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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bye bye, Boojum.

It is said that the two happiest days in a boat owner's life are when he buys his boat and when he sells it. Or "she," of course, if the boat owner happens to be female.

Several years ago, when I was living in New Jersey, I bought a used sailboat off of my fencing buddy, Ryan Alfonso. The boat was a Lockley Sea Witch 12, a small 1970s vintage, ABS plastic over foam construction sailboat that was easy to trailer and was a fairly decent day sailer, though it definitely had some limitations. [For you boat geeks out there, Lockley sold out to Snark in the 1980s and the Sea Witch became the "Sunchaser II." FULL SPECS HERE.] It looked to be a good choice for taking Ian out for an afternoon on the water and teaching him to sail.

Ryan was, to put it gently, "not a sailor" and the boat he sold me had definitely seen both better days and a lot of "creative" repairs. I took the boat home and flipped it over on some sawhorses in the garage and started to take stock of what needed to be done, which was quite a lot. The plastic was cracked in a number of places and I had to learn how to lay fiberglass to repair it. The bow was crushed from some sort of misadventure and I ended up recreating it with foam and then re-glassing it. One day, after I had the boat repaired and repainted, I went sailing in the afternoon and then, with the boat and trailer still behind the car, went to my fencing class. When Ryan saw the boat, he didn't recognize it as the same one that he had sold me, which definitely made me happy.

Over the next few years, I took the boat, which we named Boojum in honor of Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark," to a variety of places, sailing on the pond at the Al-Genna, the Eddy family camp in the Adirondacks where my family has spent many fourth-of-july weeks, sailing on Willsboro Bay on Lake Champlain, puttering around a bunch of different lakes and reservoirs in New Jersey and New York.

When we moved to Connecticut, though, Boojum's liabilities started to be problematic. She was really too small and light for me to feel comfortable taking her out on Long Island Sound. With no motor, I couldn't launch her from the city boat ramp and she was too big and heavy to launch from the kayak launching area at the beach. Sadly, Boojum sat on her sawhorses while Ian and I started sailing with our friend, Bob McGregor in weekly races during the summer. In March of 2010, a huge wind-storm picked Boojum up, turned her over and slammed her back down on the ground, re-breaking the fiberglass-repaired seams and causing lots of other cracks. Without a good bit more work, Boojum wasn't going to go sailing, but I didn't have the time to fix her and there wasn't really anywhere suitable to take her, anyway. I knew that Boojum and I were bound to part ways, but wasn't ready to deal with it quite yet.

Over the course of the past winter, I decided that it was time to find Boojum a new home. This past Monday, as I was checking my email, I found one from Ed, a fellow Freecycle member, asking if anyone had a boat that he could use with his seven-year-old grandson. I emailed back, telling about Boojum's need of repair, but he wasn't daunted. He came to the house, looked the boat over, and decided that he was up to the challenge, so I trailered Boojum over to his place a couple towns away, leaving Ed (pictured at left) with the boat, all the rigging, some PFDs, and some of the fiberglassing materials and paint that he'd need to repair Boojum back to sailing trim. I hope that he and his grandson have a lot of fun with her, rowing and sailing for years to come. Now, though, it is time for me to start fantasizing about my next boat.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Barbecued Lamb Shanks

Passover is coming.  So is Holy Week, for that matter, so I'm working on plans for a Maundy Thursday Passover Seder and Last Supper Service at church.   Over the years, I've been to seders hosted by a variety of organizations:  Hillel societies, synagogues, interfaith associations, and churches and I've seen what can go right when people come together to celebrate the ancient story of the journey from slavery to freedom.  I've also seen what can go wrong when allegedly well-meaning Christians appropriate the rituals of Judaism and try to Christianize them, saying things like, "When Jews celebrate the Passover, they think that the lamb shank represents the lambs whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of their homes so that the Angel of Death would pass over, but we Christians know that the real Lamb of God is Jesus, who died on the cross so that we can have eternal life."  Our service, therefore, will be a Passover seder, celebrating the Jewishness of the story of the Exodus and celebrating how this was a regular part of Jesus' life.  We'll also explore how Jesus took the elements of the seder and reinterpreted them when he broke the bread and shared the cup with his disciples in what we now understand to be the sacrament of Communion. 

So, we're getting ready for the event, a full-bore family-style sit-down meal with candles on the tables and I'm working on the logistics of figuring out how many people will be there, how many matzot we'll need, and how much charoset we'll have to make. The food items, though, are easy, compared to the one inedible item on the seder plate: a lamb shank bone.

Several years ago, when I was in Pennsylvania, my church held a similar event for Maundy Thursday. I made braised lamb shanks for my family's dinner a week or so earlier and then took the bones and boiled them until anything objectionable had detached from them. The only problem was that it took a long time to boil all the connective tissue from the bones and I accidentally left them on the stove when we all went to church one evening. We returned to find the fire department in our apartment, with ventilation fans clearing the smoke.

This year, I'm opted for barbecued lamb shanks. I did a quick check on the internet and found that almost everyone says that it can't be done, that the meat will burn or dry out before all of the tough and chewy bits soften up. Steve Raichlen, in Barbecue USA, has a rather Byzantine method of cooking shanks, involving a combination of traditional low-and-slow barbecuing techniques for an hour and change and, then, wrapping the shanks in foil for an additional hour while they finish cooking.

I'm nothing if not hopeful and ambitious, so I decided that I could make barbecued lamb shanks for dinner tonight. Around 2:00, I started a bunch of shanks brining. By 4:30, I had them coated in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, and put them on the cool side of the grill, with a pan of water with onions and garlic beneath the meat, next to the bank of coals. For the next two hours, I kept basting the shanks with a mixture of orange, lemon & lime juice, as they cooked slowly, then I added honey to the mixture for the final baste at 6:30. I took the meat off the grill and served dinner -- the lamb shanks, with raisin and toasted almond couscous and grilled zucchini. Unfortunately, though the meat was done, the connective tissue was still very connective and, while I don't mind gnawing on a bone to get the meat off, neither Kimberly nor Ian is particularly happy with doing so.

While the meat wasn't exactly a failure, it was far from a success. I'd try again, using Raichlen's technique, except that I'm not actually that big a fan of lamb shanks. (Remember, I was really doing this to produced shank bones for the seder plates at church.) I expect that the next lamb that hits my grill will be a boneless leg of lamb, with lots of cumin and cilantro. Oh well...

So, now, I've got a freezer bag of cubed lamb and a pot of lamb shank-bones simmering on the stove, making some lamb stock for a future recipe. I see a lamb stew in the future.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Playing Catch-up

It may look like I haven't blogged for three months, but that isn't really true. The simple reality is that I've got a couple half-written blog posts about things that have happened since the first of the year, they just haven't managed to progress beyond the half-written stage. "So, then," you may ask, "what's been going on that has kept you from writing?" The answer: "Nothing but the ironic reality that, when there's plenty of time to write, it means that there's nothing happening and, when there's plenty happening, there's no time to write." Here, then is a precis.écis of what's been going on.

On January 8, Kimberly, Ian and I went to Mystic Seaport for the annual Pub Sing and Chantey Blast. Before the music began, we wandered around the seaport, seeing Amistad looking quite forlorn, with her topmasts and yards struck, her jibboom gone, and her deck covered with a shelter made of plastic sheeting. Conversely, the Charles W. Morgan is coming along nicely in her restoration. The pub sing was held across the street from the seaport in Frobisher Hall and featured a motley assortment of Seaport musicians, including Don Sineti, Geoff Kauffman, and several others, as well as other chantey singers from a variety of other venues.

My church hosted a performance by the "God Show" conference from Silver Lake on January 9 and Kimberly and I ended up hosting a bunch of teenage boys who stayed overnight in our home. The following Saturday, Kimberly and I took Ian and his girlfriend, Emma, to NYC, where we saw the Henrik Ibsen play John Gabriel Borkman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Prior to going the the play, we stopped in at the Greenlight Bookstore for a bit, then had lunch at Deniz, a Turkish restaurant on Fulton Street, notfar from the Harvey Theater.

Then the snow came. From the middle of January until the beginning of March, there was snow on the ground. Mountains of it. Fortunately, after the snowplow had plowed several snowfalls of the white stuff into six-foot-high mountains that prevented me from being able to turn the car around in the driveway, help arrived in the form of Eric and Pusnoch, two Chinese homestay students from Beijing. According to the official instructions from the Center for Global Studies, we were to make the kids feel like they were part of the family and to include them in all family activities, so I handed them snow shovels and set them to pitching the plow piles into the back yard. Kimberly, Ian and I shoveled, too, of course. That was only fair. But it was very nice to have three teenagers shoveling instead of only one. Even with all that snow, there was only one ski trip this winter, a day trip to Fahnestock Winter Park with our friend Eric. Our usual multi-day X-C ski trip didn't happen at all because the schools lost their spring break due to all of the days they were closed because of the snow we received here. How ironic that we couldn't go skiing because of all of the snow.

The big event in March was going to the Quick Center at Fairfield University to see a broadcast of the Danny Boyle's production of Frankenstein from the British National Theater, starring Lee Miller as Dr. Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster, roles that they trade off every other performance. It was astonishingly good and provided a perspective on the play that we'd never have gotten by seeing it live on stage. It was so good that Kimberly is going back tomorrow to see it again, with the actors in the opposite roles.

On a sad note, one of our favorite restaurants, Falafel House, recently closed, so Kimberly has been seriously jonesing for some deep-fried chickpeas. We have, however, discovered a new place, Masas, a Peruvian arepa restaurant, which is directly across the street from where Falafel house used to be. We've been there twice in the last week, so I expect that I'll have to devote a post to it at some point in the near future. So that brings us pretty much up to the present, at least well enough that I don't have to hang my head in shame every time I think about my blog.