Family and Coffee Cake

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Elizabeth, NJ.  My parents would drive my brother and I up for a visit on any given weekend and we would eat Jewish Deli food.  This consisted of lox, bagels, whitefish, and a bunch of the less attractive fare such as herring in cream sauce and gefilte fish.  Herring wasn’t a problem for me, but gefilte fish was another matter.

I’ve always found gefilte fish utterly disgusting and awful.  I mean, who really wants a mashed up fish patty with terrible flavor that is served out of a jar.  And in that jar it has been sitting suspended in a clear gelatin.  The thought makes me shiver.

 

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Clearly I am getting sidetracked by the horror of gefilte fish.  Back to the important part of this story.

These were wonderful family meals and my grandparents loved to host their children and grandchildren.  They rank among my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandma always made chicken soup from scratch which was a star attraction of the meal.  And she always had Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake fresh from the store in that box with the cellophane top.  This was one of my favorite foods.  It was a soft cake, with a dense crumb top and I loved it every time I came to their house.  You cannot eat it without the crumbs getting everywhere.  Plus, when you were done, you could sweep all the crumbs that had fallen onto your plate into a small pile and eat them too, which was the best part.  Alternatively, I would smush the crumbs together into a single giant crumb that I ate.  It was an amazing combination of saturated fat, salt, sugar, love, freshness, and high calories.

It is not everyday you find yourself with a perfectly made delicacy that is both inexpensive and (since the company went national a few years later) available in most supermarkets.

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Entermann’s discovered that people loved their cake so much that they expanded into an “Ultimate” crumb cake with more crumbs on top.  This was a good effort, but a mistake.  The cake had exactly the right number of crumbs on it.  Do not buy the “Ultimate” version that comes in a box with much more blue in it.  The one you want is the “Classic Crumb Coffee Cake,” much like Classic Coke.  And don’t think you can get the same thing in a bite size with their mini coffee cakes.  These simply aren’t the same eating experience or quality (in my opinion) as a square of the original stuff coming from the box.

For those uncertain of the correct etiquette of eating the cake, you cut it out of the box with a knife and eat it with your hands.  I guess you could eat it with a fork if you were frightened of getting white sugar on your tuxedo lapels, but I consider that similar to Bobby Kennedy eating his pizza with a fork and knife.  Sure, you could do that, but that’s not how it was done back in the old country of North Jersey in the 1980s.  Anyway, I don’t think it has confectioner’s sugar on it, so you could probably wipe away the mess with a napkin.

Many years later, in my late 20s, I came across an Entenmann’s coffee cake in a market and picked it up.  It was as good as ever and I now buy it whenever company comes into town. You only have a few days to eat it before it goes a bit stale, so it is better to have someone else in the house who enjoys it as well.

Sure, they have lots of other products I devour, such as their golden cake or those donuts that look like they’re covered in small tumors, but the crumb coffee cake is truly awesome.  Go buy a box right now.  Eat some.  Take it from me, if you don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself because this reflects poorly on your character.  But I promise you, you’ll like it.

It is even rumored that Frank Sinatra had a standing order for Entenmann’s coffee cake wherever he went.  Is this true?  I have no idea, but the internet says it is, so it must be so.

 

Drones, Theft and a Prediction

Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive).  Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery.  This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge. 

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Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass

While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.

If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever.  Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground.  Free electricity!  You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it.  You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go.  When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up.  No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.

In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line.  No more stopping at a gas station for you.  No more worrying about the low range of your electric car.  Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.

 

My prediction

Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market. 

 

Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands.  On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available. 

Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer.  Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft.  New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box.  Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change. 

What will become of our power lines?  Will they all have to be buried at great cost?  Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society?  Or is there some far less costly solution?  Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing.  This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.

Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

-Seneca

I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.

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Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.

 

In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

-Seneca

 

Fortune cookies – It is time they told the future and nothing else

Fortune cookie

Fortune cookies.  Those magical cookies with a piece of paper inside telling us the future.  Never requested, but always included in every inexpensive Chinese food takeout.

The cookie itself is dry and bland.  Imagine a plate of just fortune cookies.  Yucko.  Without the fortune, nobody would ever eat one, but the fortune itself makes all the difference.  Plus, in my family, there was a tradition that the fortune wouldn’t come true if you didn’t eat the cookie.  And it’s one of the few times that everyone tells what their fortune is without fear that the telling will destroy the wish.  The fortune itself made all the difference.

I grew up in the age before fortune cookies had lucky numbers in them, making something tacky into something downright ridiculous. I’m a bit of a purist, so lucky numbers are hard for me to accept.  But the fortune itself?  That is truth writ large.  I have no choice.  I must accept my fate.

Sometimes the fortune is missing entirely, which is a loss.  You can always ask for another if that happens, so everything will be made whole.  But nothing is more aggravating than the fortune that does not tell the future.  “Your heart is a place of true happiness”  THIS IS NOT A FORTUNE! (Hopefully true, but not a fortune.)  “Sometimes traveling to a new place leads to a great transformation”  THIS IS ALSO NOT A FORTUNE!  I know about the present, I want to know what is to come.  If I wanted advice on how to live, I wouldn’t have ordered that egg roll.  I want to know that money, or wonderful journeys are in my future, or good news is coming, or even that I should expect a lucky Friday afternoon.  Don’t tell me platitudes.  Don’t tell me what Confucius thinks.  Uncover the veil of the unknowable future and give me that knowledge right now.

I received the fortune recently that “You will spend many years in comfort and material wealth.”  Awesome!  Maybe no spiritual growth, love of family, or anything beyond the  base material existence, but hey, it’s something I wasn’t certain of in my future until now.  Now that’s a fortune, and makes the $5 price of the meal worthwhile.

 

 

 

Some Car Thoughts

My first car was a 1987 Volkswagen Quantum.  My parents bought it used for me in 1991 for around $4000.  Over the next 6 years it held together, but I only saw 5 others on the road the entire time I owned it.  It certainly wasn’t cool.  In fact, it sucked all the coolness out of the air anywhere it went, but I loved it and it had power locks and steering, so good for me.

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Today I went shopping for a specific car that appears to be equally rare:  A used Hyundai Equus.

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Looks pretty cool with those mountains in the background.  Definitely a step up. Like my former car, this is not a young man’s car, more of a very comfy car for driving around diplomats and such.  I have always enjoyed cars with lots of headroom, legroom and amenities over the sleeker sportier variety.  Some versions of this car actually have a fridge in the back.  The inside is high luxury, everything anyone could ever want, but there were two things that stood out in particular when I took it for a test drive.  

1.  The back seats were more comfortable than either of the front seats.  I’ve never seen this before.  The front seats were fine, comfy and all, but the back were amazing.  So many controls, you could even open the opposite side passenger window from your door without having to reach across the middle.  Unfortunately, since I love to drive and this could become my car, I wouldn’t spend too much time in the back. The front seat did have a massage option, which is obviously cool. 

2.  Driving this car takes you away from the experience of driving.  It is like traveling in a silent bubble above the road.  Road feel?  Not a bit of it.  I could barely notice I was on the road at all.  You don’t notice your speed, any bumps, anything.  Everything about it is easy.  This is not necessarily a good thing for someone who loves to drive, though it is awesome for a passenger.  At the end of the drive I had no idea what I thought of it, driving it was similar to sitting still in the parking lot, except it brought me places.  Sure it has a powerful engine and all that sort of thing, but this was the first time I had experienced a car whose sole purpose was to make you forget you were driving.

All in all, I liked it very much.  It is a contender.  I’m not sure I want to give up road feel, but I do enjoy a good driving massage.  Since no one has heard of it or seen one before, I would be driving a mystery car. You can’t even find the Hyundai emblem anywhere on it, just the weird Equus symbol everywhere.  I think it looks like a wishbone with bat wings.

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Montaigne, Chess, Eggs and Men of Honor

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past few days and so I did a bit of light and heavy reading.  On the somewhat heavier side is Montaigne.  Montaigne’s essays make for enjoyable reading and his voice speaks directly to me all the way from 16th century France. Then, suddenly, he attacks the game of chess.  I really didn’t see this coming, but in his disparagement of chess he makes a strong statement about men of honor that set me thinking.

Please bear with me as the quote is a bit longish for those looking for quick amusement.  The emphasis in the quote is mine.

“What passion does not excite us in this game: anger, vexation, hatred, impatience, and a vehement ambition to win in a thing in which ambition to be beaten would be more excusable.  For rare and extraordinary excellence in frivolous things is unbecoming a man of honor.  What I say of this example may be said of all others:  each particle, each occupation, of a man betrays him and reveals him just as well as any other.”

Is the study and attempt to uncover the meaning of life a more honorable pursuit than the world’s expert studying rock paper scissors?  In my heart, I feel it must be so.  But, as I consider it more deeply, what of the artist who portrays beauty?  Is that frivolous?  Is a doctor or a priest on the same level as the man who becomes an expert at rolling play-doh snakes?

A little more than a year ago, I went to Per Se in Manhattan.  It was one of my most memorable meals and an early course had an egg in which the top of the shell was perfectly sliced away.  I can’t recall what was inside, but it was amazing and I don’t even like eggs.

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After the meal I discovered that making the egg in exactly this way took a tremendous amount of skill and quite a bit of training by the apprentice chefs.  This egg was one of the best parts of my meal and the beauty of the presentation was perfect.  I consider the course a work of art.  Yet I would found sustenance more easily (and cheaply) if they had just fried it up and put it on some toast.  It is a reach for me to find the egg course anything less than frivolous.

In Chess, there is no luck beyond the question of who plays first, and even that rotates back and forth in a tournament.  Some games and moves were so brilliant they have become famous.  The gold coin game had such a shocking and insightful move at the end that it is rumored the spectators showered the board with gold coins.  Regardless of what happens during the match, all that has physically occurred is moving a few plastic or wooden pieces around and then putting them in a box at the end.  There isn’t even a tear in the AstroTurf or a stray fly ball for a fan to grab.

Unless the category of things defined as frivolous is narrow indeed, I maintain Montaigne is in error.  Extraordinary excellence in anything becomes indistinguishable from art.  In this author’s strong opinion, making art is not unbecoming an honorable man.  In fact, art is one of the greatest impacts a civilization makes upon the world, long after it has crumbled to dust.  Extraordinary excellence is linked to eternal truths

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Author’s note:   When I gluttonously scarfed down the egg and wished I could have another, I was unbecoming for even polite company, much less honor.  Om nom nom nom nom.

By way of thanks for getting to the end of this long post, here’s a Faberge Egg.

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