Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carl Bloch Exhibit

I can't think of many words to introduce this post. Basically, there's a Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU for the next six months. I couldn't miss it, so we stopped to see it on our drive to Hurricane. It was a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit, and the spirit was pretty strong there.

The above painting is 9' x 10'. BYU purchased it in 2001 and it's been the signature piece of their art museum ever since. It was stirring, but the reason the exhibit was such a rare one is because of the altarpieces. There were four other altarpieces present (like the painting at the top of the post) that have never been removed from their respective churches before. A few of them were still in the full woodwork of the this:

In short, it was a great exhibit and I'm glad I made time for it. If you're remotely close to BYU in the next 6 months, I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spiders Everywhere

Holy geez, there are a lot of spiders here. Luckily, I don't mind spiders that much and I think their webs can be quite pretty, but my arachnophobia-meter has climbed a notch or two since moving to OR.

A spider has taken up permanent residence in my motorcycle. Every night it builds a beautiful web from the left handlebar down to the front fender. I've only seen the spider once - it quickly scurried into the wiring of the dash. No idea how it stays on the motorcycle at 70 mph. I hope it wears a helmet.

I was playing with the boys at a playground a few weeks ago when Jordan asked me to kill a tiny spider on the monkey bars. I reached up high with one finger and tried to smash it on the top of the bar where it was sitting, but instead I just swept it toward me. it landed in the corner of my right eye and it BIT ME! By the raise of hands, how many people have had a spider bite in their freakin' eye???

My brother-in-law had a possible run-in with a Hobo Spider and the resultant necrosis was not pretty. I checked out the region that Hobos live in...yeah, they're everywhere in Oregon. I'm always on the lookout now. Paranoia will save me.

A whole league of spiders lives on our front balcony. No amount of cleaning can remove their presence. It's quite common to open the door and see a spider hanging down in the doorway. Yesterday I went outside for 60 seconds and had a spider crawling on my shirt when I came back inside. Gross, gross, gross.

Rejoice in your hatred of spiders by reading the following blogs (caution: language):

Hyperbole and a Half

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm Thankful for Brining

If there were one culinary lesson I could teach the world, it would be "how to bake a cookie". Most people have made cookies before, but very few have done it correctly. But if there were a SECOND culinary lesson I could teach the world, it would be "how to brine a Thanksgiving turkey". And I just happen to have that lesson handy!

Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to take things up a notch in the kitchen. I went to a group Thanksgiving a few years ago where the couple in charge of veggies got freezer peas, tossed on some super-processed shredded cheese and threw it in the microwave...I almost flipped. This is a time for homemade goodness and the elimination of anything processed. That includes the turkey, which is usually the most processed portion of any Thanksgiving meal.

Sad as it may seem, turkey is not good meat; it is inherently very dry and tasteless. If you buy a Butterball turkey, you're buying a turkey with loads of additive juices that compensate for the juice lost in cooking. Though it does keep the turkey somewhat moist, it tastes processed and prevents you from adding any flavor.

The solution to the turkey problem is brining. Brining tenderizes the bird and adds more juices to the turkey than those artificial additives - and the juice can be flavored any way you want! If you brine this year, I promise you will never cook a turkey the same way again.

Step 1 - Obtain a five-gallon bucket and a FRESH turkey. Home Depot has the above bucket for about 3 bucks. The fresh turkey is a bit more difficult to find. All frozen turkeys are processed and self-basting, so you can't use them - the brining process won't work. It has to be a fresh turkey with minimal processing. You can usually find them at Whole Foods, New Seasons, Trader Joe's, or Aldi. (I think that covers most everyone who reads this blog). I usually wait to buy until the day before Thanksgiving because the turkeys are cheaper.

Step 2 - Make the brine. A brine is nothing more than salt water; the basic rule of them is 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water. There will eventually be two gallons of water in the bucket, so you need 1 cup of salt. You can add whatever flavors you want, but here's what I do: I get a gallon of chicken broth and boil it with 1 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of peppercorns, tablespoon of allspice berries, and two tablespoons of fresh ginger. The boiling is just to dissolve the salt. I let it sit in the fridge until cool and then plop it into the bucket. Doesn't look pretty, but it will taste great. Trust me.

Step 3 - Place the bird in the solution. The turkey needs to sit in the brine at least 6 hours. I like to brine it over night for good measure. Place the breast-up first because you want the breast to be as juicy as possible when it's ready for the oven/fryer.

Step 5 - Add a gallon of ice water to the solution to keep it cold. Back in WI, I'd cover the bucket with plastic wrap and place it in the garage because it was just as cold as the fridge. If you're somewhere warmer, place it in the fridge or a cooler.

Step 6 - Halfway through the brining time, flip the bird over so it's breast-down.

That's it. You now know the sacred art of brining a turkey. It can now be cooked in any method you choose and the turkey will turn out perfectly, every time. I use the same brining method when roasting a chicken or duck, just with a smaller 3-gallon bucket (an old BYU creamery bucket!)