Mar 122018
 

I think one of the reasons I like computers is that they’re so much easier to deal with than people. They’re predictable, emotions never get in the way, and there’s always a logical explanation for everything if you dig deep enough. All that being said, I am grateful for my hobbies that don’t involve sitting in front of a computer all day. Thinking through the things I enjoy in my spare time, three central themes that seem to keep popping up are art, architecture, and railroads. Here’s two examples of that:

Turner Family Christmas Cards

The University of Illinois will always be a special place to both me and my family. I graduated from there, was a proud member of the marching band, and got my start in public speaking there. It’s also the place where I met my wife, and to top things off we were married on campus. We have plenty of Illinois memrobilia of varying degrees of rarity, but the collection I’m most proud of is something so obscure that most Illini fans won’t even know they exist.

Fred Turner spent nearly 50 years of his life at the University of Illinois, beginning as a student in 1918, and ending with his retirement in 1966 as the university’s first Dean of Students. Turner loved Illinois and its history, and in 1946 he and his wife, Betty, decided to highlight these topics in Christmas cards they sent to their friends and family. Turner had recently picked up the Japanese art of woodblock printing, and decided to share it by creating a hand-carved woodblock print of a historical site in Illinois each year as the cover of their Christmas card. For an extra tie to campus, the blocks for printmaking were carved from wood salvaged from one of the University’s earliest buildings. They printed 260-275 by hand at their kitchen table each year until 1974.

The cards contain a main image on the front, a brief description and Christmas message from the Turners on the inside, and a fact sheet with more information on the historical building or site chosen. Here’s what they are like:

Turner Christmas Cards
I can only imagine that most of these cards have been lost to a combination of time and people just not knowing what they are. I know of only two complete sets of all 29 cards. As for my own collection, I’ve got a long way to go – I only have three. I found my first one five years ago, and have only come across two more since. Our trips to Central Illinois frequently involve trips to flea markets and antique shops, and now you know exactly what I look for.

If you’re curious to see what more of these cards look like, the university archives has a website showing cards from different years.

Railroad Photography

I’m guessing you’ve never heard of O. Winston Link. He was a civil engineer by degree and a photographer by trade, who in 1955 undertook a personal side project which would end up becoming his life’s work. The Norfolk and Western Railway was the last major railroad in the United States to still use steam locomotives at that point, and Link obtained full permission from their president to photograph the last days of the steam era on their railroad, primarily in Virginia and West Virginia coal country. He was even given a key to the railroad’s switch boxes, allowing him to phone dispatchers to obtain exact arrival and departure times for trains and, occasionally, the ability to request a train be held so a photo could be taken at a particular moment.

Hawksbill Creek Swimming Hole. Luray, VA. August 9, 1956.

Link’s photos were not ad-hoc snapshots in any way. The majority of them were taken at night (making him one of the first to popularize nighttime photography), and illuminated by enormous flash arrays he built himself. Link said that not only did nighttime photos romanticize the trains further, but steam locomotive smoke appears white, and therefore not dirty, when lit by flash. Utilizing his background in advertising and marketing photography, his photos were carefully composed to tell a story, and almost always incorporate people to add a humanizing element.

I wish I could tell you I collect his photos, but that’s not possible. I can only afford to be an enthusiast. Original prints typically sell for thousands of dollars at auction. I do own all of his books, which are absolutely beautiful. The tales he tells in black and white are richer than anything I could ever imagine in color.

Link lived in relative obscurity, his photos were popular with railfans but didn’t start to gain mainstream popularity until decades later. You won’t find many photos of him – he preferred to stay behind the camera, but he did have a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite movies, October Sky. If you’ve never seen that movie, add it to your list!

I like to say that if you watch October Sky, and you recognize the train engineer to be O. Winston Link, you’re really smart and observant. But if you’re a true rail nerd, you’ll also know that the locomotive he’s driving is a 2-8-2 “Mikado” #4501, which was actually owned by the Southern Railway and painted to be a Norfolk & Western engine just for the movie. The N&W never used 2-8-2 locomotives.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading about my hobbies. I promise to return to my regularly scheduled technobabble in short order.

This month we celebrate the 100th edition of T-SQL Tuesday, originally created by Adam Machanic back in November 2009. Adam had asked us to write about what topics we might be covering 100 months into the future. I’m not good at predicting the future, but in the spirit of time travel, I am going one month into the past and writing about last month’s topic which was hosted by Aaron Bertrand.

Sep 072017
 

by @WidowPage

I’ve made red wine bacon before and it’s become one of my favorites.  It’s not something you would eat for breakfast, but it goes so well into many recipes.  Here’s my list:

Grilled Peach and Bacon Salad

Spaghetti with Beef and Bacon

Chicken Bacon Flatbread

Mushroom Bacon Casserole

It’s also great in stews and coq au vin and it’s amazing in beef bourguignon.

One other thing: Until you get a chance to try bacon that isn’t mass-produced, you don’t realize how much flavor real bacon has.  Producers like Oscar Meyer inject their bacon with water because they sell it by the pound.  Water is a cheap way for them to bring their bacon up to the weight on the package.  When you taste bacon that hasn’t been watered down, your taste buds will be surprised.

So let’s go.  I found this recipe here.  For every pound of pork belly, you will need:

1 1/2 tsp Morton’s kosher salt
1/2 tsp curing salt #1 (sometimes called Pink salt #1 or Prague salt #1)
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp of brown sugar
2 tbsp of garlic powder
1/2 cups red wine (don’t use expensive wine)

I adjusted my recipe to the size of my pork belly and I was short on the Kosher salt so I substituted some of the Himalayan salt.  See my post on salts as you do NOT want to make substitutions for the curing salt.

Put all of that into a plastic bag.  Make sure you double bag it because it will inevitably leak in your fridge.

And that’s all you gotta do.  Put it in your fridge and then flip it over daily so the cure gets a chance to soak into the belly.

Sep 062017
 

by @WidowPage

Thank you so much for sticking with me but this is when the bacon gets really good!   I got this recipe from here.

Let’s start with a gratuitous pork belly photo.

It’s a nice piece of belly. It’s earned a bourbon cure. Use the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of bourbon, divided
  • 1/2 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp curing salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder


Now the recipe calls for brushing the bourbon on the pork belly before combining it with the dry ingredients.  I don’t do that.  I pour ALL THE BOURBON into a ziplock bag, add the dry ingredients and put in the belly.  Like this:

 

Pro tip:  Double bag it or else you will end up with cure dripping all over your fridge.  It will make your fridge smell good, but it is messy.

Put the belly into your fridge for 7-10 days, flipping once a day.

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.

Jun 112013
 

Yours truly, age 4, at the Illinois Railway Museum

I’ve loved trains ever since I was a little kid. I have no clue why – it goes back as long as I can remember.

From an early age, my parents fed this fascination by taking my brother and I to the Illinois Railway Museum. It’s an awesome place – the largest railway museum in the United States. They have lots of railroad equipment from a variety of eras, and many pieces operate on their demonstration railroad. It’s located in Union, Illinois, about 75 minutes Northwest of Chicago. If you’re ever looking for something to do in the area, I highly recommend it.

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending a museum trip where they chartered a CTA train made up of 2200 series cars, the oldest cars still in service on the ‘L’ system (built in 1969-70). This was a fundraiser to help purchase and transport two 2200 series cars to the museum, as the CTA will be scrapping them later this summer.

We spent the entire day (10 hours) riding around nearly the entire ‘L’ system. Our tour guides pointed out all kinds of facts about the neighborhoods and the train route. For someone like myself who loves trains and local history, it was an amazing experience.

For anyone who’s interested, I’m happy to share the photos I took. They’re all geotagged and most have lengthy comments so you’ll know what you’re looking at. Enjoy!