About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Ice Man - Carving Ice, Yesterday and Today


I just got to do some ice carving work for the first time in probably 25 years!

In culinary school we learned a little about ice carving - creating centerpieces, punch bowls, display bases for seafood etc.  It was part of the garde manger (cold kitchen) and buffet classes.  We'd take big, clear, very heavy blocks of ice, temper them so they weren't too brittle, and using a variety of tools from long-handles chisels and shavers to chain saws and blow torches try to coax a recognizable shape out of it before we froze our fingers off or whittled it down to the size of a large ice cube. 
I can remember working on a set of initials J, &, and W (for Johnson & Wales, the name of the school) and helping on a mermaid carving.  The truth is that none of us got to do very much individually on the pieces as there were usually 4 or 5 people assigned to each block.
After leaving school, once I was in the field, I got the chance to do a few more while working at resorts and hotels.  It was fun work but, despite being a pretty artistic guy in general, ice never really clicked as a medium for me.  I think I just never really cared for working in soaking wet clothes and shoes and freezing my parts off.
Fast forward to this week on the Ranch
It's been a really long time since I've done any ice carving but I got my chance this week.
A strong and bitterly cold winter weather front moved into the state last Saturday (New Years Day) bringing with it about ten inches of snow to the ranch. Even though we're in Arizona, we are high elevation (about 6000 feet above sea level) so it's not unusual for us to get winter snow.  We've had snow storms dropping over 24" at a time but usually it has melted in a few days.  The reason for that is that our normal average daytime high temperatures are in the high 40's and low 50's, even in mid winter.  Not so this week.
The snow, this time, was accompanied by near record-making cold temperatures.  Our on-ranch weather station recorded minus 10.1 degrees F on New Years Day (several of our neighbors recorded temps around -20F) and we had  4 straight days when the temperature never got above freezing and another where it only got into the mid 30's.  Not much chance for thawing and, a week later there is still significant snow cover over much of the Ranch.
This kind of extended cold snap is very unusual for us here and not many placed are built with it in mind.  The result: a LOT of frozen water lines and pipes.  The plumbers and well guys all over northern AZ have been working their butts off for a week trying to get people thawed and repaired - and not just us folks in the boonies either.  Lots of businesses and homes in town are still frozen up solid.  Here at the Ranch we were lucky.  The cold made keeping the animals watered outside a tough and constant chore but the buildings were fine and our pipes never froze.
On Thursday I noticed that our water pressure seemed a bit low so I went over to check out our pressure pump.  It was running but pressure was not building.  Never a good sign.  I turned it off and tried to prime it but there was apparently no water being fed to it from our 4500 holding tank up at the well.  A very bad sign so I went up to the well and found the tank empty.
It was a sunny and warmer day (our high was 37) so the solar pump should have been cranking.  No way should we have been out of water.  I opened the insulated box covering the wellhead, disconnected the piping at the union just past where it emerged from below ground and confirmed that no water was being pumped.  Thinking there might be a problem with the solar panels or wiring I started the small AC back-up generator and plugged in the pump to it.  Nothing.
Fortunately Matt from our local solar electric shop Val-U-Solar was already on property working on something else so he was able to put his meters on the controller box and confirm that both the generator and solar panels were working fine but the pump was not taking any power.  Not what we wanted to here, at all.  We were totally out of water, our pump was out of commission, and with the big freeze, anybody who should have been able to help us was going to have a backlog of jobs to do.
Kathryn and I have managed without running water before but we now have over 100 animals under our care and they go through a LOT of water in a day.
We started calling well drillers/service companies right away and, not surprising, nobody was there so we left lots of messages and then concentrated on how to get water for the animals to get through the day.  Fortunately our friend and neighbor (only about 10 miles from us) Loren had a couple of non-potable water hauler containers we could borrow.  A few hours later we had loaded up with 400 gallons of water (plus a few gallons of drinking water for us)  from the near-by Country Store (at a penny a gallon) and had gotten all the animals watered for the night.
You'd be really surprised at how fast 400 gallons gets consumed on a ranch and it was obvious that we needed to be as conservative as we could be.  One of the things we thought of right away was to melt some of the ice we'd been pulling out of the various animals’ troughs all week.  The ice was still sitting in piles next to all the animals’ watering places so we piled it high in several tubs in the hopes that our daytime highs would get warm enough to melt it into usable water again soon.
Another source was some of the solid-frozen tubs we hadn't been able to keep up on keeping de-iced during the worst of the cold.  We had a couple of 35- and 55-gallon troughs that had frozen into big blocks.  One of them was on the milking parlor deck so thought we'd drag it into the heated milking parlor to melt overnight but we couldn't even move it (later figured out it must have weighed about 400 lbs).  We dumped it out onto the deck and chopped it into chunks, putting about half of it back into the tub, and then wrangled the tub inside.
I decided that it would hopefully melt even faster if it was in smaller pieces.  So I got out some tools and did a little ice carving!  Nothing fancy, just some down-and-dirty slash and chop, but it did bring back memories of carving up those big blocks of ice at the hotels:  I was soaking wet and freezing my butt off.
The Ice Man 1/6/2011
 Update
We did finally get a well guy out and yes the pump was shot.  He had to order the pump and pick up some new wire in Phoenix, and have a piece of pipe custom bent (so we can add a second pump to the same well as a redundant system) and is hoping, if all goes "well", to be back on Monday or Tuesday to do the installation. We should have running water by Wednesday. Keep your fingers crossed!
We're still hauling water everyday but it has warmed to near seasonal temperatures for us (got to 47F today) which makes things a lot easier.

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