Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let Us Give Thanks...

 ...for red motorcycles, blue skies, mountain roads and...

 ...pork shoulder braised in milk!

Give thanks for all those loved ones and experiences that make your heart soar.
Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Canyon Carving without a Motorcycle? (Eaton Canyon, Haven Gastropub, Stone Brewing Company)

Wow, my quads are really sore…


Yes, that’s me, demonstrating truly exquisite novice form: awkward, tense, and really slow.  But I’m still standing and I had fun doing it, so I consider my day in Lower Eaton Canyon a smashing success.

Here my host and his GoPro helmet camera provide a glimpse into what it feels like to rappel down (and through) a waterfall.

I found myself in Orange County earlier this month in early September, graciously hosted by the Ducati Instigator aka my Most Excellent Tour Guide.  The trip was mostly a work thing (i.e. failed job search) along with a quick trip to Motorport* to have some adjustments made to my motorcycle jacket, but I was able to reserve one day for an adventure.  Naturally, I imagined that day would involve a motorcycle.   Naturally, I was wrong.

The motorcycle gear I had packed would not serve for this escapade.  With borrowed clown shoes (at least two sizes too big), borrowed wetsuit (also way too big), borrowed bicycle helmet, gloves, backpack, and harness, and borrowed waterproof camera that malfunctioned in the first hour, I was about as well suited as I was on my first motorcycle tour.

Eaton Canyon Rappel Gear

Fear is such a funny, irrational thing.  Although I had a few successful practice rappels off my host’s porch the night before, I had no idea how I would react when staring down a 60 foot waterfall.  And once you’re in, there’s no going back.  I have no idea why, but my heart pounds a lot harder when I’m riding on gravel or loading my motorcycle on its trailer.  Go figure.

Oh glorious Nature!  It’s a good thing I was up to the task, because it’s the only way one can experience the daisy chain of magical intimate pools of crystal water, the water slides, and the waterfalls that make up this beautiful (and dangerous**) canyon.  How wonderful it would be to go back with a quality camera, tripod, and some more time on my hands.

Notable Food Finds in the area:

I met my host in Old Towne Orange for lunch and touristy wanderings. 

Haven Gastropub Pork Sandwich
Pork Sandwich and Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse at the Haven Gastropub.

O'Keefe and Merritt Stove Antique Station
Just up the street, a windowful of restored vintage stoves at Antique Station.

As we went our separate ways, my host found the helmet latch on his Goldwing had broken. Broken locked, that is.  The options?  I ride it home for him (I happened to have my gear in my car), he wears my helmet, or we both go home in my boring Toyota.  Someone else's 800 lb motorcycle I'd never ridden before in SoCal rush hour?  I really did laugh aloud.  I think his head still hurts from cramming it into my leeetle helmet.

The next day, after our ride to Motoport (I guess I did get on a motorcycle that weekend!), we dined at the nearby Stone Brewing World Bistro.

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens 005
Mac n' Beer Cheese, with Smoked Porter Sausage tossed in for some real excess.  Yeah, it was fantastical.  I can't remember which beer I opted for, but it sure looks like another hefe-weisse.  Love a good hefe in the summer.

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens 043
Chocolate pate surfeit Medjool Date dessert.  Beautifully presented, every component delicious - candied kumquats, currant coulis, cocoa nibs - yum! - but I'm not sure the cocoa pate is the best match for the dates.  At home, I stuff 'em with mascarpone cheese, and I see no reason to change that now.

And, notable for another reason, the pasta dinner I prepared for my host.  In what could easily be one of my top three kitchen failures of all time, I ended up throwing out my pasta dough and acquiring “fresh pappardelle” from the corner Trader Joe’s.   Either I shouldn’t talk and knead at the same time, or the flour I used was gluten-free***.  No matter how much I kneaded (it typically takes 5-10 minutes), the eggs and flour refused to become that smooth elastic mass that allows itself to be rolled and stretched into those silky satiny sheets you wish you could sleep in.  I’ve made pasta more times than I can count, but this time the dough simply tore into pieces if I flattened it any thinner than my Ducati owner’s manual.  I even toted my 32” pasta rolling pin to California for the occasion.  Go figure.  At least the wine (provided by my host) was good.

Funny.  Sometimes you are tossing a no-brainer dinner into the trash and other times you are Jane Bond, rappelling down a towering foot waterfall into a string of secret grottos glimmering with sparkling cool water.  You just never know.

* I’m even more impressed with this company after my visit.  Every single point of design of their gear (even those that I had, at first, questioned) is so thoroughly thought out, they spent a generous amount time with me discussing the alterations on my jacket, and charged me nothing for this service.
** Two deaths and 48 rescue operations for the year at the time of my transit.
***The flour on hand was Gold Medal brand.  It has lower protein content that other brands which makes it an excellent choice for some things (a delicate butter cookie, perhaps), but is less than ideal for recipes that require the formation of a strong web of gluten (say, bread or… pasta)  Still and all, that was just weird, especially given that the Italian “doppio zero” flour traditional used for fresh pasta is not all that high in gluten.   I did manage to make maccheroni alla chitarra  when I got home a few days later without drama.  Clearly it was an astrological phenomenon.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Daily Special – Keeping the House Warm in Winter (No-Knead Bread)

Ahh, the change in seasons…  Motorcycle jacket vented panels are replaced with thermal liners and electric vests.  One begins to wonder if perhaps riding halfway up Mount Lemmon twice is a wiser tactic than riding all the way up, once.  Or an even better idea - head west and ride Kitt Peak, instead.  As the temperatures drop from triple digits (and then some) to more in the frost on my car, snow in sight, plant killing range, my morning muesli gets a hit in the microwave before breakfast and my daily bread shape-shifts from tortilllas to hearty loaves.  Because, while having your oven roaring at 500 degrees in the summer is a bad idea, it’s a fine way for those of us without central heating to warm up the house!*

So, the first day snow hit the Catalinas and I found myself feeling like a character from Puccini’s Boheme (yes, I was wearing a scarf and hat indoors) while cursing my high tech low solar heat gain coefficient windows, I knew it was time.   Here's the result of my version of the “No-Knead Bread” method that took the world by storm back in 2006.  The one that purports even a six year old (or four, or eight, depending on your source) can make bread better than almost any bakery.  It’s true.  See?

No Knead Bread
Making this bread is less work than running out to the bakery.  Cheaper by a long shot, too!

Basic Recipe:
(My favorite tweaks and variations not shown, since you'll find your own soon enough.)

Make yourself a really too wet dough by slinging flour, salt, yeast (1/4 tsp per three cups flour) and water in the bowl, mix it ‘round, oh, maybe 10 times and walk away.  For 18 hours.

Use a bit more flour as needed to form the dough into a loose roundish kind of boule shape, spending no more than 30 seconds doing so. Walk a way for an hour or two more.

Now, here’s the good part:  twist that oven throttle all the way to 500 and put in an oven proof pot to preheat.  If you have my  silly little easy-bake sized and quality oven, it will take at least an hour to reach the proper temp.  The house is a few degrees warmer already, isn’t it?

Take your blob of dough, toss it in the pot (plop!), cover said pot (don’t forget, the pot has been in the oven, so you need an oven mitt!), and walk away for a half hour.   The covered pot, a clever method of approximating a professional steam injected oven, is the genius of this recipe.  Everything else – the no-kneading, the wet dough, the low yeast percentage, the long cool temp rising periods - has already been done.

Uncover and cook ‘til done. (Another 10-15 minutes).  So, yeah, it took you almost 24 hours to make the bread, but hands on time was probably less than five minutes.

Consider peeling off that scarf and hat.  And start the next loaf now, since this one will be gone by tomorrow.

*Yes, it routinely freezes in Tucson (last year we hit a low of 18F and pipes all over town were bursting like it was the Fourth of July, okay?), and no, I don't have central heating.  And, are you ready for this?... I don't have central air conditioning either. Which is why there's no way in hell I'll make this bread anywhere between March and October.  Tortillas are much better for the environment during the summer months.