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Made a greek yogurt and sour cream baked halibut for an online contest (a fun one -- I really need to participate in this more often).

http://fotocuisine.com/2010/07/01/baked-halibut-with-yogurt-sauce/

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Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends! Other than burning down Washington, DC during the War of 1812, you've been nice, quiet, friendly neighbors.
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Christey's been into meatball subs lately. Having spent a chunk of my childhood and college years in New England and New York, I've had gobs of 'em, but Christey, being Floridian (and not from a New York suburb like Boca Raton) never got into them until lately.

So, instead of Subway and such, I got some hamburger and provolone and sub rolls, and this evening, I've been making meatballs and marinara sauce. The house smells like an Italian grandmother's apartment, which is one of the most wonderful smells ever. And I don't even have an Italian grandmother (mine are/were Polish and Russian/German/South African).

Anyway, I'm making meatballs, and the smell is nice, and I'm remembering my apartment in college when my very Italian roommate (Ammie Maravelli, and yeah, it was a guy named Ammie) made meatballs marinara on Sundays, with pepperoni in the sauce and how good it smelled. Then I realized that, hey, wait...I was a vegetarian in college. How do I have this nostalgia for something I didn't eat?
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I really need to clean the oven, but it's been 90 degrees the last few days. So, heat up the house like 1000 space heaters, or break out the toxic chemicals and elbow grease. Or put up with a slightly charred smell every time I cook until it's Fall again...

And in a related note, I had an extra sheet of puff pastry and extra lamb/feta from this weekend, but I'm too lazy to make a sauce right now. So, lamb puff pastries for dinner, but either dry or maybe some melted butter drizzled over the top...
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We actually made this before the beef tasting party, but I haven't gotten around to posting it until now. So, store-bought skirt, not grass-fed. Still a great dish, and I love salsa verde, especially roasted!

http://fotocuisine.com/2010/06/08/skirt-steak-salsa-verde/



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Looks like the stove jury-rig worked. Cooked the kids dinner last night, then I've been roasting beef bones and veggies and making beef stock all day today. Then Meta and I made chocolate chip cookies. The house smells nice -- roasting beef and cookies!

I figured that part for the stove would show up next week since the part store on the Internet is based in L.A., but apparently they have a clearing house in Jacksonville, and the part showed up today.

But, my oven and stove are hot, the stock isn't done yet, and I still have to make dinner, so I'll probably wait until tomorrow to take out my jury-rig and actually fix the thing.
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Ah, summer.

40 knot winds and daily power outages.

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So, in the middle of cooking a nice roasted chicken for dinner last night, with fresh green beans and a giblet gravy, the stove stops working. And the oven stops. Weirdly, the digital displays all work (the clock, entering the temperature) and the red light even comes on the top of the stove when I turned on one of the burners, just no heat.

I grumblegrumble and unplug the thing and pull the stove out and open the back and prepare to do the Guy Thing (tm) where you stare at it a while and hope that it's obvious (see also: auto repair). I actually have a BS in Electrical Engineering, but I'm all software these days, and it's rare that there's anything macro-wrong in these days of microchips.

I have to say, this was the first time in a long time where opening it up and staring at it actually worked:


From what I can reconstruct, we've been moving the stove around a lot lately (spring cleaning), and that popped the red/hot terminal out of the block, which then probably rested against the neutral and overheated the wire. Today, I went out and got a new range cord, ordered a new terminal block, jury-rigged the power onto that dangling terminal, then electrical-taped-the-shit out of it to keep it from touching anything conductive until the block comes early next week.

I can't believe this went out now, and not in the middle of the dinner party last weekend.

The chicken dinner was ruined and I had to throw out a half-cooked bird. We ordered Chinese.

Organic

Jun. 1st, 2010 11:04 pm
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I'm not going to relate the whole organic vs. store-bought debate in this particular post. I will hit it tangentially, though.

The tangents to the debate fit into a triangle: cost vs. health vs. just-what-the-hell-does-organic-mean-outside-the-hype.

For the last, organic generally means no pesticides or hormones and that kind of stuff, though the label is sometimes more political than anything else. It may not be completely pesticide free depending on what your state defines as a pesticide (chrysanthemum oil? Even synthesized?) But, you can generally accept that there won't be any DDT in anything labeled organic.

Enter CNN, reporting on a nonprofit who has combed through public USDA and FDA reports about the number of pesticides in common supermarket foods. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a distinction of pesticide toxicities -- personally, I'll accept a synthesized chrysanthemum oil over, say, malathion, which is looking like a hard-science backed culprit in some forms of ADHD. On the other hand, when the USDA and FDA says that common store-bought celery may have 47 to 67 forms of pesticide per serving, then yeah, the distinction of types of pesticide may not really matter all that much.

The "Dirty Dozen" -- the most pesticide-ridden supermarket foods:
Celery
Peaches
Strawberries
Apples
Domestic blueberries
Nectarines
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Cherries
Potatoes
Imported grapes
Lettuce

Each of these tends to keep pesticides around, even in the sterile-wannabe environment of the supermarket produce corner.

The cleanest foods, with little-to-no pesticides?
Onions
Avocados
Sweet corn
Pineapples
Mango
Sweet peas
Asparagus
Kiwi fruit
Cabbage
Eggplant
Cantaloupe
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Sweet potatoes
Sweet onions

Well, if little-to-no includes malathion, then I'd avoid it anyway, and I'd like to see what that means. On the other hand, when browsing the produce aisle, there's always a question of whether or not to pay the extra hit for organic.

This is a great start, in my opinion, similar to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program identifying sustainable fish. If I'm making a mirepoix, I will now happily pay the extra 50 cents for organic celery, yet buy the local Southeast sweet onions. My budget has been given firm direction by this list. Hopefully, some non-profit will continue this trend and match Monterey (my birth-town) in giving consumers an educated guide to shopping.
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Made a steak bordelaise with matchstick frites and sauteed button mushrooms. I've had this bottle of red wine forever, and opened it tonight thinking it might be vinegar, but it was really, really good. So, I made a bordelaise sauce with 14 year old red wine. It was gooooooood, but completely unintentional.

Now, I really wish I had saved that red for a special occasion.

Edit: Bordelaise

Matchstick Frites
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Of all the departments of the Federal government, NASA is probably the most open and public about new technologies. I mean, DARPA and CIA and NSA may be cutting edge, but none of those departments will have a Twitter "Tweetup" showing off (say) their workhorse cryptography-breaking supercomputer. Especially not to a group of 150 people who can instantly broadcast any passing thought to the world with a couple taps on a phone. I'm curious if the government would grant Secret or higher status to anyone who has a Twitter or Facebook or LJ account.

NASA, however, embraces the "new media" concept. After getting kicked around by budget cuts (1966 budget: 5.5% of Federal spending. 2010 budget: 0.52%), and the bigger issue of paradigm shifts between the oddly big-government and grandiose space vision of George W. Bush, then recently morphed by the oddly free-enterprise private-sector slant of Barack Obama, NASA sometimes seems simultaneously obsolete and cutting-edge. One NASA manager was asked this week, "What does NASA think about...", and the response was, paraphrased, "NASA is 18,000 employees. Are you asking what does the average employee think? The astronauts? The engineers? The top-tier of Directors?"

I have to say the rank-and-file NASA employees (and a couple retirees that were there), were almost visibly bummed out by the back and forth between Ares/Constellation , and by the shuttle program ending. I overheard debates between employees just chatting amongst themselves, supposedly out of earshot (but not to a Tweeter/LJer!): "Should we go to Mars?" "Sure, if we can." "I wouldn't want to be on that ship for 2 years." "Oh, definitely not, but I'd love to support it." That sort of thing. It was fascinating. I went to an engineering school, RPI, and I remember seeing a disconnect from reality my freshman year when a campus bowling alley employee who handed me my Lysoled shoes never looked up from reading an article about the Uranus flyby (which was happening at the time). These people think about space travel all the time. But, they do it realistically, and probably more realistically than us space fanboys/fangirls at the tweetup think about this stuff. Mars? Sure (many of us Tweeters thought) it's the next step past the moon, let's do it. Mars? Well, we're talking 2 1/2 years in a box, the NASA folks said worriedly, even in casual chats among themselves. Apollo was 3 days each way, and that was 40 years ago. Can we do that now?

The space shuttle is arguably the most complex piece of machinery mankind has invented. It never went to the moon like Apollo, or roamed on another planet several years beyond its designed life like the Mars rovers, or showed us the things that Hubble sees every day. But, it can launch something the size of a city bus, along with 7 or so people, and come back again to be used over and over. It put Hubble where it is. It brought up the majority of the International Space Station...even the parts that the Russians or the Canadians or the Japanese could build on the ground, but didn't have the technology or funding or national will (or even national acceptance) to put into orbit.

On the other hand, throughout the life of the program, there were five shuttles and now there are three. That may be unacceptable. Or, in perspective, we've had it pretty easy when it comes to exploration throughout history: I wrote a little essay once after the loss of Columbia about how deadly early New World exploration really was: http://petermarcus.livejournal.com/211110.html

As of Friday, there were three shuttle launches left before they're retired. There's some wiggle room for maybe one more mission (Atlantis, when it makes it back, will be prepped as a rescue mission should anything go wrong with the last two and could possibly be converted into a mission on its own), but for all practical purposes, the shuttle program is over after those three (or four) launches. Maybe a year or so ago the program could have been saved, but it's closed now. There are no more external tanks, for example, and with the production plant closed and employees moved on to other things, it would essentially require creating a new company with all the government vetting and oversight and red tape that usually goes into that sort of approval process.

In other words, it's not just a question of money. It's a fact of how the government, and its contractors, create a program like the space shuttle, and with the main suppliers already shut down, it's never going to start again.

Personally, I have some serious conflicts about the current state of NASA. On one hand, I think history has shown that private enterprise has done things more cheaply and efficiently than government. The current, tangible recession aside (almost entirely caused by private enterprise), there have been few milestones in government that have not been surpassed when private enterprise has caught up. On the other hand, one of the powers that government has is the ability to throw nearly unlimited amounts of money (our money) at a problem until it is solved.

Private enterprise is currently at the Freedom/Mercury level of NASA. Without government involvement, and sometimes in spite of it, private companies are currently putting civilians up to the edge of space, and putting satellites into orbit. Civilians are pretty far behind NASA -- NASA has spacecraft past the heliopause, and private enterprise can barely get something to sit in geosynchronous orbit.

In some sense, this almost defines the mission of NASA (what kind of profit motive to investors does the heliopause provide?) On the other hand, there's a lot of profit to be made in space, and maybe private enterprise should step in to reduce the inevitable bureaucracy and cash-sucking budgets against which government isn't designed to care about. I mean, the President or the Director of NASA might decide that Pluto is a worthy subject to study (and I happen to agree). So, throw $650 billion or $750 billion at it. It's just money already collected by the IRS. Solar power from space? A company would have to compete against coal and natural gas and nuclear plants already operating, no matter how environmentally friendly it is. But, if there's already a private enterprise launch system in place, the private sector can start thinking about it: "Hmmmm, the startup costs are bad right now, but then again, it's almost free power after that point. So at one point does it make sense to try?"

Setting aside the approach to mankind's destiny for a bit, I had an interesting Thursday and Friday.

NASA decided to host a "tweetup" for Twitter people (#nasatweetup if you're a Twitter person). Enter a lottery, and NASA would pick 150 Twitter people to watch the Atlantis space shuttle launch from the press area at Kennedy Space Center. Get there on your own, stay at a hotel on your own, but once you're on site, they'd give us a show. Over 1000 Twitter people applied, and I happened to have been one of the ones chosen.

It was a little weird for me for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, I'm not much of a Twitter person. We have a Twitter account for FotoCuisine, mainly as a marketing tool for our website FotoCuisine. Up to that point, I've tweeted maybe twice. It doesn't help that I was one of the founding engineers for the now defunct Utterz/Utterli, which was an early competitor to Twitter, and so I have a bit of technological rivalry/sour grapes about the whole thing.

Then again, I just got invited to meet astronauts and watch a shuttle launch from less than 5 miles (8km) away. I learned a new respect for Twitter very quickly.

We've seen shuttle launches from our backyard. In my life in Florida, I've probably seen over 40 of them, from here in Melbourne or Cocoa Beach or Orlando or Miami. The launch before this happened at the early hours of the morning, and, with two little kids, we didn't watch it, though it woke us both up shaking the house. In a sense, being 25 miles from Kennedy, it's part of the thrill and yet part of the day-to-day routine of living in Central Florida.

But, this tweetup was also the chance of a lifetime.

Following, is photos and commentary about the last couple days:
Read more... )
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I'm about 5 miles from the Shuttle Atlantis, watching the shuttle launch in a few hours from the Press area. I was lucky enough to get picked as part of the "NASA Tweetup". I'll be tweeting as @fotocuisine, and the whole group of 150 of us is flashing past at #nasatweetup

Beautiful day for a launch!
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Interesting.

Top-5 opening weekends ever:
1) Dark Knight
2) Spider Man 3
3) Twilight New Moon
4) Pirates: Dead Man's Chest
5) Iron Man 2.

All sequels. Three comic books. Plus vampires and pirates.

One of these days, the best way to market a movie will be to make a movie. The first one will be a commercial for the rest of the franchise.
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Made some citrus-sauced chicken breast, with some tortilla strips for some nice crunch. Really tried to play with the flavors (fresh herbs from my exploding herb garden) but also tried to tie in a bunch of different areas of the planet. I love food that takes an ingredient or technique from one region, and matches it with another.

http://fotocuisine.com/2010/05/04/lemon-lime-chicken-and-a-giveaway/

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After a year off or so sorting out my career in this fun economy, I'm back to rebuilding my boat.

A quick recap -- a couple years ago, a friend's 19' Bayliner was parked in my sister's yard, under a tree. There was a small sapling growing out of the bilge. The boat had been dunked at one point (the plug was left out as the trailer was backed into the water and by the time they got the boat off, parked the car, and got back to the boat, the water was halfway up the engine.)

So, it was a mess. But it was a bargain (I basically paid for the trailer and got the boat) and I love a challenge and anyway, I stare at a computer 10 hours a day, so it's nice to work with my hands on something like this. Even though "restoring" a 1994 Bayliner 19' is pretty much like "restoring" a rusty 1994 Ford Taurus -- not exactly the most unique specimen.

The dampener and water pump was rusted to the block, and a lot of the exterior parts (like the starter) were gone, too. I took the engine apart, down to the block, and have been putting it back together again. The inside of the engine was surprisingly clean and shiny given the crappy exterior. I had to clean off the piston heads and get new rings, but the cam and crank were fine. I doubt there was 500 hours on the engine since '94.

I got the manifold this week, which has been updated a couple times. Alas, the manifold was a little wider than the old one, so the bolt only went in a couple thread-lengths in the block. I figured the gasket would compress a bit, but nope -- I pulled out the top couple threads and chipped the block:


Thankfully, it didn't reach to the exhaust ports. I ran it by an online boat forum, and consensus seems to be epoxying a stud in the remaining threads with a nut/washer instead of the bolt. And a lot of gasket sealer on that side. The stud will be there forever now, but I can live with that as long as I don't accidentally break it off next time I need to take off the manifold.

Of course, no one in this town had the studs I needed (even with all the boats), so they're on their way from internet/mail order and I can't actually get this manifold put on until next weekend. After the manifold, it's the new starter, cleaning and mounting the carb, some new hoses and an exhaust riser, and I think this engine is ready to test.

I have a few soft spots in the boat deck I need to fix with new plywood/glass, and I want to reconfigure the layout a bit (room to fish, yet benches for the family) but I can at least get the boat in the water while I'm sewing new boat cushions.

Oh, and an MP3 player. I need to put in an MP3 player.
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I wouldn't mind the fact that I have to watch a couple ads before logging in, except that LJ keeps logging me out every 12-18 hours or so. Sounds like a loophole around Fitz's pledge that the early LJ users will never see ads.

In other news...the poker gods...they are unkind this evening.
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Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. -- Douglas Adams

I'm a big fan of Space.com. That said, there are parts of the site that bug the bejeebus out of me.

One is the comment boards, which like any media site are either full of ranting know-it-alls, or trolls who masquerade as ranting-know-it-alls just to count how many outraged replies they get.

The other part has to do with the writing. I don't know if it's the voice or the style or editing, it's something technical. Or even beyond that -- any site, especially a site like space.com, which isn't exactly bankrolled like the Wall Street Journal's site, has plenty of typos and stuff in stories that can easily be explained by underpaid staff working in an instant-media culture about a highly technical subject. But there's a...mission or something that's missing.

I had to rant on a post tonight:
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/zodiac-glow-source-found-100419.html

In an orbit of a half a billion miles, a few million particles can't cause the glow they're talking about (a glow mentioned since pre-history, from Arabic poems to the "false dawn" of sailors and soldiers). Yet, the story mentions millions of particles.

People can understand millions. And when I say "people", I mean everyone, I'm not using it as a euphemism for the unwashed Big Mac eating hordes of America. Rocket scientists, and people with only a poetic interest in space, can understand that Avatar made $77 million the first weekend, or that there are 5 million people living in the Atlanta metro area, or that 30 million people voted on American Idol last week. "Millions" is a graspable number for most people, and so if millions of particles are responsible for the dawn glow, then it diminishes the scale of how vastly, hugely, (um...) big space really is. When space.com mentions a unique supernova in a galaxy 6 million light years from ours, there are already a couple commenters who suggest, innocently (I hope), that perhaps NASA should send a probe there. Most of these commenters aren't trolls, they're people who have a passing interest in astronomy and have no concept of scale.

I don't mean to suggest that space.com should say something like: "the glow is caused by 8.35 x 10^23 particles per milli-AU^3" because even professional astronomers would have to pull out a mental calculator. But, National Geographic was always one for reducing scale to human understandable measurements, like: There could be 50 different species of protozoa in a speck of water the size of this period.

People understand millions. People understand seconds and minutes and days and months and a year. Even the most casual person reading space.com understands that the Earth orbits the sun once a year, even if they don't know it's half a billion miles of travel. A sentence like: "The Earth travels through millions of these particles a second in its orbit around the Sun" makes the scale a little more graspable, even if its every 10 seconds or a tenth of a second (because even after reading the article I have no concept of how many of those particles there are).

For as good as that site is (and how many dedicated media sites publish the stories they do?), I just wish they had an overarching mission to aspire to the National Geographic dedication to scale.
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A good few days!

In February, I took all my tax stuff and ran a prelim, and it looked like I owed $2100. Tonight I finished the TurboTax thing and it told me I didn't put in the business deduction stuff (Internet Colocation, domain fees, car mileage, travel, stuff like that). Turns out, for the very first time in my 20 year career, I owe $0. Nothing owed, nothing refunded. I'll take it.

Meanwhile, I spent the last two days in Atlanta with my client. Got a lot done, extended my contract for another 3 months, and hit some of my favorite spots to eat. On the way back, I hit the International terminal in the airport because they have had the only decent food in the whole place when I lived there (Atlanta, not the airport, though some months it would be hard to distinguish). There's a new sushi place right off the escalators that was really good. Not only good honking pieces of octopus and tuna, but an eclectic menu -- my entree was duck with portabella mushroom ravioli and white asparagus with a port-chocolate sauce, and a lemon hollandaise. The duck was amazing for an airport, and the ravioli was pretty nice. The port-chocolate sauce was good, but there was only one hidden tiny half teaspoon of the hollandaise, and nowhere near the asparagus. Boo.

On the other hand, they had a great vodka and whiskey bar (and a huge wine list, but I'm oddly not into wine).

Also, in this day and age, I was pretty shocked to see the sushi chefs wielding 10" carbon steel knives. Every customer in the restaurant got plastic knives, but these chefs were holding small swords, and right out in the middle of the restaurant, not behind locked doors. I'm curious if the TSA has some sort of policy about cooking utensils, and if one went missing, if they'd lock down the whole airport.

This last weekend, we were in Tampa Bay visiting family, and my sister had a crab trap that some ex-boyfriend had given her. Since she doesn't live on the water, it was never used and she gave it to me. Before I left for Atlanta, I dropped it in the canal in the backyard, and when I came back -- 5 blue crabs! I cooked them up and they're chilling in the fridge. I see bisque in the future for this weekend.

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If you have an opportunity to be outside the next couple nights after sunset, starting at 8pm or so, look low to the West.

Venus can't be missed. After the sun and moon, it's the brightest thing in the sky right now. But! Just a bit lower and to the right is a yellow-orange dot -- bright but much fainter than Venus. That's Mercury. It's pretty common to see the other visible planets, though most people glance right over them (Mars is orange and straight up at 8 or 9pm). Even for people who are looking, however, Mercury is one of those planets that is hard to recognize. It whips around the sun in just over 60 days, and most of that time it's too close to the sun to see. The closeness of Venus and Mercury over the next few days makes it easier to spot.

Check it out!
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Head cold from hell. Feel like 12 rounds with Ali, and a week of 12-hour work days, too. Light in the tunnel on the work thing, though.
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