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Tempest in a crock pot

No one said anything about this ⇑ starting up again today. But I’ll ignore it because this ⇓ is about to jump-start the cooking day up here on Weathering Heights where cuisine frequently is dictated by the weather.

Any idea what it might be? I’ll give you a slight hint. Many of the ingredients form the base for a variety of comfort meals, and when they are allowed to slowly simmer for a few hours, then just sit and get to know each other overnight in the fridge before being reheated, are better the second or third day. Although, truth be told, there rarely is anything left for a third day.

And, speaking of the second and third days, here’s the weather forecast for the Weathering Heights area for Monday and Tuesday.

We’ll start the week with some snow showers and a high of barely 29˚, with a bit of a breeze now and then. Growing darker toward evening, then hitting a nippy 12˚ as the overnight low. Tuesday will see us beginning a temperature uptrend, with a high of 35˚ as we wend our way into the 60s later in the week.

I wonder what will be on the menu by then?


• Clowning for PETA


Note to PETA:

If you want to make what you claim is a legitimate point against McDonald’s, don’t use a drug-addled nincompoop as one of your attention-getting frontmen.

Andy Dick, comic actor and frequent participant in drug binges and idiotic public behavior, dressed up as a parody of Ronald McDonald to be part of a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protest against the chain for the methods it uses to slaughter chickens.

Make up your own minds about the latest PETA vs. McDonald’s flap. And, if you want to see Dick’s sterling contribution to the dialogue, watch the video.

• They still exist???

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A 136-year-old organization, gathered in Wichita, KS, this week for its annual convention, has found something current to complain about.

It’s the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the same all-female organization that helped push through Prohibition back in 1919.

Their complaint? President Barack Obama’s suds summit with the Harvard prof and the local cop involved in a recent dustup that immediately became a cause celebre for people who love to play the race card — from either side.

Bunny Galladora (honest), WCTU media director, said the meeting sent the wrong message because “alcohol and conflicts are not a good combination.”

• Who’s picking the great chefs of Hollywood?


Opinions may change after the release of the much-anticipated film “Julie & Julia” tomorrow, but for now moviegoers’ favorite film chef is a lot smaller than the late 6-foot-2 Julia Child and a lot less likely to be able to consume portions of wine as well as Julia did.

An online poll conducted by Blockbuster Inc. shows 45% of respondents selected Remy the kitchen rat voiced by Patton Oswalt in the animated “Ratatouille” their all-time favorite movie chef. Humans lined up behind him:

2. Kate Armstrong, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “No Reservations”
3. John Clansky, played by Adam Sandler in “Spanglish”
4. Babette, played by Stephane Audran in “Babette’s Feast”
5. Isabella Oliveira, played by Penelope Cruz in “Woman On Top”

The poll shows a more current bias than I’d have on my list which would have to include some great oldies:

1. Jacqueline Bissett as the gorgeous Natasha O’Brien in “Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?”
2. Tony Shalhoub as the temperamental Primo in “Big Night.”
3. Sihung Lung as harassed dad Master Chef Chu in “Eat Drink Man Woman”
4. Hector Elizondo as tastebud-impaired Martin Naranjo in “Tortilla Soup”
5. Steven Seagal as U.S. Navy cook Casey Ryback in “Under Siege”

• So speed ’em up, Joe

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I live in an Upstate New York city just across the Hudson River from the State Capital. Thus, I get to hear and read about a lot more stupid government inactions actions than many people in other parts of the state.

The most recent deals with the decision by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to reject an application for a liquor license by some local businesspeople seeking to open a wine/martini bar.

The reason: It is within 200 feet of a church, which automatically negates its request.

The problem: It is not within 200 feet of a church.

It is located across the street from a Salvation Army facility that most of the week is a food pantry. It holds one religious service once a week. But then, so does an entertainment venue on the same block, and no one is calling it a church.

Also, at least five other establishments on the same block hold valid state liquor or beer/wine licenses, and have for years despite the presence of the Salvation Army.

It took six months for the SLA to come up with this rejection. The right or wrong of it is obvious can be debated from various angles. What troubles me most is the excuse the SLA uses for its snail-like pace in considering license applications statewide.

During the period of months and, in some cases, years the applicants are waiting, they usually are putting time, effort and money into their facilities. A quick “No” by the SLA can dash all those hopes and lay waste to the money involved.

William Crowley, the SLA mouthpiece spokesman, says the agency has only 22 examiners divided among offices in Buffalo, Albany and New York City. They are responsible for reviewing all license applications. Crowley says the SLA received 5,315 applications between July 1, 2008, and July 1 of this year. The examiners also had to consider an estimated 7,000 applications for short-term permits, most of which are for caterers who, under state law, need a license just to serve for as little as an hour, one time. Thus, says Crowley, they can’t keep up with the workload.

Really? Let us, as they say, do the math.

• 5,315 applications received in one year
• 22 examiners
• 260 calendar work days in one year
That comes out to 242 applications per year per examiner, assuming a five-day work week. If we discount 15 days per examiner for vacations and stray holidays, that comes to about one application to be handled per day.

Doesn’t seem to be much of a workload, does it?

Now let’s look at the one-time applications.

• 7,000 applications received in one year
• 245 calendar days worked by each of 22 examiners
• That comes to 318 per examiner per year, or 1.3 applications per day.

Add it up, and we get 2.3 applications to be handled per day.

Whew! I bet those examiners are laughing their asses off have to lean back and uncap a cold one after maintaining such a blistering pace.

• Restaurants a go-go


For months, now, I’ve been sensing a disconnect between the news reports that tell me people are cutting back on dining and drinking out because of the bad economy and the daily sight of crowded parking lots and even lines at the front doors of many restaurants, restaurant/bars, wine/tapas places and the like.

Now, The Harris Poll has released the findings of a new study of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18 by Harris Interactive that explains what I’ve been observing.

It says that while majorities still are inclined to decrease spending on eating out and entertainment, the numbers are better than they had been two months ago.

I find this survey a comforting one. As a person who has had a lifelong affinity for the restaurant business — as bus boy, dishwasher, line cook, sous chef and restaurant critic — I have become increasingly annoyed at the “how to cut costs” lists disseminated in print and online. Inevitably, one of the suggestions is to stop going to restaurants. Nothing like telling the populace at large to, in effect, boycott an industry that is a huge employer in this country.

It’s one thing to tell people to order wisely — from both financial and nutritional standpoints. It is another to try creating a trend toward harming the cooks, waitstaff, cleaning people, launderers, food and drink vendors, truck drivers and myriad others who have a share in the world of dining-out.

In March, three-quarters of Americans said they were decreasing spending on eating out (74%) and entertainment (74%). Now, two-thirds say they are reducing eating out at restaurants (66%) and 64% say they have reduced spending on entertainment.

Americans are cutting back on their spending over the next six months. Specifically:

• Similar to last month, two-thirds of Americans (64%) say it is not likely they will take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week while 36% say it is likely they will vacation away from home. In March, 35% of Americans said they would be likely to take a trip;

• Large purchases continue to suffer as more than three-quarters of Americans say it is not likely they will buy a new computer (79%), move to a different residence (81%), buy or lease a new car, truck or van (88%), purchase a house or condo (91%), start a new business (92%) or buy a boat or recreational vehicle (95%). These numbers are all very similar to March so people are still not ready to spend on the big-ticket items;

• One quarter of Americans (26%) say it is likely they will have more money to spend the way they want in the next six months which is up from 21% in March; and,

• People are slightly more likely to say that they are going to be saving or investing more money. Just over half of Americans (53%) say they are likely to save or invest more money while 47% are not likely to do so. In March, Americans were split on this as 50% said they were likely to save or invest and 50% said they were not likely to do so.

The pollsters note, “As people get ready for summer vacations, it seems as if the trips may be getting shorter and closer to home — more [damn, I hate this word] ‘daycations’ and [I hate this one even more] ‘staycations.’ But, even if summer vacations may be changing this year, there are small signs that things may be getting better, at least in terms of spending. More people are eating out and spending money on entertainment, something that the studios for the big summer blockbusters will be happy to hear, but the big ticket items are still not seeing any type of rebound. Those may take a little longer to see the slight recovery that the smaller expenses are seeing.”

Full data tables and methodology are available online.

• (Some of) The drinks are on US Airways


As I was flying home from the Caribbean on a US Airways flight last Wednesday, the attendant asked if I wanted to purchase a soft drink.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll wait till Sunday.”

He just grinned, but he got it.

US Airways, the sole major American air carrier charging customers for non-alcoholic beverages, bowed to industry and consumer pressure and will rescind the charges as of today, March 1.

According to a memo to airline employees from upper management:

“ …. We (are) returning complimentary sodas, juices, tea, water and coffee to US Airways. The free beverage service will resume on March 1. This change reverses part of the a la carte business model we believe is right for our business … .

“When we launched the beverage purchase program in 2008 we knew it would generate additional revenue. From this perspective the program was very successful. What we didn’t know at the time, but later experienced, was that the cabin atmosphere would also improve with fewer carts in the aisles and shorter lines to the lavatories.

“Today, while we remain firmly committed to the a la carte strategy — we also know it is a work in progress. We know customers don’t buy an airline ticket based on whether or not they will get a free soda onboard, but with US Airways being the only large network carrier to charge for drinks, we are at a disadvantage. More importantly, this difference in our service has become a focal point that detracts from all of the outstanding improvements in on-time performance and baggage handling that all of us have worked so hard to achieve over the past year.”

So, you’ll still be paying for alcoholic drinks. But, bottom line: No more $1 charges for tea or coffee or $2 charges for soft drinks, juices and water.

Very nice.