Monday, March 31, 2008
On the other hand, Bozeman has at least 8 Mexican restaurants.
In checking out the Fortune Cookie Chronicles blog, I found a neat site on how to order Chinese food. Of course, it is designed for people traveling in China, but it is interesting to see which dishes are acutally made in China - as Lee points out, Chinese-American food is its very own style and has only passing similarities to the food eaten in China. This appears to be characteristic of Chinese food overseas, since Lee also mentions several other distinctive varieties such as Chinese-Indian and Chinese-Korean.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Cut open two avocadoes and mash the meat. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt (more or less, depending on how much flavor is in the avocadoes). Dice finely a quarter of an onion and two roma tomatoes or one regular tomato and stir into the avocado mash. (You can add salsa here for spice, but I don't like what it does to the color of the guacamole. Salsa verde would work well, or minced jalapenos.) Taste for seasoning and serve with fried pig skins.
I know this sounds weird, but it works.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Cut the core out of a head of green cabbage, then slice thinly across the head, making narrow ribbons; you may want to cut once or twice the other way so the ribbons aren't too long to eat neatly. Place ribbons in large bowl. Make a dressing with 1 part olive or sesame oil, 2 parts rice wine vinegar (or a little less white vinegar), 1/4 tsp hot oil (sesame oil with chili flavor in it) or several dashes of your favorite hot sauce, and a dash of salt. Shake or mix well and pour over cabbage; toss thoroughly. (For red cabbage, use apple cider vinegar in the dressing.)
If you have leftovers (a medium head of cabbage makes enough salad for 6-8 people), cover it tightly and use with thinly-sliced leftover steak the next night for a steak salad. This is good enough and simple enough that it is worth arranging the leftovers for. Serve with chewy bread or plain potato chips.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
That's not the only confusion surrounding Easter: the origins of the holiday get confused too. Easter was originally called Pasch and was celebrated immediately after Passover, since Christ was crucified on the eve of Passover and resurrected after it; early Jewish converts to Christianity saw the new feast as an extension of Passover. When the official Christian calculation of the date was set in 325, it was set on the Sunday following the full moon, to avoid having Easter celebrated during Passover.
As Christianity spread, it co-opted many pagan rituals; in particular, the Christian celebration of resurrection fit neatly with pagan fertility rituals that tended to be celebrated around the spring equinox. The name "Easter" appears to come from the Germanic moon goddess, Eostre, whose sacred day was the first full moon after the equinox; she was accompanied by a sacred rabbit and carried a basket of eggs. The Church neatly absorbed the accouterments and name when it overlaid the fertility rituals with Christian rituals, giving us our Easter bunny and Easter eggs.
So we have a Christian holiday tied to a Jewish feast and named for a pagan goddess, celebrated on a different date each year... I think I'll just go hide Easter eggs.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Right from the beginning, The Gay Blade announces its intentions of playing on these conventions by using footage from the 1940 movie to set the stage for the action. And play it does. "Zorro" is actually a pair of twin brothers; the heroic one hurts his foot early on and can't be Zorro any more, so his flamingly gay brother takes over for him. The gay Zorro is hysterical with his insistence on a more colorful wardrobe in mauve, peach, and cordovan, all carefully co-ordinated, and he pulls off the required exploits with panache while his brother entertains the alcalde at home. In a nice reversal, the hero ends up covering for the fop.
Friday, March 21, 2008
It's interesting that summer and winter are primarily nouns (in spite of being used in sentences like "They summer in California" or "Where are you wintering your horses?"), while spring and fall are primarily verbs that have been applied to seasons; this goes all the way back to Old English, reflecting the reality of the year at the edges of the temperate zones. It is certainly true in Montana: winter and summer are relatively stable seasons with well-defined characteristics, but spring and fall are seasons of change between one extreme and the other, between long and short days, between ice and sun, between dormancy and explosive growth. In Chinese philosophy, spring is when the yin of winter is giving way to the yang of summer, and they are matched at the equinox; for one moment, life is perfectly balanced.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Gophers are more accurately Richardson ground squirrels, which I thought was a piece of mildly interesting trivia until I discovered last year that it makes a difference when you are trying to poison the little critters that dig holes in the fields. Gophers can be safely (to the rest of the ecosystem) be poisoned with strychnine and other long-lasting poisons, because they stay underground when they die; ground squirrels come to the surface to die, where coyotes, dogs, and other predators eat them - and the poison. Since we have a lot more ground squirrels around here than gophers, knowing which one you are trying to get rid of can make a real difference to dogs in the neighborhood. While I would prefer to skip the poisoning, a lot of the farmers and ranchers around here still use it to rid their fields of the holes and mounds the ground squirrels make, and newcomers make mistakes every year when they try to follow the local practice.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
- The Poppleton books by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mark Teague. Anything Teague illustrates in worth reading, but the Poppletons are the most fun.
- Good Dog Carl books, for pre-readers. The stories are told almost exclusively in pictures, and they are wonderful.
- The Rainbow Goblins – gorgeous pictures and a great story.
- The Napping House, by Don and Audrey Wood. They have other good books, too, especially Piggies.
- The Boynton board books for toddlers. I have lost track of how many of these I have given as gifts over the years.
- Swiss Family Robinson, unmodernized – great read-aloud for (especially) boys who are just about done being read to. Lots of ingenuity in figuring out how to live on the island. Some of the language is a little challenging, which is why it is a good read-aloud.
- Homer Price – older book, set in the 1930s, great for boys as a read-aloud or for reading.
- The Redwall series, by Brian Jaques. Great action, but be careful about reading the feast scenes before a meal.
- Royal Diaries – a series of novels (for girls, primarily) set in different cultures and ages.
- A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears – very funny, gently skewers all kinds of “quest story” conventions.
- The fairy-tale retellings of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.
- The Elephant’s Child, by Rudyard Kipling, of course.
- The Dark Materials trilogy – definitely 15+, I think, due to the complexity (and darkness) of the story.
- The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlof – a Scandenavian boy shrinks small enough to ride on a wild goose; this is the tale of the adventures they have together.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Over the centuries, corned beef became the travel food of choice for European governments. The French shipped it to their sugar colonies in the Caribbean for use as as cheap, durable food for slaves. The British Navy used it for sailors, who introduced it to Pacific Islands (this sounds similar to Spam's position in Hawaii). The islanders had salt readily and cheaply available, so they promptly learned how to make corned beef and other salted foods themselves and sold it to ships stopping in port to resupply.
Corned beef continued its international travels in South America in the 19th century, which had a glut of poor-quality beef. South Americans solved this problem by canning corned beef for export; by the end of the century, their canneries supplied vast amounts to US and European militaries. The British army used large amounts of canned corned beef in WWI and WWII because soldiers could eat it cold straight from the can; there it came be be known as "bully beef", from French bouilli (boiled).
Corned beef doesn't appear to be eaten much by the Irish still in Ireland; they prefer their bacon. When they do eat beef, they prefer spiced beef, which starts out like corned beef but then undergoes another spicing and steeping period before being eaten cold. Irish-Americans picked up the habit of eating corned beef in New York after the potato famine, when beef was cheaper than pork; they may have acquired the taste from their Jewish neighbors.
Although my daughter insists that I make corned beef today, I prefer to avoid the cabbage part of the traditional American dish, probably as a result of too many corned beef and cabbage hot lunches when I was in school. I get freshly corned beef from my local Meat Shop (no spice packet) and braise it all afternoon, then serve it with baby red potatoes topped with goat cheese, and a green salad - my compromise between tradition and taste. Tomorrow or the next day, I will look forward to making corned beef hash for the first time (if I have any left-overs). Maybe next year I will try "corning" my own...
Simple recipe for corned beef hash:
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 pound corned beef, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup broth from cooking corned beef
In a large deep skillet, over medium heat, combine the potatoes, corned beef, onion, and broth. Cover and simmer until potatoes are of mashing consistency, and the liquid is almost gone. Mix well, check seasonings, and serve.
Sources: Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky
Pickled, Potted, and Canned, by Sue Shephard
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I tried the pomegranate liqueur last night and it is very tasty (if you like sweet after-dinner drinks, which I do).
Saturday, March 15, 2008
And then there was the "1/2 cup shrimp stock" further down the recipe. That doesn't come in stores near me, but Emeril very kindly provided a recipe for it - which takes another hour and a half and needs to be done after you peel the shrimp but before you make the dish. So to make this 20-minute scampi, you need to start at lunch time, peeling shrimp and making stock. The recipe was pretty good, even without the shrimp stock (I doubled the wine and added about a quarter teaspoon of beef base), but the time required was definitely false advertising.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The chicken idea stayed in my head, so I tried making something based on that short description tonight, using just chicken, spinach, feta, and pancetta. I served it with buttered pasta and a green salad, and the only thing the kids complained about was the challenge of cutting bites off the roll - but they kept eating eagerly. So now Buddy Greco chicken (which probably is nothing like the one Greco's chef made) will be a regular player at our table.
Buddy Greco chicken
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
Handful of washed spinach, preferably baby leaves
1 oz feta cheese, salty (fresh if possible, not one the gourmet types)
1 piece pancetta (or prosciutto, or even thin slices of bacon, I suspect; if you use bacon, sprinkle a little pepper on the chicken first)
Pound chicken breasts until they are about 1/2 inch thick. Place a layer of spinach on the chicken, then crumble feta across the middle (the short way); the feta provides the salt the chicken needs. Roll the chicken tightly from one short end and place in a baking dish. Place pancetta on top of the roll. Bake for about an hour at 350 degrees, then let sit for five minutes.
There are mulitple ways to calculate pi, including a method using Fibonacci numbers. Calculating pi is a common test of raw computing skill, which may be why over 1 billion digits have been calculated so far. But there also seems to be something more to it, some "because it is there" challenge that keeps people interested in it; maybe it is the quest to see if there really is no pattern to the digits. Seems like mindless entertainment to me, but I suppose someone has to find it fun.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Potato Soup with Tomatillo Chips
In the morning, husk a dozen small to medium tomatillos and slice into disks as thin as possible (sharpen your knife first). Place in a food dehydrator and dry for a couple hours, until they are just barely a little chewy, like fruit leather. Put aside. [This step can be skipped if you don't have a dehydrator, or you can dry the tomatillos in a very slow oven, as low as you can set it - watch carefully so they don't get too dry. If you do make them and have left-overs, you will undoubtedly find other uses for them! They are tart and very good.]
About an hour and a quarter before dinner, melt half a stick of butter in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Clean and slice 3-4 leeks, then add to the butter and sautee until limp. While they are cooking, add 1/2 tsp of dried red pepper flakes (or crush three tiny dried peppers left over from your son's experiment with growing hot peppers a year or so ago). If you have some nice garlic on hand, mince a little and add it here.
While the leeks are cooking, scrub and cube 6 russet potatoes, 1 celeriac (ok, this needs to be "peeled" with a knife first), and 2 turnips (it is ok if they are a little soft from sitting in the crisper too long, since the simmering will rehydrate them). Add to the leeks and cook for a few minutes; the recipe said 5 minutes, but I forgot to look at the clock so I had to guess.
Add 6 cups of ham broth, saved from your Christmas ham; if for some reason you don't have that, chicken broth will do nicely. Add 3 Tbs lemon juice, 1-2 tsp celery salt (or 1 tsp normal salt; the recipe called for celery seeds, which I didn't have, and salt, so I used celery salt), and pepper to taste (but not too much because of the red pepper flakes). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for half an hour or so, until the root vegetables are soft.
Let the soup cool a bit, then blend with an immersion blender or a regular one (be very careful with the latter and only fill the jar half way or you will end up with very hot mush spraying out of the blender - not fun). Add 1 cup heavy cream; if it is still too thick, thin with a little milk of whatever kind you normally drink. Stir in and check seasonings; it should be a little spicy but not burningly so.
Serve with a thin, plain yogurt (preferably homemade so it is runny) to pour on top and the tomatillo chips on the side. Sourdough bread, heated in the oven during the last 15 minutes, is all you need to round out the meal. A pinot noir would be tasty with it, or beer.
Notes: This makes a huge batch, enough to feed a dozen people. It will freeze well, so go ahead and make the entire batch; then you will have another dinner in the freezer and some to share with someone who lives alone. Or for left-overs, if you are so inclined.
All measurements are approximate and can be adjusted to suit your tastes or supplies.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Worship of Tools Day sounds like one my youngest son would dream up. He is a tool fanatic. Whenever he gets a new tool, he sleeps with it for a few nights before it is allowed to move out to a safe bed in the toolbox; or at least that is the theory - a surprising number of them seem to collect permanently in his room. At 11, he already has a two-piece tool chest like mechanics have, traditional red just like his Dad's, and he is hard at work filling it up. He tried to talk me into a "tool of the month" program, where each month he could get one new tool at our favorite hardware store (and his favorite store, period), Owenhouse; I was smart enough to turn that one down immediately. Any task around the house that needs tool use elicits a willing volunteer, whether or not he knows how to do it; he is always willing to try.
Monday, March 10, 2008
The winter robin is definitely gone; it hasn't been in the crabapple tree since I saw the hawk.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
But then, standard time in general is an artifact of the industrial world anyway, not the natural world. It used to be that different towns had different times, all based on setting noon when the sun was highest in the sky. But once the railroads became big enough to cross long distances, it became a nightmare to set and publish timetables that took into account all the different "zones", especially since each railroad used its own time. In response to the chaos, the railroads created a series of standard time zones on November 18, 1883, to be used as "railroad time"; most cities adjusted their local time to match the railroads and so, without any government intervention, US time was standardized. Like all averages, standard time zones work best for the middle; in this case the middle of each zone has noon approximately when the sun is highest, but the further east or west you go, the more disconnect there is. People in the east edges of the zones tend to be the most discontented and often petition to be added to the zone to the east so that they can gain one extra hour before sunset.
That extra evening hour is pretty compelling to a lot of people and it is the most common argument given for Daylight Savings Time (DST). Back when lighting was the biggest user of electricity, adding an hour of daylight at the end of the day, when people tend to be active (at least in urban areas), saved an hour of lighting and therefore saved energy. This is why DST was adopted during WWI, but it was so unpopular among a population that tended to go to bed and get up early that it was repealed as soon as the war was over. In WWII, War Time, year-round daylight savings time, was adopted from February 9, 1942, to September 30, 1945, to save energy. After WWII, DST was optional for states and cities, resulting in exactly the chaos that the railroads were hoping to eliminate in 1883, but this time more industries were affected. Finally, in 1966, uniform clock times and DST were instituted, setting up our current clock systems.
The only problem with the theory that an extra hour of evening daylight saves energy is that all the original studies were done before air conditioning became common. With air conditioning, that extra hour of daylight in the day means an extra hour of air conditioning - more than negating the energy savings in an hour less of lighting. One recent study shows that in Indiana, switching to DST costs families an extra $8.6 million in energy costs annually. While it is hard to quantify benefits to DST, people have had fun quantifying the costs. For instance, IT expenses have been calculated to be at least $300 million each time the clocks shift. Farmers still hate the switches, since the animals don't have clocks to be reset so easily; dairy cattle in particular don't like to change their schedules. All so that people in the south can have an extra hour of sunlight for their barbecues and politicians can look like they are accomplishing something.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Throughout the ages, kestrels have accumulated other names: sparrow hawk is a common one, although they eat many things other than sparrows. Windhover is an older name that shows up in one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Windhover:
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
For more on how things like the stapler are invented, see The Evolution of Useful Things, by Henry Petroski, a neat geeky book on "how everyday artifacts - from forks and pins to paper clips and zippers - came to be as they are."
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Sitting among the palms was an amazing experience; the closest comparisons I know are to the Muir redwoods or Ste Chapelle. The sense of height, of reaching to the skies, is more pronounced in these enclosed spaces than on the wide-open Montana plains; it is a peaceful and inspiring sense of security and mystery.
Monday, March 3, 2008
The NEA site has a nice list of kids' books that pertain to the 50 states, so you could have a lot of fun reading your way across America - just not in one day. My favorite "across America" book is Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, which is more fun to read than most of his books.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
My mother's morning routine includes picking a few oranges so she can squeeze some juice for her breakfast; my daughter was more than happy to help her out with the task.