Monday, October 31, 2005

Proposition 76 - California's budget amendment

California voters have more than a half-dozen ballot propositions to sort through in the special election called by Governor Schwarzenegger; for full details on all the propositions, see the current Voter's Guide.

In this post I'll discuss Proposition 76, which is titled "State Spending and School Funding Limits." This initiative is one of the four that Governor Schwarzenegger is strongly supporting, and it's billed as a solution to California's budget deficits.

The initiative is very complicated, and includes many changes to current California law, including (but not limited to):
  • Limits state spending to prior year's level plus three previous years' average revenue growth.
  • Changes state minimum school funding requirements (Proposition 98); eliminates repayment requirement when minimum funding suspended.
  • Permits Governor, under specified circumstances, to reduce appropriations of Governor's choosing, including employee compensation/state contracts. [these were quoted from the Voter's guide]
The California Legislative Analysts Office has a detailed analysis that is in the ballot pamphlet, and a separate article written later called Proposition 76: Key Issues and Fiscal Effects. Both are good reads that comprehensively address the initiative.

I see at least three things critically wrong with this initiative. First, the initiative significantly weakens the Proposition 98 funding guarantees that are currently supporting education funding. To understand why this is so, we need to look at Proposition 98 a bit more.

Proposition 98 has three funding formulae ("tests") used to set school funding. The first test hasn't been used since 1989, so we can ignore it. The second test requires that school funding grow based on school attendance and per capita personal income. The third test requires that school funding grow based on school attendance and per capita general fund revenues. This third test is automatically used whenever the state runs into budget problems, and generally provides less funding than test two. However, whenever school funding drops below test two levels, the state tracks the revenue that would have gone to schools if test two were operating, and Proposition 98 requires that the state eventually raise school funding back up to what test two would have given schools. Thus, even if schools get their funding cut due to budget problems, their funding will eventually be restored when the state's budget recovers.

Proposition 76 removes the automatic lowering of school funding in weak years ("test three"), which sounds like a good thing, but it also removes the requirement that the state increase funding back to levels required by test two if schools are ever funded below levels required by test two. Unfortunately, both the legislature and governor can reduce funding levels to below those specified by test two (as happened two years ago). This means that if school funding declines over time, schools will have no guaranteed mechanism to get that funding back. Since the cost of educating students doesn't decrease just because the budget is running a deficit, this seems like a major problem.

The second problem I see with the proposition is that it gives the governor extremely broad-ranging power to cut program budgets when there is a "fiscal emergency". Based on the Legislative Analysts Office's analysis, the conditions used to declare a fiscal emergency are so general that fiscal emergencies could be declared relatively frequently. Making things worse, in some situations budgetary cuts made by the governor during a fiscal emergency could not be overridden (or checked) by the legislature. Mid-term budget cuts can be extraordinarily harmful to education, since schools can't cut classes mid-term without severely affecting students. Thus, if school budgets get reduced mid-term, schools have no good way to reduce their expenses, and so they're forced to cut staff, building maintenance, or equipment funds. For example, a few years ago our equipment budgets were cut so much that we could no longer provide gloves for our students in biology labs even though the students were using formaldehyde-laced specimens; students had to buy their own or go without.

The third problem with this measure is that it's possible the budget cap it imposes will harm the state's ability to fund state programs adequately. The LA Times's article Would State Budget Cap Pinch Like Colorado's? reports on Colorado's attempts to overturn their Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which was a bill that restricted Colorado's governmental growth, similar (but not identical) to California's Proposition 76. Now that Colorado's had ten years of restricted growth, even some fiscal conservatives are attempting to overturn the budget restrictions:
The problem: Colorado's spending controls appear to have worked too well. Now some of the most strident fiscal conservatives in Colorado -- long viewed as a model for others considering such restraints -- say the cap has strangled government. There is talk of closing community colleges, privatizing the university system, releasing inmates early.

...


The spending controls Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to put in place in California through Proposition 76 on the Nov. 8 ballot differ from Colorado's. The California measure restricts growth to the average increase in state revenue over the most recent three years. And the money that comes in beyond the cap would go into a rainy-day fund instead of refund checks.

But budget analysts say some of the unintended consequences could be the same if the state economy goes into a prolonged slump.

A report this month by California's nonpartisan legislative analyst's office showed that such a limit would have had a profound impact on California services had it been in effect over the last 20 years. The report concluded that by now, it would have forced annual state spending down $15 billion -- more than California spends on the entire University of California system, California State University system and all of its community colleges combined.
Finally, to put another perspective on this, I'd wager that most community colleges statewide have rooms sitting empty because of a lack of funds to pay for faculty and support staff. Those rooms are empty even though it's estimated that there were more than 175,000 students who were "deprived of a community college education" in 2003-2004 (data from the Faculty Association of Community Colleges 2003-2004 enrollment report; quote from here). So what we should be doing right now is trying to find ways to increase funding for community colleges (and K-12 schools), not inventing ways to cut their funds, and thus this measure doesn't seem appropriate.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Quick and easy recipes

Since a number of our recipes take quite a while to make, we thought it would be convenient to highlight our quick and easy recipes.

We have no single criterion for recipes to get this distinction, but in general they don't require huge numbers of ingredients, complicated cooking procedures, really long cooking times, or heaps of preparation. These are recipes that we think someone could make after coming home from work tired and hungry (assuming they had the ingredients on hand).

Here's the list of our current picks (V indicates vegetarian recipes, V* indicates vegan); check the recipe archive for updates.

Breakfasts
Puff pancake (V)
Teff - a whole-grain breakfast (V*?)

Soups & salads
Honey mustard salad dressing (V)

Sides / appetizers
Roasted garlic hummus (V*)
Lentils with cumin and garlic (V*)
Recipe link of the week: Roasted cauliflower (V*)
Roasted asparagus with garlic and olive oil (V*)

Entrees
Sun-dried tomato and sausage cream sauce pasta
Garlic and clam cream sauce pasta
Radagast & SO's Chinese takeout chicken stir-fry

Baked goods
Flaky biscuits (V)
Apricot scones (V)

Beverages
Very simple hot apple cider (V*)
Lassi (V)

Ingredients
Sauteed apples with brown sugar, butter, and rum (V)
Lemon butter frosting (V)
Dashi - a Japanese soup stock

You can come up with some great menus from this list. How about a bowl of dashi followed by a plate of lemon butter frosting?

[Updated Dec. 17, 2005 with new recipes.]

Very simple hot apple cider

The host of the Halloween party we just attended requested that people bring ethanol-based drinks; we wanted there to be an alternate available, so we made some hot apple cider. Hot apple cider is exceptionally easy to make, and since it's the season for cider, I thought I'd make it this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

2 gallons unfiltered apple juice or cider
3 3-inch sticks cinnamon

1. Pour the apple juice or cider into a large pot. Add the cinnamon sticks.
2. Heat over medium heat until the cider is a good drinking temperature.
3. Serve hot; we left a ladle in the pot, and the pot on the stove over low heat, throughout the party. The cinnamon flavor becomes stronger the longer you heat the cider, so fish out the cinnamon sticks if it starts to get too strong.

Notes: This recipe (obviously) depends on the quality of the apple juice, so buy the most flavorful available. Apple juice made from freshly pressed apples is the ideal, and a treat - we had it once at Longwood Gardens years ago, and have been craving it ever since. Our current favorite commercial apple juice is Trader Joe's unfiltered apple juice (sold in one-gallon jugs); it's the closest we've found to fresh-pressed apple juice.

This recipe is far simpler than many apple cider recipes, which often include cloves, extra sugar, and other ingredients. We prefer the simplicity of just cinnamon with good apple juice, but flavor to your own tastes; probably the most traditional ingredient we've left out is cloves.

Our cinnamon is very fresh; if you just have a five-year-old jar of cinnamon sticks, you might want to add a few more. If you don't have whole cinnamon sticks, substitute ground cinnamon -- we'd suggest adding a bit at a time and tasting to check the flavor.

Also, remember that we made this for a large party, so feel free to scale down the recipe (though leftover cider tastes good chilled as well).

A Stargate Halloween

My SO and I had to have costumes for a friend's Halloween party last night; we decided to dress up as Stargate (SG-1) extras. We found this page, which lists all the equipment used for various costumes in the show, but unfortunately we didn't have much of the equipment on hand (we somehow misplaced our tactical vests, pistol holders, and P90s). Sadly, nobody recognized our costumes without us telling them what they were supposed to be, and even then we got comments like "Aren't they supposed to have a lot more equipment?" and "What show is that again?"

Friday, October 28, 2005

Electronic voting security audit by the GAO

The Government Accountability Office has released a 107-page report (see links at the end of this post) examining the security of electronic voting (something I've addressed before). The Free Press has an article looking at some of the implications of the report, and the GAO report itself includes a good justification for looking at electronic voting security:
... it is important to note that many [electronic voting security concerns] involved vulnerabilities or problems with specific voting system makes and models or circumstances in a specific jurisdiction's election, and that there is a lack of consensus among elections officials, computer security experts, and others on the pervasiveness of the concerns. Nevertheless, there is evidence that some of these concerns have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes. In light of the recently demonstrated voting system problems; the differing views on how widespread these problems are; and the complexity of assuring the accuracy, integrity, confidentiality, and availability of voting systems throughout their life cycles, the security and reliability concerns raised in recent reports merit the focused attention of federal, state, and local authorities responsible for election administration.
The report details many of the problems that have been found with electronic voting systems (the list starts on page 30 of the full PDF); here's an excerpt:
... several evaluations demonstrated that election management systems did not encrypt the data files containing cast votes (to protect them from being viewed or modified). Evaluations also showed that, in some cases, other computer programs could access these cast vote files and alter them without the system recording this action in its audit logs. Two reports documented how it might be possible to alter the ballot definition files on one model of DRE so that the votes shown on the touch screen for one candidate would actually be recorded and counted for a different candidate. In addition, one of these reports found that it was possible to gain full control of a regional vote tabulation computer--including the ability to modify the voting software--via a modem connection.

... one model [of a DRE electronic voting system] failed to password-protect the supervisor functions controlling key system capabilities; another relied on an easily guessed password to access these functions. In another case, the same personal identification number was programmed into all supervisor cards nationwide--meaning that the number was likely to be widely known.
Some of these machines were used in the 2004 presidential election. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is apparently attempting to coordinate solutions to these problems at a federal level, but according to the abstract of the report:
However, these actions [by the EAC] are unlikely to have a significant effect in the 2006 federal election cycle because important changes to the voting standards have not yet been completed, the system certification and laboratory accreditation programs are still in development, and a system software library has not been updated or improved since the 2004 election. Further, EAC has not consistently defined specific tasks, processes, and time frames for completing these activities; as a result, it is unclear when their results will be available to assist state and local election officials.

Reference:

Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed, GAO-05-956, September 21, 2005: Abstract Highlights-PDF PDF Accessible Text

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The caterpillars have pupated

The swallowtail caterpillars have started pupating; since some people have been clamoring for updates, I've posted some pictures in my flickr caterpillar photoset. I'll try to get a full post on the pupae up soon, but right now I'm just too tired.

ACLU: Medical records show that prisoners were tortured to death

The ACLU, through Freedom of Information Act requests, has obtained the autopsy reports for dozens of prisoners who died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's what they found:
"... The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

...

"The documents released today include 44 autopsies and death reports as well as a summary of autopsy reports of individuals apprehended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy Seals, Military Intelligence and '“OGA'” (Other Governmental Agency) -- a term, according to the ACLU, that is commonly used to refer to the CIA.

"According to the documents, 21 of the 44 deaths were homicides. Eight of the homicides appear to have resulted from abusive techniques used on detainees, in some instances, by the CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence personnel. "
The article goes on to provide more details, and even links to the original source documents.

Lineages

PZ Myers has a meme with a few questions exploring blog lineages:

1. Who was your blogfather, or blogmother, as the case may be. Just one please - the one blog that, more than any other, inspired you to start blogging. Please don't name Instapundit, unless you are on his blogchildren list. It would have to be Dear_Raed, which I read during the invasion of Iraq, and which showed me how powerful blogs can be. Jill/txt also has to be listed here, since her teaching posts were a large influence.

2. Include your blog-birth-month, the month that you started blogging, if you can. January 8, 2004 at 11:04 PM.

3. If you are reasonably certain that you have spawned any blog-children, mention them, too. I was involved in discussions with Semantic Compositions that eventually helped push him into the blogosphere, but he was motivated by other blogs before I came along.

And, separately, PZ Myers gets the title of my blog uncle; he was the first to link to me, and has always been the source of much inspiration.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Forget diamonds ... I want a 4.4-billion-year-old zircon.

I finally got a chance to sit down and browse the latest Scientific American issue a few nights ago. The Founder Mutations article (link is to a preview) was reminiscent of some of PZ's evolution posts, and was a good introduction to the idea of founder mutations (complete with some neat data).

The article that really grabbed me, however, was A Cool Early Earth? (link is to the full article), which discussed the discovery and analysis of some 4.4 billion year old rocks. The rocks weren't just any old rocks, they were tiny zircons about the size of a period; the article has a picture of more than 10 of the rocks contained underneath Roosevelt's nose (but above Roosevelt's mouth) on a US dime. The entire article is available online, so you can read it yourself, but suffice to say that these tiny specs are currently the oldest known rock specimens from the planet.

What interested me about the article was the technical precision required to carry out the research (the researchers took multiple samples from each tiny rock without destroying the rock), as well as the stress that the researchers must have been under while handling these ancient specimens. What if they sneezed?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dashi - a Japanese soup stock

Dashi, a Japanese fish-based soup stock, is extremely simple to make at home. Since dashi is a critical ingredient for a lot of Japanese cooking, and the crispy mixed rice recipe I just posted uses dashi, I thought I'd post a dashi recipe (from Yamaoka 1984).

4 1/2 cups water
2 cups bonito flakes (hana-katsuo)
3-inch piece kelp (konbu)

1) Pat the kelp with a moist towel (but do not wash), and cut 1/2-inch slits into the kelp every inch or so.
2) Add all the ingredients to a pot, bring to a boil over medium heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3) Strain the kelp and bonito flakes out of the stock (we use a wire mesh strainer; you can line the strainer with cheesecloth for a clearer stock).

Asian markets usually carry bonito flakes and konbu; both are typically packaged in plastic bags, and neither requires refrigeration.

Yamaoka calls this niban dashi (secondary bonito stock).

Reference:

Yamaoka, Masako. 1984. A First Book of Japanese Cooking: Family-style food for the home. Kodansha International, Tokyo.

Crispy mixed rice

A few weeks ago, Dotch (our favorite Japanese cooking show) featured a contest between two dishes that contained crispy browned rice. One of the dishes was dolsot bibimbap, a Korean dish made in an extremely hot stone bowl, and the other was something similar to gomoku gohan, a Japanese dish where rice, vegetables, and meat are cooked in flavorful stock, and then left in the pan long enough so that the rice along the sides and bottom browns. Both dishes looked tasty, and we've wanted to make them since seeing the episode; since we didn't have any stone bowls, we decided to make the gomoku gohan.

Our favorite (and only) Japanese cookbook (Yamaoka 1984) had a recipe for non-crispy gomoku gohan, including a note suggesting that with only a small modification you could make the crispy version. We made the crispy version for the first time yesterday; the rice soaked up the savory flavors added to the pot and was delicious. It was relatively quick and easy to make (excluding the 1-hour wait on the rice), so don't let the length of this post fool you: you can probably do all the active preparation and tending in less than 20 minutes if you work quickly. Since we enjoyed this dish so much, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

2 1/2 cups short-grain rice
5-inch piece burdock root (gobo)
1 medium carrot (~7-inch piece)
1/3 cup frozen chopped green beans (or 5-6 fresh)
3 1/4 cups water (1/4 to 1/2 cup less if your rice is very fresh)
1 packet (0.35 oz) instant dashi powder (or use 3 1/4 cups homemade dashi instead of the water)
3 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces chicken (we used a boneless, skinless chicken thigh)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 ounces steamed fish cake, thinly sliced

1) In a large bowl, wash the rice and drain it, repeating until the water that drains off is almost clear.
2) Let the rice sit in the bowl, covered with a moist kitchen towel, for one hour. [note: we do not know how essential this step is, but it is apparently traditional for Japanese rice cooking; you might be able to skip it in a pinch.] You can start preparing the other ingredients before the hour is up.
3) If you are making dashi from scratch, prepare it now.
4) Wash and scrub the burdock well, but don't remove the skin. Slice the burdock into thin slivers, being sure to get a little piece of the skin on each sliver; you can use a technique similar to sharpening a pencil with a knife. Place the burdock slivers into a bowl of water if you're not going to use them immediately, as they will oxidize (brown) when exposed to air.
5) Peel the carrots and cut them into thin 1-inch-long pieces (I cut each inch-long piece into quarters, essentially making short carrot sticks).
6) If using frozen green beans, defrost them (using the microwave or hot water).
7) Mince the chicken; this is easier if the chicken is somewhat frozen.
8) Add the rice, vegetables, water, dashi powder, soy sauce, sake, sugar, and salt (the chicken, oil, and fish cake will be all that's left) to either a rice cooker or a pot you will use to cook the rice on the stove.
9) Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over high heat; once the oil is hot, add the minced chicken and cook until the chicken has lost its raw color.
10) Add the cooked chicken to the rice cooker or pot on the stove, stir to mix (the carrots and burdock will probably float), and cook the rice. If you have a rice cooker, all this entails is turning the cooker on; for stove-cooking instructions, see below.
11) As soon as the rice has cooked (the rice cooker clicks off), quickly drop the sliced fish cake on top of the rice, put the lid back on, and let the rice cooker stay on (on the "stay warm" setting) for another 10 minutes to let the rice brown (the longer you leave the cooker on, the more the rice will brown).
12) Gently mix the rice and serve it hot, being sure to include some of the crispy rice from the bottom in each serving.

Notes:

This dish is extremely flexible - mushrooms are a very common addition (e.g., this recipe), and the cookbook suggests adding clams, beef, pork, or fish in addition to (or replacing) the chicken. Radagast's SO felt the dish might be better with a greater volume of vegetables.

Most of the ingredients in this recipe should be available at a local Asian market (especially a Japanese one). Steamed fish cakes look like little half-cylinders packaged in plastic; the outside may be plain white or dyed a bright pink, and they'll be in the refrigerated section. Burdock root will be in the produce section; it is a very long, brown-skinned root that is usually at least two to three feet long and about an inch in diameter. Dashi soup stock powder will be sold in little boxes, probably in an aisle near bags of dried fish flakes (which are used to make dashi). When buying dashi soup stock powder, compare the brands and purchase the one that includes the most bonito (it should be the first ingredient).

Both dashi and burdock give this dish a traditional Japanese flavor, so should be added if possible. However, if you're sitting at home desperately wanting to make this dish and don't have either dashi or burdock, you could probably substitute just about any fish stock (or even chicken stock) for the dashi, and canned bamboo shoots, turnip, radish, or extra carrots for the burdock. It won't taste quite the same, but it'd be better than sitting at home hungry.

[Update 1/1/2006: I just posted a second, vegetable-heavy, version of this recipe here.]

Cooking rice on the stove:

We own a 10-cup rice cooker and have not cooked rice on the stove since we got it (which was more than 5 years ago). If you make a lot of rice dishes, invest in a rice cooker; it's well worth it (we use ours nearly weekly). However, if you don't own a rice cooker, here are the cooking instructions Yamaoka (1984) provides for cooking this dish on the stove:

1) After you've mixed all the ingredients into the rice (in step 10, above) and bring to a boil over high heat.
2) "Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 12 or 13 minutes." Do not stir or remove the pot lid during this time.
3) Quickly add the steamed fish cake and replace the pot lid, as described above.
4) "Turn [the] heat to high for 5 seconds, then turn off and remove the pot from the heat."
5) Let the rice stand, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. I imagine that leaving the rice on low heat would contribute to browning, but we haven't tried it.

Reference:

Yamaoka, Masako. 1984. A First Book of Japanese Cooking: Family-style food for the home. Kodansha International, Tokyo.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

For your viewing pleasure this weekend:



[Update Nov. 14: Fixed dead NSF link.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

US Army contractors exploiting poor foreign workers

The Chicago Tribune has a multipart series detailing how Halliburton subcontractors are (sometimes illegally) bringing foreign workers into Iraq with false promises and little protection. Here are the articles:

U.S. cash fuels human trade - Oct. 9

Into a war zone, on a deadly road - Oct. 10

Rescue spares some workers
- Oct. 10

The articles are all worth reading, but the introduction to the first article acts as a good summary:
"To maintain the flow of low-paid workers key to military support and reconstruction in Iraq, the U.S. military has allowed KBR to partner with subcontractors that hire laborers from Nepal and other countries that prohibit citizens from being deployed in Iraq. That means brokers recruiting such workers operate illicitly.

"The U.S. military and KBR assume no responsibility for the recruitment, transportation or protection of foreign workers brought to the country. KBR leaves every aspect of hiring and deployment in the hands of its subcontractors. ...

"Working in tandem with counterparts in the Middle East, the brokers in South and Southeast Asia recruit workers from some of the world's most remote areas. They lure laborers to Iraq with false promises of lucrative, safe jobs in nations such as Jordan and Kuwait, even falsifying documents to complete the deception.

"Even after foreign workers discover they have been lured under false pretenses, many say they have little choice but to continue into Iraq or stay longer than planned. They feel trapped because they must repay brokers' huge fees.

Some U.S. subcontractors in Iraq--and the brokers feeding them--employ practices condemned by the U.S. elsewhere, including fraud, coercion and seizure of workers' passports."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Some caterpillars and a surprise

Sunday afternoon we discovered that much of our parsley had been eaten by six of these caterpillars:

Caterpillar on parsley
Pretty orange dots!

The orange and black stripes were so striking that I couldn't just squish the caterpillars outright (even if they were eating all my parsley). I decided that the first order of business was to get some good pictures; I've posted some of the closeups in my caterpillar photoset on Flickr. My favorite is this one:

Eyeing a leaf ...
You just know what that caterpillar is thinking ...

After a bit of research I determined that these were probably black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes; parsleyworm), though most of the pictures of black swallowtail caterpillars I found online show yellow dots, while these caterpillars have distinctly orange dots.

Since swallowtails are cool butterflies, and I'd need to see the adult to identify the species, I decided to pull the caterpillars off the plants and rear them in a cage, feeding them store-bought parsley (I felt bad for my parsley plants). While searching for all the caterpillars I found one that looked like this:

An odd structure on the head
Note the two orange protuberances.

I got very excited, primarily because the structures looked like they may have been eggs laid by a parasite. I immediately decided that I'd keep this caterpillar in a nearly sealed container and watch it carefully, as I hoped I could observe the parasites develop. Images of various parasites flicked through my head as I anticipated what might arise from those little orange structures.

However, when I touched the caterpillar everything changed: the orange structures grew about five-fold in length as the caterpillar reared its head back and slammed the (now very long) orange things into my fingers. I was shocked; my parasite eggs were clearly under the control of the caterpillar. Here's a shot of the structures extended:

They extended!
It grew horns!

The horns slowly retracted into the body as I let the caterpillar sit on the branch, but as soon as I touched the caterpillar again (or moved the branch it was on), the caterpillar extended them again; if my fingers were close when the caterpillar was touched, it would try to hit my fingers with the orange structures. I'd never seen anything like it. Here's a comparison of how the caterpillars look with and without the structures:

Caterpillar on parsley - left side Structure on the head of a caterpillar
Left: a caterpillar without the structures visible. Right: a caterpillar with the structures mostly retracted (this caterpillar is also wet). It appears that the structures emerge from a point near the junction of the head and thorax. (Note that these are two different caterpillars)

I noticed a very odd (and rather bad) smell coming from the plants after the caterpillars had extended their orange structures, which gave a clue to their function: they appear to be part of a scent organ (briefly described here), which is more technically known as an osmeterium (Bland and Jaques 1978). The structure is apparently common to all swallowtail butterfly larvae (family Papilionidae). Not surprisingly, osmeteria are cited as being used for defense, though I have no idea how they actually function; I'm now very curious.

As a side note, I somewhat confirmed that osmeteria are a scent organ this morning when I accidentally dropped the cage containing all six caterpillars; every caterpillar immediately extended its osmeterium, and boy did it stink.

Reference

Bland, R. G., and H. E. Jaques. 1978. How to Know the Insects: 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill, Boston, MA.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Radagast & SO's okara burgers

Making soy milk entails cooking ground soybeans in boiling water, and then filtering out the solids (see my illustrated guide to making non-dairy milks at home for more). The ground soybeans filtered out of the final product are called okara, and can be used in a number of recipes, including okara burgers. Okara is high in protein and fiber, and makes for a very healthful meal when combined with vegetables.

Okara burgers are vegetarian burger patties that are relatively easy to make at home (assuming you have okara). Okara burgers should be viewed as their own food; they're not intended to replicate either the taste or texture of ground meat.

The patties, which are filled with fried vegetables, are soft and chewy inside and slightly crispy on the outside; they're also completely customizable: you can vary both the spices and vegetables to suit your own tastes. We enjoy eating the burgers on toasted bread with onions and either ketchup or mayonnaise. We only just started making these okara burgers, but made a giant batch last weekend (when made ahead of time they're great for a quick lunch), so they're this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

This recipe is vegan if the eggs are left out, which appears to be how some recipes for okara burgers are written.

Main ingredients:
2 carrots
1 leek (optional; use 2 onions if you don't use a leek)
1 medium turnip
1 medium onion
1 medium red potato
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (more if you want to fry the patties)
Okara from 2 batches soy-barley milk (approximately 24 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce (we use low-salt soy sauce)
1/3 c flour
2 eggs
Enough cornmeal to coat the surface of the patties (~1 cup)

Spice mixture:
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon chipotle
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves

0. If you plan to bake the patties, preheat the oven to 375F sometime before step 10b.
1. Wash, peel, and trim the vegetables (carrots, leek, turnip, onion, and potato).
2. Finely chop the vegetables; we use our food processor for this (we cut each vegetable into approximately quarters and then add them all to the food processor at the same time).
3. Mix all the spices together in a cup or small bowl.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in a large (preferably non-stick) pot over medium-high heat and add the chopped vegetables (carrots, leek, turnip, onion, and potato) and garlic. Fry, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and starting to turn golden brown in spots, roughly 10 minutes.
5. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for another 30 seconds.
6. Add the okara and soy sauce and cook another five minutes, stirring frequently. The primary purpose of this cooking is to remove water from the okara; when finished, the texture should be similar to cookie dough.
7. Transfer the cooked okara and vegetables into a large bowl and let cool until easy to handle (it'll probably take at least 20 minutes).
8. Once the okara has cooled, stir in the flour and eggs.
9. Shape the okara mixture into patties, coating the surfaces with cornmeal. The mixture doesn't hold together extremely well, so you won't be able to make the patties very large. We make approximately burger-sized patties that are about 4 inches in diameter and about 3/4" thick. We've also made patties about 3/8" thick, which results in slightly firmer patties since there's more crust per unit volume. To shape each patty, we form it into approximately its final size, and then put it into a bowl of cornmeal and coat the surfaces while flattening the patty a bit more.
10. You can either fry or bake the patties:
10a. To fry the patties, heat some vegetable oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the patties and fry on both sides until the surface turns golden brown (a few minutes on each side).
10b. To bake the patties, put them on a nonstick baking sheet (we use a silicone pan liner; you could probably just lightly oil the baking sheet if you don't have a nonstick liner), and bake the patties at 375F for 40 minutes. Flip the patties halfway through to ensure even baking.

Note: We prefer baking to frying, as the baking is much easier (especially in bulk). Frying does result in a crisper crust, but once they've been stored in the fridge, fried patties are nearly indistinguishable from baked.

We've made these burgers primarily with okara from soy-barley milk, but have also substituted okara from nut milks for some of the soy-barley okara. If you used all nut okara, the burgers might be less cohesive (but we've never tried).

As mentioned in the introduction, this recipe is extremely flexible: use whatever vegetables and spices you have on hand and that sound good to you.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My Republican loyalty

Via About.com's Republican Loyalty Quiz:
"Your score is 0 on a scale of 1 to 10. You are a pure, unabashed, die-hard Democratic loyalist. You are appalled by the way Republicans are transforming America into a theocratic, corpo-fascist police state, and you'd walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit if it meant casting a deciding vote for a Democratic president. In your view, there is no higher form of patriotism than defending America against the Republican Party and every intolerant, puritanical, imperialistic greed-mongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which it stands."
Hmm, not too bad (of course it is from their "political humor" category).

Friday, October 14, 2005

A new job (for my SO)

My SO, who has been out of work for a while, started a new job this morning! Since this blog is about me, not my SO, I won't delve into details, but suffice to say that it's a temporary position in my SO's field of choice, and we're both happy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Baby feeding myths

A recent CNN article reports on the myths surrounding starting babies on solid food. While books are apparently filled with advice on the topic, and pediatricians strongly advocate specific plans, it sounds like virtually none of the advice is based on experimental studies.
Most parents are told to start rice cereal at 6 months, then slowly progress to simple vegetables, mild fruits and finally pasta and meat.

Ethnic foods and spices are mostly ignored by the guidelines -- cinnamon and avocados are about as exotic as it gets -- and parents are warned of potential allergens such as nuts and seafood for at least a year.

...

In a review of the research, Nancy Butte, a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine, found that many strongly held assumptions -- such as the need to offer foods in a particular order or to delay allergenic foods -- have little scientific basis.

Take rice cereal, for example. Under conventional American wisdom, it's the best first food. But Butte says iron-rich meat -- often one of the last foods American parents introduce -- would be a better choice.
It's a good example of the need to look for the experimental basis of information people give you, even if the information comes from your doctor (or any supposed expert).

Of course, the article falls into the trap of the people it's criticizing, and fails to cite research itself; instead the article only includes quotes from experts, extraordinarily brief summaries of non-cited studies, and a few anecdotes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

News that cooking week got in the way of

US Forces "out of control" - article in the Guardian about how the US military is impeding journalists in Iraq.

US Army buying anthrax and other culturing equipment - article on NewScientist.com discussing how these actions will make it more difficult for the US to demonstrate that it is not producing biological weapons.

FIPSE grants going away due to pork - article in the LA Times reporting that these prestigious (and competitive) education grants are no longer available, primarily because legislators have allocated all the money to pet projects.

Fewer companies offering health insurance in the US - an article in the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that only 60% of businesses offer their workers health benefits (down from 69% in 2000). What are people at those 40% of companies supposed to do, especially if they have pre-existing conditions? What are unemployed people supposed to do? Why don't we have universal health care?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Radagast doesn't need more hits!

Rhosgobel just got its fifty-thousandth visit this afternoon. I hope that visitor 50,000 enjoyed the apricot scones, and visitor 50,001 enjoyed their dinner of creamed spinach.

When the big boys talk about getting thousands of hits an hour, it's easy to think that 50,000 is nothing, but I'm still blown away.

Radagast needs ...

Via Pharyngula, a meme that involves searching for "[your_name_here] needs" on Google, and finding out what the net thinks you need. Here's what the net says for me:
Radagast needs some defending ...
Radagast needs to set up his Girdle ...
Radagast needs his clanmates to back him up.
Radagast needs them for his date.
Radagast needs you!
Radagast needs to get some more recognition ...
Radagast needs to verify this number ...
Radagast needs to work on keeping his back straight [does it count if it's a line from yourself?]
Radagast needs to be in there!
Radagast needs to get a clue.

Cyborg name decoder

My SO found a cyborg name decoder. Here's what Radagast and Rhosgobel apparently stand for:


Robotic Artificial Device Assembled for Galactic Assassination and Scientific Troubleshooting



Robotic Humanoid Optimized for Scientific Gratification, Online Battle and Efficient Learning


At least both include something science related!

For those of you who know our IRL names, one of them is very, very appropriate.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dotch - the only cooking show we watch regularly

One of the advantages of living in Southern California is the cultural diversity, which includes having multiple local Asian TV stations. Through these local stations we've found Dotch (site in Japanese), a very enjoyable Japanese cooking/game show. Dotch is currently the only TV show we look forward to watching each week, so it seems like a fitting end-of-cooking-week post.

The show includes a panel of seven guests, who during the course of the show have to choose between one of two dishes being prepared for them. Each dish is made in front of the guests by a separate chef, and the two dishes are always in the same class of food (e.g., dorayaki vs. cream puffs, BBQ ribs vs. grilled tuna collar, takoyaki vs. yakisoba; see their archive page here).

Each of the two dishes always includes some super-special ingredient, which the chefs travel across Japan to find. No matter how mundane this ingredient might otherwise seem to be (e.g., vegetable oil, milk), the show manages to make it sound as though their super-special version of this ingredient is mouth-wateringly good. We love the special ingredient segments, partially because they always include lots of detail on how the ingredient is prepared (e.g., rearing pigs, fishing for tuna, and growing and grinding pepper or oil-producing seeds). The show also has a segment featuring "delicious supporters" of each dish, in which they visit two or three restaurants and see how the restaurant chefs make their own version of the dish (always including the price).

The show never fails to make us desperately hungry for the dishes they prepare. It's also very educational, showing both how traditional Japanese food is made and how certain ingredients are manufactured or obtained.

To help those watching the show for the first time, here's an outline of a typical one-hour episode:
  • The two dishes are introduced to the guests.
  • The guests make an initial selection between the two dishes, and are moved to one or the other side of the studio based on their selections (one side is red, the other yellow).
  • The chefs start to make each dish.
  • Each dish's "special ingredient" is highlighted.
  • The guests get to sample a tiny portion of the special ingredient (or something cooked with the special ingredient).
  • The guests get a chance to change their minds about which dish they think they'll want to eat.
  • The "delicious supporters" of each dish are shown.
  • The show's chefs finish cooking each dish, typically including some showy presentation.
  • The guests ooh and ahh over the food (as they've been doing throughout).
  • The guests are forced to make a final choice between the dishes, with much hemming and hawing.
  • The show cuts to commercial.
  • The guests' final choices are revealed. Whichever dish gets a majority of the votes is served to those who voted for it. Anyone who voted for the losing dish gets nothing to eat.
  • The winning guests eat their food happily, while the losing guests look on mournfully.
  • The chef who cooked the losing dish eats it in a small room off-set, usually exclaiming about how delicious it is.

Friday, October 07, 2005

So, what have you cooked?

Today is the last official day of cooking week (though I suspect celebrations will spill into the weekend). So, in the same vein as Orac's Lurker Day, I'd like to open up a thread and ask for some reader participation.

My cooking posts generally don't get many comments, and thus I'm curious what people think of them. So, if you've been reading and/or cooking (or not cooking) the recipes, I'd love to hear from you!

For those who like having specific questions to answer, here are a few:
  • Which (if any) of the recipes I've posted have you cooked?

  • If you've made some of the recipes, how'd they turn out? Do you have any favorites?

  • If you haven't made any, which (if any) have piqued your interest?
And, as always, any general comments about cooking (or other topics) are welcome!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sun-dried tomato and sausage cream sauce pasta

The Fine Cooking article (Weinstein and Scarbrough 2002) from which we got the garlic and clam cream sauce pasta recipe also had a few suggestions for alternate recipes. One of those was this recipe, which features Italian sausage and sun-dried tomatoes in a creamy sauce; as with the garlic and clam sauce, this recipe is extremely quick to make (less than 20 minutes from start to finish), yet very flavorful. I made this recipe (or the bacon version I discuss at the end) nearly once every other week while my SO was living out of state a few years back; I never got tired of it, though my SO prefers the garlic and clam pasta. Since we made this a few nights ago, it's today's post in honor of cooking week.

1/2 pound Italian sausage [or 1/2 pound bacon, see below]
7-9 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup sweet red vermouth
1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 pound dry pasta (we often use fusilli)

0. Cook the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. When cooked, drain the pasta, but do not rinse with water. Work on the sauce (steps 1-6) while the pasta is cooking, though try to schedule your cooking so the pasta is done just a little before it needs to be added to the sauce (in step 7).
1. Remove the sausage from the casing and fry in a large pan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently while breaking the sausage into small lumps. Continue cooking until the sausage is almost completely cooked (approximately 5 minutes, though it varies). If the sausage (or other small bits in the pan) start to burn, continue to the next step even if the sausage is not completely cooked.
2. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and fry, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes more (or less if things are burning).
3. Add the sage, stir for a few seconds, and then add the chicken stock and vermouth.
4. Cook until the liquid is reduced in volume by approximately 50% (a few minutes).
5. Add the cream, and simmer until the sauce is a good consistency to coat the pasta (a moderately-thick sauce), stirring frequently. It usually takes 2-4 minutes for the sauce to thicken to the right consistency; check the thickness of the sauce by stirring regularly with a spoon. When ready, the sauce should be a good deal thicker than it was just after you added the cream.
6. Once the sauce is thickened, mix in the cheese.
7. Add the drained pasta, mix well, and serve with additional grated cheese.

This recipe makes enough for a hearty dinner for the two of us, with very little left over. The original article says that the pasta doesn't reheat well; I've found that it reheats just fine in the microwave, as long as I mix it frequently as I reheat it, and add a little bit of freshly grated cheese once it's hot.

We aren't very particular about the vermouth we add to the sauce - if we're out of vermouth, we'll add just about any red wine. It has always tasted great.

Bacon alternate:

If you want to be a little less traditional, this recipe is also delicious when made with bacon instead of sausage. To do this, replace the sausage with 1/2 pound bacon, cut the uncooked bacon into approximately 1/2" wide slides (so you have many 1/2" by ~1" pieces; bacon is easier to cut if slightly frozen), and follow the directions in the recipe, reducing the heat to medium while the bacon cooks. The bacon will likely take longer to cook than the sausage does. Using 1/2 pound of bacon makes a very salty, bacony dish; if that doesn't sound good to you, you may want to use less bacon, not salt the pasta water, and/or reduce the added cheese a bit.

Weinstein, B., and M. Scarbrough. 2002. "How to Make a Light Creamy Pasta Sauce." Fine Cooking 50: 45-49.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

McCain amendments against torture

Senator John McCain is attempting to attach (or has attached, or has failed to attach; I'm unsure of the status) an amendment to a Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would do two things:
(1) establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees and
(2) prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the U.S. government.
Senator McCain gave a speech on the Senate floor today outlining the amendments and why he feels they should be supported; it's good reading. Here are a few excerpts (skip to here if you don't want to read the quotes):
"Mr. President, to fight terrorism we need intelligence. That much is obvious. What should also be obvious is that the intelligence we collect must be reliable and acquired humanely, under clear standards understood by all our fighting men and women. To do differently would not only offend our values as Americans, but undermine our war effort, because abuse of prisoners harms -- not helps -- us in the war on terror. First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence, because under torture a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop. Second, mistreatment of our prisoners endangers U.S. troops who might be captured by the enemy -- if not in this war, then in the next. And third, prisoner abuses exact on us a terrible toll in the war of ideas, because inevitably these abuses become public. When they do, the cruel actions of a few darken the reputation of our country in the eyes of millions. American values should win against all others in any war of ideas, and we can't let prisoner abuse tarnish our image.

...

"The advantage of setting a standard for interrogation based on the Field Manual is to cut down on the significant level of confusion that still exists with respect to which interrogation techniques are allowed. The Armed Services Committee has held hearings with a slew of high-level Defense Department officials, from regional commanders, to judge advocate generals, to the Department's deputy general counsel. A chief topic of discussion in these hearings was what specific interrogation techniques are permitted in what environments, with which DOD detainees, by whom, and when. And the answers have included a whole lot of confusion. If the Pentagon's top minds can't sort these matters out after exhaustive debate and preparation, how in the world do we expect our enlisted men and women to do so?

...

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states simply that 'No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.' The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory, states the same. The binding Convention Against Torture, negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the Senate, prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. On last year's DOD Authorization bill, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment reaffirming that no detainee in U.S. custody can be subject to torture or cruel treatment, as the U.S. has long defined those terms. All of this seems to be common sense, in accordance with longstanding American values.

"But since last year's DOD bill, a strange legal determination was made that the prohibition in the Convention Against Torture against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment does not legally apply to foreigners held outside the U.S. They can, apparently, be treated inhumanely. This is the administration's position, even though Judge Abe Soafer, who negotiated the Convention Against Torture for President Reagan, said in a recent letter that the Reagan administration never intended the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to apply only on U.S. soil.

"What all this means is that America is the only country in the world that asserts a legal right to engage in cruel and inhuman treatment. But the crazy thing is that it is not even necessary, because the Administration has said that it will not engage in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as a matter of policy."
So, all in all, this sounds like an extremely sane amendment. After all, who could possibly oppose legislation clarifying that the US will not torture prisoners?

Well, George W. Bush, for one. He's threatening a veto.

[Update 10/6/05: No sooner do I post on the topic than I find this on CNN: the senate has approved the appropriations bill, complete with McCain's amendment (by a 90-9 vote).]

Flaky biscuits

About five years ago I read Joy of Cooking's biscuit recipe and decided to give it a try. In less than half an hour I had hot, flaky biscuits coming out of the oven, and was slathering them with quickly melting butter. I've never gone back to biscuits-from-a-can since.

Homemade biscuits are extremely easy to make; the only major ingredients they require are flour, butter, and milk. As with pie crust, the only gadget that can help is a pastry blender, a tool that helps cut cold butter into flour; you can use knives, forks, or fingers instead of a pastry blender, but it will make the process easier.

Since we just made some biscuits for breakfast yesterday morning, they're today's post in honor of cooking week.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk
Butter or milk to brush on the biscuits before baking (optional)

0. Preheat the oven to 450F.
1. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Cut the butter into approximately tablespoon size pieces, and add it to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (or two knives, a fork, or your fingers) cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces of butter are approximately the size of peas (or smaller). As with pie dough, it is critical that the butter not melt during this step (or later).
3. Add the milk and stir to mix (I usually add a tablespoon or two of extra milk at this point; I have no idea if it helps or not).
4. Once the milk is mixed in, knead the dough in the bowl approximately 5-10 times. This can be very quick and simple kneading: just gather the dough into a rough ball, smoosh it down, fold it in half, and then repeat. There is no need to get fancy or take a lot of time.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll (or just pat) the dough until it is approximately 3/4" thick (or the thickness you prefer; I like thick biscuits).
6. Cut the dough into whatever size biscuits you want (I typically do ~2-3" squares/rectangles).
7. Arrange the biscuits on a cookie sheet (I space them ~2" apart, though you can also put them right next to each other so they fuse while baking) and bake for 10-15 minutes (or until the tops and bottoms are nicely browned).
8. Serve hot, preferably with lots of butter and honey.

Notes:

If you don't want to bother with the kneading and rolling, you can make drop biscuits instead. To do this, increase the volume of milk to 1 cup, which makes the dough softer. Spoon this dough straight onto the baking sheet (~1-2 tablespoons of volume per biscuit) and bake for ~12 minutes. The biscuits are smaller and don't have as much flaky internal surface area to spread with butter, but they are faster and easier to make.

You can cut the biscuits into any shape you want before baking. I used to make quite a fuss over using circular biscuit cutters, which entailed re-rolling the dough multiple times to use all the leftover dough bits. I have since decided that cutting the biscuits into rectangles is much easier. I don't even bother with trying to get the edges of the dough straight; the biscuits taste the same with rounded edges, and it's a lot faster to just slice away after quickly rolling out the dough into a rough circle.

Joy of Cooking recommends brushing the biscuits with butter or milk before baking to enhance browning; I rarely do this.

This recipe is based on one in Rombauer et al. (1997).

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Two more non-dairy milks: toasted almond and hazelnut

One of the fun things about owning a soy milk maker is that you can use it to make much more than just soy milk. To help celebrate cooking week, here're two more non-dairy milks we've been making regularly:

Hazelnut and brown rice milk

1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup brown rice

1) Follow the instructions in Making non-dairy milks at home - an illustrated guide, substituting the hazelnuts and rice for the soybeans and barley.

Toasted almond and brown rice milk

1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup brown rice

1) Follow the instructions in Making non-dairy milks at home - an illustrated guide, substituting almonds and rice for the soybeans and barley.

Note: Raw almonds also make good milk, but we've found that toasted almonds give the milk a fuller flavor. If you don't have pre-toasted almonds, you can toast them in a dry pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes (until they begin to brown and smell toasty, but before they burn).

We've used both brown basmati and regular brown rice for these recipes; both work well (and you could probably use any brown or white rice you wanted).

Draft Indiana law prevents many unmarried people from reproducing via assisted reproduction

I'm going to interrupt my celebration of cooking week to post on an unjust draft law: Indiana's Health Finance Commission is considering legislation that would regulate who can and can't reproduce via assisted reproduction (intrauterine insemination, donation of an egg, donation of an embryo, in vitro fertilization and transfer of an embryo, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection).

The draft legislation is on the commission's website under Request Number 20061258 (PDF) and the pages inside the PDF are timestamped October 3, 2005 at 1:24pm.

The principal component of the proposed law is a set of regulations regarding how intended parents file a petition of parentage with a court. This petition would be required to allow a couple to legally reproduce via assisted reproduction when the male and female genetic donors are not both going to be the legal parents (e.g., a married woman being inseminated via a sperm donor who is not her husband). The petition of parentage is very complicated, and even includes evaluation by "a licensed child placing agency".

The requirement to apply for a petition of parentage is defined primarily by stating who does not have to apply for a petition:
This chapter [discussing the petition of parentage] does not apply to a child who is conceived by the following:
(1) Sexual intercourse. *
(2) Assisted reproduction in which:
(A) the intended father is the sperm donor; and
(B) the intended mother is the egg donor.
(3) A gestational carrier.
(4) Surrogacy.
Buried in the document are a number of restrictions on who can and cannot reproduce by assisted reproduction. Probably the most objectionable clause is the following:
(b) The intended parents must be married to each other, and both spouses must be parties to the action to establish parentage.
(c) An unmarried person may not be an intended parent.
So, combining this statement with the scope of the law (the first quote I included), we can see that unmarried individuals can reproduce via assisted reproduction when the male and female who provide the sperm and egg want to be the legal mother and father. However, unmarried individuals could not, for instance, reproduce using a sperm or egg donor. Thus, homosexual individuals would generally be prevented from reproducing via assisted reproduction, as well as single heterosexuals.

But not only would the law prevent many unmarried individuals from reproducing via assisted reproduction, it would also prevent some classes of felons from reproducing:
(b) The court may deny the petition to establish parentage if a petitioner has been convicted of a crime described in section 7(a)(5).
(c) The court may not grant a petition to establish parentage if a petitioner has been convicted of any of the following:
(1) Murder (IC 35-42-1-1).
(2) Causing suicide (IC 35-42-1-2).
(3) Assisting suicide (IC 35-42-1-2.5).
(4) Voluntary manslaughter (IC 35-42-1-3).
(5) Reckless homicide (IC 35-42-1-5).
(6) Battery as a felony (IC 35-42-2-1).
(7) Aggravated battery (IC
(8) Kidnapping (IC 35-42-3-2).
(9) Criminal confinement (IC 35-42-3-3).
(10) A felony sex offense under IC 35-42-4.
(11) Carjacking (IC 35-42-5-2).
(12) Arson (IC 35-43-1-1).
(13) Incest (IC 35-46-1-3).
(14) Neglect of a dependent (IC 35-46-1-4(a)(1) and IC 35-46-1-4(a)(2)).
(15) Child selling (IC 35-46-1-4(d)).
(16) A felony involving a weapon under IC 35-47 or IC 35-47.5.
(17) A felony relating to controlled substances under IC 35-48-4.
(18) An offense relating to material or a performance that is harmful to minors or obscene under IC 35-49-3.
(19) A felony that is substantially similar to a felony listed in subdivisions (1) through (18) for which the conviction was entered in another state. However, the court is not prohibited from granting a petition based upon a felony conviction under subdivision (6), (11), (12), (16), or (17), or the equivalent under subdivision (19), if the offense was not committed within the immediately preceding
five (5) year period.
If anyone to whom this law applies reproduces by assisted reproduction and doesn't (or can't) obtain a petition of parentage (e.g., they're single, they're felons), they are officially criminals:
Sec. 20. (a) An intended parent who knowingly or intentionally participates in an artificial reproduction procedure without establishing parentage under section 15 of this chapter commits unauthorized artificial reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor.
(b) A physician who knowingly or intentionally fails to obtain the consent required under section 13 of this chapter commits unauthorized practice of artificial reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor.
(c) A person who knowingly or intentionally makes a materially false or
misleading statement under this chapter commits deception in establishing parentage, a Class A misdemeanor.
So, if a lesbian wanted to have a child, based on this law it would be better for her to force herself to go out and sleep with some random guy (in which case the child is produced by sexual intercourse, and therefore this proposed law does not apply) than to be artificially inseminated with the sperm of an anonymous sperm donor (which would make her a criminal).

* As a side note, the proposed law's definition of sexual intercourse is far from perfect:
"Sexual intercourse", for purposes of IC 31-20, means an act that includes any penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ.
This definition may work well from a casual perspective, but it fails miserably from a reproductive perspective because there are multiple ways that fertilization can occur without penetration (sperm can swim, ya know). Thus, under a strict interpretation of this law, an unmarried woman who got pregnant without being penetrated would either have to file a petition of parentage or land in some legislative netherland (since the petition of parentage seems clearly intended to deal only with cases of assisted reproduction).

(Via a DU thread)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Yellow split peas with caramelized onions and cumin (masala dal)

This dal is much like the lentils with cumin and garlic dal I posted a while ago, but instead of being seasoned with cumin and garlic, this is seasoned with caramelized onions and cumin. While the onions take a decent amount of time to fry (~20 minutes), they add so much flavor that they're well worth the time. This is my SO's favorite dal, and my SO's mom has been begging me to post the recipe ever since we made her a batch last month. So, in honor of cooking week, here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cups yellow split peas
4 1/2 cups water
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (we use our food processor)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

This recipe is made in two parts - the split peas are cooked and blended in one pot, while the onions and cumin are fried in another.

Cooking the split peas:
1. Rinse the split peas and make sure there are no stones mixed in with them.
2. Put the split peas, water, and turmeric in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the split peas are soft, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender (or whisk, wooden spoon, or other stirring implement), process the split peas until they are smooth.
4. Add the salt, stir to mix, and set aside.
5. It is possible to refrigerate the mixture at this point and complete the recipe another day, but we prefer to put the pot on low heat and keep it warm while we cook the onions. If you do refrigerate the split peas, bring them back to a simmer before adding the onions in step five below.

Cooking the onions:
1. Heat the oil in a nonstick pot over medium-high or high heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and cook briefly (~10 seconds).
3. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are dark brown. This will usually take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the temperature of your stove, and it's critical to give the onions enough time to brown thoroughly. At the end of this period, the smallest of the onion pieces should be very dark brown (almost burnt-looking), and the lightest of the onions should be a nice caramel brown. Watch the onions carefully as they near completion - they can go from nicely browned to burnt in only a minute or two.
4. Remove the pot from the heat, add the cayenne, and mix briefly.
5. Pour the fried onions directly into the warmed split peas and mix.
6. Serve with rice or Indian bread.

Note: Sahni (1980) recommends garnishing this dish with two tablespoons of chopped cilantro; we've never done that.

This dal is a good side dish, but also makes a delicious lunch or dinner when served by itself over rice (which is how we usually eat it). The dish keeps very well in the fridge or freezer; we often double the recipe (which entails very little additional work) so we have lots of leftovers.

This recipe is slightly modified (oil reduced by 50%) from Sahni's (1980) "Classic Indian Cooking".

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 330-331.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Steel-cut oats - another whole-grain breakfast

Two events came together in my late childhood to make me love oatmeal: my parents started cooking it on the stove using thick rolled oats, and I learned that there was no reason to limit the amount of brown sugar I spooned onto my oatmeal. My SO didn't learn to like oatmeal until after we started living together, primarily because my SO's parents mandated that oatmeal be "sweetened" only with unsweetened applesauce (shudder).

Recently my SO and I decided to try some steel-cut oatmeal. Steel-cut oats are made by cutting whole oat grains into pieces, rather than steaming and rolling the oats as is typical for American oatmeal. The steel-cut oats take a bit longer to cook than rolled oats, but they're chewier and more flavorful than thick rolled oats. To help celebrate cooking week, here's the recipe we used to make our steel-cut oats this morning (quoted from Alton Brown):
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steel cut oats
3 cups boiling water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large saucepot, melt the butter and add the oats. Stir for 2 minutes to toast. Add the boiling water and reduce heat to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer for 25 minutes, without stirring.

Combine the milk and half of the buttermilk with the oatmeal. Stir gently to combine and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with remaining buttermilk, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
The recipe says it makes four servings, but we find it makes two very generous bowls or three moderate bowls.

We don't usually have buttermilk on hand, but we almost always have whole-milk yogurt (for Lassi and other Indian food), so after the 25 minutes of simmering we added 1/2 cup 1% milk and 1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt, and continued cooking as specified. The oats were creamy enough that we didn't need to pour any additional milk, cream, or yogurt on top after they were cooked (though my SO sometimes does add a bit of cream).

Alton Brown vastly underestimates the amount of brown sugar required for a good bowl of oatmeal. We probably add ~1/8 to 1/4 cup brown sugar to each of our bowls (and leave out the cinnamon). A bit of oatmeal with your sugar: that's the secret :)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sausage-and-millet-stuffed bell peppers

One day this past spring I came home from work to a house filled with the smell of frying Italian sausage and onions; it turned out that my SO was trying a new recipe for stuffed bell peppers (Greene 1988). They were delicious. We just made them again this week, modifying the recipe a bit, so they're this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post, and the first post of cooking week. Recently we've been alternating between these stuffed peppers and our stuffed bell peppers in tomato sauce.

1/2 cup hulled millet
1 1/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
~6 bell peppers (preferably red)
1 1/4 pounds Italian sausage (hot or mild), removed from the skins
2 medium onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed with a garlic press
1 tablespoon curry powder (or 2 teaspoons garam masala with 1 teaspoon turmeric, if you don't have curry powder)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

0a. Preheat the oven to 375F.
0b. At some point during the cooking, you will need to prepare the bell peppers. Cut the top off the peppers, remove the seeds and ribs from inside the fruit, and then steam the peppers until they begin to get soft (~5 minutes). This step should be finished by the time the peppers will be stuffed (step 6).
1. Fry the millet seeds, stirring constantly, in a dry pan over medium-high heat until they turn light golden brown (they will pop lightly as they toast).
2. Transfer the millet to a small pot, add the water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and simmer, covered, until the millet is cooked and all the water is absorbed (~20 minutes). If the millet has absorbed all the water but is not soft, add more water and continue cooking. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes after cooking.
3. In a large pan, fry the sausage over medium-high heat (breaking up the sausage into moderate-sized chunks) until it begins to brown, approximately five minutes.
4. Add the onions, garlic, curry powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and continue frying for 10 minutes.
5. Combine the sausage mixture, cooked millet, black pepper, and egg in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly.
6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared peppers and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.
7. Stand the stuffed peppers upright in a shallow baking dish and bake for 50 minutes.
8. Remove the peppers from the oven and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.

If you end up with more filling than you can fit into the peppers, put the extra filling into a small baking dish, sprinkle a bit of cheese on top, and bake it along with the peppers.

We modified this recipe from the original by increasing the amount of millet, onion, and garlic, removing some chicken stock, and changing the method used to pre-cook the bell peppers.

Greene, Bert. 1988. The Grains Cookbook. Workman Publishing, NY. pp. 172-173.

It's cooking week at Rhosgobel!

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my end-of-the-week recipe blogging posts. In that time I've posted 41 recipes, 26 of which are vegetarian (seven are vegan), two illustrated guides, and three menus. The recipes have ranged from complex and flavorful time-consuming dishes (e.g., Radagast & SO's Bolognese lasagne, Royal braised vegetables in cardamom nut sauce) to the quick and easy (e.g., Teff, Lassi), but they all have one thing in common: my SO and I make them on a regular basis.

The goal of the feature was to share something my SO and I both love: cooking. The posts are (in combination) the primary posts through which Google searchers (and other new readers) find this blog. I'm always thrilled when someone searches for "spongecake coolwhip strawberry shortcake" and finds my real strawberry shortcake recipe.

To celebrate my one-year anniversary of recipe posting, I'm declaring this week to be cooking week here at Rhosgobel. Every day from now until Friday will feature at least one recipe or other cooking-related post, including some of my favorite recipes from the past that I haven't gotten a chance to post. In fact, if we're lucky, I might even be able to get my SO to reveal the coveted truffle recipe.

So clean out those pots, refill that spice rack, and get ready for a cooking-filled week.

[Update 1/1/2006: I'm going to revise my template, which will cause the loss of the cooking week banner I created. Here's a screenshot of it:]
cooking week banner