Sunday, August 31, 2008

Making Ice Cream While Gustav Menaces

Okay, I'm out: I live near the Gulf Coast. Naturally, I am concerned about Hurricane Gustav. At least where I am, it's nothing like the lunacy in Louisiana (and I should know, the Mrs. and I were part of the Katrina evacuation [long story]), and even places in Texas like Jefferson County are ordering mandatory evacuations, although they are far from the actual landfall site. How do I know? Because I get my weather info here. But since there's not much to do between the model runs, I make homemade ice cream.

Today's flavor: Red Hot Walnut. I use a Cuisinart 2 Quart ice cream machine . (Yes, I sprung for stainless.) It doesn't fib about "twenty-five minutes to ice cream" but I've learned it is absolutely essential to have all the components cold before mixing, including the hand-mixing bowl; in fact, I keep the main tub in the freezer at all times just to be sure.

Red Hot Walnut Ice Cream
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 7/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup milk (I use skim b/c I'm also using condensed milk)
  • 1 small package chopped walnuts from the local grocery store
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Powdered cayenne pepper
  • Red food coloring (optional)
Procedure: well ahead of time, make sure all ingredients are brought down to temperature in refrigerator (NB don't be tempted to freeze the condensed milk, it'll take forever to get out of the can). Mix milk and sugar in mixing bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla extract, mixing by hand or at low speed (if you go high the cream may whip, which isn't what we need). Add the nutmeg and cloves and ground cinnamon; taste for calibration purposes.

At this point, you have Not So Red Hot Ice Cream, with a baseline of essentially zero 'bite' or 'heat". It would be perfectly acceptable to start the freezing now, but where's the fun in that? Instead, add the cinnamon oil a bit at a time --and I do mean "bit," as in a few drops at a time and mix and taste. Do not add a whole little bottle unless you like Ultra Hot. A little goes a long way. When the proper level of "bite" has been reached, then begin adding the cayenne pepper one tablespoon at a time. Again, you will need to taste-calibrate until the desired heat level is achieved. See how the cinnamon "bite" and the cayenne "heat" compliment each other.

When mixture is adjusted to final taste satisfaction, add food coloring if desired, one drop at a time, until desired coloration is achieved. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and turn ON. Go watch TV. After twenty-five minutes, go check. If consistency is that of soft-serve, add the walnuts. Otherwise, go back and wait another five-ten minutes and check again. Serve immediately, or else transfer to airtight freezer storage medium and freeze for an additional two hours for hard-pack (nb remove from freezer 15 minutes prior to serving, or else have a heated scoop at the ready).

One could conceivably use actual Red Hots in this recipe. One could also conceivably use Hot Damn, but that should be added in the last five minutes of the machine-freezing process, and it should be throughly chilled in the freezer prior to addition (remember that alcohol has a lower freezing point than the rest of the mixture; adding it in the early stages will interfere with set-up).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wow! McCain has actually managed to upstage Obama

From what I saw of Obama's speech, and from the commentary (even on Fox News), it looked like the Senator from Illinois hit a home run last night with his speech. Even though boring ol' McCain was going to try to steal the spotlight with his VP pick, nothing would stop the Obamamentum now, nothing!

--well, that's what I thought. I didn't actually think the Republicans had a clue on how to really win an election (not since Lee Atwater died). And then this morning, I wake up to the news that McCain has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, mother of five, youngest governor of her state, married to a native Inuit, strong conservative values (the Republican base is doing handsprings and backflips right now), and a woman.

Every news channel is the same right now: Palin Palin Palin. I don't think we'd be seeing this level of buzz if JMcC had picked boring ol' Romney, or Pawlenty. Not even if Joe Lieberman would have been picked do I think the noise level could be higher. Palin Palin Palin. And not a word about last night's Obama speech.

Wow. Hope she doesn't have ties to Senator Ted Stevens. That would be an insta-crisis.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillie Cries "Uncle"

--but she didn't look super-thrilled about it. I guess that was the precondition for her campaign debts being paid off or else down.

Wonder if Bill will stay on-script tonight?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Of Yard Care And The August (Not So) Doldrums

In my corner of the Great Southwest, there has been rain. Rain aplenty. It began about two weeks ago with a large tropical system. I believe that kick-started the cycle that had died out in mid-July: daily afternoon downpours three to five days a week. It's a feature in this part of the world. Needless to say, the grass has been growing aplenty along with the rain.

We are at that most horrible of times, the twice-a-week mowing season. After four days, the grass has grown sufficiently to justify mowing. There are problems with this, however. First, no one wants to mow twice a week at this time of year. Second, gas is much more expensive than it used to be. Third, it rains just about the time you think about mowing, and then you have to take a day to let the ground dry (unless, that is, you like huge ruts in your front lawn). Very quickly, the grass in one week can get to unmanageable heights.

For the commercial crews with their commercial mowers, this isn't as big of an issue. But I cut my own grass. This gives me exercise, plus it lets me control the quality. I use a mulching mower (a Murray 22"), and very high grass creates a dilemma. I can continue the enviro-friendly mulching and take forever to cut the lawn and leave huge streams of mulch in my wake; or, I can bag it and spend time emptying the bag (no zipper!) and feel guilty about wasting landfill space, but spend much less energy pushing the mower. (NB the Honda self-propelled is in storage, and it has no mulching blade and no bag --but it would go through high grass in an instant.)

"Why not just cut it shorter to begin with?" At this time of year, it doesn't make a huge difference. The grass will grow that quickly anyway, unless you scalp it, at which point you risk killing your lawn altogether (or letting invasive species like centipede and Bermuda in). St. Augustine looks great, but my next lawn is going to be Bermuda because it doesn't grow so quickly, or as tall.

I bit the bullet and got out the bagging kit, just to do a time comparison. I was surprised by my results. Contrary to my initial beliefs, I found that bagging took marginally shorter time overall than pushing a mulching set-up slowly through very high grass. The time loss from emptying the bag was not as significant as the time savings from being able to zip over the lawn quickly. Moreover, I found my misgivings about the small bag size were overblown, I did not have to empty with every other pass as I had once feared. And the lawn looks very very tidy indeed.

"But you cold-hearted brute, you're wasting landfill space!" Au contraire: I took the bag and emptied it into my vegetable beds for mulch. Less work than filling a bag, and no guilt. Grass clippings in large amounts make great mulch, and while the week's takings from my lawn don't go far, I have discovered that I can cruise my subdivision on Tuesdays and Fridays (the days before garbage pick-up) and easily grab 15-20 large garbage bags of clippings in less than an hour. If I had a trailer I could easily make it 30 or even 40. Not that I would do that every week, but once a month is more than sufficient to keep the weed levels down in the beds.

So there it is: until the grass quits growing so quickly, I'm going to be bagging it and throwing it all into the beds. The lawn is growing well enough that it can do a while without the self-fertilization of mulch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Am I this paranoid, or is Obama really this naive?

Clinton Creates 'Whip Team' To Quell Anti-Obama Protests
In an unusual move, Hillary Clinton's staff is creating a 40-member "whip team" at the Denver Democratic convention to ensure that her supporters don't engage in embarrassing anti-Obama demonstrations during the floor vote on her nomination, according to people familiar with the planning.

"Is it typical for a losing candidate to have their own whip team? No. But it's also not usual for a losing candidate to get 18 million votes either," said [an unidentified Clinton staffer].

Plans for the squad were finalized last weekend. Although some former Clinton staffers balked at policing their own supporters, its ranks were filled by people itching for a floor pass -- not an easy get for Clinton's troops at the Obama-run convention.
News flash to Barry O: your super-delegates are still free to change their minds. You're losing ground in the polls and today you opened yourself to a huge mud-bomb. And you're letting Clinton's people patrol the floor during the floor vote???

Nah, I'm just paranoid. Nothing to see here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Am I still asleep, or do I see Hillary's Perfect Storm a-comin'?

Pajamas Media » Will Rank-and-File Democrats Vote for Obama? --These are the very same points I was (unsuccessfully) trying to make to my best old buddy and Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferer BJ, who continues to believe that Rove & Co. are out to 'steal' this election from the majority. ("Third time in eight years, go Chimpy!") None so deaf as those whose ears are full of Moveon. But Moveon.org cannot elect a Democratic president by themselves. They should ask McGovern, Carter, Mondale and Dukakis what happens when rank-and-file Democrats abandon the party for more realistic and appealing candidates. (And they should ask Uncle Bill what happens when they come back.)

But it was a comment I made later last night to another pal that is haunting me this morning. "You watch: Bill's tap-dancing on the word 'qualified candidate,' Hillary's lockdown of prime speaking time, the continued lack of payoff of her campaign debt, these are all signs that she's still got one more ace to play. Probably on Friday, one major poll will conveniently point to McCain being either in a literal tie or slightly ahead of Obama. At that point, her surrogates begin calling the supers and asking them not to vote Obama, but rather to abstain on the first ballot. She can then step forward and say that all the delegates should decide in an open vote whom they really want.. I mean, you've already got Moulitsas publicly having cold feet, and he's the freaking leading edge of the Prog online movement. Buyer's remorse, my boy, buyer's remorse --but Auntie Hillie can still make things all better, doncha know..."

So I wake up this morning and lo! McCain has taken a five-point lead among likely voters. The calls probably started last night. So what if it's Zogby, if anything that's more ammo for Hill, because Zogby has a bad habit of overstating Democratic strength, not Republican.

Popcorn! I must get more popcorn!

UPDATE: And again this morning!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Okay, now I feel old; plus, comments on funerals

Not that any of these were entirely unexpected, but my network of connections got hit with three funerals this week. The first was the wife of my good friend Anthony. (I was the best man at the wedding.) The second was that of Mrs.' s cousin's husband, Stacey, who was sent home several weeks ago in the final throes of Stage IV colon cancer; that was Saturday. And while scouting the obit notices for word of the first two, I came across the obit for the father of my good pal Richard, who was also dead of cancer (I hadn't known how far gone he was).

And so I came into a situation that most people (outside the mortuary industry or a mass tragedy) never face until they are Old: multiple funerals in one day. Today it rained and poured and my friend put his dad into the ground after singing an a cappella "Ave Maria" that brought half the congregation to tears. The other service, alas, was simultaneous with this one and I could not attend. My friend Anthony is struggling to cope and I'm going to do the Gentile equivalent of "sitting shiva" with him.

Funerals are strange things, at times. Everyone feels awkward, or sad, or both. There are always the few who try to bring laughter to fend off the pain of grief. (I'm one of these.) And then there is the casket. I was very surprised to see the preacher open it at the end of the service; generally, this is what the visitation/wake accomplishes. It is a well-known detail amongst my friends and family that, in the event of my demise, any open-casket arrangement must be set up so that I am making moose antlers at the mourners. I am not kidding. Either pose me right or shut the damn lid.

Also, the preacher (being a good evangelical) took about ten minutes during the service to do Come To Jesus. Eternity occupies us all during a funeral, but I like to think my commitment to Jesus comes from genuine self-reflection, conscious and rational choice, and love above all --and not because I'm suddenly afraid of if I'm going to spend the next world someplace where the thermostat is stuck on "broil." I ought not to throw stones here, for some this could have been a saving message of grace out of despair. Yet that one portion of the service left me strangely cold.

It also reminds me of the futility of being over-sad at a funeral. No, I'm not arguing that grief is unnatural or unwarranted or unbecoming. Grief is part of healing. But in the end, funerals are for the living and not the dead (at least in the Protestant tradition). To the dead, it is sound and fury signifying.... what? That your relatives cared enough to spend a ton of money on a single-use landfill and the accoutrements? Death reminds us of life: that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We ultimately cannot know what it is to live until we know death. We do not nor ought to worship death, but respect it nevertheless as part of life. If we profess to know no God or gods, and no stage of existence beyond our own mortal selves, then death is the final release from pain, from sorrow, from hurt, and we should be glad. If we profess faith, then we see death as a stage on our journey into the Eternal. No matter which way you slice it, death itself has an upside. And so, whenever I see people carrying on hysterically at a funeral (not today, things were quiet), I am saddened.

Smile, then, be of good cheer. Cherish the memories. Relish your life the more. For this, too, shall pass.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Odometer Rolled This Morning at 3:56 AM

Still too young to worry about annual visits to the proctologist.

Not too young to worry about triennial visits to the cardiologist.

Too much grey in the beard, but Mrs. Mojo likes it, and Just For Men/Beards won't hold, so there.

Otherwise, numbers on a calendar. I certainly don't feel like the odometer rolled over to show a bunch of zeroes with a new first digit.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When Professors Go Bad

Professor Moons Room Full Of Students.

I would never do that. No matter how tempted.

For on those occasions I remember that the Lord graced us, warts and all, with Dr. Reinhold Aman and Maledicta.

Walk like an Egyptian...

Bad Bad Teachers

Randomly careening through CNN, I came across Bad Bad Teachers. I decided to take a peek. Wow. Some of these teachers are bone-ugly. One must conclude that only the advantage of a fiduciary relationship would make the impossible possible. Even scarier: I began browsing the archives for my state. Thankfully I didn't run into any old friends. But the number of incidents from my local school district is enough to make me wonder what they teach in administration classes about hiring and background checks, and how to assess job candidates in particular.

There has and always will be a certain amount of impropriety associated with education. A lot more of it is reported now than in the past. There are several reasons for this. First, modern forensic techniques have made it easier to go beyond "he-said-she-said." Second, there are more options in place (and legal requirements) for reporting violations. Third, the media makes its bread-and-butter on these stories now, so what does happen will get reported.

However --and perhaps this is not such a good thing -- the shift towards a more child-centered approach in education (as opposed to, oh, I don't know, common sense?) may have had an unintended consequence in suggesting to students that the quickest way out of a bad spot is to yell "assault" and get the adult in trouble. I personally know of at least one case where the accused was exonerated by overwhelming evidence on his behalf, yet the investigation proceeded on the basis that he was already proven guilty and he was treated as such. This is in no way to be construed as my saying that most accusations are baseless, or that we should treat accusers with anything but objectivity and dignity befitting any regular person. Still, careful is as careful does.

As usual, there is no one thing to blame. Administrators need to be diligent, use their guts to assess job applicants, and treat every case that comes before them with diligence, objectivity and circumspection. Teachers need to know that the rules are there for a reason, that breaking rules has consequences, and that they should never ever put themselves in a spot where their own careers may be endangered. In a litigious age, those are the breaks.

Georgia On My Mind

The Anti-War Left has been outspoken in their silence on this issue. Perhaps they feel that, as Americans, they have no moral legitimacy to criticize anyone but Americans. I might actually understand that, in a vague Washingtonian way (the man, not the cesspool), save that many of these same people were united in their support for American intervention in Haiti and again in Kosovo. Kudos, however, to those that protested both: at least you're consistent, if slightly wrong-headed.

It is Kosovo that has been on the minds of several "devil's advocate" websites. The argument runs that American involvement in Kosovo (which you may recall involved bombing Serbian troops and targets near civilian areas) set the precedent for Russian involvement in South Ossetia. I'm not impressed. The Serbs had a clear track record of anti-minority violence (cf. Bosnia and Croatia), and while they weren't the only ones, they were the major perps. I have yet to see documented evidence of widespread Georgian activities in the realm of "ethnic cleansing." Plus, American ground troops didn't march on Belgrade after the withdrawal of Serbian ground forces from Kosovo.

But it is Bush's very low-key response that has me most worried. A paranoid man would say there's some sort of deeper scheme here. These Georgians are US-trained, US-backed and prospective members of NATO. The damage from ignoring this aggression, in diplomatic terms, is incalculable. What must the Ukranians think? The Baltic states? Poland? The only possible scenario I see here (aside from "It's all for the oil companies! Chimpy strikes again!!!" litanies from the lunatic fringe) is that Putin and Putin Jr. (he gets to use his real name when he shows he isn't a Putin puppet) have made Georgian gains a precondition for Russian acceptance of an imminent American military action elsewhere. One might speculate as to where, but the obvious choice here is Iran. Yet there are other possible targets: North Korea (talks again at a deadlock) and Pakistan (tribal areas reverting to Emirate of Waziristan).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dog Days Of Summer

Light posting for a bit now. The last summer term is over, I am doing chores around the house. Wee One is trying to get over a nasty chest cold which keeps recurring, much to everyone's lack of sleep. But at least there's time during the day for napping.