"Awesome!" A Blog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bacon No. 5: Hempler's Peppered Bacon

Hempler's Peppered Bacon arrived yesterday. It's thick-cut, looks like a pastrami, and is far lower in fat than its predecessors because it's mostly meat (they say the bellies are trimmed before curing — huzzah from one who's been eating pure pork fat for the last four months). Hempler's is wet-cured, maple- and hickory-smoked, and flavored with black pepper, mustard seed, paprika, and onion powder: this is by far the most gussied-up bacon I've received from the Grateful Palate's Bacon of the Month club. It comes to us from Washington state.

I was inspired to plant myself at my desk at 4pm on a Friday afternoon by a sandwich I just made with this bacon. Normally at 4pm on a Friday I'm in the back yard with the family and the dog and a beer, throwing tennis balls around, looking up at airplanes, and helping people point the hose into the kiddie-pool. Today, however, a confluence of events steered me into the kitchen for a mid-afternoon snack: the wife is away watching the new Harry Potter, the tot isn't moving from the Curious George marathon she's arranged for herself, my new "cereal for breakfast and lunch" diet has me seeking the support of door frames and banisters all the time, and we had a leftover "artisanal" sandwich roll so light and velvety to the touch that I could not bear to watch it go stale. "Why not make a sandwich and do a bacon update," I thought, as I cracked open a nice chilly beer. "We've got that three dollar heirloom tomato, after all."

In The Reach of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman contrasts the cooking of Thomas Keller (driven, tortured, laborious, masochistic yet sadistic, and highly technical) and Masa Takayama (zen-simple sushi, served only omakase style, most dishes prepared in seconds). The philosophy of my sandwich was in the latter camp. I've been overthinking bacon thus far in the experiment. It is inherently a good, finished product and it needs little adornment or technique to guide it into its state of perfection. Case in point:

1 The aforementioned "prince of rolls," something like a personal ciabatta, sliced and lightly toasted, slipper-softness is key
3 Slices thick bacon, cooked but not crisp
2 Thin slices heirloom tomato, never refrigerated, pulp gently massaged out
1-2 tbsp Mayonnaise to lightly coat inside of sandwich
1/2 tsp or so Cream-style horseradish to work into mayonnaise
salt and pepper to season dressed bread before filling

We didn't need to turn it into lardons for Coq au Vin. We didn't need to purée it and use it to caulk red mullet into papillote. We didn't need Grant Achatz to dangle it off a miniature fishing rod while strapping dorsal fins to our backs. This was a BLT. Some L would have been nice, but I was out. Did you notice the horseradish? You might know it as that searing, unbroken condiment that ruins many a plate of beef. This tiny amount, worked into mayonnaise, is gentle, warm, and just a bit spicy. Please, pick up a little jar of it. I think the cream-style preparation is even milder than the others you find on the shelf. Rediscover horseradish. I think it's going to have a big 2008. Here, touch my hand.

This is a sandwich bacon. It's not the thin sort that you wrap around things. It's big and meaty and rewarding to chew through. This will likely be a strong sandwich month here at the Bacon Blog. I won't disappoint you by doing a bunch of hackneyed California stuff with avocados and boneless skinless chicken breasts. I may finally work out a banh mi for my common-grocery honkeys, and how about a proper breakfast burrito? I grew up on those, and I have iron-fisted opinions about what should and should not be.

* The review of Bacon No. 4, Edwards Brown Sugar Bacon, will appear here shortly.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tennis: Sport of Slick Princes.

Maybe two months ago the warehouse guy found a couple of old cheap racquets in our back storage shed, and suggested we might take them out for a spin. Mrs. Onstad and I had bought them very early in our courtship, a few addresses ago, while trying to identify a second mutually enjoyable physical diversion. It never took between the two of us, but I did end up playing many memorable sets with the son of the fellow who chose the fonts for the first computer at Xerox PARC. Funny how life goes. More on that never.

I'd always hoped that the tennis experiment would turn into something, but was forced to lay down the "stick" when my fancy friend moved away. Liz was having none of the game, claiming an "annoyance in the knees." She was fine to rollerblade around, of course, and drag me into that Land of Lucifer, where I promptly wibble-wobbled through a schoolyard and hit my elbow so hard on the pavement that several types of priest had to be summoned. The racquets moved with us three times—nothing more than burdens for the last eight years. Like my rollerblades, but with less mouse poop rattling around in the foot cavity.

After eight years of hanging in the dark, I suspect their frames and string beds aren't in peak form. Often now, when I give a shot my all, it sort of "thubs" off over the net, giving up once it's crossed the tropic and begun its fall to the ground. I think the sweet spot has shrivelled to a point, the way the dot of white light collapses in the center of an ancient black and white television set when you've had enough snowy Leave It To Beaver and just want to crawl in bed and cry the cabin vacation away.

We think we may be good. Even with these petrified clubs in our hands, we have some pretty fantastic rallies. We thock-thock-thock those balls across the net with inches to spare, "baseline play"-style, as I think it is said. I often focus my personal anger into a serve or return, and feel furious joy as my opponent (friend) is destroyed (misses the ball) by my violence (a Dunlop #6). It is incredible to watch him fall to his knees (reach into his pocket) and burst into flames (ask me if I'm ready) before hurling a glowing brimstone spear (another Dunlop #6) at my center mass. Later, we will drink water that has been organically siphoned from a federally recognized aquifer a thousand miles beneath the earth's surface ($3.99).

Still, though, I have some questions about how to improve basic aspects of my game. Are any of my readers tennis pros? Tennis pros, these are my issues:

1. On "off" days, the arc of my forehand return tends to mimic the beautiful parabolic curve of the St. Louis Arch. How can I keep this from happening? I desperately want to hit the ball horizontally, with a little sprinkling of devilish topspin. Sometimes I can do this, but not reliably. Far too often, I treat my opponent to a mini-vacation in Missouri.

2. My racquet is probably fairly bad. It's called, like, the "Kenny Boy Fat Duo" or some such. Aggressive and sporty, but strange. It's 105 inches, "oversize," I suppose, and I think it cost me thirty dollars in 1999. The strings have never been changed. Am I waxing dandy about Coors in a room full of Trappist brewers, here? In other words, am I a tender-hands blowhard with a gentle tummy, accidentally let into the private airport lounge and bothering Michael Madsen about Oceans Eleven, which he wasn't in? To put it bluntly: should I be ashamed of even talking about this shit racquet while claiming to be getting serious about tennis?

3. What's the idea with a backhand? That's a weird one. I see better players do them in proper, clearly-trained form, and they look like twits.

4. My serve is incredible. I call it the Steamboat Willie, because I put so much spin on it that it curves through the air like some crazy little boat. It almost corkscrews. I don't need any help there, thanks. It basically Fosbury Flops over the net, and the warehouse guy is left standing there, screwing his face into the angriest mug that his muscles will make.

That's it for now. I momentarily forgot that I am supposed to be writing about golf and bacon, and I've got to get to those. Thanks for sticking through this tennis bit. Hopefully I'll become so good at it that I won't need to speak to anyone about it, ever.


It seems the racquet is actually a "Kennex PowerZone." In my opinion, the name sounds weak and trite. Whoever came up with it lacked dignity and clarity of purpose. And the paint job is just a mess. Like a pixelated red zebra caught on bad film. I am certainly not proud of it, and welcome the opportunity to purchase a new one, perhaps with a plain-color rim and a smart logo in the middle.

(Okay, I didn't actually go out to the car. I think that's the name, though.)