2013 - %3, April

Tom's Kitchen: Miso-Glazed Pork Chop with Stir-Fried Veggies

| Sat Apr. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Umami dearest: a little miso pushes this dish over the edge.

At the end of the week, my stock of perishable foods consisted of the following items: a bunch of kale, two knobs of gorgeous, purple-skinned kohlrabi, and a fat pork chop. The veggies were leftovers from the previous weekend's farmers market run; the chop was an impulse buy after lunch at a new Austin butcher shop/salamuria called Salt and Time, where they buy whole animals from local farmers, break them down, and put the results to various uses: everything from sandwich fillings to cured sausages to a magnificent case of expertly cut steaks, chops, and the like.

Disclaimer: I don't eat a lot of meat, but I think pastured animals play a critical role in sustainable agriculture. And when I do indulge, I love to buy it from skilled butchers sourcing directly from nearby farms. I have made the economic case for locally owned butcher shops here and here.

Okay, back to the kitchen. My challenge late one recent weekday evening: how to turn these staples into a fast, delicious dinner. My first thought was a stir fry—just cut everything up, sear it off, and then nap it with a quick, soy-sauce-based sauce. But cutting up that beautifully rendered pork chop seemed silly—like taking a scissors to a Picasso canvass to make it fit a tight space. So I decided to sear the pork chop whole and stir fry the veggies as a side dish.

I decided on an East Asian flavor palate—ginger, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Fermented soy products like soy sauce deliver that ineffably deep, savory quality known as umami. To ramp up the umami factor, I turned to the ultimate fermented soy product: miso, a jar of which had been languishing at the back of my fridge.

Kohlrabi tastes a lot like broccoli stem—a high compliment, in my view.

Miso-Glazed Pork Chop With Stir-Fried Kohlrabi and Kale
Serves two

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 knuckle-sized chunk of fresh ginger, peeled with a spoon and chopped
A few whole peppercorns
A good pinch of dark-brown sugar
A robust pinch of crushed red chili flakes
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
2 tablespoons of soy sauce (my favorite is the sublime Ohsawa)
1 large thick-cut, bone-in pork chop, which will be a half or two-thirds of a pound
Some freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch kale
2 bulbs of kohlrabi
A little cooking oil, such as peanut or sunflower
1 cup water or stock
1 tablespoon miso

First, make the marinade. Pound the first five ingredients in a mortar and pestle until reduced to a coarse paste. Add the vinegar and pound and stir the mixture. Do the same with the soy sauce. Dump the marinade into a container not much bigger than the pork chop. Add the chop, turn it a few times with a tongs to fully coat it, and then let it sit in the fridge. (The chop can marinade for a few minutes, while you prep the veggies, or up to an hour or so.)

Preheat the oven to 400.

Now prep the veggies. Stack the dry kale leaves on top of each other and roll them lengthwise into a cylinder. Slice them crosswise into half-inch strips, stems and all, down to where the leaves end. (This last bit is controversial; most people remove the stems. I find that if the kale is fresh, a bit of stem adds a nice crunch.) Now rotate your cutting board 90 degrees and slice the kale strips again, again in half-inch increments. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Trim the kohlrabi of stems and tough parts. Slice each bulb in half, and place the halves on the cutting board, cut-side down, and slice them thinly into crescents. Cut those crescents in half. Set aside.

Get two heavy-bottomed skillets going over medium on the stovetop: a small one for the chop, and a large one (or a wok) for the veggies. Add a little cooking oil to each. While they're heating, remove the chop from the marinade, scraping away the chunks with a butter knife. Reserve the marinade in the container, including any chunky bits from the chop, and add a cup of water to it. This will become the base for the miso glaze.

Dry the chop well with paper towels or a kitchen towel that will be set aside for washing before any other use. (This step, while annoying, is critical for properly brown the chop—wet meat will turn a dull gray instead of caramelizing.)

Let it get good and brown—the caramelization adds to the dish's umami.

Give the chop a vigorous lashing of fresh-ground pepper on both sides, and place it on the smaller, now quite-hot skillet. Let it sizzle.

Now add the chopped kale to the larger, also-hot skillet or wok. Toss the kale in the hot oil until it starts to wilt, add a few dashes of soy sauce to the pan, and turn the heat down to low and cover. Let the kale steam in the covered pan until tender. This won't take long.

When the chop is beautifully browned on the bottom, turn it over. Let it go a minute or two on the stovetop, and then place it in the hot oven. For a thick-cut chop, finishing in a hot oven is a great way to ensure the meat is properly cooked without scorching.

Meanwhile, when the kale is done, set it aside, and return the skillet or wok to medium heat. Add a bit more oil, then add the kohlrabi. Tossing often, let it sauté until it's starting to brown and is tender, but still retains a bit of crunch. Now add the cooked kale and half of the watered-down marinade. Add a half-tablespoon of miso, and stir until the miso has become incorporated and the marinade has reduced to a glaze.

By now, the pork chop should be done. I shoot for medium—no rawness, but a touch of pink inside. At that point, the chop should feel firm but springy to the touch. You can also cut into it to take a peak.

Remove the chop to a plate. Pour off any excess fat from the skillet—careful, it will be smoking-hot, Add the other half of the watered-down marinade to the hot skillet, and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve any caramelized bits on the bottom. (This is known as "deglazing the pan.") Add the other half tablespoon of miso and stir to incorporate. Let the meat rest another minute or two, and then dump any juices that have accumulated on the plate into the skillet, stirring to incorporate. This is your miso glaze. Cut the chop in half, placing each on a plate. Divide the veggies onto the two plates. Drizzle the miso glaze over each chunk of pork, and serve. A bit of brown rice would be a welcome addition as well.

This dish goes well with malty, slightly sweet beers—think the German alt style—or simple lagers. For wine, look to dryish, zippy Rieslings or Gruner Veltliners.

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Meet Alvin, the Climate-Change-Fighting Puppet

| Sat Apr. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Meet Alvin Sputnik, one of the few surviving humans in a world that's well beyond any scientific predictions for sea level rise. Equipped with a special diving suit, Alvin, a creation of Australian puppeteer Tim Watts, explores the depths, encounters whales, searches for missing loved one, and learns to find happiness in a post-climate-change world. Now in its fourth year of touring the world, Watts recently stopped at New York University to introduce Alvin to an audience of kids, students, and adults; upcoming shows include Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pinchincha, Ecuador.

Ooh La La: Sarkozy Gave the Obamas $42,000 Worth of Swag

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 6:00 PM EDT

Friday, the Federal Register released a list of all the gifts that foreign leaders gave President Obama in 2011. His haul included a basketball signed by the Toronto Raptors (from the Canadian prime minister), more than a dozen Brazilian soccer jerseys (from the governor of Rio de Janeiro), a pretty sweet-looking eco-friendly bamboo bike (from the ambassador of the Philippines), and an array of rugs, paintings, and statues.

Presumably the president smiled and said thank you to all these presents, because, as the Register dexplains, "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government." Even if Obama liked any of the gifts, he'll never get to use them: They all go to the National Archives and eventually, to his library and musuem.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, made the rest look like cheapskates. They gave the first family more than $42,000 worth of French luxury goods including purses, perfumes, goblets, a Lacoste polo shirt, bath robes, and a Hermès golf bag worth $7,750. Some of the more insane gifts the Sarkozys gave the Obamas:

His and hers bathrobes
From the official description: "His and hers white, belted Dior bathrobes with 'Dior' embroidered on the breast pocket."

Hermès...everything
From the official description: "Large, black Hermes golf accessory bag including set of lock and key, and extra strap in bottom compartment, presented in cream colored drawstring bag."

The Sarkozys are partial to the French luxury brand. Other Hermès gifts: A $7,500 golf bag, a golf "travel bag" (there's a difference? Apparently there's a difference.), a travel case, a scarf for Michelle, and a cotton beach towel, which retails for around $600.

A $400 lighter and pen
From the official description: "Limited-edition 'HOPE' fountain pen and Ligne 8 lighter from S.T. Dupont, each in a cherry blossom design, and contained in a 6.5" x 6.5" black box with 'G8 France 2011' on the top." A nod to POTUS's cigarette habit, perhaps?

lighter

AZ Fine Time

Baccarat crystal lamps
From the official description: "Baccarat 'Our Fire' clear full-headed crystal table lamps on silver pedestals with silver and crystal lampshades in red presentation box." Estimated value: $5,500.

lamps

Baccarat

Grooming products
More than $800 worth of goodies from the Paris perfumeries Frédéric Malle and Bonpoint.

The kicker? Despite its first couple's lavish taste, France actually spent less on its gifts than Brazil or Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba, who gave the president a 14-inch blue mask sculpture worth more than $50,000.
(h/t National Journal)

Frank Luntz Withdraws University of Pennsylvania Scholarship Over Secret Tape

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 5:09 PM EDT

Following Mother Jones' publication of remarks GOP message man Frank Luntz made to University of Pennsylvania students about conservative talk radio, Luntz has decided to withdraw funding for a university scholarship named after his father that sends students to Washington, DC, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, an independent student newspaper at the school.

While Luntz is scheduled to speak on a panel at the University during graduation weekend, he said that he would never return to speak after this incident, and would discourage others from speaking here.

"I can't imagine a speaker coming to Penn and being so open. I can't imagine a speaker coming to Penn and being so candid," he said. "Frankly, I think it'll have a chilling effect on whether speakers do or don't come. I wish it didn't."

He also added that he would not renew a scholarship in his father's name for students to travel to Washington, D.C.

A student had asked Luntz a question about political polarization, and Luntz had responded by blaming conservative talk radio, saying, "They get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it's really problematic." Luntz had asked for his answer to be off the record, and although the student who asked the question agreed to those terms, Aakash Abbi, the student who made the recording and provided it to Mother Jones, did not.

In an op-ed for the Daily Pennsylvanian, Abbi outlined his reasoning for making and leaking the recording, explaining that "in a room filled with scores of independent students, 'off the record' is not a Patronus charm. Luntz may have felt that he was invited to speak candidly by acclimation, but I disagreed entirely."

Frank Luntz has made a very successful career out of advising Republicans on the content of their message. He was asked one of the most important questions of the day in terms of American politics ("what is causing extreme polarization between the parties?"), and refused to speak freely. Why? Because doing so may harm his commercial interest. And this attitude is at the root of the problem. If influential GOP figures like Frank Luntz truly believe that the party's media kingmakers harm the national interest but refuse to say so for fear of backlash, they knowingly work against the spirit of open and honest debate.

In other words, the people creating the "chilling effect" on discourse are not students like Abbi, but the very people Luntz was afraid to go on the record criticizing in the first place.

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 April 2013

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 2:45 PM EDT

I'm told that this quilt is an Amish pattern and uses Amish colors. However, it's the one quilt in the house that Marian didn't make herself (she won it as a door prize, I think), so we're not sure. In any case, the colors are so Domino-like that you might not even know she was there if I hadn't used Photoshop to brighten her eyes a bit.

Now then. Do you love Domino? Of course you do! Do you want me to continue Friday catblogging? Yes you do. Are you afraid I might stop if you don't help us out with our fundraiser this week? Maybe just a little afraid? I'm not saying I would stop, mind you. That would be wrong. I'm just saying.

Seriously, though: we do a lot of great journalism here at Mother Jones, and reader donations are a pretty important part of what keeps us going. If you can afford a few dollars, now's the time to make a contribution. Here are the links:

Thanks in advance. Believe me, your donations will be well spent.

Cap-and-Trade in Europe is Working Just Fine

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 1:52 PM EDT

Several years ago Europe instituted a continent-wide cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions called ETS. It was decidedly imperfect, and has gone through several revisions since it started. Recently, however, energy demand has declined, which has left Europe awash in carbon permits. As a result, the price of carbon permits has dropped off a cliff, and they're now so cheap that they're having virtually no effect. So does this mean the whole program is a failure? David Roberts asks everyone to calm down:

First off, the ETS is not a mess/broken/dying, it’s working like it’s supposed to. The goal of a cap-and-trade system is not to create a high price on carbon, or a low price on carbon, or any particular price on carbon. It is to reduce carbon emissions along a pathway specified by a series of targets (17 percent by 2020, etc.). The EU is on that pathway. Emissions are expected to come in under the cap, which means the cap-and-trade program is working.

Now, as it happens, the recession is what did most of the work to put the EU on that pathway. Complementary clean-energy policies (renewable energy mandates, feed-in tariffs) also played a big role. That just didn’t leave much work for a carbon price to do. The EU doesn’t need a high price on carbon to stay on the emissions-cutting pathway, at least in the short term, so the short-term price on carbon is low. Presumably, when the EU economy picks back up, there will be more work for a carbon price to do. If so, the price will go up. Cap-and-trade programs are designed to be responsive to circumstances.

Lemme just emphasize: Insofar as you are happy with the carbon pathway your cap-and-trade system prescribes, the fact that carbon is cheap is good news. Who wants high prices for high prices’ sake?

Everyone has always known about the basic tradeoff between a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. The virtue of a tax is that it's predictable: everyone knows both the current and future tax rates and can make investments based on them. The downside is that you have to take a guess at what tax rate will produce the level of carbon emissions you want, and you might guess wrong.

Cap-and-trade is exactly the opposite. Its virtue is that it will unquestionably keep you below your carbon cap. The downside is that carbon prices will jump up and down depending both on energy demand and on technology advances. This makes business planning tricky.

I've always preferred cap-and-trade because I think the virtue of targeting the thing we actually care about—the amount of carbon emitted—is more important than guaranteeing businesses a known tax level decades into the future. Businesses already put up with large changes in the price of energy itself, and I suspect they can handle price changes in carbon permits too.

But I'll add one more virtue that David doesn't mention: cap-and-trade is countercyclical. During a recession, demand for permits will go down and therefore so will permit prices. This is good, because it has a stimulative effect on the economy. Conversely, during economic expansions, demand for permits will go up and so will permit prices. This is also good, because it will tend to cool down the economy a bit. In neither case will the effect be huge, but it's still a net positive.

I've got no problem with a carbon tax. The arguments between a tax and a permit trading plan strike me as pretty finely balanced. Nonetheless, the fact that permit prices have fallen during a recession isn't evidence that cap-and-trade doesn't work. On the contrary, it's evidence that it's working exactly the way it should.

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Law Professor John Yoo Apparently Unaware of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

Torture memo author John Yoo and others who have called for Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be held in military detention are claiming vindication following reports that Tsarnaev stopped talking to interrogators after a judge advised him of his right to remain silent.

"Apparently the FBI interrogated the younger Tsarnaev for 16 hours," wrote torture memo author John Yoo at National Review. "And then, for reasons that are still unknown, the government read him his rights."

Yoo has never met a right he didn't want to ball up like a piece of paper and toss into a trash can in the name of national security. But despite being an attorney and professor at the prestigious University of California Berkeley School of Law, Yoo is either misleading his readers about why Tsarnaev was read his rights or unaware of a basic legal rule.

The judge appeared at the hospital because the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure state that suspects have to be brought before "a magistrate judge, or before a state or local judicial officer" and it must be done "without unnecessary delay." The Supreme Court has held that, absent exigent circumstances or the suspect waiving the right to go before a judge—as wannabe Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad reportedly did—a suspect has to appear before a judge within 48 hours of being apprehended. This is usually referred to in legal shorthand as "presentment," as in, "presentment before a judge."

"In practice, this means that law enforcement officers usually have no more than 48 hours to interrogate suspects without [informing them of their rights], and usually far less," explains Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University School of Law. "Once presentment occurs, the judge, if not the interrogating officers, will advise the suspect of all of his rights."

That's what happened in this case. Tsarnaev's interrogators didn't read him his rights. Nor did the "Obama administration," as some, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), have claimed. A judge did it. The 48-hour rule exists to prevent the government from detaining people secretly and without a suspect knowing the charges against them. Needing to interrogate a suspect is not included in the exigent circumstances that can be used to justify delaying bringing the suspect before a judge. And the government could not have legally placed Tsarnaev in military detention, either, because absent evidence of concrete operational connections between Tsarnaev and Al Qaeda or its affiliates it would not be legal to do so—and it might not be constitutional even if it were technically legal.

"This is a rule of law issue, and it's also an effectiveness issue," says Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU. "Calls to do an end-run around constitutional rights are not just wrong they prevent a fair and effective prosecution."

The feds have every reason to play this one by the book. Few things could compound the tragedy of Boston like jeopardizing Tsarnaev's prosecution because of a rush to trample his constitutional rights.

Pigford II and the Eternal Problem of How to Prove Discrimination

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 12:23 PM EDT

The New York Times has an epic piece today about fraud in a government program originally designed to compensate black farmers who had been unfairly denied Agriculture Department loans in the 80s and 90s. The original compensation program, usually called Pigford after the class-action lawsuit that got it going, eventually led to a second settlement, Pigford II, that covered a broader class, including women, Hispanics, and Native Americans:

Some 66,000 claims poured in after the 1999 deadline. Noting that the government had given “extensive” notice, Judge Friedman ruled the door closed to late filers. “That is simply how class actions work,” he wrote.

But it was not how politics worked. The next nine years brought a concerted effort to allow the late filers to seek awards....Legislators from both parties, including Mr. Obama as a senator in 2007, sponsored bills to grant the late filers relief.

....Congress finally inserted a provision in the 2008 farm bill allowing late filers to bring new lawsuits, with their claims to be decided by the same standard of evidence as before. The bill also declared a sense of Congress that minority farmers’ bias claims and lawsuits should be quickly and justly resolved.

Congress overrode a veto by Mr. Bush, who objected to other provisions in the bill. But as Mr. Bush left Washington, Congress had appropriated only $100 million for compensation, hardly enough to pay for processing claims.

Within months of taking office, President Obama promised to seek an additional $1.15 billion. In November 2010, Congress approved the funds. To protect against fraud, legislators ordered the Government Accountability Office and the Agriculture Department’s inspector general to audit the payment process.

The problem here is one that's common in discrimination cases: even after you've agreed that illegal discrimination happened in general, how do you decide which individuals were discriminated against? Proving individual discrimination is incredibly hard, because in most individual cases there are plenty of plausible reasons for the discriminatory action. This was doubly hard in the Pigford cases because the Agriculture Department simply didn't keep records of lots of the loan applications in questions, and there were never any applications in the first place for people who were flatly turned down before they could even apply.

Given that, you have two choices. You can either set a high bar for evidence of discrimination, knowing that it will unfairly deny compensation to lots of people who were treated wrongly. Or you can set a low bar, knowing that this will unfairly give money to lots of people who don't deserve it. Roughly speaking, it sounds like the government chose the second course, and lots of money has been paid out to people who never farmed, never applied to farm, and never had any intention of farming. But it was raining money, so they put out their hats.

It's hard to know what to think of this. Obviously it's hard to understand why the Agriculture Department didn't adopt a stricter standard, one that wouldn't have paid out thousands of fraudulent claims to people who didn't deserve it. At the same time, it's hard not to think of the flip side: all the valid discrimination cases that have been brought over the years, but tossed out because the evidentiary bar was too high and it was impossible to prove that discrimination actually took place. Those kinds of cases don't get a lot of headlines, but they're every bit as bad.

So I don't know. You'd think there would be some kind of reasonable middle ground, but we sure do seem to have a hard time finding it. And while there's obviously plenty to criticize about how Pigford II has been handled, I have to say that I'm sure not looking forward to the inevitable ugliness this is going to generate.

Chart of the Day: Unfortunately, GDP Growth is Right on Target

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 11:06 AM EDT

Analysts were hoping that GDP would grow about 3.5 percent last quarter. Instead, it grew 2.5 percent. Should we be surprised? Take a look at the chart below and decide for yourself.

Today in Conservatism

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 10:33 AM EDT

Apparently this is serious, not just some weird leftover from April 1:

The Heritage Foundation and Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity presented the second annual Breitbart Award to Michelle Malkin, syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor....The Breitbart Award honors those who advocate for the truth — a quality that Malkin exemplifies. As the founder of three successful conservative blogs — michellemalkin.com, Hot Air (now owned by Salem Communications), and Twitchy — has changed the way Americans consume media. Malkin dedicates her life to tackling the issues others often shy away from.

So there you have it. Michelle Malkin is now officially one of the best and the brightest of conservative journalism. Seriously.