Sunday, June 07, 2015

Knife Sharpening 101

I have always enjoyed learning new things, and a while back I bought a whetstone so I could sharpen my own knives. I love to cook, so this seemed a natural extension of that love. But, the first two times I tried it, based on a video I found, I pretty much botched the job, taking even more of the edge off. I also had a guy down the road who sharpened knives, so I took them to him and he repaired the damage I had done, putting a keen, proper chef's edge on them. Unfortunately, he passed away about a year ago. My knives were getting duller by the day.

I was reminded of when I was a kid, and the Summer would start to run hot. My brother and I spent time "down the shore" (the Jerseyest of Jersey expressions), including time with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Shirley, shucking corn on the front porch, listening to the Phillies game on a transistor radio. Uncle Chick (what we called him) would shuck the corn with an unfiltered Pall Mall dangling from his lower lip, not clamped with his upper lip, the cigarette defying the rules of gravity, the ash growing to improbable lengths, and all the while it was bouncing to the rhythms of the conversation between Uncle Chick, and Phillies announcers Ritchie Ashburn and Harry Kalas. We would boil the corn and serve it with dinner, every single day of the Summer as was the family's custom, and Aunt Shirly would bring out a knife for the butter (none of that midwestern rolling of the corn right into the butter - uncivilized Barbarians). Uncle Chick would thank her, then look at it curiously and say, "That damned knife wouldn't cut butter in July!" He'd laugh like it was the first time he'd ever thought of that.

That kind of summed up my current knife situation. Dull knives. Deceased knife sharpener. It was time to learn this task and sharpen my skills (that one was for Uncle Chick). So, I trolled multiple videos until I found this one:

I watched it three times. This man, it seemed to me, knows a thing or three about knives. Then, I clicked on Kill Bill Vol. 2 and went to work. Listen. If you're going to develop knife sharpening skills, you could do worse than watching Beatrix Kiddo going to town with a fistful of Hatori Hanzo steel as the backdrop for your endeavor. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would also suffice, I am sure.

First, I ran the blade up and down the coarse side of the stone, the strokes nice and even, the small pits getting ground out, the gleam returning to the edge, the sound of steel on stone creating a kind of rhythmic Zen. There is not only a sound that goes with this job, but also the feel of the stone as the blade gets sharper. I did all of the knives on the coarse side, then flipped the stone to the finer grit, and honed them to a long-forgotten sharpness. The sound was different, as was the feel, but the easy rhythm of it remained the same.

I could see how much sharper the knives were, and I grabbed a tomato to confirm my craftsmanship. I was able to cut paper-thin slices of the tomato, even with the 12" chef's knife. Simply beautiful and amazing. Did they taste better? You're absolutely right they did.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Test Ride: Yamaha FJ-09

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this bike. I had read some reviews that said the FJ-09 was fun and torquey, but I didn't expect that to be so true. Hopping onboard, the bike felt a little small, especially after riding the KTM. But, when I put my feet up on the pegs, the bike just fit.

The salesman at YCH encouraged me to ride around the building a time or two, just to get a feel for the bike under me. After the first lap I was ready to ride; the FJ just felt so good under me.

I accelerated out of the parking lot, and immediately started grinning. The get-up-and-go of the bike reminded me of my SV1000, instantly powering up and with great power through the entire rev range. Steering, the bike glides effortlessly, going exactly where you want it. The brakes slow the bike down, stopping it quickly and without fussiness.

The instrument cluster is easy to read. I am not a fan of the windscreen, as the air hit me in the throat or the top of my helmet, depending on the adjustment. Still, that would be an easy fix, I am sure. Another neat little design item is the exhaust, whick is just a little port off the starboard side (watch out for x-wing fighters!).
All in all, this was a FUN bike to ride. I am not sure how it would perform on longer, multi-day rides, because of its size, but for a daily commuter or canyon carver, the FJ-09 would be tough to beat for all around performance and torquey fun. Throw in traction control at this price point and you have a real winner.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Test Ride: KTM 1190 Adventure

What a great looking bike! I have always been partial to orange, since my first bike was the burnt copper penny Suzuki SV1000. 
The bike comes with ABS Brembo brakes and traction control, plus multiple throttle settings, including one for wet pavement, which dampens the "enthusiasm" of the throttle control. Starting the bike brings the 1190 to life, and a healthy growl comes from under the seat, like a bear that's been woken up juuuuust a little too early from hibernation. The KTM's cockpit is well thought out, and everything is VERY readable and also customizable. One niggle - this thing has the tiniest handgrips ever. Fatter grips would be a must.

The KTM is a bigger bike, and you know it immediately. While the Moto Guzzi Stelvio was heavy, it didn't feel like it; the tall stature  of the KTM makes this size and weight immediately apparent. I was able to put the balls of my feet down, but could not flat-foot the bike. It would be interesting and  necessary to ride the bike with a full tank of gas to get a feel for just how important this is. 

Rolling, the larger feel of the KTM  is apparent at low speeds, and parking lot maneuvering at low speed operation would feel like work. But, once you get the revs up, the weight magically disappears. I only rode in standard mode, as opposed to sport (which offers a more spirited ride), and the bike responded very well. 

YCH only has a very short test ride area, and getting out farther would be a good test of how good this bike truly is. I found it above adequate for the ride I was taking, but a quick hustle through some twisties in sport mode would be a must for me. Still, I got the sense this bike can do it all, without complaint, and, indeed, would be a fun ride. 

There are ongoing questions about KTM's reliability (sounds funny coming from a guy who is considering a Ducati) and that might be enough to put me off, and, at the very least, are worthy of further investigation.

Still, this one makes the list for consideration

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Test Ride: Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

I sold the Triumph Tiger 800 and have begun my quest for the new steed. I am looking for something that is sporty for the twisties and comfortable for longer, multi-day rides. I went over to Europa Macchina in Lewisberry. They are, quite honestly, some of the nicest people I have met, passionate about heir business, but also genuinely interested in what I was looking for. They answered all of my questions about the brand and the bike.

Sitting Down
Sitting on the bike, I had a really nice surprise. Most reviews will tell you the bike feels heavy, almost obscenely so, but I didn't feel that at all. The bike felt extremely well-balanced at rest, and was easily manhandled to where I needed it. I am 6 feet tall, and can easily flat foot the bike. I did find the position almost a little tight in leg space, and I would wonder if there is a higher seat position. That was weird. The dash is very well laid out and attractive, with everything right where you want it.

The mirrors are adequate (though they shake at speed, again, something that is documented in many reports. A lot of people get the European package on the mirrors, which increases size and decreases shaking). The bike is very well outfitted, with Trax bags, high-power auxiliary lights, bash guard under the bike, and hand guards standard. It's everything you need for a proper adventure!

Starting Up

A simple twist of the key and push of the starter and the oil-cooled 1151cc engine comes to life. It's mounted across the bike, rather than in a straight line, so it feels a little funny as the pistons fire across the bike. People will say you either love it or hate it - I loved it. A twist of the throttle and you realize there is something alive under the seat. I LOVED the sound of this bike. 

The Ride
Europa has a good situation, with a quick flat road to get the bike under you, then a bunch of twisties, so you can stretch it out. I said the weight of the bike wasn't a big deal for me, but it immediately disappears when the wheels start turning. The bike has quick pickup, but not raucously so, and it is a linear acceleration that is predictable. One of the strange things is the feel of the engine at 3500RPM. It has a vaguely unnatural side to side pull you can feel. 

Out in the curves, the bike rolls right through. It is predictable and easy to throw around. There is a point in this part of the experience where people usually fall in love with a bike. Or not. For me, it was a not. The bike starts to get "interesting" around 6000 RPM and redlines at about 8000. That means that as soon as I entered the "fun zone" I had to start thinking about shifting back out of it. The bike does not have a lot of grunt/torque (having had a Suzuki SV1000, I suspect I was more than a little spoiled), and it's that missing piece that really makes it a no for me. 

My goal is to do a lot of mixed riding, touring and hitting the twisties around the rural roads of southcentral Pennsylvania. If all I were doing was touring, heading cross country, especially if it was on and off road, this bike would definitely be on the list. But, the Stelvio's lack of enthusiasm, especially in the curves, takes it off the list. 


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Close Shave

I took a nice hot shower, hotter than normal. I washed my face with a good soap I had bought from Sunrise Soap, a tiny little soap shop on Beaver Street in York. Getting out of the shower, I picked up a package of razor blades, figuring that, if it worked out that it was going to take a bunch of tries to find "my razor blade" that grabbing one randomly was as good a way as any to decide.
I filled the sink with mildly hot water, the steam rising off the surface in light wisps, splashed some water on my face, dipped the shaving brush into the sink and started working up a lather on my face. I used the orange cream and the smell was incredibly good. One of the things I am really coming to enjoy is the smells of my morning routine. In fact, it has expanded to a multi-sensory experience, now, and the brush sweeping back and forth across my face, the feel of the lather building into a thick, creamy texture, and the smell of orange filling the room were a great way to enter into the next chapter of shaving.

I carefully unwrapped the blade and put it into the razor handle.
There was a moment, putting blade to face, where I considered the wisdom of the course of action I was taking. I mean, I am fully competent with the cartridge blades. Did it really make sense to do this?  Well, no guts, no glory. I used the short, abrupt, non-overlapping strokes recommended in the shaving videos and got my upper face done without incident. On to the neck. Dragging the blade across my neck was a little disconcerting, but the blade just glided across the skin.

I repeated the lather and shaved across the grain, using the same small, non-overlapping strokes. I finished with minor nicks and put on the Platinum Aftershave....
OH MY GAWD! I was completely unprepared for the napalm-like experience of putting this on my just-shaved face. Like Gollum with an Elvish rope or Damien with Holy water, all I could think is, "IT BURNS US! IT BURNS US!" And for one minute or so (that's a long time - believe me) it showed NO sign of abating. I actually considered washing it off, but waited it out until it started to calm, and then it was absolute bliss. My shave was complete, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shaving...It's Worth Doing Right

I got this bee in my bonnet a couple of weeks ago, after going to the local store and for the thousandth time in my life, buying a four-pack of razors. I didn't think much about it until I got to checkout and the clerk gave me a dollar and change out of a twenty. At first I thought there was some mistake. Twenty bucks a month seems a little steep, no? Especially for these dinky little things. Cigarettes would have cost less.

So, I gritted my teeth, went home, and shaved (Note to self: Don't Shave Angry. Nothing good can come from that). But I thought there must be a better way, so I hopped on Facebook and asked my friends about their impressions of Dollar Shave Club and they came back favorable. Cheap. Easy. Efficient.

But then my buddy Brad jumped on and said I should consider an old school safety razor. I was, frankly, intrigued. Surely a guy who shaves his face and head with a safety razor must know a thing or two...right? And, I do like the Old School (I wish men still wore hats and stood when a woman entered the room), so I thought I would poke around and see what I could find. One of my favorite things about the Intarwebz (thanks, Al Gore!) is that, for whatever bizarre, obscure information you are looking, there are dozens of sites where people are anonymously clicking and clacking away in conversations.

Enter The Wicked Edge, a chat forum dedicated to wet shaving, safety razors, shaving creams and oils, and the kind of minutiae that will alternately enthrall you and drive you mad. I loved it instantly. Vintage razor discussions. How to strop a straight razor. What does The Kraken Smell like? The place has an almost mentorship mentality, with a lot of guys teaching younger guys and newbies like myself the fine art and science of shaving. I was quickly schooled in the pros, cons, and dangers (that was ultimately, I suspect, what sealed it for me) of wet shaving.

I also found a great video on how to shave. One of the things I learned was that I wasn't building a proper lather. That became abundantly clear after watching this particular video.

I was so excited that I ran upstairs to shave. Mrs. Fishr was sitting in bed reading, and seemed a little confused at my sudden appearance.
She: What are you doing?
Me: Shaving!!!
She: Um. You know it's 11.00, right?
Me: But I just learned something, and now I need to do it!
So, off I flew to the bathroom as she turned back to her book, presumably rolling her eyes at my antics, yet again.

I decided to go with Maggard Shaving, a husband and wife team out of Detroit Michigan who offer, by many accounts, fantastic stuff at great prices. I got a mid-priced beginner's set that I can grow with if I like it, but that won't break the bank if I decide otherwise. Mine came with a Parker 26C Razor, a handmade Italian Boar Bristle Shaving Brush by Omega, two aftershave tonics, a multipak of blades (it takes a bunch of trial and error to find the best blade for your face), a stiptic pen (yeah. you'll want one of those), ad an amazing smelling orange shaving cream. It arrived in a couple of days, easy-peasy, lemon-squeazy.

I opened it up like it was Christmas Day and I was getting my Official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range, model air rifle. And there it was in all it's glory.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Learning to Fly...

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast,
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?
There's no sensation to compare with this...
Thirty-five years ago, I rode my first motorcycle. I was 12, and my buddy's parents had bought him a small dirt bike. We took turns writing it in circles around his house. It was AWESOME... Until I went home and my mother smacked me with a wooden spoon, exclaiming in her Irish brogue,"You're never to ride a bike, ever again!" There are, of course, those people who would look at this as a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down as an invitation to fight, an obstacle to overcome in order to take a defiant step into manhood. Those people never lived with my mother.

So that was that. But I never forgot it. It was like something awakening inside of me, each spring. My mother was born in Dublin, Ireland and left home at the age of 15 to travel through Europe and eventually land in America, settling in New Jersey by way of New York. She gave me the blessing of loving to cook and the curse of a wanderlust that never seems quite satisfied. And every spring, I feel it again, made all the more powerful because of the latent effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

My wife J. greenlighted the endeavor, having long ago resigned herself to being married to a guy who gets ideas in his head and realizing the only way for me to get them out is to purge them through activity. So, two years ago, I decided to take the PA Motorcycle Safety Course. The advantages of the course are many:
  • The course is FREE!
  • The course is taught by people who have been riding longer than I've been alive
  • They provide a motorcycle, so if you drop it, it's still theirs
  • At the end of the course, you get your Motorcycle License
  • Did I mention it's FREE?!?
There are two days of rather droll classroom instruction, but I realized it is the kind of thing that is going to help me ride a motorcycle and quite possibly save me from bodily harm. So, I forced myself to pay attention, practicing the barely contained patience of a kid on Christmas Eve. And then, I got to sit on a real motorcycle for the first time in 35 years. and start it up. And I knew, as soon as I sparked those 250ccs of pure Suzuki power to life, that something also came to life inside of me. And, I was hooked. Forever.

A New Start...

Here's the thing. I realized, thanks to a number of recent influences, that I haven't done much of anything that involves creativity in a long while. Then, my wife started cooking. My brother-in-law started a blog (and wrote a novel!). A high school friend from days gone by recently connected with me and she's a full-time (no longer starving) artist. And my daughter...well, at 17, she is one of the most creative people I know, and continues to inspire me. 
There was a time when I spent a good deal of time writing, painting, and drawing, even considering it as a career for myself. It's quite unlikely I am going to be the next Hemingway, but I also want to get back in touch with that creative side.