Monday, April 28, 2008

I am in awe

A friend of mine highly recommended Bacon Salt. Their slogan: "Everything should taste like bacon".

I really, really wish I had thought of it first. I mean, that's such an obvious idea.


Well, I have to get another crown tomorrow. Ames told me I've got so much porcelain in my mouth, she's going to call me "Pottymouth" from here on.

But here's the deal: I've had this cracked tooth for years, and I've been told (by 3 dentists) to put off fixing it until it hurts. Fine. So in the last couple years, it's gone from hurting once in a while to hurting more frequently. Not constantly, not even close to constantly, but everytime I hit something hard on that tooth. Crushed red pepper is the worst: those seeds are small enough to escape notice, but when one gets in that molar, I know it.

So this morning, the last day before they grind it down and crown it, I hit a blackberry seed in my breakfast. That hurt. It's been a couple hours, and it still hurts. I couldn't have waited one more day...

My last crown was on a live tooth: they decided I didn't need a root canal. That sounds good, except I lost the crown a few months later in a sticky bun. Caramel on a live nub is not a pleasant feeling. So while I hope I don't need a root canal tomorrow, I'm not sure it would be a bad thing. Live tooth under a crown is like a ticking time bomb: crowns eventually come off, and that live tooth is all ready to let me know about it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mrs. Lovett

I've had an incredible hankering for meat pies. I know exactly where it comes from: I read The String of Pearls, the original Sweeney Todd story, this weekend, and the author's repeated description of the delicious meat pies made me hungrier with every telling.

So I decided to make some. Unlike Mrs. Lovett, I chose to use beef.

We started with a London broil we had picked up on sale somewhere: I cut it into cubes and cooked it in a pot with garlic, onion, salt, and some olive oil. Once it was all browned, I turned down the heat, covered it, and let it stew in its own juices for 30 minutes or so. Then I put the lid on the pan, put the pan in the fridge, and forgot about it for a couple days.

Two days later, after the beef had had some time to "season" a little, I brought it out, put it on the stove on low, and started to warm it up. My daughter peeled four mid-sized potatoes, and we boiled them with some salt in some water. Once the potatoes were soft, we poured the potato water off into the beef, took the meat out of the juice, and made a gravy from the meat juice and potato water (we added a little bouillon and some corn starch to thicken it). Once the gravy looked respectable, we put the potatoes and beef into it, turned off the stove, and stirred it all together to form a thick stew.

My daughter made pastry, we lined two pie plates, and put half the beef/potato/gravy mixture into each one. Despite my daughter's protestations, we put some frozen green beans in each pie, then put lids on them and baked them.

The pies baked for about an hour, then we took one out and cut it.

I knew a good pie needed a good beer to wash it down, so I cracked a bottle of Chambly Noire and tucked in.

The verdict? No doubt Mrs. Lovett's pies were excellent, but I think I prefer mine.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trailer Park Gourmet, Pt. 3

In this third installment of Trailer Park Gourmet, I want to discuss a subject near to my heart: Pizza.

I've long been a fan of this particular food, but have recently had some epiphanies about it that seem worth sharing.

First we need to clarify our terms: "Pizza" is a fairly vague word. It can refer to the nouveau creations so many yuppie art-house restaurants around here create, or it can refer to the greasy fare of the college student. I am personally not a fan of the art-house versions, although there are notable exceptions. My concept of "pizza" is fairly traditional: some bread topped with some form of pureed tomatoes, topped with some cheese or cheese-like substance, along with optional toppings.

I don't claim to be an expert on pizza, but I have enjoyed many pies in my life, and want to share a layman's opinions on them. Take these opinions for what they're worth.

There are many styles of pizza. Here in the USA, there are a few well-known styles, typically named after cities. New York pizza is built on a thin but chewy crust, and are generally huge. Chicago pizza is more like a pie: it's got a "deep" crust, which might not actually be thick, just deep. St. Louis pizza is smaller than New York pizza, and while it's also on a thin crust, the crust is actually crisp rather than chewy.

Of those, I like the New York style best, but I very much enjoy a deep dish pie when I can find a good one. I'm unimpressed by St. Louis pizza in general, although there was an excellent shop across the street from our apartment, called Smugala's. I could go back to Smugala's.

But here are some pizza principles I try to live by:

  1. Good pizza doesn't need toppings You can put toppings on a good pizza, but a pizza made with fresh ingredients by someone who knows pizza doesn't need toppings to hide the flavour of the pizza itself. When I order pizza from Domino's or Papa John's, I order them topped. Those pizzas are chain pizza: they're not the expertly created pizzas I can get from locally-owned pizza shops opened by immigrants from Brooklyn. That's not to say they're bad, but they're in that mediocre range where a weak pizza needs some help from toppings.

  2. Larger pizzas taste better. I typically order the largest pizza a store makes. This is not greed: it's a trick I've learned from empirical study. Larger pizzas taste better. There is a very simple explanation for this phenomenon, but it took me some time watching cooks make pizzas before I figured it out. Pizzerias make their dough in advance and store it until a pizza is ordered. Since they have no idea what size will be ordered, they make the dough into uniformly-sized balls. Large pizzas contain the same amount of crust as small pizzas, but the dough is stretched thinner. The difference lies in the toppings, sauce, and cheese. It takes more sauce, cheese, and toppings to cover a larger pizza; so large pizzas have a much higher topping-to-crust ratio. Unless the main attraction of the pizza is the crust (and it may be for some people), the flavour comes from the toppings. So larger pizzas taste better.

  3. I leave my crusts on the plate. Unless you buy whole-wheat pizza, the crust is the most filling and least nutritious part of a pizza. It's also got the least flavour. I always leave mine on my plate.

  4. Pizza with toppings almost always needs bacon I've had good vegetarian pizza, I've had many good pizzas of different types. But unless you specifically know that a given pizza place makes a good pizza with the toppings you want, you need to add bacon. Simply put, bacon is the simplest pizza rescue technique. Bacon makes bad pizza edible and good pizza amazing. The second most important pizza topping is black olive. If you have bacon and black olives on a pizza, you're almost certainly going to have a good pizza, regardless what else you add. One caveat: if you like anchovies, you might not need bacon too. Together they tend to turn a pizza into a salt lick.

  5. Pineapple is under-rated Vegetarian pizza without pineapple is like North Carolina without barbecue: it's possible, but why? And meaty pizza can frequently use some pineapple too. I think there is a prejudice against pineapple because it's associated with little kids, but it's wrong. I proudly stand as a pineapple pizza eater.

So there are just a few pizza principles. I'm by no means an expert, but I take food seriously, and I can't help thinking my pizza-eating experiences are richer for following those guidelines.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Job Search Update

I had said we were moving North at the start of July. That's still the plan, but the time's coming up quickly, and it feels even closer than it is.

I'm working on the whole job front: there are two "possibles" that are still in limbo. I'm really, really hoping one of those works out, as it would make life a lot less complicated: both of those are remote work, which would allow us to live virtually anywhere. Both of them are with people I know, which has definite benefits.

On the "news" front, I got a call out of the blue from a company in Western Canada looking for a Unix sysadmin. I have an over-the-phone job interview with them tomorrow afternoon. I'm not sure how this is going to work out, but calls out of the blue always get my attention; and better, it's from a hiring manager rather than a headhunter. Perhaps it's "the job", maybe not. This job is not without some caveats: there are some drawbacks I'm aware of even before the interview. But we try and live like servants, not like the Master, so we are looking to discern whether this is His plan.

Either way, a job interview is a good thing, and it's a good sign that my resume is getting notice in Canada, not just the southeastern USA.

Monday, April 7, 2008


So my birthday's not for a couple weeks yet, but apparently Ames couldn't wait: she bought be a birthday present Saturday, and we opened it Saturday night. We're not so bad as some of our relatives: we generally leave presents until the actual holiday; but this time, we blew it big time. I mean, there's still three weeks...

At any rate, Ames bought me a Wii.

If this seems out of character for us, it is. I'm a computer guy, I have lots of high-tech "toys;" but I generally avoid video games of all forms. I'd rather spend time trying to figure out the nuances of a new language or a different technology than try and beat a video game.

But the thing is, I've been fascinated by Wii ever since it came out. The whole concept is so cool and so innovative. I've been threatening to buy one since they first hit the market, but my threats were largely bravado for two big reasons:
1. I've never actually seen a Wii in a store. They're always sold out.
2. I would have trouble justifying spending that much money on a game console, regardless how cool and innovative it is; because I don't play video games.

Of course, the biggest problem with a Wii for us was, we don't have a TV. So I had a great new game system I wanted to set up, but I had nothing to display it on. That was a surprise.

Well, a phone call to a friend who'd recently upgraded to plasma fixed that: "Yeah, I have a couple 27-inch sets I was going to take to GoodWill, you can have one if you want it."

So last night Ames and I were jumping around and swatting madly with the new Wii. She totally dominated the games, and thoroughly pasted me in every contest. I actually beat her on two games, I lost count of how many she won.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Now this is impressive:

Some of the more elaborate canoe dancing is a little out there, but these people can definitely handle a paddle.