Monday, September 9, 2013

FoodTrek: Rib-PAX-alypse Now

Wanna know what the worst thing is about a pork rib cook-off? Absolutely nothing. Especially when you're not cooking, you're just eating, and enjoying a Saturday afternoon. The Mister and I were fresh from this year's Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), with the distinct scent of  video game Nerdery and Geekery (aka, human body odor) lingering upon us, so we cleansed ourselves in the smoky fires of Ribpocalypse!

Riders of the Ribpocalypse, reign your meaty terror upon us! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I've posted about PAX many times -- I've been a loyal supporter of my Mister's company, Runic Games, as they are quite support-worthy. I've gone through the Video Game Developer Widow status for many years when there's a game shipping, but there are bonuses like totally unexpected, but extremely cool group vacations, and when PAX Prime comes 'round every year to Seattle, I usually get a hold of a pass so I can shoot photos of the sensory overload of a video game conference packed to the gills with thousands of gamers and cosplay fans of all ages. (Sidenote: I do wish to address the controversy point brought up in Rachel Edidin's article in Wired, as well as other articles/comments people have made about this year's PAX Prime, but to save you from a totally non-food related rant, I put it at the bottom of the post, if you choose to read it.)

Brain cells going: The colors! The stuff! The sounds!! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
This year was a nice break. Brock wasn't working, Runic didn't have a booth, everyone could just go as attendees and *gasp* enjoy themselves for once. We went on Saturday and just walked the floor and gawked at all the gawkery, as there was much eye candy to overindulge on. This is typically what I do at PAX, since I don't want to wait three hours for maybe 15 minutes of gameplay and become exposed to a host of unspeakable pathogens on a germ-riddled keyboard. I'm barely a casual gamer, mostly because the times I do play Runic's Torchlight, I go for such long stretches, it scares me a little. So I choose to remain a spectator.

Video games are neat, but IRL is way more exciting - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I got a few fun costume shots, as you can see. There's a lot of exhibitors in professional costumes, but it's amazing to see the cosplay attendees who spend months handmaking an outfit -- PAX is kind of like a big Nerd Prom, swapping corsages with weapons. That's the best thing about PAX, seeing all the costumes and taking pictures since everyone loves to pose and show off what they've made. We had a pretty short visit this year, as Brock's knee was hurting, so I took as many photos as I could, and we had to move on to the next stop on our Epic Adventure list...Ribpocalypse.

View from above, the bean bag germatorium, and parting views of PAX - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Yes, you heard that right: Ribpocalypse. Technically a sequel, as I missed the first massive rib cookoff when I was Viva Las Vegas-ing it. Summer gets people inspired to cook large quantities of meat -- such as ribs -- and people get creative. Our friend and devoted Meatatarian, Russell, worked summer like a rib, to compare rib cooking methods and see what produced the truly Perfect Pork Rib. He has a convection oven, a propane grill, and a small charcoal grill, so the methods included low-slow wood-smoked ribs, and ribs cooked in the convection oven at a low temperature before getting a final sear on the propane grill. Both had the same dry-seasoning rub, which consisted of brown sugar, salt/pepper, cumin and a lot of paprika to give it that delicious meaty red-orange hue.

Smokin' hot ribs, smoker-style and convection oven-cooked - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The Riders of the Ribpocalypse had one more horseman to appear: Sous Vide! Brock gets full credit for this because he's totally customized a redonkulously-sized industrial rice cooker and made it into a sous vide cooker, complete with heat control, digital readout, a fancy custom housing that he's currently adding to the Sous Vide Beast, and apparently a "sous vide butler," which has a digital voice creepily calling you "sir" and that your sous vide temperature is too high or low. I'd post a photo of this wondrous machine, but it's in constant state of flux, so hang tight for a proper sous vide post, when it's not in a million pieces, taking over my dining room table. But for Ribpocalypse, it was working long enough to sous vide a few pounds of pork ribs. They were brined for 12 hours and covered with a dry rub of Brock's own creation, which included a lot of what Russell used, plus some onion powder, liquid smoke, ground coffee and less paprika, so they didn't have as bright of a color. The dry-rubbed ribs were FoodSaver-sealed and put in the sous vide for 24 hours at 141 degrees Fahrenheit.

BYO sous vide ribs - Photos by Wasabi Prime
This was the sous vide's trial run at ribs and a delicious chance for us to enjoy the results -- which are amazeballs. Brock did some online research, comparing others' sous vide cook times. He went with the 24 hr/141 degree combo to get them fully cooked, but not so soft that they fall off the bone; he wanted a little bit of bite, which is nice when you're eating this style of ribs. You expect a little chew to it. In comparing the sous vide ribs with the convection and smoker ribs, the sous vide had the most tender texture and easily slipped off the bone, but even with a propane grill sear, it didn't have that rich depth of flavor of smoked ribs. The convection oven ribs were like the porridge that was Just Right -- tender consistency, a good char from the grill gave it great texture, and while nothing compares to wood-smoked ribs, convection was the happy middle ground, at least from what the dining crowd said.

Relax. Enjoy summer. Eat ribs - Photos by Wasabi Prime
That's not to say that anyone was disappointed with any of this Divine Swine. It was a rare treat to be able to compare the flavor and textures of such different cooking methods in a side-by-side comparison. And it was even better to just take photos, drink booze and not have to be involved in any of the cooking. I happily leave all sous vide responsibilities to Brock, at least until the Frankenmachine is fully working and I know how to operate it without electrocuting myself and/or burning the house down.

As always, cooking is a work in progress, and I look forward to more attempts at sous vide ribs, as well as other things needing some immersion cooking love. I've enjoyed sous vide salmon and glorious pudding-like eggs, but we have yet to cook a steak sous vide style, so I'm eagerly looking forward to that. A big, meaty THANKS to the dueling Meat Chefs, Russell and Brock, for bringing on this glorious Ribpocalypse.

Doing shots, Seattle-style. Compliments to the Meat-Chefs, Brock and Russell! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

(End of food post - enter PAX controversy portion of the post. Totally nothing to do with ribs or anything edible, but wanted to address it since I included pics of this year's Penny Arcade Expo.)

Okay. So... since we were only at PAX for Saturday and pretty much stayed in our 3-Day-Weekend-Vacation-Zen-Bubble, we totally missed out on the dickwolves/rape controversy/censorship rant that happened on the last day of PAX. If that's still jarring to hear, read the full rundown in Rachel Edidin's Wired piece, but then also read this response from the Penny Arcade camp, which of course makes it clear this was not meant to make people feel unsafe, and yes, for the love of God, the shirts were regrettable.

Whew. What a lot of drama, no? Why continue to support and attend a gaming expo rife with such social/gender troubles? Sure, I want to be supportive of Brock's company, but the gamer world isn't unlike the culinary world in that it's driven by passion and I can appreciate that. There's an emotional sense of ownership over subculture, but for that to grow and gain respect, it needs to encompass more than cult-like status. The same way the culinary world can't afford a snobbish reputation as only caring about exclusive, arcane ingredients, the video game industry and gamers themselves can't ignore the fact that gaming has become mainstream, an actual career path, and misanthropic behavior isn't a badge of honor. Like most professional fields, I don't view the gaming industry as a picture of diversity -- just see the parade of overly sexualized female characters and the fact that games give you more points for beating up a prostitute. But I do believe it's an industry with promise, one that has ample runway to grow as more diversity enters the fold as developers, artists, and creators as a whole. There are some really extraordinary human beings in the gaming world, and I clutch to the stupid, doe-eyd optimism that those bright souls will ultimately influence the direction of games in the future. This will happen. Someday. But like anything else, it needs responsible, intelligent stewardship to get there.

That being said, Penny Arcade's founders lashed out in a momentary act of infantile behavior against valid criticism they viewed as censorship. No one wants to be told what to do! Don't bully me! I'm going to wear this "Team Dickwolves" shirt that started out as a joke comparing rape with some understandably crappy gameplaying rules that upset a lot of people. I totally get that. You're mad that you paid good money and spent a lot of time cultivating a game experience that totally disrespects the gamer. You want to make a strong, angry statement. But then you compare that to the crime of rape, so yes, just as understandably, people will get upset. But instead of being a little more self-aware, the people who are upset are cast off as whiners. They're weak. And they have no right to censor your hilarious joke. And then the shirt takes on a new role as a weapon by angry, entitled individuals to bully and offend anyone who doesn't believe you have the god-given right to be as vile as you want to be, wearing it not in protest of a joke, but as false justification that rudeness is a right. Hmm... things have gone horribly awry.

Penny Arcade's humor isn't for everyone, and that's fine. It's why it's so popular and well-loved, because they have a strong and intelligent narrative with edgy humor. And that popularity is a wonderful and dangerous thing with so many impressionable fans that run in the hundreds of thousands. In a weird combination of humility and arrogance, they sometimes they forget that, and something that feels like a great inside joke opens wounds they don't fully understand. I'm not writing this because I'm a female or because you're just itching to slap the "whiny bitch" label on me. Rape isn't owned by any single gender, it's a crime against humanity, against all of us. It's an offensive word that holds power because it represents an abominable act, one that is slowly being reduced by authority who wish us all to be silent and without dissent. That's real censorship, however subtle and subversive. By misusing rape's meaning even without malicious intent, it fed into an already problematic mindset that seeks justification for self-importance and a will to harm. I'm not boycotting PAX, they're not hateful people and they didn't intend any of this mess, but the incident serves as a reminder for everyone to be mindful of words and meaning, because someone is always listening/reading. While some taboo words hold too much power, to the point we fear discussing the issue at all, I fear for the ones that are thrown about loosely through jokes, losing their potency, undermining the severity of a crime and a victim's pursuit of justice. Words have power, use them wisely.

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