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Monday, February 26, 2007

Bubba Gump Pie

I was in a cooking mood, alright? You got a problem with that? Well, step off, biatch!

Cajun macrobiotics and chili experiments don't cut it with the honyocks, so I made pizza.

Okay, I love to make pizza, love to eat pizza, I had ingredients and wanted to make pizza.

When I went to get the mozarella out of the freezer, I found a bag of shrimp. I bought it sometime during the fall, when my budget wasn't so tight. Not a big bag, a pound. Wal-Mart sells them for six or seven bucks. Not extravagant, but a luxury, one that would not find its way into the cart today.

Both the girls loves them some shrimp, and I had an idea for a shrimp pizza, figured I could grab a few of the shrimp for that and let them devour the rest straight from the bag.

Em curiously decided she wasn't hungry, and Mo ate four or five shrimp and ignored the rest. I had plenty for the pizza and even some leftover. I wouldn't have thought it possible. One time, Mo was spending the night at my in-laws (or ex-in-laws, whatever you call it) and I think she singlehandedly did in three trays of shrimp. I think when I bought the bag, it was with the thought, 'Mo doesn't have to be hungry to eat a shrimp, she just has to be able to reach it.'

But I had a can of Cream of Shrimp soup from when Em was exploring the idea of Dad buying groceries. The artist formerly known as Frau Lobster had just moved out, and we were hitting the store when Em asked about Cream of Shrimp soup. I think she mainly wanted to know if Dad would lay in things she liked to eat.

She hated it. She had one sip, I had the rest. I guess it must have been good because I bought another can that I still had a year later.

So for the pizza, I used the soup for sauce and added the actual shrimp. I also sprinkled the pie with Chef Paul's Seafood Magic before the cheese went on.

I didn't cut the soup with milk like you do when you're making it as soup, but I did nuke it for a couple minutes to make it spread easier.

Bubba Gump turns out to be one mean pizza. I had some of the leftover today at work, and yubba, it's even awesome cold.

My pizza crust recipe is as usual: 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water, 5 tsp yeast, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup wheat gluten, 4-1/2 cups bread flour, let rise 30 to 45 minutes.

Prebake crust on preheated pan at 500ºF for 1 minute, spread undiluted Cream of Shrimp soup on crust, add about half a pound of shrimp, sprinkle with Seafood Magic, cover with mozarella, and bake for eight minutes at 500ºF.

I also made a pepperoni fanatic's pie with a stuffed crust and a black olive stuffed crust for the honyock's benefit. Both of them ignored everything that came from the oven, so I have a plethora of pizza in addition to the chili and rice/beans stuff. I'm fixed for lunch for a couple weeks, maybe more.

Chili Finale

Okay, I had to make one last batch of chili.

It started out innocently enough, with a rice and veggies thing, making some Gladwares to take for lunches. It takes so long to cook brown rice, I like to make a batch and then blend it with beans and veggies and spice it up different ways and freeze them.

This time didn't turn out so great. I'll eat it, but something wasn't quite hitting. I might try taking the cold leftover mix and doing a stirfry with some fresh onions or something.

But while doing it I got to thinking about chili. It was getting cold again, I'd spent the night waking up thinking I heard Mo to findo ut it was just the wind howling, and the mercury had dipped precipitously.

I found I had a packet of chili seasoning, plenty of Ro-Tel, beans and ground beef, so here goes.

Another disappointment. I don't know, it had plenty of heat but not enough...chili flavor. I didn't have any straight cumin to add, my first hunch as to what went wrong. Last time I try Carrol Shelby's so-called seasoning. Lame, very lame.

I've tried a bunch this year. 2-Alarm, a couple times actually, Six Gun (not bad at all). I thought there was another, but maybe I'm thinking of the two times for 2-Alarm.

I found a couple Gladwares of the batch that turned out so hot I could hardly eat it, so I'm hoping to blend that with this batch and see if it comes into balance as a whole.

I also did what I've been meaning to and added a bag of brown rice at the beginning of the boil, and that seemed to work well enough. I don't have an A/B to prove it makes a thicker chili, but the starch ought to do something, right?

To Boldy Lego

What is it about Legos? At 37, the only thing I seem to build with them is improbable spaceships. The itch seems to be to build a spaceship that uses every single pice in the set.

Well, except for the ones Mo grabbed from the ship as it was being built.

Em is always building house boats, go figure. Mo tends to the abstract.

As soon as Mo got hold of my great finned starship, she dismantled it with haste.

I'd build my dream house out of them, but there's not many curved Legos and my dream house is shaped like a nautilus.

Doin' the Art Thang

Friday night, every idea I suggested for something to do Saturday met with agitated resistence from Em. Every idea I had was an irritation or an outrage.

She said the Kemper museum is too small, the Great Mall was boring, and so on. Kaleidoscope was objected to with an exasperated, ‘I was just there, Dad.’

Even the Nelson was shot down in flames.

Then, out of the blue on Saturday morning (in a much better mood), she asked, ‘Can we go to the Nelson?’ As if the previous evening had never happened.

Little tastes of what she’s going to be like as a teenager, I know.

It was raining, so we couldn’t really do the outside stuff, but there was still plenty to wear our legs to nubs. And of course we had to do the Buddha shot that's become de rigeur.

Here's food for thought: to modern kiddos, is it more puzzling what's in her hand* or why she'd stand there with a boob hanging out while a guy doesn't just take a snap shot, but makes an oil painting of her?

And look! We found the 17th Century version of the Velvet Elvis!

*For you 20-somethings: she's holding a record. Not an LP, either, the painting is dated 1938, so that's a 78 RPM disk, a big, heavy, fragile thing that barely held a three minute tune. You played it on a big-ass, sationary iPod. No, I don't remember 78s being current, contrary to the notions of certain women I've asked out lately. I remember when there was no such thing as email, it doesn't mean I remember the Louisiana Purchase.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pointless Family Photo

My brother emailed this to me. Dunno the source, but funny.

Happy President's Day

This is my Dad. He's sharing songs about Lincoln and Washington with this herd of honyocks in honor of President's Day.

The guitar was built by my uncle, who has also built dream axes for me and my brother.

Anyway, I thought this was cool. One of my fond childhood memories is of my Dad singing and playing the guitar for me and my brother at bedtime. He sometimes lacked judgment, like singing the Wreck of the Old 97 and wondering why we wouldn't go the hell to sleep, but we loved it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Okay, I'm not a one trick pony. I know it looks like the only thing I ever cook is pizza, but I make cheeseburgers as well.

Man does not live by anchovy-smoked oyster-jalapeno-onion-green pepper-on-wheat alone, right?

I used to always grill burgers. I still prefer it, but given my recent economic crisis, spending extra for charcoal just seems foolish. The big surprise was that while I regard stovetop burgers as an inferior alternative, my kids eat them like they just got out of a Turkish prison.

They don't tend to go for the salad part of the burger yet. Mo will eat veggies, but not on a burger. Em's favorite vegetable is Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

So I made cheeseburgers tonight. And Mo watched Madam Blueberry umpteen times. Still sick, and Mo's hacking cough has me wondering if the TB ward is the next stop. She clearly felt puny again tonight: she hardly broke anything.

Still, Mo downed two burgers. The patties anyway, apparently bread is off the training table for now. She ate the rinds off a couple of oranges and had a bunch of pickles, then put herself to bed early.

Which reminds me, the new job I thought I might have to give up my weeknight overnights with the girls is flexible enough I don't have to. Of all the things I could have cited to turn down the job offer (a bit less money than I earned before, 55 miles of driving a day instead of 5, a lack of built in overtime, etc.), the notion that I couldn't do the weeknights the way I had was the biggest.

Back when we settled up on custody, neither of us thought Mo could get ready for school at two houses. Then we had situations where we had to try it, and Mo did great.

Meanwhile, I realized that the bedtime and getting ready for school routines are an essential part of being a complete parent. I don't want my kids to not remember doing those things at Dad's house.

But when the job offer came, I had already figured out what my limits were. If I couldn't accept the schedule offered, I'd have walked away from the offer entirely. It's hard to do that, but in my experience, it beats painting yourself into a corner.

At first I wasn't sure if the schedule the business was run on would allow for the flexibility I hoped for. Plus, I didn't want to walk into a job looking high maintenance: 'Okay, I can do this, but can we scoot these hours around?'

By the time I asked, it seemed like maybe I should have asked sooner. It was amazingly simple.

Since I have the kiddos on Wednesday, my Thursday schedule will start and end an hour later. This lets me make my kids grudgingly shower, go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up against their will, get dressed in something other than their first choice, and get to school on Thursday. Then to work.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Since I didn't get a second evening last week, I got to have the girls for dinner this evening. Made pizza, big surprise.

But I had some sick honyocks on my hands. Both of them had been running fevers and generally feeling puny.

I made a half pepperoni half black olive to appease the children, though Mo was full of chicken nuggets and sneaked cold pepperoni before I got the pizzas half done.

I made an anchovie, smoked oyster, green pepper, jalapeno, black olive and onion pie for my own gastronomic delight.

I caught mo drinking from Mug, so I hope she didn't make me sick with whatever this is. They don't have school tomorrow for some reason, but I sure have work to go to.

Em started to perk up by the time the pizza was done, even ate some. Mo was just spaced, absolutly zonked out. When she wasn't spacing like this, she was teeth-chattering and burrowing into bed despite ibuprofen.

I hate when my kids are sick.

Sitting in Judgment

This is one of the high points of my year. I don't have the leisure or budget to travel for judging, so the Kansas City Bier Meisters annual competition is the only one I judge at these days.

I'm a National rank BJCP judge, for those of you who didn't know. Basically, this is the alcoholic beverage version of a Star Trek convention, a bunch of monomaniacs fixated on suds.

When you tell people you're going to judge beer, they typically say, 'I'm going to judge some beer, too. But I already know how I'm going to score it.' Or they say, 'In my judgment, it's time to get another case.'

Their looks of disbelief and ridicule will not abate if you explain that this is something you read books about, that you've taken classes, spent $50 to take the BJCP exam, etc. In fact, the more you tell them about the 27 categories and all the sub-styles and so on, the more alienated you become.

At least that's been my life story.

I should tell you about the pictures I'm posting since I took such a ridiculous number of them.

For one thing, I have to tell you that judging beer is not about drinking beer. A flight will typically contain six to fifteen entries, with three judges and a steward. The steward is likely an aspiring judge, who will taste along with and listen in on discussions. Or sometimes the steward is a wife or girlfriend of one of us nerds.

You pour about an ounce and a half into each of four glasses, which is more than enough for evaluation purposes. You start by smelling the beer, making notes in the 'aroma' section of the score sheet, and awarding points according to the appropriateness of various components relative to the style the beer is entered in. Smells that contribute to a world class Belgian Dubbel would be problematic in a Bohemian Pilsner.

Then take a look at the sample and evaluate it for color, clarity and head retention, again, relative to style. An English Barleywine will almost never have any head retention, but a Dry Stout damn well better have it. Color that is appropriate for an IPA would be too light for a Schwarzbier. Haze that is required in a Witbier would lose points for a Blonde Ale.

Then you take a taste. Not a big taste, just enough to roll around your tongue and get an impression. The biggest difference between this and wine judging is at this point: beer judges swallow. There are several reasons for this. The aftertaste of the beer is part of the evaluation, and aspirating the sample really isn't the same as swallowing it from that standpoint. Also, wine's higher alcoholic content would contribute more to palate fatigue if wine judges swallowed samples. But the biggest reason wine judges use spittoons is that wine is nasty.

No, it's not. But wine competitions often put 40 to 80 wines into a single day and it's simply impossible to drink a small enough sample not to become intoxicated if you're going to do that. Beer judges bitch if they have to get through 18 in a flight, and we don't generally do more than two flights in a day, three if you judge Best of Show.

After you've also evaluated mouthfeel and the overall impression, you add up your points, then discuss with the other two judges. You don't want to be more than 5 points apart, and sometimes a judge picks up on something the others missed, or has a blind spot, and there might be need to adjust to get within range. But there's not nearly as much adjusting as you'd expect.

I have a blind spot, for instance, for DMS. Dimethyl Sulfide is the cooked corn smell you get in a Rolling Rock, and in most beer styles it's a defect. I can't smell it until it's damned obvious. I can hardly smell it in a Rolling Rock, and it's a signature of the brand. On the other hand, mercaptans, the skunky smell you get in light-struck beer, I'm very sensitive to. I can just about smell it before you open the bottle and from across the room. All judges have these sensitivities and weaknesses, so sometimes one judge will be eight or ten points off of the other two.

But more typically, you finish your score sheet and when it's time to discuss, you find that you are all within a couple of points. This is what years of study, taking exams, and endless discussions of various beer styles does: it makes us a consistent lot of middle-aged fat guys who don't have a life.

There are, dear reader, some lovely and savvy women judging beer, but I would guess they are 5% of the BJCP crowd.

The weekend starts out with food. In this case, Oklahoma Joe's barbecue. You can't judge on an empty stomach, right?

Friday night tends to be the long flights. This is because you need to get two flights in on Saturday and you don't want a table struggling to finish up before lunch. Some of the higher alcohol categories also tend to go on Friday night because with only one flight, palate fatigue is less an issue.

Then it's back at 8:00 on Saturday for breakfast, and the breakfast speaker. Who was Danny from the Roasterie again this year. We really love him because he brings enough coffee to wake a brigade, and it's great coffee. We're beer freaks, but we love all sorts of beverages.

Danny's a fun speaker, too, because he's the kind of geek about coffee who is identifiable to a group of beer lovers who commonly aspire to open a microbrewery. Or, in the case of some, open a microbrewery again.

After the morning flight, we had pizza. Then another flight to judge.

At this point, a lot of people go on the tour. In this case, a tour to a massive liquor store in Martin City for a beer tasting. I'm in poverty, so I didn't go on the tour, which meant I was available to judge Best of Show.

I love judging Best of Show. It's much more a beauty pageant in that your personal preferences come into play more than they can on a flight where you're judging one style. These are the 27 first place entries and you get to argue about whether 1443 is a better Braggot than 1631 is a Still Sweet Hydromel. Or whether 1544 is a less a world class Imperial Stout than 1244 is a California Common.

Early BOS judging is pretty easy. There are always some winners that must have come from weak flights, where you can find defects straight away and eliminate. A judge will say, 'I'm ready to kick the Dubbel, I'm getting a really harsh finish that's out of place.' Another might say, 'I think the American Barleywine is too sweet for style.' At which point you might say, 'I'm not ready to kick that one. I think that's a textbook example.'

This goes on with lots of water drinking to cleanse the palate, lots of arguing. Especially when you get down to the last ten or so in the Best of Show round. By now, every one is a legitimate contender with no obvious flaws. Intangibles matter at this point, and for good or ill, the proclivities of the judges do too.

Beer judges are notoriously biased towards the strong beers. A big Dubbel or Doppelbock is naturally more impressive than a Blonde Ale or Ordinary Bitter. There's more going on in a big beer. But the small beers have less to hide their flaws in, and sometimes take more skill to brew at this level.

So some beer judges will almost kill themselves to make sure the BOS goes to the best small beer than can identify.

But with five judges, it's hard for either of these prejudices to run roughshod. A well run competition, in fact, will do its best to make sure that not only are all the BOS judges National rank or higher, but that it's not a group who naturally agrees about such things.

Here's the thing your coworker really doesn't get about beer judging. It's thirsty work. You've essentially been teased for hours on end, because judging is not about consumption. Drink a lot of beer and your judgment is impaired. This is about giving good feedback to the brewers so they can make better beer.

So naturally, when John asked me if I wanted to head to Granite City for a beer on him, I accepted. Granted, we were leaving a brewery, and homebrewers are the one group who actually bring beer to an event at a brewery. Besides the entries for the competition, we had homebrews on tap.

But of course, I'd love to go grab a beer. And if you think we'd had plenty to eat, the awards banquet is a couple hours off, and the entourage decided to order food as well.

We might not be getting drunk, but I won't say we're not a bunch of gluttons.

You know, too, nobody seems to have such an affinity for weird beers as a bunch of judges.

The dinner is followed by the awards ceremony. If you're wondering, yes, many of the winners are also judges, but no, they don't get to judge their own. Many a qualified judge can't do the BOS round because he's got an entry that placed first in its flight.

By the way, despite the relatively sober process, I love this picture. I took this picture of Carl on Friday right after we arrived. He was stone sober, but you wouldn't know it from the shot...

And by the time the banquet is over, I can't say it's quite like a meeting of the Temperance Union.