Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit

First of all, don't forget to eat crepes on Wednesday February 2. It's Candelmas Day (and Groundhog Day and tradition says if you eat crepes on Candlemas you will enjoy wealth all through the year. Then Thursday, February 3 will mark the beginning of the Chinese New Year (4708), the Year of the Rabbit.

Here's a Chinese New Year dish, taken from Epicurious.

Poached Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Sauce
Epicurious | January 2001
by Michael Tong
Shun Lee Palace, New York, NY

Yield: Makes 4 servings

  • 1 3 1/2-lb. Chicken
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 6 tablespoons peanut, vegetable, or corn oil
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 3 scallions, green part included, trimmed and cut into fine strips, 4 inches long
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry or shao hsing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (optional)
  1. Place the chicken in a covered stock pot filled with enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken stand in the cooking liquid until just warm. Drain, reserving the broth for another use. Rinse the chicken under cold water, pat dry, and rub lightly with sesame oil.
  2. Cut the chicken into pieces. Arrange neatly on a platter.
  3. Heat the peanut, vegetable, or corn oil in a small saucepan, and when it is hot add the ginger and scallions. Cook about 30 seconds; remove ginger and scallions with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.
  4. Scatter the ginger and scallions over the chicken.
  5. Add the remain ingredients to the oil, bring to a boil and pour over the chicken. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Dangers of Space Travel

Today marks the anniversary of the launchpad fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee. I've blogged about this anniversary before. Another blog that I follow is Letters of Note, which last November published a memo (from the holdings of the National Archives), written by Nixon speechwriter William Safire. The memo was titled, "In Event of Moon Disaster" and detailed how President Nixon should respond in the event that NASA Mission Control would be unable to get Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin back up from the surface of the moon in 1969.

Fortunately for all those involved the memo was never needed. When a memo written for a presidential statement starts out, "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace" that's some serious stuff.

So if you feel like it, think about those trailblazers who had "the right stuff" to explore space for us and remember those who didn't make it. While you're at it, think about Mark Kelly, whose wife also appears to have the endurance of an astronaut as she recovers from her injury.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mr. Nelson and his Art

Today marks the day that Nelson Rockefeller "died of a heart attack at his desk in New York City" in 1979. I'm not explaining the quotes. As most of you know, my first job in archives was working on Nelson's papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center and one of the first series I processed were the papers that documented his extensive Art Collection. In that collection of nearly 100 cubic feet were papers about all of the works of art Nelson collected, bought, sold, gave away, and donated to museums. It is an impressive collection of materials. You can read a description of them at the Archive Center's website here. You can also see the finding aid I created by searching the collections database here.

One of Nelson's prized works was Jackson Pollock's No. 12, which was significantly damaged in a fire in the Governor's Mansion. Nelson later donated it to the State of New York. I noted with great interest when I saw (as I do from most of the things I find on) kottke this story about Pollock's paintings. The kottke story links to a Smithsonian Magazine article about Pollock hiding his name in one of his many mural works.

In 1998, I gave a paper at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting on Nelson's Art Collection. I recently came across the paper when I was doing some electronic file records management. I also talked about one of Henry Moore's Knife Edge sculptures in that paper, which Nelson owned and had installed on the family estate. Another is part of the National Gallery's permanent collection and is being restored.

So you still wondering about the quotes? Well he was in his office. He was near a desk. And he did die, so he's not saying what he may have been doing right before that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bread Maker Recipes?

Well dear reader, it's your turn to give back. I recently acquired a bread maker from a friend and am looking forward to giving it a workout. However, it did not come with a recipe book. There is a basic bread recipe in the instruction manual, but I would love to see your favorite bread maker recipes. Specifically, I would love to have a cinnamon raisin bread recipe to make for the boys.

For those of you with bread makers, send those ideas along. Here's a recipe I got from the same person who gave me the bread maker. It is for pizza dough, though I don't know if I will make it - it would disrupt the flow of pizza / movie night on Fridays.

Pizza Dough (Bread Machine)
from CDKitchen
Serves/Makes: 2 crusts | Difficulty Level: 2 | Ready In: 1-2 hrs

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Place ingredients in pan in order listed or as directed per machine instructions. Select white dough cycle. Makes two 12 inch regular crusts or one 16 inch deep dish crust. Top with desired toppings and bake at 400 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until crust is light brown.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

More Snow Stories

Damn it's cold. For being in the snow hole right now, it is downright frigid out tonight. I am in the camp that if we are going to have snow, it's got to be paralyzing. While there is more snow in the forecast for Tuesday into Wednesday this is also likely to be the ugly "wintry mix."

Earlier this week, the city of Pittsburgh got some icy weather and it got some drivers in trouble.

I am reminded of a story when we have a little wintry precipitation how this is really a "southern city." Two of my parent's best friends moved to the DC area from the Northeast. One morning Stu got up to go off to work and found himself behind a line of wary DC commuters unable to navigate their way up a hill. Disgusted with them, he put his car in park went up to the first car in the line, told the driver to move over - and drove the person to the top of the hill. He then walked back to the next driver and repeated this until he could get back in his car and be on his way.

Having grown up in an area that gets its fair share of snowfall (and for that matter, the NY area is getting hammered this winter) I like to think that I know what I am doing when driving in snow. My problem, like Stu, is everybody else, especially the brain dead drivers who are driving their SUVs like they're immune to the snow, or usually ice. I admit to taking a bit of perverse pleasure when I see an SUV off the road, especially if they have blown by me earlier.

On the day after Christmas, the Brave Astronaut clan saddled up for our trip to NY to visit with my father and family. The DC area was supposed to get some snow and we had decided we would wait and see what the morning brought. It turned out to be a few flurries - so we decided to go. Now we knew that NYC was in the bullseye for this storm, but I didn't expect that it would be a problem - that we could get ahead of it. I was wrong.

We made good time heading north until we reached the Delaware Memorial Bridge. That's when things went downhill fast. Conditions deteriorated and we found ourselves on snow covered roads with visibility falling fast and Mrs. BA getting increasingly anxious. I told her that I wanted to keep going as long as I felt comfortable. My comfort level bottomed out at exit 5 on the New Jersey Turnpike. We stopped at the James Fenimore Cooper rest area for a late lunch and determine our next move. You know those huge maps with phones to make hotel reservations in the rest areas? Yeah, me too, I never really looked that close at them. Well, on this day, we determined we had lots of hotel options at exit 5.

We got back in the car and head for the exit, about 10 miles up the turnpike. We walked into the Best Western in Mount Holly, NJ at about 3:15pm. We were one of the first. By about 7:00 in the evening the hotel was sold out - as were several of the others at that interchange (there were about 5 different hotels). The guy who checked us in told us of a Target up the road where we were able to get some provisions (food for dinner, some movies to amuse LBA and SoBA). The boys thought this was the best thing ever. They didn't go to sleep until almost 10:30 that night.

Meanwhile, we watched the snow pile up. And up. And up. We got back on the road about 10:30 the next morning and made it to my father's place in about 3 hours. Total trip time = about 27 hours. Total driving time = about 9 hours. What it should take? About 5 hours.

As I said when we got back home two days later . . . If I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow Stories II

[second in a series]

Yes, I know it's winter. Last week I started a series about snow. The first post was about my public school days and how it had to be really bad before we got a snow day. The post was partly due to the incredulity on my part that LBA's school closed early before a flake had fallen from the sky. The next morning he had a two-hour delay, which I begrudgingly accepted, as I was fully expecting school to be canceled altogether.

That happened yesterday. On Monday evening, we began to get the dreaded "wintry mix," which is so much worse than snow. Snow can be plowed, shoveled, pushed aside. Wintry mix has to be treated. The wintry mix that started on Monday evening was supposed to change over to rain by mid-morning, which it did, but not before my son's school went from a two-hour delay to being closed altogether.

Now I'll grant you, even the Federal Government opened late (on a two-hour delay), and I reiterate that I understand the abundance of caution exhibited by school officials, but it would be nice if we could get a little tougher about it. There's more wintry mix expected for Thursday night into Friday, so Mrs. BA is preparing to be home if schools close again.

Our story today boys and girls is about how one can amuse themselves on a snow day. Yesterday involved movies, some games for the brain, and some Wii. And I made sugar cookies. And dinner. It was a good day.

However, years ago, my mother had organized a trip to the circus at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There were about 100 Girl Scouts expected to go. On the night before the trip, it snowed. A lot. When we got up that morning, my mother foolishly told me that surely one of the girls wouldn't show up and I could go to the circus, too. We arrived at the train station and wouldn't you know it, every. single. girl. showed. up. Parents were surely at a loss at what to do and hey, the trains were running and the [circus] show must go on. It was not a pretty scene on the platform of the train station, when I had to be left behind. That was not a good day.

There were suggestions from neighborhood parents yesterday about how to amuse cooped up children. One of the better suggestions was increased physical activity (i.e., a dance party marathon). As it was the neighbor's suggestion, I asked if I could come over instead as it was time to get out of the house.

It was partially my own fault, for did I mention the roads were fine by noontime? But we had fun anyway - and a few years later after the circus snow incident, I got to go to the circus. So it was all good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Breakfast for Dinner

As has been noted here before, Mondays are usually set aside for "Breakfast for Dinner." Which means pancakes and bacon. We had French Toast a few weeks ago, I would be interested in introducing waffles to the rotation, but for now, LBA's request is for pancakes.

Of course today was the federal holiday to commemorate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King (Mrs. BA and I have a thing for this James Taylor song) and we did not have pancakes. We had a friend of LBA's over for our regularly scheduled Federally Mandated Holiday Play Date and Mrs. BA scored a big hit with an outstanding beef stew. But here is a recipe for basic pancakes - click on the link to see varieties you can make.

Basic Pancakes
  • Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • Whisk 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/2 stick melted butter,2 eggs and a little vanilla, then whisk into the flour mixture until just combined.
  • Ladle 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot buttered skillet and cook until bubbly.
  • Flip and cook until golden on the bottom.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Stories

[first in a series]
So yesterday the DC region braced itself for impact. In the end, we got a little push from Mother Nature, but nothing like the pummeling we saw last winter. I was reminded again yesterday about how Washington DC is really a Southern city when in comes to wintry weather. Before a flake had fallen from the sky, LBA's school district (along with about half a dozen others in the region) had decided to close schools two hours early. Many of them (including LBA's) opened two hours late this morning. This of course meant I had to leave the office early yesterday and came in late this morning. Now I have a very understanding supervisor, so that wasn't an issue - but she and I had a conversation about the "freakout" that occurs every time a little snow is forecast for the area (she's from the Chicago area).

As my faithful readers know, I grew up on Long Island in New York State. For years, as a school-age child, I would go to sleep the night before school as a snow storm would bear down on the island. In most cases, I went to school the next morning - at the regular time, mind you. I didn't learn about "delayed openings" until I became a teacher. Living on the island (surrounded on three sides by water) our snow totals were almost always less than "North and West" of the [New York] city, which typically got more snow. We had to have a pretty good snowfall (in excess of 6 inches) for school to be canceled. I recall one morning that it had been announced that school had been canceled and I decided to go out and make some money shoveling. While out, the call was reversed and the buses started to roll. I hid behind a client's garage. Yes, well, that's water under the bridge. My mother didn't make me go to school when I came home.

One of the darkest days of my schooling years was when we learned we were getting a new superintendent in our school district. Dr. Philip E. Tieman was from Buffalo (specifically Tonawanda) - well North and West of the city. Students in our district bemoaned the hiring, fearing that snow days would cease to happen. Hey, if this guy could see out his second story window, surely we could get to school, right? Well, we still got snow days, but I sure there were fewer than before.

Now I understand the rationale for closing school early or calling for a delayed opening, really I do. No superintendent wants to be in charge when some high school student wraps their car around a phone pole on the way home or to school. But it would be nice if that decision were based on some tangible evidence. School did not have to close early yesterday - cancel all after school activities? sure - the difference between 1:00 and 3:00 yesterday saw nothing threatening coming from the sky. I'll even give them the delayed opening this morning. It took some time to get the roads cleared overnight - but I was convinced when I went to bed last night that school was going to be canceled this morning. I got lucky.

You may recall in 2009, President Obama called Washington out, labeling the city's residents "weather wimps" based on some ice that had closed Sidwell Friends, where his daughters go to school. Now when the President of the United States tells you to suck it up on camera, wouldn't you begin to rethink your whole closing policy? Of course, there was last year's winter - the likes of which will probably not be seen here for a long time - but we still need to adapt to the region's weather patterns.

We are only in mid-January. We have all of February left to go. And as my mother always used to say, make sure you got her gift in time for her birthday on March 22, because there would likely be snow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday Dinner - Monday Recipe

Last night, the Brave Astronaut family sat down to a nice Sunday dinner. Given how cold it was outside (I had even built a fire in the fire place earlier) - it was nice to have a good "stick to your ribs" kind of meal. Chili or stew would have worked, but we went with a nice roast beef with roasted potatoes.

While this is not a "full-on" recipe, it does the job if you want to follow it. As I have noted before, I am more of an "adventurous" cook - flying without a net, so to speak.

Roast Beef and Roasted Potatoes
(I used a nice tied top round - purchased at the lovely, new Wegmans!)

Preheat the oven to 45o degrees. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Place in roasting pan on a rack that raises it slightly off the bottom of the pan. Roast at the high heat for 15 minutes. While the roast is cooking, cube some potatoes (I used both russet and gold) and toss with some olive oil and spices (I used salt, pepper, some rosemary, thyme, and a splash of sage). I also cubed an onion and threw in some cloves of garlic.

After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in the roasting pan around the meat and return to the oven. Occasionally, stir the potatoes and, if you like, pour a tiny amount of red wine on the meat, but not too much to "drown" the potatoes.

The potatoes will need about an hour to cook and the roast can be taken out to rest when the internal temperature is between 120 and 130 degrees (for rare). Let the roast rest for about 10-15 minutes before carving.

I used the rest time to turn the broiler on for the potatoes to crisp them up a little. Watch them carefully so they don't burn.

I also whipped up a quick red wine gravy to serve with the meat.
  • some red wine
  • some water
  • I used a concentrated packet of chicken broth (use beef if you have it)
  • some "brown gravy flavoring" (my mother used to use something called "gravy master" and there is also bovril)
  • some corn starch to thicken
Whisk all ingredients together and bring to a simmer. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

This one's just for the OC

And anyone else who likes Root Beer. Really, who doesn't like root beer?

From the Washington Post, October 27, 2010, of which the majority of the recipes dealt with root beer-flavored foods.

Root Beer Pinwheel Cookies

These classic cookies have the twist of a root beer-flavored layer.

Root beer extract is available at Fran's Cake and Candy Supplies in Fairfax City (703-352-1471) and can be ordered directly from the Cook Flavoring Co. (800-369-3400).

MAKE AHEAD: Store for a few weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. The cookies' flavor actually improves after a few days.

Makes about 52 cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon root beer extract (see headnote)
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and sugar; beat to incorporate, then add the egg and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low; slowly add the flour mixture and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Transfer half of the dough to a mixing bowl; add the root beer extract. Knead the extract into the dough until blended. The dough will look slightly marbled; that's okay.

Cut four 20-inch pieces of parchment paper. Working with one dough half at a time, place the dough between two of the sheets and pat down to form a flat disk. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a thin oblong about 14 by 17 inches. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Remove the parchment from the root beer dough. Remove the top sheet of parchment from the plain dough. Place the root beer dough on top of the plain dough so they align as closely as possible. Trim away any excess edges.

Starting with the long side facing you, roll the layered dough into a tight jellyroll, peeling it off the parchment as you go. Trim the ends of the roll neatly. Roll up the dough in the parchment paper, twisting the ends to seal the cylinder of dough.

Transfer to the freezer for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Placing the roll in the cardboard tube of a paper towel roll or wrapping paper roll will help the roll of dough keep its shape.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unwrap the dough rolls from the freezer and place on a cutting board. Use a thin, sharp knife to cut the dough into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Arrange on the baking sheets spaced 1 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies just start to brown at the edges. Use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving or storing.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from a recipe in Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Cookies" (Knopf, 1978), by Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

45 calories, 2g fat, 1g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 20mg sodium, 6g carbohydrates, n/a dietary fiber, 3g sugar, n/a protein.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 50 Most Hated Characters in Literary History

I guess we have to go back to work tomorrow. I know that LBA is already having issues with going back to school as he has been off since December 22. I did score the books that I had on my list this year and it has reminded me that I wanted to post this list of the people you loved to hate while you are reading.

Feel free to discuss here or amongst yourselves. I offer the list without comment, although the post does have a number of interesting comments. Plus, I look skeptically at a list that nails three of the four major characters from Gone With the Wind and doesn't include Ashley Wilkes. Don't rage at me, as the site / post says, "this list is silly fun, not serious business, and compiled from scanning numerous book forums and discussions both online and off."

The 50 Most Hated Characters in Literary History
  1. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen - The Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer
  2. Cholly Breedlove - The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  3. Holden Caulfield - Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  4. Scarlett O’Hara - Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  5. Iago - Othello, William Shakespeare
  6. Anita Blake - The Anita Blake series, Laurell K. Hamilton
  7. Tom Buchanan - The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. Heathcliff - Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  9. Dolores Umbridge - The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  10. Dorian Gray - The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  11. Albert - The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  12. Ayla - The Earth’s Children series, Jean M. Auel
  13. John Willoughby - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  14. Rhett Butler - Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  15. Karen Brewer - The Babysitter’s Club series, Ann M. Martin
  16. Humbert Humbert - Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  17. Daisy Buchanan - The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  18. Catherine Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  19. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa - The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
  20. Estella Havisham - Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  21. Robert “The Sentry” Reynolds - Marvel Universe
  22. Broud - Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
  23. Edward Rochester - Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  24. Mrs. Ferrars - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  25. Bob Ewell - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  26. Hamlet - Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  27. Voldemort - The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  28. Patrick Bateman - American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  29. Big Brother - 1984, George Orwell
  30. Rufus - “The Lame Shall Enter First,” Flannery O’Connor
  31. Stanley Kowalski - A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  32. Emma Bovary - Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  33. Beth March - Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  34. Napoleon - Animal Farm, George Orwell
  35. Ignatius J. Reilly - A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  36. Romeo Montague - Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  37. Madame Defarge - A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  38. The Joker - DC Universe
  39. O’Brien - 1984, George Orwell
  40. Faye Greener - The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West
  41. Miss Havisham - Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  42. Jack Merridew - Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  43. Robert Langdon - Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
  44. Abigail Williams - The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  45. Amanda Wingfield - The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams
  46. Kay Scarpetta - The Kay Scarpetta series, Patricia Cornwall
  47. The Second Mrs. de Winter - Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  48. Melanie Hamilton Wilkes - Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  49. Godot - Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
  50. Satan - The Bible