Archive for December, 2008

Eating Your Way to the Best Year Ever

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

 

Thank god for Epicurious.com, or I might have accidentally jinxed all of 2009 by eating lobster or chicken (they both move backwards and – who knew!? – cause regret and dwelling on the past).

 

I had no idea there was such a science to luck. I thought you either had it or you didn’t, but now I realize my ignorance of the magic of food may very well be the root cause of my less than spectacular track record.

 

Well all that’s about to change…

 

 

If you’re feeling a swell of panic at the realization that you planned to consume any kind of poultry (i.e. ‘winged fowl’) – and thus have all your luck fly away – then relax. I’ve got you covered.

 

 

Specific traditions vary from culture to culture, but there is striking overlap as to what’s considered lucky. Right there, that tells me it has to be true. Coincidence = gospel in my little world.

 

 

To break it down for you, the six major categories of auspicious foods are grapes, greens, fish, pork, legumes, and cakes. To make that easier to remember, I offer the following mnemonic devices (I got quite practiced at inventing these the year I took anatomy because I thought it’d be ‘fun.’ Ah, memories. Almost ruining my college GPA sure was a ton of fun.)

Fish eat green grapes while pork cakes eat legumes.

Don’t like that? How about:

Grapes are green, fish isn’t pork, and vegetarians eat cakes and legumes.

 

 

 

Anyway, back to the menu planning: To hit all the necessary lucky food groups, I recommend the following plan:

 

  • Forget kissing someone, the Spanish and those residents of their former colonies recommend you spend the stroke of midnight stuffing your face. As everyone screams “Happy New Year” proceed to snarf down twelve grapes – one for each month of the year – preferably during the first minute of the year. The Peruvians, in some kind of misguided effort to be different, eat 13. (One for extra good luck?)

 

  • On New Year’s Day, bust out your crockpot and throw in some greens (a shocking number of cultures think they look like folded money), legumes (symbolizing growing coins), and pork (apparently a sign of prosperity and progress. Unless you’re Jewish. Or a Muslim. Then not so much.)

 

  • Prepare a little fish in pretty much any state you’re willing to consume it (fried, broiled, salt dried, grilled, boiled, raw). Cod is hot in Italy and Denmark, while the Swedish prefer carp. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. In addition, the Germans have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck, although I consider that an optional flourish (and in my house, one that will pretty much guarantee that my dog will eat your wallet).

 

  • Finish with some cake. As with the fish, pretty much anything goes, although if you want to bake some kind of weird, unexpected hard object (like a whole almond or a coin or a toy) into the batter, all the better. Watch those fillings!

 

 

With that, you’re on a rocket ride to the best year of your life. Happy New Year and Bon Appetit!

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Should auld rock stars be forgot…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

The dawn of a new year is a good time to reflect upon the past.

 

I’m doing so by watching VH1’s ‘100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs” – numbers 100 through 81. The good (?) news there is that I don’t think they’ve played the other episodes yet…so you can still catch the magic as it happens!

 

Meanwhile, from the bit I did watch, I don’t know what I found more alarming, the songs I have never heard in my entire lifetime (#94, The Darkness and their hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love, #93 Autograph and their chartbuster “Turn Up the Radio.” Who are these bands? Were these hits on the planet Earth ???).…or the way some of these people are looking now. Holy Old Man River, Night Ranger.

 

Billy Corgan should consider The Hairclub for Men

Billy Corgan should consider The Hairclub for Men

 

 

Meanwhile, although we’ve already acknowledged that Marilyn Manson is and will always be extremely creepy, is it me, or is Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins turning into the missing cast member of the Hellraiser movies?

 

 

 

However, the best part had to be host Bret Michaels, douche bag extraordinaire. What a sorry sight. I remember the days when some of the members of Poison would come to my high school to troll for jailbait. I think they were in their 30′s then.

 

 

Anyway, I nearly choked on my pasta when Brett delivered the following line in reference to song #81:

Are you ready for it? Okay. Here goes. He said, “It’s gonna rip your face off…guaranteed.”

 

 

Huh? Are you talking about a song? Or Billy Corgan and his crew of Cenobites?

(It was, for the record, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, sans Ozzy. At least if it were Black Sabbath WITH Ozzy this line would make some kind of sense…if you were a bat.)

Heavy black eyeliner. It's not just for Goth girls anymore.

Heavy black eyeliner. It's not just for Goth girls anymore.

 

 

 

Best of all was Bret’s mannequin-erisms while uttering this line, all weird and wooden. I’m no body language expert, but I think he’s trying to communicate something to the effect of, “I’m a washed up douche bag wearing a cowboy hat and a bandana at the same time. It’s the only thing that makes my wig look ‘natural.’ Help me! Someone please help me!”

 

 

 Your heart bleeds for the man.

 

 

 

 

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Bad business ideas for 2009

Monday, December 29th, 2008

 

I just finished skimming through Entrepreneur Magazine’s December 2008 issue. This brief interlude has served to reinforce my belief that I was not born to be an entrepreneur. I have no idea what I would sell. I have no idea what I would do. I feel kind of sick when I think about borrowing money and trying to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. I feel even sicker when I think about having to write a business plan.

 

That stated, I thought I might be able to help you out by pointing out some sure-fire roads to poverty and failure and saving you the trouble. If you’re looking for good ideas, you can pick up Entrepreneur and brainstorm in the categories of “Organic,” “Green,” “Fitness,” “Online,” “Energy,” “Web Apps,” and “Anti-Aging” (all admittedly good ideas, only I would have the first clue where to start. Minus my own inside joke with myself about opening a free-range farm for producing dog cheese and other dog milk products. German Shepherd Cheddar? Don’t mind if I do!)

 

On the other hand, if you want to test-drive a novel concept and are thinking it may be a bad idea, allow me to present some thoughts that I think are certain to fail:

 

1. Ab belts that electrocute your midsection into a six pack

2. New Coke

3. Anything involving smearing a clay head with seeds that will grow into ‘hair.’

4. A KFC franchise (an era brimming with buzzwords like “fitness”, “organic,” “green,” and “anti-aging” has got to be bad for the Colonel)

5. Big, expensive gas-guzzling cars

6. Liberty coins, The Barack Obama Inaugural Presidential Coin, 9/11 commemorative coins, Limited Brett Favre US Mint Gold Coins…

7.  A travel agency of your very own

8. Candy cigarettes

9. Polar bear pelts

10. Tom Cruise’s agent (just because I, personally, find him repugnant and am casting all kinds of spells in the hopes he goes away for good.)

 

 

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Unexpected Fashion Trends

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Legend has it that tough financial times lead to longer skirts. Apparently the fashion houses are introducing floor length mu-mu type dresses, so it’s good to know they’re keeping the folklore going strong.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Google Trends validated the existence of the “lipstick index.” Apparently Estee Lauder Chairman Leonard Lauder noted that lipstick sales surged after 9/11. Similarly, the New York Times has noted that lipstick sales have increased 40% in the last few months. Luxury brands have increased as much as several hundred percent.

 

 

 

 

It occurs to me this could be some form of subtle suicide, intended to keep the life insurance policies of the well-to-do in place. A couple months ago, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail warning that several high-end lipsticks contain lead, apparently enough to (potentially) cause breast cancer. For those of you with the budget for the good stuff, the lipstick brands that contain lead are: Christian Dior, Lancome, Clinique, Yves Saint Laurent, Estee Lauder, Shiseido, and Chanel.

 

 

 

Ick

Ick

 

 

In the same vein, when money is tighter, we apparently drink more. At home. And alone. While playing Russian Roulette. Or at least the first two. Brown Forman (BF) the maker of Jack Daniels and Finlandia Vodka reported that diluted earnings per share from continuing operations increased 13% to $0.94 and operating income increased 4% to $222 million for its fiscal 2009 second quarter. In other words, they’re making money even in a recession. Similarly disturbing news: Bud Light Chelada (a mix of beer and Clamato) has increased Anheiser Busch sales by 5%. And we wonder who elected George W. twice?

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, in perhaps the most alarming post-recession trend yet, chest hair is back. Not one to note such things, I was surprised to realize that the silver screen has been dominated by effeminate and waxed male torsos. However, chest hair is creeping back onto the scene. To quote The Daily Beast, “Are we yearning once again for leading manly men with comfortingly warm pelts in which to hide our anxious faces?” But of course.

 

 

 

 

A sure-fire sign of the times: A floor-length skirt, a living pelt on your arm, and a full flask tipped to your poisonous red lips. I like to see people making the best of a bad situation.

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Do-it-yourself genetic engineering

Friday, December 26th, 2008

  

Ah, those crazy kids. What will they think of next?

Apparently the unstable portion of the population that isn’t shooting up schools and Christmas parties or quietly beating their head against the padded wall have taken an foreboding interest in science:

 

Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home

 

SAN FRANCISCO – The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

“People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process,” she said.

So far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody’s kitchen or garage.

But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.

Many of these amateurs may have studied biology in college but have no advanced degrees and are not earning a living in the biotechnology field. Some proudly call themselves “biohackers” — innovators who push technological boundaries and put the spread of knowledge before profits.

In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.

Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.

Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.

“We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game,” he said.

Patterson, the computer programmer, wants to insert the gene for fluorescence into yogurt bacteria, applying techniques developed in the 1970s.

She learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.

Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.

“Once you move to people working in their garage or other informal location, there’s no safety process in place,” he said.

Some also fear that terrorists might attempt do-it-yourself genetic engineering. But Patterson said: “A terrorist doesn’t need to go to the DIYbio community. They can just enroll in their local community college.”

 

 

Okay, people. Let’s review the facts here.

Conducting genetic engineering in your basement never ends well.  Science is neither sexy nor fun nor a game. Sure, it’s exciting when the green phosphorescent protein arrives in the mail and you have visions of winning a Nobel Prize. But I implore you, put down the test tube and reflect on what history has taught us:

 

  1. The Island of Dr. Moreau – Didn’t you see this? Admittedly, it’s borderline unbearable…but it also serves as a nice, firm warning against messing with Mother Nature.
  2. I Am Legend – A much better movie than the above, but a good reminder that viruses are not playthings.
  3. Spider Man – where did the radioactive spider come from? That’s right. Some jerk was probably cooked it up in a basement somewhere.
  4. Austin Powers II: The Spy Who Shagged Me – Need I remind you that Mini Me is a botched attempt to clone Dr. Evil? Probably done in Frau Farbissina’s backyard shed.
  5. Silence of the Lambs - A serial killer raises moths in his basement so that he can stuff the cocoons down his victims’ throats. Admittedly, this wasn’t genetic engineering, but I think it proposes an alarming chicken and the egg dilemma. Did he start raising the moths because he decided to serial kill and figured this would be a super gross little extra OR was he raising moths and realized he needed to start killing because he had too many cocoons lying around and needed a clever way to get rid of some of them? It’s a slippery slope… (and yes, I realize this is the second time in two days I’ve mentioned Silence of the Lambs.)
  6. Jurassic Park I, II, and III – I rest my case.

 

Look, if this cinematic morality play isn’t enough to convince you, let me give it to you straight: I have no desire to try the new vaccine you whipped up in your coat closet, and I will not be eating any phosporescent yogurt. I can read the expiration date just as well as the next guy. I am a tiny bit interested in the tattoos that glow in the dark, but not enough to spend the last years of my life fighting off undead, flesh eating Dark Seekers. Please, I beg of you: Take that money and invest it in something useful. Like a Bedazzler.

 

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