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5 Odd Holiday Dishes

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Serving traditional holiday foods can be a great way to bond with family members and create lasting memories. It can also become boring after so many years. Every once in a while, you want to change things around just for the sake of change. These five variations on traditional Thanksgiving foods might be hits, or they may make your meal one of those stories of disastrous holidays we tell for years to come. My advice is to try only one wacky menu variation per year, lest your guests end up leaving hungry.

1. Turkey with Anchovies

The idea of adding anchovies to a turkey arose when Regina Charboneau needed a way to add oil and salt to the top of a roasting turkey to keep it from drying out. Others have used bacon for this purpose. The recipe calls for only two ounces of anchovies, placed on top of the turkey as it cooks. The fish disintegrate and leave a pattern on the turkey breast, and the flavor it adds is so subtle as to be unidentifiable to guests who've tried Charboneau's turkey. Before trying this, you might want to find out if any of your guests are allergic to fish.

2. Slider Stuffing

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This recipe for turkey stuffing calls for "18 White Castle hamburgers (no pickles), chopped into 1-inch pieces," (or you can substitute bread, but it won't be the same). I suppose if you live in the southern part of the US, you could substitute Krystals. Both brands are commonly called sliders. The recipe is a part of Thanksgiving for Chicago chefs Chris and Jill Barron, who share their Thanksgiving cooking schedule. Personally, I see no problem with leaving the pickles in, but I am no chef.

3. 100 Proof Turkey

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I received a press release over the weekend about an alcohol-infused turkey to be offered at a Manhattan bar. Are they soaking it in Wild Turkey bourbon? No, this recipe calls for 100-proof fruit flavored vodka.

Paul Hurley, A local Irish bar and tavern owner in Manhattan  is bringing a new twist for the Thanksgiving Holiday by unveiling the nation's first 100 proof turkey which is infused with fruit flavored and 100 proof Georgi vodka. The Turkey takes three days to prepare for the Holiday. 100 proof vodka is infused in the bird for three days before the final cooking. Peach, Raspberry, Cherry and Apple flavored vodka's are also part of the turkeys base. 100 proof vodka is also lightly placed in the gravy as well. No one under 21 is allowed to join the feast. The bar is also including a free taxi ride in the city for those who order the holiday specialty.

Each 20-pound bird is injected with eight ounces of vodka. Hurley says a lot of the alcohol content evaporates while the turkey cooks, so more will be added to the gravy. The chef recommends a vodka martini to go with the meal. It's a good thing the meal includes a cab ride home.

4. Ham and Banana Casserole

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My mother told me you can make a casserole out of anything, just include bread or crackers, cheese, and some milk or cream-of-something soup. This works with most meats and/or vegetables, but bananas? Paula Dean, the queen of southern fried recipes, brings us ham and banana casserole for a touch of Hawaii in your feast. The bread, cheese, and cream are there, along with ham and four bananas.

5. Pecan-Apple-Pumpkin Pie

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Can't decide what kind of pie to serve after Thanksgiving dinner? Make them all in one pie pan! Cakespy tried combining pecan, apple, and pumpkin pie recipes to make this triple threat. The first experiment layered the three filling, the second mixed them together, and the third separated them pie-chart fashion with extra crust.

Have you made any Thanksgiving dishes that would fit into the "odd" category? Share your experiences with us by leaving a comment!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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