A Book with “The” in the Title

We’re sitting around the living room reading on this icy cold Sunday, supposed to hit -12 tonight, and I said to Debbie, “I finished the Evanovich book, you can have it. I’m going to read this thing I got at the library called ‘Mister Monkey’ next.”

Debbie, not looking up from what she was doing, said, “Oh, the new Francine Prose?”

My slack jawed stare must of echoed across the room, because she looked up and said, “What?”

“How’d you know that?” I said.

“Well, she writes for the New Yorker,” Debbie said, as if that was an explanation. [1]

A long time ago I remember Debbie telling me about a patron coming into the library and saying, “I’m looking for this book, it has “The” in the title and the cover’s blue.” And Debbie correctly asked, “Do you mean ‘The Client?’ [2]

Debbie’s been out of the library game for almost 10 years now, but once a librarian, always a librarian I guess. She has an amazing card catalog of a mind.

1. She later explained, “When I looked up I saw “Francine” on the cover of the book.” Which of course explains why any ordinary human would assume it’s the new Francine Prose book.

2. I don’t remember exactly what book it was, this was nigh on 20 years ago, but it was a Grisham, and the point being, it wasn’t the current one, but one several years old.

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Silent Night

It’s a quiet Saturday night at home. The first really cold night of the year. We have a fire going, Debbie and I are surfing online and reading books. The Wonder Dogs (Owen and Spenser) are sprawled out, happy just to be in the same room with us. [1]

And we’re chatting electronically with friends and family all across the country. We have within reach 2 phones, a tablet, 2 laptops, and a desktop. Depending on the chat medium and the recipients some or all of the devices call for attention with various chirps, whistles, and vibrations [2].

We can tell by the number of chirps, whistles, and vibrations who the message is for and generally what conversation it’s a continuation of. A different pattern of noises has us looking at each other and saying, “who’s that?”

In some ways it’s an annoyance, this constant electronic bleating. I wish these gadgets would be more like my GPS running watch who sits silently on the counter not making a sound. It just blinks its LED display hopefully, wanting to go out for a run but doesn’t presume to intrude otherwise.

But on the other hand it’s nice to be connected with loved ones near and far, and to sit and chat around the electronic hearth.

1. As they are almost every evening. Even so they’re just so happy that we’re all here together. It’s the Best Night Ever! There’s a lesson there.

2. I remember years ago writing a proposal for a system that included haptic sensors to alert the operators when something happened. It was such a cool and novel idea at the time, “cutting edge.” And now it’s just the background of an ordinary Saturday night.

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Election 2016

From Wordsworth to Michael Stipe. It’s hard to believe this song was written in 1987 and not in response to the 2016 presidental election.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

by R.E.M.

“…Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn.
World serves its own needs, dummy, serve your own needs.
Feed it off an aux speak, grunt, no strength.
The ladder starts to clatter with fear fight, down, height.
Wire in a fire, representing seven games
In a government for hire and a combat site.
Left of west and coming in a hurry
With the furies breathing down your neck

Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped.
Look at that low playing! Fine, then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do. Save yourself, serve yourself.
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed,
Dummy, with the rapture and the rev-‘rent and the right, right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Six o’clock – TV hour.
Don’t get caught in foreign towers.
Slash and burn, return.
Listen to yourself churn.
Locking in uniforming, book burning, bloodletting.
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate.
Light a candle, light a motive.
Step down, step down.
Watch your heel crush, crushed.
Uh oh, this means no fear, cavalier.
Renegade steer clear!
A tournament, a tournament,
A tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives
And I decline.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)
I feel fine…”

With the sorry result of this election season, I agree with R.E.M. from almost 30 years ago and say,

I decline.

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Too Much

The World Is Too Much With Us

By William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

In this sordid boon of an election season, when we’ve given our souls away to get and spend power, it’s good to have it followed by a super moon.

The super moon is just the moon being closer to Earth than usual, so it’s unusually bright and large. We have perfect fall weather here, clear and crisp. It’s beautiful to go out; breath the clean clear cool air in deeply and look at the huge moon and think about another world.

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Rendering Lard

As a finale to our hog butchering we rendered lard today.

If you’ve never rendered lard it’s the process of cooking pig fat until it liquefies. Then you strain it and chill it, and you end up with the very essence of piggy goodness for frying or for anything you use cooking oil [1]. Popcorn, popped in lard, is sublime.

You start by cutting all the fat from the pig into cubes. The smaller the cubes, the faster it renders. But on the other hand, the smaller you cut the cubes, the longer it takes to finish butchering. We [2] were weary on our feet by the time we cut up two hogs, so the fat cubes were about 2 inches on a side.

Once you have a bunch of pig fat you build a fire under your butchering kettle. The kettle is cast iron and about 3 feet in diameter [3]. You can move it by yourself, but once it’s over the fire and too hot to touch, it’s a two man lift.

You throw your pork fat cubes into the kettle and start stirring so they don’t burn.

Stage 1
Stage 1

See how beautifully clean that kettle is [3.5]!

You stoke the fire and keep the fat at a slow simmer, and in an hour or so the fat is browning nicely.

Stage 2
Stage 2

We had pieces that were mostly meat, and at this point we were pulling those out and salting and eating them. The most ridiculously delicious thing you can imagine [5].

Once you’ve rendered all the lard (you can tell you’re done by pressing a chunk of fat against the side of the kettle, if white fat squishes out, you’re not done) put the fat chunks in your lard press [6] and squeeze all the lard out. Then tip your fat chunks, which are now cracklin’s, into a bowl, salt them, and eat!

Cracklin's
Cracklin’s

But that’s just a bonus. The main point is to gather lard. We strained the lard through cheesecloth and ended up with about 2 gallons of lard. Once you strain it and chill it, it’s a lovely white color.

Lard
Lard

It’s disturbing to raise your own meat. You take care of your animals, you make sure they’re well fed, have clean water, and have a dry and warm place to sleep. And then you kill and eat them. But meat doesn’t come wrapped in plastic in a grocery store. Using every last bit of pork, even to rendering the lard, respects that for us to eat, something had to die.

1. We all know animal fats are a sure route to a heart attack, and the only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to use margarine. Well, no, not margarine as we recently learned. Trans fats, from which margarine is made, are death itself. The only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to not consume trans fats. Whatever you do, don’t eat margarine, or lard. Only use Crisco which consists of a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils. Then you will live long and prosper.

2. As usual, when I say “we” I mean “me.”

3. If you think about it for a moment, you might think, “How often do you use a butchering kettle? And where do you store it between times?” The answers to that are “Almost never.” and “In the barn.” So getting the kettle ready meant that we[4] wire brushed it for half an hour and scrubbed it with fat and salt and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed.

3.5 You did read footnote 3, didn’t you?

4. In this case “we” does not mean “me.” It’s not my filthy kettle. Tom did all that.

5. If eating this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

6. You do have a lard press, don’t you?

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Calling Icarus

I went to scan a photo tonight. Slapped it on the scanner and pressed ‘Scan’ on my desktop computer…

And got a warning message “No scanner found”. Huh?

I looked at the scanner. It was powered on. I looked at the cables. They were plugged in.

Well, stuff happens. I cycled power on the scanner and tried again…

And got a warning message “No scanner found”. Huh?

Well, pshaw. I cycled power on the desktop, logged in as me, and…

The desktop locked up, ignored all keyboard and mouse inputs.

Rrrrrr, I mashed the power button on the desktop until it shut down. I waited a bit and powered the desktop on again.

I logged in as me, held my breath, and pressed ‘Scan’…

And lo and behold it worked.

The moral of this story is if you really believe Google or Tesla or Ford is going to bring you a driverless car in the foreseeable future, just remember, these are the same people who can’t make a scanner reliably talk to a desktop computer.

Icarus, call your office.

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Sauerkraut

It’s been so long since I’ve posted [1].

Summer is in full swing so it’s time to preserve summer’s bounty for the coming winter.

As I tend to do, I got carried away the Columbia City Farmer’s Market last week and came home with 2 huge cabbages.

Cabbages
Cabbages

The answer to the question, “What to do with 2 huge cabbages?” is obvious: Sauerkraut!

Take that cabbage and slice it thin.

Slice Cabbages
Sliced Cabbages

And sprinkle it with salt and pack it into a crock.

Packed Cabbages
Packed Cabbages

And then let it rot. I put it in our mudroom. Debbie was in there the other day and said “Something’s died back here.” “That’s just the sauerkraut,” I told her.

The sauerkraut will rot for about a month and then I’ll can or freeze it. A mudroom that reeks of death for a month is a small price to pay for a winter of Rueben sandwiches and choucroute garnie and pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day [2].

1. The reasons for that are many and sundry and will be divulged in good time. Or maybe not.

2. Which brings you good luck for the rest of the year.

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The Queen and Corgis

Queen Elizabeth, famous for her corgis, had a photograph taken of them for her 90th birthday.

Queen's Corgis
Queen’s Corgis

It’s not my 90th birthday, but I thought a picture of our corgi was in order.

Chuck and Debbie's Corgi
Chuck and Debbie’s Corgi

I’m hoping the Queen sees this and wants to come to visit. I’m also hoping that Annie Leibovitz, who took the pictures of the Queen, sees this and wants to hire me to take pictures for her.

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Makin’ Bacon

We went to Albright’s grocery in Corunna last Sunday. If you’ve never been to Albright’s you’re missing out. They have the most amazing meat counter you’ve ever seen, and prices are incredibly low.

We came home with an armload of goodies, one of which was a boneless pork loin roast. I’d stumbled across Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for Canadian bacon recently and I’d been hankering to try it.

I pretty much followed Ruhlman’s recipe step by step. When it comes to cured meat, I like to have a trusted source and to listen to them.

First was brining the pork for 3 days in sugar, salt, lemon, spices, and the oh so essential sodium nitrate.

Brining
Brining

After 3 days I removed the pork from brine and let it dry in the refrigerator. After drying I hot smoked it for about 4 hours at 225 degrees.

Smoking
Smoking

Now I’m a purist when it comes to smoking. I like to smoke over a wood fire with blends of hardwoods I’ve cut myself. But it was howling wind and blowing snow on Thursday when I needed to smoke the Canadian bacon and I wasn’t up to building a fire and babysitting it in those conditions. Instead I got out the electric smoker that I inherited from my Dad’s good friend Sam Taulbee.

The electric smoker is so easy to use. You just set it and it holds the cooking temperature exactly there. All you have to do is throw a few wood chips in every now and then.

Smoked
Smoked

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it’s hard to argue with results like these.

Sliced
Sliced

Tasting something like this makes you realize how weird, unnatural, and chemical-y commercial Canadian bacon is. It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, let alone prepared.

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Keeping it Green

It’s February, months since harvest, months to go until planting. Nothing to do [1] except sit by the fire and think. I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s “Our Only Earth” and I was struck by the following passage enough to get out of my chair [2] and write it down.

The predominant agricultural science of the universities, the corporations, and the government is still almost unanimously promoting industrial agriculture despite the by now overwhelming evidence of its failure: soil erosion, salinization, aquifer depletion, nutrient depletion, dependence on on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, pollution of streams and rivers, loss of genetic and ecological diversity, destruction of rural communities and the cultures of husbandry.

In the farming community we’ve been nearly united against something called the “Waters Of The United States” (WOTUS), a plan by the EPA to define what waterways may be regulated. We’re enraged by ‘government overreach’, we assert that no one knows better than the farmer how to protect the waters of the United States.

All the time ignoring algae blooms in Lake Erie caused, at least in large part, by runoff from farm fields. Ignore that Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio was unfit even to touch, because of farm runoff.

Sign  posted on Grand Lake St. Marys
Sign posted on Grand Lake St. Marys

Ignore that there is a huge dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, caused by farm runoff. Ignore that the drinking water in Des Moines is unfit to drink almost half of the year because of nitrogen from farmer’s fields ending up in the river.

Just what I’m thinking about on a February night.

1. That’s a slight exaggeration.

2. And that takes a heap o’ motivation to get me out of my chair, I tell you what.

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