09 December, 2016

Eat or Dine?



One of the book groups I belong to reads "food lit" — primarily memoirs and novels focusing on food and cooking.

The other day we had a lively discussion on the sad fact that while it may take the cook two days to prepare a wonderful meal, it only takes 15 minutes for the guests to eat it.

One woman remarked that it was the difference between "eating" and "dining." When you go out because you're in a hurry or don't feel like cooking, that's eating out; but when you want to celebrate food and enjoy good company, that's dining out.

Remember when you used to dress up in heels or a suit to go to a restaurant? When cell phones didn't buzz and jiggle their way across the table? When waiters didn't start grabbing plates before you took your last bite?

The truth is that in today's busy, busy world most of us have forgotten the joy of sitting around the table, eating and conversing (yes, actually talking without Bluetooth earpieces) with friends and family.

When I was a child, my parents had dinner parties where they and their friends could spend an hour or more at the table, eating and discussing current events, memories, and the trials of tribulations of raising kids--even politics. Meals were a social event, not a necessity of life to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

As the holidays approach, maybe we should all turn back the page and not only enjoy the wonderful food, but also treasure the moment . . .

 . . . and leave the cell phone at the door.

22 November, 2016

Even if it hurts . . .



When I started writing many, many moons ago, a friend told me to enter contests even if I had no hope of winning. That seemed like a strange form of masochism at the time, but over the years I've come to appreciate her advice for many reasons.

1 - It's a free, or low cost, way to get objective critiques of your book.
2 - It makes you feel like a part of the writing community.
3 - There's always a deadline and deadlines are good.

And today I discovered a fourth: when you've been through a long period of agent rejections, it feels really good to be told that even though you didn't win, you made it to the finals and the reviewers think the book is worthy of publishing.

Thank you, reviewers. 


PS. I did win one!

24 August, 2016

Irish Cranberry Oat Scones

Having just returned for my fabulous trip to Ireland, I thought I'd share a special scone recipe.


2 cups unbleached, white flour
1/2 cup oatmeal (not the instant stuff, the real stuff)
6 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
10 Tbsp cold unsalted butter (I like Irish butter!)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup buttermilk (well shaken)

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the dough is crumbly. Fold in the cranberries. Add the buttermilk and stir lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together to form a ball. The dough will be very sticky, but resist the temptation to overwork it.


On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a large circle about 2 inches thick. Cut the dough into wedges. With a spatula, transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 22 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Best served warm.

Yield: 8 scones

Note: You can also brush the tops of the scones with cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar if you like a sweet crunch.

.

13 August, 2016

Bucket List Cruise - Cobh

It's 8 am and we just docked at Cobh, the port for the city of Cork. Pulling into port the panorama was exactly what you would expect Ireland to look like: Green hillsides dotted with small houses. Absolutely lovely.

On Wednesday we were in Belfast where we decided to tour on our own visiting Queen's College and just admiring the Victorian buildings. Donegall Square at the center of town had wonderful shopping, and we "trekked" the Golden Mile to see the older city.

Dublin followed Belfast, and although we started on a tour beginning at Trinity College, we quickly ditched it (tour guide thought he was auditioning for a night at the Improv - really bad) and ventured out to see the Book of Kells. So impressive and the library above the exhibit was breathtaking. On to Parliament House, the National Gallery, and Christchurch Cathedral. Good shopping, too!

Yesterday was Liverpool, home of the Beatles and some creature called the Lambanana which symbolizes the city's history as both an import and an export centre. Large Beatles museum (which we passed on) and Beatles memorabilia all over. I was surprised at how beautiful parts of the city were, although the tour map also took us through the "red light" district which was interesting.  Dockside offered shops and eateries, as well as amusement areas for kids. I particularly liked the "house boats", kind of like barges. Owners decorate them with flowers and colourful paint jobs.

I can't begin to remember everything I've eaten.  The ship has four specialty restaurants: Polo (steak), Red Ginger (Japanese), Toscana (Italian) and Jacques (as in Pepin). There is also the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Grill.  We've eaten at Polo, Red Ginger and Toscana. Only one word: fabulous! We will be at Jacques on  our last night. We did hit the Grand Dining room once, but prefer the grill which is set up as the largest buffet ever and you can "graze" your way around the room.  Last night I started with a king crab leg, mushroom tart, eggplant rollup and caramelized Asian shrimp. Followed that up with Linguine with a veal and porcini ragu and Cesar salad. Every night is a different carving station, pasta, and specialties but you can always get grilled shrimp or lobster, mahi mahi, swordfish, chicken and steak. The sides change as well as the desserts. I will not eat for at least 2 weeks after getting home!!

Time to visit Cobh and Cork!






10 August, 2016

Bucket List Cruise - Derry

Having passed the Orkney and Hebrides islands, we moored at Londonderry.  Please note the use of the word moored.  The harbor itself is too shallow for large boats so we had to stay out a ways and take a tender into shore.  thankfully the water was came because those tenders are pretty small. and I had eggs benedict for breakfast.
Derry is a walled city and you can walk all the way around it up on the ancient walls which provides incredible views.  The town itself has several cathedrals and overall gorgeous architecture. We visited a craft village (and bought souvenirs) St. Augustine's cathedral and the Peace Bridge.  We walked far enough that I racked up 13,116 steps on my Fitbit - a little over 5 miles.
A little out of the city is the Giants' Causeway, a natural formation of rocks which looks like huge stepping stones that would allow you to cross the water.
And of course, this being Ireland, it drizzled and then rained.  But the downpour was perfectly timed and we ducked into a pub for a late lunch of chicken and mushroom pie washed down with a pint of  Raspberry and lime hard cider.
After a very long day, we had a quick dinner, we borrowed a DVD from the library and settled with with a kir royale to watch the movie.  Getting too old for the crazy nightlife on board ship. :-)
Tuesday night we at the the Red Ginger specialty restaurant on board: Thai vegetarian summer rolls, lobster pad thai, and green tea ice cream with ginger sauce.  They served about a dozen different types of tea.  I chose white pear and ginger tea which was just slightly sweet and delicious.  If you can find it, give it a try.
Last night we were too tired to dress for dinner so went to the buffet for lobster crepes with langoustine sauce, artichoke timbales with truffle sauce, eggplant rollups and a sinful croquet-en-bouche the size of a baseball filled with salted caramel custard and wrapped in hard caramel. Amazingly my jeans still close!!
Now it's time to visit Belfast! And there is a gangplank, no tender, so I'm a happy camper. There is a bookstore here that specializes in mysteries which is going to be a must see.


08 August, 2016

Bucket Cruise Day 5

We're getting bounced around pretty well at the moment.  Guess that storm we tried to avoid had a cousin lying in wait for us.  White caps as far as you can see, and the hangers in the closet sound like a poorly tuned wind chime.
We were delayed in sailing last night as 3 passengers were unaccounted for at departure time.  I know they found 2; not sure if the remaining woman was found or left behind.  Plot for a mystery?
We are headed for Londonderry, having bypassed Edinburgh due to the storm. Today is an "at sea" day, so there are lots of on board activities ranging from scarf tying to painting, gambling, lectures, etc.
Yesterday I played bridge with a lovely lady from Geneva, Switzerland and an English couple from outside London. Also went to a seminar on how to eliminate puffy eyes and dark circles.  Either it worked or I'm very suggestible but really could see a difference after only one treatment.  The
Canyon Spa therapist said it takes about 4 days for the circles to disappear (if you remember to go through the routine twice a day) and about 2 weeks for puffiness. 
Two of my traveling mates played Bingo and won over $230!
And now for the food portion of my day. :-) Lunch was a surf and turf (Waygu beef and lobster tail) sandwich with sides of artichoke salad and couscous salad.  Our evening in-cabin canapes were vegetarian samosa and a mini baguette with Camembert, radish and tomato slices.  Dinner was in the main dining room : quinoa and vegetable tartare terrine with a gravlax and sour quenelles, monkfish medallions with lobster coulis, and a scrumptious tarte tatin.  Then it was on to one of the lounges for after dinner drinks..
As you wonder around the ship, you can hear Italian, Chinese, French, German, and many more languages. The people at the table next to us last night were from Poland. You meet so many people just wandering around the game rooms, lounging on deck, etc.  Most people are really outgoing and just strike up a conversation.!
Time for breakfast - hopefully the waiters are surefooted in bad weather and it won't land in my lap! I don't think this will be an "outside" day - too windy, but the daily paper has 2 full pages of activities so I'm not worried.
Have a great day, everyone!



07 August, 2016

Bucket List Cruise Day 3

As noted in previous entry, we spent today in Newcastle, UK. We docked at 6 am. Love watching the tug boats pushing and pulling this huge vessel.
Last night dinner was at the Polo restaurant. For anyone wishing a few vicarious extra pounds, I can tell you that I had lobster bisque with sautéed chunks of lobster.  This was followed by a piece of prime rib that could have fed 4.  It was at least 3 inches thick (16 ounces!) and I chose sautéed mushrooms and steak frites to go with it.  Incredible meal, but such a shame to waste all that meat I couldn't eat. And no way to get a doggie bag to Murphy. :-(
We had room/cabin service for breakfast today since we had an early departure time for our tour.  Lovely. They even lay a white tablecloth!
After breakfast we boarded a bus for the 90 minute ride to Landisfarm which is an island accessible only at low tide.  Apparently the tide can come in very quickly, submerging your car and leaving you stranded in something that looks like a lifeguard station until the rescue boat arrives.
The island contains a castle, a beautiful old church, and the ruins of a priory that looks like it might have been the model for the cathedral built in Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett book). And, if you're into it, they had a store dedicated to nothing but mead (the tasting was very good).Unfortunately a storm is brewing and because we would have to use tenders to get to shore at the next stop--we Edinburg--we are spending another night here and by passing Scotland entirely.  Bummer, but a 45 minute trip in a tiny boat in rough seas does not sound like fun! So our next stop will be Belfast.
That means another day to tour Newcastle or just sit out around the pool sipping Margaritas.  Tough choice, right?
Time to get an Amaretto on ice and relax!



05 August, 2016

My Bucket List Cruise Journal

Day 1
Happy to announce that I'm on a lounge chair by the pool, enjoying sun, ocean breezes and a mango smoothie.
The trip from CT to Southampton, though long, was much better than anticipated.  Car picked us (3 traveling up on Wednesday at friends and me) on Wednesday at noon and got us to JFK in just under 90 minutes.  In fact, too early to check in. After a 30 minute wait, we checked our bags and headed for the treaded TSA security check - having been advised to allow 4 hours for this ordeal.  We were though and at our gate in 20 minutes!  Even though the lines seemed endless, the agents really had their act together--we actually felt like we were trotting to keep up at some points. 
Now, with time on our hands, we had a nice leisurely lunch at a cafe, checked out the stores and finally boarded our Virgin Airlines flight,
This being my "bucket list" trip, I'd sprung for extra leg-room seats and VA delivered: we had over-the-wing exit row seats and almost 5 feet of space in front of our seats.  Heaven.
Each seat was pre-loaded with a pillow, a wrapped blanket, and a little pouch with ear plugs, eye mask, sox, pen and toothbrush. I'll be bringing that loot home for someone's  grandkids.
The third person in our row of seats was a 30-ish English guy with a great sense of humour who'd managed to forget his 3 bags of duty free liquor and chocolates until he was strapped in. At least he provided one of the flight attendants the opportunity to up her FitBit steps for the day as she ran back to the terminal to collect the loot.
Shortly after takeoff we were served the ubiquitous pretzels and drinks, followed by a meal that I would have needed two days to finish: green salad, crackers and Alouette cheese, dinner roll and butter, and a choice of entrees: chicken curry, beef burgundy, or stuffed shells.  we had one of each in our row and declared them all very good. And the wine was pretty good, too. :-)
Watched a movie on the personal screen, then dozed for a couple of hours before a quick breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, juice and coffee was served. 
We arrived 40 minutes ahead of schedule and cleared immigration quickly. The private car we'd hired was waiting and whisked us off to Southampton -- a 90 minute ride along highways that could have been in New York, Texas, or Indiana. No scenery, but the driver was cheery and full of good advice of what to see and do.
Finally we were able to board the ship and promptly sat down to a fabulous buffet lunch (yes, this is going to be a food , folks). Hot and cold entrees, salads, desserts, and everything in between.
We sailed at 6, aided by a couple of tugboats.Tom
Since we'd been up for over 30 hours by that time, we opted for the buffet dinner rather than dressing up for one of the formal dining rooms or restaurants.  Not to worry, I still managed to have chicken veloute with cauliflower, Alaskan crab claw, grilled lobster, grilled shrimp, a fabulous porcini and wild mushroom timbale with Gran Pandano cream sauce, and a cheese plate (goat, camembert, Tomme)for dessert. That alone will require 30 laps around the deck to work off.
Our suite is roomy and nice. Actually, our closet is the size of a small room! And the bathroom had both a soaking tub and a separate shower with a rainhead. Also a private veranda.
Today we're "at sea" just lounging and relaxing although there are activities scheduled at all hours: Texas hold'em, bingo, dance lessons, art lessons, cooking lessons, violin recital, shuffleboard, and even napkin folding demo. Me, I'm just lounging although I may exert myself for the bridge game.
Tonight is the Captain's reception followed by dinner at one of the "specialty" restaurants -- Polo, a steak house.  Stay tuned for the calorie count.
Tomorrow is Newcastle and I'll be taking an excursion to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, an old monastery accessible only at low tide.
Check in tomorrow vicarious calories and a travelogue. And maybe by then i'll figure out how to load the pictures!

12 July, 2016

Are You Still Using "password" as Your Password?

Not to alarm anyone, but to date, over a billion owned accounts with credentials have been sold online, including :
  •            359,420,698 MySpace accounts        
  •            164,611,595 LinkedIn accounts
  •            152,445,165 Adobe accounts
  •             65,469,298 tumblr accounts
Think of your password as a safe deposit box key.  Would you leave it lying around for anyone to pick up? Of course not.  Yet passwords, in many cases, unlock equally valuable assets.  And we're making it even easier for thieves because unlike having multiple keys for multiple doors, we often reuse the same password on multiple sites.

Password reuse is so prevalent that officials can no longer tell if a new batch of stolen passwords offered for sale results from a new security breach or reuse of previously stolen passwords on a new website.

Many of us have had our Facebook accounts hacked.  So we change that one password and move on. Hackers are not as lazy as us. They leverage automated "password automation" software, such as SentryMBA, to test stolen/exposed username, email and password data against a whole range of top websites. Additional tools allow them to bypass CAPTCHA and other controls designed to safeguard your login.

I use individual passwords for every site. Even so, at least one of my email addresses has been "pwned"--a new term meaning to appropriate to gain ownership--and a hacker could take over my account.  And if you reuse your logins and passwords. . .Oops.  Count how many accounts are at risk!

Why would they bother? It's automated, it's cheap, and the rewards may well outweigh the minimal effort. Stolen credentials go for about $50 per million. Attackers pay 1 cent for each password they confirm as viable with their test software, nothing for the others.  One cent to access someone's accounts?

Some websites are switching to Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) where you need two components (i.e. login and limited-time password sent to phone) to gain access. This is not fool proof, but it helps.

In the meantime, go on faith that you've been hacked somewhere, sometime, and change your password——on every website——with a new, unique, tough-to-decipher, password. Do not recycle your passwords.

Check out this website: https://haveibeenpwned.com/.

11 May, 2016

Creative procrastination.

I consider myself a master procrastinator. If they gave out degrees, I'd have a PhD.  I rationalize (sounds so much better than "hide") the behaviour with the logic that I actually work better under pressure. That's a cop out but it's true.  Give me an impossible deadline and I come through a winner.

In the meantime, I find hundred of ways to delay/avoid tasks ranging from taxes to grocery shopping. Are you sitting there shaking your head in agreement? Are you reading this instead of tackling your daily word quota?

Whether you're avoiding the dreaded synopsis or (like me) yet another round of revisions, the Internet is the front runner in fun ways to procrastinate--far better than laundry or rearranging your underwear drawer.
Aside from Facebook and other social media, the Internet offers quizzes to take (Which Pixar Villain are You? or What American accent do you have?), games to play (Empty Room Escape or Mutilate a Doll), and other ways to waste time. But some can actually be productive--or at least illuminating--while still wasting time.

I recently heard about an online editing tool you can find at ProWriting Aid.  You can try it for free. Apparently my writing (or the bit they analyzed--Chapter 1) was cliché free, but had a lot of "sticky" sentences which slow the reader down. The site also searches for plagiarism, diction and several other issues. It actually gives specifics and suggestions, not just general observations. Plug in a large section of text, read every comment and you can easily burn of hour of time.

Not having wasted enough time, I moved on to a website called I Write Like This site analyzes a passage of your work, and tells you whom you most resemble. Apparently I write like David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, or Stephen King. (I tried it three times with different pieces of my manuscripts.) I'd like to think the King comparison is most accurate because, hey, he's a great author and I could never fight my way through Ulysses.

David Wallace I"d never heard of, but he was an award-winning American author of novels, essays, and short stories,  widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest. In 2005, Time magazine included the novel in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.Not too shabby an aspiration for a guppy like me.

So, now that I've wasted an inordinate amount of time surfing the net and writing this blog,  I'd be interested in hearing who YOU write like. 

Post a comment to let me know. And please add any other favourite procrastination devices that will save me from my revisions.

19 April, 2016

Murder by the Minute

Last weekend was Sisters in Crime's  Murder by the Minute, an held annually by the New England chapter.  Each state picks either Saturday or Sunday and the local members get together to read from their work, published or unpublished.

The Connecticut event was held at the Fairfield County Writers' Studio, where we were warmly welcomed by co-founder Carol Dannhauser.  I say warmly because a motorist took out the utility pole 10 minutes before the event and we had to use tea lights (borrowed from a restaurant across the street), flashlights, and camping lanterns in a room with no windows or A/C.

 Mystery writers are hardy people, and everyone took the extra "atmosphere" in stride

Our readings, each no longer than 5 minutes, ranged from YA to noir and from thriller to cozy -- in other words, the full mystery gamut.  We had nine readers in all and an enthusiastic audience of listeners.

 Events such as these are important to writers because they force us to read in public (which some people love and some hate) and give us an opportunity to socialize with old and new friends.

It's also really nice to hear applause when you finish!



15 March, 2016

Baking Away the Mud Season Blues

Nothing is more depressing than Mud Season.

For anyone not from the NorthEast, mud season is that period in New England in late winter/early spring when dirt roads and hiking trails become muddy from melting snow and rain.  And for those lucky enough to live in less rural areas, it is also characterized by giant puddles on the side of paved roads, from large piles of snow melting, with no place to drain off to.

Driving on these muddy, slippery ruts becomes an X-game event.  And for those who lose, it can mean a towing bill to get your car out of the ditch (I speak from experience!)

The remedy to all this dreariness is something cheery, like Gingerbread Scones.  They smell yummy and taste even better, particularly topped with a little indulgent whipped cream.

Gingerbread scones
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½  tsp. baking soda
  • ½  tsp. salt
  • ½  tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼  cup butter
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • ¼  cup milk
  • 1 egg white, slightly beaten
  • Coarse sugar
In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Using two knives or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center.

In a small mixing bowl whip the egg yolk slightly, then stir in the molasses, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients all at once to the center of the flour mixture. With a fork, stir until combined (mixture may seem dry but that's okay).

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly knead dough 10 to 12 times or until nearly smooth. Pat or lightly roll dough into a 7" circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Using a thin spatula, arrange the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush with egg white and sprinkle tops with coarse sugar.

Bake in a 400 degree F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Serve as is or with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

NOTE: These scones freeze well. Simply cool  completely and wrap each one, individually, tightly in foil; place in freezer bags. Freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, place as many frozen, foil-wrapped scones as desired in a 300 degree F. oven and heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until warm


.

18 February, 2016

Does Crime Pay in the Art World?

Art forgery is the "white-collar crime" of the art industry. While less sensational in that it, for the most part, eschews violence, a single forgery can victimize dozens or hundreds of people.

And where an art thief may steal a single painting, a successful forger may flood the art market with hundreds of fakes. A skilled art forger may be able to perpetrate their crime for years before being caught, if they are even caught at all.

Take the case of Wolfgang Beltracchi, alternately labeled the "forger of the century," and the "Robin Hood of art."  Beltracchi created chaos in the art market with his prolific fake paintings. In a career that spanned nearly 40 years, Beltracchi produced over 300 paintings in the style of great masters such as Picasso, Gauguin or Monet.  They have made their way into museums, galleries, and private collections all over the world. Even collectors who know they own one of his fakes prefer to remain silent. His forgeries alone account for millions of dollars, money no one wants to forfeit.

How did he get away with it? For one thing, he is a brilliant artist.  After creating a forgery, he and his wife, Helene, would create a provenance story for what were considered previously unknown paintings: "they were part of a collection owned by the family," "they were discovered in an old barn," and so on. They even created old-looking photos as proof of their previous existence and ownership. And then they would sell them.


There is no denying Beltracchi is a master forger — Max Ernst's widow said that Beltracchi painted her husband's most beautiful forest. Experts also thought the paintings were originals and true masterpieces. The piece below, La Horda, long thought to be an Ernst original, is actually a Beltracchi forgery. Beltracchi gave it a fake year, 1927, to make it seem more authentic.



One owner of a $7 million dollar fake Max Ernst decided to keep it even after it had been exposed as a fake. He said it's one of the best Max Ernsts he's ever seen.

Beltracchi's carelessness eventually exposed him when he mistakenly used titanium white on a painting supposed to be a 1914 work by Heinrich Campendonk. Titanium white was not invented until 1916 and experts believe it was not used in paintings until many years later. Oops!

At his trial in 2011, prosecutors said Beltracchi had created 36 fakes which were sold for $46 million, although almost 300 forgeries are thought to exist (German police have uncovered 100 so far and the numbers keep climbing). He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011, but released in 2015. His wife got a four-year sentence.

Ironically, he is now famous in his own right. While he continues to borrow from others such as Kandinsky, Campendonk, Dürer and Gauguin, now he signs the paintings himself: W. Beltracchi. An exhibition of his art last year included 24 works. Even before it opened, collectors were calling the gallery from all over the world, vying to purchase a "real" Beltracchi.

His most expensive work costs 78,000 euros ($88,500). Unfortunately for him, he needs to pay back 20 million euros to his creditors by 2017, and a liquidator is collecting all his revenues.

Asked in a 2016 CBS Sixty Minutes interview "Do you think you did anything wrong?"
Wolfgang Beltracchi replied, "Yes, I use the wrong titanium white, yeah."


So does crime pay or doesn't it?

 
"Homage to Mussorgsky": A W. Beltracchi.

04 February, 2016

Cranberry Nut Muffins for a Dreary Winter Day

Getting out of bed on a cold, rainy (or snowy) winter's day is never at the top of my wish list, but the zing of tart-sweet dried cranberries and the savory crunch of pecans -- classic New England combination-- make it tolerable.
 
2 cups    unbleached all-purpose flour  
1/2 cup    sugar  
1/2 tsp    salt  
1 Tbs    baking powder  
1 cup    dried cranberries  
1/2 cup    chopped pecans (or walnuts)  
1 cup    milk  
1/4 cup    butter or margarine, melted  
2    eggs  
 
  1.  Preheat your oven to 500°F
  2.  Blend together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder) as long and as vigorously as you want. Continue until all dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add the berries and nuts, and stir them until they are evenly coated with the dry ingredients.
  3.  In a separate bowl, beat the liquid ingredients together until they are light.
  4.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. With a fork or wire whisk blend for 20 seconds and no more.  It’s okay if you’ve left some lumps that look as if they want more stirring. Don't give in or you'll have tough muffins.
  5.  Fill the cups of a lightly greased, or paper-cup lined, 12-cup muffin tin three-quarters full. As soon as the muffins are in the oven, immediately drop the oven temperature to 400 degrees.(When you put muffins in a very hot oven initially and then immediately drop the temperature, you help create the peaks that make them so appealing.) Bake for about 20 minutes or until they’re a lovely, golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Best served warm.
The great thing about these muffins is that they are delicious re-warmed the next day...if there are any left.

 

19 January, 2016

It's laundry day. . .for some of us.


DISCLAIMER: Any and all information contained herein is for the "entertainment" of the reader and not meant as a course in "how to."  Do not contact me for bail money.

If you're like me, you have more bills than money at the end of the month, and the lottery is your only hope of changing that situation. You own a house, some stocks, maybe even a boat, but you don't have a safe (or two) full of spare cash.

There is a subset of the population, however, who actually have too much money, the physical, liquid type. Try taking a suitcase full of $100 bills to your local Jaguar dealership and see if you raise any eyebrows. Funny, but some people do have this problem, mostly drug dealers, embezzling accountants, unscrupulous investment advisers and corrupt politicians.

Depositing more than $10,000 into a bank account will raise a number of red flags with various government agencies (as will trying to deposit money in an account other than your own.) So what's a crook to do with all that money he's made off rigged vending machines, Ponzi schemes, and bribes?

Simple answer: launder the money.


The easiest way to avoid setting off warning bells is have relatives (if you have enough of them and trust them) or low level thugs to make multiple small deposits, either on different days or at various branches on the same day. It's a simple, but time consuming fix and, with today's increasingly complex computer algorithms, no longer foolproof. (Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual provides an exhaustive list of "suspicious" behaviour banks check for.)     

 

A wiser choice is the use of offshore or overseas banks in money-friendly countries like the Cayman Island, the Bahamas, or Panama. These countries do not subscribe to irksome banking laws and anti-money laundering procedures. They also do not share information with the US government, thereby creating a safe haven for ill-gotten gains.

Another popular choice is shell companies, companies that exist for the sole purpose of money laundering. Shell companies often offer some sort of service that can easily be fudged and usually accepts cash as payment when doing legitimate business — think landscaping service, beauty salons, builders, plumbers. The "dirty" money is funneled into the company, made to look like legitimate income with fake invoices and receipts and then deposited into the shell company’s accounts "clean" cash.


Again, this is not foolproof.  Any forensic accountant worth his diploma will easily find the dirty money, forcing the owners to continually open new shell companies. Unless, of course, they themselves have a Wharton Business School accountant rigging the books.

Finally, there's the gambling option. Gambling chips can be purchased anonymously with dirty money and after a period of time they can be cashed back in and turned into clean money. Even if the casino follows the letter of the law and asks for ID to record the transaction, the Feds are powerless to prove the money was ever dirty. While sophisticated surveillance and security measures now limit the options in major casinos, there are plenty of smaller places to play.

What are your odds of winning? Consider this scheme: two "associates" are at the same roulette table. While one bets a substantial amount on red, the other places a similar amount on black. Provided neither zero nor double zero come up, one side doubles the money and turns it legit at the same time. Easy, peasy.

Now don't you wish you had a duffle bag of cash?