Archive for the 'Life' Category

Mossbrook Fire: 10 Days After Update

Friday, April 18th, 2014
Car Windshield After Fire

Lots of people are asking about various events related to the fire. This is a summary of the first 10 days of our adventure broken down as a series of short comments. A bit of a ramble in no particular order, I suspect, but here it is.

I chose the photo at left as a reminder of all the things we didn’t lose — no humans were hurt and all of the pets except one parakeet made it through unscathed — and that even such a destructive force as a fire can yield surprising beauty.


In the days that followed the event, the San Jose Fire Department sent crews around fairly often. Not just to ensure no hot spots remained, but also to use the event as a means of learning to fight such firees more effectively in the future. It was very interesting to be a part of the conversations as to how they’ll modify strategy in the future and what worked for this event. I’ll continue to collect photo streams and other information on the Photo Dump post (in fact, there will be a new stream on that post shortly after this is posted).

It was kind of funny how apologetic the fire fighters were about the destruction they caused in the house (which was quite minor compared to the destruction caused by the actual fire). I finally stopped the two that were walking me through after the fire, pointed out my kitchen window at the utter devastation of the house next door, and told them that saving my house was repayment 100 times over vs. any damage they may have caused.


Now that the laundry room — the inside portion of the house most severely impacted — has been cleared, it has become very clear just how close we were to losing most or all of the house. The roof is beyond charred. Take a log from your fireplace after a roaring fire? Yeah, that’s our laundry room ceiling.

While the wall burned through on the outside, it didn’t burn through the drywall. If we had the original thin wooden wall paneling in that room, it would be a very different picture. Drywall makes a good fire break.

Everything in the laundry room is a total loss save for any metal or ceramic pieces. The washer, dryer, and utility sink all partially melted.

The sliding door is gone, and the frame melted through. There is a pool of aluminum on the floor.

Water got into some of the slate floor tiles and caused them to explode as the water boiled. Not enough to need to replace the tiles, though.

We had California Closets based shelving/storage in the laundry room. It was OK, but sub-optimal. We are going to pay the difference between replacing that and fixing it properly and use this as an opportunity to fix it the way we want it. This also means we can fix the dryer vent and all the plumbing, both of which are… stupid.


Our foam roof likely also contributed to the preservation of the house. The straight tar/gravel original roof melts in a fire and drips, basically, raw fuel onto the fire below. While the covering on the foam is pretty toasty, and entirely gone in some spots, the closed cell foam underneath is fine. In fact, our roof should still be watertight. Apparently, that’ll be tested next week as there is rain in the forecast.

While the foam is intact, it won’t be for long. Because the cantilevered eaves are completely toasted, they have to be replaced. That means replacing at least 3x the length of the overhang on the other side to support the cantilever.

But they can’t simply be cut back to the first beam because that creates a hinge effect that weakens the structural integrity of the roof.

Thus, they roof decking will have to be cut back to the first, second, and possibly the peak on that slope of the house. Likely, it’ll be a mix of cut backs to try and preserve some of the wood.

Bottom line: The foam roof on that slope of our roof is coming entirely off.


Electrical Panel & Laundry Wall

The electrical infrastructure on the house is completely toasted. More likely than not, there will have to be channels cut through the foam on the roof all over the house to run new wiring pretty much everywhere needed.

Same goes for the water and gas, but that is much much simpler infrastructure than the spider web that is the electrical wiring throughout the house.

At least we’ll be able to fix our thermostat! And add an outlet here and there!


A temporary power pole has been installed in the back yard. But the City won’t grant a permit for hooking it up until some other bit of paperwork is completed. This is, apparently, a new requirement and our contractors are trying to figure out why.

We should have power on site in the next week. At the moment, we have extension cords running to two neighbor’s houses to power the various filters needed for the fish and to power the gigantic air filtration unit brought in by the cleaning company.

Yes, the neighbors will be able to bill us for power used and insurance will cover it. More importantly, by doing this we don’t have a generator in the neighborhood running 24/7.


The vultures and ambulance chasers have finally gone away. Within hours of the event and for days after, we had a stream of contractors and public insurance policy adjusters show up trying to convince us to hire them and sell us on the notion that our insurance company is The Enemy.

It was bad enough that I told two of them that stepping foot on my property would be considered trespassing as they were no longer welcome and they could take it up with the local police.

This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t be willing to use a policy adjuster, if it were really necessary. But, no, that isn’t happening unless there is some issue with the insurance company (so far, no signs at all that there will be). And I’m sure as hell not going to use one that showed up on my property after chasing down the news copters.



The insurance company (State Farm) has been, thus far, great to work with. Their general approach is to offer full solutions, never push any given provider, and allow us to hire whomever we want to do any particular bit of work.

So far, the recovery efforts involve the following providers:

    Jon R Crase Construction
    We were introduced to Crase on the evening of the fire. They are on the short list of companies that the fire department uses to secure a site once the flames are out. As well, Crase is used by State Farm to double-check whatever contractors one might hire. And, most importantly, they have Eichler experience. Representatives from Crase have been on site and have consistently gone well above and beyond any contractually expected services. And they have that Eichler experience.
    Servpro
    ServPro is doing a pack out cleaning & storage. That is, they are packing out everything in the house that was affected by smoke/fire, inventorying everything, cleaning anything that needs to be cleaned, and then storing it until the house is ready to be moved back into.

    For all intents and purposes, it is as if we are moving out and in to our own house.

    This includes everything in the garage. All those nuts, bolts, screws, nails, and hardware that Roger and I have been collecting over the years? Yeah. Packed. Inventoried. Cleaned. And eventually returned.

    Custom Craft Urethane
    Keith Nokes of Custom Craft, who did our roof after the last remodel, was on site with ladder up before we had even started to consider how to pursue reconstruction. He wanted to see what’s what and offer any information he could. He immediately volunteered that he would want to be present for any roof work regardless of who we hired (some insurance companies would insist on particular people to do certain tasks). Yeah… no… Keith / Custom Craft will be doing our roof. Period. End of story. There is no one else we would remotely consider.
    Horizon Energy Systems
    While the solar wasn’t damaged, it is going to have to come off the roof for the reconstruction as the roof under it will be mostly replaced. Horizon installed it in the first place and did great work (the linked post has some insight into the madness of an Eichler roof). Yes, there were some significant challenges to the original installation, but Horizon has since modified their installation procedures because of the mis-adventures on our roof. Out of pocket, we’ll be adding additional rails for mounting more panels (but will hold on adding panels until we have electricity again).

What’s next?

Unlike a remodel, half of the demolition was unplanned and performed by a the monster that is an uncontrolled fire.

Thus, none of the planning that would normally have taken place prior to applying the first SawzAll has occurred.

The immediate next steps — now that the clean up is largely done to the point that doesn’t require demolition — is to secure the various permits with the City of San Jose. To that end, the City sent out an inspector to assess damage, write a report and put it on file. With that in place, pulling the needed permits should be relatively straightforward. Should be.

We also need full design documents drawn up for the floor plan of the house. On these will go the schematics for any work to be done. Because the spiderweb that is the electrical is destroyed at the panel, it is likely that the work will reach all corners of the house.

Given that the roof will be torn up, the walls redone, the laundry room rebuilt, etc… we’ll likely also use this as an opportunity to fix a few things here and there.


Mossbrook Fire: How can you help?

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

They are questions that hav come up over and over; “How can I help?”, “What do you need?”, “What can we do?”.

The generosity and support of our neighbors, our friends, and our community have been truly amazing. We are surrounded by kind, generous, and awesome people through which we would easily have many places we could stay, temporary homes for our dogs, and all the support in the world.

But, really, we — the Bumgarner family, specifically — are fine. We, through an odd coincidence, have a house to live in for the near term and our insurance company’s response has been incredible (enough so, that a whole post will be devoted to the insurance process).

The two neighbors that lost their houses have places to stay, too. While there losses are total, their immediate needs are covered (seriously — the Bumgarner family got off easy in this one!).

And, really, this is about the same story is it will be with any disaster where the families involved are both fully insured and live in a supportive community.

So, how can you help?

At the scene as it happens?

Get the person away from watching the destruction of all their worldly possessions. Take them into a home far enough away from the scene so as to not be able to directly watch, but close enough to still be available and “behind the lines”, so to speak.

A couple of neighbors did that for my wife, son, and dogs. It was a tremendous help. It provides a base of sanity and calm in between bouts of dealing with the chaos.

Just Be Available (But Don’t Interrogate)

Every person will process what has happened differently and at a different pace. Some won’t need much support at all, others may need lots. Some might need some very odd thing to make them whole again.

Providing the most basic of support through simply listening will be of great help.

Avoid interrogation. No, in the 48 hours after the event, we don’t know how long it’ll take to rebuild our house, we don’t know what the neighbors’ plans are and, no, it really isn’t helpful to suggest what the neighbors might do one way or another. We — all of us, neighbors whose houses were unaffected, too — are simply trying to get to tomorrow with one less set of variables hanging over our heads.

Host or Provide a Home Cooked Meal

On the night after the fire, a friend of ours showed up with a steak, potato and asparagus dinner. She set the table, served the meal and cleaned up. It was, truly, a wonderfully relaxing and therapeutic event.

Last night, another friend of ours brought over a gigantic pot of jambalaya and we had dinner with the family that lost their home. Their comment? “This is the first home cooked meal we’ve had and it is wonderful.”

So, really, something as simple as inviting the impacted families for a simple meal or taking a meal to them will provide more comfort than you can imagine.

Donate to the Red Cross

The Red Cross was on scene the evening of the fire and had a triage center set up at the nearest school. They found lodging for the one family that needed it and triple-checked that the rest of us really did have a viable living plan. Within 24 hours, the Red Cross had agents in the area to see if anyone needed any kind of support, including counseling to deal with the trauma of the event. This included support for all of those living in the neighborhood.

Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen To You!

More likely than not, this was initially an electrical fire. The houses in our neighborhood were all built in the early 1960s and many have the original breaker box with the original wiring. In particular, all of the houses were built with Zinsco electrical panels. They aren’t safe.

So, yes, you should, right now, go out, have a look at your electrical panel, and replace it if it is more than a few decades old or otherwise unsafe.

Same goes for your gas infrastructure. Go have a sniff around your meter. Or ask that the gas company bring a sniffer and simply check. In the wake of the fire, PG&E went door to door with a sniffer and checked for leaks. Sure enough, at least one neighbor had a leaky connection near the meter.

Mossbrook Fire: Photo & News Dump

Saturday, April 12th, 2014
IMG 2151

Being in the middle of a multi-home fire event with extensive destruction, there is a large pool of people that want to know what happened, how it happened, and progress during cleanup. Beyond the obvious family members, this also includes the various insurance company agents, fire investigators, and the fire department (who has regularly sent out crews to the site to both ensure no flare ups, but also to talk through the fight with those not there to ensure their techniques are refined in the future).

This post is for all of them. And it is to highlight the absolutely fantastic neighborhood that we live in.

Our neighbor, Al Boyden, was one of the first on the scene with a camera (that is his picture to the left). His iCloud photo stream includes photos from very near the beginning of the fire through to the photo to the left, when both the neighbor’s house was fully in flames and the fire trucks were just rolling up. I’ll have to ask Al to update the photos with the original timestamps. It is astonishing how fast an Eichler goes from “singed in the corner” to “full blown, total destruction, flames”.

My photo stream contains a series of photos taken after the fact that include documentation of both the destruction wrought and the cleanup process. Eventually, it’ll also include all the photos of the reconstruction process (which will be quite involved and, in some respects, even more involved than our remodel because part of the roof is going to be replaced).

Craig Allyn Rose appears to be an official photographer for the SJFD and has an incredible gallery of images from the event. The photos are primarily taken nearer to the two neighbors whose houses were destroyed. I’ve reached out to Craig to see if there is any additional information he would like added to this post. (Thank you, Craig, for your efforts and for sharing.)

Another professional photography on the scene was Chris Smead of Chris Smead Photography, who also works with the Fire Department.


Mossbrook Fire: The Media Machine Kinda Sucks

Friday, April 11th, 2014
Mossbrook Fire Panorama

90 more seconds.

A gentle wind blowing from the opposite direction.

That is all that made the difference between our house being the and one house was severely damaged vs. one of the houses that were destroyed in all the news reports.

Well, it would be if any of the news reports were correct. Even individual reports started out claiming that 3 houses were destroyed with a paragraph or two later claiming that a bulldozer arrived to tear down the two houses that were destroyed with one house receiving cosmetic damage (Uh… that my house’s entire electrical subsystem is melted and the laundry room is a black pit of doom doesn’t seem cosmetic).

Here are some facts. This is not a complete set, but merely a set of facts that are all quite directly addressed at the wild inaccuracies in the press:

  1. 1 house was destroyed completely, 1 house was gutted save for the garage, and 1 house — our house — was heavily damaged on the side facing the house that was destroyed.
  2. Of the two destroyed homes, only one is down and that is because it was collapsing once the fire was under control. The bulldozer was used to pull it down further so that hot spots could be uncovered so they could be doused with foam (in fact, one such hot spot reared up and produced 6′ flames at midnight, nearly 7 hours after the blaze was brought under control).
  3. Of the two destroyed homes, the families have lost everything.
  4. Burst Propane Tankes
  5. There were no gunshots. There were explosions. At least three of them in fact. And the propane tanks that were the source of [most of?] those explosions are currently in my backyard (but the firefighters moved them into my yard to get ‘em out of the way).
  6. The fire was not caused by a gas leak, nor was there a gas leak during the blaze. The fire was fueled by gas because the fire destroyed both gas pipes in the house and then the meter at the front of the house. So, yeah, that is sort of a gas leak. But not really.
  7. It took a while to turn off the gas because you can’t just turn off a whole neighborhood without the gas in the pipes feeding the flames for quite a while. Turning off the gas to a single home in an older neighborhood involves either turning off the gas at the meter (which was in flames) or digging up the connection to the gas mains and disconnecting the pipe there.
  8. I found Tyson, the dog, after the fire when we were first allowed to go into our house. Or he found me. When I walked into the backyard, he was standing in the backyard of his (now destroyed) home. I’m not entirely sure where he bunked down during the fire (most likely in the shadow of a stump), but there he was without even a bit of singing. He greeted me with a wag and bolted out the front door to find Paul, the kid who rescued him in the first place and for whom he shows a loyalty that only a dog can exhibit. Fantastic dog, by the way.
  9. There was no large scale evacuation. The immediate neighbor next to the fire was evacuated from her home. Beyond that, neighbors voluntarily left and stayed behind the lines of defense established by the fire department. Most of us hung out in a neighbor’s yard, generally being very supportive (our neighborhood is awesome), and sharing a bit of wine.

Beyond the simple fact that having your house damaged or destroyed by fire really really sucks, it is quite odd to be one of the unwilling subjects of a major news story. We heard tale from neighbors that their families in other states were calling them because they saw a blurb on the news.

The odd part is how every single article out there got one or many of the bullet points above wrong. I chose that particular set of facts because I read a story that incorrectly made a claim in conflict with said facts. Things move fast and I understand how such errors might happen, but to see a single article claim both that all three houses were destroyed and one house was destroyed and two houses had minor damage is indicative of how little importance is given to accuracy.

Great Blue Heron

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

This morning, Roger pointed out that a Great Blue Heron had perched in a tree at the edge of my parent’s pond (Columbia, MO). Cool. Grab the camera. Maybe I can get a shot or two.

Out of the 40+ pictures I took, this was the only real keeper. Frankly, that seems about right for a rather large, rather skittish bird hanging about in bad morning light (overcast to the point of dim).

Happy enough, I figured that was that.

Later in the morning, with the sun out, Roger mentioned that the Heron was back and fishing in the shallow end of the pond. I grabbed the camera and headed outside, but couldn’t find it.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Until this popped up from behind the retaining wall between wall and pond.

The Heron was definitely back and put on quite a show!

I was able to take a bunch of decent pictures which you can see below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Roast Turkey

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
Turkey

For Thanksgiving this year, I couldn’t decide between cooking a smoked turkey or a roasted turkey. So I did both. 38 lbs of turkey may have been excessive for 12 people, but the leftovers are grand (still have quit a bit frozen).

For the smoked turkey, I followed the guide at Amazing Ribs. Hands down, the best BBQ/Grilling site around.

For the roast turkey, I started with Martha Stewart’s Cheesecloth Method, derived inspiration from Amazing Ribs, and applied a bit of my whim. The end result was incredibly good and, bonus, also produced some of the best gravy I’ve ever had.

Details:

  • You’ll need a roasting pan that allows the turkey to be suspended at least an inch, preferably more, above the contents of the pan (which will be about 1″ deep). Looking closely at the (admittedly poor) picture, my turkey roaster’s rack has little notches that allow it to be suspended over the pan. If you have room, you could use a pan on the bottom rack of the oven with a rack immediately over to hold the turkey.
  • Shove some sage leaves and a lemon inside the bird’s body cavity. No stuffing, though, as that just dries out the meat (by requiring a longer cook) while not really improving stuffing quality.
  • Pre-heat oven to 450℉
  • In the roasting pan place all the turkey innards but the gizzard — neck, any fatty bits cut off, heart, liver, etc… Add to the pan:
    • One large onion, halved, skin on. The skin adds color.
    • Several peeled carrots, cut to finger length chunks.
    • Celery, finger length chunks.
    • 6+ whole peppercorns.
    • 60 / 40 mix of water / apple juice, enough to mostly cover the veggies.
  • In a deep sauce pan, melt 3/4 lbs of butter. Add 2 cups of Sake and ~1 Cup of Jack Daniels. Once thoroughly melted and stirred, soak a cheese cloth in it and layer on top of the turkey. There should be at least 4 layers of cloth on the top and down the sides of the turkey.
  • Shove the bird in the oven. After one hour, drop the temperature to 350℉ and baste the turkey with most of the remaining butter/sake/JD magic sauce. It’ll sizzle and pop. That’s OK. The cheesecloth will likely be near black and crispy. Also OK.
  • After another couple of hours, remove the cheesecloth carefully. Baste with any remaining awesomesauce and baste with a bit more of the drippings from the roasting pan below the turkey.
  • Cook for at least another hour. The bird will be done when the meat in the thickest part reaches ~155℉. Not 165℉ as the bird needs to rest for a good 15 to 20 minutes when pulled and carryover will cause the temperature to both continue to rise and continue to pasteurize (if you hold poultry at 131℉ for long enough, it’ll be fully pasteurized– the USDA’s quote of 165℉ for safety is based on holding at that temperature for only a few seconds!).
  • Strain the contents of the roasting pan into a pot. You could choose to serve it as is as a delicious and flavorful broth to be ladled over the meat. Or you can choose to cook it down — to thicken it up — as a more traditional gravy.


75/47.5 Yogurt

Sunday, September 9th, 2012
Yum!

When I became sous vide enabled (controlled water bath, anyway, a proper vacuum chamber is on the to-buy list), it immediately dawned on me that a tightly temperature controlled water bath would be perfect for purposefully growing microorganisms as much as for preventing the growth while achieving perfectly done foods.

Roger has long been a fan of yogurt and yogurt is nothing more than milk fermented by a lactose consuming bacteria of, most commonly, the Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus varieties.

And, yes, it has proven incredibly easy, cost effective, and exceptionally delicious to cultivate these bacteria in the milk of your choice using a sous vide rig. Note that you really don’t need a water bath; a cooler, some hot bottles and towels can work well enough.

However, you do need the precision of a water bath to achieve consistent results of the highest quality!

The Recipe

Milk Divided

1. Divide a gallon of milk amongst 5 1-quart Bell canning jars (which aren’t actually 1 quart in many cases — go figure — just divide the milk evenly between them). Lids on loosely!

We often use generic organic whole milk, but low-fat works, too. It cannot be ultra-pasteurized (as ultra-pasteurization breaks down the proteins to the point that the bacteria can’t survive. The implications on the healthiness of said milk are quite bad). Raw milk works beautifully, but is expensive. I’ve been meaning to try a mix of sheep and/or goat with the cow’s milk.

Lately, I’ve taken to using a gallon of 2% mixed with a quart of raw whole milk. The result is a bit richer in flavor and texture while not being the whole fat experience.

Making Yogurt; Scalding the Milk

2. Place in an 75C water bath for ~2 hours (long enough to heat the milk thoroughly to 75C for at least an hour).
3. Cool milk to 47.5C. I find it easiest to scoop out the hot water and replace with cold water to bring the temperature down rapidly.

I usually set the target temp of the water bath to 46C initially. By doing this, the residual heat from the milk will leach out into the water bath and you can tell when it is stable when it holds steady. You can inoculate and bring the temperature back to 47.5C simultaneously (Yogurt cultures will incubate fine up to just above 50C and, in fact, I used to do this at 50C. I’ve since found that 47.5C produces an even better result.). The key is to make sure the milk is solidly below 55C before inoculation, otherwise you’ll run the risk of killing off the live cultures!


Innoculate at 50C

4. Stir in one tablespoon of the plain flavor of your favorite brand of yogurt into each jar. Place lids back onto jar loosely.

You can use previous batches to inoculate new batches, but it is generally recommended that you refresh with new yogurt every few batches. Honestly, I’m not sure how much this matters. It’d seem that as long as you store your live culture yogurt properly, you shouldn’t have any more of an issue than one might with, say, a sour dough starter. Mostly, I end up “starting over” with store bought plain yogurt simply because we eat the previous batch so quickly and we forget to preserve enough to start the next batch!
5. Leave in the water bath for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours (maybe even longer). The longer they are in the bath, the more greek-like sourness to the yogurt. I usually target 18 hours, maybe 22, and everyone in the family eats the stuff like crazy.

Done!

6. Tighten the lid and submerge in ice water to stop the bacteria from continuing reproduction as the temperature falls (more below). You should hear a “pop” as each jar seals itself.

7. Refrigerate. We’ve had jars sit in the fridge for 4+ weeks with no off flavors or nasty bits forming. Others have reported keeping the sealed jars in the fridge for 6+ weeks without issue.

You’ll get a bit of whey on some jars, some more than others, I typically collect the whey and use it in bread making.

Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon: Playing with an iPad

Saturday, August 4th, 2012
Playing with an iPad

We spent a week at the end of June on the Amazon River in Peru with International Expeditions. Fantastic trip, more on that in a later post.

One afternoon, we visited a village — Nueva York — along the Amazon. We spent some time with the children of the village, learning a bit of spanish and teaching them a bit of english (Head! Shoulders! Knees and Toes! Knees And Toes!).

Fun with Photobooth

One of our guides asked me to show the kids my iPad as they had never seen anything like it before. It took a moment, but they were enthralled. The big hits were Photo Booth and a simple finger painting app.

It was quite gratifying to see the kids take to the iPad and start using the apps so naturally. They quite quickly learned how to change and control the effects in Photo Booth. Including taking their own pictures, as seen at the right.

Of this wonderful experience — the kids were fantastically good natured and the adults were warm / welcoming — there were two standout events that I shall relay, one purely cultural and the other just flat out cute.

When I first launched Photo Booth and showed it to one child, I was a bit surprised by the reaction. It was sort of, “Well, that’s neat.. but.. meh, weird pictures of a person isn’t that interesting”. When I turned the iPad so his friend could see, the second kid’s reaction was the same, but the first child completely lit up with laughter as soon as the second kid’s face was on screen! Then the same happened when I rotated back to the first child.

As it turns out, there are pretty much no mirrors anywhere outside of, maybe, a hand mirror or two. Children really don’t see themselves on a regular basis save for on the back of a digital camera in the hands of a tourist (we were encouraged to always show them any pictures we took). Thus, seeing “self” just wasn’t very interesting at all.

Once I suspected this was the case, I saw this same behavior with pretty much every child who saw Photo Booth for the first time!

The really cute event happened when I was showing a little girl — maybe 6 or 7 years old — the finger painting application. It took her a second, but she got into it and had quite a bit of fun making a smily face. I showed her that the color could change and then left the color picker (a little grid of color swaths) on the screen for her to pick.

She thought about it for a moment.

Then carefully tapped light blue.

Then looked at the tip of her finger to make sure the color was picked up.

Disappointed that her finger wasn’t blue, she tried again with yellow. Same thing.

Then I showed her that the color really did change and she was happily drawing away again. Still, every new color required a finger tip inspection…

Neat folks. I hope to visit again.






Big Cubes

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

 

If you like the occasional cocktail, get yourself some really big ice cubes. They tend to melt slower and, thus, water your drink down less while also providing a nice big chunk of cold.

 

Better yet, a very large cube of ice will not act as a dam against the side of the glass like a typical ice maker “cube”.

An upgrade over 2″ cubes would be to create 2″+ spheres. Currently, there seem to be two products on the market to do this. Instead of rehashing information, I’ll just post a link to this fantastic weblog with an article that focuses on spherical ice making.


As @dnanian reminded me, there is this absolutely fantastic spherical ice cube mold out of Japan.   Beautiful piece of work, but both a bit spend and not exactly convenient.

Still… that mechanical engineering is quite drool worthy.

Sous Vide Update

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Quick notes;  I’m sorely behind on photography and weblogging.  Instead of letting things entirely rot, I’m going to jot down some notes for future reference (my own and, hopefully, others).

I’ve also been behind on cooking, making stuff, etc…

After letting my Sous Vide Supreme gather dust for a couple of months, I thought through why and what to do about fixing this.   The quality of food that is possible with SV cooking was clearly a motivator.  What I concluded was that the size and pain of storing the SVS was ultimately the reason why I didn’t use it;  finding a place to store was a pain and the SVS always takes the same rather large volume of water, even if you only want to cook a few eggs or a couple of steaks.

Thus, after some rather extensive research, I decided to go with a PolyScience Sous Vide Professional.   Effectively, it is a PolyScience lab circulator refactored into a form convenient for use in a kitchen.   It is easy to use, very accurate, and — most critically for me — can handle both a much much smaller and, on those occasions where I need it, a significantly larger (30L) volume of water vs. the SVS.

Once obtaining said device, a bit of a food adventure has been had over the past few weeks.

Ribs & Pork Shoulder (24 hours @ 56ºC)

Ribs were basted with an apricot / rice vinegar / EVOO / brown sugar / ginger sauce prior to bagging.   Pork shoulder was rubbed down with brown sugar, light salt, and scotch bonnet pepper flakes.

End result was quite good;  both the ribs and the shoulder had “chew” in that they didn’t entirely fall apart, but were still completely fork tender.   Flavor profile was excellent;  intensely pork flavored without being overbearing.   The belly was slightly salty and, in fact, salting in sous vide is very different than salting in regular bbq.

Lesson Learned: What is likely obvious to anyone who can actually cook;  any liquid in the sous vide bag should be drained into a pan and used to make a sauce, some sauce, any sauce.   Use it to deglaze a pan.  Add it to some sauce you are making, even if you have to cook it down a bit.   There is simply too much deliciousness in the liquid in the bag to let it go down the drain!

Fillet of Salmon (30 minutes @ 54ºC)

Just hot enough to pasteurize, no more.  Sadly, this sucked.  But it was an important lesson.  The Salmon fillet was absolutely perfect in texture and color, but the flavor was off.  Namely, it was fishy because I had abused the fillet between freezer and consumption.  Not “I’m going to die” fishy, but just unpleasant.   Frankly, if I had cooked it in a stew or grilled it, it would have been fine.

Lesson Learned: When cooking SV, there is nowhere that any off flavors can escape to, be burned off, or otherwise be covered.  While you don’t have to start with the most amazing quality ingredients, they must be absolutely fresh and/or have been stored properly every step of the way between harvest and table.

 

Brisket — French Laundry Style (48 hours @ 64ºC)

Picked up a big chunk of relatively cheap brisket and cut it into three pieces.  All three were oiled, salted and peppered prior to bagging.  One then had a hot indian curry added and one had a bunch of Worcestershire + Maple Syrup.

End result was very interesting.  It was a lot less tender than I expected, but was still fork tender after being sliced across the grain.

All of the juices were drained into a small cast iron pot and were cooked down with powdered mustard, ketchup, and siracha until it thickened into what turned into a delicious BBQ sauce.

Lesson Learned: Following Keller’s temperature and time recommendations seems to “just work”.  This comes as know surprise.  However, if you read many of Keller’s SV recipes, they generally require a proper vacuum sealer to be able to achieve the “under pressure” part of SV cooking.

Cheap Steaks (48 hours @ 56ºC)

Picked up some cheap sirloin steaks.  Not terribly tender, but not too tough.  Decided to do them 48 hours to see what would happen;  one plain, one curry, and one maple syrup + Worcestershire.

Browned meat over high flame on cast iron after.

Made sauce out of the juice, of course.

Was quite delicious, but the meat texture was too tender.  Beyond fork tender.

Lesson Learned: No, really, you can make a meat too tender.  At least, if you expect to serve it in a steak-like format.  However, I’m betting that taking the same cut of meat, dropping a bunch of stew like veggies and spices into the bag, and cooking that for 48 hours in a similar way would result in an amazing stew.

Peaches (3 hours @ 80ºC)

Peaches + brown sugar + bourbon, actually.   Just an experiment.

Delicious over ice cream, but the bourbon flavor was surprisingly strong.  In hindsight, this should have been obvious.   Did this a second time and used the result in a BBQ sauce described below.

Lesson learned: The Sous Vide pouches are a closed systems.  Any flavors that go in will stay there.  They may change from being exposed to said temperature, but they can’t escape!  Duh!  So, like salt, if you have something that is an intense flavor that would otherwise be somewhat lost during cooking, vastly reduce the amount you put in!

Brisket — Baldwin Style (24 hours @ 80ºC)

Didn’t have 48 hours and wanted to try something a little different.  Did the three flavors again as described above.

Browned the meat in skillet before, on grill after.

The end result was much much more tender than the French Laundry Style described above. But that may also have been because the meat, itself, was significantly fattier.

Served with a BBQ sauce made from the SV peaches described above + brisket SV juices + ketchup + maple syrup + mustard + hot peppers.

Lesson Learned: Beyond the exceptionally well understood pasteurization tables and exactly what temperature to cook a piece of meat to consider it “rare, medium-rare, etc..”, the relationship between time/temperature vs. resulting texture is not entirely understood by anyone. Certainly, a truly competent chef will find a particular time/temperature

Leg of Lamb (24 hours @ 54ºC)

Took a leg of lamb, shoved it in a bag without anything else, and SV’d it for 24 hours.

Once done, salted, peppered, EVOO, and then grilled for a minute per side on a very high heat gas grill.

Using the leftover BBQ sauce from the previous night as a base, I added the juice from the lamb SV bag and cooked it down a bit more.

The meat was perfectly tender and medium-rare from edge to edge.  Not a bit of it was left at the end of the meal.

Lesson Learned: 54ºC is a magic number.  At 54ºC, you can mostly cook something for up to 72 hours with no worries of poisoning anyone and still result in a piece of medium rare meat.  Mostly (as there is some subtlety to the whole pasteurization thing).  Just start with a fresh and competently handled piece of meat — it can be cheap, but it must be fresh.

Pork Ribs (24 hours @ 57ºC)

Dry rub with brown sugar, salt, hot pepper, ginger, and garlic.  Into the bag for 24 hours.  Cooked down a BBQ sauce (carry over from the one above), glazed and then seared over a high heat gas fired grill.

The texture of the meat was perfect.   The flavor was too damned salty.  Not inedibly so; just much more so than desired.

Lesson re-learned: No matter how little salt you use in a Sous Vide bag, it can easily be too much.  I didn’t even think I’d used that much salt, but the end result was still saltier than expected and saltier than desired.

More notes as I figure this out….