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The Quick 10: 10 Political Figures' Favorite Family Recipes

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Just in time for Thanksgiving, we dug up some treasured holiday recipes from political eras past and present. Here are ten families’ rhetoric-free contributions to the holiday.

© Louisa Gouliamaki/epa/Corbis

1. Mitt Romney’s favorite carrot soup. In 2007, Romney for President launched AnnRomney.com as part of the official campaign website. Though it’s now defunct, Mrs. Romney’s site included a section titled “Ann’s Recipes,” many of which were shared around the web, thus preserving Willard's favorite soup. If that’s not your thing, you can whip up some of the Romney clan’s famous Welsh skillet cakes.

2. Walter Mondale’s turkey dressing and pumpkin bread. You might be surprised to learn that Mondale was a comfortable and regular cook, preparing meals for family gatherings and weeknight dinners to relax before and after his term as vice president. According to a 1984 Esquire article, Fritz’s turkey dressing has a bit of a twist: it calls for 18 one-day-old hot dog buns, because “regular bread simply won't do.” His pumpkin bread recipe is suspiciously like my grandmother’s (or perhaps it’s the other way around).

3. George W. and Laura Bush’s ‘dijongate’ deviled eggs.

Crawford Ranch is no stranger to holiday meals, and these deviled eggs turn up at all of them. The Bushes shared the recipe in 2004 as part of a 4th of July feature on WhiteHouse.gov. Five years later, there was a minor uproar over these eggs--which use Dijon mustard instead of the standard yellow--after Sean Hannity called Barack Obama “fancy” and “President Poupon” for putting the condiment on his burger; a few days later, the former First Couple’s egg recipe reappeared to somewhat less ridicule and, thankfully, the whole topic was dropped.

4. Herbert Hoover’s sweet potatoes. These sweet potatoes were Hoover’s favorite food; in 1915 they were served at a special Thanksgiving celebration in Brussels, alongside imported (and mysteriously quoted) “turkey,” while Hoover was there as chairman of the humanitarian Commission for Relief in Belgium. Seven years later, they were still well-loved and served often enough at the White House to end up in Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives.

5. Nancy Reagan’s uber-fancy pudding flambé (not pictured). If you were a guest at the White House during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, you might have had the First Lady’s impressive persimmon pudding, which is steamed for two-and-a-half hours and set aflame at the table, then served with brandy cream sauce. Bonus recipe: monkey bread, for those of you who prefer something with less fire.

6. Rick Santorum’s apple tarte tatin. There’s no prepackaged pie crust action at the Santorum house. This apple tart is a family favorite. Karen Garver Santorum says, “I usually use Granny Smith apples, but you can also use peaches or pears. I love making this dessert with my children Elizabeth, Johnny, Daniel, Sarah Maria, Peter, and Patrick.” With that many hungry mouths, you need a big dessert—this one calls for 14 apples. That should do it.

7. Michelle Obama’s apple cobbler. The not-yet First Lady shared this unfussy cobbler back when Barack was still campaigning. It’s easy-peasy, and Michelle admits she’s been making it so long that she “usually just eyeballs” the measurements. Her cookbook, American Grown, is set to release in April 2012.

8. Jimmy Carter’s special cheese ring. Back in 1984, Esquire ran this appetizer recipe from Jimmy and Rosalynn’s personal favorites. It’s about as easy as food gets, but the cheese-mayo-onion mixture could probably use a little update. His peanut butter pie is super simple, too, but reportedly perfect as-is.

9. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s desserts. Though the former president didn’t personally develop this lemon chess pie recipe (it’s from the Arkansas governor’s mansion chef, who included it in her cookbook, Thirty Years at the Mansion), it is reportedly his favorite pie. At least it used to be; no word on whether he’s adapted it to fit his vegan diet. For her part, Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies and spice fruit bars are apparently both quite good and yield approximately 90 pieces each, so there are plenty to share.

10. Joe and Jill Biden’s Sweet-and-Spicy Pecans. Here’s an easy get-together snack from the VP and family, which one reviewer calls “quite addictive.” Joe’s a big fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, too; this recipe is from his mother-in-law.

For more inspiration, check out the Congress Cooks! recipe index and Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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