Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bacon, the secret to long life.

     I've wanted to write this one forever, but now have the anecdotal evidence to back it up.  A 105 year old Texas women who was recently interviewed about her longevity credited it to her habit of eating bacon almost every day. ( 105 year old bacon woman)

     What is not to love about bacon? The subtle smokey taste?  The saltiness?  The underlying sweetness ? The mouthfeel where
the fat easily coats the lean with just the right ratio?  It is an incredible meat, both by itself or when added to another one.  A scallop is great, after all, but isn't a bacon wrapped scallop even better?  Sure it is.

     Bacon was one of the first processed meats ever eaten.  The origins of bacon go back to China in 1500 B.C.  The word bacon itself is derived from "Back" or "Back of the animal", although now it seems to refer solely to the belly.  It's history is interesting, and it is said that European peasants would showcase the bacon that
they made so that people would appreciate what they had.  Have you ever heard of the expression, "To bring home the bacon"?  It was derived from a 12th century church in Dunmow England that offered any man a slab of bacon if they could go a year and a day without fighting with their spouse.  If they made it, they were held in high regard, and they brought home the bacon. Incidentally, in England they call a slice of bacon, a "rasher".   Bacon makes everything better, it's just that simple, marriages and even art.  The picture above is Van Gogh's Starry Night but it is done entirely in bacon.  Now, that's art. Did you know that a 250 lbs pig will only yield about 23lbs of bacon?  Less than 10% of the total live weight of the animal, but highly prized, some say, even addictive.  Bacon, you see, has 6 different types of umami in it, and these are known to cause addictive neurochemical responses.  That's probably why we (US citizens) eat almost 2 billion lbs of it
Bacon mayonnaise
each year (18lbs per person).  Did you know that bacon is good for pregnant women?   It is, due to the choline that it contains, which pregnant mothers need.  A recent poll in Canada had 43% of the respondents choosing bacon over sex, now I like bacon, but that is ridiculous. As ridiculous as bacon candy, cupcakes, ice cream and  mayonnaise?   Yes, they all exist.  On my bucket list is to make the dish called "The Bacon Explosion"  The recipes calls for a lb of ground sausage to be surrounded by a lattice work of bacon and wrapped, then smoked and covered in BBQ sauce.   I think subconsciously I've been putting this one off in case it becomes my last meal.   I did do a bacon wrapped pork loin once for a family gathering and it went over very well. I once took bacon training (there is too such a thing) and learned that in order to make the best grade of bacon, a

number one bacon, the primary line of lean has to extend 3/4 of the length of the strip and the secondary has to run 1/2 of the length.  This makes a consistent piece of bacon and if it doesn't make it, it's considered a number 2 bacon, slightly inferior to number one.  In spite of this, I can say that I've never had a bad piece of bacon, ever. 

     Although I started this blog stating that bacon can increase your lifespan, I'll admit that bacon in not the healthiest food out there, however, it still does not lack some health benefits.   It's packed with protein, averages about 45 calories per slice, it actually helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugars, it boosts brain

Making a bacon explosion
function and boosts your memory, it is chock full of essential vitamins and minerals and it is an effective mood elevator.  Have you ever been sad while eating bacon?  Me neither.  Lastly, I'll state that just a little bacon in a dish enhances the dish's flavor tremendously.  I personally save the grease and store it in the fridge to be used for cooking.  My clam chowder recipe has always included bacon grease to start it. 

     In conclusion I think I've made the case that bacon can be a healthy part of your 105 year long life.  If you don't live that long, well at least if you are eating bacon, you'll likely die happy.

My bacon wrapped pork loin

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A night in Rochester's South Wedge

     Our wedding anniversay, important as it is, sometimes gets lost among the other happenings in early June.  We've got 2 birthdays, a charity golf tournament and Father's Day all in close proximity, so it's not unusual for my wife and I to delay the celebration of our marraige, and sometimes let it quietly slip by non-celebrated.  This year, however, we got in front of it and celebrated it well, albeit a few weeks early.

     The stroke of genuis came when I realized our son Nolan was going to be away all weekend on a school trip to Washington, and we had a commitment on Saturday afternoon in Rochester.  One of my niece's boyfriends (she only has one, but I have more than one niece) was having a cookout to celebrate his finishing
his degree at RIT and we were sure to attend, as we were very proud of the accomplishment.  It then dawned on me that we had no commitments at home and that it might be a good time to explore Rochester a little.  Admittedly I go out more in Philly, Boston, NYC, Toronto and Quebec than I do in Rochester.  After coming home from traveling all week, I tend to stay local in the Canandaigua area, so I am pretty ignorant about the Rochester nightlife and the interesting offerings in the city, but I also am connected and it only took one phone call to make our plan.  My sister Hummingbird's husband is a fireman in Rochester, and they get up there all the time, so after a 15 minute conversation, we had nailed down the place to stay, the area to explore and been given a couple of great restaurant suggestions, and I won't spoil the ending, but he did not steer us wrong.

     We booked a room at the newly remodeled Strathallan, which is now a Doubletree property. It's right on East Avenue and walkable to a lot of cool places.  Both the inside and outside have been done over and you'll have to see them for yourself to appreciate how great a job that they did, but the outside work is highlighted by a couple of big outdoor firepits that make for nice gathering spots.  We
The firepit outside the Strathallan
rested a little when we got there and prepared for a night out.  On the way out, I checked to see when the hotel bar, Char, closed and it stayed open until 2, so we decided to hit it on the way back.   We had a good idea of where we evenutally wanted to dine, but we had a whole new area to explore, Rochester's South Wedge, so we started our evening with a 1.5 mile walk over and apprecaited all the unique architecture on the walk over. 

     The South Wedge has a long history dating back to the 1820's.  The Wedge is located in the Southeast Quadrant of Rochester and its boundaries are 490, the Genesee River, and Linden Street.  It's seen it's share of tough times and bottomed out in the early 1970's with over 200 vacant properties or about 25% of available housing vacant at that time.  Crime ran rampant and it's reputation suffered greatly until the movement a few years later came to revitalize the neighborhood.  The planning commission worked tirelessly to eliminate the crime and to foster neighborhood pride and just a few decades later, that dream was realized.  The South Wedge now hosts many upscale businesses, has 2 newspapers, their own social media page, and was voted best neighborhood in Rochester, two years running.  They say, currently it is the fasting growing urban neighborhood north of NYC.  We felt safe walking the streets there, and the neighborhood pride was palpable.  The neighborhood hosts a plethera of bars, restaurants and quaint shops that give it a really eclectic feel. Our first stop, by design, was The Beale.

     I had met the owner of The Beale, Terry, at a trade show the week before and he had offered to buy me
a beer if I was ever in the neighborhood.  The words I like best to precede the word beer are, cold, another, and free, but not necessarily in that order, so I took Terry up on his offer.  Terry grew up in Austin but decided to make a New Orleans style bar out of The Beale 15 years ago when he bought it, and he did a damn nice job of it.  A mural of New Orleans takes up a wall in the dining room and signed music posters, guitars and memorabilia hang in every corner.  A band was playing in the bar area and we drank our free beers next to a couple that had driven in from Buffalo just to eat at the Beale (Terry told us).  I never miss the opportunity to mess with people so while the band was on break, I inquired of the gentleman if he was from Buffalo (knowing full well that he was).  He replied that he was and asked how I knew and I told him I noticed that he clapped to the music like he was from Buffalo.  
Char (the person, not the bar) at The Beale

He stared at his hands for a second, pondering how people clap differently in Buffalo, before I let him off the hook and told him that Terry had told us.  We didn't eat there but suspect the meal would have been terrific based on the smells coming from the kitchen and the advice we got from people throughout the rest of the evening.  We finished our beers and headed off to stop number two, that is after spending some time checking out the walls. 

     We headed down Gregory street and passed two other places that had been highly recommended, The German House and Zeppa Bistro.  We chose not to go into either this time around but both came up frequently in conversation about the South Wedge.  Solera Wine Bar and the 
Our drinks at the Tap and Mallet

speakeasy kind of place on the second floor did too, but we had to pick and choose, so we headed over to the Tap and Mallet.  It's a pub with an English/Irish feel to it, but one that hosts local brews and specializes in fresh pub food.  We only had a beer there, but found the bartenders to be fantastic and the food that passed by us looked spectatcular.  The woman next to me offered for me to finish her deep fried pickle, but not being sure of the neighborhood or the vernacular, I erred on side of caution and politely declined.  I liked the music that was being played at the Tap and Mallet, and liked even more that they didn't feel it necessary to blast it out, so I could converse with my wife, we were celebrating our anniversary after all.  We were one and done here too, and we walked back around the corner to the Lux Bar and caught it just as it was opening at 9.  I grabbed our drinks from the bar after a short conversation with the bartender (she's getting married this summer, so remember to congratulate her if you stop in), and was about to settle into a hightop table when some flickering light outside the back door caught my attention.  My brother in law isn't the only fireman in the family so I went to investigate and found a backyard patio with a large firepit and benches so we decided to change locations.   The next 
The mural on the side of the Lux Bar

half hour found us sharing the benches with half a dozen ironic hipsters (is that a thing?), debating the legalization of marijuana.  They were pretty comical actually and they probably thought the same of us.  The inside decor was really interesting too, but I got the impression that the backyard was the place to be at that bar. There was a mural on the side wall and a cute park next to that.  We now were finished with our whirlwind tour of the South Wedge and decided to grab a cab over to dinner.  It was almost 10 and the restaurant stopped serving at 11. 

      We had decided earlier to check out a favorite restaurant of my sister Hummingbird, so we went 2 miles over to Good Luck.  I know that my sister, her husband and daughter are foodies like we are, so if they recommended it, I was sure that we were going to love it, and we did.  Our cabdriver drove past the sign on the corner for the restaurant rather quickly and deposited us mid-street which perturbed my wife somewhat.  We huffed it back to the sign only to see that it poined us right back to where the cab had dropped us off (incidentally he was passing us at that time laughing a little at our ignorance as we made it back to the door).  The place was
Probably should have taken the picture before we ate it
buzzing when we got in and it was going to be a wait for a table, so we grabbed a drink and found a corner to scope out the place.  Good Luck has an open air kitchen and has a rustic warehouse look to it with exposed pipes. Sometimes I don't like the acoustics in places like this, but it works here.  The drink was recommended by my niece Adriana, and it was a combination of gin, champagne and lemon peel and it was called a French 75.  I have to admit, it was pretty cool.  Our hostess found us and seated us rather quickly, she probably realized that it was already past our bedtime, and we would soon start to get cranky, but regardless, she did us a solid.  I bought her a drink later and she pulled up a chair to drink it with us.  I had trouble choosing dishes from the menu because they all sounded so delicious.  We settled on a bib salad, some vegetables done in parchment paper, and a Porterhouse steak for two.  None of it disappointed.  We finished with a decadent chocolate dish that was comped by the restaurant for our anniversary.  It's wasn't free beer,
My happy bride at the entrance to Char Lounge
but it was almost as good.  You know a great restaurant when you are dining in it, and you start to plan your next trip back to it, and to start thinking about the people that you want to share the experience with.  That was the case here.  I'll have to go with my sister of course, since she introduced me to it.  We headed back the short half mile to our hotel, where we had yet to check out the bar. 

     The place was hopping when we got back and it stayed that way right up until close.  We got the last two seats at the bar and chatted it up with a cute bartender who lived in the South Wedge.  We got an invitation from a couple of ladies to join them outside at the firepit, so we did.  They were comptemplating whether they were going to stay with the fellas that had brought them, and were not so subtly hinting that they could join us in our room.  It was my wife's turn to turn down the "Fried Pickle" and she let them down easy and suggested that they catch up with the limo that was waiting for them, so they did.  We finished up at the bar, and headed upstairs to call it a night.  We grabbed a quick bite in the hotel the next am and headed back home to the chores that were waiting.  As I said in the beginning we don't always have a chance to celebrate our anniversary, but when we do, we certainly make it memorable.  Check out the South Wedge when you can, you'll find it to be true too.

Last call

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Happiness is 76 lbs of pulled pork......

     Well,  maybe that's a little too specific, but this blog is a little about making pulled pork and a lot about service to others.

     I'm dog tired today.  I spent the weekend helping my sister Meter Maid with an event that she has held on her property for 2 years now.  It's a Hare Scramble motocross event and her husband's farm hosts it.  She asked us to help last year in setting up and working the food concessions, and I readily volunteered. 
It's called a smoker for a reason....
This year my family was able to join me, well at least my wife and one son.  As I reflect on what we did, and then look at the bigger picture, I'm not surprised at how smooth it went, how much fun we had, and the compliments that we received about the energy and enthusiasm that we all had, and as I reflect on all who worked, I see a pattern emerges in the people that I choose to spend my time with.

     We pulled in late Friday afternoon and after unloading went straight into seasoning the Pork Butts.  My smoker can hold about 10, but I don't like to overcrowd them, so we settled on doing 8- 9.5 lb butts.  They were bone in, which I prefer for the flavor, but if I do have to cram more in, I'll settle for the boneless ones. My wife and son Nolan helped to season them with the dry rub and we had them on by 6.  I use a mixture of seasonings and one person shakes them on and another massages them into the meat.  I use wet mustard sometimes too, but didn't for these.  I like to cook them low and slow at 225 degrees, but that means they will take 14 hours or so to fully finish, but like all things good, they are worth the wait.  After we loaded the smoker, we helped to start setting up for the next day.  My sister has a gorgeous place near Ithaca, and you've probably seen pictures of it when I wrote about the annual pig roasts that she has (A Swine Time ).  My brother, the Sergeant Major, had arrived before us, and that's saying something since he lives in Ohio.  Incidentally he stayed longer than we
A thing of beauty to behold......
did too.  My sister Hummingbird and her husband came down, and soon after were joined by my brother Ace and his wife.  The family circle was complete after Meter Maid's youngest daughter arrived and with my brother Socrates' youngest son in tow, an added bonus.  We set up all that we could and then went across the street to a local watering hole for a planning session.  Not surprisingly, my sister had agreed to advertise the chicken BBQ that they were having to the people that were at her event.  It was more of a nighttime thing, and we weren't serving chicken, so they weren't really competing with our food sales.  I wouldn't have been surprised though, even if they were, if my sister Meter Maid, wouldn't have agreed to do it anyway, she is one of the most generous souls that I know.  The event ran on Mother's Day, and I know my Mom would have been proud to see her children working so closely together and in support of a sibling. 

     Predawn we awoke to put on the big coffee pots. The kitchen and serving areas resembled a beehive or an ant colony with bodies seamlessly passing over each other, with their assorted tasks and chores to accomplish before we could open.   I like to stop for a second just to watch this happen, our
Some of the overnight campers
charity golf tournament gets started in the same manner each year and it never ceases to impress me. The morning menu was simple, 2 kinds of breakfast sandwiches, fruit, and coffee.  It's good practice for when we get busier for lunch and the afternoon. The afternoon menu is a little more complicated, hamburgers, chili, hot dogs, nachos, fries (with hot melted cheese), and my brother in law invented a new dish that we called a Garbage Barge that had fries, pulled pork, melted cheese, jalapenos, and a diced hot dog on it.  We sold over 25 of those to some brave adventurous souls who tried them.   We didn't get everything right the first day, but the crowd gets bigger on day two, so we fine tuned it all in preparation for the big event. That night, after a 12 hour shift of standing on a concrete floor or serving under a tent, most of us bopped back across the street and some of the more foolish stayed there until after 1.  That made for a long day the next day.

     Day two started with a bang and we had triple the orders on the breakfast sandwiches and coffee.  I had reloaded the smoker but only with 4 more butts, which looked lonely in there compared to the
The kitchen crew
day before.  I turned the fryer on at 9 and almost never stepped away from it after that point.  For a several hour period, I had to reload the basket with fries just as soon as they were empty.  My brothers on the grill and steam table had similar experiences on their equipment. This is not to dismiss all the ladies working up front doing the order taking, running and money collecting, I'll guarantee that they all got their 10,000 steps in that day. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that a lot of my sister's friends helped us, either working the food concession or helping to staff the event in different areas.  Some donated equipment to be used, like 4 wheelers or Gators.  My niece's daughter jumped in to help staff a table on day two also.  The first day we are lucky to make back the expenses, but day two puts some money in the bank for my sister and the farm.  We busted hump all day, and we sold out of some items completely at the end like cheese and fries.  There was still a little pulled pork left when I started packing up, but I'm sure it got finished as well.  My sister had a better year financially this year as we got dialed into the crowd and the patterns, and she even tried to pay the volunteers, which elicited a laugh from them all, there were no takers. As I mentioned before, my sister's generosity is legendary and when you have an opportunity to repay some of it with some labor, you just do it.

     So wrapping it all up, our weekend was comprised of 2 grueling days of work, but when we drove
back home, we all had smiles on our faces.  Most of the folks involved spend a lot of weekends volunteering for school and civic groups, or just helping those in immediate need (my sister Hummingbird dropped off food at a funeral on her way down to the event).  When you surround yourself with people like this, it's food for your soul too.  I find, that over the years, I've slowly replaced my friends with people like this.  Those people take a little longer to find and then to develop and keep relationships with, because they are always busy doing for others, but trust me, it's worth the time and effort, just like good pulled pork. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the joys of home ownership....

     This morning, as the dawn  breaks, my home will be swarmed by men in pickup trucks with ladders attached.  In a few short hours, they'll tear the roof off my 100 year old house, and start replacing it with a new one.  I'll be thousands of dollars poorer by the time they get done and I wouldn't have it any other way.....

     We have both types of folks in our families, people who rent their homes and domiciles, and people who purchase them, and I've never had any interest in doing the former, when I had the ability
and financing to do the latter.  I'm a home owner and always suspected that I would be.  I'll not stake the claim that my home is an investment, because if it is, it's a poor one.  I can show receipts for tax bills, insurance, additions, home repairs and maintenance that when added to my mortgage, clearly will show a net loss from my current assessed value, but for me, it's not about investing my money wisely, it's about the quality of life and freedoms you have while you are in your prime years, and I gladly will swap that for the pile of money I could have had sitting in a bank at the end of my life.

     We were renters first.  My wife and I rented 3 different apartments in Canandaigua NY over a period of 6-7 years. The first one was an older house, split into two apartments, one atop the other.  It
had huge ceilings that were so big we had to buy a kerosene heater just to supplement the furnace that was in it, to help with heating it.  We had great neighbors at first, a policeman and his wife, but then they purchased a home and a mother with a couple of kids moved in.  I was studying one day downstairs and kept hearing a hellacious noise above me, only to discern that her kids were roller skating on the hardwood floors above me.  We were evicted from that home when it sold, so that the new owners could live in our apartment.  In the next apartment, we were the upstairs neighbors and the nice older couple, a brother and sister, happily heated our apartment for us, by turning up their heat so high in the winter.  We'd keep ours off and sometimes still have to open a window to cool down.  In our last rental place, we went back to being the lower renters and had a great couple as upstairs neighbors, until they moved out and were replaced by a less
considerate couple.  For years we shared a driveway with the first folks, seamlessly placing our 4 cars in it, with no hassles.  With the next couple it was always a fight to ask one or the other to move a car so that we could get ours in and out of the driveway.  So you can see through our experiences, what we gained from home ownership over our rental time, no roller skating kids (except our own which were much cuter when they did it), we control the temperature in the home, we can't get evicted if we pay our mortgage, we pick who we share a house with and we can put our cars anywhere in the driveway we damn well please.  Priceless.  
      We looked at many, many, houses before we purchased this home, but we were so anxious to have our own place that we overlooked some serious flaws in some, and had to have people that weren't emotionally invested in the process, point them out for us.  The most memorable one, was when describing a place to my brother Ace, that we were considering making an offer on, he quickly pointed out that it was directly across the street from the Ontario County Fair and Racetrack where every Saturday they race stock cars.   We lived several miles away from there at the time, and could clearly hear
when the races started from there, so being race-adjacent would have been horrible.  We still drive by another house, that we had come close to buying, and it looks so small and unappealing that we can't even recall what we liked about it.  Our eventual home, in the sleepy little hamlet of Hall NY turned out to be exactly what we needed, but that's not to say that it was perfect from the beginning or that we've made it into anything but our own.

     This house had an outbuilding kinda garage when we moved in, but the floors were rotted and it barely fit one car in it.  We knocked it down, leveled the area, and a few years later, put up our version of a garage (See - The Garaj-Mahal) and fitting our cars in it, is no longer an issue.  The house had clapboard two-tone siding when we moved in, and we had grand ideas about painting one
side of the house each summer to maintain it.  After 5 years, we hadn't gotten to painting even one side and they all were peeling, so vinyl siding seemed the way to go.  An enclosed front porch was replaced by an open-railing one, a lopsided back deck was replaced by a green composite one with a sunken hot tub, and the driveway was replaced with stone, and then blacktop just last year.  The property has seen horseshoe pits built, dilapidated, and then dug under.  It's seen swing-sets built, expanded and then demolished (The former owners had different priorities, I'm told that there is an in-ground pool that is buried in my back yard somewhere).  5 of the rooms inside have been redone, and a couple could probably use it again.  The furnace was replaced, we've seen a few hot water heaters come and go, we added electric outlets and overhead lights to most of the rooms, which necessitated an electrical panel upgrade.  I try and think these things through so when we did that, I
 set up an outside plug to run the house with a generator, but we don't even own a generator yet.  We buried all our electric lines to and from the house and while we were at it, put down some drainage pipes to keep the water flowing away from the home.  We expanded the septic system and found a crushed pipe while doing it, which quickly explained the odor we used to get in the house after a heavy rain.  Most of the windows in the house have been replaced but we've still got a few that need it.  The attic was better insulated a while ago, and my wife never forgave me for ruining a storage space for her to hoard in.  I've been using the word "We" pretty freely in these paragraphs, so I'd better come clean and tell you that all of this was done by more qualified people, my brother Ace, my brother in law Frank, and a bunch of skilled laborers.  Although I own most tools known to man, I long ago figured out the best tool for me to use, was my checkbook.  You see, I have to protect this home that we bought, it's an investment after all.