Saturday, August 31, 2013

Apple #650: Huckleberries

Yesterday, I tried some huckleberry frozen yogurt.  It was really tasty.

Jeni's huckleberry frozen yogurt.  I don't know if the recipe for this particular flavor is in her book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, but I've heard a number of people say her ice cream recipes turn out really well.
(Photo from Jeni's)

As I was eating this lusciousness, the line from some movie played in my head: "I'll be your huckleberry."  In some terrible Southern accent.  The more it replayed itself, the more I thought, what is that awful line from?  And what the heck are huckleberries anyway?

  • The line is from Tombstone, said by Val Kilmer in his miserable attempt to sound like he's from Georgia.  The line is actually, "I'm your huckleberry."
  • Before I get into all the particulars about that expression, which is a metaphor, I need to start with the thing itself, which is a fruit.

Huckleberry, the Fruit

  • As the woman at the ice cream counter told me, huckleberries are a lot like blueberries

Huckleberries.  These particular berries happen to grow wild on a farm in Washington state. Note the red stems.
(Photo from EUTOPOS farm)

      • They're smaller and usually their skin is darker, more purple or reddish-purple, or red.
      • They have a lot more seeds, so they have more of a crunchy texture
      • They have a thicker skin
      • They tend to be more tart, but with an intense flavor.

The much smaller, darker huckleberries are on the left.  Blueberries are on the right.
(Photo by Philip Potempa from The NWI Times)

Blueberries on the bush. As the name says, these berries are blue, often with an apparently powdery coating.
(Photo, as well as the plants themselves, from Florida Hill Nursery)

Huckleberries on the bush. These berries tend to be a darker purple or reddish-purple, and the stems are often red.
(Photo from Fat of the Land)

  • Huckleberries are not grown commercially as blueberries can be.  They only grow wild.  Or I should say, "Most attempts to grow huckleberries commercially in fields during the past century have failed."
  •  (Which makes it even more remarkable that Jeni's gets enough huckleberries to make a lot of frozen yogurt.)
  • Huckleberry bushes grow in the Southeastern US, and different varieties grow out West and in Alaska.
  • They grow especially well in areas where forest fires have occurred. 
  • One site says, "About a third of a grizzly bear's diet consists of huckleberries."  I'm not sure I can verify that, but I mention it because it gives you an idea of where huckleberries grow -- where grizzly bears live.  And there must be a lot of them growing there.

Huckleberry, the Term

  • Now that we know something about the fruit, what does it mean to call someone, or yourself, a huckleberry?
  • Most people say that the phrase "I'll be your huckleberry" or "I'm your huckleberry" means "I'm your man." As in, you want somebody to do something for you?  Or, you think nobody's tough enough to take you on?  Well, I'm your man. Or woman.  As in, accepting a challenge or a dare.
  • But how did "I'm your man" (or woman) become "I'm your huckleberry"?
  • Some people say that the phrase comes from the South, where there are lots of huckleberries, or maybe from the West.  
  • That's the extent of their explanation.  I guess they mean that the saying just grew out of there, the same way that huckleberry bushes grew?  Pretty flimsy explanation, in my opinion.

Where the black huckleberry grows. There are several other varieties of huckleberries that grow in many other states.  But they don't have a distribution map for the growth of the phrase "I'm your huckleberry."
(Distribution map from USDA Plants Database)

  • Curiously, the earliest instance of the use of huckleberry as slang means somebody who's nice and sweet, and also kind of a wimp, or innocent and therefore easily tricked. 
  • Another slang meaning of huckleberry is someone who is small and insignificant.
  • Mark Twain told an interviewer in 1895 that he chose the name Huckleberry to establish that Huck Finn was a boy "of lower extraction or degree" than Tom Sawyer.  So he was definitely thinking of the small & insignificant meaning of huckleberry.

Huckleberry Finn's name was supposed to indicate that he was of a lower class than Tom Sawyer.  But though his name meant "insignificant," he sure turned out to be anything but that.
(Cover image from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Signet Classics])

  • That "small & insignificant" meaning might be the origin of another meaning of huckleberry, which is that of a sidekick.  The theory here is that, compared with the big cheese, the sidekick tends to be overlooked.
  • The sidekick meaning might be what's meant in the lyrics of "Moon River:"
Two drifters off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end
Waiting 'round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river and me 
  • But "My huckleberry friend" seems to mean more that we're partners, the sidekick river and I, rather than that the river is the lesser of us two.
"Moon River" was written especially for Audrey Hepburn in her role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's

  • But these definitions -- small & insignificant, sidekick, a sweet & easily duped rube --  are the opposite of the meaning of the "I'm your man" phrase.  By these definitions, saying "I'm your huckleberry" would be calling yourself a pushover, or someone of no account.  
  • I wonder if the phrase is one of those reverse psychology things.  As in, you might think you can overlook me like you'd ignore a huckleberry, but I am in fact the huckleberry who is going to kick your ass. Sort of like a David & Goliath thing.  That's just a guess of mine.
  • Someone else thinks that the phrase was originally "I'm your hackle-bearer."  Hackles in the Old West were handles on caskets.  So you'd be saying, "I'm the one who's going to put you in your coffin and carry you to your grave."  That's a pretty ballsy thing to say.  
  • According to this theory, then, hackle-bearer became hackle-berry which because huckleberry.
  • That seems like quite a stretch.  But the word huckleberry has itself gone through many changes.
      • When Europeans came to North America, they encountered small, dark berries that reminded them of bilberries.  One regional dialect's name for bilberry is hurtleberry.  So they called these new berries hurtleberries.
      • It didn't take long at all before that word morphed into huckleberry. In fact, the earliest known use of it is from 1670, so it's as if the colonists got off the boat, heard the word hurtleberry, and said no, I'm in a new country now, I'm calling it something else.
      • (Hurtleberry comes from the Old English word whortleberry, so some etymology dictionaries will start huckleberry's origins with whortleberry).
  • So I suppose it's possible that the phrase could have undergone a similar transformation.  But I'm skeptical.
  • So the etymological origins of the phrase "I'm your huckleberry" remain unclear.  But the movie where the line was said is a known thing.  It came from TombstoneI'll finish with some clips.

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.
(Photo from ...And the Adventure Continues)

Doc Holliday.  His mustache is way better than Val's.
(Photo from Fantastic Mustache)

The first time Val says it, all young & healthy. Have I mentioned how much I hate his fake accent?

The second time he says it, not feeling quite as chipper.  He says it right away, so unless you want to see somebody get shot in the head, you don't need to watch the whole thing.

All this from a spoonful of frozen yogurt.

What's Cooking America, Huckleberries - The History of Huckleberries
Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network, Information on Huckleberry Plants, huckleberry
Online Etymology Dictionary, huckleberry
The Tombstone Epitaph, Huckleberry origin sparks various views, November 5, 2009
World Wide Words, Huckleberry

Monday, August 26, 2013

Apple #649: Service Dogs & Air Travel

Last time, I did an entry about dogs on airplanes.  I found out about how people can travel with their pet dogs (or other pets).  Basically, the rules are you can keep your pet dog with you in the cabin if your dog is really tiny.  Otherwise, the dog flies cargo.

But I did wonder about service dogs.  Most service dogs are much larger than the tiny size limits the airlines impose for pets in the cabin.  So are the rules for service dogs different?  Can people take their service dogs on board?  Or do size rules apply for service dogs, too?

And what does the TSA do when someone comes through the line with a dog, whether it's a service dog or a pet?

I wish I could say they'd let your service dog fly in the cockpit.  This is Nathan, and he's a service dog for the Coast Guard. So he gets to ride on Coast Guard airplanes.
(Photo by Cyndi Perry, from Coast Guard Compass)

Service Dogs -- Basic Rules

  • In a nutshell, yes, service dogs can travel in the cabin with the passenger.
  • Size rules do still apply, though.  The rules are a little less stringent than the rules for pet dogs, but the animal has to be able to fit under the seat or at the animal owner's feet without obstructing an aisle or another passenger's space.  If the service dog can't fit in the space available in the cabin, it has to travel in a carrier in cargo.
  • There are some exceptions to this rule. For longer flights such as to Hawaii or the UK, service dogs may travel in the cabin.
  • Airlines are not allowed by law to charge extra to travel with a service dog.  Whether the dog is with you in the cabin or in cargo, you won't be charged.
  • Some airlines will also allow you to ship your service dog's carrier as a checked bag, free of charge.
  • If the service dog is with you in the cabin, it has to be on a leash or harness, and it should also be wearing a vest or other garment that clearly indicates the animal is not a pet but is working.

This service dog vest is clearly marked and it includes an identification pouch. This one costs $60. They seem to fall in the $50-$75 price range.
(Photo from

  • You will not be required to show any kind of documentation that you need the service dog with you.  
  • Some working animals are designated as Emotional Support Animals (ESA).  These animals are there to help people who experience some kind of psychological or mental health distress.  If you are traveling with an ESA, you will probably be asked to show proof (like a signed letter) that a licensed medical professional has said you need to have this dog with you.
  • Whether your animal is a service animal, an ESA, or a pet, it's best to let the airline know as soon as possible, well in advance of the flight, that you'll be traveling with a dog. 

This service dog is probably too big to be allowed in the airplane cabin.  But look what a good dog she is!
(Photo from The Blackburn Review)

 Service Monkeys

  • Pretty much the same rules apply to service monkeys.  
  • Yes, there are service monkeys. Or helper  monkeys, as they're more often called.

A Capuchin helper monkey in action.
(Photo from Blogapova)

 TSA Screening of Service Animals

  • Basically, the TSA (Transporation Security Administration; the security people at the airport) are going to screen both you and your service animal.
  • Again, you'll need to have your animal on a leash or a harness, and the animal needs to be wearing some kind of identification saying this is a service animal. You should also tell the security officer that your dog is a service animal.
  • You and your dog on a leash will walk through the metal detector.  The dog can go before or after you, or you can go at the same time, they'll leave that up to you. 
  • If you don't want to go through the metal detector you & your dog don't have to.  But you would in that event have to submit to a full pat-down.  And the dog would still have to be "inspected." I think this means visually, and also a check of the garment the dog is wearing.
  • The security officer does have to ask before touching your service animal.  The security officer will know better than to pet, play with, distract, or feed your service dog. 

A woman and her service dog, Hosta, going through the metal detector in Kansas City. Hosta is still on his leash as he goes through the detector.  She's actually training her dog to be a service dog, so she and several other handlers are taking their dogs to the airport for trial runs.
(Photo from KSDS Puppy)

Since Hosta set off the alarm -- probably because of his leash -- he had to get patted down.  He didn't mind.
(Photo from KSDS Puppy)

Hosta the service dog waiting while his owner is patted down.
(Photo from KSDS Puppy)

Hosta the service dog waiting patiently for his bag.  OK, that doesn't really have to do with TSA screening, but I included it because I thought the picture was funny.
(Photo from KSDS Puppy)

  • If you set off an alarm but your dog doesn't, they'll give you further screening and they'll let you keep your dog with you.
  • If your dog sets off an alarm and you don't, they'll separate you and the dog while they give the dog further screening.  They won't take off the dog's harness/vest/backpack, but they'll search it to see what the dog might be carrying in there.
  • Wouldn't that suck if your service dog were a mad bomber and you didn't even know it?
  • Seriously, though, I'm not sure what they do if they find, say, explosive material on the dog but not on you.  Remove the explosive stuff, first of all.  I guess they'd probably detain you and the dog until they found out who put the explosive stuff in your dog's pocket.
  • One final note on this topic: If you've gone through security and you go outside to let your dog, you know, do its doggy thing, when you come back inside, you and your dog will have to go through the TSA screening again. 

 TSA Using Dogs, Too

  • While searching for information on this topic, I found a whole bunch of news articles about how the TSA is using dogs to screen passengers for bombs, guns, and any explosives.  They're hoping the dogs will help to reduce the long lines of people waiting to go through metal detectors.
  • Dogs have been used to screen cargo for several years now.  But dogs screening passengers is relatively new -- even though the TSA were given the approval to do that many years ago.
  • The passenger-screening dogs can detect a "vapor trail" of explosives, meaning they can detect a suicide bomb vest, a backpack containing explosives, or a firearm.  When the trained dog detects an odor of explosives, the dog will sit next to where it found the scent.
  • The breeds they're using include Labrador retrievers, Vizslas, German shepherds, and Belgian malinois -- all breeds with an especially keen sense of smell, or they're good with people, or both.

One of the TSA working dogs.  Note the TSA patch on his vest.
(Photo from NBC-2 in Florida)

  • In early July, they announced they're trying out the dogs in Honolulu, Tampa, Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Washington Dulles. If all goes well there, they'll use more dogs in more airports.  I think they must have since decided it's going all right, because that dog in the picture above was being used at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
    • The GAO (General Accounting Office) is skeptical about all this because according to their tests, the dogs weren't all that effective.  They said the TSA wasn't meeting the requirement that the canine teams get 4 hours of training every 4 weeks, the TSA doesn't keep track of which dogs are best at finding which  type of explosive material, and sometimes the dogs miss explosives or they say they've found something when there aren't any explosives present.
    • Apparently, also according to he GAO, the reason the dogs are being used on passengers at on some airports and not others is because officials at some airports have concerns about the "composition and capabilities" of the passenger-screening dogs, and they've said you can use the dogs on cargo at our airport, but not on people. 
    • The TSA responded to that report by saying, we're going to do better about complying with training requirements, and we'll keep doing assessments of the passenger-screening dogs that are being used so we can see where we need to improve.
    • Further evidence that the TSA doesn't have this down quite yet: in May, one TSA bomb-sniffing dog in Atlanta bit a passenger in the stomach.  The woman took a picture of the bite, and it looks pretty bad, actually.  The wound has now healed, the woman got a bunch of rabies shots, but she needn't have because the dog had been up to date on its rabies vaccine.
    • The woman wasn't even flying.  She was waiting in the baggage area to meet her sister, and the dog came up to her and bit her.
    • Now, here's another question: what happens when a TSA bomb-sniffing dog meets a service dog?  And what if the service dog is carrying explosives?  One hopes that it would all go well from a dog-civility standpoint.   But is this a scenario the TSA are trained to handle?

    The TSA names their bomb-detection dogs after victims who were killed in the 9/11 attacks.  These bomb-sniffing Labrador puppies in training are named Hoey and Hatton.
    (Photo by Reuters, from Travelers Today)

    National Service Animal Registry, Flying with Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals
    Alaska Air, Service and Emotional Support Animals
    American Airlines, Service Animals
    Delta Airlines, Service Animals
    United Airlines, Service Animals
    Transportation Security Administration, Service Animals and Passengers with Service Dogs and TSA Dogs & Aviation Security
    NBC News, TSA dog bites passenger at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport, May 13, 2013
    Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Explosives-sniffing dog bites woman at airport, May 10, 2013
    CBS This Morning, TSA trying out screening with dogs, July 3, 2013
    Houston Chronicle, TSA tests bomb-sniffing dogs in a select few airports, July 4, 2013
    USA Today, GAO questions using TSA dogs to screen passengers, January 31, 2013
    The Hill, TSA ineffectively using bomb-sniffing dogs, GAO report finds, February 1, 2013

    Monday, August 19, 2013

    Apple #648: Dogs on Planes

    When I recently traveled by airplane, one of the passengers on the first leg of my trip had a very small dog with her.  While we were waiting for boarding to start, she had the dog on a leash, and he was pretty docile, sniffing various things, watching me very closely as I ate my tuna sandwich.  When it was time to board, she put the very small dog into a dog-carrier that had a shoulder strap.  It was about the size of carry-on luggage.  She also had a purse and another carry-on.

    This is very similar to the dog I saw, and the carrier is similar too.  Except the one I saw was pink.
    (Photo from Animal Planet)

    I might have thought nothing of this, but on my return trip, a different woman had her very small dog with her.  It looked like a miniature Boston terrier.  Again, I noticed the dog while waiting to board.  She & the dog were both napping, the dog lying across her stomach like a small belt.  I lost track of the two once we boarded, but after the flight when I was walking through the airport, I saw the two of them, the tiny Boston terrier now on a leash, at one of the food stores.  The dog was sniffing about but otherwise waiting patiently while the woman picked out an apple.

    So I had to find out.  Dogs are allowed on planes?  And they're allowed in airports?  What are the rules about dogs and airplanes?

    • First of all, regardless of whether your dog travels in the cabin or in cargo, you will have to show that your pet is healthy.  You'll have to get a health certificate from your vet that says your pet is healthy and will be OK to fly.
    • After that, the rules about taking dogs on airplanes differ, depending on where the dog will be traveling.  You've got 2 options: in the cabin, or in the cargo space. 

    In the Cabin

    • This is the friendlier option of the two because this means you get to keep your dog with you.  But in order to be allowed to bring your dog on board with you, many many conditions must be met.
        •  Only very small dogs are allowed in the cabin. 
        • The dog has to be able to fit comfortably in a carrier that measures (depending on the airline) 8-9 inches high x 12-13 inches wide x 15-23 inches long.  Some airlines also require that the dog in the carrier must fit under the seat.
    This soft-sided dog carrier is 9" x 10" x 15".  And it's camouflage.  And it's got Martha Stewart's name associated with it.  All of which may be a bonus, or it may make you gag.
    (Photo & carrier from PetSmart. It's currently on sale for $48) 

    If you've got your pet in a carrier on board, most airlines will say the carrier has to fit under the seat in front of you.
    (Photo from PetRelocation)

        • The dog must be older than 8 weeks.
        • You might want to be even safer and wait until the dog has had its vaccinations, which happens at 10-12 weeks.
        • Some airlines say the dog + kennel can't weigh more than 20 pounds.
        • Some airlines say certain breeds, even if they are small enough & old enough, are not allowed to fly.  Snub-nosed dogs such as pugs, shih tzus, Pekingese, and bulldogs, which already have breathing difficulties and may not handle the changes in air pressure, are often not allowed to fly. This goes for snub-nosed cats too.  The Humane Society says it doesn't matter which airline, don't bring these types of animals on a plane; it's too dangerous.
        • If you want to bring more than one small dog with you, the airline may refuse.  That is, they might let you take one, but not more than one.
        • Some airlines have a limit on the total number of dogs & cats on board.  So your dog may meet all the criteria, but the airline could say, sorry, we've already got 5 dogs in the cabin on this flight, and we can't allow another one. 
        • If your dog meets all these criteria, bringing your dog on board will cost you an extra $100 to $125, depending on the airline, each way.  You don't have to buy an extra seat, especially since the kennel will probably have to be stowed under the seat in front of you.  But you will have to pay an extra fee.
        • Each airline has slightly different rules, so if you do want to bring your dog in the cabin with you, check with your airline to see what they require.

    Here's another type of small-dog carrier.  This one is a backpack but it also has a telescoping handle and the wheels so you could tow it around like a carry-on.  It measures 18.5" H x 11.5"W x 13"L.  This is the Casual Canine Deluxe Backpack Pet Carrier On Wheels from Amazon. Egad, it's $73.

    In Cargo

    • From what I've read, if you can't take your dog in the cabin, I think you're better off not bringing the dog at all.  Because dogs flying cargo can encounter all sorts of problems.  But first, the rules.
        • The pet carrier must have solid sides and it must be large enough for your dog to be able to stand up without hitting his or her head and wide enough so your dog can turn around easily.

    Here's a solid-sided pet carrier that you could use for in-cargo travel. It opens at the top and at the front, and it has a handle.  Water cup, dachshund, cat, and parrot not included. This Petmate Two Door Top Load 24-Inch Pet Kennel, Metallic Pearl Tan and Coffee Ground Bottom sells on Amazon for $39.

        • The carrier must be properly labeled with your identification and the final destination.
        • The carrier must have 2 plastic dishes, one with food and one with water, that attach to the inside of the carrier door.  Some people put ice cubes in the water dish because they won't spill, but they will gradually melt so the animal will have water. 
        • Some airlines also require that a small bag of food be taped to the top of the carrier -- though I don't know what that would do except drive your pet nuts with the smell of food it couldn't reach.
        • Some airlines also require some kind of padding in the carrier, like a blanket or a newspaper or a doggy pad.
        • Some people take the extra precaution of attaching a battery-powered fan to the inside of the carrier.  This isn't required, but many airlines think it's a good idea. 

    This is a large-pet carrier, but I'm not really fond of it.  There isn't a lot of ventilation.  The door is a grid and there are some openings on the upper sides & back, but there's no ventilation on top, and the the lower sides are solid.  This is typical of the larger-dog carriers that I saw.  I don't know why they give the big dogs less ventilation.  Seems like they ought to have more.  This is the Remington Pet Kennel, 40-Inch for Pets 70 to 90-Pound, Beige/Remington Green. Amazon says they don't have any in stock right now, but it looks like you might be able to get it from Walmart.

    • "Cargo" used to mean that the pets were put in the same place with the baggage.  Many newer jets now have a special area separated from the baggage compartment where animals are kept.  
    • But the pet cargo space is still under the belly of the plane where there are no people to look after the animals during the flight, which means many problems can happen.  
        • Someone's pit bull was in the cargo hold for a really long flight, and in that time, it chewed on its kennel trying to get out to the extent that the dog seriously injured its mouth. Who knows what would have happened if the dog had managed to get out of its kennel.  
        • Someone else's Golden Retriever gnawed at the zip ties holding its kennel door shut, the zip ties got lodged in the dog's throat, and the dog had to be euthanized.

    These 31 kennels each contain a working dog that worked for the military spotting IEDs in Iraq.  They're being brought back home to the States. This situation is a little unusual, in that 31 dogs were transported on a single plane, and several dog caretakers were on hand at each stage of the 3-stop flight to make sure everything went smoothly.  But imagine this on a smaller scale, and that might give you an idea of what the pet cargo area might look like on a commercial flight.
    (Photo from Move One)

    • The pet cargo area does have ventilation and heating or cooling necessary to allow the pets to travel safely--most of the time. But conditions can get a bit dicey.
    • If the air temperature outside gets above 85F or below 45F, the cargo hold's ability to compensate is not as good and your pet could be at risk for becoming overheated or freezing.  In fact, many airlines won't let you put your pet in the cargo hold if the weather forecast predicts temperatures above or below those limits.
    • But sometimes--heck, often--those forecasts are wrong, and the temperature can go higher or lower than expected, and your pet could be at risk.  Some pets have died in the cargo hold for this very reason.
    • It's also possible that the flight could be delayed and the cargo hold could get too hot, or your pet could get dehydrated.
    • A member of the ground crew is supposed to put the pets into the cargo hold, but it sometimes happens that a dog busts out and gets loose on the runway.  One cat escaped and was lost in the airport for more than 2 months.  

    Ground crew loading dogs for flight in cargo.  The dogs don't look too sure about this.
    (Photo from Animal Radio)

    • Other things can go wrong with the cargo loading.  One cat's kennel was stacked on top of another, and the one on top fell, landed on the door which broke, and the water spilled, and the cat was so severely dehydrated and malnourished by the end of the flight, it had to be euthanized.
    • So while there are fewer restrictions on bringing your dog along in cargo, there are also a lot more risks.  In fact, most airlines require you to sign a liability waiver, meaning you won't try to sue them if your dog dies in the cargo hold.  To me, that says, don't do it if you can avoid it.

    OK, now I'm just enjoying these pictures of dogs in carry-on luggage, and by posting more of them, I'm totally undermining my stern warnings.  This is the Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier, Red & Black, Medium, also available through Amazon. It currently sells for $71.

    The Data

    • The airlines are required to report animal deaths, injuries, or losses, but their reports are pretty out of date.  Some guy named Jol Silversmith who is interested in all sorts of arcane facts that must be divulged by law has been keeping track of animal incident reports on a much more current basis.
    • According to that data, from January to June 2013, there were 11 animal deaths, 4 animal injuries, and 2 animal losses.  That's for in-cabin and in-cargo travel both.  That doesn't seem like a lot, less than 1 death per month, but it doesn't say how many animals flew, so it's hard to know the percent risk of pet-death or -injury due to airplane flying.
    • If your pet does die during the flight, the airline will pay for a necroscopy (like an autopsy) to find out why your pet died.  They report the results of the necroscopies, and that's where this data comes from.
    • Besides overheating or overcooling, something that seems to happen a lot is the flight worsens existing health conditions, like heart disease or kidney problems or cancer, that not even the vet knew about.  These animals are smaller than we are, and their hearts and kidneys and blood vessels may not be as good at withstanding the pressure changes.
    • So you can take your dog (or cat or other pet) on a flight with you.  It just might not be the best thing for the dog, especially if it would have to fly cargo.
    • The Humane Society agrees with me. "The HSUS recommends that you do not transport your pet by air unless absolutely necessary."  That's their boldface, not mine.

    Pugs and other snub-nosed dogs especially should not fly.
    (Photo and fridge magnet from Zazzle)

    More Tips

    • If you absolutely do have to bring your dog on the plane, here are some good ideas, whether the dog is flying cargo or in-cabin:
        • Make sure your pet's collar can't get stuck on the carrier door.
        • Put your identification & contact info on the pet's collar as well as on the carrier door. 
        • Clip your pet's nails before the flight.
        • Don't feed your pet 4-6 hours before the trip.
        • Don't give your pet tranquilizers, unless the vet says to do so, and gives you tranquilizers specifically for air travel.
    • Carry a photograph of your pet so if your dog does bust loose, you can show people what he or she looks like.
        • Start getting your pet used to the carrier at least one month before air travel.  Do everything you can to make sure Mitzi is as calm & comfortable in there as possible.  You do not want her freaking out in her carrier in the cargo hold and possibly injuring herself when there's no one around to help her.

    I'm going to say it one more time.  While it might be nice to have your dog with you when you get to wherever it is you're flying, it's probably better for the dog not to get on that airplane in the first place.

    Related entry: Service Dogs on Planes

    DogFriendly, The Real Scoop on Pet Air Travel in 2013
    For Dummies, Traveling with Your Dog by Jet Plane
    The Humane Society of the United States, Travel Safely with Your Pet by Car, Airplane, Ship, or Train
    Huffington Post, Pet Deaths in Airplanes Continue, Pressuring Airlines to Change Policy, October 4, 2012
    Animal Planet, 5 Tips for Taking Your Small Dog on a Plane
    Mother Nature Network, Family mourns pug's death on transatlantic flight, November 16, 2011
    Third Amendment, Animal Incident Reports Month by Month

    Thursday, August 15, 2013

    Apple #647: Fried Green Tomatoes

    I'm probably late to the party on this topic, but I had a fried green tomato for the first time ever this past weekend.  It was served on a grilled hamburger with crispy bacon and boy, let me tell you, that might have been the best hamburger I have ever eaten.  The crispy breading on the tomato merged with the crispiness of the bacon, and the flavor of the tomato melted with the flavor of the burger, and mmm, was that good.

    Fried green tomatoes, with a fresh green one too.
    (Photo from For the Love of Sunday)

    But of course, as your intrepid Apple Lady, I had many questions about fried green tomatoes.  Yes, I saw the movie when it came out in 1991 and yes, I heard all about the fried green tomato craze at the time.  But the details of the dish never sunk in with me.  So now I have many questions.  First and foremost being, do you need special tomatoes or do you use regular old tomatoes that just aren't ripe?

    The Tomatoes

    • Yes, "green tomatoes" means simply unripe regular tomatoes. 
    • You don't want to use the red, ripe, juicy ones because if you try to fry those, they'll just turn to mush on you.  They need to be green & unripe so they'll be firm enough to stand up to the battering & frying. 

    Green tomatoes for frying.  Just like the red ones, except not ripe. Or red.
    (Photo from The Forgotten Teaspoon)

    • But most grocery stores don't sell unripe/green tomatoes, so where do you find them?
    • Many people recommend farmer's markets.
    • You could grow tomatoes yourself and pick them before they ripen.
    • Some people say you can sometimes find them at Asian or Mexican grocery stores.
    • If you really can't find green tomatoes anywhere, go to your local grocery store and from among the red tomatoes, choose the palest, hardest, most-green-tinged tomatoes you can find.  Then when you prepare them for frying, salt the slices first and let them stand. The salt will draw out some of the moisture.  Pat them with a paper towel and then give the frying a shot.  They won't turn out quite as well as the fully green/unripe ones, but they might turn out OK.
    • If you are choosing from among red tomatoes, avoid the heirloom varieties ("green zebras") which stay green even when they are ripe.  These will be too mushy and seedy for frying.

    The Recipes

    • As is the case with any much-beloved dish, there are a million variations on how to make fried green tomatoes.  Every recipe I've seen has a slight difference.  So here's a summation of some of the recipes I've come across.
    Green tomatoes
    • 4 large, or 
    • 3 medium, or
    • 2 large

    Slice tomatoes
    • in 1/2-inch thick slices, or
    • thinly for crisper frying.
    • And peel them, or
    • don't peel them

    If the slices are especially moist, salt them. Let them stand about 5 minutes, then pat dry with a paper towel.

    Green tomatoes, nice and big, sliced for frying
    (Photo from La Bella Vita Cucina)

    Dip the tomatoes in your favorite coating. Options include but are not limited to:
    • all-purpose flour, or
    • flour mixed with corn meal, or
    • flour plus Cajun seasoning

    Next, dip them in your favorite goo.  Options include but are not limited to:
    • eggs, or
    • eggs & milk, or
    • buttermilk, or
    • eggs & buttermilk

    Finally, dip them in your favorite crunchy coating. Options include but are not limited to:
    • corn meal (considered de rigeur for the Southern version), or
    • Panko bread crumbs, or
    • bread crumbs churned to a powder in your home mixer, or
    • corn meal and bread crumbs and salt and pepper, or
    • corn meal and bread crumbs and salt and paprika
    • corn meal and flour and cayenne pepper

    Prepare the oil for frying.  You could use
    • olive oil, or
    • olive oil plus bacon fat, or
    • olive oil plus butter, or
    • vegetable oil, or
    • peanut oil, or
    • lard

    Use enough oil to
    • make 1/4" to 1/2" worth in the skillet, or
    • come up the sides of the slices but not over them, or
    • coat the tomatoes completely

    Green tomatoes, frying in a skillet. It looks like most people agree that the oil shouldn't cover the tomatoes.
    (Photo from Kikipotamus the Hobo)

    Put the oil in a skillet and heat to a medium-high heat in the neighborhood of 360° to 375°.  Drop in the coated tomatoes and let them fry for 3-5 minutes on each side. (Everybody seems to agree on these particulars.)  Let them drain on a paper towel/cookie rack, but don't let them cool too long.  They're best when they're still hot and juicy.

    Green tomatoes, fried and cooling on a rack.
    (Photo from Southern Living)

    Recipes I consulted:
    Slate's version, with Panko crumbs, olive oil & butter or bacon fat
    Southern Living's version, with egg & buttermilk & cornmeal, vegetable oil
    Allrecipe's version, with 4 tomatoes, eggs & milk & flour & cornmeal
    Erika Kendall's version like her great-grandmother used to make, with buttermilk, Panko, & paprika
    Simply Recipe's version, with flour, Cajun seasoning, and peanut oil
    Kikopotamus' version, with corn meal and cayenne pepper
    La Bella Vita Cucina's version, with buttermilk and Italian herbs, plus marinara sauce

    Are Fried Green Tomatoes Really Southern?

    • While you're eating your fried green tomatoes, here's one last thing I found out about them.
    • Robert Moss, a food writer and culinary historian who lives in South Carolina looked into the history of fried green tomatoes. He first consulted Fannie Flagg's novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and her Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook.  They both said that, based on her family's history, Flagg thought that fried green tomatoes became popular during the Depression, when people were frying up whatever they had and eating it. 
    • But, Moss says, saying a food practice originated during the Depression is a bit suspect when you're talking about the South because "The Depression did not have nearly the crushing effect on the lifestyles of people in the South as it did in the rest of the nation for the simple reason that the Southern economy was already crippled from the agricultural disasters of the 1920s and had been, in fact, a wreck since the Civil War." 
    • In other words, people in the South were hit hard economically long before the Depression.  So if they were cooking food in a certain way in response to hard times, they would have done so long before the 1930s.

    I don't know. Do these look especially Southern?  Or depressed?
    (Photo from All Day I Dream About Food)

    • So Moss consulted more resources.  He looked at newspaper archives for recipes, and he consulted cookbooks that were published as far back as the 1800s.  He discovered that it wasn't until the 20th century that recipes for fried green tomatoes started showing up in Southern publications.
    • In fact, he says, it looks to him like the recipes first appeared in the Midwest and Northeast. Here's a timeline of some of the cookbooks he found that contained recipes for fried green tomatoes:
        • 1873 - fried tomatoes in The Presbyterian Cookbook, Dayton, OH
        • 1877 - fried tomatoes in The Buckeye Cookbook (I'm guessing that one's Ohio too)
        • the late 19th century - fried tomatoes in several other cookbooks from the Midwest
        • 1889 - fried green tomatoes in Aunt Babette's Cookbook, a kosher Jewish cookbook
        • 1919 - fried green tomatoes in The International Jewish Cookbook
    • So, he says, it looks like fried green tomatoes weren't originally Southern after all, even though now they're so pervasive in the South, "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a platter of fried green tomatoes" in Charleston, and presumably in other Southern locales.
    • Many people took note of his findings and had various and differing reactions.  Some people proclaimed, "Fried Green Tomatoes are Actually Jewish!"  
    • Other people said, just because some Jewish cookbooks had recipes for fried green tomatoes doesn't mean that people in the South weren't also eating them in the 19th century. (A fair point, I think.)
    • Still other people said, tomatoes first came to the US via the South, so probably people were frying them green for centuries, and anyway, they're a staple of Southern cooking now, so there.
        • (That part about tomatoes coming to the US via the South is only kind of true.  The earliest known grower of the tomato in the US was Thomas Jefferson, who grew them on his farm in Virginia in 1781. A few years later, tomatoes were introduced to Philadelphia in 1789 by a French refugee from Santo Domingo, and then to Salem, Massachusetts in 1802 by an Italian painter.  So it isn't as if only Southern people ate tomatoes first and then the North slowly followed suit. It would be more accurate to say that tomatoes became popular in various locations throughout the colonies in the late 1700s to early 1800s.)
    • It would probably also be accurate to say that, while fried green tomatoes are considered today to be primarily a Southern dish, they have been popular in the past throughout the Northeast and Midwest.

    Fried green tomatoes with Creole remoulade
    (Photo from Baton Rouge Living)

    P.S. Yes, tomatoes are a fruit.

    Sources for the history stuff
    Robert F. Moss, The Fried Green Tomato Swindle
    Smithsonian, The Surprising Origins of Fried Green Tomatoes
    Thehistoricfoodie's Blog, Fried Green Tomatoes
    Baton Rouge Living, Southern Fried Green Tomatoes
    Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture, The Tomato Had To Go Abroad To Make Good
    Landscape Imagery, I Say Tomayto, You Say Tomahto

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Apple #646: State Fairs

    I went to our state fair this past week and, as always, had a marvelous time.  I love looking in on the many and various animals that people bring to show at the fair, and I always hope to catch some sort of competition where either adults or kids are showing the animals they raised, in hopes of winning a ribbon.  The food is always an adventure of one kind or another.  The rides are OK.  My favorite is, hands down, the Ferris wheel.

    Every state's fair is a celebration of that state's agriculture and animal husbandry, so each fair is a little different.  Which means I won't be able to find many facts about state fairs in general.  But I can give you some highlights.

    Ferris wheel at the Delaware State Fair. I bet you wouldn't have thought Delaware had a State Fair, would you?
    (Photo by Lee Cannon on Flickr)

    • Which state fair do you think is the oldest?  Bet you didn't guess Michigan's.  Their first state fair was held in 1849.
    • For years, North Dakota had 4 state fairs in different locations.  By 1966, they decided it was time to have only 1, so they chose the location that was the most successful of the 4, and that was Minot.  It's been held in Minot ever since.
    • Iowa's State Fair is among the largest, covering 445 acres, including 160 acres of wooded campgrounds.  Attendance for the last several years has topped 1 million. 


    • Minnesota's state fair boasts a butter sculpture of that year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way (a fancy name for Minnesota's dairy princess), plus an "All You Can Drink" milk stand.  About 20,000 gallons of milk are consumed through that one concession.
    • State Fairs with butter cows: Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Utah 

    The butter cow & calf at the Ohio State Fair, along with 2010's companion sculptures: Joe Thomas, offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns; a giant football; and Chinedum Ndukwe, safety for the Cincinnati Bengals. Naturally.
    (Photo from the Ohio Lottery)

    One year, in addition to its butter cow, Iowa featured American Gothic in butter.  It seems fitting, somehow.
    (Photo from the Iowa State Fair)

    • At the Iowa State Fair, more than 50 types of food are sold on a stick. In addition to the likely suspects such as corn dogs, turkey drumsticks, cotton candy, and deep-fried Twinkies, here are some of the other stick-delivered items: 
        • pickles
        • bacon
        • hot bologna
        • hard-boiled eggs
        • pineapple
        • honey
        • octopus-shaped hotdogs
        • turkey sausage wrapped in a pancake
        • unicorn lollipops.  These last are undescribed, as if what they are must be obvious.
    • If that's not enough for you, the Minnesota State Fair has more than 70 types of food on a stick. 

    Also at the Minnesota State Fair, Cocoa Cheese Bites: Nuggets of Wisconsin cheddar cheese breaded with Cocoa Puffs and fried, served with chocolate dipping sauce.
    (Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

    • The Wisconsin State Fair sold 7,065 orders of Deep Fried Beer from its Budweiser Grill in 2011.
    • Cream Puffs are apparently Wisconsin State Fair's big food item. In 2012, they sold over 375,000 of them.
    • At the Kansas State Fair, you can get alligator on a stick.  At the California State Fair, you can get python.


    • An estimated 170-200 animals are born during the course of Minnesota's State Fair, which lasts for 12 days. 
    • The largest rabbit at the Iowa State Fair was a 2012 participant. It weighed 22 pounds, 5.5 ounces. 
    • Kansas State Fair's largest pumpkin was in 2007, weighing 976.2 pounds. 
    • More than 40,000 ribbons, rosettes, and other prizes are awarded at Iowa's State Fair each year.  

    This turkey won 3rd place! He's probably from Perry County, but I like to think his name is Perry.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    You can also see superhero sheep.  In order to keep their sheared and washed wool clean prior to being shown, sheep handlers dress their sheep in these canvas outfits. To me, they look like superhero suits.
    (Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

    A sheep getting sheared. Geez, right down to the pink.  But see? After you go to all that trouble, you don't want the 'do to get messed up.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady) 

    I wanted to take this bunny home.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    Just as I took this picture, the thing went off.  I mean, this rooster crowed right in my face, so immediately and so loudly, I jumped.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    This duck really didn't like my camera pointing at it.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    This duck, however, is just chillin' under her water dish. She's a duck under water! Har har
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    It's never the ones you expect.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    The animals are my favorite part. In case you can't tell. 

    Changes in State Fair Culture

    • Changes in consumer eating preferences have affected what animals are brought to state fairs.  In the 1960s, the popular conception was "the more fat, the more tender the beef."  So most of the cattle at the fairs were Herefords and Angus, and they were bred to be "low-slung and broad."
    • Now, with more people looking for leaner beef, other more exotic breeds are represented, including Simmental, Brahman, Charolais, and Maine-Anjou cattle.
    • In the dairy realm, fewer farmers bring Jersey cows because their milk has a high butterfat content, which is out of fashion today.  Now most of the dairy cows are Holsteins.
    • The people who buy the animals have changed, too.  Now it's the commercial rabbit breeder and the purebred swine breeder who are looking over the farmers' animals, and they're more interested in breeding processes that require a greater degree of technical training and scientific knowledge.
    • The entertainment is different now, too. In the 1900s, fairgoers enjoyed cracker- and pie-eating contests, nail-driving competitions, and chances to guess how many kernels of corn a hog can eat in a day.  Today's entertainment features tractor pulls, auto races, fine arts exhibits, and performances by popular musicians. 

    Famous People & Activities

    • Teddy Roosevelt gave his famous "speak softly and carry a big stick" speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901. 
    • The Iowa State Fair's Grandstand performance that drew the largest crowd to a single show remains the Beach Boys, who drew 25,400 to one show in 1975. 
    • At the Minnesota State Fair, the act that broke their all-time Grandstand ticket sales record was Christina Aguilera. 
    • The Texas State Fair -- excuse me, the State Fair of Texas -- is held in the fall. This year it's Sept 27-Oct 20. The Texas-Oklahoma U football game has been played at the State Fair each year since 1929. 
    • At the Illinois State Fair (Aug 8-18), you can milk a cow yourself, and then you can taste wines in the Twilight Ballroom while listening to live jazz, big band, or swing.
    • This year, Ke$ha and Journey will be performing at the Illinois State Fair.  Not together.  Separate performances.

    There are also many fine products available for purchase. Such as this highly elegant fox ring with genuine fuzzy tuft. Only $10!
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    Don't forget the rides. This is the Skyflyer at the Minnesota State Fair.
    (Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

    About the end of the day at the Ohio State Fair, but people are still fairgoing it up. That's a double Ferris wheel in the distance.
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    Cenex, State Fair Fun Facts
    CBS News, By the Numbers: State Fair Facts & Tid Bits, August 23, 2012
    Missouri State Fair History Summary
    Iowa State Fair Trivia and Historical Highlights
    Meet Minneapolis, 10 Secrets We Bet You Didn't Know About the State Fair, August 21, 2012
    Minnesota State Fair Trivia
    Wisconsin State Fair Fun Facts and Media Kit on a Stick
    Kansas State Fair Fun Fair Facts
    State Fair of Texas State Fair Facts
    Illinois State Fair