Category Archives: Food

Lo, The Squirrels Are Ravenous

As if the East Coast needs a further harbinger of bad weather . . . I’ve captured on film an indication of just how severe this coming winter will likely be:  never-before-seen-animal-behavior.  Saving up for winter, certainly Not Quite Right, I give you . . .

Squirrels.

Feeding.

Viciously.

On our Jack-O-Lanterns!

Caught, red-pawed.

Mugshot of the offender.

Close-up of the damage.

 

 

Advertisements

Improbable Research – Kansas vs. Pancake

Reblogged from:  http://www.improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume9/v9i3/kansas.html

 

Kansas Is Flatter Than a Pancake

by Mark Fonstad 1, William Pugatch 1, and Brandon Vogt 2

1. Department of Geography, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
2. Department of Geography, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

In this report, we apply basic scientific techniques to answer the question “Is Kansas as flat as a pancake?”

Figure 1. (a) A well-cooked pancake; and (b) Kansas. 1

While driving across the American Midwest, it is common to hear travelers remark, “This state is as flat as a pancake.” To the authors, this adage seems to qualitatively capture some characteristic of a topographic geodetic survey 2. This obvious question “how flat is a pancake” spurned our analytical interest, and we set out to find the ‘flatness’ of both a pancake and one particular state: Kansas.

 

A Technical Approach to Pancakes and Kansas

Barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison. Some readers may find the comparing of a pancake and Kansas to be analogous to the comparing of apples and oranges; we refer those readers to a 1995 publication by NASA’s Scott Sandford 3, who used spectrographic techniques to do a comparison of apples and oranges.

One common method of quantifying ‘flatness’ in geodesy is the ‘flattening’ ratio. The length of an ellipse’s (or arc’s) semi-major axis a is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using the formula for flattening, f = (a – b) / a. A perfectly flat surface will have a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths will have no flattening, and f will equal zero.

For example, the earth is slightly flattened at the poles due to the earth’s rotation, making its semi-major axis slightly longer than its semi-minor axis, giving a global f of 0.00335. For both Kansas and the pancake, we approximated the local ellipsoid with a second-order polynomial line fit to the cross-sections. These polynomial equations allowed us to estimate the local ellipsoid’s semi-major and semi-minor axes and thus we can calculate the flattening measure f.

Materials and Methods

We purchased a well-cooked pancake from a local restaurant, the International House of Pancakes, and prepared it for analysis by separating a 2-cm wide sample strip that had not had time to desiccate. We collected macro-pancake topography through digital image processing of a pancake image and ruler for scale calibration (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pancake cross-sectional surface being digitized.

We made another topographic profile from the sample, using a confocal laser microscope. The importance of this research dictated that we not be daunted by the “No Food or Drink” sign posted in the microscopy room. The microscope collects one elevation point every 10 mm and has a maximum surface diameter of 2 cm (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. When viewed at a scale of 50 mm, a pancake appears more rugged than the Grand Canyon.

We measured a west-east profile across Kansas taken from merged 1:250,000 scale digital elevation model (DEM) data from the United States Geological Survey. In general, the spacing between adjacent elevation points on the landscape transects was approximately 90 meters. We extracted surface transects and flatness estimates from the Kansas and pancake DEM data using a geographic information system.

Results

The topographic transects of both Kansas and a pancake at millimeter scale are both quite flat, but this first analysis showed that Kansas is clearly flatter (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Surface topography of Kansas and of a pancake.

Mathematically, a value of 1.000 would indicate perfect, platonic flatness. The calculated flatness of the pancake transect from the digital image is approximately 0.957, which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat. The confocal laser scan showed the pancake surface to be slightly rougher, still.

Measuring the flatness of Kansas presented us with a greater challenge than measuring the flatness of the pancake. The state is so flat that the off-the-shelf software produced a flatness value for it of 1. This value was, as they say, too good to be true, so we did a more complex analysis, and after many hours of programming work, we were able to estimate that Kansas’s flatness is approximately 0.9997. That degree of flatness might be described, mathematically, as “damn flat.”

Conclusion

Simply put, our results show that Kansas is considerably flatter than a pancake.

Notes

1. The photograph of Kansas is of an area near Wichita, Kansas. It may be of significance that the town of Liberal, Kansas hosts the annual ‘International Pancake Day’ festival.

2. To pump up our cross-disciplinary name-dropping, we should also mention that recently some quick-thinking cosmologists also described the universe as being “flatter than a pancake” after making detailed measurements of the cosmic background radiation.

3. “Comparing Apples and Oranges,” S.A. Sandford, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 1, no. 3, May/June 1995.

 

© Copyright 2003 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)


Chocolate Paradise with Animatronic Cows

Ahhh, lovely chocolate themepark place, how I adore thee.

Visiting a theme park, any theme park, something is bound to go wrong.  Too much humanity crowds into too small a space, adrenaline levels rise, people eat bad food, glucose levels spike, trends in wearing identical matched clothing magnify bodily imperfections to frightening levels (whether Youth Group Smiley-Face t-shirts or double velour sequened sweatsuits).

Yet the trip my family took to Hershey Park was almost perfect.  We tasted chocolate, dark, darker, milk, spiced = yum.  We bought chocolate.  We sipped hot coco.  We made our own candy bars.  Double yum.

Candy being specially made-to-order for us at the ‘Make a Bar’ attraction.

Chocolate actually flows through this pipe: I need one of these!

And then we took the little indoor tramcar ride through what we thought would be the machine-shop workings of the ‘real’ Hershey’s plant.  We wanted to see the Kit-Kats and other delicacies in their moment of nugaty, carmely, chocolatey birth.

Wrong.

Cow butts. Weird.

What we got instead were singing animatronic cows, sometimes (oddly enough) with their swishing, dusty butts turned toward us, all amid a flashing frenzy of lights, a Willy-Wonka-Meets-Ann-of-Green-Gables abomination from which all of us (but especially my stout and very nearly manly sons) fled as quick as the seatbelts and lapbars unclicked at the end of the ride.

Go there.  They’ve built it.  See it for yourselves.  And certainly build a candy bar of your own choosing.  But beware the cows.

Scary Dancing Cows . . . not sure if this shows up as a movie, but try to click on it. Animatronics just BOTHER me.


Soft Drink Wars

Just a quick NQR chime-in on the soft drink debate that’s currently raging in New York City (see article on the recent hearing where Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit soda sizes to 16oz in the city is debated).

Personally we’ve taken to ordering kids’ meals when we’re traveling and don’t otherwise have our normal range of options for healthy eating (or at least obtaining healthy portion sizes).  The fries in a kids’ meal are the same size now days as LARGE fries when we were kids.  The burgers are portion-sized, rather than 1000+ calorie behemoths.  And the sodas are in the 8 – 12oz range.  This says alot about America, and American gluttony, that the cheapest and most available sources of food are too large, too sugary, and too fat.  Unlike much of the rest of the world, where the poorer classes are subjected to starvation-level poverty, in America food is an almost unavoidable excess unless you’re rich enough (ala Angelina Jolie) to hire a private cook and nutritionist.

Here’s proof (from what has been, over time, one of our more favored and frequented fast food joints) on the explosion in size of soft drinks.  A REGULAR soda (regular!) came across the counter to me barely large enough to fit in my hand.  The fine print in the lower right corner of the cup reveals its size:  30oz.  It’s stupid big.  And it lends credence to what doctors are saying about these soft drinks, that they’re addictive.  How else can anyone explain drinking, in one sitting, an amount of soda that is equal to half the normal intake of water someone needs during a day?

I say to Mayor Bloomberg:  “Good work.”  If someone has a problem with a 16oz size soda, let them purchase two (or four, if they want the equivalent of a modern ‘large’).

Giant cup of sugar (or worse: corn syrup!)

 


Fugcikles

Grocery list from my refrigerator, addition in bold courtesy my 9-yr old.

Although it’s certainly NQR, without looking at the previous, empty box from the freezer I must admit I had trouble spelling this one too!

Nice try, son, but you’re not taking home the blue-ribbon at the spelling bee this week.


Jersey Fresh (Say What?)

One among many signs at the local Wegman’s Supermarket that announces a “Jersey Fresh” product.

Maybe because I hail from a state that has some claim to actual “freshness,” or maybe because New Jersey seems, still, even after living here for nine months, such a metropolitan and even slightly greasy place, the current  agricultural marketing slogan “Jersey Fresh” makes me chuckle in an NQR sort of way everytime I see it.

Admittedly, not ALL of New Jersey (especially the part where we live) is akin to the infamously trashy setting of the TV show “Jersey Shore.”  That’s up closer to Newark, in the badder ‘burbs of NYC.  Out here things are comparatively rural.  Comparatively bucolic.  But also waaaaay crowded and almost devoid of land actually being used for agriculture.  In fact, in those few places where you see fields (instead of housing developments or strip malls) nicely stencilled plaques usually can be found proclaiming that the land had been specificially “saved” as a rural preservation, like a tourist attraction!

So, while I’m a little ashamed to admit actually buying a few of these scallops (we’ll see how “Jersey Fresh” they actually are when I sautee them in a little herbed and garlicked olive oil tomorrow), the slogan definitely requires an entry here.  Bon apetit!


A Cup of Khan

This one falls under the ‘accidentally good’ product name category.  And the accidentally provides justification enough for including it as NQR.

Ogedei's mug on the package, but no corresponding triple-sized 'mug' available.

Although this blog certainly refrains from advocating any product named after a Mongol despot, we feel especially concerned about food or beverage products claiming specific heritage or association with the Central Asian horse-lords.  What’s more, this one has been named not for the iconic founder of the dynasty (Ghengis) nor for the more famous later descendent Tamerlane, but for one of the tweener Khans, the more obscure but still satisfyingly frightful Ogedei.

What makes this name particularly apt is that Ogedei was ordered by his court physician to cut his drinking in half or else face certain early death from what we, now, would call cirrhosis.  Ogedei, cheeky bugger that he was, complied with the letter but not the spirit of the injunction, having one of his craftsmen fashion a drinking vessel three times as large!  He continued his drinking.  He died.  And the invasion of Europe stalled on the very doorstep of Germany and Austria in order for all the claimants to the royal Mongolian throne (or yurt) could make their way as speedily as possible back to Karakorum in the Himalayan foothills, there to decide upon the next ruler.

So, as a bit of marketing advice for the Khaantea Corporation, consider incorporating Ogedei’s oversized cup into advertisements.  I’m sure there are plenty of us Starbucks’ addicts who might benefit from a mug three times larger than usual.  And, if I were to see, through my bleary pre-coffee morning vision Ogedei’s visage every day, I might feel at least a little grateful for his extreme appetites.  Were it not for his early death I might be speaking and writing some variation of Mongolese now, rather than English.


Meat from the Earth

One of the more privileged moments of my family’s time in Oman was being invited during the Eid to celebrate a traditional dinner with the extended (very extended!) family of one of our friends in Sohar.  For the shuwwa, or grilling, the family employed a traditional technique called the Tanoor, an earthen pit in which carefully herbed and wrapped meats are grilled/smoked underground overnight.  This technique will immediately seem NQR to a western audience, accustomed as we are to eating from the anti-septic (but chemical-laced) confines of our mass supermarkets.

The pictures I present here, of the process of the shuwwa itself, should demonstrate not only the technical aspect of how the procedure is undertaken but also the sense of community, the involvement of the larger kinship group in this tradition.  It would be similar to the Thanksgiving Holiday in America, but only adding a hole in the earth and meat we raise and slaughter ourselves.  The Eid is a holiday at the end of Ramadan in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son on God’s command.

Photos / explanations:

Reed-wrapped meats along with a selection of greens and herbs to add moisture and flavor.

The earthen pit, coals very hot, before the meat and herbs go in.

More herbs, better shot, some of these gave the meat a very savory flavor that stayed with me for days: smoky, heady, delicious, different.

By the lights of a luxury SUV pulled close to the earthen hole, dinner and herbs are lowered by the men into the prepared oven.

Once it goes in, the hole is covered with a sheet of metal and then with a thin layer of soil. If any smoke escapes, then too much air is getting in, the meat will cook too fast and dry out. A true seal over the meat allows it to smoke/roast to perfection.

When it is ready, after a day, the men of the family dig it up. (The women wait in a separate area to receive the meat, carve it, finish its preparation and divvy it up among the families.)

When finished the herbs and wrapping are charred but the food inside is juicy and wonderful. (Actual photo of meat missing, I was too busy eating!)

 

My friend Abdul Azziz (whose family is depicted in the photos above) kindly sent two complimentary photos, the first reveals the meat after it is unwrapped, the second shows a much bigger tanoor, where up to fifty wrapped packages can be cooked at once.  He also notes that this type of shuwwa is particular to northern Oman and parts of the UAE.

The cooked product of the tanoor, with garnish of local herbs.

A bigger version, holding up to fifty wrapped packages.


An Original Odor

A few, a very few roadside hotspots have the power to ‘attract’ (or repulse) a traveler via smell alone.  This is one.  And its perfume (in comparison to Western notions of soapy, sometimes fake, cleanliness) provides a very compelling moment of NQR.

Fishermen heave at the drying tarps to roll up their catch.

In the Musandum Penninsula of Oman, just south of the city of Khasab, we drove past a beach where local fisherman had been drying their catch, millions upon millions of small minnows.  The smell from the beach was absolutely rancid, but the process itself proved to be fascinating and ingenious.  It involved the close cooperation of somewhere around twenty fishermen, each with separate boats, separate nets, separate small Toyota trucks used to haul their equipment, but with one shared, central task:  drying the fish.  The collective activity of these men, their cooperation rather than competition, speaks to a totally different cultural expectation than our capitalism.  Certainly they are all in it for profit, at some level, but the ties of kinship and mutal support that likely drive their cooperation are certainly alien to the western idea of how work ought to be performed.

Late afternoon shade falls over millions of dried minnows.

The fishermen were very clever in placing their drying mats.  In full sun during the height of the day for maximum drying benefit, the shadows of the nearby cliffs fell toward and then over the mats at just the same time as the sardines reached an acceptable level of dryness.  This allowed the fishermen to work in the shade, a vigorous hour of activity rolling up mats, whacking fabric to dislodge stuck fishies, creating huge piles of sardines.

While, admittedly, the process employed many modern conveniences — toyotas, synthetic plastic tarps, fiberglass hulled boats with diesel engines — an element of the primordial process remained:  the fish whacking sticks themselves, usually pieces of driftwood found on the beach.

Plump sheik displays his handy fish-whacker.

If it weren’t for the smell, I might have been tempted to jump in and assist!


Romancing the T.G.I. Fridays?

Is this Vegas?

One of the wonderful things about traveling the world, let alone the Middle East, was the chance to score a romantic dinner or two.

My wife and I splurged on a rooftop evening at a five-star place overlooking the lit vale of the Petra ruins in Jordan.  We enjoyed several fabulous traditional Moroccan meals at riads in Fes, Rabat, Marrakech and Cascades d’Ouzoud.  We dined on the waterfront in Ulu Deniz, Turkey, and in and around the Golden Horn in Istanbul.  We ate well in Oman too, with the highlight a traditional shuwwa barbeque served to us in the majlis hall of a friend’s family in Sur.

But, sad to say, every now and again eating good greasy American comfort food held a tremendous ‘traditional’ appeal for us.  We frequented a couple of good Mexican restaraunts in Muscat, along with a burger joint called the Roadside Diner which combined uncomfortably frigid air-conditioning with a new-fangled notion of 50’s decor and techno-thumping music.  The scarcity of good burgers made the Roadside’s other oddities tolerable.

But, of all these places, only one managed to combine a small amount of romance with American, ummm, cuisine.  So, here’s to the winner of my Not Quite Right award for favorite restaraunt in the Middle East:  T.G.I. Fridays in Dubai.

The secret, for this restaraunt, was its truly wonderful balcony seating . . .

My son, enthralled by the view.

. . . combined with the ‘larger-than-Las Vegas’ light, water and music show . . .

Syncronized fountains squirt water almost to the height of TGI Fridays' third storey balcony.

. . . and the phenomenal view of the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) right above the balcony.  The lights on the Burj Khalifa were even timed so that they participated in and enhanced the riffing cascades of the fountain!

The tallest building in the world, as seen while waiting for my Loaded Potato Skins. The blurry snowflake-ish things are reflections from sand and grit in the air. Blech!

And, let us not forget, good soda, fries, non-alcoholic cocktails, and any of TGI Fridays’ many other schmutzy treats!

To get there, go to the Burj Khalifa Mall, near the indoor ice-skating rink.  Water/light shows begin every 20 minutes or so, insha’allah.