Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Found out this morning that I did not make the culinary competition team. I had a blast and actually learned quite a bit doing it so no worries; I'll know more about what to expect when I try out again next year.

The chef in charge of the program is the instructor for a class I had this afternoon, and he talked to me about it some. He said they were actually very impressed with what I cooked, and I surprised them with it.  They weren't expecting a dish like that, especially from a first-year student with no real training yet.  He told me that I was 4th in line to be picked (there were only 3 spots open), so I missed it by one. So I guess if one of the people drops from the team then I could be flagged as a replacement.

Was kinda cool to hear that I managed to surprise (in a good way) all the chef judges.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


The Hot Food Team Tryout was pretty cool. I was fairly nervous going in since I’ve only been a culinary student for all of 2 weeks now and had never done anything remotely similar to this before. But I didn’t let those kind of thoughts bog me down. When my allotted start time came, I went to my station, took a deep breath to clear my head, and got to work.

The first thing we had to do was show our knife skills. We had to julienne 2oz of potatoes, create 2 tourne potatoes, and peel and segment an orange (with a knife so the pieces looked fancy). The juliennes aren’t super difficult, but cutting them all the same and to the required size is harder than it sounds. They have to be cut to ⅛ x ⅛ x 2 inch pieces; roughly the size of a small wooden matchstick. Mine ended up a little bigger than that, but I tried to keep them as consistent as possible so they’d all at least look the same.

(None of the below pics are mine, I didn't have a camera with me. I gleaned these pics from the web)

Julienne Potatoes

I’ve never peeled and segmented an orange with a knife before starting school, but turns out I’m pretty good at it. Takes a steady hand so you don’t cut too deeply into the orange when peeling it, and even steadier when slicing out the segments. You have to slice down between the thin membranes of the individual pieces to get a good looking piece, so it’s easy to frak it up if you’re not careful. Mine came out very nice though.

Segmenting an Orange

The big cutting skill is the tourne. You have to end up with a potato that’s 2 inches long, oval in shape (with flat ends), and has 7 distinct sides to it. Picture a barrel shape and you’ll have a better idea of the final figure. It takes a bit of finesse to get it right and the finished product is a fancy looking little potato slice. I’ve been practicing them all week and managed to turn out 2 that looked good enough for government work, so I was happy.


Once the knife skills portion was done I moved onto the cooking phase. We got to pick what we made beforehand from either an appetizer, entrée, or a dessert. I was the only person who picked a dessert, and it was something I sort of threw together from a mix of 3 other recipes I had. It doesn’t have an official name but it was a blend of baked apples slices, roasted sweet potatoes, candied walnuts, a balsamic vinegar glaze (technically a gastrique), and a fried sage leaf as a decoration to top it off. We had to make 2 plates, one they could examine and another they could taste. It all came together nicely (except for the glaze, which was a little too thick) and I put it on the judges table for them to critique.

They seemed to be intrigued by it and the majority of their comments were positive. They liked its flavor profile and said it had a good combination of texture to it. While they thought it might be a little small portionwise to be a full-fledged dessert, it would work great as a palette cleanser before a super sweet dessert course, or be a great accompaniment to something like lamb chops. Overall they seemed happy with it, and that made all the work I’d put into it worth it. And I had fun doing it.

11 of us tried out for 3 spots on the team and we’ll find out next week sometime who made the cut. It’d be super cool if I make the team and can start getting myself ready to do this on a more serious scale. If I don’t make it then that’s cool too; I’ll focus on my classes and honing my skills and try again next year. Either way, I had great fun doing this and am very glad I stuck my neck out there and did it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Week 1

Just completed my first full week of classes and it’s been a bit of a blur; tons of information and old-yet-new experiences thrown at me from all sides: syllabi and class projects; building layouts and professors’ personalities; eating lunch in the car and being surrounded by people half my age. It’s great!

It’s a little overwhelming but I think I’m starting to get a feel for the rhythm each class is taking on and how I’ll need to allot my time to get everything done. I did end up dropping my Psychology class in order to free up some time on Wednesdays and Fridays though. It felt like things were a bit too cluttered and I would be pressed for time since the culinary classes are going to require a substantial amount of commitment outside of normal class hours. No worries though, I’ll take it later down the road and enjoy it then.

Even though I’m just getting started with all this, I’ve already learned quite a bit. They taught several classical knife cuts this week, and I think I did pretty well with them. It’ll obviously take many, many hours of practice to get them all perfect but it should be fun. Next week we turn the stoves and ovens on and get to dive right into things even deeper…can’t wait.

I did do something a little crazy: I signed up to try out for their competition team. This is the team that trains hours and hours each week (in addition to their normal classes) in order to goto regional, state, and national level competitions to prove how good they are. They’ve made it to the national level competitions the last 6 years or so, and even won the national title in ’07. (I believe it was ’07 that they won…don’t quote me on the exact year though)

So even though I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing, I’ll be in the kitchen next Friday night cooking up a dessert dish for the culinary school chefs to critique(all of whom own or have owned their own restaurants, and some have competed at national/international levels for decades). It’s very daunting and I’m extremely nervous about the whole thing, but I figured what the hell. New Me has decided to walk this new path, might as well do it up right. No regrets. At the very least it’ll be a cool experience.

And if I somehow pull off the underdog thing and actually make it, what better way to become a good chef than by competing against the best students in the country.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Worries

Tomorrow I’ll be a full-time student again, for the first time in over 15 years. And I’m surprised at how calm I am about it.

The biggest things I’ve been thinking about are how hot I’m going to be in my culinary costume, and where to strategically park the car between class buildings to minimize walking and carrying of books. My books and kitchen supplies weigh in at 30lbs, so I’m trying to find ways to lighten the load by leaving some books in the car and switching them out between classes. On the AT having 30lbs on my back meant I was carrying enough food and supplies to survive for a week in the woods. Now it equates to a single day’s worth of books. Funny that.

The old me would have been a bundle of nerves about all this. Worrying about being the “old guy” in the class and what people would think. Anxious about doing something so different than what I’m used to doing. Nervous about failing and letting myself down.

But I’m not any of that anymore. I’m ready for this, and I’m excited about the possibilities of it all. I’m doing life differently this time around. I’m going to have fun and do something that I enjoy.

And hopefully I’ll get to eat some really good food along the way.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Visualize It

What the Gulf oil spill would look like if it were in Asheville. Click to make bigger.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Random Ridgeline

Date: April 1, 2010
Destination: Random Ridgeline above Hot Springs
Sleeping location: Tent
Daily miles: 8.0

Another perfect day weather-wise. It might have actually been a touch too hot, my forehead and face feel sunburnt.

The coolest thing today happened about a third of the way up Bluff Mountain. There was a small clearing about a hundred yards from the Trail & a jeep was parked there with people milling about. I looked closer and it looked to be an archaeological digsite of some sort. Very, very nifty! I should have stopped to chat with them but I kept going up the mountain instead.

Had lunch today sitting on a rock at the top of Bluff Mountain. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful spot. It was a fun climb up and well worth the effort.

The worst thing today was an error on my trail map. I got to where I'd planned on stopping earlier than anticipated, and since my map showed a tiny knob with only a 140ft elevation gain ahead, I decided to push on for another 30mins or so. 2 hours & much higher than 140ft later, I finally reached the top. Guess that was my "April Fools" for the day.

I'm camped tonight on a ridgeline just on the other side of this unnamed mointain. Pulled an 8.0 mile day today, and man does everything hurt. Should make it to Hot Springs tomorrow.

Walnut Mountain Shelter

Date: March 31, 2010
Destination: Walnut Mountain Shelter
Sleeping location: Tent
Daily miles: 4.9

Woke up this morning with a thick frost on the tent. It was a cold one last night.

Got off to a late start this morning, but that was according to plan. The next shelter was just under 5 miles away so I knew it would be a short day. I took my time and enjoyed the journey today.

Once the sun came up and defrosted everything the day was perfect. Not too warm or cold, and the spring sun shone in a cloudless sky. Wonderful day to be in the woods.

I'm camped on a small ridge above the shelter tonight. I tried to position the tent so it'll catch the earliest rays of the morning sun, just in case it's frigid again this evening.

Roaring Fork Gap Shelter

Date: March 30, 2010
Destination: Roaring Fork Gap Shelter
Sleeping location: Tent
Daily miles: 1.8

Due to several recent happenings it's going to be a rather short section hiking journey this time. No worries though, even a little bit of the AT is better than none at all.

BigFoot dropped me off at Max Patch this evening after he got off work, so I booked it to Roaring Fork Gap Shelter before it got dark. Only a 1.8 mile day, but a good start nonetheless. It's looking to be a chilly evening but tomorrow's weather is supposed to be amazing so a bit of cold tonight will be worth it.

It feels utterly fantastic to be back on the AT again, even for a short time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plan B

I should have realized Plan A never quite materializes for me.

Instead of tomorrow, I'll be hitting the Trail next Saturday, on March 27th. Which coincidentally is 1 year to the day of my starting date last year.

That's what I like to call a Sign.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Other than large amounts of time spent waiting, the dental thing went pretty well the other day. Several of my teeth are in rough shape and are going to need a considerable amount of dentist’s attention. Which comes as no real shock to me. Per my customary habit of procrastination, I’ve avoided anything resembling a dentist for quite a number of years. But a lifetime of poor brushing & flossing habits, an overly sugary diet (damn those tasty soft drinks), 15 years of smoking cigarettes, and a long genetic history of brittle teeth (thanks Dad) have finally taken their toll.

It’s going to be a bit before I can get anything done though. They’re booked until mid-May and I can’t get an appointment any earlier. Of course if something happens like another toothache or infection before May, then they can work me in earlier. But otherwise it’ll be roughly 2 months before I go back. There’s no way around it though, I’ve avoided my toothy problems for far too long. Which adds a rather large twist to my previous plan.

Initially I had intended to get dropped off at Max Patch and continue my trek of the AT this Spring-Summer. I briefly thought about starting the whole thing over again from Springer Mtn in Georgia, but that thought didn’t last very long. The 250 miles I’ve already done aren’t much in the entire 2,200-ish mile length of the AT, but I’d rather not do them again right now. That technically makes me a section-hiker at this point, but I’m cool with that. Hike your own Hike, and all. But I now have 3 dental appointments scheduled from May 18th-June15th that can’t be skipped…so the hiking logistics require a bit more than a “start here and go north for as far as I can” strategy.

With all three appointments spaced out like they are, I’ll be off the Trail for about 3-4 weeks. The first two appointments are within days of each other but there’s a 2½ week span of time between the last two. I figure I’ll want a few days of recovery time after all the toothwork, so that leaves me with roughly 2 weeks of lost hiking time. Two weeks that I’d rather not lose. Since I’m lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of several places where the AT crosses roads, I came up with a tentatively modified plan:

Instead of starting where I stopped last year at Max Patch, I’m going to skip ahead 75 miles or so to a little place called Spivey Gap, near Erwin, TN, and start there. I’ll go as far as I can from this Saturday ‘til just before my first appointment in mid-May, and then head back home. Then in the 2 weeks I have between appointments, I’ll do the stretch from Max Patch to Spivey Gap and head back home again. Once the final appointment is over I’ll hop back on where I stopped initially and continue from there.

So for a timeline of sorts:

  • Springer to Max Patch…Last Year
  • Max Patch to Spivey Gapskip for now
  • Spivey Gap to “As Far As I Can Go”…March 20, 2010 to Mid-May, 2010
  • ---Icky dental stuff happens here---
  • Max Patch to Spivey Gap2 week downtime
  • ---More icky dental stuff---
  • “As Far As I Went Before” to Katahdin…Early June 2010 to whenever

It makes it kind of a hodge-podge hike instead of a single straight shot, but it’ll add an unusual spin to things. And I tend to like things on the unusual side anyway.

Slotting 2 weeks to do the 75 mile stretch from Max Patch to Spivey Gap may seem like a generous estimate but there are several factors involved in that time frame.

  1. I’m a “smell the roses” type of hiker, so I tend to go slower than the usual AT-autobahn that many hikers seem to be on (not that there’s anything wrong with that…Hike your own Hike).
  2. The stretch of the AT between Hot Springs and Erwin is notorious for being on the strenuous side. Quite a few of the books and journals I’ve read cite Erwin, TN as a place where many hopeful AT hikes come to an end due to injuries. I want to be able to take my time and not hurt any body part I may need later. I don’t want this year to end like last year.
  3. After all the initial dental work I may not feel like doing much besides resting anyway.

So slotting 2 weeks for it seems like a good idea to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Concrete is Cold

It's 5:15 in the morning and I'm sitting on a cold concrete curb in a parking lot. I'm here because I have a toothache but I don't have dental insurance. Even if I did it's notoriously bad for only covering 10-20% of costs anyway, so odds are good I might be here regardless.

I'm sitting outside the division of the local Health Department that covers adult dental care, and I'm not alone. They only see 6 new patients per day, so if you want affordable care you gotta get here early. I'm person #5 sitting outside waiting for them to open, and #6 just walked up and got in line behind me. The first person in line has been here since 3:00 am! I wonder how many people will show up and not get a spot this morning.

They open in 3 hours so it's going to be an interesting wait. I brought a book to pass the time but it's a bit hard to read by street light, so it's purely a waiting game at this point. I haven't spent too many mornings sitting in a parking lot watching the sun come up.

At least it's not raining.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Arrested Development

Frozen chocolate covered bananas on a stick.

I'm sure they're tasty but there's just something that's not quite right about them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Run for the Border

Went on a "let's get out of the house" road trip today. Did a few random things around Asheville, then hopped on I-26 and went north. There's a couple inches of snow on the ground pretty much everywhere, from the snowfall yesterday.

Karen Wynne had one thing right about today though, it was bitterly cold with that wind blowing.

Ended up crossing the border into Tennessee for a bit and the snow started really picking up. Managed to get some decent shots of the area though. Very pretty there.

I-26, N of Asheville

I-26, N of Asheville

I-26, N of Asheville

This is the highest bridge in North Carolina, and it has built-in de-icing capability. Little nozzles automatically spray out de-icing stuff so people don't go careening into this peaceful little valley below in the winter time.

I-26, N of Asheville

Test Post

This is a test post to see how this works and looks from the phone.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lake Powhatan

I went for a little walking hike around Lake Powhatan and Bent Creek yesterday. The weather was a little on the chilly side but once I got moving the chill actually felt pretty good. I’d never been to the Lake Powhatan area before and was pleasantly surprised by it. The Lake was very cool and peaceful and it had loads of biking and hiking trails crisscrossed around.

The bit of Bent Creek I saw there was cool too. There was an old mill in the area back in the day and you can still see some of the masonry flume walls around. Also saw a link from a very old chain slowly rusting away in a spring leading into the creek, so that was cool. Love finding little bits of the past in unexpected places like that.

Today’s already started out dreary and the next couple of days are supposed to be the same, so the plan is to stay inside and putter around the house wasting time. Should be easy for me to do.

Making a big meaty beef stew in the crock pot too, so at lest there’s something good to look forward to on a cold wintry day like today.

Lake Powhatan


Monday, January 18, 2010


It was raining when I got up on Saturday morning and continued on and off over the day. And since I felt like I was fighting off the beginning of a cold, I decided to turn it into a marathon TV type of weekend.

When I left for the Trail last spring, I missed out on the second half of Lost. I was able to see enough of the early season to know they were going to whip the storyline all over the time-space continuum, but I never knew how it ended. So recently a friend loaned me a copy of the entire season, and I spent the weekend catching up on all of the episodes.

I’ve talked about it before, but one of my all-time biggest annoyances is spoilers. Of any kind. Telling me what’s going to happen in something I haven’t seen or read or experienced before is a quick and almost sure-fire way to piss me off. So on the tiny possibility that some random surfer happens to wander by here and read my ramblings hasn’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil it for you.

I will say this though: Loved it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ice Water

Didn’t accomplish much this weekend; it was too cold to do much more than stay in and try to keep warm. I did head out for a bit on a random drive Saturday afternoon. Drove towards the Blue Ridge Parkway (it’s closed due to winter weather though) and ended up driving south along the French Broad River towards Brevard.

Just as I went under the Parkway, I drove by a small park along the river and noticed something odd. There were trees leaning over along the bank with the tips of their branches dangling in the water, and everywhere they touched there was a white patch of ice. It looked kinda cool from the car so later when I turned around, I decided to stop at the park on my way back home.

It ended up being one of those things that you randomly do on a random drive that became the memory that makes the day special.

Not only was there ice formed on the tree branches, it was covering everything near the bank. It had formed in these cool ripple shapes from the water moving over it, and even had a layer of snow on it in places. I didn’t get many pics since I didn’t have any gloves and the wind was gusting constantly, driving the temps well below 0 ºF. In the few minutes it took to snap a dozen or so pics, my hands were burning they were so cold.

Very, very glad I stopped though.

All the pics are here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


So I finally made it out to see "Avatar" this afternoon. I've seen previews for it for a while now but it wasn't really one of those "must see" movies for me. It looked cool and all, but I wasn't so sure the plot would be anything I haven't seen before, and the 3D aspect of it gave me second thoughts. But my life is completely SciFi-free and has been for a while, so I needed a hit in a bad way.

No spoilers so...overall I'll say that it was an ok movie. It satisfied my SciFi needs (for a bit). I'd give it 3 out of 5; 'bout in the middle of things.

$7 for a matinee, plus $3.50 "surcharge" for the 3D effects kinda sucked ass though. It's no wonder movie theatres are doing so poorly.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcome to the Future

When I was growing up, the year 2010 sounded made up. A lot of people were hung up on the year 2000 being the big one, what with the whole millennium thing and all. But for me it was always 2010 that did it. Not only would 2000 have already happened in this future world, but it would have been a whole decade later!

It sounded like it was impossibly far into the future to actually be a real year someday. Plus look at it; the number itself just looks odd. Never in my wildest dreams (at age 8ish or so) did I think I’d someday been living in 2010. The 80s sure, and the 90s were kind of believable, but the year 2010? No way man.

Guess I need a new year to see as being far off in Future World now. How’s 2050 sound?

Maybe I'll be driving my hover car on the moon by then.