The Perfect Pork Chop: Sous Vide


For years I have been reading about this fancypants sous vide cooking and the hyperbole about the resulting end product.
Phrases such as “The juiciest steak ever”, “The meat falls of the bone in a stiff breeze”, and “The closest thing to a sexual experience involving a knife and fork”.
The last quote was spoken by me to Sweetpea after taking a bite of perfectly cooked pork chop. I love a medium-rare pork chop though I’ve never been able to get but a medium-rare nugget in the center of the chop through any cooking method I’ve employed. With sous vide, the entire chop is medium-rare, side to side, top to bottom.

Sous vide means “under vaccum”. I have a vaccum sealer but chose not to use it in favor of Ziploc freezer bags and expelling the air by hand. The food is cooked at a very precise low temperature and takes many times longer than any cooking method I’ve yet tried. If you want a steak cooked rare, let it go for 2 hours at 131 degrees F. Want some amazng short ribs? 141 F for 2-3 days. Sounds wrong but it is safe and tastes so right.

Yesterday morning I got up and surfed around to see what I would make for dinner. I stumbled on an intro to sous vide cooking. Upon seeing the equipment I realized that I already had all the necessary equipment and was ready to go. I really lucked out as I had a laboratory immersion circulating heater from my days in bio-lab work. I also had a digital thermocouple thermometer and stainless probe. And finally, I had a 6-pack beer cooler. I added a lab ring stand base to clamp and hang the heater at the perfect position in the cooler. A test run showed that I could keep the temperature within 0.1F of my desired temperature! It was the perfect storm, from zero to a sous vide system in less than 30 minutes.

I was fortunate to have brought the circulating heater home from the lab many years ago. It turns out it is the method preferred by fancypants chefs and is the most accurate way of maintaining the correct temperatures. They’ll put you out $800 – $1,500 for a new one, $200 – $600 for a used one (eBay, LabX). Mine was being tossed by a research group that was moving to another university. Thank you wasteful scientists!

Image

For a basic primer on sous vide cooking see this.

Want to hack your own system using just a cooler and a combo of hot and boiling water? See this. It’s a great way to experience sous vide and decide if you want to take the plunge into the deep end of the gourmet pool and never come up.

If you’re a handy bugger you can make your own circulating heated bath for about $75 by following these instructions.

Enough with the tech, let’s move on to the food.

I started with boiling two eggs. I had read that the best boiled eggs in the world are only 60 minutes away and this was absolutely correct. I put the eggs in a Ziploc bag with about a cup of water and squeezed the air out.

Image

I then dropped the bag into the water bath at 148 degF and let them go for around 70 minutes.

Image

The eggs came out spectacular. I gently thumped them and poured them into a dish. Just like a poached egg but better. They weren’t raw, as a matter of fact they are fully pasteurized by this cooking method. The yolks were unbelievable; a silky, custard texture with the mouthfeel of, well, I’ve never had something so sexy in my mouth and been allowed to swallow it before. Yeah, that good. I don’t know any other way to cook an egg like this. It was perfect.

Image

The picture ain’t great but the egg sure as hell was.

After such a stellar success I decided it was time to grab my meat and get busy. I had a pork loin chop that was making dining room eyes at me all week. I decided to brine it in a salt & sugar brine for an hour. I put 2 Tbsp of salt and 1 Tbsp sugar in 2 cups of water and called it good. I suppose you could brine it overnight but my results were so good that I doubt I’ll try it.

I took the chop from the brine and patted it dry with some doubled paper towels. I then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, that’s all. Into the Ziploc freezer bag it went. I dropped it in the bath at 141 degrees and let it go for 2 hours.

Image

After 2 hours it looked like this:

Image

Not very appetizing, is it? That’s why a quick pan searing or grilling is necessary. I heated my cast iron skillet to 5,000 degrees (actually, whatever the temp is on a medium electric burner) until I could smell the metal, slopped a spoonful of peanut oil into it, and slapped the chop down for 1 minute per side. This gives the outside that smoky and browned crust that we all adore.

Image

When I cut it open I was greeted by a happy light pink color, the color that I’ve always wanted a chop to be, and it had that color through and through (except for a few millimeters on the sides I seared).
The chop was bursting with juices, the moistest chop ever! The texture was quite unlike anything I’ve ever had. It’s like eating a pork chop with the texture of a filet mignon or prime rib. I cannot adequately describe it.

Image

Go ahead, make your own beer cooler / hot water sous vide cooker and try this out. You will not regret it.

Advertisements

Maple Bacon Bourbon Tabasco Cashew Pecan Pie


Maple Bacon Bourbon Tabasco Cashew Pecan Pie

When somebody mentions pie, two things come to mind; pecan pie and my mouth.
When somebody says such and such is as American as apple pie, I snicker and mock their prudish pedestrian profession. Pie, man, PIE is made for pecans and pecans is made for pie.
Until recently I have procured my pecan pies from retail establishments. I’d never investigated the possibility of creating my very own. I thought I needed a third degree black belt in pie-fu to manifest such a delight. All these years of scoring my fix from pie slingers while I could have been growing my own…

As you might know, I am never satisfied with “normal” recipes and will not accept rote recipes without lifting my leg and decorating them with my own touch. This recipe is no different in that respect. In fact, I may have gone a bit overboard! You need not add everything that the title suggests. It is a superwhamified version of Karo’s classic pecan pie recipe.

For classic pecan pie:

1 cup Light OR dark corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked or frozen** deep-dish pie crust

Directions as cut n pasted right from Karo:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 minutes. Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.

**To use prepared frozen pie crust: Place cookie sheet in oven and preheat oven as directed. Pour filling into frozen crust and bake on preheated cookie sheet.

Yawn. I mean it’s good but nowhere as good as the super exciting version below. The Tabasco sauce in it does not make it hot and spicy. If anything it gives it a mild fruity flavor. Add more if you want it to be hot.

For the Maple Bacon Bourbon Tabasco Cashew Pecan Pie:

1/2 C Light OR dark corn syrup
1/2 C Maple syrup (Grade B is preferred but Grade A is acceptable) 3 eggs
1 C sugar
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 C pecans
3/4 C Cashew halves or pieces (pieces distribute better)
2 Pieces crispy fried bacon, finely crumbled
1 TBSP Burbon or whisky
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce (this is non-negotiable, Tabasco only!) 1 (9-inch) unbaked or frozen** deep-dish pie crust

I snip my bacon across the slice into 1/8 inch matchsticks using scissors.
I also toast the pecans in a small pan over medium-high heat, flipping or stirring frequently. Don’t go for browning, just go until they’re good and hot, hotter than your tongue would accept.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, maple syrup, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, bourbon, and Tabasco sauce using a spoon. Stir in pecans and cashews. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 minutes. Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.

**To use prepared frozen pie crust: Place cookie sheet in oven and preheat oven as directed. Pour filling into frozen crust and bake on preheated cookie sheet.

You can leave out the maple syrup in favor of all corn syrup (makes a firmer pie). You can leave out any other ingredients that make you feel icky. I prefer the bacon cashew Tabasco version but I just had to develop an over the top version in order to keep my WTF credentials current.

If you want a firmer, chewier pie, use a non deep-dish frozen pie crust, I like Pet-Ritz brand. You’ll have a half cup of pie goo left over. Feed it to the ants…
This is the type of pie you can eat with your hands without goo running all over them. Perfect for pies-on-the-go.

Whichever version you end up making, you will be amazed at just how simple it is to make your very own Pie Of The Gods.

Exterminator? I’ve got a rifle and a chainsaw…


A friend posted a picture on my Facebook the that brought back a great memory. It was a photo of a handgun pointed at a spider on the wall with the caption:
“I tried a shoe first but when the spider threw my shoe back at me this was my only option.”

When I was a young bachelor I lived in a one room cabin in the middle of nowhere in a town named Timber (pop. 63). My teensy abode was one of four cabins on a piece of property that used to be a church camp. The Nehalem river formed one mile of our northern border, the county road was half that for our southern frontier, west was ‘town’ and east was wilderness. Secluded is an understatement.
I enjoyed near impenetrable privacy with a measure of peace and quiet that bordered on the absurd. Until one night…
An army buddy came by one afternoon. We started out shooting the shit then started shooting at shit and, of course, ended up drinking all sorts of shit. He brought up his motorized log splitter for me to use in laying up my winter fuel stock. While we were sitting there contemplating work I said, “Hey! I’ll bet I can split that log with a 12 gauge slug!” He agreed that probably I was correct but we should do some empirical research just to be sure. I broke out the old Winchester and a box of Remington 1 ounce slugs. After 5 rounds we confirmed our suspicions and concluded that the scientific method was our friend. As scientists typically do, we headed off to the general store for some Boone’s Farm and Mad Dog. We came back to the cabin, had a few drinks, grilled up some elk steaks, had another drink, had a smoke, had some more drinks, and ended up putting nearly anything you can imagine into that hydraulic log splitter. You wouldn’t believe what amazing machines they are…
After a few more drinks he had to go home. I tottered up the steps, went inside, and flopped down on the bed where I immediately fell asleep. For about 5 minutes.
I woke up to a scratching sound. It sounded like it was in my brain. While possible it didn’t seem probable so I opened my eyes and looked at the wall to my right. There, 8 inches from the tip of my snout, was where the scratching was coming from. It seemed that a mouse or other member of the family rodentiae had found his furry little way into my wall in what he must have figured to be a perfect rent-free arrangement. I banged on the wall with my balled fist telling him I was in no mood for his crap and that I needed some sleep. It worked. My little plague carrying tenant got the message, tucked his nose in his groin and went to sleep. For about 5 minutes. I repeated my cease and desist ministrations three or four times in the next half hour but he just couldn’t knock it off…
It seemed to me that it might be a good idea to take up my .22 rifle and install a new hole in the wall with it. So I closed one eye, walked (I use that term loosely) across the room, and got my rifle. I put a few pills in it, brought it to bear on my barricaded nemesis, and let fly. Whaddya know? It worked! Satisfied with my handiwork I once again laid down and ended up sleeping through the night. A week passes.
There’s a bit of a stink coming from the holes. Duct tape! Worked like a charm. Another week passes.
I figured I’d best do it right this time. I took up some tools and jumped in. I tore off the shingles, which served as siding, from a 4 square foot area of the wall. I had a circular saw but only one blade and I didn’t want to wreck it. I thought of borrowing a saw from a neighbor but didn’t want to have to explain what I was doing with it… Then I realized I had a saw with plenty of spare blades: My chainsaw!
I fired her up and with just a deft cuts I had that wall open right quick. I fully expected to find a well perforated bucktoothed wall dweller in there. What I found instead was a fully intact mouse whose only problem was that he seemed to have forgotten how to breathe. As close as I could tell, I scared him to death.
After a little caveman carpentry I had the wall back together good enough so the landlord wouldn’t be able to figure out what kind of shenanigans has transpired without a briar pipe and a magnifying glass. Plain white Colgate toothpaste makes a fine and dandy field expedient wallboard patching compound. Write that down, it might help you out sometime.
I set up a tripod and filmed the entire extraction process with my old VHS-C video camera. I’ll poke around in the next month and see if I can’t find it and pull some screen caps…

You can’t shoot what you can’t see…


My M4 came from the factory with a mis-indexed front sight that makes the rifle better for clubbing pumpkins than shooting them…
I found these guys recently and they’re sending me a compact reflex (open holographic) scope to evaluate. I think that deserves a little plug on the blog, hmm?

Rifle Scope and Sights at Mounting Solution Plus (MSP)

Mounting Solutions Plus (MSP) is both a manufacturer of quality firearm accessories and a distributor of firearms related products. Mounting Solutions Plus is happy to add a great selection of Rifle Scopes and Red Dot Sights to the rest of our tactical accessories. Included in our current listing are: Aimpoint, BSA Scope, Bushnell Scopes, Elcan, Eotech, Horus Vision, NcStar , and Trijicon

In addition to our Rifle Scopes we carry a verity of Scope Mounts & Scope Rings.

Mounting Solutions Plus specializes in tactical mounts and gun accessories for professional and competition shooters.

Click Here to learn more.

Simple Cornbread For Simple People


This quick and easy bread goes perfectly with soup, chili, or just your tongue. It’s the first bread I ever baked and disabused me of the notion that I couldn’t bake.

1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. If you set your oven to 400 degrees C your aluminum pan will melt and the cornbread will make your fillings hurt.

Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a big bowl. You can sift them together if you wish. I never have and it comes out great every time.

Whip the milk, eggs, butter, honey and sugar in a seperate bowl or shake in a quart bottle. I like shaking them in a bottle because it counts as exercise.

Hose down a baking pan with a sprayable oil or grease it up with butter or shortening. I use a 9 x 13 inch pyrex glass pan though if you want to get all traditional you can go with the standard 9 x 9 inch pan. The larger one will give you 15 pieces whereas the smaller one gets you 9. Bacon fat works very well and adds extra yum along with bioavailable baconoids (the secret to the good life).

Dump the milky buttery goo in the bowl with the powdery things and mix until the ingredients are just wet. The batter will be lumpy and that’s a good thing ™. Don’t get carried away with the mixing. If mixed until perfectly smooth you end up with cornbrick. Still perfectly edible but it’s not everybody’s thing. If you do end up making cornbrick, have it for breakfast by putting a brick in a bowl, topping it with honey, pouring some warm milk over it and mashing it up.

Now pour the batter in yer pan and stick in in yer oven.
Let it go for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick poked in the middle of the pan comes out clean and the edges start pulling away from the sides of the pan. I don’t do the toothpich thing anymore. I just wait until the top has turned a light golden brown and the edges pull.

Let it cool for 10 minutes and cut into as many pieces as you like.

This is a basic recipe to get you familiar with how simple it is to make cornbread. Lots of folks are intimidated by baking as it’s one of the few types of cooking that demands precision in measuring and manipulation in preparation. Cornbread defies the norm by being very forgiving of errors. Making and baking it is quite different than “normal” bread. It’s a liquid process in that you’re not cutting in your fat. There’s no rolling, punching, or rising required. Anyone can make cornbread with 99 and 44/100th’s of a percent success.

After you’ve made your first pan of it, get creative and add stuff to it when blending the wet and dry ingredients. Add some crumbled cooked bacon or minced ham or Spam.
A cup of corn niblets.
A cup of creamed corn.
A diced red or green bell pepper.
Minced onions.
Use maple syrup in place of the honey.
Throw in a teaspoon of finely chopped cilantro.
A few dashes of Tabasco sauce? Definitely.
Applesauce.
Cheese!
Sour cream? Yep.
Ricotta or cottage cheese.
A tablespoon of likker (brandy, moonshine, etc.).

Make up a pan of this to go with the split pea soup that I taught you to make in the previous post: Foxfur’s Split Pea Soup.

Split open a fresh warm piece of the bread, insert a thin piece of butter, top with honey, insert in mouth.

Make it, eat it, love it, share it.

Stress and Anxiety, Healing Through Sharing


A friend recently had an experience like none other in her life brought on by a level of stress and anxiety. Unfortunately it had to happen while she was at work. While it may be disruptive to her career, it may just have been the best time for it to happen, to bring it to the forefront, to begin her journey to self realization and healing. She asked a number of friends if her story was blog material to which we enthusiastically said “YES!!” She decided to go forth and blog. Her writing style is a thing of beauty. You NEED to read it to believe it.

I very much identify with her experience and that is something I have not gone into here due to a great deal of ambivalence about sharing with the world. It sounds ridiculous, I know. After all, I have shared some very candid details of the realization, after 40 years of confusion, of my bisexuality, not holding much back. I knew that it could help others, which, by the feedback I’ve received, I know that it has.

My experiences of profound depression and anxiety, the crippling effects of it, and the proper diagnosis and beyond successful treatment and near total elimination of it can and will help others who have been suffering with what I had suffered from for my entire life.

Here is the link to her blog. What a blog it is…

Breathe In Two Three Four

Cooking with Foxfur: Junk Fried Rice


Fried rice, the garbage disposal dish. Got leftovers? Make fried rice. You can put anything in it and it will be a damn fine dish. Got a half chicken gathering flies? How about that pork chop you’re thinking of trashing? Your hubby and the rugrats didn’t finish their ham at breakfast? So much the better if they didn’t finish their scrambled eggs. Did the folks sitting next to you at the restaurant not finish their plates? Go scrape their plates! Their loss is your gain. Been there, done that more than once when I was a bachelor… I really like to make mine from scratch but when I have bits of vittles like left over stir-fry, that half can of Spam hiding in the corner of the fridge, or diced up whatever that I forgot to use for another recipe, I’ll dump it in the wok and recycle it into a new dish.

The biggest hurdle you might face is the rice. You pretty much have to use cold, not necessarily refrigerated, rice. 4 to 6 cups of cooked rice will do just fine. I toss 2 cups of rice and 3 cups of water in the rice cooker and let ‘er go. When done I’ll unplug it and let it sit for an hour or three. If you’re in a hurry, dump it on a cookie sheet and spread it out to cool. Don’t worry about the type either. Long grain is what I like but I’ve used short grain, medium grain, sushi, jasmine, and brown rice. Hell, try wild rice, black rice, or Rice Crispies. Hmm, fried Rice Crispies… Some R&D is called for…

Remember: Cooking with Foxfur is primarily aimed at people who think they can’t cook. The other demographic is folks who worry too much about measurements. I’ll put an ingredient list below, BUT, please don’t follow it! Make additions, substitutions, deletions, and excuses as needed. You’re making dinner not rocket fuel. Just like tossing hand grenades, close is good enough.

So here’s what I started with:

A bewildering array epicurean detritus...

Foxfur’s Junk Fried Rice

  • A pound or so of meat
  • 4 – 6 Cups of cold rice
  • A can of corn, drained
  • A can of peas, drained
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 Green onion thinly sliced
  • Other tasty scraps

If you’re using fresh uncooked meat, why not marinate it? I used dark soy sauce, mirin, and sesame oil. You don’t have to drown the meat. Use a tablespoon of soy sauce, whatever type you like, a tablespoon of mirin (sweetened rice wine) although sake, wine, beer, or fruit juice will do just as well, and a splash of sesame oil. Use whatever oil you have. Cut the meat up into fine pieces. I go with 1/4 inch cubes, but do what you want. This is where you get to stick it to the restaurant and get even for all the unsatisfying fried rice you’ve ever had. Were their meaty bits too teensy? Use gobbing hunks in yours. Too little meat? Add three pounds to yours. Whatever you want is what you should have. Throw the meat in a bowl with the marinade. Do this before doing anything else. I like my meat to soak for half an hour before I start playing with it.

Git yer veggies. Put a good teaspoon or two of oil in the pan and heat it up pretty hot. Throw the veggies in and stir ’em around real good like. You want them all to get a bit of oil on them. Cook ’em until they’re a bit past what most folks would consider done. Not burned but not too moist. That’s how I like mine, anyway. Peas are a good indicator vegetable. They should be a bit shriveled but not all pruney. Don’t worry if you get some burned or black spots on them, it’s all part of the goodness. The picture below shows how mine look when they’re where I like ’em.

Stop when they look like this.

When you cook a little longer you’ll concentrate the flavors. The corn will be a bit denser, the peas a bit firmer, and the flavor a bit better. Toss the veggies aside. I usually use the bowl I’m going to serve with or the container I’ll put the leftover product in the refrigerator with.

Now grab yer meat. Heat up the pan with another teaspoon or two of oil. Throw in a bunch of ginger, either minced or cut into matchsticks. Drop a few cloves of garlic in as well. I like using the chopped stuff in a jar. I’d rather be outside in the yard setting stuff on fire than inside peeling and chopping garlic. Stir ’em around for 20 – 30 seconds and dump the meat in. If it clucked or snorted, cook the piss out of it. There ain’t no such thing as a medium rare chicken breast or a bloody rare pork steak that’s going to be good for you. Even if it’s beef, I’ll cook it til it’s well glazed and just a bit dry. Again, the flavor is concentrated and I love the firm texture.

Cook the pork (or other raw meat) with the marinade if using one.

Cook the meat until glazed with marinade.

Stuff your meat into the same container that your veggies went into.

The scrambled eggs are optional. I feel they’re mandatory. While I say to use two, I use three. There’s never enough eggs in the fried rice in any restaurant! It’s enough to make you want to bring a pocket full of eggs and sneak a handful in your bowl. When you beat your eggs, be sure to add salt, pepper, onion powder, milk, sugar, and whatever else you’d put in them for normal scrambled eggs. Drizzle a bit of oil in the pan, heat it up real good, and scramble the hell out of the eggs. It doesn’t matter if they’re not completely done as they’ll finish up when you mix them into the rice a bit later.

Now comes the part that stumps lots of people. An oft heard question is “How do I know when the rice is fried enough?” When you like it is my standard answer. It depends if you like your fried rice clumpy or grainy. I like mine with separated grains. I use 4 to 5 tablespoons of peanut oil for 4 to 6 cups of rice. Heat up the oil and add the rice. Stir and toss it around to get the oil worked through it. Break up clumps with your spatula or spoon. If it is clumping pretty bad or keeps reclumping, add more oil! Add a teaspoon or so, stir, bust up the rice clods and add more as needed. Keep stirring and flipping the rice for 5 to 10 minutes. I like mine pretty well done so I go for about 8 minutes. You don’t want the rice to be crispy or hard. Keep it between the lines…

Add 583,000 grains of rice.

Grab your bottle of soy sauce and shake some over it after 5 minutes or so. You might like a lighter soy flavor, I like a heartier, saltier flavor. Add a bit and taste it. Remember to keep tasting your food as you cook. Nothing makes me crazier than to see people cooking and not tasting! It’s like painting with your eyes closed. It’s the number one way to ruin your food as well as your reputation as a cook.

The perfect shade of brown.

You’ll notice above that not every grain of rice is brown. This isn’t a commercial or test kitchen. This isn’t a cookbook. This is Real Life! If I was going for a polished look the first thing I’d do is upgrade my shitty little point and shoot digital camera to something that actually renders colors appropriately. I’d rather spend my money on wine, ammunition, and fireworks.

If you really must have absolute uniformity, spread the rice out on a cookie sheet, fill up a Windex bottle with soy sauce, and mist the rice until all is right with the world. Be aware that it’s anally retentive people like you that make the rest of us look bad.

It’s time to bring it all together now. Grab your meatbucket and rain the meaty goodness down upon the rice. The veggies too! Be sure to add the scrambled eggs and green onions. Mix it all up good and thoroughly.

Add leftover fried rice to the next batch of fried rice.

There you have it, junk fried rice. For an even heartier flavor, add 1/4 teaspoon of MSG. Don’t listen to the pussies that would have you believe the stuff will kill you or it’s manufactured in Satan’s pants. The stuff is seriously good and no matter what the elitist foodies say, it’s a great way to boost the flavor of foods. It is no more cheating than adding salt or water to food. As a matter of fact, it’s much healthier than salt as the sodium content of MSG is far lower than table salt. Soy sauce, bullion, gravy, bacon, roasted meats, blue and parmesan cheese all have naturally occurring amounts of glutamate. It’s the reason savory foods taste the way they do. For you smart ones, you know the fifth taste: Umami, “pleasant savory taste”.

Whether you use it or not, fried rice made by your own hands will meet, and more likely than not, beat that which you find in a restaurant. Maybe not the first time but hey, you sucked pretty bad the first time you rode a bike, no?

Pyro School: Finale


I’m finally finished with all of my coursework for my Washington state pyrotechnician’s license! The last course, as far as I’m concerned, was the best of all. We spent a bit more than 2 hours setting up and loading racks of mortars and wiring them up for electrical firing. We spent less than 2 minutes firing them…

1 3/4 inch shells with ematches installed.

Electrical firing allows the operator a greater degree of control over the timing of launch of the shells which can give a show a nicely polished appearance. It also makes timing the show to music a bit easier. Lastly, it is quite a bit safer than hand firing shells due to the removal of personnel from the mortar racks.

Ematches are used instead of fusees (road flares) to ignite the fuses of the shells. An ematch is simply a wire bridge, a low resistance, small diameter wire that heats upon applying electrical current. The bridge is at one end of a small gauge pair of wires while the other end has stripped ends that are shunted, twisted, together to reduce the possibility of inadvertent ignition. The bridge is coated with a mixture of flammable compounds that burn insanely hot when given the juice.

A classmate loads a 2 1/2 inch shell into a mortar.

Wiring shells in series for simultaneous firing of three tubes.

More wiring…

More wiring…

Connecting the leads to a firing slat.

The firing slat runs alongside the mortars. This one has 50 individual pairs of connectors allowing 50 cues (single or multiply connected items) to be fired from the board in any desired order.

A full fan rack hooked up and ready to go.

Espressodude doing some wiring…

Espressodude is a good friend of mine and is the one who nudged me into earning my Oregon and Washington licenses. We camp together at Burning Man and build propane flame effects together at home in the Portland area. He is a crew member with Black Rock FX, an awesome group of highly skilled and dedicated pyrotechnicians who coordinate, install, and fire many fireworks and effects displays at Burning Man. They did the Flaming Lotus Girls Tympani Lambada as well as The Trojan Horse shows last year. If everything goes right and I get the nod, I will be on the crew this year in some capacity…

All loaded and ready to go…

20 roman candles quickmatched together.

Smaller candles are typically not used in big shows. Smaller shows like high school games and grand openings and the like will use them quite a bit due to their low cost.

Pepper (middle) was itching to spray somebody with the class A extinguisher.

Pepper is one of almost ten folks at the display company (where we trained / launched at) who have switched from tobacco to personal vaporizers (e-cigarettes).

A 200 point firing board.

The firing board shown here will set you back around $4,000. They’re well made and will stand up to a shitload of abuse (within reason…). Each point, when touched with the stylus, the black test probe, will fire whatever is hooked up to the corresponding point on the slats. The slats connect to the 50-pair connectors at the upper right. The board is powered by the sealed lead-acid 12 volt battery shown atop the board. It is connected to the board by the terminals at the top left corner. To the right of the terminals is a switch that selects between test and fire. In the test position it restricts the outgoing current to a few milliamps in order to check the continuity of each circuit. If the cue is ok, you’ll see a light illuminate as well as hear a tone from the speaker. Although we check each cue before connecting it to the slat terminals, something can always go wrong. Test twice, fire once. There’s no do overs during the show…

Each connector at the lower right corner of the board connects to a 50-pair cable.

A classmate firing his shells.

Shells launching!

Espressodude shooting his load…

The candle racks firing…

My training card sits atop my copy of the show report.

I need four more live shoots, two letters of recommendation, and the passage of a state exam to obtain my Washington state license. Two more live shoots and passing a state exam will net me my Oregon license. Because I love certifications and licenses (locksmith, gunsmith, heavy equipment operator, alarm and security installer, etc.), I’ll probably go for my Idaho license as well.

Fireworks display companies are always looking for people to help on their shows. Think about it. Most folks spend their Fourth of July eating brats (or chasing them) and passively watching fireworks shows. Then there’s us pyros. We’d rather let someone buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks for us to fondle, er, handle, load, and fire. Unless you’re the lead pyro you won’t be making much. You’ll do well to cover your gas and get a lunch or dinner out of it. Money isn’t the point of it though. The opportunity to work with like minded individuals and the chance to entertain a crowd with the harnessed power of a thousand year old art form, that right there is payment enough for me.

Remember, fireworks aren’t just for the 4th. New Years Eve, Christmas, weddings, parties, funerals, grand openings, and movies are but a few other events that make use of splodey goodness.

Google your area or state for fireworks display companies and give them a call. Most will be glad to train you or tell you where you can obtain training. Most states don’t require licensing to fire shows. Of course, if you don’t have a license, you can’t lead a crew on a shoot. If earning some extra money is one of your goals, get your license, put some time in as a crew member, get to know the operators, build a reputation as a safety conscious and hard working individual, and you’ll be able to lead your own crew.

E-Cigarettes and Harm Reduction


Last New Year’s Eve I stopped into a Walgreens drug store and bought a disposable electronic cigarette. That one action has changed my life.

A Blu disposable cigarette

Being curious by nature, I just had to autopsy the disposable once done:

The Anatomy of a Blu Disposable Electronic Cigarette

I’ve been a smoker for nearly 34 years. Yeah, that’s what I said too. Until recently I was smoking a pack to a pack and a half a day. I’m now down to 3 cigarettes a day!
I didn’t buy the Blu e-cig with a plan to quit smoking in mind. No New Year’s resolution. Nope. It was just something that kind of intrigued me. Miss Bee, whom longtime readers of this blog know is a very close friend of mine, bought herself a Blu starter kit. It features rechargeable battery modules and replaceable vapor (smoke) cartridges that can be purchased online or at many retailers in the analog world.

Blu Reusable Electronic Cigarette

A Blu Starter Kit

I really liked the disposable units so i decided to pick up a starter kit. I wasn’t very impressed with the volume of vapor or the strength of the nicotine in the cartridges of the Blu reuseables. I am used to high nicotine and need the feeling of the “throat hit” when inhaling normal tobacco smoke and these were just not doing it for me. I’m different in this way I guess. Everyone I know who has the Blu’s enjoys them and I really do, to a point…

I learned that you can’t draw on an e-cig as you’d do on a normal one. You need to draw slowly and for 3 to 5 seconds to get a decent amount of vapor in your mouth before inhaling. That did help a bit but I was still craving more vapor and throat feeling.

Last night I found another brand, Cig20. A basic starter kit cost around $17 (vs $50 for the Blu) but comes with just one battery module and two cartridges along with a USB powered charger.
While Blu brand cartridges top out at the 16mg level, the Cig20’s go up to 24mg! The difference is dramatic. Much more vapor and a very definite “throat hit” that feels identical to smoking a genuine flame driven tobacco cigarette.

A Cig20 Electronic Cigarette

While I’m quite satisfied with the Cig20, I know I can do better. The main drawback to the Blu and Cig20 systems is that the cartridges are consumable thus requiring constant purchase of new ones. Although the math works out to around $2 per pack equivalent, a refillable cartridge system would be much less expensive. It just so happens that there is such an animal…
The Joye eGo-C Personal Vaporizer!

The eGo-C Personal Vaporizer

The Ego-C looks much different that the previous examples of electronic cigarettery I’ve shown you. Instead of being activated when you draw on it, it has a manual pushbutton that powers the heating element which vaporizes the nicotine bearing e-smoke fluid.
The only consumable in this system is the fluid and an occaisional battery or atomizer. BUT, the battery will last much longer in use, the vapor produced will be much more substantial, and the satisfaction of cravings will be awesome.
I am not intending to quit nicotine but rather quit the manifold chemicals that accompany traditional smoking. Electronic cigarettes eliminate smoke, tar, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, benzene, phosgene, and many other (1000’s) of chemicals and compounds that are produced by cigarettes. The e-cigs have very few ingredients and very few chemicals emitted and in quantities that are below typical exposure to traffic while driving. Nicotine in the amounts used here is not carcinogenic or toxic. I’m not pretending that it is 100% safe but I will say that it is 1000’s of times safer than inhaling smoke several hundred times per day
I’ve tried not to get too technical in this post but will go into more details after the eGo-C arrives and I learn more about it.

Oh yes. The fluid? 30 – 50ml is enough to last a month or so. Cost? $12 – $15, PER MONTH. The cost of cigarettes? At 1 1/2 packs a day, $270 PER MONTH!
Yeah. Really.
I’ll keep you posted.

I get my e-cigarette supplies at Northwest Vapors. If you choose to shop at Northwest Vapors be sure to use the redemption code FOXFUR and receive a 10% discount on your entire order. You can use this on your first and every order after that. I told them I blog about E-Cigs (it is the most frequently accessed topic on this blog) and would like to be able to offer my readers a discount. They immediately created the Foxfur code. I am not paid or compensated by them for traffic directed over there. I simply want y’all to save some money and your health.

Spam and Corn Pancakes


Here’s another Spam recipe that’s popular in the Foxes Den.

Spam and Corn Pancakes

1 Can Spam, chopped (12 oz.)
2 Eggs
2 (More or less…) Cups Milk
2 Cups Corn, cooked
2 c Flour

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Heat griddle and ladle one scoop on the pre-heated surface. Turn when bubbles appear on top Yield: 12

I like to cube the Spam into 1/4 inch (7mm) cubes. I then brown them in a skillet. You may like this for your pancakes. Try it both ways. Milk: the recipe as I received it indicated 1/2 cup milk! This results in a thick biscuit type batter. Start with 1 1/2 cups milk and work up from there until you achieve a batter that is just a bit thicker than normal pancake batter. I have not measured the exact amount as I only use recipes as a guideline when I use them at all.

Serve with butter and syrup. Apple sauce, cranberry sauce, or jams / jellies are very tasty as well.

These pancakes are quite dense, denser than pancakes that you are used to. They are sort of like some european pancakes that I’ve had. I think you’ll like them!

Occupy Portland?


I decided to go down to the Portland waterfront to check out / be a part of the Occupy Portland protest this afternoon. I’m not activisty or agitatorish at all but it seemed like something fun to do. In a sea of nebulous agendas and questionable motivations, my goal was clear: to raise public awareness of me. I donned my trademark orange safety vest and headed out. As hard as I tried I couldn’t get any newsies to take my photo. I thought I stood out enough but without dreads, or a serious sign, my efforts were fruitless. I figured a “Hi Mom!” sign was a bit tasteless, so I made a sign with my signature phrase: “YAY!” along with the Burning Man logo, heh heh. I brought along a bag of bacon which virtually nobody was interested in except for one dog who ate two pieces before the hippie who enslaved it yanked it away saying it was on a strict vegan diet. Oppressor!

Here’s some random pics…

YAY for YAY!

You’re either with me or against me! Who can oppose YAY?

It’s just like Halloween but without the treats.

Powerbars for carnivores...

 Bacon: Part of a balanced protest.

Pluto is my favorite Disney character!

 Whatever… Total downer.

Well Dressed Longshoreman

I love his jacket!

This was my last photo before my camera’s batteries went dead.

The crowd was enormous! I’d estimate it to have been around 3,000. I was impressed with the organized labor showing. Their signs made the most sense out there and had no spelling errors at all. Other folks signs were not so good… “Eet the Rich!” “No Jobs for Oil!” “Nutere the Fat Cats”…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m giving this a pretty light treatment but it’s in accordance with one of my core principles of not taking myself too seriously. The folks there were for the most part very sincere and polite. The crowd was incredibly well-behaved as demonstrated by a group of citizens surrounding two anarchist agitators and making it clear that they weren’t going to let them pull off any shit that would damage the overall image of the protest. I wish it had been captured by a news crew!

The rally ended and the march began. The marchers were orderly and considerate, moving along and obeying the boundaries of the street as laid out by the Portland Police. The police were absolutely fantastic. Very helpful, friendly, and polite. My hat is off to them. They blocked traffic to let us pass through the streets unimpeded and returned waves with a smile. I love it!

I peeled off the march when I saw a food cart peddling chinese food. I ordered some General Tso’s chicken with rice and headed for my truck. Although I am used to footmarches in my combat boots, today was not the day for it. I had my protest experience and had fulfilled my duty under the social contract.

All in all it was a good time. If an Occupy movement comes to your city, participate! There were hippies, yippies, yuppies, and businessmen and women. All walks of life were represented. It may not make a difference, but then again it just might…