Search Lobsterland

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Know, Again

Took the girls to Moon Marble. Again.

During the demo I videoed part of, Bruce made the comment that the marble wasn't turning out quite like planned, but he thought it was turning out well. I asked, how often does it turn out as planned?

'Never,' he said. Then he went on, 'I don't know, you watch a lot, do I say that a lot?'

I'm not sure. But it struck me that this ceaseless and harsh winter has a lot to do with why we've been frequent fliers to the Moon.

Cycling, model rocket launches, hiking on trails, kite flying, generic trips to the park, these have all been off the menu for what seems like a year.

We don't hit Moon Marble nearly as often as Mo asks for it, often first thing on a Saturday morning. If we did, it'd be nearly a weekly affair. She really seems to enjoy watching Bruce (and the other artists) do the demos, and she loves the bins of novelty items, the rubber chickens, etc.

As usual, it left me wanting to try my hand at making marbles. You can get a starter set for $130 that I don't have to spend on a hobby, but that doesn't include a kiln for annealing or the gas. And if you get serious, you end up needing a more sophisticated twin fuel torch (oxygen & propane for a hotter flame), and those are, in Bruce's words, 'not cheap.'

Thing is, I know what hobbies are like. I've kept bees, I make beer, there's the rocketry thing. I said to a fellow brewer that our hobby would eat every dollar I ever cared to throw at it, and he said, 'No, it'd eat a lot more than that.'

Bruce Making a Marble from Chixulub on Vimeo.

That $130 starter kit would probably cost me a grand by the time I got to where my marbles came out consistently round. And I need another expensive hobby like Tiger Woods needs more girlfriends.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pie Party

Another year, another pie party. Last year it was 'we're getting the band back together,' though the four of us had never really been in the same band. Three of us had been in bands together, but only two at a time.

This year, I brought back the loaned Boss GT-5 I was using for band purposes, and being asked for it back underscored and dotted the dissolution of 'the band.' Whatever we were going to be called.

Me and Dan would still like to continue, but for the moment we're down a bassist, a singer (I can do some, but I'm not sure I want to be the only singer in a band, not really my strong suit), a PA and a rehearsal venue. We're up a killer band name, I guess, but all those other things are harder to come by than clever names.

The pie party was great, though. I had a bowl of elk stew and I don't know how many kinds of pie. I didn't have room to try all of them, I think I was only good for a half dozen or so, and most of those were half slices.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The warning labels on things almost never seem really helpful to me. There are so many then tend to just be noise, and if you honestly don't know better than to blow dry your hair standing in a tub of water, you probably aren't going to make it far enough to need the memo about operating heavy machinery while taking prescription sedatives.

I see a lot of warning labels and say to myself, Self, coffee is hot, ice is slippery, it's nobody's fault so don't bother trying to sue.

Then there's the labels that aren't there, but maybe should be. I know a guy who once found himself wishing there's been a label on jalapeño peppers about how, after slicing them, it's a good idea to wash your hands before you go to the bathroom. I think he called 9-11, his unit was burning that badly.

My Dremel had warnings on it, all over the place. But nothing about not using it to grind down the callouses on your heel.

But my friend won't ever handle himself with capsicum coated fingers again, and I won't use my Dremel for improvised home surgery a second time either. So warning labels would be of limited value.

The ones we really need are like this. Where I work, we finally got a metal plate CTP unit (if you've ever played with nasty film chemistry, you'll appreciate how happy I am about that; and if you want a defunct Devotec 20 film processor for some bizarre reason, I know where you can get one dirt cheap). I can't remember for sure, but I don't think the Agfa was up and running before the first of the year.

It kicks ass, especially since a lot of jobs we've been using polyester plates for, but that get reordered without changes a lot of times, we can make a metal plate for just slightly more money (and I mean slightly) and use it as many times as the job gets reordered. Plus, you don't fight plate stretching and screens look tons better.

The door mechanism, however, has broken twice since we got it. The first time was right after it got there, and being a used unit, you just never know. The second time was when we had an Agfa tech out for a calibration issue. He was super apologetic (and the guys I've dealt with from Agfa are all sharp), seemed embarrassed.

He said, 'I tell people, don't lean on the hood, don't set stuff up there, and then I go and hit the open button with my tool box on there.'

The stripped gears in the release motor aren't on us this time. But I'm thinking, we got 90 days, basically, of warranty with this thing. If a guy who works on the machine and warns people about this all the time can forget and break it...

So I made a warning label. Had to speedbag the guy a bit, I guess. Fortunately he has a sense of humor.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crowd Noise With Occasional Music

Em had a big choir concert tonight, the two middle schools and the elite 'Madrigals' of the high school choir combining for a celebration of music in school.

There were hand chimes, too, though Em gave up ringing because the rehearsals interfered with her pre-Broadway career and cheerleading.

As my kids get older, the caliber of choral concert improves. Seventh and Eighth Grade boys should still be barred from vocal music class until they get over being afraid of someone catching them singing the actual notes, but still, it's getting better.

What's not getting better is the audience. This is well worn territory in this blog, I know, but for the record it is not okay to bring screaming infants into a concert. Or cell phones. It is also not okay to discuss everything as it happens like the assholes sitting behind me did the whole time. I kept looking forward to the big ensemble numbers, when it's all the choirs together in hopes that then the chowderheads behind me would be drowned out.

It was mostly true, though even with the crappy mic on my camera, I can hear a baby wail at one point in the video.

Bringing a cell phone or a baby into a concert is like bringing a gun or a bomb on an airplane. The difference is we don't have Audience Marshalls to taser these jerks into submission and set an example.

You know I love to talk, but even I shut up for movies and concerts. If I can do it, anyone can.

Untitled from Chixulub on Vimeo.

Oh, and as a postscript: I know some people who spend an absolute fortune on private school for their kids. Some of them live in the KCMO school district where the public schools are institutionalized reckless endangerment, but some are just afraid their kids will be secularized by the public schools. Wonder what the local ACLU would make of these kids having their rights violated so blatantly: some of them even seem happy to be singing patently religious (read Christian) music in a public school auditorium. ;)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bier Meisters 27th Annual Homebrew Competition

It was that time of year again, that very special time where I get all judgmental and make drinking beer into hard work.

The Bier Meisters regional competition is regrettably the only competition I faithfully show up to judge at.

It's been eleven years since I took the BJCP exam, and they've rewritten the style guidelines completely once and partially a couple times since then. My original score on the exam was an 83, which qualified me for National rank once my experience points caught up with my score.

Slowly I've accumulated 35 experience points before this weekend, and since I judged Best of Show this weekend in addition to three flights as head judge, I think it's time I start studying for another test. One or two more competitions and I'll have the experience points for Master ranking. But to get that rank, I'll also have to score a 90 on the exam.

When my schedule and budget allows, I'd like to do more competitions, travel up to IBU and Omahops, FOAM, all these great clubs that send judges (and entries) to the Bier Meisters competition.

For that matter, to judge at Nationals. The year we hosted it, I was co-registrar which got me three experience points but also disqualified me from judging int he competition since I'd helped log in the entries.

We don't get as many entries as we did when I got into this. I think they said we were just barely above 300 this time, and I can remember some competitions that knocked on the 500 mark. That said, when I started judging (in 1996), there were a lot of flights where the entries were poison until proven otherwise.

And it's okay if the entries are terrible: it's easy to fill a score sheet out when you have lots of obvious flaws to describe, and those brewers are probably entering to get feedback that will help them improve on what they already know is a problematic brew.

But if there are fewer entries, the brewers entering them are more serious and advanced. I judged a flight of ten meads on Saturday morning that included four assigned scores over 40 and one I gave 48 points to. This is on a 50 point scale, and 45 and up is defined as 'world class.' Frame of reference: I'm still living off a 45 I got on a Cider in 1998.

In fact, in that mead flight I only recall one clunker that really had some obvious flaws. There were a couple that left points on the table because the entry forms didn't provide necessary information (when the brewer MUST provide carbonation and strength designations and doesn't, I can't give him points in those areas: I can't tell if you hit the pocket if you don't call the pocket). Assuming those entries were entered as what they were, i.e. sparkling if it was effervescent, etc., I think that flight might have had seven 40+ entries. That's incredible.

And judging Best of Show, I was really impressed with the overall field. Usually, the way this works is you pour the 25 beers and ciders (the three meads are treated separately), and start kicking things based on obvious flaws. An Oktoberfest might have been the best 3B Oktoberfest/Märzen in it's flight, but it's possible that's damning by faint praise. It could have a significant flaw and just have been closer to the mark than anything it was up against.

This is my sixth BOS round, and it seems like every previous one I've gone through the field and been able to mentally kick ten or more entries before the panel even begins discussion.

This field, I think there were four obvious duds. The grounds for dismissal get pretty narrow when you have to pick first second and third out of 20 really spot-on entries.

The other frustration with BOS rounds, judging beer is not about personal preference. It's about assessing whether what's in the glass fits the style guidelines. But when you're arguing about whether this is a better Bohemian Pils than this is a Foreign Export Stout than this is a Belgian Dark Strong, well, if you happen to love Bo Pils, your personal prejudice is bound to come into play.

The counterbalance is you have four very experienced judges who don't have the same favorites. Judges who know better than to fight too hard for a style they just happen to adore, and who are also leery of kicking a beer just because it comes from a style they can't get excited about.

Discussions of technical difficulty sometimes come into play, too, though they didn't really this year. In fact, the clear Best of Show winner (all four judges were unanimous on it) was a Foreign Export Stout. This is a style that can hide a lot of sin, though I don't think this example was doing so. I've judged quite a few stouts over the years, and I've never encountered a Foreign as dead on balls to style as this one.

Still, there's a sense of injustice when three of the four judges at the table pick the beer you'd give fourth place to the third place slot and your number three becomes an also-ran.

Actually the last three or four beers to get kicked were ones I wished could get on the podium. Of course, every one of these beers came to the BOS with gold medals, I don't think anyone walks away feeling wounded that they didn't get a Best of Show place. That's like the Olympics of Beer and even the great aren't assured of victory.

Oh, and afterward, as you can see, homebrewers and beer judges know how to party. Great catered meal, fun talk by Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing, a little award ceremony.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Outgrowing the Stone

I've been making a pizza dough recipe that uses 1-1/3 cups of flour, a half cup of water, a teaspoon each of sugar and bread machine yeast, and a half teaspoon of salt.

It also uses a 15 minute kneading cycle in my antique KitchenAid with the paddle (no dough hook was made for my model, it's really that old).

I'm getting better at stretching it thin without tearing it, I didn't tear either crust tonight, but I did get them so big they barely fit on my pizza stone (which is almost too big for my oven.

I think instead of 1-1/3 cups of flour, I'll dry dividing this up so that more like 3/4 of a cup of flour make the foundation of a pizza. It'll help with my other dilemma which is always what to put on the things. Em loves black olives with prosciutto and an Alfredo sauce. Mo loves pepperoni, or plain cheese. I love lots of things, including bacon, fig, Gorgonzola & caramelized onions.

So if I split it up into more numerous but smaller pizzas, I could accommodate more combinations of toppings.

Tonight I made Em's fave and my own was a caramelized onion (with fenugreek & thyme) and sautéed baby bellas, with mozzarella and anchovies. Not quite the bacon, fig & gorgonzola monster, but a very tasty pie.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Adultery Meets Schoolhouse Rock

I heard a radio ad this morning that has been bothering me all day. It's for Ashley Madison, a dating site for married people seeking extramarital affairs. And, I think, people with a soft spot for Schoolhouse Rock.

This isn't about swinging, it's not about two people who both want life to be a sexual all you can eat buffet. This is about what's called 'discrete,' meaning illicit by even the most libertine standard, affairs.

Thing is, it's not that I don't get the idea of being trapped in an unhappy marriage, been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But the notion that a 'discrete' extramarital affair is helpful?

The CEO of the company is, according to NPR, married and not disposed to cheat. I have to wonder how he sleeps at night. I know, opportunity knocks, it rings the bell over and over and checks to see if the door is locked, but would he be so cavalier about this if he caught his wife at it with some other guy?

This company's slogan, and they've trademarked it, is 'Life is short. Have an affair.' The CEO cops the predictable 'I didn't invent infidelity' plea, but really, who's he think he's fooling? Bernie Madoff didn't invent the Ponzi Scheme (and neither did Charles Ponzi), Pat Roberston didn't invent stupidity, Michael Moore didn't invent leftist propaganda, Lady Gaga didn't invent bad music, and Hitler didn't invent killing Jews.

Not inventing something doesn't mean you're not culpable.

Affairs happen, bad marriages happen, but when you go to a party and someone asks what you do, do you want to be the guy who says, 'I make a profit off of helping married people make their bad marriages worse through infidelity?' It's not quite the George Tiller level of rationalizing evil, but it's a good piece down the slippery slope toward it.

Like the Heart Attack Grill letting people who weigh in over 375 lbs eat free, you have to smoke a turd in hell for making a living off the misery of others.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Where's My $60?

I finally decided to cave and watch some winter Olympics. The whole thing with China in 2008 still bothers me, but I always watched the Olympics before 2008, and if unacceptable previous hosts made that untenable what about Moscow in 1980 (which America correctly boycotted) and Berlin in 1936?

I still wish the IOC could see the error of its ways and just refuse to consider totalitarian regimes as hosts. Besides the brotherhood of man stuff, those totalitarian hosts always cheat like crazy.

So anyway, I don't like all the sports: I love figure skating, and the luge is fun for one or two runs but all luge slides look pretty much the same to me. Well, except for that shocking fatality, that was just gruesome.

But with the long commercial breaks and with some of the sports not really catering to my ADD, I surf a lot when I'm 'watching the Olympics.' And in this case, I didn't get much Olympics watched because I found the most amazing TV show.

It's an MTV thing called Disaster Date, and they were having a little Valentine's Day marathon of it. It's basically a Candid Camera style thing, with people being set up on blind dates, usually by someone they set up with a clunker. So with tons of insider information, the actors playing the 'date' can basically throw everything their mark tries to avoid at them.

So a woman who hates when someone plays with their food gets set up with a guy who introduces her to Mr. Grapeleaf. A guy who can't stand girls with too much makeup gets a chick who already has a ton of it on and spends the whole date adding more, and insists on drinking her wine through a straw because she just put on fresh lip gloss.

Like I say, they were having a marathon of this show, and I could barely bring myself to flip back to the games because this show is so perfect. The goal is to get the mark to sit through 60 minutes, and they get a dollar for every minute they make it through. A surprisingly large number of people are so reluctant to offend that they make it the whole hour.

Including a guy who's 'date' double booked, invited the second man to join them, and then snuck off with the second man to apparently hook up in the bathroom. She comes back adjusting her clothes and with her hair mussed and tries to stick the mark with the check for all three of them.

Then, thinking of a few of the dates I've been on since the divorce, I want a dollar for every minute of the date with the chick who wouldn't stop texting her friends for 30 seconds. See also the woman who boasted of getting makeovers on two consecutive days and described the intricacies of her bikini wax over dinner. See also the woman who turned out to have a husband in prison.

Anyway, not to be a cynic, I've been on dates that were quite fun, too. And I'm sure I'm the disaster story for a woman or two out there. And just to prove I'm not a cynic, we made pretzels this afternoon and shaped a few like hearts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lucky 13

Mo's thirteenth birthday was today, and an eventful day it was.

We started with a pizza party, but it's not what you're thinking: I didn't make the pizza, it was a little get together with a couple of Mo's friends from school at the local Pizza Slut.

Back at home, I frosted her cake (another Chocolate Mayonnaise, I gotta branch out) with cream cheese frosting. I tried to make the frosting red with yellow piping, that was what Mo seemed to want, but even with a whole tube of red gel in, it was more pink than red. I asked her if she preferred pink or purple, and when she said purple I added some blue.

So we had a mauve birthday cake with yellow icing. Yellow turns out to be much easier than red (or purple). I could have kept adding blue, but it seemed likely it was going to end up closer to gray than purple if I did.

Then I cooked eleven pounds of chicken. It took a little longer than I thought it would, about three hours using three pans. Yeah, there are leftovers, but not as many as you might expect. Three grandparents, an aunt and uncle, plus me and my two daughters did some serious damage on the fried chicken front.

My Mom, who makes awesome fried chicken (and I generally stick to her recipe) seemed to think my oil should be hotter and that I should be able to turn the chicken around faster. Turns out, she covers hers before the first flip, and I guess that helps it cook faster without harming the crisping. When I've used hotter oil, I get it very brown on the outside while it's still undercooked inside, so I've just operated on the assumption you can't rush fried chicken.

I guess I think I learned to make fried chicken from Mom, but really, I didn't pay attention when she made it for us on what seemed like a weekly basis when I was growing up. We had it so often, I didn't even think of it as special until I was out on my own and got a jones for some fried chicken. Then I called and asked for advice, so what teaching she did was mostly by telephone fifteen to twenty years ago.

I did deviate from Mom's recipe a bit: for part of the chicken, I tried buttermilk instead of water before the flour dredge. This turned out to be my version of Extra Crispy, you get a more pronounced breading than just wetting with water and dredging.

I think I can taste just a hint of the buttermilk in the breading on that version, too.

The fam coming down brought sides, and we had a jolly little feast, complete with salad, green bean casserole, biscuits and baked beans. And I found a use for my pizza pans (I haven't used them since I started hand-tossing and cooking on the stone, but they're great as enormous fried chicken platters.

Then came presents and cake and ice cream.

I got the candles that spell out 'Happy Birthday' because there's thirteen in the package. I got them last year for Em's, and I forgot what pitiful candles they are. The first one is melted to nothing before you can get the last one lit, there's just nothing to them, and they drip lots of paraffin on the cake. They're cute, though.

Mo added to her fleet of Valentine's themed stuffed animals. You can't even see her bed for all the bears and frogs (and a big pink dog) she sleeps under.

I can't believe both my daughters are teenagers.