Sunday, April 26, 2009

Minor Remembrance of Things Past

Not terribly traumatic, but it's somewhat odd to stumble across the personal ad of an ex, featuring a picture you took of her, at a birthday party you threw for her.

If I didn't know it was her, it was the sort of ad I would normally have responded to, which is not too surprising; after all, she's pretty much the same person I met and fell for in the first place. The only difference is the knowledge of the crazy that follows.

Oh Dr. Manhattan, you're such an idiot.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Small, Colorful Payoff

Last fall's labors have bourn fruit. Or rather, flower.

The first of my tulips have bloomed!

I'm ridiculous for being this excited, but I've never really grown anything successfully from seed/bulb before.

Next stop, vegetables... I hope!

Tulips on the verge of being

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Backyard Archeology: Bromo Seltzer Bottle circa 1900

As I was extracting rock the size of soccer balls from my backyard yesterday, I heard a small clink as the shovel sunk into the dirt. Like a caveman, I chose to keep poking at it with the steel shovel for another minute rather than just reach down and see what it was.

Fortunately, my lack of sense was thwarted by turn of the century craftmanship, and a little luck. When I finally got my hands a little dirty, I was rewarded with a little backyard archeological find: a cobolt blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle, manufactured by the Emerson Drug Company of Baltimore, MD.

I vaguely remembered "Bromo" as a reference from old cartoons and movies, but was rather surprised when I later Googled the bottle to find numerous entries about it. What I thought was going to be a sparse search resulted in a wealth of information. It even had it's own Wikipedia page!

It's not a particularly rare or valuable bottle, but still cool as hell. I'm glad I didn't break it with my bumbling.

Below is an extract from a page about medicinal bottling:

The small cobalt blue bottle pictured to the left contained one of the most popular medicines sold in the 20th century - Bromo-Seltzer - which continues to be popular today as a headache and stomach medicine. This is a typical early 20th century Bromo bottle and is embossed horizontally with BROMO-SELTZER / EMERSON / DRUG CO. / BALTIMORE, MD. The product came in many different sizes of similar shaped bottles which were mouth-blown in the earlier years (1890s to about 1911), machine-made in identically shaped cork stoppered bottles beginning about 1911, and most likely completely machine-made by about 1915. Between 1911 and 1915 it appears that the bottles were both mouth-blown and machine-made. The cork as a closure began to disappear by 1920 with total disappearance by 1928 when the bottles were sealed by a metal seal or cap; the finish for the metal seal looked about the same as the cork bead finish. The bottles switched to external screw thread finishes in 1954 and went to plastic bottles in 1986 (Easton 1965; Fike 1987). Click mid-20th century Bromo to see an later (1950s) example with a lug type external screw thread finish which is embossed with the brand name on the heel.

Bromo-Seltzer was first trademarked in 1889 by Isaac E. Emerson. The distinctive blue bottles were first mouth-blown beginning in the 1890s up until 1907 by the Cumberland Glass Company (Bridgeton, NJ; the likely producer of the pictured bottle), though one author notes that they were also made by Hazel-Atlas (Toulouse 1971; Fike 1987). From 1907 on the bottles were produced by the Maryland Glass Corporation (Baltimore, MD), which was essentially created to produce these bottles for (and owned by) the Emerson Drug Company. Mouth-blown and likely machine-made examples with the makers mark "M" on the base date from 1907 to about 1915 which was also when Owens Automatic Bottle Machines were installed to work alongside the semi-automatic machines first installed in about 1911. Bottles with an "M" in a circle on the base date from 1916 and after. In 1956, the Emerson Drug Company was absorbed by Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. which is now part of Pfizer, Inc. (Toulouse 1971; Fike 1987). The pictured example was mouth-blown in a cup base mold and has mold air venting marks; it likely dates from about 1895 to 1907 since it there is no "M" marking on the base. Click on Bromo-Seltzer base to view the base of this bottle which only has a numerical mold number.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unfriending Exes or "What am I, 12?"

Ah, the wonders of the Internet.

My natural tendency towards self-flagellation, plus a tragically cat-like curiosity, has often led me to lightly cyber-stalk my former paramours through the technological marvels that are Googling and social networking sites. It's never been anything over the top: I haven't signed up for a Lexis-Nexus account, hacked emails or anything ridiculous like that. Just looking in from time to time. I suspect many folks do it in this day and age.

And it hasn't always been an unproductive process - it's enabled me to re-establish friendships with certain people, find closure with some and mourn the loss of a few who tragically passed on. But for the most part, it's pretty much a fruitless and somewhat psychologically harmful exercise.

So today when I found myself inundated with updates from a recent ex on Facebook, with pictures of her frolicking all over town with her new beau, I finally resolved to delete her from my friends list. Who needs to see all that stuff?

Still, to be honest, it took quite a bit of effort. The jealous side of me raised quite a fuss, as it tends to enjoy living in/clinging to the past. Eventually, however, I clicked the little X beside her name, thus eliminating that particular temptation towards future self-inflicted angst. Difficult, but ultimately, probably necessary.

That done, let me just say how incredibly annoying it is to get any sort of carthasis whatsoever from an action on a social networking site. I feel like I'm 12.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Culinary School Fail

The other day I was in the midst of running piles of errands in Manhattan and had a sudden craving for fast food. Wendy's to be specific. What can I say, I like their chili.
So I'm sitting there with my side salad and small chili, filled to the brim with hot sauce and crackers, when I see a trio of people with chef's hats and jackets come in, obviously from some local cooking school. 

Now obviously my snobbishness is a bit hypocritical at this point, seeing as I'm scarfing down a junior bacon cheese burger, but really, you're going to a cooking school and you've opted for WENDY'S for your lunch break? Come on!

But okay, I thought, maybe these folks were running short on time and just needed to eat something quickly. Entirely possible. Perhaps I'm being too quick to judge...

Except that as I was leaving, the rest of the class piled into the restaurant. Obviously this was a regular lunch destination for these future chefs.

So to whatever cooking school is located near West 14th Street in Manhattan: you FAIL.

Though I suppose this answers my question of where in the world they get cooking reality show contestants from...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

(What the) Hell's Kitchen: Beef Wellington?

What is the deal with Hell's Kitchen contestants not being able to make Gordon Ramsey's Beef Wellington? Once it's prepped, you literally just stick it in the oven and wait. How hard is that?

A few weeks ago I was curious as to why they were having so much trouble, so found his recipe online, then went around my neighborhood and assembled the ingredients.  A small bribe got a me a lower price on a nice cut of beef tenderloin from my butcher, the Italian specialty shop on 30th Ave had some nice Parma ham, and the supermarkets provided the Coleman's mustard, puff pastry and portobello mushrooms.

It's an involved, but fairly straightforward recipe.  Basically, just just wrap the damn thing, stick it in the oven and wait 35-45 minutes, depending on how well done you want it (rare, please). The hardest part of this recipe is turning the dial on the kitchen timer. 

So I find it baffling that these experienced chefs who are on this show are unable to complete this simple task! Ah well, I guess it wouldn't be reality television without a touch of the surreal.

It turned out fantastic, by the way. 

Gordon Ramsey has this fun little video that breaks it down into simple, albeit overly messianic, steps. 

RECIPE: Gordan Ramsay's Beef Wellington

(I upped the amounts to 1lb from 400 grams, because .88 lbs is a rather messy number.)

1 lb (400g) Beef fillet
1 lb Portobello mushrooms
4 slice Parma ham
English mustard for brushing meat (Coleman's)
1/3-1/2 lb puff pastry
2 Egg yolks
Salt and pepper
Olive oil


Pre-heat the oven to 200c.

Heat some oil in a large pan and quickly fry the seasoned beef all over until it's brown. Remove and allow to cool.

The point of this is simply to sear the beef and seal all those juices in, you don't want to cook the meat at this stage. Allow to cool and brush generously with the mustard.

Roughly chop the mushrooms and blend in a food processor to form a puree. Scrape the mixture into a hot, dry pan and allow the water to evaporate. When sufficiently dry (the mixture should be sticking together easily), set aside and cool.

Roll out a generous length of cling film, lay out the four slices of Parma ham, each one slightly overlapping the last. With a pallet knife spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the ham.

Place the beef fillet in the middle and keeping a tight hold of the cling film from the outside edge, neatly roll the parma ham and mushrooms over the beef into a tight barrel shape. Twist the ends to secure the clingfilm. Refrigerate for 10 -15 minutes, this allows the Wellington to set and helps keep the shape.

Roll out the pastry quite thinly to a size which will cover your beef. Unwrap the meat from the cling film. Egg wash the edge of the pastry and place the beef in the middle. Roll up the pastry, cut any excess off the ends and fold neatly to the 'underside'. Turnover and egg wash over the top. Chill again to let the pastry cool, approximately 5 minutes. Egg wash again before baking at 200c for 35 - 40 minutes. Rest 8 -10 minutes before slicing.