Sunday, May 27, 2012

Captive to my Hobbies

I haven't been out in nature for a few weeks but I have been up to other things.  I've been playing with my smoker and yesterday I tried making cheese.  I failed miserably because the curd never got a clean break.  Perhaps it was the milk variety and pasteurization length.  The milk was curdling to some extent so I'm sure next time the coagulation agent needs to be doubled.

After being inside most of the day yesterday I had to get out. As always part of the problem is deciding where to go.  I have a hard time thinking of places to go that I don't already know.  There are plenty of unknown roads to explore but those are just a shot in the dark as to where they go.  Today I made my way under the mountains into the neighboring county.  The late spring air was warm and breezy.  The white flower trees (direct translation) smelled wonderful.  There is a very old one of these trees by school and I asked if the students and teacher if they liked the smell.  They were perplexed because they never seemed to notice it had a fragrance.  I thought I might have mistaken the tree for something else nearby.  I wasn't wrong however.  While driving the floral smells sweep into the car and make me smile.

I took some round about roads and ended up passing through a tea farming area.  I love the rows of tea bushes.  They look beautiful and the aesthetic is very appealing.  There is something about that aspect that always draws me over to the Yodo.  The road continued up into the hills and I was following some vague signs along the way.


 Little did I know that the road was going up to an old cow pasture at the top of the mountain.  Cow pastures at high elevations appear to be a strange idea because a lot of land needs to be cleared.  Second, the transportation of said cows or products is troublesome.  But if you only have a few animals that might not really matter.  Besides the impracticality of it all, it makes for a unique setting.


I crawled under the rusty barbed wire fence and went out to get a closer look at the Tosa red cattle.  For some reason I kept my distance and eventually headed back to the other side of the fence.  The cows were intrigued by such a random face and came over to investigate.


I like cows.  Someday I want to raise some cows and goats for their milk.  I need to see how what kind of production I can get from one or two cows per day.  I'll keep that in mind for something to research.


A few minutes later I was startled by a truck rumbling up the narrow roads around the pastures.  The man stopped right by where I was standing.  I thought he was going to tell me to move my car or something.  It turned out to be a friendly younger man who was just coming to check on the cattle and give them a snack of fresh tomatoes.  It's a good thing I had left the pasture a few minutes earlier or I probably would have been yelled at


We talked for quite some time and he took me back into the pasture to pet the cows.  He told me all of their names.  One of the calves was named South Rock because of his stubborn persona.  In years past there were more cows but as the locals have died off and gotten older, the herd has come to only be about 6.  It's a very peaceful and relaxing place.  Yet, like many such places in the country side they carry a bit of irremovable sadness and loneliness.  After one more look at the mountain ridges beyond we bid farewell and I headed home.  The drive back was equally pleasant.  Just the warmth of the fresh air and smells were good enough to put my mind at ease.  Summer will be here soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Head In Clouds of Smoke

With the recent purchase of the cheapo smoker, I have been brainstorming a lot.  The first test run last Sunday yielded great results.  Temperature control was the one thing that seemed to elude me more than anything though.  I was able to achieve steady temps after awhile into the cook but after the fuel replacement things flared up badly.  The spare rib test subject was delicious anyway.

Spare Rib BBQ

Today I decided to run a test with charcoal briquettes to see how they would work for temp management.  The first two hours were somewhat disappointing.  Temps spiked and didn't come down for quite awhile.  There wasn't much I could do to control the temp either.  I tried adding cool water, venting the lid, and removing coals.  Nothing seemed to work as good as just letting it cool down by itself.  Yet this didn't lead to good temp control, which I am looking for.  Toward the end of the five hour learning session I realized that my system is flawed and needs some modifications ASAP.

Take a look at this picture

Smoky Joe Retrofit

The smoky Joe grill fits inside quite well but as you can see, there is less than an inch of space around the edge inside the smoker.  This space is the culprit of temp control.  With that space air can enter into the grill and erratically heat the coals.  Even if I play with the air vent on the bottom of the smoky Joe, it does nothing to really help.  Upon these realizations I sat for awhile brainstorming what I could do to improve the situation. One option would be to foil around the top edge of the smoky Joe.  Yet, I still worry the vent on the bottom isn't adequate enough for managing long BBQ runs.  Thus, I think I will use the foil idea and marry it another idea.

Coal Pan Mods

I have fashioned vent covers out of can lids.  I originally had tried using a tin foil pan but found that material was too flimsy for this kind of project.  The can lids are perfect.  When screwed down they make a tight seal on the bottom of the pan.  I just hammered a hole with a spike and then bent the metal out of the way to make haphazard holes.  It actually looks pretty good.  I'll continue this process with the coal pan itself in order to make air holes.  I originally put the smoker legs on backwards so I could slide the smoky Joe inside but I might put them on the right way.  Then I will be able to put the coal pan inside.  It makes the change of coals more annoying but I can make a foil seal better.

With the addition of the foil seal and air vents on the bottom, I will be able to (in theory) control the temperature perfectly.  Then I would be able to fill up the coal pan with a ton of charcoal and do a long cook without too much hassle or adjustment.  I half expected I would modify the smoker when I got it so I'm not surprised I'm already doing that.  I'm highly anticipating the next test when I have finished the modifications.  The smoker is a cheap chunk of metal but I'm going to get every dollar out of that thing.  I'll make it work!


Just my handy work at best.  What a mess.

Friday, May 11, 2012

No Lonely Nature

Today the weather is excellent.  It's so perfect that I can leave the windows open at home all day long and into the night.  I enjoy the feeling of once again being connected to the outside via smells, temperature, and sounds. In winter time the whirring of the heater on the wall lulls me to sleep but it's really no match for croaking frogs, buzzing insects, and flowing water. 

It's also a substantial reminder of how lonely things can feel.  In the depths of a forest there is no contact with another soul.  However, it doesn't feel lonely.  The loneliest moments are sitting at home in front of the computer.  You could easily reach out and communicate at a whim but there is no one who cares or wants to listen.  Perhaps those that are listening aren’t listening either.  In that case you are better off being with the forest, the mountains, and the animals.  They are happy with where and what they are.  In that place I am not lonely.  I don’t need to tell them what I’m happy about because they already know it.  We share the same loves.  

They don’t turn me away.  They don’t have to try to care because they already do.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

One Year Later: Golden Week

The past week took me away to the city.  After spending so much time tucked away in the secluded hills it is sometimes a nice change. Yet, I always find myself appreciating where I live all the more. I've always thought that I have appreciated it enough but there seems to always be more room for a bit more.

IMG_1363_Golden  Week

After a walk from Namba to Tamatsukuri with my weighted down back pack I was accosted by a homeless man.  I'm sure if he pestered a Japanese person they would just ignore him.  I gave him enough for a meal and to wash his clothes.  He seemed respectable enough but not being able to see what he would do with the money left me hesitant.  He wouldn't stop bothering me and my charity ran out.  I wouldn't soon forget as I sat at a hot metal table watching horumon and kimchee okonamiyaki cooking up with my friends. The sizzling cabbage brought back fond memories of a younger me, one that probably wouldn't have been eating the chewy organs of livestock.

IMG_1368_Golden  Week

I had passed through the bowels of Dontonbori around 5:30AM on my way to meet up with friends.  It was an interesting place at that hour.  Girls walking around in dresses and spiked heels clacking on the dirty concrete.  Some hung their heads low and lay passed out while their friends slurped bowls of cheap ramen. Now it was the opposite.  Streets packed full of people in rosy cheeks and exquisite fashion. It still felt just as hollow as before.

Noodler Gobbler Zombler

Either the noodles were that bad or she was annoyed by how she was out styled by every other girl.

IMG_1385_Golden  Week

But I'll take the bait. Fresh takoyaki from the street vendors wins me over easily. I scoffed as my friends put a ball into their mouth and couldn't speak for a few minutes. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with them. Then the lava temperature inside of the ball was scalding my own mouth, so much that if I swallowed it probably would have left burns on my esophagus. A somewhat scary moment. On this day I also found out why south of the tracks in Shinsekai is considered a sketchy locale.  And it's not just for the shogi and chess parlors.

IMG_1402_Golden  Week

We went into the hills of Kobe and had a picnic with people I met for the first time.  I ate a wonderful lunch that I couldn't stop singing the praises of.  After a roll down a hill and too many group pictures later, we found ourselves in the city of Kobe hunting for a Chinese restaurant in the light rain.  But I couldn't resist a pork dumpling and bbq duck sandwich before that.  The restaurant owners were working hard to get customers.  Who knows what difference any of the places actually have in terms of food.  All I remember is a Chinese woman studying Japanese behind us as I ate chili shrimp in a thick sauce.

IMG_1409_Golden  Week

Sometimes you wonder why bird poop is white.  Sometimes you get pooped on by a bird and it isn't white for a change.  But what are the chances of that?

IMG_1411_Golden  Week

Sometimes you also wonder how many years worth of dust the ceramic wares have.

IMG_1419_Golden  Week

Sometimes you just can't make sense of anything and you leave it at that.

IMG_1425_Golden  Week

Quiet gardens in Kyoto off the beaten path restore my mind from all the chaos churning about in the city streets.  The groups of elementary kids on their excursions and Golden Week tourists fill the popular spots. 

IMG_1443_Golden  Week

A journey along the Philosophers Path all the way from Kyoto station by foot was not so bad.  Here, at least, there is a bit of continued refuge until Ginkakuji takes most of that away.  But a four layer ice cream cone brings me back once again.  It didn't matter that I ate a green tea cream puff not moments before either. A train ride down the Keihan line brings back other memories of long past fire festivals and solitary trips to Kyoto.

IMG_1481_Golden  Week

 I've been here so many times before.  At night it feels like it's all mine.

IMG_1490_Golden  Week

 I could come here over 1,000 times but the mystique is never lost.  It is special to me. The cawing birds and stray cats roam the hill.  The fox statues seem to watch my every move and probably come to life when I turn my sight.

IMG_1510_Golden  Week

Kyoto is a place we might love more than any other.

 IMG_1517_Golden  Week

We loved the yakiniku with hearts full of gluttony.

IMG_1354_Golden  Week

In the morning or evening sun the reminders of life stand tall.  But tomorrow I wake to the hills. It's good to go back and carry with me the memories of great friends and good times.