Monthly Archives: May 2011

Attempts to recreate the past

This is a photo that Cameron took of me on one of our first dates. We went hiking at Mount Charleston. Neither one of us can seem to remember exactly where. Or when really. We know it was 14 years ago. Or so. One of the real significant shortcomings of film photos is the lack of EXIF data. For the record, I still have those boots, although they are getting a little thin in the soles.

Sitting on a stump near a tree.

This is a picture of me and Logan taken a few weeks ago when the three of us went hiking at Mount Charleston. We tried to find the same stump, but were unsuccessful. Either we went to the wrong trail, or in the last 14 years that rotted old stump was removed or absorbed into nature. Both are equally probable I imagine.

Sitting on a stump

I thought it would be cool to recreate the photo with Logan in my lap. Since this was the only stump we saw, and could easily access, I reckon we did the best job we could. Unfortunately, we took at the end of the hike, and so both of us were having some trouble generating a smile.

JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag

Traveling with a child can be challenging. That is likely something of an understatement. Until they get to be about 4 years old, children are uniquely unsuited to the rigors of travel. As adults we accept the depressing reality of travel inconveniences because we understand that in many ways it’s unavoidable and required to reach our destination. Unwanted molestation at security checkpoints, terrible and expensive food, uncomfortable seats, loud droning noises, hours of sitting quietly and waiting for something, anything, to happen; these are all things that, while we tend to dislike, we’ve come to terms with in some ways.

Children live in the moment though, and they won’t put up with that crap. Not without making your life hell. They cry, they scream, they throw food. In the time it takes you to blink while sneezing, they will disappear from sight and begin a curious assault on the pilot’s cabin. They will pick up anything that contrasts with the floor, and eat it. Toddlers are especially bad about this, because it’s impossible to reason with them, or explain why they have to be so terribly inconvenienced.

That’s just one heinous part of traveling with a toddler though. On top of the significant challenges of removing a small child from their comfortable environment while mitigating the terror they inflict on everyone around them, there is the additional challenge of equipment.

Toddlers are like mid century Italian sports cars. They’re fun to have around, but they are ludicrously high maintenance and require the frequent use of highly specialized tools. Not even counting the assorted extras necessary to maintain proper trouser hygiene, toddlers require special chairs for meal time, special tools to cram food in their gullet, a special bed to prevent death and nighttime wandering and a special chair just to sit in a car.

Hotels tend to have cribs, and restaurants tend to have high chairs, but the car seat is a different thing altogether, and it’s really only a significant problem during the toddler years. When they’re infants the car seat is a multipurpose device that they will happily sleep in. It’s on the small side on account of the child being small, and has a large handle making it easy to tote around. Once they grow out of that though, things change significantly. The car seats are transformed into monstrous and awkward devices that weigh as much as the child. Because they’re designed for more or less permanent installation, they don’t have carry handles. Carrying one of these things around is about as easy as toting around a Barca lounger made for hobbits. It’s a pain in the ass, and absolutely essential.

When we started looking around for ideas on how to transport this thing, I recalled seeing other parents carrying around special made bags for things like strollers and car seats. It turns out there are only a few companies that make bags for car seats and they come in essentially two different styles, fitted and sack. The fitted bags are roughly the shape of the car seat, with desirable features such as shoulder straps, roller wheels, zipper closures, and extra pockets. The sack style is, literally, just a sack with a draw string and appear like they are designed only for gate checking a car seat. If they’re as durable as they appear, then you would likely get more protection from a plastic bag.

The most popular of the fitted style bags appears to be the JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag. I got it thinking it would be a valuable investment considering all the travel we were planning for the spring and summer, and we first used it on our trip to New York in March. The shoulder straps made it easy to carry the car seat like back pack. The material seemed durable and it had padding for the sides of the car seat. There were no extra pockets, but the zippered closure worked smoothly and the car seat fit in snuggly. I did note that there was really no way to secure the zippers, but the packaging claimed the zipper had a special features that would allow locking the bag. That “special feature” was the closed loop at the end of the zipper pull tab that is common on all metal zipper pulls. I guess if I had a spare piece of twine I could have tied a knot through the zipper pulls.

When we collected our baggage in Dulles, the Ultimate Car Seat Travel bag had burst it’s zipper, and our car seat was slid half out. Thank god I hadn’t taken the advice of the ticket agent who suggested I transfer some items from our over weight luggage in to the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag, or it would have been all over the conveyor belt. Still, the bag had done it’s duty and the car seat was unharmed, and the zippers appeared okay. While pulling the zippers closed, I also noted that the bottom of the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag now had two holes worn through the bottom. I can only presume the baggage handlers drug it around behind the luggage cart, doing wheelies on the flight line. I didn’t thing much of it. Normal wear and tear. If it got too bad I’d just give it some duct tape treatment.

This last weekend, Cameron and Logan went to Denver, and we again employed the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag. It was something of a life saver, and made it a lot easier for Cameron to handle the luggage without me. When she returned to Vegas though, we had something of a surprise.

When I retrieved her luggage from the conveyor belt at McCarran, this is what I found.

JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag

The entire bottom of the JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag had blown out, the seams neatly ripped. The car seat was again half out of the bag, but this time it protrude from the destroyed bottom. After just 2 round trip flights, the bag was completely useless. I think if I hadn’t seen the damage it had incurred after only a single flight, I would have been surprised. As it was, I was only curious and slightly irritated. The Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag cost just under $50, so it wasn’t very expensive, but I still expected it to last longer than two round trip flights prior to a catastrophic loss of hull integrity.

I can’t say that I’d recommend a bag with such a swift failure rate. Maybe I had a faulty product. Maybe it got some extra rough treatment. I can’t say what caused it to fail, all I can say is it was a good thing it happened on the return flight, and that no damage was done to the car seat. If the car seat had been damaged beyond safe use, how would we leave the airport? Unlike Tom Hanks, no one is going to let my toddler live in the terminal.

Bachelor Weekend Cooking: The Shooter’s Sandwich

Cameron and Logan went to Denver to visit with friends this weekend, leaving me home alone.

Grocery Store Mobile

I’m told that Logan has spent his time playing in the snow. Snow is something of a novelty in Las Vegas, and on those rare occaisions he’s encountered it in his short life, he seems to have enjoyed it.

Playing in the snow

Mostly he just seems to enjoy eating it.

Snow Slide

Instead of fighting off comically bungling burglars with an array of increasingly complex Rube Goldberg machines assembled from common household objects, I have elected to spend my time cleaning, playing video games, and watching reruns of Babylon 5. Also, cooking extraordinarily manly food. The kind of food that enriches a man’s spirit and despite being delicious and satisfying, is the kind of thing that wife’s tend to roll their eyes at.

The Shooter’s Sandwich first came to my attention sometime in the late 90s by way of an episode of Two Fat Ladies. If you’re familiar with the show, then you likely know that what follows is unlikely to be considered diet food. If you’re not familiar with the show, you could probably deduce the same from the title which accurately described the two hosts. Fun Two Fat Lady fact; the surviving member of the pair’s full name is Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright, and prior to spending time homeless and as an alcoholic, was the youngest woman called to the Bar as a barrister in the United Kingdom.

According to the history I’ve heard, the Shooter’s Sandwich was despised in Britian as a hearty meal that could be easily transported and serve as a meal, or two, for a hunting party. The sandwich is, at it’s most simple level, meat and a sauced mix of vegetables, crammed into an entire loaf of bread and then smashed for hours under a heavy weight and wrapped in layers of paper. You can use any meat that can be safely prepared raw, but as I understand it beef is traditional.

Ingredients

A loaf of bread
4-7 oz of butter
2 yummy steaks
Mushrooms
Garlic
Shallots
Stone ground mustard
Prepared Horseradish
Tarragon
Bourbon
Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Start with a crusty loaf of bread approximately the same size as the cuts of meat you’ll be using. You want a strong bread, because we’re going to be abusing it. I’ve selected a large sourdough boule. Lop off the top of the loaf and scoop out most of the interior. Hooray! You’ve made a bread bowl. Save those crumbs if you want, we won’t be using them. Set your steaks out to warm up on the counter, and give them a good sprinkling of salt. I’m using rib eye steak because it’s the most flavorful of all the beef bits.

Prep the loaf

Time for your miss en place. That’s a fancy French culinary term for getting your shit together. It helps. Mince up the shallots, and garlic, and roughly chop the mushrooms. I’m using about 6 cloves of garlic, 4 large shallots, 6 mini portabellas and 6 of whatever variety of generic white mushroom every grocery store seems to have on hand. There’s also 2 teaspoons of tarragon, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire, 1/3 cup of bourbon and an Armscor 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. The pistol isn’t strictly necessary I guess.

Mise en place

Melt the butter in a medium hot skillet and toss in the shallots and mushrooms. Don’t add any seasoning yet. Cook the veggies until the volume is reduced considerably and most of the liquid is cooked off, stirring frequently. About 10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and continue to cook until the liquid is mostly cooked off. Deglaze the pan with the bourbon, being careful not to set yourself or your kitchen on fire. The traditional alcohol to use here is cognac, but I’m not French and I drink bourbon. Continue to cook until most of the bourbon is cooked off. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the tarragon and give it salt and pepper to taste.

Soften the veggies

Get a skittle, preferably cast iron, hot. Don’t screw around, you want that thing as screaming hot and dangerous as a junior varsity cheerleader. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can use an aluminum or stainless pan, as long as it isn’t a non stick pan. Get a nonstick pan this hot and it released toxic fumes. No, really. If you don’t have an appropriate skillet, cook it on the grill. If you don’t an appropriate skillet or a grill, stop reading this article and go reflect on the errors you’ve made in your life.

Get pan smoking hot

Give your steaks a light rub of olive oil, you won’t need a lot. Slap the steaks in the pan, and don’t touch them. We’re going for a high heat sear and we want the steaks to be rare. If you’re uncomfortable with that, I suggest you stop being such a whiner. If you’re the kind of person to get squeamish about a rare steak, this sandwich may be too much for you. The more the beef is cooked, the less it will compress in the sandwich and more tough it will be when you eat it. About 90-120 seconds on a side should be enough. If you have an exhaust fan, now would be a good time to turn it on.

Sear steaks

Look at that rich brown crust on those steaks. Now, this is important. Using all your will power, DO NOT eat those steaks. Also, don’t let them cool or rest. You want them oozing juicy goodness into the sandwich.

Begin prep

Cram the first steak into your bread bowl. There’s no cause to be gentle. Treat it like the guy who dinged your car door at the grocery store.

Pack in the first steak

Layer in the veggie mixture. Hopefully you worked fast enough and it’s still hot. At this point, the bread bowl is probably going to be looking a little full. That’s okay. We’re going to smoosh it all down later. That being said however, don’t feel like you’re compelled to use all of the veggies.

Pack in the veggies

Now jack in that other steak. It might take some work. Don’t be afraid to show it the back of your hand.

Slap on the second steak

Smother the top of the steak with a thick layer of prepared horseradish. Slather the inside of the top of the loaf with mustard. Lay it on thick, like a Saturday morning lie.

Spread em

Place the top back on the loaf. Try to match it up so it’s even. See? It all fit.

Replace cap.

Wrap the load up in several layers of waxed paper and then bundle it up with butcher’s twine. Tie it up tight, you want the pressure contained as evenly as possible.

Wrap

Put some heavy weights on top of the sandwich. I’m using a cast iron dutch oven filled with half a dozen cans of refried beans. That’s about 16lbs. Heavier is probably better. Books also make good weights. I would advice against using anything filled with water, as the balance may shift and spill water everywhere.

Weigh it down.

Now comes the really hard part. Wait at least six hours. At least six hours, but you can press it for longer if you desire. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s still cooking. When I cut into this one after six hours, it was still warm.

Slice and enjoy

Once you’re done pressing the sandwich, cut through the entire bundle, string and paper and everything, and slice the sandwiches into wedges. Revel in the delicious aromas that fill your head. Luxuriate in the earthy sweet flavor of mushrooms and beef. Don’t forget to chew. Chewing is important. I recommend serving this delicious monster with beer, and for god’s sake, don’t try and eat it by yourself in a single seating. Remember, it is an entire loaf of bread stuffed with two steaks and a giant handful of vegetables and fungus.