Saturday, December 26, 2009

Photography, and a Stupid Civil War General

The Excelsior Brigade Monument, Gettysburg PA.

I was waiting at the parking area near the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg National Military Park for a Battle Walk to begin when I opportunisticly shot this photo. A Battle Walk is a park historian led trek (sometimes it's a pretty difficult hike over tough terrain, especialy if Troy Harmon is leading) over a part of the field where a scholarly talk is delivered (and it is especially scholarly if Troy Harmon is leading) and it's a great thing to participate in if you are an amateur scholar of the Battle of Gettysburg like me. I learned a lot on Troy's Battle Walks. It really helps one understand what went on on a particular part of the field.

This photograph has always been a favorite of mine, and I like it so much I have hung it on my wall. It's a long shot I made with a 200mm lens and film from several hundred yards away, and that long lens and the long distance is why the summer wheat is nicely compressed against the monument. This is the part of the Union line that Humphrey's brigade was posted to on July 2nd, and it was here that he led his very competent fighting withdrawl in the face of Longstreet's brilliant attack after the third corps were stupidly thrown forward by idiot political general Sickles.

The len's compression of the shot mirrors the awful compression Humphrey, and others, must have felt that day as Longstreet's Corp's right to left en echelon attack crushed them and sent them reeling back to their destruction.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Holiday Thoughts

I just walked outside to enjoy our Christmas lights and it's cold, cold here in Baltimore. Luckily I have a pot of lentil soup on the fire, and I'm going to watch the Vikings play, and wonder who my next team will be. The cold, clear weather reminds me of the winters I spent in Korea. Then, my friends and I were landlocked US Navy intelligence guys, and that meant we walked to work in sub-zero temperatures from Anjong village to an Army base, and I remember so many mornings trudging in for the day watch in brutal temperatures. But I was strong and young and only cared about my friends and shipmates and we'd go drinking at night in the clubs and nothing could stop us and it was a time to remember because we were undefeatable information/intelligence warriors and we flew in planes and rode in submarines and whatever else it took. Life was simple and fun and we did good work and what more could anyone want? We had nothing and lacked for nothing.

I'm using Facebook to reconnect with a lot of those old friends, and it's good. It's not that facebook is so good, but  ultimately it is because it brings people together who might otherwise not be in touch. And that's a good thing.

I was young once and now I'm not so young. I know now that youth is not wasted on the young.

Onward with today's work and life.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stuffed Quahogs

Here in Maryland where I live they call quahogs "clams". Proper clams, or steamers (soft shelled clams) are served nowhere in Maryland, even though many are harvested here. They are shipped north to New England, where I grew up, and sold there for fried clams or steamers. It's ironic that I can't get fried clams or real steamed clams here. If you order steamed clams in Maryland, you get steamed quahogs, a ridiculous way to prepare them. Tough and inedible. Typical Maryland wrongheadedness.

Up there in the northeast I grew up eating a lot of regional seafood. Fried eel, finnan haddie, codfish tongues and cheeks, scrod, steamed clams, herring roe, and stuffed quahogs. All delicious.

Big quahogs need to be chopped up and made into stuffed quahogs, not steamed. Here's my recipe for stuffed quahogs.


Stuffed Quahogs

12 big quahogs
commercial stuffing mix (pepperidge farm, whatever you like) 1 bag
celery
onion
green pepper
sausage (optional)

Put the quahogs in a pot with 2 cups of water and boil until they open up. Don't overcook them, just get them to open up and release their liquor or they will get tough. Take them out and keep the water you cooked them in.

Dice up the onion, celery, pepper and sausage into a small dice. Saute in butter until softened. You want about 1 to 2 cups of this for one bag of stuffing.

By now the quahogs are cool. Take them out of their shells. Reserve the shells. Rough chop them.

Take the water from cooking the quahogs (you want all the juice and flavor that the quahogs gave up as they steamed) and use it to make the stuffing according to the stuffing directions. Add the celery, pepper, onion and sausage mixture to the stuffing. Add the chopped quahogs to the stuffing.

The stuffing mixture is now food, but we still have two ways to go with it.

Traditional

Put the stuffing mixture into the quahog shells, which you didn't disconnect, and close the shell. Wrap the stuffed shells in tinfoil to keep them closed, and bake in the oven until hot. This is what you will get in a restaurant in New England, and it's fine.

My Way

Fill half shells with the stuffing, leave them open, and bake in a hot oven until the stuffing gets a little crisped up on top.

Either way

Top with butter and serve with a good hot sauce. I like Cholula brand hot sauce, but any will do. I don't know why you have to have hot sauce on stuffed quahogs, but you do.

You'll either really like stuffed quahogs, or you won't. There's no in between.

Makes 12 stuffed quahogs.

Fennel Pork Chops

Since pork started being billed as "the other white meat" pigs have been bred to have less and less fat, making pork a mostly useless food. Food without fat has no flavor. Luckily Mario Batali did this recipe on his show on Food TV a few years back, and I've been making it ever since. It allows dreadful lean pork chops to be moist, tender, and flavorful by braising them.

I like to serve it with broccoli. The French won't eat broccoli, instead feeding it to their pigs, which is why I like to pair it with these pork chops. What's the deal with the French and food. Just steam the broccoli, add some red pepper flakes and drizzle with good olive oil.

This is good Italian food that couldn't be simpler or more true to the ingredient-first philosophy of Italian cooking.

Fennel Pork Chops

1 head fennel
2 thick cut, bone-in pork chops
fennel seed
1 bottle dry italian white wine
flour (optional)

Heat your oven to 350-400 degrees, whatever temperature your oven braises well at. This will be uncovered, so I use 400.

Slice the fennel bulb about 1/4 thick. Keep the stalks and feathery bits, unsliced.

Season chops with salt and pepper

Dredge the chops in flour (optional)

Press liberal amounts of the fennel seed into the pork chops on both sides. They will just stick to the surface. Saute the chops in a large pan until well browned on both sides. Don't under-do this step.

Add enough white wine to the pan so that the chops are shoulder high in wine, nearly but not covered. Add the sliced fennel. Put the feathers and stalks on top of the chops. Put it in the oven to braise.

Give it enough time in the oven for the wine to reduce by about 2/3, but don't let the chops dry out. The chops should be moist and very tender. Discard the fennel stalks and feathers. Serve the fennel bulb strewn on the chops, and use the braising liquid as a sauce just as it is.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's War, and It's a Project

I work in Information Technology, and that means I work on projects. A project is nothing more than a description of an outcome that we want to happen - an application will be made that let's users do something, some information that we will discover from data will help solve a problem, or maybe there is a plan for improvements to an existing system. 

We make project plans. They describe what the project is going to accomplish, and how, and when. They also establish deadlines. A deadline is made for the entire project based on the deadlines for all the discrete tasks that make up the project. Every task has a deadline. It's pretty rational.

Sometimes, people launch projects with no deadline. Those projects are never completed though, because there are always other projects with deadlines, and they always take precedence over the projects with no deadlines. In Information Technology, we call the projects without deadlines Failed Projects or Dead Projects. Sure, resources get assigned to them, but work is always deferred so that work on live projects gets done.

It's simple project management.

That's the difference between Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Cheney's plan. Cheney had no plan, and no deadlines. Meeting deadlines takes courage, planning, skill, calculation, estimation, work, and will. All these things were lacking in the Bush/Cheney regime. Their plan was endless war and occupation. And endless cost.

Obama has the balls to bet his presidency on his plan for Afghanistan, and he just placed the bet with his speech tonight. Bravo.

Putting a deadline on the effort in Afghanistan demonstrates a will to actually succeed, rather than just to throw lives and money at the problem.

Now, the question is will the American people buy in - because we only lose wars that the people don't support.