Out with Barley Risotto, in with Orzotto

I was making a barley risotto the other night when it dawned on me, doesn’t “risotto” mean “rice” in Italian, or at least something rice related? Indeed, it does, making “barley risotto” nonsense, albeit an easy to make and delicious form of nonsense.

Before we go any further and before anybody gets hurt, let me be clear: barley is not gluten-free. If that’s your jam, stick to classic risotto made with rice.

So what should we properly call a dish made in the manner of a risotto (rice slowly cooked in broth) but using barley instead of rice? In Italian, rice is riso and barley is orzo, so it seems that orzotto would be the answer. But wait, you protest, isn’t orzo a pasta? Indeed, not only is orzo also the name of a type of pasta, that pasta is shaped like… grains of rice. If that’s not sufficiently confusing, I must also mention that you can also make a risotto-style dish using orzo pasta in place of rice. I guess that would be orzopastatto or something.

Risotto – or orzotto – is also an excellent leftover disposal system, a dish into which you can put nearly any random food items you have lying around. In that spirit, here is the recipe for last night’s “going out of town soon really should get rid of these leftovers” orzotto. Serves a hungry two. Many searches contributed to the recipe, but this one contributed the most. You can, and should, substitute as needed.

  • Scallops? What scallops? I have no idea what you're talking about.3 cups mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 yellow onion, about the size of an egg
  • 1 really big clove of garlic
  • 8 oz of assorted mushrooms, fresh and/or dried
  • 1 sausage link – I use Field Roast Grain Meat [vegetarian] sausage links
  • 1/4 pound scallops (everything else can be leftovers but these need to be fresh)
  • 6-8 oz dry white wine
  • a hunk of parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • a few tablespoons of butter and/or oil
  1. Put the broth in a covered saucepan on low heat to simmer. If you’ve got dried mushrooms, put them in with the broth to rehydrate.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sausage, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Pull the little leaves off the thyme stems and chop them up a bit. Discard the stems. Taste the wine.
  3. In a large pan, heat some oil then cook the onions till they’re translucent, then add the barley, stirring it to coat with oil and let it toast a bit, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic.
  4. When the barley is toasted, add two splashes of wine (one into the pan and one into your mouth) and a ladle or two of the broth. Stir and cook until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid.
  5. Keep adding broth a ladle at a time and stirring until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid. It’s done when the barley is soft enough to eat but not mushy. You might have broth left over, or you might have to add more liquid. You can do the next two steps in parallel with the barley cooking.
  6. In another pan, heat butter or oil and cook the mushrooms. If you’ve got dried mushrooms reconstituting in the broth, you don’t need to cook them again, but take them out, slice them, add them to the fresh mushrooms when they’re done.
  7. You may choose to cook the sausage and scallops in the same pan at the same time as the mushrooms if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, set aside the mushrooms, deglaze with some of the wine, and repeat with the sausage and then the scallops. If you have enough burners, pans and hands, you can do these all at once. Ideally, cook the scallops last and at the end when everything else is done.
  8. Do not overcook the scallops. If you have overcooked the scallops, toss them down the disposal, pour yourself another glass of wine, call it a mushroom sausage orzotto and deny that there ever were any scallops.
  9. When the barley is cooked to your liking, add, in no particular order, a few grates of cheese, the thyme, mushrooms, sausage, and scallops, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and drink the rest of the wine.
  10. Serve with more cheese, fresh ground pepper, and a pedantic lecture on risotto, rice, orzo, orzotto, and orzo pasta.

Three Cheers for Three Cheese Edamame Bread

I was looking for a savory scone in all the wrong places and I’d almost given up when I wandered into Paris Baguette, a French bakery inside Central Square’s Korean grocery store, H-Mart. What did I find? Three Cheese Edamame Bread, that’s what.

I don’t know if this is a Thing, but it sure was something. If it’s a something crossed with a something else in the mode of the chimerical cronut, those things would be savory bread pudding and edamame.

It was cheesy, salty, and oily for sure, edamame-y, only if you paid close attention, but it filled the savory scone void pretty well. I found a recipe that might be close to this item on Cookpad Japan: Edamame and Cheese Rolled Bread.

Ask not for whom the duck rolls

It rolls for thee. Did you know that the first LEGO toy, made in 1935, was made of wood, not plastic? Did you know it was not composed of wooden bricks but a single assembled piece? Did you know it was a duck? On wheels? It’s a fact.

Original LEGO Duck

These days, the original LEGO wooden duck is a rare collectors item. Even the 2011 plastic brick reissue of the ur-duck is fetching hundreds on eBay.

LEGO Duck Reissue 2011

Thanks to that photo and the conveniently countable lego bumps, I was able to create a decent simulation with parts from my LEGO Architecture Studio set  (best gift ever from Prof M) and some wheels off the mini Mini Cooper that came with it as a bonus. The Architecture Studio set contains only white bricks so it’s an albino duck. The eyes are the Mini’s tail lights.

Albino Duckroll

If you like your LEGO ducks more colorful, minimal and mass-produced, check out these LEGO duck producing robots made of LEGO bricks. Tres meta.

Also, this.

Beware the Rides of March, or, A Germaphobe's Guide to the MBTA

I was reading an article called A Germaphobe’s Guide to Buying a MetroCard, which actually turned out to be a lot more about usability than germs, but it inspired me to think about how one might ride the MBTA with a minimum of infection opportunities. As the estimable Aaron Reiss wrote,

For a germaphobe of any standing, the world of public transportation is particularly wrought with anxiety. It is the apex of public: the welcome host to people and objects of every shape, size and degree of cleanliness. And it is a place that necessitates touch. Unlike the street, the park or the museum, our transit systems demand near-constant physical contact with their myriad surfaces. We sit. We hold on. We lean and we grab, palm after finger after sticky palm.

Indeed. As we exit (one hopes) the snowmaggedon season, it becomes a little less typical to ride public transit wearing gloves and with a scarf wrapped over your nose and mouth. Here are some suggestions for protecting yourself – and others – from germy contamination in the T.

Minimize Fare Machine Interactions. Monthly auto-renewing Charlie cards are the way to go. If you must use the touchscreen fare machines, try not to use your own fingers. Use touchscreen gloves or act confused enough that somebody comes and helps you. If you’re stuck all alone without gloves or helpers, try the knuckle of your least favorite finger and make a mental note to scour it when you get to your destination. I started counting how many times you had to touch the thing to do a simple transaction but I lost count.

Travel Off Peak. Surfaces in the T might be icky, but it’s really the people you have to watch out for, what with all the breathing, coughing, sweating, and other things I shan’t mention. So if you’re lucky enough to be able to choose your time of commute or travel, exercise that privilege to travel off-peak and away from the crowds, especially crowds of tourists and their grubby children. Whatever time you travel, look for the less-populated cars, usually a car or two away from the station entrances and ends of the trains.

Sit Down. This is somewhat dependent on the timing/crowding issue above, but if there’s room and there’s nobody more infirm than you nearby, sit down. As long as you’re wearing pants or a long enough dress or skirt, the ickiness you might get from the seat is nothing next to what you’d get on your hand from touching a pole or a strap. The farther from the doors you can sit, the less likely it is somebody will stand over you and cough on you.

Do Not Attempt to Surf. If you can’t sit down you might be tempted to lean against the doors (a no-no for oh so many reasons), grab a pole with your elbow or other covered body part (do not attempt unless you are a professional pole-dancer), or stand in the middle of the train and rely on your catlike sense of balance. Do not do this. The train is probably older than you, and the tracks could be twice that age. The things – and people – you might touch trying to break your fall are far more worrisome than what’s on the poles and straps.

Don’t be a Selfish Jerk. If you’re sick, wear a surgical mask, or better yet, just stay home. The train might be full of unvaccinated kids. But seriously, people in Japan and elsewhere have been doing this small, simple, considerate thing for a long time. Surgical masks are cheap at drugstores, and you can find a range of more fashionable ones if that’s how you roll. I admit there is some question about how much it really helps, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and since the practice is still rare in the USA, you might even get a little extra personal space as people wonder what horrible plague you’re carrying and keep their distance. Probably foils those face-tracking surveillance systems, too. If you’re too fashionable for a paper mask, you can get a germ-filtering scarf called a scough, made in Brooklyn, of course. If you can’t handle any of these ideas, at least remember to cough into your own elbow.

TL;DR: wash your hands, people. Frequently. With soap.

Don't Fear the Pies of March, it's Pi Day Again

I’ve been calling the ascendancy of pie over cupcakes for years, and whether you’re with me on that or not, you’ll have to grant pie its moment in the limelight today, pi day. In the US reckoning of dates, it’s 3/14/15 today, and those who are way way into it will no doubt be digging into some pie at 9:26, because 3.1415926, you know.

I set out this morning to get to Petsi Pies in Cambridge at 9:26 to see what, if anything, would happen. I arrived early enough and bought a slice of apple and a slice of pecan, and settled in to await the irrational minute.

Pecan pie from Petsi pies

The place started to fill up, probably not much more than a typical weekend morning, and at the tick of 9:26, nothing unusual happened. No countdown, no pi-themed cheers, chants, or songs. Rumor has it that fancy stuff was going on at the Somerville location, but I was happy to observe pi day quietly.

That’s what’s great about mathematics: unnoticed, unobserved, or unappreciated, it still just is. Now, where can I get some piroshki for a 9:26pm dinner?

The Social Media Enabled Quest for the Isunda Gray Whale: in which twitter sends me out on a mid-century modern run in a snowstorm

The elusive EkenasetDespite what you may have heard, I do not spend all of my time following IKEA’s every move and hacking their furniture into cat habitats. But I do enjoy good design at prices that are actually within my reach, so I was bummed to have missed the limited-edition re-release of IKEA’s Ekenäset chair. By the time I clued in to the sleek wood and slubby linen-blend cover, it was still on the website but out of stock at every location I checked. And I checked every location in the US.

So I had nothing to lose trying to get the inside track on social media. I didn’t expect anything but I tweeted anyway.

asking for a friend

I’ll spare you the additional tweets and DMs, but eventually I got the tweet I was looking for, my twitter buddy at the store spied some Ekenäsets in the “as-is” section. The race was on. The goods were on the showroom floor, I was in a race against anybody who might be wandering by with an eye for some mid-century revival seating at 30% off. Having already studied the assembly instructions online, I packed up my cordless drill with allen key bit and a couple of wrenches – as-is items is usually assembled and I would have to disassemble the chairs to get them into my car – and headed out.

Into yet another Boston-area snowstorm. At rush hour. On 93 South. A horrible 90 minutes later, dizzy, dehydrated, shaking with road rage, I staggered into the store, not even pausing for fortifying meatballs, and made a beeline for the as-is section.

Thar she blows!

There they were, two Ekenäset chairs, just sitting there, one up on a little platform right at the entrance to the as-is section. I sat in one, then the other. They seemed sound, clean, unblemished, not covered in pet hair. I put one on my cart and turned the other over to double-check my plan of disassembly. A woman nearby said, “you know there are some in those boxes over there, too, right?”

In the boxes? As in new? NIB and NWT? Could it be? I checked the boxes. I matched the product numbers. I asked a passing associate. Yes, there were four more Ekenäset chairs. They were all 30% off. They were still packed in their boxes, nothing as-is about them but the price. What crazy Swedish capitalism makes things cheaper when they get scarce? I could buy the lot of them and flip them on craigslist for full price if not more!

I backed away from that madness and heaved two boxes onto my cart. On the way out of the store I dropped a tweet of thanks to my inside informant and noted that four chairs remained, two still in their boxes. I hope they’ve gone to good homes.

Even marketing software companies need a marketing plumber sometimes

You’ve heard, and probably experienced, at least metaphorically, that old saw, The Cobbler’s children have no shoes, or some variant thereof. I know lots of professionals, especially consultants, who can’t seem to find the time to apply their skills or advice to their own businesses.

The other day, I was working on an email preference center for a client, one with over a dozen different email streams. Email preference centers, if you don’t know the term, are those pages where you can adjust the kind and sometimes the frequency of the emails or other communications you get from a company. It’s pretty convenient for people to be able to change these communication settings themselves, and companies benefit by getting some data on which of their email streams people really want. Also, allowing people to have some control over the sort of stuff you send them can help reduce the incidence of complete unsubscribes.

As it turns out, I’m working on email preference centers for more than one client – and using more than one marketing automation product – right now. With HubSpot and Pardot, preference centers are pretty easy – any list you create can be made a part of the preference center. Pardot even allows multiple preference centers, which makes a lot of sense if you have different customer types or segments. Hubspot probably does too, though I didn’t see an obvious way to do it. I’m a little surprised that Marketo doesn’t seem to have a native preference center function (at least not one I’ve been able to find) but it’s not too hard to cook one up.

With much debt to the estimable Josh Hill’s guide, here is my short recipe for how to set up a preference center in Marketo.

New Checkbox Field
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Set up boolean variables for each of your content streams. Marketo calls them checkbox variables and the values are true/false, yes/no, or 1/0. Think carefully how you want to assign these values. It feels backwards to me but Marketo’s generic unsubscribe field uses “true” to mean unsubscribed. I think of “yes” for send me mail, and “no” for don’t, but there’s no changing the default variable, so you just have to decide if yours will follow that convention or invert it.

Edit radio button display values - don't cross the streams
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Create a form for your preference center. This is where the guts go. Put in whatever contact info fields you like, but be sure that email is there and is required. Then toss in your boolean content stream variables and Marketo’s general unsubscribe variable. You can leave these variables in their native checkbox state, or display them as radio buttons or dropdowns. If you’ve reversed the polarity of your variables compared to Marketo’s, this is a good way to cover your tracks.

Create a landing page for this form, or embed it into a page on your site. If it drives you nuts that Marketo displays radio buttons one above the other and you really want them side by side, I suggest you take a deep breath and count to ten. After that, put this CSS into the landing page with the form on it. You may want to tweak the margin and padding to your liking.

.mktoRadioList input, .mktoRadioList label {
 float: left !important;
 margin-left: 0.5em !important;
 padding-right: 1.5em;


Advanced thank you page
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Write a simple confirmation page. If you want to get fancy, you can segment the confirmation page and serve one version for unsubscribes and another for folks who have changed or added subscriptions. You do this in the settings after you create the form.

Write a simple confirmation email. This is probably 99% the same as the page you did in the previous step. It’s not really necessary, but in the odd event that somebody subscribes/unsubscribes somebody else, accidentally or otherwise, this confirmation email will tip off the victim and give them a chance to reverse the change by visiting the preference center.

Email sending logic
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot

Create trigger smart campaigns to send the emails. Create smart campaigns that send the confirmation email with the form submit. If you have several confirmation pages and confirmation emails, you can create several campaigns or use split logic to send the appropriate email. Remember, if you send a confirmation of total unsubscribe, you have to make that email “operational” or it won’t get sent!

Put it in the footer. You should link to your new preference center in the bottom of your emails where the unsubscribe info is. We hope this will reduce unsubscribes. You can also link to this page from your main website as a “subscribe” or “preferences” page. Hill also recommends you link to your preference center from your privacy policy page.

Keep your promises. Here’s where you realize how much more awesome it would be to have a native preference center in your markeitng automation software. Unlike the default unsubscribe variable, your new subscription variables are not magically applied to every send. Therefore you have to go into each and every one of your campaigns and flows that sends emails, and add in logic to avoid sending to anybody who used your preference center to opt out of that particular stream. You asked them what they wanted to receive and not receive, you’d better keep that promise.

So there you go, you’re more or less ready to make your own preference center in Marketo. What’s all this got to do with the barefoot cobbler? Well, while I was building these preference centers, I got a message requesting some help with some marketing automation emails. Not so unusual in itself, but then they said “it’s the [redacted] install of [redacted]” in other words, I was being asked to consult on the marketing automation install of the marketing automation software maker itself. Sort of like an aircraft mechanic getting a call to work on Boeing’s corporate jet. So even the maker of the software, who no doubt has plenty of experts and programmers on hand, for whatever reason needs a little outside help working on their own product. I don’t for a minute think those experts don’t know how to do what I did, just that their schedules or priorities made it necessary to call in outside help. And there’s no shame in that.

Cheap Kablet for your Kitchen Cabinet

It’s been some time since we’ve had a kitchen technology update, not since the the two-port usb kitchen, in fact. So pull up a chair and I’ll tell you more than you wanted to know about how I installed a dedicated kitchen tablet.

My people call them "tomahtoes"Every now and again, via some design, gadget or kitchen blog, I read about some fabulous new gizmo for using your ipad or other tablet in the kitchen. By and large these things make me laugh.

Specialized kitchen tablets seem foolishly overpriced and not all that specialized. Kitchen ipad holders are not so different from old-fashioned cookbook holders, just more expensive and sometimes far less well designed. Maybe these work for some folks, but I just don’t see it – mostly they seem to be terrible wastes of that most precious of kitchen resources, counter space.

If you’re going to have a tablet in the kitchen, it seems to me it should be mounted on the fridge or a wall or a cabinet, roughly at eye level as you work.


So I hatched a plan: try out the idea of a kitchen tablet with a cheap android tablet and mount it to the cabinet door with by some means that will leave no trace when I move out. This device will carry a handful of apps that will make cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen a little more convenient and pleasant.

Hardware & Installation

I hit a minor snag as a surprising number of “white” tablets (of course it has to be white, the kitchen cabinets are white) have black bezels on the front. Ultimately, I settled on the expansively-named iRulu X1s -Quad Core 7″ Google Android Tablet, HD IPS Screen, Quad Core (4* 1.4Ghz), 1G RAM, 8G NAND Flash, Bluetooth, Android 4.4, Google Play Preinstalled, Hottest tablet for 2015 -(White) for $66 and picked up some Command Picture Hanging Strips too. These things, by the way, contain some seriously weird and wonderful material science.

These Command Picture Hanger things are amazing.

Knowing that I wasn’t likely to actually experience the advertised 3 hour battery life on this device, I planned to keep it plugged in at all times. Luckily, I found an open outlet inside a nearby cabinet – if you have a microwave or convection oven mounted above your cooktop, there’s a good chance it’s plugged in to an outlet installed nearby for that purpose. Unluckily, the white iRulu X1s comes with two white micro-usb dongles and one black micro-usb AC charger. At some point I’ll have to paint it white or cover it up with some white electrical tape or something.

Lucky for me there was an outlet in the upper cabinet

So there you have it, a small and cheap but fully-functional tablet just about at eye level above my primary prep space, the two feet or so of counter between the oven and the sink.

Breakfast of champions: toast with avocado and chia seeds, served with iced coffee in a peanut butter jar

Software & Apps

As cheap as this tablet was, it contains a slightly more recent version of Android than my phone, which cost a bit less than 10x as much. It also has a refreshing lack of the crud that mobile phone carriers glom on to their Android devices. These are the apps I’ve installed for kitchen use:

Kitchen Timer. There are a lot of timer apps, and I didn’t spend too much time shopping around. This one’s free, has two timers you can configure with different sounds, and if you ignore the ton of buttons on the left, it looks nice enough.

Kitchen Timer App

There are a ton of recipe and nutrition apps, but for now I’m skipping them. I downloaded Chrome (why is Google Chrome not installed by default as the browser on Google Android devices?) and will most likely view recipes and other info there.

Colcannon in Chrome (it was delicious)

For shopping list management, I was already using Wunderlist on both my laptop and phone so that whenever I actually remembered something I needed, I could quickly add it to the list and have that list in my hand at the store. Accessing the list in the kitchen seems like good sense.

The other killer kitchen app, at least for me, is audio. There’s already a radio in there perma-tuned to NPR, but sometimes what’s on is not what you’re in the mood for. I added Google Play Music and NPR One. I thought the hardware would let me down on audio, especially since the tiny speaker is on the back of the device that I just mounted to the cabinet door, but the air gap created by the mounting strips seems to be just enough. It’s not hi-fi but it’s good enough for the setting.

Kablet Home Screen

And finally, in case my meal plans go down the drain, perhaps literally, there’s Foodler. I made a point of not setting up mail and instant messaging clients, but of course one could.

Summary of Findings

For well under $100, I’m pretty proud of this kablet. I can definitely see how a larger screen would be helpful, as scrolling while cooking is a bit of a drag. The cheap tablet is, well, cheap, and I’d be a little worried about how well it would hold up as a child’s tablet – neither build quality nor computing horsepower would likely be up to the task – but it seems quite sufficient for the limited role I’ve assigned it.

Having the grocery list always right there in the kitchen might be the most life-changing part of this install, since I’m prone to completely forgetting that I used the last egg the instant I leave the kitchen.  I’ve cooked up a few meals already with the recipe on screen while using the timer and music apps, and it’s working well. It turns out that music helps make washing dishes easier, too.

If I were the owner of this kitchen and handier with tools, I could see possibly mounting the kablet permanently in the cabinet door, and definitely running the power cable through some holes to get it out of sight.

I’m not a very messy cook and the tablet is probably far enough from the stovetop and sink to get splashed or spattered, but maybe a layer of plastic wrap would be a smart addition to the setup. I’m not about to buy a fancy kitchen ipad stylus, but I will report back at some point if vegetarian sausage can activate a capacitive touch screen.

There's Nomageddon Like Snowmaggedon

There’s nomageddon like snowmageddon
Like nomageddon I know
Not a thing about it is appealing

There's nomageddon like snowmaggedon

Everything in traffic will go slow
Nowhere could you get that trapped feeling
When you are shov’ling that extra snow

There’s no people like snow people
Their tops they will all blow
Even with a virus that you caught from mold

You may be stranded inside and cold
Thinking to yourself, this sure gets old
Let’s get over this snow

Your neighbor, the asshole, so selfish, that jerk
He’s secretly a happy guy because
Your neighbor, the asshole, so selfish, that jerk

Got a riding blower but for no cause
Fills your driveway up with snowy gobs
Goodbye to common sense and decorum oh my

There’s nomageddon like snowmaggedon
And I tell you it’s so
Skiing on the train tracks is so thrilling

Standing out in front and watching the fights
Smiling as you watch the spaces filling
With folding chairs, and slashings by night

There’s no people like snow people
They sneer when the winds blow
Potholes come from nowhere with an awful crack

And when you lose it, there’s no way back
Where can you get french toast for your snack attack??
Let’s get over this snow

There’s nomageddon like snowmageddon
Like nomageddon I know
You get nuts before the snow has started

In this drama you are just a pawn
Top of that, snow season has just started
You’re broken hearted but you go on

There’s no people like snow people
They flip you off and go
Massaholic if you don’t move in your car

Last night it snowed and there you are
Freezing and trudging just to get to the bar
Let’s get over this snow

Sincere apologies to Irving Berlin, Ethel Merman, and you, dear reader.