Thursday, December 27, 2012

Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, etc.

For the final post of this series, I will take a look at those areas of the United States that are not states.  C in DC made it very clear when I started this - that I better not forget DC.  I pointed out that it's not a state (yet) as none of these others are.  There's some chance that DC and Puerto Rico may make statehood someday.

I hope you've enjoyed this series.  I'm taking 2013 off from the weekly series but will be back with a new one in 2014.

Washington, District of Columbia
The District has more people than the state of Wyoming, but fewer than the state of Vermont, the 49th most populous state in the Union.  It is, of course, the nation's capital and the primary "industry" is the United States government, which in part governs the district in financial matters.

The site was chosen by George Washington (and named in his honor) - the city was laid out by Pierre Charles L'Enfant.  I have the sketch of a book in the Brave Astronaut brain about the road scheme (why certain state roads are where they are and the naming convention of the "letter" streets) that I might get around to writing someday.
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus and stayed in Spanish hands for several centuries.  Ceded to the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War, it has been a territory of the United States since the beginning of the 20th Century.
United States Virgin Islands
The United States Virgin Islands are comprised primarily of three main islands, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John.  The islands were formerly known as the Danish West Indies, and were ceded to the United States in 1916.
American Samoa
This territory in the Pacific Ocean, part of the Cook Islands chain has been a protectorate of the United States since the days just prior to World War I.
Northern Mariana Islands

Like Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana are a commonwealth.  It is located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines.
  • Area - 179.01 sq mi
  • Population (2010 census) - 53,833
  • Capital - Saipan (the entire island is incorporated as a municipality)
  • gov.mp - the Official Website of the Northern Mariana, Governor Benigno Fitial (R)
  • The Northern Mariana Tourism site - My Marianas
  • Wikipedia 
  • CIA Factbook for the Northern Mariana
Guam
Guam is the 32nd largest island of the United States.  Like most of the US territories, it became part of the United States as a result of the treaty ending the Spanish American War.

It gets the majority of its income from tourism, primarily from Japanese tourists.  Its second major source of revenue is from the United States military, which has a large presence on the island.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume XI

The Brave Astronaut clan is making their way to New York for a few days of "enforced family fun."  My siblings will also be in attendance. Tomorrow will of course be for family - Friday we are planning to head into New York to take in the Christmas sights.

When one thinks of New York, what comes to mind?  For me it is a bevy of things - the Empire State Building, Central Park, the subway, the sights and sounds of the city at Christmastime, and many others.  This year, several people sought to capture the essence of New York in a list of objects.  Inspired by “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” the British Museum’s BBC radio series and book, The New York Times recruited historians and museum curators to identify 50 objects that could embody the narrative of New York. WNYC Radio host Leonard Lopate also asked his listeners to participate in a similar project.  That list of ten appears first.
  1. Object #1: The Greek Coffee Cup 
  2. Object # 2: The Subway Token 
  3. Object # 3: The Food Cart 
  4. Object #4: The Oyster 
  5. Object #5: 18th-Century Ship Excavated from WTC Site in 2010 
  6. Object #6: Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems 
  7. Object #7: The Brooklyn Bridge 
  8. Object #8: "Wall St." Sign 
  9. Object #9: Manhattan Schist 
  10. Object #10: The NYC Subway Map 
Here's the New York Times list.  I'm not linking all of these - you can click on the link to see more.
  1. Mastodon Tusk, About 11,000 B.C.
  2. Munsee Arrowhead, Pre-1700 
  3. The Schaghenbrief, 1626 
  4. The Flushing Remonstrance, 1657 
  5. Painting of New Amsterdam, 1665
  6. The Oyster, Late 1600s 
  7. English-Dutch Dictionary, 1730 
  8. Beads From the African Burial Ground, 1700s 
  9. A Horse’s Tail, 1776 
  10. Washington’s Balcony, 1789 
  11. Wooden Water Pipes, About 1800 
  12. Randel’s Map, 1811 
  13. Lake Erie Keg, 1825 
  14. Singer Sewing Machine, 1851 
  15. Patent for Otis Elevator Brake, 1861 
  16. The Lefferts’ Cookbook, 1800s 
  17. Checks of Boss Tweed, 1866-1870 
  18. Edison’s Dynamo, 1882 
  19. Brooklyn Bridge Toll Ticket, About 1883-1898 
  20. Manuscript of ‘The New Colossus,’ 1883 
  21. Sculpture of the 1898 Consolidation 
  22. Child’s Shoes From the General Slocum, 1904 
  23. Tiffany Subway Throttle, 1904
  24. Battle’s Badge, 1911 
  25. The Automat Machine, 1912 
  26. The Bagel, Early 1900s 
  27. 1913 Armory Show Stamp 
  28. First Yankee Stadium Program, 1923 
  29. Rivoli Air Conditioning Advertisement, 1925 
  30. Ticker Tape, 1929 
  31. The Artichoke, 1933 
  32. Tree of Hope, 1934 
  33. Time Capsule From 1939 World’s Fair 
  34. Levittown House, 1947 
  35. 1955 World Series Banner 
  36. Checker Taxicab, 1952-1986 
  37. Diplomatic Plates, 1960s Onward 
  38. ‘Tonight Show’ Audio Track, 1962
  39. Greek Coffee Cup, 1960s 
  40. Bernstein’s Baton, 1969 
  41. Saturday Night Special, 1960s Onward 
  42. ‘FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD’ Headline, 1975 
  43. AIDS Button, 1980s 
  44. Loisaida Avenue Sign, 1987 
  45. The Boom Box, 1980s 
  46. The Phantom’s Mask, 1988 
  47. The MetroCard, 1994 
  48. 9/11 Dust, 2001 
  49. Mast Brothers Chocolate Bar, 2007 Onward 
  50. Meng Political Sign, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume X

It's Christmas night and it's been a busy day.  Last night, I went to bed a little early so I wasn't up when Santa came - but I still had the task of making sure he had been here this morning.  LBA and SoBA came into our room a little before 7:00am to ask if it was OK to go downstairs.  Mrs. BA enforced the rule that "the first number [on the clock] has to be a 7" and sent them away - an eight-year old snooze alarm.  They came back promptly at 7:02.

I went downstairs as my father had done for years for my siblings.  I turned on the music, the Christmas lights, and verified that Santa had indeed visited.  Then I invited the boys downstairs.  We had a frenzied time of opening presents - LBA got a Kindle Fire yesterday from his Nana and SoBA scored a new Leapster - so both were very pleased with their new presents.  Brave Astronaut did well also, I have a new razor, but at this time I am letting some winter growth mature on my face, so I won't break it in just yet.

After presents, we had a nice big breakfast and then went off to church.  After coming home we readied ourselves for a Christmas lunch with C in DC and her family.   They were traveling later today and we decided on lunch rather than a full on dinner.  We had Beef on Weck in honor of C in DC's Buffalo roots.

After they left we relaxed for a bit before our dinner plan - at LBA's request, it was his birthday after all - we had an appetizer dinner: Pigs in a Blanket, Wings, Nachos.  Unfortunately, Mrs. BA was feeling the way I was last night so she went up to bed and the boys and I set out to watch some Christmas specials while we snacked.

I put the boys to bed a little while ago and came back downstairs to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" which I had started watching last night before going up to bed.  It's been a good Christmas all around and you might even say - It's been a wonderful life so far.  I'm very blessed and very thankful for all I have.  I wish you all the very same.  Merry Christmas to all of you my dear readers and "God Bless Us Everyone!"

Monday, December 24, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume IX

Christmas Eve in the Brave Astronaut home growing up always involved one of the rare occasions when my father would make homemade potato chips.  I have taken to making them as part of our regular menu cycle but they always remind me of Christmas Eve growing up.  We didn't decorate our tree until Christmas Eve (that was Santa's job - and it was done after I went to bed).

For dinner usually, we would have hamburgers and my father's chips.  Then it would be time for an early bedtime, while my parents (and older siblings) "waited for Santa."  As I got older, I learned it was really the opportunity to drink spiked egg nog - but hey that works, too.

I spotted this "recipe" for hamburgers and I don't remember this recipe being used in the house, but then again, my father drinks scotch.  But I am sure that Frank and Dean were certainly playing on the radio.


Here's my basic recipe for my homemade potato chips - unfortunately, I still don't have a deep fryer.

Ingredients
  • potatoes, choice (I like Russet, but Yukon Golds work well, too), sliced thin on a mandoline
  • vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
Slice the potatoes using the mandoline (watch your fingers!) - you should have as many potatoes as you have people to serve.  Rinse the potatoes, let soak briefly in water.  Dry the potatoes (so they don't splatter when you put them in the oil).

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet (or deep fryer, if you have one).  You need enough oil so the potatoes will float in the oil and can easily be turned.

Place the potatoes in the oil and cook until golden brown on both sides.  Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  The potatoes can be kept in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume VIII

Growing up, on Christmas Eve, my father would read to my siblings and I from the Bible:

Luke 2:1-19
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Now, as a father, I may read this passage to my sons also.  I will also read from The Polar Express, because the Bell still rings for me as I hope it all does for you forever.  It always rang for Virginia O'Hanlon and Francis Church as well.  Virginia was 8 years old (as old as LBA is about to be) in 1897 when she began to question the existence of Santa Claus.  She wrote a letter to the New York Sun and received a response from veteran newspaperman Francis Church.

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? 
VIRGINIA O'HANLON
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

At this uncertain time, with the tragic events of last week still so fresh, there is nothing wrong with believing in the spirit of Santa Claus.  We need all the help we can get.  Peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume VII

Growing up, Christmas morning would start in one of my sibling's bedrooms, where we would get our stockings from our parents - then we would gather at the top of the stairs and our father would pass by us (usually mumbling something about the ungodly hour) and go downstairs to make sure that Santa had come.  In my house growing up - Santa decorated the tree on Christmas eve.  One of my father's other responsibilities was to put on the Christmas music before we would be allowed to come downstairs to open our presents.  Christmas music in the morning usually came from the local classical station - the pop radio stations didn't flip formats for weeks on end in those days.

I can usually restrain myself from the Christmas music shuffle on the iPod until Thanksgiving.  In fact, my iPod still has "regular" music interspersed with the Christmas music but that may change in the next day or two, obviously.  There are several radio stations that play Christmas music locally and I will listen to them in the car - I also have a wide selection of Christmas CDs that make the rotation in December.

So what are the Brave Astronaut's favorite Christmas songs?  What are yours?  Feel free to comment.

Here is the first ten Christmas songs that came up on my iPod when writing this post. (All links are to YouTube videos of the songs, when I could find them)
  1. I'll be Home for Christmas - Frank Sinatra
  2. Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Frank Sinatra
  3. The First Noel - Emmylou Harris
  4. Silver Bells - Vonda Shepard
  5. Twelve Days of Christmas - John Denver and the Muppets
  6. Who Comes This Night - James Taylor
  7. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Perry Como
  8. Christmas Time All Over the World - Sammy Davis, Jr.
  9. Whatever Happened to Christmas? - Frank Sinatra
  10. Winter White - A Fine Frenzy

Favorite "Traditional" Christmas Music
  1. Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful) (must include the Latin)
  2. Do You Hear What I Hear?
  3. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  4. Go Tell It on the Mountain
  5. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Favorite "Pop" Christmas Music
  1. White Christmas, always by Bing Crosby
  2. The Twelve Pains of Christmas
  3. Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen
  4. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays
  5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - the Michael Jackson / Jackson 5 version is currently getting a lot of play right now, it's one of Joe's favorites.
  6. The Marvelous Toy - The Chad Mitchell Trio (also one of the current favorites, my voice may have had a little hitch on on the final verse)
  7. The Christmas Song
  8. A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  9. Baby, It's Cold Outside
  10. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - we miss you Andy Williams
You may note the absence of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" on the Favorites list - although it did come up first on the shuffle.  Ever since my mother died, it's a hard song to listen to, as Christmas was her favorite holiday and going home for Christmas was always better when she was around.  Also missing from the list is "Christmas Shoes," a recent contemporary song.  Mrs. BA hates the song, which is fairly easy to do.  I'll let Patton Oswalt explain.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hawaii - #50, August 21, 1959


To begin on a personal note, today is the Brave Astronaut's birthday.  So if you've forgotten to send me some birthday wishes - there's still time.  For those who have - my thanks.

Our final state, Hawaii, was once an independent kingdom between 1810 and 1893.  At the request King Kamehameha I, the territorial flag was designed, with eight stripes of white, red and blue that represent the eight main islands. The flag of Great Britain is emblazoned in the upper left corner to honor Hawaii's friendship with the British. Hawaii is one of four states, besides the original thirteen, that were independent prior to becoming part of the United States, along with the Vermont Republic, the Republic of Texas, and the California Republic.  Its status as an independent kingdom led it to enjoy, along with Texas, formal diplomatic recognition internationally.

Hawaii is one of two states that do not observe daylight saving time, the other being Arizona. Hawaii is also one of two states that are not in the Contiguous United States, the other being Alaska.

Hawaii was first settled by Polynesians sailing from other Pacific islands between 300 and 600 AD.  In the late 18th century, in 1778, Hawaii was visited by British captain James Cook, who called the area the Sandwich Islands.

The current Governor of Hawaii is Democrat Neil Abercrombie. In the new Congress in January, the state will have only its sixth and seventh Senators in its short state history.  Senator Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring at the end of this Congress, he will be replaced by Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D).  On Monday, Senator Daniel Inouye died at the age of 88.  The Congressional delegation has two members, both Democrats.
  • 1st District - Colleen Hanabusa (D)
  • 2nd District - Tulsi Gabbard (D) (Representative-elect) - Gabbard will be the first Hindu member of Congress when sworn in.
Facts
  • State Capital and largest city - Honolulu
  • Date of Admission - August 21, 1959
  • Area - 10,931 sq mi (43rd) 
  • Population (2011 est.) - 1,374,810 (40th) 
  • State Motto - "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina I ka pono" "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness" 
  • State Nickname - The Aloha State
  • State bird - nene
  • State flower - hibiscus
  • State tree - kukui (candlenut)
  • State University - The University of Hawaii
  • Hawaii State Archives
  • Hawaiian Historical Society 
Links
Prominent Hawaiians - (here's a few lists to peruse, one and two)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume VI

It's my birthday tomorrow.  It's been discussed here before that I have some reservations about December birthdays, especially those right before (or after) Christmas. In fact, Having a December Birthday is Hard.  In addition to my birthday, LBA will celebrate his on Christmas Day and SoBA will close out the year on December 30.

I'm working on my birthday tomorrow (something that LBA will never have to do) but will take Friday off to head for the Newseum with LBA - something I've wanted to do for a while.  Then in the evening, we will head to the University of Maryland for some basketball.

On Saturday, I would like to go to the movies with Mrs. BA, perhaps get dinner first (I have a free entree here).  I would like to see more movies.  This year (based on the mashup below), I think I got to four or five movies.  Saturday could be Lincoln, or maybe Skyfall.


Monday, December 17, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume V

From Simply Recipes, a simple recipe for a Raspberry Walnut Tart.

Ingredients

Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) flour 
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (80g) 
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup or 12 Tbsp) butter 
Filling:
  • 3/4 cup (75g) chopped walnuts 
  • 10 ounces (283g) frozen or fresh raspberries (do not defrost if frozen) 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 3/4 cup (150g) white granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 (35g) cup flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
Make the crust. Place the crust ingredients—flour, powdered sugar, and butter—in a blender or food processor. Process until a dough forms, about 30 seconds to a minute. Lightly grease the inside of a 9 to 10 inch wide, 1 inch high, tart pan with a little butter. Place the dough in the tart pan. (You can use a pie dish if you do not have a tart pan.) Use your fingers to spread the dough and press it evenly all over the inside of the tart pan. (You can use a rolling pin to roll over the top of the tart pan to remove any excess dough and create an even top edge.) Place in the freezer and freeze for one hour or longer.

Pre-bake in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until nicely browned all over. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven again to 350F (175°C). Place the chopped walnuts in the crust in the tart pan and spread evenly over the bottom. Place the fresh or frozen raspberries on top of the walnuts and spread in an even layer.

Beat together the remaining filling ingredients—eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla—until smooth. Pour the egg mixture over the raspberries and walnuts in the crust.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack for 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the filling has set. When you remove the tart from the oven the center should still wiggle just a little. Take a sharp knife around the edge of the tart to separate it a little bit from the pan. This will make it easier to remove pieces once the tart has cooled.

Let cool to room temperature to serve.

Yield: Serves 8.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume IV

It is hard to turn one's energies to the holidays when unspeakable tragedy has taken place yesterday.  I used to be a teacher and am now a parent and I cannot think of what the parents and members of the community of Newtown Connecticut are going through today.  Please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers today and in the coming weeks.

As the world prepares for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, let the words of scripture comfort us.  As President Obama spoke at the end of his remarks, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).

Today I will be downtown at Ford's Theatre to usher for A Christmas Carol.  It is a good opportunity to list my favorite holiday shows. This list is in no particular order. What do you think?
  • The Rankin-Bass collection, which includes Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and so many others.  These are all staples in the Brave Astronaut home and we own them on DVD.
  • The Prep and Landing collection - this is a recent addition to the list of holiday favorites.  But it is SO TINSEL!
  • It's A Wonderful Life - because it is.
  • Miracle on 34th Street - the original, in black and white, only.
  • Growing up in New York, a standard for Christmas in our home was the Yule Log on WPIX (channel 11) - we didn't have a fireplace.
  • Elf - because Will Ferrell is a comedic genius and Zooey Deschanel is pretty good looking.
  • The Polar Express - though I haven't seen the movie all the way through, I really prefer the book.  Still makes me cry at the end.
  • Scrooged - this adaptation of A Christmas Carol is one of the better ones out there.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas - the original, with Boris Karloff, not the Jim Carrey version, ever.
  • Holiday Inn and White Christmas - you really can't go wrong with Bing and Fred Astaire's 4th of July number in Holiday Inn is legendary.
  • Die Hard.  Hey, it's a Christmas movie isn't it?
  • The Christmas episodes of The West Wing, specifically, "Noel," and "In Excelsis Deo"
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Alaska - #49, January 3, 1959


Alaska was purchased from Russia in March 1867, for the bargain price of $7.2 million equaling approximately two cents per acre, the sale negotiated by Secretary of State William Seward (and called Seward's Folly).  The first official census (1880) conducted after the purchase of Alaska reported a total of 33,426 Alaskans, all but 430 being of aboriginal stock. The Gold Rush of 1898 resulted in a mass influx of more than 30,000 people.

Our 49th State is also the largest of all of the states (twice the size of Texas, the #2 state in size) and one of the most least populated (ranking 47th in people).  Most of the state's residents live in the Anchorage metropolitan area.  The state has the longest coastline of all of the other states combined (it is surrounded by water on three sides).

The current Governor of Alaska is Steve Parnell (R). The Alaska Senators are split by the ideological aisle, Mark Begich is a Democrat and Lisa Murkowski is a Republican.  Begich won his seat from longtime Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who later died in a plane crash in the state. Murkowski's father, Frank, was Governor of the state and also served as Senator.  Alaska has only one at-Large Congress Member, Don Young (R).

Facts
Links
Prominent Alaskans - (here's a few lists to peruse, one and two - as one might expect, very few people are from Alaska)

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume III

I went to Costco over the weekend and bought the Costco-size butter, both salted and unsalted.  It's Christmastime and that means cookies.  The only question is what to make?

I'm know if Mrs. BA makes them they will be perfect.

Here's the solution.  The Christmas Cookie A Day Advent Calendar.  Here's my favorite recipe from the first ten days.  It happens to be the first cookie (December 1).

Linzer Stars

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/3 cups slivered almonds 
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
  • 2/3 cup sugar 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 1 large egg 
  • 2 teaspoons dark rum 
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam 
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)
Special equipment
  • a 2-inch star cookie cutter
  • a 1/2-inch star cookie cutter 
Preparation
Pulse flour, almonds, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor until almonds are finely ground (no larger than poppy seeds).

Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg; beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Beat in rum and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients. Beat dough just to blend; gently knead if necessary to form a ball.

Divide dough in half. Place each half between sheets of parchment or waxed paper. Working with 1 piece at a time, flatten dough into a disk; roll dough, occasionally lifting paper on both sides for easier rolling, until 1/8 inches thick. Chill dough in paper until very firm, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

Arrange a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Working with 1 dough disk at a time, remove top sheet of paper and, using 2-inch star cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer to baking sheets, placing 1/2 inch apart; chill. Repeat with remaining dough. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, chilling, and cutting until dough is used.

Using 1/2-inch star cookie cutter, cut out a star from the center of half the cookies. Working in batches, bake cookies until light golden brown, dry, and just firm to the touch, 11-13 minutes. (Cookies will firm up as they cool.) Transfer to a wire rack; let cool. DO AHEAD: Cookies can be baked 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Bring jam and 1 teaspoon water to a boil in a small saucepan; let cool slightly.

Arrange whole cookies flat side up. Spoon 1 teaspoon cooled jam in the center of each, dabbing slightly to spread. Arrange cookies with cutouts flat side down on a wire rack; dust with powdered sugar. Set atop whole cookies, lining up star points and allowing jam to push up slightly through center. DO AHEAD: Linzer Stars can be assembled 8 hours ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Nutritional Information
20 servings, 1 sandwich cookie per serving, 1 serving contains
  • Calories (kcal) 150 
  • Fat (g) 8 
  • Saturated Fat (g) 3 
  • Cholesterol (mg) 25 
  • Carbohydrates (g) 18 
  • Dietary Fiber (g) 1 
  • Total Sugars (g) 10 
  • Protein (g) 3 
  • Sodium (mg) 50 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume II


Well this was the weekend for the Brave Astronaut clan to really get moving on the Christmas spirit.  Mrs. BA and I have also begun consulting with Santa as to what LBA and SoBA will be getting for Christmas this year - you'll see in a moment that they may need more presents than usual to bring the tree size into proportion.

The Brave Astronaut has a few things on his list this year and I am nearly done with gifts for Mrs. BA.  I am looking for one other thing and know what other thing(s) I want to buy, so I am good there.  Perhaps I might think about something from the 12 Days of Christmas?  As in past years, PNC has created the "Christmas Price Index."  For all 12 gifts (in their appropriate quantities), the price is $25,431.18, a 4.8% increase from last year.  Gold is up 16.3%, but geese are up nearly 30%.  "Personnel" is relatively stable with the exception of Pipers and Drummers, both up 5.5%.

My needs this year are small (I'm thinking of making the switch to an electric razor), nowhere near approaching the gifts out of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.  Although had I won the PowerBall a few weeks ago (or somebody I knew won), I might be interested in the Private Dinner for 10.  It's only $250,000.  And I could certainly see LBA and SoBA drooling over their own personalized video game - it's a bargain at $90,000.

The Brave Astronaut clan and the OSG family have our Christmas tradition of going out to hunt our trees.  For the past several years we have gone to a farm in northern MD / southern PA (it's really on the border - you cross the Mason-Dixon line three times to get to the farm).  This year, we found a deal (and you know how much the Brave Astronaut loves the deal) for a farm in Harper's Ferry WV.  So we headed out there this morning - had a lovely day with lunch after getting our trees, at the Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown before heading home.

Here's the tree that we wound up with.  It is possibly the biggest tree I have ever had.  I had to go out for more lights and I used just about every ornament we own.  If only I'd kept my hockey ornaments.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Arizona - #48, February 14, 1912



The 13 rays of red and gold on the top portion of the Arizona state represent both the 13 original colonies and the rays of the Western setting sun.  The bottom half of the flag is in the same liberty blue color as the United States flag.  Arizona was once the largest producer of copper in the nation so a copper star was placed in the flag's center.  Arizona was the last of the contiguous states to be admitted to the Union.

A Spanish Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, was the first European to explore Arizona. He entered the area in 1539 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. Following the end of the Mexican War, most of the Arizona territory became part of the U.S., and the southern portion of the territory was added by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.

Arizona history is rich with legends of the Old West. The great Indian chiefs Geronimo and Cochise led their people against the frontiersmen in Arizona.  Tombstone featured the West's most famous shoot-out, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  Arizona has one of the largest U.S. Indian populations; more than 14 tribes are represented on 20 reservations.

Arizona is a recognized center of Native American art, with a number of galleries showcasing historical and contemporary works. The Heard Museum, located in Phoenix, is a major repository of Native American art. The Heard Museum has about 250,000 visitors a year.

The current Governor of Arizona is Jan Brewer, a Republican. Both Senators for Arizona are also Republicans - 2008 Presidential Candidate John McCain and John Kyl, although Kyl is leaving the Senate at the end of this year - the new Senator will be Congressman Jeff Flake (R). As a result of the 2010 decennial census, the Arizona Congressional delegation grew from eight to nine.
  • 1st District - Ann Kirkpatrick (D) (Representative-elect)
  • 2nd District - Ron Barber (D) (Barber is a former staff member of  Representative Gabrielle Gifford and was also injured in the attack that killed six and severely wounded Representative Gifford.
  • 3rd District - Raul Grijalva (D)
  • 4th District - Paul Gosar (R)
  • 5th District - Matt Salmon (R) (Representative-elect)
  • 6th District - Dave Schweikert (R)
  • 7th District - Ed Pastor (D)
  • 8th District - Trent Franks (R)
  • 9th District - Krysten Sinema (D) (Representative-elect) (Once seated, Sinema will become the first openly bi-sexual member of Congress)
Facts
  • State Capital and largest city - Phoenix
  • Date of Admission - February 14, 1912
  • Area - 113,990 sq mi (6th) 
  • Population (2011 est.) - 6,482,505 (16th) 
  • State Motto - "Ditat Deus" "God enriches"
  • State Nickname - The Grand Canyon State
  • State mammal - ringtail
  • State bird - cactus wren
  • State fish - Arizona trout
  • State flower - saguaro cactus
  • State reptile - Arizona ridgenose rattlesnake
  • State gem - turquoise
  • State fossil - petrified wood
  • State neckwear - the bolo tie
  • State tree - palo verde
  • State University - The University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University are the three main public schools in Arizona
  • State Archives - the History and Archives Division is a unit of the Arizona Secretary of State
  • Arizona Historical Society 
Links
Prominent Arizonans - (here's a few lists to peruse, one and two)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Apple Tart with Salted Caramel

On the heels of the Tomboy Cake, here's another suggestion for a holiday / birthday treat for the Brave Astronaut.  Of course, today is also my sister's birthday - so if you saw her today - I hope you wished her a happy birthday!

It is noteworthy that most of the recipes here in December will be on the sweet side - it's Christmastime and you know the Brave Astronaut has a pretty good sweet tooth.  This week's contribution from the Smitten Kitchen.

Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel
Puffed pastry is a wonderful thing to keep around in your freezer. It comes at all price points, but I do think that the best ones contain only butter, not shortening. DuFour is my favorite brand; it is an investment that you will be able to taste in every bite and this is the kind of tart where you’ll really be able to tell. If you buy some for this recipe, buy two. You’ll thank me next week, when you need to make it again.
Be ye not intimidated by homemade caramel. I promise, it can be so simple. You don’t need water, corn syrup, a pastry brush or exclamation point-ed nerve-wracking admonitions to not stir. You just put some sugar in an empty saucepan, turn the heat up and wait a few minutes. It will melt; it always does. 
Note: The caramel glaze is not like a caramel sauce you would put on ice cream. Those will have more cream in them, to keep them thin. I was going for a firmer one, soft only when melted, and with as clean of a color as possible (not muddied by extra cream). For a traditional salted caramel sauce, use this recipe. For a slightly thinner salted caramel syrup (amazing on pancakes or crepes), use this. 

Serves 12

Tart base
  • 14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted in fridge overnight 
  • 3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds) 
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits 
Salted caramel glaze
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt) 
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt) 
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream 
Heat your oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Ideally you would use a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan. A smaller pan will make a thicker tart (and you might need fewer apples). In a larger pan, you can still fit a 10×15-inch tart, which I think is the ideal size here.

Lightly flour your counter and lay out your pastry. Flour the top and gently roll it until it fits inside your baking sheet, and transfer it there. Try not to roll it any bigger than you’ll need it, or you’ll have to trim, which means you’ll have to sprinkle the trimmings with cinnamon-sugar and bake them into cookie-sized segments for snacks. And that would be terrible. 

Peel the apples and cut them in half top-to-bottom. Remove the cores and stems. Slice the apples halves crosswise as thinly as you can with a knife, or to about 1/16-inch thickness with a mandoline. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, fan the apples around the tart in slightly overlapping concentric rectangles — each apple should overlap the one before so that only about 3/4-inch of the previous apple will be visible — until you reach the middle. Sprinkle the apples evenly with the first two tablespoons of sugar then dot with the first two tablespoons butter.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are brown and the edges of the apples begin to take on some color. If you sliced your apples by hand and they were on the thicker side, you might need a little more baking time to cook them through. The apples should feel soft, but dry to the touch. If you puffed pastry bubbles dramatically in any place during the baking time, simply poke it with a knife or skewer so that it deflates.

Meanwhile, about 20 minutes into the baking time, make your glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your last 1/4 cup sugar; this will take about 3 minutes. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color, another minute or two. Off the heat, add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Add the heavy cream and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have a lovely, bronzed caramel syrup, just another minute, two, tops. Set aside until needed. You may need to briefly rewarm it to thin the caramel before brushing it over the tart.

After the tart has baked, transfer it to a cooling rack, but leave the oven on. Using very short, gentle strokes, and brushing in the direction that the apples fan to mess up their design as little as possible, brush the entire tart, including the exposed pastry, with the salted caramel glaze. You might have a little leftover. Whatever you do, do not spread it on a sliced apple for a snack. Trust me.

Return the apple tart to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the caramel glaze bubbles. Let tart cool complete before cutting into 12 squares. Serve plain, with coffee or tea, if you’re feeling grown-up or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2012), volume I

Today is December 2, and we are well into the holiday season - having put Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror (we had a wonderful time at the beach, with friends).  The holiday music is in full shuffle mode on the iPod and at some point, I will put the Christmas playlists on exclusively. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the Catholic Church liturgical year. 

Yesterday I ushered at Ford's Theatre for a matinee performance of A Christmas Carol.  It's there until December 30.  If you're in the DC area you should go see it.  If you go on December 15, I'll be there again - maybe I'll help you to your seat.  After the show, I came home to help co-host the church men's club celebration dinner.  A good time was had by all.

Today I spent my afternoon doing some yard work, all the leaves are finally down off the trees.  I also took advantage of the warm(er) weather and hung the Christmas lights.  I ran into darkness before I got all of the lights out that I was hoping for - so maybe there will be some more lighting next weekend.  But next Sunday will also be the annual Christmas tree hunting expedition.  This year we are trying a new place - in Harper's Ferry.  We'll see what happens.

Here's a picture taken by Mrs. BA showing how the house looks so far.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Mexico - #47, January 6, 1912


New Mexico became a territory of the United States following the Mexican War in 1848, with the last piece of the puzzle coming with the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. Since 1945, New Mexico has been a leader in energy research and development with extensive experiments conducted at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and Sandia Laboratories in the nuclear, solar, and geothermal areas.

The state of New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics and the second highest percentage of Native Americans (after Alaska).  The tribes in the state consist of mostly Navajo and Pueblo peoples. The flag of New Mexico is represented by the red and gold colors, which represent Spain, as well as the Zia symbol, an ancient symbol for the sun of that Pueblo-related tribe.

The current Governor of New Mexico is Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party and the first Hispanic female governor of a state. Both Senators for New Mexico are Democrats, Jeff Bingaman, and Tom Udall. Senator Bingaman is retiring from the Senate and will be replaced by Congressman Martin Heinrich (D).  The New Mexico Congressional delegation has three members, two Democrats and one Republican.
Facts
Links
Prominent New Mexicans - (here's a few lists to peruse, one and two)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tomboy Cake

From a recent issue of Bon Appetit . . . I would eat this . . .  you know, my birthday's coming up . . .

The Tomboy Cake
Bon Appétit | October 2012
by Janet McCracken and Alison Roman
Inspired by a style of cake from California's Miette bakeries, we frost the top and middle layers of this stunner but leave the sides naked to showcase the almond cake. Don't have a pastry bag or star tip to frost the layers? Fill a resealable plastic bag with the frosting, snip off a corner, and pipe away. 

Yield: Makes 8 to 12 servings

Ingredients
Cake:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more 
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more 
  • 1 cup slivered almonds 
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided 
  • 4 large egg yolks 
  • 6 large egg whites 
Lemon cream:
  • 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces 
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream 
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar 
Frosting and assembly:
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 3 large egg whites 
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 2/3 cup strawberry jam 
Special equipment:
  • Three 8"-diameter cake pans with 2" sides
  • a candy thermometer
  • a pastry bag
  • a large star piping tip

Preparation
For cake:
Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; butter paper. Pulse 2 1/2 cups flour and almonds in a food processor until almonds are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl and whisk in baking powder and salt; set aside.

Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat 2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add egg yolks and continue to beat, occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl, until pale yellow and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with milk mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. (Do not overmix or cake will dome and be dense.)

Using an electric mixer with clean, dry beaters, whip egg whites in a medium bowl until light and frothy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat meringue until medium peaks form, 3–4 minutes.

Fold 1/4 of meringue into batter just until incorporated (this will lighten batter, making it easier to fold in remaining meringue). Gently fold in remaining meringue until fully incorporated. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Smooth tops.

Bake cakes, rotating from left to right and top to bottom halfway through, until golden brown and the sides of cakes begin to pull away from pans, 40–45 minutes. Transfer to wire racks. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment and let cool completely.

If needed, use a long serrated knife to trim dome from each cake (about 1/8") to create a flat surface. DO AHEAD: Cakes can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. 

For lemon cream:
Place 2 teaspoons cold water in a small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Whisk lemon juice, sugar, and eggs in a medium metal bowl; place over a large saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens, 5–6 minutes. (Do not allow bottom of bowl to touch the water or mixture will cook too fast and eggs may scramble.)

Remove bowl from heat and transfer mixture to a blender. With blender running, add butter 1 piece at a time until butter is completely incorporated. Add softened gelatin and blend 30 seconds longer.

Transfer lemon curd to a medium bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Chill until cold and set, 3–4 hours or overnight.

Using an electric mixer, beat chilled cream in another medium bowl until soft peaks form (warm cream will not whip up). Add powdered sugar. Continue to beat until medium peaks form, 2–3 minutes. Whisk curd to loosen; gently fold in whipped cream; set aside. DO AHEAD: Lemon cream can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. 

For frosting and assembly:
Bring 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook without stirring until candy thermometer registers 240°F, 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until light and frothy (be sure to keep a close eye on the sugar syrup). Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and cream of tartar.

With mixer running, gradually add hot syrup in a thin stream, allowing syrup to drizzle down side of bowl into egg whites. Beat until egg whites are tripled in volume and meringue is very fluffy, cool, and opaque white, about 12 minutes with a stand mixer and up to 20 minutes with a hand mixer. (Frosting made with a hand mixer may not be as firm as that made with a stand mixer.) Add vanilla and mix 1 minute longer. Use meringue immediately.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with large star tip halfway with prepared meringue.

Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or platter. Spread 1/3 cup strawberry jam over, leaving a 1" border around edge. Spread 1/3 cup lemon cream over jam, keeping 1" border. Pipe a ring of meringue frosting over 1" border around edge. Place second cake layer atop meringue, pressing slightly to adhere. Repeat process with second cake layer, jam, lemon cream, and meringue. (Cover and chill remaining lemon cream for another use.) Place remaining layer on top. Using offset spatula, generously spread remaining meringue frosting on top layer of cake. Chill up to 4 hours.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Oklahoma - #46, November 16, 1907

First of all, a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to all those out there in the United States.  The Brave Astronaut clan is likely sitting down to our Thanksgiving feast at the beach.  I hope wherever you are, you are enjoying good food, friends and family.  Now on to today's State of the Union - we are down to the final five!


We have arrived at the final five states of the Union (to date) and the first of the states to be admitted in the 20th Century.  When the area was still a territory, on April 22, 1889, the first day homesteading was permitted, 50,000 people swarmed into the area. Those who tried to beat the noon starting gun were called “Sooners,” hence the state's nickname.


In April 1995, the state capital, Oklahoma City, was the site of the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, killing 168 people, including 19 children. McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed in June 2001 and Nichols was sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

The current Governor of Oklahoma is Republican Mary Fallin. Both Senators for the Sooner State are Republicans, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn. The Oklahoma Congressional delegation has five members, which is also now completely Republican after the retirement of the 2nd District's Dan Boren.

Facts
Links
Prominent Oklahomans - (here's a few lists to peruse, one and two - a lot of astronauts from Oklahoma!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Roasted Potatoes with Bacon, Cheese and Parsley

The Brave Astronaut is spending Thanksgiving at the beach this year, as we did a few years ago.  We are looking forward to it - as there is definitely something special about the beach in the off season.  We will also be interested to see what remains of the beach after Hurricane Sandy a few weeks ago.

We are busy packing up items to bring with us to help with our feast on Thursday - we will head to the grocery store Wednesday to pick up those items that don't travel that well (the turkey, etc.).  Of course, a traditional Brave Astronaut Thanksgiving involves too much food and a lot of desserts.  I am working hard to dial it back at Mrs. BA's request.

There will be turkey and all the trimmings though - mashed potatoes, vegetables (sorry, but there will likely be a box of pearled onions, too) and desserts.  While the mashed potatoes are a staple - I would consider these as an alternative.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!  Thanks for stopping by!


Roasted Potatoes with Bacon, Cheese, and Parsley
Gourmet | November 2007
by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez 
You've encountered a million potato-bacon-cheese combos in your lifetime, but in retrospect they all seem to be rehearsals for this one, a classic of Miraglia Eriquez's Calabrian grandmother Mary Pacella, who immigrated to Brooklyn in 1934. Crispness abounds, from the bacon to the slight crust on the roasted potatoes, yielding to creamy, very potatoey interiors. 

Yield: Makes 8 (side dish) servings
Active Time: 30 min
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr

Ingredients 
  • 3 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 inches in diameter) 
  • 6 ounces bacon (about 6 slices), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley 
Preparation
Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in lowest position.

Generously cover potatoes with cold water in a 4-quart pot and add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small sharp knife, about 12 minutes. Drain. Cool potatoes to warm, then peel and cut in half crosswise.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until cooked through but still flexible. Drain on paper towels, reserving fat in skillet.

Brush bottom of a 15- by 10-inch shallow baking pan with oil and half of reserved bacon fat. Sprinkle potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and arrange, cut sides down, in baking pan. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Turn potatoes over, then sprinkle with cheese, bacon, and garlic and drizzle with remaining bacon fat (if fat congeals, reheat briefly over medium heat). Bake until cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley.

Cooks' notes:
  • Potatoes can be boiled and peeled 1 day ahead and chilled in an airtight container.
  • Potatoes, without cheese, bacon, garlic, and bacon fat, can be baked 6 hours ahead and kept, loosely covered, at room temperature. Turn potatoes over and proceed with recipe, baking a little longer. If baking at same time as stuffing, leave oven temperature at 425°F.