Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Macaron Experiment

Remember LK's obsession with macarons last December? She discovered these French delicacies in New York and proceeded to pay outrageous amounts for the taste treats. A macaron, by the way, is not a macaroon. Macarons are not even cookies. They are actually meringue baked onto what looks like a cookie sandwich with sweet filling.

I mention these because Shirley has been visiting us, and we hit a rainy day where no one felt much like going out. It was one of the few days when tradesmen weren't visiting, so I decided to justify my unofficial title - the one where LK tells people that Don's the baker in the family.

This statement usually pops up when someone is telling her how creative and experimental her cooking is. If that conversation turns to baking, LK will make it clear that she does not like to bake, essentially because she thinks it merely involves the ability to measure ingredients and follow recipes. Then she adds that Don's the baker in the family.

In the case of macarons, though, I think I learned that A) being the baker in the family doesn't necessarily mean you can make macarons; B) following recipes isn't anywhere near as easy as LK makes it sound; and C) don't fill pastry piping tubes to the top and squeeze them in the middle.

I had been planning this experiment for several weeks, and LK had been able to find a way to get me not to do it. But on the rainy weekend day she ran out of ways to get me to do something else.

I had bookmarked what looked like a great recipe from the famous left-wing cooking site, Huffington Post. Food blogger Jamie Schler wrote a great article and step-by-step approach complete with pictures. It looked easy. And actually large parts of it were.

Making the meringue was very simple and folding the cocoa powder, sugar and crushed almonds into it was a snap. However, Jamie spent a fair amount of time explaining how to draw little circles onto paper you would place under your baking paper in order to make the baked "cookies" all the same size so they would match up well when you made your "sandwich".

I could tell you that I had never used a piping tube before, that I got better as we went along and that it was only mildly distracting when much of the goop came out the top and all over my hands when I squeezed it in the middle. Or I could just let you judge how close my uniform circles matched Jamie Scher's:

Jamie Schler's perfect circles
My perfect circles
The good news, though, was that once they were baked the various shapes I made seemed to have mates so I could at least pair them with one like them, even if they weren't exactly matches for the rest (and they weren't):

The match game
But the real test, of course, is the finished product. The chocolate ganache filling is the easiest recipe in the world: chop up some chocolate, pour boiling cream, stir till it melts and then cool it.  Well, it sounds easy, but for some reason my filling was - well, let's say, it was a bit on the runny side:

Jamie Schler's perfect macaron
Don Kennedy's perfect macaron
But all of this aside, they must have been good because I only had to keep pushing them on Shirl and Linda for four days until we all agreed that the meringue was getting so stale it was likely to break their teeth. Shirley flies home today, but I can't wait for her next visit so I can experiment with different flavors.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Free Speech Advocate

There are stories told of the great thoroughbred, Secretariat. In his retirement he was paddocked at a farm within earshot of a racetrack. They say that whenever this old warrior would hear the bugle calling the field to the starting gate, his nostrils would flare, his muscles would tighten and he would prance and carry his head the way he did when he was entering the track to compete against the best horses of his generation.

Or maybe it was Man O War or Seabiscuit or Affirmed or some other great racehorse. But you get the idea. Some times retired champions cannot hide their hard-wired love of the game they no longer play. And why am I mentioning this?

LK has volunteered to speak later this year at the conference she used to organize before her retirement. And the topic is not some old-fart blather like "How To Retire Gracefully" or "Memories of the Past". Nope, it's a presentation on Personal Branding for the IT executives who were her audience when she was an editor.

Personal Branding, I gather, is important in career development. From what I can see the phrase is somewhat misleading and open to misinterpretation. I was evidently incorrect in assuming it involves heating a hot iron shaped like your company's logo and sizzling that image onto your buttocks. Apparently it is more about how to create positive impressions about yourself and your group so the big muckamucks think you're worthy of even more stress (and occasionally more money).

A good example of Personal Branding would be me. When I was head of the publishing company, I pretty much had a brand that said "Fat Guy relies on other people and doesn't do a lot himself, but he gives a good speech." In retirement, this personal brand has been shortened to "Fat Guy doesn't do a lot."

Before you assume LK is doing the IT industry equivalent of Brett Favre (Is she retired or unretired this month?), I think you need to know her side of the story. She says she isn't giving the speech for money (because she isn't getting any). Obviously a strong advocate of free speech, LK says she doing this for the free trip to Sydney. Fair enough, that does sound like a retired thing. And on the scale of things, I would think it is better to stand on the side of the road with a signboard that reads "Will Work For Travel" than "Will Flip Burgers for Free Lunch".

It's a bit of a coincidence that I, too, am trying to get a free trip to Sydney. No, not by doing work. (Think Maynard G Krebs when you say that word!). Nope, I have played in a qualifying poker tournament that gets me in free to another qualifying poker tournament. And if I can win that one tonight, the prize is entry into a Sydney tournament plus airfare and hotel.

So LK shares knowledge, helps others with their career development and is guaranteed free travel to Sydney. I have about a 50-1 shot playing online poker that I will get free travel to Sydney.

I think that says as much about both of our personal brands as anyone needs to know.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Return of the Blog of Knowledge

Weren't we "almost there" on Sunday???
Two steps forward. One step back. Last week we were sitting around on our couch, watching Dexter and drinking wine. This week all our furniture is once again pushed to the middle of the room and covered with cloths, and LK and I have been back to the family room downstairs as Rob paints.

The good news is that we have said farewell to the Curtains That Time Forgot.

You remember, the ones that prompted Sandy to say, "Oh my God, what is that behind you?" when she saw them during a Skype call with Linda.

The really good news is that when he finished today, the renovation is complete. We will hang curtains and pictures and be done. Until LK decides what our next project is.

 Anyhow, with the rooms being painted, you would think it was the perfect time to do some other chores around the house. And it was. Only I didn't bother, choosing instead to pass the days on the computer. The good news: I've got enough stuff for another round of the Blog Of Knowledge.

I had considered starting our with a report that overweight Ecuadorian dwarves do not get diabetes. But being an overweight diabetic Irish-English heritage American-Australian of normal height, I don't know how much that information is relevant to me so I will leave the link and move on.

More interesting, I think, is the news that the New York Yankees who are now starting spring training may just be the fattest Yankees team ever. Apparently a third of those in training camp weigh more than 225 pounds (102kg) and five of them are more than 250 pounds. Heck CC even confessed that last year he was playing at more than 300 pounds (136kg).

Now I have been a Red Sox lover and Yankees hater all my life.

But suddenly the Yanks seem to be committing to a lifestyle choice that more closely matches mine. As long as the Sox have Big Papi, I can remain loyal because they don't call him BIG Papi for nothing.

But honestly, to think that the Yankees bullpen weighs more than a ton certainly does give me confidence that my athletic life need not stay limited to Seniors Sumo and Wii Bowling.

And that is good news in another way because it is becoming clearer every day that I can continue to play sport without worrying about things like losing flexibility as I age. Clearer, I say, because of an eye-opening report that people who do NOT drink alcohol are four times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than people who drink.

According to the report in, "The researchers also found that rheumatoid arthritis patients who drink alcohol tend to have less severe symptoms than their non-drinking counterparts. And the more often they drink, the milder their symptoms are."

And in a startling bit of scientific discovery, the lead researcher pointed out, "Alcohol may also have a mild painkilling effect." (Relax, Americans, it was a UK research project. Your tax dollars were not at work on this one.)

They go on to caution people not to drink too much. Of course, they would. But I still give thumbs up to a report that starts out by reminding us that earlier studies showed that drinking has been shown to have health benefits for heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Yep. No need to be an Ecuadorian dwarf when there is a bottle of Finlandia in the freezer.

PS Two of the links are to stories in the Wall St Journal and may not be available if you are not a subscriber. The fact that WSJ is reporting on Ecuadorian dwarves and fat Yankees in no way undermines Rupert Murdoch's promise when he took it over that the WSJ would remain committed to high-quality business journalism.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wood Floats

Elvis needs boats.
Elvis needs boats.
Elvis Elvis Elvis
Elvis Elvis Elvis
Elvis needs boats

Ahh! The sailing Elvis!
Captain Elvis!
Commodore Elvis, it is.
Elvis Is Everywhere, Mojo Nixon

Sir Bedevere:Does wood sink in water?
Peasant: No, no, it floats... it floats. Throw her in the water!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail

This weekend was boat weekend. More properly, wooden boat weekend, as Hobart hosted the biannual Wooden Boat Festival. There were yawls and couta boats, America's Cup yachts, steamboats and dinghies and just about any other type of vessel in between.

Even though it's a major event in our new home, it is the sort of festival LK and I probably would have skipped since we're not boaties. But our good friend Linton is a boatie, and he and Elisabet were Hobart-bound for the weekend.

Linton is one of the truly mad men who worked to restore the James Craig, a 19th-Century barque that had been abandoned and ultimately beached in the 1930s. (You can read about its restoration and re-floating in 1997 here.) Friday night we were invited aboard the James Craig for a tour and drinks, followed by a dinner with many of the dedicated crew who keep this ship afloat.

It must be good karma, because David was visiting this weekend and it turns out he is a bit of a mad boatie, too. Or at least that's my definition now that I know he owns seven boats himself. We all toured the festival on Saturday. It was a glorious summer day, hardly a cloud in the sky as we walked up and down the docks looking at dozens of boats.

Many were quite beautiful, even to the eyes of someone who doesn't know stern from aft. (And once I wrote that sentence, I checked out the definitions and discovered I really don't know!)

The highlight of the weekend, though, was a visit to the Wooden Boat School, which it turns out is only down the road a short drive from our house. There we saw some of the great craftsmanship that goes into building these boats. Dean, who runs the school and is from a family of boat builders, was excellent in telling us about the building process and also how the school worked.

He was a superb teacher - keeping the attention of all the keen boatsmen who were in our group and me, who knew nothing.

I've put some of LK's pictures from the festival and boat school on Shutterfly here.

Monday was a boat-free day as we prepared for the attack of the painters today. And having to do that little bit of work around here proved enough of a pain in the butt to convince me that I would never be inclined to buy one of those beautiful boats with all the work and time - and yes, money - they involve. But it was a fun weekend with good friends, lots of laughs and a chance to learn heaps of things I didn't even know I would be interested in.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tasting Notes

We are back in beautiful Tassie after a fun week wandering around the South Australian wine regions.

David and I managed to sample the wines at nearly three dozen cellar doors. He estimates we tasted between 250 and 300 wines. By my calculations, that means I have personally spit out about 2 gallons of wine in the last seven days. And that's not even counting the bit that dribbles into my beard while I am enjoying a bottle in the evening.

There was a fair amount of undistinguished wine being poured, but some real standouts as well. The predictable ones - Grant Burge, St Hallets, Peter Lehmann - continue to make superior wines. I hadn't been to Fox Creek in the McLaren before, but they have some very nice stuff, as I expected from their reputation.

And we bookended the tasting tour with two fabulous discoveries. I've written about how excellent Mollydooker is. My only complaint is that the case I bought hasn't been delivered yet and we are all hankering for another taste. And on the last day we went to Langmeil in Tanunda for the first time. They had the distinction of making a grenache that even David liked and several top-shelf shirazes that made me take out the Visa one more time than I should have.

What else did we learn?

Well, in particular order:

A little bit of viognier blended with shiraz seems to work wonders;

Drinking wine from 11,000+-liter vats at Mollydooker made me seriously consider losing weight so I could get up easily after lying under the spigot with my mouth open;

With a few notable exceptions, the people manning the cellar doors in all three regions (McLaren, Adelaide Hills and Barossa) are friendly, knowledgeable and happy to have a chat and a laugh. Napa, are you listening?

And, having nothing to do with wine but everything with the travel, David learned something LK and I had already known. Never fly Jetstar if you can avoid it.

And finally, perhaps because we have still hung on to our frequent flyer status and could sit in the Qantas lounge for one more year, I noticed something as we boarded our flight home. "LK," I said, "we're boarding a late evening flight to Hobart."

"Yes, Donald, I know," she said in that voice she uses when she can't be bothered to insult me.

"But LK," I continued. "I'm easily the worst dressed person getting on the plane."

"Yes, Donald, I know," she said. She thought for a second or two. "Maybe you could wear a shirt with a collar once in a while."

I told her I would think about it.

And finally, this is a picture David took at the place we stayed in Tanunda. I suspect anyone who knows us is not surprised:

Monday, February 7, 2011


Despite my long love affair with wine, I am really not very educated about it. I know what wine I like, and I know what wine I will drink. (And I know they aren't always the same thing.)

Nearly a year to the day after we visited the McLaren Vale with Robert and Jaki, we have returned with our friend David. David's a genuine wine buff with great understanding and passion for the stuff. If you watch him when he arrives at a wine region, he acts pretty much the same as when a degenerate gambler lands at Las Vegas Airport or I find an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Unlike me, David is very knowledgeable about wine, but he, LK and I were all to end our first day in the McLaren massively more knowledgeable than when we started. It all happened at a winery called Mollydooker.

A couple of years ago David had written to me to ask if I could find any Mollydooker wine because it had been very highly rated in the American wine magazines. I had no luck, but the name stuck with me. And on Thursday we drove to an intersection and saw a sign for the Mollydooker Winery. If it wasn't fate, it was the best luck I have had in a long time.

The sign at the gate said tours were by appointment only, and there was no mention of wine tasting at the cellar door. Forging ahead regardless, we went to the office to be told there was no wine tasting facility and you did need to book ahead if you wanted a tour. Playing the pathetic tourist card, I explained that my friend from the US was so keen to learn about Mollydooker and what a shame, blah blah blah. 

That was enough to check with Janet, the general manager who gives the tours. She was just wrapping one tour up and she was happy to take us out. It turned out to be the most fun and the most interesting time I have had at any of the hundreds of wineries I've visited in my lifetime. And the bonus - the wine was among the best-tasting I've tried.

Janet is massively knowledgeable about the science of growing vines. She took us to the edge of the vineyard and pulled some leaves aside to show us what the grapes were doing. She explained how the weather was affecting them and how the winery was watering them. And she spoke of the vines as living creatures: They have memories; they protect their babies (the fruit). 

But most remarkable, she was never ever a know-it-all. She was fun and had the perfect knack for telling you something without making you feel you didn't know as much as her. (Or perhaps I should say without making you feel dumb because you don't know as much as her.)

The look at the vines was followed by a visit to the room where Luigi and the team were monitoring the state of the various vineyards via reports and computerization. Sounds very technical and it is. But it showed me something I had not realized - how complex it is to get the grapes just where you need them and how much of a science it has become. And yet, it's nice to know that some of the critical decisions aren't made by computers but by several of the staff sitting under the trees and tasting the grape juice from the various vineyards.

I won't bore you with the details of the things we learned in the winery itself, although none of it was boring to us. Let me just tell you that one of the highlights of the tour involved walking out to the 11,000 liter vats, turning the tap and having a healthy taste of this year's wine that is developing inside. 

"It's only 80% and has been moved today so it's a bit jumbly so you need to use your imagination," Janet warned us. But it tasted soooo good that it was hard to imagine it getting better.

And by the way, we tried about six wines that way. And somewhere around the third we all agreed that it was far too tasty to be spitting out. And who could waste the rest left in the glass?

I hope I haven't made this sound like your stock standard winery tour. It was very, very interesting, but even more importantly the people at Mollydooker are just great folks. They're passionate about wine and are obviously enjoying the work immensely. 

There's a family feel to the place. Their employees had the smiles and looks of people who enjoy coming to work. And there's a real family feel because Janet is the mother of Sparky, who is married to Sarah, and together Sparky and Sarah are the winemakers at Mollydooker. Sarah's parents are involved, as well.

And the folks here are fun - from the left-handed handshake everyone uses (mollydooker is Oz slang for left-hander) to their sense of humor about themselves. When I told Janet the tour was great and the wine was fantastic, she said thanks, but if the wine wasn't any good the rest was all bullshit, wasn't it?

Well, it is good. And after an amazing couple of hours here I can guarantee I will remember Mollydooker for a long time. Anyhow, a few pictures from our great day out.

Janet, Luigi and Mollydogger

David is very close to heaven here

Checking out how the crushed juice flows

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Pic

Having learned from the best traditions of network television, I am milking a popular story for as much as I can. So today I am recycling, I mean, re-examining, yesterday's material.

I've been running the Lynch Kennedy picture to the right just about from the beginning of this blog. Times have changed. I have a beard. I have a new haircut. I had long hair. And I lost it.

Please help me choose the picture that I should run with this post by voting in the survey at the top of the right-hand column. And because I used to work in the Democratic Party when I lived in the US, I am maintaining their principles of democracy. That means you can vote for as many as you wish.

To remind you, the candidates are:
The War Criminal
If you vote for this one, you will have to look at it every day. Think carefully before voting.

The Combover
 If you look carefully, you will see that my head shape bears a startling similarity to Mr Potato Head.

The Julius Caesar

I will rig the vote rather than let this one win, so don't waste your time.

The Sumo
Judy's already said it's her favorite. Don't let her influence you, though.

Cousin It

Why would God put such beautiful, thick hair in the place I cannot see in the mirror?

The One My Mother Will Pick
I knew we had watched too many episodes of America's Next Top Model when LK said "Smize" just before she took this picture. . . and I did.

The Old Pic
 An old reliable incumbent. And it makes a statement that most would agree with.

And then there are a couple of contenders from earlier blogs that just missed the short list:
The Young Philip Seymour Hoffman Lookalike

Wii Don

Very Hairy Donny

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hair Apparent


That's the word LK began using about my hair. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and she said I was beginning to look scruffy and didn't I want to visit the barbers near Peg's house?

Sure, I said, confident that I could cite cold weather, icy roads and Christmas traffic often enough to put that off.

And here it is February 1, and what was scruffy six weeks ago is now - well, you can judge for yourself. I just happen to believe that one woman's scruffy may be another man's Jeff Bridges in True Grit.

No matter. Once LK decides her man needs an upgrade, there isn't anything that can derail it. The hair keeps growing; LK keeps commenting. Just last night as I was dozing off she cuddled up and, after a few seconds, said, "You really have to get your hair cut. It's tickling my nose."

Think of me as the movable object who met the irresistible force.

So today I went for my first Tasmanian haircut. No unisex salon this. Whitey's Shearing Shed calls itself a Mens Barbershop, and comes complete with magazines about recreational vehicles, powerboats and cars.

Probably the only surprise is that the shearers in the shed are women.

Rhonda drew the short straw and had to cut my hair. Her task was complex, for she had to please LK who was not even there.  But as I was leaving, LK also reminded me of my disastrous haircut in 2009. "Don't let them cut it too short," she said. "Remember, I'm the one who has to look at you." So Rhonda had to A) de-scruff me, yet B) not send us back to the days when I looked like this:
The War Criminal

I don't really mind cutting my hair. And obviously I don't mind not cutting my hair.

But I found the longer hair I woke up with this morning gave me a lot more looks than I have now that I am no longer scruffy. Some, I think you will agree, are actually quite attractive:

The Combover
For example, the combover is a classic.

It takes years off my looks and - in case you didn't notice - effectively masks the fact that I am balding.

Probably the only regret I have about this photo is that I needed a couple of more months of growth for the combover to create its maximum effect.

But even at this length, I noticed many more people were looking at me and smiling whenever I went to the store.

Or consider, the combover's half-brother, the Julius Caesar:

The Julius Caesar