New Year’s Eve 2010

Susanna and I hosted another dinner party for NYE this year.

I’ve gotten into the tech side of cooking this year, and wanted to bring some of that new knowledge to bear, while still making sure everything was still just plain delicious, instead of gimmicky.

The evening began with a cocktail of prosecco with St. Germain and strawberries.

This was followed up with an amuse bouche I called The Sun and the Moon. Both portions of this dish were made possible only with new cooking technology, aka “modernist cuisine” (often called molecular gastronomy, but this is a name most chefs who practice the art now dislike).

The sun was a deep fried egg yolk, based on this recipe (I also built my immersion circulator based on his design and help). First, I cooked the eggs at 65.5C for one hour to cook the yolk perfectly. Then I cracked open the eggs and carefully rinsed away the runny whites. I breaded with flour, eggwash, and then panko with cayenne, paprika, and salt, then deep fried at a rather hot 360F until golden brown (that hot to keep the yolks from setting further).

The moon was spherified buffalo mozzarella, based on a recipe from here. First, I mixed buffalo mozzarella with cream, salt, and calcium lactate gluconase, then froze this into spheres. I dropped the frozen balls into a sodium alginate bath for two minutes each, which encapsulated the mixture into a perfect little sphere.

I plated the moons with a really nice grassy olive oil, salt, and basil chiffonade, and the suns with lemon zest.

For the salad course, we went from high tech modern cookery to old school supper club… a classic wedge salad (sorry, no pictures of the finished product). Homemade blue cheese dressing (with three kinds of blue cheese), plus french dressing (I think this is a Wisconsin tradition) on a quarter of a head of iceberg. Thinly sliced red onion and scallion, plus bacon.

For the main course, the vegetarian option (and carnivore side dish) was a sweet potato curry with coconut basmati rice, and mint chutney.

The meat eaters also got a blue cheese crusted tenderloin steak. The night before I butchered a whole beef tenderloin into individual steaks. I seasoned and seared them then put them in individual ziploc bags with a pat of butter.

The day of the party, an hour before serving, I dropped them into the immersion circulator at 54.5C (perfect medium rare). To plate, I took them out, seared again, then topped with a mixture of panko, blue cheese (again), and fresh parsley. I broiled under a hot broiler until the cheese melted. While under the broiler, I headed up a red wine reduction in the hot pan I used to sear, then blended it. I then plated the steaks with a swirl of the reduction.

This picture is actually from two days later, the one bit of leftover steak (I’d made one extra). It doesn’t really do the original dish justice, but you can see how the meat is a nice medium rare throughout.

The dessert was a clone of Roy’s chocolate souffle. I made it with mostly Santander single origin chocolate 65% I happened to have on hand, with a little Valrhona 71% to make up the shortfall.  I plated this with a raspberry reduction I’d done earlier topped with some powdered sugar. I’d done a last minute attempt at a Tia Maria whipped cream, but it didn’t turn out.

After all of this, I then settled into some serious New Year’s Eve drinking, and it all went much too late for this old man!

More pictures are up here (many thanks to Ryan Murphy for all of the shots after serving began!).

RIP Marleygirl (1998-2010)

In the end, it was her being unable to push her hind legs upright last night that finally made it clear it was time. For some days now, she’d been laboring more and more to breathe, and was urinating in the house (more than usual, anyway), all signs she wasn’t well. But when she finally couldn’t get herself off the floor, my heart broke, and I called the vet this morning.

It’s been almost a month now since she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a condition that comes on suddenly in otherwise healthy dogs, and that’s exactly what happened with Marley. I came home from a business trip and found her unwell, with swelling lymph nodes.

She was so sick that it didn’t seem like she would last a couple of days, but a steroid (prednisone) helped her a lot for the past few weeks. She was back to her old bad-dog ways… underfoot in the kitchen, and helping herself to “counter treats”. But even the drug stopped helping her so much in the past few days.

She was an adoptee from the UW Vet School, where she was a lab dog. Basically, she was a research subject for testing drugs, and had the marks on her side to show for it where she’d had biopsies taken over her four years there.

When I adopted her, she was a complete basket case. Every new stimulus was new and frightening, and she would start shivering in fear at the drop of a hat. I remember an early walk that Suz and I took her on. She had her nose to the ground (she always loved smells most of all) smelling all of this new world she was being exposed to. She looked up as we were passing a tricycle sitting idle in someone’s yard. Terrified, she jumped sideways as far as she could away from it, out into the street.

This is one of the earliest pictures I have of Marley, from a camping trip in 2002. She would have been four here, just weeks after I adopted her:

Eventually, she became a mostly normal dog. While she never was one of those dogs who slobbered you with kisses, she did learn to enjoy human attention and companionship. And she never lost her passion for smells, and especially the best way to cram those smells down her hound snout, which is by sticking her head out the car window.

She never barked; I can think of maybe 3 times in 8 years that I heard her bark. However, when prompted, she did love to howl. I just dug up an old video from 2003, the year after we adopted her:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS2s-0exAZE[/youtube]

When she first had to put on an e-collar (her first I think when we had her fixed), she was completely frozen by it. By the time of this video, she’d actually figured out how to move a little bit.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTwgWAru8M0[/youtube]

And is one of the last photos of Marley, from today:

Good bye, old girl.

Pool Table For Sale

Alas, it appears I have to part with the pool table I’ve owned for the last decade or so. I hate to, because if I ever have the room again for one in my home, I’ll never buy one this nice.

This is an Olhausen Drake II three piece slate table with upgraded solid oak side rails and legs. Made in the USA. Oak. Ornately carved legs.

Here’s an example of a lesser version of this table being sold new for over $2500: http://www.seyberts.com/products/Drake_II_Olhausen_Pool_Table-100574-10116.html

Full size (not a tiny bar table, but the size you would rent in a good billiards hall). Distance between bumpers is 46″ by 92″. Outside length is about 56″ x 102″ and 31.5″ high.

A full complement of accessories included:

– Set of 16 balls.

– Both 8-ball and 9-ball racks.

– Complete set of cues… 15, 17, 19, and 21 ounce, plus bridge and stubby cue for tight spaces.

– Wall mounted cue holder.

– Cue chalk and hand chalk.

– Vinyl cover.

– Wall mounted score keeper and rattle cup for pool variants.

The table is in beautiful condition; a couple of minor nicks and scratches that you would expect, but otherwise in perfect condition. All of the wood is still beautiful.

The only concern with condition is it still has the original cloth (felt) from 20 years ago. I would highly recommend replacing it with the newer style, faster, cloth. In the process you can change it to whatever color you prefer, instead of the tan that it is now.

I am happy to help you break this down and load it up, so you can see how it is built (really pretty simple). Be warned, though… each of the three pieces of slate is over 200 pounds. There are also professional moving services available, which I would recommend for anyone not mechanically inclined.

I am currently asking $999, which I believe this an excellent price for a table of this quality.

If you have any questions about it or would like to check it out, please email me at john@johnstewart.com.

More pictures here.

Dumbass Cheeseheads

(One note: I am a Cheesehead, even if I am ashamed sometimes)

I will not be as vitriolic as I was the last time Wisconsin politics disappointed me so much, but fer fuck’s sake, people, why did you let this happen?

FiveThirtyEight is predicting a 97% chance Russ Feingold will lose tonight, and if he does, it will be against a huge damnned douchenozzle.

When I saw the first ad for Ron Johnson, it was so completely packed with lies about Feingold, that I assumed it was a third party attack ad. Instead, at the end, the candidate appeared, saying it was paid for and approved by him.

You, sir, sicken me.

Feingold visits every Wisconsin county every year.

Feingold does not accept pay raises. He has returned over $70,000 in salary and $3.2 million in office expenses back to the state.

He raised money mostly from small donors, and has asked outside groups not to run negative ads against his opponent, who has refused to do anything in kind.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, because he actually read it.

He voted against the Communications Decency Act in 1996 because of its Constitutional infringements. It was later stuck down 9-0 as unconstitutional.

He was one of only 23 senators to oppose the Iraq War.

Feingold served our country well, and I hope we don’t decide tonight to trade him for a lying prick.

Edit: FUCK. You let a millionaire buy his way to a Senate seat with nothing more than bullshit.

Guest Bathroom Remodel

On the left is what the guest bathroom looked like when we moved in. This spring, we finally got around to updating it. We were going to try and rip out just the rightmost cabinet and squeeze in a shower kit. However, nothing really fit well, and it became obvious that we would also have to tear out the vanity.

Given that, it freed us up to design whatever we wanted. I always had an affinity for glass block, so I wanted to see if I could make that work as a shower wall.

It turns out Pittsburgh-Corning has a Sketchup library which allows you to design using all of the shapes they have available. I played around with this until we had a design that fit the space how we wanted; a screenshot of the final design is on the right:

Lake Mendota 011.jpg Guest Bathroom Curve 4 Tile Pedestal.png

Ripped out to the studs; the work begins. I’m committed now! On the right, after the plumber has finished installing the drain and supply lines, and laying out the glass block to know the dimension to build the pan.

IMG_7774.JPG IMG_7803.JPG

The shower pan was built by a separate contractor (this and the plumbing being the only jobs I farmed out on this project:

IMG_7817.JPG IMG_7821.JPG

Tile on the shower pan and the curb, to make a nice even base for the glass block:

IMG_7999.JPG IMG_8001.JPG

The first row of glass block goes on. I built this using, instead of mortar, the “ProVantage” system. Basically, it consists of using silicone to glue the blocks together with plastic spacers:

IMG_8011.JPG IMG_8017.JPG

The block is up, and Augie helps me remove the shims I used to get the block completely level as the silicone cured up:

IMG_8057.JPG IMG_8072.JPG

Drywall seaming and then grout going into the glass block. Until the grout was in, the glass block wall was jiggly like Jell-O. After the grout, it’s solid as a rock:

IMG_8096.JPG IMG_8133.JPG

I put a shelf in over the protrusion of the concrete foundation wall, which had a slanted top. Now it’s quite usable as a surface. First coat of primer is up:

IMG_8282.JPG IMG_8283.JPG

The first coat of real paint is on the wall, and the tile work on the shower walls begins:

IMG_8302.JPG IMG_8306.JPG IMG_8343.JPG

Toilet goes back in, grout complete in shower:

IMG_8362.JPG IMG_8466.JPG

And here are the final shots with the vanity installed and all grout/caulk completed:

IMG_8467.JPG IMG_8470.JPG

IMG_8473.JPG

All in all, it was a hell of a lot of work, but a hell of a lot cheaper than having it done by someone else… and a lot more satisfying.

Stiltsville Soon

In less than three months, Stiltsville will be on bookstore shelves (August 3rd).

Susanna is already a writer, an author. But this gives us an actual artifact to prove it.

She’s been doing more frequent blog postings as the publication date approaches; the world of publishing is a lot more interesting that I’d thought it would be, and every day is a little more exciting.

Soon after publication, Augie and I will be joining her on her whirlwind book tour (consisting of only seven dates as of now, but we hope that will expand). We’re still trying to find a bookstore she can read at in Key West to give us an excuse to head down there.

Please check out her book blog.

Nuclear Energy in Wisconsin

I saw a sticker on the front of this week’s Isthmus, the free local weekly here in Madison. It reads:

Opposed to higher electricity bills?

Tell state legislators to KEEP our law governing new nuclear reactor construction in Wisconsin.

Oppose SB340 AB516

Call 608/250-9240 for more info or visit http://www.wnpj.org/cfnf to write a letter to your legislator opposing new nuclear power.

I visited the site, and they oppose repeal of a current Wisconsin law which requires a federal facility (a la Yucca Mountain) before any new nuclear plants can be built in Wisconsin.

For various reasons, this is silly. I think it’s a real shame that so many years ago that various environmental and anti-war movements linked in their own minds nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

I am opposed to the latter, but recognize, as anyone who takes a reasoned look at the issue, that nuclear power is the only reliable, clean, and safe technology we have right now to generate electricity.

There has never been a single death associated with nuclear energy in this country. Despite the hysteria over Three Mile Island, that incident did show that the safeguards put in place, the layers of protection, worked. No one was killed.

Today technology is much better, and we could build even safer, cheaper, reactors.

The waste issue is an important one, but also one we can solve. In fact, it does make more sense in many ways to store spent fuel in various distributed sites rather than in a central repository.

Furthermore, the total volume and mass of the waste is tiny in comparison to the volume and mass of, for example, the carbon emitted into the atmosphere by coal and gas plants.

The hippy-dippy types like to think we can get all of our energy from wind, solar, and hydrodynamic technology. It can be a part of the portfolio, but those technologies will simply not meet our needs, and they also come with their own set of unintended consequences (wind farms killing huge numbers of birds, for example).

What this means is that for the past 20 years, we’ve been building coal plants instead of nuclear plants. The pollution from such plants is terrible, and the human cost to mine the fuel is also high – the average is around 30 per year, even with modern safety equipment.

With all of that in mind, I used the WPNJ links to send this to my state representatives instead of the anti-nuke screed they drafted for me:

I am writing as a supporter of nuclear energy. I came to this page through an ad in my local weekly opposing AB 516 / SB 340.

However, I think the view opposing nuclear energy is misguided and not supported by the facts.

It is our cleanest way of generating reliable electricity, and should be pursued aggressively to help limit our carbon emissions. There has never been a single death associated with nuclear energy in the United States.

Please do what you can to end the restriction preventing the development of new nuclear plants in Wisconsin. Don’t let irrational fears stop the best source of energy we current have available.

I suggest you do the same.