Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Success! Success! SUCCESS!

Dave 1, Recipe Book 0.

I had some pears. They sat in my fridge for a while, slowly creeping past the wrong side of ripe. I hate to throw out food without at least making some effort to eat it first, so it was up to me to figure out how to make something of it. I've learned in the past, that baking overripe fruit with sugar and butter is a high percentage play, so I went for broke. But it wasn't enough to stop there -- it needed something else. Something special.


I give you: "Butter-Rum Pear Crisp"


Some pears. 4 will do. Mine were D'Anjou pears, and they seemed to work out pretty well.
Rum. About half a cup. Feel free to increase this amount. Dark rum is better; really dark rum is best. Goslings or Myers.
Butter. I went for 4 tablespoons; you could very easily go lower. Needless to say, my result was more butter than rum.
A small lemon. Or some lemon juice.
Oats; about 2/3 cup. The kind of oats that come in a can with some quaker guy on it.
Flour; about 1/3 cup.
Sugar; about...uhh...1/3 cup? Like the butter, this could afford to go lower.
Dried cranberries (or raisins, or cherries, or similar. About...uhhh...1/2 cup)
Crumbled pecans. Or walnuts. Umm...let's say 1/2 cup again.
Spices! Vanilla, Nutmeg, Cinnamon. Good stuff.
1 egg, if you feel like it.
Small casserole dish.

Preheat your oven to 375.
Peel and core the pears; slice them up into 1/4"-thick slices. Toss them in a mixing bowl, and toss them with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Dump in the rum, spices, and dried cranberries (use whatever feels right). Stick the bowl in the fridge to let the pears soak up the rum while to get everything else ready.

Mix up the oats, sugar, and flour. Spray some oil on the casserole dish, then sprinkle about 1/4 the flour/oat mixture on the bottom. This will be to soak up any excess liquid from the pear/rum mixture -- add more if you're gone heavy on the rum. Dump the pear mixture on top of this.

Melt the butter up in a cup. Drizzle a bit into the casserole dish. Mix the rest up with the oat/sugar/flour mix; this will make the "crisp." Spread the crumbled pecans onto the pears in the casserole dish, then spread the "crisp" on top of that.

If you feel so inclined, you can whip up that single egg, pat down the top of the crisp, and spread the whipped egg over that -- this will give the crisp a sort of glaze-topping. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and it didn't detract from the dish at all.

Stick the dish in the oven; cook for 35-45 minutes, or until it seems right. 30 minutes should be enough to make those pears tender and let the rum work its magic.

Consume. Try not to think about how much butter is in each bite.

*I've never put much emphasis on measuring quantities, as my usual cooking amount is the "until it looks about right." This recipe, being highly improvisational, is even less measurement-intense than my usual offerings. If you want to give this a go, just remember: all of these ingredients will taste delicious together. You can work out the ratios later.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Taxes! The fingers thing means the taxes!


Today was another landmark in the process of growing up: the first time I had to cut a check to Uncle Sam on tax day. My income had stayed low enough i
n prior years that when I finished filling out the Byzantine tax forms, the final number resulted in a meager little windfall for myself. It never seemed to be that much, and it was always irksome knowing that the refund money -- money that was rightfully mine -- spent the better part of the year in Federal coffers (where it helped financed things I don't support, like pork barrel projects and warfare) instead of my pocket (where it could finance things I do support, like beer). But it still was money, and by my loose definition of the phrase, it was free money. (Free money, by my count, is any income that I cannot remember having earned. It encompasses wadded-up bills found in my laundry, money friends pay me back for loans I forgot I gave them, and my favorite kind, checks made out to me that have hidden deep in my bag or piles of paper on my desk)

This past year was different. Due in part to a larger income (though this being near San Francisco, my cost-of-living is so high that there's less money making it's way to my savings than before I moved out here) and a bit of interest income, the math somehow worked out so that I still owed money to the gubbermint. Needless to say, I was not pleased. Every two weeks last year, I would receive a check from my employer. There would be a nice, respectable number on the top of the check, followed by a series of somewhat smaller numbers below. The smaller numbers would chip away at Mr. Gross Income sitting up at the top of the page, poking him and needling him and slicing him up until his beaten corpse fell to the bottom of the page, where he became Mr. Pay To The Order Of, now only a meager shadow of his former greatness.

So after a year of this, I was looking forward to a nice, fat refund. The sort of refund that, were I to spend the entire sum on beer, would cause my liver to march out of my body in protest. I thought about how I could put said refund towards my planned road trip fund this summer. I thought about taking my refund check down to the bank, requesting that it be cashed entirely in pennies, and then filling my bathtub with the coins and wallowing in my wealth like Mammon himself.

But instead, my cash goes to that flag-wearing jag-off in a top hat, Uncle Freaking Sam. I would like to think that I would feel less outraged about paying taxes if I knew that the majority of my money was not being used to finance a war I've opposed since its inception, but I doubt it. I'd probably still find something to bitch about even if every penny I paid was perfectly, efficiently funneled to pay for needed schools, hospitals, and infrastructure.

At least I know it's over for another year, and I might as well relax as much as I can. So I'm enjoying a nice , big, White Russian and watching one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, "The PTA Disbands" (source of the title for this post). I'll just have to deal with my frustration, sit back, and accept that if I have to pay more taxes, that very fact means I'm taking home more money than I did before. That, and I'd just waste it on booze anyway.

"Behold, the mythological Esquilax! The horse with the head of a rabbit...and...the body of a rabbit!"
-Friar Wiggum

Sunday, April 13, 2008

So Fresh And So Clean (Clean)


I took my PE exam yesterday and Friday, and I'm feeling nice and relaxed now that it's all behind me. I can look forward my weekends now being filled with skiing and hiking and all the fun things that do not involve sitting in a room studying all day. It's going to be good.

I celebrated today with one of my favorite Sunday-afternoon activities, washing my car. I'm the sort of person who is zealously protective of my car, and hates the thought of anyone else touching it -- be they valet, gas-station attendant, or car wash towel-guy. The end result is that every so often, I'll roll down to the self-serve car wash, get lil' Oki all clean with my foaming brush skills, and then spend the next hour or so waxing her to a perfect shine. I'm not someone who normally takes cleanliness so anally -- my approach to vacuuming stretches the definition of "clean" to it's limit -- but when it comes to my car, it has to be perfect. I'll buff in that wax until my arms fall off, and then I'll pace around the car, making sure that it shines from every angle. The goal is a car-shaped hunk of obsidian glass, and when I can achieve that it feels wonderful.

Then I'll drive home to my apartment, where furniture is dusty, carpets are shedding, and sinks are full of dirty dishes. But my car shines.

*A Diversion*

I was perusing the boards at Fark earlier today, and apparently Carboyte UK has committed yet another crime against automotive good taste with their SmartCar limo. I can't develop the same righteous rage against this as I could for their stretch Ferrari, but it did get me thinking: what's the point of having a SmartCar?

Here's how I see it: the SmartCar is very small, which gives it the advantage of being easy to park in congested urban locations. But unless you're Dr. Who, you're not going to manage to have more space inside than the total size of your car, and so the SmartCar can only seat two (somewhat cramped) people with limited luggage space. If you really cared about parking in tiny spaces that much, you could fit the same two people and their small bags on a motorcycle or moped. But a motorcycle isn't all that safe in a collision, whereas the SmartCar is. Well...relatively, at least. Mercedes has crammed in every bit of safety equipment they can, but it's hard to beat basic physics: larger cars have larger crumple zones, and can better dissipate the energy of a collision before it slams your body around inside the car. The SmartCar gets good gas mileage because of it's small size, but in order to give it enough power to get out of its own way, the engine requires premium fuel. It also has to push around the weight of all that safety equipment, so the mileage drops to roughly what you'd get in a Honda Civic. Except that the SmartCar is more expensive. And has poorer performance. And can't fit as much stuff inside. And looks pretty silly.

So in the end, you have a car that was designed to park in small spaces, and then was filled with a whole suite of safety and performance equipment to compensate for it's awkwardly small, boxy shape. So I guess the SmartCar is the car for you if you don't like looking for a parking space, but you want something safer than a motorcycle that won't get you wet if it rains, and you don't want to pay extra for a parking space, but you will pay more for the car and for the gas to get there, and you want good fuel economy, but you'll lug around so much safety equipment that you have no storage space, and most importantly you don't want to have to use public transit FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER.

Would it kill people to park their car on the outskirts of a city and use the bus/subway system, and you know, maybe...walk sometimes?

Oh well.

Time for some dinner.

"I can score you some coke and some Grade One grass, but I can't get a gallon of gas"

-The Kinks

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Study Break

Almost there -- the test is Friday/Saturday, and so starting one week from today I will be able to enjoy my weekends once again. I plan to get some serious skiing in.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying a short study break with tonight's Netflix offering, Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj. It follows the proud tradition of college comedy movies, largely by ripping off all of them. And like all great college comedies, it requires absolutely no intellect to watch -- exactly what I need after a full day of engineering problems. Ah, how wonderfully formulaic.

It is not without its moments, though -- one of my favorites:

Snooty British Student: "Let's settle this like my ancestors did!"
Taj: "You want to exploit me economically?"

....and I'm drunk. Tonight's wine recommendation:

"Echelon" Shiraz (California Central Coast, 2003 vintage): This wine meets both the requirements of a good Shiraz: (1) it goes down smooth, and (2) it's cheap. $12.99 at your local BevMo ($6.53 while their 5-cent wine sale is on), this wine starts out by loading a shotgun with blackberries and shooting them directly into your nose. One you get over the initial fruit blast, this wine proves to be very well balanced, almost silky, with enough of a kick (13.7% ABV -- about standard for California wines' ever-increasing proofs these days) to make you forget its shortcomings. I'm 2 glasses in, and I know I have. Unlike most affordable reds out there, it has some years under it's belt -- this wine's been around as long as the US military has been dicking around in Iraq (yes, it's been that long; I just checked. Depressing, isn't it?). And just as the long years of a protracted war inure us to its horrors, this wine won't sting like its younger brethren. In general, the longer a bottle is aged, the more expensive it becomes -- it costs producers extra when they don't sell their product until 5 years after making it -- and I have to say that Echelon is a good value for the money. My only issue is with the capitalized and trademarked "Beyond Merlot" slogan burned onto the back label. Must be how the price got down.

Right; time for some sleep.

"Daddy's not coming anywhere!"
-Dr. Saikat Patel