Monthly Archives: May 2006

Peet’s Coffee: Top Blend

In my ongoing trip through the world of Coffee, this month Peet’s sent me Top Blend. This coffee is somewhat bitter and full bodied. However, it lacks the breadth of taste that I associated with the Kenyan blend or the kick that I associate with Major Dickenson’s blend. This is a simpler less complex coffee that should satisfy many people.

Personally I still feel the kenyan blend was the best.

Re-doing the lawn.

Ever since I bought my new house, the grass on the front right side as you face the house offended me. The lawn was a weed infested eco-system of bizarre and fascinating plants and very little grass.

The lawn had to be replaced.

My original thought was to replace the lawn with a sequioa tree. However, it turns out that sequioa’s look great, are a symbol of Northern California, and can fall very easily in a quake, will tear up everything in their roots path and in general are a nuissance.

Replacing a lawn is not a simple proposition. First you have to kill the original lawn. Roundup and a bright sunny morning took care of the eco-system. I had to do it twice because I missed a bunch of spots. Two weeks later I had a dead patch of yellow grass.

On the appointed day May 14th, my friend Greg Barr showed up with a roto-tiller, a variety of other gardening tools and a large amount of patience. We started at 10 AM and were confident that in a few short hours we would be done.

Boy were we mistaken.

First we couldn’t use the roto-tiller effectively because we had no idea where the pipes that connected the automatic watering system were. Then when we figured out where the pipes were, I hadn’t figured out how to use the tiller and as a result I kept going over the same patch of dirt over and over again. The sun was a killer as well. It beat down on us relentlessly reducing our effectiveness by about 80%.

We ended up using a roto-tiller, a shovel, a mechanical shovel (sort of like a jackhammer), a pick-axe, a rake and a grass spreader.

6 hours of exhausting work we were done. We had ripped out the old, and planted the new.

After six hours of excruciating hard labour in a hot sun, Greg and I reached for the beer and ate the delightful meal my wife had prepared.

post-script This morning I woke up in excruciating pain. Once I have pictures of the grass on the lawn I’ll share them with folks.

Roasting whole lamb in the land of tofu eaters.

A great Greek Easter tradition is to roast whole lamb on Easter Sunday. Ever since I left Brown University I have been craving that dish. The problem was that for years I had no place to cook it. Living in apartments meant that I would have to find some largish open space that would let me cook a whole lamb over an open fire for approximately 5 hours.

This past August I bought a house. So my wife insisted that we use our large back yard to cook the lamb.

Little did I know that my adventures were about to begin.

To cook a whole lamb you need three essential components, a lamb, a fire pit and a 5 foot long rotisserie spit rod. The lamb was fairly easy to find. Draegers has a full service butcher that as long as you give them a two week warning will find a small whole lamb. The lamb was about 22 pounds in total and cost about 185$.

The fire pit was assembled from cinder blocks. We went to HomeDepot and bought them for a couple of dollars each.

The rotisserie spit rod was damn near impossible to find. In the land of tofu eaters (also known as the bay area) where eating meat is a crime against the animal kingdom and folks spend 100$ for the priviledge of eating raw uncooked vegetables, tools to cook whole animals are not easy to find. And unfortunately, since I’ve never done this before and I only knew the Greek word for souvla, Google was no help either.

I spent weeks on the web scouring for a solution. I found Big John’s how to roast a whole pig web site that had a 5 foot spit rod for sale for the bargain basement price of 250$. I got so desperate that I started looking at stainless steel rods, rebar, aluminium etc. The problem with all of those options was the toxicity of the metals. Rebar is made from recycled steel containing who knows what. Stainless steel may contain all sorts of very very bad stuff.

So out of sheer desperation we bought a 7 foot dowel that was 1″ thick for 8 dollars.

Turns out that it was the right decision.

However, the dowel had to be prepared. You need to pierce the animal and a 1″ flat top has very little piercing powel. So my wife had to wittle the dowel to a sharp point.

With the dowel in hand

and the lamb

we could actually start cooking.

First you have to prepare the lamb. Thankfully Vefa Alexiadou: Greek Cuisine helped. Vefa provided the key information about how to place the legs so that the lamb stayed in place.

My wife did most of the preparation.

But once we had finished preparing the lamb, it was time to cook it!

Cooking a lamb requires patience and good friends. The problem is that you have to continuously rotate the lamb else the juices fall into the fire pit. The lamb either gets burned or worse dries out.

Having friends is critical to cooking lambs. It takes approximately 5 hours to cook and it can be brain numbing work. Every 15 minutes my friends and I swapped. Critical to the whole cooking of the lamb is a well balanced fire and liberally and regularly basting it with a mix of oil, lemon and oregano.

When the lamb is finally cooked you know it’s cooked if removing the meat from the bone does not require the use of a knife. Ideally you should just tap the bones on the table and the meat should just fall off. We were not that good. But close.

Once the lamb was diced, the feasting could begin. Because we’re Greeks just having lamb was insufficient. My wife and her friends cooked spanakopita (Cheese+Spinach Pie), tiropites (cheese pies), mageiritsa (a soup made from the internals of a lamb), dolmades (vine leaves + meat and rice) and a Greek salad.

When everyone had finished eating there was much contentment.