Sunday, August 23, 2009

The First Sausage of the Year

I brought out the sausage maker for the first time in 2009.

Our friends G&S were having their housewarming party. Their grill is on the small side, so grilled oysters (my original plan) wasn't such a good idea. So I decided to do sausage.

This time, however, I decided to use a different approach. My sausage maker comes with three extruders -- a thin one that is good for breakfast sausages, a medium size one that I usually use and seems to be standard size for sausages I see at supermarkets, and a large size one that I had never worked with. The large size one always seemed a bit --- big.

Unfortunately, some of my previous experiences using the medium size extruder had been traumatic. The sausage casing slipped on really easily, but was too big for the meat. Lots of air pockets. Lots of wrinkled sausages. Also -- too much sausage. Nobody could consume 4 feet of medium sized sausage -- it was too much all at once.

So I decided this time, to use the large bore. The overall length of the master sausage was shorter, but it was much shorter, and a much more robust tube of meat.

The compare the pictures below to the shots from the last time I wrote about sausages on this blog.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

Notice the size difference?

As I brought them to the grill, one of our friends said,

"Now that's a sausage that'll make a girl proud!"

As I brought the cooked sausages to the table, nobody dared try to eat one on their own. I had to slice them into smaller pieces. Even the small pieces were more than a mouthful for a lot of people.

Long John Holmes

Ron Jeremy

Dirk Diggler

Pencil XXXX's

Follow Up

M did a search online, found out how much the fighters got paid that night.

Gina Carano $125K
Cris Cyborg $25K

I really hope Cyborg, since she's now the world champ in her division, finally gets a decent paycheck.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shame on You San Jose, Shame on Your Strikeforce

Last Saturday M, J, K, and I, went to see the Strikeforce MMA fight down in San Jose between Cris Cyborg AKA Cris Santos and Gina Carano -- formerly of American Gladiators.

It was shameful the way that San Jose treated Cyborg. I could understand if Gina Carano was local. But she wasn't. The boos that came from the audience when Cris Cyborg walked in, and even after she won, it was wrong. Cyborg was unquestionably a better fighter. She was also -- unlike any number of trash talking and swaggering fighters in UFC (think Brock Leznar or Michael Bisping) -- very sportsmanlike. She deserved a lot more respect from the crowd than she received.

At the end of the day, the San Jose fans booed Cyborg because she wasn't a hot girly girl like Gina Carano is.

Which brings me to my next issue.

In the lead up to the fight, Strikeforce and the media focused on this whole idea that Gina Carano was the "face" of female MMA.

Face is right -- she's gorgeous.

But I got a bad feeling that Carano was probably being used by Strikeforce to help boost ratings and help market female MMA.

You ask what I mean, think of the following.

- Unlike, say Olympic Tae Kwo Do or Karate or professional boxing, there isn't a firmly established female MMA league within the big professional MMA organizations. MMA hasn't been around long enough to create a female league at a grass roots level.

- Most MMA fans are still guys, and you have to appeal to the guys in order to boost interest in women's MMA.

- If you have to appeal to the male audience, which one is more likely to attract attention -- a gorgeous women without a blemish on her face, or a girl who is really tough and looks like she spent her youth street fighting?

Carano went into the fight with an 8-0 record. Cyborg was 7-1. I strongly suspect Carano's eight previous fights were with women that her managers and the Strikeforce managers knew were going to be easy fight. Cyborg on the other hand was probably fighting a much tougher crew of women -- and probably practiced by fighting guys who were in the same weight class to toughen her up.

Seeing Carano cry at the end of the match, I felt sorry for her and angry at Strikeforce fight organizers. In the end, they set this poor girl up, and used her, to market their newest product.

Shame on you, Strikeforce. Shame on you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Maybe She's Got a Few More Miles Left in Her...

Since my crash I've had to spend a lot of time searching the web researching whether or not I'd have to get rid of my bike -- a 20 year old Specialized Allez Epic, one of the 1st generation Carbon Fiber bikes.

Its interesting going out on the web and seeing the universe of Carbon Fiber lovers and Carbon Fiber Haters. To give you a flavor of the Carbon Haters (far more vocal than the Carbon Fiber lovers) check out the following;

Its fascinating. How an inert material can generate so much hatred is something that a cultural studies Phd could spend decades writing about.

More importantly, despite 20+ years of use at all levels, carbon fiber is still a love/hate type of material in cycling.

The wackiest thing occurred today, after bringing my carbon fiber Specialized Allez Epic of unknown age (20 years +/- years) checked out. While going through the various mechanical issues that he fixed, the mechanic and I discussed some of the issues with my frame. While there was some definite wear and tear on the frame from my usage of Michelin 700 X 25 MM tires (too wide, rubbing up against the chainstay), the frame itself was still relatively strong. As far as he was concerned, this frame still had a few years left in it (that makes three bike shops in a row).

The mechanic discussed possible flexing in the bottom bracket when I cranked it. This would be reflected in chain rubbing against the front derailleur when mashing big gears.

I replied that I hadn't had that problem with this, that my only experience with this was on a triple butted steel Miyata frame that I was riding when I was 17 years old. I might have been a stronger and more aggressive rider back then.

He also mentioned -- and this was VERY INTERESTING -- this type of old carbon fiber was not "butted." It was the same thickness throughout the length of the tubes. Modern carbon fiber frames are double/triple butted the way aluminum and steel frames are -- meaning steel/aluminum is thinned out at different sections of the frame tube in order to save weight. As such, this old school Carbon Fiber was in a way safer than contemporary Carbon Fiber. Modern Carbon Fiber frames are thinned out at various sections in order to keep it light.

This kind of dovetailed with a contradiction with first generation carbon fiber frames of this kind that I had been reading about. Catastrophic failures of carbon fiber frames do happen even with modern carbon fiber. But these first generation Carbon Fiber frames (unintentionally) give you a forewarning. Historically they weaken at their joints. But when they weaken there, you can feel and hear it. There will be cracking, there will be squeeking, and when you do things to stress the frame (shove your foot against the bottom bracket, press down on the brake hoods to stress the headtube) you will hear noise.

So maybe -- despite her advanced age, her ancient technology -- this old beast that I'm riding is actually not that dangerous to ride on. Granted -- this frame (somewhere around 4 lbs) is now considered heavy (modern carbon fiber comes in around 2 lbs).

But she still gives a sweet ride.....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dark Lager -- Underdog

During the past 8 months I've had multiple liaisons with an underappreciated niche beer -- the Dark Lager. NO, not a porter. Not a Stout. A Dark Lager.

If you want to know what I'm talking about, these guys are the representative examples;

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager

Negro Modelo

Asahi Korunama

Kostritzer Schwarzbier

The Dark Lager is an underappreciated beer here in America. Don't get me wrong, if I wanted a dark beer, I could get one very easily. Here in Cali, porters and stouts are a dime a dozen. Guiness -- that's practically Budweiser out here due to the plethora of stouts & porters.

But Dark Lager -- she's a harder beast to find. Dark as a porter, but not quite as hoppy. A lager, but richer than her sisters but just as smooth. She's a niche brew. But damn does she go down smooth.

I personally find it frustrating that here in California, the self-proclaimed wonderland of homebrew and craftbrew, that we have no local Dark Lager. I also, when guzzling Shiner's Bohemian Black, find myself increasingly torn by the State of Texas. How can a state that produced George W. Bush also produce such a wonderful Dark Lager.

Lastly, I lament the fact that so few domestic craft brewers recognize the beauty at its grasp. In my drinking excursions, the only American craft brewer I've come across that made a good Dark Lager was Spoetzl Brewery in Texas, the guys behind Shiner Bock (bless their heart). If I wanted to get others I'd have to;

A. Get Kostritzer, an original German I guess.
B. Get Negro Modelo, and underappreciated Mexican Dark Lager.
C. Asahi Kurunama. It maybe tasty, and Japanese. But it is still EVIL. Asahi is to Japan what Coors/Busch are to America.

Can't the American West Coast embrace the Germanic/Czech/Slovak brewing culture? Can California brewers for once take a step back from their Triple/Quadruple/Quituple/Terabyte Pale Ales? Must every beer on this side of the United States be a hop bomb that can take out a small city?

Alas -- so long as Spoetzl/Kostritzer/Modelo/Asahi still produce a Black Lager, I will drink it with a smile in anticipation of the day that California embraces the Germanic school of beer brewing.

Thus Far....

Its been a week since I bought the Vibram Five Fingers. Thus far I've only had one comment about my shoes. This evening while shopping at Whole Foods I had a lady come up to me and say, "Those are some gnarly shoes!" I went on to discuss with her why I bought them. She revealed that she had horrible hip problems that prevented her from even doing long distance walking.

Maybe a convert?


These shoes by themselves are not a miracle cure for all things. But they are a good entry into the world of barefoot walking. The shoes have made me much more aware of how big a difference going barefoot can be. For example, when walking upstairs to our apartment while wearing shoes, my left knee (the one that had runners knee) flares up. BUT, when I walk barefoot, I don't feel any pain at all. The Vibram Five Fingers are somewhere in between.

Also, I have to admit, I like the feel of the pavement and cracks below my feet. I can't walk at high speed like I used to. I did one heel to toe foot plant on concrete -- it was not pleasant.

I've also started running with shorter steps (in running shoes of course) in order to land in the middle of the foot instead on the heel. Its not faster, but there is a definite difference in how my body reacts. Its hell on the calves, but its much easier on the rest of the joints. Also, the calves seem to adapt better to the workout than the knees, hips, and quads.

For example, the other day I did 4 miles around Lake Merritt in Oakland. Lake Merritt is a pain in the ass -- literally. For reasons that neither I nor others who run around the lake can explain, running the trail around there is painful on the joints. I've been doing it for 4 years, up till this week my joints would always ache after running around it. But the other day when I ran around it, focusing on landing mid-foot instead of on the heels, and odd thing happened. My calves got trashed while running. But the next day -- no pain in my knees, quads, or hips. My calves weren't even sore. They had recovered within 24 hours.

The lesson therefore is that my entire way of walking and running for the past 30+ years has been a recipe for pain and discomfort. I had always taken for granted that stretching my legs out really far in front and landing on my heel (both when walking and running) was my natural gait. While I don't think I'll be using the Vibram Five Fingers to run on SF concrete, I think I will start focusing on shorter steps, higher cadence, and see where it takes me.

If I'm slower, so be it. At this stage of life, being able to keep running long distances for another decade or two will make me happy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Weird New Shoes

Just finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

For anyone who loves to run, or used to love running but got sidetracked by injuries, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

It basically takes much of the conventional wisdom regarding running shoes, aging, and running injuries, and throws it out the window. It also explains, to some degree, why ultra-marathoners can run the crazy miles they do without hurting themselves. Lastly, it pushes the idea of running barefoot as both a training tool and a general way of doing all long distance running.

But I digress, after reading the book, it inspired me to buy these bad boys.

From Storehouse

Its the Vibram Five Finger shoe. According to one of the ultra-runners in the book, the Infamous Barefoot Ted, it can give you some of the benefits of barefoot running without the dangers (broken glass, cut feet, etc.).

A running store owner in the East Bay had mentioned these very briefly to me earlier in the year. He mentioned in passing that these shoes were the only things he knew of that could fix flat feet and restore arches -- but he didn't go on about why, nor did he try to sell them to me.

After reading the book and doing some additional research on the web I decided to give them a try. My legs and feet are not holding up as well as they used to. At this point I would try almost anything that would strengthen my feet, restore my arches, and reduce injuries to my joints.

I bought them at a store in Oakland, and walked out the door with them to the BART Station, then back home to the City. It was interesting. I did get a few stares. As I sat on the BART platform waiting for the train, reading the final chapters of the McDougal book, a woman who was dressed to kill in stiletoes stopped and looked at my feet. My shoes might have been a bit much for her.

In total I've only spent an hour walking around in the shoes. My observations so far;

-Despite the thin bottoms, I didn't feel nearly as much of an impact when I walked around on hard surfaces with them.

-I could, though, tell the differences between different surfaces. Shifting from the concrete sidewalks onto the stone surfaces at the BART stations, you could feel a difference.

-You do feel the changes in the pavement -- cracks in the pavement, the safety padding on the BART platform, steel tracks for the cablecars -- but its subtle. Its not as sharp as you would think it would be.

-I love the way these things feel on my feet!

I'll have a more detailed verdict a few weeks I think. The plan for now is to get used to walking around in these things outside the office, then start using them for short runs.

That will be the point where things get harder and potentially more painful.

The Control Experiment

Did a follow up to the simple pork rib recipe. Wanted to see if I could replicate the same results using beef ribs I purchased from Cala market -- a far cry from the boutique Niman Ranch meat I got from the smaller corner store.

The recipe was basically the same;

Half a rack of beef ribs
garlic rubbed on the ribs
dried rosemary

Broiled it on both sides to give it color and flavor, then wrapped it up in tinfoil, and left it alone for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Results are below;

From Storehouse

The results -- mixed.

The good;

-Very juicy.
-Lots of meat flavor, the limited spice and herbs didn't smother the meat

The problem -- it wasn't nearly as tender as the pork ribs from the night before. Two things might be going on.

One, as I said before, these aren't premium ribs like the Niman Ranch ones I had the other night. The lack of tenderness may reflect this.

Two, beef ribs might just be harder to work with then pork ribs.

If it is the former, then my simple rib technique is only really applicable to premium ribs. If it is the later, then maybe I just need to cook beef ribs for longer -- maybe a full hour. This would still be less than the 2 hour marathon bbq recipes I keep on coming across.

Will follow up.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Simple Rib Recipe

Tonight I discovered something.

All those recipes for making ribs, especially BBQ'd ones, that emphasized;

- Complex spice mixtures & marinades;
- Hours of low heat to make meat tender;

It was ALL A LIE!!!

All those baroque preparations involving exotic multi-colored sauces with secret spice recipes, the debates about various types of fuel (mesquite vs. gas), the enormous smokers, none of that is necessary unless you are insistent on (to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain) forcing the meat into submission.

I made a pork ribs this evening for dinner. It was a VERY simple recipe that I threw together. But it turned out to be the most tender batch of ribs I ever made, and far quicker than all my previous attempts. The basics were as follows;

Half a rack of Niman Ranch pork spareribs
Two cloves of garlic
A handful of fresh sage
Salt & pepper to taste

I rubbed the garlic and sage all over the ribs. Sprinkled salt and pepper on them. Plopped into the broiler just long enough to brown both sides, switched onto oven mode, and roasted them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

BUT, I DID ONE VERY IMPORTANT THING, I wrapped the rack of ribs in tinfoil before putting them back into the oven. The meat already had the searing from the broiling, from here I wanted to wrap them in foil and sweat the meat.

A half hour later, I pulled them out of the oven. The results are below.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

In the picture above you see a rib furthest to the right where the bone is sticking out more than the others. My hand accidently bumped into it, knocking the bone off the meat. After only at most 45 minutes of cooking the meat was falling off the bone.

It might have just been because I used high quality pork, but the ribs needed very little spicing up. Sage, garlic, salt, and pepper, was all these ribs needed. Smothering it into a reddish sweet/sour/salty/spicy mixture for several hours, or even just for the 30 minutes it was sitting in the oven, would have done nothing to improve them.

I wrote months back that Texas BBQ was overrated. After tonight I think ALL AMERICAN BBQ is over-rated. What BBQ preparations do to meat is excessive and unnecessary. It's like taking Ingrid Bergman and making her get a boob job, liposuction, and botox. If the meat is good to begin with, there is no need to smother it.

Back in the Saddle Again

Went out on the bike for the first time in two weeks this weekend. A short 20 miler in the city on Saturday, and a 40 miler in Marin the next day. I was able to squeeze three ball busting hills into the urban 20 miler -- up Arguello from the Presidio, up Lincoln Boulevard from 25th Avenue down to Crissy Field, then back up from Crissy Field up Lincoln Boulevard back to the Richmond District. For the Marin ride (for safety reasons) I didn't go down the Sausalito Lateral Road, took the zig zap access road to the left after getting off GG Bridge, and went along Conzelman Road to Sausalito. Then I headed up Camino Alto, and looped back over on part of Paradise Loop.

A couple observations.

1. My bike has actually held up despite the crash. None of the squeeking and cracking that I was warned to check up on. Just in case, after the first day, I stopped, sat both butt cheeks on my top tube, pressed the sole of my foot into the bottom bracket, no noise.

2. Despite the lay off from the injuries, and not riding consistently during the past 7 months, the hills in Marin really aren't much harder than they have ever been.

3. Even before my smackdown I was getting cautious on downhills and flats. I have lost something in terms of both aggressiveness, situational awareness, and reflexes. This reflects the fact I hadn't been out on the road for awhile. I haven't lost that much in terms of overall fitness, but cycling isn't a pure brute endurance sport. You do have to pay attention to the road, and if you ride aggressively, the need for bike handling skills and situational awareness goes up significantly.

The next few weeks won't just be an exercise in building up my endurance for the events ahead. It will be an exercise in getting a feel for the road again.