Friday, September 28, 2012


Why should you eat mashed potatoes?  I wish every question were as easy to answer as this one: you should eat them because VIRTUALLY EVERY COMMON VEGETABLE TASTES GREAT WITH THEM. If you're not getting enough vegetables then here's your solution.

I know, I're worried about the starch. Well, the USDA gives them a clean bill of health and so do I. Listen, I had mashed potatoes almost every day for the whole time I was growing up and I was skinny as a rail. I always ate a decent amount of vegetables at dinner and I didn't even like vegetables. I only ate them because they seemed to go well with the potatoes.

And it wasn't just me. Lots of my friends ate mashed potatoes and none of us ever got fat. The girls pictured above probably ate mashed potatoes...everybody did when I was a kid and there were much fewer obese people then than now. 

Later we became New Agers and turned against mashed potatoes in favor of rice, because it was more exotic. Big mistake! Vegetables can taste great with rice if the meal's an Asian dish cooked the Asian way, but if you cook a standard Western dinner and simply substitute rice for mashed potatoes, the vegetables suck, and you end up ignoring them. Some American rice eaters give up vegetables entirely.

I told this to a friend who was horrified that I'd even think of eating a potato. He was an ex-hippie who regarded potatoes as a CIA plot to make us lethargic so The Man could manipulate us easier. It's hard to know what to say to someone like that.

He regailed me with stories of vegetables he'd eaten in restaurants that were to die for, and which didn't require a bit of potato. Weeeeell, that's true...I'll concede that if you can afford to have a chef with a well-stocked kitchen cook all your vegetables, then you don't need potatoes. He can saute the vegetables in stock, give them a hint of mango, a little chervil ( a French spice not sold in most American supermarkets), three kinds of oil, expensive brands of balsamic vinegar, and top them with a little cognac....yeah, if you can afford to eat that way every day then you don't need potatoes. 

So why not baked potatoes instead of mashed potatoes? Well, they taste great, but they don't blend with vegetables as well as MP. Also, they require chives and sour cream and those are pricey if the only time you ever use them is in small amounts on potatoes. They'll rot in the refrigerator (above).  

So how do you cook mashed potatoes? My parents just boiled russets whole (not chopped up) til they were soft, put them in a bowl, peeled and chopped them, added whole milk, (nowadays most people prefer Half and Half) and a little melted butter then mashed them with a masher til the lumps were out. They were always eaten hot, immediately after mashing, with a side of cranberries, and with meat and vegetables. Yum!

I looked up mashed potatoes in the American Test Kitchen Cookbook and their concern was fluffiness. To get the lumps out they recommended buying a mill or a ricer (like a giant garlic press) to squeeze the potatoes into spaghetti which you stir into fluff. Right away I saw a mill on sale for ten bucks, and I bought it.  

Aaaargh! What a nightmare! The mill was clunky, too light to sit still, and absorbed half of the potato into its complicated inner workings. It reduced a medium-sized russet to a golf ball. What a gyp! And cleaning the thing was a real chore. Apparently the Test Kitchen has the luxury of top of the line equipment and a staff dishwasher!

Okay, end of rant!

BTW: squash is the exception. It doesn't work with mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I have an admittedly impractical fantasy about urban planning: I ask myself what a city would be like if it was populated almost entirely by the young...say 50 and below. And what if the people in such a city were not only young, but also physically fit? How would people like that get to work? What kind of houses would they live in? Would they take rollercoasters to the job (above)? Would they swim to it?

I love the idea of using rollercoasters (above) for real urban transportation. Maybe a city of the young could do that.

The idea of rollercoasters cars snaking through the suburbs, of cars full of laughing people  emerging from clumps of trees and disappearing into them again...I find that exhilarating to think about.

Okay, it's not practical...I admit it.

In such a city maybe even things as commonplace as sidewalks might look different. Physically fit pedestrians might not mind if the sidewalks were hilly (above) and fit the natural contours of the land.

Maybe small streets might be designed to hold rainwater for a few hours before draining it away. It would be an excuse for kayaking. A city of the young might look at rain as a source of fun rather than a nuisance.

Maybe a way would be found to make water rides into public transportion.

In such a city even walking to school might be an adventure. I like the idea of city planners taking the trouble to be sure kids had fun making the trip to school. Making them walk would be better for their health than using a school bus.

BTW, I'm not sure the wall idea above is a good one. It seems a bit contrived, too much like meddling adults had something to do with it. It's a good springboard for thought, though. Exactly what would kids like to climb on?

No doubt a young city would value urban horseback riding (above) more than it's valued now. Lots of equine rental places might spring up.

No doubt that we'd also see fun architecture with lots of towers and balconies and with
 bridges connecting the buildings.

Maybe young people would be more playful with the urban landscape. Maybe they'd prefer to see contrasts in mood and texture when they look around. I like the idea of heavy, atmospheric architecture like the kind above existing only a few dozen yards from light, modern places like Kinko's.

The problem here is that in the wrong hands, all this could look very cheap and tacky.  You could argue that amusement park architecture should stay in amusement parks where artifice is expected and is part of the tradition, and where it's safe from nitpicking by bureaucrats. In my fantasy city none of this is a problem. It all works...somehow.

A city of the young might be so attractive that even old people would want to live there. I mean, who'd want to leave a place like this?


Thanks to Joel Brinkerhof who sent me a link to a great video about Coney Island that triggered some of this speculation. I won't link to it now, because I have other plans for it. Thanks again, Joel!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



CLIMBER: "Wow! What a view! But...I should probably start down before it gets dark. Then again, it would be great to camp out up here and wait for the sunrise. Hmmmmm, what to do...what to do......."

CLIMBER: "I know...I'll flip a coin! Here's a dirty old penny...that'll do the trick. Here goes!"

CLIMBER: "Drat! It fell down the mountain!"

The penny, which has spent all its life in dark pockets, happily bounces down the sunny mountainside.

As if sensing it's new found freedom, it alternately bounces and rolls til it goes over another cliff...

...then comes a breathtaking fall down onto the roof of a house below.

It rolls off the roof into a rain gutter, and from there....

...onto a lawn where it bounces through the grass and onto the street.

It jubilantly bounces down into the town.

Down streets and alleyways.

Farther and farther down, past elegant townhouses.

It carefully bounces over the heads of some use hurting anybody.....

...then water appears.

The penny bounces down to the very edge of the sea....

...where it skims along the water and sinks.

Down, down the penny plunges.

It drops so deep that the water gets dark. The penny experiences fear for the first time, since the darkness reminds it of countless pockets its been in.

It falls downward past denizens of the deep into an undersea vent.

The penny continues its downward journey through ever hotter magma. Finally the brave little penny, which traveled so far to get here, begins to loose its shape and melt. At the very moment it's about to break up and be lost forever, something happens......

Up in the sky above the sea a shaft of light appears.

Something reaches down into the Earth for the penny.

Time is reset to half an hour in the past. 

CLIMBER: "Should I stay up here overnight or start down now? Hmmmm...I'll flip a coin."


CLIMBER: "Naw....It's such a beautiful little penny. I might drop it. I'll just pack up and head down."

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Here's (above) a huge filament that was whiplashed from the sun about a month ago, and which caused all sorts of atmospheric effects on the Earth. This isn't an artist's rendering, it's a photo. Can you believe how vivid this picture is!?

Lately we're getting terrific pictures of the sun. That's because we have satellites circling the sun and photographing it from different vantage points at exactly the same time. When the photos are combined, the effect is three dimensional. It's amazing isn't it? I never thought I would see solar pictures this good in my lifetime.

In the foreground of this star field (above) we see a cluster dominated by blue stars. In the background we see the center of The Milky Way. Can you believe how dense the stars are? There must be millions in this photo alone.

That's partly because stars are a lot closer together in this region of the sky. With so many nose-to-nose stars spewing out radioactivity, and with (I'm guessing) so many dangerous objects like black holes and magnetars, this is by far the most dangerous region of our galaxy. You have to wonder if we'll ever be able to explore this area.

Here's a five or six minute clip from Stephen Hawking's "Everything" show on TV. The subject is Gliese 581D, the closest Earth-like planet we know of...only 20 light years away. If a catastrophe ever threatens life on Earth, this is the planet we'd have to bail to.

On another subject: a few weeks ago my doctor told me to come in for the new vaccine against pnemonia. I did a double take. There's a vaccine for pnemonia!!!!!??????? But that's incredible! So many people die from that...why wasn't this on the front page of the paper? Why weren't the discoverers honored with a ticker tape parade?

But the pnemonia vaccine isn't all. A couple of weeks ago I read that a lab called GlaxoSmithKline in the UK came up with a vaccine against malaria. It's been highly effective (50%) in animal tests, now a few years of human tests are expected to confirm it.  Can you believe that? A cure for malaria!!!!!! Congrats to GSK! Hollywood, are you listening?

I found this account (below) on the net:

Witty told the Guardian he was thrilled for the scientists, who were thought by many of their peers to be attempting the impossible when they started work on a vaccine 25 years ago. "When the team was first shown the data, quite a number of them broke down in tears," he said. "It was the emotion of what they had achieved – the first vaccine against a parasitic form of infection. They were overwhelmed. It says something about the amount of heart that has gone into this project."

Thursday, September 20, 2012



KENT: "Eddie! Is that you? How are ya these days!?"

EDDIE (VO): "I'm great! Have a seat!"


KENT: "I've gotta eat quick! There's more Mack Sennett films on TCM tonight, starting at five. I think they're gonna show 'Mickey.' If I remember right that was directed by Mable Normand. Some people say she was the real brains behind the Sennett studio."

EDDIE (VO): "Mable was great, but 'the real brains?' I don't know......she only had less than two good years so far as I can tell."

KENT: "Yeah, she wasn't the same after the the vase. You heard about that, right?"

EDDIE (VO) :"The vase?"

KENT: "Yeah. Her and Sennett were lovers, but one day she walked in and found him in bed with one of his actresses. She threw a fit and the actress whacked her on the head with a vase. It sent her to the hospital."

EDDIE (VO): "Yikes!"

KENT: "Mabel never quite recovered. Or maybe she did, but the drugs she was taking took hold. Whatever it was, her acting was never the same. Sennett gave her her own studio as an apology."

EDDIE (VO): "Wow. I remember Sid Caesar saying you should never become romantically involved with your acting partner, no matter how great the temptation. He was always politely distant with Imogene Coca offstage because he didn't want to mess with the chemistry they had infront of the camera."

KENT: "That sounds right. Anyway, Sennett went on to do the Keystone Cops and The Bathing Beauties, so I guess he landed on his feet."

EDDIE (VO): "Sennett was a genius. My favorites are the early slapstick films he directed himself. And I love the way he could choreograph crowds."

KENT: "Yeah, like those restaurant sequences where everybody in the shot's doing something interesting....the waiters just barely avoiding dropping the tray in someone's lap, the customers arguing or pitching woo to each other, or flirting with somebody at the next table. You almost don't know where to look because it's all so rich, but it works."

EDDIE (VO): "What do you think the best Sennett films were?"

KENT: "The best??? Er.....the ones he did with Keaten or Arbuckle or Chaplin? Geez, I don't know. Even Langden did some good films with Sennett."