Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Midsummer's Dream

Every once in awhile, there's a meal that you're going to remember for a long, long time. Some are at posh restaurants, ridiculously expensive, but outrageously good. Then there are those that are the home-cooked meals, whose sum is much, much greater than the constituent parts.

I had one of those tonight, with my family, on our deck in unseasonably pleasant late-July weather. We made some cheddar bratwurst sausage, our third attempt at homemade sausage. They've all been good -- first the garlic sausage, second the sun-dried tomato and basil chicken sausage -- and the kids and I have (for the most part) really enjoyed the time-consuming process of cubing, grinding, and stuffing the sausage into their casings. In fact, it reminds me of times with my dad and brother, back 30 years ago, of making pasta on a lazy weekend. Buying a box of fettuccine is easier, for sure... but somewhere in my DNA, I kind of like doing things the hard way. Just ask my wife and my parents.

Tonight, that hard work paid off. We based our recipe on the brilliant guidelines of Charcuterie, the oft-cited tome of Hank Shaw. The brats, which were an unmitigated bitch to stuff, were worth the suffering. They were the perfect texture, and had a good sharp cheddar twang. They were slightly -- just slightly -- salty for my taste, but otherwise without peer, if I do say so myself. They were paired with a fresh-from-the-garden basil pesto farfalle pasta and a tasty salad with homegrown 'maters and okra.
But the piece de resistance was dessert. Those who know me understand that sweets don't turn me on that much (must be the Son of at Dentist thing). But tonight's grilled carmelized peaches with toasted pecans, honey, mint, and Landeria Farm artisan goat cheese was ambrosia... and ridiculously easy to do. Serve this at my funeral, and wash it down with a nice glass of 12-year-old Macallan scotch, neat. Neat, indeed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wiley X: Killer Sunglasses

I've never been one to spend a ton of money on designer sunglasses. I'm not much for trendy eyewear, and the ones I do have tended to get dropped and scratched with regularity. And besides, how much better can expensive sunglasses be?

A lot better, I've come to find out. A couple of months ago, I did some pretty serious research on all the premium sunglass manufacturers, and the one I landed on is Wiley X. While they're not as ubiquitous as Oakleys or Ray Bans, they are well-respected in tactical and law enforcement. In fact, that's where I first learned of these guys -- at last year's SHOT Show, when I stumbled on their booth by accident.

After head to head comparisons, I liked the Wileys better than pretty much every other pair I tried on. They fit better and see better than anything I've ever worn. And I chose the Romer II, which have gray, amber, and clear interchangeable lenses -- which means if they get scratched, I'm not out an entire pair of sunglasses. They're certified to stop shrapnel and speeding bullets too -- which, as a hunter, I definitely appreciate. And they look good, too. My only qualm is that I can't seem to find any polarized lenses that fit the Romer II.

I hope this company does well... if you're in the market for some new shades, check them out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where'd My Paper Go?

Call me a grumpy old bastard, but does everything inevitably HAVE to go digital?

I say this as I make the acquaintance of my new 80GB Zune, a replacement for my 20GB iPod that some inconsiderate asshole helped himself to out of my truck a few weeks ago, along with a couple of nice hunting knives. To be honest, I'll miss the blades more than the effete devil spawn of Steve Jobs. Actually, the iPod itself was pretty nice... I just hated iTunes. Anyhow, I digress.

My music is all digital, and it took me forever to make my 1,000-plus CD collection that way. Now, those discs that I've been pridefully collecting since college are now collecting dust, resigned to ignominy in a hall closet. Liner notes? Forget about them. I'm one of those music nerds who like to peruse the artwork and band shout-outs, and I haven't experienced that since Reckless Kelly's 2005 Wicked Twisted Road (which was quite cool, since there were tiny little working dice embedded in the spine, and I got my own personal shout-out). And forget about walking into that great, but frighteningly weird, record store to browse. There's just no way that iTunes can offer you the experience of walking into a dimly-lit store replete with funky-smelling gonesh sticks, freaky King Crimson b-sides, and flippant attitude. Sure, digital opens up some amazing doors, and lets me have an entire record collection (records? yep, I'm old) in my truck at my fingertips. But at what price?
Digital has even robbed us of the simple pleasure of the ticket stub. We went to see Gomez play last night, and my shitty excuse for a "ticket" was a printed out 8.5 x 11 piece of paper with a bar code and ads all over it. Nothing to save to prove to your buddies that You Were There When. Hell, I used to proudly put my now-obsolete ticket stubs in my now-nonexistent CD jewel cases.
Don't even get me started on the daily newspaper (they call it a "paper" for a reason, folks). It seems as though my local rag, along with countless others around the country, is falling victim to (among other things) free versions online. While I may also contend that lazy journalism might be to blame, I still miss having the tactile analog version to read with my cup of coffee. After all, have you ever tried to balance a laptop on your knees during your morning constitutional?

I am a grumpy bastard... I need to get off of this damned blog and get back to configuring my MP3 player and checking out a few message boards. Adios.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blueberry Vodka: Antioxidants and a Nice Buzz, All In One Convenient Package

Every summer, Mrs. Scampwalker and the kiddoes go south of town to harvest blueberries. Typically, they come home with bags and bags full of them, and they stay fresh for a remarkably long time. We're treated to blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, and blueberries with Grape Nuts and yogurt (a summer breakfast staple of mine).
A couple of weeks ago, perhaps inspired by NotHemingway, I got a wild hair to make blueberry-infused vodka. As luck would have it, I had a nice bottle of Russian Standard vodka that I picked up for the amazing price of $18.99 for a 1.75l bottle (you can't get good vodka that cheap in Russia, can you?).

The process was simple. I filled a decanter full of blueberries, each one squeezed just until it popped, and then poured in the vodka. After a week in the liquor cabinet, we poured ourselves some tasty, beautifully colored martinis. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this stuff was straight vodka... it went down entirely too easy! I'm thinking this might be good in a flask on a cold winter day, too -- a nip here and there while watching a football game or apres hunt.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ain't Nothin' In The World That I Like Better...

...than bacon*, lettuce*, and homegrown* tomatoes!

With all thanks to Guy Clark, he's spot on. There is nothing that heralds mid-summer like a good BLT, with a toasty crust, drippy mayo combined with napkin-decimating homegrown 'maters, crispy lettuce, and a couple (four) strips of bacon.

*Well, my tomatoes are big, fat, juicy... and green. They aren't ripening, and it's not just mine. Everyone I've talked to says the same thing... they have a bunch of fat, green tomatoes that just won't ripen. Thankfully, we found a few that are passable from the farmer's market... but nothing like the ones that we grew in the alley back at home.

*Lettuce, a strong suit in the Scampwalker garden until recently, has gone to semi-seed. You know -- the stalks longer and milkier, the leaves spindlier and more bitter.

Strike two.

My ace in the hole is bacon. I made it. From pork belly, the old fashioned way. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why more people don't. If you want the details, pick up a copy of Charcuterie, or go over to Hank's Place, like I did, for inspiration. Seriously, it's easy peasy. And much, much more satisfying. But a few observations...

You can cure it wet or dry (dry is in the foreground). Salt is the big ingredient either way. I've found, in my limited experience, that dry cure is saltier, yet firmer and crispier when fried. Wet takes flavors better. Both are freakin' delicious. Just plan on a week between buying pork belly and eating your finished product, because...

You have to smoke it. I use my remote thermometer to cook it to 150 degrees, over applewood. That's what, in my opinion, separates the store shit from the stuff you make.

You may not need an electric knife, but it sure is handy. Freeze the bacon for a couple hours, and then slice as thin as you want (I don't like it super thin). Fry it on the grill in a cast-iron skillet (a non-house-stinking trick my Mom taught me) and you're good to go.

Join in summer, and eat one. Just make it your own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Are You Doing, Dave?*

I have two members of my family that I've not formally mentioned, yet are becoming increasingly indispensable. They're our robots, Fuzzy and Dustin.

I know... robots are the things of sci-fi Jetsons and 50's-era Popular Science magazines. Well, I'm here to tell you folks, that they live among us. And we must let them control our lives. First is Fuzzy, or more properly, Neuro Fuzzy.

You've never heard of Neuro Fuzzy? It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, Skywalker.
Sorry, that was a bit of Han Solo coming back on me. Neuro Fuzzy is a rice cooker. The Best Flippin' Rice Cooker On Earth (as well as the Dagobah System). Seriously, we've thrown gumbo rice, sticky white rice, brown rice, wild rice, and sushi rice into Neuro Fuzzy's sizable maw, and he throws down the grain that's loved by damned near 8 billion Asians, plus a bunch of the rest of us. But the best testimony? I fixed a woodcock, wild turkey, and wild boar gumbo for my office last fall, with Fuzzy in tow, cooking up some Texmati. I work with a few first-gen Asians, and I caught them whispering in awe at The Fuzz. Instant cred... and the gumbo won the departmental cookoff that year, by the way.
The other robot I love is Dustin, our Roomba. I'm late to the party on this one, I must admit. Both Nothemingway and Mrs. Scampwalker's sister has one (or more) of these 'bots, and now I know why. Roomba is a robot vacuum. And a damned fine one. It may be slower than you, and it may make crazy patterns that are more idiotic than you after a 750 of Makers, but he gets the job done, and well. And it's all while you're doing something else more enjoyable than vacuuming.

So some things are better done by robots. Others, like the fireflies in my backyard, are purely organic, and always should be. So go get 'em. And may the Force be with you. Always.

*Hal, from 2001: A Space Odyssey