Spices, Herbs, and Such — Earth based

Jun 27, 2013
Mark
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I had an oddball request for some fantasy spice names. Like most of my projects, I start with our own heritage. History has plenty of unusual names and people utilize an amazing number of plants. So here’s the quick and unedited list of spice like items.

If I move it forward, I’d just alter names and tweak to fit the ecology. The list is not historical. Rather it is the beginning of a more comprehensive list.

Download (PDF, 35KB)

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Some Days…

Jun 5, 2013
Mark
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Days, weeks, months, all of them can begin to wear you down. Occasionally you stumble across art that mimics your mood.

june4_FFFu

The art was up for bid by comment. I commented. I won. If I’m ever a zombie, I hope I’m cognizant enough to flip the bird with at least one hand. Possibly two. Or at least until the muscles rot away so I can no longer indicate frustration.

If you want zombie art, talk to Byron Rempel.

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Enter the Hovel

Apr 9, 2013
Mark
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At first I was hesitant to use this space for life stuff but for those following the RPG side of things, they can just use the RPG tag feed rather. It’s my space so choose to take the path less traveled and post on multiple topics. Random topics at times. Prepare.

Update: Changed my mind again, the Hovel, has its own site.


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Drinking Quest with a Playmate

Apr 4, 2013
Mark
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The video is pretty accurate and certainly representative of my personal play experience. We were lacking a playmate during our games. Next time perhaps. Plus there is a reference to the Snow Weasel. Hat tip to the Substance TV people and the lovely Pamela.

The Drinking Quest 3 crowd funding campaign is now fully funded and moving toward the stretch goals with 4 days left. I’m happy it has funded. Jason, the creator, is a hell of a lot of fun and a joy to interact with. Cool to see good people be successful in their projects.

Next convergence, I dub Randall the crazy hat guy.


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Buckboard Bacon Experiment #1

Mar 25, 2013
Mark

Two weeks past, I decided to make some bacon. Something a bit more meaty and tasty than what you can buy in the store. After failing to find inexpensive pork belly locally, I stumbled on buckboard bacon, which is basically cured meat from alternate cuts.

I browsed a multitude of cure options and one that kept being mentioned was Hi Mountain Buckboard Bacon Cure. The majority of people who suggested it had great pictures of the end result. Without further ado, I ordered a package of cure and approximately 28 pounds of pork butts (shoulders).

Step #1 of the process is to debone the shoulders and remove excess fat. Removing the bones is straight forward with a decent boning knife. Go slow and just slowly trim around the bones. At the end, I had large slabs of meat along with a variety of smaller bits and the bones with some meat left on them. The latter ended up in green chili.

Bone Removal

I should have divided the larger slabs into slabs about 2 – 2.5″ inches across. It would have allowed the cure to absorb easier and kept sizes consistent.

Step #2 was application of the cure. Just follow the instructions for your cure. The application is not difficult. Sprinkle some of the cure on the meat and massage into the surface. Make to apply cure to all portions of the meat including the pockets where the bones were removed. After the cure is applied, the meat goes into the a refrigerator for 7-14 days. The curing time depends on the thickness of the meat and the specific cure used. I turned my meat about every other day and kept it curing for about 9 days.

Packaging for the refrigeration can be ziploc bags, vacuum sealed bags, or a plastic tub. I had a handy meat tub to use which seemed far easier than individual bags.

Cure Applied

Step #3 is waiting along with some meat turning and occasional curious eyeballing. Mostly waiting.

Partially Cured

After 6 days, the color of the meat is darker and feels much firmer. At this point, I chose to heavily pepper two portions for peppered bacon. Honestly, the smell of the process was making salivate with more waiting on the horizon.

Step #4 is the soak out and fry test. Rinse all the meat thoroughly using cold water and soak for an hour. Cut a few portions off and fry to check salt taste. Repeat the soaking and testing until the saltiness reaches the desired level. I used two rinses and two hours of soaking. Keep in mind that as the bacon is smoked, the salt flavor remaining will concentrate due to the removal of water. I used one of the smaller slabs for fry test.

Fry Test

The flavor of the fry test was somewhere between bacon and ham. Tasty but definitely not what I expected for the final product.

Step 5 is an overnight rest to form the pellicle. Pellicle was a foreign concept to me. Essentially the overnight rest allows the outer portion of the meat to form a tacky layer that aids in the uptake of smoke. To prepare for the rest, I patted the meat dry, tossed on a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, and cracked black pepper. Additionally, for the one peppered bacon target, a re-applied a hefty layer of black pepper. Sadly, I forgot to keep the second separated during the rinsing process.

Pellicle formation requires air to all surfaces of the meat. I placed towels on my refrigerator shelves and then placed upside down jerky racks on the the towels. The meat then went in so I could begin yet another waiting period. Others suggest a fan blowing over the meat for an hour prior to smoking.

Come Forth Pellicle

Step 6 is bringing on the smoke. Finally, down to the last waiting period. Smoking can take many forms, flavors, and practices. Most traditional bacon is cold smoked somewhere between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which can take anywhere from a day to a week. I did not have the gear to cold smoke even though the outside temperature was a balmy 8 degrees when I awoke to start the process.

I used both an offset charcoal smoker and barrel electric smoker in the process. I was aiming to keep the electric at lower temperatures for a longer period of time because the offset is not easy to keep below 200 degrees.

I placed the thicker two slabs on the offset at 150 degrees and the three thinner slabs on the electric at 100 degrees without applying smoke for one hour. At the one hour mark, I added cherry and apple chunks to the electric and crab apple / apple splits to the offset.

The offset temperature was increased to 200 degrees after applying smoke. I kept the electric at 100-120 for 4 hours, then increased the temperature to 200 as well.

My goal was to remove heat when the meat reached 140 degrees — the point at which pork is edible without additional cooking. Doing so cooks the fat as well as the meat so the final product would lack some of the traditional marbling look. Once the meat hit 140 degrees, I cut the heat to the smokers and allowed the meat to rest on the smoker for another hour. The bacon was then moved into the house to rest further and slowly cool for a couple of hours. I used the same upside down jerky racks atop towels on the counter before moving it into bags into a freezer to cool further.

I failed to take any pictures in the middle of the process. Just picture wafts of sweet smelling smoke.

Step 7 is final processing. Many people recommend resting the meat in the refrigerator overnight to allow the smoke flavor to blend into the meat. I did not. I let the meat cool down to around 50 degrees and grabbed one slab at a time to slice and pack.

Hand slicing 20+ pounds of bacon is time consuming and difficult to keep consistent. You also end up with a lot of oddball bits of meat that I just carved into smaller chunks for adding to other recipes.

Carving Peppered Bacon

After carving slabs into slices, I vacuum sealed about about half pound portions and put them in the freezer. For hand slicing, I should have allowed the meat to partially freeze but I was running low on time and high on bacon smell.

Tray O' Bacon

Final Thoughts

I should have trimmed all the initial meat into more uniform slabs. Some the larger chunks would have been better with longer curing times. Plus uniform slabs would make the smoking process simpler.

The rise to temperature was far faster than I initially estimated. I’d really like to build a cold smoker box to waft smoke over a couple of days at low temperatures to allow the smoke to penetrate deeper into the meat. Hot smoking smells delicious but I think the overall flavor would be better with longer and slower processing.

The end product is absolutely delicious. I cooked up final samples (breakfast for dinner rocks) for myself and my neighbor, Ken. Ken handed me a $50 and took home a third of the meat. The donation covered all of the meat costs, which is awesome.

Success achieved with more to learn.


Cutting the Connection

Mar 13, 2013
Mark
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Over the last few months, I have made several trips into a connectivity dead zone. My fancy touch screen, always on, data connected cell phone becomes a dead weight with no purpose other than a few phantom moments of connectivity. Once it starts chirping the sound of battery death, it ends up sucking up electrons on a vehicle console or on a counter doing the same.

Something about taking the phone, along with its constant chirping, and retiring it to a shelf where it cannot bother me is very satisfying. For two days, I barely checked email, never bothered with social networks, and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I don’t need to be connected. I do admit to wanting to tap into the internet for research on occasion. Not being able to do a Google search was frustrating at first. Somehow, I still made decisions and moved forward without collective knowledge.

My first entry into cutting connections was cable/satellite TV. I purged my subscription over 9 months ago. My TV only now receives over the air channels along with a Netflix subscription. Mostly I use it for background noise within an urban house. It drowns out the other sounds like traffic. Nine months have passed and beyond the original few doubts, I see little difference in my life. I read a lot more. Muse with music in the background but have felt nearly no effect. I’ve never been one to get fixated on a fictional show to the point that I had to see it.

Going back to the basics would eliminate Hangout gaming, which I really enjoy. While I couldn’t jump into ad-hoc games at the moment, planning a few games per month would be easy enough — just plan to use higher connectivity sites when needed. Moving to a connection is very similar to travelling to the tabletop where the game was being played. Not much different than years past, just a different medium.

One of the original rules of Convergence discussed by Kevin and I was the lack of distractions. Many of our thoughts have diverged, but the lack of interruption is one we still share. Deviations come with connectivity — they are not usually additive.

I’m leaning toward occasional connection rather than being constantly connected. It may not happen. Simpler and sane speak louder than the current crushing annoyance of connections.

One thing is for sure, if I start raising chickens — I’m not tweeting the rooster.


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Drinking Quest 3 – Nectar of the Gods

Feb 18, 2013
Mark
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I love Drinking Quest. Its a light RPG based card game focused around having a few cocktails. Like many small game publishers, the fine folks over at Drinking Quest decided to launch a crowd-sourced campaign on Indiegogo to fund the final chapter of the DQ trilogy.

The final chapter of the DQ trilogy keeps the core game mechanics and is a stand-alone edition of the game. Each version shares a story line but can be played independently. It also will feature some improvements to the game. Quality improvements are a consistent feature with the publisher.

DQ3 is going to feature stout new boxes for the games. Additionally, they have hired a colorist so they can offer the new release in color! The black and white drawings were cool but I cannot wait to see how the art jumps out in color. Plus they are retaining the improved card quality from the first release to the new printings offered when DQ2 launched.

Here are 30 reasons in 3 minutes to consider backing the project in Jason’s own words:

Where I Sit

After waffling a bit on what level of backing for campaign, I settled on the perk of all 3 games + Insult + Poem. While I already own two copies of DQ1 and 1 copy of DQ2, the improved boxes will aid in hauling the games to various locales. I don’t game much at home so transport is key. I almost went for the t-shirt but could only wear it a few times per year. I’m not hipster enough to rock Chuglox on a regular basis. Just too damn old to pull it off.

What I could have done…

Sure, I could have opted for the drunken Bachelor Party via Skype. Trying to tell my new mail order bride that I ordered her just to play a game undoubtedly would not end well. Can you do an RMA in the mail order bride business? I’m dubious. Not to mention that I already wrangled Jason into playing with Erik Tenkar and I via Google+ hangout. I am confident I could make that happen again.

Tattoo Time was just off the table. I have no need for my name to appear on another man’s body for any reason. Honestly, that perk is creepy. I picture dark cells in a strange prison that features booze on the commissary options. Admittedly, I’m an ass backward citizen of the United States so perhaps our more forward thinking brethren to the north rock self esteem at the tattoo people level.

Let’s Party is crazily expensive. Playing with Jason in person would be a hell of a lot of fun. Playing with him via G+ was awesome and the stories were great. [Upside, he never hugged me. In fact, I cannot recall him groping the camera. (take note Bachelor Partiers).] Instead, I invoked the power of networking. Surreptitiously, my grand plan is to have a convention fund his travel/attendance, and then I volunteer to help him when I happen to show up for said convention. Minimal out of pocket cost. Benefit to Jason. Benefit to the convention. The math just works out in my favor.

Last Word

Why are you still reading? Did you already back the campaign and return for more in depth analysis? I invoke my special ability: Chug, friend, chug.


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