Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gravy breakthrough

I made Thanksgiving dinner today for K since he didn't get any last week. (He stayed here while I traveled to Bismarck.) Until today, I'd never made decent gravy. For 20 years, I've been making gravy as my mom taught me, like this:

1) save the potato water;
2) pour your turkey pan drippings into a fat separator and pour off the fat and throw it away;
3) return the non-fat pan drippings to the pan and add some potato water;
4) mix flour and some water vigorously to get a paste and slowly add that to the drippings/water, with lots of stirring to try to avoid lumps;
5) simmer to desire consistency.

But that was all wrong. Pouring off the fat and throwing it away is all wrong. Instead, I should be thinking of the flour/paste as a roux. Roux, of course, if made of flour and FAT, in equal parts. So instead, today, I made gravy this way:

1) save the potato water (or heat stock);
2) pour the turkey pan dripping into a fat separator and pour the fat into a sauce pan; estimate how much fat you have and slowly add an equal amount of flour, to the fat, stirring constantly. Can continue to cook this to brown it (stirring constantly and being careful on to burn it) to deepen the flavor (as you would for a roux for, say, gumbo), but for turkey gravy it's not necessary.
3) meanwhile, deglaze the drippings pan with a splash of white wine, then add the pan drippings and some of the potato water (plus chicken bouillon cube) or stock; simmer a bit to reduce and concentrate flavors;
4) slowly add drippings/water to the roux.
5) YUM.

Good thing the gravy was fabulous, since I dropped the casserole of yams on the floor.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Harmonic Gardening

"For 60 years, the members of Austin Organic Gardeners have shared information about successfully raising vegetables and ornamentals without using harsh fertilizers that harm the soil and toxic pesticides that disturb the ecological balance."

Re: "factory" food

There was a bit of this in the news a while back.

From the Independent:

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, drew a furious response from growers last month when he suggested organic food was a "lifestyle choice" with no conclusive evidence it was nutritionally superior.

Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, also told The Independent he agreed that organic food was no safer than chemically-treated food.

The article goes on to discuss the environmental pros and cons of organic growing. While our souls may be jeopardized by "factory" food, I'm not yet sold on the nutritional or environmental benefits of organic growing.

Star Tribune series on The Hungry Planet

I guess the Strib "The Hungry Planet" series is not solely about Cargill. Here's their description of their series:
Readers first phoned in about high milk and egg prices more than a year ago. Within months, as corn and wheat prices reached new daily highs, food was on everyone's mind. Shortages led to food riots in Haiti and a run on rice from Cambodia to Costco. So what went wrong? This series, Our Hungry Planet, found powerful and conflicting forces around the world influencing the supply and price of food. Some individuals and businesses have profited handsomely, while others went hungry and grocery bills continued to rise.
Here are the articles in the series:
  • Part One: Palm oil has become the new vegetable oil. Papua New Guinea is trying to cash in on it, lured by Cargill

  • Part Two: A Minneapolis bartended turned trader made more than $1 million as prices rose. Can he hold on?

  • Part Three: Food companies quietly raise prices by reengineering products into smaller packages. (I've been noticed this.)

  • Part Four: Volatile food prices have shoved Cambodia's poorest closer to famine

  • Part Five: Cargill's ever-growing reach deep into the food chain raises questions about its secretive ways.

  • Part Six: A Minnesota soy farmer, tired of giant agriculture conglomerates, takes his crop global

  • Part Seven (to be published Sunday): Why did those egg prices jump so high so fast?

Starvation history

In my neighborhood and book club crowd, a hot topic is food production. Everyone is all for local, organic, chemical-free food production and, accordingly, is anti-Cargill, anti-factory-farms, etc. (The StarTrib has been running a series on Cargill that I haven't read yet, but will.) I've read Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma, that advances the same philosophy towards food. The arguments are that our health and environment, perhaps even our souls, are compromised by "factory" food. I accept that that's true.

Nevertheless, the thing that's missing from Pollan's book and all the discussions I run into, is a quantitative analysis of whether the world's population could get its nutritional needs met without factory food. How many people would be starving either due to the absence of food or because it would be too expensive? Is there enough arable land on the planet for us each to grow the food we need in our backyard? Can Minnesotans each nothing but local food without getting scurvy?

Does anyone have any info you could point me to about the history of starvation and malnutrition, or a quantitative look at the feasibility of more holistic food production?

Stewart on bailouts

John Stewart comments on the difference between Congress' attitude about bailouts for the auto industry as opposed to its attitude about bailouts for the financial industry: While I don't agree with his conclusion that Congress should give Detroit the money, I suspect he's right about why the financial industry was treated differently.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Secret Passions

Arianna Huffington has a new book teaching people how to blog. She encourages us to blog about our "secret passions". What secret passions do you have? I'm thinking...

I don’t really have a problem with how the BCS shook out but this is making the internet rounds and is at least mildly amusing:


After determining the Big-12 championship game participants the BCS computers were put to work on other major contests and today the BCS declared Germany to be the winner of World War II.

"Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work--including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule--our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking."

Questioned about the #4 ranking of the United States the BCS commissioner stated "The US only had two major victories--Japan and Germany. The computer models, unlike humans, aren't influenced by head-to-head contests--they consider each contest to be only a single, equally-weighted event."

German Chancellor Adolph Hitler said "Yes, we lost to the US; but we defeated #2 ranked France in only 6 weeks." Herr Hitler has been criticized for seeking dramatic victories to earn 'style points' to enhance Germany's rankings. Hitler protested "Our contest with Poland was in doubt until the final day and the conditions in Norway were incredibly challenging and demanded the application of additional forces."

The French ranking has also come under scrutiny. The BCS commented " France had a single loss against Germany and following a preseason #1 ranking they only fell to #2."

Japan was ranked #3 with victories including Manchuria, Borneo and the Philippines.

More Spam Fun in Austin

Article at Frommer's:

The Perpetual Pandemonious Party of Pork in celebration of the potted pig and its glorious incarnation, Spam.

We had a glitch this year but it looks like it's back for next April.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

For the love of Spam

Rachel Hutton writing for The City Pages, an alternative (and pretty good) paper here tells us all we'd ever want to know about Spam. Apparently, there's all kinds of fun to be had with Spam:
In recent years, people have related to Spam less as a foodstuff than as a celebrity. The meat has its own poetry (Spam-ku, none of which needs to be repeated here), merchandise (neckties, fishing bobbers, onesies), and musical group (the Spam-ettes, famous for performing such tunes as "Mr. Spam-man"). There are Spam festivals (Spam Jam in Waikiki, for example; Hawaii tops the nation in Spam consumption, followed by Alaska) and Spam-carving contests (pigs and hot dogs are popular subjects). Hell, a man once proposed to his girlfriend with a Spam-can ring. (They were artists. She said yes.)

I went looking for some Spam haiku and learned that there's a whole book of Spam haiku: Spam-ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf Example:
How many degrees
Can one tilt an ungreased pan
Before a loaf slips?
If you want more, and I'm sure you do, you can go here to read 19,000 Spam-kus. If you feel so inspired, you may add your own Spam-ku to the archive. There are also limericks and sonnets and other poetic forms directed to glorifying Spam.


Came across this blog that focuses on the Supreme Court. Will add it to the Link list.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bailout foolishness

I think this post by Kos at DKos says it all about the bailouts.
I understand the argument that had nothing been done, then things might be worse today. That's an unprovable assertion, but it's a plausible one. Yet can anyone really argue that had Congress waited a few more weeks for the smart economists and policymakers to weigh in, thus allowing for a better diagnosis and solution for the problem, that things would be that much worse?

Remember, Paulson secretly worked on his plan for months before he sprung it with full histrionics on Congress and the American people. The administration deliberatively rolled it out in a way designed to limit opposition. And yes, false hysteria was part of the plan. As a result, we have another Bush Administration mess on our hands, and like the Iraq War, Democratic fingerprints are once again all over it.

Ratings agencies

Josh and PBS's NOW look into the role of the ratings agencies in the economic collapse. One gee-what-could-go-wrong problem: the agencies are paid by the companies they rate.


Stratfor on Mumbai here:

By staging an attack the Indian government can't ignore, the Mumbai attackers have set in motion an existential crisis for Pakistan. The reality of Pakistan cannot be transformed, trapped as the country is between the United States and India. Almost every evolution from this point forward benefits Islamists. Strategically, the attack on Mumbai was a precise blow struck to achieve uncertain but favorable political outcomes for the Islamists.

I really hate to say this because I deplore the loss of life but in a really perverse sense I’m almost grateful. It is no secret that I consider the Islamo-fascist threat to be an existential (hate to echo the article but can't think of another word) one. It is my prayer that this will serve as a wake up call to a nation that has become bored/tired of the conflict

Mankiw on Obama's econ team

Mankiw looks at statements made by members of Obama's economic team and finds they're dead wringers for right wingers:
What would you call a group of economists who are skeptical of regulating mortgage markets, who think unemployment insurance and unions increase unemployment, who say that tax hikes retard economic growth, and who believe that the recovery from the Great Depression was a monetary phenomenon rather than the result of New Deal fiscal policy?

No, it is not a right-wing cabal. It's Team Obama.

Re: ruthless (or fair)

I'm pretty sure the '32-'35 tax rates were Hoover's since FDR came to office in '33 so HH started that mess; FDR just exacerbated.

15% is ruthless? Just looks like we were headed toward a flat tax (by definition "fairer") to me.
For the record, I've got no problem with reasonably progressive rates, but fairer they are not.

Great graph, btw.

High and low federal tax rates historically

Here's another graph showing the highest (blue) and the lowest (red) federal tax rates, historically. I've generated this from the same data as my previous post.

A few things strike me. 1) We really all sacrificed to pay for WWII; 2) tax policy in Reagan's second term was particularly ruthless, with the raising of the bottom-most rate and lowering of the top-most rates, the only time in tax history that that has been done; and 3) tax rates since Reagan have been closer to pre-New-Deal rates than to post New-Deal rates.

Update: I should specify that this is all about income tax rates.

Top federal tax rates

Here's a history of the tax rates. And here's a graph showing the highest federal tax rate since the inception of the federal income tax:

GDP fluctuations

I came across this graph of historical GDP. It looks like prior to 1983, the GDP could be counted on to fluctuate wildly. Does anyone have an explanation or theory as to why it hasn't fluctuated as much since 1983?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple on Britain’s Quivering Upper Lip--The British character: from self-restraint to self-indulgence

A taste from City Journal:

What, exactly, were the qualities that my mother had so admired? Above all, there was the people’s manner. The British seemed to her self-contained, self-controlled, law-abiding yet tolerant of others no matter how eccentric, and with a deeply ironic view of life that encouraged them to laugh at themselves and to appreciate their own unimportance in the scheme of things. If Horace Walpole was right—that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel—the English were the most thoughtful people in the world. They were polite and considerate, not pushy or boastful; the self-confident took care not to humiliate the shy or timid; and even the most accomplished was aware that his achievements were a drop in the ocean of possibility, and might have been much greater if he had tried harder or been more talented.


My brother-in-law helped my Mom find a $500.00 discrepancy in her personal account over the holiday weekend. I probably balance mine about once a quarter and by “balance” I mean check to be sure I’m within $10 or so of what the credit union says. I tend to do it when more than a week has passed since I’ve written a check just to make things easier. Anybody out there lazier than I am?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What the hell kind of otter

has a tail shaped like this?

A Three Dog Life

This is a memoir by Abigail Thomas describing and reflecting on the years of her life following her husband's traumatic brain injury. (He was hit by a car trying to save their dog who'd gotten loose from a new and faulty leash from being hit by a car.) They'd both been writers, living in NYC. She was not able to care for him so she put him in a live-in facility far from the city. To be close to him, she gave up her city life and moved to a house in the country near the facility. It's sparely told and not at all self pitying. Stephen King describes it as "[t]he best memoir I have ever read."