May 24, 2010

LOST Ending

This post is light on the spoilers, but I open up the comments for FULL SPOILER ALERT if anyone wants to talk about the ending.

In short, I enjoyed it. They went for a (what I think was) fairly conventional heroic ending, explaining the gimmick of the season and focusing on resolution for the characters if not for the mysteries of the Island. In other words, they chose not to give us too much cheese to criticize, and hoped that the fans would come away thinking the writers had respected the characters.

Have at it, if you feel the urge.

Posted by James at 9:57 AM | Comments (2)

May 23, 2010

Slow-Cooker Italian Shredded Beef

Now might be the point at which I say something like "I'm not planning on turning this blog into a food blog..." but that would be silly, since I seem to think about food constantly, and so that occupies a lot of my blogging as well.

We relied on our slow cooker this past semester for preparing meals that would be ready when we were ready to eat. There are a few obvious advantages of slow-cooking for the busy student/worker/person. I shall enumerate them.

  1. It allows you to shift the preparation time of your meal 7-10 hours prior to eating.
  2. It reduces your time spent cooking because, after prep, the cooking occurs largely unattended.
  3. Leftovers are often of the type easily frozen for quick meals on other weeks.

Disadvantages:

  1. Generally speaking, seafood is out of the picture unless you're just preparing a base and throwing in the seafood at the last minute
  2. If you like your meat browned, you have to do that during the prep.
  3. Some ingredients get really mushy, so recipes are important at first.

Another disadvantage, not related directly to the slow-cooker, is that my kids won't eat a lot of the things I prepare in it. So, it was a surprise when they liked this Italian Shredded Beef recipe.

Shredded meat is a great slow-cooker staple, and not just beef. Pork roasts cook wonderfully in the slow cooker. For those avoiding red meat, chicken thighs are terrific. I'm still working on the perfect chicken thigh slow cooker recipe, and considering adapting Lebanese chicken stew for the crock pot.

In any event, here is an example of how simple and good a slow-cooker recipe can be. I give you the recipe as it was given to me, and tell you that you should really modify it for your tastes. I am not a big fan of rigidity in recipes. I change them depending on mood. In the mood for paprika? In goes the paprika. In the mood for spicy? A few dashes of Frank's or Tabasco. Prefer sherry to water? I won't tell. This recipe is a great starting point.

Slow-Cooker Italian Shredded Beef

5 pounds chuck roast
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 package Good Seasonings Italian salad dressing mix

Trim excess fat from roast. Place roast in crock pot. Boil water (or heat in microwave) then mix water with all seasonings and pour over roast. Cover and cook on low 8 - 10 hours.

Remove meat, allow to cool slightly and shred, discarding any fat. Return shredded meat to broth in crock pot and cook on high until heated through, 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

Use a slotted spoon to serve meat on large buns or rolls.

This recipe, or one like it, can be found many places on our dear Internets. Like here on allrecipes, where they include a bay leaf.

Posted by James at 12:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 22, 2010

Dark Matter, More Ice Cream and Trivia

Pour farm folks

The Pour Farm isn't the best place to take a photo. It's usually too dark in there. Of course, it helps if you're not pointing your camera phone in the direction of the windows. We had a nice little gathering to celebrate the end of the semester and get to know the new full-time student in our program. Welcome, "Tim!"

"Dark matter" doesn't refer to the lighting conditions in the Pour Farm. It refers to the Brooklyn Brewery beer that Ryan was drinking, a taste of he graciously offered in a shot glass. I was instantly sorry I had already had my predetermined 2 pints. Brooklyn Brewery Dark Matter is dark and rich, fermented in whiskey barrels and it tastes like a combination of beer and rum or whiskey. It was good!

Unfortunately, It's a one-time creation on their part, so I don't know if I'll be able to find it in bottles. For now, at least, they've got it at the Pour Farm.

Speaking of things that are yummy, I was given the cold shoulder by my daughter on Friday morning because the well-established ritual of ice cream day on Thursday afternoon had been broken. I worked all day on Thursday because I had shifted my schedule around for school. Maggie tells me that they were very interested in why I wasn't home that afternoon. An ice cream habit is a difficult habit to interrupt. I assured them they'd get their ice cream this weekend.

We're pretty loyal to Somerset Creamery, but Bob and Liz tell us that somewhere in Bristol there is an ice cream shop that it Somerset Creamery's match. In fact, they said it was even better, but I have a hard time believing that. Liz was very convincing; you should have seen the expression on her face as she described the coffee-flavored Oreo ice cream. I think the polite word for it is "beatific." So, I think we have a field trip on our hands. They couldn't remember the name of the place (!!!) but I'm guessing it's The Daily Scoop.

It's unlikely, however, that any ice cream shop will supplant Somerset Creamery. Especially now that they're going to have a location within walking distance of our house. I've calculated that we can burn around 200 calories walking to and from the ice cream shop. Surely, that's a healthy activity.

Trivia: If you're familiar with the Hood Milk Bottle outside the Boston Children's Museum, did you know that it was originally located in Taunton, Ma? it was. I found this out after reading that the family who owns Somerset Creamery used to own another ice cream stand shaped like a milk bottle. It was located in Somerset until it apparently was dismantled in the late 70's and shipped up to Boston (music) to the Naval Shipyard in Charlestown (according to this story).

Posted by James at 11:58 AM | Comments (5)

May 21, 2010

THE BLOG IS BACK (now with more ice cream)

Some ice cream

So, I wondered what I should be doing now that I'm not sciencing* so hard all the day long. Well, I will be catching up with friends and family. And doing stuff. I have missed blogging, so you'll hear about the stupid stuff I do.

As you can see from the photo, a visit to my cousin's house last night resulted in a major ice cream event. I think we tried every possible flavor that you can find after driving around past 10 PM in the Taunton area. We ended up at a Stop & Shop. And they carry gelato, among other things.

Flavors tried: Ciao Bella malted milk ball gelato, Ciao Bella pistachio gelato, Ben and Jerry's key lime pie limited batch, Ciao Bella key lime pie and graham gelato, Ciao Bella mango sorbet, Ciao Bella blood orange sorbet, some other Ben & Jerry I can't remember, Haagen Dazs 5 lemon and Haagen Dazs 5 ginger.

The deal with Haagen Dazs 5 is that it just has 5 ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and... whatever the flavor is. In this case, ginger or lemon.

Best of the bunch? IMHO, easily, the Haagen Dazs 5 lemon. It was not too sweet, tart and creamy. It tasted more like real key lime pie (IMHO) than either of the actual key lime pie flavors.

So, the blog is back, and it's already working for you. Try the lemon ice cream.

In other news, I don't know how much longer I want to maintain this blog anymore. The software is ancient. The commenting system stinks. I hate working on websites, so I don't want to fix it. I'd rather just dump it and get a whole new one. But I don't want to lose what is already here. I'm not sure yet what I will do. But whatever it is, I want to keep having a personal blog, and keep the current content here available. It's quite possible I'll just complain a lot and do nothing because, honestly, blogging for me is not about tweaking CSS. It's about life, opinions and writing.

Onward!

(* Spell checker sez I made this word up, but you know what I mean. it also doesn't recognize the word "gelato," so what does it know?)

Posted by James at 9:54 AM | Comments (2)

May 8, 2010

Your Behavior and Your Data

Chuck shared a video which discusses the lack of privacy of your data on digital copy machines, and how easily it is to get very sensitive data off used machines.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC38D5am7go&feature=player_embedded

It recalled a recent conversation I had with Julie about Facebook. Like many people, Julie and I have concerns about privacy and Facebook. I choose to use Facebook despite those concerns.

There may be a number of issues with Facebook's policies, the attitude of its founder, mistakes its made in the past, but this story illustrates what I think is a much larger problem outside of Facebook. I think that the biggest threats to the privacy of your personal information will not come from places like Facebook. That's because I see Facebook as living in a mostly glass house where we can all see a lot of what is going on. There is a ton of attention on Facebook, and every change they make is scrutinized. It's masticated by media blogs, swallowed, regurgitated and masticated again like a ruminant with a particularly tough clump of cud.

And as that rumination occurs, you are given tools to control some of what Facebook does with your information. They are not perfect, and you may not have complete control (except that you can opt out entirely, which may or nay not be complete) but you have some control and some knowledge, if you care to.

Meanwhile, in the larger world, you have practically zero control, few laws to protect you, and can be leaking private data by the barrel-full of metaphorical ink without your knowledge.

I'm not even talking about shopper's discount cards and the types of data your supermarket is collecting about you. I'm not talking about the possibility that supermarkets in the near future might collect this data in ways you can't opt out of, even using facial recognition to identify what you're interested in. (Imagine how valuable it would be for a supermarket to know that, while you didn't buy it, you spent 3 whole minutes looking in the specialty section at some expensive salsa. Issuing you a checkout coupon might really pay off.)

I'm talking about things you have no control over. Your doctor's office uses copy machines. Your local police precinct does as well. Your name is on all sorts of lists. If you've ever made a telephone call to customer service, there are likely recordings, transcripts and profiles based on those transcripts attached to your name. If people are printing those out and then getting rid of the copiers, you have no idea who now has the information.

By all means check out what Facebook is doing. But without strong laws to protect privacy, it'll be a finger plugging a hole as the water rushes over the top of the dam.

Imagine you like ice cream. Your doctor warns that your cholesterol level is a problem. So you decide to just eat ice cream once a week. Your cholesterol is still a problem. So, sadly, you cut it out altogether and stop getting your cholesterol tested out of frustration. Meanwhile, unknown to you, someone is pumping heavy cream into your veins while you are asleep at night. You've given up ice cream essentially for nothing. Luckily, this is an unrealistic scenario health-wise. But not data-wise.

Bottom line, it's not just about what you do. There was a lot of talk this week from Facebook users about good reasons to get rid of Facebook. (Assuming you like Facebook -- since there is no reason for discussion if you're getting rid of Facebook because you don't like it.)

However, if you do like it, don't quit under any illusions. Here's a big possible reason not to quit Facebook: you enjoy it and it probably won't make you much more private to ditch it.

Changing your behavior can sometimes do more to inconvenience and annoy you than it does to benefit or protect you.

Posted by James at 11:20 AM | Comments (5)

May 6, 2010

Occasion

As it happens, there is another occasion to celebrate an accomplishment of one of our children. We have two children, and that means there is often some report card, some honor roll, some something. It doesn't matter who your child is, or what they do. Maybe they're in sports. Maybe they're academically accomplished. Maybe they are artistic. Maybe they're just generally awesome. It's part of a parent's job to celebrate that with them. After all, they are in a time of great learning, growing and their accomplishments and milestones happen much more often than they do for people over 25.

Thursday is the first day of the week I really have a chance to spend a little extra time with them. So, we have been using Thursdays to celebrate.

So, I told my daughter "congratulations!" on her latest accomplishment. "To celebrate, we're going to get ice cream after school. That's what we do to celebrate your excellence. Ice cream!"

After a moment of eating her breakfast, she asked me "What were we celebrating last Thursday?" For a number of weeks, we'd had actual accomplishments to celebrate. Last week I took them out for ice cream without mentioning an actual reason.

I am ready. "Last week we were just celebrating Thursday."

I think they're on to me with this ice cream thing. But I have a feeling they're not going to call me on it.

Posted by James at 2:08 PM | Comments (0)