Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fact Fiction

Got up in the dark, as I've been doing of late, to finish reading a fiction, so I could return it to the library when I took B to town. He called, as planned, and I finally got dressed and brushed out my matted hair. B and his dog (a very handsome hound with a nice voice) seem comfortable with each other. A nice chat on the way in. Because of the detour, B gets mileage now (over 20 miles) days he teaches, and he's as busy as I am, getting ready for winter. His truck had a short somewhere and the battery drained, also a fluid leak; I need to get my oil changed, and check the strength of the radiator liquid. But the next thing on my list is the refrigerator. Now that B has his truck back we should be able to get the new-used smaller fridge up here in the next couple of weeks. The trip to town was interesting. Cory had a new beer on tap he wanted me to try, and they had a new dish planned for the menu, a squash ravioli, and he wanted my opinion on a sauce. It's pretty good, and I told him I'd just use an herbed butter/olive oil drizzled on top, with a salad side and bread. I immediately came home and made a creamed Butter-Nut squash soup, minced onion, chicken broth and put it to chill. I'll eat it cold, with roasted oysters. The new batch of oysters are from New England, they're sweet and tangy and I love them with just a squeeze of citrus, and they had beautiful mussels, from Prince Edward Island. I should have ended up on the shore somewhere, I love shellfish so much, but I take what I can get on a ridge in southern Ohio. I'll just steam the mussels in white wine and minced onion and eat until I fall over. The library was holding a book for me, on early English cutlery, and I do enjoy looking at pictures after a day of questioning commas. B had loaned (lent) me a book of Chuck Close photographs. I like these, but I'm not crazy about them, I just wanted visual stimulation. When I look at pictures my brain works differently. I was thinking about this recently, the difference between hearing books and reading them. Then thinking about visualizing the main beam in the clear-span room Bear was building for Jenny. He called again, thanking me for my advice. I had told him up front, because he's a large strong guy with a temper, that I did not want to be held accountable, I'm just reading some tables here, looking at weight-stress analysis, and I'm only assuming that sassafras is as strong as white pine. Dried peat, did I mention this? is about the density of white pine. Burns hot but quick. I'm currently working on an algorithm that translates turves to cords Compressed horse-shit might be a good way to store energy. Some work to do in the woodshed, last year's collection of pieces that are just too long for the stove and I need to cut them in half, burn a fire of chunks. If you're hanging around the house, drinking hot-toddies, reading Swedish mysteries, in a rocking chair near the stove, burning small burls is a perfectly acceptable course of action. Knocks for knock. Late at night, quiet as a tomb. Read more...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Soodle

To walk in a leisurely manner (John Clare), to saunter. Three deer outside my window, nosing through the ferns, sleek and lovely. Reading Gerard Hopkins, a writer very much in touch with the natural world. His name keeps popping up in researching landscape terms. He made up a great many of them: goldfoil (a kind of lightning), boarlight (the burnished quality of light at the end of a beautifully clear day, bright-borough (a night sky filled with stars), and they're so specific, especially about the nature of light. I need to read a biography of him. Forgot to eat, setting up Little Dell, so I made a pot of rice and had a bowl with soy sauce and chopped peppers, then spent some time writing, learning the ins-and-outs of the undated AOL service. I can't get over how quiet Little Dell is, she sounds, as we used to say about our Servel gas refrigerator, like a puppy sleeping. I hadn't realized how loud Black Dell had gotten at the end, but I had written 5,000 pages on her, five modems, two keyboards, and hundreds of brown and black outages. At the finish she was suffering shortness of breath and bad circulation. I held her hand until the very end, writing an eulogy I knew I could never send. I'm capable of emotional dross, anything to mitigate the erosion of memory. Joel called, wondering if I'd died, no, I told him, but the poplars are turning yellow on the ridge. And it's true, every time I go to town now, I add food for the larder, a couple of cans of hash, a few cans of beans; the Kroger brand of vegetables are two for a dollar, so I buy some butter beans and some turnip greens. I haven't been able to find dried eggs, which would turn hoecake into cornbread (in my extensive research, it's the addition of egg, and cooking in the oven, that makes a hoecake cornbread), but I can usually keep eggs through the winter;I also have powdered milk and bacon bits, that allow for a superior Mac-and-Cheese, if you're camping way off the beaten track. Sway is the word that designates animal tracks that deviate from a straight line, perfectly descriptive, Manx or Gaelic, and I think of my fox. When I follow her trail, I'm amazed and always interested in why she veered off the path. She also eats oak galls. B calls and I talk his ear off because I'm so excited by this rookie, Little Dell; she shows great promise, as a helpmeet for my dotage. He needs a ride to town and I'm certainly available, I tell him to call and remind me, because I don't keep track of time, but that I already had another list of things I needed, and a trip to town would be fine. Cory is holding a beer in abeyance, an oatmeal stout, and I want to connect. Read more...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wrong Font

Took a little longer than it might have if I knew what I was doing, and the font size is wrong, but everything is connected. It took forever because I had to clean cables and the space behind Old Black Dell, she was messy in her final years. Fly litter, dead bugs, spider webs. I only had to go underneath the work desk once and I wore a mask. Jerome was here the very day she died and we went to town immediately, to the pub, for an early lunch and to question Cory about where to go, Adkins Computers, so we did. Jerome knew what I needed and talked the talk, the guy there was very quick. She's lovely and quite small, very quiet, and reconfigured in a black, sleek Dell housing. I thought for sure I was going to have to remove the now almost useless carcase, may she rest in peace, of Old Black Dell, and I was concerned, because the lamp, which sits atop, is perfect, or at least excellent for me, writing at night. Very cool, also, because their are a few pages I'd like to retrieve, from when I was still writing there, even though I knew OBD was dying. The Lost Pages. An extra trip to town, to take them my external modem, and the new unit will come preloaded, upgraded, all that. As it happens I could have gotten the damned thing on Saturday, but I assumed they'd be closed; on the modem trip I'd stopped at the library and got a couple of Scandinavian mysteries. Picked up a couple of pounded pork steaks that I breaded and fried, served with pan gravy, apple slices cooked in butter and maple syrup. The lych-way is the corpse way, the path the dead take to burial. I knew where the church used to be, two hollows over, and I finally found trace of the wagon path that leads up to the cemetery, a holloway, where the grooves are cut by the wheels. A raised path, in the fens, is called a cawnie. I'd noticed the rhododendron, across the road, on the opposite slope, was still bright green and glossy, like holly, and I wondered how long it held its leaves, so I tagged a few, to be able to follow the process. They must exude a toxin, because nothing grows under them; Black Walnut do this, an enzyme from the roots that discourages competition. There's a rain storm, which I need, being short on wash water, and I had clean buckets set out for water . I can get by on five gallons of wash water a week, two gallons of drinking water, I can boil rain or snow as drinking water. Read more...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Leaf-Whelmed

Defined as in such dense foliage that sight is limited. Wewire is foliage moving in the wind. Suthering is the noise of wind in the trees (John Clare). The glossaries in the Macfarlane book are wonderful. A fardon is a pillow made from a cow's stomach stuffed with hay. More phone calls about Bear's building project and I get him and the owner to agree to add diagonal braces where the beam meets the walls. That reduces the clear-span to an acceptable length. To celebrate I have a wee dram and roll a smoke. Thinking about large beams that I've built with in the past: a 5x14 yellow pine timber, 16 feet long, that I carved with a chainsaw to resemble a Thunder Bird; log purlins, flattened one side, that required two come-a-longs and a chain hoist to install; and a set of logs that required a crane. Bridge building, in Mississippi and in Colorado, we used some large pieces, but we always tried to off-load them directly into position. You never want to put large timbers on the ground, keep them waist high, on saw-horses, while you work on them. Two people can usually lift one end, otherwise you go to the pub and bribe a couple more people to help. If everything is completely prepared, you might only need extra help for five minutes. I've walked beams up two ladders many times, solo, oak is .7 specific gravity, 44 pounds a cubic foot, so a twelve foot 4x8 (a common size) is heavy, but lifting one end, resting it on your shoulder and lifting with your legs, isn't that difficult. I always kept the last step intact, so I could abort any attempt at final placement for any reason. At least duck out of the way in case something fell. I have a good record of survival. I never dropped a tree when I didn't know where to flee, a basic rule of the wood-butcher's art, and I never set beams without a meeting over coffee and donuts. A cheese Danish and a cup of fresh coffee goes a long way toward correcting any mistakes. Later, I'm frying some bacon, the house smells great, slicing an heirloom tomato, and breaking off some lettuce. Front-row seat for a display of raptor behavior. Mantling, it's called, where a hawk or falcon spreads its wings, fans its tail and arches its body over a kill, to hide it from any other predator. A beautiful Sparrow Hawk devouring a small rodent. D and I once, in town, in a parking lot, watched the resident Peregrine eat a small rabbit six feet from the sidewalk. Dad and I, fishing Julington Creek, off the St. Johns, watched an Osprey eating a mullet, and then watched an alligator take it away from him. On that same creek (wild swamp on both banks) we saw bear, the Florida panther, wild boar, and the last few people who lived on the water, running trot lines and selling blue crabs and catfish for a living. A manner of being that appealed to me, except for the snakes. There were snakes everywhere: moccasins hanging off branches, rattlesnakes as big as you arm, and copper-heads in profusion. I took up winter-camping in New England because there were no snakes. I don't mind that I reveal myself, what's to reveal? Another handicapped view. Read more...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Lost Again

Who can keep track of sea-grass? It's weightless and floats above controversy. I'd made a list of 42 words that all meant a small hill, then I made a list of 67 words that all referred to a small rill. Phone call with a construction question, a loading issue. I tell Bear to call be back, that I need to do some numbers, dig out a couple of books. I'm no engineer, so I always overbuild, especially in post-and-beam work. By my calculations his plan won't work, too much deflection, too much dead-weight, and I tell him that. Also, the 10x10, the main structural beam, is sassafras, and nowhere, in any of my books, can I find the strength of sassafras, so I have to figure it at the low end of the scale. Risk management. He could span 12 feet 4 inches, but not 15 feet (with the depth of wall thickness the span is actually only 14 feet 1 inch) because of the weight of the floor system for the second level. A post in the middle of the beam would neatly solve the problem. They don't want a post (which is silly, posts are wonderful) and I've run into this problem several times, over the years. It's not a problem if you're building to UBC specs (Universal Building Codes, which always struck me as amusing, like Universal Fluid, which is, more or less, transmission oil) because a beam, in this instance, would have to be certified by an engineer. Engineers, like everyone else, tend to cover their asses. I couldn't give Bear the answer he wanted, I wouldn't do it. I fully expect he will ignore my recommendation, but it's nice to talk with him. He knows as much about loading as I do, and I'm flattered he called me. He knew he was working right at the limit of what the materials could do. I wouldn't risk it, but he probably will. Get back to my reading, but I keep visualizing Bear's structure and grow more concerned, finally call him back and reiterate why his solution is a bad idea. The owl was back, haunting in the dark. Twilight had come and gone. Dusk is an odd word, eawl-leet, owl-light. Which seems true enough as darkness comes on. I was at the island, eating the left-over mushroom soup, which had solidified into a pate, which is testament to the amount of butter I consume, reading recipes for mock caviar based mostly on roasted eggplant. Windows open, lights out except for the 7 watt nightlight that illuminates my keyboard, and the owl settled in, tuned the chorus. Working opera in Boston, when the orchestra was rehearsing we couldn't work on stage, I'd take a blanket and retreat to a far corner of the theater, always thought that preliminary warming up and tuning period, a few minutes, was the highlight of the day. But the owl is back, the big news, and steps right in. I'd listened to some Miles Davis, between these owl sessions, Bitches Brew, Kind Of Blue, and every note seems significant. Now I know the owl is just another killer. Read more...

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Late Blues

John Lee Hooker and Santana, both so distinctive. John Lee may have the greatest voice of all time, and Carlos sure do play a mean guitar. I'd gotten up to pee and it was quite cool outside, below seventy for the first time in a week but darker than a coal mine. Quiet, except for the hooting of an owl. Anytime after midnight I often turn on the radio, usually just for a minute, to hear what's being played, but when it's John Lee and Carlos I get a wee dram and roll a cigaret. I met Santana one time, when they were playing a concert in Boston, on a stage where we were rehearsing La Traviata. The usual fuck-up of scheduling, we had a Thursday dress rehearsal, they played Friday, and we opened Saturday. We couldn't take our set apart, so they just set-up in the middle of it and used our lighting, the best in the world, Gilbert Hemsley, and it went off rather well, the set actually enhanced the sound, and I went to the party afterwards which was amazingly boring because everyone was so tired. I never met John Lee, but I did spend some time in Delta road houses. Garish purple cinder-block buildings with no windows. Scary, unless you're with a guy that played tackle for Ole Miss. Stainless steel hit the market in 1914, and this was a big deal. Silver oxidizes, so you end up scrubbing it away to nothing, stainless steel, with 14% chromium, holds up much better. My Dad always used carbon steel knives, which took a good edge, but lost it quickly, so much sharpening; a butcher knife became a filleting knife in just a few years, ended life as an oyster knife, with no edge at all. They stained with anything, but citrus was the worst. Lime juice becomes aniline dye. I still use some carbon steel knives, I enjoy the process of sharpening them, but my current and best knife is very hard stainless, which is difficult to sharpen but holds an edge for a long time. Also, it's easy to clean. It's a miracle metal, stainless, and it has a thousand applications. Ball bearings and the like. The acoustic qualities of the night are varied and interesting. There's an owl at the tree-line, working the clearing around the house. The hoots seem to linger. The owl's song is like Miles playing solo in the dark. Listening closely it's not quite solo, there's a rhythm, very light, under the horn: the bug section. This goes on for a long time, a concert for one; I'm sipping a smoky single-malt, considering a recording of this sound-scape, Owl Plays Miles, and how it would have a guaranteed sale of 100 copies, to all those birders who enjoy Miles Davis. Suddenly the performance ends, an angel flies through the room, it falls completely silent. Then a sound series I've never heard before in which the owl kills a small rodent, rips it apart and eats it. This is noisier than you might think and makes for a great radio show. The Death Of A Vole. This holiday snuck up on me, I lost a week to Macfarlane, an entire week buried in dictionaries, before I realized I needed to put on the brakes and at least look around. Winter is always around the corner. Read more...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Knives and Forks

Catalog from the Victoria and Albert museum, 1979, an excellent exhibit of Cutlery. I love the cases, brocades and leathers, with velvet lined fitted hollows. One exceptional set was a knife, one of the first four-prong forks, and a spoon bowl, for which the fork, fitted into sleeves on the back, served as the handle. For a long time it was considered customary to carry your own silver to dinner. I had a set, fairly heavy, very plain, the years in the desert, that I kept rolled up in leather in the kitchen box in the back of the truck. I only remember a shallow wooden bowl that I ate everything out of, licked clean then wiped out with sand. A Shin Oak burl, a shinnery is underbrush you can't get through. I did get to town, got my free pint, and watched ESPN for a little while. Stopped at B's on the way home, and I hadn't seen him weeks, so we had to exchange notes on what we were reading. He's teaching three classes and doing his tutoring, which is a full schedule, and he still bakes bread and tends his garden plot; a couple of days a week, he takes the on-line tutoring over to Zoe's, gets the grand-kids off the bus, and fixes dinner. I don't know how he does it, it's all I can do to get home with a couple of corn-dogs and an order of onion rings. Down on the creek bank I found a batch of Agaricus and while collecting them got into a tick nest, I had to strip down and wipe off with alcohol, but I had a goodly sack of mushrooms. The AC was on because Black Dell had been pissing about the heat, I was gimping about, listening to Son House, and made a very good stew/soup. It wasn't a recipe as much as a process. Skinny dude, dancing around in his underwear, chopping mushrooms. I had my bar-stool, a book under my book-rock so I could read with no hands. Minced a large onion, smashed a few cloves of garlic, cooked those while I read, then added half the mushrooms (a pound) and cooked them for quite a while, added a can of chicken broth and cooked it down. Ran this through the blender and set it aside. I cook the other pound of mushrooms in a walnut of butter, fold them in, add some cream, this is so good it makes me dizzy. Ginseng season opens, so there are people in the woods. This is serious business for some folk. I harvest only two or three roots a year, for my own use (I have a single very small sip every day of grain alcohol infused with sliced root) but I like hunting them, picking the berries and planting them nearby. I go down the driveway so slowly that I sometimes spot a plant (the berries are orange) out the window. I always have to claim my territory, a time or two a year, and the poachers are always polite. I learned recently that I have a bit of a reputation as the Crazy Guy on Low-Gap Ridge. Stands to reason then, that I'd be suspect of nefarious activities. Still, I'm polite to Rangers and Cops, grease the ways, I'd never do anything to bring down attention on myself. I was reading some Dorothy Parker and she is so fucking brutal, it's a breath of fresh air, like that. Ed Sanders in All Stars, or Dahlberg in his entirety. B had loaned me a book of Chuck Close's photographs. I spent hours looking at these, detecting what his concerns were, and which were mine. The large Polaroid images are striking. Read more...

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Moss-Breek

A broken spot on the fells, where sheep rub against the stone. You can bet there's a name for it. I was reading names for various wet spots on the moors, and there are dozens, describing specific characteristics. Low place after rain, trembling bog of uncertain footing, high ground for easy walking. In Mississippi, where there were no rocks, I'd set a fence post so that the goats had something to rub against. Country guys do this, drinking a Bud Light after work, scratching the eternal itch. You don't see it so much with bankers or people in suits, but we worry about parasites, out in the boondocks. I suppose it is, the ridge, out in the boondocks, but I consider it mainstream, the world as I know it. Look both ways to see if there's a bear. Deer have long noses and you can watch their nostrils quiver. Data, right, Glenn and I talked about this, the way information cascades. I can take a short walk, down to the head of the driveway, and there are a hundred plants, a hundred insects, and a hundred unexplained curiosities. Dung has a thousand names, as do turves of peat, boles of oak, deposits of hard coal. I had to laugh, I had the temperature down to about 80 degrees inside the house and I'd had to stop and put some books away, the piles were exceeding the angle of repose. Some of the books were being returned to specific places and I, oddly, remember those places, others had never been shelved, and I had to find a shelf for them. I always enjoy this process. I usually bring something back to my desk and today it was Herzog's Annapurna which I must have read 40 years ago. It's a slender book, 200 pages, and I needed a break from the dictionaries. There's a shadow, I read somewhere and know nothing about, about their having achieved the summit, but there were a lot of field amputations on the way back down. A typical book of exploit without enough attention to detail. I read Thoreau for a while before I got back to the Macfarlane. Made a nice ground beef patty that I had on toast, with lovely tomatoes and a blue-cheese dressing, I had to make a second piece of toast to clean up the mess. I'm struck with an enormous sense of well-being, not that my physical frame isn't groaning, but that I feel good in the morning and enjoy my consciousness. I can poach a perfect egg in a ring of hash, I've built a couple of nice houses, I once skipped a rock nine times. Tested, you might say. Read more...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Leaf Fall

Swirling winds in the afternoon bring down some leaves, singletons, that flutter down like dying butterflies. A brief morning walk noting the subtle transition of seasons, then back home for codfish cakes. Several hours with an Anglo-Saxon dictionary, tracking down some words. I have three bookmarks, already, in the Macfarlane, on one of which I write page numbers that correspond to pencil dots that mark sentences I want to enjoy again; that bookmark stays with the book. The other two are recycled when I've reread a passage after finishing a book. I think of these as stationary bookmarks, because the one with the numbers is the actual where-I-am-in-the-book marker. It's confusing even to me. My Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable has maybe thirty stationary bookmarks (in this case I used small yellow Post-It slips) and a permanent bookmark with nearly a hundred page numbers. Some of the page numbers add a single word, to designate category, but most of them just indicate a nice word or turn of phrase. Once a week, at least, I refer to Brewer, so I can always entertain myself by flipping to the pages I've marked. Pannage is a great word, letting pigs loose, to forage acorns in the fall. I actually did this, for years in Mississippi, and I always just called it free-ranging pigs; I've used the word several times, in imaginary conversations, so I assume it makes perfect sense. I pronounce it with a slight French accent. There's a great Spanish ham made from acorn-fed hogs, but the best cured meat I've ever eaten is probably B's cured loin and a couple of hams I cured with Big-Head White. It's actually quite easy to cure meat if you have a refrigerator. Roy and I both cured loins and hams in refrigerators, or had access to them, in case there was a warm spell in November (Mississippi Falls usually went through November). Plus we could kill a hog any time of the year. Roy made his living on pork. Big-Head had a cave, a storm cellar, in the side of a clay-bank, where he did his curing. He'd brine hams and slabs of bacon for a few days, then dry them off and rub them with a salt, pepper and sugar rub, bury them in a box of salt, taking them out, every few days and rubbing them with the mixture. After a few weeks of this he smoked them, for several days to more than a week, depending on what it was, then hung them in the bunker. Every couple of days, for a couple of weeks, he'd paint them with a mixture of flour, water, and ground black pepper. He liked a ham to hang for at least a year: they never had a single weevil. Armour-plated hams, takes a serious hammer blow to knock off the crust, then you take a few slices and soak them in milk, fry them in bacon fat, make biscuits and red-eye gravy; this is very good, with a egg-yolk leaking down the side and a single malt whisky. Come on, it doesn't get any better than that. Read more...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ironing Time

Very good tomatoes at the farmer's market and I picked day-lily buds on the way home. Books, whiskey, and clean clothes. I was making half a dozen mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat when Maria arrived and she was almost immediately thumbing through books I had out. She asked, from across the room, if I spoke Anglo-Saxon, only a few words, I told her, I'm stronger in Middle English. I'd pounded out some slices of tenderloin, and made a gravy from the marinade, and when I was frying the day lily buds, she came up behind me and asked what I was doing. Dinner, I said. We ate, and talked for hours, her upbringing and mine. After a couple of hours I didn't find her interesting anymore, way too Republican and conservative. It's scary that she actually thought Trump made sense. I'd rather be alone than argue about immigration. Even hotter today Heat Index at 110, thunder all around. Enough wind to flip the leaves inside-out and rain in the afternoon. Enough crab-meat leftover to make a mushroom/crab mixture to have on toast. I added a little clam juice and sprinkled on a bit of flour, to bind things, and it was delicious, served with a slightly bitter salad and sliced tomato slathered with a rich avocado dressing. The mingled juices, mopped-up with a piece of crust, were particularly good. I watched a spider take a wasp in its web today. My soap opera is that wasps have made a nest in the overlapping sashes above the AC unit and a large spider (I don't my spiders) had spun a dense and quite ugly web below them. An odd feature of the web is that there's an almost perfect circular hole that runs through it. This is for those incredibly fast killing runs a spider makes. Most of the time, more than even a cat, a spider just stays perfectly still. The wasps know about the spider, and they are very good at getting free from filaments of web: beating their wings like a humming bird. But the spider knows when one is truly trapped, zips out and wraps it up. I watched a sequence today that went on for several hours. I don't understand why a spider doesn't stick to its own web but I'm sure it's related to those insects that skip along on top of water, somehow there's a layer of separation. Also the speed with which a spider can go from total repose to full action. Amazing. This is where eight legs come into play. I'd set up a viewing spot that allowed me to watch, a music stand holding whatever book I was reading held in place with a carpenter clamp, situated so that wasp/spider thing was happening just above the book, so I could look up frequently. It seemed like a break-through in communication. The big difference now is that I don't care. I do think that they thought I might have been a terrorist, I can't imagine why, or that I might steal tractors. I'm a low-level library guy, trying to get together $26 to buy a Finnish dictionary, I don't have time for world events. Word events, I have to say, I'd studied those triangular plots of ground, where roads meet, and I liked calling them a gore or a gusset, then this Norfolk use, calling it an 'ironed piece', a quilting phrase. and I don't understand why these particular pieces of real estate are always talked about in terms of sewing. An "ironing piece". Read more...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Close Reading

Jude sent a copy of the Robert Macfarlane book, Landmarks, and it's a wonderful piece of work, great vocabularies of landscape. As Jude said, I share a brain-chip with this guy. Also some library books, fiction mostly, to sit out the hot afternoons. Heat index over a hundred. Listened to a very interesting program about storing energy. I've thought about this for decades. The easiest thing to do is to use surplus electricity to pump water uphill, then generate power on the way back down. For years I imagined a huge mass of insulated lead that would be melted by a lightning bolt, or a large flywheel. Turbines have gotten more efficient, still, the grid is crude, especially when you live at the end of their service. Tesla offers a home generation--storage system that looks interesting, I've lived without electricity for long periods of time and I always miss just being able to turn on a reading lamp. An oil-lamp and a couple of candles make enough light to read, though; you don't actually need hot water on tap, and flush toilets are a bad idea. Didn't write at all yesterday, completely entranced with the Macfarlane book. If yesterday be an indication, I'll be reading it all winter. At the end of the day's reading (after food and a nap, about four in the morning) I was hemmed-in by tottering piles of reference material. He'd mention a passage in a particular book and I'd have to go find my copy, finding it more and more curious that we cross-referenced on so many of them. Not strange, actually. Slept again, then a hardy breakfast of hash and eggs and a short walk before the heat. A small flock of grouse, a hen and her poults, drummed off the verge and stopped my heart for a couple of beats, but I found a couple of lovely mushrooms for tomorrow's omelet. I have to dry them first (all of the Boletes are much better dried) then reconstitute them in Madeira, caramelize some onion, then make the omelet. This repast takes 24 hours to make and about seven minutes to eat. I'm experimenting with a different technique for cooking the dish, in which I make a couple of two-egg omelets and layer them with the mushrooms and onion. A little grated cheese is nice. The secret here is to make both of the omelets in separate skillets, have the filling hot, spread it on the bottom portion, flip the other on top, pull it off the heat, add a bit of the Madeira juice and put on a lid. Let it rest for about the length of time it takes to spread butter and marmalade on a piece of toast. Serves two. Don't say I'm not romantic. I want to go to the farmer's market tomorrow, and get tomatoes for another week of BLT's; I don't even strain the bacon fat anymore, to remove debris: I think of suspended particles as bits confit. I store this fat in a quart Mason jar that I keep on the back of the stove, a heaping teaspoon fries two eggs, mid-winter I use it to make cornbread. Hoecake Annie. It's interesting that wherever I've lived, a simple pot of beans and an unlimited number of corn-sticks always brings the sceptics around. It doesn't surprise me, I've loved corn-sticks my entire life, I'd beg Mom to make them, so I could dip them into whatever sauce was available. Usually just pot-liquor from cooking greens and a dash of vinegar from the pickled peppers. Late summer salads are almost too bitter, and in the interest of decent BLT's I buy a head of Romaine. Good thick-cut bacon, and the tomatoes, right now, are extraordinary, a little sea-salt, a grind of pepper, this is one of my favorite things in the world, add twice fried puffed French fries and a red cabbage slaw, this could be one of the greatest meals ever. Read more...

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...