27 July 2008

.mac Rant

One of the philosophies of good software is to change very little. When you do change things, it needs to be for a darned good reason. This was one of the major problems that Microsoft faced when they switched over to Vista/Office 2007. You were talking about software and tasks that people had been used to using since 1995. That's a long time to have been using (essentially) the same interface.

Mind you, with .mac, you had a fair bit less history. From around the early 2000s, people could use the service to have fully integrated mail, backups, bookmarks, whatever. However, when you think of what's come out since then, some of these features become obsolete. For one thing, gmail is free, and provides me with this free blog space, as well as both imap and web mail that are in sync, without having to TELL it to sync. The mailbox is so large that you need not delete anything at all.

Want a website? There are hundreds of hosting options out there, with and without web interfaces available to make changes on the fly. Suffice it to say that using proprietary software (iWeb) to make changes to your site sort of limits you to what you want to do. Nope. Not worth it.

If you want to sync calendars and the like, Google has you covered, for free. Bookmarks? http://del.icio.us has a pretty useful service. Best part is that you can share your list if you want to. Web image galleries? Photobucket does a good job. Picasa does a really good job too. Both offer free hosting.

What am I stabbing at? I don't see the point of paying $90+ a year for services that aren't even all that useful. If you're getting a new mac, ignore the "Free trial" of .mac. You can do so much more without shelling out so much money.

22 July 2008

Stone Soup

I'm sure that you can tell, if you know the tale, that my favourite story is Stone Soup. If you don't know the tale, I'll tell the version I heard years ago from one of my high school teachers (she loved using fables to help dissect higher forms of literature).

A short time after the war, a solider headed back home on foot, as he had very little money left over after the years of fighting. The villages that he passed were as poor as he was, because the whole country's resources had been drained by the war. Few farmers had time to till their fields, as they were out on the front lines of battle. Because of this, people closely guarded what little food they had left.

The soldier came upon a small village, with only a few houses, huddled together, as if to give each other support. He asked around for some food, and maybe a place to sleep. Unfortunately, as the villagers were desperately poor too, he was met with "We have nothing to eat ourselves! How can we share with you?"

"I understand," he said. "Since you good people have nothing to share with me, I will then have to share with you. Can somebody please loan me a large iron pot, filled with water?"

"Whatever for," asked the innkeeper.

"I am going to make stone soup for the entire village, and I need a pot big enough to feed everyone."

The innkeeper looked doubtful, but he sent his wife to fetch a pot, while he went to draw water from the well. The soldier went out into the surrounding forest, and came back with a few hefty armfuls of wood. He built a large, cheerful fire, and set down the pot of water onto the fire.

"Now," he announced, "I will add the most important ingredient: the magic stone used to make stone soup." He slipped a large, smooth stone into the pot of water, and watched the water come up to the boil. While the water heated, he chatted with the crowd of villagers that was slowly beginning to build up around him. Never had they seen someone cook such a large meal in public like that!

"Stone soup is filling and tasty on its own, but I've noticed that it's always better with a bit of salt and pepper." One of the villagers brightened, and said, "I have some salt and pepper! I'll be right back." He ran to his house, and returned with a small jar of salt, and a bit of black pepper. The solider thanked the villager, and added some to the pot.

He told tales of his travels across the land, and how he'd had Stone Soup with cabbage, and carrots. Two others broke off from the group, and returned in a short while with some cabbage and carrots. The soldier thanked them as well. "What else goes well with Stone Soup," asked another man. "Potatoes are wonderful in Stone Soup! So are turnips." Shortly thereafter, a bunch of turnips and potatoes were tipped into the large, and more delicious smelling pot of soup.

As the time wore on, more and more villagers brought more and more things to help build the taste of stone soup: lentils, dried herbs, squash, and garlic and onion. The soup filled the village square with its delicious smells, and the laughter of the people filled the village with the resounding cheer that can only come when many friends come together.

The soldier explained all the different manifestations of Stone Soup, and how this one would be the best of all, because this village had such a variety of ingredients. Finally, the soup was done, and the soldier ladled out as much soup as anyone wanted to eat. The whole village was well fed, and in a much more happy mood, as they'd just spent all this time together, in the company of neighbours and friends, to make something that everyone can share.

The next morning, after the last vestiges of the soup were being scraped from the bottom of the pot, the soldier thanked everyone for the wonderful meal, and made to leave on his journey home again. The mayor and the rest of the villagers begged the man to sell his magic stone to them, so that they could continue to feed the village when he left. He refused, and said, "I won't sell it to you, but I'll give it to all of you, to share. Whenever the village is going through times of need, make Stone Soup, and share it with whoever wants it. On that condition, I'll give you my magic stone." Of course, the villagers heartily agreed, and the man passed on his "magic" stone with a twinkle in his eye.


I know there's other versions out there, and that in some of them, it's more than one soldier, in others, he refuses to sell the stone, and in still others, there's more reluctance on the part of the villagers. This is the version I remember (with my own embellishments added; what kind of story teller doesn't put his own mark on a story!?), and it's one that I hope you enjoy. A group that exemplifies the spirit of Stone Soup is called Food not Bombs. Check them out, when you get a chance, and start a local chapter if you don't have one already.

20 July 2008

Party Time, Cake

My friends J and J can really throw an awesome party. I was there last night, along with Steve, and a bunch of their other friends. It started with sangria and the Nintendo Wii (which seems like a fun, party like console, because it's got a lot of collaborative games). It ended up with Apples to Apples and beers. All in between were lots of little snackies and mucnchables. I made cake.

It went really fast.

2 cups Flour, White
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup Soy Milk
1 tablespoon Vinegar, Cider
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
¼ teaspoon Almond Extract
3 tablespoons Oil, Canola


Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients together. In another bowl, mix all wet. Mix together wet and dry. If the mixture seems a little too dry, feel free to add a bit of water until it's the consistency of cake batter. (I've sometimes had to add an extra 1/2 cup of juice.) Bake for 22-25 minutes until lightly golden.

You can add some fruit or nuts to it if you'd like to fancy it up. What makes it even better better is a bit of fruit jam in the centre. Basically, you bake up the cakes. Then, you slice them in half to make two rounds. Then, spread both rounds with the jam of your liking, and close the rounds like a sandwich. Slice, and eat! Wonderful with tea.

People were surprised that it was vegan, and easy, and good. I was glad they all enjoyed it.

J & J are good hosts, because they knew not to force anything to happen. When natural clumps of people formed, the two of them circulated amongst the clumps. One would be playing the video game, while the other was fetching more food or drink from the kitchen. And, at not point did J & J hang out together; that would defeat the point of entertaining, wouldn't it!?

Finally, when we did settle in for the Apples to Apples game (lots of fun; get it if you are having a party!), everyone had already been thoroughly entertained, and were ready to sit down for a bit, and have back and forth chatter. We ambled out of their house fairly late. It was definitely a party to remember!

16 July 2008

I made some chickpeas today, and noticed that I had no potatoes (chickpeas and potatoes are a classic Indian combo that works extremely well together). I did, however have plantains. I peeled them (because for this particular recipe, I was trying to get close to the texture of potatoes. I diced them up, and microwaved them for about five minutes. I added it into the chickpeas (with cumin seeds, sesame seeds, turmeric, onions, ginger, and garlic). It's freaking AWESOME! I prefer them to potatoes, because they stay together better, and don't make a mushy mash.

09 July 2008

Creamy Baked Kale

1 kg Kale
1 tin Cocoanut milk (I think my tin is like 414 mL or something)
2 tins water (so, that's like 800 ml?)
1 TB curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (or, to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Remove the leaves from the stalks of kale. Whiz up the stems in a food processor, or mince them up with a knife.

Combine a bit of cocoanut milk with the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle the spices and cocoanut milk over the kale's leaves. With both hands, vigorously massage the leaves of kale. Be rough with the leaves, and really get those spices worked into the kale.

Dump the kale leaves, stems, cocoanut milk, water, and any leftover spices you have, into a large casserole dish, roasting dish, or whatever other baking dish you have that you can cover up. Essentially, you want the whole lot to steam slowly in the oven.

Let it sit there in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until it's done to your liking. Serve as is, or with rice, or bread, or whatever.

Dijon Hummus ...

The last time I made a batch of hummos, I decided to switch things up a bit. What I normally do is dump the garlic in the food processor, add a bit of oil, and let 'er rip. Then I add a bit of of the cooked chickpeas, and make a sort of quickie emulsion. Then I add any of the lemon juice, tahini, and any other sort of spice I'm trying to add. This is normal.

Things got weird when I was distracted by the phone ringing. I answered the phone, had my conversation, and hung up the phone. I walked back to the food processor. I squeezed in a good tablespoon or three of dijon mustard. For whatever reason, my distracted brain was thinking that I was making dressing. I don't know why.

I didn't notice my mistake until well after the thing was made. Oh. Dear. GODS. It was so good, and I think I'll be repeating this every time after this.

06 July 2008

The Big City, Suburbs, Rural, or some hut in the wods?

I find that I'm at my happiest when I'm in very large cities. I like the feeling of being able to get anything on my own, without having to rely on a car, or other people with a car (the latter is usually the case, as I don't have a driving permit). I also like having constant access to the one major mark of a civilised city: mass transit. Preferably clean, efficient, and reliable mass transit. I noticed the marked difference between available mass transit, and a sorry excuse for one, when visiting my sister in CT. I thought that I had it bad in Florida, where you'd have to wait like 40 minutes or so for the bus to arrive, and 1 hour for the trains.

Little did I notice that at every train station (because the trains in FL are similar to the NJ Transit rail road system, or the Metro North, where you're meant to traverse large distances, rather than go for quick jaunts), there was a free shuttle that connected you to the most commonly used regions of that particular city, as well as the mass transit for that local city. This meant that for the cost of a train ticket, you could go to where you needed to be, get your work done, and get back, with a minimum of walking. The buses were often late (and if you were running late, they'd be running early!), but they were /there/. I can't say the same for the sorry state of the CT mass transit. Frankly, it sucks.

Suffice it to say, I don't have much patience for the suburbs. Puppy, on the other hand, does enjoy it. He likes the trees, the quiet, and the general lack of much of anything to do. Mind, he doesn't like the idea of having to be committed to it permanently, but for him, it's like a vacation to "get away from it all." For me, getting away from the bustle of the city would be going to Washington DC, or Chicago, where things are a lot more relaxed. Somehow, this pace just doesn't do it for me. Any time you want to do ANYTHING, it takes the better part of an hour to make it happen. Contrast this with New York, where you make plans, and execute them in the space of minutes (Oh! I'm in the village too! Wanna meet for lunch? Cool.).

But then, aside from all of that, my uncle has a farm (out there in India). That's the worst of the worst. It's removed from everything, and you can see in all directions, and there's nothing to break the monotony, except more trees. That is the scariest for me. At least with those wildernessy places, people are well prepared, y'know?

If you've noticed, people who live in those little huts in the middle of nothing will have rather nice ... diversions. Everything is top of the line, because it needs to be, since getting a new one involves so much effort.

My friend said it best: "Dino belongs in dinoland". Back to Dinoland I go.

05 July 2008

Quiet Time

The family (and Steve) have gone out for a bit, and it's quiet. I like this.

03 July 2008

And back to CT

It's my sister's husband's birthday, and Steve's got a 3 day weekend coming up. He's been getting quite antsy to leave and go somewhere outside of Manhattan, where Nature and other related crap abound. So, we're doing the CT thing tonight. We'll be leaving NY at 5 PM, and be in CT at like 7:00. I had my mother listen to the podcast, and she had some wonderful suggestions to take it from good to great. I'm definitely looking forward to implementing some of those plans, and seeing where it goes.

See, that's what I love about my mother. She encourages, but always has her eye on how to always strive for the best that you can do. I love hearing "wow, that's so good," but equally much, I love hearing, "but to sort of break it up a little, so that it's all easier to digest, why not try asking a friend to ask you the questions, so that when they hear your responses, their brain can remember it?" Furthermore, she also suggested that I ask a woman to help me out, because the contrast between a male and female voice is far stronger than two males. I'm going to see if my sister's amenable to it when I go there this weekend, and will report back with details later. Let's even see if I can remember to get to it, right? Suffice it to say, it feels like whenever I do talk to my mother, it's never about just idle chatter. Whenever we speak, I come out of the situation, I gain something from it, be it perspective, advice, or any number of other equally important things that I need at the time.