Thursday, March 23, 2017

On Cooking

I'm not a purist but my cooking does follow a certain seasonal drift. More a product of economics and method than convenience. Case in point, I no longer raise acorn squash or pumpkins, because I get them for free from the various fall displays. They call me, to haul away vegetables before they rot; rotten fruit and vegetables are a pain in the ass. I gardened on the ridge (in raised beds) until the deer ate everything for two years in a row, now I frequent the Farmer's Market, during season, which is actually less expensive, and I get some socializing to boot. If I need to propagate a particular seed, Ronnie will plant me a row. In my current heirloom collection are two pea-beans that I've never seen anywhere. Both, I think, are African, and I've kept them for thirty years. Any given market day (they fold-up shop at noon) I'll be given enough tomatoes to eat several tomato sandwiches and make a sauce for later. And Ronnie grows sweet potatoes. The word potato comes from the Quechua (Incan) papa, more or less the staff of life, where you couldn't grow anything else. They invented freeze-drying 5,000 years ago, discovering that potatoes left out to freeze at night, then smashed and dried in the noon-day sun would keep very well, could be ground to make bread. Starch and sugar. I'd made a note to try and make sense of that. I make a nice potato bread, using the lees of fermentation as the yeast, not a loaf you'd want to take to a future mother-in-law, but a bread I find useful for sopping the corners of a skillet. I use trenchers at most of my dinners, swirling the last piece of bread to gather the last bit of goodness, and I'm sure I look like the hillbilly I actually am. Where I was raised it was perfectly acceptable to use your fingers to use the last bit of biscuit to sop the last of the gravy. I was reading about table manners and got side-tracked by an interesting article, Ketchup And The Collective Unconscious, which is mostly about flavoring bland food. Read a history of the hamburger, another essay on ketchup, some Roman recipes. Split some kindling, examined some buds. The crows were giving me a raft of shit, just being raucous for the hell of it, so I gave them a couple of mice. I wanted a break from stew, and Jerome had brought me these incredible Moroccan sardines, a six pack from Costco; fried some salt-pork, minced it, rough chop the sardines (ingredients are fish, olive oil, and salt), into the pork fat, serve on noddles. If there had been any left-over, I would have had it for breakfast tomorrow, with eggs. I need to study the whole world of egg substitutes, and dried eggs, egg preservation in general, not because I want a substitute, but because I might not be able to get out and I want/need them for cornbread and morel omelets.

New buds, Verbena,
and small birds pecking
at the sweet dark core
Read more...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Scroggy Hollows

Spring, at last, comes in with a cold rain. I can't listen to the Trump news, so between showers I sit out on the back deck and listen to the frogs fuck. I made a small casserole, from the leftover mussels, buttered a small dish, a layer of mussels, breadcrumbs, and the strained liquid, served on top of the leftover smashed potatoes. Scroggy was a pet word of Sir Walter Scott, for tangled underbrush. The local peaches and plums are all lost, D called, with an agricultural update, but the apples seem to be fine, unless we get another freeze. The pent and flow of water jumped the grader ditch and the driveway is a mess, the ruts washed out, in several places the outer rut has broken through, carrying roadbed into the hollow. Decision time, as to whether I pay for a quick fix, or pay a few thousand dollars for a serious upgrade. I have to think about that, and in the meantime I use four-wheel low more than I ever have in my life. Batty Tom was one of the nine bells in the wonderful book, The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers, and I'm feeling increasingly like Batty Tom, or Tom a' Bedlam, or Peeping Tom. In the afternoon I made a beef stew, and because I don't know how many more times I'll have a fully heated stove, I manage to take hours. Dice the meat (a flank steak) brown it in pork fat, caramelize onions and red peppers, roast potatoes and turnips and carrots, a broth of chicken stock, in which I dissolve a couple anchovies and add a dollop of tomato paste. Mix it all together, pull it off the heat, and let it simmer, over night, in the waning heat of the stove. I do this with lamb too. The daffadils and the crocuses are lovely, suddenly color after months of black and white, and the stew is a grace note. Life is good: I have dry wood inside, I have a pot of food, books, tobacco, a bottle of single-malt, the moon rising above the ridge. Who could want for anything more? Read more...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dufus Redux

Thinking about that boundary between want and need. I have an internal argument about comfort, yes, I would like a thermostat, yes, I would like hot running water, but they aren't actually necessary. I wanted to go to town, I always enjoy talking with the staff at the pub after St. Patrick's Day. The day of the year for them, long hours and good tips, and there are always a few good stories. Too many people and the music was loud, so I just went to Kroger and got what I needed. Plus a three-pound mesh bag of mussels, a bottle of white wine, and a loaf of French bread to make garlic toast. St. Patrick, an immigrant, taught faith and love; but there are no snakes in Ireland because it was completely glaciated. Coming home, along the river, I was struck with how the hollows are outwash channels. The scale of it, the amount of water from melting glaciers. When I finally do get home, after a slow trip up the creek, I make a side dish of smashed potatoes and steam the mussels in wine. A transport of tastes. I love shellfish, and during the 12 or 13 years on the Cape and Vineyard I harvested all I wanted for free. Site-specific diet. When Marilyn and I moved to Mississippi, we traded seafood for the whole range of dairy and game, plus a world-class garden and the best pork I've ever eaten. Pigs raised on whey, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. Peanuts and sweet potatoes both make great high protein hay that we fed to the goats. Later, in Colorado, we bartered butter and cheese, and made part of our living from selling "first" milk to people raising exotic animals. Since we were the only suppliers in the area we could charge whatever we wanted, ditto with the fresh goat cheese and an ice-cream that was 24% butterfat. Sometimes I almost miss those days, but it was so much work. After the girls were born, I'd build a house a year, so we'd have some actual money, to buy flour and coffee, and work the farm or ranch, dig post holes, string wire, burn the horns off goats and castrate useless males. Read more...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Night Noise

Something four-legged walking in the frozen leaves. Probably the bob-cat. I was sitting in the dark, thinking about an attachment problem, and there was a noise outside. A finite number of critters it could be, so I listen closely for a few minutes, then flip on the outside floods and catch the cat, a deer in the head-lamps, for a couple of seconds before it slinks away. It's a male, I think, in beautiful winter coat, a female would be pendulous, this time of year. Within a couple of acres I know where he lives, that gusset of land, a triangle, between the driveway and the ridge, bordered, at its base, by the power-line easement. My wildlife refuge and ginseng farm. It's two or three acres, the boundaries are so crooked it's hard to tell, either a very large or a very small space. It's densely populated because I don't let anyone roam around in there, and it provides me with a great deal of entertainment. The last time someone asked me what I did with my time, I asked them if they'd ever watched a fox eat an apple. The natural world, books, my habit of writing, cooking and eating, take up most of my time; certainly, if I had a TV and cable (which I can't afford) I'd watch cooking shows, soccer games, the history channel; also, implication is, I'd have high-speed internet, and I could reference things more quickly. Which is handy, but not necessary. More snow, I knew this was coming, I could tell from the ring around the moon. St. Patrick's Day starts with snow, then sleet, then rain, ground fog in the trees. A quiet day with no wind. A long slow breakfast, hash, shirred eggs, and toast; coffee at my desk while I finish reading some book reviews. Late afternoon it gets dark early and rains harder, and I just retreat into my nest; a little thunder so I save everything, but I stay open in my writing program. Yesterday and today I find I'm reading about people I've never heard of, I don't even know what they do. One thing is that they make way too much money, a pristine 1938 comic, first appearance of Superman, went for 3 plus million, a Paul Revere personal bell, to call a servant, you can't imagine. It's sounding serious, I'd better go. Read more...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Just Rewards

The devil is in the contents. The moon is large, just on the wane, and quite by accident, the orientation of the house and the location of the windows allows me to see it through almost the complete swing. Reading Thoreau, and he's such an opinionated dandy, the pencil business, living on Emerson's land for free, family dinner on Sunday, and the maid did his laundry, but his absolute love of nature is a wonderful thing. Passion, I think is key, B's reading another biography of Grant, and he gave me a ten minute compressed history that was brilliant. Snow clouds move in, a haze around the sun, and the forecast is for rain (it's 35 degrees) turning to snow tonight, then again tomorrow. Pleased that I followed my own advice and went to town Saturday. I made a nice onion soup, because I needed to use up a bag of onions that were beginning to sprout. The sprouts are fine to eat, I use them like scallions in stir-fry, but I'd thought about onion soup, on toast, with grated cheese, and made a double serving, After an hour tramping around outside, it was very good, with toasted cornbread slathered in butter. A good fire in the stove, this batch of white oak split butts burn like coal, and the house is warm when the cold rains start. And it is a cold rain, almost solid, a nascent ice storm, so I gather my kit within arm's reach of my desk, and settle in with a good book, several good books, actually, stacked in a new pile, but I'm currently reading a history of the potato. There's some light fiction in the pile, Dad's collection of Nero Wolfe novels, some noir crap, a few baseball books. I finish eating the apple pie and think about what I might eat tomorrow. Sausage with peppers and onions on egg noodles. It's supposed to be cold for several days, so I think about starting a soup, or another pot of beans and rice. When the wind starts moaning and the rain has turned to sleet and snow, I close down, wrap in a blanket, and listen to ice pellets hit the metal roof. I have to get up and stoke the stove, just before dawn, and I can see there's a covering of snow. Later, as dawn progresses, the landscape is beautiful. Tree snow in waves. A small amount of green, visible against the white, and I don't know what bush it is. I tie a strip of plastic on one of them, so I can ask B next time he's up. The young leaves haven't been killed by the cold, and there are dozens of other buds in various stages. Evolved for survival. You have to admire that. I made a bean soup, leave it on a trivet, off the heat, to barely simmer all night. Read more...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not Signed-On

The path is obvious if you look closely. One spring in Colorado there was rain and the desert erupted in flowers. The mesa behind the house, the beginning of the Uncompahgre plateau, was right out the back door, and I could achieve the top following deer trails. I have to laugh, remembering myself then. Somewhat more stupid than I am now, but I still follow game trails, just to see where they lead. The desert in flower is an amazing sight. Twice, that I remember vividly, once in western Colorado and once in Utah, I was completely overwhelmed. I got to town, though I had to overcome enormous inertia to leave the house, and I'm glad I did because the remainder bins at Kroger were full. I actually bought an apple pie because it was so lovely and cheap. I love apple pie for breakfast. Also some sausages, some potato salad, and a few more of the breakfast burritos that my daughter said were fine. On the way home I stopped at B's for a cup of coffee and conversation, he made an argument that I should just stay on the ridge, improve the driveway, upgrade the water system, hire help when needed. It's a solid argument, because I don't want to move, the ridge is sublime, all the aspects of nature. Down along the river there's a definite blush of green. Still, it's cold in the house when I get home, so I build a fire and use the electric lap-robe. JC had send a review of a new book on cannibalism that I want to read and B passed along London Reviews, plus loaned me about 150 pages of Stephen Ellis's work. Stephen is one of the finest writers in the language. Loose pages, with cover and back boards and a big paper-clamp holding them together. I read a fair number of manuscripts, my own included, and I use a shallow cardboard box that holds two piles, but I have to have my kit around me, some snacks, maybe a nip bottle of whiskey, fill the tobacco pouch and check the papers, stoke the fire, then I can get down to business. Sometimes I kill the breaker on the fridge and unplug the phone. Tonight, down in the teens, no wind, it's extremely quiet. The house is buttoned-up. I read Stephen for several hours. Read more...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Weeping Willows

Green, I swear to god, those willows on the south side of the river road. So elegant. I did the yearly rake of certain spots, just to shove aside leaves from a few places where I expect morels. Walked down the logging road, examining signs of spring. One thing I notice is the color change, the various pinks that emerge. It's surprising to examine a square yard closely. Under the leaves (it would be interesting to monitor temperatures above and below the leaves) there are dozens of shoots of various plants. They're all sweet. Sugar is the anti-freeze. A side-bar is that when I try to be completely transparent I become more opaque. A product of learning the jargon of a particular discipline, or the patois of a certain region. I had just been thinking about TR (I knew it was Spring Break) when he called. Coming out tomorrow to record. I spent a few hours reading over some things, trying to find the natural voice. It's easiest to find if I'm sitting in my chair, with a drink and a cigaret. I gave a nice reading at Penn Erie standing, but I generally read better sitting, with a drink, most places you can't smoke. Stopping for a sip or a toke is like adding punctuation. Extends the moment. A portage to the next body of water. When Ry Cooder plays Bach the devil is in retreat. I mention that because I took a nap and woke up hungry, and I usually turn on the radio to see what late night treasures I might hear, and it was Cooder, playing some blistering blues. Bless my good luck. TR arrived, loaded with freight and equipment, water, booze, fruit, and high tech recording gear. Sets up, I get a drink, roll a smoke, and we record for a few hours. First thing TR says is that he can't believe how quiet it is, perfect for his purposes. A technical wizard, he sets everything up so I can sit in my chair, have a drink and a smoke while we work. We redo a couple of things. He seems satisfied, but we arrange to do another session in Barnhart's studio. He has a fairly clear idea of what he wants (it's his Master's Degree after all) and I'm not invested, except for wanting to speak cleanly. We chat, while I roll another smoke between pieces, then I read some pages he wants me to read. I stick in a couple of pages I like. It's an enjoyable experience, being taken seriously. Heavy rain moving in, I'd better go. After TR left I ate fruit, cheese, and Wheat Thins with a dollop of French mustard for a long time. He'd brought quite a bit of fruit, plums, grapes, apples, bananas, oranges. The way I eat oranges is interesting, the way I learned in Florida. You always carried one of those specific tools, a long thin-bladed pocket knife with which you cut a smallish hole in the stem end, then wallowed around to break the membranes. You suck out all of the juice, then, when it's squashed and quite dry, you split the orange carcass open and scrape off all the pulp with your teeth. My favorite orange for this was called "Possum Brown" which was a favorite juice orange when I was a kid, those thick-skinned California oranges don't work very well, they split and make a mess. Read more...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Rolling Thunder

Rain before dawn, settling in steady, thick overcast, no light to speak of. Loki and his bowling ball, the thunder starts, then some lightning. I make a mug of tea and a pot of rice, sometimes the sheets of rain are very loud. Local flooding, they're already saying; of course there will be local flooding, look at the fucking map. Frozen ground and added water. But I am more than fine, I have a hundred books I want to reread, a hundred I've never read before and enough food to feed a small army. I'm good. I had to shut down, as the mother of all storm fronts moved in. Several hours of crazy intense rain, lightning all around, thunder shaking the house. Spectacular display. I fear the driveway is taking a hit. It's amazing how violent one of these storms can be. I got up and gathered my kit around me but never did lose power. It was difficult to read so I looked at pictures, prehistoric art, then Modigliani's last nudes, then study the Laretto Staircase again. Around six, still dark, it rains HARD; I know the drainage in my immediate area, know where there will be flooding, know that it drains quickly. Even when I do lose power, and then the phone, I still have my little camp stove, so I can make oatmeal and brew a cup of tea. 60 degrees, and I don't want to build a fire in the stove. Spent the day reading about tides, tidal bores, and nodes, where there aren't any tides. I have to resort to the headlamp often, because the overcast is so thick. Power was out for 12-15 hours, and now the phone is out, so I can't send. Snow again in the forecast, so I make a list. The driveway took a beating, and Mackletree, through the forest, was strewn with branches. Not much standing water in the hills, but Turkey Creek was running spate, and all of the low farm land is flooded. I didn't need much in town, but sampled a couple of beers and ate a bowl of potato soup. Picked up some fried potato logs and a milkshake on my way out of town and stopped at the lake. I was thinking about tremendous amplification through resonance, the failure of some bridges, the walls of Jerico, The Grateful Dead playing at Redrock. The noise of the spillway is overwhelming, you feel it in your feet, so I didn't notice a young couple, walking up to see. He was German and she was French and they were traveling about, having attended a wedding in Columbus. We hit it off, talking about various aspects of the natural world. I told them I lived only a few miles away and they should come up for a bottle of wine and some supper. Surprisingly, they agreed, and they had a rental Jeep that could handle the driveway. They were shocked by the driveway, and then by where and how I lived. Fritz said that the driveway reminded him of the goat-path to his Grandmother's house. Marie asked about the organizational system for the books. I made them a crackling and cheese omelet that would raise the dead and we drank a very good old-vines zinfandel. I wished them well, on their tour of America. Phone is still out, now in the third day, but it's only bothersome because people will think I died. Which isn't that different from that I had died. Secluded site, a recluse, who's to know? Barnhart's mother would ask him, several people might call B, I'd be found, either alive or dead. In the meantime it's gotten cold again, so I build a fire and get out the electric lap-robe; when the oven's hot I make a Key Lime pie and eat half of it. A little snow, falling slowly. It's so lovely, I have to stop what I'm doing and just watch. The phone, irritatingly, rings off and on, no dial tone, so they must be working on the various connections, I finally have to unplug the damned thing. Totally involved in a history of Ohio geology. At some point I got out the Raven map, Landforms And Drainages Of The United States, which I have to unroll on the floor and weight down with rocks, and I'm on my knees, with a magnifying glass, examining the Ohio basin. This fascination with maps goes way back, family trips when I was a kid, maps were free at gas stations. A map isn't the terrain, still, they are endlessly fascinating and often quite beautiful. And maps are text, like music is, or paintings. Tonight I was listening (again) to this Finnish Opera, wondering how music could so directly affect our emotion. It has to do with mediation, or the lack of, and expectation. The Christian church charts this drift, less and less mediation until you end up with a hermit in a cave. No pope, no Archbishop of Canterbury, not even a preacher, just a tinny voice in the back of your head arguing good and evil. I'd noticed a blush of green, not when I looked at it directly, but out of the corner of my eye. I think it's the Virginia Creeper, whatever that vine. The blackberries are beginning to stir. Daffodils, down by the river, I was shocked. The bamboo has grown a foot. Pines are shooting out their candles. It occurs to me that I should look for artichokes at Kroger. When they're cheap, I like to buy an armload, and eat them twice a day. Right now I'm enjoying avocados because they were suddenly 59 cents, the bright green ones, smallish but perfect for me. I bought the ones that were rock hard as avocados ripen after they're picked, and I've been eating the softest one every day. Mostly just lime juice and a little hot sauce, sometimes I make an open-face with cheddar and avocado. I'd been reading so much about burial ornament that I decided to make a primitive "bow drill" and try to drill a hole in something. This attempt took all of a day. I had a long leather shoestring I'd saved from a dead pair of work-boots, and a short walk produced a bow of oak branch. There are two main problems: holding the top of the drill bit, and stabilizing the piece that is being drilled. We've been drilling holes in shells and rocks for a long time, and I assumed I could learn how. You need a rock with a concavity, for the hold-down rock, not hard to find, and for holding the work any triangle will hold a piece, with a couple of pins. In just a few hours I manage a hole. A little bleep from the phone tells me it's re-connected. I'd better go send. Read more...

Monday, February 27, 2017

Feast Day

Squid at Kroger. I was dumbfounded. Frozen, three pound packages, cleaned, for eight bucks. First I slice some into rings, dampen with clam juice, roll in seasoned flour, and fry in olive oil. Fry for only two minutes a side, less even, or they get tough. I usually have them with a bitter salad, with a balsamic dressing. I love the texture, like bird gizzards, which I also love; quahogs, abalone, pig ears, chicken cartilage, the mouth-feel is wonderful. Cold this morning, so I started a good fire, made a pone of cornbread, and stuffed some squid with a mild cornmeal mixture. I baked these in a clam juice, white wine liquid for about 40 minutes, and they were very good. Squid are designed to be stuffed. Poached and stuffed with a cream cheese/pepper/onion mixture, they make a great snack served cold. I like them chopped and stewed in their own ink (a Spanish favorite of Harvey's) served on rice. I make a squid cake that some people think is the best squid cake they've ever eaten. And I'm ready to just rest on my laurels, my walls are already covered with awards and certificates, I don't need that, They're mostly awards I've given myself. Best Screenplay For An Awkward Thought. That kind of thing. For the tenth year in a row I've not seen a single film that's nominated for anything. I don't miss social media as much as I don't know it's there. Half the time I can't even get my mail. Wall Street futures don't mean a lot to me, while having adequate canned corned beef hash is a serious issue. I'm looking forward to the motel room in March, soaking in a tub and showering, running water is a such a treat, emerging clean and purified. The promise of salvation. A dim and fading star. Sometimes though, you open both ends of the can, the corned beef slides out perfectly, you fry a slice with an egg perched in the middle, a perfect slice of toast, butter and bitter marmalade, a cup of that smoked tea. Seems pretty good to me. Read more...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lost Words

Guessed wrong, turned back on after the storm front had moved through and lost power a while later. Lost some words. I don't know how many because they're lost. Sat in the dark for a while, cursing my inattention. Put on my headlamp and read myself, in preparation for recording tomorrow. It takes several pages for me to find the natural voice behind the words. Rather flat and un-accented. It's interesting to note that anything makes sense, apparently disparate thoughts connect. Otto Rank understood this better than anyone. Walter Benjamin. I was thinking about dying, a perfectly logical sequence that had followed from unrolling an actual rubbing of sweet Emily's grave, in preparation for framing, and what that would mean for the hanging of art-work in the house. What I see affects what I believe. There's a photograph over the kitchen sink, four poets in front of a back-hoe, two of them now dead, that I look at every morning when I make coffee. The location of this photograph was designed and built to display an image. For years it was a poem by McCord about a dead animal which I must have read a thousand times, now it's a photograph of dead poets. Stations of the cross. I have to say that writing The Cistern, I was in over my head. I can't actually write that well. It was a fluke, an aberration, enough monkeys and typewriters you end up with text. I have no idea what TR wants or expects, a bit like Cunningham and Cage worked, neither knowing what the other was thinking. Reality is such a complex equation. Usually I think that nothing makes any sense, then things flip, and everything makes sense, which is, more or less, the same. When I was writing The Cistern, I couldn't not make sense, everything fit, every nuance was spot on, I was on automatic pilot. I occur, a couple of times now, as a subject in a degree program, not unlike something grown as an example of what can happen if things go awry. As weather is prone, 75 degrees 24 hours ago and now it's 25 degrees and the house is creaking, hoar frost settles on the back porch, and I can't not think about the heat-death of the universe. Read more...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Storing Power

At Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia national park in Wales during off-peak hours they pump water up a mountain, then use it to generate electricity the next day. Someplace in Switzerland they use an electric tram to haul boxcars filled with rocks up a mountain which generate power on the way back down. The potential energy in a single lightning strike is pretty impressive, if you could store it. There's a salt-water battery (not very efficient but who cares?), and my idea, melt a large mass of lead. Containment might be an issue. At the museum, when there was an event, 100 people, even mid-winter, I often turned the heat off. Body heat is not to be dismissed, igloos and yurts for instance. And that great greenhouse at Wood's Hole that was heated by rabbits. Guinea pigs breed year round, in South America they're raised for the pot. Guinea pig and sweet potatoes is a common dish. 70 degrees. Supposed to get cold again tomorrow night, more rain and snow, so I got my act together and went to town. Got several cans of mustard powder out of the discounted bin, and intend to make several different mustards. I know this is going to lead to making French fries, because I love sampling mustards on warm fries. I noticed, going in, that the Diary Bar had reopened, there was an enormous crowd, so I stopped on the way home and got a large vanilla shake. Came back the long way around, to check the various budding, and it's a disaster waiting to happen. Everything is moving too fast. I expect to hear the frogs soon. A strong storm, much thunder and lightning, and I have to shut everything down. Stay up, to watch the fireworks. It's like a bunch of early photographs, snap, snap. Trees stripped bare, nothing there, just the place. TR called and we're recording next Sunday, if he can get up the driveway. Read more...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rainy Days

The first fork in North America was imported by John Winthrop, 1630. Both the spoon, or the scoop, and the knife go back forever. The fork cut back on the waving about of knives at dinner. More civilized. The rain moves back in for several days, a pleasant slow rain, and the temps stay quite warm. I'm stripped down to a tee-shirt for the first time in months, while I make a nice hash, corned beef, potatoes and onions, simple fare. The corned beef and potatoes are both canned (the winter pantry) and that got me reading about canning. Napoleon needed a way of preserving food and awarded a prize to Nicolas Appert for canning and sterilizing food in glass jars. The next year, 1810, Pierre Durand, patents food preservation in cans, which is superior when it comes to moving food in ox-carts. It's not until 1858 that a can-opener is invented and in the intervening 50 years cans were opened, this seems to be true, with a hammer and chisel or a knife. If you've camped enough, you know what opening a can with a knife is like. It's dangerous and scary. The odd cans, with the roll-tops, just a decade later, were all fish products. I've never understood why that was the case. Now, a great many soups and vegetables are pop-tops. There was a military issue can opener, before MRE's, a small thing, called, as I remember, a P-38, and small cuts were commonplace. Opening cans is always problematic. Anything not in liquid I take off both the top and bottom, corned beef for instance, so I can get it out of the can. I love the Argentinean corned beef in that odd can. A truncated, rounded corner, four sided pyramid with the top cut off. I was reading about Pueblo Bonito, built by the Anasazi about 1100, and there was not a larger apartment house built in the US until 1882, NYC. Any day I spend looking up things I'd noted is a day well-spent. Tractors didn't out-number horses and mules until 1955, the Fordson tractor and then the 8N in 1954-55. I plowed with a mule, trying to place this, maybe 1959, a pea patch outside Middleton, Tennessee, where my Grandfather, Tom, had his holding pens. He actually was a mule-trader. Until 1955 this wasn't a bad business, he had the money to buy young green mules and break them. They mostly came from Missouri, wild as you could imagine, but he had a partner, Wally, that could talk to mules, and they did well in the share-cropper economy. If you're only farming a few acres you don't need a tractor. After planting you just wanted to turn the middles, kill all those nutrient sucking weeds, and you can do that with a manual wheeled cultivator. Or a hoe, for god's sake. Read more...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feeling Peckish

By my own rules, I should have gone to town, because it's still February and the driveway was solid, but I didn't feel up to it. Reconditioned a cast iron skillet, ate oatmeal, and drank tea. No fire, no carrying wood, it's sixty degrees outside, sixty-five tomorrow and I make plans for a sponge bath and hair wash. Scrubbing my neck and back would be good. Thinking about compaction, load and attachment, because a friend (an acquaintance from the past) called about a structural problem. We talked about the Loretto Chapel staircase, the way a helix might bond. My own experience is that if the load is carried perfectly, or close to perfectly, since most of the components are under compression, you don't need a lot of additional structure. The last couple of staircases I built, the treads carried the load down to a point. I made sure that point was well anchored. Injected concrete, pile-driven steel, anchor bolts in bedrock, whatever solution. I had a post-it note with two words, separate and underlined, Truss and Wheel. I was reading about the sweet potato, which seems to be of west African origin, and how it was being grown on the west coast of South America (Peru) 2800 BC, and I was having trouble with the geography. Of course it's true that you don't know who to believe. I trusted my teachers until I was in high school, then not so much. My American History teacher, 10th grade, was completely full of shit, I knew more about American History than he did, and it bothered him, so he failed me. The only course I ever failed in high school. I quit athletics that same year because he was the baseball coach. I was a pretty good utility infielder, but I couldn't hit a curve ball. Which might well describe my current status, not seeing the break. Ted Williams describing the seams of a fastball. In that fraction of time making a decision. Swing or not swing. The first recorded use of the truss, a famous bridge across the Danube, is shown, clearly on one of those Trajan columns: a diagonal load-bearing member. Buttresses allowed for thin walls and windows, queen posts and hammer trusses allowed open views. The mention of 'wheel' was just a reference to how you moved large heavy things, which is a subject that's always interested me. A log round soon falls apart, what you need is a rimmed spoke thing, a wheel. 2500 BC there's a bronze bushing lubricated with oil and a spoked wheel. Right on. Read more...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Overlap

Reading Thoreau when he's reading Darwin, 1851, is like being in a time-machine. The Galapagos section of Darwin when the concept of species variation was just becoming clear. I get caught in a now/then loop, reading Thoreau reading Darwin, then reading Wallace, then reading Quammen reading Wallace reading Darwin. Late dawn because of overcast, rained most of the night and it's dead quiet. I'm wandering around, with my headlamp on, looking for a book on coral atolls. On a pure coral atoll there are no rocks, but some drift ashore, trapped in the roots of trees. These were special and belonged to the chief, used for sharpening implements. Darwin (I think it was) recounts that natives of some of these islands, taken elsewhere, would collect rocks to take home with them. I was telling JC last night, that I never found a surface rock on the 120 acres in Mississippi. This was after living on the terminal moraine on the Vineyard, where everything was rocks. Even when I dug deep, in Mississippi, like for the corner post of a hog pen, I never hit a rock; here, you go down a couple of feet and you're going to hit a sandstone shelf. Which brings up a nagging question. The Ohio River is a significant drainage, though it mostly exists now as a dredged barge canal, but something happens there. South of the Ohio it's limestone, north, it's sandstone. Why is that? I had a nice eggplant I needed to cook, so I salted the slices for an hour or so, then wiped them and fried them in olive oil. Served with the meatball marinara would be an excellent dish for the restaurant. I've been thinking about the tasting menu: marble sized meatballs served in Brussels sprout cups, a single larger meatball on a perfect volcano of mashed potatoes, fiery meatballs in bitter greens. A ten or twelve course menu, with dessert and wine. I spend a long time running the numbers on this. Pure speculation, a mind game, another house I'll never build, but it entertains me. I could do this with two other people, a helper in the kitchen and a server PR person out front, feeding ten or twelve people, it would have to cost $200 minimum, and we'd have to add a cut for the house, to maintain the infra-structure. I've already designed an extrusion machine that produces small meatballs. My compatriot in the kitchen would need to be very handy with a knife, and the hostess would run the operation. I would never do this, of course, but I enjoy it as a construct. What it would cost, who I'd want to hire, what the dishes might actually be. The alternative is listening to fabricated crap. I've been with people who bought the party line, but like Thoreau, from his high horse, I'd have to say, it's rare that anyone who actually walks in the world, could make such a mistake. Read more...