Hello Things That Exist readers. It's been almost four months since the last post. I am not dead!

Here is Moose, my new little brother. My parents adopted him about two weeks ago. He looked like this:

Now he's a little bigger. He's sitting on the ottoman right now as pictured. I played the above video and heard our mom's voice and then gave me a look like "WOAH. What. Just. Happened?" Internet, little guy. Internet.

Velcro External Hard Drive

This [update: was a picture] Justin Bland. He has a wonderful solution for adding disk space to his laptop without making more stuff to set down around around the computer. Velcro! Genius. I'm trying to find a clever analogy for this. I guess it's sort of like those Jeeps that you see with fuel cans attached to the back.

Yes, they are exactly the same.

Cider Donuts! (Or, Autumn's Pleasure Torus)

I made donuts! I made the dough last night and fried three dozen of them this morning. I took them to work and was the Monday Morning Office Hero!

Making donuts, like making candy, is something I've wanted to do ever since I came across the recipe in James Beard's American Cookery. I was planning to make them when I got my deep fryer but never got around to it, probably because of the confusion about which type of donuts to make. Donuts are either yeast-risen (like Krispy Kremes) or quick bread-style (like Hostess Donettes). The yeast-risen kind always seemed more deluxe but also more difficult. The decision was enough to make me forget about them.

Then, just last week, Kottke linked to an article about cider donuts with a recipe. They were the cake kind, and promised to be excellent. Here's how you make them:

First, mix your ingredients. The steel bowl has flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. The orange bowl has sugar, butter, eggs, buttermilk, and reduced cider. For the cider, I got the kind that's murky and has to be refrigerated. You leave it on medium heat for 30 minutes until 3/4 of the volume evaporates, leaving a kind of cider syrup. (I have some left over buttermilk that I plan on making into pancakes and serving with more heavily reduced cider syrup.)

Then you flatten it with your hands, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, and cut donuts. Like the frying, this isn't really an exact science. You basically want to keep the dough cold because it has enough liquid to get sticky if left to itself. I wound up taking dough in and out of the freezer to keep it cold enough. I also doubled the recipe, so it was a bit trickier to manage than a single batch.

I also realized i didn't have biscuit cutters, but a pint glass and a plastic shot glass work beautifully.

Then you want to heat a big pot of vegetable oil. The thing about this is that the oil will heat quickly and silently. You just look over and it's way too hot. So you turn the heat off and it takes forever to dissipate the extra heat.

This photo was taken six years after the previous one. See what I mean?

Then, finally when the dough is at 350°F, it's time to get ready. What you see here is a bowl of cider glaze (powdered sugar and cider) and a plate with a lot of paper towels. Now it's time to do cook the donuts.

They sink, bubble, and rise to the surface.

After 60 seconds it's time to turn them with a spatula and cook the other side. Controlling the temperature of the oil is difficult because of the initial overshoot and the cold dough. It's also not critical. They all taste good.

Here they are in video.

Delicious! I realized after they were all gone that I only took a picture of the donut holes. You get the idea. One thing to know about donut holes is that they don't really turn like regular donuts. You kind of just have to keep rolling them.

Some of you out there may be wondering if donuts are a good thing to be eating, what with heart disease and diabetes and all. Look at it this way, one of these donuts has about a half teaspoon of butter and two teaspoons of sugar (not including optional glaze). That's like a slice of lightly buttered toast and a fifth of a can of coke. It's also fried in vegetable (canola) oil, probably about another half a teaspoon of which stays in the crust of the donut and provides omega-3 fatty acids without hardly any extra saturated fat.

But for me, doing the math is silly. Compare it with a store bought cake donut at Safeway, which if you ask to know what's in them they'll go find a thousand page binder from the corporate office and show you on page 912. The store bought donut is roughly the same in terms of nutrition metrics, but it's made with partially hydrogenated oils, weird preservatives, artificial flavors, corn syrup and weird coagulates. It's also pre-made and frozen at the Safeway distribution warehouse and shipped via gas-guzzling refrigerated truck. But most importantly, if you really stop to think "I know this is supposed to taste good, but how does it actually taste?" you'll realize it's like biting into a thick homogeneous paste that doesn't actually taste like anything.

So get a few dollars of simple ingredients and try it some time! Here's the recipe.

This Book was Very Good

The title might suggest that this book is about whether to eat meat or be vegetarian. This is not at all the case. Instead, this book has a much simpler but more interesting premise: figuring out where our food comes from.

Michael Pollan wrote a book before this called The Botany of Desire: A Plants-Eye View of the World. It was about how plants have evolved with humans, or how humans have shaped the population genetics of plants. There were four plants that were discussed in that book: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. I didn't read the whole thing, but it was very good.

Omnivore's Dilemma is a journalists journal through industrial corn and beef, industrial organic, Polyface Farm's "beyond organic," and Pollan's venture into hunting and foraging. You might expect a book like this to do what Eric Schlosser's 2001 book Fast Food Nation did: villainize the massive economic system in place and make you feel kind of bad about it. Again, Pollan takes the more interesting path of figuring out just how everything works and why "the system" is the way it is. It turns out that a lot of it begins with Federal corn subsidies and farm policy and ends in a five dollar box of kids cereal, which is just one example of how Omnivore's Dilemma cuts across the subject of food and untangles a whole bunch of related systems and issues.

It's very good. The only thing that tired me was in the last quarter, when Pollan seemed to run short on oblique perspectives and anecdotes and started recycling the same ones every other page. Most of these were regurgitations of other writers who thought about these very things decades or centuries ago. But still, it's very good. You should read the first 20 pages and see for yourself.

Since I finished it yesterday morning, I notice myself thinking about where things in my kitchen really come from, like wondering where the almond trees that grew my marzipan are, or what the pig that became my pork tenderloin was fed. All of this happens in a way that—like the book itself—is much more scientific than value-based. I guess it's one of those things where knowing a little bit winds up helping you guess and wonder about everything else.

Computer Stuff

I opened up my totaled PowerBook. I got the hard drive out. I plugged it into an ATA adapter and external enclosure. I plugged it in tto my computer. I turned it on. It shows up on my computer.

One small problem.

My Ubuntu Linux system says I don't have the permissions to get back into the folder "Documents" that I created in OS X. I know my password. Both systems are UNIX based. I'll look around on the internet. Any ideas?

UPDATE: cd /media/CHAIR/Users/Zach/Documents/School/old/LING tells me that colorpaper.pdf exists! Wooooo! Financial aid for me! I'm gonna go take it to a mac and see if I can use my old password.

UPDATE: Woooo! I got my paper from seven months ago that was stored in my totaled computer! In retrospect I'm quite fond of it. Here is "It's a red truck:" Color descriptiveness as a gendered attribute as a PDF.

Also, I came across something that took me back. When I was in high school, I had detention a couple times for being late to class and stuff. To keep myself occupied, I would play a game where I'd get out a piece of paper and a pencil and copy down every piece of text that was visible, moving my field of vision slowly clockwise around the room. At one point I must have found this piece of paper and typed it. Here it is as another PDF.

I've Invented a New Kind of Calendar

Closer look here. I'm printing an unlimited edition. It starts at the beginning of next month.

If you want one, e-mail me a shipping address. No money involved.

Art Show!

196 tiles of baked marzipan with pink lemon fondant. Monday:

and Tuesday:

There is a closing reception this evening from 5:00 to 7:00. You should come by! There will be fresh cookies and lemonade. I spent most of this morning squeezing lemons:


Thyra and Olenka.

Cookies and lemonade.

Today is Unnecessarily Difficult!

Cherished "Platinum Status" readers of Things That Exist will remember this post about an upcoming linguistics study. I later conducted this experiment, wrote a paper about it, got mono, and got an incomplete in my linguistics class because I was feeling too sick and tired to write my final.

Then, this summer, I was adjusting furniture in my living room and lifted the back wheels of the TV cart 1/4" off the carpet. This caused my TV to suddenly fall face first onto my open laptop, probably cracking the motherboard. This later caused the laptop to start dropping "packets" as my hardware-knowledgeable friends tell me, and eventually the laptop stopped working altogether.

Then, it's fall term and I'm not getting my financial aid check because of the incomplete from when I had mono. So I write my final and hand it in to my linguistics professor. But it also turns out that my experiment paper was never accounted for, which may have happened for any number of reasons that aren't worth figuring out. So I figure I'll just grab it from my university server space, my Gmail account, or the computer at my old job. But it turns out not to be in any of those places. However, I do remember entering my experimental data into my laptop, which is probably where I also wrote my paper.

So no problem! I'll just take apart my laptop, pull out the hard drive, put it in an enclosure that I have for no real reason, plug it into a computer, and retrieve my paper! To be as literal as one can about data, my paper is INSIDE the computer.

But the computer has very small phillips screws. I don't have a very small matching screwdriver. Once I have a tiny and very specific shape of metal, I will be able to buy food!

It's like something out of a very sad Charlie Chaplin movie or something.

But it turns out my roommate's boyfriend has such a screwdriver! Hurrah!

Also, I left my keys at work. Luckily and unnervingly, my bedroom window was unlocked and I was able to step over my windowsill into my bedroom. But now I can't leave the house because I'll be locked out, and I can't get my keys from work because I would need my keys to get into my office. (Yes, THE readers, I have an office now.)

Anyways, I still have some pictures of the art show to post! I'll do that after I liberate my paper from its screw-sealed prison. Also: pictures of this prison.