Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aviatrix Makes A Food

My fellow Canadian, Ryan North, writes a comic strip called Dinosaur Comics. It's about awesomeness, including friendship, philosophy, language, Batman, cephalopods and sometimes dinosaurs. I'm sure I've mentioned him before. I probably discussed his strip on how to land an airplane in an emergency. I followed its directions with no bad repercussions except that I was laughing while landing and that might have shaken the airplane a little. (I had to add some procedures that the comic left out, but it was only a six-panel comic: I didn't expect everything to be in there).

Years and years ago Ryan posted this comic which features a recipe, and I've gently nagged him for more recipes, so how delighted was I when his protagonist T-Rex decided to invent his own food?

I set out at once to follow the instructions. Not being a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus Rex, and not having a giant enough frying pan, I divided the recipe by five, and also seeing as I live in modern times and not the late cretaceous period, I used the metric system.  First I assembled the raw ingredients. You see here 465g of ground beef, a couple of eggs, chocolate ice-cream and salt: all the ingredients mentioned in the comic.  T-Rex did not specify an ice cream flavour. I was going to use neapolitan, but I gave the final decision to my  photographer, who chose chocolate. There is certainly a lot of scope to vary this recipe by using different ice cream flavours.

I weighed the ice cream, so as to get the same amount as the beef, per the instructions. You don't realize how much less denser ice cream is than beef until you weight out 465g of it. I heated the frying pan to about medium and added the beef. Astute readers may notice that I made a slight error here in following the instructions. They say to fold the raw beef into the ice cream and the picture depicts me folding the ice-cream into the raw beef. The difference is that had I followed the instructions exactly, no part of the beef would have browned in the pan the way some did before the ice-cream was folded in.

The frying pan was hot before I added the beef, but the addition of most of a litre of cold ice cream reversed that, so it took a few minutes for the pan to reheat. What I was essentially doing was slow-poaching ground beef in sweetened milk, in the presence of guar gum, cellulose gum, locust bean gum, polysorbate 80, mono- and diglycerides and carrageenan. (I'm not sure what "Premium" means in the context of ice cream, but it certainly isn't "contains only things you would put in ice cream if you made it yourself". Although seeing as I just put meat in ice cream, that wouldn't be a good criterion, generally).

Poaching meat generally makes the cooked product more tender and moist than frying, but sugar I thought might draw moisture out. There wasn't much point in speculating or researching on the effects of this combination, as I was about to find out for myself.

The third frying pan picture, showing the ice cream just starting to melt, is taken after two minutes of stirring. T-Rex's hypotheses regarding burning sugar and floating grease were not borne out by the evidence. As soon as the ice cream melted it mixed with any fat that came off my admittedly very lean beef.  As shown in the final photo of that sequence, after twenty-five minutes of stirring on medium heat, the mixture has reduced considerably and has the consistency of chili. I judged it ready for the next addition, "throw some eggs into this."

I cracked the eggs into a bowl and beat them slightly before adding. If you made the full recipe with five pounds of beef and five pounds of ice cream this probably wouldn't be necessary, but with the smaller proportions I needed finer quanta control than whole eggs allow.

Tasting the concoction revealed a need for very little salt, but given that the recipe gave me the latitude at this point to add ingredients to taste, I included some chili powder here, and of course more egg. At a point that my taste buds did not detect a need for more egg, I stirred it a few more times, ladled one helping into a dish, and added the garnish. T-Rex, specified fifty dollar bills, but as you recall I divided this recipe by five, hence the tens you see in the photo. The fifties would have added more colour, and also, being plastic, would have been easier to sterilize, I think. I washed the tens in hot water, but made them little plastic wrap condoms so they didn't come into contact with the food. I hope you can also see from the shower tile and porcelain curve in the background that the concoction is served in the bathtub.

The dish was astonishingly edible, considering it was invented by a fictional dinosaur and deliberately concocted to be as ludicrous as possible. It's pretty sweet, and this is coming from someone who ate Nutella out of the jar with a spoon for lunch. I would recommend decreasing the ice cream-to-beef ratio to perhaps 1:2, add more chili powder and other spices at an earlier stage of cooking and, as I mentioned earlier, play with the ice cream flavour. My photographer had three helpings. He said it was better on toast, and suggested the wine pairing shown below. That is: something cheap, homemade, and plentiful.

I wish to assure my regular readers that I am not converting this to a cooking blog, nor to an "Aviatrix does things the Internet tells her to" blog. I do intend to continue blogging about various aspects of being a commercial pilot in Canada. But you know, relying on a fictional dinosaur for consistency and recipes is not too out of line with the lifestyle.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Always Do

On Wednesday a Twin Otter with a Canadian crew went down in Antarctica. The aircraft was enroute from the South Pole base to an Italian base, but failed to arrive. An ELT signal indicated the aircraft position, but the weather was too bad to start an immediate rescue mission. The crew was experienced and well-equipped, with ample cold weather survival equipment and food for five days, and everyone had confidence in the captain.

I just learned that an American C130 Hercules crew spotted the wreckage, and another Twin Otter has flown by to confirm their findings. Weather still prevents rescuers from reaching the aircraft, but due to the appearance of the wreckage the crash is deemed unsurvivable.

I so thoroughly bought the image of Captain Heath and crew trading jokes and rationing supplies in their survival tents that the second piece of news came as far more of a shock than it should have. I don't know any of the crew personally, but it's certain that I know someone who does, and likely that I've chatted with one of them at an airport somewhere. It makes me think of another incident, another missing crew and aircraft, and another group of people totally deluding ourselves into believing that SAR would find the crew sitting on a glacier, waiting for rescue. You always do. Sometimes it happens. I worked with someone who was rescued uninjured after just such an incident. Sometimes it doesn't. Now it's a recovery operation. Thanks to the New York National Guard guys for your help, too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Separation Anxiety

I really really shouldn't laugh at this. I know people who have died in midair collisions, and aircraft separation is deadly serious business. While most of the math cycles in my brain are working out fuel consumption, most of my eyeball cycles are focused on not running into anyone. This joke is utterly predictable, and not even well done. But it's still hilarious.

On the topic of loss of separation, a deer ran into my car the other night. I don't know if it ran away, limped away or died there, because I lost sight of it as soon as it stopped being in my headlights, and stopping on the highway didn't seem wise. For the record, when I saw it the deer was approaching from the right and slightly ahead, so in aviation terms it had the right of way, both because I had it on my right and I was presumably passing it. It failed, however to display any navigation lights or make calls to traffic. No humans were hurt and the car is driveable, plus I've picked up some extra work this week that will cover the deductible.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Oil Confuses Me

I know some things about oil. I know that before start up most of it is in the crankcase, a big metal container-y thing in the middle of my engine. There's a filler neck on the crankcase, capped by the top of the dipstick, and I know which line on the dipstick the oil level should reach. I know how to add more. I'm even certified to do so, because that's considered "elementary work" by Transport Canada. I'm awesome at pouring oil straight from the bottle into the crankcase without spilling any, if the wind isn't blowing. I know that if the wind is blowing, or a helicopter taxies by and I spill oil on the engine it makes a mess, and then the maintenance folk can't tell if the engine is leaking or the pilot is just an idiot. I know how to make a funnel out of an old oil bottle so that I don't make a mess. I haven't yet figured out how to get the oil stain out of my wool sweater from the time I knocked over the funnel, but it just looks like a shadow, anyway. I'm pretty good at estimating how much oil is on the floor, cowling and or belly, if there is a leak. And it doesn't take any special skill beyond resignation to a task to clean oil off the airplane's cowls and belly. When it's time to change it, I can drain the oil from the engine into a bucket without burning myself.

The four functions of oil we learned as student pilots: cleaning, sealing, lubricating and cooling. Thus I know the oil lets the moving parts slide instead of scrape against one another to reduce wear and wasted power; it fills in little gaps around the pistons in the cylinders so the pressure doesn't escape; it exchanges heat between the hot engine and the cold air that blasts in around the oil cooler at 20,000' and 170 kts; and it carries bits of carbon and dirt and whatever with it out of the moving parts and into the oil filter. I can specify the maximum and minimum pressures acceptable oil pressures on the gauge and I even know there's a skinny little line that runs to each cockpit oil pressure gauge along the leading edge of the wings from each engine. It seems too blink-inducingly simple to be the way oil pressure monitoring would work, kind of like using a transparent gas tank for a fuel gauge or a little porthole in the floor to verify gear extension, but I've used such systems, too.

I've always been impressed that the very same oil is also used to control the pitch of my constant speed propellers. A pump steps up the pressure three- to fivefold in order to drive the propeller to fine pitch, and I love those little diagrams of pilot valves opening and closing for on-speed, underspeed and overspeed conditions. (The one on page 72 of this Hartzell manual is, however, astonishingly terrible. You can't even see the way the valve operates. Don't bother looking at it).

So what's my confusion about oil?

It has all these really specific jobs to do and is vitally important to the function of the engine, but after it goes through the pump and filter, it just gets jammed into all the things its supposed to lubricate, and squishes out in a not very orderly fashion. It's supposed to leak in and out of everything, and I'm really not sure how it gets collected back to the sump after its adventures in the engine. Is there a complicated system of check valves and return lines in the oil scavenging system? I know the system used in the Beaver, where the oil just splashes up and drips back down is less advanced than the one in my airplane, but I really don't know how it works. Maybe there are elves. And if so are they the arrogant, bow-wielding kind from The Hobbit or the bumbling ones with oversized hats from Rise of the Guardians. It's probably more complicated than that, because I've watched them cut open the used oil filters and I've never seen any arrows or hats in there.

Also, the FAA mandated this:


I hope there's more than a dashboard placard preventing failure of my crankshafts.