Sunday, March 31, 2013

Flashback: Easter Sunday 1993

In the spring of 1993, I was living in a dorm at the University of Connecticut. I had spent a lonely weekend on an nearly empty campus. When my roommate returned around 8:00 Sunday evening, he had a big plate of sandwiches that his mother had made for me. They were great. Everything about them was delicious. The rolls (egg knot rolls that I still remember 20 years later) were so fresh. The ham was moist and tender. I was treated to a perfect storm of sandwich greatness. On Monday, I fired off a thank you note to my roommate's mother.

That was the only year I shared a room with that roommate. We remained friends but he stayed on campus and I moved to some nearby off-campus apartments. Around 8:00 on Easter Sunday for the next three years, he tracked me down and delivered a plate of seriously kick-ass sandwiches to me.

I think of those sandwiches every Easter. His mother and I reminisced about those sandwiches at his wedding a few years ago. A few hours ago, I got an email from him wishing me a happy Easter. Earlier today his mother told the story of those ham sandwiches while she made this one and asked him to send me the picture.

Unfortunately, I don't get to eat this sandwich. It looks really good. But it is nice to know that I'm not the only one who remembers Easter 1993 and those sandwiches with a smile.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weed Country

Once the season of Moonshiner's ended, I stumbled onto Weed Country. Very similar show with cameras following people doing some illegal(and some legal) activities and other cameras following law enforcement. Instead of booze, marijuana is the star of the show.

The thing I took away from the show is that medical marijuana isn't definitely not bullshit. Sure there probably plenty bullshit prescriptions out there. "Yo, doctor dude, my back hurts and the Phish concert is this weekend. Do you have anything for that?" I'm not talking about that. I mean life saving medicine. The same playing field as penicillin.

There's a woman with a son named Ben. Ben is three and suffers from epileptic seizures. A lot of them. Many of them are severe enough to be life threatening. One of the grower's named Nate broke the law by taking some specific marijuana, separating out the Cannabidiol (CBDs) and getting it to Ben's mother. From the epilogue of yesterday's show: "Ben went from 10-12 seizures a day to less than 1 a month." Why is it a felony to produce this is turn it into a pharmacy grade medicine? That's absurd. And it's not just epilepsy. According to Wikipedia, this stuff may also be good for multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, convulsions, inflammation, nausea and inhibiting cancer growth.

Which politician or law officer want to knock on Ben's door and take the medicine away? Sorry kid.  Good luck with the 4000 seizures this year. You can't have this stuff that would make it less than 12.

One of the growers said in the closing of the show:
"We're a great country and I love this country. But what kind of country would jail a person, put him in a cage, for using a plant that can heal their illness. That's just barbaric to me."

He's got a damn good point.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


For about two years, these two steers roamed the field at my in-laws.

They were good animals. Only got jumpy once - they did not like the sound a weed-whacker makes. For the most part, they were very calm animals that wandered around and ate grass. Earlier today, both steers were slaughtered.

My nervous joke prior to participating in my first slaughter was that either "I'm going to have a lot of beef, or I'm going to be a vegetarian with a lot of beef to give away." I still eat meat but since starting in this home raised meat project, I waste much less food than I used to waste. I think a large part of that came from seeing the origins of the beef I ate. With that in mind, I am going to post some photos I took earlier this morning.

This is the first time I used a "jump." Hopefully I got it right. If this isn't something you want to see, please don't read the rest of this post. I'll put something else up in a day or two.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Caffeine Confession

I am a complete and total caffeine wimp. I used to drink caffeinated drinks all the time. Loved iced tea. Southern sweet tea is the greatest.

When I first started working at my current job, everyone went downstairs to grab a coffee around 10:00. I followed. We'd hang out for a few minutes, shoot the breeze and lady making the coffee brewed really good coffee. For about 2 months straight I had a 10:00 coffee. Until one fateful morning, I was scheduled to attend a 10:00 meeting and missed my coffee. The ensuing caffeine headache lasted 3 days. After that, I switched to decaf and choose my caffeinated moments more carefully. Like at work after being up all night with a baby or the times I had to change up my schedule and work the overnight shift.

Earlier this week I had to attend a few afternoon presentations. They were interesting enough and the presenters were engaging. But it was around 2:30, and the lights in the room were dimmed and I found myself fighting to stay awake. I had a couple head-snap-was-I-just-snoring? moments. Outside the presentation room in between talks there was a big bucket of ice cold Pepsi. Personally, if I'm picking soda I'd go Coke but beggars can't be choosers. I drank about 8 ounces of Pepsi. Wow. That perked me right up. I'd say even made me a little jittery.

And that is why skinny cans of Red Bull and those little bottles 5 Hour Energy freak me out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Another round of pizza

We had some more pizza for dinner tonight. When I made the dough, I was planing to make the pizzas on Sunday. That didn't happen and the dough spent an extra night in the fridge. It worked out in the end but I wonder what they would have tasted like Sunday night. I only grabbed pictures of the last pie. I was expecting it to come out the worst of the four I made - the dough stuck to the peel and I had a little trouble getting it in the oven - but dammit, it came out the best. The kids were happy there was an extra pie and demanded that the pizza be saved for their lunch tomorrow. Success.

Still need a little work shaping the pies but I would still argue that a decent night of home made pizza is still better than many of the local options. Sadly with 20/20 hindsight, I should have gotten a bigger piece of steel. And even sadder, there are a few more types of flour I want to try out even though I have about 40 pounds of one kind in the basement. So many recipes out there. Last night I saw another one that has me drooling. I think I might just have to pick one dough and focus on improving it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Visit to the Great Escape Logde and Indoor Water Park

My niece is on a swim team and today they had their end of season banquet and party. The banquet was a pizza party followed by some awards. Since no one will come to the Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water Park on a pizza quest, no one will be overly disappointed by the pizza. The highlight of the banquet was when my niece was singled out for an award. Way to go, Abby!

Perhaps this review will be too jaded because I am in my 40s and there wasn't any shock and awe at the sight of the indoor water park. Two of the 3 kids with us thought it was "awesome" and one, over-tired, cranky, passing-out-on-the-ride-home kid said it was "boring." Strangely, she never looked bored while she was there. Look at this. This is kid heaven when it is below 30 degrees outside and it is summer inside.

Other than the banquet, we spent most of our time in the lazy river....

and waiting to spend 40 seconds going down the Avalanche slide. The Avalanche is among the worst run lines I have ever seen in an amusement park setting. You've got big tubes that seat up to 4 people going down a water slide. Not too big a deal. However, the people getting onto the ride don't start getting into the raft until the previous people have left the ride. They should be seated and ready to go ASAP. There's an overly complicated machine to bring the rafts to the top and it goes slowly. In the afternoon, they only had two rafts going. An automatic gate and a few more rafts would cut the line time in half. As an engineer, it was painful to watch how slowly it was going. Especially since the same stairwell is used for another slide. Not an exaggeration: the people behind us in line left one person to hold their place in line while the other two went down the adjacent slide 4 times before they got onto the Avalanche ride. They rotated and didn't abandon 1 person in line. Although the father never waited in the line - lesson learned for the future. Here we are at the top. Just about 20 more minutes before we get on the ride.

There are also the standard amusement park "fees." Locker rentals, over priced refillable soda cups, that kind of stuff. The weirdest thing there is the life guards. The few I talked to were extremely nice. But besides their red shorts and white shirts making me think of this song, they are trained to do a strange walk. They have their area that must be patrolled.  They walk back and forth scanning their area. At each end of their 10 to 15 foot walk, they stop and do a weak version of ZZ Top arm wave and then head back in the other direction. Again and again and again. I hope they get paid well.

I don't want to beat the place up too badly. We had a good time. From the kid's point of view the place was great, from an adults perspective - eh. We also paid a $35 per ticket group rate to get in that included our lunch. Not cheap, but much less than the room rate. I just checked their website and to do this with a room next Saturday night is $320 for 4 people. That's not including the meals you are going to have to have to buy. So a night here can easily cost a family of four $500 to $600. That's half a membership for the family to the Ciccotti Center. For the price of two nights you have a scaled down water park and gym membership for a year. The hotel/water park rates go down if it isn't a Saturday, but is still isn't cheap. Unless the swim team heads back, I think this might be a one shot deal for us. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Grand Theft Cookie

On most days, I'm a pretty honest guy. But for the past few days, I've been considering turning to a life of crime and planning a heist. I knew when and where there would be several truckloads of Girl Scout Cookies. And since the Girl Scout Pledge start with the words "On my honor," clearly there was going to be no security.

Each local troop was assigned a time to load up on their cookies. We were there for two troops whose orders filled two pickup trucks and an SUV. Took about 15 minutes to load everything. The truly impressive sight was seeing large moving vans filled to the brim with cookies. To borrow a phrase from the Profussor, one truck was filled with a shit-ton of Thin Mints. This is one troop's allotment of Thin Mints.

Other cookie varieties shared space on the same truck.


I didn't pull the trigger so I've got a year to come up with a plan of attack. I'm considering going the Thomas Crowne Affair route. Any co-conspirators out there? Taking cookies from little girls would be almost as easy as taking candy from a baby. I wonder if we'd be able to hit a milk truck that afternoon....

As with last year, here is the extremely scientific survey of Girl Scout cookie popularity.

This year the Thin Mints took a hit but still remained king. Two large orders may have skewed the results. My brother Mike switched his case order of Thin Mints (he gives them out as gifts - at least that's what he says) to Trefoils. Plus a friend from the curling club ordered an additional 10 boxes of Trefoils (he's definitely not giving them out as gifts).

One thing that is interesting to note in the stats: more boxes of cookies were donated than the combined sales of Savannah Smiles, Thank U Berry Much and Dulce de Leche. I think that pretty much sums up the quality of those cookies, although there are people out there that really like Savannah Smiles. I don't get it. However, these Savannah Smiles lovers are probably very nice people that would never dream of stealing truckloads of Thin Mints and Samoas, unlike certain other people we know...

Super Market Wars Continue

In what I would believe are retaliatory renovations, both the Hannaford and Price Chopper in Latham are under construction. The Price Chopper is annexing some adjacent space and growing. It's already pretty big and I'm curious to see what they do with the space. A large portion of their parking lot is blocked off for a staging area. Other than some changes to the entrance and the removal of the little flower shop in the corner, the inside of the store is business as usual.

Across the street at Hannaford, they have completely rearranged the aisles. For awhile, I was in this Hannaford fairly regularly and knew my way around. Not so much anymore. The cashier told me they are arranging the aisles the same way tho Wolf Road Hannaford was reorganized. No more healthy foods section - everything is going to be mixed together. So that granola that used to be in the healthy section, that's in with the cereals now. Or the organic frozen broccoli, that's with all the frozen vegetables now. Personally, this is a huge pain in the ass. I used to know where the things I bought were and now I end up walking up and down aisles looking for them. It's the difference between shopping with or without a list. The way the store is set up now, I need a list or something will definitely be forgotten. Ironically, I stopped by the Latham store instead of the on on Wolf Road so I could just grab a few things and go. Instead, I spent at least an extra 20 minutes looking for stuff and got frustrated and picked up some soda at a different store because I was sick of walking in circles. I noticed a few other people in the same boat - roaming around looking at the aisle signs and sighing. I shrugged my shoulders sympathetically at a fellow lost shopper and she said, "They mooooved everything!"

One bright side to the Hannaford remodel, I was told they are not going to re-arrange the checkout like they did on Wolf Road. On Wolf Road you wheel your cart up to a greeter that directs you to a checkout line. Apparently I'm not the only one that really doesn't like that. I'll come back and wander around the Latham Hannaford once they are done, but I think I'm going to give them a little time to sort it all out before my next visit.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Corned Beef

The corned sirloin tip roast came out pretty well. I wold use a dry cure for corned beef again. The beef let off a good amount of liquid. No leaks. For some reason I couldn't get the bag to seal. Rather than try another bag, I just tied it off with a twist-tie. After 9 days (I went a little over the recommended week since this is thicker than a brisket) of daily flipping, here's what I had.

I put the roast in a crock pot filled with water set on low for 6 hours. After the 6 hours is automatically switches to the "keep warm" mode. With the exception of the programmable timer, my slow cooker sucks. the "keep warm" temperature is too low (around 150 def F) and the low setting is too high (around 215 deg F). While the corned beef was in its water bath, I stopped at Nino's - just off Central near the Shop Rite - and picked up a sliced rye. Seemed to have less seeds than normal, but I think it is the best around.

Looks like a corned beef...

The texture was a little different than a brisket but it was still pretty tasty. With the exception of a small gray spot in the middle (not sure how well you can see it below), the cure went through the whole roast during the 9 days and this method is easier than brining.

I like the flavor but it was missing something. Sadly, I think it was the clove that I intentionally skipped because I hate cloves. Want to ruin a ham? Spike it with cloves. I think next time around I might add a clove. Also, this roast probably didn't need the long simmer. Maybe in the smoker next time. I guess that would turn it into pastrami. That's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


A week or two ago we got a letter from the school letting us know that one of Casey's art projects was going to be put on display at the Legislative offices downtown. Several works of art from around the are had been chosen to be put on display and several politicians were going to be on hand for a meeting on art in schools this week. We couldn't make the meeting, but on the eve of her 7th birthday, we set off to see the display.

I'm not sure which section/building we walked into first, but one thing is certain: the capitol building on is huge. So much bigger than I thought it was from driving by. The friendly guard that searched us like we were getting on a plane (except we got to keep our shoes on and he mostly gave the kids a pass) gave us directions to "The Well" part of the Legislative wing. "The Well" is a pretty impressive space. It would have been more impressive if the fountain was running. Check out the stairs, all stone, all beautifully constructed and symmetric.



Off to the side, we found the art display.


I thought it might take a little effort to find Casey's artwork, but the kids found it in about 20 seconds. It's the bluish one (I'm clearly a connoisseur of the arts) on top.

It's from a project called "Organic Shapes." I like it.

 Got a picture of the artist with her sister Allison.

I'm not the biggest art guy but there was a lot of really impressive stuff on display here. I mean stuff I would consider buying. The kids don't bring home any art during the year. Instead, at the end of the year they bring home a portfolio. Every year there are lots of things worth saving and a few worth framing. I'm not sure what they are going to talk about at their meeting, but I hope it isn't program cuts.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

To Tweet or not to Tweet

I have successfully avoided Facebook. The only time I was tempted was when I was invited to friend a chef whose blog I had been following. I hemmed and hawed and waited and eventually completely forgot about my invitation. About a month later, Facebook sent me an email reminding me of the invitation. When I got that, I feared I had completely blown off a chef that had been nothing but friendly to me - a complete stranger that stumbled onto his blog and got his email address. So I sent him an email that basically said, "I decided I wasn't ready to join the Facebook crowd and then quite rudely never mentioned it to you.  I'm sure you spent many sleepless nights wondering if 'Jon in Albany' was going to join you Facebook, and for that I am sorry." He took not being friended by a complete stranger very well and continued replying to my occasional charcuterie question. I've never looked back at ignoring Facebook. Still quite glad I have nothing to do with it. I can waste hours in front of a computer screen without...well, without whatever people do on Facebook.

To date, I have also been resistant to The Twitter. However, with Twitter I am starting to feel like I might be missing something. Pretty sure I would mostly be a follower. A handful of comedians, maybe a few chefs, some local people too. The decision would be easier if I could figure out how to follow a conversation. There's got to be a idiot's guide to using Twitter out there somewhere. I could just wait a few more years and then the kids will teach me how to use it. So far, I am still better at computer stuff then they are. Those days are numbered though. I don't know, Twitter. I'm a definite maybe.