Madison Avenue’s Artisanal Scam

Pay no attention to anything going on behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to what’s going on behind the curtain.

An old man works at an ancient, wooden table in a murky room illuminated by sunlight from a single window.  He meticulously crafts a perfect wheel of creamy, yellow cheese… just for you.

A little girl presses her face against the window of a shop so Alpine cliché it’s straight from the Heidi’s Bavarian Goat Herder ride at Disney World.  A gorgeous male model in a white chef’s hat is hand-rolling caramels on a buttered marble slab inside the shop.

A brawny cook lifts a steaming pan of golden, roasted turkey from a wood-fired stove.  The cutaway shot of a weathered, red barn implies your lunch-meat was frolicking in clover right up to the moment it was, well…you know.

We’ve all seen these commercials.  At the end they reveal the company behind the product is Kraft, Werther’s, Hillshire Farm or a similar corporate giant.  The food advertised was actually cooked in 50,000 gallon, stainless steel pressure cookers in a New Jersey factory.  The “craftsmen” are UFCW union guys in white lab coats with hairnets on their beards.

Welcome to advertising’s latest scam; the “Art(isanal)ful Dodger”.

According to Merriam-Webster, “artisanal” comes from the word:

artisan

  1. a worker who practices a trade or handicraft :  craftsperson
  2. one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods

Are these multi-national conglomerates claiming to craft food in limited quantities using traditional methods?  Yeah, right.

The artisanal scam is especially popular with supermarket chain bakery departments.

Marketing gurus in the home office print signs on black paper using the “hand-written-in-chalk” font, and a corporate memo dictates the exact number of rustic bread loaves that should be heaped in wicker baskets in front of the glass cases.  We’re supposed to think we’ve wandered into a Parisian patisserie, and be inspired to spend more of our bread to buy their bread.  The reality is that their baked goods started life in a factory and were shipped frozen to the local store.  At best they were briefly popped into an oven onsite so the smell of freshly-baked bread would waft enticingly through the place.

Companies slap this adjective on products with no regard for the truth because they know we like the idea of buying hand-made goods at the farmer’s market.  In theory.  When spending our hard-earned money, however, we go for cheap and convenient at the Wal-Mart Superstore.

I’m not dissing mass production.  It’s probably the single most important reason the quality of life has improved so drastically for most of the Western world in the last 200 years.  This is especially true in regards to food safety.  The places in those faux-artisan commercials (which are supposed to represent the “good old days”) are so dimly lit an entire chorus of rodents could be doing a kick-line in the batter with no one the wiser.

Although mass production is great for many things, hand-crafted goods are usually better made and more unique.  That means a higher price tag, but it’s probably worth the splurge.

If you want truly hand-crafted products, check out your local farmer’s markets, fairs, and little shops right around the corner.  The Wal-Mart Superstore?  Not so much.

*Helpful English Tip:  Many of y’all are mispronouncing “artisanal.”   Everyone says “ar-TEASE-a-null” with the accent on the second syllable.  Wrong. It’s “ART-is-in-ull,” accent on the first syllable.  This mispronunciation has become so common that people probably think I am an ignorant doofus when I say it properly.

Go to the Merriam-Webster website, listen to the pronunciation, say it right, and stop making me look bad.

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Researching Homo Sapiens Vacationus At The Watering Hole

I will soon be heading out for a weekend of intense research at the watering hole that inspired this Freshly Pressed post several years ago.  Hope all y’all are having a great summer!

                      ***Important Safety Tip***

Use utmost caution when interacting with Homo Sapiens Vacationus.  They might look cute and cuddly, but can turn wild in an instant!

As any zoologist will tell you, the best place to observe animals in the wild is around a watering hole.  When the species in question is Homo Sapiens Vacationus that means the hotel pool.

When we were on vacation last week, temperatures ranged from a low of 95 degrees to a high equivalent to the surface of the sun.  This gave me ample incentive to do first-hand research at the human watering hole.  Here are my field notes on the various sub-species I observed:

Kiddus Raised By Wolvus:  Three siblings, approximate ages 9, 10 and 11, descended on the pool most every day.  There were no parental sightings.  One theory held that Mom & Dad’s idea of a fun vacation did not involve 3 preteens. They stayed in the room and kicked the kids out.  Another theory was that they weren’t even staying at the hotel; that their summer-weary Mom dropped the kids off each day on her way to elsewhere.

A lifetime of fending for themselves had left these children aggressively outgoing.  They had no problem approaching any and all to borrow play equipment or just to chat.  The youngest horned his way into our grownup beach ball/volleyball game. We graciously let him play but immediately regretted it.  Each time we hit the ball to him he tried to kill it, knocking it over everyone’s heads and out of the pool.  Requests that he lighten up fell on deaf ears.  After his fifth time getting out of the pool to retrieve the ball he said he was getting kind of tired and could one of us go get it the next time?  Game over.

Bakus Shakus: A gaggle of bikini-clad teenage girls lay on loungers working on their tans.  Every 1/2 hour or so they would rise, tie up their bikini tops and take a dip in the pool to cool off.  Scant minutes later they emerged, shook off the water and went back to sunning.  This ritual was eagerly observed by two other species.  They were:

Dos Equus: Two teenage boys horsed around in the deep end.  They seemed to be doing their best to drown one another, but were merely trying to impress the girls.

Trench Coatius Creepius:  A 60-year-old man stood at the side of the pool in about 5 feet of water, not moving, with his arms spread out along the side.  Dark shades hid his eyes.  I could feel his gaze on me when I took off my cover-up.  There’s nothing wrong with looking, but the intensity of his stare when my 20-something daughters shrugged out of their clothes activated my Creepazoid Radar.  I bet this guy can be found hanging around the local high school in a trench coat in the off-season.

Eros Youngus: A 16-year-old couple played games in the shallow end.  She climbed up on his shoulders and he carried her around, threatening to drop her in the water.  There was a lot of squealing and clutching involved.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only adult who looked at these sweet young lovers and had only one thought on her mind: should I step in before Romeo tosses Juliet right on top of one of the little kids?

Pleatherus Pleasurus: Two women “of a certain age” sat smoking and drinking in the corner.  Their skin was sun-baked to the color and consistency of rawhide.  They never approached the pool, but enjoyed their cocktails with increasingly loud, hoarse laughter as the afternoon (and their newest layer of pleather) baked on.

Infantus Goldenus: This pampered toddler and his doting parents carried more paraphernalia for their 1/2-hour sojourn in the pool than Stanley brought on safari, I presume.  The Boy Who Would Be King was coated with sunscreen, wearing a hat and encased in a vinyl, spherical palace complete with flotation chambers, sun umbrella, and built-in tray. Captain Nemo’s ship wasn’t so water tight.  Both parents hovered vigilantly to shield him lest any actual sun or water attempt to make contact.

If you’re contemplating doing some field research of your own this summer, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Those who trusted hotel room signs announcing there would be towels at the pool learned a bitter lesson.  There aren’t.  Always carry in your own supplies.
  • Goggles. These are a must-have if going underwriter. The watering hole is usually chlorinated to the point of burning your retinas.  If it isn’t, you shouldn’t be in there at all.  The risk of contracting Dengue Fever from the contaminated water is just too great.
  • Don’t forget the essentials: sunscreen and adult beverages.
  • Making eye contact with the wildlife may be seen as a sign of aggression.

As long as you’re prepared, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy your encounter with Homo Sapiens Vacationus this summer.   But remember this: never let them sense fear.

Posted in General Ramblings, Vacation Stories | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

Using Hand-Crocheted Doilies to Cover Wine Stains and Other Clever Hints

Any discriminating cardinal would feel right at home with a nice Cabernet.

Any discriminating cardinal would feel right at home with a nice Cabernet.

I’m on the marketing lists of several women’s magazines, and they periodically send emails with teasers from their latest issues.  This headline from Cooking Light magazine recently caught my attention:

What To Do With Leftover Wine

Huh?  What is this “leftover wine” of which they speak?   It’s like they aren’t even talking English.

Why don’t magazines publish articles we can really use?  Topics like:

  • Driving Miss Daisy…and her open bottle of Pinot Noir.  A handy reference guide to open-carry laws by state.
  • Dear Ann Landers: A party guest brought a bottle of truly heinous wine as a hostess gift. Should I toss it or save it for a rainy day when I’ve run out of anything decent?
  • Personality Quiz: Is the bottle of Merlot half full or half empty? Take this quiz and find out if you’re a pessimist or an optimist.
  • Crafter’s Corner: How to hand-crochet lace doilies to cover wine stains on upholstery.
  • Ask Miss Manners: If you bring a bottle of wine to a party and the ungrateful hostess doesn’t open it, can you take it back?
  • Never let him forget he’s your man:  Let your big, strong, stud-muffin open the wine bottle, especially if you’ve got one of those cheapo corkscrews that make it damn near impossible.
  • 4th of July decorating tips: Kick it up a notch this Independence Day.  Guests will marvel at your holiday tablescape when you add Gik, the first blue wine developed in Spain, to your usual roster of reds and whites.
  • Save the Planet:  Do you love animals?  Into recycling?  Overrun with empties from your favorite Box ‘O Wine? Check out our step-by-step instructions for turning cardboard wine boxes into charming birdhouses for our feathered-friends.  The rules say it’s white wine with fowl, but think outside the box and go for red!

In case you’re wondering, this was the magazine’s tip for using up leftover wine:

“Have a bottle of wine that you just can’t finish up, and don’t want to waste the little bit left over? Pour the wine into ice-cube trays, and freeze. Pull out a few cubes for a pan sauce that needs oomph, or toss some into a wine spritzer or pitcher of sangria.”

I’m planning to try this clever idea as soon as possible.  Does anyone know where I can get some leftover wine?

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My Dad Has No Rhythm, Yet Is Still The Master Of The Dance

This post was my Father’s Day gift to my Dad several years ago.  It had the honor of being Freshly Pressed and remains one of my (and my readers) favorites.

My Dad is the one in the snappy, plaid jacket. I’m the blonde butterball in the back.

My Dad sired 9 children. He then topped that accomplishment by staying around, with our Mom, to raise every one of us. For that reason alone, he deserves to be Father of The Year.

Not convinced? Here are a few things you should know about him.

My Dad…

can clear a room quicker than you can say National Geographic. Not because of poor hygiene or a less-than-winning personality, but because of his TV viewing habits.

All us kids would be piled into our tiny sunroom watching The Monkees or Get Smart on TV. Dad would come in, squat next to the set and start flipping the dial. (This was in the dark days before remotes.) He would come upon a fascinating National Geographic special on plate tectonics and there he would stay. We all groaned, rolled our eyes, exclaimed “Da-a-ad!” and left the room. If we were old enough to do so, we flounced out.

As he squatted next to the set, chewing his nails and staring raptly at the educational program du jour, we would hear his voice faintly, fading as we scattered through our big, old house “Hey, don’t you want to watch this? This is really interesting!”

should have joined the Navy. He bought his first boat when we were young kids. This started a life-long love affair second only to the one he shares with my Mom. I loved the family trips, especially to Mackinac Island each summer.

Each new boat was bigger than the last, and all the early ones were wood. When I think of how much of my life was spent in the boat shed, stripping varnish off metal trim and sticking Coopernal-ed toothpicks into screw holes, all I can say is… Dad, I forgive you.

is one of the smartest people I know. Too smart. He was always ready to help with math homework, but his explanation would sail right over your head. After just a few minutes, your eyes would glaze over. We’d say, “Thanks, Dad, I get it now.” and he would walk away, mission accomplished. He never suspected we would call a friend for help as soon as he left the room.

He taught celestial navigation for The Power Squadron for years, a skill I greatly admire even though the topic makes me glaze over worse than math.

has no rhythm that I’ve noticed, but is the Master of the Dance. He is best known for The Mosquito Ballet.

On sultry summer nights when we were very little, the windows and the balcony door in our bedroom would be opened to catch any stray breezes. Somehow the mosquitoes always got in to plague us. Dad to the rescue. Wearing a sappy expression and brandishing a fly swatter, he would leap and pirouette about the room, chasing the pesky bugs. We stood in our cribs and beds, flushed and sweating in diapers and t-shirts, shrieking with laughter, the sound floating out into the hot, still nights.

is a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Not because of his patriotism, though he is a proud and loyal American, but because of his zeal for the 4th of July.

My Dad loves fireworks with the pure joy of a child.

As my brothers got older they bought fireworks, most from the lawless land of Indiana, to set off in the driveway. Dad half-heartedly endorsed Mom’s edict to stop because those things “were just too dangerous”, but you could tell only the strictest discipline kept him from elbowing the boys aside to light the fuses himself.

To this day, almost every 4th of July, Dad and some of the family take the boat down the river to watch the fireworks over the water. That’s the only way to see them.

tells a shaggy dog story with the best of them. There’s a real art to telling the long, involved joke known as the shaggy dog. Dad has great delivery, no doubt. The problem is remembering the whole story. Early on, he developed a system. He wrote down his best material and kept the notes tucked in the front pocket of his shirt.

Our parents used to host cocktail and dinner parties pretty often when we were kids. Dad would duck into a corner, surreptitiously refer to his notes, and then sally forth to slay the crowd with his latest gems.

All his shirts still have pockets, and they still bulge with papers. I know for a fact most of those papers are jokes, now sent by friends via that new, joke-passing technology, email.

is a devout man. He spent years in the seminary before deciding the priesthood was not for him. But his faith and devotion to God have been constants in his life; something he and Mom passed on to their children.

When we were kids, we said family prayers almost every night, kneeling in the living room. As I entered my teens, I must admit that I didn’t have quite the appreciation for this ritual that I have now, in retrospect.

Sometimes, in the middle of our devotions, one of my brothers would let one fly: pass gas, fart, release the Silent-But-Deadly hounds of hell. Of course we all started giggling, then looked guiltily to our parents. They tried to maintain the mood, but more often than not, Dad would lose it.  He’d start laughing.  It was that highly contagious laughter that you couldn’t resist. We all joined in, laughing until we were leaning on the couch, crying. When it was obvious this train was not going to get back on the holy track, he’d waive us weakly out of the room.

Prayers called on account of laughter. I think God understood.

At 88, Dad’s ballet jumps aren’t what they once were.   His health isn’t good, but his mind is sharp and he can still deliver a shaggy dog story with the best of them.  He and Mom are still together in their own home, and he still loves and supports God, his family and his country.   For these reasons and more, I’m sure you’ll agree that the Father of the Year Award should go to – my Dad.

What’s that you say? My Dad sounds great, but you’d like to nominate someone else – maybe your dad? Fair enough.

If you’re blessed to still be able to do so, join me in telling each of our nominees for Father of the Year:

Thanks Dad.

I love you.

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A Paranoid’s Guide To Summertime Fun

Getting my summer on.

Getting my summer on. Portrait by Alfred George Stevens.

Ah, summer.  Warm breezes and budding flowers call us outside after a long, cold winter.  I answered that call just the other day.    I strode briskly along and inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with life-giving fresh air…and about 273 gnats.

Summer isn’t all fun and games.  Here are some valuable tips for surviving the coming months.

Sun:  Sol, Ra; the ancients had many names for the energy source of life.  Except when you have skin like mine, it’s also the source of sunburns so bad you can’t wear a bra for a week.  This is sure to lead to skin cancer and death.  But if you get too little sun you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and develop a severe Vitamin D deficiency like I did.  Both of these can cause depression, which will probably lead to suicide and death.

It might be better to avoid the sun, invest in a good sun lamp and drink more milk.

Nature:  There’s a wonderful state park practically in my backyard and now is the perfect time to go there and commune with nature in Zen-like harmony.  As long as you can find Zen-like harmony when surrounded by thousands of out-of-control school children on field trips.  Or legions of clueless big-city visitors falling into canyons and generally causing a hullabaloo.

Perhaps you should wait to experience nature in February when nobody else is around.  Better yet, watch a National Geographic special from the safety and comfort of your own living room.   Once you’ve seen a tree or two, you’ve got the general idea.

Bugs:  Bugs play a vital role in our ecosystem.  Nonetheless, anyone with half a brain avoids them in any shape or form at all times.

Stay indoors and keep a can of Raid handy.  If you’re the adventurous type and insist on going outside, I suggest wearing a head-to-toe beekeeper’s outfit.

Water: It’s hot outside – what could be better than a refreshing swim?   Great idea…if you’ve got a death wish.  Chlorination levels at a public pool can cause permanent injury.   And if the chlorine level isn’t high enough to damage your retinas, GET OUT NOW!  Every one of the 100 screaming kids playing Marco Polo in that pool is also peeing in it.

Maybe you prefer your swimming au naturel.  How do you feel about contracting Dengue fever, being dragged under by a shark, or getting sand in sensitive body orifices?

What’s wrong with a nice soak in your own, sanitary bathtub?

Barbecuing:  There’s nothing like the taste of a hamburger hot off the grill.  Except now experts say that the fat dropping onto the coals gets turned into cancer-causing agents, which then splatter back and are reabsorbed by your dinner.  That’s assuming you get that far in the barbecue process.  First you have to navigate to the deck without severing a major artery by tripping and falling through the patio doors.  Then you have to deal with the very real possibility that when you squirt lighter fluid on the fire, the flame travels back up the stream to the bottle in your hand, causing an explosion that takes off your arm.

Perhaps a trip to McDonald’s would be better.

Armed with my valuable advice, I‘m sure this summer will be safe and happy for everyone.  Feel free to call me if you have any questions.  I’ll be sitting in my bathtub with a Happy Meal and a glass of milk, watching Wild Kingdom on TV.

 

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Big Game Hunting In The Wilds of Indiana

Go to the Nudge Wink Report and you will find tales of daring and grand adventure! Also a post I wrote.

The Nudge Wink Report

thebighunt

My quarry was in sight.  After years of searching, the biggest prize of all would soon be mine.  Mine!  I thought back on how I had arrived at this point.

It was purely by accident.  I had been cruising the internet, casually checking out events of interest.  A rather ordinary picture scrolled across the screen. I looked idly, preparing to move on when there, in the corner, I caught a glimpse of it.  I thought I saw…but no, it couldn’t be.  Could it?  I froze the screen and tried to enlarge it, but at that magnification it was nothing but fuzzy pixels on the screen.  I couldn’t tell.  It LOOKED like it might be my quarry.  But it was hiding, way in the back, behind the more ordinary specimens that had been the subject of the photo.  I scanned the description, but nothing was said about the one in the…

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Arrrr! How I Fought Off Cap’n Microbeard and His Bloodthirsty Band of Pirates

Cap'n Microbeard

Photo of CEO Cap’n Satya “Microbeard” Nadella (the blackguard) courtesy of Microsoft. Though ’twere embellished a wee bit.

Look sharp, mateys!  If yer ship be flying the flag of Windows 7 or 8, batten down the hatches and prepare to repel boarders.  Cap’n Microbeard and his bloodthirsty band of pirates be sailin’ the interwebz’ stormy seas.

A co-worker turned on her computer last Monday morning and was hailed with a message congratulating her on upgrading to Windows 10.  Shiver me timbers! We be sailin’ with Windows 7 on all the computers in our office and I don’t aim to change me allegiance – not now, anyways.  Maybe later when all of me programs are compatible, but maybe never. That’s fer me, the captain, to decide.  Leastways, it should be.

Microsoft thinks differently.

Their Windows 10 upgrade icon is stuck faster ‘n a barnacle to every ship in our armada, and it pops up more often than mermaids off the port side after double rations of grog.

“10 is great!”  The screen trumpets.

“10 is fab!”   The screen shouts.

“Upgrade to Windows 10 and you’ll lose 20 pounds, be 2 inches taller and never have to worry about unsightly ring-around-the-collar again!”  The screen brays.

Belay that talk! It’s a constant peril, like sirens luring unwary sailors to their doom on the rocks.  I warned me sailors to ignore the sirens’ song and plugged their ears with wax, but one gave in.  She swears she didn’t, but the evidence was right thar on her screen.  Nobody walks the plank unless’n it’s at the point of a sword, and computers don’t execute programs all on their own.

An hour later I had to eat me words.

I was sailing along in calm waters, checking emails, when me own screen turned the color of the deep blue sea and an announcement flashed across it that Windows 10 was being installed.  That scourge of the seven seas, Cap’n Microbeard and his band of pirates, had their grappling hooks in me ship.

I didn’t go peaceful-like – hell no.  I grabbed me cutlass and fought like a demon. I thrust, I parried, the sweat drippin’ into me eyes as I hit “Esc” and “Alt+Ctrl+Delete” over and over again.  Cap’n Microbeard and his picaroons outnumbered us 100,000 to 1 and they kept on a-comin’ with fiendish strength.  Twas clear the blackguards wouldn’t stop til they dragged us down to Davey Jones’ Locker.  And installed Windows 10.

Me lads fought bravely, but we was losin’ ground. The counter on me screen inched its way from “0% installed” to “4% installed.”  Cap’n Microbeard taunted me, the yellow-bellied son of a pox-ridden-whore, saying, “Do not turn computer off during program installation.”  It looked like we was dead men, and they don’t tell no tales.  In a last-ditch effort to save me trusty ship and crew, I tried one final, desperate act.  I turned it off.

That did the trick.  Cap’n Microbeard and his Microsoft cutthroats slunk off with their tails between their legs like the mangy dogs they is.

We bound up our wounds and surveyed the damage.  The first ship, what they’d temporarily captured, was put to rights.  Then I parleyed with some other ship captains on the interwebz.  Turns out Cap’n Microbeard and his hornswaggler crew had been terrorizing the peaceful waters of the interwebz nigh on a year.  Their attacks had become more frequent and bloodthirsty of late as they had vowed to capture every ship flying the Windows 7 and Windows 8 flags.

“Where’s the King?” We cried. “Why don’t his troops clap this blackguard in irons? “  Seems Cap’n Microbeard is more powerful than the King’s justice.  Brigands now rule the seas of the interwebz.

Right sharp we posted lookouts in the crows-nest day and night, loaded our six pounders for action and changed our Windows Update security settings from “Install updates automatically (recommended)” to “Let me choose.”  We warn’t to be caught sleeping again.  After several days of smooth sailing we thought we’d seen the last of that brigand.

windowsbattleatsea

That’s me in the crows-nest, fighting valiantly.

That’s when he struck again.

The sentry in the crows-nest cried out, “Sail ho!” Our settings was still on “Let me choose,” but there warn’t no warning and no choosing involved – Windows 10 update commenced on its own on another one of me ships.  Cap’n Microbeard musta come alongside and crept silently aboard; probably came up the anchor cable the way most rats do.   He was trying to download Windows 10, yet again.

Scupper that! This time we was prepared and sprang into action with all hands on deck.  We made short work of the business and soon had that bilge-rat and his followers over the side.  But there warn’t no false sense of security for us this time.  Sure as a case of the clap follows a trip ashore to crack Jenny’s cup, he would be back.  What to do?

I parleyed on the interwebz again.  Lawlessness now rules the operating system seas, and the King won’t protect us honest sailors, so other captains have taken matters into their own hands.  They hired on mercenaries; brought ’em aboard to protect the crew and cargo from intruders.  The scuttlebutt was that  Cap’n GWX Control Panel and his gang was good.  We hired ’em on.

I don’t like having strangers on me ship, and I ain’t sure I trust Cap’n GWX.  Mayhap he’ll turn out to be as big a scalawag as Cap’n Microbeard.  But a captain’s gotta do what she must to protect her own, so on we sail, uneasy, waiting to see if these calm waters will last.

To Cap’n Microbeard I say; avast, ye scurvy mongrel!  If ye and your crew of slimy bilge rats try to board me ship again, you’ll feel the taste of me cat-o-nine tails on your backs afore you’re keelhauled.  Or maybe I’ll make ye dance with Jack Ketch.  Yer choice.

Arrrrrrrr!

Has Cap’n Satya “Microbeard” Nadella and his Microsoft crew tried to board your ship with Windows 10?  Did they succeed?  Are you as mad as I am?  Can I get an ARRRRRRRRRR?

Check out the Pirate Glossary for more pirate lingo, mateys.

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