Thursday, July 31, 2008

Return Address Labels

So in my haste to opt out of all mail, I think I might have missed out on the free return address labels. So today Augie and I made up some of our own. I heart Avery Design & Print Online.
Don't worry, Izzy made a .pdf for his labels, too. But I'm going to wait until we're out of Augie's to print Izzy's . . . or until I can get my hands on a color printer. Izzy just isn't as high contrast as Augie.

Daren Pitts Redman Show & Kate Lenkowsky Book Signing

If you're lucky enough to be in Bloomington, Indiana, during the month of August, you should check out the show of Daren Pitts Redman's new works at the Flashlight Gallery of the John Waldron Art Center. There's an opening reception August 1st from 5 - 7 p.m., which will also feature a signing by Kate Lenkowsky (a fellow Bloomington Quilt Guild member) of her book Contemporary Quilt Art: An Introduction and Guide.

Cookie Monsters

Chez Kelman has become obsessed with making the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that accompanied an article describing the secret tricks behind superior chocolate chip cookies. This is only reinforced by Not Martha's acquiescing to make same. Though I am intimidated that Not Martha is only concerned about finding a 3 1/2-ounce cookie scoop, while I am more immediately concerned about where in the gastronomic wasteland that is called North Orange County to procure 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content, AND whether my King Arthur's All-Purpose flour bares any resemblance to cake OR bread flour both of which the recipe calls for and neither of which I can wrap my brain around. It's all ground wheat isn't it?!?

The New York Times recipe helpfully notes that bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content, can be purchased in New York at Jacques Torres or Whole Foods. We have neither of those in reasonable proximity. Luckily, Jacques Torres' website sells

Jacques' House Selection - the chocolate he uses to make most of our products. The bag contains chocolate disks (about the size of a quarter) of his 60% cocoa content dark chocolate. Use this product when baking (no need to chop) or eat right from the bag. Choose your size 2 lbs or 4 lbs!
The 4 lb bag is $20, the 2 lb bag is $12. They recommend shipping via Federal Express Priority Overnight, so that should cost an arm and a leg, though I didn't go through the process to find out how much shipping would cost because it requires you to create and account. How 1990s to require an account? If only we lived someplace like Richmond, Virginia, where we could walk mere blocks to our local candy store. They'd greet us with a "How can I help you?" and we'd reply, "Do you have any chocolate disks?" And they would reply, "You mean fèves? But of course! Would you like at least 60 percent cacao content? Très bon!"

But back in the NOC, our local Stater Bros. has Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, 11.5 oz. for $3.99. Above please see a picture of a single chip. They're not quite the tee pee shape of Nestle's Tollhouse Morsels, but I don't think they qualify as disks or fèves. (Dear Rebecca, she of the "what a cool application of cylindrical coordinates" comment, Please provide the correct geometrical terminology for comparing the pointyness of conical objects. Thank you, Sarah.) While Jacques Torres's disks are allegedly about the size of a quarter, these are slightly smaller than a dime. Regardless, I don't think that will impact this first test batch NEARLY as much as the quantity. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs., aka 20 ounces. So using only one bag, I would have been 8.5 ounces short. So I went back to Stater Bros. for another bag. Unfortunately this was after I had already basically made the whole thing and let it chill in the fridge for 24 hours. So when I went to stir the new chips into the chilled dough, well, it was like trying to mix rocks into already dried concrete. Thinking this might also be a problem when it comes time to scoop them onto the cookie sheet (oh, yeah, I forgot to pick up parchment paper and I don't have one of those rockin' Silpat non-stick baking sheet liners . . . so if you wondering what to get me for my birthday . . .), I took the dough out of the fridge to bring it back to room temperature before trying to stir in and scoop.

On to the flour. First of all, King Arthur Flour has a pretty rocking website for a flour company, including a chocolate chip cookie recipe, which notably calls for their All-Purpose flour. King Arthur does make a bread flour, which it describes as having 12.8% protein compared to the all-purpose's 11.7%.
High-protein flour absorbs more liquid than medium-protein flour. When baking with bread flour, add about 2 teaspoons extra liquid for each cup of flour or more, in order to produce dough that’s the consistency the recipe calls for.
And if you dig far enough down their impressive list of wheat flours, you'll find Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, which is bleached to enable cakes to rise their highest; silky-smooth, for fine-textured cakes; and contains a mere 8.0% protein. This is not to be confused with Sir Lancelot Hi-Gluten Flour, which "is the highest-gluten flour (14.2% protein) available on the retail market today." (Really, the rest of the description is above the MPAA rating of this blog. But apparently it's for pizza dough, bagels, and other "lusty" bread products. But I digress.) So it sounds like this bread flour and the cake flour are at opposite ends of the flour spectrum, lusty Lancelot notwithstanding.

Based on the protein content I'm guessing I could probably substitute the all-purpose for the bread flour (that's a difference of -1.1% protein content). But not only does the cake flour differ from all-purpose in terms of protein content (-3.7%), it also sounds like it's milled more finely and bleached, which has more effect than merely coloration. So now to find a grocery store in this gustatorily forsaken place that sells at least cake flour if not bread flour. Alternatively, King Arthur does have an online store, and I can't imagine it will melt in transit.

Again, our local Stater Bros. provided something just a little off spec. First, the only bread flour available was General Mills' Gold Medal. The options were either "Better for Bread" or "Bread Machine Friendly." I went with "Better for Bread," 5 lbs for $3.99. According to the incredibly informative comments to The Fresh Loaf's post comparing a baguette made with King Arthur flour to one made from Gold Medal flour, the protein content of Better for Bread is 11.3 – 12.3%, which average's out 0.1% more than King Arthur All-Purpose 11.7% and 1% less than King Arthur bread flour 12.8%. So in the end I would probably have done just as well to substitute King Arthur All-Purpose.

Second, the only cake flour our fair Stater Bros. had was in a box like cake mix and was Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour, 2 lbs for $3.79. According to Sourdough Home, Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour has 6.6% protein, which is 1.4% less than King Arthur's Queen Guinevere Cake Flour.

But all my hemming and hawing about my local lack of baking resources is not going to make these cookies fail. What IS going to make these cookies fail is the fact that I measured the ingredients entirely inappropriately. First, I didn't use a scale. I can see Terri's fiance Donald, an amazing bread baker, shaking his head in dismay already. But that's nothing. I did not even use a dry measuring cup (or for Alton Brown fans a Measuring Plunger). I used a liquid measuring cup. I spooned the flour into the cup, but didn't level it off. So really I just should have dumped it into the bowl and eyeballed it to get the same (in)accuracy.

Dough 1, Batch 1 Report (After 24 Hours Chilling):
Too rich! Which might be because I mixed in extra chocolate chips as I made each cookie. Thus, I probably mixed in too many chips to each cookie.

Also I forgot the sea salt. Bought it, but forgot to put it on the cookies. The salt might temper the dark chocolateness of the chips.

We followed the directions to let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet on top of a wire rack for ten minutes before taking them off the sheet. This made taking the cookies off the sheet much easier than my usual "attack as soon as they come out of the oven" approach. The instructions did not specify a length of time to leave the cookies on the rack. We left them for about five minutes and they were kinda a gooey mess.

But enough grousing. The size was perfect, just as the article described: crunchy edge leading to ring of middle range cookedness, and then a chewy gooey center. And though the chocolate did overwhelm it in this batch, the dough seemed quite good despite my flour anxiety and mismeasurement.

Dough 1, Batch 2 Report (After 48 Hours Chilling):
The sea salt made a HUGE improvement. You can even see the salt crystals sparkle in the picture. I scattered a pinch of sea salt over each cookie and then blotted up the salt that landed on the cookie sheet with the bottom of each cookie.

Also, I didn't mix in any more chocolate chips to the dough, so the cookies probably had a little over half the amount of chips recommended in the recipe. This was also a radical improvement. The higher dough to chip ratio allowed one to appreciate the quality of the dough.

Perhaps due to the longer rest period, the cookies were more puffy when they came out of the oven and more even when cooled.

Speaking of cooling, after we let them cool on the cookie sheet for ten minutes, we then let the cookies cool on the rack for another ten minutes. Less messy, but still warm and awesome.

Dough 1, Batch 3 Report (After 72 Hours Chilling):
Like Batch 2 I didn't mix in any more chocolate chips to the dough, so the cookies probably had a little over half the amount of chips recommended in the recipe.

Also like Batch 2 I scattered a pinch of sea salt over each cookie. But this time I didn't blot up the salt that landed on the cookie sheet. This made the outer crispy edge a little more salty and maybe more crunchy. The higher dough to chip ratio and salty edge were improvements.

The cookies were more puffy than Batch 1 when they came out of the oven. David said they were the same level of puffiness as Batch 2. Again, like Batch 2 this resulted in more even cookies once they cooled.

We then let the cookies cool on the rack for another ten minutes, like we did with Batch 2 and had the same less messy, but still warm and awesome results. We also left a few cookies on the rack for a few hours, then put them in Ziploc bags overnight. They still had a great consistency - crisp edge, midrange cooked ring, moist center - at both lunch and dinner the next day.

Just FYI, the first two batches were 6 cookies each. The third batch was 9 cookies, so the recipe as I executed it yielded 31 good-sized cookies. As far as real serving size goes, I would say three cookies are the max anyone could eat in one sitting. More reasonably, assume folks will eat one cookie, maybe two per person.

From this round of dough I have come to the following conclusions.
  • The sea salt is absolutely necessary.
  • One 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, is plenty.
  • Follow the instructions for letting the cookies cool on the sheet for 10 minutes, then let them cool at LEAST another 10 minutes on the rack. The quality is not negatively impacted by cooling.
  • If you're patient, letting the dough rest 48 hours will actually produce a prettier cookie.
I tried to scientifically respond to Rebecca's question, "how different is the NYT recipe from the normal toll house recipe (other than the resting and size) and do you think it's worth it?" But when I proposed that we make Tollhouse cookies to compare with the NYT cookies David refused saying, "Why would we ever make such inferior cookies again?" So I think that translates to "It's worth it." These are definitively the best chocolate chip cookies we have ever made.

Dough 2, Batch 1, 2 & 3 Report (After 0, 24, and 48 Hours Chilling Respectively):
Oh what a difference a chip makes. Out of expediency I used a 12 oz. bag of Trader Joe's Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips. I didn't let the refrigerated ingredients get to room temperature before assembling the dough. And with the first batch I didn't even wait one hour much less 24 before slapping 'em on a pan and throwing them in the oven. Oh, yeah, and I let the Hubinator do the sea salt sprinkling. Batch 1 result: practically inedible salted cookies. Let's call them brined cookies. Now, part of it was David and his super-sized pinch of salt per cookie. But I think the secondary answer is that the semi-sweet morsels were too weak for the recipe.

Even with batch 2, which was 24 hours later and entirely salt free, the chips just didn't have the impact that the 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate had. And without the salt, the dough was not fabulous. Not horrible, but not fabulous. Also, other than the saltiness, there seemed to be no difference between Batch 1 and Batch 2, so is waiting 24 hours really all that important? Or were we so overwhelmed with the saltiness of Batch 1 that we couldn't accurately compare Batch 1 to Batch 2?

David sprinkled Batch 3 with a light pinch of sea salt per cookie which improved the taste of the dough and slightly improved the wimpiness of the chips. Batch 3 didn't taste brined, but it was still insufficiently chocolatey. Nonetheless, I didn't partake of any Batch 3 cookies until well over 24 hours after they were cooked and their consistency was still AWESOME. This batch, like the rest from Dough 2 were nowhere near as awesome as Dough 1. If they had turned out like this the first time I made them, I probably would not have bothered to make another dough from this recipe. I probably would have gone back to my normal toll house recipe and just made each ball of dough golf ball sized, as David is convinced that the texture is solely attributable to the size, and probably cooling tactics.

All three batches in this round of dough had a VERY different look that then first dough's batches. The cookie surface had more fault lines. And the cookie dough seemed paler. So much for my "48 hours of dough resting makes prettier cookies" theory. Any thoughts on why that might be the case?

From the second round of dough I have come to the following conclusions.
  • The sea salt is absolutely necessary, but it can go horribly, horribly wrong.
  • While one 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, is plenty, one 12 oz. bag of Trader Joe's Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips is not.
  • These cookies really do stand the test of time (well, if "time" means 24 hours in a Ziploc bag).
  • I am not entirely convinced that letting the dough rest 48 hours will actually produce a prettier cookie.

I'm glad to see Not Martha is still obsessing over this recipe and confessing to making mistakes (she forgot the vanilla). Also via Not Martha, Orangette confirms my substitution of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, but from what I can tell she used a full 20 oz. rather than one 11.5 oz. bag.

Dough 3, Batch 1 (After 1 Hour Chilling):
I was hoping this would be the perfect execution. I used one 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate. I let all the ingredients get to room temperature before combining. I measured the dry ingredients using dry ingredient measuring utensils. I even spooned the flour into the measuring cup and leveled it off with the back of a knife just like my Home Ec teacher Mrs. Beck taught me. I applied a modest pinch of sea salt to each cookie. I let them cool for 10 minutes on the sheet and then another 10 minutes on the rack.

But I was about 1/4 cup short of regular sugar, so I added an extra 1/4 cup of brown sugar instead. Would confectioners sugar been a better alternative? Also, a certain sifter, in this case meaning "one who sifts," had no intention of waiting 24 hours for the first batch. It was all I could do to convince him to let me chill the dough for one hour. So a perfect execution it was not.

End result: The sifter said they were yummy, but crunchier and a little flatter than before. I concur. I noticed some chips fell through the cooling rack, which hadn't happened before. I think I could have had an even lighter hand with the sea salt, but the sifter disagreed.

Addressing Rebecca's questions from the comments:
1. would cookies taste just as good if made without resting as with resting?

Based on Dough 2, I would say yes, the taste isn't what changes so much as the prettiness. Though I'll double check that with Dough 3.

2. would the toll house recipe with sea salt be good?

Hell to the no. Based on my experience with Dough 2, if you use the standard semi-sweet toll house chips and add salt, your cookies will taste like you dipped them in salt water instead of milk.

3. would resting the toll house cookies do anything?

Might make them prettier. If you're baking from scratch, then the effect of resting should be the same. Obviously if you're baking from the tube of pre-made dough there are enough preservatives in there to ensure no difference.

4. or, what about the toll house recipe with better chocolate and sea salt (starting to move away from the recipe, but still)

I suspect the different flours, different amount of vanilla extract, different proportions of brown and plain sugar, and different cooling directions would have a significant difference. But it would be worth testing.

5. would making bigger toll house cookies make them have the same texture as the nyt cookies?

I don't know if it would make them have the same texture, but I bet it would improve the texture immensely. Again, this would be worth testing. I think you could probably make one standard toll house dough, split it in half, add 1/2 the required toll house chips to one half, and add 1/2 the required 60% cacao chips to the other half. Then make some of the toll house cookies (a) regular sized with sea salt, (b) regular sized without sea salt, (c) golf ball sized with sea salt, and (d) golf ball sized without sea salt, then wait 24 and 48 hours and repeat. And make the 60% cacao chipped toll houses golf ball sized with sea salt, and without sea salt, then wait 24 and 48 hours and repeat. I think that should cover all the permutations to provide data regarding each of your questions. Feel free to make this into a flow chart or spreadsheet.

Dough 3, Batch 2 (After 24 Hours Chilling):
I did something a little different this time. I didn't let the cookie dough warm up before scraping out dough to roll into cookies. So they were a little colder when they went into the oven. And they weren't as perfectly spherical because the cold dough was harder to squish into spheres. I was also a little lighter on the salt, a pinky pinch instead of an index pinch. And just three finger rubs instead of until all the salt was out from between my fingers.

End result: Yum! Just right salt. Probably could have left them in a little longer than the low end 18 minutes, as the centers were more gooey than usual. Though this might be resolved through further cooling (one survived the feeding frenzy, so we'll see if that's the case tomorrow after lunch). Not as crunchy as Dough 3, Batch 1, which may be a function of all the liquid ingredients having a full 24 hours to combine with the dry ingredients. Nor as flat as Dough 3, Batch 1, which I attribute to both the coolness of the dough AND the ingredients having time to meld. Fewer chocolate chips fell through the cooling rack than in Dough 3, Batch 1, but still more than in previous doughs. This may be a function of The Sifter being in charge of removing the cookies from the sheet after the first 10 minutes of cooling in both batches of Dough 3. Or it may be a function of our crap turner, in this case meaning "an implement used to separate cookie from cookie sheet." For the size of these cookies, I really need a bigger metal turner. Though I think I used the same turner The Sifter did, but if I designate this Sifter Error, I might never get help in the kitchen again.

Check this out, the bakers at King Arthur's blogged about modifying their chocolate chip cookie recipe in ways suggested by the New York Times article. Very interesting.

Dough 3, Batch 3 (After 48 Hours Chilling):
Only gave a few minutes for the dough to warm up. So not as cold as last batch but not as warm as previous batches. Also a tiny bit more sea salt than last time.

End result: Fantastico! Super caramelly goodness. 48 hours resting (and maybe the excessive brown sugar?) really does make a difference. Is that a Maillard reaction or what?

Dough 4, Batch 1 (After 0 Hours Chilling):
I apologize for the lack of picture. Post hoc salinization is effective. Translation: I forgot to put the sea salt on before baking, but put it on after they came out of the oven and they tasted just as good. I actually made the recipe right on the button this time, so that's a first. Well, then I forgot the salt and cooked this batch right away instead of waiting, but the rest of this dough's batches will be as good as they can be. Also, just for a change, I tried using plain old generic iodized salt in the dough instead of my super fancy co-op natural salt and I've got to say, no gritty picnic at the beach this time around. Guess I'll go with industrialized salt from here on out.
Dough 4, Batches 2 & 3 (After 24 & 48 Hours Chilling):
Check out the maiden voyage of my shiny new Calphalon Non-Stick Baking Mat. It really does work like a dream. Though when it's all wet and soapy in the sink it's slipperier than a greased weasel. These two batches were perfection. I could taste the richer more caramelly taste of the dough. The salt was just right. The amount of chips was perfection. I used up the last of my cake flour and went ahead and bought more because picky flour requirements or no, these cookies are in my baking arsenal to stay.

Just so all our New York Times chocolate chip cookie data can be found in one place, I've added this index to other posts on Gnomicon and elsewhere about The Cookie.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm Back . . . with a Roundup

Since Bob & Rebecca are off to the Great White North, my Not Not Martha post got six whole comments (OK, two of them were from me, but STILL), and my blogging mojo seems to be on the fritz, I thought I'd post another round up of links from my favorite blogs . . . this time with a little more context so you can make an informed decision whether to click or not to click.

In honor of Bob & Rebecca's road trip to the frozen tundra, Photojojo has posted it's Ultimate Guide to Road Trip Photography.

A fun followup to my Opting Out post at Re-Nest in which they suggest a way to track which periodicals are selling your information to junk mailers AND simultaneously amuse your letter carrier.

Bob & Rebecca have a basement in need of pimping. Might I suggest, again via Re-Nest, Retro Plate concrete polishing?

Contemplating a no-dig garden on top of the cement pad of our patio, again via Re-Nest, which also links to the how-to.

A roundup of green fabrics and fibers via, wait for it, that's right, Re-Nest.

I had been enamored of the fabric birds which grace the cover of Last Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts, but I am perhaps even more enamored of the birds on the mobile over at Spool. Thankfully, they provide a free .pdf pattern. Via Design*Sponge.

Glad to see Our Gentle Reader and Rebecca are both reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. It will change your life! Or at least your approach to food. Don't forget to follow up with In Defense of Food, or you'll either never buy food again and starve to death or drop out and try to live on a self-sustaining family farm, which would probably lead to the same end result. More about Slow Food at the New York Times.

In the same post Gentle Reader alludes to the next book on her reading list, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, which reminded me to tell y'all about the Democracy Now interview with its author Vincent Bugliosi, in which he displayed all the signs of a schizophrenic off his meds. "There’s a strong sound in my ear here, there’s a big rattling sound here. . . . There’s a lot of noise in my left ear, a constant rattle; if you can get rid of it, I’d appreciate it. And—well, it’s not stopping." You really have to listen to the whole interview to get the full vibe. I mean, if the Bush administration is trying to make this guy look crazy to help bury the book, making his earphones go funny was HIGHLY effective.

Completely bummed that I missed the free streaming of Joss Whedon's latest project and contemplating enslaving myself to iTunes again in order to download it.

Picture of adorable baby bunnies at Field Trips in Fiber.

Interesting discussion of same sex marriage among inmates in California over at The Citizens.

Prof. Berman posts a Federal Bureau of Prisons portion of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's symposium on alternative sentencing. I'm willing to bet that if Director Lappin wasn't feeling some pressure from the AG, his cost/benefit analysis of halfway houses would be different. Could be worse, the BOP director could be a political appointee.

I, lack of television notwithstanding, am SO excited for the fifth season of Project Runway! Any suggestions on which three designers will garner the most Fafarazzi points? So far I'm languishing in 769th place with only two points from Tim Gunn telling Kenley to carry on in episode 2. I might be doing better if I'd actually read any of their bios or, you know, could watch the show.

Oh, and don't forget Am I Really Going Through This? I couldn't pick just one post. Preston goes camping, judges Anchorage's Gay Pride Parade, and gets crabs, not necessarily in that order. Nor do said events have any causal relationship to one another.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcome to California!

About 11:30ish. 5.4 on the Richter scale. Epicenter, 20 miles east southeast of LA, in Chino Hills of San Bernadino County . . . more specifically, about 10 miles northeast of our house. The house shook like I could not believe and continued to do so for about 15 seconds. For more details, check the USGS.
And just when I was dialing my mom to say, "Got room for two plus two dogs? We'll be there in three days," aftershock, 3.8 on the Richter scale.
And I thought Indiana warmed me up for this. Not so much. Now I'm listening to KPCC, where they're describing it in detail like a fine wine.
P.S. I am clearly not the only person shaken by this event. Check out the Fug Girls recovering from the rumble.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Late, but still delicious

Due to our travels, I missed my usual pick up day. But, my CSA is so awesome that I can pick up at any of their three markets. I'm going to miss the next couple of weeks while we are gallivanting around Canada so these pictures will have to satisfy your cravings for a while.

Happy window sill. Ripening my melons and heirlooms.

Made a lettuce-less salad with armenian cucumber, peppers, yellow cherry tomatoes, italian parsley, kalamata olives and oil and vinegar.

Remaining cucumber and tomatoes. I love the looks of those cucumbers.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


From this bounty, you would not expect that we were leaving town Thursday.

The produce just looked so amazing that I couldn't resist. It also doesn't hurt that I've already paid my money so I don't even bother to add up the total as I'm shopping. This week brought Italian long beans (known as Romano beans when more mature and the shells dry and crack), okra, and a yellow melon!

Look at how awesome that okra is. We sampled it raw and it was really good. No slime, not super strong. Just crisp and fresh. I love the little fringe that's still at the top of the okra. So fresh.

After the disappointing melon last week, I was hesitant about another melon. So glad I went for the yellow. It's awesome. Super sweet, crisp, juicy and not too many seeds.

I roasted the beets for future use and we ate half of the melon with super fancy prosciutto from the local butcher. I steamed the beans and then sauted them with a bit of butter and garlic. Add some cheese, bread, spicy cured meat, and red wine and you have an awesome dinner.

I bought the peaches from another vendor. They were so cheap - couldn't not get them. Maybe I'll make some peach salsa with the deeply green jalapenos...

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Hanging out in the back alley

We met another neighbor yesterday. He's the one who does much of the gardening. Bob is excited because he is a game distributor. I'm excited because he mentioned that he has a part of the garden that I can take over. Any suggestions for something that I can plant this late in the season?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Opting Out

I have probably already proselytized about CatalogChoice, the free service that lets you opt-out of unwanted catalogs. It saves your recycling bin from being needlessly filled by junk mail. And while recycling your unwanted catalogs is better than filling landfills with them, not receiving unwanted catalogs is SO much better.

Well, I thought between CatalogChoice and The National Do Not Call Registry I was doing the best I could to keep unwanted solicitation out of my home. But my new financial institution, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, provided perhaps the most awesome privacy disclosure pamphlet ever. Along with it's solid policy, it also included information about The National Do Not Call Registry as well as two similar things I'd never heard of.

How to Remove Your Name from Credit Offers
If you prefer not to receive unsolicited pre-approved credit or insurance offers, you can remove your name from lists used by credit reporting agencies for these purposes. To remove your name and address, call 888.5OPTOUT (888.567.8688) or go to

How to Reduce Junk Mail
The Direct Marketing Association sponsors Mail Preference Service, which helps consumers limit the national non-profit and commercial mail they receive at home. If you would like to reduce the amount of advertising you receive from companies, you can register for this service online or by mail. The DMA charges a $1 fee for mail registrations. So just go to their website:
At the website you can opt out of some or all mail offers. The DMA also provides an email Preference Service which will allegedly cut down on unsolicited commercial email.

On a related note, the pamphlet also included the contact information for the legitimate Annual Credit Report Request Service:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Between CatalogChoice, DMA's MPS, and the CRA OptOut I'm hoping to reduce my junk mail to such a level that I can personally harass every sender of junk mail I receive until they stop sending it. Anyone ever done that? Written to a junk mail sender and asked them to stop sending you junk mail?

Edited 8/19/08 to add:
Consider opting out of receiving the phone book. Our house currently contains at least ten different phone books, mostly thanks to the previous owners, but we exclusively use the internet to look up numbers. It's one thing to recycle your phone books, but imagine how much more planet you can save by not receiving one to begin with?

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Friday, July 11, 2008

What a Load of . . .

We've been contemplating composting. When I was growing up, Mom had a humongous garden and at one end of this garden she had a humongous compost pile. I don't think she worried about green vs. brown or methodically rotating it. I think she just piled it on and spread it out at the start of the growing season. But we had the largest yard on the block. And the woman whose house was closest to the pile was our least friendly neighbor. Coincidence? I think not. But as shown in this picture, I don't have the kind of yard Mom was working with.So I've been contemplating alternative composting options.

I like the idea of the Sun-Mar Composter 200 because you can continually add new scraps to it and you can use the compost as it becomes ready rather than waiting for a whole batch to ferment. But David is convinced it will stink and I can't get a feel for the size of it. It might be too large for our tiny back patio. And there is the whole issue of getting food scraps from the kitchen on the main floor to the patio a floor below. I have visions of baskets on pulleys but I'm not sure the condo association would share my vision.
Via Re-Nest I discovered the Happy Farmer Bokashi composter. It certainly addresses the space concern and since it can fit under the sink, it addresses the issue of transporting food scraps to a far off composter (though in so doing it thwarts my plan for patio domination through a clever system of baskets and pulleys). I can see how it shouldn't smell, but I am (a) not entirely convinced some smells wouldn't emanate from the spigot and (b) completely convinced that David will THINK it smells even if it doesn't. Also, it does require a two week fermentation period in the container so, as lots of other folks have mentioned, it seems like you'd need at least two.
Another issue we have is dog poop. Now, Mom put everything in her compost pile including the contents of the kitty litter box. And while some folks scream no to poop in compost, there is apparently a whole movement of compooposters out there. I found them when I was trying to find a commercially available dog poop composter that I came across awhile back which I cannot find for the life of me (edited to add 8/23/08: Found it!). But a homemade version is described here The commercial one I saw was quite small (even smaller than this one, though it's the same idea) and I thought I could bury it in the flower bed at the entrance to the house.David seems to think this will make the entrance to our house smell like poo. So he puts it in the garbage in the garage. Which is at the entrance to our house. Contradiction?
So what are your thoughts on small scale composting and/or dog poo composting?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fashion Police

via Mr. Yglesias:
"Flint, Michigan Battles Crack Epidemic" is actually about a new law in Flint specifying how you're not supposed wear your pants. Check it out -- the graphic is fantastic.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Moving in: after "before" but before "after"

I've got some pictures of the house, now that we've moved in, but not really finished unpacking and so forth.

You can see the pictures on Picasa, over here. Here's a teaser: if my camera captures color accurately, and your monitor represents color accurately, then you now can see what color we painted my lab.

Posted by Picasa

Update: I realized some context would be helpful. So here's some "before" pictures.

Fresh from the farm

New this week - beans. Green beans this week. More varieties will start coming in soon.

Free ugly tomatoes for CSA members. The pretty ones we paid for - love the shape of the yellow tomatoes.

The melon is a fancy cantaloupe variety that's supposed to be super sweet. It smelled awesome, but it didn't taste great. I think it needed to ripen some more. We'll try again next week...

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why not impeachment?

Matthew Yglesias describes my own puzzlement as well. His post points out that back in 1974, Republicans joined with Democrats in proceeding toward impeachment for Nixon; Bush's behavior is comparably egregious -- but any sort of breaking of ranks, or public outcry, is virtually unthinkable. What's changed?

My mostly unhelpful take, which echoes some of the comments on Matt's page (especially mine), is that the counterpoint to the conventional wisdom about Watergate ("it's not the crime that brings you down, it's the coverup"), the unconventional wisdom if you will, is that you can get away with murder if you really stick to the coverup story.

Empirically, Bush & company saw this work with Iran-Contra (which gave birth to "plausible deniability"), and just took that ball and ran with it.

More abstractly, the whole idea of adversarial debate (political parties, litigation, etc.) is that there's some arbiter that'll decide that one side or the other has the better argument, or makes the valid point. In politics, this role might be filled by the rationality of the opponent (who concedes the point), or the media (the journalists report the point with supporting facts), or the elites (the pundits concede the point), or "the people" (the opinion polls convince the politicians to concede the point).

If all those potential arbiters are impugned, indecisive, or unwise, whoever's in power can do whatever they want. Any outcry or opposition can be met with sheer stubbornness, and there's no authority to make you submit to reason or punish your transgressions.

The first and last potential arbiters (the opponent's fair thinking and the public) are pretty idealistic concepts, and have been ignored routinely by politicians throughout history, usually without repercussion. (Note, however, that even though he knew it would be disastrous, Nixon didn't burn the tapes. Maybe even his understanding that there was the rule of law, or at least no justifiable reason not to turn over the tapes, was what led to the truth coming out and the requisite consequences. Have some politicians concluded from this that they need to ignore their reason in the pursuit of power?)

In my opinion, a large part of the "difference" between 1974 and now is due to the failures of the other two arbiters (reporters and pundits). If every news network were running McClatchy's stories, and Broder and his peers were agitating for impeachment...

The failures of the media (reportage and commentary) are ample fodder for the blogosphere, but my notions about why they're failing so spectacularly now are ill-formed and naive. Clearly the qualification process for punditry (and journalism) has broken down, and most importantly, wrongheaded thinking and/or meaningless coverage isn't resulting in loss of audience, at least not enough to provide economic pressure to get rid of lousy news & opinion.

But I don't know why that is, or why it hasn't been such a problem until now. Maybe James Watt put stupid juice in the water supply under Reagan, and their brilliant plan has finally come to fruition. (I did say "ill-formed and naive", right?)

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fist bump history -- Wonder Twins?

I'm not really a student of popular culture, but (like everyone) I thought the news coverage of the Obamas' fist bump was sadly unhip. The gesture's been around for years, and I thought was well-known to, well, everyone.

But, it wasn't around when I was a kid, to my knowledge. So where'd it come from? When did it beat out high fives? I was thinking it was a football thing (for a while, some teams were hitting ulnas, kinda like a high five that makes an "X" shape).

But there's an obvious precedent for the fist bump -- "Wonder Twin Powers: Activate!" Other than geeky nostalgia, anyone know of either (a) fist bump gestures preceding the Superfriends cartoon or (b) more justified sources of the fist bump?

As a postscript, a fist bump of sorts was used in the short-lived Thing cartoon ("Thing rings, do your thing!"), but that came after Superfriends and the Thing was fist bumping himself.

Ask, and I receive! I see now (on Boomerang) that "Shazzan" apparently had rings that were put together, fist-bump style, to call the genie. I wonder if some Hanna-Barbera writer liked the imagery, and reiterated with the Wonder Twins?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The return of the veg

I couldn't stay away from the veggies last week - had to get tomatoes and potatoes - but with the moving to a new house photos did not happen.

This week, I went extra shopping crazy because our refrigerator is mostly empty and there was so much goodness to choose from.

That's a teaser of a lemon cucumber. It tastes like a cucumber, but is a fun shape and color.

They had melons this week too! I settled on the sugar baby. Next week, I'm going to go for the yellow melon. Also, I decided to try the Japanese salad turnips. I'm so glad that I did because they are so crispy and sweet. I'm sensing a yummy salad in our future with the yellow cherry tomatoes and turnips and cucumbers and red lettuce. I also got some heirloom tomatoes which need to ripen slightly, but look exciting. They had Japanese eggplant and basil and potatoes and more Armenian cucumbers, which are just too fun not to buy. I also picked up some kohlrabi and beets. We should be set for a few meals.

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