Friday, February 28, 2014

February - You Are Out of Here!

The month of February has been a rough one around the launchpad.  We lost our good friend and neighbor at the outset of the shortest month, followed by a succession of unfortunate events over the course of the month, including several winter storms - and then the anniversary of my mother's passing on Tuesday.  I will not be sad to see this month end today.

We are planning a relatively normal Pizza / Movie night at the launchpad - though there was some discussion that we should watch Ghostbusters tonight to honor Egon Spengler / Harold Ramis, who we also lost in this cold, bleak February.

Most evenings, after LBA and SoBA are in bed, Mrs. BA and I will settle down for some TV to unwind.  We are often doing other work and the TV is often on in the background - but occasionally we watch something off the DVR or, gasp, on live TV.

A while ago - kottke posted a list from the Writer's Guild of America of the 101 best written TV shows.  Thoughts?  Comment away.  My comments appear for the first 50 shows.
1. The Sopranos - I was a late comer to this show, Mrs. BA converted me.
2. Seinfeld - not that there's anything wrong with that.  One of those shows that is sometimes on in the background if Mrs. BA and I can't find anything else to watch
3. The Twilight Zone (1959) - a little early for me, but Rod Serling is always, the Man.
4. All in the Family - it definitely started to wane toward the end - but Archie Bunker was the bomb. 5. M*A*S*H - one of those shows that I would go and find if it was on somewhere.
6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show - OH, MR. GRANT!
7. Mad Men - one of the best shows still on TV
8. Cheers - even with Kirstie Alley, I still watched.
9. The Wire - this is one I didn't watch.
10. The West Wing - Jed Bartlet is still my President.
11. The Simpsons - again, a good show, but I never got on board.
12. I Love Lucy - the definition of ground breaking.
13. Breaking Bad - I watched the first couple of episodes from the first season and even then, it was a little dark for me.
14. The Dick Van Dyke Show - a show about writers in the Top 20!
15. Hill Street Blues - HEY! Let's be careful out there.
16. Arrested Development - this show was never on my radar.  I don't think I could ever get past Jason Batemen from his Silver Spoons days.
17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - my MIL swears by this show.  It's funny, but it's not for me.
18. Six Feet Under - watched every episode from every season.  I often quote Nate, "I hate the living."
19. Taxi - the extremely capable and underutilized Judd Hirsch.
20. The Larry Sanders Show - don't think I ever saw one episode
21. 30 Rock - One of Mrs. BA's favorites
22. Friday Night Lights - not for me
23. Frasier - another one of those shows that Mrs. BA and I will watch in reruns if it's on.
24. Friends - see #23
25. Saturday Night Live - I recently came to the conclusion that I am too old for SNL now.
26. The X-Files - never got hooked on Mulder and Scully
27. Lost - this show was of course, out there, but it was great, if confusing.
28. ER - another one that I stayed with until the end, and that was hard.
29. The Cosby Show - Bill Cosby, showing that clean comedy is great comedy.
30. Curb Your Enthusiasm - not a Larry David fan.
31. The Honeymooners - Jackie Gleason made this show what it was.
32. Deadwood - this show could only have been successful on pay cable.
33. Star Trek - despite it's limited run - the first was the best.
34. Modern Family - have not watched this one either.
35. Twin Peaks - see Lost.
36. NYPD Blue - after Hill Street Blues, all the rest were just posers
37. The Carol Burnett Show - I still can't watch some of these sketches without losing it.
38. Battlestar Galactica (2005) - I preferred the first one
39. Sex & the City - was never a big fan
40. Game of Thrones - I only went online and watched the Red Mass Massacre because I had to know what everyone was talking about.
41. The Bob Newhart Show - I agree, this Bob Newhart was better than the Vermont inn reboot.
TIE Your Show of Shows
43. Downton Abbey - have not gotten hooked on this new one.
TIE Law & Order
TIE thirtysomething - I watched most of these, I used to know someone who had a thing for Ken Olin.
46. Homicide: Life on the Street - like the Wire, never got into this - maybe it's a Baltimore thing.
TIE St. Elsewhere - Before ER, there was St. Elsewhere
48. Homeland - I may have a thing for Claire Danes.
49. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - was not a buffy person
50. The Colbert Report - no.
TIE The Good Wife
TIE The Office (UK) - didn't watch the American one either
53. Northern Exposure
54. The Wonder Years
55. L.A. Law
56. Sesame Street
57. Columbo
58. Fawlty Towers
TIE The Rockford Files
60. Freaks and Geeks
TIE Moonlighting
62. Roots
63. Everybody Loves Raymond
TIE South Park
65. Playhouse 90
66. Dexter
TIE The Office (US)
68. My So-Called Life
69. The Golden Girls
70. The Andy Griffith Show
71. 24
TIE Roseanne
TIE The Shield
74. House
TIE Murphy Brown
76. Barney Miller
TIE I, Claudius
78. The Odd Couple
79. Alfred Hitchcock Presents
TIE Monty Python’s Flying Circus
TIE Star Trek: The Next Generation
TIE Upstairs, Downstairs
83. Get Smart
84. The Defenders
TIE Gunsmoke
86. Justified
TIE Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show)
88. Band of Brothers
89. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
90. The Prisoner
91. Absolutely Fabulous (UK)
TIE The Muppet Show
93. Boardwalk Empire
94. Will & Grace
95. Family Ties
96. Lonesome Dove
TIE Soap
98. The Fugitive
TIE Late Night with David Letterman
TIE Louie
101. Oz

Monday, February 24, 2014

All About Soup

This week is supposed to turn cold again, with more snow forecast, too.  I am getting a little tired of winter - though my siblings and I all think that my mother must be mad at us for something.  My mother loved snow and has unloaded on all of us this winter.  Tomorrow is the eight anniversary of her passing and I still miss her every day.

My mother was not a big soup maker - she leaned toward the canned variety.  Mrs. BA has ventured down the soup road recently, making a killer batch of Baked Potato Soup not too long ago (the last time it snowed and we had a snow day).  "Potato Soup" is on the list below but Mrs. BA is #1 on my list.  BuzzFeed had this list on the "Definitive Ranking of Soup" and I have posted a recipe for my favorite on the list - New England Clam Chowder.

The Definitive Ranking Of Soups
Not all soup is created equal.

24. Lentil Soup - There is some weird underlying sadness in lentil soup.
23. Egg Drop Soup - Sorry, but those egg shreds will just always be a little unsettling.
22. Split Pea Soup - Split pea texture is what I imagine eating chalk would be like, if the chalk was pea-flavored. Plus it’s hard to eat without thinking about The Exorcist.
21. Manhattan Clam Chowder - You think hot tomato clams make you so metropolitan, don’t you? Sorry, but you’ll never be as cool as New England clam chowder.
20. Chicken Noodle Soup - This soup is great in theory, but it’s almost never executed well. Soggy noodles and sad chicken bits, crying together in a bowl.
19. Broccoli Cheddar Soup - When done well, this soup can be amazing. When done poorly, it’s an ungodly mouth punishment.
18. Gumbo - Gumbo gets points for spiciness, but there’s a lot going on. It can be a little intimidating.
17. Bean Soup - Mad love for dem beans (white beans, black beans, navy beans, love them all), but it must be said: Soups just don’t let ‘em shine.
16. Minestrone - Minestrone is the go-to vegetarian soup, but it can go bad so easily. Urgh, so many overcooked vegetables.
15. Miso Soup - Miso serves its purpose (getting your body ready for the inappropriate amount of sushi you’re about to digest) but — real talk — it’s pretty bland and lame in the grand scheme of soups.
14. Chili - Chili is like a thick, spicy bowl of the American dream. And the American dream will make you feel kind of pukey if you eat too much.
13. Matzo Ball Soup - Sure, sometimes the matzo balls are so dense you feel like you ate a softball and are scared of what’s gonna come out the other end. But when a matzo ball soup is done correctly, it’ll warm your entire soul.
12. Wonton Soup - Never choose between dumplings and soup again.
11. Mushroom Soup - Something magic happens to mushrooms when you blend them up, especially if you use rosemary.
10. Potato Soup - This is perfect if you’ve ever wanted to drink a potato. Potatoes (and sweet potatoes, as shown above) are delicious in all forms, even liquid.
9. New England Clam Chowder - Hot clams in cream seem like a bad idea. WRONG. They’re a great idea.
8. Tomato Soup - Full disclosure: If all tomato soup was actually tomato-cheddar, it would be at the top of the list. But since it isn’t, tomato remains in the upper middle of the pack. Sometimes it is EXACTLY what you need and sometimes it’s just tomato water.
7. Seafood Bisque - Like eating your own personal creamy ocean.
6. Gazpacho - When it’s hot out there is literally nothing better than gazpacho. It has all the flavors of summer in one convenient bowl. It’s like sunshine was put into a soup.
5. Chicken and Dumpling Soup - This is just an excuse to eat dumplings with the added recreation of chasing after them as they swim around.
4. Pho - Not sure what’s better — the subtle flavors or arguing with people about how to pronounce it. Either way, it will fill your soul with happiness.
3. Tortilla Soup - So many yummy flavors! It’s like a fiesta in your mouth.
2. Ramen - There’s a noodle party and you’re invited.
1. Butternut Squash Soup - This soup is the squash at its best. Creamy and yummy, it’s like drinking velvet.

New England Clam Chowder
from Epicurious
by The Culinary Institute of America Gourmet Meals in Minutes

Yield: Makes 2 quarts
Total Time: 45 minutes

  • 1 1/4 pound canned clams, minced, juices reserved 
  • 2-3 cups bottled clam juice 
  • 2 bacon slices, minced 
  • 1 onion, diced 
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped 
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, diced 
  • 3 cups heavy cream or half and half 
  • 6 tablespoons dry sherry, or to taste 
  • Salt, to taste 
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste 
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste 
  • Oyster or saltine crackers, as needed 

Drain the clam juice from the minced clams and combine with enough bottled juice to equal 3 cups of liquid.

Cook the bacon slowly in a soup pot over medium heat until lightly crisp, about 8 minutes.

Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 2-3 minutes.

Whisk in the clam juice, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should be the consistency of heavy cream. If it is too thick, add more clam juice to adjust the consistency. Add the bay leaf and fresh thyme.

Add the potatoes and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the clams and cream in saucepan and simmer together until the clams are cooked, about 5-8 minutes.

When the potatoes are tender, add the clams and cream to the soup base. Simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Stir in the sherry. Season to taste with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce. Serve in bowls with the crackers on the side.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lego(s) Are Awesome!

Because, according to the movie, Everything Is Awesome!  The Brave Astronaut clan went to the movies last weekend to take in the Lego Movie. It was very, very funny.

If you are looking for something to do - there is a new Chrome plugin that allows you to build Legos in your browser (from BuzzFeed) - and evidently, this summer, you will be able to get your very own set of Ghostbusters Lego set(s).

So do you know everything you need to know about Lego (including that the plural of Lego is Lego) (from BuzzFeed - which incidentally I think the BuzzFeed folks really, really like Lego)?
  1. “LEGO” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”
  2.  The company got its start when Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter, lost his business and began making toys out of his surplus lumber. The business took off and eventually evolved into the giant Lego empire.
  3. Originally called “Automatic Binding Bricks,” LEGO wasn’t the first to market the toy. Kiddicraft holds that distinction, and LEGO just improved on the design.
  4. In 2002, LEGO sued the Chinese makers of “Coko bricks,” a building block closely resembling LEGO bricks. Coko had to cease production and issue a formal apology.
  5. Early LEGO figurines had no facial features, gender, arms, or moveable legs.
  6. 560 billion LEGO parts had been produced as of 2013. That’s 80 LEGO pieces for every human being on the planet.
  7. LEGO is the world’s largest producer of rubber wheels—more than Bridgestone, more than Goodyear, more than anyone. They produce more than 306 million tiny rubber tires a year.
  8. The world’s tallest LEGO tower was 94 feet high a utilized 465,000 bricks.
  9. In 2009 a life size house was built using 3.3 million LEGO bricks. 1,000 volunteers helped to assemble it.
  10. There have been fifty LEGO video games.
  11. The factory process is so streamlined that only 18 out of every million LEGO pieces fail to meet company standard.
  12. Every second, seven LEGO sets are sold. In the time it takes to read this sentence, dozens of sets are sold worldwide.
  13. There 915 million different ways to combine just six individual LEGO bricks. According to National Geographic’s special MegaFactories: LEGO, the possibilities are nearly endless.
  14. The largest commercial LEGO set is that of the Taj Mahal, with 5,922 individual pieces.
  15. There are no LEGO sets with a direct military theme. Ole Kirk Christiansen didn’t want to make war seem appealing to children.
  16. As part of the 2011 “LEGO Bricks in Space” program, astronauts brought 13 Lego kits to the International Space Station to see how they react in microgravity.
  17. Speaking of space, there are enough LEGO bricks to stack from the earth to the moon…ten times.
  18. Legoland, LEGO’s theme park chain, has a whopping seven locations worldwide. Billund, California, Florida, Malaysia, Windsor, Günzburg, and the Discovery Center in Manchester.
  19. LEGO is more than just a toy, it’s an art form. Nathan Sawaya is the world’s foremost LEGO artist and he’s shown in museums around the nation.
  20. In 2000, The British Association of Toy Retailers named LEGO the “Toy of the Century”, over the teddy bear and Barbie doll.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Cubano

Today was President's Day and another successful federally mandated playdate for LBA and SoBA and our friends.  Mrs. BA made a very tasty meal of pulled beef sandwiches and chicken wings.  Here's a recipe for a Cuban sandwich.  I have had a few Cubans before and there is nothing quite like a really good one.  Perhaps the launchpad needs a panini press.

The Cubano
from Epicurious
by Jose Garces The Latin Road Home

Roast Pork
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt + 1 Tbsp 
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp ground mustard 
  • 2 lb boneless pork shoulder, tied in an even roll 
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard 
  • 1 tsp ground mace 
  • 2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 Tbsp Spanish smoked sweet paprika 
  • 4 (6-inch) light crisp-crusted bakery rolls 
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard 
  • 3/4 lb best-quality domestic ham (unglazed), thinly sliced 
  • 1/4 lb Swiss or Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced 
  • 1 large dill pickle, thinly sliced lengthwise 
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter 
To cure the pork, combine 2 tablespoons of the salt with the sugar and ground mustard. Rub the mixture all over the meat, cover, and set it in the refrigerator to cure for 6 hours.

Place a rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F.

To roast the pork, rinse it under cold running water to remove the seasoning. Pat dry with paper towels. Combine the Dijon mustard, mace, black pepper, paprika, and the remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Rub the mixture all over the meat. Set the pork in a roasting pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 175°F, about 45 minutes. Allow the meat to cool completely before slicing.

To make the sandwiches, heat a sandwich press or griddle to medium-high. Split the bread lengthwise and pull it open. Spread the mustard on 1 side of each roll and layer on the roast pork, ham, cheese, and pickles. Spread the butter all over the outside of the sandwiches and griddle until the cheese is melted and the meats are warmed through, 3 to 4 minutes. (Alternatively, wrap the sandwich in foil and toast in a 350°F oven for 5 to 7 minutes.) Slice each in half on the diagonal and serve.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Farewell to a Friend

"Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?  There are better things ahead that any we leave behind."
- C.S. Lewis

This has been a very difficult week at the Launchpad.  Just one week ago (though it seems much longer), the Brave Astronaut clan, the Cheverly community, and I'm also convinced in a way, everyone, were stunned by the premature loss of my friend and next door neighbor, and founding member of the "collective."

Our friend Riley left us entirely too soon.  He had faced an inordinate number of health challenges over the past year (and through his entire life), but these past several years were the happiest - with his wife and two children.  As has been noted here before, their two children are very close to LBA and SoBA and the eight of us did a lot together.  Riley and I had often talked of removing the fence between our yards because the kids were always climbing over it instead of going around through the gate.

Then again, had we done that, neither Riley nor I would have had something to lean on during our many conversations about politics, our town, our families - there was no subject that Riley wouldn't talk about.  Riley was my "spotter" and support structure for working in and around the house, if I didn't quite know how to finish something - I'd go find him, because he would know.  We never got to build our communal shed - but I'm going to work on that this summer, and I know that he will be around to help me.

Last Monday, I noted on Twitter that I was having "one of those days that you don't like to have. But if you have to have it, have it in Cheverly."  I am so touched by the support of this community for Riley's family at this time and am honored to be a part of this great place.

When we sent Riley home on Saturday, his family was supported by hundreds of friends and we heard stories of comfort, humor, and dignity - all integral parts of Riley's character.  Riley spent most of his life working in politics and I woke up on Saturday morning with Ted Kennedy's eulogy for his brother, Bobby, stuck in my head.
"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. 
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. 
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:"
"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
Farewell my friend.  You will be greatly missed and I know that you will always be with us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Vegetables are liked well enough here at the launchpad.  It's possible these might even appeal to Mrs. BA.  I will say that the Pioneer Woman's Onion Straws are a new staple for launchpad meals - and this recipe also calls for mandoline work, which I am still recovering from the last go-round with that kitchen tool.

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps
from the Smitten Kitchen
adapted from Ellie Krieger
This doesn’t too closely follow the original recipe because I found I needed thinner chips, more crumbs, more parmesan and sometimes less baking time than recommended. I also found that I could only reliably get “crisp” effect, one that lasted for a while, when I used an egg white instead of an olive oil wash. Please don’t take any of the measurements in this recipe as the law; cooking times and required coating will vary by thickness and baking pan heaviness. You’ll want to keep an eye on them and look for a good golden color before removing from the oven, which will ensure that they get and remain crisp. They’re also best on the first day, so you’re going to have to eat them all. I promise, you won’t mind. 

  • Olive oil or cooking spray
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total) 
  • 1 to 2 egg whites 
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup plain, dry breadcrumbs, such as panko 
  • A couple pinches sea salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper 
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Coat two baking sheets lightly with cooking spray or thinly with olive oil. Slice zucchini into slightly-less-than 1/4-inch thick rounds; if they feel especially wet, spread them on a towel while you prepare the other ingredients. In a small bowl, lightly beat first egg white with 1 teaspoon water to loosen it. Combine cheese, crumbs, salt and pepper in a separate bowl. Dip each zucchini coin in egg white, letting excess run off before gently dipping them in parmesan mixture. Arrange in single layer on baking sheets. If additional egg white is needed, prepare it the same way, with 1 teaspoon of water. If additional crumb mixture is needed, make a few spoonfuls at a time, matching the volume of crumbs and cheese.

Bake zucchini rounds until browned and crisp, about 25 to 30 minutes, flipping each over halfway through. Please keep an eye on them; they may need to be moved around on the tray so the ones at the edges don’t bake more quickly than the ones in the center. Take them out only when they’re golden all over and let them cool on the tray on a cooling rack or a plate.

Keep at room temperature until needed. Crisps are best on the first day.