Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Because I love you all, here are the Cramps with "Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon." You're welcome.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Crowded House.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Secret Messages
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Sailing Venus: Glitch in the matrix

So, the past few days I've lost a few thousand words, gained a few thousand words then lost a few thousand words, all without writing a single thing. I do not recommend it.

Follow: My pre-teen son like the idea of reading and writing books, but he has somewhat severe ADHD, and isn't terribly successful with either. He's aware I've been writing Sailing Venus is already talking about the Hollywood premiere for when it is inevitably adapted into a motion picture. The other day, he said he was so looking forward to reading it when it was published that he couldn't hardly wait. "You don't need to wait," I said. "You can read the first draft now, if you want. But it's not polished or edited." This got him excited, and I promised I'd print out a copy of chapter 1. Actually, I was busy trying to install a new motor for our swimming pool pump, but he pestered me so much I gave up on that and tried to print a chapter out.

At this point I discovered my novel's the master file had suffered some sort of corruption. The final quarter of chapter one was missing, as was the first two-thirds of chapter two. One sentence just ran straight into the other. Uh oh. My backups showed the same glitch. Not good. I hadn't been saving the novel chapter-by-chapter, I've just been writing it as one long, continuous file. After some desperate hunting, I found copies of those original files in my email from when I'd sent them out to my writing group. Thankfully, problem solved. I restored the missing copy, and saw my word count jump by thousands. Yay! But then, as I was scrolling through to set up printing, I ran across this:

Page after page of random numbers. Where the hell did that come from? Despite my initial alarm, the numerical gibberish did not replace actual text--it just appeared in addition to said text, right in the middle of the chapter. I fixed that, but found weird formatting changes scattered throughout, stuff like random paragraphs aligned center, random words and phrases underlined, odd line breaks, etc. Some of it's been fixed, some I'm just ignoring for now. I don't think this is the result of malware, and my software is generally up to date, so I'm kind of stumped on the causes. I just noticed recently, so I don't know how long this has been the case. Obviously, I'm going to keep a close eye on it going forward, to see if any more glitchy stuff shows up.

Fortunately, at the end of the day I ended up recovering more words than I lost, so that is good, although, all things being equal, I'd rather add and retain words in a more traditional manner.

Now Playing: Various artist The Caribbean Calypsonians
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There are no easy answers

So, the pitchfork-and-torches brigade is vilifying the armed officer in Florida never confronted the shooter. I'm not defending the guy. He's going to have to live with that inaction the rest of his life. It's going to be brutal.

But consider, for a moment, that this guy is human. School guard is not normally a high-stress position. You break up occasional fights. Watch to make sure visitors have checked in properly with the office. Maybe patrol the parking lot to make sure students aren't doing some extracurricular study of biology and anatomy. When push comes to shove, he failed to rise to the challenge. Was he too afraid to act? Maybe. That's the human element.

The mere presence of an armed guard is often viewed as sufficient deterrence in and of itself. Had he received ALERRT training, or something similar? That allows conditioning and training to kick in, otherwise the first responder has to think about what's happening, maybe over-think. There are a lot of unknowns. Paralysis leading to inaction can result out of the fear of making the wrong decision. Training's not cheap, and it can't be completed in a 30 minute online course. This isn't like television and the movies. [Edited to add that most officers who have not had active shooter response training are, per policy, taught to wait for backup. So it's entirely possible he was doing exactly what he was supposed to in that situation.]

Consider now, that this is the "solution" the NRA and many members of Congress have for school shootings (which doesn't bother to address mass shootings at concerts or churches or shopping malls or anywhere else). Arming teachers and janitors and administrators with even less training and less experience isn't a solution. If the money existed for comprehensive training for all of them, teachers would be getting a decent salary already and Governor Abbott and his allies in the legislature wouldn't have gutted the healthcare benefits of retired teachers.

That armed officer who failed to confront the killer? He's not a bug in the system. He's a baked-in feature.

Now Playing: Various artists Simply Calypso
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Sunday, February 18, 2018

What's Jayme drinking? (Hint: It's a Coatimundi!)

Last week I shared a new cocktail I have created, called the Jaguarundi. In that writeup, I explained that it actually came about as I was trying to perfect another cocktail. At the time, I promised to share that one in the future. The future is now: Behold, the Coatimundi!

Okay, I'll admit that's a little dramatic, but this one's a fruit bomb I'm proud of. Again, this all started with my attempt to infuse rum with the distinctive tropical flavor of jackfruit. That accomplished, I next had to come up with cocktails in which to use it. My initial effort was based on highlighting that fruity jackfruit flavor, and this drink is influenced by the fruit-forward flavor profile of the Chief Lapu Lapu. There's also some Brazilian batida in there. Curiously, the Coatimundi tastes sweeter than the Jaguarundi, although there's actually less sugar in the former than in the latter. Here's the recipe:

by Jayme Blaschke
1 oz. Jackfruit-infused rum
1 oz. Demerara rum (I used El Dorado 8)
1 oz. Lime juice
1 oz. Coconut milk
.5 oz. Passionfruit juice (Passionfruit syrup will make it too sweet, unless you're into that. I use Sunberry Farms passionfruit juice)
.5 oz. Cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with crushed ice and shake until frost forms on outside of tin. Gated pour into poco grande glass or tiki mug (I normally use a tiki mug, but went with the poco grande this time to show off the drink better) and add crushed ice to fill (I use the ice from the mixing tin). Garnish with a cinnamon stick along with a kumquat wrapped in a loop of lime peel on a cocktail pick.
Like the Chief Lapu Lapu, the Coatimundi is bright and citrusy, very fruit-forward and refreshing. The cinnamon syrup gives it a nudge of background spice to balance the fruit. The tart passionfruit is there mainly to underscore and boost the jackfruit flavor. I think passionfruit does a better job of this than the pineapple juice I used in the Jaguarundi, but they both have their place. The demerara rum plays second fiddle to the fruit, but is distinct enough to not get completely lost amidst the flavors. Again, the coconut milk provides subtle flavor and mouthfeel, although I neglected to let it warm when I pulled it from the bar fridge, and the chilled coconut milk wants to separate rather than blend evenly. I'll make a note of that for next time. As for the garnish, the cinnamon stick is obvious, but I hit upon the kumquat early on--the sweet/tart contrast of the tiny fruit makes a nice topper for the drink. And it's distinctive as well. Kumquats aren't terribly common in the produce section, but I plan on planting a couple of kumquat trees here in the next few weeks, so I'll be able to provide as much garnish as necessary. This is a very nice poolside sipper for hot summer months. It's a little sweet, but the tart elements balance it. I like to think it's a far more interesting drink, flavor wise, than something like a piña colada.

As for the name, Coatimundi, that comes from a close encounter The Wife and some neighbors had last spring, when they witnessed a coatimundi cross the road a couple blocks from our house and disappear into the woods. State wildlife biologists doubted that it was a wild coatimundi, as those are exceedingly rare even in South Texas, but it might be an escaped pet, as those are not terribly rare as far as exotic pets go in Texas. Regardless, it hasn't been see since, but I'd like to think it would enjoy the drink I've crafted in its honor.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Exotica vol. 2
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Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I still remember the first time I heard Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." It must've been early January of 1987. I was in my room at night, doing homework or somesuch, and the song came on the radio (we listened to the radio to hear music back in those days, kids). The station was probably KKBQ, because I got terrible reception for KRBE and I hadn't yet gotten into KLOL. Regardless, it was one of those songs where I instantly recognized the hooks and melody, to the point where I was certain it was a remake of maybe a late 60s or early 70s track by some other artist. Of course, it wasn't. I've encountered other new songs that I've found so familiar they were borderline deja vu, but never have I experienced that feeling as strongly as with Crowded House. Fortunately, it was a good song, and still holds up today.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Rupert Holmes.

Now Playing: Dire Straits Alchemy
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

What's Jayme drinking? (Hint: It's a Jaguarundi!)

I haven't done a "What's Jayme drinking?" in a while, but I'm happy to revive this feature for what I'm drinking right now. Those of you playing along at home may recall my efforts at infusing rum with jackfruit. It's easy to infuse liquors with fruit and spice flavors--pineapple, blackberry, peach and other fruits are commonly used. But if I was going to infuse a rum, I wanted it to be something exotic, that one couldn't find easy alternative sources for said flavor. I settled on jackfruit, which has a very strong tropical flavor reputed to be the inspiration for Juicy Fruit gum. To make a long story short, my infusion experiment was a success. Now I have jackfruit rum. The next question became, what do I do with it?

It was clear I needed to create a signature cocktail for the Lagoon of Mystery home tiki bar! I took the jackfruit rum and did what any good mixologist does with a new rum to get it's measure--I made a daiquiri with it. Turns out, that daiquiri was crazy sweet. When I use fruit in homebrew, the yeast converts the fruit sugars into alcohol during fermentation. But when infusing a spirit such as rum, fermentation is long past and the fruit sugars simply linger along with the flavors. That was definitely something I needed take into account when crafting my new recipe. I went back over the various recipes I'd made in the past year that I liked and came up with several elements I liked. There were Brazilian batidas, the super-fruity Chief Lapu Lapu, the spicy and complex 3 Dots and a Dash, the simple yet effective Hurricane. I focused on building upon the fruit bomb that was the jackfruit rum, and I kept coming back to a specific combination that really was a tropical explosion in the mouth. Coconut milk was a constant in many of those variations. Folks who know me know I don't really like coconut, but after my first encounter with coconut water in Jamaica a number of years ago, I've softened my opposition to the big brown nut. Batidas showed me that coconut milk could add interesting body and mouthfeel to drinks, along with a subtle, more nuanced coconut flavor than found in most commercial products. I named that drink the Coatimundi, for reasons I shall go into when I feature that drink here. But today is not that day.

Instead I'm sharing a different drink, son of Coatimundi, so to speak. During my experiments, I tried pairing the jackfruit rum with an agricole rum, which is made from pressed cane juice and has a grassy, vegetal component to it. It can actually be pretty pungent in some agricoles. That particular incarnation didn't work for what I was attempting, but I was intrigued. Once I settled on the final Coatimundi recipe, I came back to this other variation and began playing up the spicy notes and grassy notes in the agricole. What I ended up with is clearly related to the Coatimundi from the recipe notes, but at the same time a significantly different flavor. I've alternated back and forth on which I like better, but really, it comes down to which taste I'm in the mood for. Here, for the first time (drumroll please) I present the new cocktail, the Jaguarundi:

by Jayme Blaschke
1.5 oz. Jackfruit-infused rum
1 oz. Agricole vieux (Rhum Clément V.S.O.P.)
1 oz. Lime juice
1 oz. Coconut milk
.5 oz. Pineapple juice
.5 oz. Ginger syrup
.5 tsp. Grenadine (pomegranate grenadine only, skip that nasty high fructose corn syrup stuff!)
.5 tsp. Falernum
2 dashes Celery bitters (Fee Bros.)
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with crushed ice and shake until frost forms on outside of tin. Gated pour into poco grande glass or tiki mug (I normally use a tiki mug, but went with the poco grande this time to show off the drink better) and add crushed ice to fill (I use the ice from the mixing tin). Garnish with a pineapple frond and candied ginger on a cocktail pick. A sprig of mint is okay too, if you're so inclined.
I really like the Jaguarundi because it has multiple layers of flavor, some that almost play hide-and-seek with the palate during the course of the drink. It's a moderately sweet drink, but not as much as expected. The pineapple juice backs up the jackfruit flavors, the coconut milk provides subtle flavor and mouthfeel. The ginger syrup works very will with the agricole, and the celery bitters play up the vegetal notes. I hunted down and bought celery bitters specifically for this drink, despite the fact that I'd never tasted celery bitters before, simply because it felt like something that would work. And it did. The falernum and grenadine work as well, bringing tropical and spice notes, but it's easy to over-do them and throw everything out of whack--half a teaspoon was simply too much of either.

As for the name, Jaguarundi, first off, it's cool, tropical-sounding and not inappropriate for a tiki-inspired drink. Secondly, since I was building this drink around the vegetal, grassy notes of the agricole (as opposed to the jackfruit infusion) it struck me that a rare Texas wildcat that sticks to dense tropical vegetation would not be an inappropriate choice for this particular flavor profile. So there you have it.

If you have access to jackfruit, I highly recommend trying to infuse your own rum. I think a pound of jackfruit per 750ml is a reasonable amount. If you make some jackfruit rum, I invite you to craft your own Jaguarundi and let me know what you think. If you don't, well, make sure to visit the Lagoon of Mystery some time and I'll be happy to make one for you!

Now Playing: Clouseaux Clouseaux
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Monday, February 12, 2018

Give 'em hell, Bill!

The world is a less kind place tonight. Bill Crider, author of no small talent, passed away today after a drawn-out battle with cancer. He entered hospice in December, and his passing comes as no surprise, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. Bill was a Good Guy, a term that gets applied to too many people who aren't and not enough people who are. I do not remember the first time I met him, and it seems like I've never not known him. He was a regular at AggieCon and ArmadilloCon and lord, but I remember so many late-night bull sessions with Bill and Joe Lansdale and any number of authors and fans who have come and gone over the years. One of Bill's trademark abilities (other than having read pretty much any obscure writer mentioned in passing, or knowing the life history of any beautiful, golden age Hollywood actress) was referencing "James Fenimore Cooper" in almost any conversation and having it seem a natural progression.

Bill's one of the few people I believe had read almost everything I've published, and looked forward to anything new by me. He was friendly and kind to me way before I had anything published, and I never saw him treat anyone as anything other than a friend, even if he'd never met them before.

He found out about his cancer 18 months or so, give or take. At first, his doctors thought it was kidney failure. He missed Armadillocon in 2016 for the first time in years, if not decades, because of the uncertainty. It was a brutal diagnosis, because just a few years earlier he'd lost his wife, Judy, to cancer. Naturally, we all missed him and hoped he'd be one of the lucky ones to lick his disease and live a much longer life. I rounded up a bunch of Bill's friends to make some videos to boost his spirits. That part, at least, seems to have worked. The recovery and remission part, unfortunately, did not.

Give 'em hell, Bill.

Now Playing: Various Artists The Best of Bond
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Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

It occurs to me that "yacht rock" is essentially the equivalent of "smooth jazz" for the singer-songwriter era. Some people love it, but there's almost always a heavy dose of irony involved. Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" is the poster child for this particular sub-genre. This song always amuses me because in real life, the guy's girlfriend/wife wouldn't chuckle and say, "Golly, isn't hilarious how we both tried to cheat on each other but got caught out?" No, there'd be screaming, accusations and, quite possibly, bloodshed in a very public arena. I expect police would become involved, and divorce papers served shortly after. Despite all that, I think the real tragedy is that this song popularized the Pina Colada, which really isn't a very good cocktail at all, unless you happen to like alcoholic sugar bombs that might aw well come from a 7-Eleven Slurpee machine.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Now Playing: St. Louis Symphony Billy the Kid/Rodeo
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Friday, February 02, 2018

Firday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Looking at today's news, I can't help but think of the old Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, "Two Tribes." It's kinda depressing, for all the wrong reasons. Looks like Russia won the Cold War, after all.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Bay City Rollers.

Now Playing: Dire Straits Brothers in Arms
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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday, Aunt Jessie!

On this date in 1885, Fay Stewart was born in Waco. She would've been 133 years old today. Stewart would later adopt the alias of Jessie Williams and operate a small brothel in Austin's Guy Town district before moving to La Grange in 1913. In 1915, she bought 11 acres of land outside of city limits and opened what would eventually become known as the Chicken Ranch. Known locally as Aunt Jessie, she ran the brothel until selling it to Edna Milton in 1961.

Fay Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street, but struggled after Stewart’s father died unexpectedly in 1886. While it is entirely possible that Stewart learned the ropes of prostitution in Waco's infamous Two Street vice district, there’s scant evidence she was successful enough to own her own brothel there.

Curiously enough, despite the fact Aunt Jessie spent nearly three decades in La Grange and was as well-known a civic benefactor as anyone in Fayette County, I have found no photographs of her. Zero. Nada. Which is strange, since I know photos of her exist somewhere. So in lieu of Aunt Jessie's photo, we'll have to settle from the 1958 edition of the La Grange phone book. Think that cover art is coincidental? Or was someone with the Yellow Pages making a not-so-subtle joke? In any event, here's to Aunt Jessie, the woman who turned a number of shoddy prostitution operations into the brothel known today as the Chicken Ranch.

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night
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Sailing Venus: A sorry state of affairs

When last I reported in, prior to World Fantasy, I had this silly notion that I would maintain or even increase my word production.

Fat chance.

Life threw me some curve balls following a positive World Fantasy. Mentally, my head just wasn't in a good place to write, as the trendy kids say. I spent a significant amount of time staring at a blank screen before realizing that wasn't doing me or the novel any good, and got up to occupy myself in other ways. Thus, December and most of January passed with little writing done at all. That's two months. Even at my notoriously slow rate of writing, I'd be damn near finished with the book. Had I, you know, actually done writing during that period. sigh

On the bright side, my writing group has started up again, lighting a fire under me to produce more pages lest the shame of not having anything to critique blight my otherwise sterling reputation. And guess what? Chapter 13, which gave me all manner of fits during its writing, prompting several rewrites and despair of ever getting beyond it, was met with universal approval. Sure, there were specific, discrete issues scattered here and there that need fixing, but one person said, "This chapter is Sailing Venus. This is everything the book is about." It probably helped that I made some architectural changes between Chapters 12 and 13 that helped focus the narrative and better define some character moments, but still. Pretty heady stuff for a writer constantly battling Imposter Syndrome.

The downside to having a great workshop meeting is the fact that I have to follow it up. And Chapter 14 is proving to be far, far more obstinate than 13 ever dreamed of being. It's very clunky. I have to get from Point A at the beginning to Point B at the end, but the narrative wants to wander off down all manner of blind alleys. I'm rewriting more than I'd like. I'm spending an hour coaxing out a single sentence. I'm not convinced it's working. At all. Still, amidst all the dross, there are a few bits that give me hope. We're finally getting Sigfried back up to speed, sort of, and his particular voice adds a certain kind of pep to every scene he's in. A sample from last night:

Sigfried puffed up. "All domestic cat model lines are Class 3A, except for Maine Coons, and those're discontinued. Now me, I'm Class 4C, which, I don't have to tell you, is clearly superior. Now, 38-centimeter beagles are Class 4B, but that's just a reflection of mass, not quality--"

"Do you remember Monkey C. Doo?"

Sigfried grimaced. "Not if I can help it."

"What's he?"

"I'm not sure. Four-something."

Erica raised an eyebrow.

"He's 4B. Class 4B. Are you happy? And that's not a reflection of quality, it's a reflection of mass. That's all, nothing more."
Now Playing: Dire Straits Alchemy
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I stopped in to a grocery store this morning, and what do I hear playing, but that 70s nugget "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers. Believe it or not, I never heard this song on the radio when it was a hit, because we only got both kinds of music were I grew up (Country and Western). I discovered them via their 1978 Krofft-produced "Bay City Rollers Show which I thought was great, but turned out to be so great it lasted but eight episodes. In the video below, only four members of the band perform, with lead singer Les McKeown inexplicably on drums. There's no sign of regular drummer Derek Longmuir, which is fine with me, as he was convicted on child pornography charges in 2000 and has no place on my blog.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Herbie Hancock.

Now Playing: Blondie Best of Blondie
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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Winter plantings

A couple weeks ago, just before the latest Arctic Express blew through and sent temperatures plummeting, I went out into the backyard and did some of my annual horticulture stuff. I'm not planting as much as in previous years, because I had fewer trees already in the ground back then. Makes sense. I also have less disposable cash this time around, so I'm being a bit more selective in what I spend it on (hint: It's mostly tiki bar stuff). One of my main projects for the coming year is landscaping around the swimming pool. The palm trees are nice, yes, but the grounds beneath them have gotten a bit feral. Last summer I planted an "Aphrodite" Rose of Sharon, which is a type of cold-tolerant hibiscus originally from Asia. The idea is that this will grow up to offer some privacy screening for the pool. It didn't get planted until summer had already begun, so it struggled mightily. In fact, at multiple points I thought it had died, but it proved a durable trooper. Desiring more hibiscus for the tropical flair they offer, last month I ordered a smaller, shrubby type with massive crimson flowers known as "Lord Baltimore." This one only grows 3'-4' tall and will make a nice accent plant in an area where I'd cut back a bedraggled, half-dead growth of rosemary (I like rosemary, but this part was seriously unhealthy and in terrible shape). I just received notice that my Lord Baltimore will be delivered today via USPS, and am looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Another project I have going is the germination of about 20 sabal minor dwarf palmettos. These are shrubby, trunkless palms that I've wanted for a while to add as understory plants beneath our big sabal palms. They lend a very tropical look wherever they're planted, and the "McCurtain" variety I've received originates from Oklahoma, where they survive harsh winters as well as heat and drought. In short, they're very hardy and should do well for me. Saba Minor is a Texas native, and can be seen in Palmetto State Park. I'm germinating the seeds in a plastic baggie filled with moist vermiculite and peat moss, resting atop a seed germination heat map. The other day I found one had started putting out a tap root, so I'm hoping I'll have an over-abundance of seedlings in another week or so.

Below is the only real "new" tree I've planted thus far this year. Three years ago I bought a Galaxy Peach from Fanick's in San Antonio. That's a type of flat, donut peach. Well, it fruited for the first time last year, and guess what? The peach was elongated and not a Galaxy at all. So the folks at Fanick's, being the kind of upstanding people that they are, offered me a replacement. I planted this Galaxy across the yard from my others. I hadn't intended to get more than two peach trees, but hey, I roll with the punches.

Although the tree had been pruned back by the nursery, I thought the root system under-developed for even that smaller tree size, so I pruned it back even more. Being no stranger to losing first-year trees to the Texas summer, I took those pruned branches and made several grafts to my already-established mystery peach across the yard. If this one turns out to be Galaxy, I'm in great shape even if the new tree dies (which I hope it doesn't).

Next up was leftover business from last year. I'd ordered a che, otherwise known as Mandarin melonberry, a small tree that is related to Osage orange. In fact, they're grafted onto hardy Osage root stock. It was fairly small when I got it and I worried it wouldn't survive the summer, so I potted it up instead. It hardly grew at all through the first half of summer, then put on a crazy spurt of growth to end up with a several willow-floppy branches, the longest being nearly 5' long. Needless to say, I was happy to get this one in the ground, although I'm going to prune it back for sanity's sake.

In the front yard I'd originally envisioned a row of small crabapple trees lining the driveway, and planted two Blanco crabapples to start, since they're attractive natives. Floods and deer and eventually cedar apple rust conspired to do one of them in last year, and I picked up a replacement from Madrone Nursery but got to thinking that maybe it wasn't worth the trouble to grow crabapples in the front yard. I could easily see someone accidentally backing into one whilst trying to park, and the potential for flooding and deer wasn't ever going away. So instead, I decided to put the new Blanco crab in the back yard, and did so a short distance from the peach, above. In fact, I'm seriously considering digging up the remaining crab in the front and relocating it, since it is not so very big yet. I've never moved a tree before, so we'll see how that goes. I also planted a Hewe's Virginia Crabapple in the spot where I lost an Arkansas Black apple tree late last summer. The Hewe's was originally one of four bench grafts I received last spring--two Wickson's crabapples and two Hewe's. Sadly, the Wickson's grafts failed, period. The Hewe's grew very well, but my beagles snapped the graft on one and my emergency re-grafting efforts failed. So I'm left with the one. Before bud break this spring, I'm going to take some cuttings and graft it onto other apple trees I have already established, to hedge my bets.

Finally, I'm doing grapes again. You may remember I tried this last year, getting several cuttings of rare T.V. Munson varieties from Grayson College. Of those cuttings last year, only Vahalhah survived to my embarrassment. Elvicand had several cuttings root, but I lost them all when I forgot to water them for several days. Ben Hur leafed out and grew well before abruptly dying. Turns out this one never developed any roots! The final type, Wapanuka, never did anything. It just failed completely. So, I decided to try again. This time, Grayson only sent Ben Hur and Elvicand cuttings, which makes me wonder if there's a problem with Wapanuka in general. Regardless, these two are in my refrigerator to stay dormant until the weather starts to warm, at which point I will attempt rooting once again.

As it stands now, I think I have all the trees I'm going to try and get, outside of a couple of cold-tolerant avocados, and a kumquat or two, perhaps. The rest of the way, I'm going to focus on grafting to what I already have and adding bushes and shrubs--I have space for more pomegranates (Kajackik Anor is one I hope to obtain) as well as at least one mulberry bush (not tree) and additional figs.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Face the Music
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

So, the blog...

This hardly seems worth a dedicated blog post, but then again some explanation is in order. Long-time visitors to my blog may notice something of an aesthetic change here. The look is decidedly different. Since 2009 I've run this blog as "Chicken Ranch Gibberish" with the notion of promoting my then-in-progress book Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse. Which is all well and good, except for the fact that the book came out in August 2016 and here we are in January 2018. I've moved on to other writing projects, notably Sailing Venus, and the Chicken Ranch-centric design had lost its mojo, so to speak.

I've always felt green is an under-used color online, and my pre-Chicken Ranch blog was primarily green in design, so it seemed natural to go that route once again. Plus, I could incorporate some (subtle) tiki elements to go along with my other current obsession. Never fear, I'll still post the same dumb content I always have, and keep everyone up-to-date on any Chicken Ranch goings-on. But all good things must come to an end. Chicken Ranch Gibberish is dead. Long live Gibberish!

Now Playing: Julie London The Very Best of Julie London
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, January 19, 2018

Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast

Last week, during a welcome, sunny respite between arctic blasts, I had some guests over to the Lagoon of Mystery. David Phantomatic and Jennifer Tarte dropped by to interview myself and Lisa for an episode of Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast! We talked about my Lagoon of Mystery tiki bar build-along that has taken up a good part of the last year, our various tiki experiences--both the joys and disappointments--around the state and country, as well as the state of tiki in Texas in general. We also touch on Lisa's boudoir and pin-up photography with Secrets By Miss Lisa. It was a tremendous amount of fun, and I encourage everyone to give it a listen.

I made everyone cocktails, starting out with an old Don the Beachcomber's recipe, the Port au Prince, which has become one of my favorite mixed drinks. Then we had a round of Mermaid Water, which is dangerously close to being an over-sweet "Boat Drink," but everyone agreed it had potential and could likely be with bitters or additional sour to bring it into balance. After we finished taping, Lisa teased me that I never actually answered David's opening question: What books are in my cocktail library? D'oh! To set the record straight, my tiki cocktail recipe books currently consist of Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean, Beachbum Berry Remixed and Martin and Rebecca Cate's Smuggler's Cove. Just three books, but I've only managed to sample a tiny fraction of the recipes they contain. Here are some behind-the-scenes photos from the afternoon:

Now Playing: Various Artists The Calypso Calypsonians
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Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I am embarrassed to admit that it would be at least two decades before I realized that Herbie Hancock was a legendary jazz innovator, and not just a one-hit wonder who struck gold with the insanely catchy "Rockit" supported by the even more insanely insane video. Hancock long resisted having any of his work available online, or at least on YouTube. He has since relented, and we are all the better for it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Combustible Edison.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tiki build-along, pt. 17

Unseasonably wintry weather had driven me indoors this winter, so I've not had a lot of opportunity to work on my tiki bar. No in large ways, that is. However, I have taken my work indoors--the garage, to be specific--to work on crafting an actual, for-true sign for the Lagoon of Mystery. I've been calling my tiki bar that for a while, but it felt like something of a cheat. A sign would change all that, right? Make it official, or something like that.

Unfortunately, I started working on it before I thought about making a blog post, so the earliest steps were missed. I picked up a 1" thick board from a local lumber supply yard. It was 12" wide and something along the lines of 4' long. I took half of it and routered out a sign directing clients to The Wife's boudoir and pin-up studio. I kept the remainder for myself. I noodled around in Photoshop off and on for ages, tinkering with a design for the sign. I tried all manner of retro fonts, different tropical motifs and whatnot before I settled on an illustration that incorporated a stylized version of our pool with palm trees and hibiscus, because that's literally the Lagoon of Mystery. There are actually more passion flowers than hibiscus, but passis are so delicate and complicated a flower there was no way I was about to try and router out one of those. I printed the design out in segments on legal-sized paper then tiled it together with tape. I overlaid the design on the wood, then used an Exacto to slice out the pattern. Then I traced over it with a pencil, ultimately transferring the design to the wood. Got it? Good. I then used a router to carve out all the large sections, and my Dremel to work the details, such as the outline of the letters, the palms and the hibiscus. Very time-consuming. That brings us to the image below.

That conjoined oval blob in the middle? That's the lagoon, aka our pool. I'm doing this whole thing as a kind of bas relief, right? So I'm thinking the pool area needs to be lower than the letters. What's more, it needs texture. I am dumb in so many ways. This is one of them. I used the Dremel to carve out textured waves in the "water." This took a very, very long time to complete. Did I mention I'm carving the sign into both sides? No? Well, I am. A very, very long time.

At some point, I finished. I assume. It's all a blur to me.

I had one really big screw up with the trim router, gouging out a not-insignificant section of the pool under the Y. I repaired it by resorting to my favorite do-anything fix-it, wood putty. After letting it dry overnight, I took the Dremel and carved texture into it. Problem solved.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

I scorched the entire sign to foster that vintage Witco look. The black is all carbonized wood, which means it is burned.

After attacking it with a wire brush and much vigorous scrubbing, all the burned soot is removed leaving a deeply textured wood surface. The wood grain forms peaks and valleys, with the softer wood having burned away leaving only the harder, denser grain. Amusingly enough, this also removed much of the "texture" I'd carved into the water.

I applied my go-to stain, Minwax Special Walnut. Eventually, I'd add a coat of Minwax Dark Walnut as well, to give the color more texture and depth.

The stained wood forms a frame for the sign. The stain also colors the palm tree trunks.

For the water, I used the same blue I've been using for the patio ceiling. It's even got the paint glitter in it to give that occasional shimmer. The green of the palm trees is the same paint I used for the directional sign, as is the black. I had to buy some red and yellow for the hibiscus flower because I didn't have any. Still, I'm trying to keep costs as low as possible.

I attached eyehooks about 4.5" from either end of the sign for hanging.

The black lettering? That took a lot more effort than I expected. Getting the edges of the letter painted without blotching up the other paint, or the raw wood, was maddening. Tiny, tiny detail work. Eventually, I had to remind myself that the sign was meant to have a rustic, almost makeshift feel to it. It didn't have to be perfect. In fact, perfect would probably go against the intended aesthetic. That was very difficult for me to accept and internalize, but eventually I did. Thank goodness. As The Wife says, I can be way too anal sometimes.

Finally, I applied several coats of water-based spar urethane to weather seal it and add protection from the sun. I chose to go with the water-based spar rather than the oil-based because the water type dries clear, whereas the oil type has a warm, sepia-kind of finish. That actually looks pretty good on plain wood, but I didn't want it muddling the colors of the paint. Also, I don't know if anyone else has shared this experience, but I've found the water-based spar urethane does not have much of an issue of bubbles forming and drying to mar the finish like the oil-based urethane does. I can get as sloppy as I want, but the water-based type will dry perfect every time.

And here's teh sign in situ. It looks good. It'll look even better once I come up with some way to tikify that beam. There are two small hooks holding the sign up, which the eye hooks set into. But you'd probably figured that out already. I don't think the sign's likely to blow off the hooks even in the strongest wind storms, but we'll see.

And here's the sign, full-on. It feels good to get this finally up. It might not be as slick as some other home tiki bar signs, but it fits the mood in the Lagoon of Mystery.

Now Playing: Les Paul & Mary Ford Lover's Luau
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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jackfruit-infused rum

You might want to stand back a little for this one--it's liable to get messy. Oh, who am I kidding? It already has.

See that big, watermelon-sized fruit thing there with the knobby skin and the large butcher knife sticking out of it? That's a jackfruit. Jackfruit grow in the tropics. They're really cool, and HEB has started carrying them locally when in season. They cost around $1.25 a pound, and that one clocked in at around 11 pounds. For the record, this was one of the smaller ones available. One there was at least twice the size. They're big.

Okay, you may be thinking, but why are they so cool? Thanks for asking! This is the fruit that the Juicy Fruit Gum flavor was inspired by. Some people mistake them for the other big, spiny fruit from the tropics, the durian, but they aren't closely related. And the durian is notorious for stinking. Jackfruit smell wonderfully tropical when cut open. See those yellow seed arils in the photo above? That's the good stuff. Think of them as a non-juicy pomegranate and you get the idea. Jackfruit has a fantastic, strong and pleasing tropical fruit flavor. I first tried one about two years ago and was blown away. Almost immediately, I started thinking about how to incorporate this great tropical fruit into some sort of cocktail. Surprisingly (or not) there are very few recipes online. One said to muddle several of those yellow arils in a glass before adding the other ingredients. When fruit is "muddled," what you're doing is mashing it up to release the juice and flavors. Trouble is, jackfruit has an unusual texture. It's firm and rubbery. That sounds awful, but is kinda cool to eat. Sort of like fruit leather that's really serious about being fresh fruit leather. Great for eating, but it resists muddling like you wouldn't believe. Fine. So I looked for another recipe, and found one that suggested blending it into a smoothie. No dice. I ran the blender on liquify for five minutes and the jackfruit remained grainy bits suspended within the overall liquid matrix, decidedly unsmooth. Completely unacceptable for cocktail use. Was I out of options? No! If I couldn't use the jackfruit directly in a cocktail, then I would do so indirectly--through an infusion!

When you harvest the arils from a jackfruit, it's best to wear gloves. See that white, milky substance welling up where the fruit was split open? That's raw latex. Jackfruit's lousy with the stuff. The riper the fruit is, the less latex there seems to be, and this one wasn't quite as ripe as it should've been, but I got impatient. The latex isn't harmful (unless you have an allergy to it) but is super sticky. Best to use gloves.

Collecting the arils is simple, but time-consuming. They have to be pulled from that fibrous pith. You don't eat the white stuff.

This is an aril removed from the mother fruit. Bright yellow, rubbery and tasty. They smell very nice.

Slice it open to remove the seed. Guess what? Jackfruit seeds are edible. They're not entirely dissimilar to chestnuts. I found a recipe for sliced, sauteed jackfruit seed the last time I did this, and that was delicious, but time-consuming. This time I'm thinking of trying a boiled jackfruit seed recipe, kinda like boiling peanuts.

This is the results of just one quarter of that jackfruit I started with. That's a huge mug overruning with arils. I had switch to a much larger bowl. I ended up with 4 pounds of arils from that 11 pound fruit, once all was said and done. I didn't weigh the seeds, but that's at least another 1.5 pounds. The waste went out to compost.

Here's where things get interesting. Those rubbery arils, I wanted to encourage the separation of the juice from the pulp. As I've pointed out above, this rubbery fruit does not give up its juice willingly. So I threw it in the deep freeze. Froze them solid to rupture the cells within, which is an old homebrew trick to liberate more juice. It worked, to an extent. The arils never got mushy like a peach or strawberry that had been frozen, but they lost their stiffness and were much more floppy. And also wet and juicy. The aromatics of the released juice were pretty strong. The infusion was looking more and more encouraging.

For the liquor to be infused, I chose Castillo silver rum. This may cause some to recoil in horror, because Castillo is not a top-shelf rum by any measure. It's produced by the Bacardi company as a budget rum, which many associate with trash can punch and/or rotgut. But here's the thing--Bacardi filters their top-tier rums of much of their flavor so as to compete with vodka in the market. They don't filter Castillo so much, which results in a liquor that some consider superior to Bacardi's "good" rums. It certainly has more flavor, but remains a light, Puerto Rican-style silver rum that has little to no aging. I used to use Castillo as my main mixer quite often until I discovered Cruzan rums hit those same notes in a much more polished fashion despite being only a dollar or so more expensive. So now I use Cruzan. But for this infusion, I wanted a flavor bomb. I didn't want a lot of subtle rum notes to get overwhelmed by the jackfruit flavor, but at the same time, I wanted an infused rum and all that implies, so vodka was right out. Castillo struck me as a good compromise, in that it was a decent but cheap silver rum that would serve as a host for the jackfruit. Some may argue with my run selection for this, but damned if I'm wasting the qualities of a good smoky demerara rum on this infusion, setting up a major clash of dominant flavors by using a funky dark Jamaican, and I don't see how something like a Don Q Crystal would yield any real advantage. So, Castillo it is.

That's a 1.75 liter bottle of Castillo, by the way. I added a cup of the rum and just shy of a pound of jackfruit arils to the blender. I repeated this three times, using not quite three pounds of jackfruit arils in total. If you're thinking "Holy moly! That's a lot of jackfruit!" you would be correct. It is a lot of jackfruit. I'm going for a flavor bomb, remember?

And the blending has begun. Encouragingly, I heard none of the chunky, crunchy, grinding sounds that resulted from my attempting to puree the non-frozen jackfruit from before.

I did not attempt to make a smoothie. Instead, I just wanted the fruit chopped and pulverized enough to release more juice and accelerate the infusion process.

I poured the resulting slurry into a gallon-sized jar. The consistency was pretty much exactly what I was going for.

The end result is a silver Puerto Rican rum with a heck of a lot of jackfruit sharing the same space. I'm keeping the infusion in the back of my refrigerator, taking it out every day to agitate the mixture and keep those juices flowing, so to speak. After several days, the rum's already taken on a bold, fruity characteristic and is sweeter as well. I hadn't thought forward enough to consider the fruit sugars would have that effect, but I shouldn't be surprised. In homebrew, when I add fruit to beer or mead, the sugars get eaten by the yeast to make alcohol, leaving only the fruit flavor behind. That's how you can have fruity wines that are dry. But with this liquor infusion, there is no yeast at work, so the sugars as well as the fruit flavors are absorbed and released by the rum. That should work well for mixing cocktails, but I'll have to pay close attention to balance. I want a flavor bomb, not a sugar bomb. I expect a little of this stuff will go a long way.

This weekend sometime I shall strain the infusion through cheesecloth to remove the solids, and commence to experimenting with new cocktail recipes incorporating this new creation. I will report any notable discoveries here. Cheers!

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