Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ganache With Fresh Raspberries

Last night we were strolling through the local Farmer's Market and I found some beautiful, fresh garden raspberries from one of the local guys. They were lovely thimble sized beauties. I figured the bags of frozen berries in the freezer would keep but knew that I should get these babies into a ganache as fast as possible.

I assembled the ingredients:

1 gallon manufacturing (high butterfat content) cream
24 ounces fresh raspberries
1 1/2 pounds of sweet butter
10 pounds of 72% cocoa mass bittersweet chocolate.

Next the butter is chopped up into chunks and put on a medium flame with the cream.

The big thing here, and the main thing that sets my ganache apart from the products of others is that I do not allow the cream to boil. While it's heating I whisk it occaisionally to achieve a loose liason with the cream. If the cream were to boil that would be broken. It increases both the richness and the creamy texture of the ganache. I like it that way. It's a little harder to work with and handle but I think it's worth it.

Next I chop up the ten pounds of the chocolate.

It's a coarse chop that mainly speeds and ensures an even melt when the hot cream and butter are introduced. Ten pounds chopped looks like this:

That's a turkey roaster bottom, it's a great size and shape for this. One of the easiest mistakes to make is to not have bowls and pans large enough to allow for some vigorous mixing.

Hot cream and butter mix goes over the chopped chocolate

This is slowly and gently mixed until it gets smooth and dark and glossy and sexy.

From looking like this:

To looking like this:

Then, and I like this part, I take my hands and moosh up the berries. I've used an old fashioned potato masher, but this is far more fun.

That goes into the ganache:

Mixed evenly, then covered closely and into the fridge overnight. Where it is waiting to be rolled into nearly 16 dozen balls this afternoon.

10lb batches, is about as big a batch as I have been able to manage by myself. The 500 truffle order I have means that I get to do this two more times over the next five days.

My work is cut out for me. I love it.

big brass blog

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Random Ten

With any luck by the time Monday rolls around I will have nearly 500 raspberry truffles dipped and ready to take the the Viejas Kumiyaay people. Until then, here's a glimpse of the soundtrack. . .

Someday My Luck Will Change - - - Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Don't Lie to Me - - - Albert King
'Taint Nobody's Business - - - Fats Waller
All Of Me - - - Louis Armstrong
Stardust - - - Charlie Christian
Cafe Society Rag - - - Pete Johnson
Good Day Sunshine - - - Beatles
October Song - - - Amy Winehouse
Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard - - - Paul Simon
Four Strong Winds - - - Neil Young

Bonus Track: (hit random twice take the top)

Bubba Kincaid's Blues - - - Booger Watson

I know it's a pretty strange mix, but it makes me happy. What's your soundtrack for the day?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wesley Clark on Torture

Wesley Clark writing in the Washington Monthly lays it out, straight, and clear.

Some excepts:

Torture is illegal, ineffective, and morally wrong. The United States has signed numerous treaties condemning torture and abjuring its practice. Those treaties are the law of the land. And, yes, waterboarding is torture: in the past, we convicted and punished foreign nationals for torture by waterboarding. There are no legal loopholes permitting torture in "exceptional cases." After all, those were the same excuses used by the torturers we once condemned.

No pussyfooting there.

The honor of the American man-at-arms is one of our most potent weapons. It is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. It encourages our enemies to surrender to us on the battlefield. It protects any of our own soldiers who may have been captured. It encourages noncombatants and civilians to trust us and cooperate willingly. And it does not countenance the abuse of captives in our care.

We have known this from the outset of the Republic. General George Washington emphasized the proper treatment of Hessian prisoners during the Revolutionary War, reasoning that we might win them over. In many cases, we did just that. During the Civil War, we issued the Lieber Code, emphasizing that torture to gain confessions or information was never permissible. Ever since, it has been the standard to which the American armed forces have adhered.

I absolutely concur with that. The history is absolutely accurate. George Washington (against the desires and wishes of many of his staff and soldiers) stood resolutely against any abuse or torture of prisoners. By the end of the war, there were instances of Hessian troops murdering their non-coms and officers and surrendering en masse in the expectation that the American rebels would give them better treatment and better opportunity than they could reasonably expect in their own country and army. There are proud descendants of these same Hessian troops who live in western Pennsylvania to this very day.

Until now. Until weak, fearful leaders had so little belief in our values and principles that they gave away our birthright and proud claim in order to follow a shadowy emulation of the very dictatorships and tyrannies we had struggled against. For shame, America, that we aren't brave enough and strong enough to live our values.

Yup, that about sums up our current administration. We not only didn't turn those assholes out when we had the chance we re-elected those cowardly motherfuckers.

Now, please go read the whole thing.

big brass blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One Very Dark Night

Nearly forty years ago, a guerrilla leader, let's call him Lt. Colonel Victor Charles, realized that he had spent nearly his entire adult life at war. He had fought the French, the Japanese, the French again, and now the Americans. He was tired. He had talked with a man he grew up with and trusted who told him that there were Americans living in his village. These Americans lived among his people. They worked in the rice fields and helped them with medicines for their children. One of the Americans (OK, it was me) was teaching the children of the village to speak English and was trying to teach the other Americans Vietnamese. His friend had told him about a program that the Americans had called "Chu Hoi" which in Vietnamese means "Welcome Home" or "Open Arms" that if he came to these Americans they would help Lt. Col. Victor Charles and his family. He searched his soul and his conscience. He decided to give it a try.

He came in. I was one of the first to talk with him. I didn't waterboard or mistreat him. I gave him the respect that one soldier gives to another. He told me that there was valuable and specific intelligence he could give me. Things that would save American lives. I told him that if the things he told us proved out we would bring his family (a wife, a young son, and a small daughter) out of the place they were living and bring them all to America. They would be given help getting started in their new life. I told him that he could count on my help from then on.

On another very dark night two other members of my team and I snuck into the little town where his family was. We were very stealthy, this was not a "friendly" town. There was no safe way for us to alert his family that we were coming. Quietly we skirted the shadows and hugged the dark walls. We moved quickly and very, very quietly. We silently broke into his house and sneaked like thieves into the room where his wife was sleeping. I woke her up, and quickly and quietly told her that we were there to take her and the children to where her husband was, I told her the name of the bhuddist monk who performed their marriage was and some other information that only her husband would know. I told her to get dressed as quickly as possible, to tell her young children to do the same. I asked her to tell her children that we needed them to be extremely quiet while we left the town. No, they didn't need to bring anything. Speed and silence were more important than any possessions. There would be new things for them, in their new life. She was terrified but she began to do the things she needed to do to go with us. The children were tired and frightened too. I watched the young boy (he was about seven or eight) struggling very hard to put on a brave face. I told him my name and asked him if he had ever heard about the American Indians. His face brightened and he nodded. I told him I was an Apache Indian, just like Geronimo, I told him that I would be his friend and that I would take him to his father. He pointed at me and said, in a whisper, "Geronimo." I nodded and we left.

Bear was carrying the little girl, the young boy wanted to try walking by himself but was too small to keep the pace that we were needing to set. I put him on my back. He was a lot lighter than the 85 lb pack I was used to carrying and he clung to me in frightened excitement.

We got out without being noticed and made it to our extraction point with ease. A tiny PBR chortled into a backwater eddy and we got aboard. The Boat Captain, a Chief Boatswain's Mate, made a crack about "hauling gooks" and I brought him up short. I told him that as of now, these were Americans who were being rescued. We then transfered to a helicopter for the ride back to our main base at Dong Ap Bai.

The reunion was beautiful. As soon as they saw each other the fear and apprehension of the long night evaporated. We brought them a big meal of Vietnamese food and left them alone.

Over the next week we carefully and exhaustively debriefed Mr. Victor Charles. We got some beautiful, actionable, intelligence regarding some choke points on the Ho Chi Minh trail. We got names and locations of "shadow government" operatives and, most importantly, the names, ranks, and duty stations of three agents who were in the provincial government. These all proved to be accurate very quickly.

After two weeks had passed Lt. Col. Charles and his family were spirited away from us and we went about our tasks.

Nearly a year and a half later I was in a bed at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. I had a tube in my chest to pump my left lung back up and keep the chest cavity drained of some pretty noxious fluid. I had just about every antibiotic known to medical science of the time dripping into my arm about as fast as they could pump it in. I was not only wounded pretty severely, I had been wounded in the rain forest jungle and there were bugs and rot beyond name and number floating around what blood I had left.

At one point I was visited by a Captain from the Special Warfare Command in Coronado who, after inquiring about my condition and wishing me a speedy recovery told me that they had been getting postcards delivered to the Silver Strand that were small progress reports from a "Chu Hoi" who had settled his family in Chula Vista. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a letter. It contained a family picture of Lt. Col. Charles, his wife and children in front of a small Pho stand they had just opened in Barrio Logan. On the picture was written "Thank you to the Brave SEALs who brought my family to this beautiful land." There was also an invitation for us to share a bowl of "the best Pho in the barrio" with them any time.

When I was able to get around I went there. The first person I recognised was the young son. He recognised me instantly, clapping and shouting "Geronimo! Geronimo!" I picked him up and put him down pretty quickly, I didn't want to rip any stitches. I spoke to him in Vietnamese and he began to look uncomfortable. Then I was greeted by Mr. Victor Charles, American Entrepenuer, who told me that there was an "English Only" policy for family and staff in the little restaurant. He said that they were real Americans now and that he wanted his children to get the best advantages they could when they were going to school.

Over the last decades I have been given the huge gift of being able to watch this family grow. I have seen them bringing more members of their family to this country and bit by bit prosper. The little boy opened a custom tailoring shop near the entrances of the Marine Recruit Depot by downtown San Diego. Turning out sharp marines and sailors in custom tailored dress uniforms that used to be the sole province of the China and Singapore sailors. I played the harp at his wedding to a beautiful young woman from Orange County. I just picked up a gorgeous jacket and slacks combination that was designed and sewn by his daughter, Po.

Given a chance, given the opportunity, I believe that most American servicemen would jump on a job like the one I did on that dark night so many years ago. No matter the risk, no matter the danger, it is something I would gladly do again.

When I was watching "Full Metal Jacket" for the first time I howled with laughter at the Marine Colonel outside of the city of Hue who told Joker "Inside every gook is an American waiting to get out." The rest of the audience didn't grasp the absolute truth of that statement as well as I could. At that point in time we were lucky enough to have a program like the strategic hamlets and Chu Hoi. We were able to accomplish parts of our mission without having to sacrifice parts of our souls.

Both programs were later discarded, it appears they were only photo and propaganda ops to begin with. They weren't sexy like body counts and bullshit press conferences touting the victory that was always just around the corner.

Still, there is an extended family in San Diego who have whole heartedly embraced the dream that is an America that I still believe in.

I would not trade the events of those dark nights for the world. I hope that someday we can again be that light in the darkness, the place that people dream about coming to stay.

I hope, through the bitterness and cyncism we old grunts are apt to lapse into. I hope along with Barak Obama when he talks about how much better we can do.

Dum spiro, spero.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Picture of The Stew

This from reader Paul.

Congratulations! Job well done, I could almost smell it from here.

Tunes For St. Patrick's Day

From the pen of William Butler Yeats.

The tune is "Maid of the Mourne Shore.

It was down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.
She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,
But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree.

In a field down by the river, my love and I did stand
And on my leaning shoulder, she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy , as the grass grows on the weirs
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

Down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.
She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,
But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree.

This is a lovely tune when played on the harp. Yeats is my favorite of the Irish poets.

For the Irish experience in America, this has always been one of my favorites.

Paddy on the Railway

In eighteen hundred and forty one, I put me corduroy breeches on
I put me cordury breeches on, to work upon the railway.

Fiddle-mee-oh-ree, Areee-ay (3x)
A workin' on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty two, I left the ould world for the new
Bad cess to luck what brought me through, to work upon the railway.
Fiddle-me-oh-ree etc.

In eighteen hundred and forty three, 'twas then I met Miss Biddy McGee
An iligant wife she's been to me, while workin on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty four, me hands were hard, me back were sore
Me back were gettin' mighty sore while workin' on the railway.

In eighteen hundred forty five, I found meself more dead than alive
I found meself more dead than alive, while workin' on the railway.

It's "Pat do this!" and "Pat do that!", without a stocking or cravat
Nothing but an ould straw hat while Pat worked on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty seven, sweet Biddy McGee she went to heaven
She left one child, she left eleven, to work upon the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty eight I learned to drink me whiskey straight
It's an iligant drink what can't be bayte when workin' on the railway.

Here's to the Irish among us. Slainte!