Saturday, May 31, 2008

Where are all the trashy magazines?

When my parents came to visit last month, we took them to the (People's Republic of) Ithaca and I stopped in to the local food cooperative (you know, where you pick up your henna, hemp and "fair trade" bananas. Not only did they not have (corporate, highly processed and artificially flavored) Diet Coke, but - insult of insults- they had NO TRASHY MAGAZINES for me to peruse at the checkout.

Honestly, what is the point of going to the store if I can't see what's up with Britney Spears? "Gluten Free Living"??? Ha! Some substitute that is. "Veg News"?? Those mags were a major BUMMER. They made me feel even more guilty than looking at gossip rags.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Jell-O Museum

(This post is Part II to this one.)

What the heck is Jell-O, anyway?
Come along, dear reader, as we take a moment to investigate the roots of the magical treat that has been enjoyed by so many millions since its modern-era invention in 1897 by Pearle B. Wait in LeRoy, New York . . . Well, that's not really true. Gelatin had been around for at least a few hundred years. What the Jell-O guy did was invent the syrupy sweet flavoring to mask the taste of . . . YUK. Read on.

The Victorian era: Still boiling pig feet
I had thought that statements like "Jell-O is made from horse feet!" were merely schoolyard urban legends, but it turns out that gelatin is "a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones, connective tissues, organs, and some intestines of animals such as the domesticated cattle, and horses." Yup, the rumors are true. Prior to 1897, if you had a craving for some flavorless (unless you count "sinew" as a "flavor") goo, you had to boil animal nasties for many hours. This is why gelatin was a food enjoyed (if that is the word?) primarily by upper class people who had servants to perform this nasty process (involving scraping hair and skin off of these boiled bits) of collecting said goo. (Although I'm guessing our dear friend and Pilsbury Bake-Off winner, Mary O., is going to read this and tell me that she's made the stuff herself, probably while she was making water from scratch.)

Sugar to the rescue!
Further proving my blanket statement that "if you add enough sugar (or coat it with chocolate), you can make anything taste good!" And that is what the hero of our story, Pearle B. Wait, did in 1897: he came up with the great idea of masking the nasty natural flavor of gelatin with syrupy sweet flavors and putting the whole mess in a little paper box from which a modern housewife could enjoy an instant gelatinous treat.

Birthplace of Jell-O

Which brings us to LeRoy, NY and the Jell-O Museum, which we visited over Memorial Day Weekend. LeRoy, NY (a town of 5,000 souls not far outside of Rochester, yet, like Binghamton, an exercise in time travel back to 1952) was the proud home of the Jell-O factory. That is, of course, until it was shut down in 1964. As can be found in many Upstate NY rust-belt cities, a hulking mass of a manufacturing lingers on as a sort of tombstone to industries-past.

Jell-O Tourism?

The fact that the corporate parent is long gone does not prevent the ballsy little LeRoy Historical Society from milking Jell-O for all it is worth ("Open Every Day!") and slapping together a small, but interesting, collection of Jell-O history and memorabilia for freak-show tourists like me. The scary thing is that I've known about the Jell-O Museum since long before I moved to upstate NY. It must be on the same circuit with the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin (yup, been there, too!) The best thing about the museum is that it is home grown (check out the sweet "display" of Jell-O molds) and authentic, lacking the corporate polish of places like Hershey, Pennsylvania or even the Tabasco factory in the Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana.

"Jell-O" and "Mayonnaise": two ingredients that do not belong in the same recipe. Ever.
I could go on for miles about all the nasty Jell-O recipes that involve things like Lime or Lemon Jell-O plus [insert non sequitur ingredient here: canned imitation krab meat (in juice); radish; horseradish; cabbage; or the ever-popular mayonnaise]. Instead, I will thank the generation immediately preceding mine, which had the good sense to give the cold shoulder to emetic flavors like "Seasoned Tomato" and "Italian Salad" (what the heck does "Italian Salad" taste like?) Check out this list of discontinued flavors: pickle Jell-O, ladies?

Jell-O + Mormons: A Love Story

The Jell-O saga would not be complete without a little romance, and we can thank the Mormons for providing it here. It seems that Mormons harbor an inexplicable fondness for the gooey delight, consuming an average of 21 boxes per family, annually. Not only is it the Official Snack of the State of Utah, in fact- I could not make this up- the area of the United States most densely populated by Mormons is sometimes called . . . the "Jell-O Belt." You heard it here first!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Design House: NYC-style

Last weekend, we went to NYC for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (essentially a huge trade show with the latest styles from all over the world). We also worked in something called the Kips Bay Decorator Show House (you probably know the drill: the design world takes over a swanky house, pimps it out in all manner of design, sells tickets to schmucks and wannabees like me, and raises money for some children's cause.)

Having been to several tasteful designer show houses in LA, we figured the one in NYC would be over-the-top classy. And (bonus!) we'd get to see how the other-half-lives on the Upper East Side. This year, however, was apparently the weakest in decades. Instead of taking over a 5-story Fifth Avenue manse, they did 6 (disorganized) apartments in one massive 1950 apartment block on 66th Street. It was still interesting, though. Check this out:
Army of Boston Terrier Death Masks

I am a lover of dogs, to be sure. I even like the scrunchy-faced kind (Hello, Daisy!) and yes, that includes Boston Terriers. What I cannot endorse, however, is this army of what can only be described as Boston Terrier Death Masks that filled the windowsill of one of the bedrooms on the house tour. One word: FUGLY.

Death Mask (Detail)

In case you cannot fully appreciate all that fugliness in the one photo, here is a detail for you. OUCH. Tough to look at, no? And what if this army is the first thing you see when you wake up and look out the window to greet the morning sun? Clearly these rooms were "for show purposes only" and had not been nightmare-tested.

Tin Can Alley

One thing that was very cool and memorable, though, was the treatment of this wall in one of the apartments- made of thousands of tin can lids, carefully and artfully nailed to the wall. It was really luminous and surprisingly peaceful. Like the death masks, also not user-tested.

Auction Tuxedoes

As if on cue, our favorite country auction spits out this tremendous line of Owego Tuxedoes for hunting season '08. It's as if the fluorescent pieces were thrown in just to make certain that my eyeballs did not miss this entire rack of fabulosity.

NYC signage

I must be attracted to WORDS, because man, do I notice signs when I travel. Forget the Southern Tier Signage that we know and love, I could spend all day walking around NYC just looking at the crazy signs everywhere. NYC is such a gateway for new immigrants, it really leads to some great typos and funny names. We recently saw a huge, permanent sign for the "Chinatwon Benevolent Lodge." BUMMER for Chinatwon. Then there are the ones that are just downright funny, like this one.

I'll have to keep a better eye out for this phenomenon. These are just a couple that caught my eye recently:

My New Skid Row Name: "Hot & Crusty"

Since 2005, I have been widely known as "Lil' Thick & Juicy" ("Lil'" because "Thick & Juicy" was already taken. By the prostitute that worked 3 porta-potties on Skid Row- 1 for her wardrobe, 1 for her "house" and 1 for her, ahem, "office," if you will.) But I've always felt overshadowed by her, so I think it's time I strike out on my own and get a new DBA.

I have been christened: HOT & CRUSTY!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What do Lucy & Desi, Kazoos, and Jell-O have in common?

Sometimes my blog entries just write themselves. This is one of those . . .

John and I decided to make the most of Memorial Day weekend and take an impromptu trip to two of those glamorous upstate New York destinations . . . Buffalo and Rochester. Actually, I'd been curious about visiting both, but they have been mostly ice-bound for the past 6 to 8 months, so I've had them on-hold while the tundra defrosts. Even though we only have a couple of days, these cities aren't exactly beckoning the tourists so I've been wringing blood from a stone, trying to find stuff to do. My research paid off BIG TIME, though: I have found Americana kitsch gold, right here in Upstate NY. Who knew we had THESE cultural destinations at our doorstep?

Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz Center
Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY, which is apparently the best thing that happened in Jamestown since 1911. This town is doooooown on its luck, but it has latched on to hometown girl Lucy and started its own Lucy & Desi museum, no- let's call it a cultural center. No, this is not only a closet-sized room full of her old dresses and bad wigs. This is a serious mecca for people trapped in 1952 (which is not an insignificant percentage of the local population). Check out the online store- it has more items than the USC gift shop! You can even pick up some Vitameatavegamin or an I Love Lucy blender salt & pepper set? Seriously, take some time browsing in that online gift shop- its holdings are tremendous, I'm telling you.

In addition to an annual celebration of her birthday, Jamestown hosts the annual Lucy & Desi Days. This is a 3-day extravaganza of the most random crap- I cannot even tell you- you've just got to check out the endless schedule. But if someone can explain this one, I will give them $5- Why is Wilmer Valderrama the lead VIP guest for this event? Not only is the connection tenuous (apparently he's going to speak about how Desi Arnaz paved the way for Latino actors) but no one- NO ONE- in attendance is going to have a clue who Wilmer Valderrama is. PRICELESS.

As my mind was trying to make sense of this crazy Lucy & Desi Days thing, which is apparently a well-attended and organized event, I had epiphany that would explain everything- this is a draw for GAY guys! DUH! It's like if there was a gathering of Judy Garland fans, and they all came in Dorothy-drag, right? Nooooo, my friends, judging from the photos I can find, the only gay guys are the ones who might sneak in, unnoticed by the hordes of overweight seventy-somethings who prefer to time-travel back to the 1950s than live in Upstate's present rust-belt condition. Moving on . . .
The Kazoo Museum

One might think that the Kazoo Museum is the most bizarre museum you've ever heard of, but I can't possibly top the Lucy & Desi museum (oh wait, I can- read on). The Kazoo Museum in Eden, New York (about 30 minutes outside of Buffalo). Here's the short story, since I went nuts on Lucy & Desi- the metal Kazoo (yes, metal- we are splitting hairs in kazoo-land) was first manufactured in Eden, NY in 1916. This factory operated for decades until its father & son owner- apparently for lack of a grandson willing to strike out into the uncertain kazoo biz in the new millennium- gave (yes, gave- wouldn't be surprised if it was worth more as a tax write-off than a going business concern)- gave the business to Suburban Adult Services, Inc., which provides work for mentally and physically challenged individuals. Oh, and I'm guessing they probably also get free kazoos.

This blog got looooong, so we'll do fun with J-E-L-L-O in a Part II to this entry.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


OK, I admit that I've been holding back on blogging about this photo because - prior hilarious posts aside- I am starting to feel guilty about making fun of hunters, because it seems that some of my (new) best friends come from strong hunter stock (who knew?)

Last month (yes, that would be APRIL, even though you still see lots of snow on the ground), we took a drive about 60 miles north to the neighboring Chenango County. With only 50,000 people, Chenango County is only 1/4 the size of our own county, which we think is really rural. But Broome County ain't nothin' compared to Chenango- MAN, we felt like city slickers! We saw dozens of deer, a huge flock(?) of wild turkeys (yes, WILD), and this gem of a picture. Please note that that is not a painted mural of a hunter aiming at birds in flight on the wall of that shed (or is it a house? I can't remember). Those are WOOD CUTOUTS. Gotta do sumpin' with that scroll saw, right?

The family that hunts together . . .

I have written before about what we call the Owego Tuxedo, which consists of 2 or more pieces of camouflage attire, worn together (and named after the county seat of Tioga County, Owego). If any piece also sports fluorescent orange, that is a bonus, sort of the equivalent of tails. We often see Owego Tuxedo finery at the auction we regularly hit up for bargains (but not on crossbows- those fetch top dollar in that crowd.)

But I was a little surprised to see this entire family collectively decked out in probably the best Owego Tuxedo group-combo ever. Perhaps they wanted to hide because they didn't want their hunter friends to see them at the Verizon Wireless store at our awful local mall?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Guess what time it is??

Peregrine falcon time! I have blogged about this a ton, so I'll just link to some old posts here, here and the best one: here.

Now that May is here, it's time for me to switch my computer's homepage to the Kodak Falcon Cam, with its eye trained on the extremely cute and fun to watch (I know, I know- my excitement level about this is indicative of the fact that I've lived here for over 2 years now) peregrine falcon nest up at the Kodak HQ in Rochester, NY.

Come along, kids!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gotta love NYC

$0.99 for a NEW one? Then how much is it for an OLD one? Jeez, what bargains you can get in the Big City!