Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Learning the winter

I can hike up a storm in the warm months, the mountains and I are pretty tight. But I have never learned how to be in the wild during the winter. I broke the ice, so to speak, with new snowshoes last winter. This season I am putting them to more use. I am feeling something new on the trails, like I am out of place. Like I am vulnerable. Not a feeling I get on the hot days of summer. Not a feeling I enjoy.

I know how to cope with the trail in the summer. How much water to carry. What clothing works for both the heat of the day and layers well for cool evenings. How much food for how many miles of trail. What gear to carry just in case. I am at home and comfortable with the wilderness. In the winter I suddenly find myself a stranger again as ice crusts the streams and snow goblins climb the trees.

My biggest problem so far is with clothing. Learning what works and what doesn't. I understand layers and use them, but the wrong layers cause problems. If I trap too much heat I sweat and ultimately get wet and chills. If I don't trap enough heat I find myself in a race to keep moving and keep my body temp up. The middle ground is elusive.

The right gear to carry is different too. I learned the other week that my snowshoes can throw snow up the back of my legs and get my pants wet. Wet is bad and results in chills. Note to self: get some waterproof snow pants.

I am leery of the unforeseen too. When it is warm I am confident I could spend an unplanned night in the wild if an injury or other circumstance forced me to. In the cold I don't have the same confidence. I am reluctant to explore too far from the trailhead and safety.

So many things are different about this time of year. I feel like a novice again. Snow and ice are harder to walk on than dry ground. The trail is harder to identify. It even feels different to be thirsty. Add to that everything I don't know about avalanches and when ice is safe and my own limits and tolerance for hypothermia. I don't like feeling like a novice. Some days staying in like a hermit sounds better than feeling like this.

There are some wonderful things about the snow and cold. The still silence that makes breath and heartbeat ear shatteringly loud. How easy it becomes to see animal tracks. The way snow and frost paint old familiar landscapes into new, wonderful pieces of art. I think I have to keep going. To keep learning. To keep adding gear. What choice do I have really? Last winter I learned that being a hermit sucks.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

How to make mustard

This season I made little pots of homemade mustard as Christmas gifts for all my friends and family. It went over really well like homemade gifts usually do. I was surprised to learn how easy mustard is to make.

The recipe is super simple.

  1. Grind mustard seed into a powder.
  2. Mix with a liquid.

Okay, I admit, any ol' craptacular mustard follows that recipe. The good mustards will involve a little more nuance than that.

Start with the mustard seeds. I found mine at the local health food store. They come in two basic varieties, yellow seeds and brown seeds. The yellow ones have a milder flavor and the brown ones have some spicy kick to them. I found blending the two types of seeds creates some interesting flavors depending on what sort of mustard you are trying to make.

Next there is the grinding part. I tried using a mortar and pestle and found it to be a pain in the butt. An electric spice grinder is much more efficient. The mortar and pestle does have the advantage of making a better coarse grind, that can add some interesting texture into your mustard. You can also buy the stuff pre-ground as mustard flour or mustard powder. It is usually the yellow seed sold this way and the grind is much finer than anything I achieved with my little spice grinder. Helpful hint: Clean your spice grinder by blowing it out with a can of compressed air. The kind of stuff geeks use to clean dust off electronics. This is a bazillioin times easier than soap and water.

Now comes the liquid part, there is a lot of room for creativity here. The most common liquids used in mustard are water and vinegar. If you need a quick sauce for cooking up mustard glazed pork chops, just mix mustard powder with white vinegar in about a 1:1 ratio and you are all set. But if you are looking for a nicer sandwich garnish you should take a little more care. I spent a lot of time experimenting with the different types of vinegar available. White vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar. Lot's of choices and each one gives a different flavor.

There are more liquids to choose from too. Use wine to make Dijon mustard, beer makes a hearty sauce, honey makes a popular sweet mustard. I even experimented with fruit juices and came up with a great apple mustard using concentrated apple juice. The possibilities are endless.

There is also some nuance to the application of your liquid. The flavor of the mustard is brought out when the liquid activates the enzymes in the mustard seed. Those enzymes are going to react in some unpredictable ways if your liquid is too acidic. Vinegar is usually about 5% acidic. What this means is that you could mix the same amount of mustard with the same amount of vinegar two different times and get two different flavors depending on how those enzymes and that acid react to each other. To get consistent flavor you should activate your mustard with a PH neutral liquid like water. I mix my mustard powder with water at about two parts powder to one part water and make a thick paste. Let this stand for about 10 minutes. After this add whatever vinegar or liquid you want for flavor until it is the desired consistency. This way your recipe will taste the same each time you make it.

Now for some more fun and creativity. Mustard powder does not have to be the only dry ingredient. Add some spices to that bad daddy. A dash of salt helps the flavor. Some garlic powder can zest it up a little. Pepper, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, basil, rosemary, cinnamon. Woo hoo, your spice rack is the gateway to some interesting and unique mustards.

The king of all mustard spices has got to be turmeric. This is the ingredient that gives the store bought hot dog mustard its bright yellow color and unique flavor. I have shared my mustards with some people that don't like mustard and I have discovered that what they usually don't like is the flavor of the turmeric. Without it the mustard is a brown color instead of yellow and the flavor is remarkably different. The mustard haters I know consistently turned up their noses at the bright yellow mustards with turmeric and raved about the brown mustards without. If there is a mustard hater in your family try turning them on to a brown mustard and see if they like it.

So if you have been playing along at home and have mixed some mustard powder with some liquid and created a sauce, the next step is to taste it. If you have done that already, please don't hate me. Pretty nasty stuff huh? Your fresh made batch of mustard is going to taste very strong and a little nasty. Don't panic. Remember those enzymes you activated? Well now they have to age. Leave your mustard sitting on the counter at room temperature for at least a week to ten days. The strong flavor will mellow and it will mature into a nice and yummy sauce. Have some faith. The longer you let it age the more the flavor will mellow. Taste it every few days to follow its progress. If you are after a mild mustard you may want to let it age for a month or more; for a hot and spicy mustard, not so much. As soon as it mellows to a flavor and spiciness you like, move it to the fridge.

Refrigeration is not necessary for most mustard. Mustard seed is naturally resistant to molds and the acidity in the vinegar helps too. But if it continues to sit at room temperature it will continue to age and mellow. To keep a mustard spicy, put it in the fridge. Many commercial mustards and some more interesting mustard recipes have ingredients like egg whites. You will want to put these in the fridge. My apple mustard kept better under refrigeration. Pay attention to the ingredients you are using, if you added fresh garlic or jalapenos or fresh spices you will probably want to move the mustard to refrigeration sooner rather than later.

One last word about utensils and containers. Avoid metal. Mustard is pretty corrosive and if you put it in a jar with a metal lid or use metal spoons or utensils when you make it, the metal can corrode and harm the flavor of the sauce. Glass, plastic and porcelain are safe bets.

And that's it. That is everything I know about mustard. I had the most fun experimenting with different ingredients. I found that it is easy to experiment with small batches, about two tablespoons of mustard powder and the same for your liquid to see if you like the recipe. If it's good, multiply the portions for your next batch, if it sucks you can flush it down the drain for no big loss.

Enjoy your mustard. I like mine with pretzels. I know that I will never blow $3.95 for a small pot of deli mustard ever again.

Montana Jones' yumtastic hot dog mustard
2 Tbsp Ground yellow mustard seed
1 tsp Ground brown mustard seed
Add 1 1/2 Tbsp water, blend to a thick paste and let sit for 10 minutes.
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

For thinner mustard add a couple drops more vinegar, let age for a week or so.

Kokanee™ Beer Mustard
1 Tbsp yellow mustard seed
1 Tbsp brown mustard seed
Briefly grind to a very coarse grind.
Drown the coarse ground mustard seed with an excess of apple cider vinegar. Let sit overnight until the seed has absorbed all the liquid it possibly can then drain any extra liquid. You will be left with a thick goop.

In a new container:
1 1/2 Tbsp fine ground yellow mustard seed
add 1 Tbsp water, blend to a thick paste and let sit for 10 minutes.
Add 1 Tbsp of the apple cider mustard goop.
Dash of salt.
1 Tbsp Kokanee™ beer.

Age for at least a week.

Sweet and Spicy Apple Mustard
2 Tbsp ground brown mustard seed
2 Tbsp ground yellow mustard seed
Dash of cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp concentrated apple juice

Thin to the desired consistency with more concentrated apple juice. Age for two or three weeks and then refrigerate.

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Friday, January 11, 2008


I can't help but notice that the Christmas holiday is now behind us. So is New Years, and the winter solstice. Lot's of festiveness and cheer and joy to the world and all that crap. Stressful and busy time those holidays. Did you get enough to eat? Gorged yourself on cookies you say? That's wonderful.

Now get your cookie stuffed butt in gear buddy. The Montana Food Bank still needs you. There are still hungry people in your hometown. You Montana Bloggers have come up with only half of last year's donation and the clock is ticking. Do you think the food bank runs on good intentions? Click this link and do your part to help out.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 was a good year

I don't think I am going to do that on New Years anymore. The couple years I have done it have been fun and all, but the people are such grouches. I am so tired of hanging out with angry or uptight people. How can they live like that? How can they be so negative all the time? It's depressing.
I think they don't realize what they are doing or the effect they are having on others.
Well, your phone message was the most cheerful part of New Years for me. I like calling you, you are always so upbeat and positive.

I have been hearing a lot of anecdotal stories from friends and blogs and news pundits about what a crappy year 2007 was. I believe it too. Every single thing that the mob mentions as a point of pain really truly is a sucky thing.

Well enough. I have had some sucky points in my year too. In 2007 I encountered a couple shit storms that will take a while before the stains get scrubbed out.

I stand by my headline. 2007 was a good year. I had a good year because I wanted to have a good year. I made it a point to smile a lot and find fun in small moments. I went about my work and my life with a sense of joy and cheer. I reveled in the richness of challenge and adversity. It worked. I had a good year because I wanted to have a good year.

Now that I know the trick, I am going to have a good year in 2008 too.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Moms computer

These things just pop up on my screen and I don't know what they are or what to do about them. Computers confuse me.
Yeah, most of this crap you have been seeing is some of your software asking permission to check for or download upgrades off the net.
So what do I do? I don't want things downloading and changing on me. I am confused enough without my programs changing themselves.
My rule of thumb is that if you system is working and doing what you want it to do, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. When a program pops up and asks to download something, just say no. Refusing to let your programs talk to the mothership will not hurt anything.
Good. That's what I will do then.
But the rule of thumb has exceptions. Mainly operating system upgrades and other security stuff like your anti virus.
Well, now I'm confused again. How do I know which of these to say yes to?
Well, I have your critical upgrades set to happen automatically in the background, so you shouldn't ever see them. You are safe saying no to everything that pops up and wants your attention.
I really hate this Vista. I was just getting comfortable with my old computer when Dad replaced it with this one, and this one makes everything so hard. I just don't understand it.
I know. It is really a bad time to buy a computer right now. Microsoft won't let retailers sell anything except Vista, you can't get the older, better systems anymore. If we had known that the new computer was going to be this big of a turd we would have gotten you a Macintosh.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

You meet the nicest people while flying

How was the flight?
It was excellent. The lady that sat next to me; we didn't speak a single word the entire flight.
Well, that's good I suppose.
Yeah, I wasn't interested in the small talk and pretending to care about whatever she had going on with her life and I got the impression that she felt the same. So we made it through a two hour flight without speaking a single word to each other.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

An engagement

I don't know, I don't think I will ever get married. How about this? If we are both still single in twenty years, lets just you and I hang out together.
That's a deal. Let's see, twenty years, we will be about sixty. I'll look you up when I hit sixty and take you up on it.
Other friend:
I think I need to rush home and tell my wife that I just witnessed your engagement.
Uh, no. I just said hang out. No marriage, we are just going to hang out together.

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