Friday, July 29, 2011

Watermelon Bonanza

I haven't posted for a bit, but I've been busy in the kitchen. Couple weeks ago, this was my three day weekend:

Chocolate chip-banana cookies, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, Apple Crisp, Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream, Cherry Pie, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Oatmeal-Toffee Cookies. Yep, one weekend.

So yeah, I've been busy in the kitchen. And because it's summer, my biggest experimentation has been with the king of summer - King Watermelon.

I won't launch into a treatise on why watermelon is the king of summer. You get it or you don't. And if you do, I have some recipes for you to help make the most of summer's lord. Without further ado, it's Evan's Watermelon Bonanza!

Four recipes included in this post:

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade
Perfect Watermelon Sorbet
Watermelon Margarita Sorbet
Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small (about 1/4 of a medium seedless)
1 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water

Put the water and sugar in a sauce pan and heat, stirring. Continue until sugar is fully melted, and voila, simple syrup. This is important. Sugar WILL NOT dissolve in cold water. If you make this without turning the sugar into simple syrup, the sugar will sink to the bottom. (This is the truth for all beverages, and why you should just make simple syrup and keep it around if you like to sweeten cold beverages.)

Once you've got your simple syrup, blend the watermelon until it's fully liquified. It should come to about 3 cups once blended. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup, and pour them all into a one-gallon pitcher. Fill the rest of the way with water. Stir. Drink.

OK, so you've got some watermelon lemonade. But you've also got 3/4 of a watermelon (or more!) remaining. OK, you probably have 1/2 remaining, because you've been snacking along the way. So it's on to recipe #2...

Perfect Watermelon Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup vodka (NOT optional)

Again, make your simple syrup. Blend watermelon until fully liquified. Add lemon juice, syrup, vodka, and chill until cold. Drop this puppy into your ice cream machine and freeze until it looks good. When transfering to a container, mix it well. Depending on how close to the edge it's spent its time, your sorbet will range from very frozen to kind of soft. If you don't mix it before freezing, then you'll get lumpy, irregular sorbet with drastically different flavor pockets. Once it's all nice and uniform, drop it in the freezer for a few hours to mature. After about two hours, open it up. Use a spatula or spoon to mix and incorporate so it's nice and even. Put it back in until you're ready to eat it.

A few key points:

-The lemon juice balances the watermelon and really adds depth to the sorbet. Otherwise, it's kind of flat

-The vodka is not optional. The alcohol will prevent the sorbet from hardening into a rock, which it otherwise will. Commercial sorbets use a variety of stabilizers to keep them soft, but you don't use those. You use vodka. And it's delicious. Without the vodka, it'll be a watermelon ice cube. Not only does this mean 15 minutes on the counter before you can scoop it, it also ruins the flavor. So use vodka, people. The vodka has no flavor, you won't get any alcohol taste in this concentration, and it's diluted to a level where you'd have to eat the entire 1.5 quarts by yourself to feel anything, and even then only a true lightweight would feel anything.

-If you want to add more depth and give it a slightly different profile, add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt before blending the watermelon. It's a nice touch, but not for everyone.

OK, so you've got watermelon lemonade, and watermelon sorbet, but you still have 1/4 watermelon. What will you do with it? I'll tell you, but first, a quick vaudeville interlude.

OK, and now it's time to tell you about a little something I call...

Watermelon Margarita Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tequila (doesn't have to be fancy, but please, 100% agave, not Cuervo)

Again, make your syrup. Blend your watermelon. Add everything together, chill until cold. Put in machine.

This recipe may look a bit odd. "Wait, where's the lime?" you ask. "Hold on, shouldn't that have triple sec or grand marnier?" If this was margarita ice cream, the answers would be yes to both. But I've played with this. And the answer is no. Lime creates a weird profile with the watermelon that's just a little off. The orange liqueur is just unnecessary, and complicates the flavors unnecessarily.

In this recipe, the two-step mixing process is critical. Because there's more booze, it will separate more from the non-booze. So the softer parts will be very boozy, and the outer parts will be icy and booze-less. Mix it gently but thoroughly in the container before putting into freezer, and again after two hours. Voila, delicious Watermelon Margarita Sorbet.

OK, now we're really cooking. You've eaten 1/4 of a watermelon as you worked. You've got a gallon of Watermelon Lemonade (rough cost, about $2). You've got 1.5 quarts each of Watermelon Sorbet and Watermelon Margarita Sorbet. What else could you want?

But then, you step onto the back porch to enjoy some of your hard-won gains, and smell the alluring smell of mint! That's when you remember that there's an ocean of mint growing in your yard, and you need to do something with it. Well, never fear, it's time to make...

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet!

3 cups watermelon lemonade
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white rum
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 large bunch mint leaves (give or take 2 cups leaves, but use both leaves and stems)

Make your simple syrup, and add mint leaves to hot liquid. Use a potato masher to gently mash mint. Don't crush, smash, or shred the mint. The best flavor comes from the oils, which are best released by bruising the leaves then letting them simmer a few minutes in the syrup. So do that.

Meanwhile, add the rum and lemon juice to the watermelon lemonade. Strain the syrup into the mixture (to remove mint leaves and stems). Chill until cold. Once cold, put in your machine until ready. Again, it's critical that you mix the sorbet once in the container, and again after about 2 hours in the freezer, to ensure the booze is incorporated and the flavors are evenly distributed. A few notes here:

- DO NOT use anything other than white rum. Not spiced. Not dark. Not pineapple or coconut. Those have no place in a mojito. Seriously. No place.

-Again, you're using lemon as the citrus instead of lime. The end result is quite different if you use lime, and, in the opinions of about 18 people at home and work who are my unwitting (and very happy) test subjects, the lemon is much better.

-It probably seems weird that I'm basing this recipe on 3 cups of the lemonade. "Why doesn't this dufus just write a new recipe?" you're probably asking. The answer is, the very best batch of this I've made was done with the recipe above. I haven't been able to get the proportions just right in any other batch. This was, by unanimous decree of my entire office, the best sorbet I've made yet. So just go with it, 'K?

And there you have it. One medium watermelon can yield one gallon (minus three cups) of Watermelon Lemonade, 1.5 quarts each Watermelon Sorbet, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, and Watermelon Mojito Sorbet.

If prices are similar where you are, you'll spend about $10 total for all of this, and that's using organic sugar and lemon juice. Can't beat that with a stick, fools. And here's my happiest constituency. Amy, obviously very pregnant, is quite happy for the cooling watermelon treats in our unrelenting DC summer of pain. The kids are less bothered by the heat, but no less appreciative of the goodies.

Monday, May 23, 2011

WTF dessert?!?!

I'm calling this one WTF dessert, because that's what I would have said if you tried to get me to eat it. I imagine that's what about half of you will say when you get down to the part where I tell you what it is.

So how did this mystery dessert come about? One of my coworkers, Anthea Watson, just left NOI to go run a very cool shop on the re-elect. For those who aren't organizers, there is a veritable sea of online interfaces that field organizers have to use. There's VAN (the voter file, used for voter contact and volunteer management), there's (which I'm told is no longer called MyBo? Anyway, it's used for setting up online events and profiles around campaign activity), there's National Field (reporting software where organizers submit their nightly numbers and tidbits from the day). God only knows what else. And for each of these, organizers have a unique login, a different place they have to go, and a growing headache. So Anthea is in charge of a team that will be working to streamline all the different platforms that organizers of all sorts will be using, to save time, hassle, and make shit more efficient.

It seems like a monster job, and it is, but compared to what Anthea got done here in the last 18 months or so, I'm not sure it really stacks up. Anthea was the project manager on the Voting Information Project, a ridiculously bold effort to create a free, accurate, 50 state polling place lookup tool. Such a thing has never existed. One vendor has a database (which is not so accurate from what I hear), and charges huge sums for polling place information. Organizations spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars either buying from that vendor or sourcing the info themselves.

And the reason this is such a challenge, is that voting is regulated differently in every state. Some 25 states worked with us (after meeting and being wooed by Anthea and others on her team, in and of itself a Herculean task), and created digital feeds. But 25 other states didn't. And for those states, Anthea oversaw the process of collecting, standardizing, and digitizing every polling place in America. One of our partners on the project, an internet titan who shall remain nameless, told us they could code all the polling places if we collected them. So Anthea's team spent months collecting the lists.

Some were in nice, tidy spreadsheets. Others were in PDFs or Word docs. Still others were just in some local registrar's head. And once they had collected thousands and thousands of records, at the end of September (just about 5 weeks before the election) our partner told us, "Oh, we actually can't standardize this. Sorry." And so Anthea and her team (which grew a bit to accomodate the need) spent the better part of a month working 16 or 18 hours a day, pouring over records and matching whatever strange codes they were given to determine polling places.

I'll spare you the remaining details. But the upshot is that they came through. And 7.2 million people we can track used that data and the tools that were created with it to look up their polling place. The primary tool was a Google Gadget that could easily be embedded in any website, and found more than 320 homes. Facebook, Foursquare, Rock the Vote and others built their own tools using the file we provided. Probably north of 10 million people used the data somehow.

If you ask Anthea, she'll probably say that she couldn't have done "anuhthing" without the whole staff (she's from Wisconsin and at least one of her parents is a Limey, so she says some words kinda funny). But what she fails to acknowledge in her humility is that she was the person who kept that shit moving.

Anyway, when I found out she was leaving us for the re-elect, I asked her what kind of special ice cream she wanted for her going away party. And she said, "rosemary."

Well, it was her party, so I said, "ew" in my mind, and, "OK" with my mouth.

Now I couldn't imagine a dessert in which the primary flavor was rosemary. And I couldn't imagine an ice cream that was just rosemary either. Rosemary is a wonderful flavor. And in my experience, one that is grotesquely overused. You order rosemary chicken in a restaurant, and it comes out with pieces sticking out and tasting like you're chewing on a bush. You get a loaf of rosemary bread at the fancy bakery, and feel like you're munching on a stick. Apparently, rosemary is the one herb that chefs have no problem slathering on anything that bears its name.

So I was a) confused, and b) determined to make something awesome. I did a little thinking, a little searching, and found this recipe on Straight from the Farm blog for dark chocolate and rosemary ice cream. It looked pretty bomb. But I had a few reservations (seemed like an awful lot of rosemary, among other things), and made a few changes. Then it was just a matter of choosing something to pair it with. And I thought, WTF, this is already fucking weird. So let's go even weirder. Rosemary? That goes with white cheddar and bacon. Chocolate too. So let's do it.

I found a recipe from Emeril for white cheddar and bacon scones, and whipped 'em up. They came out pretty tasty, but a bit dry. I'd probably add another 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of cream if I make them again, but it's up to you.

Partway into the making, I had to get my helper involved. OK, she's not really my helper, but she refused to hang out in her playpen thingy, and when I let her crawl she kept pulling shit off the shelves. She's pretty happy in this backpack, as you can see, so I strapped her in and periodically passed her crackers. We listened to my "Grungeville" Pandora station. She likes '90's rock, especially Pearl Jam.

And good jeebus, that shit is amazing. The ice cream is like some sort of mysteriously delicious chocolate concoction. If I didn't know there was rosemary in it, it would probably take me a minute to figure it out. As an undertone, it makes a warm, earthy, herbal flavor that just accentuates the chocolate. And the combination with the scone is bizarre and delicious. So without further ado, here's the recipe I settled on (I've made it again, just as good the second time). Amy thinks it's the best I've made yet, and she was beyond skeptical at the outset. Hopefully you'll enjoy, too, if you whip it up.

Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk
2 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 sprigs (about 4" each) fresh rosemary (I wouldn't try this with dried rosemary)
3 Tbl cocoa powder (unsweetened. I use natural, but I imagine dutch process is just fine too)
8 dark chocolate truffles*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Put the milk, sugar, rosemary, vanilla, salt and 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan, and heat on medium-low until steamy, but not boiling. Put the remaining 1.5 cups of cream on an ice bath. Reduce to low, and allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the rosemary, and add the cocoa powder, stirring constantly. Chop your chocolate up small, add, stir slowly until fully melted. Use about 1/2 cup of the liquid and temper your eggs, then add to the mix, whisking quickly until fully incorporated (I've determined that real tempering actually takes less effort that my "lazy" system). Switch to a flat-bottom rubber spatula, turn heat up a notch or two, stir slowly until the mixture thickens to where it doesn't run off the spatula. Strain the hot liquid into your cold cream, then whisk aggressively (both to mix and to cool). Chill the mixture until cold, drop in your machine.

A few changes I made... I added an extra egg yolk, because I thought this recipe would really want to be thick and creamy. I also cut the sugar from 3/4C to 2/3C, figuring that the chocolate would add some sweetness, and I didn't want it that sweet anyway. I cut the second round of rosemary out, because I didn't want it to overwhelm the ice cream. I reduced the cocoa powder to let the dark chocolate shine a little more. And I swapped out the vanilla bean for extract, because vanilla beans are fucking expensive. And everything worked out just dandy.

*The recipe called for 2 oz of semi-sweet chocolate. But someone gave us this box of Trader Joe's dark chocolate truffles a while back, and they've been slow to the stomach. So I thought, "fuck it, I'll use some for this." It seemed like a good idea at the time, and boy was it ever. So I recommend grabbing this stuff and using it.

And so, this is the weirdest dessert I've ever made, and also the weirdest I've ever eaten. But delicious weird, anyway.

What's your "WTF dessert?!?!" story?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hoist up the John B Sail...

It's not that today's been bad. It's not that I'm in a foul mood, although I am a bit tired and a bit worn thin.

Mostly, I just don't want to be around humanity.

Except one. Right about now, I just wish I could go home to my daughter. I know at some point she'll have more multifaceted phases. The "annoying" phase. Then the "ohmygodwhatiswrongwithyou?" phase. And plenty of other stressful phases in between.

But right now, there is only one thing, even when she's screaming bloody murder at 3:15am for no apparent reason. Right now there is only "light up my life."

And after a day of running to someone else's beat, of trying to please 3 bosses and 2 coworkers and 4 external partners, of riding the metro with a bunch of grumpy office workers, of drinking too much coffee and getting overheated, there's finally a true, clear escape. When she rests her little head on my shoulder and lets me sing her to sleep, there is nothing in the world but peace. And I know that I only have so long until she's too big. Only so long until she's yelling, "I hate you" or "You're ruining my life," at me. Only so long until she's out in the world, living her own life.

I wish I wasn't going on this work retreat. Tonight, I really wish I could go home to see my Lila Rose. Even more than usual.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Apple Bread Pudding from Leftovers

I hate wasting food. I'll eat leftovers of pretty much anything, even things I didn't like much in the first place. I'll eat things whose expired status is in serious question. I store celery butts, onion peels and other such in the freezer for soup stock.

So it especially upsets me when I see good, usable food thrown away for nothing better than a lack of imagination.

Case in point. We host a lot of training at my job. And we provide food. How much food varies between trainings, but at the bare minimum breakfast and snacks. And there are always leftovers. If I'm not around, the leftovers get tossed.

Thankfully, I was in charge of a recent training. And we had some odd leftovers. A pint of heavy cream (coffee leftovers). Five or so uneaten croissants. A bunch of apple halves. Half a veggie tray.

The veggie tray was an easy one - straight into the stock bag in the freezer. But the other stuff? Well hell, that's 2/3 of what you need for some wicked bread pudding. More than one person looked at me like I was nuts when I was packing things up, even after I explained what I was doing. A few gave me appreciative looks, but mostly nuts. Because even on a floor filled with progressives we're slaves to the disposable landscape syndrome.

These apples look all brown and icky. People looked at me askance when I packed them up

Anyway, back to my point: the recipe. As usual, I looked over five or six recipes to get ideas, and used none of them. Here's what I did, and how I did it.

4-5 cups of cubed croissants
Just slice off the brown part!
3ish cups of cubed apples (every recipe told me the red delicious apples I had were not good baking apples. They worked wonderfully. I say use whatever apples you have/want)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1/2 stick) butter
Some raisins (didn't measure, probably 1/2 cup or so?)
2 eggs
2 T bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger

Melt the butter in a pan with a large bottom. Add apples and let them sizzle for a minute. Add sugar, stirring, and let it caramelize slightly on apples. Add cream, spices, vanilla, and heat till steamy but not boiling. Add raisins, turn to low, leave to simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Preheat your oven to 350. Meanwhile, separate the eggs. Use the whites for something like angel food cake. Beat the yolks so they're smooth. Slowly add to hot creamy/apple-y/sugary/spicey goodness, whisking aggressively. This is where real chefs would temper the eggs, but again, I'm too lazy so I take this route. Whatever. Get the eggs incorporated without scrambling them. Switch to a flat bottom spatula and stir slowly, scraping the bottom. Add the bourbon, continue stirring. When it's thickened to where it doesn't run off the spatula, remove from heat.

Now add your croissants. Mix gently, so that the good stuff all gets soaked up nicely, but don't abuse the bready stuff. Pour it all into a 9x13" pan (or a smaller if you want a thicker bread pudding), stick it in the oven. Leave it in there 40 minutes or so, until it seems done (if you use a smaller pan/thicker pudding system, probably more like 50-60 min).

I got more feedback on this than anything else I've brought to NOI. And I've brought 3 different angel food cakes, a frozen peanut butter banana chocolate pie, and more cookies and ice cream than I can name. People came back for thirds. People ask me to bring it again. Actually, it looks like there will be about enough croissants left from the training I'm in now to make it tonight!

What do you do with leftovers? Any creative solutions to prevent wasting food?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pina Colada and Ancient History

Ostensibly, this post is about the quart of (delicious) Pina Colada ice cream that I just made. But the Pina Colada and I have a lot of history, so I'm also using it as an excuse for that.

Captain Morgan released Parrot Bay Rum late in my junior year of high school. And we loved the shit. It was delicious, it was easy to drink, but it was also made by Captain Morgan so it wasn't sissy stuff. This was, of course, before there were 16 fruit flavors of every alcohol, at least stateside. It was pretty exotic stuff. We'd drink it just about any way you can, straight or mixed, whatever.

So after high school, at my parents urging, I took a year off. They hooked me up with the Center for Interim Programs, thinking I'd go to some state with a good university system, work for Habitat or some other service group, get residency, and go to school. On my first visit with the guy who ran the place, he said, "where do you want to go?" and waved at the world map behind him. And the only answer was Australia.

But Australia's a story for another time. This story is about Pina Colada. The reason I bring it up is that my 19th birthday was a few days before I left for Oz. I was living in a shithole apartment, aptly named The Cesspool, with 4 friends. (random fact, it was the first place of 4 where I lived with Alex Malloy, and I still have lived with Alex longer than anyone else to whom I am not related by blood).

The Cesspool was a total crash pad, and earned it's moniker the hard way. We were among the very few people from our high school who were a) still living near our home town and b) had a place of our own. So everyone who was either still at LHS or living at home ended up on our floor at some point or another.

For my birthday that year, we got several (2? 3? 4?) handles of Parrot Bay, a ton of Pina Colada mix, and ice. And we got trashed. Somewhere in the evening, my buddy Matt Hicks decided he'd call into the local classic rock station (WZLX, baby!). What ensued was somewhere in the neighborhood of completely ludicrous. But you can judge for yourself, as I have set the recording together with a bunch of pictures from that night, The Cesspool generally, and just plain old high school.

A few things about this recording. I've been carrying it around on a cassette tape for 13+ years, so the condition is not great. I digitized it by playing the tape next to the computer mic, making it even worse. But you can hear that I once had something bordering on a Boston accent. You can also hear that I'm a pretty cocky little bastard. I was very proud of what I was doing. And you can't hear it, but there was some hefty editing to our conversation. But whatever. The main point is, I was totally sloshed on Pina Coladas.

Those were pretty good Pina Coladas that night, especially considering the low grade. Maybe the quantity or the company influenced it. Probably both. The best Pina Colada I've ever had was in Playa del Carmen, in 2004. Yes, this is probably somewhat influenced by the setting, but we found this little joint where they clearly made their own mix. And it was delicious. Just a little chunky, totally fresh, just the right rum content. Mmmm. Delicious.

So as I was thinking about cocktail/ice cream combinations to make, naturally the Pina Colada came to mind. And I got to thinking about a recipe. Most of the recipes I saw online called for only coconut milk, which didn't seem quite right to me.

Back when I was trying to convert from server to bartender, I was working at Gordon Biersch. My boss was a big lug. Not a bad guy, per se, but kind of a goofus. He was quizzing me on recipes one day, and asked, "What if someone ordered a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have a blender."
"Sure, but what if they just really wanted a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have mix."
"Yeah, but it's some hot girl and she just wants something that tastes like a Pina Colada." (he generally operated under the stereotype restaurant GM mode of "anything for a hot girl," which included jobs).
"Um, I'd do Malibu, Pineapple, a splash of cream and shake the hell out of it."
"Cream?" He said it as thought it was the dumbest, grossest thing he had ever heard. I nodded and said, "Yeah, cuz otherwise it's just a Malibu-Pineapple."
"Gross," he said, and walked away.

I never challenged him further, although I knew I was right. And over the years I've certainly learned that the best Pina Colada will have a little cream. Even if you're using the richest coconut milk, a little cream adds a weight and smoothness that you just can't get otherwise. And it's fucking delicious. So anyway, here's my Pina Colada ice cream recipe (I hope you haven't really read this whole random thought train just to get here, but if you have, well done).
  • 1 cup coconut milk (full fat. I discovered at the grocery store that there's a "Light" or "Low Fat" coconut milk. I refuse to acknowledge such a thing as legitimate)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks and juice (see below)
  • 1/3 or 1/2 cup Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (depending on how boozey you want it)
  • Handful of shaved coconut
  • 1-2 previously used vanilla bean pods
This recipe varies pretty broadly from the standard base. Obviously coconut milk replaces regular milk. I cut the sugar to 1/2 cup from the normal 3/4 to account for the sweetness in the coconut, pineapple and rum. I cut the eggs because the coconut milk is naturally thick, so the thickening agent wasn't as necessary.

The vanilla sugar and used bean pods are key. They'll add a little extra vanilla component but not overwhelm. The vanilla sugar is not store-bought fakey stuff. Per the recommendations of many, I've taken to putting the (cleaned and dried) used bean pods into my sugar container after use. It gives the sugar a really nice vanilla essence. And the used pods still infuse some flavor when heated in liquid, but not a deep flavor.

Anyway, here's how you do.

Put the coconut milk, 1/2 cup of cream, sugar, vanilla pods and coconut shavings into a sauce pan, heat on medium heat. While it's heating up, get 1 cup of pineapple chunks. Fill the cup with juice, so the liquid fills in around the chunks. Drop it all in a blender and blend the living shit out of it until it's super pureed. Add to the stuff on the stove.

Heat it until it's all warm and steamy, stirring with a whisk, then turn down to low. Heat a few more minutes, continuing to stir from time to time. DO NOT BOIL!

Take it off the heat, let it sit there for about an hour.

After an hour, heat it back up to very warm. Add the rum, whisking aggressively (the rum can cause the cream to curdle if you just dump it in, so be careful here).

While it's heating, take the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream, put it on an ice bath.

Fish out the vanilla pods, rinse, dry, return to the sugar container. I'm too lazy to properly temper eggs, so I just very slowly add them while whisking aggressively. However you get them in there (my method or true tempering), add the eggs. Shift to a flat rubber spatula, stir slowly, scraping the bottom. Continue until it thickens to where it coats the spatula without running.

Remove from heat, whisk into chilled cream. Whisk the mixture until it's a) thoroughly mixed and b) pretty well chilled. Cover, stick it in the fridge, leave it overnight. I'm usually too impatient to wait all night, but in this case I think it's worth it. All of the flavors are ones that really absorb slowly (rum, coconut, pineapple, vanilla) and giving it the time overnight to get together and make sweet flavor love is probably worth it.

When it's gotten all conjugal and shit, bust out your ice cream maker. With my booze + cream ice creams, I always leave it in a little extra time to really get as firm as possible, so probably 40 minutes instead of 30.

Take it out of the machine, put in a container. Again, the machine doesn't freeze everything evenly, so use your spatula to mix it and get the texture consistent (this should also help keep even flavor throughout). Stick it in the freezer, let it ripen for 4+ hours.

I've discovered that the freezer ripening is a really key step in ice cream. Straight out of the machine it's really delicious and fresh, but the flavors haven't had time to settle in. Once it's been in the freezer and hardened up, the harder flavors mellow, the softer flavors find their place, and the texture of the ice cream really gets nice. So while I may eat a spoonful or two straight out of the machine, I find it's worth waiting a while, and I'm both an ice cream addict and horribly impatient.

And that's my Pina Colada story. In the coming weeks I'll be doing Mojito (probably try ice cream and sorbet), Old Fashioned (I'm gonna candy my own orange and lemon peel for this), and Mud Pie with Kahlua and Baileys. But what other cocktail concoctions should I get into? Help me create some wicked ice cream flavors!

Oh, and I think I'm gonna make a Pina Colada Rootbeer Float later. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Photo from Flickr user SingChan, shared under Creative Commons license

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cookies and Cream that doesn't suck

So I have to just start out by saying that I don't really like Cookies and Cream as an ice cream flavor. It's boring. "Cream" isn't a real flavor. It's something you add other things to and get flavor. And I don't really like Oreos for anything except pie crust.

But I was pretty much out of interesting ingredients to make ice cream with. And I wanted to make ice cream. OK, I wanted to make more ice cream. Yes, I have already made (more) margarita sorbet and coffee-fudge swirl (with a much improved coffee recipe, I might add) this weekend. But two quarts really isn't enough.

Yep, all this stuff's going in there
And lo and behold, as I went into the freezer, what should I spy? THIN MINTS! Yep, the one and only cookie that girl scouts shill that doesn't suck. Wait, wait, don't get all upset yet. There are lots of Girl Scout Cookie varietals that are good. Samoas, Tagalongs, a few others. But be honest. They suck. They're shit quality. We buy them because we can't say no to cute little girls, and because they taste like childhood. They all suck. Except Thin Mints, which somehow manage to not suck, but in fact rule.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There they were. And I thought, "I know, I'll make Thin Mints ice cream." But that sounded a little too much like mint chocolate chip, which I also don't love. So I figured, "Fuck it, Cookies and Cream it is."

And you know what? I owned that shit. Seriously. Owned it in the way Josh Beckett owned the Yankees tonight (yes, it's a bad start to the season overall, but we just took 2 of 3 from the devil, and I still believe). Wanna know how I owned it? Perhaps even own it yourself? Just follow my easy to follow instructions. I make ice cream fun!

World's cutest baby says "Hi"
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick (DO NOT USE POWDERED CINNAMON!!!!!!!)
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
4 egg yolks
1.5 sleeves Thin Mints

Mix milk, sugar, 1/2 cup cream in a pot, heat until warm. Add the cinnamon stick. Split the 1/2 vanilla bean lengthwise and add. Heat until really warm and steaming, but not boiling. Remove from heat, allow to steep for 1 hour.

Make an ice bath, put a bowl in it. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream in the bowl. Put a wire strainer over the bowl. Leave.

Once your hour has passed, fish the vanilla out. Scrape the seeds out of the bean into the milk. Put the pod back in. Heat the whole thing till warm.

I'm too lazy to do the technical tempering of the eggs, so I just pour the yolks into the pan veeeeeerrrrrrrry slowly, while whisking very quickly. You can do the other way if you want. Either way, once it's all mixed in, stir gently with a flat spatula, scraping the bottom. The stuff will thicken. Once you can run your finger across the batch of the spatula without it running, remove from heat. It won't be custard thick. It should still be quite liquid-y. Just thick enough that it doesn't run off your spatula. Once that's the story, strain into cream. Whisk together. Let it sit for at least 3-4 hours in the fridge, until cold.

Put your custard in your mixer. Put your cookies in a food processor. Pulse them until they're about 1/2 powdered and 1/2 medium chunks. At least that's how I like it. You should do what you like. Regardless, once they're chopped to your liking and the mix is about 2/3 frozen, dump them in. Let the whole thing mix up until it's all frozey and mixey and yum. Move into a container. Freeze until firm.

My kitchen, three ice cream flavors and an Angel Food Cake later...
Yeah, that's right. It's fucking delicious. You can thank me later.

What flavor should I try next? I've got some cocktail ice cream recipes to make, but I'm always open to suggestions... Crowdsource ice cream, what?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Margarita Sorbet

I'm now playing with my new ice cream machine, so I'm gonna put up the recipes that I create myself. OK, I'm gonna put up the ones that work. The others, I'll probably hide from the light of day.

I got the machine a few weeks back. I was watching Iron Chef and thought, "Damnit, I want an ice cream machine!" So I started looking at machines, and the reviews are sort of all over the place. The one thing that was consistent, though, was that people felt the machines under about $700 can't produce rich, smooth ice creams reliably. I was gonna use a chunk of tax rebate to buy a really expensive machine, and decided it was worth trying a cheap one. I found a Cuisinart ICE-20 on Craigslist for $20. Can't beat that. Better yet, it comes with a second bowl. Pretty much every maker under $300 is the "freezethisbowlfortwelvehours" type, or the really old school rock salt and ice type. So having a second bowl allows me to make two batches at a time. When you're an addict like I am, well... Anyway, so far this thing has done a great job. Rich, creamy ice cream, smooth, well developed sorbet. Glad I decided to try for the $20 before spending $700.

Quick aside. In 2000, Lukafresh and I went shopping at the Albertson's in University Village. They had a sale. $2 pints of Ben and Jerry's. Fresh is an ice cream addict. I am an ice cream addict. It was like if the guy at the corner of 2nd and Bell announced half of on rocks. We went bananas. We literally filled our shopping cart with ice cream. Our freezer wouldn't fit it all. We had to eat like 4 pints right away so they wouldn't melt. The freezer was empty in two weeks or so.

Anyway, now you probably understand my ice cream addiction somewhat. Sorbet plays a critical role in the ice cream universe. Sore throat? Sorbet. Feel bogged down by a heavy meal? Sorbet. Too hot to eat something creamy? Sorbet.

I've got a bottle of tequila that's just a little too harsh to drink naked. So I thought, "hey, I'll turn you into sorbet!" Looked up a recipe or six, and settled on one.

But the problem with these recipes is that the creators either a) have never been bartenders or b) took no pride in the margaritas they made if they were. Apparently what they wanted to create was an homage to the Jose Cuervo pre-mix margarita you buy in the grocery store. That is not what I wanted. So I took the ice cream theory from the recipes, and mixology theory from my own experience, and churned this recipe out:

2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup lime juice (I recommend key lime for this recipe)
3T lemon juice
6T tequila
8T orange juice
2T triple sec (optional, I prefer without)

Combine water and sugar, heat on medium until completely integrated. Once the sugar dissolved, raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Chill until fully cold (in the fridge if you're patient, with an ice bath if you're like me). Freeze in your machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Here's a key step - when you transfer from the machine to your container, use a broad spoon or spatula to gently mix it together. It'll come out of your machine with inconsistent texture - the stuff on the outside will be very dry and frozen, some will be more soupy. If you don't mix it until it's consistent, it'll freeze unevenly. In particular, the tequila will run out and make tequila ice around the edges, while the rest will have little tequila flavor.

Once it's in your container, freeze it for 2-4 hours to ripen. Then enjoy. Amy, who eats about 1/3 the ice cream I do, ate the better part of a quart of this in 48 hours. I just had to make a second batch.

Here's the mixology breakdown (and the ingredients I didn't see in any other recipe):

In the states, most margaritas are sweet and sour, tequila and triple sec. You might get lucky and get it muddled with fresh lime. You might get even luckier and have homemade sweet and sour. You might get truly lucky and get a bartender who understands that a margarita should have a splash of OJ. The recipes all behave like you want a TGI Friday's margarita. I dunno about you, but I don't. So what's up with the ingredients I used?

Lemon juice - in my opinion, sweet and sour should be about 2/3 lime, 1/3 lemon. The lemon counters the lime nicely, and adds dimension to the flavor. You won't get lemon in most scratch margaritas in Mexico, but for the purposes of either homemade sweet and sour or this recipe, it'll give you a nice depth.

Orange juice - the sweetness of the orange is how you get a margarita smooth. Triple sec is just orange liqueur, and if you use it here you'll get the syrupy flavor of an airport bar margarita. It'll also cause the freezing to be even more uneven, making it more likely you end up with a dry, lightly flavored section and an ice cube of liquor around the edge. Use fresh orange to dull the edge a little, and because the flavor of juice is much nicer than the flavor of DeKuyper.

In Mexico, almost every scratch margarita you'll get has four ingredients: Tequila, triple sec, fresh lime, oj (plenty of sloppy margaritas to be had there, too, with garbage and sugar covering up lousy tequila and laziness). Because our palette has been destroyed by chain restaurants and sloppy bartenders, it's hard to make a margarita without a ton of unnecessary sugar and some extra stuff. This recipe is about 2/3 real margarita, 1/3 Americanized. But I think you'll enjoy it.

What cocktail or booze-based frozen treat should I attempt next?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Knowing your server

Apparently it's restaurant week in my blog. In this episode...

My friend posted this to her Facebook wall the other day:

As you'll notice, there was a pretty fair conversation on the topic. My immediate answer was yes, mostly because it means there's less free stuff for you. I can't think of any regulars I comped much for who didn't know my name/whose name I didn't know.

I recommended a few clandestine ways to get the servers' names (off the receipt, ask another staff member, etc), but there's a possible issue there too, which another poster pointed out: the server still doesn't know your name, and suddenly using the person's name after years of never having used it is awkward/suspicious.

If you decide to ferret out the name of a server after a long period of non-introduction, then be considerate about it. Give your credit card to pay, so s/he has the opportunity to learn yours easily. Chances are, s/he is just as embarrassed about not knowing your name at this point.

And there's also a certain line to observe, right? Sometimes, customers seem to think knowing and using your name somehow gets them past the important part: tipping. Apparently, once we're on a first name basis I'm no longer reliant on tips to earn my income, so you don't need to tip me as long as you say, "Evan" every 3rd sentence or so. I'll always take a nice tip from someone who doesn't know my name over a stiff from someone who thinks s/he's my friend.

In the end, I recommend the full disclosure method. "I don't know how I've gone this long without introducing myself, and now it's really awkward. But I'm Evan." It's probably a relief for the server, too, who definitely doesn't know your name and probably wishes s/he did. I remember a group of regulars, four dudes, who came into GB 2-3 times per week. They started in someone else's section, but eventually I inherited them. At that point, I'd been seeing them 2-3 times a week for a year, and had never introduced myself, and now it was too late. I never did get their names, and it was mildly awkward every time they sat down. Woulda been better to just admit ignorance and introduce.

What say you, restaurant people? How did/do you deal with the regular whose name you never got? Is there a point at which learning the person's name becomes too awkward and you just give up?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anxiety Dreams

I wish I could draw, as I'd draw this one out. I tried to do some stick figures, but it turns out that's not even in my wheelhouse. Oh well. I'll leave that type of blogging to this wonderful gal.

Anyway, here we go. So the other night, we went to this restaurant. Little tiny place, West African cuisine. One dude working. When we walked in, it was just us (Amy, Miles, Lila, yours truly). Over the next 100 minutes until we left, a fairly steady stream of folks came through. The poor guy working was way over his head - I got the feeling he wasn't normally a cook, because cooking our meal (2 apps and 3 entrees) took 70 of those 100 minutes. At the end, he came to apologize and explain that they were short handed that night. When I told him I had worked in restaurants, you could literally see the stress fall off his shoulders.

And I got to thinking - this was like a real, live server anxiety dream.

This guy is about to realize that he has 27 new tables
When I worked in service, anxiety dreams were at least a weekly occurrence. The details varied, but the scene was always the same. Tons of people sitting in my section/at my bar, and something complicating. Sometimes I'd have the classic no-pants realization. Others, the section grew every time I turned around. Maybe people all sat at once, or maybe a flow that just didn't stop. Or I was out of ketchup and every table wanted it. Or a combination of all of those. These are common to every server I know.

One stands out from the crowd - the weirdest dream I ever had. It came near the end of my tenure in restaurants. In the dream, I was working a restaurant that was shaped like an old broadway set, with three tiered levels (each about 2 steps higher than the lower, think of like A Chorus Line, or a Rockette's show), and the bar was on the top level. I was working by myself, and no one in the place but me. The bathroom was just an unprotected toilet next to the bar on the top level. I really needed to take a crap. Eventually, I just had to go. As soon as I started, people began coming in, and seating themselves on the lower level. People kept coming, and I apparently had a limitless gut. Something from Norse Myth, or something - the Bung of Plenty, gifted to mighty Thor from the Gnomes of Ygdrhamster or something. So I'm sitting on the top level, in full site of a newly filled restaurant, waving to people and saying, "I'll be right with you," as my gut made constant grumbly noises that showed no sign of slowing or stopping.  And that was how the entire dream went. Dream hours of pooping and waving to people, telling them I'd be right there to take their order.

Needless to say, I woke up scratching my head and wondering if I'd crapped the bed. Thankfully I hadn't.

So yeah, analyze that shit, Sigmund (pun inevitable).

Since leaving restaurants, work anxiety dreams have become almost entirely a thing of the past. Which makes me wonder - Do you have work anxiety dreams? What do they look like? Are they consistent in theme (like the filling/growing restaurant), or do they vary? And why in god's name couldn't that damn toilet at least have had a stall??? ;-)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Ewok Whisperer

So after my X Wing project, one of my best friends, Toby Rzepka, asked me if she could say Yub Yub yet.

I'm proud to announce that we're almost there. Sadly, "Gooondah" still hasn't caught on.

I've been intending to do my next Star Wars project for the last couple weekends, but haven't had time. I've got several plans for very fun (and somewhat more practical) projects. Hoping to post soon.

Do your kids speak any nerd languages? If you don't have kids, which nerd languages do you plan to teach them when you do?

Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Build an X-Wing

I was a little unsure whether to post this here, or to my more family centered blog ( But in the "about" area, I list this as my "whimsy" blog. If this project doesn't fit in "whimsy," I don't know what does. So, sandwiched in the middle of a bunch of dark shit about suicide, here is your "Lila Rose gets her first X-Wing Fighter" how to. Enjoy!

Oooooh, Star Wars... If they should bar wars... Give us those Star Wars... Don't let them end...

So, a while back, someone gave my daughter this goofy red hat. One day, she was sitting in her little chair that clips to the table, lookin' all adorable. And I noticed that the hat looked remarkably like a Rebel Alliance starfighter helmet. Well, for a baby hat it looks remarkably like it, anyway. OK, to a giant fucking nerd it looks remarkably like a Rebel Alliance helmet (for a baby hat).

And it got me to thinking: I should build my tiny daughter an X-Wing to call her own. It took a few weeks before I had time (thank you, Presidents' Day!).

But, with a three day weekend to burn, it was definitely time. You can follow along, with my easy to follow instructions. I make drawing fun!


1 extra large cardboard box (free)
4 cans of white spray paint ($3.96 total)
1 small can of red paint (I got a tester can at Home Depot for $2.98)
Foam paint brush ($0.69)
Box cutter
The Force (may it be with you, always)

1: Cut the end flaps off your box and set them aside.

Step 1: Cut Fuselage
2: Mark out the center strip of your fuselage (about 10" wide). Then mark out two flanges for the sides, at about a 22* angle and cut your fuselage out of the main box.

2a: Using your knife, score the inside fold line lightly to make folding easier.

 I should pause at this juncture and say that this process was entirely experimental. I went into it a) knowing what an X-Wing looks like, and b) with a lot of time on my hands. It's probable that someone with a little more technical skill would have done this with more forethought, but screw you. Also, I needed to fill a little text space to make the formatting not look so crappy with the pictures. I have now accomplished that. You may continue.

3: Using the piece left over from your outer edge cut as a pattern/template to cut the additional three wings from the remaining box. Now, you've got your fuselage and four wings.

Step 3: Cut them wings!
 **Star Wars riddle: What's got a light side, a dark side, and holds the galaxy together? That's right, duct tape. Get some. I know, I should have included it in the Materials section. Bite me. If you've started this project without reading at least this far and now have to drive to the store to buy duct tape, it serves your right.**

Luke, I am your father, eh. Give in to the dark side of the Force, you knob!
3a: Line the front (angled) edge of each wing with duct tape. This will cover up any messy cardboard, and also give you an excuse to use duct tape. Who doesn't love to use duct tape?
Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'...

4: Now it's time to make our engines. Remember those end flaps we cut off? Hope you didn't throw them away yet. Grab the long ones. Roll them tightly (like a poster) so that the cardboard loses stiffness. Once the cardboard is nice and pliable, tape the two ends together to form hollow tubes.

4a: Use the small end flaps and cut four pieces for the inserts. Tape these to the ends of your engine tubes.

Voila, engines. Perfect for interstellar transit

5: Now it's time for the blasters. First, start the base by rolling two of your remaining end flaps, then cutting them in half.

Great for blasting Womp Rats
5a: Cut pieces about 8" wide by 2' long. Roll each piece tightly till it forms a tight tube. This will be the barrel of your blaster cannon.

5b: Wrap the flap pieces around the end of your long tube and secure with duct tape.

5c: Cut four small, thin strips and wrap them around the cannon barrel about 3" from the opposite end. Then cover the muzzle end with duct tape to hide that ugly cardboard. It should look like this.

6: Ok, now it's time for the assembly to begin! First, let's get the point at the tip of our fuselage. Cut a wedge on each side of the tip about 3" wide, tapering down to a point about 10" up. It'll look like this:

The W is for "What the hell am I doing?"
7: Next, cut a new piece the length of your fuselage, and slightly narrower than the top center strip.

7a: Cut the end of this piece so that it tapers at the same rate as the top center strip.

7b: Cut narrow strips out of this piece, the same width as a piece of duct tape. Cut them on both sides, about 8" up and 18" up. Feed 8" strips of duct tape through these holes, wrap around, and secure the tape to itself. You should have about 6" left with sticky side facing in.

7c: Now, bend the pieces of the fuselage together, so that they form the point at the end. Use the remaining strips of tape to secure the bottom to the top. Then use duct tape to close the gaps and secure the end. Use additional strips of duct tape to cover the joints.

Not a Womp Rat
**Now is where the process starts to depend on your application. For me, the X-Wing is designed for my daughter, and I'm making it so it'll fit over her little frog jumper thing. Maybe you wanna wear it for halloween or it's for your larger kid. So you'll have to figure out the appropriate size/shape of step 8 for yourself.**

Now the next thing I need to do is figure out the cutouts to make it fit the frog. On an X-Wing, the wings secure almost immediately behind the pilot and droid navigator. So you wanna leave just enough space behind for the wings to comfortably attach.

8: So I set my frame over the support, and guestimated where the baby will come through. Then, I marked the sides where I needed to make my cutouts. I also cut the bottom off where the cutouts start. Here's what it looks like set over the frog.

Don't worry, it gets a lot less stupid looking later.

See the slits I fed the tape through?
9: Using the remaining length of the bottom piece, cut your tape cutouts, and wrap your tape through. Secure to the top starting at the back end of the cutouts. Where it reaches the end of your frame, cut in from the sides about 2".

9a: Bend at the cut, and fold to cover the back. You should have 2 tape slots on each side. Put tape through, and secure to cover the back of your frame. Cut off any excess.

10: Cover your seams with duct tape all the way along the bottom and back edges. This will make sure your X-Wing has a nice, even finish when we paint, and help keep it secured. Here's what it looks like on the bottom now:

11: Now for the wings. To make them fit securely, we first need to cut a piece from the body-end of each. Make sure they're all exactly the same by using the cutout piece from the first as your pattern. The flange should be longer than the width of your X-Wing's body by about 4-6" (more on why later). Here's what all four should look like when you're done:

You are the wind beneath my... Wait, no wind in space. D'oh.
11b: Now comes the tricky part. I'm sure someone from Ikea could figure out another way to do this, but I'm not so mechanically/spatially talented. So here's what I did. First, cut an upper slot on side A (A1), then a lower slot on side B (B2), each just wide just enough to fit the wing flanges through (doesn't matter which side is which, so long as they're opposite sides. Name 'em Luke and Leia for all I care).

Interior shot of the wings
11c: Next, Cut the lower slot in side A (A2) and the upper slot in side B (B1) by cutting from the back of your cutouts. Your first set of slots (11b) should be closed, and the second set (11c) should be open, all of them ending the same distance from the back of your X-Wing.

12: Time to start assembly of the wings. First, feed wings 1 and 2 diagonally through A1 and B2 (no, you didn't miss me assigning numbers to the wings earlier, this is just another random naming). The wings should overlap on each side, with about 4-6" of butt-end extending through the opposite slot.

12a: Next, slide wings 3 and 4 down through A2 and B1. Where they touch the first set, mark both sets.

12b: Remove wings 3 and 4. Using a craft knife/box cutter, cut tabs out of wings 3 and 4. Cut matching tabs from wings 1 and 2 where you marked them. You'll have to guess as you go, but be careful. If you cut too much, your wings won't line up. Keep cutting a little at a time until the four wings slide together and all are on a level plane.

OK, now it's time for painting. If you're like me and you have a fetish for spray paint, then you should use spray paint. However, it would have been a lot easier to just buy a small can of house paint or tempera. Again, if you went an bought supplies without reading the fucking instructions, not my fault. If you didn't, I'd buy white paint, and paint everything with a paintbrush. Quicker, easier, cleaner. You'll probably need a pint of white paint, instead of four cans of spray paint. But, if you're like me and you keep choosing spray paint for no apparent reason, then...

13: Set yourself up with a drop cloth, and spray paint the shit outa that fucker.

I wonder what this looks like to my neighbors. Certainly not like a fitting activity for a grown man...

Now, one way or another your pieces are ready to go and painted white, so it's time to add your X-Wing colors. First things first, you wanna mark the wings. I recommend using ST, SB, PT, PB (Starboard and Port, top and bottom), to keep your wings straight. It's important for the blaster cannons and your detail work.

14: Once you've got everything marked and separated, add your red paint. If you google image search X-Wing, you'll come up with about 15 different paint schemes. I chose a slightly personalized version of the classic from Episode IV. You should do whatever makes you happy. Remember to paint all four wings on their top side, though. I also added some red to the blaster cannons and engines, just for good measure. Here's my stuff all painted and drying:


15: While you're waiting for paint to dry, it's time to get your astromech navigator together. I personally went with the classic R2 unit. Very devoted, but a bit headstrong. First you need to print up a pic of the little guy. Don't try to paint him, it'll just look stupid.

15a: Once you've got R2's head and upper body printed (should fill about 1/2 sheet of paper), cut him out and glue him to a piece of cardboard.

15b: Leaving about 6" of blank cardboard below him, cut the remaining cardboard so it's just a little droid.

15c: Then cut two flaps from the cardboard at the base, running from the bottom to where R2 starts. Should look like the pic on the right.

15d: Cut slots in the X-Wing body behind your pilot hole to match R2's 3 strips (middle and edges). Feed those three through, leaving the two flaps outside and bent back. Tape these down. Now your R2 is nice and sturdy, and won't flop over on you.

***Interlude. It occurs to me that I never told you to cut a hole for the pilot. It doesn't really matter when you do this. But at some point, cut the hole through which your fighter pilot's head will emerge. If you can't figure out where/how to do that, I'm not going to help you.***

16: Still with me? Good. Grand. Great. Wonderful. NO YELLING ON THE BUS!!! Now your paint should be pretty dry. So it's time to attach the blaster cannons. First, cut two small slots in the end of each wing. These should be the same type as you cut in step 7b. They should be slightly closer together than the fat end of your cannon is wide.

Tape slots at ends of your wings

16a: Now, feed a long strip of tape through. Remember, the cannons are on the OUTSIDE of each wing, so the bottom wings they're below, and the top wings they're above.

16b: Put the cannons in place, wrap the tape tightly, cut off any extra. Now it's on to...

17: The engines. We're almost done. First, I don't like ugly edges, so wrap the front end of the engines with duct tape to cover the cardboard.

17b: Now cut one skinny slot on each (opposite) side of each engine. Start from the back of the engine, and cut to about 3/4 of the full length. You want to position these so that they're NOT in the center of the engine. X-Wing engines are also on the outside of each wing. That's not fully feasible here because of our construction model, but you should cut them at about 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock (you know, where your hands are supposed to be on the steering wheel, ass clown). That way, the engines will be mostly outside the wings.

This was a first run. The slots should extend almost all the way to the other edge to be flush with the wings.

18: Congratulations, you've made it. Now, just assemble the full deal. Insert the wings into the body. Next, slide the engines over the wings. And here's what it should look like...
Oooooooooh, SNAP!

Now it's time to get the kid in her sick new ride.

As you can see in this video, the weight of the blaster cannons is a little too much for the cardboard wings. If you're making something that needs to have structural integrity, I'd probably grab some 1/4" dowels and feed them through to support your wings. But for now, I'm happy just holding and taking pictures. In the end, this wasn't really for her to play in, it's for me to satisfy some giant nerd idea that I got from a stupid hat. And satisfy myself I did. Here are some pictures from the nerdfest.

Lila = Happy. Miles = Not so much

Warning: What follows next is a complete nerdout. If you have made it this far, you are clearly either a fucking nerd like me, or somehow related to me, or have a sense of morbid curiousity. From here out, it's all pictures of the cutest little girl ever to pilot an X-Wing (ok, cutest little girl ever). View them if you will, but do so at your own risk.

Red leader, this is Red 5, I'm going in!

I'm making my run...

I've got one on my tail!

I can't shake him!

Yahoo! You're all clear, kid! (I didn't make the Millenium Falcon yet, so this'll have to do)
 Use the Force, Lila...
Trust your feelings!
It's away!
Great shot, Kid! That was one in a million!
Yes, I know she's not in her X-Wing in the last picture. This one was taken the day I realized it looked like a Rebel Alliance helmet. Plus, look at that face! I didn't get any shots that said, "Daddy, I just blew up the Death Star" quite as well as this one does. So I used it. Booyah!

Saturday, February 12, 2011


From my journal, 03/10/01

I hadn’t even taken a seat at the counter, and they were already talking to me. It was a ratty, smokey little diner, across the street from a storage and shipping joint in what could’ve been just about any town in America.
“How tall are you, son?” he asked me. He had salt ‘n’ pepper hair and a salt ‘n’ pepper beard and sparkling old eyes and a goofy grin.
“Uh, six feet four,” I answered.
“Six feet four,” he exclaimed, “Now, that’s the perfect height for a center. Do you play basketball son?”
“Why not? You’d be a great center.”
“I might be if I could shoot the ball. I’m tall, but I can’t shoot.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. He just kept going. “Oh, you’d be a great center. Six feet four is perfect height for a center. I got that from the old basketball players. Now they got those real big boys, but six feet four is the perfect height for a center. You try again son. See, you let ‘em get under you, before. You try again, you’ll be great. You’ll see. Six feet four is the perfect height for a center."
He didn't care what I said, so I couldn’t really argue. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll try.”
I glanced around the place just as the waitress came up. Everyone in the joint was over fifty, and she was no exception. Her hair was dyed a tacky auburn and she looked tired and sounded worn out, and she had a bright pink tee shirt under her black sweatshirt. There were big, sloppy, neon pink letters running diagonally up the sweat. “RENO.”
“Didja need a menu?” she asked.
“Yeah, and a cup of coffee, please.”
“Okay, just a minute.”
“No hurry.”
I looked around the place again, and Salt ‘n’ Pepper was still smiling at me from his seat on the other side of the register. “How ya doin’ today?” I asked him.
“Oh, I’m wonderful son. I enjoy this as much as you enjoy basketball.”
I think he meant that he enjoys life as much as he wishes I enjoyed basketball. Truth be known, I couldn’t care less about basketball, but he certainly seemed to be getting a kick out of life.
“How much to settle up for the coffee?” he asked as the waitress came by.
“Ninety seven cents,” she answered.
“That’ll work out perfect,” he warbled, “I’m gonna give that three cents to this young man here.”
He came around the register holding his dollar. Then he caught sight of my backpack. “That’s a mighty fine backpack. But there’s one thing wrong with this backpack, you know what it is?” He looked up at me from behind his thick, rectangular glasses.
“No, what’s that?”
He grabbed hold of a black and grass green nylon zipper pull. “This right here. That’s the only thing wrong with your backpack. But I’ll take care of it for you.” He stuck his thumb through the loop and pulled, trying to snap it, but the braided nylon wouldn’t budge.
“Huh. Tough fucker,” He grunted, “And I don’t have my knife.”
The waitress had come back with my coffee in the standard issue chipped brown mug, and she brought the standard plastic eight ounce glass of water too. I watched her set down the napkin and silverware, and when I turned back, Salt ‘n’ Pepper had the nylon in his teeth, tearing at it and grunting. I was about to tell him I’d take care of it later, but his teeth slipped and he pulled away, apparently thinking he had won the fight.
“There you go son,” he grinned. “Now there ain’t nothing wrong with your backpack. You can just leave that corpse right there.” He was smiling a big, toothy smile, obviously pleased with himself. “You just leave that corpse hanging there,” he repeated, grinning.
The waitress came by and took his dollar and gave him his three cents change.
“That’ll work just right,” he said. He took up my right hand and pushed the penny hard into the center of my palm. He looked me square in the face, eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. “That’s for you.”
I smiled at him and he grinned back, then said, “Give me your other hand, son.” I held it out, and he pressed another penny into that palm, hard and flat and right in the center. “That’s for your wife.” He grinned wide, then said, “Now put them together, son,” so I closed my palms with my thumbs toward the green styrofoam ceiling. He slid the third penny under my thumbs and into the crack between my palms.
“That’s for your son,” he stated brightly, and he shuffled through the door, past the red and white Miller Highlife sign and into the lounge.
There was a woman with thinning hair and a pile of pull tabs in the booth behind me, and a man with no hair, a wrinkled scalp, eight or ten teeth and a pile of scratch tickets in the next booth over.
“Do you know what you’re having?” the waitress asked me. Her hair was done up in puffy pigtails, and the line of yellow light bulbs made a funny haze around her head in the loose auburn hair.
“Yeah, could I have a short stack of cakes and the combo with scrambled eggs please. And I won’t need any toast with that.”
“Short stack of cakes and eggs and hashbrowns then,” she echoed.
“Yeah, and can you tell me where the restrooms are?”
“If you go back over there, there’s a red sign that shows the way.”
“Thanks,” I said. I followed the sign past a couple of doors and around a few corners. The toilet seats were cracked and stained; there wasn’t a door on either stall, but when you gotta go you can’t be too picky. My shit was just this side of liquid. Probably because my last meal has consisted of Triscuits and cream cheese and a Butterfinger bar in the back of a Greyhound. Oh, and a pint of Kokanee and one of some local IPA in an Irish pub at 1:55 in the morning.
Sometime halfway into my flaky instant hashbrowns, an old woman in pink and blue pajama pants came up next to me, leaning on a copper cane. “Morning Laura,” she called to the waitress. Laura responded, but I didn’t quite catch the other woman’s name. Edith or Edna or something, I think.
“Is Michael working today?” she questioned.
The waitress got a strange look and said, “No, he walked out of here.”
“He did?”
‘Yeah. He was just standing around, talking about his cat, and I asked him to cook an order and he walked out of here. Broke all kinds of things on the way, plates and mugs. He slammed the microwave door and we had to replace that.”
“No! The microwave?”
“That’s not right, I mean, he had no business doing that. And he was just standing around, talking about his cat?”
“Yeah, and when I told him he needed to cook an order he started yelling and walked out.”
“Well that’s not right. Work is no place to be standing around and talking about your pet.”
“Not when there are customers anyway.”
“And then he just stormed out.”
“That must’ve been awfully embarrassing.”
“Well, I was just embarrassed for our customers.”
“And he just stormed out?”
“He must’ve been drunk.”
“I think he was.”
“Well he must’ve been, to do something like that.”
It kept going. So did the people. Coming and going. Everybody knew everybody else. Ruthie and Russ and Rob and Dan and a stream of tepid coffee and eggs over easy and more coffee and plaid shirts and worn out jeans and dirty baseball caps and coffee and ruddy faces and baggy eyes and pull tabs and coffee and a fella in a wheelchair with a foot missing and a black beret with a silver cross on it and hawaiian print tee shirts and coffee and people giving the waitress five bucks on four ninety and saying “keep the change” and pull tabs and the woman with the cane saying “he’ll kill somebody when he’s drunk one of these days, Michael will,” and coffee and cowboy hats and a girl with a cane who couldn’t have been more that twenty five but looked well past forty and twelve cent tips on six dollar tabs and coffee and coffee and coffee in a steady, brown, tepid stream and cream out of innumerable little plastic cups and body odor and baggy eyes and a guy in a plaid shirt and a baseball cap with a scraggly beard and dirty hands with long, uncut nails and fingers that shook and clenched his fork and a yellow bag of rolling tobacco, and when he saw me spin my pen in my fingers he stopped and turned towards me as Laura topped off my coffee.
“Wow, that’s cool,” he stated. “I had an uncle who did that with a quarter, or…or was it a fifty cent piece?”
“Right on. That’s tough. I could never do it with a quarter.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he stammered, “I did it one time. It had to, to uh, go under,” and he held out his shaky hand to try to show me, but his fingers wouldn’t do what he wanted. “Oh damn,” he half mumbled, half chuckled, “I did it once. I had an uncle once who could bend a fifty cent piece like that. An Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe.”
“Takes some strong fingers to do that,” I said.
He smiled, “Yeah, I had an uncle who could do that once.”
And they just kept coming. Old men with buttons and patches on their hats, saying things like, “Say, where’s the waitress,” and, “I’ll just let John blow in your face, he’s got the cold on him,” and throwing trash at the can in the corner and saying, “Damn, I missed that bucket,” and I had just noticed that the one guy had a tan leather coat when his friend said, “I don’t want no damn gravy on my chicken fried steak, what’s the soup?”
“Chowder,” Laura answered.
“I don’t want no damn chowder, what else you got?”
“What the hell is Soukatash? Aw hell, just give me a salad.”
“You want bleu cheese on that?”
“Hell no.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“Ranch, damnit. Isn’t this a cow town?”
I’d probably had eight cups of what we had all tacitly agreed to call coffee. The sign over the pink lemonade dispenser read
all in block capitals.
There was a machine dispensing Chicklets and one with Hot Tamales next to a newspaper box in front of the door.
The bus ride took almost six hours. It was raining when we started and I was eating Triscuits out of a box and using them to scoop Philly cream cheese out of the foil wrapper. I turned off my overhead light; I thought I had seen lightning. I started counting the cars somewhere outside of Issaquah. I was stuck on one eight seven for well over a minute. Getting through from two oh one to three hundred took longer than any other count of one hundred. The moon tried to poke through the clouds at two four seven. I saw snow on the ground at three one one. The fog came up thick at three twenty four. Three four eight came along and we hit the top of the pass and I noticed that it was snowing. At four seventeen the bus started braking and groaning and I figured I was gonna die just east of Snoqualmie. Four ninety three and it was still snowing. The driver stopped the bus and got out to adjust his left headlight. An Alaskan fisherman was coughing. At five seventeen the moon came through. I lost count somewhere around six hundred.
The sky cleared up. Somewhere around Moses lake a fog rolled in. It was heavy and thick and it fuzzed up everything. Fog creates all the visual effects of good acid, without that nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach. I hadn’t taken acid in years, but I had that nasty feeling just the same.
There was a rest stop with a burned out sign. One side read “Restau” and the other side “aurant.” Funny thing. It was missing “rest” and “rant.” The two things I had come to do. There were three radio towers with bright, flashing, white lights that looked like lightning.
I fell asleep on the open plains somewhere just east of Ritzville. I woke up as we pulled into Spokane.
“Everybody needs to get off the bus,” said the driver. “You can put your stuff on the seat if you don’t want to take it with you.
The streets smelled like middle America and there was dirty snow and piss in the alleys and the first motel I came to was closed.
I found an open one three blocks away. The room was forty five dollars for the night, and checkout was 11 am.
“If you need a little more time, just call down and let us know,” the attendant informed me.
“Is there an open bar around here?”
“Well, I guess the best place is Thudpuckers. That’s…oh, do you have a car?”
“No, but I saw it. I just came from there.”
“Oh. I guess there’s next door.”
‘Right on.”
He looked hesitant. “It’s a gay bar,” he choked out.
I just wanted a beer. I went upstairs and stashed my bank card and three hundred twenty six dollars cash in the microwave and went to find a bar. The bar next door had black cellophane over its windows and a silver and black awning. It didn’t look too inviting, so I went the other way. Four blocks up I heard shouting and saw a Ford Bronco pull away from the curb.
“I don’t wanna fight you,” the kid in the black coat said. Then the yellow hat started throwing punches. Yellow Hat got Black Coat on the ground and smashed his face into the pavement. He pulled him up by the hair and punched him again.
“Don’t you ever fuckin’ talk to me that way,” and he slammed Black Coat’s face into the sidewalk while a guy and a blonde girl in a black leather coat and miniskirt stood there watching.
I went into a shitty Irish bar and had a couple pints of beer. A minute later, Yellow Hat came in, blood on his fists, staggering and crowing. Half a beer later, the cops came and gave Yellow Hat a new set of matching silver bracelets and a ride somewhere. I went back to my motel.
I took a bath when I got back to my room. I tried to jerk off, but my dick just wouldn’t get hard. The towels were thin and rough, and my hair never really dried.
I must’ve woken up six or seven times, and every time I went back to sleep, I asked why I was running.

My dead friend was there, the one who slit his throat and knelt over the drain in a bathtub in Vermont so that he wouldn’t make a mess while he bled to death. Everything was wrong, he said, and he was gonna get the KKK to fix it. It’s this place, I screamed, can’t you see what it’s doing to us? It’s driving us all crazy. But he wouldn’t listen and he went off to slit his throat and die behind the bushes. Lets’ burn it all, I screamed. Alex came to help me. He busted all the gas lines behind the stove while I scrambled to get my shit from my bedroom. Computers and comic books, and I thought I had it all, but when I turned there was a bookshelf stretching away for miles in front of me. I had to take them all. Alex was screaming at me from the bottom of the stairs. Get the fuck outa here, we gotta light it, we gotta go. I started to leave, then went back for my bowling ball. I couldn’t carry any of it, so I dropped it all. When we got outside our friend was there. He had come back from slitting his throat and he had brought the KKK and the police, and there was a river of blood oozing from two nicks in his jugular and running into a puddle on the ground, and we ran off through the back yard. We were screaming. The house never burned.

I woke up ten minutes before checkout. For the first time, I knew why I was running.
I checked out at 10:59. “Is there a diner worth eating at around here?”
I barely heard what the girl said, but I thanked her and set out walking. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, but after a few blocks I saw the run down diner and went inside.
I hadn’t even taken a seat at the counter, and they were already talking to me. It was a ratty, smokey little diner, across the street from a storage and shipping joint in what could’ve been just about any town in America.
A guy with a bushy beard and a camo hat and wild eyes stumbled in just as I finished my last cold sip of coffee. “Who’s took my money?” he growled, and took a seat at a booth in the corner.
The shift had changed, and the waitress was putting on a new pot of coffee.