December 30, 2007

Where in the world is...

Given a time limit and an outline map, how well do you know the countries of the world and the geography of the U.S.? I found the Europe and South America tests online, and then Patrick decided he wanted to create the others. Be sure to pass along the US ones to your foreign friends to see how well they do.

Europe - There are 49 countries, and you have 5 minutes. KK's score: 32 (because I couldn't remember which were in Asia and which were Europe)

South America - There are 13 countries, and you have 3 minutes. KK's score: 9 (but I was cheated, because I couldn't spell one)

United States - There are, of course 50 states, and you have 5 minutes. KK's score: 50 in 4:11.

US Capitals - Again, 50 capitals in only 7 minutes. KK's score: 35 (stupid fly-over states)

Africa - 50 countries, 7 minutes. KK's score: 28 (and I forgot some of the big, easy-to-remember ones)

Post your scores in the comments!

December 23, 2007

One Pho All and All Pho One

After visiting with my inlaws this evening in Silver Spring, MD, we noticed a Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall named Pho Real. I thought this was the best restaurant name I'd ever seen, even though I was sad they hadn't called it Pho Sho' or, even better, Pho Shizzle. Turns out, there is a more famous Pho Real, and it's in Charlotte. There also appears to be a Pho Sho in Fresno, CA, and even a What The Pho? But this Pho Shizzle is, apparently, not real and just a Photoshopped pic of a real Vietnamese restaurant. Too bad.

December 22, 2007

How do Swedes roll?

Today we headed to Ithaca for the 10th Annual International Rutabaga Curling Championship. Honestly. You can read about it here in wikipedia. The rutabaga, I found out from loads of helpfully-placed signs decorating the Farmers' Market stalls this morning, is generally called a swede in the other English-speaking countries but here in the US, we use the word rotabagge, which is drawn from a Swedish dialect and means "root ram." (Yes, I know that sounds like a euphemism for something naughty.)

For some reason, there were alpacas at the event. I petted them. They were soft and nice, but they smelled like barn. After the parade of contestants, we huddled around the curling pitch to watch the first event, the Turnip Toss, which kids under 8 can enter. They tossed their little turnips towards the bullseye on the ground, but most overshot the mark or veered off to one side. A man on stilts, wearing "pants" made out of green-and-black shaggy leopard print material, interviewed the winner in a fake German accent. (Nope, no idea why.)

The actual rutabaga roll was a bit more interesting, if only because rutabagas can be anywhere from the size of a baseball to the size of a small basketball. They have to be able to roll in all directions and are inclined to roll at the spectators. This entails a lot of jumping out of the way, which does help keep you warm in the 35-with-a-windchill-of-25 cold. A couple standing near us tried to enlist us in the contest - they had signed up and even purchased a rutabaga but decided to leave early - but we didn't want to wait until their number (75) was called. Apparently if there is a foul on the play, one of the referees penalizes the tosser by holding the rutabaga aloft and going at it with a giant cheese grater. And the overseer of the whole event appeared to be an elderly man in a kilt (sans stockings, but with a flask in his knee-highs), whom the emcee kept calling Jacques Strap. (Maybe he originated the curling event. The Scots did bring the rutabaga from Sweden and introduce it to the rest of the world, after all.)

And that was my morning in upstate NY. At least I learned that swedes are heavy and wobbly.

December 20, 2007

I won!

I never win anything. When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted a computer. My dad told me to enter this essay-writing competition that the local Hardee's (seriously) was holding to win an AppleIIe (or whatever Mac was popular in 1988). He said that if I were meant to have a computer, I would win that contest. I diligently wrote my 25-word (seriously) explanation of why computers were the future and waited. But I didn't win. And didn't get a computer until my 16th birthday (unless you consider the Atari computers "real" - but with an external hard drive that crashed if you jumped on the floor too hard, it was a sad excuse for a computer).

My point is that, outside of the Olin Mills portrait that I won by signing my mom up at Roses and the free meal at Bonanza that I got from filling out a comment card with all "Terrible" performance reviews, I haven't ever really won anything. And today that all changed. Yesterday was community appreciation day at my local community college's gym, and they gave us granola bars and fitness water and let us enter a raffle for a free one-month membership (valued at $30!). They called me today, and I won, beating out 40 other people! Woo hoo! I likely would have given them the $30 a month anyway, since it's a cute little gym with fancy TVs on every cardio machine, and the TC3 students are hardly ever there. But I feel very communally appreciated now. Or something.

December 17, 2007

I cook gooooood

I accidentally peeled too many sweet potatoes the other night when we were deep-frying the entire cupboard, so I needed to use it for dinner tonight. After looking at a bunch of recipes, I concocted my own dish - it's kind of African chili-stew-tagine fusion, I suppose. I forgot to take a picture - maybe I'll post one tomorrow when I have the leftovers for lunch. It's also entirely vegan - if you leave out the butter in the couscous and use vegetable broth or plain salt instead of bouillon. Don't take my word for it - even Patrick liked it!

KK's Moroccan Stew with Fruited Couscous
Serves 4-6
Stew Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon (or 1 cup vegetable broth, or some salt)
1 sweet potato, cubed
1 vidalia onion, diced
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup salsa (chipotle works best - or substitute a couple tomatoes and a couple jalapenos)
3-4 tbsp peanut butter
garam masala
cinnamon
curry powder or turmeric
salt
chopped peanuts
chopped parsley or cilantro

Boil water, bouillon, lentils, and about 1 tsp turmeric or curry powder for 30 minutes or until soft. While those are cooking, cube the sweet potato and steam in a metal strainer over 1" of water (or in a steamer) for about 15 minutes or until tender. Sautee the onion in a bit of olive oil until browned. Combine sweet potatoes, onion, and lentil mixture into one pot. Add ginger, salsa, and peanut butter and stir. Season with garam masala, cinnamon, and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro and some chopped peanuts. Serve side-by-side with fruited couscous (below).

Couscous Ingredients:

1 1/2 c water
1 1/2 c couscous
1 medium apple, diced
1/4 c yellow raisins
butter or olive oil
cinnamon

Boil water. Add couscous and turn off burner. Cover and let sit 5 minutes. Then add diced apple, raisins, and cinnamon. Add a tablespoon of butter or a dash of olive oil if the couscous is too dry. Serve immediately with the stew.

December 3, 2007

Can popcorn pop underwater?

Surprisingly enough, when you google this question, you don't get an answer. Popcorn works by heating up the tiny amount of water in the kernel, which then forces open the watertight shell, causing the little explosion of tasty goodness. It takes a minute or so in an air popper to heat the kernel to the point of popping. So it would seem that you could toss some kernels into a pot of boiling water for a minute and achieve the same effect - the water heats up the kernel, which pops. But what would the result be of a kernel popping underwater?

I got conflicting ideas from some superstars of chemistry. Erik felt that popcorn wouldn't do anything underwater because of density or air pressure or lava or something. I wasn't really paying attention. Patrick thought that the kernels would pop, sending droplets of hot water shooting into the air. He was ok with my experimenting in the microwave but told a long and intricate tale about how he wouldn't take me to the emergency room if superheated water and kernels on the stove caused scalding burns to my face and eyes. I figured that if I call myself a scientist (even if it's just a social scientist), I should test this empirically.

The microwave experiment. I filled a ramekin with about 1/4 cup of water, tossed in about 10 kernels of popcorn, and microwaved it for 3 minutes. At the end of that period of time, I took the ramekin out of the microwave. The little kernels were emitting bubbles from underneath the water, but they hadn't popped as far as I could tell.

The stovetop experiment. I filled the bottom of a sturdy pot with about 1/2 cup of water and heated it on the gas stove until it was boiling. I tossed in one kernel, and nothing happened. Then I tossed in a couple more. Nada. No geyers of sizzling water (fortunate for me, but unfortunate for science). Thinking perhaps they needed more time, I tossed in about a dozen kernels, put on a lid, and waited 3 minutes. The kernels happily bubbled from beneath the glassy surface, like a kid swimming in his above-ground pool. They, like the kid, ended up a bit pruney and out of breath, but no worse for the wear.

So the experiments weren't nearly as exciting as I had hoped. Thus ends my tenure as mad scientist extraordinaire.

December 1, 2007

You know you're in central Virginia when...

... you drive past Liberty University, you (used to) have a holiday called Lee-Jackson-King Day, and you have racist streams.
I can't wait to move back to Dixie.

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