Friday, November 28, 2014

New Twists on an Old Tradition

Like most families I know, I do turkey on Thanksgiving.  And when I say "I do the turkey," it means that I do the turkey.  I've been cooking the family bird for about 10 years now, and I've done a lot of experimentation during this time.  I started out roasting it low and slow.  This has consistently yielded a melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone turkey, but not something appealing to look at.  I've fried quite a few turkeys.  Fried turkey tastes wonderful, cooks quickly and produces a bird that looks much more like the traditional centerpiece turkey than the aforementioned low and slow method.  After that, I started smoking the turkey on my grill.  Smoking the turkey takes longer than frying, but less time than slow roasting.  The taste, in my opinion, is even better than frying, and it consistently produces a good looking centerpiece bird.

This year, we changed up again, buying a free-range organic turkey that was raised by some family friends.  Like I said, I've cooked a lot of turkeys over the years, so I thought I had it down to a science... until I got input from the family that raised the turkeys.  They indicated that cooking an organic, free-range turkey was significantly different than cooking your run-of-the-mill turkey.  Cooking time is supposed to be shorter, because of the lower fat content, so I did a lot of research, and found a lot of conflicting information.  In the end, I went with one common-sense article, which essentially said "There's a lot of conflicting information out there.  If you're not sure what to do, go with your gut and experience.  If it doesn't turn out the way you like, then make a mental note and adjust your method next time."

That bit of common sense set me straight and reminded me that cooking is a science and an art.  I quit worrying so much about the results and started laying out my game plan.  I decided to smoke the bird, since that's consistently produced the best flavor.  I decided to inject the bird with a marinade to hedge my bet against a dry bird.  I also invested in a meat thermometer.  It's the first time I've used a meat thermometer in my life.

Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow description of the process and results, I'll focus on the differences.  I'm hoping that talking about the differences, as opposed to talking about every little step, will help others who were in my position... people who have cooked store-bought turkeys in the past, but want to try a heritage bird.

-The breast is significantly smaller than a store-bought bird.  The legs are longer and thicker than a store-bought bird.  This brings the white meat to dark meat ratio closer to 50-50.

-As I said, I used a meat thermometer for the first time.  I used a thermometer with a remote reader.  This allowed me to stick the probe into the bird and leave it there, while the display was outside of the grill.  I started out with the probe in the leg.  Something wasn't quite right though.  The temperature reading showed 150 degrees in less than an hour.  I suspect that the probe was touching the bone, but I'm not 100% sure.  I rotated the turkey 180 degrees in the grill, and moved the probe to the breast.  It was absolutely the right call.  I KNOW that the probe wasn't touching bone in the breast.  The displayed temp instantly dropped down to about 110 degrees (which was more accurate based on the bird's size and the elapsed cooking time).  I left the probe in the breast for the rest of the cooking time.

-Cook time was not significantly different from what's required of a store-bought bird.

-The skin was thicker than what I remember from a store-bought bird.  Too thick to be edible in my opinion.

-There was a big layer of fat in the upper chest area of the bird.  All between the skin and meat.  Nothing to worry about, just an observation.

-White meat was very similar to a store-bought turkey.  Quite a bit more moist (probably due to the aforementioned fat).  A bit more substantial.

-Dark meat was far more flavorful, and far chewier.  Not exactly "tough," but a lot more dense than a store-bought bird.  This makes sense though.  Free-range organic birds actually use their muscles.

For the curious, here's a pic of the finished product.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tooting My Own Horn

I checked my Blog stats today, for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  I don't get a lot of hits on any given day, primarily because I don't write that often.  But, here are some significant statistics.

-I've been blogging for almost ten years, writing a little bit about a wide variety of subjects.

-I have over 800 separate blog posts.

-My blog has been visited over 30,000 times.

-I have four blog posts that turn out in the top ten results in Google and/or Bing.

*If you search "Xbox One Review 2014 Follow Up" on Bing, my blog post is the second item returned.
*If you Google "Interview with a Mortician," my blog post is sixth on the list.
*If you Google "Evaluate LS2 motorcycle helmet," my blog post is the top non-paid spot.
*If you Google "Evaluate Mustang Regal Duke" (a motorcycle seat), my blog post is the top spot.

Not too bad for a completely unknown writer who blogs strictly for the sake of writing.

*This information is accurate as of November 26, 2014.

Never Too Old to Mosh

Last night a friend and I traveled to Moline, IL to see Korn and Slipknot in concert.  I go to my fair share of concerts, but it's been a long time - a very long time - since I've done a concert like this.  Being a seasoned concert-goer, I'm familiar with the ins and outs of music fans.  Sometimes I'm up front with the die-hard fans, other times, I prefer to hang in the back and absorb the music.  I've even been known to sit in the stadium seats from time to time.  It all depends on my mood (and my budget when I buy the tickets).  For this concert, I purchased floor tickets, and wasn't sure at the time of purchase whether I'd push my way to the front, or choose to hang back.  There were two basic questions... Would I enter the mosh pit?  How hard would I push to get close to the stage?

In the end, I let fate decide.  My friend and I were about 1/3 to 1/2 way back on the floor for Korn.  I figured that if a mosh pit formed around me, I'd mosh for a while, or maybe hang out on the edge of the pit, where there's still some moshing, but you're not in the thick of things.  A pit formed close by, but I wasn't actually in it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the mosh pit, the best way to explain it is a series of spontaneous dance areas that organically form and disappear throughout the course of the concert, except that you don't really dance in it per se; you slam into one another.  Occasionally fists and elbows fly.  There are only a couple of unwritten guidelines.  One is no blood, no foul.  The other is that if someone goes down, you give them an opportunity to get up and/or help them up.  Other than that, it's pretty much a free for all.  For lack of a better way to phrase it, it's controlled violence.

Korn put on a great performance.  My favorite part was where Jonathan Davis played the bagpipes for the opening of Shoots and Ladders, which is a dark, twisted mash-up of nursery rhymes.  A close second was when they did the bridge from Metallica's "One." The energy at this concert was great.  Lots of aggressive, but friendly testosterone flowing freely.  By the end of Korn's set, we decided to get closer to the stage for Slipknot's performance.

Shortly after Slipknot came on, a mosh pit formed, the crowd pushed forward, and my friend and I were separated.  My friend held his place.  I let the crowd move me, and as a result, I moved closer to the stage throughout the course of the set.  I ended up in the second row.  I was close enough that I could hear the custom percussion without the amplifiers.

For those of you who aren't familiar with hard rock concerts, let me explain something.  Energy flows from the stage.  Generally speaking, the more mellow crowd hangs toward the back.  The closer you get to the stage, the more intense the energy of the crowd.  The front is downright aggressive.  You're packed in like sardines.  It's hot.  Everyone is pumping their fists in the air, screaming the lyrics, and bouncing up and down like pogo sticks.  The front is not for the weak.  Though it's highly unlikely, it's theoretically possible that you can be injured in the front.  The front is also where you're most likely to get souvenirs... guitar picks, drum sticks, etc.  I got a guitar pick from Seven in Slipknot.  He threw the pick into the crowd and it landed squarely on my shoulder.

Maybe it was the energy from the crowd.  Maybe it was the fact that I was a forty-something holding my own, moshing with a crowd young enough to be my children.  But Slipknot was crazy awesome.  I loved hearing Psychosocial and Before I Forget.  It was awesome to actually keep up with fans who are two decades younger than me.  By the way, I got mad props and respect from the youngsters.  Got a lot of high fives and thumbs up from the kids who were impressed that the gray-bearded old guy was holding his own.

I should also point out that I'm really glad I've been working out.  Last time I moshed like this, I was far younger, and I was very sore for the next couple of days.  I woke up this morning a little tired, because I stayed up way past my bedtime, but I'm not sore at all.

So... what did I learn?  I learned that there's still a young metal head inside of this middle-aged body.  I've learned that I've still got some raw aggression inside of me, and it's okay to release it.  I would say that I remembered how much I love concerts, but the fact is, I never forgot.  My main lesson though, is that you're never too old to mosh.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Not Everything is a Miracle

Last week, the pastor at my church delivered a sermon basically saying that we shouldn't spend too much energy focusing on and looking for God's miracles.  His point was that what happens is that you basically get ADD in your relationship with God.  If you go too long without experiencing a miracle, you get distracted and/or frustrated with God, and your long-term relationship with God suffers as a result.

I'd like to go a step further, and posit that people see miracles where no miracle exists.  By definition, a miracle cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.  This means that the overwhelming majority of events that people call "miraculous" are nothing of the sort.  I'll use my pastor as an example (though he probably won't like it).

We are in the process of moving to a new location.  The first step was to acquire property, which was a difficult, painstaking process.  The pastor, board and large part of the congregation had their heart set on a specific parcel, but it just wasn't meant to be.  Shortly after accepting that the first choice wasn't going to happen, another plot of land became available.  The church ended up acquiring this property, which was in a better location, more land and a better price.  My pastor has repeatedly called this a miracle.  My pastor, however, is wrong.

Again, I am going to refer to my previous statement that a miracle cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.  Everything that happened in the land purchase was within the realm of natural law.  In fact, this kind of thing happens all the time in real estate.  Assuming that God was involved in this land purchase, it does not qualify as a miracle.  The correct term for this example is providence.  Providence is divine involvement that falls within the boundaries of science or nature.  Far too many people use the terms interchangeably.  The problem is, this cheapens actual miracles, and, quite frankly, makes people who use the term "miracle" too freely look a little nutty.

My personal opinion is that, while God loves us, he does not perform genuinely miracles very frequently.  In fact, I tend to think that most incidents of "providence" are probably just coincidences.  I believe that God loves us, and watches us, but it's precisely because of this love that he keeps his hands off, allowing nature -- the nature He created -- take his course.  I suspect that he subtly intervenes occasionally (providence) and on the rare occasion performs genuine miracles.

This doesn't diminish the thankfulness that we should feel and express toward God.  While God doesn't necessarily intervene as frequently as we would like, and as frequently as we give Him credit, that shouldn't impact our thankfulness.  After all, He created this wonderful world, where we can forge loving relationships, and experience all that life has to offer.  If God never performs a miracle in our lifetime, that doesn't mean He doesn't love us.  It doesn't mean that we shouldn't be thankful for what we have.

We shouldn't spend so much time proclaiming miracles.  We shouldn't spend so much energy looking for miracles.  We should, however, continue to be thankful for the bounty that we have received.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Thanks Necessary

Like many Veterans, I was greeted with many thanks and well wishes today.  I had a free meal at Applebee's.  It's been a good day.  I want you to know that I very much appreciate the sentiments expressed by so many of my family, friends and even strangers.

With that said though, I would like to say that, for me, the thanks aren't necessary.  Don't get me wrong.  I really do appreciate it.  It's just not necessary.  As far as I'm concerned, it wasn't a sacrifice to become a Marine and serve my country.  It was an honor.  It was a privilege.  Yes, I was deployed in two foreign conflicts.  Yes, I was in harm's way.  But I came back whole.  My fellow servicemen and my countrymen stood behind me.

Besides, it's not as if I didn't get anything in return.  I received the opportunity to get out of a small town in the Midwest, where I knew I'd waste away if I didn't leave.  I made lifelong friends.  I received an education.  I received discipline.  I traveled the world and experienced different cultures.  I met the mother of my children while I was in the Marine Corps.  I learned that that the Midwest actually had a lot to offer.  I learned loyalty, commitment and camaraderie.  In short, my enlistment gave me as much as I gave my country.

I always appreciate when people thank me for my service.    Like I said though, becoming a Marine wasn't really a hardship.  It was something I did with pride.  When I receive the kudos, I just say thank you in return.  It's a lot easier to say thank you than to explain that thanks aren't necessary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Open Note to Politicians Everywhere

Dear Politicians,

The election is over.  The Democrats are licking their wounds, and the Republicans are doing their happy victory dance.  (For those of you not familiar with this dance, the Democrats and Republicans both do it when their party gains power, and it looks a lot like the Elaine dance.)

I have two things to say about the elections, and these comments go to both parties.  First, your so-called commercials sucked!  I really wish that the lot of you would just grow up and quit trash talking each other.  It's worse than middle school!

The second comment is really directed toward the Republicans.  Though you gained a lot of seats this election period, it does NOT necessarily mean that America is endorsing your party, and it is NOT necessarily a repudiation of the Democratic platform.  The reason that Republicans gained seats is because the public is tired of business as usual in Congress.  Please take that lesson to heart.


A (Still) Disgruntled Constituent