Saturday, December 28, 2019

HiHium Lake 2018, The Motley Crew in Hot Water (Again)

Leaving the extremely fun Casne/Strauss wedding weekend in Seattle was difficult (primarily because we were all a bit challenged to get up and moving from our digs at the Westin. But instead of staying another evening and then facing Monday morning Seattle auto-destruct, Jay & Leslie opted to travel with us North of Seattle on Sunday to beat the traffic. It wasn’t very far on the map, but it proved more of a challenge than any of us would admit...that’s where the now outdated saying “pictures don’t lie” might have been somewhat damning. But as we all now know any of these pictures from Marysville Costco or waiting for our room to be cleaned so we could throw all our crap in and get it messy again, could be digitally altered.  (Although I’m not sure if technically you can digitally alter the foot, toes on the foot yes, but the foot?)

The Costco couch and stuffed animal displays were irresistible
as was the back seat of the Subaru for Leslie while we waited
for our room to be made ready for was a long day!

The four travel pigs watched with jowls agape as dessert was prepped
So, once we piled more food and adult beverages from Kamloops into our vehicles and then finished the last hour and a half drive to the cabin, it was all about getting the wood fired oven (The Big O) going and getting martinis prepared. Lots of exquisite dining planned for this week. Layne had pre-made some beef bourguignon and some cheesy polenta for our first night into the cabin, plus dessert was a blueberry cornbread! Living off the grid at HiHium Lake is pretty rough! I got the fire going in The Big O and pretty soon we were baking the polenta and heating up the fancy named beef stew. Hendricks martinis set the mood and dinner was served with excellent Italian wine. In fact, the entire week we dedicated ourselves to decimating the Hendricks gin and fine Italian wine supply in the British Columbia outback. Our travel pigs all watched with glee as the blueberry cornbread was put together for the oven bake...sorry, none was left for you pigs!

I got Chef Bill (my sourdough) going and started the baguette supply chain. Second day at HiHium I put two plain baguettes and two craisin filled baguettes on the dinner table. We filled the wood fired aluminum hot tub and got it fired up & heating as soon as possible the second day. Takes a long time to heat 400-500 gallons of water when you don’t keep the fire stoked because of the distractions of having to stop for beer (or a martini), or a round of story telling and laughter, or a fishing expedition, or just a plain old attack of lazy, but then we’re older and have no supervisor (other than the ladies who kept trying valiantly to keep making progress on meals & projects for the week).

The new entrance to the compost pit dug by our friendly bear, plus some
other "signs" we found around the cabin
Last year Jim hired a little backhoe to dig a new outhouse and compost pit. The old outhouse structure simply got moved over the new pit and we lined the compost pit with plastic and put a piece of plywood over the top. Three days into our trip this year, apparently a bear found our compost simple irresistible and dug in through one side. There had been a large fire in the area last year and we think that the little “island” spared from the devastation around the cabin (Thank you, Canadian Firemen!), concentrated a lot of wildlife into this fairly small oasis. We saw some pretty big bear tracks and deposits...glad not to see any whistles or empty pepper spray containers in the deposits. We all were very diligent keeping food waste carefully contained or burned in the wood fired stove that heated our water for the cabin (and to make its occupants more able to stand each other during close seating at mealtimes).

Jim, Jay, and Sam got in a lot of fishing...some dry and some pretty wet fishing on the lake, but every time they came back with big smiles, fish stories, and empty beer cans. I understand that adds up to success when you’re fishing...but then I was enjoying my beer in the cabin with four lovely ladies, where it was warm and dry (perspective, it’s all about perspective). During breaks in the meal preps, jigsaw puzzles were high on the list of entertainment as were rounds of Susan’s favorite card game Got-It (a gin rummy variation).

Clockwise from top left: Jay, Sam, & Jim returning from a rainy fishing trip, Jay & Leslie
making a stone path between the house stairs and the hot tub deck entry, Susan & Layne
putting together a jig saw puzzle, and the boys showing they could fish in good weather too

Tuna fish & avocado salad for lunch with a pineapple upside
down cake created for dinner that evening...yumm!
Layne & Susan had coordinated and worked out menus for the week, Leslie, Martha, and I tried to help wherever and whenever we could. Lots of roasted vegetables, beautifully laid out appetizer trays, awesome main courses, extraordinary wines, fancy desserts, and then the next morning full breakfasts with plenty of fruit, eggs, bacon, & fried potatoes. The pineapple upside down cake done in an iron skillet was a big success.

Clockwise from top left: Craisin & pecan baguette, whole wheat,
CCRAP loaf (Craisin, cinnamon, raisin, apricot, & pecan)
plain & craisin baguettes with a stenciled whole wheat

Jim & Susan usually were the ones peeling and prepping the fruit since they both tended to be up early and looking for jobs to do. I just tried to keep out of the way and made sure nobody was without bread.

The hot tub was well used, The Big O was constantly being stuffed with things to bake or heat, the bear kept his/her distance from all the noise, all of us gained weight, and no liquor was left untouched or appreciated. This was a special trip for all of us. Although August 2018 was Susan’s last trip with the Motley Crew, she will always be in our hearts and minds as will the sound of her hearty laugh and the memory of her quick & warming smile.

Even though I was taking the picture, my spirit  (and wine) was in the tub with my friends  The Motley Crew!

Even though the evidence of the 2017 fires in British Columbia was very visible, it was cheering to see the flowers that had erupted in the newly opened fields and meadows (even if it was Fireweed!)

One third of the luggage stacked and ready to go; Kubota loaded up with
Casnes & Graybills and of course Jim driving. Plenty of Fireweed in the burnt areas.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Wedding 2018 - Be There and/or Be Square

The entire Motley Crew headed to Seattle in 2018 for the August wedding of Sam & Martha’s daughter, Samantha to Aaron Strauss. The plans (i.e objectives) were to pre-party before the official wedding get-together at a local pub, try not to embarrass ourselves by having too many jello-tequila shots at the official party, try to look dignified the next day at the wedding, try to be “the life of the party” at the reception (to give the “kids” some achievable goals in their lives), and then try to find our way back to the hotel. I thought it sounded a little optimistic and a lot to remember for our group, but then–wait, what was the middle part???

When we arrived in downtown Seattle, I had not fully appreciated how bad traffic was in the downtown area and how easily one wrong turn could force you into a far south loop by the football stadium (...could’ve been a baseball field or Boeing airfield or a Sea-Tac runway...) after all aren’t all big cities easy to navigate? When we finally got into proper, short diagonal, access drive to the fairly well camouflaged entry for the Westin’s valet parking, there was a pretty big push/rush to get everything out of the car so the valet folks could move the vehicle into “storage”. I won’t mince words was decidedly intimidating, humiliating, degrading, and made me wish a had a flask of white lightnin’ in my back pocket. I definitely came to understand what could cause a man to take up drinking. (Please remember the duress noted here as it will be referred to again later in this epic blog.)

Anyway, with the bags all unloaded and carted up into our room, the pain in my head did start to moderate. Once we located the Malicks, Casnes, & the Graybills, life became fabulous again.

Notice that Sam & Martha pulled the excuse of "wedding duties"
to miss the  2018 Ti-Toki tasting.
Years ago, when the Graybills returned to the west coast from New Zealand for a visit, they brought a bottle for each couple of Ti-Toki, the national drink of their newly adopted country. At least they said it was the national drink of New Zealand...I suspect it was simply a ploy by the Kiwi government to make sure all the bottles of this insidious brew were removed from their island nation. Our Motley Crew gatherings since that time have always included either a tasting to see if the drink has mellowed over time or at least to express how much we communally hoped it would be the last bottle of Ti-Toki we ever had to sample. This gathering at the Westin was definitely one of the tasting variety. So here we are, huddled around one of the now, quite vintage bottle of Ti-Toki to ascertain if it has become drinkable as of had not...but there’s not much left, so that’s something positive.

So our pre-wedding party was sort of a success, at least we all expended a lot of laughs & smiles. At the pub event, we got to meet a lot of Samantha & Aaron’s friends and didn’t embarrass ourselves too much–or at least none of us remembered anything that might be put into our permanent J. Edgar Hoover files.

(Although, I did notice several of those younger folks pointing at us and walking briskly away when we approached them the next day at breakfast.)

The next day we wandered around Seattle and then as afternoon closed down, we all started to get gussied up for the wedding. (This photo was taken in full gussie-up attire after the wedding since it was the first time we'd been able to get together as a group–with all those mother & father of the bride obligations Sam & Martha had to attend to.)

Now, those of you who know me, know I hate shoes and have been known to wear a tuxedo and my thongs (flip-flops to you youngsters). Well, in the rush to unload the car, (I told you to remember my extreme duress at that time...) my dress shoes did not make it out of the Subaru.

Susan was absolutely convinced I "forgot" my dress shoes on purpose, and although I did NOT forget my shoes on purpose, I wasn’t unhappy about the situation. And besides, they were a really good pair of thongs (yes kids, still talking about flip-flops).

I was told fairly firmly that I would keep my feet under the table and hidden as much as possible. When we arrived downstairs to meet the Malicks and Graybills, Jim had a variation on my foot covering issue...and Susan and Layne seemed at a loss for words (Isn't there a saying about quiet times being the best?...if there isn't, there should be, or maybe I was thinking about the calm before the storm.)

Apparently, Corfam shoes don’t store as well as they look. When I was in NROTC, they were a highly valued new item available in shoe apparel. They had a spectacular shine all by hours of spit polish required, an absolute miracle to those required to produce a mirror finish on their dress shoes and who didn't want to spend hours on end polishing footwear.

As luck (or destiny) would have it, Jim’s left foot Corfam dress shoe had apparently been affected by the Andromeda Strain while in storage. With no stores open and being a practical problem solver, he went to the Concierge to see if they had any clear, wrapping tape to solve his shoe's outbreak. They did not, but did offer some scotch tape. So Jim taped the cracked shoe up and figured it only had to last a couple hours.

The left (taped) shoe sorta did last an hour or so...the right shoe sorta did not. After the wedding, we moved into the downstairs of the venue (I don’t know why it’s a building by day and a venue by evening.) Both Jim and I were told by Layne & Susan to keep our feet under a table at all times.

Jim's shoes (need I say...on the right?) at the end of the evening
and I thought it was worthwhile having a pre-storage/taped shoe
in the picture for comparison.

FYI, I have to tell you, that keeping your feet under a table at all times makes it quite difficult to get to your dinner at the buffet or to get your drink refilled without being a bit self-conscious and looking like a fairly suspicious, doddering old man.

I was pleased that Sam & Martha had placed us all at table #1 (out of +15 tables), meaning there were a lot of people at this wedding and the only ones who cared that Jim & I had sub-standard footwear were Susan and Layne–just sayin’...

Dinner was fabulous and we all had a terrific time being together to celebrate Samantha & Aaron’s marriage. Our best wishes for a long and happy union for them.

Sam made the effort to get a picture of the Motley Crew 2018 to go with the picture of the group from 2008 (pre-Motley Crew moniker).

After dinner, we headed back to the Westin, leaving Sam & Martha behind to pay the bill and cleanup the “venue” (not really, but it sounds good 16 months after the event). Both Susan and Layne had brought more comfortable shoes along for the walk back and had changed into them. As we started back, Layne’s toe strap on her Croc thongs (that’s still flip-flops to you kids!) broke. I loaned her mine (Olu Kai’s not Crocs) and I went barefoot back to the hotel. I often wondered if any homeless people saw us walking along and felt sorry for us..."and that one guy was wearing taped up shoes and the other guy didn't even have any shoes, poor buggers..." By the way, my feet got really, really (and I mean really) filthy walking three blocks on Seattle sidewalks. (I’m thinking if I have occasion to walk in downtown Seattle again, I’ll take a backup pair of my Olu Kai thongs/flip-flops with me.)

Now if you’ve been keeping track, arriving back at the Westin was our last goal for the weekend (and since there were no provisions about footwear in that goal, I’m counting it as successfully completed!)

The next day we loaded Jay and Leslie in our car and headed North for our 2018 adventure at HiHium Lake with the Motley Crew. (FYI: No ambitious goals, expected demeanor or attitudes had been set for this upcoming Canadian adventure...just sayin’, we’d already been through enough constraints in the name of big city, “act-your-age” mandates.)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Shepherd's Grain Flour Evaluations

This details my recent baking comparison of Shepherd's Grain flour with my current standard bread flours (Harvest King/Better for Bread-General Mills, Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat and Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread flours). I'm assuming a little knowledge of bread making here and have decided to create an upcoming post outlining some of my "normal" procedures for (small & large) dough batches of 3 to 16 pounds mixed by hand and using the no knead method.

When I was returning home this fall from Vancouver, B.C., I stopped at a Whole Foods store south of Portland, Oregon to stretch my legs and see if there were any new interesting products on the shelves. Lo and behold, there was a lady giving cookie samples away promoting Shepherd's Grain flours. Always a sucker for any baking goods presentations (especially ones passing out good cookies), I had a wonderful chat with Lori Lusetti and we talked about my WFO and retirement project of baking breads for my friends and the neighborhood. I loved the concept of smaller grain farmers being connected with the milled flour by code on the bags. It turned out Lori was not just "pushing cookies" but was involved in promotions and sales for Shepherd's Grain. I wanted to know where I could buy some of the flours in 50 pounds sacks, but she said she’d send me some whole wheat, wheat (all-purpose white), and a high gluten wheat to try out first.

Baguettes benched and resting before final shaping.
The small plastic cups contain Asiago cheese for stuffing
half of the baguettes. Small piece of dough is for my dinner.
My normal whole wheat breads are supplemented with a high gluten flour and my baguettes use an all-purpose flour, so her samples were going to work out very well. The baguette uses a levain created with my sourdough (Chef Bill…doesn’t everyone name their starter?) and a refrigerated (retarded) poolish made with a small amount of commercial (Red Star) instant yeast (IDY). As an FYI: I tried to be consistent how each dough was mixed and handled, but it’s impossible to do a perfect duplication for a side by side dough/bread bake comparison. I like to run my prep room cool and for this baguette and whole wheat bake the room was 65°F with 50% humidity. Here's a couple pictures of my prep-room work surfaces.

I have been using Better For Bread (General Mills...packaged as Harvest King in the 50 pound sacks I use) for my baguettes for years after doing several side by side tests with other flours. I also have been using the Harvest King for pizza dough since I did some taste/texture testing against Caputo 00 flour and Bob’s Red Mill several years ago. (I will be trying the Shepherd's Grain low-gluten in the near future against the Harvest King and see which one I will prefer.)


Billy Baguettes 

(pdf for batch at the end of the post)

I mixed up two batches of dough (just 3 loaves projected for both). Each batch had two components as I noted earlier, a levain and a poolish. I always employ a 30-45 minute autolyse in my doughs and all mixing is done by hand. After a 45 minute autolyse, I mixed in the natural yeast (Chef Bill) and commercial yeast respectively. The poolish with the IDY was covered then put into the refrigerator for an overnight, retarded pre-ferment, while the inoculated levain stayed covered on the counter in the prep room.

The next morning, I pulled out both the poolish tubs from refrigerator and let them come to prep room temp for a couple hours (I’d bumped the room temp up to 65°F). I then combined the levain and poolish and mixed in about ¾ of the remaining flour. After the dough and flour had been combined, I add the salt and mix it in the wet dough. (Rule of thumb is that the dough should be about 70-75% hydration so the salt will completely dissolve and evenly disperse when mixed.) After the salt is incorporated, I mixed in the final portion of flour.

Note that I was baking a large batch of  "regular" baguettes
in addition to the six test loaves...gotta love that blue tape!

The covered dough was folded twice during its two hour bulk fermentation. Dough masses had a last stretch & fold before being benched in 405-410 g pre-shapes and allowed to rest for 40 minutes before being shaped and placed in a couche (dusted with rice flour) for final proof.

After 45 minutes, the loaves were loaded into a 575°F oven for 17 minutes and an internal loaf temp of 205°F. I gave a light flour stripe to the baguettes made with Harvest King (HK), so I could clearly distinguish them from the Shepherd's Grain (SG) baguettes.
My other baguettes had been baked, so now it was time
to put in the six test loaves...still 575°F

Three baguettes made with Shepherds Grain flour
are those closest in the picture.

I gave one baguette made with each flour to two neighbor families. Of course I kept one set for my picture taking, visual comparison, and tasting.

Baguette Verdict:

Both sets of bread had good oven spring. The HK baguettes were a bit darker out of the oven. Possibly a slightly higher content of sugars in the dough. Cutting into the loaves, it appeared the HK loaves had more and larger holes in the crumb. I actually liked the tighter crumb of the SG loaves which gave a nice mouth feel (and helps avoid the dreaded drop/drip-through of toppings – I guess you could say it isn’t quite as good a diet bread as the HK). I noticed that the SG baguettes seemed more moist as did the other taste testers. Both baguettes sliced cleanly and toasted well. Half of my neighborhood testers liked the SG best and half thought they were both equally good.

Shepherd's Grain bread in on the left.
Shepherd's Grain bread on left, notice larger holes in
the crumb of the Harvest King (right side).

I will be using the SG wheat flour in the future.


Whole Wheat

(pdf for batch at the end of the post)

My whole wheat loaves are made with the addition of a high gluten flour to supplement/support a good rise in the bread. Normally I use Bobs Red Mill (BRM) Whole Wheat and their Artisan Bread (high gluten) flours. For this bake, I made 2 loaves normally and 2 loaves using SG Whole Wheat and their High Gluten flours.

This was my standard (no sourdough) whole wheat formula. It’s very moist and a good keeper. The addition of potato in the dough is what helps the baked loaf stay moister longer and the Lyle’s Golden Syrup has a wonderful flavor profile that enhances the whole wheat “taste experience” (IMHO).

As with the baguettes, the whole wheat bread is mixed and allowed a 45 minute autolyse before the first yeast (IDY) addition. After the yeast was mixed in, the doughs were put in the refrigerator for the overnight, retarded pre-ferment. The next morning, they were brought out into the prep room to come to room temperature.

Dough at room temperature, remaining
ingredients (mis en place)
weighed out in little stainless steel cups.
I like to weigh my flour into different areas of the container.
That way, if I get interrupted, I can see which components
have been already added. As a bonus, if I overshoot my target
weight, it's easy to remove the (correct) extra flour.

As with the baguettes, I withheld not only the salt but the melted butter and added ¾ of the remaining flour (and the remaining ingredients). When mixed, I added the salt, mixed again until dissolved and distributed, then added in the last of the flour. I let the dough rise through two stretch & folds in a 75°F proofing box. Next, I added the melted butter for a final mix into the dough. One more rise then I benched & did a final shaping into oval (semi-batard) loaves and placed them in a cloth lined basket. All four loaves were put back into the proofing box for a final rise of 1.5 hours. Loaves went into the 550°F oven with a light flour dusting on the SG loaves and my dragonfly stencil (in cocoa powder) on the BRM loaves. The loaves were in for 25 minutes then, because the oven was a bit too hot for whole wheat breads, I moved the loaves off the oven cooking floor onto inverted sheet pans with an aluminum foil cover to keep them from getting too dark. The loaves took an extra 10 minutes to come to 200°F internally when I pulled them from the oven. As with the baguettes, both the SG and BRM loaves exhibited excellent oven spring.

Verdict on the Whole Wheat

Upon cutting the loaves in half the next day, I thought both bread versions had extremely similar crumb structure. The SG crumb had a light, wheaty aroma and a little softer chew than the other. I also thought the SG crust has a bit of sweetness to it as I savored the bite. I was surprised that I couldn’t smell much coming from the BRM loaf although I did like the distinct crust/crumb interface.

I'd already started taste testing the baguettes, but here are (most) of the test loaves.
Shepherds Grain loaves are on the left side.

A bite that included some crust presented a very nice textural contrast while chewing it. That said, there was a slight bitterness that lingered a little too long for me. Toasted, both breads had a great crust crunch although I thought the chew was more pronounced and lasted longer with the SG loaf. Both breads finished with a nice and pleasant wheat aftertaste.

Shepherd's Grain loaf is on the left, Bob's Red Mill on the right. As far as I'm
concerned, both had excellent crust, crumb, flavor, and mouth feel.

I cut each of the remaining loaves in half and gave them to three neighbor families (half of each test loaf). My neighborhood taste testers were split...which was certainly a valid result. One set of folks  favored the BRM and the other liked the SG bread...both said the breads were so good they really had a tough time choosing. Another taster liked the SG best, but really couldn’t say why...  “it just tasted better” and the other just could not pick a favorite.

Again, as with the all-purpose wheat, I’ll be switching to Shepherd's Grain. It’s a competitive company that provides not only an excellent product selection but allows you to actually learn about the farmer(s) who have raised and harvested the grain. I found out that my local store has been filling their bulk whole wheat flour bin with Shepherd's Grain from GloryBee Wholesale Flour Suppliers and is able to order both the high-gluten and low-gluten (all-purpose) flours in 50 pound sacks for my baking needs.

 Baguette formula (levain & poolish - 3 loaves, indirect fermentation/no knead)

Whole Wheat formula - 2 loaves, rustic bread/indirect fermentation

FYI: I followed the code on my Shepherd's Grain bag and found that Mark & Becky Sheffels grew the wheat used to make the flour for my baguette testing. Their farm location is four miles west of Wilbur, Lincoln County, Washington. Thank you Mark & Becky for providing not only a great product but a connection to good sustainable farming in the Pacific Northwest!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Clog Your Arteries with Pesto Shrimp, Five Cheese, Pork Belly Mac & Cheese

So while wandering around Nye Beach on the Oregon coast last month, specifically during lunch and dinner hours, my eyes kept lingering over mac & cheese restaurant menu items. To me, it’s truly one of the best comfort foods served in America...and many places in the rest of the world. I decided that for the upcoming SciFi movie night with “the boys”, I’d make a WFO variation of a Basil-Shrimp mac & cheese that Susan had made several years ago. My variation included different (and more) cheeses, smoked pork belly chunks, and a finishing layer of panko & butter to form a crunchy top. Since smoked pork belly chunks (lardons) are not standard items available in grocery stores, thick cut bacon will work...but real pork belly, smoked and crisped up at home is a whole new level of yum!

I had previously purchased a 10 pound side of pork belly, sealed up 2 pound portions in vacuum packs and cooked them in my Sous Vide. Lots of information on the Internet regarding times and temperatures for pork belly. I chose to use a 24 hr at 165°F (74°C) cook for my “pork packs”.  I opened one of these pre-cooked packs for use in this batch of Mac & Cheese, sliced it and then smoked the slices a bit in my oven prior to cutting & lardon crisping.

Here’s the modified recipe I used for this batch of cheesy, shrimpy, pesto-y, pork belly heaven.

Mac & Cheese Core
1 lb shrimp, peeled with tails remaining (on 4-6)
8 oz dried Penne pasta
1/4 cup of melted butter
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup cream (half & half works great)
8 oz of grated cheese (2 oz each of Gouda, Fontina, Provalone, & Pecorino)
2 cloves minced garlic
2 TBS pine nuts (optional...but really good!)
2 TBS good quality basil based pesto
Pepper to taste (cheeses & pesto will provide significant salt)

2-3 oz of smoked pork belly, chunked into lardons (again, a good thick bacon will work well)
2-4 thin slices of Provalone
4-6 reserved shrimp (see below)
3/4 cup Panko
½ cup grated Parmesano Regiano
½ stick of butter sliced (used to dot final topping)
Optional, some fresh basil leaves, Chiffonade or Julienne cut.

The wood fired oven temp was too low from yesterday’s bread bake (still about 250°F) so I used my charcoal chimney to light up some lump charcoal. My target temperature was between 350-375°F.

As the oven approached my target temp, I put in a little Tuscan grill over the coals and nestled in a small iron frying pan loaded up with hardwood pellets (Cherry, Beech, and Sweet Pecan mix).

While the pork belly got a little smoke added in the WFO and the oven got some extra BTUs pumped in, I started prepping the rest of my over the top creation.

First I made sure I had all my ingredients assembled (mis en place) or at least visible.

Prep & Assembly:

Clean shrimp (reserve 4-6 with tails for topping presentation). Pat all shrimp dry and chop into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Butter a 2 quart baking dish and have a large bowl available for mixing the upcoming items.

Heat a medium sized skillet.

Get your well salted pasta water boiling.  Add the Penne pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, briefly toast the pine nuts in the heated skillet and set them aside. (Watch ‘em carefully, they are expensive and burn easily! 😢)

It's been about 45 minutes of heating & smoking in the oven so, Retrieve your smoked pork belly.
(I love the sound of that should be on a billboard or the motto for a BBQ joint.)

Move the coals & Tuscan grill to the side of the oven, making room for the casserole dish.

Cut pork belly into bite sized chunks (lardons). Crisp lardons to caramelize outside faces then reduce heat. If your bacon or lardons are very fatty, remove all but a tablespoon or so of the hot fat before adding the shrimp and garlic. Briefly heat all shrimp and minced garlic in remaining hot pork/bacon fat. Set aside the full shrimp pieces (with tail) and lardons. Remove skillet from heat so chopped shrimp and garlic stop cooking.

Check the pasta, your goal is firm al dente, reserve a cup of cooking water and drain pasta. Transfer the drained pasta into your large mixing bowl.

To the pasta, lightly mix together the chopped shrimp pieces, garlic, and flavored pork fat. Next, add the toasted pine nuts, butter, eggs, cream, grated cheese, pepper, and pesto. Toss to mix evenly.

If the pasta mix seems dry, adds some of the reserved pasta water. The mixture should be a little soupy as it will firm up substantially during the bake. Transfer ingredients into the buttered baking dish.

(I advocate using a mixing bowl instead of trying to combine the ingredients in the final baking dish as I was trying to do for the photo...)

Mix panko and grated Parmesano Regiano together.

Place crisped lardons or bacon over the top of the pasta mix.

Lay Provalone slices over the crispy pork yums and then set the reserved shrimp (with tails) on top.

Lift each shrimp tail up slightly and sprinkle Parmesan/panko crumb mix around it, so the tail remains slightly up and exposed. Do the same with the other "tailed" shrimp. Your goal is to use all the crumb/cheese mix and have the shrimp tails lifted slightly up from the topping.

Dot with butter.

Bake, uncovered, until heated through and topping has browned in places. This should take between 40-45 minutes depending on your oven and temperature. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle top with fresh basil if you wish (chiffonade cut works best IMHO--note that I was too lazy to add it when I made this).

I like to serve hot pasta dishes on top of a bed of fresh, baby spinach...helps me to view (rationalize...irrationalize?) this caloric overload of tasty, decadent heaven as somewhat healthy.

Serves between 4-6 (depending on how hungry they are...or how much you’re willing to share).

I was told that in many cultures (not America) that you should leave a little food on the plate to indicate you are full and that the chef has done a fabulous job of not only preparing the food but portioning it properly for the meal and the guest.
So here's my token effort at self-congratulation.

By the way, the SciFi movie we watched was Rampage and nobody left hungry (as far as I know) or needing more entertainment.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Brats, Beer, Bread, a Board, and a Beach

As soon as I returned to Roseburg, I went to an Octoberfest on Sunday for the Umpqua Valley Brewers Guild as a guest of Diane & Peter Griffin (and at their home). It sure is great to have an in with a great beer brewer like Diane. I got to sample several good beers and was happy to help cooking the Brats which had been “ the rest of us” in beer.

Diane and her friend Rhonda had made an enormous number of sauerkraut balls...fried, delicious with homemade sauce, and filled with cheese. Next came the Brats served with two kinds of red cabbage (one vegan, one traditional), and two types of potato salad. Everyone had brought some tasty item for the meal or dessert and I tried them all...with no regrets (after all, that’s the purpose of spandex!) Sorry, no fingers where fully occupied with plates & glasses full of tasty treats and adult beverages. I also am very fortunate that I live just down the hill from Griffins and had walked to the event so I could walk (sorta) home and burn off at least two bites of my afternoon of feasting and beer "tasting".

I spent most of the following week at home trying to catch up with my house chores, yard work, and paperwork. The weather has been too good to work on my deck's been much more fun to do "anything else". I got the front stairs rebuilt before I went to Vancouver and Jim’s hip replacement. I had planned on only needing to replace three or four boards (on the stairs...not Jim) and figured it would just take a couple hours. Started to work on the boards and found that most of the under-structure had not used pressure treated, outside rated wood and needed serious attention (i.e. replacement). There was only one word for how I felt about the extra work I that I had to invest on the stairs and it doesn’t rhyme with fudge. I finished up in the dark the night before I left for Vancouver...and the Malicks thought I was happy just to be in B.C.

The Friday after Octoberfest, I finally got to bake bread for the first time in a month and did 23 loaves for the neighborhood + 15 craisin/apricot buns for a dinner at the Yoders. Dan & Cheryl were the home stay volunteers for a delegate from the Ukraine, Liubov. Umpqua Community College has been involved with bringing professionals from the Ukraine to study and learn from comparable jobs here in Oregon. Liubov is a really interesting person and I enjoyed meeting her and another delegate, Pavlo (sp?). I was very amused when they announced that they were leaving in a couple days and had only the time after dinner to go to the one location left on their bucket list for this trip–Walmart! So Dan loaded ‘em up in the car and off they went...I wonder if the Roseburg Walmart knows it’s internationally acclaimed?

Realizing that I planned on going to Newport for the last weekend of the month, I decided that I’d better get to baking for the Community Cancer Center staff and my doctor’s office (best to keep them all happy with me!) So on Sunday I baked 17 loaves for the CCC and on Tuesday, I baked 16 loaves for the White Oak Medical Clinic.

One load out of the oven cooling, while the next is baking.

After the bread delivery to the clinic, I arrived home and determined that I had to get at least one board replaced on the front deck. Miracle of miracles, I actually got the rotten board out and replaced it with a new one before dark. I know it may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I’ve been thinking about this job for 7-8 months now and it was a relief to actually see something in the way of progress. (At the far end of the boardwalk you can just see part of the reconstructed front steps...but I don't think anyone can appreciate what a pain in the a$$ that job was!)

That last weekend of October, I headed over to Newport to walk the beach. Sunset was stunning that evening and the wind had almost completely stopped...just a perfect autumn evening.

My primary task for this trip was to place one of Susan’s memorial glass disks at Yaquina Head Lighthouse State Park. It was one of her favorite places to visit over the last several years and I certainly believe she would heartily approve of having a “little bit of herself” in such a beautiful spot. It was a gorgeous day as I cast off my flip-flops and walked down the beach to the lighthouse.

As I climbed up the path to the viewpoint, I was pleased to note a pair of Peregrine falcons hovering in the skies above Salal Hill. I don't mean to make it seem like a spiritual event, but I do feel they were like an honor guard watching over me as I thought about our last visit here together on the 8th of November 2018...less than a year ago. I placed a glass memorial disk containing a bit of her ashes and inscribed with her initials SHS (Susan Helen Stansbury) at the Northwest corner post of the viewpoint fence.

The spot where I placed the memorial disk is noted on the photo with a heart. I thought she would have an incredible view of the beaches, whales, birds, sea lions, and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse for as long as this hill existed.

On the beach, I ran across a live sand dollar--another memorable moment on this day's walk. I had forgotten how interesting they are with their little “underbelly” spines used to move through the sand. I placed it back in a little deeper water so the seagulls wouldn’t get a “free lunch” quite so easily.


One last look back at Salal Hill overlooking the lighthouse and I felt a surge of happiness that this was always going to be a special spot for "us". 

10/28/2019 - Susan's memorial glass rests at one of her favorite spots, Salal Hill.

The surf fishing was apparently quite good and I watched several surf perch caught while I walked back along the north beach to my motel. 

That day's walk on the sand (both North & South beaches) and then to the lighthouse registered 40,715 steps (20.45 miles) on my feet were tired, but my heals were soft as I headed for some dinner and a beer at The Chowder Bowl in Nye Beach.

So here’s the stats for the month of October:

548,027 Steps = 275 miles walked (85 miles while in Vancouver)
56 Loaves of bread baked
48 Castelvetrano olives (consumed with Hendricks Gin martinis)
26 Staples (removed from Jim's hip incision)
15 Craisin/Apricot buns baked
  4 Pounds gained (from Layne's fantastic cooking & cookies)
  2 Liters of Hendricks gin consumed
  1 Board (2x6) replaced in my front deck at home
  0 Lost/Damaged hip replacement patients under my temporary supervision
 ... Cookies (too many to count)

November 2018