The glaring imperfections
Need a few steps back
A few years ago, Mrs. Cynical Optimist was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. At about the same time, I started working on my weight. These factors combined to promote a higher interest in cooking and cooking well. As time has gone by, we've discovered a number of tricks and ingredients which work well as substitutes, gradually returning some of our favorite dishes to meal time. It occurs to me that since these are works-in-progress, perhaps a record of what I did and might do differently could be useful. So, I present the first of a series: Dairy Free: Macaroni and Cheese.
Butter was easily solved: Earth balance makes a number of buttery, nicely-cooking dairy-free margarines.
Milk is a bit more complicated. We find soy milk to be good for drinking and with cereal (particularly in sweetened, vanilla flavor), but it has a tendency to break when cooking, making a watery separated mess. Canned coconut milk has become our cooking milk of choice. The light variety can be used in place of milk, and the higher fat in the standard variety can replace cream (to an extent).
Cheese. We've not found very much in the way of a good cheese substitute yet. Soy Kaas makes a decent mozzarella flavor, which we've used in pizza and pasta filling. Their cheddar is okay, but not nearly sharp enough. Unfortunately, I have to go way out my way to get Soy Kaas, so I often pick up Daiya shreds at the local megamart. Daiya melts well, but has even less of that cheesy punch than Soy Kaas.
Having found all the necessary pieces, however, I set out to make one of Mrs. Cynical Optimist's favorite (and much missed) dishes: Mac-n-cheese.
I began with Alton Brown's recipe, but here's my ingredient list.Ingredients:
In addition to the obvious substitutions, I omitted onion and bay leaf (because I didn't have them - a mistake I won't repeat), paprika (because I didn't think it would help without the onion and bay leaf). I replaced dry mustard with Grey Poupon because I love the way it tastes in grilled cheese, so I thought we'd try it here, too. I was surprised by how much milk the recipe called for. I happened to have an unopened can of coconut milk, and the remaining halfish-can from the weekend's cookery. That made around 2.25 cups, while Alton Brown's recipe called for 3 cups dairy milk. It seems to have been enough.
The result was a concoction of surprising fidelity to the original, at least in terms of texture. Creamy and smooth, it felt like good mac and cheese. Unfortunately, it's lacking that sharpness real cheddar brings, and overall was just not cheesy enough. However, we both had seconds, and it was difficult to not have thirds. It definitely qualifies as comfort food.
I'm going to try this again, putting the onion and bay leaf from Mr. Brown's recipe back in, and using Soy Kaas cheddar and omitting the creamish cheeseish. I will report back on the result when it's done.
Brand names are included herein because these are the things I've found to work best from much trial-and-error. I've not been compensated in any way by the makers of these products.
I couldn't help it. I had to do another one.
It's Skate Punk meets Bollywood.
Wiki: Champika Ranawaka
Photo: Thrasher by isayx3
MC Frontalot alerted me to a meme (via Twitter) where you randomly select a band name, album title, and a photo for the album cover.
For the band name, hit Random on Wikipedia and use the title of the first article as your band name.
For the album title, grab random quote from The Quotations Page, and take the last four or five words from the last quote.
Finally, for the album art, take the third picture on Flickr's Explore the Last Seven Days page.
Over at BuzzFeed, there's a thread with some incredible contributions. I was in a creative mood this afternoon, so I worked one up, too. Here's mine:
One part Jonathan Coulton, one part John Mayer, one part Jonathan Winters, Gabriel Adams' first major label release, One Might Wish to Hide, bursts onto the folk/pop scene with a fresh vocal style, catchy, witty lyrics, and stirring pop arrangements. Watch this one; Gabriel Adams is a force to be reckoned with.
Full quote: The incognito of lower class employment is an effective cloak for any dagger one might wish to hide. --Margaret Cho
Gabriel Adams: Mayor of Pittsburgh
Either you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks or you're familiar with the "25 Things" meme. I refuse to use Facebook and I'm aware of it. Well apparently, Rachel, of Glimmerville fame, came up with the brilliant idea of inventing 25 "facts" about yourself. My friend Kris ran with it and came up with this post. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and I commented (before I learned that Rachel was involved) that I was tempted to
copyemulate1 him, but that I would refrain from doing so for a change.
However, the two protagonists both encouraged me to do so, so here they are, twenty-five spectacularly untrue facts about Blob, the Cynical Optimist-in-Chief.
I was challenged by Kris Johnson to provide you with sixteen random tidbits about myself. I had to do it quickly in the short span of time permitted by my schedule, so this is what you get:
Whew, it's done.
I'm going to leave off the tagging portion. It may be bad form, but I literally don't know anyone well enough that KJ hasn't already tagged.
Dear reader, I pose this question for you:
Should I hold myself to a different standard than I hold other purveyors of fiction?
When I read fiction that touches on science or technology1, and said science is wrong2, it bothers me3. However, if the rest of the tale is exciting, intriguing, or otherwise entertaining, I am all too happy to let it slide.
The idea I've started entertaining for this year's NaNo novel is based on some pretty lousy science. I don't want to get into the details just yet, but suffice it to say that it would bug me if I were just the reader.
My problem is twofold. First, it's NaNo; to reach the goal, I just need to crank out 50,000 words, regardless of how useless they are. And second, it troubles me that I can't think of a more elegant way to cause the scenario which is the basis for the story, and I'd really hate for my first success4 at NaNo to be based on something that would bug me as a reader.
As I said, though, if it were another author's book, I'd let it go and enjoy the rest of the tale.
So what do you think? Should I write the story, warts and all, or should I spend the next three days cramming for a better idea? Your comments would be welcome.
Welcome to cynicaloptimism.org.
I'd always meant to register myself a real domain name, but having conned a number of people into visiting the old site on a regular basis, I was a bit daunted by the proposition of getting things changed over.
Plus, there was the problem of figuring out what the heck to register. Blob's an okay nickname, but no untaken variations of it appealed to me as a domain name. So, I tried many dozens of things until I came across cynicaloptimism, which I felt conveyed the essence of my outlook on life nicely concisely.
This was back in May, mind you. It took me until now to be satisfied that the new old server would be stable and that I could migrate things over reasonably efficiently. That's right, no longer is everything running on the old Pentium 133 with 32MB RAM. We're talking dual P3-450s with 1GB, baby. That ought to improve some of the performance around here.
Not much else is going to change in the near future, however. You'll still get nearly daily Haikus and occasional other content. I was working on a flash fiction project actually, which has turned itself into a short story. I hope to get that done before November and NaNo.
Her smile was genuine, completely care-free. Reginald marveled at it.
Since he'd gone off to war twenty years ago, he had never felt like that. Happy, calm, at peace. How marvelous he found it that she could be that way, and as she giggled as she twirled beneath his hand, how wonderful that she could almost make him feel it again.
She was younger than he was; not much older than he had been when they put a rifle in is hand at age seventeen and called him a man. He'd done his duty, aided his nation in her time of need. He'd killed young men who had never wronged him and he carried the guilt of it all these years. It's true that they would have—wronged him, that is—had they had the opportunity, but he knew that it was only because they, too, were doing their patriotic duty. In the intervening years, he had learned it could all have been avoided with just a bit more understanding and a little less posturing by politicians on all sides. That had made him angry and bitter, too. That was almost worse than the guilt.
She had never known war, though, so perhaps the innocent glee of it came naturally. Still, she was old enough to have her own share of burdens. At a mere twenty-two years of age, she'd already lost a husband to disease and a child to still birth. And yet, here she was, swaying to the blare of klaxon horns as though it was a symphony.
He'd enjoyed getting to know her. Grace was her name, he suddenly remembered. Fate had put them at a table together that evening, just as it had made sure their mutual affection and attraction could never blossom into something more. They'd exchanged tales, both happy and sad, talked at length about their triumphs and their fears. She had been working as a clerk since her husband died, but she was studying to become a nurse.
Grace had won her ticket through some sort of lottery. She said that she had spent a significant portion of her life savings on the dress she wore that night. It was simple, but effective. Bright red and delightfully clingy, yet with a flare at the hem that billowed with each twirl.
He hadn't had the heart to tell her that he had spent several times as much on mere sashes for the fashions he had tailored for the nobility and heiresses that comprised his clientele. Upon reflection, though, he realized that no amount of gold could bestow on the majority of them the simple, ethereal beauty that the Grace possessed that evening.
He pulled her tight to himself, draping her arm around his neck and placing his around her waist. The more enthusiastic portions of their dance had set her heart racing and he could feel it through her chest. She flashed that smile at him again and to his surprise he suddenly felt his own, cold, cynical heart flutter and leap.
His memory flashed, a feeling awakened something that had lain dormant for two decades. A girl that he had loved very much before the war, a girl not too different from Grace. He'd forgotten all about her and about who he was before. He'd felt this feeling then, too, before chaos took it all away.
In the space of an instant, the memory had passed and he was once again in the moment. Perhaps for the first time in twenty years he was truly in the moment. Impulsively, he leaned down to kiss her and as her smile parted for him, he closed his eyes.
They spent a lifetime in that kiss, they married, had children, grandchildren, they grew old together. When they stopped to catch their breath, he was surprised to find that only moments had passed.
When he opened his eyes and saw her smiling again, he smiled right back at her. He knew joy.
As they joined again in a different, more purposeful kiss, the asteroid the klaxons had been warning about smashed into their ship. Apparently, the crew had failed to revive the engines in time and no rescue ship had reached them.
Far better to die like this, he thought in that final moment, than to live like that.
I mentioned way back in 2005 that I was smitten with Forza Motorsport. Well, two and a half years later, I have an Xbox 360 and its successor, Forza Motorsport 2. FM2 is just as much fun as its predecessor, with even more paint customization options and more physics and polygons and shit.
I have a couple of friends on my friends list who, like me, love the racing sims. One of them, we'll call him CBizkit, invited me to join the ARS Technica gaming forum racing league, and eager to test my skills, I joined up.
FM2 has a Performance Indicator system, whereby points are assigned for things like horsepower, weight, braking power, tire grip, and even shift time. For each race in this series, each driver takes a 2002 Lotus Esprit, which has a base PI of 695 and adds modifications to get as close to (or usually on) 850 as possible. You can add handling mods like tires and weight reduction or horsepower mods such as turbochargers and exhaust systems, or in many cases a combination of the two. Then you can adjust the car's transmission and suspension settings to suit the track and your driving style. This leads to quite a varied field of cars on most tracks and a great deal of challenge in finding the best setup for any given race.
Furthermore, being the complete and utter nerd I am, I can't resist creating the occasional writeup on the forum of my goings on, usually in the form of a press release/race report in the style found on my favorite Formula One news sites. Expect crossposts of those, such as the one you're about to read, to become a regular feature of the blog until the season is over.
Blob Motorsports marks its debut at Tuesday's ARS Group One race at Maple Valley
"When we started this season," says Blobemetheus, CEO of Blob Motorsports and driver of the currently 5th place #42 Lotus Esprit, "it was just me and a car." He adds with a characteristic grin, "Okay. A couple of cars."
"But, you know, I had to do everything. Line up sponsorships, pack up the gear, haul the cars, drive 'em, tune 'em, replace dozens of snapped carbon fiber wings, deal with suppliers. It was a nightmare. And you can see from our early results that it just wasn't working. I couldn't even line up the car at the season opener in Laguna Seca. That was a real heart breaker. We did all our preseason testing there, and I was feeling pretty good about the car and the track. I think I could have taken it to the big boys, but alas, we'll never know."
Blob, as he likes to be known, then went on to a string of DNFs, including the exhibition race at the Nurburgring and a race at Sebring that had been going well until he ran out of fuel just two laps from the finish.
"Well, I got into a wall early on and needed to pit. Of course, I had to get out of the car myself and bang out the body work. I climbed back in and turned in some decent laps. I thought I was good to go on fuel, but obviously I was wrong."
Blob hopes he's put all that behind him, now. While in Germany, he put in the last few phone calls required for the incorporation of Blob Motorsports.
"I've got a business manager and a mechanic and a logo now. Man, what a relief to be able to concentrate on what I'm best at: Getting that gorgeous hunk of metal around the circuit as fast as possible."
It seems as though the arrangement has payed dividends immediately. After the action packed and ultimately aborted first start at Maple Valley, he'd secured third place. "And even if Audiocee hadn't gone out, I think I would have caught him after the pit stops," says Blob. "I'd done a little bit of engine damage trying to keep it off the wall while sliding on the grass, but it's nothing we couldn't have cleaned up in the pits."
Blob Motorsports opted for an all-handling configuration at Maple Valley, sacrificing ultimate speed for control and consistency.
"After a few dozen practice laps, I had a real good rhythm going. I was flat for like 90% of the lap. Of course, with all that wing, I didn't get much above 140, but the car was solid and stable. But I knew I was in for a fight on Tuesday because I was still nearly a second off Uni's time. But I figured that if I could just run it clean, I might stay competitive."
After the restart, clean was the operative word. While there's much speculation and justification around race control's decision to restart with a random starting order, Blobemetheus was happy to retain his second place grid spot.
"It was good. I was running a really tall first gear, so I was very happy I managed keep the revs up without smoking the clutch or the engine at the start. I was able to keep touch with Audiocee, who started first, and when he went wide, I slid past on the way up the hill. After that, it was clear sailing for four laps."
On the fifth, though, Blob made his first error and went wide, giving Unimetal and the #007 Lotus an easy pass for the race lead.
"I just missed my apex. I wish I could blame it on something other than driver error, but that's all it was. A momentary lapse of concentration can cost you a lot out there, especially when the other driver's got nine tenths per lap on you. I saw him coming and obviously let it rattle me."
Blob nearly caught Unimetal at the top of the hill on the very next lap, but having to check up to avoid collision, that was the last he'd see of him all day.
"After that, I just fell into my rhythm and did my thing. I think I had one more minor off, but other than that, I was pretty good, even when the tires started to lose grip. Unfortunately, I needed Uni to make a mistake at that point and it seems like he never did. I've gotta give Unimetal and the 007 team their propers. They did their homework and drove a good race."
Still, after a very disappointing start to the season, the second step of the podium must have been a big boost for the young team.
"You bet! While I hope for bigger and better things as the season rolls on, my first podium is very exciting. Thanks go out to the fans and to the guys at Blob Motorsports. Oh, and to CBizkit, for giving up a lot of points and letting me lap him. Twice."