Friday, February 29, 2008

Conrad Black is to Report to Jail on Monday

My feelings are mixed. Conrad Black was a hero of mine. I thought his books were great and subscribed to his newspapers and magazines on both sides of the pond. I even lived in Crossharbour across the quay from The Telegraph's West Ferry Road Printing Plant. But Lord Tubby of Crossharbour was caught dipping deep into the cookie jar at the expense of shareholders. It's a story of almost Greek Tragedian proportions. Spending your 65th birthday in bar hotel is certainly not something to look forward to.

Oddly, Blacks two co-defendants are still on the outside while their appeals are addressed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taliban Request Cell Phone Operators to Pull the Plug Between 5pm and 7am

More info here.

When I lived in London, we had a small hand held scanner that covered the 900 mhz range. On a nice summer night -- between 5 and 7 actually -- the bands became filled with phone conversations in Arabic.

Most of these transmissions I believe were over unencrypted portable telephones and not mobiles. I didn't exactly consider it eavesdropping as I don't speak Arabic but it seemed an interesting phenomenon and the conversations went on for hours.

Now the Taliban in Afghanistan is asking that Afghani Mobile Phone Companies cease service between 5 and 7 as they believe the 'peacekeeping' forces are able to locate, sometimes with the connivance of the phone companies themselves, Taliban insurgents. I have no doubt this is true. But the whole idea of a Nation's communications -- landlines were extinguished long ago -- going down at night at the whim of a bunch of medieval clerics seems positively preposterous.

Unfortunately, if the poor cell companies do not comply, there may well be blood. This is perhaps slightly less unfortunate than the poor physically and mentally disabled Iraqi's who are being made into unwitting suicide bombers, which is not suicide at all, but mass murder plus one., but not much.

Something that really unerved the wehrmacht during the Nazi's hubristic attempt to bring down the Soviet Union was the site of dogs with backpacks with sticks pointing upwards. Trained according to strict Pavlovian principals to run under trucks for food, with their backpacks they would run under the German vehicles with explosives. German soldiers as a result would shoot any dog or Jew or peasant on site. It really is a miserable world sometimes.

I hear our favorite finance minister is releasing an uncontroversial budget today. Yawn. Now this is a country I feel grateful to live in.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Great Picture

David Gilmour joins the sort-lived five-piece Floyd, January 1968. Left to right: Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, Nick Mason, and Roger Waters (front)
(Nick Mason's Archive)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bentleys and Minis

$2500 Tato Nano


Although a Bentley might cost you twenty times the price of a Mini, as the more Hayekian wags at the LSE would have it, the Bentley could not legally take you to your destination any faster or take you to any destination that the Mini could not. Indeed, very often the Mini could go places that the Bentley could not and no-one (not even the insufferable in pursuit of the inedible) would argue that a Bentley was any easier to park than the Mini, though I know which car I would drive.

While I haven't seen or driven a Tata Nano, I have the ASUS EEE sub-notebook and think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Indeed, 'war-driving' (looking for the eponymous Mr. Linksys open wireless connections) with the EEE really showed me just how unsecure the internet is. Of course the granola munchers will not be too happy about Indian families trading in their mules for green house gas emitters, but so what. There will still be another granola for everyone.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If There is Anyone On this Earth Who Knows What a Perfect Cupcake is, it will be DylanY

Copied verbatim from

The Latest from Milquetoast

In search of 'Wichcraft's cupcake

Posted: 18 Feb 2008 11:23 AM CST

Perhaps number two on the List of Things That Irritate me is the "secret recipe." (Number one on the list is the non-recipe recipe; that is, telling someone how you made something but intentionally leaving out key ingredients or parts of the process. Number one is worse than number two because it's both disingenuous and selfish, whereas number two is just selfish.) Certainly everyone has a right to a secret; I'm not disputing that. But, one of my moral axioms is that one should always share knowledge with others that furthers the development of humanity, recipes included. If you have a great brownie recipe, spread it far and wide, for by doing so, you may spare many generations bad brownies. Yes, I suppose if one is in the business of baking those brownies, perhaps then one wouldn't share the recipe, although even then I would make an argument in favor of it.

Those who don't cook a lot are often surprised to find out that published recipe books are often wrong or misleading. One could make a hundred chocolate cakes from a hundred baking books and still not wind up with a perfect chocolate cake; in fact, many of those recipes might wind up being wrong in the same way, because there are actually very few writers that really attempt to perfect their recipes. A corollary: commercial chefs know a lot of things that aren't published in any book. There is a pantheon of knowledge that is simply never or rarely shared. I have inifinite respect to those rare individuals who are both at the top of their craft and are also willing to share with others. If you are both excellent and generous, you are a free spirit in the Nietzschean sense.

Which brings me to cupcakes. For a number of years, I have had a mild obsession with the cream filled chocolate cupcake at 'Wichcraft. In 2005, I wrote on Chowhound:

"Cream filled chocolate cupcake at 'Wichcraft
Visiting from LA - I had an interesting food day today in New York - most of it serendipitous. My initial plan was to have a falafel and lentil soup at Rainbow Falafel on 17th street (I ultimately did, and it was good). On the way, I passed through the farmer's market at Union Square and then 'Wichcraft around the corner.I found the sandwiches at 'Wichcraft fine, but not memorable. However, their cream filled chocolate cupcake was simply incredible. It's not a sweet cupcake, but rather an extremely intense, moist dark chocolate cake (not of the flourless ilk, thankfully) abstemiously filled with lightly sweetened cream, topped with a thin coating of dark chocolate ganche. Memorable. I'd love the recipe if it's been published."

There were no responses to my question. I searched around for recipes by Karen De Masco, 'Wichcraft's pastry chef, and found a few things, including a very wonderful peanut butter sandwich cookie. But no cupcakes.

Last week I was in New York and had a 'Wichcraft cupcake for lunch. I was inspried to ask again on Chowound:

"Chocolate cake recipe like the one in 'Wichcraft's chocolate cupcake
'Wichcraft (locations in SF and New York and possibly elsewhere) has about the best chocolate cupcake I've ever had. It's sort of a very upscale creme filled hostess cupcake. The cake itself has the following characteristics: very moist, fine grained and soft (so I am guessing the butter and flour are mixed directly, a characteristic of fine grained soft cakes), extremely dark and chocolatey. It's quite a dense cake, but it's clearly a cake- the flour is very evident. It almost melts in your mouth. It tastes like it is made with quite high quality chocolate, like a Valrhona.
Anyone have a cake recipe that sounds like this?"

To my surprise, a reply came back a few days later from a poster named MatthewG:

Here is a little treat from your friends at ‘wichcraft. The recipe comes compliments of Karen DeMasco, Pastry Chef at craft and craftbar, who originally developed this delicious dessert for us. Enjoy!
‘wichcraft cupcakes (aka devil’s food cake cupcakes)
Yield: 36 cupcakes
1 ½ cups cocoa powder1 ¼ cups warm water
1 ½ cups cake flour1 ½ cups All-Purpose flour1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder1 ½ teaspoon baking soda½ teaspoon salt
1 stick + 2 tablespoons butter3 ½ cups dark brown sugar1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 ¼ cup buttermilk
Whisk together cocoa and water to make a paste. Sift dry ingredients together. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add in the eggs one at a time followed by cocoa paste. Once combined, alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk. Place 24 paper cupcake liners into muffin tins. Fill the liners up to ½-inch from the top and bake at 325ºF for about 25 minutes, turning after the first 12 minutes. Cake should be firm to the touch and when the center is inserted with a knife, it should come out clean.
Cream filling
1 ½ cups heavy cream¼ cup confectioner’s sugar½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, whip all of the ingredients to soft peak.
Ganache frosting
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate½ cup corn syrup¾ cup heavy cream
In a saucepot, bring the heavy cream and corn syrup to a boil. In the meantime, with a serrated knife, chop the chocolate into uniform small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Once the heavy cream and syrup have come to a boil, pour over the chocolate and mix until combined and all chocolate has melted.
Fill a piping bag with a small round tip with the Cream Filling. Insert a paring knife through the cupcake liner into the bottoms of each cupcake making an opening big enough to insert the pastry bag tip. Slowly squeeze a bit of whipped cream into cupcake until you feel some resistance.* To frost, dip each cupcake into the warm Ganache Frosting. Swirl them so that top is covered. Set aside to let cool and harden.
*Overfilling causes the cupcake to split or the top to pop off."

I was extremely impressed that MatthewG took the time to respond to my question, and in great detail. I'm looking forward to making these cupcakes for my birthday next week. And Karen De Masco - you are a true free spirit. I hope you write a book one day.

A Picture That I Would Post More if It Wouldn't Look Like I Had a Problem with These Guys

Fidel Announces his 'Retirement'