December 31, 2005


Not safe for work; also not safe for anyone who has, as I have, started celebrating the coming New Year.

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Ginger Gingerbread Bundt Cake

The wee wifey asked me if I'd come up with a recipe for this week's carnival. I told her I'd chickened out on posting a soup and calling for putting it in a round bowl in accordance with the Carnival New Year's Ball theme. She sent me one of her very best bundt cake recipes because it must be baked in one of those pans, which is round in plan view. The flavor is wondrously gingery because of the combined effects of fresh and powdered ginger.

1 1/2 sticks butter -- 12 TBSP
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar -- packed
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger -- rounded
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
6 Tablespoons corn starch -- leveled
3/4 cup whole wheat flour -- plus 2 TBSPN

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place rack in center of oven. Place a metal or glass pan filled with water on bottom of oven. This will make a moister cake.

Lightly mist a 12 cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, then set aside. I would suggest spreading the oil evenly with a paper towel, as otherwise the flour clumps in some of those fancy ridges.

Melt butter. Stir in sugars, vanilla, eggs, gingers and baking soda. Add baking soda in pinches. Break up the lumps by rubbing with your fingers. Stir in buttermilk. At this point to ensure a good mix you could beat the batter.

Stir in corn starch and flours until just well blended. Once you have added flour you do not want to "mess with" the batter. The more you stir your batter after you have added the flour, the tougher your cake will become. You are in effect then kneading the dough. Pour into cake pan, tap the pan once or twice on the counter to get any air bubbles out of the cake batter.

Start to check on the cake after 60 minutes of baking time. With the pan of water in the oven it may take up to 75-80 minutes of baking time. When done you should be able to smell the cake, look for the sides of the cake to pull away from the pan and finally test the center of the cake with a cake tester. The tester (I just use a sharp, thin-bladed knife) will come out clean wheh the cake is baked to the center.

Cool the cake for 20 minutes. Invert cake on plate. Cool completely.

Serving suggestions: dust with powdered sugar, lemon powdered sugar. Serve
with Cool Whip, whipped cream, vanilla/butter sauce or lemon sauce. Frost
with lemon frosting or icing or a cream cheese icing.

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December 29, 2005

Quote For The Day

"The only people who ever advance science forward are the people who come from the edge, from the outside, usually amateurs, usually not institutional. The way scientific advance happens is though completely irrational bursts of brilliance. Then they create a scenario of careful research and cross-checked data and slow accumulation."

Terrence McKenna, as cited by Clusterbusters.

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Sexy Geek?

Just for stuff and giggles, I followed the Instalink to the list of 2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks. I've never heard of most of them, but I did find it good news that a world class salt-and-pepper beard is a factor. Despite the current spell of cold weather, I'll hold off a little longer on any more than a detail trim.


I meant the current spell of warm weather. I typically trim my beard with an electric trimmer during the summer, then let it grow out and just touch it up with scissors during the winter. I've demonstrated, with the aid of thermal imaging systems at trade shows, that it truly does retain body heat.

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December 28, 2005

Explosive Decompression

The real story here is not whether the baggage handler at fault was a union member, or whether the blogger was wrong to use his mobile phone to capture images, or any of the other crap nattered about in the comments.

The real story is that a hole bigger than would be produced if a would-be hijacker were shot by an air marshal, an armed pilot or an armed citizen passenger let air out of the airplane's cabin and it wasn't a horrible spectacular disaster.

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December 25, 2005

Yes Sir, Officer

Jay Tea, of Wizbang, tells of being let off with a warning after politely admitting error to a traffic cop, as do some of his commenters. NP tells a similar tale.

Shortly after he got his license, he was pulled over for going 90 miles per hour on the expressway.
"Do you know how fast you were going?"
"Yes sir, officer, I was doing 90."
"And why were you doing 90 in a 55 zone?"
"Because I'm young and stupid."
After running the license and seeing that the record was clean, the officer came back and asked, "You're not going to be stupid on my stretch of road again, are you?" "Oh, no sir, officer." He was genuinely warned, and assures me that he hasn't been thusly stupid since.

On the other hand, a woman I worked with back before I moved told of a cousin of hers who had just upgraded from a 3 Series to a 5 Series Mercedes, and was driving the Indiana Toll Road as if it was the Autobahn. When the officer asked "Are you in a hurry to get somewhere" he snapped back "Yes. Is this going to take long?" It did. A polite "No sir, officer. I just got the car and I guess I got carried away" might have gotten him a ticket for less than the actual speed, saving him a lot on insurance thereafter. It certainly would have saved him from having to demonstrate that the turn signals, brake lights and windshield wipers functioned as required by law.

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December 24, 2005


I heard him exclaim, as he drove:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Medical Breakthru

All this time I thought that the echinacea was what was keeping me healthy.

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December 23, 2005

Dumb Question

If an animal walks on four legs, shouldn't the bones in its back be called horizontabrae?

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My Father-In-Law's Famous Fart Fuel

My late father-in-law taught English literature at the University, but he was better known on campus for involvement with student organizations. He was faculty advisor for several of them. In some cases he did little more than sign off on their registration paper work, but more often he was actively involved. One of his significant contributions was bringing this dish to social gatherings, where it was typically consumed in combination with cabbage slaw and beer.

1 96 oz can baked beans in molasses
1/2 c. heavy molasses - sulpherated if you can find it
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 lb. bacon -- cut into small pieces
1 pkg. Lipton onion soup mix
1 1/2 c. Brooks tangy catsup

Drain the liquid in which the beans are canned. The simplest way to do this is to pour it off when you have cut only part of the way around with the can opener. Fry the bacon almost crisp and save the bacon grease. By the way, altho the original recipe does not call for it, I would add a couple cloves of garlic, finely diced, near the end of the frying. In a large pot, mix beans, molasses, sugar, bacon, bacon grease, onion soup mix, and catsup. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes; stir often, as they tend to stick. The result is sufficiently tasty that people do not exercise due moderation in consumption. Best served out of doors, as at a tailgate party or in a large room with good ventilation.

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December 22, 2005

Quote For The Day

He awoke before she did, and gazed upon her. And discovered, as untold millions of men before him, that a wife is even more beautiful than a bride.
Eric Flint - 1632

Me - morning of December 22nd, 1971

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December 21, 2005

Buckle Up, It's A Rough Ride

The Baroness Bodissey describes how young women in Sweden have responded to an increasing problem of Islamic rape by inventing a belt buckle which is difficult to open. This is exactly the wrong response. What they need are belt buckles like this one or this one.

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December 20, 2005

Clever Workaround

An automobile dealership in the Milwaukee area is running radio ads wherein they are wishing me and mine a "blessed and happy holiday season".

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Make Lemonade

Bizzyblog links a classic story of someone who turned an embarrasing accident into a business opportunity.

Note that any reference to a lemonade stand would be in bad taste, and that in my extended family the tradition is to use duct tape rather than guy wire.

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December 19, 2005

Link, Please

There's one important detail missing from this news report.

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December 18, 2005

Quote For The Day

"When individuals and nations have once got in their heads the abstract concept of full-blown liberty, there is nothing like it in its uncontrollable strength."
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose philosophical analysis, contradictorily, provided structure for Marxism.

The quote was picked up by the Speculist because of what it says about the power of ideas, and by me because of its massive relevance to curent events.

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Someone You Should Know

One way people can show appreciation for those who serve in the military is to pick up the tab when we encounter them in restaurants. My in-laws, who were in the chairborne during WWII, used to do this during the Vietnam era. Here's one soldier I look forward to buying a meal from.

It is worth noting that he was on a procurement run when he happened upon the ambushed unit. This is something I'd heard nothing about, but I take it to mean that the military is purchasing foodstuffs from the Iraqi economy, a nice little bit of news.

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December 17, 2005


Well, aesthetically, that is. Only thing is that it belongs in a movie of a sort I'm not into and not on the evening news.


I mentioned this thing to my son when he called this morning and he told me he's seen them for sale. Cheap junk, mild steel with a crudely ground edge, wouldn't hold a good edge if you went to the trouble to sharpen it. This really doesn't make it any less nasty, since a wound from a sharp blade is easier to repair.

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Crater Gravy

I was going to save this recipe for the week of August 6th. That was when Judge Crater disappeared, and the juxtiposition appealed to my sense of humor, but he really had nothing to do with the recipe and enough people will be making mashed potatoes in the next few days that it wouldn't have been fair to hold it back.

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 can beef broth -- (10 oz.)
3/4 cup water
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup -- (10 oz.)

Melt the butter and blend in flour. As soon as the flour starts to darken, add the broth and water and cook until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Add mushroom soup, stirring constantly until fully blended. Cook another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It won't be quite as good as if you made it with pan drippings from roast beef, but it will be lower in cholesterol, and the results will be consistant.

Prepare mashed potatoes per your favorite recipe; ours does not call for peeling them. Form the mashed potatoes into a mountain-shaped pile on your plate, and form a crater in the middle. Pour the gravy into the crater from which it gets its name.

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December 16, 2005

Restaurant Cooking

There has been a lot of information posted asymmetrically of late as to how people in the habit of eating out can improve their financial well-being by cooking at home. The recipes provided have been elementary; suited to all of us including those not practiced at cooking.

Matching the experience of fine restaurant dining requires some degree of skill, which can be acquired easily enough by starting with the elementary dishes. It also requires sophisticated recipes. For those who are ready, I would like to recommend the book Restaurant Favorites At Home by the editors of Cooks Illustrated. The recipes are too complex to share online, and the detailed writeups include much information about the ingredients, processing, and changes from the original large-scale restaurant recipes.

I do want to share one small detail, from the test kitchen survey of cheeses. I am sure that any Deadheads reading this will be pleased to learn that they gave a top rating to Stella Blue, produced here in the dairy state.

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According to my understanding of the concept, the entire notion of everyone answering a common set of personal questions is all one meme even if the questions change. The addition of "tagging" wherein a participant gets to choose who else is to answer constitutes a mutation of that same meme. Tagging itself has now mutated, so that anyone who reads an "I wish" post, as I did at Richmond's, is tagged and supposed to participate. There are no consequences for failure to do so; my participation and yours are entirely voluntary.

The premise of this particular variant is that you are to finish the sentence: "I wish I ..."- - Basically, pretend you had up to three wishes to change something about you. A restriction is that cannot wish to change someone else.

I'm not going to bother with the ever-popular "I wish I could lose weight" because I've actually managed to do so thru a moderate adjustment of my snacking practice, which encourages me to further improve my diet. The main change I'm wishing for right now, that I were in a position to accept the out of town contracts I'm being offered, doesn't count because the change required has to do with the wee wifey's mobility issues.

What I'm left with is the same wish Bugs Bunny made when he was facing a firing squad and offered a final request. I wish I were in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten...

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It has been said that the future has arrived but it isn't evenly distributed. There are certainly aspects of my life which, based on the prophetic fiction of my youth, constitute living in the future. It is of course obligatory to ask at this point, "Where's my flying car?"

One definition of the Singularity is that it will be that moment when the future is evenly distributed, but that is unlikely to ever happen. There are some groups of people, most noticeably the Amish, who have arranged their lives so as to minimize the arrival of the present, and others who are perfectly use the tools of the future, but only to drag the world back at least as far as the 15th Century.

A narrower definition of the Singularity is that it will be the moment when computers attain human-like intelligence. We aren't that far from there with regards to processor power, but ever since I made a brave attempt at reading The Origin Of Conscousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind I have assumed that self-awareness would require multiprocessor systems. Thus it is interesting to note that the 20Q game, the acquisition of which by the Insta-Daughter is seen by her father as a sign of the Singularity's approach, is, according to the 20Q play-online page, built on a neural net, an architecture based on that assumption.

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December 13, 2005

I'd Love To

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The Holy Grail of Nerdness

I played a few of the video games belonging to the kids around the household back when the input device was a joystick with a button or two on it, but had lost interest by the time the controllers started getting complex. If they were all like this one, I think that all but the hardest core would do the same, and this doesn't strike me as much better, altho I can at least see the reasoning behind it.

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Target Audience

Almost everyone in Milwaukee was wondering who the main event of the 100th Anniversary was intended for, since it certainly wasn't the stereotypical Harley rider.

Now we know.

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December 12, 2005

Run, Dover

I'm so far from getting around to reading the Potter ouvre that the lyrics would probably constitute a spoiler, but this looks to be an absolute hoot.

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December 11, 2005

Plenty Of Buffalo Chips

The Speculist does a regular featre, called Better All The Time, which is a collection of good news, plenty of which can be found amongst the leading edge technologies which are the blog's focus. This week they tried something different, and used the Google and Yahoo news search tools to look for the phrase "good news". Outside of the realm of sports, where our good news is inevitably your bad news, they found that the traditional media don't focus on good news. Whether this is rooted in a political agenda, as I've suggested in recent posts, or just that "if it bleeds it leads", it is wise to include this grain of salt when taking the news.

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Misdemeanor Kindness

I do hope Mr. Pirone is inclined to raise as big a stink over this arrest as I would. I'd start with subpoenas for maintenance records on the token-selling machines, including data on the response time for customers who call the help line.

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December 10, 2005

A Real McCoy?

Fans of W.E.B.'s Marine Corps novels may find the Collector's Corner column in the current issue (dated March 2006) of Tactical Knives to be of interest.

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Quote For The Day

“Who will protect you in the end? It is not others, but only you that can protect yourself. This is the kind of awareness we need to develop.”

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The Gift Of Feeding

When we give presents, we don't tend to give food. The people we give presents to wouldn't make soup from a jar of artistically layered beans. Most of them wouldn't even consider such a jar a worthy decorative object. Similarly, I suspect that if I gave away my homemade pickles they would, as an act of undue caution, be quietly flushed away. Our baked goods are well received,but as our style of baking runs to the more temporal, cakes rather than cookies, they are for immediate sharing rather than gifting.

We are generous with gifts of food, but we do it in another context. My wee wifey and I are, as they say in her theology, unequally harnessed. She an active churchgoer, and food is a part of her church activity. In addition to providing fellowship nibbles as a member of the carbohydrate committee, she participates in the
church community of support for its members by preparing meals for those households whose usual cook is otherwise occupied. Make-ahead casseroles are ideal for this purpose. Also ideal are the metal baking pans with plastic covers available at Family Dollar. By using these, or Pyrex from the thrift store if we have any in inventory, we relieve the giftees of any obligation to track our dish whilst avoiding the tackiness of the crinkled foil pans.

Sausage-Rice Casserole

Double Batch

2 lb uncooked bulk sweet (mild) and/or hot Italian sausage
1 cup onion -- chopped
5 cups white rice -- cooked
2 cans chopped green chile peppers -- (4 oz) drained
2 can mushroom stems and pieces -- (4 oz.) drained
2 cans condensened cream of chicken soup -- (10 3/4 oz.)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese -- (6 oz) shredded

Single Batch
1 lb uncooked bulk sweet (mild) and/or hot Italian sausage
1/2 cup onion -- chopped
2 1/2 cups white rice -- cooked
1 can chopped creen chile peppers -- (4 oz) drained
1 can mushroom stems & pieces -- (4 oz) drained
1 can condensened cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
3/4 cups cheddar cheese -- (3 oz) shredded

1 Cook sausage and onion in a 12-inch skillet until sausage is brown, stirring to break up sausage; drain off fat. Note that altho we go for the hot sausage, recipients of such meals tend to prefer the mild. Adjust accordingly.

2 Meanwhile, in an extra-large bowl stir together rice, chile peppers, and mushrooms. Stir in soup, milk, and cheddar cheese. Stir in cooked sausage mixture. Divide large batch evenly between two 2-quart baking dishes; small batch makes one. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours. Advise recipients to bake, covered, in a 350 F oven for 65 to 70 minutes or until heated through. Lumnum foil should be substituted for the plastic lid on the cheap baking pans at time of baking.

Chicken Potato Casserole

10 oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1-1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3-1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
1-1/2 cups frozen peppers and onions
1-1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups crushed potato chips

In a medium bowl, combine soup, sour cream, milk, chicken and 1-1/4 cups cheese. Spread three-quarters of this mixture in a greased 2-quart baking dish.
Sprinkle hash browns and peppers and onions over the top of the casserole and press down lightly, then top vegetables with remaining soup mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese

Wrap casserole in freezer wrap or heavy duty foil and freeze. Reserve potato chips in pantry. To thaw and bake, let thaw overnight in refrigerator. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees F for 60-70 minutes until bubbly. Then top with crushed potato chips and bake 5-10 minutes longer.

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December 09, 2005

Simple Answer

Bill Quick asks a rhetorical question to which the appropriate answer would be "Not if they can help it."

It should be noted that Bertolt Brecht, as far Left as he was, provided an answer to his own rhetorical question which has been consistantly ignored by the modern Left.

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you."

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Laffering All The Way...

The relationship between tax rates and tax revenues commonly referred to as the Laffer curve could be more correctly graphed as a surface. There are several possibilities for the other axis; mobility of taxpayers suits my worldview. In any case, the graph noted by TaxProf appears to depict the effective location of a region of that surface.

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Sere And Ipity

I wasn't looking for something else. I was just googlegoofing. No, I will not identify any searchterms.

"The virtual German Hosiery Museum is a project of the German hosiery industry and an intermediate step towards the realization of the "physical" museum."

"He should not be judged too harshly on this account. He took advantage of such writings on Chinese dress as were then available to him, and at the microlevel of sartorial detail not much more has been published since."All I get of this page is the excerpt for the unregistered, which does not contain my search terms, but the author's analysis of modernity in China has bearing for any discussion of globalization.

"Sometimes I think our world has lost some of its colour, in part due to "political correctness" and other oxymorons."

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December 07, 2005

Advice To Spammers

Anyone who still calls it a wee-wee either can expect continued growth without the help of your placebo or isn't someone likely to find such growth important.

I haven't posted for some time about my suspicions regarding the middle-initialed entities responsible for much of the spam, but it looks like they are getting careless. Parts of their plan may have been revealed when I recieved unsolicited email from Rule N. Intermittantly and Vlolations J. Mindanao.

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CLEVER, Not Smart

They went to a lot of work to come up with a name for the project which could be contorted into a CLEVER acronym, and they went to a lot of work to produce a solution to a problem which, altho fascinating, would not produce real benefit if solved. If there were a market for a vehicle which provides the performance and gas mileage of a motorscooter but cost as much as a subcompact automobile one of the previous attempts to produce one would have borne fruit.

Actually, I like the idea of a three-wheeled commuter vehicle, but it would need to be able to at least keep up with traffic.


As long as this post is still getting trackback hits, here is a selection of buildable three wheelers.

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December 05, 2005

The Kringle Ploy

Here is a businessman who understands the difference between "competing with" and "competing against".

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One For The Wifey

My wee wifey works as an aide, third shift, in the psych ward of a nursing home. Absolute crazies are rare, it's mostly those who are somehow challenged and those who are sliding into terminally ditzy. Her favorite patients are in that last cateory, and right now she has among them a former Vegas burley-cue showgirl and a former comedy writer, for Bob Hope among others. Ted found a news report which is extra special when put in this context.

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The True Tragedy

The tragedy of the commons is not that individuals are unable to contract consensual arrangements to protect their mutual long term interests. The tragedy of the commons is that there is one caring individual who notices that there is Illinois Bunchgrass growing on the commons which we need to preserve for future generations and is able use this as a reason to prevent all grazing.

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December 03, 2005

Hummus - Season To Taste

This week's recipe carnival has appetizers as a theme. I've never understood the concept. Other than certain brownies I've never eaten anything which made me more hungry. I just read yesterday that heating hot spicy food before a meal actually leads you to eat somewhat less; the claimed waking up of the tastebuds means it takes less to satisfy you.

Be that as it may, I do enjoy the various nibbles commonly served at an entertainment. My favorite is hummus. At its most basic it is easy to eat because of texture and mouth feel, it is highly nourishing because of protien balance, and best of all it is a wonderful basis for flavor experimentation.

The basic recipe consists of

2 cans (15 oz) garbanzo beans - not drained
1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil

Smoosh them all together till smooth (once upon a time this was done by hand) and serve with wedges cut from pita bread bread warmed in the oven (or even crackers).

Garlic (most recipes call for a piddling two cloves) and lemon juice are a basic addition, along with a sprinkle of parsley or the like for garnish, but you can go much farther.

The simplest variant we've made resulted from careless shopping on my part. The wee wifey put garbanzos on the shoping list, and I bought the Goya brand, with a Mexican style seasoning to the canning liquid. The unplanned flavor worked out quite nicely. One can similarly substitute other canned beans. Of the ones I've seen suggested, black beans would be far more interesting than Great Northern beans.

Then you can start getting exotic.

2 cans garbanzo beans
1 cup Artichoke hearts
6 cloves garlic
Juice of 2 Lemons
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon White pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all ingredients but the oil in the bowl of a food processor, turn on, and slowly drizzle in olive oil as the ingredients are being processed to a creamy consistency. Thing is that altho I consider fresh artichokes worth the effort, canned artichoke hearts don't do much for me. They might impress your guests.

Other recipes suggest cumin, coriander and other seasonings, or jalepeno or habenero peppers. You can add them a little at a time, tasting until it suits you or you think it will suit your guests. If you are expecting my son, just go ahead and add the whole handful of hot peppers.

Most unusual is a recipe I found labeled as hummus pesto. actually, it falls somewhere between the two.

15 ounces garbanzo beans, drained -- reserve liquid
1 cup chopped basil -- packed
juice of 1/2 Lemon

Put garbanzos, basil, and some of the lemon into bowl. Puree using blender.
Add lemon juice until consistency and taste are pleasing. If too thick, you
can add some of the reserved juice. You could substitute cilantro, or depending on the people, occasion, and local laws, the extra ingredient in the above mentioned brownies, for the basil.

Because hummus is such a perfect seasoning substrate, you could go in any other direction. Cake spice, Chinese 5 spice, rogan josh, or whatever you think might stimulate people's appetites. Have fun with it

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Boom And Gloom

The ongoing effort to conceal the success of the United States economy has been getting attention lately in the blogosphere. Bizzyblog reports on a survey which shows that Americans tend to think we are worse off than we actually are. Even more interestingly, he notes in the comments that those surveyed think we are worse off than their own crcumstances would indicate, proof that the nattering nabobs of negativity are having their intended effect.

Professor Althouse finds the effort to cast positive news as negative to be comedic. Several of her commenters strive to find bad news, and go off in odd directions to do so. One insists that the obsolete establishment survey is the only source for employment data. I have, in the past, asserted that over the past 55 years the income, first my father's and then my own, which has supported me has never come from a job which would show up in that survey. I need to correct that slightly. For a few months 33 years ago I was a direct employee of a tiny little branch of the Teledyne conglomerate. Interestingly, there is now zero market for that particular work.

Another seeker of emmiseration commenting there insists that inflation is being understated by means of "substituting hamburger for steak". I am not as extreme as one man I worked with who told his wife he would divorce her the next time she served him steak instead of chipped creamed beef, but I've never seen the point in paying more for meat when they don't even grind it for you. I am pleased to report, for those who need to grind their own meat, that altho in the 1980 Sears catalog a heavy duty electric meat grinder cost $399, they now list a similar one for half that price, and until tomorrow Farm & Fleet has a lighter-duty one marked down from $79 to $49. Other than energy and land, both determined by supply, the only thing on which I've seen prices climbing is automobiles, and you have to consider the fact that today's cars are not only far more regulated but also far better.

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December 02, 2005

Number Somethingorother...

Yet another reason to homeschool? Not so much the incident, but the fact that, as noted by one of the commenters, schools tend to have a policy for just about everything, and substitute that policy for assesment of the situation.

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Quote For The Day

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand on its own.
Thomas Jefferson, 1782, quoted by Dan Smoot, conservative broadcaster, in 1963.
Posted by triticale at 08:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005


Karl Marx's notion that capitalism emmiserates the working class is the basis of the argument for Communism. The more workers become better off under capitalism, the more desperately its foes try to convince them they are in fact miserable. One of their tools is envy - it doesn't matter how much better off you are, the lot of the people at the top is improving faster, and that is supposed to mean you are somehow suffering, tho I've never figured out how. Another of their tools is the magic word inflation. Merely invoking it is supposed to prove people are worse off than they were, which would be true if in fact the cost of living were going up faster than incomes.

I was digging out the basement of the you know house today; the wee wifey expects us to actually be living there within a month. In one of the torn cartons of left-behind junk I happened upon a Sears catalog from the spring of 1980. Comparing prices from then to now makes for an interesting look as to whether today's consumers are actually well off.

Everyone knows about the massive improvement in computer power, but we tend to forget that the thousand dollar home computer of 1980 did not come bundled with all the peripherals. The printer was another $599, and printed 40 characters across on cash register roll paper. The external disc drive was a big improvement over the bundled tape deck, but it was single sided, single density, and cost $749. The same factors which make these prices so extreme also impacted other electronic products. The VCRs Sears offered then used the technically superior Beta format, but the base model was $735 and the deluxe was $985. They offered TV cameras you could attach to the VCR to "create your own home movies", black and white for $297.50, color for $799.95, and color zoom, with a black and white electronic viewfinder for $1145. I've never shopped for a camcorder, but my understanding is that these sort of prices would pay for serious professional gear today. Semiconductor technology has even brought down the cost of flourescent lighting. In 1980, a 20 watt screw-in ring light cost $12.98; right now a 20 watt compact flourescent (marketed as equal to a 75 watt incandescent) is one buck at Ace after in-store rebate. It's hard to compare car stereos, since none in 1980 were able to play MP3s off a CD-R/W or USB memory stick like the one I just got for $109, but even the $239 cassette players can't match the digital tuning capability or power output.

Even more significant are price comparisons on items not influenced by Moore's Law. Right now Aldi's is offering a sewing machine and a blender which are roughly comparable to the cheapest ones Sears offered in 1980, for just about the same price. Because of the season, right now Sears themselves are closing lawn tractors which, with what were options now included, are half what the same function would have cost. Today's high end bicycles hadn't been developed back then, but basic kid's bikes have come down in price. Steel-belted radials, on which Sears was an early market leader, haven't quite held steady on pricing, but a 44,000 mile warranty wouldn't cut it for a premium tire today. Blue jeans were less expensive then, even with all the extra fabric they had below the knee, but not by that much, running $12 to $15 a pair for their private label brands, and men's cotton briefs, at $4.95 for a 3-pack were more than I pay now.

It is actually quite easy to make the case that consumers are better off today, even if wages at the median aren't going up as fast as those at the top. If the numbers I've cited aren't enough to prove this, let me know and I'll scan and post images of the Whimsical Frog Family Coordinates for your kitchen and the Shirts and Shorts for Contemporary Guys.

Posted by triticale at 07:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack