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Monday, January 28, 2008

[New York]: In search of fun memorization games

Hi all,
I'm working on a project for work and wanted to know if any of you know fun games that would help and motivate busy people to memorize several short phrases. I need to get people in my office to learn some stuff and I have the capacity to give cheap prizes (treats, toys from Chinatown) if necessary. Any ideas?

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Tales and Legends"

I thought of the legend of "Dinotopia" which kept my son happily absorbed for hours. When I first sketched these creatures yesterday they were wearing panniers carrying huge bottles of wine (as in the originals) but I gradually painted out all human influence.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Tales and Legends"

Mike writes:

two monkeys rode two horses
past two yellow dogs
on the way to see the Queen...

This is a revised version of last week's "Illustration Friday" post.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winner announced! The actual number of Maximilian Sunflower seeds...

Last Saturday I asked: how many sunflower seeds did I get from

I also posted this rear view of the packet.

Then I went to a farm auction. It was a cold, sleeting morning and when I got home I was too cold to do anything more ambitious than count those seeds.

Here I am, caught by Zed in the process of counting.

Here are the counted seeds, in piles of 10. (Lower right is a pile of chaff.)

Those are awfully small piles. Deceptively small...

... and therefore the actual number of seeds, I was amazed to discover, was: 293. MORE than advertised!

How could I have been so wrong? I certainly would never win a jellybean counting contest.

Speaking of which, if you think you're good at this kind of thing, you can Monday-morning quarterback at the 10 cent designer flicker page where this picture appeared. The contest is long over, but all the guesses (many) are still posted, along with the answer.

James Surowiecki posits, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, that "under the right circumstances, collective intelligence (The Wisdom of Crowds) is greater than the individual intelligence, no matter how brilliant or informed the individual is."

There was a Jellybean Challenge on his website but the answer is not posted.

So now, if you have a lot of time on your hands or are procrastinating at a very high level, you can go back and average all the answers given in the previous contest and see if Surowiecki's hypothesis is worth beans (bupkis, which I always thought meant beans but actually - according to Wikipedia - is a Yiddish word from Slavic roots, kozebupkes, meaning 'goat droppings').

Winner: please email me your snail-mail address to receive your free cd!! Thanks, all!

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Friday, January 25, 2008

When your donkey will not walk with you...

This isn't a problem I have - Jethro loves his walks and often stands next to the grooming post looking expectantly toward the house when he thinks it's time - but I thought Vicki Abbott's advice was cute:
Can you imagine how disgusted he is after the first time when he realizes you walk down the road going nowhere, turn around and come back? Geez, that’s just a waste of energy.

When you take off down the road for a walk take along an empty bucket and when you go as far as you are going to go, spend a few minutes searching for just the right rocks, put them in the bucket and carry them back home and have him stand there while you take each rock out of the bucket and neatly stack it in a pile.

Work is something an ass understands. The journey down the road is for a purpose. You are collecting rocks and he is helping by keeping you company. The trek down the road might be fraught with danger, but you need those rocks and it is his job to go with you.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reminder: Maximilian Sunflower Seed Contest closes Saturday noon.

I posted pictures of a container of seeds last weekend and asked: "How many seeds do you think I really got?"

I've counted the seeds and will REVEAL the ANSWER on Saturday, so you still have 2.5 days to get your guess in! Best guess gets a free cd!


A stylish Bulgarian bride...

The caption read:


All the bride's artistic taste is centered in her headdress; be she poor or rich, she endeavours to make it as gorgeously ponderous as the strength of her head will allow.

Fortunately, this gigantic floral burden and cap of coins are not worn for long but are soon replaced by the popular, and certainly more effective headdress — the simple wreath of flowers and leaves

I found this at the best time-wasting site of the era, "The Secret Museum of Mankind." 564 pages of photographs from around the world, scanned and cleaned up by Ian Macky, who writes:
Published in 1935, the Secret Museum is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index... Advertised as "World's Greatest Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs" and marketed mainly to overheated adolescents ... emphasis was on the female form ... This was a book to gawk at by flashlight under the bedcovers.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Be a mentor!

My relationship with "Menticia" has been a joy and a pleasure for more than three years now. Graig Mayer (see below) is really a genius and the program is run very well. If you live around here and think you could enjoy young energy in your life, if you have two hours a week to spare for a kid, call/email Graig.

Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate is a nationally recognized, award-winning program. Our mission is to help African-American and Latino students reach their full academic, physical, social and emotional potential.

Our groundbreaking model supports students from their 4th grade year all the way through college. 95% of our students have graduated from high school, and 100% of our graduates have gone on to post-secondary education.

We are currently seeking 20-25 volunteers to begin mentoring students in March.
Please consider becoming a mentor and sharing this invitation with others.
Click here to learn more about volunteering.

For more information, contact:
Graig Meyer
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
750 S. Merritt Mill Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27516


Monday, January 21, 2008

[New York]: New York Bakes Baguettes for Company

So I tried the baguette thing again, using Rose Levy Beranbaum's fantastically complicated recipe. And the baguettes turned out really great, though I don't see how i can give much of the credit to Rose's recipe. Here's why: I screwed up this recipe a lot.

1.) I did not ferment one of the two starters for three hours before putting it in the fridge. It was 11:00 PM. I was sleepy. I just put it in the fridge.

2.) I realized I needed to double the recipe after I had already made both the starters. So I just doubled the rest of the ingredients plus flour and water as if I had made twice the amount of the starters. So it really only got half as much fermented flavor as it was supposed to.

3.) I did not "gently stretch" the baguettes 30 minutes into their proofing phase to increase the number of bubbles. I had other things to do.

4.) I did not try to "gently roll" the baguettes onto the baking stone because last time they got totally deflated when I did that. Instead, I proofed them for hours in a nonstick pan and put the pan right on the baking stone to cook.

5.) I cooked them even hotter than she said (475 degrees) and for a shorter period of time (20-25 minutes). I did not rotate them half way through the baking "for more even baking", because the Urban Caballero was using the stove top and I did not need to get in his way.

Results: Really excellent, fluffy, browned baguettes - misshapen from being on the loaf pan, but moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside - that were immediately snarfed up by our dinner guests and we're polishing off the leftovers for lunch today with artichoke tapenade and brie.

Theory: The trick to good texture is putting the baguettes in the oven when they are fluffy and baking them at a very high temperature. (I also steamed them by throwing ice cubes in a preheated cast iron pan sitting on the floor of the oven - this was super fun and probably helped make a brown crust). Though when I look at pictures in the book, her baguettes are not super fluffy when she puts them in. Oh well, works for me. Next time I'll try proofing them a little bit less, then taking them out of the oven when they're half-baked and putting them right on the baking stone to see if I can get a good bottom crust.

Next up: Pumpernickel!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Farm auction

Blacksmith/metal artist John Amero invited me to join him at a Jerry Harris farm auction on Lewter Shop Road in Apex this past Saturday morning (stuff from the estate of a recently deceased farmer and also his brother who's in assisted living.) We thought there might be some bits and pieces (ie rusty metal junk) that could be melted together and incorporated into the melange that's eventually supposed to become a fine plough for Jethro.

I love auctioneers, outgoing flexible-tongued Type A types who can rattle away for hours in that special patter drone. This guy was really in a good humor despite the sleet and rain and he put on a wonderful show.

Despite the freezing awful weather there were tons of pickup trucks assembled already at 9 am on Lewter Shop Road when I arrived.

I bought a miscellaneous assortment of items none of which have given me buyers' remorse. Who can feel bad about giving shekels to an old farmer in his waning years in an assisted living center?

I couldn't stay till they sold the tools (I longed for a brace and auger just like the one my dad had) but my prizes included:
  • Two tiny stools for all the times I feel too short (unfortunately my $2.50 bid also got me five broken down lawn chairs which I had to sneakily leave behind);

  • Two bakelite bowls in those funny mixed colors like the ones my mother and I cooked with in the 60s and 70s;

  • About a mile of rough nylon twine, I'll be able to use it to repair my deerfence for decades to come;

  • A set of six Coca-Cola glasses for Hannah (and one for me). When she was little our one Coca-Cola glass was her absolute favorite, she always asked for it and we used it till the lettering rubbed off;

  • Eight miscellaneous suitcases, garment bags, and backpacks ($2.50, "one money," bought them all). I needed just two of them to store the inordinate number of cables and converters I've accumulated after years of jerry-rigging recording systems;

  • A lovely nesting set of about 15 metal mixing bowls from the big daddy bowl to the little bitty baby bowl, $12.00 for the lot. I can't defend this purchase. I'm just a sucker for bowls.

  • A hideously ugly and beat-up but sturdy and light shop stool, also $2.50.
I couldn't find pictures of the actual stuff I scored, but not to be outdone by Hannah's trip to Sotheby's, here are a few of the items other lucky people got. For instance, this decorative spark plug, which was about 30 inches high and went for almost $40.00 I think.

The auctioneer had box after box of miscellaneous stuff. If he couldn't sell a box for $2.50, he would add the next box. Thus, many of us ended up with way too many boxes of stuff, most of which we didn't want, because there was at least one thing worth the $2.50.

Jerry Harris is helping the world re-distribute undesirable objects.

I tried to get Amero to buy a splendid set of matching ceramic canisters decorated with poisonous-looking toadstools. There was even a matching salt-shaker! but the pepper shaker was missing. He could have had the lot for "one money," it went for $2.50.

Many fat men in camouflage outfits and women in padded coveralls were in attendance. There was a lot of smoking going on. Sausage biscuits were being sold by the gross.

An auction is fine entertainment if you can remember you'd be better off without any of this stuff at all, and in fact if it were yours you'd be trying to get rid of it.

When I came home it was still sleeting and I was freezing. Jethro was sulking in the snow. I led him into his shed with an apple and he stayed for about five minutes and then went back to stand under his favorite sulking tree with his ears back so they wouldn't get snow in them. I was so aggravated. He and I need family therapy.

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Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Plain"

After getting Zed on the plane this morning (we were up till 2 am and he set his alarm for 4 am so he could pack and we could leave at 6) and then cutting a window into Jethro's shed in the very cold weather, I was calmed by painting with glazes on bristol board. Call this a storm over a plain.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Plain"

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Coconut bars with raspberry jam

I made these for Mike today, they were (are) great.

Coconut bars with raspberry jam

1-3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1-1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar (might be a bit too much)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter cut in pieces
1-1/2 cups oatmeal (traditional or quick or a mixture)
3/4 cup raspberry jam

Put aside 3/4 cup of coconut "as is" and toast the rest of it. I use a dry cast iron frying pan on low heat. Take it off before you think it's done, the coconut will continue to brown a bit. Let cool at least a little.

Dump the toasted coconut and all dry ingredients in a bowl. Grate the butter into the bowl and work it into the flour/oatmeal mixture with your hands. (Or if you're lazy melt the butter and stir it in, either way is fine.)

Saving out about a cup of this crumbly mixture, press the rest into a 9x13 pan. Heat the raspberry jam gently in the microwave so you can pour/spread it on the base. Mix the rest of the crumble with the 3/4 cup of coconut you reserved at the start and sprinkle it evenly on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, till it appears nicely browned. Let it cool a while or you'll burn your mouth.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

[New York]: Seen today at Sotheby's

While Ma went to a farm auction today, the Urban Caballero and I went to sight-see at Sotheby's. We saw an auction of early Americana. This was my favorite item - a linen bed cover from the 1830s. It sold for $37,000. Our cat would love to chew it up.

I also liked this quilt with an eagle ($37,000).

The Urban Caballero liked this quilt with Masonic symbols on it ($20,000).

He also liked this adorable Cobalt Blue Decorated Salt-Glazed Stoneware Crock, which could have been ours for a mere $3,438 plus 25% auction fee plus tax.

See, we're just simple folk.


[New York]: Bulgarian Icon

During our trip to Bulgaria last summer, Ma and I were both enchanted by a mysterious Bulgarian icon painting that focused on some kind of wheel of fortune. We agreed to each paint our own version of the icon. Ma ended up very disturbed by hers, and it took me six months to finish mine. But I did.

Here's the original:

And here's my version:


Truth in advertising? Place your bets.

I ordered these Maximilian sunflower seeds from ebay ( and they arrived yesterday. I had been intrigued by the description: 235 seeds. How did they know, did somebody count them?

They arrived yesterday. Here are some nice closeups of the bag (as always, click on image for a larger view). I do not, myself, believe this can actually be 235 seeds.

I had a dinner guest over last night and I almost suggested that, as a sort of parlor game, we count them, but I thought it might be a bit too eccentric.

However, I fully intend to count them myself.

Which means YOU can guess how many there are. How many Maximilian sunflower seeds do you think I actually got?

Leave your answer in the comments. Winner (if anybody bothers to guess) will receive a free Pratie Heads cd.

Friday, January 18, 2008

[New York]: The Baking Project Continues

Inspired by my success baking a Classic Country-Style Hearth Loaf last weekend, I decided this week to try Daniel Leader's baguette recipe (recipe available on request).

The first advanced-technique type thing about this recipe is that it tells you to let a gloppy yeast/flour/water mixture (called a "poolish," possibly named after the technique of Polish bakers who went to France) sit in your pantry for a full 24 hours. I had never let anything sit that long before, and I was very impressed by the way it was bubbling by the end and the faint alcoholic odor it gave off.

If most food does that kind of bubbling, you throw it out as fast as you can manage. But I forged ahead and put the starter in my bread dough, which at the end of the day looked perfectly fine.

So everything went great until I had to get the darned thing into the oven. I had four puffy, gooey baguette-shaped dough sticks, fully risen, ready to go into the 450 degree oven on the bread stone.

Aaand.... determined to have the dough be less floury so it would develop a better crust, I had apparently created a very *sticky* dough. And the dough stuck to the plate. And I couldn't get it off. And so eventually, in a total panic, I peeled it off with my fingers and - with the oven wide open losing heat all this time - I managed to get the now totally deflated loaves onto the baking stone.

They turned out delicious the first hour after they were baked, but after that they were break-your-tooth chewy (I guess all their moisture got sucked out of them by being baked at too low a temperature?). And I'm starting to think it's impossible to get a professionally browned crust in a home oven.

Luckily this is a cheap hobby. To be continued!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

In which I am unwillingly held responsible for precipitation.

It was cold and rainy all day. Spurning his perfectly nice dry house, my donkey Jethro stood outside, motionless, hour after hour, radiating reproach. He would frequently twist his head around and look up toward the Big House to see if I was noticing his grumpy vigil. I'm sure he blames me for the weather.

I drove Zed downtown and when I got back, Jethro was in his shack. But when he saw the car pull up, he left his shack and reassumed his dripping protest. Busted!

I went out a few times in the rain even though I'm sick. I took him orange peels and carrot greens and celery stalks and oats. Not a word of thanks.

The hens and their rooster were drenched also. They trudged through the mud endlessly. They, too, have a nice dry house. What is with these animals?

My kids remind me I can't micromanage domestic livestock. If they want to sulk in the rain, it's their prerogative.


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Applesauce raisin nut coffee cake for truly desperate times

Between Zed's hair-raising end-of-the-semester disasters (not yet over despite the semester ending almost a month ago) and cold icy rain and an incredibly nasty phone call from my neighbor telling me I am "the most inconsiderate person in the neighborhood" because I have a donkey (oops), things were bad enough.

Then, to make matters worse, in the car yesterday I looked casually towards the water bottle in the cup holder. Not really a water bottle, actually a many-times-recycled diet coke bottle, you know how narrow those necks are? Since it's been so cold, the water was frozen...

... and frozen in the ice was a drowned mouse, frozen in the act of treading water, its nose raised desperately, its tail below, its legs in paddling position. How did a mouse get in my car? How did it squeeze itself into the water bottle? It reminded me of those corpses in Pompei.

After not sleeping all night because Zed had dropped his flash drive (with the ONLY copy of the paper he's writing) in the woods last night, to soothe my shattered nerves, I had to bake this morning. I reached back through time for something I used to cook for my brothers when things were bad. Enjoy.

Applesauce raisin nut coffeecake

1 cup flour
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup broken nut meats
1/4 ts salt
1/2 ts baking soda
1/2 ts cinnamon
1/2 ts cloves
1/4 cup soft butter
3/8 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup applesauce

Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg, spices, and soda. Stir in the applesauce and 1/2 cup of flour. Dump in the raisins and nuts on top of the wet stuff, dump the remaining 1/2 cup of flour on top of the raisins and nuts so some of the flour dusts through and then stir it up.

Put it in a buttered 9x9 pan and cook at 350 for somewhat less than half an hour. Yum.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

[New York]: New York Bakes Bread

As long as I can remember - thanks to Ma - I've known basically how to make one good kind of bread.


Mix well:
1 packet quick yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 cup warm water
1.5 cup bread flour

Let sit for 15 minutes.

Add 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons oil and stir well. Then add flour gradually until the dough is thick enough to knead by hand. Knead until the dough is a smooth ball. Cover the dough with oil and let it sit in a warm dark place for 2 hours, then punch down and let it rise again for another 45 minutes.

Separate the dough into braidable strands, braid, let rise for 30 minutes. Brush with egg white and bake at 350 until brown on top.

When I started living in an apartment big enough to bake in, I got interested in learning how to bake other kinds of bread. So I bought a couple of books about bread baking. To my disappointment, these books all had things in them like "exact temperatures", "precise weight measurements" and "careful timing." I'm not really that kind of a cook. I'm more a "let's see if this tastes good and then add some other stuff if it doesn't" kind of a cook.

However, I realized that it's hard to branch out using my normal strategy, because I don't have any way of knowing if something that looks different than what I like is actually bad or just different. If I followed a new recipe even just once, and found a new kind of bread that I liked, I would then be able to bake more kinds of bread that I liked and would be able to go back to baking by instinct, or as my mother and I call it, the "Measure Carefully" technique. ("Measure carefully!" being the words we used to admonish each other cheerfully while dumping random amounts of ingredients into our mixing bowls).

So my first attempt to follow a baking recipe exactly went like this. I bought this book called Bread Alone, by Daniel Leader. The first recipe in this book (after the stories about his travels in France and color pictorials of all the equipment you're supposed to own such as scales and peels) was a recipe called:

A Learning Recipe: Classic Country Style Hearth Loaf

Okay, I thought. I can do this. I will follow this recipe exactly. (Italics, below, are paraphrases of what Dan Leader told me to do. They're not exact transcriptions because the recipe is 10 pages long and this post would be even longer).

A Learning Recipe: Classic Country Style Hearth Loaf

Step 1: Combine 1/2 cup spring water, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 3/4 cup 20% bran wheat flour.

Damn! Things are getting difficult already. I disobey the recipe immediately by using tap water instead of spring water. But I do go out and buy special normal yeast instead of "quick rise" yeast so I can do this right. And what is 20% bran wheat flour? It turns out you can fake this by combining wheat and white flour in a 1:3 ratio. I have every intention of doing this precisely, but I can't find the right measuring cup so the ratio ends up something more like 1:4 probably. To make amends to Dan Leader, I follow his advice to "sweep the excess off the top so the flour is level with the rim of the cup or spoon."

I actually like this cookbook, I am just demonstrating why it is actually really hard to follow directions when you are cooking.

Stir for about 100 strokes or until the strands of gluten come off the spoon when you press the back of the spoon against the bowl.... Cover with plastic wrap and place in a moderately warm place until mixture is bubbly and has increased in volume.

I do this, although i don't put the mixture in a measuring thingy so I don't know exactly when it has doubled.

Add 2.5 cups spring water, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 cup flour, and stir. Then knead, keeping the dough as sticky as you can handle, for 15 to 17 minutes.

I even have sea salt. I am so on top of this.

Shape the dough into a ball, coat with butter, and let it rise until doubled in volume in a warm place. Take the dough's temperature: the ideal is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Note: If the dough temperature is higher than 78 place it in a cooler place like the refrigerator. If it is lower than 78 put it in a warmer than 78 place until the dough warms up.

I actually have a thermometer I could stick in the dough, but I just can't be bothered. How warm is it in my room? Warm. Probably about 78 degrees.

Deflate the dough by pushing down in the center and pulling up on a sides. Form gain into a ball... let rest 30 minutes.

Sometimes I skip this step but out of respect to Baker Dan i even deflate the dough in the way he recommends.

Deflate the dough, knead briefly, cut into 2 equal pieces, flatten each with the heel of your hand using firm direct strokes... shape each piece into a tight ball for round loaves.


Line two bowls or baskets about 8 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep with well floured lint-free towels and place the loaves smooth side down in each bowl. Dust top side with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a moderately warm draft free place until increased in volume about 1.5 times.

I don't have the German wicker baskets Baker Dan so lovingly recommends, but Baker Dan is firm that the dough needs to "breathe," so I flour up a clean dish towel, hoping it's lint free, and drape it over 2 colanders, and put the dough balls inside the colanders. Major points to anyone who can see the problems this improvised solution will eventually cause me. Here's where I think I blow it - I actually have to leave the house at this point and the dough sits for about 2.5-3 hours (instead of 1.5-2 as the book estimates). So it's super poofy.

Preheat oven and baking stone. Gently invert the loaves from the baskets onto a floured board so they are right side up. Score the loaves by making quick shallow cuts with a knife or razor blade 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep along the surface.

Aha. Now you see my problem. I cannot figure out how to get these lovely fluffy dough balls out of the colanders since they are each stuck to one half of the dish towel. Flip one and the other one lands on the counter or the floor. I eventually use my excellent spacial skills to flip them out, but in the process, they deflate. I am bummed. The scoring is fun, though, makes me feel like a real baker.

Using a well floured peel, slide the loaves into the hearth and quickly spray the inner walls and floor of the oven with cold water from a spritzer bottle. If there's a light in the oven, avoid spraying it directly, it may burst. Bake 20 minutes at 450 degrees and another 15-20 minutes at

I don't have a peel, and my loaves are already deflated. I slide the now bialy-shaped loaves into the oven and forget to check whether the temperature is exactly 450 degrees. I spritz the oven with the spritzer we got for disciplining the cat (it doesn't work, the water just excites her) but not very vigorously because Dan has made me afraid of bursting the light and getting glass shards all over my dough and my face.

It is important to allow large loaves to cool at least 20 minutes because they actually finish baking as they cool.

Now get this - I don't even cut the loaves until they are cooled! (Dan says this will conserve their moisture). I'm so proud of myself. This was the hardest part of the recipe to follow.

Actually, the loaves look great, although they never get really round again and the crust is sort of floury and soft instead of hard. They're a bit dense (probably because they collapsed when I put them in the oven) but they are rich and wheaty-tasting and pretty moist, which is actually great because it's been more than two days and they don't seem stale yet at all!

So far this was a great success. Tomorrow someone with more self control would make the same recipe again, but I'm going to go ahead and bake some baguettes and see how they turn out. The baguette recipe has me keeping a yeast starter for 24 hours on a shelf, and I've had one there for about 12 hours now. It's already starting to scare me - it's sort of seething and bubbling and giving off a smell stronger than what I'm used to smelling in bread dough - but for the cause of science, I must continue. I'll keep you posted.

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Vicki (Ladywife) explains the terrors of a baby carriage

On the Yahoo donkey list I mused about Jethro being ok with big noisy garbage trucks but bolting at the site of an itty bitty kid in a stroller (pram).

This was the response from Vicki Abbott, who is someday going to put her donkey wisdom into a book, so let's assume this is copyrighted:
Ah yes, the infamous ferocious ass-eating pram. Okay, why does he freak at the pram? Think about it.

The garbage truck is huge. It is loud and smelly but he can identify some of the smells.

The pram is...hmm, about 3 feet high ... It is about the same shape and size as a large predator, plus it has a funky smell he can’t identify.

The garbage truck is big enough there is no way it can sneak up on him, but the pram, well that puppy is just the right size to hide behind a tree and jump out and grab him. Keep in mind donkeys' visual acuity is for identifying threats by size, shape, and movement.

If you watch a nature show of the predator-prey dance with a lion stalking a wildebeest, you see the lion inching forward crouched low to the ground; it freezes if its prey looks in its direction. That is exactly what a ferocious pram does.

When he stares at it, it freezes, and when you distract him trying to get him to move forward, that pram sneaks a little closer and closer.

His anxiety level skyrockets and his body language is screaming for you to listen to him, he knows that pram will have him for lunch but you are ignoring his shouts of alarm.

He cranks it up another notch trying to make you hear he is warning you of DANGER. ... if you turn your back toward the pram and face him thinking you are trying to calm him he becomes even more agitated. Why? Because your body is blocking his view of the pram, now he has to try to pull away from you so when the pram leaps, he can run away while it's eating you.


Cute picture for the day

From Hannah's other blog, "... enjoy this adorable photo of my baby brother serving biscotti at a Jewish Family Services luncheon to a woman who had just celebrated her 100th birthday..."

David and his brother Ari are my - well, there is no exact word for the relationship between my kids' half-sibs and me. But they, and their mom, were the first trio to ride in Jethro's cart. I really enjoy them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mike does Illustration Friday: "Stitch"

"A Stitch in Time."



Friday, January 11, 2008

Where did rooster #2 go? Don't ask, don't tell.

It's been quite a while since those three cute little fluffy puffball chicks that hatched out of the eggs I got at turned into big irridescent black-blue-and-green feathered Javas.

My three round brown Buckeye hens, meanwhile, became industrious foragers and egg-layers. I get an egg a day from each of them, and they lay them right in the correct part of their henhouse like good hens.

The black-blue-and-green Band of Three, though, not laying and hence not needing to work as hard to find food (it must take a lot of nematodes and grubs to make an egg), spend their days lounging under the trees and running after the hens, who squawk with displeasure at this harrassment.

Java #1 became rooster-like very early (Hannah called it from one of my pictures). His tail feathers are getting magnificent. He has floppy, fleshy red protuberances sprouting from all parts of his head.

For a while I thought the other two Javas were hens. Ideal!

Then Java #2 started crowing - and his tail turned upward - and his red head-ornaments started to jiggle - and he started jumping the Buckeyes. Denial failed; I had to admit he was a rooster.

#1 and #2, randily flapping their obscenely red combs and wattles, routinely jumped the hens in tandem. They chased each other and pulled on each others' feathers and staged long, loud, boring crowing contests. This had to stop.

I tried to find a good home for #2. I contacted all my friends in the country, but nobody wanted him. I asked Bob if he'd dispatch him, but Bob played with #2 during the little fluffball stage so the Bambi syndrome has kicked in. No go.

Well, #2 went for a ride yesterday afternoon. The band of hooligans lost a member. This caused #1 to go completely crazy for a while. He kept counting and counting his team and coming up short. He shouted and cock-a-doodle-dooed for hours it seemed.

But what can you do? Night fell and the survivors went into the coop. By this morning #2 was forgotten.

Zed used to have a kids' book in which the narrator informed us it's ill manners in the animal kingdom to ask, "Hey, whatever happened to Joe?" The answer is usually not something one wants to hear. "Where is #2?" Don't ask, don't tell.

As a baby, Java #3 was a "special" chick, very late in hatching, in fact I had thrown his/her egg into the outdoor compost thinking it was dead. It had been days since #1 and #2 hatched. But as I turned to go back to the house I heard a weak "peep peep" from the compost bin.

Horrors! Cask of Amontillado! I listened to all the eggs and found the peeping one and rescued it. #3 survived, just barely. He/she was always falling on his/her butt and couldn't walk far without stumbling.

Now, however, he/she has grown out of this awkward balance problem. Oddly, though, he/she has seemed androgynous - he/she runs after brown chickens, but does not crow and does not have a tall tail. So, as of yesterday when #2 went away, these were the three most popular hypotheses:
  • #3 is male, but has been discouraged - by being developmentally delayed and also by the presence of two more dominant males - from developing rooster-like characteristics.

  • #3 is female, but due to months of hanging with her homies, she is quite a tomboy, thinking that jumping on brown chickens is just something black chickens do.

  • Hannah's rather psychoanalytic theory was that #3 is still special - his/her trauma in the compost heap supressed or eliminated sexual leanings.

I spent all day today digging dirt and watching the chickens and the first hypothesis has pulled ahead: all day long, #3 was jumping hens and making awful squawking noises, not "cock-a-doodle-doo" but also not something any hen would utter.

It may be time for him to take a ride.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

[New York]: In the Kitchen with Gila

I volunteer once a week as an English conversation partner at New York's International Center. The job just involves chit-chatting with relatively advanced English speakers, who mostly need help with American slang and pronunciation.

My current conversation partner is an Israeli-born Turkish woman, who moved to New York with her husband a few months ago and who is in serious need of both help with her pronunciation and and a decent job. I'm helping with the pronunciation part.

This evening Gila and I went to the grocery store, where we talked a lot about spices, cuts of meat, and the difference between parsley and celery. Then we went back to my house and she taught me how to cook a very tasty kind of meatball called edjeh (I have no idea how to spell this). She said it was a Syrian Jewish recipe:

1 baking potato, grated, with liquid squeezed out.
1 small pack (1/2 lb) ground beef
2 eggs
salt, black and chili pepper
cooking oil
2-3 tablespoons flour
minced parsley to taste (Gila likes the flat leaf kind)

Mix all ingredients. Form into small, messy meatballs with a spoon. Fill a pan with cooking oil to a depth of about 1/2 inch and raise to medium heat. Put meatballs in pan and cook until browned. If you want to be very indulgent, squish one meatball into a small piece of bread, and cook in pan meatball side down. The bread will get toasty and greasy and meld to the meatball as it cooks. Gila says this is not a diet food.

[New York]: On Tiny Underwears

A hilarious manifesto in the Times of London today about the 1990s and 2000s trend of ever-tinier underpants for women, a topic about which I have (cough) absolutely no prior knowledge or opinion.

These tight, elasticated, supposedly saucy partitions across the mid-derriere are, in terms of both comfort and aesthetics, as cruel as the partition between India and Pakistan. There is catastrophic physical displacement. Entire body parts are split asunder, and undertake vast migrations. With my own eyes, I have seen women walking around out there with anything between two and eight buttocks – and placed anywhere between the hip and the mid-thigh. This enforced deformity is not the fault of the pants. They are little guys, simply overwhelmed by the task that faces them. They are outnumbered. They are the Alamo. They are, indeed, often in terrible danger – many look like they’re on the verge of being absorbed by their owners.

The columnist announces she is sick of these tiny underpants:
Women, this manner of underwear cannot be an act of sanity. Why are we starving our bottoms of the resources – like an extra metre of material – to stay comfortable? Why have we succumbed to pantorexia? It is, of course, all a symptom of women’s continuing, demented belief that, at any moment, they might face some snap inspection of their “total hotness,” and have to reveal their underwear to a baying crowd, possibly featuring George Clooney. In this respect, women have communally lost all reason. Ladies! On how many occasions in the past year have you needed to wear sexy pants? In other words, to break this right down, how many times this year have you suddenly, unexpectedly, had sex in a brightly lit room, with a hard-to-please erotic connoisseur? Exactly. On those kind of odds, you might just as well be keeping a backgammon board down there, to entertain a group of elderly ladies in the event of emergencies. It’s more likely to happen.

Of course, while ostensibly both a literally and figuratively small problem, in actuality, women’s tiny pants have massive ramifications for us as a nation. It cannot have gone unnoticed that our global power has waned in tandem with the waning of our pants. When women wore undergarments that extended from chin to toe, the sun never set on the British Empire. Now the average British woman could pack a week’s worth of pants into a matchbox, however, we have little more than dominion over the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the option to buy-to-let the Isle of Man.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mike does Illustration Friday: 100%


Saturday, January 05, 2008

[New York]: The Amazing Ginsu Knife

An idle Saturday morning conversation led us somehow to this outstanding article on Ron Popeil, the late night knife salesman and scion of a whole nutty Jewish clan of boardwalk and department store salesmen.

This led us in turn to find these amazing YouTube videos of Ron Popeil (along with various colleagues) doing his thing, which led not only to an astonishingly powerful desire to buy a 13 piece Ron Popeil knife set, but to childhood reminiscences of Melinama and her Amazing Ginsu Knife, which no longer cuts so amazingly but which continues to provide her joy.

This led us to this New York Times article on the Amazing Ginsu knife.

This led us to the official Ginsu website,
where you can still buy Ginsu knives --

And this led us back to YouTube, where, I'll be damned, you can still watch the original 1978 Amazing Ginsu commercial -- and there's Melinama's own knife getting hit by a hammer, chopping firewood, and slicing tomatoes!

Ma, I note that the Ginsu ad offers a 50 year guarantee. Since your knife is no longer sharp, I bet you could call up these guys and ask for a new knife free...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

[New York:] Ulysses Grant on Longears, Continued

Grant, attempting to move his troops through Mexico in 1848, is describing how the United States army first 'tamed' wild Mexican mules to pull carts.

The soldiers:
"... were principally foreigners who had enlisted in large cities, and, with the exception of a chance drayman among them, it is not probable that any of the men who reported themselves as competent teamsters had ever driven a mule-team in their lives, or indeed that many had had any previous experience in driving any animal whatever to harness."

The mules:
"It is a well known fact that where domestic animals are used for specific purposes from generation to generation, the descendants are easily, as a rule, subdued to the same uses. At that time in Northern Mexico the mule, or his ancestors, the horse and the ass, were seldom used except for the saddle or pack. At all events the Corpus Christi mule resisted the new use to which he was being put."

How events played out, once a bunch of these new soldiers finally managed to hook a full set of five mules to a wagon:
"All being ready, the hold would be slackened and the team started. The first motion was generally five mules in the air at one time, backs bowed, hind feet extended to the rear. After repeating this movement a few times the leaders would start to run. This would bring the breeching tight against the mules at the wheels, which these last seemed to regard as a most unwarrantable attempt at coercion and would resist by taking a seat, sometimes going so far as to lie down. In time all were broken in to do their duty submissively if not cheerfully, but there never was a time during the war when it was safe to let a Mexican mule get entirely loose."

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Chickens: the opposite of elusive

The field where Jethro and his six chickens roam has a very strange drainage pattern. I never noticed it before, because before they lived there, I didn't care how the rain ran off the field, and since they've lived there, it's barely rained.

But it rained for a couple days last week and there it was: a big, shallow, wide, unwelcome lake in the mini-valley between two gentle inclines. Where the water would prefer to run off into the woods, there is a hillock which stops it from leaving. This makes for a big mud flat.

Since a shovel goes easily into the dirt after a good soaking, I decided to attack the hillock and take it down, using the dirt to fill in numerous other dips and holes around the field. It's a big job, a lot of digging, hours and hours so far. Yesterday I was digging in the snow. It's hard for me to stop a project like this once I've started.

My Buckeye hens figured out a shovel is even better than a rake for uncovering their favorite nematodes, worms, etc, - over the past few days they have become more and more fearless and greedy, aggressively feasting while I dig.

It's gotten so every shovelful of dirt commences with the shooing away of two or three birds, and then the lifted shovel is weighed down by those same fluttering, teetering chickens trying to hold tight to the shovel's edge. They flap to stay upright as I lift the dirt towards the bucket, they're scanning for the last few morsels. It's utterly ridiculous.

Their attachment to the pickaxe is just as annoying and even more frightening. I look at the locations of all three plump brown scavengers and try to pick a place to strike where there is no chicken-body. However, they're watching me closely and, as each wants to be first to examine the dirt opened up by the pick, they crowd in quickly and their little bitty heads are sometimes just a feather's width away from being cleft. So it's like this: push chickens, pick, push chickens, pick, push chickens, pick.

Sometimes I catch a break when one of the chickens discovers something really good - yesterday, for instance, a tiny snake. The successful chicken needs to put her treasure down in order to smite it apart with her beak, she can't eat it whole; however, if she puts it down for even a nano-second one of the others will snatch it from her.

Soon all six are involved in the skirmish. The one with the snake dangling from her mouth runs like crazy, all the others run behind, try to intercept her. She tries to put it down, they try to snatch it. Round and round they go. I never see the outcome of this game but it ends suddenly - with ingestion, I suppose.

(Since, as it turns out, two of my three black Javas are roosters, this game becomes even more ludicrous, with the roosters - who never stoop to shovel-worship - trying not only to steal the Buckeye's worm but hump her in the process, sometimes both on her back at once. So far they are easily shaken off, being young and incompetent.)

When my bucket of dirt is full - I estimate chicken-pushing adds 50% to the time this takes - I drop the shovel and haul the dirt up the hill. When the sun is behind me, I see my weary shadow and, perky and alert, several chicken shadows flanking me on each side. I dump the dirt, they dive on it, making happy chirping noises. You'd think that would keep them for a while, but no - as soon as I head down the hill with the empty bucket, they're running right behind me.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

[New York]: the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant - Rumnations on Mexican Pack Mules

On trying to load army gear onto pack mules:
"It took several hours to get ready to start each morning, and by the time we were ready some of the mules first loaded would be tired of standing so long with their loads on their backs. Sometimes one would start to run, bowing his back and kicking up until he scattered his load; others would lie down and try to disarrange their loads by attempting to get on top of them by rolling on them; others with tent poles for part of their loads would manage to run a tent pole on one side of a sapling while they would take the other. I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life; but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so, if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack mules at the time."

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Advice from a telenovela on picking the right man.

On Caray, Caray! Maricruz, one of our recappers, translated the recommendation one character gave to another's suitor:
She says he has the 3 Fs: Feo, Fuerte, y Formal. (He is ugly, strong and reliable.)

Editor's note: I had to laugh at this. I don’t know if mothers still tell this to their daughters, but when I was growing up I remember being told that when I married I had to pick a man with these characteristics. This is the definition of a real man.

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A "Rocking New Year's Eve Donkey Party" in Texas

From the donkey list:
Savannah and I danced around the corral, slowly, with me saying "over, over over," her shiny black hooves stepping over the other.

I tell you, they were all pretty excited about New Year’s eve as I had built it up to them for several days.

Smokey the horse who had had a nasty knot in his tail yesterday that required several hours of non stop attention, nervously kept checking by nosing under his blanket, just in case another knot had formed. He loved the attention.

The festive dinner was a nice mix of, well, dinner and some torn up bread slices, garnished with dried cranberries. I was saving peppermints and fresh orange slices for the strike of midnight.

Stash had already lay down, he was beaten up several times today by Gisele who had recently realized she was a mammoth and could swing around and broadside him then kick him several times before running away.

JLo looked longingly to the house and the Styrofoam things I had put over the spigots, she was dreaming about tomorrow, the new year, the first opportunity she would have to tear into them, she could almost feel the Styrofoam in her teeth.

It was hard to tell what Vienna was thinking, she chewed thoughtfully on her hay, looking like she was in the donkey whorl, thinking donkey thoughts, one can only imagine what those thoughts are.

As for me, I was grateful for a year of donkeys, hoping I had been a good steward and there is no question of my loyalty to them. And the new year ahead of me, perhaps JLo had a foal for me, perhaps I would discover some new donkey things, I began to sing in the crisp cold air, “the stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas,” and so it goes here at the Double Dot, all my donks and Smokey the horse, Dot dog the dog and Deucie the resident cat and Cotton the disturbed, weird cat and little Squeaky cat, the inherited cats and I wish ya’ll a happy healthy new year!

Lee (the one partying in Texas)

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