Happy Birthday Pat

Today’s my sister’s birthday. 

Happy Birthday Pat.   You’re 1200 miles from here but certainly not forgotten.   There’s something coming from a website for you…

Not this, this message I had planned on doing.  It is after all an open letter to my sister.   I figure at least 50 people will see this just today. 

Everyone pause, stop what you’re doing, wherever you are and say “Happy Birthday Pat!”.

Thank you!

On Tuesday, I looked up from the dust of the insanity that is going on here around me – the island of calm.  I realized that I hadn’t sent Pat the gift I had planned, and missed the day.  It was still two days, but not enough time to get a card to Philadelphia.   I was doing my normal morning surf when I spotted something for her.  It’s very Florida.  We see this sort of thing every day and like everything else, they tend to fade into the background for most people.

Not for me.  When I see this item, it brings a smile to my face.

I’m not going to say what it is, it will be a surprise.   Hopefully Pat will like it.  She may even write out a few paragraphs and email it to me when it gets there some time next week.  Take a picture and email that along if you like.  I’ll post it all.

Turn this blog for a day from “An open letter to my sister” to “An open letter FROM my sister”.

When I was up there, I  never made the trip to visit nearly enough.  Work gets in the way, the distance and the driving time were just enough to make it something to think about.  She visited my house twice – it was in the big bad city… even if it was in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.   People in the region generally don’t drive that far.  It just isn’t a habit you need to get into.  More than 30 minutes in the car and we get fidgety.   It isn’t like here where people just pop down to South Beach, an hour away, and consider that close.

Now, she’s happily married to a great guy, Mike.  She’s got a wonderful son, my nephew, Jonathan.  She’s living in a suburban dream of a split level in South Jersey near where I grew up. 

Nice life Pat.  Enjoy!

Microsoft Patch Tuesday – Redesign Needed

Microsoft, don’t get me wrong, you did an admirable job with Windows 7.   I have not had a software crash in a while that made the computer freeze up solid.  They happen but they’re increasingly rare.   This machine is a five year old Acer Aspire 5610 with 3GB memory running Windows 7 32 Bit Professional.

Professional I think… I don’t think it’s Ultimate – and I don’t need Ultimate…. anyway

See the beef I have, today, is with the way you hid everything. 

In your zeal to make your Flagship Home and Office Operating System look less ugly and more like Mac OSX (Yes, I went there, and you know you did too so stop complaining) you let the focus groups run amok.  The Aero Glass look and feel went too far.  You just went and hid EVERYTHING… in this case, everything means the icon for Windows Update.

What you did was to take all those silly little icons that used to reside next to the clock in Windows XP that most people didn’t know what they were, and you packed them up nice and tight into a little ball and put them away.

Away is a little triangle.  Next to the Speaker Icon.  It points up, helpfully.   If you hover over it, it says “Show Hidden Icons”.

WHY!?!?!

That silly set of Icons in XP were the “HEY! You in the Meatspace!  LOOK at ME!  I need to TELL you something!”.  Those were the Important Message Icons.   Sure they got corrupted.  My XP machine has icons that don’t disappear that look like a track pad, and other “things” that the programmers think are important and really aren’t.

Windows Update Is Important.  You need to SEE that it wants attention.  It needs to be OBVIOUS.  

Don’t get me wrong, I REALLY like that I can dismiss it for variable amounts of time up to 4 hours, but this is the rant today.

The Icon is teeny.  Really Small.  Ok, I have better than normal eye sight, better than 20/20 in one eye.  I support users up to over 80 years old.  How on Earth can they see THAT. 

That’s an icon that needs to be in your task bar.  Put a message box up on the screen that you can dismiss that doesn’t fade away like that silly pop up balloon.  Make me Click to Clear.

Next thing that annoys me.  Other than Internet Explorer, there are a bunch of browsers out there.  Fully a quarter of the traffic to this blog is on Other Browsers.  Some I have never heard of.  I use Firefox.  Sorry, you lost this guy a long time ago.  Internet Explorer is a Single Point of Failure and a giant Heap Of Code.  It runs slowly, bogs down your complete computer.  When it crashes you may as well reboot because you never are completely sure what broke.

I’m sorry, “Restart”.  Ok, so I’m oldschool I still say “Reboot”.

When you shut down or “Restart” this computer under Windows 7, the Focus Group got it terribly Wrong. 

Can you hear that Fail Buzzer?  WRONNNNNG!

Applications now will ask you “Save and Quit”?  Firefox does that and will wait for you.  There are other programs that do that as well.   When you reboo…er Restart your computer it closes what it can.  You end up with a Window Shade of Darkness coming down over everything with an icon for every program still running that it is waiting for and it will sit there saying that it can’t restart.  I’d have clicked that “Save and Quit” button but with all those programs closing the computer slows down and the Window Shade of Darkness won’t let you get to it.   It is a giant Saran Wrap covering letting you see the food but not letting you taste.

Window Shade of Darkness.   I like that.  Remember where you heard that first.   Here.

Sure… you can click a button letting you go back to the programs and your operating system, but WHY?  Let me have access to that button and I’ll do it while YOU wait, not the other way around.

Now that we’ve redesigned the operating system, Windows 7, with Mac Minimalism in mind, you’ve gone a bit too far.  Its nice, but just a bit too far.   Now, Mr Code Monkey and Ms Design Team, I’ll pat you on the head and tell you go back to your offices and fix it. 

Don’t go too far in copying Mac OSX and Linux.  They don’t have everything right, sometimes different is merely different.  They do have their own annoyances – just don’t get me started on iTunes….

Browser Toolbars – Spyware that should be uninstalled

I was sitting at the development computer, a slower machine that I only use for making web pages and doing my various blogging and Social Media work, after a restart and I was wondering why it was taking so long to start up. 

I keep this machine clean and lean.  No extra fluff like weather monitors or extra multimedia things are installed here.  Google Earth is on another PC.   It runs XP and everything is turned off.  I know intimately how fast this thing runs and it’s surprisingly snappy for an old Pentium 3 Class Machine.  I have Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.6.10 as of today, if you’re curious.

The machine had just been restarted for the first time in a couple days, maybe even weeks.  It should have just “started”.  It came up with a window by the Update Of The Week club – Adobe Flash.  Flash is a cranky beast, I have to wonder if Steve Jobs may be right by not allowing it on the iPhone and iPad.  It had crashed last night when I checked Google Analytics on this particular blog so I had to force the browser closed. 

After Adobe stopped annoying me with its questions about installing, I launched both browsers wanting to check if there are updates and to get started with banging my head against the keyboard here when I saw it.

The Vile Stench of a Browser Toolbar showed up with an “Ask” near the word “File” on Internet Explorer and when Firefox came up, above the “Most Visited” folder. 

No, I do not like Browser Toolbars.   If I am asked to support a computer, and I see a browser toolbar, I will uninstall it.  If you like them, I’ll let you have your fun with them, but I will also stop right there.   Browser toolbars are the warts of computer programs.  They watch what you browse, they take in information, and they give nothing back.   Parasite.   They slow down your computer.   All the search engine companies have them, and they typically are installed when someone puts something new on the PC.  Sure, it’s “Free” but the company who provides it gets a kick back when you slip and let this thing pollute your computing experience.

Yes, that is my opinion, but this is my blog and on a slow day I get over 50 people reading here.   Hi Folks!  Welcome back!

Here is how to uninstall it – it is what I did immediately on seeing that thing sit there.

Look at your browser.   You will probably see at the very left of the control stripes at the top under the navigation buttons – a green or grey jellybean with a “<" on Firefox or a blue jellybean with an arrow pointing to the left on Internet Explorer – an icon for a website.  The one that made it here was "Ask".  It could also be "Yahoo" or "Google" or "Bing".   You do not need it.  There is a built in search box in Firefox to the right of the control stripe.  In my case, on this machine it is Wikipedia, but it could be anything you want it.  My Internet Explorer has it in roughly the same spot, next to the Red X, with "Live Search" in it.

You now have identified where the toolbar came from and where you will do your searches in the future.  Remember which icon you see because you will have to close all of your browser windows.  Both Internet Explorer and Firefox will need to be closed, and others as well if you have more than two – some people do.

Now, go to the control panel.  Click Start, and on XP it is on the right pane of the start menu.  Classic start menu it will be there too, but in a slightly different place.

In the control panel, select “Add or Remove Programs” and let the list fill up.  This is a list of all of the programs that you have installed, whether you knew it or not.  Some are things you should never touch, but the ones you are looking for are pretty obvious.

The Wart that was the “Ask Toolbar” had a tiny “Ask” Icon in the list of the installed programs, and was labeled as “Ask Toolbar” in the Add or Remove Programs list.

Click on the name “Ask Toolbar” – or Yahoo or Google or which ever and the line will highlight and give more information.  It will also give you the blessed grey “Remove” button.

Click the “Remove” button to achieve computing nirvana.    It will then ask you if you really want to remove it.  Take exquisite pleasure in clicking “Yes” and the vile thing will be removed from your PC after windows does its work.

Remember, this is your machine.  You do not need that program, it really does spy on you and it really does slow you down.   I went from having a computer that was barely useable to a machine that is spry and snappy and it is a 10 year old computer.  Yes, I know how to “tune” the operating system, and Yes, I have newer machines, but why upgrade, I’ve already paid for this machine.

Hey, if you want to send me a machine to review, I will more than happily do so, but … well I didn’t think so did I.  The typical person with a 2 year old machine who gets a new machine because it is slow doesn’t realize how much software is running on “Old Paint” and how much of that is just bogging them down.  The fastest machine I personally have is a Five Year Old Laptop.   If you have an old Core 2 Duo machine, its actually an upgrade for me to give you an idea.

Once all that is done, you can repeat that for any other toolbars that snuck onto your machine.  When they’re all gone restart and your machine will be faster.  That is of course assuming that when they put that there they didn’t damage your operating system by replacing parts of it to do their dirty work.

Of course as always, you get what you pay for.   Instructions on the internet are as good as the writer.  I went through these steps and immediately started on this rant.  If your machine is broke after doing this, I made a good faith effort at making sure the instructions are correct – but I do not warrant that they are so.  You can never be sure that a program that was installed by a sneaky method when something else was installed is making a good faith effort at being open and above board and a good citizen when it is removed.

If you want me to go through your machine at your house to clean it up and you’re nearby I can do so at a reasonable rate…  I’ve done so before for others and they’re generally happy with the end result.

When Lemon Meringue Goes Bad

I got into a baking mode yesterday.  Sundays tend to be and I find it a great outlet for my creativity when I settle in and bake something special.

It started with us buying a package of 6 ready made graham cracker crust pie shells a couple weeks back.  That means that either I learn to love Graham Crackers or I make six pies. 

A pie in a ready made shell is trivially easy to make.  You can go the route with the boxed pudding or canned fruit and prepare.   Chill and set and you’re done.

On the other hand, if you really want to do it right, you need to learn how to make the filling yourself. 

I used to do this frequently back in the 80s.  I had a recipe for a Key Lime Pie from scratch.  I secretly ignored the pie crust instructions, prepared the filling mixture and meringue and popped it into the oven.  I remember those pies were usually a masterpiece of taste.  Toasted meringue, creamy and tart key lime filling served cold after chilling.  They never went bad in the refrigerator because my friends and I would tear into them.  Through a couple moves and a couple decades, I kept the recipe.   It is here in the house… I just can’t seem to find it.

I need to.

Yesterday I attempted a new recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie.  This one was from Alton Brown on the Food Channel.  Great, I’ve done his recipes before and they always turn out fine if you follow things literally at least the first time. 

Lemon Meringue is similar to but distinct from Key Lime.  This recipe is different from what I’m used to since you are using corn starch to thicken a water and sugar mix then adding in the lemon juice and zest.  He says bring it to a boil.  I thought I *had* brought it to a boil, and not being familiar with the recipe, mixed the mess back together, added my lemon juice and then poured it all into the crust.  It will thicken up and set, right?

Lemon Meringue pie filling is a gel.  It is translucent and bright yellow.  It looks bright and almost artificial when you get it in a store and I assumed that they used food coloring.  After making this recipe, I realize all that is natural.  The color comes from the egg yolk and the lemon juice.  The base gel is off white, even grey and translucent.  Add the egg and juice and it turns brilliant yellow.

It also requires that you cook it fully.   Partly from Salmonella since you’re making something from eggs, but mostly because the gel that you’re making won’t set off of the heat.

While the lemon and egg mix was sitting on the stove, I turned around and turned on the big mixer to raise the meringue.  The meringue recipe was much less sweet than I am used to which is not necessarily a problem.  It raised beautifully, if a bit too firm.  That comes from not watching what you’re doing.

There’s the problem right there.  When you are cooking, pay attention.  Don’t take shortcuts when you are doing it the first time.  I got cocky and ended up with Lemon Pudding with a meringue floating on top.

We had a third of it last night, and it was quite tasty, but needed to be in a bowl.  I’m too stubborn to waste food, so it will get eaten.  

With a spoon.

At least the Chocolate Chip Pecan cookies I made turned out perfect.  That was from the home churned butter and cookie recipe I made a while back and left one pound of mix in the freezer.  How can you go wrong with Slice And Bake when the batter is home made?  

If you leave the dough in the freezer long enough, it ends up getting freezer burned, that’s how.

I guess this weekend was more cleaning out the freezer than making wonderful treats, but at least I can try again.  Next time I promise to pay attention…  I’ll most likely have to make up some of those cookies again.  A Batch makes around 100 cookies, 5 pounds of dough, and it also makes for some very happy folks when I show up with plates of them at a pot luck party.

Now, lets see… how much butter do I have in the refrigerator…

Crema D’Roma Restaurant On Wilton Drive Review

I finally made it there, and I’m glad I did.

I’m not a true Italian food fan.  I grew up with Mom’s Home Made Spaghetti Sauce – a thick Marinara that she’d start cooking on Saturday morning for Sunday Dinner.  She’d start parts of it Saturday, assemble parts into this pot that you could bathe an infant in on Sunday morning, and perfume the house with the thick scent of tomato sauce cooking with garlic, spices, three kinds of meats.  I had it so many times that I got bored with it and stopped eating anything with red sauce in the 80s.

What a fool, I’d kill for some of her sauce now!   My sister had been making this same sauce after Mom died but knowing that I had enough of it, when I came by for a visit, the menu was changed and we didn’t have anything even remotely like that. 

Lately, I’ve been on a search for something that “Tastes Like Home”.  The food here is different, not bad, just different.   The bread tends to be a bit too pedestrian for my tastes, although I have not tried one of the local artisan bakeries that I’m friends with on Facebook.  I’m planning on it, I have this craving for a sourdough bread with a thick crunchy crust and I haven’t had any decent sourdough since I moved to Florida.

We have a recipe here for a bolognese sauce that is good, but not quite the same.  I don’t know what it is, but the sauce wasn’t quite “right”.  Good but not “right”. 

When I sat down at the restaurant I began looking at the menu and noticed that the sandwiches were interesting.  They had a good collection of Paninis and sandwiches and “you could have it on a hoagie roll”.  

Note the word “hoagie”… That is originally particular to Philadelphia and the region.  Comes from the sandwiches that the Italian families made when Momma would send Dad to Hog Island in and around the First World War made on a torpedo roll.  People from other places call it a “Torpedo” or a “Zepp”.  Wrong.  Sorry, Hoagie.

Linguistics aside, I knew that I had the Real Deal.  I looked deeper and the owner came over and started talking about how we could have anything we wanted on that famed Hoagie Roll and I was intrigued.  Noticing that he had the real ingredients for a Real South Philly Italian Hoagie, I was ready to jump. 

On the other hand, I have a very firm rule.  If the owner of the restaurant chats with you about how great a specific dish, You Must Order That Dish.  He’s a fascinating character, in the way this little island is stuffed with People of Character, and he was quite animated and excited… about his Lasagne.  

Describing the love that he put into the sauce, and how he got the Sausage from New York City because it wasn’t quite the right spice mix here in South Florida, I was sold.   We talked about that perfect Italian Hoagie and how I wanted to try that some day but not today.   I ordered the lasagne. 

Rom went off to the food prep area and prepared two samples of the sausage, a dark brown meat that promised of the spices of South Philly or Brooklyn or Queens.  He was right, this was truly the best Italian Sweet Sausage that I had had in years.  It was also promised to be throughout the Meat Lasagne in chunks. 

If you’re a vegetarian, you can have that variety but you’d miss that garlic and sage taste exploding all over your tongue in warm savory goodness.

He also brought by a basket of bread with some extra virgin olive oil sprinkled on it.  Bread with Olive Oil hasn’t been my favorite, until now.  I’m the guy who makes his own unsalted butter to bake with, and bread just has to have butter.  Its traditional, but I’m learning that Rom was right.  This stuff was amazing!

There’s a reason for that.  It’s not made here.  Not even in Philly or New York.  This bread was made in Tuscany and flown in from Italy.  Yes, I had the Real Deal… Tuscan Ciabatta Bread.   Oh Holy Cow this stuff was good!

The Lasagne arrived, and I had to say to Kevin – this sauce is better than yours!

While his sauce isn’t moms, Kevin’s sauce is head and shoulders above anything I have had in a restaurant in a very long time. The sauce that Rom has at Crema D’Roma is simply better.   Chunks of Garlic, Tomato and spices and all of it baked with tender Lasagne noodles, cheeses and that amazing sausage.

Go there and try this stuff, it’s wonderful.

Next time I go, we decided to try to re-create that South Philly Italian Hoagie.  He “Gets” that stuff.   The place actually has Proscuitto and Soppressatta on the menu in the listed ingredients.  This is the Real Deal.

A Classic Hoagie on a Honest To God Tuscan Ciabatta Roll?  Oh Heck YES!

When you walk by the place,  you’ll see the collection of the Gelatis that he has on order, plus the desserts like German Chocolate Cake and a Cannoli that I remember from 7th and Sears in South Philly when I was a kid visiting Grandmom… I’ll try the cannoli next time.

Crema D’Roma is at
2150 Wilton Drive
Wilton Manors, FL 33305
954-916-7242

Be sure to say hi to Rom Marchisotto the owner.  Rom will take good care of you.

Trust in Dog

Trust in Dog

Trust in Dog, she will keep you dry in the face of evil rains.
Trust in Dog, she will lead you out of the darkness into the light of Wilton drive.
Trust in Dog, she knows best.

This morning, after waking up and feeding Lettie, I put some coffee into the roaster and walked outside to inspect the weather.   This being the Wet Season, we get days where it could rain at any moment and the storm won’t show on the radar.  I didn’t think much of the weather and walked back into the house, after all the coffee beans were due to come out of the popcorn popper cum coffee roaster.

After setting the beans out to cool, silencing the smoke detector, and turning on the fans to clear the air, I gathered up the necessaries and stepped outside into the morning with Mrs Dog.  She walked past me and onto the grass in front of the house and stopped cold.   Sniffing the air she looked from side to side.  It looked like she was sniffing out impending doom so I started looking too. 

Still seeing the same clouds I had seen mere minutes ago, I shrugged and grabbed the umbrella and set out into the Florida Morning.  

We have a set route in the morning.  She could do it on her own, blindfolded.  She knows which driveway apron I like to cross onto the verge of the street from the sidewalk, and where on it I do so.   She knows which route at which time of day I take.  It is all a part of having an intelligent dog with you and not a furry lap warmer or a yapping lump. 

We do not do tricks, we have “Behaviors”.   I tell her “Show Me” and she will take me to what she thinks needs my attention and it is not always a food or ice cube treat.  If you have never had a dog, a Border Collie is a handful but what you get back is orders of magnitude more than what you put in.  She knows me better than I know myself, and she’s also a better judge of character around strangers which is quite useful living in a resort city.

Walking out the Usual Morning Route, she got to the second intersection and stopped.  Sniffing the air again, I watched and said, Lets go! as she looked at me and then to the street of the “Short Walk” and back to sniffing.  “OK! Show Me!” and she turned down the Short Walk Street and led me onwards.

We got two properties down that block and the rain started.  I couldn’t hear it coming but she certainly did. 

Trust in Dog, she will tell you if you only listen.

Walking through the rain, we did what we had to do and got to the end of that block, wet.  The rain petered out to a drizzle, and she turned back into the Sniff Monster that she could be.   At one point, someone with a Cocker Spaniel overheard me say “Rain, Go, Walk” to Lettie.  Not being used to an intelligent dog, he said “Yeah, right like they listen”.

As Lettie immediately stopped sniffing to “Rain, Go, Walk” the only response I could have said is “She knows more than I can guess” and walked onward.

By that time the rain had ended and she wasn’t buying my trying to rush her around town any longer.  (sigh) Ok, up to Five Points and then home.

Trust In Dog, She Knows Best.

Why does Wilton Manors smell like Wet Dog and Coffee

Another one of those early walks.  I was up a bit early so the whole schedule slipped early.   At least up until this point since I’m back on the schedule.

I managed to get out the front door and looked up at the conditions.  There was a mackerel sky – clouds that were “broken” toward the South and West, and thought nothing of it.  There was a scent on the air, the usual Florida humidity was joined by the scent of fresh coffee.   Being early, I had just taken the time to roast up some coffee beans and they were cooling in the kitchen while I was out.  The process of roasting coffee does tend to perfume the air, the upholstery and everything nearby.  Since I was the one doing the job, I was perfumed as well.  What amused me was that while I was wearing the finest Decaffeinated cologne money could buy, the air smelled like coffee.  I pointed my nose into the breeze and realized that I had gotten my neighbor across the street starting to home roast coffee, and this must have been her day roasting too. 

Cologne loves company.

I had decided that today Mrs Dog needed a long walk.  A long walk for us is a full mile, exactly.  From the house, down to the bottom of the city, and back past the bars on Wilton Drive.  She needs the walk because she’s put on 3 pounds in the last couple months.  Three pounds is not a lot for me, or you the reader, but for a 47 pound dog, its like my putting on 10 pounds.  The equivalent of going from a comfortable pair of pants to not being able to put them on.

She doesn’t like to walk at 5pm, the dog walking hour, because the sun is still high and she’s almost all black.  White and some tan accents, she’s a border collie.  In this climate that also means she’s a solar panel that retains heat.   The 5pm walk has been getting shorter and shorter as a result through the summer. 

It doesn’t take much to put on weight.  100 calories more taken in per day and a month later you put on one pound.  Do that too often and you become a bit unhappy.   With the dog it’s our duty to watch that sort of thing on our own.  When she hit 50 pounds, I decided that the next day her morning walks would be longer.

That was today. 

I did manage to get past the park near the house and looked up over the trees and houses and noticed that the full moon was now fully covered by clouds and still thought it looked fine for a walk. 

When I got past NE 21st CT, about a quarter of the way through, the sound track of Earth Wind and Fire was playing as I waved to the officer I know in the cruiser.  With a chirp, he passed… and as I turned to watch him pass, I noticed that the clouds were building toward the Ocean, only 2 and a half miles away.

We finally got back to the Drive and noticed that there was a fine mist in the air.   I managed to stand between two buildings and looked at the new light poles on the Drive.  They’re intended to put light on the sidewalk and they do an excellent job of that.  I could easily read in that light.

The problem came right then and there.   The skies opened up fully.  

This being Florida, there are little storms that may not even show on radar that float through.  The radar site that is at the Fort Lauderdale Airport doesn’t always show on the weather sites I look at so I end up interpolating between Miami and West Palm Beach.   Someone needs to plug that one in because we’re in an almost dead zone at this point.

The storms hit and pass in the span of 10 minutes and you’re able to move on, so I made use of the generous awning in front of the New City Hall.   Knowing I’d be there for a while, I decided to sit down against the wall under the awning and watch and wait.

Usually Mrs Dog is very anxious when it rains, but this time she was smiling contentedly.

Still the smell of coffee was on the air, perfuming my shirt, her wet fur and the immediate area. 

But as I’ve said for a while now:  It’s Florida, You Get Wet, You Dry Off, No Problem. 

Umbrellas not required.

I think I’ll have another mug… double sweet, single cream…