My Introduction to the World of Smoking Meat

One of my goals for the year was to learn how to smoke a brisket. True, wood-fired barbecue is one of the main culinary traditions of Central Texas, especially barbecuing beef brisket. The time had finally come for me to get an offset smoker, a "stick-burner" as they are called, and start this journey into a new cooking genre. Three weeks ago, I (along with some help getting it home from my fellow National Instruments Meat Guild members) acquired an Old Country BBQ Pits Pecos:


I was very excited this about purchase. Given the fact that we got rid of our pickup truck last year, getting a 220 lb 6 ft long smoker home from the store isn't something you can do on a whim.

Heeding the advice from several people, instead of jumping right into brisket, I decided to start with pork shoulder as it is much more forgiving. I was not exactly sure how easy the temperature control would be, and so I didn't want to ruin a quality brisket. So on a Friday I hit up Costco to get a pork shoulder. A few notes: 1) they only come in a two pack, because Costco, and 2) Costco only sells boneless shoulders, which is not the usual. I also picked up a 3-pack of St. Louis style ribs to complete the porky adventure.

Before I could cook in it, however, I wanted to burn off the industrial gunk they coat the inside with, and then reseason the entire thing. 

After letting it burn really hot for a few hours (as well as then practicing my temperature control), I went to sleep decently confident that I could maintain a temperature revolving around 275 for the 8-10 hours this shoulder was going to take. 

The next morning, after getting up early to watch the royal wedding with some friends, it was time to get this pork smoking. I first tied up the shoulder, as the the fact that it is boneless made it somewhat unwieldy and "flappy." I made the rub, which was a simple combination of 2:2:1:1 ratio of Ground Black Pepper:Kosher Salt:Paprika:Garlic Powder. I also gave the shoulder a yellow mustard slather before I put the rub on. On the shoulder went at 9:30 AM:


I set up the smoker according to what seems to be accepted best practice. Started the fire with a chimney of lump charcoal, then through my logs on and got the fire going and the smoker nice and hot. Finally, when I put the pork on I added an aluminum foil pan full of water to help keep the inside of the cooker nice and moist.

I had my remote temperature probe set on the rack right by the shoulder to get a good idea of the air temp right by the meat. I then inserted the second probe into the center of the shoulder. My target was 190° F for the meat. I started the fire with oak, and then used cherry for a while, before switching back to oak eventually. 

There's not much to do while the meat is cooking except sit back, relax, stay out of the sun, and enjoy a beverage.

The pork was coming along nicely, but it wasn't quite ready to wrap in foil. A little while later, I noticed the sheet of fat on top split, and according to Aaron Franklin, that's when it's time to wrap it up (not pictured, as a big foil rectangle didn't seem that interesting). Around this time I did notice the temperature stall as well, which is expected. The foil helps to push through that stall. Around the time I wrapped the shoulder, I through the ribs on. I used a similar rub, but cut down on the salt to get a 2:1:1:1 ratio. The plan was to sauce the ribs after about 2 hours, so I had to make a sauce.

You may be asking why are you making a sauce when there are many, many quality BBQ sauces out there. One word: sugar. I'm not eating sugar and severely limiting my carbs right now (that's water in that Yeti, above, in case you were wondering), and almost all store bought BBQ sauces have a ton of sugar. The sauce was simple. First, chop some onion and saute in about 1 T of butter. Next, add a can of tomato paste and stir until it becomes fragrant and darkens. Finally add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, and 3/4 cup of water. Now, I did add 2 T of brown sugar, as I was going to be ingesting a very small amount of the sauce (just the amount I put on while cooking), so I figured this little bit of sugar would be insignificant for the actual serving size. I let all that simmer down for a little while, but it never really was thick. I was going for a slightly thinner sauce that would spread nicely when I applied it to the ribs.

I hit my goal temp on the pork at around 8:45 minutes, and pulled it off. I then pulled the ribs off about 30 minutes later. I was pretty impressed with the results:

The pork pulled really easily, and was super juicy. The ribs had a perfect smoke ring, and left clean bones, but they didn't fall off the bone, so it was exactly was I shooting for. I did cook the other two racks the next weekend, and they didn't come out as tender, so I need to keep working on it. But overall, I was happy with the experience.

My temperature control was good, and I learned a lot that first day about keeping the temperature more consistent. I did use full size logs, and most of the people I talk to recommend cutting them in half first, so I will probably try the second shoulder with half logs to try and see if I get even more consistency.

Brisket, here I come!

Pierre asks, "So when are you going to smoke some fish, human?"

Baby Back Ribs in the sous vide

I have had good success with the pork shoulder in the sous vide, and I was curious how baby back ribs would turn out. It seemed like it would work without requiring as much time in the sous vide (the shoulder takes a 24 hour dip in the bath). So I used the pork shoulder recipe at chef as a starting point. (Funny side note, in just looking this up I saw that they actually have a baby back rib recipe. It varies slightly from what I did, so I may have to give this another try.)

I started the rack off with a thick coat of glaze that's a 1:2:4 ration of liquid aminos:liquid smoke:molasses. I do like this rub as it is full of umami and gives it that good smoky flavor without having to own a smoker. (Funny side note 2: liquid smoke isn't creepy. It's an amazingly straightforward product. Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats where he explained it, so please–no shade.)

I did cut some slices into the ribs to help the glaze penetrate a little more. I had not brined these ribs at all, so I wanted to try and get some seasoning into the meat.

After the ribs were nicely soaked in the glaze, they got bagged up and dunked in the sous vide. (The bigger graduated tub I bought in January came in very handy here.) I put it at 70˚C (158˚F) for 6 hours. It isn't pictured here, but I did cover the water bath with plastic wrap. For a period of that long, and especially with water at that temperature, you are going to get a ton of evaporation if you don't cover the bath.

After their 6 hour stint in the bath, I removed from the bag and dried the ribs off. I put on another coat of glaze. The rub was pretty simple: kosher salt, ground mustard seed, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and black pepper.

Carrie had mentioned that mac and cheese would be perfect with this, so I whipped up a quick batch of that as well. I will do a post about the mac and cheese recipe I came up with soon. It does come out really tasty. To round out the meal I roasted some broccoli. We also opened a 2013 Toulouse Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. The pinot stood up to the pork perfectly, and it turned out to be a great pairing.

All-in-all it was a great meal with my lovely wife. Eating at restaurants is awesome, but there is something amazingly satisfying about cooking an excellent meal at home. :)

Writing, exercise, and what the heck happened to the country?

It's been a while since I fired up the ol'blog. November of 2015, in fact. Ah, those were simpler times. I had just discovered that you can sous vide a pork shoulder and make it taste like it came out of a smoker. I had just started singing in the choir at church. Oh, and the president wasn't a fascist narcissist with a white supremacist as one of his main advisors. Good times.

But alas, things have changed, and every piece of news coming from the new administration causes me more anxiety. I can't ignore it, but I have to do what I can to not let it consume me. I can try and make my little part of the world a better place. So on to the nice things.

First off: Pens! Nice Paper! Writing things by hand! I have always had an interest in fountain pens. In fact, Carrie gave me a pen for our wedding. I loved that pen–it unfortunately got stolen. But there is something so pleasant about writing with a fountain pen on high-quality paper. You don't have to use much pressure, and the pen just glides across the paper. 

And the inks. I love the thoughtfulness that comes from filling your pen and writing with that new color. It's deliberate, it's intentional. Plus, there are colors for days.

But alas, while I had written a good bit while I was a postdoc, I had not done much lately. The pens sat on my desk at work, with my few bottles of ink, but I rarely used them. Honestly, I felt like I spent more time cleaning out the crusty ink every six months when I would decide I wanted to write something than I did actually writing. 

However, in December, we went to visit some of our Meg and Harry in California. Harry mentioned to me that he had gotten into fountain pens lately, and thought it was something I'd like. I told him it was absolutely something I liked. Then the pens started coming out, all with different wonderful inks. When I noticed that his little daughter was scribbling on torn out Rhodia paper, I knew, yes, he had truly gotten into this. The interest in me was awoken!

So on that front, this month is InCoWriMo, or International Correspondence Writing Month. The goal is to write to somebody every day of February. So that's what I'm going to do, share the joy of writing with people by writing letters. I may not get a letter out every day, but I do intend to write 28 of them.

I'll post more specifics about pens and inks and papers and all the fun associated with it later. I know everybody is thrilled! ;)

So on to exercise. I had known for a while that I was getting bigger. After I hurt my back while we were in France, I basically stopped exercising. That was the beginning of October. To be honest, after the election, I used the ample amounts of holiday treats to try and not think about the terrible situation we had just gotten ourselves into.

So, the day after my birthday, I needed to know how bad it had gotten. I stepped on the scale and saw 249.8. That's the heaviest I have ever weighed in my entire life. I couldn't believe it. I decided enough was enough–I had to take action.

What was that action? To be honest, nothing drastic. Drastic doesn't stick, drastic isn't sustainable, drastic doesn't become habit. During the week I cut out starches. My body responds well to this, so this seemed like an easy start. I still feel satiated, but I'm trying to be more mindful of when I'm hungry versus when I'm just stuffing food in my face. On the weekends, I let myself cheat some, but I'm trying to be mindful about that. Do I really want this–is this really worth it. And if it is, I enjoy it without guilt. I also cut out drinking during the week. And lastly, sweets. This I had to do full on. I allow myself some dark chocolate after supper, but that's where I draw the line.

Unlike my previous stint of weight loss in 2015, this time I'm also exercising. I've only gotten in 1.5 weeks of consistent exercise, but I already feel better (and if it's placebo effect, I'll take it). Nothing crazy–a little bit of running and some weight workouts. I'm trying to keep the time in check to maximize my chance of success and consistency. I'm currently down over 12 pounds, and that makes me happy and makes me want to keep going. I have a long way to go, and it won't happen overnight, but that's ok.

So that's where I'm at. When I look out and see so much hate, so much fear, and policies and actions that make my stomach turn, I can either crumple under the anxiety, or I can try to improve my world. I'm not trying to humble brag here either. There are many people actually out their fighting in the streets, out there protesting, out there working hard to change people's minds and affect real change. But I have to start somewhere. I wasn't happy with myself, so exercise and food mindfulness are the first step there. And I need something joyful, and writing letters helps to spread that joy (and maybe some of those letters will go to my elected officials in Washington, D.C.).

Spread love - Whitebread


Pork Shoulder

As anybody who has read my blog knows, I'm a big fan of cooking things sous vide. It's one of the best ways to get meat to be tender and juicy. Another place on the internet that loves sous vide is I have been very intrigued by their Smokerless Smoked Pork Shoulder for a while (they also do a brisket, but the pork butt seemed like a safer first step).

I basically followed their steps exactly. Their webpage is really nice because you can change one of the ingredients, and it scales all the rest to match. My pork butt was only about 2kg so I scaled the entire recipe down 50%. 

The first step was brining the shoulder. They recommended an injection brine given the size of the meat. I injected it about 8 times around the shoulder and then let it sit in the brine in the fridge for 24 hours. I think I will do more injecting next time I do this.

Now it was time for the glaze, getting vacuum-sealed, and then into the sous vide at 70˚C for 24 hours.

The rub was surprising. It had no pepper in it, which I thought was interesting. Looking at their brisket rub, it's very similar, but I think I will go for a much simpler salt and pepper. But for the pork, this was a great rub. Lots of depth of flavor. You stick it in a 255˚F oven to crust up the rub and second coat of glaze.

When it came out it had that dark and crusty outside that I was looking for. I think I left it in a little too long as the very outside was a little over cooked in a few places, but the inside was just fall apart, pulled-pork tender. Great recipe! 

It's impressive how much smoked flavor you can get from the smoked salt and the liquid smoke. While it takes a long time, it was really tasty. I will definitely try this again, and I'm looking forward to giving the brisket a try as well.

Getting Healthy Update

So it's been about a month since I first posted about this. Good progress was made. While that first week was brutal, I felt much better the second week and the weight continued to fall off. I was at 211 going into the wedding, and my tux and vest fit. The pants were a little snug, but nothing uncomfortable. 

I decided the wedding weekend and the week after would be a cheat week to give myself a mental break and try to squash some of the cravings. Though, to be honest, I was ready to get back to meat and veggies by the end of it. We have been eating so many vegetables that I quickly started craving vegetables during the cheat week. 

I've gained a few lbs over that week, but that's probably just water weight from the starches. It's already started to shed off. My goal is to get back in my green pants for Christmas, so we'll see how that goes.

I'm also seriously considering doing the Spartan race again in the Spring. The thought of doing that race at a much lower weight is kind of exciting. 

The current plan is to stay very much on plan until the weekend before Thanksgiving when we have a wedding to travel to, and then try to stay on as much as possible in December leading up until our trip home for Christmas. The one thing I am going to try to bring in leading up to Thanksgiving is more exercise. I've been very excited about sticking to the food plan, but I just have not gotten enough exercise. I think the combination will really start to make things happen.

But I will say, all that cake during the wedding was delicious.

Finally had to do something

I hope people have enjoyed my posts about baking stuff. Unfortunately those will be the last ones of that sort for a while.

I'm not sure how many people know, but a few years back I won a free year membership to Pure Austin Gym because I lost a lot of weight and became passable as an amateur bike racer. I was on my bike 10+ hours a week, and while I did change my diet some, I mainly just ate real food and exercised a ton. 

At my lightest I was at 170. At my most fit, I was probably around 175, but could put out 8.5 minute miles running without much of a thought and 4-hour bike rides were a standard activity on Saturday mornings. I ran a 1:52 half-marathon on a whim. I could wear tight, ironic t-shirts and it wasn't weird. Okay, maybe it was weird for some people, but whatever, I felt like I owned it. I felt healthy, and any physical challenge I was up for. 

Then I started work. It was a lot harder to fit in all those cycling hours with a 9-6 schedule. Oh, and we bought a house. So the Saturdays and Sundays started having a lot other things that needed to get done. I quickly realized that bike racing (at least road racing) was not going to really happen anymore... and also I just lost my nerve for it. I was at a cross roads. Buy a cyclocross bike and go all into cyclocross and not do anymore road racing, or stop riding as my primary form of exercise and join CrossFit. (I know, false dichotomy, but for some reason that was what was in my head.) I did the latter, and after a several month experiment with CrossFit (and some weird medical false flags), I quickly found myself on the wrong side of a weight-gain, fitness-losing trend.

I trained for a triathlon the summer after I quit CrossFit and it was just shocking. Things I used to be able to do (and my coach figured I could still do, I mean, it's only been 9 months, how badly could I have possibly sunk) seemed super hard. I couldn't swim anymore without getting super winded. I could do core exercises without failing early. I had no fitness when trying to run. And the weight kept creeping up.

My pants got tight. Then I bought slightly bigger pants. It'll stop here, I just need to shed a few pounds. Then I had to buy bigger pants. My cholesterol went up. Oh, now I'll get skinny again. But instead more weight, less fitness.

I've done things here and there to stem the tide and lose a little weight and get a little more fit. Running. Riding my bike again. Working out here and there. But nothing that replicated the consistency that I had from bike racing. Spoiler alert, I'm not getting back into bike racing. 

Okay, so at the end of the day, calories in vs calories out is the basis of weight loss (yes, I know there are lots more things involved, but this is a pretty consistent factor). Since I knew that I was not going to be able to just brute force this process through tons of calorie-burning cycling, I finally came to the realization that I had to change my diet.

Here, really, is where I always go wrong. I love food. A lot. I love to cook food. I love to eat food. I love to pay probably way too much money on our 10-year anniversary for food that other people cooked and made look like the forrest floor in a fantasy movie (true story, a blog post for another time). But that's the catch... all this food comes with a calorie price. Did I mention that wine has calories? Damn.

So I looked around and found an inspiration. That would be my friend Jerry. He and Dot have lost an incredible amount of weight in the last year. He always talked about his, "smug jerry diet." So I figured, why the heck not. Maybe a drastic change is what I needed to shake things up. And let's be honest, it's not a diet per se. It's basically being smart about the amount of calories you consume every day and not eating bread, pasta, rice, etc.

I've always been loathe of low-carb affairs. I generally think the paleo movement is more religion than good science, and as a person who used to ride their bike a lot, it just seemed like a really bad idea. But the proof was in the pudding, scratch that, I can't have pudding. But it worked for Jerry and Dot... so heck why not?

So what caused the sudden decision? It was trying on the vest I ordered for Jerry and Dot's wedding. It physically went on my body... if I could manage to not inhale air for the entire night. Something had to be done. I guess that was the final straw. 

So it's been 2 weeks now, and I've lost 8 lbs. My midsection looks thinner, and my pants fit better. Here are the rules that Carrie and I are playing by:

  1. no pasta, rice, bread, grains (this is killer, by the way... I mean, "bread is delicious" is my personal motto)
  2. no fried food
  3. no drinking (I let myself have one day a week where I can have alcohol)
  4. no refined sugar (I am eating fruit, I'm sorry, but I refuse to cut out fruit, or "sweet" vegetables such as carrots for that matter)
  5. 1700 calories a day at max (I generally try to shoot for between 1500-1700)

The first week was rough. Carrie and I were both tired basically the entire week. The second week was much better for me. The tiredness has gone away. Though I will be honest, I could totally take down a bowl of pasta, some croissants, or a big pile of rice and gravy right now.

My plan is to go hard until the wedding. Then after that probably introduce a few things like oats in in moderation. But I've gotten over the initial hard phase, so now I kind of want to see how far I can keep pushing. And this is without any real exercise (busy schedule, plus my back going out last week has kept exercise at a minimum). Once I add some consistent, even if moderate exercise in I think I can really get things moving.

So what is my goal? 180. I think that's doable and sustainable on a decent calorie budget. I have some fitness challenges in mind for next year, but for right now I need to just keep up the healthy eating and shed the weight. If I can actually make it through the holidays this year without ballooning, I'll already be ahead of where I was the last few years. Is there a good chance this all blows up in a few weeks? Probably. But it feels different this time. Something just had to be done.


Biscuits done right

I'm not sure if people remember my biscuit fail post, but it had been a while since then and I hadn't had the opportunity to make biscuits lately. I decided I would make a fresh batch this weekend. I also had some buttermilk leftover from the eggplant dish, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I used a combination of white wheat, AP, and rye flour. Instead of the yogurt that I normally put in I used buttermilk.

This time I sifted the flours, baking powder, and baking soda together (not pictured). I found it made smoother crumb in the finished biscuit. I also remembered the butter this time! Very key ingredient. I made a few sunny side up eggs to go with, and had a nice breakfast.

The recipe is below:


  • 1 cup White Wheat flour
  • .5 cup Unbleached All-Purpose flour
  • .5 cup Rye flour
  • 4 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • .25 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • .75 teaspoons salt
  • .5 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1.25 cups yogurt (or 1.5 cups buttermilk)

Preheat oven to 450˚F. I use convection bake on my oven, but if you don't have a convection oven don't worry.

Sift the flours, baking soda, and baking powder together. Add the salt and the sugar and give the dry mixture a few stirs to fully combine. Cut the butter (preferably very cold) into small chunks, and integrate into dry ingredients. Use a pastry knife to cut butter into dry ingredients until no single chunk of butter is bigger than a pea.

Pour 1 cup of the liquid into the mixture, and stir to combine as best as you can. There will most likely still be some dry parts (the whole wheat flour can soak up a lot of moisture) so wait a few minutes and then add the remainder. The mixture should be wet, but still hold together.

Partition out the biscuits using spoons, or as I prefer, a disher. The size disher I use gets about 11 biscuits on average. 

With convection cook the biscuits around 9 minutes. Without convection, cook until they start to brown on the outside (probably 15-20 minutes), rotating the pan every five minutes or so. 

The Amazing Eggplant

We had some friends over for dinner this past weekend, and we decided that this was a great time to cook up the several eggplant we had hanging out in the garden. Wanting a different take on the purple nightshade I turned to Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The recipe we found was a eggplant tricolore, a take on an Italian classic. It turned out fantastic.


One of the things that I noticed in making this was a theory I had about eggplant for a while (and one that had been pushed along by many cooking shows) was that for eggplant to be tasty you have to get the water out. For this recipe I used the convection roast at like 375˚F for 30 minutes with them up on a wire rack over my pan to get the airflow on both sides. The steam was pouring out the oven vent almost the entire time. By the end they were very shriveled and brown, but they tasted great and weren't bitter. So remember, with eggplant water is the enemy.

Inspired by this success, Carrie and I decided to make the cover recipe off the cookbook, which is a roasted eggplant with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate. I was out of garden eggplant, so we had to pick up that (and apparently one of the last pomegranates of the season) at Central Market.


We were in luck, because Central Market was also having a sale on wild Alaskan Coho, so I picked up a pound of that as well. I wanted to do that in the sous vide as I had yet to sous vide a piece of quality, fresh fish, so I prepped the salt with some Maldon salt and pepper and in the food jacuzzi it went.

I prepped the eggplant as the recipe said. Score it with perpendicular diagonals to make hash marks, brush them with olive oil until they can't absorb anymore, then salt and pepper. It roasted in the oven for 30 minutes at 400˚F, but honestly I should have gone for the entire 40 minutes. While the eggplant were cooking I used the "spanking" method to empty out the pomegranate. Good stress reliever.

After I took out the eggplant and got the fish out of the sous vide, it was time to put everything together. All-in-all I think it came out okay. If I do it again I'll cook the eggplant longer (remember, get that water out!), but other than that I was pretty pleased with the meal. Eggplant is amazingly versatile, and come September when the eggplant from the garden is coming in fast and furious, it will be great to have such a good vegetable cookbook at our disposal.


Our European Jaunt

First of all, we had a great time. We stayed busy, and it was incredibly hot in Paris. But overall, it was great to see a few new places (for me at least), and as always great to see our friends living in Europe. 

I really wanted to get this post out of the way so that I wouldn't be stuck in posting. That seems to be how it always happens. You have something you want to write about, and you put off writing about it because it was a big deal, and then you never write anything else. I did not want that to happen.

A few observations from Paris:

  • I love Paris. Absolutely loved it. Well, other than the lack of air conditioning. But other than that I was a huge fan. I mean, you can grab a bottle of fantastic wine, some amazing bread, some stellar cheese, and just go sit on the river and enjoy the evening. That's right, people are drinking alcohol in public and no riots are occurring. There was just a relaxed attitude about things such as that that I really appreciated.
  • The Métro is great and super convenient.
  • Window screens are a concept the rest of the world really needs to embrace.
  • The cheese, oh, the cheese.
  • The pastries... now that's how a pain au chocolat should be. So much delicious butter.
  • Rose is amazing, and you can get an amazing bottle under €10.

We also spent some time in the Netherlands, and that is a place that Carrie and I both really dig. The Dutch always are a great people, and any place that is bike centric is just amazing.

Zurich was a new place for both of us, and I dug it. It was much smaller than I was expecting. The public transit is absolutely fantastic, and everybody, rich and poor, uses it. Since it was still pretty hot there, we went down to the lake with Allen and Nathalie for a swim, and that was a blast. I'd definitely like to go back there when it is cooler and clearer and go see the Alps.

So overall it was a great trip! I have posted some select photos on Facebook and on flickr. Now back to some regularly scheduled djwhitebread.

First two days in Romania

First off, let me say how much I love Lufthansa. They give you food on short, regional flights. I appreciate that. And it's real food, with hearty bread. The picture on the right I think is Budapest, as the captain mentioned we'd be flying over it shortly, and this was the biggest thing out the window at that time.


Real food on a 1.5 hour flight. Amazing, much love to the Germans.

I think this Budapest from 35000 feet.


My coworker and I arrived in Cluj without any travel hiccups, and given some of the other issues some other coworkers have had recently, we were both very thankful. That first day after an trans-oceanic flight is always weird. You're super tired, but you know the worst thing in the world would be to go to sleep for any significant amount of time. What's the best way to combat it? Walking and sight-seeing.

Statue of Matthias Corvinus in front of St. Michael's Church

Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, and I'm not sure what the statue on this side signifies

Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral and statue of Avram Iancu

There are a lot of churches here, and down the street from the hotel in the city center are two of the most well known in Cluj, the Roman Catholic St. Michael's and the Orthodox Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral.

The architecture is an interesting mix of Austrian and ugly Communist with a hint of medieval. 

The National Theater

I love taking pictures down streets. It's the criss-cross of the wires and other stuff with the natural lines of the streets that I always find interesting.

After lunch we walked around some more and saw some interesting things. I have no idea what these eyes are, but they just needed to be photographed. I love the styling on the Melody hotel sign... looks like something right out of the turn of the twentieth century.

No clue

What an amazing sign, at night it lights up and changes colors.

Fishing in the Somesul Mic river. Not sure if he ever catches anything, but more power to him.

The second day here was mainly taken up by being at the office (which is really awesome, and alas I didn't yet take any pictures of it). But after a beer at a rooftop bar (from which I took the picture below on the right), we headed off for supper at a really nice place with a fantastic outdoor space. And also... the weather has been amazing.

The view from my hotel room

The view from the rooftop bar

There were several cats roaming around the restaurant, looking for scraps. The tabby got pretty close to me, but managed to stay just far away enough that I couldn't touch him. He was looking for food. Me and a coworker shared that pork leg dish, and it was delicious.

Black restaurant cat

Tabby restaurant cat

Delicious, delicious pork. So delicious. Those pickled peppers were awesome.

After dinner our entire group took a nice walk in the park, and then climbed up the hill towards Hotel Belvedere to get a good view of the city at night time.

You can rent paddle boats during the day from this place.

The old casino.

No idea, but it was a cool art installation.

Cluj is really a beautiful city, and this shot at night I thought summed it up pretty well.

Salmon and Fire

Copper River Salmon is my favorite salmon. I still remember the first time I had some copper river. It was in Seattle with my parents on our last hurrah family vacation the summer after my first year of graduate school. I didn't know salmon could taste like that. It was the first properly-cooked, wild-caught salmon I had ever tasted. When Carrie and I saw that Costco had wild-caught Copper River Sockeye for sale a few weeks ago, I had to get some. I went ahead and grilled it, along with some mushrooms. All I did was put some salt and lemon on it. With salmon that has so much flavor, you don't need a lot of extras. The fire video below is just me playing with the SloMo on the iPhone 6. (I recommend going to the Vimeo page to view it in HD if it won't let you view HD on the embedded player.)

A meal of experiments for friends

I have wanted to sous vide steak for a while. It seemed like something that didn't make sense for a random Tuesday, and Carrie's not a big steak fan anyway. With Carrie out of town this weekend I invited some of my old UT Cycling team friends over for supper, to catch up, and to play some video games.

One cannot have only steak for a meal, so I decided to make macaroni and cheese from scratch. I had always wanted to do this, so out to the internet I went. I decided to base my batch off of Alton Brown's baked macaroni and cheese.

I went with a raw, grass-fed milk sharp cheddar and some grass-fed whole milk. You basically make a Béchamel sauce, which is a white butter roux with milk added to it, essentially. Then you make this into a Mornay sauce by mixing in the shredded cheese.


I dropped the onions and garlic from Alton's recipe, but I did keep the paprika (I used a sweet, smoked variety) and I used some of the "magic" organic salt-free herb and spice blend from Costco. (Don't laugh, this stuff is amazing.) I mixed in the al dente shells, poured the combined mixture into a pie plate, and topped with a mixture of panko with more of the shredded cheddar.


Now that the mac and cheese was ready to go, I could turn my attention to the steak. I had acquired three really pretty grass-fed NY strips, and was hopeful that the sous vide would have them come out a perfect medium-well. The chart stated that a bath of 58˚C for anywhere 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes would produce quality results. After a quick sear on each side, I bagged them up and into the bath they went.


After the steaks were done, I gave them a really quick sear to recrust the outside, and kicked up the sous vide to 85˚C to cook some green beans out of the garden. The macaroni was also done from the oven, so I pulled that out to find a nice brown crust on top where the panko and the shredded cheese had fused to make something wonderful. We had some mini-brioches (alas, those were definitely store bought) to round out the meal. All-in-all I was very pleased with everything, and it seemed like everybody enjoyed it.


I would like to tinker with the macaroni and cheese recipe a little bit. For example, I didn't add the egg to the sauce, as I wanted it more saucy and less custardy, but that might be an interesting option to try. Also, the sharp cheddar was very pronounced, which I like. But it may be a more general crowd pleaser with a milder cheddar. Once I get it dialed in I'll post the specifics here.

After the dinner, we played BROFORCE, which was one of the most fun group video games I had played in a long time. The character names are absolutely fantastic. I mean, with an opening screen like this you know it's going to be good:


Chainsaws (without cords) are Amazing

Hackberry trees are terrible. Well, they may have uses other places, but in Austin they mainly act like weeds on steroids. At some point in the early spring, we went from being able to see our back fence, to not being able to see it. It was a hackberry explosion. 

I had been meaning to get out there for a while and cut them down. But that would require me using my little chainsaw, and it is corded. I had picked up a bunch of Ryobi 40V cordless stuff, and I just didn't want to use anything with a cord anymore. So the other weekend, I went pick up this at the Home Depot:


Hello, welcome to the fold...


It is amazing. Slap that 40V battery in and you are free to cut things without worrying about cords. Luckily, this same weekend was the beginning of bulk yard waste week for our neighborhood. I went to work with the chainsaw, and Carrie and I got everything out to the curb, including some random limbs that had come down during all the rain storms. It was nice to see this on our curb instead of in our backyard and against our fence:


Off with you!


I really cannot say enough good things about the Ryobi 40V line. We now have the lawnmower, the string trimmer, the tiller (it's actually just a different attachment for the body of the string trimmer), and the blower. All the same batteries, all the same cordless convenience. I love the stuff:


The tale of the failed biscuits

Many people know that I really enjoy a good biscuit. Several years ago I decided that Bisquick couldn't be that hard to produce, and decided to look up some good biscuit recipes on the internet. I wanted a completely-from-scratch biscuit. It had to start with all standard ingredients that we would normally have around the house (e.g. flour, butter, salt, etc.) and be relatively straight-forward to produce (i.e. I didn't want to have to spend 2 hours making biscuits).

I found a recipe, and have tweaked it over the years to make a biscuit that I think is really tasty. So I set out to make a batch this last Saturday, take a bunch of pictures, and post about it here. This is not that post.

This is a post about the importance of butter. You see, when you cut cold butter into the dry mixture, distributing little butter pieces throughout the dough, you are preparing for the future. And that future is a 450˚ F convection oven.

The water in the butter turns to steam, and that steam pushes the biscuit dough out, making little bubbles. The fat parts coat the inside of the biscuit, and what you are left with is a fluffy, luscious biscuit. (By the way, these are drop biscuits, rolling out the dough to make flaky layers violated my 2nd rule above... sorry, BeBe.)

You know what happens when you don't put butter in your biscuit? This:


You get little dried-out hockey puck biscuits. They were gross, and sat like a lead weight. Sigh. I should have realized something wasn't quite right when I put them on the tray and I was 1.5 biscuits short of my usual amount. Carrie told me I had to post about this because people love posts about failure. So to not end on such a low note, here's a picture of Pierre:


Lazy + Impatient Occasionally Wins

Today I experienced the future we were promised, a.k.a. Amazon Prime Now. I wanted to try something out on my Mac that required a flash drive, and a coworker suggested a Kensington model with no silly moving plastic parts. I liked it, and decided to check Prime Now to see if they had it. 

They did! So since there is a $15-minimum-order rule, my coworker said to get him one as well. I placed the order on the app, and it told me it would be here b/w 2 and 4 PM.

Once the items were on their way, I got to watch a little purple dot on my phone drive around Austin with my package. When it was here, the delivery person called me, and I went downstairs to meet her, and lo and behold there were our drives in Amazon's frustration-free packaging. Pretty amazing, and free to Prime members. I highly recommend it.

A quick love letter to cycling...

A few years ago I basically gave up bike riding. After having spent several years racing on and off, I had spent the better part of 2 years spending a lot of time on the bike, I got thin, got fit, and then decided that I was just tired of it.

I wasn't sure if it was watching a guy and his bike bounce down a hill (separately, but amazingly synchronized) at the last race I ever did. Or maybe it was the two people who rode into the shoulder while basically looking right at me in one week commuting home. Regardless, I was done cycling.

But something strange happened a few weeks ago. I went for a bike ride. And I just loved it. Every second of it. So I have been riding again. Not every day, not particularly fast, but riding. It has been great.


For what's it's worth, I did not earn this view atop Ladera Norte.


You just see so much stuff when you go ride. Neighborhoods, deer, other people, sunsets, hills, more deer, little details that you miss in a car, and yes, even more deer. I guess you would see them running, but 1) I'm usually focusing on whatever random part of me is hurting that run, and 2) you just don't go very far.


Okay, I did get myself up to the top of Cat Mountain, but not the road in the picture... the short, steep hop from Mesa.


I'm not saying that I'm going to get back into racing. Actually, I'm pretty certain I don't ever want to do that again. In fact, I don't want to ride to "train" for anything. I don't want to think about HR zones, or power curves, or Strava segments. I just need to exercise–I need to get back to that healthy person I knew a few years ago. I want to ride because it's a great way to get home instead of driving, it's fun and enjoyable, and it has the great side effect of burning calories. 


Sunset light can even make runoff control look sort of pretty.


So here's to riding. Here's to seeing the world a little more close up, at a little bit slower pace, and taking it in just that little bit more.

Restarting Again

Welcome to 3.0. Carrie has been telling recently that I should start a "lifestyle blog." Apparently, these are a thing. Fair enough.


The joke was that I would call it, "What's fermenting now?" My fermentation game hasn't quite been up to par as of late, unfortunately. So what the heck am I going to do here, you ask? Make a hopefully useful attempt at showing the things that I find make life interesting. I am not much of a builder, but I do like to create things (and these things mostly can be eaten or imbibed). I like to play golf, I like to ride my bike, and I like men's fashion. I also love to travel and see and eat and drink new things. So here we go.


I'm going to lifestyle the heck out of some blog. Let's be clear–this may basically be talking about things and like 10 people reading it. That's fine. I can hopefully entertain those 10 people, ever so briefly.