Monday, July 28, 2008

Weird things to grill

Yeah, it's been a while. Things have been a bit busy.

We like to grill. Perhaps regular readers (if any) will notice this tendency! I've grilled just about everything under the sun: anything meat, citrus, winter vegetables, summer squash, stone fruit, whatever. About the only thing I've generally not considered grilling is lettuce. Cabbage, artichokes, box choy...but not lettuce. Then there's things to just not grill because they don't make sense. For example, you really can't grill a liquid!

Tonight, I grilled something new: cheese! Okay, it wasn't just any cheese, since most cheeses would just melt, of course, especially at 300+ degrees. In our last trip to Whole Foods, we found this odd sheep's cheese from Cyprus called Halloumi. The label advertised that it's a cheese you can grill, which seemed very odd. They suggest slicing it into one inch cubes, skewering it, and grilling for about ten minutes until golden brown. To my surprise, that works! The cheese doesn't melt, but instead oozes a bit of brine and browns beautifully. It's absolutely delicious, with the briny flavor of feta, and the smooth texture of mozarella.

Grilling cheese was a new one for me. You can learn a bunch more about this cheese on its Wikipedia page. Interesting stuff!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good food, quick and cheap.

Can you tell that this is my favorite topic?

Tonight's meal was just for my wife and me. We managed to get all of the kids out of the house, which makes for a very quiet evening. It's remarkable how wonderful that is from time to time.

The menu is pretty simple, but incredibly tasty. I dropped by our local supermarket and picked up a few things. An hour later, and we were savoring some seriously yummy fare. Let's start with the sides.

I picked up a small sourdough loaf, which I simply warmed in the oven. This was a vital part of the meal, but I'll get to that later. I also picked up some oyster mushrooms - these were sautéed in a bit of olive oil, butter, and wine. To my surprise, okra is available in acceptable quality. Most people know okra as that slimy vegetable in gumbos. It is, frankly, pretty disgusting in that form. I prepare it in another traditional way: slice the okra about a quarter inch thick, dust with corn meal, and fry until just crisp. This is incredibly tasty, and one of my favorite vegetable dishes. (My southern roots are showing!) For the final side, I picked up some chese and herb tortellini. For some reason I was craving pasta. After boiling it, I simply splashed the pasta with a bit of olive oil, and then scattered some feta cheese over it.

For the entrée, I found some small eye of round steaks. I wanted some filets mignon, but my local supermarket didn't have any that looked good, so I settled for a cheaper cut. For the steaks, I opted for a stovetop strategy: I pressed some salt and fresh pepper into both sides, and then simply sautéed them in a bit of canola oil. (Olive doesn't work so well for this task: it's smoking temperature is too low.) Once cooked to medium rare, it's time to make some sauce. This is the really yummy part! If you've ever sautéed meat in this manner, you know that it tends to make a mess in the pan. The easiest way to clean the pan and make something yummy is a simple manner of organic chemistry. Deglazing the pan with a bit of vermouth makes it easy to scrape up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. I let the vermouth cook down a bit, and then added some shallots and butter. Once the butter had melted and the shallot had cooked a bit, I added a little more butter, some wine, and a tablespoon of beef demi-glace. (Williams-Somona makes a killer demi-glace, although it's a bit pricey.) Let it all cook together, and you have an amazing sauce for the steaks.

All that's left to discuss is the wine. For this meal, we pulled out a bottle of 1999 Cinnabar Cabernet Sauvignon. I've only got a couple of bottles left of this vintage, but it's been worth the wait. This bottling has delightful flavors of cherry and blackberry, with a nice edge of oak. It was an ideal match with the rich flavor of the beef and sauce.

Kudos on the wine go to the late Tom Mudd. The wines of Cinnabar were extraordinary under his guidance - he will be missed.

Bon app

Monday, February 11, 2008

Language Lessons

We'll return to the (apparently mildly controversial) topic of solar energy soon. In the meantime, it's time to discuss something much more important: food.

Regrettably, I won't be sharing an entire recipe this time. I did want to share a bit about what we had for dinner of late, though. Last Saturday, we had a yummy dish. The original recipe comes from the Food & Wine 2007 annual cookbook, for those of you who have that. It's something like "Snapper with Spiced Crab and Lime-Cilantro Broth". I made the lime-cilantro broth according to the original recipe, and the spiced crab was also as suggested (with lots of fennel, cardamom, and coriander), but I substituted Ono for the snapper, as that's what looked good at my local fishmonger.

Here's where the language lessons come in. Ono, in Hawaiian, has two meanings. The first it "delicious". The second meaning is a proper noun for the fish known in English as Wahoo. In the case of this dish, both meanings are entirely accurate - the Wahoo was entirely delicious in this dish. I strongly recommend this particular substitution. If you don't have the recipe, contact me directly and I'd be happy to make it available.

We had a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with this dish, along with a nice crusty French bread loaf. The wine was, to be specific, a 2005 St. Supéry bottling. Very yummy with the fish and spiced crab - definitely worth the price!

So, that's Saturday. Today's weather was very nearly perfect - for a moment, I thought it was April instead of February. The weather made me opt for an outside dinner...time to fire up the grill! Tonight's dinner was quite "Ono" - salmon marinated in Teriyaki and then grilled, with asparagus (grilled, of course!) and oranges (also grilled, and sprinkled with Hawaiian red salt), a bit of bread, and some rice. We had a bottle of 2003 Rioja with this scrumptious feast. It was really quite tasty, although I had the first case of hiccups I've had in the last decade.

In any case, I hope this fine evening finds anyone reading this in good health and enjoying an equally fine meal.

Bon appétit!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ah, the joy of blogging

I posted yesterday a little note about solar power. I'll post more on that topic soon...I don't have any ground-breaking ideas, just some thoughts of my own on the topic. I don't claim to have any extraordinary insight, but part of the point of blogging is to allow a certain level of navel-gazing.

The real joy of blogging, though, is getting comments from random people. Some folks I know, others I cannot identify. I've got more than a grain of salt for when I read those comments - indeed, I've got a whole salt block for that purpose.

Still, I thought I'd take a moment to respond to a comment from my post from yesterday. I could to that in the comments thread, but where's the fun in that?

"Tom" got on my case for having an upper-middle-class liberal mindset and expecting the government to just fix everything. He also chastised me for not having already solarified my own house.

I'm so pleased that he knowns my entire financial and personal situation. I'll go right out today and purchase some solar panels. I didn't know I could so trivially get a loan and that I had the available money. I'm very pleased to have that notion collected.

For those of you not following along at home, the word for that previous paragraph is "sarcasm". Not everyone can trivially borrow money, and not everyone can just shell out an extra $100 a month. I always enjoy when people make assumptions about others. This was a lovely example. I really enjoyed the key paragraph at the end of his comment:

"This is a perfect illustration of the upper-middle-class liberal mindset. You feel guilty because don't do something that you think is good. Rather than actually DO THE THING, you want to have government make other people do the thing. It is perfect; it assuages your guilt without any meaningful change to your actual life!"

Yeah, dude, you know me. Guilt-laden is how I always think of myself. I would suggest that you wait for the rest of the thread in the future. By the way, Tom, I'm pleased to see that your company has shown some leadership in being "green". Congrats to them - I hope they succeed.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Solar for everyone

One of the reasons I like living in California is simple: the weather is nice. That fact also logically leads to something inexplicable. Given abundant sunlight, why isn't there far more solar power in California?

That's a fine question.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don't have solar panels on my roof. I'd very much like to, but capital requirements exceed my present means. Still, I'd very much like to have at least a small setup sitting up there in the sun. (Even on stormy days, like today, there's significant amounts of sun!)

So, here's a small proposal: all new homes in California should be required to have solar panels pre-installed. Given the cost of housing around here (the median is rather north of half a million), tacking on an extra $15k or so doesn't seem like a high cost. Of course, this would only cover new construction. We'll clearly need to consider some sort of plan to encourage installation on older homes. That's where the government can help out - although it's worth noting that the state government is doing a reasonable job of offering tax incentives and rebates, especially given the current fiscal environment.

Solar's not the answer to everything, of course. There's that whole nighttime and no light problem. I also read somewhere about the carbon cost of producing solar panels, and it's pretty high. That's rather disconcerting. It's certainly possible to reduce that, since all of the energy required to produce them could come from alternative energy sources like, uh, solar. Assuming that the costs of producing solar power devices can be greatly reduced, there's little reason to not get solar going in large fractions of the US. That should certainly help to get the country closer to being energy independent.

There's a lot more to say about this, so I'll return to the general topic of global warming, energy policy, etc., soon.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My grandchild is cuter than yours!

I may have some bias in this, but my granddaughter is just about the cutest thing ever.

For those of you lacking grandchildren, I strongly recommend acquiring some. The tricky part is to do this without raising children of your own. :-) The "terrible twos" are a problem for parents, perhaps, but my granddaughter is always happy to see her grandparents, and we always have a good time.

Topic? Uh...I forgot.

I had something really witty to add to this today, but the topic has entirely slipped my mind. I would make some sort of joke about early onset of memory loss, but that's just not funny!

Well, for today, y'all are going to have to put up with an entirely content-free update. (That's for both of you that read this.) I was thinking of adding a link to something fun or interesting, but that would be counter to my current (lack of) purpose.

Perhaps I'll update again tomorrow, depending on my ability to recall anything. Then again, I may forget.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

That election thing

So, some of you may have noticed that there's a presidential campaign in progress. More to the point, it's getting exceedingly hard to ignore. That's an annoyance, and I often wish for something more on the British model of "hey, guys? let's have an election next month." Perhaps they should move the first primaries back to August, rather than January. It would certainly make the campaigns cheaper and much less annoying. I'm not helping by writing about it, but, well, I'll pretend that I'm doing so because of the First Amendment.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I've got two other election related topics.

The first is an interesting online flash app I stumbled upon that analyzes your real political standing. Take a look Electoral Compass's a pretty reasonable set of questions, and the results worked for me. Your answers are analyzed on two axes - your economic leanings, and your social leanings. The horizontal axis represents left or right economic tendencies, while the vertical axis has traditional or conservative values at the bottom, up to liberal or progressive tendencies at the top. To no real surprise, the centroid it produced for me was a bit above center, but generally pretty much in the middle. Within the uncertainty radius that their analysis provides, there are precisely zero candidates.

Somehow that doesn't surprise me. I suspect that's true for a large fraction of the electorate. That's really quite sad.

The other thing I wanted to discuss is candidate selection criteria. Even though it's now one week to the California primary, I don't have any idea who, if anyone, I'll vote for. I do know who I won't vote for, which annoys me a bit. I'd really like to find a candidate I can vote for, rather than a set of candidates to vote against. My selection criteria are, thus far, pretty simple. I'd like to find a candidate that actually believes in science. I don't mean some sort of faith-based belief - they are free to practice whatever faith they like as long as it's not the driving force in their decision making. Please, no goat entrails in the Oval Office. What I do mean is that I'd like to find a candidate that understands how science works. Pushing "intelligent design" in addition or as a substitute for evolution education is a guaranteed way to not get my vote.

Thus far, that means Huckabee is a definitive "no", given his direct expression that he doesn't believe in evolution. (Wasn't real impressed with him anyway, but that seals it. Oh, and I guess all of those scientists that actually use science to find ever-increasing evidence of evolution are all just horribly confused. Better send them to some re-education camps.) None of the remaining likely candidates (Obama, Clinton, Edwards, McCain, and Romney, as of this writing) have any sort of reasonable statement on the topic...just a bunch of platitude-laced sound bites. If one of them were to where this shirt (sorry, original link unavailable), I think they'd get my vote.

Obviously, other criteria will be necessary to identify a useful candidate. I'll have to think about that at some point. Can I avoid that until late October? Sigh.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Really stupid business practices

Okay, so it's been a while since I posted. I've been a wee bit busy with the real world.

Why am I bothering to post today? What motivated me out of a non-posting funk? Dumb business practices. Today's target of wrath is SBC AT&T Wireless Cingular AT&T Wireless. Sorry, they keep changing the name. (That's a separate rant.) For the record, I've had an account with them since they were named SBC. It's not so much a matter of customer loyalty as laziness, actually.

Back to today's troubles: my wife needs a new phone. Her Motorola no longer has any video at all, which makes it a less than useful device. She's had the phone quite a while, so it's not really unexpected for a semi-disposable consumer device to simply die. This seems easy enough to remedy - just go to your local AT&T store and get a replacement. Piece of cake, right? After all, companies pretty much always take a loss on the hardware, so it should be pretty cheap.

Yeah, right.

AT&T has a semi-reasonable policy of not giving "replacement pricing" too early in a contract period. They do something like no discount for the first 18 months, and then offer a substantial discount (to match their new account pricing) if you need a replacement phone. For the company, this seems pretty wise, as it keeps Joe Consumer from coming in every month and getting a very highly subsidized phone.

There's a few problems with this, however. The dates reset whenever you mess with the contract. My wife's phone is actually several years old, but the current contract started more recently when we added a line for one of the kids. So, we don't qualify for the discount, even though the phone is, in phone years, decrepit.

I can replace her phone with an equivalent newer model for the grand sum of $330. Yup, you read that right. It would literally be cheaper to cancel the contract, go to a competitor, get a new phone and contract, and use number portability to keep the number.

When I noted this fact to the happy customer rep who pounced on me as I came in the door to the place...well, let's just say he looked really unhappy. So much for corporate loyalty to customers. It's actually a penalty for loyalty, which strikes me as really really broken.

I think there's certainly a better way for this to work. Some sort of pro rated system, for example.... In any case, I'm going to call their happy customer support folks and see if they can find a way to avoid losing a customer.