Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coconut Flavored M&M's

Again, as a part of my apparent self-appointment as a new product tester, it was time to try the new coconut M&M’s. I picked up a package of them the other day at my local grocery store when I stopped to get lunch. I had wanted to try them to see how much they were like Almond Joy or Mounds.

Me, if I were a giant purple M&M.

These M&M’s are available in the regular sized bag, but on in white, brown and green. They’re actually a little larger than the regular chocolate M&M’s but not as large as peanut M&M’s. On a weird note, the package and the website show the M&M’s as being decorated with little tropical icons. Mine weren't.

How to describe these M&M’s in only one word: yuck.

Or maybe metallic. Well, how about slightly metallic.

They’ve got a funky aftertaste that’s a cross between slightly metallic and slightly artificially alcoholic (think of those liqueur-filled chocolates you can buy around the holidays). They have just a hint of coconut flavor but smell more like it than they taste. You’d think with that larger size, M&M’s could have figured out a way to have a coconut flavored center, surrounded by chocolate and then the candy shell.

I thought they were pretty nasty, all because of that awful aftertaste. I felt like I had a mouthful of cheap liquid tin in my mouth after eating them. Thank God I had a drink to wash it away with!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

A Tradition That Can Stop

Yesterday here in Hampton Roads, as it was in several other states, was an election. For us, it was the GOP's 2nd Congressional District primary. There were six candidates and the person I voted for didn’t win (imagine that). But that’s not the point of this entry.

The point is those “I voted” stickers you get when you’re done. Come on, we’re all adults. Can we do away with the stickers? I don’t wear mine. I just stick them to the inside of the visor on my Blazer.

I know that on some big election days, wearing that sticker gets a voter a free cup of coffee or a doughnut. Or maybe it just makes it easier to come back to work when you leave to vote and it takes you forever because the lines were long. Yeah sure they were. You stopped for lunch, got gas and ran a few errands before returning to the office. I can’t use the long line excuse myself. My polling place is 4 blocks from my house. I can stop there before or after work, and I can walk right in. Yesterday, it took me all of 2 ½ minutes to cast my ballot. That included waiting in line and getting checked in, and even walking out.

But getting back to those stickers…the cities could save some money if they didn’t order those stickers. Let the supplies run out and call it done. For example, according to this sticker site, 1,000 stickers cost $3.80. There are approximately 4,013,920 active voters and an additional 1,346 overseas voters in Norfolk, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections, for a total of 4,015,266 potential people to vote.

For this last election, the State Board reported voter turnout was 36,497 of 369,016 active voters, or 9.890%. That would mean Norfolk spent $138 for stickers to give out yesterday.

But then again, you probably don’t order stickers by the election. The stickers used yesterday were probably leftovers. Like most things, you’ll get a break on the cost if you order more. Using that 4M figure above of the total number of active voters in the city of Norfolk, if each of them came out to vote, that would have cost more than $15,000 for stickers.

No matter the overall cost of those stickers, they are a worn out, tired tradition that could be stopped and no one would suffer. Those stickers are the adult equivalent of a gold star for doing something good. Most importantly, that money could be spent elsewhere on more important things.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milk Thistles on My Walking Path

I sometimes walk on my lunch break at work. I work in kind of a commerce park kind of area that’s about 1 ½ mile away from a mall. It’s actually easy to grab the MP3 player and walk about 2-3 miles in about 30 minutes. Along the path I take, I cross over the Lynnhaven Watershed and there is a lot of great vegetation to look at while walking.

One of the plants that caught my eye was the milk thistle. I a few photos with the camera on my cell phone on May 27 but they were really poor pictures. It was super bright out that day and a little windy. Now, the thistle don't look as nice anymore. In fact, they are starting to look like dandelions that have started to go to seed.

But these are such amazingly sturdy and attractive little plants. The ones along the watershed are kind of short and squatty but pretty wide. They are actually a part of the daisy family, which is something I wouldn’t have guessed, just based on the appearance of the blooms themselves. I can kind of see that now, in looking at the stems and leaves though. “Members of this genus grow as annual or biennial plants. The erect stem is tall, branched and furrowed but not spiny. The large, alternate leaves are waxy-lobed, toothed and thorny, as in other genera of thistle. The lower leaves are cauline (attached to the stem without petiole). The upper leaves have a clasping base. They have large, disc-shaped pink-to-purple, rarely white, solitary flower heads at the end of the stem. The flowers consist of tubular florets. The phyllaries under the flowers occur in many rows, with the outer row with spine-tipped lobes and apical spines. The fruit is a black achene with a white pappus.”

I need to find out how to grow these. Aside from being interesting to look at, they serve another purpose: they are edible (as well as being extremely good for your liver). “Around the 16th Century this plant became quite popular and almost all parts of it were eaten ( The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered or par-boiled and roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and boiled and buttered. The spiny bracts on the flower head were eaten in the past like globe artichoke, and the stems (after peeling) can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then stewed. The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and boiled and make a good spinach substitute, they can also be added raw to salads.” Now you know, I’m actually wondering if I could take some cuttings or something from these plants to try and grow!

Milk thistles can grow in either sunny or lightly shaded areas of the garden and the soil type is not to important.” And according to Dave’s Garden, it could be easy enough to do.

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow seed heads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

I know it’s not right to collect wildflowers for personal use so I should look into ordering some online. Although, according to U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service Region 5, they don’t list milk thistle as being an endangered plant in Virginia. That should make it easier to order then.

Despite being listed as a weed on several sites I visited, I can’t see milk thistle as an invasive weed. Although when I get some, I will plant them in containers. Hell, I’ve got wild ivy that is probably more invasive to my house as it grows, and yet I’m trying to maintain it so it grows through the hand rail of our front step.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Little Appetizer Before Supper

We have a garden in our backyard and I typically plant the same things each year. One of those things are a couple of zucchini squash plants. A few years ago, I heard the zucchini blossoms are edible and supposedly quite good. I finally got around to making a few of them tonight for a little supper appetizer. (Procrastinate much, Amy?)

Unfortunately, I didn't pick the blossoms in the morning when they are open because I wasn't planning supper this morning when I got up and I only had a few tiny blossoms to pull from (but I did find out I have one small zucchini already on one plant). If there had been more blossoms, I would have used them in a quesadilla recipe I found. Instead, I had to be content with the Fried Squash Blossoms recipe instead.

3/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon season salt
1/2 cup water
1 egg -- slightly beaten
10 to 15 squash blossoms
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp bread crumbs
Vegetable oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

First, make the batter. Combine the first 5 ingredients, and then stir in the egg and water until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the batter is chilling, prepare the squash blossoms.

Carefully separate the flower petals without breaking them and remove the pistil in the center. Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, oregano, and breadcrumbs until smooth. Carefully add about a tablespoon of this mixture to each blossom and twist the top of the flower tight.

Heat enough oil in a frying pan - about an inch deep - to accommodate the blossoms. Get the batter out of the fridge and dip each blossom in batter, coating it. Carefully place each batter-covered blossom in the hot oil and fry until golden crisp on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Enjoy! Serves 3 to 4.! These little suckers are good! Now, I won't lie...the blossom taste itself is very light but these little blossoms are GOOD! This is a recipe that may make me plant more zucchini next year, just so I can get more blossoms off the plants!

And just for shits and giggles, I typed in "zucchini blossoms" into Yahoo! Shopping (to figure out where I could possibly order blossoms from, I needed a fix and didn't have any in the garden). I got more than 19,000 items, but the first 10 pages were all clothes. Not an edible blossom in sight, go figure! With Amazon, I got 35 items: 1 print of the blooms and 34 cookbooks.