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Posts tagged Food

After our move to Portland last year, I decided to match my United 1K status to Alaska Airlines. At the time, there were rumors that Alaska was matching top tier statuses from other airlines with their Gold 75K status, so I gave it a shot. A few weeks after submitting the match I received my credentials in the mail and sure enough, Gold 75K was what they gave me.


Since then I have not had much of an opportunity to fly on Alaska. Most of trips early in the year were to places they don’t fly or where their prices were not competitive. But recently Alaska Airlines has started offering flights between Seattle and Milwaukee and it has been perfect for my work trips. The flights are operated by Skywest using Embraer E-175s, a regional jet that doesn’t feel like a regional jet. They can hold normal sized carry-on bags in the overhead bins, they have tall ceilings, and for most carriers, they have a first class cabin.

My first trip on Alaska’s new Skywest E175 service was a return from Milwaukee to Seattle on the second day the flight operated. I had been upgraded to first class shortly after booking. The only seats available were the set of two in the bulkhead. Not my favorite seats, but I was not going to complain. At the airport, there was an agent helping customers use the kiosk as well as two agents helping at the counter to check bags and print boarding passes. All were very friendly and seemed excited about the new service. I arrived with a little more than an hour until boarding but with PreCheck, I was through security and at the gate very quickly. Not much more waiting and they were already announcing boarding for families with children under two and those needing extra assistance. Then active duty military were called and first class. Walking onboard I got a good whiff of “new plane smell” which, I have to say, is like new car smell just a bit more expensive.

The flight attendants had already placed small Dasani water bottles at every seat and were greeting passengers as they boarded. They both seemed excited about the new planes, the new service, and just happy to be there. It was refreshing. The plane did not take long to board and we pushed back from the gate right on schedule, the captain telling us it would be right at four hours until wheels down in Seattle. I was actually seated next to a pilot who explained that for the first few days of service, Alaska and Skywest were flying an extra crew to operate the return flight just in case there was a storm or other delay that would cause the original crew to time out and cancel the flight. He was gracious and answered all of my questions about the E-175 and the Skywest service for all of the different carriers. It seemed like he enjoyed his job and was happy to be able to fly the E-175 for multiple carriers now.

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendant visited each passenger, asking them what they wanted to drink and whether or not they would be having dinner. I asked for an Alaskan Amber and mentioned that yes, I would be having dinner. I expected to hear choices for dinner but none were presented. A short time later and the Alaskan Amber and plastic ramekin of nuts was delivered (the nuts had been heated). A little while later and the dinner was placed in front of me. The meal consisted of a sandwich, in this case chipotle chicken, a salad, and a cookie. The meal was ok. I am not a fan of those sandwich rounds used for the bread but other than that, it was fine. I will say that I found the portion to be a little small for a flight of four hours. United, on Chicago-Portland in first, serves a large portion meal followed by an ice cream dessert.


On the next flight I took, Seattle to Milwaukee, the meal was a similar sandwich and salad affair but the sandwich was a “Cuban”. I put it in quotes because it had pickles, cheese, and ham but that’s about where the similarities between what I ate and a what Cuban sandwich is end.

 
Let’s talk about the seat for a minute. It’s a simple first class seat with a power outlet for each passenger. The headrest is adjustable and the recline is nice. Other than that, it’s a basic seat. There is also supposed to be WiFi and streaming entertainment but neither of these have been available on any of the flights I have been on, though I am told it is definitely coming.


Overall, Alaska’s E-175 offering is a great option to get from the Pacific Northwest to Milwaukee. The food leaves a little to be desired but it’s non-stop from Seattle (I do wish it left a little earlier) and the operation seems to be pretty solid. I have taken thes flights between Seattle and Milwaukee about 5 times so far and the only inconsistency I’ve noticed is in the flight attendant service. I think this will work itself out once they are used to operating for Alaska on the E-175s, but there were a few times where the crew did not know how to operate some of the equipment or handle the service. Definitely nothing that is a deal breaker for me. I am just happy to have another option where I do not have to connect through Chicago.

 

Everyone has those food items that stick with them as they grow up. A soup or casserole your mom made that you miss as you go through college. Then there are the recipes and foods that have a deeper history. For me, that is my great-grandmother’s kolaches. She would spend a full day making these for the family and we loved them. Our favorites were those filled with poppy seed and others topped with a sweetened cream cheese. This recipe, and the technique that went along with it, was passed to my mother. She too would spend a full day making kolaches. The smell of yeast would wander through the house and that was the sign that something awesome was a few hours away. My mom would send my dad to work with bags filled with different flavors and he would return telling her how quickly they disappeared. These small pastries were a staple of my childhood. And sure, there are some store bought options out there that come close to being a temporary replacement but they all vary just a little bit.

Finished Sausage and Cheese Klobasneks
My mother was kind enough to pass the family kolache recipe to my wife and I after we got married. My wife made the savory versions (klobasneks) once before and they turned out great, but recently we decided to try our hand at the sweet version that I grew up with. Of course, we made some savory ones as a snack and for the science of it. If you’re going to perfect something, you have to practice. We ended up with a product we were happy with but that we know can be improved and perfected so we took copious notes and will make another attempt soon. We are also going through different flavors that could be combined to make the kolaches our own and we have a number of ideas of things that are readily available in Portland so we will give those a shot as well. As we make the tweaks to get the dough as close to what my great-grandmother would make, we know that we will be able to pass that along to our own children and keep this tiny bit of my Czech heritage alive.

I posted a few photos of the end result and received a large number of requests for the recipe. Seeing as this recipe was passed down to my mother first I asked how she felt about the recipe being shared. Right now, she would prefer that the recipe stay in the family and I am going to respect that. However, she had no qualms with me posting a few similar recipes that I found online and sharing a few ideas on techniques.

Klobasnek Cross-Section
The first recipe is for klobasneks, the savory, meat and cheese version of a kolache. While the history of it (and the kolach in general) is a little off in the link, the recipe is a great start for making klobasneks. One note I will make here is that the dough and the sausage are the stars here and special care should be paid to both. For sausage we try our best to find a German or Czech style link. We then boil it and when cooked, give it a sear on all sides before letting it cool. We then cut it into the proper size before forming the klobasneks. The dough part is just as important. With all of the recipes I am going to post, patience (and butter) are the key. The more patience you have for the rise of the dough and the less you work the dough when preparing it, the better the final product. When you think the dough is ready, wait a little longer. A little more time and you may get a little jump in the rise, resulting in an even better result.

Cream Cheese and Orange Marmalade Kolache
Next up is a very detailed history and recipe for sweet kolaches. The technique in this one is a little too precise and methodical for me and what you will find is that as you start to make kolaches, being precise is overkill. I do like that they include some filling recipes as well and the general concept of the kolache is still intact. For a more free form version there is this recipe. It is not perfect but it gives a lot more leeway to do what you wish with the kolache recipe.

I think these three recipes are a great way to get started trying to make your own Czech pastries at home. I hope you enjoy these sweet treats that remind me of my chilhood!

I was lucky enough to be upgraded on Monday morning between Houston and New York-La Guardia. Breakfast options were cereal (Honey Nut Cheerios) and an omelet, broccoli cheese potato, and sausage. Both options came with strawberry yogurt and fruit.

United First Domestic Breakfast

I would love to see United spend a little more money to provide a better fruit selection. Right now it’s mostly pineapple and melon, with a few grapes and a single (or in this case a half) strawberry. Give me some raspberries, bananas, etc. It is a little change, but would definitely make the breakfast more interesting.

My flights on United yesterday had the new meal options on them and I took a couple of photos of them.

The first, the lunch, was served on a 9:30am flight out of IAH. It is a bit odd to eat lunch that early, but the reasoning behind serving lunch then is that the passengers coming off of east coast connections would receive breakfast twice on westbound flights. The meal consisted of a beef burrito, fruit, and asparagus soup. The burrito was just ok, but the soup was actually quite good.

New United First Class Lunch Service

Beef burrito, asparagus soup, and fruit

On the return flight a snack was served. The snack served before the merger was a literal “cold plate” of meats and cheeses. It was not very filling and was full of sodium. The new cold plate is a piece of grilled chicken, a cold pasta salad, and fruit. The pasta salad was extremely tasty for airplane food and the entire snack was very filling. Surprisingly, the chicken was moist and juicy and if the United caterers keep up such quality in the future I’ll be very impressed.

New United First Class "Cold" Plate

Grilled chicken, cold pasta salad, and fruit

While lunch was a little disappointing with the beef burrito, I think the new United is trying to improve the food options. My one suggestion to them would be to bring back the side salad on the lunch flights. If the options are a burrito and side salad or a large salad with shrimp and a side of fruit, I think flyers will be much more satisfied.

Reichstag Building

The website My Little Nomads has an interesting write-up of “Thrilling and Amazing Travel Tips“. I agree with most but really should highlight a few.

13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You’ll love it. And I don’t mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day. What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you’re going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers’ market (they’re not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You’ll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.

It’s not just about buying fruit. You can learn a lot about a city and its neighborhoods by visiting a local market. In Paris, a visit to a neighborhood market had us stumble into one of the neatest little lunch places around. We found a line of ten people waiting for crepes at one particular stand. Where there’s a line, there’s something good. And oh, how right that was. Take some time, find a market or two and explore.

11. Do what you want to do. Don’t let someone else — or a guide book — decide. If you don’t want to see the Louvre then don’t see it. Do Paris or London or Rome the way you want to do it. I went through Cairo and didn’t see the pyramids. And while this isn’t a great example, seeing as I’ve regretted that egg-headed decision every day since it occurred — I can live with it. It makes it my trip and my memories and my damn stupid decision.

I think this one bears repeating. Do what you want to do. Not interested in spending sixteen hours in the Louvre? Don’t. Want to spend half a day at outdoor cafes enjoying the weather? Do it. I think people get way too caught up going through a guide book and trying to shove tons of things into everyday rather than focusing on what they want to do and see. Vacation should not be as stressful as work and part of that requires you taking the work mentality out of planning it.

Of all of the tips, the one I did not particularly agree with was:

7. Err on the side of inexpensive hotels. This goes against most travelers’ natural inclinations. We talk a good game above traveling frugally, but once we get on the road we tend to spend up a bit, and treat ourselves. And that’s fine. This rule isn’t about saving money. It’s about having an interesting trip and the more expensive a place is, the more likely it will have package tourists and people traveling on 7 or 14 day tickets. Nothing against these people but if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.

I know plenty of people who stay at hostels and cheap hotels. That’s their prerogative. Just because I stay at a place that’s a little more expensive does not mean I want to talk about the Superbowl, it means I could possibly want a bigger bed or some amenity that that particular hotel has available. For me, hotels are about sleeping and being refreshed after a day exploring a city. I have found some cheaper hotels to be popular with college aged tourists who have no problem staying out until 3 or 4 in the morning and then bringing the party back to their room. I prefer to avoid that.

A few tips that I would add:

  1. Walk – Taxis, buses, and trains are necessary wherever you go, but when you can, try walking as many places as possible. You will be surprised what you come across that you would have otherwise missed in a cab.
  2. Travel Light – Carrying tons of stuff around a city is no fun for anyone. Manageable pieces of luggage for each traveler is a must. If you cannot pick up your luggage and carry it down a flight of stairs, you may want to reconsider what you are bringing on the trip.
  3. Keep Your Important Items Safe – You do not need your passport as you walk the streets of London. If the hotel has an in-room safe, use it. The goal is that if someone steals your purse or bag, you still have a way of getting home or getting cash. I lock up my laptop, my passport, and my debit card.

Those are my quick tips. Have any of your own? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

This is second half of this trip report.

After a few weeks exploring all of Germany it was time to make our way home. The last city we visited was Munich and we would begin our trip home from the city’s airport, Franz Joseph Strauss International. Our return journey was slated to be MUCZRHJFK/EWRAUS. The long-haul Swiss flight, ZRH-JFK, would be on one of Swiss’s newly retrofitted Airbus A330-300s. It is the only aircraft in their fleet to be fitted with their newest first class seat.

Swiss

One thing I failed to mention in the previous post was the fact that Swiss is actually a Lufthansa subsidiary and operates as a separate airline. As such, the ground services, onboard product, food, and lounges are very different from each other and it is obvious that Swiss is catering to a subset of the Lufthansa market.

Munich’s Franz Joseph Strauss airport sits a good 45 minutes away from the city by train and at €10.80 is one of the more expensive airport trains out there (I’m looking at you London Heathrow). Once inside the airport, Lufthansa handles the check-in and baggage movement for Swiss and as a first class passenger on their subsidiary, one is entitled to use the Lufthansa first class check-in, security checkpoint, and lounge. Check-in was fairly smooth, though there was a slight problem with Jessica’s ticket, but it was fixed and the agent was very apologetic. Security was just as smooth, though I did experience something I’ve never seen before. One of the security officers stopped me, had me remove my camera from it’s bag, take a picture and prove that a photograph was taken. While over the top, it makes more sense than taking a giant x-ray of me.

After a slight chuckle over that fun experience we walked to Lufthansa’s first class lounge and were promptly greeted and given a quick tour of the facility. We were also informed that since our flight would be leaving from a remote stand a car would be arranged to take us to the flight. The lounge is noticeably smaller than the first class terminal in Frankfurt but the same amenities remain. We decided to have breakfast in the restaurant and enjoyed a number of items, including their granola and yogurt, and eggs cooked just the way you like them.

Around 10:00am a Lufthansa assistant came and escorted us to the car, a Mercedes S-Class. A five minute drive later and we were at the aircraft with the driver taking our hand luggage onboard for us. This was a short flight, maybe right at an hour from gate to gate but Swiss managed to serve a continental style breakfast and I think the flight attendant was a little disappointed that I was not hungry and passed on the offering.

On arrival in Zurich we walked up some stairs and followed the sign to the Swiss First Lounge. It’s a modern, bright, and airy facility that one does not have a problem envisioning as “Swiss”. There are not as many amenities as the Lufthansa lounges but there is still a restaurant, a full service bar, a self-serve bar, showers and bathrooms. The check-in procedure to the lounge is a bit strange, you show the attendant your boarding pass and then they ask you what time you want to proceed to your flight. Not knowing what to expect I chose the second to last time available.

A couple of hours later and we headed to the desk where the agent told us to be at our designated time. We were five minutes early and the agent said they weren’t ready yet and asked if we could come back in a few minutes. This struck me as odd but we went and sat down for a few more minutes before once again walking back to the front desk. This time there was a driver waiting for us and another couple and she escorted us down an escalator to a security checkpoint. Our luggage was checked and then we were escorted to a van that took us across the airport and dropped us off outside of a second checkpoint. So we were able to skip the train ride (that is inside of security) and instead undergo two security screenings? Something just seems weird about the way Swiss has that van system set up.

About fifteen minutes later we were boarding the aircraft. A friendly Swiss flight attendant greeted us and asked if she could help us with any of our items. A few minutes later and she was back with an amuse bouche and a beverage. The amuse bouche consisted of poached leeks, a lightly fried cheese, and a savory torte. My stomach was already getting excited for what was to come.

Pre-departure Amuse-bouche

Pre-departure Amuse Bouche

The new Swiss seat is a great way to fly. It has a large ottoman and an enormous video screen. If you are in the middle section there is a large divider that can be raised to separate you from the person next to you. With only eight people in first, it is a very private cabin with a very personal feeling service.

SWISS First Seat

Swiss First Class Seat

SWISS First Legroom

Swiss First Class Legroom and Entertainment

Our flight was right on time and after a climb that gave some impressive views of the Swiss Alps the flight attendants were quickly going through the cabin making sure that every passenger was taken care of. A set of pajamas were handed out in case we wanted to nap and the same flight attendant asked us if we’d like to dine together. On Swiss’s aircraft, the first class seat’s ottoman also has a seatbelt that allows it to be used as a second seat for dining with your travel companion. The table was then set and lunch service began, with large menus being distributed.

Table Setting

Swiss First Class Table Setting

Appetizers

Appetizers - Balik Salmon, Watermelon Gelatin, and Venison

Salad

Salad Course

The first two courses were great and I was having to pace myself. The flight attendants are constantly doing their rounds, filling up wine glasses, asking if we’d like more of a particular item, and just making sure everyone is happy. The soup was a cold gazpacho and it was flavorful, with a bit of heat at the end. For my main course I had chosen a Swiss specialty, Schnitzu. It is essentially schnitzel but the Swiss use pork rather than veal and bread it more delicately. Alas, they had only loaded two of that dish on board so I decided to have the rack of lamb instead. It was good, though a bit dry.

Chilled Gazpacho

Chilled Gazpacho

Rack of Lamb

Rack of Lamb

By far, my favorite course of the meal was the cheese course. The selection of cheeses was fantastic and the gruyere choice was particularly tasty. It was tart with that pungent bite that I love and I enjoyed it so much the flight attendant saved some for me for just before landing (I’m sure the immigration officer at JFK loved that).

Cheese Plate

Cheese Course

The dessert course was nothing spectacular, a chocolate cake with raspberry mousse. It was flavorful and sweet and topped off the meal, but it was not something I vividly remember like the gazpacho or the cheese course.

Around the time we made landfall over Canada the flight attendant offered us ice cream and I gladly accepted, along with a cappuccino. The inflight entertainment system is loaded with a disappointing selection so I made due watching Wall-E. There is a hook-up for your iPad or iPod but you need to have an s-video connector as they only have one on-board for the first class cabin. When they came around with pre-arrival snacks, the flight attendant brought me more of that gruyere that I was so enamored with and I thanked her.

We landed right on time at JFK and that was pretty much the end of the Swiss experience. There is no escort from the plane to immigration or holding back of other passengers. I didn’t really care as we were still some of the first folks off of the plane and only had a ten minute wait at immigration.

Overall, I would say that Lufthansa’s ground handling, especially at their hubs, outshines Swiss without question. Swiss’s new first class seat definitely beat Lufthansa’s old style first class seat, though with Lufthansa receiving new first class seats fleet wide I’m sure it will be a dead heat between the two. Food wise, there were things I liked about both airlines but I thought Swiss’s presentation was better and enjoyed my meal on them more than Lufthansa. Both crews were equally fantastic and I never had a moment where I felt the service lacked on either flight.

If you are looking for a way to spend miles in the Star Alliance and especially if you want to spend some time in Europe either to or from Asia, it is a great value for a great experience.

If you are looking for some help with a reward booking or want more information on the Swiss or Lufthansa products, feel free to contact me.

  • It Was 20 Years Ago Today: The Web – It has already been 20 years since Tim Berners-Lee authored his paper on Information Management for CERN and started the ball rolling developing what is now the internet.
  • Michelle Obama’s Message – Eat Fresh Food – I mentioned this idea in a post about grocery shopping and while it is not a new idea, I am glad that the First Lady is making it a publicly visible issue.
  • Skeptics Dispute Climate Worries and Each Other – Just because the climate change crowd appears to be on the same page does not make them right. It seems that dissension is only welcome when it is dissension that matches up with the beliefs of the other guy. Since the disagreements here are among the climate change skeptics, they must be wrong. Give me a break.
  • The President Lays Out His Education Ideas – He calls for merit pay, longer school years and hours, and getting kids into better schools. At the same time, his budget bill has all but completely killed the Washington Scholarship Fund. “The earmarks can stay, but what’s this scholarship thing for underprivileged kids? Get rid of that”
  • Naughty and Not So Nice: Celebrity Chefs in Firing Line (from Jessica) – Celebrity chefs are getting into hot water because their recipes contain high amounts of fat.
  • Google Voice is Launched – Google has launched Google Voice, their follow-up to GrandCentral. It allows you to use a single number for your land line, cell phone, and work and get voicemail online.
  • Geithner, With Few Aides, Is Scrambling – The Treasury Secretary and the aides as a whole are having trouble keeping up with all of the things they a promising and trying to deliver.

This week’s links are a real hodgepodge of different stories.

  • Marine F/A-18 Pilot Had Chance to Land Before Crash – A disturbing article on the F/A-18 that crashed near San Diego, California and killed four members of a family. The investigation has revealed that the pilot had a chance to land the aircraft before the crash but continued on to Miramar. There is no reason he should not have landed.
  • Hot Doug’s in Chicago, IL – I bookmarked this so I would remember to visit when we are there in April. The Duck Fat Fries sound amazing.
  • Why the Kiddie Food Movement has got to go – I think it is great that kids are involved in cooking and reviewing food but the author is spot on in noting that children do not have refined palettes. The appreciation of food flavors can take place when one is young but the body has not fully developed taste buds or the brain power to understand depth in food.
  • Let’s Get Real About Renewable Energy – Robert Bryce takes a closer look at hydrocarbons and energy consumption in the U.S. He comes to the conclusion that simply moving to renewable energy is not something that is attainable in the short term.
  • Burying Power Lines Proves Costly as Hurricane Protection – This has been a heavily debated topic in Houston and other Gulf Coast areas. I knew that burying power lines was expensive but I did not realize it was this expensive. To bury the lines in Houston, it would cost $28 billion. The damage caused to the grid in the last ten years by tropical weather has only been $1.8 billion. Sure, they should bury some lines that are necessary to keep large portions of the city with power, but overall, leave them overhead, I’ve dealt with no power for two weeks, I can do it again.

With the economy heading nose first for the pavement there has been an increase in stories about people feeding their families on the cheap. One story last week discussed a family of five living on $100 worth of groceries a month. The family bought a lot of canned goods, frozen vegetables, and stocked up on meats when they were cheap. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this, but when health and sustenance are taken into account, the family’s plan does not sound so great.

A Google search for multiple terms did not bring up the exact story but something that did pop up was an eHow article titled “How to Spend $100 on Groceries and Eat Well For a Month“. It is basically a shopping list for an entire month and though it contains dried fruit, a majority of the items are heavily processed and/or salt heavy. By no means am I a doctor but the list looks like a terrible diet, there is barely any fiber, there is a ton of starch, and most of the starches are bleached white flower.

The family on television had a similar list and apparently shopping for so little money is becoming a trend. This leads me to my question, is sacrificing diet for cheap food a good idea? Are there not better things to knock-off of one’s budget to allow for more spending on food, a vital piece of life? I am not suggesting that everyone should be shopping at Whole Foods or upscale stores, I just think that what we feed our bodies should be more healthy than a loaf of white bread everyday.

The way that Jessica and I budget is that we figure around $80-$100 per week for food. We usually sit down one night and go through cookbooks and make a menu for the next week, the whole process takes 30-minutes. Jess writes down all of the ingredients and then compares that to what we have in the pantry and the fridge and marks things off that we already have. We then go to the grocery store together and buy as much as we can for as little as we can. Lately we have been looking at shopping at an extra store to get things that we know will be cheaper at one place, especially with meat products.

One glaring observation I have made from shopping with Jessica is that vegetables are cheap, as long as they are in season. The amount of green leafy vegetables that can be had at a low price is amazing and it does not end with them, there are tons of options ranging from avocados to leeks. Fruit is a little trickier but grapes and apples are usually available year-round and at a decent price.

The trick with all of this is to actually eat the food that is bought. Dinner is made every night and the leftovers are taken to work the next day by both of us. Some dinners last two or more lunches (soups and sandwiches). Doing the math, I figured that our daily cost for eating a meal is around $2 each. Now I am sure the families that eat on $100/month are down in the pennies per meal, but does that really matter when the meals are not necessarily healthy?

What do you think? How much do you spend a month on groceries?

This week’s links are a real hodge-podge!
  • Single Google Query Uses 1,000 Machines in 0.2 Seconds – A neat look inside of Google search. To use that much processing power in such a short time span is unbelievable.
  • Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0 – If the allegations of Yelp using its ability to change results for reviews to sell services are true, shame on them.
  • Delta to Close 170 Gates – As a side product of the merger with Northwest, Delta will be closing 170 gates across the country. The airline landscape in the U.S. is about to look a lot different.
  • Easy Poached Eggs – This one is random. We have fallen in love with Eggs Benedict, which requires poached eggs. We’ll be experimenting with them tonight.
  • Slice of Stimulus Will Go to Faster Trains – Not enough money to buy a high-speed train though. So we continue down the same path we’ve been on before, one that is plagued with a nonchalant attitude toward the power of rail.
  • A Prayer for Archimedes – A long lost text shows that the mathematician had begun to discover the principles of calculus; Long before Newton and Leibniz.