Saturday, November 29, 2008

The long, slow death of Zima

From Slate, an interesting look at the evolution and gradual demise of this much-maligned beverage. "Tinfoil soaked in Fresca" indeed...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slate's take on fake turkey

Slate has a nice article on veg*n turkey options, covering the venerable Tofurkey and a few more recent products.

The Whole Foods one sounds quite good, and I'm tempted to pick one up to compare with the Tofurkey we always do. (My main gripe about Tofurkey is that it's a bit rubbery and dense).

Quorn is perhaps the most realistic (I like the way the reviewer complains that it's too realistic - bland and dry like real turkey!). I've had Quorn "chicken" before and to me it tastes just like the real thing (I used to eact chicken until 6-7 years ago).

Oh, and it's great to see Seattle-based Field Roast in the list too!


Here's my list of 100 things I am thankful for, in no particular order:

1. My lovely wife
2. Coffee
3. Napster subscription
4. The Interwebs
5. Wine
6. My job
7. Living in Seattle
8. My cats
9. Sheepskin slippers
10. Good health
11. The symphony
12. Scrambled eggs
13. Farmer's markets
14. Good cheese
15. Sunny winter days
16. Being able to travel
17. Good friends
18. Sane family
19. My car
20. The Connector
21. Things on toast
22. Mushrooms (boletus edulis, I'm looking at you...)
23. Good books
24. Netflix
25. Movies at The Big Picture
26. Flexible schedules
27. A great team of co-workers
28. Our house
29. Mt. Rainier
30. Going skiiing in winter
31. Puzzles
32. Sudoku
33. "Man perfume"
34. The way A smells
35. Gin & tonic
36. Beer on a hot day
37. Lint rollers
38. Microprocessors
39. Security bugs (a.k.a. job security)
40. Harper's magazine
41. Marmite
42. Sushi
43. Our garden
44. Walks around the neighbourhood
45. Dark chocolate
46. The West Coast
47. Living in a stable democracy
48. Indian food
49. Olive oil
50. Garlic
51. Having nice in-laws
52. Hot water (showers, baths...)
53. Down duvets
54. Time-shifted TV
55. Oysters
56. Being able to cook
57. Dreaming
58. Not having to watch American football
59. Good mustard
60. Road trips
61. Swimming
62. Hiking
63. Snowshoeing
64. Watching a good movie at home
65. Snuggling
66. Spring in Seattle
67. Uwajimaya
68. Trader Joe's
69. The King County Library System
70. Click-lighters (not matches)
71. Braais
72. Long days
73. My education
74. Serendipity
75. My prior incarnations (must have done something right)
76. Good memories
77. Good mammaries
78. Being able to use Afrikaans words every now and then
79. Having lived in Cape Town
80. Knowing what Kathmandu and Lhasa look like
81. Great teachers
82. Kind people
83. LOLCats
84. BBC TV
85. Having feet down below my knees
86. Popular music (a long and varied list)
87. Jazz (a shorter list)
88. Being exposed to a wide range of things growing up
89. Having a sense of humour
90. Spelling colour with a 'u' if I want to
91. KUOW
92. Plays
93. Musicals
94. Ferry rides
95. Being close to Canada
96. The Internet Superheroes
97. Monty Python
98. Mrs. Balls Chutney
99. Good service
100. Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

60 Minutes story on the Pelindaba raid

Tali mentioned this last night at dinner, and I was surprised that I had not heard about this when it happened about a year ago.

In Nov 2007, armed robbers broke into the Pelindaba facility (in South Africa) which contains a stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear fuel (a.k.a. highly-enriched uranium or HEU).

Check out the 60 Minutes story here. Not too surprisingly, it sounds like staffing is a major problem at Pelindaba.

The US has offered to "help secure" the site, but as the Project on Government Oversight points out, the US has some weak areas that might be worth focusing on first. The US is also offering to "downblend" the HEU so that is not attractive to terrorists - something that the US has not done to their own sveral hundred metrics tons of HEU.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Secret Pizza

Updated: 11/15
There are a few posts on the Pacific NW Chowhound forum about this...

I had an incredible pizza! Seriously,, my life is forever changed! Unfortunately, I can't tell you where I had it, or I will be killed...

Sound far-fetched? That's what I thought when I read the latest email offering from Garagiste (a wine mailing list I'm on). The owner, Jon Rimmerman, waxes rhapsodic for over 1,400 words describing a (presumably recent) pizza dining experience.

Garagiste have tickled my sense of humour/BS-detector a few times in the past, but this is a new level of tickling :) Is there anything more pretentious and snobby than this sort of email?

Here it is for your reading pleasure (spelling errors preserved) :

“So when do you open” I asked the keen looking gentleman standing inside the doorway outside this cult haven for pizza.

“I’m not sure, when do you want us to open” he said and stared at me with the eyes of a demon waiting for a response.

“How about now” I meekly stuttered as I glanced at the dozen other wide-eyed souls waiting outside, waiting for me (or anyone) to take charge of the situation.

“we'll see...we'll see”, his thick accent pierced the air as he slammed the door in my face.

....and so began my journey to one of the most talked about pizza establishments in the world (at the present moment) - no sign, no menu, no wait-staff. There may be nothing to eat, but there is everything to look forward to. If he feels like making pizza, you are graced with the most divine creation that basil, cheese, sauce and dough have ever quantified. If he doesn’t, you walk away knowing that there is always another day. The only clue that this “restaurant” may be open is a pyramid of hand-made mozzarella balls being depleted one-by-one as the pizzas are produced - you can glance through the window at the dwindling stack of rotund cheese bricks and gauge your chances of actually eating a pizza - if there are more than 20-30 people waiting outside and it looks like only 15-20 mozzarella balls left, you may as well leave. When the cheese is gone, they close - even if you’ve waited for 2 hours in the rain. All of this is certain restaurant suicide but, in this case, there is a longer line outside everyday.

How can this obtuse attitude be tolerated? Easy - the pizza in among the finest gastronomic creations in the world and the difficulty obtaining it is almost part of the appeal.

Every ingredient is made form scratch - everything - the cheese, the dough, the sauce. The basil is grown on site and a plethora of sea salts, vinegars and olive oils adorn the pies like necessary accoutrement in a haberdashery window. The pizza is so marvelous, so deeply complex that it renders the person enjoying it helpless to enjoy another more common pie again. Excuses are made for what used to be heavenly but your pizza reference will never be the same. Like the finest Musigny, once your lips have graced its presence, you are ruined for everything else...

...just then, I felt a hand on my shoulder, I quickly turned around and was face to face with the above mentioned demon “you, come inside now”. I didn’t question his invitation - in I marched toward what could have been the macabre, the underworld, the unknown - but I marched inside like a lemming toward the cliffs of Dover awaiting my fate...

Once inside, it was not what I expected - a few scattered, simple tables with other patrons chomping on what smelled and looked like the most divine food one could imagine. I stood there waiting and he stared, without so much as a blink - after what seemed like a full five minutes he faintly said, “What will you eat?”

I wasn’t sure if it was a trick question but I responded with one foot poised to retreat if I was wrong “Pizza?”

“Good answer and for you, because I can tell you are difficult, I will break the rules and make you a half and half...when it is your time”

With that he vanished into the den of burning logs, sticks and what appeared to be full tree branches smoldering away inside the most incredible wood-burning oven I’ve ever seen ( I would later find out that this secret combination of wood, some of it olive tree branches with the olive fruit still attached, was a secret to his success). A “half and half”? I pitied the more sheepish diners, who would not be amused with a no-menu policy - I consider myself to be among the more adventurous but stories of calf brain on pizza dough did not stoke my appetite besides, the mozzarella balls were being depleted quicker than I liked to see, one at a time, like sands through my hourglass, the chances of tasting this ever so hyped gastronomic achievement were dwindling (I still had not been offered a table yet).

Ball after ball was removed from the stack and my unsettled feeling increased until only four lonely pieces remained - they were the lock and key to the lucky few that would experience the splendor on this night - and then, when I was sure all was lost, my luck changed with ball number three, it was mine.

After hours of nervous anticipation, waiting in the rain and one of the most bizarre dining experiences I can ever recall, my pizza was presented....and what a creation it was. As I type this, my fingers tremble with the memory of a piping hot pie, razor-thin and so aromatic the charred scents of embers were embedded in the perfect crust and superlative raw materials that adorned the top. Visually, the pizza was indeed “half and half” - half was as plain as you can get - dough, sauce and hand-made cheese but the world “plain” does not prepare one for the perfection of the experience. The other half was very intriguing - what appeared to be wood-roasted onion, fennel, peppers of some variety and tiny specks of roasted fresh porcini mushrooms with the most delicate olive oil made famous in the region sprinkled on top.

The first bite was as anticipated as any first encounter I can remember and the aromatic and taste sensation was like a sensory explosion - with each nibble the ingredients would stand out as individuals (down to the flour and water) and then again as an amorphous whole as the pizza made its way down the gullet.

Rarely do I find myself in a circumstance where I keep glancing at the clock, not because I want the experience to end but just the opposite - I longed for each moment past to return unadorned, as I knew this pizza would end at some point and it seemed unfair. Each bite was from a place never before experienced - to say this was the finest pizza I’ve ever had was underestimating the detail and genius of the man that had tried as hard as he could to shoo me away only to captivate my gustatory senses like no other (and I’ve spent the better part of my adult life searching for the perfect pie)...

...and then one bite remained. One bite - the last bite. I looked at it for a few moments and wondered if I would ever experience this again - most likely not as the establishment was so off the beaten path that even I had trouble finding it and I was not sure I would ever pass that way again. It was immersed in a national forest of sorts, in mountains that were foreboding enough, if not made more mysterious by the dining experience within their deepest shadows.

The tap on the shoulder came again...

“You are not a journalist are you?” as he noticed my non-sensical scribbles trying to place what had just occurred into some form of language on paper.

“No, I write about wine - I just love food”

“You will not write about my pizza, correct?”, as the demon-like eyes seemed to stare through me and the wall behind me...

“No, well, yes I need to write about it - it was sublime, incredible, unlike anything else - I need to tell people”

“I will make you a deal - you agree not to write about the pizza and I will agree to let you to leave”

With that, I made my first deal with the devil - I made him a promise not to reveal the name or location of this singular shrine and in exchange, he agreed to let me to leave, to carry on with my post-pizza life. I’m still not sure if I received the better half of the deal.

As I walked toward the door, toward the crisp night sky, I resisted the temptation to turn around but I felt those eyes burning through me and in a hushed voice I’m certain I heard him say...

“You'll be back”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yes, Africa is a continent...

Every now and then some talking head on TV will be enumerating a list of countries, and will include Africa in the list. Come on people! Africa is a continent! South Africa really is an independent state within the continent.

Now that the election is over, it seems Fox News is able to cover the fact that Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa is a continent (or which countries make up NAFTA). It's quite amazing to see how quickly the McCain campaign folks are distancing themselves from her. Perhaps this is partly to scupper her chances of running for election in 2012, and partly also so McCain is not totally tarnished.

Here's the Fox News video clip:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Is Obama the Mandela of America?

Nope, not quite.
But it's quite interesting to view the 2008 US election after having been through the 1994 elections in South Africa. Sadly, I was not eligible to vote in the 2008 US elections, so I can't say I took part in both of these historical events, but there are definitely some parallels. Hopefully Obama will also have the nation-building and bridge-building skills that Mandela had. 4 more years of partisan politics will not be helpful...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Nailin' Palin: the prank call

If you haven't hard it yet, the Huffington Post have it online here.