Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Product Review: Guadalajara Wild Agave Nectar

One afternoon while wandering around Matehuala, San Luís Potosí, México, as an LDS missionary [1], a street vendor approached my companion [2] and me. As we chatted with him, he offered us something from his cart, free of charge. What he gave us was called quiote (kee-OH-tay; mouse over for IPA).[3] It comes from the maguey cactus (Agave americana).[4] When the maguey cactus is ready to reproduce it sends up a flower stalk. This stalk is filled with agua miel (literally "honey water")—which is what we call agave nectar. To make quiote, this stem is harvested, toasted, and cut into slices. To eat quiote you bite off a piece and masticate it, extracting the juices, but don't swallow the pulp (similar to the way you would eat fresh-cut sugarcane).

Product Review: xoconostle

The xoconostle (sometimes spelled xoconoxtle [1]) is a variety [2] of tuna (prickly pear fruit [3]) that comes from the Opuntia matudae cactus. To eat a xoconostle you peel off the skin which may be covered in glochids.[4] Glochids are the tiny spines found on many types of cactus. They are barbed and so are much harder to remove than the larger spines.[5] Then cut the xoconostle in half. Scoop out the mass of red seeds and discard them.

Product Review: Green tunas

The Spanish word tuna can be a little confusing. Your first inclination would probably be to think that a tuna is a canned fish that has a terrible taste and smell [1], and contributes significantly to your mercury intake. But that would be wrong. The Spanish word for that fish is atún. A tuna is fruit of the prickly pear (genus Opuntia).[2] My first encounter with tunas was in Matehuala, San Luís Potosí, México [3], where I served as an LDS missionary.[4] The paddles of Opuntia species are also regularly eaten in México, where they are called nopales.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Recipe: Cucumber Pasta Salad

Whenever this salad would show up at family reunions, holiday potlucks, or funerals, I would always go back for more and more. One day I decided that I wanted to make some, so I called up my mom and asked for the recipe. She didn't have it. She told me to ask one of my aunts. My aunt had the recipe. That is, she had the ingredient list. But not the amounts for each ingredient. The first time I made it, I used too much seasoned salt and Leann refused to help me eat it. Since I believe that no one should have to stumble through a recipe not knowing how much to use of each ingredient, I present you with the amounts I came up with.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Borromean Rings

I recently figured out that I could take Lilli's teething rings [1] and link them together to make Borromean Rings. Borromean rings are three rings that are interlocked in such a way that no two rings intersect each other.[2] Consider the diagram to the right. If you erase the blue ring, the red and green rings are not linked. But as long as the blue ring is there, none of the rings can be removed. The same is true for erasing the green or red ring. Blacksmith puzzles often work on a similar principle, as do braids and the monkey's fist knot. Ancient drawings or carvings of complete Borromean rings have been found in Italy, Afgahnistan, and Norway (where it is called a valknut); partial Borromean rings are even more common.[3]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Product Review: Choquette Avocado

I found this monster in a Mexican tienda where it was labeled as "aguacate Fuerte" in Spanish and "Florida avocado" in English. A Fuerte ("strong") avocado is a cultivar of avocado which was developed in the Mexican state of Puebla and which gets its name from the fact that it's better than many other cultivars at withstanding frost.[1] I was, however, skeptical that this was actually a Fuerte since Fuerte avocados are pear-shaped and this one was not. Based on the English label, I suspect that this is a different avocado cultivar: Choquette. Choquette avocados are quite large, oval-shaped, and have a glossy bright green skin rather than a bumpy dark green one.[2]

Product Review: Hall Avocado

I found this avocado in the same Mexican tienda as the Choquette avocado [1] when I went back looking for more. I didn't find any Choquette avocados, but since this variety was pretty big, too, I decided to try it. Since Leann can't currently have any dairy, I didn't try making avocado shakes [2] out of these big avocados. But at some point in the future I'd like to try. I deduced that this cultivar was Hall based on the description provided by the distributor (Agroindustria Ocoeña, S.A. [3]).

Product Review: Juanitas Tortilla Chips and Rounds

I bought these because they were cheaper than the corn chips that we usually buy. This was a risk, though, since cheaper products often have some inferior quality compared to more expensive brands—e.g. less flavor, weird texture, actually have less product, etc. However, not only did these cost less, but they also had more chips in the bag than the brands we usually buy. The Juanitas tortilla chips (triangles) are made with yellow corn and the Juanitas tortilla rounds (circles) are made with white corn.[1]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

They Get Younger Every Year

The professor I work for is currently experiencing an existential crisis of sorts. While he takes pride in eschewing modern technological developments, such as Facebook [1] and cell phones, his thirteen-year-old daughter has made it clear that she has no intention of following in his footsteps. He has grudgingly joined Facebook so that he can police her activities there and make sure she's safe. On the other hand, he doesn't feel she's ready for a cell phone. So what do I tell my daughter? She's just barely six months old!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Product Review: La Panzanella Mini Croccantini

While Santa Claus [1] was picking up some Gran Bu di Bufala cheese [2] and Creminelli Wild Boar salami [3] for me for Christmas, he also spotted these "mini croccantini". Since crackers often go well with cheese and/or salami, he picked some up for me. As near as I've been able to determine, the word croccantini is Italian for "little crunchies" (though the word is also assigned to snap cookies, such as ginger snaps, and crunchy dog food). They are a traditional Italian cracker and in this case they are "mini" because they're significantly smaller than regular croccantini—which makes them "little little crunchies".

Product Review: Creminelli Wild Boar Salami

I've perused the selection of salamis at the local Harmon's grocery store on several occasions. But they're so expensive that only on one occasion was I able to bring myself to buy one.[1] Besides regular salamis, they have various flavors: with hot peppers, with truffles, infused with red wine, with salt and pepper, with garlic, with fennel seed, this one (made of wild boar meat), etc. However, last month Santa Claus decided that it was a special occasion and brought me one.[2] I ate it with my other Christmas presents, Gran Bu di Bufala cheese [3] and La Panzanella Mini Croccantini.[4]

Product Review: Mitica Gran Bu di Bufala Cheese

Santa Claus must recognize my curiosity about the cheeses of the world, because this last Christmas [1] he brought me an Italian cheese called Gran Bu di Bufala. As you might guess, this cheese is made from the milk of buffalo—not North American bison (Bison bison), but European water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). Water buffalo aren't used much for meat or dairy in North America, but they are the primary bovine species used in agriculture for much of southern Asia, especially India.[2] They are also used extensively in southern Europe, northern Africa, and eastern South America.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rolling Back to Front

It's been a long time coming. I told you a while back that it had taken so long to get a video of Lillian rolling front to back that she was already starting to roll back to front.[1] Well, it's taken since then to get a video of her rolling back to front. She just really likes to stare at the camera when I have it aimed at her—unless it's within reach, then she'll try to catch it.[2] So, without further ado, Lillian rolling back to front:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Product Review: Shepherds Chèvre Cheese

To be honest, the first time I had goat cheese I didn't like it. It was in a junior high English class. One of my fellow student's parents were immigrants from Greece. He brought in some sort of goat cheese traditionally made in Greece. I'm not even sure he told us what kind it was—just that it was goat cheese. None of us liked it. Some of us (this was Junior High, after all) even started joking about how it wreaked certain effects on the GI tract of anyone—anyone—who consumed any. I'm sure my fellow student was quite disappointed in our reception of his cheese heritage. Since then, however, goat cheese has been growing on me. Not on Leann, though. She insists that goat cheese tastes the same as the odor of the billy goat that lived next door to her when she was growing up.

Product Review: Pasture Pride Guusto cheese

The word juusto [1] is Finnish for "cheese", so that didn't really help me know what I was about to try. I learned from this blog that it is actually the Finnish cheese leipäjuusto (or ostbröd) which means "cheese bread". It gets this name from the fact that it's baked until a crust forms on the outside, much like a loaf of bread. It was originally made in the Lapland regions of Finland and Sweden using reindeer milk. Now it is more often made with cow or goat milk. This particular cheese is produced using goat milk. Leipäjuusto is properly eaten warm, so I microwaved it until it had a sheen of oil on it.[2] It's also traditionally eaten with coffee, but I don't drink coffee.[3]

Product Review: Emmi Tête de Moine Cheese

Tête de Moine cheese was originally developed by Catholic monks in Switzerland, nearly 1000 years ago, in the Norbertine monastery of Bellelay, Switzerland.[1] When soldiers from the French Revolution took over the monastery in the late 1700s, they found wheels of the cheese and named them tête de moine—i.e. "monk's head cheese".[2]

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A little over a week ago Lillian had her six-month checkup and our pediatrician said that we could start introducing her to solid foods. While it's traditional to start babies on rice cereal, he said we can let her try anything except dairy, nuts, strawberries, citrus, and uncooked honey.[1] So Leann cooked some carrots and mashed them up. With the exception of the fungus gnat I caught her eating [2], this is Lillian's first solid food.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Distribution Maps VIII: Microlophus

Last time I mentioned finding two new posters to derive distribution maps from.[1] Well, there was a third. But where the last ones were focused on Patagonian lizards, this one was about lizards in the genus Microlophus found in the Galápagos Islands. The common name for lizards in the genus Microlophus is Lava Lizards.[2] English names of the Galápagos Islands are often quite different from the Spanish names. Since the islands are part of the nation of Ecuador, I give the Spanish names preference (but I include the English names in parentheses when they differ).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Product Review: Rosenborg Castello Danish Blue Cheese

Danish Blue cheese (also known as Danablu cheese or Marmora cheese) was developed in the first quarter of the 20th century by a Danish cheesemaker, Marius Boel, who was trying to imitate the French blue cheese, Roquefort.[1] However, the inoculation of Danish blue with mold (Penicillium roqueforti) is different from that of Roquefort. Traditionally loaves of bread were placed in the Combalou caves of France where the mold was naturally found. When the bread was totally consumed, it was dried and the resulting powder (which contained mold spores) was added to the cheese curd.[2] The producers of Danish Blue, instead, use copper wires, coated with the spores, to evenly pierce the pressed cheese curd. If you look closely you can locate the holes left by the inoculating needle.

Product Review: 34° Natural Crispbread

I bought these crackers for something new to try with the cheeses I've been sampling. The name of the company, 34°, refers to the 34th Parallel South, which crosses through Sydney, Australia, where the company's founder attended graduate school.[1] The company, however, is based in Boulder, Colorado. The crackers themselves are inspired by Australian crispbread. The crackers are thin and have an uneven edge—it almost looks like they take a scoop of their batter and smear it on a hot surface.

Product Review: jícama

The first time I had jícama was in an all-you-can eat pizzeria in Monterrey, México, where I was serving as an LDS missionary.[1] The restaurant owners were giving it to us in a desperate attempt to get us to stop eating all their pizza. (Rumor has it that LDS missionaries were later banned from dining at that establishment, but that's probably hearsay.) It was julienned and unadorned and reminded me of eating an uncooked potato (though not so unpleasant). Every time I've had it since then, I've eaten it with a chile–limón (chilli pepper–lime) salt.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rillian, the Reptilian Lillian

Quite a while back we introduced Lillian to the mirror. Recently she's started interacting with her reflection. Leann started calling the baby in the mirror "Reflection Lillian", which she then shortened to "Rillian."[1] After Rillian scared Lillian a few times I started referring to her as "Rillian, the Reptilian Lillian". As with many things, when it comes to Lillian, it's hard to get a video of her talking to Rillian—she gets distracted by the camera. But this time it comes with a twist. Even though I'm holding the camera behind her, so she can only see it in the mirror, Lillian still figures out where it is on this side of the mirror and tries to grab it. Observe:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Distribution Maps VII: Diplolaemus and Cnemidophorus

Since my last bout of distribution maps [1], a couple new posters have gone up. They were both about lizards native to the southern end of South America, in the nations of Argentina and Chile. I presume they're part of an ongoing effort by BYU biologists to document the species diversity of an area of South America known as Patagonia.[2] The first, Diplolaemus, consists of four species, all found in South America and all considered types of iguana. The other poster only dealt with a single species, Cnemidophorus longicaudus. The common name for lizards in the genus Cnemidophorus is "whiptail" or "racerunner". C. longicaudus is the southernmost lizard in this genus and it is exclusively found in the Monte Desert region.[3]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie Review: It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life has an interesting history. It was originally written as a short story. But the author, Philip Van Doren Stern, failed to get it published. So he turned it into a Christmas card and mailed it out to friends and family.[1] It came to the attention of RKO Pictures who bought the film rights, intending to make it into a film starring Cary Grant. He went on to make The Bishop's Wife, instead [2], so RKO sold the film rights to Frank Capra, who had already made a name for himself with It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can't Take it With You (1938), each of which earned him an Academy Award for Best Director.[3] It's a Wonderful Life was slated to be released in January of 1947, but was moved up to December of 1946 so it would be eligible for the 1946 Academy Awards.[4] Ultimately it was a box office failure and didn't win any of the five Oscars it was nominated for. The film fell into obscurity until 1974 when a clerical error allowed its copyright to expire.[5] Local television stations around the U.S. started showing it at Christmas which dramatically increased its popularity. It is now a Christmas classic and is considered one of the top American films of all time by the American Film Institute.[6]

Movie Review: White Christmas

I've long been aware of the movie White Christmas, mainly because of the Bing Crosby single (which is the best-selling single of all time [1]). I'm sure my mom has a copy of this movie and frequently watched it. But I have no memories of it before I watched it this last Christmas. It's about an entertainment duo (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye [2]). There's not anything particularly Christmasy about it. You could remove Christmas from it completely and have essentially the exact same movie (i.e. the Christmas traveling the characters do is merely a McGuffin).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Is It So Difficult?

When I first started dressing myself for Church, I had a hard time matching up the buttons with the button holes on my dress shirt. I would start at the top and work my way down. Sometimes I got to the bottom only to discover that I had an extra button or an extra hole. But in my adult life I think I could count on one hand the number of times I've incorrectly buttoned up my shirt. Fast forward to fatherhood. Lillian's onesies have just three snaps. Just three! So why do I get it wrong so often?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Movie Review: A Chipmunk Christmas

If television shows were fossils, then A Chipmunk Christmas would be a transitional fossil between the way the Chipmunks were drawn in the 1960s [1] and the way they were drawn in the 1990s.[2] In the 1960s they looked more like the animals that inspired their characters. But as they came into the 1990s, that animal appearance was on its way out. This movie, from 1981, still retains a lot of their animal characteristics (as well as briefly introducing freckles to their sciurine faces).

Movie Review: The Smurfs Christmas Special

The Smurfs Christmas Special is one of those Christmas movies that have been with me from the beginning. Even though I'm sure it wasn't immediately one of our family Christmas movies, I can't remember a Christmas from my childhood when I didn't watch it. The Smurfs originally got their start in France as Les Schtroumpfs.[1] They were such popular characters that they were eventually exported to the rest of the world. In English we call them the Smurfs, but they've picked up a variety of names elsewhere:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Distribution Maps VI: Traveler's Diseases

When Leann and I went in to the BYU Student Health Center to get our influenza immunizations, I noticed a little pamphlet [1] that indicated (with world maps) what immunizations you would need based on where you were planning to travel. Most of these traveler's diseases already had equivalent distribution maps on Wikimedia Commons [2], but two didn't: influenza and meningococcal meningitis. So I made them.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Movie Review: Scrooge (1970)

When Dickens published A Christmas Carol, England was undergoing a revived interest in the Christmas holiday—focused both on historical observation of the holiday in England and contemporary observation of the holiday in Germany (as introduced by the Prince Consort, Albert).[1] Dickens' novella effectively took charge of this revival and actually initiated the secularization of Christmas by emphasizing charitable acts (including gift giving), spending time with family, and parties (food, games, etc.) instead of attending Church services for the holiday.[2] Even though there are Christian themes, including love for your neighbor, punishment for sin, and redemption of the soul, there is only one passing reference to Jesus Christ.[3]

Movie Review: Mickey's Christmas Carol

Mickey's Christmas Carol was probably my first introduction to the classic Christmas story by Charles Dickens. Up until I left for an LDS mission [1] and college, my sisters and I watched this pretty regularly, along with the Disney short "Donald's Snow Fight" [2], during Christmastime. Some of the background characters have been lifted from other Disney films—Fred's horse is the same as the horse in Cinderella and several of the attendees of Fezzywig's party can also be seen in Robin Hood, not to mention the appearance of Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio), Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk), and Pegleg Pete as the various ghosts.

Movie Review: The Muppet Christmas Carol

This was the first Muppet movie produced after the sudden death of Jim Henson in 1990 due to flesh-eating disease (Streptococcus pyogenes). The first time I can remember watching it was the first time I flew down to Texas to spend Christmas with Leann's family. It is one of the Christmas movies they traditionally watch.[1] We watched it in her mom's van while driving around doing some Christmas shopping. (I think that was my first experience watching a movie in a moving vehicle, too.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Little Gymnast

Leann and I suspect that when we're not looking, Lillian gets up and plays in her crib. She jumps up and down, does cartwheels, strolls around, climbs up and balances on the edge of the crib, etc. But then when she hears us coming, she hurries and lays back down. The problem is, she can never remember how she was lying when we left. But we remember.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Camera vs. Phone

When I try to take videos of Lillian she is almost always immediately distracted if she can see the camera.[1] On the other hand she gets very talkative if we're talking with someone on the phone and we have it on speaker phone. A few days ago I was talking to my uncle and Lilli started jabbering. After the call was over, she kept going. So I decided to pit the phone against the camera. Would she stop talking and stare at the camera, ending her performance? Or would she ignore the camera and keep chattering?