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davew's picture

Accuweather Ain't

There's this national website that I used to use regularly to check the local weather. Now I was not such a gullible prat to believe the forecast. I just want to know what the outside is currently doing. At least twice a day I get up close and personal with this weather thing and it really helps to know how to dress. Sometimes I am about to take a shower and I can just look out the window at the sky and our thermometer. Other times I am at my computer and I just bring up Accuweather. For a few weeks in a row I started noticing that many mornings I had severely underdressed. I would arrive at work with numb fingers and a face that felt like it had been licked all over by an ice cat. One day last week I headed out into what the website said was 34F. This means one hat as opposed to two, gloves as opposed to mittens, and no long underwear. I made it to the end of the driveway before my brain woke up and said, "If this is 34 we are Antonio Banderas."

I turned around and went back inside... in the interest of science, you understand. Not because I'm a big wussy wuss. Our thermometer said 22F. That certainly explains the nosecicles. I checked the web again: 35F. I checked a few nearby towns. Bethoud was supposedly 24F. I can believe that, so what's up with Longmont? Upon arriving at work, nice and toasty due to a quick sartorial readjustment, I checked the web again. Longmont: 35F, Berthoud: 33F. An hour later they both read 28F which it actually may have been by then. The real weather that day was clear and sunny and the temperature rose slowly to about freezing. I understand that frequently weather stations are located in cities that can be a couple of degrees warmer than the burbs, but that doesn't explain the wildly fluctuating readings. I think these guys have their thermometer up their, um, chimneys where the temperature is always a balmy 98.6 and the wind is always from the south. Useless. Absolutely useless.

davew's picture

Iron Chef Pizza

I've been reading Bill Buford's _Heat_ for the last week or so. It's a chronicle of his adventures in cooking and a commercial kitchen. So says the book jacket. But a good third of the book is the adventures of people he worked with -- especially Mario Batali. One of Mario's adventures in the book, just a couple of throw away sentences, is an attempt to perfect griddle pizza. No mention is made of the technique or equipment he used only that he never got happy with the crust. I few minutes later I had to back up three pages because I realized I'd been dwelling on the concept of "griddle pizza" and not paying attention to the words flowing into my eyes.

Last weekend I got a chance to try it. I went googling first and couldn't find anything that seemed close the the concept although there are ton's of recipes for pizza cooked on a grill. I don't have a grill. I have a nice cast iron pan that is the tool I grab when doing grilling like things. I figured once you've got the right tool the rest can be safely left to inspiration. I cooked up a lovely pork ragu to use as a sauce. (An excuse to use my new pressure cooker. It shaved 2 hours off the usual 3 hour preparation time.) The rest was sliced pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese. There is no topping the classics.

This is definitely a fast ride so "mise en place" is the phrase to keep in mind. This is French for "get your act together before you start cooking." While the pan was coming up to cruising temp, I laid out the sauce with a ladle and the cheese and sausage in individual bowls. I have a 12 inch Lodge pan so I rolled out a 12 inch circle of dough, very thin. The dough goes in the pan for two minutes. Instantly the kitchen fills with the smell of grilled dough. Yum. The dough bubbles up like a pita. After two minutes I flipped it. The top was now a nicely grilled with some good char. I quickly spread a dollop of sauce, a handful of pepperoni and a handful of cheese over that. I clamped on the lid. Yeah, I god a lid for my pan. I don't think you need a cast iron lid, but some liddage is definitely required. No way would the cheese melt otherwise. Two minutes later it's done. Exquisite! The crust is crisp with some nice charring on both sides giving the pie a nice wood-fired taste. The cheese is all melty and delicious. Heaven on a plate.

A friend of my asked today, "Why?" It's a good question. I've been cooking pizza on stones for years and am very happy with the results. The reason is, a few minutes of introspection provided, I have always wanted to come closer to the pizza that my favorite local restaurant, Proto's, makes. I can't duplicate their high-fire brick oven, but the griddle pizza comes very close to providing a crust with the same texture and taste. Also, when making diverse pizzas for company each one takes about 20 minutes. Shortening this up to 4 minutes opens up many more options for service. The cooking itself could be a party catalyst. I'll probably still stone my pizzas most of the time, but griddling is a nice option.

Caveats:

The pan will accumulate burned crust, carbon. I deglazed it with water every couple of pizzas. The cast iron holds heat so well this doesn't slow down the operation by more than a minute.

Oiling the dough before cooking will greatly slow down the charring process. I don't like it, but some folks might prefer it. I want a little black.

The dough must be rolled thin. A thick dough will stay raw in the center.

Resist the urge to top the pizza right after it goes into the pan. Both sides of the dough need to cook and topping the pizza makes flipping it afterwards really messy. It sounds like a stupid obvious suggestion, but I nearly screwed this up twice. Empty dough is just begging for toppings!

davew's picture

Honeymoon

I have to say I am a little excited to see what is happening on Capitol Hill these days. I know this can easily be interpreted as, "Yay! The Treehuggers and in control. We will plant trees under the rotunda so that we may hug them. Yay!" Sod that. I'm just happy that the House and the Senate are back to debating topics like the minimum wage and implementing the rest of the suggestions from the 9/11 committee rather than flag burning and gay marriage. I'm sure there are multitudes of well intentioned Americans that believe that banning flag burning and gay marriage are vital issues, I just don't believe that any of them work on the hill. As nearly as I can tell Congress has spent the vast majority of the last three and a half years working to preserve the status quo in the last election. It is poetic justice that it didn't work. Gays and Flags (glays and fags?) are always good to get the voter base riled up, but they don't have a great deal of impact on most American's day to day lives and they certainly don't address the topics facing our country that have certain doom written all over them: global warming, the deficit, the trade imbalance, the swelling ranks of the poor and homeless, and the long term fiscal health of our country in the face of entitlement programs with ever increasing costs. Are the Democrats addressing these right off the bat? Nope. It's sad, but at least the current topics are a step in the right direction.

Honestly I haven't been this encouraged about the direction our government is taking since the days of The Contract with America. I do care about how various issues are decided and I do get a little depressed when I don't agree with the conclusion. I get more depressed, however, when Congress reverts to "sucking up to voters" mode. How long will this honeymoon last? I have no clue. I am in the process of writing my Senators and Representatives of both parties to encourage them to keep it up. There is a lot of work for our leaders to get through and none of it involves "Up with Baby Seals Day" or the "Deport Lazy People Act". I am hoping one of the lessons learned in the last election is that we Americans really are paying attention and we really do care about what Congress gets done. Hopefully Eddie Haskell will never be reelected again.

davew's picture

Heros

I said once a while ago that politicians overuse the word "hero". I was wrong. Many people overuse the word hero. I was reminded of this in the aftermath of a rather tragic story last week where a family was stuck on a snowy road. Out of food, and out of water for several days, the husband and father finally made the decision to walk for help and perished in the attempt. The story is sad and I in no way want to make light of what the family went through during the ordeal or afterwards. What I want to call attention to is the way the man was portrayed in the media as a "hero" or in one case a "mega hero". I don't want to play dictionary games but I can't see how any part of the story is in the least heroic. What I see is a series of bad decisions that led to an unfortunate conclusion. Far from displaying behavior that other people should emulate the people in this story should serve as a cautionary tale. Winter driving in the mountains is always dangerous and should be treated with proper respect. The people I look up to are the ones who know where they are going, carry supplies appropriate for the terrain and the weather conditions, avoid unfamiliar shortcuts, and turn around before they get hopelessly lost. People like this aren't heroes either, but they are a lot closer to my book. They also never make the evening news.

davew's picture

The War on Terror

I think I offended someone the other day when he asked me if I supported the War on Terror. I replied quickly and succinctly that I did not. He gave me a look like I personally wanted to blow up the Sears Tower. The conversation went badly after that so I never did get a chance to explain. Ain't nothin' like havin' a blog for 'splaining stuff.

First off a nit. Congress has the power to declare wars. They haven't. Not for a good long time. Until this happens we aren't at war with anyone. Small comfort to Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and a bunch of others, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

More seriously "wars on" never stop. The "war on poverty". The "war on drugs". By definition these wars on inevitably refer to intractable problems. The problems can get better or get worse, but they never go away. We just stop talking about them when the next administration is elected. Fighting poverty is noble and good as is fighting drug use as is fighting terrorism. It's just that calling it a war implies it is something that is short term and winnable. Sure we can give up the right to use the telephone without being recorded because, well, we're at war. Sure we can give up the right not to be kidnaped to Syria and have a cattle prod entertain our nether regions for a few years because we're at war. If the administration said that the executive branch had sole discretion over determining which rights citizens did and did not have forever more I think the average American voter might be a little more concerned. But never mind that. We're at war. I'm sure it will all be over soon.

War on terrorism. Isn't that a little vague? The Sudan is chock full of terrorists now. Are we at war with them? How about the nutty guy with the pompadour and a penchant for threatening the blow stuff up and real nuclear weapons? Are we at war with him? How about are homegrown crazies? Is there any chance of Guantanamo filling up with skinheads? Pardon me if I find this all a little vague. If you can't really identify a terrorist who can't be accused of being one? Since we've dispensed with the notion of evidence and a speedy trial and trial by jury and the right to confront your accuser and all that what's to stop the government from sticking aunt Betty in Gitmo until her hair goes from blue to white? But never mind that. We're at war. I'm sure she'll be home soon.

Recently I heard a refinement to the "war on terror". It was "war on Islamic fascism." Catchy. Hard to define, but catchy. Let's try a definition. A follower of Mohammed who believes in strict government control over all aspects of society. That sounds a lot like some of our allies. I suppose to be a terrorist you would also have to be of a mind to blow stuff up and shoot innocents. Actually, that also sounds a lot like some of our allies. The phrase is insane for two other reasons. It implies that somehow Islamic socialists or Islamic anarchists are just fine. Personally I find anarchists more scary because you never really know what they want. Although they do have a harder time organizing than the Libertarians so maybe they're not all that scary. Is the Whitehouse so tone deaf that they don't know that "war on Islamic fascism" sounds an awful lot like "war or Islam"? Gentlemen, these people do not need any more reasons to hate us. I think a little bit of duct tape strategically applied in the west wing could save the country a whole lot of heartache.

Suppose we do actually win the war on terror and bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. What are we bringing them? In the last few weeks I have heard from our very own President a vigorous defense of unlimited wire tapping, indefinite detention, secret prisons, secret evidence, secret witnesses, and no appeals. This is America? This is freedom? This is what we want to spread around the world? Think about it. We don't have 300 terrorists in Cuba. We have 300 suspects. If you think there's no difference heaven help you if you ever get suspected. If you think that somehow being an American citizen protects you from this mistreatment, google Jose Padilla.

The destruction of the World Trade Center was a tragedy and an act of war. I'm as pissed as anyone about it. America should use any resource it can to find and prosecute the people responsible and to prevent it from happening again. Unless, of course, we have to become the enemy to fight the enemy. Then it doesn't really matter whether we win or not.

davew's picture

Studio 60 Sunset Strip

As someone who eschews even basic cable you wouldn't think I'd be up on the latest trends. I might even be the very last person you'd expect to review the pilot for a TV series long before it has even aired. Usually you would be spot on, but in this case, sadly mistaken.

Courtesy of NetFlix Ellen and I watched the new Aaron Sorkin show "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" last night. It was everything I had hoped for. A true delight. Amanda Peet is absolutely mesmerizing as the unexpectedly resourceful TV exec. It is nice to see Mathew Perry play a more straight forward character with just a hint of the manic energy he usually wore in Friends. The rest of the cast is surprising quality as well. With sparkling dialog, characters you can really care about, and interesting story lines I am only left to wonder exactly how this series is going to wind up buried next to all of the other shows I have dared like before their first season was finished.

Ellen's picture

Does Anyone Have a Crow Bar or, First Things First

What does it take to get me out of the house in the morning? A quick
shower and a cup of joe and go? No! A while back I read a
book that said to do the most important thing first every morning so you
get your day off to a good start. I

davew's picture

Backwards

Something just struck me. The phrase "up shit creek without a paddle"... isn't that backwards? Presumably if being up shit creek is undesirable then you could drift with the shit current and eventually reach a better place or at least a different place. On the other hand if you were down shit creek and didn't want to be there any more the only way out would be to paddle up shit creek. If you didn't have a paddle you'd be stuck and really up shit creek.

davew's picture

Absolutes

In spite of my Catholic upbringing I believe in very few absolutes. I think I had more when I was younger, but life throws enough different perspectives at you that it's hard to hold onto precisely one version of Truth with a capital T. Yet all around I hear people who are amazingly absolute on a wide variety of subjects. Burning the flag is wrong. Life begins at conception. Marriage is only for one man and one woman. Ho-mo-SEX-uals should not be allowed to adopt or foster children. The list goes on and on. I'm sure everyone can recite it from memory. I disagree with all these opinions, but that's not the point. These opinions are so often and so strenuously expressed that rarely a day goes by when one of them is not a headline on the AP News wire or a bill proposed to congress. I hate to tell anyone else what they should be saying, but I'm honestly surprised. I would think that if there were a prime contender for absolutely wrong it would be dropping a bomb on a building full of women and children. Yet where is the outcry? Nowhere. Those voices who are so firm in their convictions on a variety of subjects are curiously quiet on the subject of blowing innocent women and children to kingdom come. Are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Senator Frist taking the week off?

What does this have to do with us? Well, we paid for that bomb or at least most of it. You'd think we'd tell Israel "We're not going to give you any more bombs if you drop them on children." In our supposed culture of life you'd think this would be a no brainer. Instead our government can't even summon up the cojones to ask Israel to stop doing it. Or to stop shelling the UN. Or to stop bombing the people running away from the other places the Israel is bombing. What's the definition of terrorism again? This comes the week after our president vetoed a bill that would allow embryos that are bound for destruction anyway to be used for stem cell research because it is absolutely morally wrong. If I am keeping score correctly killing potential people is wrong. Killing possibly innocent convicts is right. Killing actual women and children is, at the least, not very wrong. Someone needs to explain this to me. Theoretically there is a book that talks about all this, but I must not be reading it correctly because I still can't find where it says that dropping bombs on kids is not a fit topic for long and loud condemnation.

davew's picture

Club Soda with a Twist

I never thought I'd hear myself say "club soda with a twist". I certainly never thought I'd hear myself say it so much. I'm usually more of a Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up with olives. Recently it's been club soda with a twist. The last time I ordered this the waitress brought straight soda a did a little dance. I should have ordered the Shirley Temple with a mambo. Live and learn. As the weight loss program limps to the end of its third week the news is positive. As expected about five pounds went away during the few days and as hoped I've lost about two pounds a week after that. Presumably the mad rush at the beginning was water weight which will come rushing back at the end. (This has caused me to lower my goal by a bit to give more of a cushion to my target size. Or maybe less of a cushion. The terminology is so confusing.) Judging by my slightly shrinking midsection the rest really has been flubba wubba. My friends suggested I should use hat size as a better estimate of body fat. With friends like this who needs an older brother?

Anyway, club soda with a twist. I am returned instantly to Italy. My intrepid father took my brother and me on a whirlwind trip through Europe back in '74. (I realize now I don't blog about my dad much. What's there to say about the most decent person I ever met? As my blogging style leans more towards catty observation decent people are largely left out. My brother, for example, who is a shuffling mass of imperfections both physical and mental is ripe blog fodder. My dad, not so much. Perhaps I should wax nostalgic more often.) The water wasn't recommended and we were too young for beer or wine. (Beer is another thing that seems a bit nostalgic at the moment.) As a result we drank Aqua Minerali. This is "mineral water" in Italian, I think, but you can never be too sure. Being the little, unadventurous moron that I was at the time I would order the most American sounding thing on the menu, drink Aqua Minerali, and feel positively European. It was a good time. We walked almost everywhere, and where we couldn't walk we took a bus. The stones had no edges. Not the stones in the buildings and certainly not the cobblestones on the streets. Other than getting used to fizzy water that was the biggest impression. Smooth stones. I come from the midwest where all buildings came to sharp corners. In Rome nothing had sharp corners. Marble stair cases were dished in the center from who knows how many feet. For a while I thought the Romans must have fetched all their building materials out of rivers. Only later did I start to wonder how many people have to lean against or bush past a building to leave it noticeably shiny at shoulder level. One sip of club soda brings all this back in a rush.

Club soda with a twist. Every time I say it I feel like the recovering alcoholic in a movie. I'm the guy on the last stool with the hound dog face and nose slightly less red than it was a month ago who just can't quit his favorite bar. I say I feel like that, but I don't think I am that. I think. Since denial is one of that hallmarks of alcoholism who can really say? I think it's a positive sign that so far the thing I miss the most, other than ever feeling full, is a black and bleu burger with fries. Reflecting on this I am starting to wonder which is really the more deadly? Probably both. Probably worse in combination. Along with "club soda with a twist" I should also get used to saying "half a club combo with veggies and dressing on the side." Or perhaps not. How fast does a crappy diet kill you?

I've learned many interesting tidbits in all my recent reading. Here are just a few:

- There are many websites that will give you for free what Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and their ilk try to sell you. The free stuff usually comes with less mumbo jumbo.

-If you graph all the diet advice available and whack off the silliest stuff at the extremes what remains is a surprisingly consistent message: figure out how many calories you burn and eat less than that for a while. The rest is just discipline and arithmetic.

- Most food sold as "diet food" isn't. Rice cakes are nutritionally and metabolically no different than the equivalent amount of table sugar. You'll be hungry and tired 12 minutes later for exactly the same reason.

- Most food sold as "diet food" isn't. I am looking at a bag of banana chips right now that proudly proclaims "0% trans fat" on the front. What you have to flip it over to see is that if you eat the recommended portion you have just had 200 calories and half your daily recommended allotment of saturated fat. This is almost as much saturated fat as a Big Mac. Ain't palm oil a wonderful thing?

- Most food sold as "diet food" isn't. The people who peddle this crap take food, do things to it as "added value", and then sell you the result at wildly inflated prices. The problem is most things they do to it make it less nutritious. Things like remove bran, break down starches, hydrolyze fats, and add a witch's cupboard full of unpronounceable chemicals. You're always better off looking at the first item on the ingredient list and buying some of that.

- Most of what makes "lite" ice cream lighter is air. It's partially whipped during processing. This might be a case of more accurate marketing than they intended. If you compare it by weight to the real thing most of the nutritional difference disappears.

- Most yogurt is sold in 8-oz containers. Most "lite" yogurt is sold in 6 oz containers. This is because the products are not that much different so altering the serving size is the only way they can make the "lite" yogurt appear lighter. After we purge the world of lawyers we should start on the marketing people.

- The produce section of the grocery store should be labeled the diet section. The more I look into proper eating the more shopping I do there. If this is where King Soopers chose to locate the gourmet cheese cooler it can hardly be counted as my fault can it?

- Most restaurant salads are worse nutritionally than the rest of the fare. This is old news, but it's fun to run the numbers. A Crispy Chicken Salad at Old Chicago has roughly the same nutrition, both good and bad, as two Big Macs.

- If you drink a whole bunch of alcohol your body switches to a different metabolism that results in very little weight gain. The ethanol molecules are mostly converted to heat. The bad news is the same metabolic pathway converts ordinarily harmless chemicals into ones that cause your liver to fall apart. Why does life have to be so complicated?

- It is possible to eat too little. I think with my ready energy reserves largely spent it is not too far from "gosh I'm hungry" to "I've just read the same paragraph three times and I still can't remember the gist of it." I'm getting better about this. I'm getting better about this.

- Nonfat yogurt and granola make a surprisingly yummy and nutritious 210 calorie breakfast. (I'd say the same about steel cut oats topped with buttermilk, but I fear no one would either try it or believe me. It is tasty, though.)

In the mean time, if you need me, you'll know where I'll be. The last stool at the bar. You can buy me a drink. And a surprisingly cheap one at that.

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