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February 20, 2014

It's Not What You Say, But What You Don't Say...

My wife and I like pulled beef/pork sandwiches and we use our slow cooker to make the BBQ sauce and cooked meat. Because we've had some issues cooking this meal since we got our new slow cooker, she decided to get a mix from the same company as our slow cooker (Crock Pot).

The Ingredients list is simple:
  • 3 lbs pork
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 pkg. Crock Pot Pulled Pork BBQ Seasoning
  • 1 cup water
The Preparation section is even easier (I will type everything exactly):
  1. PLACE pork in slow cooker.
  2. MIX seasoning packet with ketchup, brown sugar, and vinegar until blended. Pour over pork.
  3. COVER & COOK 8 hrs. on LOW or 4 hrs. on HIGH. REMOVE pork from slow cooker. Shred, using two forks. Return meat to slow cooker. Mix with sauce and heat before serving.
That's it. Notice anything? That's right, that 1 cup of water listed in the ingredients is not used anywhere in the preparation. Why is it needed? After some discussion, we decided the water was designed to keep the meat moist during cooking. We feel that step one should read, "PLACE pork and water in slow cooker." We can make a case for it being added to the sauce in part two of step 3, so we're not certain of our choice. It's what we're going with. 

This error leads us to another error by omission that has been frustrating us: everything we have been cooking in our new slow cooker has been either overcooked or done way sooner than the estimated times on recipes. My wife did some research and discovered a couple of interesting things, which our slow cooker instructions and manuals don't mention.
  1. Modern, recently-made (last 5 years or so) slow cookers are set to higher temperatures than older models. If you had an older model and purchased a new one, you may notice that your recipes are finishing sooner or are overcooked when cooked in the new cooker. This may be why. No one seems to know quite why manufacturers decided to make this unspecified and unneeded change.
  2. Slow cookers are designed to be used at a minimum of about 2/3 full. If you are, say, two people who just want enough for dinner and some leftovers, and you purchased a larger slow cooker, you may find your food overdone because it gets too hot during cooking because it is only 1/3 or maybe 1/2 full.
In both cases, why not clearly mention it? It makes a pretty big difference; my wife and I have wasted a number of meals because we couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong. We had a solid, older model that made good food and we could use without issue and we were throwing out dry, almost inedible food with the new, larger one. Knowing either piece of info would have made a huge difference; knowing both is causing us to rethink our purchase and considering downgrading to a smaller slow cooker.

Where is the editing? Why omit this information? Is no one reading or reviewing these items?

Addendum (2/21/2014)

Here is the response I got back from the company. Doesn't exactly instill confidence that they will fix the issue in subsequent runs of the ingredient package:
Dear John, 
Thank you for taking the time to contact B&G Foods Inc. We’re sorry to hear about confusion regarding the directions on our Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Pork Seasoning Mix. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. 
After placing the pork in you slow cooker, mix the entire seasoning packet with water, ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar until blended. Pour over pork.
 B&G Foods Inc.Corporate Consumer Affairs/2

February 3, 2014

Musically Speaking

I will start with a caveat: I don't really know music. I don't know a treble from a clef. I do know what I like and I do know what "sounds right" and what doesn't to my ear. This post is about the difference I hear in two performers I know.

We have a friend, TL, who is a professional musician and singer, as well as a music teacher. She is respected and asked to adjudicate musical performances all over this area. She performs publicly. I happen to really like her voice. When she performs, she often teams with a male friend of hers I'll call C. He is similarly a singer, a teacher, and a respected adjudicator. Both have performed all over the province, and he has performed nationwide. They both enjoy performing and they seem to have fun together on stage.

When I watch and listen to them sing, I come away with the same feeling every time: no matter how "into it" he is, no matter what he sings, I simply don't feel the passion from him that I do from her. He is, I believe, technically proficient; his pitch and tone and the sounds he makes are all true and perfect, but there isn't any heart behind it. Don't get me wrong, I think -- no, I know -- he enjoys what he sings, and with whom he is singing it. But enjoying it and filling the song with emotion and passion are two very different things, at least in my mind.

C's voice is like a bell while TL's is like a guitar. C's voice is clear and precise and perfect, but it can only do that one thing, make that one note. No matter if you use it in a rock song, a ballad, a jazz hit, or a choir, it remains exactly the same; reliable, and perfect, but without any added depth. Its use may be better suited to some genres than others, but it is always clear and precise no matter how you use it. TL's guitar, on the other hand, can hit many notes. She can use her guitar in rock, jazz, country, folk, or even classical songs. Her guitar just has more depth, more use, and more utility than does C's.

On the other hand, I don't think C's unwavering perfection and lack of depth is a bad thing, per se. It is my belief that C's perfection allows TL to do more, take more chances, fail and succeed more often because she can rely on his steady, perfect, metronome-like ability to know the words and stay on pitch and tempo. He's like the flagpole and she's like the flag; she can tie on, raise or lower, whip around, and even rip off and fly free because she knows the flagpole will always be there, doing its job.

Take the song 'Hallelujah.' This song, written and first performed by Leonard Cohen is, frankly, all about the life and the passion you can infuse into it. The best versions of the song are not those sung with technical brilliance, but those sung by people who have had hard lives and can put those troubles and tribulations into the words and the music. While those that are sung with perfection are still nice to listen to, I often come away with an empty feeling. Yet when Cohen, or John Cale, or Jeff Buckley sang it, they infused the drugs, the hard traveling, the divorces, and the impoverished times into those words. You can feel the difference. Cohen's voice cracking and breaking when he sings it, the tiredness and perseverance in Cale's rendition, the alcohol/drugs and hard traveling in Buckley's version -- it all adds to the overall performances and depth of the song.

C recently sang Hallelujah and it was ... fine. He was technically proficient, he hit all the notes, he was in time with the music, and sang all of the words, but it didn't have the heart or the soul that the song requires to be great. It just sounded flat to me, even though it was well done. He was that perfect bell in a song that needed some dirty guitar work.

Now, C has improved in his performance and his range since I've been watching the two perform. However, he remains the bell to TL's guitar. Recently, in their last two performances, they have performed some Elvis Presley hits. When TL performs them, she rocks out; she sways her hips, she changes inflection based on what she is singing, she nods her head, and she goes through more range with her voice, from low to high. She doesn't mimic The King, but she pays homage to him sometimes and other times she goes off on her own in whatever way her voice wants to. She makes it hers. When C sings those hits, it is obvious he is having fun doing it, but his voice remains the exact same as when he is singing a choir tune for church or a Broadway melody, only the words are from The King. C doesn't make it his, he just sings it, if that makes sense. He sings it well, he has fun doing it, but, ultimately, he just sings it.

Again, I don't know music. I may be way off and someone with musical knowledge and/or talent may be able to tell me what I'm hearing and why I think this way. And, don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching the two of them perform and do their thing. I think that C's abilities help TL to do what she does with less fear and greater conviction, which makes it valuable. I also reach the conclusion that if someone could teach C how to let go of the perfection and get a little dirtier, he'd find his music takes off in new and unexpected ways.