Home Tour, 8-Oct-16

Another look at my work-in-progress home.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I had a friend I hadn’t seen for about a year come over for dinner on Saturday night. It was a good thing he came. I had a few little projects that I’d been putting off for two long — the trim around my bathroom door being the biggest one — and knowing he was coming motivated me to finish them. It also motivated me to clean the place up and throw away a lot of the junk that had been accumulating. I am the queen of clutter and I’m really working hard to control it.

My Red Sofa
I get very serious when I clean. I even took out the leather cleaner and wiped down my living room sofa.

Once my home was all spiffed up, I figured I’d take the opportunity to do a quick video tour. I’ve been videoing various parts of my new home construction and it’s kind of neat to go back through my archive and see where I was at various points.

My living space is about 95% done at this point. I have my Certificate of Occupancy — I got it last spring — so there’s nothing left to get inspected. There are three big finishing projects, though:

  • Build a ladder to my loft. I already have all the wood and hardware. I just have to stop procrastinating and get the job done.
  • Finish the tile around my shower stall. Again, I have most of the materials I need. I just absolutely detest working with tile. So I procrastinate.
  • Paint and trim the stairs. I’m going with paint because it’s durable and cheap. But I still have to sand the steps, paint them, and then add trim along the sides.

I also have some “baseboard” trim work to do. I’m using quarter round to keep it simple. There’s not much left to do. I might knock it off Monday afternoon.

Anyway, here’s the video. Enjoy.

Pressure Cooker Beef (or Oxtail) Barley Soup

One of my favorites, made quickly with a twist.

Oxtails, fresh from the butcher.

One of my favorite “comfort foods” is beef barley soup. I blogged my recipe last December; here’s the pressure cooker version that’ll get yummy barley goodness to your mouth quicker. But rather than use plain old stew meat, this time I used fresh oxtails that I picked up from a local butcher this past week. I whipped it up in my Instant Pot in about an hour.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil. The original recipe called for cooking spray. But why not use a little olive oil instead?
  • 2 pounds oxtails, trimmed (or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces). You can make it with less meat, but if you have more, use it. It’ll make a heartier soup.
  • 3-4 large carrots, sliced. Carrots are a must-have in any meat-based soup.
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced. I don’t care for celery, but it is part of the aromatic trilogy.
  • 1 large onion, chopped. The third member of the aromatic trilogy, I put onions in most soups and stews. I still have onions from my garden.
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced. If you can’t find parsnips, add another carrot or two, which is what I did today.
  • 1 medium turnip, cut into 1/2-inch cubes. I skipped this today.
  • 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef broth. Today I cheated and used water with bullion, which is the only thing I had.
  • 1 bay leaf.
  • 2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt. You can probably omit the salt if you don’t use low-sodium beef broth. I did, but then again, I’m trying to keep my salt intake down. Remember you can always add salt; you can’t remove it.
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Pepper is always good with beef.


These instructions are for an Instant Pot, but I tried to include generic pressure cooker instructions, too.

  1. Heat the pressure cooker for browning. On an Instant Pot, press Sauté.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
  3. Add oxtail or stew meat to pot and cook until browned on all sides.
  4. Remove meat from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Add vegetables to the pot; cook 6-8 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.
  6. Return beef to pot with beef broth and bay leaf.
  7. Bring to a simmer and turn off the pressure cooker.
  8. Stir in remaining ingredients
  9. Cover and lock down the cover. Set the pressure cooker to high for 20 minutes. (On an Instant Pot, press Manual and set to 20.
  10. When pressure cycle is over turn pressure cooker off and allow pressure to release naturally. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.
  11. Remove cover carefully, fish out bay leaf, and serve.

Oxtail Barley Soup
Oxtail barley soup. It was delicious!

Keep in mind that the longer you cook the pearl barley or let it sit in the hot soup, the more liquid it will absorb. The net result could be more of a stew than a soup. If you want a soupier soup, either reduce the amount of barley or increase the amount of broth.

This yields about six to eight servings, depending on serving size. I think it would be excellent with some crusty bread on a cold winter day.

Another Rides Gig

The ground crew really makes a difference.

Last Saturday, I made my fifth appearance at Wenatchee Wings & Wheels, an annual event in East Wenatchee. I was offering helicopter rides out of the soccer field on the north side of Eastmont Park for $40 per person.

My History with Wings & Wheels

The first year I did this event was way back in 2012. It’s an October event, long past the end of my cherry drying season in Washington, and back in those days I still lived in Arizona. In previous years, I’d had to pass up participation because I was expected home by August. But in 2012, my divorce was underway and I was finally free to do whatever I liked with my time. So although I went home in mid-September to deal with divorce bullshit and start packing, I left the helicopter behind in Washington. I went back in October with a friend to do the event and then fly the helicopter home.

Wings & Wheels is a car show with an aviation theme. Or at least it was back in 2012. The event was held at the airport and had a great turnout. I was prepared and had asked my friend Jim from Coeur d’Alene to bring his helicopter. He brought along his wife to handle the money and a friend to work with my friend as ground crew.

We flew all day — long past the time when I was hoping to start the flight home. So my friend and I stayed the night and got an early start in the morning. The helicopter was stuffed to the gills with gear, as well as a 40-pound box of Honeycrisp apples one of my clients had given me. We took the most direct route and made it back to Phoenix in 8 hours.

The following year, I was living in Washington. But the powers that be in East Wenatchee had decided to put the event in Eastmont Park near downtown. The best they could offer me was a static display — I flew the helicopter in on Friday evening and left it until Sunday. People could go look at it and I could sell rides for Sunday at the airport. I sold out on all of the rides by noon on Saturday and did them on Sunday. I don’t remember how many I did, but I think it might have only been about 20. A bust, as far as I’m concerned.

In 2014, the airport started hosting its own airport event in June: Aviation Day. That first year, I enlisted the help of two of the cherry drying pilots who work with me. Between the three of us, all flying R44s, we took just over 300 people for rides. That remains my absolute best event in terms of the number of people flown — although I had to split the revenue with my fellow pilots — and that annual event continues to be my busiest every summer.

But in October, the Wings & Wheels folks wanted me to fly, too. They set me up in the soccer field on 3rd and Georgia. I had a reasonable turnout in 2014 and a better one in 2015. But this year was my best so far.

This Year’s Rides at Wings & Wheels

A few things combined to make last Saturday’s event a real winner.

First of all, the weather was perfect. Cool with very little wind meant that my helicopter had good performance and I didn’t have to alter my departure/arrival route. It also meant that a lot of people had come out for the event.

Second, the event was advertised on the radio and in the newspaper. Wenatchee has several radio stations and they’re really good about advertising local events. Although I hadn’t sent out any press releases, the City of East Wenatchee apparently had and had mentioned helicopter rides. So lots of people heard about it on the radio or read about it in the newspaper (or its website) and took advantage of a beautiful day to come on out with their families.

Third, there were a lot of families. A rides event is a great place for a kid to get a first helicopter ride without mom and dad breaking the bank. The rides were $40/person. More than a few people told me or my ground crew that they’d rather spend the money on a memorable helicopter ride than a few amusements at the carnival that had also set up in the park.

Fourth was my ground crew. They were responsible for collecting the money, doing passenger safety briefings, and loading/unloading passengers. I do “hot loading” at all of my events — that means the engine is running and the blades are turning the whole time. The ground crew is responsible for keeping the landing zone secure and keeping passengers and onlooker safe. (The park people helped out by setting up T-posts with caution tape to create a landing zone boundary.) Without a good crew, I cannot make a rides event work. (More on that in a moment.) This year’s crew was excellent.

At Wings & Wheels
Alyse, from my ground crew, took this photo of me just before departing on my first flight of the day.

Paassenger Photo
Here’s a photo from one of my back seat passengers that was shared on Flying M Air’s Facebook page. In this shot, we’re going upriver on the East Wenatchee side.

I’ve created a sloppy little map of the setup at the park (see below). The car show — which was huge — was in the baseball fields, on the grass. I didn’t get to see it, other than from the air. North of that were some food vendors and other booths for other things. I didn’t really get to see any of that, either. Then there were some tennis courts and then our landing zone. The red box outlines the area the park people secured for us with posts and tape. East of us was a dirt area with RC trucks racing around and beyond that was a handful of carnival rides.

On departure, I took off to the east, avoiding the trees to the north of my area and trying to avoid the dirt track and carnival. Then I made a circle around the car show area, mostly to make sure everyone on the ground knew there were helicopter rides before heading out to the river. You can see this with the green line. I flew up the East Wenatchee side to the north end bridge and then flew back down the Wenatchee side to the south end bridge. Then I came east and returned to my landing zone by way of a few empty school fields north of the landing zone. You can see this with the blue line.

Wings & Wheels Layout
Here’s the general layout of the event.

We made the paper the next day, too.

The Importance of a Good Ground Crew

In the past, I’ve worked with a variety of different people as my ground crew.

When I did events in Arizona, my wasband often helped out. He knew the drill pretty well but could also be counted on to complain incessantly after each event. On large events, I’d get someone else to work with him. I pay my ground crew and often pay based on the number of rides we do. (Although my wasband always refused to take any money, he later told the divorce judge that working for free at a handful of events over the years made him a part owner of my company. Lying in court about the actual number of events — over a hundred? — didn’t work well for him, either.) We often do dinner, too, on my dime. And, of course, I provide chairs and a cooler full of refreshments for the crew while I fly.

The best ground crew are the people who understand that the goals are:

  • Safety. This is my number one concern. Accidents are not an option. Not only can they ruin an event and likely prevent me from doing future events in the area, but they’re bad for public relations. People are already afraid of helicopters, mostly because they don’t understand how they fly. To have someone get hurt an event confirms those fears. I’ve never had a mishap and I want to keep it that way.
  • Crowd control. When lines form, people bicker. At least I was told that they did in Arizona. In Washington, people are much more laid back and easy going. I’ve never had a local ground crew complain about a crowd, even when wait time exceeded an hour.
  • Quick turnarounds. The quicker my ground crew can unload passengers and load up the next group of passengers, the quicker I can take off. My ride times are pretty fixed at 8 to 10 minutes. Shortening them would make passengers think they didn’t get their money’s worth. So to keep things moving, the ground crew has to keep things moving on the ground. I’ve worked with slow ground crews before and it is frustrating — especially for the folks waiting to get off who can’t depart without an escort and the ones watching the helicopter idle while they wait for their turn.
  • Maximize passenger count. This is where I either make money or lose it. At the $40/person pricing, I lose money on every flight with just one person on board, so I simply won’t do flights for singles. (You can’t make money on quantity if you lose money on individual flights.) With two people on board, I make money. With three people on board, I make good money. The best ground crews are the ones that consistently put three people on board each flight. This not only helps make the event profitable, but it reduces the wait time for passengers. Got a couple up next? Find a single farther back in the line and put him on board, too.

From the Ground
An onlooker who didn’t fly with us posted this photo on Facebook of us flying by.

I had my friend Alyse and her friend Diana work with me at this event. This was their first time working with me. Both women are pretty sharp and caught on right away. Although they weren’t as quick as I’d like at turnarounds — at least in the beginning — they somehow managed to get three people on almost every single flight. I’ve never had that done before at an event — I consider myself lucky if half the flights have two people and the other half have three. (The last Aviation Day event had just two people on most flights.) So not only did I fly a lot more people than I had in previous years, but I also earned more money per hour flown. In fact, on a per-hour basis, it was my most profitable event ever.

My Thoughts on Rides Gigs

I have a lot of thoughts about rides gigs. Although I only do 2 to 4 of them per year, I’ve been at it for 15 years. Without consulting my logbooks, I figure I’ve done about 50 of them by now. I did three this year: Aviation Day (at the airport), Farmer-Consumer Awareness Day (at a field in Quincy), and Wenatchee Wings & Wheels.

Every event is just different enough to keep it interesting. But I have to admit that flying the same route over and over — and answering the same handful of questions — all day long is not my idea of fun. If I didn’t make money at these events, I wouldn’t do them.

One thing I really do like about them is the fact that for at least half of my passengers, their flight with me is their first time in a helicopter. Occasionally, it’ll be their first flight in any aircraft. I like the fact that I can give them an affordable first experience and that I can often take away any fears about helicopter flight that they might have. It’s not crazy, like a roller coaster. It’s smooth, with an amazing view of someplace they see every day from the ground. I especially like it when the kids point out places they recognize but have never seen from the air. It makes the experience fresh for me, too.

As for the regulars, well, it’s nice to be able to see that there are some folks who return every year for another flight, even though it’s the same flight as the previous year. I must be doing something right if they keep coming back.

Sous Vide Steak

An update to my post about exploring sous vide cooking.

Well, my new Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator arrived the other day and I wasted no time trying it out. I pulled two 1-1/2 inch thick New York strip steaks out of the freezer — they were from the quarter cow I bought last year — and defrosted them. I seasoned them with my prime rib rub (see below), which I normally use for roasting beef on my Traeger. Then I sealed each steak and about 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter in a pouch using my FoodSaver vacuum sealer.

Although my immersion circulator was supposedly designed to work with the inner pot of an Instant Pot cooker, it was too tall for mine. (WTF?) Fortunately, I have a tall Calphalon stew pot and it fit perfectly in that. I filled the pot with hot tap water to the bottom fill line of the circulator, plugged it in, and set the temperature for medium cooked beef: 135°F. Because my tap water is so hot (about 122°F in the pot, according to the circulator’s thermostat), it only took a few minutes to get to 135°F.

Sous-Vide setup
Not a very good picture, but you get the idea. The immersion circulator keeps the water at temperature. The steaks cook in the water in individual bags.

I dropped both steaks in. As I expected, the water level rose to about halfway between the upper and lower fill marks. I tried to set the circulator’s timer to 1-1/2 hours, but it reset itself to 8 hours. So I took note of the time and went about my business cleaning the garage.

An hour later, I came back. The steaks were no longer red. The butter had melted. There was juice in the packets.

I heated my propane grill to high temperate, brushed off the metal grill, and turned down two of the three burners. Then I put some cut up potatoes and beets from my garden, along with a cut up carrot, into my grill basket, set it on the grill away from the high burner, and closed the lid. I let them bake on mostly indirect heat for about 20 minutes, tossing them occasionally. I added a cut up onion from my garden.

I made a salad. For me, that usually consists of opening a bag of mixed greens and adding salad dressing. I like to cook but hate making salad.

When the onions were beginning to soften and the potatoes and beets were done, I brought one of the steaks out. I cut open the pouch and put the steak on over the burner set to high. I reserved the packet of juice.

I let the steak sear well on one side before turning it. Then it seared on the other. Total grill time was less than 4 minutes.

I plated the steak and veggies with some salad. I poured the pouch juice over the steak. I poured a glass of cabernet and sat down to eat.

A Sous Vide Dinner
My first sous vide steak with grilled garden vegetables and bag o’salad.

This was probably the most delicious, perfectly cooked steak I’ve ever eaten. Tender and amazingly juicy, it was just the way I like it: brown on the outside and pink but firm on the inside.

The interesting thing about cooking this way is that you can (with some exceptions) leave the steak in the hot water as long as you like before searing it. This makes it an extremely convenient method of cooking red meat for guests. The only drawback is that all meats in the cooker will cook to the same doneness. That means you can’t please someone who likes their meat rare while pleasing others who like theirs medium well — unless you do more than just sear those medium well steaks on the grill.

As for the other steak, I left it in its sealed pouch and put it in the fridge for another day. I would up serving it to a friend last night. I microwaved the pouch for about 30 seconds to get the juices liquified again, then put the steak on the grill and finished it up as I’d finished mine a few days before. My guest was very impressed.

Prime Rib Rub Recipe

Mix together the following ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic or dried minced garlic or 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds

This is good on any beef you roast or smoke. I first used it on a rib roast I prepared in my Traeger a few years ago and it was amazing. Now I always keep a jar of it on hand for seasoning steak and even hamburgers.

Exploring Sous Vide Cooking

As if I needed another new thing to explore.

Instant Pot Sous Vide Immersion Circulator
The Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator attaches to the lip of any suitably sized pot.

This week, I bought a sous vide immersion circulator. This is a device that you put in a pot of water and let it heat the water to the exact temperature you need for sous vide cooking. The one I got is from the Instant Pot people — the Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator — so it’s designed to go into that pot, but it’ll fit just about any large pot. I suspect I could even use it with one of my big, stainless steel cheesemaking pots if I needed to prepare a large quantity of food. I bought this with a “Lightning Deal” on Amazon for under $100; it basically gives me a sous vide cooker for a fraction of the price (and size) of a dedicated sous vide cooking device.

Sous vide — in case you’re not aware of the term — is a method of cooking raw food inside a vacuum sealed bag. Add the food and seasonings, seal up the bag, and then simmer it at a specific temperature for a few hours. Yes, hours. For certain foods — like steak — you’d then finish it off by searing it in a hot skillet or on a grill. You can learn more in an excellent article I found online at the Serious Eats website.

Although many people use zip-lock bags for this kind of cooking, a vacuum sealer with heat tolerant bags is preferred. I already have one of those so I’m all ready to go. I’m thinking I might try a steak tonight. (I have to admit that I’m already pretty good at grilling up steaks so this would have to greatly improve the flavor or texture of the meat for me to switch for steak.) If all goes well, I’ll explore other recipes. Anyone have any recipes for sous vide that they want to share?

I’m also wondering if I can prepare the food with seasonings in a bag, freeze it, and then defrost and cook it later.

But the real reason I bought it? I was thinking that I could somehow use this device to help me maintain certain temperatures needed when making cheese. A quick look at it, however, gives me the idea that submerging it directly in milk would probably not be a good idea. I’d have to stick to a double-boiler, which is okay; I could use the immersion circulator in the outer pot. Any thoughts?

If anyone reading this has experience with sous vide cooking and has a favorite recipe or two, please share it. I’m always interested in trying new things.

And sometimes I’m not sure that’s a good thing!