the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: July, 2014

Culinary Experiments Late-July 2014 Edition

I managed to do two interesting bits of cooking in the last couple weeks:

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First off, we have grilled double thick pork chops sous vide.  This was a combination of three different recipes, based largely on what I had on hand at the time:

  1. The sort of “master recipe” that gave the basic idea of what I wanted to do came courtesy of Williams-Sonoma. I liked using the dry brine with fresh herbs and little fat in the sous vide package.
  2. For the dry brine, I substituted salt, pepper, and a dry rub found on page 263 of The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.  I happened to have some of this leftover.
  3. For the herbs, I used some fresh herbs on hand (thyme, sage, and rosemary), along with some shallot much the a sous vide steak recipe from Serious Eats.

I think it fell together reasonably well.   The most important thing about the meat was how juicy it all was.  Grilled pork chops can often become dry, and a little tough.   Consistency varied some, but some parts of the meat practically melted in my mouth and the rest was more tender that I expected, all without a brine.

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My second effort was a go-to recipe for skirt steak from Serious Eats.  The novel part of this recipe was the La Honda Cabernet Sauvignon I paired with the beef.   My recent venture into the Santa Cruz Mountains left me with lingering curiosity about how the pepper-y reds I tasted on that trip would be away from a marathon wine tasting and how they would pair with food.   The La Honda has some of the qualities I remembered in wines made nearby, but this was balanced with enough fruit to be interesting.   I also discovered that the temperatures on the warm day of the tasting were likely doing few favors — the wine likes to be a little cooler to help keep those acid-flavors in check.

In the end, it was not what I would usually think of in a Napa-style California Cab, but it went well with the spicy beef.

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Unintended Consequences Of Warm Weather

The weather has been hot out here in California lately, if you’ve been watching the news.   It’s had some uncomfortable and unintended consequences.

As an aside: the Peanut (my son) is a toddler and we are working on potty training.   Though fatherhood is a big part of my life, and is a topic I plan to discuss regularly in this blog, I’m not a big fan of a lot of talk about potty training.  I generally lump it into the category of “too much information.”

One thing that happens when it gets very hot is that the Peanut starts eating less solid food and drinking more milk.  He’s like the Missus and loves milk to death, and normally drinks quite a bit of it anyway, but he really kicks into high gear when the weather is warm.   Fluid that goes in has to come out, and it has… in floods that sometimes overwhelm the diaper or pullup that he’s wearing.

So there have been leaks.   There was one on the sofa cushions earlier this week (thank goodness for Scotch Guard.)   I had to change the sheets on his bed yesterday morning after he’d been up a while.   This morning, the Peanut knocked on our bedroom door at 3:30am with his pajama bottoms soaked in the front.    The Missus took to changing him, while I looked to see if his bed needed new sheets and somehow, it didn’t.

After that, the Peanut did not want to go back to sleep.   I laid down next to his bed for about 45 minutes.   Then he was invited into the big bed with the Missus and myself when my back started to bother me.  The Peanut rolled and squirmed for about 30 minutes.   I decided to return him to his bed and me to the floor of his room.  When another 30 minutes of that passed, I gave up.   The Peanut and I adjourned to the living room to catch some Phineas & Ferb on the sofa together.

The Peanut did eventually fall asleep at about 6:45am and slept for around 3 hours.   I got to sleep around 7:15am and slept for about two.   I still feel more than a little tired from the interruption of my sleep cycle.

Stupid hot weather.  It’s messing with my life, and in more than the obvious ways.

 

Halloween Is The New Christmas (Costco, no!)

I seem to recall one of the Charlie Brown TV specials where the Peanuts gang go into a store in the summer and find a large amount of Christmas merchandise with a large banner that says “Only 95 Shopping Days Left!” or some such thing.  They balk.

I felt the same way upon seeing a large display of what are obviously Halloween costumes when I shopped at Costco yesterday:

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The most insidious thing about the display is that it is about Halloween purposely without saying so.   The boys costumes were labeled “Boys role-playing costumes”, and the girls costumes were called something similar.   Oh please!   The only time that Costco has sold costumes in the past was for Halloween.  How is this year different?

I suppose this was inevitable.   Commercialization of Halloween has done nothing but increase over the last decade.  Where once it was a holiday where you carved a pumpkin and threw together costumes for the kids (or if there was a costume party on a nearby weekend, adults), now there are lights, decorations, and professional costumes of all shapes and sizes.  While the All Hallows Eve religious context of the occasion was always a little shaky in minds of many, this stabs a stake right through its heart.  I fear it shall not survive the commercial onslaught.

 

 

 

Happy National Scotch Day

Ah,  a wee dram… Happy National Scotch Day!

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An unusual flower

The Missus, the Peanut (my son,) and I were walking from our car to a local beer’n’burger joint last night for dinner when we spotted this:

IMG_1433_smallAnyone have an idea what it is?

Santa Cruz Mountain Winemakers Passport Day

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A New Yorker wine cartoon at Loma Prieta Winery.

The Missus, the Peanut (my son,) and I hopped in the car and went on a road trip last weekend.  We hit the Santa Cruz Mountain Winemakers Passport Day with some friends.   We ended up visiting five wineries:  Wright’s Station, Burrell School, Loma Prieta, Silver Mountain, and Alfaro Family.   It was a beautiful day for wine tasting, and we all had good time through much of the day.

My own experience with wine of late is rather mixed.  I seem content to explore, to understand, to sample, but not to satisfy.   Some wines are big, some are small, and some, sour.   Mostly, they just are.   That’s what happened a few weeks ago on a visit to another, more-celebrated wine making region of California.  It also happened here.   This was an exploration of a wine region I knew very little about, and a time to enjoy and connect with friends.

This is also my roundabout way of saying I didn’t keep extensive tasting notes.  *grin*

Here are my impressions of the five wineries we visited:

  • Wright’s Station – It’s brand new and only open about five weeks.   The facility is very modern and tastefully decorated with a friendly staff.   They have a nice patio area for picnicking with a view of the valley facing East (toward Silicon Valley.)  The wines tasted a little young, and a bit green with peppery notes.
  • Burrell School – This was a more rustic affair.  The winery is named for an old single room school house that served the residents on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains until the 1950’s.  I recall having some good red wines here, though our party disagreed somewhat about which was the best.  I recall particularly enjoying the “Spring Break” Syrah.  Maybe it was its location in the tasting sequence, but I just remember that it woke up my taste buds in a way that few other wines did that day.   We were poured two Zinfandels, the “Detention” and another Zinfandel that does not appear on their web site.   I thought both would go well with barbecue.  I do like their motto: “I promise to sip my wine.”
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  • Loma Prieta – Perched atop one of the highest peaks in the immediate area, the view of Santa Cruz, the Monterrey Peninsula, and the Pacific Ocean from their patio is almost unparalleled:IMG_1425The wine I remember most here was the Viognier.   They were shucking fresh oysters on the patio (which I got,) and their only white wine was an excellent accompaniment.   The Missus did most of the driving on this trip, and our friends agreed to provide lunch — an excellent picnic of salads, snacks, and cold cuts.  They were quite taken with the Viognier and also purchased a bottle to enjoy with lunch.  I was talked into playing a very rusty game of chess.  I yielded in 15-20 moves.
  • Silver Mountain – My palate was beginning to tire at this point, and the wines began to run together.  My son was also starting to fade a little bit.  I do recall that it was starting to warm up, and they had a berry forward Pinot Noir Rosé.  The Tondré Pinot Noir was also quite pleasant.
  • Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery – My tongue was dead tired at this point.  I had high hopes for Alfaro.  I am reading John Barré’s book The New California Wine and this is one of the few wineries honoring the Passport Day that got a mention in his book.  All I could taste was sour.  I don’t know if it’s the regional style, or it’s what the maker intended, or it was just my tongue.

We had some intention of making a quick stop at another winery, but the Peanut had had enough.   Frankly, so had I.   We ended the day and parted.   I had some dinner, and suddenly felt tired and full to overflowing.   It was just food, wine, sun, and heat.  It took several hours and some re-hydration for that feeling to pass.

It was a great day, maybe not always for the wine, but for seeing something new and enjoying time with friends.

Feeling His Love…

… because God surely must be holding us tight today.

IMG_1432That is all.

The Non-Divinity of Vinyl

Sometimes it warms my heart when “everything old is new again”.   I read words and whispers on the Internet that a generation raised on lossy, downloaded MP3s and M4As and $20 ear buds has discovered that music can sound better than they’ve previously heard it.   Sales of vinyl record albums are up for the first time in years.   Bloggers, musicians, and other observers are waxing poetic about the experience of going to shops solely dedicated to the sale of music, checking out the artwork on physical media, and meeting people in person who share a love for music at least equal to their own.   Heck, Neil Young, Mr. “we have entered a sonic dark age” himself, recently decided “if you can’t beat’em, join’em.”  He is now promoting his idea of a portable audiophile music player called Pono.

While this is generally a good thing (except possibly the Pono part,) I’m going to pick up my cane, walk out on my porch, and clear my throat in preparation for letting the neighborhood kids know not to come on my lawn and tell me that it all sounds so much better on vinyl.    Vinyl isn’t a perfect medium for reproducing sound, dear readers.   The fact that it became as good as it did took decades of engineering and innovation.   As Jay Leno likes to say about steam cars, “the last days of an old technology are almost always better than the first days of a new technology.”   While I believe we are now well past the “first days” of digital music production and consumption, undue nostalgia can still overwhelm the unwary listener.

Here are a few reasons why I can’t get overly enthusiastic about vinyl albums:

  • There was crappy vinyl manufactured back in the day.   There could still be now.  My Mom has a pretty significant classical vinyl collection from the late 50’s and early 60’s, and while I’m willing to stack a lot of those thick vinyl RCA Victor Red Seal and Living Stereo albums against any ever made,  we also had a few late pressings of pop albums from the 70’s that were much more poorly manufactured.   Some records existed, straight out of the factory, that just skipped no matter what you did because the grooves were poorly stamped into the discs.   There is no way to know whether this is true prior to opening the package and playing the album.
  • Aspects of the vinyl mastering process that could affect playback were never standardized.   Vinyl record masters are cut on lathe that uses a sharp cutter driven by supercooled magnets to create the groove.  The shape and angle of the cutter affect the shape of the groove.   That shape affects the angle (called the Stylus Rake Angle or SRA) that the record needle should use to best play the  music back.   This was never standardized, though some values may have been common.  Properly setting up the SRA is a somewhat involved process.
  • Vinyl imposes some real limitations on how you sequence tracks on albums because of the physical geometry of the disk.   The disk turns at a constant speed and the needle travels from the outer edge to the inner edge of the disc at a constant rate.   This produces a long groove in one turn of the outer edge of the disc and a much shorter groove in a turn of the inner edge of the recorded part of the disk, but both grooves must contain about the same amount of music.    How does that affect the music?  It’s easier for a lathe to cut the high frequency squiggles made by voices and cymbals at the outer edge of the disk than it is at the middle because more record is passing under the recording stylus as it cuts.   You get much better high frequency fidelity at the outer edge, and mastering engineers recommend putting louder,  more dynamic music there.  This effect is exaggerated because of RIAA equalization — a process where bass is lowered and treble increased during record mastering and the opposite actions taken during playback.   RIAA equalization has the net effect of increasing the amount of usable space on the side of record and reducing surface hiss, but it significantly increases the size of high frequency squiggles in the groove.
  • The total amount of music on a side of a vinyl record is driven by its volume and amount of bass present on the recording.   Both cause the squiggles in the groove to become wider and deeper.   Wider and deeper grooves need to be spaced further apart, or the record skips.   If the music on a vinyl side needs to be longer, then it needs to be softer or have less bass or both, so that the grooves can be cut closer together.
  • Stereo reproduction in vinyl records also affects how music is mixed and engineered.   The two stereo channels are cut into the disk at the same time, each at opposing 45 degree angles (the Westrex “45/45” system, see here).   This has the net effect of causing each side of the groove to behave somewhat differently.  If the bass is doing different things in the left and right channels in the Westrex system, it’s like a car passing over potholes in the road that alternate between the driver and passenger side tires. The amount of bounce created can be enormous and bounce can cause skips.   Therefore, engineers routinely recommend mixing the bass track of a song down to mono (same on both channels) before the vinyl mastering process.
  • Vinyl records cannot play back more than two audio channels well.  Quadrophonic sound on vinyl was attempted in the 1970’s but wasn’t very effective.  It had more technical success in the world of reel-to-reel tape.   It’s not a big thing now either, but there are some very nice 5.1 editions of classic albums on DVD-Audio and SACD.
  • Playback of vinyl records degrades the medium as it plays.   Record playback means putting a sharp object in a groove (unless you’ve got a laser turntable, whose effectiveness audiophiles debate and which has never meaningfully caught on.)   Since the groove contains information in the form of bumps, the sharp object will eventually wear them down.  As the bumps wear down, the character of the playback changes.
  • It’s a fragile medium, with little in the way of automatic error correction.   Digital media are essentially streams of numbers.   It’s mathematically possible to verify that all those numbers are correct, and include redundant information that can correct errors automatically.  The same can’t be really be done with vinyl.  Cleaning of the disk and correct positioning of the turntable needle can minimize the effects of a scratch, I suppose, but that process is guided by the operator manually.   Dust, scratches, and warping can all affect the fidelity of vinyl recordings.

Now before someone starts yelling “vinyl hater!” at me, I think vinyl can sound great.  Generations of men and women smarter than me and with better ears than me spent a LOT of time learning how to make vinyl playback sound “just so”.    That effort has likely affected both how the disks sound and expectations of how we want them to sound.   Should Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible be rejected because they use archaic English?  Of course not.

My point is simply that I reject the blind belief in the superiority of vinyl records.   Vinyl can sound great!  It can also sound like crap!  The same two statements can be said about digital media.   If we can’t figure out a way to make digital media sound as good as or better than vinyl, that’s not the fault of digital media.  That’s the fault of the engineers for not trying hard enough, and the consumer public for not demanding more.

References:

  1. Producing Great Sounding Records by Kevin Gray, Record Technology Incorporated, 1997
  2. Why CDs Sound Better Than Vinyl by James Cruz, Rock Edition, 2012
  3. Myths(Vinyl), HydrogenAudio Wiki
  4. Disadvantages(Vinyl), HydrogenAudio Wiki
  5. RIAA Equalization, Wikipedia
  6. Mastering For Vinyl (video), Criminal Records
  7. Setting Up A Phono Cartridge, The Abso!ute Sound

It had to be you, lovable you

Overheard at the supermarket this afternoon:  nothing says “love” like a hairy heart-shaped box filled with beef jerky.

jack_links_sasquatchThat is all.

Rain! The crops are saved!

The California drought nearly ended yesterday (at least in our front yard) with a dramatic downpour….

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…until the rain stopped after about 90 seconds.  That is all.