Thursday, April 18, 2013

Photo of the Year candidate

This is from last night's Brewers-Giants game (a walkoff win for the Brewers), and it is absolutely awesome. Great work by the cameraman, AP's Morry Gash; not such great work by number 8, Ryan Braun. Thanks to Deadspin for the heads up.

You'll get him next time, Brauny.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The cupcake bubble bursts

Courtesy of my main man The Red Cowboy comes this gem from the Wall Street Journal. Sadly for all you folks out there with a sweet tooth, it seems that the great cupcake bubble of 2011 is in the midst of bursting.
The icing is coming off America's cupcake craze.
The dessert became a cultural and economic phenomenon over the last decade, with gourmet cupcake shops proliferating across the country, selling increasingly elaborate and expensive concoctions.
The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop Inc., a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each.
After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week.
Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout.
"The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry.
Yeah, that'll happen. In part, it's something I discussed in this post about "Brie Syndrome" back when Harry & David filed for bankruptcy. Once something becomes ubiquitous and commoditized, its days as a viable business tend to become numbered, unless the original purveyor adapts quickly and capably.

Either way, this article had some absolutely amazing gems in it. This passage here, for example, was fabulous.
Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Jason and Mia Bauer opened the first Crumbs bakery in 2003 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Today, the company, which also sells $42 "colossal" cupcakes that serve six to eight, is one of the largest players in the gourmet-cupcake industry, with locations in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Crumbs went public in June 2011 after a shell company bought it. The buyer, 57th Street General Acquisition Corp., had raised money the previous year for its Crumbs purchase. 57th Street changed its name to Crumbs Bake Shop shortly after the merger.
A "cupcake" that serves six to eight?? IT'S CALLED A CAKE, YOU IDIOTS! A CUPCAKE THAT FEEDS SIX TO EIGHT IS CALLED A CAKE!! I mean, honestly people, what are we doing here?

And a shell company? Really? You people set up a shell company just so that you could buy a cupcake shop and take it public? Seems a little over-the-top, don't you think? But hey, what do I know, right? These people are all way richer than I am by now, and all on the back of a nice little cupcake bubble.

Man, I can't wait for the scone bubble. It's gonna be EPIC.

[Wall Street Journal]

Friday, April 12, 2013

Piezoelectricity update

I've spoken very briefly about piezoelectricity in blog posts here, here, here, and here, so I think it's worth giving a quick update on the recent goings-on in that space. At last week's Paris Marathon, piezoelectricity took a bit of a leap into the mainstream, with a creative project from British company Pavegen Systems. From a Bloomberg article written prior to the race:
Paris Marathon organizers will lay energy-harvesting tiles across the course on Sunday to ensure not all the effort expended by the race’s 40,000 runners goes to waste.
The flexible tiles made from recycled truck tires will span a portion of the Champs Elysees for about 25 meters (82 feet) of the 42.2-kilometer course, according to Pavegen Systems Ltd., the U.K. maker of the tiles. Each footstep generates as much as 8 watts of kinetic energy, which is fed back to batteries that can charge display screens and electronic signs along the route, the company said.
Schneider Electric SA (SU), the race sponsor, aims to eventually make the Paris Marathon an event that generates energy rather than consumes it, Aaron Davis, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in Pavegen’s statement. London-based Pavegen aims for its tiles to help cut carbon emissions and boost energy efficiency in cities around the world in the future, it said.
“Imagine if your run or walk to work could help to power the lights for your return journey home in the evening,” Pavegen Chief Executive Officer Laurence Kemball-Cook, who invented the technology, said in the statement. It’s “a viable new type of off-grid energy technology that people love to use and which can make a low-carbon contribution wherever there is high footfall, regardless of the weather.”
Pavegen declined to say how much energy the tiles will produce because there is a competition for the public to guess. Schneider Electric will donate an extra 10,000 euros ($12,850) to charity if generation tops 7 kilowatt hours. That’s enough to run a light bulb for about five days, according to Pavegen.
According to this article, it was unclear immediately after the race whether the 7 kWh goal had been met, but I nevertheless applaud the race organizers and the company for their creativity.

It's of course way too early to know if this technology is realistically scalable or viable, but it's clearly a step in the right direction. The more energy we can harvest from our own activities, the less we have to "produce" or mine or burn. I'm hopeful that this is a method that can catch on and become economical enough to achieve wide acceptance.


Daily Show on the NCAA

I've got a few posts here and there that I'm working on, but this is absolutely beautiful and needs to be shared. We'll go ahead and call this your Clip of the Week, from Aasif Mandvi at the Daily Show.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My first cooking post (Lamb Pasanda)

Back when I started this blog, I planned to use it as a place to share some of my passions and skills with all of you. I've done a good job with some of those things (sports, current events, economic analysis), a reasonable job on some others (running, music, The Simpsons), and a terrible job on the rest—most notably, cooking. I love to cook, and I do it all the time, but besides a few posts here and there about food and our food supply, I haven't talked about it here at all. That changes today.

Every week or so—or whenever I cook up a meal that I'm particularly proud of—I'll share a recipe up here with all of you, along with some helpful hints as to how you can cook it yourself. No, I'm not going to turn this into some sort of amateur food blog—the world has plenty of those already. But I do feel as though there's a side of me that isn't being reflected here, and I think I should rectify that starting today.

This weekend was Easter weekend, and the weather is just starting to improve around here, so I took the opportunity to fire up the grill and cook one of my all-time favorites, a recipe first discovered by my father, the original grill master in my family. That recipe is for Lamb Pasanda, and it's a true classic—the recipe is a little different from what's described as "traditional pasanda" here on Wikipedia, but believe me, it's awesome. It's also insanely easy to make, especially if you've got a good blender like I was lucky enough to be given for Christmas last year.

If you've never used yogurt in a meat marinade, you are most definitely missing out. The yogurt tenderizes the meat while giving it an awesomely funky flavor, and the charring from the grill takes it all to the next level. Throw in some Indian-inspired spices and the terrific natural flavor of lamb, and this dish is as delicious as it is unique. But enough rambling; let's get to the recipe.


Serves: 6 or more, depending on the size of lamb leg you buy
Time: about 30 minutes of active prep, 12-24 hours of inactive prep, and 10-20 minutes of cook time

 One 3-pound leg of lamb (boneless), butterflied and trimmed of excess fat
3 cups plain yogurt, well drained
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
One 1-inch piece grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon, 1 tablespoon whole cloves, and 4 cardamoms (powdered equivalents can vary... call it 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1.5 or 2 teaspoons of cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon or so of cardamom... rough estimates, of course, and you can switch it up to suit your tastes)
Cut the butterflied lamb leg into individual pieces—two-inch cubes is a good target size. Set aside.

To make the marinade, combine all ingredients except the lamb in the container of a food processor or blender, and process until smooth.

Place the lamb and the marinade in a gallon-size Ziploc bag, tossing the pieces a bit so that they are well coated. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (really, aim for overnight), turning occasionally to keep the coating well distributed.

One hour before cooking time, remove the lamb from the refrigerator (and maybe remove the individual lamb pieces from the marinade) so that it can come to room temperature. Place the lamb pieces directly onto a hot grill (charcoal is much better than gas for this recipe, especially because this one can get a little messy underneath the grill grates... also, I highly recommend a chimney starter as opposed to lighter fluid, but now I'm just veering off topic. Nevertheless, if you've never used a chimney, start now. It's easy, it's cheap, and it gets your coals very hot, very quickly. Bobby Flay would be proud). 

Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of each piece, how hot (and how big) your grill is, and where on the grill your pieces are sitting, but it should be roughly 4-6 minutes per side. Resist the temptation to cover your grill. It will cook the meat through more quickly, but you'll sacrifice some of the charring that makes this meal so great.

When the lamb is done, you should have a nice char on each side of the meat, and when you press each piece with your finger, it should be firm but still have some "bounce" to it. Rare meat is much better than dry meat, so err on the side of "too rare", unless you're pregnant, afraid of blood, or both.

Serve immediately, along with some sort of vegetable (a simple grilled or broiled asparagus is fine) and a grain (like, say, couscous—for this meal I whipped up a quinoa salad with toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, and a citrus-mint vinaigrette... but that was for a holiday. You don't need to go crazy here...). If you're into wine, the beauty of this dish is that it can pair well with any number of wines. I served it with a Côtes du Rhône this weekend, and that seemed to work well, but I'd think that the meal would've stood up nicely against a Syrah or even a Malbec as well.

I don't know, I'm not a sommelier, I just like to drink wine with my dinner, okay? Maybe next time I'll get around to telling you about my dessert, which was in this case a nice, fresh, Key Lime Pie. Awesome stuff. Happy cooking, all. (And next time, I promise more pictures... I didn't think to take any this time around, so that one standard picture up there of my grill loaded up with meat will have to suffice, but I will take more in the future).

Fun with Opening Day rosters

April has always been one of my favorite months, mostly because it means the end of winter and the beginning of baseball season. Opening Day is something of a personal holiday for me, and so I don't totally mind that we've now stretched it out to last a full three days.

As a Red Sox fan, this year has a bit of a different feel for me, as the Sox purged half their roster last August and have now fully embraced a youth movement for the first time in years. As I mentioned on Twitter on Monday, the Sox' Opening Day lineup this year was their youngest on average since 1998, when Pedro Martinez made his Boston debut, Nomar Garciaparra was a 24-year-old MVP-caliber shortstop, and Manny Ramirez was a young slugger for the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley Jr., now the team's starting left fielder, was at home eagerly awaiting his 8th birthday. So yeah, it was a long time ago.

At any rate, my little bit of sleuthing with respect to the Sox' lineup led me to check out some other teams' lineups, to see what kinds of trends I might uncover. While this type of stuff might fall under the category of "Things That Interest Me and Only Me", so be it. I'll share it here anyway, just in case you care.

This year's Red Sox, with an average age right around 28.5 years old (remember, this is of the Opening Day starting lineup, not the whole roster), clocks in as the 8th-youngest lineup out of the 30 major league teams. The five youngest Opening Day lineups belonged to the Royals (27.1 years), Astros (27.5), Mariners (27.6), Nationals (27.7), and Indians (28.0), while the five oldest lineups belonged to the Yankees (31.6 years), Phillies (31.2), Rangers (30.7), Blue Jays (30.4), and Tigers (30.3).

The banged-up Yankees blow pretty much everyone else out of the water in terms of age, thanks in large part to the oldest outfield in baseball—at 34.5 years old, only the Cubs (33.5) come anywhere close. While the Yankees are currently fielding a cobbled-together lineup of rookies and retreads, things wouldn't be much different for them even if they were perfectly healthy. Substituting Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson for Nunez, Nix, Youkilis, and Wells actually increases the team's average age all the way up to 33.2 years old, a figure that would make them the oldest team in baseball by a margin of more than two years. No matter how you slice it, these guys are old.

All told, the average age of an Opening Day starter this year is 29 years, 39 days, yielding an average birthdate of February 23, 1984. The average birthdate for a Yankee, meanwhile, would be September 14, 1981, and for a Royal, March 11, 1986. In other words, I'd be older than average in any one of these lineups, and that's just a little bit depressing.

By position, Designated Hitters (like these guys), Right Fielders (like these guys), and First Basemen (like these guys) are the oldest on average, whereas Center Fielders (like these guys) and Shortstops (like these guys) are the youngest. There are 41 Opening Day starters who were born in the 1970s, 9 born in the 1990s, and about the same number who are younger than 25 (35 of them) as those who are 35 or older (37 of them). There were no Opening Day starters this year who were 40 or older, though Todd Helton and Ichiro came pretty darn close.

Age not doing it for you? You want to know about these guys' names? Fine, I can do that, too. As far as last names, we had 4 Cabreras, 3 Gonzalezes, and 15 other surnames shared by 2 players (also a Barmes and a Barnes, a Beltran and a Beltre, a Brantley and a Brantly, a Braun and a Brown, and a Gomes and a Gomez).

There were 10 guys named Chris, 7 guys named Justin, 7 Matts and a Matthew, 6 guys named Carlos and one named Carl. We had 5 Michaels, 2 Miguels, and 4 Mikes; 5 Joses and 5 Joshes; 5 Jasons and 2 Jaysons; 5 Brandons and a Brendan. We had 4 AJs, a BJ, a CC, a JJ, a JP, and a guy named RA. And finally, in my personal favorite, there were 3 Johns, 2 Jons, a Juan, a Jonathan, a Jonathon, a Johnny, a Jonny, and a Jhonny. Just spell it however you want, guys, it doesn't make it any more unique.

We also had 7 names that showed up as both a first name and a last name—those would be Desmond, Francisco, Gordon, Jay, Martin, Nelson, and Ryan. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective), none of those gentlemen owned the unique distinction of having the same first and last name. I'm holding out hope for a Desmond Desmond somewhere in the near future, and I'm sure there's somebody out there who will oblige.

Do names and ages have anything at all to do with the overall success of a team? Who knows? The favorites out in Vegas this year include one of the youngest teams (Nationals) and some of the oldest teams (Tigers, Blue Jays), with a lot of muddled confusion in between. Let's just hold this one for later, and revisit it all in October. Sound good?