Archive for May, 2009

Weekend Linkage

May 31, 2009 - 4:34 pm Comments Off

Today has been mostly spent with Stingray embarking on phase two of Project: What The Fuck Is Wrong With The Kitchen Sink, to mostly no good result. Actual professional help will probably be necessary. The story is quite boring and unfunny, so here’s what’s been making us laugh lately.

Webcomic, sorta: Surviving The World. Imagine if XKCD had been done by someone without Randall Munroe’s minimalist drawing ability. And were meant to be educational. More or less. Either way it’s nerdy and it’s funny.

Blog: Eco-comics. Proving that there is indeed a blog about ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING, we give you Eco-Comics, which is entirely devoted to economics questions and issues in the world of comic books. More astounding still, this appears to be a fairly rich seam of material. Favorite posts so far: Where Does The Canadian Government Get The Money To Keep Making Super-Soldiers??

Regardless, someone in the Canadian government was still there to provide funding for Weapon X, whatever its intended purpose may have been. And I’m sure they had to receive progress reports such as: “We created a supersoldier with a healing ability and an indestructible skeleton. And he was really cool. But then he killed all of the scientists and the guards… and he’s living in the woods now. So… we need more money.”

Millionaires = Crazy

Norman Osborn started as a weapons and chemical designer. But like all wealthy industrialists do in the comic book world, he decided profit margins weren’t enough. And as such he began riding around on a bat-shaped glider in a green and purple outfit and started throwing pumpkin bombs. It truly boggles my mind when i consider the amount of research and development that must have gone into the creation of pumpkin-shaped explosives. Some poor R&D guy had to sit in front of his computer screen, working on plastic explosive casings while dealing with Norman standing over his shoulder and shouting, “No, it needs to be MORE ORANGE!”

Funny stuff. And occasionally thought-provoking.

Cooking Noob: Summer Squash Pancakes

May 29, 2009 - 8:54 pm Comments Off

I tend to like just about anything shredded into a pile and then fried up crisp. The most obvious example are hash browns, but this also works surprisingly well with a number of other food items. Hash browns are well and good, but they get old after awhile, and they also tend to be highly associated with that unpleasant “python after a feed” sensation after meals. I wanted something a bit lighter, as well as just different. So, after looking up a recipe upon request for a friend, I stumbled across Mark Bittman’s vegetable pancakes. Sounded good to me.

Now, there’s a reason the name of Bittman’s NYT foodblog is “The Minimalist”. Most of the appeal and utility of his recipes lies in that they are designed to be extremely modular; spices, seasonings, and even main ingredients can be swapped around at will to create new variations on the same basic theme. This is fantastic if you need to substitute a lot of things, but it’s not so great if your skills aren’t all that developed yet and you could use some more direct hints in how to take it from basic to specifically tasty. So, for purposes of added zazz, I decided to combine the basic Bittman model with another summer squash pancake recipe.

Bittman ingredient list:

About 1 1/2 pounds grated vegetables, peeled first if necessary (3 cups packed), and squeezed dry
1/2 small onion, grated; or 4 scallions
1 egg or 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup white or whole wheat flour, more or less
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil or butter for greasing the pan

Well, that’s general, as it’s meant to be. I used yellow summer squash because it was available and because I just like the stuff, and four scallions because I had some left over from the twice-baked cauliflower endeavor. Not too much in the way of flavor suggestions there, so I’ll look at the About.com recipe…

Ingredients:

* 3 cups grated yellow summer squash or zucchini
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
* 1 medium clove garlic, minced
* 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 large egg
* 1 cup biscuit mix
* dash pepper
* milk, as needed

Fresh parsley I don’t have, so it goes. Garlic? Never a bad idea. Biscuit mix? Eh, I’ll stick with flour- if we have any Bisquick left it’s long since weevil chow. I like that Parmesan idea and I still have some grated also left over- in it goes. On to the actual process.

Heat the oven to 275°F. Grate the vegetable or vegetables by hand or with the grating disk of a food processor.

1. Eyebrow at the oven instruction since we’ll be frying these babies and skip that for now. Gee, that’s a lot of vegetable. Does our food proccessor have a grating disk? It does! Spend the next ten minutes figuring out how grating disk fits to food processor, noting spouse’s very explicit instructions as to the right side to face up of the grating disk. Assemble all your ingredients and tools. Noting that the only mixing bowl options available are “kinda teeny” and “omg wtfhuge”, select the smaller one. Once you have retrieved an appropriate measuring cup and determined just how much volume three cups occupies, swap it out for the huge one.

2. Take your three yellow squash and resolve to grate them until the three-cup mark of your measuring cup is met. Slice off the ends and cut to fit the feeding tube of your food processor. Stuff a piece into the processor; such an array of choices! Probably best start with “low”.

3. GOSH. Good thing you didn’t go to “high”; that must be for disposing of bodies or something. Adopting the “pulse” setting is a good idea too. Feed all pieces into the processor, then transfer first grated squash into your measuring cup, which turns out to require partial disassembly of the processor.

Optional: Step on the cat’s tail again. At this point it’s getting to be a tradition. What the hell he expects in the way of treats out of grated squash is a mystery anyway.

4. Repeat the procedure with the second squash. Hey, wait a minute. Why is it coming out in slices instead of gratings? Analyze the mystery, as well as the question of whether you can use the slices instead of gratings and even if you could, if it would go okay with the previous grated stuff. With spouse’s help, come to the conclusion that no you can’t, and get to the bottom of the mystery: you put the grating disc in upside-down, and now it functions as a slicer. Didn’t we buy him a mandoline for this?

5. Put the regular blade back in the food processor and stuff the sliced squash in. Now you have shredded squash, which is close enough to grated for kitchen work. As you start over again with the grating disk the right side up this time and the third squash, have a hearty chuckle as you realize how completely you have defeated the purpose of the food processor as a time-saving instrument. On the bright side, it turns out that three medium-to-large squash equate to three cups of grated squash and you have neither a math problem nor a leftovers problem.

6. Reason that if four scallions is equivalent in the original recipe to half a small onion, what must be meant is you should cut off and grate up the white parts of the scallions*. Now it’s time to discover that very small, round alliums don’t grate gracefully. At all. Pick the usable bits from the inside of the food processor and throw those in, even though they represent about a third of your original scallion volume, if that.

7. Having learned a lesson with the scallions, choose to use the garlic-mincing gewgaw on the one clove of garlic that your spouse bought on a whim some time ago. Locating and assembling the mincer, then re-assembling it in the correct fashion, then using it, will give you more time to reflect that the chef’s knife would have been a lot faster.

Mix together the vegetables, onion, egg, and 1/4 cup of the flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a little more flour if the mixture isn’t holding together.

8. Crack an egg into the mixing bowl and beat it until the yolk and white seem reasonably combined, then dump in all the grated vegetables and the flour and cheese. Select a reasonbly non-heat-conducting spoon you can use at the stove, and mix until everything seems, well, mixed. It kinda sticks together; that’ll probably do.

10. Read through the rest of the recipe before starting the heat phase. Turns out we were supposed to preheat the oven so we could keep the first pancakes warm in there while doing the rest in batches. Oh. Well, it won’t take the oven too long to get up to that… go ahead and turn it on. 275 probably isn’t necessary, especially since you intend to line the pan they sit in with paper towels- 200 will be fine.

Put a little butter or oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, drop in spoonfuls of the batter, using a fork to spread the vegetables into an even layer, press down a bit.

9. Butter’s always better, right? Select the skillet you usually use when you want to quickly fry up a couple of eggs, then put a big chunk of butter in the pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and push the butter around until it’s all melted. Put in a couple of scoops of the veggie mix and press down as directed; looks like this pan’ll fit about three, maybe four if you hadn’t slapped the first one down right in the middle.

Work in batches to prevent overcrowding. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

10. Is the butter supposed to turn that color? It’s going from clear to red to black. It’s kinda smoking, too. Crap. Consult spouse; turn down the heat some. Try to flip the pancakes. Discover that no, that batter really wasn’t sticky enough. Eventually, wrestle each “pancake” over onto its other side (the previous one having acquired the same ebon shade as the butter), and fumble it onto the paper towel-lined cookie sheet and pop into the oven. Pour off the remainder of the butter, transfer pan to a cold burner, and cautiously apply a generous amount of vegetable oil, which spouse informs you has a much more forgiving smoke point. Put the pan back on the medium-high burner.

11. Apply more scoops of batter as per instructions. This time you can fit four if you use your space judiciously. Turning them over is still a high-tension event necessitating a fork, a spatula, and a healthy dose of luck, though it goes a bit better than the first batch did.

12. While the pancakes are browning on their (more or less) opposite side, sprinkle some more flour in on the remaining batter; about a quarter of the three-quarter cup you used should do. Once you can manipulate a pancake up off the pan well enough to see it’s thoroughly browned on the bottom, persuade, cajole, and mangle the pancakes onto the pan you pulled back out of the oven, then pop it right back in.

13. Scoop in the remaining batter and proceed as before. Man, that extra flour made a LOT of difference, didn’t it? These aren’t a total dream to manipulate, but you can flip all four pancakes without mauling even one of them. Transfer to warming pan as before. Have a taste of the most wretched-looking pancake. Hey, guess what you forgot? That’s right, bitch: the salt and pepper. Fortunately, those can be sprinkled on the final product instead of cooked in to no ill result.

As steep a learning curve as the frying process turned out to be, these actually turned out fairly tasty, and could only be improved with the removal of the ineptitude. Next time I’d either use the half an onion, or chop up and include the entirety of the scallions, or just up the garlic- they could have used more allium kick. I’ll also either use a full cup of flour, or add about a teaspoon of cornstarch- I’d like to minimize the extra flour if I can, and cornstarch has better thickening power. We’ll see. Either way it’s a make-again- we ate all of them, even the saddest and most burnt/mangled ones, and they went down a treat with some Breda pork. Absolutely no stuffed-python sensation, either- just happily full.

Note: Spouse is still shouting that I need binding more than thickening. I’m noting the amount of water in the bottom of the bowl before the “batter” was done and thinking thickening might be all I need. I could always add another egg- what say you, blogaudience?

Note two: How is it that I am only now noticing the “squeeze dry” part of the vegetable grating instructions in the quoted recipe? That would have helped a lot, too.

*This reasoning is incorrect. It would have been better if I’d just chopped the green parts and used those.

Pimp For A Fellow Blogger

May 28, 2009 - 7:20 pm Comments Off

The Anarchangelic Family is selling a cookbook, the print compliation of “Recipes For Real Men” plus a lot of stuff you can’t get from the blog- some of which sounds pretty darned attractive to me even if it weren’t done by someone I knew and liked, like a mise en place list- extremely useful stuff for a beginning cook like me that can’t necessarily intuit what can be laid out ahead and what absolutely NEEDS to be.

This is being done in part to raise money for legal bills. We can really, really sympathize, as we have direct experience in just how meteorically those can rise, just how out of the blue, and just how much it absolutely and incredibly sucks to be in a legal pissing contest with an adversary who has more time and money than you do and wants to defeat you more than they want their time and money. Hell, we’ve an outstanding bill ourselves that we’re in a better position to cover… we think… assuming the other party actually chooses to abide by something they signed for once. *sigh*

If cooking is your thing, give it a pre-order- it’s a thoughtfully designed product with a priority on taste, and it’s for a good cause. I’ll be doing so the moment my debit card is less anemic.

In the Spirit of Cooking…

May 27, 2009 - 6:07 pm Comments Off

Technically speaking, this is a mashup between Lazy Town, a Weird Icelandic Thing of a show that’s aimed at encouraging kids to eat healthy and be active (and, possibly, take lots of acid when they’re older), and a Lil John video. I’m not really that familiar with either one except for the basic premises (“being healthy is good and being lazy is evil!” and “BITCHES AND HOS YO MUHFUCKA” respectively), all I know is this is strangely hypnotic and hilarious.

Not really work-safe. That actress is 18, by the way, if it makes it less disturbing. The character’s supposed to be eight, though…

Cooking Noob!

May 26, 2009 - 7:19 pm Comments Off

I love food. I love reading about food, researching food, eating out, and searching obsessively for new recipes. What I can’t really do is MAKE food; for a person that owns two shelves of cookbooks (at least that aren’t perpetually floating from my desk to Stingray’s desk to the kitchen counters), I’m actually pretty inept in the kitchen.

Background: By the time I got old enough to where I was learning basic life skills- like how to do laundry without ruining my clothes or destroying the washing machine, how to insert medication into a reluctant animal, how to do basic mending (which never really took, to no fault of my mother), how to keep my computer from turning into a virus spawning device, and so on, neither of my parents was terribly interested in cooking. They both knew HOW to and could do it quite well when called upon to do so, but neither of them actually WANTED to, in that way of nineties adults everywhere at the close of the “only the poor and those wealthy enough to have nothing better to do with their time cook” era. I left home with some extremely basic cooking skills, mostly relating to the microwave and how to prepare a sort of all-purpose Student Chow involving scrambled eggs, rice, and bits of leftover meat and vegetables. I could feed myself, after a fashion.

Then I moved to New Orleans to go to college. I still wasn’t cooking, partly because I lacked basic skills and partly because the dorm kitchens were semi-perpetually closed as various of our co-residents set it repeatedly on fire as they wandered off to have urgent conversations while things were left on the stove. But at the same time, I was learning to eat- it’s actually quite difficult to get a bad meal in New Orleans without going to a mall food court or a university cafeteria, and I was intrigued to discover that there were such things as meals eaten solely for pleasure, not even of the guilty sort. Oh, I had a basic handle on this idea before- I certainly had my preferences among various options to fill the hole, with things that were starchy, salty, and fatty heading the list- but I didn’t have a palate. Over time in New Orleans, I began to develop one, up to the point that by my junior year, I was saving most of my spare money for once or twice a year trips to Commander’s Palace or Galatoires instead of things like new clothes.

Eventually, I moved out to New Mexico to join my long-term long-distance boyfriend Stingray. We determined that neither one of us really knew how to cook, but that one of us should- by a process neither of us remembers, Stingray got volunteered to become the one with the actual kitchen skills. He applied himself with the no-half-measures approach he usually employs, and after a fair amount of fumbling around (yes, there IS such a thing as way too many seasonings, no matter how good they individually are), he turned out to have some hidden talent in the field and became a more-than-competent home cook. I became the “research and development” end of things- or at least that’s how I put it. This approach had its drawbacks; aside from the obvious one of all the work being on him rather than shared between us, I had no real sense, when reading a recipe, for how long it would take to prepare or just what the pain in the ass quotient on it would be. I also tended to flag way more recipes for his attention than he actually wanted to fool with.

So, this summer I resolved to make it my new project: bringing my actual kitchen abilities in line with my overall food obsession. Stingray heartily approved, as it would both reduce his workload and give me a dose of reality when it came to storing and preparing food, plus give him a source of entertainment for the forseeable future.

So, with introductions and explanations aside, this is at least theoretically the beginning of a new easy postfodder source series: recipes and instructions from the point of view of someone who has a lot of theoretical knowledge but almost no kitchen skills- in short, very nearly the opposite of what people who write down recipes have in mind as their target audience. I know what a maillard reaction is on the molecular level, but I stare in paralyzed horror at instructions like “cook until done”. With that in mind, tonight’s installment is originally from Kalyn’s Kitchen, and I hope like hell Kalyn has a sense of humor about what I’m about to do to her recipe. It’s all out of love! Format to follow will be bits of the recipe-as-printed, followed by a mix of step-by-step instructions I worked out based on the actual process.

(more…)

More of the same

May 24, 2009 - 8:22 pm Comments Off

Tonight was spent recording the latest Vicious Circle, which I can report adheres to all previous standards of production values, decorum, and topicality. Which means it’s more of the same group of friends delivering snark on which your mileage may seriously vary. Given that I’ve spent the entire weekend catching up on what was apparently a large sleep deficit, that’s left, once again, little room for serious organized content production.

So, instead I’ll answer a question that’s clearly burning in the minds of Americans, given that it came up on said podcast.

“Will eating ants hurt my cat?”

No. No it will not. Eating ant POISON will hurt your cat, which is why there are a number of sources out there for dealing with ants when you have pets you don’t want eating poison. (Short version: borax probably won’t cause any problems as long as your cat isn’t a total retard, diamotaceous earth is totally safe, and something brand-named as “Terro” also works.) Ants contain hard shells and formic acid, which may eventually upset your cat’s stomach if he has a sensitive gut, but no real harm will be done.

Keep your cats the hell away from fire ant mounds, though- a swarm of pissed off fire ants can kill kitty with no ingestion required.

This has been your Burning Question of the Day.

What's That? You Want More Filler?

May 22, 2009 - 7:48 pm Comments Off

Ask and ye shall receive! Or since you probably didn’t ask, have some anyway. It’s good for you. Keeps you from developing all sorts of expectations that we’re smart or interesting on a regular basis, and really, do you want to put that kind of pressure on us? I didn’t think so.

Anyway, today was the next to last session on the back of LabRat’s leg (no word on how many are expected to finish the front), so she’s a bit knackered at the moment. The leg may not have the most sensitive portions of the human body, but three hours spent working over maybe a total of eleven or so square inches over and over and over and over and over while he gets the shading right (and so far it does look excellent) will take it out of anybody. Since I was dispatched to run errands in an attempt to rebuild some good will for calling on the services of my folks as dogsitters as often as we have been lately, and Albuquerque drivers- already not the greatest wheelmen and wheelwomen in the world- panic easily when it rains, as it was today, I’m pretty well worn myself. So to tide you over, here’s a couple of grabs from my XKCD Bank Account. Clicking will lead to embiggening. For the second one, it’s necessary to get the animation started, but be warned, it has naughty words.
youre

batman

PENIS FIGHT

May 21, 2009 - 6:55 pm Comments Off

Sex AND violence… you can just tell I’m milking the lowest common denominator for material, given as I’m at a bit of a loss today.

In my sporadic attempt to keep you all current with just how glad you should be to be a hominid when it comes to mating systems, I bring you an interesting example of a mating behavior found in some hemaphroditic invertebrates, courtesy of Deep Sea News: penis fencing.

The long and the short (*pause for snickering*) of it is, each worm has a double-headed dagger of an inseminator, and each is trying to inseminate the other- like I said, they’re hermaphrodites- without, we assume, getting inseminated themselves. (The actual method of insemination is… indiscriminate and mildly traumatic.) As the blogger at I’m-a-Chordata points out, it’s hard for humans to watch this behavior and not drop a big steaming load of cultural and species baggage all over it; it’s easy to think of the inseminator as the “winner” and the inseminated as the “loser” despite that both worms are successfully reproducing.

On the other hand, it’s also hard to argue that the whole episode is usually dominated by one individual instead of both inseminating each other and flapping off to have their mutual babies, and there’s a reason for that. Most likely, the reason is not that either worm “loses” by taking the female role in the encounter- again, it’s successful reproduction- but rather that either might “win” a little more by playing the exclusively male role*. A flatworm that inseminates but isn’t inseminated has more options- it’s mated successfully, but its much more expensive female gametes aren’t then necessarily committed and it has further options, and can generally reproduce more often while using fewer resources to do it.

*One of the posts in the pipeline that will go up when I have more time and energy is the reason that the male/female sex ratio is the way it is. In other words, more later.

Was it Something I Said?

May 20, 2009 - 3:30 pm Comments Off

stingrayatom

I think maybe he objected to my shirt.
dscn0706

Actual Gunny response: “That seems like an awful lot of work for just a pistol.”

Apparently This IS Why We Can't Have Nice Things

May 20, 2009 - 1:54 pm Comments Off

dramallama

So, it seems our last Vicious Circle cast (and for me, first) has been taken as something of an assault in whole on the blog bash and its organizers. (Update: Link is now dead, original post pulled, replaced with this post apologizing to his readers but very pointedly no one else.) (Update two: Google remembers, though not most of the comments.)

I’m not particularly interested in wading hip-deep into this and going over it point by point. I’ll say that I was totally broadsided, because I didn’t dislike the bash at all- I had a great deal more fun than I usually do at such events- and I liked Sebastian and Bitter pretty well from what little I knew of them until about half past noon when I learned of this. I especially appreciated the help Sebastian offered in sending traffic our way in our one attempt to commit actual journalism given that we’d been given media passes.

I do feel I was misquoted, quoted out of context, misconstrued, add some other mis- and “hey, that’s not what I meant” just for good measure. I don’t remember even being all that interested in meeting Michael Bane given I had nothing to say to him other than “Dude, thanks for the drinks!”, let alone being terminally pissed- though I was annoyed I couldn’t hear a thing not shouted directly into my ear, which was nobody’s fault except the architect who designed the bar. Yeah, we skipped a lot of the official events, but that was because I was juggling my time between visiting my mother and doing the bash. I regretted that it had to be so, because I DID want to hang out more with people I didn’t know as well, or that I did know but was not as friendly with, like Kevin- or for that matter Bitter and Sebastian, whom as I’ve said I liked just fine given the relatively brief contact. Even as it was we’re only now beginning to catch up on the sleep deficit we built up. But, whatever; if you want to know, listen to the podcast. It’s over an hour long, which is how come you really can’t *help* but quote out of context.

Did we prioritize hanging out with friends we already knew well? Well, yeah, but I’m having a hard time seeing how this was such a massive flaming asshole thing to do. We’ve been hanging out in the Gunblogger Conspiracy IRC channel for about a year now, which means we’ve been laughing, telling stories, and generally bonding together for more than enough time to value face time with friends over NRA event time, given we were so short on that TIME thing. The conspiracy thing, by the way, is a very much tongue-in-cheek joke- as networking goes, we’re pretty useless for that purpose, as most of us are C-list bloggers at best. Small fish in a small pond.

As for the “cool kids” thing… uh, WE WERE JOKING. And the joke is, like what you’d expect from people that consider IRC something of a social life, we’re all geeky introverts who have never been “cool” in our entire lives. The title of our blog is not remotely a joke or tongue-in-cheek; we are NERDS. We hang out with each other because we’re overwhelmed by crowds and tend toward the shy end of the spectrum when it comes to others, especially “bigger fish” as it were. If you’d ever asked me to name the actual presumed “cool kids”, numbering US among them would never have occurred to either one of us. Breda, maybe, but after having met her it turns out she’s pretty much an introverted geek too and hasn’t a trace of ego. (But of course, she has her own, much more popular podcast and wasn’t part of this drama at all.) Why would we assume that the fact that we were chiefly making fun of ourselves went without saying? Because it never occurred to us that anyone outside our little pond would care to listen, basically. It’s certainly never happened before.

What I said there (minus the filter of paranoia) is completely true: we are not political animals, and we’re not even really political bloggers either so much as we are bloggers that sometimes write about politics. It almost never occurs to either one of us to say anything other than exactly what we’re thinking, we don’t take politics of any kind into account before speaking- be that the personal politics of gunbloggers or the larger politics of the NRA- and we do value hanging out with friends over making contacts for political change, though we did try a bit of that on our own in a clumsy and technical-problem-plagued fashion. So, maybe we’re not such a good fit for the apparent intended purpose of the blog bash, and in the future we’ll probably avoid all such events just to avoid the potential for hurt feelings. Screw claiming the new media crown- we never wanted it all that badly anyway, and if I personally were to chase it, I’d probably do so as a science blogger rather than a gunblogger- that’s what I really am.

Oh, and as a broad note to any readers I may get cross-threaded with in the future? I’d appreciate it if you talked to me before you slammed me. The odds are I’ll say “Oh, no no NO, that’s not what I meant at all!” and apologize. If it was EXACTLY what I meant, then I’ll be helpful by clearing up all possible doubt and you have my word you can quote me on it.

Okay? Okay.