Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Homeward Bound

I've been in Texas a week. It's been a good week, but I'm ready to head home. I miss Ames.

So I'm happy my return flight is tonight, but I have to say I've had a great time in Texas. I've been three nights in Dallas/Fort Worth, a couple nights in San Antonio, and a couple nights in Kerrville. I hate to admit this, but Texas was nothing like what I expected. I had a very Hollywood concept of Texas, and I've been disabused of those notions. To be blunt, I've loved my time here, and I'd happily come back any time.

Obviously my first concern when I visit a new place is the food. This has been a great trip for food, and I'm starting to believe what a friend told me: San Antonio is one of the greatest food cities. Now I've had very kind and generous hosts, so I doubtless did better than I would have alone: I'm very grateful for their hospitality. This has largely been a restaurant trip---there's not been a lot of home-cooking this trip. On the other hand, the home-cooking I did get was incredible.

So in terms of restaurants, we've eaten at:

  1. 7 Salsas in Irving. The best salsa I've ever tasted, anywhere.
  2. Hard Eight BBQ in Dallas. I still prefer North Carolina Q, but these guys have nothing to be ashamed of.
  3. The Koffee Kup in Hico. Peanut-butter pie.
  4. La Fogata in San Antonio. Wow.
  5. George's Restaurant in Waco. Amazing chicken-fried steak.
  6. Chef Point Cafe in Fort Worth. Fine dining in a gas station. Seriously.
Yeah, that's a little sick.

The real reason of my trip was a Bible Conference in Kerrville. It was a good time, and I was privileged to meet some really great people. I laughed way too hard, and I enjoyed the people way too much. If they let me come back, I'm sure going to try. The conference itself had its ups and downs, as these things do. I learned about Christ's three appearings (Hebrews 9:24--28). I learned about Leviticus 1--7 as seen in Luke 7. It was well worth the trip.

I didn't bring a camera, so I didn't take any pictures. Suffice it to say that fried chicken and waffles is much better than you might imagine, Texas sun is much brighter than we ever see in Washington state, the people here take their southern courtesy and hospitality very seriously, and San Antonio reminds me more of Victoria, BC than I ever would have imagined.

I've sure enjoyed being in Texas, but it's time to go home. I miss Ames the most, I miss my girls just a shade less. The sunshine here is really nice, but I'd much rather have a whole lot of cold, dark rain and not be away from the family.

A few more hours and I'm homeward bound.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sundance First Paddle

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I took a day off work to take the new canoe for a test run on Alder Lake. Alder Lake's about half-way between Tacoma and Mt. Rainier: it's a good place to go for a quick paddle without having to drive for hours.

The Sundance is 17 feet long, so we all five got in it and started paddling

It was a sunny Thursday in August, but there weren't a lot of people on the water. We did see some swimmers, but we only saw a couple close-up. This guy's the only swimmer we got on camera.

From Sundance first paddle

We were slow on the draw with the camera, so we didn't get shots of most of what we saw out there. We came around one point and apparently startled a pair of bald eagles: they took off just a few feet over the water, then flew up to the peak of a nearby hill. We saw one of them on the return trip as well, but not so close as the first time. There was also an osprey hanging around one particular channel.

We paddled out an hour and a half down the lake to a deserted beach where we stopped to eat. It wasn't much, but the view was nice.

From Sundance first paddle
From Sundance first paddle
Alder Lake's built up some on one side, but the majority of it's still more-or-less desolate.

The lake's man-made, so there are the typical stumps and shelves, which to me simply add ambience.

From Sundance first paddle

All in all it was a wonderful and relaxing day.

From Sundance first paddle
From Sundance first paddle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The "new" canoe

I'm still not sure how it began, but a friend and I started talking canoes at prayer meeting one night. He was telling me he had a nice canoe, but was thinking about getting rid of it. I told him I'd be interested in buying it from him, if he'd tell me what he thought a fair price. Well, he decided a fair price would be me coming to his house to take it from his garage.

So yesterday I went up to his place and picked up the canoe and three paddles. I wasn't quite sure what I'd find: he said it was "a good canoe", but didn't recall any particulars about it. I figured it would be worth a drive to find out.
From Sundance

Turns out the canoe is a Mad River Sundance. According to the old Mad River catalogue, it's 17' 6" long and 34.5" wide at the beam. That's a whole lotta canoe.
From Sundance

When I saw the canoe, I told my friend that it's too nice a canoe to give away: he should sell it. He said, "I can't sell it, because I'm giving it away". That's very generous.

The canoe's in great shape, but a little dusty.
From Sundance

I cleaned it up a little this afternoon to get rid of the dust and touch up the dings in the wood. A little polish and it's in fine shape.
From Sundance

I did rub some Danish oil into the gunwhales: that might be a stupid thing to do, but they felt a little dry. I think it'll be fine. It definitely added some shine to the wood, which is nice cosmetically. Danish oil should handle the water just fine.
From Sundance

The hull only needed some soap and water, then we put a shine on it with a vaguely Armor-All(R) -like substance.
From Sundance
From Sundance

This is a little longer, but narrower than my current canoe, a We-no-nah Prospector. And the Sundance has a keel, while the Prospector is flat-bottomed.

Of course the Prospector is a gorgeous canoe
From Mohun Lake

but I've found it's pretty squirrely. It's flat-bottomed and doesn't track very well, and the high stems catch the wind like sails: it's a challenging canoe for the solo paddler or the novice. On the other hand, it turns on a dime and can handle a lot of abuse. I love my Prospector.

But I'm really excited about the new canoe. It's probably about 20 years old, but it's been well looked-after. And there's something really classy to those lines.

I'm planning on trying it out later this week, so I'll try and post an update then.

I'm really grateful for my friend' generosity. He insists he wasn't using it, but the fact is that he could've sold it: giving it away really was kind. It's a nice canoe, and it's in good shape, he didn't have to give it to me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not to get all political

Not to get all political, but Don Boudreaux's excellent post Theatre of the Absurd over at Cafe Hayek is well worth the read.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend cooking

We're planning on a "cookout" for Memorial Day (Monday). Most of my team at work is going to come over and we'll throw down with some food from the grill.

So today I'm cooking one of Ames' favourites: Baptist Chicken. We take some chicken pieces (I've never tried with whole chickens) and barbecue them (~200F for several hours). Once the chicken is completely cooked we immerse it in some sweet and sticky sauce and put it back on the grill to caramelize a bit. Get it? Baptist: full immersion after it's completely cooked. We started making this when we still lived in North Carolina:
From Baptist Chicken

So I put some chicken on the grill this morning: it smells heavenly out there right now.
From Baptist Chicken

Plenty of things taste better than chicken, but nothing smells better. There's just an indefinable goodness to the smell of chicken fat burning on charcoal.

On another front, I took some time off for my birthday (I had too much vacation time accrued and needed to burn some). Since I had the time off, my kids and I made some beer. I came up with a recipe with the help of Beer Calculus, and we put it together.

From Woolen Shirt
From Woolen Shirt

I'm calling this one "Old Woolen Shirt". It seems an appropriate name for a beer of that colour. I followed some advice I found online and have tasted one bottle a week since bottling. We bottled it two weeks ago today, so that's two beers.

The first bottle was not quite flat, but pretty close (at one week). The flavour was really good: caramel-y and toasty with a nice roast barley undertone, but not too sweet.
From Woolen Shirt

One week later and it was a lot more carbonated (at two weeks).
The flavour was still there, but it's a little drier. It's developed a definite yeast bite, but that should fade over time. I'm not really expecting it to be ready to drink until it's conditioned at least another week and then chilled for several more days, so I'm not too worried about the yeasty flavour.
From Woolen Shirt

The colour's dead-on, but it's a little cloudy. It should clear some more with time, but I don't think this one's ever going to drop really clear.
From Woolen Shirt

I'm really happy with this beer. I realize it's still pretty young, but it's very promising. I'll definitely be making this one again soon. I managed to get a huge crop of yeast from washing the trub when I bottled this one. That always helps with the $$$.

I've got one more batch fermenting right now: this one's an amber beer with wheat. I tried to make it lower alcohol, and I'm experimenting with Irish moss and longer fermentation to see how clear I can get it. I'm making this one with yeast I harvested from the Woolen Shirt, so that's a bonus. I haven't named the current batch yet.


I'm always impressed when I hear about people who clearly understand what's important. This couple meets at the race track,
gets married there, and hasn't yet figured out their plan for what their new family looks like: they still live in different towns.

I like this kind of thing. I'm a little jaded by the standard fare of long-term dating and perpetual engagements. Ames and I had only known each other 10 months when we got married: it'll have been 16 years next month. We'd only known each other four weeks when we decided to marry: looking back it seems we should just have headed to town hall right then.

Don't get me wrong: gimmicky weddings are a blight on what little remains of Western civilization. But there's a difference between gimmick and enthusiasm.

So all the best to Greg and Linda.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unexpected arrival

We made pizza last night. And it was good. Really good. Really, really good. I think we've finally figured out how to make good pizza.

From Really Good Pizza

The crust was thin but chewy, with lots of air bubbles and a definite structure; but it was soft and bready, not pastry-like.

From Really Good Pizza

The crust is certainly the single most important factor to good pizza. We started out making the dough he night before, refrigerating it immediately, and letting it rise just before using it. That worked very well, but we thought we could do better. We've tried several different things to make it better, but we've really only been able to improve a single aspect of the crust at a time; at the cost of others.

This time we made the crust the night before, let it rise and punched it down a few times overnight, and portioned it into crust-size dough balls the next day, which we refrigerated until an hour or so before we used them.

I've been told the secret to good bread is to let it rise many times. All my experiments appear to confirm this statement. Certainly this last batch of pizzas seems to do so.

From Really Good Pizza

So I guess we can stop making pizza now. We appear to be at the top of our game.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Smoky Friday

I've actually accrued enough vacation time that I stopped accruing: I have to take some time off. So I had a chat with my boss and I took off yesterday and today.

So I got up early this morning and put a couple pig shoulders and a pork roast on the grill. 200 F, baby! It's been on there just over 9 hours now, and coming nicely.

I love me some BBQ.

We (re)watched Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt a few weeks back, and I noticed his comments on BBQ: you can't fake it, you can't hurry it up, you can't mass-produce it. With some minor caveats he's right. Barbecue is one of the simplest foods I know how to make; but it's one of the hardest to find made right. It's baffling to me the efforts people will make to produce decent Q when the genuine article is so simple. People will hunt for specialty woods, use exotic spice combinations, and buy all manner of complicated cookers (have you priced a Pitts & Spitts?) to produce what was traditionally cooked over an open pit in the ground with whatever wood was available.

So here's how to make authentic barbecue:

  1. Choose a tough cut of meat, anything suitably low-grade will do. I prefer pig shoulders, but beef brisket, spare ribs, and whole poultry work well. I generally buy the cheapest pork I can find, which is usually the shoulder. The whole point of BBQ is to make something delectable from an inedibly tough cut of meat.

  2. Cook over charcoal. Barbecue is cooked in wood smoke: charcoal is wood that's been burned in an oxygen-deprived environment to drive off moisture, phenols, and various other impurities. You can just cook over wood, of course, but you need to burn it down. Raw wood isn't fit for cooking over. Of course you might like to throw some bits of wood into your fire to add some interesting smoke, but don't do that too much: creosote doesn't taste good.

  3. Keep a steady temperature. Barbecue is really all about rendering fat and tough connective tissues in the meat. If you hit the meat with a temperature that's too high you'll toughen it up, dry it out, and turn those tissues into knots. The ideal BBQ temperature is 200F, but I generally don't worry too much as long as my grill's between 190F and 250F. Temperatures spike up and down, but you want them to average in the low 200s.

  4. Take lots of time. Barbecue takes a lot of time to cook; enjoy the downtime. I budget between 12 and 20 hours for a BBQ session.

  5. Baste with mild flavours. I baste with a North Carolina-style baste made from apple cider vinegar, water, and spices. It's thin and vinegary, which offsets the high-fat pork. Sauces high in sugar or tomatoes can caramelize on the grill, so they really only should be used at the very end of the cook. I've had a lot of excellent Q that was cooked completely dry, but I like to baste a little now and then. It seems to make the "bark" a little more interesting.

  6. Cook to a high internal temperature. The whole point of BBQ is to cook slowly so that the meat can actually get to a higher temperature. It's a lot like braising, but without moisture. The higher temperature is what gives the Q its beautifully soft and moist texture.

Ultimately it's easier to make good BBQ properly than it is to fake it. It's not about the wine barrel staves used for fuel or the rare pomegranate juice you put into your sauce. It's about watching your temperature and taking your time.

Which isn't to say I don't want a Pitts & Spitts, or that I don't like to try varying things now and then on my grill. And honestly, I've had excellent BBQ cooked too hot on a propane grill. But when it comes down to it, BBQ is all about the simple joys.

Monday, January 31, 2011

True craftsman

I just love this film. It runs about an hour, and it's well worth the time to watch it.

Watching this guy is simply stunning: he is clearly master both of his tools and his medium. Whether it's the axe or the paddle, he's right at home.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I only wanted a cheesbuhguh!

I'm not a big fan of that quintessential American food, the burger. I'd rather have a dog with chili and jalapenos any day. But the love of my life esteems burgers roughly equivalently to how I think of pizza, so I've been trying to learn to make the perfect burger.

I started with Alton Brown's Burger of the Gods recipe, which is basically just ground meat, salt, and pepper. The advice about being careful not to over-work the meat is sound: I've learned the hard way that burgers are best when the meat is only "lightly tossed" with the salt and pepper.

From Cheeseburger

We've been cooking them on a griddle, with a flatten on the flip. I form the meat into balls and throw them on the griddle. When they're browned on the bottom, they get flipped and pressed flat with the spatula to form a patty.
From Cheeseburger

Flattening them takes some practice. I'm not an expert yet, but I've been working on it...
From Cheeseburger

From Cheeseburger

Of course cheese is necessary for a cheeseburger.
From Cheeseburger

It needs to be added on the griddle so it melts properly.
From Cheeseburger

It can overcook pretty easily, so I keep an eye on it as it cooks.
From Cheeseburger

Then off to the bun.
From Cheeseburger

But I've been having trouble with getting a good hamburger bun. Last week I tried a Kaiser roll recipe I found, but they weren't quite the ticket. Don't get me wrong: the recipe worked reasonably well. But the rolls weren't quite what I was looking for. So today I tried the perfect burger bun recipe on Annie's Eats. This might be the one I've been looking for.
From Cheeseburger

I'm the first to admit that Annie's look better than mine, but these are at least respectable.
From Cheeseburger

Annie's recipe calls for bread flour: I just used the same unbleached all-purpose flour I use for everything else. I let the dough rise twice before shaping it, to try and get a little more yeast action. I figured that might make up for my flour choices.
From Cheeseburger

From Cheeseburger

This might well be the bun recipe I was hoping to find. I have to say, the finished product was good.
From Cheeseburger

And ultimately, it got the results I've been hoping for.
From Cheeseburger