The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fridge update

The fridge that the previous residents of my house paid $4,000 for has sat quiet and warm since noon. Around 6pm I checked under the freezer drawer to see if anything had thawed out and discovered a centimeter-thick layer of ice on the bottom of the freezer. Actually, by 6pm it was more like a 5 mm layer of ice floating on 5 mm of water. Fifteen minutes and two towels later I managed to get most of the ice into the sink and most of the water out of the freezer. But wow, scraping a half-liter of rime ice from your freezer is not fun.

I can't even guess how long condensation has been pooling there. Obviously there's something else wrong with the freezer. And I have a working hypothesis.

According to the repair guys, if the freezer thermostat gets too frosty, it won't trigger the defrosting heaters that remove condensation from the freezer. The heaters being off would also allow the condensation drain to freeze shut, so even if they did turn on, the water might not have anywhere to go. And the reason this happens with the windows open could be simply that the warmer outside air contains more moisture, which causes more condensation, freezing the thermostat, and starting the downward spiral of events culminating in me fantasizing about dropping the whole unit onto the KitchenAid design offices from a helicopter.

Modern "conveniences" (personal and annoyed)

For the third time in a year, my refrigerator—a KitchenAid KRMF706ESS01, which came with my house and which cost the previous owners north of $3,500—iced up and stopped working. By "stopped working" I mean that the refrigerator section leveled off at 6°C and the freezer part at -4°C and wouldn't get cooler. By "iced up" I mean that the thermostats controlling the fridge and freezer sections ice over, preventing them from accurately sensing temperatures. Apparently this model has a problem with this issue.

The damage isn't so bad. I'll be throwing away some bread, some unopened lox which spent more than 12 hours at an unsafe temperature, and perhaps a frozen dinner or two. I make sure that my home-cooked leftovers go into sealed Ball jars at 70°C or hotter, so they're fine for weeks at refrigerator temperatures. And it's 2°C outside today, though that may go up to 10°C tomorrow. I may lose a bottle of cream and possibly some lunch meat, but the cheese will survive.

The repair guys who stopped by a while ago said they see this all the time with computer-controlled refrigerators. In fact, one of them came by in April and replaced the freezer thermostat, so he didn't seem surprised at all to see me again. His partner, an older guy who has seen everything, told me flat out that newer refrigerators break a lot sooner than older ones, because of their computer controls.

It's also not the last time the thing started behaving badly. In June, and again in September, when I spent days in a row with the windows open, the freezer would go up to maybe -10°C for a day before going back down to its normal -18°C. Or the ice maker would stop working. Or the water line would freeze up. But it almost always self-corrected, until this weekend.

Consumer Reports gives this model 5/5 for temperature control and 3/5 for predicted reliability. (Only LG gets 4/5 for predicted reliability, so maybe the old guy was right.) In fact, the reviews for this model don't inspire confidence. "Best use: to meet a repairman." "The dealer from whom I purchased it said he is getting an ever increasing number of service calls on it." "We have had a repair man in our house at least 5 times to fix it. If it wasn't the ice maker broken, it was the compressor, then the thermostat." I'd have to agree. If I have any more problems with this fridge after today's 24-hour defrost cycle, then I'm going to take it out back and shoot it. A new LG side-by-side fridge that has a lower chance of breaking and costs significantly less might be the answer I'm looking for. I just don't want to spend the money.

I recognize this as a problem that most people throughout history would have welcomed, given that refrigeration only goes back about 150 years. It's still frustrating as fuck. But I'm happy not to eat mammoth jerky for six months straight.

Mixed news on Tuesday morning

Today's news stories comprise a mixed bag:

Finally, a little sweetness for a cold December day: Whisky Advocate has a recipe for bourbon balls that I hope someone will try and share with me. I'll even supply the bourbon.

Dark and grey in Chicago

December 7th is usually the day when the sun sets earliest in the Northern Hemisphere. In Chicago this evening, that meant 16:20, a few minutes ago. We get back to 16:30 on New Year's Eve and 17:00 not until January 27th. We didn't see the sun today at all, though.

So in the dark gloaming, I will (a) try to get my 10,000 steps for the day, and (b) try to find some fresh-ish basil for dinner.

Got the beef stew 98% right

...but the 2% doesn't really hurt it.

I'm proud enough about my stew today, and full on three bowls of it, that I wanted to jot down the recipe. If you hate metric measurements, it hardly matters if the proportions are about right. Even then, it's a stew, not an angel food cake; it's resilient.

Ingredients

The rendered fat from the bacon I cooked for breakfast
1 kg stew beef, cubed
500 g small yellow and red potatoes, cubed
400 g pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe's
250 g whole white mushrooms, rinsed
100 g sliced mushrooms I needed to use up, rinsed
250 g sliced carrots I needed to use up
850 mL (one carton) beef bone broth
250 mL full-bodied wine
50 g (or so) pancetta cubes I needed to use up
3 small shallots, halved
1 medium garlic head, peeled (yielded about 15 cloves), larger cloves sliced in half
Herbs & spices: bay leaves, parley, sage, rosemary, thyme, plus smaller amounts of chipotle and ancho powder
50 mL of all-purpose flour
Less salt than you'd think (see below)

The ingredients exclusive of the wine cost about $20. I used a $15 bottle of wine, knowing that only one glass of it would go into the stew, but you could get good results with 3-buck-Chuck. Just make sure the wine has some heft. The Bordeaux I used was 80% merlot, 15% cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and it may not have had enough body.

Procedure

I poured most of the bacon fat into my Instant Pot and set it to sauté, then re-heated the bacon fat that remained on my skillet. Half of the beef went into the Pot to brown along with the pancetta, the rest went on the skillet. Once the beef was seared and had mopped up the bacon fat, it all went into the Pot and I set the Pot to slow cook, normal temperature.

Everything else except the flour now went into the Pot. It turned out I was a little low on liquid so I added about 500 mL of water—which turned out to be about 400 mL more than I needed.

Then it stewed for 7½ hours, though I did stir and taste it about once an hour.

With 30 minutes to go, I took about 100 mL of the broth out and mixed it with the flour in a measuring cup, then dumped the slurry into the Pot and stirred it up. I also cancelled the slow cook timer, then re-started it on High for 30 minutes.

Note that I put in way, way less salt than I would ever serve to other people. Salt is tricky; you need enough so that you can anticipate the finished product, but you don't want to over-salt, which is far too easy to do accidentally. So if anyone reading this gets a container to take home, keep your salt handy.

Improvements

I think I used too much rosemary, as the needles got in the way of enjoying the final stew. As I mentioned above, I also didn't need to add a full 500 mL of water; 100 mL would have done fine, or perhaps no extra water at all. The mushrooms and potatoes have so much volume to them that all the bone broth and wine didn't cover them completely, prompting me to add liquid. But I should have remembered that the alliums and mushrooms would release liquid during cooking, more than making up the deficit. Less initial liquid would have given me a thicker stew.

I also might consider sautéing the onions, shallots, and garlic before adding the seared beef. It's a tough call with slow cooking. The caramelization can add a lot to the flavor, but they'll be in the pot for 8 hours, so it might be overkill.

And I'll pick a nit about my wine choice. The Bordeaux had a lot of body and paired perfectly with the finished product. But next time, I might use a full-bodied cabernet or even a shiraz. Either that or dial the chipotle and ancho down to almost nothing.

But wow, this was one of my best efforts yet. Soo tasty, so much umami, so much depth of flavor, and so much chunky beefy and potato-y goodness, I ate three bowls of it. And now I have about 5 liters of it in Ball jars and sealed plastic containers on my counter.

I also got to drink the rest of the wine, which paired quite well with the stew.

Sure Happy It's Thursday

So many things to read at lunchtime today:

Finally, a year ago today I made some predictions about what could happen in the 2020 election. Turns out, "Option C" is true, and we're still waiting to see on a few others.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday

After finishing a sprint review, it's nice to reset for a few minutes. So after working through lunch I have some time to catch up on these news stories:

Finally, mathematician and humorist Tom Lehrer has waived most of the copyright protections around his music and lyrics, effectively putting the corpus of his work into the public domain. He says: "Most of the music written by Tom Lehrer will be added gradually later with further disclaimers." People have until the end of 2024 to download the materials he has released.

Friday evening news roundup

It could be worse. It might yet be:

And hey, we're only 95½ days away from Joe Biden's inauguration.

VP debate reactions

Generally, reactions to last night's debate follow three patterns: Vice President Mike Pence mansplained to Senator Kamala Harris; Harris told the truth significantly more than Pence did; and the fly won. (My favorite reaction, from an unknown Twitter user: "If that fly laid eggs in Pence's hair, he'd better carry them to term.") Other reactions:

  • The Washington Post, NBC, and the BBC fact-checked the most egregious distortions, most of which came from Pence.
  • James Fallows believes "both candidates needed to convince voters they possess the right temperament for the job. Only one pulled it off."

In other news:

  • Following the president's positive Covid-19 test, and Pence's and the president's repeated interruptions and talking over the moderators, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided the October 15th presidential debate will be virtual. The crybaby-in-chief got angry: "It’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want." ("Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said it was still possible [the president] would show up because 'he changes his mind every second.'")
  • Alex Shephard bemoans "the final message of a dying campaign:" "With his poll numbers collapsing, [the president] keeps adopting dumber and more destructive political messages."
  • The New Yorker dives into "the secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from Fox."
  • For total Daily Parker bait, National Geographic explores the Russian military map collection at Indiana University, with 4,000 secret Russian maps drawn between 1883 and 1947, many captured from wartime intelligence services.
  • As today is the 149th anniversary of the Chicago Fire, the Chicago History Today blog looked at the history of the house at 2121 N. Hudson Ave., the only wood-frame building to survive in the burn zone.
  • Speaking of wood fires in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune has yet another ranking of pizzas. Happy lunchtime.

Finally, the FBI arrested six men who plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They didn't get close, but still.

Travel day!

Today I left the state of Illinois for the first time since January 19th, 259 days ago. It's the longest I've gone without leaving Illinois since I was 3½ years old. And because I drove, I'm continuing to add days to my longest interval without flying. I hope I can fly somewhere before too long.

It wasn't a theoretical crossing of state lines like back in June; today I went into Wisconsin at full speed around 11:30 and left around 5:30, having seen living family, paid respects to dead family, and collected a bag of cheese curds at Mars Cheese Castle.

Regular blogging returns tomorrow.