Thursday, December 31, 2009

For the Upcoming New Year

For my readers, for my family, for my friends. . . May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you and all your heart might desire. - Irish Blessing

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bacon and Eggnog

Pancakes that is!

click to enlarge photos

"Every Christmas my Mom would get a fresh goose, for gooseburgers, and my Dad would whip up his special eggnog out of bourbon and ice cubes."
Fry - Futurama
Christmas breakfast was just a biscuit on the go. Today, even though it's not even light out yet, I'm making a real breakfast. You start with the best pre-made eggnog on the planet, Oberweis, if you can get it. This is not the time to use something out of a 3 gallon barrel that just says "eggnog" in black letters on it. The origins, even the ingredients used to make the first eggnog are subject to debate. with much history and life in this tasty little brew. It might have been tho developed from posset , a medieval beverage made with hot milk. It's been suggested that the "nog" came from the word "noggin", a Middle English term used to describe a small, wooden, carved mug used to serve alcohol. Yet another story is that the term derived from the name "egg-and-grog", a common Colonial term used to describe rum. Eventually, it was said, the term was shortened to "egg'n'grog", then "eggnog".

The drink made its way to the English colonies during the 18th century. Since brandy and wine were heavily taxed, rum from the Triangular Trade with the Caribbean was used as a substitute. When the supply of rum to our newly founded United States was reduced as a consequence of the Revolutionary War (too much taxation and there's a Revolution, imagine that) Americans turned to domestic whisky—and eventually bourbon in particular—as a substitute. Eggnog made without alcohol is available in stores during the holiday season and from this, comes the HOTR eggnog pancakes. Though they are alcohol free, there is no rule however about the cook not having any while preparing them for a late morning Brunch.

Even if you don't love eggnog, you will like these - light and tall, incredibly rich and worth the trouble.

The secret is clarified butter and the eggnog. The batter is quite thick and you have to watch the heat in the pan when cooking as they are, pardon my French, delicate little bastards. Too hot and they burn before they cook through, too cold and they are rubber. Try a test pancake for practice and then prepare yourself for a treat.

It's worth it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Open Roads

I wish I could relay that I'm snug at home right now, surrounded by Christmas cookies and family but I'm working. I technically get holidays off, but tell that to the bat phone.

I was out the door in the very early morning hours yesterday. A quick message to the friend who takes care of Barkley if my day runs late. It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself, being up that early when half the world is on holiday leave, but I found something exhilarating about climbing into that truck, coffee in hand, and putting on some classic music. In my truck now a collection of songs from the 70's. Entering adulthood at the tail end of that decade I remember that music well.

I thought back to that time, as the miles clicked under my wheels, time when I could only dream of having a big truck like this, and freedom. Getting older doesn't bother me, living this life does not either. I may not be home 8 to 5 and the life can sometimes be lonely, but how many of the kids I graduated with have days where they get to drive a big 4 x 4 to the airport to be picked up by a private jet because someone needs my skills. I answer to just a few, mainly to myself, the hardest responsibility of all. I wouldn't trade it for anything, if only that I can finally own a cool vehicle or two.

My first set of wheels was technically a small blue bicycle that transported me from one adventure to the next. My first automobile was another matter. What I wanted was a muscle car. What I GOT was a high mileage VW Bug. NOT exactly the wheels I had envisioned. But all the family budget would allow.

Insurance was reasonable with straight A's, but gas was the biggest part of my budget. Dad expected us to pay our own expenses with a car, and he did keep tabs on where I was in it as best he could. It was a rural town, traffic was light and crime was nonexistent. We roamed in our cars as we did on our bikes, cruising up and down main street like sharks watching for tourists, anxious to see if anyone had anything nicer than we had, looking for new faces in a crowd of kids who had all played together since kindergarten. You never saw kids in their parent's expensive cars, what we were in, we bought ourselves, and fixed up ourselves, Glass Pack Mufflers, 8 Track Players and afternoons under a hood instead of hanging around a mall.

Some folks down the road here bought their kid a new SUV when he turned 16. He's been in and out of juvie so many times for fights and vandalism, I've lost count. When he wrecked it they bought him a new one. They pay for his gas and expenses because as Dad says "he doesn't want to work at McDonalds". They see no correlation between his spoiling and his growing criminal record.

My first car was as cheap as it came. It didn't even have a radio, so we stuck this giant tape player under the right hand glove box where I would come screaming home after classes (well as screaming as you could in a VW Bug) with music playing way too loud through the speakers.But soon I was graduated, and on my own and I had to buy my OWN wheels. There have been many cars, most not very new, a truck or two, and my all time favorite, a 67 Barracuda 383S which we somehow managed to stuff a 440 big block in to.

My love affair with machinery started young. Girlhood dreams sung to the tune of "Radar Love", a very well used tape from a Dutch band, one I inherited from my older brother and listened to regularly, years after it had faded from the airwaves. Miles and miles of dreaming about the freedom I'd have when I grew up and became an adult.Then somehow I became an adult and that much awaited freedom came with it too many things to do, responsibilities blocking that open road.

What happened to those days of curving roads and youth? Somehow they vanished with a mute, befitting, hollow sound, which drove for only a moment upon us, with the dreadful still hush of motion stopped, too abruptly to mourn.

As I headed out into the frozen night, I opened the door outside, the house still, myself, utterly motionless. In hastily donned black pants, jacket, granola bar, passport in bag, always with me, in case, I look out onto the driveway, listening. On my face is a look of adulthood come too early and following me around like a reservation dog. For many, today is one of rest, but I'm OK that it will not be for me, for within me I'm restless.

I open the door to my vehicle, the door creaking gently open so not to wake Barkley in the house. It's a large truck, extended cab, with a short bed. It cost as much as homes used to and serves me well, serves me practically. On it's stereo is Vivaldi and Celtic music, sedate adult music that I listened to on the drive home. As I go to climb in, I catch a reflection in the side window of my truck and see a small smile. I think today I'll listen to something else.

I look forward to the long drive; for just an hour, no chores, no errands, no responsibilities. No speed limits. I silently climb in, as if sneaking out, and fit my form into the leather seats with a lascivious eagerness that is wasted on youth. "Time to get going!" I say to myself as I do each morning in my quiet room, waking up cold, when that last full exhalation of sleep has left my form and I look from beyond the portals of sleep to yet another new day of adventure. As I turn on the stereo I head out of the drive.

Windows cleared, the road is mine. The neighborhood is still asleep. It's just me and my ride, miles of road interspersed with the angular cuts of farm land, ringed with blue/black sky. I sort through old CD's at a stop sign, selecting some not listened to for a long time. I salute the road, with a small burst of gravel, fabric against my skin, the sound of cotton and warm flesh in action, the heat of the road in me.

Ahead is only the miles, with nothing to do but take in the passing landscape. My home is more than a small house, my life more than work and heartache, it's this whole open world. Up ahead a horizon, up above a sky, inscrutable, desolate above the land it wombs. I surge from a stoplight, Billy Idol with a rebel yell, hitting the highway. Adulthood can wait for just a few hours. There will be enough time to put on my professional demeanor in just a few hours, but the hours are inconsequential to me now. Time doesn't matter when I'm on the road. My age doesn't matter with the steering wheel under my hand. The asphalt flows past, black sleeves and alabaster hands, my lips forming into soundless words, the thump of the beat of the music, pounding along with my youthful heart.

I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel

There's a voice in my head that drives my heel

It's my baby callin', says I need you here

And it's half past four and I'm shifting gear

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Warriors - Fueled by Guinness

The back room has been updated to make it more appealing, except for paint, insulated with new insulation (there was little to none in this previous owner room addition), storm windows to keep out the cold and a new door. Last weekend a lot was done to prep and the help this weekend was a really nice surprise with several of the guys from the Conservatino Club volunteering to help.
When they got into stuff I didn't have the skill set to do, I retired to the safety of the kitchen and made Guinness Stew for everyone.

This is all you need (OK, and coffee). I bet most of you have these things on hand. This makes enough to feed several hungry people, with leftovers, as I doubled the regular recipe.
Toss 4 pounds of stew meat in a mixture of flour (about 6 T. seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and a dash of cayenne or Penzey's Northwoods Seasoning) and then brown on all side in a large, deep pan in which 5 tablespoons of olive oil is heated until hot, not smoking (add in more oil as needed as it cooks up).
Barkley wants a poster made out of this picture.
After the meat is removed to keep warm, saute six cloves of garlic, or the equivalent of chopped garlic, in the pan with two chopped onions, stirring up the little bits of meat and juice from the bottom of the pan until the onion starts to caramelize. Add in 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and six chopped carrots and cook 4 minutes. Add in six potatoes, peeled and diced into big pieces, and the meat. Pour 32 ounces of room temperature Guinness and a 32 ounce can of beef broth over the top until the meat is covered, adding more of both if needed.
Bring to a boil and boil 3 minutes, then reduce heat, stir and cover. Simmer for an hour, until the vegetables are tender, adding in 2 tablespoons of parsley and a another pinch of salt and pepper (to taste) about 10 minutes before it is done. To thicken broth slightly prior to serving, make a roux out of a small spoonful of flour and some cold water in a large coffee mug. Slowly stir in a little of the hot broth into the mug, stirring so the flour doesn't congeal, and then pour that, in a thin stream, into the stew to thicken, stirring as you do. It's also good unthickened, more like a rich soup than a stew. The broth does not taste like beer, but it's wonderful.

Sprinkle with more parsley if you like and serve with a loaf or two of fresh bread to dunk in the rich broth and you are set.

click to enlarge photos

Friday, December 18, 2009

B Sharp

Neighbor: "What orchestra do you play in?'

Me: "huh?????"

Neighbor: "I see the musical instrument cases you carry out of the house all the time."

Me - "oh look, a squirrel!" (escapes to truck)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Road Poems

photo by Malamute Bill
Nature's light so softly speaks,
that heaven shines upon these peaks.
In our view, celestial light,
so we can see past mortal sight.
- Brigid

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Household Wish Lists

1. Midway shooters bag
2. ammo cans
3. Konus Spotting Scope 20-60x 80mm with Tripod, Photo Adapter and Soft Case Armored Green
4. Shell Sorter Brass Sorter 380 ACP Adapter Plate
5. Mossberg Sight Kit Ghost Ring Mossberg 590
6. The Barrett 82A1 rifle kit. Featuring the 82A1 semi-automatic rifle. Includes-
Semi-automatic Rifle, 50BMG, 29" Bbl, Black Finish, Composite Stock, with Leupold Vari-X III 4.5-14X50 Scope, Cleaning Equipment, Air/Watertight Carrying Case, and M1913 Accessory Rail, One 10-Round Magazines (on sale at Impact Guns for only $9,999)
7. Lyman Trigger Pull Gage Electronic Digital 0 to 12 lb
8. Lyman "Reloading Handbook: 49th Edition" Reloading Manual Softcover
9. Ney Certified Pure Tin Bullet Casting Alloy (99.85% Pure), 4 of them please
10. Hornady Lock-N-Load Bullet Comparator Basic Set with 6 Inserts
11. Any of the Lee 6 cavity Bullet Molds
12. A new coffeepot
13. and a tank (well I can ask)

My very own cat
and a pot roast

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A day in the life . . .fun and games

Click to enlarge food photos, don't be shy.
Household work party this weekend with some of the hunting gang. I've got just a few tools, a hammer being one of the few I can be trusted with, but I'm learning more and more all of the time. This weekend - some better insulation in the room that faces the cold winds, and drywall to cover, a new back door and later, blowing some insulation in the attic. I made a whole bunch of bacon-rich Range Chili , which is in the crockpot, a simple recipe which won the "chili cook off" at work. The secret, among other things than bacon, Penzey's Chili 9000 seasoning and two small small squares of dark unsweetened baking chocolate, finely chopped and mixed in. For dessert of course, a fresh baked crumb-topped apple pie. (recipe towards the end of the comments).The conversations ranged from framing to whether Darth Vadar was framed, the morphology of neurons, to what our porn star name would be (the name of your first pet followed by the name of the first street you lived on). I was Pepper Maryland, Rangebuddy was Max Wood (I am SO not going to go there). We all laughed, put a bunch of screws in the new drywall, a nail or two up around the new door. We paused only to enjoy some good homemade chow, looking around at a room refinished, with the men's hands, numb with wear and full of splinters, myself cleaning up and putting the tools away. As the sun went low in the sky, we looked around at the work done with the sharp, spent astonishment of people having done so much in so little time, and without a contractor, stimulus, or a government instruction guide. My friends, with few exceptions, are in the medical field, engineering or law enforcement. Our favorite Geek Goddess. someone I'm proud to just hang out with sometimes, Roberta X , often amazes me with her talent and the stories of the work that she does. (By the way, she just finished"Another Day" at her "I Work On A Starship" blog, and she has organized the links of the various installments so you can enjoy reading it straight through. To read, go here.) These friends are a small knit group but we are all very much alike in our interests, we all read sci-fi and history, and play just as hard as adults as we did as children. We all have learned to take care of ourselves and we continue to learn. And we all still have toys. Today, there is no starship to fix around here, however there was a gaming computer that needed to be fed. Two radiators, more power than you can shake your joystick at, and all cooled by what looks like Mr. Spock's blood but is actually secret squirrel coolant.

People laugh at me because I have this simple cell phone that does nothing but ring, no blackberry but there are some things that just beg to be built by hand and I just marvel at stuff like this.

In high school I was the shy, geeky kid that skipped a few grades, and not a lot has changed. I'll never be the "it" girl of either the prom or the blogosphere, and I don't care to be. With these people that are my family, with toys we all share and the ability to work and laugh hard and well, I think I will survive most anything. Even selling a big old house and soon, building my own cabin, with a little help from my friends.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Together or Alone?

"The true measure of the patriot is steadfastness. We all have small moments of wanderlust in us, tearing off on solitary paths that others may not follow, testing limits, testing ourselves. That is the nature of man. Yet when we strive to hold true, to stand firm to our beliefs as free men, together, to carry our weapons and defend our land, the weak become strong, and the wandering hold together as one. For then we are united in something much greater than the elemental whims of man. Together as patriots, we are much more of the courageous and less of the selfish, we are brothers in arms."- Brigid - Home on the Range 2oo9

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pure and Simple Pleasures

I love vanilla ice cream. But most of the store brands taste like someone massacred a bunch of vanilla wafers to get the flavor. An artificial sort of vanilla taste, sans the crumbs. The texture more like half melted cool whip. Real vanilla ice cream when melted down a bit smells like cream, with a hint of egg and vanilla.

Of store Brands I like Blue Bell (from those years living down south with the annoying Texas Longhorns). It's not totally natural, but it is, in my opinion, one of the best store ice creams for the price, hands down.

Trader Joe's vanilla is pretty good. But Trader Joe's is an hour's drive away.

My brother always has some Tillamook in his freezer. The Marion berry flavor is my favorite. It has corn syrup but it doesn't feel like a visit back there if I don't eat some.There are others that have the little specks of vanilla bean, but specks don't always translate into flavor. Breyers at one time used to be really good, almost like a fresh gelato, but since they were taken over by Unilever, they removed the "pledge of purity" which used to be on every carton and added some gums and chemicals. The label now? MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, EGG YOLKS, NATURAL FLAVOR, NATURAL GUAR GUM, SALT, ANNATTO (FOR COLOR), NATURAL CAROB BEAN GUM.

I don't care if it's "natural" I don't want "carob bean gum, guar gum and corn syrup in my ice cream. The taste? It shows.

Hagan Daz is good but still, for the price, has a strong alcohol and vanilla odor. If you take a sniff after it's melted it smells sour. They have a new one that is five ingredients only. The vanilla and coffee flavor of those are excellent.

Ben and Jerry's? There was one that I liked that was some chocolate brownie thing but it's off the shelf now, at least at my local store. For the most part I like my ice cream pretty simple That's strictly a personal thing. I want my ice cream plain not with chunks and monkeys and granola, gummy bears or ground up hippies in it. But Ben and Jerry's IS a high quality ice cream for those of you who like the add ins.

Everyone should gave a great recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream in their repertoire. Here's my favorite, which comes from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press)

It's not super quick to make and real vanilla beans and the pure extract aren't cheap, vanilla being most of the most labor-intensive of all crops, but it's worth it.

The three most common cooking vanillas are Bourbon, Tahitian, and Mexican. Bourbon vanilla, from Madagascar has a bold, very-pronounced flavor. Tahitian is more floral, and a rare find. Real Mexican is strong, yet creamy-tasting. But don't buy the cheap Mexican impostors. They can contain coumarin, which is toxic and banned in the U.S. True Mexican vanilla will be similarly priced to the best stuff (not cheap, and worth it).

I know it's winter, but take yourself back to summer with a bowl. What's the fun of being an adult if you can't be a kid every once in a while. - Brigid