You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for September, 2011.

Improved port

September 21st, 2011

On September 3, I put two bottles of cheap ruby port into my oak barrel. On September 12, I tasted it and thought it was pretty good. On September 19, I tasted it again — and thought it was really, really good.  The flavor is sweet and a bit smokey, with a lot of caramel flavor.  The color is a beautiful toasty red/brown.

I decanted it back into the original bottles and almost filled them both.  The angels didn’t take much — they didn’t the opportunity.  Then I immediately filled the barrel with single malt, un-aged spirit from Copper Fox.  Yes this is unorthodox — that’s the point.  I can’t wait to find out how it turns out.

A nation of illegal immigrants

September 14th, 2011

The Western United States was largely settled by illegal immigrants — claim jumpers, squatters, sooners, you name it, our pioneer ancestors didn’t wait around for the government before moving out, moving on, moving in and moving up to make a living off the vast wealth of the West.

Tim Lee looks at squatters for Forbes:

[F]ew settlers had either $640 or the legal expertise to navigate America’s cumbersome property laws. And so thousands of migrants simply ignored the law and settled illegally on vacant land.

Offended by their disrespect for the law and worried about lost revenue, the federal government responded harshly. The US Army began evicting illegal squatters and destroying their homes….

These crackdowns failed. As migrants continued to pour west, it became obvious that the federal and state governments lacked the resources to evict more than a fraction of the lawbreakers….

Kentucky was one of the first states to offer squatters a path to legalization. Under the Kentucky system, any squatter whose claim went unchallenged for seven years, and who paid taxes on the land during that period, was eligible for a clear title to the property regardless of who had owned it previously. This system was controversial at first, but other states gradually saw the need for reform. Congress finally acknowledged defeat in 1862 with the passage of the Homestead Act, which gave settlers free federal land if they cultivated it for five years. The Act didn’t so much establish the practice of homesteading as formalize what settlers had been doing illegally for decades.

Sounds a lot like amnesty to me.

A Netflix of Books

September 13th, 2011

Amazon is reportedly in talks with publishers to create a Netflix of books, where you can pay a monthly fee and have access to a certain number of books (some reports suggest you would have acces to certain books, like a book club).

I used to say that I wouldn’t read eBooks until there was a Netflix or Rhapsody of eBooks (I’d still prefer a Rhapsody of books — a flat monthly fee to read all I want? I read fast, so sign me up!).  Then I was given a Kindle as a gift, and I’ve given up dead tree books almost entirely. I find reading on my Kindle to be almost completely frictionless.  I read much more, and much more frequently, than ever before.

But I’d still love to have a service that would allow me to borrow books for a lower fee than I currently “buy” them from Amazon — especially since I’m licensing them anyway, and I rarely read a book more than once.

Port +8

September 12th, 2011

Eight days ago, I put some cheap port in a 2-liter whisky barrel. I just had a nip from the barrel.  The port is darker and more brown than it was a week ago, and the flavor is more complex.  I can definitely taste the char and some deeper caramel notes.  I’m going to leave it in the barrel a bit longer.

You Don’t Die of Love: Stories

September 12th, 2011
Hollywood Studios 1922

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished You Don’t Die of Love, a collection of short stories by Thomas Thonson.  I don’t normally read short stories, but I was intrigued by the book’s cover, which somehow promises a mixture of hope, promise and experience.  The book did not disappoint.  The book is cleverly constructed with characters that overlap among the stories, which are all about the film industry — for example, the detective who worked on the possible homicide of the main character’s wife in one story, becomes the focus of another when he retires and finds love in a Hollywood alleyway (it’s not what you think). These unpretentious-but-compelling stories are about life and disappointment and hope and experience and grace.  The characters are deep and believable, and the way they recur throughout the book creates a sense of recognition that grows as you read the stories.  I felt like I really knew these people.  I really liked the book, and I recommend it.  I received a complimentary copy of this book to review it.

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People using data

September 10th, 2011

I am constantly amazed by what specialists can make of their data.  I shouldn’t be.  That’s what specialization is for, after all.  But it’s beautiful when it happens.  This is from an article about identifying the origins of a ship found under the World Trade Center ruins:

An oak sailboat in New York could have originated anywhere in Europe or North America. Dutch ships originally carried sloops across the Atlantic in the 1600s. Whose side was this sailboat on? Pederson said when they first heard of the find they weren’t sure if they could track the soggy wood - when the team saw the keelson, the upper floor of the hull, the planks looked like white oak. When Blanchette confirmed their suspicions but added that they’d be getting a sample of hickory from the keel, the tree-ring team were relieved. The hickory keel sample was key - “it’s been extinct in Europe for two million years or so,” Pederson said.

So once the team did their own grueling process of slowly drying the timbers, waiting to see if the wood would decay, then sanding the samples, and counting the rings, sometimes as thin as one thousandth of a millimeter, and hoping each sample would provide at least 100 years of rings to make the sample comparable to other chronologies then the scientists got started looking for a match. They used a computer system to compare their samples with chronologies of forests from the New York State’s Hudson Valley and then took a stab at a historical timber chronology they have from Philadelphia, “and that just about nailed it – really good,” said Pederson.

…If the hull was part of the original vessel and not part of a refurbishment, the tree ring data point to a launch date for this shallow-sailing sloop that was sometime after the 1773 winter’s Tea Party in Boston, and likely before the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, in the vessel’s hometown. This is a boat that sailed during the American Revolution

The combination of learning, collaboration, hard work and technology that makes these kinds of conclusions possible is awe-inspiring.

Posted without comment

September 9th, 2011

George Kuchar just died:

Experimental filmmaker George Kuchar, whose no-budget, lo-fi, “plot, schmot” technique became a genre followed by generations of San Francisco art students along with auteurs such as John Waters and Andy Warhol, died of prostate cancer Tuesday with his twin brother by his side. He was 69.

Mr. Kuchar made more than 500 films and videos…. With titles such as “I Was a Teenage Rumpot” (1960), “Hold Me While I’m Naked” (1966), “The Devil’s Cleavage” (1975) and “Insanitorium” (1987), Mr. Kuchar’s films have been labeled campy, avant-garde, underground and simply indescribable. He used friends, relatives and students as actors, hastily constructed props and shot in whatever shabby locations he could find.

Ex-heroes: A mini-book review

September 5th, 2011

I just finished reading Ex-heroes, by Peter Clines. It’s a post-apocalyptic zombie novel set in a world where super heroes are real.  The story is told from the point of view of the heroes.  The heroes are trying to protect a community of normal humans who have sheltered in the Mount (a film-studio-turned fortress.  I think you can guess which one) from hordes of zombies — called Exes, as in ex-humans — in Los Angeles.  And then things get worse. Much, much worse.  Not all the threats to the heroes and the people of the Mount are zombies, not all of the zombies are what they seem, and worst of all, some of the heroes are ex-heroes.

The normal humans in the story are underdone.  In general, they are not really characters, they serve to illustrate the irrationality, fear, and short-sightedness of humans which justifies the roles the heroes have taken on in zombified-LA.  This is forgivable because the heroes are so vividly alive.  They have complex, believable inner selves and sensible strengths and weaknesses.  There’s no kryptonite or ex machina limits on the heroes powers, their weaknesses and strengths are all of a piece.  The story is nicely balanced between action and story, with a thrilling clash at the end of the book that is very well paced and well told.

There’s a lot of talk in zombie-circles about whether or not the zombie-genre is played out.  In the recent crush of zombie stories (in movies, TV shows, books, etc.), there are very few new plots or mechanisms.  Of course, the best zombie stories aren’t about the zombies anyway — they are about the humans.  This book adds something to the genre — new ideas, an intriguingly clever new source for zombie-ism, new kinds of characters.  But that’s not to say that this book is for zombie-fans only.  It tells a good story as well.

I was not surprised to learn that Clines is a television scriptwriter.  The book is extremely visual, and shifts across multiple first-person perspectives.  Each chapter is written like a scene.  In this case, this is a strength.  The story is so well-structured that the shifts across time, space and characters are not jarring at all.

I was sad when the book ended, because I wanted to spend more time with these characters.  So I was really pleased to learn that there’s a sequel due out soon.  You know I’ll be reading it!


September 3rd, 2011

I just put 2 bottles of cheap Taylor Port in my Copper Fox Whisky Barrel. I’m hoping to both improve the flavor of the port and flavor the barrel.

Mini-prep Pesto

September 2nd, 2011
Basil plant leaves.

Image via Wikipedia

I recently bought a small food processor. I chose the KitchenAid Chef Series 3-cup Food chopper. My full size food processor broke 2 years ago, and I wasn’t going to replace it — but there are just enough times that I want a chopper that I finally broke down and decided to get a small one.

One of the things I wanted it for was to make pesto. I love pesto. I make it throughout the summer, but in September of every year, when my basil plants are at their most lush and flavorful, I make tons of it — some to eat fresh and some to freeze. I won’t lie. Frozen pesto is not as good as fresh pesto — but in the middle of winter, when fresh basil is impossible to come by, frozen pesto tastes like summer. But I needed a food processor.  I’m not willing to do that much chopping by hand, and as much as I would love to have a giant mortar and pestle like Julia Child’s, I have no place to store such a thing.

I had to experiment a bit before I figured out the right proportions of the ingredients for my small chopper. It wasn’t quite as simple as cutting my standard recipe in half. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I don’t measure accurately in small amounts. Perhaps my chopper extracts more moisture from the herbs. I don’t know. What I do know is that this pesto is delicious!

When I make this, I measure the herbs and oil by volume, and everything else by weight. It’s easier when you are dealing with such small amounts to do as much as possible by weight. I give both the volume and weight measurements in the list below.

When I’m making pesto to freeze, I set up everything assembly-line style.  I measure the herbs into one bowl and the nuts, cheese, and garlic into  a second bowl.  I set out pairs of bowls all over the kitchen until I run out of one of the ingredients.  I measure the pepper and oil directly into the chopper.  To freeze, put each batch of pesto in a small plastic bag (I use the small snack size bags). Squeeze out all the air and seal. It’s important to get all the air out — air is what makes pesto turn brown. Thaw and serve over pasta OR slice a chunk off and use it to finish pork chops — just put it on the chop after the last time you turn it and let it melt.

Mini-Prep Pesto

slightly less than ¼ cup (0.7 ounces) nuts
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered
¼ cup (coincidentally, also 0.7 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup loosely packed fresh herbs
3 ounces (by volume) extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Notes on ingredients:

  • I don’t like pesto made only with basil.  For herbs, I usually use ½ cup basil and ½ cup other herbs and braising greens. I’ve used everything from sage, thyme, oregano and chives to mustards, bok choy, beet greens and chards. I also like 100% arugula pesto, and 100% sage pesto.  You can use basil only, if you prefer, but don’t hesitate to experiment.  To me, loosely packed means that when you stick your finger in the cup on top of the herbs, there’s a little give and the herbs aren’t crushed into the cup.
  • For nuts, I usually use cashews. Pine nuts are nice, but are somewhat mild.  I prefer the flavor of cashews (plus they are less expensive and easier to find). Peanuts don’t work well.  Some people like walnuts (especially with arugula), but I don’t like them myself.
  • If I am eating the pesto right away, I use the best olive oil I can put my hands on. If I’m going to freeze the pesto, I use grocery store olive oil.  You can experiment with other oils (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) but I always come back to extra virgin olive oil.
  • If the nuts are salted, I don’t add extra salt. I like lots of freshly ground pepper.
  • Buy good cheese for this.  It’s worth it.  Don’t buy the pre-grated stuff in the bag.  Spend a few minutes grating the cheese yourself.

Put the nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese in the mini-prep. Pulse several times until the mixture is the texture of small pebbles. Add the herbs, and pulse until they are all chopped fine. Add the olive oil and pulse one more time to combine.

Serve over pasta. I like to cook up about 6-8 ounces of thin spaghetti.

You can find a version of the recipe suitable for printing here.