Sunday, May 27, 2007


Well, I took a week off work (the week before Memorial Day), and we left town for a few days.

We went to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, both in Tenessee. No, we didn't go to Dollywood, but we spent a little time as tacky tourists, did some hiking, and took some good pictures. We have some friends from when we lived in Grand Rapids, and they like Gatlinburg; so they proposed we meet them there. So this was primarily a trip to meet family friends, rather than a trip to see the sights.

We stayed at the Music Road Inn, which was actually rather nice, and has very nice family-friendly facilities: an excellent pool, several waterpark-like features, a balcony in every room, etc. Our room was right next door to that of our friends, which made it convenient for visiting, etc.

For the first day, we didn't realize Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were separated by a five-miles swath of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Thus, we drove through Pigeon Forge and thought we had seen the sights; the next day, we realized we had seen less than half of what there was.

Pigeon Forge is much like Myrtle Beach or Niagara Falls: it centers on a "Strip", a road that runs through town, and is covered in neon signs on both sides of the road. But unlike Niagara Falls and Myrtle Beach, the attractions are pretty much family-friendly. That is, where the attractions along the strip in Myrtle Beach are bars and tatoo parlours, or where the attractions in Niagara are lingerie shops an adult clubs; the attractions on the strip in Pigeon Forge are largely restaurants, mini golf, and go-karts. There was one "adult store", but I only remember seeing the one.

Gatlinburg is more like Banff (although it's not nearly as pretty as Banff is): it's more crowded than Pigeon Forge, and the main road winds somewhat. It's still crowded with shops, but they're all jammed next to one another, and parking is sparse and expensive. Gatlinburg is much more aesthetically pleasing: I'd rather see a crowded row of shops than a sea of neon any day.

The two towns sit on the edge of the Park, and there is plenty of hiking and wildlife just a few minutes out of town. We took a day in Cade's Cove, which is a wildlife reserve in the Park. The Cove has one-lane circular road that goes for 11 miles at 20 mph. Cars drive slowly through the park, and people see the animals, etc. spread through the woods and on several fields.

So all in all, Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg is not a bad family vacation spot. It's slightly over-priced, of course, but not so bad as Blowing Rock. And while it's full of tacky tourist traps, that's only to be expected. If we were looking for a quiet escape from the city, I would look at Blowing Rock instead. But for a family trip to just sort of get loud and tacky, it was an excellent choice.

The most important feature of Pigeon Forge, of course, is the Elvis Museum. I mean, how could you not make a trip, just to see that?
Elvis Museum

One thing we noticed almost immediately is, the people of Pigeon Forge are proud of their pancakes. There were at least 8 pancake houses along the 5-mile (or so) strip. Funny, some of the normal restaurants (i.e. not breakfast places) would even advertise pancakes. Even more interesting, the pancake houses typically close shortly after noon. So they're in what has to be a high-rent area, but they're only open half the day. We took some photos of signs advertising pancakes, since I was quite amused by the frequent pancake ads:

Pancake Houses

You might notice there are two identical signs: "Smoky Mountain Pancake House". Yes, they are separate restaurants, and they're less than a block apart. There's got to be a story behind that one!

We spent a day in Cade's Cove, and got some good pictures. A lot of people had stopped to watch a bear munching in the bushes on the edge of a field. We were happy enough to have a 300mm lens on our camera, so we might have gotten the best pictures of anyone. Unfortunately, we didn't have a tripod, so the pictures aren't perfect, but we cropped them down enough to get a decent look at the bear. We also got a couple decent shots of wild turkey:

Cade's Cove

That was a good day.

I suppose these pictures aren't too impressive to those of you in less populated areas, but for us in North Carolina, they're pretty spectacular.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bible Bag

I finally got a new Bible bag. Or Bible case, if you will. This fills a void long felt in my heart.

A few years ago, I desparately wanted a Brethren Bible Satchel. Well, that's probably not how they were marketed, but if you've spent any time at all around "brethren", you've seen them: the leather satchels just big enough to fit a huge Thumper Special. They've got a handle on the enormous top flap, and are divided into several compartments. Usually they contain a Bible or two, a hymn book, and various sundries. I wanted one of those so badly, but they cost in the neighbourhood of $70 and I couldn't afford one.

Since then, I've gone au naturel, carrying Bible and hymnbook in a casual stack; we used one of those tree-hugger shopping bags for a while; and I carried my old briefcase, which I first got as a gift from my parents when I started teaching high school.

They all had weak points: the stack has a tendency to scatter badly, and you can lose things easily. The shopping bag has no shape, so your books can get bent into all sorts of unnatural shapes; further, it's too big, so too much gets jammed in there, and it results in badly dog-eared books. The briefcase was the best of the lot, but with no real compartments, the books all bang around in there, and eventually I lost a lot of gilt from the pages of a new Bible.

I had considered getting one of the Brethren Bible Satchels, but they're apparently unavailable. All the traditional places to buy one no longer cary them, and searching the web gives no hints at all. I guess I missed my chance.

Well, a month or so ago, I found a new contender. I was in the Family Christian Store, looking for a Penfold Newberry Bible. They didn't have one, of course, but I thought I'd look anyway. I didn't buy the bag right away, but after a week or two of looking on the web and mulling it over, I bought this bag:

This bag is big enough to hold two Bibles, a hymn book, and various other things; but the compartments are small enough that the Bibles don't move around a lot. So it seems to fit the bill. Here it is with my NASB, my Darby, and my hymnbook:

I can actually fit both my NASB and my KJV/Darby parallel in there, but I prefer the smaller Darby. Note too, that NASB is huge: it's a single-column edition, which means it's pretty thick.

For those who recall my love/hate relationship with ESV; here it is, posing with both my NASB and my ESV:

One downside is, for some reason they seem to think a Bible case is incomplete without CD holders. ??????? At any rate, I'll cut them out once I'm sure I can't find another use for them.

The only real problem is, it has a shoulder strap and no smaller handle. That means I can only carry it like a purse. Not a huge deal, but a smaller handle would be nice. I'll see if Ames can either make me one, or guide me in making my own.

Bible Bag

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Been Gone

Well, a couple people have asked, so I thought I'd confirm that we were out of town a few days. I actually expected to maintain email and blog contact while gone, but waqs surprised to find that the hotel wasn't offering in-room wireless. It turned out to be a good thing, as I spent some time with the kids without the distractions and interruptions of the Internet.

Well, I still have a few days off, and I've got to post some pix of the trip, but I'll get to that another time. Right now, I just wanna crash.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Trailer Park Gourmet, Pt. 2

Since leaving Vancouver Island, I've lived in a couple different places in the USA: a couple in the Midwest, and now in the South.

I already mentioned indigenous Vancouver Island fare: the casserole. We won't mention indigenous Midwest food: I personally found the food in the Midwest to be almost inedible; although to be fare (heh), the people are very nice.

But here in the South, trailer park gourmet means, you take some form of meat, coat it in some form of flour, then cook it in hot fat. That's right, you need to fry in the South.

Of course, Southerners also excel in grilling. It's not at all atypical to sit down to a meal in the South made almost completely either by frying or by grilling. I may or may not discuss grilling at some point in the future; right now, I want to discuss frying.

If you've never eaten fat back, you've never experienced the South. What's fat back ? you ask. It's basically salt pork, but with no trace whatsoever of any meat (well, they're not exactly the same: salt pork is from the belly of the pig, fat back is from the pig's back). That's right, it's just cured pig fat. How do you eat fat back? There are a few different ways, but I prefer it deep-fried.

Yup, here in the South, we actually eat deep-fried pig fat. And if we really want to get good flavour, we fry it in lard.

We also use it to season vegetables. In fact, I doubt very much that a true Southern vegetarian exists: if you eat vegetables in the South, you're eating meat; or at least you're eating the fat from the meat.

So what sorts of things will a Southerner deep fry? Here's a short, incomplete list:
  1. Chicken. Every Southerner will eat fried chicken. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Southern vegetarians define chicken as a vegetable, so they can eat it fried.
  2. Turkey. Thanksgiving turkey is frequently cooked in the deep-fryer. Of course you can still have gravy: you use a combination of the oil from the deep fryer and the giblets to make a gravy. You can't eat turkey without gravy.
  3. Pork chops. Yup, nothing like a battered, fried pork chop. My mother-in-law refers to this as a "light meal".
  4. Fish. Southerners love fresh fish, but they only eat it deep-fried. I have no idea why they care if it's fresh, since all they plan to do is batter it and fry it anyway...
  5. Frogs and frog legs, gator, snake. Need I say more?
  6. Organ meat. Chitlins, chicken gizzards, chicken livers, you name it.

The moral of the story is, if it ever walked, crawled, flew, jumped, hopped, or swam; you can deep fry it.

But frying isn't limited to meats, you can also fry your cornbread, your hushpuppies, even your vegetables! Frying is an art form in the South.

I've noticed Southerners take certain health precautions to make up for the impact all that fried food has to have on their bodies. So far as I can tell, the precautions mainly consist of the following:
  1. Large amounts of cola. We all know a nail left overnight in a bottle of coke will dissolve: Southerners leverage that power to help them digest the largely indigestable fried food they live on.
  2. Large amounts of sugar. We all know sugar can give you heartburn and acid reflux. That's right: sugar increases your stomach's ability to digest. Once again, Southerners lead the rest of America in natural health remedies.
  3. Dipping snuff, chewing tobacco, smoking. Southerners tend to use a lot of tobacco. This is almost certainly because the curing affect of smoke helps them digest the fried food they eat.

My mother-in-law has a number of wonderful recipes. All of them start with "Take a little of the oil you used to fry your chicken". Fried chicken oil is the basis of gravy, potatoes, collards, and all forms of Southern gourmet cuisine. Indeed, all good things come from fried chicken oil.

If you don't live in the South, you can still enjoy fried food! You only need to obtain some oil, a suitable vessel for frying, and a heat source. Personally, I dislike the smell of frying, so I only fry outside. I used to use a wok on my grill, but I've now settled on a turkey fryer: a propane-powered burner with a huge stockpot. My fryer's capacity is in the several gallon range: enough to completely submerge a decent-size turkey in boiling oil; although I've never personally fried a turkey. But we did make some awesome fried chicken in that fryer a couple weeks back.

How did we make that chicken? Well, we started with my mother-in-law's recipe: "Take a little salt, a little pepper, a little flour, and put it on your chicken, then fry it". So we mixed up salt, pepper, and flour with a little water to make a paste. Then we put the paste in a Zip-Lock bag, and put in the chicken, a piece at a time, and made sure it got good and covered. We heated up our fry oil to around 400F, and dropped in the chicken.

Now the key is to keep the oil temperature constant. So I kept an eye on the thermometer, adjusting propane flow as needed. Twenty minutes later, we pulled out the fired chicken: it was moist, tender, and slightly crispy. Excellent.

Now, one thing every Southerner will tell you is, food safety is your top priority. So you need to keep your oil clean and fresh. Personally, I change the oil in my turkey fryer about once a year, whether it needs it or not. You can't be too careful about food safety.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Trailer Park Gourmet, Pt. 1

I might well be the world's foremost authority on casseroles. Yes, casseroles. I grew up on Vancouver Island in the 70s and 80s, and that meant one thing: casseroles. I left the Island in the early 90s, and I've endeavoured to avoid casseroles since. Now I live in North Carolina, where casseroles are much more rare; but every once in a while, a casserole makes an appearance in front of me. Not wanting to be rude, I eat it with whatever relish I can muster. But I have to say, southerners just plain don't excel in casseroles like northwesterners do. And frankly, that's a good reason to live in the south.

For some strange reason, women like casseroles, while men hate them. I wonder why that is?

Casseroles all share four essential ingredients: without any one of these ingredients, it can't properly be called a casserole: a carbohydrate , a vaguely pseudo-cream substance, some form of meat, some type of cheese. These are the four essential ingredients of the casserole, but they do not make a true casserole. Here in the south that might be enough, but in the madly demanding land of casserole perfectionism, Vancouver Island, there are two additional requirements: it must be cooked in a glass vessel, and it must be cooked at 350F.

Let's consider each of these attributes---the quintessence of the casserole, if you like---in some detail:
  1. The carbohydrate. All casseroles are based on some form of carbohydrate. This would typically be macaroni, but any carbohydrate will really do. Women who are trying to disguise a casserole as food will occasionally use a non-macaroni carbohydrate: potatoes or rice are frequently chosen for this decpetive role. There is an old proverb that once a person goes from making tuna casserole with macaroni noodles, to using spaghetti or linguini noodles, she has taken the first step to casserole enlightenment. Well, not really, but I think it's true in any respect.
  2. The cream. Not real cream, of course. Real cream wouldn't work in a casserole: it must be a pseudo-cream substance. Tinned cream soup is the typical ingredient: the "gold standard" of cream soup for casserole would have to be cream of mushroom; but my vast experience in casseroles suggests that a more subtle flavour is possible with cream of celery. Either way, Campbell's Soup should only be used if there isn't a store brand readily available.
  3. The meat. I suppose any meat would work, but the true casserole gourmet knows that if the meat didn't come from a can, it's not going to be the ultimate casserole. The superior casserole must use the most un-meaty meat available: tinned tuna or chicken are good choices, sausage is also an excellent choice. I suppose spam would be the ultimate casserole meat.
  4. The cheese. Every casserole cook aspires to be worthy of using Velveeta in her casserole. Some actually attempt this before their training is complete, showing themselves to be inferior casserole cooks. In any case, casseroles thrive on cheaper cheeses. Store-brand cheddar is a safe choice. Once you have mastered cheddar, work with Velveeta, but do so cautiously, humbly: many casserole chefs seeking enlightenment have fallen on that very peak.
  5. The glass vessel. A casserole cooked in anything other than a glass cake pan is a casserole doomed to mediocrity. The true casserole is a glasserole. It must be cooked in melted sand.
  6. The temperature. A casserole cooked at any temperature other than 350F is simply not a casserole. And the true casserole gourmet knows, even those casseroles cooked on the stove-top are incomplete without being shovelled into a glass pan, covered in cheap cheese, and cooked for a nominal time frame at 350F. If the cheese didn't melt at 350 degrees, it's not truly a casserole.

Now, there are any number of pseudo-casseroles out there. To the uninitiated, there are similarities that seem compelling. But to the Vancouver Islander, these are mere chicanery:
  1. Lasagna. On the surface, lasagna seems like an Italian-themed casserole. But let's be honest: it lacks the pseudo-cream substance. True, those who attempt to subvert proper casserole taxonomy have been known to add ricotta in an attempt to make it more creamy, but the distinguishing palatte can taste the difference reliably.
  2. Pizza. The spirit of pizza is the antithesis to casserole, but there are those would would subvert the truth. Have you noticed how pizzas with cream sauce have been rising in popularity? For the moment, pizza is safe, but when the fad becomes "white pizza" cooked at 350F on glass plates, I shall certainly swear it off.
  3. Scalloped potatoes. To be frank, scalloped potatoes are similar to casseroles in almost every way. As a result, I went many years without eating them. But now, I cook scalloped potatoes with gusto, always careful to make them non-casseroles with the following careful adjustments: I use heavy cream, I cook them well over 350F, and I typically use chicken stock, rather than pieces of ham or bacon for flavouring.

For anyone who likes casserole, the six essential points above might help you develop new casseroles. Let's consider a couple variations that might be worth a try for a casserole-eater:
  1. Middle-eastern casserole: Cook two cups of couscous, lay it in a glass dish, cover in one can of cream of chicken soup. Saute two chicken breasts with rasins, almonds, cumin and cinnamon. Lay the chicken in the dish, cover with cheddar, and bake at 350F for 15 minutes.
  2. Thanksgiving casserole: layer leftover mashed potatoes and stuffing in a glass dish. Put leftover turkey on the mashed potatoes, cover in cream of mushroom soup and cheddar, bake at 350F for 20 minutes.
See? It's easy to make new recipes. By the way, if you actually try those recipes up and they're edible, leave a comment. I just made them up, but you're welcome to use them.

My wife was mentioning that she never got the recipe for an (admittedly excellent) "Breakfast Casserole" a friend served us a few years back. I looked at her and said "I'll tell you exactly how to make it!". I mean, it's a casserole...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Java Party!

Well, I'm working long hours this week. I'm working on a JSF application (which is really scope-crept to the point where it ought to be re-worked into about 4 applications) to assist in the chemical engineering and production of flexible polyurethane foam. This project has really turned into a monster, and there have been several technology and architectural changes that have happened under me: this thing is a beast with a life of its own.

So I'm sitting at my MacBook (self-employment has some benefits), with Evanescence playing on iTunes. I'm listening to "Bring Me to Life", which is a wonderful song. I doubt it was written this way, mind you, but it's a great metaphor for Christianity...

So I guess that's another cat out of the bag. I like bubblegum music. So sue me.

Ames and the kids are out doing an errand for some friends: they should be back soon with dinner from Burger King. Time to open a Sam Adams Summer Ale, and see about knocking out this stupid project.

Deadline next Monday. Maybe we'll actually be done by then.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Statement of Faith

Statements of Faith are for wimps. Here in North Carolina, we put it all on the sign:

No, I didn't photochop that pic. I took it on Highway 73 between Red Springs and Lumberton. No prize for the first person to guess what Bible version these guys use.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Soldiering on

I started running last week. Well, "running" is a little inaccurate. "Trotting slowly while gasping for breath and trying not to think about heart attack" might be a more honest description.

Many, many racks of ribs, hundreds of steaks, and several hundred pounds of peanut butter are coming back to haunt me with every step.

I started out trying to make it around the block. That is not nearly so trivial as it sounds: the first day I made it more than half-way before dropping into a brisk walk for the length of one person's front yard. The second day, I dropped into a walk one house later. Now I run pretty much the whole way. Which sounds good until you remember it's actually only around the block.

I've added some push-ups and sit-ups when I get back to the house, to try and keep the heart rate up for a couple extra minutes.

The good news is, I've actually lost a couple pounds. The bad news is, I'm still way too huge.

The last time I started running was about 8 years ago, and I got up to a mile or so without a lot of difficulty. But I never stopped hating every single step.

I figure the block will do for another week, then it'll be time to crank up the intensity to two blocks. Eventually, I want to make a couple miles.

Yeah, like that'll ever happen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Google is your friend

So I just googled "clumsy ox", and this blog is the first hit!

If that ain't cool...