Monday, August 31, 2009

Chocolate Mousse

After last week's recipe for Coq au Vin, the Amateur Gourmet suggest the appropriate followup has to be Chocolate Mousse. I made chocolate mousse once, I overdid it on the liquor and basically made chocolate liquor soup. My father really liked it.

According to the Amateur Gourmet, it's fairly simple to make. Give it a shot and let me know how you do. The recipe comes from Elsie's Simply Recipes.

  • 4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tablespoons espresso or very strong coffee (I used decaf espresso from a local Starbucks)
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • (Optional) Raspberries and extra whipped cream
  1. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then refrigerate.
  2. Combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not simmering, water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until the chocolate is just slightly warmer than body temperature. To test, dab some chocolate on your bottom lip. It should feel warm. If it is too cool, the mixture will seize when the other ingredients are added.
  3. Once the melted chocolate has cooled slightly, whip the egg whites in a medium bowl until they are foamy and beginning to hold a shape. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
  4. When the chocolate has reached the proper temperature, stir in the yolks. Gently stir in about one-third of the whipped cream. Fold in half the whites just until incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites, and finally the remaining whipped cream.
  5. Spoon or pipe the mousse into a serving bowl or individual dishes. If you wish, layer in fresh raspberries and whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. (The mousse can be refrigerated for up to a day.)
Serves 5-8, depending on the size of the servings.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Going on Vacation

Is everyone listening? Good. I don't want any confusion. I will be away later this week, but I have a few posts in the can ready to go so no one misses me too much. I will be at the beach with unknown Internet access.

Sort of like this guy:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And the Strange Baseball Season Continues

On the day when both the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals won a game, another team (well, one member of the team) pulled off another rarity in baseball. The unassisted Triple Play. In the continuing saga of the New York Mets in freefall, their game with the Philadelphia Phillies ended abruptly in the ninth inning, when Eric Bruntlett pulled off the three outer by himself. In the modern era of baseball, it has happened only 15 times and only twice has the triple play ended the game. On a similar note, I spotted this in my reader, where "immaculate innings" are being tracked. What's an "immaculate inning," you ask? That's when a pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches. It has happened only 42 times. Three pitchers have done it twice, but none have ever done it three times.

Here's the list of unassisted triple plays.
  • Neal Ball (SS) of the Cleveland Naps SS, July 19, 1909 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.
  • Bill Wambsganss (2B) of the Cleveland Indians, October 10, 1920 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series
  • George Burns (1B) of the Boston Red Sox, September 14, 1923 - Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd
  • Ernie Padgett (SS) of the Boston Braves, October 6, 1923 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
  • Glenn Wright (SS) of the Pittsburgh Pirates, May 7, 1925 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.
  • Jimmy Cooney (SS) of the Chicago Cubs, May 30, 1927 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
  • Johnny Neun (iB) of the Detroit Tigers, May 31, 1927 - Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd (Ended game)
  • Ron Hansen (SS) of the Washington Senators, July 30, 1968 - 1st Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
  • Mickey Morandini (2B) of the Philadelphia Phillies, September 20, 1992 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
  • John Valentin (SS) of the Boston Red Sox, July 8, 1994 6th Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner
  • Randy Velarde (2B) of the Oakland Athletics, May 29, 2000 - Caught line drive, tagged runner, touched 2nd
  • Rafael Furcal (SS) of the Atlanta Braves, August 10, 2003 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.
  • Troy Tulowitzki (SS) of the Colorado Rockies, April 29, 2007 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.
  • Asdrúbal Cabrera (2B) of the Cleveland Indians, May 12, 2008 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner.
  • Eric Bruntlett (2B) of the Philadelphia Phillies, August 23, 2009 - Caught line drive, touched 2nd, tagged runner (Ended game)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yeah it's Hot - But Think of Winter

So the month of June was like living in Seattle here in the DC area. There was at least one opportunity to wear a sweater, too. Isn't everyone concerned about global warming? While you sip that lemonade and try and stay cool in the dog days of summer, here's a warming, winter recipe to get you thinking about stew season.

Coq au Vin
(from Molly Stevens - All About Braising via the Amateur Gourmet)

  • 1/4 pound slab bacon (AG used D'Artagnan pancetta), rind removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • One 4 1/2 to 5 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces, wing tips, back, neck and giblets (except the liver) reserved
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 a cup)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 8 oz.), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or other good brandy
  • One 750-ml bottle dry, fruity red wine (I used a Pinot Noir)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup chicken stock
The garnish:
  • 10 oz. pearl onions (about 24; frozen pearl onions, not thawed, may be substituted)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
The bacon. Place the diced bacon in a cold, large Dutch oven or other heavy lidded braising pot, set over medium heat, and cook the bacon, stirring often with a slotted spoon, until well browned and crisp on the outside but with some softness inside, 12 to 15 minutes. [AG found my bacon wasn't really rendering, so I added a drop of vegetable oil and that helped it.]

Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Set the pot with the rendered bacon fat aside off the heat.

2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Rinse the chicken pieces with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season on all sides with salt and pepper [be aggressive here]. Spread the flour in a wide shallow dish (a pie plate works well), and dredge half the chicken pieces one at a time, pacing each one in the flour, turning to coat both sides, and then lifting and patting lightly to shake off any excess.

4. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the rendered bacon fat in the pot and place over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, ease in the dredged pieces of chicken, skin side down, without crowding.

Sear on both sides, turning once with tongs, until a deep golden brown crust forms, 7 to 10 minutes total.

[Note: this is the most important step. You MUST get it golden brown for it to taste good. The more golden it is, the more fond is on the bottom of the pan which will add to the sauce later on.]

Transfer the chicken to a large platter; dredge the remaining pieces, discard the flour. Add another tablespoon butter to the pot, sear the remaining chicken. The second batch may brown faster, lower the heat if it begins to burn at all. Transfer the chicken to the platter, pour off the fat from the pot without discarding the tasty browned bits. Return the pot to medium heat.

5. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and melt it over medium heat.

Add the onion and carrot, and toss to coat the vegetables in the butter. Saute, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are flecked with brown, about five minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir to smear the paste through the vegetables. Add the Cognac [be careful! don't pour directly from the bottle] and bring to a boil to deglaze, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the precious crust. Simmer, stirring a few times, until the liquid is almost all gone. Raise the heat to high, add the red wine, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and simmer rapidly until the wine reduces by about half, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the reserved bacon and the stock and bring to a boil. Using a ladle, scoop out 1/2 cup of braising liquid and set aside for later cooking the pearl onions.

6. Add the chicken pieces to the pot in this order: place the legs, thighs, and wings, and the wing tips, back, neck, heart, and gizzard in the pot first, then put the breast pieces on top of them, skin side down. (Keeping the breast pieces on top protects them from overcooking and drying out.) Pour in any juices that collected as the chicken sat and bring to a simmer.

Cover the chicken with parchment paper, pressing down so that the paper nearly touches the chicken and extends over the sides of the pot by about an inch. Cover with the lid and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise. After 15 minutes, turn the breast pieces over with tongs. At the same time, check that the liquid is simmering quietly. If not, lower the oven temp by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue braising gently for another 45 to 60 minutes, or until the breasts and dark meat are fork tender.

7. Meanwhile, while the chicken braises, cook the garnish. [I used frozen pearl onions for this, so I'm skipping her step for boiling and peeling fresh ones. Frozen work perfect!] Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet (preferably 12-inch nonstick) over medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring and shaking, until tinged with brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, add the reserved 1/2 cup of braising liquid, cover and simmer, shaking the pan frequently, until the onions are tender when pierced (3 to 4 minutes, if using frozen; 12 if not). Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high, and boil to reduce the liquid to a glaze.

Transfer the onions and liquid to a small bowl, scraping the pan with a rubber spatula. Return the pan to a medium-high heat and add the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute briskly. The mushrooms may release a lot of liquid at first. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms develop an attractive chestnut brown sear, about 10 minutes. Remove them from the heat and return the onions and liquid to the skillet. Set aside.

8. Take the chicken out of the oven.

Remove the chicken pieces to a platter, get rid of the giblets if you used them, and cover the chicken to keep it warm. Let the braising liquid settle and then skim off any fat from the top (I didn't see any clear fat, so I just moved on). Place the pot over high heat and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce the juices until thickened to the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Lower the heat, add the onion mushroom garnish, heat through, about 4 minutes.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

Bon appetit.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let's Not Dwell on This, Shall We?

Next week, the majority of colleges and universities will be getting back into session. And every year, Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin publishes the mindset list that reminds us all how old we are. It details what the freshmen (mostly born in 1990 [shudder]) entering college this year have only ever known.

Here are some of the highlights [lowlights?] from this year's list.
  • For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead
  • GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
  • Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
  • Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
  • As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”
  • Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando.
  • Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
  • We have always known that “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
  • IBM has never made typewriters.
  • They have never been able to color a tree using a raw umber Crayola.
  • The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno and started at 11:35 EST.
  • Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.
  • Caller ID has always been available on phones.
  • Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.
  • Soft drink refills have always been free.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
  • 98.6 F or otherwise has always been confirmed in the ear.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rhubarb Twofer

It has been noted here before, I will pretty much do anything for you if you show up with a strawberry rhubarb pie at my door. I love the great combination that these two make. Here are two recipes, one for just a Rhubarb cake, offered by my neighbor, Pricklygirl - and the second for a Strawberry-Rhubarb crisp from the gang at DCist.

Rhubarb Cake
Note from Kathryn: I grew up with this cake. It is one of my all-time favorites! I know that you’ll enjoy it, too.
  • 1 1/2 C. packed brown sugar
  • 2 C. shortening (Crisco or butter)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 C. sour milk
  • 2 C. flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all ingredients together. Add 1 1/2 C. rhubarb, cut up small. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan.
Top cake with 1/2 c. sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon mixed together. Bake at 325 degrees l hour . . . use a toothpick to test, it should come out clean.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

  • 1 lb strawberries, stems removed and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 lb rhubarb, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss fruit with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and corn starch until well coated. Pour fruit into an 8"X8" square baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine butter, oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, mash together all ingredients together until it forms moist clumps. The mixture is ready when there are no more visible pieces of butter or flour.

Sprinkle chunks of topping over the surface of the fruit. Bake until top is browned and fruit is bubbling, about 25 - 30 minutes.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Over the Rainbow and Under the Influence

While the BA family prepares to jet home from the SAA Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, I note two worthy anniversaries today.
Begin reminiscing . . .

Friday, August 14, 2009

In the Midst of SAA 2009

So how are things at the gates of hell, also known as Austin, Texas in August? Fine, it is surely doing well for me as I am sure to have sweated off some pounds walking about the streets of Austin.

To recap:

We arrived here on Wednesday afternoon. We had two slight hiccups on Tuesday night. As most of you know, we we booked on a flight out of BWI at 9:30 on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, I planned to take SoBA to his nana's, while the rest of the BA clan headed for the Lone Star State. On Tuesday morning, after a call from Mrs. BA, I learned that SoBA was in need of another ER visit after falling at daycare. He fell into a table and had bitten his lip pretty badly. So off I went to meet Mrs. BA and SoBA at the hospital. It turned out not to be so bad and I headed for my MIL's place on the Eastern Shore. We had a nice afternoon and evening and after a bath, put him in his jammies and he settled down to watch a show with Nana. I kissed him good bye and told him I loved him and that I would see him in a few days. I choked back the tears that were welling and slipped out.

The other hiccup occurred when Mrs. BA realized she had left her walled at the pool on Tuesday night. She realized this at 10:30 on Tuesday night and the pool was now closed. Normally the pool opens at 11:00 an hour and a half after our flight was scheduled to leave. We soon determined that adult lap swimming started at 6:30 each morning and there would be someone at the pool to give her a chance to find her wallet. After one trip, where she was unsuccessful, we loaded the car and prepared to head for the airport and decided to give it one more look. I had the lifeguard open the locked area where the computer is kept and lo and behold, there was the wallet. Crisis averted, we headed for the airport.

We had an uneventful flight(s) to Austin, with a layover in Dallas (due to the passage of the Wright Amendment, wherein most flights in and out of Texas have to go through Dallas-Fort Worth, resulting in a short hop from Dallas to Austin (only 40 minutes in the air). We arrived at the conference hotel in plenty of time to make ready for my outing to Round Rock Baseball. We had a good crowd and watch for a post about the game soon.

Thursday was a day of sessions, you can read a recap of the session I attended here. Saturday morning I will close out the conference with another session. Mrs. BA is also on the schedule for a session presentation tomorrow. For lunch on Thursday, I had a great lunch with J in PA and ArchivesNext at Carmelo's, across the street from the hotel. Bananas Foster made tableside made the lunch extra special. On Thursday evening, Mr. and Mrs. BA, along with Mr. and Mrs. OSG arranged for babysitting services and headed out to a great restaurant, Fonda San Miguel, in North Austin, to celebrate Mrs BA's and Mr. OSG's birthday.

On Friday, Mrs. BA headed for the sessions and I accompanied LBA and Mrs. OSG and Little OSG to the Austin Children's Museum. We met up with Mr. OSG and Mrs. BA for lunch at the Iron Works for BBQ. It is most appropriately referred to as a "joint," or perhaps "a hole in the wall." But boy is the food good. I spent Friday afternoon, losing another election - I was one of five people vying for one spot on a steering committee for a section to which I belong. From there, I went and conducted an Oral History interview with one of the legends in the profession. It was a great interview. Then I went to the Presidential Address plenary portion of the conference and then a mini-tweetup in the hotel bar, possibly the founding meeting of the Beer Roundtable.

For dinner, the OSG family and the BA clan headed around the corner from the hotel to try out another local eatery, this time Moonshine. It is possible that we all came very close (again) to having to put our heads down on the table. From there we attempted to catch the bats coming out of the Congress Street Bridge, but missed the majority of them leaving for the evening's feeding. Perhaps tomorrow night. It is now too late to be doing anything more than heading to bed.

With Saturday tomorrow - and our last full day in Austin, there are more sessions to attend and some sights to see. The state capitol and the LBJ museum are topping the list. Another update to come soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SAA Austin - Thursday

Right now we are live from Session 203 - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Electronic Records Preservation. The speakers are being introduced by the chair of the session, Nancy Kunde, and I will comment on their talks as we go along. Roger Christman of the Library of Virginia is up first. The title of his paper is "It takes a leap of faith: The Library of Virginia, the Governor's Office and Electronic Records." As many of you know, I now work with electronic records in my daily work.

Roger is talking about the relationship between the Library and the Governor's Office, discussing the problems that existed in the relationship between the state's chief executive and the Library. The Library even went so far as to sue Governor James Gilmore, to make sure all of his records were transferred, including electronic records.

Note: As I am sitting in the back so I can plug in my laptop to get power, I am also doing my best to try and kill or injure archivists as the wire for my laptop runs from the back row to the wall. Be cautious coming into Salon F and turning right.

Christman continued, discussing the "archival emergency" the Library of VA faced, when the governor was not sure what to do about the records and there was no legislation in place to protect the records. The Library was proactive and got legislation passed to get the records on schedule and ensure they would not be lost.

Second up is Patricia Michaels from the Kansas State Historical Society to discuss, "The Long and Winding Road toward Electronic Records Preservation in Kansas." Unlike Roger, she is using PowerPoint. She is talking from her PowerPoint notes (I assume) and has also provided copies of her PowerPoint presentation. I don't quite understand the point of providing copies of your talk, unless you don't want people paying attention to what you are saying.

KSHS, started their electronic records program in the mid-90s through an NHPRC grant, and conducted extensive surveys of Kansas state agencies to evaluate existing electronic records policies and practices to develop their own guidelines. Out of those initiatives, they hired an electronic records archivist, a position that continues to this day.

Final speaker, Joanne Kaczmarek from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is discussing the efforts of UIUC's efforts to preserve their electronic records. They went right to the top, enlisting many of the heavy hitters of the electronic records world (including many from my employer, which has had an electronic records program for nearly 40 years).

She may have coined the new term - "joining the archival slipstream." Speakers have all wrapped up and I am going to slip out and see what presents itself next. I'm thinking lunch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Got a Good Name in You?

The majority of the Brave Astronaut clan (SoBA will spend some time with his Nana) will be heading to Austin, Texas for the 2009 Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting tomorrow. Next year the conference will return to Washington, DC but not to the Washington Hilton. For those lovers of nostalgia, there is an opportunity to put your mark on the hotel that hosted us for so many years. The Capital Cafe, the hotel bar and restaurant is being renamed as part of a multi-million dollar renovation. If you would like to submit a name for the bar, or vote for one of the leading candidates, click here.

The Austin meeting is chock full of things to do and many good sessions to attend. There's also baseball, bats, ice cream, and a pool on the roof of the hotel. Updates may be posted, but don't hold me to it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Off to Austin for Food, Fun, and Archives

This is the week for the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting. This year, we are traveling to lovely [sweltering] Austin, Texas for our conference. We will fly out on Wednesday, which is also Mrs. BA's birthday, and attend the Round Rock Express baseball game that evening. LBA is traveling with us this year, though SoBA is getting a few days with Nana instead of traveling to the great [hot] state of Texas. Going by the program, it looks to be a good meeting, but we will certain to be looking for a good meal out to celebrate Mrs. BA's special day. I know, really, who wouldn't want hot dogs and beer for their birthday meal?

Some time ago, I spotted a list of the best burgers as determined by Travel and Leisure magazine from The Food Section). On the list was a burger from Ranch 616 in Austin. T&L promotes two burgers from here:
"The Chili and Fritos burger is quite the Tex-Mex mix: it’s an eight-ounce beef patty stuffed with crunchy corn chips, homemade chile con carne, pico de gallo, and tomatillo crema. But it’s the Framed Burger that takes the prize. It’s filled daily with different fixings—Maytag blue, cremini mushrooms, jalapeno peppers."
I showed the menu to Mrs. BA and this place could be in the running for the big birthday dinner. That is if we don't go for ribs. Texas-style ribs. Big ones. The New York Times Magazine had an article and recipe for how to best prepare BBQ ribs. I had trouble transcribing the recipe for today's recipe as I had drooled on the page. And don't forget the cole slaw.

Salt and Pepper Beef Ribs
  • 2 racks beef ribs, 5 to 7 pounds total (see note)
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 cups hickory chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
  • Barbecue sauce (optional)
On one-half of a grill fitted with a cover, build a small charcoal fire, about the size of a loaf of commercial sandwich bread, making sure all the charcoal becomes engulfed in flame.

Place the ribs meat-side down on a baking sheet or cutting board and remove the papery membrane from the back of the rack by inserting a small knife beneath it and levering it up to give you enough to gain purchase with a dish towel. Peel off the membrane and discard.

Mix the salt, pepper, brown sugar, paprika and, if you choose, red-pepper flakes in a bowl, breaking up the brown sugar with a fork. Using your hands, cover the meat entirely in this rub.

When the flames begin to die down, leaving flickering coals, place the rib racks meat-side up on the half of the grill without the burning charcoal. Do not let the flames touch the meat at any time. Add a handful of the hickory chips to the fire. Cover the grill, vent slightly and cook, adding a handful of hickory chips every 30 minutes and a bit more fuel as necessary, until the meat is crusty, soft to the touch and well browned, about two and a half hours.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Set the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 hours.

Cut into individual portions. Serve with extra napkins and, if you choose, barbecue sauce. Serves 4.

Note: Order ribs ahead of time from a butcher. Ask for 2 back-rib racks trimmed from the prime rib, keeping as much meat on the ribs as possible, each rack approximately 6 ribs wide.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Item for the Wish List

Near my home growing up was Williams Variety, sort of a family run Target. It was a popular destination on the day I received my allowance, when I would ride my bicycle up to the store (something I could likely never do today without fearing for my life on the busy road I traveled, sigh). Once inside, it was straight to the Matchbox car display, where I would pick out a new one for my collection.

Back home, I would add it to the rest that I had accumulated and might turn my attention to my other favorite toys, Legos. Man, I would spend hours building and rebuilding a variety of structures. I think it appealed to my organized nature and the clean crisp edges and the like. And evidently Mrs. BA has a thing for the block as well - she often "helps" LBA with his Lego projects. SoBA particularly enjoys his MegaBlocks as well.

Well, I nearly wept with joy when I saw the link in Marginal Revolution that pointed to an article in Wired Magazine that described some new Lego sets that are now available. The Lego Architecture series allows kids (both big and small) to build Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, museums and other major landmarks. So where do I get these? Or where do you nice people buy these for me? Click Here.

From the Wired article, here are a few Lego Fun Facts:
  • Worldwide, seven boxes of Lego are sold every second.
  • Heo Young-Ho of South Korea left Lego on the top of Mount Everest in 1987.
  • According to Lego, even just two bricks give 24 different combinations.
  • All Legos are made equal. Every brick is compatible from the first brick made in 1958 (the year before the Guggenheim was completed and Wright died) to those made today.
  • The Lego minifig was born in 1974, and it took another 30 years for them to get proper, skin-colored faces when licensed figures dropped yellow for flesh-tone.
  • Kids waste around 5 billion hours a year playing with Lego.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Houses of Baseball

In one week's time, I will be shepherding the ninth outing of SAA Baseball at the SAA Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. Want to go? I can still get you on the bus. Let me know.

So the other day on Facebook, I took one of the Living Social "Top 5" lists for "Baseball Stadiums I have been in . . . and saw a game." As the list confined me to only 5, I was interested in how many stadiums I have been to. So if you'll indulge me.

Major League Baseball:
  1. Nationals Park, and also RFK Stadium. I have been to every opening day of the Washington Nationals so far.
  2. Yankee Stadium - the most recently demolished one, I don't think I can go to the new one.
  3. Shea Stadium - again, the original, you know that "purple stadium"
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Chase Field - home of the Arizona Diamondbacks (watched the game from a luxury box)
  6. Citizens Bank Park - home of the Philadelphia Phillies / also saw a game at Veterans Memorial Stadium
  7. Wrigley Field - 2007 SAA Meeting
  8. Dodger Stadium - 2003 SAA Meeting
  9. Coors Field - 2000 SAA Meeting
  10. Three Rivers Stadium - 1999 SAA Meeting (the first JAL Tours outing)
  11. Fenway Park - home of the Boston Red Sox, but not for a game, it was the closing reception site for the 2004 SAA Annual Meeting
Minor League Parks:
  1. Baysox Stadium (home of the Bowie Bay Sox), Bowie, Maryland
  2. Zephyr Field (home of the New Orleans Zephyrs), 2005 SAA Meeting
  3. Dutchess Stadium (home of the Hudson Valley Renegades), Fishkill, New York
  4. Appalachian Power Park (home of the West Virginia Power), Charleston, West Virginia
Other Stadiums:
  1. Rickwood Field - Birmingham, Alabama, 2002 SAA Meeting
  2. Scottsdale Stadium - Scottsdale, Arizona, spring training park of the San Francisco Giants
  3. Legends Field - Tampa, Florida, spring training home of the New York Yankees (though not for a game, I just went there to get the "aura"
Certainly not a big list. By my count (at this website), there are more than 175 stadiums, parks, and fields for baseball teams around the country. (If you're wondering, that's 30 major league parks, 30 AAA parks, 30 double A parks, 60 single A parks, and 26 spring training fields, along with countless others with unaffiliated teams). Maybe if I drop everything and started touring I could get to all of them - but not likely.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Indominitable Cheesesteak

I have become a fan of the cheesesteak. I did not grow up in the Philadelphia area, but once discovered, they are really good eats. Here in Maryland, there was a place nearby that had authentic cheesesteaks, going so far as bringing in Amoroso rolls from Philadelphia. My sister-in-law lives in Wilmington, Delaware and that is close enough to Philly to be able to find really good cheesesteaks from a variety of places. On several visits to Philadelphia, I have been fortunate enough to have the real things from Pat's, Geno's, and, until it closed in Reading Terminal Market, Rick's. Anna van Schurman very kindly informed me that Rick's can still be had in the greater Philadelphia area. They've opened a new outpost, eight months after leaving the Market.

Like last week's post about gyros, there is absolutely no reason to make your own cheesesteaks. But if you must here's a recipe (following the Pat's formula).
  1. Start with good beef. Pat’s uses sliced rib-eye. Jim’s uses USDA choice top round western steer beef.
  2. Shave the beef very thin so it cooks quickly and remains tender.
  3. Use a fresh high quality Italian roll - Amoroso’s is a favorite.
  4. Decide if you want your steak with or without fried onions.
  5. Decide if you want a steak or a cheesesteak. If you elect a cheesesteak you need to decide on American cheese, provolone or the Philly favorite "cheez whiz."
  6. Any add-ons? Mushrooms, peppers, pizza sauce, tomatoes? You decide. It’s your sandwich.
  7. Start to cook. Sauté the onions, peppers and mushrooms until soft.
  8. Fry your steak until brown but not crispy or burned. You can mix in the fried vegetables now or add them at the end.
  9. If you elect American cheese or provolone place the cheese on the meat until slightly melted. If you choose Cheez Whiz just smear it on the roll.
  10. Place the roll over the meat/cheese/vegetables and scoop it into the sandwich.
  11. Garnish your sandwich with pizza sauce, hot or sweet peppers or pickles as you choose.
  12. Enjoy your Philadelphia cheesesteak.
  1. Using the best beef available is the key.
  2. Don't overcook the ingredients.
  3. If you don't cook, go to Pat's, Geno's or Jim's. Which one is best? It's a regular Philadelphia debate.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Object! Now Get the Hell Out of My Way

The results of the National Drivers Test for 2009 have been released. New York, the state of my birth and where I learned to drive, ranked last. Further, the list ranks Maryland drivers worse than Virginia drivers and that is just a load of crap. And then again DC drivers fare even worse than that. The Brave Astronaut clan is off today for a family function in Delaware, which brings up a whole new set of issues of traffic and road rage.

Think you know what you're doing out there on the road? Take the National Drivers Test and find out. I got 75%. And I am from New York, where the first thing one does when buying a new car is rip out the turn signal and throw it out the window . . .

State Rankings

Note: Many states tied for the same position in the rankings.