Christmas dinner

I would have to classify yesterday as a success. The company was grand, the conversation lively, and the only disaster in the kitchen was that we had too much to do.

The salt fish dish came out as well as I had hoped - it, the garlic soup, and the wonderful flan that Jacqui brought, were the only dishes without leftovers.

The surprise dish was the Sopa de Ajo. Dead simple. In a shallow bowl, put a little basil and a drizzle of olive oil, top with a fried piece of baguette crouton that's been smeared with an olive oil/garlic mixture, put a slice of fresh tomato on top, and ladle in a portion of spiced vegetable broth. Dead simple, but a magnificent warning shot about what the diners could expect of the evening.

Unlike recent Christmases here, there was a lot of holiday cheer going on. I got 10 bottles of an inexpensive Argentinian red and five bottles of Argentinian white at Trader Joe's, and a couple of other people augmented the supply, and the group made a very healthy dent on things. Fortunately, the designated drivers all kept the wits about them, so that was all good.

The carnage isn't too bad this morning. The dish washer will be running all day, but I expect things will be in good order by bedtime tonight. Good thing too, as the next set of guests arrive tomorrow evening.

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With apologies to J.R.R.Tolkein and Viggo Mortensen

Avert your eyes, avert your eyes! Sons of the New World, of the Old, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same revulsion that would take the heart of me. A day may come when my aesthetic sense may shine, when I amaze my friends and manage to wrap a present that doesn't look like it was torn apart by wolves. But it is not this day! An hour of smooth wrapping paper and shiny ribbon done up in a pretty bow! But it is not this day! This day we wrap with ragged edges and Gordian knots! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you "Look not on my wrapping job, Men Of The West!"

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Our Christmas dinner menu

This year we've decided the theme is Argentinian/Chilean. Here's the menu I'm going to try for:

Empanadas, with lamb filling
Provoleta - grilled provolone cheese

Sopa de Ajo - garlic soup

ceviche
ensalada rusa - apparently everyone around the world serves some version of potato salad, and they're remarkably similar

zapallito tart - basically a vegetable quiche
salt baked fish
Humitas - pureed corn with scallions, green pepper, and cheese
steak chunuchurri
Porotos granados - beans with squash and corn
Berenjenas en escabeche - marinated eggplant

alfajores - Argentinian cookies
black welsh cake
crepes

If I'm feeling ambitious, I will attempt

Pan de Navidad - Christmas bread

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Last minute Christmas concert tickets availabe

Meredith and I are both too much under the weather to go to the Chorus Pro Musica's Candlelight Christmas concert tonight and have two tickets which we'd be happy to give away to anyone who could use them. Email me at vis02124@gmail.com for info on how to get them.

The Pertinent Info:

Candlelight Christmas Concert
8 p.m.
Old Sourh Church
645 Boyleston Street
Boston 02116

That's basically the Copley stop of the Green Line.

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Not my mother's Christmas music

When I was a younger child, Christmas music started sometime in December and was a constant companion until around New Year's. (Sorry mom, if that's not how it actually was. It is how I remember it though.) The thing is, we had about three Christmas records, so we heard the same songs over and over again. You'd think we'd have all gotten sick of it pretty quickly.

I loved it.

In remembrence of that, I listen to the Holly channel on Sirius XM in my car. Coming home last night I heard

The Eurythmics do Winter Wonderland
Carly Simon doing Night Before Christmas
Seth Macfarlane and Sara Bareilles do Baby It's Cold Outside

and to finish off, David Bowie and Bing Crosby doing a Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth mashup

David Bowie sings with Bing Crosby! How cool is that?

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removing a poker crutch

I use a watch with a randomizer app to vary how I play hands. At my level of play, this works great, but experts might notice and object - I'm sure if it came down to it, I expect the house would rule against using the app, though not necessarily against wearing a watch. I did in fact, once have a dealer notice that something was going on, but he thought I was consulting a heart rate monitor. I do try to make things as unnoticeable as I can, but there's no getting around that I look at my watch and press a button a lot.

Yesterday, I forgot to put my watch on - I had it charging in the car. Rather than go back out and get it, I just tried to randomize by volition. It worked out decently for the majority of hands, because I did things sort of by rote. In early position, for example, I'll fold suited connectors half the time, limp a quarter of the time, raise small 15% of the time, and raise large 10%. I just collapsed the last two into "raise something" a quarter of the time, and then let my past history dictate what I did next. Not perfect, but it all worked reasonably well.

I did lose the 1 in a 100 complete bluff plays. At my level I don't think that means I lose a lot - one makes those plays to either exploit too-tight tables or to demonstrate to the observant that you can have anything in any position. $1/$2 are almost never too tight, and it's rare for people to draw any but the broadest conclusions from seeing what you had.

I could have used my hole cards as randomizers. There are 16 suit combinations you, and you could grade finer if you also differentiated whether the first card was higher or lower than the second. The problem with that is that the randomizer is connected to your holding, which means if you don't shift the meaning of combos between hands, you'll end up making the same choice with those (or similar) cards next time that suit combo comes up.

At the end, the big takeaway I got from the experience is that having forced myself to vary my plays by using a randomizer for a while now, I'm more disposed to doing it even without the external aid.

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Self-delusional poker players

The subject line pretty much says it all - at the low levels at least, self-delusional poker players are common.

I was four hours into a session. I had given a fair bit of action throughout - sometimes with strong hands, sometimes with speculative ones, sometimes where it wasn't clear which category the hand belonged in. A couple of seats behind me was a know-it-all wildman. Because the intervening player got up for a few minutes, he was the small blind when I was the large. 3 people limp in, Wildman raises to 16, I reraise to 60, the limpers fold and he calls.

Flop comes QT6offsuit he raises to 60 I shove for his remaining 150, he calls with KTdiamonds, and explodes when I show AA. It holds up, and he goes into a tizzy about how badly I played the hand.

Now its true that against many players I'll just call the flop bet, and there's one regular I know whom I'd actually fold against, at least sometimes, but this guy fell into neither of those categories. I was quite sure that when I shoved he'd think I was bluffing, and so he did. But what was lost to him was that he went -270 on a hand that he probably ought to have -2 on, or perhaps as much as -20. Let's have a look see.

The preflop raise is certainly not the normal play, but if he wants to take a stab at stealing then I've got no beef with that - varying one's play is good, and if he gets by me, then he has a decent shot of scooping the pot, so let's say he risked 16 to win 10. My raise to 60 is a huge warning bell going off though. I could be semi-bluffing and still ahead of him. Our stacks are way too short for him to call, hope to hit, and then collect out of position. (Though with a wild man, collecting is not so hard - I'd have paid off QT in this case, for example.) I think he want both of us to have 600+ left before calling my 3-bet.

Leading out on the flop with second pair is overly aggressive. And yes, when I put him all in for the rest of the chips, he can probably fold there too, since unless I started with AQ or 99, or I guess JT (unlikely that), I'm going to be way ahead of him. He's getting a bit short of 2-1 on his money for a five-outer plus runner-runner flush or straight where I don't improve more than he does. If I'm bluffing here, it probably should work. Sometimes you can't really recover your hand and position.

Really, the big lesson for the game is to look to yourself before blaming other people. Hard to do sometimes, both in a game, and elsewhere.

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something to talk to my ophthalmologist about

Before my cataract surgery, I was left-eye dominant. Now, I can't tell. The normal test for that is to find an object in the distance, frame it between two fingers, and bring your fingers in closer until you just barely have the object between your finger-goalposts. Then close and open first one eye and then the other. The eye for which the picture doesn't change is your dominant eye.

However, now when I bring my fingers in to make the minimal goalpost, I end up seeing two images at the same time, which is mighty disconcerting. Fortunately, it doesn't affect any day-to-day activity, and I suspect it might be one of those things that the brain eventually compensates for to get right, but as I'm going to see an expert of Wednesday, I may as well get an informed answer.

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Second verse, same as the first

The ophthalmologist looked at me today and proclaimed that everything looked good. My vision in the right eye also tested out to 20/20. I picked up some reading glasses. I decided on 2.00. I could see print just fine with 1.50, but they made me feel cross-eyed.

Walking back from the CVS, I got to notice that some of our roses seem to have no clue that winter is coming, and are in full bloom. The red looks very striking against the purple background of the house.

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