Lee’s (not so secret) Pepper Sauce 

It was a Sunday, much like any other Sunday.  What made this different was that I had made up my mind on Friday that it was time for a new batch of fermented pepper sauce.  Much like many of you, I have a bottle of Tabasco in my pantry.  I also have at least 5 other types of hot sauces in the fridge.  about 18 months ago, I found a recipe for a fermented pepper sauce on Tasting Table.  Since then, I’ve played around and developed my own take on it.  Mine is not some watery  heat.  It is complex, deep and rich.  It balances subtle heat with a hint of sweet.

It is never exactly the same, but it is always in the same realm of deliciousness.  Being the callous man I am, I thought I’d share my secret (not secret) and process with you.  Now let’s be honest, I have a secret weapon. Living in the bay area, I can go to Berkeley Bowl and grab more chilies than you can imagine with ease.  I also tend to have 3-5 types of dried chilies in my pantry at any time.  Below you can see my selection for this batch.

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Clockwise from upper left:

2 mini sweet red bell peepers

1 Jalapeno

3 Fresno chilies

1 Anaheim Chili

1 medium Shallot

8 or 9 cloves of garlic

1 dried guajillo chili

3 dried New Mexico chiles

2 dried Ancho chilies

2 dried Cascaabel peppers (the little round ones)

5 Habeneros

7 red Thai chilies

1 Poblano Chili

2 long funny named chilies whose name I forgot

Yes that is a mess of stuff.  Highly unscientific.  Many of the dried chilies came from Rancho Gordo, whose products you already know I love.

The dried peppers are roasted for 2 minutes or so at 375 until fragrant.  This deepens their flavors.  The seeds are discarded and stems removed.  then they are ripped up into 1/2″ chunks in a non reactive bowl.

The fresh chilies and peppers are seeded (and veins removed)  and chopped roughly into 1/4″ pieces.  I did not seed or vein the Jalapeno, Habeneros or Thai chilies as I wanted heat.  The garlic was roughly chopped and the shallot was diced.  Everything went into the bowl with the roasted dried chilies.

To the bowl I added 1 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1.5 Tablespoon salt and 3 Tablespoons of sugar.  Everything was mixed up, laying happily in their bath.  I stirred it every 30 minutes or so for 2 hours, let the marinade help the flavors meld.

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After two hours, everything went into my super de duper blender.  I have one of those fancy Ninjas, perfect for Margaritas, smoothies and pepper sauce.  I let it puree on various speeds until it seemed highly liquefied and smooth.  I washed the bowl and then put the liquid back into the bowl, covered with a layer of cheese cloth.  The  bowl went to the corner of the kitchen counter, out of the sun, to ferment.  I like 5 to 7 days.

Nothing terribly exciting about the bowl covered in cheese cloth is there?  I gave it a smell test a few times during the week and could tell the fermentation was in motion.  On Saturday, I removed the cheese cloth and peaked, stirred and tasted.

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The evil brew had a brown tinge on top.  It had small fermentation bubbles popping constantly.  After stirring, it looked like this.

img_3912Now it was a deeper red.  It smelled wonderful.  It tasted delicious.  A nice subtle heat that rose steadily after the bite.  Sweet and layers of flavors, staying with me for several minutes. 115 minutes later I still had a delightful afterglow, similar to that morning after smile.

This made about 3/4 of a quart.  Kept in an air tight container, it lasts for a few months.  Probably longer with the salt added, but I always run out before it goes bad.  Honestly, this might be the best batch I’ve made.

I use a few tablespoons in my hummus.  Sometimes it goes in my BBQ sauce when I’m looking to up the mysterious heat factor. This really is a great condiment to add to your arsenal.  All it takes is patience and the desire to make something wonderful.  Go forth and make sauce.

 

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Hummus I Feel

We all have deep dark secrets.  I have a few.  I keep them locked away tight, as direct sunlight or a casual observance may bring down the entire house of cards that is my life.  With some minor prodding, I realize it is time to make the first step, to admit out loud what so few know.

I like Ambrosia.  I don’t mean the old timey desert with whipped cream and canned fruit cocktail.   I am referring to the seminal San Pedro based (softish) rock band.  Sure you all know the soft hits, but dig into “Life Beyond LA” or “Holding on to Yesterday”.  And what other band pulls from Vonnegut (Deadheads need not answer)?  Of course there goes my hard rock cred.  That’s ok, I cry a lot too.  Don’t pick up my copy of Stephen King’s 11.22.63, the last half of the book is tear stained, if you need proof.

With apologies to David Pack, let’s get started.

That’s hummus I feel, feel for you, baby.
Hummus I need, well I need you for lunch.
Hummus I live, I live for your goodness.
That’s hummus, that’s hummus,
That’s hummus, that’s hummus.

Today is all about hummus.  On the Book of Faces, not to be confused with the Hall of Faces from Game of Thrones, there was talk about needing to make your own hummus, due to a Sabra recall.  I do like my hummus and I make a fresh batch weekly, so Lambchop and I have some for snacks and some for lunches.

Hummus is pretty easy to make and most of the ingredients are in your kitchen if you like to cook.  Let me be frank, I wing it every time and my hummus is not “plain”.  It is rich in delightful flavors, many non-traditional.

Lee’s basic, non- basic, hummus

2 14oz cans of Chickpeas (garbanzos) drained

2 Meyer lemons, juiced and zested (I use my microplaner)

10-20 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon of Kosher Salt

1 Anaheim pepper, whole

2 Jalapeños, whole

1 Tablespoon Cumin

2 heaping tablespoons of Tahini (sesame paste)

½ cup Good Olive Oil

½ cup water

Salt and Pepper to taste

Lambchop likes her hummus lemony, so I often use more than 2 lemons and I haven’t seen a recipe calling for the zest which I believe adds complexity.

Step 1:  Break the garlic barrier

In a small shallow pan, put in the garlic, Anaheim and Jalapeños.  I put the chilies on top. Pour the olive oil over the garlic and peppers, to roughly cover the garlic.  Spin the chilies to get them coated in oil.  I roast these in my toaster oven at 270 for about 40 minutes.  The garlic should not brown significantly, but we do want the peppers to blister.  If they haven’t blistered, take the garlic out and broil them for 2-4 minutes a side to blister the skin.  Throw the chilies in a sealed zip lock or plastic container for 10-20 to cool.  Peel of the skin.  Remove seeds to temper the heat.  Either way.  Make sure the oil is back to room temp.

Step 2:  Whip that Tahini

It is time to get out your food processor.  You can use a blender, but I prefer the trusty Kitchen Aid food processor over my smoothie maker.

Some recipes do not call for tahini, some call for more some for less.  I like about 1.5T per can of beans.  Add the tahini, the lemon zest and half of the lemon juice to the food processor. Whip on high for at least 30 seconds.  Whipping the tahini gives body and helps it incorporate more evenly.

Step 3:  Peas to the Pool!

Add your garbanzos to the processor and process for 10-20 seconds to get a rough grind.  Add in the garlic (not the oil), chilies, cumin and salt.  Process the peas for another 20 seconds or more.  The mixture should be fine, but not a puree.  This is an inexact science, you’ll learn the flavors you want to add, how much garlic etc.  Perhaps you want 3 Jalapeños, or none.  I usually add about 4 grinds from my pepper mill at this point.

Step 4:  It’s Time to Rain on this Parade

Hummus is an emulsion, not a mix so the liquids get added slowly.  Turn the processor on low and drizzle in the remaining lemon juice.  Turn the processor to high and drizzle in about half the oil or until the hummus is near the consistency you want.  Then start drizzling in water to get the final consistency.  When the consistency looks right, taste it.  What do you think? Add in more oil, more garlic or more salt if you think it needs it.

When it is how you like it, remember it will be better tomorrow.

In my world, I often add in other ingredients.  My favorites include:

½ white onion

Harrissa

Red Bell pepper

Cayenne pepper

Chipotle pepper

Homemade pepper sauce

Paprika

Oregano (dried or fresh)

Rosemary

 

And if you don’t like my fancy hummus, here is Epicurious’ recipe that I started with.  Its time I mosey on to somewhere I’ve never been before.

 

 

 

 

Myriad Randomness: No Trump Edition

Is there anything more annoying than traffic?  As always, I drive for over an hour each morning and nearly 2 hours on my way home.  Today, several thoughts hit me.

  • This is California.  65 is a suggestion for the fast lane on uncrowded freeways.  You should consider visiting the slow lane if you believe 64 is a death sentence.
  • Is there anything worse than the indignant look of the driver doing 64 in the fast lane when you pass him (or her) on the right?  The shame they showered on me was, well, nonexistent.
  • Why no Ma’am, you your pristine white Kia Soul cannot simply bump that stalled truck out of the way.  I believe the word you are looking for is totaled.
  • I hate 880.  I will work hard to avoid it.  Sadly, on days like today when there are accidents up and down that stretch, everyone moves to my alternate routes.  Thank you for the extra 20 minutes of crawling.  My life is now approaching completion.

Eggplant, the poor misunderstood eggplant.  I think it is time we allow the purple globe to leave the island of misunderstood vegetables and live a happier, more fulfilling life.  I’ve been making versions of ratatouille and roasted vegetable, with the humble aubergine front and center.  Seriously delicious good eats those are.  Fuck.  When did I decide to eat healthier?  It must be time to put more pork on the smoker.  Don’t get your hopes up, I’m still not going anywhere near albacore — in or out of a can.

Normally we get nostalgic as we realize how far technology has brought us.  A TV antenna on a roter to watch slightly less blurry shows.  The rotary phone and the callus it created. The phone book.  A time before salmon roe foam.  I was listening to “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang.   For those of you unfamiliar with the hook:

You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

 How long has it been since there were shows about animal procreation on the discovery channel?  Now you get “Fat and Furious”, “Moonshiners” and “Pacific Warriors”.    I think the world was a kinder, gentler place when cable TV focused on Walrus sex, not deadly situations and careers.  And then I missed the X-Files.

If you aren’t watching “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” you are missing some fantastic comedic commentary on our world.  She and John Oliver are filling the void the left by Jon Stewart by expanding on the niche and adding to our conversations with thought provoking shows.  It is not too late to start catching up.

And please, enjoy your Passover.  Many Matzo sacrificed their balls for your soup.  If this multi-generational mutilation must continue, at least enjoy your soup. And thank your mother.

Let’s take a bath

It seems almost ubiquitous now, but there was a time I didn’t know what a Kickstarter was.  A while back I saw the Anova Precision Cooker (let’s be honest, add a pan of water and it becomes a sous vide) on Kickstarter .  By the time I found it, it was well past its funding goal and the best deal had been long sold out.  But it was still a deal and since you know me, I can’t resist a deal.  I got two.

What is a sous vide you say?  It a water bath, kept at a low constant temperature to cook to the precise temperature. The food is vacuum sealed (or close to it) in a zip lock bag. No burning, no tough parts. If it stays in too long, no problem, it doesn’t over cook.

They finally arrived in December and I have started to use them.  It is not often I’ll need two – one steak medium rare, the other well done – but there are times you want to make multiple dishes at different temperatures.

I first made a pork loin roast.  4 hours at 138.  It was moist. It was tender. It was silken.  The first thing I noticed was the phenomenal texture of my meat (that’s what she said!).  A quick sear and it was perfect to serve to company.  Think about that perfect piece of prime rib, the medium rare center is cooked perfect and tender.  The outside is good, but as you radiate out from the center, the quality, however minimal, degrades.  Not this.

Then I made an omelet.  OMG!  A silken custard with cheese, bacon and spices interspersed.   I was in heaven.  Later that night I tried what seemed to be sacrilege:  risotto.  Risotto is all about time and the slow release of starch from the Arborio rice.  Since I was making lemon shrimp risotto, I had to make shrimp stock.  I also needed both devices, since the two components cooked for different lengths of time in different temperatures.

Cut to the chase.  I learned that two pounds of shrimp are too much for one back.  The ones in the center were not done in the time I thought it would take.  The risotto, however, was phenomenal.  Let’s see I can stir the risotto for an 40 minutes, adding stock every 5-10 minutes, or I can let it bath for 45 while I watch Shameless.  It was fantastic.  Oh and the shrimp?  Perfect texture.  Combine the shrimp, risotto and required parmesan cheese. Oh yes. Culinary heaven.

Next up, I have another pork roast brining.  Let’s see what a spicy brine can do to my meat. J

Blue Tuesday

It was a Tuesday, much like any other Tuesday.  Filled with hopes and dreams after the depression that was Monday, but still lacking the joy of a camel on Wednesday.  Nevertheless, dawn broke and employment beckoned.  So, I got up, showered, dressed and joined the commute to work.  This was the day the BART strike ended, but there weren’t many trains running in the morning.  Thusly I drove. Amazingly enough, nothing memorable happened on the way to the office.    When I drive, I park on the street (surely you know this and the parking Nazi at 229 Harrison St.), but then I climb some stairs and take a sky bridge over the train tracks to my office.

Our story will start at lunch.

I decided that lunch should be consumed about 12:30 or so.  I grabbed my book and made my way to Chop Bar for lunch.  I eat there at least once a week and would eat there more if my diet didn’t prohibit me from my previous lusty relationships with their Reuben and Hamburger.  But, at least they have two different salads that allow me to believe I’m eating both healthy and (marginally) decadently.

We may be different you and I, but when I sit at the counter by myself I like to leave an open seat on either side.  It probably goes back to relatively large size and not wanting to encroach on other people’s space.  Or have them in mine.  I don’t like strangers in my space.  Especially, on BART.  So I took a seat one to the right of the couple talking.  She was on my left and he was on her left.

As I opened my copy of The Republic of Thieves, I quickly realized this couple was not a couple.  I saw that there was an open seat between them, but the real eye- opener was his voice.  Gravelly like a rock quarry and grating like brake calipers with worn pads, he was trying too hard to hit on the woman next to him.  He was 3 or 4 beers into drinking his lunch and she was scarfing down the last few bites so she could escape.  “Good,” I thought, “it will make it much easier to read my book.”

I enjoyed roughly 5 minutes of peace when another woman walked in and took the same seat. She ordered a drink and set up her iPad for use.  And then it started.  Reading became difficult and soon reading became a charade.  This was entertaining.

“Is your accent fake? It seems like it.”

He wasn’t happy with that question.  He was from New York and New Yorkers sound like him.  How could she not know?  Turns out she was from upstate New York, so he belittled her for that.

“Is Yiddish your first language?” I couldn’t really believe she asked that.

“Why would you say that!” he raged as though she called his mother a whore.

“My Husband’s Jewish.  You look Jewish.”

From there he attacked her naiveté.  And then he got to the fact that he has triple citizenship: US, Italy and **gasp** Israel.  If this guy is Jewish, I many consider converting. I’ve always thought the Hare Krishnas were on to something.  If G-d wants me in heaven, he needs me to have a ponytail to pull on, right?

Let’s be honest:  he was an asshole and she seemed to one of the people who help keep the average IQ at 100.  Not stupid, but she’s not in line for a Nobel Prize or finishing the Times Crossword Puzzle any time soon.

By now she’s flustered and her food arrives.  She asks for a to-go box and gets out of there quickly, though he is still trying to engage her.   3 minutes after she leaves, he leaves.

At this point I’m the only one at the counter.  I’ve probably read 5 pages. I’ll never finish this book (I did).  I notice the staff gathering at the other end of the counter buzzing about what happened.  I wait a moment. When one looks my way I say “if you want to know what happened I’ll tell you.”

They had missed most of the conversations and thought he was nice.  I dissuaded them of that opinion.  We all had a good a laugh and I went from the guy who comes in all the time to marginally more than that.  Good thing I can chat with some of them about Game of Thrones.  Yeah, I know a bit about that.

A weird experience:  a bit annoying and ending with a laugh.  Not bad for lunch.  But for Tuesday?  Nope.  There’s more.  So much more.

I tried to leave about 5pm, but silly little things kept cropping up and it was just after 6 when I was able to head to the elevator and make my way to my car.  Since I drove, I get off on 2, say goodnight to the guard (yeah, our building has the guard on 2) and walk across the sky bridge towards my car.  Straight across is the parking structure for the building and there is a large apartment complex to the left.

Being the observant buy I am, I scan the building to my left (It’s called The Bond, in case you care.)    Not expecting to see much I looked and saw too much.  I stopped and gathered myself.  FUCK!  I didn’t know what to do.  On one hand I’m appalled. On the other I’m shocked.  I turn and walked back to the guard at the desk.

“Uh, can you call the cops for me?” I stammered.

The young guard looked and me quizzically.

“Not 911. It’s not an emergency, but there is a naked man masturbating in the window across the street.  I really don’t think the women of the building want to see that.”

And by naked man, I’m guessing 6” 375lbs.  He’s got a substantial and firm gut.  I really shouldn’t know this much.

I’m all for letting consenting adults do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes, but nothing about this event was private.  It was meant to be a spectacle.  I figured I should do something about it.  I don’t want to be guy who did nothing.  That’s too easy and too wrong.

The guard pulls up the camera on that side if the building and, nope, it stops right below his window. He believes me but doesn’t know what to do.  He radios his coworker.  The coworker won’t talk on the radio and insists they talk on the phone.

When he gets off the phone, he tell me that since it is not in our building he can’t do anything, including calling the cops for me.

Seriously?  I might have been shaking with anger when I left.  So much for doing the right thing.

Years ago, when I worked in the Financial District in San Francisco a coworker caught a guy trying to steal his wallet from his jacket.  The jacket was behind his office door.  We were on a locked floor in a secure building.  This guy was in a ratty suit.  If you glanced, he looked like he belonged in the office.  If you looked, you could see the suit was threadbare and his shoes had holes in them.  I came when hell yelled for me and we escorted the thief to the guard downstairs.

When we got there, the Guard shrugged, the thief bolted out the door.  We looked to the guard who calmly said, “I didn’t see him do anything, I can’t do anything.  There’s too much personal liability and I’m not allowed to.”

That’s when I learned the cameras in the elevators were props and building security is an oxymoron in most cases.

Back in the present, I walked back out of the building and about 10 minutes had passed .  The Wanker, as I was calling him in my head, was still at it, although off to the side, rather than front and center.  As I crossed the street, I realized the light was on in the lobby of his  building.  I walked across to the building and knocked on the window for the desk person to let me in.

I was probably a bit disjoined as I explained what the problem was.  She looked at me like I was nuts.  I asked if she was going to do anything.  Clearly she couldn’t use the “it’s not my building” excuse.

“We got a call about that earlier,” she said.

“Oh.”  I started to leave.  And then I stopped.

“When did you get that call?” I asked.

“Around 11.”

“Seriously? It’s still going on!  Don’t you think this is a bigger problem than that?”

Then she told me in effect that it was none of my business.

I left there madder than a hatter.  No wonder people don’t speak up more often and try to help; doing the right thing can be aggravating when others prevent you from doing anything.

Oh, and he was jerking off, fully naked, in the window again Wednesday after work.  I still see him in the window most nights, but now he stays a few steps back and has at least a shirt on.  I doubt that will last.

 

 

 

The Ballad of NaNoWriMo, Me and Clichés. Where Did We Lose Pooneil?

I am hip deep in writing my masterpiece first novel for NaNoWriMo.  By hip deep I mean I sat in the great room on Sunday watching football, with the lap top open.  I wrote a paragraph or two every so often.  By the end of the day I had written about 3400 words, which was good because I did zero the day before. Well, maybe I wrote 200, but I didn’t record them.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer.  I am pretty sure Mrs. Greenberg wasn’t  thinking, “I hope after 18 hours of labor, this little fucker is the next Hemingway ”  Mostly because she does’t swear like a sailor.  That’s me.  Sadly, I don’t think she and I have every discussed Hemingway.  Mostly because I’ve never read him.  Dan Simmon’s The Crook Factory doesn’t count.  But I did thoroughly enjoy it.  I don’t think the maternal unit ever saw me as a writer, nor has that changed.

My biggest issue has been avoiding cliches.  Right now I’m fighting the urge to make the whole thing a bad dream.  or was it?  Sadly, Dallas beat me to that about 30 years ago, so that one is out.  Doesn’t mean I’m not tempted.  Why is there a severed finger on the night stand?  And who IS in the shower?  Nah.

Temptation is green-eyed whore.  These days she wants me to write 50 Shades of Greenberg.  That’s my novel where Gray Greenberg, clearly he had cruel parents, is introduced to cruel vixen who manipulates him  sexually in a wicked downward spiral of a relationship.  She’s a feeder, deriving pleasure from eating new dishes made just for her.  She keeps him confined in a huge updated kitchen, forcing him to create ever more extravagant gourmet meals.  She wears too much glitter eye shadow  and she buys him a new Vespa when he tires of her games.

Lambchop has friends that have read that book, the one temptation holds as inspiration.  Some have even suggested they form a book club to read it.  Lambchop’s inner goddess did a face plant on that one.  Usually, when someone brings it up she says, “you know what I call 50 Shades of Gray?  I call it Wednesday.”  I think she was confused with The Flight of the Conchord’s Business Time.  I do miss Jemaine and Brett.  Needless to say, I’m not venturing down any of these hallways no matter how wide open the door is.

I am also trying hard not to include references to Superstorm Sandy, Global Warming, Presidential Politics, Fox News and bacon.  I’m pretty sure I can pull those off.

THE GIANTS WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!!!  I just needed to say that one more time.

PSA: But, before we go back to our regularly scheduled silence, please vote.  Even if your politics aren’t mine, exercise your right.  Our world would be much less tolerable with out that.

 

 

Introducing an Unexpected Villain

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab).

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lima beans have always mocked me.  There is no gilding that lily.  As an adult I more than avoid them; I run screaming from them.  As a bit of a foodie, I see them on menus as an accompaniment  and immediately eliminate that entrée from the range of possible solutions.  Even now they influence my worldview and limit my choices. Yes, I am scarred.

Growing up my mother made vegetables every night.  Well, not every night.  There were no veggies when we had spaghetti or pizza.  Or omelets for that matter.  Whatever.  Most of the time we had frozen vegetables.  I liked peas.  I liked peas and carrots.  My sister hated peas, so we didn’t have those two as often as I’d have preferred.  We never had asparagus; daddy hated asparagus. (My mother calls him daddy.  I call him Pop, but I refer to him as Dad.  Sorry to digress.)  My mother often chose the mixed vegetables, frozen of course.  We didn’t eat canned vegetables nor do I recall fresh veggies, other than carrots and corn.  No, I will not be hearing arguments that corn is not a vegetable.  It was when i was 10 and it still is now.  Mostly.

In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t eat canned vegetables. Let’s be honest, they basically suck.  I often keep a few cans around for emergency pantry meals, but as I have gotten older even that bothers me.  I like my vegetables fresh.  No, I am not going out of my way to eat a ton of vegetables.  But I eat some.  Celery, carrots, bell peppers and root vegetables often find their way on to my table.  I make a mean butternut squash soup and Lambchop often requests my brussel sprouts.  Yes, they do happen to have a fair amount of bacon hidden in the bowl.  No one will accuse me of trying to force vegetables on my spawn, but I try to maintain the illusion.

But I digress. My mother fed us the house brand frozen vegetables from the store she shopped at.  Safeway? Lucky? Nob Hill?  Doesn’t really matter, does it?  What I recall is that the peas and carrots in the mix were fine.  The stunted string beans were weird and there was an over population of  lima beans that tasted like dry bat guano.  I hated eating those.  Ok, hate might be a bit of an understatement.  They mocked me as I was forced to eat them.  I could not get them down.  I tried. I failed at least as often as I succeeded.  Do you think that encouraged my mother to not buy those vegetables?  Of course not.  I think once or twice she even made “just” lima beans.  At least she only made liver and onions once.  The same with “salmon burgers.”  Canned salmon sucks, period, especially to a 12-year-old.

The details are fuzzy, but I recall some bits.  I must have been somewhere between 8 and 11 — maybe younger.  When dinner was done, I had 10 minutes to finish those vegetables that mocked me.  How do I know I had 10 minutes?  There was an egg timer.  Seriously.  I often tried to wash them down with milk.  Two problems with that solution.  One, they were too big for my petite throat to swallow whole.  Second, I was not allowed a second glass of milk.  This might not seem like much to you, Gentle Reader, but to my fragile psyche it was the seventh circle of hell.

I might have left out a few salient points.  If the timer had been set, my father was already pissed.  How dare I not eat the vegetables my mother bought with his pay that he labored for!  At 10, I didn’t do well with pressure.    I’m sure you are thinking, fine so there is a timer, it’s just vegetables — it is not like it was Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  You’d be wrong.  The bell would ring, my very large father would yell and I’d be ushered off to bed, crying at my failure.  I’m sure it was 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest. Being early, I would be wide awake, reminded of those mocking beans; a telltale heart continuing to echo my incarceration and impending doom.

Clearly you realize that this blog is cheaper than therapy, not that I really need it. My upbringing is reasonably rich history from which to pull ideas and topic.  On the other hand,  I’m sure that many you know I make sure my parents don’t forget about lima beans the egg timer.  Or the preferential treatment my brother got.  I think he’s appreciative that I took those 9 years to break our parents in for him.

And just like that mediocre independent film, this post just ends, leaving you wanting more.  But no more lima beans please.

Nights of White Bacon, Never Reaching an End

Bacon.  The final frontier.  And running the risk of becoming a cliche’.  But not if I can help it.

Let’s be honest shall we?  I love bacon and so do you.  Yes, my kosher friends are excused.  They just don’t know they love it.  Well, some do.  Those are the keepers of kashrut at home.  Bacon is allowed when you are on the road, right?  When I rewrite history, I plan on making several minor changes.  World War 1 had nothing to do with some minor Archduke; Germany was hording bacon.  Watergate was about the break in at the local bacon smokehouse.   I don’t know why Thomas Jefferson rewrote the phrase, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of bacon.”

Most importantly, it won’t be the snake giving Eve an apple; the snake will tempt her with a bacon explosion.   That’s right, I said it, and you were thinking it.   Let’s just get this on the table, shall we?

Growing up,  my mother made bacon for us “on occasion.”  More than once a year;  less than once a month.  (If I am remembering it incorrectly, let’s recall my mother had the audacity to point out the gray in my sideburns, daring me to call her on her weekly trip to the colorist.  Funny, she never mentions that my goatee has substantial gray.)  In those dark days, the late 60s to mid 70s, bacon came home from the grocery store, packed by that Oscar M guy.  It went into a pan over medium high heat, gave up its grease to create a kiddie pool to swim in, and burned to a crisp in that over-exaggerated deep fry of a baste.  As a kid, bacon was nothing special.  I always ate it  when served, but I would have much rather have had another spare rib, slice of ham or piece of flank steak.

When did it change?  I know that about 6 or 7 years ago  I started buying apple wood smoked bacon from the butcher counter at grocery store I frequent.  Lambchop likes bacon, potatoes and biscuits (which she makes) for brunch, leading me to buy it more often than I might have.  I generally had used bacon as an ingredient, a highlight in a dish not as the main attraction.  Rice pilaf loves a kiss of bacon.  So does Macaroni and Cheese (ok, I don’t use macaroni, its generally penne and its far more than a kiss), filet mignon and several different chicken sautés.  Now I buy thick, luscious, apple wood smoked bacon regularly.

A few years ago,  a good friend introduced me to Sriracha bacon.  It is very difficult to make. Not. You lather good bacon with Sriracha and then grill it over coals.  Easy and exceedingly delicious.  Why didn’t I think of this?  Earlier we saw the rise of candied bacon, bacon chocolate and bacon flavored dishes.  Perhaps McDonald’s was on the forefront when they brought the bacon and egg biscuit to the market.  Sadly, however, they didn’t go far enough.

In 2008, the bacon world exploded like Teresa Guidice in her full rainbow of lunacy.  A competitive BBQ team in Kansas City invented the Bacon Explosion.  It might be the most decadent dish ever foisted on the world.  But damn, it is good.  It is elegant in its simplicity, devilish in its construction and deceptive in its preparation.  It rewards creativity and patience.  It helps if you know someone that makes it.  At its core, a bacon explosion is bacon, wrapped in sausage wrapped in bacon and smoked.  No, it is not greasy.  The traditional recipe calls for lots of bbq sauce.  I have reduced the bbq sauce and replaced it with Sriracha.  I also try to add different components to tweak the recipe.  I have included a layer chopped jalapenos – which is not as hot as you might think – and a whole andouille sausage in the middle to mixed results.  The first several times I made a batch of Bacon Explosions everyone got a slice and one nameless friend ate all the rest.  I got the scraps from the cutting board. I think I didn’t get any until the 4th time I made them.

I believe my latest batch was my best ever.  It was also my biggest batch. I usually make 1 or 2, this time I made 4.  I mean, there were going to be 14 of us for dinner and, clearly, 2 would not be enough.  I cut the sausage from 2 lbs to 1.5 lbs.  I made my mats of bacon in 6×6 squares (7×7 is floppy on the edges).  As flavor highlight, I made a puree of jalapenos, garlic, parsley and oregano; a touch of pineapple juice was to accent the fruitiness within the heat.  The key to a successful Bacon Explosion is the 2-4 hour smoke.  I use hickory and rotate them for even cooking.  A thermometer in one making sure it gets to 180+ is also important.

When I volunteered to make these bacon explosions for 14, a few people were skeptical.  The amount of work and the ability to produce them for a dinner 40 miles from home was questioned.  The occasion was Le Dîner à San Francisco.  Le Dîner is akin to a picnic flashmob.  A few thousand people show up at a secret location in San Francisco, dressed in white for a dinner party.  The party starts at 5 and the location is announced at 3.  Living in the burbs, I take the day off to cook and prep.   Parking is limited and taking BART/Muni is not an option for me with as much stuff as I need to bring.  This year I brought the main course, wine, wine glasses and a few other things.  Last year my mango chicken served on a bed of cannellini beans did not arrive much hotter than tepid.  I made my plans knowing that I needed to deliver fantastic food that was warmer than warm.  I’m not much for cold food.  Last year it was at the bandstand area between the Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum.  The tables were in the trees, it was great and reasonably warm.  Would it be as warm or as scenic?

I spent the morning and afternoon making my bacon explosions.  When they finished around 3, I wrapped them tightly in foil, put each in a large Ziploc to manage leakage and put them all in a thermal bag. Yes I also made some brined, grilled chicken – I am the king of overkill. Because they were still whole, I needed to bring a cutting board and slicing knife.  As I have about 25 knives, this was a non-issue.  I also made a garlicky spicy chimichurri sauce for the chicken, but most of us used it on the bacon, to our mutual delight.  We left at 4 to get to the location by 5.  We actually arrived and parked by 5:10.

There we were, well at least most of us, dressed in white, setting up a table for 14.  LEDs, lanterns, fancy white napkins, practical plates and metal utensils.  Platters of food.  Lots of wine poured into mismatched wine glasses (I have tons, but bought over the years, so different sets.)  Oh yes, I neglected to mention where we wound up.  It was the Marina Green, 100 yards from the bay. At 5pm when we got there, the fog was rolling in and it was damp and cold.  The bay is lovely by daylight, but the sun set at about 6pm.  One victory was achieved; the bacon was served hot!  Well, at least pretty warm.

I wouldn’t want you to think we didn’t have a great time, we did.  I’m glad I brought my fancy black leather “shirt,” that was in the spirit of the evening, but far from the white that was de rigueur.  I needed it by 5:45.  By 7pm I was slicing bacon explosions and had traded the leather for an apron.  Even the skeptical took the bacon and sausage like ducks to water.  By 9:15 we were packing up to go home. Unlike last year, there was no entertainment and the cold broke our spirits degree by degree.  As members of our party gave up the ghost, it was clear that it was time to go.  As we packed up, we realized we didn’t need to keep things refrigerated, everything as nearly the perfect temp.  Getting back to the car was a tad easier than getting in.

We had a ton of leftovers.  For dinner I had rolls and cheese and bottled sauce on the table, on the off chance anyone wanted a bacon explosion sandwich.  At home, I slice off  .75 inch rounds and fry them gently, with a bit of the jalapeno sauce on them.  When they are lightly caramelized on both sides,  I top them with a bit of the chimichurri sauce and serve them on rolls, like a burger.  With 1.5 of these decadent treats left, we’ll be eating like kings for a while.

Coffee Talk (sans Linda Richman)

My beloved French Press is in semi-retirement.  Much like a child that has sent to timeout, it may reemerge to frolic on my counter once again, but not soon.  In a sense, it did its job too well, taking rough grounds of flavor rich exotic beans and turned them into delightful cups of caffeinated joy.  With any French Press, the drawback is the mouth feel.  Some grinds and sentiment inevitably join the party in the cup, often creating some gritty sips.  The fault may be as much mine as the method, but it is so much more fun to blame the equipment.

Over the last 6 months or so, the thermal French Press became my week end go to.  When we moved 2 years ago, our lovely new kitchen was outfitted with new appliances.  The previous coffee pot had long lost its ability to be removed during the drip process and other issues became apparent.  The new coffee pot grinds the beans right before it brews the coffee.  It makes it as fresh as possible and goes off when I tell it to.  There are two problems.  First, it is really loud; even at the other end of the house it can wake me up most days.

More important, however, is the fact that it makes weakish coffee.  The size of the grind is not adjustable and adding more coffee can create a mess.  So I try to put in the maximum amount of coffee and cut back on the water.  Well, I’ve taught the monkey to do so. The results are acceptable, but far from fantastic.

A new wrinkle in my coffee lifestyle is the rise of medium roast coffees.  Peet’s – which by now you know is my favorite coffee – roasts their beans dark.  Those beans create a rich, slightly acidic cup.  These beans make a passable cup.  But if the roast is any lighter, we may as well be drinking water or Pepsi.  I have found over the last few year several wonderful coffee roasters that make magic with their beans.  The problem is they are all medium roasts.  They aren’t great out of the traditional drip coffee pot.  If you are so inclined, check out Equator Coffees (good enough for The French Laundry) and Intelligensia out of Chicago.  These are fantastic, but their roasts require a different brewing method for maximum flavor.

But of course, I have my trusty thermal French Press, bought years ago from Starbucks.  It is metal, retains heat and travels well.  I have learned to ignore the branding.  Boiling hot water, fresh ground beans (of any roast), a stir and time create a great cup of coffee in the French Press.  It has become my go to on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  It is large enough to fill Lambchop’s Tinkerbell mug (which she INSISTS on for the weekend) and for me to get 2 smaller cups.  That has been the routine the last several months.  It has been decadently wonderful.

Recently I discovered Modern Coffee in Oakland.  They describe themselves as a coffee “taproom,” serving beans from different roasters.  Four Barrel and Verve are 2 of my favorites.  What I discovered there changed my life.  They use a tool called the Clever Dripper.  It meshes the steeping process of the French Press, with the filtration of a drip.  Yes, it does need a filter, but it produces phenomenal results.  The flavor is deep and complex like a French Press, but clean and sharp like a drip.  There is no grit in the sip; no mud in the bottom of the cup.

The only downside is that it makes one 12-16 ounce cup at a time.   I grind the beans to be finer than the French Press, but not as fine as a drip.  I asked at Modern, they use a 5.5 grind.  I believe a standard drip is a 5 and French Press is a 10.  I  had them grind my coffee at 8 on some Peet’s Ethiopian Supernatural (which is phenomenal coffee by the way) and use a heaping scoop to make a great cup of coffee.  I let it steep for about 4 minutes, stirring twice and covered to keep hot.  Then I let it drip freely into a hot mug.  That’s about 5 minutes per cup, ignoring the time to boil the water.  Luckily, on the weekends, there is no rush, even for the first cup of the day.

Next time you want me to use my French Press you might need to remind me it is in the upper cabinet, gathering dust.  My Clever Dripper has moved front and center and my taste buds are very happy.

 

Disclaimer:

I’ve seen a few posts on the internet talking about how the Clever Dripper is prone to cracking under extreme heat or the dishwasher.  Mine won’t go in the dishwasher.  It hasn’t cracked.  3 weeks in and I’m thrilled.

Chicago: Day 1

As we flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport, I noticed the landscape was very different from home.  Green open spaces and small forests, covered with trees unfit for lumber filled my view.  Then houses and more spaces.  But no real hills or mountains.  I thought it odd that the genie in my iPhone didn’t jump to Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy”

In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

</required song quote> Of course I was in 22-C, so there was some logic to the Genie’s decision.  Looking across the row out the window by Lambchop, the description was apt.

A friend had recommended we take the L into town rather than a cab.  A $4.50 train ride beats a $40 cab ride most of the time.  We had two large rolling bags, a duffel bag, a computer and my murse.  I know it’s a messenger bag, but since my niece named it, I always hear her voice when I think of it.  Had we been on a Sunday stroll, it would have been a nice walk. It went on.  And on.  There were elevators and hallways.  Ups and downs.  Lambchop was a trooper and didn’t complain, but I knew she would have been happier in a cab in traffic. Take a  cab on the way back

A few years ago, they added an extension to BART that ran to SFO.  My current position allows me to commute on the train (but of course by now you know this.)  About half the trains I take to work end at SFO and half I take home come from there.  The amount of luggage and neophytes on those cars  make the journey harder than it used to be. Somewhere along the way people decided their luggage should block the aisle and empty seats. Commuting etiquette has gone the way of the dodo. As we wheeled our luggage into the L  and looked for ways to be out of others way, I realized the cost of cab ride made me “that guy.”  I guess everyone does have a price.

As we rode into town, I saw what a different place Chicago is from San Francisco or Oakland, my local urban references.  Flat.  Lots of brick.  Houses, then industrial areas, followed by more houses.  And then, looming to the right, a large skyline.  As much as I love San Francisco’s skyline, it is just a cute puppy compared to Chicago’s Polyphemus – awe-inspiring and, perhaps, partially designed by gods.   We were speechless.  As we drew closer on the train, I think we both noticed each other’s smiles broadening.

Finally getting to our hotel, we quickly checked in and kidnapped our Aussie friend Neal for some <food!> Chicago Style Pizza </FOOD!>and to begin drinking. There was a larger group going out later, but evil forces had scheduled a fantasy football draft at 8pm local time and it was 6pm.  We really hadn’t eaten other than the crackers and pretzels on the plane.  Football and famine demanded a meal then and there.

Dining alfresco was fun, but the humidity did take some getting used to.  We caught up on the last year and enjoyed the cocktails and beers.  I had a chocolate stout that just blew my socks off.   The pizza was pretty good too.  The final crescendo to the meal was our waitress; explaining we were in town for a convention, I asked her for some recommendations.  She came back with a 3 page hand written list that looked like it came from a laser printer.  Such penmanship must delight the kitchen staff.   Mine isn’t good enough to be a doctor.  My favorite Chicago spots were on that list including 1 I had not heard of yet. But one I was to learn to love.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and my football draft.  Later, we headed down to the bar where we knew our friends would be.  There they were, in the bar almost, but not quite, waiting for us.   We squeezed in to hang out with our friends.  New friends were made and there were copious drinks all around.  Then, there was more drinking.  I had a few cocktails and discussed the “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Chip! Chip!” SNL skit  with the guy  that wrote The Song of Ice and Fire books.  Did I neglect to mention we were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention and that is basically the only sectioned event for the Brotherhood without Banners, the George R.R. Martin Fan Club?  I may be a Knighted Ser of that group, but I learned early on that I couldn’t drink like Jebus or schmooze like Ser Cam.

It was a great start to what was about to become a most excellent week.