Category Personal

Wild Boar Party Pictures

Just a quick post — pictures of last weekend’s party are online at Flickr.  We began the event on Friday night at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe in Friday Harbor, where Chef (and good friend) Madden Surbaugh served 11 of us a spectacular tasting menu with venison, scallop-and-shrimp "lollypops" (watch for this on the upcoming menu), and Buffalo wing carrots (these were the hit of the evening, and are hard to describe but rocked).  We drank Tempier Rose, the 1996 Classique, and a truly amazing magnum of the 1994 Tourtine, along with sparkling wine and a manzanilla sherry to start, with a late harvest Viognier to finish. 

Saturday began at home with several of us doing another batch of black beans and getting the boar into my makeshift Alton Brown-style smoker (see pics, I’ll try to post a few more of the smoker itself).  After 48 hours in the brine, I cold smoked the 33 pound boar for 8 hours with apple wood.  I took advantage of the warm smoker box to also smoke 16 whole quail, which I then grilled to medium. 

After a quick trip to the farmer’s market to pick up sugar snap peas, pay my bill on the previous week’s English peas, and pick up salad mix, we headed out to South Beach for a glorious early afternoon hike, swim, and a lunch on the beach.  I served the quail quartered on a bed of Waldron Island salad greens, with local Quail Croft goat cheese, local strawberries, and a simple shallot vinaigrette.  Tasty stuff. 

By the time we got back to the house, it was time to fire up the pit with charcoal and dry hardwood, and as guests began arriving in the early evening we sandwiched the boar between diamond wire mesh and grilled it fast and hot (about an hour, maybe less).  Served shredded and sliced, the boar was tender, smoky, and juicy — a big hit according to the diners.  This was accompanied by rice, cuban black beans, fried plantains (done simply and as twice-fried tostones), and an ocean of Tavel rose, mojitos, and Hemingways (gin & tonic with coconut water and angostura bitters). 

As the visiting guests filtered home by around midnight, those of us staying at the house (Kim, Kris, Fran, Tina, and myself) collapsed with a cup of tea and some cookies and slept in Sunday morning, which was well earned on all our parts.  In all, a perfect weekend and celebration of two terrific years on the island.  I can’t wait to plan next year’s party, in fact.

Of Paradise Terrestre, Two Years Hence

Next Monday — Bastille Day — marks two years since I packed up and moved north to San Juan Island. Much has changed in my life in the ensuing two years, but much that is important to me has stayed the same. Indeed, I feel increasingly as if I live and belong here, at long last.

Each spring, as I have for years now, I re-read Lawrence Durrell’s Reflections of a Marine Venus, whose opening page speaks so directly to me:

Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people, as Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irrestistable. The mere knowledge that the are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication….But like all Gideon’s theories it was an ingenious one. I recall how it was debated by candlelight in the Villa Cleobolus until the moon went down on the debate, and Gideon’s contentions were muffed in his yawns; until Hoyle began to tap his spectacles upon his thumbnail of his left hand, which was his way of starting to say goodnight….Yet the word stuck; and though Hoyle refused its application to any but Aegean islands….we all of us, by tacit admission, knew ourselves to be ‘islomanes.’

Lawrence Durrell, Reflections on a Marine Venus

As I said, though the island provides constancy, friendship, and an abiding sense of peace and belonging, much has changed. I now travel down to Seattle on a weekly basis, to work at Gridnetworks and the UW campus. I gladly spend time in Seattle when it means I can see friends, family, and most especially T.

This weekend, in celebration of this anniversary in my life, I’ve invited friends and family to come up to the island, mingle with new Island friends, and eat terrific food and drink good wine. July in the islands seems to call for outdoor living and dining on the deck, as well as greater-than-ordinary culinary efforts. So I’m smoking and grilling a whole wild boar, from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, Cuban-style, and serving it with cuban black beans, rice, and fried plantains, accompanied by good rose, Chablis, and various red wines. I finished the fire pit for the boar roast today, and I’ll post pictures later this weekend. More soon.

The Perfect Manhattan and Other Adventures

It’s been a good (if odd) weekend up here on the island, with snow on Friday and Saturday (though nothing like the convergence zone N. of Seattle where my brother lives), and brilliant sunshine (though cold weather) today. I’ve been working on dissertation stuff this weekend, honing my topic after a bit of a breakthrough last month, and trying to deal with domestic stuff (bills, learning how to maintain/flush/ignore the new septic system, finding a list of tile places to visit in Seattle for my upcoming bathroom remodel).

But I also went to the first farmer’s market of the season, and bought some great stuff. Tonight I’m going to make a roast chicken (currently brining its little juices out in the garage fridge), served with sauteed baby chard from Nootka Rose farm on Waldron Island, and I’m chilling out and reading some Rorty with Rebecca’s radishes from Blue Moon Farm on Waldron as well, along with several olive mixes, my homemade pickled vegetables, and the Perfect Manhattan.  And by the way, Rebecca’s radishes are some of the best I’ve ever had — I’ve never described a radish as sweet and juicy, but these are just dripping with internal juice but still with a good bite.  Dipped into sea salt they’re incredible.

I’ll get to the Manhattan later. First, I have to remember to recommend Vessel in Seattle. I’d hemmed and hawed about going in since it always seemed to be packed, but Madden and I hit the joint on a Monday night last week and immediately went nutty about the selection of rare, interesting, hard-to-find, and homemade items. They make their own bitters! The bartender responded to our boyish enthusiasm by immediately making us taste all the homemade bitters and herbal tinctures, and furthered the process of getting us thoroughly drunk which I’d begun by making Manhattans at the apartment and then having rose champagne and Charmes-Chambertin at Campagne. I recommend proceeding to Vessel at once and asking for anything made with their house-made bitters. Oh, and try the two vodkas from Sub Rosa in Oregon: saffron and tarragon. Madden preferred the saffron and I preferred the tarragon but both were stellar. Not sure they’re available up here commercially yet but I’ll find some.

Yesterday I ran across a bag of key limes at the store, just normal supermarket stuff, and thought, "I should do preserved key limes, like preserved lemons." Madden is making preserved lemon marmalade on the new menu at Steps, and all three of my favorite olive mixes at PFI involve preserved lemons, so the idea of soaking citrus in salt for three weeks is pretty much in my wheelhouse. So I have a big jar of cross-cut key limes soaking in strong brine with bay leaves and black peppercorns. Sometime in early May I’ll figure out a use for these guys….

But the original point of the post was to say that I’d finally perfected the Manhattan, at least from my standpoint. Long, long ago I worked hard on Martini making; in fact, that’s pretty much all I remember about my master’s degree. To this day, I keep a shaker and two glasses in the freezer, since thorough chilling of everything involved keeps the gin (yes, Martinis are made of GIN) from watering down when it hits the ice in the shaker (and a strict 5:1 ratio with good Noilly Prat vermouth or better should be observed).

But I digress. The perfect Manhattan turns out to involve replacing 1/3 or 1/4 of the sweet vermouth (again, Noilly Prat is my favorite, the Italians don’t make good vermouth, at least that we see over here) with a good dark Amaro. Amaros are Italian herbal bitters, the most common of which is Fernet Branca in the States. Fernet is a bit too dark and medicinal for this application, but you can do 1/5th Fernet for the same effect and keep more of the vermouth.

The absolute best Amaro for this job (and for drinking straight) is the Amaro Santa Maria al Monte, which comes into the Seattle area in miniscule quantities that you have to fight restaurants for. It’s gorgeous, herbal, complexly flavored stuff, and it gives the Manhattan a bit of an edge but nothing medicinal. In bars in Seattle, the lighter Amaro Nonino is more popular as a Manhattan addition but I think it’s too sweetly similar to the vermouth to be much use.

Well, it’s almost time to roast a chicken. More later.

Recent Food and Wine

I’m slammed at the moment getting ready for an academic conference in a few weeks, so I haven’t had time to much lately outside work and research.  But I did manage on Friday to take the afternoon off, and go to lunch with a regular group of friends at Nell’s.  The group as a whole has met for 20 years, and I participate when I can (which isn’t nearly as often as I’d like).  Phil cooks us lunch and we have the restaurant to ourselves. 

Yesterday was "Great 1980’s Wines" as a theme, and the group dug reasonably deep and came up with some good stuff.  My 1988 Raveneau Vaillons Chablis to start was slightly oxidized and we’ve all had better bottles; you win some and lose some.  Highlights were the 1980 Jaboulet La Chapelle, which was mellow, pretty, but with some spice and weight left, the 1988 La Chapelle (superb), and a slightly advanced bottle of the 1989 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala (absolutely superb, despite being a little mature for its age). 

Probably the wines of the day for me were the 1982 Montrose Bordeaux, of which I still had a bit left and am sipping on while I write this a day later.  Incredible — beautiful Bordeaux nose, but lacking the brutality and tannins of the 1970 and 1990 Montrose, the latter of which probably won’t be ready to drink in my lifetime. 

Tonight I’m having dinner (paella!) with another group of friends, and I’m bringing some old Spanish wines to go with the dinner, and a special appetizer.  I don’t have the bottles in front of me here, but there are two 1976 Riojas, and a 1970 Marques de Riscal Rioja.  I’m planning to finish things off with a 1910 Solera Pedro Ximinez sherry — a bunch of it hit the market some years back at very reasonable prices.

But the exciting thing for me will be an appetizer — a small slab of thinly sliced Jamon Iberico "reserva" — the fabled pinnacle of serrano hams, aged 24 months and only recently imported into the United States.  I’ll let you google for the going rate on a whole leg of Jamon Iberico, but let’s just say that you can fly to Europe and eat it cheaper, probably.  I have 4 precious ounces of the stuff, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with folks (and saving a little slice for Madden at Steps) tonight.

Then it’s back up the island to hunker down for a few days and bang out some simulation results.  I’m doing most of my numerical work on Amazon EC2 clusters these days, so I don’t have to worry about where I am or whether I have computers available, which is sweet.  I’ll post more after the old Riojas and the Jamon Iberico…

A Re-Updated Personal History of Personal Computing

Back in 2003 on my "previous" blog, and in early 2005 on this blog, I updated a long-standing essay I’d
called "A Personal History of Personal Computing." My first and second blogs are long
gone in the transition away from Radio Userland to Typepad, but I think
it’s time to reprint and update that essay (a second time). Moore’s law is one way to
look at the history of personal computing. Another is the history of
companies that have come and gone, making personal computers and
software. Still another is a personal view. This story is about my own
personal computing history — the machines, what I did with them, what
software I thought was important. I omit computers that I didn’t really
have control over, such as University mainframes and Unix servers, and
I also omit the vast array of servers and computers I administered at
RealNetworks, Internap, Network Clarity, and computers I used at Microsoft and now GridNetworks.

By my count, I’ve purchased 21 computers in my life, and of course used and worked with hundreds, if not thousands more (managing a Systems Engineering group will do that for you). 

The story starts in the late 1970’s, shortly after personal computers came about and before IBM changed things forever…. 

Why I’m Caucusing for Obama

I’ve been mostly silent here on the subject of politics for awhile. There are any number of reasons for this, mostly practical — time, and other priorities. But at least part of my reticence comes from a feeling, in retrospect, like I’ve been holding my breath in anticipation. Not necessarily over the Democrats’ chances this year; I think they’re good (but definitely not a lock, now that McCain is the defacto nominee).

I’ve been holding my breath, I think, hoping that the “practicalities of winning” don’t overwhelm this election far too early. Ever since a mostly-unknown Barack Obama stood up in Boston at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and delivered the most stunning political speech of my lifetime (I’m too young for JFK), there’s been the possibility of idealism this time around.

Politics, at least in my adulthood, has been a grim, pragmatic affair, split by dry-as-dust tinkering in the boiler room of the Great Society welfare state for Democrats, and rigid adherence to a set of litmus tests among Republicans aimed at enforcing ideological purity on tax cuts, guns, and abortion. Politics has been thoroughly computerized, mapped, analyzed like baseball box scores and run by experts on polling, advertising, demographics, and mass fundraising. In other words, it’s a gigantic commercial ecosystem, and both sides increasingly treat it that way.

Obama has seemed, since his declaration became all but inevitable last year, like our generation’s best hope for short-circuiting the wiring of the increasingly robotic Body Politic, and perhaps — even if in small ways — re-envisioning the rules of the game. Perhaps even re-imagining them in ways which cross-cut, and thus defuse, the power of our current definitions of “red” and “blue.”

Naturally, Obama’s relative youth has laid him open, on both sides of the aisle, to those who wonder about his toughness, his experience, his ability to win. Once the primary campaigning got seriously underway, moreover, it has seemed like Obama hasn’t lived up to his 2004 performance. Early debates showed him quiet, almost deferential, and he left us underwhelmed. Polls showed Clinton with an early and massive lead, and one had to wonder, as recently as the holidays, whether it truly was the case that Obama needed more time and experience before running. A series of fairly lackluster press events and appearances have done little to change that impression.

I have to admit that despite never wanting anyone else as nominee, I have fallen prey to all of these species of doubt and skepticism, and probably a few others.

No longer. I don’t know whether Obama will make it and become our nominee, but I think it’s very possible. Nothing magical has happened, except for one thing: he’s made it thus far, all the way through Super Tuesday, and his momentum does seem to be building.

But the uphill climb is seeming more and more like a social movement, and less like a political campaign. Obama’s message of change is largely in the eye of the beholder, but it resonates precisely because much of the voter base today has only experienced the type of politics I described above. We want something more. We’re all slightly cynical about the ability of politics and government to change anything for the better; some of us are much more than slightly cynical. In part, our generation’s growing flirtation with libertarian economics and even politics stems from this disillusionment with government.

Some of that disillusionment is quite proper; we are the inheritors of a New Deal and Great Society that turned out to have noble goals but often methods that were flawed, either in the short or long terms. We are also the inheritors of the social world created when the Supreme Court short-circuited a slowly developing social consensus, as they did with Roe v. Wade, and handed a minority of the nation a rallying cry that would drive judicial nomination and set much of the political landscape for a generation.

That landscape now seems frozen and unalterable. Acquiescence in, and intimate knowledge of, this landscape, is now the mark of a “serious” politician or staffer. An entire industry of political staffers, pollsters, lobbyists, advisors, and of course politicians have a vested interest in that landscape, since knowledge of it is crucial to their employability or electability.

Obama may or may not be serious about changing that landscape, and even if he is successful in beating the odds and securing the nomination, as well as winning the general election, he may only succeed in making small alterations. But the chance — just the chance — that we may see something other than the politics of “culture war,” or the politics of “triangulation” — both manifestations of a politics of cynicism — during our lifetime, makes it well worth supporting his campaign.

We deserve something more from our collective efforts at self-government, and although we might not get it during the next President’s term, a social movement starts somewhere, somehow. Social changes always start out as small, seemingly fragile things, laughed at by the “grownups” who know “how the world works” and label anything but the status quo as “impractical” or simply sheer nonsense. In retrospect, of course, social changes always seem inevitable, when observed through the lens of history, growing seemingly logically out of preceding conditions given our knowledge of the outcome.

In the hazy middle, when those who laughed or ignored it in its early stages are caught short, and forced by the size of the crowds or vote counts to wonder whether a movement or change should be taken seriously, is the crucial moment. The moment when growth could feed on itself, or fizzle out. A moment when a little extra support and encouragement could make all the difference to whether a social movement succeeds in changing the way we think, and act.

That’s why I’m supporting Barack Obama, with a vote on my primary ballot, at the caucuses tomorrow, with donations, and hopefully on November’s ballot. And it’s why I hope you will as well.