Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Morning Wrapup

Mrs Elliott hosted her company's annual employee-appreciation Christmas holiday dinner Friday night, this time at the Jackalope Grill restaurant down where south Division hits 3rd Street.

It was very tasty. The wine list is lots of fun.

I knocked about downtown Saturday morning. Jack and Mrs Elliott have this new gift agreement that for Christmas* we'd only buy each other these swell Sid Dickens wall tiles (carried by Haven Homestyle, and if I was a crime novelist I'd pick "Sid Dickens" as my pen name); the idea being that each year we will each buy one tile for the other, and by doing so create a collection, an accumulation that I'll bang up on the living room wall.

But a week ago she let drop that she was also buying me "stocking stuffers."

With this announcement, she upped the game. Because it does not do for a man, even a man as handsome and generous and good-smelling a man as Jack, to give fewer gifts to his wife than he receives, I felt a sudden need to find a whole bunch of pretty and thoughtful things to stuff her stocking with.

And (adding additional urgency), my son, my daughter and her boyfriend are coming by for Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.**

So thar I wuz, shopping downtown -- shop local! -- looking for things to give them.

I found some pretty nice little items. They are presently in my camper van on the driveway. Nothing I bought will freeze, so I reckon it's the safest place (read: less chance of accidental discovery by snoopy Missus McMissus) to keep them.

A few weeks ago I tried a recipe for French Chicken in a Pot found in Cook's Illustrated magazine. It didn't turn out satisfactorily because it was undercooked. I'm re-doing the recipe today, with adjustments. This is how we learn: make mistakes, see what went wrong, try again with corrections.

[Update: the adjusted version is wonderful.] 

Bond Street Barber Shop has a new barber, Alicia. She does a fine job with Jack's thinning hair. Better than the dudes. Jim, the owner, is presently looking like Uncle Fester from the TV series "The Addams Family" due to both eyes having been blackened by blepharoplasty (upper eyelid surgery). Everyone is urged to drop by and make fun of him.

Go Ducks. Yeah, another Rose Bowl. I read someplace that the Oregon Ducks have been to the Rose Bowl five times but have not won since 1917. It's high time. At time of publication, Las Vegas odds makers are giving the Ducks a six-point lead. But barber shop's Jim says they'll win by 12 points. Keeping the faith, he says.

Does one trust a barber when making a wager?

Lowes Home Improvement recently folded like a bunch of spineless cowards when some Florida dipship right-wing bunch of Baptist assholes decided that the TV show American Muslim was not, you know, Islamaphobic enough and went after the advertisers, one of which was Lowes. The company promptly, and cravenly, responded by pulling their advertising. "Tough choice," said Mrs Elliott, "either way you're going to lose customers." Fuck 'em, I said, they made the wrong choice, they chose discrimination, prejudice, and ignorance. Wrong side of history. ***

I mention this because I learned that Lowes is the only shop that carries the particular brand of mortar cement sealant that the guy doing the re-mortaring of our fireplace recommends and am not disposed to spend a pfennig at Lowes right now.

So I did a little research and learned that Home Depot carries a perfectly cromulent tile and mortar sealant, the 511 Tile Impregnator, by Miracle Sealants.

Home Depot wins, I'll be shopping there this morning.

Mrs Elliott is wrapping presents. I'm writing this stupid blog.

Wouldn't have it any other way.

* Jack is not a Christian, but he did grow up with European/American's version of the Christian winter holiday traditions. Hey -- once you've had the whole Christmas tree and Santa thing, you can't go back.

** My son lives here in Bend, and is a locksmith at Bend Lock and Safe. He is excellent. My daughter goes to UC Irvine and just finished her first quarter on the Dean's list. I'm very proud of her. Her boyfriend seems a nice fellow. (I reserve judgement, as any good father should. Not for any reason, but just because.)

They are pale blonds, both of them. I mean like elves from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, and seeing them was positively unnerving; not helped in the least by the fact that Beth has pointy ears. 

But now she rocks black hair, and with her green eyes, is a total knockout.

*** Neither is Jack a Muslim.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Spotted . . .

. . . this sign today:

In this window downtown:

Anyone know what that's all about?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Missed My Chance!

I posted someplace, probably on H. Bruce Miller's* blog, "Bend Sux" (available by subscription here), something like a couple months ago, that were we to get an Indian summer here in Bend I might be tempted to take an end-of-the-season backpacking trip into the Cascades.

That trip never happened, mainly because I was (a) thinking September, maybe October at the latest, and (b) thinking "backpacking" instead of the more umbrellaic** term "camping."

The result of these blinders to my thinking, my too-narrow focus, is that when the weather up in the Cascades degraded quickly into dangerously-cold and possibly treacherous conditions, I simply stopped thinking about the outdoors as a destination.

BUT, had I been open to the idea of "early December," and "camping," then I would have seen that this extraordinarily sweet weather we've had for the past three weeks would have been ideal for me to take my VW poptop camper van out to the real high desert to watch a couple glorious sunrises and sunsets and relish the skies.

He who snoozes, loses. But from this mistake, I vow that forevermore I will be alert enough to see when Ma Nature has tossed us sweet sunny days.

IN OTHER NEWS, I have been sleeping much much better these days, due to the diagnostic powers of Dr. Weintrob, N.P., at Glow Medicine here in Bend. Just puttin' the word out -- she does well by me. Anxiety under control, totally, and now improved sleep. Your mileage may vary. Oh, she totally looks like Minnie Driver.

* A citizen of Argentina, H. Bruce Miller emigrated to Bend in 1927. Named "Bend's Goodwill Ambassador" every year from 1995 until date of publication, Miller and his lovely wife, Sharon, live on Bend's unfashionable east side. Nice house though. I'm just saying.  
** "A neologism a day keeps Alzheimer's at bay." -- Bosco Peen. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beef Bourguignon Derby: Results

No question about it, Tony Bourdain's version is much tastier, richer, than Julia Child's.

Perhaps Child's is more authentic, maybe Bourdain's is a version tweaked for maximum taste and easier preparation. I dunno.

I've been looking at the recipes, side by side, trying to discover the reason for the difference. (See my previous post for links to the two recipes).

In terms of ingredients, Bourdain bases his broth on 1 cu wine + water. Child uses 3 cu wine + beef broth. For the broth, I purchased Stock Options, an expensive frozen beef broth which I found to be somewhat watery. But even so, watery beef broth should be richer-tasting than water, n'est-ce pas? 

Wine-wise, for Bourdain I used a Burgundy as suggested. For Child, a Cotes-du-Rhone, also as suggested. There's a difference, sure, but I don't know how much influence that would have on the final dish.

 Bourdain uses four onions, six carrots; Child uses one of each.

Child cooks, separately, some small white onions to add at the end, they do not influence the taste of the broth, as she has us dumping the onion-cooking broth.

Bourdain calls for "neck or shoulder" of beef, cut into 1'' cubes (chuck seems to fill the bill), and cooked 2 hours or until tender; Child asks for "stew meat" cut into 2'' cubes, cooked 3 to 4 hours until tender. The latter was stringier and tougher than the former. Same meat counter used for both.

I'm guessing that the additional richness of the Bourdain recipe must be mainly due to the larger amount of onion and carrot. There's little else I can see that could account for it. Unless, in my amateur chef ignorance, I am overlooking an important but subtle cooking chemistry detail as it might be a matter of preparation, rather than ingredients.

I tasted both dishes when they were fresh, and also let them sleep overnight in the refrigerator, then re-heated them for a second tasting. In both cases, this improved the flavor, but Child's was still a distant second.

As it stands, the Bourdain recipe, being easier and tastier, will become my standard basic one and based on the outcome of these two version, I have ordered his cookbook. Need to find something challenging, sublime -- and delicious! to prepare for Christmas eve meal w/ my kids.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beef Bourguignon Derby

We went down to San Diego for Thanksgiving. Got home last night at midnight.

After a great Thanksgiving feast, what does a boy's heart turn to?

Why, Beef Bourguignon, of course!

Last week I cooked Tony Bourdain's recipe.

Today I am cooking Julia Child's. Hers is more complicated.

But is it better? Bourdain is no slouch in the kitchen.

Our judges (Mrs Elliott and I) are standing by.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Problem with Salad as We Know It

I had an epiphany last night. I finally sussed out the basic problem with salad.

There's too much damn lettuce.

On a volumetric basis, the ratio of lettuce to the other (tasty) stuff is about 20:1.

But it gets worse: On the Piltdown Standardized Taste Scale (revised, 1994), the ratio of stuff you just have to plow through* (lettuce) to the stuff that has flavor is closer to 1000:1.

The goddamn lettuce is the problem. Lettuce is promoted by the Benevolent Loyal Protective Order of Lettuce and Other Filler Leaves Grower's Association and Marching Band, and their powerful Washington lobby. They have influenced the FDA, the USDA, the FDIC, and both patriotic hard-working and thoughtless lazy-ass Americans alike (I'll let you guess which category I belong to) that the basis of a salad is always a buttload of crap lettuce topped off with just a paltry, meager handful of anything genuinely interesting.

This is plain wrong. And I have three reasons why:

First, lettuce provides nothing worthwhile nutritionally.

Second, after mowing through a pile of lettuce the size of a toss pillow in search of something -- anything -- worth eating exhausts my jaw muscles and brings on a bout of TMJ.

Finally, I'm regular. I don't need a mass of watery, fibrous rubbish queasily gurgling about my lower gut to accomplish what I normally do. Two or three times a day (photos available upon request).

Jack won't stand for it any more. Jack is going to put down his high heel, put his fist on his hip, and declare a "low lettuce" lifestyle. The stuff is not worth eating.  It performs no function and gets between me and the things I care to eat.

Someone puts a bowl of lettuce in front of me with a meager few interesting things hidden away like some goddamn Easter eggs peppered about a 20-acre meadow, and I'm handing it back with a "what the f*** is this crap? I ordered a chicken salad, not a goddamn lettuce salad."

* Fine, Howard & Howard, 2006, Lettuce: WTF Is This Tasteless Crap In My Salad!,  Journal of the American Dietary Association, 09;302(10):1107-1109. doi:10.1001/jada.2006.1301

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yet Another Household Improvement Project: Kitchen Hardware edition

Meanwhile, in the ranch house kitchen, Mrs Elliott announced that it was high time I got around to replacing the stainless steel hardware on the kitchen cabinets and drawers with the desired rubbed bronze birdcage type. Such as this:
I had to go online to find pulls, knobs, and hinges that fit the existing cabinets. The local stores don't carry the sizes we need. This because the previous owner fabricated his own drawer pulls and didn't use standard hole spacing, and since I'm not interested in modifying all 15 drawers with new holes (which would necessitate repainting all of them).

After searching through a number of surprisingly disorganized online stores, I found suitable pulls--I think.

One site has the desired design in 160mm spacing, which is very close to the right size and it will work. But that mfgr doesn't make one for the oddball 4-3/4'' pull that I need for one skinny drawer, but another mfgr's line has one 120mm, which is very close, and it may match well enough with the other pulls to blend.

These are not common sizes, common sizes have the holes either far wider or far narrower than what we need here, so fingers crossed the parts will fit and look good.

Hinges are also a mystery, there being dozens of hinge types and me not interested in re-engineering the cabinet doors, but Mike and I have determined that what we got here are probably "3/8" Inset Self-Closing Face Mount Hinges" most likely made by Amerock.

For the cabinet knobs, we will use these:
It all should look nice. Here's our inspiration:

Of course, that kitchen is much larger than ours. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another Household Project: Living Room Improvements

The living room is getting a facelift here at Chez Elliott. The basic idea is to put new tiles in front of the fireplace hearth along with new carpeting. This, like many ambitious projects, has to be done in stages:

  • Stage 1: Prep the room so there is power for a new floor-heating system (electrician, drywall work, painting). 
  • Stage 2: Lay down new tiles in front of the fireplace (mason/tile guy).
  • Stage 3: Install the carpet pad (carpet installers)
  • Stage 4: Lay in the floor-heating mats, route the wiring to the wall (me).
  • Stage 5: Connect the heating mats to the wall wiring (electrician, again).
  • Stage 6: Lay down the new carpeting (them carpet installer dudes, again) 

(Background): The carpet in the living room does not suit Mrs Elliott. The previous owners picked a color that is colder than she likes. She longs for a warmer color and is drawn to wheat-colored carpet.

A few months ago she took home a number of carpet samples in marginally differing shades of wheat and has since then been vacillating over them and has narrowed down the selection to two or three samples.

She is coming close to making up her mind.

Thinking about the project, I had this brainstorm: The living room is sunken and cold air pools on the floor making it chilly (unless the woodstove downstairs is cooking). It seems to me that that heating the floor would be helpful.

I poked about on the Internet and found that the usual way to heat a floor is to pour a thin layer of concrete with a grid of heating wires embedded into it. That's expensive.

Then I came across a product in the form of a thin electrically-heated mat designed for under-carpet applications. These Environ II mats come in a number of sizes, are UL approved, and installation is simple: simply tape the mat down to the carpet pad, route the wires to a wall-mount thermostat, and put your carpet over it.

A pair of 6 foot by 10 foot mats would cover 70% of the room, and keep Mrs Elliott's feetsies warm.

AND (here's the lucky part),  because there is a Cadet wall heater in the room (put in when the room's electrically-heated ceiling system failed) we have 240 volts right where we need it. Which is what the mats like.


We hired Joe Hawkins (a great electrician here in Bend) to pull the old wall heater, drill the needed wire-routing holes into the wall and floor, put in conduit, and install a new junction box for the new thermostat -- all the wiring needed to light up the mats.

With that done, master carpenter and handyman Mike Accardo patched the big hole in the wall where the heater had come out, mudded around the new thermostat junction box, then sprayed texture so the work would blend into the surrounding wall.

Using a weenie roller, I did the final priming and painting. You can't tell that the wall had surgery.

We can now move onto the next stage: new tiles in front of the fireplace. These had to wait for the electrical work because they will cover the floor beneath the old heater location: the new conduit had to go in before the tiles go down.

Mrs Elliott has been thinking what tiles to use nearly as long as she's been considering which wheat-colored carpet she wants. But the tiles have been bought and the tile guys are coming tomorrow.

Test Driving Juniper Firewood

Our house goes through about four cords of firewood every winter. The house was built in the '70s and did not come with a furnace. It relied on electrically heated ceilings, most of which have failed and are unrepairable. Little 1500 watt Cadet wall heaters were subsequently installed in some of the rooms, but those are about as useful as hair driers (also 1500 watts) for keeping the downstairs, where Mrs Elliott's employees work, comfortable.

The previous owners put a very efficient wood stove insert into the downstairs fireplace, and I added a blower to it. As long as there is wood burning in the stove, the whole house is suffused with heat.

For our first three winters here I purchased Lodgepole pine, four cords every fall, split and stacked.

But softwoods are not my favorite firewood: not a lot of btu's/cord and the stuff burns up quickly. I used to burn oak in a woodstove down in a '30s-era house in Vista, Calif., and loved it. It packs a lot more btu's per stick and burns more steadily.

But we don't have hardwood here in Central Oregon.

So this year I decided to switch to juniper. Your Western Juniper weighs more and packs more btu's than our Lodgepole pine, about 18% greater in both cases (weight pretty much translates directly into heat).

The woodstove seems to be happy with it. And I really like how it burns in the upstairs fireplace. Where pine burns quickly and needs constant replenishing, juniper, in comparison, burns more slowly and constantly, and I don't need to keep feeding sticks into the fire.

Juniper smells like incense, too.

The guys who brought the wood told me that juniper clogs up a chimney with creosote faster than pine. I'll call my chimneysweep dude and see what he thinks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Household Project: Covering the Deck

My Project: Yesterday morning, Mike Accardo of Quality Interior Works (seriously competent carpenter and nice guy), came in the morning to build a drip cover over the house's lower southeast deck to keep it dry in winter.

Casa Elliott has four decks: two upstairs and two downstairs. Rain and snowmelt drips down from the upper decks to to the lower decks, making them unsuitable places to store bicycles (six of which are presently clogging our garage) or other items which can be damaged by water during winter. An expensive metal toolbox with drawers, filled with the specialized tools used for bicycle maintenance, got totally soaked and trashed by snowmelt last year, despite my best efforts to keep it covered under a tarp; and the composite wood top on my nice workbench is now warped beyond recovery.


I need a covered spot that will stay dry through winter and spring and asked Mike to help come up with a way to protect the lower deck area. Since the wood for the decks is quite nice, we need a waterproof roof above the lower deck which does not look hideous.

Mike suggested transparent corrugated plastic and I thought it was a good idea. After some discussion, we came up with a way to mount the panels above the deck, framed in with 2x2 wood stock, which he ripped from 2x4's for better appearance, stained to match the decks. The result is quite unobtrusive and looks good. 

Now I can move the bikes down to the deck.

My plan is to mount a big ol' 2x6 board on the side of the house with a half-dozen J-hooks on it to hang the bikes from.

Nice to have that finally sorted out.  

Mrs Elliott was out yesterday evening, giving Jack the opportunity to catch up on a back episode of Dexter, something she does not care to watch. I had a nice Napa Cabernet and a grilled ribeye steak w/ A1 sauce (it came out dry on the outside before the inside was cooked, I have to work on my grill-pan-fu) and a decent Gorgonzola. 

Reckon I just need to order the full set of hardware and see if it mounts up.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taste-testing Canned Diced Tomatoes

Here in the Elliott Test Kitchen, Jack made Chicken Cacciatore for dinner last night. The recipe calls for diced tomatoes and near as I can tell, there are no good fresh tomatoes to be found in Bend this time of year. The supermarkets ones are brought from far away and aren't very tomato-y tasting, so I planned to use canned toms. And I got it into my head to do a taste-test of a few. 

So from our local Safeway, I bought four different canned diced tomatoes. We opened them and tasted them, and wow! what a difference! 

Two were just terrible, tasting thin, metallic, and with a bitter chemical aftertaste. Two were quite delicious. All four brands listed the same exact ingredients on the can label: tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, calcium chloride, and citric acid. 

From worst to best:

  • Hunt's Diced Tomatoes
  • Safeway's Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • Muir Glenn Organic Diced Tomatoes
  • Hunt's Petite Diced Tomatoes

Mrs Elliott and I disagreed about whether the Muir's Glenn or the Hunt's Petite was the best. The MG had a sweet, ripe tomato taste which she preferred, the Hunt's Petites were brighter-tasting, like fresh toms, a taste I prefer. A quibble, they were both quite good.

Next time I make something that needs canned toms, I'm going to re-do the test to see if these rankings still hold. There might be batch-to-batch variations and given how terrible the two worst tasted, one should confirm that the toms taste good before using. They're cheap, anyway, so it's not a big deal to dump a couple cans if they don't make the grade.

Oh -- the cacciatore was delicious. I used my new stainless steel saute pan and it was a pleasure to cook with, and cleaned easily.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

To Fairfield and Back, a Pictorial Extravaganza!

Rather than write a few thousand words, I'll post a few pictures, in no particular order. Most are of Mrs Elliott.

Jack's Halloween costume. Fairfield, Calif. 

Mrs Elliott and granddaughter, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Fairfield, Calif.  

This would be Mrs Elliott and an old school friend, Gary. He and his lovely wife Guia own the Lost Whale Inn, a sweet B&B. Trinidad, Calif., 

I saw how the light caught her face and had to take this shot. Some coffee shop, don't remember where. 
View from our window at Ireland's Rustic Cabins, Gold's Beach, Ore.,

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.
The grandkids on Halloween day. Jessie and Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story," and a princess. Fairfield, Calif.  

Late afternoon at Gold's Beach, looking northward. 

Gold's Beach, view to the south. 

Jack and Mrs Elliott, Lost Whale Inn, Trinidad, Calif. 

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sock-Changin' Day

Last night, Mrs Elliott and I returned from a six-night car trip down to Sacramento area via 97 to Weed, and down I-5, and then back up following a route through the wine country to the coast and up to Florence, where we turned inland and drove directly to Bend.

I may write more about the trip tomorrow or soon, but what I want to write about at this moment is sock changing day.

Yes, sock-changing day; a day which occurs twice a year with the change of the seasons, for Jack has but a small bedside dresser for his folded clothes, his undies and socks; and Jack likes plenty of socks, so poor Jack is unable to keep both the warm season socks (the cotton ones) and the cold season socks (those of wool) in the drawer at the same time. There just isn't room.

Thus sock-changing day, a day where the out-of-season socks are replaced with the in-season ones.

Going back to last weekend, the weather forecast predicted a week of not dangerously low freezing temps, so I saw I didn't need to worry about sprinkler pipes yet. But those of you who live here know the value of the local weather forecasts. So instead of the promised non-sprinkler-pipe-threatening weather, Bend was seeing temperatures predominately below freezing.

Seeing this, I was moved to place a call to our sprinkler winterizing guy to request a prompt blowout. I didn't arrange for it before we left because it just seemed too early to shut off the plant irrigation and it could wait until after we returned; so yes, I played chicken with the weather. And though I won (no frozen pipes or sprinklers), it was a costly victory in terms of energy-sapping worrying while getting the job lined up.

Back to now: We're home, and the house has picked up some chill.

There's this window in the living room where the double-paned glazed window has been removed and replaced with a thin sheet of acrylic with an incredibly heavy air conditioner poking through. That needs to be winterized by re-installing the window for winter. There's the fact that the outside air is much colder now than when we left; and we cannot overlook the importance that Daylight Saving Time is packing its valise for tomorrow morning's departure. Like a dear lifelong friend, DST promises, as always, to return next year.

Jack's no fool and can read the signs. So cotton socks are OUT, woolens are IN. The out of season socks live in a nylon duffle bag in the garage, awaiting the return of the warm season.  I hope DST doesn't also have to live in a nylon duffle bag.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tonight's Menu Will Be . . .

...Ancho Chili-Spiced Grilled Chicken with Fennel.

The highly-attractive and functional Mrs Elliott and I will be tackling this recipe tonight.

It took me a bit of searching to find ancho chili powder. Struck out at the first two markets I tried. Drove to La Colima, the Mexican food store near the corner of Greenwood & 3rd. Looked around a bit at the spices, didn't see any ancho.

There was a tiny Latina stocking the shelf nearby.

"Necesito chile ancho molido," I said to her.

"Chile ancho molido!" she said cheerfully, and pointed to a bag of guajillo chili powder on the rack.

"Guajillo," I said. "Es lo mismo de ancho?"

"Si," she said, said seriously.

Not entirely convinced. "Es verdad?"

"Si, si, es lo mismo! Es ancho!"

Okay, well, what the heck. Maybe a regional difference. Besides, 99 cents ... a smaller amount of the same spice at Newport Market would have cost over two bucks. At Whole Foods it would have been $5 for a bottle, but it would be organically raised and fair traded, I'm sure.

I got the bag and wandered around the store to see what else they had. Found Diet Coke in a can. Do you know how hard it is to find a single, chilled, 12 oz can of Coke these days? All your Kwik-e-Marts sell anymore are the larger 16 oz Cokes in a plastic bottle. I don't like plastic bottles, they don't seem to keep the drink as cold as an aluminum can (probably not true but it feels that way), are probably laden with something horrible like BPA, and 16 oz is more than I care to drink at a sitting.

80 cents. Score!

The nice lady at the cash register asked if I needed a bag.

"Necesita bolsa?"

"No, gracias."

My Spanish exhausted, I got out of the shop for $1.79,  drove home, and checked the Google to see if guajillo chilies were the same as ancho chilies. Turns out that they are not exactly the same, but the two are often used in tandem in many traditional dishes. I'm sure it'll be tasty.

Tucking the Garden in

Here at chez Elliott, Jack has been getting the yard ready for winter's slumber and spring's awakening.

One thing we are focusing on is flowers. Mrs Elliott likes flowers and she likes lots of them, and we learned a few things about gardening in Bend last season.

First, perennials alone are not showy enough for her, so plenty of annuals need to be planted to plump up the yard; and second, if you're going to plant bulbs, which offer reliable flowers in late spring where annuals and the other perennials are not yet up to speed, you need to plant a buttload of them. ("Buttload" is a technical term meaning a large quantity but not as much as an assload, and a lot less than a shitload.)

This time last fall we planted a few dozen fancy bulbs I purchased from the Central Oregon Master Gardener Association. I've never done bulbs before and always wanted to. They all flowered and they were all pretty, but not showy enough, meaning there weren't enough of them to impress.

Meanwhile, over in the valley, our friend Michael Hill of Sweeney Pond had also planted bulbs, but rather than planting a few fancy ones, he planted great clusters of inexpensive Costco and Fred Meyer tulips. It looked spectacular and he had plenty for flower vases.

So that's what Jack did yesterday. With the help of a hired guy, something like 400 or 500 Fred Meyer bulbs went into the ground. Daffodils, anemones, hyacinths, and Dutch irises in the front yard, and a mess of tulips and ranunculus in the back yard, where deer can't get to them. To make room for the bulbs we moved a bunch of perennials and some of last year's bulbs out of the way, applying compost and root stimulant; I feel pretty confident that they'll survive the transplanting.

Knowing that after flowering, your bulb-y plants don't look so pretty while they are sittin' and gatherin' sunlight and nutrients, gettin' ready for the the following spring, we left plenty of room in front of the bulb gardens to plant annuals into.

In the back yard, petunias, annual geraniums, and marigolds provided Mrs Elliott with a lot of pleasure this summer, so we'll repeat that. Out front, I don't yet know what annuals to use. Don't need them ending up as deer pellets.

I reckon that that's something to research during winter.

I outlined the various bulb beds using bone meal for the planting guy, and while the bulbs were going in, I wandered about, deadheading and trimming the perennials, trimmed the lawn down to its final, short, length to reduce the amount of tender blades which are susceptible to frostbite (or the plant equivalent), and applied some winterizing fertilizer, which will be stored in the roots until spring and give the grass a robust start.

Sometime next week I'll spray a lawn antifungal on the grass to protect it from snow mold, something that chewed large holes in the lawn on the north terrace (i.e., front yard).

Of the three young aspens we planted between our house and the one next door, one dropped its leaves quickly without going through fall color, and I feared it might be dead and was mentally preparing to pull it and plug in a new one. But the guy at the nursery told me to check the trunk and see if the layer (the cambium) under the bark was green, which indicates that the tree is not dead, and lo and behold, it is green, so I won't lose hope yet.

Something else I did wrong last year was not water the rhododendrons in the front in winter. They dried up and died. Turns out that they, and other shrubs that are not yet established,  need water in winter like they do in summer. Who knew?

With the sprinkling system shut off, I guess I'll just water those plants with a bucket, trudging through the snow, and see if I can keep the replacement rhodies alive.

Anyway, at the end of the day yesterday, Jack was pretty darn tired. A cup of hot sencha and a bottle of Alsatian wine helped my flagging energy and spirits.

I've got a bit more to do before winter sets in. Plenty of leaves to rake, for sure. Still have four cords of firewood to source. Gonna try juniper this year.

There's a covering to be put under a part of our deck to keep rainwater and snowmelt off items I want to store there for the winter.

Each year I hope to make the yard prettier and prettier. It does so please Mrs Elliott.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It Breaks My Heart

I placed an ad on the Bend branch of today for someone to help Mrs Elliott and me plant a buttload* of bulbs (my pot-metal knee and fused ankle don't make kneeling and doing ground-level work possible).

 I posted the ad eight hours ago. I've received nearly 30 call and a few emails. Here's an example of an email:

My name is (redacted) and I am interested in the garden help gig available. I am a 32 yr old father and husband with a strong work ethic and experienced in outdoor labor. I have open availability and transportation if the opportunity is still there. Thank you for reading and considering! I can be reached at (redacted).

Cripes. How's a girl to deal with such an onslaught of heart-tugging messages like that? Who do you hire?

* Buttload: technical term. noun; a great quantity. Not as much as an ass-load or a shit-load

Monday, October 24, 2011

Farm Fresh Eggs Hard to Find

My first taste of farm-fresh eggs came in spring when Mrs Elliott and I took a class in raising backyard chickens. The class was through C.O.C.C. and put on by the folks at Celebrate the Seasons on American Loop in S.E. Bend.

We decided that chickens required more care than we wanted to give, Mrs Elliott especially finding the idea of going out into the snow of winter every day to tend to them unappealing, so we had to take a pass on the idea. But we didn't take a pass on buying a dozen of their fresh eggs.

Jack found them revelatory. Such taste, such richness! It was like having your first cup of quality coffee from someone like Lone Pine or Thump after a lifetime of drinking Maxwell House.

And opening the carton was like opening a box of mixed chocolates: the eye is greeted with an assortment of eggs ranging in size from pretty darn small to quite large, and in various shades of green, browns and tans, and white. Uniform egg sizes and colors don't come from a random assortment of hens.

When eaten, my goodness. Jack vowed that supermarket eggs, with their uniformity and pallid, tasteless yolks, would no longer disgrace his breakfast plate.

So I continued to pop over to Celebrate the Seasons to buy eggs, a dozen at a time. It's an across-town drive for me, and they didn't always have eggs, and though I initially tried to call ahead to see if the trip would be worth it, they could not be counted on to answer the phone or return calls, so on a couple occasions, I returned empty-handed and had to subsist on supermarket eggs.

By happy chance I discovered that Devore's, the little hippy store on the west side, carried Great American Egg eggs and I tried a dozen and found them to be nearly as good as CTS's, but there was an availability problem there, too. Four times out of five there were no eggs to be had at Devores.

According to one of the fellows that worked there, Great American Egg diverted a lot of their eggs to their own booth at the farmer's markets and were selling the eggs for the same price as the store did, pocketing the difference between wholesale and retail price.

I twice attempted to buy my eggs from GAE's booth at the farmer's market, and they were sold out both times. Another vendor there also sold eggs, but they weren't as good.

Nature's Market in the Wagner Mall carries two brands of farm eggs, but they are spendier and also not as good, kind of straddling the world of factory eggs and farm eggs, age-, taste- and uniformity-wise. And they come in rattly clear plastic cartons. I rather preferred using the cardboard containers and returning them for possible re-use.

I struck out at Newport Market. They have a big selection of eggs, but all are the relatively-tasteless factory eggs. I guarantee that if you took an empty egg carton and filled it with one egg from each of the many brands they stock, you'd find they all tasted the same.

Ranging out to Whole Foods I found no fresh eggs. I buttonholed the egg guy to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything. "I won't lie to you," he said. "I grew up on a dairy farm and I know what you mean about fresh eggs being better than factory eggs, but we don't carry any."


So for this weekend, with a foodie houseguest, I wanted to have good eggs on hand for a Sunday omelette brunch. On Thursday I called CTS and was greeted by the answering machine. Without much hope of getting a response, I left a message anyway.

I was surprised the next day when Julie called me back on Friday. She said that egg production had been slow for a while due to the hens molting, but they had enough to set two dozen aside for me for pickup on Saturday.

But when we got there at midday, there was no Julie and there were no eggs. I was irritated.

That was my last straw with them. One expects a small operation to have an availability problem, but one shouldn't have to deal with being blown off.

There's gotta be a better way than dealing with flaky, undependable operations like that, and maybe this is as good as it's gonna get in Bend.

Or maybe not: Tom, the guy in charge of eggs at Newport Market, told me that the store was in negotiation with a poultry farm near Powell Butte to put farm-fresh eggs on the shelf.

Hurry up, Tom. You don't just sell crappy Yuban and MJB coffee, you also sell great coffee from local roasters; see what you can do in the egg department.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pear Flambé Redux: Jack Loses Hair, Eyebrows

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Elliott and Jack hosted a dinner party for Bend's most beloved personality, H. Bruce Miller, and his lovely wife. For dessert, Jack attempted Pears Flambé and succeeded; i.e., he did not set fire to the kitchen.

This weekend, we had a house guest, long-time friend Michael Hill of  Sweeney Pond, in Alsea, Ore., and Jack wanted to reprise this spectacular dish, but not in the kitchen: for maximum ooh and aah factor, the dish would be prepared beside the dinner table.

I set up a portable butane stove, and used a brand-new 12-inch stainless skillet purpose-bought for this dish.

Over medium-high heat the pan heated, a little clarified butter added, the pears went in, followed by 1/3rd cup of spiced rum, then lit with a long-nose lighter.

There was a satisfactory fireball. Quite impressive.

Served with vanilla ice cream, a red wine and orange reduction sauce, a sprinkle of orange zest, and sprig of mint, it was a lovely dessert. As I sat to take my first taste, I wondered why the dish tasted like burnt hair.

I examined myself this morning. The damage isn't too bad: some loss of eyebrows and hair. Not a big deal. But next time I'll lean back more, and wear a hat.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Training to Seattle: The Road Home

Our sojourn back to Tacoma for our final night before returning the rented car and picking up the Coast Starlight took us across Puget Sound on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Back in the old days, the '70s, when I was in that lounge band I mentioned previously, our Seattle-based agent's parents lived on Bainbridge. I've never been to the island and wanted to check it out.

Make him stop!
There was this guy playing Celtic harp on the ferry. He had his CDs on display for sale. I like Celtic music and their harp, but when he announced that the next tune he was going to play was one he wrote called "The Festival of the Orcas," I was, like, gag me. Seriously. I swear, only truly wimpy white guys would write songs with titles like "The Festival of the Orcas."

We knocked about Winslow, Bainbridge's main village. Not much there, there. Mainly a series of shops and restaurants bound together by a mutual disregard for any unifying architectural theme or style; a bunch of random but not particularly attractive buildings.

Though the shops obviously target tourists (the population of the island cannot support Winslow's candle and kitsch emporia alone), Bainbridge seems less a tourist attraction than a place where people live, which is fine. I've lived in a few tourist towns, like Santa Barbara, San Diego, and now Bend. Touristy towns put on an effort to appear charming or quirky, Winslow makes only little visible effort in that regard. It looks like the shops scrape enough dollars off the hides of passing tourists to satisfy the local economy without having to resort to tarting the place up.

Might be a pleasant-enough place to live. There are certainly many large, handsome houses along the waterfront, but Jack has a suspicion that the best he could afford on that island would be some little uninspired house well back from the water's edge, buried in the dark, dark forest.

We drove north, up the 305 (I'm from SoCal, we say "the 305"), crossed over the sound on Agate Pass Bridge, then south on highway 3, to the 16, across the Tacoma Narrow Bridge, and into Tacoma.

Before picking a hotel for our final night, we made a stop at the Harmon Pub to fetch a scarf that Mrs Elliott had left there three days before (I have written previously about her unique way of making room in her luggage for acquisitions: "She tends to lighten her suitcase as she travels. Not intentionally, but dependably. Hats, scarves, cell phone chargers are often left behind.")

On this trip she played it safe, bringing two jackets (one, a downhill ski jacket well-suited to take on Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the second a warm wool cape), and purchased a third jacket, also of sturdy and sensible wool, while in Seattle.

We settled at the Hotel Murano, in Tacoma's downtown. The hotel is quite nice and has an extensive collection of glass art. Since the dining room was too dark for reading; and Tacoma's downtown apparently shuts down at night (the streets are oddly quiet even in the day), we ended up back at the Harmon Pub, which is well-lit, not noisy, and has perfectly adequate food.

Returning the rental car and boarding the southbound Starlight Express was a stress-free experience (C.f. The Horrors Of Flying in a Post-9/11 World); and the trip back to Chemult was uneventful and perfectly comfortable.

I avoided the dining car's disconcerting texture-free chicken this time.

I brought along my Kindle with a few books on it. For those keeping track at home, the titles included Life, by Keith Richards; Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought)Into the Silence, by Wade Davis; and Role Models by John Waters. I didn't read them all, I'm not some kind of speed-reading fool, but did finish two.

Thank you for listening. There will be a pop quiz.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Training To Seattle: Jack Gets Man Pants -- really

After knocking about Seattle the rest of the day, we walked to the spa, Ummelina, where we had earlier booked our massages. A nice young woman led Mrs Elliott and me to the changing room.

"You will find bathrobes for both of you in your booths."

Holding open the curtain to my booth, she lowered her voice, "Jack, here are also pants for you."

They were knee-length, made of unbleached cotton, with a drawstring. Puzzled, I took off my clothes, donned the shorts and bathrobe and the young woman led us out of the room.

"Now would be a good time to visit the bathroom before getting your footbath and shower," she said while we trailed behind.

"Well," I said, "I don't need to use the bathroom now, but when you get my age you never know!"

She laughed. "You're so funny, Jack!"

We were made comfortable in nice chairs in a special rest and relaxation room where the foot guy tried to get us to select our aromatherapy scents -- but we resisted, finding the whole concept of picking out a special fragrance for our feet absurdly indulgent. He was invited to pick.

After washing our feet, foot guy left, hauling out the wash water. Of course, no sooner than he was gone I found that the splashing of the water had sweet-talked my bladder into declaring that it was time for a pee.

But we were alone in the room, so I had to wait. I started to get a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, the young woman showed up.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I told her.

She laughed. "You're so funny, Jack!"

And left. She must have thought I was kidding around. After a few more minutes, she returned.

"Um, when I said I needed to go to the bathroom, I meant it," I explained.

"Oh, sorry. Okay, follow me!"

She led me through a minor labyrinth of corridors and through doorways to the bathroom. "Okay, when you're done, just come on back to where your wife is waiting."

Since I didn't know I'd need to find my own way back, I hadn't been paying attention. I told her I'd need a guide to lead me back.

She laughed. "You're so funny, Jack!"

I was getting a bit tired of being so funny.

Once back in the sitting room, I leaned over to Mrs Elliott and asked her why I needed to wear pants.

"You're wearing pants?"

"Yeah -- I was given pants in the changing room to put on."

She had no idea.

The young woman returned again to introduce us to our massage therapists. Mine was named Rose.

As Rose led me down the hall to the massage room, I asked in a low voice, "Rose, why do I need to wear pants?"

"You're wearing pants?"

"Yeah -- I was given pants in the changing room to put on."

She paused, looking a bit puzzled. "Well...I guess that sometimes men are uncomfortable and want to make sure to cover up when they are getting their feet washed."

"What -- afraid their dangly bits might be visible?" I found the idea silly. Women know how to keep their ladyparts covered . . . are my fellow men mentally deficient or something?

Anyway, Rose said they were optional and I didn't need to wear them during the massage.

Which, by the way, was exceptional. I've received (and given) lots of massages, taken course with Mrs Elliott, and like getting massaged. Rose's style of slow, deep pressure was perfect. Ummelina + Rose = highly recommended.

Next: We ferry to Bainbridge Island to check it out, then return to Tacoma for our last night before boarding the morning Starlight Express back to Chemult. 

Training to Seattle: Jack gets Man Pants

For our last full day in Seattle, Mrs Elliott proposed that we get massages in evening, her treat, an idea I heartily embraced (Jack knows a thing or two about sponging). The Inn at the Marketplace's in-room massage service was pretty spendy so we left to the streets in search of the city's equivalent of the Source Weekly and found two promising rags, both free.

Over breakfast we perused the classifieds. Although both publications sported two full pages of four-color ads promoting attractive ladies in revealing attire who were said to be qualified to provide a a number of pleasant experiences, Mrs Elliott, for some reason, refused to consider giving any of these nice-looking ladies (or gents, the ads target a number of predilections and orientations) a call, and instead focused on other, less-interesting ads placed by massage therapists who didn't even post their pictures, in revealing attire or otherwise!

She told me to settle down. 

And she says I'm not fun. 

We called the numbers of the half dozen or so massage therapists who looked promising but no one called back. 

So we did the Google thing and found a spa on 4th street, just three blocks from the hotel, and booked an appointment for two 60-minute massages, later that day. 

This accomplished, we continued to wander about the downtown. Some pictures:
Mrs Elliott, ominously backlit
Rat Man

Rat Dogs
Couple a nitwits.
Yesterday's tomorrow, today!
That expression on Mrs Elliott's face? That's her dopey "Me like roadside attractions" face. Click here to see it again. 
We rode the monorail from downtown to the Space Needle. In the future, it seems, monorails go very very slowly. As do the elevators that bring one up to the observation deck. It was a pretty impressive view of the city, at any rate, even though we had a hazy day. On the way back, the driver let Mrs Elliott honk the train's horn. Beep beep!

This post is long enough already. I must defer Jack Gets Man Pants for the next episode.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Training to Seattle: The Touristy Things

Before we could go to Seattle there were a couple more clients to visit in the south sound. We drove back to Tacoma from Olympia to visit the  Glass Museum before Mrs Elliott met with the day's first client at Indochine restaurant. She reports that it is a fine restaurant. While they were lunching on exotic foods, I was parked at the Harmon pub for pub food and a glass (or two) of wine. Nice pub, perfectly cromulent.

Then a brief stop in Bellevue for the final businessy meeting.

Since we didn't have a place in Seattle to stay, I remained in the car while Mrs Elliott visited her final client and plugged the address of a highly-regarded hotel, the Inn at the Market, into the GPS, figuring that that would get us downtown so we could scope out the situation. Meanwhile, Mrs Elliott asked her client where he'd recommend staying near the waterfront and he replied, "Inn at the Market."

So we parked in front the Inn at the Market and found they had an off-season deal, and the hotel was ideally-located next to the Pike Place Market and other shops, and looked great, so we booked a room for two nights.

And yeah, we did touristy things: visited the market, shopped the shops. I told Mrs Elliott that because she was being good that she could try on hats if she wanted. But only try, not buy. She completely ignored me and bought herself a new hat.
Looks pretty cute, too. 

We had quite good food in Seattle. A little French cafe next to the hotel was perfect for breakfast, and Etta's Seafood restaurant on Pike Place was delicious. The ling cod was extraordinary.

Downtown Seattle has its fair share of fearsome homeless and cracked-out street people. But the city and cops seem to have made it very clear that civilians are not to be frightened or hassled. No one pan-handled. Yeah, there was one scary-looking guy standing on the street shouting curses and threats, but he was pretty clearly lost in a delusion.

Making tourists feel safe is important, especially in a city like Seattle which is a destination for Chinese and Japanese people. Travel in America is viewed with a certain amount of fear -- we have a high-crime culture and physical crimes like robbery and muggings are far more common here than in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, and certainly Japan and Singapore. And scary black people in  tattered clothes panhandling or approaching could make your usual small group of Japanese tourists feel very nervous. But I saw none of that.

I spent some time trying to determine what it is that makes tourists look different from locals. Here are some of my conclusions:

  • Locals are usually alone, tourists travel in couples or brought the whole damn family along. 
  • Tourists rubberneck while walking, looking up at signs, into shops, scanning faces and landmarks, locals watch the ground in front of their feet. 
  • Tourists stop at intersections to regroup and decide where to go next, locals know where they are going. 
  • Tourists dress as though they are on safari, employing fanny packs and fisherman's pocketed vests for their travel tackle. Locals pack a wallet in a pocket. 
Here, some friendly gal took a shot of us in the Market. 
Puttering around Pike Place Market

Next: The Space Needle! And, Jack wears man pants at spa.

Training to Seattle: Best Western Tacoma Dome Hotel -- uh, no thanks.

Today's Amtrak diner is a bit less well-dressed. 
Once you've ridden a train in a third-world (or second world, for that matter) country, you realize that Amtrak could be a lot worse. It's not until one has taken trains in Europe and Japan that one sees how the shabby Amtrak is.

But the Coast Starlight departed from Chemult on time, and Mrs Elliott and I grabbed a table in the observation car so we could watch the scenery as we cruised over the Cascades through some lovely countryside. We had a commentator in the car, a volunteer railfan guy who described the history of the railroad and the area we were passing through. He was exceptionally good at pointing out various geographic and railroad-y features . . . usually right after we passed them.

"On the left will be the longest covered bridge in . . . oh, we just passed it."

The mountains and even the farmland of the valley were pretty, showing early fall colors and that hazy light that I associate with autumn.

We ate meals in the dining car. Those who travel on Amtrak know that the food is so-so though expensive, and tables are shared. I  had your standard burger for lunch, Mrs E had chicken cacciatore, the special. Our two companions at table were Swiss, male, and reserved and expressionless in that way that Swiss men are. They hailed from Zurich, from the Schweizerdeutsch-(Swiss German) speaking part of Switzerland, a city famous worldwide for its banks, its lack of nightlife, and for being really boring.

I've been there, and seeing how this was playing out, I ordered a bottle of red wine for myself.

At dinnertime, I thought to give the baked chicken a try. It was oddly . . . textureless. It was shaped like baked chicken, smelled like baked chicken, looked like baked chicken and had bones like real chicken, but the meat gave no hint that it was originally muscles and sinews; it was instead, a featurelessly even density of meatlike substance wrapped around bones. I ate it, but with a puzzled expression on my face and a vague sense that this bird owed its origins more to the factory than the farm.

I do not recall who we shared a table with that night. Following on the heels of the unsmiling Swiss couple, they would have to have been pretty unremarkable to leave no trace in memory.

The train arrived in Tacoma around 8:30 in the evening, on time.

Mrs Elliott had three appointments in the south sound area over the next two days and so the plan was to get a room in Tacoma for the first night, rent a car in the morning, and visit her clients in Tacoma and Olympia before moving to Seattle, making hotel choices using reviews online. For convenience and price, we picked the Best Western Tacoma Dome for the first night, took a cab there, and found that the hotel was pretty terrible.

The first room we were given was unsuitable. It was noisy, being right next to the elevator, the Coke machine, and the ice machine. The toilet took five minutes to stop running after it was flushed, and the vent in the bathroom emitted a depressing moaning sound. The room felt creepy.

The fellow at the front desk was more irritated than helpful. "Here, try this room, it's the best I can give you." The second room was visually identical to the first, but it was somewhat quieter, being located well away from the noisy hallway machines.

Both rooms had old analog TVs with giant cathode ray picture tubes. It was just like a trip to 1995!

We unpacked then wandered out to do something (I forget what it was now), but when we returned, the cardkey no longer unlocked the door.

I went back to the front desk to get a new card. The same fellow was behind the counter and he didn't look too happy to see me.

"How's your evening going?" I asked while he was programming a new card.

He paused, then smiled sardonically. "I was hoping to study, but I'll never have a chance if I have to keep dealing with this kind of thing."

I could not tell whether "this kind of thing" referred to residents pestering him for new cards, or having to re-program new cards. We heard from someone else that their cards stopped working, too.

In the morning, Mrs Elliott gleefully occupied herself with writing a devastating review of the joint on before we checked out, rented our car, and drove to Olympia and Mrs Elliott met with her client at Evergreen College while I had tea in the student lounge until she finished up.

We drove around the town afterward to get a sense of the area.

Mrs Elliott likes to window shop a lot more than I. Though we have no intention of moving to the area, she wanted to explore the neighborhoods anyway. Downtown Olympia appeared shabby, rough, gritty; the young people were seedy and ratty-looking.

Lodging seemed to be your choice of one very Bates Motel-looking bed and breakfast (the Swantown Inn), a handful of your standard Comfort/Ramada/La Quinta Inns, the Governor Hotel (which receives high marks on places like Tripadvisor,com, but which looks rundown on the outside), and a few other places like a Phoenix sitting all by itself between downtown and the waterfront. We decided to stay at the Red Lion Olympia -- it was in a nice parklike setting with a view of Capitol Lake, but like many conference hotels, it's located nowhere near restaurants that might compete with the establishment's dining room; as a result, the kitchen will be mediocre but the prices high.

Before hotels cheaped out and brought karaoke machines into their lounges, I was in a band in the late '70s that played the PNW motel lounge circuit. We covered pop music hits and played in towns like Yakima, them tri-cities (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland), Corvallis, and others that I have well-forgotten. Five-piece group, guitar, drums, bass, keyboard and the requisite blond chick singer. "Legs Feeny" we were called.

I bring this up because nearly every tune that plays over the ceiling speakers in the Red Lion Olympia's dining room and bar was a tune that we played. Chicago's "Feeling Stronger Every Day," Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back To Me,"  lounge essentials like "Car Wash," "Play that Funky Music (White Boy)," your Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac hits...heck, we had a set list with over 80 popular songs on it. Ballads, dance tunes, the usual pop stuff. We played most of them every night, four or five sets a night, six nights a week. I thought I'd forgotten them, but as late '70s tunes played, one after another, I realized that this hotel apparently had a canonical collection of the era's music, and wasn't afraid to play it. It was a puzzle.

The room was fine, though, large and in the corner so it had one more window than the usual room.

Next: Mrs Elliott finishes with her obligations and we drive to Seattle for touristing. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jack and Mrs Elliott take the Train to Seattle

Mrs Elliott had to visit a couple clients in the south Puget Sound area, so we decided to take the train to Tacoma, then rent a car, and putter about.

Amtrak's train #11, the Starlight Express, goes between Los Angeles and Seattle and is, along with their Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, and other named routes, a full-service train, with sleeping compartments, dining, observation, and cafe cars.

There is no passenger train service in Bend, the nearest station this side of the Cascades is in Chemult, and Amtrak provides Amtrak "Thruway" bus service for Bend travelers. We bought a couple tickets and were told that the bus would be at the Hawthorn St. travel center in Bend at 7:35 am.

So we got up early on a below-freezing Wednesday morning, showered, final-packed, called a cab, and were at the station by 7:15. After Mrs Elliott and I were settled inside the center -- nice facility! -- I wandered around inside, looking for some information about the Amtrak bus. Like, where it parks, its schedule, anything. Nothing anywhere indicated that an Amtrak bus existed. The words "Amtrak" or "train" don't appear on any of the literature or signage.

The fellow that sold the snacks and coffee said the bus is usually late, but didn't know anything else about it.

So we sat and waited.

7:30, I looked outside. Plenty of Bend Transit buses out front. Off to the left, on 4th, a sign indicated that intercity buses, such as HighDesert Point, Eastern Point, and the Central Oregon Breeze, all park there. No mention of Amtrak on the sign, and there was only an Eastern Point bus idling at the curb, with no "Amtrak" markings on it.

At 7:45, Mrs Elliott asked if anyone in the lobby knew anything about the Amtrak bus. "That bus left a few minutes ago," a fellow said. "It was parked over there," pointing to where the Eastern Point bus has been idling.

Amtrak never said that Eastern Point was the carrier, the bus was unmarked, and no one popped their head in to announce boarding for Amtrak.

We missed the bus. Mrs Elliott was fuming.

We called back our taxi (he'd been waiting around the transit center for trade) to take us back home, Mrs Elliott called Amtrak to unload on them, tried to get them to contact the bus driver and have her wait, which they said they had no way of doing, and got the times and locations of the bus's route down the Chemult.

We loaded our baggage into Mrs Elliott's car, and while she started to chase down the bus, I called the Sunriver lodge, the bus's next stop, where a very helpful fellow at the front desk contacted the bell captain who said that the bus had already gone by: it hadn't come to the lodge that morning because there was no one scheduled to be picked up or dropped off. He gave me the phone number of the driver, a bit of information Amtrak didn't have.

I called the driver and told her that we had missed the connection in Bend, and were on our way to her next schedule stop in La Pine, and told her that according to our GPS we'd be there before she was scheduled to leave, and asked that she not leave early.

With minutes to spare, we met the bus in the McDonald's parking lot. While Mrs Elliott was making arrangements at a nearby motel for us to leave the car until our return, I started to complain to the driver.

She was having none of it. Bristled. Paid to drive from Point A to Point B. Nothing about going into terminals to call for customers. It was the only bus there aside from the BAT buses, how could I have missed it? If I got a problem, contact her boss.

It was obvious I was dealing with one tough old bird, standing there smoking her cigarette, one eye squinted at me, her expression saying that she'd raised and beaten into submission two or three generations of little bus drivers and no pissant twerp like me was going to spoil her morning without sustaining serious injuries.

Knowing a brier patch when I see one, I changed the tone of the conversation. Made a few knock-knock jokes, did a little soft-shoe routine, praised her for her intelligence and good looks. She stared at me suspiciously, uncertain how to react to my sucking up. But after a few minutes she softened and started to grunt responses to my expert observations about the bus, such as, "Say, I see this bus has six tires! I'll bet it takes some practice to drive something with six tires."

When Mrs Elliott returned from the motel, I drew her aside and warned her that the driver would brook no complaints about what happened.

So we made it to the Chemult Amtrak passenger platform before the train did. We made small-talk during the drive. Several points were agreed on: 1. The driver agreed that the bus should have something on it to indicate that it provided Amtrak Thruway service, and in fact, the bus that normally does that route has "Amtrak" printed on the sides, but it had been injured in a fender-bender so this bus, which has "Amtrak" on the rear only, was pressed into service; 2. It was agreed that it would be helpful if a sign were posted inside the travel center explaining where the bus parks and what it looks like; 3. This is something to bring up with the owner of Eastern Point; and finally, (4), That even tough old bus drivers have hearts: she didn't charge us for the ride.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vinturi Wine Aerator - Don't Waste Your Money

Once again, Jack throws himself on top of a grenade to save everyone else. 

My fellow blogger-in-Bend and man of letters H. Bruce Miller and Sharon, his beautiful and brilliant wife, came over this weekend for dinner at maison Elliott. I cooked rack of lamb, Mrs Elliott made mashed garlic cauliflower and appetizers.

And there was wine, plenty of wine.

Bruce brought over his swell new Vinturi wine aerator. If you're into wine, you may have seen this device which goes for anywhere between $25 to $40, depending on where you shop. They claim that it aerates wine while it's being poured, eliminating that horrible horrible tedious entirely old-fashioned decanting and waiting for the wine to breathe and open up.

When he first told me about it, I expressed my doubts about the claims and suggested we do a double-blind tasting session. Bruce agreed and offered to bring three bottles of the same wine. He selected a moderately-priced, moderately-tannic Zinfandel, which pairs well with lamb.

The experiment was set up so each person got three glasses of wine: one poured straight out of the bottle, one decanted traditionally, and one poured through the Vinturi. Each glass had a label (A, B, or C) on the bottom, which they could not see without lifting and looking at the underside of the glass. Bruce and I did the pouring, Mrs Elliott, who was not in the room, then mixed up the glasses and set them up for our panel of distinguished tasters.

At this point, no one knew what glass was what.

Uncle Jack says, "Don't bother!"
So we tasted, we discussed, and we tasted some more.

There was no difference between the wines.

Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of preparing dinner, it didn't occur to me that the decanted bottle should have been allowed to breathe for a half hour or so, in the traditional manner, but considering that the Vinturi is claimed to speed the breathing process, the wine poured through it should at least have tasted better than the wine that came straight out of the bottle.

But no one could taste it.

The Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator: Not recommended. 

Dessert was Pear Flambé in a red wine and orange reduction sauce. Jack nearly set fire to his eyebrows, but the end result was delicious. This, followed by cigars on the back porch. Until the cold drove us indoors to see what the ladies were chatting about.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another, Long-Lost Campin' Cookin with Uncle Jack Recipe

Uncle Jack
I thought that this one was long lost. Many years ago I posted my recipe for Campin' Pizza Margherita on my blogspot blog on Google. Google cancelled that service to start Blogger, but didn't provide any way to migrate posts from the old to the new site. 

Well, nothing on the Internet is forgotten. Which is a Good Thing because if you're campin' and have a hankerin' for some pizza, I provide here, for your delectation, a link to the recipe:

One thing: that was an early version. Later iterations used wild sourdough yeasts and cooking without the stone, directly over the fire. 

Uncle Jack's Campin' Barbecue Ribs

Uncle Jack
That's right kids, it's time to gather 'round and let your old friend Uncle Jack show you how he barbecues ribs on a portable charcoal grill. Move in close, kids.

Not that damn close, jeez.

Timmy, your nose is running and you're creeping me out.

Jeremy, get your hands out of your pockets. What are you playing with in there? Cripes.

Brie . . . Jeezus, Brie, who names their kid after a cheese? . . . bring me that bottle of wine, will you?

Now settle down and watch how Uncle Jack does ribs.

We're going to make a rub. Here, I use fajita seasoning, paprika, some crushed red chili pepper, Saigon cinnamon, dry mustard, salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and garlic salt. Have a sip of wine.

I put a half-rack of room-temperature ribs into a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and sprinkle both sides liberally with the rub. Then press the rub into the meat through the plastic. My fingers get dirty enough when camping, so I do what I can to minimize goop. 

(Not shown: The bone side of the ribs has a tough membrane that needs to be removed before the ribs are rubbed. Basically you insert something like the probe on a meat thermometer or similar pointy thing under the membrane between two ribs to start the peeling job, then complete the job by pulling the membrane off with your fingers. But it's slippery, so I grip the membrane with a paper towel when peeling. It's a sticky job and I didn't want to get the camera all gummed up so I took no photo. )

Drizzle about a tablespoon of honey on both sides of the meat before closing the bag. It's going to marinate for about a half hour while I get the grill started and make the mop. And now is a good time to have a sip of wine.

Using heavy-duty foil, make a drip pan to go under half of your $19 portable charcoal grill. Heap enough charcoal on the other side to fill it.

I used charcoal lighting fluid to start the file. I'd-a preferred to avoid petrochemicals when cooking, but I need to build or find a smaller chimney-style starter than the ones I see in the stores. They are just too bulky for my needs. Anyway, I used the the lid as a windscreen to let the fire get a good start. Once lit, a sip of wine is nice to have. 

While the coals get started and the meat marinates, I make the mop on the stovetop. In a mason jar I have salt, apple cider vinegar, and butter. A saucepan with an inch or so of water makes a nice bain-marie. ("Bain-marie" is a term from alchemy and it's pretty much a double boiler, but sounds fancier; Wikipedia has a nice writeup about this much-maligned process.)
After about 30 minutes and a few more sips of wine, the coals are going well. Spread them out and put on the grill, place the ribs over the drip pan, bone-side down, and stick in oven thermometer.  The ribs will be slow-cooked for somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours, and the temperature wants to be between 275 and 350. Cover the grill and have another sip of wine. 

Controlling temperature is no Swiss picnic when it's windy, I can tell you. Here, I have about a 3/4'' opening on the windward (left) side. Every five minutes, check the oven thermometer and adjust the size of the opening as needed to try to keep the temperature in the target range, and have some more wine. 

After 45 minutes and many sips of wine, baste both sides of the ribs with the mop. With the ribs still bone side down, re-cover, and keep cooking, checking temp as you go along. Re-mop every 15 minutes while making sure that the wine glass never goes empty. A second bottle of wine might need to be opened right about now. 
Somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours, (or one to one-half bottles of wine) depending on temperature, the ribs will be protruding about 1/4'' out of the meat, indicating that the meat is done.  

We're going to want some barbecue sauce at this time. 

Brush the sauce the ribs and sear them directly over the coals, about a minute per side. 

Bon Appétit! Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy some lip-smackin' ribs. 

One final note: the composition of the rub, the mop, and your barbecue sauce are up to you. I used the stuff I had on hand. 

So until next time, this is your old friend Uncle Jack, telling you to have fun trying this recipe, and to be careful with fire when camping in the woods.

Goddamn it, which one of you little bastards spilled my wine?!?
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