Saturday, April 24, 2010

Phaedron's Offal Pie

This is the recipe for an organ-meat pie I made that happened not to suck. I didn't take a single measurement, so all the numbers here are only slightly better than a wild guess. This was done using a slow-cooker and made from scratch. Since it turned out well when simmered for 18 hours in a slow-cooker, and likely needs half that time at least, it's probably best to prepare the ingredients to begin simmering at night, the evening before you want it to be finished.


1/3 Whole Heart, Beef
1lb Kidney, Lamb
1lb Liver, Chicken
1-2 Onions
8-10 Potatoes
1-2 cups Frozen peas
1-2 cups Frozen corn
1-2 cups Diced carrot*
1mf† Flour
1 mf† Olive oil
Vegetable boullion (could easily substitute beef, chicken or any other to taste)
Garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste‡
4-5 eggs

* I did not use carrot, but I would have if I hadn't forgotten to pick some up at the store. It would have worked very well with the recipe.
† mf=metric fuck-ton
‡ Sea salt or kosher salt is best, though table salt would likely do.

Step 1: Preparing the meat
Preheat slow-cooker to "Low"

1) Halve or quarter the livers.

2) Lightly salt the liver, and season with boullion

3) Liberally dust with flour

4) Sauté with some of the onion in olive oil

1) Soak in cold water and rinse several times

2) Separate and halve down the middle.

3) Remove any tough, white tissue inside. Kidney has a strong uric smell and slight flavour unless simmered for an extremely long time (as I did) or boiled with vinegar and water beforehand (as I would have done had I consulted google beforehand instead of just winging it with strange organs I'd never cooked with before)

*Consult google. I didn't know do do it at the time, but it may be worth treating with vinegar at this point, or even before splitting the kidneys.

4) Dice into 1-2 cm chunks and dust liberally with flour.

5) Half-sautée with some of the onion in olive oil. You should be somewhere part-way between browning the meat and fully sautéing it.

If you get the heart from the meat section of a grocery store, it will likely already be cleaned of the tough fat, the veinous parts, the membrane and the connective tissue. If the heart is fresh and untouched, as you might get it from a custom butcher, you may need to do this yourself:

a) With a sharp knife, cuf the heart into three equal-ish pieces.

b) Cut away the hard fat from the outside

c) Remove veinous tissue

d) Remove membranous tissue as you would filet a fish.

e) Use 1/3 of a whole heart for the recipe (or more, if you fucking feel like it). The rest can be set aside for braising, or frozen for later.

1) Dice heart into 1x2cm pieced

2) Salt liberally and season liberally with boullion and any other seasonings to taste.

3) Dust liberally with flour.

Deglaze the skillet with water and boullion to add to the crockpot
4) Sauté the rest of your onion and brown the meat. When browning heart, use medium-high heat and liberal oil. Once browned, remove immediately from skillet ot else the heart will become tough and chewy.

Step 2: Making the Stew

I) Add deglaze and boullion to crockpot, along with all the meat you've prepared.

II) There should be enough liquid to incorporate the vegetables later on, but not so much that it will overflow when they go in. Add however much water and boullion stock is necessary to make this happen.

III) Simmer on "Low" for 10-18 hours

IV) 2-3 hours before removing time, add vegetables and diced parboiled potatoes

V) When the meat is tender, it should look and smell like a really delicious soup.

V-optional) Enjoy a delicious bowl of soup

VI) When the vegetables are cooked and tender, thicken into a stew with beurre manie:

Flour is used to thicken a soup into a stew. Adding flour to hot liquid, however, will give you big clumps of flour. Beurre manie allows you to add thickening flour into the mix without clumping. I've heard, though, that cornmeal, arrowroot, and instant-mashed potato mix make good thickening alternatives. Here's how to make the beurre manie.

1) In a mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour with 1/4 cup softened butter or margarine.

2) Mix thoroughly until the butter or margarine is "saturated" with flour, and cannot be mixed with anymore without leaving dry flor exposed.

3) Add beurre manie to the soup. As the butter or margarine melts, the flour will be released into the liquid to thicken it. Make and add more to desired consistency, but remember that it's best to try and maximize the ratio of flour to butter/margarine.

VII) Mix thoroughly and salt to taste.

VIII) Salt to taste and simmer (optional) for 20-60 minutes. It should look and smell like a really delicious stew.

VIII-optional: Enjoy a delicious bowl of stew.

Step 3: Everyone likes pie.

If everything has made it past the soup and stew stages without being eaten, you can now make it into meat pies.

Preheat oven to 425F and set rack to 1/3 height from the bottom.,1738,144182-243200,00.html
5 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. cold water
2 eggs
5 level tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. Crisco
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Mix like regular pie crust, sifting flour, baking powder and salt. Then adding other ingredients. Makes a 2 crust pie.
I didn't use any lemon juice, and substituted Crisco with Margarine. Butter is likely best, but it should be cold and finely chopped.

Wrap the dough in tin foil or saran wrap and toss it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

At this point, you need to decide what kind of pies you want to make. You can probably make about 2 massive pies, 4-8 serving-size pies in ovenproof bowls, 12+ snack-sized meat pasties (see images, or, as I did, a combination of all three sizes.

Roll out the pastry dough to appropriate width and thickness. I'm trusting that if you've this far, and have mastered basic literacy skills, you're smart enough to figure these sizes out on your own. Roll it out until it's at two inches thicker than the bowl you plan to cook in, and however thick you feel a perfect meat pie crust should be.

Line the inside of your bowls with the bottom crusts and coat the inside with egg wash (This helps to keep the crust from getting soggy against the stew). Fill the bottom crust with meat stew as far as you can without spilling over the edge.

Cover with the top crust, crimp it tightly to the overhanging exposed bottom crust, and coat the top liberally with egg wash to get that nice browning. Pole a few holes in the top to prevent steam from inflating your pie.

Bake at 425F for 35-55 minutes to taste, depending on what size your servings are, and how well done you like your pie crusts. Again, I'm assuming that you're not an idiot here; cook it, keep an eye on it and poke a hole or two if it begins to inflate, and take it out when it looks ready to you.

And you're done. It's not a quick recipe by any stretch, but most of that time - by far - is spent simmering in a slow-cooker without active input from you while you sleep, study, work, or consume drugs. It's worthwhile to make because of the sheer massive amount of food that comes out of it: you end up with a week's worth of dinner entrées for one person. Just make sure to refrigerate whatever you'll be eating within the following day or two, and freeze whatever you plan to keep for longer than 48 hours. It's also incredibly cheap. Most offal costs a small fraction of other meat cuts, and you're unlikely to spend more than $15-20 for all of the ingredients for this recipe, meat included.

Lastly, this isn't exact, and this was only my first time making it. Fuck with the recipe; use it as a template and see what else works. Let me know if you find anything good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Summer 2010: A bit of a hiking trip!

Here's the route:

View Larger Map

It's still - clearly - in the "pipe dream" phase: to walk, over the course of several weeks, from New Orleans to Chicago. Still, my friend Nez might be up for it.

1,571 km total (976mi)

Averaging between 3.5km/h and 4.0km/h on foot, 8 hours per day, that's 30km per day. Not an excruciating day's walk. So:

30km per day
6 days per week

That 52 travelling days. Taking one day off per week to rest and adding half a week's buffer in case of a minor setback, that's 65 days. 65 days on foot from New Orleans to Chicago.

This isn't a wilderness trip, so we don't need to take extensive supplies with us. We'll need to be carrying clothes, a tent, packs, water, cooking equipment, and a day or two's worth of food. We could easily keep our pack weight down below 35lbs.

We could actually do this. It's just surreal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chi, Woo, Kung Fu and God

Truth isn't everything.

It's an almost counter-intuitive thing for a skeptic to say, but in some cases truth can be outweighed by the benefit of a lie. The main arguments that I usually see for certain ways of faith-based thinking seem to pivot on the crux of two things:

1) The belief is objectively true: God does exist; vaccines cause autism; the your future is predicted in the stars; a supernatural Chi force runs through meridians in your body.

2) You're objectively better off believing that it's true: A life with religion is more full; believing in Chi flow can help you break concrete with your bare hands.

By the way I have categorized these things, it's clear that I'm operating on the assertion that the things listed above fall under the category of magical thinking. The focus of this post isn't to show the fallacy of believing in the objective truth of these kinds of claims; many people have gone into the minutiae of each issue in much greater detail, and with much more powerful logic than I would. This post is about the second category of argument: that there can - in some cases - be a demonstrable and objective benefit to believing in something that is not objectively true.

The martial art of Kung Fu - among many others - focuses on channeling the flow of a magical force, Chi, to do things would normally be considered to be impossible. Practitioners can often break wood and concrete with their bare hands, rest their weight against a sharpened spear by their throats, and hammer nails into wood with their bodies.

Does that prove that Chi exists? No, of course not. Now we understand the Newtonian concepts of force, acceleration, and kinetic energy. The fact remains, though, that a doctorate in Physics rarely bestows a professor with the ability to smash concrete with his forehead. Chi, it seems, proves to be a useful sort of cognitive shorthand for the massive amount of equivalent mathematical calculations for applying force with your own body. Chi may not exist, but Kung Fu can help you to do things normally considered outside of the range of human capabilities.

You could even test it experimentally. A double-blind study would be effectively impossible, because the experiment's subjects would obviously know whether they were practitioners of a martial art or whether they were the control group. But seeing as how the main purpose of a double-blind experiment is to compensate for placebo effect, I think we could write it off as superfluous; you've either got a broken piece of concrete, or a broken hand - placebo don't enter into it. A simple blinded study, however, would have pretty predictable results: Shaolin Monks can fuck shit up.

In short, Chi isn't real, but it can still help you.

I think there's a valid argument to the idea that truth isn't everything, and that the benefit of believing something that is objectively untrue can make that belief worthwhile. However, it would still be fallacious to conflate proof of a belief's benefit with proof of its veracity.

In this way, kung fu seems to represent an enormous outlier among the many other forms of magical thinking, in that the benefit of its belief can be objectively measured. Nobody would argue with the fact that if your goal is to break a brick with your body, you're better off knowing kung fu than not knowing it.

How do other forms of magical thinking such as religion, homeopathy, and astrology compare against kung fu? Not well. "Natural Medicine" and Astrology can and have been easily subjected to controlled study, and both have failed, with flying colours, to show any efficacy beyond the Placebo/Barnum effect and random chance. Astrology is nothing more than vague cold-reads guessing at random chance. No atheists that I know lead any less happy a life for their lack of superstitious belief in a god. Controlling for medical history and lifestyle, you're statistically about as well off going to a homeopath as you are doing nothing, and substantially less well off than going to see a real doctor who knows what he or she is talking about.

The funny thing about homeopathy is that the reverse used to be true. Before the advent of germ theory, vaccination, and basic procedures of hygiene and sanitation, mainstream medicine once did more harm than good. Common now-debunked treatments for various physical and mental illnesses once included bloodletting, lobotomy, electroshock (which has been discontinued in all but a select few rare cases where it can actually potentially help), and avoidance of bathing. If you lived in the 18th century, you'd often be better off having a homeopath playing magician and effectively doing nothing than you would going to a doctor and being bled by unsanitized equipment.

Eventually, though, the mainstream of medicine came to test treatments ojectively. Those treatments that did not prove to be effective were discarded, and those that worked were incorporated into the canon of modern medicine. Homeopathy is still making things up and doing nothing, and so has been surpassed by modern medicine as the treatment of choice for any reasonable person who wants to deal with something like AIDS, cancer, or internal bleeding.

It's 5:45am right now, so I'll get to my point.

I'm not a practitioner of kung fu, but if I wanted to break things in cool and objectively measurable ways, I'd be better off it I were.

I'm not a denizen of the 18th century, but if I were, I'd be better off going to a quack doctor selling me water and snake oil that did nothing than I would going to a doctor who wanted to open up my blood vessels with a dirty needle.

It's mostly a rhetorical point, but a belief doesn't need to be true for it to be a worthwhile one; it needs to be either true or demonstrably beneficial. I feel extremely confident in saying that in the modern world, most forms of magical thinking (god, zodiac signs, homeopathy, &c.) fail in both regards. Kung Fu (believing in Chi flow) and homeopathic medicine (when - and only when - compared to the mainstream medicine of a couple centuries ago) are not the rule, but the exceptions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Queer Idol is hetero-friendly.

I just applied to audition next month. This should be awesome. I'd probably get past the first round just by virtue (you know what I mean) of being the only straight man there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random thought: Blues Pilgrimage to Chicago.

Toronto to Chicago. I bet I could walk it in a month.

That's all.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jenny McCarthy is an idiot. A really hot idiot.

I've been away. Maybe I'll make it up to my imaginary readers.

Friend and blogger Tall Penguin recently wrote about some amazing travels that she's considering, and her concerns about the vaccines that she needs for the trip:

With two years of possibly not having to work spread out in front of me, I am entertaining ideas of travel. This became a very real possibility this past weekend when a friend offered to show me India in November when he goes there for his sister's wedding. I am excited about this prospect. But it's raised a fear in me that I didn't realize I was going to have to confront. Vaccinations.

If I'm going to experience world travel, there's a whole lot of shots I have to get. And it's not that I'm afraid of the needles. It's my fear that vaccines could be somewhat damaging to my long-term health. Having got hit with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my teens shortly after having a Polio vaccination, I have had a hard time shaking the idea that the two may have been connected, even though there is much scientific research to dispel any connection.

I have done a fair amount of research on the vaccination issue and feel that while vaccinations are generally safe, there are risks involved. So, I'm going to book myself an appointment with a travel doctor and learn all I can about the vaccinations I'd require to travel abroad, the benefits and the risks. All said and done, I am of the opinion that there are always risks involved in any choice and I can't keep myself back from fully experiencing my life just because of the potential risks.

Don't swallow the alternative-medicine snake-oil, Penguin, no matter how much water it's diluted with.

Here's where I tell you where I stand, based on my understanding of the facts. Take it or leave it.

Immunize. Vaccinations are probably responsible for saving more lives than anything else in the history of medicine, with the possible exception of basic sanitary procedure.

Things like measles, smallpox, and polio are just far-away ideas now, and they don't seem all that scary. The reason they're not all that scary is because vaccinations have effectively eliminated smallpox from developed countries, and all but decimated many other diseases which once killed people in huge numbers.

India is country with first-world areas within a literal stone's throw from people living in medieval conditions - dying of medieval diseases. Black Death still exists there, and there have been outbreaks of it within the last two decades.

For Canadians like us with little actual exposure to crippling and lethal epidemic diseases, it's easy not to get worried about them. They're still out there, though. They're only not here because of vaccination programs initiated in the Western world within the last few generations.

Weighed against the enormous life-saving benefit of vaccinations are the mainly unsubstantiated claims that there is a link between immunization and long-term physical or neurological health problems. The loudest rants come from people like your commenter "V," and former Playboy model/celebrity anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy, who are convinced that there is a link between modern medical vaccination programs and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

There have been numerous medical studies that have shown that there is no realistic link between vaccination and ASDs, and every time a study comes back and shows no causative link, anti-vaccine activists will either scroll down the vaccine's list of ingredients and pick out another chemical boogeyman, or else argue that "there's more to understanding your health than controlled, double-blind medical studies."

It's bullshit. The first vaccine ingredient to be touted as the cause of an "Autism Epidemic" was Thimerosal. There was no real evidence for a link, but it was removed anyway from just about all vaccines but influenza's. This happened over a decade ago in Canada, and ASD diagnoses haven't gone down.

I spend half of this last summer working with kids on the Autism spectrum, and I saw many parents and otherwise superb colleagues who bought into this frightened mob-think.
There's nothing to lose by getting vaccinated by getting immunized before going to India, and everything to lose by skipping the vaccines.

I'm solidly with Umlud and CyberLizard on this one, and I'll happily second Umlud's suggestion that you check out Orac over at his "Respectful Insolence" blog ( He's a surgeon who has written extensively on the subject.

My advice is to be skeptical of anyone who touts "alternative" medicine. The main reason alternative treatments are alternative is because they can't go through a controlled study showing anything more than placebo effect. Most treatments and medicines that can pass such a test are incorporated into the canon of mainstream medicine. There's no mainstream conspiracy to disprove things like homeopathy; if there were anything to it, Big Medicine would be more than happy to make money off of it, and would push for its full acceptance.

The medical community is about as embroiled in controversy over the safety of vaccinations as the scientific community is about the controversy of the origin of the human species - that's to say, an overwhelming majority standing on the side of the evidence, with a small handful of degreed whack-jobs getting attention for being "mavericks."

You know me. You know I'm not a conformist for the sake of conformity. It's just that there's no actual reason to skip your vaccinations, and a lot at stake if you do.

I'm not a doctor, though. Neither (clearly) is "V," and neither (presumably) are Umlud or CyberLizard. Orac is probably a doctor, but pseudonymous bloggers don't exactly display their medical degrees for the world to see.

Trust an actual doctor.

And bring me back strange and exotic forms of alcohol.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enlarge your P3N15!

So can we? Of course not. If I took all the thought that I devote to my penis, and applied it to something useful to society, there'd probably be no more cancer.

When I stumbled across an archaic post of PZ Myers' on his Pharyngula blog, my subconscious was ecstatic with glee. Finally, another excuse to focus on my penis!

The gist of PZ's post is that research seems to suggest that while across different species, sexual selection shows a consistent pressure towards larger size in male genitalia, the varying effect of natural-selection pressures will drive size down.

The burden of bearing a massive penis

A couple of recent studies in fish and spiders have shown that penis size is a matter of competing tradeoffs, and that these compromises have evolutionary consequences. Guys, trash that e-mail for penis enlargement services—they can make you less nimble in pursuit of the ladies, or worse, can get you killed.[....]

[....]The authors measured [the spiders'] peak speed in short sprints, and found that it shot up from 2.7±0.2 cm/s to 3.8±0.3. They also had impressive improvements in endurance. They'd chase spiders with a soft brush until the poor fellows collapsed in exhaustion and would move no more. Spiders with two intact pedipalps [dual spider-cocks] would flop down after 17 min 30 s±55 s. Lose one palp, and they could keep running for 28 min 30 s±45 s. Even more severe, spiders with two palps died.53% of the time after collapsing, while the unipalp runners only died 12% of the time[....]

[and now for the fish-dick portion!]

[....]Given a choice, females flirted with the large-gonopodium male 81% more often than the small-gonopodium male. You knew that would be the case, didn't you?

[...]That advantage doesn't come for free. They also measured burst-speeds in startle-escape responses, the fast tail-flick dart fishes use to get away from the lunge of predators…and the large-gonopodium fish were significantly slower. That large object hanging off the fish represents a good bit of drag, reducing speed, maneuverability, and endurance, and may also be something to catch the eye of predators.

This study went a step further and looked to see if gonopodium size has consequences in the real world. They sampled populations from lakes and ponds that were either free of piscivorous predators (the open bars in the chart below), or contained beasts that would chow down on Gambusia (the black bars), and measured gonopodium size. Males in predator-free waters had gonopodia that were on average 12% larger than their more harried conspecifics.

The lesson is clear. If you live in an environment where you can afford to be slow and lazy, sexual selection can take over: the females will preferentially mate with the fish with the larger gonopodia, driving up the average size over generations. If you have to be nimble and swift to stay alive, natural selection will cull out the males with oversized genitals.

Thinking out loud: I'm not a biologist by training - or involved in any of the sciences for that matter, so if I make a colossal error in my thinking... My bad.

Genital size can vary between localized groups within the same species based on how much pressure is exerted by natural selection and the ability to be nimble and swift.

Does that really seem to transfer over empirically to humans?

A natural hypothesis to make would be that a population's genital size would be affected by how long ago that area switched from hunting and gathering to general agriculture.

There are probably few things that exert natural selective pressure towards being nimble and swift than hunting does, and any man that's ever run naked (or commando) knows that having your cock constantly slapping your thigh is a little impeding.

On the other hand, sustained agriculture would significantly reduce the effect of natural selection on the need for speed and agility.

You would expect that, in an area where humans have engaged in agriculture for hundreds of generations, you would see that sexual selection had outstripped survival pressures.

Where hunting and gathering had been the primary means of survival, you'd expect that natural selection would have, on average, a slightly diminishing effect on genital size.

Does the hypothesis hold up? Look at the difference between averages in Africa and Southeast Asia. I don't remember where I got this, but I remember reading somewhere that the averages differ between 10% and 20% (up to around an inch).

Southeast Asia has been engaging in regular agriculture for thousands of years, whereas humans were largely hunter/gatherers in Africa until more recently. Yet it's people of African descent that average slightly more than their Asian counterparts.

Based on that alone, the hypothesis doesn't seem to hold up.

Then again, we're looking at only two data, and many potentially confounding variables. (Climate, clothing, diet, etc.)

Still, if the main factor determining male genital size really is the surival pressure of speed and agility, then you would expect that pressure to outweigh any others.

Or maybe several thousand years don't leave enough time for differences in importance between natural selection and sexual selection to affect heritable phenotype.

hehehe... Penis.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

With a Little Help from my Friends

I just got back from the Joe Cocker concert at Casino Rama.

Here's the thing about Joe Cocker:

The most powerful songs have this soul-slamming crescendo, the kind of note or short riff that closes your eyes, tenses every muscle in your body, and slams your throat into your stomach.

Whitney Houston hits that soul spot when she goes "...and AAAAAAAAAYIAYEEEEEEEE will always love you...."

Clapton kicks off Layla with it (The Derek and the Dominoes original, not the new unplugged crap.

It's that visceral sound that make the high point of a song, when you dig down deep and give it every ounce of your soul. Some artists find that note a few times in their career. It's tough to describe, I know. Joe Cocker lives in that crescendo. That's what makes him Joe Cocker. His power is in that range of force and verve that the best artists pull off for 3 or 4 seconds - tops- in their best songs.

The guy looks absolutely spastic once the music comes on. He'll walk on stage, introduce himself, greet the entire venue, and look perfectly normal. At the first note of music, though, his entire body winds itself into a writhing, rocking cross between what looks like Autism and Cerebral Palsy.

He's 65 now, and he has still got it!

It was about a two-hour drive up to Orillia, and about three quarters of that en route back; it was worth every mile of the trip to see the Sheffield legend perform live.

These aren't from the performance, but they're a few of my favourites:

God, the man's good.