did with it.  One day I’m hitting and kicking the heavy bag,  and watching UFC on cable. The next thing I know I’m watching “Randy To The Rescue” and actually enjoying it!  Randy Fenoli of “Say Yes To The Dress” is a rather, shall we say, flamboyant, elfin sort of gent who helps women pick out their wedding dress.  I hadn’t realized that it was easier to get the Democrats and the Republicans to pass a bill in Congress than it was to pick out a wedding dress.  When I go looking for a suit it’s either the blue one with grey stripes or the grey one with blue stripes.  The end.  Wedding dresses, on the other hand, require an entire entourage of women who advise, insult, cajole, and finally approve the dress.  Fascinating.  Fascinating in that these dresses can cost thousands of dollars.  A huge sum for something that will be worn once for a few hours and then thrown into the closet.  For that kind of money I could put a down payment on the ’57 Thunderbird I have my eyes on. 

As I’m watching this, I find myself making bets with my wife as to which dress the girl is going to pick.  Before I lost my man card I would have voted for the one that revealed the maximum amount of cleavage and was rather tight around the butt.  But now I’m torn between the silk organza gown and the ivory colored one with classic lace.  Or how about the princess gown?  That one looked good too.  When the girl who was a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader finally made her decision I actually high fived my wife in celebration!  Randy was punching the air and prancing around the set in jubilation.

I must admit that Randy does have pretty good taste.  After all, this is a guy who started sewing when he was nine years old.  He must have very understanding parents.  He also attended The Fashion Institute of Technology.  I’m quite certain he didn’t attend FIT on a football scholarship. 

Enough is enough.  This has gone on way too far.  I need to find my man card.  It’s neither near my barbells nor my stack of Men’s Health magazines.  Oh, there it is, underneath my boxing gloves.  Whew that was close, I almost DVR’d Project Runaway!  Now if I can just find my car keys. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Perfect Homemade Pastrami

As much as I love corned beef, there is another meat that I love even more; pastrami. Pastrami is really nothing more than smoked brisket that has been corned or cured in a salt and spice solution. I had a brisket that’s been brining for three weeks and decided to bust it out and make some pastrami. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t like pastrami so we compromised. I made both.

I use the Alton Brown corned beef recipe that can be found at to cure the brisket. I’ve made a bunch of briskets using that recipe and all have been fantastic. Everyone who has tried says it is some of the best they have tasted. But pastrami, now I’m in unchartered waters. I did a little research and found many methods of cooking it. Fast, slow, on the grill, in the oven, in the smoker etc. Also, the rub recipes varied as much as the cooking methods. I decided to go very basic. Cured brisket with a pepper and coriander rub. Period.
I took the brisket out of the fridge and carefully washed it in cold water to remove any residual salt. I then cut it two making sure to make more corned beef than pastrami as instructed by my wife. I dutifully followed her instructions knowing if I don’t, I’ll never hear the end of it. I also used the “point” part of the brisket.

There are two distinct parts of a brisket. The flat and the point. The point is the fattier part of the brisket. The “flat” is the leaner portion. I wanted the fattier portion because the fat would add more richness to the pastrami. I took three tablespoons of black peppercorns and coarsely ground them in my coffee grinder.

Just make sure that the grinder is absolutely clean and free of any coffee. The rich pungent smell of freshly ground pepper is nearly intoxicating. I took three tablespoons of coriander seeds and coarsely ground them too. Coriander has a very pleasant citrusy smell. I then put them in a small bowl and mixed them together. Really fantastic smell. Some other rub recipes called for garlic power, salt, paprika, pepper flakes etc. I wanted to stick to the basics. I patted the brisket dry and liberally applied the rub.

I decided to go with my trusty combination of apple and cherry wood for the smoke.

I love hickory for barbeque but thought that it would give me too bold a flavor. Oak was out simply because I didn’t have any on hand. Apple and cherry impart a subtle sweetness and I thought that it would be a nice contrast to the bite of the pepper and tartness of the coriander. As for the liquid in the smoker, I used straight apple juice. The liquid in the smoker helps keep the meat moist and control the temperature. I lit the smoker, put the meat in, stabilized the smoker temperature to 220 and waited until the internal temperature of the meat hit 185°.

I tested in a few areas to make sure that is was evenly done. This took about 4 1/2 hours. In that time I mowed the lawn, enjoyed some Harpoon UFO, and began reading the Hunger Games.

I took the pastrami out and covered it with some foil to keep it warm. Finally the moment of truth. I slice a few pieces off and bite into it. Ah, a slight smokey flavor with a big peppery bite. Tender, succulent, and rich. As with the corned beef, it wasn’t overly salty. I am very happy with results. The perfect pastrami.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Barry’s 40 Year Old Whisky BBQ Sauce

BBQ is one of my favorite types of cooking.  BBQ is slowly cooking meat over a wood fire.  The slow cooking tenderizes the meat while imparting a delicious smoky flavor.  Grilling on the other hand is directly cooking the meat over a flame, searing the outside to lock in the flavor. You need to patient with BBQ because if you are not, the meat will be as tough as shoe leather.  If you take your time, you will be rewarded with rich, succulent, tender, flavorful meat.  I also love sauces.  I’m always creating pan sauces out of ingredients I have on hand to “jazz up” an ordinary chicken breast, or a piece of fish. 

I was making ribs yesterday and decided I wanted a new BBQ sauce.  My usual sauce is sweet, tangy and savory.  I wanted something sweeter and hotter.  But, not too hot as my wife, who dislikes hot food, would not eat it.  So, in the interest of harmony, I deferred to her wishes.  After all, you can always add more heat with a few drops of hot sauce.  If you notice in my recipe, I only added ½ TSP of cayenne pepper.  It still gave me a nice warm finish.  You can obviously add more to suit your individual taste. 

I liked the idea of using bourbon whisky as a base.  Bourbon is smooth and flavorful.  It is  sweet, nutty and oaky.  I began to scour the Internet looking for some recipes.  I couldn’t find what I liked.  This one looked too sweet, this one too savory, this one too hot.  Also, I like using certain ingredients in my sauce to make it unique.  To begin with, I love onions and garlic.  They had to go into the sauce.  I also love Worchester sauce.  It has a very rich and complex taste.  I also use Gravy Master.  It too adds a lot of flavor.  They had to go into the sauce as well. Honey went into the pool because it is smooth and mellow.  Lastly, I couldn’t add bourbon because I didn’t have enough on hand!  What I did have was a forty-year-old bottle of Seagram’s.  I had filched this when I moved out of my parents’ house after college.  In all of those years I never cracked it open.  Oh well, nothing like the present.   I also wanted the sauce to have a smooth silky taste.  Hmmm.  Vanilla. The sour of the vinegar contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the sugar, maple syrup and honey insuring the sauce would not be overly sweet.  A few other spices from my spice drawer and I think I came up with a winner.

Barry’s 40 Year Old Whisky BBQ Sauce

I medium onion, fine dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
1 TBL butter

Dry Ingredients
2 cups of brown sugar (loosely packed)
2 TSP ground ginger
½ TSP salt
½ TSP dried mustard
½ TSP cayenne pepper
½ TSP of paprika(smoked if possible)

Wet Ingredients
¼ cup of white wine vinegar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 TBL Worchester sauce
1 TBL Gravy Master
1/3 cup of honey
2/3  cup maple syrup
1 cup ketchup
1 TSP vanilla extract
2/3 cup of whiskey

Combine the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. In a medium saucepan heat up the butter.  When butter is hot, add the onions.  Season with salt and pepper. Sweat the onions until they start to turn golden brown.  Add the garlic and stir.  Cook for 30 seconds until the garlic becomes fragrant.   Carefully add the wet ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Add  the dry ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Turn the heat to medium and bring to boil.  Turn heat down to low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes to thicken.  Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan.  If it is, turn the heat down slightly.  That’s it. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stay Thirsty My Friends

Summer is my jam. I love everything about it.  The sun, the hot temperatures, the need for liquid refreshments; you get the picture. I’m a beer and martini guy, but every now and then I feel the need for something fruity and refreshing.  I was looking through my fridge for some interesting and tasty items to put together, and after some experimentation, came up with a very enjoyable and tasty  drink.  I call it, “A Kick In The Pants.” 

1 ½ ounces of your favorite vodka.  Mine is Grey Goose.
3 ounces of Raspberry lemonade.  Pink if you can’t find raspberry.
1 ounce of orange juice.  No pulp PLEASE!
1ounce of cranberry juice
1 squirt of MIO pomegranate juice

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled glass.  Garnish with some fresh raspberries and enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

How Many People Does It Take To Plant A Tulip?

You may have surmised from some of my past musings that I really don’t have much of a green thumb.  The upside down tomato plant debacle, my hatred for mowing and my rather pathetic standard of what makes an acceptable lawn.   If it grows and it’s green, it’s okay.  For years I was the scourge of the neighborhood.  As my neighbors would toil on their lawn trimming, mowing, and fertilizing, I would happily repair to my patio, sip a beer and toast the other jerks as they wasted a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. 

I once got ambitious and decided to spruce up my backyard by planting some tulips.  I went to Home Depot and bought a large box of assorted bulbs.  The picture promised a garden worthy of a gold medal; healthy plants, bursting with color and beauty.  It went into the garage and sat for a year.  When cleaning out the garage I stumbled upon this winsome box.  I decided that they weren’t going to plant themselves, so I ruefully walked out to the yard, spade in hand and began to dig.  I carefully arranged the bulbs, covered them up with dirt, and cracked open a beer to celebrate my new garden.  Fall comes and goes, winter arrives and finally ends, hinting away at spring.  I anxiously look to my new tulip garden with excitement.  I wait, and wait, and wait.  No tulips.  Okay, maybe these are late bloomers.  Summer arrives and still nothing.  This is not good.  I complain to my wife and she suggests that we dig and check out what went wrong.  We dig up the tulips and much to my chagrin I find out that each carefully arranged bulb was planted upside down.  Apparently tulips and tomatoes prefer to be planted as nature intended it to be.  Correctly. 

Well now, that was a kick in teeth.  I decided last year that what I really needed to improve my lawn was a new lawn mower.  Everyone in my neighborhood had a riding mower except for me.  Their lawns rivaled golf courses they were so nice.  Maybe that’s the secret.  I begin my detailed investigation into the best mower out there for my money.  I settled on a John Deere because it had the best cup holders.  I put aside money each pay period and finally the day arrives.  We go down to Home Depot and purchase my new Deere.  Two weeks later I notice that the Depot is having a special, if you purchase a new Deere you get a free cart.  My wife went back to complain.  She ended up having to return the mower and then repurchase it.  The cart sits on the side of shed waiting for me to haul something.  I also purchased a dethatcher to pull up all of the dead grass that has sat undisturbed on my lawn choking the life force out of any blade of grass foolish enough to attempt to put roots down on my lawn.

I dethatched the lawn and was quite surprised at the volume of stuff being pulled up.  I mean piles of brown grass, a few lost dog toys, an old shoe.  I was astounded.  I then fire up Buttermilk, yes I named my new mower, and off I went.  I’m driving this thing around like I am in the Indy 500.  This is a sweet ride.  I complete the lawn in record time.  I had so much fun with mower that I mowed the lawn the next day.  My wife is looking at me as if I lost my mind.  My neighbors are all abuzz wondering who just moved into the Scott house and is actually taking care of the lawn.  I just motor on; a Romeo and Juliet cigar clamped between my teeth and a Harpoon UFO comfortably nestled in the cup holder.

After a few weeks and many mows later, my lawn is starting to look pretty good.  A few more and it’s looking better than my neighbors.  Green, lush healthy.  I would even go so far to say verdant.  Trust me, I don’t use the term verdant loosely.  Pretty much because I just found out what it means.  Anyway, I’m pretty happy with my lawn now.  I still have my share of weeds and stuff but overall it’s looking good.  Now, I’m on my way to Home Depot to find some bulbs.  Light bulbs, not tulips.  They only go in one way.  

Read my other trials and tribulations 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aladdin Halal Restaurant and Pizzeria

I was cruising through Yelp the other day, and much to my surprise, I discovered a Middle Eastern restaurant two minutes away from my house!  How did that happen? Am I that unaware of new food offerings literally in my backyard?  Apparently, I’ve been sleeping.  I love food from the Middle East so a field trip was in order.  My wife was out of town, it was too hot to cook, so off I went.  Aladdin Halal Restaurant and Pizzeria, was my destination.  It is located in a strip mall that previously housed a pizza joint, whose former occupant was a pizza joint, whose preceding owner was a pizza joint.  And on, and on.  So a couple of Syrians rent a space with a pizza oven in Berlin Connecticut and decide to cook Middle Eastern.  Go figure. 

We all know who Aladdin is and pizza, well I won’t even dignify that, but halal?  Halal is the Arabic version of kosher. Like kosher, it specifies how the animals are to be slaughtered and what can and cannot be eaten.   Yes, there are differences such as it is halal to eat shellfish, but not kosher.  Both halal and kosher forbid the eating of pork.  Camel meat is halal, but not kosher.  Cheeseburgers are halal, sadly they are not kosher.  Check this website for a cool take on halal vs. kosher.

Anyway I decide to try two of my favorite foods; Falafel and shawarma.  Falafel is a chickpea fritter served in pita bread.  Shawarmas are meats that are cooked on a vertical spit and grilled; also served in pita bread.  I had my first falafel in college many years ago and my first shawarma in, of all places, Johannesburg, South Africa, again, many years ago.  I’ve loved chickpeas ever since I was a kid.  I love my mom dearly, but one of the few things that she cooked without ruining was a can of Progresso Minestrone soup.  I would always save the chickpeas for last.  When I tasted my first falafel, oh man, I was in heaven.  I seek it out, any chance I get. 

I walk and a few Arabic ladies with traditional head coverings are waiting for their order.  That’s a good sign when people native to the culture are eating there.  We actually have a mosque in Berlin so there is a sizable Muslim population in the area.  I order both a falafel and a chicken shawarma and have a seat.  The place was freaking hot,  on the hottest day of the year.  I had a few other places to go, so I didn’t feel like schlepping home.  Note to self, get it to go next time.

After about ten minutes and the loss of few pounds, the food arrives.  That is two huge, overstuffed pitas.  Oops.  I can immediately tell I ordered way too much. Oh well, let’s man up and dig in!  I go for the falafel first.  The pita was very fresh.  The falafel was crunchy on the outside, soft and grainy on the inside. They were nicely spiced with a slight heat at the end. The cool, crisp lettuce, combined with the citrusy tomato and the sour snap of the pickles was a nice contrast to the  falafel.  The tahina was a little too thin for my taste though.  I like a thicker tahina with a more sesame punch. 

I crush the falafel and tear into the shawarma.  This is gigantic.  It is stuffed with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and red onions.  The chicken is tender and flavorful.  The grilling adds a nice char to the chicken.  They really put a lot of chicken in the pita. I was very surprised at the amount. The sauce is very flavorful, but I can’t get a handle on it.  I ask the server what it is.  He explains that it is Arabic mayonnaise (which he says is different from American) combined with tahina.  Okay then.  I’m groaning at this point but I manage to finish the shawarma.  It was awesome.    

There is a ton of stuff on the menu such as pizzas, grinders, pastas and soups.  I go to Pepe’s and Da Vinci’s for pizza.  As for pasta; I eat it at home. Their Middle Eastern food is the real deal and I can’t wait to go back. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Cat Smokey; August 1998-April 19, 2012 RIP

Fourteen years ago a beautiful, green eyed, gray, kitten was wandering the neighborhood. My son and his girlfriend were sitting on the front steps of our house, when she walked up to them softly meowing.  Hungry, no doubt.  We gave her a plate of milk and sent her on her way.  A few minutes later, she returned.  Persistent little creature. 

“Can we keep her?” Asked my twenty-year son.  “No way!” was our reply.  We neither wanted nor needed another cat in the house.  We had just lost a cat a few months prior and were in no mood to take on any more pets.  Pip, our ninety-pound Old English Sheepdog, was enough to keep us busy.  “But we’ll take care of her.” My son pleaded.  “She will live in our house at school.”   “Okay,” We agreed, “But she is YOUR responsibility.”  Two weeks later, when the landlord found out a cat was in the house, she become our responsibility.  And that is how Smokey found her forever home.

Well, it wasn’t always Smokey.  First it was Binger.  Remember a twenty-year old college student is naming her.  Then Stoli; after the vodka.  That wouldn’t do, so we settled on Smokey.  She had the most beautiful coat. All grey with faint ringlets on her tail.  Nearly perfect proportions.  Her only flaw, if you could call it that, was that her legs were slightly too short.  She had a funny way of running.  It just added to her charm.  

When my younger son was a baby, he would constantly watch The Lady And The Tramp. In one scene, Si and Am, the two deliciously trouble making cats, sing "We Are Siamese If You Please."  That became Smokey’s song.  I would hold her head in my hands, lock eyes with her, and softly sing the song to her.  She would gaze right back at me and purr. 

Through the years we got two other cats, Lucky and Misty, as well as our dog Rocky.  By this time Smokey became the undisputed Alpha cat.  She would determine who got to sit in what window.  Who got to sit on what piece of furniture. And most important of all, who got to sit on the kitchen table under the warm lights.  Woe to the cat or dog that was in the spot she wanted.  A hiss, growl and a smack across the snout would send the interloper running. 

A few months ago she started to go downhill. She stopped grooming herself.  She was not eating well.  She was throwing up and had diarrhea.  She was sleeping a lot.  We were treating her for hyperthyroid.  We changed her diet to a modified RAW diet.   She started to thrive.  She seemed to be her old self again.  Affectionate, loving and still maintaining her pack status.

Last night, I was grooming her on her perch; A five foot tall pie safe.  She was cooperating as usual.  I finished up, put the brush away, threw away the fur and remarked to my wife how great she looks.  Right in front of my eyes, she got up and fell off her perch!  She hit the ground hard.  She didn’t move.  When she finally got up she ran down into the basement.  She was panting hard, her eyes were extremely dilated and she was drooling profusely. Not good.  We ran down to our vet’s office.  They immediately took her in.  They put an oxygen mask on her and gave her a sedative.  Since our vet doesn’t have any overnight staff, they told us to take her to the emergency clinic.  We frantically drove to the hospital and they too put her on oxygen.  The doctor explained all of the possible outcomes and tests they would do to diagnose the problem.  We glumly nodded and agreed to have them do what they could do.

This morning, when we called, we found out the bad news.  She was dying.  There was nothing the doctors could do to save her.  I raced down to the clinic. They brought her in to the room.  She was bedraggled.  That proud, beautiful cat, shaved, with needle ports attached to her.  It was heartbreaking.  The attendant left.  I picked her up in my arms, hugged her gently and told her how much I loved her.  The doctor came in and explained how the procedure would work.  As she inserted the anesthesia into the port, I held Smokey ever so gently and sang, “We are Siamese if you please...”  Those were the last words she heard.  I hope it comforted her as she made her journey over the Rainbow Bridge.  She was a wonderful cat.  Our lives are enriched with pets and when they leave us, they leave a little hole in our hearts.

Smokey Scott
August 1998-April 19, 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012

First The Education Gap, Now Two More Sinister Gaps

As a teacher, I have been closely watching Governor Malloy’s assault on our profession. We have been accused of having cushy jobs for life because of the tenure system.  Our unions have been accused of stymieing education reform. Older, experienced teachers are portrayed as dinosaurs. According to him, all we do is show up to work and get paid.   He constantly reminds the public of the achievement gap in Connecticut; the discrepancy between the low and high-income students in our state.

This gap has got me thinking.  If there is an achievement gap, surely there must be other gaps in Connecticut as well.  Through my careful research, I have discovered two very disturbing gaps; the crime gap and the fire gap.  Two gaps, which have for some strange reason, been overlooked.

I started by looking at the different crime rates between Darien and Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford is one of the nation’s poorest cities while Darien is one of the wealthiest. Through my meticulous investigation, I discovered that the overpaid and apparently lazy Hartford police are not doing their job. The information I found out was mind blowing.  Despite having 445 sworn officers in Hartford vs. 51 in Darien, Hartford remains a very dangerous place.  In fact Hartford is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.  That’s astounding.  In 2010 Hartford had nearly 6900 thefts, burglaries and robberies.  Darien had 143. 

Logically, you would think that it would be the other way around.  Crime should be out of control in Darien, because duh, that’s where the money is.  But, unbelievably, the crime rate is rather low.  In fact, the last time someone was murdered in Darien was 1999. Hartford has five homicides this year and a total of twenty-seven last year. Those crime dogs in Darien are busting their butts keeping the good residents of Darien and their BMW’s safe at night.

Clearly the cops in Hartford are eating too many donuts to prevent any crimes. They make good money and don’t seem to work too hard to earn it.  They ride around in air-conditioned cars all day.  They wear cool uniforms and carry guns. What they don’t do is prevent crime.  It is obvious that outdated union work rules have hindered any real progress in bringing down the crime rates.  I bet that if their pay was tied to how many people they arrested, boy would the crime rate plummet.  I’m sure that if the older more experienced (read - more expensive) cops were replaced by newer ones, fresh from the police academy, you could walk down the street flashing hundred dollar bills and no one would give you a second look. 

The other gap I discovered is the fire gap.  I looked at the fire statistics of Hartford and Avon, Connecticut for the year of 2011.  Avon is another fabulously wealthy town.  Hartford had 913 fires and Avon tallied only 32.  But here is the kicker.  The Hartford firefighters are unionized while the Avon firefighter are, sit down, volunteer!  That’s right, they don’t even get paid and yet they manage to prevent Avon from burning to a crisp. What are those greedy, unionized Hartford firefighters doing with their time?  Having chili cook offs? Polishing their pole?  And do they really slide down that thing anyway?  You never see them out on the street being proactive.  Only when there is a fire do they reluctantly leave their firehouse and go to work.  Disgusting.

I think the governor needs to be aware of these dangerous gaps.  I think we need to have a blue ribbon task force to figure out why crime and fire rates are so much higher in poorer communities compared to rich ones.  I think we need to get rid of collective bargaining and strict union rules that are damaging the very fabric of our society.  Once we bust the unions and make public employees toe the mark, then and only then, will we be safer and smarter.