Useful Advice From The Gray Lady

The New York Times — known to those in the journalism world as the Gray Lady because of the traditional gray appearance of the columns of newsprint on its pages — has won Pulitzer Prizes galore for its investigative reporting and is viewed by many as the newspaper of record.  But it also routinely provides useful tips about health, food, and how people should live their lives.

chinese-red-headed-centipede-ecdb2c89-5e3f-4880-8280-44a581ebc4e-resize-750Consider this recent article, where the headline reads:  “Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes.  Don’t.”   The article is accompanied by an alarming close-up photograph of as Asian red-headed centipede, which the Times caption curiously describes as “looking delicious.”

Really?  I know that those of us here in the Midwest probably aren’t in on the latest culinary trends, but are people in New York really feeling the urge to gobble down creepy, chitinous creatures in their raw form?  In case you’re feeling so tempted, the Times urges you to restrain yourself — not because live centipedes in fact have a venomous bite, but because eating raw centipedes can cause the diner to become infected by rat lungworms that lodge in the brain.  After two residents of Guangzhou, China were infected after eating wild-caught centipedes purchased at a farmers’ market, researchers went back to the market and found that many of the centipedes for sale were teeming with lungworm larvae.  No doubt that adds to their delectable flavor.  Incidentally, the Times points out, you’re at risk of lungworms it you’re eating raw slugs or snails, too.

So, you’re going to have to limit your centipede consumption to centipedes that have been dried, reduced to powder, or soaked in alcohol.  Now that we’ve got that straight, we can go ahead with our daily lives.

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El Cheapos

Yesterday, during a torrential downpour, I felt dampness underfoot and discovered my well-worn pair of sneakers had a hole in the sole.

(Have you ever noticed that you don’t discover a hole in your shoe until you’re out in the rain? Just like you never discover you’re out of coffee until that morning when you desperately need a cup. But, I digress.)

By the time I got to the office my sneakers were water-logged and ruined. So, I added a trip to the shoe store to yesterday’s to-do list. I ended up going to Famous Footwear, where I made a beeline directly to the clearance rack and bought this perfectly good pair of size 13 walking shoes for only $35. I’m no runner or roundballer, and I really could care less about style. Shoes are a consumer good where I can easily save a few bucks by going the discount route.

I can also report that it’s nice to have some extra cash in my wallet, and that my first few walks in these El Cheapos were perfectly satisfactory.

A Good Neighbor In Telephone Hell

This morning when I walked to work in a torrential downpour I found a person’s debit card on the street.  Wanting to be a good neighbor, I picked it up rather than leave it for a potential fraudster to find, and abuse.

The card was issued by one of the Big Banks.  There was a phone number on the back of the card, as well as a stern, all-capital-letters notice advising me that the card was the property of the Big Bank.  So, I called the telephone number to let the Big Bank know that I had found its card in the rainwater sluicing down Third Street.

phone_from_hellBut when I called the Big Bank’s phone number, no one answered.  Instead, I was routed immediately into telephone hell — one of those seemingly impenetrable automatic phone thickets, where a computer voice gives you a range of “press one, press two options,” and those options in turn lead to new levels of “press one, press two” options.  After going several levels deep, and retracing my steps to try different routes, without finding any options that dealt with reporting a lost card — or that allowed me to press for a real person to talk to — I gave up in frustration.  I figure I’ll just stop by the branch of the Big Bank when it’s open on Monday and, assuming that Big Bank employs actual human beings, give the card that I found to somebody who can figure out what to do with it.

I’ve been blessedly sheltered.  In our family, Kish is the poor soul who makes the calls to the automatic phone lines and suffers the frustration that inevitably results.  I’ve got a new, even greater appreciation for her willingness to handle that thankless task and an even deeper gratitude that, thanks to her, I’ve dodged that particular bullet.

But I do find myself wondering — is putting people who just want to do the right thing into computerized telephone hell really how American businesses conduct their affairs these days?  It makes me think that maybe we should attach a few conditions the next time Big Bank comes to us taxpayers for a bailout — like, say, giving people the option of talking to an actual, human customer service representative.

Totally Fried

Yesterday I went to lunch and had a cheeseburger.  I got the combo, which came with fried potatoes.  They weren’t exactly french fries, because the potato had been sliced horizontally, rather than vertically, in an obvious bid to introduce a slight difference to a lunchtime staple — but they were fried potatoes, just the same.

French friesAs I sat at a table, munching on one of the potato slices and gazing down at the remainder, I realized that I’ve had it up to here with fried potatoes.  Cheeseburgers never get old, but I think I’ve hit, and now surpassed, my spud tolerance threshold.  And I suspect that I’m not alone, because restaurants seem to be desperate in their search to serve potatoes in a different form.  In the past few weeks my cheeseburgers have been accompanied by tater tots, and thick-cut “steak fries,” and potato wedges, and “natural-cut” fries with some of the potato skin still on, and kettle chips, and “shoestring potatoes,” and sweet potato fries, . . . and of course standard, run-of-the-mill, french fries.  It’s been more potatoes than a cheeseburger aficionado should reasonably be expected to endure.

Some time in the distant past, before the cheeseburger combo meal was invented, people ate side dishes that consisted of food items other than fried potatoes, so we know that potato-free dining is, in fact, possible.  Cooks and chefs and restaurant owners of America, it’s time for you to rise to the challenge!  Bring your culinary creativity to bear!  Cast aside your sacks of potatoes, and put down the potato peelers!

We cheeseburger consumers beseech you to find an alternative to the ubiquitous side of french fries.  Crispy plantain slices, perhaps, or carrots, or apple chips, or even crispy kale — I’m so desperate I’ll try just about anything other than a greasy mound of spuds that have been sliced or diced in some fashion and tossed into the deep fryer.

Facebook Changes The Rules

For years, I’ve had our WebnerHouse blog set up so that when I published a post on the blog, it would automatically be posted on my Facebook page.  On August 1, however, Facebook changed the rules.  Effective on that date, third-party platforms like WordPress can no longer automatically post to Facebook pages.

Why did Facebook make that change, exactly?

b9-bWell, apparently because . . . it’s Facebook and it can do whatever the hell it wants.  One website posits that the change was made to respond to the Cambridge Analytica debacle and is part of an effort “to remove re-sharing functionality for many apps . . . in order to limit the activities of auto-posting spammers.”

So, apparently Facebook lumps the WebnerHouse blog in with other bot-driven junk that has been filling Facebook pages for years.  Hey, has Facebook actually read any of the WebnerHouse content?  If they had, they would know that no bot or artificial intelligence could possibly come up with the dreck that poor readers find on our family blog.  Really, it’s an insult to Russian bots, Chinese bots, and every other bot out there.

So now, if I want to put a post on Facebook, I’ve got to do it manually.  It’s a pain, to be sure, but I guess it’s worth it to protect those Facebook pages from the Great Bot and Spam Invasion.

Water Treatment

Several people have asked about the poor, desiccated potted plants that I featured in a blog post a while back. Although some people said the plants looked like they were beyond redemption, in fact some careful attention to watering — and lots of unusually cool July and August weather and rain — has made all the difference. The plants in the two small pots are flowering again, and the plant in the big pot is sprouting lots of green leaves. We’re hoping flowers aren’t far behind.

I also got a useful tip to try the next time we’re on the road. You fill a wine bottle with water, plunk it down into the soil of the pot, and let hydraulic forces do the watering while you’re traveling. I’m going to give that technique a try. There’s only one problem — where in the world will I be able to find an empty wine bottle?

Jeff Ruby’s

For years, there had been deep concern among the people of Columbus, Ohio.  If you wanted a selection of steaks and were in the area of downtown between Mitchell’s Steakhouse on Third Street and Hyde Park on the High Street cap, there was nowhere to go!  Sure, you could get a good steak at Flatiron Bar and Diner as one of the items on its Cajun-influenced menu, but if you wanted the full steakhouse experience, you were totally out of luck.

Fortunately, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse ventured north from its Cincinnati roots and appeared on Nationwide Boulevard to address the disturbing steakhouse desert that existed in the north downtown area.  Now we have three high-end steakhouses in the space of a few walkable blocks.

Last night the Bahamians joined Kish and me as we checked out Columbus’ newest steakhouse.  We found a lavishly decorated place — the chandeliers alone might require us to don sunglasses for the next visit — that featured live music in the bar and a busy dining room.  The wait staff was extremely professional and helpful, and featured both our waiter and a sommelier who advised on the many choices on the wine list.  After we indicated our interest in Italian wines and ordered a reasonably priced bottle of Amarone, he stopped by at the end of the meal and offered us a free pour of another Italian wine on the list.  It’s the kind of treatment that helps to bring people back.

The food is on the pricey side for Columbus, Ohio, but it was good, too.  I got the ribeye, which was prepared with a very nice char and was succulent.  For sides we went with some tasty creamed spinach and a kind of loaded potato gratin (the others in the party also tried the green beans, which I studiously avoided), and the four of us split a creamy piece of cheesecake and a chocolate cream puff for dessert.  It was a fine meal from stem to stern.

How many steakhouses does downtown Columbus need?  As far as I’m concerned, there just can’t be too many.  I’m glad Jeff Ruby’s has joined the club.