Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shh. You're in the Library.

Although some of these pictures may inspire you to gasp loudly. Nice job US getting several on the list. Was somewhat surprised to not see the Library of Congress on here. Go see the pictures, they are stunning. Hey, C in DC - one of your former employers made the list! Some of these Incredibly Intricate Libraries are pretty awesome also.

The 25 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World
(from BuzzFeed / Flavorwire)
  1. The University of Coimbra General Library, Coimbra, Portugal
  2. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT
  3. University of Salamanca Library, Salamanca, Spain
  4. The Trinity College Library, aka “The Long Room,” Dublin, Ireland
  5. Old Library, St. John’s College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
  6. Philological Library of the Free University, Berlin, Germany
  7. Central Library, University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
  8. The Harper Library Reading Room, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  9. Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
  10. George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  11. Queen’s College Library, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  12. Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
  13. Duke Humfrey’s Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  14. Suzzallo Library’s Graduate Reading Room at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  15. The North Reading Room in Doe Library, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
  16. La Sorbonne Reading Room, Paris, France
  17. Codrington Library, All Soul’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  18. Cornell Law School Library, Ithaca, NY
  19. University of Michigan Law Library, Ann Arbor, MI
  20. Pontifical Lateran University library, Rome, Italy
  21. Powell library, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
  22. Widener Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
  23. Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
  24. Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  25. Bapst Library, Boston College, Boston, MA
I think I saw some of these books on the shelves in the pictures (video from kottke).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mac and Cheese (and Bacon)

This recipe appeared at the launchpad a few weeks ago and it quickly made an appearance on the table. It will likely get made again. Be careful of the garlic, it cooks quickly and if it gets too toasted, it overpowers the dish. I saw the recipe in that woman's recipe magazine but it is from Emeril Lagasse.

Emeril's Three-Cheese Baked Macaroni

  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (1 ounce)
  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook macaroni 6 minutes (it will be undercooked). Drain. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium and add bacon. Cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon mixture to a medium bowl. Add macaroni and stir to combine.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and evaporated milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, cayenne, nutmeg, and cheeses; mix well. Add macaroni mixture and stir well to combine. Transfer to an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish or 2-quart gratin dish. With a spoon, gently spread mixture to form an even layer. Bake just until sauce is bubbling at edges, 12 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Brave Astronaut clan are staying home for the holidays. Many of you are aware of the troublesome trip we had while going to visit with my family. Thanksgiving has been off the board for several years now and it is possible that making the trip at Christmas may soon follow. It's just too hard with LBA and SoBA in tow. Unless we are spending Christmas somewhere warm.

Tonight will be spent with Mrs. BA's family and then tomorrow morning we will all be waking in our own beds to see what Santa has brought us. It is also LBA's birthday - so the day will start out as Christmas and end as his birthday. We are having C in DC and her lovely family over for dinner (it's OK Mom, there are people coming) and the Christmas China will be coming out.

Tonight I will likely read a Christmas story to the boys before they head off to bed. Maybe this one.

My fervent wish to all of you, as always, is that you will always be able to hear the sound of the sleigh bell. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wait, Today's Not a Holiday?

I guess I have to go to work then. For those in the know, today is my birthday. Finished your shopping yet? Here's a few ideas for the Brave Astronaut you love.

Three-Person Chess
A chess variant board to accommodates three players, without compromising ANY of the rules, strategies, or competitive challenges. There are only a few changes that must be followed to maintain order where the teams border each other. More here.

There's also the "vertical" version of chess.
It includes a "last move" marker hung around a recently promoted pawn-turned-Queen signals to an opponent that without an equally crafty counter, the game will end soon. It's only $300.
From Hammacher Schlemmer.

And remember, there is always the list of the five greatest toys of all time (from Wired via kottke).
  1. the Stick
  2. the Box
  3. String
  4. the Cardboard Tube
  5. Dirt

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's My Birthday!

Mrs. BA loves me. This is my birthday cake for tomorrow.

Buttercup Bake Shop Caramel Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup Caramel (next recipe) + 1/2 cup water, mixed
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Bake at 350º. Grease and flour two 9x2" cake pans.Line bottoms with waxed paper. Sift dry ingredients and set aside. Using medium speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with caramel mixture, beating until smooth. Put into pans; bake 30-35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to cool completely on wire racks.

Make frosting by melting butter, brown sugar, and cream in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let come to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, without stirring. Remove from heat and cool 20-30 minutes. Add sugar, beating with mixer until smooth. If too thick add a bit of cream. Frost cake layers when cold.

Makes a 2-layer 9" cake.
Serves 10-12.

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
Combine sugar and water in medium-sized pan. Stir occasionally over medium-low heat, until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Let no sugar stick to sides of pan. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring, until the syrup becomes a deep amber color, about 15 minutes. To prevent the syrup from becoming grainy, use a pastry brush dipped into cold water to brush down any sugar crystals sticking to the sides of the pan. Swirl the pan occasionally for even browning. Once the syrup turns deep amber in color, immediately remove from heat. Slowly and carefully add the cream to the syrup (mixture will bubble vigorously), whisking constantly, until cream is mixed in completely. Return pan to medium-low heat, stirring until sauce is smooth, about
1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

Will keep for 1 month. Makes 3-1/2 cups.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

States Stereotypes

Stereotypes aren't cool. Funny, but not cool.
Seen on Huffington Post and BuzzFeed

This post is another hint (following the post in November) to what is coming to Order from Chaos in 2012). Figure it out yet? Check back, right here in three weeks. Bring a map.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Recipe - Donuts!

When Mrs. BA and I got married, we eschewed the traditional wedding cake and went with a Croquembouche (basically a tower of cream puffs). It was awesome. Here's a kid-friendly version that would be a hit at most tables this holiday season. From Epicurious.

Doughnut-Hole Croquembouche
December 2007

This kid-friendly version of a classic French Christmas treat subs doughnut holes for the traditional cream puffs. They're attached to a Styrofoam base to form a tall cone, which can then be decorated with candy or artificial leaves bought at craft stores.

Yield: Makes 1 croquembouche

  • About 70 doughnut holes of any flavor
  • Assorted candy decorations such as M&M's, Red Hots, licorice balls, and silver dragées
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup with 1 teaspoon water stirred in
  • Purchased or homemade chocolate or caramel sauce (optional)
Special equipment
  • Clear tape
  • 18-inch-tall Styrofoam cone (available at floral shops and craft stores)
  • Waxed or parchment paper or aluminum foil in color similar to doughnuts
  • Cake-decorating turntable (optional)
  • About 70 toothpicks
  • Thimble
  • Cloth leaves (available at floral shops and craft stores)
  • Using tape, cover cone with paper. Place cone on turntable if using
  • Arrange 1 ring doughnut holes around base of cone, placing as closely together as possible. Insert toothpick through each doughnut hole into cone to attach doughnut hole to cone, leaving end of toothpick sticking out (you'll push it in later with thimble)
  • Attach second ring of doughnut holes above first, again packing tightly and staggering so doughnut holes in second ring are not directly above doughnut holes in first ring.
  • Continue in same manner to attach remaining doughnut holes. For top tiers, if desired, slice off small amount of each doughnut hole on side facing toward cone to make shape more tapering. Finish covering cone with 1 doughnut hole attached to top of cone.
  • Using thimble, push in toothpicks until not visible.
  • Decorate by pushing candies and leaves into gaps between doughnut holes. If candies won't adhere, dip in corn syrup-water mixtur before attaching.
  • If desired, drizzle with chocolate or caramel sauce. Croquembouche keeps, covered loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerated, 2 to 3 days.
Test-kitchen tip: Shredded coconut on a platter around the croquembouche can give the feeling of snow. For a healthier option, substitute round cherry tomatoes or cherries for the doughnut holes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

First Snow of the Season

We are expecting our first "real" snow of the season tonight. It is not supposed to amount to anything, but here in the DC area, you never know how people will react. I need to go to the grocery store soon, but there isn't enough money in the world to send me there tonight.

The Brave Astronauts are heading out this weekend to get our Christmas Tree - continuing a tradition of cutting our own at a farm in Northern Maryland. We will make a day of it, joined by the OSG family, ArchivesNext and J in PA. I guess it's time to start decorating - and I guess cards will need to be addressed and sent. And a Christmas letter needs to be written, the shopping completed, plans made . . . . I truly have miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

- Robert Frost

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bacon Wrapped Chicken

Because everything is better with chicken, especially something that was already good to start with!

Double Barbecue Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Chicken
from Betty Crocker

Mouthwatering and moist, this grilled chicken gets flavor from bacon and two kinds of barbecue sauce, one tangy, the other creamy with a kick.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Makes 4 servings

White Barbecue Sauce
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper sauce
Bacon-Wrapped Chicken
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 slices packaged precooked bacon
  • 2 teaspoons barbecue seasoning
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
  1. Heat gas or charcoal grill. In small bowl, stir together white barbecue sauce ingredients; cover and refrigerate until serving time.
  2. Wrap each chicken breast with 2 slices bacon, stretching bacon to cover as much of the breast as possible; secure ends of bacon to chicken with toothpicks. Sprinkle both sides with barbecue seasoning.
  3. Place chicken on grill over medium heat. Cover grill; cook 5 minutes. Brush with 2 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce. Cook 5 to 7 minutes longer or until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170°F). Turn chicken; brush with remaining barbecue sauce. Serve chicken topped with white barbecue sauce.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Girl Scouts (cookies)

Back in September, Girl Scouts of Nassau County celebrated their 100th Anniversary by planting 100 trees at Camp Blue Bay in East Hampton, NY. As most of you, my faithful readers, know, my mother was a lifelong girl scout and spent several weekends at Camp Blue Bay.

That's not to mention the number of years she served as "cookie mother" and our living room would be crammed full of cartons of cookies that we were unable to have. Have a look at the chart above - where do you fall?

Now, I have also spoken of the many girl scouts (and girl guides) that came through Nassau County (and my house) over the years as part of the International Hostessing Program, which my mother co-chaired for many years. I don't recall this being utilized by any of them - but I guess it's new.

Happy Birthday to the Girl Scouts! Thanks for everything you've done. And Happy Birthday to my sister!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eggs, Not Just for Breakfast, Except When They Are

Breakfast for Dinner at the launchpad moved recently (to accommodate a friend's school schedule) to Tuesdays. While pancakes are the most common item served, we have had waffles and french toast in the rotation recently. There is talk of introducing some egg based products into the schedule as well (we will often have quiche the next day if there is leftover bacon).

Perhaps omelettes? Funny story . . . my sister and I were cleaning out my parent's house several years ago, and we disposed of an omelet pan that had clearly seen better days (and probably not seen the light of day in several years). But we got caught(? !) and had to try and replace it. Thanks eBay. Maybe we could have just downloaded this video instead.

If we are searching for additional egg products, I might try these - because everything is better with bacon. I "transcribed" the recipe from the video (linked above).

Bacon-Wrapped Eggs
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1lb. bacon
  • shredded cheese (cheddar probably works best here)
  • chopped fresh herbs (chive, dill, thyme, your choices)
Cook the bacon on medium heat until browned but not crisp. Set aside to drain and cool. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin or ramekins with bacon slices. You may spray the tins / ramekins with non-stick spray. Cover bottoms with chunks of bacon. Crack one egg into each bacon cup. Season with salt and pepper. Top with cheese and herbs. Bake until set (approximately 15 minutes).

Of course, there used to be those times when we would go out for breakfast. But now all I want to do in the morning is sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving #2 - A Potato Alternative

As mentioned here with last week's recipe, the Brave Astronaut clan will be on the road for Thanksgiving - making a short (and hopefully quick) trip to Wilmington, DE to share Thanksgiving with Mrs. BA's family. LBA is off from school on Wednesday and Friday and SoBA is off on Friday. I am taking Wednesday off and Mrs. BA is going to spend the night on Thursday with her sister and come home with the boys on Friday. I'm going to work. There is some part of me that may be interested in some of the Black Friday deals - but my background in retail may keep me away from the stores - no matter how good the deal.

There has been little discussion about the menu for Thursday, although I am certain there will be turkey. I posted my vegetable choice last Monday and I am a big fan of the mashed (Mrs. BA believes they are really, whipped) potatoes. Although this recipe certainly has merit and could make a good alternative.

(I will say that I was not overly impressed with the recipes that I stumbled across leading up to the All-American Holiday. Perhaps the Christmas lineup will be better.)

The remaining question is how many desserts will there be? And will I be able to drive home by myself and still reach the steering wheel?

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

  • 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
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.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where Am I?

Coming soon - a new series to Order from Chaos! Any ideas on what it is?

I have had a book idea in my head for some time - it's a book about the layout of the streets of DC and how the state avenues were placed. In my spare time, I might actually get it done some day. I even have the title ready, "Where Alaska meets Hawaii." Have a look at this video to see an intrepid DC resident have a ride around all of the state avenues. Then you can have a look at this mesmerizing video of an individual's cross country trip by car over the course of 7 days (don't worry, the video's not that long).

By the way, with Christmas a little more than a month away, if you are looking for ideas for the Brave Astronaut that you love, this map is pretty cool.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Presidential Beer

As most of you know, most Fridays is Pizza / Movie night at the launchpad. And what good is pizza if you don't have a nice cold beer. Some time ago, I spotted this article in the Washington Post Food Section. While it certainly evokes memories of the President's "Beer Summit," Presidents and Beer have a long history together.

Evidently Thomas Jefferson used to make beer at Monticello. The recipe has been unearthed and curators / brewmasters at Monticello are now making Monticello Reserve Ale for sale. For an archivist / historian, it should be mandatory drinking.

Keeping in the Thomas Jefferson vein, today marks the 72nd anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial. Faithful readers may recall the memorial holds a special place in the hearts of the Brave Astronaut and Mrs. Brave Astronaut, as it is where I asked her to marry me. Of course, I remember that night - we spotted a sign that listed a number of things the National Park Service prohibited at the memorial (at that time, dancing was not listed). Since proposing marriage was not on the list, down on one knee I went.

And so here we are, almost ten years later, still happily married and parents to two great boys. Love you Mrs. BA!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipe #1 - Brussel Sprouts

I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that next week is Thanksgiving. That only means that Christmas is right around the corner as well. Last year the Brave Astronaut clan had a beach Thanksgiving, celebrating at our friend's condo, where we had turkey and all the fixings for just the four of us. It was a lot of fun.

This year, we will be traveling to Mrs. BA's sister's house in Wilmington, DE for the day. I have long given up on traveling to NY for Thanksgiving. The traffic has become unbearable and not worth the stress it causes. I am contemplating asking my father to see if he is interested in coming to the launchpad for Christmas - as we have no plans to travel north (faithful readers may recall last year's trip to NY that took two days to complete).

Traveling to someone else's house for Thanksgiving means I have less control over the menu. Growing up, there was always more dessert to look forward to after the meal and the possibility of the 9:00pm turkey sandwich was available - not so, unless we liberate some leftovers. Pearled onions were always on the table as my mother made them (even if they were frozen from a box) because her mother would have wanted them. I made them several years as well and have actually developed a taste for them.

As to vegetables, I wouldn't mind seeing these on the table this year. I know that many hate them, but they are one of my most favorite vegetables.

Annie Lau's Garlic Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts
Epicurious | October 2011
by Molly O'Neill
One Big Table
San Jose, California
Annie Lau is ethnically Chinese, born in Malaysia. Her husband is ethnically Chinese, and born in Hawaii. The couple moved to San Jose in the late 1990s and their kitchen is a laboratory where their regional and ethnic influences meet local ingredients. Neither had seen to Brussels sprouts before moving to California, but after numerous attempts, they devised a recipe to bring out the nutty sweetness in the little cabbages. The final recipe, Ms. Lau says, "is an experiment in laziness. The less you do, the better." Try to pick similar size sprouts.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, outer leaves trimmed, then halved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and light brown. Add the Brussels sprouts and turn heat to medium-high. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Do not disturb for about a minute, so the edges caramelize, then toss. Leave for another minute or more. If the sprouts have not picked up enough golden color toss again. The more caramelization (browning) you get, the better the flavor (high heat is key!). Be careful not to overcook, though, as that releases that nasty sulfur odor that puts people off Brussels sprouts.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Source Information
Reprinted with permission from One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking by Molly O'Neill, (C) 2010 Simon & Schuster

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Cars

We recently became a one-car family. The car that I bought a few years ago, a 1998 Volvo, finally got to the point where the amount of money it required to fix (and make it road worthy) was more than we were willing to spend. We are managing (Mrs. BA and SoBA are bearing the brunt of it - as they are on Metro everyday now - and it makes them both a little motion sick).

We may look at getting a new car sometime next year, but right now it is pretty nice to not have a car payment each month. There are certainly no lack of resources from which I can conduct research on car buying. There are of course unlimited options as to what kind of car we might get for our second car.

Unfortunately, I cannot have my first car again. It was a 1982 Mercury Zephyr. It was yellow and looked like a cab. I beat the hell out of that car. When it came time to get a new car, the transmission had failed to the point where the car would no longer go in reverse. Parking became a real problem. The Washington Post reported back in May that the Ford Motor Company has decided to shutter the Mercury brand.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Where will you be when the Revolution Comes?

Today is Friday November 11. It is Veteran's Day in the United States. A day to remember all those who have served our nation.

As I have indicated here before, I had a previous career as a Social Studies teacher, teaching American History. I was also an American History major in college. Now, much has been made this year to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the US Civil War, but let us not forget the first real war that made a difference for Americans, the Revolutionary War.

Here's a list of myths regarding the American Revolution. There might be a quiz later. There is more information at the link (from Smithsonian Magazine).
  1. Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into - the British Government was prepared to counter the colonies actions with military force as early as January 1774, when word of the Boston Tea Party reached London. A secondary question was also considered: Could Britain win such a war? The passage of the Coercive Acts — or Intolerable Acts, as Americans called them sought to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the Tea Party. Parliament also installed Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of the British Army in America, as governor of the colony. This was a huge miscalculation. In September 1774, colonists convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia and planned to embargo British commerce until all British taxes and the Coercive Acts were repealed. The British government (under Prime Minister Lord North) still believed the Americans would pose little challenge in the event of war. Government leaders and King George decided that backing down meant losing the colonies.
  2. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism - While the term “Spirit of ‘76” referred to the colonists’ patriotic zeal it is not entirely true. Soon enough the colonists discovered how difficult and dangerous military service could be and enthusiasm waned. It required an Act of Congress in 1777 that mandated men who enlisted must sign on for three years or the duration of the conflict, whichever came first.
  3. Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry - Accounts of shoeless continental army soldiers leaving bloody footprints in the snow or going hungry in a land of abundance are all too accurate. The Army’s supply system, imperfect at best, at times broke down altogether; the result was misery and want. But it, too, was not altogether accurate. American forces received shipments of heavy clothing arrived from France at the beginning of the winter in 1779. Conditions faced by the troops varied widely.
  4. The Militia Was Useless - America's first settlers adopted the British militia system, which required all able-bodied men between 16 and 60 to bear arms. Some 100,000 men served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. However, some Americans emerged from the war convinced that the militia had been largely ineffective. Militiamen were older, on average, than the Continental soldiers and received only perfunctory training; few had experienced combat. This was demonstrated at Camden, South Carolina, in August 1780, when militiamen panicked in the face of advancing redcoats. Throwing down their weapons and running for safety, they were responsible for one of the worst defeats of the war. However, in 1775, militiamen had fought with surpassing bravery along the Concord Road and at Bunker Hill. Nearly 40 percent of soldiers serving under Washington in his crucial Christmas night victory at Trenton in 1776 were militiamen. In New York state, half the American force in the vital Saratoga campaign of 1777 consisted of militiamen. The militia had its shortcomings, to be sure, but America could not have won the war without it.
  5. Saratoga Was The War’s Turning Point - On October 17, 1777, British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered 5,895 men to American forces outside Saratoga, New York. It was a loss of nearly one-quarter of those serving under the British flag in America in 1777. It resulted in persuading France to form a military alliance with the United States. But Saratoga was not the turning point of the war. There are four other key moments during the several years the Revolution was fought that can be identified. First was the combined effect of victories in the fighting at Concord in April 1775 and later at Bunker Hill near Boston. After the bitter defeat of Washington at Long Island, the second turning point came with Washington's sneak attack at Trenton in late December 1776, he achieved a great victory, destroying a Hessian force of nearly 1,000 men; a week later, on January 3, he defeated a British force at Princeton, New Jersey. The third event did not take place on a battlefield, when Congress abandoned one-year enlistments and transformed the Continental Army into a standing army, made up of regulars who volunteered—or were conscripted—for long-term service. Finally, the campaign that unfolded in the South during 1780 and 1781 marks the final turning point of the conflict. Unable to quell the rebellion in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, the British turned their attention in 1778 to the South, hoping to retake Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Although the British enjoyed several early successes, the colonists were not broken. In April 1781, unable to crush the insurgency in the Carolinas, Lord Cornwallis took his army into Virginia, where he hoped to sever supply routes linking the upper and lower South, but ultimately led to his surrender to Washington at Yorktown.
  6. General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist - It is a generally accepted idea that the American Revolution could not have been won without the leadership of George Washington. In fact, Washington’s missteps revealed failings as a strategist. In August 1776, the Continental Army was routed in its first test on Long Island in part because Washington failed to properly reconnoiter and he attempted to defend too large an area for the size of his army. In the fall of 1777, when Gen. William Howe invaded Pennsylvania, Washington committed his entire army in an attempt to prevent the loss of Philadelphia. During the Battle of Brandywine, in September, he once again froze with indecision. Later, Washington was painfully slow to grasp the significance of the war in the Southern states. For the most part, he committed troops to that theater only when Congress ordered him to do so. Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general “did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency.” Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington’s knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war’s decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.
  7. Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War - Once the revolutionary war was lost, some in Britain argued that it had been unwinnable. In reality, Britain might well have won the war. The battle for New York in 1776 gave England an excellent opportunity for a decisive victory, but General Howe let Washington and his army slip away. Britain still might have prevailed in 1777, when London ordered Howe to advance up the Hudson River and rendezvous at Albany with General Burgoyne, who was to invade New York from Canada. Though the operation offered the prospect of decisive victory, Howe scuttled it. Believing that Burgoyne needed no assistance and obsessed by a desire to capture Philadelphia—home of the Continental Congress—Howe opted to move against Pennsylvania instead. He took Philadelphia, but he accomplished little by his action. Meanwhile, Burgoyne suffered total defeat at Saratoga. After 1777, both Washington and John Adams assumed that unless the United States and France scored a decisive victory in 1781, the outcome of the war would be determined at a conference of Europe’s great powers. It was only by Cornwallis’ stunning defeat at Yorktown in October that cost Britain everything but Canada.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Presidential Papers (and Libraries)

Today is Election Day. In one year, Americans will head to the polls to either reward or punish President Obama with a second term. It should be an interesting year, if not very, very long.

As I think I have said here before, I work for the federal government in an agency that among many other things, oversees the presidential libraries for all of the presidents from the latter half of the 20th Century. Presidential libraries and the papers that fill them became federal records in part to the 32nd President of the United States (and Honorary Archivist-in-Chief), Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Prior to that point, US Presidents had the option of taking their stuff and doing with it what they wanted.

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was rightfully concerned with this lack of organization regarding presidential papers. In 1801, he wrote a letter about the "lack of a safe deposit" for his papers. The letter exists in the collection of the National Archives, in the records of the Department of State.

Many of the papers of the early presidents have been lost to history. There are some collections here and there, but you are not likely to find a great deal of material on Millard Fillmore or Martin Van Buren. The Library of Congress was the early beneficiary of no presidential library system and many presidential papers collections may be found there.

Below is a list of the Presidents and where the majority of their papers reside (the link is to the Miller Center, which also provides a list of locations of presidential papers). At the end of the list is the aforementioned Presidential Libraries, part of the National Archives. There is already discussion of where the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be. Unfortunately, it's looking like Illinois and not Hawaii (that would have been a sweet job!). And, for that matter, if things don't start looking up, that library is going to be needed sooner, rather than later.
  1. George Washington - at the University of Virginia
  2. John Adams - at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  3. Thomas Jefferson - a prolific writer, his papers are everywhere, here's about 27,000 of them at the Library of Congress
  4. James Madison - also at the Library of Congress
  5. James Monroe - at the College of William and Mary
  6. John Quincy Adams - here's an example of how widely scattered presidential papers can be - but as with his father, the bulk are at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  7. Andrew Jackson - at the University of Tennessee
  8. Martin Van Buren - another extensive list, with the bulk at the Library of Congress
  9. William Henry Harrison - the majority of Harrison's papers were destroyed by fire in 1858, but there is a microfilm collection at the Library of Congress.
  10. John Tyler - most of Tyler's belongings (and papers) were destroyed during the Civil War, what remains of his papers is at the Library of Congress.
  11. James K. Polk - many places, but mostly at the Library of Congress.
  12. Zachary Taylor - Library of Congress
  13. Franklin Pierce - the Library of Congress (shocking), but also material at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
  14. Millard Fillmore - the man from Western New York brought his stuff back to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Archives.
  15. James Buchanan - the only President from Pennsylvania, the majority of Buchanan's papers are held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  16. Abraham Lincoln - most likely the most written about President, there are Lincoln Papers everywhere. But he also has a Presidential Library and Museum (but it's not part of the Presidential Library system).
  17. Andrew Johnson - the University of Tennessee undertook a project to centralize Johnson's papers.
  18. Ulysses Grant - though I am really confused by this, the Ulysses Grant Papers are held at Mississippi State University. People know that's in the South, right?
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes - you'll note I didn't dis President Hayes above - one of the only 19th Century Presidents to have his own presidential library.
  20. James Garfield - when you get killed in office, a lot of people tend to write about you and go looking for your stuff. Garfield papers are widely scattered (as this list shows) and the bulk of the material are at the Library of Congress.
  21. Chester Arthur - there is a very limited collection of Arthur's papers at the Library of Congress.
  22. Grover Cleveland - the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms (see #24) - his papers are also at the Library of Congress.
  23. Benjamin Harrison - there is a Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, IN, but the bulk of his papers are found at the Library of Congress.
  24. Grover Cleveland
  25. William McKinley - assassinated in office, McKinley's papers went to the Library of Congress
  26. Theodore Roosevelt - the youngest man to serve as President, TR went on to live for many years after leaving office. After his death, his papers went to the Library of Congress.
  27. William Howard Taft - the bulk (!) of Taft's papers are at the Library of Congress.
  28. Woodrow Wilson - the last President to come from the Commonwealth of Virginia (the mother of the Presidency), Wilson is also the only president to have a Presidential home / museum located in the District of Columbia. His birthplace in Staunton, Virginia is home to his library and museum.
  29. Warren G. Harding - what there is of Hardin's papers (his widow destroyed much of his papers allegedly to clear herself of any implication in his death) is at the Ohio Historical Society.
  30. Calvin Coolidge - the thirtieth President has a presidential library and museum located in Northampton, MA.
  31. Herbert Hoover - Hoover decided after Roosevelt started the Presidential Library system that it was a pretty good thing (and he needed all the help he could get to try and restore his image) so the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library is found in West Branch, IA.
  32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt - the FDR Presidential Library (in Hyde Park, NY) is located next to the Roosevelt family home. FDR designed the library.
  33. Harry Truman - "Give 'em Hell" Harry's stuff is at the Truman Library in Independence, MO
  34. Dwight Eisenhower - Ike was born in Abilene, Kansas and as a result that's where the Eisenhower Library is.
  35. John F. Kennedy - the Kennedy Library (in Boston, MA) sits prominently on Boston Harbor.
  36. Lyndon Johnson - the most recent presidential library that I have visited, the Johnson Library is in the state capital of Texas, Austin
  37. Richard Nixon - After many discussions with the Nixon family, the Nixon Library opened in July 2011 in Yorba Linda, CA
  38. Gerald Ford - OK, I like(d) Jerry Ford, but the only president to not be elected to the job has a Library in one place (Ann Arbor, MI) and the Museum somewhere else (Grand Rapids, MI). And it's not like there close - they're two hours apart. What does that say?
  39. Jimmy Carter - the Carter Library is in Atlanta, GA, not Plains, where the peanut farmer President hailed from.
  40. Ronald Reagan - the Reagan Library (in Simi Valley, CA) also holds the plane (Air Force One) used by President Reagan while in office.
  41. George H.W. Bush - the first Bush Library is in College Station, TX on the campus of Texas A&M University.
  42. Bill Clinton - the Clinton Library is in Little Rock, AR
  43. George W. Bush - the [still being developed] second Bush Library will be located in Dallas, TX on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Coffee Heath Bar Ice Cream

I noted with some sadness the other day that Friendly's, one of the greatest places of my youth is in trouble. The article notes that Friendly's was born during the Great Depression and the recession of nearly 100 years later is threatening to wipe it out. Go get those Jim Dandy's while you still can, folks.

Friendly's plays a role in my family not just for me. It was also where my sister worked for several years. And some time ago, the one where she worked was planning a celebration to commemorate its 40th anniversary of serving Long Islanders ice cream.

Now I like ice cream. I don't think that anyone would debate that with me. I am not sure what does my ice cream choice say about me? But I really want this flavor to be real. I am going to have to break out the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker at home and whip up some ice cream. So here's a recipe that I certainly would make. Now.

Coffee Heath Bar Ice Cream
from Simply Recipes

The "via" instant coffee packs at Starbucks work great for this recipe.

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 cups cream
  • 1/3 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 ounces of Heath bars or other English toffee
  1. Combine the milk, 1 1/2 cups of the cream, sugar, brown sugar, instant coffee, espresso powder (if using), vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat the base until it begins to steam, whisking continuously.
  2. When the base begins to steam, pour one- half cup out of the pan and into the egg yolks, whisk immediately. When completely combined, add the yolk mixture back into the rest of the of the base, and heat until the mixture reaches 170°F, or until it coats the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove immediately from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve. Add in the remaining cup of cold cream and let chill for several hours, preferably overnight.
  4. Hit heath bars (still in their wrappers) repeatedly with the back of a wooden spoon, until they are thoroughly crushed. (You can also put the toffee into a plastic or paper bag and do the same.) Place heath bar pieces into a container and freeze while you churn the ice cream.
  5. Pour the base into an ice cream maker and churn according to your ice cream maker manufacturer's instructions. Remove ice cream and stir in heath bar pieces.
Makes a little more than a quart.

Friday, November 4, 2011

LBA and SoBA new Bedroom

It's almost time for LBA and SoBA to move into the same bedroom. They currently have their own rooms and beds but we are planning to move them into bunk beds in the same room. The other bedroom will become a playroom / dressing room for them.

There is currently a lot of discussion between Mrs. BA and I about what color the room(s) should be painted. Maybe we could choose from one of these. Although Mrs. BA does have some ideas - and I'm evidently not allowed to pick the color. Allegedly, the last time I painted a bedroom, it came out pistachio green.

Barring some large cash infusion, LBA and SoBA's new bedroom will not have a water slide like this bedroom does. Both LBA and SoBA like Star Wars but there will be none of these (that I'm aware of). I'm not spending $500 for the book. Nor will have have a giant Calvin and Hobbes mural.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Show us the Monuments"

First, what movie is the above line from? (Remember, it's pizza/movie night at the launchpad - but this movie is probably not being shown until after LBA and SoBA are in bed). Still don't know?

Living in Washington DC is pretty cool. I never get tired of the views and all of the great monuments that are all around the capital city. You may have heard that Washington had an earthquake back in August, which damaged the Washington Monument. After seeing this video, I understand (I was in Chicago when the quake happened, depriving me of one of my bucket list items - being in an earthquake). The link above is to DCist, from there you can get to the videos from the National Park Service, or click here, you want the "500ft level video view" videos.

Once you're done shaking, here's a list of some myths about the many monuments and statuary around DC for your enjoyment.
  1. There are 13 hands on the Iwo Jima Memorial. Nope, just twelve, no Hand of God.
  2. Fine. There is no such thing as the "Hoof Code" i.e., "the number of hooves in the air on equestrian statues tells you how the person died. Two hooves in the air means the person died in battle, one hoof means the person was injured in battle, and all four hooves on the ground means the person survived battle unharmed." But I don't believe it.
  3. There is a bible buried under the Washington Monument. Well, not under, but among other things, there is one in the cornerstone.
And another list of those obscure monuments that you really have to look for if you want to see them. No, I'm not telling you where they are. Go find them yourself!
  1. The Albert Einstein Statue
  2. The Maine Lobsterman
  3. Sonny Bono Memorial Traffic Island
  4. The Run-over Fireman Monument
  5. The Women's Titanic Memorial (dedicated to Kate Winslet, just kidding)
Then again, you could try to get here to have one of the best views in the city. Call your congressman (and then call me - because I want to go, too).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Goodies

Today is Halloween. The day that kids all across the country get to go to people's houses and get free candy. As a parent of two young boys, I get to accompany them and um, get a cut of the take. When I was younger (but older than my boys are now), I used to go out on my own and could cover most of my entire neighborhood in just a few hours. I learned which houses to get to first because they had better candy (or candy apples, as one usually did) and which to avoid (the dentist always gave away toothbrushes and apples).

Here's a page from Epicurious, which offers their best Halloween recipes. I have chosen one of them and reprinted it below. It is not for the kids though - but for the adults at home handing out candy or load into a flask as you walk about the neighborhood. Enjoy and BOO!

Witches' Brew
Gourmet - October 2009
by Kemp Minifie

Punch is one of the easiest ways to set the Halloween mood—all you need is a cauldron, perhaps, or a pointy black hat and ice block "hands."Not every blend of fruit juices takes well to the with-or-without option of alcohol, but the combination of sparkling cider and cranberry juice cocktail, subtly enhanced with a spice syrup, both support an optional dose of dark rum.

Yield: Makes about 3 quarts
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr (includes steeping)

  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 (25 1/4-ounce) bottle sparkling cider (about 3 1/4 cups), chilled
  • 4 cups cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
  • 1 (1-liter) bottle club soda or seltzer, chilled
  • 1 cup dark rum (optional)
  • Ice blocks in any shape (see cooks' note, below)
Bring cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, water, and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep, uncovered, 1 hour.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids, then chill until cold.

Combine all remaining ingredients, except ice, with syrup in a punch bowl. Add ice before serving.

Cooks' notes:
  • To make hand-shaped ice, fill powder-free, latex-free rubber gloves with water and tie wrist end securely, then freeze.
  • Syrup can be made 1 week ahead and chilled with spices. Strain before using.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Six Books that Screwed Us All Up

As has been previously discussed here, I used to work in a library. And now, for all many of you can tell the difference, I am a librarian.

Here's a list of six books that is offered (with some comment) for discussion. The article suggests these books "accidentally screwed the world."

#6 - Jaws, Peter Benchley. Hey I grew up on Long Island. When this book came out - the ocean was a lonely place with the number of people who stayed huddled on the shore.

#5 - Coma, Robin Cook. Like number 6, I think the movie was more scary. Unless you were reading the book alone, in a hospital.

#4 - On the Naturalization of Useful Animals, by Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Rabbits in Australia? You don't know the story? This book will tell you and you will never bring an animal anywhere again. You might never go anywhere ever again.

#3 - The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. I think this book screwed Rushdie more than anyone else, but then again, I'm pretty sure his bank account didn't get screwed.

#2 - The Dick and Jane series, by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp. And let's not forget about Spot!

#1 - The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Mrs. BA and I have a copy of this on the bookshelf somewhere. Hey, everybody makes mistakes now and then, right? So he was wrong on a few things in the beginning. We all turned out OK.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Return of Mad Men

I have been keeping tabs on the men (and women) of Sterling Cooper through Netflix streaming (I've actually been watching the first season, which I don't feel like I saw the first time around), while I wait for the arrival of Season 5 in March.

My father was in advertising (pharmaceutical advertising) and every time I watch the show, I picture him. It was such his life.

Here, one wonders how Don Draper might pitch today's social media tools, in this case, the Facebook Timeline. If you would like some more information on what New York was like in the Mad Men era, you can go and watch this travel film from 1962.

And if you need some clarification on how much money Don has in his pocket at any given time, here's a handy list of prices of things from 1962 compared to today. (I would love to be able to get a new car for $2600 - think I could extreme coupon it? I also think it's funny that TVs are still relatively the same price.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Trifle

I am all over this. It might even make an appearance at Thanksgiving. All though, I might get in trouble for it not being "from scratch."

Strawberry-Rhubarb Trifle
from Betty Crocker

  • 1 box Betty Crocker® pound cake mix
  • Water and eggs called for on cake mix box
  • 1/2 lb rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (2 cups)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 boxes (4-serving size each) vanilla pudding and pie filling mix (not instant)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups frozen (thawed) whipped topping
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 cup medium-size whole strawberries, if desired
  • Shredded orange peel, if desired

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Make and bake cake mix as directed on box for one 9-inch loaf or two 8-inch loaves, using water and eggs. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, in 2-quart saucepan, mix rhubarb, sugar and orange juice. Heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender and mixture starts to thicken slightly. Cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chilled. Stir in sliced strawberries.
  3. While rhubarb mixture is cooling, in 2-quart saucepan, mix pudding mix and milk. Cook over medium heat 6 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Cool 15 minutes. Press plastic wrap directly on pudding to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled. Fold in whipped topping.
  4. Cut pound cake horizontally in half. Spread marmalade over bottom half. Top with top half. Cut into 18 slices. Place 9 slices in bottom of 2 1/2- to 3-quart trifle or serving bowl.
  5. Spoon half of the rhubarb mixture over cake; top with half of the pudding. Repeat layers with remaining cake, rhubarb mixture and pudding. Cover; refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled.
  6. Arrange whole strawberries on top of trifle. Garnish with orange peel. Store covered in refrigerator.
Makes 12 servings

Thursday, October 20, 2011

69 American Patents that we don't need

I should be rich. When my grandfather came to this country, he started a company based in Maine, that extracted carrageenan from seaweed. It is carrageenan that keeps your toothpaste smooth, among many other useful ways. However, at some point, my grandfather sold the company. He does however, hold a patent for the process.

Here's a list of patents that perhaps did not need proceed past the really bad idea that someone had. You can click on the link above to get more information about these "great" ideas.
  1. Rotating Ice-Cream Cone - a nice idea but certainly not practical
  2. Doll Urn - um, ew.
  3. Shoe-Powered Neck Massager - well they do say that bad shoes can make your back hurt.
  4. Hammock Pants
  5. Gerbil Vest - can you use this only with gerbils?
  6. Mouth Exerciser
  7. Dieting Mask - patent held by Hannibal Lecter
  8. Thumbsucking Inhibitor - ditto (it has steel spikes)
  9. Hunting Camouflage
  10. Flying Device - patent held by Wile E. Coyote
  11. The Human Bike
  12. Instant Snowman - for all those kids in the South, "Hey Mom, can I go outside and turn on the snowman again?
  13. Heated Sunglasses - giving new meaning to the phrase, "OW, MY EYES!"
  14. Snake Collar and Leash
  15. Bird Diaper
  16. Burglar Trap Door - patent held by Scooby-Doo
  17. Automatic Tipping Hat
  18. Dimple Producing Device
  19. Combination Grocer's Package, Cheese Grater, Slicer, Mouse and Fly Trap - Hey, I have an idea to "streamline" several chores at once
  20. Sheep Protector - from whom?
  21. Cigarette Ring - classy/
  22. Scalp Cooling Device - yeah, that's called water
  23. Life Saving Apparatus
  24. Bedwetting Assistance Owl
  25. Give Yourself A Pat On The Back - from the producer of the back scratcher
  26. Shark Protection Suit - "You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark's in the water. Our shark . . . Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we've received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again."
  27. Gas Powered Pogo Stick
  28. Indoor Surfing Machine
  29. Inverted Mask
  30. Doggy Dust Cover - for the allergic dog
  31. Human Car Wash
  32. TV Controller - invented/patented in 1979, when the remote control was already pretty much firmly in every (male) American hand
  33. Moose Shades
  34. Old Person Scented Doll - what does it smell like?
  35. Anti-Attack Guard For Women - why only for women?
  36. Electric Tissue - "Timmy, stop sticking the electric tissues up your nose"
  37. Giant Soup Bowl
  38. Soap Slide - oh good, another way for my boys to put more water on the bathroom floor
  39. Fart Filter
  40. Horse-Powered Car
  41. The Question-Comma and Exclamation-Comma
  42. Poodle Ear Protectors - protecting them from what, exactly?
  43. Inception Boxer-Briefs
  44. Helium Sun Shade - talking funny and keeping cool at the same time
  45. Dance Helper
  46. Beer Can Hat 2.0
  47. The Cereal Monster - this is not a description of SoBA
  48. Toilet Breather - boy, you'd have to be pretty desperate.
  49. The Useless Forkstick
  50. Stylin' Split Pants - I could see where these might be useful
  51. Toe Puppets - that's just creepy, unless you like that sort of thing
  52. Heated Ice Cream Scoop - yeah, that's called hot water
  53. Killer Bee Protector
  54. Angel Ears
  55. Arm Mitten - to keep one arm from getting more tanned than the other and/or to keep that pitching arm warm
  56. Baby Cage - it's not what you think
  57. Beach Boot
  58. BeerBrella
  59. Bird-Powered Blimp - patented in 1887
  60. Bunny Syringe
  61. Cleavage Pants
  62. Toasty Tent - hey, only you (stupid) can prevent forest fires (the total loss of your campsite and most of the surrounding area)
  63. Deer Ears Hearing Aid
  64. Floating Furniture
  65. Hurricane Safety Bed
  66. Nightmare Gloves
  67. Pantyhose x3
  68. Life Watch - hey look at that, my watch says 3, 2, 1, ze-
  69. Instant Face Lift

Monday, October 17, 2011

Crispy Potato Roast

As I think I have said here before, I'm not allowed to own a deep fryer. "Hey, wonder what this would taste like deep fried?" However, I do, on occasion, make my own potato chips. And they're good. This might be a close second (however, it is from that woman so I might have to boycott it on principle).

Crispy Potato Roast
from Smitten Kitchen

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
  • 4 shallots, thickly sliced lengthwise
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (optional)
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine butter and oil. Brush bottom of a round 9-inch baking dish with some butter mixture. With a sharp knife or mandoline, slice potatoes very thinly crosswise.
  2. Arrange potato slices vertically in dish. Wedge shallots throughout. Sprinkle with salt and red-pepper flakes (if using); brush with remaining butter mixture. Bake 1 1/4 hours. Add thyme and bake until potatoes are cooked through with a crisp top, about 35 minutes more.
Cook's Note
The thinner the potatoes are cut, the crispier they'll become in the oven. Keep the slices together as you cut them so that you can arrange them easily in the dish.

Friday, October 14, 2011

100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books

Growing up, one of my first jobs was working at a public library. I was and am an avid reader. I was always in the summer reading club and would race to the library to get my next book and collect my certificates at the end of the summer. When I got the job at the library, one of my tasks was to read the shelves (to make sure the books were in the right place on the shelves). This allowed me to broaden my horizon of reading books other than junior fiction. One of the first non-fiction books I read was Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss. The book relates the story of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters at Fort Bragg in 1970.

So recently, I spotted (of course on kottke) this list of the 100 greatest non-fiction books from the Guardian and thought I would share. I confess that I haven't read very many of these. The list is arranged by topic and is obviously Anglo-centric. So how many have you read? I am pretty sure that Anna VS and C in DC will have something to say about this list.

  1. The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980) - the story of modern art, from cubism to the avant garde
  2. The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950) -the most popular art book in history, which examines the technical and aesthetic problems confronted by artists
  3. Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972) - study of the ways of art
  1. Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550) - Biography mixed with anecdotes in this Florentine-inflected portrait of the painters and sculptors who shaped the Renaissance
  2. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791) - an affectionate portrait of the great lexicographer
  3. The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825) - "Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health," begins this extraordinarily vivid diary of the Restoration period
  4. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918) - Strachey set the template for modern biography, with this witty and irreverent account of four Victorian heroes
  5. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929) - Graves' autobiography tells the story of his childhood and the early years of his marriage, but the core of the book is his account of the brutalities and banalities of the first world war
  6. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933) -Stein's groundbreaking biography, written in the guise of an autobiography, of her lover
  1. Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964) - Sontag's proposition that the modern sensibility has been shaped by Jewish ethics and homosexual aesthetics
  2. Mythologies by Roland Barthes (1972) - Barthes gets under the surface of the meanings of the things which surround us in these witty studies of contemporary myth-making
  3. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978) - Said argues that romanticised western representations of Arab culture are political and condescending
  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962) - This account of the effects of pesticides on the environment launched the environmental movement in the US (I feel like I have read this - or that I really, really should)
  2. The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (1979) - Lovelock's argument that once life is established on a planet, it engineers conditions for its continued survival, revolutionised our perception of our place in the scheme of things
  1. The Histories by Herodotus (c400 BC) - History begins with Herodotus's account of the Greco-Persian war
  2. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776) - The first modern historian of the Roman Empire went back to ancient sources to argue that moral decay made downfall inevitable (not read cover to cover, but referred to in many college history classes - so it's like I did read it)
  3. The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1848) - A landmark study from the pre-eminent Whig historian
  4. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (1963) - Arendt's reports on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and explores the psychological and sociological mechanisms of the Holocaust
  5. The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963) - Thompson turned history on its head by focusing on the political agency of the people, whom most historians had treated as anonymous masses
  6. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970) - A moving account of the treatment of Native Americans by the US government (Like Silent Spring, I feel like this is a book that every American should read)
  7. Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (1970) - Terkel weaves oral accounts of the Great Depression into a powerful tapestry (you gotta love Studs, he came to a professional meeting several years ago in Chicago and had a group of archivists completely under his spell).
  8. Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński (1982) - The great Polish reporter tells the story of the last Shah of Iran
  9. The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (1994) - Hobsbawm charts the failure of capitalists and communists alike in this account of the 20th century
  10. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes by Philip Gourevitch (1999) - Gourevitch captures the terror of the Rwandan massacre, and the failures of the international community
  11. Postwar by Tony Judt (2005) - A magisterial account of the grand sweep of European history since 1945
  1. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990) - An examination of the moral dilemmas at the heart of the journalist's trade
  2. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968) - The man in the white suit follows Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they drive across the US in a haze of LSD
  3. Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977) - A vivid account of Herr's experiences of the Vietnam War
  1. The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781) - Biographical and critical studies of 18th-century poets, which cast a sceptical eye on their lives and works
  2. An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe (1975) - Achebe challenges western cultural imperialism in his argument that Heart of Darkness is a racist novel, which deprives its African characters of humanity
  3. The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976) - Bettelheim argues that the darkness of fairy tales offers a means for children to grapple with their fears (wow, Bettelheim -there's a name I haven't heard since my pursuit of my education degree)
  1. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979) - A whimsical meditation on music, mind and mathematics that explores formal complexity and self-reference
  1. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782) - Rousseau establishes the template for modern autobiography with this intimate account of his own life
  2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845) - This vivid first person account was one of the first times the voice of the slave was heard in mainstream society
  3. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905) - Imprisoned in Reading Gaol, Wilde tells the story of his affair with Alfred Douglas and his spiritual development
  4. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (1922) - A dashing account of Lawrence's exploits during the revolt against the Ottoman empire (that's what the movie is about, right?)
  5. The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi (1927) -A classic of the confessional genre, Gandhi recounts early struggles and his passionate quest for self-knowledge.
  6. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938) - Orwell's clear-eyed account of his experiences in Spain offers a portrait of confusion and betrayal during the civil war.
  7. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) -Published by her father after the war, this account of the family's hidden life helped to shape the post-war narrative of the Holocaust. (Hey, I've read this one!)
  8. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951) - Nabokov reflects on his life before moving to the US in 1940.
  9. The Man Died by Wole Soyinka (1971) - A powerful autobiographical account of Soyinka's experiences in prison during the Nigerian civil war.
  10. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975) - A vision of the author's life, including his life in the concentration camps, as seen through the kaleidoscope of chemistry.
  11. Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000) - Sage demolishes the fantasy of family as she tells how her relatives passed rage, grief and frustrated desire down the generations.
  1. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899) - Freud's argument that our experiences while dreaming hold the key to our psychological lives launched the discipline of psychoanalysis and transformed western culture.
  1. The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen (1998) -Rosen examines how 19th-century composers extended the boundaries of music, and their engagement with literature, landscape and the divine.
  1. The Symposium by Plato (c380 BC) -A lively dinner-party debate on the nature of love.
  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c180) - A series of personal reflections, advocating the preservation of calm in the face of conflict, and the cultivation of a cosmic perspective.
  3. Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580) - Montaigne's wise, amusing examination of himself, and of human nature, launched the essay as a literary form.
  4. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621) - Burton examines all human culture through the lens of melancholy.
  5. Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes (1641) - Doubting everything but his own existence, Descartes tries to construct God and the universe.
  6. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1779) - Hume puts his faith to the test with a conversation examining arguments for the existence of God.
  7. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781) - If western philosophy is merely a footnote to Plato, then Kant's attempt to unite reason with experience provides many of the subject headings.
  8. Phenomenology of Mind by GWF Hegel (1807) - Hegel takes the reader through the evolution of consciousness.
  9. Walden by HD Thoreau (1854) - An account of two years spent living in a log cabin, which examines ideas of independence and society. (I've always meant to read this . . . )
  10. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859) - Mill argues that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others".
  11. Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1883) - The invalid Nietzsche proclaims the death of God and the triumph of the Ubermensch.
  12. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962) - A revolutionary theory about the nature of scientific progress
  1. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (c500 BC) - A study of warfare that stresses the importance of positioning and the ability to react to changing circumstances. (I've read parts of this one, too, really.)
  2. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532) - Machiavelli injects realism into the study of power, arguing that rulers should be prepared to abandon virtue to defend stability. (Read this one, too.)
  3. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651) - Hobbes makes the case for absolute power, to prevent life from being "nasty, brutish and short".
  4. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (1791) - A hugely influential defence of the French revolution, which points out the illegitimacy of governments that do not defend the rights of citizens. (I really should have read this one)
  5. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) - Wollstonecraft argues that women should be afforded an education in order that they might contribute to society.
  6. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848) - An analysis of society and politics in terms of class struggle, which launched a movement with the ringing declaration that "proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains".
  7. The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DuBois (1903) - A series of essays makes the case for equality in the American south.
  8. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949) - De Beauvoir examines what it means to be a woman, and how female identity has been defined with reference to men throughout history.
  9. The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon (1961) - An exploration of the psychological impact of colonialisation.
  10. The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967) - This bestselling graphic popularisation of McLuhan's ideas about technology and culture was cocreated with Quentin Fiore.
  11. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970) - Greer argues that male society represses the sexuality of women.
  12. Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988) - Chomsky argues that corporate media present a distorted picture of the world, so as to maximise their profits.
  13. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008) - A vibrant first history of the ongoing social media revolution
  1. The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890) -An attempt to identify the shared elements of the world's religions, which suggests that they originate from fertility cults.
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902) - James argues that the value of religions should not be measured in terms of their origin or empirical accuracy.
  1. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859) - Darwin's account of the evolution of species by natural selection transformed biology and our place in the universe.
  2. The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynmann (1965) - An elegant exploration of physical theories from one of the 20th century's greatest theoreticians.
  3. The Double Helix by James Watson (1968) - James Watson's personal account of how he and Francis Crick cracked the structure of DNA.
  4. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976) - Dawkins launches a revolution in biology with the suggestion that evolution is best seen from the perspective of the gene, rather than the organism.
  5. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988) - A book owned by 10 million people, if understood by fewer, Hawking's account of the origins of the universe became a publishing sensation. (I was one of those people who owned this book for a while)
  1. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405) - A defence of womankind in the form of an ideal city, populated by famous women from throughout history.
  2. Praise of Folly by Erasmus (1511) - This satirical encomium to the foolishness of man helped spark the Reformation with its skewering of abuses and corruption in the Catholic church.
  3. Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734) - Voltaire turns his keen eye on English society, comparing it affectionately with life on the other side of the English channel.
  4. Suicide by Émile Durkheim (1897) - An investigation into protestant and catholic culture, which argues that the less vigilant social control within catholic societies lowers the rate of suicide.
  5. Economy and Society by Max Weber (1922) - A thorough analysis of political, economic and religious mechanisms in modern society, which established the template for modern sociology.
  6. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (1929) - Woolf's extended essay argues for both a literal and metaphorical space for women writers within a male-dominated literary tradition.
  7. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (1941) - Evans's images and Agee's words paint a stark picture of life among sharecroppers in the US South.
  8. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963) - An exploration of the unhappiness felt by many housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, despite material comfort and stable family lives.
  9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966) - A novelistic account of a brutal murder in a town in Kansas, which propelled Capote to fame and fortune (It might have made sense to follow up Fatal Vision with this book.)
  10. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968) - Didion evokes life in 1960s California in a series of sparkling essays.
  11. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973) - This analysis of incarceration in the Soviet Union, including the author's own experiences as a zek, called into question the moral foundations of the USSR. (Read for a class in college, a real uplifting tale.)
  12. Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975) - Foucault examines the development of modern society's systems of incarceration.
  13. News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996) - Colombia's greatest 20th-century writer tells the story of kidnappings carried out by Pablo Escobar's Medellín cartel.
Travel (what no Fodor's?)
  1. The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355) - The Arab world's greatest medieval traveller sets down his memories of journeys throughout the known world and beyond.
  2. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869) - Twain's tongue-in-cheek account of his European adventures was an immediate bestseller.
  3. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941) - A six-week trip to Yugoslavia provides the backbone for this monumental study of Balkan history.
  4. Venice by Jan Morris (1960) - An eccentric but learned guide to the great city's art, history, culture and people.
  5. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977) - The first volume of Leigh Fermor's journey on foot through Europe - a glowing evocation of youth, memory and history.
  6. Danube by Claudio Magris (1986) - Magris mixes travel, history, anecdote and literature as he tracks the Danube from its source to the sea.
  7. China Along the Yellow River by Cao Jinqing (1995) - A pioneering work of Chinese sociology, exploring modern China with a modern face.
  8. The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald (1995) - A walking tour in East Anglia becomes a melancholy meditation on transience and decay.
  9. Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000) - Raban sets off in a 35ft ketch on a voyage from Seattle to Alaska, exploring Native American art, the Romantic imagination and his own disintegrating relationship along the way.
  10. Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa (2002) -Vargas Llosa distils a lifetime of reading and writing into a manual of the writer's craft.