Thursday, June 30, 2011

Complete Streets by MTC

On Tuesday of this week I had the benefit of attending a seminar put on by MTC about Complete Streets.

It was great to hear about the legislation from the organization that will help communities fund these projects.  I also appreciated the more technical discussion by colleagues from the consulting world.

One takeaway I had, in contrast to some ideas presented at the recent local APWA Complete Streets seminar, was that the goal isn't necessarily to make all intersections operate at a LOS of D.  In fact, there are new LOS yardsticks for biking, pedestrians, etc... including the actual corridor.  By comparing these LOS's, you can identify where you want to make your trade-offs.  A specific related conundrum was gratefully brought to our attention by a transit service provider - most frequently, the effect of implementing a Complete Streets program, will reduce the LOS for transit.  Transit is supposed to be a benefactor of Complete Streets, but seems to often be forgotten or not considered as important as the other modes of transportation.  It's definitely worth considering this issue.

Scammin' - Dad's first novel

Thanks to the convenience of modern technology and marketing, and thanks to Amazon in particular, my dad's first novel is published!  I may be a bit biased, but I thought it was a great quick summer read with a good plot and great character development.  By the end, I wanted it to keep going.
You can download it to your iPad or Kindle from the Kindle store:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brie r3 at 6 weeks

We tried another one of the little brie type cheeses at 6 weeks.  I thought it was tasty, even if it was still a hard cheese.  After reading some things, I think it may have too high a fat content to let the proteins get soft... along with the lack of humidity for the white mold.  I still have 2 left in the cave - one I'll let go for a long time to see if it's a good aged hard cheese, the other I've washed in chardonnay (which may cut the saltiness and add some complexity).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Brie Rev #3 - update

On wednesday, 4/6/11, my calendar told me that my smallest cheese might be ready to try.  I was a little apprehensive about the results since they all seemed so dried-out.  They did grow some white fuzzies, but they seemed to have died out before really taking over the cheese.

I decided to try the smallest sphere, which, as you can see by the cut picture with the knife, it is pretty darn small.  Just as I suspected, it was definitely not gooey and creamy like you would want and expect... BUT IT WAS REALLY TASTY!  I'm getting closer to my goals for this cheese.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brie - revision #3

Now that I have a dedicated cheese cave that Santa so generously gave me this past Christmas, I took another chance with brie (or cambembert, or more generally a white mold rennetted cheese).  I made this on 3/16/11 with 1 gallon TJ's organic whole milk, 1 pint of TJ's organic heavy cream, flora danica (thanks to my aunt for christmas as well), CaCl, and rennet.  My molding process definitely could use some improved hardware, but I managed to create 3 small disks and two spheres.  They dried in their moulds, were salted, and sat for a bit more on the kitchen counter at room temp in a plastic box for about 4 days.  Now they reside in their cozy cheese cave (aka tiny wine cooler).

Here they are at 1 week old (temp at about 48* F and humidity too low at around 82%).

Since the humidity should be more like 90%, I put a star-san soaked paper towel on the bottom.  After a couple days, I didn't see the humidity rise, so I added more star-san to it, and added another wadded-up star-san soaked paper towel to the shelf with the spheres.  Hopefully that does the trick.  The white mold seems to be starting to grow, so maybe it's just fine... I just want to make sure the white mold gets happy and makes some creamy gooey brie!

We'll see how they turn out in 4 or 5 more weeks.  I figure the small sphere might be worth checking soon - have it on my calendar for April 6.  The others should probably go to April 20 or 27 - again, I put it in my calendar so I don't forget.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Homebrewing and Cheesemaking in the White House

Just a quick note to mention the White House food blog.  The White House is now homebrewing, homecheesemaking, and raising bees for honey...

Now that these hobbies are mainstream, I may have to think of something else!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Giants FanFest 2011

On Saturday, we joined over 40,000 fans at AT&T park for FanFest.  We knew that it was going to be absolutely crazy since the Giants won the World Series last season.  Still, we hoped to get an autograph or two and check out the vibe.  We got to the park at 10:45 and were in the right place at the right time to actually get in to the park at 11am (I heard that there were folks lined-up before dawn that didn't even get in... though I'm really not sure how that could have happened).

Once inside, we ran to the top-most autograph station (many were scattered around the park)... only to find a line with no end.  Later we heard that it was at least a 2-hour line and they were rotating folks around so that you never knew who's signature you were going to get.  We decided against trying to get an autograph and tried to make it down on the field.  That was a challenge with long lines as well.

Yes, I did wear my Padres hat styled after the 1984 team hats.  That was probably risky, but maybe I fit in because it was orange and dark brown; and SD looks like SF.  I did get one "cool hat!" and one "f-the Padres"... clearly someone didn't realize Bruce Bochy and Tim Flannery were on the '84 Padres team as well as the 2010 Giants team.  My goal this year is to get their autographs on my hat (wasn't going to happen at Fan Fest, that's for sure!).

All-in-all, it was a beautiful day in the City, the vibe from the fans was electric, being on the field was super cool, and we finished off with an awesome lunch at the HiDive (our new favorite place in the City).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Solar median idea update

On our way back from Bodega Bay almost 2 weekends ago, we drove through the little town of Sebastopol.  When we stopped for gas, I noticed this solar installation next to the road.
Could there be some way to put these along the median of the freeway?...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wolf Range challenges and solutions

When we moved into our house almost 3 years ago, we were excited about the Wolf range that went with the kitchen.  For the most part, it's been great... but we finally decided to address two issues we had with it... and found a third once we started work.

1.  The oven lately had been taking a long time to start, and when it finally did, it scared the bejeezes out of us - sometimes blowing the door open and getting a lot of gas smell.  After a lot of searching, I found a couple things online that lead me to believe this was because the ignitor had started to wear out.  Apparently these things only last 5 or so years.  Sure enough - a new one, bought from Mr. Appliance Repairman on ebay did the trick.  It wasn't too hard to replace - the only tough part being that the screws are in a very tricky spot.  After firing it back up, we found that our slow pre-heating issue was also solved!  The Christmas prime rib roast pre-heating to 500 degrees took about an hour and a half.  We roasted some brussel sprouts last night at 400 degrees and it took about 5 minutes.  MUCH better.  Issue #1 (and #1a solved).

old ignitor out, new ignitor installed
2.  While reading the owner's manual, I learned that you're not supposed to line the bottom of the oven with foil... oops.  I thought we were being clever, but apparently it's not a good idea.  I believe the manual - don't line the bottom of your Wolf range with foil - it will kill the porcelain, and may have caused the bottom sheet metal to warp.
porcelain flaking off
3.  When the oven was on, it seemed there wasn't enough gas getting to the burners.  After much research, I finally found this one guy that had the exact same problem:  see his video on YouTube here.  I e-mailed him to see if he finally resolved his problem.  Apparently he called Wolf and they went through 3 ranges to get him one that worked fine.  I didn't want to deal with this hassle, and felt there had to be a more sensible solution - it really shouldn't be a faulty range.  After pulling the unit out to clean it and generally check things out, I noticed the flexible tubing connecting it to the gas line seemed way too small.  I also read that it shouldn't be longer than three feet, and this was four feet.  I was also amused to find a tag for the installer - it was very clear they shouldn't use the standard "range" supply line you pick up at Home Depot.  I think it was a 4-foot long 1/2" flexible line.  I found a 3-foot long 5/8" flexible line and swapped them.  The 5/8" flexible line is an outside diameter dimension, and it's about 1/2" inside diameter - which is consistent with the plumbing in the range.  I also added up the BTU/hr listed on the range and came up with 96,000 max BTU/hr - which matched the specs on this 5/8" line (75,000 to 125,000).  We should be in good shape now.  After firing it up, it still didn't seem to be perfect... but it was MUCH better.  I can live with this.
original small line installed, bigger line waiting to be installed
Since it was so hard to find info about all this online, I hope this serves as another data point and possible solutions for others having similar challenges with their Wolf range.  For reference, ours was made in 1997 (I believe that's before Sub Zero bought the company) and it is a R364c model (36" wide, 4 burners and a grill).  I have a feeling there isn't much info out there, because Wolf really encourages people to use their "authorized" service, etc... I say, baloney.  This isn't rocket science.  It's a very simple appliance that anyone can work on... just use the normal caution when working with natural gas and electricity.  If you're unsure, educate yourself or hire someone.  I prefer the "educate yourself" route - clearly hiring someone doesn't always work - I'm assuming some "professional" had incorrectly installed this in the first place.

All-grain brewing - second attempt

After our brew-in-the-bag (BIAB) attempt, we decided to try a more common approach to all-grain brewing.  While the brew-in-a-bag method created a very good beer, it was a bit awkward and cumbersome.  Plus, it seemed like we just didn't have the right material.

On Dec. 5th, we brewed up a Boddington clone.  In contrast to our ultra dark full-bodied dunkel from BIAB, the thought was this could better highlight that it came from all-grain (and not extract).
Latest all-grain setup
Brewers from L-R:  Moose, Chris, Jason, and Lucy (the beagles don't actually help too much)

For the setup, I picked up a folding table, large cooler, and welded up a burner stand for the pot.  The burner stand was made from a cut-up bed frame.  The idea being that I could dress it up and make a table out of it, so it could stay outside on the patio.  There is already too much stuff to lug from the garage up to the back patio... and even more stuff now with the all-grain setup.  My welding job was pretty poor, but I'll clean it up later.  For now, it works great.

For the cooler, we still need to work on the plumbing.  I thought I would use a stainless braid from a water supply line, but the morning of the brew day, I realized the one I had laying around was vinyl and not stainless.  Also, the valve I bought was not the right size for the tubing, so we ended up just using the plug that comes on the cooler.  All-in-all, it worked, but it could be better.

One thing we learned - we definitely need to heat the water hotter.  There is a lot of heat lost between tubing, buckets, and heating up the cooler and grain.

We bottled last weekend, and the samples sure tasted great... for a light bitter.  We'll see how it is coming out of the bottle in another week.  The all-grain process does feel more fulfilling.  I like it.  With the burner table on the patio permanently, there isn't too much more stuff to pull out of the garage.  And, once we get our process down, I don't think things will take too much longer.