October 2015 Archives

6-weeks is far too long to go between blog entries. A lot has happened since the last entry, so here's an update on some of the more memorable events.

Work Stuff
I've spent the better part of this year working on a massive project that involves our SAP system. SAP is the lifeblood of our entire enterprise - TDS, TDS Telecom, US Cellular, OneNeck - all of our companies rely on our SAP environment for day-to-day functionality.

There's not a single person in any of our companies that isn't directly impacted by our SAP environment, so to say it's an extremely critical system would be an understatement.

I was asked to lead a project to re-platform our SAP system (all development, test, QA, stage, and production environments). Our legacy hardware was aging, and it was time to upgrade. I'm happy to report that the project went live (into production) during the weekend of September 11, and it went-in with little-to-no drama. The project team was absolutely stellar, and our senior and executive leadership teams were phenomenal with their support of the project.

There were some long weeks and one very long weekend involved with the project, but it was all worth it. To migrate such a massive system without major incident was awesome.

We're wrapping-up some clean-up and tuning work on that project. From here, I've got 4 new projects assigned... no rest for this guy!

Whole House Filtration

You may recall a previous blog entry about the installation of a drinking water system for my house. With plumbing that's 115+ years old (in spots) and a city water supply that leaves a little room for improvement, the drinking water system isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

Well, the system is working great, but my filters keep plugging-up after just a month or two. You may recall this picture (new filter on the left, filter on the right is 3-months old):

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While it stinks to have to replace $60-$80 worth of filters every three months, it's downright scary to think about what may be happening with other water-fed items in my house (washing machines, water softener, other fixtures, etc).

So, I decided to install a whole-house water sediment filter at my water main. I did some research and determined that a 1-micron sediment system would capture most of the debris (rust, iron, etc) that enters the house. I also learned that a 20" filter should provide protection (under heavy use) for around 6-months.

I ordered a Pentair Big Blue 20" filter housing and a 20" 1-micron woven sediment filter. With bracket, PEX fittings, PEX tubing, and a few adapters and hangers, I had everything necessary to install the system.

The entire process took about 2-hours. I shut-off the water main, cut into the existing copper, soldered an adapter that would connect to the PEX tubing, mounted the filter assembly, ran the PEX lines in-and-out of the filter, and then soldered another adapter onto the existing copper to deliver the filtered water to the house.

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No leaks were detected, and I immediately noticed an improvement. Water "straight from the tap" tastes almost as good as the water from my drinking water system. After a few weeks of use, I noticed that the washing machine has almost no mineral stains. And, the real proof comes by way of my under-sink drinking water system. Look at how clean the filters are after nearly a month of use:

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Alarming

Some might say I'm a bit "thorough." Others might say I border on the "obsessive." And others may think I'm almost "paranoid" about certain things. And I'll admit it - all would be correct to a certain degree. :-)

After installing the whole house water filtration system, I began to worry, "What if a fitting or the filter housing were to fail? My entire basement could flood before I'd have any idea." It literally kept me awake for a few nights.

I also worry from time-to-time about a fire at the house when I'm not home. I couldn't stomach the thought of anything bad happening to Flea or my renter's cat. I have great neighbors, but I doubt any of them would be able to assist in the event of a catastrophe.

So, I decided to research home alarm systems with active monitoring. I stumbled across one company that really stood out: SimpliSafe.

SimpliSafe is light-years ahead of companies like ADT because: (a) the systems don't require any wiring - it's all wireless, portable (great for future moves), and self-powered via batteries that are designed to last 3-5 years at a time; (b) their system doesn't require any type of phone or internet connection to work - it uses cellular and wifi signals, so there's 100% coverage, even during power outages; (c) the monitoring service is *cheap* - $12/month - and will text, call, and e-mail you in the event of an alarm. It will also alert fire/police as necessary during an alarm event.

SimpliSafe allows you to customize your alarm system however you'd like to. I had no interest in motion detectors or glass break sensors or entry alarms; I was only interested in the water, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors. So, I went online, ordered what I needed, and waited for the system to arrive.

Within a few days, I had a very small package waiting for me. Here's the entire system, after I unpacked it from the shipping container:

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Set-up was an absolute breeze. I installed the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in under 30-minutes. They install as any normal detector would/does.

From there, I placed the water sensor on the floor near my basement water filtration system. The sensor is smaller than a pack of gum - it's super crazy. I'm too lazy to walk down to the basement for a real photo, so here's what it looks like via SimpliSafe's website:

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After that, I installed the main keypad and base station. The base station runs off of 110V house power, but has a built-in rechargeable battery with 4-days reserve for coverage during extended power outages. The base station is the only device that requires any type of wire or power connection. Everything else is 100% wireless and self-powered.

Here's a picture of the base station/tower, main keypad, and the keychain remote:

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The keypad mounts to the wall with 3M adhesive, so it can easily be relocated if necessary.

With everything positioned and powered-on, I finished the set-up by using SimpliSafe's website. I named all of the sensors by location, sent test signals, and validated connectivity via test alerts. The entire process took under an hour.

The coolest part? I can monitor the alarm system from my iPhone, an iPad, or any computer, anywhere in the world, any time. You can also expand the system at any time. Need another smoke detector? Buy one for $29, power it up, and it's in the system. Want a motion detector? $15, power it up, and it's in the system. It's really ingenious.

And, now I can sleep easily. :-)

Concerts

I've been to a few concerts over the past few months. On September 10, my friend Matt from work invited me to attend an "Eagles of Death Metal" concert with him at the High Noon Saloon. I was a bit apprehensive about them (due primarily to the name and my lack of familiarity with them), but holy cats, was that a phenomenal show.

The EoDM is a band that was formed in part by Josh Homme (from Queens of the Stone Age). Their style of music is what I'd call "pure, honest rock and roll" - it's not metal, it's not fluffy - it's just pure rock. The frontman, Jesse Hughes was one of the most engaging and entertaining singers I've ever watched. It was truly excellent.

I got a few photos, but this one shows most of the stage, and all of the members. The show was so outstanding - if you ever get a chance to see them, go. Don't hesitate, just go.

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They were recently on Jimmy Kimmel live, and I believe they are now headed to Europe for a multi-month tour. As soon as they're back in the USA, I'll be looking for an opportunity to see them again. Here's a few links to some of their live songs via YouTube:

Speaking in Tongues (Live from 2012) (with different drummer and guitarist doesn't have full beard)

Whorehoppin' (Live from 2012) (again, different drummer & lead guitar has small beard)

Jenny and I also went to WJJO's Sonic Boom in Janesville on September 26. It's a massive, 2-stage day-long concert that's held at the regional airport. This year saw more than 15,000 people in attendance and featured around 10-12 bands. We didn't stay for the entire event, but it was a great show. We got to see some really excellent groups, including Godsmack and Five Finger Death Punch.

It's been 15+ years since I saw Godsmack, and I have to say, they still rock. Great show, for sure. Only stinker of the event was that Stone Temple Pilots didn't show-up (shocking!). They called-in sick about 15-minutes before their set was supposed to begin. Somethings never change...

The Egg

It's been a while since I've posted about my beloved Green Egg, but rest assured that it has been seeing regular use. I tend to grill food fairly regularly - chicken, salmon, some pork... and it's really great for that, but where it truly shines is smoking foods.

I know I've written some entries about smoked foods, but I don't believe I've ever shared 100% of the process and details... so, when I was approached and asked to provide 20+ pounds of smoked pork and 10+ pounds of smoked turkey for one of my best friend's 50th birthday party, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to walk you through the entire process, start-to-finish.

1. I start with a brine.
I've tried all sorts of brine mixtures, but the one that seems to work the best and seems to be the most versatile is my trusty "Molasses Brine."

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In a large sauce pan, add 1.5 cups of pickling salt and a full 16-ounce bottle of Blackstrap (or "full flavor") molasses. Add 3-4 quarts of water and bring to a soft simmer, stirring regularly. Allow the mixture to cool completely. Done.

2. Soak the meat (pork shoulders or turkey work best) in the brine for at least 24-hours.
With the brine cooled, I transfer the meat into a larger stock pot or container and cover it with the brine. I add tap water to completely cover the meat, and then give it all a good stir. Let it brine in your refrigerator for at least 24-hours. The longest I've ever gone with the brining process is 36-hours. Here you can see the two 10-lb pork shoulders sitting in the brine.

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3. Rub.
I've tried dozens of rubs, and the best one I've ever come across is one that I've made myself. I wish I had a precise recipe... but I don't. The basics go like this: 1-cup each of: Turbinado sugar, smoked Spanish Paprika, hot chili powder, and packed brown sugar. 1/2-cup each of: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper. 1/4-cup of cumin, and then varying amounts of: cayenne pepper for heat, instant coffee for flavor, celery powder, toasted coriander seed (ground fine), toasted cardamom pods (ground fine), turmeric, and some toasted fennel seed (ground fine). I've also been known to add a touch of cinnamon. Mix it thoroughly with a fork, and taste it - you can adjust seasonings as you see fit.

The important thing to note is the lack of salt - don't use it if you brine, or it'll make everything taste like ham.

With the rub mixed and the meat fully brined, it's time to remove the meat from the brine and dry it thoroughly. I then take a half sheet pan with a rack in the bottom and heavily coat the meat with rub. Here's what it looks like when done:

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The rubbed pork shoulders can stay in your fridge for up to 2-full days (48 hours).

4. Smoke
After the pork or poultry has sat in the refrigerator with rub, it's time to smoke. And here's where the Egg shines brightest. I fill the Egg with hardwood lump charcoal, light it, and get the temperature stabilized to around 225F (it's a good starting point). To enhance flavor, I also add chunks of peach wood (for pork), and apple wood (for poultry).

As soon as the Egg's fire is ready and stable, I set a disposable foil roasting pan on top of the ceramic diffuser and fill it with boiling hot water. I set the cooking rack on top of the pan, and then carefully position the meat over the roasting pan.

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For long, slow cooks, I'm a huge fan of the BBQ Guru DigiQ X2 system. It allows you to program temperature settings for the fire/heat and the finished temperature of the meat. It uses a series of probes/sensors and a small computer-controlled fan installed at the intake of the Egg to maintain an exact temperature for hours on end. No more monitoring/watching/babysitting the smoker all night - just set it and forget it.

With the Egg's thermal efficiency (200+ pounds of ceramic will do that), I can smoke a full 30-hours on a single load of quality hardwood lump charcoal. No need to refill!

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I typically cook bone-in pork shoulders at around 220F - 230F, and cook them to a finished temperature of 198F - 200F. This typically takes around 24 hours for a 10-lb shoulder.

Cooking a shoulder is a bit scary, especially if you watch the temperature of the meat as it smokes. The shoulder will usually "skyrocket" from 35-36F (starting temp) to around 130F in just a few hours. Then, it'll creep up to around 160F, where it will then "stall" for many, many, many hours. This is completely normal - just let it sit. Don't open the smoker, don't fret - just make sure your cooking temperature remains stable at a nice low temperature (220F - 230F), and wait it out.

After about 6-10 hours in the "stall," the shoulder's temperature will start to slowly rise, all the way to its finished temperature. As soon as it hits 198F-ish, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in 2-3 layers of heavy duty foil. Tightly wrap it - you want to preserve as much heat and moisture as you can.

Take the foil nugget of goodness and place it into a small cooler. Better yet, line the cooler with warm beach towels, and nestle the foiled shoulder/meat inside. Cover with another warm towel, close the cooler, and let the thing sit for a minimum of 2-3 hours. The longer it can rest, the better!

If you're worried about the shoulder "resting" for long periods of time in the cooler, don't. I've monitored the temperature of a foil-wrapped, towel surrounded, shoulder that's resting in a cooler for up to 8-hours, and the temperature of the shoulder stayed at or above 170F the entire time.

After a good rest, remove the shoulder from the foil. It should look like a meaty meteor of goodness:

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Shred it (I love the Bear Paws shredders), and then transfer the shredded pork to a crock pot for serving to your guests. It's better to have the pork ready early, rather than to rush through the rest period, so keep that in mind!

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And finally, here's a shot of my bone-in turkey breast from this weekend:

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I'm pleased to report that both the pork and turkey were hits at the party - folks seemed to really enjoy them, and that makes me happy. It's not easy, but the results are worth it. Be patient, give yourself plenty of time, and don't worry too much - smoking isn't a precise science.

Enjoy!!

And finally...

I, and several of my coworkers, had the opportunity to sit in the owners box for a White Sox game a few weeks ago. TDS owns US Cellular, which owns the field/facility where the White Sox play. We took a chartered bus down to Chicago, sat in the box, enjoyed a rain-delayed game, ate a ton of good food, and had a few adult beverages. It was a great time, to say the least!

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2015 is the previous archive.

November 2015 is the next archive.

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