Archive for August, 2015


August 11th, 2015 Comments off


2 cups grain alcohol, such as Everclear

3 unblemished lemons’ zest

1 quart plus ¼ cup 2% milk
(for limocello, use water in place of milk;

3 -½ cups sugar

Wash lemons thoroughly. Thinly peel, making sure to get only the yellow and none of the white

In large glass container, marinate the lemon peel in alcohol for 48 hours. Strain liquid and discard peel.

In medium sauce pan, boil milk (or water) and add sugar, stirring until dissolved (basically, you’re making a simple syrup). Cool. Add lemon-infused alcohol.

Allow to age for at least a month; if making cremoncello, refrigerate.

Store in refrigerator and serve chilled.

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Fracking and Baysean Calculator

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

Well, we can use the Bayes Probability Theorem to figure out how likely is is that fracking will pollute our water supply.

Suppose the probability of fracking polluting the water supply in any one spot–say, within 500 yards of the fracking site–is originally estimated, before any evidence of pollution has been found, to be only 0.5%.

Now an event happens, such as the real event: water coming from a tap in a house, which draws its water from a well, starts to ignite when an open flame is brought near it.

What are the chances that the fracking caused the pollution?  We can estimate that there is about a 40% chance that fracking is the cause.  We can also posit that, without the fracking, natural causes might cause the water to become polluted; but it’s very rarely that a water supply spontaneously becomes flammable, so let’s put that possibility at 0.05%.

Plugging these values in to the Bayesean Theorem; x=.5, y=50%, z=0.05%

Bayesean Theorem:  P = xy / xy + z(1-x)

Solving for P :  There is a 83% chance that fracking will pollute the water supply.

That is not a trivial possibility.

You can play with these figures, using my Bayesean Calculator.  In any case, you will not find the possibility of pollution from fracking to be anything but frightening.

Hey, nothing wrong with that, right?

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Markia’s Mother’s Pizza

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

Maria’s Mother’s Pizza

We’re in Maria’s mother’s kitchen.  Maria’s mother is kneeling on the tile floor.  Before her she has spread out a cloth, and on the cloth she has a plastic bucket, a bag of white flour and a bag of semssmolina flour, dry yeast, a bottle of olive oil, salt, and water.

Maria’s mother is making pizza dough.  She’s showing us how it’s done.

We are seven guests from the locanda, the guest house, where Maria works. We’ve walked down to Maria’s mother’s house, about half a kilometer along a dirt road, through the rolling hills of Tuscany, the sunfllowers in bloom across the vallley.  It’s a brilliant spring day; here in Maria’s mother’s kitchen, however, it’s quite dark.  Most Italian kitchens are quite dark.  And tiny.  Mama would never complain.

Maria’s mother — none of us learned her name — lifts the bag of white flour, and pours an amount into the plastic bucket.  She then scoops some semolina flour from the other bag and adds it to the white flour.  She adds several pinches of yeast, a small palm of salt, several glugs from the olive oil bottle, and several glugs of water.

“You’ll notice,” I comment, “The scientific precision of measurement.”  We all chuckle.  Maria’s mother smiles.  She speaks no english; neither does Maria.

Maria’s mother starts mixing these ingredients in the plastic pail, putting her weight into the task.

I’m in my own kitchen in Carolina, starting my pizza dough.  I measure out three cups of white flour, one of semolina, four teaspoons dry yeast, two teaspoons salt, three tablespoons of olive oil, and 1-5/8 cups warm water.  These all I dump into the bread making machine, set the control to “dough”, and press the start button.

Maria’s mother, after about five minutes, has created a lovely, spongy, pliable dough.  We can see what a great mixing container is the plastic bucket–not like a ceramic bowl, which is unmaliable, but somthing you can bend and twist to make it easier for you to knead the dough.

Now the dough will need to rise.  But we don’t have to wait for that–Maria’s mother has already made a recipe of dough, which she has already let rise, kneaded again, let rise, kneaded, then divided and set out to rest under damp cloths.

My breakmaker’s alarm goes off;  I remove the dough onto a floured wooden board, knead it a few times, divide it in two, then wrap each half in plastic wrap.  these will sit for one-half hour.

We all troop out of the kitchen, into the back yard of the house.  It’s a three-story old farm house.  Three generations are living here, three sons and families, the mother, her grandchildren. The men are working in town, and will be home later.  The grandchildren, not yet in school, are busy in a room upstairs.  We are on the piazzetta, or veranda, where there are set up several tables,.

Toward the bottom of the grassy yard is a brick oven.  We understand that Maria’s mother bakes bread in this oven evry week.  Maria is taking a part, stoking the oven with the knarled logs of olive wood.
Now the preparatio really starts.  The alrady divided dough is brought out.  Maria’s mother rolls out the dough, exquisitely thin, and starts putting on the toppings.

In my kitchen, I roll out the dough with a wine battle roller, then pile on the toppings: garlic, olives, red pepper, salt/pepper, oregano, a bit of tomato sause, basil, arugula, mozzarella, gorgonzola.

She makes really simple pizzas:  oil-salt-and-rosemary;  garlic and oil and tomato; usually just two or three ingredients.

The pizzas go zipping into the brick oven on the long-handled wooden peel, and come zipping back out seemingly at onec, the oven is so hot, making crispy, puffy crusts.

My pizza takes at least ten minutes in my electric oven, whose temperature cannot get above 500 degrees Fahrenheit; I don’t take it out til all the cheese is bubbling.

A treat at the end: a pizza of honey and pear slices;  the children join us for this one, and some get a dollop of ice cream .

It’s been a great treat.  We thank our hostess, Maria’s mother.

As we are about to leave, we’re asked to stay a moment.  Gathered on the drive, we see the men coming home in their cars; they get out and stand looking back at us fro the house.  We regard each other as we would aliens from outer space.

The children, it turns out, have been weaving for us friend bracelets.  We are touched.

We can’t speak the same language; but we are grateful, and try to make our appreciation known.

Here are some more details:  When writing up that recipe for pizza dough, I left out what you would do if you didn’t have a bread making machine.  It’s so easy with the bread machine!  You just stick the stuff in, turn it on, and /ecco!/ the dough is done after about an hour.

But if you don’t, you can use your Cuisine-Art to mix the stuff up; then you want to keep the dough warm, so it rises: like, covered in a warm oven, or as I’ve done, in a bowl that sits in a bowl of warm water.  If you don’t have a Cuisine-Art, then you mix the ingredients together by hand (first you disolve the yeast in warm water), then let it rise in the bowl-in-warm water.  Well, you have to come back to it about every 10 minutes, kneading it, pounding it down every time.  But that’s the fun of making bread!

The thing the bread making machine does is to 1) keep it warm throughout, and 2) knead it every 10 minutes or so.  You can do this by hand, if you want.

So, what do you do for toppings?

Here’s what I use:

First I roll out the dough (half the recipe) onto my pizza peel.
A lite coating of oil along the edge (to grab the cheese gratings I put on later)
Garlic:  you can never have too much garlic.
Olives — chopped oil-cured olives
If I’ve got some left-over tomato sauce, a very light coating — or some chopped fresh tomato (juice removed)
Above-mentioned grated parmesano or romano cheese, for outer-edge crust beautification
Spices:  Salt, black pepper, red pepper
Herbs: oregano (fresh or dried), basil (fresh or dried) or lots of  chopped arugula
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Shavings of  gorganzolla  cheese

That’s maybe excessive.  Other options are available.

Here’s an idea, something made for us in the Chianti countryside:

Pizza Sucre con Miele e Pera
(sweet pizza with honey and pear)

On your rolled-out pizza dough, smear honey, and layer on slices of ripe pear.  Bake.  Eat.
This is a desert pizza.

How about maple syrup and ripe apple slices?  Yum!

Categories: food, Italy, Uncategorized Tags:

Black Beans and Rice

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

I’m making black-bean soup with rice.  Taught to me by a Mexican-American friend in Denver, Colorado. Like his mother used to make.

I started at 11:00 in the morning; we usually eat around 2:00 in the afternoon. It’ll be very ready by then.I chopped up into small pieces:

1 medium sweet onion
2-inch piece of sweet potato.  Should really be a piece of pumpkin, but any kind of squash will do.
1/4 of a green pepper
3 cloves of garlic
In a deep-sided skillet, I made a sofrito (sautee) of the garlic and onions, then added the pepper and squash.  To this I stirred in a good portion of dried oregano (mine is Mexican from Penzy’s), a large pinch of red chili flakes, a pinch of salt and of pepper. Get these things working all together, so the onions are soft, and then dump in two cans of black beans.  You could cook your own black beans from dried, but that would take another day.

Add some water–about 1/2 cup or so.  Then add about the same amount of red wine.  Don’t worry about the alcohol, it will all be cooked away.  But worry if you must…just use a good red wine, not one of those horrid “non-alcoholic” types.)

Let it all come to a boil, then turn the heat down to real low, so that the stuff is just barely bubbling. Don’t let it boil over the sides.

Stir it often. When it sits their simmering for a while, you’ll get a skin on top; just stir it back into the mix.

Taste: if too mild, add some (1/4 tsp) of Sriracha.  Stir it in.  Add some sugar to bring out the vegetables’ flavors (1/2 tsp).

When the beans are done, the squash or sweet potato will have bocome really soft or even unidetifiable, same with the green pepper, or at least able to be severed with the edge of a wooden spoon. The soup will be thick and dark with the black beans, not watery.

I just checked mine–it’s 12:30, and doing great.  When we eat, in an hour and a half, we’ll each get some  in a bowl, and sprinkle a generous portion of rice on top, and also a lot of raw, finely-chopped sweet onion.

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My Commie Pinko Past

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

[When I was a senior in high school (1959), as a good little politico (I was raised  a Republican) I wanted to know more about the political action of the day.  So I subscribed, through free offers found in the back of The Saturday Review of Literature ( the New York Review of Books of its day), to four publications, two ultra-liberal, and two ultra-conservative.

The two conservative were the newsletter of the John Birch Society, American Opinion, and the National Review, just started up by William F. Buckley.

The two liberal were I.F. Stone’s Weekly, and The Weekly People, an organ of the Socialist Workers Party.

After my sophomore year in college, I applied for the U.S. Navy’s “NavCad” program–I wanted to be a fly-boy (years before Top Gun–no, I didn’t just want to get into a cockpit with Tom Cruise). Despite a morbid fear of heights, I wanted to serve my country.

I went through all the aptitude tests, and intelligence tests, and was waiting for the results of the physical, when I had a visit at my home from two FBI agents.

The blue-suited, white-shirted agents came into my parents’ living room, and started questioning me.  Why was I getting all this commie socialist literature?

They were very insistent.  I explained about how I was curious about the political extremes. I pointed out that I had subscribed to right-wing, as well as liberal, publications; but that fazed them not at all.  They hadn’t even known about the John Birch Society connection, or Buckley’s rag–they were just out to get us commies!

I’d re-enrolled in college before the Navy accepted me, so in the end I declined to sign up. But I’ll not forget my FBI caper.

As a side note, this was not the first run-in with the FBI for my family.  Back in 1947, after my father left the Navy (he was a navigator in the Pacific), he applied for a job working in Human Resources at the Army Supply Depot in Chicago. Before he got the job, the FBI came by to check out my mother, Phyllis O. Bentley.

Phyllis E. Bentley was a British novelist, accused, during those anti-commie years, of being left-wing.  My mother, who was twenty years younger than that author, was a Bentley only by marriage.  Yet intrepid FBI had to check her out, just in case.

Categories: Personal History, Uncategorized Tags:

Boggin’s Cleaning Lady

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

Boggin had a cleaning woman, who came in twice a week.  The cleaning woman, let’s call her Kathrin (since that was her name), was of German origin; she spoke with a thick German accent.  Not unusual in upstate Illinois, an area that had been settled, despite the French name of Des Plaines, by German farmers, toward the end of the Nineteenth Century.

Boggin was relatively liberal, for her age and time.  Both politically and religiously.  An Eisenhower Republican, I guess she’d have been. She didn’t let her prejudices show, though I’m sure she had some.  But as a Congregationalist who had married a Jew (Oppenheimer changed to Opper some time around the First World War), she really couldn’t afford prejudices.

She loved to talk politics with Kathrin, who was almost a Nazi throwback; Kathrin could rant, and Boggin would goad.  One day, they got into religion; the subject of Jews came up.  You can imagine Kathrin’s stand.  Finally, Boggin said, “Well you know, Jesus was a Jew.”

“Ach ja,” replied Kathrin triumphantly, “until he turned Cat’lic!”

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Sour Cereal Recipe

August 11th, 2015 Comments off

Sour Cereal Recipe

1/2 cup millet
8-9 cups water

Wash the millet, add to a 4-qt pot with the water.  Turn on the heat.

Ginger == about 1-inch piece, chopped finely (cuisinart works).
½ medium-sized onion — chopped fine (cuisineart)

Add ginger and onion to the pot.

3 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
1 pinch ground fenugreek

Add cumin, salt and fenugreek to the pot.  Stir the pot to prevent its foaming over the side.

2 ½ tsp chopped green chillis, canned

Add chillis and coconut to the pot.  Stir, scrape off the foam.

1 ancho chilli pepper
Break ends off the chilli, dump out the seeds, cut into small pieces with scissors.
6 pitted dates (will be too sweet if you use too many), chopped fine.
½ tsp Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce
2 Tbsp medium-heat bottled Salsa
1 Tbsp Butter

Add chilli, dates, sauce,  and salsa to the pot.

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut  — add

The Sour Cereal is cooked when the millet seeds are split open.

1 bunch chopped Cilantro

Turn off the heat, add chopped cilantro.

Serve when hungry.

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August 10th, 2015 Comments off

This may be a long and difficult post, at least for the poster.

Here’s the entry for OK from etymonline:

1839, only survivor of a slang fad in Boston and New York c.1838-9 for abbreviations of common phrases with deliberate, jocular misspellings (cf. K.G. for “no go,” as if spelled “know go”); in this case, “oll korrect.” Further popularized by use as an election slogan by the O.K. Club, New York boosters of Democratic president Martin Van Buren’s 1840 re-election bid, in allusion to his nickname Old Kinderhook, from his birth in the N.Y. village of Kinderhook. Van Buren lost, the word stuck, in part because it filled a need for a quick way to write an approval on a document, bill, etc. The noun is first attested 1841; the verb 1888. Spelled out as okeh, 1919, by Woodrow Wilson, on assumption that it represented Choctaw okeh “it is so” (a theory which lacks historical documentation); this was ousted quickly by okay after the appearance of that form in 1929. Okey-doke is student slang first attested 1932. Greek immigrants to America who returned home early 20c. having picked up U.S. speech mannerisms were known in Greece as okay-boys, among other things.


From Wikipedia about Occitan languages:


The word òc came from Vulgar Latin hoc (“this”), while oïl originated from Latin hoc illud (“this [is] it”). Old Catalan and nowadays the Catalan of Northern Catalonia (France, Catalunya Nord) also have hoc (òc). Other Romance languages derive their word for yes from the Latin sic, “thus [it is], [it was done], etc.”, such as Spanish , Eastern Lombard , Italian , or Portuguese sim. In Modern Catalan, as in modern Spanish, is usually used as a response, although the language retains the word oi, akin to òc, which is sometimes used at the end of Yes-no questions and in higher register also as a positive response.[15]



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