Saturday, July 30, 2016

California Familying

We're enjoying our short but full trip to the East Bay of California. We're visiting with our daughter #1 and family. Plus there is the family of our Wife's older brother's son who live in the same town of Lafayette (in the East Bay area near Walnut Creek over the hills east of Berkley). These were the nephew and niece we saw in Bangkok Thailand this spring. And as a special treat, our niece who is Wife's older brother's daughter was in town too and we got to see her as well.

Today we had breakfast with the niece, went over to #1's and hung out outside nibbling cheese, bread and drinking wine for most of the afternoon. Then the nephew and family came over around 5 and we hung out and brought in pizza. It was a very relaxed family catching up kind of day.

Last night we went out for dinner with #1 and 1A into San Francisco via the BART rapid transit to a restaurant called Volta, a restaurant that serves French and Swedish fare...not fusion but selections from the classic cuisines of both. The food and service were very good, solid, if not spectacular. 1A said the one word the defined it was professional. The prices were I thought reasonable for the quality of food and service delivered. The wine list prices were very reasonable with lots of interesting selections toward the lower part of the wine list. The sommelier listen to me well and gave us a good selection at the price I was looking at.

Then when I he saw that I had ordered the marrow bones, he said kind of off hand that in the kitchen they liked to do a Chartreuse shooter with the bones after the marrow had been eaten. This sounded crazy to me knowing the sweet, herbal nature of Chartreuse but decided to give it a try (I mean I've eaten tepid pigs feet and balut eggs!). 

It was a fun experience and even #1 joined in. One of those 'I'll probably never do this again' types of things.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Road Tripping

We are taking a short road trip to connect with the family members on the West Coast.

It's about an 16 hour drive and we break it into two pieces. We did 10 hours to Barstow CA on day one and 6 hours to Lafayette CA (in the East Bay area).  About half of the drive is through the low desert of Arizona and California going through such towns as Needles, Barstow, and Bakersfield. Then it is on through the Central Valley of CA. This whole segment is possibly some of the dreariest area for driving I know of. It is enhanced by the behavior of drivers on Interstate 5 who feel they are entitled to drive in the left lane regardless of how slow they go.

We got to Lafayette in time to go see Granddaughter 1.1's summer theater workshop showcase which also allowed us to see all of the #1 clan including 1A's Father and Stepmom.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The WAY For Tomatoes

As mentioned in an earlier post we are having a crazy weather year. It was wet earlier in the summer and now when we should have cooler, wetter weather it has been blazing hot and dry. Many things in Wife's garden are suffering...EXCEPT for all of my limited kitchen plantings. All my herbs which usually just close up shop for the summer heat are incredibly robust and prolific. I have chiles a month earlier than I ever have. And I have tomatoes equally earlier than I ever have.

The arrival of the first wonderful, flavorful, juicy tomatoes send me to what I have determined by much experimentation is my all time favorite way of presenting the goodness of tomatoes.

Drum roll


The rules for this sandwich are thus:
  • Good Bread - In the example above I'm using Wife's homemade, not sweet whole wheat bread. I also frequently use various types of rye bread
  • Toast the bread - to help inhibit the over soaking of tomato juice into the bread
  • A Layer of Mayo - There is something about the combination of tomatoes, bread and mayo that is etherial
  • A Layer of a Complimentary Flavor - I frequently use ham, but in one of the examples above I used hummus and roasted peppers. These must be secondary to the tomatoes! The Tomatoes are the star
  • Big Slices of Tomatoes Just Minutes from the Garden - I will have as many tomatoes by volume as all the other ingredients combined.
  • A Very Thin Layer of Cheese - Any good melting cheese will do There is Compte on the ham one and Havarti on the veggie one. 
  • Melt Cheese via Broiler - It goes in the toaster oven for just a minute or two just so the cheese melts and starts to bubble
Then extract on to plate, get a good knife and start cutting away so you get some of each component with each bite.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Ode To Brining

Brining has become my new favorite way to impart flavor and moisture to things. So much of the meat we get today is devoid of fat because of the anti-fat Gestapo. As a result the meat when cooked is dry, tasteless and tough because fat is what moisturizes, gives flavor, and tenderizes meat. This is especially true for such popular standbys as boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breasts and boneless, fatless, rubbery pork loin chops.

But the magic of brining allows one to impart both moisture and flavor without any fat or oil. It is the result of an osmotic reaction (look it up) that causes the water on the outside of the meat to be carried into the meat. This also acts as a highway for bringing in other flavors. After initially only doing this for turkeys (in an attempt to get a moist white meat component), I expanded it to roasted chicken. Recently I've been doing all kinds of things.

When I did my smoking a couple of weeks ago I brined both my chickens and my pork shoulder adding my BBQ rub to the brine as the flavoring.  I've used fresh herbs and garlic, Indian spice mixtures, basically anything I would use in an oil/acid marinade. I find with the brining that the flavor penetrates deeper into the meat faster and results in a more subtle flavoring.

The proportions for the brine I found on line were a cup each of salt and sugar (the sugar is optional) for a gallon of water. But that made things much saltier than I wanted. So I'm down to about 2/3rds of a cup of each. I use the same proportions if I'm making a smaller amount. You brine for approximately 1 hour per pound so if I'm doing cut up chicken breast for a kebob over the fire as I did last weekend, I might have it in the brine for 1 1/2 hours.

Two things on my list to try are vegetables that will be grilled over the fire and fish - particularly the kind of white fish that is subtle in flavor at best and when you get it frozen (we're not exactly a Mecca of fresh fish in NM) are usually tasteless.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

MonSOON? Maybe Later

Only four weeks ago I was crowing about the early wet weather and cooler temperatures. Then two weeks ago the Monsoon, having evidently read a number of my posts on travel decided to pick up and go...leaving us with day after day of 100+ degree weather, 10% humidity, and not a drop of rain in sight. What should be one of the wetter months of the year, July, has had virtually no precipitation here in Albuquerque.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Retiring The Apron

Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, de-I

The greats all retiring. For me it is retiring from entertainment cooking.

For all of my adult life, cooking as an art, as an expression of creativity has been a major part of life. I remember the first cookbook (a James Beard paperback) that led to the first creative meals in an apartment I shared with a guy while in the Army. Party upon party through the years of my children growing up, massive events later on, recruiting a cadre of people who would 'just eat' and not worry about inviting me back so I had an audience to perform for - all these defined a major part of me.

But like so much else, as I finally embraced transition as the right thing to be doing as an older person, I have found it is time to let this go.

As I wrote last month about balancing the buckets, the core of happiness and fulfillment as you get older (in my opinion) is recognizing the reality of your personal energy situation and finding the balance of activities and the energy they require use and not abuse that energy (nor have too much energy left over so you are bored!)

It has taken me over a year to come to the realization that it was time to hang up the apron. I'd noted that the various entertainments I attempted left me so tired that I couldn't enjoy them. So I started to alter my menus and do less ambitious things even though doing the ambitious projects were things I loved. I also noticed that I was starting to make mistakes. Cooking for others when there is last minute prep requires working accurately at speed with hot things. In recent time some of these mistakes could have been serious in terms of damage to me or to the kitchen. Also as I've gotten older, my capability to eat and drink has diminished so my ability to enjoy my work has diminished.

The last entertainment I did brought all these trends to the fore. I was tired when my guests arrived even though I'd organized a meal not requiring anywhere near the pre-cooking I'd have done 5 years ago. I was visibly tired to the guests fairly early in the evening. It took me a day to recuperate. I wasn't impressed with my standard of cooking - I'd made errors. And while cleaning up I made an error that could have led to a fire.

Like the athlete who loves the game but can't perform at the level needed, I realized that my doing this, at this level had run its course.

In the spirit of transition, I still like to cook. But I put my efforts into just things for Wife and I where I can go slow and work within the level that I'm capable. And I think there is a less ambitious level that I can do things from time to time for family and friends. But Kitchen Stadium (so to speak)? Not any more.

Everything has its time and place and I've had a very good run in the kitchen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Welcome To The Bermuda Triangle

You know how you sometimes find yourself living in certain circumstances and aren't even aware of what you're in until someone else points it out.

You happily go through your life among the brimstone and bitumen pits, hearing the normal sounds of tormented souls being tortured, looking at the familiar flames all around you until that day it's pointed out...dude you live in Hell...HELL!

And you look around and you realize, "Son-of-a-bitch, I've been living in Hell."

Something similar happened to Wife and I recently. It all came about rather innocuously. Wife was talking to Daughter #3 and #3 was relating a conversation she had with a friend. The friend had had some kind of issue with some piece of technology. #3 started to relate to the friend an issue either Wife or I had with a similar piece of technology.

#3 was evidently interrupted in passing on this advice by her husband 3A who said something to the effect of:

"Your friend should not compare her experience with that of your parents. Your parents live in the Bermuda Triangle of Technology where all devices and services suffer strange and heretofore unknown problems."

When I think of all the crazy ass things that we've had go wrong with our myriad of devices and services over the years, and all the time we've spent with people and tech supports trying to help us all the while scratching their head because they've never seen such a problem before, it was like turning on a light in a dark room.

"Yes we really do live in the Bermuda Triangle of Technology!"

Now the big challenge. How do I get the Discovery Channel to do a story on us so we can turn this into some kind of money making fund all the tech repair and replacement technology we are constantly in need of.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

National Days

It is horrifying when one learns the depth of one's ignorance. Today thanks to the fabulous reporting of the Wall Street Journal I found out that it was National Fried Chicken Day.

Do you have any idea how much I love fried chicken and I grieve at missing the opportunity to have an excuse to eat it?

Tomorrow, Thursday is evidently National Father Daughter Take A Walk Day. Since I have a little bit of notice I've told Daughters #1, 2 & 3 to meet me at my trail head of choice tomorrow morning. I'm confident they are jetting across oceans and continents to not disappoint me tomorrow.

Then on Friday is National Chocolate and Almonds Day. Did you know that chocolate and almonds is probably my most favorite sweet combination ever? My all time first choice ice cream sundae is a Hot Fudge Sunday with Chocolate Almond Ice Cream and Extra Almonds on the top.

As Wife and I rarely celebrate anything on time we've decided to have fried chicken for dinner on Friday with chocolate and almonds for dessert. Please feel free to join us in spirit.


With my having successful pawned off of the actual work of replacing the ignition device on my fancy ass wood pellet smoker to our new handyman (who I might add recruited Wife to help because the whole process - advertised as 'easy-to-do' - turned out to be a bitch), I was fully lusting to get back into the smoking BBQ action.

I had a piece of pork shoulder in the freezer and was determined to once again pursue the elusive pulled pork. But seeing how small the piece was compared to the size of the smoker, I felt it was a real waste of resources if that was all we put in it. So I went out and got a rack of spare ribs and two chickens. Certainly this would be enough food to to feed Wife and I for dinner...each night for the next three months. I also put on some corn on the cob out of the freezer.

The results were pretty damn good. I decided to try brining both the pork and chicken adding my BBQ rub to the brine. I then made another batch of rub using much less salt and sugar than before. I applied that to the ribs but a much lighter amount than previous attempts.

The chicken and pork flavor and moisture were excellent. The pork definitely 'pulled' but I think I could have had it on the smoker for even longer. The chicken was near perfect. I broke the chicken down so we froze the white meat for sandwiches and salads and the dark meat for cooking. I made a stock from the bones that was not overly smokey at all. And I fried the skin into cracklings - not gribbnes as much as chicken bacon.

I think I am getting myself ready for the next adventure which will be curing my own ham and smoking it.