Thursday, September 21, 2006

Secrets of a Tech Master

Del said:
"Read the screen. Then do what it says."
Harder than it sounds.
-- ml

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Beware the Outliers That Please

Kevin Drum finds an interesting study of studies:
The Washington Monthly
So far, this is unsurprising. Publication bias is a well-known and widely studied effect, and it would be surprising if G&M hadn't found evidence of it. But take a closer look at the graph. In particular, take a look at the two bars directly adjacent to the magic number of 1.96. That's kind of funny, isn't it? They should be roughly the same height, but they aren't even close. There are a lot of studies that just barely show significant results, and there are hardly any that fall just barely short of significance. There's a pretty obvious conclusion here, and it has nothing to do with publication bias: data is being massaged on wide scale. A lot of researchers who almost find significant results are fiddling with the data to get themselves just over the line into significance.
In any system where continued occupation depends on particular results, does it surprise anyone that those results appear to be found more often? It is a corollary of Sinclair Lewis' observation that it is very hard to convince a man of a truth when his livelihood depends on his believing in a lie. (Paraphrase)

This effect is less obvious, and yet stronger than malice in explaining the vast amount of contradictory scientific (so called) facts believed by the general populace.


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Monday, September 18, 2006

Cowpoke Beans?

Before this Molly Ivins link slips irrevocably into periodical oblivion I want to use it as a hook for a rant: How can we trust folks that don't know beans?

The most amazing part of cow college was meeting the cow whisperer. Think of everything you know about moving cattle from one place to another -- for shots, round-up or loading into trucks for market -- just physically moving a lot of cattle. GEE, GIT ON, GO DOGIE, whistle, whip crack, move 'em out, chase 'em down. Turns out all these years we've been doing it wrong.

What happens when you scare a cow by making a lot of noise and chasing it down and forcing it to move where it doesn't want to go is the cow responds by relieving itself. And since a cow has three stomachs, it can unload up to 20 percent of its total weight at one go, the last thing you want just before you take it to market to sell.
Westerns are less hegemonic today than in my youth. Then the greats, the Waynes, Ladds, Coopers, Carillos, Autrys, Rogers, Reynaldos, and others, with Pavlovian efficacy, instilled the images of the West in our mushy brains.
The vast herd -- sole prop of the widow back at the ranch -- pushed and chivvied through the chaparral desserts by a bunch of handsome *white* galoots, more or less colorfully dressed in hats and chaps and spurs, astride their Appaloosa paints, with Gabby Hayes grumbling at the reins of the chuck wagon in the exact middle of the dust cloud following the last heifer.

At some point in my putative adult existence I began to seriously deprogram myself. Working with Utah Phillips, the Utah Folk Thrush, had something to do with it, though he is to blame for other stuff, not what happens here.

§ § §

Cattle drive hands existed as a serious job description for less than 40 years. This was the time it took for the railroads to complete the exploitation of the prairie between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Nobody moved a herd of cattle because they felt like it. It was the only way to get the herd from the ranch to the nearest railhead. Just as soon as a railroad siding showed up nearby the cattle drive ended. Drives also needed unrestricted open range. The "range wars" were lost as the ranchers gave way to the farmers who insisted on fencing their fields.

Punching cows was not a glamour job the way the films would have you believe. It required long hours in the saddle and months of camping rough in all weathers. Believe me the prairie can hand out some weather. All this came at the meagerest of wages and all found. "All found" meant whatever ground you could throw your blankets on and whatever food could be preserved to last the length of the ride. That's mostly dried beans and bacon. Most hands were Black, Mexican, Indian or mixes. Only the boss was White. Hence "cowboys". Ten or fifteen years was the usual career, which frequently ended in a violent death or crippled. The smart ones -- the lucky ones -- soon found other work. The very few fit for nothing else -- who happen to cook well enough to attract the best hands -- became the "old woman" -- the Gabby Hayes part.

The herd needed grazing. The herd needed water. Push the herd too fast and all the meat turns to string, tough string. So the herd moves slowly through river valleys where sweet grass is plentiful and covers maybe 12 to 15 miles in a day. Maybe a mile per hour. That's why it took 70 to 90 days to traverse the Goodnight-Loving trail from Young County Texas southwest to the Pecos (to avoid the Comanches) and then north through Ft Sumner, New Mexico, to Greeley, Colorado. It ran over a thousand miles including at least 80 miles of the Llano Estacado dessert where the Pecos flows from Texas into New Mexico.

Think about that wagon. Its an open box covered with canvas stretched on ribs but more or less open at both ends. Much of the food hangs free or is loosely covered in coarse cloth. Who would put it at the end of the parade? Riding drag at the end of the herd was the joy of the greenhorns. Nobody who cared about their food was going to bathe it in dust twelve hours a day for three months and call it a treat.

§ § §

Then there's the beans.

They weren't in a can. They were dried. They were in a bag.

Most modern cookbooks will tell you to soak the beans in water overnight. A second option is to cover with water and bring the pot to a boil then let them set for an hour. Drain and cover with fresh water to begin cooking them. The wagon is not traveling on the Interstate. It is traveling a trail. "Trail" is by courtesy. "Trail" means that somebody in the outfit knows the landmarks that show the way. It has nothing to do with any sort of road. So let's set a pot of beans covered in water in the wagon and go for a nice cross country ride of twelve miles. How much water and beans do you expect to find in the pot at journey's end? Enough to feed eighteen hungry people? Not likely.

So I deduce that the chuck wagon moved around the herd. First there was breakfast of biscuits, bacon and beans (Left over from the night before), with coffee. The Old Woman hands everybody extra biscuits, pemmican or jerky for lunch. The hands move the herd off while cookie cleans up the camp, his pots and pans, etc. With the mules hitched the chuck wagon leaves to find the herd. As soon as found, the herd is passed. The mules can do three miles an hour easily, so by lunch time the wagon arrives at the campsite. Hobble the mules to graze, gather firewood, draw water, start the fire, then the beans go on the fire. Two or three hours later they are fully cooked and ready for flavoring.

Now that's another topic. Likely the actual cowpokes were used to what we now call Tex-Mex with its spicy heat. On the other hand a bit of molasses or cone sugar made those beans tastier to the energy starved, just as doughnuts taste good to cops on the night shift. Possible that the boss has roots back east that call for moderation of the spiciness with a nod to the baked beans of New England? Maybe there was a fusion? Flavorings were also influenced by what the cook found.

So I took the needful about three hours upriver into the Mt Baker National Forest and set to work about 3pm with a cast iron Dutch oven and some charcoal. By 6pm when the other campers rolled in there were some beans ready for them. Didn't hear any complaints that night.

Goodnight Loving Beans

Wash and pick over 1 pound of pinto beans. Place in a 4 qt. Dutch dutch oven with water to cover. Place in fire pit with 6 briquets beneath and 12 briquettes on top. When the pot boils remove 3 briquettes from beneath and 4 from the top. This should maintain a simmer fast enough to cook the beans. After an hour, or so, the skin should peel when you blow on a bean. Now add 1 tsp baking soda (softens the beans[?]), ¼ cup sweetener (honey, molasses, cone sugar etc.) a spice bag -- containing allspice, anise seed, cloves, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, celery seeds, mustard seed and pepper corns -- dried tomatoes, and ½ pound salt pork. Simmer another hour. Add a rabbit or duck, disjointed if necessary, and a spring onion & pasilla pepper chopped. Simmer another hour or 'til done.
Mix 1 cup flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt. Work a ¼ cup butter in to flour mixture. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Drop spoonsfull on top of the beans. Bake ½ hour, or until done.
§ § §

The Flatulence Question
Lino told me that adding baking soda would prevent gas.
I have not found it to be so. What seems to make the difference is how much I eat and how fast.

2. Soak most beans in three times their volume of cold water for six hours before cooking. (You can cook beans without soaking, but it takes longer, and some people think the beans taste better when soaked.)

To Discard Soak Water or Not Some people are more susceptible than others to the discomforts of the gas, or flatulence, sometimes caused by eating beans. Flatulence occurs when bacteria normally found in the digestive tract reacts on certain chemical compounds in beans. Some are water-soluble and will be partially removed when the bean soak water is discarded. Small amounts of water-soluble vitamins and minerals are also removed by discarding the soak water. Therefore, many cooks believe it is nutritionally important to use the soak water for cooking the beans. Current research shows that only small amounts of nutrients are lost. For many people, the discomfort avoided by discarding the soak water is more important than the small amount of nutritional benefits from using it.

Consumers do not soak the beans, because it changes the flavor and the aspect of the cooked beans and they do not add salt at the beginning of the cooking process due to the same reason. Organoleptic studies conducted in the laboratory confirmed that soaking of beans or addition of salts in the soaking water or at the beginning of the cooking process negatively affected acceptability of cooked beans by panelists.
Your experience will very. When it is good stick with it. Else, try this and see if its any good for you.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dum Luk's Sauce

In my back yard are two apple trees. One grows sweet red apples that ripen in early September. The other gives tart green cooking apples in mid July. The picture shows the latter's crop this year, processed, ready to go into the cupboard. (The loaf of bread has nothing to do with this post, but it fills the foreground and lets me show off my Gages Slough sourdough. That's another post.)

George L Herter was an ur-blogger who wrote about a great many things in the guise of cooking and housekeeping. Like a blogger his information is subject to reader approval. The sources are not always clear or independently verifiable. Yet many who tried this or that of his recipes testify to their goodness. The Bull Cook is still available in both hard and soft cover versions, on line or in your favorite used bookstore, for about $10. Here's a sample of his style and a good recipe:

This famous sauce was originated in Worcester, England, by John L. Crafton a chemist in 1835 and is an adaptation of early French sauces. He wanted desperately to make his every day food taste better and he certainly succeeded. The sauce was first called Worcester sauce then changed to Worcestershire sauce by commercial companies who tried to vaguely copy the original sauce. The story that the recipe was brought out of India by the third Baron Sandys in 1837 is entírely untrue. Several other chemists at the time brought out similar sauces.

The original recipe is nothíng at all like the present day commercial recipes. Commercial recipes for the most part are a black looking watery mixture of water, soy sauce, pepper and vinegar. They might be alright on chow mein or chop suey but hardly on anyhíng else. Real Worcestershire sauce is a líght reddish brown in color, is not at all watery but quíte a heavy bodied liqud, It contaíns very líttle water, has no soy sauce flavor at all although it does contain a Iimited amount of soy sauce.

Made by the original recipe ít costs only about 75¢ a gallon to make. People really IÍke it and your family will use a lot more of it than catsup. If you have it available for them Make up some for your church suppers also and put it on the table in old peanut butter jars with a spoon in it. lt will create a real sensation whenever you serve it.

Worcestershire sauce is not at all difficult to make.

Take an old gallon vinegar jug or one gallon jar and put in the following:

Take one 15 ounce can of red kidney beans, (costs about 10¢) drain and pass fhrough a food mill. Commercíal makers list tamarinds as a part of their recípe so that housewives will think that they cannot make their own as tamarinds are hard to find. Actually tamarinds are nothing but the pod from a tree in India that is nothing but poor cattle food and if eaten in any quantity is a severe laxatíve. One 6 ounce bottle of soy sauce.

1 level teaspoon of garlic powder, two State of Maine American sardines packed in soy bean oil They come packed six ardines to a can and cost about 10¢ a can. Remove two sardines, put them into a small bowl of vinegar and wash them off. Remove and mash up with a fork and add. Commcrcíal recipes say that they use anchovies to confuse housewives. Anchovies are actually nothing but a salt cured sardine.

Take about six or seven quarts of apples, either green or ripe. Peel them and slice them up and place them in about a six or eight quart cookíng pot. Cover them just to the top with brown vinegar. Add one onion sliced up about three ínches in diameter. Add the following to the sliced apples: three level tablespoons of ground cloves, two level tablespoons of ground tumeric, two level tablespoons of ground nutmeg, three level tablespoons of ground allspíce, three level tablespoons of powdered coffee or three cups of boiled down black coffee. Bring to a boil and slowly boil for two hours. As the water in the vínegar evaporates add half water and half vinegar to replace it. Stír frequently as apples burn easily, and also tend to stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove and run through a food mill and add eight cups of the puree to the jug or jar.

Now add: two level teaspoons of red ground pepper, four level tablespoons of corn syrup, six level tablespoons of salt, three level tablespoons of mustard, one level tablespoon of sugar.

Now fill the balance of the jug or jar up with vinegar. Shake up well and leave stand for 24 hours and it then is ready to use.

Worcestershire sauce is used for seasoning fish, meat, fowl, vegetables and vegetable juíces Here are jut a few of the many ways that it can be used:

1. Poured dírectly over mashed boiled potatoes and mashed in. This is a popular Irish custom and very good Be sure to try it.

2. Add three tablespoons to a glass of tomato juice.

3. In cooking pork chops sprinkle generously over the pork chops as you cook them, Gives them a clean, fresh flavor

4. Beef stew Add three tablespoons for about every quart of the stew.

5. Blend in two tablespoons into about each cup of brown gravy.

6. Sprinkle generously over turkey, chicken, duck, or goose dressing just as you serve them. It does wonders for dressings.

7. Sprinkle generously over beef hash just before serving.

8. Add one level tablespoon to each bowl of tomato soup just before servíng.

9. Sprinkle generously on hamburger buns before puttíng in the ham.
The Bull Cook, by George L. Herter, Page 155-157

The Original Worcestershire Sauce above is the now distant springboard for Dum Luk's Sauce. Herter's sauce is mostly vinegar with spices to detonate your taste buds and apples to thicken the result. Lots of people like it. When Del ran a restaurant he couldn't make it often enough for the diners. I find Herter's sauce too unbalanced -- too acidic. So this is milder and, I like to think, more subtle, more balanced, more Chinese. Oh, all right, nuanced. There I said it.

Dum Luk's Sauce

Wash and quarter about five pounds of tart apples: Bransons, Granny Smiths, Braeburns, etc. Simmer until soft. Pass through a food mill to remove seeds and such.

For each quart add: 1 cup -- or to taste -- sugar, teaspoon powdered anise, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, teaspoon cayenne, teaspoon celery seed, 1 teaspoon Coleman's Mustard, I tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons Mae Ploy, or other brand, Sweet Chilli Sauce, and 1 cup oyster sauce, 2 well rinsed sardines and 15 ounces drained canned kidney beans. The last adds fibre to thicken the sauce. Liquefy the above in a blender. Return puree to clean pot and simmer.

Meanwhile chop a medium yellow onion and cook just under a simmer with half an Anaheim Pepper and 8 black pepper corns in 1 cup of strong coffee for about 20 minutes. Liquefy and add to apple mixture. Add 1 cup Apple cider vinegar. Simmer for two to three hours. Let rest overnight. Return to a simmer and bottle.
-- by Martin Langeland
As an historical footnote of a more or less spurious sort remember that tomatoes are native to the western hemisphere. Before the 1500's nobody made tomato based sauces in Europe. England, in particular, had a lot of apples. My bet is that some of the apple sauce was made as uppity as the local herb and spice supply permitted as a sauce for goose and gander.

The cat on the label? That is the before picture. After a nip, he'll be sleek and fat!

-- ml

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Bagged by a Meme Tag

On my daily noontime browse through blogtopia I reached the oasis of wit, style, and wisdom that is archy and settled to read a meme post. Read. Chuckle. Read. Mammoth. Yeah! Snark. Read. Chuckle. Uhuh. OMIGOD He tagged me! My first. As a lowly multicelled microorganism critter I boggle.

a hem

Why do you blog?
There are two or three books I mean to write just as soon as ... Every someday writer will recognize and shudder at the last phrase. Two years ago, as a Christmas gift I took a typescript for a children's novel written by my wife's grandfather and turned it into an actual book -- designed, printed, and bound for family and friends. How disappointing that the copyright office does not consider this publishing! What was neat about it was watching Larry's great-grands connect to him who before had only been a vague figure in family stories. Armed with new resolve I clung to the idea of blogging as a means of overcoming inertia.

How long have you been blogging?
Since April of 2005. Greatly regret that I started late so I missed the altogether appropriate Fool's Day blogiversary. Fortunately I had the manners to wait a week after Shakespeare's anniversary.

Self Portrait?
Always hard for me. I just don't seem to fit in -- ever. I mean to. I try to. But I don't. As a friend described it: "I spend half my life trying to keep the toads from hopping out of my mouth, and the other half chasing after the ones that got away." I call myself itinerant because I have lived in various places over half the globe. Yet I have lived in Skagit County for more than half my life. My career is a hotchpotch ranging from government bureaucrat to trade show coordinator to impresario to nail maker all very loosely strewn about the theatre.
This causes confusion. I can say "I am a programmer" because I occupied a job with that title. But do not ask me which assembly languages I know as I am talking about booking participants at a Folklife Festival -- not writing code. So it goes. Like Porky Pine's Uncle Baldwin (See Pogo) I appear menacing and cantankerous so long as I keep my overcoat tight buttoned. Without it I am a squishy naif. Perhaps the sharpest limn is this: I am an old western fart.

Why do readers read your blog?
Hmm... Hard to say. I am delighted that between 25 and 30% of my readers come from anywhere in the globe but the US.
I am bumfuzzled by the variety of search phrases that include Dum Luks' fairly high in the results. So as the site is eclectic, so is its readership.

What was the last search phrase someone used to get to your site?
"aioli sauce recipe made with mayonnaise" resulted in Dum Luks at number 22 on Google with a discussion of Kitchn Sink potato salad.
Just before that "absurd fashionable belongings" brought a Russian visitor to Yahoo's #9 listing of "Absurd Decisions."

Which of your entries unjustly gets too little attention?
The Politician's Tale which tells a story by and about NW Rep Warren Magnuson I heard from then Rep Al Swift.
Also a recent post which seems to have disappeared in the Pre Labor Day Glaze Over about Absurd Decisions. Both of these contain thoughts worth a moment's attention as we enter the final stretch of this election cycle.

Your current favorite blog?
There are about twenty blogs organized in bookmarks such as 'AM', 'Noon' etc which I read daily. These range from biggies like Atrios, Daily Kos and WWDN in Exile, through hard corpse Economics like Brad De Long, Max Sawicky and Michael Perelman, to biggies in deserving if not in numbers like archy and Alicublog. Of these, favorite is the one I'm reading at the moment.

What blog did you read most recently?

Which feeds do you subscribe to?
The cats like friskies but I stay away from the stuff. Too many carbs.

What four blogs are you tagging with this meme and why?

Richard at the Peking Duck for his news of the orient.
Will at Imagethief for his fine tales of the PR game Peking style.
Syllabub for her evocative prose approach to recipes.
For design excellence, humor, tutorials and just about everything I wish I could do at least half so well: Mediatinker.

That's almost enough trouble caused for one day.

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