Category Archives: Uncategorized

May the Fourth Be With You… Again :)

Yes, I’m still alive and not a force apparition. Long story there, which I shall save for another time. For now, it’s that time of year again:

image via nerdappropriate.com

In keeping with last year’s post (by sheer coincidence), I also scored a new lightsaber today during The Vader’s Vault “May the 4th” flash sale. 30 sabers gone in 15 minutes. Pics coming in a week or so once it arrives.

Also in keeping with tradition, a little Weird Al to liven things up:

Broken Baby

I’m reblogging a request for help here folks.

Some of you know Re-Farmer, all of you should. 🙂 She lives out in the wilds of Canada trying to keep the family farm going while living on a fixed income. She also tries to look after the feral cats in the area, domesticate, fix and get them adopted out where possible, etc…

Well, one of the little cuties on the farm, named after my Mustang no less(!), broken his leg badly and needs expensive surgery or amputation. Read the whole story and help if you can, please!

The Re-Farmer

This morning, while doing my morning rounds, the kitties all came out to say hello.

Then I saw Ginger.

Walking on three legs.

His right front leg was dangling and swinging in a most unfortunate way.

I tried to go to him, but he “ran” away. I didn’t want to risk losing track of him or hurting him more, so I went inside. My younger daughter was handy, so I told her about it, and she went outside with the cat carrier to try and catch him, while I called the vet clinic.

The doctor was in surgery at the time, so we were told to bring him in for 3pm. My daughter had caught Ginger, and we had a few hours, so we set him up in the sun room, where he would be safe and we could check on him through the bathroom window.

It was encouraging to…

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BBQ Time: Slow Smoked and Seared NY Steaks

On to more pleasant things from my last post. Recently, we finally got a break in the weather here, and we brought out the smoker and the Weber kettle grill. Our mission: reverse seared New York steaks.

I’d already seasoned one side of the steaks before taking this pic. Salt, Pepper and Garlic; all you need.

Not much of a secret that I prefer Ribeye steaks. Better marbling means they’re typically more moist and tender than other steak cuts. We couldn’t find any decent quality Ribeyes though

Side Note: My Meat Buying Guide can be seen here

After rubbing some salt, pepper and garlic into both sides, they were ready to go on the smoker for a reverse sear. That’s when you slow cook the meat first, and then add a sear to it at the end. The most common reason to do so is that you’re using a smoker. A standard sear will seal the meat and keep smoke from getting in. Slow cooking (like on a smoker) will use a low enough heat that you won’t lose any juice anyway.

As the video shows, a hot cast iron pan is a great way to reverse sear meat, but I typically use the Weber charcoal grill to try and add a little extra flavor to the steak along with those traditional grill rack marks. A pan is great for a full sear though.

Note the deep red color from the previous time spent in the smoker. These were just dropped on the grill.

MY usual technique (as mentioned in a few older posts) is to pull the meat when it reaches an internal temperature of 100 F, and then finish it on the grill to a perfect medium rare 135 F temperature. That last 35 degrees is a fairly ideal point for getting as much smoke in AND having enough time to put a real sear on the meat. That is IF the charcoal grill is fully hot before throwing the steaks on.

I kind of goofed that last part this time BUT still turned out some fine looking steaks that tasted even better:

And here’s a peak inside:

You can sort of see the deeper red smoke ‘ring’ on the top and bottom of the steak.

Perfect medium rare pink all the way through. And they went nice with some fresh bread and veggies on the side. Unfortunately I was too busy eating to get pictures. 😀

One last tip here: Using briquette charcoal can be fairly wasteful for just searing meat. We’re literally talking a few minutes on each side. After that, you have to cover the grill and let it burn itself out.

There IS an alternative though. One of the key benefits of ‘lump’ type charcoal is that you can smother it with an completely unvented lid and reignite it later.

Sort of Authentic Pho

AKA “What the Pho” 😀 To get that joke, one must understand the correct pronunciation of the dish: F-uh, as if you’re starting to drop an f-bomb.

OK, enough bad humor.

I call this “sort of” authentic Pho because I bypassed the painfully slow process of hand making the broth by boiling beef bones. I got the recipe from an issue of “Cook’s Illustrated Best soups and Stews from Around the World”; one of the various ‘best recipe’ titles that Cook’s Illustrated cycles through in it’s publishing.

I changed a few other things from their recipe as well.

First is that they advocated boiling a pound of hamburger in water to make extra flavoring for the ready made broth in the recipe. The trouble here is that they wanted the hamburger thrown out when you strain the broth to get the solids from the spices out. I’m not big on wasting food so it stayed in. Blasphemy to purists I’m sure but again, I’m not going to waste a full pound of beef.

If you want to go the easy route and still get strong beef flavor out of the broth while not using ground beef, drop a packet or cube of low sodium beef bullion into the broth.

Second is we both are not fans of soy beans, so we left those out. 😛

Let’s Get Cooking

First, this will make 6 to 8 decent sized bowls of Pho.

I’m going to proceed under the premise that readers also don’t feel like spending 8 hours boiling bones to make broth and will likewise use store bought bone or beef broth and optionally add beef bullion to that.

As an added tip to avoid having to later pour hot soup through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth, I highly advise putting most of the solid spices into a tea defuser / tea ball / cooking infuser like this one I got from Amazon:

no endorsement implied or made, there are plenty of options out there

You MAY actually need a pair of them given all the ginger and such that is supposed to be added to the broth.

Oh and as an added note, much like my recent Chile Verde recipe, this is too much good stuff to fit in a normal sized Crock-Pot. You’ll need a jumbo one or a decent sized soup pot.

My Modified Version of the “Cooks Illustrated” Recipe:

First the Ingredients

2 Onions, quartered through root end

12 cups of beef (or bone) broth. This works out to 3 of the standard 4 cup cartons sold in the U.S.

1/4 cup of fish sauce

1 (4 inch or 10 cm) piece of Ginger, sliced into thin rounds

1 Cinnamon Stick

2 tablespoons of Sugar

6 Star Anise pods

6 whole cloves

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon black whole peppercorns

1 (1 pound or 453 grams) boneless strip steak, trimmed and halved

14 to 16 ounces of rice noodles

1/3 cup of chopped fresh Cilantro

3 Scallions, sliced thin

Optional Ingredients and Garnishes

Bean Sprouts

Fresh Thai or Italian Basil sprigs

Lime wedges

Hoisin Sauce

Sriracha Sauce

Ingredient Notes:

I actually left out the sugar accidentally and didn’t miss it at all. I also added a couple cloves of pressed garlic to the broth because garlic addict. 🙂 A little extra cilantro got used as garnish as well. Finally, of the list above, the lime was the best garnish to me in terms of really accenting the flavor. Just go light and work your way up.

Oh and as for the ginger… I have NO idea how much that’s actually supposed to be. Their description makes it sound like ginger comes in neat little log rolls. Trust your cooking instincts there is all I can advise. Our food turned out fine.

I put the ginger, star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick (after breaking it into 3 pieces) into the defuser. As for the pepper, I used coarse ground black pepper instead and added it directly to the broth. One teaspoon will not overpower a full pot of Pho broth.

Lastly, with the 8 onion quarters, 6 of them were supposed to be cooked with the hamburger that was added to the broth and later filtered out. Using this more direct method, you could drop them into the broth and let them simmer, fishing them out later with a ladle or slotted spoon, OR save an onion and just add some onion powder or dehydrated onion to the broth. Neither are ‘official’ since Pho broth is supposed to be pure liquid, but the final product tasted great to me.

The remaining half an onion is supposed to be sliced super thin to add to the finished Pho. I used a mandolin for that .

Not this type:

This Type:

Yes, I know… More bad humor, LOL. Cooking should be fun though.

The Cooking Process:

Cooking can be relatively fast with this method, but I advise slow cooking to let the broth simmer and fully absorb the flavor from the spices. Ideally an hour and a half to two hours.

Start by adding the broth, optional bullion, onions (if so desired), black pepper and two cups of water to your soup pot. Put the spices into the defuser as noted above then add the defuser to the liquid mix. Heat the mix on high and bring it to a hard boil briefly. Once it hits a hard boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer. The magazine says 45 minutes. I’m a huge fan of low and slow however.

While the broth is simmering, put the steak into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. The goal is to get it to be cold enough to be firm and easy to thin slice, bit not actually frozen. If you’re lucky enough to have a deli slicer for meat at home, cutting the beef into thin strips will be super easy. If not, a properly sharp knife will do the job fine once the meat is firm.

Getting the meat as thin as possible is important because traditionally the meat is cooked in the bowl by the sheer heat of the broth.

Next up, while the steak is firming and the broth is simmering, we deal with the rice noodles. They take a little different process than wheat based pasta.

First place the noodles in a large container and cover them with hot tap water. Soak them until they’re pliable; about 10 to 15 minutes. Once they’re pliable, drain them then put them into a pot with 4 quarts of boiling water until almost tender. This will only take 30 seconds to a minute. Immediately drain the noodles and divide them among individual bowls.

Turn back up the heat on the broth to bring it to a rolling boil again. While it’s reaching that point, divide up the steak and shaved onion into the individual bowls. Serve immediately along with the previously listed extra garnishes and some extra fish sauce as a possible additional garnish.

A Couple Final Notes:

First, if you’re like me and have issues with potentially getting scalded by soup being dished out at a rolling boil… You can bypass the need to do that by cooking the rice noodles till fully tender. Also, you’ll want to spread the steak pieces out on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds or so; until they’re losing the red and are light pink. Bring the broth back up to the point it’s just starting to boil and then add it to the bowls as above. The noodles will be soft and the steak pieces should finish cooking also while still being very tender.

Next, for those who get apoplectic over the idea of eating red meat (like my mother), I’m told that there are restaurants out there who substitute chicken broth and chicken breast for the beef ingredients and it supposedly works fine. Never tried it. I’m just putting it out there as an option for those with dietary restrictions or preferences. 🙂

Lastly, a warning! If you’ve never used Fish Sauce before…

We bought the Hokan brand in the center of this pic

It smells like dead fish that’s sat out in the sun decomposing for a couple weeks. The quarter cup that’s added to the broth quickly loses it’s scent and adds just a hint of flavor to the dish. I certainly wouldn’t want an open bottle sitting on my table as an added garnish though. “How It’s Made” (a TV show that walks viewers through the creation of various things) says fish sauce is used in Asia as a substitute for salt.

The process explains the smell…

That being the case, I’m tempted to try soy sauce as a replacement.

Either way, the food turned out spectacular. My first time making it, but we will definitely be making it again. Is it official, purist Pho? I don’t know. Tastes good however. 😀

Destructive Little Peckerhead

A play on words as well as a legitimate statement of annoyance. The target of my wrath?

A woodpecker (maybe more than one). Not just ANY woodpecker though. On NO, we had to attract something special:

A Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. They apparently hang out in this neck of the woods during the winter.

Late yesterday morning, I take a peek out the front door and I see THIS:

For half a second, I thought the tree had been hit by lightning during the storm the night before (although there was no thunder or lightning). Closer inspection turned up these:

A little research ruled out termites and led me to our culprit above. These filthy little beasts drill holes in trees to drink their sap. And this poor tree was just covered with holes! All that black gunk in the picture above was tree sap, running five feet down the trunk.

We were on the way out the door to go to Home Depot and get some pruning sealant spray when it came back too. At that point, I introduced it to Red Ryder.

Red Ryder is my preferred discipline tool for these situations. It stings, but doesn’t have enough power to hurt even a bird that size unless you shot it point blank.

A pop in the arse sent our destructive woodpecker friend on her way. Afterwards, we got a can of Spectracide pruning seal. It took nearly the entire can to seal all the holes too. Given that the seal smells like and has the consistency of road tar, I doubt the bird will be attacking those areas again. 😝

*sigh* I like nature. I’ve been told I have some fae blood in me (hasn’t everyone who is Scottish or Irish? LOL), so it comes natural… pun intended. That’s a nearly 100 year old tree that stupid bird was destroying though. One that also sits far too close to the house and our cars for my comfort.

Between that, squirrels tearing up our lawn and garden back in Sacramento and crows attacking our house and cars regularly…

well, let’s just say I’m liking nature a bit less nowadays. 😕

The Pitfalls of Me-Commerce

Another EXCELLENT post by Todd Garlington (I even spelled the poor guy’s last name correctly for a change). Todd does a world class job of breaking down advertising (and occasionally other subjects) and analyzing what’s REALLY being said and sold. This post takes a hard look at Touch of Modern.com’s push on the idea that image = identity. ie you’re defined by your things.

I love Todd’s blog because it’s a great lesson in critical thinking skills and looking beyond the hype and nonsense.

Image(s)

Now that e-commerce has proliferated and arguably become the backbone of big-box retail as well, consumers have more choices than ever before—so many in fact that comparison shopping has become almost overwhelming. Search results return pages and pages of different brands and models, and although product reviews should be helpful, they often lead to more confusion. So how might shoppers make informed and efficient purchases in the lightning-fast Information Age?

A collection of products curated for urbane males.

Enter the new and improved middleman: the curator. Although the concept of marketplace personalization (aka me-commerce) emerged in tech circles around a decade ago, its implementation has now become mainstream. Across the internet, more and more individuals and companies are adopting the curator model to promote their businesses and offer the weary consumer respite from digital chaos.

One example is Touch of Modern (ToMo), a lifestyle boutique similar to forerunner The Sharper Image, but with more panache. Most of ToMo’s…

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What A Workout!

Yes, I still like my vague titles, lol. Keeps people curious.

OK, so I had hoped to be back here (and at my other blog) writing again sooner, but things have been busy. There’s alot of little chores with a house this old and a fairly sizable yard. We’re also still sorting and tossing things in an effort to trim back and simplify.

On top of that, I’ve been working HARD at one of my New Year’s resolutions… You know, that one that EVERYBODY makes:

I’m Going to Get In Shape!!!

THIS has been my torture device of choice:

It’s a water based rowing machine. LONG story short, we decided months back that when we moved we were going to get one more exercise machine to go with our stationary bike. I thought long and hard about it, and pushed for a rowing machine because it works so many muscle groups at once.

Picture from Amazon’s store page

It also works your back and shoulders. I even feel it in my forearms. Rowing around on a lake (in an inflatable boat) was how I first got in shape in my younger days, and it’s a habit I still enjoy, so this was a natural choice to me.

I still have yet to get a certain lazy spouse on it however. >_<

For those of you who have been slacking on your fitness… Let me tell yah; you don’t realize how badly you can go downhill before you truly feel it. I knew I was out of shape thanks to my back and neck keeping me sedentary for 8 or so years. I walked, I did things around the house, so I assumed I wasn’t THAT bad off.

The first time I got on the rower, I could only do fifty reps. 😶 NOT good, since the rower pretty much provides the same moderate level of resistance as real rowing.

I’ve busted my butt however, and am determined to NEVER go back to that condition I was in before decompression therapy. In roughly three weeks, I’ve gone from 50 reps to 1000 yesterday. Some of my improvement was probably just the exercise working fatigue poisons and other toxins out of my system. I know I’m feeling mentally and physically better, even if pushing hard leaves me wiped out afterwards. 😀

I’ve also lost 10 pounds and am determined to keep that up also.

The Best Diet Advice I Ever Got:

Was something so simple that most people wouldn’t believe it works; just SLOW DOWN and enjoy your food. Take your time, thoroughly chew it, actually make conversation with people while you eat, etc… The ideas being that first, it takes 15 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s had enough, no matter how much food you scarf down. So yes, closely related to that, it’s also better for your digestive system.

The hidden benefit to it though is that you AND your body will quickly figure out what’s truly good food. I was skeptical on this one and actually tested the idea on a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin one day. I used to love the things. Slowing down and chewing it though… truly giving myself time to sample the flavors… The sausage is REALLY disgusting, and the muffin and cheese aren’t much better.

Some of you may have had similar experiences with other foods. Little Ceasar’s pizza for example; it actually tastes good if it’s hot and you don’t truly take your time. Let it cool off even a little though… Yuck! Even if you eat it quickly.

If you want to read more about the whole concept, there’s a book called “The Slow Down Diet” that goes into more details, but I’ve given you most of the highlights here.

Just make that one simple change in your eating routine and see how much changes in your life.

The Ongoing Neck and Back War:

Speaking of the neck and back… Moving REALLY took a toll on both of them, given how rushed everything was. My worthless ProNex therapy tool broke on me also:

The damned thing tore in half at the narrow center section of the top piece, just from normal use. Talk about cheap! I mean I knew it was foam rubber, but still…

Pronex doesn’t stand by their products either, even if brand new. Needless to say, I’m changing my review to zero stars, wouldn’t recommend. After some meticulous research, I came across an alternative:

Only $50 more than the Pronex, but it’s solid construction, not low grade foam rubber.

It worked so well that we bought the lower back unit made by ComfortTrac also:

With my bad back and the auto accident my other half suffered in the Subaru, this unit has been a godsend for both of us. Chiropractic treatment never did anything long term for my back, but this is helping tremendously.

Neither unit is QUITE as good as full blown professional decompression treatment, BUT with common sense and regular use, they come VERY VERY close, for a good deal less. My previous decompression treatments ran almost $4000, and the moving undid a large portion of that. These two units had a combined cost of roughly $1000 on Amazon. That’s still ALOT of money, but we’re both benefiting from them, and it’s cheaper than professional treatment, and FAR FAR cheaper than surgery.

If there’s enough interest, I’ll do a more in-depth review on both. For now, suffice it to say they’re a large part of why I’ve been able to push myself so hard, and will help guarantee I never go back to that broken down state EVER again.

Oh yes… Remember that recurve bow I bought also?

Well, I finally got it out and started shooting also. The weather has provided limited opportunities there, but I finally got out the other day and shot a few flights. This was at about 30 feet of distance BTW. Not too impressive. My first volley was a bit of a mess also, LOL:

I hit the target with all 3 arrows though! I consider that fairly good since it was the first time I’d shot a bow since 1987 or 88. There was no nock point (a little piece of brass wrapped around the string) on the bow string, no sights, and the tab (finger guard) I was using on my drawing hand was incredibly sloppy.

Picture from Amazon’s store page of the exact one I purchased. Somebody sure chews their nails, LOL

I have to replace it with a shooting glove for sure.

BUT, I shot bare bow for the first time in 33 years and out of 50 arrows at between 30 and 35 feet, I only missed the target 3 times. By the last flight of arrows, my accuracy had improved too:

I even put one nearly dead center!

Funny… I was worried that a 40 pound draw weight on the bow might be a hair too much. It’s actually proving to be just about right for me, and is giving my arms a little extra workout also.

I’ve forgotten some of the technique I was taught back in college, but it’s amazing how I could pick up on what I was physically doing wrong with my shots; primarily being too tense, and sometimes not just simply releasing the bow string.

For those who have never shot a bow, the ideal release technique is to just simply let the fingers holding the bow string go limp. It prevents an accidental jerk of the string sideways, which will make your shot go wide. That can happen if you try to force your hand to release the string, or outright jerk your hand away.

ANYWAY… I need some practice for sure, but it wasn’t bad for a first outing. 🙂

I’ve also taken a few preliminary steps towards brushing up on my Kenpo and Wing Chun. That’s a story for another time however. 🙂

Five MAVO Points to anyone who can tell me what that last picture is though… WITHOUT an internet search. 😛

A TON of Catching Up To Do…

I am officially back. I’ve worked fairly hard the last week to catch up on my replies and followed blogs, but still have a ways to go.

Christmas is out of the way, and we’re FINALLY largely settled in from the move however, so I should have the time I’ve been craving to return to the blogs here, and my writing.