Friday, February 8, 2013

White Out! Blizzard Friday

The U.S. northeast is in the midst of a blizzard. And from New York through New England the snow's been a fallin' for hours. The roads are closed for all but plows and emergency vehicles, the landscape is a snow covered wonderland and for the most part, my family and I have been holed up nice and cozy in our home since last night. My wife had learned late yesterday afternoon that her office would be closed today and nervously we waited until about 7:30 pm when my work officially announced it would also remain closed due to the extremely nasty weather that was reportedly on the way. And with that we opened a celebratory bottle of wine to enjoy during dinner and toasted our first snow day- a Blizzard Day!- of 2013.

The Blizzard of 2013 was the talk of the region days before it hit. Among my friends and coworkers the buzz was all about whether or not our various work would be cancelled on Friday. Right up to the announcement of closing my friends and I were texting back and forth to see if anybody had news. Suffice it to say, we were glad to hear we'd receive an extra day on our weekend. Around here we slept in and enjoyed a tasty breakfast and then took care of some chores and just settled in to wait for the snow. Around 10am it began.

The weather predicted light snows at first and then a steadily increasing storm in the early afternoon. The governor announced that all non essential vehicles traffic was prohibited after 4pm. Around 3:30pm I took the dog for his afternoon walk. He'd been getting restless anyhow and I wanted to see how the neighborhood was dealing with the snowfall in advance of the main part of the storm. By now we had about 2 inches of snow. It was a wet slippery base and I came across a woman who could not get her car up the grade of her street. yes, this was not the weather to be driving Nissan Sentras and the like up steep hills! By the time the dog and I got home the streets were nearly empty. The town was looking more like a winter wonderland...and it was time to do a preliminary shoveling of our front walk. The dog was really starting to enjoy romping in the snow!
A few hours later, about 6pm we had around 5" of snow on the ground and it was falling faster and the wind was picking up. It was about this time that we went into the back yard to play with the dog. He had a blast running to and fro and chasing us while we tossed sticks for him to fetch. There was even a snow angle made.
Above it the dog having a blast with his favorite toy- a stick. Here's another shot closer to 7pm-

The snow is still streaming down and the wind is gusting more than ever. To say that I'm excited to get outside and walk around again is an understatement. It's been a long time since I've gotten to tromp around a snowstorm such as this. And doggie, after his nap, is going to be eager to go too once he sees me lacing up my boots. Here's one last shot for tonight...and it will be interesting to see how much more snow is out there in the morning!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I don't have much to say tonight. I'm trying to make this as brief as possible. The main thing to note is that I don't think I've ever had much to say on this blog. I don't know that bloggers ever really have.
Well, that's not true. Some have shared hilarious stories, great news reports, shocking truths about great events, unscrupulous political deeds, tawdry celebrity gossip and other stuff. Me, not so much.
But, I feel like I've made a pathetic showing in the last few months, er, better part of the last year, of recording my thoughts about current events, movies I've seen, restaurants I've visited, ruminations on the past and thoughts about the future and all that stuff that blogs are about.

Ok, well, hopefully I'll pull my head, feet, or whatever is stuck out of the sand and do more writing. These are exciting times! It is May 1st 2012! According to hipsters and nerds and their talks about the Mayans, this is the last year of the entire world! Or not. Just in case I'm going to try to record more. More thoughts, more reviews, more stupid asides. And more ideas that confirm in my few readers my lack of original ideas. Or confirm in you my lack of good ideas. The two go hand in hand since I have few good ideas and if I did it would be an original idea, equally unlikely to be spawned by my mind- so there you go, readers! Keep reading and look out for the good stuff, because it will most likely not be from me.

But that won't stop me from copying it down and quoting it as if it were mine. Ha!

After all, the Repeat Offender survives only to offend again!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Too many days since my last blog and too much of everything else. Things are incredibly busy the past few days and are going to stay that way for the next couple months. The immediate reason is that I'm moving out of my apartment. The new place is just about half a mile away and so it isn't a terrible logistical switch. And I'll only have one roommate rather than the current three. The difference is that after about the first three weeks of the new living arrangement I'm getting married to my new roommate. This will add a new wrinkle to any roomie squabbles that follow because the stakes are a little big more long lasting than a squabble about dirty dishes with a person who is summer subletting or lives in the room down the hall.

I'm ok with this.

We have already spent many weekends living at each other's apartments. We've also started evaluating our belongings before and during the first stages of the moving process and she is ok with a lot of my stuff. Me likewise with hers. Our tastes conflict on some points but in general it is a good mix. Though I am not sure she is ok with a stuffed moose head in the family room. This is probably an understandable point of discussion.

Luckily our romance contains much understanding regarding storing such eclectic and fun things as animals in various states of life (her cat) and afterlife (my bears and lake trout)

The location of where the moose will remain dead is still in question. The soon-to-arrive mountain lion is another story. Details pending delivery.

All that fun aside, I'm glad that I'm getting married. It is and ending less sudden than being shot. And much, much more pleasurable. But kidding aside, we're both looking forward to it. I'm glad to be losing several roommates, not that they are rotten people, I'm just glad not to have to live with strangers anymore. I think that we'll have a good time together in our new place, Mrs. Indy and I. And her cat will love the view from the moose's antlers!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Glory of The Long Weekend

Today was Patriots Day, a Massachusetts state holiday that is known locally for the running of the Boston Marathon and a midmorning home game for the Red Sox and a Monday with no work for many of us. That was the case and I enjoyed three days of not working. However, upon reflection that is not entirely accurate. If I was reminded of anything over the course of this long weekend it was that I spend a good chunk of my down time moderately busy with chores (if not actually working my tail off) or in the midst of thinking up ways to make my free time busier.

Friday night began with a quick beer after work. I met up with the lady and a coworker and chatted for a bit, venting off the remnants of the week. Another friend stopped in and after a little more chatting lady and I went off to find something to eat. Decided on a Japanese hot pot place. While we ate we chatted about what to do for the rest of the weekend. Specifically, I described several outside projects that I hoped to start over the next three days so long as the weather permitted.

Up bright and early Saturday morning. Brewed coffee, made breakfast, discussed meal ideas for the next three days and made a shopping list, then we got cleaned up and sped off to Home Depot. I needed to get a ton of supplies. Actually it was only a quarter-ton. The edge of my house's driveway has become a giant muddy sinkhole and I am determined to fill in and pave the spot. So at Home Depot I loaded up two carts with bags of gravel, bags of sand, a slew of paving stones, a tamper, and 120 pounds of topsoil to aid me as I seed part of the front lawn. The load filled the car so we went back to my house and stacked all the building materials in the garage before heading to the supermarket.

Another hour was spent running through the market getting the stuff we needed for Saturday's supper and meals for the next two days. Then it was back home to unpack everything and walk around the corner for two other quick errands. Following a quick lunch I saw that the weather that afternoon was not going to permit me to work outside. So I did a bunch of indoor cleaning and before to long it was time to prep supper. We were going to have chili and then began a spell of cutting up onions and garlic and softening them over low heat while I sliced up steak. We browned the steak and then piled it into the Dutch oven with beans, added water and spices and walked away. Minding the chili til 10pm (we each had a bowl for supper around 8pm when it was cooked but not yet at it's chili-est prime) kept me busy in between playing games on the Wii and making mental plans for my paving project.

Sunday began with making breakfast and then a quick drive to a friend's house. We delivered a birthday present to him and then returned to my place and we checked on the hot dog rolls that we made after breakfast. I popped some hot dogs under the broiler while we listened to the Red Sox game on the radio. After a little while and a beer two chilidogs later (on freshly baked buns!)
I headed outside where I spread grass seed on the patchy corner of yard. Then I dumped out my three bags of topsoil and spread it about with a rake. Add some more grass seed, gently walked across the surface to tamp it down and then watered it. Next I watered the back yard after overseeding it also. I joined the lady on the porch and read for a bit but before long I found myself climbing a tree to cut off some limbs that bothered me. That particular crab apple tree constantly attempts to crowd over a lovely lilac tree growing by the corner of the garage. I sliced off a limb, then cut it up and cleaned up the pieces. That should allow the lilac space and added sunlight to grow even more during the course of the next year.

Stuffed from chilidogs I eventually had popcorn for a 9pm snack, did a load of laundry and researched and double checked technique and supplies needed for home driveway paving. Thanks to the internet I also double checked the products available at Home Depot to ensure that anything else I might need I would be able to find with little hassle.

Finally, Monday was the one true slow day. I slept in and was treated to a delicious breakfast and piping hot coffee. Somebody woke up alert and cheerful and I welcomed the treat of breakfast. We finally lazed about for a morning, watched most of the Red Sox game- a sound shellacking of the Blue Jays. We watched the conclusion of the women's and men's leaders of the Boston Marathon (including a world record finish by the men's winner) and then continued doing nothing. Besides making a supper of grilled flank steak with a fantastic salad that the lady created, we did little else but watch fun but silly television shows via On Demand and several episodes of No Reservations because Anthony Bourdain is just incredible. We even caught the premiere of the Boston episode at 9pm. Three days of little to do except the whole list of things we found to do. Fun and tiring and relaxing.

Now it's back to work again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sausage Party

This was a fun weekend. So much meat for me to manhandle. Porking, porking, porking.

Yesterday morning I woke up and headed downstairs and started pulling my meat...out of the refrigerator so I could cut it up. Thus began the sausage making process. My lady friend arrived a few hours later after a quick stop at the supermarket and she had with her a nine pound pork shoulder. I set about to butchering that sucker up too. Snicker-snack went the knives and after a while of (fun, but occasionally tedious) slicing and dicing nine pounds of bone-in pork shoulder had become five pounds of clean pork, one pound of skin and fat, three and a half pounds of bone, and half a pound of slimy gristle.

Soon, I had a bowl filled with roughly six pounds of lean pork meat. Next I added in a pound of sliced up pork fat and churned up the fatty, meaty mixture and brought out Gertrude. She is a bulldog composed of roughly fifteen pounds of flat gray metal power. She's a hungry beast and I ram a feeding tube onto her and jam all this meat and fat through it and watch her chew. It. Up.
Ok, so Gertrude is a Kitchenaid mixer. But she is gorgeous and not only kneads up bread dough but the grinder attachment churns meat into sausage in no time.

Well, that's not true. The meat was ground but the mixture- which was divided into roughly 1/2 pound fat to 3 pounds pork was not sausage. The next step on the road: Seasoning. We decided to try making breakfast sausage and a batch of Italian sweet sausage. We had recipes but while my lady friend likes following recipes to the letter, I'm prone to riffing. Like the Pirate Code, the recipe can be more of a set of guidelines. Arrr! Uh, sorry.

Anyway, we separated the meat mix into two bowls and seasoned each according to the respective recipes, with some substitutions according to what herbs and spices were on hand- No coriander seeds? Fine, we'll grind up some star anise and maybe add a dash of cumin. Hmm, no, lets not since cumin is pretty strong. So no cumin in the Italian mix. And during this mixing process we had a hot skillet on the stove in which we would toss in a bit of the seasoned meat mixture to cook up and then taste. Not only did this provide us a little snack during the cooking process but we could test our sausage progress. I don't believe I just wrote that. Therefore I'm keeping it in the blog.

The Italian stuff seemed to finally work. But geez, there's something missing from the breakfast sausage. And I'd already tossed in some rosemary not because it was called for but just because I like the flavor in sausage. And there were both sage and marjoram (called for by the recipe) and brown sugar- hey! It didn't taste sweet enough. Yeah! Breakfast sausage, especially if it isn't already maple flavored, needs to taste sweet and smooth on its own but also act as a perfect vehicle for that extra maple syrup left from your pancakes or waffles. But the first meat mix was positively begging for extra sweetness. Since we had no maple syrup we added more brown sugar (all amounts were guesstimated since we were dealing with proportions larger than those described in the recipes- coloring outside the lines once again). Smoosh smoosh, sizzle, taste...Bingo!

And then the stuffing.
Sausage stuffing is fun. It is also a odd couples activity. It went like this, "Ok honey, I'll load the raw meat into the tube. Great. Now, I'm...ungh, ok, I jammed the tube in place. It's locked in. Ok, you've got the crank ready? Great. Turn it and lets press the air out of the cavity. Oh! No! Wait! You're going to fast...there, yeah, the slow setting. Ok, yeah, the stuffing is...there it goes through the hole. Keep feeding me, I've got the skins ready. Slower, slowslow! Ok, I can take it faster now. Niiiice, I'm getting used to this speed. Wait, oh too much there. That's it. We've got it now. Good, oh...what? you're all out? Ok, lets get set for the next round."

No, I'm not exaggerating. Making sausage in a kitchen sounds like the dialog above. Just picture saying the words while your hands are covered with a thin layer of pork fat. To those of you who aren't used to skinning animals in the wild, it is better than you might think. And we did it for two batches of sausages. The pleasant surprise is that after two rounds of stuffing we had two batches of roughly a dozen links of sausages. And they looked good! Into the fridge went out made meat and off we went to sleep.

This evening was the test. How would the sausage hold up to cooking and more importantly, eating? I think the experiment was successful. Several hours ago we cooked four links of out Italian style sausage and then tossed it with a mix of cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, homemade bowtie pasta and some basil, parsley, grated cheese and lemon juice. The result was very tasty and best yet, we are exhibiting no signs of food poisoning or any food-borne illness. I call this progress. I call this a successful experiment.

We've put all the extra in the freezer and you can't have none.

Ok, ask nice and I'll think about slipping you some of my sausage.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Razor Sharp Precision

Following my last post a friend joked with me about the status that people sometimes place on their foodie tools, specifically, kitchen knives. You know what I mean. I'm talking about the obsessive foodie way that items are described with a loving specification and attention to brand and price that you realize that what they really want people to know that they just want you to know that their stuff is probably better than your second-rate el cheapo tool. That's right, nothing short of the finest will do for these folks, and oh, did they mention that money is no object, as long as they can pay enough to let people know that oh dear, this fine tool cost much more than that.

Yeah. You know what I mean and I'm sure we all do it now and then. But some people really get their thrills discussing their excellent taste. So it was two weeks back when I went to dinner with a friend of mine at her friends' house. The hosts are nice people, they are generous with their food and better, yet, their liquor. But also in attendance was one of the host's oldest friends, who, along with host #1 fancies himself quite a bon vivant. This man, who I'll call Frick, suddenly began talking to the host, Frack, about his need for a new fillet knife. Thus began their talk about how German knives are certainly the best. Wusthof? Oh no, I prefer Henkel. Oh, yes, Henkel makes a fine product too. Oh, I might buy one here. Yes? I'd also recommend looking there.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Keep in mind that this discussion was for a knife used to slice fish apart, something that most folks don't need to do with great regularity if they don't process salmon for a living. I wanted to suggest that purchasing a decent boning knife for about $20 the fellow would have a tool that could fillet fish as well as do a fine job with roasts, ribs, legs of lamb or pork and other butchering tasks. Oh well. Where's the status in that?

By the way, this conversation took place over dinner, as I mentioned earlier. The meal was jambalaya. Frack had made his first ever batch. It was indeed tasty, but Frack was not about to let us eat without explaining how he'd compared many recipes before settling on what he considered a fine and authentic version of that cajun classic. I had to roll my eyes on two points: First, for a recipe with shrimp, chicken and sausage, he used sweet and hot Italian sausage rather than andouille sausage, which seems a heck of a lot more "authentic" than the much milder Italian sausage. But, there are myriad jambalaya recipes and all sorts of meats can be used. Same with spices. Which brings me to the other point: While explaining his recipe vetting Frack several times explained that he rejected immediately a recipe that called for "cajun spices". That sounded too pedestrian. His solution was a hodgepodge of spices including paprika, thyme, and some cayanne pepper. Interesting mix, but I couldn't help but recall what a Luisianian friend of mine always mentions as one of the standard ingredients used by her 100% cajun mother: Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, available in stores everywhere.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hungry For More

I enjoy cooking. I don'tknow when I discovered that cooking could be more of a hobby than just a means of preparing fuel to be shoveled into my mouth to
be burned up in my stomach and turned into energy. But somewhere along the way I realized that taking the time to make something tasty to eat offers the opportunity to be creative, a certain amount of discipline and yet frequent chances to bend the rules to meet my wishes. Cooking gives me something to look forward to at the end of a busy day or on a relaxing Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. It is a possibility to challenge myself to think how I might recreate something that I once ate at a restaurant or in my childhood or how to improvise something that I suddenly crave. And there are fun things to do like cutting up meat, chopping things, and playing with fire. And lest I forget, turning on the radio in the kitchen or on the back deck while making something to eat provides great relaxation and relief of stress. This is added by the fact that cooking any meal is made infinitely better with a glass of wine or bottle of beer on hand. In short, cooking has developed from a means of supplying my body with food to a full fledged hobby.

Like any hobby, cooking, for me has a variety of likes and dislikes. Here are some of them:

Knife work. For whatever reason the precision of chopping an onion, dicing vegetables, or most fun of all, cutting meat whether it be a chicken, rabbit, fish, or some other bit of critter is extremely satisfying. Perhaps it is the enjoyment that comes of seeing things prepped and ready for the upcoming stages of the recipe. Perhaps it is the sound of the knife clacking on the cutting board. Maybe it is the proud feeling of dominating the ingredients by turning them into what I want them to be. At any rate, cutting is fun.

Grilling. Ask any man who likes grilling why he likes it and what will they say? Probably any of the following: Food tastes good grilled. Fire is warm and heat is nice. Mankind's control of fire signifies our rise from knuckle dragging primates to the intelligent beings who created companies like Weber and Kingsford. Besides fire, grilling requires tools like spatulas, tongs, big long forks and knives. Grilling often involves meat, and grilled meat also signifies mankind's rise from knuckle dragging primates to the geniuses who could breed cows to create certified black Angus steak. Grilling and beer go hand in hand.

Improvising. How many times have you been preparing a certain recipe only to discover that you lack several ingredients as seen on the list? Happens to me all the time. I honestly enjoy realizing that and then rummaging through the pantry to see what I have that will best approximate the missing ingredients. Similarly, I enjoy coming home and seeing what I can whip up with whatever items I have on hand. Not only does it save a trip to the grocery store, but it often results in some pleasing-and sometimes spectacular- meals!

Sharing food with friends. As many have said in many other places, eating is a great social activity. Cooking with a significant other or friend is fun. Better yet is sitting down to eat with that person after putting together a nice meal. Same goes for a group of good friends and spending the meal chatting and savoring each bite of the meal as well as the time together.

I said I disliked some things about cooking. Here they are:

Ingredient snobbery.
So you get your stuff all verifiably locally grown from a farmer's market. And oh yes, that broccoli cost you $9.99 a pound. I don't care. Really, I don't. Everybody want's to eat tasty and secondly everybody wants to eat well. Where and how we get things are important but what nobody needs is somebody else telling them about wonderful locally grown hubbard squash and free range hormone & cruelty free pork chops. Great. Super. I'll be impressed when I have the time. Also, too many of these people tend to blanche when I tell them where I got or even what I regularly do to get hormone free, free range meat. Just eat your good food. Don't hold it over people's heads.

Sandwiches are great. Multiple tiny versions of a sandwich are pointless. White Castle had a good thing going for itself when it decided to make tiny hamburgers. The public, forgive the pun, ate it up. However, our postironic age of the 2000's decided that if it could be a sandwich it definitely should be available for the same price as four tiny versions of the whole thing. Besides being more work for the kitchen and no increase in taste for the customer, this is a ridiculous trend. It's the stupid version of the typically American desire to add quality by multiplication: A pulled pork sandwich? It might be even better if we made an equivalent four tiny pulled pork sandwiches! I'll give you four tiny "no's" that equal one huge one.

Kitchen speak as mainstream talk
I don't think this happens a lot but I do want to mention it. I know that executive chefs are part businessman. The work they do involves lots of ordering, counting, measuring, and further dealing with numbers. But I don't like when businesspeak extends to the food, especially meat. Please do not call meats or fish "proteins" or "product". To me, this is the same as a person saying that a man who died in a fiery car crash "passed away". Food is food, and some of it comes from living things. Those animals that became food died. (I won't even get into plants!)
The animals died. They became meat. This includes fish, deer, cows, pigs and lots of other things. Proteins are an infintesimmally small part of what creates these creatures. They are not products nor are they proteins. They are meats. For eating. Give them the respect that they deserve since they came from living things and don't just describe them as building block of matter.

Clean up.
You didn't think I'd talk about cooking and not mention the part that so few people like? I like doing lots of things in the kitchen. I dislike cleaning up my own messes. The odd part of it all? I like the orderliness of kitchens and that they can be arranged with military-like precision. I like how things have their places and you can get them to deal with a specific task. But after they have all been used... well, cleaning them just sucks.

Equipment snobs.
See "Ingredient snobs". People, you can find it written in many places: cooking requires a pot or two, a frying pan or two, and some knives. I like gadgets and I like having a kitchen full of stuff that I can use, but please don't mention the things you have just because you have them. Remember, before you had the machine you had that helped you make the dish you're bragging about, NOBODY had that machine. Your feat can be done without that expensive gizmo. Cooking is about making sure that the starting ingredients wind up with a certain taste.

Like any good trip, the story at the end is probably more important than the journey.