Gotta Love Kids

Musings mostly about our family, particularly our college-age daughter and our junior-high-year-old twins with some business and cooking and other observations thrown in... Copyright 1999-2012 by Ed Kmetz.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Houston, We've Got a Problem

"We've got a Main Bus B undervolt, Houston.  There's another master alarm.  We've got multiple caution and warnings... we've got a Main Bus A undervolt now, too, Houston.  Main B is reading zip right now."

I actually said these words the other night, Labor Day night.  Minutes before the miracle happened.

It had been an awesome! day at Knoebel's Grove with my wifey, and Kate & Jay.  Kate and I headed for the coasters, Karen & Jay headed the other direction.  What a scream... although the coasters of course have safety bars, Kate and her whopping 80 lbs. goes flying like a rocket when we hit the weightless rollers on the Phoenix, so I'm sure to keep her hugged pretty tight.  Don't think she minds...

Karen & Jay went for the "vominator" rides that twist & twirl.  Strange that they like them, but don't like coasters.  Go figure.  I'm not that wild about the vominators m'self, so I guess that all balances out.

Endured a couple little sprinkles during the day, but not a factor, and if anything the sprinkles held the crowds way down for Labor Day.  Had a fabulous, even healthy, lunch (Knoebel's, by the way, is ranked as the #1 amusement park food in the USA), and a few tastes of their various treats too.  We closed the place, staying longer than we had intended, and were out the gate at 7 p.m.

To anyone who hasn't been there, Knoebel's Grove, for all its charm & beauty, is in the center of the middle of nowhere.  To get back to civilization, such as it is, leaving at 7 p.m. one drives through miles & miles of beautiful, darkening countryside.  We were between two cornfields and starting down a hill, when I saw the first of many notifications.  BATTERY NOT CHARGING was the first, followed shortly thereafter by loss of power steering, loss of power brakes SERVICE BRAKE BOOSTER, and my personal favorite ENGINE HIGH TEMP.  There's really no way to ignore these notifications.

What could I do, really, but recite a few lines from Apollo 13 while I figured out the mess?

To cause this much drama all at once, it had to be the serpentine belt... odd since it wasn't all that old, but there really was no other explanation.  An annoying problem was that there was no safe place to pull over to the side and ponder further, and even if I did pull over, what good was that going to do?  We were who knows how far from what, I've got two kids who start school in the morning, I've got a job to work on in the morning, we've got to get home.  So we soldiered on, maybe another mile or so.

Remember, this is Labor Day, about 7:30 p.m.  Nothing is open except for amusement parks.

We round a bend and find ourselves in a little town.

And wouldn't you know, there on the right is an Auto Zone.

It is open.  It has no big need to be open, and we have no right for it to be open, but open it is.

So I make a hard right (remember, no power steering) into their parking lot, coast into a parking stall (remember, no power brakes) and go inside to see if they have a serpentine belt for my truck.  Of course I  have almost no tools with me, but that's down on the list of concerns "There are 1,000 things that have to happen, in order, and we're on Number 8."  I wait behind a guy who is buying brake pads, and then explain my tale of woe to the guy behind the counter.  They do, in fact, have the belt...  The AutoZone guy goes outside with me to see if we can determine the correct one (there are two, and they differ in length).  He then notices that the belt tensioner pulley is a goner.  He mentions that yes, they probably do have a pulley, and yes, he can recommend a mechanic in the morning and maybe a place to stay tonight.  AZ guy says there's just too much junk to have to dig through to get to the pulley.

Nope, not acceptable.  Must get home tonight.  School in the morning.

Brake pad guy, who has been tagging along (this is about as exciting as it gets in rural PA on a Monday night, I guess) says he has a buddy who is a mechanic and lives just 2 blocks away.  He tries calling his buddy, but no answer.  Offers to go to his house and see if he's home.  Goes.  I figure there's slim chance we'll see brake pad guy again; the excitement storm has passed.

In the meantime, we start pulling out the AAA card, and start wondering how they're going to fit 4 people in a tow truck (they aren't), and start planning other contingencies, all centered around getting home TONIGHT.

To my surprise, minutes later, brake pad guy returns.  His buddy isn't home.  But brake pad guy (Steve, I come to find out), takes a look under the hood and says "This isn't hard at all.  I've done a bunch of these myself.  Two screws to lift the fan shroud out of the way.  You gotta socket set?

I do indeed gotta socket set, and it has a screwdriver in it, too.

We set to work.

Sure enough, Steve is right on the button.  It's two screws and a clip.  Then a socket wrench to remove the destroyed pulley, go inside to buy a new belt & new pulley, install the pulley, route the new belt around all the gizmos.  Start the truck.  Vroom, vroom!

Needless to say, we bought Steve the pizza delivery guy from Buckhorn his brake pads with plenty left over for a nice dinner.  All told, we were outta there in less time than it would've taken AAA to show up and a millionth the aggravation!

WHAT ARE THE ODDS that this thing is going to croak a mile from an auto parts store, on Labor Day night, and the store is open? With a guy in the store who is not only willing to help, but has done this exact thing in the past?  That would take a minor miracle!

I was telling this story to a friend, and she said "Are you sure Steve was real?"   Yeah, we're pretty sure Steve was real.  God made sure that store was open for us, and that Steve was in that store buying those brakes.  It all just Worked.

We'll always think of this as our Labor Day minor miracle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tired, cold, brutal

I've been a ski patroller for a while now... I think this is my 9th season.  Yesterday, specifically last night, were the worst conditions I've ever patrolled in, or skiied in for that matter.  It would be bad enough if it was just bulletproof ice, but last night was worse.  Imagine taking a hockey rink, covering it with ball bearings that somehow manage to stick in places, tipping it on its side, then having skiers push the ball bearings (we call it "sugar snow") into irregular and unpredictable islands between the oceans of bulletproof ice.  So you start down the ice which although not fun is at least steady, then -- WHOA -- hit a pile of sugar, which attempts to slam you to a stop, throw you over the side, or at least make you look stupid (and it succeeds at that quite well, thanks) -- then back to the bulletproof then blam, back into sugar, then back onto bulletproof... you get the idea.   Makes for some pretty sporting conditions, especially when taking a huge guy down the hill in a toboggan, especially since we're expected to be able to stop & turn and all that.  Oh, add in the peak gusts to 84 mph on one side of the ski hill, 82 on the other, and yes, it's pretty sporting indeed.

On sweep (when we slowly & carefully look over the sides of all the trails to make sure skiers haven't managed to land themselves against or upside-down-under trees, rocks, hoses, pipes, and so on) I even had a ski blow off the slope and over the side.  Stepped out of my bindings for a few minutes to roll up a net so the groomers wouldn't turn it into net-confetti... turned around to step back in and "wait a minute, I swear I had two skis here just a couple minutes ago."  One of them was gone, missing, see ya!  Fortunately the patroller I was with noticed it over the side just down the hill.

It was blowing so hard, that I was actually blown UP a slight grade when I put my arms out like a sail.

Strange, strange night.

Thank goodness there were not so many skiers out there last night, or things could've gotten truly nasty.  Of course no hope of getting a helicopter in last night, so anyone who had been bad hurt would've been ground-pounding only to the hospital.  Thank goodness it didn't come to that.  We had a few injuries, but mostly routine stuff, shoulders, elbows, heads, knees, puking, shins, and so on...  Dodged a bullet last night...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I hate flies

Copyright 2010 Ed Kmetz

I hate flies. 
 I hate flies.
Annoying little things
I wanna make them dies
With their buzzy little wings
And their compound eyes.

They fly around in circles
They fly around in squares
I want to take their little bods
And throw them down the stairs I hate flies

I hate flies

They lick their legs
Cleaning off their cilia
A breeding ground it is 
Of awful bacteria

Musca Domestica
I wish I never heard a ya
Take your filthy feet
And go to Florida I hate flies

I hate flies

Disgust abounds
Anywhere they land
In your hair, on your arm
Or even in your hand

They think they’re really quick
And often that is so
But sometimes they get sluggish
Over by the window I hate flies

I hate flies

Suck ‘em in a vacuum
Blast ‘em with a swatter
Nuke those filthy flies
Then wash with soap n water

When all the flies are gone
And we can rest easy
Open up those windows
Enjoy the big breezy I hate flies

I hate flies

They see the end a’comin’
A thousand different ways
The swatter coming down


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Big, Bad Attack Sub USS Missouri (SSN 780)

Just returned from an awesome weekend in Groton, CT attending the commissioning ceremony of the world's newest, baddest attack sub... the USS Missouri (SSN 780). Had never been to one of these before, and it was quite an event. My friend Michele from kolij works for the Navy in their COMSUBSHIPNAVATLAN SUPERBUILDEMSUB office and managed to score tickets for us to go see the ceremony...

... and

tour the sub!

Talk about cool from the word "go."

Arrival at the Navy's "First and Finest Submarine Base"
SUBASE New London

The day was an absolutely, positively perfect southern Connecticut day, screaming blue sky with a few puffy clouds here and there (mostly there). A string of Navy guys with heaps of hardware on their chests and SECNAV, and Governors of CT and MO, and several other politicos gave for the most part acceptably brief speeches, with much focus on how SSN 780 was $100 million under budget and 5 months ahead of schedule.

You know, they used to name submarines after fish. You know why they don't do that anymore? Because fish don't vote. They especially don't vote on funding authorizations.

Anyway, once the speeches were done the chaplain said a prayer, then they commissioned the boat... like getting the keys to your new car. They raised Old Glory, played the Star Spangled Banner. Then on command, several gizmos (photonics package, sat com antennae, radar, couple other long antenna-looking things) rose up out of the top of the sail. And presto, that black $2 Billion chunk of hardware can now be called the USS Missouri.

So that was cool. But the coolest part was yet to come.

After a fabulous BBQ lunch, catered in from where else, Missouri, we got a tour.

Jay hustles down the ladder, countries need saving!

Karen's turn

Donna on her way

Future Admiral Katie 

Jon on his way down

Received our tour from an "Officer of the Deck." Not the Captain, but one of the guys who runs the boat while the Captain is sleeping or whatever. Talk about cool... this guy was just wicked smart and so proud of what he does, his gold dolphins, the crew, the boat. The members of the crew work all during construction on all the sub-systems, testing and all that, so that when Electric Boat slides all the pieces together during construction the crew already knows everything there is to know about the boat.

The exterior of the sub is pretty unremarkable, black, with non-slip paint which is no doubt radar-absorbing too.  There's the sail up front, of course, and a couple hatches, one where the SDV (Seal Delivery Vehicle) docks.  The SDV is a mini-sub that can attach to the big sub, and allow Navy Seals to travel to and from shore, where they do all sorts of disruptive things.

Everything on the bridge is totally Star Trek, no paper charts anywhere (no pictures allowed, either... bummer but fully understandable). Drive the boat with a joystick using the quad-redundant systems, look around with a joystick at the crowd outside still on the pier waiting in high-definition for their tour (the line seemed like it stretched for MILES, though that could've been just a neener-neener reaction since we were in the first tour group after all the platform muckety-mucks).  Take a listen to the little 2 inch waves gently lapping against the pier, really, really loud.  I found it interesting that they still have the "waterfall" displays for sonar and they still use a lot of the same color/shape symbols for various valves and things from the old days. All done nowadays on the computer screen, of course, and no doubt with lots of spooky computer processing power under the hood that the old guys probably never even dreamed about.

Kate & Jay prepare to launch a Tomahawk

Also visited the torpedo room, or as they say "the ballroom." Biggest open space on the boat, and they can move torpedoes & Tomahawks around like puzzle pieces to get what they need where they need it. All done with joysticks, of course.  If need be, they can stuff 50 bunks in the center of the torpedo room, only 30 if the occupants are Navy Seals.  One can imagine that the Seals come equipped with a bit of space-taking hardware of their own...

Got to see where Michele sleeps while they're doing sea trials. The bunks are, shall we say, tight. Like the bunks in a train, only tighter and less plush. Also you don't have that guy who comes in and makes your bed while you're at breakfast.

Had a contest for the kiddies who I knew were going to be jamming needles in their eyes during the speeches. I might have put in one or two myself... Had them all kick 2 bucks into the pot, and Karen and I put in a tenner. The challenge was to come up with the coolest thing they saw all day that they *couldn't* have seen otherwise. The decision would be made in the van as we were ready to leave to head home. Kate thought the ability to steer a torpedo once it left the boat was cool. Karen thought a similar thing, but about re-purposing the cruise missile in flight. Jon (Donna's BF) and I thought moving the puzzle pieces (they even call the torpedoes & Tomahawks "shapes") around in the torpedo room was coolest. I also liked the guy with the patch on his vest that said "Bottom Gun." Donna thought the best thing was the pride all the crew showed and how happy they all seemed, given that they were about to be locked in a can 800 ft. below the surface of the ocean for weeks at a time. Jay loved the bridge with all the computer screens everywhere.

Michele offered to be the judge... and after deliberation thought that Donna's was the winner. I'd have to agree, everyone involved was so proud, and it was great to see. If all the crews on all the subs under all the water are half as proud and sharp as these guys, we're in very good hands indeed and the bad guys better stock up on worry beads.

Kmetz Krowd at the sail

Leaving the Mighty Mo... we're in good hands!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Man Cooking

From my upcoming book "Man Cooking."  (Maybe Caveman Cooking).   All I need is an agent, a publisher, and more time in the kitchen...  All my recipes assume you know NOTHING about cooking, but you do have to have a sense of humor and a few basics on hand, like a frying pan, and things to measure with, and the occasional power tool or blowtorch.  Each recipe stands on its own, so you'll rarely need to flip back and forth hunting for notes on different pages.  Note that most of the advice is based on lessons I've learned after doing stupid things in the past, so please, learn from my mistakes.  I also have “Forever Notes” here and there… advice that applies not only to this recipe, but that you can use forever.  Some of them involve actual pain & suffering, so be sure to check them out.

The goal here is a useful blend of ease of cooking, great taste, impressing your guests, and ease of cooking.  I like using the microwave oven and serving from the same bowl food was cooked in wherever possible.  I try to limit the number of pots & pans you have to clean later.   Where it’s appropriate to use an oven, we use an oven.  A skillet, a skillet.   A can of something, a can of something.  Something you can buy at the store way more easily than making it yourself from scratch… you get the drift.  Ease of cooking.

DO NOT be intimidated by the recipe titles.  Some of them are intentionally snotty-sounding so that you can impress whoever you’re cooking for.  But don’t worry, the recipes are all easy to make, and YOU CAN do them.

Pet Peeve Alert:  In my experience, other recipe books lie on the low side on how much time a recipe takes to put together, I can never seem to do it as quickly as they say.  Maybe they have help.  Who knows.  I’ll give you timings that are accurate from my kitchen, based on cooking a meal by yourself…because I keep track.  It’s the engineer in me, I guess…

When your wife / girlfriend / family’s head (s) is (are) finished exploding that you were actually able to make these meals by yourself, you can score massively extra brownie points by cleaning up.  However, subtract points if after dinner while your wife / girlfriend is cleaning up you flop in a chair and yell “Honey, that beer’s not going to get itself!”

Attention P.C. whiners:  The title of the book is Man Cooking.  Yes, I understand that many men are great chefs.  Yes, I understand that many women are great chefs.  Take a sedative if you must.

Blog Readers… As I add recipes here, try them out and let me know how they work for you.  I’m always willing to tweak, as long as you define tweaking as hitting something with a mallet.

If you want to send me your favorite recipes, great!  I’ll be happy to take them, test them, change them, and claim them as my own.  I’ll probably remember to credit you in the acknowledgements, but maybe not.  Send recipes at your own risk.  But hey, send them!

Steak with Mushroom & Ruby Port Reduction, Saffron Basmati Rice, Fresh Green Beans & Baby Carrots.

 I came up with this recipe because we had a bottle of Ruby Port in the cupboard for who knows how long and I was tired of looking at it and moving it around all the time to see what was behind it and wanted to get rid of it.  Or at least start to get rid of it.  It had dust on it, that’s how old it was.  A lot of dust.  Still worked, though…

If your kids hate mushrooms, they'll hate this gravy.  But if you can convince them to give you the mushrooms, you'll both be really happy.

All good gravy starts with the burnt crud bits at the bottom of the pan.  Let's assume you're making steaks, though I suppose this gravy would work well with other meats too.  Oh, it also tastes good on rice.

This recipe isn’t about slapping a burger on the grill, it will take a little time… around an hour and a half total to get everything together and the cooking time.  (If you’re marinating the steaks, start the marinade the night before or the morning of.)  But the results are oh so worth it!  You’re on your own for cleanup.

 Tools & Ingredients Get all this stuff together and make sure you have everything you need  before you start cooking, then you don't have to run to the store midway or look like an idiot running to the neighbor (unless you’re looking for an excuse to introduce yourself to the neighbor, but that’s a different story…).


Pan for the meat.  A big heavy iron skillet works great for steaks.  (Forever Note about iron skillets… never NEVER use soap in them.  Soap cleans off the great solid black layer that builds up on the bottom over the course of cooking many steaks.  You want that layer, it makes the pan almost non-stick.  Almost…)

Wooden Spoon.  Do I really need to describe what a wooden spoon is?  Naw, didn’t think so…

Aluminum foil.  For covering the steaks while they stay warm in the oven.

Big glass mixing bowl.  For cooking the rice.

Smaller glass container, bonus points if you can serve from it.  For cooking the green beans & carrots.


Prepare the ingredients in this order… that way everything is done at the same time. You know you’ve arrived when everything for the meal is done at just the right time, that is, the end.  Do the “prep work” (cutting the things you’re going to cook) first.  For this recipe, the only prep work you really need to do is tenderizing the meat and chopping the onions.

Meat.  I like really tender steaks, so I almost always tenderize them.  If you’ve thought ahead, you can marinate the meat in the refrigerator in a store-bought marinade (NO, it’s not cheating) for some hours.  I often exceed the recommended time on the marinade jar by many hours, and they still come out fine. Also, go ahead and check out the “Tenderizing” section for a little background on why marinades work to tenderize.  In this recipe, the gravy you make will be flavorful enough to stand up to almost any marinade, so don’t sweat it.  If you’re out of time you can tenderize the meat by laying it on a cutting board, covering it with plastic wrap, and bashing it with a big heavy iron skillet (see above).  Bash until the steak starts to come apart a little, but don’t bash it to smithereens.  Let the steak come to room temperature before cooking.

Sliced mushrooms.  Buy two packages of fresh sliced white mushrooms at the supermarket.  They’re sold in packages about as big as your hand.  They’re the same price as unsliced, and they’re always clean.  No need to get fancy this or that mushrooms, just the regular el-cheapo sliced white mushrooms in the produce section are fine.  Oh, and again, these are *fresh* mushrooms, not the disgusting canned mushrooms.

A white onion.  Big or small, doesn’t matter.  With a nice sharp knife (if you use a dull knife you’ll get onion juice in your eye and you will cry like a toddler), under running water if you can, chop the top & bottom off the onion, remove the brown skin and first layer of white, then chop the onion into pieces about half as big as the mushrooms.  (Forever Note:  More often than not, people like bigger, identifiable, chunks of food, so keep them on the larger side… definitely do not dice into tiny specks of onion.)

Green Beans.  Buy the fresh ones with the stems still attached on the one side.  Knock any huge leaves or big extra stems off, but leave the stems attached to the bean, attached.  (Forever Note:  If you were thinking of using canned green beans now or at any time in the future for the rest of your life, put that thought straight out of your mind.).  To make the fresh beans really snap, put them in the smaller bowl now and cover them with ice water.  Remember, leave the stems on.

Baby Carrots.  These come peeled, in a bag.  How much easier can it get?

Basmati Rice.  If you buy it at the warehouse club in the big sack with handles, it’s pretty cheap.

Saffron.  A great spice, wicked expensive but adds a little flavor and a cool yellow / orange color to the rice.

Seasoning for the meat.  Salt (grab a big pinch of it) and pepper (if you have a pepper grinder, cool… if not use what’s in the shaker) work fine.  Keeping it simple is usually better.  Pat the salt/pepper into the meat.

Oil.  Even though I hate olives, cooking with Olive Oil is actually OK.  It adds a taste, but it’s not a strong olivey taste.  You can also use another vegetable oil.

Butter.  A generous dollop out of the tub or an inch or so off the stick.

Smart Balance. More healthy for you than butter, and great taste, especially in the green beans.

Vegetable or beef stock.  Buy this in the supermarket… the fancy stock even comes in a box with a resealable flip cap.  Buy a couple cans or boxes at a time because they last forever and you can always use them later.

Ruby Port wine.  Fill a reasonably big wine glass about ¾ of the way with the Port.  Sip a little to ensure quality.

Corn starch.  Unless you’re a crazed cook on an insane thickening mission, a little of this goes a long way.  (Note to self, the two containers of corn starch we already own will last until our grandchildren need them, no need to buy more).

Start Cooking!

Start the rice cooking first.  It takes a while to cook, and will just sit there happily in its bowl for a long time once it’s done.  Rice is very forgiving.  We always make too much rice, and then we have it for leftovers, so don’t sweat it if you don’t eat it all tonight.

Basmati Rice cooks using a handy ratio of 1 to 2… 1 unit of rice to 2 units of water.  We’ll use cups here, but you can use whatever units you want… cups, tins, buckets, dumpsters… whatever.

So, making a double recipe of rice, dump 2 cups of the Basmati Rice in the large glass mixing bowl.  Dump 4 cups of water into the bowl.  Give it a quick stir so all the rice gets wet.  Add a few shakes of salt from the shaker into the water. 

Stir in about 10 strands of the saffron strings.  Like I said, this spice is wicked expensive, but you don’t need much.  Get them wet, but many will still float on top, don’t worry.

Cover the bowl with its own tight lid or with plastic wrap to seal the top.  (Forever Note:  It is important to TIGHTLY seal the top, because the rice doesn’t cook by boiling, it cooks by steaming… and you’ve got to trap the steam in there.  If the steam escapes you end up with dry, horrid rice loaf that looks like it’s having a bad hair day.  Ask me how I know.)  Put in the microwave and set to cook on HIGH for 5 minutes then on 50% for 15 minutes.  Hit the “Start” button and ignore the rice until the beeper goes off.

When the rice is finished, just let it sit.

Important Safety Note:  When you do get around to taking the plastic wrap or lid off… keep your fingers AWAY from the edge.  The steam comes out at 4 billion degrees, you can weld with it.  It WILL burn your fingers, and (believe me) it is no fun at all trying to enjoy a dinner with your fingers stuck in a bowl of ice water.

Now  for the steak… drum roll, please!

Heat the dry iron skillet.  Hot.  How hot?  Not so hot that even the dry pan smokes (see “oil well fire”) but hot enough that when you drop a few drops of water in the pan, they vaporize instantly. If your range has indicators, “Medium-High” should work well.  (Forever Note:  Hot Pan / Cold Oil / Food Never Sticks)

Add the oil.  Pour in enough to easily cover about half the bottom, then swirl it around to cover the rest of the pan.  Do this quickly so the oil heats but doesn’t catch fire.

Add a generous dollop of butter to the oil.  This way the butter won’t burn too much and adds nice flavor.

Look the other way and drop the steaks in.  They will sizzle with a bang, and they will cook in a hurry.  (See “Guide to Doneness of Steaks” below).  It’s OK to cook one steak at a time, cook at most two at once.  If you try to cook too much meat at once, it won’t sear as much as juice all over and you’ll end up with boiled meat, which your dog will love.  If the pan is so crowded that the steaks are touching each other, that’s too crowded. 

Once the steaks are cooked a little way up the side, and before the bottom side is cooked to a cinder, flip the steaks.  (Forever Note:  Only flip steaks once, whether that’s in the pan or on the grill.  There’s no need to abuse the poor steak by flip flip flip flip flipping it.  It’s been through enough already.)  Once the steaks are seared, and are a nice color, and done as much as you want, put them on a plate.  When in doubt, undercook... you can always fix later.  Cover the steaks with aluminum foil, and put them in your oven, which is set to “warm” or 170 degrees F.

… Now it’s time to make that gravy

If you’ve done your searing job well, there should be some great blackened, greasy crud on the bottom of the pan.  Excellent!  This is called “flavor” and “color.”  Despite adding oil before, the original oil has probably cooked off and generally disappeared, so add a little more.  Less than the first time, but enough that you’ve got the bottom covered again.  The pan should still be very warm after cooking the steaks, that’s a good thing, but reduce the heat a bit… not all the way to medium, but less than before.  We’re not looking for a scorch here.

Dump in the chopped onion.

Heat & stir with a wooden spoon until the onions start to change color and cook a little, around a minute.

Dump in the sliced mushrooms.

Stir the whole works around and cook until the mushrooms all start to get brown and start to soften.  Taste one… you shouldn’t be able to snap it, but it should be nowhere near flexible.

Looking the other way, dump in the Port.  It will hit with a bang, and foam, and sizzle.

Dump in the stock, enough that everything is floating easily, but you’re not making soup.

Adjust the heat so that the middle of the stock is bubbling but the outer isn’t.

Stir everything gently, and here’s where you take advantage of all those awesome crud bits on the bottom of the pan.  Scrape them with the wooden spoon, clean off the whole bottom of the pan.  Not only do you get an outstanding gravy, but the pan is easier to clean later, too!

Cook the stock for a while, stirring almost the whole time.  You’ll notice the amount of stock gets reduced as it boils… hence the name “reduction.”  You’ll soon be able to tell your friends that you made a “port wine reduction gravy” because you’re almost finished.

Take a 30-second break from stirring and in a small bowl mix a small spoonful of the corn starch with a little cold water.  Use enough water so the mixture is smooth and about the consistency of buttermilk, and you can pour it out of the bowl.

Back to the skillet… when the level has dropped by about half, so that all the ingredients are still floating but not quite as easily as before, stir in the corn starch mixture.

Now things will happen quickly… the gravy will start to thicken.  As it *just starts* to thicken, stop stirring, remove it from the heat and pour it into another bowl.  It will continue to thicken all by itself, so if you cook it too long you will end up with paste, not gravy.

Green Beans … they’re a snap!

You'll have time at the end to cook these, and serve them hot.  Start cooking them right when the gravy is finished.  While the beans are cooking, you can plate the steaks & rice.

Pour out all but a tablespoon of the water/ice mixture from the smaller mixing bowl.  Add a handful of baby carrots.  Add a spoon of Smart Balance or butter (I prefer the taste of Smart Balance, go figure),  Cover tightly with its own lid or plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 3 minutes.  The beans should still be a bright green, and they should still remember what it was like to be crisp.  The carrots should be the same as the beans, except they’re orange.  If you have to put the mixture in for another minute, well, all right… if you must…

Again, watch those fingers when you remove the lid or wrap.

Go time.

Fluff up the rice with a fork, breaking up any clumps and distributing the color around.  Keep it as fluffy as you can, even though you’re going to be scooping it out right away.

Serving…  It’s all about the presentation!  Place the steak toward the side of your dinner plate, add the green beans / carrots on a third of the plate and the Basmati rice (use an ice cream scoop) to balance the plate.  Then spoon a very generous amount of the gravy over the middle half the steak and extend the pour down the inside side of the steak and onto the plate.  Take a picture!  Absorb compliments! Enjoy!

Tenderizing Meat
Oh, the marinades I’ve tried.  Oh, the hoops through which I’ve jumped. Oh the battles over marinades that rage far and rage near.  Oh the spices, the this and the that.  The various tenderizing mallets available… should I get a wooden one?  A metal one?  What size?  With texture or without?
Here’s the secret on tenderizing meat.  The goal is to make it tender.  You tenderize meat by:
a.        Soaking it in acid    -or-
b.      Beating it senseless   -or sometimes-
c.       Both (a) and (b).
If you’ve got a steak that’s tough as shoe leather, try #3.  I often use the strategies employed in #3 even if the steak isn’t tough as shoe leather.  Again, I love tender steaks, and am always in pursuit of the perfect tender steak.
If you want to try #1, here’s my version of the perfect marinade, and you won’t spend all afternoon hunting down 8 different spices and measuring 1/8 tsp. of this and 1/4 tsp. of that and a pinch of something else… puhleeze:
·         Rinse and place steaks / chicken / pork / whatever… in a shallow glass dish.  Try to get a small enough dish that not a lot of space is wasted on the bottom of the dish, but the pieces of meat don’t touch each other.
·         Grab a bottle of apple cider vinegar and dump it all over the meat.  Go crazy, this is not the time to skimp.
·         Grab a bottle of “seasoned salt” and sprinkle it all over the meat, much less enthusiastically than you vinegared the meat, unless you prefer steaks that taste like sodium bombs.  Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with other spices, but only once you get the hang of it.
·         Flip each piece of meat over and “seasoned salt” what was the bottom of the meat.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for as long as you have.   A minimum of an hour is best, but the longer it sits, the more tender the meat will become.  Flip the meat now and then.
About a half hour before it’s time to cook the meat, remove it from the refrigerator to let it come to room temperature.
When it’s chow time, you might not need a knife!


Guide to Doneness of Steaks  Take your hand and hold it palm up like you’re going to carry a tray.  Stretch.  Push on the pad between your thumb and wrist to see what a rare steak should feel like.  The outside of your hand under your baby finger is a medium steak and the center of your palm is a well done steak.  Compare these parts of your hand to your steak as it cooks and you’ll cook a perfect steak every time.

Guide to Recovering from Mistakes
Gravy too thick:  If you discover your gravy is too thick and has turned to paste either in the pan or the bowl, you might be able to rescue the mess and reconstitute it into gravy by putting it back in the pan and adding more stock and stirring some more.  But it’s better to catch it early.

Steaks too rare:  Not a problem… you’ve already got the nice color on the outside, all you have to do is cook the middle.  So heat the oven to 500 degrees F, put the steak on aluminum foil on a baking sheet, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 2 minutes at a time until the steak works for you.

Steaks too well done:  Feed to dog.  Not exactly a recovery, but you will make the dog’s day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Incredible News

Other things have been happening lately, but I had to pass along this incredible... unbelievable... news from last night.

I actually went to BJ's and spent less than 10 bucks! Yes, it's true! Yes, it can happen!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Birthday She'll Never Forget (But Only Because We'll Tell Her What Happened)

Sunday morning March 7, 2010

Life became turned around a little yesterday... March 6, 2010.

It all started about an hour before they MedEvac'd my wife to St. Luke Hospital's trauma center.

It had been such a beautiful day... we had her surprise 50th birthday party Friday night, and Saturday Mar. 6 was her actual birthday. So off we went for a day of skiing at Camelback, absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and pushing 50 degrees. Sunscreen weather. I was patrolling anyway since it was Saturday, and she brought Kate / Jay. Fred my buddy from college was there too, and we were skiing together as much as we could. It was Kate/Jay's first time doing the "black diamonds" and they were stoked!

I went on a call for some dude with a knee injury, and left the group to either follow me or do something else. They're used to it.

Karen, Kate, Jay, and Fred decided to do "The Rocket," one of the black diamonds. Conditions were excellent, actually, and they were doing great... until Karen fell backward onto her head. Didn't seem like much according to Fred, who witnessed it. She lost her skis, he helped her get them back on, and she skied to the bottom, no trouble. At the bottom, though, she started losing orientation. Fred very correctly hustled her into the patrol room; do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

When I got to the patrol room with the toboggan and my guy with the knee, Ed the patroller in charge said "I need you inside right away, they'll take your patient. Your wife is inside. Hit her head."

Freakin' great. Now what?

Where am I?  Did I fall?  Did I hit my head? Where am I?
She was "looping" as we say on about a 10 second loop... "Did I lose consciousness? Where am I? (wasn't sure if she was in Pennsylvania or Utah). Did I fall? Did I hit my head? Did I lose consciousness? Did I fall? Did I hit my head? Did I lose consciousness?"

Amazing how the progression goes... first I'm going to take her to the local hospital by car. Then Wayne, one of the other patrollers, reminds me that I have to look at her not as my wife, but as a patient and what would you do if she was your patient? Bam. He says "Do you want to take a vote?" Bam. All right, you're right Wayne, she's going in an ambulance. Continues looping all the while, then she gets nauseous. The ambulance crew decides to fly her since the local hospital doesn't have a neuro unit. All the while she's looping, for almost an hour at this point. We all remember Natasha Richardson all the time with head injury patients and no one needs a repeat of that... And standing there are two 10-year olds worrying about their Mommy.

Gotta tell you, it's pretty freaky when it's your wife on the table and people are strapping her to a backboard and putting a cervical collar on her and tying her head down to get her ready for the ride in the sky. But the right thing for me to do was to take a step back, change out of my patroller suit and into my husband/daddy suit, and let my friends do all the right things, and they did.

Does this backboard make my butt look big?

So she went one way and we went another to get to the hospital. Biggest difference is our way was $17,000 cheaper. (As a special bit of joy, the story is that her flight is not covered by insurance, I guess we'll find that out for sure before too long.)

My GPS died on the way to the hospital. Not a good omen.

We get to the hospital, and the receptionist tells us that a member of the trauma team will be down to talk with us right away. Please sit there. We sit.  We wait for a doctor or a nurse.

Four minutes (a VERY long four minutes) later, a lady with a CLERGY COLLAR steps out, looks around, and asks for Karen's family.

This is stunningly attention-getting, I assure you.

For maybe a count of three, I see nothing else but that collar. It was 7 feet wide and 5 feet high.  You've heard the term "blood ran cold." It does. Many dreadful things flash before your eyes in just those 3 seconds.

But the clergy lady says that Karen's up in one of the rooms, she’s talking, they're going to keep her overnight, and let's go upstairs.

Much.  Better.  My body temperature rights itself instantly.

We follow the clergy lady through 17 hallways, up an elevator, through 39 sets of doors.  There's her room, just ahead.

And man, is she talking.

Kate notching another one for "Did I lose consciousness?"
They'd already done a CAT scan (negative!) and some other tests (no dope, booze, tranquilizers, or anything else interesting on the tox screen). They cleared her C-spine (removed the uncomfortable C-collar) a couple hours after that. They kept her overnight, and will decide this morning whether to discharge her or not. Over the course of our stay with her last night, about 6 hours, she was starting to sort a few of the marbles into the correct holes, but was still looping some. She started remembering bits & pieces of her party Friday night, and once even remembered what we had for breakfast Saturday.

I'm guessing "yes" they'll discharge her today but if she's still looping, or if the repeat CAT scan shows changes, who knows what'll happen.

Happy times at the hospital, 
even tho' she doesn't remember any of it.

But thank God for the inventor of the ski helmet.

And if you're got the winning lottery numbers for this week, I'm all ears.

More news as it breaks.

- - - - - - - - -

Late Sunday night Mar 7… she's there, we're here.

More news as promised.

They decided, in an abundance of caution, and because the people necessary to do the test weren’t in today, to keep her a second night. She’ll get a “cognition” test Monday morning, presumably she’ll pass with flying colors, and we’ll take it all from there. This afternoon she was mostly back, some short-term memory hang-ups, but nothing at all like yesterday. What a difference 24 hours makes.

One of the things we did yesterday (suggested by Ron, her outstanding nurse) was to write on the whiteboard in her room some of the questions she was asking. We also took it upon ourselves to count the number of times she asked each question… well estimate anyway, but we got pretty close, I think.

The count winner by far was “Did I lose consciousness?” which she said AT LEAST once/minute (probably more like 4 – 6 times / minute) for AT LEAST 6 hours. So if we go real conservative and say 2 times / minute for 6 hours, that’s over 700 times. Probably well over 1,000 times for that one. We wrote “NO LOC” on the board, and it got to the point where she was ready to ask the question again, she’d look over at the board, see NO LOC and just laugh about it.

Turns out our initial guess of 300 times asking 
"Did I lose consciousness?" was low by many hundreds...

We’d ask her what day it was. She wouldn’t know. We’d say “It’s March 6.” “It’s my Birthday!?” “Yes.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is. Happy Birthday.” “It’s not my birthday.”

Other favorites on the board were “Did I have a CVA?” (Cerebro-Vascular Accident… a.k.a. a stroke) Answers: “NO CVA.” And “CAT SCAN Negative.”

“Where did this happen?” Answer: Rocket.

“Someone tell me exactly why I’m here.”

One of her main frustrations is not remembering the helicopter ride. So someday we’re going to take a helicopter ride that she can remember.

The official diagnosis at this point is a “Grade 3 Concussion.” They go up to Grade 3. She remembers absolutely nothing about the accident or anything for hours after it… nothing in the patrol room, nothing in the helicopter, nothing in the E.R., Cat Scan, or early part of her stay in the neuro step-down unit. She says she doesn't remember us being there last night, but it did register that she wasn't alone.

Nope, doesn't remember this either... 
This is a shot of one of her trauma docs checking in.

But she’s getting there, quickly it seems. She just called to say goodnight to Kate & Jay and to ask me to bring her dental floss tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone… obviously Camelback’s ski patrollers who are the best anywhere get special notice. Go Saturday Crew! The staff at St. Luke’s, also awesome… particularly her nurse Ron, who sets the bar so high for nursing care and Lissette, the patient care assistant. How they find time to spend so much caring time with Karen is amazing, given that they are so busy in general.

More news, again, as it breaks.

- - - - -

March 9, 2010... update

Well, my sweetie's home. Yesterday was her day to say goodbye to St. Luke's (put your hands together for it being the *last* time she goes there except maybe as a visitor). We bought chocolates for the staff and a little angel for the wonderful & caring Lissette, who looks like Halle Berry, only cuter.

They said NO WORK for 2 weeks... Karen still has to make an appointment at Good Shepherd Rehab for testing, to ensure all the marbles are in all the right rows. She's of course chomping at the bit to get right back to work, but her noggin may have other plans. We'll see. Obviously we all have to make sure she's 100% remembering so there's no question she's totally back on trifles like, oh I don't know, MEDS and DOSAGES and THINGS TO DO FOR A CARDIAC ARREST. She has an appointment a week from today for a follow-up checkup.

I say again...

Thank God for the inventor of the ski helmet.

- - - - - - - - -

Update March 16...

This was a big day... the "cognition test" day.  Having received a letter from her employer that said (paraphrasing here):  "Dear Karen, sorry to hear about your accident.  If you're not back to work by March 21, you're fired.  However, you will be eligible for re-hire if we repost your job.  Have a nice life." the pressure was on to pass that test.

So we get there, and the check-in nurse says "Oh NO... today's not your test.  They're just going to see you and schedule your test. 


After a bit of drama, we did manage to see first one doc, then his boss.  They poked and prodded and asked questions like "count backward from 100 by 7's."  Try that... pretty hard.  Poke and prod some more.  Ask more questions, do drawings, and on.  Result:

Pass with Flying Colors.  Back to work approved.  No restrictions!

So... this part of the saga is over.  Now it's time to do battle with the insurance company, the hospital, the labs, the doctors who saw her for a few minutes here and there, the ambulance company and my personal favorite, the helicopter company.  All good stuff to have when you need it, but not fun when you open the mailbox in the aftermath.

Bake sales appreciated... winning lotto numbers even more appreciated.

Thanks so much to everyone for all the support, prayers, good words, emails, phone calls.

Life sure ain't dull...



About Me

My photo
Copyright 1999-2012 Ed Kmetz. All Rights Reserved. ALL broadcast, publication, retransmission to e-mail lists, WWW or any other copying or storage, in any medium, online or not, is STRICTLY PROHIBITED without PRIOR written permission from the author. MANUAL FORWARDING by e-mail to friends is allowed IF 1) the text is forwarded IN ITS ENTIRETY, from the Copyright line on top through the end of this paragraph and 2) NO FEE is charged.