Archive for October, 2011

Halloween Live Blog

October 31, 2011

8:00 All done. Lights out. Street is pretty dark already. Anybody want some candy?

7:45 Two young men sans costumes, from Cheney food drive, collecting canned food instead of treats. Gave them some tuna and condensed milk. They may not want to use it together. They also knew what a portal was.

7:30 Another half hour and I can turn off all the lights and go hide downstairs.

7:27 Large round mother cat with small round daughter cat. Unloaded lots of candy on them.

7:20 Bouncing ‘twixt door and blog and email.

7:15 All’s quiet on the Cheney front. No knoc….small child with proud father, both as pirates. Kid has no concept of modern business practice.

6:50 Whole family of ninjas, including Darth Ninja, who promptly attempted to break his kneecap on my porch steps. Had no idea what a portal was.

6:40 four young angel/dark angel/ ghosts. They knew what a Portal was. Gave them extra candy.

6:30 All’s quiet. Back to reading my netbook in the foyer.

No, don't pull it off the garage and jump thru it

6:22 one young man who looked like he’d come home from school (jeans, anorak, flannel shirt), put on a regimental tie, and went back out. Claims to be dressed as a businessman. Told him I teach in a B’ school and we’d throw him out. He pointed at my Portal cake sign, and said it was a lie, and left.


6:00 four teen girls, dressed as Maid Sama, and a cat and as someone smuggling coconuts in her mumu. The signs confused them. They took the garage door hula hoop and put it on the porch. They liked my Velma t-shirt, so I gave them extra candy.

My Halloween t-shirt

5:30 I am handling all the largesse tonight, since MJ is off dogging it.

5:00 Put up the outer decorations — some Portal 2 signs, and some blue and red hula hoops. Portal 2 “cake” sign on door, “terminal velocity” sign on porch, “change direction” sign on garage, with blue hula hoop.

Not a lie

NOTE: All Portal signs stolen from Deviant Art, and were made by toadking07.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 31, 2011

Garden Report for 111031

Harvested the last of the potatoes today. As I said, they are a cage variety (Viking Mauves or something), and, as I feared, they didn’t do well. They were in a regulation-size plastic garbage can. Dug down eighteen inches, and found only peanuts (we’re talking serious counter-squirrel-ops this winter). Found the first potato when I was armpit down — about the size of a cherry tomato. Found the second one a few inches lower. Double golfball size, and kindof…asteroid-shaped. Not one of the big ones, with the gravitational slumping thing, one of the small, barely accreted ones. The rest came when I was three-quarters of the way in, very nearly waist-deep.

Total yield. Well, …erm…one kilogram. Yep. 2.2lbs of rough-skinned, dark blue starch. Two worth peeling, six you need to peel but don’t want to (ya ever tried peeling an asteroid?), and the rest are cherry-sized. We’ll boil-n-mash some tonight. Maybe save some for oatmeal.

The peas, meanwhile, have apparently not been killed by the frosts, and are probably growing. They only have three weeks to get to the advertised date for harvest.

LATER: Tried the potatoes. Peeled, boiled, stir-sticked into creaminess. Used some vinegar in the water to hold the color. It did. When we poured the vinegar off, it held on to the color and took it with it. Color on the plate was an unappetizing grey-blue. Maybe Light Slate. Flavor, was only so-so. Next time, I think we’ll steam them. Of course, the problem with potatoes is that half a cup of mashed makes me gain a pound and a half.

PotatOats 3

October 28, 2011

So, the other night, we had corned beef and cabbage, and of course, we cooked the cabbage in the water we cooked the corned beef in. Then, we took some of that water out and cooked some golden beets we’d bought at the farmers market. And then, we made a gravy for the beets out of the thrice-cooked water. Despite all that, there was leftover fluids from all stages.

The cabbage-water was superb, when done with our now-standard oat/potato mix. If anything, just a touch too salty. Who’da thought we’d ever say that about oatmeal?

The beet-water was so-so. I could detect a slight beetyness, but it was probably not worth repeating.

The gravy, made with tomato sauce, onions, and a touch of vinegar, was, well, mediocre. Like I’d put ketchup on my oatmeal. Not bad enough for me to phone out for a breakfast pizza, but not worth repeating.

But that cabbage water. Fortunately, I’ve got about a cup left.


October 27, 2011

Found an incredibly cool weather site, WeatherSpark. You can get a graphical weather forecast, a historical overview, even a long term look at warming trends. The site is well designed and easily navigable, except that the home page is a little sparse. It doesn’t invite you in. Which is why I jumped past it and have linked to my favorite city.

Fun With Vocabulary

October 25, 2011

Sakura Taisen, AKA Sakura Wars, AKA Cherry Blossom Wars, is a game/anime franchise that I will be reviewing Real Soon Now. It’s a dieselpunk story that takes place in 1920’s Tokyo and involves a group of young women who perform in the opera by day, and control steam-driven mechs in combat at night.

Adapted from the Wikipedia entry on Sakura Taisen:

The Japanese words for “Imperial Floral Assault Force” (帝国華撃団) and “Imperial Opera Troupe” (帝国歌劇団 ) are pronounced the same way (Teikoku Kagekidan), and only the characters used in writing are different, resulting in a clever pun. Thus, the Flower Division performs as one during the day, and “changes characters” come time for battle.

BTW, the last character appears to be pronounced as two syllables: dah.nn, not dan. In the opening song, that phrase gets a ten-count.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 24, 2011

Garden Report for 111024

Not much to report now. Peas are coming along. The tomatoes I harvested are ripening nicely. They are in boxen on the floor of the living room (don’t ask), which is right over the part of the basement with the gas heater, and so has the warmest floor in the house. Potatoes are still in the can, with the lid on. I might try digging one up and seeing how they came out. These are the Norwegian Blues or something like that.

Later: I dug up one of the potatoes. Nice and blue. Golf-ball sized and deep down in the can. I suspect we are looking at another four pound yield. Taste was OK. Nothing to write to the world about (er, sorry). Looks like it prefers to be mashed. I’m wondering if a Safeway potato and an eyedropper of FDA Blue #6 wouldn’t be quicker, easier, and just as tasty.

I won’t be able to do much garden cleanup until the peas are done, so I’m working on getting the tomato planters off the deck and over next to the garden, where I’ll dump them until Spring.

PotatOats 2

October 20, 2011

As part of my ongoing Oataku adventure (thanks, Kurt) I’ve been ringing the changes on the whole oatmeal-with-a-dash-of-potato thing. The more I use it, the more I like it.

It works well with both the one- and twenty- minute varieties of rolled oats (I haven’t tried it with steel cut yet), and the 1/4 cup:1TBSp ratio seems about right (a 5:1 ratio by weight). Any more, and you’re getting a non-healthy potato breakfast. It does take more liquid, because the potato buds soak up quite a bit. One thing I’ve found is that it’s best to add the potatoes at the end. They don’t have to cook, just rehydrate, and it makes stirring the oatmeal easier.

What you are looking for is a change to the consistency and mouth-feel, along with a slight potato overtone. Of course, if you’re using a big chunk of the spicy version of Golden Curry, cooked in apple juice, along with a tablespoon of apple jelly, the potato taste part gets lost in the ambient.

PotatOats works particularly well with potato-related flavors. Beef broth, for example, or wine, and a nice, sharp cheese. If you are not using cheese, you’ll find that it really wants extra salt. It also worked OK with bean-water, bringing out a more beanlich consistency.

Second prize is TWO months in Berengia

October 18, 2011

Past Horizons: Paleontologists find ancient rock art in Alaska.

I’ll never forget the year my parents sent me off for summer camp the far side of Beringia. Boy, was I bored. And uncomfortable. It was cold, even in summer. It was wet. Even the ground was wet, those parts that weren’t froze. You know how they teach you to dig hip holes so you can sleep better when you can’t make it back to the cave? Don’t try that here, ’cause your…hips… will freeze to the ground and they’ll have to pry you off with flaming sticks.

I did all the usual stuff you do at camp. I learned to get along with Neanderkids, despite their funny looks. I learned to grind up charcoal and mix it with bear fat and paint it on my face, so that I looked like someone with stripes painted on their face. I learned to make a lanyard from mammoth intestines, and use it to carry a buzzard thigh whistle — which is useful if you ever get lost and are dying and there aren’t any buzzards around. I even learned how to paddle a birch log. The trouble with paddling logs up here is that your feet freeze in the water, while your crotch is rubbed raw, because these birches make really small logs.

One of the other things we learned was how to preserve a mammoth by digging a hole in a pond and stuffing it in. The Cave-Ec teacher said it should last a million years. What she didn’t say was that only works in Beringia, and if you try it anywhere south of Denisova you end up with rotten mammoth. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice well-rotted mammoth, but it does make the water taste funny, and you don’t produce any throwable smellystuff for a week.

Then there was the celebration of multiculturalism. Boooriiing. Even the Neanderkids thought it was dumb. We gathered in this big meadow, and beat bones on bones and sticks on sticks and sticks on bones and rocks on… you get the idea. And we sang grunts. And we got lectured on how we are all children of the lightning god, except for those who were children of the buffalo god, or the aurochs god, or the other rocks gods. And so forth.

That’s when I got into trouble. You see, all the Neanderkids were into making noseplugs — these round disks that you would stick up your nose to make it look bigger. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to breathe, so they’d drill holes in the middle. Well one kid, Uk, was really shy, and I stole his plugs while he was beating his rock and scratched “Uk loves Su” on them. It was hard, because we were all illiterate, but everybody knew what it meant. That got Uk and Su mad, and they both complained. That’s when I got signed up for remedial multiculturalism.

They had three or four of us in the class, which was team taught by a Neander and a Person. Team teaching is a lot like the slap dance. When one got tired, the other would come out and drag them off and start over. We sat at these rock desks with a really nice view of the ocean, to remind us that we could be out there logging (and freezing our toes off) and got lectured at for a day and another day. While our teachers were contradicting each other over which proto-hominid had richest spiritual and intellectual lives, I sat there and carved “Uk is a seagulls ass” in the rock. Of course, it just looked like a bunch of lines, but they were spiritually and intellectually rich with meaning. For me, anyhow. And then I carved “Su is a pile of otter offal”. That pretty well filled up the rock, ’cause it’s hard to get lines to alliterate. I would have carved more, but our teacher won the argument, and the remaining Neander faculty came and dragged off their former colleague, and they gave us the rest of the day off so we could all go down to the marsh and dig for mammoths.

Next summer, I told my Aunt Ja I’d rather get a summer job harvesting emmerwheat.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 17, 2011

Garden Report for 111017

So, the temperature was scheduled to hit 34 on Saturday night, it hasn’t been above 65 this week, and it won’t be above 60 next week, and I decided it’s time to bring in the remaining tomatoes. Total haul was just over 12lbs, which makes the grand total somewhere around 25 or 30lb, I think. A friend said I should wrap them in something called news paper, but I checked at the hardware store and they didn’t have any. I have some old boxen with mulched-cardboard inserts that were used to ship wine bottles (laying down style, not the standing up stuff). I think I’ll use them.

The peas are still coming along. We’ll see if they can beat the hard frosts of November. There’s still another can of potatoes to be opened, but I am going to wait at least a week on them.

Sunday, I planned to rip up all the tomato plants, and the dead cornstalks and take them over to the mulching place, along with the remains of the Killer Rosebush what was lurking in the shadows between the fence and the ornamental weeds, as well as the trimmings from all the hawthorn and cedar and not-readily-identifiable trees that want to dump throwberries and leaves and bark and so forth into my gutters. That may or may not work out, but hey, Tuesday’s another day.

PotatOats 1

October 17, 2011

The Poatine Project got me thinking. Not about poutine, but about potatoes. They taste good, but are not as healty as oatmeal for breakfast…or maybe they are. In any event, adding some potato flakes to my oats sounds like a Good Idea.

The problem is, a tablespoon of potato flakes is a third of a third of a cup, and so will increase the size of my breakfast by that much. I don’t have anything against big breakfasts like that, but one of my constraints is that I not pile on the calories. This is important, because a tablespoon of flakes is not quite enough to give me that potato fix I crave.

So, don’t raise the bridge, lower the river. If I cut back to a quarter cup of oats, my breakfast size remains the same — 0.25 cup oats + 0.11 cup potato flakes => 0.36 cup, or just over a third. I can live with that.

Usual procedure. I’m using the one-minute oatmeal, plus potato flakes, plus two-thirds cup of water. Flavorants include a fat pinch of chicken broth powder, and a shake of poultry seasoning.

Result: quite good, with a different mouth feel and a hint of potato. This is definitely going into the rotation.

The Contrary Iran Affair

October 12, 2011

I am biding my time on this one.

DoJ/FBI are famous for blowing things out of proportion to make it look like they’ve made a big hit. And isn’t it funny how it comes at just the time that AG Holder is about to face a congressional subpoena for the DoJ ‘guns for narcos’ debacle? Also, I am not aware (and admittedly might well not be) of anything the Saudis have done recently that would irritate the Iranians, or even just the Iranian intelligence services, enough to cause this kind of international incident.

Plus, as Juan Cole points out, is it likely that the Iranian intelligence services don’t know that wiring $100K from Iran to a US bank account would set off alarms across the government? Anything over $10K is required to be reported, and has been for years.

There clearly was some sort of plot, but is it the plot the DoJ claims it is? Are the plotters the ones they claim they are? Is the reason for the plot the reason given? Is it more smoke and mirrors to obscure US government bungling, or are we building up a casus belli, in the great tradition of Gulf of Tonkin, and Iraqi WMDs?

UPDATES: and a whole bunch of people who are smarter than I am (and better connected, and more experienced in this area) are also poking holes in the story.

Oat-Poutine 2

October 10, 2011

In a previous entry I talked about recreating poutine as an oatmeal-based dish. Think of it as the Rachel Ray approach of deconstructing some old standard, say, club sandwiches, and turning the same ingredients into soup, or dessert, or something.

This time, I wanted to see what minimalist thing I could do to bring a potato flavor to the dish. After all, the whole idea behind poutine is to have the cruncy fried outside, combined with the soft potato-y inside and the squeaky eraser-feedstock topping. With gravy.

This time, it’s one third of a cup of my standard 20min oatmeal, plus one tablespoon of Potato Buds dehydrated potatoes — any more and it becomes a side dish. Chicken gravy this time, with a slight pinch of beef stock base. Drained cottage cheese curds.

Result: interesting. But not for the reason you’d expect. I’m going to give up on the poutine gig for right now, because I don’t see the effort of getting the cottage cheese curds does anything for me. However, there was just enough potato flavor, that worked well with the gravy, that I am thinking of a whole new line of endeavour. More, anon.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 10, 2011

Garden Report for 111010

Finished harvesting the potatoes from the first bin. Got three pounds from the bottom 18″, mostly walnut sized, but three or four middlin’ ones as well. So that’s a total of four pounds. I think next year we’ll just go to a smaller bin, closer to 18″ deep instead of 48″, and not worry about cage-friendly varieties. I have capped the second bin to keep the potatoes in there dry, and will harvest them in about a month.

The heirloom tomatoes are just about shot, but the regular ones — brandywines and big beefs and so forth — are just starting to produce. Of course, it’s funny to see a Big Beef that’s smaller than a tennis ball.

Peas are….hanging in there.

The Frozen Fens of East Anglia

October 9, 2011

Here is another story from the Cold War. RAF Alconbury is on the western edge of The Fenland, halfway between Cambridge and Peterborough. For four years I lived at RAF Mildenhall, about forty miles away, on the eastern edge of the fens.,_Pointon,_Lincolnshire,_England..jpg

A fenland drain (Rodney Burton)

The Fenland is a supremely flat expanse of brackish tidal swamp (mostly drained since the Middle Ages). Mildenhall is almost fifty miles south of the estuary of The Wash, and sixty miles from the North Sea in any direction, at an elevation of only 33ft. (more…)


October 7, 2011

I was scanning the headlines in my RSS feed (I’ve managed to drive it down to 100, those with interesting headlines), and I saw one from Serious Eats about breakfast poutine — french fries and cheese curds with gravy, plus, in this case, scrambled egg. Now, I’ve never had poutine before, and my impression of it is that it’s what Terry Pratchett would call ‘drunk food’. You know: you’re in Canada and you’ve had two or eight Kokanees and suddenly fries and gravy with underdone cheese lumps sounds good. Or you’re in Oz, and you’ve had a few Fosters and suddenly a meat pie floating upside down in a bowl of split pea soup sounds just too right, mate. Which made me think that I should belt back a sixpack of San Miguel, and see what I thought of oatmeal poutine. I know this is backsliding from my original goal of not doing side dishes with my oatmeal, but I figure if my conscience starts bothering me, I can always buy it a sixpack of San Miguel as well.

The first problem was assembling the ingredients. We’re OK on oatmeal, and I can whip up some sort of gravy, but where does one get fresh cheese curds when you’re living in the NE NW? Well, as the witch in the Charles Addams cartoon said, “We’re out of dwarfs hair, dearie, can we substitute”? I figured I had two choices. I could go find a goat, or I could buy some large-curd cottage cheese. Despite the fact that the curds in large curd would probably be considered crumbs in Quebec, I decided to go the cottage cheese route.

The second problem is that this will essentially be plain oatmeal with stuff on it, and we all know what straight up oatmeal tastes like. It’s part of the reason the Scots fled the island and diasporized across the world. That, and the kilts. Yeah, I know, Scots are always wearing them at their local Highland Games in whatever country they’ve washed up at: Spokane, WA, August 6; Arlington, VA, September 3; Fresno, CA, September 19: Melbourne, AU, April 15. You’ll note that they are all in the hottest parts of their countries in almost the hottest parts of the year. What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? A set of thermal briefs, two sets of long johns, and a pair of sweat pants, but only when he’s at home.

Having insulted my ancestors ancestors (you know that the Scoti were a Northern Irish tribe, back in Roman times, right?), let’s see if there’s something we can do to make our oat poutine taste less like oats.

Except, in the interests of Science! we should really give it a try plain, first. So: we start with a big glob of large-curd cottage cheese. Yes, I know it’s old and not squeaky, this is a field expedient, shut up. Half a cup of water and a quarter spoonful each of beef/mushroom broth, from a jar. Teaspoonish of Wondra, for thickening. A third of a cup of the usual instant oatmeal.

While the oats are cooking, rinse and drain the curds. Boil the brothwater, add the broth mix, shake and stir in the Wondra, and simmer until it’s gravy. Dump oatmeal into dish, top with curds, pour gravy over.

Result. Moderate failure. Didn’t taste bad, exactly, just not what I wanted. Cheese curd flavor didn’t make it through. If I took just a bit of gravy, it was tasteless oats with tasteless cheese curd. If I took too much, it was, well, gravy. Maybe if I had browned the oatmeal a little. We shall have to ponder this.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 3, 2011

Garden Report for 111003

The cooler weather has arrived (so we had a warm-weather growing season of about 90 days this year), and the garden plants are starting to die off, more to length of day than temperature, I think. We are now seeing days in the low-to-mid 70’s and nights in the low 40’s.

The tomatoes have been surprisingly cooperative. The red tsunami has held off, and as long as I eat one or two for lunch, we can stay ahead of them.

Started digging out the potato cages. We have two standard size garbage cans that I tried planting cage-happy potatoes in. This first one held Epicures, and they don’t seem to have done all that well. I didn’t hit the first potato until I was down 18″, and it was just over golfball size, as were three of the others at the 22″ and 26″ levels. One biggish one at 24″. The total yield so far is one pound, one ounce — exactly the weight of the heirloom tomato I just picked. I’ve left the bottom 18″ for later. We also have a second can, with Norwegian Blues, or something. UPDATE: Had the potatoes for dinner, mashed, with oatmeal-meatloaf (doesn’t count). Very good, but not rapturously better than store-bought.

Latest tray of radishes is doing well, and the peas are surviving, despite the squirrels.