Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Japanese Delicacies - Fugu

In the news today we learn that 7 people have been hospitalized in Japan with poisoning from eating Fugu - the Japanese blowfish.

Fugu is usually prepared as sashimi and must be done by a chef specially licensed to prepare fugu as one slip of the knife can pierce a gland and release poisons into the flesh. The poison, tetrodotoxin, is 100 time more lethal than potassium cyanide. In 2007, 3 people died and 44 were hospitalized from Fugu poisoning. Most of these people used the DIY method of Fugu preparation - not a good idea when dealing with deadly fish.

Eating Fugu is Japanese Machismo. The idea is that you are brave enough to tempt death by eating the dangerous delicacy. It is usually done by executives on expense account as it is too expensive to eat it on your own nickle. I guess it also give the execs bragging rights back at the office. Who knows, eating Fugu may also be used as a team building exercise or to test the courage prospective promotees.

PE has eaten Fugu twice in his life. It has a delicate taste. The flesh is sliced thin so that it is tranparent. Now I won't eat raw oysters. I did it and survived my "wild years". I proved my machismo to my Japanese colleages and I don't need to do it again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Russian Delicacies

Back before the new millennium, I was working on a project in Russia. The idea was to assemble an offshore drilling rig that had been floated down the Volga River in pieces and then take it into the Caspian Sea. The assembly site was an out of work shipyard in Astrakhan, Russia. Astrakhan is in the delta region of the Volga River, about 60 miles before it empties in to the Caspian Sea.

There’s not much in Astrakhan and you can imagine that a construction crew of several hundred European and American men caused quite a stir, especially among the local female population. The other activity of interest, especially after working 12 hours in freezing temperatures, was eating.

Breakfast was provided to us by the hotel. It usually consisted of some sort of mystery meat sandwich (usually tongue or some other cheap meat) and yoghurt. We gave the meat to the shipyard dogs that ran wild on the property and ate the rest. Lunch was mystery meat, cabbage soup and potatoes in the shipyard cafeteria. Therefore, it was no surprise that much time was spent in deciding which restaurant to patronize after work.

We all brought food in our luggage. I carried Tabasco, which should be considered a staple when faced with Russian cuisine. I also packed in chili mix. One day a week, I would send my driver out for ground meat and vegetables and cook up a batch of chili for the engineering staff. They were mostly Finns, and they have an affinity for spicy food, although you would never guess that from their native cuisine.

There was also a crew of Italian instrument fitters that brought their own coffee and espresso pot. As my office trailer had the only hot plate available, I was treated to a fresh cup of espresso every morning. The Italians would also scour the city for groceries and wine and every Friday they would take over part of the hotel kitchen and cook up a pasta feast. Many of us ignored the hotel dining room until they dished out the pasta.
Caviar was cheap there. You could buy a 1 kg tin (that's 2 lbs) of caviar for about $30. We used to buy a tin and then scoop out the caviar with spoons.

But my coup was finding crawfish. I had packed a big jar of Zatarain’s Crab Boil and I was looking forward to a good Cajun crawfish feast. I sent my driver out to buy some. I then scrounged up a big pot and had the welders rig up a cutting torch as a burner. Unfortunately, when my driver returned, the crawfish, duly processed and certified by the government of Russia, had been frozen solid. My visions of a crawfish boil turned into the mush I knew they would become if I tried to boil them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Bottom Feeder

This is an innovative piece of Ocean Engineering called the “Bottom Feeder”. It was built to salvage platforms that were destroyed in hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It was developed by Versabar, a company that specializes in rigging for offshore lifts.

Its basic components are a couple of deck barges, a truss frame connecting the two barges and four winches. The trusses are mounted on gimbals, which allow them to move to accommodate barge motion. Lifting capacity is 4000 Tons.

The Bottom Feeder salvaged four platform decks in 18 days in 2007. The decks each weighed 1000 tons or more and were in water depths over 250’.

Those folks with offshore construction experience will tell you that there are only a handful of traditional derrick barges with a 4000 Ton capacity. Had it been necessary to mobilize one of those barges to the Gulf of Mexico, the salvage may have waited for years.

One feature of the Bottom Feeder is that it could be built in a short period of time in places where it’s not possible to get a derrick barge. The Caspian Sea is an example that readily comes to mind, but any land locked body of water will do. Local fabrication yards would have no problem building the trusses. Hire a couple of deck barges, truck in the winches, and you are in business for almost any “float over” heavy lift operation.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Portents of Mardi Gras

On my daily walk to the Travertine Tower I can see the city has started to erect the bleacher seats in front of Gallier Hall - a sure sign that Mardi Gras is soon to arrive. In case there was any doubt, King Cakes are sprouting on bakery store shelves.

Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler