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Noetic Toe
15 January 2016 @ 11:12 pm
How to Finish a Family

We didn’t usually go out this late, but tonight everyone was bustling to the door, throwing on shoes hastily that may or may not have belonged to them, shoving this way and that in an attempt to find room on the steps to tie their laces.

Despite the whirlwind of excitement all around me, I stayed focused. Only one question mattered in that moment.

“But is it a boy or a girl?” I demanded again with increasing persistence.

Finally, my grandmother answered, in a frustrated tone that told me I shouldn’t care about such a trivial thing: “It’s a boy!”

Instantly the world became a dark and disappointing place. As all my siblings enthusiastically ran to the car, I walked like a prisoner sentenced to the guillotine.

After twenty minutes of being squished between two of my younger brothers and enduring the loud squeals of another, we finally arrived at the hospital. Not one adult took any notice of the stiffening scowl on my face. Second born children escape notice with incredible ease.

My older sister elbowed me in the side as we were walking down the long hospital corridors.

“Stop being so grumpy, this is the last one, remember?”

I did remember. I had a very vivid recollection of Mom and Dad sitting us all down to inform us about the oncoming birth. The younger ones were excited, because everything excites them, but we older ones had known better.

“Another? Are we ever going to stop?” my oldest little brother asked despairingly. My sister and I silently agreed with him.

Mom and Dad reassured us that this would be the last one. Our family would be complete with six kids: two girls, three boys, and whatever the last one decided to be.

No one other than me seemed to understand how much the gender of the last child mattered. Not only for the sake of symmetry, to even the score between girls and boys in the family, but also to me personally. Being the youngest girl in the family meant I was always last in some respects. When my sister outgrew clothes they went to me, but when I outgrew clothes they went away. When my sister learned things she always passed them down to me, but the boys were never interested in what I wanted to pass down to them. They were as different from me as they were similar to each other. The past eight years of my life had been an accumulation of brother after brother like clockwork.

This child had been a chance to break the monotony, and I didn’t need my sister to remind me that it was also the last chance.

Full of resentment for the brother I hadn’t met and the parents who were so overjoyed by their repetitious delivery, I walked into the hospital room. Everyone else rushed to the bed to see the sight. I went to the corner of the room and perched on top of the stool that every doctor’s office has. I knew the kind well, pale blue and capable of gliding across the floor and spinning in place. It was a mark of how bad my mood was that I didn’t even try to spin. My perch was grim and solemn.

I didn’t need to walk over to the bed. I could paint the scene with my eyes closed. Mom was sitting up, looking tired but happy. Dad was leaning over, overjoyed and proud. Both were wearing ridiculous hospital scrubs. The baby was in mom’s arms, with a puckered red face, eyes tightly shut, looking vaguely disgruntled with the world, with a light dusting of peach fuzz on its head and wearing a tiny hospital wristband that matched mom’s. And of course wrapped in a blue blanket so there could be no mistake about its disappointing gender. There had been a few surprises in the past, but that was the basic formula. Once when we came in Mom still had an IV in her arm, which had been disturbing, and fostered my fear of needles. Another time we came in and the baby was revealed to have a full head of dark hair, which had been equally disturbing, but we grew to love Asa anyway.

“Sueanna, don’t you want to come see your brother?”

That was the call I had been dreading. I couldn’t disobey, but I could obey in such a way that my utmost loathing for the task could not be called into question. And so with a deep sigh, and a pained grimace, I slowly shuffled over to my new sibling.

He looked exactly as I had predicted, all the way down to the disappointing blanket. I looked up at my mom and asked her with my eyes to somehow make this all okay, to ease my distress.

“We’re going to call him Joshua, okay?” she said kindly, as if asking for my permission. I nodded my approval, grateful for the gesture.

I had been trying to get my parents to stop naming us such difficult names for years. As quite possibly the only Sueanna in the world, I had felt the loneliness of being so named very harshly. As a result, I had fought them on Micah and Asa, but finally on Joshua we had come to an agreement. He would at least live a normal life without having to spell out his name everywhere he went.

“He barely took two minutes to be born. The doctor almost missed it! He’ll be very easy going, for sure,” my mom continued to reassure me. “Hardly any crying either, he’s quiet as a mouse.”

She knew my complaints against my brothers too well, and so, as usual, she knew exactly what to say to coax a grudging approval from me. I had to admit that those did sound like good attributes for a brother to have. I shrugged and gave a grunt of acceptance. Mom knew that was the most she would get out of me, so she let me leave the bedside and give my grandparents enough room to swamp the newborn with undeserved affection.

I retired to my stool but did not resume my bitterness. Joshua was already growing on me.  He was one of us now, and so our family was complete.  
Noetic Toe
30 August 2014 @ 06:25 pm
I took the day off to babysit a pair of shoulders. This is the first thing I've cooked on Sparky, so I kept it close to the vest; I didn't want to inflict anything inedible on anyone else.

That was definitely the right choice. Sparky worked great, but the 'cue turned out only slightly better than moderately good. Definitely not the best I've ever done. It was flavorful and wonderfully smoky, with a deep burgundy smoke ring, but large parts of it were tough, chewy -- plainly, it had not gone long enough.

I blame technology. I cook primarily by instruments and I used new, untried, uncalibrated, cheap probe thermometers. I need to invest in higher quality tech. The probes were reading 200+ degrees when I called it done, which should have resulted in fall-off-the-bone tender, sweet, lip-smacking meat.

For fuel, I used charcoal, spiked with hickory and pecan chunks for smoke production. I did a simple overnight rub on the shoulders, mostly paprika, salt, and brown sugar.

The day started early: I was out of bed by 6:00 a.m. getting things together. My goal was to have butts on the grill by 7:00 a.m. Alas, that proved to be fairly optimistic. By 8:30 a.m., I had finally hit the target temperature and the meat was on the grill.

And then I settled in for the long wait.

I have a small grill set up beside Sparky on which I kept a chimney-starter full of live coals ready at all times. I replenished the coals and smoking wood about once an hour, on average. I kept the air vent fully opened and the chimney baffled for the entire session, manipulating the temperature by the amount of burning coals added at a time.

My strategy was to heat up to about 300 degrees and then let it coast downwards, hitting it with some fresh coals whenever it got down below 240 or so. I imagine the average temp hovered between 250 and 275 most of the time. I never spiked above 290 after that initial burn and never fell below 235 (I hit the bottom when I left the lid off the firebox for an extended period).

I had (the cheap) probes at the grill level opposite the chimney and in each shoulder. I have a spreadsheet with temperatures recorded every 15 minutes throughout the session. The session lasted for 10 hours.

In the middle of it all, we cranked out a batch of ice cream (Cookies and Cream, aka vanilla with crushed Oreo cookies) and I whipped up a batch of Lexington-style dip.

We ate purchased slaw. Don't judge.
Noetic Toe
09 August 2014 @ 12:29 pm
Several have wondered about my classification of Sparky as "she". I refer you to these words of the late, great Ian Fleming, in his classic work of gender studies entitled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964):

It's funny but all bits of [functional structure] that people love are made into females. All ships are 'she.' Racing drivers call their cars 'she.' Same thing with airplanes. Don't know about rockets or sputniks—somehow they don't seem very feminine to me—but I bet the rocketeers and sputnicators, or whatever they call the sputnik experts, I bet they call their spaceships and things 'she.' Odd isn't it? I used to serve in a battleship. Gigantic great ship stuffed with guns and radar and so on. Called the George V. But we called her 'she.'
Noetic Toe
08 August 2014 @ 11:52 pm

Today was the day! I took a break from the office in order to fire up Sparky. I wanted to season Sparky's innards and verify whether adequate heat will flow through the structure for proper barbecue making. I needed a stretch of several hours with no rain and today was the day.

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Bottom line: I can cook on this! It is responsive to the controls. It will not take an inordinate amount of time or fuel to heat up and keep the temperature going for 12 hours (at least, during warm weather). It looks like my design works as intended. It will be a few weeks before I have time to actually try it out with a couple of pork shoulders, but I'm looking forward to it!

Noetic Toe
03 August 2014 @ 09:53 pm

And, with the advent of sunshine, and the waning of the raining, Phase II has come to its belated end. The steel lids are painted a lovely, gleaming obsidian black -- as black as space, as black as the recesses of my benighted soul. (That's hyperbole: my soul is not all that benighted and I'm working hard on illumination.)

Everything is ready for ... FIRE! Phase III commences as soon as I have a stretch of weather-free, work-free time.

Noetic Toe
03 August 2014 @ 05:45 pm

With a brief respite from the eternal rain, I managed to get the lids scraped of the recent rust patches, cleansed with mineral spirits, and painted with Rust-Oleum's high temp paint.

Noetic Toe
31 July 2014 @ 03:05 pm

Sparky's steel covers were delivered today, courtesy of my bro-in-law. They look lovely! A coat or two of high-temp Rust-Oleum will have them ready to roll.

If I can get then painted on Friday, I'll be set to launch the initial fire test on Saturday.

Noetic Toe
25 July 2014 @ 08:17 pm
A little work this afternoon and evening has Sparky almost done. I added the pea gravel to the bottom of the smoking chamber, filled in various gaps and crevices with rock wool batting, and adjusted the fit of the chimney, etc. It all looks very good.

I decided to go with steel plate for lidding the firebox and smoking chamber. Those pieces are being fabricated. Once I have them in hand, I will paint them and THEN I'll do a several hour test run -- with fire! -- to season the internals and get a feel for how she takes the heat and smoke.

And then ... fleshmeats! (Probably after August 15.)
Noetic Toe
24 July 2014 @ 07:30 pm

And the grate is installed.

Noetic Toe
21 July 2014 @ 08:29 pm
Phase II is piecemealing along. But got the smokestack today.

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