Butter and lard baby, yeah! Lard and butter!

I recently started to read more about the evils of trans fats. What are trans fats you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

According to the book What Einstein Told His Cook, you have to think of fat molecules being something like kites with three long tails. The three long tails consist of long chains of carbon atoms with a lot of loosely held hydrogen atoms on them… often with places where more hydrogen atoms can go. The spots where hydrogen atoms can be but aren’t not present are chemically active, wanting to suck up hydrogen from anything else. This process is generally called hydrogenation, turning unsaturated fats into saturated fats. It is also this chemical process that turns fat rancid… and rancidity is BAD where commercial food processing and shelf life is concerned.

One way to reduce the problem of rancidity is to heat oils and destroy some of the more unstable fats that want to hydrogenate themselves. This is often called partial hydrogenation and is the source of that magic goo used in modern commerical baking — partially hydrogenated soybean oil. It is also used to make vegetable shortening that is solid at room temperature, and margarine.

Unfortunately heat treatment has its down side too. Some of the fat molecules get their three tails tangled together in knots. Fats that display this property are called trans fats and, according to the Harvard School of Public Health are very bad for you. Evidently the human liver doesn’t quite know what to do with a trans fat when it finds one, and tries to process it by turning it into LDL (bad) cholesterol. The kite end of the transfat also looks suspciously like something that the cells in the linings of blood vessels want to absorb, but can’t because it’s not anything they know about. This means that trans fats end up getting stuck on the walls of your arteries with their knotted ends sticking out. Those knotted ends snag other fats floating by in your blood, clogging arteries big time.

So… for all the bad news we’ve heard about butter for the last 30 years… it turns out that margarine is in some ways worse… as is all that Crisco vegetable shortening that’s been used in America’s kitchens.

Me, I thinking it time to really go old school where cooking with fats is concerned — time to start cooking with lard. Manteca. Rendered hog fat. Yeah, it’s hell on wheels where saturated fats are concerned, but at least the body knows what to do with it. Humans have been eating it for thousands of years. That and bacon fat… which is lard rendered from smoke cured pork. Mmmmm. Mom always used to keep an old glass peanut butter jar in the fridge with saved bacon fat when I was growing up (she’s largely stopped since my Dad went on high blood pressure medication.)

So get out those pre-World War II cookbooks everybody… say no to heart disease by cooking with lard (but not too often….)!

I am a human pillar.

Ahhh… it feels good to be back among the land of the living. I’ve been knocking myself out during the last 3-4 weeks to get a software test plan pounded out. It is due today. I just e-mailed the (hopefully) final version to the guy who needs to read it about 30 minutes ago. Now, I don’t exactly know what to do with myself… I should go home. I worked 13 hours yesterday, 12 hours on Monday, 14 hours on Sunday, and 5 hours on Saturday. With today’s 6 hours on the job… I think that already puts me over 40 for the week.

One of my colleagues had something nice to say about me yesterday. He said that he really appreciated how glad I was that I jumped in to take care of this test plan. He said he would have just said “screw it.. it can wait until the next release”, which would have been a VERY bad thing to do politically. He also said that he would likely be insane right now if he was forced to put the test plan together… which it is very likely he would have.

It was at this point that another colleague from Japan jumps in and says “In Japanese, we have an expression for that… we call it a ‘human pillar’.” While I was busy conjuring notions around this of mighty Atlas holding up the Cosmos, my colleauge continued “…a human pillar is what you hide behind when you want to dodge the bullet… the pillar takes the bullet for you.”

Well, I guess that’s me… just another target for target practice.

wandering the halls of justice

First, a word from our new sponsor:

Grass Jelly Juice

I found this stuff yesterday when I went to lunch with some Asian co-workers. We ended up stopping off at a local Asian market on the way home, where I saw boxes that said “Grass Jelly Juice”. Intrigued, I asked my colleagues about the stuff. One being Japanese and one being Cantonese, neither knew what it was. A little further asking around yielded the information that it is a Taiwanese drink and that it seems to be generally unpleasant, but no word about how it is made or how “grass jelly” figures in the contents.

I spent about half of yesterday fulfilling my obligations to the Republic in which I live by responding to a jury summons. It was a new experience for me. I got a jury summons once about 5-6 years ago, but they eventually determined that I didn’t need to show up at that time. I did this time, however.

I really was expecting the worst. I grew up in one of those towns that has a lawn in front of the county court house with a monument to the valiant dead of the Civil War… with the court house being not much younger than the monument. Visiting the court house is an experience in sitting on early to mid-20th century furnture in rooms with battleship linoleum floors, tall ceilings, lots of cornices, and off white walls. Having heard that responding to a jury summons often involves a lot of sitting around, I was afraid of a lot of down time in hard, uncomfortable wood or metal furniture. That the summons also said “report to Jury Assembly Room Basement B-1” did not inspire confidence either.

The reality turned out to a lot better than I thought. The room looked like it had been remodeled in the last 5-10 years. Yes, the walls were off white…but a very modern egg shell gray/white with wall to wall carpeting, modern office chairs, and even Internet terminals along two walls. I neglected to bring a book in my rush to get out the door, but, there was an abundance of other reading material. I settled on a couple issues of Fortune Small Business and that day’s issue of the newspaper. With that, I was on my way.

There were three trials that were supposed to seat juries yesterday: one at 9:30, one at 10:00, and one at 10:30. The 9:30 trial called down that they were running late and would not need a jury. The 10:00 and 10:30 trials both needed jurors, though the jurors were picked a little later than initially expected.

Selection for a jury is more or less a lottery process, I discovered. By luck of the draw, I was not picked for either of the two trials that needed juries. I was therefore excused with my service fulfilled.

One lady was not so lucky. She was in the group of jurors for the second trial. She was evidently out of the room when they announced her participation because the bailiff for that court called down on the phone, evidently annoyed that she wasn’t in the courtroom with the other jurors. The clerk in the assembly room told her to get herself up to the courtroom immediately. She left, only to return a short while later. This time the clerk told her that she would have to reschedule her jury service because the judge had already sworn in the rest of the jurors and was NOT going to do that again just for her.

She looked like she was ready to spit nails when she heard that. I sort of see her point. I’d been sitting in the same chair for better part of 3 hours by that point, and I did not want to go through that experience again on another day if I didn’t have to. Still, being a juror is ultimately serious stuff… and I understand why they take it seriously.

We also got to see an informational video about “being a juror”. It was your average sort of industrial training film. I half expected a Simpsons-esque presentation of “Hi. Welcome to ‘I, The Jury’. I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from other informational legal videos like ‘So, I’ve got to attend traffic school’ and ‘That’s mine, not yours: a small claims court story’.”I see how being a juror is important but the video mentioned that “jurors often keep in touch long after the trial is over.” I don’t know about that.

I’m glad it’s all over an done with, for twelve months at least. I have a major deadline here at work next Wednesday. Speaking of that, I need to get back to work…

Jesus H. Christ with a light saber!

Before I write further there is a question I must ask: What color is your sippy cup?

It seems entirely appropriate on the day that George Lucas gives us the Star Wars on DVD to mention a little free faith-based periodical I found over the weekend. Mrs. Geek and I were in a small town about two hours north of where we live for her step-sister’s wedding. I was walking down the main street on my way from breakfast back to the charming B&B where we were staying, when something in a newspaper vending machine caught my eye. It was two glowing figures in sandals and tunics dueling with lightsabers in front of a background of stars and planets.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that this was a free Christian publication and the dueling foes on the cover were God/Jesus and Satan. A quick turn to page 8 of the periodical provided more details. The article recounted (with supporting quotes from the Old and New Testament) how Satan was once one of God’s angels, who was created pure and without blame but fell away from God because of pride. Jesus, the article relates, was broken up over this but fought valiantly against Satan in the first war in Heaven that precipitated the Fall. He evidently did it using a lightsaber that he otherwise kept turned on, leaning against the cloudy white but oh-so-substantial Heavenly Throne of the Lord of Hosts (at least that was what an interior illustration showed.)

What is this? Comic book theology? Comic book faith? To be fair to the article, I think there were nuggets of an interesting idea or two in the article, but, I can’t quite take how the whole thing was coated. I think the Bible is a work of great subtlety as is much of the thought that has gone into interpreting it. To reduce all of that subtle thought into a pen and ink drawing of Jesus with a lightsaber seems almost a crime.

christmas came a little early

As I commented yesterday, Company O. elected to give me another bonus for my work during the last six months. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Mrs. Geek and I have some debt that needs to be paid off. This extra money is going to help get the debt repayment ball rolling.

I couldn’t help indulging myself a little bit, however. Last Saturday, Mrs. Geek and I made a little pilgrimage to a nearby outlet mall, where we freshened up our respective wardrobes for not that much money at all. Among the many wonderful shops we saw there, we found a Le Creuset store. Since I was lusting after a new dutch oven recently, I had to stop and look. Once there, I couldn’t resist. Ok… that’s not quite true. I knew I was going to buy the damn thing before I went down there.

Now I know that there are those of you who will ask, “why didn’t you get the citrus, the flame, or the cherry red?” I tend to subscribe to the “if you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it” school of thought. I’d rather have the food inside the pot taste great than have folks admiring the color. Besides, this was the color that both Mrs. Geek and I liked.

weddings – the gift that keeps on giving

Life is full of steep ups and downs at the moment. There are a lot of things going on at work, at the moment. One of the byproducts of the two meetings from hell two weeks ago is a lot of work on a tight schedule for yours truly. For this and other efforts to “pull the fat out of the fire” in past, I have been awarded another bonus from Company O. — but I will write more about that tomorrow.

The subject of today’s entry is about some issues regarding my wedding to Mrs. Geek back in June. The biggest of these issues concerns our marriage license, and the fact that it is NOT in the public record at the County Assessor-Recorder’s office. Mrs. Geek has been waiting for over a month to get official copies of our marriage certificate from the Assessor-Recorder in order to change her name (we’re old fashioned that way.) Frustrated with a lack of response from the County bureaucracy, Mrs. Geek asked her father to go down to the County Building and search for our marriage records himself, just be sure that they were on file. They are not.

Twenty-four hours and several frantic phone calls later, and we have come to discover that our signed marriage license is in our file at the Church where we got married. It seems that the task of sending the marriage license is generally left to the Catholic priest on staff who performs the ceremony. Since one of Mrs. Geek’s cousins performed the ceremony, our file at the Church got passed around through a few hands and everyone assumed that someone else was sending in the license. Mrs. Geek’s Dad has assumed responsibility for hand delivering the license to the County tomorrow. Hopefully peace shall reign soon after that.

In other news, I invited two of my former professors to the wedding, both of whom did not show up. One sent word on the day of our wedding that he would not be attending because of a family health emergency. The fate of the other one was completely unknown… until last week. It seems that he also had family health issues to deal with; his 95 year old mother suddenly developed a heart problem and had a pacemaker inserted on our wedding day (heart surgery at 95 — there’s one tough old lady.) Between that, some other problems his mother has had since, and his own daughter’s wedding, he’s been a bit behind on his e-mail. So, it’s good to hear that he’s ok.

I also finally got an instant message the other day from S., our other AWOL wedding guest. She sent the following tidbit:

I want you to know I’ve tried to put the words togehter (sic.) to explain why I didn’t make it to the wedding or call, but to date I haven’t been able to get it right. I want to apologize for my incosiderateness (sic.) and for any cost my absence caused. I haven’t been able to attend any wedding (sic.) of late, my own feelings of loss overwhelm me and it seems so unfair to inflict that on a friend who is enjoying their special day. I am truly sorry.

I should point out here that her loss is a certain melancholia over her love life and choices in men. Given that others who attended our wedding suffered far worse in the last year, or had the courtesy to let us know that they were not attending ahead of time, I have nothing more to say… really. Best just to move on. Nothing to see here.

recent food experience, good and bad

I was out running some errands after work last night when I decided to stop in at a fairly well known national chain submarine/hoagie/ hero/grinder shop to get a quick bite to eat. Conscious of my recent efforts to lose weight, I opted against anything containing large amounts of salami, pastrami, bologna, or ham (if for no other reason that to avoid the need to gulp water for the rest of the night)… which included about every sandwich the store makes. Instead, I decided to get Oriental Chicken Salad.

Ugh. What a mistake that turned out to be! Let us review what a national chain submarine/hoagie/hero/grinder shop considers worthy of the title “Oriental Chicken Salad”:

Into a bowl approximately half the size of a human head, place the following:

  • a bowlful of shredded iceberg lettuce,
  • a few bits of grated carrot,
  • some stale Chinese sesame noodles, and
  • some cubed chicken white meat

Finish off with a small package of brown dressing with the consistency of ketchup.

Eating this salad monstrosity was not a pleasant experience. The iceberg lettuce was fairly bland and (as I’ve come to understand) relatively non-nutricious. The carrots could have been grated rubber eraser for all I could taste of them. The chicken and noodles were fairly pleasant, but small in proportion to the amount of lettuce. The ketchup-like consistency of the dressing made it difficult to spread on the mountain of lettuce I was expected to consume. In all, it seemed that I was just supposed to eat half a head of plain, raw iceberg lettuce and like it, thank you very much.

No thanks. Next time I’m in the national chain submarine/hoagie/ hero/grinder shop, I think I’ll opt for some soup, chili, or maybe a meatball sandwich… which are all generally pretty edible.

On a more positive note, R. (Mrs. Geek’s stepmother) gave us some apples from the tree in her back yard on Saturday night. I used them to make a pie from scratch on Sunday afternoon. (For those of you with Disney-like fantasies of evil stepmothers giving out apples, fear not… R. is about as kind and gentile as can be.) We took the pie over to a BBQ hosted by friends, set it down on the table after dinner, and they other guests practically licked the pie plate clean. I’ll take that as a positive endorsement any day.

I’ve made less than a dozen pies in my life and pie-making has been a somewhat uncertain and mysterious process in the past, especially when it comes to the crust. I tried for better consistency in the dough making process this time by measuring the flour out by weight rather than volume. I also kept good notes about the flour/cold water ratio I used. Lastly, I had a brand spanking new French rolling pin available to use, which is a little tougher on the wrists, but seemed much easier to use to get a thin, even crust.

The pie itself came out rather well. I used a pizza cutter to create a lattice top. I must have done a reasonably good job getting the crust down into the pie plate because no air/steam pockets formed in the crust. Finally, I managed to avoid a “soupy” pie with a little additional cooking time that gave the apples a soft mouthfeel… but I don’t like hard apples in the pie anyway.

Note to self: start taking pictures of your creations. Oh well, maybe next time… we were in a bit of a rush to get the pie out the door.