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Another recipe, naturally. My corner store has been selling high-quality artichokes for $1 each, and slightly imperfect ones for fifty cents. So I started playing around with roasting/braising/gratineeing them. Tonight was simple, with thyme from the garden and lemons from the corner store. Recipe after the cut )
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So I got a deal on a couple pounds of oxtails. I braised them; It turned out very nicely. Recipe behind the cut )
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So a few days ago, my computer stopped working. The preliminary diagnosis is a defective NVIDIA graphics processor failing. The good news is that I won't be charged for the new motherboard this fix entails. The bad news is that my computer will be in the shop for a week, possibly more. I should be able to send and receive email -- but I won't be able to check as regularly, and it's likely I'll respond even more slowly than usual. And it's absolutely certain I'll be grumpier than normal for the next week, but I'll try not to spread it around.
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I've been feeling the lack of vegetables the last little while, so I went a bit wild tonight. First, baked potatoes are easy. Wash 'em, stick 'em in the oven, and wait around an hour. I had cheap n' cheerful Safeway potatoes, and ended up washing them with a kitchen scrubber -- but they got clean.

Then, brussels sprouts. I peel off the outer leaves, trim a bit of the stem, and cut into halves or quarters to get pieces that are similar to one another in size.

Next, I peeled and sliced into thin coins a pound and change of carrots.

First the brussels sprouts: Into my largest frying pan, in one layer, with a couple tablespoons of butter. Cooked 'em for a few minutes on medium-high heat, adding some salt meanwhile. Then I threw in a cup or so of chicken stock, slammed on a lid, and set a timer for ten minutes.

Now the carrots: Into a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of butter, a sliced clove of garlic, and a hefty pinch of saffron. Some salt, a couple minutes of high heat and some shaking, and I added pepper, a half-lemon's worth of zest, and a cupful of water, then slammed the lid on. They steam/braised until they got tender, about six minutes. Then off with the lid, stir around, and boil off the remaining water.

And then the sprouts -- lid off, stir around, and boil off the remaining stock to a light sauce.

And there's dinner: potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts. It's better than it sounds.
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We all need something after reading through the voter guide, right? So I faked this up:

1 scanty mug-full of milk (about a cup)
1 big glop of tasty honey (a tablespoon? two?)
1 generous pinch of saffron

Put the above into a small saucepan, crumbling the saffron between your fingers and sprinkling it onto the milk. Warm, stirring, until the milk is nearly boiling and has turned a pale yellow.

Into the mug, put:
1 oz. Mt. Gay Eclipse rum.
Grate a light dusting of nutmeg over the rum in the mug.

Pour the hot saffron milk into the mug. Grab the mug. Inhale the complex aroma and sip slowly, thinking about autumn.
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OK -- an easy one this time. Prop. 21: $18 annual vehicle license surcharge to fund state parks. Vehicles given free admission to state parks.

I'm voting Yes, but here's the background )
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So the elections are in nine days, more or less. As a good California voter, it's time for me to start cramming for the elections. This is, of course, a mid-term election -- you still can't skip your homework. We have 127 pages of state voter guide, covering state offices and 9 state propositions. We also have 192 pages of local voter guide, covering local offices and 15 local propositions. Call it an average-weight election -- the recent record was in the late '90s, when we had 28 local and maybe 20 state issues to consider.

Basically, all of you can help me with my voting homework in this series of posts. I have opinions on some of this stuff, but you may well be able to change my mind with a good argument.

Propositions 20 and 27 after the cut. )
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Well, I'm sure you all have your opinions... but I'm puzzling through a moral quandary. I was out in the car, driving to visit the drugstore. A Mercedes convertible ahead of me pulled past a stopped bus and ignored the stop sign, pulling through the intersection without a pause. He then drove really slowly to the shopping center, where he blocked in a car that was trying to leave -- apparently in order to get the handicapped parking place they were occupying. It looked like he was going to try to park in the little walkway between the handicapped spaces, and at times like he was going to hit something with the car.

So I called 911. While I was on the phone, the guy parked, put up his handicapped placard, and teetered towards the post office. The 911 people took the information and sent a squad car around; presumably they talked to him, but I don't have any further information on it.

So am I a huge jerk? Did I pick on an old guy who was just having a bad day? That wasn't my intent, but good intentions aren't everything. Alternately, did I save someone from maybe wrecking their car or killing someone? Can it be both at once?

I think, on the whole, that something had to be done. And I think I had to do it -- lots of people saw the final act, but nobody else had the context I did. I also think the driver would never have listened to me if I'd approached him directly, though I could easily be wrong. And I'm sure his driving was erratic and at least borderline dangerous, regardless of the cause.


But calling the police is... extreme. It's messing with a stranger's life. And I'm never going to know what effects it had.
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I think I come across in this space as an awfully grouchy person. People who know me in person will undoubtedly have their own opinions, but I *think* that's partly selection bias. It's easy to work up the energy to post about something that has just now pissed me off -- but good things tend to get short shrift. So, in no order whatsoever, some random things that I like:

* My neighborhood. I live off a busy commercial block, with a corner store, a greengrocer, a butcher shop, and a library within easy walking distance. I'm incredibly lucky to live in a space where I can get good-quality produce regularly at below-supermarket prices. And both public and private transit in the neighborhood is superb.

* My local butcher. He opened his shop within a week of our moving in, and it keeps improving. If I want something weird, he'll at least try to get it. OK, a whole goat was beyond my price range -- but he dug up the information for me and called back promptly. Caul fat? He didn't bat an eye.

* The crazy California climate. My pear tree is flowering. And fruiting. At the same time. You can almost see it saying "Whatever, man -- I just do what feels natural. You're, like, so uptight."
And I have rosemary, thyme, and oregano just, y'know, growing in the backyard.

* Our near-antique stove. It's 48 years old this year, it's electric, and it has developed some significant problems of late. But it's got pull-out burners and two ovens, and I'm very, very fond of it. We'll get through this tough time, and our broiler will pull through.

* Local politics. OK, so I hate local politics -- or the way a lot of it boils down to ignoring the big problems, and trying to legislate against hamsters or something. But there's one thing I love, after spending a decade in Massachusetts: I'm suddenly center-right in the political spectrum, instead of wacky left.

For those of you from out of town: The local spectrum basically is anchored by Dianne Feinstein on the right, Nancy Pelosi in the middle-to-right, and a whole lot of locals you haven't heard of over to the left. Adjust your perceptions accordingly.

After feeling very, very politically marginalized in Massachusetts -- I don't care for hereditary political office, or machine politics, or the socially conservative culture -- it's really good to feel like I can be part of the conversation again.

So that's the news tonight. If you'd prefer grouchy snarkiness next time, let me know in the comments.
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They're already here, and they're writing for news magazines. Today I read another of those scare articles (are we raising etc.) somewhere or other. It doesn't actually matter where -- more will come along if you wait a bit. If you're in a hurry, you can find previous years' (decades', centuries') editions with no trouble.

This particular author was harping on children being unable to empty ice cube trays and use dial telephones. Frankly, if they can't, it means that widespread use of automatic icemakers and pushbutton phones has (finally) made this knowledge obsolete. Yay human progress. But just as I don't judge people by their ability to drive a curricle, I can't be bothered by this.

If there's a global icemaker shortage, people will adjust easily. Meanwhile, these ephemera of popular culture can join mule-packing and the use of reel-to-reel audio tape as niche or novelty material. Get over yourselves, pundits. Meanwhile, these kids can use not only their phone, but yours, to do things you could do yourself if you weren't hand-wringing over where the dial went. In other words, they're picking up information that's useful now, not what was essential in 1950. Or cutting edge in 1910.

The fundamental erroneous assumption that the authors of these screeds make is that everything they learned as children should of course be learned by everyone, forever. Given the rate of increase in human knowledge, this is impossible -- and indeed, counterproductive. If you think that knowing who Bessie Smith was is vital knowledge, you're accepting that something else has to go missing -- Abigail Adams? Jonas Salk? If you want people to memorize the multiplication tables through 25x25, it's legitimate for people to ask why they should still bother.

After all, even your phone has a calculator in it. You do know how to use it, right?
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So we're on our way back from YAPC in Columbus, OH -- storms here and clouds at SFO permitting. It's been a long, tiring, but good week or so. Columbus appears to be the fried food capital of at least the Midwest -- we've had fried avocado, fried pretzels, fried hoagie sandwiches (tempura), fried mushrooms, donuts (fried), sweet potato fries, and beer. Not fried, just beer. More later -- they're finally loading the plane.
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Our sour-cherry-season adventure, in which we go to surprising lengths for the sake of cherry pie and cherry ice cream.
Details after the cut )
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I try, usually, to post gently if at all on touchy subjects.  Gentle clearly isn't getting through to Baycon. 
Cut tag added because I care... )
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With any luck, local sour cherries will be (very briefly) available in about 2 weeks.  In the (unlikely) event that I can get more than I need for cherry pies and cherries preserved in Maraschino and cherry jam, does anyone else need some?

Also, I've found only one place in the region that grows and sells sour cherries -- does anyone have a supplier that's closer than 100 miles from San Francisco?
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If you haven't seen it yet... There may be spoilers. )
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For a long time I believed that if I could only get up really early, I'd magically get all kinds of stuff done. It turns out, though, that waking up before 5AM and being willing to, say, go to the gym at 5, are separate issues. It's quite cold and dark at 5, at least in January. And anything that ever closes is closed.

Also, being awake and moving is only very loosely related to being alert enough to plan and do things.
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We're back from France. Jet-lagged as all get-out. I'm catching up on email and phone stuff, rather slowly. (Memo -- next time, check hotels for internet access, and respond firmly if they claim it, but don't actually provide it.) Expect us to be kind of incoherent for the next day or two. Including this post, naturally.

For those of you traveling into the US in the next little while, I'd allow about 2.5-3 hours at the airport to get past the extra wave of screening, and plan on your flight being at least an hour delayed besides. We had 3 hours at CDG, and needed 2.5 of them -- but if we'd been 20 minutes later, we would probably have been 45 minutes back in the final queue. They did hold the plane until all the passengers got screened, an hour after scheduled takeoff. Other than that, the flight was normal -- apparently the TSA has got past the idea that all passengers should join hands and pray for deliverance prior to landing, or whatever lunacy they'd dreamed up this time. Customs and immigration were efficient and swift, which is usual for SFO. And that's the news tonight.
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So I got home after a few hours out this morning to find a UPS tag on my door. Not, as I'd feared, a we'll-call-again-when-next-you're-out, but with a cryptic note on it: "DECK".

Package not on porch. Well, duh. Package not on patio in back yard. Humm. Package not in driveway, the only other concrete area at ground level. Oh, dear -- have the neighbors grabbed it for safety, or has it gone missing? A moment of panic followed.

None of the above had happened. The enterprising delivery professional had realized the package was soft (a sweater in a plastic bag), and therefore immune to bashing damage. He'd tossed it up a story-and-a-half onto the bedroom balcony, where it would be very safe.

Quite an arm, actually.
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My Initial appointment with a new primary care doctor was today. Less unpleasant than that kind of thing usually is. We'll see how we settle in.

Afterwards, I stopped by the SOMA Tart-to-Tart, and got an almond croissant which was so bad I wouldn't eat it, and a we-don't-clean-the-machine double espresso -- also abandoned in place. Not recommended.

I headed a couple of blocks to the Peets' near the Cartoon Art Museum. Their almond croissant was much better, and I had a nice cup of tea to accompany it.

After this refreshing interlude, I dropped by the Cartoon Art Museum itself. I'd seen the Snow White and webcomics exhibitions, but the Spain Rodriguez exhibit was well worthwhile -- and a style I don't get much exposure to normally.

It's funny -- I'm about a 10-minute walk from a BART station, and from there, downtown is maybe another 15 minutes including waiting for the train. But it's perceptually way outside my home range. Meanwhile, the ocean is about 15 minutes by car, and it's inside my range. Go figure.
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So our place has a pear tree in the back yard -- elderly, kind of scraggly-looking, with snagged branches and some rotten limbs. But it puts out a lot of Bartlett (or Bartlett-like) pears. A whole lot. I gathered up yesterday's collection of windfalls, composted the bad ones, and had ten pounds or so of ripe-and-won't-keep pears. So: Pear butter. By analogy to apple butter, this is a highly-reduced pearsauce (like applesauce) highly spiced with clove and cinnamon, and sweetened. You can can or freeze it, and the pectin in the pears should help it to set.

First: wash the pears. Rinse the pears well. Then cut the stems off and cut them into eighths. Put 'em into a pot with an inch of water at the bottom. I added a teaspoon of citric acid (sour salt in the kosher section of the grocery) to keep the browning down and raise the acidity of the product. This time, I didn't core or peel the pears -- recipes vary, and you don't need to do it for apples.

Simmer the whole thing for about an hour until the chunks are very soft. Put 'em through a food mill with the finest plate fitted. My food mill didn't have a fine enough plate, so some seeds got through. I decided to keep an eye on it and strain the final product through a sieve.

Anyway, a cup of white and a cup of brown sugar, spices as per Marion Cunningham in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook's recent editions, and put the whole thing in a Crock-pot with the lid propped open. Cook about 18 hours, stirring every once in a while, and you have a thick, rich brown stuff. Which is kind of crunchy due to inadequate straining.

So I worked it through a fine-mesh sieve with a rubber spatula. Tedious and tiring, but the final product is improved. If I were more hard-core, I'd probably work it through a second time -- but there's a limit to what I'll do for art.

Yield: A little over 3 pints. A little too heavy on the cloves, but not bad. Next time, I might try using ginger instead of the cloves-cinnamon-allspice mix, which pretty much overwhelms the pear flavor. It might also be better to core and peel the fruit -- but this batch wouldn't have gotten made if I'd had to peel and core 50 pears to start.

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June 2011

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