the other theo

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

Category: Personal

Hipsterism, Necromancy, and Other Halloween Fun

Autumn is a season where the Missus has jokingly accused me of hipsterism.   I have not grown a beard, or a man bun.   I have not turned lumbersexual.  I have embraced the American tradition of the cocktail, however.

The roots of this interest reach back several years.  I got an OXO cocktail shaker and some bar tools several years ago, perhaps as a house warming gift.  I also picked up a copy of Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail: The Art Of Mixing Perfect Drinks in the clearance rack at the back of a higher end grocery store.   I started making margaritas as soon as the first crop of lemons came in on the lemon tree in our back yard after we bought the house (and discovered a great recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, of all places.)  I also made homemade limoncello.  More recently, I saw several cocktail recipes on Serious Eats that looked tasty.   I tried one.  One became two, two became four, and well, here we are.

A couple factors have aided in this endeavor.   First, a few friends on the Blue and White Social Network are also cocktail aficionados.   So, it’s been nice to compare notes with some people.   A nearby liquor store also closed a few weeks ago.  The going out of business sale before the end meant that some drink ingredients became available at 40-60 percent off retail.

I’ve learned a couple things along the way.   I’ve made a few whiskey-based cocktails and discovered that the most expensive stuff isn’t necessarily the stuff that mixes the best in a cocktail.  That occasionally required a little re-tooling with the purchase of more inexpensive but still quite tasty blended Scotch and some medium price point bourbon.

The Gold Rush CocktailThe Gold Rush cocktail comes courtesy of Serious Eats.  It’s a marvelous concoction of honey, bourbon, and lemon juice.

The Apple ElixirThe Apple Elixir is another Serious Eats recipe that is like Autumn in a highball glass.  With a spiced cider reduction, apple brandy, hard cider, and lemon juice, it’s not something to throw together on a whim, but I wish mulled cider always tasted more like this.

The Rusty NailAs a long time single malt drinker, I’d heard about Drambuie for years but never tried it.    A Rusty Nail is a combination of blended Scotch, Drambuie, and bitters on the rocks.   On the rocks is where you’ll find yourself if you drink too many of these.  They hit and hit hard.

The Penicillin CocktailI have a favorite exchange from The West Wing that sums up this drink perfectly:

Lord Marbury : You know, there are some marvelous flu remedies known in the certain remote parts of the subcontinent. Licorice root, for instance, combined with bamboo sap and a strong shot of whiskey. Ginger root, also, mixed with, uh, citrus peel.
Bartlett : And a strong shot of whiskey?
Lord Marbury : Actually, you can leave everything out except the shot of whiskey.

The Penicillin Cocktail is a combination of honey, ginger root, blended Scotch, and Islay single malt.  As such, it’s sort of the Gold Rush on steroids.   It will cure what ails you.

The Bottled In Bond Rye ManhattanThe Manhattan is a cocktail I first read about around 2005-06 when my interest Single Malt Scotch expanded into an exploration of American rye whiskey.   One version of the story of its creation is that it was whipped up for Winston Churchill’s mother by a Manhattan bartender.  It’s a drink that’s evolved over the years, from rye to bourbon and sweet vermouth to dry.  This is in line with the rye and sweet vermouth original, courtesy of Dale DeGroff.

The Pink LadyThe Pink Lady also comes courtesy of Dale DeGroff as an excellent drink to use with Hendrick’s Gin.   DeGroff recommends making your own grenadine for this one.   It was difficult to get the seeds from five pomegranates, though YouTube now tells me there is a much easier and cleaner way.  The recipe calls for grenadine, gin, and heavy cream.  I had no heavy cream on hand when I made this, so I used whole milk.  It was still quite tasty.

The MargaritaThe America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook margarita… an old reliable favorite.  I’ve since learned that the juice mix created for the recipe out of lemon and lime juice, zest of the same fruits, and sugar makes a tasty general purpose sour mix.  Added to a reposado tequila and some orange liqueur, it is a royal cocktail.

The Corpse Reviver #2Finally, we come to a bit of possible necromancy.  I made a Corpse Reviver #2 cocktail on Halloween night, as the blend of Littet, absinthe, gin, and orange liqueur seemed a sensible thing to try.  I asked the author of the Necromancy Never Pays blog if this could be considered necromancy, since that never pays.  Her response: “oh, I think you’ll pay all right.”

The absinthe is a new wave absinthe from California, and the first made in the United States since the ban on its import and manufacture collapsed.   Checking reviews, it’s more herbal and less minty than old school absinthes made in the United States and Europe.   The flavor is somewhat large… and perhaps not what the recipe calls for.  Still, it was quite interesting.  I just may need to dispense the absinthe with a medicine dropper.


No love from the Interwebz

I am getting no love from the Interwebz this week, at least when it comes to buying things.

I purchased a CD off dDay last Saturday. I got an e-mail from the seller on Tuesday saying that they got my money and would be sending it shorty. It’s Friday. Since I received no further work about shipment, I wrote the seller this morning.  He sent me two replies: “let me check with the wife; I post, she ships” and “oops, I’m very sorry because she somehow forgot to drop it in the mail.”

Shortly after that piece of joy, I heard from the dealership in Florida who is selling me jack tools after last weekend’s tire buying and lug nut odyssey.   They e-mailed me earlier in the week to let me know that they expected those parts to arrive from the warehouse today, and would ship them out to me the day they came in.  Alas, one of the parts is on a 2-4 day back order from the distributor.

So, nothing in the mail for me.

Tires and other $1000 events both real and prevented

There was this blinking light on the dashboard of one of our cars.   It was the tire pressure light.  It was blinking almost, it seemed, since we bought the car in April of 2012.   Actually, given the tape glue residue on the dash over the spot where the light is blinking, we suspect it was blinking before that.

We had our mechanic check why the light was blinking sometime in 2013, I think.   It turns out that the batteries in one or more of the tire pressure sensors were dead.   When I inquired about the replacement cost, it was clear that it would be best to wait on that until we were going to have the tires taken off anyway.   The best time to do that would be when the tires would be replaced, which from the tread wear looked to be in the not too dramatically distant future.

Ok, it took nearly two years.

Our mechanic alerted us to extensive tread wear when we dealt the water accumulating in the driver foot well this summer.

Oh wait, did I not mention that?   Yes, California is in the midst of the worst drought on record since records started being kept, but water was accumulating under the carpet in the driver’s foot well of this car.   We first saw indications of this problem last January when it was raining a lot.   We had the driver’s door seal replaced and that seemed to clear up the problem (and perhaps it did.)   It reappeared in mid-July, without a drop of rain for weeks.

That required two visits to the mechanic who eventually determined that it was due to a known air conditioner drain tube issue with this make of car.    The drain tube installed at the factory was too short.  So when condensation from the coil in the center console of the dash collected to drain out the bottom of the car, it didn’t quite make it all the way to the ground.   Instead, it collected in a cavity in the structure of the unibody and leaked out into the passenger cabin.

Well, that was one theory anyway.   The other one was that the tube or drain pan was blocked, costing between $500-1000 to fix.

Fortunately the $100 labor to install the $30 drain tube replacement did the trick.

Getting back to the tires, July wasn’t the time to pay for new tires, given the vagaries of how the Missus is paid.  This week, it turns out, was the time to pay for new tires.

So, I got up bright and early yesterday morning and drove over to the local tire emporium just before 8am, when they were scheduled to open.    I was expecting to get over there and wait outside the door until someone unlocked it or something.   Instead, I arrived and they were going full blast with cars already up on the rack and orders being taken in the showroom.  Maybe their clocks run fast?

Anyway, I was quickly helped by a salesman who took me out to the car to get vital information.  It was at that point when a couple things were pointed out to me… like the fact that all four wheels had wheel locks on them.   Did I have a key?   Um…. good question!   We certainly didn’t get one when we bought the car.

In case it was stuck in the car someplace, I checked the spare tire well where the key wasn’t… and the jack and jack tools also weren’t.   (I found the jack today, in a location where the manufacturer clearly intended to be, but where a diagram the manufacturer-provided owner’s manual said it shouldn’t be… go figure!)

Long story short, the tire emporium cracked all four locks off the car for $10 a wheel, and we got the same tires with road wear warranty and brand new pressure sensors installed for just a bit over $1000.

I was expecting an expensive bill, but that was $100-200 higher than I anticipated.   Oh well.  At least, we didn’t find out about the jack or the jack tools or the wheel locks when on the side of the road with bad weather and poor cell reception or something.   That was a disaster averted.

I spent a good portion of the following afternoon visiting multiple auto parts stores to finally track down replacement lug nuts that matched the existing.  Factory jack tools are on their way for about $30.

Everyday heroes

It’s been a month since I posted last?   That’s both surprising and unsurprising.   I feel like I’ve been working like crazy the last few weeks; it may  just be that progress seemed almost glacially slow.   The Peanut also started the new school year, and that required a shift in routine which wasn’t as bad as initially thought (more on that in another entry.)

This is a much-delayed 9/11 entry of sorts.

September 11 will always have multiple meanings for me.  It’s the tragic day of the September 11 attacks, of course.  It’s also the day we brought the Peanut home from the hospital.  The Missus likes to tell the Peanut that it is a day to thank our community heroes.   The last few years, she and the Peanut have taken cookies or other sweet treats to a local firehouse.

We got an extra helping of community heroism this year on September 11.   It was a long day for me, and I was dead tired.   I was about to nod off and contemplating an early night while sitting on the sofa at about 8:30pm when the Missus walked into the living roomed and heard the sound of a large truck in front of our house.   She decided to investigate and walked out the front door.   She quickly returned and informed me that our neighbor’s house was flooding and the fire department was here after our neighbor M. called 911.

The firefighters were great.  The helped M. get the water turned off at the meter, moved much of her stuff out of her place, and even helped get some of her carpets laid out to dry.    All the while, they told her they were sorry that it happened to her.   She said later that she found it very comforting.  Both an engine and a ladder company eventually came by, but both companies eventually had to be elsewhere and left by 10:30pm.

With those kinds of role models, the Missus and I did our best to help out where we could.  The landlord eventually showed up (M. rents) and called someone that lives a few doors down who, fortunately enough, operates a disaster cleanup business.    That led to moving even more furniture, boxing stuff up to store on our patio until whenever, taking down shelves, and eventually pulling up more carpet (laminate wood floors were also eventually pulled, but not that night.)

The day that I was hoping would end before 9pm actually ended sometime just after midnight… and sleep didn’t follow until around 1am as I recall.  I was a wreck for the rest of the weekend.

M.’s place sits on a slab foundation.  It was eventually determined that a pipe burst in the slab.  She finally got the all clear to move back in a few days ago.

Going To The Shore

I learned this morning that my sister and my nephew are enjoying a few days down at the Jersey Shore.

That happened to trigger some fairly memories of my own youth.   My parents somehow discovered this hotel called the Diamond Beach Resort just south of the city limits of Wildwood Crest, NJ, almost wedged up against a US Coast Guard training center.

We went there a couple times.  It had to be in the late 70’s because I remember wearing a Hildebrandt Bros. Star Wars movie poster ringer tee on at least one of the trips.  I also recall marveling at the utility of the air conditioning in my parents’ new 1977 Chevrolet Impala station wagon in the humid summer heat, after years of driving in their mid-60’s Oldsmobile F85 station wagon with black vinyl seats that lacked such conveniences.

A series of disjoint experiences come to mind.   Walking out into the waves with my Dad.   Early morning walks along the beach with my parents, feeling hermit crabs in a sandy tide pool occasionally nip at my toes.   Swimming in the hotel pool… possibly going into a hotel pool for the first time ever.   Flying a kite on the beach.  Collecting shells.  Finding a living dinner plate-sized horseshoe crab and bringing it back to the hotel room for a short stay in the sink of the room’s kitchenette.   Visiting the boardwalk and being utterly scared by my first rollercoaster ride.   Going to dinner down the coast in Cape May, where my Dad (or was it all of us?) got these marvelous looking steamed crabs that he ate on newspaper at the table.

As I have become more interested (or nostalgic) for the architecture and artifacts of the mid-20th Century world into which I was born, one memory sticking out more and more is the motel architecture around Wildwood.   Colorful and delightfully different and the same at the same time, it was wholly fitting that I also learned today (coincidentally) that the remaining motels of that type that were somehow saved from re-development are on the National Register of Historic Places and are known as the Doo Wop Motels:


You can learn more about the Doo Wop motels here

As for the Diamond Beach Resort and its neighboring club/venue the Playpen, they fell to redevelopment wrecking ball sometime in the 80’s, as far as the Internet can tell me.   That’s fine.  I don’t expect to live life in a museum.  It’s nice to have the memories.

Maybe we should take the Peanut to the beach before the summer completely ends.   It’s a different ocean, but I’m sure he’ll still have fun.

Turning the ship around

I am pleased to report that I’ve now lost about 5 pounds since I last wrote about my weight loss almost two months ago.  I managed to increase the intensity of my daily workouts, and working out feels very good right now.   I can feel a change in the muscle groups of my lower body — both in terms of their size and shape as well as how they respond to exercise.  I’ve also managed to get my eating and portion sizing under control without feeling like I’m denying myself much.   Most important from an emotional standpoint (and probably least important as a practical matter,) I’ve blown past a weight number where my weight loss traditionally stopped before last year.

My doctor ran a lipid panel and glucose tests on my blood a few weeks ago, and while the results aren’t as stellar those of 18 months ago, they look pretty good.   Some are just above what’s considered a healthy range, and some are in the range.   We’ll have to see what the numbers look like next year.

Weight loss during the last three months was slow at first.   The scale did not change much at all during in the 4-6 weeks before my last posting on the subject.   Some time in early-to-mid-July, I started to notice changes in how my clothes were fitting and the reading on the scale started to drop.   I am weighing myself before I exercise in the morning, but I’m not recording the values.   I keep thinking that the information would be useful to look at later… but I never get around to it.   Is there a fitness iPhone app for that?

This puts me about one third of the way toward my first fitness goal; losing another 5 pounds would be nice, and another 10 pounds is the target.  The second, and more important, fitness goal of keeping off that lost weight… I’m not sure where I am with that.

In any case, I feel like changing your level of fitness is like turning a large ship.   Even after you’ve started turning the wheel, it takes a while to see the course changing.   I think my change is under way.

Go Set A Mockingbird

I’ve been reading a lot about the “new” Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, this week.   There appears to be a lot of hand wringing going on that boils down to “Dear Harper, what do you mean that Atticus Finch was really a racist all this time?   How could you do that to me?  I love me my Atticus and my To Kill A Mockingbird!”

Like many, many people, I was assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird in school… in the 9th grade, if memory serves.  I treasure those memories.  I treasure seeing Gregory Peck play Atticus in the film adaptation.   Half of my ancestry comes from the Deep South, and the book confirms my personal experience from knowing people from there and visiting people there that it is a land populated with many different sorts of persons.  Some are better, some worse, and some are found more frequently, others more rarely.  That someone like the Atticus of Mockingbird could exist, I do not doubt… though when not seen through the eyes of a young girl (or an older woman reflecting on that young girl’s experiences), we might be a little surprised at the compromises that a more complex, layered reality might force that Atticus to make.

I haven’t decided if I will read Go Set A Watchman, but I know I will need to re-read Mockingbird first.

I also know that I do not consider the two books to exist in exactly the same fictional universe.   Though there evidently was talk at the publisher about making Watchman into the last book of a trilogy beginning with Mockingbird, the manuscript that comes down to us is not written or edited to be that book.   What comes to us is a first novel, a novel that the publisher did not feel was good enough for publication, but showed enough promise to continue working with the writer on revising the premise.  Those revisions took something on the order of two years, borrowed names, characters, places and some incidents from the original novel, but like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, they became something else.

I am not a fiction writer, but I’ve written enough (including technical papers, white papers, a 150 page Ph.D dissertation) to feel like I know something about writing.  I strongly suspect that the first manuscript taught Ms. Lee a lot, and the writer she was at the end of that novel (or her collaboration with her editor Tay Hohoff) was not the one that existed at the start.   So the tale she wanted to tell, and the characters she used to tell it, changed as Watchman became Mockingbird.   For me, Atticus is not Atticus and Jean Louise is not Scout.

I suspect I shall eventually read it.  I am generally taken with the beginnings and origins of things.  Reading Watchman is like going into the hills above the Dead Sea and finding an alternate version of some story from the Bible on a scroll in a cave.  Does it affect what I learned from the Bible?  No.  Does it teach me about what was on the minds of the writers of the Bible?  Definitely.

Don’t think twice, it’s alright

This isn’t a post about breaking up.  It isn’t a post about Bob Dylan.  It isn’t a post about a song.  It’s a post about barbecue.

I wrote the other day about how the best barbecue that I make is the kind that feels worry-free and spontaneous.   I also mentioned that I was fretting a little bit about a pork shoulder roast that I was making for a get together the following day.

My worries were groundless.   I lit the smoker at about 7:30pm and had the meat inside by 8pm.   Aside from checking the temperature and water level a couple times before 10:30pm, I didn’t even look at it again until about 5:30am the following morning.    What I found in the early morning light was a smoker running at about 230 degrees F, or in other words, pretty much perfectly.   I added some fresh charcoal, checked the water level, and left it again.

By around 9am, I checked the meat and found this:


I took it off the smoker at about 11am, wrapped it in foil, and put it in a cooler to rest and slowly cool down.   I thought it was just great by the time we took it over to share with friends.

My one complaint is that I didn’t get to eat more of it; the host of the get together was feeling sickly and I left it for the host and hostess to have as leftovers.   Crunch on, as they say, we’ll make more.

When I lit the coal for this particular burn in the smoker, I used the Minion Method a hole in the middle of the pile made with a Rubbermaid food container (similar to the Minion Method – Hot Coals In A Coffee Can method here.)  I removed the container, put about 25 lit briquettes in that hole, and closed up the smoker.    After it came to temperature, left the bottom vents about 10-20% open and the top vent wide open.   That worked just fine.

Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, perhaps I need to simply practice, practice, practice.


Readin’ Writin’ ‘Rithmetic


Overheard at the breakfast table this morning while playing Candy Crush Saga together:

Peanut, pointing at the level indicator on the screen: “Level 2”

Me: “Yes, it is level 2.  *pause* Peanut, are you learning to read?”

Peanut: “Yes, Daddy.”

Well, that clears that up… at least until I ask if he knows how to balance the Federal budget and the answer will be the same.

Some days

“There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.” – Casey Stengel

Some mornings when you wake up, you just want to stay in bed but decide to go to the gym and work out anyway.  It’s got to be that on those mornings, your workout burns a few more calories, right?