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Oh you sweet succulent fragrance of vanilla, how you fill my life!

Vanilla beans in a bag

Seriously... who doesn't like the smell of vanilla. I'm sure even Jeffrey Dahmer has the same appreciation for vanilla as Betty White -- hell, I'll go as far as Betty Crocker! Tangent -- Betty White is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend with Jay-Z --- whattttttt? Awesome.

So back to the main focal point of this entry. Vanilla! More specific, vanilla extract!

Are you ever stuck wondering what to get your mother for Christmas -- that same mother that you buy spa gift certificates for, but doesnt use them? Whos that same mom that would always make you give her a foot massage during X-Files or a back massage? How about the father that as soon as he sees something on any infomercial he has already ordered it on the phone or the internet before the first airing of the commercial is finished? It's hard. No, its damn near impossible. You're stuck poking and prodding for that hint of what might be useful, and until recently for my father, my little brother and sister were about as useless as asking a bag of sugar what to get him as a gift (hey, they were young and focus their life on video games and whether or not to eat that juicy booger or not!).

So here I am. 25 and single. Nothin goin on but a small loft in Atlanta and a couple of cats. I mean, if I wanted to add to that another level of lameness, why not MAKE MY OWN VANILLA. Well, I'm going there. It gives me something to spend 5 minutes a day on -- kind of like how I can now watch the tomatoes, peppers, garlic chives and broccoliiiiiiiiiiiiii I planted grow from seeds!

Thus, I proceeded with the grueling task of internet research on how to make my own vanilla extract -- alright, that was sarcasm. I found two reviews on how to do it and figured I had the gist, and it was time to start my adventure.

Essentially... this is what you need:

  1. A knife - paring or razor. Something sharp, people!
  2. A butter knife, or back of your paring knife
  3. Cutting surface (something you can wash)
  4. A bottle of booze! Vodka... brandy... Quality doesnt matter, apparently. Your store bought extract is booze, fyi. 40% by volume (80 proof)
  5. Maybe some empty beer bottles you can reseal, or some wine bottles. Easiest way, buy a few half pints or pints of alcohol and put the beans directly in the bottle!
  6. Vanilla beans (raw, unprocessed, organic or not is up to you (even though organic is a crock) For every pint of alcohol, you need ~30 beans (.1# worth, but more the merrier)
  7. 1-6 months of mild attention (aka, dont forget its in the cupboard!)

Pretty simple... right? Wait til I describe and show you what to do... its sad.

So... when I help people on the phone with their computers, I always start with this: DO NOT THINK FOR YOURSELF! DO EXACTLY, TYPE EXACTLY, AND CLICK EXACTLY WHERE I SAY! -- They agree, but they never do. I should have them sign a contract and when they break it I can charge them double for wasting double my time. So ya... See above for rule: DO NOT THINK FOR YOURSELF! DO EXACTLY, TYPE EXACTLY, AND CLICK DO EXACTLY WHERE I SAY!

How to make vanilla extract (according to multiple websites, since mine arent done yet):

  • You need to gather a cutting surface and the rest of your ingredients

  • Start by taking each bean and slicing longways down the bean. Now, the trick here (its easy, I promise) is to flip your knife upside down so the blade is facing up. Poke the tip through the skin, and slide it up the bean. It gets super easy as you develop a rhythm. Make sure you do not cut all the way through the bean (this is why you're using the tip of the knife, and holding the bean)

If you enlarge this pic, you'll see all the yummy caviar you get to scrape out. Notice how the bean is 'opened' and not cut 100% of the way through!

  • Once all beans are cut longways 50% through, cut each bean in half! If you over think this and question as to what you're supposed to do, you're an idiot and shouldnt continue...
  • Once beans are cut in half, go to the end of the bean that isnt sliced through (inevitably, most of the time the tips of the beans havent been sliced since you stuck the knife in on one side, and probably didnt make it to the end of the bean all the way. You want to lay on the board, spread the bean by the uncut tip, and slide the back of the paring knife or the back of a butter knife at a 45 degree angle into the meat of the bean. This scrapes out all of the "caviar" (essentially the actual beans from the pod)

This picture is post scrapage, essentially just lift the knife to a 45 degree angle and slide in direction the bean is opened in

  • Set all the caviar to the side in a pile (do not discard!) and continue cleaning out all the beans

  • Once all beans are cleaned, chop into ~1inch pieces
  • At this point, you'll want to dump out some of the alcohol into a glass. Ideally, the glass should be boiled/steamed to clean it so you dont expose bacteria, but, go at it how you wish. The reason for this, is you're about to stick the bean pods and caviar into the bottle, and it WILL overflow if you do not empty some due to displacement.

  • Dont be surprised, as step 7 said, you're now going to the bean pod pieces and caviar into said bottle of alcohol
  • Once most of the bean parts are in, top off with alcohol. You want everything to remain covered or it will dry out!
  • Let it sit...
  • At this point, you're supposed to give a vigorous shaking every day for the first week. Give it a smell -- mmmm
  • Week 2,3, and 4, shake a few times a week now.
  • Week 5 is when you apparently have raw vanilla extract -- albeit extremely raw!
  • Month 2 to 6, shake it whenever you remember
  • At 6 months, they say you are supposed to filter it. Do this with a coffee filter and filter it into a clean glass/bottle
  • Give it away!

Here is my half pint vodka filled with ~.1# of beans

I think this is pretty cool... Vanilla growers tattoo their beans so you can identify them. It looks like discoloring due to bugs or something, but this is the tattoo!

Oh, and save your beans when you pull them out! Let them dry back out, and stick into your bag or sugar, or jar, however you store it. You now have your own vanilla sugar! mmmmmmmmmm

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You told me I’m a genius and I laughed, but you were RIGHT!

As soon as I decided to go to Thailand, I dove head first into research. Where should I go.... what do I wear.... What shots do I need.... Why the hell is the only thing I can find on forums about traveling to Thailand involve prostitutes.... You know, the normal!


One thing I decided, was I'm going to bring my cameras. That includes my small point-and-shoot "normal camera" and my Nikon DSLR my dad got me for my birthday this year. That raises this standard question... how do I prevent my stuff from being stolen?!


Allow me to introduce you to the Daysafe 100 form Pacsafe. Its a great little bag, in my opinion. It comes in at $149.99, and I think that is well worth the price. It has a slash proof base with basically a chicken wire mesh inbetween two pieces of material, as well as slashproof bag straps (basically have a metal cable running through them). AND some little zipper lock things that I dont want to explain.


I got to thinking though... that bag will be hot on my back in the heat and humidity of Thailand, and I dont really need such a big daypack bag to hold my cameras and small items. My fix?


The REI Flash 18 daypack. Its small, lightweight, wont take up a lot of back surface area to get all sweaty, and isnt BLACK to attract all that extra sun to my back. AND its only $29.50!! The negative, is that its ripstop nylon -- RIPSTOP, not RAZORSTOP. So, that sucks... I got to thinking "Hmmmm... how can I feel comfortable about my stuff not getting stolen by the bottom being slashed out like you read about online?"


Here is how!


I decided to buy some chicken coup wire -- $5.98 for a pretty big roll at Home Depot. Like my food reviews, I get so excited to start stuff I dont document things right -- as you can see form my half eaten food pictures, and the picture of my chicken wire with tape on it already. So, I basically laid out the  chicken wire, cut it to a general size, and then got even more precise and cut it down even smaller so it would fit like a U inside my bag. Then I curled the jagged edges flat, and started to use electrical tape to smooth everything out -- that didnt work well, so off to Kroger I went to buy some duct tape and baby pins to secure it (I stood there looking at sewing kits and baby pins trying to decide which... I bought the sewing kit, and then decided at home I wanted pins so I could undo this easily at the airport to throw away if they wont let it in...)



Heres a close up of the half duct tape, half electrical tape action. I dont have a picture of my final product, but I did two layers of duct tape on all 4 sides and now its completely smooth with no jagged edges (so when I shove my hand in I dont cut it up!)











I wanted to see how my bag looked fully loaded with what I COULD bring, but wont every day (camera in its case, 55-200 lens in its case, SB600 flash in its case, and my light rain jacket for the sudden showers. At this point, the mesh is sitting IN the bag but not secured to see how it will feel.






This picture is the back of the bag, you can see the mesh isnt protruding out anywhere, and lays flat and feels like its not even there.









This is everything that was in there -- I will need to pack the jacket tighter to get the most open space in the bag, so things arent sitting so high on my back.






Here is a shot inside the bag. The mesh is sitting more or less flat -- I've attached ~6 pins on the front/back/bottom of the bag so that if the bottom is slashed, the pins can hold the weight of everything sitting on mesh and things dont spill out. If the sides are slashed, then I'm screwed.. Oh well.







Lastly, here is the exterior of the bag with the pins installed. You can see its not very bad in terms of drawing attention. The only negative, is it gets rid of the nice water resistance of the bag at the two points of entry/exit of the pints. I dont really plan on standing in downpours, so I feel this shouldn't really impact the bag. I can always patch it with some sort of epoxy around the pins, or holes when I take them out after my trip.




So thats that! I have the bag I want, the security of my items I longed, and I saved $107 (figure $30 (bag) + $6 (mesh) + $6 (tape, pins, etc).


How bout that :)


Hello, world!

I got a comment in my email today from my buddy Zach Jumbalaya whos down in South America conquering it like our ancient Eastern European ancestors would approve of -- minus the sex fest, booze cruises, and pillaging. Its my story -- I'll tell it how I want!


Check out his TravelPod here... You can read about his journey and see some pretty incredible pics. One of my favorite lines, which is from his most recent writing is

"With all the doomsay we see in the news, with all the natural disasters, with all the political strif over universal heath care, I can think of no better way to combat cynicism then to go head first into the world. I am daily reminded that while problems exsist, so does a lot of goodness. I guess what I'm trying to say is, LIFE IS GOOD AND I LOVE IT."


Anyway... it made me think of how I have a visitor log and map and decided to check it out just to check his story, and make sure hes not really up in say Virginia just pretending to be in South America ;)


So heres my map... For whatever reason, I've had 71 visitors in the ~15 days since I install my blog, even though I've only been using it actively for maybe 7 now. The cool part? I had some random dude/ette from Moscow check my blog out!


Click the image and it'll open up bigger, but I added some text captions on the dots so you can know where places (if you hover mouse on icon on my screen, they pop up). The Tarlac is most likely a Customer Service Rep from the company I work for, since our call center is in Tarlac, Philippines. Either way, HEY TARMAC, HEY RUSSIA!

Hello, world!


“Its like a fat lady sitting on your face while you sleep!” – brother

So fortunate for me, it seems I have sleep apnea!

I completed my second part my sleep study/CPAP testing last night with Emory. All in all... not too bad. Would I tell you to run out and do it, give it a whirl? Absolutely not. While its not EXACTLY as bad as 'a fat lady sitting on your face while you sleep" its more like a young child that you are babysitting. You have fun learning the way it works, getting to know it, spending a little time with it, but once it starts pushing on your face for a while you want to beat it!

The staff that I had at the sleep center for both studies were always exceptional. The facilities are good -- I mean, its no Hilton, but I've stayed in worse Motel 8s when my company decided to spend $100 on a 2-star hotel in the absolute ghetto of West Palm Beach for me.


So heres the process... You arrive at the facility and get taken to your room. At that point, you get some paper work to fill out and told to change into you jammies (think they would have let me wear some Powerranger onesie jammies?). They then come in and get you all wired up with the seemingly tangled jumble of wires to monitor muscle movements in face, legs, probably arms but I missed it, and heartrate points, probably my genetic makeup -- probably even have wires to find out what lottery numbers I play, so that they can develop algorithms to find that winning ticket!


At one point in the 'hooking up' (thinking about it, its ALMOST like I was getting to play as an Avatar, except not) they bring in a spread of facemasks. I was honestly surprised to find that most of them were not that uncomfortable. Not great, but passable. There are, though, a few that feel pretty good ... in terms of a small child sitting on your face and squishing parts. So there you are... sitting in a chair in your jammies with more or less a stranger, getting wired up to all your extremes, and pushing every type of mask with air pumping through it up to your nose -- this should seriously be more of a Friday or Saturday night 'date', not a weekday -- maybe it'd have that special feel of a date!


I felt I should take a picture trying masks while gettin wired up

Masks Small Children:

I decided to sleep with this mask. It worked pretty well, as I ran it through rigorous face tests. These pretty much consisted of putting the mask on (probably when I wasnt supposed to, but I was left unattended with air tubes, masks, and elastic headstraps ... what else would you expect from me?!!?). I would then move them around randomly to 'simulate' my sleep pattern like that of a convulsing baby chimpanzee. I'm willing to bet I dont thrash around... but I definitely roll around a lot. Ok fine... no chimpanzee... an adolescent rollypoly learning the forward tuck-and-roll.


This is another option I put as my 2nd choice, but I never made it to using it while sleeping. It more or less passed my thrash tests, though with the headgear on it didnt feel too good on my nose. As you can see, I was pretty damn excited to take a picture while pushing it into my nose!


Anyway... its all done and over with and the sleep went pretty well. I did wake up some, at one point what seemed like 30 minutes at least of laying there on my back thinking that this is soooooo not for me. Last time I had to come home, shower, and get back in bed for 3 hours. This time? I showered and decided to head into work. So maybe there is room for improvement in my sleep with a CPAP.


Who knows. I cant afford the $2000 setup anyway. Time to save up with allocations in my budget! GO DAVE RAMSEY!

Good night ... and good luck.



!??!! ME?!?!?!


So... I was given a deadline by the bossman (aka, the brosef) of this coming Friday, on a lot of stuff in the platform of task/process management that I run at my company. I should include the amount of work, while not hard, is still time consuming and VERY long-drawn.


Normally, not a problem. Lately? Big problem. I've been covering responsibilities for another job on top of mine -- good and fine, just lots of frustration work at times.


So, to get this done... I had an ace up my sleeve, thanks to pops. Even though I said I'd pass on a gift, he still mailed me a pair of Bose Quietcomfort 15 Over-the-Ear noise canceling headphones.


Whats that mean?


It means I'm rocking the hell out to some Daft Punk, maybe some Miley Cyrus! Whatever I want to rock out to, I'm a grown ass man! So talk on all you porceilan palace colleagues! I cant hear youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu ..... Go ahead, ask me again. Nope, I can't hear you now, either!


Party on, Garth.


Hello world, I’m Chris!

So in efforts of trying to combine previous webpages of mine for gallerys... personal... files... blah blah blah... I've decided to start up a WordPress Blog. The use of this blog will be primarily for my travel updates/photos and my foodie reviews ... and the combination of them both!


I hope, as time goes on, this blog offers some relief AND release to people, as well as give me a place to say what I want, when I want, and how I want!


See you on the flipside.

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