Poor Man’s Alfredo

Down to a few crumbs in the fridge and pantry? Got two or three days before payday? Believe me, I know the feeling.
Times like these are when it pays off to get a little creative.

Let’s take a quick inventory.
If you’ve grown accustomed to be being broke, chances are you’ve got some Ramen noodles lying about. Am I right?
OK, so Ramen noodles, check.
Next, hopefully you have a little milk that hasn’t soured yet. Yes? OK, check.
How about butter? Not even a half-stick? How about a few packets swiped from McDonald’s or your favorite food pantry? OK, then. Check.
Happen to have a wedge of aged Romano and a grater? No, I didn’t think so. How about some grated Parmesan? No? Not even a few packets pilfered from your favorite pizza joint? Look again. Oh, yeah, forgot about Saturday night, didn’t you? All right, then. Check.

Pantry check:

Fresh garlic? Didn’t think so. How about powder? OK, that’ll do — in fact, it’s bonus.
Fresh peppercorn grinder? No? Any black pepper? Check that junk drawer. There it is. We may not be world-class chefs, but we’re not Philistines either. Or are we? Don’t answer that.
Now this is critical. Do you still have power and a functioning stove? Or a least a hot plate or microwave? Then we’re in business!

OK, in summary:


  • One package (more if you’re really hungry) Ramen-style noodles
  • Butter, hopefully at least a quarter-stick
  • Reasonably unsoured milk
  • Parmesan cheese in any amount you can scrape up
  • Garlic and pepper (optional — hell, everything but the noodles is optional)


In small pot, bring water to a boil. You do know how to boil water, right?
Place noodle pack (no, take it out of the package, idiot!) in boiling water, let cook about 3 minutes.
Drain most of the water out of the pan. Don’t use a colander (as if you had one!) because most of the noodles will slide right through. Trap the noodles with a fork or whatever. You don’t have to drain it dry, just do your best.
Reduce heat to low and return pot to stove.
Stir in butter and milk. Let’s not get pretentious and require precise measurements. You ain’t Julia Child or Anthony Bordain. Eyeball it: Use enough to bathe those precious Ramen noodles that go for a buck a six-pack.
Now sprinkle with Parmesan and pretend it’s freshly grated Romano pecorino. Stir.
Remove from heat. Let it sit for a couple or three minutes.
Sprinkle with garlic and pepper (again, optional, and if you’re with a poor date, be careful how much garlic you use)


It’s actually surprisingly good!

Serving suggestion

Results may vary

OK, OK, here’s what it really looks like. And after throwing together a second batch, I have to say it’s one of the better Alfredos I’ve had. Def beats sauce in a jar!

Photo courtesy of Studio on Washington





A fracking dilemma

Faithful readers of AkronDave, all three of you, probably know that I have written from time to time about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a drilling technique to release natural gas trapped in underground rock formations, particularly certain shale beds.

Generally, my posts have been framed in the context that fracking might not be a good thing, that there have been lots of anecdotal bits of evidence, if not much (if any) empirical evidence, to support claims that hydraulic fracturing poses a big threat to the environment. Complaints of fracking wells contaminating well water on neighboring properties have been around for years. Worries that sewage treatment plants can’t adequately treat fracking wastewater before it is released into streams where it can contaminate drinking water downstream have been around for a while.

And most recently, a series of low-grade earthquakes over the past year in the Youngstown (Ohio) area have been pretty convincingly traced to a wastewater injection well, culminating in a rather large (for here) 4.0 quake in December that prompted (oil-friendly Republican!!) Gov. John Kasich to shut down the well until further study.

So, just to sum up: Fracking wells themselves are seen by critics as threats to environment. The effluent from these wells are seen as a threat. And the injection wells, that is wells in which fracking wastewater is injected deep underground as a means of “safe” disposal, are now seen as potential threats.

Defenders of the injection wells say (correctly, apparently) that this is the first injection well among hundreds to have any such trouble.  Apparently there is some sort of undetected underground fault that may have been “lubed” by the injected brine. OK, fair enough. Let’s beef up geological surveys for these wells, take a little more cautious approach, and make sure this stuff stays in the well and doesn’t seep (or God forbid gush) out.

Defenders of the fracking wells have said (much less convincingly, in my well-reasoned and carefully thought out opinion) that the fracking techniques pose no threat to neighboring wells, that the chemicals (most of which they decline to specify, although that’s about to change) in the saline solutions they inject into the ground won’t harm farm animals, Bambi or your grandchildren.

Sorry, not buying it.

But … 

The Vallourec seamless pipe mill is going up in Youngstown.

The fracking boom is creating jobs.

There are so many fracking wells going into the ground in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia that demand for steel pipes for these wells has spawned plans to build a new steel plant in the Youngstown area. Real jobs. With good pay. Not some crap jobs schlepping pizzas or slinging burgers for minimum wage. You can’t live on that, and in your desperation to take those jobs you’re (by “you’re” I mean “I was”) stealing those crap jobs from teenagers, who end up without even a crap job.

How many jobs? Industry estimates claim 200,000 jobs will be generated by hydraulic fracturing wells. The Youngstown plant will employ about 35o workers. For an old Rust Belt city that has nearly disappeared altogether, that is some badly needed good news.

And 21,000 tons of steel is going in to build the pipe plant itself. So there’s that. More jobs.

So I’m pretty conflicted about this.

We sure could use the jobs. We could use the oil and natural gas, to reduce our dependence on imported oil even a little bit.

But …

There’s that contemptible But again – we can’t continue to frack if it’s going to poison the water hole or trigger more earthquakes, release a plague of locusts, etc.

And so I’m going to say it, even though it’s sure to send oil-industry types eye-rolling themselves dizzy:  We need better regulation of the whole hydraulic fracturing industry. And we need to restore home rule in places like Ohio, which took that away while the general public slept a few years back.

Let’s embrace what science — real science, not industry whitewash — finds and embrace it, one way or the other.

Crisis? What crisis?

The above headline was the name of an album by Supertramp, a fairly popular ’70s pop-rock group (Wikipedia called it “progressive rock,” which seems a bit of a stretch). The joke title referred (or so I thought) to an entirely different sort of crisis or set of crises – you had the energy crisis, with cars lined up around blocks waiting to gas up and pay a buck a gallon, outrageous at the time; you had the ever-brewing Cold War with the sting of defeat in Vietnam still fresh; you had Nixon embroiled in scandal and resigning in shame; you had pollution, and so on.

This time around we’re trying to recover from a the Great Recession and now 3-year-old financial debacle largely of our own doing in real estate and finance/banking/insurance; we just inched back from the edge of defaulting on our national debt this week; we still have stubbornly high unemployment, a fact that remains acutely painful to many Americans. We have ever-more strident opposing sides squabbling over whether raising taxes or cutting costs deeper and deeper is the solution to the federal deficit and debt, etc.

It all seems a tad forced. Contrived. Of course I’m not the first to notice this. We’ve heard “manufactured crisis” and similar phrases popping up a lot lately in the news. A little less shouting at the camera and a little more cooperation could fix a lot of these things. But that would be too simple. Nobody wants to be seen as ceding any ground. At all. The accursed media continue to look for “winners” and “losers” amid the brokering over this latest calamity-to-be. The media tend to serve as enablers for shouting heads who are looking for the most “did she really say that?” sound bite.  All parties involved seem more interested in protecting their interests than solving problems and making this country a better place for everybody. And the discourse just seems to be getting worse and worse. We don’t talk to or with one another. We shout at one another.

CEOs and billionaires and big corporations are doing GREAT! They’re making money by the bucketful. The rest of us? Eh, not so much.

Conservatives complain that the liberals want to “redistribute wealth” as if it’s a bad thing. Hell, the rich have been doing it for 30 years! Look at the stats. The rich have grown increasingly rich with the middle class and underclass falling further and further behind. The middle class continues to shrink. That’s redistribution of wealth – it’s trickling up, not down.

Can you blame the rich for wanting to keeps what’s “theirs”? Well, not really. I bet even your garden-variety limousine liberal doesn’t want to get too carried away with all this “crazy talk” of goosing the tax rate on the rich to 50 percent or more. Why, that would kill my dream of a third home in the Hamptons. Where will I store my yacht?

Of course the conservatives don’t trust Obama – that socialist nouveau riche kid from Kenya.* He simply doesn’t belong, as Judge Smails would have said in Caddyshack.

A few among the super rich – Warren Buffett and Bill Gates come to mind – are putting their billions toward improving the world, but too many of them haven’t asked themselves, How much is enough?

Me, I’d settle for an even billion. I think I could live on that. I might even become a “job creator.”

* This is a joke, of course. Obama isn’t from Kenya. He’s from Indonesia. 

What to do if you make ‘First Contact’

Caution: Naughty language appears below.

It should be pretty obvious that I did not create this. In case that is not clear, let me be clear: I did not create this and I do not claim credit for creating it. I shamelessly stole this from Roger Ebert’s blog at the Chicago Sun-Times and, as talented as he is, I don’t think he actually created it either. But it’s pretty cool, wouldn’t you agree?

So we’re good, then.

Truth in advertising

When is free not free? When the customers pay for it whether they want it or not. That’s the story of FirstEnergy’s “free” CFL program. Customers can contact FirstEnergy to get up to six compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for “free.” Except they’re not free. Customers of the utility are paying for them. From the Akron Beacon Journal (Headline: “Free light bulb plan gets regulators’ OK”):

FirstEnergy residential customers using an average 750 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will pay about $1.50 a month over three years to fund the programs and the associated ”lost distribution revenue.” That totals $54 over the three-year period.

Call me crazy, but where I come from that ain’t free.

You might think that based on my objection so far that I’m opposed to the use of CFLs to save energy. But I’m not. I use them wherever practical, which is almost any household use, including outdoor floodlights.

But to spin the CFL distribution as “free” is dishonest and misleading. It invites suspicion about “What else is FirstEnergy hiding?” These are the same guy who had some difficulty with telling the truth about its Davis-Besse nuclear plant, which was shut down for two years after a potentially disastrous leak was discovered.

Tell it like it is: It’s a program to reduce energy use, and the PUCO is allowing FirstEnergy to charge a fee to recoup losses for the reduced energy use and the cost of providing the CFLs to FirstEnergy customers.

There, was that so hard?

True, plenty of FirstEnergy customers still don’t like it – naysayers don’t like the bulbs themselves, critics say they contain too much mercury, etc.

But CFLs have gotten better over the years. They generally last longer than the Edison-era incandescent bulbs (but not always, and when they go they usually emit that acrid electric fire smell). They don’t burn as hot as incandescents or halogens. They use less energy to generate the same (well, similar) amount of light.

But it’s all a moot argument. Your old-fashioned Edison-era incandescent bulbs are going the way of the Model-T. They will be replaced in 2014 or so by new, more-efficient light bulbs, including updated incandescents, LEDs or – that’s right – fluorescent lights.

So get with the program. You’re already paying for it!