Tuesday, August 23, 2016

No Idea

Not a clue why I read and write for twelve hours a day. It engages me is all. The concept of ladle, or the idea of trenchers sends me off, and hours later I'm sitting on the back porch thinking about food preparation on a whaling ship. Every hand had a dish, wooden or pewter, that he wiped out or washed himself. Think about the logistics of feeding 3,000 people on a modern air-craft carrier. I always loved eating aboard ship, weren't supposed to do it, but the Chief's Mess was a pretty safe place to be a stowaway. Whatever ship he was on, Dad always made cornbread for the Chief's Mess, and that bought me a free lunch ticket. I loved the food, cafeteria food, I think because I never had it when I was a kid, lots of gravy, what's not to love. Read an interesting article by V B Heltzel, Chesterfield And The Anti-Laughter Tradition, essentially a tract on not laughing at dinner so as not to spew fellow guests. I love this stuff. Imaginary Dinners In The French Literary Tradition, The Folded Napkin, Cooking For A Harem. Why bother to make anything up? I'd said to Joel that I didn't know where the oysters were coming from, and he was silent just long enough to let me know I was an idiot, and told me to ask the fishmonger what it said, stamped on the gunny sack. I have to look into the concept of gunny sacks, but I meant a coarse woven bag, it didn't signify anything. Just a point of origin. In Key West they were referred to as croaker sacks. The croaker is a fish, sometimes caught in great numbers, I used to sell them to the aquarium, to feed the predators, but I have no idea what a gunny is. Maybe that fish that comes ashore, swept in on a couple of tides a year, in California. Early in my farming career, before I grew my own corn, I'd buy 100 lb bags of whole-kernel corn that came in those coarse-mesh bags. Sisal, jute, hemp, I saved these bags for years, and never could figure out anything to do with them. In Colorado I soaked them in the creek (which was quite cold) and spread on the bedding hay and the goats seemed to like them, they sometimes ate them. I thought about a clothing line, but it's a horrible cloth, however the stenciling is very cool. I think these are dyes and not inks, even with my tinker-toy microscope I can see that the color penetrates the fiber. Ink lays on top. Ink and paint fail because of attachment. Stain establishes a bond. Read more...

Completely Innocent

Pope whatever, the 12th, another pope in Madrid, another in Nice. The Catholic church is a joke, all of organized religion is a joke. Free Will Baptist might be an option, at least there's not much mediation. Mark Twain said that cauliflower was just cabbage with a college education. Boiled cabbage, with hot corn bread and fried salt-pork was a mainstay of our diet when I was a kid. Fried fish and hush-puppies once a week, a meat loaf, pork chops with homemade applesauce, and once in a while pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Various peas and beans. Always cornbread. Dad seemed to think that sliced white bread was the work of the devil, though we did use it to make fold-over scrambled egg sandwiches when fishing. Compromise. Relationships are always compromise. The flip-side is sleeping by yourself. Sleeping with another, for decades, I thought was the pinnacle of human endeavor, now I just place a baby blanket between my knees and roll over. Not that I wouldn't enjoy cupping my hand over a breast, just that I'm not willing to pay the price. Maria calls, three or four in the morning, and she wants to spend the day with me. She lives south of Columbus, wants to eat dinner, which means she'll probably spend the night, and my very first thought is where she'll put her gun. I think I'll cook pounded pork tenderloin medallions with a mushroom gravy, a side of fried day-lily buds; even if this is a set-up, we should go out in style. Winter spring summer or fall, artichokes should never cost more than a car. I can hear the arguments, but I don't care. She called then because she was just getting home and I had told her I didn't actually have a schedule. I've got a couple of days to think about it. Ran across this lovely ditty reading Visser's The Rituals Of Dinner, an excellent book if you're interested in food and eating history, the bibliography goes over forty pages: I eat my peas with honey---/I've done so all my life/It makes the peas taste funny/But it keeps them on the knife. Most of a day reading about knives at table. Table manners evolved as a way to control potential (or actual) violence. Especially when women and men started eating together. American frontier times, it was common to pick up a joint of meat, pull a mouthful free, and slice it off with your knife. To me, this seems fraught with danger and stupid. Invent a serving fork, to hold the meat down, and cut the meat off the bone. As time went on, and lipless people were purged from the food-chain, serving forks morphed into eating forks, an efficient way to get food to your mouth. I make a major digression into chop-sticks. An environmental disaster. The numbers here are staggering, billions, if most of the single-use chop-sticks weren't made of bamboo, an annual grass, all the trees in the world would have been turned into chop-sticks. A fork, on the other hand, could be passed on from one generation to the next. Silver doesn't tarnish with acid. The Italians were the first to notice this. Reading Emily Post from the 1930's is quite amusing. Aeneas and the crew are told, early in the story, that they won't get where they're going until they eat their table (a harpy told them, I don't remember, exactly, though I did find my college text), and when they eat their trenchers, many books later, they realize they've arrived. Interesting that trenchers survive in eating things on toast. I usually eat left-overs on toast, beans, of course, or a can of tuna, and I love eating left-over foul, with gravy, on toast, and using the edges to clean the plate, it's so efficient. The fork was slow to catch on because it was thought effeminate. One of the first forks was a knife with two tips or tines used to spear and transport a slice of cheese. Two points of contact being so much more stable. But it took a long time for forks to migrate over the channel, 1617, Lord Someone, after a stay in Italy; and America was pretty much a spoon and knife economy, even in 1837, one of those Europeans, coming over to view the great plains, complained that there were no forks. You can read about this in my not published but widely circulated text The Fork And The Folk. For years I thought this would be a simple trilogy, the knife, the spoon, and the fork, now I see it goes on forever. Read more...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Table Talk

An interesting read: Constructive Drinking, M. Douglas editor. I started another reading of food related off-prints and books. Table manners, great recipes, and a wonderful break from the political scene. The heat is supposed to break the first of the week, and it'll be nice to get outside during daylight hours. I made a great hash from a slice of corned beef, a small potato and a small onion, formed a ring and coddled an egg in the middle (with a splash of sherry), and had a thick slice of country bread with butter and a very tart lime marmalade. Started to rain, so I cleaned and set out a bucket. I need to wash my hair. Washed dishes, so the kitchen sink was clear, then heated water for a sponge bath. I was listening to the Grateful Dead rather loudly, when I heard a repeated knocking at the back door. It was a cop, of course, a woman who had inherited the case of the stolen tractors when my previous contact had moved to Alaska. I ask her in, put on some pants and a tee-shirt (Stop Plate Tectonics) and made some coffee. I didn't comb my hair and I'm sure I looked a fright. I had to explain, all over again, why I live where and how I do, and that I didn't pay much attention to other people. She (Maria Abrams) noticed everything. The stairs were a marvel to her, the posts and the beams, and she studied the cookstove quite closely, asking intelligent questions. She thought Black Dell was quaint, and I explained my tenuous connection with the outside world. She caught me at a good time, I was glib and funny, and when she was leaving I asked her over for dinner. Don't tell me, she said, you cook too? So I have a date with a cop. No ulterior motive, I don't want a relationship, I don't have time or place for a relationship. But I liked her intelligence. It's a fucking mine field. If you choose to be alone. Mostly, the world, the big picture, is too much to sort, it's a whole lot easier to hole up and read Proust. After she left, I'm so paranoid, I wondered if I was being set-up, maybe I actually was a suspect for something, drug trafficking, farm theft, people-smuggling, but probably not money laundering. A dram of Sheep Dip (much like an American sour-mash) and a cigaret, trying to remember what I'd been thinking about. Montaigne. I endlessly read his essays, I think in the one called On Experience he talks about eating. He didn't like tablecloths, he ate mostly with his hands, and he liked napkins. There was general distrust of the fork for a long time. It wasn't a knife or a spoon. You can draw a time line, using Montaigne as the pivot, at which point eating with your hands, both hands for god's sake, transitioned into dining with implements: place settings, flower arrangements, meals in courses. Civilized. I eat with my fingers quite often, since I seem to graze most of the time, unless a more formal meal is required. I don't like tablecloths, and I hoard sturdy napkins. Doesn't mean I'm not a nice person. Tablecloths, like white shirts and summer suits, only get stained. If you eat with your hands, you're going to drip. Read more...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Normal Activity

I operate within constraints, it's hard not to. I cleaned up a bit, before going in to town, a clean tee-shirt (IN COD WE TRUST), which is completely threadbare. On the way in I noticed the special of the day at the Buckeye Dairy Barn was a large serving of hot wings. I like hot wings, but don't make them often because of the mess, so decided to get some on the way home. Even just eating hot wings is difficult, so I plan ahead. Run all my errands, a pint at the pub and the men's semi-final in water-polo. What a brutal sport. And women's wrestling. At Kroger I got some slaw and baked beans, which means using a fork, which means eating the wings with only the left hand. Of course I'm reading a book, held open with a triangular rock, and I have to occasionally turn the page. Ripping flesh and cartilage from the bone, the sauce is flying, but I protect the book I'm reading with a plastic shield. A simple device, a sheet of plastic that protects the book. The wings come with a small container of ranch dressing to which I add half-a-cup of blue-cheese, and several squeezes of lime juice. They're quite good, the beans and the slaw, some olives, some pickles, and those deviled eggs. Ronnie makes the best deviled eggs in the world, but these are pretty good. I was reading the latest Easy Rawlins, and it'll cost me a dollar in fines because I did get a spot of sauce on the damned thing. The largest fine, at the library, that I ever received was $3, for spewing coffee on a Calvin Trillin. I'd been looking at pictures of dwellings on the plains of western Russia, eastern Europe, where there were no trees, but not enough snow to build an igloo, so they framed the houses with mammoth bones and covered them with hides. These are intricate structures, taking advantage of the curvature in tusks and pelvic bones, the hide covering weighted with rocks along the edge, sophisticated and functional. And they had fire, so they could burn dried dung, eat dried meat, and stay alive during a brutal winter. I keep a fire going, with few exceptions, from December to March, November to April, something like that, at least one day a month the temperature rises above fifty and I can shovel ashes from the stove. Maybe keep a fire going from embers. I don't derive meaning from this, it's merely the way the short stick falls, that life-boat from the Essex, or playing first clarinet on the Titanic. In the middle of the night, I get up and eat the left-over chicken wings, every olive and pickle in sight, and a piece of cheese my Mom would have thrown out the window with a cry of 'gardy loo'. Read more...

Foodstuffs

Rain all day. Not many, but a few leaves drift down. I collect water, read various accounts of the supplies stocked on expeditions. Always a couple of staples, beans and rice, beans and corn, nearly always beans; Sir Francis was a vegetarian which complicated his larder, he raised sprouts and baked his own whole wheat bread. Everyone carried chocolate, dried or tinned fruit, sea biscuits or crackers of some type. Now that I know I can keep a couple of cured jowls for the entire winter, I know I can always have a good pot of pintos and corn bread. Ten cans of baked beans, ten cans of tuna (in oil, I need the fat), ten cans of sardines, and ten cans of corned beef hash, all of which I like just fine on a left-over piece of cornbread. In the small freezer, over the small fridge, I keep a couple of pork tenderloins, several pounds of bacon, and some oddment, frog legs or tripe, and I have the stew that I can make from canned vegetables and jerky, and I do cook fresh meals, fish and shellfish, when I can get out. As I make a list, it looks pretty good to me. I have ten volumes of Thoreau to read, and I'll stock a case of whiskey and a case of wine. I'd like to get a printer before winter, if I can find one that'll work with Old Black Dell. I like to read hard copy. I was reading back in a file I keep, actually AOL keeps it, A Year In Paragraphs, but I need to see the 365 pages, sans headers and footers, printed on paper. Since I write single-spaced it might go on a bit beyond that. Also I'd like to see the Janitor College stuff printed out. It's funny work, I never would have imagined I'd write that, I'd be much more likely to write a history of the banded earthworm, or cracklings, or the very idea that there could be left-over oysters. The Peterson Oyster bed was an out-wash channel from the last glaciation, all that melting water, a Vineyard Fiord, and I could collect a bushel of oysters in 15 minutes. I collected four bushels and slow cooked ribs, Marilyn made bread and cooked a vast array of vegetables, for a large crowd, twenty maybe. I have no idea where anyone slept, the next morning I remember making vats of coffee and soft-scrambled eggs and sending people back, to make their ferry. The bread we were making then could serve as a model, nut meats and whole wheat and enough potato to hold things together, it didn't rise much, but it kept very well. Two loaves a week, and cornbread every other night. What I think of as the good life. Read more...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dead Reckoning

Reckoning? A merit badge you earn for finding your way with a compass. There's now a school of navigation that uses an entire previous set of tools, the flight of birds, the taste of the water, ocean currents, to determine where you are and where you hope to be going. Key West was the first place there wasn't any parental supervision, be home for dinner was the only caveat; Dad was on sea-duty but he was home most nights, Mom worked at a jewelry store, and I built a succession of rafts from which I surveyed the cays. Only had to be rescued once, drifting out to sea, by the Coast Guard. The mangrove tangles and the birds were an education; now I only walk the ruts in the road, avoiding ticks and chiggers, aimed squarely at my back door. I still track in bugs and scat, it's not be helped if you live in the real world, but at least I cut down on the volume. Speaking of which, I'd pulled into the intersection where Sixth met Gay, I just wanted to go to the library, and a convertible pulled up next to me with Hip Hop blaring, and it pissed me off, that I had to listen to that crap. At five meters I'm world class with a pellet gun. Something else pissed me off recently, several things, truth be known, I'm on a roll for expressing my discontent, a phenomenon that seems to be linked to the season and the phase of the moon. I was reading some art criticism and I'd gotten upset. Fucking academics drive me to drink. Jean-Michael Basquiat, spare me. I go off on a rant, wonderfully cadenced and composed completely of expletives, the sailor's wife tossing slops out the window:

Goddamn, goddamn the
motherfucking fucker
has driven me
to fuck the pool guy.

Next time, here and now, when I look up, two young does are nosing through leaves right outside the window. Fat, putting on winter weight, they're handsome animals. I watch them for a while, until they wander off. A little afternoon shower that only adds to the misery. I do go out and stand in the rain for a few minutes and it lowers my surface temperature by about thirty degrees. I typically drape wet clothes on the backs of chairs in a kind of rotation. When I wash a batch of boxer-briefs and tee-shirts, I sometimes string a line between a stairway post and the far corner of the kitchen area. Mid-winter, I would say, the moisture is welcome. I like to bring next week's wood in early, so it can breathe a bit, contribute to the local humidity.
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Impossibly Compressed

The present is a rather fleeting event. Most of time exists in the past and in the future. We could argue this: my little jig, eating oysters, seemed to go on for quite a while. Fishing in a school of feeding bluefish, holding a dying person in your arms, knowing that help will be too late, a chance and exciting sexual encounter, some events seem to extend the present. I've lived through a half-dozen harrowing moments that seemed to last a long time. When I want to take a break from whatever, I like to slow down and look closely at something. I've collected a goodly pile of old things, stone points, a few fossils, and I never tire of looking at them. An atl-atl weight that seems to be notched for lunation, a perfect squirrel skull, a reconstructed turtle shell. When I found the little Indian pipe I almost had a swoon at the way time was compressed in the thing I was holding in my hand. My sister foisted on me a box of photos and documents from my Mom's side of the family, Grand Pa Tom, and Myrtle, the four kids, Mom the only other female, three brothers. She got away as soon as she could, building planes in Memphis, meeting Dad at a dance. My sister must have been conceived when Dad went from the Atlantic to the Pacific and had some shore-leave. Navy guys, it's all bullshit, but Dad had been with prostitutes in Morocco and Japan, I don't know if Mom ever played around, it doesn't matter, but I wonder.

Wild mustard and cress,
everything is sharp and clear,
but nothing is what it seems.

Rain moves in from the northwest, all the tracks are destroyed, but a couple of stumps indicate a bear looking for grubs. Another fucking bear, I have to smile, you make a lot of noise and they run away. I've been reading some Depression-Era recipes and they sound terrible. I'd talked with Mom and Dad about this, years ago, and they agreed that poor farmers ate well during that period. They raised all of their food so there weren't any shortages. A favorite uncle of mine, in Water Valley, Mississippi, told me that his extended family (they raised my father) needed $1,000 a year, for a family of eight. Cash money was the problem. He'd haul bushels of fresh produce to Memphis, and sell a few animals at auction every year, to make the family nut. He'd bought the old farm for $5 an acre, 80 acres, 60 acres in woodlot, fertilized with manure, rotated crops, and never bought anything he couldn't pay for in cash. I wanted to buy that place, when we moved to Mississippi, but it was over-priced, because of proximity to Oxford, so we bought an old hunting camp, an abandoned farm, in the hills, perfect with its springs and bottoms, and earned a good living there, until it became necessary to think about schooling. I'm not a good teacher. We moved to Colorado, where the public schools were pretty good, and Marilyn could indulge her fantasies. Maybe it was me, I'm not dependable, Joel called me to task, about saying that something had actually happened. I'm not sure anymore.
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Working Day

Very hot, over a hundred. I got a few things done in the morning, then headed to town with more recycling. On the way into town, on 125, I was behind a flat-bed truck with a Ford 8N on the back. They pulled in at the chop-shop junk yard and I followed them, to look at the tractor. Good old boys and we shot the shit for a while. 8N stories. The new owner had paid a $1000 for this old tractor (1954) which is more than it cost new, and it needed to be completely rebuilt; but it had been stored out of the rain, and he was a happy man. Cory put the Olympics on for me, instead of the Little League World Series, so I could actually watch an event. I'd heard highlights on the radio. I watched a couple of heats of the women's 50 meter freestyle, explosive, and they all finished within a second. Sliced roast beef was on sale, so I bought some of that, thinking a couple of thick roast beef sandwiches, with lettuce and tomato, would be good. Spent some time reading at the library, they have comfortable chairs spread around, and the AC is very nice. It's so hot, by the time I get to Kroger, even the clerks are bitching about the heat. Going home, I have to lean forward, so I don't stick to the seat. It's too hot to even think. Below ten degrees or above a hundred, all you can do is get along. A very large rattlesnake dead on the road, and I stopped to pull it off so that the crows could eat it in peace. Going through the forest, this time of year, the dappled light, with more slant, is almost blinding. I did go for a little walk, to collect some mushrooms. I'd gotten my weekly oysters in town, so after I'd cleaned and sliced the mushrooms, and gotten them tucked away in the dehydrator, I roasted the oysters over a wood fire on the grill, then following Rowan Jabcobsen's lead, had them with a dab of lime slurry I'd made in the freezer. These were so good they made me laugh. Stripped down to my boxer-briefs and a tee-shirt cut off at the neck and sleeves, dirty hair whipping around my face, grilling oysters; then setting up the meal, the oysters on their metal-roofing pan, the chilled bowl with the slurry, at the island. Standing there, doing a little jig of appreciation, eating oysters on the half-shell with a dollop of cold tartness. A dram of the malt. Where do you go from there? This work-a-day writing I do is of little consequence, what I read hardly matters, and I certainly misremember almost everything. Close friends forgive me, actually I'm given a dispensation I've never understood, that I could know or have known such a wide range of people. I don't understand the phenomena exactly, but it has to do with breaking bread and good conversation. Oysters and Glendronach doled out in healthy splashes, a lengthy discussion of Emily's sexuality. If I've had enough warning I make a pate so we can feel above our station. Four poets, eating oysters, eating pate, and dancing a jig. Otherwise I don't need company, I don't understand the compulsion for connection. I could play the loser father in any Pinter play, or the bitter son, but I don't need to talk about meaningless crap. It's so quiet, when the AC kicks on, I'm already asleep. Fuck a bunch of basil. Read more...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bridge Construction

Finally stopped down there, to see what they were doing. No trace of the old bridge or the abutments. Neat and tidy jobsite. I would say they're ready to start construction. Said to be done in November, which probably means Christmas; as long as I can get out that way a couple of times in January and February I'll be happy. I need someone for a day of labor, I can hire Ryan for that, and I need to get my ass in gear. As soon as the weather breaks I need to re-surface the back porch and repair the threshold, organize the firewood and kindling. I need to muck out the outhouse and the composting toilet, preparing for winter, and I need some peace of mind, which means reading material and a well stocked larder. They should be having a library book-sale, between now and snowfall. I have a fairly arbitrary list of books, posted next to my desk, books that I want to reread for one reason or another. I was up all night reading Thomas Berger, Robert Crews, then had a great breakfast of polenta and eggs, then took a nap, woke to that dream of falling. It's like a muscle cramp, I have to sit up and eat one of those little packets of yellow mustard, this actually does work, almost instantly, for muscle cramps, and imagine some flat and solid surface. I can't go back to sleep after a falling dream. I'd left out a bowl of balsamic vinegar I'd used for the last of Ronnie's tomatoes, and sliced a half-pint of grape tomatoes into that, thinking about a BLT in which half grape tomatoes might be embedded in a mayo, with a layer of soft Boston lettuce and five or six slices of bacon. Bacon's always going to be on sale in the fall, when they like to kill pigs, so put a few pounds away, they keep a long time; mid-winter you can drain a can of roasted tomatoes, use some forced lettuce from the window-box, and make a passable sandwich. Greg Allman on the radio, an old interview and several songs, puts a big smile on my face. That big open sound. Turn off the lights and listen to Greg cover a Jackson Brown tune, These Days, which is very beautiful. Greg has that old blues voice. A smokey tension. "I Can't Be Satisfied" and then "Melissa" which is one of my favorite songs ever. That's Dwayne, I think, on guitar. Cross roads come and go. Someone else died at that same curve in the road. I'm interested in how they solve the problem of full-bore massive amounts of water for two weeks out of the year. A bridge is only as good as its abutments. One trip to Columbus B and I stopped to look at how they had moved them. These large blocks of sandstone, a thousand pounds of rock. Give me a donkey and a pulley. Dry thunder. Read more...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vertical Integration

A degree in theater is vertical integration, a degree in bookkeeping is horizontal. I only started building houses because I'd built scenery, houses are easier, because you don't have to take them apart. Also because you're never intimidated by a project; sure, I could dig a tunnel, sure, I could build a bridge, I can build a house that won't blow away in a storm. Ronnie had sold me a gnarly tomato that he swore I'd love, and I have to say it was one of the best things I've ever eaten. I'm at a loss to explain how taste and smell can explode in that way. I'd cooked bacon, so the house smelled great, and built an outstanding BLT, which had reminded me of a golf course in Florida, where I used to dive in the shallow lake at night, collecting errant drives, which I sold to the driving range for pocket change. I often spent this money at sandwich shops, on a BLT, with a limeade. In Key West I collected Sea Cucumbers for the aquarium, and would buy a turtle burger at a great seafood shack across from the docks (we had turtle burgers at school lunch on Fridays, cheaper than bringing ground beef from the mainland). In the cooperage book, this quote, talking about Scottish coopers having different names for various tools: "A cresset is a lummie, and a downright, a plucker, while the beek iron is a study." I could live in Scotland, I love their slant on English, but I hear that the weather is terrible. I know that a cresset is the fire of shavings built under a cask after soaking or steaming, thus a lummie, with ties to illumination, and that a downright is the curved plane used to smooth the outside of a barrel (plucking off the roughness), and a beek iron is the anvil used for riveting hoops, which, I suppose, is always a study. A hoop was made slightly smaller (an inch on a large barrel) than the space it would occupy, to draw the staves together. A piece of dried reed was often placed between the staves as a kind of gasket. Von Guericke's first vacuum experiments used a brewery 'extra stout' barrel. The 'extra stout' just refers to the thickness of the staves, an inch and a half in this case. Any thickness only adds to the surface area where the bevels meet. Someplace, in the piles of paper around here, there's a reproduction of a great photograph of a cooper and his day's work, which was replacing the stave where the bung-hole was drilled. Twelve in one day. The bung-hole stave always failed, end-grain, but he had a pattern stave and he could knock the hoops off a barrel and replace one in short-order. Even as early as Roman times the staves were sequentially numbered, barrels were built, then knocked apart, then shipped wherever they were needed. Anybody could put them back together. These were probably the first kits. IKEA translated into Swiss and back into English. Read more...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fiction

Needed a day away from non-fiction, so I reread a very good Thomas Perry novel, Vanishing Act, which I'd picked up at a library sale. A good read. Decent fiction is a complete transport for me, so is non-fiction, for that matter, but when I'm rereading non-fiction I get up and walk around more, thinking about things. Perry is a good writer and I read the book straight through, setting out a tray of grazing bits at the island, cheese, sausage, several pickles, crackers and different olives. The whole experience, starting with coffee, moving on to juice mixed with tonic water, then to whiskey, when the sun was finally over the yardarm, was very pleasant, calming. I'm pretty calm, as a rule. I'd rather not argue, though it is true that my father and I argued all the time. Not in an ugly way, or loud, just disagreement (usually) about small points: the best way to tie a knot in monofilament, the best spice mixture to rub a brisket, that the greatest play in baseball was Mays throw-out, at home plate, from deep center-field. He threw the ball, from over 300 feet, and nailed the runner. Later, we argued politics, and it always bothered my mother, who thought we might come to blows. I made use of this, in debate, which is what led to theater. Debate is like dressage, it has no point. Dressage is a ballet of moves that might once have been important in battle; and debate is an offensive weapon. I love these miniature barrel drinking mugs, stoups, and they're made with straight staves so they're (relatively) easy to make. I made one today, no great shakes, but a wooden container that would hold water, I secured the bottom and staves in place with a muffler clamp. Muffler clamps are great for this, because you can loosen, to let in the head. Sobriety was not one of the coopers virtues. Repairing casks was a endless task and Guiness, who might have several hundred thousand casks in rotation, required a shop of thirty coopers just for repair. A barrel might last for fifty years, but by the end of that time neither a hoop nor a stave might be original. It would still be the same barrel, we could argue, because the head pieces, the ends, which took no wear, were branded with the name of the brewery and a number. Usually the stave with the bung hole was the first to fail, end-grain being a conduit for decay, and eventually they used screw-in brass or bronze inserts. Still, wood fails; and even iron fails because the great thing about barrels was you could roll them, single wheeled vehicles. I have tons of questions, the herring industry, for instance, at Bristol. How did they stack those barrels? I can't tell, exactly, but 35 to 55 gallon barrels packed full of fish and brine, and they're stacked four or five high, waiting to be shipped to the mainland. I spend a fair amount of time trying to do the math on this. I can't find the specific gravity of pickled herring. A hole in my data base, so I make a guess. For reasons I don't remember I assigned pickled herring a number, 1.5, which I'm sure is giving them the benefit of the doubt, so a 55 gallon barrel, a gallon would weigh six pounds, so a 55 gallon unit would weigh 330 pounds. And why do those pyramids of barrels hold that shape? Outward force and downward force. I always think of it as dead weight. Tomorrow might be August 10th, it could be August 9th or elventeth, jesus, is that even a word. Four stout Irish guys could swing a barrel down to four other Irish guys that could load it onto a cutter and you could smuggle that across. Early on wooden wheels developed, then small iron wheels that didn't work very well, then metal hoops on wooden wheels that lasted a long time. A spoke is like a stave. Read more...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bronze Plows

The first wheels that we see are on toys, which is proof that the idea of wheels existed. Slash-and-burn agriculture was not a matter of planting in rows, so the digging-stick worked fine, still does; when you're planting around stumps you plant in hills. I've read a lot of numbers about the ratios, but an average might be that an acre of slash-and-burn could feed 13 people. The numbers jump when you plant in rows on a delta, ten-fold at least, 130 people per acre. Deltas allow for larger groups of people, which is a good thing, in terms of defense or having a dance on Saturday night. The very idea that a seed could produce a plant, the very idea that you could smash a seed and boil a gruel. Taming fire was a big deal, the whole idea of vessels. Wood and rush vessels, then pottery. Fire, at first, for a long time, was a matter of keeping a live ember or keeping a fire going all the time. I assume we've had control of fire for a long time, and we were cooking things early on, because we'd eaten animals caught in wildfires and realized they were good. A roasted squirrel, and pretty soon you're roasting everything. Bread seems to be about 6,000 years old, roasted dry gruel. When you start planting rows, you need a plow. The plow changes things, even a harnessed man, pulling an ironwood crotch, can plant several acres in a day, the squash-bean-corn system works very well, or raising rice, eating the rodents that infect the fields. Copper melts at a low temperature, but it's soft, bronze is better, but still doesn't do well against hard rocks. Still, bronze plows did very well in alluvial flood-plains. Jude also sent a copy of an article "Ox And Plow In The Early Bronze Age Aegean". About 3400 BC is the earliest date there, some interesting small figurines depicting yoked oxen. Found in burial chambers, and the authors make the point, well founded, that having a team of oxen, for plowing and cartage, was a sure road to relative wealth. Not many could afford the purchase or upkeep, but those that could probably rented them out for a share of product. The first wheat barons. Wooden plows were still used in the highlands of Greece, on small acreage, with a donkey as the 'traction' animal. I love that use of traction. I can write in the middle of the day now, so I essentially don't have a schedule. On Saturday the Farmer's Market closes at noon, so I like to get there early and get fresh produce, then run my errands and get home, cook something from the shopping bag. This week it was baby okra. Heat corn oil (with some bacon fat) in a large skillet, dip the babies in beaten egg, then roll them in corn meal, two minutes on one side, flip with chopsticks, a minute or two on the other. Okra almost always snaps off the plant with a little handle where it attached. Perfect for dipping. An aioli is very good. The Atlanta newspaper, 1862-63, experimented with an okra newsprint. The cooperage book is fantastic, written by a cooper, and it's answered a great many questions I'd had about how to make a barrel. Right at the beginning, the author states that there are no amateur barrel makers. The real thing, a cooper, feels even a finish carpenter is a wood-butcher. Try making a milk bucket, out of wooden staves, that doesn't leak. I could probably make one, given six months and modern tools. Making the hoops would be difficult but not impossible. It might take me a year, but for a medieval cooper, it was the work of a day, less than that, two a day for a margin of profit. Hard to imagine. What I'd had the most trouble imagining was how they formed the barrel. But now it made sense, using a temporary hoop, soaking them in salted water, then pounding on the hoops. It's way more complex than that, you have to be very precise, and bevel the staves just so. And the hoops are pounded down until the barrel bands are fitted. They always mention that the barrel rings when the hoops are pounded tight. It is the hoops that give a finished barrel it's shape, you soften the wood, with steam or water, then pound it into form, if it doesn't crack, you have a barrel, salted herring in brine, burgundy, whatever you're shipping. Read more...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Good Reading

Farmer's Market and I sat with Ronny for a few minutes, while he sold his tomatoes, bread and jams. Bought tomatoes for the next round of BLT's. It was fun, watching people at market. Ronnie knows everyone. People stop and talk. A nice day for reading matter, a New Yorker, Jude sent me a book I've very much needed on coopering, two library books, and a brief stop at the Goodwill Bookstore gained me a nice history of the saints. Picked up eggs at the Farmer's market too. I'll probably live for a month on BLT's and various egg meals because I'll have a lot of bacon fat. Also wilted greens (with the fat) and johnny cake that I make on the grill. I found a piece of stainless steel pipe in a dumpster and I've fashioned a mold for my polenta. I've always used the large frozen orange juice containers, and they work fine; I keep some of them, new and full of concentrate, frozen because they're lighter if I'm walking in mid-winter, than carrying a half-gallon of juice. I drink a lot of juice. The piece of pipe is just about perfect, two inch diameter, about four inches long, so I spend a day peening the cut ends, then filing, then sanding with emery-paper, until they are as smooth as a baby's butt. Easy to clean, easy to lubricate, I think it's the best thing ever; also, it's heavier, it has a certain gravity that cardboard can never achieve. It's beautiful, I can't believe I made it. I'd cooked a Mini-Crock-pot batch of grits, in anticipation, and had a fine plate of cheese grits (an Irish Cheddar) with a perfect runny egg, then packed the new mold full and put it in the fridge. Tomorrow, I'm thinking, pounded pork tenderloin medallions, polenta rounds, and red wine pan-gravy. I discovered a great way to caramelize zucchini slices. It takes forever and isn't worth the bother, normally, but I like doing it. It's a good dish. I use a ten inch cast iron skillet for this, so that things aren't crowded, slice a couple of tender young squash, put them in a cold skillet with a walnut of butter. I move over to the island, read a Thomas Perry novel while I move the pieces around so they don't stick, and listen to John Lee Hooker, who wins my vote for the greatest voice ever. Bonnie Raitt holds her own. When I flip the slices the starches are browning at the edges. Then I put on a lid, and steam them for a while, which probably isn't necessary, then add a bit more butter and brown them. These are as good as fried okra, better than anything you've ever eaten. I had eggplant once, prepared this way, and grown men were weeping. They pretended to just be smarting from the smoke, but we knew they were suffering from guilt.

All of the birds are silent
but the summer bugs sing
and the gentle waves lap
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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Another Book

Talking with Jude I remembered an idea for another book. Thoreau's Journals cover 24 years, 1837-1861, and he records, almost from the beginning, the first appearance of a large number (and ever increasing number) of plants. It would be interesting to spend a growing season at Walden and record first appearances today. Cooked a pot of Louisiana Pecan Rice. Lovely aromatics. I rummaged around until I found a book on rice and read that in the afternoon. I hadn't remembered that it can be grown on dry land, "upland rice", nor that the common method of controlling mosquitoes, before DDT, was to raise minnows in the flooded paddies. There's a terraced section outside Luzon, 200 square miles of country-side, that is beautiful, in use for a thousand years. Raising paddy rice is a way of life. Another book I have been working on: as of today I have 365 pages of my work that have been send back to me with a word or two of comment, they're dated, the time of sending is recorded, and they're sequential. It's interesting, also I read through 10 pages that were all the same date, March 1, but sequential years. Also interesting. The 'sequential' is interesting because it's available data, because of the computer, as is the time of sending, and it's an interesting (and obvious) method of storage. I'm constantly aware of seasonal cycles. Even if I was writing something slightly fictional, the seasonal progression would have to be correct. I thought about writing a book about someone like myself, speaking of slightly fictional. An old guy with a cane and a bag of oysters, walking in to his hut, talking to himself. Stops to pick some greens. He has some tangerines which he segments and toasts until they puff. He roasts the oysters on his cookie sheet, a piece of metal roofing, and he would listen to either Robert Johnson or Bach. There's a voice over, his voice, cracked and private. Basho:

firefly viewing---
the boatman is drunk,
the boat unsteady

The AC has been on a bit, to keep Black Dell down to 78 degrees. I hate the noise, but it's nice to not be sweating, and Black Dell has been my closest companion for fifteen years, two generations of her, and I'd much rather keep her happy than deal with her complaints. I do believe I have the backdoor threshold situation figured out, I think I can reuse the aluminum base, build up the sub-strate with a synthetic product, and forget about it. I just need to tightly close the door. It doesn't have to be an elegant solution. Of course, I prefer elegant solutions, but sometimes just closing the door is an adequate answer.
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