Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Engineering Humor

I'm busy this morning, so today's xkcd is all I got:

A little chuckle is better than lamenting the failure to get a public option in Baucus's health care bill anyway.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New #1 on my Amazon wishlist!!!11!1!one!

Sarah Palin's memoir due out November 17th.

Though seriously? If anybody buys me that I will never forgive them. No I mean it... I won't laugh and it won't be funny... not even a little bit.

Cold Brewed Coffee Controversy

I had heard some good things about cold brewed coffee, and had been meaning to try it this summer, but Jerry Baldwin at the Atlantic assures me that I shouldn't bother:
I find the extract to be weak and insipid. Low-temperature brewing (see below) doesn't make for a satisfying, flavorful cup. Diluting it makes it weak in the extreme. If I were to drink cold-water coffee, I would drink the extract undiluted. It's not strong at all. This makes for more expensive coffee. You only get about 29 fluid ounces, undiluted, from a pound of beans, compared to 225 fl. oz. from a pound brewed at 200 degrees.
Brewing is the method we use to extract the good soluble solids from coffee. Not enough extraction leaves an insipid brew, as in cold-water extraction; too much extraction from brewing that is too long or too hot produces bitterness. But brewing the correct grind for the maker at the right temperature (195 to 205 Fahrenheit) and the right time (3 to 5 minutes) gives you what we have all been seeking these last 1,000 years: a good cup of coffee.

Now, I don't really have a horse in this race since I am no coffee snob... I drink Dunkin' Donuts coffee loaded with cream and sugar on a daily basis, and only break out the siphon pot and Terrior coffee on the weekend when I have time to sip and enjoy it. Point being that it's unlikely that I would find it worthless given my low "adaptable" standards... though if Baldwin is right that it's too weak to drink it diluted, then cost would seem to be prohibitive. Still seems worth a try to form my own opinion.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oyster Fact of the Day

I had no idea Maine has some quite successful oyster farms, but apparently they do:
As it turns out, the same cold, nutrient-rich water that made Maine the kingpin of the lobster industry also produces perfect oysters. The Damariscotta’s water is some of the cleanest in the Northeast and gives the oysters their distinctively briny taste. Because Maine oysters take two to four years to grow to maturity, compared with a year or two in warmer waters, they also develop firmer meat, a deep cup and a thick shell that makes for easier shucking.

These days there are 12 ma-and-pa farms like Glidden Point scattered along the banks of the river. Every year, they ship more than two million oysters to restaurants like the Tabard Inn in Washington and the raw bars at Balthazar and Craftsteak in New York City.

Every time I read another story about how well they're doing with things like this in Maine, I wonder why they continue to have so many problems on the Chesapeake Bay. Is it just because Maine is less developed and less polluted? A different attitude among the watermen that leans towards conservation?

Gigot de Sept Heures (7 Hour Lamb)

So I did go ahead and make Gigot de Sept Heures out of Saveur this Saturday... though I was slightly more responsible than I thought I would be, ripping some old CD's that had been sitting by my computer for weeks instead of just playing video games for seven hours. I don't really have a lot to say about it though... it's fairly simple, but not cheap:

So probably better for special occasions, but whatever.

The one criticism I have for the recipe is that you don't make a sauce from the juices... which seems like a shame after 7 hours of cooking. Since it cooks for 3-3.5 hours uncovered at the end, there isn't even enough liquid left over to make a sauce if you wanted to, which seems like a weakness in the method.

But you definitely end up with fall apart tender meat, and some tasty beans. So overall I thought it was good and worth it... a perfect Sunday Dinner dish when you want to stay around the house and not be too burdened by cooking while still getting an amazing dish at the end. I basted every 30 minutes and that seemed plenty.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Party at Ground Zero

Contra Yglesias, I consider this to be the best Nuk-u-lur Armageddon song in existence.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Now my apartment smells like burnt cheese

A bit of a failed effort on the pizza making front last night... though not a complete failure, thankfully. Anna was out of commission after a really rough day, so yours truly was on his own with the pizzas... and, regrettably, it turns out I was not up to the task. According to the recipe, you take the dough out of the refrigerator two hours before you're going to cook it... flour it and smash it into a disk and whatnot, and then just let it rest. I was surprised to see that it didn't really rise any on the counter, which meant there wasn't a lot of dough to work with... and I have yet to have much success shaping a pizza, always giving up and having Anna and her bakery experience do it. However, I was feeling pretty optimistic this time for some reason... indeed, I was expecting to be able to do this:
Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift 1 piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208.
Now, why I thought I could bounce dough on my fists when I handn't even been able to get a round pizza by pushing out with my fingers is a mystery... and about where the trouble started. I never got to the "full toss" luckily, so there wasn't any pizza dough on the ceiling or anything... but I made such an abysmal effort I had to beg Anna to come in and fix my lame shaping. She did so, but what I really should have done is taken a deep breath or two and let the dough relax for 5-20 minutes while I moved to the next piece and shaped with my fingers or a rolling pin. That's what I'll do next time I screw it up... not be afraid to squish it back together and let it relax. Anyway, I got it onto the peel and put the sauce on and then started to put on my cheese mixture (2 parts Gruyère, 1 part Asiago, 1 part Gorgonzola, and a couple of teaspons of dried basil and oregano)... but I had been planning on a bigger pizza then we ended up with, and consequently had too much cheese... instead of just saving the leftovers for when I make my next pizza (we have four more balls of dough in the freezer after all) I just piled it all on the pizza. This would be my second mistake. I got it on to the baking stone fine, but the excessive cheese soon melted and ran down onto the stone... giving us a bit of smoke and and nice fine heady aroma about the apartment. Having some toppings fall off onto the stone to burn is a fairly typical experience, so I shouldn't have worried too much... but I let it get in my head and mess up my game. Part of the reason was Reinhart's suggestion to put the baking stone on the floor of the oven (if it's a gas oven obvi)... this will get the stone as hot as possible (good!) but if it's not on a rack you can't pull it out to give you the easiest time getting the pizza on there (very very bad - as we shall soon see).

While that pizza was in the oven, I started on the second... spinach, mozzarella, ricotta, and tomato... I shaped it myself this time (with my fingers) and moved it to the peel... belatedly realizing I still needed the peel to take out my other pizza. So I moved it back to the floured counter so I could get my three cheese pizza out. By the time I moved the dough back on to the peel, I had a very long and thin rectangular pizza... unweildy enough that I should have started the shaping over, but, alas, didn't. Instead, I put on the toppings and moved to put it in the oven... but my jerk with the peel to lay down an edge on the stone was a little too hard, as the whole pizza slide off and folded over onto itself like an accordion. Uhm... whoops. While the same thing could have happened if the stone was on a rack that I had pulled out, I would have had a better chance of salvaging it... or, more importantly, cleaning it up when I realized there was no way to save it. As it was, all I could do was try to scoop up the mound of bubbling mound of pizza parts with the peel... and while I did get up a hefty chunk, I also pushed a fair bit off the stone onto the bottom of the oven where I couldn't get to.

You can probably guess how wonderful our apartment smelled after that. It's a wonder I didn't set of the fire alarm. With a giant stone that had been in a 550 degree oven for an hour and a half, there wasn't much I could think of doing except running around and cursing in the smoke.

That makes today: Oven cleaning day! Yay? It did need cleaning, so I guess I can take solace in that.

I should say that the three cheese pizza turned out fairly well. The crust was, in fact, delicious, with a outer crispness, inner chew, and great flavor. So despite numerous trials and tribulations, I give the dough a thumbs up and am anxious to make some more pizzas next week.

Here is what I learned:
  • Don't put the baking stone on the floor of the oven unless you are really an expert with a pizza peel. Put it on the lowest rack you can, and pull the rack out to place the pizza. The absolute best option is to have a second person armed with spatulas to help even out the placement and scoop up any stray toppings that may have fallen onto the stone.
  • Shape the dough with your fingers or a rolling pin unless you really know what you are doing. If you screw up, don't be afraid to stop and let the dough rest for 5-20 minutes before trying again.
  • Don't go overboard with toppings, especially cheese.
With these lessons in mind, hopefully I'll have some successful pizza making adventures to report next week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Peter Reinhart's Pizza Dough

Using the recipe out of Bread Maker's Apprentice (recipe available here), I made a batch of Reinhart's pizza dough last night... leaving two roughly 6 ounce balls of dough in the fridge tonight's pizza making, and freezing the other four for later. Anna and I really enjoy homemade pizzas, but up until this point, we have used the simple and straightforward dough recipe out of New Best Recipe... handy since it's made in the food processor and can be used the same day you mix it (not true of Reinhart's). However, as I've gotten a bit into bread making, I've become a little disappointed with the NBR dough... I don't find it to give terribly consistent results, and I'd prefer a little bit more chew and oven spring than we generally get from it... so, since both things I've made from Bread Maker's Apprentice have been amazing, I thought I'd give Reinhart's dough a shot. Reinhart is a big fan of delayed fermentation... the same deal as Pain a l'Ancienne, which we already know is tasty... so you chill the flour and use cold water to make it and immediately put your dough balls into the fridge... putting the yeast into super slow motion, which apparently does all sorts of wonderful flavor things which I don't really understand.

I hand mixed as per usual, and didn't seem to have any problems, but we'll see. As a novice with bread making I don't exactly know how the dough is supposed to feel... but I think I got "smooth and sticky" but I'm not sure how "springy" it was... though I guess I could call it "elastic"... maybe. The proof will be in the baking I suppose.

I haven't completely decided on toppings for the pizzas tonight, but I think I'm going to go with a simple 3 cheese pizza (Gruyère, Asiago, and Gorgonzola) for one and a spinach, ricotta, and Roma tomatoes for the other.

photo by flickr user edwardkimuk used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SI and ESPN conspire to hex Ravens

Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN have the Ravens at #1 in their respective NFL Power Rankings. This is a transparent attempt to set the Ravens up for a trap game against Cleveland this week, but luckily the Browns are really, really bad.

Despite the fact that my Fantasy Football team is atrocious, I'll still head to the bar on Sunday since I'm pretty excited for the slate of early games this week... I'd like to catch the Falcons at the Patriots, Titans at the Jets, and 49ers at the Vikings... I'll have to keep my head on a swivel while I'm (hopefully) watching the Ravens manhandle the Browns. What I'd like to see from the Ravens this week? A functioning secondary.

Long term vs. Short term cost-benefit in opposing Healthcare reform

Jonathan Chait wonders whether a focus on winning the battle on Healthcare Reform will lose the war for Republicans:
Republicans are acting in their individual and collective political self-interest. Individually, Republicans realize that their base is convinced that Obamacare equals socialism plus death panels, and thus any Republican who signs on would kiss away his political future and quite likely face a primary challenge. Collectively, the party has put all its chips on defeating health care reform, or, as a fallback, withholding support and rendering reform a "partisan" exercise that can be used against red state Democrats in 2010.

It's a smart political strategy. But the health care plan that Obama signs is going to be around for a very lon time. Republicans might one day come to wonder if picking up some seats in 2010 were worth forgoing a chance to help put their imprint on the U.S. health care system.

If the issue was substance and not politics, I would 100% agree with this... if Republicans played ball with Baucus they could have gotten an even more conservative bill than is currently being debated in the Finance Committee, but their intransigence appears likely to push it leftward as Baucus shores up his flank. Assuming it passes, I would bet there will be some conservative thinkers regretting the missed opportunity down the line (though they got tons of concessions without having to support it, so it's still not even that bad of a deal).

On the politics, however, I just can't see the long term cost. After all, one of the tropes that gets trotted out by conservatives to object to reform is that "Social Security was bipartisan! Medicare was bipartisan! So you can't do Healthcare without Republicans!" But who really thinks of those two programs as "bipartisan"? Aren't they both identified with the party in power, and more specifically the President in office, when they passed? As far as history looking backward, this is Obama's bill for better or worse... and I don't see much to be gained for Republicans by voting for it. The only exception would be GOP Senators or Reps in Blue States, but pretty much all of those are gone now except for the lovely ladies from Maine (and I wouldn't be surprised to see both vote for it). Frankly, the current bills under consideration are all too incrementalist and technocratic to cause a massive shift that leaves Republicans wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. However, it seems clear that salient issue to come from reform is going to be controlling costs and lessening the burden of insurance on the middle class, and that is going to be a big issue for voters for years to come... but I don't see a vote now tying anyone to a position that won't be relevant until/if Obama gets reelected.

Another reason to skip the Kindle?

The Microsoft Courier looks pretty boss:

I love the fact that it's a hinged two page "booklet". The interface is fascinating and looks powerful. Gizmodo says:
The Courier user experience presented here is almost the exact opposite of what everyone expects the Apple tablet to be, a kung fu eagle claw to Apple's tiger style. It's complex: Two screens, a mashup of a pen-dominated interface with several types of multitouch finger gestures, and multiple graphically complex themes, modes and applications. (Our favorite UI bit? The hinge doubles as a "pocket" to hold items you want move from one page to another.) Microsoft's tablet heritage is digital ink-oriented, and this interface, while unlike anything we've seen before, clearly draws from that, its work with the Surface touch computer and even the Zune HD.
Supposedly it's in the "late prototype" stage, but the fact that the video is all animation seems to suggest its still a bit away... but I'm going to keep my eye on this.

Old Skool Fettuccine Alfredo

So there it is... the Original Fettuccine Alfredo... looking a bit more attractive than I expected with the spinach fettuccine, so that's nice. It's an incredibly easy to make dish... much easier than modern interpretations I'd say. And it's quick! If you're using fresh pasta, you're talking like 3 minutes for the pasta and then 2 minutes with the butter and cheese in a skillet and you're done.

The problem is that is that it's really only awesome hot, as the cheese congeals and separates from the butter as it cools... so it's easy to see why modern versions moved to cream based sauces. So definitely don't make it until you're absolutely sure everything else is done... and don't skip the heated plate step, as it makes a big difference in keeping it velvety longer.

As I speculated before making it, while I love the flavor of Pecorino Romano, it did overwhelm the butter a bit... and a more delicate Parmesan is probably the way to go... or maybe a combo for the best of both worlds? Even with a Parmesan, I think you'll find this Alfredo to be quite distinct from what you'll find in restaurants... definitely more cheesy than creamy. I'll have to try making the cream sauce version soon to see how it compares more explicitly.

I'd recommend giving the recipe a shot since it's both easy and different, though not dated.

Oh, and here's what 1/2 a pound of butter and 1/2 pound of cheese look like:

I think you can gain 5 pounds just by looking at that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This is why I don't save any money cooking

  • Artisanal baguette: $2.50
  • 1/2 lb of imported Italian butter: $5.99
  • 1/2 lb of Locatelli Pecorino Romano: $6.50
  • 1 lb of fresh spinach pasta: $4.00
Calories per serving: 1 million

I chose Pecorino Romano because I much prefer its bite to Parmigiano Reggiano... but it's possible that flavor will overwhelm the sauce. We shall see.

Acadia Hiking: Valley Peak to Flying Mountain Loop

The tourists season is over, the leaves are already turning, and the weather is becoming more and more crisp... which makes it my favorite time to hike in Maine. Here's the GPSed pictures and my accompanying description of the hike at EveryTrail:

A moderate intensity hike in one of the less trafficked areas of Acadia National Park. The parking area for the trail head is on Fernald Point Road off of 102, near Southwest Harbor. Despite the fact that the trail isn't in a tourist heavy area, the relatively low height of the peaks and large number of nearby houses don't make for a secluded hike. In fact, we heard what sounded like a wedding reception both as we started and as we finished the hike.

That said, the spectacular views of Somes Sound, Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and the Cranberry Isles make it worth the risk of noise pollution.

I would advise against taking the path we did towards St. Sauveur from Valley Peak. The trail has no views and the peak itself is unimpressive... in retrospect we should have stayed on Valley Peak trail headed towards Man O' War truck road. If you would like a more strenuous hike, you can skip Flying Mountain and just do an out-and-back on Valley Peak... but you'll miss some pretty nice views along the water.

While not my favorite Acadia hike of all time (that would be this one), it was quite nice and the views really are stunning... and dinner at Cafe This Way afterwards made the whole day a memorable experience.

Cooking Plans for the Week

It's been a somewhat popular refrain, both on this blog and in my life, for me to remark that "I don't cook enough" or "I really should be cooking more"... and it's true! I blog about most of what I cook, and a quick browse through the archives would show that I'm not cooking more than once or twice a week and I often go through fairly long phases where I'm not really cooking much of anything. Now, since my significant other is a vegetarian, if I'm cooking meat then once or twice a week is fairly decent, since it means I'm eating lots of leftovers... the Chicken and 40 cloves of Garlic, for example, lasted something like 3 or 4 days... but ideally we'd be cooking more often... either together or dishes we would both want to eat.

While I already had a frozen pizza last night, marring my renewed commitment to cooking somewhat... sigh... tonight I'm going to stop by Dave's Fresh Pasta after work and pick up some fresh fettuccine and some frozen ravioli. While I'd like to get into making the pasta myself at some point, I'm not quite ready for that yet. I'll use the fettuccine to make Old Skool Fettuccine Alfredo (no cream - just butter and cheese) tonight, and save the ravioli for when the tomatoes from Anna's mother's garden ripen up enough for another batch of fresh tomato sauce... which may be next week, since I also want to make a batch of Peter Reinhart's pizza dough... alternatively, if the tomatoes are perfectly ripe, then I can just freeze all of the dough for later.

This weekend, when Anna is up for a Mother-Daughter time in Maine, I'm going to try and make Seven Hour Leg of Lamb from the latest issue of Saveur. This is an example of my ideal recipe... slow cooking a hunk of meat to serve with stewed beans. In addition, seven hours of braising and basting is also the perfect excuse to play video games all day... so win-win!

Too ambitious? We'll see... at least I've blogged about it, so I'm commited to trying. I would guess the leg of lamb is going to be the hardest to obtain, but I never cook lamb so maybe it's all over the place and I'm just not aware... presumably Savenor's will have it if standard stores fail me.

photo by flickr user Herman Saksono used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, September 21, 2009

Food Porn or Dump and Stir?

A post over at the IFA by Ezra Klein, criticizing the Food Network, has provoked quite a bit of commentary thereabouts (including my own)... and gotten me to thinking enough to post about it here. Criticizing the Food Network, or food related television in general, has been quite popular lately so Ezra didn't break much new ground there. Pollan did it in the New York Times a couple of months a go with Michael Ruhlman posting some similar thoughts in response, while within said comments Ruhlman pointed to three year old criticism from Bill Buford in the New Yorker (that I hadn't seen).

What I found interesting in comparing Pollan's, Ruhlman's, and Buford's comments to Ezra's... is that the prior three hold up Julia Child up as the epitome of food/cooking related television... that is: "dump and stir" or how-to shows... while Ezra is head over heels for Top Chef, No Reservations, and Iron Chef... i.e. food porn. While I have no patience for the reality T.V. aspects of Top Chef, I dearly love No Reservations and get a great deal of enjoyment out of Iron Chef and watch them both whenever I have the opportunity. However, as entertaining as I find them, those shows have not taught me a thing about cooking nor inspired me to cook a single dish. Insofar as I watch television for purely entertainment purposes, that's obviously perfectly fine... but for the most part, in my food television I would like: to learn about a cooking technique, see a recipe or variation that I've never heard of, and/or feel like cooking something after watching... preferably all three at the same time.

Unfortunatley, the only two shows I'm aware of that do those things consistently are Good Eats and America's Test Kitchen. While I've certainly gotten some of the above out of the various shows the still demonstrate how to cook things on Food Network or PBS (during viewing sessions when I have access to television in Maine or Maryland and nothing to do), those two seem to consistently deliver the goods. It wasn't always that way, but the descent into mediocre cooking shows had begun even before Buford penned his article... as Mario Batali's and Sarah Moulton's shows had already been cancelled at that point, in favor or Giada and Rachael Ray. Personally, I don't really have a problem with Rachael Ray, since a large number of people seem to actually cook her recipes... as opposed to just watching and drooling... but I can't say she's made much I've wanted to replicate, and you certainly don't learn much about cooking from her... so I can see where some of the criticism comes from. As for Giada... well... she has incredibly precise enunciation, and I'll leave it at that.

Though honestly, from a Dump and Stir fan's perspective, Rachael Ray and Giada are the least of the problem when it comes to the decline of food TV... it really comes down to the rise of Food Pr0n and shows for foodies instead of cooks. Not that you can't be both or that there is something wrong with being a foodie... but the more the Food Network tries to cater to that demographic, and knockoff the shows Ezra loves... the worse its cooking shows will be.

I guess that means that, while I don't think the Food Network is "a wasteland"... I do think it's going in the wrong direction, though ironically precisely because it is unsuccesfully trying to cater to viewers like Ezra Klein. I don't presume they're going to stop trying to mimic the success of Top Chef, but I hope they always have a place for Alton Brown.

photo of Batman stirring polenta from flickr user jspace3 and used under a Creative Commons license

"Olympia Snowe is more of a Democrat than some of the Democrats."

Probably not a quote from Ezra Klein's congressional and administration sources that will thrill her caucus mates, but from Ezra's run down of the amendments she's proposed to Baucus's bill... it appears to accurate.

However, I still have a sinking feeling that Dems will give her every amendment she wants and she'll still end up supporting a filibuster and voting against the bill even if they find 60 votes for cloture... thanks to the iron fist of GOP party discipline.

She should just become a Democrat and save me some heartburn... we don't even know what discipline is after all... I mean, Lieberman supported McCain for president for chrissakes and we still kiss his feet.


I've had my camera since we went to Jamaica about a year and a half ago... I just learned it had optical zoom on Saturday. Sigh.

I have two hikes that I GPSed to put on EveryTrail, but I'm in the lab most of the day so I'm not sure when I'll have a spare minute to put them up... maybe tonight.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Off to Maine

I blog very infrequently on the weekends anyway, but I'm headed up to Maine shortly... we actually have reservations at Chase's Daily (which I mentioned a few weeks ago) for dinner tonight... and it looks like the weather is going to be great for a Saturday hike. No politics (yay!) and no football (boooo!) for a weekend.

Max Baucus: Stupid.. like a Fox?

Paul Krugman has an article today saying that while the Baucus bill is terrible and unworkable in it's current form, it does form a better basis for reform that most of us expected.
So something along the general lines of the Baucus plan might be acceptable. But details matter. And the bad news is that the plan, as it stands, is inadequate or badly conceived in three major ways.

First, it bungles the so-called “employer mandate.” Most reform plans include a provision requiring that large employers either provide their workers with health coverage or pay into a fund that would help workers who don’t get insurance through their job buy coverage on their own. Mr. Baucus, however, gets too clever, trying to tie each employer’s fees to the subsidies its own employees end up getting.

That’s a terrible idea. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, it would make companies reluctant to hire workers from lower-income families — and it would also create a bureaucratic nightmare. This provision has to go and be replaced with a simple pay-or-play rule.

Second, the plan is too stingy when it comes to financial aid. Lower-middle-class families, in particular, would end up paying much more in premiums than they do under the Massachusetts plan, suggesting that for many people insurance would not, in fact, be affordable. Fixing this means spending more than Mr. Baucus proposes.

Third, the plan doesn’t create real competition in the insurance market. The right way to create competition is to offer a public option, a government-run insurance plan individuals can buy into as an alternative to private insurance. The Baucus plan instead proposes a fake alternative, nonprofit insurance cooperatives — and it places so many restrictions on these cooperatives that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, they “seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country.”

The good news about that is that both Olympia Snowe, Max Baucus, and even Chuck Grasserly are saying the right things about the second part of Krugman's critique: they want more subsidies for the middle class. Unfortuntatley, Snowe seems to favor the atrocious "free rider" provision and neither she nor Baucus (and probably others) are going to go for anything better than a triggered Public Option.

But honestly, the most important thing at this point is to get the subsidies right.

Adorable baby fox picture by flickr user Eric Bégin used under a Creative Commons license

A summary of Right Wing reaction to cancelling Polish/Czech ballistic missile shield

via Atrios

Remarkably, it's still hard to convince certain people on the Right that angering Russia is really only something we should do if it actually achieves something useful. The problem, of course, is that ballistic missile defense reamins dumb... no matter what Ronald Reagan told you.

I don't care if it's a transparently political move...

I want full representation in the Senate! We're all Democrats here... well mostly... so let's get an interim Senator so we don't have to depend on Olympia Snowe for health insurance reform.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Truck Farm

via The Atlantic

Pretty sweet. If I had an old pickup truck lying around I would totally copy that... it seems like a pretty manageable size garden for a beginner too. I love all these efforts to grab every piece of usable space and put something green there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Portland Food Culture

That's Portland Maine, not Oregon, making a surprise appearance in the New York Times Dining section (Slide Show here).
In the last decade, Portland has undergone a controlled fermentation for culinary ideas — combining young chefs in a hard climate with few rules, no European tradition to answer to, and relatively low economic pressure — and has become one of the best places to eat in the Northeast. The most interesting chefs here cook up and down the spectrum, from Erik Desjarlais’s classically pressed roast ducks at Evangeline, to the renegade baker Stephen Lanzalotta’s gorgeously caramelized sfogliatelle (sold out of the back of Micucci Grocery, an Italian-imports shop), to Mr. Potocki’s simple but brilliant chili-garlic cream cheese and handmade bagels.

Anna and I are big fans of Portland... in the early days of our relationship we met up several times for a weekend in Portland to help take the edge off of a long distance relationship... it's roughly half-way between Boston and her family house in Maine, has reasonably priced hotels, and is easily accessible by either train or bus from Boston. Not to mention that the downtown area is so concentrated that you don't even need a car once you get there... you can pretty much walk everywhere. Great for a weekend trip... and as the article mentions, the food is really quite good! There obviously aren't a ton of restaurants in place with only 65K people, but there is a fair number with some variety... and much better vegan/vegetarian options than you might expect.

Highly recommended for a weekend getaway.

photo by flickr user hint of plum used under a Creative Commons license

Totally Worth It

Max Baucus spent all summer watering down his health care reform bill while negotiating with Republicans to end up with a grand total of zero GOP support... and at least one Democrat who won't vote for his terrible bill. Good job Max!

The only good thing I can say about this strategy is that maybe once we've exhausted all possible avenues of "bipartisanship" with no cooperation forthcoming from Republicans, we can just say "screw 'em" and pass a truly progressive bill through reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

I took pictures of my attempt to make the New Best Recipe version of this classic dish, but none of them really turned out... the lighting was bad and it just isn't a very aesthetically exciting dish. It's braised chicken, roasted garlic, and some gravy... tasty, but not something a picture is going to do a whole lot of justice. The recipe here looks identical to the one I used (and her picture of the dish is good), so I don't have to transcribe it or send you to a gated pay site... which is nice.

The biggest problem I had was that my sauce came out too salty. Cook's made mention of the fact that they had to cut back the amount of salt in their brine to keep the sauce from being too salty... a complaint Harold McGee has in general about brining... and I sort of have to wonder whether brining is really necessary when you're braising the chicken anyway. Regardless, the bigger problem was likely that I left the chicken in the brine for over an hour (30 minutes suggested) as I was slow to get things going. In addition, I seasoned the sauce without tasting first... simply assuming it was going to need salt... while at the same time, I only had salted butter to thicken it (margarine was available though). So several errors snowballing into one there.

Other than the salt, the sauce was quite tasty and the chicken perfectly moist. You'll definitely want some crusty bread or toast to spread all that wonderful roast garlic on. It was good, but I'm not sure I'd make it again... if I do, I'll probably go for Bittman's version where the Asian flavors are pretty intriuging and probably more appealing to the modern palate.

Life Imitating Satire

It's hard to believe this response to Patrick Swayze's passing is for real, but apparently it is:
Here’s a sign the Washington Post is a liberal newspaper: today’s Adam Bernstein obituary for Patrick Swayze begins obviously by noting his big hits "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," but doesn’t get to "Red Dawn" until paragraph 23.
"Red Dawn" was not a prestigious film, but it was a breakout lead role for Swayze, and a completely shocking product coming out of a Hollywood: a movie about American teens fighting a resistance against a Soviet invasion of the United States.

There are clearly no fortysomething Reaganites working in the Washington Post newsroom.


Every time I think mockery of the right is going a little too far... based on straw men constructed around a few loons... they go and put out something like this. An entire generation of conservatives can't base their belief system on a movie about some REAL Americans defeating a Soviet invasion with the 2nd Amendment and their rock hard conservative values... can they? Well...

Chait on Rand

If you read any of your standard liberal blogs, you've probably already come across a link to Jonathan Chait's brutal take down of Ayn Rand and her disciples... but I thought I'd link to it just in case you missed it.

My disdain for the majority of "glibertarian" thought is probably pretty obvious from my political posts, but it's worth saying that Megan McArdle, even at her worst, is orders of magnitude more palatable than Ayn Rand... whose philosophy is repugnant in all respects. "Objectivism", at its core, is just a juvenile attempt at a moral justification for selfishness, which is pretty much all you need to say to condemn it in my eyes... but Chait goes the extra mile to fully demolish it. So go read it.


Revision number two of my manuscript is submitted to Stroke... fingers crossed for this being the last one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One of the benefits to being late to the party...

Anna bought me Gardens of the Moon by Steve Erikson for my birthday*, and I've been devouring the Malazan Book of the Fallen ever since. It's cool and all to get into a new author and, like a band, feel like you knew them before they were cool... the problem with that though, is that you have to wait forever for their next book. Not a problem here... 9 of the 10 books are already written! And they're long! Pretty much my ideal right there... takes all of the guesswork out of "What should I read next?"

It's a pretty complicated world with all sorts of things going on that you're sort of just dumped in the middle of... so it is probably not for everybody. I would say the comparisons with George R.R. Martin are pretty apt, though Erikson is not quite as "plot twisty" as Martin, they both tend to deal with events on a grand scale and there are lots of schemes and intrigues going on in the background that you tend not to be fully aware of. As I was finishing the 3rd book I thought "this would be a good setting for a role-playing game"... it seems to me that 4E D&D completely ripped Erikson off regarding how to deal with high-level characters... and as it turns out, it started off as a setting he and a buddy made for GURPS in the 80's. The fact that it reminded me of a RPG campaign setting might sound like a dig, but I don't mean it that way... it really is quite unique... no elves and dwarves, but a tribe that turned themselves into undead warriors to wage a three hundred thousand year campaign of genocide. Good stuff.

* She picked the book by looking at the "Recommended For You" thing on Amazon on my computer... not a bad tactic if you and your significant other do your surfing on different computers/accounts.

Some more potato pictures

I roasted the second batch of new potatoes a while ago, but never posted the pictures... and as this blog has bogged down a bit with boring healthcare related posts, so I thought I'd liven it up with some food photos:

That's one of the "All Red" potatoes, and my sexy, sexy knife in the background.

Not particularly well lit, but I love how the Purple Majesty's look after roasting. The All Red's look lovely as well.

Shrimp purée as a binder in crab cakes?

I tend to be a purist on these matters, but Mark Bittman seems to have posited a pretty good idea... taking some lessons from Thai fish cakes.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I didn't take any pictures of the tomato sauce I made on Saturday, but I thought I'd post about it regardless, since it was fairly delicious. Anna brought home a little over 2.5 lbs of tomatoes from her mother's garden in Maine... all heirlooms if I'm remembering correctly, and perfectly ripe.

I haven't completely bought in to the idea that if you have fresh garden tomatoes you should make a "no-cook" sauce... I've only made a no-cook sauce once, but it seems to me to be a completely different experience then a traditional sauce... and an experience I'm not sure I really love... too much like a pasta salad. I'm also not sold on the idea that fresh tomatoes are "wasted" when simmered down into a sauce, and my experience cooking with Anna's mother's tomatoes bears that out.

It was the simplest of recipes, which you expect to showcase the ingedients. I have a food mill, so I just quartered the tomatoes... except with the larger heirlooms, where I cut them into ~3/4" wedges to keep the pieces all the same size. With these tomatoes at least, it took more like 45 minutes (20-30 minutes is quoted in the recipe) to get all the liquid out and break down the flesh. I food milled them from a large sauté pan, where they could more efficiently reduce, into a sauce pan for the final seasoning. I waited to put the chiffonade of basil until after I had milled the sauce and Anna suggested some balsamic vinegar to brighten the flavors... which I have to say it worked quite well.

Because of the heirlooms the sauce was orange, not red, but I have to say I found it quite fetching nonetheless. We poured it over some of Dave's fresh ravioli, which we really need to pickup more often.

In other cooking news, I was inspired enough by Bittman's variant of "chicken and 40 cloves of garlic" to try the original. I usually like to make the classic before I make an "inspired by" version... though I am sorely tempted by Bittman's seasoning choices... I should make that New Best Recipe version tonight or tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sunday Night Football on the Intertubes

So the NFL season finally started up last night with a 13-10 win for the Steelers over the Titans. As someone without cable or satellite, I normally wouldn't have watched the game, since I had no interest in going out to a bar for it... but NBC had it live streaming on the web for free, and it seems like every Sunday Night game is going to be streamed for free as well. It looked(webcast in HD) and sounded great on my connection, but my connection is faster than average... but from some comments over at Balloon Juice, even if you can stream HD with Netflix you might not be able to with NBC... at least at this point.

Regardless, good news for those of us who the only thing we miss about not having a TV is the NFL. Unfortunately, there's still no way to buy a "Sunday Ticket" equivalent for the internet. Well, that's not entirely true... DirecTV's monopoly was chipped away a little bit... and they do now offer the games online, but only to DirecTV subscribers. You can't buy the internet access without having the satellite service.

Hmmm... maybe I can pay for the Sunday Ticket on the Maine house's DirecTV and use the internet access here.

EDIT: Looks like it costs $300(Regular NFL Sunday Ticket)+$100("Superfan" package), which is a a lot of scratch... though if I go out to a bar to watch all 16 Ravens games (I won't though), I'm buying lunch and having a couple of beers, which works out to roughly the same amount... though it would be a mistake to think that I'd never get food out and/or buy some beer for the games just because I'm watching them on my couch. In the end, I'm not a big enough NFL fan or Fantasy Football freak to justify that kind of cost.

Maybe in 2015 or whenever they next renegotiate, the NFL will provide options where you can play a lower fee just to get one team's games streaming online... as DirecTV doesn't offer that kind of option now to their satellite package customers, it seems that would only happen if they lose their monopoly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Liar Liar

Easily the biggest news of last night was Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelling out "You lie!" during the President's address to a joint session of Congress. It was during a point where Obama was addressing some of the more ridiculous claims about current healthcare plans... "death panels" and the like... and when he said:
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

Rep. Wilson then belted out an angry "You lie!" It's a fairly large breach of protocol these days for a member of Congress to heckle the President, but frankly, I hate the theater of Joint Sessions and don't watch them anymore (follow the live blogs and read the prepared remarks)... the endless standing ovations vs. sitting on your hands and looking dour is just so silly I can't stomach it... so I'm with Yglesias in being open to more heckling from members of Congress, it would at least liven things up.

If you're wondering if there is substance to Wilson's charge... there isn't... illegal immigrants won't get any subsidized coverage. The only argument you can conceivably make that the "reform effort will insure illegal immigrants," is that there is no current provision to prevent people here illegally from buying private insurance (or the public option if it happens) at full price. Which they can do now.

So, I guess if you're a wingnut who thinks people should have to show their driver's license to buy a pair of shoes at Wal-mart, then you might see the merit in Rep. Wilson's outburst... for the rest of us, the President was clearly in the right to call it out.

As for the rest of the speech... who knows? I didn't watch it, and I think I'm pretty much done trying to predict what public opinion is going in response to singular events, but I thought we were on track for a decent bill being passed since we made it through August... and I certainly don't see chances getting worse after last night.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Krugman on the Public Option

Sorry, I haven't done any interesting cooking and am sort of obsessed with healthcare right now... hopefully I'll be back to normal in a bit. But anyway... as someone who is not convinced that a public plan is a good hill for healthcare advocates to die on, I thought I should address Paul Krugman's post from yesterday. In it, he gives three reasons as to why he believes a robust public option is necessary for health care reform to succeed:
...I suspect that Ezra and others understate the extent to which even a public plan with limited bargaining power will help hold down overall costs. Private insurers do pay providers more than Medicare does — but that’s only part of the reason Medicare has lower costs. There’s also the huge overhead of the private insurers, much of which involves marketing and attempts to cherry-pick clients — and even with community rating, some of that will still go on. A public plan would probably be able to attract clients with much less of that.

What he means by "limited bargaining power" is that, even in the more progressive House bills floating around, any public option is going to be available to a relatively small pool of people. From what I've read, it's only going to be an option for small businesses with 20-50 employees or something in that range... so it's not a plan I, or most Americans, could buy into even if we wanted (and I probably would). If you look at Nick Beaudrot's chart, it's something like 10 million people... some with subsidies, some without. So it's not going to have the massive bargaining power of Medicare to dictate prices they pay for services... but still, it's nonprofit so Krugman argues it won't have to pay so much "overhead".

However, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me since there already are a lot of nonprofit insurance companies... Massachusetts is dominated by them for instance (Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Tufts Health Plan, Fallon Health Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts are the big ones I know of). Despite this, we still have the highest premiums in the country. Of course, there is the argument that the bulk of the increase in our premiums is due to the 2006 reforms that gave us an individual mandate and some subsidies and not much else. However, in a State of roughly 6.5 million people, having nonprofit plans has not ameliorated costs. Unless there's something specific about the "public option" that makes it significantly different from what we have here, it seems to me to be magical thinking it is going to do much to contain costs.

On the other hand, Krugman's next point:
...a public plan would probably provide the only real competition in many markets.

Which I think intersects his third:
Remember, to make reform work we have to have an individual mandate. And everything I see says that there will be a major backlash against the idea of forcing people to buy insurance from the existing companies. That backlash was part of what got Obama the nomination! Having the public option offers a defense against that backlash.

What worries me is not so much that the backlash would stop reform from passing, as that it would store up trouble for the not-too-distant future. Imagine that reform passes, but that premiums shoot up (or even keep rising at the rates of the past decade.) Then you could all too easily have many people blaming Obama et al for forcing them into this increasingly unaffordable system. A trigger might fix this — but the funny thing about such triggers is that they almost never get pulled.

Emphasis mine. As mentioned above, we in Massachussetts have an individual mandate and the highest premiums in the country... while I don't believe a casual link has been established, it's still reasonable to expect that we might see a similar thing on a national level a coverage is expanded... even though the bills in Congress go much, much farther with consumer protections and subsidies.

Specifically, in areas where there is no competition, you could conceivably be stuck with an insurance plan that both costs a lot and doesn't cover much. This is why I like the initial details we're hearing about Olympia Snowe's public trigger, since it would specifically bring a public option to areas like this. However, we have no idea right now whether Krugman is right, and it will be set-up in such a way as to never trigger.

Regardless... is it really true that people will blame Obama if premiums continue to increase? Why wouldn't they blame Republicans, who are fighting every cost control effort with talk of "death panels" and the like? I'm just not sure I see why increasing costs can't be dealt with down the line... yeah, it's a punt, but I thought that was basically always the plan?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Triggered Public Option

via TPM,

I see Ben Nelson... the most conservative Democratic Senator has endorsed a "triggered" public option. As Jonathan Chait pointed out last week, a "triggered" public option was Olympia Snowe's idea. This is clearly a good sign for the prospects of a compromise.

Not ideal if you'll only except a strong public option from the start, but better than nothing in my humble opinion... but I'd be curious as to what John Cohn and Ezra Klein have to say about it. I don't know if there are any plans currently on the table to analyze though... probably just vague hand waving at this point, and the devil's always in the details with these things.

The Status of Healthcare Reform

Look's like I wasn't the only one working yesterday, as Ezra Klein had a few informative posts on what is in the Max Baucus plan (just a draft has been circulated at this point... nothing official). In case you haven't been following the ins and outs of the reform debate (and believe me, I don't blame you), Max Baucus is one of the more conservative Dems out there and chairman of the Senate Finance committee... one of the two committees with jurisdiction over reform. Back in the doe-eyed and innocent days of January, when it seemed reform might garner some bipartisan support from Senators not living in Maine... Baucus started to craft this legislation with some Republicans on the Finance Committee. The proposed bill is much more conservative than any progressives are going to want... there's no public option and the subsidies aren't particularly generous, but as Ezra notes it's not all bad news, since we seem to have established a floor:
The range of possibilities is now between the $900-or-so billion envisioned by Baucus and the $1.1 trillion envisioned by the House plan. That cements a consensus in advance of the president's speech laying out the White House's plan: Obama, after all, can hardly emerge with a stingier proposal than Baucus has offered.

That said, $900 billion is still less money than you really want for this plan. Something around $1.2 trillion is a better bet for doing this right. The difference there is a pretty manageable $30 billion a year. The hope is that Baucus's bill looks better after it's amended by the other Democrats on the Finance Committee, merged with the more generous HELP Committee bill, and then tweaked on the Senate floor by the Democrats left out of both processes. But the fact that we're talking about $900 billion as opposed to $700 billion means we're in a much better place than we could have been.

Brian Beutler says the next step is just to get it out of committee so it can be merged with what's already out of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee... and that's where we'll see what kind of compromise we'll get on the public option. House Dems have been pretty adamant on not voting for a plan that doesn't have a public option... so I dunno... should be interesting.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

I'm actually at work today collecting data, not doing anything fun like going to the beach or hiking or what-have-you... but I did learn that the T is not particularly crowded at 8:30 in the morning on Labor Day. Had a whole section of seats to myself... it was nice... luxurious even.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What a Crook

In between superhero video games, I watched "All the Presidents Men" and "Frost/Nixon" (the actual interview, not the new CGI remake).


I'm not going to say much more... but if you ever thought Nixon got a bum wrap, then you need to see him slither under the gaze of Frost. At the same time, I admit having some compassion for the man.

It's an amazing interview... you need to watch it. It's available as an "instant watch" on Netflix, and I advise taking the 90 minutes or whatever it is... it's mind-blowing for those of us weren't politically cognizant in the 70's.

The GOP is Nixon's party... Reagan was a bit player.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Superhero Overload

I think I may have made a tactical mistake in pre-ordering (and now playing) Champions Online... a superhero based massive multiplayer game... then buying the well regarded Batman: Arkham Asylum, which arrived yesterday... before spending an Amazon rebate from buying Batman on pre-ordering Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 which is due out on the 15th. That's probably a little much... but I do like me some superheroes.

I spent most of my brief play of Batman: Arkham Asylum last night wondering whether I could make a close approximation of Bats' costume (a more modern pads, rubber, and metal version than the classic spandex) in the Champions Online character creator... and I decided I probably could. I think getting confused as to what game I'm playing might be a problem for me this month. I didn't really play enough Batman to give many impressions... just did the first little bit, then messed around with the "Challenge" that unlocked with my progress, to get a feel for the combat. The challenge just consisted of 4 successive waves of thugs for you to beat on... and you get more points for stringing together long combos and not getting hit. In about a half hour of messing around, I couldn't get the "bronze medal"... though I got close... but I can't even imagine how you get the gold at this point. The point multipliers must skyrocket with higher combo levels, or I'm really missing something. Regardless, it appears to be a fun and intriguing system... a good example of "easy to learn, tough to master" I'd guess at this early juncture. Oh, and it's definitely very pretty, with an excellent cinematic feel.

Champions... I'm less sold on. I pre-ordered to get access to the two weeks or so of open beta to give me a little more than the 30 days to see if I wanted to subscribe. I really enjoy the character creator, but once the character gets out into the world, the game loses its luster for me. I had this same problem with City of Heroes, so maybe its just the genre... but with my alt-addiction, I haven't really progressed past the early zones... so I should probably do that before coming to any conclusions. I will say the launch was surprisingly smooth... and I haven't noticed the servers being down at all so far.

UPDATE: I seem to have jinxed CO... servers "emergency" downed for the last few hours with no ETA for coming back up. Good thing I've got Batman available, I guess.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gay Ice Cream

From the Herald:
Ben & Jerry’s, which has long backed liberal causes, plans to rebrand “Chubby Hubby” as “Hubby Hubby” for 30 days to show support for Vermont’s new law.

The move is mostly symbolic, as Burlington-based Ben & Jerry’s isn’t changing labels on “Chubby Hubby” pints sold in stores.

So you won't see it in stores, but I guess if you live in Vermont you could have gotten it from a "wedding-themed Ben & Jerry’s truck" that traveled the state yesterday... or from one of their 6 ice cream parlors throughout September.

Seems like a no cost move for them, since it merely solidifies their rep as Hippie Ice Cream... for people who are inclined to choose their ice cream based on politics, I'm sure they already made a decision on Ben and Jerry's. Still... it's a nice gesture.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another mayo relative to try...

From the New York Times we have rouille (pronounced roo-EE):
Finally, I opened my Larousse Gastronomique and there it was: a mix of egg yolks, saffron, garlic, cayenne and olive oil. The instructions were terse. Mash the garlic, then whisk in the yolks and, gradually, the oil. Grinding garlic to a paste in my blender was impossible, so I lugged out my mortar and pestle and smashed the garlic to a pulp. I was about to transfer it to the blender to test fate when I had another idea: finish the sauce with the mortar and pestle. Maybe unplugged was the way to go.

I tried it, pounding the yolks with the seasonings and adding the oil in driblets. Three minutes later, with no culinary skill employed, I had a thick, glossy mound. Unlike a wimpier mayonnaise, the rouille packed a pungent wallop with a musky saffron kick.

Sounds pretty interesting... though with saffron in it, that's some expensive mayo. I don't know about a blender, but my aioli came together quite seamlessly with a food processor... and I know diddly about making mayonnaise. I guess it could have been beginner's luck, but somehow I doubt a mortar and pestle is particularly n00b friendly.