Dennis Blowing Snow After Blizzard Nemo

A photograph of Dennis O'Neill clearing his driveway in Holden, Massachusetts after the Blizzard of 2013.

Dennis clearing the driveway after the Blizzard of ’13 (Nemo)

My mother sent me this picture of my father using his snowblower to clear the driveway after the Blizzard of ’13 (I have a hard time calling it “Nemo”) dumped 30-inches of snow overnight.

This is the view burned indelibly into my memory from childhood: watching my father do this very thing from our big bay window, me snug in my footy pajamas while he wrestled outside with the loud, snow-belching machine that threw the snow forever…

Reviving Miss Silvia: Pulling My First Shots

Well, after partially assembling, checking for leaks, fixing leaks, and completely reassembling, Miss Silvia (a 2006 Rancilio Silvia) is pulling its first espresso shots and steaming milk for lattes. So far everything is working more or less like it was before it died. Next weekend I replace the portafilter gasket and see if that gets rid of the niggling leak around the portafilter.

Photo of a latte and a Rancilio Silvia

Making my first latte after rebuilding a v1 Rancilio Silvia

Reviving Miss Silvia: Fixing The Second Major Headache

Well, I managed to fix the second major headache in my quest to revive Miss Silvia (a 2006 Rancilio Silvia). If you don’t remember, this was my boneheaded over-tightening of the high-temperature thermostat. It resulted in breaking the shaft of it…the part that screwed into the boiler.

I had a couple of options: buy a replacement boiler (to the tune of way too much money…), try extracting the screw using any means available, or jury-rig something.

Since the high-temperature thermostat essentially prevents the machine from turning into a bomb if it gets too hot (steam under pressure can be a dangerous thing), I wanted to do my best to extract the broken screw and replace it with a new high-temperature thermostat. So, I ordered the new thermostat and and a set of micro screw extractors:

The biggest screw extractor in the set did the trick:

Successfully extracted a snapped thermostat screw from a Rancilio Silvia

Successfully extracted a snapped thermostat screw from a Rancilio Silvia

Reviving Miss Silvia: The Second Major Headache

Well, today I have another broken screw problem with my Silvia. This time I broke the screw off the high-limit thermostat. This is the part that shuts off power to the device if it’s about to turn into a bomb, so I’d rather back out the broken screw and replace with a new part than jury-rig a fix.

If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s broken off INSIDE my new boiler… and the local hardware store doesn’t sell reverse drill bits/screw extractors this small.

The fun never ends on this project…

I snapped the thermostat screw in my boiler by over-tightening.

I snapped the thermostat screw in my boiler by over-tightening.

Reviving Miss Silvia: Cleaning The Boiler

Cleaning the Silvia was achieved by repeatedly filling the group head with a solution of water and citric acid (Dezcal), letting it soak, and scrubbing with a scotch brite pad. Took about 20hrs of soaking and scrubbing to get all of the mineral deposits off.

Reviving Miss Silvia: Initial Diagnosis

Well, I bought the espresso machine off my employer when it stopped working. I got a good deal on it, and figured it would be a fun project to undertake fixing it. And at the end, I’d have a working machine and great espresso.

The model is a Rancilio Silvia, and this is what she looks like when she’s all buffed and shiny (actually, the image is of a V2 machine. The machine I have is a V1, and has a slightly different grill over the catch basin):

Photograph of a Rancilio Silvia (version 3) espresso machine.

What a new Rancilio Silvia espresso machine looks like.

The first thing I had to do was diagnose what’s wrong with her. I was expecting to have to replace the boiler, regardless. But when we unplugged it, the machine was still able to pour on. It just produced a tepid pull of espresso with a funky taste to it.

When I got it home, the machine wouldn’t turn on without tripping the GFI outlet. Uh oh. Maybe this was going to be more complicated than I thought.

After a little bit of Google-Fu, I found this dicussion. After disconnecting the wires from the heating element posts, the machine powered on. Since I had planned on replacing the boiler anyways, this doesn’t really change anything for me except that it solves the mystery of why it wouldn’t power on.

I’ll post again when I start ripping things apart. But for now, here’s what the guts of Miss Siliva look like:

Photograph of the internals of a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine

This is what it looks like inside my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine.

Let’s see… electricity, steam, heat & pressure… what could possibly go wrong?

HyVee Stops Pitching Pink Slime to Pissed Public

OK, the titular alliteration signifies my jubilance. Hy-Vee just sent me the following email regarding pink slime. Looks like they are not only going to stop trying to convince people that pink slime is wholesome, but they appear to be in the process of removing it from their inventory as well.

Here’s what they wrote:

In response to concerns expressed by our customers, Hy-Vee has decided to discontinue the purchase of ground beef products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. Although this ground beef meets all USDA standards for quality and safety, recent news stories have led to a loss of consumer confidence in the product.

We have notified our suppliers of this decision and are working to switch our product lines as quickly as possible. We want to thank our customers for sharing their feedback on this issue and assure them Hy-Vee will continue to listen and respond to their concerns, just as our company has been doing for more than 80 years.

Ruth Comer

Assistant Vice President, Media Relations

HyVee Considers Pink Slime “Wholesome”, “100% Beef”

I wrote HyVee (original query in comments below), our local grocery store chain to inquire whether or not the ground beef I buy at their meat counter contained “Pink Slime”. The response I got was a shock. Not only do they use it in their ground beef, but HyVee considers Pink Slime to be “wholesome”, “100% Beef that doesn’t require labeling”. Their response is really a tour de force of how professional communicators try to shape perception…

Dear Mr. O’Neill,

Thank you for contacting Hy-Vee via our website to express your concern about the use of Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) in ground beef.

The term “pink slime” is a derogatory and deliberately inflammatory term used by the media and critics of a product that has been safely used in the beef industry for almost 20 years. Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) is 100 percent beef, 95%+ lean, produced by separating lean meat from fat through a process very similar to the one used to separate cream from milk. Like all beef products, it is strictly regulated and produced in USDA-inspected plants. The USDA does not require ground beef blended with LFTB to be labeled because it’s not a separate ingredient – it’s all 100 percent beef.

All LFTB goes through FDA- and USDA-approved treatment processes to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria like E. coli. One such treatment process uses food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas (ammonia mixed with water). Ammonia is a compound consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen, found naturally in the environment and in all plants and animals, including humans. Ammonium hydroxide was declared safe by the FDA for use in food processing in 1974 and is used on a variety of products, including baked goods, puddings, cheeses and chocolates. It was approved for use in beef processing in 2001.

The vast majority of ground beef sold in supermarkets, as well as much of the ground beef sold to schools, hospitals and food service establishments, contains a small amount of LFTB. Use of LFTB reduces food waste and increases the lean content of ground beef. It is a safe, wholesome, 100 percent beef product. If you wish to purchase Hy-Vee ground beef that is not blended with LFTB, we would suggest our 85 Percent Lean Amana Chuck Trim – or you could purchase your choice of beef cuts from our service case and ask our meat specialists to grind it for you. Your Hy-Vee meat specialists will be glad to assist you and answer any questions you have regarding the meat you buy for your family.

Recent reporting on the industry’s use of Lean Finely Textured Beef has been sensational and irresponsible. There are NO health issues associated with use of this product in ground beef. It has been safely and widely used for almost two decades, and the ammonium hydroxide gas treatment process has been safely and widely used for more than a decade. The country’s leading food safety experts agree that the product is not only safe, but beneficial in meeting worldwide demand for quality lean protein.

Thanks for your inquiry. We appreciate you taking the time to write.

Ruth Comer
Assistant Vice President, Media Relations