November 28, 2015

honing in on habanero beef jerky

today i finished preparing my second batch of beef jerky.  i started with the recipe from charcuterie, but i'm still tweaking it to achieve a better result.  i got inspired to make this because i love the super spicy jerk'n pickle habanero jerky, but at about $64 / lb i don't buy a whole lot of it.  i've tried lots of other commercial beef jerkies, and frankly i think most of them suck.  so decided to try making my own.

the first batch i made was with an 2.3 lb organic eye of round roast.  i trimmed it, quartered it, and froze it for four hours before cutting it 2mm thick along the grain on the meat slicer.  i cut it along the grain because i was worried that if i cut it against the grain it would fall apart.  i then proceeded to cure it for 24 hours with:
    • 20 grams salt
    • 5 grams garlic powder
    • 5 grams onion powder
    • 60 grams chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
    • 0.5 grams ground habaneros
    i dried it in a dehydrator for for 23 hours at 95 F.   what i got was essentially tasty chewy meat paper:
    first batch.  tasty chewy meat paper.

    it wasn't very spicy, it was a bit too thin, and a bit too dry. in the end i got a yield of 12 oz, and since i started with a overpriced organic roast from whole foods, my cost was $45.90 / lb.

    before starting my second batch i got some advice from a friend who is a BBQ expert.  (actually, he has never made jerky before, but since he's a competitive BBQ'er he knows people who have so he relayed me some advice.)

    for my second attempt i started with a non-organic 2.6 lb eye of round roast from my local grocery store.  after trimming it and halving it, i cut it 5mm thick against the grain and i didn't have any issues with the meat falling apart.  for the cure i increased the heat by using 2 grams of freshly ground dried habaneros from our garden.  this time i dried the meat for 12 hours at 155 F.  here's the before and after:
    second batch going into the dehydrator

    second batch coming out of the dehydrator

    here's the first batch (on the left) compared to the second batch (on the right):
    jerky comparison.  first batch (left), cut 2mm thick with the grain vs second batch (right), cut 5mm thick against the grain.

    the flavor on the second batch is better, there is actually some heat in it now.  the texture is also better with the meat cut against the grain.  unfortunately i dried it too much.  i checked on it after about 6 hours of drying (before i went to bed), and it definitely needed more time, but by the time i woke up it was bone dry and a bit crunchy (almost like meat candy).  this time around i got a yield of 12.5 oz and my cost was $8.65 / lb.

    next time i'll probably try cutting it 4 mm thick, using 4 grams of habanero, and drying it for 8-9 hours at 145 F.

    October 31, 2015

    bacon, phase one, take one

    i recently bought charcuterie by ruhlman and polcyn, and today i started my first attempt at making bacon.  i got a 3.7 lb pork belly from whole foods and i rubbed it with:
    • 50 grams of basic cure (8 parts salt, 7.6 parts dextrose, 1 part pink salt)
    • 3 crushed bay leaves
    • 10 grams cracked black peppercorns
    • 5 crushed garlic
    i put it in a 2 gallon ziploc bag and now it needs to cure for 7 days.  since i don't have a smoker my current plan is to cook the bacon in a sous vide bath (with some liquid smoke) after it's done curing.  (apologies in advance to all the actual bbq and smoker experts out there.)

    my tasting assistant knows it's going to be a while before this will be ready.
    my tasting assistant knows it's going to be a while before this will be ready.

    mmm.  pork. the king of meats. hopefully i can do it justice.
    mmm. pork. the king of meats. hopefully i can do it justice.

    i didn't even know they made 2 gallon ziploc bags.
    i didn't even know they made 2 gallon ziploc bags.

    October 28, 2015

    Jury selection dismissal

    Today I was the first juror dismissed (by the prosecution) from an initial selection of 18 jurors.

    This was my third time participating in a jury selection and the first time I've actually been selected, questioned, and dismissed.

    This was a criminal DUI case that would probably have lasted two to three days.  Talking to some other jurors who were initially dismissed I was the only one who was actually interested serving.  I thought it would be informative to see the criminal justice system working.  I also thought I could do a good job on the jury, judging the evidence in accordance with the law.

    There were many jurors who in answering questions made it clear that they felt they would not be able to apply the standards of the law.  For example, one juror said they couldn't understand why someone would refuse to take a breathalyzer test when it could so easily "prove their innocence" and that this refusal would bias their judgement.

    During the juror selection process, some of the questions that came up and that I replied to were:
    • The defense asked a long winded, hypothetical question that essentially amounted to asking if we could follow direction.  I pointed this out and indicated the judge had already asked this and I had already answered in the affirmative.
    • The defense asked if, in the case that the defendant declined to testify on their own behalf, would bias our judgement in the case.  I replied that it was the prosecution's burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and lack of testimony from the defendant would not affect that burden of proof.
    • The prosecution asked if anyone would have problems accepting the testimony of a trained police officer.  I replied that any officer’s testimony would need to be judged equally with all the other testimony, taking into account any instructions from the judge and in the context of the law as explained by the judge.
    Given the number of jurors trying to get themselves excused, and the fact that I thought I could do a good job as a juror in this case, I mistakenly thought I had a pretty good chance of being selected.  Just before they started with dismissals the woman next to me in the jury box leaned over and told me we were both out.  She was an auto-insurance claims investigator and said we were both "far too logical" to stay.  She was the second person dismissed.  IMO neither of us had given any indication that we would have any problems serving fairly in this case.

    So as future reference note, should I find myself in jury selection for a case where I'd actually like to serve, I should keep my responses as curt as possible and avoid nodding or speaking up unless directly spoken to.  Also, if I find myself in jury selection for a case in which I don't want to serve, I should just be myself.

    September 12, 2015

    Saturday recap

    I actually went for a bike ride. (My last ride was three week ago.) My normal short ride through Emerald Hills, up Kings, and back. I did some intervals in Emerald Hills. Unlike the past few days, the weather was reasonable today (high 60s and overcast).

    I roasted two batches of coffee.

    I chopped back a lavender bush that was trying to take over the driveway.

    I cleaned the driveway. Kinda a Sisyphean task since we have a black walnut tree over the driveway that renders it useless most of the year by constantly shitting a stream of sticky, resiny, and staining walnuts onto it.

    I cleared a forsaken three foot wide patch of dirt next to the garage. In the past few years at least a foot of detritus had accrued there which contained rats nests, bird carcasses, and some huge spiders. It was also causing some rot in the exterior siding of the garage.

    I put down termite poison in most perimeter areas around the house and fences.

    Somehow this home owner shit has rendered me exhausted and useless. The only thing I'm capable of doing now is writing this drivel and going to bed.


    December 21, 2014

    A dinner at Lazy Bear

    This past week we went to dinner at Lazy Bear in San Francisco.  It was one of the best fancy dinner experiences I've had.  I could attempt to wax eloquent about all the different ways in which the experience was awesome, but instead I'll be lazy and just refer you to a review of Lazy Bear on SFGate (published yesterday).  Many of the dishes we had were different from what was described in the review (since the menu continually changes).  You can see pictures of a bunch of the dishes we had here:

    I've had a few other fancy dinners where some of the dishes were amazing, while others were ho-hum.  But here each of the courses was truly unique and tasty.  Aside from the food and the venue, two other things we really enjoyed were:

    - A fantastic 2013 wine from The Scholium Project called "Prince in His Caves".  It was an orange colored Sauvignon Blanc that was fermented with the grape skins on and had a truly unique and great flavor.

    - The great music selection (Cure, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, etc).

    We were there from 7:30pm till 11:30pm and the time just flew by.  If you're looking for an exciting dinner out on the town I'd highly recommend it.

    October 6, 2014

    Levi's Gran Fondo Ride Report

    I started cycling about five years ago and up till this past Saturday I had never done a century ride. (I had attempted the Primavera Century ride in 2010, but I gave up at mile 87 after 22 miles of riding in heavy rain.)  Earlier this year I decided that I should finally try a century ride so I signed up for Levi's Gran Fondo, a 103 mile ride with about 9,200 ft of climbing.

    Unfortunately, the weeks leading up to the ride were pretty stressful.  I had assumed that committing to this event would help motivate me to train more and get into better shape.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen and I didn't do any more riding this year than I've done in past years.  Also, work was particularly stressful in the weeks leading up to the ride and I didn't do nearly as much last minute training as I would have hoped.  Then a heatwave decided to set in for the weekend of the event, with temps going up to 95 F, and I normally perform much better when temps are in the 60s.  Finally, since I've never done anything like this, I didn't really have any accurate way to gauge if my fitness level was sufficient for the event.

    A couple days before the event I decided I should have a plan, so I started looking at my performance on long rides this year.  I noticed that for long rides (50+ miles and 5000+ ft of climbing) I was averaging about 12.5 mph.  So for a 103 mile course, going 12.5 mph, it would take me about 8.25 hours without any rest stops.  (And there were 6 rest stops on the course, one of which was a lunch stop.)  Looking at the schedule for the ride, it started at 8am and they would starting closing it up around 5pm with a final pickup for any remaining riders at 6pm.  That would mean you would want to finish the course in less 9 hours, with 10 hours being a hard cutoff.  Given this estimate, I was really worried about actually being able to finish the course in time.  Ronda pointed out that I could do the Medio ride instead (65 miles and 3800 ft of climbing), but I dismissed that option since I'm stubborn and my normal "long" weekend rides are more challenging than that.  I was going to try to finish the Gran or fail trying.

    After looking at my past performance, the plan I decided on was to try and hit an average of 12.5 mph (with 13 mph being a stretch goal).  I was going to try and keep my heart rate down below 170 for most the ride (heat allowing) and I would try to keep my power in the low 200s for any climb or longer straight stretch.  I hoped that would allow me to survive to the end of the ride and finish before the course closed.

    The night before the ride me and Ronda went up to Santa Rosa to stay at a small house on a farm about 5 miles from the event.  In the morning I got up at 6am, got ready, and biked over to the event.  The ride officially started at 8am, and when the starter’s pistol fired I immediately began rolling forward in a large mass of people (there are about 7000+ riders).  Then, just as quickly I came to a stop as we all bunch up together and couldn't move any more.  We all continued to inch forward until I finally passed the starting line at about 8:22.  Hm.  Not quite the amazing start I had expected.  (Also, when I crossed the starting line I was freezing since it was about 50 F out and I had lost all my body heat while standing around waiting to actually start riding.)

    Once I passed the starting line the ride became much more enjoyable.  For the first 20 miles the road was closed to cars and filled with riders.  It was pretty fun riding with that many people and mostly I was just slowly negotiating my way forward past slower riders.  After the first rest stop (Monte Rio @ mile 20) I managed to get behind a group of about 5 fast riders that were pushing a pace slightly higher than I was comfortable with, but I held on for about 10 miles and we were trucking along at 20+ mph.  We passed lots of other groups.  Then when I looked behind me I noticed that I wasn't the last rider in our train, instead it stretched back behind me as far as I could see.

    The second rest stop (Cazadero @ mile 30) was also the cutoff for the Gran route.  If you didn't make it there by 11:00 then you would get shunted off onto an alternate and shorter route.  I made it there by about 10:30, so I thought I was doing OK.  My average speed so far was about 15 mph, which was above my target (which made sense since we really hadn't done any climbing yet).  I was also comforted by the fact that there was a huge crowd there, which helped assure me that I there were lots of other folks going at a comparable pace.

    Moving on from the second rest stop the climbing finally started.  My normal riding routes include a lot of climbing and I really like it.  I find it's much easier to gage and regulate my performance on a climb than it is on the flats.  So when the road started to go up, and it still wasn't too hot, I felt right in my element.  I managed to kept my power in the low 200s (as planned) and my heart rate in the low 170s, except in the sections where the road became too steep and I had to push a higher power to keep my speed at a decent pace.  Luckily those sections were usually shorter and I noticed that my HR was recovering quickly whenever I backed off.  Happily, this trend continued for the entire ride.  I was pretty surprised (and slightly encouraged) when I saw people off of their bikes and walking up the very first significant climb.

    I really enjoyed the ride to the third rest stop (King Ridge @ mile 47).  Once the majority of the climbing was done we had rollers on hilltops through farm country, and it was really gorgeous.  The only unfortunate part was that I passed a cyclist who had crashed while taking a turn and seriously injured himself (this was just before the third rest stop).  There were lots of folks and staff around helping him, but he looked like he needed serious medical attention.  As it turns out, he wasn't the only accident that occurred.  After spending about 5 mins at the third rest stop I decided to move on, but at that moment they closed down the road.  Apparently two more cyclists had crashed just a bit further on (where there was an extremely steep descent).  The road was closed for about 40 mins while they brought in a helicopter to evacuate one of the riders, and the other was taken out in an ambulance.

    During our 40 min wait at the third rest stop, many more people were arriving.  When they finally re-opened the road, once again there was a sea of riders moving forward together.  The most interesting part of this section was that it was an extremely steep and long descent being doing in a large crowd of riders.  About 3/4s of the way through the descent, the was a loud gunshot like noise just behind me.  It seems that someone with tubeless carbon wheels had overheated one of their wheels and it exploded.  Not a good day for them.

    After this steep descent we had lots more climbing to get to the fourth rest stop (Ritchey Ranch @ mile 58) for lunch.  I was surprised at how good I felt when I got there.  The only discomfort I had felt so far was a tightness in my neck / upper back which had started at about mile 20.  But this is frequently something that happens to me when I'm stressed, and given how early it started in the ride, I attributed it to that.

    I also had a really great appetite when I got there and I had to limit myself to just having one roast beef sandwich since I wanted to get going asap.  Part of my plan for the ride had been to stop at every rest stop to eat something, to drink, and to use the facilities to make sure I wasn't getting dehydrated.  But I still wanted to keep my time at each rest stop to a minimum to ensure that I still finished in time.  So after scarfing down lunch and re-applying sunscreen I headed out again.

    The ride after lunch was awesome since we headed out to the coast and met up with Highway 1.  The temps dropped down to the low 70s, and once we got to Hwy 1 the riding was great.  Many of the previous roads we had been on were poorly maintained back country roads, where as Hwy 1 was in excellent condition and the sharp turns on descents were well graded and fun.  Not to mention the views were amazing.

    I was feeling really good riding along the coast.  Hwy 1 had lots of rollers and I found that I still had the energy to get out of the saddle and power up the hills, and then my heart rate would quickly recover during the descents on the other side.  I was riding solo and I was still able to pass lots of other folks on the way to the fifth rest stop (Portuguese Beach @ mile 74).

    Right after leaving the fifth rest stop I hit the final serious climbs, and once again, I felt pretty good on these.  Since these climbs were moving inland it was getting warmer. I made sure to keep my power in check to avoid overheating.  I was also rewarded with good views of the coast rapidly disappearing behind me.  I took a quick and unnecessary stop at the sixth rest stop (Coleman Valley @ mile 81) and then another quick stop at the seventh and final rest stop (Occidental @ mile 87).  At the final rest stop, I realized that I was still feeling really good and decided to try and push a stronger pace till the end.  For the next 9 miles I was pushing a strong solo pace, and then a group of 4 other riders flew past me. I jumped onto the back of their train and road at an even faster pace for the last 7 miles of the ride.

    I crossed the finish line 9 hours after starting and I felt surprisingly good when I did.  I felt like I could have continued riding without any problems.  I had an average speed of 14 mph (a moving time of 7:21), which was much better than I had expected, and I also felt like I left some performance on the table.  I think I underestimated my abilities and overestimated the difficulty of the course.  Had I known better and been willing to finish the ride with no remaining capacity, I could have definitely pushed harder and finished sooner.

    Overall, the ride itself was beautiful and fun.  I normally ride by myself, so it was fun to get into a couple groups and fly along the highway.  It was also nice not having to stop anywhere and having police wave you through every light and stop sign on the road.  Finally, the scenery along the route was beautiful.  I'm used to riding through coastal redwoods forests, so I'm pretty spoiled when it comes to scenic rides.  But this ride was still impressive with forests, rolling hills through ranch lands, classic dry California hills, and coastal cruising on Hwy 1.  My main regret is that I didn't take a camera with me on the ride since there were countless opportunities to use it.

    If you're interested in my stats from the ride you can find them on Strava here.

    September 23, 2014

    Severed fuel line.

    Recently things have been busy at work.  So this morning I decided to get up at 6am (an ungodly time for me) and head into the office early to get stuff done before my meetings started.  While driving south on the 101 I hit some debris in the road.  I immediately noticed a fuel smell, my dashboard lit up, and my engine died.  I managed to get the car onto the shoulder, and when I looked under it I saw some shredded shielding and a hose leaking fluid onto the ground.

    Needless to say I decided not to try and restart the car.  I called AAA and had it towed to my local mechanic.  He put it on the lift and we confirmed that I had broken hose assembly and fuel line.  After having my wife pick me up from the mechanic I drove into the office again and was only a few minutes late for my 9am meeting.