Sunday, February 26, 2012

Going from Eeww to Aaahh in 2 Days

Ever wonder how a leaky pool gets fixed and prepped for the swim season?

Step 1: Start with a hole in the ground, filled with 21,000 gallons of lime green colored water. No it’s not a special effect--think of it as a giant Petri dish filled with algae.

Step 2: Steam off the surface. This clears off the slime and softens the vinyl liner.

Step 3: Slice then peel off the old liner. Oh … guess I wasn’t expecting that underneath.

Step 4: Resurface with a skim coat.

Step 5: Open a surprisingly small cardboard box and roll out the new liner.

Step 6: Overlay the liner onto the sandy concrete base. Think of it as a supersized tablecloth.

Step 7: Add a little water and pity the frogman who has to dive into 50-degree water to install the drain cover in the deep end.

Step 8: Make a cut out for the steps.

Step 9: Add water with a garden hose. A lot more water. Keep adding water all day and all night. Have freakish nightmares about your upcoming water bill.

Step 10: Grab a beach towel. Put on your swim fins. Wait for warm weather.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jennings GP

The whine of an 848-cc engine began to build in the distance. Louder and longer until it reached maximum crescendo nearing the corner of turn 1. Suddenly the racing Ducati flew down the straightaway. In a moment it was gone, but the sound of the engine lingered. Then, you could hear the rider shifting gears as it headed into the next leg. You could just feel him leaning into the turn—knee to the ground, torso and leg forming a perfect “Z”; shoulders at a 45-degree angle. Then straightening up in a single smooth roll. Top speed at this track is 150+ mph.

It was a practice day, and we were the only visitors at north Florida’s motorcycles only road racing track. Jennings GP has two miles of smooth black asphalt with 14 turns, and is surrounded by chain link fencing.

We had parked on the grass between a couple of muscle pick-ups, all chrome trimmed and shiny in the bright sun. Nearby, a handful of track crew sat on the wood steps of a small outbuilding that sold tickets and tee-shirts.

The paddock held mostly Ducati motorcycles, and riders were splitting their time between track school and taking laps.

Under the bright red tents you could see racing bikes braced in stands, wheels peeking out from under electric tire warmers.

I walked over to the track itself. The sun was warm and dry grass crackled under my step. A few sharp blades poked their way through the holes in my croc shoes. Flies buzzed around a sign warning spectators to stay at least 25 feet from the fence. On race day, there would be hundreds of race fans in the crowd, but on this day I had the track to myself.

Jennings GP is open to motorcycle riders with any level of experience. Newcomer, intermediate or fast riders can get track experience and go to racing school. Even if you just want to watch others ride, visitors can join the fans and enjoy the thrill of racing up close.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Make Vietnamese Rice Pancakes


Rice flour... Coconut milk ... Salt


Depart Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. Change planes then board a 2-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. Once there book a day tour of the Mekong Delta

Soon you will find yourself sharing a wooden boat with a handful of newly-made friends. Sip fresh juice from a hollowed out coconut as you cross the Mekong river. This mighty river that stretches over 3,000 miles from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea. On the way to one of its tiny islands near the river’s mouth you will see a number of large and small cargo boats, and glide past floating fish farms.

Here and there you might see youngsters dive to the river bottom to pull up handfuls of mud, loaded thick and high onto a nearby sampan. It will be sold as fertilizer at a nearby market.

On landing, cross a small bridge to begin your walking tour of the island. Along a footpath cut into the jungle, birds chirp and monkeys shriek and growl. Something moves in the brush at your feet. Keep moving!

A weathered brick building in the clearing houses a small group of local artisans. In the corner steam rises from a charcoal oven covered by a metal pan. The scent of cooking sugar and coconut fills the air.The guide will ask if anyone would like to learn how to make pancakes. This is your big chance!

See one, do one …

She sits in front of a bamboo table ringed with drying cakes. In the center is a bowl of thick, milky liquid which is scooped out with a metal ladle.

Deftly, she gives a quick demonstration of how this local delicacy is made. Now it’s your turn.

Carefully pour a generous portion of white goo onto the hot purple mat and give it a quick swirl. Cover with a bamboo hat for a few minutes. Then carefully wedge a long spatula under the steamed, delicate opaque disc.

Quickly, lift it off hot surface without the letting the sides stick.Ease it onto the bamboo table for final cooling. Tear off a small piece to nibble. It tastes a little sweet with a hint of coconut.

Your mentor smiles encouragement. Cameras snap and a few chuckles arise from the small gathering.

Success! You’ve made a local staple, and a great memory.