Archive for August, 2008

Stinging nettle soup

My late grand mother told me ~15 years ago that during the World War II she had to eat quite some “stinging nettle soup” (σούπα τσουκνίδας) to survive. Since then I’ve been meaning to learn how to cook this food, but it wasn’t up until 10 days ago when I asked a great aunt of mine (now in her mid-70s), that I learned how to cook it. Since then, I also learned that Scandinavians, Turks, Romanians, some villages in France, and native American Indians also eat nettles. I haven’t tried the recipe as it’s not the right season to harvest them, but I am transferring the recipe as told by my aunt.

So, first, you need to wait for the time that nettles grow, around February-March. You have to use some thick gloves in order to not get irritated by the nettle stinging. Harvest the nettles while young, before they have bloomed. Wash well.

On a big pan put lots of water, bring it to boil, and cook the nettles until tender. Drain the water away, and bring the nettles into a blender to make them a puree (traditionally, Greeks would use a wooden tool to “beat” the nettles until they become somewhat mashed instead of puree). Add some water on a pan, bring to a boil, and add the nettle puree.

While stirring, add some salt, tender onion greens (chopped), one garlic clove crushed, olive oil, a bit of lemon juice, and just enough of white flour to get the soup thickened. Eat warm.

As a variation, for these modern days we live in, I guess you can also use some vegetable stock instead of salt, to give it a more distinct flavor.

Video recipe: Macaronopita

My mother, Barbara, is showing us how to cook macaronopita (also makaronopita), a pasta-based Epirus-Greek pie recipe. One of the best foods to take with you on picnics or trips.

Shot with a cheap Kodak V1233 digicam. The video has no editing niceties or direction, it’s just a point-and-shoot handheld video at my mother’s kitchen. HD version here.

Sony Vegas Platinum 9

Sony Vegas Platinum 9, released a few days ago, is the most flexible consumer video editor out there. To me, it’s the best bang for the buck editor for the $85 it costs. Sony added full customization support on its h.264 encoder now, it has full 1920×1080 read/write AVCHD support, better HDV support and more. If you are looking for a cheap editor that’s full featured and not “dumb and drop” like iMovie or Ulead, then this is the one for you.

I have two problems with Platinum 9 though:

1. The newly added “new project” wizard. I think the wizard was a good idea, but the screen where it asks you what kind of project you want (e.g. DVD, Blu-Ray etc), is the worst thing ever. I really don’t understand how Sony could make such a tragic usability and technical error. You see, it’s very easy for someone to pick the DVD option while his/her source video is HD. Problem is, when this person comes back to that project weeks or months later and wants an HD export, several elements in the timeline will not automatically adjust to the new resolution (e.g. the text frame sizes must be changed manually throughout the video if the project properties change). Let alone that most people don’t know in the first place that they must adjust the project properties before export in HD (and that can lead to massive quality loss). Heck, there’s not even a 1920×1080 option in that list! To add to that, editing in a non-native resolution/frame rate, has up to 50% speed decrease in overall performance. So what the hell was Sony thinking when introduced this wizard that asks what your target export is? Don’t they know that people export in more than one formats/targets? Don’t they know that most people don’t even use the project properties so they won’t go change them before exporting in HD? Don’t they know that performance goes down? Thankfully, for those few of us who know, there is still the “match media” icon in the project properties dialog. Moral of the story: always edit in the native properties of your video. Decide how to export at the very end. All Sony needed to do in the wizard was to launch the “match media” procedure instead of the “how do you want to export” dialog. On a mixed-format project, all it was needed was to ask the user to “match” a file that represents the dominant format of the project.

2. After enough bickering, Sony added 1920×1080 AVCHD export in the free update v9.0a (the original v9.0 didn’t support this). Unfortunately, the AVCHD “custom” export screen still doesn’t let you specify 24p even if it easily could let you do that (23.976 frame rate and progressive field order, that is). Consumer camcorders like the Panasonic SD9 support such formats. While this omission doesn’t affect everybody, there is no workaround.

If Sony fixes these two issues, I think we are looking at a near-perfect consumer editor.

New Fall TV Shows

A few new TV shows start this season, some of them might turn to be interesting as it seems to be a trend to have a sci-fi/fantasy elements in them, although they certainly are rehashes of older ideas we’ve seen before:

* Crusoe. A guy shipwrecked on a tropical island tries to make it back home.
* Eleventh Hour. A tech/science-type detective. Obviously a crime drama geared towards geeks.
* Fringe. An X-Files/Alias type of paranormal drama. Might make it big, might not.
* Kings. The biblical story about David, but set in our time and world.
* Knight Rider. This one is going to suck, just like its preview movie did.
* Life on Mars. Yet another detective drama, but this one has some time travel elements. Remake of a BBC drama.
* The Mentalist. Another detective story. Between “Psyche” and “Life” last year, we’ve seen it all before.
* My Own Worst Enemy. Multiple-personalities spy thriller.
* Dollhouse. Multiple-personalities spy thriller. You read that right.

Random Stuff, Part 23

* Back from Greece. Too long of an overall flight time for my taste (15 hours, 3 flights one of which had a stop).

* To everyone who is looking for a business idea: bubble-bursting touchscreen device for babies. My 8-month niece would usually throw away her normal-looking toys after 15 seconds — she quickly grew bored with them. But when I gave her the iPhone… with the iPhone she was totally surprised. She wouldn’t stop bursting bubbles with the two such iPhone bubble games I had installed in it. Especially with the one of them, where she could use more than one finger on the screen at the time, she wouldn’t stop playing! Now, that’s a toy for smart babies!

* I am thinking of growing some tomatoes on our balcony. I got jealous of the nice tomatoes I had in Greece during my stay from our vegetable garden.

* My mom prepared and cooked some kokoretsi for us. That’s most of the animal internals, well-cleaned, and tangled together. Then, roasted.

* This was the first time that I felt that I didn’t want to leave Greece after being vacating there for a few days. I was happy there.

Kolokythopita

A recipe directly from my mother, which is different than the main courgette pie recipe found in Northern Greece (it’s less sweet). This is one of my favorite pies, and very few people know this particular version of the recipe.

Ingredients (for 10)
* 1 kg mexican courgette/zucchini (it must be this kind, rather the more common kind)
* 1 cup of olive oil
* 1 big onion, chopped
* 1.5 to 2 cups flour (use 1 to 1.5 cup of almond flour for Paleo version)
* 1 egg (2 eggs for Paleo version)
* chopped mint
* some salt
* some water
* 1/2 cup raisins (optional, for sweeter version)
* 1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional, for savory version)

Execution
1. Peel off the courgettes and cut them in very thin slices inside a big bowl. We add some salt on the slices and we use our fists to dry out their juices completely (by struggling it). This is the most difficult part of the recipe, as you need to put out quite some physical strength to dry out the courgettes from their juice. Place the dried zucchini on a separate bowl and throw away the juices on the first bowl when done.
2. Later, we add and mix in 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of olive oil, the chopped mint, and the onions, and we stir well, for all ingredients to become one. We oil a big baking pan, and we put the mass everywhere in the pan using our fingers to even everything out in the dish in a thin layer.
3. [Optional Step] In another bowl we add salt, the second cup of flour, 3 tbspoons of olive oil, 1 egg, and a bit of water, and we beat them all in order to make a non-stiff batter. We add that mix on top of the courgette mass on the baking dish and we use our fingers to evenly distribute the batter too in a thin layer.
4. Add the rest of the olive oil on top and distribute it too, and we then bake it at 250 Celsius (over 400F) in an already warmed-up oven, for about an hour, until well golden brown.

Linux headaches

Here in Greece I am using the IBM T23, with the latest Ubuntu Linux in it. It generally works ok, but wifi and dialup is a pain in the ass. While I never had a problem with my netgear pcmcia wifi card in the USA, we had to set the router’s channel number to 6 from 12 in order to get the laptop to connect in Greece. It would just refuse to connect otherwise, and we even tried with another usb wifi stick, that was bought in Greece. It seems that somehow Linux keeps as default internally the channel number of the country you first use wifi with, and if you travel, well, bad luck for you.

As for dialup, it connects once every 5-6 retries, it somehow misses the mark to get an IP and DNS from the server. And don’t let me start about the troubles we had with Linux trying to copy from an SD card 4 GBs of data to a usb fat32 external drive. Apparently it never “sync” after the copy, and so files were never really copied. Or something.

Every few months I am getting this “chill” to leave OSX and XP behind and go with Linux. But every time, Linux will somehow let me down with a very specific kind of bugs. It’s the kind of bugs that are only getting fixed when the developers have project managers and closed down teams, rather than random developers at random countries working on their own.

The Black Rock

There is a good chance we will be having a flashback of the story of the “Black Rock” on “Lost” this coming season. The producers are currently trying to find two old ships for shooting. Personally, I can’t wait for the new season!

Back to the net, Part II

[I am reposting this as it somehow has disappeared form the DB]

My internet connection is very flaky here in Greece. I used to have access to a shared wifi hotspot a few days ago that suddenly stopped working, so I am now with a prepaid 5 Euro internet connection called “net” (20 hours of connectivity per month). Apparently, to make that working with our Ubuntu Linux laptop (IBM T23) and the “martian” winmodem driver, I needed to install GnomePPP (gnome-networking doesn’t stay connected), enable its “stupid mode” option (whatever the hell that is), and add the forthnet gateway and two DNS IP addresses. Only then it connects correctly and stays connected. Hopefully this will help some users.

A true, organic, free range, chicken

We can buy organic, free range chickens everywhere in the world. But even these organic free range chickens look just like any other industrialized chicken. Here’s the real organic, free range, and occasionally fresh-vegetable & corn-fed chicken. From my grand-mother’s hens. Red (!) meat that resembles duck, not chicken. More real than the real thing.

Uncooked:

Cooked: