Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Love and Teh Internetz

There's been some pretty serious mocking of the announcement that blogger Ann Althouse is marrying her commenter of 4 years after a whirlwind romance. I dunno... I'm more surprised that people still find it shocking that people use the internet to get dates. At 32, I feel a little out of touch with how the kids use their "MyPlaces" and their "Twoots" to get their freak on... but I'm well aware it happens. Sometimes, I bet, they even form what is known as a "stable monogamous relationships" with a "person they met on the internet." I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out... see, they get to know each other over time, find they like each other, and then they meet in real life and see if it all works. Personally, that seem like a lot of time to invest before you go even go on a real date... but it doesn't strike me as particularly weird. I mean, you really haven't ventured very far in to the dark corners of the internet if you think online dating is odd. Pretty much any online community I've ever spent any time in (and I was rocking BBSs back in '92) has had romances... yes, even marriages. As Ta-Nehesi notes in a hilarious post:
When I used to play Everquest back in the day, I ran with two Wood Elves (I was a Euridite wizard. Even when I'm fantasizing, I'm a black nerd) who were hooked up in real life. I only figured this out as I hung out with them more. Whenever we'd go to Karnor's or the City Of Mist, this dude would follow us. Later the couple told me the dude was the girl's ex--in real life. They used to game together, but she met this other dude (the other Wood Elf) and left her man to move in with him. That just blew me away--but it really shouldn't. Virtual communication is a lot like real communication.
Though I will say that I came across two Night Elves in a random house in WoW the other day... just standing there silently in the living room... didn't think much of it, just ran upstairs to get my widget to complete whatever quest I was doing... but was stopped short as I saw "Sir Fancypants* lays down on the bed" in my chat window... which, frankly, is something I just don't need to see. Indeed, I wish my mind didn't contain the information that 14 year olds are using WoW as a sex chat room(now with 90% more pedophiles!)... but, yeah, so marrying your commenter seems pretty normal in comparison now, right? (watch our detektor!)

* Name changed to protect the guilty... actually more that I have no recollection what the name was... and no I didn't get a screen shot.

Cooking Project: Chicken Fricassee

So I haven't posted any cooking related adventures in a while, not because I haven't been cooking, but because nothing I've done has seemed all that "blog worthy". I actually made both the migas and braised chicken recipes I linked to, but since they were already so well documented on Smitten Kitchen and Pioneer Woman Cooks respectively, my minor comments didn't seem worth a separate post. I also made some grilled cheese sandwiches from a recipe that I got out of a Cook's Country (that they presumably sent out to me due to my participating in a focus group)... but c'mon... it's grilled cheese. Even I can't really screw that up. Other then that, I received the latest Cook's Illustrated, but it's mostly grilling... and since I have no grill... it was mainly useless (though interesting reading) and didn't really inspire me to cook anything.

Despite all this, one thought I had while eating Kay's Braised Chicken did actually move me along the cooking path... I was admiring how well seasoned and tender the chicken was, but felt that it could have really benefited from a sauce being made from the braising liquid... which as it was, was fairly soupy. I had some thoughts... maybe reduce it? Add in some flour or cornstarch? But still not being very confident in my ability to improvise, I thought instead to look for another poultry braise and see if anybody had done something similar to what I had in mind... I had in my head some ideas about chicken stew recipes that might be close... Country Captain Chicken or Chicken Fricassee were my initial thoughts, and while neither turned out to be exactly braises (indeed fricassee is a poach) they both seemed interesting to cook and in the ballpark of what I was looking for. Country Captain will have to wait though, as I'm more in the mind of French comfort food these days.

It'll be interesting since it's such an old skool and unpopular dish... it's the embodiment of what people think of when they criticize French food... meat covered in cream sauces... but what's the worst that can happen? I'll throw it away and know that fricassees aren't for me. I have a feeling, though, that it's a classic for a reason... modern palate or no.

photo used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user panduh

Monday, March 30, 2009

Department of Easy Questions

Kevin Drum:
Still and all, don't you wish that Obama were willing to treat bankers the same way he's treating the carmakers? It's pretty much impossible not to compare his tough words this morning with the conciliatory tone and even more conciliatory actions he's taken with the financial industry.

I realize it was rhetorical, but I just wanted to get my emphatic "YES!!!!" on record. I really like pretty much everything I've heard and read about Obama's auto bailout, but it is indeed pretty hard not to notice the hypocrisy here. I don't know if it's because the Wall Street lobby is significantly more powerful than Detroit, or if the White House is genuinely changing its approach to these bailouts... but I certainly hope it's the latter.

The Frozen Four

Thursday, 4/9, Washington D.C.
(1)Boston University
Vermont
5:30 or 8:30, ESPN/ESPN360

Miami(Ohio)
Bemidji
5:30 or 8:30, ESPN/ESPN360

A pretty exciting weekend of hockey... shame nobody probably saw much of it, since it was relegated, for the most part, to ESPNU... which I don't think a lot of cable systems carry. I saw the BU/Ohio St. blowout at a local bar and listened to the BU/UNH game on the radio (I'm not 25 anymore and going out to bars on consecutive nights isn't as appealing as it once was). The rule of the weekend was upsets... crazy upsets... no #1 seed, beside BU, even made it out of the first round. Notre Dame got rolled by the #16 seed(Bemidji) 5-1, while Michigan lost in much more respectable fashion in just running into a super hot goaltender (it happens). Denver lost to Miami, but they seem to be pretty for real from what I have seen. There was also some amazing last minute finishes... with UNH, Minnesota-Duluth, and BU all scoring goals in the closing seconds.

I was a little disappointed that BU's side of the bracket turned into a Hockey East reunion... I would have liked to have seen them play non-conference teams... but I'm sure the Hockey East commissioner is very pleased that a Hockey East team will be playing for the national championship. BU couldn't have asked for an easier path either... though thinking like that is probably why they got totally outplayed by UNH last night, and lucked into the win.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The owlbear accepts only the sweet apology of vengeance

Something Awful examines the oddities and inconsistencies of the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual in WTF, D&D(Part 1, Part 2) including a section which includes the above quote:
Steve: The owlbear combines the ferociousness of a bear and the cunning of an owl.

Zack: Which of those two brings the love of subterranean labyrinths to the relationship?

Steve: Owls?

Zack: Barns and trees.

Steve: Bears?

Zack: Woods and caves.

Steve: A cave is like a subterranean labyrinth.

Zack: Not really, but I guess to be fair underground mazes are way more prevalent in the D&D ecosystem.

Steve: Exactly, dude. I know some owls that would love to fight in a maze, there just aren't any mazes.

Zack: You don't know any owls.

Steve: Alright, maybe not, but I'm like an expert on owlbears and this injustice will not stand.

Zack: Fine! You win! My apologies to the owlbear.

Steve: The owlbear accepts only the sweet apology of vengeance.

Not the most hilarious take down of old skool D&D, but still pretty funny... if you're an uber geek like me, at any rate.

NCAA D-I Hockey Tournament Starts Today

My alma mater doesn't suit up until tomorrow, but there are 4 games on the fringe ESPN channels to which college hockey is banished:

East Regional - Bridgeport, Conn.
(1)Michigan
(4)Air Force
Fri, March 27, 3:00 ET (ESPNU)

(3)Vermont
(2)Yale
Fri, March 27, 6:30 ET (ESPNU)


West Regional - Minneapolis

(1)Denver
(4)Miami
Fri, March 27, 5:30 ET (ESPN2)

(3)Princeton
(2)Minn.-Duluth
Fri, March 27, 9:00 ET (ESPNU)

The Yale/Vermont game looks to be the most intriguing to my eyes.

UPDATE: This NCAA site will take you to a bracket from which you can listen to play-by-play or follow along with game tracker.

GOP Underpants Gnomes


I don't really know what the GOP was thinking... first in rising to Obama's bait:
“There's an interesting reason why some of these [GOP critics] haven't put out their own budget,” the president said at Tuesday’s press conference. “I mean, we haven't seen an alternative budget out of them.”

Second, in their effort to appear as the "Party of NoYes!" they released a budget with no actual budget numbers.
The GOP's "Road to Recovery" packet, divided into sections on spending limits, job creation/tax reduction, and debt control, is certainly replete with big promises. The plan commits Republicans "to ensur[ing] that the federal budget cannot grow faster than families' ability to pay the bill" ... though it doesn't explain what metric the party would use to measure the "average" family's debt burden.

Another section of the GOP budget packet describes "a new tax deduction that allows businesses with less than 500 employees to take a tax deduction equal to 20% of their income" ... though it doesn't explain how much the new tax change would cost, nor whether it would be offset to help avoid increasing the deficit.
It's like he's in their heads... some sort of Jedi Mind trick. You can find the GOP plan here (PDF)... it does have nice pictures of kids and windmills though. The only person who's looking OK from this is Eric Cantor who has been quietly distancing himself from his fellows in the GOP leadership, and supporting Krugman style(!) bank nationalization efforts. He seemed like a buffoon during the election cycle, but maybe his reputation for being a smart operator isn't as unfounded as it appeared... certainly he seems to understand the mood of the country better than his comrades. Something to keep an eye on.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the kids at Fark were way out in front on the Underpants Gnome Theory of GOP Politics.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Global Currency

It's early yet, but I think I can call Matt Yglesias today's Winner of the Internet for his perfectly nerdy but appropriately scathing critique of the Right's current fascination with the made up threat of a global currency due to the fact that they don't know what the word "reserve" means. This is what the internet is all about folks:
But Glenn Beck should consider that the left’s agenda goes considerably beyond a black helicopter-based global monetary system. The ultimate aim is to establish a Star Trek-style post-capitalist society in which there’s no currency whatsoever. Fortunately, the Trek universe does provide some refuge for the right—the Ferengi who stand strong against the collectivist proclivities of their Alpha Quadrant neighbors. They, of course, have moved beyond fiat currency to a sound money system based on the un-replicatable liquid latinum; used in its gold-pressed form as a convenient means of exchange.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Spider-man by way of Power Rangers"

via Ta-Nehisi

That is a pantheon level theme song if ever I've heard one.

OnLive - Console Killer? Never upgrade your computer again?


The basic concept is to make gaming hardware obsolete by having all the games on servers. So you can stream Crysis Warhead(a game even my new computer has some issues with) in 720p to your TV, PC, or Mac with no stuttering or lag. You can apparently do it with just a tiny little "micro console" (for TV) or with just a browser plug in and an entry level (onboard graphics) computer. It sounds too good to be true, but I found their presentation pretty convincing.

They key is the bandwidth... they claim you need at least 1.5 megabits per second is required for standard definition and least 5 mbps for high def... and how it performs at 7pm on Friday night. I only have DSL, but I submitted my name for the public beta they're having this summer.

UPDATE: Tycho is understandably skeptical. I share the skepticism, but I don't see any harm in hoping that it works like they say it does.

Zero

That's the number of questions reporters asked about Tim Geither's bailout plan in last night's prime time news conference... yet the media is pulling muscles patting itself on the back. It's kind of depressing how worthless they are at helping inform the public.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Internet Fight!

And it's about the ever scintillating topic known as: The True Value of Mortgage Backed Securities! In this corner we have BooMan, who claims that there are lots of signs that the targets of Geither's plan are worth more than Krugman and Atrios give credit for... and in the other corner we have Duncan Black, aka Atrios, who basically just evades and doesn't address any of the central points of the argument.

I happen to agree with BooMan, as you might have noticed, but there is a fairly legit criticism based on the fact that we're only talking about a subset of "the shitpile"... and that's the one made by Krugman in this interview... that this isn't going to be enough; that undervalued assets certainly exist but that they're a small part of the total problem. He argues that we're going to subsidize all these bets, and at the end of it the banks will still be underwater. I think that's a real possibility, but I think it's a feature not a bug.

You know... just in case

This is interesting news from the WaPo:
The administration's proposal contains two pieces. First, it would empower a government agency to take on the new role of systemic risk regulator with broad oversight of any and all financial firms whose failure could disrupt the broader economy. The Federal Reserve is widely considered to be the leading candidate for this assignment. But some critics warn that this could conflict with the Fed's other responsibilities, particularly its control over monetary policy.

The government also would assume the authority to seize such firms if they totter toward failure.

Besides seizing a company outright, the document states, the Treasury Secretary could use a range of tools to prevent its collapse, such as guaranteeing losses, buying assets or taking a partial ownership stake. Such authority also would allow the government to break contracts, such as the agreements to pay $165 million in bonuses to employees of AIG's most troubled unit.

The Treasury secretary could act only after consulting with the president and getting a recommendation from two-thirds of the Federal Reserve Board, according to the plan.
One of the defenses of Geither's plan is that you'd never get straight up nationalization through Teh Congress, and it seems pretty likely you'd need to go through them since it doesn't seem the Prez has the blanket authority to seize any business he wants(probably a good thing). Looks like they're planning ahead.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Geither Plan

I've been rather frustrated this weekend with (most of) the liberal commentary on Treasury's plan for the financial sector. It seems even commentators eminently equipped to do so will not separate out whether Timmeh's plan will work from whether it is just. The latter point is not inconsequential, but it is fundamentally unrelated to what one supposes should be economic criticism from our experts. I appreciate that many want to see bankers' heads on pikes, and that they think that nationalization pre-privatization is the best way to achieve that metaphorically... but they've not, in my eyes, made much of a case as to whether it is a superior choice in terms of dollars and cents.

My... tentative (and uniformed!) conclusion is that, if Krugman and Atrios and the like are wrong (not often the case... but still) then this is the cheapest option, both economically and politically. If, ahem, "the shitpile" is as bad as they think it is, then we will have no option but to nationalize and it will be completely obvious to everyone after we try this.

For the very few people who agree with me... see Brad DeLong's excellent FAQ and Kevin Drum's take. If you want to see the three main options compared with a car dealership analogy, check Mark Thoma. If you want the negative views, well, they shouldn't be hard to find... but Krugman is a good place to start.

NCAA Hockey Tournament 2009

The bracket(PDF) came out yesterday. No surprises, though still a somewhat crappy draw for BU... but that's pretty much all dictated by the rules.

BU will face Ohio State at 5:30 pm on Saturday March 28th in Manchester, NH... with UNH going against North Dakota at 2 pm (both on ESPN2). The regional final is at 5:30 pm that Sunday. (on ESPNU)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whew... BU 3, BC 2

That was a good hockey game. BU wins a close one with an amazing 3 goals in 44 seconds in the 3rd period. They were all pretty good ones too... but Cohen's was probably the sweetest.

Next up is UMass-Lowell, who upset Northeastern earlier in the evening, for the Hockey East Championship... tomorrow at 6 pm.

UPDATE: Here's the recap... I didn't think BU was playing quite as bad as USCHO online suggests, but it's true their offense wasn't sparkling exactly (except for 44 seconds)... but I attributed that to BC playing well defensively.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Pioneer Women Cooking

I think I know what I'm going to cook next... Kay's Braised Chicken. I've been wanting to try braising poultry ever since I saw Bittman's braised turkey recipe but haven't really been interested in locating turkey parts... Kay's recipe might be just the ticket.

"Quantitative Easing, aka Printing Money"

So I guess the Fed is taking the threat of deflation fairly seriously.

Though, as Kevin notes, it's certainly more important to figure out exactly when Obama and Timmeh Geither knew AIG was doling out the big bonuses. This whole "monetizing Treasury's debt" thing is totally boring.

UPDATE: So that's where Helicopter Ben got his name...
As the federal government issues trillions in new debt to finance stimulus spending and the daily operations of government, the quasi-governmental Fed will now be buying hundreds of billions of it, in the process creating new money out of thin air (the Fed doesn't actually have money set aside to buy stuff; when it buys something, the money suddenly, magically exists).

It's a very weird, somewhat circular transaction, and it was last done in a big way during World War II. At the time the Fed wasn't so much making monetary policy as doing its patriotic bit to finance the war (it was a de facto division of the Treasury Department at the time), but it worked on both counts: The deflationary tendencies of the 1930s were finally fully expunged from the economy, and we beat the bad guys. Later on, Milton Friedman described this kind of transaction as the functional equivalent of a "helicopter drop" of money, and after Ben Bernanke mentioned this in a speech in 2002 he became known as Helicopter Ben.

I don't think I'd ever heard that the Fed buying up Treasury debt during WWII was a big reason for the end of the Depression. Interesting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chiffonade Etymology

I was browsing Pioneer Woman Cooks!, not wanting to read anymore about AIG bonuses, and trying to find some inspiration for something to cook... and I came across her illustrated lesson on how to chiffonade basil, which caught my eye because I was wondering whether I should explain better than the link that is in the caldo verde recipe. It's definitely a good explanation, and you should definitely check it out, not least for the gorgeous pictures... but what I wanted to highlight was the following cooking grammar issue I share with her:
Which brings me to MY question: can “chiffonade” be used as a verb? Can one “chiffonade” basil? Or can they simply create a basil chiffonade?
I really wanted it to be a verb, but alas, it seems you make a chiffonade of basil and that's the end of it... unless you're a fan of verbing your nouns... which I am, because prescriptivists are no fun.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Caldo Verde


So I finally got around to making Caldo Verde last night... the recipe is easy, but it still turned out to be a bit of a fiasco (though fine in the end). Last week, before Anna went up to Maine, I got her to take me to Whole Foods because I knew I needed kale for this soup... a wide selection of quality greens not being what my neighborhood Shaws is known for. [ASIDE: The Whole Foods on River Street also has a surprisingly good selection of Belgian beer that is cheaper than most of the places I know] I also needed chorizo(or chouri├žo in this case I guess) and ended up at the meat counter thinking it would be higher quality than what was prepackaged... not thinking for a second that it would also be fresh and not smoked, as I've normally seen it. For some reason I thought the only possible way something could even be chorizo was for it to be smoked... but when have I ever bought something that wasn't raw from a butcher? It's sort of what they do... distribute raw meat. Anyway, I didn't realize my mistake until I was halfway through the recipe and took out the chorizo to chop it up... sliced through the casing and then whoops! Ah well, at least I've got some to cook up for that migas. I ended up turning off the simmering potatoes and running out to Shaws... and all I could even find was turkey chorizo, which is better than nothing, I guess, but has a bit of why do you even exist thing going on. Admittedly, I could have cooked up the raw chorizo, but as I mentioned, I already cut the casing of one, and I was led to believe that the particular flavor of smoked Chorizo is vital to the dish... so I chose not to make that substitution.

Other than that it was pretty easy, actually... though preparing and chiffonading a pile of kale is somewhat tedious, you have plenty of time to do it given the simmering times. I only had 4 cups of store-bought "fresh" chicken broth, and added in a little "better than bouillon" to make up the difference... and while it was fine, this soup is simple enough that it might be almost mandatory to use homemade chicken broth in it. Of course, that takes it to another level of effort for those of use who don't routinely make our own stock... so I dunno... thinking far enough ahead to save some chicken carcasses in my tiny urban freezer for some future Caldo Verde is a little beyond my abilities, but maybe not yours.

Here's the recipe adapted out of The Best Soups & Stews(actually an older edition, but I assume the recipe is still in there - but you never know with those guys):
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped medium
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cup chicken stock
  • 1 pound red potatoes, peeled cut into 1" pieces
  • 8 oz chorizo, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4" pieces
  • 1 sprig savory of oregano
  • 6 oz kale, stems removed and cut into 1/4" strips
  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven(a fairly small one - 3 quarts - will work for this) over medium heat until shimmering. Saute the onion until softened, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  2. Add half the stock (3 cups), the potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt(since I used "better than bullion" I omitted this). Bring it to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are tender (15 minutes). Take the pot off the heat and mash up all the potatoes until no large pieces remain (I used one of those stick blenders - handy for rustic soups) and the soup is fairly thickened.
  3. Put it all back on medium-high heat with the rest of your stock (3 cups), the chorizo, and savory (I used oregano because it's all I could find)... bring it to a boil, then cover it and put it back at a simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Discard your savory/oregano and add in the kale and simmer it until tender... about 5 minutes. Adjust your seasonings and then serve with a drizzle of olive oil in each bowl.

It came out well, I thought... though I'd never had it, and my experience with kale is fairly limited. A change I would be make would be upping the sausage component a little bit at least... 8 ounces just strikes me as too small, though I obviously don't know the traditional ratios. But overall, it's good, hearty, and simple and can be made in an hour... if you don't have to run out to the grocery store in the middle that is.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Migas with Tomato-Chipolte Coulis

From Smitten Kitchen, and damn does that look good. I'd have to cut it in half, at the very least, to make it since I'm the only person in the apartment who eats eggs... but anything that involves eggs, chipotle, and fresh tortilla chips sounds good to me.

BU vs. BC, Hockey East Semifinals

So Hockey East Semifinals up this weekend... BC is having a bit of an off year after winning the National Championship last spring... but #1 BU looked absolutely terrible this weekend versus Maine, so I'm a little pessimistic since, in addition, BC probably needs to win Hockey East to make the NCAA tourney and BU has a #1 seed locked up. You'd think a big game at the Garden would be enough to get BU focused on the task as hand, but we shall see.

A couple friends and I got tickets down to DC to see the Frozen Four... now I'm just crossing my fingers that after dominating all season, the Terriers don't get into a funk at the worst possible time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"How To Destroy the World with Nanotechnology"

As may be obvious I haven't felt much like doing any substantive blogging lately, and today is no different, but this is a pretty nifty animation of one of the doomsday scenarios associated with nanotech... aka "gray goo":


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stupid Surveys and D&D together at last...


D&D Home Page - What Class Are You? - Build A Character - D&D Compendium

Meh.

I'm thinking nihilist preacher is more where I'm at.

We are... We are...


Goth Children... Dark Children? Apparently it's "just children".. but I'm in favor of the Goth hypothesis, lyrics be damned!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ross Douthat to the The New York Times

That's about a billion times better than Bill Kristol. I look forward to reading his columns, much as I enjoyed following his blog, since he is firmly in the (albeit small) camp of conservatives with whom I disagree but whose work I also enjoy reading... this cannot be said of the person he's replacing.

Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer Pt. II, now with more Scarborough




U2 perfoming in Davis Square tonight

Just heard about this from a coworker, but apparently U2 is going to be at the Somerville Theater this evening... I guess they had some Secret Squirrel plan to give a show in an "intimate" venue(750 seats), and actually managed to pull it off. According to the article there are no tickets for sale... you're either Tom Brady and get invited, or you might win them in a radio contest.

I'm not much of a U2 fan, so I mainly brought this up as a public service announcement... if you were planning on doing something in Davis Square tonight, you might want to consider changing your plans.

Focus Grouping America's Test Kitchen

I think I've made it fairly obvious to anyone who reads my food blogging that I'm a fan of Cook's Illustrated... since practically everything I cook comes from them. My first real cookbook was The New Best Recipe, I subscribe to the magazine, and I pay to access their website. I don't watch America's Test Kitchen, but that has more to do with not having TV than anything else. So I guess it's safe to say I'm a loyal customer... which seems to be why I was asked to join a dozen others in a focus group at America's Test Kitchen in Brookline.

I had never been in a focus group before, so I was pretty interested in the experience... I didn't really care about the cookbook they offered as incentive, but it was only 90 minutes and it's not like I couldn't have walked out if it was an excruciating experience.

The the focus of our focus group revolved around the website, not the TV show, which as I mentioned above you have to pay a yearly fee($30-$35) above and beyond a magazine subscription to use. Nearly everyone there paid for the service and thus were fairly positive on it, as I am... I like the magazine to read through and get inspired, but if I'm actually trying to get ready to do some actual cooking, I go to the website to be able to search the database (to get at back issues I don't even own) and be able to print out the directions. The videos on the newer recipes can be helpful as well. It seems worth the money to me, anyway... though not without some flaws. The long articles describing the process of coming up with the recipe are truncated down to abstract length online, which makes looking at back issue recipes much less appealing than it might be.

What they appeared to be interested in was whether we would be willing to pay more money to be able to access the additional roughly 2000 unique recipes in the the Best Recipe series(with 2 new cookbooks a year). Now, even if you're a Cook's Illustrated fanboi like me, you're probably surprised that the Best Recipe books aren't just compilations of Cook's Illustrated recipes... I was, as was pretty much everybody at the table. As someone who has three of the cookbooks (NBR, International, and Soups and Stews) I've noticed a fair amount of overlap between the cookbooks... a non trivial percentage of the recipes in Soups and Stews can be found in New Best Recipe, for example, so I figured they were mainly repackaging the same stuff that must have come from the magazine. Apparently not... or not completely. It wasn't exactly clear how "unique" these recipes are exactly... the Caldo Verde I'm going to make from the International cookbook is not on the website, for instance, and I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in it. On the other hand, when I made my Brick Chicken I used the website instead of the cookbook because it included roasted potatoes... but does that make it a "unique" recipe or a variation? Assuming it's considered unique, as we start adding more versions, how do I decide which one to cook... isn't the big appeal of Cook's Illustrated the their authority? That you know the recipe is going to work because of how well tested it is? If you now have 5 subtly different ways to roast a chicken, doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose of having a method to come up with THE way to roast a chicken? I would certainly try it out, but I can't say I was quivering with anticipation at the thought of being able to pay them more money... I'm pretty happy with what I've got.

On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to access NBR from work so that I could stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

90's Revival?

As someone who spent a fair portion of the 90's dancing to recycled 80's New Wave I can sort of relate to kids getting excited about music made when they were too young to appreciate it, but... MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice!? For reals? Maybe it's just a Utah thing? Whatever... it's making me feel really old, so I'm not going to think about it anymore.

(hat tip Ta-Nehisi)

The Rise (and Fall?) of Quants

An interesting article in the NY Times about the role physicists have played on Wall Street in recent years... sort of a continuation of how math abuse played such big role in our current terribleness.
Physicists began to follow the jobs from academia to Wall Street in the late 1970s, when the post-Sputnik boom in science spending had tapered off and the college teaching ranks had been filled with graduates from the 1960s. The result, as Dr. Derman said, was a pipeline with no jobs at the end. Things got even worse after the cold war ended and Congress canceled the Superconducting Supercollider, which would have been the world’s biggest particle accelerator, in 1993.

They arrived on Wall Street in the midst of a financial revolution. Among other things, galloping inflation had made finances more complicated and risky, and it required increasingly sophisticated mathematical expertise to parse even simple investments like bonds. Enter the quant.
As John Cole remarks... maybe we should have just bought them a Supercollider? It would have been cheaper. But seriously, it seems that quants greatest failure lay here:
By their activities, quants admit that despite their misgivings they have at least given cover to some of the wilder schemes of their bosses, allowing traders to conduct business in a quasi-scientific language and take risks they did not understand.
But as the article explains, that's sort of how the business world works... they're trying to make money, not unearth the underlying truths of financial markets... sound mathematics and statistics that casts doubt on a successful money making model was not going to be paid attention to... so is there really anything to fix here? It's just the underlying nature of the enterprise.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is there any technology that can't be harnessed to access pr0n?

via Tyler Cohen... so far the snswer is still no.
Barnes & Noble abandoned ebooks once, so why are they coming back to them now? Because the format is starting to take off. Why is that? What's popular on Fictionwise? Well, once again it seems like porn is blazing a path to a new media format. Of the top 10 bestsellers under the "Multiformat" category, nine are tagged "erotica" amd the last is "dark fantasy".

Hey, I'm not judging anyone (one of my dearest friends is an erotic romance author) and yes, I've used the most salacious Top 10 list on the site in my example, but this data backs up my anecdotal observations. People who read erotic romance and 'bodice rippers' love ebooks because of the privacy they offer, both during purchase and when reading.
As someone who once took an Irvine Welsh book to read at a hipster bar(yeah, I know - it did work though), I'm well aware of how people form snap opinions of you based on what you're reading.... but it honestly never occurred to me that one of the benefits of a Kindle would be that nobody knows what you are reading. A compelling hypothesis... and if past performance of technologies that make access to pornography easy and anonymous are any judge... it might be a good time to get on the ebook train.

Spring has Sprung

Yesterday 60 degrees and sunny... today? 4 inches of snow (supposedly). Gotta love Boston in March.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Next cooking project: Caldo Verde

Photo by flickr user Grumbler %-| used under a Creative Commons license


I've never even had this soup before, so I don't even know if I'll like it... but kale, potatoes, and sausage can't really be bad can it?

Department of Scary Graphs


We're the brown line, so we're now officially worse than the 81-82 recession... and it doesn't look like we're slowing down at all yet. If you really want to stress yourself out, slap those u-shaped "recoveries" of the last two downturns onto our current horribleness... that's what a depression looks like. Think we might need another stimulus? Me too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

8.1%

We're getting to the point were it's probably a good idea to thank your boss every day that you continue to be employed... more wonderful economic news:
In a stark measure of the recession’s toll, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the national unemployment rate surged to 8.1 percent last month, its highest in 25 years. The economy has now shed more than 4.4 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007.

And economists expect that unemployment will continue to rise for the rest of the year and into early 2010, with the unemployment rate reaching 9 to 10 percent by the time a recovery begins. But even then, with so many job losses centered in manufacturing, economists say that many positions devoured during this recession will not be coming back.

It wasn't too long ago that predicting double digit unemployment was considered "extreme"... now it's apparently the consensus... which makes me think it's likely to be even worse than that.

TGIF?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Yeah, what about poop miles?

An excellent article in Mother Jones by Paul Roberts catalogs the difficulties currently facing the sustainable agriculture movement. It's a hard article to summarize because it hits on so many different concepts(so go read it!), but I think it really does a great job of highlighting some issues that most people who care about things like organic farming and/or local foods never really consider.

First up, organic farming(i.e. the problem with poop miles):
The only reason industrial organic agriculture can get away with replenishing its soils with manure or by planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops is that the industry is so tiny—making up less than 3 percent of the US food supply (and just 5.3 percent even in gung-ho green cultures like Austria's). If we wanted to rid the world of synthetic fertilizer use—and assuming dietary habits remain constant—the extra land we'd need for cover crops or forage (to feed the animals to make the manure) would more than double, possibly triple, the current area of farmland, according to Vaclav Smil, an environmental scientist at the University of Manitoba. Such an expansion, Smil notes, "would require complete elimination of all tropical rainforests, conversion of a large part of tropical and subtropical grasslands to cropland, and the return of a substantial share of the labor force to field farming—making this clearly only a theoretical notion."

And then, local foods:
The reality of 21st-century America is that food demand is centered in cities, while most arable land is in rural areas. What open land remains around cities is so expensive that it either is out of reach for farmers or requires that farmers focus on high-end, high-margin products with little utility as mainstream foods. Thus, although there is great potential to increase urban agriculture (as we'll see in a minute), urbanites will always depend on rural areas for some of their food—especially given that by 2050, 70 percent of the world's population is expected to live in or near cities.

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. "One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats," says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. "Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits."

Now, I support organic farming practices and I love my local farmers... I read my Pollan, and think there is a tremendous need in this country for a food culture that doesn't revolve around convenience foods. However, at the same time, I realize that my ability and desire to shop at Whole Foods, Savenor's, and farmer's markets puts me in a place that is pretty far outside the norm.... and to expect American food culture to mimic my tastes is ludicrous. People like Pollan and Alice Waters argue that we should be paying a lot more for food. Probably we should be. But even if you stipulate that, and figure out how to make it happen, all we're talking about is Americans.

What about those billions living on a dollar a day or less? I guess they can save up for your organic heirloom tomato? I'm all for getting junk food out of kids diets, but any kind of food policy needs to consider scalability... and needs to think about the realities of 6.7 billion people. The particular focus on a return to the agrarian lifestyle of our forefathers seems to me to be the most destructive in this regard.

Some compromises will need to made... as we all can't Go John GaltAppleseed.

Who reviews the Watchmen?

Sitting at 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. So not a train wreck at least... but clearly a flawed movie in many critics' opinion. I despise people entirely too much to sit in a crowded theater opening weekend for a very likely mediocre movie... so I'll probably wait until next weekend to see it (when Anna is also out of town). The major complaints seem to be that it's "only for fanboys", which is sort of ok since I'm a fanboy... but it's disappointing to think it might not be appealing to a wider audience. Kevin Drum had an interesting post on that aspect:
I've been waiting for it with a mixture of both anticipation and trepidation. Anticipation, of course, because it's a seminal comic and I'm eager to see how it gets translated onto the screen. Trepidation because I don't think it will translate well. This isn't because I think it's "unfilmable," or because I think Zack Snyder will necessarily ruin it. (I'm agnostic about that. I thought 300 was fairly entertaining, so I don't hold that against him.) No. Oddly enough, it's because I think the story is simply too absurd to survive the transition to film. I realize that proposition is a little hard to defend, but there's a sense in which a story that tries to treat costumed superheroes as real people is much harder to accept than one in which the essential burlesque of the superhero genre is simply taken for granted. Once you start to interrogate the whole concept, it's much harder to successfully suspend disbelief.
Are the story and themes something that can only ever appeal to comic book geeks? Everyone can enjoy Batman and Ironman beating up terrorists, because it's fun and the movies never ask you to think to hard about somebody dressing up as a human bat... and how f-ed up he'd really have to be to do such a thing... but that's the whole point of Watchmen. I think a large part of the appeal to your average comic book geek is the examination of the very nature of their passion... how freaky would your heroes be if they actually existed in real life... something your average movie goer has no investment in.

I'll have more thoughts once I actually see it.

Jon Stewart takes on CNBC


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brick Chicken with Herb Roasted Potatoes

Brick Chicken (or Chicken with a Brick on Top) is a dish I've only made twice, but with both experiences going well, I gotta say it's a damn good way to cook a chicken... and it's totally doable on a weeknight with a cooking/prep time of less than an hour. The recipe is pretty simple and open to variations, and it's not particularly finicky. In fact, the hardest part about this recipe is finding a damn 3 pound chicken... surprisingly uncommon in most supermarkets... you'll see stacks and stacks of 5 pound roasters, but nary a little broiler/fryer to be had. Thankfully, at least here in Boston, Trader Joe's sells Empire Chickens which are both broilers and kosher... so you don't even have to worry about brining(in fact some people who are smarter than me prefer salting meat to brining because the process doesn't change the meat's texture but still seasons and gives you moist meat). Even if you can't find a kosher chicken, there's no reason to brine the chicken for this recipe because it's butterflied, so thus should be fairly hard to overcook.

Besides the chicken, another thing you'll need is a 12" skillet that can go into an oven that's 425 degrees... something not all pans can do... but if you don't have a fancy All Clad or whatever, you can pick up a cast iron skillet for like 25 bucks... and I think they even come pre-seasoned these days.

The final somewhat odd component of this recipe is the "brick"... which doesn't have to be a brick at all, but just a weight you can put on the chicken as it cooks on the stove top to get as much surface area in contact with the pan as possible. The first time I cooked it I used a heavy cast iron pan filled with cans, and this time I used a big stockpot filled with water. If you're intent on being faithful to the dish's name, then you'll need two bricks wrapped in foil because otherwise ewwwww.

This recipe was pulled from the February 2005 Cook's Illustrated($$$). The other time I made it was simply the chicken by itself, but I saw this one with the potatoes and that seemed like a pretty smart two for one deal. Hard to turn down roasted red potatoes when they require such little additional work.

Here's the full list of ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken small, (about 3 lbs), trimmed of excess fat, giblets removed and discarded, chicken rinsed and patted dry
  • table salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon, plus 1 lemon cut into wedges
  • 1 1/2 pounds Red Bliss potatoes (small), scrubbed, dried, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
So nothing particularly exotic, and because of the nature of the recipe, you don't really have to prep anything before you start since the chicken cooks for like 20-25 minutes before the next step... giving you plenty of time to chop your potatoes and thyme. The first thing you do is butterfly the chicken, which I've described before but, in brief, consists of cutting out the backbone of the chicken(like so) and then flattening it down with the heel of your hand on the breast bone. Any moderately sharp pair of kitchen shears should be sufficient for this task... then you just pound on it a bit to try and get a moderately even thickness. Season the bird to taste with salt and pepper.

Move an oven rack to the bottom position and preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Then heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in your skillet over high heat until smoking (it's really important to have a hot enough pan so the skin doesn't stick - I've had it stick, and it's quite the downer). Move the heat back to medium and lay the chicken in the pan skin side down and place your weight on top. The recipe says to check it every 5 minutes, but I'm not really sure why... seems a little compulsive and I would think it would inhibit browning to keep turning it over. I say leave it alone for 20 minutes, and if you turn it over and it's not as brown as you'd like turn the heat up to medium high for another 5 minutes or so. While that's happening mix the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 1.5 teaspoons of the thyme, the pepper flakes, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Once the chicken is fully browned, transfer it to a plate (skin side up) while you get the pan ready for the oven.

Pour off the fat in the pan and then add your potatoes and sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme. Use the tongs to put your chicken skin side up on top of the potatoes and brush the skin with the lemon juice and thyme mixture you set aside earlier. It should look something like this as you transfer it to the oven.

Roast until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer... about 10-15 minutes... be careful with the handle because it will be red hot (I burned myself like an idiot, so can attest to this). Move the chicken to a cutting board to rest while you return the potatoes to the oven to brown. The recipe doesn't say this, but I'd suggest trying to see if you can flip the potatoes over at this point... I didn't and I ended up with one really browned side and two barely browned sides... seems like you could mitigate this by flipping the potatoes, assuming they aren't stuck to the pan or anything. Anyway, another 10-15 minutes or so in the oven should give you some pretty perfect potatoes... then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl and toss with the parsley. Serve it all with the lemon wedges.

So there you have it. Pretty good recipe I thought... though like I said, I would have liked more even browning of the potatoes, but they were done perfectly to my liking... and the chicken itself was excellent.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Rich Morons Decreasing Own Income Due To Lack of Tax Code Knowledge"

LOL

I propose they avoid the Obama tax hike by sending any income over 250K to me. I promise not to give it to any socialists.

Like a fiddle

I don't have a lot of time to blog today... we have the Mass Speaker of the House coming to the hospital tomorrow and we're going to put on a dog and pony show to help beg for money so I've got to clean up the lab so we don't look especially slovenly... I'm making brick chicken tonight, and I hope to get some good pictures and blog that... but in the mean time I wanted to mention the watching conservative reaction to Obama's attempt to paint them as the "Party of Limbaugh". It's quite fascinating... and somewhat breathtaking how much they seem to be falling over themselves to do exactly what Obama wants. David Frum has a pretty good take here, but I wanted to highlight Daniel Larison's typically well written critique:
...Obama is not just having a good laugh at the expense of his imploding enemies, but he has to be feeling very pleased with himself. It seems as if all he had to do was say, “Don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh,” and in classic knee-jerk fashion activists and pols have gone running into Limbaugh’s embrace, which is probably exactly what Obama wanted them to do. Now, thanks to the bizarre Limbaugh litmus test that everyone on the right is supposed to pass, conservative blogs are agog with their newfound contempt for the RNC chairman, which helps ensure that cooperation between the national party and online activists will continue to be poor. You might call this a triple bank-shot by Obama, except that all of it is self-inflicted by the Republicans.
As a hyper partisan Dem, I certainly hope that viewpoints like this on the right continue to be marginalized. Yay Rush Limbaugh!

EDIT: Ooops, I guess the Speaker isn't coming... I still don't have any time, but at least I don't have to clean up the lab.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day!

Not quite as much fun as when I was twelve, since I have to do a lit search for an upcoming paper... I'd rather be sledding.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday Dinner

Sesame Noodles with Sweet Pepper, Cripsy Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce, and Sichuan Green Beans Vegan style
A surprisingly easy to prepare trio of Chinese dishes... sesame noodles with sweet pepper, crispy tofu with sweet chili sauce, and Sichuan green beans. All Vegan. Came out great, and I'll blog the recipes later.