Author: James Cooper

Thai rice soup with pork balls

Thai rice soup with pork balls

This relatively simple recipe can be done in less than an hour, and makes a rich, filling meal. There are several steps that you can do ahead and none are all that complicated. The original inspirational recipe came from Milk Street, (and is the first one we wanted to actually make). That recipe suggests garnishing the soup with fried shallots. Don’t even try this: it will small up your house for days, and are very hard to keep from burning. You can buy them packaged at Asian markets or online.

The components of this soup are:

  • Jasmine rice
  • Pork balls
  • Soup broth
  • Soft boiled eggs

Jasmine Rice

riceJasmine rice is a delicately scented short grain rice, that you should make first and allow to cool on a plate or baking sheet. You will add it to the soup when the rice is cold, so it doesn’t break up to much when you stir it in. Cook about 1 cup of rice with the package’s amount of water. In our Instant Pot rice cooker, we added 1.25 cups of water and cooked it for only 10 minutes. Open the pot and spread it out to cool.

Soft boiled eggs

eggs coolingSet out 3 eggs. Place a vegetable steamer in a 2 quart sauce pan and fill with water until just below the steamer bottom. Bring the water to a boil, and quickly lower the eggs into the steamer using a slotted spoon. Cover and cook 6.5 minutes. Run cold water into the pan to stop the cooking, empty and add more cold water. Pick up each egg and run cold water on it until no longer warm to the touch. Crack each egg and peel under running water. Set aside the peeled eggs.

Pork balls

  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 1 Tb fish sauce
  • 1 Tb chili-garlic sauce
  • White pepper to taste

pork ballsMix the pork and sauces in a small bowl and make around 10 balls using a small cookie scoop. Put them on a plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so.

Soup broth

  • 3 Tb lard (or olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 5 large shallots halved and thinly sliced.
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, bruised to release the flavor, or use lemon zest instead.
  • 2 Tb grated ginger root
  • 5 quarts chicken broth (we used some homemade mixed with canned)
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro (or parsley of you are not a cilantro fan)
  • 3 Tb lime juice plus lime wedges
  • 2 Tb fish sauce
  • 1 Tb chili garlic sauce


  1. In a large pot (3 quarts or more) heat the lard and add the shallots and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the lemon grass and ginger and cook until fragrant.
  4. Add the broth and cook at medium heat for about 15 minutes
  5. Remove and discard the lemon grass.
  6. Add the pork meatballs, and cook through, about 4 minutes
  7. Stir in the rice, and cook until heated through.
  8. Off heat, stir in the fish sauce and chili garlic sauce, the cilantro or parsley and the lime juice.

Ladle in bowls and decorate with the halved soft boiled eggs (cut them right in the bowls), lime wedges, and the optional fried shallots. Packaged onion rings are a good substitute, too!

Serve at once to your admiring guests.

No, cell phones do not cause cancer!

No, cell phones do not cause cancer!

Let’s start with a homely example. If a friend comes to you claiming to have a wonderful new pudding recipe, made only from grass clippings, your first response would be “how would that work?” You know that grass is really fibrous and doesn’t have a lot of flavor.

So, if another wacky friend comes to you claiming that cell phones cause cancer, you could ask the same question: “how would that work?” Because you know that the microwaves used in cell phones are so low in energy that they cannot disrupt any chemical bonds.  Prominent physicist and educator Bob Park dealt with this in 2001, in the journal article “Cell phones and cancer: how should science respond?

As Park points out, all known cancer causing agents work by breaking chemical bonds, producing mutant strands of DNA. The energy of such elector magnetic radiation runs from low energy microwaves through the visible spectrum, up to ultraviolet and eventually to X-rays, with the energy is determined by the wavelength, with the shorter wavelengths being more energetic. Only at the ultraviolet wavelengths and beyond do the photns that make up such radiation have enough energy to break bonds. Microwaves, infrared, and visible radiation just can’t do it, and thus, cannot cause cancer.

Knowing that one simple fact makes it easy to question alarmist articles like the one in last week’s issue of The Nation, on a conspiracy theory on how Big Wireless made us think cell phones are safe.  The report, by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie details a conspiracy to shut up cell phone critics, which even if true does not establish the cell phones are dangerous. It is simply another example of The Nation reporting outside its political specialty, but ignoring established science.

But why believe Park and me? The American Cancer Society has a high readable report:  Cellular Phones that comes to the same conclusion.

But what about if you are in a room full of cell phones and make hundreds of calls a day? Is that any more dangerous? What about Michael Cohen’s 16 cell phones? To answer, consider the following thought experiment, which, I think, came originally from Bob Park.

Suppose that Napoleon stands at the Strait of Dover with his soldiers and orders them to throw rocks towards England. No one can throw a rock 21 miles, so nothing much happens. So, thinking he just needs more force, Napoleon brings in several more divisions of soldiers and has them all throw rocks towards England.

What happens? A lot of rocks fall into the water, but none get to England, because none of the soldiers is strong enough to throw a rock 21 miles. The same applies to all those cell phones. None can break a bond so even the whole group can’t cause cancer.

Hertsgaard and Dowie cite a well-designed 2016 experiment by the National Toxicology Program in which rats are raised in specially designed crates where they were irradiated with 2 different levels of cell phone radiation (or none for the control group)  for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for 9 hours a day, from birth to 2 years. Some rats got CDMA modulated radiation and some got GSM modulation. The original 2016 report was described in Scientific American, and it raised some concerns.

The final revised 2018 result, after adjusting for litter effects, was that there was no positive association between cell phones and brain neoplasms for female rats, male mice, or female mice. They found an association for male rate and only for CDMA modulation. Further, the irradiated male rates lived longer than the controls. In other words, this appeared to be a random effect of no significance. All of this is explained in detail in an article on Science Based Medicine.

While earlier 2016 preliminary analyses seemed to indicate an actual effect, it disappeared when the statistics were adjusted for litter effects (animals from the same litter would be expected to have similar responses).

So, physics is still true, and alarmism has lost out again. Your cell phones are safe.

I watched Fox News for a week

I watched Fox News for a week

I don’t usually watch Fox News, because I understand it has a seriously conservative slant which doesn’t match my own, but I wanted to know why it is so popular. So I undertook to watch Fox News for a week, all by DVR so I could quickly skip the commercials. I watched at least 2 hours of “Fox and Friends,” all of Tucker Carlson and Hannity Monday through Friday. I also sampled several episodes of Shepherd Smith’s 3 pm newscasts, which appeared to be straight down the middle unbiased, although it covered similar stories. Overall, I took 28 pages of notes on these shows, and this article attempts to organize and boil down my impressions.

That week (April 16-20) had a lot of news, with the release of James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, Barbara Bush’s passing and the disclosure that Trump’s personal attorney (and fixer), Michael Cohen was also lawyer to Sean Hannity. And, on Thursday evening, Comey’s memos were released.

Fox and Friends

FoxFriends-AP-img“Fox and Friends” began Monday with country music and Carrie Underwood, because the Country Music Awards had been the night before. In fact, nearly every hour starts with a snippet of pop music, helpfully identified in a box in the upper left corner.

Fox and Friends is early morning television from 6:00 am to 9:00 am and there is some repetition between the hours so you get most of the content by watching around two hours. The show is hosted by Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade. Meteorologist Janice Dean appears about once an hour to summarize the US weather, and a summary of the day’s news is handled by Jillian Mele.  As is typical of Fox News, the women are all identically blonde.

Doocy’s on air persona has evolved from avuncular host to a more serious analyst and he now wears glasses to show how serious he is. He and Kilmeade analyze the news they want to talk about more or less equally, while Earhardt takes on a distinctly second banana role.

The show is relaxed and informal, with most of it delivered from a curved white couch. I wondered how often they have to clean that pure white furniture. Do they have several copies?

On Monday’s show, they predictably started by commenting on George Stephanopolis’s interview of James Comey which had aired the previous evening, taking particular note of Comey’s comments that his wife and daughters loved Hillary (Clinton) and had taken part in the women’s march the day after the inauguration. This particular factoid was then repeated 6 or 7 times in this and other Fox News shows that week.

This segued (il)logically into Hillary, who, they said “had sent her Emails to Huma Abedin, who sent them on to her “pedophile husband “(Anthony Weiner). This appeared to be the zinger of the week, because I kept hearing it all week.

Cycling back to Comey, commentator Dan Bongino  (identified as an NRATV contributor) noted that Comey was now a pretty small man and had shrunk in his estimation. This height metaphor was repeated several more times during the week. It didn’t grow on me. Taking up Comey’s remark that Trump behaved like a mob boss, Bongino inflated it to suggest Comey meant that Trump was involved in kidnappings and murders, rather than that he surrounded himself with family members and that he demanded fierce loyalty. Strangely, he neglected to mention that Comey suggested that Trump is running a “criminal enterprise” out of the White House.


The first hour closed by attacking a semi-humorous piece in the New Yorker on Chick-fil-A, noting that their overt religiosity is somewhat “creepy.” The article also praised their food and noted how popular the New York branches were. At their corporate headquarters, the religiosity includes a statue of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. There is no evidence of this religiosity in their stores, although you can find it on their web site.

In addition, deceased owner Dan Cathy was well-known as a homophobe, and even after backing away from this in their company literature, their foundation continued to give to anti-LGBTQ causes.  The article also noted that The Fox hosts attacked the hypocrisy of the “latte-sipping crowd” for undermining Judeo-Christian values.  “Liberals are out of touch!” “They are not in touch with mainstream America.”  Of course, they made no mention of Chick-fil-A’s homophobic background.  They also claimed this was an insult “to our founding fathers,” not recognizing that they were moral men, but not particularly religious.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson that night, Mark Stejn rehashed this story but continually referred to buying a “homophobic chicken sandwich.”

And that was just the first hour! The second hour repeated much of this material, with different voices criticizing Comey and praising Trump, and introduced the new theme of criticizing Sanctuary Cities, which was to be repeated every day that week.

Tucker Carlson

Tucker-CarlsonTucker Carlson brings his boyish looks and persona to the 8pm (Eastern) hour. While the topics he covers are much the same, his style softens them a bit. However, he started right in on Comey, saying he never should have been head of the FBI, somehow connecting that to Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich.

Carlson criticized Comey for saying that Trump never criticized (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, calling it “McCarthyism.” The “Comey’s wife and children” mantra re-appeared here as well, with commentator Mark Stejn  referring to “his wife shrieking in the streets with a bunch of big shots.”

By this time the news had broken that Judge Kimba Wood had insisted that Michael Cohen reveal his third client, who turned out to be Sean Hannity. Carlson claimed that “no judge had the right to violate Hannity’s privacy,” illustrating that he is no lawyer. Somehow neither Carlson, Hannity or anyone else reported at any time this week that news that Hannity also used two other Trump-connected lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Victoria Toensing.

Sean Hannity

hannitySean Hannity is clearly Fox’s leading rabble rouser, delivering his entire show at high volume and in high dudgeon. He does this very well, and is rather entertaining, although, as Ted Koppel noted, not entirely factual.

He begins each show with a tightly scripted  “opening monolog” which attacks the issue of the day, which on this Monday was the media itself.

  • The “liberal media” are a tangled, incestuous web.
  • Wall-to-wall frauds, partisan hacks with liberal talking points.
  • The media wants to tear the president down with their radical left-wing ideology.
  • The media illustrates a massive double standard.
  • The media is “the sewer.”
  • The media don’t care about facts: they have a liberal agenda.

Of course, these phrases, carefully crafted by his staff, and delivered foaming at the mouth, might be entertaining, but he presents not a word supporting his views, but assumes his followers will just agree with him.

Hannity goes on to make connections he thinks will discredit people.

  • Did Stephanopouls disclose he worked on the Clinton campaign? (Is there anyone who doesn’t know this?)
  • Stephanopoulus donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. (And?)

The micturation tape

In an attempt to discredit CNN, Hannity’s staff put together a montage of CNN reporters saying “pee-pee tape” 77 times in a week. He also reported that CNN had repeated “s—hole countries” 48 times in one day.  Of course, Mr. Trump had expected this vulgarity would resonate with his base.

Hannity’s lawyers

Hannity postponed his response to the revelation that Michael Cohen was his lawyer throughout the broadcast, and then ran a montage of some 46 mentions of “Sean Hannity” on various newscasts. This used up about half of the 3 minutes remaining at the end of the show, after which Hannity ran the same disclaimer he had issued several hours earlier. He made no mention of the other two Trump-connected lawyers. But, if he consulted Cohen about real estate issues as he said, wasn’t that using him as a lawyer?

Attorney Alan Dershowitz interjected that he should have revealed this connection sooner. Hannity attempted to change the subject to the criminality of Hillary’s “missing” Emails, but Dershowitz wasn’t having it.

And no one of Fox has mentioned the story that Hannity talks to the President several times a day and is effectively his shadow chief of staff.

Summary of First Day

After just one day of watching the tedious propagandizing of Fox’s most popular programs, it is pretty obvious that they are delivering a lot of news commentary, but very little actual news unless it supports their conservative, pro-Trump agenda.  But wait, we have 4 more days!

Fox in the yard

Fox and Friends on Tuesday April 17

In attacking Mueller today, they noted that more people watched the Roseanne premier and the Stormy Daniels interview than watched Comey. They suggest that no one will want to buy the book since both liberals and conservative hate him. Actually, it sold over 600,000 in the first week, and remains a #1 Amazon seller.

Since this was Tax Day, they ran a panel discussion on how the newly passed tax laws would be advantageous to people. The first speaker ran a welding company who said he could deduct capital expenses the same year rather than over several years. This is absolutely correct.

The second speaker was a bishop from the New Life Harvest Church. He said that his daughter attended an Historically Black College (HBCU) and that Trump had provided more support to HBCUs, which the left wanted to deny. Well, while they have met with the President each year, no new funds have been provided according to Inside Higher Ed, although year round Pell Grants have returned.

Then they interviewed non-entity Chuck DeVore who said he left California because of its “left-liberal policies.” Actually, he left California for Texas in 2010 when he lost an election.

Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier

Congressman Ron DeSantis appeared, claiming that Hillary disguised payments to Fusion GPS by paying the Perkins Coie law firm to hire them. Actually, Perkins Coie hired Fusion GPS on its own to carry out opposition research. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC were aware of this.  This sort of punctures the continuing mantra of the “Clinton bought and paid for unverified Steele dossier.”  Significant parts of the Steele dossier have been proven to be true, and none has been found to be false. Thus the slogan: “unverified, uncorroborated Russian lies” seems to be unverified hyperbole.

Immigration and Sanctuary Cities

A repeating xenophobic theme all week was that sanctuary cities are bad and that immigrants are dangerous.

A Tuesday Fox and Friends section of San Diego County (California) is rebelling over the state’s sanctuary state laws and will be holding a referendum. The hosts continue to bring up the idea that immigrants in sanctuary cities (where the local police may choose not to cooperate with ICE) are high in crime. This is a fallacy, disproved by extensive quantitative research. In general immigrant populations commit fewer crimes than the general population. They also showed a clip of Governor Jerry Brown replying to a Fox reporter on this issue, calling it “Fox nonsense.”

The following day Fox and Friends showed an interview with a woman who claimed that her son, Jamiel Shaw,  was “murdered by an illegal immigrant.” She also said that “all you left wing nuts don’t care about our children.”  Tragic though this was, her grief is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the shooting occurred in 2008, ten years before this interview, when immigration laws were rather different.

Mark Stejn sat in for Tucker Carlson for the first half of his Thursday broadcast, and after repeating the debunked stories about dangerous immigrant crime, he went farther and brought in a story about crime in Sweden after they accepted 170,000 migrants. The story was reported by controversial British columnist Katie Hopkins. But despite the report by Hopkins, this simply isn’t true. She also noted that Swedes are “exceptionally good looking,” and you can’t just put a blonde wig on Mohammed and make him a Swede. This is one of the most appallingly racist reports I have ever heard, even on Fox.

Hannity Wednesday

Ed Henry reported on the forthcoming meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Il, suggesting that if they achieve denuclearization, they might share the Nobel Peace Prize. This would be wonderful if it occurred, but there are significant reports that Kim isn’t entirely serious about this.

In Hannity’s nightly harangue, he said that Trump was shooting down “liberal rumors” about his planning to fire Mueller. Unfortunately, Fox News itself reported on Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller last year.  So, while Hannity referred to “crackpot media lying,” that just is not the case. He repeated this on Thursday and Friday, too. In addition, former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie repeated this same fiction the next day on Fox and Friends, that “the left continues the mantra that he will fire Mueller or Rosenstein.”

Hannity made a big deal out of the news story that 11 GOP senators sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department regarding actions by Comey, Andre McCabe, Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton,  acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. But, for some reason, Hannity only referred to the US Code numbers: 1505, 1515B, 641, 793, 1924A and so forth. He was less than specific because when you read the letter sent by Ron DeSantis and others, the actual suggested infractions are nothing new, and some date back years. Most are not very significant. Such referrals are infrequently acted upon when submitted by Congress, according to CNN, Politico and The Hill.

Tucker Carlson:

Carlson was featured in a report on college admissions.  He tackled legacy admissions (which are less relevant at most schools, since they are usually over-qualified for that school) and affirmative action being perverted. According to Carlson, the legitimate needs of underserved U.S. minorities are being replaced by wealthy dark-skinned foreign students. He then talked about this with U.S, Civil Rights Commissioner Catherine Lhamon, who said that careful studies have shown that his claims are simply untrue. Shot down by your own expert!

The show ended with a clever piece on Goat Yoga, which I thought was a hoax, because it was so silly. But it’s not. See for yourself!

Andrew McCabe

24dc-Mccabe-master768If you aren’t sure what former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe did that was so horrendous, you won’t find it out on Fox, either. All three programs accused McCabe of criminality, but were pretty vague about it. McCabe appears to have released information that as Deputy Director, he was authorized to release, but was “less than forthcoming” with investigators about having done so. Accordingly, the Justice Department  Inspector General referred its findings to the DC Federal Prosecutor. However, since the bar for referrals is very low, it is far from certain that McCabe will actually be prosecuted.

Hannity claimed that McCabe is in “serious legal trouble,”  that Comey started  the investigation and might be a witness against McCabe. Comey has concurred that he might be a witness, but we do not know how likely a prosecution will be.

The Comey memos

On Thursday evening Congress leaked redacted copies of Comey’s memos to the press and reporters on all stations were hastily trying to figure out what exactly they meant. They described 7 conversations Comey had with President Trump, not an interview with Trump and revealed very little that we didn’t already know from Comey’s book.

Hannity, however, called the release “a crushing blow to the radical left” and a “setback for the conspiratorial media,” because they showed “no collusion, no obstruction.”  Of course they didn’t show anything of the sort, because they didn’t discuss these topics.

Hannity quotes Comey from his memos “ I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves,” which he then uses to point out that Comey did indeed leak one of his memos to a friend so it would be published. Hannity claims that this was a breach of security as the memo was classified, and Comey claims that he carefully wrote it so it would not violate security regulations, and this Feb 14th memo was never marked classified.

And, in fact, as head of the FBI, Comey had wide latitude to share information outside the FBI to obtain advice, and thus sharing such a document is not theft  or conversion.

The Clinton Emails

Nearly all of Fox’s hosts and contributors harped on Hillary Clinton’s Emails during this week, because “she obviously broke the law.” But, according to Politifact, two Clinton staff members selected the work-related Emails and deleted the rest.

“The FBI found no evidence that the emails were deleted deliberately to avoid the subpoena or other requests. Clinton’s team requested for the emails to be deleted months before the subpoena came. They also argued that all the emails that would be relevant to the subpoena had already been turned over to the State Department.”

Friday Hannity Slogans

Few of these are true or even make much sense. His writers were having a field day.

  • Gorka: Clinton committed many felonies; Trump none.
  • DNC sues Trump campaign because the bankrupt and $6M in debt.
  • DeGenova: Comey memos are a suicide note.
  • Comey is destroying the FBI.
  • The deep state under siege.
  • Massive plot to exonerate Hillary.
  • Dershowitz: Need to look at whole mess: Bipartisan commission.
  • Comey: took memos home. Theft of government property.

Friday: Tucker Carlson

Brian Kilmeade interviewed wingnut Dennis Prager, who is profoundly homophobic and also believes that the United States is a Christian Nation. He has recently written the Rational Bible: Exodus, which attempts to explain that book of the Bible. He is there to complain that the New York Times has excluded his book from its best-seller list. Prager claims he ranks high on other lists, but the Times claims very few of the retailers that report to them reported sales of Prager’s book.


Watching Fox News for a week was exhausting, because all of the hosts are so angry and intense. They don’t present the welcoming vibe of other news channels.

Fox News is far less a news channel than an opinion channel, and it is fundamentally an alternate universe of right wing unverifiable opinions. When Roger Ailes founded Fox News, he told one of his reporters that it was a network for older white guys like him, mostly in red states.  It has evolved since then, of course, with slicker production values, and an emphasis on supporting President Trump regardless of where his opinions of the day fall on the right-left spectrum. Watching it can be entertaining in small quantities, but as you listen to the steady stream of seriously inaccurate assertions, you get more and more astonished that people take them seriously. In fact, as former Fox guest reporter Charles Blow notes, its simplistic views have become the President’s daily briefing book. And, according to PunditFact,  of the statements they fact-checked, only 10% were rated true, while a full 60% were rated false, mostly false, or “pants on fire” false.

And, part of their style is to attempt to discredit everyone else’s views, asserting that Fox is the only one you can believe. These are characteristics found in cults, and by claiming to be the only source you can trust, Fox has contributed to the divisiveness of political dialog. While some of their short headline features are completely accurate, almost any report that involves political issues is seriously slanted, and frankly, full of substantial untruths. You need to fact check these claims regularly to be well-informed. To summarize: everyone else is a left wing liberal and can’t be trusted. And despite having lost the election Hillary Clinton is demonized daily as if she’d won.

But the story on Goat Yoga was completely true.



How to hard boil eggs

How to hard boil eggs

Hard boiled (actually hard-cooked) sometimes baffle people who want eggs that are easy to peel. There is so much misinformation out there that making good eggs becomes a huge worry. It’s not.

  • It doesn’t matter whether the eggs are fresh or old.
  • You don’t need to prick the end of the shell.
  • You don’t have to chill them much to make them peel. Just run them under cold water until they aren’t hot any more.

The key trick to making easy-peel eggs is that you start them in or above hot water. We tried all three in this longer article last year. They all work great.

Vegetable steamer

eggs in steamer

For us, the simplest way is to put a vegetable steamer in a pan, and add water till it is just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a slow boil, and quickly lower the eggs onto the steamer using a slotted spoon.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Then run cold water into the pan, drain it and run cold water in again. Then, refrigerate them until you want to dye them, devil them or eat them.

Instant Pot

eggs in IPYou can make one or two dozen hard cooked eggs at once if you have an Instant Pot or other counter top pressure cooker. Just place a cup of water in the pot, and put your eggs on top of the trivet above the water.  Seal the pot and pressure-cook for 8 minutes.  Do not allow any cool-down time after the 8 minutes as the eggs will continue to cook. Release the pressure immediately, lift out the inner pot and run cold water into it. Rinse and run cold water on them again. They are then ready as above.

Boiling water

You can do this same trick in a pan of slowly boiling water. Bring the water to a boil and then quickly lower the eggs into the water and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and cool as above.

3 cut open

This photo shows eggs cooked in the vegetable steamer, in a pan and in the Instant Pot 

How to fail

boil failYou can fail and get unpeelable eggs by starting them in cold water whether in a pan or on a trivet. You will also find them slightly harder to peel if you overcook them beyond 10 minutes. The yolks will become quite hard, and the eggs will be less flexible when you try to peel them.

Remember: start with boiling water!

That’s it!  Enjoy your holidays!

Knot Norm’s: Best lobster roll in the state

Knot Norm’s: Best lobster roll in the state

If you want one of the best lobster rolls in New England (and probably the very best) you need to eat at Knot Norm’s: a new restaurant cum caterer along the harbor in South Norwalk. While the façade may be unprepossessing, the food is superb and Chef Jay LeBlanc really knows what he’s up to. The restaurant is at 10 1st Street, just around the corner from Seabreeze Ave. If you’ve gone to Harbor Lights, this is just around the corner.

The menu at Knot Norm’s is straightforward, but everything on it is excellent. In addition to the above-mentioned lobster roll, they have fried oysters, fried chicken, steak and cheese, brisket, BLT and pork belly rolls. Other entrees include roasted oysters,  fish tacos, fried chicken wings and beet and apple salad.

They also have a large number of bottled craft beers and a number of wines. On tap were Allagash White and Allagash Hoppy Table.

They also have various daily additions, which on Tuesday included clam chowder, potato-leek soup and lobster bisque. We had to try the Chowder ($8): it was served with frizzled onions and chives on top as well as the usual oyster crackers. The soup was thick without being gluey, full of potatoes and plenty of clams and was absolutely delicious.


But to get to the main event: the Lobster Roll is simply amazing. The lobster is steamed and then the shells removed and the lobster poached in butter. The lobster is served on a traditional toasted New England hot dog roll, with that same lobster butter poured over it. You also get a large bowl of potato chips, lemon, coleslaw and pickles. And, according to the chef, you get an entire lobster on that roll, about 6 oz of delicious lobster. You’ll probably never have a better lobster roll. And it is only $23.


And if that isn’t enough (and it was really filling) it turns out that the chef tries out new dessert ideas on Tuesdays, and I got to sample a delicious Cheese Blintz made by rolling out those same hot dog buns, sprinkling them with cinnamon and sugar, spreading sweetened cheese on them, rolling them up and toasting them briefly. They were served with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream. Utterly amazing!

Here is a restaurant you simply have to go try! The food is terrific and the service excellent. The restaurant is small: about 16 seats, but there will be more outside as the weather warms. Tables turn fairly rapidly, I would expect because the menu is fairly limited. Parking is on-street and you may have to hunt a bit if it is busy. The 15 minute parking sign is not enforced at night.

The waitress told me that next time I really had to try the Lobster Bisque: unlike most bisques, this one has pieces of lobster floating in it!


The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

Chef Thomas Keller is a consultant to Seabourn Cruises, and has created unique high-end restaurants on each the of larger ships. Keller is best known, of course, for his well-regarded French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in Manhattan.

While “The Grille by Thomas Keller” does not aspire to the nine courses you find in his land-based restaurants, it is an extremely good restaurant, especially since the standard ship dining room serves excellent 4-course meals every night. The Grille is smaller, however, and you must make reservations in advance. In fact you can make them on-line as soon as you have booked your cruise, as the restaurant is very popular and getting reservations once you are on board is very difficult. Repeat visits are nearly impossible to obtain.


Literature provided in each room includes a booklet on the purveyors Keller uses for his floating gourmet experience. Farms, orchards, seafood, chicken, smoked meats, veal, cheese, beef and olive oil are all spelled out. (There is also a booklet on Spa and Wellness by Andrew Weil which is utter bull-pucky and can be discarded.)

Dinner at the Grille is served from 6pm to 9pm nightly and consists of starters, plates, sides and sweets, each served impeccably by an experienced staff.

iced veggiesOur dinner began with a dish of fresh vegetable on ice.

There is an element of theater to presentations in the Grill, with a number of dishes prepared table side. At our table, an order of Caesar salad was nearly a 3 act production, but quite entertaining, and the resulting salad was indeed very good.


They also prepare Dover Sole Meuniere at table side, as we noted when the next table ordered it.

Our other starter was a “Double Consomme ‘Celestine’,” with Black Winter Truffles and Julienned Crepes. Like most soups in the Seabourn dining rooms, the waiters bring you a bowl with the dry, floating ingredients and then pour in the soup liquid.


This was a light but really rich and flavorful soup that we picked because our main course was quite rich. The definition of “Celestine” is “heavenly,” and it was that good.


One of our entrees was dubbed “Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Medallions with Herb Crust,” and the lamb as tender and juicy as any you could imagine. It was prepared table-side, to the extent that they poured sauce over the lamb. As noted, it was delicious.

Our other entrée was Lobster Thermidor,  which amounts to lobster out of the shell served with a creamy sauce made with cream, vegetable and mushroom stocks, and a few croutons.


Here is a typical recipe. While we didn’t get much in the way of table-side theater, this was one of the best lobster dishes we have ever had.

We also shared a side vegetable dish of excellent, multicolored buttered carrots.


Finally, our dessert was a gorgeous and delicious Lemon Meringue Tart, and since my birthday was the previous week, it came with a candle.

Dinner at the Grille is a delightful experience with superb service. However, the menu changes little during the week (the lamb wasn’t on every night) so if you are able to return, you may have to plan from the same menu. They are, however, delivered daily to your room for that purpose.

Other Keller influences

Once each week, the main dining room has a special Chef’s Dinner. On that same day, the secondary restaurant, called the Colonnade has a single menu dinner by chef Keller, consisting last week of Waldorf Salad, Grilled “RR” Ribeye, Cypress Hill Humboldt Fog cheese with wild flower honey and country bread, and Chocolate Silk Pie.

The service is “Family Style” meaning that they bring one platter for the whole table. Since most people on a cruise are just couples, this isn’t very significant, but cute. This is modeled on Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa. The kitchen staff also shouts out the order numbers, which is even sillier when everyone is getting the same meal. While we loved the beef, cheese and dessert, the Waldorf salad was rather weird, with just a few ultra-thin slices of apple mixed with the lettuce, celery, nuts and currants.

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn is one of 4 or 5 providers of “luxury cruises,” where the level of service is very high: the price is pretty much all-inclusive. In Seabourn’s case, this means that gratuities are included as is all food and drink. (If you order a whole bottle of premium wine, you pay for it, but this is about the only cost.) Excursions are not included. Seabourn’s ships are rather small: most carry only 450-600 passengers, so you get exceptional service and attention.

We found the experience delightful and of high quality from beginning to end: our Caribbean cruise began on Barbados, and ended there, too, a week later. From the moment we arrived at the ship terminal, Seabourn personnel took over, welcoming us and taking our bags to be delivered to our suite. They quickly produced scannable ID cards that would open our rooms and served as identification to get on and off the ship, and sent us to the gangway with instructions to go to the 8th deck for lunch at the Colonade.  Lunch was more or less buffet style, but our waiter promised to bring us the food himself if we preferred, along with some nice wine.

After lunch we went to our room. We were greeted by our room stewardess, who helped us with anything we asked for. In fact, to our surprise, our luggage was already there.  Most rooms on Seabourn ships have a King sized bed or two single beds, a sitting area with TV, a veranda, a walk-in closet with ample storage, a bath with a two sink vanity, and a separate tub and shower stall.

We were on the Seabourn Odyssey, but the Seabourn Sojourn and Quest are essentially identical. Most of the rooms are 300 square feet, with a 65 square foot veranda.

Food on Seabourn cruises is uniformly excellent: the ship provides 5 dining options:  the less formal Colonade, the main Restaurant, which serves 4 course dinners every evening, the Patio by the pool, which serves pizza, burgers and similar fare, and the Grill by Thomas Keller which we’ll write about separately. Room service is also available 24 hours at no charge.

The  Pool area is a great place to relax both in the sun and in shaded areas, and in addition to the actual pool, there are two very nice whirlpools. The ship has 4 more such whirlpools on other decks, and these are terrific for relaxing after a tiring excursion. And, of course, the waiters are happy to bring you any drinks you might like.


Service on Seabourn is uniformly excellent: and since there are only 459 passengers, the staff soon has learned your names and some of your preferences. Our waiter brought us one coffee, one tea and two glasses of orange juice every day before even taking our breakfast order. And since we had to vacate our rooms early on our last day, our room stewardess offered to bring us breakfast in bed.

While Seabourn’s offices are in Seattle, these are European ships with European electrical outlets, and only two US outlets in the suites: one in the bathroom for a razor and one on a little vanity shelf, while we charged our cell phones. There are no outlets near the bed and no US outlets near the desk for plugging in a laptop. However, the staff quickly provided a US extension cord for our needs. You might bring a European to US adapter with you.

There are more entertainment events than you can possibly attend: there was a cooking demo on making a Vietnamese fish stew by the head chef, and there are lectures on the geology of the islands you are visiting. The Seabourn Singers and dancers provide highly competent pop music performances and even one called Opera Favorites (if you believe Lloyd-Webber is opera). They also had a superb jazz combo and singer.

One silly Seabourn tradition is Caviar in the Surf, where the crew, dressed in whites stands in the surf handing out plates of caviar. However, because of rough seas, we could not take the water shuttles to land on Mayreau. So the crew set up the caviar ceremony in the pool, followed by the lobster barbecue. Brilliant improvisation!

WiFi is available for 40 cents a minute or for a flat weekly fee of $239. We only used it to check for news from our family and the minute charge was a better deal. The ship’s free internal WiFi allows you to check the ship’s daily schedule as well as to read a number of newspapers on line using the PressReader app, which you should install before you leave home.

While we spent most mornings on some sort of tour of the islands we visited: Guadeloupe, Nevis, Martinique, Grenada, Tobago and Barbados, we rested in the afternoons in a whirlpool and reading on our veranda.  This was for us an absolutely ideal vacation.  The prices on Seabourn are a little higher than on the larger mass-market cruise lines, but when you consider that gratuities and all food and drink are included, this is really a very good deal. And the service is simply superb.


HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

As many of you know, HomeAdvisor has been blitzing the airwaves with their service to find contractors for  home improvement projects. So it was not unreasonable that we try them out when we found that we had 3 projects that we wanted carried out while we were on vacation last summer and our dog boarded so he wasn’t in their way.

We’ll tell you about our 3 contractors (2 great, one not) our experiences with HomeAdvisor and how contractors feel about dealing with them.

The floors and rugs: excellent job

We had our hardwood floors redone about 20 years ago and the finish has begun to wear off, and dirt was ground into the heavily trafficked areas.  We interviewed 3 contractors and settled on one of the more expensive ones, because they would move and replace all the furniture. Since we were redoing 4 rooms, there was no way we could to it for them because there just wasn’t room for all the furniture in the other rooms. The contractor we selected, Custom Floor Installations of Lake Carmel, NY, did an excellent job in all respects. We returned from vacation to beautiful new-looking floors, with all the furniture where it belonged. Five Stars.

Since we were having the floors redone, we also wanted two oriental carpets cleaned as well, and we hired Poohbear Rug Cleaning (also known as PJ’s) to take the carpets away and return them when we came back. They picked them up the day before we left, and brought them back the weekday after we returned. The rugs were clean and they put them back in place perfectly. Also Five Stars.

The driveway

We also decided to have our asphalt driveway sealed: another job best done when the dog is away. From three contractors, we selected Driveway Doctor of Bridgeport, explaining that we wanted the work done during the second week we were away. Scott quoted a fairly low price and promised to patch several holes with asphalt before sealing, and do it during the second week. He didn’t. In fact, he called that week to ask how our vacation had been. He hadn’t started and thought we were back. I told him it needed to be done by that Saturday when we returned.  It wasn’t.

In fact, when we called and left messages on the phone number on the HomeAdvisor web site, he never returned our calls. We finally contacted HomeAdvisor, who both called him and gave us his cell phone number. He finally showed up to do the asphalt patching a week later. Then we had to call to remind him that he still needed to seal the driveway. This took 2 more weeks, but when his driveway worker showed up, he didn’t first seal the cracks/ When we pointed that out, he promised to come back and do that and reseal over the cracks.

Our review vanished

He never came. In fact, after two more calls, it was apparent that he wasn’t coming back. So, we went to post a One Star review on Home Advisor. However, there was no sign on HomeAdvisor that we had hired him, so we created a review anyway.  Our review was never posted. Since it was a One Star review, HA noted in a popup that they may call me to check on the report. They didn’t.  And the review still hasn’t been posted.

A few weeks later, we got an Email from HomeAdvisor reminding us that we’d get a $50 credit if we hired 3 contractors. Of course, we had hired 3 contractors, but either HA or Scott had deleted records of that third contract, because he had never completed it satisfactorily. We contacted them to point that out, but they never responded.

It looks like there are very few negative reviews on HA, because they can be (and have been) deleted. This tends to skew the ratings, and makes me suspicious of the entire enterprise.

What do contractors think?

It doesn’t take much effort to find a site that reviews businesses like HomeAdvisor, and the reviews at SiteJabber are really very negative indeed. Contactors complain about being billed for bad leads, and referrals that are irrelevant to their business. So you might very well be ones of those bad referrals and the people you talk to might not even be in the business you are looking for.

We think there are better services to use than HomeAdvisor, and would never use them again.

Sweet potatoes were naturally made using GMO techniques

sweet-potato-fries-with-sea-56276If you look at the packaging for Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (which are actually very good) you will see “Non-GMO” and that annoying GMO Free butterfly label.  This is called fear-based marketing. We don’t use that scary GMO stuff (whatever that is) in our potatoes. But in the case of sweet potatoes, nature beat them to the punch.

Farmers breed plants all the time to get new, stronger and tastier varieties by crossing them. This is tricky because you usually then have to “back-cross” your new variety with its parents to make it more like its parent. And this can result in exchanging of over 10,000 genes! This was the way the pioneering plant biologist Norman Borlaug bred the wheat that saved Mexico and later India. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way farmers and breeders have used is irradiation of seeds. This is kind of a crude technique, called mutation breeding, but it is how we got the current Ruby Red Grapefruit. You just have to plant the seeds and see what comes up. Then you save the good ones.  You can also perturb the seed using mutagenic chemicals (such as colchicine) to cause it to mutate. This is just as uncertain, but we have gotten a lot of nice flowers and a few vegetables that way.

The last way is using biotechnology to insert just the gene we want for the trait we want. This is the most precise method, but not everyone (except most scientists) is convinced that there aren’t some sort of unknown side effects. They usually use a bacterium called “agro” (for agrobacterium tumefaciens) which is a sort of a ring of DNA called a plasmid. This bacterium can insert genes into plants, and that is where the bulges come from you see on oak trees, called oak galls.

Now if biologists make that ring of DNA longer by including the genes they want in the plant they can persuade agro to do their insertions for them and this is the way most genetically modified crops are made today.

Here’s the news. This wasn’t our idea! That intellectual property belongs to a sweet potato! Virologist Jan Kreuze of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that they examined the genes of some 291 varieties of sweet potatoes from around the world, and found in all of them foreign genes from bacteria. Further, they found genetic sequences analogous to those in agro. And while they found these in sweet potatoes, they did not find them in close relatives.

Now, sweet potatoes are just the swollen parts of the plant’s roots and the authors theorize that this modification is what gives sweet potato plants this bulge; both are lacking from the close relatives. So sweet potatoes did their own “genetic engineering” some 8000 years ago, and farmers selected the plants with the best “bulge” to plant each year. And clearly after 8000 years we can be pretty sure there are no ill effects from eating them.

This is a pretty good indication that such genetic modification is perfectly safe, and every major scientific organization world wide agrees that this is true. You can find declarations from the AAAS, the AMA, and the EFSA.  Every major scientific society and national scientific organization has indicated that GMO foods pose no harm of any kind. Here is a good review in Scientific American by Pamela Ronald. And the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is very clear in stating that GMO crops pose no harm.

So, ignore those meaningless “non-GMO” marketing labels, and avoid products making those specious claims when you can. You may actually save money, too.



The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

In last Sunday’s NY Times “T” section, an article by Kari Molvar asked “creative people to share their homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse – and refresh.” This should have been a very short article indeed, because there is no such thing as a detox or cleanse. Your liver is all you need to “cleanse” your system. And it does it very well! (See our article Medical Science says that Cleanses are Bogus.)

In this article, they interview artist Ana Kras about her recipe for a cleansing drink. How about another article on the kinds of sculptures scientists make?

At least that would be based on facts! This one, not so much.  Kras is known for her “modernist furniture, abstract drawings and photography.” But not for her knowledge of science, apparently.

She claims that her recipe (from California friend) is not only tasty but can have “medicinal properties.” NO proof, of course.

Her recipe consists of vegan, organic masala chai spice and ground vanilla powder. Well, both “vegan” and “organic” are more ritualistic concepts than ingredients, and “chai spice” is just a mixture of common household spice like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, as shown above.

Where she goes off the rails is in adding a mixture of weird, unpronounceable “adaptogenic” spices like “ashwagandha, cordyceps, mucuna pruriens and reishi.” None of these ingredients have been found to be safe and effective for any purpose, and some can be dangerous in quantity.

Adaptogenic” is a pseudo-scientific term implying that the herbs may adapt to your body’s needs. This has never been shown to be true.

Kras claims in the article that this spiked tea drink may improve immunity and mental clarity. Of course, none of those crackpot ingredients do anything of the sort, and same may be dangerous, because they are pretty much unregulated.

Kras serves her chai with cashew cream (with a crushed date) or almond milk. Probably tasty, but of no particular benefit. It looks like she is trying to avoid dairy (for no good reason) but adding cream instead would be easier and cheaper, and still taste very good. Make your chai tea and enjoy it. Leave out the wacko spices, and tell the Times they are full of malarkey!