Sep 042017
 

Thank you so much for sticking with me and following along on this process.  I’m really enjoying this project and I would especially like to thank Bob for allowing me to use his blog.

So let’s cure this piggy’s belly! I’ve cut it up into smaller pieces so we can try a couple of different cures.  I’m using a recipe out of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie.  I love this book and even if you aren’t even going to cure meat, it’s great reading.  I also recommend their Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken and their Smoked Scallops.  I’ve also made their chorizo and someday I will try their Canadian Bacon recipe.


As I posted yesterday, the first ingredient in any cure is the pink salt or Prague powder.  But then you get to add ingredients on top of that depending on the flavors you like.  Ruhlman’s recipe calls for the following ingredients per 5 lbs of pork belly:

  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons curing salt #1
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

A word about the maple syrup.  The Crown maple syrup was on sale at the grocery store and I’m a sucker for bourbon barrel-aged products.  I don’t drink bourbon, but I love the flavor.  And this stuff is nectar.  If you get a chance to snag a bottle, do it. It’s not that much more expensive than ordinary maple syrup (which already costs a fortune).

My pork belly weights about 7 1/2 pounds so I adjusted accordingly.

These pork bellies came with the skin still attached.  You can slice it off now, but  I’ve found its easier to cut it off after it is cooked.

Mix all the ingredients and then slather on the belly.  Rub it in so it comes into contact with as much the surface as possible.

Then the belly goes into a plastic bag for the next week to 10 days.  I stock up on the 2-gallon plastic bags when they go on sale and use painter’s tape for notes.  Since I’ll be doing 4 more cures, it helps distinguish the different recipes once they go into my fridge.  Tomorrow, I’ll show you a recipe for pepper bacon.

Sep 012017
 

by @WidowPage

Yesterday as I muddled through a data reconciliation, my oldest daughter texted me “Your meat is here”.  My daughters aren’t really that interested in my bacon curing projects but they knew I had been waiting for 100 lbs of pork belly to arrive on my front porch.  My youngest even obliged me with a picture.  I couldn’t get home for another 3 hours and there was no way the girls would be able to carry that much weight into the house.  All I could do it count the minutes until I could get home and dig into the boxes.

I’ve worked for Morningstar for almost 11 years.  During that time, I’ve learned so much about markets, trading and economics.  Morningstar was founded in Chicago which, at one time, boasted of being the hog butcher to the world.  Frozen pork bellies were traded as a commodity on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange under the symbol PB (electronic symbol GPB) starting in 1961. There’s more info about commodity trading here.

 

3 of the pork bellies

If you are interested in following pork commodity information, Urner Barry Pork tweets a lot of market information under the handle of @UBpork.  Did you know there were $17.554 million of pork bellies in cold storage in July?  That sounds like a lot to me but this number signals an industry-wide shortage.  Urner Barry has the details which, even for a hobby baconista, are really fascinating.  They also cover egg, seafood and beef market trends.

Once I got home, I broke into the boxes and hauled the 4 frozen bellies into the houses individually.  Factory farm-raised hog bellies run around 18 lbs.  These bellies, raised on smaller farms with a little more care, ranged from 20-30 lbs apiece.  This was the biggest one (pictured to the right…underneath it is my 6-burner stovetop…just for reference) after I cut it up .  Once it was sliced into 4 pieces, the smallest piece weighed 7.3 lbs.

1 pork belly cut into 4 pieces

When these 4 pieces thaw, the next step is to apply a cure and let them sit for a week to 10 days.  I cut the belly up because over the next four posts, I am going to show you how to prep the following:

  • Maple-Cured Bacon
  • Red Wine-Cured Bacon (throwing in an experiment with port wine on this one)
  • Bourbon & Brown Sugar Bacon
  • Black Pepper Bacon

Stay with me folks.  If you like bacon, I hope these next few posts will convince you to start making your own.

Aug 312017
 

By @WidowPage

This isn’t the way I intended to start this blog. I imagined my first post would be pictures unveiling huge boxes of soon-to-be bacon and describing the mouth watering ways I would convert it into bacon, but my pork belly order has yet to arrive. It was supposed to leave Iowa on Monday, August 21 and get here in Illinois the following day. It’s now Wednesday, August 30 and the magical box of pork belly has yet to appear. I’m hoping for the best and a call to the farmer did reassure me.

In the meantime, this delay gives us the chance to cover some background info. I’ve been a DBA for 15 years and met Bob working together at Morningstar. But you are here for the bacon, so let’s focus on that. Roughly 9 years ago, my dad cleaned out and welded an old oil drum into a smoker and presented it to my husband for a Christmas present. We joked that it was the largest smoker in our Chicago suburb. It’s huge and we could smoke 4 turkeys at once on it. My husband used it a lot and I assisted.

My Smoker

When my husband died, I ignored the smoker for a good year. I had plenty of other things to manage and it wasn’t on my radar. I finally resurfaced and started using it again for the customary brisket, hams and ribs.

About 4 years ago, I had an epiphany. I wanted to smoke something different and I decided to try bacon. I was surprised how easy it was and how much better it tasted than store bought. You just put the bacon in the cure, let it sit for a week and then cook it to about 140 degrees. That’s it. So simple and so much better than the stuff you get from Oscar Meyer.

At some point in my bacon adventures, I started researching heritage hog breeds and that lead me to the following article in the New York Times about the work Carl Blake was doing establishing a heritage hog farm in Iowa.  The description of the pork was mouth watering.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/with-iowa-swabian-hall-a-farmers-quest-for-perfect-pig.html?mcubz=1

I contacted Blake begging for a pork belly. That was about three years ago. Last week he posted on his Facebook page that he had boxes of Mangalitsa bellies for sale. If you’ve not heard of Mangalitsa hogs, they are a Hungarian breed, rare in this country as the hogs don’t grow well in industrialized farm settings. Google “fuzzy pigs” and you’ll also learn that they are the Kobe beef of the hog world. Their high fat content means much more flavor than regular hogs and makes for excellent bacon.

Mangalitsa hog are also known as fuzzy pigs

As soon as I saw Blake’s post, I called him asking to buy 2 boxes of pork bellies. That’s 100lbs and is probably excessive but I’ve waited three years to get a chance to do this.

Knowing how much bacon is revered in DBA circles, I asked Bob if I could use his blog to share this bacon adventure and he obliged.  My plan is to to walk you through the entire curing and smoking process complete with photos of every step and the final product.  I hope you will stick around for the whole bacon process.

Postscript: I came home yesterday to two huge boxes on my porch. My next post will show you exactly what 100 lbs of pork belly looks like.

May 112017
 

Thank you to all who attended my session on “Passive Security for Hostile Environments” back on the 3rd of this month. I consider it an honor to be part of such a wonderful lineup. I just received my evaluations and comments, and am very happy to report that the results were extremely positive. Thank you very much to the people who took the time to rate my presentation and offer feedback, which I will include below.

I was also very surprised to hear that my session had 193 attendees, which puts it in the top five in terms of attendance – wow!

If you weren’t able to attend but would like to check it out, a recording is now available.

My slide deck is available for download on the 24 Hours of PASS site.

Demo scripts and other resources are available here.

Feedback

Sessions were evaluated based on four questions, and I received 78 total responses.

  1. How would you rate this session overall?
    Excellent: 60    Good: 18     Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  2. How would you rate the speakers’ presentation skills?
    Excellent: 64     Good: 13     Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  3. How would you rate the speakers’ knowledge of the subject?
    Excellent: 71      Good: 6      Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  4. Did you learn what you expected to learn from this session?
    Agree: 67     Somewhat Agree: 7     Neutral: 3     Somewhat Disagree: 0     Disagree: 0

I also received the following comments:

  • excellent demos and real deep dive into the details of each area he covered.
  • Your demo scenarios were very effective in showing the strengths and weaknesses of each option. Well done.
  • great use of demos!
  • Thank you!
  • Great presentation. Good demos – be great to get a copy of the scripts.
  • I had a lot of familiarity with DDL/DML triggers and Event Notifications. There were some new aspects you showed that I had not considered. Impersonation, for instance. Policy based management is something I haven’t used, but have read about. The session helped reinforce what I’ve learned in the past. Slide decks are great. But I prefer live demos and the code. You had a good, complementary mix of both.
  • Wow, this was incredibly good! So well organized. You covered a lot of territory.
  • Great overview of the different tech
  • Very clear explanations and demos, great pace for a webinar. Packed full of useful examples for real projects. Thank you!

 

Nov 042015
 

I had a beyond amazing week at SQL Saturday Portland and PASS Summit, but now it’s back to reality. Time to catch up on sleep, return to the daily grind of work, and enjoy the comforts of home. Gotta sort through all those photos, start counting down the 51 weeks until the next Summit (PASS has a countdown clock up on their site!) and start thinking about which sessions to submit when the call for speakers opens in a few short months.

In past years I’ve given a play-by-play of things I did, but there’s so much that goes on that week that writing it up properly would be way too long of a post. I’ll keep it simpler this time around and stick to just a few thoughts.

An annual milestone

PASS Summit is one of my milestones of the year. It automatically triggers thinking back to the previous one and then realizing that another year has gone by and wow, I’m older. As I think about it, it’s a lot like Christmas: something I look forward to all year where I get to have a wonderful time with family. Yes, it’s #sqlfamily instead of blood relatives, but there’s also the bonus of not having to take that family photo where Grandma makes everyone stand in the exact same spot every year. (I’m not kidding, we have these going back to 1990.)

Great advice: sleep when you get home

As attendees in one session were told: “If you’re going back to your hotel at 6pm, you’re doing it wrong. Hotels are for basic hygiene and *some* sleep. Other than that, get out, do things, and meet people.” I didn’t hear that advice my first year, but I’m so glad I had already met so many people on Twitter before I arrived 4 years ago. By the time I got to Seattle, I already had plenty of contacts that knew better than to let me get a good night’s sleep!

Wifi connections

In the past, wifi at the summit hasn’t been all that dependable. With 5000+ people, most of whom are carrying multiple devices, it’s not hard to understand why. This year, however, it was rock solid. I got kicked off the network exactly once, and I’m pretty sure it was my own fault. Whatever PASS did to make things so reliable this time, thank you very much!

Non-wifi connections

Connect. Share. Learn. This has been PASS’ motto for quite a while. We do it all year long in chapter meetings, SQL Saturdays, virtual chapters, and on social media. What makes the summit special to me is that it’s so much bigger than any of those things, and no computer is necessary. You can meet people in person. Shake their hand. Give them a hug. Give them a really big hug if you haven’t seen them in a while. There’s amazing learning to be had in the sessions, but for me the real learning has always taken place outside of presentations. Getting to know people. Finding out what they enjoy doing when they’re not working. Making new friendships and strengthening existing ones. It always amazes me how much we all have in common, regardless of what we do or where we come from. I took my own advice more this year than ever before. Yes, that means I spent less time attending sessions and more time connecting with people. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

Try something new

As many ways as PASS Summit is the same every year, I try to make it different each time as well. Last year was my first time taking the #sqltrain from Portland to Seattle, an add-on that was so much fun I didn’t have to think twice about doing it again. This time around I did a few new things, including attending different types of sessions. Hardcore SQL Server internals porn is great, and while I still got my fix in that department, I also attended some professional development and business intelligence sessions. I got to see how handsome and witty Mark Vaillancourt is when presenting, and as an added bonus his movie-themed session used my favorite clip from The Wizard of Oz. (Click that link – it’s really neat!)

I also got outside of my comfort zone this year and was more of an active participant in SQL Karaoke instead of just being a member of the audience. This took some careful prodding, but I’m glad I was persuaded. (I’ll be even more glad if no evidence of this ever surfaces…)

No regrets

Of course there’s no regrets. In all honesty, the only regret I’ve ever had in terms of PASS Summit is not attending sooner. I wish this could be my 6th or 7th year instead of my 4th. But I know there’s plenty of people who haven’t been to one, let alone four. I’m extremely fortunate in that sense.

The perfect photo

I’m always searching for the single perfect photo to sum up an event or era of my life. My 2013 PASS Summit Wrap-Up used what I consider to be the perfect picture representing my high school years: a huge group of my friends getting together in my parents’ basement. I’ve always loved getting people together to have a good time. PASS Summit is way more people, and a lot of times you’ll find us in a much larger basement, but the essence is the same.

More often than not, the perfect photo isn’t a group shot. Group photos contain lots of stories, but don’t really tell a story. My favorite photo from all 5 years of college marching band is a seemingly random picture taken by my father 11 years ago this weekend. It’s of my best friend from college and I playing in the stands. It’s a cold November day, but you’d never know that by looking at the bandos. The sun perfectly captures the reddish Illini orange of our capes, as well as a few of the flaws of our uniform. My gloves are on my shoulder because pockets were difficult to get to. Her cape is reinforced with a safety pin because they were too heavy for buttons alone to support. Campus buildings can be seen off in the distance, and the football game is nowhere to be found. (The Fighting Illini weren’t all that great that year…or any year after my first, for that matter.)

A perfect photo for this or any year’s PASS Summit? I’m not sure I have one. There’s so many things going on with so many wonderful people. Also, perfect photos tend to become more apparent after-the-fact. This is a chapter of my life that’s still ongoing, with plenty more people to meet, experiences to share, and memories to make. In that sense, I hope this perfect photo hasn’t been taken yet.