Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Des Moines Regatta

From September 2011

This Saturday I was in two rowing races during the Des Moines Regatta.  In the morning, I rowed port in a novice mixed 8 with the crew that I have been practicing with on Saturdays. In the afternoon, I rowed starboard in a men's four that I had never rowed with.  Last week we practiced the race course in our lineup and cruised.  Our speed was enough that our cox felt like we could totally win it.  We had few problems and our timing and balance were good.  For practices we have been using the older, heavier, wider fiberglass and wood boats.  For the race, because we were doing so well, our cox arranged for us to get a carbon fiber sliver of a boat named Caliente.

From September 2011

The day of the race we had to row up from the dock a couple of miles to the start before the race.  Conditions really were perfect.  Cool, flat water. The mist rose up in thin tendrils from the river.  The sun was warm, but the air cool.  We wore our jackets rowing up, but it was comfortable in shirtsleeves once we warmed up.  The boat was light and thin.  Carrying it to the river was a breeze.  As soon as I started putting my oar in I could feel though how tippy it was.  When we were all in and pushed away from the dock, we all felt it as minute adjustments on one side buried the oars on the other side.  We had some trouble getting back in rhythm and keeping the balance on the way up, but as we rowed past the park and under the bridge it felt good.  We turned, chatted with the boat behind us in the lineup and got ready to go.

Then, it all fell apart.  The stroke seat sets the timing of the boat and he immediately got his oar stuck in the current.  It whipped behind him and he had to lay down and pull it back.  Then it happened again.  And again.  We got into a decent pace, but never really recovered.  The boat behind us passed us easily and we struggled to keep the boat balanced, tending to list to port, which made the stroke's ability to keep control of his oar worse.  So we lost.  Not horribly - 26 minutes for the course, but in practice we were almost 5 minutes faster.

I had the best cheer squad along the river though!

From September 2011

The afternoon race was with the same guy in stroke, we also had never rowed together, and we were in a different boat then planned.  The original boat actually sank during the women's race earlier in the day; so we dusted off an antique hanging from the ceiling and hefted it down to the river.  My seat was broken.  The footstretchers had odd leather straps instead of shoes that were held in place with ties that no one figured out. The whole boat creaked and groaned with every stroke.  To make it worse, our stroke was still nervous from the morning where his oar seemed intent on knocking him out of the boat, so he was very timid.  The guy behind him overcompensated pushing with all his might and veering the boat each time.  We were late getting to the start and then disqualified for basically rowing very badly.

Rowing back, we changed the person sitting in the stroke position and taped our feet in.  I kept my seat in the rails, and we were a creaky, but smooth boat.  We easily passed the boats ahead of us and slid along the dock, but it didn't matter by then since we were exhausted and out of the race.

A total blast though.  There were hundreds of people competing, from colleges around the Midwest and community clubs like ours. In the morning I helped unpack 4 bushel boxes of bananas by the registration booth along with 3 boxes of apples and a table of muffins.  I thought there couldn't possibly be enough people to eat all of that.  It was gone by 7:30.  The crowd was much larger than I expected, with lots of cheering and music.  It has been the highlight of my summer and I have had so much fun.

I can remember seeing a boat like these in Boise when I was walking home from school one day and wishing I could try one out. I put it on my "bucket" list, and it was awesome to be able to try.  Next year our crew has committed to practicing together again and plan on practicing on the carbon fiber boat and will be quite competitive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The pickle experiment

My attempt at making senf gerkin was a failure.

From September 2011

When we looked at the jars and realized that the pickles inside were translucent and soft, Emily and I decided to try an experiment to test what we did wrong.  The recipe called for heating the cucumber slices in the brine/syrup/vinegar prior to sealing in jars.  Our hypothesis was that excessive heat cooked the cucumbers to mush.  Emily was my scribe for the treatments. So we tested 5 methods with the same brine/syrup/vinegar and an additional brine with the leftover cucumber slices:

  1. The original recipe, cooking the cucumber slices in the brine, and then sealing the jars in a boiling water bath.
  2. Adding boiling brine to cold cucumbers and then sealing in the jars in a boiling water bath, letting the cucumbers sit in the hot brine prior to sealing.
  3. The same as 2., but immediate transfer to boiling water bath..
  4. Adding boiling brine, but no boiling water bath to seal the jars
  5. Cold brine, no boiling water bath
  6. I had some cucumber slices left so I made a different brine recipe for refrigerator pickles.
From September 2011

Emily made daily observations of the jars and recorded details of the pickling process for each treatment.  One of the jars from treatment three burst in the rolling water bath.  After two days all of the jars tops were sealed, even treatments 5 and 6 which were not sealed in the water bath.  Only when the cucumbers were heated in the brine and then sealed, treatment 1, look like jars of gloop.  Treatment 2 is intermediate between 3 and 4.  Five is definitely the whitest.

 The original recipe called for 2 weeks of pickling prior to opening the jars. I considered opening each of the jars and having a taste test today, but then what are we to do with all of the open jars but throw the leftovers away?  So for conclusions of taste and texture we will have to wait until we have tried each one.  Emily has kept her notes and wants to record our observations when we open each.

Our preliminary conclusions support our hypothesis and suggest that our previous mushy pickles from two years ago had the same problem: excessive heat.  The brine and vinegar really are all that is needed to preserve the pickles, but sealing the jars with a rolling water bath certainly reassure me that they won't rot over the months between pickling and eating.  So, the cucumbers should be kept on ice until the moment they are added to the brine in the jars and sealed.  That way the heat of the canner won't have as much time to seep into the cold cucumbers.  They probably don't need very long in the canner either.

Update:  As I was cleaning up I opened the refrigerator pickles (treatment 5 and 6).  Nice and crunchy.  Touch of sweetness, but still tangy. They reminded me of the summer quick pickles I make with vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Work in Progress Weekend

Leila each week posts her "Work in Progress Wednesday" on her quilt blog.  It is linked to her other online quilt friends' blogs so they can cheer each other on.  Pretty good idea really. Here are some of the things the kids and I have in progress:

Senf Gherkin:
 My neighbor has been telling this last month I have the perfect cucumbers for senf gherkin, i.e over-ripe yellow monsters.  They look pretty good so far. I have never been a big fan of sweet pickles, but these have enough vinegar that I think they will be pretty good.

 Our monster yellow cucumbers next to Mike's perfect green ones.

 Kate helping me freeze green peppers from the garden

 Aleah sewing with the machine that Leila bought from the garage sale.

 I still need to paint my container I built for my work truck.  I have a bunch of safety supplies and things I bring with me to work and I got sick of them rolling out from under the seat.

 Here is the view from the side

I still haven't stained the benches I made for the Cook's visit.