Friday, October 31, 2008

E Pluribus Nougat

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Happy Halloween, everybody. It's a great holiday, candy's nice, everything's fine, blah blah blah, but it's all still not perfect. And I demand perfection from the world.

Since when has nougat been plural?

My wife and I have several bags of candy in the house for trick-or-treaters, mostly leaning toward the miniaturized-chocolate-bar variety. By that, I mean, there are several kinds of Halloween candy: your chalky stuff (SweeTarts), hard stuff (Dum Dum lollipops, butterscotches, hard candies in clear plastic wrappers), chocolate stuff (any bar in the ironically named "fun size"), and stuff that's just meant to be used as space-filler so you can make the expensive candy last the whole night (candy corns, gum, Tootsie Rolls). We mostly leaned toward the chocolate stuff, because in case no kids come by, I'd rather be stuck with a bag of mini Kit-Kats instead of a bag of Starburst.

When we opened a bag of candy to dish it out, I noticed something advertised on the wrapper of the Reese's Fast Break bars: "SOFT NOUGATS."

Nougats? With an S? Hang on. My entire life, it's been just "nougat," singular -- it is supposed to be plural now? Like how "data" used to be plural for "datum" and now "data" is a weird singular-plural hybrid?

Someone's trying to pull something over on me. On us. On the whole nougat-eating world.

Frankly I couldn't even tell you what the fuck nougat is. It's gooey and beige, right? Made with some sort of sugar? Tastes good? But so then the stuff inside a Three Musketeers, for instance, would be just "nougat." But if you remove the chocolate from the bar (you let the chocolate bar sit in your mouth for a few hours until it all melts off, let's say), what you're left with is a bar of nougat. Not nougats. Surely not. When you pour a glass of milk, you're pouring milk -- not putting a whole bunch of milks in a glass.

Hold on -- if there's an answer to a stupid pop culture question, the answer has to be in Wikipedia.

OK, I'm back, and my suspicion was correct -- nougat is "is a term used to describe a variety of similar confectioneries made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios or hazelnuts are common, but not peanuts) and sometimes chopped candied fruit." Fruit? There's fruit nougat? I'm going to have to research this later, but let's move on for now.

"There are two basic kinds of nougat: white and brown. White nougat is made with beaten egg whites and is soft, whereas brown nougat (called nougatine in French) is made with caramelized sugar and has a firmer, often crunchy texture."

So maybe the answer is that both varieties of nougat are contained in the Reese's Fast Break. Possible, I suppose. But perhaps not. Check this description of the Fast Break out on Hershey's Website:

"Creamy REESE'S peanut butter and nougat covered in delicious milk chocolate."

See? Nougat. Singular nougat. Not a bunch of nougats. That's just bizarre.

Hershey's: If you're out there, send me a correction. I want to know which nougat conjugation is correct. I'm a copy editor, you know. We're persnickety bastards. And send me some more Fast Breaks. I need to dissect a few (orally) for research into Nougat-gate 2008.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nacho average s'mores

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We here at the IBARF -- the Institute for Bizarre and Revolting Foods, my own private research facility dedicated to the scientific study of weird foodstuffs -- have taken on very many challenges over the years. I once willingly had Coke with "coffee essence" in it. I even drank a caffeinated beer.

Those were easy to dismiss. Not as easy is my latest find: S'mores flavored tortilla chips.

They're from Archer Farms, which is the slightly-more-upscale house brand at Target. The hay-chewing, overalls-wearing owner of Archer Farms doesn't muck around with cows, unless it's to borrow a bit of skim for his rosemary and olive oil artisan bread.

Anyway, back to the S'mores chips. Upon first seeing them on the shelf, my wife and I recoiled visibly. S'mores chips? Made of corn? We found the idea not just unpalatable, but somehow offensive to our ethics and values. A s'more is graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows -- sneaking any nachos anywhere in there is not cool. Not. Cool.

Pepper, cheese, garlic, sour cream, ketchup, barbecue sauce -- these are chip flavors. Not goddam s'mores. I just couldn't even conceive of what they'd be like. Neither could a lady walking by who nodded when I accidentally shouted, "What kind of a fucking numbskull came up with THIS bullshit idea?"

My next sentence was: "Let's buy some."

I don't know what it is, but every time I see some weird snack food, my first impulse is to express horror and disgust. The next is to buy it, thus spending money on the product I'm 99% sure will be disgusting, and confirming some accountant's theory that they can sell any piece of shit to any moron who comes walking by. Do you think the CEO of Archer Farms (I picture a weathered old midwestern guy in oil-stained flannel sitting on a handmade porch swing with his wife, whom he calls "mother," looking out over a field of alfalfa) cares if he sells chips because someone bought them out of irony? Does he really care if s'mores are supposed to be made with graham crackers, not corn? Nope -- he comes up with a flavor, makes it last 10 months in the bag, slaps a label and a $3 price tag on it, and calls it a day. He makes a lot of money, this guy. He's one smart son of a bitch.

Regardless of why we bought them, my wife and I couldn't wait until we got into the sterilized confines of the IBARF tasting lab to start our research. We ate the S'mores chips in the car (the IBARF Annex).

Here are our findings:

- Visuals: Most chips are covered in delicious colors like orange, yellow, green, and red. These chips are covered in brown stuff. I know delicious things come in brown, too, like fudge and steak, but I'm just not used to brown things in chip form. It takes a minute to get used to the idea.

My favorite part of the bag is where it describes the S'mores chips as "authentic-style." Authentic s'mores nacho chips? Authentic to who?

- Bouquet: They smell like marshmallows. And corn. I normally don't smell those things in the same place. Call me old-fashioned.

- Tactile response: Good news! You don't get a lot of brown stuff stuck to your fingers when you handles the S'mores chips. Like you would with Cheetle. Because if you had brown fingers, sucking them and smearing them all over your pants and shirt, people might get the wrong idea.

- Auditory reaction: They crunch pretty much like your standard nacho chip. A molecule-thin gooey marshmallow center in every chip would've been nice to add a bit of softness, but to be honest I don't think chip technology is that advanced yet.

- Flavor: Now the big test. They're not exactly sweet, and they're not salty at all. There's a slight taste of chocolate and even slighter whisper of marshmallow, and only the barest hint of graham cracker flavor, though that may have just been wishful thinking. Mostly what you taste is corn. A mouthful of corn. Imagine a handful of unsalted Fritos dipped in cocoa powder and you've got the gist of it.

That's not to say they were horrible. Almost any snack could be improved by dipping it in cocoa powder. Take an apple. Ho hum. Now smother that apple in rich milk chocolate and you've got my attention. Add a layer of marshmallow Fluff and I'll give you a big wet kiss. Now chuck out the apple and add some graham crackers and you've got the perfect snack. Which is pretty much how the s'mores corn chips worked: Not bad, except for that business with the corn chips.

We still ate them, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stuck

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This is the definition of "domestication": If my dogs didn't have me around, they wouldn't last an hour.

What do I mean by that? If the gate to the backyard is ever left open, they'd run out -- probably right into the traffic, where they'd be smooshed by a car within minutes. If we didn't keep the knives in the knife block, they'd eat them, for no other reason than they look interesting. If my wife wasn't there to pull knots of pillow stuffing out of their assholes when they've torn up their beds, they'd get some kind of obstruction.

Or, Stanley ate a bunch of tarps. Disposable plastic tarps. We had a bag of them, and he took them out and started chewing them and dragging them all over the house. Since when are plastic tarps delicious? Why tarps? It's like a kid playing with a plastic laundry bag.

Latest thing: I'm in the living room, and I hear Myrna in the dining room rolling on her back on the carpet. She does that -- I have no idea why. Then, a few minutes later, she's softly whining. She does that too, so I ignore it. Maybe 20 minutes go by, and I get up and happen to pass the dining room.

Myrna had somehow gotten her collar stuck into the rug. She can't get out, because it's hooked in there good, and she's lying there with a corner of the rug folded over her face. She's just stuck there, on her side, looking pretty much resigned to the fact that she's never getting up again. You could see her giving up. As in: That's it -- I live like this now. I used to be able to walk once, but now I have a rug on my face.

I didn't have the presence of mind to take a picture of this -- I just unhooked her collar, and she ran off and did something else boneheaded where we had to save her from certain doom.

You ever see those YouTube videos where a dog gets a box stuck on his head? I can't stand to watch those things for more than a few seconds -- they freak me out. That's why this one lasts less than a minute, and the dog gets it off.

For balance, this is a person who gets her head stuck in a desk. It's not clear by the end of the video what happens. Kid might still be there for all I know, eating through a straw.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crepes, crap, and dead turkeys: A weekend in Bar Harbor

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I'm back from a few days vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine. Many local T-shirts and license plates, straining for a joke to the point where one can hear tendons pop, write it out quote-unquote humorously as "Ba Ha Ba." I did not hear a single Bar Harbornian pronounce it that way. Not even the guy at the Internet cafe with the greasy black and gray beard who looked vaguely pirateish.

My wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast that sucked at half of that description. The room was fantastic, with a working fireplace and a four-poster king-sized bed, one poster of which came up straight in front of the TV but whatever. The person who had the room before us left half a Rolaids wrapper and a lady's belt in the room, so if there's someone out there with a sour stomach and her pants around her ankles, get in touch.


On a 1-to-10 scale of being appalled, 1 being slightly appalled and 10 being so appalled that the nerves behind your eyes ache and one or two of your heart's ventricles spasm and turn black, the inn's breakfast rated a 9.97. I'm taking back 0.03 points since it seemed to be made of something that had once been food. The rest of the score? Because they're awful cooks and don't give a shit about dietary restrictions.

The first morning, they gave my wife and I a plate heaped with potatoes but only the barest whisper of bacon, all smothered in green onions and yellow onions. The next course was an enormous omelette made with what looked like 7 eggs, stuffed with undercooked mushrooms, yellowish water, and for variety, more onions. A quick run over to my local science lab confirmed that this water was a brackish mix of mushroom fluid because they weren't cooked properly, and trace amounts of raw egg. The entire travesty was topped with more onions. Apparently a sale on onions in Bar Harbor that week.

The innkeeper lady said good morning to another woman sitting at the table, who was a vegetarian, and said, "I know you left a note saying you don't eat eggs, but..." Then she gave her an omelette. The innkeeper said she could either eat it or there was "toast and I think Frosted Mini-Wheats?" The guest picked the toast but left before she could eat it, saying she was going to take a shower to wash off the stink of utter failure.

My wife can't eat wheat or nuts, so we left a note saying that if they didn't want a mess on their hands, perhaps they should avoid making anything with wheat or nuts. We wondered later that day, whilst hiking around the hills and carriage trails of Acadia National Park, how exactly they'd fuck that up. I decided they'd make pancakes. My wife picked "nutty muffins."

I won -- we had crepes. They were stuffed with either yogurt or sour cream or shaving cream. It was hard to tell over all the raspberry jam. Basically, a fancy-ass Pop Tart.

As I was gloating over my crepe victory, laughing hysterically and spewing raspberry seeds over the fine china, and my wife shoveled in only the onion-potato hash, I began to notice the faintest rumblings inside my stomach. These rumblings, as we left the breakfast table, were but the first inklings of a great tsunami -- yes, a storm of acid and shit, a storm of horrific proportion gathering speed and mass inside me. Minutes later I rolled about on the nice marble floor of the bathroom, head hitting the Jacuzzi, cursing the innkeepers for poisoning me, then for forgetting to give us any toilet paper -- and we had just used the last of the free packet of tissues.

I'm not going to explain how I escaped that predicament, but suffice it to say it was a long 6-hour car ride back home, most of it doubled over in pain with one eye on patches of thick brush along 95 south in case of emergency.

I don't ask for much in an inn, but toilet paper would be one of those few things. Food that doesn't try to kill me or my wife would be another. It's the basics of B&B ownership, really: don't poison your customers and make sure they can wipe their asses.

Moving swiftly along, a couple more random thoughts from our Bar Harbor weekend:


- Big high-five to Nature for being really cool. Well played, sky and trees and stuff. Well played.

- Climbing mountains is tough. If you ever find yourself near one, find some way around it.

- That's why Cadillac Mountain is nice. You can drive to the top. They take busloads of seniors up there all the time. You think those old farts would get there under their own power? It'd be a massacre. There'd be stacks of dead elderly people and broken wheelchairs four and five deep around the base.

- You can't throw a handful of dirt in Bar Harbor without hitting someone in the tourist trade raving about the "tea and popovers on the lawn" at Jordan Pond House. Don't believe it. It's a ripoff. A popover is basically pancake mix baked in a muffin tin filled with air until it's burnt. Tea is tea. The lawn? It's cold out there.

- As for the rest of their menu, it's mostly overpriced frozen food served to blue-hairs. Wish I could put it more tactfully than that, but if you'd seen the rice they gave me you'd be livid.

- Not all the food was bad. We had a couple of dinners that were mind-blowing. One was at a Cuban place, where I had my first mojito. Great, except for all the shredded mint that gets stuck in your teeth like you've been gargling with a kale smoothie. The other was at a Mexican place -- they gave us what looked like an entire bag of nachos just for showing up, the way most restaurants give out free bread. We ate the entire basket of chips.

- Acadia National Park is probably the most organized, best-run park I've ever seen. It's the model for every national park. You thinking of starting a national park? See how Acadia does it.

- Bar Harbor needs more geocaches. There are a few, but a place that pretty should be teeming with them. You should be tripping over geocache ammo boxes in the town square. If you live in Bar Harbor and you're into geocaches, get on this.

- At least three times, all by accident, I saw a TV show where people shot turkeys for fun. The camera was bolted down, pointed at a field. Then these turkeys would come wandering out, because some hunter would use a turkey call to essentially trick them into thinking there was some hot turkey love out there. The male turkeys went strutting out into a field, feathers up and chest out, by a statue of a female turkey, as a hunter offscreen squawked the turkey call, which in turkish meant something like, "Uh-oh, the plumbing just broke and here I am, getting ready for a shower with my girlfriend." Just as I was thinking, "Wow, look at the plumage on that bird, they're really amaz--" the hunter would blast them to pieces. Then they'd run over and start checking out their feet. "Lookit the spurs on that one!" one hunter said, holding out the legs and massive claws, breathing heavily as if he'd just escaped danger. It was sort of like watching a slasher film from the '80s, where the horniest teenagers always met the most gruesome fate and the moral of the story was sex = death.

- I bring that up because we don't have hunting shows where I am. Actually, they sort of do, like "Law & Order" and "CSI," but they hunt people instead.

- We're probably going again next year so my wife can run the Mount Desert Island Marathon. We've already decided: next time, no crepes.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Thunder from Down Under across the river

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For those who might be about to rock, I ask you: Is AC/DC secretly planning to bring its latest North American tour to Somerset? Because seriously, I'm starting to wonder.

These are the facts: A few weeks ago I hear that AC/DC is planning to drunkenly grope its way through North America on its Black Ice tour. So being a connoisseur of the cock-rock genre, I try to buy tickets online. I quickly realize that it will require a massive outlay of cash, on the order of $300 plus, just so I and my wife can perch in the rafters of Boston's FleetCenter straining through opera glasses to see, across a vast chasm of screaming, pot-stinking, mulleted humanity, what looks like a 50-something-year-old near-dwarf strip off a schoolboy outfit to Union Jack tighties, playing songs I already have on my iPod while my wife tries to occupy herself with a magazine. No, I didn't get the tickets.

Later, I get an email. It's from AC/DC. Not personally or whatever -- most likely AC/DC's fall semester intern. This is what the message says:

"On October 26 , AC/DC will roll into an East Coast town under the cover of night and rock a secret club show to get the tour started right and they want their biggest fans to be there with them, stomping feet, pumping fists and straining vocal chords with each beat of the drum. ... This contest is for members of the AC/DC Fan Club only."

I think no more of it -- East Coast is sort of a big place. It could be anywhere from Deer Island to Tallahassee. Then yesterday, I'm driving through Somerset and gas up the car near the Quality Inn and see this sign:

"Welcome ACDC"?

"Welcome ACDC"?

Could it be that AC/DC?

I've been going mental ever since. All the pieces fit. AC/DC said their secret concert would be on the East Coast. Somerset is on the East Coast. Wikipedia says Somerset's nickname is "Musictown." The stuff AC/DC plays could most likely be classified as music. So there's that.

Also, Somerset just got a Chili's a few years ago. Just went the other day. They have pretty good fries -- possibly good enough to travel from Australia for?

I've never been in the Quality Inn before -- frankly I have no fucking clue who the clientele is at any local hotel besides hookers and the odd traveling salesman -- but the place looks small from the outside. They do have a "hot breakfast buffet," but what other amenities does it have? Could it even hold an AC/DC concert? Where would they put the cannons? And the giant inflatable naked fat lady? Could its walls contain the sheer amount of testosterone at such an event? Or would they have to move it to the Venus?

What else could "Welcome ACDC" mean, except that Angus and the lads will be in Somerset? Possibly duck-walking into the Stop & Shop for a last-minute Fiji Water before they tear the Quality Inn lounge to shreds?

I'm dying to know, but I'm afraid to call the Quality Inn and ask what's up. I may try a secret coded message -- like, "I'd like to inquire if Rosie is available for the 26th," or maybe, "I'd like a room on the upper-most floor. Is it a long way to the top?" They probably wouldn't tell me anyway. I'm sure AC/DC has sworn to secrecy the manager, front desk personnel, and the cat who sticks the magnetic letters on the sign outside.

Are you AC/DC's fall semester intern? Do you know him/her? Get in touch. Let me know what's going on, and I swear I won't blow your cover. I just want to make sure that if I show up outside the Quality Inn on the 26th in my AC/DC T-shirt, schoolboy blazer, and shortpants, I won't look like a moron.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stupid shit that happens: Coming soon

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You know what? I should write here more often about stupid shit that happens. I only post stuff on here once in a while, and I feel neglectful, like I have this nice website and everything, infinite amount of space, and I'm not filling it with all the sheer tonnage of stupid shit that happens. So starting today, I'm going to try to write a little something at least every couple of days, to record some stupid shit that happens.

It may not be pretty. Stupid shit rarely is. But where else can stupid shit go, if not here? In my job as a news editor, I come across appalling amounts of stupid shit every single day, and I can't do a thing with it. Time was, the newspaper was big enough for me to sow it around willy-nilly. Not anymore. I just see scads of stupid shit all day with no way to evacuate it. I don't have a sewage system for stupid shit -- I don't have a way to flush it out of my life and have it vanish into the ocean to become fishfood. Instead, stupid shit just falls out everywhere as it happens. And I just leave it there, piles of stupid shit all over the floor that I slip around in and accidentally track onto the carpet until there's pretty much just stupid shit wherever I look, stinking up the place, when I should be sharing it with you.

So here's some stupid shit I came across today that you may enjoy! Look forward to more in the future!

German snuff-sniffing competition goes wrong when people end up with Hitler mustaches
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