Saturday, May 27, 2006

Live life like you're gonna die

...because you're gonna.

Apparently, charred food contains at least two carcinogens. And this being the start of the cookout season, our friends at NPR's Morning Edition tested out some of the "recipes" which are supposed to keep those chemicals from forming.

Steamed hamburgers? Cherries in your ground beef? Is it worth it to lengthen your life only by the number of extra minutes you spend griping about the bad food? And if we eat our leafy greens and some baked beans, and use a whole wheat bun for our perfectly seared burger, and drink a dark beer or a glass of red wine instead of a bottle of BudMilCoors, do we come out ahead or behind?

Once again, we're looking for the simple answers to complex questions. But there's a more important issue at stake here. As Deborah Franklin points out in her article, it's hot, dry cooking which causes these compounds to form, and moving toward slow, moist cooking methods reduces them.

A low, slow fire? With sauce and maybe some smoke? Well, now you're talking barbecue, son.

That's right... barbecue is health food. You read it here first.

I'm not half the grill master Tom is, but I do know a little bit about roasting on my Weber grill. When we bought our house, the oven on the stove didn't work. But my brothers gave us that grill as a first anniversary present, and it didn't take long before we were dropping roasts and butterflied chickens on it.

My 'cue technique still needs a lot of work... but if it's the magic bullet to fight cancer, well, everybody's got to do their part.

So think of the children, and look forward to collard season.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

By and by hard times

I only watch about three horse races a year. If I'm home and happen to catch the Breeders' Cup races, that's a super-bonus. (Imagine... more than one race in a 3 hour telecast!)

But the Kentucky Derby is to me what The Masters is to some people. It's summer's official herald. More than a golf match could be, I think, because it's got colts and fillies getting out in the warmth and running. How can the Augusta He-Man Woman-Hater's Klub compete with that?

So Barbaro's run for the roses was like spring personified to me. He came blasting out of that pack and extended his lead just for the joy of running as fast as he could. And, lucky me, that'll always be my memory of him.

We went out Saturday afternoon and evening, just happening home long enough to set up the DVR. We watched a little bit of NBC's coverage, and headed out. It was the next morning, on NPR, that we heard how Barbaro was coming out of surgery, and we steeled ourselves to watch the race. It's a tribute to Prado's horsemanship that we could even get through it. He was a genius, and perhaps a saint, to get that horse calmed so quickly.

There are a couple of pieces of media coverage I wanted to highlight. On one hand, Pat Forde at ESPN says that there are safer track substances out there, and calls for them to be adopted more widely. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Horse racing needs to have stars with longer careers if it wants to get a bigger share of the TV market.

On the other hand, the Washington Post's Andrew Beyer suggests that the economics of horse breeding have changed to devalue durability. Like the money problems in any other sport, I don't see a way to fix this. How could the purses increase enough to pay for the risk of increased racing, when stud fees are so lucrative?

And from across the pond, Lydia Hislop of The Times looks at the British coverage, and wonders if the horrific NBC replays are better for fans than the BBC's edited coverage. I think she makes an excellent point; the fans need to see the risks involved in sport. It also seems to me that the NBC crew were genuinely trying to figure out what was happening, and had to review the film to learn; this was no Joe Theisman film.

I'm no horseman, and I don't know what the answers are. I just want you to get better, Barbaro.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rattle them pots and pans

A week or two ago, I discovered that the James Beard Foundation now gives an award for the best culinary web site. So I spent a little time poking around Leite's Culinaria, until I found a recipe for grilled asparagus with crab mayonnaise.

I immediately sent Alison an email, titled "What we're having for dinner as soon as possible."

And then our community supported agriculture folks were nice enough to deliver us a pound of asparagus Saturday morning. There's a moral imperative if I ever saw one. Even if it was raining too much to really grill, and I had to use the grill pan on the stove... that was still some fine eating.

CSA helps me get through this crappy cold wet spring, which only hints at becoming summer to toy with my affections. Summer has to come, because somewhere out there is tender asparagus, a rhubarb pie, a tomato worthy of its name, a peck of strawberries which holds all summer in its scent. And 3 months of free-range chickens to fry or roast or fry or grill or stew or fry. Or maybe I'll try frying one.

The community supported agriculture concept is relatively simple: you send a farmer a check in early spring, and from late spring to early fall, you get a share of whatever they harvest. If they get rained out, you get a call that says "don't come to pickup this week." If there's a bumper crop, you take home a glorious horde of greens or potatoes or berries.

I can bend your ear about how that's great for sustainable farming. CSA costs us almost exactly the same as grocery produce over 3 months, but we know more goes to the farmers. I can tell you how, if you really want to do something about gas prices, you should try eating things which haven't been on a truck for two days.

I can also tell you how it patches me in to the natural world. I used to like the summer heat because I like it hot. Now I know hot summers mean good tomatoes. (And a warm fall might mean an extra week or two of harvest.) When it rains too much or too little, I worry about the folks at Princeton Valley Farm.

Those things make me feel superior, but CSA is really all about hedonism. It's about discovering when food is at its best, and enjoying it to the hilt at the right time. I've put up with too many weak slices of mushy "tomato." I had quite literally forgotten that strawberries are not just those sweet fibrous giants which caterers put on fruit trays. I don't think I ever knew that a chicken should not "taste like chicken." Princeton Valley Farm reminds me that a little corner of the world can be too big (and move too fast) even for all of Kroger's 16-wheelers.

How can I reconcile this with 3 California lemons and a pound of crab packed in North Carolina and caught God knows where? I guess I can't, except to say that those are things which travel well and don't occur naturally in Ohio. (Why humans settled this poor seafoodless land remains a mystery to me, but that's for the anthropologists to explain.) All I can say is, it's about picking your battles. Eat local what you can, and spice and flavor with the exotics.

So live a little. See if you can get better food for the same money (and a better world while you're at it). Find a CSA farm that's near you.

Next week on Eating With Joe: the hunt for the farmer's market that opens at noon, instead of closing then. I know farmers rise with the sun, but people who stay up all night cooking and eating and drinking don't!

Grilled asparagus with crab mayonnaise is from Douglas Rodriguez's Latin Flavors on the Grill, which I have not read. The ingredients are, well, grilled asparagus, and a mix of approximately equal parts mayo and crab, with lemon juice and zest, adobo sauce, finely diced red onion and jalapenos, and cilantro. This is what crab salad dreams it could be. (Except just a little looser than crab salad usually is.)

The recipe says it serves 6 to 8 people, as an appetizer or side dish. But why have small dreams? I say a half recipe is a very dignified main course for two. The mix also goes nicely on a bed of lettuce for a light lunch.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I hear you singing in the wires

Dan over at We Are Out Of Focus asks us to contact our Congresspeople and support net neutrality. So does Wil Wheaton, and plenty of other folks. Sadly, I'm torn, and I don't know which way to go on this.

Larry Lessig makes a great case for net neutrality in The Future of Ideas. The Internet boom has, up until now, been made possible by the fact that the big backbone pipes have been "neutral" - that is, they have not discriminated between different kinds of packets of information. This gives software developers a stunning freedom. If you can encode it in TCP/IP, essentially, you can do it. Not impressed by searching FTP servers through Archie? You're free to write Gopher. Want pictures on your Gopher server? Help develop HTTP and the World Wide Web. Static pictures too boring? Well, here's a million different ways to transmit video... and if that's not enough, why not just write your own. As long as access to the network is "neutral," almost anything could be a hit.

Contrast this to the telephone wires. For years, it was illegal to attach anything to the telephone network without AT&T's prior approval. That policy probably provided essential network stability in the early days, but without any doubt, it eventually held back American innovation.

Or take the radio spectrum. Current regulations state that new technologies must prove that they do not harm existing uses of spectrum. Most schools of logical thought think it's impossible to prove a negative, but that won't stop the FCC from requiring it. The result, of course, benefits old businesses like Clear Channel by burdening innovators working on something... oh what's that word... good.

So yeah, net neutrality sounds really good. But that hobgoblin of my little mind keeps saying "wait a minute, don't you think government regulation of the Internet is bad"?

Aw, shucks.

Let's take a real example. During the dot-com bubble, the telecom companies laid a ton of fiber optic cable all over the great state of Ohio. The market for this high-speed cable never quite materialized, and a lot of this fiber is sitting dark.

The governor got a neat idea: what if we leased a whole mess of this "dark fiber", and set up an intra-Ohio high speed educational network? It'll encourage collaboration between Ohio's schools, it'll substantially increase access to OhioLINK's brilliant digital resources, and at least the telcos won't think Ohio is a total loss.

Great idea... but not necessarily a neutral one. The offer isn't open to commercial institutions. The Third Frontier Network is amazingly economical, but not free; one interpretation might be that any dollar a college or university spends on privileged academic bandwidth is a dollar not spent on "neutral" bandwidth.

It'd be easy to say that this is too obviously a good idea for the law to stop it. Sadly, our government has an abysmal record on understanding new technology well enough to write good law about it. I have an incredible faith that, whatever posturing buzzwordy document the Congress passes, it will be filled with unintended and negative consequences.

One of my problems with the bills in question is that I've failed to find an actual informed review of them. I can't figure out what the damned bills say myself, and the duelling press releases sound equally good (and equally fictional), so I don't even know what to say if I do write my congressman.

Certainly, I don't want big multinationals able to box out sites they don't like. Just as certainly, I don't trust Congress to tell the Internet what its core principles are. If I had to make a choice, I'd likely tell Congress to sit down, shut up, and let us figure it out ourselves.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Wish I was in Tijuana eating barbecued iguana

I've been having some fun with Pandora, thanks to Hugh. Pandora is a website where you can enter a couple of songs or recording artists you like, and it will create a "radio station" of songs which are similar, according to the Music Genome Project.

So far, I'd say it's been amusing. The thing it does really well is provide music I've never heard before. For my lists, at least, it almost never plays big radio hits I already know. It does tend to play tracks by artists I've suggested, along with a large stream of completely new (to me) material. It's not perfect - there are some real clunkers in that catalog - but I feel like I've gotten a great song for every bad one, which is a hell of a lot better than commercial radio does. And it's not like it's hard to use the Fast Forward or "Never Play This Again" buttons.

But enough of my yakkin'. Let's boogie.

I'm going through the Hip Deep in Pie archives, and feeding Pandora the songs I've titled these posts after. (I'm about through last October.) And so, I proudly present Radio Free Hip Deep. It's a large, heterogeneous data set, so I can't really say what you'll get. (It's a very good bet you'll get an '80s song with a male vocalist, but you might hit the country or reggae patch. Or, for that matter, the Christmas music.)

Give it a listen; let me know if you like what you hear. And remember, if you do, it's because I have great taste. If you don't, the computer must not really understand me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hundred million bottles

When I was growing up, my parents were in that demographic of Democrats who didn't understand why the party seemed to have turned its back on their values. I remember asking them, more than once, why they didn't just switch parties. I'm sure I got some valuable lessons about how the important thing is that you think about your vote, and don't just let the party decide for you. But what I remember was my mother's sharp phrase,

"Because then I get to vote against the bastards twice."

Maryland, you see, had closed primaries, where you can only vote the ballot of the party you're affiliated with. If you want to switch parties, you have to change your registration 3 months in advance. (Which is still the law, near as I can tell.) The Great State of Ohio, on the other hand, has open primaries, where you can choose your party on primary day.

This is fun.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is running for Governor of Ohio this year. Set aside for the moment that he's a radical right-winger who's in the pocket of the theocratic wing of the party. Ignore the fact that his economic plans for the state make no sense, yet his personal financial dealings show a remarkable prescience. (At least about who's going to get a big government contract.)

In Ohio, the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for ensuring that elections are run right. So I'm not too happy with Blackwell's job performance.

And thanks to the beauty of the open primary, I get to vote against the S.O.B. twice.