Thursday, August 31, 2006

Another Notch on my Gunbelt

It has been a whirlwind month. Since I last posted, I have been home for a grand total of 10 days. Quite a bit of that time has been on various business trips to places like Minneapolis where I spent 3 days in the hottest weather Minneapolis has ever had, Michigan where I did a see every relative I could see in 48 hours over the weekend before a jam packed see every dealer between Kalamazoo and Detroit 48 hours, and Dallas where I spent 3 days inside the air-conditioned comfort of the Meyerson Symphony Hall showing off our speakers to various audio consultants. Tonight, at 10:15pm, my plane touched down at Logan International Airport after three days in Lexington, KY where a colleague and I tuned the upgraded sound system for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

The sound system here is really impressive because it uses our biggest and loudest loudspeaker. These big boys get up go and what is amazing is that when they are tuned correctly they sound almost as good as home stereo speakers. I don't think I'm saying too much when I say Commonwealth Stadium now has the best sound system in the SEC. The campus police were getting phone calls from 6 miles away when we cranked Creed's "Higher". Maybe this was because we were easily achieving 110dB OUTDOORS; something really hard to do because the wind likes to blow the high frequencies away and you don't have reflections from the room to help the system get really loud. I really felt sorry for the guys working on the scoreboard opposite the scoreboard where our speakers are located because they had three solid days of pink noise and music hitting them full force. I have no idea why they kept working but when they would call down with a request, I would try and accommodate it (I drew the line when they requested Metallica but played some Hank Williams at 110dB for them). For more pictures of the sound system at University of Kentucky, for more pictures of the UoK sound system go here and Todd, over at 1000 Movies in 1 Year, HERE is a special shot I took just for you!

Tuning a sound system outdoors is actually more difficult than tuning one indoors. For one thing, depending on the wind, humidity, and air temperature (things that are more controllable indoors), the sound system can behave radically differently and not necessarily for the better. For example, yesterday it was rainy but cool. This meant that everything from about 2.5 kHz and up was really "snappy" sounding. I had to make sure the eq settings we were using weren't over compensating for the existing weather conditions because under sunny and warm conditions, using eq settings that dull down the high frequencies too much would leave a muddled mess. At the same time, I had to make things a little duller because under similar weather conditions the high frequencies would rip people's heads off, especially when the announcer screams "TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY" into the microphone.

When I wasn't turning the 68,000 seat stadium sound system into my own personal I-Pod, I was eating in some pretty fine restaurants. The best of which was Ramsey's Diner, where I had a true southern meal of chicken fried pan steak with gravy, fried green tomatoes, southern green beans, and real mashed potatoes with more gravy. I topped this fabulous meal off with a piece of their version of Kentucky Derby Pie and a milk. Good thing my hotel had day passes to the Bally's Fitness across the street, because after meals like that, I needed to run off a few more calories than just running stadium seats all day was doing.

Lexington is a really neat town but for much of the time I was in the lovely city, there were literal and figurative grey clouds hanging over the city. I flew in the day after Comair flight 5191 crashed at the Lexington airport and was checking into my hotel the same time most the members of Delta Airlines "Care Team" were checking in to the same hotel. Every morning and evening, they would huddle in the lobby and discuss what next they needed to do for the families of the victims and the lone survivor, whose wife was also staying at our hotel. There were Kentucky state police officers stationed in the parking lot and lobby because the hotel didn't want the press or people who weren't staying at the hotel hanging around. It was the first time I have ever been that close to people trying to cope with a tragedy like an airplane crash. I can't imagine the pain all those people are coping with and my thoughts were often with the victims and families during my week in Lexington.

Tonight, when I boarded my plane for my flight between Lexington and Pittsburgh, I said a little prayer for a safe flight and for the first time ever, shut my window shade during a take off so I wouldn't see the crash site as my plane lifted off from the runway and flew over where the wreckage was still scattered below. There for the grace of God go I...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #7: Boston Baked Beans

I have been traveling on business the past week and between that and the extreme heat I have to be honest, I haven't had time nor the desire to heat up the kitchen to cook for this Weekend Cookbook Challenge. In fact, it wasn't until this morning while driving in to work that it occurred to me that I had already cooked for the challenge, a little over seven months ago. Ok, I'm truncating time here it was closer to nine months ago but since the theme is lucky number seven....

Late in the winter last year, while trying to find inspiration from the contents of my pantry to cook for an earlier edition of WCC, I had found a bag of Seven Bean Soup mix that MBH's mother had sent to us several years ago. MBH isn't a big bean soup guy. In fact, MBH isn't a big anything bean guy. He's strictly a no bean dip, no hummus, light on the kidney beans in his chili type of guy. So, the soup mix had languished in the back of my pantry forgotten. The spice pack was as hard as a brick but the dried beans were just fine. We also had a ham bone in the freezer from a late fall ham dinner. Inspiration had struck, I would find an old fashioned recipe for Boston Baked Beans. As it was cold and snowy outside, I knew the long cooking time would warm the kitchen up nicely and provide a pleasant smell of brown sugar and molasses as the beans cooked. I pulled down a large glass mixing bowl and poured the beans into it to soak overnight. The combination of pinto, black, cranberry, navy, pink, small red, and blackeye beans was very pretty and colourful.

Early the next morning, I trudged to the store through snow and purchased a small picnic ham to serve for dinner with the Boston Baked Beans as well as the ingredients for Boston Brown Bread, a good hearty winter New England meal was to be enjoyed that snowy evening. Six hours later, the smell was heavenly and the recipe made enough for me to enjoy cold baked beans on toast (a good English treat) for several days after. The combination of the seven beans made for a creamy and varied texture, one that was pleasing and interesting. And now, several months later, remembering this recipe from the cold winter has provided me with some mental relief from this heat wave as well as an entry for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge #7: Lucky Number Seven.

Boston Baked Beans
Recipe adapted from McCalls Cookbook Collection: Casserole Cookbook

2 cups dried beans (recipe calls for navy/pea beans, I used the beans from a Seven Bean Soup Mix)
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 cup light molasses
2 tablespoons dry mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4lb salt pork (I used the ham bone in the freezer)

Wash the beans in cold water, place in bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight. Drain the beans and in a sauce pan combine the beans with 6 cups water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 40 minutes. Pre-heat the oven at 300 degrees. Drain the beans, reserving 2 cups liquid from beans. Place beans into large bean pot or at least 2 quart casserole dish. Mix onion, molasses, mustard, brown sugar, and reserved bean liquid. Stir into beans. Cut salt pork into 1/2 inch cubes and mix into means. Cover and bake in 300 degree oven for five to six hours. Stir every hour, if beans dry out, add 1/2 boiling water. Beans should be fork tender when finished.