Tuesday, October 26, 2010

it makes the blood run cold

There is a certain attraction to that which terrifies. Nothing chills me to the core like learning about something so twisted, so heart-breakingly bleak and appalling, and then finding out that it is purportedly true.

Over the years I have collected tidbits of this nature, stories and rumors and theories that have make the pit of my stomach drop out. Many fall under the realm of outlandish conspiracy theory, like The Philadelphia Experiment. Some are bone-chillingly true, like Vladimir Demikhov's experimental head transplant surgeries (highly disturbing video here and here). As shocking as these ideas can be, after some time the brain becomes inured to them, and one begins the search for something novel.

A came across the article Lost in Space via longform.org. The article outlines how, in the late 50's, two Italian brothers built an amateur "mission control" station to track the beeping of satellites during the space race. However, one day they intercepted a different kind of message:
Then, on 28 November 1960, the Bochum space observatory in West Germany said it had intercepted radio signals which it thought might have been a satellite. No official announcement had been made of any launch.

“Our reaction was to immediately switch on the receivers and listen,” said Achille. After almost an hour of tuning in to static, the boys were about to give up when suddenly a tapping sound emerged from the hiss and crackle.

“It was a signal we recognized immediately as Morse code – SOS,” said Gian. But something about this signal was strange. It was moving slowly, as if the craft was not orbiting but was at a single point and slowly moving away from the Earth. The SOS faded into distant space.

That is not the only mysterious communication they intercepted:

At 10.55pm on 2 February 1961, the brothers were scanning Russian frequencies as usual when Achille picked up a transmission from an orbiting capsule. They recorded the wheezing, struggling breathing of what they thought was a suffocating cosmonaut. The brothers contacted Professor Achille Dogliotti, Italy’s leading cardiologist and recorded his judgement. “I could quite clearly distinguish the clear sounds of forced, panting human breath,” said Dogliotti.

Two days later, the Soviet press agency announced that Russia had sent a seven-and-a-half-tonne spaceship the size of a single-decker bus into space on 2 February, which had burned up during re-entry. No further information was forthcoming.

Just as a reminder, the first manned flight was still several months away at this time.

Over the years the Judica-Cordiglia brothers recorded several transmissions that did not correspond to any publicly known flights. These included a female cosmonaut, with strain and anxiety clear in her voice, stating "I feel hot... I feel hot... I can see a flame! thirty-two.... thirty-two... forty-one...am I going to crash?... I feel hot..." This was recorded, once again, two years before Valentina Tereshkova became known as the first woman in space. The recording can be heard here. For a rundown of all the supposed "lost cosmonauts", take a little trip to wikipedia.

It is easy to dismiss the whole idea as an exaggeration of leaked information, a play for attention on the part of the brothers, or even as bald-faced anti-communist propaganda. However, pause for a minute to consider:

1. Would a government struggling for respect resort to dangerously experimental flights in order to win the space race?

2. What impetus would a government have for publicizing a failed flight? Particularly a government with a history of making troublesome people disappear?

3. What would it be like to sit in a metal capsule, careening through space, as you realize that you overshot your orbit and the signal from home gets fainter and fainter?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spotted on the Vanderbilt Campus

Serotonin Boston

Judge Joe Brown

Sorry the first picture is blurry. It's hard to shoot while you are giving devil horns and headbanging.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catching Camel Crickets

Over the past few weeks at least three camel crickets have met their end under the pillow paws of Jules Verne.

Catching crickets

Catching crickets

Catching crickets
Good Kitty.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Something from Nothing

I have to come clean; I am a thrifty soul. And not the glamorous coupon-clipping kind. More of the second-hand socks, curbside coffee table, wash-and-reuse-ziplock-baggies kind of girl. Why pay more if you can get it for cheap? And why pay at all if you can get it for free?

When I discovered the basics of homemade broth, my heart sang. Something to do with kitchen scraps! That made something delicious! For free!

You can find directions for homemade broth all over the internet; however, here is my technique.

Step one: Every time you cook, throw your vegetables scraps in a tupperware in the freezer. You can be as picky or as lax as you want to be. Mine varies from season to season, but usually is a combination of onion and carrot tops; scraps from trimming celery, peppers, and tomatoes; garlic, potato and squash peels; corncobs; apple cores; and anything else that has a nice flavor but doesn't make it into the pot.

Step two: When you have a good collection of scraps going (about 1 quart), dump it into a big soup pot and add whatever is in the fridge and about to go bad. I usually end up adding wrinkled or excess greens (spinach, mustard and turnip greens, cabbage) and any leftover vegetables that are largely unseasoned. Add a chopped up onion or two as well, and the wimpy little center stalks of celery if you have them on hand.

Here you can see my collection from my last batch:

Broth 1

As you can see some beet tops made their way in. Beets are super in broth because they give it a lovely sweet taste and a gorgeous pink color.

Step three: Fill the pot with water and add seasoning. I usually throw in 2 bay leaves and about a teaspoon of whole peppercorns. If I'm feeling saucy I'd throw in a half-teaspoon of turmeric. Add whatever you want! I don't salt until the end so that I can add the minimum necessary to make the flavor pop.

Broth 2

Step four: Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Unlike meat-based broths you really don't need a very long simmer to get a deep, complex taste. This step also makes this a great kitchen-warming activity for a chilly winter morning.

Step five: Once you are happy with the flavor cut the heat and let the broth cool. I always rush this step and burn my mouth here while tasting to salt.

Step six: Strain the broth. I pour the soup through a colander to get out all the now mushy and disgusting vegetables. If the soup is very cloudy I'll strain it again through cheesecloth. This batch was pretty clear, so I didn't bother to strain it a second time.

Step seven: BEHOLD! BROTH!

Broth 3

This stuff is seriously 100 times better then anything you can buy in the store, and loaded with nutrients. And you made it for free!

I like to freeze it in (reused) ziplocks and old yogurt tubs in 2-cup quantities, so I can defrost one to make rice or defrost the whole lot and make soup. Tomorrow a bunch of this batch is going to be made into crockpot potato-garlic soup. Yum!


Hey, you should probably make some bagels. I made some bagels on Sunday. Do you want to see?

Sunday Bagels

Oh? Not impressed? Maybe you'll be impressed by... MOODILY LIT FILM NOIR BAGELS!

Moody Bagels

The film noir adaptation is apt, since these are not ordinary run-of-the-mill bagels, but rather fancy Parisian bagels. I made them using the recipe found here: JO GOLDENBERG’S PARISIAN BAGELS

My thoughts on the recipe:

1) Don't add too much flour. This is a sticky dough and it's easy to keep adding flour, which will cause your bagels to fall in the oven. Add the minimum amount of flour and keep a big wooden spoon handy to scrape your kneading surface clean.

2) Keep an eye on the dough during the first rise. My dough was ready to go after only 40 minutes (then again, I am blessed to live in a climate that is still fairly warm).

3) 400 degrees seems way to hot for these little guys. I would set the oven for 350 and adjust from there.

These bagels are delicious, have a strong yeasty taste and freeze well. Make them and enjoy - they are a fun, quick yeast bread and well worth the time spent.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

last weekend in pictures

First Oktoberfest, in lovely Germantown.


Dave and Matt

Carrie and Matt Feet

My favorite sign in the city: KING FISH

KIng Fish, Nashville TN

The lovely Miss Jules Verne.


Two fresh loaves of San Francisco style sourdough.

San Francisco Style Sourdough

Whites Creek, Tn

Whites Creek, TN

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Art Museum Caper (aka Party at the Parthenon)

To set up this story you have to know a little about the Parthenon.

Parthenon from Southeast

No, the Parthenon in Nashville.


There we go.

By day the Parthenon is a small and quirky art museum located in the middle of Centennial Park. However, by night it occasionally becomes ground zero for a certain kind of city event, namely pricey and/or exclusive receptions.

By a stroke of luck my friend Dave and I lucked into an invite to the Nashville Scene's Best of Nashville Party. This meant free food from the winning restaurants, an evening at the Parthenon and a little something called "drink tickets". The only catch was that we had to pull off a bit of subterfuge to get in the door: I had to pretend to be a famous and award winning baker.

While waiting in line at the will call, I envisioned the 100 little things that could go wrong. They can be summed up nicely in this scene from a Simpsons episode entitled "Cape Feare":

FBI Agent 1: I'll tell you what sir, from now on you'll be uh, Homer Thompson at Terror Lake. (Homer nods) When I say hello Mr. Thompson you'll say "hi."

Homer: Check.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (Homer stares blankly at him.).....remember now, your name is Homer Thompson.

Homer: I gotcha.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (Homer stares blankly at him. Agents look at each other.)

(Much later, the conversation is still going on.)

FBI Agent 1: Urrrh, now when I say, "Hello Mr. Thompson" and press down on your foot you smile and nod.

Homer: No problem.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (FBI Agent 1 presses down on homer's foot.)

Homer: (leans over to FBI Agent 2.) I think he's talking to you.

However our caper went off without a hitch. Within minutes we were drinking plastic cups of Crown Royal while staring at the huge statue of Athena inside the Parthenon.

Oh hai. I am 42 feet tall. The dude in my hand is 6'4".

I has been hearing a great deal of praise for the statue of Athena since I moved here, and this was my first time seeing it in person. And while she is, well, very very tall, the statue itself is pretty gaudy and soulless. Apparently this is a fairly accurate depiction of what the original statue looked like; it has been revealed that almost all ancient Greek marble sculpture was painted. I give her a thumbs down. However, I will admit that her shield and giant golden snake are badass.

The rest of the night was a blast. We stuffed ourselves with tiny plates of delicacies and mini-mini-cupcakes. My favorites included an awesome down-home plate of burned-on-top mac&cheese and a cracker piled with silken, salty goat cheese, cracked pepper and honey. Dave took it as a personal challenge to investigate every variety of ham that crossed his path. And, oh yes, lots of buttercream. Our BBC (Blood Buttercream Content) was a 0.15. We would have failed a buttercream breathalyzer.

We left the scene of the crime with an ear of corn in each pocket (courtesy of the farmer's market) and our ears ringing from the all-90's cover band. Just another night in Nashville.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shotgun Party at the FooBar, 10/5

In my memory, the walls are thick-cut wood panels, ripe with years of smoke and spilled beer. This is probably untrue, but I like it better this way. The three turns circles on the stage, pretty cowboy boots shuffling amid the wires.

Tin-can lanterns, warm from 60 watt light bulbs, throw a warm light over each smiling, upturned face. Lit from below, noses cast campfire shadows and the eyes gleam. A hand hangs over the neck of an upright bass, like a friend guiding a drunkard to bed. The fiddler crosses her thin legs, then uncrosses them, rosining her bow. Between the two the girl with the guitar smiles, something guileless and bordering on beatific in her face. And then, with a rushed and breathy 1-2-3-4 the music skids to a start.

The music is popping and shimmying and as warm as the jolt off a transmitting tower racing to your daddy's Jackson Bell. The bass thuds and slaps, the grin on the boy echoed in his crawling hands, his powerful thumbs clanging like hammers. The fiddler twists her lean form, the notes colliding and crashing and piling up layers deep around her fingers. Above her head the horse-hair snaps one long string at a time, and hangs in the air until she saws the bow again. After a hard run she smiles, briefly, and then returns to her furrowed brow. All the while the guitarist strums, her hips huluing behind her guitar as she leans into the microphone and lets loose with a voice half-Mildred Bailey, half-square dance debutante. The lyrics bubble up and curl sweetly as she whoops and hollers, sighs and holds a note so long and clean it prickles the back of your neck.

The room is full of sweating cans of beer and melting whiskey ice, and hands tapping the rhythm on a dozen different denim pant legs.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Biscotti Bigtime

Fall is here. Nashville went from heat wave to sweater weather in a single week, leaving us all in a tailspin. I have begun pulling out my boxes of sweaters and wearing gloves when I bike. Matt hates this herald of cold weather and long nights, but I couldn't be happier. The cold sharpens my focus; it whets my urge to write and create and reminds me of who I really am. I am in my element.

To celebrate the rush of cold weather I decided to bake something with a kick of spice and a crunch like leaves underfoot. Thus, Chai Spice Biscotti!

Chai Biscotti

I used the recipe from Cooking Light found here. I replaced the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat, subbed nutmeg for allspice and added several tablespoons of fresh grated ginger in place of ground. I also replaced the triple sec with a bit of vanilla extract and water, and added a dash of cracked fresh pepper for bite. The resulting cookies are perfectly textured, sweet and pungent with spice.

The most interesting bit about the recipe is the inclusion of chai tea, straight from the tea bag. I wish I had some Good Earth tea on hand, but I've been having trouble tracking it down in Nashville. So instead I used Celestial Seasonings' Bengal Spice tea, a cinnamon and chicory based herbal tea. The flavor melded in perfectly.

Biscotti make me happy, so I made the biscotti happy.

Happy Biscotti