Monday, August 31, 2009

Roasted New Potatoes

I'm not usually a snob about my cooking... I'm a novice home cook and I know it. I am fully aware that even a poor restaurant chef could cook rings around me. However... and this is a big however... I'm not sure a single one of 'em knows how to properly roast potatoes... or at least, if they do know, they never do it that way. I can't ever remember not being disappointed by roast potatoes I've been served out... and that includes the ones from Chase's Daily mentioned below... they were above average, but still too dry inside and not crisp enough outside. I feel very strongly that the perfect roasted potato piece has a crisp browned crust and a moist interior... almost like a baked potato. You simply cannot achieve this in one step in a skillet... and I don't care what those fancy French people say... if you want to do it that way you have to... I dunno... parboil them first maybe... it works with home fries after all. It's possible that there are people who can skillet roast potatoes to perfection, but if they exist they haven't served their potatoes to me... nor have I ever been satisfied with my own attempts in a skillet. You'll just have to trust me here... try it this way, and I don't think you'll be disappointed. I should note that this is a New Best Recipe... uhm... recipe... not my own creation, but I heartily endorse its awesomeness.

To get perfect roasted potatoes, you've got to oven roast. This takes a lot longer than in the skillet... and you have to heat up your whole house with the oven... but by the time potatoes are hitting your farmers' market it's cooling down a bit, so I don't think the latter is a huge problem, and with the former I think the final product is worth the extra time it takes.

You need about 2 lbs of potatoes... and the smaller the better... not because of flavor, but because it means less cutting. If you don't have colorful new potatoes available then use baby reds. For that two pounds of potatoes you'll need 3 tablespoons of EVOO. Some salt. Some pepper. A big roasting pan(i.e. 17x13) and some aluminum foil. I prefer a non-stick roasting pan because that makes it easier to flip the potatoes without leaving most of them stuck to the pan... but anything will work.

Preheat the oven to 425 and move a rack to the middle.

For larger potatoes you need to halve them and then cut them into 3/4" wedges... on the smaller side you quarter... the very smallest just halve. To make sure I don't overcrowd I put them into the pan as I'm cutting them like so:

Ooooooh... look at all the pretty colors! I actually did a pretty bad job with my cutting... going a bit too small on some... you want them to be fairly thick so that you get a nice creamy interior.

Drizzle the 3 tablespoons of oil on them. Toss. Season with salt and pepper. Toss again. Arrange them so they all have their own personal space (one of the cut sides down) and then cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Put them in the oven for 20 minutes. This right here is the key to the whole endeavor. With the foil on they steam from their own moisture, get nice and soft, but don't brown at all.

Now take off the foil and put them back in the oven until the first side browns... about 15 minutes. Take the pan out and flip all the potatoes with a spatula... like I mentioned above, they tend to stick to the pan so you have to be somewhat gentle when you pry them up, so that they don't tear apart.

Then put them back until the second side is browned... which will only take 5-10 minutes.

And voilĂ : Roasted New Potatoes.

You can obviously spice things up by tossing them with herbs or whatever after you are done, but I figured I stick to the basics. Now, I'll grant you that you can't whip these up on a whim like skillet roasted potatoes, but I promise they're well worth it... and they're really just time, not labor, intensive... as it's a very simple and easy recipe.


It rained all day Saturday for my weekend trip to visit Anna and her mum up in Maine... so, alas, no hiking in Acadia... but we did at least ride through the rain to grab a wonderful brunch at Chase's Daily in Belfast... as well as the lovely potatoes you see pictured above. I don't think I've ever blogged about Chase's Daily before, but being a great vegetarian brunch place that's about 30-45 minutes from the Maine house, it's been a popular destination for us for a while. And yes, I did feel the need to point out that I've been going there forever (well a couple years anyway) since there was a blurb about it in the latest Saveur... I'm not a poseur I swear! Ahem. With that out of the way... I've only been there for Saturday and Sunday brunch, but they do dinner on Friday's as well, which is incredibly popular from what I hear, so make reservations or go off season. Of course the benefit of going in season is that the menu is based on their own fresh produce, which brings us to the most unique aspect of Chase's: it's also a farmer's market. And a bakery. And a cheese shop. This comes in handy when you have to wait 45 minutes for a table on a rainy Saturday in August... plenty of pretty produce to ogle and fresh bread to smell.

By the time we sat down, I was pretty sure I wanted some of the gorgeous potatoes above, but after we had them served to us roasted and sprinkled with herbs I was certain.

As you can see, those purple ones are purple all the way through... which is pretty fun. Some of the red ones are similar, but unfortunately that picture didn't turn out... but I only roasted half of them last night, so I'll have another go at getting a good pic. I'll post the very simple... but very delicious... recipe for roasting them in a bit.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cricket Quotes

Kevin Drum cites the following as an example of why "cricket writing is so deliciously, Britishly impenetrable that it's mesmerizing":
Ian Bell, back at No3 and under the microscope, survived a torrid start to make 72 good runs, worth more than they appear, before dragging his first ball after the tea interval on to his off-stump, while Andrew Strauss batted superbly, hitting 11 fours in his 55, on the way protecting Bell from a Mitchell Johnson bombardment while he settled in.

I'd have to say he's on to something, since I recognize most of the words but have no idea what that sentence means... it does indeed have an odd allure. If you look at the whole article, it's pretty much all like that... and they even use the word "tenterhooks", which I'm pretty sure you wouldn't see in a Peter King article.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Under the Weather

I've had bad allergies/sinus problems the last couple days... so that explains the lack of posting... I'm on the mend, but busy at work trying to catch up, so it may continue to be a bit light on the content.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teddy Kennedy dies

Sad to see the Liberal Lion pass. It falls to others to realize his dream of universal healthcare.

EDIT: The quote...
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The 2006 Fantasy Football All-stars

After yesterday's Fantasy Football draft, I've got a team with LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, and Carson Palmer(not my #1 QB at least)... oh, and Fred Taylor. Too bad it's 2009, eh? I think I'm in for a long season.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Expansion III isn't a new continent, but a complete rework of the Old World. From the Official FAQ:
While the attention of the Horde and Alliance remained fixed upon Northrend, an ancient evil has been lying dormant within Deepholm, the domain of earth in the Elemental Plane. Hidden away in a secluded sanctuary, the corrupted Dragon Aspect Deathwing has waited, recovering from the wounds of his last battle against Azeroth, nursing his hatred for the inferior creatures that infest the surface realm...and biding his time until he can reforge the world in molten fire.

Soon, Deathwing the Destroyer will return to Azeroth, and his eruption from Deepholm will sunder the world, leaving a festering wound across the continents. As the Horde and Alliance race to the epicenter of the cataclysm, the kingdoms of Azeroth will witness seismic shifts in power, the kindling of a war of the elements, and the emergence of unlikely heroes who will rise up to protect their scarred and broken world from utter devastation.

The face of Azeroth is altered forever as the destruction left in Deathwing's wake reshapes the land and reveals secrets long sealed away. Players will be able to re-experience familiar zones across Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, rewrought by the cataclysm and filled with new opportunities for adventure.

The highlights include:
  • 2 New Races: Goblins (Horde) and Worgen (Alliance)
  • All/Most of the old zones remade for a completely new 1-60 experience
  • New Archaeology secondary profession
  • New Race/Class combinations
  • Flying mounts in Azeroth
  • Guild leveling

I have to admit that I was quite surprised when I first read the rumors about this expansion, and am very pleased they've turned out to be true. As someone who levels at a... uhm... "stately" pace, I had started to feel left behind by the game. Honestly, I don't even have any characters in the 1st expansion... but even so, it was worth buying because it added new races that even lowbies like me could enjoy. This wasn't the case with Wrath of the Lich King, especially if you don't really have an interest in Death Knights... and with all the mount changes in the 3.2 patch, I figured Blizz just wanted to speed people out of the 1-60 range so we could catch up with everybody else. I think it's a brilliant move (not just because it suits my play style perfectly) to revamp 1-60 with all the better design tenets they've learned over the course of the last two expansions. They flipped it around right when new players were likely to feel like there was really too much ground to make up to be worth it.

I'm excited that the Old World won't just be n00bs, power levelers, twinks... and me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aioli Revelations

I've hated mayonnaise since I was a kid... and I don't feel shamed by that really (unlike, say, my previous aversion to mushrooms)... I mean, it does look like spreadable puss, after all. But over the years, my hatred has mutated a bit towards indifference... I still won't touch potato salad and other mayonnaise drenched dishes with a ten foot pole, but it's hard to imagine a BLT without it... and if a sandwich comes with mayo on it, I won't demand it to be taken off (or is that just laziness?), and doesn't even make me gag... and sometimes I feel like the sandwich was even improved by the presence of mayonnaise.

Which brings us to the aioli I made for my failed Spanish tortilla. I was fairly shocked to find that it has raw egg yolks in it... and thus the way you can tell a mayo/aioli is fresh, as opposed to out of a jar, is that it's distinctly yellowish (a little counterintuitive that). It was also really easy to make with a food processor... I still haven't mastered the "pat your head while rubbing your stomach" aspect of pouring slowly while whisking, but the food processor obviated all that.

I found it to be quite superior to your average mayo, but then it was garlic aioli and not mayo, so maybe that's not a really fair comparison... but, regardless, the raw eggs weird me out a little. It just seems like something my mother would tell me is absolutely insane and I'm going to die instantly if I eat it.

But anyway, I was pretty pleased with it, and may be moving to "mixed feelings" regarding fresh mayonnaise like substances. We'll see if it makes me sick over the next few days.

The Progressive Revolt

Krugman on the growing Progressive disappointment with Obama:’s possible to have universal coverage without a public option — several European nations do it — and some who want a public option might be willing to forgo it if they had confidence in the overall health care strategy. Unfortunately, the president’s behavior in office has undermined that confidence.

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr. Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.

Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy.

And then there’s the matter of the banks.

I'll see your "torture and indefinite detention" questions and raise a DADT and a DOMA, as the sources of my disappointment with Obama. But I gotta say, I don't know if I see the bank bailouts as either surprising or upsetting. After all, the bailouts seem to have worked, so for Krugman and other Progressives it must be issue of the fact that there were other plans that would have worked, but also had the side benefit of some bankers' heads on pikes. That sounds like fun and all, and I couldn't argue with a guy like Krugman that there were cheaper and more just ways to do it... but wasn't it an emergency? It just doesn't seem that it was the right time to make a stand for Progressive principles.

Secondly, the people who are "single payer or DEATH!" were always going to be disappointed by any Healthcare reform plan that could make it through Congress. Medicare-for-all just can't happen here and now, and the faction(s) that oppose it are not dumb enough to allow a "public option" strong enough to be a stalking horse for it. That's no reason not to push for it, since if it happens you can hopefully strengthen it and expand it over the years... but it is guaranteed to be a neutered disappointment out of the gate.

Finally, I wonder who people thought they were voting for other than a "pragmatic" centrist? He was never a Progressive Saviour, but a guy who was roughly a billion times better than the last 8 years and a million times better than his opponent... and I can't say that that has been shown false.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spanish Tortilla Fail

The Spanish tortilla to the right is how they're supposed to look. Now picture that perfect tortilla shattered, poorly mixed, and over browned and you'll be close to imagining my effort at the dish. If you aren't familiar with the Spanish tortilla... and I don't think they're particularly popular in the States... it's a lot like a frittata, but with the frittata you cook the eggs and other ingredients all at once and fairly slowly... whereas with a tortilla you fry up potatoes and onions and whatever first, before mixing with the eggs and cooking the mixture very quickly. In addition, you fire the frittata under the broiler to finish the top, but flip the Spanish tortilla to brown it on both sides. I presume this results in significantly different textures between the two... and if I ever make a decent tortilla I'll let you know if that's true.

What I used was the Cook's Illustrated Spanish tortilla with Chorizo and scallions (subscription required), and I can't say I was happy with any of their decisions. Their "innovative" flipping method was dumb, and clearly part of that Cook's thing where they need some sort of alleged improvement to justify redoing a classic recipe. I mean, here is what they suggest: 1) slide half done tortilla from pan onto a plate 2) put second plate on top 3) flip 4) slide back into pan. I guess if you have a nice very deep 10" nonstick pan with a lid and gently sloping sides it will work O.K., but even so, I fail to understand why it's any easier than putting the plate on top of the pan and flipping it over that way... and then, if you're like me, and the only deep 10" non-stick pan with a lid that you have has fairly steep sides, you won't screw up your tortilla trying to defy physics. I actually didn't follow Cook's instructions on the first flip, because they seemed so stupid(and it went fine)... but when it was time to get the finished tortilla out, I wanted the best side up and tried to slide it out... to complete disaster.

Another aspect of their recipe that seems totally silly after the fact, is that the whole reason you need a lid for this recipe was because they didn't want to use a lot of oil when frying the potatoes and onions... but, in a recipe like Bittman's, you drain them after they're cooked... which isn't going to result in a lot of excess oil, and is significantly less complicated. It just seemed pointless.

Anyway, I won't be trying that recipe again... though I feel like I should give the Spanish tortilla another chance... maybe the Bittman recipe linked above?

photo by flickr user su-lin used under a Creative Commons license

Hockey at Fenway

BU vs. BC on January 8th, 2010.
The Huskies and Wildcats, two traditional women's college hockey powers, will start the festivities at 4 p.m, with BC and BU -- the last two NCAA men's champions -- meeting for the 248th time in the programs' histories at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets will go on sale to the general public at noon on Thursday, Sept. 17. Prices start at $5 and tickets will be valid for both games.
They've been talking about this for years, so it's nice to see it finally happen. I imagine the success of the NHL "Winter Classic" outdoor games was a big factor. If I'm not mistaken, it was the Cold War that started this trend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This makes me feel better

The way Health Insurance Reform is going lately, it's easy to get depressed... this should be a good pick-me-up. Nice to see someone knock down the insanity for once.

Seafood, Class, and Region

A somewhat strange revelation from a young Northeasterner in Savannah:
Until last week, I have mostly eaten oysters raw, on the half shell, and once in a glass of champagne (only sort of on purpose). They were the kind of food associated with dinner jackets, Ibsen plays, or Grand Central station. The first time I drove by the barbecue/seafood/whatever else store by my house in Savannah and saw them selling hundred-pound sacks of oysters, I was a bit confused. I'm surprised it took me a month and a half of living in Savannah to figure out that like most other things in Georgia, oysters are great fried.
It's hard for me imagine anyone... even a fresh out of college Yalie... not knowing that fried oysters exist. However, that may be due to growing up near the Chesapeake Bay, where, while not an iconic local favorite, they're not uncommon. I suppose if I grew up in New York City or Chicago it might never occur to me that something so expensive would be deep fried and served between two pieces of bread.... but I didn't, and I have a deep affection for the fried soft shell crab sandwich, so a Po' boy seems perfectly sensible.

I guess this is just another example of how where you grow up shapes your perception of what's "high class"... especially in seafood. Similar to the author in the piece, I always thought of lobster as being something just for fancy restaurants and special dinners, but up in Maine nondescript shacks serve them up by the cartload onto picnic tables. Whereas, even most Marylanders think of crabs as being expensive and special (and they are), if you live on the water you can catch your own dinner pretty quickly for nothing more than your time and some chicken necks. It leads to a different mentality... where things tend to get fried up and put on white bread.

Lobster is quite plentiful, as Mainers are careful with their lifeblood... but you wonder how long some of these regional seafood traditions can continue if we don't do reverse some of the damage we've done. Especially in the Chesapeake, sustainable oyster farming isn't enough... you've got to bring back the population and put some pretty hard limits down. At least there seems some hope.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

False Equivalences

According to local police, approximately a dozen people carrying firearms outside the Obama event yesterday.

And now the health-reform opponent carrying an AR-15 Assault Rifle (or perhaps the group he's affiliated with) has produced a Youtube video which leaves little question where they stand -- "We will forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority with a vote."

I admit I'm about to present a bit of a strawman, since I haven't heard anybody say the "crazies of the left are just as crazy as the right" in regards to this particular incident... but it's a commonly expressed sentiment and was used to justify health care opponents rowdy town hall confrontations.

I find openly carried weapons with threats of forceful resistance to be significantly more crazy than some anarchists committing vandalism during WTO protests... but YMMV.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Insurance Reform

The lefty blogo-sphere is inflamed... that the White House is indicating that it isn't wedded to a "public option", and my fellow liberal bloggers are pressing progressives in the House to vote against any bill that doesn't have it. If you don't have progresssives on board then you don't have a bill. Thus the question is whether it's better to get nothing if reform doesn't include a public option. The answer here is unquestionably no... as Paul Krugman pointed out yesterday, universal coverage without a public option looks like what the Swiss do:
Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

That's not particularly awesome... and I'd rather Medicare for everybody too, but I don't know where you find the votes for it. There are very good reasons for the inclusion of a public option... essentially, we'll need "bigger government" to effectively regulate the private insurance market... but it's not more important than reforming insurance itself. I'd rather see a more forceful effort being made to convince Blue Dogs (and Americans in general) why the public option is a really good idea, but if "socialism" is such a dirty word that you can't make people see sense about it, then I'd say you drop it and come back for it later. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that progressives should stop raising a ruckus about any plans to kill a public option... I just don't think it should be our Alamo. Getting Swiss style health insurance would be worlds better than what we currently have, even if sub-optimal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


As is probably obvious, I've not been posting on politics much lately... there are a couple of reasons for this, but mainly I've found most of the political debates going on to be too maddening to comment about... but this "death panel" has to be addressed (even if it's still maddening). Setting aside the real crazy stuff, the general thrust is that including a public option in health care reform would lead to rationing, i.e. that some panel will determine whether your grandma gets a pacemaker. In a trivial sense, that's true... either Congress or, preferably, a board of experts will determine what services it will reimburse for in the public plan... just like any insurance company does. This means there will be services you can't get if you have the public plan, because nobody thinks it's a great idea for taxpayers to be on the hook for "free unlimited medical care for everyone"... we liberals just want to guarantee a minimum level of service for everyone. What's not clear here is how guaranteeing a minimum will lead to medical options suddenly disappearing. If you want something not covered by the public plan, why don't you pay for a fancier plan that does... or just pay for the service yourself? I mean, plastic surgery seems to be doing pretty well, and I'm not aware of any insurance plans that cover nose jobs. It seems odd for Randroids to have suddenly lost their faith in the power of free markets to supply services, but that seems to be the only way to read it.

I found this analogy by Matt Yglesias to be particularly illustrative of the illogic going on, since health care wouldn't be the only service with a "public option":
...your kid is entitled to go to a public school. They’ll teach him reading and writing and some science and history and probably Spanish or French or some such. But in the vast majority of places, you can’t have your kid taught Japanese at taxpayer expense. Again, though, we don’t live in a dystopian universe of “language rationing” in which it’s impossible to learn Japanese, you’d just have to pay someone else to do it. We of course could ban the market in private foreign language instruction, but it’s not clear why we would do that, and the existence of public sector provision of Spanish language instruction doesn’t in any sense imply a ban on the teaching of other foreign languages. What’s more, even if you’re incredibly troubled by the fact that today’s poor children don’t have the chance to learn Japanese in public school it’s still the case that eliminating public schools and lowering taxes isn’t going to leave those kids any better off. They still won’t know Japanese and now they also won’t be able to read.

Of course conservatives/libertarians don't like public schools either, but few are so brazen to propose we abandon it... and I doubt they'd find many takers if they did.

photo by flickr user austinevan used under a Creative Commons licence

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I'm working on a response to reviewers for a manuscript that has to get done by Friday, so I might not have a lot to post the next couple days... I do have a Blood Bowl post(ohhhh exciting) I'm working on, and Anna and I are making vegetarian enchiladas verdes tomorrow night, so hopefully it wont be too barren around here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arrow Street Crepes

In contrast to the unsatisfying brunch experience detailed below, we had an truly excellent meal on our first trip to Arrow Street Crepes this past Saturday. I've been wanting to hit this place up for over a year, but for whatever reason I kept forgetting about it whenever we were trying to figure out where to go to eat... I don't imagine that will be a problem going forward.

I have almost no crepe experience... I've had the sweet kind a couple of times, but never savory... so I obviously can't comment on authenticity. They have a pretty extensive vegetarian section (obviously not vegan) and offer smoothies as well. While it was bigger than I expected inside, there is not a whole lot of space... and though it was strangely empty on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I can imagine it would be more than a little cramped if full. It's sort of a hybrid take-out/sit-down place... you order at the counter, but someone brought us our food and smoothies to our table(though perhaps not when they are busier?). With said smoothies($4.50-$5.00 each), food for the two of us crested $30, so it's definitely not a bargain.

The food itself, however, was excellent. If you don't mind paying $10 for crepes that don't involve a true sit down dining experience, then I say give it a shot... we'll certainly be going back.

Annals of Bad Omelets

Yesterday, Anna and I headed to brunch at Veggie Planet. I've mentioned them before, and I'm not a huge fan, but brunch is a meal that is nearly impossible to get for vegans and vegetarians who don't do eggs... so we end up there fairly often. Their pizzas are consistently good, but any of their specials... like their omelet or tofu scram of the day ... are a big rolls of the dice, and yesterday it was snake eyes all the way around the table.

A peas, corn, and cheddar omelet. Does that sound like a good idea to anybody? I appreciate being daring and willing to take risks, but there's probably a reason you've never heard of such an omelet... and that's because peas roll around. They might as well have given me some scrambled eggs with peas and corn on the side for all they stayed together... which is kind of contrary to the whole point, no? Eggs wrapped around delicious fillings where the sum is greater than it's parts. I also give 100 to 1 odds that those peas and corn came from the freezer... and it's the middle of August. While I understand that the tomatoes are in trouble, that's not all they sell at the farmer's markets.

Anyway, I still find it irritating that Veggie Planet can be so mediocre and inconsistent and yet still do a swift business... and that, of course, is because there isn't any competition (at least that I'm aware of). While I wouldn't say it's always disappointing... I've had some good meals there and Anna loves their Portobello Redhead pizza... if it was any other type of restaurant we would have given up on it ages ago. Would it really be that hard for any of the innumerable fine brunch places in Boston and Cambridge to throw a tofu scram on their menu and have a vegan waffle/pancake option? That's all it would take! And you'd clean up, I swear!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Intertubes Update

So we're back up and running. The cable guy came and set-up the phone, but I was on my own for the modem(saves a $100)... up until the point where I had to get it to work with my wireless router it was pretty easy. The biggest issue there was forgetting the username and password for the damn router, and then not being able to reset it... somehow I broke the button I guess. I actually had to pull my old computer out of mothballs to get it to work. Then, once I had my router set correctly, it was mainly a matter of figuring out what order to turn things on so that the cable modem was tuned to my router and not my computer.

Played some WoW and watched some No Reservations in HD on Netflix and everything seemed flawless. Note that the download numbers posted above are probably artificially inflated because of "Speed Boost" which ups your speed for the first 50 megs or something... a fairly transparent attempt to juice these tests, but whatever.

Strangely, the guy left us an extra modem that I'm not sure what to do with. I guess I should see if I'm paying for two before anything else.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Case against... Parks?!

Matt Yglesias makes it:
It seems to me that human beings have some kind of psychological tick that leads them to overestimate the amount of time they’re going to want to spend engaged in outdoor recreating. It’s one thing if you live in California, where the weather’s nice all of the time, but here in the Northeast how much use do we really get out of parks? People don’t go to the park at night, or during the winter, or when it’s raining. Compare that to, say, an apartment building with some retail on the ground floor. People go to stores all the time.

Yeah, too right! Let's pave over Boston Common so we can have space for another Gap!! That sounds awesome.

I think that "psychological tick" that Matt is talking about is that even devout city dwellers often like to walk through green spaces to get to said store... and that's "use", even if it's not as obvious as hanging out and throwing a Frisbee around.

photo by flickr user riacale used under a Creative Commons license

I Win Teh Internetz!?!?

Kneel before Zod:

Impressive, eh? Assuming the cable guy comes as scheduled, and no unexpected problems arise, today should be the last day of my swizzle stick like connection to the intertubes... so I did a bandwidth test at for comparison's sake.

We're going with the "Ultra" internet option from Comcast, which is one step down from the top... and allegedly a 22 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload... so more than 10x what we're currently getting. So I assume our connection won't choke when I want to play Blood Bowl while Anna's playing WoW. Sigh. It's fairly expensive(roughly $60 per month I believe), but somewhat incredibly, only a couple bucks more per month (with local phone service) than we were paying with Verizon for DSL+local. That's presumably because I was being penalized for not having some sort of package, but regardless, it's not going to effect our monthly bill, despite the huge speed upgrade and the switch to a (fingers crossed) non crackly telephone.

You'd think, with the internet being my primary form of entertainment, that I'd have made this switch ages ago. But when we moved into our current place, there weren't any of these uber high speed options available... Cable was faster than DSL, but only marginally so, and I still wanted a landline but didn't want television service. So back then I was forced to either pay for cable TV I didn't want or be heavily penalized for just getting internet service(still the case, but now you can do phone instead of TV)... while still paying Verizon for a landline. So with my cellphone on Verizon as well, it seemed to make sense to keep it all on one bill. As the high speed cable options came online, I was of course intrigued, but figured I could just wait for FiOS... after all, we don't do a lot of downloading... mainly WoW and streaming video from Hulu and Netflix, and DSL seemed sufficient. However, ever since Xbox teamed with Netflix, allowing LIVE users to access the online movies, that service has been nearly unusable for us... and not being able to play online games at the same time? That was the nail in the coffin.

I'll test the speed and update from the shiny new modem(one downside of doing telephone instead or TV as your package is that you can't buy your own modem but have to lease one for $3 a month) as soon as I get it running.

Then I'll get the added joy of calling up Verizon to cancel my DSL service.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking Semantics

Kevin Drum, in response to the Pollan article (mentioned below), wonders whether what he does to feed himself when his wife is away counts as cooking:
1. Place a piece of salmon in a baking ban.

2. Put the baking pan in the oven.

3. Take it out after a while and eat it.

It certainly doesn't sound like the most exciting meal to me... baked plain salmon... not even a little lemon or dill, Kevin? But I would call it cooking.

The food marketing researcher in the article, however, would not:
Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty.


“Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

While he doesn't say so, Slow Fooders like Pollan do know people who kill and clean chickens they've raised... but however much the rage urban poultry farming may be in hip Brooklyn neighborhoods, it's clearly not causing too many average American families to put a chicken coop in their backyard. And that's sort of the point... while chicken raising isn't for many people, we'd be in a much better place if it wasn't considered "crazy". Moving from all day chicken preparation to a five minute microwaved chicken patty has not been a particularly healthy development for our society.

That, however, is a bit of a strawman. It's pretty easy to bash microwave dinners, as I'm not aware of too many people who especially love them... but it seems to me that his criticism goes significantly deeper than that. Knowing his other work, he's not interested in the nutritional merits of Lean Cuisine vs. Trader Joes or McDonald's vs. Wagamama but is instead indicting the whole enterprise of convenient food. In my interpretation, that's everything from a McDonald's Extra Value Meal to a frozen pizza to a $100 dinner at a chichi restaurant made from grass fed beef and locally grown vegetables. Obviously it's fast food that's linked most strongly to obesity, and you're probably not getting a 2000 calorie appetizer with that $100 dinner... but the case against quick food is a fairly strong one in my opinion. The general idea being that the food that is the worst for us would be difficult or impossible for a home cook to prepare... or at least be such a PITA that it would rarely be done. Industrialized food has done the opposite, in making terrible food both cheap and quick to make. Thus, in a purely economic sense, fancy restaurant eating is going to be better for you... regardless of nutrition... since it's so much more expensive to outsource the food growing, preparation, and cooking in this instance, it seems it will be a rare event for most... like a gut busting holiday feast. However, the safest thing to do to ensure a healthy diet is to involve yourself in as much of the the food cycle as possible. It's worked pretty well that way for thousands of years... up to the last 50 at any rate.

So, to get back to Kevin's question, the "realest" cooking is taking it from seed to plate... with the Barbara Kingsolver method as the platonic ideal. That's not a workable lifestyle for many people other than Barbara Kingsolver and her family, but anybody with a backyard(not me) can grow vegetables. And yes, I'd consider growing all the parts of a salad and throwing them together with a homemade vinaigrette to be very real cooking, even if it's not complex at the preparation stage.

photo by flickr user xmascarol used under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

WoW Patch 3.2 Live Today

Looks like all the Realms are still down though (and to stay that way until 3 PM PST/6 PM EST at least). I'm at work, so makes no difference to me... but if you are getting anxious with nothing to do, you can read the patch notes and peruse the 3.2 guide on to while away the hours.

I have to admit I'm looking forward to the mount changes and new druid forms.

It Happens

John Cole, in response to some new legislation in Colorado that makes it illegal to throw things at bikers, asks pointedly:
What kind of twisted jackass throws something out of a car at a biker?
My mom is a fairly avid cyclist who has had beer cans thrown at her and been purposefully run off the road... and she's not a person who commutes to work and has to fight with people for space during rush hour... she only rides in designated bike lanes out in the boonies to get to get to secluded trails. Some people seem to have a reflexive hatred of people on bicycles.

I can sort of understand some level of animosity in places like Boston where there aren't pervasive bike lanes and where motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists all operate on the same "kill or be killed" kind of aggressive mindset... but when it comes to throwing things at someone from a moving car department I don't think we can blame anything but the obvious.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Cook it Yourself Diet

At the tail end of a Michael Pollan article(great article) about how cooking has transformed into a spectator sport he gets this choice quote:
You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.

Ezra Klein links to the actual 2003 paper that forms the basis for the idea that it's a lack of cooking that's making us fat.
First, we show that increased caloric intake is largely a result of consuming more meals rather than more calories per meal. This is consistent with lower fixed costs of food preparation. Second, we show that consumption of mass produced food has increased the most in the past two decades. Third, we show that groups in the population that have had the most ability to take advantage of the technological changes have had the biggest increases in weight. Married women spent a large amount of time preparing food in 1970, while single men spent little. Obesity increased much more among married women. Finally, we show that obesity across countries is correlated with access to new food technologies and to processed food. Food and its delivery systems are among the most regulated areas of the economy. Some regulations are explicit (for example, the European Union has taken a strong stance against genetically engineered food, Germany for many years had a Beer Purity Law), and others are cultural (Jose Bove’s crusade against McDonalds’ in France). Empirically, countries that are more regulatory and that support traditional agriculture and delivery systems have lower rates of obesity.

My pizza, french fry, and potato chip consumption would drop like a stone if I had to cook them all myself... would I end up consuming less calories? Presumably because the first thing to go would be snacks... and just swapping out an apple for a bag of chips saves you about 150 calories. I don't think I'd have the willpower for that kind of shift though, and I like cooking. You'd think with all I blog about cooking I'd cook more for myself, but I still haven't cooked anything other than a frozen pizza in ages. Maybe I should commit to eating 5 home cooked meals a week or something... that doesn't even seem like that much, but it would require quite a behavior modification.

U.S. Politics One Dimensional

Matt Yglesias commenting on a Paul Krugman post:
To offer some qualitative examples, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are pro-choice Republican Senators. But they’re also the two senators who seem like they might possibly vote for a national health care bill. Rather than representing some kind of ideal type of upscale northeasterner who’s socially liberal but economically conservative, they’re less conservative across-the-board than their colleagues from the South and the Mountains. Conversely, when you stroll down to Arkansas’ Democratic Senators, you don’t see cultural conservatives with populist economics, they’re just more conservative across-the-board than their coastal colleagues.

It's nice to think there'd be some more nuance to it, but apparently not. It looks like the only time there was a second dimension was civil rights. What's the reason? Neither Yglesias nor Krugman speculate, and I'm no political scientist... I'd be curious to see data from some European parliaments. What does the increased polarization lead to? Gridlock. Nothing gets passed, which is handy when you're in the minority party and annoying when you want health care reform passed.