November 2011 Archives

Another year, another turkey...

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I simply cannot believe that an entire year has almost come and gone again. When I was a kid, it seemed as if it took forever for Christmas to come - the 12 months that make up a year just crawled along back then... but today, as I approach 40 years of age, the calendar seems to move faster than the wings of a humming bird on RedBull. Jeepers. I'm not sure that I'm having fun, but time sure does fly - that's for sure.

As has been tradition for the past few years, I made my way down to Arkansas to enjoy some Thanksgiving bird with Amy and the crew (the crew being the dogs and cats). I decided that this year, I would splurge on a "real" turkey.

So, prior to making the 10+ hour drive to Arkansas, I made a 3+ hour drive northwest of Stevens Point to purchase a locally farmed, organically certified, pasture raised (completely - no cages), naturally fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free turkey from the fine folks at Good Earth Farms. While they would've happily shipped the turkey to me, I: (a) wanted to check out the farm, and (b) misunderstood that the turkey was fresh (not frozen).

Upon arrival to the farm, I met the owner, Mike and immediately took a liking to him. He was happy, friendly, and passionate - not only about his farm, but about marathon canoeing (of all things!). When I walked-in to his shipping area, I found him building a canoeing "treadmill" of sorts so that he could keep paddling throughout the winter. We chatted for a good 20-30 minutes before he grabbed a 15-lb turkey for me and sent me on my way. He also had a nice pack of dogs that included some Corgis and a big, old German Shepherd.

I was stoked to have the turkey, even if it was frozen as solid as an asteroid. And believe me when I say it was frozen solid - I transported the turkey 3+ hours back to Madison sans cooler, and the thing didn't even break a sweat.

I spent the next few days thawing the turkey, followed by brining it for 12 hours in a simple stock/salt/sugar solution. After brining, it was time to rinse, dry, oil, stuff it with aromatics, and start roasting.

While the turkey was roasting, I put together my usual sage/sausage/apple/walnut dressing, some garlic-buttermilk mashed potatoes, and giblet gravy (I remove the giblets before serving).

Thanks to a problem with my Polder remote thermometer, the turkey made a premature oven exit (the thermometer said that after 2 hours in the oven, the turkey was at 75F)... of all the times to have a thermometer die, why did it have to be on Thanksgiving day? Perhaps it's the same karma that causes the smoke alarm batteries to always die at around 3:00am...

Because of the thermometer issue, I ended-up pulling the turkey from the oven a little too early... when probed with my backup thermometer, the bird showed an internal breast temperature of nearly 160F, which I felt was sufficient, given that the turkey would rest for 30 minutes and carryover heat would bring it to a safe 165F.

Wrong.

After letting the turkey rest for 30 minutes (and putting the finishing touches on everything else - browning the dressing, bringing together the potatoes, deglazing the roasting pan, scraping the brown bits into the gravy and straining, finishing the corn, and baking the dinner rolls), the internal breast temperature registered a whopping 145F. Yikes - medium rare turkey, anyone?

We chanced it anyway... yeah - we're crazy fearless here. But could you blame us? The turkey looked excellent (I think the way the skin "tore" it looks as if the turkey is wearing a bikini top):

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And the dressing was begging to be cut into and spooned onto our plates... never having been a fan of dressing in the past, I feel I missed-out on a ridiculous amount of this starchy, meaty deliciousness.

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And so we dug-in. The turkey was divine, but after eating a few slices, common sense (and a desire for self-preservation) prevailed and we decided to return the bird to the hotbox and let it finish to a proper temperature. It took another hour for the bird to reach 160F... no worries, we had stuffed our bellies and were watching the Packers trounce the Lions, so all was good. Here was my plate prior to feasting:

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Can you guess which part of the meal is my favorite? :-)

We enjoyed the meal along with a bottle of 1994 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon. I'd been sitting on that bottle since 2000 and decided it was time to uncork it. Wow - absolutely divine. I've got a bunch of other oldies to try at some point, but this one seemed appropriate for the Thanksgiving meal. I can't wait to try my 1989 Cask 23...

After eating to the point of exhaustion, the clean-up crew kicked-in and took care of any leftovers. The cats nibbled on the turkey carcass (as usual), and Monica helped herself to the remnants of my plate:

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Oh, Squiddy.

Squid (Monica) is getting so old - we got her from the Great Dane Rescue of North Texas in February of 2002, when she was about 6-8 months old. We estimate she's about 10 right now, and she's showing her age. Her back legs tremble and shake; she doesn't have the strength or coordination that she had a few years ago; her face is grey; and she spends 99% of her day sleeping. It's depressing to know that she won't be around much longer - she is such a dorky, sweet, and wonderfully finicky girl. We joke that she has two hearts and no brain.

The other animals are all doing really well; cats are still as fat as ever, Regis is as crazy and concerned as usual, and Riley's still a pistol.

After our meal, we cleaned the kitchen, went for a walk at the local park/lake (it was nearly 70F outside), and then returned home for... a piece of apple pie. Ugh! And I wonder why my pants don't fit as well as they did 6 months ago.

I met-up with some friends on Friday night and had some great pizza at a local joint called "The Rail - A Pizza Company" (odd name, but great pies), enjoyed a few beverages, and then vowed to get serious about diet and exercise. Saturday came and I was on-plan - running, riding, lifting, and eating sensibly. So far, so good. We'll see if I can keep it up through the end of the year.

Heck, with as fast as the calendar scrolls along, you'd think it wouldn't be difficult to commit to a year's worth of clean eating and living, right?

I've been sitting on this review for a while, because I'm struggling with what to say, and how to say it. You may recall that I previously reviewed Dexter's Pub and had mixed feelings - the service was a bit lacking, but the fish was tasty; overall, a win.

Since the time of that review, I have returned to Dexter's many, many times. Simply put, I love the place. It's definitely a haul for me to head to Dexter's - depending on traffic, it can be a 25-30 minute drive each way. But it's worth it. The staff is outstanding - from the owner, Nick, to every single member of his team, everyone is friendly, helpful, accommodating, and super attentive. With the exception of that first visit way back in January of 2010, the Dexter's staff have never once faltered. They are true A-players.

Dexter's beer selection is amongst the best I've ever seen. Nick is a true beer geek, and knows how to select some of the most interesting, intriguing, and delicious microbrews from around the world. I've sampled some truly amazing beers over the past two years, nearly all compliments of Dexter's. Nick and his crew serve said beverages in the appropriate glassware, at the appropriate temperature - an extra nice touch, and evidence of their commitment to honoring the beer they so proudly serve.

Dexter's food is incredible - I'm a HUGE fan of their hummus plate (it features an IPA-infused hummus with a selection of fresh veggies and crispy naan). Even if you're not a fan of hummus, I strongly urge you to give it a try. It is that awesome.

Their Santa Fe chicken salad is another favorite of mine; the burgers never disappoint, the pizza is homemade and scrumptious, and the soups are inventive and phenomenal. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Dexter's knows how to make seriously good food. It's far from your typical bar food - this is true gastropub fare.

So, why the struggle?

I've had the fish fry several times now, and it hasn't consistently wowed me like the rest of the food has. It's been really good on several occasions - really good. But it's also been average on several occasions. In talking with Nick, he indicated that it's been difficult to source consistent fish - he's very picky about the fish he selects, and that shows.

The actual fish has never been my issue - the fish (cod, walleye, and perch) have always been truly excellent. Fresh, firm, slightly meaty, never too fishy, and plenty moist. I have zero complaints with the fish by its lonesome.

Where I've had mixed results is with the batter and preparation. The past few visits have resulted in a rather greasy fish fry; on this last visit, I sampled the deep fried cod, the deep fried perch, and the pan seared walleye. Of the three, the only one that wasn't spongy with grease was the walleye - it stole the show that night. Here's a picture of the wonderful pan fried walleye:

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I'm not sure if the fryer temps dropped, or if the fish sat for a bit after being cooked, but on the past two visits, the cod and perch looked absolutely incredible on the plate, with perfect amounts of Dexter's infamous batter and breading. But upon first cut, those batters secreted unacceptable amounts of grease from their battery pores. I'm a fanatic for non-greasy fish, which is why I was semi-disappointed.

Now don't get me wrong - this is still a fantastic fish fry by any measure. In any other arena, it would be a top 10 fish fry. But with two of the last three visits resulting in a greasier than average fish fry, I have to rank it outside of the top 10. I really wanted to see Dexter's land in the top 10, but for now, I have to place it outside of the top 10.

Again - the breaded perch and battered cod are outstanding fish offerings. The perch features what appears to be a cornmeal-based breading that boasts a hint of salt and pepper flavor. The breading is thin, and it clings to the meaty perch with a kung-fu grip. The perch is tasty, firm, and offers the perfect amount of "chewiness" that a quality perch should. When things are "on," there's no sign of excess grease, and the fish fry is impeccable. Paired with Dexter's signature (and literally-to-die-for) waffle fries, the dynamic duo are a solid option. Here's the lake perch plate, with another solid side: onion rings. On this particular evening, the perch offering was a bit on the skimpy side:

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The battered cod is served three filets to a plate. The oblong filets are substantially thicker and more meaty than the perch. The delicately-flavored white fish has always been moist, flaky, and sinfully smooth. The bubbly beer batter features a similar salt-and-pepper flavor with hints of a third spice that I can't quite place. Just like the breading on the perch, this beer batter has a death grip on the cod filets - it clings and won't let go, which is a rare feat in the world of fish frys. On this particular visit, I was racing so fast to devour the fish before the grease really released, that I forgot to take a picture until I was half-way through the meal... apologies for showing my half-eaten plate:

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So there you have it. Not my typical review, but Dexter's isn't your typical place. It is easily one of my favorite places to eat, drink, socialize, and visit. There's nothing on the menu that isn't beyond superb. You could throw a dart at the menu and you'd love whatever it landed on. You'll also love the staff - they're always smiling, always helpful, and always right on the money.

Give the fish a try. If it's "on" - it'll be ON, and you'll enjoy the best fish fry of your life. If it's "off" - it'll still be better than most fish frys. It'll just give you an excuse to have to return and try it again.

No one is perfect 100% of the time. Dexter's comes close. It's sort of like being "disappointed" when Aaron Rodgers plays a game where he only completes 89% of his passes and barely eclipses 300 yards with just 2 touchdown tosses. In anybody else's world, that would be an MVP performance...

Summary: Dexter's Pub = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars (even when the fish is average, it's still worthy of 3+ stars)
Service = 5 stars
Value = 3.75 stars (the perch portions have been a bit light lately)
MISC = 5 stars (great atmosphere, friendly patrons, good jukebox, comfy & clean)

Trust me when I say you must try this fish fry. Oh, and another tip: try their chili. It is another hidden gem on their menu. It's hearty, chock-full of meat and veggies, and it's got a consistent heat with just enough zip to keep your taste buds alert and slightly nervous. :-) You'll love it.

Changing-up the workouts

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I don't think it's any secret that I've been in a workout rut for the past few months - I've lost all (and I mean all) motivation to run and/or ride... I can barely crank out 2-3 hours on the bike per week, and I'm lucky to run 3 miles every other day. I'm just so bored, frustrated, and sick of riding/running...

So, I figured I would try some new things. My boss uses "TRX" straps at his gym and really seems to like them, so I ordered a set for myself from Amazon.com, along with a Bosu ball.

Both items are designed to leverage your bodyweight and instability to provide a challenging, portable workout with minimal equipment. I watched a ton of videos online about TRX and Bosu training routines and found 6-8 exercises that seemed intriguing. The items arrived last week and I set them up in the basement:

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And I'm pleased/shocked/surprised to say they're both pretty impressive items. The Jungle Gym straps are sweet - I do incline "push-ups" with them, rows, curls, pull-ups, and squats - all with my bodyweight providing resistance. I tried doing some "raised leg lunges" with the straps, but holy cow - talk about impossible. I'll have to improve my core strength before I try those again...

The Bosu ball is cool because it can be used upright (as shown in the photo above) to do exercises like crunches, stability work, push-ups, and other core work, all of which is extremely challenging when you introduce the Bosu ball. I laugh each time I try something new on it, simply because of how difficult it is to be smooth/fluid/balanced on that thing.

You can also flip the Bosu ball "upside down" as shown here, and stand on the platform while doing things like squats and lunges.

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Thank goodness the basement has those poles and that big I-beam; both work really well for these exercises - I hang the straps from the I-beam and use the pole to assist with stepping on/off the Bosu ball.

25 minutes of reps on the Bosu and straps burns nearly 300 calories; I keep my pace up, and don't rest between sets. Combine that with some running and some biking, and maybe I'll be able to keep myself from packing on the holiday pounds. Although, in the long run, I've really got to find my motivation to get on a regular run/ride schedule...


And, in other news, I did another transport last week, although my cargo was rather small. I hauled a few Chihuahuas for one of the volunteer rescue groups. I'm really digging those little guys - they're so small and sweet. Here they are conked out in the back of the car:

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Happy Halloween

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Halloween was last weekend, and that meant it was time to bust out the beard that I'd been working so diligently to grow and groom for the past few months. I've never been one to make a big deal out of halloween, so I can't really explain what got into me on this all-hallows-eve to drive such a desire to whoop-it-up while costumed.

My goal was to go as Brian Wilson, aka "the closer," aka "b-weez," aka "the machine" - my favorite all-star relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. You may have seen him on television recently, staring in commercials for Taco Bell as "the closer" who comes in to assist hapless border-eaters finish the new XXL Chalupa (link to Taco Bell Black Ops commercial)... he's hilarious for a number of reasons, but I think I like him most because he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. He'll happily make a spectacle of himself if it means getting a laugh or a rise out of someone. Oh, and he's a pretty decent pitcher and a pretty B.A. dude.

I spent a few weeks gathering gear for the costume. Some online shopping netted a jersey, grey baseball pants, orange-and-black shoes, and a Giants baseball hat. A trip to the local sporting goods store yielded a black baseball glove (I'm embarrassed to report that I didn't previously own a baseball glove), and a final trip to the Oakley store resulted in a set of dark black shades.

I made an appointment for some hair color and a cut, and before I knew it, the transformation was complete:

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Yep - mohawk and all. Told you I went "all in" on the costume effort. :-)

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(That's me on the left, at the incredibly busy State Street Freakfest party - more on that in a bit)

Saturday morning arrived, and I ran in the Haunted Hustle, a local 10K event (that also featured a half-marathon and a full-marathon). I originally planned to run the half-marathon, but I'm really struggling with consistency and distance with my running... I've basically sluffed-off for the past few months, running 3-4 miles per day, 4-5 days per week... ugh. As a result, I've gained about 15-pounds and have lost a lot of motivation. I've got to find my mojo again, but enough complaining...

On Saturday evening, one of the local bars was having a costume contest, so I decided to join some friends there to watch the Badger football game and enjoy the various costumes and antics. There were some absolutely amazing costumes, including a set of four "Hungry Hungry Hippos," a couple that were dressed as Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, Beetlejuice, and a ton of Clay Matthews.

One of the best costumes came by way of an employee of the bar, who dressed-up as the owner of the bar. He even shaved a bald spot into his head - talk about dedication!!

Here's me, with the owner of the bar:

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And here I am with Chad, dressed as the owner of the bar (the theme for the night was "Disco and the 70s," which is why Chad is dressed as a Saturday Night Fever incarnation of Joel):

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Every time I see that photo, it cracks me up... Another photo that has brought joy to my otherwise cold and calloused heart is this one - it's of me with the first place prize (a nice cash gift) for the costume contest. Yep, that's right - I won first place in the costume contest! w00t!

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My pockets flush with cash, I decided it might be fun to venture down to Madison's most infamous Halloween gathering - Freakfest. Freakfest is a public costume party that's held on State Street, and attracts anywhere between 25,000 and 100,000 people each year. It had earned a reputation for violence and debauchery, but has since been cleaned-up dramatically. I'm pleased to announce that this year was extremely calm - I witnessed nothing illegal or violent.

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With my ticket firmly in hand, I waded my way through the thousands of people, nearly all of whom were dressed in some type of costume. I started near the capital square and worked my way west toward the university plaza. Along the way, I was stopped at least 100 times to take pictures with various people - everyone knew me as "the Taco Bell guy" or "the Closer." It was sort of crazy. I even took pictures with Madison police officers (at their request)!

It took me nearly 2 hours to work my way down State Street; once at the bottom, I listened to a band that was playing near the State Street Brats bar/restaurant, and then decided to head home. On my way back to the car (I decided to avoid State Street and instead walked up Langdon), I ran into another Brian Wilson fan - this guy was wearing the spandex suit that Wilson wore to the ESPYs, but had a fake beard and a fake 'hawk. I'll still give him points for the effort:

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In addition to the costume contest and State Street, I was also invited to a party at Mike and Ginger's house. I spent most of the summer riding my bike with Mike and Ginger - they're both members of the Capital Brewery Cycling Club, and we became pretty decent friends as a result. They graciously invited me to their house for a costume party, and I was totally excited to attend.

Here's Mike and me, posing rather goofily. I think his costume gave me a touch of vertigo!

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Mike's wife, Ginger, was dressed as a Queen from a chess game, so together they were a Chess Queen and Chess Board.

Even their dog, Roux, got involved with the party:

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Mike and Ginger are great folks, but they're even greater because they know how to throw a party. They had an incredible spread of goodies - everything from roasted red pepper hummus with pita chips to sweet potato chips to hot apple cider, and these awesome cupcakes that were made to look like owls thanks to the creative inclusion of Oreos, Runts, and Junior Mints:

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And check out this salsa/taco salad - it featured a tomatillo-and-black-bean salsa, along with lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese. It was super tasty:

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Monday rolled around (the actual Halloween holiday), and at literally the very last moment (around 4:15pm), I decided to hand out candy from the house. I invited a few co-workers over to help, we ran to Target for bags of candy, and then set-up in the garage. One of them had a great idea - why not provide treats for parents as well? So, we whipped-up some "spiked" pineapple and threw a few tall-boys in the fridge.

We set-up a table in the garage, cranked-up the space heater, and got ready for the hordes of trick-or-treaters:

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...and about 3 kids showed-up. Apparently the house is located on "the wrong side" of a major road that kids don't really like to cross (and I don't blame them - I hate running alongside it as well). So, we called another co-worker who lived just down the road and decided to combine our efforts at his place. We packed-up our things, met with Chris, and proceeded to run out of candy within about 20 minutes. We spent the rest of the evening standing near a roaring fire-pit, greeting trick-or-treaters, and shooting the bull until it became too cold to be outside.

So there you have it - Halloween 2011 in a nutshell. Now I just need my hair to grow out a bit so that I don't feel like such a spectacle, and all will be normal again.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2011 is the previous archive.

December 2011 is the next archive.

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