Thursday, December 31, 2009


While on vacation, we've been eating out at a lot of really cool restaurants, and I've found that going to new places and eating at new restaurants is surpirisingly inspring. There is so much that I want to cook when I get home, and I don't want to forget these ideas:

  • Make homemade malted vanilla ice cream, with real vanilla bean and maybe a little booze of some kind...
  • Figure out how to make a really good chocolate lava cake
  • Figure out how to make a truly good veggie burger patty
  • Cheese Fondue... Pancetta, white wine, and lots O' cheese
  • Linguini and clams with cream and homemade pasta
  • Try making malt vinegar salt for french fries... I'm thinking salt soaked in venegar and then dried out in a low oven...
  • Cure your own bacon
I think I'm going to need to start exercising when I get home :(

Here are a few more pictures from our trip....

Monday, December 28, 2009


Haven't had much time to post lately, but here are some postcards from our recent adventures.....

Thursday, December 24, 2009


It's finally here! The best meal of my year is coming up tonight! We'll be having a traditional Italian seafood dinner, complete with marinated crab, octopus salad, stuffed squid, and seafood pasta. There will also be shrimp, calamari, a salted cod, and all kinds of other culinary delights.

This is my favorite day of the entire year.... Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Up until recently, I had been naive about the importance of good charcoal. I had somehow been programmed to believe that Kingsford was the only way to go, but I had no idea how wrong I was!!!

There is an entire world of charcoal out there, and it seems that Kingsford is probably the least good of them all (unless you're allergic to flavor).

Kingsford charcoal seems to be made to burn very cleanly, which I think is its downfall. The briquettes I've been getting lately pop and smoke and sizzle, which adds up to lots of that delicious smoky flavor I'm looking for when I'm barbecuing. If I wanted clean burning, I'd get propane and not bother with the coals. The other thing I've noticed is that the Kingsford doesn't get nearly as hot as the other stuff. I think this is because they add corn starch and other fillers to get cleaner burning coals.

I plan to write an entire post about all the different types of charcoal you can buy, but for now, just try straying from the Kingsford world, by buying all natural hardwood briquettes. (I've been getting mine at Trader Joe's) I guarantee the new charcoal will give you that extra bit of flavor that has been missing with the old standby.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


If you know anything about me, you know that I like to cook food slowly. The more elaborate and time consuming a recipe is, the more interested I become with making and eating it. One of the tastiest and easiest ways to give slow food a try is to make tasty tasty carnitas.

Don't worry too much about the ingredient amounts you use. You can modify the spices to suit your taste, and it should come out just fine. Make sure you have a friend or two, a few movies, and some mexican beers along for the ride. This is pretty hard to mess up, so man up, drive yourself to the nearest butcher, buy the biggest piece of pork you can find, and settle in for day of meaty anticipation.

3-4 pounds Pork Butt (or Pork Shoulder, its the same thing...bone in is just as good as the de-boned variety except that the bone in version will cook a little faster)
Kosher Salt (Try not to dwell on the irony for too long here)
Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Minced Garlic
6 Limes (at least)
  • Heat your oven to 500.
  • Rinse the pork off with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.
  • Rub equal amounts of the spices onto all sides of the meat. Just eyeball it. You want a nice healthy layer of spices here.
  • Rub minced garlic all over the meat... again, just use your own judgement on the amount, and please, please, DO NOT buy pre-minced garlic in a jar. I don't know what they make that stuff from, but that is not garlic.
  • Put your happy, massaged meat into a deep pan that hugs the meat pretty closely. Think pork hot tub, not pork swimming pool.
  • Squeeze two of the limes over the meat, and put it in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Turn the heat down to 275 and let your masterpiece cook for about 8 hours. This time is just an estimate. It takes what it takes, so don't stress if it is taking longer or done sooner. 
  • Baste the meat every 30 minutes with its own juices, as well as a fresh squeeze of lime juice. Use about 1/4 of a lime or so for every basting.
  • Around the 6 hour mark, you might develop a bond with the pork. Don't resist the temptation to name it, as this is perfectly normal.
  • Towards the end, you can keep your bastings at 30 minutes, but if you really want to go for it, start basting every 20 minutes, then every 15.
  • You'll know that its done when the meat has slowly expanded slightly, and then shrinks. You should be able to easily shred it with a fork.
  • Shred the meat into a bowl, and add the drippings to taste.
  • Whenever you're ready to eat, re-fry the meat in hot vegetable oil. Don't turn it too much here... Just let it sit, then flip it all when it is nice and brown (Think...pancake, not scrambled egg). You'll probably need to do this in a few batches.
  • Serve with tortillas, fresh salsa, and beans.
  • Try not to cry when you taste that first succulent bite... trust me, its embarrassing for everyone in the room.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I fully expected to be well on my way towards some completed entertainment center doors by now, but all I have is a pile of materials, and a full schedule. If I'm going to stay excited about my woodworking projects for the long haul, I need to face some realities. There are two things about working in the garage that I always forget, the first of which is that it takes A LOT of time.

I don't have the amazing shop, or the high end tools that I would like to have, and even if I did, I wouldn't have the space for that kind of stuff in my 1 car garage that houses three boats, a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, and a workbench. As a result, I end up doing most tasks by hand, and making a lot of things as I go. For example, during my last project (an entertainment center), I had to build a miniature router table to finish the job, and since I didn't have a table saw, I had to cut every piece with a jigsaw and true the cuts with a handplane. (I have a circular saw, which would have been perfect, but my poorly wired garage can't handle the 15 amps it needs to run).

For my next project, (entertainment center doors) I need to build a sled and featherboards for my new hand me down miniature table saw, and should really update my workbench so that it has some real clamping power. The reality is, my new project will take at least twice as long as I expect it to take, if not longer, because of all the extra stuff I'm going to need to do along the way, above and beyond the project itself.

The second problem is that I don't have A LOT of time. When I'm working on a project, I'll usually spend an hour or two a couple weeknights a week, and maybe a full day on a weekend once in a while. This, combined with the first problem, means that if I'm not careful, I could be working on my next project for a few months, and it is hard to stay excited about something simple for that long.

So, what am I to do? I think, first, I need to find ways to be more efficient by finding permanent ways to squeeze more capabilities out of my tiny garage. Secondly, I need to use my time more wisely and put some normally wasted time to good use getting these projects moving. If I can get through these doors I NEED to build, I'm hoping that the genuine excitement I have for my other projects will keep me motivated for a long time to come.

I'm definitely asking Santa for a bigger garage this year.......

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It's all well and good having a steak recipe, but if you don't know how to pick a good steak, it can only help so much. Realizing that I really didn't understand the finer points of selecting a quality steak, I decided to do a little research into the matter. I found a lot of interesting facts that will definitely help me out next time I'm staring at the meat case looking for a hunk of beef:

The three most popular cuts of steak are the fillet (or tenderloin), the ribeye, and the New York (or strip).....Which cut should I buy? 

It seems that, in general, there is a balance between tenderness and flavor. A fillet is going to be the most tender, but it is also the most lean, so it has the least flavor. The New York is somewhere in the middle, and the ribeye will be the juiciest and most flavorful, but will also be a bit tougher than the other two. If you're having some trouble with indecision, you could also go for a t-bone or porterhouse, which will have a piece of fillet on the small side, and a piece of New York on the large side, separated by a bone. Personally, flavor is the most important factor, and I don't find ribeye to be too tough, so it is my personal favorite.

So... I'm gonna try for a ribeye (unless there is a really good deal on one of the other types), but what do I look for when I'm buying it?
  • Marbling - You want lots of fine flecks and thin ribbons of fat in the meat.  Avoid thick lines of fat running through the meat. More marbling means more juiciness and more flavor after the meat is cooked.
  • Grade - the grade is more or less tied in with the marbling. The grades are Prime, Choice, and Select, in that order. The markets will try to trick you by using brand names like "rancher's reserve", or by using the word "prime" elsewhere on the packaging, so look for the grade labeled inside the USDA shield, and ignore everything else.
This picture from the USDA shows prime, choice, and select from left to right...notice the difference in marbling. If you want to save money, but have an amazing steak, the goal is to try for a steak that is just shy of being graded up a level. Alternatively, if you're gonna shell out for the prime, make sure it is at the high end of prime, and didn't just barely get into the club....

  • Thickness - At least 1" thick, and uniform. Uneven steaks don't cook evenly. I like to buy extra thick steaks for the people who like their steak rare and thinner steaks for those that like it more well done. This way, they all cook the same amount of time and come out right for everyone.

  • Aging - If you can find it (and want to pay extra), dry aged beef is going to be much more flavorful than your normal supermarket meat. If they have it at the market, it will probably be in the butcher case and not pre-packaged. Dry aging allows the enzymes in the meat to tenderize the meat and concentrate the flavors making a better tasting steak.
  • Color - You want vibrant medium red to dark pink... not ruby red, not dark, and definitely not gray.
If you want the perfect steak, it is going to cost a lot. Avoid the supermarket...You should go to a specialty butcher or specialty market, and use your new steak knowledge to make sure you're not getting swindled. Don't buy a shrink wrapped piece of meat. A really quality steak will come wrapped in butcher paper and cut to order.

If you want a reasonable steak for dinner, take your time, examine each steak carefully, and use your new know-how to pick out the best ones.

A couple other quick pointers I ran across while figuring all this out:
  • A perfect rare steak will be at 125 degrees in the center.
  • Don't trim the fat or the bone before cooking. These help keep the steak moist and add flavor. You can trim the steak after cooking if you want to.
  • Never grill a cold steak. Let them come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I just realized something that I had long forgotten.... The whole reason I got interested in baking bread in the first place was that I wanted to recreate the perfect panettone.

It all started when my Aunt gave me a panettone for Christmas one year. It had thick ribbons of creamy Gianduia zig zagging through the whole thing, and was just hands down delicious. It was so darn good, I even saved the label from the box along with all our Christmas stuff. The following year, I set about finding it, and discovered, to my absolute horror, that the company that made it no longer sold that flavor. I was devastated, and then and there vowed to one day recreate that glorious masterpiece in my own kitchen.

I wasn't much of a baker, and it seemed like you kind of had to know what you were doing to make a really good panettone that wasn't just a cheap knockoff, so I decided to hone my skills on some easier recipes. I got so excited about making just plain old bread that I only tried making the panettone one time. It was good, but it wasn't panettone. I got frustrated and forgot the whole endeavour, but no more! My vow must be kept!

I'm already running out of time this year, as Christmas is fast approaching, but the hunt for my white whale of a panettone must go on...

Friday, December 18, 2009


I feel like the extended warranty thing is getting a bit out of control. I bought a barbecue at Lowe's a few nights ago (I finally got a Weber kettle of my own!), and they offered me a one year protection plan for an extra ten bucks. This really caught me off guard... (I thought these things were only offered at electronics stores) and I actually considered it for a half second before my better judgement kicked in. I already thought these plans were bogus, but this really opened my eyes to what a rip off they can really be.

First of all, and most obviously, it was a charcoal barbecue... If that thing was destroyed within a year, what the heck were they selling me anyways? Shouldn't I get a year's use out of a good barbecue with no questions asked?

Second, I was buying a Weber barbecue, and I knew that Weber already provided their own 2 year the heck were they trying to sell me? Have big corporations finally just conceded to ripping us off right out in the open?

How long is it going to be before we're offered protection plans on milk, or paper, or t-shirts???

As you can see, the whole principal of this thing really disturbed me for some reason. I'm just hoping my uninsured barbecue will hold together long enough to smoke some brisket so that I can get rid of this bitter taste I was left with.....

Thursday, December 17, 2009


If a mexican restaurant makes their own tortillas, it does something to people that makes them crazy. You can hear it in their voices..."They make their own tortillas at that place!!" But, if fresh tortillas are so good, why do so few people make them at home?

I first learned how to make tortillas in college, from my mexican roommate. We used maseca, lard, baking soda, and a whole slew of other ingredients. It was a bit of a pain, and you had to know what you were doing to get them to come out right... no wonder noone makes them!

Fortunately, I found a better way. It is a bit of a shortcut, which I am usually against, but these actually come out better than the more difficult version, so I am all for it. The key is instant corn masa, which they sell in the ethnic aisle at most markets:

It's pretty simple, and you can just follow the directions on the bag, but I don't follow the recipe exactly.

First things first, though... if you want this to be easy enough to do regularly, you're going to need a tortilla press. You should be able to buy one at most large mexican markets. The main thing to look for is to make sure that the press is flat and closes evenly. There is nothing worse than a tortilla press that makes your tortillas skinny on one side and fat on the other. Look for strong hinges and overall sturdiness.

Before you mix your masa, cut out a piece of plastic (I like using a trash bag because it is a little thicker, but you can use produce bags, grocery bags, whatever...) to fit the press plates. This helps you get the tortillas out in one piece.

You'll also want to preheat the pan that you're going to cook the tortillas on. It should be dry, and at a medium high heat. I like to use a big, flat, non-stick skillet

Now, you can mix the masa. For two people, I usually use 1 cup of instant masa and throw in a large pinch of salt... it's not real critical. Here's where I deviate from the recipe on the bag. I use fairly warm water, and I usually use more than the recipe calls for. For some reason, the water amount never comes out the same, so this is just something you have to get a feel for. Basically, I make the tortillas as wet as I can while still being able to peel the tortillas out of the press.

Roll your masa into little balls, about the size of a ping pong ball (I get about 6 balls per 1 cup of dry maseca). Place a ball in the center of the press and press it. You can press real hard for thinner tortillas, but I like mine a little bit thicker, so I don't give it my all.

Peel the top layer of plastic back, flip the tortilla (still stuck to the plastic) face down in your right palm, and peel the plastic off its back with your left hand (if you're right handed). If you mess up, don't panic, just re-ball it and do it again. If the masa is too wet, it will dry out after a few tries and be just right. It is also a good idea to cover the waiting masa balls with a wet towel to keep them from drying out while you cook the others.

Flip your pressed tortilla onto the hot pan, and let it sit for about 45 seconds or so. It will stick to the pan at first, but as it cooks, it should be easy to slide around in the pan. Test with your fingertips, but don't force it. A few seconds after it slides easily, flip it over and let it sit on the other side for about 30 seconds to a minute.  Flip it back to the orginal side, and let it sit a bit longer. (The idea here is to form a skin on each side of the tortilla to trap steam trying to escape from the raw middle, so that the tortilla blows up like a balloon) At this point, if you have your heat and moisture right, the tortilla should start to bubble. Keep the tortilla moving with your fingertips... spin it, slide it around, etc.

You also want to press down around the edges to help seal them and trap the steam that is trying to escape. Also gently push and pat the bubbles that form to coax them into spreading and separating the tortilla.

If everything is perfect, you should get a beautiful tortilla balloon. Flip it a couple times until it is browned how you llike it, and place the hot tortilla in a folded towel. keep repeating until you run out of masa.

If the tortillas crack, don't bubble, or are stiff, you need more water and/or your heat is wrong. Just keep adjusting, and you'll get it. Also, the tortillas all steam each other in the towel, so even the dry ones usually come out just fine.

Now, you can eat this plain with butter, with your favorite taco fixuns, or deep fried for the ultimate tortilla chip... Give it a try, and I guarantee store bought tortillas will never be quite as good.....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I really enjoy a good cup of coffee, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. I've got my tastes narrowed down a bit, though, so I figure I ought to get this down before I forget. I haven't really settled on a type of coffee that I like to the point that I have stopped experimenting, but I do know that, in general, I tend to enjoy the darker end of the spectrum. Lately, though, Kona roasts seem to stand out a bit as a frontrunner for me, but I've still got a lot of experimenting to do. I'm not usually a big fan of flavored coffees, and take my coffee black. I brew my coffee at home via one of two methods...

The first method I use is pretty routine. We have a nice new Cuisinart coffe maker with a gold tone filter. I do a fairly fine grind on the coffee beans and add 3 Tbsp of grounds, along with 12 oz. of water. Cuisinart does the rest. This method seems to get me a single, perfect cup of coffee every morning, but there is just no excitement or satisfaction in it for me.

If I'm really feeling the need for something a bit stronger in the morning, or just in a rush, I'll reach for my Bialetti Brikka, which may very well be the coolest possible way to make espresso at home. It gives espresso that is about twice as strong as my normal Moka pot, and produces a nice sweet foam (kind of like creama) on the top of the espresso, all with a time investment of under three minutes. It does all this by doubling the pressure in the pot with a little weighted stopper.

I turn the hottest burner on the stove to high, add water to the line inside the pot, and use a medium coarse grind to loosely fill the filter. I set the whole contraption on the hot burner with the lid open, and about 1 minute later, the pressure in the pot overcomes the little weight inside, and an espresso explosion rocks the kitchen. I immediately pour the espresso in a teeny little cup, and take myself to coffee heaven. There is really no more exciting way to experience coffee short of having it shot out of a cannon into your mouth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I'm convinced that Paula Deen is trying to kill me and everyone in my family. I came to this reallization slowly, but it is all making sense now....

First, it was the Krispy Kreme burger, a 1/2 pound burger topped with cheese, bacon, and a fried egg, all encased in a glazed donut bun. I thought, "wow, this lady is sick," but I let it go at that without too much further thought.

A little while later, I came across her deep fried stuffing sticks... buttery stuffing full of breakfast sausage, pressed around a stick, and deep fried like a corn dog. I wondered, "how is this lady even alive right now? That does sound pretty tasty, though..."

I started to get suspicious when deep fried mac and cheese came on the scene. Giant squares of already heart stoppingly delicious mac and cheese are wrapped with bacon, coated in cracker crust, and deep fried. My conscience said, "wow, that actually sounds kind of good, but I could never... no...that is just sick."

And then I discovered her deep fried ham. She takes an entire ham, with the skin on, deep fries it, and coats it with a sugary glaze. Without thinking, the Steve inside my head went..."my brother in law has a deep fryer... I wonder what we're all going to eat for the New Year... and I wonder where a person can buy a large ham with the skin on??"

And that's where it hit me... Only one of two possibilities can be true:
Either Paula Deen somehow fell in love with me and is trying to capture my heart, or she is an evil genius bent on mass destruction. But she couldn't be in love with me...if she had a heart, it would have clogged and stopped years ago.

The only logical conclusion is that Paula Deen is a murdering zombie, and her deep fried ham is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, set to go off at the next family gathering...

Here's the recipe for the ham from food network...

1 gallon water
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
10 pound uncooked ham
Peanut oil, for frying, about 5 gallons
3 cups pineapple juice
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
Directions: In a large plastic tub, place all of the brine ingredients and stir until dissolved. Place the ham in the brine and refrigerate overnight. The following day, take the ham out of the brine and dry well.
Fill your turkey fryer with the peanut oil. Heat the oil to 375 degrees F. Place the ham carefully inside the fryer. Cook for 7 1/2 minutes per pound. The ham will be cooked when it is 160 degrees F. inside. Remove the ham carefully, letting it cool off and drain of excess oil for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Glaze: Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan on low heat and let reduce until a syrupy consistency. Let the glaze cool slightly and then pour it over the deep fried ham. Serve any extra glaze on the side to the victims.

"I'm not gonna hurt Y'all... who wants a snack???

Monday, December 14, 2009


As the weather (and water) becomes colder, I can feel my interests shifting once again, and my annual woodworking bug is taking hold. I've already got a few projects in mind, starting with new doors for our entertainment center, a rocking chair for my wife, and finally some kind of interesting children's toys. I just got some ideas stuck in my head a couple days ago, and I'm already itching to get in the garage.

My challenge to myself is to keep my lobster fishing obsession somewhat intact while allowing my latest ideas to take hold and become realities...

Sunday, December 13, 2009


It seems like all the good ideas are already taken these days. I used Shazam a while back, and it dawned on me... Shazam could use their massive songs library to sort the music on your computer... Run the program, click the folder with music in it, and they could send snippets of all your songs to their database, then rename them and fill in all their details for you. Awesome! I hate sorting music.

A quick google search shattered my dreams of easy street, but at least my music will be organized some day...

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Ever since I left home to go to college, I have moved about once a year. Each time I have moved, I have been extremely happy about it and completely fed up with the place I was moving away from. The weird thing is, it seems like every time that I visit somewhere I once lived, I fantasize about moving back, and scold myself for not taking advantage of everything the location had to offer.

The question is, did I fail to properly appreciate the good parts of my past homes, or am I just forgetting all my reasons for leaving now that some time has passed? Is there any place that I can tolerate for more than a year?

Friday, December 11, 2009


In 2006, I finished the construction of a 14' 3" cedar strip rowboat, named "Bonnanz", after my grandma, Abbondanzia Calise. I'm often asked about the process of building a boat, so this post is going to be a rough outline of the build process. In later posts, perhaps I will go into more detail on each step, but for now, a rough outline will have to do.

There are many ways to build a boat of a given type, but I settled on Cedar Strip for its beauty, weight, and relative ease of construction. The boat I built is called a "Cosine Wherry", named for the curve that was used by the designer to develop the lines of the hull. If you are looking to build a cedar strip rowboat, I highly recommend the books, "Rip, Strip, and Row!" and "Canoecraft," which contained the plans and general directions that got me going.

If you take on a project like this one step at a time, and make sure each step is correct along the way, it is suprising how easily something like building a boat can come together.

Here's how you do it:
  • Build a strongback. This is essentially a long, straight beam that will serve as the "workbench" your boat will be built on. Great care must be taken to ensure that the strongback is secured tightly to the shop floor, level, and straight. Problems with the strongback will transfer into your boat's shape, so it is very important to get this part exactly right.
  • A form in the shape of the hull is attached perpendicular to the strongback at around 1 foot intervals. (The last form is actually the back of the boat, so use an appropriate pice of wood there) These are basically cross sections of your boat at each point. Once the forms are cut and securely attached to the strongback, you are ready to make some cedar strips.

  • You are going to need cedar strips that are about 16 feet long to avoid unnecessary splicing. The strips will need to be about 1/4" thick, with a bead on one side, and a cove on the other. Cut the beads first, then the coves, or you will damage the coves while cutting the beads. Expect a lot of sawdust on this step...

  • Now you're ready to start building your boat. Start one strip below where you want the rail to start, and securely nail a strip into the forms, following the line you want the upper rail to take. Now, you take another strip and glue it into the strip below with wood glue, clamping it tightly to the form with wedges as you go. I worked in sets of threes, laying six strips a day. Once you reach the waterline, stop working in that direction, and start working from the top down.

  • Once all the strips are on, it is time to start smoothing out the hull. Use a hand plane to shave off the high spots, then carefully blend the strips in to each other and fill any gaps with a sawdust-epoxy mixture. Be very careful not to take off too much wood here.

  • Now it is time for fiberglass. Sand and fair between glass applications, then add one or two final layers of epoxy to get a smooth, clear finish. Heating up your shop helps during fiberglassing to eliminate air bubbles and get a nice clear finish by reducing the epoxy's viscosity

  • Now the keel can be added, and the boat can be flipped over. The same process of fairing and fiberglassing will be done on the inside of the boat , then the interior features can be added (like seats, rails, foredeck, etc).

  • Add a few coats of varnish to provide UV protection, and there you have it, one year of my life in a single blog post. Go rowing.


Thursday, December 10, 2009


If you've done it like me, you've got one heck of an awesome tree sitting in your house, just begging to be decked out with all the yule you can throw at it. This is not the time for shortcuts... to be done correctly, this is going to take at least an entire evening, so clear your calendar and prepare for some serious quality time with your loved ones. If every tree was decorated like this, we would all be a lot better off:
  • Before you do anything, crank up the Christmas tunes and turn off the idiot box. Go big and go cheesy. If you've got a santa hat or a Christmas sweater from grandma, now is the time to bust it out and display it with pride.
  • Make cocoa, add marshmallows.
  • Get out your lights. Preferably, they should be extremely well tangled after a year of sitting in their box. Sit your whole family on the floor and untangle your lights together, then plug them in and change out any broken bulbs. We like a mixture of blue and white lights. Next year, we're going to replace every other bulb on our light strands so that we have alternating blue and white lights.
  • Plug in the lights and string the tree. Put everyone in the house in a circle around the tree and pass the lights hand to hand all the way around. Make sure to get lights deep in the foliage as well as at the outer edges by following a "w" shaped path... in to the trunk, and out to the edges.
  • We've come to an opportunity to go all out here. Buy cranberries, make unbuttered popcorn, put on a favorite christmas movie, and make long cranberry popcorn strings with a needle and thread. Add your strings to the tree as you go until your tree is fully decked out. This is a ton of work, but skipping this step would just be blasphemous. You have a great chance here to spend some much needed quality time with your loved ones.
  • I'm a firm believer in original, unique ornamentation. If your ornaments are all designed to be pretty, but have no sentimental value, you've got a problem, but don't worry, it can be fixed! Every ornament you put on that tree should be special. It should have a person or a memory associated to it. (If you find that you have too few ornaments like this, or if you just need a few more, please don't go buying any ornaments this year. It is easy and fun to make your own, and if you do this as a family, you'll be creating Christmas memories to last a lifetime. You can get any number of recipes or ideas from the web, but I prefer the cinnamon ornaments, painted with acrylics, with a finish of clear lacquer spray paint. Mix 1 cup cinnamon with 1 cup applesauce and 1 Tbs white glue to make a dough, and then sculpt, dry, and decorate. As with the pine scent, the strong cinnamon smell these babies give off will help you recall your family ornament making experience every time you open that ornament box)
  • Take turns hanging your ornaments one at a time. Remember where they came from together. Forget trying to make the tree "pretty". Go for sentimentality and good spirits, and the beauty will follow.
  • If you need more ornaments, make paper snowflakes and hang them on the tree. You can even paint them with lacquer to save them for year after year...
  • Your tree should be oozing Christmas spirit all over the place by now. Take a family picture in front of it and go watch a classic Christmas movie together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Well, it is that time of the year again! That's right, it is finally time to put up that Christmas tree you've been waiting for all year! This is no simple task, nor should it be... this is what Christmas is all about for me. So this year, consider doing it the hard way, like our ancestors did it, and I promise it will be worth it in the end. Expect the whole process of selecting and decorating your tree to take a minimum of two full evenings.

Here is the Young's Log guide to Christmas trees:
  • A fresh, live tree is always preferable to plastic. Our memories are hard wired through our nostrils, and nothing says Christmas to me more than the fresh smell of pine. If at all possible, find a place where you can cut your own tree, but if not, your local hardware store is your best bet. (The joy of Christmas comes from quality family time and fond memories. Erecting your tree in the way i've described here ensures both. The distinct pine smell will help to anchor the memories you create and recall old memories year after year)
  • Selecting a tree should be a family affair. Don't expect to pick a tree in 15 minutes.... savor this classic Christmas experience. Bring the whole family along and drag out every tree in the lot. Be sure to bring a pocket knife, a rope, gloves, and your best lumberjack attire. Pore meticulously over the qualities of each tree and select one by family consensus. If you don't find the right tree, go somewhere else and find the right one. Douglas, Noble, Charlie Brown.... it doesn't really matter. Just take your time and get a tree that the whole family likes.
  • Get a unique, one piece, quality tree stand. This will make your life much, much easier, and will give you one more symbol of Christmas joy to hold onto... that old metal stand that has sat under your beloved tree year after year.
  • When you get your tree home, don't just throw it in your stand. Carefully lay your tree on its side and cut about 1/2" off the bottom with a hand saw. This is a sacred practice... power tools have no place here. If you have kids, make them hold the tree while you saw, even if this is completely unnecessary. While you're at it, drill 3 1/2" holes in the fresh base. If you have a hand crank drill, now is your chance to pull it out and use it. (sawing off the bottom of the tree opens the pores to allow water to get into the tree. Drilling holes adds surface area to allow for more water contact.) If you really want to go for it, drill the holes extra deep, and stuff them with cotton, which will further increase the tree to water contact area.
  • Trim off the first few branches at the bottom of the tree. Use careful judgement here. You want the tree to fit nicely in the stand and have plenty of room for presents underneath, but you don't want it to look like its wearing highwaters.
  • Take the tree inside and place it in the stand. The family should gather at this point and ensure that the tree remains straight while it is attached to the stand.
  • Carefully rotate your tree through every possible angle. Reach a family consensus as to the proper tree alignment for optimum viewing.
  • Fill the stand with as much water as you can get in there, and add a few flower feed packets for best results.
  • Now you can decorate your masterpiece!
NEXT: The Young's Log guide to Christmas Tree Decoration

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Lately, I have been thinking a lot about religion for some reason. The best way I can describe my feelings on religion is to say that I have come to the conclusion that I do not know who or what God is, and I am not sure that it is possible for myself or anyone else to truly know with certainty. In spite of this, I believe that a benevolent God does exist.

I think I am okay with this because I can't change what I truly, deep down believe, whether I'd like to or not, and to say otherwise would be a lie.

It turns out that there is a term for my way of thinking, and that term is "agnostic theism." I just happened upon this discovery recently, and I'm not sure why, but I have been intrigued by the fact that there is a word for what I actually believe. I realize that there are possibly some bad connotations that go along with the word agnosticism, but I am not really sure why. To help clear the air, here is a definition that I really like: "An agnostic theist is one who views that the truth value of certain claims, in particular the existence of god(s) is unknown or inherently unknowable but chooses to believe in god(s) in spite of this...An agnostic theist can also be a person who believes in a god(s), but does not understand how it or they work"

That sounds like what I believe right now. I like that I found this term by starting with my beliefs, rather than starting with a religion and trying to fit my beliefs to it. Just to be clear, this is not a religion and does not change anything about me at all, but for some reason, it is nice to know that there is a term for my current way of thinking.

Monday, December 7, 2009


For some reason, I have a fairly difficult time explaining what I do for a living to other people, so I am going to attempt to organize my thoughts on my career here...

Officially, my job title is "Engineer/Scientist", but specifically, I consider myself a design engineer. The best way I can describe this is by explaining that I solve problems, using a majority of common sense and intuition, combined with technical data and advice from specialists. The typical problem would be something like, "we need a ____ that will fit into this space, perform ____ function, last for the life of the airplane, be easy to install and maintain, be acceptable to the FAA, and not break in a way that could hurt anything if the airplane crashes".

My job would then be to make several rough 3D models of different ways to accomplish what was asked for. Some kind of consensus would be made as to which model has the most potential, and then I would spend a few months fine tuning the design and taking input from varying specialists (like stress engineers, materials engineers, producibility engineers, etc...) to make everyone involved in the project happy with the new design. It is a bit of a balancing act at times, because the wants or needs of each specialist may not necessarily be compatible. The real challenge of my job is figuring out a design that can get everyone to compromise and agree on a single design concept.

Once I thought I could convince everyone involved that my design will work for them, I would make detailed drawings (like blueprints) of each individual part, in addition to multiple drawings showing how all the parts should be put together. I would then send all the drawings to a panel of specialists, who would review the entire design one last time. After a few more small changes and comments, my drawings would finally be approved, built, and installed on a shiny new airplane.

The things I work on are usually structural components located behind the scenes in the interior of an airplane, but lately, some of my work will be visible to passengers. I have worked on cargo compartments, water systems, waste lines, oxygen systems, closets, crew resting areas, class dividers, and many other items that have popped up over my 5 years as an engineer. My favorite thing to do at work is to be given a new, complex problem, sit down at my 3-D modeling station, and try out new ideas to come up with a solution. Engineering can be extremely boring at times, but the opportunity to be creative makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Freediving for lobster is one of the most fun and challenging things I have ever picked up. You grab a wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, gloves and waterproof flashlight, climb down a steep cliff to a secluded bay, and dive into frigid pitch black water in the middle of the night. If you're lucky, you even get a tasty dinner out of the deal.

Buying the lobsters from the market would probably be more cost-effective, but there is just something about freediving for lobsters that makes me feel alive. Even if you don't catch anything, you'll see some of the most incredible things in the nighttime sea. I always keep my eyes open for a hidden halibut nestled into the sandy bottom, a horn shark's ghoulish nighttime ritual, or that heart pumping moment when you spot a thick red antennae poking out from a dark, rocky hole.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you go diving for lobster:
  • Try to forget the feeling that you're being followed in the dark, and above all, stay calm if anything unexpected happens.
  • Be decisive. If you decide to make a grab, give it all your strength and speed.
  • If the visibility is good and you see a lobster while you're down, don't try to grab it unless you have a good angle. Come back up, position yourself, and make a new dive on a fresh breath. If visibility is bad, grab that sucker as fast as you can.
  • Aim behind the lobster's head (they swim backwards) so that they will swim into your grasp
  • Pin the lobster to the bottom with a swatting motion, THEN grasp it. This is much more effective than trying to "catch" it in your hand.
  • Watch out for sea urchins on entry and exit into the water. Stepping on a sea urchin will cause you agony for over a month (trust me, I know).
  • Only go when dive conditions are optimum. Any kind of swell in the Palos Verdes area will cause visibility to drop near zero. Go to to check the swell report.
  • Try new areas that aren't overfished to find your own lobster producing spots.
  • Don't go to a kelpy area during low tide. The kelp bunches on the surface, and is a huge hassle to swim through.

Friday, December 4, 2009


OK, just a quick couple things I've noticed over the past couple days, making steaks with my brother and friends:

  1. Salt cure your steaks: Bury them in coarse kosher salt for no more than 30 minutes, unrefrigerated, then rinse the salt off and pat dry.
  2. Rub the steaks with olive oil.
  3. Put on a thick rub. I used lots of coarse ground black pepper and smoked paprika (no need for more salt).
  4. Make sure the coals and grill are extremely extremely hot, and also make sure the coals are ALL fully ignited (partially ignited coals gave off a bitter smoke you will taste in the meat) and quickly put the lid on the barbecue if you get any open flames (they will deposit soot on the meat and add a bitter taste)
  5. Cook for 3-5 minutes a side. Test the doneness by poking with your finger. It should feel firm with a light touch, but you should be able to feel a little softness or give if you push harder. (if it springs back hard as you push, it is overcooked)
  6. Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes
  7. Coat with a sauce. I used: Butter, roasted garlic, horseradish, dijon mustard, and worcestershire sauce to make a melted butter sauce and brushed it over the steaks.
  8. Grunt like a sophisticated caveman.


There is a whole lot for me to say on this subject, but for now, I'm going to stick to a brief history, and a few goals for the future:

My grandpa was a fisherman in Italy, and when fish started to become scarce, he came to America where the fish were more plentiful. In a sense, I owe my life to fishing, because, without it, my parents would not have met, and I would not be here. Catching fish is the one hobby that I've always returned to, and it is the one that I have spent the most time learning about and getting good at.

I've been fishing for as long as I can remember. It started with summers in Catalina island, spending countless hours on the "mole" catching perch and anything else that would bite a piece of bread or a frozen pea on a hook. As I got older, we started to venture out on my grandpa's aluminum skiff, the "Il Fungo." We would troll lures for hours on end and go far from the shore to catch sanddabs with my grandpa's heavy hand lines. The ultimate trophy in those days was a bonito or barracuda, anything that would put up a good fight. I spent every summer and every vacation spending as much time as possible in the Il Fungo. This was where I learned to love fishing, but did not learn much about the art of catching fish.

When I was 13, I went fishing on a charter boat with my boy scout troop, and could not believe what I had been missing. I caught the biggest fish on the boat, and fell into an early fishing career. I got a job as a "pinhead" on a 1/2 day boat when I was thirteen. I would scrub the charter boat clean at the end of the day, and help the crew whenever they needed it in exchange for free fishing trips. This is really where I learned to catch lots of fish. Over the next 5 years, I went from being a pinhead to a full fledged deckhand, and in the end, getting my captain's license from the Coast Guard. In that time, I was taught everything there was to know about catching coastal fish in California, with one major exception:

I was not taught how to find fish, only how to catch them once the boat was positioned. I have no secret spots. I can't tell you where to go to catch fish. If I'm lucky, I can find a good school of fish, but I really don't have much knowledge about how to make it happen on a bad day. Now that I'm an adult and not spending day and night on a fishing boat, it is time for me to learn on my own, and find my own fishing holes.

Learning to fish is a bit like riding a bike, so I don't feel that I need to keep extensive notes on the "how" of fishing, but here is what I need to work on to get better:
1) Get out and explore new areas, even if it means less time spent fishing.
2) Take notes every time I go fishing. (Part of the reason for this blog) Note locations, water temperature, tide, anything that might be relevant.
3) Keep an open mind and try new techniques


I've decided to start this blog as an index of sorts for my thoughts and pursuits. I tend to become intensely interested and passionate about random activities and ideas, exhaust myself through relentless effort in the subject, and move on to something new. I'd like to start keeping track and saving the knowledge I gain along the way so that I can eventually go back and expand on what I've already discovered.

I'm going to occasionally take a little time to remember what I've done in the past, and maybe even revisit some of my old passions in an effort to hold on to them for the future. Here's a list of some of the activities I've taken up over the years that will likely be the subjects of future posts:

Fishing, Rod Building, Bread Baking, Cheese Making, Cooking, BBQ/Smoking, Boat Building, Carpentry, Blacksmithing, Net Making, Kayaking, Freediving, and (the most recent endeavour) Lobster Hooping.