26 December 2007

I had initially intended to start this post out with another link to a YouTube video of Bootsy and the Rubber Band, live circa the late 70s, but after previewing several versions of the song I had intended to post, I cannot in good conscience do so. Absolutely funk-o-matic bass playing, mind you, but lyrics-wise it is almost comically obscene, so no dice.

Anyway, my parents were kind enough to give Debra and me a digital camera, which I spent yesterday experimenting with. Very cool. So I decided to document my activity last night, which was to smoke a slab of spare ribs. This was my second attempt at ribs and I hoped to improve on my first attempt. Anyway, here is the humble budget grill upon which I am going to attempt to do this:

As you can see, it's not exactly pretty, or fancy. It is still holding together, barely, after a season of very hard usage. The bottom is almost completely rusted out, but it still holds together.

Here you can see the platter of ribs prior to smoking:

Preparation was fairly basic; I removed the membrane on the back and dumped a healthy amount of Fiorella's Jack Stack general purpose meat rub onto it, and rubbed it in. It sat overnight in the fridge after the dry rub went on.

And of course, the ideal companions for an evening in the cold tending the grill/smoker:

That would be a Wodehouse book, and a glass of homebrewed Rye IPA, a hoppy and spicy ale that is very flavourful. It is more of a dark amber than a brown, as the picture seems to suggest. And I've already waxed on about my fondness for P.G. Wodehouse's writing, but I've since made it a completely non-optional ritual to sit reading one of these books while meat is wicking up the rather pleasing-to-the-nose air pollution caused by smoldering chunks of hickory.

And here we are getting started:

As you can see I had to lop a section off the end to get the bally thing to fit, but no matter, I placed it over the coals themselves and thus had a quicker-cooking mid-session snack. The slab was placed on the rear half of the grill, with a fire of natural lump charcoal in front, near the air vents. An aluminum drip pan full of water was placed underneath the ribs to keep the environment moist and to ensure that no stray coals made their way underneath the ribs. Final touch was several handfuls of soaked hickory chunks on top of the hot coals. These were a nice size, about 1" cubes, better than the really large chunks or the tiny chips that smoke only for a short period of time before burning out. You can see the smoke starting to go to town.

Here it is somewhere in the middle, after stoking the fires a bit for a heavier smoke. Puffing like a chimney...

And here they are after 3 hours:

Nowhere near actually done, but I know the limits of my "smoker". It can't hold a constant temperature for that long no matter how you twiddle the vents, and so I've resigned that for things that are cooked indirectly for a long period of time (turkey, ribs, my Famed Smoked Meatloaf) I will smoke them for as long as possible, then finish it up in the oven.

I used a variant of what is sometimes called the "Texas Crutch" method to steam and tenderize the meat for an hour, by placing the ribs in a glass casserole dish, pouring in a small layer of liquid, and then covering with foil and cooking at 250 degrees. I was going to use apple juice, but owing to a lack thereof, I used a spiced apple wine that I had made. Does the job, but certainly not necessary to use that, other liquids will work as well. Then, I removed the foil, continued cooking for half an hour to dry out the outer "bark" of the meat, and finally dosed on some barbecue sauce and gave it another 30 minutes in the oven. End result:

Honestly I would rate my attempt as better, but still, not quite there, not the "fall off the bone" goodness. The flavour is spot on, but the texture of the meat is lacking, a bit too stringy and tough compared to, say, a platter of Jack Stack's ribs.

So sometime next year, I'll be looking at an offset box smoker. Going to do it right!

All things considered, a rather enjoyable way to spend Christmas evening. Happy Boxing Day, all.

24 December 2007

Bootzilla's Back!

The following was a bit of an archaeological find, something I downloaded back in the 90s, I think. It was a Quicktime movie split into 5 parts, but I finally found it stored away on my hard drive (from my old Win98 computer) and I used a Mac Mini to piece the 5 files into one and then upload it to YouTube. The site that previously hosted it is long gone, but now the Bootsy Collins cartoon can live again in all its funky, kitschy glory!

Pilot Episode of "The Name is Bootsy, Baby"

This definitely fits the category of So Awful It's Good.

You all have yo' selves a very funky Christmas.

20 December 2007


Mikhail Kalashnikov's Address to a UN Arms Trade Conference

Here's the money quote:

Remember the ancient saying: Vis pacem - para bellum - if you want peace - be ready for the war. Within the whole history of our civilization, no one disproved it. So let the weapons be not the means of terror, but the way to defend peace, democracy and law. I wish you all health, success and fruitful work. With best wishes, Mikhail Kalashnikov

Mikhail Kalashnikov is probably the most noteworthy living small arms designer (no, not a small designer of arms, a designer of small arms), as Sam Colt and John Browning have been out of commission for some time now. But it is interesting as the designer of what is probably the most universally villified rifle justifies his invention. The AK-47 is the Rodney Dangerfield assault rifle, it gets no respect, dismissed as a mass manufactured weapon of terrorists, while in actual fact it is one of the best designs of the past 60 years, which certainly helps explain its longevity. I've heard military types talk about how a modernized AK platform like the Galil and other recent adaptations ought to be considered to eventually replace Eugene Stoner's AR platform, but I doubt patriotism would allow that.

But regardless I thought Kalashnikov, aside from being a commie, had some great points.

18 December 2007

Bonus Rant of the Day....

I just want to point out how poor Blogger's coding is. A post with zero comments is labeled "0 Comments". A post with three comments is naturally labeled "3 Comments". It would stand to reason that the geniuses of logical design at Blogger would be capable of putting a simple IF THEN ELSE statement in to ensure that a post with a single comment would be labeled "1 Comment", but no, a post with a solitary comment is nonsensically labeled "1 Comments".

Is it that hard?

// x = number of comments
if (x = 1)
cout << x << " Comment";
cout << x << " Comments";

Really basic stuff here. With as long as Blogger has been around it is baffling that such a piddly little design flaw has persevered.
OK, the Radiohead album is growing on me, like fungus on long-forgotten leftovers in the back of the fridge. I listened to it several times over the weekend, and it is one of the better albums I've heard recently from what I only know to call "modern rock".

"All I Need" is a good track, reminiscent of "Climbing Up The Walls" although slightly less creepy. I like the resounding piano bass that drives the track, slowly taking over from the synth bass about halfway through, right before the final crescendo, which builds off of discordant piano comping into rather a nice climax. I particularly like this YouTuber's take on the song, paired with some interesting close-in video of plants and insects and the like:

Radiohead - All I Need

This isn't necessarily a standout track, I just added it because of the neat editing of the YouTube video.

And on a more comic note, some months back I was exposed to some very, very strange music. The acquaintances that were telling me about this music were very serious about it, but I couldn't help finding it absurd to the point of hilarious. Yes, I am talking about Tanz-metal. Particularly Laibach and Rammstein. Watching some of their videos on YouTube, I am baffled by how they are taken as serious music. I'm not saying it's utter crap, I'm just saying that it is so spectacularly craptastic that it is brilliant in its crapliciousness. How can you take trashy Euro-electronica dance beats, combine them with deep, resounding spoken German that sounds like it is pulled from the audiobook version of Heinrich Himmler's autobiography. Throw in a video with uniformed band members strutting to the beat and the silliness is over the top. As mentioned, the silliness is sufficient to make it quite amusing in its own way, and I have to think that that was the original intention of the artists, but what I don't understand is the people that love the music in a very serious, unfunny way. Like Bootsy Collins, half the enjoyment is the silly over-the-top humour of it all.

Speaking of!

Bootsy Collins - Stretchin' Out

Long Live Bootzilla!

17 December 2007

Debra and I just returned from a nice trip visiting her parents at their place in rural Morgan County, Missouri. Which of course means, the serenity of the idyllic snow-covered forest was somewhat put on hold as I took my new 10mm out for a range session.

  • The 10mm, despite its numerically impressive muzzle energy, wasn't as bad on the hand as I thought it might be. Recoil and muzzle flip were definitely there, but not unmanageable at all.
  • The firearm shoots low...either the front sight needs to be filed, or the rear sight needs to be raised.
  • The Tanfoglio Witness is a very ergonomic design, borrowed from the CZ-75. The grip and the overall feel is excellent.
  • The recoil springs are underpowered, resulting in the occasional "clunk" as the slide bottoms out on the frame. This must be rectified, possibly with a recoil buffer or replacement springs.
  • 10mm is expensive. I resisted the idea of a single-stage reloading press, but I may have to give the idea of reloading a second glance if I intend to shoot this with any frequency. The cheapest factory ammo is about 40 cents a round.
Well, work just got active again, so thus endeth blog post.

12 December 2007

I finally got around to downloading Radiohead's new album, "In Rainbows". Radiohead made news with it more in its marketing than in its musical qualities; under a "pay what you want" structure to download, the vast majority opted to pay the princely sum of $0.00, as did I. They think they are smarter than capitalism; I'll grant, they might be richer than capitalism, so to speak, and have precious little need for actual profits from their latest release. A stunt like this only works when your band is filthy rich and can effortlessly restock its coffers by a quick tour at will.

I may try that next time I sell a car in the newspaper; using the Radiohead model, I will say, the car will be sold to the first person that offers me a price, from zero dollars on up.

Anyway, putting aside their infantile attempts to make political statements via really abysmal mathematics, the music is what I would call the best Radiohead since the 90s. Now, don't take that to mean more than it does. With Kid A, I was an enthusiastic fan and I tried to like it more than I probably did. With Amnesiac, I was a sympathetic listener, again trying to like it, but not trying so hard...it didn't meet me half way. With Hail to the Thief, which was painfully comic in its unironic, uninspired, and deadeningly flat title, I washed my hands of them...the band was descending into unmusical mediocrity.

This one seems to be significantly better...as if the band remembered it was a band and not a bunch of guys who stand around while Thom Yorke squeals out shallow poetry over his beatbox. One of the songs, forgive me I don't know which one, struck me as having a surprising amount of chordal complexity, with a wash of discordant piano layered over the main riff, very similar to a couple songs on Chris Squire's "Fish Out of Water". It still is much simpler than a true progressive rock sound, but there is more meat to dig into, as a musician, than the previously mentioned sparse moonscapes of third rate half-spoken, half-squealed verses about the Evil Don Rumsfeld or whatnot. I haven't really listened to the lyrics on this one, and honestly I don't really need to because there is actual MUSIC to pay attention to.

Anyway, I smoked a meatloaf (no, not the Meat Loaf, a meatloaf) on Monday night, as the freezing rain was coming down. I can't remember all the components, but it was basically a pound of beef and a pound of Italian sausage, with a good deal of seasonings and the usual components (eggs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper). I smoked it for 2 1/2 hours, and then let it finish in the oven til well over the safe internal temperature. I've never been a big fan of meatloaf, but sandwiches made with this and a bit of BBQ sauce are very good. The hickory smoke adds quite a bit to it, I think.

Lastly, a hats-off, kudos, and all around standing ovation for Jeanne Assam. She was the church volunteer security worker in Colorado that stopped Matthew Murray from using more than a fraction of a percent of the ammunition he was hoping to expend killing innocents (he had a rifle, two handguns, and 1000 rds of ammunition). It is tragic that he was able to kill as many as he did, but with him walking into a church of 7000, she prevented the loss of many, many more lives. It was interesting that after he was shot six times by Assam, he chose to off himself. I suppose the humiliation of being thwarted (by a civilian woman, at that) was too much and he wanted to use what little control he had left to take his own life. Also interesting that in his writings he stated that Christians are responsible for most of the wrongs of the world. Sounds peculiarly similar to the position of half of my liberal arts professors at UMKC. Of course, that doesn't mean any further similarity, any more than Bin Laden's copious use of Democrat talking points during the 2004 election means that the Democrats are terrorists.

I'm getting off track; just wanted to send out a cheer for the sheepdog that protected the sheep from the wolves. Many times sheep can't see any difference between wolves and sheepdogs, as they both have sharp teeth, but times like this the difference is immensely clear. And thank God the sheepdog in this case was not muzzled, so to speak. And I seem to have fallen into a huge vat of unexplained metaphors; they are not my own, if you need clarification, read this excellent piece by Dave Grossman:


06 December 2007

God gave us animals for eating. He gave us plants for burning underneath the animals we eat.

I find it interesting that it is only very recently, probably the last couple centuries or so, that we have had alternative cooking fuel sources such as electricity, charcoal, propane, and natural gas. Most of these (charcoal, a derivative of wood, to a lesser extent) impart a flavour-neutral heat to food. However, every time I cook over a wood fire, I don't know, but somehow the woodsmoke and meat combine to form something greater than the sum of the two parts. Centuries ago this is how most food was cooked in many cultures worldwide: roasted or grilled over wood fires. I'll admit, it is much, much too cold to be sitting outside tending a cooking fire these days, but I still find an excuse to cook outside once a week or so.

And as I've mentioned before, to please the hippies: wood is a renewable resource. Especially mesquite, which grows like a weed in Texas. Hickory I'm less certain about, but it is certainly easier to replenish than, say, natural gas.

Some might want to amend my definition of God's purpose for plants (combustion and smoke production below animal meat) by adding the smoking of certain plant leaves (no, not THAT plant leaf!), but I'd have to say, tobacco smoke, even tobacco from an excellent cigar, holds little appeal to me personally, based on my very minimal experimentation. I use the word "experimentation" and it probably brings to mind the idea of pre-teens huddling behind the shed and hacking their way through a stolen pack of auntie's Camels, but in actuality it was more like a confused adult sitting in his dining room, muttering curses and grievous pronouncements at an overly priced cigar that haughtily refused to stay lit.

No, as for me, the best smoke is the smoke of the classic American hardwoods. Oak, apple, cherry, mesquite, hickory, and pecan. I've used about half of these in my cooking, and those three (apple, mesquite, and hickory) all seem to impart a different flavour. Hickory was the most conventional, and some would say ideal for BBQ smoking. Mesquite has a sharper flavour and burns hot, great for searing steaks and general direct cooking (on Monday I cooked "lamburgers" over mesquite wood, which was very good). Apple wood was interesting; the smoke was thick and instead of the expected "fruity" smoke flavour I've read about it seemed to me to be slightly more "buttery" than the other woods.

You might ask what prompted this blog entry ("not get your eggs and b. this morning, eh, 'Feld?"), and while I did enjoy a rather fun grilling session last evening, the main catalyst was when I walked into work this morning, our corporate neighbors (some sort of manufacturing or machine shop) had as usual a plume of smoke rising from their chimney. Apparently they use lumber scraps such as old wooden pallets to fire their industrial oven. Even as low quality as that lumber may be, the smell was great. I wanted to hang a slab of spare ribs in their chimney and come back at lunch time.

And I'll leave you with this. Another comic song from the Jeeves and Wooster series, it is stuck in my head, and so now I'm attempting to stick it in yours. Avoid the comments section, unless you desire to be thoroughly nauseated by descriptions of Mr. Laurie as a "cutie" and other even more ghastly epithets:

Nagasaki, as performed by B.W.W.

03 December 2007

I find myself in somewhat unusually buoyant spirits this frigid Monday morning. If nothing else, the fact that I've been walking down the halls doing the "stealth whistle" (a nigh inaudible whistling, under one's breath) to "47 Ginger Headed Sailors" ought to be an indication:

47 Ginger Headed Sailors

It's all the rage at the Drones at the moment.

After a brutal, disheartening failure to reproduce a true, slow smoked Kansas City BBQ slab of pork ribs last week, I've rallied the morale and am making plans to attack the challenge next year again, this time with a proper offset box smoker. There is only so much one can do with a small cheap charcoal grill designed for hot dogs and hamburgers. I'm sure the experts could have done better even with that, but hey, Rembrandt could have probably used a child's watercolor set to paint a masterpiece. My skill is not anywhere near that level, and I'll need to get the right tool for the job next year.

While I initially rooted a bit for Army given their underdog status on Saturday's game, I eventually returned to my senses, and realized that my heart was still in Annapolis, and so I cheered Navy on to win for the sixth straight time. That is my favourite football game of the year; each member of both teams is a scholar and an athlete, and the contest is unstained with the big business and professional overtones of college football in general. It is true that either team would probably get slaughtered by one of the big state college teams, but it is nice watching the Army Navy game because more than the other college football contests, this is truly just a game. It's not a job, it's not an internship, it isn't some sort of springboard into a pro career, and so there is a nice civility and sporting nature to it. These players will go on to be officers, engineers, pilots, astronauts, scientists, and government leaders. That in itself is quite impressive, and to these players (since in all likelihood they will never go "pro", having to serve 6 or so years in the service after graduation) the Army Navy game represents the climax of their years playing football, every bit as important to them as a Superbowl to a pro player. I'm not a football nut by any stretch, but I do like these games, they have a classic spirit to them, like some sort of older style of college sports, where it was more a game and less a business.