Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from November 2004

One-party Washington, DC

November 30th, 2004 · Comments Off on One-party Washington, DC

Elephant neckties but no donkey neckties are for sale in the Wyndham Hotel gift shop. Ninety-nine kinds of George Bush buttons or cute little heart-shaped buttons with Laura Bush on them.

Well, I guess Democrats don’t have much reason to come here unless, for example, the Swedish Ambassador asks them to drop in for dinner.

I realized something on the tiny plane that bounced us from Boston into Ronald Reagan Airport. The reason Republicans were “conservative” for years was that they were out of power. Democrats were running things and spending government money on programs Republicans didn’t want.

Once Republicans started running the country, after 2000 but with power-ups in 2002 and 2004, they used their new power to make some big changes of their own.

Now it’s Democrats wanting things back the way they were.

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

We are in a metastable state

November 30th, 2004 · Comments Off on We are in a metastable state

Physicists know about lots of phase transitions–“an
abrupt sudden change of one or more physical properties,” says
Wikipedia–for example, ice melts into water–water boils up into
steam–some supercooled substances turn into superconductors….

I’m getting ready for the phase transition from pre-traveling-Betsy to Betsy-in-transit.

I just finished putting our garden to bed for the winter–I know I won’t have another free minute before December 18.
Pre-traveling-Betsy is wearing blue jeans, with one sneaker dripping
water all over the floor. (As I coiled up a garden hose, it soaked my
hosiery.)

In-transit-Betsy, I hope, will look cool and serene. She’ll be wearing a suit in shades of black,
silver, and gray, plus her favorite red
walking shoes. She’ll definitely have dry socks on both feet.

Now, to get past the intermediate state, which seems to be blogging-Betsy….

Tags: Nobel

“A heavy hand and a foot for pie crust”

November 28th, 2004 · Comments Off on “A heavy hand and a foot for pie crust”

Pie crust was one of the few things my mother admitted she couldn’t do.
Old New Englanders called it “a heavy hand for pastry.” She said that
in her case, one foot must be heavy as well.

Harold McGee to the rescue! From today’s New York Times:

“The goal of pie crust is to create
thin, even layers of fat and flour,” he said. “That’s what makes them
flaky. But the usual method isn’t really optimal for that.”

Instead of using his fingers to rub globs of fat into flour, then
dribbling in ice water, Mr. McGee starts with square chunks of cold
butter and a pile of flour on a board. With a rolling pin he presses
and rolls the butter into the flour, flattening it into thinner and
thinner flakes. Occasionally he scrapes the mixture into a bowl and
freezes it for five minutes, to keep the butter from melting. Since the
gluten is not activated until the water is added, there is no worry
about overworking the dough, even though the process can take some time.

Finally, to add the water Mr. McGee fetched a plant mister. “I always
found it was hard to get the water evenly into the dough” he said. “So
I measured how many sprays of the mister it takes to get half a cup of
water — it’s 150, by the way…”

McGee is promoting the new revised edition of his scientific cookbook, On Food and Cooking. I definitely want one!


In recent news, PR blogger and newlywed Steve Rubel
says that 15 bloggers were hired to do “product placements” for various
companies. FWIW, I’m not that kind of blogger. When I blog about books (or boots) it’s for fun, not profit.


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

My Swedish language emergency kit–and Frank’s

November 27th, 2004 · Comments Off on My Swedish language emergency kit–and Frank’s

My Swedish* “language emergency kit” covers essentials like finding bathrooms or an Internet cafe. Frank will be facing a much, much bigger challenge.

I just found out this morning he’s agreed to give a “little talk” to
some schoolchildren, ages 7 and up. I’m sure he’ll come up with
something interesting to say–in English, that is. The challenge will then be to
extract a few key words or a sentence that he can also say in Swedish.

Translating “gluon” or “asymptotic freedom” wouldn’t make the words any less Greek to a bunch of young Swedes.

At the opposite extreme, Frank could memorize a Swedish version of Churchill’s “Never give up speech“.* *

One can never go wrong with “thanks very much”, but it isn’t very surprising.

I look forward to seeing what Frank comes up with!


* We spent time in Uppsala last summer, thank heaven–so I already got past my original Muppet-Swedish-chef-Swedish.
* * According to legend, Churchill’s speech to the students at Harrow
School ran as follows: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give
up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Then he sat down
again.


Tags: Nobel

Prelude to the Arctic

November 26th, 2004 · Comments Off on Prelude to the Arctic

Once Nobel Week is over, Frank and I will head north for a week of auroras and anti-midnight non-sun. Swedish physicist Sverker Fredriksson
has been sending us fascinating email about what to expect–today I got
permission to post some. So here he is, my first-ever guestblogger.

Hi Betsy and Frank,

I
am mailing you from the Gothenburg airport while waiting for the bus to
Boras. I missed the previous one because we arrived one hour late due
partly to the snow yesterday, partly to the ice today. There is only
one shuttling aircraft between Lulea and Gothenburg, and it collects
delays during the day. And this time even overnight. The last one
yesterday was so late that they had to let the crew sleep this
morning, and took off one hour late. Then they had to de-ice the wings,
which normally takes just a few minutes. However, 7am is rush-hour from
Lulea, with four airlines, so we had to stand in line for another 30
minutes, waiting to be sprayed.

The good thing is that this
brought me one hour at the airport internet café. The bad thing is that
this gives me one hour less with my wife.

Anyway, we “dog people” seem to have the same view of our darlings. My wife always jokes that Qrispin
is reading the newspaper’s gossip column when he checks out which dog
has done what since he read it last time. Qrispin is not the least
interested in a shoot-out on TV, or someone making a noise in our
apartment house. But he can stand still for minutes to sort out all
details around one spot on the lawn. And that is even if he can clearly
see the other dog 50 meters ahead.

As you know dogs have some 250,000 times better “noses” than we
have. It is even claimed that they can detect one single molecule. I
try to train Qrispin to tell one single free quark, but he probably
knows that they are only asymptotically free, and not worth the effort.

I am amazed that your dog is 16 years old, and still so cute! My
wife and I are a little depressed over Qrispin’s 12.5 years, because in
the books most races are predicted to live only until the age of 14. We
hope that these predictions are as wrong as the one we heard when we
bought a little rabbit 20 years ago (Stumper). We counted on “5-7
years” but he became 12 until he died of high age. We think this had to
do with his habbit of eating bacon chips, After Eight mints, art books
and electric cables.

I have seen balloon launches* only on TV,
but sometimes we see them in the northern sky from Lulea, when they
have reached their operating altitudes of some 35 km. There they look
like very bright stars. Every time they are sent up, people phone the
authorities and report UFOs. I do not know yet who owns the balloon of
mid-December, but there is a fair chance that it is NASA. They have
decided to use Kiruna for scientific balloons that will fly to Alaska.

Normally
the wind here blows to the east, so that balloons are taken down just
before the Ural mountains. I guess that NASA balloons have to wait for
specific weather types.

About weather: We had a one-week period of unusually cold weather in both
Lulea and Kiruna
– down to -22C where I live, and even -27C in Kiruna. Now it is up to a
more normal -3 to -5. Here on the west coast it is +8 just now, which
is comparable to a cold summer night in northern Sweden. The year my
wife and I moved to Lulea, August had a mean temperature of +8C, which
was the coldest summer for decades. On the other hand, two years ago we
hade a week of more than +30C, with a record +35C one day. Remember
that this is as far north as northern Alaska or northern Greenland. An
advantage is that the air here is always dry, which is a comfort both
with cold and warm weather. In other words we do not have New York
weather.

That’s all for this internet café!

Best regards,
Sverker


* We are hoping to see a stratospheric balloon launched from Esrange during our visit.


Tags: Nobel

Thanksgiving repast re-post*

November 26th, 2004 · Comments Off on Thanksgiving repast re-post*

The first Thanksgiving I cooked for was the hardest. Amity was a tiny
baby–Frank and I both had flu. I managed to stagger into the kitchen
and heat up a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with rice for us to
celebrate with. We were both thankful we could keep the soup down that
day, a sign that we were finally getting better.

I remember
the Thanksgiving when I was 10, when my Aunt Mary let me help make the
giblet gravy. It was delicious. She and I kept tasting it in the
kitchen, and when it was time to serve it we* had none left.

I remember the many holiday meals I shared with Frank’s grandparents.
Grandma Wilczek would cook an authentic Polish feast with lots of
kielbasa. Then we would all drive over to Grandma Cona’s for an Italian
super-spectacular–turkey plus pans of lasagne, meatballs, and sausage.
It’s a miracle we have any arteries left.

I remember when I
realized, 10 years ago, that my computer could help me stage-manage
Thanksgiving. I created timetables, lists of dishes and recipes. I
don’t know how people did all this before they had printers.

I remember last year, when I blogged the universal Thanksgiving prayer (“Oh lord, you know I don’t know how to cook this ugly bird…”)

This year, we’ll be 12 around the table (pardon my elbow!) No canned
soup, but plenty of veggie pot pie and killer brownies along with the
turkey and gravy for carnivores like me.

Now I better get cooking!


* I posted this yesterday but it disappeared. I’m thankful for back-ups!

** Heh. Almost 50 years later, I just realized–Aunt Mary was quick to
claim half the blame for the missing gravy, but she probably didn’t
drink more than a tablespoon of it. No wonder everybody loved Aunt Mary!


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Happy funny Thanksgiving, back again

November 25th, 2004 · Comments Off on Happy funny Thanksgiving, back again

The first Thanksgiving I cooked for was the hardest. Amity was a tiny
baby–Frank and I both had flu. I managed to stagger into the kitchen
and heat up a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with rice for us to
celebrate with. We were both thankful we could keep the soup down that
day, a sign that we were finally getting better.

I remember the Thanksgiving when I was 10, when my Aunt Mary let me
help make the giblet gravy. It was delicious. She and I kept tasting it
in the kitchen, and when it was time to serve it we had none left.

I remember the many holiday meals I shared with Frank’s grandparents.
Grandma Wilczek would cook an authentic Polish feast with lots of
kielbasa. Then we would all drive over to Grandma Cona’s for an Italian
super-spectacular–turkey plus pans of lasagne, meatballs, and sausage.
It’s a wonder we have any arteries left.

I remember when I realized, 10 years ago, that my computer could help
me stage-manage Thanksgiving. I created timetables, lists of dishes and
recipes. I don’t know how people did all this before they had printers.

This year, we’ll be 12 around the table (pardon my elbow!) No canned
soup, but plenty of veggie pot pie and killer brownies along with the
turkey and gravy for carnivores like me.

Now I better get cooking!

Tags: Sister Age

Killer brownies and biscuit-crust vegetable pot pie

November 24th, 2004 · Comments Off on Killer brownies and biscuit-crust vegetable pot pie

Killer brownies aka caramel-chocolate squares

1 pkg (14 oz.) caramels
2/3 c melted butter or margarine
1 can (5 oz.) evaporated milk
1 sm pkg (6 oz.) chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
1 pkg supermoist German chocolate cake mix*

Preheat oven (350).
Heat caramels and 1/4 c milk over medium heat, stirring constantly undil melted and smooth.
In bowl, combine dry cake mix, melted butter, and remaining milk. 
Spread half this dough over bottom of ungreased 9 x 13 pan.
Bake 6 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Drizzle caramel mixture over the top.
Drop remaining dough by teaspoonfuls onto caramel layer, spreading
evenly.  Bake 15 – 20 minutes, until top is dry to touch.
Cool.  Refrigerate until firm, then cut in squares.


* Any chocolate cake mix works just fine.


Vegetable pot pie with biscuit crust
(modified from chicken pie recipe in Devine family cookbook)

Vegetables:  broccoli, carrots, celery, onion, red potatoes cut
into bite-sized pieces and cooked in herb-seasoned broth about 15
minutes or until tender but not mushy.  (The time to cook depends
on how big the pieces are.) Save 1 quart broth to make gravy (add water
and bouillon if necessary to vegetable cooking water.)

Put vegetables into ovenproof casserole/bowl with pie bird. (You can
use an inverted jelly glass or similar heatproof object instead of the
pie bird.  The idea is to vent the heat and steam from the bottom
of the casserole in a gradual way.  What you don’t want is a solid
slab of crust holding the steam in until it bursts out with a big
splash inside your oven.)

Gravy:  Melt 1/4 cup
butter in saucepan and gradually stir in 1/4 cup flour.  Use
flat-bottomed whisk to stir until lumps are gone. It will quickly get
very thick, so have broth ready to add.
    Slowly stir in vegetable broth, so that it blends
smoothly with the thick flour/butter paste.  Pour some gravy into
casserole to cover vegetables; save the rest to serve in gravy pitcher.

Crust:  Preheat oven to 425.

2 cups flour1/2 lb whipped butter or margarine
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 T sugar (wicked, I know, but so good!)

Mix dry ingredients, work in butter with your hands.  
Stir in milk to create a soft biscuit dough.  Arrange all dough on top of vegetables in casserole.
Put in 425 oven and reduce heat to 350.  Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Tags: Stories

Tony Kahn’s blacklist Thanksgiving, 1947

November 24th, 2004 · Comments Off on Tony Kahn’s blacklist Thanksgiving, 1947

I just listened to Tony Kahn‘s Thanksgiving podcast*, something to make us all feel extra-grateful today.

I’m also grateful to Tony for treating me and Halley to lunch at WGBH, where we enjoyed not only conversation but several  meta-conversations too…

Now I’d better get back to the stove and Amity’s killer caramel-chocolate brownies. I just posted the recipe as a story–your tastebuds will thank me but your
bathroom scale won’t!


* Via Dave Winer–thanks, Dave! And, Tony, thanks for podcasting Morning Stories in general, including mine!


Tags: Heroes and funny folks

How many suitcases for the Ice Hotel?

November 21st, 2004 · Comments Off on How many suitcases for the Ice Hotel?

Packing is always a challenge, but for Nobel Week? Its many events line up under three different dress
codes:

  • “casual”
  • business suit/cocktail dress, and
  • white tie/ballgown (three different events require these).

Frank can get away with a couple of suits and two pairs of
black shoes–it’s easy to rent the white-tie-and-tails in Stockholm.
I’m bringing a few more options for all this dress-up. We’ll each need
a grown-up black coat, plus mittens, boots, mufflers, longjohns, etc.
for sub-zero Sweden.

But then, in the early morning of December 14 (after the
late-late-night party with Jumping Frogs), we’ve been invited to visit
the Arctic Circle for a week that requires layers and layers more
clothing! Forget the wimpy lightweight Capilene longjohns, so usefully invisible under a suit. Bring on some expedition-weight fleece,
and never mind the bulges! The dress code is stuff for hiking or riding
in dogsleds–for hanging out in the midnight anti-Sun and chasing
auroras!

Now this is starting to add up to way too much luggage….

And then, we schlep it all to the Ice Hotel?
Guests sleep in a room made of ice, on top of a bed made of ice
(sleeping bags and padding in between you and the ice), surrounded by
sculptures made of ice…. The door and the toilet are not made of ice,
because the room has neither. It also has no space for luggage, which
gets stored all night in a locker somewhere. That’s too bad,
because I might want some ballgowns round about 2 a.m., to pile up on top
of my sleeping bag to keep warm…

Tags: Nobel