Kick-ass gazpacho

What follows is my recipe for delicious summer gazpacho. In my opinion, it’s the bread and the oil and the wider variety of veggies than usually found that does the trick. Also, the lack of cilantro prevents potential seasoning woes.

  • 2 large (28 oz) cans of whole tomatoes
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 big vidalia onion
  • 1 or 2 jalapeños
  • 4-ish slices of bread
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

(If you put the cans of tomatoes in the fridge the day before making, your gazpacho will be ready for eating faster.) Remove the seeds from the cucumber, peppers, and jalapeño. Coarsely chop half of the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onion, and all of the jalapeño. Put them in the blender. Add the bread, oil, and juice from the second can of tomatoes. Puree until smooth. (You might have to blend in two batches. This is okay.) Chop the rest of the vegetables very tiny. Mix, and put it in the fridge. Enjoy cold.

Uncle Wes's waffles

In case you’re wondering whether my propensity to being pleased by the appearance of puzzles and mathematics in everyday life is learned or genetic, I present you with the following story from my Uncle Wes:

I was mixing up a batch of waffles when I made a mistake. I thought the recipe was 1 cup of mix to 2/3 cup of water. After stirring in the water, the batter looked too thick. Sure enough, upon checking the recipe I saw that I was supposed to use 3/4 cup of water.

I briefly panicked. 3/4 minus 2/3?!! That’s not easy! Where was I going to find a measuring cup that was calibrated in 12ths?

You’ve probably already figured out what I did to fix the problem.

Low-carb diets

Low-carbohydrate diets predate Robert Atkins' eponymous phenomenon by more than one hundred years. The theory behind the diets goes like this: Food contains starches, which your body very quickly converts to glucose. When glucose levels spike right after a meal, in order to prevent blood sugar levels from getting too high, you convert them into triglycerides for storage (usually in fat). When your blood sugar gets very low, said fat stores (ideally) get converted to ketones, which your body can use like glucose. Low-carb diets work on the theory that the modern American diet never allows blood sugar to fall low enough for step 2 to occur.

On a whim, M and I are trying a one-week low-carb diet. Lunch and dinner we can handle. But what do you eat for breakfast when cereal and fruit and bagels are off limits? I can only eat so many hard boiled eggs before I go nuts.

Dear Plutor of the future

Dear Plutor of the future: I know that the crumbling economy, skyrocketing gas prices, and warming climate trend has likely made the world of 2008 a bleak Mad Maxian landscape. If the grocery stores are even open anymore, the selection is likely poor – jicama and tomatillos being among the very few surviving produce. But I have good news for you. I know of a place where, ideally in August, you can pick and eat delicious ripe blackberries until you explode. I will leave the task of fashioning a boat out of household materials to you[1] – I’m certain that as the world spun towards chaos, the last issue of Make Magazine was particularly helpful. You’ll need to boat straight out from the end of South Boston to Spectacle Island. Once there, hope that the trails have not yet been completely overgrown, and follow them to the north drumlin. Along the path, you’ll see the plants, but the mother lode is just before you get to the hilltop, on the left.

Bring a few containers. And good luck.

[1] - I don’t envy you this task. In 2007, there was a Ferry that you could pay $12 to bring you to Spectacle Island and the many other harbor islands. It was fun for a number of reasons other than the fruitful bounty.

202 Summer Recipes

Last week, New York Times published a list of 101 summer meals.[1] Some are lame (#1, for instance) and some use meat (#3, 9, 10, et al). But there are a lot of simple and fast meal ideas there. Urban Vegan took the list, removed all the meat and dairy recipes, added her own, and presented a list of 101 vegan summer meals[2]. Even for us omnivores, there are a load of good ideas in that list, too. I’ve already got gazpacho and salad niçoise on the menu for this week.

[1] Yes, this is a working link. Thanks to Mari for the tip.
[2] Thanks to Shaun for the tip.

Savory Spice Shop

When M and I were recently visiting Denver, we ended up walking into Savory Spice Shop in downtown Littleton. Walking in the door, I was thinking it would be dull and quick. But they pounced on us.

"Feel free to open any jar and smell it. Next to the jars are tasteable sample bottles. Put whatever you want in your hands and taste it. If you think it's gross, just throw it on the floor."

And then we started smelling and sampling, and we were almost instantly won over. They had like ten types of cinnamon (and the cassia was labeled accurately!), six or seven different whole chilies, all kinds of rubs and pickling seasonings and mustards and whole dried herbs and extracts and some special salt-free blends. And several different sizes of garlic powder, including High Bulk Index, which is more densely flavorful and integrates in much faster. We ended up buying unbelievable Saigon cinnamon, smoked hot paprika (man, hot paprika is hard to find), and peppercorns. And thank god they sell everything online, because I can guarantee we’ll be buying more.

I can also guarantee we would have been in and out in like 20 seconds if it wasn’t for their brilliant tasting policy.

Pitcher's Pub

On the side of a non-descript road in sleepy Cumberland, Rhode Island is a little bar with a tiny parking lot. From the outside, it looks like the kind of bar you’ve driven by a hundred times: dark, walls grey with pre-ban cigarette smoke, exactly three taps of American rice-heavy beer, NLCS playing on the fuzzy television in the corner. The name — Pitcher’s Pub — is even a beer/baseball pun. But despite its unassuming outward appearance, this bar is different. You sit down, yes, next to the Golden Tee game. You shout your order to the waitress over, it’s true, the Tom Petty cover band that non-traditionally includes a banjoist. But when you start scanning the twenty-some taps and realize you only recognize half of them, you’re willing to admit that your first impression might have been hasty. And the orange bottled-beer menu packed with microbrews, barley wines, and bocks makes you glad you didn’t judge this book by its cover. In fact, you realize dizzily, you can only think of one bar in Boston with such a broad offering.

I felt the need to opine this morning because there’s not a lot out there about this hidden gem. There are some moderately positive reviews on Beer Advocate that convinced us to give it a try.

Maximum concentration of ethanol

Have you ever wondered why grain alcohol like Everclear or Graves are only 95% ethanol (190 proof)? I have. I assumed it was an ROI thing. My theory figured the increased cost to distill the alcohol to such a purity would force up the price, which customers would not bear. Apparently, there’s a different reason altogether, and it’s a chemistry thing.

The yeast that creates alcohol dies at around 14% concentration. This is why beers and wines are rarely found even above 18- or 20-proof. In order to make stronger drinks, the water-alcohol mixture is distilled, which is really just another word for evaporating them. Alcohol boils at a far lower temperature than water, so if you collect the vapor and recondense it, you end up with a lot more alcohol than water.

But a funny thing happens as water is left behind. The more alcohol there is in the solution, the higher its boiling point (and the lower of that of the water). Somewhere around 95% or 96% alcohol, they converge, and the two liquids boil at the same time (at only 173°F). Simple distillation will not allow you to do any better.

So what if you need absolutely pure alcohol? There is an option. You can add benzene to the mixture. This changes the behavior of the solution, and allows the alcohol to boil away again. Unfortunately, benzene is terribly harmful, even in extremely tiny amounts. Bone marrow damage, a weakened immune system, severe liver disease, and a highly increased chance of cancer are some of the fates that would await you if you were unsatisfied with 190-proof grain alcohol.

Carrying change

Nomad refuses to carry coinage. I recall one time (likely apocryphal) he purchased a soda for $1.25 at a train station, and then put his change (all seventy-five cents) on top of a garbage can and left it. I can’t remember if I did the sterotypical thing and picked it up, but I’m sure I called it foolish.

But it got me thinking; is carrying change a waste of energy? If you carried a pocket-full of coins all day, could you purchase more calories of food than you burned carrying it? I thought about it for a while, and I couldn’t reason it out, so I decided to calculate it. The answer somewhat surprised me.

Coins are quite light. The U.S. Mint says that a penny weighs 2.5 grams, a nickel 5g, a dime 2.268g, and a quarter 5.67g. Figuring out how much walking “all day” is was difficult. I got numbers (for an average American adult) that varied from a quarter-mile to five miles. I decided to go with a middle-ground number, 2.7 miles. Looking at some numbers for calorie consumption during walking, I estimated that a person burns one calorie per pound of weight per hour of walking at 2mph. Once I had all of my data, the calculations were pretty easy.

The energy used carrying a penny around

Essentially what that means is that if you carried a whole dollar of pennies around for a day, you would burn almost three-quarters of an additional calorie. Even the least calorie-dense foods (like, say, Pepsi One) are enough to make it worth it, and some of the most calorie-dense foods (like the Big Mac) provide you with several hundred calories per dollar.

(Pennies require the most energy-per-dollar to carry. A nickel would cost 0.297 calories per dollar, and dimes and quarters both run a measly 0.068.)

Birthday of scotch

Today in 1495, the Friar John Cor made almost 1500 bottles of scotch whiskey from fourty-eight bushels of malt and thus distilled the first recorded batch. Happy birthday, my amber friend.

(Also, happy birthday to my father-in-law.)

Free Frosty Weekend

To try to counter an anti-chili-finger backlash and sales drop, Wendy’s is giving away Free Jr-sized Frosties this weekend, Friday 13 May through Sunday 15 May. (No purchase necessary).

For the curious, 160 calories, 4g fat, 21g sugar.

Woman eats six pound burger

Remember those six pound burger photos that made the rounds a while ago? The bar’s challenge – eat the burger in less than three hours – has been met by a 19-year-old 100-pound female college student from New Jersey.


A cereal restaurant. Fucking brilliant. Goddamnit that’s a good idea.

How to Eat Sushi

How to eat sushi. You may wonder why this is really necessary, but you must remember that sushi eating (and the art of making it) goes back to the time of the samurai. The rituals are detailed and wonderful, and this howto makes me want to visit Japan. Bonus: Includes a section on fugu!