May 29, 2009

Furlough Friday: Fire up the grill!

After a hiccup in its biweekly schedule, Furlough Friday is back! So come ye unemployed and laid off, come job seekers and unwilling early retirees. We have the tips you need to bite down on a budget. Live from Pennsylvania … it’s Furlough Friday!

Wireless Internet works in mysterious ways. Mine, for instance, decided to prevent me from accessing all Google services. Anything Google owns – Gmail, YouTube, Blogger – I get an error message when trying to access it. Other Web sites are fine. It’s just Google.

You can no doubt see how being unable to access Blogger can put a hiccup in blogging. You can also no doubt see how hard it could be to fix a problem with Google while being unable to access Google. Fortunately I've managed to determine it’s a problem with the D-Link router that threads the Web through the air in my home, and learned to circumvent the problem with good old-fashioned CAT-5 until a more permanent fix can be discovered.

But enough excuses. You came for Furlough Friday, and Furlough Friday you shall have!

With summer arriving in full force, the gray days of winter are gone. But the hopelessness you used to blame on those overcast days are still around, even when the sun shines. So it goes when you have job problems.

There’s nothing better to cheer you up in the summer than a cookout, though. A little meat you salvaged from the “Must Sell By Today!” section of the grocery store, some veggies you borrowed from your neighbor’s garden, and you’re in business. Throw in some lemonade you snatched from the little girls’ stand down the street when they weren’t looking, and you’re in business! (Figuratively, not literally. I wouldn't call this a job.)

Still, all of that is worthless if you spend lots of money fueling the fire. Don’t let your dwindling reserve of dollar bills go up in smoke by spending a bundle on store-bought charcoal.

No, scout local streams for driftwood. Check for late spring clean-up days, which will let you salvage unwanted wood furniture.

Kindling to start your fire should be no problem. That notice of termination from your boss should be a good start, as should the stubs from your unemployment checks. And if you’re a recent college graduate, the program from your commencement ceremony is worth a lot more going up in smoke than it is in some scrapbook

And judging from the job market for a bunch of recent college grads, (Did you really spend four years in school to get an unpaid internship? That's exploitation.) your diploma might be worth more in the middle of a barbecue pit than on your resume.

May 17, 2009

Yes, yes I did get a 'Star Trek' glass at Burger King

So I bought into a shameless and stupid promotion yesterday. I purchased a value meal at Burger King (The Angry Whopper, which upheld my three sporks out of five review) and then threw down an extra two bucks to buy a "Star Trek" drinking glass tied in to the new movie.

Now, I've never been shy about being a "Star Trek" fan. I can quote many of the movies and TV shows at will and have no problem assembling a general timeline that places the events of movies and shows in proper order. And yes, if pressed I can probably name all the crew members from each series along with most of the actors who played them.

But I've never been the biggest geek about it, either. When I was a kid I had some "Star Trek" action figures, but that was about as far as my merchandising buy-in went. I didn't attend that crazy auction at Christie's and I've never been much for any of the seemingly-endless number of "Star Trek" paperbacks out there. Heck, I don't even own a season from any off the series on DVD.

Yet I did ask for a "Star Trek" glass at Burger King. And I might even go back to get one or two (or three, which would complete my set) more.

Why? It's not like $2 on top of a value meal is a great deal for a glass, and it's not that I even eat at BK a lot.

Have I entered a new phase in life where collecting becomes fun? Will I start snatching up action figures that will in turn gather dust on my mantel as I wait for the day when they're worth money? I am living at my parents house for awhile after college graduation ... Maybe I should just drag all my stuff to the basement now and get it over with.

... Or maybe I just wasn't blown away by any of the other fast food options I had yesterday. Maybe I made an impulse buy to go get the glass and will consider getting one or two more in the back of my head over the next few weeks.

Either way, I can tell you it's a pretty neat glass. Captain Nero's spaceship looks great on it. No shame in taking part in a shameless promotion, I suppose.

May 13, 2009

Mountain Dew Throwback

Sometimes anticipation is all the fun.

I really wanted to like Mountain Dew Throwback. Pepsi Throwback was very good, and the idea of replacing highly refined high-fructose corn syrup with less highly refined cane sugar is extremely appealing.

Unfortunately the fact is Mountain Dew Throwback just isn't as good as it's cola brother. Where Pepsi benefits from a more complex and richer flavor, Mountain Dew just tastes cloudy. The additional aftertaste is less like appealing end notes and more like, well, an aftertaste.

The overall drinking experience is also just not as crisp as Mountain Dew. In fact, it tastes less carbonated. While that's usually a good thing, limpid Mountain Dew just isn't as appealing as flat Pepsi. Which is unfortunate because I didn't note any such carbonation difference between Pepsi and Pepsi Throwback.

Mountain Dew Throwback isn't bad. It just isn't that great. The idea of trying it was a lot more exciting than actually taking a sip. A mediocre three out of five stars.

May 8, 2009

Furlough Friday: Reese's Dark

Since forced days off can make long weekends that are perfect for traveling, Furlough Friday is taking to the road this week. A trip to Syracuse resulted in a quick perusal of the candy aisle in a gas station and a startling revelation. So without further ado, live from New York, it's Furlough Friday!

Nothing is darker than a day spent unemployed. When you're unsuccessfully looking for work the sun seems to shine a little less and the clouds seem to swoop in faster. Crows take on a deeper shade of black and always seem to perch nearby.

Comfort food is pretty important during those desperate hours. Unhealthy eating makes frustrations disappear for a moment -- only a moment since they end up bloating your body, thereby contributing to frustrations. But I'm not here to tell you how to break out of a slump. I'm here to tell you how to dull the pain of tough times.

You need dark comfort food to match dark times. Chocolate with a sense of the gallows. M&M's won't do with their cheerful colors. Neither will Pop Rocks with their bubbly personality.

Reese's seems to know this. They offer their classic peanut butter cup in a dark variety.

It's the same Reese's peanut butter wrapped in the same chocolate shape. The only difference is the kind of chocolate. Gone is that chipper, sweet milk chocolate, replaced by the bitter undertones of dark chocolate.

You'll get that burst of comfort from the flavor, too. Dark chocolate works even better than milk chocolate in peanut butter cups. The flavor is more complex and holds the tongue's interest far longer.

If you can spend a longer time on each peanut butter cup, maybe you won't have to eat as many, which will lead to less weight gain and ... oh, who am I kidding? While the price varies, you should be able to find packs of these things for around 80 cents.

Reese's Dark won't mean anyone eats any less. It just means we can enjoy deeper flavors while we stuff our face and stare all day at the crows perched outside the window.

May 5, 2009

Pepsi Throwback

Everyone's heard "Spoonful of Sugar" from "Mary Poppins." If you haven't I suggest confronting your parents and demanding to know what they did with your childhood. Then go to Netflix and order the DVD so you'll have some semblance of common experience to share with the world.

Fortunately you don't need to do those things to understand Pepsi throwback. Having seen Mary Poppins will likely aid your comprehension of the drink, but it isn't a prerequisite.

The reason "Spoonful of Sugar" is so important to Pepsi Throwback is it likely encouraged you to ask your mother for a spoonful of sugar at some point. You were probably sick and had to take some nasty cough syrup or evil pink liquid penicillin and asked for a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Your mother, exasperated at your incessant whining and out of ways to coerce you to take the medicine, likely complied and handed you a spoon heaped with white granulated sugar.

Remember what it tasted like? Cross that with a Pepsi and you have Pepsi Throwback.

That should come as no surprise. After all, Pepsi replaced the high-fructose corn syrup it typically uses to sweeten the drink with natural sugar.

It's still definitely Pepsi. It's just Pepsi with an aftertaste similar to the one you got after swallowing your spoonful of sugar. Which is to say it's Pepsi with an aftertaste that's much better than a diet aftertaste. (Only without the lower calorie count.)

I even think it adds an interesting depth to Pepsi's sweetness. By the end of a 20 oz. bottle it's a little too rich, but I would prefer a glass of Pepsi Throwback to a glass of regular Pepsi.

Not everyone shares that view -- I've heard quite a bit of grumbling about the altered taste. Still, I think it's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and am giving it four sporks out of five.

Check back soon for a review of Mountain Dew Throwback. The Dew's clearer flavor might be altered to a greater extent by the natural sugar. We'll see.

May 2, 2009

Swine Flu!

This could save you some cash, so I thought about saving it for Furlough Friday. But if the hubbub over swine flu blows over this week, I don't want you to miss out.

Swine flu's been all the rage in the media this week. Good luck turning on a television or radio or logging on to the Internet and not hearing something about it. Maybe you're scared, maybe you're laughing it off -- time will tell which is the wiser course of action. But whether you think it's been exaggerated or expect a pandemic to sweep the globe, I have a recommendation for you.

Watch the price of pork.

Never the most expensive meat, this fuss will probably send its stock into the basement. Who wants to buy pig when swine flu is being hyped as a potential end of days?

You should. Pork should always be prepared with proper hygiene and cooked thoroughly, so you shouldn't have to worry about catching anything from eating it. And I bet you'll get a great deal at the supermarket.

The other white meat could turn into the right meat for your wallet this week.