Friday, November 28, 2008

Twas the night before Thanksgiving...

...and all through the rent controlled apartment, not a creature was stirring...

Except for the man of the house making Chicken Bratwurst!

It had been several months since I made homemade sausage. My mom & dad, revisiting a tradition from the New Jersey Chinese style Thanksgiving dinners we had growing up, asked me if I could make sausage to go along with my Dad's Cantonese Roast Turkey.

Being an occasionally filial son, I obliged.

First there was the casing.

Five bucks for 6 feet worth of casing from Whole Foods Market. It comes bunched up skewered around a plastic tie. What you see in the picture is only 4-5 inches long packed. When stretched out it becomes 6 feet long.

Then comes the meat. Don't bother with lean Chicken breasts. Get the chicken thighs with the

skin on, and slightly frozen so that they'll be easier to cut.

Grind the meat down in a cuisinart with the spice mixture. The spice mixture is allspice, white pepper, salt, and caraway seeds. Not a hard recipe.

Then comes the stuffer. Without the extruder and the casing wrapped around it, the thing looks like some kind of industrial blender/fermenter.

With the extruder and the casing wrapped around it...well, you be the judge.

This time I decided to use a wider extruder. In the past I used a medium size extruder on wider casings, which led to a situation where there was not enough meat to completely fill out the casing, leading to all kind of wrinkly looking sausage. The wider extruder has it's own problems though. As I cranked the meat out, the casings kept on wanting to slip off the extruder in one wrinkled heap. It was as if the meat had so much volume and force it wanted to shoot itself straight out of the tube and onto the table.

These pictures don't quite capture how hard it was to keep it all under control.

I had to pause to take the above shot. During the actual cranking phase I had my left knee resting on the base of my stuffer to stabilize it, my left hand cranking it, and my right hand spinning and pulling the casing along.

I asked my wife to take pictures of me cranking it all out, but she abandoned me, claiming she was tired and that my sausage had the look of "angry sausages."

She didn't seem to like the company of angry sausages.

Inevitably, there is always some dregs left behind. Not all of the meat gets from the extruder into the casing. The white stuff to the right is extra sausage casing.

They look a little better after cooking in a microwave.

The texture of the extra casing though was frightening. After nuking it I tried to take a bite of the casing. It was like chewing on a meat flavored inner bicycle tube.

The flavor came out really nice though. I personally thought it was the best batch of chicken sausages I had made in a while. The relatives liked them, but weren't wowed by them.

I guess I still have to learn how to sell my product to the general public.

Thanksgiving Weekend Part One

The waistline gets bigger as I get older. So I have to find things to do on Thanksgiving Day to burn a few calories. So two out of the past three years I signed up to do the SF Turkey Beach Trot.

Unfortunately this year (as was the case last year) they had to move it to Golden Gate Park. This time it is permanent. Gotta respect them environmental laws -- can't be harming the habitat of the snowy plover.

Like last year, I twisted my ankle bad. Last year it was midway through the run trying to get around other runners by going just off the trail. This time it was walking on the trail with my wife on the way to the start line.

To say the least, I was pissed. How can the same sh#@ happen to the same guy two years in a row at the same event.

After I had calmed down, my ankle didn't hurt that much. I had payed money to do a 5 miler, so I decided just to go ahead and do it. I took it easy, got really paranoid about the trail, and was able to run the whole thing. It wasn't the fastest 5 miles I've run. But the circumstances -- a huge horde of runners on a narrow trail, chewed up terrain, busted ankle -- I couldn't expect a fast time.

It was a beautiful trail run though. Not as pretty as Ocean Beach was in 2005 when I first did it. I'll still value that experience -- nothing quite like navigating that thin strip of firm sand between where the ocean washes all over your shoes and where the sand is too deep and too loose to run in very quickly.

Unfortunately, I'm hobbling around now as a result of my insistence on running the whole 5 miles. Hope the ice & compression packs heal it up before next weekend's relay race up in Sacramento.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pork Belly -- Part One

I call this Part One because THERE WILL BE A RE-MATCH!!

I brought over a pork belly to be smoked at my friends' J & K's place. K's younger brother has been storing a smoker there for the past few weeks. He showed up in SF on the way home from Mexico, and was happy to help us smoke a big ass hunk of meat.

Below is the smoker and a big hunk of hickory that he used as fuel for the smoker.

The flying embers are kind of cool.


Back to the meat.

I marinated the pork loin in a marinade of garlic, Jack Daniels, chilly peppers, olive oil. No salt though. Recipe was courtesy of Food Network Canada's website.

We put the meat onto the smoker for about 3 hours, temperature hovering between 250 to 300 degrees. We also, diverging from the original recipe, used a spray bottle instead of a drip pan to keep it moist. The spray bottle was a combo of salt, water, and Wild Turkey.

It came out mighty pretty.

The catch. That damn skin!

Yes, that drop dead gorgeous brown skin you see in the photos. It was still too tough. While the meat came out good and tasty the skin could not be cut with our table knives. I could eat the skin -- but everyone else couldn't. Can't blame them -- it did seem a little like shoe leather.

Possibilities that arise;

-- I didn't smoke it long enough to break down the skin, and did it at too higher a temperature.
-- Smoking just isn't a good way to handle the thick skin of pork belly.
-- Both.

The last time I cooked this -- also a disappointment -- the skin came out super crispy. The pork loin that the pork belly was wrapped around came out dry though.

The one option not explored yet -- braising/slow cooking the sucker. I have plenty of Asian recipes along the lines of this. Chinese ones involving dark soy sauce & star anise, Japanese ones using daikon. They are all delicious. I've had them, and they've shown me the potential of pork belly.

But I want to do it the Western way. The Chinese & Japanese approaches, frankly, are too easy. Slow cooking with a soy sauce base, that's something that comes easily to both me and my wife.

A Western approach -- that's a harder nut to crack. I also want to try and serve it with something other than a bowl of rice. A soy sauce based recipe restricts you to that.

My next attempt -- slow cooking with onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bouquet garni, and a PINT OF GUINNESS. Three hours of that -- the skin, fat, and meat should all be tenderized.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Nicest Day of the Year....

...was today.

Went out with the Sports Basement cycling group. Started from the Sports Basement Presidio branch, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, headed up to Mill Valley towards Mt. Tam.

Wacky -- this was probably the only time this year riding through Crissy Field and across the Golden Gate Bridge that I didn't have to deal with a headwind or a crosswind. The difference it makes in speed is tremendous. I was going 2-3 MPH faster along the Marina and across the Golden Gate Bridge than normal.

I'd thought I was getting weak and old because I couldn't peddle at high speed on the flats like I did when I was a seventeen year old back in Jersey. Now I know why -- it's not that I'm old and weak, its because San Francisco is a cold windy and nasty place to ride a bike during the Summer.


The pictures below capture just how nice it was today.

This was the view going along the Sausalito marina up towards Fort Point.

This was the view on the way back up to the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.

Days like this, I think the Greenh0use Effect ain't such a bad thing.

Why I could never become a vegetarian....

Ate this a few weeks back at Spessenkammer in Alameda.

That brown thing up in the corner is not a dookey! It's a traditional German soft pretzel!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dosa Eating.

I'm not a vegetarian. Too much sacrifice.

But vegetarian cuisine like this might make it worthwhile.

This spring vegetable dosa knocked me on my butt as much as a carnitas taco would have. Only difference is that the dosa would make me a lot more regular.

My one regret is that this place Udupi Palace on Valencia in the Mission, is charging more for their dosa's than they do in their branch down in Fremont. Maybe they are trying to compete in the same market with Dosa -- the rip off dosa restaurant up the street.

They both charge more for vegetarian South Indian than suburban Indian restaurants in the South Bay.

They both have a liquor license. (Beer is awesome with Indian food.)

They both are smack dab in the middle of the hipster & entertainment strip on Valencia.

May the best dosa win!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pimp My Bike

Finally got the parts to convert my old Cannondale into a flatbar roadbike.

But first, some background.

Back in early September I bought a used flatbar roadbike off of one of the rental bike stores here in SF that cater to tourists.


They unloaded a 2008 model bike to me. Sounds good, right?

But they had done a poor job of maintaining it. I wasn't thinking too hard when I got the bike. I discovered multiple mechanical issues within a few days of using it. It was going to cost me $100 more to address the issues. I found out later that the rental companies don't bother maintaining the bikes properly -- let the renters beat them to a pulp for one year, then unload onto a dumb cheap shmuck like myself. The bike was heavy to -- almost as heavy as a mountain bike. If I had wanted a mountain bike I would have gotten that instead.

Luckily -- thanks to craigslist, I was able to sell it and get most of my money back. Craigslist also got me replacement. A neon blue 1980's Cannondale entry level racing bike.

The neon blue makes me think of Miami Vice.

The owner had taken better care of this 21 year old bike than the bike shop did the one year bike I had before. It took forever to get the replacement parts. is cheap, but slow. JensonUSA, thankfully, is pretty quick. But after I got my parts, I was able to get sometime on the public workbench at Boxdog Bikes in the mission.

The result is what you see below.

She's still got some issues, but the flatbars made the bike far more comfortable & responsive than it was with drop bars. And the thing definitely has a lighter feel than the bike it replaced.

I usually wince when I see people here in SF taking nice older road bikes and doing a wack job to them -- like taking a beautiful Italian steel roadbike frame and making it into a fixed gear. But now I understand, and maybe it isn't such a bad thing. In a way, these oddball conversions give these bikes a 2nd life.

If you wanna know what I'm talking about -- pay a visit to Boxdog Bikes or Pedal Revolution in the Mission. The guys at these stores are great at restoring old bikes -- and converting them into something new -- often a flatbar road bike.

Thank God for Craigslist, and the Frankenstein Bike subculture of San Francisco.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rediscovering Hope

The election of has 2008 ended.

I spent the election night with my wife and two friends at the one of the official California Democratic Party sponsored events here in town.  I haven't felt so much energy at a political event ever.  At exactly 8 PM our time, 11 PM Eastern, when CNN and others called the election for Obama, the ROAR in the ballroom -- no words can capture that.  

The party in DC seemed off the hook.  As much fun as it has been this evening in SF, I kind of wish I spent the night in DC.  Four years ago -- there was no dancing in the streets on election night.  Even the Republicans held off till the next day -- and it didn't quite have that element of spontaneous joy that the Democrats are feeling tonight.

Seeing Ohio and Florida go to Obama -- there is definitely poetic justice in that, the source of so much pain for Kerry and Gore.   

After voting for Clinton in 1992 I got lulled into complacency for 8 years.  Maybe that was the genius of Clinton -- when the ship of state is so damn stable you can ignore the presidential elections. THAT, more so than anything else, says the President is doing a good job.  

These past eight years  - with the Bastard Child of a Noxious Weed in office - it made this election and the 2004 election more important than any of the elections that came before.

I will say this.  I always liked John McCain -- I just wish he wasn't representing the Republican Party.  That concession speech showed a ton of class.  His campaign abused that whole idea of "Country First."  But honestly --- McCain does put the country first sometimes.  Maybe I'm an idiot -- but I do think he was genuinely happy for Obama, and genuinely wants to see all of us (the pansey ass Liberals of the Coast and the gun-loving wingnuts of the heartland) at peace, and the country whole again.  

Now comes the hard part.  

Whatever happens, the time spent watching this election unfold, and my own little contributions to the Obama campaign (a few bucks in donations, some phone banking) were definitely worth it.  This night -- like the night Clinton won in 1992 -- will stay with me for a very long time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Conservatism Ain't Dead Yet -- Unfortunately

I read in all the blogs and political talking head op eds that this election means the end of Conservatism, the death of the GOP, etc.

I got a bad feeling it is wishful thinking.

Back in 2004, after the Kerry fiasco, other Democrats & Liberals I was friends with lamented what they felt was the worst possible election loss they had faced in decades -- the White House, lost seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. Then you had Karl Rove getting out on TV the day after the election (with that sh$# eating grin of his) talking about how Bush would privatize social security and create an "ownership society" that would create a permanent Republican majority and bury the Democrats for good.

Then Katrina happened, then the 2006 election happened, and Nancy Pelosi becomes the Speaker of the House. And then came Obama....

On Tuesday night we will all (hopefully) be celebrating the election of President Barack Obama, with big Democratic Party majorities in the Senate and the House.

But we should not discount a Republican comeback in either 2010, 2012, or afterwards. Modern Conservatism and the Modern GOP (as embodied by Sarah Palin and her supporters) are great at tapping into this wellspring of anger that exists across the country at the social & economic changes that have occurred in the past 20 years. Those changes that are so jarring -- the influx of immigrants, the disappearance of smokestack jobs, the rise of the geek industries like biotech and IT --- will spread even farther and faster if Obama succeeds. Even if Obama doesn't succeed, those changes are still going to happen because of the way the US economy has been evolving over the past 20 years. GOP leaders may exploit that anger in the population but they can't stop the development high technology industry since THEY as much as the Democrats need to grow the economy.

So as much as I hate to say it, we will be seeing Sarah Palin again at the top of a GOP ticket in the future.

There's also another more scary scenario -- sounds nuts now in 2008 but possible down the road.

Jeb Bush in 2012.

Its a horrible thought. But its the kind of thing the GOP and the Bush family would do. The Bush family loves dynastic rule. Using the logic the Bush family applies towards politics, Jeb Bush will probably have pressure applied to him to restore the honorable Bush family name (that's how they got Dubya to run against Gore). And the GOP will need a standard bearer for their party.

Be afraid.