Somerville Open Studios this weekend

Somerville Open Studios is doing a hybrid online / outdoor in person event this coming weekend.  Some artists will be online using BoothCentral at  Some will be displaying art outside and socially distanced.  I will be doing both, with a thematic selection of 22 photographs set up on the fence along my driveway at #75 Lexington.  There are also a couple of artists nearby on Josephine St including Jeff Fullerton whose work and presentation have both influenced mine, and other outdoor artists across the city including Rachel Mello in a small group in the parking lot of Mad Oyster Studios in Gilman Square.

Much more information at

Come check it out!

Dal Makhani

This recipe now reflects non-zero actual understanding of the dish (unlike the first time I made it) and has been edited accordingly. Like the other Indian recipes here it is not in final form and I will continue to tweak it, especially for spicing.

Rinse and soak 1 cup of lentils in 2-3 cups of water until they have expanded to about 2.5x volume, which will take 6 hours or so (it's OK to leave them longer). When you're ready to start the rest of the recipe, strain and rinse well.

Put up a kettle for the 1 cup of hot water below.

In a saucepan or maybe on saute mode in an instant pot, cook

1t cumin seeds in
a little bit of avocado oil, until they sizzle. Add

1c diced onion

and saute for 3 minutes. Add

3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
1T grated fresh ginger

and cook for another 2 minutes. Add

1/2t salt
1/2t turmeric
2t garam masala
2t ground coriander
1t paprika

The recipe can be held here, and the resulting base is similar enough to other recipes up to this point that you can make a big batch for multiple dishes.

Put the mixture into the instant pot, if it's not already, along with the lentils and

1 cup diced tomatoes, plus their juice (2/3 of a can, if using canned tomatoes)
1 cup hot water

and cook on high pressure for 35-40 minutes. Add

1/2 cup canned kidney beans (1/3 of a can)
1/2t garam masala
1t butter
2T heavy whipping cream
2T chopped fresh fenugreek (every recipe I've seen says you can't sub for this, but actually you could totally sub cilantro here and it'd be different but tasty)

Simmer for at least 15 minutes (more is better) and serve.

Makes a little more than 2 pints.

Nabeyaki Udon

I have a good source of udon now, and I had a bunch of veggies to use up, and I've started stocking more Asian pantry goods than before. So I made this:

Put up a kettle with 4+ cups of water. While it is boiling, boil

2 eggs

for 6 minutes or a little more, but definitely less than 6:30, starting the eggs after the water is hot and quenching in an ice bath when they are done. Once they've cooled, peel them but don't cut yet.

In a 3 quart saute pan, combine:

3-4 cups hot water
1T hondashi powder (I have kombu, but making fresh dashi is a production)
1T red miso
1T sweet vermouth (or mirin if you've got that, but sweet vermouth is quite acceptable)
1T rice vinegar (I had white but black might have been more interesting)
3T tamari
1T grated fresh ginger

and heat until it reaches a simmer. Add, allowing to come back to temp after each one:

1 small carrot, grated
10 frozen fish balls (or some other protein; chicken is traditional and tofu would also work)
4 oz fresh shiitake (I had sliced, but whole is good too)
250g of good udon, still frozen
handful of bean sprouts (this won't need to come back up to temp)
approximately twice as much baby bok choy as seems like a good idea (or you could use spinach)

cover so that the bok choy will steam. As soon as it has, pour into two bowls, add and slice egg, garnish with

a bit of chopped scallion

and serve immediately.

a prediction comes to pass

Way back in 2011 I made a post about how SpaceX's engine out capability worked with their plans to reuse rockets. Since that time they have had 110 launches, 75 booster landings and, as far as anyone knows, three engine out events. The first of these was shortly after I made my post and before they were even trying to land boosters. The second was near the end of the boost phase and supposedly wasn't the cause of the subsequent landing failure, though now I have to wonder. The third was a couple of weeks ago and only in the last few days have we learned that it happened and was the cause of the first SpaceX landing failure since the previous engine out event.

Before these last two engine outs, landing failures were much more common. I suspect that going forward, engine outs are going to be the primary cause of booster loss for SpaceX.

One fascinating tidbit is that SpaceX isn't slowing down their launch cadence any after engine outs. They're no big deal! It's one thing to say they'll be no big deal before they've happened but quite another to keep your customers from thinking otherwise once they do.

scallion pancakes, perfected

I've been making scallion pancakes regularly for a while now and feel like I have got the recipe dialed in. It's actually pretty close to the one I started with, but I've explored the space of flour ratios, rollouts, fats mixed into the dough or for rolling or for frying, frying temperature, and the precise maximum amount of scallions that a pancake can hold before they escape.

2.5 cups AP flour
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt, if I remember which a lot of the time I don't
1 cup not quite boiling water

You will need small amounts of flour for each following step, but not nearly as much as if you start with a 2:1 ratio of flour to water as some recipes do.

Mix together in a medium sized bowl with a wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy dough. Knead for five minutes at which point it will be nice and smooth. Rest in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour and usually overnight.

Chop small:
2 cups of scallions (erring on the side of too many).

You will also need at this point:
2 tablespoons duck fat (if you don't have duck fat or want to be vegan, sesame oil also works well)

Divide into six pieces by weight (usually each piece is about 3.25 oz). Roll out each piece (size of the rollout is not critical at this step but I usually aim for 7-8 inches) and brush with 1/2 teaspoon duck fat, leaving the fat off the inch of dough furthest away from you. Roll up and coil each piece, form into a patty, and go on to the next piece before doing the next step (for me, this results in each piece getting a 10-15 minute rest at room temperature).

Re-roll, brush with another 1/2 teaspoon duck fat, and add 1/3 cup scallions, also leaving scallions off the inch of dough furthest from you. Roll up, coil, form into a patty, and refrigerate in a small bag or plastic wrap to rest for another hour or more (but try to use them all up within a day or two, they don't last forever.)

Roll out a final time to a diameter of about 8 inches and fry in canola oil. The hotter the oil, the chewier the pancakes will be.

Still working on measuring the quantities on the dialed-in sauce but it is approximately 1 part sesame oil, 4 parts white rice vinegar, 14 parts tamari, dash of powdered ginger. Honey sauces are nice and all but for whatever reason they are not my sauce.

Khao Goon Chiang

I decided at a little after 10 that I wanted Kor Tor Mor's Khao Na Kai which despite the name is made with Goon Chiang (chinese sausage). But Kor Tor Mor closes at 9. So I looked around in the fridge and found some turkey kielbasa. Close enough! I put up some Jasmine rice and fried up some onion and a little bit of hot pepper in some duck fat. Then I sliced up the kielbasa lengthwise and put it in, and spiced it up with about a tablespoon of yellow mustard, some cumin, curry powder, and also some powdered mustard for good measure. I cut up some snap peas and tossed them in after the sausage had been in for a couple of minutes. This all cooked up nicely and I put in some white rice vinegar and some thai basil and threw it all on the rice with a couple of eggs over easy, and salt and black pepper and some scallion. I decided at the last minute I wanted to grate some ginger on -- next time I'll put it in with the mustard, and it could have used a bit of coriander at that point as well, and maybe some pink peppercorn. Even without those, the spices definitely took the whole effect of the dish about 5000 miles to the east-southeast and it was just what I wanted.

The great thing about self-soothing by cooking is that it is followed by further self-soothing by eating.

stuffed peppers

Got a bunch of tired-looking ingredients or leftovers lying around but none of them are enough for a meal? No problem! Make stuffed peppers, they'll be delicious.

Per person served:

- Two peppers. Poblano, bell, whatever's looking the most wrinkly and sad in the back of the fridge. As long as the seeds have not turned black you're fine. Or, you know, tomatoes or squash or really anything that can be hollowed out. I had some poblanos that were starting to get soft. Don't worry about heat, it'll mellow a lot when you cook it. Cut around the stem and pull or shake all the seeds out. If the peppers are small, push the sides out some. It's OK if they crack when you do this.

- a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts. This is the one ingredient that's not optional. Toast these in a frying pan, without oil, and set aside.

- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of some kind of diced onion, by which I include leeks and shallots and such. I had some red onion that I'd cut up for another recipe that only needed a little. Fry this up in some oil or butter.

- 1/4 to 1/2 pound of some kind of protein. Freezer-burned turkey burgers, leftover chicken, TVP, really anything will work. Impossible burger works well if you have it. I had an open package of frozen ground chicken kebabs from last March when we thought takeout might not be a thing. Cut or crumble this up and add it to the onions. If the protein is still frozen, it'll want to go in only a minute after the onions, while those are still cooking.

- Maybe half or two thirds of a cup of some kind of green veggies. Fresh, frozen, it doesn't matter. I had the end of a bunch of broccolini from two weeks ago that was pretty limp. Cut up to like 1/2" pieces and toss it in with the other stuff. Frozen veggies will want to go in right after the protein; otherwise you can let that cook a little first.

- A similar amount of cooked rice. I had some left over from takeout Indian food a few days ago. Throw it in when the veggies are starting to look cooked. Put the pine nuts in at this point too. Stir well and turn off the heat before adding the remaining ingredients.

- Spices to bring everything together. I've used cumin or fennel or paprika in the past. This time I had some Thai basil and some curry powder. Don't be shy. Whatever the spice is, think in teaspoons, not dashes. I added some raisins too, because I thought they'd go with the curry.

- One egg, and/or a similar amount of cheese. I did both, grating in a heel of Manchego, since my ingredients were pretty dry. A premade sauce, or oils, could also work here depending on what ingredients you use. The mix should still be warm enough to melt the cheese but not warm enough to cook the egg. When you're done it should be wet enough to stick together.

Stuff the mix into the peppers and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.


Where I slept (and didn't) 2020

Locations in strikeout are where I canceled concrete plans to spend particular nights, not just places I thought I'd get to last year.

Melrose MA
Somerville MA
Boston MA
Gaithersburg MD
Barre MA
Madison WI
Milwaukee WI

Wilmington VT
Scarborough ME
Dennis MA
Woodbury CT
Ann Arbor MI
Marion MA
mosaic signature, seti

what's interesting about blc1 (and what's not)

Some folks at the Parkes radio telescope in Australia have found an interesting radio signal. Some key data isn't public yet, but with my former-SETI-researcher hat on there is one bit of information I find quite intriguing, and some other information that I suspect the mainstream media might latch onto that's really not.

The signal is a narrow band radio signal, which is somewhat interesting because when humans send out intentional interstellar radio signals we use narrow band signals ourselves. But it's really interesting because that makes it easier to tell if the signal is coming from the Earth.

An extraterrestrial signal on a fixed narrow band will appear to change frequency over time because of the Doppler shift *of the earth itself*. You may have seen the science museum demonstrations of Doppler shift using moving sound sources, or noticed changes in tone from vehicles as they pass by. But if the sound source is staying still and you are the one moving, you'll also hear similar shifts. Likewise the earth's rotation creates a shift or "chirp" in the signal as the telescope passes under it. A source that's coming from the earth will not exhibit a "chirp" because source and receiver are moving in tandem. SETI searches all look for this as the primary discriminator for earthbound sources, and it is very easy to detect.

This signal displays a "chirp" and that makes it very interesting. The exact nature of the chirp hasn't been released but I gather that there is a component from the Earth's motion plus another component that's attributable to the motion of the source. That might be useful for attributing the signal to a source whose motion matches, whether that is an astronomical object or merely some manmade space probe or satellite—or even an airplane—in our own solar system.

You may have heard that the signal is coming from the direction of Proxima Centauri b, a nearby Earth-sized planet in its star's habitable zone. This is not interesting at all. Planets like that are a dime a dozen, and there are probably countless others in that same direction.

You may also have heard that the frequency of this signal—980 MHz—is in a reserved band that is not used for radio communication by humans. That is true, but it doesn't mean those frequencies are empty. They're used for radar, and more prosaically by microwave ovens. Just because we're not communicating at these frequencies doesn't mean there isn't a lot of man-made noise there.

Seth Shostak has a great SETI researcher's view on this discovery which I think is spot on, unsurprisingly as he's one of the best, most level-headed folks working in the field today. He gets into the chirp in detail. And he doesn't even mention 980 MHz or Proxima Centauri b.