27 November 2009

Eating Bird

The annual turkey has been smoked, eaten and the carcass carried out to the trash. It turned out well despite my sense that I had messed it up and would never be ready on time. When it comes to smoking you can often have too much info, which is what happened in this case.

Put the 13 lb turkey on the smoker at 6am for a planned 1pm feast. Although I had the basic recipe in my head, I killed an hour browsing the internet looking at various comments on turkey smoking. Bad move, as it only made me second guess every step I'd taken in preperation. Most websites said the internal temp should be 165, but a couple said 180, a huge difference. Most indicated that it should take about six hours for a bird this size, but one site said it would take ten. Just enough difference of opinion for me to second guess my plans.

Around 11am I announced to the family that the bird would probably not be done until 3pm. The internal temp was 154 and seemed to be move higher at a crawl. Further, I was having the biggest problem keeping the temp in the smoker at a consistently high level. I wanted it at 250, but could not get it too stay long above 225. Being under the gun to finish the project by 1pm, I started messing with the charcoal and hickory chips too much.

Smoking does not work at all under time pressure. Smoking is for long summer days that stretch on and on. Give a smoke master a clock and a deadline and you may just ruin the finished product, the day, his life.

My wife, accustomed to my wild claims and extreme views on a variety of topics, refused to let my announcement mess up thanksgiving in any way. She simply said we would work around it and everything would be fine, basically ignoring the announcement. Smart move. I moved out of the house and sat by the smoker carefully tending the fire. Another smart move. By 1130 the internal was up to 160. By noon it was 165. I'm not accustomed to bird smoking and the fact that temperature changes are not linear was something I did not consider.

The finished product was ok. Tender, moist, full of that special smoky taste. The wing and back was worthless, which is disappointing not always the case with an oven roasted bird. This was my thrid or fourth smoked turkey and about as good as i've done. The real key to success was due to my wife, who mixed the brine and soaked the bird for 48 hours before cooking began, and ignored my completion forecasts. In retrospect, I think at least 90% of the success is due to her handling that right.

The day was filled with other big holiday stuff. We trimmed the Christmas tree, complete with 30 years worth of ornaments, many hand-made by the kids in Sunday School. We lamented the absence of our son. While it put a big hole in our celebration, it was replaced our knowledge that he had a great family to spend it with in St. Louis. We joined our fellow Americans in the annual tradition of watch the Detroit Lions lose a game and the Dallas Cowboys win one. For a second year in a row we watched with pleasure as Texas racked up 49 points over A&M. This time complete with a real Texas fan in the form of my oldest daughter's boyfriend. She finished knitting him a UT scarf, in the official team colours, with about 5 minutes left to go in the game. A good end to Thanksgiving Day.

22 November 2009

Singapore/Kuala Lumpur

Began the day running laps around a mosque in KL. Later climbed the 300 steps to the hindu shrine at the Batu Cave outside the city. Second time here. Food here was ok but lacks the distinctive dishes and flavour of the Thais and Chinese. I love this place but understand why "let's go eat Malaysian" is never heard in the US. The Manadin Oriental is amazing in its service and one of the best places I've stayed.

Singapore, first time here. Another monster that just grows and grows. Capitalism is so explosive here. I wish more people could see what it does when unconstrained. Both for well and ill, and that the "well" overwhelms the "ill".

Christmas, as a secular holiday, is more apparent in Singapore and KL than back home. At least the word "Christmas" is everywhere. Christmas trees, complete with the star of Bethlehem on top, are in every mall and along every major street. Granted, the sense of commercialism around the holiday is extreme, even from the viewpoint of a resident of the United States. But nice to see that star, which has been all but banned from public places in the United States. As a religious holiday I would give the United States an edge, but just a slight one.

Nice trip, more thoughts later, dozing off at the terminal........

Wrapping up this entry from the Delta Crown Room at Narita Airport and enjoying the last few hours of a six hour layover. It is noon Monday and 9pm Sunday back home.  The trip has been good but unfortunately leaves me with multiple examples of how far customer service has fallen in the US. Example.... I'm on Malaysian Air flight from KL to Tokyo, standing by the bathroom in the middle of the night, waiting for it to become available. A flight attendant across the way sees me, picks up the phone and calls another flight attendant to notify me that there is an open restroom close by in another section of the plane. That would never happen in the United States. Simply impossible. Example 2.... I get off the elevator at one of my hotels, heading with bags to my room. Somehow one of the staff knows who I am and where I am going. As soon as I get off and head the wrong way direction a voice calls out, "Sir, room 1705 is this way". How did they know who I was, where I was heading? Someone at checkin called and told them I was coming up. I'm no one special, just another guest, but certainly treated special in Asia, as anyone would want.

We've still got a lot to learn.

15 November 2009

Christmas Lights

The lights are up on the house. They were first turned on last night. I may be the first in the neighborhood but only by a few days. Once one of us turns on the lights the rest are soon to follow.

The big Christmas wreath is hanging from the window above the front door, swamping the influence of the humbler Thanksgiving wreath that hangs on the door. As it should.

Every little sign of Christmas crowds out all around it.

A world is cast in a season of cold and death.

The Blessed Virgin awaits a trip to Bethlehem.

The Lord of the Universe will soon step on to the stage that is His creation.

In the hearts of children, Father Christmas is on the move. 

Opening doors

The weekend began with the first college visits of my youngest child. Friday morning at the University of Chicago followed by the afternoon at the University of Wisconsin. At Chicago we listened to a description of a haven for scholars and the value of knowledge, as though it were almost tangible or something one could taste. At Wisconsin we listened to a weary administrator tell us that majors and subjects don't matter, but that college is really about being, and growing and other squishy stuff. Unfornate that such a fine institution presents itself so poorly. To my daughter's credit the morning presentation resonated with her and the afternoon did not. Much too early to tell where all this will end but it was clearly the start of something big. 

Her siblings went through this same process to varying degrees. Paths for all three have gone through Chicago surprisingly, either on a visit or final selection. Both her sister and brother ended up going to a school they did not initially consider. Both started out on a detour from the college dreams of junior high. Both overcame big obstacles that are part of college and both made us so proud. She will also, I am sure.

It was time for this trip. Time for her to ponder this big project in a big city where it may happen. And think more about life away from home. About the person she is, the person she is becoming, the person she wants to be. About how these places can make you all you want to be or rip apart all you hold dear and push you in places you should not go. This is the time in life when the need to be on your own is both fearsome and thrilling, when life at home is both maddening and comforting. Walking across the seesaw.

She spent the day thinking ahead. I spent the day contrasting her wishes with that of our other children and the mission ahead of her. I thought of the long drives to Washington and Lee and the beauty of Lexington, Virginia. Giving my oldest daughter a hug goodbye under a huge oak tree as we both held back a few tears  (hers of joy).  Loading the UHaul for a drive to DePaul and navigating the alleyways of Chicago with my son. Giving him a sendoff as guys do, with a handshake and a firm look in the eye. I told him I was proud of him. He replied "wait until I accomplish something, then be proud of me". Four years later I was, for both of them, and have been many times over.

The day came to a close with a return to the Twin Cities on a rainy Friday night. She spent the day dreaming and planning. I spent it opening doors, which is one of the very best things parents do.