Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Unexpected Detour...

"OMG... My fur coat is, like, so dirty. MOL!"

Hmmmm... A funny thing happened this morning, as I was proofreading my latest post.  After about the fourth time through it, I realized that I really liked it... a lot.  

So much, in fact, that I think I want to send it in to a certain magazine to see if they'll publish it.

I've had a few shorter essays published this past year, and that was pretty cool.  But I've never had a lengthier work of fiction or non-fiction published in a major magazine.

When I first began typing it this past Wednesday, it wasn't supposed to be anything deep or significant... or earth-moving.  Not that I think it's earth-moving today, in it's finished state.  It started out as a simple reflection on something that occurred at home... before I left for work one morning.

Of course, it started to get longer and longer as Wednesday turned into Thursday... which then gave birth to Friday, soon thereafter.  By the time I had put the finishing touches on it this morning, I realized that it was much longer than I had originally intended it to be.  But I think it's really, really good.  And I think that quite a few people would be able to relate to it, if they read it.

Sumatra Grade 1 Mandheling...
Roasted in the garage only
three days ago.
Before sending it in, I do need to make a few changes.  This piece, which I've written in the first-person, could probably be classified as a non-fictional memoir.  But, the particular magazine that I have in mind does not want non-fictional submissions.  They prefer fiction.  So, I need to put the finished copy back on the work bench and make a few changes.  Aside from changing the perspective to third-person, I'll need to add a few extra elements to give the story a personality of its own.  And I'll also need to add some sort of an unexpected twist for the main character.  If I'm going to submit a piece of fiction to be published, I'll probably need to come up with some sort of an ending, or 'payoff', that's more interesting than the main character arriving at the office on time, in disgust.

This will be an interesting exercise for me.  I love to write, but I've never cared for writing fiction.  I can go on and on for pages and pages about events and people that I've experienced, which have touched my life in a significant, meaningful way.  But, whenever I try to give life to a fictional character or a hypothetical situation, it always seems to turn into a train wreck.  It just seems really fake.

I'll take a week or so to make the necessary changes.  Then, I'll go through it myself one or two more times, and send a copy of the finished product to a few of my... 'grammar/proofreading consultants'... and have them take a look-see.  Once they've observed with a fresh set of eyes, I'll send it in.

I'm not expecting it to be published, but there's no harm in trying, is there?

"OMG! Get yer filthy paws OFF me, MOL!" 
Of course, this leads me to the good news and the bad news.  The bad news is that if I'm sending it in to a magazine, I probably shouldn't post the whole thing here on my blog.  I don't know if there are any rules regarding whether previously-published blog posts can appear in their entirety in a magazine.  Unfortunately, this means that you won't be able to see the finished product right now.  And I worked so hard all week to get it done.

Like... OMG.

The good news is that I'm going to post a short excerpt from the piece below, just to give you a sneak preview.  Hmmm...  I think I'll post part six.  Keep in mind that this is still the personal version, from my own perspective.

So...  scamper along, now.  Read part six.

Eventually, I'll send my entire revision to the magazine in question.  If they get this wild and crazy idea that it's good enough to be published, then I'll provide the link to the article in a future post.

If not, I'll post the rest of it here.  And, I will keep both versions...  My own personal version, as well as the enhanced, fictional version.

In the meantime, enjoy part six.  (And no, Hermans.  I don't need any smart-ass comments from you, which reference 'Leonard Part 6'):

The pictures in this post have nothing whatsoever to
do with the content.  These are homemade pretzels,
courtesy of Alton Brown.  The recipe can be found

Look Up...  Look Out...  Look Around...  (Part 6)

...eight drivers who was only putting his own life at risk.

The light turned green after another moment, and I made my turn.  I passed by a small plaza on my right, and two gas stations on my left, followed by a coffee shop.  A middle-aged man in a full-length dress jacket had just emerged from the entrance, carrying his brief case in one hand and a large coffee cup in the other.  I could make out a bluetooth attached to his ear.  His head was down, and he appeared to be talking to himself.

My first encounter with bluetooth occurred about seven years ago, when I was still working behind the teller line.  It had been a fairly quiet afternoon in the branch, with the lunch rush ending a few hours ago.   I had been adding up my most recent batch of checks, when a man who looked to be in his mid-40s stopped at my window.  He was staring at the floor, talking to himself.

When he turned his head slightly to the side, I noticed a foreign object attached to his ear.  It appeared to be some sort of an over-sized, robotic nipple.  Every few seconds, the areola would light up and blink.  I couldn't imagine that anybody in their right mind would choose to appear in public with an electronic mammary valve attached to their head.  I just assumed it was some sort of a modern hearing aid.

     "CAN I HELP YOU SIR!?" I screamed.

The man paused for a moment.  He appeared to be slightly startled.

     "Um, yes. I'd... like to deposit these two checks."  He handed me two large cashier's checks, along with a deposit slip.  Then, he looked down and resumed his conversation with his feet.

     "SURE! NO PROBLEM!" I screamed.

I totaled the two checks and verified the amount on the deposit slip.  Then, I credited the total to his checking account on my computer.  The man was still talking to himself, and he still seemed really concerned about his feet.  I just figured that he was probably insane.

     "WOULD YOU LIKE A RECEIPT!?" I hollered.

The teller sitting next to me had stopped counting her cash.  She was just staring at me with an expression of bewilderment.

     "Um, sure.  Yes... please."

I pushed the receipt across the counter towards the man.

     "HAVE A GREAT DAY, SIR!" I roared at the top of my lungs.

The man picked up the receipt and paused for a moment.  He started to open his mouth to speak, but no words came out.  Instead, he just turned around and slowly walked away from my teller window with his head down.  I remember feeling really bad for him, as he didn't seem like a very happy person.  Hopefully, his personal aide had driven him.  Any man who's constantly looking down and conversing with his feet is probably not fit to drive on his own.

     "What... was THAT... all about?"

     "What? Oh... that customer had a hearing aid," I said to the teller next to me.  "But you couldn't see it from where you were sitting.  I just wanted to make sure he could hear me, that's all."

     "Um, no. Dave, that was a bluetooth."

     "Blue... what?" I said.  "Bluetooth?  What's a bluetooth?"

She told me that it was a device used with a cell phone to wirelessly broadcast the signal from the phone to the bluetooth.

     "It's just another way that a cell phone can be used as a 'hands-free' device," she said.

Hmmm... that's interesting, I remember thinking to myself.

At the time, I realized how this 'bluetooth' device could make it safer to use a cell phone while driving.  But I didn't then, and I still don't have a need for bluetooth.  I've had a wired, hands-free headset for years, and I rarely even use that.  I probably spend a total of nine minutes each month talking on my cell phone while I'm driving.  Most of the time, I prefer to use my hands-free headset at home, so I can talk to my sister while I'm doing dishes, cleaning, or entertaining the cats.

I pulled up to a four-way stop sign, along with three other cars.  Being the last of that particular group to get to the stop, I waited for the rest of them to take their turn.  The first two drivers were both talking on cell phones.  The third had her phone wedged in the crook of her neck between her shoulder and ear.  Her head was down, and she was screaming and waving her free hand emphatically.  As she turned left around me, I crossed my eyes, stuck out my tongue, and turned my mouth down into a horrid frown.  I began moaning and wailing like a zombie, even though she obviously couldn't hear me.

     "Braaaaaaaaaains... BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS!!!" I wailed, as I pretended to lick my driver's side window.

Apparently, she didn't see me either.  Oh well, her loss...

Taking my turn, I continued straight ahead through the intersection.  The speed limit on...

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Episode of Sloth...

     "Abby's not coming in today," said Lisa, as she listened to the message on her voicemail.  "Stevie's not feeling well."

     "Aw, poor guy," said Emily.  "Does he have a fever?"

     "Stomach bug," said Lisa.  "He threw up everywhere.   Dave, I guess that means that you won't have your walking partner today."

     "Dave's a big boy," said Emily.   "He can walk all by himself."

     "I'm sure I'll manage," I groaned in a sorrowful tone that was slightly north of Eeyore-esque, as I kicked off my winter boots and turned on my computer.  "Maybe I'll just go out and get coffee today, for old-time's sake."

Uh ohhhhhh...  No Abby today.
What's a dork-walker to do?
Honestly, I didn't have any intentions of making the four-mile drive down the road to get coffee.  The calendar had changed to 2011 over twenty days ago, and I still hadn't gone for a caffeinated beverage on my lunch break.  Not quite up there with Brett Favre and his streak of consecutive starts that recently ended at 297 games. 

But twenty days without a lunchtime coffee run was still impressive in its own right.  Besides, Abby had been absent for two other days during the new year; I had dork-walked on one day and snowshoed on the other.  Certainly, I could find a way to be active on this particular day and make my lunch hour productive.

The morning hours elapsed fairly quickly.  Just a few days prior, we had mailed out the 2010 tax information to all of our customers.   Everybody was opening their mail and getting their 1098s and 1099s for the past year.  All morning, we fielded questions about all sorts of IRS-related information... from Mortgage interest paid, dividends earned, which joint account owner was tax-select on what account.   Luckily, most of these calls were easy to handle.  We are very fortunate to have fantastic people in our IT Department.   When tax time rolls around every January, they go above and beyond to keep us informed... making sure that we have all the necessary tools and resources at our fingertips to answer any questions that our customers have regarding their tax information.

The highlight of my morning came around 11:15, when I got to an email in our Member Service Inbox that had been sent during the previous evening.   It had nothing at all to do with taxes, in fact.   The subject of the email read, "Need new debit card."  I opened up the secure link sent with the email and read the message.   Apparently, this gentleman's dog had chewed up his Visa Debit Card, and he needed us to send him a replacement card.  **(see Disclaimer in coarse print...  way at the bottom)**

     Hmmmm... , I thought to myself. I've heard of the dog eating your homework... but a Visa Debit Card?  That's a first.

If I may digress for a moment, I'd like to share my philosophy regarding our company's incoming emails.  When answering a customer's email, priority numero uno is not only to provide a complete, thoughtful response that addresses the question or questions that have been raised, but to do so in a manner that is professional and grammatically impeccable.   I take pride in the fact that I do this very well.  In fact, I have no reservations whatsoever when I say that my emails kick ass.   And...  when the opportunity presents itself, I also like to make an email more memorable for a customer.

With that in mind, I sent the following response:

Thanks for your message.

I've ordered you a replacement Debit Card, and you should receive it in the mail within 7-10 days.   This card will have the same number and 4-digit PIN as your current Debit Card.

Regarding the chewed-up card, did your dog chew it up beyond recognition?   The reason I ask is because the card itself will obviously not work, but the card number will still be active.  If the number on the card is still recognizable, you'd want to destroy or shred the card completely.   That way, nobody else (aside from the dog) would be able to use the active card number.

Please let me know if you have any questions.   Have a great evening!

Even if I had left out the bit in parentheses about the dog, my response still would have been superb.  However, I couldn't resist the obvious chance to drag the dog into the fray.  I received the following reply to my message within a hour:

Thanks Dave
The card has been destroyed and the dog sworn to secrecy.

Not only was this gentleman satisfied with the outstanding service that I had provided, he also clearly enjoyed the humor in my response.  I think it's fairly important for our customers to know that there's actually a live human being with a pulse behind any correspondence that they receive.  Mission accomplished!

If the weather wasn't so
wretched, I would have chosen
a scenic, winter dork-walk
over Hawaiian coffee.
By the time I had wrapped up the 'dog incident', the clock in the lower right corner of my computer taskbar read 1:45...  time to go to lunch.  Of course, I use the phrase "going to lunch" fairly loosely.  On most days, I actually heat up leftovers in the microwave sometime between 11:30 and noon, and I eat at my desk between calls and emails.  That way, I have forty-five minutes to do whatever I want when lunch time rolls around.

I grabbed my winter boots from under my desk and began to untie my work shoes.   My glance drifted towards the gray skies and wet snow, which was plummeting to the ground just outside the nearby window.  The trees by the edge of the field beyond our parking lot were swaying back and forth ominously.  It looked pretty miserable out there.

     Well... , I thought to myself, stalling at my desk.  Yeah, I'll just go get coffee today.  Why not?

It wouldn't hurt to deviate from my new plan for 2011...  just for a day.  Besides, today was Wednesday.  Earlier in the week when I had stopped in the cafe after my yoga class for my morning coffee, one of the employees had mentioned that Wednesdays were now going to be known as 'Hawaii Wednesdays', with Hawaiian coffee available all day long.  Their Hawaiian Kauai coffee is heads and shoulders above any other single-origin bean that they offer.  That was enough to get me into my car.

As I turned left at the four-way stop-light, I was still feeling positive about my decision.  For the first three weeks of the year, I had dork-walked or snowshoed for two-to-three miles on each of my lunch breaks.  Today's caffeine run would be viewed not as a sign of weakness, but as a reward for a job well done.  As Jim Rome's voice blared from my car speakers, all of the familiar landmarks along the four-mile drive passed me by...  a uniquely constructed A-frame house on the left...  a heavily-wooded area on the right, which eventually gave way to  an open meadow... a brook that meandered back and forth along the shoulder.  I was always cautious along this particular stretch of road, as it was a frequent crossing for white-tailed deer.

After crossing a bridge over the brook, an over-sized McMansion approached to the left.   Every time I drove by, I'd try to count the number of garage doors, but I always lost count at six.  The most obnoxious aspect of this lavish spread wasn't the multiple garage doors, nor the gargantuan, man-made pond and waterfall in the front yard.  It was actually the large sign by the driveway which read, "Private Residence; No Trespassing".  To me, this seemed to suggest that the 3-bedroom, 1,800 square-foot dump that I inhabit with my wife and two cats was somehow open to the public.

Once inside the cafe, I chatted and joked with the girl behind the counter as I placed my order for a medium coffee-to-go.  I had become known as somewhat of an mid-afternoon regular during the past few years.  On some afternoons, I was lucky enough to get a free cup of coffee.

No question about it, this is excellent customer service.

A snowy winter brook is much more
enjoyable than feet-burger coffee.
There's that finger again.
Stupid camera phone...
Every day, this particular cafe offers three different coffees during their morning and lunchtime rush...  regular and decaf house blends, and as well as a single-origin regular from a different country.  The regular house blend isn't very good.  In fact, it's pretty wretched.  When I take a sip and swish it around my palate, the most notable characteristics that I can discern are dirty locker room and sweaty feet.  Unfortunately, this is fairly typical for most coffee blends.

In theory, the goal behind blending coffee is to combine two or more different kinds of beans with different strong points and highlights, which complement each other in harmony.  The resulting blend of beans should yield a brewed coffee, or whole, which is greater than the sum of it's parts, so to speak.

But the reality is that most cafes offer coffee blends to save money and cut corners.  Why pay full price for a high quality Kenyan coffee, when you can pay much less for a blend that is only one-fourth of the high quality Kenyan bean and three-fourths of a cheap, low-grade bean from Columbia, which has been sitting idle in a port for almost ten years?  Since the blend is one-fourth Kenyan, you can still get away with referring to it as your signature East African House Blend.

Needless to say, I preferred Kenya AA or Sumatra over Athlete's Foot Blend.  However, I often arrived at the cafe well after they had stopped brewing the single-origin coffee for the day.  The employees were nice enough to brew another half-pot just for me, if they had run out an hour earlier.

No question about it, this is excellent customer service.

But soon the cafe owner started hanging around for a little longer after the lunch rush.  When he found out that some of the employees were brewing another batch of the third coffee around 2:00, he wasn't too happy.

     "We don't have enough customers after 1:30 to offer two regular coffees," he grumbled to his employees.  "Since the house blend has our name in it, that's the coffee we brew after lunch."

Hmmm...  this is questionable customer service.

I was tempted to point out to him that the name of the cafe was prominently displayed in at least 2,187 other places within the building (not including the menu), but I decided to hold my tongue.  Besides, if I could be guaranteed a cup of Hawaiian Kauai every Wednesday from now on, that was enough for me.  At the condiment counter, I doctored up my medium with cream and sugar before heading out the door.

It wasn't until I started my car in the parking lot that I began to second guess my decision.  The first two sips were really good.  The third was...  fine.  And then, diminishing returns kicked in with the next gulp.

Yep, that's Burger King across the way.
For the health of my colon, I stopped
eating there years ago. Anybody claiming
that you need to take the Activia Challenge
to help you poop obviously hasn't had a
Whopper in several years.
Was this $2.07 medium coffee really worth the eight-mile round trip?

As I continued to let my engine idle, my glance drifted above my steering wheel to the view outside my windshield.  There was Burger King across the street, right next to Denny's...  which was just across the intersection from Wendy's.

Of course, the cafe where I had spent $2.07 for an average of four times a week during the previous year was an independent establishment.  It certainly had more character than the multiple fast-food palaces that were clustered together at the intersection just across the way.  But somehow, I still felt guilty for my participation in the soulless ritual of the lunch hour machine...  just another brick in the wall.
     We don't--  need no...    lunch-time coffee...
     We don't--  need no...    chock-late scones...

     No Ath--  lete's Foot Blend...     in--  my road mug...
     Ba-ris-- ta leave-- my...     soul a-- lone...

I looked down at my coffee for a moment before taking another sip.  It really wasn't that good.  At that point, I began to feel really guilty for breaking my lunchtime dork-walking routine.  As I drove back to the office, all I could think about was the amount of money I had wasted on coffee and gas during my lunch break in 2010.

     Hmmmm...  $2.07 at least 4 days a week.  That's an average of $33.12 per month...  which, works out to an average of...  $397.44 per year.  Can that be right?

I threw up in my mouth as I passed the McMansion.  Two of the six garage doors had been opened, revealing the two giant SUVs inside.  A third SUV that was even larger was parked in the secondary quadrant of what appeared to be the servant's driveway.  Jim Rome continued pelting me with his barrage of takes regarding the upcoming AFC and NFC Championship Games.  On any other day, my ears would have been glued to the speakers, but I wasn't hearing him today.  Instead, I was trying to calculate how much money I had wasted on gas during 2010, by making an eight-mile round trip at least four days a week.

The remainder of my lukewarm
Hawaiian Kauai wasn't very good.
The crows agreed...
Back in the office parking lot, I stayed in my car and sulked for the remaining ten minutes of my lunch.  The Hawaiian Kauai that I had coveted so fiercely, not even twenty minutes ago, was now just lukewarm, even though I still had over half a cup left.

As I forced down gulps of mediocre coffee one after another, a murder of crows gathered on the telephone lines just above my car, raising a ruckus with their incessant, bullying cries.  At first, I figured that they were scolding me for being a lazy waste of carbon atoms during my lunch break.  Crows are extremely intelligent birds, and they frequently gang up on other birds or animals, bullying them just for their enjoyment.

However, as I continued watching and listening to them, I realized that they were offering me an opportunity to salvage the remaining four minutes of my lunch break.  I turned off the radio, rolled down all of my car windows, and sat there quietly...  listening to their chatter.  I tried to take a few pictures with my cell phone camera, but none of them came out very well.  Next time they gather, I'll be sure to have my digital camera ready.  I've included them in my blog title, so I should probably take a few pictures.

From now on...  black tea it is!
After another tepid sip, I got out of my car and headed across the parking lot towards our building.  The murder above me dispersed, as each crow flew its separate way.  I decided right then and there that I didn't want to waste another lunch hour in my car.  If I really needed a caffeine boost to get me through the afternoon, a mug of black tea would do the trick.  Besides, on many of the days that I had dork-walked or snowshoed, the brisk exercise and fresh air were all that I needed to get through the remainder of the day.

When Abby returned to work the following day, I blamed my lazy lunch hour entirely on her.

     "You weren't here when I needed you," I pouted, as I crossed my arms and emphatically slumped my shoulders to the South.

     "Whatever, Dave," she said, holding out her empty mug.  "Coffee...  NOW!"

I walked over to her cubicle in silence, pouring a shot of Costa Rica Helsar Caturra - Macho Arce into her mug.

     "I just roasted this in my garage three days ago, so you'd better appreciate it."

As Abby busily ignored me, I peered through the open door into our break room.  Lisa was standing at the counter, waiting for the Keurig to finish regurgitating the remainder of her ninety-second French Roast slop.  Three people were waiting behind her...  their empty mugs in hand.

     If you don't eat your your Triple Whopper, you can't have any Venti Skinny Hazelnut Karamel Krunch Frappacino...

     How can you have any Venti Skinny Hazelnut Karamel Krunch Frappacino if you don't eat your your Triple Whopper!?!?!?

**Disclaimer in Coarse Print**

**As an employee of a financial institution, I'm obviously entrusted (along with my fellow employees) with keeping all of our customers' personal and financial information COMPLETELY confidential.  Along with all of my co-workers, I take this responsibility extremely seriously.  Yes, the name of my company remains confidential.  And furthermore, none of the stories on this blog will EVER include a name, nor any identifying information whatsoever, which may reveal anything...  anything at all about an actual customer.  One of the most important aspects of running an honest business is to build long-term, trusting relationships with customers.

Along those same lines, none of the stories on this blog will ever contain any references to a challenging interaction that I may have had with a customer.  Yes, at any place of business, there will be instances where a customer may be dissatisfied or unhappy with the service they received.  In this case, the goal of the business should be to do whatever is necessary to resolve the situation with the customer...  turning their negative experience into a positive one.  This is one of the best ways to build long-term relationships with customers.  And by the way, this is not Rocket Science.  In addition to Marketing 101, it's basic common sense.

On the other hand, if I have a really positive experience with one of our customers, I may be inclined to share a few general details, now and then.  In today's entry, the gentleman who needed a new Debit Card didn't have to share the gory details behind the damaged card's demise.  However, he did...  and it made me smile.  And when I returned the favor, he was clearly amused.  I'm obviously not including his name here.  But if he happened to read this entry one day, he might recognize what I've described above.  I don't think there's any harm in him knowing that he brightened our day with his entertaining, upbeat outlook on the tragic demise of his poor Debit Card.

Like all of our other customers, the gentleman in the story above is THE reason why my company is, not only extremely successful, but also a wonderful place to work.  Without him, we would not be where we are today.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monstrous Buttermilk Pancakes...

Be patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

The Back Story

Mmmmmm...  Nothing beats a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes for breakfast...  tender...  golden...  piled two to three high on a plate...topped with a dollop of butter and drenched in sweet maple syrup...

...a mug of steaming hot coffee on the side...

The scent of this scrumptious breakfast treat brings me back to my childhood, conjuring up memories of the annual trips to my grandparents' Arabian horse ranch in Montana during the Christmas season.  My parents, my older sister, and I would travel by train to Butte, Montana, where we'd meet my grandfather at the train station.  He'd be waiting with his six-passenger SUB (sport utility buggy) and team of champion Arabian stallions.  After greeting us warmly and treating us all to delicious hot chocolate at the Butte Hole Diner, he'd herd us into his buggy and regale us with stories from his semester abroad in the Galapagos Islands, as we traveled over the river and through the woods to his ranch on the Northeastern shore of Flathead Lake.

Once we arrived, my grandmother would be waiting on the top step of the front porch with the alpaca sweaters that she'd knitted for us the night before.  Her long, flowing silver hair would be tied up neatly in a bun, and she'd be sporting a smile so kindly and wide that we'd be able to spot it all the way back at the servants' quarters.

Of course, the dinner she prepared that first evening was a treat, but my favorite meal was always the elaborate breakfast spread that she had waiting during our first morning at the ranch.  Awakened at 7:57 am by the smell of hot coffee and freshly-churned caramel, we'd all roll out of our goose down king-sized Tempurpedic guest beds, slip our feet into the custom-made turtle-skinned slippers that had been provided, and make our way downstairs and out the back door onto the back terrace overlooking Flathead Lake.

We'd all sit together at the main table, sip our coffee and warm spiced cider, and wait in excruciating anticipation for our breakfast to arrive.  Within minutes, my grandmother would emerge from the kitchen with a platter piled high with golden buttermilk pancakes.  With a wink and a nod, she'd carefully set the platter before us on the table.  Since I was the youngest, she'd always give me the first pick from the pile of pancakes.  I'd wait until all were served before picking up my fork.

Even though the calendar on my iPhone said December, it was always summer at my grandparents' ranch.  We'd eat together like kings and queens, as majestic Arabian horses leaped and galloped to and fro along the lake. 

That first bite was always heavenly...  the fluffy texture...  warm maple syrup dribbling down my chin...

Be Patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

Actually, I'm a dirty liar...  None of the above is true...  I made it all up because it sounded nice...  just to get your attention.

In fact, I don't think that I ever had buttermilk pancakes at either of my grandparents' houses...  ever.

As far as I can remember, my Dad's mother never served us breakfast.  We did go to her house a few times, but we never ate anything there.  She didn't keep much food in her refrigerator.  Instead of eating breakfast, we'd play games.

Sometimes, we'd play a card game that was kind of like 'Go-Fish', but the cards had pictures of dead writers on them.

     "Do you have a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?"

     "Sure, here ya go...  Do you have a Louisa May Alcott?"

     "Nope...  Go fish!"

She also had a ping-pong table in her basement.  My sister and I would play a few matches to pass the time.  In the far corner of the basement stood an off cream-colored toilet...  all by itself.  It didn't actually have a lid, so we had to make sure that we didn't hit the ping pong ball into the bowl.

When I asked my parents why there was a lone toilet in the basement, they told me they didn't know.

My grandmother also had a black and white cat named Oreo.  Oreo had been rescued from a local construction site by my aunt.  As a kitten, she'd been abused and mistreated by the workers, and my grandmother had agreed to take her in.  Not surprisingly, Oreo wasn't very fond of people.  Whenever we came to visit, she'd hide under the couch, hissing, growling, and snarling at anybody who dared to enter the room.  If any of us were foolish enough to actually sit down on the couch, we ran the risk of losing a leg.  It was fairly clear that Oreo wanted us all to burn in hell.  My grandmother kept her litter box on top of the refrigerator.

When I asked my parents why there was a litter box on top of the refrigerator, they told me they didn't know.

As for my Mom's parents, they didn't live in Montana, and they certainly didn't have an Arabian horse ranch.  They actually lived in a suburb just north of Philadelphia.  I do recall several instances when we had breakfast...  but we never had buttermilk pancakes.  Most of the time, I just had cereal.  It was actually a treat for my sister and me because we'd have the opportunity to enjoy the dirty, naughty, sugary cereals that weren't allowed at home.

     "Now, David," my grandmother would say.  " What kind of cereal would you like?  I have...  Fiber One, All-Bran, All-Fiber...  Fiber-Bran, Kolon Kwiver Krunch...  Super Golden Crisp...  Flaky Oat Bran Twigs, Fiber Twenty Seven...  "

     "Um, Super Golden Crisp sounds really good, Nana."

     "Mom, don't you have any Honey Nut Cheerios?" my mom would ask.

   "No, darling, we don't.  But if you want him to have something a little more healthy, maybe his grandfather would be willing to share his breakfast.  David, would you like to try some of your Pop-pop's breakfast?"

      "Sure, Nana," I'd say, as I wandered over to the stove where my grandfather was frying something.

As I peered into the large cast iron skillet, I noted what appeared to be a mushy, seasoned, brown sponge.  My grandfather would poke, prod, and agitate it for several minutes with a metal spatula, and then he'd flip it over like a pancake.

     "Whatcha makin', Pop-Pop?"

      "It's scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically.

     "Scrapple...  what's that, Pop-Pop?"

     "It's scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically, as he continued to nudge and disturb the brown sponge, occasionally slapping it around the bottom of the skillet like a crusty hockey puck.

     "Pop-Pop, what's in scrapple?"

     "Scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically, as he flipped the brown sponge a second time.

     "Arthur, your grandson wants to know what's it's made of," said my grandmother.

     "Scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically.

     "Super Golden Crisp it is," my mom would say.


And that's the way that breakfast went down at my grandparents' place.  Pop-pop would enjoy an ample-sized serving of breaded-and-fried-rejected-factory-hog-part-loaf-boiled-into mush-combined-with-cornmeal-and-seasonings-and-formed-into-brown-sponges (It's scrapple!), Nana would spoon down a bowl of Fiber Twenty Seven topped with milk and fruit, and my sister and I would have Super Golden Crisp.

As I indulged myself in my breakfast of sugar-coated bliss, I'd study the Super Golden Crisp bear on the front of the box.  He appeared to be smiling at me.  With every spoonful I shoveled into my mouth, he'd nod his head in approval, assuring me that I'd made a wise choice in selecting a product that could, in theory, be part of a nutritious breakfast, when served with whole wheat flaxseed toast, fortified orange juice, skim milk, and a spinach seaweed salad.

Just after I turned eleven, Post Super Golden Crisp fell out of favor with my grandparents when the Super Golden Crisp bear and the Cookie Crisp thief were convicted of possession of crack cocaine, with the intent to distribute to minors.  After some extensive research, my grandparents filled the vacant spot in their cereal cupboard with Kellogg's Honey Smacks...  a Super Golden Crisp clone, which was pedaled by a neurotic frog with ADHD.

So, to make a long story even longer, I don't believe my grandparents ever served us anything resembling a buttermilk pancake.

Instead, the pancakes of my youth were typically made using the soulless, pre-mixed  powders found in a box.  First, it was Bisquick...  the unskilled cook's all-purpose baking mix, which can be used to make pancakes, waffles, biscuits, dumplings, tater tots, cheeseburgers...  anything you want.

Be patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

Then, after my mom realized that Bisquick contained trans fat, we graduated to Aunt Jemima.  Aunt Jemima was basically a powdered buttermilk pancake/waffle mix in a box, which contained a year's supply of sodium.  In addition to boxed buttermilk pancake mix, Aunt Jemima also conveniently made fake syrup to serve with your pancakes.  And eventually, we moved on to expensive, high-end pancake mixes, which were found in exotic canisters with pictures of farmhouses and windmills on the labels.

I certainly do have fond memories of what I was doing while consuming these pancakes...  whether it was breakfast on a Saturday morning at a friend's house after a sleepover, sitting with my mom at the kitchen table while watching the birds at the feeder in our backyard, or enjoying a hot breakfast with my entire family at our favorite campground in Maine.

But all of these events and breakfasts had one aspect in common...  the pancakes were never really that good.

However, the good news is that you don't need, nor should you be expected, to purchase a box or canister full of off-colored powder to make a great batch of buttermilk pancakes.  Using standard, everyday ingredients that can be found in your kitchen, you can put together fluffy, tender, mouthwatering pancakes that will make you the talk of Sunday brunch.

Ready to make breakfast?  Read on...

The Recipe

The following recipe is for basic buttermilk pancakes.  It yields 8-10 small-but-thick pancakes, and it easily serves 2-3 people.  A few things to keep in mind...  First, these are a lot thicker than your typical pancakes.  They appear to be fairly small, but they rise quite a bit.  Second, fresher, higher quality ingredients DO make a difference.  How long has that baking powder been sitting in your pantry?  Has it been awhile?  If so, toss it out and buy a new container.  If you use the old stuff, the finished product will be flat as a...  um, pancake...  uhhh, never mind.  Anyways, pay a little extra for a higher quality flour.  I'm very satisfied with King Arthur, but there are multiple brands that you can use with great success.

Today, I'll be adding frozen Maine blueberries to the batter.  During the summer, use fresh blueberries, if available.


     1 cup all-purpose flour
     2 Tbs sugar
     2 tsp baking powder
     1/4 tsp baking soda
     1/4 tsp kosher salt
     1 Tbs ground flaxseed
     1 cup buttermilk
     2 eggs (organic free-range!!!)
     2 Tbs light olive oil (DO NOT use extra virgin... we're making buttermilk pancakes...
        not baked bruschetta squares with frumunda cheese...)
     1/2-3/4 cups blueberries

Yes, that's right.  Make a well in 
the center of the dry ingredients.

What ya do:

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  If you don't have a sifter, you can use a wire whisk to mix everything together.  Add the kosher salt and ground flaxseed and continue whisking until evenly combined.  Set aside.

In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, pour in 1 cup of buttermilk.  Add the 2 eggs and mix together thoroughly...  without the shells, of course, smartass.  Add the olive oil and mix together.

I know it's cliche.  But yes, you need to form a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the wet ingredients, and...  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT...  mix together until all the wet and dry ingredients are just barely combined...  NO NOT OVER MIX!!!  The batter should be thick and lumpy, and that's OK.

It's lumpy...
At this point, you can let the batter rest for at least an hour....  or, you can prepare the batter the night before and put it in the fridge.  In the morning, just give it a quick stir, and you're all set to make pancakes.

If you're using frozen blueberries, you'll want to rinse them under with cold water until the runoff in the sink is no longer blue.  Then, lay them on a paper towel to dry.  Instead of adding them to the batter and mixing them in, add them to the batter after it's been spooned onto the griddle.  If you add the blueberries and mix them in the batter beforehand, your pancakes will be smurf-colored.

Heat a non-stick griddle or frying pan to medium...  or 'pancake' setting.  Once it's heated completely, drop 1/4 cupfuls of the batter onto the griddle.  Sprinkle the blueberries into the pancakes if desired...  Don't worry, they'll sink in and cook along with the batter.

Remember not to cook them too 
long before flipping them.

Now, it's time to let these babies cook.  On that note, many other recipes you've read may suggest that you cook the pancakes for 3 minutes on one side, flip them, and cook them for 90 seconds on the other side.  Again, these pancakes are much thicker, so they'll take longer to cook.

Here's the golden rule for this recipe.  If you're going to cook them on one side for a longer time than the other, it will be the SECOND side...  AFTER you flip them.  So, let them cook on the first side until the underside is golden...  but not TOO brown.  Then, after you flip them, you can let them cook for longer on the second side.  For some reason, the second side takes longer to brown.

Golden...  Brown.

Once they're finished, move them from griddle to plate, and top them with butter and...  REAL MAPLE SYRUP.  Again, it's imperative that you use the real thing.  Dumping a puddle of fake syrup product on your pancakes will ruin them.  Yes, real maple syrup is more expensive than a bottle of the fake stuff...  but it's better for you.  Maple syrup is a good source of potassium and calcium.  The fake stuff is full of sugar and calories.

Buy fresh...  buy the real stuff...  buy good food.  Your body will thank you.

Please note, that's REAL maple syrup.

Your mother would not be very happy if
she found out you were using the
fake stuff...  would she?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lexical Detritus...

This morning when I got to the office, I had an email waiting in my inbox from Aaron, a.k.a. MeatlessMaineCrow Follower Number (#) One (1).  He liked my first two posts, and he had the following suggestion, which I've reprinted below without his permission:

Dave, one thing that I really like about reading blogs is how they link to other stuff on the web.  Like other blogs, or Wikipedia articles, or videos, or whatever.  It just makes the experience better for some reason.  Did you know that there's not a single link in your post?

     What a great idea, I thought to myself, as I shoveled an over sized spoonful of Crème brûlée steel-cut oatmeal into my mouth.  I should start scattering fun and useful links to far and wide places on the web throughout all of my posts, in the future.

And Aaron was right... I had not included a single link to anything else, within my first two posts.  This needed to be changed immediately.

So I revisited my second post, and I strategically slipped in a link within the caption under the last picture.  See if you can find it... mkoay?  Anyways, I was so proud of my work that I had to show somebody.  After helping one of our members figure out how many Visa cards he had with us, I strolled over to Abby's cubicle.

     "Under my second post," I said.  "I added a link.  Check out the last picture."

Abby opened up my blog from her list of 'Favorites', scrolled down to the bottom, and clicked on the link I'd added.  We watched in silence as Miss Teen South Carolina described in detail why U.S. Americans are not very good at reading maps of The Iraq and whatnot such as.  I've watched that clip hundreds of times, and each time is better than the last.

     "Whatdya think?" I asked.

     "You know, Dave," she said.  "If you want this blog to take off, you're going to need to update every day."

I paused for a moment, and then I returned to my cubicle.  Update every day... , I thought to myself, as I peeled my orange.  Would I ever want to do that?  Of course, I knew that Abby was just being a smart ass.  But what she said was worth some serious consideration.

Once I get the hang of this, I would like to be able to come up with a thoughtful post once or twice a week.  But putting pressure on myself to update every day isn't going to happen.  I'm a firm believer in quality over quantity.  I've have read many other blogs that are updated on a daily basis, and a few of them can pull it off quite well.  These blogs are typically written by well-established authors or writers, who's craft in the English language has become their livelihood.

However, many of the other blogs that I've read, which are updated ad nauseam, are created by simple, complex street folk... like you and me.  Unfortunately, most of them end up sounding like this...


like, omg it was such a greast day this monring, and I, like, had my yoga class, and well I had a hard time getting rolling out of the bed because like I was soooooooooooooo tired, SLEEPY ME LOL, and it was SOOOOOOOO COOOOOOOOOLD out and all i wanted was my hot T cause i don't make coffee before yoga LOL cuase our
OMG the kitty wants to eat LOL
teacher said so and I said WHAT!?  no coffee before YOGA!?  NO...  WAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAY but anyways i just wanted my t and the cats wanted food and they were like, meowing, and i was like OMG, you act like i never feed u.  but once i got to yoga i did a shoulderstand for like 30 seconds or whatever, and my yoga sensei said GOOD JOB DAVE!  an i said namaste, lol.  and then i drove to the cafe
OMG my supervisor said that
i like, need to totly start thinking
outside the box if i want to clime
the copperate latter LOL
and got sum coffee cause, like, the Keurig makes totly suky coffee and looks all gross OMG an i got to work and changed into work cloths cause like, my supervisr totally woodjn't go for me waring my yoga moo moo all day even thtouth that would be like ttly hilarious LOL.  So anyhoo i ate my yummy oatmeal and it was so
ooooooooooooooooooo good mmm and i forgot to thake a picture of it 2 show u but i totally took a picture of the brown
omg blurry brown sugar LOL
sugera that i didn't eat cause it like makes me fat it goes to my hoisp.  nothing happend till like lunch an then i recooked my lunch in the microwave, i guess i ZAPPED IT lol and it was soooooooooo yummy there's red beans n yummy red ridotto in there and i ate it up, and the beans like made me all gassy n bloated but i didn't tell anyone lol.  SHHHHHHHHH...  lol...  it's OUR SECRET lol...  my gassy bean gas is OUR SECRET lol between me an you

OMG red beans an risotto
make me so gassy LOL!
my loyal follwoers.  so then, i took some phone calls and stuff cause i, like, work here and some guy called and said he lost his debit card and i said DUDE wutEVER
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR ya shoulda been more careFULLLLLLL, ya  know?  but i'll like, getcha a new one cause it's like, my job 'n stuff.  an he like, totally wanted his 4-digit PIN to be 1234,

OMG what if like Sarah Palin
and Michael Myers had kids,
and i said no, cause that's like TOTALLY not secure omg and he sed i threw out my back and i said TMI...  WTF...  so, it's like almost 4:30 and i gotsta go and stuff dinner is calling me lol and im like totally siked to be alive, ya know?  Peace OUT!!!



After considering the above puddle of diarrhea, you can see why I'm hesitant to post something new every single day.  I'm not interested in filling up a blog with a collection of grammatically abhorrent Facebook entries.  If I had the urge to update everybody on everything I'm doing during every moment of the day, I'd get a Facebook account.  If I felt the need to amass a collection of hundreds of fake friends that I've never seen outside of my laptop, I'd get a Facebook account.  If I had an infant in the home and felt compelled to discuss
the size of his bedtime junk, I'd get a Facebook account.

As you've probably gathered by now, I haven't added Facebook to my gigantic Wall of Friends.  I'm not a big fan.  I'm sure there are many out there who don't share my perspective, and there's really nothing wrong with that.  You'll just have to get used to the fact that you'll never know the list of 109 Aspects Regarding My Cat's Liver That Make It Great.

I've opted for a blog because I enjoy writing, and I enjoy the English language.  I think that a blog will be a great way for me to share some of my thoughts, stories, pictures, recipes, and nonsense, now and then... without feeling pressured.  With that in mind, I'll probably add a new post when I actually have something thoughtful, useful, crazy, or ridiculous to say.  If that turns out to be once a week... Great!  As I get the hang of this and become more proficient at turning out high quality writing on short notice, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to post three to four times a week.

Until then... You'll just have to settle for my nonsense once or twice a week.