Monday, August 25, 2014

Anti-bacon PC run amok or most successful troll ever?

The right wing news wires along with plenty of mainstream sources are going crazy over this story.  In brief, a local restaurant does some community beautification work and thereby wins the right to post a promotional sign -- like those "adopt a highway" dealies you've no doubt seen.  Well in this case, a Muslim woman becomes offended by the word bacon and the restaurant, valuing the diversity in the community, takes the sign down.  Oops.  The internet loves bacon and lots of people don't much like Muslims.  A huge backlash ensues locally and, now, nationally.

I don't believe it.  Oh, I believe that some restaurant in Vermont is run by people so hippy-dippy that they'd not want to offend someone by the mere utterance of a word for a product which they (still) serve.  That part I believe.  And I believe that a whole bunch of wingnuts completely overreacted to the restaurant's skittishness at being seen as anything but the most diversity-loving company in the world.

I propose that the Muslim woman doesn't exist.  According to the article from WPTZ, the discussion began on something called the Winooski Front Porch Forum.  A message board.  I know a thing or two about message boards and I believe that Sneakers Bistro has been trolled.  There are not many Muslims in Vermont.  There are fewer Muslims in northern Vermont.  There are fewer Muslims still who are offended by the word "bacon."  There are fewer than that who are offended by the word "bacon" and who post on message boards.  But there are lots of trolls.  They live everywhere, even in northern Vermont.

Again relying on the WPTZ story, the people at Sneakers "reached out" to the allegedly offended woman.  I'll bet they did that through the message board.  I'll bet that not a single person has ever talked to the person who made the complaint, let alone confirmed that she is a she, that she is a Muslim and that she is genuinely offended at the mere appearance of a word she can't avoid at the grocery store every week.

The national media should ignore this story, at least until more is known.  Go cover Peru -- they had an earthquake there worse than the one in Napa.  Apparently there's also some sort of to-do in the Middle East and back in Russia I hear that Putin is trying to put the band back together.

The local media in Vermont --  I challenge you to find this woman.  If she exists, she exists.  Tell her story.  Find out why this occurrence of the word offended her when others don't.  Be fair to her.  If you find her.  Which you won't, because she doesn't exist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

35 pounds!

That's what I've lost since I started trying to lose weight and get in shape at the beginning of March. That's a little over a pound and a half a week, about the middle of a healthy range. So far I'm pleased.

A picture purporting to show five pounds of fat (top)
and five pounds of muscle (bottom).
I've lost seven of the former and gained none of the latter.
My shape has not changed by anywhere near that amount
so the fat must be compacted when in use.

However, I think things are going to get more difficult from here.  For one thing, there's less to lose.  I have to imagine it's more difficult to lose the first 35 pounds generally than it is to lose the next 35.  For another, having lost some fat I've decided it's time to gain some muscle, which of course is denser than fat.  I've started a couch to 5K running program. It's this one, in case anyone cares. So far I like it because it lets me play my own music in the background, it doesn't nag or coach too much and it syncs seamlessly with Myfitnesspal, my calorie-counting app.).  I'm also going to be doing some whole-body exercises.  If someone has a link to a good app with videos that demonstrate proper technique I'd be grateful to hear about it.

In addition to the exercise, I think it's time to get more precise about my diet.  I've had good success on the old fashioned "take in fewer calories than you expend" diet without paying too much attention to where those calories come from.  It's true that the vast majority of my reduced intake has come from reducing cheap carbs like flour and alcohol, but that's only because I was consuming such insane amounts previously.  Now it's time to consider the more focused approach I've been hemming and hawing about all along.  I'm still thinking low-carb, but something more along the South Beach method than Atkins, which I tried once before and hated.  I lurves me some vegetables and I don't want to go through those first few weeks of Atkins before getting back to them.

So there we go.  I expect the rate of weight loss to slow, perhaps significantly.  But I'm OK with that.  I'm in this for health and (honestly) looks, not a number.  I do expect my shape to change more significantly than it's been doing.

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

Friday, July 11, 2014

Making yogurt.

I make my own yogurt.  I don't have a special reason to.  In New York State we have some sort of weird milk pricing system that makes milk almost as expensive as yogurt.  But it's fun to make your own, it's easy, and you can control how it comes out.  In addition to resulting in delicious yogurt it's a good experiment for young kids to teach them about microbes, fermentation, and experimental observation.

The complete instructions are below, but here's the TLDR version:

Heat milk to 180F.  
Quick-cool it to 120F. 
Mix in a little bit of room-temperature yogurt.
Store for six hours anywhere from room temperature to 120F.  Lower temperature equals sweeter, thinner yogurt, higher makes more sour, thicker yogurt.
Sample the yogurt and store for more time if desired.
Strain the yogurt to thicken as desired.

My highly sophisticated cooling bath.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Seared Salsa Negra Scallops and Guacamole.

I don't intend to make this a food blog, but this and my next entry will be food related because this recipe is so good that I want to share it, the subject of my next post is also fun to share and involves some kitchen science with observation, and it'll get me back on the blogging horse.  So here we go.

During the summer in a hot kitchen one goal is to have the oven running for a little time as possible.  This is an especially desirable goal in a small NYC apartment, where the kitchen can heat the whole place up.

Seafood cooks really quickly, can be delicious, and fits nicely with my new healthy eating habits.  Scallops are one of my favorite seafoods and this recipe highlights them beautifully along with fresh asparagus.  The recipe calls for white asparagus, which is a little sweeter and less bitter than the green variety, but green will substitute nicely so long as it's well-roasted and feels more summery than something grown in the basement.   Don't be shy; make sure there are some serious sear marks on the asparagus from the broiler.  It requires total oven time, including preheating, of less than 20 minutes.  If you have an outdoor grill, this is even better.  You can take the whole thing outdoors with your prepared guacamole.

Scallops are easy to cook.  There are three tricks.  First, dry your scallops as much as you can.  There should be no water apparent on the scallops' exterior.  Any exterior water will boil, steaming the scallops, and at the same time will take energy from the pan which should be going to sear the exterior of the scallops.   Here, that also means wiping as much of the marinade off as is practical.  The second trick is to get your grill or pan blazingly hot before adding the scallops.  The related third trick is not to overload your pan.  My 10 small scallops seared perfectly in a 12-inch tri-ply frying pan but if you have larger scallops, a smaller pan or a pan with less impressive heat transfer characteristics you may want to work in batches.  The goal of all three of these tricks is to sear the outside of the scallops to a golden brown before the interior overcooks.  3-4 minutes per side should get you that flavorful sear on the outside and a tender and sweet but not raw-tasting center. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hi. I'm testing embedding polls on this blog. Please take a couple of minutes to answer the entirely unserious questions below. Thanks.

EDITED TO ADD: Your responses to this poll are visible to pretty much everyone on the planet so please respond accordingly. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A short lesson in Amish history, which none of them will read.

With spring and summer vegetables starting to show up at farmers markets and grocery stores I've been thinking of making a shoo-fly pie.  The connection is that I associate great summer fruits and veggies with trips to Amish country, where I always try to enjoy a slice or two of shoo-fly pie.  If you don't know what that is, all will become clear.

Looking up recipes something which I should have realized quickly became apparent.  With the exception of eggs and possibly flour, not a single ingredient in shoo-fly pie is indigenous to Amish country.  I suppose some families might make their own vinegar or even shortening but the main ingredients, molasses, brown sugar and (in some recipes) spices all come from far, far away from Lancaster, PA.

It turns out that there's a reason for that.  It turns out that shoo-fly pie was probably invented by the Amish when they had little or no fresh food at all!  The Amish were a group of German settlers invited to help populate the new world by William Penn himself.  Penn wanted to create a religiously tolerant utopia in the land he was given by Charles I after England got control of the place from the Dutch.  (Pennsylvania Dutch is really Pennsylvania Deutsch, for Germans).   By religious utopia he meant that you could be any sect of Christianity you want, but that's a whole nother blog entry.  At any rate, when the first large groups arrived in the 1720s or 30s, they apparently arrived at the beginning of the winter.  There would be no fresh food until the spring so they lived off of what they brought.  And what food do you bring on a life-defining trip across the ocean to a strange land?  Things which last at room temperature.  Flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and spices.   And like a lot of Europeans, they had a sweet tooth.  Combine that with an existing English concoction called a "treacle tart" also made from molasses and there you go.  Shoo-fly pie is a pie made from flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and sometimes spices.  Sweet sustenance to get families through a Pennsylvania winter.  Leave a slice outside on a hot summer's day and the origin of the name will quickly become apparent.

Here is a recipe for shoo-fly pie which purportedly matches that made by Mary Jo Hess at the Central Market in Lancaster, PA.  If I go ahead and make some, I'll probably spice it up a bit.  That's apparently less authentic but I don't much care.  I don't know whether to go the obvious direction with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or allspice or take it in a different direction with ginger, cloves, cardamom or something else. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Congress on the verge of doing something smart! You can help!

It's almost unbelievable when one hears so much about gridlock and increasing partisanship in the US Congress, but from time to time they get together and actually do something bipartisan and good for the country (two things which do not always correlate).   A couple years back they passed some really good bipartisan reforms to patent law, for example.  More is needed but they did it. 

Last night the House of Representatives approved an amendment to a bill the effect of which would prohibit the federal government from interfering with states' administration of medical marijuana laws.  Democrats overwhelming supported the bill; Republicans were mostly against but a quarter of them got on board, which was enough to put the amendment over the top.

The Senate version of the funding bill at issue does not currently have this provision, so either it would have to be added by amendment or at some point the two houses will hash (hah!) it out in a conference committee. 

The truth is I could don't care about marijuana, medical or otherwise.  But I do believe in federalism and even more I believe in allowing people to make their own choices.  This amendment is a step on both of those directions.

If you have a Republican Senator in your state, email him or her and state that you support this amendment (if you do, of course) and that you expect him or her, as a defender of states' rights, to support the initiative whatever he or she feels about marijuana personally.  If you have a Democratic Senator, email him or her too.

Also, drop an email to your Representative thanking or criticizing him or her for the prior vote on the amendment and asking him or her to stay or get on the right side of history if the funding bill goes to a conference committee.  Here is the tally of votes so you can see how your Representative voted.  Don't know who your Rep is?  Here is where you can find out. That last link will also take you straight to your Representative's page where you can find the appropriate email address.

Monday, May 12, 2014

So why *are* ramps such a big deal?

In my last post I wrote a little bit about ramps, the wild leek which is among the first edibles of spring and is very much the "in" thing among foodies. 

Why are they such a big deal?  They taste good but they're not transformative like saffron or a really good truffle.  If they were on grocery store shelves year-round they'd be just another allium to choose or substitute at will.  Someone could certainly be forgiven for thinking that ramp enthusiasm is just another passing fad, that people like them because a few influential other people like them or, even worse, because so many other people don't know about them.  There's doubtless at least some truth to this school of thought but I think it's also somewhat unfair.

Ramps are popular because they're ephemeral.  Because they have a season. Ramps are here, and then they're gone until next year.  If you were industrious you might have some pickled ramps to last you until the following year but there is no source of fresh ramps once they're gone in June. 

I grew up in Maryland in the 1970's.  This was after canned and frozen fruits and vegetables became ubiquitous but before great fleets of ships and trucks brought fresh produce from all over the world to even low-end grocery stores.  And back then, there was enthusiasm for lots of crops.  In Maryland it was strawberries in the spring and Silver Queen corn in the summer.  

Freshly picked strawberries are as different from that giant plastic red thing as fresh tomatoes are from their grocery store equivalents.   This is not a result of some conspiracy by large growers and packers but rather an artifact of biology.  Strawberries are among those fruits which cease creating sugar as soon as they are picked.  They will "ripen" in the sense that their colors will change, long-chain sugars might break down into shorter ones and the fruit will soften but there's no new sugar.   Combine that with the fact that with the cultivars available back then Maryland strawberries were too soft to ship very far in any event  and the result was a few weeks of the sweetest strawberries imaginable for a tiny price.  You waited all winter for spring strawberries, they came, and then they were gone.  They didn't have an internet back then to make things go "viral," but they did have strawberry festivals, strawberry queens, and all the local chefs had their special strawberry dishes. 

Silver Queen corn was a similar story.  There have been pretty drastic advances in the production of corn cultivars recently so just about everyone has access to fresh sweet corn for most of the second half of the summer.   Not so in the '70s.  Sweet corn would lose as much as half its sugar in just 48 hours after picking.  That meant that there was no such thing as high quality sweet corn from Illinois or California or Mexico; by the time it got to Maryland it wouldn't be sweet any more.  Same with Maryland corn -- you couldn't ship it to Massachusetts or Florida because it wouldn't be special by the time it got there.  So again, for a few precious weeks at the end of the summer Maryland would be flooded with some of the best sweet corn in the world and then it would be gone.

I'm not going to to minimize the undeniable and large benefits of a growing and shipping regime which has made fresh fruit and vegetables available year-round at reasonable prices,  but I think something has been lost when we lost seasons for a lot of foods.  Having a mediocre version available all the time is good nutrition but not necessarily for the soul.  Some of the appreciation we had for the fruit of the land has been lost.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

An important website for you.

I'm not normally one to pass along every good website I run into; in fact those websites that are AMAZING because fact number 23 will BLOW YOUR MIND are pretty annoying, in my opinion.   So I guess that means in the modern web environment I'm doomed to a low Klout score.  Oh well.

But this is too good not to pass on.  The lesson imparted by a long, fun slog through this website is among the most important a person can learn, whether one is deciding what to eat, which scientists to believe, what political stance makes the most sense, how to save and invest your money, or anything else.

Sourced from but not endorsed by pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ramps! Ramps for spring! Ramp recipes!

Following a long winter in the northeast which delayed almost all early-spring growth, it is finally the time when ramps appear in farmers markets in the NYC area. 

If you found this post you probably know what ramps are -- you probably searched for something like "ramps recipes," "ramps NYC," "ramps cultivate," or similar.  In case you don't know, ramps are basically wild leeks.  They like to grow in the shade, so they're mostly grown naturally in the woods as opposed to being planted in nice rows on a farm, though there are doubtless exceptions.   Now that they're the "in" vegetable again, this makes them pretty expensive for what is basically a weed.(1)  In North America, they're most prevalent along the Appalachian mountains. 

They have a short season, shedding their fragrant, tasty leaves and growing flowers by the time June rolls around.  Because they were generally among the first edible plants to appear in the spring ramps were considered a welcome harbinger of the food to come both by the early European settlers and the Native Americans who preceded them.  Chicago is named for a Native word for ramps -- the area was crawling with the things when La Salle showed up. 

Ramps have a small scallion-like bulb at the root end, a short thin stalk which can turn purple or burgundy and broad leaves which appear large relative to the size of the plant.  They are extremely pungent and both smell and taste like a happy combination of yellow onions, scallions and garlic. 

As part of the overall movement to better food, people are rediscovering local foods which for one reason or another have not been cultivated by the huge farms and even more huge food companies.  Ramps fit squarely into this trend. So all up and down the northeast you see ramps in farmers markets, on the menu of local restaurants and endless celebrations of them in the press, both dead-tree and internet-based.

How do you use ramps?  Basically as a substitute for any allium.  You can get  a nice taste of spring and a fun different taste in almost any recipe which uses garlic, onions, leeks, scallions or chives.   You have to earn them, though.  Ramps are dirty like leeks.  The way to clean them is to cut off the root and then wash them one or two at a time under running water, pulling off a thin membrane which covers the stalk and bulb.

They roast very nicely, getting a good char on the leaves just as the bulbs become tender when sauteed in your choice of fat.  To get the full spectrum of ramps' flavors, simply heat up a thin layer extra virgin olive oil or butter, throw a few ramps in and cook without turning until the leaves start to get a char on them.  Alternatively, brush the oil on them and toss them right on the grill, which you've doubtless been waiting to fire up all winter.  Serve them alone as a side dish or ramp (hah!) them up by putting them on a bruschetta with some buffalo mozzarella - Mario Batali's version was terrific, but I'd skip the tomato part and just let the ramps and toast stand with the mozz.  Tonight I made a ramp risotto based on a recipe from my favorite chef-scientist, J. Kenji López-Alt at  They're also apparently outstanding with eggs; I'll probably pick up another couple of bunches this weekend and try them in and on an omelet.  Heck, throw them in a glass of Gin for a ramp Gibson!  Really, though, just think of whatever onion or garlic-heavy dish you enjoy most and swap in some ramps.  Like to cook Italian-American food?  Use the ramp bulbs to make ramp bread instead of garlic bread, toss the leaves into a green salad, and chop the stems like scallions and sprinkle them on the pasta sauce.  Prefer Indian?  How about a garlic curry but with ramps?

As it happens, I didn't set out to make this entire entry about ramps.  I intended to write about strawberries.  But this is getting to be a lengthy piece by blog standards.  So my next entry will address ramps, what makes them "in" right now, why you read way too much about them given that they're basically a weedy onion, and strawberries.  

(1): Morel mushrooms are apparently impossible to cultivate, much like truffles.  That accounts for the expense. 

(2): Today I learned why people prefer their vegetable stock to be on the clear side.  I took a picture of my ramp risotto, which was delicious, but it looked like something Linda Blair spit up. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review: Holey Donuts

Holey Donuts
101 7th Ave South
New York, NY 10014

 I have no idea what company they may be trying
to get you to think about with this color scheme.


Around the corner from us in a location that is kind of star-crossed, an online donut company is trying to make its transition to the physical world. I wasn't previously aware that there was such a thing as an online donut company but Holey Donuts has apparently made a splash with low-fat (by donut standards) donuts. I guess that success, combined with the buzz created by Dominque Ansel's Cronuts, led to this store.

I signed up for their pre-opening, where they were trying to create a buzz by giving away free stuff.  New Yorkers will stand in line for anything, and will do anything for free stuff, so of course the gambit worked.  Today was the first day of a multi-day opening event and I went by and got a tote bag, a $15 gift certificate -- more about that later -- some kind of veggie-fruit drink and four of their donuts to sample.

One doesn't want to be uncharitable to someone who just gave you free stuff, but Holey Donuts are not very good.   

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Please ignore this post. It's a test.

This is a test to see if my scheduler auto-tweets when my blogger auto-posts. Theoretically, it will do exactly that if the word "scheduled" is included in the text of this post.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Weight Loss Update

It's been 54 days since I've blogged about weight. Here's a brief update. I'm smaller. Specifically, I'm 16 pounds smaller. I seem to have plateaued out at that level for a week or so, so it's time to up the pace. That means more exercise. I've been walking at least two miles every other day; I have to increase both the distance and the pace of those walks and I have to start doing some resistance work. We've got some Bell Flexbands and I'll start with those. I'm certainly not going to reduce my caloric intake, which is already under 1700 kCal/day. My diet can best be described as "don't eat much crap, and don't eat too much non-crap." I've cut way down on cheap carbs like crackers and bread, on excess sugar, on alcohol, and that sort of thing. I think I'll have to make my diet plans more formal to get to the next level, but with the coming increased exercise we'll see. I was hoping not to have to do that until I lost 40 pounds or so. With spring finally springing I imagine my diet will naturally improve some anyway because of all the great stuff at the farmer's markets. The main difficulty I've had as far as eating is learning what's good and what's not good. There is just an overwhelming amount of bad science and old mythology out there regarding nutrition that it's nearly impossible to find the kernels (heh) of good advice. I'm pretty confident about cutting down on refined sugar being a good idea, but I've cut down on all sugars which means I'm getting less fruits than I wish I were. Some camps say that sugar is sugar, others that sugars are sugars but if they're combined with most fruits the overall benefits outweigh the bad effects of sugar, still others say that sucrose != fructose != glucose != other sugars and that I should dedicate hours of my life to distinguishing among different sugars. The same story applies to cheap flour carbs. I've cut down on them because I've cut total caloric intake and that's a place where I was eating too much; I didn't want to cut out foods with other strong benefits like iron and calcium. The science of how far I should go is all over the place, from a kCal is a kCal to "wheat is poison." (I'm pretty confident that last assertion is garbage.) Finally, I'd like to cut down on fat but I need more protein and I'm not willing to live on beans and boneless, skinless chicken breast forever, nor am I willing to choke down flavorless fat-free yogurt. So there we go. I hope I'm able to update again in a couple months with news that I've lost another 16ish pounds. But I'm not going to be miserable to do it.

Quick Update on Cliven Bundy.

A short followup to the Cliven Bundy story about his cows and the tortoises on someone else's land. Anyone who was surprised that he started talking about "the Negro" and how slavery just might have been better for black people was deluding themself before seeing his comments in print. Lots of principled, good-hearted people believe that the government "should" do this or that regarding public lands in the west, about the extent of its authority on various issues and so on. People who believe that the government "shouldn't" have some power seek to change the situation through the courts or through legislation depending on the circumstance. People who believe that the government "doesn't" have such and such an authority and continue to maintain so after losing case after case in the courts and getting no hearing in the legislature are nuts. And when you scratch those people, you'll uncover a racist. Every single time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to meet women.

One of the most persistent whines you hear from straight men on the internet is "how do I meet a woman?"  Men come up with various theories elaborate and stupid about why they can't meet that special someone.  No, it's not because you're a nice guy.  I promise.  In my experience there are two main reasons men can't find a woman.

The first is that they're being wildly unrealistic.  Brooklyn Decker is not going to go out with you.  Back when I was a kid, the advice from older, more experienced men was that "real women don't have staples in their belly buttons, son."  Of course nowadays Playboy doesn't have staples holding it together and plenty of real women have metal rings in their navels.  But the point stands, dammit!  More importantly, that's not the subject of today's blog entry.

The second problem is both more pervasive and more easily remedied.  Too many men don't go where women are.  Some of the biggest whiners are in the tech industry, which is so sexist it makes Wall Street look like the pinnacle of equality.  The one woman in your sausage-factory cube farm probably loathes you and your whole department even if you yourself don't deserve it because you're part of an overall culture of poison.  Time to seek companionship elsewhere.  The comic book store, the Con, the bar, these are all places where technically women go but are outnumbered 10-1.  On the other hand, you can't exactly stand in a bridal shop hitting on the bridesmaids, can you?  The number one rule of life generally but meeting women specifically is don't be creepy. 

So if you're a single straight guy wondering where you can go to meet women without being inherently creepy just by your presence (not being creepy after that is up to you), here's the answer.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Time for canning and an Amazon test.

With spring finally having sprung it's time to find ways to preserve the wonderful tastes that are available at farmers markets around the country.  Freezing, pickling, dehydrating, infusing with alcohol, all of these are good ways.  But my new favorite is canning.  It's easy, kind of fun, doesn't take up a bunch of real estate in your freezer or fridge and once you've got a bunch of jars it's pretty inexpensive.

 Future marinara sauce

I'm exclusively a water-bath canner as opposed to a pressure canner so I won't really get into canning until later in the season  -- most vegetables aren't acidic enough to water-can safely.  So I'll have a lot more to say on the subject later.  For now, this is something of an experiment.  There's a book on Amazon that's free for today and I want to know how that works with my affiliate thingy.  Here's the link. Canning Guide For Beginners, How To Guide With Recipes: How To Can vegetables, Fruits, Pickles, Salsa, Meat, Fish, Poultry, Wild Game.  If you could download it, I'd appreciate it.  I haven't read it yet.  If a few people download it I'll review it to let you know if you should bother reading it.


EDITED TO ADD:   Boy, this book is terrible.  Only try to read it if you already know how to can and want to laugh at what someone is trying to get $2.99 for foisting on an unknowing public.  After I read some more I think I'll probably review it on Amazon in hopes of saving future potential canners the pain of reading this book.

This post contains one or more links to an affiliate page at  If you make a purchase though the linked page I will receive compensation from Amazon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cliven Bundy, Desert Tortoises, The Tea Party all explained.

You're probably read about the recent showdown at a ranch in Mesquite, NV where a bunch of Tea Partiers and others showed up to face down the federal government over a land dispute.  And even after reading articles about it you're probably still wondering what the heck went on.  Here's a primer.

 The federal government is comprised primarily of idiots. These idiots made up a bunch of stuff about a tortoise to squeeze ranchers off of federal land. The only apparent beneficiaries of this policy are the big industrial beef producers who see less competition from cows which eat actual grass, but there's no actual evidence they were behind this whole thing, which makes it even more perplexing. The truth is that the particular tortoises at issue eat cow poop.  If the government were smart and not stupid they'd be paying ranchers to graze cows in Desert Tortoise habitat, assuming they really care about the tortoises instead of some other, undisclosed, objective.  However, it is the government's land and they can, within reason, decide what to do with it subect to a grazing law dated 1916 or somesuch. The Supreme Court has ruled that limiting or even banning grazing to not save a  not endangered species is reasonable and not in conflict with the grazing act. So everything the government is doing is perfectly legal. Heck, compared to other parts of Nevada which the government nuked from above and below for thirty years, the government is being downright benevolent here.

One of the people affected by the fees and restrictions placed on the use for cattle grazing of public lands which are also tortoise habitat is a guy named Cliven Bundy.  Cliven Bundy is also an idiot. He thinks that he owns land that the federal government conquered fair and square in 1848, even though his family didn't settle it until 30-something years later. He also thinks that even if he doesn't own the land then Nevada does, even though Nevada specifically disclaimed ownership of it in 1864, also before Bundy's family's cows allegedly started grazing the land.  And just to complete the idiocy trifecta, he may or may not even recognize that the federal government exists even though Nevada, which he does apparently agree exists, specifically submitted its autonomy to the federal government.  There's no word at this point as to whether he has a conniption fit when he sees a courthouse flag with a fringe on it. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Everybody got a gris gris.

That's a Penn Jillette line.  A gris gris is an amulet bag which originated in Africa.  It'll usually have an inscription on it and some stuff in the bag.  Believers thought it would ward off evil spirits, prevent unwanted pregnancies, whatever.

Gillette's point was that everybody, no matter how rational they hold themselves out to be, has some irrational belief of some sort.  A belief that is immune to evidence.

Among skeptics, one of those irrational beliefs, the skeptic's gris gris if you will, is that science is constantly under assault by the forces of ignorance and that every story backing up that belief is true until proven otherwise.

Today's example of that gris gris comes from Skeptical Inquirer, the journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, among the largest and most influential skeptic organizations in the world.  In addition to the full journal, the Skeptical Inquirer has an active Facebook page.  Today, they reprinted a story alleging that actress Kate Mulgrew has narrated a "documentary" by some anti-science nutter or another.

There are several problems with this.

Monday, March 31, 2014

They're good for your heart.

A month ago I announced that it was time to lose some weight.  So far, mostly so good.  I've lost 15 pounds.  I don't feel that was unsafe because five of it was in the first few days and was probably water weight.  Or not -- I've been drinking 64 ounces of water a day (including seltzer) above and beyond any other liquid intake.

I haven't decided on a long-term strategy yet -- whether to go paleo or Atkins or no-fat or glycemic-index or whatnot.  I'm way too fat for that.  Until I start approaching 200 pounds my strategy is to eat generally healthy things and have my caloric intake be less than my caloric usage.  Simple and effective.

I've been using a program,, to track all this stuff, including nutrition.   I've been taking a multivitamin so I'm not too worried about things like vitamin A and whatnot, but I'm not getting enough protein and fiber whereas I'm getting plenty of fat.

Which means that I need beans.  Today, I bought beans.  Boy, did I buy beans.  Two-pound bags of five different dried beans.  I'm gonna try them all to see which ones we like best.  I've already got plans for refried beans, black beans with Mexican rice, hummus, and vegetarian and chicken chiles.  

If you have any ideas or outstanding recipes I'd be grateful to hear them.  I've got black, kidney, pinto, garbanzo, and cannelini beans.  Any other must-have beans?  The place I got them the, International Store on 9th Avenue and 41st. has every bean you can imagine.  Along with bulk spices, nuts, dried fruit.  It's kind of a culinary Disneyland, actually. 

Thank you in advance for any input. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Carrie's House

I had to change a license plate on a car today, which took me around the corner to Perry Street off of West 4th.  Across from the house supposedly lived in by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City.  This show was available only to HBO subscribers and went off the air a decade ago.  The last movie was four years ago. 

There was a full tour group there when I arrived.  Seriously, 25 people and a paid tour guide looking at this house.  Separately, at least 5 groups of at least four women came by to gawk at the house and take pictures like it's the Taj Mahal or something. 

The poor bastards who own that house had to put up a chain and a little sign asking people not to sit on the stoop.  Of course, I mean "poor" in the sense of "less good than expected" rather than "financially impoverished.  Presumably they got paid to use the facade in the show.  Also, the house next door has sold three times in the past 2-plus years,  once for $9 million, twice for $9.85 million and three times a lady for $13.25 million.   It's currently being renovated and apparently no one expects that the owner/s plan to move in, but rather sell it yet again for an even higher price.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Offered without comment.

I was looking at kitchen items today and I happened on a very expensive chinois, which is basically just a strainer in a conical shape.  It turns out that if you use one of these things there's a specialized pestle you can buy to help you work pastes through the sieve, press on solids to extract liquids from them, etc.  Without further adieu, I present the chinois pestle.

Yours for under sixteen bucks.

Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. In the extremely unlikely event that you purchase a wooden pestle which bears an uncanny resemblance to an adult toy using that link I will receive a commission from

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The happiest news in human history!

Every day there's new health news.  Things that were good for you are bad for you, things that were bad for you were good for you.   The margarine-eating, egg avoiding "healthy" eaters of the 70's would plotz at a lot of the healthy choices today.  Indeed, old-fashioned margarine is *banned* in restaurants in  New York City.

All of that is to say that you can never really count on what's coming out of the nutrition science industry besides "eat your vegetables."  There's a lot more unsettled science than there is settled science and a lot more promising hypotheses than there are well-tested theories.  And you should take the following news with (heh) a grain of salt.  But...

Chocolate and Tequila are good for you! Yes, yes, you can't be going out getting drunk every night and you have to watch your carbohydrate and specifically your sugar intake with all that chocolate sweetening and alcohol.  And again, it could turn out to be falsified in tomorrow's studay.  But for tonight, Chocolate and Tequila are good for you! 

I'll make a chocolate-infused mole and a nice Mexican chocolate dessert, maybe a capirotada, if you'll bring by the tequila and make the margaritas.   Perhaps I should infuse some tequila with cocoa powder and chilis...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

USA Finally Beats Canada at Hockey!

After heartbreaking losses for the men and  the women's teams, the US Sled Hockey team finally demonstrated that yes, it is in fact possible for the US to beat the Canadians at hockey!  And they have one line that features a 21 year old, a 15 year old and a 14 year old.   That's a recipe for long-term dominance right there.

Also, watching the games, one quickly concludes those guys  must have arms like Popeye.

Congratulations to the US Sled Hockey team and good luck against Russia!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My political philosophy.

I haven't wandered into politics on this blog yet; eventually I suppose I will.  In the meantime, this poster is as good a shorthand for my political beliefs as can be imagined.

I'm not as nuts as the kinds of people who actually join the Libertarian Party in the US.  I'm not going to accidentally dye my face blue because of some goofy silver cure,  I don't think the President is a Kenyan (he is a Keynesian, does that count?), I don't think the Federal Reserve is a massive conspiracy of Jews, Bilderbergs and Illuminati.  It's very sad that the party is run by people like that, but there we go.

For whatever it's worth, I've done no research on the Canadian Libertarian Party or on Mr. Moen specifically so I don't know if they or he are nuts.  I just like the poster.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Animal cams.

Screensavers went out with the turn of the century.  They're wholly
unnecessary with today's modern screens, for which burn-in is not a
concern.  And yet many people want some kind of image on their screens
while they're not using them.  Using one's own photographs is one
solution, of course, as is using photographs by others.  But what about a
live animal cam?  That's what I like to have in the background while
the computer is on but not in use.

Fantastic pictures of Himalayan honey collection!

io9 is one of those websites I normally don't like at all.  If you spend any time on social media, you know who they are.  Basically, they take other people's content, slap on a sentence or two, and rebrand it hoping that their link will be the one that people spread.   Most of the time it's not even very good content.  Some reddit thread they've repurposed, some weak "lifehacking" trick, a glurge story to which they somehow beat Upworthy.

But today they got something really good. A photographer schlepped to Nepal to capture Gurung honey hunters.  Not only is the process of gathering the honey somewhat unusual and dangerous, some combination of the bee species and what it eats apparently makes this honey extra delicious and rumored without substantiation that I know of to have various healing properties.

At any rate, the photographs are pretty good, if a little extreme on the color saturation button, and you'd do well to spend some time looking at the whole series at Andrew Newey's site.  He took some other series on other trips; those are also worth a look.

As a bonus, here's another photographer's set of the same honey-gathering process, more focused on the gatherers than the gathering.  It's kind of interesting to see how two photographers approach the same unusual subject in different ways.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

US Soccer's "Home" jersey for FIFA 2014...

US Soccer's "Home" kit for FIFA 2014, uh, needs work.  According to US Soccer's press release the jersey has unspecified performance improvements; one hopes that they did a better job on that than the nice folks at UnderArmor and Lockheed are alleged to have done with US Speedskating.   I don't know about any of that.

What I do know is that the new design is not very good.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It's time to lose some weight.

A lot of it.  I've been treating myself poorly and as a result I've very gradually grown to 255 pounds.    I've recently cut down my alcohol consumption and I'm still not losing weight so it's time to diet and to exercise.   I'm not sure of my exact approach yet.  I'm going to start by carefully tracking food and exercise and seeing where I want to go from there.  What I suspect, though, is I'll end up somewhere on the paleo/South Beach/Atkins continuum.  I'm kind of skeptical of the science behind any of those but I also know there are a lot of former fat people who swear by some combination of them.  Also, that route involves what I believe to be the least adjustment to what I actually want to eat, which I think is important if I want to maintain whatever new weight I manage to attain.

In anticipation of that, I might have purchased some protein today.

Beef, pork, chicken.  Fish I'll buy fresh.  I'll be needing a lot more fish.  Tomorrow it's off to Citarella to get fruit and veggies.  I've already got about every oil, spice, vinegar, and other intermediate/accompaniment known to mankind.  I also have at least 6 different kinds of sugar.  That may be part of the problem. 

The bigger change is that I've got to get moving more.

In case anyone cares, I've signed up with  It's supposed to sync automagically with, for which I have the free version.  I haven't figured out how to do that yet.  Also, I don't know how to attach the weight loss ticker to the sidebar over there ===>  but when I do it will apparently look like this:

Created by MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Anyone know how to attach that?   It's not a "widget."

At any rate, wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympics thoughts.

Like most people, I'm currently wrapped up in the Winter Olympics.  Of the 6 gold medals the US has so far, five are in sports that were considered vandalism when I was a kid.  This makes me very happy.

I'm a little disappointed that the US doesn't do better at the sports that involve shooting things.  I guess ammo is probably pretty expensive in some of those countries so they have to conserve. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear Facebook and advertisers: We know.

I "liked" Time Warner Cable on Facebook today.  I do not in fact actually like Time Warner Cable, although to be fair I also do not dislike them.  They give me a reasonably fair service at a reasonably fair price.  I wish their internets were a little more stable but it's unclear to me whether the fault lies with them, with my router or with the fact that I've got about 200 neighbors all trying to use the same router channels so it's hard to place the blame on TWC.

So they're meh.  I don't like them they way I like a local restaurant.  I'm not rooting for their owners to succeed, I don't hope their waitresses get more tips, I wouldn't tell a friend, "Ooh, you've got to go to Time Warner Cable."

I "liked" them because they paid me to.  In this case the payment was a one-in-a-zillion chance to win a trip to Paris, which trip is apparently themed by the new Mr. Peabody movie. (warning: sound at that link)  So yeah, my threshold for placing a company on my like list, at least temporarily,  is pretty low.

The threshold is very low for a lot of people.  And everyone on Facebook knows it.  Everyone knows that if one of their friends "likes" BigCo Corporation, it's because they're having a discount or a contest or something.  There's no benefit to the company.  No one on the planet is going to sign up for Time Warner Cable or go to WalMart or put their resume on LinkdIn because their friend shows up on the sidebar as having "liked" the business. 

What the fake "likes" do do is dilute the value of "likes" to smaller businesses which might actually benefit from people knowing that their friends "like" the business.   Facebook says it wants both local and national advertisers.  They should realize that these fake "likes" reduce the value of real "likes" and require that advertisers stop requiring "likes" to enter contests, etc.   At the same time, they'd find a way for businesses, large and small, to offer special deals to people who have already liked a page.  Say, for 10 days or more.  Yerba Buena (warning, more noise at that link) and yes, even Time Warner Cable should be able to offer a special deal to people who have liked the page already but not to extend a deal to people who like the page just for the deal. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!! Bread and milk! Milk and Bread!

As our area and perhaps your area hunker down for yet another batch of snow (I don't care what that big dot-com weather site says, winter storms don't have names unless they have high winds and are shaped like spirals) I'm seeing yet another batch of stories and posts about milk and bread. 

Lately it seems that most of the stories about milk and bread are not actually about people stocking up on milk and bread in advance of a storm but rather about people snarking on people stocking up on milk and bread.  Doubtless you've seen this Youtube video about the phenomenon:

In the past few years there have even been articles attempting to explain the run on milk and bread in advance of a storm.  This story ably, if uncritically, recounts some of the hypotheses.

These theories are bunk.  Bread as a symbol of the staff of life?  "The compulsive desire to stockpile perishables" as the subconscious desire to believe that the storm is transient?  Are these people insane?  Have they never actually been faced by a big storm approaching?

People are actually pretty rational most of the time and because of this the explanation is very simple.  Milk and bread are the things people will run out of if they can't get to the store for a few days.  People don't stock up on non-perishables because they already have a huge stock of them in the pantry.  They don't need canned soup or dry pasta and jarred sauce or even ground beef because they've already got enough in their kitchens to wait out a storm.  Milk and bread are highly perishible items which people buy frequently.  At any given moment, most people are almost out of milk and bread and they are planning to buy more within the next half a week or so. Provided with the knowledge that going to the grocery store may be impossible or even inconvenient for the next few days, they buy their stuff now instead of later. Most of those people also probably buy other things too, but they all buy different things.  You may low on canned soup, I may need some pasta, that guy over there may need to restock his beans and rice.  But we all need milk and bread because we all always need milk and bread. 

Life usually pretty simple and interpreting people's motives is also pretty simple if one merely assumes that other people are at least almost as smart as you are.  Unfortunately, common sense rarely makes for a good story or a good blog entry.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gender Identity times 50.

According to the Wall Street Journal's blog, Facebook has added over 50 different terms one can choose from for one's gender.  People who make a choice other than male or female can then choose whether they want to be referred to by masculine, feminine or neutral (if plural) pronouns.

Facebook's hearts are in the right place, even if they went a little overboard in the department of redundancy department.  For example, if you want to identify as a cis man rather than the old-fashioned man, which some people do, you can choose from cis man, cis male, cisgender man or cisgender male.This seems a little much, considering that people not choosing the "cis" beginning cannot choose between male and man.

Still, it's a good thing Facebook has done.  However, I can't help but wonder if the change is simply a way to further segregate people for advertising purposes.  I can imagine a future marketing presentation in which potential advertisers are informed that people who identify as cis male are 20% more likely to click on an ad for hybrid cars as people who just use male as an identifier, whereas self-identified males are 60% more likely to click on an ad for pickup trucks.  (all statistics produced from the same place as farts). 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wow! New Cambrian fossil discovery!

OK, it's actually an old Cambrian fossil discovery.  If they were new, they wouldn't be fossils yet.  Duh.

At any rate, there's been a discovery of a massive new Cambrian fossil field right near the Burgess Shale. Apparently there are a lot of soft-bodied organisms and 22% of the fossils appear to be of newly-discovered species.

The Cambrian fascinates me and I love this discovery.  I hope they discover a better-preserved example of my favorite Cambrian animal, the anomalocaris.

This blog will try very hard not to get you killed.

When reading a blog it's pretty easy to come to the conclusion that the author is an expert in the blog's subject matter. That's particularly true in blogs more focused than this one. Even if the blog is about something you don't believe in or agree with one is tempted to believe that the author is at least an expert in the subject from his or own perspective. If someone wrote a whole blog about nothing but Balrogs you'd think that the person were a Balrog expert, yes? And even if you disagreed with the blog author's conclusion about whether Balrogs had wings(1)  you'd at least expect the author to be an expert on the arguments for and against his position, yes?

No.  Few blogs are written by real experts.  They exist.  Harold McGee is a real, live food and science expert whose blog you should follow and whose book you should buy. But most blogs are started by everyday people who have a layman's interest in their subject.  And those laymen are just as prone to the myths, errors, and misconceptions of their interest as anyone else.  

No where is this more apparent than cooking blogs and no where more important than on the subject of food safety.   If one goes to a proper culinary school one will get a good grounding in food safety, and if one cooks for even a very brief time one will learn about basics of sanitation and the "danger zone" between 40F and 140F at which bacteria like to reproduce.  But unfortunately it's really very easy to become an expert cook and even an expert recipe writer without learning much more than that about safety.

I'm thinking about this because I want to roast some garlic and store it.  I came across this blog which cheerily recommends that you can "(s)tore them in a jar filled with olive oil.  So basic and simple but so good, too."  You can't.  As one of her commenters points out, storing garlic in the anaerobic environment provided by an olive oil cover you're basically begging for botulism.  Botulism is actually vanishing rare among adults in the US.  There are something like 20 cases per year, one or two of which is fatal.  If you store garlic in olive oil and put the jar in the cabinet, you will probably be one of those cases.  When informed of this, the blogger breezily thanks the commenter and adjusts the storage advice to something only a little less bad.

You'll find similar errors from bloggers on other food-related subjects including potentially dangerous subjects like raw milk.  Of course you'll also find a lot of paranoia and errors on people opposed to things like raw milk.

All of this is to say that finding a blog or website which seems authoritative is not sufficient for you to conclude something.  Seek multiple sources, seek information which has been subject to peer review or other scrutiny, and most importantly seek for information which concludes something different from what you originally thought about something and see if that makes some sense.

(1) Yes.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dumb Starbucks people.

You've probably seen a story today about the Dumb Starbucks store which has opened up in Los Angeles and is currently giving away free dumb coffee products.  It's probably only designed to be there for a day or two and to bring publicity to a movie, a website or a particularly well-funded cause.

On the off chance that they have plans to be a real business, they say they're counting on the parody provisions of fair use law to protect them from Starbucks' presumably well-caffeinated legal team.  There are limits to parody, however, and I seriously doubt you could clone an entire business simply by sticking the word "dumb" in front of copyrighted and trademarked elements. 

But Starbucks isn't helping themselves.  According to that article, SBUX is "looking into" the store.  The company's representative, Megan Adams, adds, "It's obviously not a Starbucks."

Oops.  One of the elements of a successful trademark infringement lawsuit is if the allegedly offending mark is "likely to cause confusion."  I hope Ms. Adams' remarks don't come back to hurt her. 

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Saturday, February 8, 2014


As one of my commenters points out, one can't speak of avocados for very long without thinking of guacamole. 

How do you make a great guacamole?  Guac is a lot like chile.  Everyone seems to have immutable rules regarding what makes the One True Guacamole or the One True Chile and the truth is that you can throw almost all of those rules out in both cases.  Guacamole is a Spanishization of the Aztec words for 'avocado sauce' so you should probably have avocados in your guac.  And that's it.  Everything else is optional.  Chicken? Edamame? Sriracha?  Go for it.  A great guacamole is one which has avocados, is vaguely sauce-like and which you and your guests enjoy.   Heck, don't even make it sauce like.  Serve your guac ingredients separately and call it a deconstructed guacamole.  People will go nuts over it.  Actually, I think I'm going to do exactly that next time. 

That said, I usually like a classic preparation.  For every three avocados, I dice an ounce of white onions and a pound of tomatoes (remove the liquid and seeds).  Then mince a clove or two of garlic, one jalapeno and one-quarter to one habanero peppers and a quarter cup of cilantro.  Sometimes I roast some or all of the tomatoes, chilis, and garlic.  Other ingredients are a tablespoon or a little more of lime juice, a quarter teaspoon salt and small splash of apple cider vinegar.

Buy this molcajete

Mash the avocados and then fold in the other ingredients.  That's it.  I have a cool authentic basalt molcajete which makes me very happy whenever I use it but the truth is you can mash avocados just fine with a fork in a sufficiently big cereal bowl.  The rocket-science rating is pretty low.  I like it kind of chunky but it's your guac, mash it as much or as little as you want.

To make it even easier, the astute observer will notice that a lot of the ingredients match those of a pico de gallo or a simple tomato salsa.  Since an occasion calling for guacamole often also calls for a pico and/or a salsa, just throw some of that into the avocados, add any ingredients which are missing (most likely some of the chili pepper, the lime juice and the garlic) and you've taken out even more steps.  It's rare that my refrigerator doesn't contain some variation on Rick Bayless' Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee.

Your Title Here.

This blog's name, Miller's Musings, is exceeded in how boring it is only by this blog's URL,  Both are temporary, I hope, and will be changed when the blog acquires enough of a theme and personality to suggest a good name.  In the meantime of course I'd welcome any suggestions.

Posts with pictures are more interesting than posts without them so here's a picture of a bunch of dried chili peppers just before they got toasted and re-hydrated for a proper Texas Red. 

Avocado's Number

Earlier I expressed skepticism about the Hass Avocado Board's estimate that 104 million pounds of Avocados would be consumed around the Super Bowl, an event the Board refers to as the Big Game.

I emailed the Avocado Board asking where the estimate came from.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Telling the world's smartest company how to run their business.

Because why not, right?

At any rate, Google's navigation tool is terrible and they should invest a ton of money to retool it.

It knows where you are, which is a good start.  And when you tell it where you want to go it knows how to get there, which is nice.

But if you want navigation, it opens up a whole new app.  That should be integrated with the maps to make it much easier to toggle in and out of navigation.

However, that's not the problem with Google Maps/Navigation.   No, the problem is that the other functions of Google Maps don't understand the concept of "on the way." 

Say I'm in New York City (I'm in New York City).  And say I want to go to Amish country.  I can pick my destination or my origination or any point along the way and find gas or a restaurant or antique stores.  But there's no way to tell Google to find gas "on the way."  Not only should I be able to do that, Google should ask me how far off the selected route I'm willing to go for gas and then it should reach into one of the cheap gas apps and tell me the optimal place to stop. 

And that's just the basic stuff.  I should be able to tell Google that I'm going to Amish country because I'm antiquing and I'm planning to visit.  Google should then identify antique shops and visitor-friendly farms which are "on the way," again defined by me. 

If you're traveling with your kids, you can ask Google to identify kid-friendly restaurants near your location.  What you should be able to do is ask Google for kid-friendly restaurants that are along your route and which you can get to within the next 40 minutes or whatever. 

Just in case it's not sufficiently arrogant to tell the world's smartest company what they should be doing, here's one way how they should do it.  If they don't feel like developing the expertise in house at least the beginnings of it already live at Garmin.  They've been doing a version of this for years.  For $12 billion Google can pay a 20% premium to Garmin's current stock price and exceed the 5-year high, two important triggers to get board support for a friendly deal.  Along with the "on the way" ability, they'd pick up a lot of great topographic data and other things useful for non-car GPS devices. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On the corner of Doing the Right Thing and Full of It.

CVS has decided to stop selling cigarettes as of later this year.  You can't tell exactly because they're cagey about the timing but it looks like cigarettes provide somewhere around 4 percent of their earnings.  I imagine that number has been declining and I also imagine that CVS' management foresaw a day when total cigarette earnings will approach zero and they decided to get ahead of that day as they reposition themselves as a health care company and try to increase their share of all those sweet, sweet Obamacare revenues.

So good for them.  But...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A belated thought about that Coke advertisement.

This is a thought for the fans of the Coke advertisement which ran during the Super Bowl.  You know the advertisement I'm talking about.  The "America is Beautiful" commercial. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don't you believe it!

Skepticism is one of the subjects I hope to address often with this blog.  I'm not going to go the route of "God didn't flood the whole world but there was a regional flood in the Black Sea" or "you should vaccinate your kids" (though you should).  I don't sense that there's a shortage of such blogs in the world.

I'll be addressing everyday information that people use to make decisions or just to better understand the world around them.  I'll be addressing the facts (or not), how they spread, and how they matter if they do.

Today I came across a claim by the Hass Avocado Board that Americans will consume 104 million pounds of avocados in events surrounding the Superbowl.

I'm not buying it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why you should watch women's soccer.

We've recently become big fans of soccer in this household. It's a pretty fast-paced game, there's strategy involved, and even in the most commercial European leagues it still feels like it's mostly a game and not merely a vector by which large companies reach large audiences. Although I'll admit it's kind of funny watching some of the world's best athletes running around with the name of oil-state airlines and gambling operations. It's like the bottom 10th of NASCAR, where the drivers are sponsored by funeral homes and scam Viagra substitutes.

At any rate. Soccer. We like the game, we like the national teams more than the club teams and we like the women's game most of all. You should also become a fan of women's soccer, both of the national team and of the Phoenix-like US pro league, currently called the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

I already know your objections. The women aren't as fast as the men. They don't kick as far or as hard. You're right. But soccer is about so much more than that, and enjoying a sport is also about so much more than that. Let me explain the advantages the women's game has over the men's, at least in the United States.

The USA is really, really good at women's soccer. The USA won the Olympics. We were runners up at the World Cup. We've won the World Cup before. Twice. We're the favorites or co-favorites at every tournament we enter. What that means is that if you see a US Women's National Team match or take in a NWSL game you're seeing the very best athletes in the game. It's like being a Barcelona and Brazil fan on the men's side. However, there are other very very good teams.  You don't get to take victories for granted like the men's basketball Olympic Dream Team.  There is legitimate competition, it's just that the US is the best at it. Just for fun, here's a picture of striker extraordinaire and general badass Abby Wambach setting the record for international goals:


And there's more:

Friday, January 31, 2014

Making Stock

Yesterday I posted about roasting a chicken and exhorted readers to save the bones.  Today we'll talk about saving vegetable leavings and making stock.

A good stock is a foundation of a wide variety of foods. Soups, obviously, but a quick search for stocks in recipes I use has it showing up in Chinese chicken with peanuts, chilis, moles, broiled chicken, gravys, tagines, seared fish and more. 

If you are using bouillon cubes for stocks, you are seriously cheating yourself.  Oversalted, underflavored cubes of mediocrity are forming the base of your dish.   Stop it.  Some of the boxed stocks are OK, but you can do better than OK.  With a good homemade stock you can control the flavor, control the intensity, control the saltiness and improve the mouthfeel of your dish.  And you can do it at a fraction of the price of the boxed stock.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roast Chicken.

Cooking is combining edible ingredients to make something else edible.  Most dictionary definitions and most cooking also involve some amount of heat but adding sugar to cream and beating the heck out of it until it stands in delicious peaks is also cooking.  It can be exactly that simple or it can be more complex than imagined just a few years ago as shown by the current generation of molecular gastronomists. 

For the home cook, I think the goals should be nutritious, delicious and usually as simple as possible.  It's fun from time to time to make something incredibly complex, particularly if you're looking to learn something or entertain company, but for most things the fun is in the eating.

To my mind, nothing is simpler or more delicious than a properly roasted whole chicken.   How simple?  Well, Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame recommends nothing but the chicken, some salt and pepper and maybe some thyme.  Here's his recipe.  To that I'd add time and some scissors.

You'll note that the recipe below calls for removing the chicken from the oven while the breasts are between 145 and 150F, well below the 165F the USDA recommends as a minimum temperature for chicken.  There's a long, complex response to that which I may go into if I decide to take this blog in a political direction, but basically the USDA is wrong and they are responsible for a lot of terrible chicken over the years.  If you don't like chicken because you think it's dry and tasteless, you can thank the USDA.  That said, you probably want to invest in a quality instant-read food thermometer like a Thermapen if you're going to cook things like chicken and pork rare. 

Also, this recipe is for a good-quality chicken properly raised and processed.  It will still work on that 6% water-added robo-chicken that was on sale at the grocery store, but it may take longer and the skin probably won't crisp up as well. 

The instruction to spatchcock the bird links to a preparation method championed by J. Kenji López-Alt at   He calls it butterflying instead of spatchcocking but I really like the word spatchcock.  If this blog has a lot of food talk, there will be a lot of links to Mr.
López-Alt.  I think you should subscribe to his column.  

Last but not at all least, after you've carved and eaten the chicken, save the bones!  In fact, cut off the wingtips which you probably aren't going to eat anyway and save those too.  Toss all the bones and any leftovers besides skin in a Ziploc bag, label the bag with the date and store it in the freezer.  Later we'll be making homemade chicken stock and you'll never be happy with the storebought stuff again.

A Simple, if time-consuming, recipe for roast chicken:

And here's a post with a picture, to see how that works.

Yesterday we went to see the hoopla surrounding the New Jersey Superbowl at Times Square.  First, we took in the Animal Planet exhibit for the Puppy Bowl.  It was mostly about as silly as you'd expect, with a "hall of fame" showing off pictures of puppies and props from prior Puppy Bowls (most lickable puppy, most drooled over chew toy, etc.).  But they did have real puppies.  Alas, we got there at what must have been Puppy Halftime, as the puppies were tuckered out and not playing.  Here's a picture of a tired puppy:
 Now here's some text below the picture to see how it turns out.

Next, we walked along Broadway, renamed Superbowl Boulevard for the week.  We were there before the full festivities got underway.  The Field Goal Kicking exhibit wasn't opening for a few hours, the big lit-up Roman Numerals(TM) weren't due until after nightfall, etc.  But frankly none of it was all that interesting.  There was a nice collection of big Superbowl sponsors giving away swag and/or showing off their wares.  It's apparent that even the largest companies haven't figured out the whole interactive thing just yet.  GM is an example.  They had some of their big SUVs on exhibit, a, uh, counter-intuitive choice for Manhattan.  But, tourists, so OK.  But if you wanted to enter their contest you had to give them your email, get a wristband, go to each and ever SUV (I think there were three), get information, scan the wristband, go to another location, get scanned again and then find out if you won, well, no one really seemed to know what you won or how likely you were to win it.  People don't want to do that much work to buy a car, let alone look at one.   Even Animal Planet, back at the Puppy Bowl, said they wanted your phone number to give you a chance to win a Bissell  Vacuum Cleaner.  One of the attendants helpfully added that it was possible to skip this step, but how many emails did Bissell miss out on because people just stopped when they reached the field for their phone number?  

So overall, the whole thing was interactive and terrible at it.