Sunday, August 26, 2012

Little Miss Muffett...

On my most recent 25th birthday anniversary I received a lovely gift from The In-Laws to a little place called Amazon.  The wonder of that store is that I can literally buy anything my heart could possibly desire. There are thousands, if not millions, of items that I wasn't aware that I wanted, til I saw them on Amazon.  So when it came time to pick out my birthday indulgence, I spent a good amount of time looking at all the possibilities. Would I go traditional and buy books and music?  A DVD set of a fave TV show?  My search was long and intense, but eventually I placed the very best items in my buggy and clicked buy.

You might be wondering what I didn't buy.  The list of strong, Rocky-style contenders is varied and in true-Cactus style would only make sense to me.  A small sampling of rejected items: a case of Red Eye Gravy Instant Grits; all of True Blood on DVD; mushroom spore logs; a trailer hitch cover; a small greenhouse. Like I said, it doesn't have to be logical.

What did I end up with?  A nice assortment of lovely things.  Since the season of my religion, SEC Football, is upon us, I decided I must have some new GA gear. Most of you brought up in an SEC state know only too well that you are required to declare allegiance to a team and color scheme in early childhood. Maybe this is true in states where they play football in other conferences, as well.  I wouldn't know nor do I care.

My Mama can tell you that in an effort to rebel in high school not only did I declare myself a J.D. Rockefeller-worshipping Republican, but I also became a GA Tech fan. Don't worry, I quickly recognized the error of my ways and went right back to more traditional rebellious behaviors. Never has a parent been so relieved by a little underage wine cooler indulgence.

In picking out new fab merch this summer I decided that only a Tervis tumbler with lid and straw, sportin the big G would be appropriate for game day cocktails. To guarantee that I was well dressed on Saturdays this fall I picked out a lovely, vibrant red thermal Henley with the existential query "How Bout Them Dawgs?" across the chest.  After those purchases, I still had enough of my gift to make one more modest purchase, but what did I still desperately want?

For some time now I've been dyin to try my hand at making cheese. I asked my daddy, Mr. RTR himself for a cheesemaking kit last Christmas, but did not receive one. As my dad is not one to skimp in the gift department, I can only assume he thought I was joking.  I can assure you, I was not.  So with the last of my birthday money I finally ordered the Beginner's Mozzarella Kit from Ricki the Cheese Queen. 

I received this excellent package in the mail two weeks ago and have been impatiently waiting to make fresh mozz of my very own. Due to the fact that Fuschia and I are packing our house and relocating, as is our nomadic inclination, my own kitchen isn't fit to make a 3 minute Hungry Man in right now.  The only other option is work, which has a huge, if ill-equipped kitchen to offer. As an added bonus I could also use the milk that we buy by the case, saving myself the hassle of procuring my own.

Tonight a co-worker, Dr. Who, and I finally worked up the gumption to give milk alchemy a try. We faithfully followed the directions, setting out all necessary tools and ingredients, scrubbing our hands like surgery awaited.  It was a heady few moments when we began heating the milk, adding the citric acid, checking the temp, waiting for it to hit 90 degrees.  When it finally did we moved on to the all important addition of the rennet. We added.  We gently stirred. We covered the pot and waited. And waited.

Finally we pulled back the lid to discover that we, chunky milk.  The instructions said this was a possibility and to just wait longer, so we re-covered the pot and waited again.  After a respectable time for the rennet to do its flippin job we opened the lid again to find...chunky milk.  Epic fail. We quickly poured it down the drain and got to work on a second attempt. This time we made it all the way to the curd heating stage before we were forced to concede defeat. Our curds just weren't forming.

After a lengthy, bitter cleanup spent discussing how bummed we were at our inability to make the simplest cheese known to mankind, we retreated to the staff office and the soothing narcotic that is the interweb.  I immediately went to  , Rick the Cheese Queen's site in search of tech support in my cheese failure.  Almost instantly it became apparent that the real culprit is probably the chlorine used to clean the drinking water here in Louisville.

Evidently chlorine keeps rennet from working which is absolutely what prevented us from cheesemaking success. Strange that a 981 mile long vat of chemicals, human excrement and a little water would need extensive treatment to make it potable, but there you have it.  Since I attempted to make cheese with the Ohio River, post chlorine, I set myself up for failure.

Although we're officially moving next Wednesday, I still plan on getting right back to mozz-making next Saturday night.  This time, I think I'll pick up a little distilled water and see how we do.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Musings on Backpacking

The following post was written several, if not many, years ago during my days of adventure tripping masquerading as actual work.  It remains the coolest job I've ever had. 

Coming around a bend in the trail, I let out a gasp loud enough for my companions to hear.  I smile, they smile, for we all know the same thing: it is time for a break.  There could be no more perfect spot than this creek, under these trees, in the middle of a glorious, Georgia, July day; it approaches what heaven must be like.
                Here on the Gahuti trail, winding around Fort Mountain in North Georgia,   we’re a scant 2 miles into our trip.  The group, 12 beginners plus their fearless guides, is large and unwieldy and more than a little out of shape.  We’re taking it slow, walking for pleasure and fitness through the still forest.  When we happen upon a beautiful stream intersecting our path, we waste no time shedding our modern torture devices and relaxing on the best seats in Mother Nature’s house.
                For most hikers this could be a relaxing, beautiful day-hike accomplished in time to retire to town for a hearty meal.  For us, the 8.2 mile loop trail is a chance to take that initial baby-step into the strange and mysterious world of backpacking.  We’ve planned for a 1.5 day, overnight trip that breaks for the evening 5-or-so miles into the trip.  The assistant guide and I have estimated that we’ll reach our Adirondack shelter well before night fall. 
Sitting at the creek, waiting for a turn with the water filter, I’m rethinking our optimistic timeline; its approaching 3p.m with less than half the day’s distance completed.  I fill my bottle to the brim, knowing that this water will taste better than anything I’ve ever had; I’m not disappointed.  When I recover from my near religious experience, I get out the map and my luxury item, dried pineapple, to decide on a backup plan if we continue to make molasses-in-January  progress. 
                Knowing the group’s determination to complete this trip, I file away a few options in the mental folder and get to my feet; it’s time to move on.  Loading up is accompanied by extra sighs and groans as our bodies readjust to the packs.  Taking the lead, I start back up a gorgeous section of trail; humming despite my deadline concern, I’m feeling at one with the world.
                Through sheer determination and willpower, no doubt fueled by a wish to avoid sleeping scattered throughout the allegedly ghost-inhabited woods, we make our shelter with thirty minutes to spare.    Relief is apparent in the tone of the group’s voices as we set up tents and make chore assignments for dinner.  As so often happens, boundless energy arises the moment the packs hit the dirt, and we harness that exuberance to get food on the make. 
                Much later, after the group has drifted into their tents and bags, after the last headlamp has been extinguished, I sit alone with the assistant guide, soaking in the night noises.  We hear frogs, crickets, cicadas, and something much larger: maybe a bear, but probably a raccoon.  Admiring the stars overhead I think back on the pain and effort expended to get me to this place and smile, secure in the knowledge that it will all be forgotten by morning, when only the beauty remains.