Monday, April 17, 2017

It Really Tweaks My Melon



Anybody remember the Pauly Shore movie Son In Law from the early 90s? It’s not worth tracking down to watch but there’s one scene at the end (SPOLIER ALERT! If you are going to waste 90 minutes of your life watching this movie, skip to the next paragraph. The movie was released almost 25 years ago, so I’m not sure this actually counts as a SPOILER ALERT!) where the grandfather comes to Pauly Shore’s defense and says, “It really tweaks my melon to see a buff bro like Crawl here get wheezed on by a greasy scumbaaaaag like you.” I don’t know why I remember the “It really tweaks my melon” line, but I do. Maybe this came to mind because I heard an interview with Pauly Shore last week. I guess what I’m trying to say is, here are a few things that currently tweak my melon.

Fearless Girl: Shut up already. The Fearless Girl statue is fantastic. I don’t think either piece of art should be moved but if one must go, lose the bull and have Fearless Girl stare down something else. I don’t go to New York City frequently. Even less frequently with the whole family. If we all go down there, I don’t give a give a damn about seeing the bull statue but I’d make a point to bring my daughters to see the Fearless Girl. And yes, I’d snap a picture of them standing next her. Much like freaking out about anything that isn’t heterosexual, losing your shit over Fearless Girl says more about you than you probably care to admit.

Health Care: The entirety of the situation that started this train of though isn’t really important. The basics are I was at an event, someone needed emergency care and while others assisted this person I was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. There are two things that tweak my melon about this experience. When I saw someone in need of help, I was quick to get there to be of assistance. However, once there I had no idea what to do. I am completely unprepared for a medical emergency. Totally useless. Frozen deer in the headlights useless. The only help my initial reaction provided was alerting people that actually knew what to do that their services were needed. And there was more than one person in the crowd that knew what to do. So I simply played messenger between the competent people and a 911 operator. Unlike first-aid, I am very prepared to use a cell phone.

The other thing that tweaks my melon about is wondering how hard an event like this might hit the person needing medical attention financially. No idea if this guy has insurance but he left in an ambulance. I’ve got to believe he spent at least some time in an emergency room and possibly a hospital room too. I don’t know what the medical bill ended up being, don’t even know the guys name, and can’t even definitively say what was wrong. It isn’t hard to imagine the billable cost of an ambulance ride, treatment in an ER and some time in a hospital be being over 10 grand. Maybe more. If you are able to just pay that bill in cash, you more than likely have insurance that will pay most of the bill so the cost to you will be much less than10 grand. If you don’t have that in a bank account, that’s the kind of debt that could impact your family for years. And that’s not right. It's been over two weeks and I still think about that guy regularly.

Ed Sheeran:  Awhile back anything that broadcasts music played Ed Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” on a repeat for what felt like an eternity. Personally, I believe “Thinking Out Loud” took the music from the absolutely classic “Let’s Get It On” and turned it into a generic, sappy wedding first dance song. It’s something I argued should be a crime that involves jail time. My wife thought I was over reacting. Sheeran’s new song, that is currently being played non-stop on all things that broadcast music, is called “The Shape of You” and the music sounds like it was taken from the intro to the television show So You Think You Can Dance.

Taxes: Trump should release his taxes. Regardless of your politics, who you voted for (or against), or where you get the information that helps to form your opinions, you should want to see them…or at least have someone where you get the information that helps to form your opinions see them and tell you about them. And no one paid me to have that opinion.

Pineapple: Until recently, I would have said, “Never put pineapple on pizza. That’s gross.” The topic of pineapple on pizza has come up a few times online. Here, here, and here. It's a important global issue. I was standing by original position and still thought it was gross. Then I saw a pineapple pizza I’d try. Sure it was made in Rome by a very famous pizza maker that only uses the finest ingredients but it definitely made me flip flop from my initial opinion. Maybe I’m opposed to pineapple on pizza if the pineapple is from a can. If there was a wood fired pizza truck parked on the north shore of Oahu making their house specialty pizza that included fresh pineapple…yeah, I’d try that. But I’m still a firm NO on the 7-Eleven spam sushi I saw under a heat lamp when I was there on my honeymoon. Looked like it had been there for 3 days. And I'm not anti-Spamity Spam. Just that Spam.

I made a conscious effort not to do this, but this Tweaks My Melon list is starting to feel like a Chef Dominic “Snippets” rip-off.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ed Sheeran. Sorry, Chef.

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's not in the cards...yet.



Back in the early 90’s, I had my first Tarot card reading. It wasn’t done by a pro or anything. It was done by a roommate and there was a lot of consulting a book of card meanings. We may have been were drinking. I was told to think of a general life question while shuffling the deck. I’ve always been a little superstitious and I took it seriously.  I mentally repeated the question while giving the deck a really good shuffle. I shuffled awhile. Probably close to a minute.

The reading was mostly positive things, I remember one thing was upside down which was interpreted as a positive thing that would require work or effort. I look back on the reading without remembering the specifics other than what I just wrote, but to this day, I have a general feeling that the reading was accurate. Really accurate. Kind of scary accurate.

The question was, “Will we be happy?”

My girlfriend was sitting next to me. We’ve since gotten married and have two kids. Unless she’s told you something else, we’re pretty happy with each other.

Last week I was scrolling through Twitter and noticed that Pirate Jeni was looking to brush up on her Tarot reading skills and was offering several 3-card readings to anyone that was interested. I have never met Jeni. I have looked over her blog. No idea if she has even seen mine. We’ve had a few Twitter exchanges and when we were moving I ran my mortgage plan by her. That’s it.

Jeni’s form needed a question, a birth date and an email address to send the reading. I got the reading late Saturday afternoon. The superstitious side of me was reluctant to even open it. But I did. And I read it. Then read it again. And then I went online and looked up more about the three cards. Then I read it again. Wow.

Knowing my question should be kind of general from my first experience. I asked, “Should I change careers?” You know that feeling you are sitting at your desk and you aren’t interested in what you are doing so your mind drifts and you start to daydream about doing something else? I’ve been getting that a lot lately. When my mind drifts, I think about (you’ll never guess…) a pizza restaurant. But I’m in my mid 40s with both family and financial responsibilities. Long term, I was thinking of a mobile pizza business for my retirement. I currently think it would be fun to pull up a wood fired oven somewhere close to a college campus and make a lot of pizzas for students Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Twenty years later at a reunion someone might say, “You remember that crazy guy that sold pizzas near even in February? Those were good pies.” Did I mention it’s easy to daydream sitting in a cube? The general question, “Should I change careers?” has overtones of leaving my current job and opening a pizza shop.

Jeni pulled 3 cards, “one to represent you and where you are currently, one if you were to change careers and one if I did not.”


The center card, “the King of Swords represents you as you are now. Confident in what you know about your current career. I feel you’ve been at this awhile and people look up to you and respect you and your knowledge. You are on top of your game.”

I am confident about what I know about my current career and I have been at it awhile, a bit over 18 years. I wouldn’t say people here look up to me like as a role model, but when things come up in my area of expertise I believe my opinion is respected. There are several of ways to interpret “top of your game.” One that applies to me is that I have reached the top level in my section. A promotion wouldn’t necessarily be a career change, but it would mean leaving my current unit.

“The card on the right, the Eight of Swords, represents the choice to change careers. I feel that this would be a difficult time for you should you decide to make a change. It’s a sense of putting yourself in a very uncomfortable position. But it would certainly light a fire under your butt! Essentially, a change would not be pleasant unless you are up for that kind of stress.”

Yeah.

My daydream may be a dream, but it isn’t ignorant. Running a restaurant or any food business is tough. I’ve read a lot about it. And if I was giving up the financial stability of my paycheck, that would be some serious stress. This is the card I read the most about online. Tarot card images are very detailed and filled with symbolism. At first glance, the person is blindfolded with bound hands. But the hands aren’t bound with anything. So the hands are tied, but it’s more of a mental rope that can be escaped. With free hands, vision can be restored. There’s a beast (maybe a business) and flames (which totally means wood fired oven to me) in background behind a cage of 8 Swords. If you look closely, there’s an opening in the cage. You can get out. You’re trapped, but it is a self-imposed trap. Some descriptions of the card: fear of failure, afraid of making the wrong decision, not trusting in yourself enough.  So yeah, pretty much all that.

“The card on the left, the Ten of Cups, represents the choice to keep things the status quo. The Ten of Cups is a “happy result” card. The feeling I’m getting with this is that there is a lot of safety and security in keeping the career you have. Staying where you are will allow you to keep doing the things you love outside of your career and your job.”

That last sentence is a sentiment I have expressed almost as a direct quote more than once – “allow you to keep doing the things you love outside of your career and your job.” I showed that to a co-worker and he said, “Yeah, you’ve said that.” I thought it even back in the early 90’s when I was torn between going to a culinary school or a university. My decision back then was to go for a job with regular hours and throw dinner parties. If one of my kids gets sick at school, I can leave to get them. My oldest daughter just made a softball team. I can go to the late afternoon games, most likely something that wouldn’t be possible with a restaurant. Plus health insurance. No idea what I’d get if I quit. There is definitely safety and security in postponing career change.

One website said the Ten of Cups is the “happiest card in the deck.” It can be interpreted as happiness, well being, experiencing good fortune, counting your blessings and feeling grateful, happy endings and having it all. I like the look of the card – four people under a rainbow. My immediate family is four. In other decks, the Ten of Cups is pictured with a husband and wife with two kids playing in a country meadow with a house off in the distance.
 
 (image is from Wikipedia)

I like to think that’s us. There wasn’t anything in the reading that I didn’t already know. I have no idea how Jeni knew it too.  Reading what she sent me did help me organize my thoughts and feeling about a career change. It also helped to clear my mind up about the direction I was already heading. Deep down I knew I wasn’t going to start putting together the pieces of a restaurant in the near future.

I wouldn’t say a commercial pizza venture is completely eliminated from my future, and I don’t think that’s what Jeni was saying either about the uncomfortable position and stress. The cards seem to say now isn't the best time. You don't need special powers to see that - there's fire on one side and Eden on the other. And the cards are right. This isn't the time. I already knew it. The future is still unknown. Things will be different. Ten years from now I might need to send Jeni another career change question.

Keep doing what you love outside of your job….Last night I fired up the oven and made a bunch of pizzas for some extended family. Towards the end, we were all outside. Kids playing with dogs, the weather was great...it was really nice. Kind of like the Ten of Cups card.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick's Day Surprise

So it's Saint Patrick's Day and I did what a lot of people in the area do today. After dinner, we piled into the family truckster and head over to Stewart's for a 50 cent single scoop. Kids went with Firecracker in a cup and Mint Cookie Crumble in a cone. I tried out the limited time Carrot Cake and my wife went with Peanut Butter cup.

We sit down at one of the tables and we're eating our ice cream and my wife notices the pink, Inside Scoop sales flyer on the table.


Then she says, "Hey, that's you."

Huh?

On the flyer is a tweet taken out of a conversation from last year. I'm part of the first tweet under the Sweet Tweets heading.


How cool is that?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Making Dinner with Stella

Anyone that knows me isn't surprised by the idea of me grilling straight through the winter. Most years, I try to grill burgers during the first snowfall. I forget what was going on this year, but grilling dinner wasn't an option that day. That hasn't sat well with me. If you don't do them, they're not traditions.

My last night of league curling was Monday and after leaving the club I stopped by a Hannaford to pick a few more things to have in the house during a blizzard. There was plenty of produce left after the pre-storm grocery store rush. Unless you wanted a banana. Then you were out of luck. The only bananas left were going to be ripe next week. I knew eggs, milk and bread were storm necessities. Bananas are new one for me.


We woke up to everything being closed. Around noon, I looked at a deck rail and it looked like there were about 4 inches. In reality, the wind was blowing the snow off the railing and there was about a foot outside. Off I went for Round 1 on snow blowing. The tent/tarp system I have over the oven didn't look happy about the weather. Hell, even on a nice day, that pop up tent doesn't look that good. It was not meant for this kind of abuse. Hang in there tent. You can do it.


A little after 5, I cleared a spot in the driveway for the grill and lit a chimney of coals. It took a little doing but the coals finally caught.



The nice thing about cooking burgers in crappy weather is that the don't take too much time. It also helps if you can duck into the garage between steps. Dump the hot coals out of the chimney and spread them around, pop the top grate on and give it a few minutes to heat up.



Throw the burgers on.



Flip. When I flip, I also throw a pan on the grill to heat up. Bringing the burgers into the house on a hot pan keeps the burgers hot.



I usually flip again and add the cheese. Once the cheese is on, I put the lid back on the grill. In 20 seconds or less the cheese will be melted.


Dinner is served. Lately I've been using Stewart's buns for burgers. They are the best cheap white bun in my book. If I'm going all out, I'll use a Prinzo's hard roll as a bun.


In the middle of grilling a contract plow truck drove by to clear a neighbor's driveway. I got a "You are out of your freakin' mind" look from the driver. The burgers were good. The look was priceless.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Thoughts on the Birthday Weekend



Every year, my side of the family gets together for a Birthday Dinner. It's tough to get together all the time some one weekend a year, it’s everyone’s birthday. We make a cake like our grandmother used to make and sing "Happy Birthday to Us" after coming back from a restaurant dinner. It’s a good time.

In recent years the party has moved from Connecticut to the Albany area leaving me in charge of picking the venue. No pressure. If I’m counting correctly, this was the 4th time I was the only member of the Birthday Dinner Restaurant Selection Committee. The restaurant I chose last year would have earned a return trip from the family, but they closed so some research was needed. The restaurant needs to meet a few conditions:

It has to be nice enough to feel celebratory but not so nice that it becomes cost prohibitive for a party of 10.

It has to have an accessible wine list. If the cheapest bottle is $50 or $60, you end up being cost prohibitive again.

It has to be good for a vegan and people that don't eat beef/pork/chicken.

It needs to take reservations. We’ll show up around 5 and be out of your way before the real Saturday night dinner rush start.

It needs to have offerings that two 11 year olds and a 12 year old will eat.

And finally, it needs to be relatively close to my house. I’d say within a 20 minute ride anyhow.

I don’t want this to turn into a restaurant review mainly because I don’t enjoy writing them. Everything was good, this place met all of the above criteria, service was very friendly and accommodating and the bread was freshly made - I wish I could make rolls like the ones being served. So the two discussions I’m starting aren’t specifically about this restaurant but more about my general experience in restaurants that meet the above criteria and reside in the greater Albany area.

1.     More often than not, I think the appetizers are better than the entrees.  Maybe it’s because a lot of appetizers are deep fried. Maybe a chef feels they can be more creative with a small plate that is priced at about half as much as an entrĂ©e. When my immediate family goes out to eat, we rarely get an appetizer. I'm starting to think we should just get a parade of appetizers instead. Is it just me?

2.    When we dine out, the kids almost never get a soda. As parents, that’s our judgment call. There are plenty of calories in a restaurant meal, no need to add a sugar bomb. Since this was a special occasion, all three kids went with Shirley Temples. Now combining the way parents and kids were spaced around the table with my youngest daughter finishing her Shirley Temple first, a server asked her if she would like another one. Not quite sure how to handle the question, she kind of timidly said, “yessss?” knowing her mother and I were in earshot and would stop the transaction if we disapproved. Special occasion, knock yourself out, kid. I’m not exactly sure what happened (because it was the other end of the table), but my brother wasn’t thrilled when his son got a second soda. I later explained that we had allowed the second soda so the server, most likely in the interest of fairness, refreshed the other two sodas when the first round was gone. There was a happy hour thing going on and the second round of sodas were not on the bill. So in this instance, cost wasn’t in the equation. Here’s the question: should a server ask the parents about a refill? I’m not sure. I think the question should be asked to the kid and the parents have veto power. In this case, it felt like one set of parents made a decision for the table and that might not have been best thing, but what do you think? I’ve been encouraging my kids to respectfully and politely communicate their order in a restaurant. A quick eye glance/head nod communication between a parent and child should result in a “Yes, please” or “No, thank-you.” Just my two cents.

Friday night my wife was running late so she caught up to my mother, my two kids and me at a different restaurant (I usually don’t get out this much). I got an “I’m on my way order something for me” text. So I looked over the menu and came up with a plan for two dishes for us to split. As luck would have it, she got to the restaurant moments before the waiter arrived to take the order. For the first time in 25 years (we’ve been a couple since ’92) I ordered for her in front of her. Felt completely different from picking something out for her when she wasn’t there which has happened many times in those 25 years. While I didn’t actually say, “And the lady will have…” it still felt weird. I didn’t like it. Men should never do it. If you do, I will judge you. Unfavorably.

On Sunday, we celebrated my youngest daughter’s birthday. She turns 11 today. In an effort to make her birthday party all about me, I baked 11 pizzas in the wood oven and giggled after launching each one.

Happy 11th Birthday, Casey.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pierogi and RIb Day

Also known as Summer In February...it's an annual gathering of family to have a big summer style indoor picnic in the middle of February. It's been going on awhile. It started as a get together in a summer camp once the camp had an oven that could heat it up in the winter and evolved into more of a winter festival. Looking back, I have posts from:

2010 this post says the tradition is already 5 years strong. it's also nice to see not much has changed making it an actual tradition.

2011 only a brief mention here, but the quest to find Ron the Wet Saw was ongoing way back then and the post included some sketched of the oven that bare no resemblance to the actual oven.


2012 made the sausage myself and tried some SPAM in the pit

2013 looking back at this post, I seem to have already written the first paragraph of this post.

2014 Summer in February was technically Summer in March in 2014.

2015 We definitely had it in 2015, but apparently I was too full to write about it.

2016 Back at it again.

I suppose I could write about "Rib and Pierogie Day breaking up winter" again. Only real change this year was abandoning the pit. The blocks are pretty broken up and tending the fire is much easier when the ground isn't frozen. The frost thaws and the freed up water is constantly putting the fire out. Gave fancy pants sous vide ribs a shot (ribs were sealed in vacuum bags and submerged in 165 degree water for 12 hours). They came out pretty good with basically no effort so the day was much more relaxed for me.

Absurd amounts of food were eaten, weight was gained, and once again it was a fun day.

And now, pictures of food (a couple shots were taken by my sister-in-law).

 





Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Politics imitating art

Remember back in the 80's when every good comic strip published books of all the comics? Far Side books, Bloom County books, Calvin and Hobbs books. In our house we also had pile of Doonesbury books. And while I might not have gotten every joke at the time I was reading Doonesbury, a few of the strips stuck with me. Probably most of what I know about Watergate is from Doonesbury. Not sure what that says about our education system or me, but there you have it.

When the brand new White House Press Secretary called a press conference to spend a few minutes complaining about crowd size, I was immediately reminded of Doonesbury cartoon from one of those books. Not sure why this particular cartoon stuck with me, but it did. Through the magic of the internet, I was able to look it up. Would you believe there is a Doonesbury search engine?

I remembered it was at the White House, I remembered the last two panels distinctly. And without too much effort I was able to find it. The strip originally ran on Sunday, April 7, 1974. Unfortunately, the image isn't very clear.


Here's a link to it: http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/1974/04/07

I had no idea who the two men were when I read this in the early/mid 80s. The voice on the left is White House reporter Hugh Sidney and the voice on the right is Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler.

Panel 1: Okay, who'd like a press briefing?!

Panel 2:

Panel 3: ...in sum, the information available to me at this time does correspond to my knowledge at the time of my previous statement.

Panel 4: That was beautiful, Ron.           Any other questions?

Panel 5: Yes. I have one, Ron.                Yes, Mr. Sidney?

Panel 6: Ron, sometimes I imagine you get up in the morning, look in the mirror before you've shaven, and think to yourself, "Ron, you're about to begin another day of evasion and deceit."

Panel 7: Here's my question, Ron: What do you do after you've come to such a realization?

Panel 8: I shave.

I have no idea why out of books and books of cartoons I remember that one so clearly. It's probably pretty obvious as to why it currently came to mind. In the last reporting I saw on the press secretary, when he said, "No, I'm not confused" it felt like he was channeling Martin Short's character Nathan Shurm.

 Image result for nathan thurm snl quotes

"I know that! Why wouldn't I know that? It's my company, I'm quite aware of that! Is it me? It's him, right?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Another Pizza Oven Update: I’m busting, Jerry! Busting!



We last left off with the first curing fire. I did several small fires and then they started to get a little bit bigger. I have a temperature gun and I was keeping track of the inside and outside temperature of the oven. As the fires progressed you could see the color of the top of the oven change as the refractory concrete lost water. During one fire, the outside dome temperature was in the low 200 degree range and steam was visible. There was actually a low hissing sound too.



On Sunday, I started with a small fire and slowly built it up. I noticed a little bit of steam leaving the oven, but not much. After an hour or two, only one spot on the wall had a little steam still coming out of the concrete. The weather wasn’t bad so I went ahead with the insulation planning to do this steaming spot last. When I got the board insulation for under the oven floor, I also picked up two boxes of ceramic blanket. The blankets were rolled up like a sleeping bag in the boxes. Each blanket was 1 inch thick, 2 feet wide and 25 feet long. Through an absurd amount of estimating, re-estimating and estimate checking, I calculated that 2 rolls should give me 3 inches of insulation around the oven. I had read that this can be nasty, itchy stuff. I was as covered up as I could be – long pants, crummy work jacket zipped up all the way, gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask.

The first layer was the learning layer. I probably made too many cuts, used smaller pieces and generally made a little bit of a mess. Once that layer was on, I saw how I could cover most of the oven with 3 bigger pieces and then fill in the missed spaces with trimmings. It worked out pretty well. I got three inches of insulation around the dome and a little bit of scrap in case I need to fill some extra space when making the oven door – the current oven door is a stack of bricks.  Sunday night at 8:00 the dome temperature was just under 450 degrees. I stacked the brick door up and left everything uncovered for the night since the weather was supposed to be cold but precipitation free. Monday morning, the temperature was about 320. Not bad.


 
On Martin Luther King Day (1/16/17), I started another fire and was able to get the inside oven temperature to hold around 600 degrees.  Around 3:30, I used a scrap piece of 2x4 to move all the coals from the center of the oven toward the left side of the oven.  I added another small log and kept the fire going. The right side of the oven was holding in the mid 600s. Around 4:00, I soaked a crummy towel with water and used a garden rake to clean the ash off the oven floor not covered with coals and burning logs.

You remember the Puffy Shirt episode of Seinfeld? The other story line in the episode is George getting a job as a hand model. Toward the end of the episode everything is going right for George and in his excited happiness he exclaims, “I’m busting, Jerry! Busting!”

Just after 4:30, I slid a pizza into the oven. I was busting.

 First pizza

 I made 8 pizzas. They were pretty good. I am confident they will get better. My usual dough came out a little crisper too. I’ll have to mess around with the hydration to see what that does. Also, I should have gotten the dough a little warmer before I stretched it. All in all, a good first run. No one left hungry. 




Apple Pie dessert pizza cooking and finished

I left the oven door open so it could cool off before I covered everything up. The dome temperature this morning was about 250. Not quite cool enough to close everything up, but precipitation is in the forecast. I’ve got everything covered except the door of the oven. The canopy should be enough protection until the oven cools to ambient temperature. Now I’ve got to figure out how to build a permanent enclosure.

About 24 hours later, I’m still busting.