Monthly Archives: October 2007

Fraternal memoirs

John Robison’s book about growing up with Asperger’s is getting lots of attention, at least in part because he’s the older brother of wacky memoirist Augusten Burroughs. I haven’t read either of their books, but they do present an occasion for suggesting that you read This Boy’s Life and The Duke of Deception. The family: father a glorious conman, mother a long-suffering helpmeet who suddenly decides she’s been suffering long enough and takes off. Mother takes one boy, father keeps the other. Both boys grow up to be novelists: Tobias Wolff and Geoffrey Wolff, respectively. And by reading both books, you can have the disconcerting experience of reading the same story filtered through two very different literary minds. Which of course means it’s not really the same story, although some of the same things happen.

Recommended, recommended, recommended! Especially the Geoffrey Wolff. Bonus recommendation: his novel The Final Club is probably the best Ivy League coming-of-age novel, though since I read it while coming of age in the Ivy League my judgment might be suspect.

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Esteban Yan and Mark Williamson come up big in relief

Did you know there was a game where (former Oriole) Esteban Yan pitched 5 perfect innings?  It was April 13, 1998 and Yan was pitching for the Devil Rays against the Twins.  Crazy game, featuring 3 blown saves (2 by the Twins, and one by the Debblerays) and ending with Tampa winning 13-12 behind Yan’s perfect 5.  Hat tip to Stat of the Day for the link to this game, and to the Orioles-Royals game of April 12, 1989, in which the O’s Mark Williamson also pitched 5 innings of perfect relief — but got a blown save!  How?  He came in in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded with one out, Orioles up 4-3, and gave up the game-tying RBI GIDP to Danny Tartabull.  Then mowed down Royals far into the night.  Meanwhile, Tom Gordon, in his rookie season for the Royals, threw 6 2/3 relief innings, allowing no runs and striking out 10.  He had a great year, good for second in the AL Rookie in the Year voting.  Ken Griffey, Jr. was third.  The winner?  The Orioles’ Gregg Olson.  I’d totally forgotten he won RoY.  He won this game, too, getting Bob Boone to ground out with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the 15th.

Mark Williamson played his entire career, 8 seasons, with the Orioles.  Will he be the last serious player not named Ripken to do so?

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Smoked cheese and mushroom casserole

Needed something easy to make tonight that would produce enough food to last us a few days. There’s a smoked cheese and mushroom pizza out of Moosewood Cooks at Home which we like a lot, but the problem is that it’s pretty easy for Mrs. Q, CJ, and me to eat the whole recipe in a night. I wanted leftovers. So instead I used the top of the pizza as a sauce for two pounds of pasta. Does that make sense? If not, here’s my version of the recipe.

Saute two pounds of mushrooms until they start to release liquid. Stir in some sage or dill, a heaping tablespoon of dijon mustard, some salt and pepper, and about three chopped-up scallions. (Mrs. Q felt this dish could have used more mustard and I wanted more scallions, so adjust as needed.) Mix everything up and stick it in a big bowl. Now, in the same pan, make some bechamel sauce, which will get nice and tan from mushroom drippings. Throw a half pound of smoked cheese of whatever kind you like into the bechamel to melt. (I used Farmer John’s awesome smoked provolone.) Oh yeah, in the meantime you were making two pounds of pasta. I used whole wheat rotini for this. Put the pasta in the bowl with the cooked mushrooms (you used a big bowl, right?), pour the bechamel on top of it, then if you like things cheesier, put in some mild white cheese like a ricotta. Mix everything up, put it in a casserole, bake at 350 for 30 minutes. I’m sure you could put buttered bread crumbs or crumbled cool ranch Fritos or whatever on the top, but at this stage of my life my cooking is no longer notable for ornament.

Not fancy, but easy, and will remind you of the casseroles of your childhood if you’re about the same age as I am.

(As I write this, the Red Sox have just finished sweeping the World Series.)

The most seductive of all semisoft cheeses

That’s Steven Jenkins’s magisterial Cheese Primer on Morbier. I love this book, both for its exhaustive treatment of almost every interesting cheese you can buy in the U.S., and for its awesome level of self-satisfaction. Well, I’d be satisfied with myself too if I’d eaten as much good cheese as Steven Jenkins. Here he is on Brillat-Savarin:

Caterers and many of my customers find this cheese to be an impressive offering — elegant and memorable, a cheese that evokes ooohs and aaahs…. Personally, I prefer my cheese to be less showy, less machine-made, less creamy, and more piquant, but whatever makes you happy is good.

The chill of Jenkins’ implied disapproval is hard to stand, but I am crazy about the Brillat-Savarin, which is indescribably rich but just tangy enough not to be boring. “It is rather one-dimensional,” Jenkins says, “much like eating a stick of butter.” Point taken, but if you’re cheese and you’re only going to have one dimension, this is the one to have.

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Orioles go to the World Series

Quick update to Orioles in the Postseason!: there aren’t many ex-O’s left on the field. But here’s my fantasy — the Series goes to game 7. Game goes to 13 innings. Bullpens depleted on both sides, and finally the championship of the world comes down to Mike Timlin versus LaTroy Hawkins, each trying to hold it together long enough to let the other one blow the game. That would be a good Orioles moment!

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Justin Fox blogs from Madison, Lev Grossman blogs from Planet Nerd

Two quick notes on Time Magazine blogs.

  • Business columnist Justin Fox blogs from Madison where he’s the Business Writer in Residence this week. So far he’s observed that lots of people here sit in coffeeshops with Macs and it’s kind of cold. Reading about the place you live from an outsider’s viewpoint is almost always of real interest. Once I had a long wait in the Frankfurt airport and parked myself in the bookstore with a German travel guide to the United States. In the introduction it said
    • “There are two things a German visitor needs to be prepared for in America. First of all, you are not allowed to drink outside on the street. Strange as it sounds, you can get arrested for doing so! Second of all, Americans love to fly the American flag all over the place, even on buildings that have nothing to do with the government. Can you imagine if Germans did this? The world would go crazy!”
  • I just found out that my old friend Lev Grossman, book critic at Time, has been blogging on all things nerdy since January. I wanted to include a long quote from his terrific novel Codex, but my copy’s in storage with most of the rest of my books. You’ll just have to trust me when I say he’s one of the only people (maybe Umberto Eco is another?) who’s figured out how to marry the genre conventions of the thriller with a perfectly tuned and delicate prose style. By the way, he and Austin Grossman (whose new novel I blogged about here) are brothers. Between the two they constitute a kind of ultimate and frankly intimidating authority on nerdy subjects. I once made the mistake of going head-to-head-to-head with them on matters related to the early history of Alpha Flight. Let’s just say they knocked me around like they were Aurora and Northstar and I was a Montreal car thief. And I subscribed to Alpha Flight!
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How to disagree about how to disagree

A few people read this blog to hear about my thoughts on the Orioles or various rock shows, but let’s face it, most of you are just here because you want to know: what is the right philosophy lecture with which to kick off my weekend? Well, you’re in luck! This semester’s Math And… lecture will be delivered by philosopher Adam Elga, this Friday at 4pm. Elga is a fascinating guy who thinks a lot about quantitative problems arising from the careful study of decisions, knowledge, and belief. His papers include “I Can’t Believe I’m Stupid,” Defeating Dr. Evil with Self-Locating Belief, and “Bayesianism, Infinite Decisions, and Binding.” This last paper features a puzzle I like a lot: A dead man is in hell. On his first day, God comes to him and says, “There’s been a mistake, you actually belong in Purgatory. To make it up to you, after today, you can go to Heaven for two days and then spend the rest of eternity in Purgatory — or if you like, you can go straight to Purgatory now.” The dead man figures two days in Heaven is worth one more day in Hell, so he takes the deal. Next day, God comes back: “I’ve got another deal for you. If you spend one more day in Hell, you can have two extra days in Heaven afterwards, so you get four days in all.” Well, two days in Heaven is worth one day in Hell, so the man accepts again. You see where this is going: every day the dead man gets the offer, every day he does the rational thing and accepts, and as a consequence he spends all eternity in Hell. What went wrong?

On a not completely unrelated note, Elga was a participant in the Big Number Duel, in which he went head-to-head with a colleague from MIT to see who could write the biggest number on the board. (He lost.)

Anyway, here’s the information for the talk:

LOCATION: Helen C. White Hall, room 4281

TIME: 4pm, Friday, Oct 26

TITLE: How to disagree about how to disagree

ABSTRACT: When one encounters disagreement about the truth of a
factual claim from a trusted advisor who has access to all of one’s
evidence, should that move one in the direction of the advisor’s view?
Conciliatory views on disagreement say “yes, at least a little”.
Such views are extremely natural, but they give bad advice when the
issue under dispute is disagreement itself. So conciliatory views
stand refuted. But despite first appearances, this makes no trouble
for partly conciliatory views: views that recommend giving
ground in the face of disagreement about many matters, but not about
disagreement itself.

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At least it’s not Royals-Reds

This year’s baseball postseason has to be counted as disastrous if you’re in the television industry. First of all, three of the four divisional series were finished in the minimum three games, with one going four. The NLCS went the minimum four games, and the Indians now lead the Red Sox 3 games to 1. That means that if Cleveland wins tomorrow, the total number of games in all six playoff series so far will be just 2 over the minimum.

But it gets worse: the team from the smaller TV market has won all five completed playoff series.  Using the 2004 table of top television markets here (scroll down) we have Cleveland (16) over New York (1), Boston (5) over Los Angeles (2), Phoenix (14) over Chicago (3), and Denver (18) over Philadelphia (4). Then the Rockies cruised by the Diamondbacks, and if the Indians can manage one more win from their two aces, we’ll see a World Series between the two smallest markets in the playoffs.

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A great Wisconsin cheese: Carr Valley’s Mobay, which I ate several chunks of tonight while I tried to write up a piece of mathematics I was quite confused about. The math is still muddled but the cheese is near-perfect — flavorful and complicated without being overbearing. (Not to say I don’t like overbearing cheese, but that’s another post.) Mobay combines a layer of sheep cheese with a layer of goat cheese, the two being separated by a layer of vegetable ash. Regarding the deep question posed by the posted link above, I’m pretty sure the yellow side is the sheep and the white side is the goat.

Mobay is a Wisconsin take on Morbier, a cheese from Franche-Comte which is all cow — the ash separates curds from the morning and evening milkings. Morbier is also the cheese that takes a star turn in Paul Muldoon’s poem, “The Mud Room”:

It was time, I felt sure, to unpack the Suntory
into the old fridge, to clear a space between De Rerum Natura
and Virgil’s Eclogues,
a space in which, at long last, I might unlock
the rink, so I drove another piton into an eighty-pound
bag of Sakrete and flipped the half door on the dairy cabinet
of the old Hotpoint
and happened, my love, just happened
upon the cross
section of Morbier and saw, once and for all, the precarious
blue-green, pine-ash path along which Isaac followed Abraham
to an altar lit by a seven-branched candelabrum,
the ram’s horn, the little goat whirligig
that left him all agog.

Read more about the poem in this review of Muldoon’s collection Hay by Steve. Question: was the cheese in Muldoon’s New Jersey freezer really Morbier — which has no goat and whose ash line is kind of grey-black — or Mobay, which is half goat, which has a blue-green ash line, and which I know from experience is sold in Princeton’s best cheese shop, Bon Appetit? Help me out, cheese-loving poetry critics!

(Carr Valley’s website. Official Morbier website.)

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Because Garfield isn’t random enough as it is

Someone has built a website which builds comic strips by concatenating three randomly selected Garfield panels. The result is much better and more interesting than the real strip. Why not take a moment to enjoy it?

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