Monday, February 8, 2016

Fox Trot

Twice in one day, socializing, effectively killing time until the driveway has a chance to dry, people recognize me by my voice. The full gray beard is a clever disguise, but my voice gives me away. Defined by word choice and diction. Not only defined, but identified. Driving home I was thinking about definition, almost drove off the road to avoid hitting a very confused young deer. I drive slowly through the forest, so it can mitigate between outside and inside, stop, at the bottom of the hill, collect my mail, shift into four-wheel drive. Driving up, with slick mud and ruts, requires concentration, you need to know exactly where your front wheels are, so I was focused on hitting my marks, momentum, gaining purchase on that last rise to the top. The fox appeared, right on the outer reach of the second curve. I was dumb-founded. I couldn't afford to pay any attention. She trotted all the way to the top, then led me over to my house. Fucking fox wants an apple. The "trot" is merely a method of moving, I know that, but it's such a dance, the fox trotting. I don't view it as a sign, it doesn't signify; a fox acting like a fox is not acting. My dozen oysters this week are 18, because, the sea-food lady explains, they never sell them all anyway. I make a version of the scallop dish, steaming them open in a little clam juice, with a reduced sauce, served on braised endive. It's excellent and half the price of making the dish with scallops. It needs a brightly colored side dish, because it looks rather bland, and I've haven't been able to decide what to do about that. The original recipe calls for deep-fried shredded beets, which I can't bring myself to try. Something bright green would work, or roasted and caramelized peppers with red onion. I'd heard snow mentioned, but I wasn't paying any attention, turned on the radio because NPR gives the weather on the hour, and yes, starting as rain tonight, turning to snow tomorrow. It's seems arrogant, or maybe just stupid, to say that I'm not even remotely concerned, that's to say that I'm not overly worried, about my ability to survive. I will heat up the kitchen tomorrow, enough to take a sponge bath and wash my hair, and bring in some wood. My various piles of reading matter are teetering, and dust bunnies are collecting in the corners, the study of a man at rest. Not having to make excuses or explain my living habits is part of the equation, the quiet is another, and the fact that time slows down, in winter, on the ridge. A simple chore, bringing in an armload of wood, starting unshod, at my desk, in the spring or fall, I can accomplish in maybe five minutes; mid-winter it can take an hour or more; some days, all you can do is keep a good fire burning. In my essay, "An Apology For Stupidity" I argued that being stupid was reason enough, that not knowing wasn't that different from knowing. That playing with their ball, on their court, by their rules, wasn't fair, and that you should file a lawsuit, or take away their kitchen privileges. Winter Weather Warning, bunch of snow starting tonight (already started here, late morning) continuing through the night and tomorrow. Fall into deep winter mode again. Cracklings and bean soup with cornbread, stack the extra winter garb near my chair, bring in another armload of wood. I do get outside for an hour, and it's an extremely desolate scene. The dead and dormant, everything shades of the same color, my work boots encased in an ice and mud mixture, and my beard slightly frozen. A hiatus in the afternoon, then a rain starts, changing over to snow. I'm deep into another Lescroart crime novel, well-wrapped, with a drink at hand; I'll do the cooking tomorrow, the cracklings, the bean soup, the cornbread; for tonight I just had sardines on toast, with a thick slice of onion. Started snowing hard at four in the afternoon. I'd better send this. Read more...

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Extremely Calm

I was ready to drive out to the nearest PO, to mail my bills, but I stayed up this morning, writing until five, then slept, and when I got back up we had entered another thaw cycle. It was a mess and I didn't feel like dealing with it. A mug of tea, finished the new Bosch novel and read a New Yorker. I'd picked up some eye-of-round slices of beef, tougher than shoe leather, but I planned to pound the hell out of them and roll them around crab-cake stuffing. I braised them in red wine and butter and they were good, nothing special, tough. In winter mode, adequate is fine. I'm not setting the bar very high here. Nothing I can't step over. Keep a path to the woodshed, keep very dry kindling, and remember to bring the toilet seat in at night. Today I decided I had to get my bills mailed, the last thing I need to do in February. The driveway was frozen up top, so I didn't think much about it, but down at the infamous second curve it was already thawed. Very frightening descent for a few hundred yards, and I knew it was going to be impossible to get back in unless I killed most of the day in town, give things a chance to dry somewhat. So I went to the library. An event called "The Chocolate Walk" was happening in town, you buy a ticket, you get a bag and a map, and everybody gives you chocolate; and there were a great many mostly female fat people on the streets. The pub was on the walk. I got a free beer because one had been miss ordered, and then free chocolate. Went to the museum and talked with TR, watched and listened to a great soprano doing a piece of modern opera. It was incredibly vibrant, I liked it quite a lot (Hannigan, I think), then went back to the pub. Greeted by a couple of Irish musicians I knew slightly, and we had a lively conversation, they bought me another beer; and I had spent the day in town, easy as that. Drove home slowly, thinking about what I had forgotten: citrus segments in light syrup, those fucking batteries, a couple of unripe avocados, but you can't beat yourself up about minor lapses. I get back in without too much trouble, treat myself to a small steak and a sweet potato, browned butter with black pepper; I'm a simple guy, if I eat well and sleep warm, I don't worry too much about tomorrow. Read more...

Friday, February 5, 2016

Still Vague

Why we do the things we do. I don't know. Surely I could have found a better line of work, something that involved a thermostat and a flush toilet, but it's getting cold again, and the little pellets of ice are hammering on the roof. This is what I have, what my classmates, back when, voted most likely to succeed, a disheveled dude rendering cracklings on a wood-stove. It's actually a considered position, better than the alternative. Finally lost power for a few hours, so I curled up and went back to sleep, I was up most of the night moving commas. Started a fire about three this morning (two days without a fire in February) and pulled a chair up to the stove to read for a while. Had one of those moments when you see yourself from the outside. I had to laugh. It's three in the morning, and here's this guy, seated on a small rocking chair, bathrobe over overalls over long underwear over a cashmere sweater, Linda-knit hat, fingerless wool gloves, hunched over a tobacco pouch rolling a cigaret with fingers that aren't working properly. Lap-robe, two pair of socks and house slippers that have been repaired with duct tape. I look like an idiot. It's not so much a disguise as it is the actual state of just muddling through the winter. My current whiskey glass, which I think is a holder for a votive candle, on the very off corner of the stove, to heat the whiskey just a bit, sometimes I add a small pat of butter. Just the ticking of the stove, and the ticking of the house. Close to perfect. Close enough, in fact, I don't desire anything else. Further good news is that I can get out to the post office tomorrow or the next day and mail my bills for the month, and I don't actually need anything else, though I might stop at the pub for a beer. Maybe stop at the Italian place for a slice of feta/olive pizza to take home. Studying the Raven map of landforms in the USA, a tremendous map, and with a magnifying glass you can see that Low Gap Hollow is the watershed, west, to Ohio Brush Creek, and south, to Upper Twin Creek. Turkey Creek starts a few hundred yards away and goes north to the lake. I don't have a wall large enough for this map, so I keep it rolled in a corner, lay it out on the floor, with rock weights, when I need to look for something. I spend a fair amount of time trying to specifically locate where something happened. How geography shaped events. Just an interest of mine. So I study maps, and other graphic displays of information; signs that are grammatically incorrect, skirts that are too short, labels that promise more than they can deliver. There are odd prime numbers, all of them odd, increasingly wide-spaced, that seem to go to infinity. I can't wrap my head around that, so I kick up the fire and make a pone of crackling bread. It's self-indulgence. Two poached eggs on a toasted wedge of cornbread. Actually, I think these are cuddled eggs, steamed in a double-boiler I picked up at the Goodwill, perfect eggs, and perfect with the cornbread. Read more...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Still Raining

If this had all been snow, I'd be buried. Woke me, about three, when it started falling in buckets. We haven't had rain like this in quite a while, and I worry about the grader ditches. Just glad I got into town yesterday and have a dozen (16) oysters, everything for a butternut squash risotto, a couple of small steaks Scott sent over via B, and two jowls for making cracklings. The new Outhouse Calendar was in the mailbox. I didn't have a calendar last year, lost in the mail, and I only got confused a couple of times, not knowing what day it was. I also bought three bay scallops and a head of endive and can't believe I've invested $15 in a single-serving dish. I don't even know how to pronounce endive. This is what happens when you open up to other people. Barnhart reads me to his mother and she sends me a gorgeous cookbook, I read these recipes as if they were Faulkner short stories, Jim Harrison, and I had gone back to this scallop recipe several times; the next thing you know I'm buying scallops and endive. Just did an emergency SAVE, because I didn't want to lose that thought, and it rains even harder. "Blow, transformer, blow / all my troubles away...". The wind sets up a little howl, flowing over the ridge, it rattles branches, and rain becomes erratic, shifting direction. This is setting up the mother of all freeze thaw cycles. There's no place for the water to go. Turkey Creek is running in spate, even my little rill is making some noise. This terrain, hollows opening out to the flood plain, lends itself to inundation. Then everything becomes a sheet of ice. Occasionally you can walk under this ice, in creek beds, when the ice has frozen above. It's beautiful. The Scioto is out of its banks, and all of the low-lying bean fields are flooded. Temps are going to start dropping tonight, snow tomorrow night. I'd better shut down, it's getting biblical. Reading the new Bosch novel, Connelly is a good writer; some time after dawn I went back to sleep for a couple of hours. If you don't mind spending $15 bucks a serving, the scallops on braised endive and raw apples (sliced very thin) is an easy and very fast thing to fix. Don't cook the scallops for more than minute, literally. Brought in an armload of wood, though I had no intention of starting a fire, so it could thaw and release some surface moisture. Walked about half-way down the driveway and collected a gallon of spring water, which is quite cold and tasty. A cup of tea, later, I was thinking about relationships, how I had failed at most of mine. Which bothers me less, as time goes on, because the last fifteen years have been engaging, spending so much time alone, watching and listening to the natural world. It takes precedence, in the face of things. I don't like a lot of things I see and hear in the outside world, the world of commerce; I'd, frankly, rather be dissecting tadpoles, or sucking on oak galls, or frying minnows in pork fat, but I concede, whatever, the ways of the world. Rather one thing than another. Reading Basho tonight, winter of 1690, "usually hateful / yet the crow too / in this dawn snow". The wind is blowing a young gale. It's easy enough to wrap in my down bag and ignore the world. Read more...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cold Comfort

Occasionally the timing works. On my walk I saw that the driveway was firming up, tomorrow is supposed to be nice, 50 degrees and sunny, it's not going to freeze tonight, and the wind is going to pick up after midnight. I'll be able to get out and back in, have some lunch in town, talk to a couple of people, and lay in supplies. Events seldom conspire so perfectly. Usually the winter list is winnowed down to what I can carry up the hill, but this time I revise upward. Drinking water for the month, whiskey, tobacco and papers, plus replacing everything I've eaten from the pantry. Two smoked jowls and one other meat or fish, depending on what's remaindered; greens, onions, turnips, and several more cans of those very good tamales. I can take my time shopping, and at the library, because I won't have to race home to beat a thawing driveway. Also, B doesn't teach on Tuesday, so I can stop down and see him. Another storm is coming in behind this nice weather, and it'll be good to be well prepared. I make a note to pay the land taxes, because I might not get out again before they're due. Then sit with a cup of tea and try and think about what I must have forgotten. It's impossible not to forget things, and it usually doesn't matter that much; you're in town, working, or driving the kid to math camp, you pick things up. If you forget it today, you get it tomorrow. You probably don't keep a back-up black pepper. It would be, what? unnecessary? But to be out of black pepper for two weeks, for me, is unthinkable, so I keep a back-up grinder. Another book on the history of chickens, and a history of olive oil that I'm saving for the next "snow emergency". Several options for long convoluted fiction. And I have a list of words that I need to run through the various dictionaries. Pone, pain, pan, for instance, which I can see will take several days. If I'm reading or writing and a particular word intrudes, I usually drop everything and pursue it right then, but some times I just make a note of it, to be pursued later. Winter words. I store them up for snowbound days in front of the stove. Reading Anthony Burgess, rereading actually, Earthly Powers, and I think he must have added more words to English than anyone in modern times. His genius is that the words are absolutely correct. I love reading him. Got out, though the driveway was still a bit dicey. Spent most of the day in town, conversations, a slow shop through Kroger. Then home, with a stop for eight potato logs, tobacco and a great many packs of papers. Stopped at B's, had a wee dram and talked for a while. The mailbox was stuffed, two New Yorkers, all of the bills I need to pay this month, and a couple of books. Excellent. The drive back in was only slightly scary; the fact that you have to keep up momentum, but the rear end slips around and there isn't much room for mistakes. It's a great feeling, getting back on the ridge, unloading supplies; while I'm putting things away, I eat a couple of potato logs, dipped in horseradish/mayo. Cory told me, at the pub, that we were going to get some serious rain, the next few days, so I fill my wash pot with water and clean one of the pickle buckets. If it's warm enough tomorrow, I'll take another sponge bath. I got coffee and drinking water today, juice, back-up whiskey, all the liquids, and canned goods to replace what I'd used. Going into February and I'm well-stocked, I've still got butternut squash I rescued from the Tim Horton display, and some pumpkins I picked up off the side of the road. As Cory had said, it starts raining sometime in the night, the wind picks up, and it's soon blowing a gale. I sign off and go to sleep. Read more...

Monday, February 1, 2016

No Way

Had to laugh. I'd walked over to the head of the driveway, to see what the footing was like, and I could barely stand upright. A new layer of frost on top of an old layer of frost. Rummaging around I decided to make some potato dumplings. Made a pouch of the Idaho Reds, set half of it aside to fry for breakfast cakes, then mixed in a finely minced onion and a large handful of bacon bits, formed them with two tablespoons, rolled them in bread crumbs, then fried in the pork fat. A horseradish/mayo dipping sauce. I recommend these. Called TR at the museum, I knew he'd be alone and I wanted to talk for a few minutes with another human being. Bright and interesting conversation, I told him I'd be in, next week sometime, to see the new exhibits. He stays current, so he catches me up to speed on what's going on, and I appreciate that, because I'm always so far behind. Finally, some wind, wakes me after I'm bedded down, and it will certainly help, drying things out. It's dry in the house, because of the stove, but outside, between saturated air and saturated frozen ground there's no place for the moisture to go. It hangs around, as ground fog, and the humidity is very high; when the atmospheric moisture drops, sublimated vapor rises and disappears, often described as smoke, which it most resembles. There are times it seems like a vast illusion, and other times, sucking the sweetness from an oak gall, that it seems pretty specific. Got up and puttered about, finally heated up water on the hot plate. It's fifty degrees and the ground is a soggy mess. I can see where Ryan locked-up his brakes near the top of the hill: a scary sled ride. I wash a sink full of dishes and concentrate attention on cleaning myself. Sponge bath (I might not be able to strip down naked for several weeks), wash my hair, a complete change of clothes, trim my beard, pluck errant hairs, cut my nails. It's an afternoon at the spa. I emerge looking more like an eccentric professor and less like a hard-scrabble redneck with an axe to grind. Generally, on Sunday, I allow myself to rant about some injustice. I've done this forever, since high school debates. I excelled at debate, and the consensus was that I'd end up as a lawyer/politico or a speech writer. I was always interested in the law, and more especially the Constitution, and I could have done that easily, gotten that degree, taught Constitutional Law, but I've always been so easily distracted. First you run off with the circus (or spend a season in summer-stock theater), then you learn to print, then you build houses, and the law is less attractive than actually making something with your hands. Muted sound of wind in stick trees. It mimics music and I often hear little snippets of Bach or an Eric Clapton riff, sometimes drifts of conversation. The crows were out today, but no other birds. I micro-waved a couple of mice for them, and they seemed appreciative, at least in so far as I can judge their behavior. I don't speak Crow. Polenta, made from left-over grits, is very absorbent, not unlike eggplant, and I like to fry rounds of them until they're quite brown. I love this hot with a cold salsa. I used to form the patty in a can, now I just a slap a serving into hot bacon fat and form it with the spatula. One less dish to clean. These grits, from Logan Turnpike Mills, are one of the best things I've ever eaten. Cheese grits with cracklings, some greens and pot liquor, a really sharp blue cheese, reading at the island. No fire and I'm warm and clean. The wind has come up, which should help dry things out. If I can get out I'll resupply for February, plenty of wood, plenty of books, I could stay inside for the entire month. Careful ventures to the woodshed for a wheelbarrow load every other day. Put on crampons and walk the logging road. I could get to town, a time or two, but I might not. If someone calls, and says they want to slog in for a visit, I tell them to bring whiskey and cigaret papers. It doesn't happen often, in February, an average of less than one over the last fifteen years. It can be pretty tough, walking up the hill in winter, with a pack, with horizontal snow slapping you in the face. I do my Basho imitation, then a Sherpa routine, call off the stations of the cross, closer, my god, to thee, and go outside to pee because Mac and NPR have been telling me that I can see all five visible planets tonight, at the same time. Of course, since this is Ohio, I can't see a fucking thing. Living in the far west spoils you, in terms of the sky. Read more...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Following Tracks

There's a place on the old logging road that never gets any sun, so the snow stays there long after it's gone elsewhere. It's a palimpsest of overlapping tales. One story, and I've seen it several times, is when a set of rabbit tracks simply end. No blood, no disturbance. An owl took it away for dinner. The food chain. Read an interesting piece yesterday, I can't remember where, about eating rabbit ears; second hand, and not enough actual information. But I was intrigued and wondered if you skinned them (what would be left?) or just burned off the fur. I like pig's ears, sliced and fried in butter they have a wonderful texture, and I suppose rabbit ears would be similar. I can't find any recipes, except for a Roman reference that assumes you know how to prep them. B's brother, Ronnie, and his son, Bear, hunt rabbits, so I make a note to remember to ask them to save me some ears. I can't imagine they have any food value, but I enjoy using the normally discarded. Rabbit ears, cock's combs, humming-bird tongues. I don't like aspic or Jello, they freak me out, but I do like thymus glands and tripe. Go figure. Sleeping in the basement of a de-sanctified church is not that different from not believing. Another interesting place, speaking of tracks, is where the power easement tops the ridge. They cleared the easement this year (once every four or so years) and it doesn't get much sun, so it's a large field of snow. A couple of days after a snowstorm there are multiple stories writ in track and blood. I fabricate narratives to fit the physical record. The fox seems to score a mole or vole about once in every 6 to 8 tries. I definitely have a resident owl but I've neither heard nor seen it. The days are getting longer but the sun is feeble. It's the wobble on our axis that adds or subtracts more minutes in either the morning or evening at different rates. All the animals are out, it's the time of year when you eat when you can, squirrels, turkeys, deer, are all out, at the same time; and the sumac seeds litter the ground where the smaller birds are feeding. It's a Nature Channel newsreel the entire day. I walked over to the top of the driveway again, and it's still terrible, I could get down, but I'd never get back up. The only thing I'll run out of is cigaret papers, a stupid oversight, but I have a pipe and a tamper and kitchen matches, so I'll survive. I'll be eating canned and dried things for a few days, I'm looking forward to it, actually, some of these prepared meals are pretty tasty, instant Idaho Reds are damned good, and those Mexican tamales are fantastic. I had been studying tracks for a couple of hours when I realized my feet were frozen, went home and dealt with that. I had hot water on the stove so I soaked one foot at a time, they were fine, put on clean socks, collected my kit and settled in at my desk. Wrapped my feet in a Goodwill fleece stadium blanket, rolled a smoke, a sip of Irish, and settled into my other world, where I'm cross-referencing what a particular word means in a certain context. The outside world, mediated with soaking the feet, becomes the inside world. With no exterior stimulation, there isn't much transition. Watching a woodpecker, or cooking at the stove, later, thinking about watching a woodpecker. Getting a handle on things (what a great phrase that is) generally involves understanding the subtext. I have to admit I usually don't get the subtext. The ridge is up front, no hesitation, slaps me when I get out of line. Read more...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Manners

Falling-snow slides are always surprising. The thaw. Temps right at freezing, but with full sun and heat escaping the house (heat always escapes) there are a few drips off the roof and no icicles. I clean out ashes and the smoke-chase on the stove, start another fire. Enough wood inside for today and tonight, but I need to go out and get a couple of armloads for tomorrow. Sardines on toast, with a large slice of onion, and it's wonderful, thank god I don't have to speak to anyone in person. Start out the day reading about table manners, then some interesting essays on cannibalism. Last of yesterday's cornbread and a bowl of soup for dinner. Stoke the fire with the largest log that will fit, damp it down, read some fiction (Lescroart), and thought for a while about civil liberties. By the time I got out to the woodshed the snow was settled and rotten. Tomorrow should be a mess. It doesn't matter much to me, as I have no intention of going far, just put up a sign, "Closed For The Season" and hunker down. Sometime after midnight it starts raining, and that wakes me, because it's been so quiet. It's nice, the rain on the roof, dampened, off the beat. I get a drink and roll a smoke, sit in the dark. I was thinking about eating with your hands, baby-back ribs or a crab boil, table manners generally, the way they take us a step remove. I can eat a quail with a knife and fork, I know which implement to use. Usually I dine alone and it's fairly casual, I eat with my right hand and hold a book in my left. The mud returns, warm enough that I let the fire go out, surprised that most of the snow is gone. Walked over to the driveway and it's still quite bad, everything is slick, and where the mud is exposed it's a soupy mess. But I don't have to be out in it, I don't have to be anywhere, I don't have to do anything. A great relief to not be caring for twenty or thirty animals, or having to commute to work, or compromising my time in any way. Make a cup of tea, listen to the news, read what I was working on last night, delete a few things, which involves changing some commas, which pretty much always engages my attention. Hash and a cheese omelet, with toasted cornbread for dinner. I can't complain. Read more...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow Bound

Lovely morning, and I never did lose power. Just over a foot of snow. My sleep schedule is severely tangled, so after an early lunch (bean soup and grilled cheese), I have to take a nap. Good fire, damped down, and I read a commentary on slave and Creole cooking until I nodded off, dreaming of dirty rice. Missed my oysters this week, and I'll miss the big feed down at B's because I just don't feel like slogging through a foot of snow. I highly recommend buying a smoked jowl and turning the entire thing into cracklings and rendered salty, smokey pork fat. Excellent stuff. I crave animal fat in the winter. When the sun came out, the shadows of the trees on the snow was striking. Extremely high contrast. Before the day is over I need to dump hot ashes again, and I need to make one trip to the woodpile, sweep drifted snow off the wood and bring an armload inside. It's supposed to get into the forties tomorrow and we'll have another round of freeze/thaw, but I should be able to get into town early one morning. The library opens at nine, so if I do everything else first I can be home by nine-thirty, before the driveway thaws. Critical issues. I melt a couple of gallons of top snow, that I can strain and boil for drinking water, then melt another couple of gallons of wash water, put the bean soup back on to heat and make a pone of cornbread. Pretty much takes up my day. The birds are in the sumac and puffed against the cold. I'm puffed up myself, wearing several layers, but comfortable, reading, listening to a little Sunday NPR. The usual celebrity crap, and I pay no interest to that, but the occasional human interest story, like the piece about censorship today, attracts my attention. The very best advertising is being banned, consider the spread of printing, in other countries, when the Catholic Church banned certain books. There were three popes and the chain of command was somewhat muddled. They're all assholes, in it for the money, and that ring that everyone has to kiss. I have no idea how this kind of crap became the norm. I subscribe to a more basic notion, Robert Johnson, Come Into My Kitchen. Read more...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Zero Sum

Nothing to be gained. Napped, got back up about midnight to tend the fire, went outside to pee and it smelled like snow. Also, the deer moved through the yard this afternoon, eating ferns under the leaves, and the birds were all stuffing themselves with sumac seeds. Myself, I finished the last pone of cornbread, toasted, with marmalade, put the beans on to soak. These are old beans, five years or more, and they'll need to cook for hours. I'm prepared to offer that service, move my entire office to the island (a legal pad, a pen, and my drink) so that I can occasionally stir the beans and smell them. I might listen to a cello suite, some delta blues. Another nap, up to stoke the fire, bring in more large pieces of wood, starts snowing for real about ten. Lovely and quiet. I don't mind tracking in snow because the house needs the moisture, but it certainly is a mess. A last trip outside, walk the driveway. It's fairly brutal. I have to stop at the print shop on the way home and knock off the snow. I got the beans started, caramelized some onions, drained off the soaking water, chicken stock, the diced jowl, roasted peppers, brought it to a boil and pulled it off direct heat. Simmer all day, then skim off the pork dice, which floats to the top, and cook them down to cracklings, add them back and reserve enough fat to cook eggs for a week. By early afternoon I can no longer see the other side of the hollow, then it starts snowing harder, someplace between a blizzard and a white-out. Stoke up the stove and try to build some heat. Curl up with a book. My back-up position is to move my writing chair over next to the stove, read there, retreat to the mummy bag on the sofa for the occasional nap. The pot of beans are outside on the porch, under an over-turned milk crate, with a cast iron brick on top. Considering the six inches of new snow, I don't expect to be interrupted. As I still have electricity, I listen to some early blues, start another paragraph, drink smoked black tea. We're already at a Class Two Snow Emergency, don't drive unless you have to, and a Class Three certainly by tomorrow morning, when they shoot you on sight. I just dig in, no reason to go anywhere. The Latin word for hearth is focus. The word companion, is "to share bread with". I amuse myself with words. A cheap date. There's an extremely subtle sound of snow falling, it's difficult to describe, it most resembles the sound of fat on a griddle. Very fragile snowflakes dissolving. A blanket of snow already, I'd opened the back door, to go out and pee, but it was just too beautiful to disturb, so I peed in a coffee can. It's supposed to snow all night, not quite as cold, still, I wake to stoke the stove, and get up for a while. Surprised to have power, but there was very little wind; when I went to sleep the snow was falling straight down. The muffled sound seems like a hearing disorder. Acute Silence. Trip the breaker for the refrigerator and sit in the dark. Think about memory and the nature of reality for an hour or two, then decide to make a cup of coffee, make the transition from yesterday into today. Barely getting light and everything is blue, the blanket of snow, the rim of sky. I bring in the pot of beans and put them on the coolest part of the stove, make my foray outdoors, split a little kindling, rake out hot ashes. A great pot of beans, the jowl cracklings are wonderful. I actually found a French recipe that cooks beans the same way. I spent several hours reading about cooking large cuts of meat. South American recipes, festivals, weddings, and mostly simple directions: impale a large piece of meat on something, plant it in front of a fire, leaning away, collect the drippings and baste with them. Pretty basic cooking, I'm sure we were doing this 10,000 years ago. I want to get down to B's for the great pot roast feed tomorrow, but I dread the walk back up the hill just at dusk. Rule of thumb is that if I don't walk down the hill, I don't have to walk back up. I'd love the company, the conversation, the food; but returning to a cold house, after dark, does not appeal. I could spend the night at B's, hike up the morning after. If I stayed home, I could stay warm, but I lean toward conversation. Read more...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Incoming

Break in the snow, the precursor storm, just a couple of inches, Winter Storm Warning for Friday and Saturday. Two trips to the woodshed and I replace the kindling and starter sticks on the warming rack. Very dry pre-heated kindling is a real boon in the fire starting business. I let the fire go out again, not on purpose, and it takes until noon to get the house warmish again. I read my weekly Elmore Leonard and eat left-overs over by the stove, then tidy up a bit. The house is a mess. Picked up another Margaret Visser book on dining habits at the Goodwill, she's an academic, but it's interesting stuff. Most things were formalized at table, because there were knives present and an underlying sense of violence. Jana sent a couple of interesting recipes for the huge hunk of beef, but I'm leaning toward cooking it in the smoker with a fatty pork roast on the shelf above; still, I think I'll use the mole sauce she recommends, and several pounds of chilies. One of the great things about freezing and refrigeration is that you don't have to brine everything. A partial cure and a light smoke, and you can cut out a lot of the salt. Think about salt and history. I have to get this paragraph off today as they've warned, on the radio, that those of us out in the county WILL lose power and phone service. Which means they're expecting wet snow. Forecast now is for 18 to 24 inches, but as the ridge is 1,000 feet higher than town, I could expect more than that. Every hour I go outside and bring in another armload of the largest pieces of wood that will fit in the stove. I have to turn the radio off when they start talking about Sarah Palin in Donald Trump's cabinet. I still have left-overs, but I'm going to cook the pot of beans tomorrow. I've managed to forget to buy batteries but my headlamp is still working, I have candles, and an oil lamp with tricked-out mirrors. The power people must be expecting havoc, because they've brought in hundreds of extra repair men. It's twenty degrees now, but it's supposed to climb to thirty tomorrow, and they fear the mother of all ice-storms. I don't see how I could be any better prepared. I have a sink full of dirty dishes, that I plan to wash tomorrow, when I'll want to be near the stove anyway, and I need to wash out some underwear. Get out the winter boots, insulated Red-Wings, and water-proof the seams, make sure there's a walking stick by the door, oil my work-gloves. Haul water, chop wood; it's exhausting, to stay alive. Last night I ate dinner twice, crawled into my mummy bag but still woke up to stoke the fire, then again just at dawn. I needed to dump the ash bucket, which meant composting, so I made my morning coffee, and planned my strategy. I planned to curl up, in my bathrobe, with a wee dram and a good book. What makes a pearl? A piece of crap, every snowflake or raindrop. There's only so much water and it re-condenses as needed. Fog, and such. Read more...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Getting Started

Feeling stupid because of the cold. Got up in the night to stoke the stove, then over-slept this morning and had to start a new fire. Under ten degrees and everything takes forever. While the fire is starting I go outside for an armload of wood and it almost hurts to breathe, I split out the lay for tomorrow's fire and put the pieces on the warming rack of the stove. Hash and eggs for breakfast, then another trip to the woodshed. When I finish my minimal chores, I stop for a cup of tea and it's already after noon. Reading more food books, Wynkn de Word's Boke Of Kervynge (Book Of Carving), and Jim Harrison's essays on food. Move over to the island and start cooking. It takes me and hour and a half to make my comfort food casserole. Noodles, ground beef, roasted tomatoes, green chili's, and cheese. A pone of cornbread. Excellent and filling. Several tangents later, it's after dark and I needed to stir, wrapped in a blanket and reading all afternoon, so I dared a little walk. Even with a facemask my eyes were watering within a hundred yards, and the ground was frozen so hard that footing was awkward. I went back home and thought about a flashing problem that had been bothering me: how do you take a stovepipe through a sod roof? I doze off, and the cold wakes me, two in the morning, I catch the fire, go outside to pee. It's frigid. I need to stay up for a while, to tend the fire, so I get a wee dram and roll a smoke. My fingers don't work correctly, and rolling a smoke becomes a task, but I'm an old hand at this. I can roll a cigaret with one hand on horseback. You might screen your interns. Some potential bombers don't necessarily wear headgear. I only wear a fishing vest because it has a lot of pockets. It doesn't mean I'm a bad person. Not to mention that I rant about the ridge in my bathrobe. Forecast for serious snow, one to two feet, the driveway is clear, frozen solid, so I run into town, get a back-up, back-up bottle of whiskey and some fresh chilies. I'm planning a pot of beans, and I'd decided to mince the smoked jowl, cook the beans with that, onions, and the chilies, then lift out the jowl pieces, fry down to cracklings, and add them back to the beans. Well supplied, even if I can't get out for a couple of weeks. Stopped at the library, then the Goodwill Bookstore (several John D. McDonald) and then a book hanging from the mailbox when I got home, a history of flatware. About the Carvers Guild, I have to say, I knew little or nothing. The first fork was a serving fork, two tines, and it was used for holding a large chunk of meat, in the air, while carving into thin slices. It was very bad form to drop the piece of meat. Two tines were better than the point of a knife. The rest is history. Or fiction. Sometimes fiction is closer to the truth. Read more...

Monday, January 18, 2016

Realism

Felt like a character in a movie all day. Warm enough in the house to let the fire go out. Last time for days, projected highs in the teens, nights dipping to zero, so I wanted to get the stove cleaned out. Nice walk, identifying tracks and imagining scenarios. Just below freezing, so I walked with my mop-handle staff, and I had my small pack, with water, some trail-mix, magnifying glass, and the all important etha-foam pad that allows me to sit on frozen stumps without freezing my ass. I had my dozen oysters (16) and they were all large, so I steamed them in clam juice to open, chopped them, added some minced onion and bread crumbs, dampened them with strained cooking liquid, topped with just a bit of grated cheese, and ran them through a very hot oven. I had these with sweet gherkins, black olives, and saltine crackers, and let the record show that they were very good. I need to make the casserole and split kindling tomorrow. Spitting snow, temps are falling. The woods are bleak. If I wasn't in such a good mood I'd be depressed. Linda and Glenn call, after two weeks in Mexico, back in Minnesota where it was ten below. Thermal shock. I read another Lescroart novel, they're long, complex, and well written, then checked some facts in a piece I was editing, because they seemed suspect. The facts were correct, I try to stay close to the truth. I couldn't care more than I do. In the movie, our character, bent and withered like a Japanese poet, starts a small fire, to heat water for tea. Dung actually burns very hot, though quickly. Buffalo-chip fired pizza ovens don't seem like an alternative. Basho: usually hateful / yet the crow too / in this dawn snow. Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgens, where dialog drives the action. Read more...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Onion Powder

I think it was John Thorne, my reading tends to overlap. The stove was hot and I was reading at the island and decided to make an onion soup. What I remembered was cooking onions beyond being merely caramelized. In my largest cast iron skillet, over medium heat, a mixture of olive oil and butter, I do the standard onion treatment, which takes about forty minutes, then pull that skillet slightly off the heat, keep stirring until the moisture is completely gone. You end up, this takes a long time, with onions that dissolve on contact. Incredibly rich in sweetness. I use it to thicken the chicken broth for the second batch of caramelized onions that make up the body of the soup. On toast, in a bowl, with lots of shredded Gruyere. I think about doing this with mushrooms, the combination. In India, where it's more difficult to store root vegetables, this onion powder is made and stored in jars. I end up spending an entire afternoon making a bowl of soup. Got to town as soon as I could, and the driveway was fine going down, but I could tell it was going to be squirrely getting back up. Still I needed the trip, library and Kroger because serious cold and snowy weather coming Sunday. Back-up the back-ups. Got everything to make a noodle and ground meat casserole, onions, roasted tomatoes. With a pone of cornbread it'll will last for three days. Stopped at the museum, to use their heated bathroom, arranged lunch with TR, met him at the pub and had a beer. Kroger was packed, because of the coming weather, but I got in and out quickly since I just had a few items and everyone shoved me to the front of the line. Saw B (eventually you see everyone at Kroger) and said I'd stop by on my way home, which I did and we talked about how we might cure and cook the other very large pot roast; Scott's cooking the larger of the two a week from Sunday and I look forward to that, but B wants to do something different with the other one. I tell him I'll look into it, there must be some recipes/cures from Argentina. The driveway was a nightmare, I got two-thirds of the way up and got bogged down, back up and then power through a soft spot. I'm so relieved to get back on the ridge, with supplies, with whiskey and tobacco, that I almost broke into song. I got another smoked jowl, because they've proved so useful, and several 'bunches' of greens, a bunch is a mess, meaning a meal but I don't have any idea how this is actually quantified. I strip off the leaves, then slice the stems and braise them in butter, add some onions and celery, cook this for a hour, then broil cod fillets on top of it. I smear them with a mild mustard sauce. Read more...