Sunday, July 29, 2007


RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) is an alternate way of presenting text. Instead of static pages of it as in a book, words are flashed for brief periods in front of you before the following words comes up. There are advantages and disadvantages to this method of visual madness.

Traditional reading assumes that text is static. Your eyes move over the text. This means there's a cognitive and biomechanical load on you: you have to move to each successive word and you also have to do so intelligently. But it also means you can re-read things and scan very easily.

RSVP reduces your biomechanical load: since the words don't move, your eyes don't have to move. It also reduces, arguably, cognitive load since you don't have to intelligently search for the next word or line. But you can't scan nearly as easily.

Apparently comprehension and speed with RSVP is, at best, comparable to traditional texts. Understandable, especially for those who haven't "trained" to read in RSVP style.

Anecdotally though, RSVP training is a great help in speed-reading traditional texts. This is because when you start getting used to it and start pushing up the presentation speed, your brain doesn't have enough time to mentally "vocalize" the words. Instead, you get used to entire words as graphical symbols. Then, when you go back to reading traditional texts, you skip the mental vocalization and instead look at whole words as symbols, a much faster way of deciphering a sea of letters and numbers.

Most current RSVP software seems to be just flashing word after word at a set speed. I wonder if there are ways to drastically improve that though. For one, many of the auxiliary words in the English language can be inferred from the context. Articles, for example, don't really need to exist for comprehension. Additionally, longer words take the brain longer to process.

I think RSVP speed can be tuned on a word-by-word basis with a good algorithm. For starters, the interval between one word and the next shouldn't be a constant. It should be a scaled constant, like time multiplied by length of a word. Shorter words get shorter presentation time while longer words get longer presentation time. The difference would be milliseconds but that's all the brain needs. Punctuation should be taken in to account as well. Often I'm looking at an RSVP presentation and the sentence confuses me because I missed seeing that little dot at the end of one word and a new idea comes flying at me without my realizing it.

Maybe I should write my own RSVP trainer and see where it gets me...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Strawberry and Blueberry Terrine

Since I've been doing strawberry and blueberries a lot recently I thought I'd try a different preparation. Keller has this nice looking Strawberry and Champagne terrine in the French Laundry Cookbook so I thought I'd adapt it to the stuff I had on hand: fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Fruit terrines are fairly simple in theory. Just mash everything to a puree, flavor it correctly with some extra sugar (since it'll be cold in the end), strain so that it's smooth, and then stir gelatin in to it to set it. Gelatin can be used to set any liquid really so the possibilities for dessert terrines are endless.

I ran out of sugar so I used some honey. But the process was as straightforward as the theory: blend the fruits, strain, add sugar, add gelatin, and then set in layers.

That looks pretty good except I didn't have enough blueberries to make multiple layers. So it was mostly strawberry terrine with a hint of blueberries. Lesson 1: proportion. And soon I learned lesson 2:
Oops. Not enough gelatin. I heated up the container with a little hot water on the outside and flopped the terrine on to the plate, whereupon it instantly flopped down like the blob. Need more time to set! Also, in the end, even after setting overnight, there just wasn't enough gelatin. Lesson learned. Still tastes pretty good though. So since I had four more cups of this stuff left, here's my dessert for the past few days:
Yup. Stick some raspberry mocha on top of that and eat the entire gloriously fruity mess. More gelatin next time!

Eclectic Dinner

After getting back from hiking up and sliding down the Sand Dunes on Sunday, I needed some FOOD. I don't have anything planned so it's time for eclectic dinner with rice!

Kung Pao Chicken: simple Chinese chicken breast chunks start with a bit of rice wine, salt, and maybe a little ginger. Stir fry it up and add ingredients. Here I decided to try a store-bought Kung Pao sauce that ended up being not spicy and mildly salty. Boo. Added some chili sauce to give it some flavor.

Stir Fry Green Beans: This is almost like oil blanching. Get the oil hot, dump in the string beans (cleaned and cut into sections about 4 inches long) and stir fry for a little bit. Dump in a little water and cover so that there's a very quick steam. Stir frequently and after a few minutes when you see that nice deep green color, sprinkle with salt. A couple more flips in the pan and they're ready to serve, all crispy and delicious.

Button Mushrooms with Balasamic glaze: not quite a real balsamic glaze since I don't have time for that. Just sweat some mushrooms in sauteed shallot oil and then add in some sherry and balsamic vinegar and reduce until thick. Mmmmm.

All this and two cups of rice lasted me two dinners. Hmmm...

News Much?

Google finance has a cool feature where news is labeled on the actual charts so you can see who has written what about a certain stock when. So some company got a bit of good news today. A few articles is to be expected but this is a bit much. Anybody know which company this is? >)

Pommes Sautees au Lard

I did "Pommes Sautees au Lard" from Bourdain's Les Halles a while back but didn't follow directions to the letter. OK, I basically just fried potato chips in bacon grease. Sounds pretty good right? But that's not Pommes Sautees au Lard so I went and took Bourdain at his word.

It's an easy dish. Cut bacon up into little tiny cubes and then fry them up. Use all that delicious rendered fat to cook slices of yukon gold. Salt to taste, add a little garlic, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve. Simple and delicious.

The only thing to note about this is to mind the bacon to potato ratio. I cut up one too many slices of bacon and the resulting grease ended up much more than was necessary to fry up two sliced Yukon Golds. To be safe, you could spoon out some of the bacon grease first, dump in the potatoes, and then add in the grease as needed.

To balance out the starch with more carbohydrates and protein, I took some left over chicken salad and made a sandwich out of it between pieces of toasted rustic bread.

Well that was easy. Too heavy you say? Yes, perhaps. Too much protein and starch? Maybe. What did I have to drink with this dish? A tall glass of whole milk. Take THAT, food pyramid!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't bake very much. This is probably due to several reasons. Baking often leads to desserts and I frankly don't have much contact with desserts. They're often very sweet and I don't like sweet things all that much. Yes, yes, I'm a freak because I'm allergic to apples and don't like fruits (nature's candies my butt!) but I'm trying to amend my misguided ways.

Steingarten once noted that since a perfectly satisfactory recipe for perfectly satisfactory chocolate chip cookies can be found right on the back of a bag of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips, there should be no excuse for a sub-par chocolate chip cookie anywhere in the country. I would like to agree were my lack of baking experience not in the way. Time to fix that!

It's actually quite easy to bake chocoalte chip cookies. Mix some butter, vanilla, and add in flour, salt, baking soda, white and brown sugar, eggs, and some chocolate chips. Bake for a while. Voila! Of course, I didn't have a mixer to slowly blend the dry powdered stuff into the wet oily stuff until it was smooth. Hmmm, what about my hands? Well:

They actually look like chocolate chip cookies! Not that you can tell from the picture whether they're any good. Truth be told, without a mixer the liquid didn't bind with the solid all that smoothly despite my manual efforts. So when the cookies finished baking, they were OK cookies but not soft chewy melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies. I may not love desserts (yet) but I still have my fickle preferences. I want chewy cookies dammit!

Perhaps I need one of those beautiful Kitchen Aid Artisan mixers. Ooooh come to daddy. I MUST have one!

That I drool about the mixer more than I do about any potential baked goods made with the help of the mixer is inevitable. At least for now. Maybe if I baked more...

Friday, July 20, 2007

French Dinner

Big French Dinner because I've been reading Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook too much. The menu:

White Truffle Oil Infused Custard and Sabayon with Chive Chips
Cauliflower Panna Cotta and Bowfin Caviar
Bread, Pate, Cornichons
Moules Marinieres
Wild Mushroom Soup and Crisps
Red Snapper and Sea Scallop with Asparagus
Strawberries and Blue Berries with Lime Sugar

The mushroom soup starts first:
There's the mise. Pretty easy. Sautee the shallots, dump in mushrooms, dump in chicken stock, some parsley, cook, puree, and then add some sherry. Yes, I'm using store bought chicken stock but at least it's organic and it says "free range." I don't have a stock pot and I don't have 10 pounds of chicken bones. Call me lazy.
Mise for the lime confit that'll go with the dessert. Zest from two limes, a bit over 1/2 cup of sugar, and a cup of water. After the water come to the boil and the sugar is dissovled in it, you dump in the zest and get to see and smell something fantastic:
Mmmmmmm. The water turns green right away and you smell a rush of citrus aroma. Excellent stuff. This'll reduce by about half.
With the mushroom soup and lime confit cooking, I try a parmesan chip. Basically, grate some parmesan-reggiano onto a silpat and form into a circle. Bake in the oven at 275 until golden and crispy.
There we go. Parsley goes in. Taking a cue from Keller, I do my best to skim the foam from the top. Could have avoided this step had I started off with clarified butter but oh well. Time to check on the parmesan crisp. Ooooooh:

Yes, that's a delicious piece of crispy cheese there. OK, now let's do a whole bunch:
Silpats are necessary mainly because the crisps come out very fragile, so you need a trustworthy non-stick surface. They'll also come out soft so they can be shaped and molded. But if you're not gentle with them after they harden, they WILL break. Careful.
The mise for the cauliflower panna cotta (except for gelatine). Cook Cauliflower in water, and then reduce cream and blend. Eventually, gelatine goes in and with its help it sets into a custard-like consistency. Hence the panna cotta.
And time to start the chive chips. The mise is simple but the work is time consuming. My mandoline doesn't want to cut uniform width slices, especially not at the paper-thin setting so I had to do all the knife work with my trust Chinese cleaver. A bit difficult. Also, oops, I used a Yukon Gold. No good. They shrink when baked. Need to use russet.
The cauliflower's a cookin' and the chive chips are assembled. Another Silpat brushed with clarified butter will go on top of this. And another cookie sheet as well. This will keep the potato slices pressed to each other until the finish baking.
Meanwhile, the panna cotta is done! Blended, salted to taste, and mixed with gelatine. Goes into the fridge to set. Made a mistake this time around and reduced the cream too much so it's not setting smooth and flat. Ah, but the chive chips are done.
Yeah, they're a little burnt and see how they shrunk? Oh well. Russets next time. And potato burnt with butter and a bit of salt still tastes good.
A happy fridge, but time to go to sleep and restart the cooking the next day. How does a master chef like me organize all this cooking? Uh...yeah...well...
Right. On to making the holders for the custard. Thomas Keller's got an egg cutter. I have a serrated knife with which to make 8 notches on an egg shell and try to break off half of it without killing the entire thing. I gave up after 4 (though I was starting to get the hang of it at the end. See the one in the back? Pretty straight huh?).

The containers made, it's time for the actual custard. Some white truffle oil, some eggs, some cream, some milke, and a blender. Pour in to eggs and bake in a bain-marie. The mise:
When you finish pouring (I couldn't get all of the bubbles out no matter how hard I skimmed), this is what it looks like. Keller suggests putting them in the original egg carton and it's a great tactic. What I'd add is to poke some holes into the side of the carton. When the eggs go in, they form a pretty tight seal with the carton so water doesn't get into it easily, which means air pockets, which means your eggs might start floating around.
Most of the remaining things need to be done a la minute, or at least a la 30 minutes. But the dessert is easily prepped beforehand so time to mix the strawberries, blueberries, and the lime confit:
Yummy! Looks good huh? Let that sit in the fridge and start wondering what to do with my own lunch. I had some small potatoes left from frying up chips (to go with the soup, no pictures, but basically potato slices fried in clarified clarified butter, or in this case lard) so I cut them up and made myself some potatoes and kielbasa. They went with chive scrambled eggs:
After the break, I finished up the pana cotta dish:
Ooooh, look at that. I didn't have oyster juice so I used a little bit of dashi instead. And a big chunk of bowfin caviar. Now, the dinner guests thought this was pretty freaky when they had it since it's cauliflower custard with caviar (which not everyone liked either). I was also a bit ambivalent about it at first but then I liked it a lot at the end, probably because I could taste what it had potential to be. A little bit less reduction of the cream, a little lighter gelatin on top, and better caviar. It looks interesting though. Nice contrast between black and white and salty and sweet. OK, one more thing I can prepare before hand:
Easy and delicious desserts. Just combine the berries and the lime confit, add some sour cream, and decorate to taste. A mint leaf might be a nice accent color but I didn't have any. OK, on to work on the final mise (seen below). The mussles and little necks were washed, the red snapper and scallops washed and dried. Butter, shallots, and parsley for the Moules Marinieres. Bacon bits (with bacon grease saved) chopped up along with bacon grease and flour ready for the red snapper, along with some lime and lemon juice. Also some grated ginger ready to be cooked with some lemon juice to go along with the sea scallop (to be pan seared in bacon grease like the red snapper). So both the snapper and scallop have lemon sauce on them but there's a twist of ginger for the scallop. Asparagus is cut and washed and in the fridge. That's it!
So what else to do?

1) Custard was baked but I screwed up the sabayon. Sabayons require water (I didn't know that) but all I used was truffle oil. Oops. So the yolks just...cooked and then hardened. No good. So the canape turned into just custard and chive chips.

2) Panna Cotta and Caviar was served straight from the fridge (after being warmed to room temp).

3) Pate and cornichons and bread (warm out of the oven!) were served as I started the moules and warmed up the mushroom soup.

4) Moules (and some little neck clams actually) was served along with bread to mop up the mess, as Bourdain would say.

5) A ring of dots of truffle oil surrounded a pan seared fresh chanterelle floated in the middle of the mushroom soup. Also per Bourdain's suggestion. Plated this one a bit early and soup was a bit cold by the time it made it to the table. Was cooking the main course while the soup was being eaten.

6) Pan sear the fish and scallop with another pan for the asparagus. Plate, cook sauce quickly in remaining pan juices, drip over fish, and serve. Then rush to the table and sprinkle bacon bits over plate because you forgot to do it.

7) Bring out the dessert.

Done! Yes, I forgot to take pictures during dinner service but I was, I hope you understand, a bit busy.

More cooking to come.

Pate, Finally!

Well I guess blogger's got images now though I haven't taken advantage of it much yet. Here goes.

So I had a craving for Pate a while back and I finally went and did something about it.
Duck. They say goose is smoother but I'm not complaining. In fact, for a ready made store-bought Pate, this is quite good. It's a bit expensive at $15 a package but it's very smooth and very good. I don't want to devein real fois myself and there aren't any terrific French restaurants with a Prix Fixe menu with fois appetizer on it around here so this is the best I can do. The best way to eat it?
Some pate, a few slices of rustic bread lightly toasted, and a few cornichons. Oh. My. God. Orgasm in my mouth. I could eat this for lunch every day (and did for a while). Also, when serving others, it's counts as a full course. Easy!
So, why not make a meal out of it. Course 1: Pate, Bread and Cornichons. Then cold wild mushroom soup with an asparagus puree and white truffle oil. That's followed by pan seared tilapia with a lemon sauce and asparagus. And finally:

Bluberries with lime sugar, which is just blueberries tossed with lime juice and lime confit, sprinkled with sugar, and topped with a little sour cream.

I'm happy now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Charlie Rose is Not a Good Interviewer

An interviewer who pushes his own agenda by trying to beat the interviewee into a corner is, well, not a good interviewer. Repeatedly interrupting the interviewee and forcing him to a yes or no does what? Nothing really, especially when you, Charlie, refuse to accept your interviewee's point of view. So you end up debating premises, which is a pointless endeavor in any discussion. Christianity versus Catholicism: want to give me an answer to that?

Man, he's really annoying. How is he so popular and famous? I don't get it... And get your facts straight Charlie. If you cite something that is wrong, and your interviewee corrects you, you don't plow on as if it doesn't matter because that was the start of your damn point!

Ford: Stupid Moves

Ford apparently has the grand doofus of grammar doing their ads:
See it? Of course you do. Oh sorry, you don't? Let me highlight it for you:

I mean seriously. "Go Along Way"??? Typos in blogs and IM chats I understand but official advertising to be released to the masses? You know Ford, some "bold" moves just make you look stupid. You should not be pioneering new and senseless ways to screw up the English language. Stick to cars. And even more offensive, it's not like there isn't space to split up the "A" and the "LONG". Observe:
See, now wasn't that easy? The 31mpg remark even makes sense now.

Next time, we'll talk about that random asterisk placement over the w.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Verbose Lime Confit

For a self-proclaimed foodie wannabe, I have a surprising intolerance for fruits. Maybe I was a carnivore in a past life. Or a baconvore, that's also possible. That would explain why I can smell the aromas of enlightenment and nirvana in bacon grease but scrunch up my face at most fruits: Christ may have died for our sins but it is surely bacon which will redeem us all when the Dies Irae and Illa descend upon us. I also have another more immediate excuse. I am allergic to quite a few fruits. See? Those candies of nature buggers are out to get me.

So why is a fruit philistine writing about lime confit? Because it's sweet and can be anything from a perfectly light counterpoint to some fruits or a thick sweet sauce you use to temper something tart (for the philistines, of course). Technically you're not supposed to concentrate the confit until it becomes sugar syrup but who doesn't like sugar syrup?

Zest two limes with your preferred tool and be sure to leave out your fingernail and skin shavings. They don't add to the citrus flavor contrary to the advice of most neighborhood cannibals. Dissolve about half a cup of sugar in a cup of water and bring it to a boil. Dump the lime zest in to the sugar water and steam your nose hairs breathing in the wonderful citrus aromas released. You can also poach your eyebrows with your face over the pot watching the liquid turn green but that's optional. Reduce to a simmer and cover partially with a lid. Meanwhile, follows your mom's advice and don't waste that lime juice! Juice your two limes and run it once through a strainer and save it for when you need some sourness in your life. Then wait.

And reduce, reduce, reduce. Normal lime confit: reduce liquid by half, strain out zest, chill and store. Sweet tooth thick sugar syrup with a bit of lime which can't really be called lime confit: reduce liquid by two thirds, strain out zest, chill and store.

The latter preparation is a treat to my palate all by itself, though you wouldn't want to ingest more than half a teaspoonful at a time. It's...what's the word...sweet. Either one can be tossed with fresh berries, maybe a little lime juice, maybe a little undissolved sugar, garnished with a mint leaf, and served with creme fraiche (or sour cream). It's simple, it's delicious, and it even looks good when presented in open stemware like a martini glass.

But if you want to really wow them and give them a transcendent experience, might I suggest adding a little bacon grease?

Damn GUI, Always Crashing My Parties

Problem: getting a specific executable to run (executable resides on a server) through an ASP page.

Details: The windows scripting host object on a server can create a shell object with which you can run command line commands. The code is straight forward and easy:

Set WshShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")

The problem is that while the Run method works fine on your local machine, it's not so hot when you're trying to fire it off from an ASP page. This is because the user going to the ASP page will not see whatever is going on on the server. But what about a self-contained command line executable? That works fairly well provided there's no GUI.

When there is a GUI, nothing works. This is because the IIS process fires off the executable (successfully too) under its account but then there is no user interaction. The process starts but then just sits there doing nothing. Not so great.

All this works when you run a vbs script locally though because then the application starts and the user (you) can interact with the GUI on its local machine. So, what's the solution?

Solution: Since the GUI problem is not circumventable, we put the onus of action on the user. Stick a VBS file with your WshShell.Run directive (and whatever else you might want to do) on a network drive accessible to your user(s). Then, when you need your executable to do its thing, give a link directly to the vbs file on the network. The user will click on the link, run the vbs file, and then be on his merry way. You can even pop up a

MsgBox("Who's your daddy?!")

when the script is done. You can also pass arguments, conveniently, to the vbs file in your Run directive so a limited amount of information can persist.

Limitations: It's still a hacky work around. Since you're breaking the web-flow of the pages, the user can not be automagically directed to the next page in his web browser.

Don't try this at home: "Ah ha," you might be thinking, "you're not a 1337 h5x0r like 3y3 4M. Why don't you just create a non-GUI exe to call the other exe? For that matter why not just call a bat or vbs file in from WshShell.Run?" That, my grasshopper, doesn't work either, because either way that GUIed up executable is going to run. And when it does, it's still going to hang.

Recap: ASP-->VBS file on network-->executable-->MsgBox-->User goes back to ASP.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pork Chops and Noodles

The service was terrible, the decor was absent, and the atmosphere was a perfect shade of crowded cafeteria with too few seats for too many bottoms. But how ingenious of the proprietors! All this time I had never realized the simple truth that a restaurant's capacity could be doubled if one counted both seating and (here's the trick) standing space. One might be forgiven for thinking the little shack of restaurant space was really meant as an aviary given all the vultures hovering over the tables. After ordering my food at the cash register at the front of the shack, I joined the kettle of my scavenging brethren and hovered over my prey. Their four minutes with a bowl of noodles and a fried pork chop were surely coming to an end.

Two hundred forty seconds may seem like a short time to inhale the best MaJian noodles in Shanghai, to say nothing of the glorious pork chops accompanied by Shanghainese spicy soy sauce. And it is. With a grace period of about two minutes, you'll have at most three bucks and change to shovel all of that home cooked goodness into your face. Stomach distension is par for the course and the more enthusiastic patrons routinely pop a few capillaries in their forehead.

This is all fine and good because it is food that wants to be eaten quickly in a burst of culinary delight and, afterwards, gastric distress. It is cafeteria food at its best and most appropriate. The chops are fried crispy so that the spicy soy sauce will not soak through and make the dough soggy. The noodles are solid yet flexible and cling (not stick) to each other only because of the sauce, which is suitably heavy, fragrant, and wears coronary sleeve ornaments. After one mouthful they will sink to the bottom of your stomach and reach the very depths of the pleasure parts of your brain that are triggered when you are beatifically stuffed.

Get in, order, hover for three minutes, eat for five, and leave in a hurry with a big stomach and a huge grin on your face. Who cares about the service, the decor, and the atmosphere?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Food Urge

The previous entry made me really crave foie gras (any kind dammit!), some nice bread, maybe some pickles. I haven't had decent foie in a while. Man, where's a French bistro around Santa Barbara when you need one.

Mushroom Soup vDifferent

The basic mushroom soup,
Take lots of butter and sautee some shallots until translucent, dump in sliced mushrooms and sweat for around 7-8 minutes, pour in chicken stock and simmer for an hour, blend, add some sherry (can put in some herbs too) and bring to almost boil, serve,
is really good and really simple. It takes, from beginning to end, about 1:30 hours but 1/3 of the time you're swooning over the smell of sauteed shallots and the other 2/3 of the time the wonderful aroma of cooking mushrooms is running rampant throughout your abode, a good omen I'm told. Bourdain suggests some wild mushrooms thrown in to the mix for a bit more oomph or a dash of truffle oil at the end for pretension. Both work wonders.

Good as this basic recipe is, the soup is sometimes almost TOO mushroomy. As I was smelling the remains of my last batch (what, you don't sniff cooked foods from the fridge just for fun?) of mushroom soup, I wondered what else I could do with it. I had tried mushroom risotto with it with limited success but what if I wanted something else in the soup itself? A splash of color or something...veggie. Ideas to implement:

Peas. The fresh taste of cooked peas.
Pan seared asparagus...sweet, buttery, and slightly salty.
Something squashy.
Baby bok choy, lightly stir-fried flavor of.

Any of the above might will probably need to be pureed and added to the soup for yuppie presentation. I'm thinking an outer ring of mushroom soup, a middle ring of bright green something and an inner core of mushroom soup. The problem is it has to taste good IN the soup, not with it. I think some experimentation is in order...

Monday, July 02, 2007

BotCon 2007

Where is the Transformers BotCon 2007 being held?

That's right, in Providence, RI!


Oh wait, I forgot to tell you. I'm "from" Providence.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled inane web browsing.

Sarin Gas

I first heard about Sarin gas in The Rock. It's a nerve gas that melts your skin off and stops your heart after making you spasm so hard you break your back and puke your own guts out, unless you stab yourself in the heart with a gigantic needle full of atropine. Naturally, I thought hollywood probably exaggerated. But exactly what happens?

This I know: neurons communicate with neurotransmitters and propagate through voltage-gated channels. So propagation, signal travel along a single neuron, happens almost like dominoes. There's a whole bunch of "gates" on the neuron that will flip in polarity. When they do so, they cause the next gate along the line to also "flip", creating a cascade effect. The cascade is started at one end of the neuron and continued to the other end, where there is a bulb (a "bouton"). The bouton will flood the synaptic cleft (the space between the pre and post-synaptic neuron boutons) with neurotransmitters. The flood out into the space and bind to the post-synaptic bouton, which will then start a gate cascade, which will continue the signal. One of several neurotransmitters is called acetylcholine. But of course, you need to control these transmitters too because once they flood the post synaptic bouton, they need to be removed so that the process can start again. There's an enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine and its name is derived from that which it controls, like most enzyme names: acetylcholinesterase.

Oh one more thing, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system regulates nervous response (often called the fight or flight system). The parasympathetic is the system which is responsible for autonomic functions like breathing and your heart beating.

So, with the help of Wikipedia: Sarin gas, like most (all?) nerve gas, is an acetylcholinsterase inhibitor. This means that when nerves fire, there is no clean up afterwards. The synaptic cleft gets flooded with neurotransmitters. This probably has two consequences: 1) an initial overflow of too many nerve signals and 2) once the synaptic cleft is saturized, no more signals can be transmitted. I'm speculating on 1. Anyway, this happens in various ways for various nerve toxins but that's the general idea. Sarin is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, so it needs to be counteracted in two ways.

1) Atropine is a competitive antagonist against certain kinds of acetylcholine receptors, the kinds that are dominant in the parasympathetic nervous system. Suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system kicks your heart into overdrive because it is no longer suppressing heart speed. This counteracts the effects of Sarin, which mutes your entire nervous system, including the sympathetic portion which is responsible for your heart beating at all.

2) Atropine is usually used with Pralidoxime, which binds to certain kinds of (organophospate-)inactivated acetylcholinesterase. Presumably, Sarin inhibits acetylcholinesterase in this way and so Pralidoxime reactivates acetylcholinesterase, leading to the clearing of the synpatic cleft, leading to nerve function again, in this case the rather important sympathetic nervous system.

So Atropine + Pralidoxime works a bit like combining psychotropic drugs: Atropine suppressed the parasympathetic so that it combats the slowing sympathetic system suppressed by Sarin and also so you don't die in the time it takes Pralidoxime to run through your system liberating your acetycholinesterase and therefore bringing the sympathetic nervous system back up to normal levels.