Getting Baked

There was something wrong with my soda bread.

Over the course of a week, after baking about ten loaves, it was obvious we had a problem. Not to get all technical, but it didn’t have the usual oven spring and the crumb structure was denser than it should have been. It was still delicious, but not quite right in its texture.

Was it the oven temperature, the kneading, the water? Maybe I was not paying enough attention to detail. Perhaps I’d just lost my knack — or it could be something darker. I joked last year of using Lucky Charms in the recipe — and this may have stirred the fairies or little people, who in turn cursed my baking.

But as it turns out, it was the baking soda.

I don’t know how old a can of baking soda must be to be beyond the sell-by date, but my can was expired. Does baking soda actually go bad? Yes — and it was confirmed by a simple test I found online.

A number of factors can ruin baking soda, and generally, it should be kept in a cool, dry place. The cabinet above my stove certainly gets warm — and the steam from cooking can’t be helpful.

I baked a final loaf Sunday night with a newly opened container of baking soda and the results were back to normal. Mystery solved — but just in case, never take any chances with the fairies and little people.

Click It Or Stick It

Late one night a little over year ago, a BMW sailed off the road in Saratoga County and hit a fire hydrant and a tree. Three of the car’s occupants walked away — and one suffred a back injury that left her a paragalegic. Now, the driver is on trial facing charges that include DWI, vehicular assault, and reckless driving.

Killing or injuring a friend or family member in an accident is not uncommon, and it adds another layer of tragedy to a terrible, life changing event.

But here’s the thing: According to a story in the Daily Gazette, the victim testified that she was in the back seat and not wearing a safety belt.

In New York, the law does not require backseat passengers to wear a seat belt, but regardless of the law, my opinion on this is black and white: If you don’t wear a seat belt in the backseat, you’re a moron. Driving? Then it’s your responsibility make all the passengers wear their seat belts. If they won’t wear it, tell them they can get out and walk.

Unrestrained passengers are more likely to be killed or injured in an accident — and they’re also more likely to injure you as they bounce around your car.

No, sometimes a seat belt won’t help, but is that a gamble you’re willing to take? If so, ride with someone else.

Random Notes

Quote of the Week
“I’m swallowing news every minute.” – Paul Vandenburgh. He swallows so you don’t have to.

On the Money
I received this $20 bill when cashing in a lottery scratch off this week. Someone saw fit to draw a mustache on Andrew Jackson, but not just any mustache, one that looks like a toothbrush mustache — AKA a HITLER moustache.

OK, Hitler didn’t invent the toothbrush mustache, but he certainly ruined it. Today, you’d have to be pretty ballsy to sport one of those.

But the other interesting thing about the bill was that the number “1120” was written on the back. I could not find any significant connection in Jackson’s life to the date November 20, but there was this: Jackson’s farm, The Hermitage is a 1,120 acre plot.

Hmmmm. This may not rise to the Dan Brown level of mystery, but still intriguing.

Redemption?
John Sweeney was back in the news this week, in a fawning Times Union profile that chronicles the former congressman’s rise and fall and his struggle with alcoholism. It’s always interesting to read about drunks, but this tale Sweeney told the reporter caught my attention:

In the first year of his sobriety, as he pumped gas into his black Suburban SUV at a Clifton Park gas station, Sweeney locked eyes with the State Police trooper who arrested him for DWI for a second time, which sent him to jail. Both men shared a moment of recognition. The trooper’s family was in the car and he looked away. Sweeney walked over to the trooper and said: “I just want to say thanks. You saved my life.”

I don’t know Mr. Sweeney, but I know some drunks, and I’m calling bullshit on that one.

No Free Parking

It’s been a long time since a parking attendant has been seen at Thacher Park — and I reckon you’ll never see one again. It’s not because they won’t charge you for parking, but because of these kiosks springing up in the lots. The parking stations provide a convenient way for the state to collect your $6 “vehicle entrance fee” without actually providing the service rendered by a human attendant.

The park told WNYT that the fees help pay for maintenance and for park employees. That’s interesting, because without the pool and parking attendants, they probably employee fewer people than ever before. As for maintenance, I’m all for that. In recent years, it’s not been uncommon at Thacher Park to find broken picnic tables, busted grills, and trails in need of attention.

I love Thacher Park and I’ll gladly pay to use it, but the cranky old man in me requires that I ask the following: “What about all that tax money we pay?” And my cranky old man does have a point.

But pay we must.

And by the way have you been to the new visitor center? It’s pretty cool — and I hope that in coming years we see as much attention to the little things in Thacher Park as we’ve seen to the big things. A picnic table may not have the governor’s name on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Media Weak

Quote of the Week
“I don’t want to give out any misinformation here.” – Paul Vandenburgh

What?! Vandenburgh is constantly giving out misinformation on Talk 1300. This guy gets things wrong even when he’s reading them directly out of the newspaper — and a lot of what he says comes directly out of the papers. I’m not sure how that’s even possible. Someone should keep a tally of how many things he gets wrong every morning, but who has that much time?

Lame
I used to hate WRGB because they were so smug, but the truth is they backed it up by being good. Not so much anymore.

Last night the station ran a story about Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse delivering his “state of the city address.” Yes, that’s absurd in itself — but WRGB failed to mention the recent domestic abuse allegations about Morse. OK, just allegations — but what’s absolutely true is that numerous prominent members of his own party called on Morse to resign, including Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

I know who’s working in these newsrooms, and I can excuse some inexperienced producer over this — but what about Greg Floyd who lined up the story? C’mon man.

By the way, Cohoes, the state of the city is that your mayor is a thug.

A Visit by Erastus

It’s always interesting to see what people are throwing away, and a keen eye toward trash will sometimes yield treasure, large and small.

One day at WNYT, I hauled a bag full of crap down from my office (despite what you’ve heard, I really was the creative services director, not the janitor) and saw a bankers box labelled “archives” in the dumpster. Well, who would’t peek at that?

It was crammed with an assortment of old correspondence dating back to the 1950s — and a folder full of photos. If these are archives, I reasoned, they belong in my office, not the dumpster.

A lot of the papers dealt with the mundane matters of running a business, but among the photos were a few real gems, like the ones below. My favorite is this picture of good old Erastus Corning 2nd gamely peering into the WTRI camera for a PR shot.

And how about the look on this dogs face? Clearly, dogs have a lower tolerance for goofy photo ops than do politicians.

This photo is not quite so old. It’s from 1960 after they’d switched to the unfortunate call letters, WAST, for Albany-Schenectady-Troy. Add an “E” and you’ve got WASTE. The caption on the back identifies the woman as “Miss Nancy Doell, local Albany television actress.”

These pictures are from a time when television was still rather new and glamourous, but I think local TV still holds a certain fascination to people. I always enjoyed giving tours at channel 13 and seeing how much people loved looking behind the scenes. And the anchors and meteorologists? They’re the closest thing we have to celebrities. Well, I suppose in this town, politicians are also celebrities of a sort, just not always in a good way.

Pickup or Delivery?

Late one night I was backing up the ambulance at one of our fine local hospitals. Parked near the emergency department entrance was a dark minivan with tinted windows. I wouldn’t have even noticed it — but then a man emerged from a set of doors wheeling a cot. Even in the dim light, it was unmistakable that he was removing a body.

As we unloaded our patient, he was fetching a customer.

OK, they weren’t coming out the same doors we were going in, but it was pretty darn close. If this surprised me, imagine how you’d feel if you were on our stretcher and looked over to see the undertaker picking someone up. Not very encouraging.

Considering how busy these places are, it always surprises me how shabby emergency department entrances can be. Rather than projecting a professional impression, many look more like a place where the hospital brings out its trash. It would go a long way to have them clean and well-lit — and you’re receiving so many patients, why not have someone stationed to meet the ambulance and begin the intake process?

If nothing else, let’s move the mortician access to someplace a little more discrete. I think we all have enough reminders that our last ride is on the way.

Ziti and Meatballs

The corruption trial of Cuomo confidant Joe Percoco grinds along this week. It’s hard not to feel bad for this guy, who seems to have gotten in over his head in every way possible — but you’ve got to admit, the “ziti” business is funny.

The feds claim that Percoco would refer to payments by the code word “ziti,” and they say they have emails with Percoco writing, “Keep the ziti flowing … Don’t tip over the ziti wagon.” And where did he come up with that? According to the prosecutor, from watching the Sopranos. In other news, Mario Cuomo is rolling over in his grave.

Meanwhile, in a federal courtroom in Allentown, something entirely different is on the menu. Prosecutors there claim that the word “meatballs” was used as code for illicit payments in the bribery case of mayor Ed Pawlowski.

This from the Allentown Morning Call is priceless:

“So, this is not code for a bribe? Did you actually go to Mike Fleck’s to pick up meatballs?” Morgan asked.

Strathearn replied yes.

“Did you actually get meatballs?” the prosecutor asked.

Strathearn replied that he had, but not as many as he was expecting.
“How many did you get?” Morgan asked.

“Four,” he replied.

On cross-examination, McMahon played several more recordings containing references to the meaty Italian cuisine and suggested “meatballs” was, in fact, code for a bribe.

“You want these people to believe it’s really meatballs?” McMahon yelled. “It’s a payoff, Mr. Strathearn. You know, I know and everybody knows.”

Yes, everybody knows meatballs mean money. And meatballs and ziti? Fuggetaboutit.

From the Heart

Imagine what it must feel like to get another chance after a life-threatening health emergency. It has to be pretty amazing.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares has been very open about discussing his heart surgery in 2016 and the way it changed his life. Stories like this one in the Times Union, in which he tells what it was like to face down a disease that could have killed him. It’s inspiring. Honestly.

But I’ve got to ask a question: is it OK for a public official to appear in a TV commercial endorsing a hospital. I’m asking not because I want to be a wiseass (which is often why I ask questions), but because I’m genuinely unsure. Have a look.

Even a not-for-profit entity is still a business — and if you have any doubt that hospitals are a business, just look at all the competition between them that’s expressed in their advertising. And they do a LOT of advertising.

So, it’s something to ponder. Purists will say that an elected official like the DA should avoid anything that can be interpreted as showing favor. But on the flip side, is there really anything wrong with showing a little heart?