Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Friendship Communities (3) – The Densters

Everyone needs a hobby or special interest when they face retirement (or just to stay sane during those “early years”). Notice I said retirement...not when we quit working. I’m of the firm belief (after 10 years of retirement experience) that for many folks, retirement is when you work harder...the difference is that this time it’s for yourself, for your own projects, and with your own deadlines.

I love to bake bread. I saw retirement as the opportunity to build a wood-fired oven (WFO) and bake lots of bread for my neighbors and friends. I also thought it would be a way to meet people and have something special in the way of Foodie Entertainment. Since we didn’t have air conditioning, Susan thought an outside WFO was a good idea just to keep our house cooler during the summer months by reducing the inside cooking chores. So when we retired in 2009, I started the process of building our WFO. As always, Susan was thinking much farther ahead than I. She did not want me working out in the rain (and tracking mud back in the house) and she did not want to have our envisioned guests to be surrounded by the Oregon flies, mosquitoes, yellow jackets, and other uninvited critters as we sat down for a meal al fresco or to have a brief shower change our dining venue.

As the outside structure took form around the WFO, we found that a neighbor up the hill really wanted to try baking bread in the oven. Diane is an excellent cook with some fascinating restaurant experience, a retired professional photographer, and a fabulous talent for making memorable beers. Her husband Peter had an engineering background, loved vintage sports cars, also had experience in professional photography, loves good wines & tawny ports, and is also a terrific cook was in the food industry for years. While living in Minneapolis and working at a high end restaurant, Peter and Diane met & served many famous people, including a President and (more importantly to me) Julia Child. In addition, Peter is originally from England and has that sought after British accent and sense of humor. Diane is always able to put together tasty loaves of bread, luscious custards, and mouth-watering pies & tarts paired with an excellent home brew on pretty short notice. Who could resist inviting the Griffins down to dinner?

Peter & Diane at a dinner up the river with brew buddies.

Susan & I and Bob & Deb enjoying a summer
 evening party at the Griffins
Our neighbors just upriver, Bob & Deb Walker turned out to be a good addition to the group as we’d get together for a Friday bread bake. Bob is a retired fireman with a rich supply of fun stories from those years fighting fires and from his time in the Navy (yes, our Navy). He did a lot of cooking at the firehouse and had plenty of experience at a butcher shop before the Navy. Diane got him interested in charcuterie and it wasn’t uncommon to have him show up on a Friday with some sausage or other delightful prepared meat item as a taste tester. Deb retired as an accountant and they both did years serving on Search & Rescue teams. Now, Bob is becoming a master at turning wood on his lathe and enjoys making everything from Spurtles (yes, I’m going to make you look it up) to Mobiles. With their knowledge of training dogs for Search & Rescue, after moving to Roseburg, they became involved with training dogs to hunt Oregon truffles. The Oregon Truffle Festival has become quite popular on the West Coast and they find themselves in demand to train other people’s dogs to hunt the elusive underground fungus so highly prized by the culinary world. Bob produces truffle oil every year that he sells to several high end restaurants. Deb has also started multiple classes to help people train their new puppies (and to train the owners how to be good dog owners).

I wanted to come up with a name for the enclosure/structure around the WFO. Since I really enjoyed taking pictures of dragonflies, Susan and I christened the screened enclosure The Dragonfly Den. Our group of six took on The Densters as our nom de plume (Deb’s idea). Susan really loved setting the table in the den with different dishes and table cloths (just a couple yards of a pretty print from a bolt at the fabric shop...she just loved the idea of an inexpensive table cover that she didn't have to fret about).
Susan all ready for another bake day meal with The Densters.

Peter's birthday focaccia (and it was a bit chilly in the den).
Fridays became an event we all looked forward to for the food and the comradery. Susan would often decide to make it a dinner event and would assign salad, side dish, or dessert to the other couples. Food was always spectacular but Bob pointed out that we could not say any particular item was “perfect”...rather we needed to say it was “almost perfect”. This would ensure that the dish would appear at the table again...after all, once you’ve had a perfect dish why would you ever follow it up with a second rate version? Flawless logic after a wine or beer or two... Why even a birthday Focaccia seemed like a good thing to do for a Denster!
When it got a little too chilly for an evening meal in the Den, we’d send out an email noting that after appetizers there would be inside seating for dinner. It was always fun to have some fresh sliced baguette or other hot appetizer from the WFO before we moved on to the main course. Bob said at one point when we were building the den, he thought what a waste of time on something we’d rarely use...but soon after we started to regularly enjoy the den together on Fridays, he couldn’t imagine being without The Dragonfly Den and The Densters for all those fun & tasty years together.

Great Times & Great Friends That Can't Be Forgotten!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Your Basic Dome to Barrel Shape Conversion.

I read about and looked at hundreds of completed wood fired ovens (old and new) before I started this project. I was extremely satisfied with the oven design I’d used but somewhere deep inside me, I thought it would look better with a half-barrel exterior facade. Seemed simple enough in my mind–after a beer or two–to create such a facade for our oven (note to self...check alcohol % of adult beverages when things look to be pretty simple).

So with beer and trowel nearby, I laid out some bricks I’d cut in half lengthwise parallel to the side of the oven and about ½ brick away. I stood a piece of cement board up in the gap and thought this would work well to create the side of the barrel facade. Mortared in place vertically, the board kept my half bricks aligned perfectly (at least to my eye). I used some fiberglass insulation at the top of the board to keep it from pressing inward as I added bricks.

Once I got to the curving top, I laid fiberglass insulation over the perlcrete to create the “top of the barrel”. I then wedged in pieces of aluminum lath between the cement board sides to give me a mortar substrate for the top of the barrel brickwork. I cut one series of bricks (for each side) with an angle to start the run over the top and then simply continued to brick up from each side to meet at the top/mid-line.

I had added several L-screws halfway up the vertical wall so I could lay my peel or blowpipe along the oven side when not in use. I also put at couple “tall” mortar joint lumps along the top third of the oven so I could lay a tool or two on the curved surface without having it fall down. The little stair shelves built into the sides of the chimney structure have proved useful for keeping my IR-Gun and other little baking items nearby...but out of the way.

The curve over the top went pretty well, although since I was laying a row of bricks on alternating sides, the top several rows had a lot of bounce to them. If I'd made the lath a tighter fit, it probably would not have "pouched" up at the top. But, as with all my projects, if something out of the ordinary or not expected didn't happen...I'd be very concerned. And if you wondered about how difficult it was to work on the top of the facade with the minimal space to the roof was definitely "a head thumping and clear out your pores with gallons of sweat" experience!

Another one of my “wish I would have thought about that” moments, was when I began putting finishing sheets of plywood on the back corner wall. Before the facade was in place, I could get behind the oven to it was no longer possible (and it wasn’t because I’d been eating too many corn chips). Funny how just a few inches can make a whole lot of difference in construction...good thing I was never involved in any public construction projects like a dam or bridge. So, although I did get plywood around the back isn’t all securely attached to the framing. I had to simply wedge sections of 2x4s between the base of the oven stand and the plywood sheets to hold them in place. Couple screws along the top and I know they aren’t going to move, but wow, what a bonehead situation I created.

I’d like to think I learned something from this little exercise, but I’m not really sure I did... (Incidentally, there are only pictures here before the inside plywood sheets had been installed. I was pretty sure that during the traumatic install process I might have “accidentally” used the camera to pound in the friction fit 2x4s into place...therefore, I wisely left the camera in the house.)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Friendship Communities (2) - The Ten Friends

Close Friends and Loved Ones Matter Most–Hold Them Dear!

Arriving in Roseburg in 1975 was a real awakening. I went down to buy some plumbing supplies for a leaky faucet in our rental and found that Roseburg literally shut down at 5 pm on Friday for the weekend. Fortunately the leak wasn’t too bad and Monday repairs were soon enough. Having friends to call on when you need help is mostly unappreciated by younger people. It can be a good thing in that you tend to learn how to deal with problems and/or find “interesting” solutions. While working with Umpqua Research Company as the Army Corps of Engineer onsite representative for the Days Creek Pre-Impoundment study, we made several friends. But the next long term group that developed for us was from Mike’s decision to become a football official and Susan’s decision to go to Umpqua Community College. Mike first met Dave Johnston in the football association and later met his wife Janet at their annual Stump Water Days. Stump Water was the result of everyone bringing an alcoholic beverage or mixer and dumping it into a large igloo cooler. Could be fabulous or insidious, but after the first was always drinkable. After a marvelous early evening of gab & gossip, we would watch a classic movie like North by Northwest or Charade.

Susan graduated from Umpqua Community College and began working there as a part-time instructor and computer operator. She shared a room with Ken Thomason (the first computer instructor at the college) and later with Lynn Kuhn who was a math instructor. Lynn and Susan became very good friends and soon started to plan cooking parties. Mike bought a 36" diameter Wok from a local appliance store’s kitchen display and with the Kuhn’s we started to entertain a large group of friends with a yearly, sumptuous foodie event we called the Wok Party.

It soon became apparent that Lynn and Tony had more friends in town than us–we had one couple (Dave & Janet Johnston) out of the large turnout that we knew. After the first Wok Party in 1986, we decided to invite several of our relatively new friends from the football officials association connection (and their spouses) to even things out a bit. Mike and Dave were the “senior” officials and Dean & Steve were newer members. Turned out that Dean Jones’ wife Merry and Steve Barnhart’s wife Marilyn were super compatible with the new group and would bond together with the Kuhn’s and Stansbury’s for many years as The Ten Friends. (The four guys that officiated called themselves the Big Dawgs based on rating/seniority within the football officiating system, but gave Tony the status of an official Big Dawg even though he was not a “real” official.) We alternated hosting Wok Parties with the Kuhns each year from 1986 to 1995.

Mike, Steve, Tony, Dean, & Dave
Although we had met and partied together fairly often as our friendships solidified, in 1990, the group started another yearly tradition, meeting in Portland the first weekend of December for a formal (dress up) dinner and fun in “the big city”. After going to the same restaurant (Wilf’s) for several years we decided to change it up. On a rotating schedule, each couple would be in charge of finding a place in Portland for dinner, determining a “secret Santa” method for gifting within the group (after all it was close to Christmas), and hosting a room for the after dinner gift exchange party. We settled on the Mallory Hotel (later renamed the Hotel deLuxe) and Larry the Doorman in Portland for our yearly Ten Friends Christmas. Even though in later years we’d occasionally go to places other than Portland for Christmas dinner, the Mallory would always be where our “root memory” of Ten Friends Christmas resided.

December 2000 - Lynn, Janet, Larry, Marilyn, Susan, & Merry

December 2000 - Dave, Tony, Larry, Dean, Mike, & Steve
One Ten Friends story here: Marilyn loved to give out lip balm to everyone at the beginning of each Portland weekend event–clear for the men and “full color” versions for the ladies. One year, long after The Ten Friends started to come to Portland, Tony didn’t notice he’d picked up Lynn’s colored lip balm by mistake. After a round of golf, he’d literally slathered his lips with the “wrong balm” as we left the car in the parking structure. Dean & Merry’s daughter Taylor happened to be driving by with several of her friends and Tony stopped the car and leaned down to say hello. For Tony it was a simple hello, but to Taylor’s three friends in the car it was a very scary experience having a man with sloppily painted, bright red lips stopping them to say “hello”. They apparently talked about that much more than anything else that they’d done that weekend...I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere for all of us.

Bull/Mardi Gras party 2002 (Mostly Boys Pic)

Anyway, The Ten Friends had an incredible number of great experiences together for many, many years. Long weekends in Sun River, Bull Parties (to celebrate those with astrological birthdays under the sign of Taurus–Dean, Susan, and Janet), Leo Parties (Marilyn & Mikee), and of course the other “normal” birthday parties were always in order.

Bull/Mardi Gras party 2002 (The Girls only!)

When Tony was killed in a plane crash in 2009, the group tried to continue but the dynamics had changed. Although the five ladies continued to meet once a year for lunch and gift exchange, the four remaining guys did not join them. When Steve passed away in 2017, the group faded even more.

2008 - Back row (L-R), Mike, Dean, Dave, Tony, & Steve
Ladies (L-R) Susan, Merry, Janet, Lynn, & Marilyn

From 1987 to 2009, the ten of us had a ball together and terrorized many a dignified fine dining establishment with our loud and boisterous joie de vivre! Now that the third member of our fabulous party group (Susan) has left us for a party in the afterlife, The Ten Friends is just a luminescent memory each of the remaining seven of us holds close to our hearts.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Flaming Buffalo Turds, Buffalo Farts, & Mar-Moz Tarts

Years ago back in Wisconsin, I had my first Flaming Buffalo Turds. Jalapeno peppers cored, seeds removed, and then filled with cream cheese. Wrapped with a partially cooked slice of bacon and then grilled until the bacon got crisp. A quick sprinkle of brown sugar over the bacon just before it finishes and Voila–Flaming Buffalo Turds. Delicious and dangerous! I was lucky with my first one, it was mild enough to give me the courage to have a second...not so lucky that second time! Wow! I got the full, eye watering, nose running, throat searing, foot stomping, wished I could dive into a barrel of ice cream, experience. Apparently, that’s part of the thrill having these little “treats” at a BBQ. Somebody is going to provide other people with many photo ops of what sheer pain and desperation can look like at what was billed as a friendly, evening of fun and good eats...and probably several variations will be on display by other unsuspecting victims of the Jalapeno’s varied (and totally unpredictable) capsaicin (rated by Scoville Heat Units SHU between 2,500–8,000) content. I’m pretty sure that I first had a 2,500 SHU “sucker Jalapeno” followed by an 8,000 SHU full strength Jalapeno on that fateful Wisconsin evening. (I'm pretty sure that my camera was damaged from the 2nd Jalapeno's heat because all my pictures were totally fogged from that night!)

Since my love for Flaming Buffalo Turds had decidedly fallen off my “to do again list”, I wanted to make a milder version that could be enjoyed without all that potential screaming. If you haven’t tried the little sweet peppers that are now widely need to put them on your shopping list. For Buffalo Farts, get some slices of bacon cooking. While the bacon is starting to render out some fat, I slice each pepper lengthwise removing the seeds and the biggest pieces of white membrane. Arrange the peppers on a foil lined sheet pan...obviously, open side up. Note: It can be very helpful to “wrinkle” the foil so the peppers will stay upright more easily. Place a marinated mozzarella ball (available at Costco seasonally) or a couple plain mozzarella slices in each prepared pepper cavity followed with a dollop of sweet chili sauce (or any hot pepper jelly). If you want a little more heat, put a drop or two of Sriracha on each.

Take the partially cooked bacon and do a rough chop on it. Sprinkle some of the chopped bacon on top of each filled pepper and put the sheet pan into the oven. Now, I had just finished baking bread and the WFO was about 475°F. (If you are preparing these at home and your oven is cold...the prepped peppers will wait while your oven preheats.) I put the sheet pan in the oven for about 15 minutes...until the cheese had melted and the peppers softened. Bring ‘em out and let them cool a little bit before you plate and serve them. Just enough bite from the hot pepper jelly (or sweet chili sauce) to be pleasant and not requiring a quick trip to the ice cream truck.

I also wanted to use up some little pre-cooked Filo Tart Cups for an appetizer and thought the marinated mozzarella balls and sweet chili sauce might work out well (especially for those who did not trust my cooking or peppers in general). Very easy and delicious. One mar-moz ball in each cup, small dollop of sweet chili sauce and into my 450°F oven for 10 minutes. I cut some nice basil into strips and placed it on top of the finished tarts...certainly hit the spot! I happened to have some Sous Vide pork belly that I had seared up and put a piece on top of each tart for an extra kick...I did not get any pictures since it was either document and go hungry or put the camera down and fight for my fair share. It was so damn good, I have no regrets about not getting any pictures (I do regret not having Sous Vide pork belly available at my table years ago).

Oh, and by the way...if someone offers you a Flaming Buffalo Turd made with a Red Savina Habanero! The Savina Habanero has between 350,000 and 575,000 SHU. Is that the hottest...not by a long shot. The Carolina Reaper is rated at 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units...remember hearing about the Ghost pepper? It was only rated at 800,000 to 1,001,300 SHU. I’m pretty sure we could stop crime altogether if people were told they would have to eat a Flaming Buffalo Turd made with the Carolina Reaper as their penalty for disobeying the law (or simply being mean to another person)    ...just a thought...

Monday, July 1, 2019

Friendship Communities (1) - The Motley Crew

Susan and I were very fortunate in our friendship communities over the years. Although there are many single people and couples in our lives that have made an impact, larger groups of friends seem to have dominated. In our years at the University of Washington (Fisheries) we developed a close group centered around other graduate students and their families. Over the years, this bunch of folks morphed into The Motley Crew. When we moved to Oregon, another group formed, centered around football officiating (of the husbands)...becoming known as The 10 Friends. When we retired, the Dragonfly Den Friday bakes created a third group of friends, The Densters. I thought, since so many of our stories featured these three groups, it would be appropriate to do a post with a little elaboration of the groups and then of the other special friends that have been instrumental in shaping our lives and memories over the past 48 years...and I suspect they will still be a strong part of who am I and who I will become over the next ever many years I have left.

Close Friends and Loved Ones Matter Most, Hold Them Dear!

The Motley Crew

In the fall of 1971, Susan and I moved to Seattle. I was enrolled in the Fisheries program at the U of Washington and Susan was looking for work to support us. She first found a job as an assistant nutritionist/meals manager at a retirement community. We lived in a very small apartment building, three blocks from the Worlds Fair compound. We both loved to walk to the park and grounds around the Space Needle on weekends. Also enjoyed listening to the radio broadcasts of the Seattle Sonics basketball games. My mother and Joen (my grandmother– story to follow) could not imagine us living without a TV, so they bought us a tiny (10" screen) portable unit. We thought the radio broadcasters were so much better, that we normally watched basketball on the TV with the sound off and the radio on. TV was not much of influence on us.

I started looking at the graduate program in Fisheries and met Jim Malick who was starting his Ph.D. on the Cedar River. I hired on to help him with aquatic insect identification and eventually the insect population drifting in the river became my Master’s project. During this time, we met his wife Layne, son Jeff, and soon to be born daughter Jeana. In the Fisheries programs (actually F.R.I. - the Fisheries Research Institute), we met J Graybill and Sam Casne...separate thesis programs, but fun folks! Susan and I bonded pretty quickly with the other three couples and we often partied together during the school year.

After all of us left graduate school in 1975, we drifted apart for several years with occasional contact. Susan and I bought our first house and the eight of us gathered in Winston, Oregon to put our new abode and yard into well as celebrate a house warming in 1978. What a surprise and delight for us. It was only a couple of days, but it meant an incredible amount to us. For the right side picture, standing (L to R), Jim Malick, Martha Casne, Annie Graybill, Sam Casne, Mike Stansbury, Layne Malick, (seated...and obviously having fun), J Graybill, and Susan Stansbury.

J and Annie had adopted a daughter (Elisa - left picture) while we were in Seattle and we were delighted that many years after our house warming, the whole group would be together again to celebrate Elisa’s wedding...time really does fly during those early years. J and Annie had gotten divorced and J had remarried a lovely lady named Leslie (and changed his first name to Jay!) As we all gathered at the wedding reception, the subject came up that we got along too well together to be apart for such long periods. Leslie fit into the group extremely well and she seemed to be a perfect fit for our motley group. One more time...back row, L to R - Martha & Sam Casne, Jim & Layne Malick, front row (L to R) - Leslie & Jay Graybill, and Susan & Mike Stansbury

2008 (Elisa Graybill's wedding in Seattle)
So as a group, we decided to pick some destinations and start traveling together. Eventually, we decided as our first trip together we would be Egypt bound on a River Cruise and I decided that we needed to start referring to ourselves as The Motley Crew.

Egypt (2010) The Motley Crew

That trip, and journeys to the Black Sea, Hihium Lake (B.C. Canada), Sun Peaks (B.C.), Sorrento Italy, and the Galapagos/Machu Picchu would follow. Not all of The Motley Crew could participate in every trip, but we were always together in our hearts for each of these adventures.

2012 the Galapagos Islands cruise

2014 Sorrento, Italy (Malick's 50th Anniversary)

2018 (Casne's daughter Samantha's wedding)
2018 Hihium Lake - Wood Fired Hot Tub!

The Motley Crew has always been (and will always be) in hot water...