20 February 2012

Squirrels take the cake!

Sure, there's inarguably something sweet about squirrels. But I never expected it might be the frosting that surrounds their tiny paws.

And still, there you see them - squirrels, that is - adorning cupcakes, layer cakes and the occasional torte. Paws down, they're the cutest things to come along since someone thought a bride-and-groom topper might be an appropriate inclusion for the dessert portion of a wedding reception. (The two examples seen here were provided to me via Facebook postings, and I am fairly certain there are at least a baker's dozen more out there.)

How did this happen? Squirrels, with their paintbrush tails and noble posture, squirrels, with their pledge-of-allegiance pose and folded paws, squirrels, with their wide, wild glassy eyes, have always had their images co-opted for home decor. You see them as lamp finials, fencepost toppers, doorbell icons and even weathervanes. You see their images on switchplates, welcome mats and even throw-rugs.

And now, squirrels have begun showing up in the bakeries of the world - and not just because someone left the front door open and got careless with a bag of hazelnut flour. Squirrel cookie-cutters are nothing new, of course. But now the market is starting to display squirrel cake- and cupcake-toppers, all imaginative things that set the stage, and the theme, for an entire feast based on their woodland antics.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a happy revelation whenever squirrels can be accepted as consumer decor, instead of a consumer delicacy (as is advocated in hotspots such as the United Kingdom right now).

But let good manners prevail, nonetheless. Enjoy a slice of squirrel-adorned layer cake but eat it now. Don't squirrel it away for another moment. German chocolate cake or hazelnut torte was not meant to be buried.

Like the squirrel, live in the moment, especially when it comes to desserts. Let good manners and good taste be the icing on the cake.

09 February 2012

Let's put the squirrels in charge

The news alert from CNNMoney.com logged in with an almost celebratory swiftness: The headline, "Mortgage deal could bring billions in relief," heralded word of a $26-billion foreclosure settlement - which could climb as high as $34 billion when all is said and done - to provide struggling homeowners relief in their indebtedness to some of the nation's largest lenders.

What followed next, on the computer screen, was a very different kind of headline: "Nuts! Diamond Foods boots CEO, stock plunges." Bad accounting practices, it seems, have plagued this giant purveyor of tree nuts, and Diamond's most recent woes derive from its entangled payments to the nation's nut farmers.

Bad deals. Higher (or lower) expectations than reasonable. Ill will bordering on corruption, perhaps. Lack of transparency and honesty. These are the plagues eating away at any number of American businesses and passed along to sour the nation's economy.

What to do? Let's really get down to business, America: Let's put the squirrels in charge.

Consider their track record: How many forests are presently in foreclosure? For that matter, how many saplings are being offered on a short sale? How many maples and oaks have been taken over by branches of JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America?

No, trees are squirrels' homes, fair and square, and when they go out on a limb, it isn't to put their investments at risk. Quite the contrary, squirrels go out on a limb to warn other squirrels of the predatory practices of some of the major locals: owls, hawks, feral cats and raccoons. (Mind you, none of these predators happen to be lenders, either. When they play, they play for keeps.)

Put the squirrels in charge and if you're a homeowner drawing too close to a bad deal, you'll hear the alarm call high up in the trees and your solvency will be preserved.

As for Diamond nuts, their salvation would be in replacing that tossed CEO with a squirrel. Conflict of interest? Hardly. Who values these precious commodities more than squirrels? The tough nut of business dealings is nothing compared to the hard shell protecting walnut meat. Anyone who can crack that can easily take apart a bad strategy and save a company's reputation.

With squirrels in charge, companies such as Diamond, or even the Big Three auto makers, need never worry either about dire straits precipitating a government bailout. Oh, squirrels are familiar enough with handouts - visit Central Park in Manhattan or the Mall in Washington, D.C. and you'll see real pros shaking down the public. But this is the art of the deal, of shrewd negotiation, not begging from a position of weakness.

Put the squirrels in charge and you'll see companies with renewed optimism and leaner operating costs. The board of directors would become just one more board to gnaw on. Successful, whittled-down companies, would be able to bury their competition in record time. "Being in the Black" would become a meaningless, outdated description for a ledger, supplanted by the more meaningful "Being in the Grey."

After all this national recovery, the possibilities for growth would then be limitless.

And in this Presidential Election Year, it only stands to reason that squirrels, swift and skilled jumpers that they are, may want to take one more logical, well-placed final leap. Flicking their tails as they whiz past the celebrated White House squirrels on the lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue, they'd be ready to sink their teeth into the next business, running the Oval Office.

01 February 2012

Punxsutawney Bueller's Day Off

Just supppose, in the predawn hours of Feb. 2, the Big Red Phone rings at Weathercaster Central Headquarters in Pennsylvania, and it's the long-suffering groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, telling the boss he won't be in to work?

Or, in Phil's case, he won't be out to work?

Would he stay underground or emerge secretly for a Hollywood-style day of wildness, finally answering the age-old question of how much wood he might truly chuck if his cheerful, cheeky chucking went unchecked?

OK, maybe Phil wouldn't pull a Matthew Broderick-style movie sickout, but face it, if the groundhog ever became a no-show, burrowing down deep beneath the shadows, it would leave the rest of the weather-conscious world in something of a hole too.

Ah, but we do have options. Taking our cue from the current election season here in the U.S., we can hold primaries and elect a stand-in among his various cousins. The prairie dog, after all, has already been given prognosticator status in the American West, where there are no woodchucks to do the dirty work. Further north, some folks look to the mighty marmot.

Then there are the flying squirrels. As nocturnal beings, they would have no shadow-seeking to challange them but perhaps, as these light-footed beings take skyward, we could look for spring in their step instead.

Best of all, there would be no partisan politics to contend with. No mud-slinging - except, as expected, by the beavers.

The Order Rodentia is, thankfully, a nation governed by one party. At least in the political sense.

With regard to other sorts of parties, well, the one-workday-a-year-off for the slacker known as Punxsutawney Bueller could lend new meaning being a party animal altogether: beer can in one paw, TV remote in the other, he'd get his underground stereo blasting.

No doubt he'd boogie to the beat, even after the sun set on the music, chucking as much wood as a woodchuck could, to the song of the day: The BeeGee's "Shadow Dancing."