Thursday, June 08, 2006

Garden - update

The mutant strawberries are starting to appear.  I'm getting about 3-4 each day, but most are very small and/or oddly shaped.  However, the taste is incredible!  I just wish there were more/bigger berries produce each year!
Everything else that was planted seems to be doing (or recovering) ok.  The lettuce which was in the worst shape when planted seems to have recovered.  And the beans which I planted from seed have (mostly) sprouted.  The tomatoes, peppers and raspberries are all looking healthy as well (though much too early to tell how they will produce).
However, the lawn remains in rough shape with a number of weeds adding to the woes.  I think there is slightly more grass each week, but its really hard to tell.  We've certainly gotten enough rain so lack of water is not an issue!  I'll fertilize when Nuke goes on vacation in about a week or two just to make sure she doesn't get any in her tummy.

Kale and Avocados

The "challenge items" (a challenge item is something that I've never purchased or cooked before) in this weeks Boston Organics delivery are a bunch of kale and an avocado (among many other things, it also included cauliflower, but I think I've had that enough that I don't consider it a "challenge item" even though I've never purchased or cooked it before). 
Tonight I steamed the kale and served it with a bit of salt and a bit more pepper.  It was ok - certainly better than anything frozen, but not as good as some of the other things I've been making recently.  I think I'll try a stir fry next - adding a few more ingredients (garlic, soy, sesame) to make the taste a bit more interesting.
I also cooked (steamed) corn tonight in the asparagus pot and it came out pretty good for this early in the season (ie, its not native corn yet).  I also made it to 4 burners going the other night, though I think this was a bit too much as the combined portions were a bit too much for a single meal.

Procrastination - update

Making lists seems like a good way to overcome the procrastination.  Only problem is I keep putting off the making of the lists...  Oh well.  The way the stock market has been behaving its looking more and more like I'll have to return to work at the end of the summer (or at least much sooner than I originally thought - which was never).

Kitchen upgrade continues..

The upgrades in the kitchen continue.  Most importantly is the better food (with Boston Organics supplying a good portion of this each week).  This was followed by an upgrade to All-Clad for the pots and pans and almost a complete replacement for the spices.  So, what's left? 
Well, its time for a new set of knives.  After hours (and hours) of research, I came down to a choice between Wusthof (long shot), Global or Shun, with Shun being the favored choice.  But, just when I was about to head out to make a purchase, I found some additional information about some other Japanese knives and ended up getting a mix of knives from a number of makers - Tojiro (good value for the lesser used knives), Masamoto (Gyuto), Hattori (Santuko) and MAC (bread).  This of course required a number of other items as well - a new knife block (so I can keep a couple of the cheap knives or grow the collection in the future) and a sharpening stone.  I've also ordered a few new cooking books to add to the collection (mostly focused on technique and knowledge of ingredients - not recipes).
Hopefully I'll still have all my fingers the next time you see me.

The bike is back...

The bike repairs are done.  Only charges were for the parts - 2 spokes and the derailleur hanger.  They waived the tune & true fee ($50) which was nice.  I was kind of hoping they would as I suspect a bad initial tune could be a contributing factor.  Total for parts was about $30.  There are a few scratches to the rear frame, but nothing terrible.  It's just good to have the bike back (though it was good to get out running again for a couple of days).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Quest for a decent cup of coffee...

The quest to make the perfect cup of coffee at home seems to be never ending.  I have purchased so many coffee makers over the years that it's comical.  Each time I go to Europe, I'm amazed at how good the espressos are and come back with renewed energy to try to replicate the same in my house.
The most recent addition was a $30 device called the Aeropress.  Given the low price and strength of reviews, I figured it was worth a try.  After a number of weeks, I'm not impressed.  I've tried a number of different coffee beans and the only thing that has come close to producing a decent cup of coffee are the Starbucks dark roast beans.  But even that was no where close to the best cups I've had.  I'll likely use it to finish off the various beans that I have on hand and then it will be relegated to the basement where it joins a number of others.
Once that happens, the Philips Senseo becomes the primary coffee maker.  The coffee it produces isn't great, but it isn't terrible and its extremely easy, it heats up very quickly and there is no cleanup which are all huge plusses.  As a bonus, the water is a good temperature for green teas (though I prefer a bit hotter) and the serving size is perfect for instant oatmeal (though the oatmeal still needs a minute or so in the microwave).  I purchased a number of pods for it, hoping that one or more would produce that elusive perfect cup.  But this hasn't happened yet.  So, when all the pods are used up (which will be a while), it will be time for another decision - do I buy more pods?  Do I bring the Rancilio Silvia espresso maker back up from the basement?  Do I use the Santos vacuum pot?  Or do I start the search all over and look for something new?

Garmin Edge GPS Annoyance

With the bike in the shop, I decided to go for a run yesterday and thought it would be fun to bring the GPS along to track elevation, speed, etc.  I waited until I was outside before turning the unit on and gave it a few seconds to get a fix.  After about 30-seconds, it didn't have a fix, but I was ready to go so I figured I'd start running and it would eventually get everything sorted out in a minute or two.  Wrong. 
Apparently, the Garmin Edge 305 needs to be stationary while it tries to get its initial satellite lock.  Even moving at jogging speed seemed to put it into an endless search where it could never get a lock on more than 3 satellites.  I'm guessing the situation was made worse by the unit being turned off where the bike broke and then turned back on again about 20 miles away (I think its optimized to re-acquire satellites when turned back on in the same location it was last turned off).  Even so, you would think it would be able to get a lock on a nice clear day while moving at such a slow pace.
So, now there are 2 things to remember with this device.  Don't start moving until it has a satellite lock and remember to hit the start button when you want it to start tracking your movement. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Soccer World Cup

I'm not sure why, but I'm starting to get excited about this years World Cup.  Maybe its getting a lot more press than usual.  Maybe its a result of spending a few nights in various bars and pubs in Europe watching the games with the locals.  But, whatever the reason, I'm looking forward to seeing some good matches in the coming weeks.  The US vs. Italy game at 3pm on Sat the 17th should be great fun!  Hopefully the US can survive the group they're in and make it to the next round.  If not, I'm sure there will be another underdog that will be fun to root for.


After a frenzied few days of eBay bidding a week or two back, I have pretty much replaced all my pots & pans with All-Clad stainless and have to say that all the rave reviews are true!  I love them!  They are incredibly easy to cook with and cleanup is a breeze.  Although the stainless is dishwasher safe, the cleanup is so easy that I haven't bothered with the dishwasher. 
I've been preparing all kinds of meals over the last few days - pastas, steamed vegetables, chicken and much more.  With last nights dinner I set a new high for number of simultaneous burners going for a solo meal (ie, the annual Easter dinners don't count) with 3 items going at once (pasta, chicken and steamed spinach).
And, with cooking becoming fun rather than being a chore, I also did a pretty much wholesale replacement on spices that I probably first purchased when I moved to either Medford or Marblehead - meaning they were many, many years old.  Many of the jars contents had discolored over time due to the sun.  So, with the discovery of Penzeys Spices down the street in Arlington, I headed off to get fresh jars of the spices I use and tossed most of the others away. 

Asparagus - Update

Kind of an interesting follow-on to my last post on asparagus.  Every time I entered the downstairs bathroom, I noticed an odd smell after a minute or two - kind of smelled like something rotting or spoiled.  But, every time I tried to locate the source of the odor, I failed.  I was beginning to think it might be coming in through the open window.
Then I noticed a similar smell in the upstairs bathroom.  Perhaps there's something in the water?  Maybe they flushed the hydrants recently?
But then a light bulb went off - maybe I was the source of the odor.  Maybe it came from my urine and that I could never locate the source as I would always flush the toilet before starting the search.  I also thought about what might be different in my diet over the last few days - asparagus!
So, off to google to investigate.  Sure enough, google turned up that this is a very common side effect of eating asparagus.  Who knew!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bike Breakdown...

After a weekend of rain, today looked like it was going to be a nice day.  No rain, not to hot and only light winds.  Looked like a perfect day to attempt my first 100 mile ride.  So, after taking care of Nuke in the morning, I set out on the bike at about 9:30.  After a bit of reading over the weekend and analysis of my last ride, I planned to focus on cadence for this ride so I flipped the GPS to the view where the cadence RPM takes precedence.  The planned route is going to be similar to the 50 mile ride I did a few weeks back, except when I get to Concord, I'm going to head down route 62 towards Maynard for about an hour or so to add on the additional miles.
Everything is going great, but after I'm through Arlington, I happen to notice the calorie reading is still at 0.  Doh!  I forgot to hit start - even after telling myself over and over not to forget to hit start!  No worries, only about 3-4 miles of data lost.  I hit start and continue on - cadence target is 90 RPM which generally feels Ok, but its definitely putting me in gears a bit lower than I would naturally select to bring the RPMs up.
In Chelmsford (I think), I hit a top speed of 37.5 mph - definitely a lot of fun to be going this fast, but a bit scary as well as the bike seems to want to lift off the ground due to the wind.
I cross through West Concord center on 62, about 30 miles into the ride and feeling great.  But, as I pedal down after stopping at a stop light, the rear wheel locks up and the bike skids to a halt.  Luckily I either get my feet unclipped (or possibly never had time to clip them in) so I'm able to get my feet on the ground safely and take the bike onto the sidewalk.  I thought it was just the chain falling off.  Boy - was I wrong.  When I looked at the back wheel, it was pretty messed up.  Apparently the derailleur hangar snapped throwing the derailleur into the spokes and wedging the chain between the cog and the spokes.  A few of the chain links looked to be in pretty sad shape - one opened up completely.  Looks like it will be tough to fix given that I'm only carrying a few spare tubes and a multi-tool.  Good thing I decided to bring my wallet - it looks like I'll be in need of a taxi ride.
I ask a passing postman if there's a bikeshop nearby.  I doubt its a quick fix, but its worth a try.  He wasn't sure - but we agreed I should head back to West Concord and then Concord for my best shot at finding one.  I continue to struggle with the bike to free up the rear wheel so I'll at least be able to roll it.
As I'm doing this, another guy comes up and asks if I need help with the repairs.  When I show him what's wrong, he agreed its not something that he'd be able to help me with.  But, he then offered a ride.  Turns out he (Brian) runs a bike shop in Medford (JRA Cycles) and he was on his way there.  I took him up on the offer and tossed the bike into the back of his Honda Element (fun car, and perfect for hauling bikes around - his was in there as well).  In addition to running the bike shop, Brian is also an avid BMX racer and has also done various other forms of bike riding/racing in the past.  While I can't say the breakdown was good luck, I certainly was lucky to be seen by such an avid bike rider who was extremely gracious with his time and assistance.  I highly recommend you check out his shop in Medford.
Meanwhile, I bring mine back to Ace - although its probably a bit of a long shot, I've got to figure that either they or the manufacturers are partly responsible for such a major breakdown with less than 300 miles on the bike - either the part was faulty or the bike wasn't tuned properly when delivered.  We'll see what happens when I pick up the bike on Thursday.  For now, it looks like I'll be back on the trainer for the next few days...  And, my first 100 mile ride still eludes me. 

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ride Analysis

Originally uploaded by pdbreen.
I spent some time over the weekend playing with .Net and the GPS data captured by the Garmin Edge. The Training Center software that came with the unit is ok, but there were no options for dealing with the noisy data and it didn't offer the histogram support that Motion Based offers (which I thought was a useful way of slicing up the data).
Putting the pieces together was actually fairly easy. I found a charting control with some decent functionality and the data is exported as XML which .Net deals with quite readily. So, it was pretty much a matter of opening the XML document, reading the data, calculating derived data such as grade, speed and pace, applying whatever filters I wanted (I added options to change the sampling rate as well as applying a mean filter of various window sizes) and then binding the data to the graphs and tweaking the display options.
This resulted in the display pictured. Not too bad for a few hours of hacking. I'll probably try to get a sense if this is the type of thing that others would be interested in, and if yes, solicit feature ideas and turn it into a real application. Who knows, maybe I'll be back in the shareware business again...


Who knew?  After avoiding asparagus for most of my life, I'm realizing that it's actually very good.  I'm guessing the avoidance started simply based on the name that didn't sound appealing.  Plus, it looks different than other things I ate growing up.  But I'm guessing the most significant reason it's taken so long to like asparagus is that we never had it growing up.  It's funny how much you like / don't like (or think you don't like) is shaped by the influences when you're young.  I'm still impressed by how many coke/pepsi likes and dislikes are deeply rooted in what people drank growing up. 
In any case, I server asparagus at Easter simply because it was suggested on the menu I was basing the meal on.  I thought it tasted great.  And, there were no leftovers.  A few weeks later, I bought some more and cooked it in a similar fashion (saute with butter).  Again, very tasty.  Tonight I steamed some very fresh asparagus from Verrill Farm in Concord.  I added just a bit of salt and pepper and was amazed at how good it tasted.  So good that I finished it before the pasta was ready.  I've got another bunch ready for Sunday night.  If it's anything like tonight's, I'll be back at Verrill's to pick up more for the coming week.

Friday, June 02, 2006


One of the problems that I've found with not working is that its very easy to procrastinate.  Too easy.  There's never a rush to get anything done today as its always possible to do it tomorrow.  So, the projects that I hoped to be working on are still sitting idle.  My knowledge of Italian or Spanish has not increased.  The guitar has sat idle.  And I've yet to swing a golf club and attempt to re-train myself.
So, what have I been doing?  Well, I spend a lot more time preparing meals - nothing extravagant, but they definitely take more time than the prepared foods you toss in the microwave.  I've also moved my exercise time to during the day.  If the weather's nice, this means a bike ride in the morning or afternoon.  If its raining, then I'm on the trainer in the basement.  Shopping has filled a lot of the time as well.  Its not so much shopping at the traditional places, but going out to places that I've heard of or read about but have never been to before.  It takes a surprising amount of time to get around from place to place.  And, traffic starts getting bad as early as 3 or 4pm so I've ended up caught in traffic more than I'd like.  Reading the paper or the ever growing number of magazines that I receive also fills a good amount of time.  The remainder has been filled with informal consulting work for a few people - but nothing really time consuming or demanding at this point.  I'm happy to say that my TV viewing hasn't increased - the TV's never on during the day which is something I intend to stick with. 
I'm going to start creating a list of what I hope to accomplish each day and each week.  I'm hoping that adding a bit of structure will help ensure I spend time where I want to.  The conflict is that I still view myself as not having a job which means that I tend to treat everyday like Saturday.  So, I also need to convince myself that I do have a job - working for myself - and that I can't just wander from activity to activity - even when its really nice outside. 
We'll see what happens...

Four Vines 2003 Zinfandel

Four Vines was one of the exhibitors at the Nantucket Wine Festival.  The vendor (I believe he was the maker of the wines as well) was quite distinctive - he looked like he would be equally at home at a biker rally.  He actually fit the company image quite well.  They are doing things differently than others.  They make a "Naked" Chardonnay that never touches oak (quite good).  The blends are all given very distinctive names ("Anarchy", "Heretic").  They were passing out temporary tattoos.
In any case, one of the wines sampled was their Zinfandel.  This was one of very few that I looked for when I got back.  I've found it at a number of locations, but most recently spotted it at the Cambridge Trader Joe's for only $8.99/bottle (was as high as $11.99 at another location).  They had quite a few cases and were featuring it at the end of one of the aisles.  So run, don't walk, to Trader Joe's and pick up a bottle and give it try.  If you like it, head back and get several more! 

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Spelling Bee

So I just spent much of the last 2 hours watching the spelling bee - broadcast live for the first time.  Was fun to listen to the play by play announcers attempt to create drama and excitement.  But, somehow you found yourself rooting for one or another of the contestants for one reason or another.  Was a bit awkward having the parents on stage and then watching the reactions when there is a mistake.  At that age, I think those moments are best kept private (though most of the kids seemed to take the mistake in stride and the parents did seem supportive). 
All in all, it wasn't terrible - but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch again.  The documentaries that came out in the past few years were better able to develop the stories of those involved.  And the young age makes it uncomfortable to watch them fail (unlike Idol where it's Ok to laugh at the people making fun of themselves).

Pots & Pans

Not that the pots and pans I had were terrible, but the non-stick fry pans needed to be replaced and the Calphalon pots & pans were starting to tarnish or otherwise not look so great.  So, I first replaced all the fry pans with new Calphalon non-stick as it was on special.  I thought that would be the end of it.
But, All-Clad had a booth at the wine festival and I was talking with the rep.  I asked him to guide me through what seems to be an incredibly crowded world of pots and pans.  He asked one question.  Would I ever want to throw the pot/pan in the dishwasher.  The answer was definitely yes (had already done this with the Calphalon goods even though it was clearly stated that this was a mortal sin).  He said the All-Clad stainless line was the way to go - with a stainless interior and exterior (along with the aluminum core for even heat).  This line could be put in the dishwasher (though hand wash was still recommended). 
I stopped at a bunch of places, but the prices were high and the selection seemed limited.  Somehow I ended up on eBay - probably the result of a Google search.  Suddenly - the selection and prices seemed a lot better.  But could the eBay sellers be trusted?  I found a few that seemed to have a wide range of All-Clad for sale.  I then focused on the few that had extremely positive feedback. 
The first purchase was a chef's pan.  Bidding picked up at the tail end of the auction.  The competitive spirit often kicks in at this point - you want to beat the other bidders regardless of cost.  Kind of strategy/mind game thing.  In any case, I didn't get totally caught up in this, but did end up winning at a decent price. 
The pan arrived about 2 days later - sooner than I expected.  Everything appeared authentic - from the box, to the shrink wrap to the inspector tag and warranty card.  Visual inspection also looked good and authentic.  So, over the past week I added the 9-pc set and a 2-qt and 6-qt saute pans.  If nothing else, it definitely looks a lot better than what I had before.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with the old Calphalon.

Lawn Woes

I think this is my third spring in Cambridge, but this year the grass in the back yard decided to play dead.  Really dead.  It actually looks like someone intentionally killed it all.  Or the vast majority.  The "front yard" is still fine.  As is most of the side between the deck and the fence.  There's also one corner in the far back that is still growing (surprisingly, this is the spot that Nuke favored last year, all winter and all spring). 
I'm doing what I think I can to help encourage the green to come back.  So, I made the following changes for this year.  First, I changed fertilizers - the early spring was a Scott's crabgrass preventer blend that is made for this time of year.  If nothing else, I'll have less of the crabgrass that took over at the end of last year.  Today, I picked up a weed & feed at Mahoney's - this will likely go on tomorrow (weather permitting).  Second, I aerated the lawn using one of those manual aerators (does 2 plugs at a time).  In some spots it seemed like the soil was extremely compacted - I'm thinking this might be part of the problem as Nuke and I may have compressed the dirt too much for the grass to grow.  And, finally, I am now bagging the grass clippings instead of mulching.  This seems counter to all that I've read, but I figured I'd keep up with the fertilizer for this year so the bagging would eliminate any chance of the thatch being the cause of the problem.
There are a few scattered tufts of grass in what was once barren.  Hopefully I can coax them into filling out the remainder of the lawn.  If not, I'll likely take drastic measures in the fall (or spring) and attempt to reseed a big portion of the yard. 

Unicorn Magnum Plus Peppermill

Is it normal to get excited about a peppermill?  Since fresh foods are becoming a bigger part of my diet, pepper has also returned in force.  I've always had a peppermill around, but when used only once or twice a month, you can be quite forgiving on its performance.  Now, I'm using pepper pretty much every lunch and dinner and often on multiple dishes.  The inability of the mill to reliably produce pepper was a growing frustration.
While I was on Nantucket, I noticed big ads in the local paper for pepper mills - specifically, something called the Pepperstick.  I thought this was odd - big ads for pepper mills?  So, I ventured into the 2 gourmet shops on the island that sold them.  I looked and touched - but did see anything special so I left without purchasing.
When I got home, I did a bit of Internet research and wouldn't you know?  The company that makes Pepperstick (Unicorn) is based on Nantucket and they have a number of other pepper mills, some of which have gotten phenomenal reviews.  So, I placed an order for the Magnum salt mill and the Magnum Plus (larger capacity) pepper mill.  They arrived today and after loading them up and giving them a try, I can't believe I put up with lousy mills for as long as I did.
If you use a lot of fresh ground pepper, you should check this product out.

Mangoes and Fried Yam Recipe

As I mentioned earlier, one thing I love about the Boston Organics deliveries is that I'm getting stuff that I would have never bought otherwise.  This week the delivery included a mango and yams (among other things). 
I never bought a mango before and am fairly sure I've never had one growing up (unless it was at a restaurant).  This brings up a lot of questions.  Should you store it cold?  Or room temperature?  How do you know if its ripe?  And, how do you eat it?  For the answer to the last question I went online and believe it or not, found an eHow page that describes how to eat a mango.  Guess it's a bit tricky.  Actually - it's easy, but I never would have figured it out on my own.  And, guess what - the mango was great!  I've already purchased another today...
Yams look a lot like potatoes so I figured they would be prepared and served in a similar fashion.  But, looking up recipes turned up many where yams were only a part of a bigger recipe - not a side dish all there own.  A bit more searching and I did turn up a baked fry (oxymoron?) recipe which I made last night (fairly standard - olive oil plus a bunch of spices, place in the oven at 425 for about 20-30 minutes, turning over halfway through).  They turned out good enough.
Tonight I ventured out on my own with the remaining yam and figured I'd slice it into round chips and then fry/saute it in olive oil and garlic.  A fairly basic, Italian approach to most foods.  I had no idea how the flavors would mix and what it would taste like.  I hoped for the best.  After soaking the slices in water (have no idea if this is necessary, but the eggplant I cooked this way seemed to drink the olive oil so I figured having the yams drink some water first couldn't hurt), I put them in the pan with the garlic.  I stirred occasionally, but for the most part let them simmer on medium/low heat with the cover on.  After about 20 minutes - they were very tender and breaking apart when stirred.  I figured this meant done and I served with salt and pepper.  it wasn't bad!  I actually enjoyed it and would likely make the same thing again in the future.