Star Placement

October 21st, 2008

Angelina Jolie has been a favorite celebrity of mine since I saw her in 'Hackers'. She's extremely sexy, vaguely dangerous, and interesting without being a complete nutcase. All in all, a very worthwhile movie star.

I just noticed that on the Wikipedia page about her, the photo is of "Jolie at the World Economic Forum in Davos".

Wait, what?

The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment

October 15th, 2008

I make chocolate chip cookies. Not frequently but often enough that I have memorized the recipe; which recipe, by the way, is simply the Toll House recipe that appears on the back of every bag of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips. One of the things I learned from my mother is that there is no better recipe. She tried many chocolate chip recipes over many years, and none of them were ever superior to the Toll House recipe that appears on the bag of chocolate chips.

So - put two cubes of butter in a bowl to soften. Once the butter is soft, add three quarter cups of white sugar, three quarter cups of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir. (By hand if you are a real man, like me, or with a blender if you are a real cook.) Add an egg, stir. Add a second egg, stir. Add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of baking soda (not baking powder), and a cup and a quarter of white all-purpose flour. Stir. Add a second cup of white all-purpose flour. Stir again. Add a bag of chocolate chips. Stir. Splat spoonfuls onto a cookie pan, stick it in the oven for ten minutes, and viola! Cookies.

So that's the recipe. However! The purpose of this column is not to disburse my top secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. Oh no. It is instead to reveal the results of a scientific experiment I very successfully concluded regarding these selfsame chocolate chip cookies.

I had heard, from numerous sources, that the Secret(tm) to really good chocolate chip cookies was not, in fact, the recipe - but rather the Secret is to let the dough "rest", for at least 36 hours after making it. The theory being that at a molecular level butter and sugar and flour don't really bond all that well just from being whipped up together. It takes time for them to penetrate eachother and become a true unified dough, rather than a collection of ingredients. So one should make one's cookie dough and then let it rest (in the refrigerator, you are using raw eggs remember) for at least 36 hours before baking it, to give the ingredients time to truly blend.

So I did this. I made cookie dough on Friday evening, and left it in the refrigerator until Sunday. Then, on Sunday, I made more cookie dough. And I baked it all. Each batch that went into the oven had half cookie made with rested dough, and half with fresh dough. The cookies then went onto separate cooling racks. And on Monday, I took them into work, rounded up twenty or so co-workers, and demanded that they each eat one cookie from tray A and one from tray B and tell me if they could tell a difference, and if so, which cookie was superior.

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Reviews: The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Day of Battle

October 9th, 2008

I've been reading quality books again recently. For no substantive reason I picked up The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone's biography of Michelangelo. Most folks who recognize the title are probably familiar with the movie starring Charleton Heston, which I have not seen.

At any rate, it was excellent. It managed to be emotionally imbued without being maudlin, and really captured the sense of Michelangelo as a man and an artist. Admittedly, this is Irving Stone's conception of Michelangelo, who might be very different from the real Michelangelo, but nonetheless a very compelling figure. A very good book; my only complaint is that it really sped up towards the end, covering the last half of his life in less time than it took to cover until age eighteen, and I know he did some interesting things towards the end of his life. I wonder whether this is because Michelangelo (who has left copious records and diaries and autobiographical writings) gave up on writing memoirs and thus Stone's source material became scant, or if Stone grew tired of writing and wanted to bring the book in at under a thousand pages.

When looking for a follow-up I noticed that the sequel to the fantastic (and Pulitzer Prize winning) WWII book An Army at Dawn had come out in paperback, so I picked it up. The Day of Battle is also excellent, really top-rate military history. Rick Atkinson can write and has his research down, giving us another really well done work on WWII, this time the campaigns in Sicily and Italy.

I wish more people would read (voluntarily or no) these sorts of books; policymakers and the average American voter just don't seem to understand the truth of the maxim "war is hell". We engage in it too lightly, as recently evidenced, and view it too shallowly. I also had a day to myself recently, when the wife and the boy were off at the Renaissance Faire, so I spent all afternoon watching Band of Brothers, possibly my favorite television program. Anyone who would say "well, let's just invade/bomb them" or promote it as policy or endorse someone who promotes it as policy, without a sense of what a terrible thing it is, is a person willfully letting ignorance cloud their humanity.

Which is not to say that war is never worth the cost, but that far too many people indulge in deliberate ignorance about that cost.

Anyhow, a great book. Looking forward to the third.

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone, 8.5/10
The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson, 9/10

Dreyer's Bland

October 6th, 2008

As far as ice cream goes, I'm a Ben&Jerry&Unilever man; this means that I'm accustomed to a generous helping of goodies in whatever goodie-infused ice cream I am eating.

But B&J&U don't make a good tin roof sundae analogue, and I was feeling like some tin roof sundae yesterday. So I picked up some Dreyer's. I vaguely recalled it being a "premium" ice cream, so I grabbed a cylinder of their 'fudge tracks' flavor.

Well, if they are "premium" it's a very different definition of the word than the one I am familiar with. There was less fudge in 'fudge tracks' than there are grapes in Grape-Nuts. The fudge fairy didn't so much as spit into the damn tub of vanilla.

So if you want actual flavorings in your ice cream, don't buy Dreyer's. If you like vanilla with a single, lonely, fudge surprise hiding at the bottom of the tub, then you're in luck.

Bailout Bill

October 2nd, 2008

I don't like it. I'm speaking here of the $100 billion of pork-added Senate version. I don't like it and I think the Democrats should tank it.

1) George Bush supports it, and he's toxic. Moreover, he tends to fuck up anything he touches; the odds are strong that this bill is a fuck-up in ways yet unseen.
2) It will be an albatross in next month's elections, as 80 some-odd percent of Americans don't like it. The Democrats don't need that.
3) If the Democrats are going to put forward a bill it should be a Democratic bill and not have been originated by the Republican administration. Less pork, more homeowner relief.
4) I hate government pork.