Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

June 30 ,2020

Paging through some old recipes I’ve cooked I stumbled up this pork skewers recipe on DadCooksDinner. Let’s try it again.There aren’t a lot of ingredients – I used fewer than Mike Vrobel uses because we cut out the cilantro. While I love it, Carla has the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap.

Pork skewer ingredients.

The pork tenderloins weighed in at almost 2½ pounds – we were going to have leftovers. I cut the pork into 1-inch cubes, more or less. The oil, soy sauce, garlic and coriander were headed for our small food processor to be turned into a brine/marinade.

Pork Skewers mis en place.

After whirling the marinade in the food processor for about a minute everything goes in a 1 gallon zip lock bag for a couple of hours. Hmm, we’d need some vegetables. We thought about pineapple – always a hit with pork – but didn’t have any so I settled for a yellow bell pepper and a sweet onion.

Bell pepper and sweet onion for kabobs.

While the pork was marinating I cut the vegetables up and skewered them.

Pepper and onion on skewers.

The swerers and rack are part of the Weber elevation system. The rack has 3 tiers so you can move things up and down as needed. When I sold my Weber gas grill I kept this for my Mak 2 Star pellet grill.

Weber Elevation System

I started some rice; I am currently addicted to coconut rice. I thoroughly rinse 1 cup of jasmine rice – I think basmati would also work – and put it in the cooker. To that I add 1 can of coconut milk; it has usually separated in the can so I put it in a bowl and whisk to combine. Finally I add 2 Tablespoons of grated unsweetened coconut and½ teaspoon kosher salt. Gently stir to combin and cook.

When the pork was well marinated I skewered them as well.

Pork skewers for the grill.

When I got ready to set up the grilling rack I had a problem. Um, maybe I should have measured first to make sure the Weber rack would fit on the Mak. It’s too long by a few inches so I had to scramble. I looked through my old grilling stuff and found a smaller rack for the skewers. I don’t like cooking my skewers directly on the grill; it’s messy and a bit more prone to burning. With the small rack, I had to adjust the skewers and cook in multiple shifts: one for the vegetables and two for the pork.

Pork skewers on the grill.

The pork cooks in less that 10 minutes; not only do they brown on the outside, the HOT skewers help cook from the inside.

Pork kabobs with onion and bell peppers, coconut rice, and kimchi.

The sweet chili sauce is a great dipping sauce for this dish. The skewers on the plate makes a nice presentation picture but isn’t practical for real life: those things are EXTREMELY HOT. So, I pull them off the rods.

Dinner is served

Pork kabobs with vegetables, rice, and kimchi.

Rating: ★★★★
It’s extremely easy to prepare – though it does take a bit of knife time. I think pork kabobs are pretty versatile in that you can have plenty of choices for your marinade. Next time I make this I’ll add about 1 inch of shredded ginger. Mike Vrobel of DadCooksDinner.com uses about ¼ cup of oil in some of his “brinerades” – as he calls them. That will help the browning. But heck, if you don’t want to make your own marinade there are plenty of options at the grocery store.

Let’s go back to the skewer system for a bit. I need something that will hold a few skewers but that will fit in my grill which is about 20-inches wide. I found this Steve Raichlen system on Amazon.

Steve Raichlen’s skewer system.

The rack can cook 6 skewers at a time and there are more provided so you can have them ready to swap in when your first batch is done. I wondered if I could get two sets and sort of nest them together. Yay! I can. I overlap three of the notches so I get nine cooking slots on my grill.

Nested kabob cooking racks.

But, wow!, those skewers are enormous; compare with my Weber rods.

Weber skewer (top) and Steve Raichlen skewer

Those skewers seem too big to me; if I use them I’ll need to cook bigger cubes of meat and vegetables. The Weber skewers will still work in the new rack; we’ll see. I haven’t cooked with the new set up yet. I’ll keep you posted.

One last word on skewers, I am not a fan of round rods. After poking through the food, the food has a habit of staying put when you turn the skewer. So you turn the skewer but the food doesn’t move. Not good.

We’ve had a couple of hummingbirds feeding on some of our flowers recently. I sat on the deck waiting to get a picture, but they are camera shy. I did grab a pic of one of our tomato plants – which has been unhappy with the cool cloudy weather we’ve been having this summer.

Tomato Plant

and a wild garlic plant.

Garlic plant flower

Reality Is Not What It Seems

Author: Carlo Rovelli
Copyright: 2014
Type Non Fiction – Physics
Finished: June 20, 2020

Rating: ★★★

Image From Amazon

Carlo Rovelli is a physicist who tries to explain the current state of physics to the layman. In the first part of the book, Rovelli explains the history of physics starting with the Greek Democritus who concludes that the world

“Is made up of a finite number of discrete pieces that are indivisible, each one having finite size: the atoms.” [p23]

Unfortunately, as Rovelli sees it, Aristotle and Plato, gum things up with their theories of ideals and monotheism threw scientific study off the rails. We then go through Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo up to Newton and Einstein. Each of these scientists improve our understanding of the universe.  He concludes with the current theory of quantum mechanics.

Newton saw the universe made up of three things: space, time, and particle. Through the years this list was subdivided then regrouped. In 1905 Einstein described the universe as Spacetime, Fields, and Particles; grouping Space and Time into 1 thing. 

I took away three theories of the universe:

  1. Time is meaningless at the smallest reaches of the universe; and, 
  2. Electrons vanish and reappear (I have a hard time with this)
  3. There is a limit to how small the building blocks of the universe are – the Planck scale – a really, really, REALLY small number.

Through Rovelli’s explanations I understand how there is not a universal “now”. Time is relative and changed by gravity. Experiments have been done with extremely accurate clocks. One taken to sea level, and one to a mountain top. When brought back together the clocks are no longer in sync because time passes more slowly at sea level because it was more affected by the earth’s gravity. 

“[T]ime is not universal and fixed; it is something that expands and shrinks, according to the vicinity of masses: Earth, like all masses distorts spacetime, slowing down time in its vicinity.” [p 86]

In fact, physicists can explain the universe without the variable of time. We only perceive time because we are observing the universe at a much more macro, synthesized level.

Heisenberg – of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – determined that we can’t know the movement of particles, we can only know their position when they interact with something else. 

[Particles] “are not described by their position at every moment, but only by their position at a particular instant – the instants in which they interact with something else. This is a second cornerstone of quantum mechanics, its hardest key: the relational aspect of things. Electrons don’t always exist. They exist when they interact.” [p 119]

I have a hard time with this. While the motion of an electron around its nucleus may seem random to us, just because we only know it is at a particular location when we look for it, it could very well exist at other times. Rovelli seems to admit this later when he says:

“Perhaps because we must not confuse what we know about a system with the absolute state of the same system.” [p p253]

As for a lower limit to the universe, Rovelli argues “loop theory specifies that volume … cannot be arbitrarily small. A minimum volume exists.” [p 169] 

“The world is not made up of tiny pebbles [i.e. atoms]. It is a world of vibrations, a continuous fluctuation, a microscopic swarming of fleeting microevents.” [p 132]

As I understand it, these microevents are the overlapping intersections of the loops. I may have misunderstood that.

Through it all, quantum mechanics has pulled everything – Newton’s space, time, and particles –  together now into 1 entity: quantum fields. 

“The world, particles, light, energy, space, and time – all of this is nothing but the manifestation of a single type of entity: covariant quantum fields.”[p 193]

This gives us a unified theory pulling gravity into relationship with actions and reactions. If I remember correctly, Einstein was frustrated that his special relativity and general relativity theories could not fully account for gravity.

On a frivolous side note, Rovelli likes his universe “loopy” unlike Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory who likes his reality “stringy”. In fact Sheldon and Leslie Van Winkle have this very argument in an early episode of the TV series. In his book, Rovelli takes a little bit of delight that the collisions in the large Hadron collider have not revealed super symmetry that string theory predicts. In seasons 7 and 8 of the TV show, Sheldon realizes that string theory might be a dead end. How about that – we actually get insight into the scientific world from a SitCom.  

I found this book by Rovell, as well as the other two I’ve read, interesting even though I’m sure I don’t follow it all. It is a short book and easy enough for me – an English major – to get through. I especially liked how Rovelli traces through the history of physics from the Greeks to modern times; it was nice to see that the earliest Greeks looked at the structure of the world and the explosive growth in our knowledge in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Visit Date: June 26, 2020

Coming up on our anniversary we tried to think what we could do that would be safe but different from our usual routine. We settled on a quick trip to the Cannon Beach. We figured we’d be safe because we would be outside, it would be breezy – it’s always windy at the coast – and it would be easy to socially distance ourselves. We brought our own picnic lunch to provide ourselves another level of safety.

Way back in the day when our oldest son was beginning to talk he used the Romantic and Germanic grammar of using the article “the” – though it doesn’t denote gender – when naming things. So places would be Mountain The Hood instead of Mount Hood, Incredible The Hulk, – and of course Cannon The Beach. It’s one of those things we just say now.

We left home at 9:00AM in order to beat the expected crowds – everyone is getting cabin fever. Traffic was a breeze and we pulled into Tolvanna – the southernmost part of Cannon Beach – a bit before 10:30.

Cannon Beach? Then we need the obligatory picture of Haystack Rock.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock is part of a series of rocks. When you look back inland you can see it is part of a hill that jutted out into the ocean. Most of it has washed away.

Sentinels to Haystack Rock

Way off in the distance we could see the decommissioned Tillamook Light.

Tillamook Light near Seaside, Oregon

You can see from the top picture that it was low tide so folks were looking through the tide pools at the rock’s base. There wasn’t a lot of life to see – other than the birds – but there were a couple of things. I was glad I brought my circular polarizer filter for my camera so I could remove the normal glare of the water. This sea anemone is actually completely submerged in water.

Sea Anemone thriving in a tide pool at the base of Haystack Rock

We also saw a starfish – though he isn’t the shape of a star anymore. This dude has seen some things – s/he’s lost 40% of its appendages but is till living.

Three legged Star Fish

Whether the tide pools are accessible or not, there are always birds – so many birds.

Birds at Haystack Rock
Bird grooming itself on Haystack Rock

After walking a couple of miles up the coast, we turned around and headed back to get our picnic supplies. Carla enjoys walking through the puddles the receding tide leaves. The water is a lot warmer after sitting in the sun.

Carla in her happy place.

We grabbed our sand chairs and picnic lunch from the car and headed back to the beach. This bird ambled over and asked for a handout. Looks like s/he’s old and ruffled. Regardless, it’s in better shape than that star fish.

Old, ruffled bird at Cannon Beach, Oregon

After enjoying our lunch and reading a bit, it was time to head back home. Wow! The parking lot was completely full and cars were going up and down the aisles waiting for someone to leave. A woman asked if we were leaving; I told her “Yes, but it will take us a few minutes because we have to get all this sand off us.” She waited until we left.

We were amazed by the amount of traffic headed from Portland to the coast. (In Oregon we call it the “coast” not the “beach” like we did in California.) The traffic was bumper-to-bumper for at least 20 miles. We congratulated ourselves on getting up and going early.

Cannon Beach was the farthest we have been away from home since February. It was so nice to get out to see something different.

June 21, 2020

I had a great Father’s Day. Carla and I went out for a walk in the morning, I cleaned my messy office, and we had our youngest son and his family over for dinner. Unfortunately, our older son and his wife couldn’t make it as they had been out in public earlier in the week and wanted to self-quarantine a few more days. They were terribly sick for about 2 months but the COVID-19 tests were inconclusive.

I wanted to make something tasty but simple. Cedar planked salmon fit the bill. On Friday Carla picked up two beautiful filets from our local fish store. One was too big to fit on a 17-inch plank so I had to cut it down. I soaked two planks for a few hours. As the grill was warming up, I patted them down with a paper towel, drizzled some olive oil on top and sprinkled some kosher salt on top.

Salmon filets destined for the grill

Years ago, our South African daughter-in-law introduced us to chutney as a garnish for salmon – it’s a game changer. So, I bought two flavors, but I also stumbled upon this recipe for a lemon garlic sauce on thelemonbowl.com so thought I’d add something new. It’s very simple: lemon juice and zest, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. While I grilled some corn on the cob I prepped the sauce ingredients.

Salmon filets and lemon garlic sauce ingredients.

Carla buttered the corn and wrapped them in foil for grilling. When they were done, I moved them to the grill warmer and put the salmon planks on.

Salmon filets on cedar planks, on the grill at 400°

I set the grill to 400°. The USDA says salmon is done at 145°. If you don’t trust your fish source that’s a good target. We have friends who want it off at about 120° – that’s a little cool for us. I shoot for 130° – 135°. Of course salmon filets are not rectangular cubes; when the thickest part is at 130°, the thinner parts are higher. This gives everyone a chance to get a piece they are comfortable with. I also use a Thermapen instant read thermometer to check temps before I pull the meat.

While the salmon cooked, I whisked together the sauce ingredients.

Lemon garlic sauce for the salmon.

Interestingly, the larger filet was done first – more on that later. By the time I got that off the grill, in the house and took a picture, the other pieces were done.

Salmon planked salmon – it’s what’s for dinner.

Carla made our favorite potato salad earlier, and we had a loaf of nice sour dough bread. It’s a perfect summer dinner. That sauce was amazingly good. I said I was going to put that sauce on everything! J. laughed and asked if I’d even put it on my cereal. Well, maybe not everything.

A beautiful summer dinner.

We all ate on the deck separated on two sides of the table. Far apart enough for safety; too far for our hearts. Our daughter-in-law made a cake for their youngest son’s birthday last week so we got to have a the last of it for dessert.

Rating: ★★★. A full 5 stars. What could be better on a beautiful summer evening, This is the best way I’ve found to cook salmon – I learned it from our friends years ago. And that sauce! Have I mentioned how good it is?

As I mentioned above the filet on the left was done first even though it was bigger. When I turned over the planks later I saw that it had gotten much hotter. The left side of my grill is hotter than the right. That knowledge will come in handy.

The plank on the left side of the grill got much hotter.

Date Cooked: June 18, 2020

Bean Curd?! Yech! Don’t worry, it’s just tofu. We loved the baked crispy tofu I made a couple of weeks ago so we thought we’d try something similar. I made this dish back in 2016 and it rated 4 stars so, it’s definitely worth trying again.

My sister-in-law Linda used to make a similar dish for our kids when we would get together at her house – she is a great cook. I’d try a sample and think “Wowsers! Let the grownups eat this instead of the roast.” Looking on the internet and consulting with Linda we think this recipe from SparkPeople is close to what she made.

I didn’t decide to take pictures and post this until I was pretty well into the process so we’ll jump into the middle of things. First I started a batch of Jasmine coconut rice. So, simple: 1 can of coconut milk, 1 cup of well-rinsed Jasmine rice, and a ½ teaspoon of salt into the rice cooker. I could have tossed in a bit of unsweetened grated coconut but didn’t think of it until I wrote this sentence.

While the rice cooks, place a 1 pound block of firm or extra firm tofu between two sheets of paper towels on a plate and weight it down on top. I used a cast iron hamburger press, but another plate with a large can of tomatoes would do as well – or maybe a small sauce pan.

Then get to chopping. Slice about ½ lb mushrooms – I used cremini – a couple of slices of ginger, a crushed garlic clove, and thinly slice the white part of a two scallions. And a bit of corn starch dissolved in water.

Make a sauce of soy sauce, sugar, and oyster sauce. The recipe says to also use some sherry, but it’s not in the ingredient list, so I ignored it.

Now the tofu should be dry(-ish) and ready to cut into ½-inch cubes.

Cubed firm tofu
Cubed firm tofu

For stir fry you have to have your ingredients line up – it doesn’t take long to cook so you don’t want to stop in the middle to measure or slice something. I line things up in the order we use them – more or less.

Stir fry ingredients ready to go.

When the rice is a few minutes from being done, start cooking.I used to have a cast iron wok, but I found that a regular non-stick frying pan works fine – even if it may not be authentic. Cleanup is easier too.

Sizzle the crushed garlic and ginger slices in a couple of tablespoons of hot vegetable oil. Then add the mushrooms and stir fry for a couple of minutes – until they darken. We aren’t going for steakhouse mushrooms where they are cooked all the way down. Next add the cubed tofu and the sauce and gently stir for a few minutes. Be careful; if you use soft tofu or stir to hard it will start to look like scrambled eggs – we want cubes, not curds.

Stir fried tofu with mushrooms in oyster sauce almost ready for eating.

Toss in the scallion slices for about half a minute, then stir in the cornstarch mixture.

Dish up a side of coconut rice and add the tofu. If you want fancy, drizzle a little sesame oil over the top of the tofu and then a few long slices of the green part of the scallion. Kimchi on the side please.

Dinner is served.

Tofu with mushrooms and oyster sauce with Jasmine coconut rice and Kimchi on the side.

Rating: ★★★★ This is SO good! I love it when I get a tasty meal for little effort. The mushrooms add that meaty/savory flavor that we love from a meat dish. Don’t stress about my vague measurements and instructions; use the link to the SparkPeople recipe here.

A Spool of Blue Thread

Author: Anne Tyler
Copyright: 2015
Type: Fiction
Finished: May 31, 2020

Rating: ★★★★

Image from Amazon

A long time friend – Dianne – made me the most beautiful mask last week. She dyed the material herself and used a great pattern: no elastic loops to irritate the ears and no strands to tie into a bow at the back of my head and catch my ever- lengthening hair. We had a FaceTime chat so I could thank her and she could tell me how to get the best fit. Naturally, given the times we are in, we chatted about family and how hard the social distancing can be – especially on those who live alone. She lost her mother last year and her father has been especially lonely this winter and spring. We agreed that we were lucky that we were fortunate to be married – not to each other! – so we can have close human contact through this COVID-19 ordeal. 

After my conversation with Diane it dawned on me that family – for better or worse – is the underlying current of Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread”. The novel covers three generations of the Whitshank family. As the story opens, Red answers the phone as he and Abby are getting ready for bed. It is a call from their exasperating, worrying, and wayward son Denny. The conversation is short and Abby is frustrated with Red for the abruptness of the interchange. They go to bed angry. 

“Now, hon,” he told her. “We’ll hear from him. I promise.” And he reached for her and drew her close, settling her head on his shoulder. They lay like that for some time, until gradually Abby stopped fidgeting and her breaths grew slow and even. [p 11]

Red and Abby are the middle of a three generation story; Denny, their son, Stem and daughters – Amanda and Jeannie – are the third generation; Red’s father, Junior, mother, Linnie Mae, comprise the first generation. As we trace Abby and Red aging we get an intimate view of the complex relationships between the family members. Denny feels like he never got his parents’ attention, while his siblings are frustrated that he sucked up all the family energy worrying about him. 

Later in the story we see Junior and Linnie in a parallel scene to Abby and Red’s that started the novel. They are laying in bed at the end of a big fight. As much as Junior feels trapped by Linnie he still depends on her acceptance and touch. 

“Linnie Mae,” he said toward the ceiling. “Are you awake?” 

“I’m awake.” 

He turned so his body was cupping hers and he wrapped his arms around her from behind. She didn’t pull away, but she stayed rigid. He took a deep breath of her salty, smoky smell.
“I ask your pardon,” he said. 

She was silent.
“I’m just trying so hard, Linnie. I guess I’m trying too hard. I’m just trying to pass muster. I just want to do things the right way, is all.” 

“Why, Junior,” she said, and she turned toward him. “Junie, honey, of course you do. I know that. I know you, Junior Whitshank.” And she took his face between her hands.
In the dark he couldn’t see if she was looking at him or not, but he could feel her fingertips tracing his features before she put her lips to his. [p 435]

I really loved a chapter about Abby as the family is worried about her; she slips away one morning and her stream of consciousness about her family is lovely. Thinking of Denny she wonders:

One thing that parents of problem children never said aloud: it was a relief when the children turned out okay, but then what were the parents supposed to do with the anger they’d felt all those years? [p 204]

In a comment on my reading report on Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road , Marylee MacDonald notes that Anne Tyler “manages to capture the character’s inner and outer struggles so well.” Marylee is right about Anne Tyler; it is one of the things about Tyler’s writing which is so compelling. We see the internal/external struggles with Abby here, and later with Junior. But it occurs to me that we don’t get much of a look into Denny’s inner struggle. We infer it from his actions and the thoughts of his family members, but we have to settle for that tension.

I also love the section that describes how Junior and Linnie get together. Junior felt trapped by her but couldn’t break away.

He drew away and walked separate from her. He felt he was caught in strands of taffy: pull her off the fingers of one hand and then she was sticking to the other. [p 406]

As you may know, I’m a sucker for beautiful images, metaphors, and similes. Anne Tyler doesn’t disappoint.

  • As Red and Abby’s daughter-in-law goes out for a walk with her son in a stroller: “They had set out with Nora several minutes ago—Sammy leaning forward in his stroller like a sea captain watching for landfall” [p 199]
  • On a hot and humid Baltimore afternoon: “Outside, the air hit her face like a warm washcloth” [p 313]

As it began, the novel ends with Denny on a phone call. In both situations he has been estranged from a loved one but still reaches out. And there it is: Anne Tyler’s theme that ties her novels together. Humans crave connection despite the problems that come with it.

Cook Date: June 7, 2020

Well, this recipe from Bev Cooks. is incredibly easy to make. I made it before back in spring of 2015 and rated it 4 stars. But for some reason we never came back to cook it again – until this past weekend.

Bev’s recipe also includes coconut rice, but we had plenty of that left over after the delicious baked crispy tofu in garlic sauce we made Saturday evening. The chicken has 6 ingredients, two of which are salt, and pepper. I skipped the garnish of sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds. When I cook this for company I’ll make it pretty.

We use olive oil to sauté the chicken thighs while the honey and sweet chili sauce is for the sauce. Cut the boneless/skinless chicken into 1-inch cubes and sprinkle a little kosher salt on them. Measure out the sauce ingredients. Sorry for the picture of raw chicken, I usually pass on including it in my pictures.

Sweet Chili Chicken ingredients.

Heat the olive oil in a medium to medium-high non-stick skillet. Then add the chicken cubes and cook until done. I flipped them after about 5 minutes, then again at the 8 minute mark. At the 10 minute mark I took out the largest cube and cut it in half to make sure it was cooked through. Medium-rare is good for steak; not for chicken. Thighs are great because you can give them a bit more heat without drying them out. If you I don’t cook breasts just right they get tough and dried out. Plus chicken thighs just taste better.

Cubed boneless/skinless chicken thighs sautéing

When the chicken is cooked through, transfer it to a bowl or low-sided dish. I used a heat-resistant slotted spoon in order to leave most of the chicken fat behind. Add the honey and sweet chili sauce and toss.

Chicken cubes toss with honey and sweet chili sauce.

Dinner is served: chicken over rice with a bit of daikon radish Kimchi on the side.

Sweet chili chicken over rice with Kimchi on the side

Rating: ★★★★ Very good. Easy enough for a weeknight dinner, tasty enough for company.

You’ll want to make some coconut rice to go with the chicken. As I said, I had some left over from the night before. Bev’s recipe – linked to above – has a simple recipe for it: rice and coconut milk and a spritz of fresh lime juice when it’s cooked.

Cook Date: June 6, 2020

It’s all about the sauce.

So, yeah, in case you are wondering… At this point I have exactly 1 other tofu recipe on my blog. We’ve eaten a lot of meat during the past couple of months so we thought it would be nice to try something different – and different from beans. (Although technically tofu is from beans I think). My first inclination was to go back to that original recipe, but as Carla and I looked through some of the recipes I have book marked this one called out to us.

This recipe is from Mike and Steph at I Am A Food Blog. It is very easy requiring only 6 ingredients – 8 if you add the garnish, which we did not.

Ingredients for Baked Crispy Tofu – minus the pepper grinder.

As you can see in the picture, I used extra firm tofu because I didn’t want to end up with tofu crumbles. I set the block of tofu between paper towels and used a weight to press it.

Pressing the water out of tofu

Measure out the ingredients. I didn’t measure out the honey – I just glopped a couple of tablespoons in – as you’ll see.

Sauce ingredients for crispy baked tofu.

There are two stages to the recipe. First cube the tofu and toss it with some cornstarch and spread it out on a parchment paper lined sheet pan. Then pop it into a 400° oven for 30-45 minutes.

Tofu cubes ready for the oven

Just before I started cubing the tofu, I started the coconut rice in the rice cooker. There are many, many similar coconut rice recipes out there. I chose this recipe from Kristin at Yellow Bliss Road. I picked it because it was very clear and Kristin got back to me when I asked a question on her website. That is great follow through for a recipe that was posted over a year and a half ago.

Coconut Rice Ingredients

Thoroughly rinse the rice; put it in the rice cooker – the recipe I linked has a stove top method as well – and add coconut milk, water, salt, sugar, and coconut flakes. My can of coconut milk had separated and it wasn’t coming back together by shaking the can; so I took off the lid, poured it into a mixing bowl and whisked until the water and cream were combined. The mixture will be very soupy, but no worries it will come out delicious. I thought it would take forever to cook but it was done in less than an hour.

When the tofu is almost done – golden brown – get the sauce in order. Tofu doesn’t have much taste to it to begin with and tossing it with cornstarch – while helping it to crisp – won’t add any flavor. The flavor comes from the sauce – a very simple sauce. Put a couple of tablespoons of honey, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a few minced garlic clove into a small pan. Sauté until it’s bubbly and has thickened a bit.

Move the tofu bits into a mixing bowl and add the sauce. The tofu was a bit darker than I captured in this picture. Add the warm sauce on top and toss it all together.

Baked tofu ready for the sauce.

We bought a jar of our favorite brand of kimchi for a side dish. I don’t see myself making my own.

Kimchi as a side dish.

Dinner is served: crispy tofu with garlicky sauce, coconut rice, and kimchi.

Dinner is served

Rating: ★★★★ Very good and now in our regular rotation.

Carla and I cleaned our plates and went back for seconds.

A couple of notes. If you make this dish, I recommend eating it hot. The seconds were good but not as amazing as the first plateful. Cook the sauce during the last few minutes of the tofu baking. As soon as the tofu is done toss it in the bowl, add the sauce, stir – gently – and serve.

Second, We ate forkfuls with a combination of tofu and rice. When I make it again I’ll serve it in a bowl, rice on bottom, tofu on top and kimchi as a side.

Go for it; it’s simple, very tasty, and crispy.

Cook date: June 2, 2020

I hesitate to say this for fear of jinxing myself but I’m pretty good at grilling and barbequing: I can grill chicken thighs a number of ways; I can roast a spatchcocked chicken; grill a skirt steak; my pulled pork game is strong; and I have even successfully smoked 3 full packer briskets. But the perfect rack of ribs – St. Louis cut or Baby Backs – eludes me. In the cooking logs I keep I have a “Next Time” section. For pulled pork, it says “do it exactly like this”; but for ribs I write “try blah or blah-blah”

I was hoping to change that this week. I spent some time watching YouTube videos and reviewing my old cooking logs and I was ready to try again. A classic technique for Baby Backs is the 2-2-1 method. That is 2 hours of smoke; 2 hours with the ribs wrapped in aluminum foil and some liquid for braising; and 1 hour of saucing and firming the ribs. But a number of sites said that 2 hours of braising in the aluminum foil was too much; and the videos I watched proved it – the ribs were not only falling off the bone, they were falling apart.

So, I planned a hybrid 3-1-1 method: 30 minutes on a low setting to generate lots of smoke; 2½ hours at 245°; wrap with apple juice, brown sugar and honey and cook for 1 hours at 250°; and finally, 1 hour at 245° when I would apply the sauce. But I was flexible: before wrapping, the rub needed to turn into bark on the ribs and I didn’t want to pull the ribs from the wrapping stage until some of the ribs started to pull back from the bone.

If you’ve followed me a while you know my blogging style is not to cook a dish many times before publishing the perfect method. I’m more “Let’s see if this works” and sharing the results. Okay, let’s see how it went…

I dry brined the ribs for about 4 hours before cooking. I removed the membrane from the back side and sprinkled with kosher salt then returned to the refrigerator.

Dry brined ribs ready for the rub.

I used my go-to Meathead’s classic Memphis Meat Dust rub from the Amazing Ribs website.

Memphis Meat Dust. No salt so the dry brining step was necessary

I rubbed the ribs.

Rubbed Ribs

One rack was a full 3.5 pounds while the other two had been previously trimmed and rang in at about 1.5 pounds each. About 11:30 they went on the grill.

Ribs fresh on the grill

The smoker did its thing and I did my thing; sat outside on a lounge chair reading a book.

The Mak 2-Star smoking away.

I spritzed the ribs with some apple juice every 30 minutes; here they are about 1:30 into the first stage.

Ribs about an hour and a half into the cook.

After 3 hours the rub should be creating a nice hard bark; they were still a little tacky at that point so I cooked for an additional 30 minutes.

I’ve cooked ribs both wrapped and unwrapped over the years. My family likes ribs fall-off-the-bone tender. I understand that that isn’t the way they are done in competition, but then again I’m not competing. Wrapping helps get that texture I wanted. When I have wrapped before I’ve just used apple juice. I went all in this time, sprinkling a little brown sugar on top and then drizzling with honey. I didn’t use a lot nor did I use pats of butter – which some people swear by but I can’t get my head around.

Wraps treated and ready to be wrapped.

During the wrap stage the meat should start to pull back exposing the ends of the bone. But that didn’t happen after an hour so I left them in another 30 minutes. I started my cook early, figuring I’d have a couple of adjustments to make along the way. Although the meat never pulled off the bone as expected, they were tender when I probed them with a paring knife point. So, time for the next step.

I didn’t make my own sauce for this cook; instead I used some of Podnah’s Pit sauce. Podnah’s Pit is a fantastic barbecue joint in NorthEast Portland. It is only a few blocks from my oder son and his wife’s home so we get to eat there when I get the bug. Or at least I could eat there whenever I wanted before COVID-19. The spicy sauce would be a nice reminder.

Barbecue sauce from Podnah’s Pit; my favorite BBQ joint in Portland.

Here are the ribs with the sauce setting up.

Sauced ribs firming up on the grill

While I was manning the smoke pit, Carla made some cornbread and sautéd corn. That’s a lot of corn in one dinner, but it just seemed right. The ribs had nice smoke rings and some of them were very tender.

Baby Back ribs for dinner.

Here is my cooking log (click for a larger image).

The result? The ribs were good; while they were tender, I really had to tug to get them off the bone. And they could have been more juicy. I wonder if the fact the ribs had been frozen for about a week before cooking contributed to the ribs not pulling from the bone more easily.

Next time? I think I’ll try a classic 2-2-1; the full 2 hours of braising may help keep in moisture and get that pull back I want.

May 28-29, 2020

Yesterday I walked a stretch of the Fanno Creek Trail that I haven’t visited recently. I only had my iPhone with me but took a couple of pictures of a beautiful meadow on the north end of Dirksen Nature Park just south of Tigard Street.

Dirksen Nature Park – Tigard, Oregon
Dirksen Nature Park – Tigard, Oregon

This morning I I the mile and a half through the neighborhoods up to Hyland Forest Park to wander through my happy place. It is so quiet and peaceful in there. I’ve posted about my walks here a few times. Places are starting to open up but we still can’t really get out to the hiking spots like we had planned this past winter.

Google Maps view of Hyland Forest Park

it’s a small park – about 30 acres – but there are plenty of trails.

Trails in Hyland Forest Park

I decided to take my Sony a6600 instead of just depending on my iPhone for pictures.

Romeo and Juliet in Hyland Forest Park

I love how the sun peeks through the tree in places to splash light across the foliage.

Hyland Forest Park
Hyland Forest Park

The walk around the perimeter is about one mile. After that I headed up but stopped to grab a couple of pictures of the beautiful local gardens.

Neighborhood garden flower
Neighborhood garden flower

You can view all the photos in my “Walks In the Time of COVID” on Flickr.