Saturday, October 27, 2012

I survived!!! (Back from Mexico)

Five Days without INTERNET! :::GASP:::

Last Thursday, I hopped on a Volaris jet and flew down to Guadalajara Mexico.  Mi amiga mas preciosa, D, met me at the airport and we made our way down to Jocotepec (appx an hour from GDL), to their most GORGEOUS hillside casa overlooking Lago de Chapala...

Million Dollar View!

Now, I had planned ahead and purchased an international data plan for my Droid (100 megs for $25.00), as well as packed my Netbook.  Last time we were there, one of her neighbors had unsecured WiFi that was accessible from the side-yard.  This time?  No WiFi!!!  Okay, no worries, I'll just use my phone for email and occasional FB updates (no photo uploading, however - gotta limit my data usage).  Well, as soon as I arrived at D's, my Droid's battery was almost dead, but I was pleased to see that I still had 3G coverage (Yay! Internet!!!), so I shot an email off to hubs to let him know I'd made it okay.  Then I shut down the phone and hooked-up the charger.

The very next morning, I fired up the Droid and EEEEEKKKK!!!  No 3G!  No internet!!!  WhatEVER shall I do?!!

Now I should note that D and her husband are VERY low-tech...  bordering on ANTI-tech, to be honest!  And they both kind of laughed at hubs and me, last trip, because of our apparent "Internet Addiction!" (We spent an inordinate amount of time - with our "Dueling Netbooks" - in the Side-Yard/Smoker's Lounge/Internet Cafe!).

Well, this trip, I (more-or-less) proved that "I can quit anytime!" because, well, I *had* to!  Of course, I was checking my phone about every half-hour *looking* for a 3G signal.  There was none!  Not in Jocotepec, nor Ajijic!  I can personally confirm that! (Eeeek!).

Actually, it was All Good.  D and I had a FANTASTIC time just hangin' out; staying up late, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and yakking endlessly about nothing!  We got up whenever we decided to wake up, and we left the house by the crack of 11:00am, every day!

Now generally, D, dons her "Julie the Cruise Director" hat and plans out every-last-minute to ensure non-stop entertainment.  This trip was decidedly more low-key (Thank Goodness!  I do *not* expect to be "entertained!").  But there were a couple-three "Must-See" Attractions on my list.  

First up was Viva Mexico Restaurant in San Juan Cosala.  They make THE VERY BEST Chiles En Nogada, and I was totally jonesin' for that dish.  We went there on our second night and discovered - much to my dismay - that the restaurant was closed.  Evidently, there had been some Narco Trouble in their neighborhood, earlier this year, and they've shortened their operating hours.  We arrived at 8:15pm, but they had closed at 8:00.  Augustin, the owner, was most apologetic - but we went back the next night.

Started off with a Margarita:
I think this glass held about a quart!
(I kept giving myself Brain-Freezes - it was sooo good!)

Then, my All-Time-Favorite Dish:

OMG - The dish was just as good as I remembered and I damn near had a Meg Ryan Moment, right there in the middle of the restaurant!

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner that night, and explained to D that I had located several recipes, online, but I hadn't attempted to make it yet (it looks like a BOATLOAD of work!).  Although I wondered, aloud, if they might be willing to share their recipe.  I mean, it'd be a shame to go to all of that work and NOT have it come out as good, right?!

So D asked our server, in Spanish, if they would share the recipe with us.  The waitress replied "No" and explained that it was their own Secret Recipe.  Well, damned if Augustin didn't come out to our table, a few minutes later, and pull-up a chair.  I then "Ooohed and Ahhhed" about how wonderful the meal was, and explained (in my seriously-broken Spanish) that I had looked-up the recipe and it looks like "Mucho Trabajo!"  He agreed that it was a lot of work to prepare, and then he proceeded to explain (in detail!) how he makes his Chiles en Nogada! (His English is very good, BTW, Thank Gawd!)  I grabbed a scrap of paper from my purse and started scribbling notes furiously!  In fact, he went so far as to excuse himself and run to the kitchen to bring out his Secret Ingredient (a specific brand/flavor of Mexican yogurt - that I probably *won't* be able to find in the states!), and he hands me a spoonful of the yogurt explaining "I want you to remember the taste - THIS is what makes the sauce so good!"

How FREAKING cool is THAT?!!

Needless to say, Viva Mexico will ALWAYS be a "Must-See" attraction whenever I go back!

As far as the recipe goes:  I'll save that for another post - whenever I work-up the nerve to try to make it.  It really is Mucho Trabajo - a whooooole lot of work!!!

Another "Must-See Attraction" was the Cholesterol Delight (No, I still don't know the name of the place).  This is where they cook the meat (Pork, Beef, Goat) on rebar stakes jammed into flaming/glowing wood embers.  Unfortunately, the last couple of times D and her husband ate there, they both got sick.  They think it was from the salsa (since the meat, clearly, is fully cooked), but she was a little scared to risk it again.  Bummer!

We did grab dinner To-Go from a questionable-looking roadside stand: El Rey del Pollo (The King of Chicken).  D trusts this place because the "cold stuff" is kept on ice and the folks who handle food do NOT handle the dinero (and vice versa).

El Rey Del Pollo

We ordered a whole grilled chicken and some fresh-grilled chorizo.  That was, quite possibly, one of the best grilled chickens I ever ate!  We did take it home and snarfed it down with homemade tortillas, queso and salsa.  And - I just couldn't resist - I had to SIN and drink a Mexican Coca Cola, from a glass bottle and MADE WITH REAL SUGAR. Waaaaaaay the hell better than that High Fructose Crap we get here in the states! 

We also ate, one night, on the plaza at a little sidewalk taco stand.  Evidently, we were the talk of the town because Gringos don't generally eat there. :::shrug:::  I'll admit, it wasn't a Five-Star dining experience, but it was still damn good food!

Anyhoooo...  This isn't all about eating, believe it or not!  The purpose of my trip was to get all Artsy Fartsy, right?!!  Truth be told, we spent most of our time at D's house, just yakking and drinking and playing old 70's and 80's rock (on LP vinyl no less!!!).

We did go into Jocotepec, one afternoon.  I love Joco and the old "50's-Style" of shopping (You want fresh produce, go to the Fruteria.  You want meat, go to the Carniceria.)  And you have to have extended conversations with each of the shopkeepers! "How is Tia Lupita?  I hope she is getting better." yada-yada.  I wanted to pick-up a poquito puerco molcajete for P, so we bought it in Joco.

We did breeze through Ajijic - but the Gallery Scene just *isn't* my scene.

No, the highlight of my Girls-Gone-Wild Weekend was our trip to Tonala (where they DO have 3G coverage!).  I'll share pictures of that portion of our trip in a separate post.  I will say that Tonala is f**king AWESOME!  Loved it COMPLETELY and, honestly, can't wait to go back again!

Now, when I left, I packed fairly lightly.  I've got a large, expandable suitcase.  But I also had enough room to pack a large (empty) duffel bag inside of my suitcase.  We were very cognizant of baggage weigh limitations so, when we went to Tonala, we actually BROUGHT my large suitcase - along with a scale!  The ladies in the metal shop thought we were nuts until D explained that I was traveling back to the states - and then they agreed that we were very wise for being so prepared!  HA!

Anyway...  Our first stop in Tonala was Forja Española (Note: Website is written in Spanish and, honestly, the pictures don't even BEGIN to capture it!).  An AMAZING shop with metal sculptures, furniture, lighting fixtures, etc. etc. etc.  Now THIS is where they actually manufacture the Mexican Metal Art Stuff you find at expensive galleries.  They have a very nice, tasteful showroom.  Hell, I was blown-away before we even set foot in the place because they have these MASSIVE metal sculptures out front (including a life-sized horse made entirely of metal washers!).  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the shop - but I think I snapped a few pictures of the sculptures out front (I still need to go through them - hence, the need for a separate post).  

Anyway, we browsed briefly in the showroom (and availed ourselves of el baño!).  Then we headed for the back-room where the cool stuff was absolutely overflowing!  It was complete Sensory Overload!  Sculptures of all shapes and sizes of Anything and Everything!  Iguanas, fish, turtles, chickens, dogs, horses (Oh Gawd did they have horses!  A HUGE LAMP made out of  wagon-wheel and metal horses!).  It was positively dizzying - the assortment of metal sculptures.  And furniture?! Oh My Gawd!!!  Srsly - if I lived in Mexico - I could outfit my entire house JUST from that store alone!

Anyhoooo!  One thing that I really-and-truly wanted was a set of Metal Mariachis.  D has a life-sized Mariachi welded to her Terrazza - and I think he is too cool!  And every time P and I go to the SF Garden Show, I drool over the smaller (~30" tall) Mariachis that are for sale, every year, at one of the vendor booths.  But they are, like, $120-150 apiece (and I want a trio!  More $$ than I am willing to spend).  

Welllll...  I am happy to report that I DID find my Trio of Mariachis.  Annnnnnd they are UNIQUE!  And I love them!

Tres Al Rojo Vivo ~ Muy Picante ~ Chile Pimiento Mariachis

What's funny is: D originally thought they were potatoes (which made no sense).  I decided they were frijoles (beans - which makes a little more sense!).  But then the gal who took our money told us that they were actually chile peppers - which made the most sense of all (Duh!).

Soooo...  I think that's enough of an update for one night!  I'll try to go through my Mexico Pictures and hope to share more of My Messkin Adventure in the days to come... 

Hell, then there's still the Boise Buffett Show to yak about (I have been on 6 planes in the past week!  Enough already!!!).  In other words, I am BEAT, so I'm off to watch the Giants Game and hopefully go to bed EARLY tonight!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Ramblings: Time Sure Flies!

Okay, this may end up being a short one (HA!  Yeah, right!), but I am blogging outside at the Tiki Bar and will be forced to go in when it gets too dark (far too early - and yes, I know, it's only gonna get worse!!!).

First up, some Random Garden Ramblings:

So Blogger-Friend (And Piggie-PartnerFinny is starting her own Garden-Coaching Business, IndieFarms.  And I "Like" her Indie-Farms FB Page.  So, this past weekend, I decided to stay indoors and fight-off The Black Plague (I was feeling a nasty head+chest cold coming on), whilst annihilating my opponents on my various Scrabble and Words-With-Friends Games.  Well, in the course of switching between games, I happened upon a post by aforementioned Indie Farms about how "It's rained three times, people! Time to give-up on those tomato plants and sow those cover crops!" (Okay, that wasn't a Direct Quote) accompanied by a jpg of a wheelbarrow-full of recently MURDERED 'MATERS! :::GASP:::

Well, if you know me, you KNOW how Cleopatra-like I can be.  Yes, I am the Queen of De-Nile!  "Summer's not over!" I pouted.  And, in fact, I managed to pry myself away from my computer long enough to toddle out to the garden where I found SEVERAL 'maters that were fully ripe-and-ready for pickin', and several MORE on the way!

Annnnd...  The Weather Prognosticators were claiming that yet ANOTHER warm-spell was on the horizon.

So take THAT - you Cover-Cropping Season-Pushers!

I wished I'd taken pictures of my last haul, but it included two GINORMOUS Kellogg's Breakfasts, a couple-three Speckled Romas, and :::gasp::: another Early Girl!  And I am confident that I'm gonna pull a few more RIPE 'maters off the vines before *I* call it quits! (Hmph!)

Of course, now I've got a BIG pile of tomatoes getting ever-mushier-by-the-minute on my kitchen counter.  I may drag out the Tomato Press and make more Frozen-Squozen 'Maters, or I may choose to roast them with olive oil and basil, then simmer them into a tasty bisque...  Haven't decided yet - but I'd better decide quickly or they'll end-up being compost!

I've also got ripe apples on my 6-variety espaliered apple-tree, and a basket-full of organic apples from the farm-share and grocery store (and 6 bags of cranberries) and DELUSIONS of thinking I'll have time to put-up a batch of Cranberry Apple Chutney. (Umm, when?!).

(Worst case: The cranberries can go in the freezer and the apples can run thru the Juicer!)

Complicating matters even further: Yes, we are having another brief spell of downright pleasant weather (and I'll take it!).  Of course, that means I spend EVERY AVAILABLE MOMENT outside and soaking-it-up while I can.  But that definitely cuts into my "I want to make Cranberry Apple Chutney" and "I need to do something with these 'Maters" (and assorted other "Wanna-Do" Indoor-Projects Time!)

Plus, my workload has gone a little crazy of late, so I can't get outside in the afternoons anymore.  Actually, the total number of projects I'm working on, right now, isn't all that bad.  But the complexity is a bit mind-boggling.  Annnnnd...  I'm getting ready to take some time-off!  This, unfortunately, has resulted in widespread PANIC on the part of all my business partners and clients.  Nevermind that I gave EVERYONE a week-and-a-half notice of my imminent departure and "If you need something, speak-up NOW" blah-blah emails...  My last day is tomorrow and I had wisely (?) blocked it - figuring I needed time to wrap-everything-up before I took off, right?  Well, by the time I closed-down today, my "Tomorrow" was fully-booked with back-to-back-meetings.  "WTF???"

:::sigh:::  It sucks being popular!

Next up, Vacation Ramblings:

Last year, Hubs and I went to visit my College-Buddy/Ex-pat friend D, and her husband in Jocotepec, Mexico.  Near Lake Chapala (a BIG ex-pat enclave) and Ajijic (pronounced Ah-hee-HEEK) - not too far from Guadalajara.  We got a taste of what "Ex-Pat Life" is like.  I loved it.  Hubs, not so much!

Anyway, Ajijic has lots of Artsy Farsty Galleries that cater to the Rich Gringo Ex-pats, and there is a town called Tonala - with lots of Mexican Artisans - not too far away.  Ajijic is more Fancy-Shmantzy/Artsy-Fartsy.  Tonala is more "gritty" and less "Gallery-ish."  Soooo...  Me being of the Artsy-Fartsy (but decidedly not Fancy-Shmantzy) ilk, I was actually looking forward to doing some "Gallery-Hopping"/"Art-Prowling" in both towns while we were there.  But, for various and sundry reasons (that I shall not dwell on), it never happened.  I was actually extremely disappointed about that.  So then it was decided that I would fly back down to Guadalajara on my own so that D and I could go and prowl around the galleries of Ajijic and the streets of Tonala on our own.  A "Girl's Weekend" as it were.

So I made travel arrangements several months ago (Scored a KILLER fare: $230.00 R/T! Awesome!) (Including "Overweight Baggage" charges for the Return Trip - Don't tell me I don't plan ahead!!!).  And D will be sending her husband back to the states for a week (He's retained his U.S. Citizenship and utilizes Medicare for some of his health-stuff.  I think he's getting more stents put in, or something).  Anyway, point being: It will be Just Us Girls for an extended 5-day weekend.


Hubs will drop me off at the airport on Thursday morning, and I'll return home on Tuesday afternoon.  Wish it was a little longer, but I'll be SURE to cram AS MUCH FUN AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE into those five-and-a-half days!!!  Hubs is in charge of keeping the critters alive while I'm gone (They will drive him ape-sh*t crazy, I'm sure.  He lets them get away with murder and they know how to "work him!").  I will have internet while I'm down there (or at least I *hope* I'll have internet!).  Their next-door neighbor has unsecured Wi-Fi which is accessible from the side-yard/smoking lounge.  Of course, this is all dependent on the "Community's" Internet being operational - so, we'll see.  Just in case, I've also purchased an International Data Plan for my phone for while I'm down there.

I highly doubt I'll be blogging though.  MAYBE some Facebook Updates - and definitely checking email.  But that's about it.

Anyhoooo...  I am SUPER excited about this.  And D is one of those friends that you can go - for years - without communicating, but when you get together, you just pick-up again like it was only yesterday, ya know?  Pretty damned cool, I think!

Next (Oh crap, it's getting dark out - but I have the Tiki Bar Mini-Lights on!), Artsy Ramblings:

(So much for this being short - HA!)

Okay, anyway.  I know I whined, previously, about my Psoriasis Woes (and yes, they are definitely STILL there - even with the Added Bonus of "Immune-Suppressant"/Burns-Like-A-MoFo  Humira!).  Well, I've decided to break-down and attempt Clay-Play with Vinyl Gloves.  Not nearly as satisfying, but I'm making it work.  I definitely wanted to make another "Hostess Gift" for D (especially now that I've seen her house and know her color scheme).  Plus, my company has a "Holiday Bazaar" every year where people can sell their hand-crafted wares.  I missed it, last year (We were in Mexico), but Good Friend P secured a booth (actually, a table) and sold a bunch of her stuff, as well as a good chunk of mine!  This year, we will share a table again - only this time I will BE THERE.  Annnnd... Well, I need crap to sell, right?!

P, bless her heart, is always sharing AMAZING ideas of stuff to create.  None of it is particularly difficult, but some of it can be a bit "challenging."  I figure, at this stage of "getting back into it" I want to keep it SUPER SIMPLE so I can get the Instant Gratification of cranking something (ANYTHING) out!  So I made a few soap-dishes in various colors.  One is intended for D.  It kinda/sorta matches the spoon-rest I made for her a couple-three years ago.  Nothing earth-shattering, but the colors will go great in her kitchen (D's decor - to sum it up: She is NOT afraid of color!).

Soap Dish

I don't think I have a picture of the Spoon-rest on this computer so - Oh well! - But it's in the same color-scheme.  I was also hoping to make a batch of Coffee-Scented Hand-Made Soap.  But that's an even *lower* priority than Tomato Bisque and Cranberry Apple Chutney.  In other words - ain't gonna happen!

Ooh.  Thank Goodness for my FB Albums.  I did find pictures of some of the earlier items I'd made for D!


Vase - formed over a wiffle-bat
And the pattern is from a silicon sink-liner!

Salamander Coasters
(Matches the bar in her side-yard/smoker's lounge/WiFi Zone)

Actually, her house is more rusty-orange and green (paint-wise, inside), but she has lots of yellow and cobalt accents.  Very "Mexican." And I think my mostly-yellow + cobalt "accents" work nicely with her decor.  At least she is a most-gracious recipient and claims that she loves them!

She is also a most-gracious House-Guest and always brings awesomely appropriate Tiki/Beach-Themed gifts for us, as well.  I've got an awesome Retro-looking Corona Beer Bar-Server tray, a hand-made wrought-iron parrot sculpture and some fused-glass vases that she picked up in Tonala.

Anyhoooo...  I have cranked out a few pieces (mostly soap-dishes and trays).  I was rather hoping I would be able to "start" a few more trays before I leave for Mexico but - prob'ly not gonna happen. (Well, maybe...  We'll see!).  I did start all of my Holiday Ornaments for my coworkers, so those - with a few more trays - will fill up the kiln for a bisque-firing.  And I think I can somehow manage to squeeze-in one more Glaze Firing before the Holiday Bazaar.  I also really DO want to mix up a batch of that Coffee-Scented Soap (I'll post the recipe whenever I get around to making it!).

In the meantime, I REALLY DO have to do a couple-three loads of laundry ("Drudgery!").  Somehow, I think I'm gonna need to bring CLEAN clothes with me on my trip to Mexico!  (Jeez, this ALSO falls under "Where does the time go???")

Okay, Lastly, some Buffett Ramblings:

Oh, and THEN, immediately after I return from Mexico, we are turning around and hopping ANOTHER plane (or two!) to head up to Boise (I abso-freaking-lutely HATE the state of Idaho - and I have valid reasons, k?!).  Jimmy Buffett is playing a show there and I HAVE TICKETS!!!

Thankfully, hubs has abundant FF miles on Southwest and with Holiday Inn and whatever Car Rental Company - so transportation is Almost-Free.

Now Jimmy added a few shows at the last minute (as I expected he would!).  He had two shows scheduled in Vegas (which is normal), and he usually squeezes-in a NorCal and a SoCal show in between.  Not this time.  He actually added a Seattle Show (the sane-day that I fly back from Mexico), then the Boise Show (next Thursday).  Well, I scrambled and was able to secure tickets to the Boise Show (Yay! Parrothead Club!).  

But THEN! THEN!! Sunuvabitch scheduled ANOTHER show at the Fillmore in San Francisco (SUPER intimate venue - only accommodates appx 1000 people!) (I paid over $300 to a scalper for ONE ticket, once, to see him at the Fillmore  and it was an UNBELIEVABLE show!!!).  Buttttt....  That's this Thursday: The day I LEAVE for Mexico.  Thank Goodness I had already scored tix to the Boise Show - otherwise, I might have cancelled my Mexican Sojourn altogether!

So, much as I hate to miss Buffett at the Fillmore...  I think the Girl's-Gone-Wild Weekend in Mexico is probably gonna be better for my soul (and probably pocketbook!) in the long run...

Okay.  Well, how's THAT for a "Short Post" - HA! (LIAR, I know!).  It is decidedly DARK out here and I've got LAUNDRY to do, so I think I'll call this a wrap, eh?!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cranapple Jam ver 2.0 (Almost like cranberry sauce - only BETTER!)

Yippeeee!!!  Cranberries are back in the grocery stores again!

And I've got bags of apples up the gazoobie (and - contrary to popular belief - my gazoobie just ain't that big!)

I wanted to make a batch of Cranberry Apple Chutney, but when I printed out the recipe, I realized I was missing a few key ingredients.  Oops!  And I was too lazy to go to the store again...

Almost Halloweeny - wouldn't you say?
But no, it's not a crime-scene!

I decided to whip up another batch of Cranapple Jam (I think we're having a Jam-Exchange this year!  If not, the extras will make lovely holiday gifts, yes?).  And I am venturing back into Stevia Experimentation (is that legal?!) because I found a new product in the baking aisle of the grocery store - a 50/50 Sugar + Stevia mix.

Cranapple Jam ver 1.0 is here.

And, again, I started with the same original recipe here.

But, as usual, I tweaked around some more and, I must say, I am MOST pleased with the results!  This jam, while definitely still "jam," has a flavor reminiscent of canned whole cranberry sauce - only WAY THE HELL better, k?! (I heard you say "Ew!"  Just go with me, k?!)

QT's Cranapple Jam ver 2.0
Adapted from Simple-Good-And-Tasty
Yields 1 pint jar and 6 half-pint jars

  • 8 cups of apples, peeled and chopped into 1/2"-3/4" chunks (I love my Apple Peeler/Corer!).  I used a mix of mostly Fujis and some Granny Smiths.
  • 4 cups of fresh, rinsed cranberries (about 1-1/4 bags)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (bottled stuff is fine)
  • 1 cup unsweetened, natural cranberry juice
  • 4 cups of C&H Light Sugar + Stevia Blend
  • 1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries (Craisins)
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar + 2 TBS Low/No-Sugar Pectin (optional, if needed)
  • Dash (or two) of salt (optional, if needed)
  1. Rinse, Peel, Chop your apples and toss 'em in a bowl.  Sprinkle your 1/2 cup of lemon juice on the apples, a little at a time, to keep 'em from turning brown. Stop when you have 8 cups of chopped apples
  2. Rinse and review your cranberries.  Remove any stems and/or squishy ones.  Measure out 4 cups.
  3. Combine Apples/Lemon Juice + Cranberries in a big pot.  Add sugar/stevia blend and cranberry juice.
  4. Heat on medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  As soon as it starts to boil, dial-back the heat to medium low (mine *attempted* to boil over and woulda made a HELLUVA mess!).  You do want a hard-boil for appx 1 minute.  
  5. After boiling one minute, dial the heat back to low and let it simmer, stirring frequently.  Apples will start to go mushy and cranberries will start popping.  
  6. At the simmer stage, add the dried cranberries.  Continue to simmer 'til it thickens to a jam-like consistency (took me appx 30-35 minutes).  
  7. Apples and cranberries have natural pectin which should be sufficient for getting the jam to set.  In my case, I wasn't able to achieve a good "set."  I ended up cheating mixing 2 TBS of granulated sugar + 2 TBS of pectin and stirring it into the pot toward the end of the blop-blop simmering stage.  Then it thickened-up nicely.
  8. Once you've gotten a good "set," remove from heat and ladle the jam into hot, sterilized jars.
  9. Process for 10 minutes
This stuff is GOOOOOOOOOD!!   Definitely a bit on the tart side (which I like).  I'm still "on the fence" about jamming with Stevia.  Stevia has - well - it has a flavor that is almost too sweet and borders on bitter, but I think it worked well with the tartness of the cranberries.  On the other hand, as I taste-tested it, I felt it was getting a little too bitter-sweet, so I added a few shakes of salt to tone it down.

When I was about halfway done with filling the jars, I glanced down at the recipe and realized "Oh sh*t - I forgot the cinnamon!" but, honestly, I think the omission of the cinnamon is why it tastes more like cranberry sauce.

Again, I am happy with that because Guess what I'll be serving with Thanksgiving Turkey this year???  No more pukey canned cranberry sauce for me!

As a jam, it's awesome on crusty sourdough with some kinda herby cream-cheesy spread (I actually had some leftover Goat Cheese Fondue which I'd spread on the sourdough).  I don't think it would make a good PB&J though...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

PlantCam / Timelapse Cam Follow-up

I figured I'd share a few more thoughts (and pictures) of the Time-Lapse Camera Gee-Gaw - since it really is pretty cool!

First-up: Side-by-side Old and New (Old, dead one is green.  New, live one is black).

And here they are out of their boxes:

They have a tough, weatherproof exterior and they seem to seal-up pretty tight.  The old one made it thru several rainstorms without incident.  They both have a screw-ma-bobby hole on the bottom that enables them to be screwed onto any standard tripod.  They also come with brackets that can be mounted thru a lattice fence or on a sturdy garden stake.  The bracket has a corresponding screw-ma-bobby and adjustable angles and yada-yada.  Wingscapes also provides straps so you can strap the camera to a tree trunk.  All-told - you will be able to find a way to rig it up (just don't put it in a high-traffic, narrow-walkway, at shoulder height, like I did!).

Here are the cameras with the doors open:

You can click on the image to Biggify it.  All told, it's a pretty simple set-up.  There's a viewfinder ("Meh!"), a power button, a focus-ring (the flower-lookin' ring around the lens).  The old camera had a laser-aim (but it really was only marginally useful), and they both have light sensors (so you can set the camera to go on at first light) (again, that didn't work for me b/c of our motion-sensor lights and nocturnal neighborhood cats!).  The middle rectangle-screen is just a simple LCD.  You basically use the dialy-knob (bottom left) to pick your setting; then when you're in setup mode, you use the 5 "directional" buttons to navigate thru the menu selections.  It's fairly intuitive and SUPER simple.

Incidentally, this is not intended to be an instructional post (you can always go to Wingscapes for more info) on how to use the thing, but since my last post generated some questions, I figured I'd share a few more observations based on my (limited!) experience...

It uses 4 AA batteries (one set of alkalines lasted most of the summer: May - Aug) (over 1,100 jpgs).  Apparently, there's an AC Plug-in option, but I never bought the adapter - and I never needed it (I don't think I'd want to run an extension cord outdoors anyway).

It does need an SD card for storing pics - and if you're half as geeky as us, you've probably got dozens of cards laying around.  Otherwise, I think if you send back the Registration Card, Wingscapes will send you an SD card for free (Free is good!).

I used a 2-Gig in my old Plant-Cam and you saw the quality.  Not bad (Not great, but not bad).  I'm gonna bump-up to a 16-Gig b/c the new cam has HD capabilities.  Also: It looks like the new cam supports WiFi.  I haven't "RTFM" yet so not sure if that means it WiFi's the images directly to my laptop (which means my machine needs to be on all the time).  I think I'll prob'ly just stick with the SD card.  And now that I finally figured out the Movie-Maker software, it's ridiculously easy.

Price seems to have gone up a bit (no surprise), but Amazon's got it for $99.95 w/Free Super-Saver Shipping.  I do think it's a fun and cool gizmo.  The key is to find a good place to aim it (Finny Farm was a sucky spot, unfortunately).  It did pretty good with the "longer view" of last year's garden.

Honestly, I think the trickiest part of the PlantCam is finding a good place to put it.  The mounting stuff provided is excellent - that's not the problem.  

First up:  It's pretty difficult to "aim."  There is a little Viewfinder, but it really doesn't help much (especially if you are mounting the camera on a lattice fence and really can't fit your head behind it!).  And it's not like you can "aim it," let it take a few pictures, then view the output right away...  

(Well...  Wait a minute - maybe you can?!  But you'd have to be SUPER careful not to jar the camera.  I'm thinking Bolt it into position FIRMLY, let it take a days' worth of shots, then the next day *very carefully* open the door and remove the SD card to view the jpgs on your PC - just to confirm that it's aimed properly...)

So - up 'til now - it's been kind of a crap shoot!  I'm not sure if it will be easier or more difficult on smaller subjects; say, aiming the camera at a seed-tray to capture germination.  I think I'll experiment with that (I know, I think I said that last year, right?!).

I do like the broader selection of focus/distances with the new camera.  I bet a lot of folks were trying to do close-up seedling shots and getting fuzzy photos.  And they do provide a tape measure so you can accurately gauge the distance.

Secondly: In order to get a decent video, you need to be cognizant of where you're aiming it and what kind of background you'll have "competing" with your video.  In other words, trying to photograph my GREEN veggie garden under a GREEN tree with GREEN vines covering the fence in the background?  Ummm...  Yeah! (Obviously I am NOT an award-winning photographer!).  Think "Composition!" Duhhh!

Footnote to that: Don't aim the thing due-east (as I did last year!), or due-west (as I did this year!).  You'll end up dumping a LOT of shots because the sun is blaring straight into the camera at dawn/dusk.

And for something large, like a garden bed, you'll want to keep the camera further back so you can actually see the whole bed.  Last year's video was much better from that perspective: You could actually see the plants grow from seedlings and eventually fill the entire screen!

And, personally, I like having some kind of inanimate object IN the picture so there's a sense of continuity (plants do seem to "move" during time-lapse photography).  Last year, it was my Weenie-Dog Whirlygig  This year it was a garden stake.

Hmmm...  What else?  I set my camera to take pics at one-hour intervals starting at 8:00am and ending at 7:00pm.  You can probably get a "smoother" video by shortening the intervals to, say, 30 minutes.  You'll need to have a pretty big memory card for that, though...

I had actually tried to use the PlantCam, last year, to photograph my Plumerias coming into bloom.  Strapped it to a palm tree and set it at 15-minute intervals (since the bloom-time of Plumies is just a matter of days).  Unfortunately, I never got to complete that experiment due to some palm-tree-trimming action that practically annihilated my Plumeria tree (Ooops!).

Anyway, I think that's about it.  To summarize: Be aware of where you're placing your camera - for a big area, the further-back the better.  Don't aim it in a location where it's gonna get direct-into-the-lens-sun.  Don't put it someplace where it's likely to get bumped.  And have fun with it!

I really do like my PlantCam (even if it is a toy that requires a lot of patience!) and - as previously noted - I love any company that stands behind it's product...


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Finny Farm Garden Videos - and Kudos to Wingscapes!

Soooo...  A couple of Christmases ago, Beloved Hubs bought me a Plant-Cam.

And I used and "reviewed" it, last year, in this post.

And honestly, last year's video wasn't *too* terribly awful.  At least I'd rigged the thing up in a relatively good location so you could actually SEE the growth of the plants.  Although the "stringing-together" of the images, using the on-board software, was pretty labor-intensive...

This year, I decided to capture The Finny Farm in all her glory!  Unfortunately, the Finny Farm was tucked away in a corner that didn't lend itself well to time-lapse-video-capture.  I bolted the camera (using the included bracket) to the fence that covers the pool equipment.  But it was in a bad spot (narrow pathway between the plum-tree and pool equip't fence).  And I did a lousy job of "aiming" the camera.  I started-out being SUPER optimistic about how tall the Finny Farm 'Maters were gonna grow and I aimed the camera a little too high.

And then there was the whole "narrow walkway" thing to deal with - which resulted in the camera getting "bumped" several times thru the season. Ooooops!  And then there's the whole "angle of the sun" thing to consider (which didn't play well with the camera-to-garden-aimedness!)...  The Finny Farm just wasn't in a good location for filming. "Oh well, waddaya gonna do, right?!"

I did retain ONE valuable lesson from last year's experience:  I set the camera for an 8:00am-8:00pm schedule (rather than "on" when it detects light - since we've got a motion-sensor light out there, and about a bazillion neighborhood cats that frequent the side-yard at night!).

I also decided to forego the onboard "string-the-jpgs-together" program for video creation - not entirely by choice, mind you (more on that, later).  No, this year I downloaded a freebie video program called Windows Movie-Maker.  It's actually really cool because A) You're not limited to 360 jpgs per video and B) You can actually preview the pictures and C) *Easily* dump the ones you don't want included in your "movie."  D) It also has features for adding captions and narration (or music), but I wasn't feeling THAT inspired!

Okay, now that you've read all the "disclaimers" here are the Videos that I took of the Finny Farm! (Grab a cocktail, this might take awhile...  Or you can skip 'em, based on my commentary!)

Finny Farm I:  This was early in the season, May-June.  I was entirely too optimistic and aimed the camera too high to capture anything (other than the "Volunteer" Peach-Tree which ended up with inedible peaches anyway!)

Finny Farm II:  I'm not even sure why I'm posting this video!  This was after Hubs "bumped" the camera and re-aimed it more toward the greenhouse.  You can pretty-much just watch the neighbor's Passiflora Vine take over the roof of my greenhouse in this video!

Finny Farm III:  Camera got bumped again.  But at least you can see Brandy, the Yellow Brandywine kind-of outgrowing her cage on the left side of the video.  Again, this ain't gonna win any awards!

Finny Farm IV:  The shortest video.  Camera got bumped back to the inedible peach tree!

Finny Farm V: You can actually see tomatoes starting to ripen on the plant to the left (at around 0:30).  That was supposed to be Yellow Brandywine, but the 'maters got Blossom-End-Rot and they really don't look like Yellow Brandywines at all.  :::sigh:::

Anyhoooooo...  Even though the Finny Farm ended up being "A Flop" this year, the camera *did* perform admirably (under adverse conditions!).  

And I should note: I do not consider the "Floppyness" of the Finny Farm to be a shortcoming on Finny's part (not at all!).  Truth be told: I kinda fubar'd on the Bed-Setup this year.  See, I had actually REMOVED this bed entirely (this is where last year's Straw-Bale-FAIL-Bed experiment resided).  This year, we built a new raised-bed and I decided to fill-in the base of the new bed with partially-rotted straw, then top-it-off with bagged El Cheapo Home-Depot Soil.  

Even though I Tested and Amended (per the Finnyknits Method), I think what ended up happening was: between the crappy soil, and still-rotting straw, the beds were robbed of nutrients thru the growing season.  So I am taking full responsibility for the suckiness of this particular bed.  Had I broken-down and driven up to get a full truck-bed-full of Yummy Lyngso Soil, I suspect I would have harvested a heckuva lot more (the other two beds - which were filled with aforementioned Lyngso Soil - performed admirably this year.  Although it really wasn't a Banner Year for 'maters, in general...)

Okay, ANYWAAAAYYYY..  Back to the Plant-Cam - and my Kudos to Wingscapes, k??
So at the end of the growing season, right-around the time that I ripped out the Finny Farm, I took down the Plant-Cam.  I was pleased to see that it took over 1100 photos thru the growing season and was (honestly dreading the idea of) stringing the jpgs together into several 360-jpg time-lapse videos.  I managed to create one video when I got the "Low Battery" Warning.
Okay.  Shut down and install new batteries, right?

Welllll...  The camera died after that.  Booooo!!!  I kept pressing the Power button and - Nada!

No worries.  Everything's on an SD Card.  I'll just offload it onto my PC.  And, while I'm at it, I'll d/l the Owner's Manual and figure out how to fix it, right?

Well, long story short, I "got" from the Owner's Manual, that the third-party software (Windows Movie Maker) would be the best approach for stringing-together the jpgs and making a movie.  But - as far as "Troubleshooting" goes, the manual was not forthcoming with useful information.

Sooooo...  I went to their website, and I snooped thru their "Support" pages and ultimately ended up with "Contact Us"/Customer Service.  I sent 'em a note explaining that I had gotten my Plant-Cam as a gift, a couple of Christmases ago "and I LOVE it!" blah-blah, but now it seems to have inexplicably died.  "I hit the Power Button but the LCD screen doesn't come on.  Don't know if it's the power-button or if the LCD screen is dead...  Can it be repaired?"

Well, lo and behold!  They responded within a day (or two - might've been the weekend).  They told me that my model of Plant-Cam had been discontinued, but that they would send me a NEW, UPGRADED model -  along with a pre-paid Shipping Label so that I can return my "dead" PlantCam - Free of Charge!

Now I have NO CLUE what the "warranty" is on these gizmos (couldn't find it on their webpage, nor in the manual).  I naturally assumed that - with my unit being a couple of years old - it MUST be out of warranty and I was fully prepared to pay *something* to have it repaired (not sure what my "pain threshold" was - but I was certainly willing to investigate it, right?!).  Anyway - the fact that they STAND BEHIND their product - and are willing to replace it so quickly, easily, and PAINLESSLY speaks WORLDS for their company, I think!

So a BIG HUGE THUMB'S-UP to Wingscapes and the Plant-Cam for having AMAZING Customer Service!!!

I received my new TimeLapse Cam 8.0 earlier this week.  I did a quick side-by-side comparison of Old vs -New.  The OLD camera had limited "focus ranges" (11"-17", 17"-3', and 3' to Infinity).  The NEW camera lets you dial-it-in more accurately (8", 9", 10", 11", 12", 14", 16", 18", 2', 2.5', 3', 4' and 8' to Infinity).  The OLD camera did have a "Laser Aim" feature - but it was only useful at dusk (or nighttime).  The NEW model doesn't have the Laser Aim, but it does offer High-Def and will accommodate a much larger SD card (16 Gig).

I think the rest of the camera (including the low-tech LCD "limited menu" GUI) remains the same.  But I am anxious to set-it-up for my soon-to-be-planted Fall Garden (I'll try a better location this time around) and give you a FULL review!

Anywaaaaayyyyy...  I just wanted to give a HUGE Thumb's-Up to Wingscapes for their AWESOME (and highly-unusual, these days!) Customer Service!

Yes, they sent me a free, upgraded Time-Lapse Cam - but I still consider this to be an "Unsolicited" Testimonial - given that we PAID for the first camera, k?  And they certainly weren't looking for a "testimonial" - they were merely exhibiting excellent customer service by standing behind their product!

More to come, I'm sure..............

Monday, October 8, 2012

Project Pork - Again, "Everything you never wanted to know about buying pork at the fair"

Allllrighty then...  I owe you guys a post about The Pig Purchase Adventure!

Requisite Warning: "Rampant Rambling Ahead."  If buying meat-on-the-hoof at the fair doesn't interest you, then "Move along...  Nuthin' to see here..!"

And, BTW, this post will be WILDLY out-of-order - given that it's taken me over a week to finally write it!  But I'll *try* to stay On-Topic as much as I can (No easy feat - as I'm sure you're aware!!!)

As previously noted, Finnyknits and I went-in halvsies on the purchase of a pig at the San Benito County Fair...

Finny couldn't make it.  But Beloved Hubs and I made the trek down to Bolado Park, in Trés Pinos - on the other side of Hollister, CA ("Birthplace of the American Biker").  Figure, it's appx 50 miles South of here...  (Ooh, and we drove through ohhh-sooo-aromatic Gilroy - "Garlic Capital of the World" - and GAWD was I hungry!)  

So anyway, prior to the inception of "Project Pork" (which, actually, started LAST year with my Reconnaissance Mission to the San Benito County Fair), I did do a fair amount of research.

I found the most useful info at these sites:  This one, and this one.  Although the pricing listed on these sites is nowhere near what we paid (:::sigh:::  "It's for a Good Cause!")

I also did further "relevant" research for the local butchers.  We ended up going with Freedom Meat Locker - primarily because they DO have a good web-site (with "cut-sheets" and prices posted), and also because the Yelpers gave 'em consistently rave reviews, including this one:

 - "Carnivores would probably have a boner when they walk in if they see this place. It's meat heaven." 

Consequently, Finny and I have (privately) dubbed this The Meat Bonéria!  Anyway, I checked their website, and also called them to have them fax their most-current price list (which - amazingly! - matches what's posted online!).
Details on pricing/butchering (in general):

To reiterate: When you buy the animal at the auction, you are bidding, per-pound for "live weight."  Then there is a flat "butchering"/"processing" fee (to "dispatch" the animal).  Then the Meat Locker charges you, per pound, based on "hanging weight" - which is roughly 2/3 of "live weight."  And that fee is just for cutting and packaging:  There are add'l (varying) charges if you want smoking (hams and bacon) or flavored sausages (higher $ still).  But the add'l charges are based on "actual poundage" for whatever meats you are smoking or having made into sausage...

I'm not certain, but I think the San Benito County Fair contracted with the "meat processors" - not sure what the correct term is... (aka "dispatchers") (aka "Send My Pig To FREEDOM") (Ultimately "Convert my pig from a living, sentient being, to a hanging carcass to be delivered to the Meat Locker").  Anyway, the cost for "dispatching" a pig is $30.00/head.  And I think that's a negotiated price based on the # of animals that the fair is planning to "dispatch" this year.  So that may vary, regionally...

San Benito County Fair uses these meat lockers: Freedom Meat Lockers, Corralitos Market (no website!) and Star Market.  Price-wise, they all looked pretty comparable.  And they all got Rave Reviews on Yelp.  So I ended up basing my decision on the "completeness" of their website, and the "helpfulness" of their staff when I called.  

Freedom won - hands-down.  The ladies who man (woman?) the phones are SUPER helpful and SUPER knowledgeable and seem to be very-much accustomed to neophytes (like me!) calling and asking silly questions! 

So the "Base Price" for processing @ Freedom is $0.98/lb for "hanging weight" which - as previously noted - is appx 2/3 of live weight.  That's for cut and wrap - to our specifications (i.e. I want 2 shoulder roasts @ ~3lbs, and the rest should be ground into sausage.  And I want the loin made into thick-cut, boneless pork-chops packaged in 2-serving portions, etc.).  

Smoking and Sausage are "extra." (Smoking - of hams and bacon - come in at $0.90/lb extra,  Sausages range from $2.35-$3.10/lb with a minimum order of 20# of a specific Sausage-Flavor (minimum needed to fill the grinder/stuffer contraption).  So: End Result:  Finny and I will be splitting 20# of Hot Italian Sausage (10# apiece).  That should still leave me a good-sized hunk of "Picnic Shoulder" (or whatevers) for smoking into a delicious "Pulled Pork" Extravaganza...

Here is the final "assumed" break-down (with the understanding that the roast poundage might end-up getting cut-back a squee, in order to maintain the sausage minimum):

Based on the review of site #2:   The assumption is, well, forget the assumptions (since this post has taken me so damned long to write!) - HERE is what we will PROBABLY end up with.  Well, more specifically, this is how my half will be portioned out.  Finny's order is similar.

We'll each get about a couple-dozen 3/4" pork chops (wrapped 2 per package), 2 shoulder roasts (prob'ly smaller than anticipated - or maybe just one roast), 1 smoked ham (in my case, it will be 3-4 "ham roasts" at 3-4 lbs apiece.  I think Finny went with Ham Steaks instead), 8 lbs of smoked thick-cut bacon, 3 lbs of spare ribs and 10 lbs of Smoked Hot Italian Sausage, and maybe a pound or two of plain, bulk, ground-pork sausage (which I may, or may not attempt to stuff into casings and smoke myself).

Also:  We had set a "theoretical cap" of $600, per couple, for the Piggy-Share.  I took that number and plugged it into a nifty little (Droid-Phone-Friendly) spreadsheet and factored-in all kinds of details like "dispatching" fees and per-lb "processing fees": and yada-yada, in order to come up with a "MAXIMUM" bid price, per animal, right????  And I was *so* proud of my Anal-Retentiveness in that particular endeavor! (More on that, later!)

Anyhooooo...  In the interest of preserving my "Random Ramblings" Title, let's move onto the Actual Adventure at the fair, shall we?  Ohhhh suuuuuuure!

So we arose, bright-and-early, at zero-dark-hundred on Saturday Morning.  Just FYI:  I do NOT function prior to 9:00am, as a rule!  But Hubs got me up and functional at around 6:00am - and lived to tell about it!

Now, it's late September, when the weather is generally "pretty pleasant," right?!!

We hit the road around 7:30am, so we could be assured of getting settled-in and parked and "checked-in" as a buyer by 9:00am, right?!

As we were driving down, we encountered this:

Friggin' SUCK-TASTIC "Wintry" lookin' weather on 101 South...

And as we got FURTHER south (where the weather is s'posed to be even NICER), we encountered THIS:

Weather sooooo froggy, my camera couldn't even focus!
This is hwy 25, eastbound, heading toward Hollister...

Once we reached the "other side" of Hollister, the heavens opened:

Yay!!!  Sunshine!!!

And we arrived at the fairgrounds:
We the Ferris Wheel - from a long-time back
(Actually goes back to our pre-marriage/pre-proposal trip to the Calaveras County Fair...)

But that's another story, for another time...  Point being:  I got checked-in, on time, and got my Critter Catalog and Bidder #:

Catalog and Bidder#

So, immediately after getting my Catalog and Bidder #, we went back and got some breakfast.  We had about an hour to kill, so I started scribbling notes on the Buyer's Catalog - which lists ALL of the animals + weights - about 'Max to Bid" per animal.

I was "PREPARED," right???

Welllll... Kinda!

I was thinking we were gonna be bidding in the range of roughly $3.50-5.00/lb (depending on weight), right?  And $5.00/lb was a SUPER-high estimate based on the fact that the gal at Freedom Meats told me that Safeway was "bidding-up" all the pigs at Santa Cruz County Fair (a couple of weeks prior) - to $5.00/lb.  Right out the chute, I was all "Oh, crap!"  That's gonna be over-budget - unless it's a smallish 200# pig.

Now, the night before, I re-worked my spreadsheet into a PRINTABLE format that listed Maximum-Bid, per weight.  So, like, if the pig was 190#, I could bid as high as $5.47/lb.  Whereas, if the pig was 235#, I could only bid $4.29/lb.  So I did all these calculations, clear up to 250#.  And my calculations were (stupidly) EXACT.  Yes, $4.29/lb.

There were a couple of flaws in this plan:  First one being: my spreadsheet maxed-out at 250#.  But appx 1/3 of the animals were OVER 250#. (Holy Bacon, Batman!  There were some 270+ pounders that looked like friggin' STEERS!).

The second flaw was that bids were increasing in $0.50 increments, so that $4.29 "exact max bid" wasn't gonna fly...

Okay, no worries!  I'll just round-down to the nearest $0.50/lb.

And, as for the pigs that exceeded my printed spreadsheet weight, I'll just use my Handy-Dandy "Pork Calculator App" (excel spreadsheet!) on my Droid!

Well, the third flaw (or "last nail in the coffin!") was that (as it turned out) the Opening Bids were starting at, or ABOVE my calculated maximum.  "Sh*t!"

Add one more "fly in the ointment:" Hubbie had a toothache that day.  Now, mind you, he didn't SAY anything about it when we woke-up that morning.  Bless his heart, I'm *guessing* that he figured he'd just come along, and we'd get in and buy the pig, and GO.  But - as it turned out - they kinda re-shuffled the "order" of things at the Auction, this year.  Pigs weren't going on the block until the VERY END of the day.

So, we got there bright and early.  Got registered and got our bidder#.  We also got settled in with some GOOD seats.  Down low, so we don't have to climb over strangers, and up toward the front, so we can SEE all the action - up close 'n personal, right?  

Getting ready to start the Auction...

And, once we were all settled in (with my spreadsheets and buyer's catalog, and maximum bids duly noted), THEN hubs decides to tell me about his throbbing toothache and how he thinks he might need an Emergency Extraction.


"Umm.  Why didn't you tell me this BEFORE we left?!  I could have come down by myself!!!"

Oh well...  Whatever.  We were there.  Might as well make the best of it.  Although we did relinquish our PRIMO seats and sat out in an open area near the barns to wait it out ('til after the rabbits, and turkeys, and 80-jillion sheep, and 30-jillion goats, and 50-jillion steers were sold).

Did I mention it was a GORGEOUS day?!
Looking toward the livestock barns and hills in the background...

While we were hanging out, I wandered off to take pictures of pigs...

Most were snoozing!

This guy really "hammed-it-up" for the camera
(Get it?!!  "Ham-it-up?!!")  (:::GROAN:::)

I also wandered back to the Auction Ring, from time-to-time, to see how things were progressing...

Here is one of the "Champion" Steers
Prob'ly sold for $8million...

Finally!!!  Pigs are in the ring!

So, the way it worked was:  The first critters (in each group) to be auctioned were the Champions and Reserve Champions (4-H and FFA), and some "Breeder's Choice" Hoo-Haw Awards (for animals bred/raised by the exihibitor, locally).  And for each of the "Prize" critters, we had to wait for the buyer and exhibitor (and critter) to be photographed.  So generally, the first half-dozen animals sold took a lot longer to GET sold.

Then, when they DID start auctioning the pigs, the FIRST pig (4-H champion) sold for a whopping $20+/lb. We are talking about a FIVE-THOUSAND-DOLLAR-HAM people!!!

Needless to say, I was all :::GULP!:::

And hubs was all "You're NOT paying those kind of prices, are you?!!" (he was feeling pretty grumpy at this point.  Apparently, the Motrins I'd tossed him earlier weren't working very well).

"Just hang on" I retorted "These are the Champion pigs...  Let's just sit tight and see what the Regular pigs are going for!"

Welllll....  As I'd stated earlier, most of the "starting bids" were already AT my pre-calculated maximum.  And now I'm getting all flustered because - Dammit - we woke up at the crack of doom, and drove all this way, and waited around, and blah-da-blah-da, and hubby is grumbling, and BY GOD I AM *NOT* GOING HOME WITHOUT A PIG, DAMMIT!!!

So then I'm consulting my "Cheat-Sheet" of maximum bids and I have more-or-less convinced myself that it'd be OK to go a "squee" above my stated maximum - and I'll just "eat the difference" (Arr-Arr!).  "So what if I end-up paying a couple-hundred more than Finny?  I mean, the meat is supposed to be stupendous and money really isn't a concern for me..."

What I hadn't considered was how Fast-Paced (and nerve-wracking) the whole Auction/ Bidding Experience was!  I mean, I watch Auction Kings and Storage Wars and all of those shows on History Channel, so I *thought* I was prepared!

Not so! (Oh my goodness, no!!!)

As it turned out, most of the pigs were selling in the $8-9/lb range.  Then one li'l piggie steps into the ring, and he's at "$4.50... $4.50... $4.50... Do I hear $5.00?  FIVE DOLLARS! $5.00... $5.00...  Do I hear $5.50?!  $5.50... $5.50...  Can I have SIX DOLLARS?"  And I bravely raised my number "SIX DOLLARS!  Can I have $6.50? $6.50... $6.50..." And somebody bid $6.50...  And the ring attendant (or whatever he's called) looked and nodded at me and I STUPIDLY nodded back...

And then I realized.  "Oh sh*t! I just bid $7.00/lb.  Oops.  Please SOMEBODY OUTBID ME!!!"

Well, nobody did.  Oopsie!

Looks like I just bought-us as pig!

So THEN, you're supposed to remain in your seat (here is the Educational Part of my post!), so that a 4H/FFA "Runner" can come and find you to fill out some paperwork to provide the purchaser's name/address/phone# and "disposition" of said purchase ("I want to take it home ALIVE, or I want to "donate him back" for a tax write-off, or I want to send it to thus-and-such Meat-Locker").  Okay, I fubar'd there.  Immediately after winning the pig, we headed toward the "Pay Here" office and, unfortunately, they couldn't take my money without the Runner's Paperwork! (so we tracked-down the "runner" who looked just as confused as we did!)

Then...  After doing the Runner's Paperwork, you learn your pig's "Tag#" (which is how he will be known, from that point forward).  You need the pig's Tag# in order to be able to place your order with the Meat Locker.  So, again, good "Educational Info" if you think you ever want to venture into "Buying Meat On-The-Hoof at the Fair" Territory!

Anyhooo...  No, I never did find out the pig's name.  Couldn't even find the exhibitor, but at least I found the pig and was able to take his picture, right?

I posted him on Facebook, and tagged Finny.  Figured we could name him "Spreckels" (although that goes against my "Never Eat Anything You've Named" rule).  Maybe it's better to just call him "Breakfast," right?!

Anyway, he is 217# and should net Finny and I appx 70-75# of meat apiece.  I paid $1549.00 to the fair (for $7/lb Live-Weight + $30.00 to "dispatch" him).  He is now hanging in the locker at Freedom Meats, and he should be ready for pick-up in appx 2-3 weeks.

Soooo...  After the fair...  I called Freedom Meat Locker and said "Hi, I am IM QTPI, and I purchased a pig at San Benito County Fair this past weekend.  I am calling to place an order for half of the pig with the tag# 123.  Finny will be calling to order the other half..."  And the ladies "walked me thru" the order process most professionally.  Finny and I will "settle-up" our Meat Locker Bills, individually.  Finny has graciously volunteered to "borrow" a ginormous cooler from me, and she will do the pick-up @ Freedom Meat Lockers, then drop the cooler-full-o-pig at my house.

Can't Freaking Wait!!!

I hope we get a few more "pleasant" afternoons where I can fire-up the smoker.  Not sure if we'll start-off with ribs, or maybe Picnic (shoulder) roasts, but I am totally JONESIN' for some good old-fashioned SMOKED PORK!!!


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