Sunday, July 31, 2011

This dragonfly wasn't heading the warning...

.. and lost his head on the mountain one morning. Actually, I found him on the road, without head, but he was still alive for hours... Creepy, indeed.

Free green things

A great article about guerilla gardening in Tokyo, including planting broccoli outside major banks...  It is also about design, food politics, and life philosophy, in the words of David Duval Smith.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The real thing in St Louis

So, I went to a conference in St Louis and while there, apart from being a scientist at a national conference, I also wanted to 1) see the Saint Louis Art Museum, and 2) eat some good barbecue.

For 1, that was easy.  The Sunday morning before things started, me and a friend walked 2 miles (3 km) through their central park in 90-degree heat and high humidity (that is about 30 degrees Celsius for Europeans) to the Art Museum, which is chilled like an icebox.  Rarely has air conditioning felt that good.  But more about the art museum later.  But where to find the best bbq?  My tactic was to ask cab drivers.  They really should now where the best things are.

We took a cab back to the hotel from the art museum, and when asked, the cab driver said "Pappy's is the best, but you have to be there early, they sell out".  So we looked it up, planned out a Pappy's Smokehouse attack, and decided that Wednesday at 5.30 PM was the time to go.  We got everything ready, mainly cameras and appetites, and got a cab from our hotel on Wednesday.  When the cab driver heard our address, she said "Did you call first to make sure they are not sold out of bbq?".  And yes, we had.

Pappy's Smokehouse: road sign

Pappy's Smokehouse

We arrived at Pappy's Smokehouse, which you can find based on smell or smoke, your pick.  It looks like any regular place, but when you get inside (through the back door, please), you are met with many tables and one single counter where you order.  It turns out their BBQ is not St Louis style but Memphis (Tennessee)-style, a difference I didn't know about earlier.

Pappy's Smokehouse: the menu
So, the first question, what to order?  Nothing was sold out yet (lucky us!). The menu is scribbled with chalk over the ordering counter. Generally speaking there are five choices of barbecued meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and sausage). Then there are the traditional side dishes, baked beans, deep fried corn on the cob, green beans (overcooked as they always are in the South), sweet potato fries, potato salad (lots of mayonnaise), cole slaw, and apple sauce.  Don't ask me about the last one, it makes no sense to me, but must be a traditional thing.

So, I ordered. I got food. I ate.  I shared with my friends. I ate some more.  It was amazing.

Pappy's Smokehouse: deep fried corn on the cob
Deep fried corn on the cob.  It was a lot better than it sounds.

Pappy's Smokehouse: beans
Baked beans.
Pappy's Smokehouse: my plate
Half slab of pork ribs with side dishes.  Mmmm, melting meat in your mouth, and with three different barbecue sauces to add onto them.  Original was best, as it should be.

Pappy's Smokehouse: shirts for sale
If you need to prove you have been there, you can buy a Hog Whisperer T-shirt.  That phrase doesn't translate well to Swedish - who would want to be a 'grisviskare' in Sweden?  Nobody. But in America, it is the best thing ever. If you get to St Louis, try to get to this restaurant, it is worth the effort!

Quote of the Day: from Mad Men about Swedes

PP and I are watching Season 4 of the Mad Men TV series about 1960s advertising executives.  Fascinating and good.  And the set is so right, down to the wall paper and cereal boxes. No sloppiness here.

So, in today's episode Peggy said this:

"You are never gonna get me to do anything Swedish people do!"
(episode 3, season 4)  Won't tell you more, the rest you have to see. :)

Summer in northern Sweden (from EH)

Fröå mine, a coppermine in Åre, Sweden. In the bakery they make
flatbread in a woodfired oven. 'Rallarros' (fire weed) is the flower in
the foreground.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Paper or plastic....

This is one of the reasons why I will stick to Filofax paper calendar for all my scheduling for many years more to come:

"Mr. George uses a datebook that fits in his back pocket. “People make comments about it,” he said. “They show me their little technology. But then they sit there tapping on their device, and by the time they’ve gone through all the log-ins and downloading, I’ve already flipped the page.” (source)

Read the NY Times article if you like, it is interesting: Paper Calendar? It’s 2011. I love the simplicity and that my Filofax always work.  I pen something in there and can look it up in a second. And it is private.  And I have had my filofax cover for years and year, and had to rehabilitate it a bit last year with black sharpie pen (it was black leather). Now it looks nearly new again. I also feel smart having a filofax and not having to look stupid hacking and tapping away on a tiny screen on some little toyshaped Donkey-kong like smartphone thingie. To all of you that love your iphones and such - great for you, but I am doing perfectly fine with my way of doing things. Imagine, I never need a charging, never a syncing, never a firmware update, never an internet connection.  I can sit in a cave in Ulan-Bator and look at my calendar :)

Happy Birthday, OK!

We celebrate with a photo of your own, about taking it easy and not stress to much in life. There is something really good about snail pace sometimes....

Stamp pf the Day: Prevent forest fires

Nice stamp from Germany about preventing forest fires. I love the black stems against the red sky, and doesn't it remind you of pictures of hell?  The fire risk in NJ is down after some much-needed rain, finally.  Maybe my tomatoes will survive this summer too.  We have probably about 100 Roma tomatoes that are still green, and I need them to get red to make tomato sauce for the fall. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In St. Louis, they play on your guilt...

Recycling or landfill, you decide where the trash should go. Seen at the campus of Washington University. I love it!

Book review: The Feast Nearby

The full title of this book by Robin Mather is "The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)". This is the truth.  I didn't make that up.  Being into books about canning, local food, and reinventing your life recently, this book called out to me from the website, and its 5-star reviews must mean that it is actually a great book, right?  So I ordered it.

Well, it wasn't what I expected. Not at all.  I feel kind of bad writing this review, because I bet Robin Mather is a very nice person in person, but her book fell flat.  There are a lot of books out there right now about back-to-the-soil, back-to-the-rural, or just plain back-to-the-kitchen and I wonder if she just thought she could ride the wave.  After all, the author had been a food journalist over many years so she could write.

I actually believed that the book would be about "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)".  In smaller print on the cover it also says "essays and recipes".  Here is the first revelation - half the book are recipes. Long, winding recipes.  If I want a cookbook I buy a cookbook.  If I want an autobiography I buy that.  I am not sure what to do with this hybrid book.  It won't be among the cookbooks, and if it is among the novels, then I will never find the recipes. And there is no list of the recipes in the book. There is an index, but that covers everything, not just the recipes. I am sure some of the recipes are very tasty, but they were used to fill up a thin book into a thicker one. 

What I wanted to read about was how she lost her job, how she overcome her sadness over the marriage that was gone, and how she only had $40/week to live on and budget with.  But the book lacks depth and details about these things.  Nowhere is there a budget.  Her marriage is just mentioned in the beginning as a side issue, something that forced her to move to a little cottage.  It is not really a book about moving to a new place - she already knew a lot of the suppliers and had friends in the area.  In fact, it often reads like a marketing piece for her friends that provide local food.  (Which is not bad, but not what I want to pay for.)  

And the foraging and bartering is minimal, honestly.  We are not talking about someone that picks 20 kinds of weeds and make a salad out of it because she has nothing else to eat. She is not growing any of her own food (despite the cover picture, which is not of her or her carrots). For example, how could she buy that expensive coffee and still be under $40/week?  There are other things that I wonder about - didn't she get unemployment insurance after she was laid off?  That would be more than $160/month for food I would think...  I just wonder, especially since she never clarifies her economic circumstances.  At one point she needs to earn money to pay for fuel oil, so she then freelances a few weeks and then gets the money, so why couldn't she do more of that at other times.  I just don't feel like we are given the whole picture. This might be because of privacy reasons, but if you hold back on those things, you can't have such a subtitle on a book.

Part of the book is rambling, preaching arguments about the bad food industry, the goodness of local food, the great thing about having chickens, and details about her pets.  Barbara Kingsolver has written so much better about the first themes (and Michael Pollan too, even if he is too rambling and fact-and number-crazy as well), that it feels old in this book.  We have heard this before.  

It would have been so much more interesting to read about the author's own feelings, fears, frustrations, happiness, and experiences, instead of reading another 'eat-local-it-is-good' book.  I believe in eating local and fresh food too, but I don't want to be preached and lectured to. Why spend so much time on explaining UHT pasteurization, CAFO animal farms, and coffee roasting facts?  I just didn't find her writing interesting.  It was well-written, factually accurate, but boring.  Why is each chapter focused on mostly one ingredient? Wasn't this to be about her life, not food ingredients? Why is half the book recipes?  It honestly feels a bit like a copycat of Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book, but not even half as good. Sorry, I might be harsh, but at least I am honest. 

Instead of this book, I suggest you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (about local food), or The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball (about growing your own food and starting a farm), or American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen (about food ingredients).  All of these three books are fun, fascinating, and great entertainment and education at once.  

Now, there is some good things about this book too.  The book is exceptionally well designed and printed with nice font choices and paper.  But I still can't recommend it for reading.  I know I might be in the minority on this, but I think that with the limited time we have in the world, it is best to stick to books that are fun to read. This books get a C+, sorry.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New art from AREA

My Oh My, originally uploaded by Withering Dawn.

After a month at Maine College of Art (MECA) in Portland, this great painting was done as a final project. I love it! Click on the painting to see it larger.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Swedish summer night

We have vacation here in Sweden and internet is mostly accessed by mobile internet (if available). A few days ago we were out kayaking with the whole family, and I slept in my sleeping bag cover (hooray for mosquito nets!). The picture is the view from my sleeping bag.

Have a great summer, all readers!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In honor of the father of genetics

Today's Google logo is so smart, and scientific, and funny, showing the parents, and F1 (=children) and F2 (=grandchildren) generations and their different colors in a genetic context.  A recessive gene will show up in 25% of grandchildren, so one 1 of 4 (yellow beans). Statistically speaking that is.  This was all figured out by the father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, and it is his birthday today.  This monk spent his life breeding peas and trying to understand genes and their variations, except of course he never knew there is such a thing as DNA and genes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to find giant insects:

Week-long time, not many posts.  We are still here!  It is just summertime with a lot going on, so here we go again...

So, here are some advice on how to find giant insects based on recent experiences in New Jersey.

Option 1. You paint a room and leave a window open without having a screen in it to keep the insects out.  A giant buzz follows and the largest blackest wasp you have ever seen will soon enter.

giant, giant black fly - what species?
I ran out of the room (wasp allergy...), and PP came up to take a look at it, and we killed it with the hornet spray (sorry, but I just can't have wasps in the house). Looking closer, it turns out it was no wasp, it had only two wings.  It was a fly!  A fly that was nearly 7 cm between its wingtips and nearly 4 cm long from head to butt. Incredible.  That was pinned for the collection of course.

Option 2.  You take a walk on a road on a summer morning, early (say 7 AM), and keep looking down.  That is how I found these two insects, also giant and gorgeous.

click beetle, Alaus oculatis

This 'double-eyed click beetle' ('knäppare' in Swedish, Alaus oculatis) I found was about 4 cm long, and was laying dead on the road. First it just looked like a piece of asphalt with white eyes painted on it, but I doubt that was evolutionary mimicry...  I wonder how high this beetle can jump when it clicks on its back... 10 cm?  It must be more than the small click beetles at least.

Imperial moth, Eacles imperialis
And then this.  A fuzzy large yellow moth. It might have been killed by a car, or a bird.  The body was damaged, but all the parts where still there, except one missing antennae.  A quick google search for 'big yellow moth' made it clear that this is a male Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis), a species I have never seen before.

Imperial moth, Eacles imperialis
The moth got pinned and mounted in a Swedish 'spännbräda' with waxpaper over its wings to dry its forms and shapes in proper arrangement for an insect collection, of course.  Insects are really gorgeous and incredible.  I highly recommend the book Extreme Insects for more of the biggest and most amazing 6-legged creatures.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stamp of the Day: Maine

AREA is in Maine at an art school course, hanging out among lobsters, cobble stone streets of Portland, and kayaks.  This US stamp shows Acadia National Park, but could have been a photo from a Swedish coastal place as well.  Maine is the place that is the most similar to Swedish nature in the US. Same granite bedrock smoothed by ice ages, foggy mornings, coastal archipelagos and spruce and pine forests, even if the species are a bit different.  And there are a lot more lobsters in Maine than in Sweden! 

We have visited Maine twice and it is a gorgeous state.  Here are links to some previous Maine posts:
Sea, sky, blue, and the rest.
I miss Maine. Really.
Bernhard Harbor and lobsters.
Mount Desert Island.
Little Cranberry Island.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thoughts on anti-intellectualism

Growing up in Sweden and then living in America (= here USA) subjects you to some interesting cultural contradictions.  American culture is vast, both geographically, but also culturally, ethnically, and socially.  One of the things that have bothered and surprised me most is how some people, many of them politicians, despise knowledge and scientific facts.

For these people, I always wonder what they would say if they came to a hospital and the doctors there wouldn't know the latest and best treatments or use the most modern technology.  Oh no, they want the latest and the best science, but only when it comes to medicine it seems.  Not when it comes to the environment, climate, international politics, or making society work so it functions the best for all.  In these latter cases, science should be miscredited and seen as elitist and the opposite of 'common sense'. 

I think it has to do with the mega-obsession in the American culture of the individual, the egocentric way of thinking "me" and "I" about most things.  Strangely enough it is often based on a Christian foundation, which to me should mean sharing, fairness, and equality, but oh no, here it is much more of 'I deserve this' and 'you don't deserve that' here in the US.

I am overgeneralizing here, because there are many people and community groups that are not at all like this, but there is a general, historic, and very bothersome trend to only care about yourself and your family in this country.  That is why USA is 40 years behind Europe in environmentally friendly policies and systems, have no good affordable daycare systems, and a large proportion of the citizens have no health insurance at all.  This is a country of egoists, indeed, speaking in general terms.  [A caveat here too, some of the most generous and friendly people I have ever met have been Americans.]

I was reminded about all this when I read a very good article in a recent issue of the magazine Academe:  A Brief History of Anti-intellectualism in American Media by Dane S. Claussen.  Here is her summary of the three types of anti-intellectualism that were proposed in the 1950s, and I think they still stand, unfortunately.

"Briefly, and at the risk of oversimplifying and overgeneralizing, Rigney (and Hofstadter) found three types of anti-intellectualism: (1) “religious antirationalism,” the view that emotion is warm (that is, good) and reason cold (bad), an outlook often complemented by absolute systems of belief (primarily conservative Protestantism); (2) “populist anti-elitism,” public skepticism first of the patrician class of “gentlemen politicians” and old money (which still flares up, as against George H. W. Bush) and later public hostility toward progressive politics and support of such figures as Joe McCarthy or George Wallace; and (3) “unreflective instrumentalism,” beliefs and behavior indicating that knowledge is worthless unless it immediately and directly leads to material gain, such as profits or higher salaries and wages." (source)

So, what do you do when arugula becomes a bad word, or when media complains that the presidents wants spicy or Dijon mustard on his burger, because that is supposedly 'anti-American and elitist'.  The people here are not only crazy at times, but also very stupid, and proud of being stupid, that is the weirdest.  I don't know what to do when reason fails for these people... but it is utterly frustrating to watch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Swedish flower?

Curls, originally uploaded by mycologie.
Color-wise certainly.

life at an angle

Club Tips, originally uploaded by mycologie.

Phyciodes tharos is sitting on a Rudbeckia, and nope, will not fall off. At that angle, we humans certainly would.
Photo by mycologie, check out her other gorgeous photos.