Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I like my wikipedia stir-fried, with pimientos...

This is longish (20 mins), but it's a fabulous talk about kindness and connectivity on the internet. I love it because it relates much more closely with my own experience on the interwebs than do the usual reports that google is making us dumber or that twitter and facebook are giving us all ADD. Also, it's funny!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Public Service Announcement

Dear Readers, please watch this important safety announcement.
Listen and learn--your life maybe the next to be saved.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Hot Dog Primer

Who doesn’t love a hot dog? Even though the ingredient list is a little scary, we still can’t keep from eating them every once in awhile (or in Gordon’s case, constantly). But how much do you really know about hot dogs? Aren’t there are some vast gaps in your knowledge of hot dogs just crying out to be filled? Well, today is your lucky day!

A hot dog (also, frankfurter, frank, wiener, etc) is a moist sausage of soft, even texture and flavor. Typically made from mechanically separated meat (known in the business as “meat slurry”), hot dogs are always sold pre-cooked, cured, or smoked. Hot dogs are usually placed inside a hot-dog-specific soft, sliced bun and eaten with your hands. These fine delicacies are often accompanied by an array of condiments, including mustard, ketchup, onion, mayo, relish, cheese, and chili. The flavor of the hot dog varies from bland bologna to spicy German bratwurst varieties. They are usually made from beef, chicken, or turkey, although vegetarian hot dogs, made from meat analogue (a good name for an uber-feminist punk rock band, no?), are also available.

It is difficult to assess just when and where the hot dog was invented, in part because various stories assert creation of the sausage, the placing of the sausage in a bun as finger food, the popularizing of the existing dish, or the application of the name “hot dog” to the sausage and bun combination.

The word “frankfurter” comes from Frankfurt, Germany, of course, where sausages in a bun originated. These were similar to hot dogs, but were made from pork. “Wieners” refers to Vienna, Austria (Vienna’s German name is “Wien”), home to a mixed sausage of beef and pork. The creation of the hot dog has also been ascribed to the wife of a German named Antonione Feuchtwanger (go ahead and say that name out loud, you know you want to), who sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis in 1880. Apparently, street vendors used to sell hot sausages and provided little white gloves that customers could wear to keep the treat from burning their fingers. However, when too many customers began making off with the gloves, Mrs. Feuchtwanger (say it!) had the idea of putting the sausages in a bun instead.

The first recorded usage of “hot dog” in reference to the sausage/bun combination appeared in 1893 in the Knoxville Journal:
“It was so cool last night that the appearance of overcoats was common, and stoves and grates were again brought into comfortable use. Even the weinerwurst men began preparing to get the ‘hot dogs’ ready for sale Saturday night.”

I can only assume it was a slow news day in Knoxville.

Hot dogs are prepared commercially by mixing the ingredients (meats, spices, binders and fillers) in vats where rapidly moving blades grind and mix the ingredients together. This mixture is then forced through tubes into casings for cooking. Most hot dogs sold in the US are called "skinless" as opposed to more expensive "natural casing" hot dogs. Natural casing hot dogs, of course, are cooked inside of the thoroughly cleaned small intestines of sheep, however, this type of casing is unusual in the US markets. The more-popular skinless hot dogs are cooked inside a casing of thin cellulose, but that casing is removed prior to the sale of the hot dog. Skinless hot dogs have a softer bite than natural casing hot dogs and are more uniform in size and shape.

Hot dogs may be grilled, steamed, boiled, barbecued, pan fried, deep fried, broiled, or microwaved. Regarding condiments, in the US, the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council conducted a poll in 2005, which found mustard to be the most popular condiment (32 percent). Twenty-three percent of Americans said they preferred ketchup. Chili came in third at 17 percent, followed by relish at 9 percent and onions at 7 percent.

There! You learned something new today! Now don’t you feel better??

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer Reading Reviews

When I left my job for the summer, I fully expected to spend my whole summer filling up the blanks in my time by reading book after book after book. After all, I’d just completed my first quarter of grad school and was sure to need continuing intellectual stimulation throughout the summer, right? Not so much. I didn’t even want to touch a book for the first month. In August, I read my way through about ten Agatha Christie novels, not exactly an academic endeavor. Finally, with only about two weeks left of my summer vacation, it hit me. I was finally hungry for some high-quality, educational non-fiction and I couldn’t get enough of it. Luckily, I found two books to devour during those weeks and both turned out to be fabulous.

1. The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Reading The Billionaire’s Vinegar is like stepping into another world, the world of old and rare wines and the eccentrics worldwide who clamor for them. The book is primarily an account of the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold, a 1787 bottle of Ch√Ęteau Lafite Bordeaux that was found perfectly preserved in a hidden cellar in Paris and was believed to have been owned by none other than our own Thomas Jefferson. The bottle was purchased at a Christie’s auction in London in 1985 after a quickly-escalating bidding war. It was purchased for about $156,000 by the Forbes family, and remains the most expensive bottle ever sold. The story doesn’t end there, however. Wallace traces the myriad scandals and mysteries surrounding this bottle and others found in the Jefferson cache, which range from theories about thieving Nazis to insurance fraud to wine counterfeiting. It’s a delicious read (with a mild bouquet of blackberries, persimmons, and burned charcoal!); I suggest reading it with a glass of wine on hand, otherwise you will end up drooling on the pages!

Oh yes, and the question on your mind right now, I assume, is “So? Did they drink it? Did it still taste like wine?” But the answer is disappointing. The Forbes family brought the bottle—which had been perfectly preserved for two centuries—home to the States and displayed it in their showroom in New York. Standing upright. Under a spotlight. In a matter of weeks the old cork had shriveled and fallen in the bottle and the wine was spoiled.

2. The Canon by Natalie Angiers

The Canon purports to be a “whirligig tour through the beautiful basics of science” which, though laudable, did not necessarily intrigue me. I love science, but I have always felt that Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything pretty much had the bases covered on the subject. But I picked up Angiers' challenge at a bookstore and started browsing the pages—and was soon hooked. Where Bryson is a master storyteller, Angiers is a master of metaphor and elucidation. Rather than smooth over the complicated theories and formulas of difficult science, she finds a way to unlock them so the reader can understand. I feel like I understand electricity now, even at the atomic level. In fact, now I realize that without appreciating how electricity works at the atomic level, you can’t really fully grasp it at all. Not that I drew a complete blank on the subject before reading Angiers' explanation, but I certainly couldn’t have explained it to anyone else with clarity or certainty. Now I can. Angiers wrote the book for all of us adults who love learning and science, but barely passed our high school science classes and then left the topic behind for good (I got a C in Genetics, which I thought was pretty good considering I had actually paid another classmate to complete my stupid drosophila melanogaster project).

My absolute favorite part of this book, however, is Angiers’ enlightened account of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I am not even kidding. She somehow weaves this law into the very fabric of existence, explaining both the tragedy of it and the ultimate hope. It nearly moved me to tears. You have to read this book.