Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Real Close Encounter With The Green River Killer At A Seattle Bookstore!

This is a true story. This happened. I am not making this up. What prompts me to tell this story is the recent discovery of a skull thought to belong to a victim of the Green River killer, click here for news story.

In the late 1990s, I and some of my co-workers were prolific readers of "true crime" books. In the course of our discussions, we concocted a theory about where we might run into the Green River Killer. So we went there. And, yes, we ran right into him...

"White Fungus" Finds A Better Name To Market Itself!

I love to go shopping in Asian stores where exotic foods can be found. Exotic, I should say, to me. In Asia these foods would not, of course, be exotic. This is what I tell myself when I try something new: to somebody in the world, this is normal food and there are MILLIONS of people who have judged the food and decided it is good to eat.

So, relying on the collective judgment of unknown masses, I am happy to try almost anything, even silkworm larvae, click here.

But I can see some Asian foods have names that don't translate very well for an American audience. For example, the word "fungus." This is not a word Americans embrace when it comes to their food. It is a word we associated with filth or disease. And yet Asian stores consistently sell ingredients packaged as "white fungus" and "black fungus" which are a common ingredient in many Asian dishes.

A few days ago, however, I went into Bangkok Market (one of my favorite stores in North Minneapolis) and I saw this product for sale: Dried Tremella.

I recognize the product as one-and-the-same with "white fungus," but it's clearly somebody has figured out "dried tremella" is a much more marketable name than "white fungus."

The next logical question would be: What to call black fungus? The names I looked up on Wikipedia are not very appetizing: Cloud ear fungus, hairy wood ear, tree ear or (my personal favorite) ear fungus. Clearly, something more creative (yet accurate) will be needed to package this common Asian cooking ingredient for American tastes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Clemantines Are A Fast, Easy, Yummy Treat

Here's a treat that's yummy, kinda healthy, and so easy to make: chocolate dipped clementines. My girlfriend made some of these and brought them to Thanksgiving dinner at her grandmother's, and also a dinner event sponsored by grateful residents of North Minneapolis (NoMi) for officers of the Fourth Precinct. 

My girlfriend prefers to use real "melting chocolate" which comes in coin shapes, especially Trader Joe's brand. You can also use some kind of quick-hardening chocolate dip like Magic Shell  by Smucker's. Chill the clementines to help the Magic Shell work, arrange attractively, and serve! If you use melted chocolate, chill the clementines AFTER you dip 'em. Either way, the last step is to EAT 'EM!

While you do this, be sure to sing Oh My Darling Clementine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crazy Old Antique Christmas Tree Stand From Craigslist!

Photo by Blog Utopia

A couple of days ago, my girlfriend searched "Christmas tree stand" on Craigslist and turned up this funky old item. My word, it's painted old school army green like one of the jeeps in M*A*S*H and it's made out of, like, STEEL. Three incandescent light bulbs fit inside. The current bulbs are green, red, and blue. No, they don't blink on and off. Too bad.

The underside has some rust, so you know it's been through a lot of holidays, sat in puddles of egg nog or held up trees outdoors in the winter weather. We could feel The Spirit of Christmas Past lingering heavily in the metal. Forty bucks! Can't beat it with a stick!

Who sends a personal assistant to sell a $40 item? It's a sure thing that young woman is salaried, not paid by the hour. This little detail only adds to the mystique of the item: we like to imagine the Christmas tree stand was in a rich, affluent, somewhat decadent environment. Who knows what it witnessed at those drunken holiday parties?

We just can't get over what a cool item we obtained for so little money. It must have half a century of Christmases to its credit. We plan to rack up at least half a century more.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love's Baby Soft Is Not Extinct, But It's Sure Retro!

Photo by Blog Utopia

I was out with my girlfriend Megan a few nights ago, doing something we love: hitting thrift stores to find both bargains and amusement.

In one of the many bric-a-brac aisles, heavy with candles and knick-knacks, she saw a bottle of Love's Baby Soft perfume and grabbed it like it was gold.

This perfume, she explained, is what the "older girls" wore in the early 1980s when she, herself, was just a youngster. Love's Baby Soft represented that portal to perfume maturity, an opportunity to be grown up and sexy like, well, MADONNA. 

"Don't they MAKE this stuff anymore?" I asked. "You have to get it online with eBay or score it in thrift stores or something?"

No, Megan admitted, it wasn't like Love's Baby Soft is EXTINCT. Apparently it's still being manufactured. But only the most well-stocked perfume outlets like Perfumania have Love's Baby Soft dependably in stock.

She was still clutching the bottle in her hand as she explained this. It was pretty clear she wasn't letting it go, so we had to buy it. But at least I learned there is such a thing as "retro perfume."

Another Latino Contribution To U.S. Culture: Gas Station Horchata (Yummy!)

Photo by Blog Utopia

If you've never tried the rice based drink called "horchata," you are missing a treat. The first time I had horchata I was in Hermosillo, Mexico, doing volunteer work in a slum. We were hot and dusty but full of positive energy. A Mexican woman came out of her little house with a big glass vat of  something...I thought it was iced milk.

My first mouthful was a revelation. It was light and yet slightly creamy, sweet but not cloying, exotic and yet oddly familiar. It was both exotic and "comfort food."

Though there are many variations of "horchata" around the world, click here for Wikipedia, Mexican horchata is based on rice and contains cinnamon. Sometimes, not always, Mexican horchata contains vanilla.

For many years, I could only get horchata by finding powder packets in the ethnic food sections of well-stocked grocery stores. Sometimes, in Latino neighborhood markets, I can find the bottled ready-to-drink version.

But, recently, I was in a gas station fueling my big ol' truck, and I was told "free grande size beverage with any fill up." I was heading for a hot cocoa when I saw one of the options was HORCHATA.

Wow. This stuff used to be so hard to find and now it's appearing in gas stations.

Try it. You'll like it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Packaged Bananas By "RaceTrac Fresh Fruit to Go" ARE THE DEVIL!!!!!

Photo by Blog Utopia

I encountered this clear and unmistakable sign of the environmental apocalypse while I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area last October, gassing up at a convenience store.

Oh. My. God.

Didn't anybody notice bananas have a peel? What is that peel intended for by God Almighty, if not to keep the fruit inside clean and fresh? I mean, does anybody EAT THE PEEL? OK, since nobody eats the peel, what's wrong with just selling bananas the way they come?

To be fair, I have read about individuals who dry out banana peels and smoke 'em to get high, but I hardly think that's relevant.

OR IS IT?! Because this "second layer of banana packaging" is a bad, bad idea...the kind of idea somebody might conceive while intoxicated on a substance which, while perfectly legal, may be highly inappropriate for inhalation.

SHAME ON YOU, RACETRAC FRESH FRUIT TO GO!!!! Click here for their website. Boo. Boooooooooooo!!!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"The Chicken Wing Flavors Revelation" Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Google Ad Sense!

Photo by Blogging Utopia  

And so it begins.

I run another blog, actually quite a popular blog, about neighborhood issues. It's fair to say people from all over the world visit that blog, but since most of our content is specific to our city, most of our visitors are local. One day I realized one of the most popular posts concerned a local restaurant which serves (at last count) 178 flavors of chicken wings.

It wasn't a "big deal" blog post, like some of the tough neighborhood issues I cover. And yet this "chicken wing flavors" post is so popular that it consistently ranks in my Top 10. In fact last time I checked if you search "chicken wing flavors" on Google, that particular blog post pops up number one FOR THE ENTIRE PLANET.

And I've heard stories like this from other bloggers. They might be writing about their life, their kids, their neighborhood issues but one day they happen to comment on some product or service. Maybe the product or service is unique and makes their life better, maybe the product is inadequate in some way but whatever it is...