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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hello....Is anyone there???

Here we are almost a full month later and I'm finally getting around to posting another blog entry. It's not entirely my fault, however, I was a victim of circumstances. December is usually a tough month anyway, with our annual holiday concert (rehearsals, dress rehearsal and concert: http://www.merrimackconcert.org/), Christmas shopping, tree cutting, tree decorating, holiday parties, etc., but this year it was especially trying. Normally our concert would be over by the 9th or 10th of the month but this year the schedule had us going until the 20th. Then the BIG complication hit. There are lot's of stories around that event.

Thursday Dec 11th: If you don't know, I like to cook. I had been toying with the idea of making home made gnocchi for some time and finally decided on this day to give it a try. Around 2:00 in the afternoon I started cooking the potatoes and began the gnocchi around 3:00. Nancy wouldn't be home until later since she was going to yoga. Remind me never to make gnocchi again. What a complete and utter pain in the A?!. They came out great but it takes a long time and a lot of patience to make gnocchi. By 4:30 I barely had enough to feed two people. The plan was to freeze it and save for another day. At 4:30 my buddy Jeff called and asked if I wanted to go to a cigar tasting at Blowin' Smoke. I still had at least another hour to go before my gnocchi supplies would be exhausted, so I reluctantly said no. About ten minutes later I thought better of it and called Jeff back to pick me up. Since he was ready to go I needed to pack up and leave quickly. As we were pulling out of the driveway I noticed I had left the TV on.

The tasting was being put on by the Ashton cigar company and it just happens to be one of my favorite cigars. For $15 you received an Ashton VSG torpedo (large), a shot of Talisker scotch (one of my favorites; I'll need to blog about scotch some day), chicken wings, cheese and chocolate. The cigar alone was worth $12. To top it off they gave you 15% off on Ashton products. How could you go wrong. There were other cigar lovers around to talk to and I happened to meet a former co-worker there. I lost the business card he gave me, so unfortunately I can't contact him again. All in all, it was a nice way to spend three hours. Then we left.

It was a little icy when we exited the store and I thought to myself how the weather reports hadn't indicated any major issues for the night. By 9:00 the power went out. I started the generator and it stayed on for the next eight days. We were lucky because we did not suffer any damage from the storm but our neighbors had a tree land on their roof and four others down in their yard, including one of their beautiful apple trees.

I understand the term "cabin fever" now much better than ever before. The generator gives us the ability to prevent the basement from filling with water and keeps some basics going, but it doesn't give us all important water or flushing ability (we have a well and a pump up septic system). By day five without water, I was pretty irritable (read that down right ornery) in addition to being stinky from taking a shower only every other day. Couple that with an intestinal system that can only be used when you drive to a local restaurant to "borrow" their bathroom and I was ready to buy solar cells, a windmill and a whole house generator just as long as I could get power at any cost.

Friday December 19th: Power returned at 3:33 in the afternoon (notice the precise time; it is ingrained in my head). I wanted to sing the entire Hallelujah Chorus right there and then. It was snowing by then and wouldn't stop until Sunday night. We got 19 inches of snow that weekend. A fitting end to December of 2008.

PS: I think we'll still go with the whole house generator.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Would you care for a little w(h)ine...ehhhhhhhhhhh

After multiple phone calls and worries about the bottles freezing and bursting in transit, I finally received the shipment of wine from our California trip today. It was cold but not frozen. Here it is:

1 Bottle of Reynolds Family Winery "Persistence" (blend)
2 bottles of Hopper Creek Winery 2005 Merlot
2 bottles of Arger-Martucci Vineyards 2005 Syrah
1 bottle of Jessup Cellars 2005 "Table for Four" (blend)

I opened one of the bottles of Hopper Creek (http://www.hoppercreek.com/) tonight with dinner. I took a sip almost immediately and it tasted very heavy and overly dry. After it sat for about 30 minutes it mellowed quickly and tasted fantastic. Not too dry, fruity with a nice finish and little aftertaste. This was the one I wasn't very impressed by in California, but here, it was very different. Well worth it and not that expensive ($35). You can't buy this on line yet but according to their website they will soon be making it available.

The Arger-Martucci 2005 Syrah (http://www.arger-martucci.com/arger-martucci/index.jsp) will probably not be saved for very long. Syrah's aren't usually stored for long periods of time, although a few years would certainly be OK. I remember this as on the fruity side, but better than the Hopper creek. It is labeled as the "Gold Medal Winner" at the Orange County Fair (how big can the Orange County fair really be??) and sells for $30, still not very pricey.

The Reynolds Family 2005 "Persistence" (http://www.reynoldsfamilywinery.com/index.cfm) is a blended wine, meaning it is a mix of several different grape varieties. I did not get to taste this wine in California as this was the winery that had only a barrel tasting when we were there. It is a more expensive wine ($50) and is labeled as being "Estate Bottled".

Saving the best for last. The Jessup Vineyards (http://www.jessupcellars.com/) 2005 "Table For Four" ($80) is another blended wine. We didn't get to taste this one in California either, but every wine I tasted here was wonderful. This one will get saved for some special event in the distant future. I joined the wine club from this vineyard and have already received my first shipment.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Something Smells Around Here

I seem to be in a negative mood lately. First there was an entire blog on food that I just don't get and now one on the movies I can't see how they ever got into production. Movies that are intentionally bad (for laughs) don't count.

Any remake of an old classic movie. I'm dying to see the new version of "The Day The Earth Stood Still". I saw the first one as a kid and it made me love all SciFi ever since. I just know I'm going to be disappointed when I see it.

Any Clint Eastwood comedy. He's just not a funny guy.

Citizen Kane: I know, the American Film Institute has voted this the greatest movie of all time. I do understand that the camera techniques, angles and lighting were way ahead of their time, but to spend two hours watching a movie where all of the characters are trying to find out what a dying man's last words mean (rosebud) and then find out it was only...... Since seeing this for the first time, I have looked at other movies from that era to see the differences, and I do admit that the technique is way ahead of it's time, but that ending still leaves me shaking my head. I'm anticipating everyone who hasn't watched this movie to now be writing me asking "what the hell does "rosebud' mean?" I can only say, watch the movie.

Jaws 3D: All of the actors from the previous Jaws films except the sherriffs wife decided to pass on this one. How can you make a movie without all of the main characters except for one that had a total of ten minutes screen time from the previous films? I almost put this one in the category of being bad on purpose, but I don't think these people were that smart.

Time Bandits: Let's cut up organized religion and little people and make it look like it's a serious fantasy movie. Shame on the late George Harrison.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Let's make a movie where every character can be turned into a toy figure. Some really cute warrior teddy bears would really sell. And lets redo the big explosion scene from the first movie a second time, after all, what works once should be even better the second time around.

The Matrix 2 and 3: A 2 for 1 here. How such a great first movie could turn into 2 such horrible sequels is beyond me. The dance scene and the love scenes add nothing to these films and actually leave you with an icky feeling. They should have stayed with the theme of waking people up to reality. The brothers blew it on these two.

Mission to Mars: Josh and I went to see this one when it first came out. At one point in the film the actors turn to each other and make some comment on how bad the movie is that they're making. By that time, everyone in the theater already had it figured out. The only one that is worse then this one is....

Open Water: The first ten minutes of this film are on land while they prepare to go out on a scuba diving expedition. The next 90 minutes were spent with me cheering for the sharks to just eat them and get it over with so we could leave. The theater was packed too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Danger WIll Robinson, Danger!

If you've known me for any length of time then you know I have become a bit of a foodie (understatement). When we were first married my better half had a job on the other side of the city and she didn't get home until 6:00 every night. I on the other hand worked two blocks away and walked to and from work each day, arriving back at home by 3:45 every day. This lasted through new jobs, kids, split shifts etc... There were years when I worked and she didn't (young kids) but for the most part I took over the cooking duties the longer we were married. In spite of someone's complaints of a dinner consisting of boiled ravioli stuck to paper plates (no tomato sauce because that was just evil) I slowly learned how to cook. I experimented and just tried to make things that I would like.

I thought about starting a list of the foods I've grown to love, but I thought it would just be better to list the things I really can't find a way to like. I'd be happy to hear from others on this subject so if you comment I'll eventually create a series of writings on foods people hate and why. Tomato sauce doesn't count because there are way too many dishes that just can't be without tomato sauce. Here we go on a first pass:



Pork pie - We tried baking a store bought pork pie once. The best thing that ever happened to it was that it fell (face down on the floor) before we tried to eat it. Believe me, the floor dirt was an improvement and actually tastier than the pie. This should not be confused with French Canadian meat pie (toque).


Brussel Sprouts - I love vegetables, but there are no redeeming qualities to brussel sprouts. They are tasteless, hard little lumps of green leaves that taste like someone boiled a bunch of acorns. I've tried them steamed, boiled, sauteed with butter and roasted. It seems that I should like them. Someone please make me brussel sprouts that are edible and tasty.

Kiwi - A fruit with little tiny, hard seeds. The texture is annoyingly bad, almost as bad as...

Star fruit - A little tiny hard fruit with no taste whatsoever.

Haggis - To my friends and former co-workers in Scotland, I can't believe this is your national food. Intestinal parts (offal) cooked in a stomach lining and dropped on the plate. And to top it off you get to open it yourself by piercing the lining with a knife and letting it all release the steam at once. Maybe I didn't drink enough beer and scotch in Scotland. I'll take the steak, medium rare please. Which brings up....

Blood sausage - Need I say anything more.


Liver and onions - Anything that smells that bad when it is cooking just isn't worth it.


Warm cereal, any warm cereal - It's warm, it's mushy... what can I say.

Skim milk - You might as well drink water.


Please join me. Let's bash some food.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

That is supposedly the worst opening line in literature...ever. But this isn't exactly literature so there it is. Yesterday was a very uneventful day here. My better half was still feeling low from the cold that hit her last week, so we had a quiet stay at home night. It was raining for most of the day and there was little we could do around the outside of the house. Inside we caught up on all the usual household chores. Dinner was a bunch of passable Chinese takeout from The Silver Maple, what used to be our favorite Chinese restaurant in the area. We might need to change that. It was at best average. We had heard from friends it wasn't very good any more. It might be a change in cooks, which can some times lead to dramatic changes in the quality of food. In either case, it was just OK.

Around 8:00 I looked at the outside thermometer and saw it was 65 degrees. I put on a sweatshirt and went out to the porch. Even though it was overcast there was a glow to the sky. I suspect it was close to a full moon, but I really don't know. I puffed a stogie and just relaxed. The big chimes (two feet long) would gong every once in a while when the wind was strong enough to move them. A tree in the woods at the end of the road fell down with a loud crash. I'm sure it will be a regular occurrence this winter since so many trees were cut down by the mad logger in the spring. For the most part the rain had stopped, but there was still a light mist and the remains of the rain were still trickling through the downspouts. It was a beautiful night.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wine Trip

After all the talk and pictures about the California trip you would think I would be done writing about it. There is however an interesting little postscript. Our last full day in the Napa Valley was a Friday and that was the day we chose to go on the small group wine tour. I ended up purchasing six bottles of fairly expensive wine. Since we were leaving bright and early the next morning (and it would be a Saturday) I was concerned about getting the wine home. With airline security being particularly tight now, and no liquids larger than three ounces allowed through security, I know I couldn't get the wine on board. I could have checked it, but did I really want the brainiac baggage handlers throwing my wine around?

I decided to ask the hotel concierge for suggestions. She suggested Buffalo Shippers in Napa, a company widely known for shipping wine safely across the country. The normal procedure was to fill out a form and contact Buffalo to pick it up. Since it was late in the day and Buffalo was already closed and we would be leaving early the next morning, she offered to contact them for the pickup in the morning. She said she just needed to open the box and confirm the wine contained inside was as stated on the form. When she saw the bottles, she commented on what a great selection they were, and seemed genuinely excited at the brands. I left them safely in her hands.

Well here we are a month later and the wine hasn't arrived. I called the hotel and after ten minutes of run around, they admitted the wine was sitting in the General Managers office and hadn't been picked up. They assured me it would go out immediately. I can't help but wonder if it had stayed there much longer, if that wine wouldn't have ended up in some one's personal supply. I still don't have the shipment, but I'm expecting it shortly. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bean Fascisim

There has been an ongoing political movement in this country to give more rights to beans. Now some people would say that beans are no different than you and I, that they should have all of the same inalienable rights as other vegetables. But the leftists have been pushing their own agenda resulting in an inordinate amount of news coverage by the left leaning media for beans. Let me be clear on this, I have no agenda where beans are concerned. As long as they mix with their own kind I'm fine with beans doing bean things with other beans. But forcing a perfectly good chili to have beans inserted in the recipe is sacrilege. THERE ARE NO BEANS IN CHILI!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chili today, warm tomorrow

My chili continues to be a hit wherever it goes. The trick is not to use a prepackaged mix of chili powder and of course my barbecue spice mix. AND THERE ARE NO BEANS IN REAL CHILI!!!

Depending on the amount of heat you like in your chili (the more the better for me) take one package of dried peppers (ancho, new mexico etc; the dark brown kind in the produce section of the grocery store) and tear off the stemmed top. Remove as much of the interior seeds and ribs as you can with out spending too much time on it. There should be anywhere from 5 to 8 chilies in one package. Place the chilies in the blender and repeatedly pulse on grind until most of it becomes a powder mix. Note: it's ok if there are still some bigger pieces. This should yield 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of chili powder. Here's the recipe:

Fuzzy Old Guy's Chili

3 pounds of beef (I use stew beef and cut it into 1/4" pieces); some fat is good for flavor
1 pound of ground pork
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 3/4 cup chili powder
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
3 tbsp oil
2 fourteen to sixteen ounce cans of stewed or diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of your favorite mild salsa
Fuzzy Old Guys barbecue spice mix (1 tbsp each of dried ground cumin, ground coriander, garlic salt, onion salt, paprika, pepper, salt; plus 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar)

Directions:
Brown the meat in small batches and set aside.
Add oil to a large stew pot or dutch oven on medium heat (5 on a scale of 1 to 10). Add onions and sweat for 5 minutes. Onions should not brown, just sweat. Add peppers and celery; cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic; salt to taste. DO NOT BROWN THE GARLIC!
Add meat back in and stir thoroughly.
Sprinkle half of the chili powder mix over the top and stir thoroughly. Add the balance of the chili powder and stir again.
Add tomatoes and salsa. Stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add half the chopped cilantro.
Place in oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours stirring occasionally.
When finished add the balance of the cilantro. Serve with steamed white rice and hot sauce on the side.

The chilies add a nice smokey flavor that you don't get with the store bought powder.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dirty Words Part 2

I don't know how to restart this ramble and rant. So I lead a good life, in some ways better than my parents. But my parents raised us in a simpler time, when people were less materialistic and more concerned about just making a life for their families. Now we have plans for everything going out to the end of our lives, and all of those plans include buying lots of stuff. This consumerism has fueled our economy for the last thirty years, the thirty years of my generation. In that time we have paid less for most of our consumer goods, but the cost of the things that really matter has skyrocketed. Health care, energy, housing and education are a larger percentage of our income then ever before, and the middle class jobs that used to pay for these items plus our consumer goods have all moved to Asia where they now fuel the Asian economy and standard of living rather than ours. The decisions made by US companies to send these jobs overseas has resulted in profits and increasing shareholder value for the shareholders (which, yes, includes our 401K's) but a non-existent middle class.

When I went to college the first time (someday we'll talk about that fiasco) The cost of one year at a state college was $300. Room and board was another $1200. Today Plymouth State is a combined $15K and UNH is $20K. The average student leaves college with a $50 to $100K in debt, a burden equal to a mortgage in earlier times. The opportunity to start adult life looking towards the future is looking pretty tough.

Although it looked like I wasn't completing part 2, circumstances intervened. The stock market crash is a direct result of pure greed on the part of individuals and companies more concerned about the price of their stock than about the people who work for them. How much is enough? When individual CEO's earn $50M in a bad year and then are given $100M to leave, what are these boards thinking. The fact that we have looked the other way while companies were blindly allowed to follow their greed means only that we are all to blame for allowing our government to be driven by the same greed as these corporations. It's time for reasonable profits and companies that are more concerned about their responsibilities not only to their shareholders but to the people that work for them and what is best for all concerned.

New dirty words: conservative, liberal, family values, patriot, socialism, terrorism.... When are we going to start fixing the problems that confront us? Because I think the Iraq war was based on lies and a vendetta held by the hawks in one party doesn't make me any less of an American or less of a patriot. It just means I disagree over the war. And it doesn't make me support our troops any less then the anyone else. They have a tough job to do and I support them whole heartedly. But the use of labels thrown around to pump up the party faithful only continues to divide us, polarizing into us and them.

There have been some refreshing parts to this campaign season. Neither of the campaigns seemed to bring up "family values". Maybe they suddenly realized that there are so many different definitions of a family today that it was only falling on the ears of the party zealots. Unfortunately we continued to question each others patriotism by suggesting being an Arab or a Muslim was wrong. I have known good people of Arabic decent and good Muslims. I don't need peoples ignorance to tell me the difference between a fanatic and a good person.

I know there is a percentage of the population that believes it doesn't matter who gets elected, that nothing will change for them. Change comes gradually, sometimes over generations. Go out and vote tomorrow. And when the election is over, work to solve the problems we face, not to tear each other down because we might disagree.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

California Vacation, Day 7: Napa Valley

Well this is the end. Friday was our seventh and final day in California. We went on a tour of four different wineries through a tour company in the Napa valley. They picked us up at 10:30 in the morning. It was a shuttle bus, not a big honkin tour bus. There were five other couples and they were already pumped up and in a party mood when we boarded. The first stop was the Jessup winery in Yountville, the first town North of the town of Napa. Jessup was by far the best of the wineries we visited. They set us up with 8 different tastings that day. All of them were very good. I bought a nice varietal and signed up for the wine club there. No pictures, just great wines.

At the second winery, Walnut Creek, we had a nice little lunch in addition to the tasting. I bought two bottles of the Syrah. There was an herb garden there with an overwhelming smell of onions.



















Nancy took some great pictures of the vines.













One of the group was kind enough to take our picture.
































At the next winery (I can't remember the name) I didn't really enjoy any of the wines. I spent most of the time playing catch with the big black lab that was there in the courtyard. The ladies however did take advantage of the "crush some grapes" invite from the somalier.















The last winery on the tour was the Reynolds Family winery, a small boutique winery. I bought two bottles there (can't remember what, cause I was hammered by then). Here we got a tour of the barrel room and a barrel tasting.







































Our last dinner in Napa was at the restaurant called 25 Degree Brix. The name represents the measurement at which grapes have reached the perfect time for picking off the vines. Dinner was outstanding but I don't remember what we had except for two more glasses of wine.





Thus endeth the vacation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

California Vacation, Day 6: Leaving Moonstone to Drive to Napa

We didn't take very many pictures on day six. It was a travel day for us so there wasn't much to report. We took our last walk on the beach around 9:30 in the morning. This picture was actually taken earlier in the trip but I though I'd save it for a slow day on the blog. We had been told by friends (Fran and Dave) to watch for the really unusual sea weed. There's no other way to describe it: giant sperm sea weed. Here it is.


















We left the beach to drive north to Napa around 10:00. Since the trip down the Pacific coast highway had taken so long, we decided to drive the highway this time. It took us through the hills and then the farm lands that line the California highways. We passed lettuce, artichokes, broccoli and of course grapes. It was really amazing to see miles after miles pass by of planted farmlands.












We stopped to take some landscape pictures and stummbled on this lizard.
We stopped at a little diner to have lunch. I forget the town or the name but it was pretty good diner food. We arrived in Napa around 4:00 in the afternoon. We decided to eat in the concierge lounge that night. There was a free appetizer and wine tasting followed by a free dessert bar. We grazed while watching the VP debate that night. I really can't stand that little phony wink she has when she speaks. It was to be an early evening but I made reservations for a bus tour of the wineries on the next day.
Tomorrow: Day 7, Napa.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

California Vacation, Day 5: Moonstone Beach and the Hearst Castle

We had made reservations in advance to see the Hearst Castle, which was located about 15 minutes north of Moonstone beach. The castle was originally built by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, as his summer residence. There are two guest houses that most people would consider to be mansions. The family donated the castle to the state of California and now the state operates it as a tourist attraction. It's pretty spectacular.


You cannot drive directly up to the castle. You park at the bottom of the property and take a bus up to the entrance. The drive up the road has some very nice views of the hills and the California coast line.
















The tour starts out at the swimming pool. Hearst was in the habit of constantly changing the house and the pool was no exception. It was rebuilt three times because he kept wanting it larger. This is the outdoor pool area.























































There are actually four different tours you can take, with each tour focusing on different areas. Each tour lasts about an hour and a half. We took the "Experience tour", which is billed as the best tour for the first time visitor. It highlighted the pool, one of the guest houses, the entrance way and the main floor of the mansion. Here are a few views of the grounds surrounding the pool area.




























Here is the fountain on the staircase leading up to the main entrance to the mansion.

















The main entrance to the mansion.

















The main sitting room when you first enter.














The fireplace in the main sitting room.















Hearst was a collector and one of the reasons he built the house was to have a place to store and display all of his collections. This statue was in one of the entryways.


















All of the rooms were fitted with ceilings and wall panels from ancient castles in Europe. Here are two of the wooded ceilings.























The dinning room and the dinning table.


















The tour ended with a look at the indoor pool which was built underneath the tennis courts. The floors were made of gold leaf and we were actually allowed to walk on them.





This ended the formal tour but there was also a very nice 45 minute movie on the making of the castle. On the ride down the mountain we saw the private zoo that Hearst maintained. The family still owns the surrounding land and maintains summer homes there. They also raise their own beef cattle and we did see them grazing on the way in to the castle. The herd is intermixed with a number zebra. We saw the zebra and Nancy wanted to get a picture before we left, but by then they were not to be found.
Tomorrow Day 6: The last of Moonstone and the highway ride to Napa.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

California Vacation, Day 4: Pacific Coast Highway and Moonstone Beach

I don't know where to begin for this part of the trip, but I'll try. This was one of the most beautiful car rides we've ever taken. We left around 10:00 on Tuesday morning and headed west through the city to the far shore of San Francisco. It took us up and over the hills. Of course we had the top down and here is my pale face. I completely forgot about the sun and by the time the day ended I was close to blistering on my forehead.








Although this part of the ride was still beautiful, it was the last 100 miles that were the best. We stopped just north of the Paso Robles National Forrest for lunch. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but it would be only one of two for the rest of the ride so our stop was at the perfect time. The food was good, not great, but the view was incredible.



















The manager (owner?) was kind enough to take our picture.














The next 74 miles was some of the most twisting road I've ever driven. The road was elevated about half way up the sides of the mountains, with the downward side going straight down to the sea.












About halfway down we saw these turkey vultures by the side of the road.








Towards the end of the ride we saw this nesting area for elephant seals. They were just lying there, throwing sand up over themselves.
Lots more road pictures. None of them really do the scenery justice. There was a fire in the hills and we heard later that there were over 1500 firefighters working the fire. You can see the smoke rising here.
















































We arrived at Moonstone Beach around 4:00 in the afternoon. The cottage was across the street from the beach, with a gorgeous view. There was a nice patio out front, and I had a stogie out there on the first night.







The inside was very cute, with a gas fireplace and a hot tub.















The view from the front door of the cottage.












This feather duster walked right up to us begging for food. Mine! Mine! Mine!








The sunset view from the restaurant that was only two doors down from the cottage.





Tommorow: Day 2 at Moonstone Beach and the Hearst Castle.