Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hershey Bars

Hershey's, to give the company its commonly-used name, is America's largest producer of chocolate. It's also the main supplier of military chocolate to the US armed forces.

I know Hershey's because it's the company that makes my beloved Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Given my avid consumption of said confectionary, it is rather odd that I have a physiological aversion to the company's signature brand, the Hershey Bar, because to me it smells subtly, but distinctly and gut-wrenchingly of bile. In fact, the slightest whiff sets my gag-reflex going and brings back terrible memories of mornings after nights before in years thankfully long gone.

I presumed I'd be the only one with this bizarre olfactory sensation. I was wrong.

Out of idle curiosity, I Googled the terms "Hershey" and "smell", and immediately came up with - amongst other things - a Yahoo! Answers discussion entitled "Why does Hershey's plain chocolate smell like vomit?", a similar, 154-entry discussion of the matter on CyberCandy and a post in the blog A Limey in America. In all of these, people associated the smell and/or taste of Hershey's chocolate with regurgitation or sour milk, though nobody seemed to know why. Some suggested it was simply the poor quality of the chocolate itself, while several others thought it lay in the wax - wax?! - Hershey's puts in the mix.

Most interesting of all is a post I found in the blog Kill Everything, which describes how the author of a book on the history of chocolate allegedly asked French chocolatiers to give a one-word summary of Hershey chocolate.

One French chef answered: "Vomit".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The following warning was sent to parents today by my children's American school:

"Several children reported a suspicious individual Tuesday evening in the area of XXX. An elderly white-haired, white male in a dark purple/maroon mini-van repeatedly drove up and down the street waving to the children. They reported the incident and a police report was filed. Please continue to remind your children to be cautious and to report any incident that is suspicious."

I guess the ice-cream van won't be back in that neighbourhood then.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paula Deen

Paula Deen is a remarkable woman with a bubbly, instantly likable personality and an adorable twangy accent. Not only did she single-handedly overcome agoraphobia so debilitating that it confined her to her house in her 40s, but she subsequently quit being a housewife and built up an extremely successful catering business and then a restaurant. Today she is something like the southern states Martha Stewart, with a TV cookery show on the Food Channel, lifestyle magazines, books and a huge following.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that she is not the queen of lean cuisine because the main ingredient in her cooking is butter and most of her undoubtedly delicious recipes involve deep-frying - often both. Take for example her deep-fried butter balls, comprising (you guessed it) butter mixed with cream cheese, formed into balls, frozen and then deep-fried. Other classics include gooey butter cake and the deep-fried Twinkie.

However, her pièce de la résistance is the "heart attack"; a hamburger topped with an egg and fried bacon and sandwiched between two iced doughnuts:

Bush's Signature

I just discovered George W. Bush's signature (on the left) in high resolution on Wikipedia. Not only that, but unless it's one of his famous Bushisms, the text below the image clearly states:
"I, the copyright holder of this work [which I presume must be Dubya himself], hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions".
Think I'll issue myself a Green Card and pardon all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Any other suggestions?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


(And I thought I already had ten of them)

So that's where they stashed their money!

(FYI: This is the area where Mrs Newbie wanted to go for a walk)

And finally my favourite of the week, from the alarm at our local library:

(I'd really like to hear that audible silence and know how it can detect trouble)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crazy Woodpecker

Maybe putting out a bird-feeder wasn't such a good idea. Maybe it simply attracted the wrong kind of bird. Either way, we have a problem.

At about 9am on Sunday morning, we were woken by what sounded like our neighbour drilling through sheet metal in his garage. For the next half hour or so at roughly two- to three-minute intervals, we were treated to a dreadful burst of drilling that robbed us of any chance of falling asleep again. So we just lay there cursing our neighbour's cheek at doing DIY with the garage door open early on Easter Sunday.

The drilling started up again as we were about to take the kids to school on Monday, so I stuck my head out of the front door to discover not only that my neighbour's garage was firmly closed, but that the sound was coming from our own roof - or more prescisely, our metal chimney stack. The mystery was solved: it had to be a woodpecker.

The culprit?

Later that day, I called up a neighbour who is a vet to ask him how to stop a woodpecker turning your house into Swiss cheese. "Oh that'll be that crazy woodpecker," he said. "There's nothing you can do. He'll go away eventually. But he nearly drove my wife crazy last year for the ten days he drilled on our chimney pot."

Ten days?! I thought. That meant at least eight days more.

Sure enough, Woody was back at work the very next day, and I now know he must be insane. Every time he finished his drilling, he'd emit an ear-piercing shriek, as if to say, "Ow, that really hurt!"

And then he'd start up again two minutes later.

When Red Means "Go"

In Michigan, and presumably many other states, there are a couple of very clever traffic regulations that really help to avoid jams and keep cars moving.

One of these is the rule that says that you are allowed to turn right at a red light (provided there is no-one hurtling towards you, that is). At certain junctions this also applies if you are turning left.
This reduces the number of cars standing at the lights, and speeds up the flow of traffic when the light is green.

Another smart idea is what is known as the "Michigan U" or "Michigan left". Again to keep traffic flowing smoothly, you are not allowed to turn left at major crossings, but rather must turn right (i.e. into the near lane rather than potentially blocking the intersection). A few hundred yards further on, you then get an extra "u-turn" feeder lane on the left which helps get you in the opposite direction.

Last, but by no means least, there's the middle lane that you find on larger - though not major - roads. This is intended for those who wish to turn into driveways on the left, and again prevents the kind of bottlenecks you get in Europe as you stop and wait for a break in the oncoming traffic. The centre lane is also handy when you turn left into a busy road from a drive or side street, since you can already face in the right direction ready to feed into the "proper" lane when there's a gap.

Practical as it undoubtedly is, this last traffic solution is also by far the most dangerous of the three described, and one that should be used with utmost care because the middle lane is at the disposal of cars moving in either direction. I haven't seen any centre-lane head-on collisions yet, but I suspect they're probably relatively common.

Extreme Food

This is truly gross - but typically American.

The West Michigan Whitecaps, a minor league baseball team, sells a mega-burger at its stadium. Indeed, it sold more than a hundred of them at its opening game of the season. The burger, which weighs more than 2 kilos, consists of five 150-gram beef patties, chili, American cheese, nacho cheese, tortilla chips, salsa, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. The burger is so big that it has to be served in a pizza box with an open top. And it has the calorific value of nine Big Macs.

That first night, more than a dozen fans at the game ate one of these gargantuan gutbusters on their own.

Back to Basics

I heard an interesting report on NPR this morning about how the economic crisis was affecting people in the United States. One man they interviewed, who had been unemployed for a year, said, "I've really had to cut back. My kids love going to McDonald's, but we're cooking now."

The man's comments are telling because ready-to-eat food is so easy to get and indeed cheap in the States that many people eat out or order home-delivery meals almost every day of the week. Home cooking has thus therefore become more-or-less something for the extremely poor, a kind of culinary last resort.

Given that fast food in particular is high in salt, sugar and fat, is it any wonder that so many Americans are malnourished and/or obese?

Educational Insanity

I've reported at length about how my then 5-year-old son's English was assessed by his American school in the autumn and deemed so poor that he needed "servicing" by the in-house ESL specialist. This is due to be reassessed in the coming weeks (let's hope he's mastered the American accent sufficiently to get a more acceptable score this time).

What I did not mention is that my now 9-year-old daughter was also evaluated last year, and scored 100% (8/8 and 10/10). Yet strangely enough, she too was re-tested this week.

Do they honestly think that Anna's English could have deteriorated to such an extent that she may now need ESL input after all? I know she's started learning Spanish at (American) school and still attends French school in the morning, but isn't that taking bureaucratic pedantry a little too far?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Odd Products

Chinatown special:

Has your frog lost its voice? We can help!
(Also relieves croakiness)

(If only I'd discovered this 25 years ago!)

(Guess this one cures sheepishness)

Reese's Lip Balm

Regular followers of my musings will no doubt be aware that I am a great fan and consumer of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and indeed anything containing peanut butter (or "PB", as it is affectionately known around here).

Since I often have chapped lips in winter and therefore always carry a tube of lip balm in my pocket, you can imagine my delight when I discovered Resse's scented lip balm at a Hershey's store this weekend.

As you'd expect, Reese's Lip Balm is brown and smells of chocolate, albeit not of peanut butter, which would be too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, it has one major drawback: it also tastes sweet; so deliciously chocolaty, in fact, that you end up constantly and involuntarily licking it off - exactly what you're not supposed to do when you have chapped lips. No wonder the tube carries the health warning "Not to be eaten. Stop use and ask doctor if rash or irritation develops."

So now I have some Reese's Lip Balm - two tubes of the stuff, no less - but don't dare use it. What cruel irony!

Think I'll have another Reese's Peanut Butter Cup to drown my sorrows.

Friday, April 3, 2009


"Honey, can you run down the store and get me 2.1 gallons of milk and some maggots?"

Is this even possible?

(Who decides that the limit should be 17 rather than 16 or 18?)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vitamin C

I'm confused.

Looking at the side of an orange juice carton, I noticed a strange comment* in the list of ingredients: "Vitamin C (ingredient not found in regular orange juice)". 

All oranges contain vitamin C, don't they? So how is it that pressing them removes that vitamin C in the States, but not in Europe? Or does American vitamin C somehow manage to cling to the skin and pulp
("I'm not going in there. Some limey might drink me")?

If you know the answer to this conundrum, please write to: Confused Newbie, 123 My Street, Suburbia, USA.
* Apart from the one that my 100% pure orange juice contains other ingredients, that is.