Friday, March 30, 2012

What is this insidious Pink Slime?

Recently the news has been full of ‘Pink Slime’. At first, I thought it was a new play thing for children, like silly putty. However, I did some research and found that Pink Slime is actually known as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). A beef processing company found a way to use previously unusable parts of beef, add them to ground beef, and it lowers the fat content. This sounds wonderful, terrific, and simply amazing. It uses more of the animal and hopefully allows less to be slaughtered for food and it makes meat healthier by lowering the fat content.

Unfortunately, the news people do not like it. They prefer to call LFTB Pink Slime. From what I gather, the disdain for Pink Slime stems from three sources. First, it could be infected with E coli and is treated with ammonia to kill the bacteria. E coli, that little bugger, is likely present in all ground beef, which is why it should be cooked to 160˚ F. So, it seems a bit strange we are worrying about it in Pink Slime.

The second reason for disliking LFTB is that it is pink and slimy. When you consider regular, plain old, ordinary ground beef, it is pink and sticky. Now that I think about comparing the two things, I am not sure which should disgust me more, Pink Slime or the slightly less-slimy-still-pink, ground beef.

The last reason, and I believe the most explosive, is that we do not like people sneaking weird stuff into our food. The most notable figure in this diabolical plan to sneak stuff, into our food is that bubbly queen of cooking, Rachael Ray. This evil fiend actually takes vegetables and hides them in foods that children will actually eat, in order to trick those innocents into consuming vegetables.

This sneaking is reprehensible. When I was a child, it was neither fashionable, nor expected to hide foods in other foods. Once, my mother decided we all needed to eat stewed prunes. She stewed the prunes, put them in small bowls and set them out on the dinner table, totally expecting that we would consume them without question. She did not try to hide them in a casserole, nor did she mix them in ice cream. No, we were to eat them plain and straight up.

Which I did. Almost. Well, I ate all of them, but they apparently were afraid of my gut, since very shortly after grimacing and choking the last one down, they came racing back up out of my stomach, as if propelled by a rocket.

Another food which was served without any attempt to hide it, was liver. When mom served liver she neglected to inform us that it was an organ devoted to cleaning deadly toxins out of the body. She just said it was good for us. When any parent tells a child that something is “Good for you” it really means, “This tastes so bad you will immediately feel like your entire body is turning inside out.” I had a plan to deal with liver. I would sneak pieces of it into my pockets, for later dispersal in the yard. It was quite successful and I would have done it with the stewed prunes, but I am sure mother would have noticed my pockets leaking prune juices.

Somewhere between my childhood and now, the idea of being truthful about what is being served has taken a severe hit. I am not talking about the innocent practice of using “secret ingredients” while cooking. We all do that to protect our recipes. I once made pot roast. My wife, Beloved, thought it tasted particularly tasty. She asked how I cooked it. I told her I cooked it in my secret ingredients. When she asked what the ingredients were, I told her a mixture of half Mt Dew and half Ginger ale. She was incredulous, but she asked me to make pot roast again. That is my secret ingredient, and I would appreciate all you gentle readers keeping that a secret.

But, at sometime, the culinary community has taken a dangerous turn from honest offering of foods to hiding them from easy identification. I think that change happened sometime around my sophomore year of college. Every few weeks the dining hall would have liver for dinner. For many students this meant grazing from the salad bar, making a sandwich, or a light supper of ice cream. For the most squeamish of students, it meant staying as far from the dining hall as possible, and going to the snack bar later for cheese sticks.

The next evening, students would return to the dining hall, thinking the coast was clear, and load their plates with Salisbury Steak, which was not really Salisbury Steak. It was the previous night's liver, disguised with gravy and mushrooms. If you are ever eating on a college campus, ask a student what was for dinner the night before, and beware the Salisbury Steak.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do not take the Easy Way

A while ago, I was at a local gas station pumping gas. While I looked around, I could see a customer inside having a long conversation with the cashier. There was lots of headshaking, gestures, and turning back and forth to look out the window. All of this activity piqued my interest. The customer eventually made his way out of the building and headed towards his car. He stopped before getting in and then walked over to me.

He politely asked if I could tell him the best way to get to his destination. I started to give him directions for the shortest route to his destination. I quickly noted the glazed look on his face as he checked the piece of paper in his hand. It was apparent he was greatly confused. It was then I noticed a key piece of information. His car had out of state license plates.

“You are from out of town.” I observed. To which he replied that he indeed was from nowhere near here. I then said, “So you don’t want the fastest way, or the shortest way, but the simplest way.” He grinned, the clouds above parted, birds perched high in the trees began to sing forth as he said, “That is indeed what I need.” With that word of affirmation, I gave him directions for the simplest way to his destination. It may have been a few minutes longer than the fastest way, or a few miles longer than the shortest way, but it was the least complicated way, and for him, the best way.

My dad used to tell me not to take the easy way when I was working on something. Back then, I thought he just took great joy in making my life more difficult. I could not understand why I should not do things the easy way. He also would instruct me, especially when working on broken vehicles, “Do things the simple way.” For him, doing something the easy way meant cutting corners simply to finish the job; simple meant to do it straightforward, without unnecessary complications.

I know of a company whose management team confused easy and simple. It was laughable. I mean that it really was funny. If something happened that needed  addressing, management created a new form. Damage to building-- management designs a new form. Horrible disfiguring accident--a new form. Someone embezzles from the company-- yep, you know it, a new form.

I want to inform you, in case you were not already aware, forms do not change things; and forms do not make life better. If you do not believe me, you have not visited the Department of Motor Vehicles or done your taxes in the past 75 years.
 The managers at this company would eagerly tell you they made difficult decisions, but every time I heard a manager say, “We have had a difficult decision to make.” it really meant, “We could no longer ignore the difficult decision we should have made months ago and so today we have finally done what we should have.”

Designing a form simply puts off action, and putting off action, hoping the problem resolves itself, rarely works. Now I must go and start dinner, although I am not sure what to make. Of course, I cannot remember what we have had for the past week, perhaps, if I designed a grid to fill in the menu for every day of the week… 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It is a Lovely Day for Yard Work...or is it?

The winter has been a mild one here in western New York. All the snow is gone and the temperatures have been more like mid-May rather than mid-March the past few days. This means that soon I will have to start cleaning up winter’s debris from the yard, a job I do not particularly relish.

I decided this past week to do some research on ways to take the drudgery out of doing yard work. Using Google, the third item that popped up on the list was a link to an article about a Utah man who was shot by a neighbor while doing yard work. I immediately searched for good places to buy bulletproof vests. Now I just have to convince Beloved that $400 is not too much money to keep me safe while out in the yard.

Although this winter has been light on snow, it has been filled with wind, and this has helped to heap a multitude of debris in the yard. Across the street, condominiums have been being built all winter. Even on those few days of bitter cold, I have seen cold craftsman out on scaffolding putting up siding. At the end of one gusty day, as they were disposing of their refuse in a large dumpster, the wind conspired to make that endeavor difficult. One poor gentleman chased loose sheets of plastic as they blew across the road. He did not get them all and I have a few to pick out of the yard. I do not mind picking up the debris from across the street. I am actually quite thankful that I did not wake up to a new condo that had blown across the street and come to rest in my yard. That would be troublesome.

A couple of years ago I found the remains of a small, I presume extinct, animal in the back yard. My three daughters and I examined the bones carefully, like paleontologists unearthing a new species. Some thought it was a squirrel, others a chipmunk. I believe it was something much more exotic, and as soon as I find out the Latin translation for “Wee little animal with long tail.” I am going to have my own species of dinosaur.

One of the most exciting parts of spring yard clean up is the traditional uncovering of the strawberries. Littlest and I usually undertake that task together. While we do we always chatter about the wonderful things we could make with strawberries, if we ever harvest enough.  The strawberry bed is young, so we have yet to harvest more than five strawberries any season.

There is a tremendous amount of worry that goes into removing the straw and that worry stems from a subset of Murphy’s law. The same section that states, “As soon as you wash your car, it will rain.” The Strawberry Murphy’s law states, “As soon as you uncover your strawberries, it will snow…bad.” So if you see any snow in the next few days, you can be assured that I uncovered the berries.

I have wasted just about as much time as I can writing this. Now I really need to get out in the yard and work. I don’t think Beloved will let me wait until a bulletproof vest gets delivered, so before I go out, let me make sure none of the neighbors are outside carrying firearms.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Paralyzed Face :Part 3 - the Final Chapter...I think.

If you have not read the first two parts, this last one will make little sense, not that I make a lot of sense normally, but you get the picture.Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2

I checked into the ER at 11:45 pm, finally being seen at 6:00 am, and waiting for results of the Cat Scan, by 10:00 am, I was hungry. A very polished waiter lit candles on my bedside tray and placed a most delectable breakfast in front of me. Perhaps I don’t remember all the details correctly, due to the ravenous growls emanating from my stomach, but I do remember a few details quite clearly.

First, it was very difficult to place the fork in my mouth without stabbing myself in the face and coffee wanted to run out of the corner of my mouth. My pugilistic pal, who had graciously sent me on this adventure, also has some feeling loss in his mouth. He had a run in with one of those white coated, masked gang members, who sign their names with Mad Dog (M.D.) I could not help but wonder if my friend wanted me to really understand how he felt while trying to eat as my movements during eating and drinking were strikingly similar to his.

When I finally got home, I took a short nap, and then it was time to pick up Eldest and Middlest from school. In particular, Eldest was not happy about my trip to the emergency room. I figured I would get a little sympathy from the two of them. Eldest made some sympathetic noises, but Middlest just looked at me for a moment and then announced, “Dad, it looks like you got Botox.” I do not need Botox, I am already the best looking man at my house.

By the time the weekend rolled around, I was feeling much better, but my face was still not behaving properly. Friday night I was at my part time job and feeling a bit parched, I took a swig of my carbonated beverage of choice, Diet Mt. Dew. Drinking from a bottle required quite a bit of intricate planning. First, I would open my mouth, then I would carefully place the opening on my lower lip, because I couldn’t make a seal around the top with my lips. After the opening was in the proper place, I would pour a small amount into my mouth, close my mouth and swallow the small amount. This particular time, I poured more into my mouth than I had planned and when I went to swallow, my mouth sprung a leak. Like some granite swan found in a fountain, I squirted my pop in a nice neat stream from the left hand side of my mouth.

Speaking of pop, my first day back to work I was getting ready to put my Mt. Dew in a refrigerator when my pugilistic pal caught sight of the bottle. Now there are two things this man loves more than anything, coffee and soda. Honestly, who can resist that tingling, nose tickling, effervescent elixir of the gods? This man, seeing my bottle, grabbed a small cup from the kitchen cupboard and walked up to me. With the biggest brown eyes and the half-grin that mirrored mine, he spoke. Starting loud, slow and clear, and finishing quietly and mumbling, he asked, “May…I…have..somesodaplease?” It was evident from the look on his face that he had totally forgiven me for not understanding the pain he was in the night he punched me. It was also quite evident by the look on his face, he expected no less than forgiveness from me.

I poured him some soda, filling his cup to the rim. With glee written all over his face he sat down at a table to drink. His eyes shone, his smile grew wider and he drank. The small amount I gave him was soon gone, but the smile lingered, and his happy laughter was like music.

Over the past few weeks my face has healed nicely. I still have a little paralysis left and need to confer with a neurologist. However, I did see my primary care doctor, and I am pretty sure he said I looked like George Clooney, and that is better than I looked before the injury.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Paralyzed Face: Part 2

Last week I shared some of the story regarding my paralyzed face, or at least half of it. To clarify, only half my face was paralyzed and I only shared half the story. This week I will share what is left. By that, I mean that it is the left side of my face that is paralyzed and I will share the rest of the story with you. First, I must let you all know that having half your face broken is no fun. I have been thinking deeply about how to remedy this situation and I realized that if I simply removed, or cut off, the left side of my face, what would remain would be all right.

As I mentioned last week, shortly after I arrived in the Emergency Department, I was taken back to a triage room where a wonderful nurse took my vital signs. When I saw what my blood pressure was, I became quite nervous. It was in the very high range. This, however, did not seem to bother the nurse, since she sent me back to the waiting room. Nor did it bother the next nurse, who repeated the vital signs five hours later, at 4 o’clock in the morning. At that time, my blood pressure was down a very little tiny bit, but it was still extraordinarily high. I was perplexed at how I could be having symptoms of a stroke, dangerously high blood pressure, and be asked to wait in the waiting room, but then again, I am not a doctor, a nurse, or an EMT.

Finally, at 5:45 am, after six hours of waiting, watching the young woman with the broken thumb walking out with her brand new cast; the young lady whose  chief complaint seemed to be about the cold fries she received from the local burger joint walking out asking about a good place for breakfast; and the two homeless gentleman packing up their belongings and heading out to the bus-- I finally got a room. The doctor was the first person into the room. He explained the rest of the mornings activities. Just like the recreation director on a cruise ship. “At 7 you are scheduled for a Cat Scan. After that we will get a report, then we will discuss it with you around nine, unless circumstances change.”

After the kind recreational director Doctor left, a nurse came in. She was pleasant enough with a bunch of probing questions. My favorite was, “How are your words?” I knew exactly what she meant. “Can you take your thoughts, form words and weave them into complete sentences to communicate with other human beings?” The inability to do so would be an indication of having a stroke. I could have answered this question quickly, easily, and simply, by replying, “Fine, thank you.” But after sitting in the lobby for the entire evening, I was feeling a bit puckish, so I answered that with half my face falling off I found it hard to pronounce my words.

The nurse said she understood that, but she wanted to know about my words. “You know, how are your words?” she repeated a few times. Finally I replied, “I seem to have a good command of vocabulary and can use it to accurately express myself.”  That seemed to satisfy her and the computer screen that prompted her to ask such questions.

Very soon after that, I had my Cat Scan, which had nothing to do with cats, or dogs, or any other furry cuddly animal. As I was being wheeled back to my little cubby in the Emergency Room, I heard that lady in the ceiling announce a “Level two trauma”. For hospital employees, this means that something very bad has happened and everyone needs to run around urgently until the traumatic situation has passed. For the rest of us it means things are going to get busy so don’t expect anyone to see you in the near future. This is why those customers of the healthcare system are called patients, since we are always waiting.