World's Best Ice Cream: Graeter's

Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip

Irene, a dear friend of mine from many years ago, recently sent me six pints of ice cream from Graeter's Ice Cream, a famous shop in Cincinnati (and now other locations in the Midwest). Many consider it to be the best ice cream in the world. I'm a believer.

Irene sent us two pints of black raspberry chip (her favorite and their signature flavor) and a pint each of caramel, cookies and creme, chocolate, and coffee. The flavors and texture are amazing; for instance, in the caramel, there's a lovely burned-sugar taste. The taste is very natural, unlike Haagen-Daz, my stand-by, which has a more chemically taste. The ice cream is incredibly rich and has a great mouth feel. Graeter's makes their ice cream by hand using a French pot process in two gallon batches, hand packing them into the pints.

You can order the ice cream over the Internet and have it shipped (which is what Irene did). The pints come packed in a cooler with dry ice and were frozen solid; frankly, they were so hard we had to let them soften in our freezer until we could scoop them. (Dry ice is so cool.)

The Graeter's was a special treat and a wonderful surprise. Thanks, Irene!

(Of course, Wikipedia has more on Graeter's.)

The Best Way to Cook Bacon


I love bacon. I mean I really love it. Good American bacon - the crunchy kind, not that flabby stuff you get in other countries. At the risk of offending entire religions and regions, I think much of the unrest in the world is because too many people don't know the joy of bacon. Almost no one who has tasted bacon would willingly blow themselves up or start shooting at someone else. Bacon is worth living for.

But, it can be a real challenge to cook bacon well. Frying it is a mess. Microwaving has inconsistent results. Plus, neither scales well to the large amounts of bacon needed for a big brunch (or just me on a Sunday morning.) The secret is to bake the bacon in the oven.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C or gasmark 7)
  2. Take a large cookie sheet with a lip and cover it in aluminum foil. I like the wide heavy duty stuff that can cover the tray with a single piece.
  3. Arrange the bacon on the sheet without overlapping.
  4. Bake for six minutes.
  5. Turn the cookie sheet around 180 degrees.
  6. Bake for another 4-7 minutes depending on your oven and how crispy you like your bacon.
  7. Lift the bacon out with tongs and set on a plate covered in paper towels. I dab the tops with another paper towel too.

Result: piles of perfectly cooked bacon for your dining pleasure.

Here are the cool bits about this recipe:

  • All of the bacon grease is in the pan on top of the foil. Once it cools down you can lift out the foil and throw it all away. No mess. Better still, you can spoon out the fat to scramble eggs in (because what goes better with hot bacon than eggs scrambled in bacon fat?) Beet greens or spinach stir fried in bacon fat with crumbled bacon on top is delicious too.

  • The turning around part is the magic move. Most ovens don't heat evenly. By turning the tray around, you ensure all the bacon cooks evenly. It's really amazing to me how evident the heat variation is when you see the bacon.

  • If you want more bacon (and who doesn't), stick more cookie sheets in the oven at the same time. You can do tons at once this way with no additional time and minimal additional effort.

I've read a variation of this recipe that recommends putting a wire rack in the cookie sheet to keep the bacon out of the fat. I tried it. The results aren't any better, the bacon sticks to the rack, and the rack is a mess to clean up. Stick to the simple solution above.

While I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for Niman Ranch bacon. This is the real deal. Thick cut, smoky, and meaty, this stuff is made from happy, pesticide-free, free range pigs that lead productive, satisfying lives and died in the prime of their tastiness for you and me. Oh man, this stuff is good as is everything from Niman Ranch. Go get some today (Trader Joe's carries the stuff as do other good stores.)

Mmm, salty, rich, crunchy, and meaty. What's not to love?

Best Self Defense Training - Insights Training Center

Regardless of how you feel about guns, I think everyone would agree that if you choose to own a gun, you should be trained in its safe and effective use. I learned to shoot at Insights Training Center and have nothing but good things to say about the school and Greg Hamilton, the founder and chief instructor. The system they teach is very logical and thought through. It truly is a system that integrates the same principles through unarmed, knife, handgun, and long arm self-defense. One bit of evidence of the quality of the program has been two championships and multiple top five finishes for Greg, his instructors, and students at the National Tactical Invitational.

Even if you don't choose to own a gun, it probably isn't a bad idea to learn how to handle them safely. Of course, there are a lot of classes from Insights that aren't firearm related as well including unarmed, folding knife, pepper spray, and others.

One of the things that appealed to me most about Insights is that Greg takes a very pragmatic and unglamorous view of guns and self-defense. For instance, in the first General Defensive Handgun class, when we were all on the firing line, Greg said that if he had this druthers, we'd spend the whole class running away as soon as he blew the whistle because that was the best way to handle a fight; of course, he knew we'd be upset about spending two days and few hundred dollars running sprints. He also warned that a defensive shooting would probably ruin your life emotionally and financially; there is nothing heroic or appealing about shooting someone else. It would simply the be price of protecting yourself and your family.

The classes are also just plain fun. There aren't too many other places you get to move around, yell, and shoot thousands of rounds in a safe environment. I haven't taken the unarmed class yet, but friends who have said it was a hoot to be able to hit someone (in a padded suit) full force.

I already use the learnings from Insights everyday; I am much more aware of my surroundings and take simple precautions like locking my car doors as soon as everyone is in. As a result, I hope I'll never have to use any of the more violent lessons from Insights, but I'm happy to have the option to do so if the time comes.

Insights Training Center

[post edited 4/10/2006 to correct a glaring typo]

The best knife in the world

Spyderco DelicaThere's a small set of things I always have in my pockets. My cellphone. A pen. An LED flashlight. These are all useful to me almost every day. But the thing I've carried most consistently over the past few years is a Spyderco Delica, aka the "Clip It"

The Delica is small, lockback folding knife. There are lots of these kinds of knives, but the Delica stands out in a few ways.

First, it has a clip on the side that allows me to hang it on the corner of my pocket; the clip is reversable so I can carry on either side of my body (and I do). This has a few benefits. First, it's just way more comfortable to carry this way; it's not turning sideways in the bottom of my pocket like the Swiss army knife I used to carry. Second, I always know exactly where it is and in what orientation.

This leads to the next benefit. I can open and close the knife with one hand, quickly if necessary. Invariably, when I need to cut something, I'm already holding it.

Next, the knife is super comfortable to hold and use. It's small and light (and short enough to legally carry virtually everywhere). The bump on the back of the blade is a perfect place to rest my thumb. Together with the slight curve on bottom, I feel secure that I can push a bit on the blade with less risk of sliding forward. This alone makes it preferable to me than most of the straight handled folding knives.

Finally, it's got a good blade. It's sharp and holds an edge. The blade comes in three configurations -- serrated, smooth, and combination (half serrated, half smooth). I prefer the smooth or combination blades. Spyderco also makes a trainer version with a dull blade.

While the knife looks purposeful and a bit scary to some (and I'm sure it would be useful in a fight), I find myself relying on it almost every day for some mundane task -- cutting down a box for recycling, peeling an orange, cutting out a newspaper clipping. I use the knives so often that I am acutely aware now when I don't have one (like on flights after 9/11.) These are useful tools, well-designed and well-made, and relatively affordable. What more could you ask for?

World's best flashlight

Surefire 6PThis isn't a new gadget, but it may be new to you, so what the heck.

I'm a huge fan of the flashlights from Surefire. These guys take their flashlights very seriously. They are mostly aimed at military and law enforcement applications, so the stuff is very tough, insanely bright (they have a light that can blind you through your eyelids), and super functionally designed.

The 6P is the granddaddy of their lights and a personal favorite. It's a good size, bright (see above), and happens to be a good fighting light if you find yourself in a shootout in lowlight. (Doesn't everyone?)

They have very slick LED and weapons-mounted lights too. Their website and catalog are glorious and really show off their passion for excellence.

I love companies who really care about what they build, are honest about what they can and can't build (e.g. they don't claim their LED flashlight is visible at 20 miles and can last a lifetime on a single battery), and build great products.

Great, great stuff.

The best rum in the world

I'm not usually a big rum fan unless it's mixed with Coke or something, but I just had a glass of Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum. Damn, it's good. Very, very smooth. It is reminscent of good scotch without the peat or smoke. It's a more clean, sugar cane taste.

This is the world's best rum. I think so. So did the 2000 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Anyway, it's delicious.

It will also kick your ass. I've been sipping an albeit generous pour this evening and can already feel it go to my head. How good.