Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Coda


Its about time I start to admit that this blog has ran its course. The frequency with which I either write things for it or think of things to write has dropped to nearly zero.  The simply fact is the conditions that made writing what was often a very personal thing have disappeared.
When I first started I was working in the Northwest Territory, distant from any of the few friends I had.  It was broadcasting what I could because I had no one to say anything to up there.  It had a few spikes in activity as time was more available.

The last three years and a bit saw a spike as I faced a hard period of unemployment and temp work.  The ranting there helped me hold together. It was a rather bitter time.  However, during this time things got better, I got less isolated, when it becomes possible to share troubles I don't need to broadcast them.  Now I have a job that matches most of what I was looking for, busy weekends and no on going crisis to report on.   Most of what's going on in my life is either private, trivial, or technical. None of which fits in the what was the scope of this blog.  I'll keep this up because I see no point in taking it down but it will be very unlikely that I will update it in t he future.

Don't worry I'm not off the internet yet.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hobbits Go Camping, Part one the food.


Its time for a change of pace around here. Today we explore backcountry cooking. 
Over the May long weekend we completed our fourth backpacking camping trip, this was our first two night stay.   It was a trip to Manning Park,  it made a loop of the Whatcom and Dewdney trails, with a two night stay at Snass View camp in between. The journey through to Punch Bowl Pass and to camp is worthy of its own post.  On this occasion however I will be going over the food the Other Hobbit and I prepared to keep us going while camp at the the snow line. 

So to the food.  I will  attempt to break down major meals into something reproducible.  For this trip I made the two lunches, two dinners, and part of a third lunch.  For the majority of our meals we aim for simplest and most effiecnt cooking method we could find, add boiling water to stuff. The stuff in contained in a high quality freezer bag, which can resist the heat.  This cooking method has been enhanced by the creation of insulated pouches consisting of mylar and quilt batting. As a result we have warm if not hot food till the meal is done. 
Cooking with northing more than a one burner white gas stove, one pot, and a plastic bag creates restraints that I am still learning to work within.  In that light most of the meals prepared are still considered experiments and I am not yet stratified with the quality and number of meals I can produce. 

Recipes are for one portion, each meal was prepared in duplicate  
In the order they were eaten. 

Lunch one: pastrami sandwiches, on home made buns with mixed pickles.  This was eaten early in the hike, just before a steep switch back.  It was only worth packing because it's stay was so short. The bread could get its own post, and would be too much trouble do describe here. 

Dinner One: Couscous, dates and Machaca*. Eaten earlier in the trip than planned because it was the most filling of the meals and the pass demanded far more from us than we would care to admit.  
Couscous and Dates. Zatar in small bag
Machaca added later. 
  • 100 Grams Couscous.
  • 30 Grams chopped dates, mixed with couscous.
  • Pinch Salt. 
  • Shake of pepper.
  • Kiss of smoked ghost chilis. 
  • 50 Grams of Machaca.*

In a separate pouch a couple table spoons of Zatar. Zatar or Za’atar is a middle eastern blend of sumac, sesame and other herbs and spices. 

 *Machaca is a Sonoran preparation of dried beaf, differing from jerky in that it beef is raw when it is dried and not cooked till it is added to final dish.   The machaca was made the hard way for a earlier trip, and has proven to be a excellent.  All credit for the Machaca goes to the other hobbit. 

This meal lacked a centre, it was filling calorie rich, but not refined. 

Lunch Two: Curry with rice and cashews, enhanced with pork floss. 
Cashew curry. Yum.
  • 100 Grams Minute Rice
  • 40 Grams Cashews 
  • Pinch Salt, 
  • Shake pepper. 
  • Genrous spoon full of curry. I used the excellent Bombay Curry From Galloway’s fine foods in New Westminster 
  • Generous table spoon of Coconut milk powder. 

In a separate pouch a few pinches of pork floss, a shredded and dried meat, for a little extra protein.

This dish really worked. It was saucy flavourful filling.  The flavours were rich and balanced.  The core of this dish will be used again.

Dinner Two:  Rice with freeze dried mini shrimp, seaweed and sesame. 
Shrimpy Rice. Also Yum.
  • 100 grams of Minute Rice
  • 30 grams of freeze dried mini shrimp.  These are scarcely bigger than the rice. 
  • 30 grams dried seaweed* broken into short chunks. 
  • couple pinches of roast sesame seeds
  • pinch red pepper flakes. 
  • 1 tea spoon of potato starch
  • pinch salt. 
On the side, a couple teaspoons of rice seasoning, a mix of sesame, seaweed, bonito, and other things.  

This dish also worked.  The shrimps basically vanished into the mix, but they were never the centre piece.  The seaweed hydrated wonderfully adding an almost crisp pop to the dish.  This dish put to the test an ingredient that was purchased for this expedition, potato starch. The addition of that starch produced a light sauce and prevented the rice dish from becoming too dry.  Potato starch was chosen because of its ability to thicken a sauce without having to be brought to a boil, this quality made it ideal for the just add water method employed at our camp. 

*Seaweed. I don’t know what kind I have. Its dark green, long and skinny.  I have also had it in the house for years because its so perfectly dry 

Lunch Three: Partial contribution: Flat Bread. 
An ad hoc recipe that proved too thick to cook quickly and the recipe too random two recreate. However, it did demonstrate that a flat bread can fit in the prepare in bag category. It proved much neater to prepare than pancakes and will be fine tuned for future trips.  

Day Two: Couscous with whole egg powder.  The egg reconstituted well, it could have used more water but was filling. 
Day Three:  Pancakes. Premixed dry ingredients, as prepared by the other hobbit.  Oil and water added on site.  They cook well, however, they add several tools and mess that could be avoided with just about any other meal. They are being phased out. 

Other Foods: These are either the snacks or the contributions from the other Hobbit. Our food had benefited from their owning a food dehydrator, this tool opened up food experiments that we just could not have tried otherwise, including the Machaca, on one occasion a dehydrated chilli, and a few other things

So the other foods, 
  • Humus, dehydrated, water and oil added at site. Served with flat bread after a slippery off trail detour that cost far too much.  It was good and rich, garlicky without being potent, very filling.
  • Carrot sticks, backed because I really wanted something fresh damn the weight
  • Babaghanoush (rehydrated), never prepared. The second day of the adventure was lazy so the extra dish was ignored. 
  • Round Trip Cauliflower. To have been eaten with the Babaghanoush, it like the dip was never eaten. It survived the pass and the many stream crossings. 
  • Dried figs and dates proved a good source of energy. 
  • Beverages, Hot chocolate and instant mocha. The mocha was not good coffee, but it had sugar, caffeine and came in easy to manage paper packets. 

Notes on future meals. 
The shrimps will be phased out. Though they add protein, even freeze dried at low temperature they are too aromatic, not something I want in bear country any later in the year.  The rice an seaweed combo was a winner and warrants refinement.  As a way of creating a very simple sauce, or glaze potato starch is a winner, it will find use in my kitchen at home as well as in camp.  The flat bread and rehydrated dip combo will almost certainly feature again.    

All the Food.
The food I made

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The anatomy of a bad day

So I went to bed knowing that today was likely to be a bad day. It was better than it could have been by far, I got work when I was expecting the day to be a loss and worked with someone I knew from an other gig so there was some catching up.  This is not about that. 

So you go to bed knowing they know longer need you and your not needed there the next day.  Who they are does not matter, what you were doing hardly matters.  What matters is it is over, you were not ready for it to be over.  You spend a few weeks or months learning the gig, you have gained some confidence and some of their trust.  If you are of generous spirit you even like some of the people you work with, are they friends, not really but they are people you have some banter with.  Its worth with some gigs than others, some you know the work is drying up and the project is winding down, your ok with those ending, same with the ones you know are for a very short time. With the short ones you never have time to not feel like the new guy.  But your not needed any more, after feeling useful and perhaps even a little confident you're sent away and those feelings stay at the job site. This has happened before this will happen again, and your response hardly chances. 

If your smart you stick to your normal evening routine, you do dinner, get some exercise and because your brain and body won't let do it any other way you go to bed at more or less the normal time. You turn off the alarm because whatever job you were doing demanded you get up a little too early and you could use the extra sleep.  It doesn't matter in the end you wake up right about when the robot would have told you to.  Whether you had a full nights sleep or a patchy one, and regardless of if you're just missing a little sleep or a lot, you wake up tired. You feel tired and hollow.  Thats how you know its a bad day.  

The thought of staying in bed and getting more of the needed rest crosses your mind.  It's tempting, but you know the sleep will not be good, besides too many years of early mornings have made 7am feel like sleeping in.  So you get up, its a shamble.  You know you're having a bad day, but you have a choice, do you fight to make it a better day, so you get up.  Breakfast and coffee follow their usual rhythm, perhaps slowed down a bit because you are not scrambling to be out the door at a fixed time.  It was not your plan when you got up but you shave and shower, because the bad day does not want you to do them.  Now its an hour or more before the business day starts. Do you call the people who help you get work first thing so you can be busy making money that day or do you take the day for catch up.  

Its never a question, there is always catching up todo.  Your work is tiring, often at inconvenient locations.  The question is not if there is catching up to do, but can you afford to take the time to do it. Some of the catching up is house work, if nothing comes up for work you will try to do it.  The bad day is worse in a messy home.  The other catching up is the working on the plan.  You know you don't want this mind eating uncertainty ruling your working life. There is some direction and you want to do work to chance your circumstances.  

That work, is the hardest thing you know to do.  Applying for jobs, cold calling, networking they have never been easy for you.  By now you have cleaned the floor and are looking for a snack, you know you should be digging into the applications but first a sandwich. You'll open a job board, it don't matter which one.  You have a dozen tabs open, you trim it down to a few less.  The application you write are lack lustre and hastily constructed.   Not like you ever believed anything you said about yourself in those cover letters.  No matter what level of job you apply for, or how qualified you are, the thoughts behind the words going into the application are all the qualities you believe you lack.  It is still a bad day, and what little confidence you might have to put together a pitch worth catching is spent pushing past that bad day gloom.  By now its lunch time. 

You feel down for taking too long to make a good lunch when you should be back at the keyboard hacking out another submission.  But all the convenient food was used on the work days.  Worse you know the work you have been throwing into the web is one of the worse ways to get the result you want.  You have found yourself in the company of employment councillors off and on for close to 20 years.  The refrain has always been 80% of jobs are not posted, its who you know, NETWORKING.  This advice, well your opinion of it requires some anatomically impossible things done without consent. Its not even that it doesn't work. You have had successes in past.  Its just so hard, painfully hard.  You know you should call some of the places on your list, you know who you want to talk with. And you look at the phone and you chicken out.  Or if you don't you're likely to have stammering opening that leaves all the wrong impressions.   And then you try to do it again.  You can't do this too many times.   You try to ignore the feeling that you could fail a Turing test when trying to introduce yourself over the phone.   You think back now and understand your best successes at this occurred at a time and place where my day to day survival was secure.  I could afford the slow recharge. 

There are always a couple things in the back of your mind as you approach any conversation about work.  You're always ashamed that you either don't have a job or are seeking a better job.  But lets be real you don't have a job on these days, nothing lasting.  So you start with shame, and add to it the feeling that your asking for a favour that they don't want to give, and you are asking for MONEY.  Asking for one of two would be bad enough, but at once makes you clamp up.  It don't matter that you are ten steps away from even thinking about salary negotiation ( you have heard rumors about this but you don't believe it, just like you don't believe people can pound in fence posts with just a mallet.)  No, when work is on the table, then money is on the table and it is awkward.   Its close to the end of the business day, your'e hungry again and your brain is tired.  

You put on the show you were watching last and disconnect. The number of things not crossed off from your list is far longer than the things you have crossed off.  You're ashamed of that, and if you let that get to you tomorrow could be a bad day too.  You hope some day to get it right, to get some work that lasts more than 2.5 years.  Work where you know your role, have trust and autonomy, with access to a good mentor.  Its a fight for you to get through the steps at a level that gets any results.  You have been fighting this fight, most of your adult life, it angers you.  On the bad days it is a impotent anger, you know what the input should be, you know what the outcome should be and even know most of the parts in-between but it never comes together.  So you take the next contract, its too far away, the work does nothing to advance your plan, but the rent is coming, the rent is always coming.  

Your next bad day is on the job site. No one else notices, you showed up on time, worked hard and smart enough to make a good impression.  You hid behind some gallows humour and stuck to yourself for most of the day.  But your tired of being an expendable piece of commodity labour, the new guy every few, days, weeks, or months.  Your've all but forgotten you had jobs where you had bigger responsibilities.  And no matter how much work you undertake, you can't shake the feeling that non of your past experience is any good now.  So you take the next contract, you hope it will turn into something that will stick, you know it won't. If you're lucky the commute will be short enough that you might, just be able to have enough left over to stay a head, but the next bad day is coming.