Monday, December 11, 2017

Ramen is Noodles

Until last night, I had never had ramen. I'm not talking about the ramen they serve in noodle restaurants, with the clear bone broth, green onions, seaweed, soft-boiled egg, bean sprouts and a rasher of braised pork. Not that I've ever had that, either. No, I mean Top Ramen, the little orange package with a brick of dry noodles and a "flavor packet."

I have had the noodles cooked with a can of Swanson chicken broth, or occasionally, beef broth, but I've never known the joy of tossing the noodles and flavoring into two cups of water and cooking just below boiling until the noodles are tender. The package directions are a little different, but I've never seen anyone follow the package directions.

Back in the Sixties, I discovered I was extremely sensitive to MSG (monosodium glutamate). I don't get an allergic reaction or anything like that: no hives, wheezing or tongue swelling up; I just feel really fatigued for several days and have mild flu-like symptoms. I first discovered this after eating barbeque potato chips.

MSG is a naturally-occurring non-essential amino acid (according to Wikipedia. I do, by the way, donate $15.00 a year to help keep Wikipedia going. They don't pay me for the plug, I pay them for the research resource). MSG has been used for over a hundred years as a flavor enhancer in various foods, especially to stretch the flavor of chicken in canned and dried soups. Those who tell you that the Chinese have used MSG for thousands of years never looked it up on Wikipedia.

All of the ramen brands and flavors have used MSG in their little flavor packets for as long as I have been aware of the stuff. While a billion or so college students have been living on the cheap, quick-to-fix noodles, I have looked on with envy from the sidelines. Recently, Kathy asked me to make her a bowl of ramen. I, being the chief chef around here, complied. As I was about to tear open the package (the last one in the cabinet, by the way), I noticed the words "No Added MSG." They specified "Added" because monosodium glutamate occurs natural in many foods, including tomatoes. More and more products have been removing MSG from their products, but I never expected it of Top Ramen. The next time we went to the store, I bought half a dozen packages.

Last night, for the first time, I made some for me. I checked the directions so I would know how much water to use, but then tossed everything in the pot together as is the traditional way for lazy people to do it. Soon, the noodles were tender (I don't crush up the noodles like some people because of the Japanese superstition about shortening the noodles shortening ones life).

After pouring the pot into a large bowl I sat down and tried it. To my happy surprise, I liked it. I liked it so much, I will likely have it again. The broth was light and not terribly salty, like I had expected, and had a nice chicken-y flavor. I look forward to my next bowl.

The best part is, now I have a 33 cent meal alternative, just like generations of college students. Oh, and by the way, "ramen" is the Japanese word for "noodles."

Ramen is noodles.

Stephen P.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Breaking Taboos--The Betty Crocker Cookbook

In Successful Husbanding School, in Survival Skills class, they teach us to never give our wives small appliances or anything kitchen-related for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. Or they would, if there was a training school for husbands. Which, there should be.

This week I broke that rule and I think I got away with it. Monday was Kathy's birthday and I bought her a cookbook. Fortunately, this is a very special cookbook. A Betty Crocker cookbook.

Kathy and I both grew up with Betty Crocker cookbooks. In the time when our mothers learned to cook, Betty Crocker was the gold standard of cookbooks. We kids grew up eating meals from Betty Crocker recipes. Most of my bread recipes originally came from a Betty Crocker cookbook. Kathy still has her Betty Crocker cookbook, her first cookbook. It is in three-ring binder format and has unfortunately lost many pages over many years and many moves. I've tried the Betty Crocker cookbook app for my phone, but the recipes are too modern and use too many costly ingredients.

This new cookbook is a hardbound reprint of the 1950 edition of Betty Crocker's cookbook published by Rodale and General Mills. Things were a little different in 1950.

There is a section on how to cook game, including pheasant, quail and squirrel. There is a recipe for Welsh Rarebit with Kidney Beans that was a favorite of Joan Crawford and her dinner guests. Some of the soup recipes begin with opening a can of Campbell's condensed soup, such as Mock Turtle Soup Deluxe which calls for two cans of Campbell's Mock Turtle Soup.

The book includes many classic recipes such as Hollandaise sauce, white sauce and brown sauce.

The egg recipes are great and include how to make soft-boiled eggs and coddled eggs. I'm not really sure what coddled eggs are, but you can make them soft-coddled or hard-coddled. By the way, the English say that a soft-boiled egg should be eaten with a bone or ivory spoon. Press yolks and whites of hard-boiled eggs separately through a fine sieve or strainer for use as a garnish. One of my favorite childhood dinners was eggs baked on corned beef hash. That recipe is found on page 256 of the cookbook.

Desserts in this cookbook are amazing: Bavarian Cream, Baked Alaska, Cherry Tree Log, Norwegian Charlotte and Baked Prune Whip. I've never seen half of these names, let alone the recipes.

I love the bread recipes. There are Kolache recipes, Kulich, French Coffee Lace, Jule Kage and Bohemian Rye Bread.

The best part of this cookbook--okay, I could make a list of best parts. The book includes basic instructions like how to store foods, how to reduce or increase recipes, substitutions, how long to age meats to make them more tender and best recipes for various occasions.

I wish I was making money endorsing this book because I can't say enough about it.

Oh, and Kathy loves the cookbook. It's fun to just sit and read, and it has many of our lost childhood recipes. I'm such a rule breaker.

Stephen P.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pioneers Are a Diverse Bunch

I'm not really a fan of Ree Drummond, "The Pioneer Woman." By that, I mean I've never seen her TV show, read her blog or owned her cookbooks. I have read a few of her recipes on Google, but I don't think I've tried any of them. I do, however, admire Ree Drummond.

I'm always surprised by how much people hate success. I was a fan of Martha Stewart some years back. Her's was hardly a rags to riches story. She was a fashion model and celebrity who found a way to start a new phase in her life. Her shows were enjoyable and she introduced the masses to things like cucumber infused water. Simple things to make little luxuries accessible to common folk. People seemed to tire of her, but I think it was because she became such a heavily marketed brand. I remember people crowing when she messed up and broke SEC regulations. They loved joking about her while she was in prison. Frankly, I felt bad about the way things had turned out for her. She lost most of her empire.

Since Martha has been out of prison, she has scaled things back, limiting her exposure, but still doing what she does best--share cooking tips. Oh, and hang out with Snoop Dogg. They are a hoot together.

Paula Deen is another fallen celebrity. I don't know what her back story is, but I know doughnut hamburgers and chocolate bacon brought her fame and fortune. It wasn't long before I heard friends and co-workers talking about how much they hated her. They liked her just fine before she became a household word. It seemed like a lot of people were thrilled when a racist remark on her part wiped out much of the success she had built. Understandably. Racism is simply not acceptable.

I'm not pleased by the fall of either of these chefs. I've used their recipes before. They tend to be simple, straightforward and traditional. I don't condone what they did, I just wish they hadn't.

Ree Drummond went to California to be an actress, but things were tough. When she came home to Oklahoma for a visit, she met a cowboy, a third or fourth, maybe fifth, generation cattle rancher. They fell in love, got married and set up housekeeping on the ranch. That could have been the end of the story, but Ree felt some strange need to be productive, so she started blogging about homesteading in eastern Oklahoma. Her blog led to a store in town, a restaurant, a television show, books and a Pioneer Woman product line.

I've been needing a good spatula to use with my cast iron skillets for some time. I've been replacing the darned things every six months because they have a weak point where they break. And I don't mistreat them. I went shopping and compared a number of spatulas. The one with the best shape, quality, durability and mid-range price was the Pioneer Woman brand. Score one for Ree Drummond.

I believe that Ree represents what so many of us are trying to do. Sure, her husband was already established as a rancher and he and his family are the first or second largest landholders in Oklahoma, but they choose this country life. No matter how long you've been doing it, raising cattle is a high-stakes gamble. I don't think we have to worry about the Drummonds going broke, but they choose and celebrate a way of living that is rare and likely endangered. Pay no attention to the television cameras in Ree's kitchen.

It's only been a year or two since I first heard of The Pioneer Woman. Our local news stations occasionally run stories about what she's been up to and she is one of Oklahoma's native-born celebrities.

But it has already begun. About once a week I see some story on the internet that tries to expose Ree Drummond or somehow taint her success. So far they've found an uncle who was treated for depression and a recipe that Ree failed to credit to it's proper source. They'll keep trying, of course, and eventually they will drag some poor skeleton out of a closet somewhere Ree has been. It will probably be true, but unimportant in the grand scheme of what Drummond does for a living.

And people will crow. Because we can't let these uppity women get too big for their britches.

Stephen P.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

May You Live in Interesting Times

That old curse comes to mind fairly often. May you live in interesting times.

The world situation is so surreal that I can't take it seriously, let alone worry about it. I mean including impending super volcanoes, perfect storms, sea levels rising, and contamination of the food and water supply. I'm only even half-assed prepping. Who's got the energy to dig a bunker?

Two of our grandsons have come to live with us. One nineteen, one sixteen. Right here at the holidays. We can't begin establishing any kind of routine while we're getting the smoker ready, thawing the turkey, buying all of the groceries and setting up a schedule chart for using the oven over the next two days.

The smoker is electric. I got it on a seasonal clearance last year and I'm just now setting it up. In my opinion, an electric smoker is essential for smoking a turkey. I do most of my outdoor cooking over an open fire, but I still use my smoker/grill for anything that needs to slow cook. Ribs, turkey legs, pork loins. Turkeys have to cook slowly because they take so long to cook all the way through.

There are important advantages to an electric grill. First of all is temperature control--for cooking poultry, especially big poultry, maintaining a consistent temperature prevents under-cooking and prevents spoilage. Second is controlling the amount of smoke. Smoking with cord wood gives continuous smoke along with the heat and some things may seem over-smoked. Third is convenience. I don't have to stay up all night tending a smoker. With an electric, I can put it in a safe place where it won't blow over or set fire to anything. I can load it with chips, water and a turkey and go to bed.

I invested in a digital meat thermometer a couple of years ago and it has made life simpler. I don't have to over-cook in order not to under-cook. I still go five to ten degrees hotter internal temperature on meats and poultry, just to be safe. One less thing to worry about.

This isn't the first electric smoker I've had, just the first I've had in over a decade. Obviously I'm enthusiastic about it. I'm also enthusiastic about the grandson's living here. Things are interesting.

Stephen P.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Life Gets in the Way

This has been a busy week, and by week I mean the past seven days or so.

First of all, we've been cleaning out our back bedroom to get ready for two of our grandsons to move in. This task required sorting through hundreds of books, only keeping the few really important, nearly irreplaceable, or ones we haven't read yet and might realistically read one day.

For instance, I've been accumulating and reading novels by Phillip K. Dick since I was a teen. Once in a while I pick one up and read it, but that's not the whole story. Since Dick died and Hollywood started making movies and television shows based on his novels, the old copies have become impossible to find and the new reprints cost a minimum of fifteen bucks. Better to hang on to the ones I have.

On the other side, I got rid of gardening books I've purchased over the past forty years that don't have any real value as far as useful information. I don't need an encyclopedia of house plants that only has the Latin names and not the common names, and doesn't contain a single plant I'm interested in growing right now. I went from about fifty gardening books to five.

I also don't need The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, since it's so thick I will never even pick it up, let alone read it. Kudos to those who do.

All of the discard books had to be boxed up and taken to the library for the Friends of the Library sale. That's about eight forty pound boxes.

Next is my collection of amplifiers. The guitars and basses are hung on the walls and will just have to stay. No other room has that much available wall space. The amps snuggle neatly into corners here and there and aren't readily visible, therefore not eyesores.

I should have mentioned that this process had to begin with cleaning and organizing our storage building so that we could put away keepsakes and such, yet still be able to lay hands on our camping gear without emptying the building first.

In the process of all of this, we also moved my office out of the back bedroom and into ours. This involved emptying shelves, clearing off my desk and, again, sorting and deciding what not to keep and getting rid of the discards.

Kathy is a master of organization. She rearranged our bedroom so that we could move my desk, computer, file cabinet and supply shelves in. Not only does it all fit without crowding us, it looks very nice and organized. As a bonus, my new office is warm and bright, with a window I can look out and watch the chickens while I work.

Mind you, Kathy does the planning and most of the lifting and carrying. I just can't keep up.

In my defense, during this same time, I boiled and boned chicken legs and made chicken and dumplings, I made beef stew and I made catfish gumbo (I'll try to post that recipe next week) in addition to more ordinary dinners.

Life is good and my new space is the most inviting and welcoming office I've ever had. Now all I have to do is come up with ideas for blog posts.

Stephen P.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cold Weather, Warm Food and Poultry Seasoning

It's that time of year. The temperature outside is 45 degrees and a slight breeze brings the windchill down to 38. My Carhartt coat keeps me warm when I'm outside. Cold weather foods help keep me warm on the inside.

We do eat chicken and dumplings and chili occasionally during the summer, but the warmth can add to the misery of 90+ degree weather. When it's cold outside, soups and stews are the perfect choice.

So far in the last couple of weeks we've had yellow squash soup, chicken and rice soup, and a pot of pinto bean chili. I'd love to offer a how to, but Patrick makes the squash soup and chili around here and he doesn't use written recipes. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and spices, when to use them and how much to use. I'm not allowed to use seasonings without adult supervision.

I make a lot of chicken soup. We eat a lot of chicken, and soup is one of our favorite ways to have it. Patrick prefers boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but white meat doesn't have much flavor so we need a good broth. I often make my own broths and stocks, but it's hard to keep up with demand. I don't know how people got by before there was Swanson's. Canned broth is a staple in our house.

Carrots, celery and onions are also staples in our house. They are the foundation for everything from stir fry to gumbo. We also need potatoes for beef stew.

Last week I made chicken and rice soup. I used one 32 ounce carton of chicken stock; an equal amount of water; one medium onion, diced; four carrots, cut into quarter inch pieces; two garlic cloves, minced; and one pound of boneless, skinless chicken, cut into half inch cubes (we were out of celery). I combined it all into a large pot, brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to medium high. With the chicken at a high simmer, I added one tablespoon of poultry seasoning (Cajun seasoning is also good) and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Next I started a pot of rice. I added one and a half cups of white rice (the family prefers white or Basmati rice for most things) to three cups of cold water in a two quart pot. I brought the rice to a boil, turned it down to low, put a lid on the pot and left it for twenty minutes.

After forty to forty-five minutes, the soup was ready. I put about a cup of the cooked rice in the bottom of a large soup bowl and ladled a cup of soup over it. We always make extra soup so we have some for tomorrow's lunch. This is some serious comfort food.

Poultry Seasoning Recipe

Most people will tell you that sage is essential for cooking poultry or stuffing/dressing. I agree that it adds something important, but it is really easy to overdo it. I don't like to taste the sage. If I can identify it in a dish, there is probably too much. That's why I like poultry seasoning--it has the herbs in appropriate proportions and makes it easier to avoid over seasoning.

2 Tbsp ground sage
2 Tbsp ground thyme
1 Tbsp ground marjoram
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp rosemary
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 tsp turmeric

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, in a small bowl. Store in a small bottle. I save empty spice bottles and reuse them for my own dried herbs and seasoning mixes. This is a good starter recipe that can be adjusted according to taste. I like to throw a teaspoon of cayenne pepper into the mix, but then, I like to throw cayenne into everything.

I've got to go. I think I hear a pot of soup calling my name.

Stephen P.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Homemade Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is my favorite condiment. I remember when I was a kid, slicing off two pieces of fresh homemade bread, slathering on a thick layer of Kraft mayo, adding a thick slab of ham, a slice of American cheese, lettuce leaves and some tomato. Best sandwich ever!

Now I've lost my taste for thick sliced ham and American cheese, preferring a thin piece of ham and a slice of sharp cheddar. The rest of the sandwich stays the same, except I don't use Kraft mayo anymore. Once I learned to make it myself, there was no looking back.

My recipe isn't complicated, but making it requires finesse and precision. I originally started with a recipe for Fail-proof Homemade Mayonnaise from www.inspiredtaste.net. After customizing a bit, I ended up with the recipe below. The Inspired Taste recipe has simplified the process compared to many other recipes, but I have managed to fail making this recipe, because I didn't adhere strictly to the instructions. As long as I am careful adding the oil, this recipe works. Once you get good at making mayo, you can start teaching others how to make healthy, delicious, money-saving homemade mayonnaise.

Many years ago I read about the invention of oleo. The story went that the French couldn't live without their mayo, so much so, that soldiers on the battlefield wouldn't go without it and food poisoning became rampant. Napoleon set about finding a replacement that wouldn't spoil. The solution was oleo margarine, a product made by a similar process, but without the egg. I don't know if this story is true or not, but it's a good story having absolutely nothing to do with making mayo. It does illustrate how important mayonnaise is to making other condiments and sauces, to cooking and to sandwich making. My brother won't eat a sandwich that doesn't have mayo, lettuce and tomato. He just won't. I can't blame him.

First, a couple of notes: I prefer garlic powder. I've tried fresh minced or squeezed, but I prefer the taste with powder.

Second, I use peanut oil. I've developed a preference. It's almost neutral in flavor, it has a high scorching point in frying and last time I checked it was considered healthy. I buy a gallon every month or two.

Third, I add a little bit of turmeric, as included in the ingredients list. The first time I tried making mayonnaise, it came out a touch too sweet. Kathy had me blend in turmeric and it was just right. I now use turmeric in a number of recipes. I've always heard it's good for memory and prevention of Alzheimer's. Bonus!

Here's the mayo recipe that I use at least once a week.

Not-So-Simple Mayonnaise

1 large egg--room temperature
1 Tbsp brown mustard
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. turmeric
1 Cup peanut oil

Using my blender or mini food processor, I add all ingredients except the oil and pulse until uniformly mixed. Then I add the oil, a few drops at a time and then pulse to whip. This is the most important part: if you add too much oil at a time, it will not emulsify and the whole batch will end up ruined. Inspired Taste has suggestions for fixing the mess, but they didn't work for me. I use an aluminum measuring spoon to dip small amounts of oil from the measuring cup so I don't accidentally spill too much into the blender. This part of the process requires a bit of patience, but the sense of satisfaction in the end is worth it. Once about a third of the oil is mixed in, it's okay to add it faster, say a tablespoonful at a time.

When all the oil has been added, you should have a nice thick batch of really exceptional mayonnaise. Using this in the Ranch dressing recipe I posted recently makes a really great dressing.

Since there are no preservatives or stabilizers in this, it doesn't have the shelve life of store bought, but it will keep for over a week. It never lasts longer than that around here. This makes about one pint.

Stephen P.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Christmas? Already?

Halloween was just a few days ago and Thanksgiving is still weeks away. So what's on TV? Christmas movies.

There should be a law against anything Christmas until after we've had the big turkey feast. Of course I say that, but I'm the guy who thinks we should have five day holidays: two days to get up to speed, one day for the holiday and two more days to wind down.

Over the years I've spent quite a bit of time in art and craft stores. I've noticed that the two big chains have Christmas aisles all year long. I suppose that's handy for people in Christmas related businesses. I don't really mind Christmas all year round. Christmas in July. Christmas for my birthday.

Truth be told, I'm watching a Christmas movie right now. And it isn't the first Christmas movie this week. Plus, a lot of the ads are Christmas ads.

There seems to be a rule that Christmas movies have to be about someone with a negative attitude gradually getting into the Christmas spirit. Maybe that's why we start all of this stuff so early--so we'll have time to get some grumpy person into the Christmas spirit.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I just need to get into the Christmas spirit a little early.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Homemade Tartar Sauce

Before I started this post I Googled tartar sauce recipes just to see how other people do it. I found dozens, each one of them a little different from the one before, all of them wrong. Evidently there are a bunch of cooks out there who have never actually tasted tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce, in my expert opinion, is absolutely necessary for any kind of fried fish and it's pretty good with baked fish. Oh, and a fish sandwich without tartar sauce is a sandwich that isn't ready to eat.

In the past, long ago and far away, I used to buy tartar sauce. Specifically, Kraft. Unfortunately, tartar sauce is really expensive for how little you get in the standard squeeze bottle. I like lots of tartar sauce on my fish, just like I like lots of ketchup/catsup on my french fries and cocktail sauce on my shrimp.

The beauty of my recipe is that I can make just enough for a fish dinner and not have a tiny bit leftover sitting in the fridge for a year. It's also reasonably cheap and it's the simplest tartar sauce recipe ever.

If you want, you can add all kinds of things: minced onions, garlic powder, lemon juice, parsley or even Dijon mustard, but three ingredients is all you really need.

So without further ado:

Homemade Tartar Sauce

1 Cup mayonaisse
1 Tbsp. dill pickle relish
1 tsp. horseradish

Mix, chill, ready to serve.

Of all the recipes I found, not one included horseradish. I don't understand. How can you have tartar sauce without horseradish? Every single recipe I found for cocktail sauce contains horseradish. Horseradish and seafood belong together. Like horseradish sauce and a roast beef sandwich. Like horseradish sauce on a Ruben.

No. Thousand island does not belong on a Ruben. I don't know who started that, but it's wrong. Like putting mushrooms and celery in Texas roadhouse-style chili. Like making spaghetti with ketchup. Like putting steak sauce on a good rib-eye steak.

By the way, if you need cocktail sauce, just add horseradish to ketchup. And some Sriracha chile paste if you have it. Easy. Horseradish.

There are many uses for horseradish. Wasabi on sushi. Most wasabi in the US is just horseradish with green food coloring. Hot mustard on egg rolls. And spring rolls. Horseradish gives hot mustard its heat. People used to put it on hot dogs and maybe still do in Chicago. They put everything on a hot dog in Chicago.

So, that's my tartar sauce recipe. Because I'm frying catfish for dinner. Although a good old-fashioned hot dog with everything sounds pretty good. Soon we'll talk about sauerkraut.

Stephen P.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Country Life

Living out in the country isn't for everyone. I love it, but that's just me.

We live half a mile from the nearest paved roads, either way you go and there are only two ways, north or west. The east/west roads are named, like Tecumseh Road, Franklin Road and Rock Creek Road. The north/south roads are numbered streets like 156th Street, 168th Street and 180th Street. If you follow 156th about four miles north to Stella Road, it becomes Peebly Road. And if you turn left onto Stella it becomes 149th Street. These are important things to know when giving directions.

We live four miles from Dollar General Stores, one down on Highway 9 and one up at Stella. Country Boy market is a little east of the Dollar General on Highway 9. It's a full service grocery store with a deli, locally sourced grass-fed beef, plumbing parts, tools and chainsaw oil if you need it.

The closest store is the Absentee Shawnee Tribal store and Valero gas station, two miles south on 156th. It sits in front of the Thunderbird Casino.

There are two out-of-business restaurants, one adjoining the AST store and one across the street. It's hard to stay in business when your potential customers can get fried chicken, fresh cooked pizza and really good cheese burgers at every convenience store in the area. There's even a convenience store with a chef and gourmet foods a few miles west on 149th (Stella Road).

We are a little over a mile to the closest access to Lake Thunderbird and there are several campgrounds and boat ramps nearby.

Little Ax is a loose-knit community (we are part of The City of Norman, but they're a long ways from here). There is a large public school complex with pre-school through high school. The schools are on a four day week, so football isn't always on Friday nights, but it's still a big deal.

The local American Legion hall has all-you-can-eat catfish, with all the trimmings, on the first Saturday of every month. It's a good place to see neighbors and it's where candidates for Norman city offices come to give us their pitch. The Legion hall is also where we vote.

It's not unusual to see deer or raccoons dead on the side of the road. That's something people sometimes see in the suburbs, but we've also seen a thousand pound hog and a two thousand pound Angus bull dead in a ditch. Driving at night requires special caution.

South on 156th Street a ways there is a sharp S curve. We jokingly call it "Dead Man's Curve." Not many people have died there, but at least twenty-five times a year somebody overshoots and knocks out the telephone pole, also knocking out our electricity. We've even seen a car up in a tree down there.

Jurisdiction is complicated on the curve. Any time there's a wreck there, the State Park or Highway Patrol has to investigate. So does the City of Norman. And the Absentee Shawnee Police. And the Cleveland County Sheriff. That's a lot of law enforcement.

We have a fire station less than ten minutes from here, but the nearest ambulance is a full half hour.

There are large wild animals out here. We see deer every day and right now we have several packs of coyotes in the area. We hear them yipping and howling very close by every night.

We have hawks, vultures and owls, as well as all kinds of smaller birds and animals.

We also have lots of trees. We can only see one neighboring house from here. They are good neighbors who mostly leave us alone, occasionally give us eggs and squash, and generally appreciate country living as much as we do.

It's a pleasant life with few traffic jams and little highway noise. The drive to town is a dreaded necessity once or twice a week, but the drive home is very pleasant and we often detour to look at the lake.

Country living. It's not for everyone, but we love it.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Henchman Seems Like a Bad Career

In all of the James Bond films there are always dozens, even hundreds of henchmen. They basically stand around waiting for their chance to die needlessly. They are part of an overwhelming force that gets defeated by one man or woman. They are basically nameless and expendable.

I just watched the beginning of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (spoiler alert: the movie ends with a lead-in for another sequel). The heroine is walking through a wasteland and suddenly a gang of henchmen pop out of crates and barrels and from under rubble where they may have been hiding for days and attack. They all die pretty quickly and I got the feeling that their whole purpose was to slow Alice down a little bit. Certainly the super bad guy didn't expect or even want the protagonist killed by a bunch of faux ninjas wearing motorcycle helmits. Otherwise he wouldn't get to gloat and make the little speech that ultimately ends up being his undoing.

Henchmen are pretty common in movies and I have to wonder what motivates them. I mean, what kind of job is that? You notice I say "henchMAN." That's because women, forgive me for stereotyping, are simply too smart to take a job like that. Second in command, maybe, but not henchwoman. I admit there are some old tongue-in-cheek spy movies with henchwomen, but they don't die needlessly. In fact, henchwomen tend to be pretty effective at capturing protagonists.

But why do they do it? For a paycheck? "Your job is to die quickly, but the pay is good and we offer a dental plan." I mean really.

Did they answer an ad: "Work in the cone of a dormant volcano; play a minor role in taking over the world; experience with nuclear annihilation a plus?"

On television crime shows, the henchmen have the promise of a cut of the money from a bank job or a kidnapping. Or they were somehow brainwashed by the evil serial killer. But at least they have some ultimate reward, a carrot on a stick, so to speak.

I think about the possible scenarios. Henchman #1 took the job because his mother needs an operation. Henchman #2 has kids in private school. Henchman #3 wants to pay his mortgage off early. And Henchman #4 has an associates degree in "blindly following."

Heck, I don't know. I've never been a henchman, personally. I've spent most of my life being a sidekick, which is a whole different career. I've also been an accomplice a time or two, unwittingly. But the whole henchman thing doesn't seem to have much of a future.

These guys really need to join a union.

Stephen P.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

And Now a Word from Our Lawyers

Every now and then, I share a recipe on this or my other blog. For the most part, these are not entirely my own original recipes. I don't have a test kitchen and time to experiment with different combinations and approaches to particular dishes. However, except in very rare cases, I have tweaked and adapted the recipes to my own (and my family's) tastes. In most cases I've changed them quite a bit, but I started with someone else's basics. Many of my recipes started out over fifty years ago as Betty Crocker recipes. I also learned a lot from my mother and from a copy of The Joy of Cooking I received as a gift over forty years ago.

If I do no more than change a proportion here and there, I try to credit the original source. I don't want to take credit for someone else's work, but I don't want to blame them for my mistakes, either.

But here's what's bothering me: all of the recipes I see online at various blogs and web sites include nutritional information like what is printed of food packaging and many restaurant menus. Am I breaking some law by failing to list the fat, sodium, calories, etc. when I share a recipe? I have no way of producing this information. Certainly it would be prohibitively expensive to have a lab do testing. I could possibly fake it, by lifting from other web sites' nutritional information, but that would be inaccurate and misleading.

After giving all this a little bit of thought, I've decided not to worry about it until they slap on the handcuffs. I enjoy cooking and I enjoy experimenting with a recipe until it works for me, even if sharing my results is a federal offense.

Maybe I can get a job in the prison kitchen.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jacket Season

It's that time of year when I start wearing my jean jacket. I put it on first thing in the morning and take it off at bedtime.

Jacket weather is my favorite season of the year. Denim is comfortable. It's heavy enough to keep me warm in the fifty degrees outdoors and light enough I'm not uncomfortable wearing it in the house. A denim jacket is as much a sign of Fall as the leaves turning color, pumpkin spice everything and chrysanthemums blooming in the flower bed.

Soon it will be time to trade my sneakers for my Cat boots.They're pull on, high-top leather boots with thick treads on the soles. And I'll start wearing boot socks--thick warm, comfy boot socks.

I wore jeans all summer. Out here in the woods there are scratching hazards everywhere. Even with the long pants, I still get plenty of cuts and scrapes.

I'll start wearing my cowboy hat all the time, too. I wear it in the summer when I'm working outdoors, but after only a short while, it gets too hot and sweaty and I take it off. I have what I call my old farmer hat that has a flat brim and provides better protection from the sun and it's better ventilated. I wear that when I out for long periods. In this jacket weather I can wear my cowboy hat all day long.

In a month or so it will be time to put on my Carhartt coat. It's also extremely comfortable, and it's warm. It's made of a sort of tan canvas and has a thick lining. It also has a hood. I've never worn the hoods on my coats because they're clumsy and block my peripheral vision. I don't have that problem with the Carhartt hood and it keeps my ears warm.

It's also that time of year when we start spending evenings out around the fire ring, just watching the flames dance and enjoying the beauty of the night.

Stephen P.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ranch Dressing Made Easy

Ranch dressing is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind--and most addictive, too! Growing up I had my choice of Thousand Island, French, Russian, Catalina and Italian. And at school we got Miracle Whip. Occasionally I used Blue Cheese, but that was rare. When I was in high school, somebody invented Creamy Italian and I didn't use anything else for years. A creamy dressing that wasn't sweet was a whole new concept. I'm not sure exactly when Ranch Dressing came into being, but I've used it ever since. I do love a good Caesar salad, but I'm not fond of bottled Caesar dressing.

Over the years I've enjoyed a few variations on Ranch, such as Peppercorn Ranch, but I always come back to original. Oh, and I'm talking about Hidden Valley Ranch. Other brands just don't get the job done.

Then I discovered Ranch dressing recipes online and I've been tweaking the recipes and developing (okay, that sounds like I've worked at it, but not so much) for my own taste ever since. Most recipes I've found are basically the same except for exchanging vinegar for lemon juice or dried herbs for fresh. The main thing is, they're all easy and I don't buy bottled Ranch anymore.


Simply Ranch

1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup sour cream
1/4 Cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. diced onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Place all ingredients except milk into blender. Pulse to mix and break up garlic and onion. Add milk as needed to thin. Blend to even consistency, pour into a jar or bottle and refrigerate for at least one hour.

This dressing will last several weeks in the refrigerator, but never seems to last that long--and it's so easy to make.


Variations

For variety:

Cucumber Ranch

Add 1/2 average cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and coarsely chopped, to the blender with the other ingredients.

Honey Mustard Ranch

Stir 1 Tbsp. honey mustard into finished dressing until thoroughly mixed.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Summer Days and Autumn Nights

We've been having mixed weather the past week or so: rain, sun, hot, cool, windy. Typical Oklahoma weather.

Hurricane Nate made landfall, twice, and is moving north After killing more than twenty people in Central America, things looked bad, but Nate wasn't as bad as the previous four hurricanes when it reached the US.

The rain has kept me from doing much work in the garden. I've gotten quite a bit done in the greenhouse, but the wet grass and soil make any work outdoors impractical.

I'm still not really over all the complications of my cold and I get winded and worn out easily, plus, I feel my brain is a bit cloudy. Perhaps in a few days I'll be my same old hardworking, creative and witty self--or am I thinking of someone else?

Stephen P.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

So Much Grief

While I try my best not to succumb to gloom and doom, I can't ignore how tragedy has followed upon tragedy without a break.

We've lost hundreds of thousands of acres of timber to wildfires in at least six states. The Gulf Coast was hit by hurricane Harvey, leaving Port Aransas and Rockport, Texas destroyed and Houston devastated by flooding. In just days, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, leaving most of the state damaged or destroyed by wind and water and without electricity. That same storm wiped out the island of Barbuda, leaving it uninhabitable. Shortly thereafter hurricane Maria swept through causing untold destruction to Puerto Rico, the island territory that should be our fifty-first state.

Last week, a large slab broke free from the rock face of El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park, killing at least one person and driving hundreds from the park.

Then a madman opened fire on a crowd at a concert in a parking lot in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 and injuring hundreds.

All of this was taking place while Bali and other island nations were evacuating because of pending volcanic eruptions. Mexico had its own flooding from a hurricane, followed by a massive earthquake. There have been bombings, workplace shootings, subway stabbings and nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Our grief is short. Proper grieving is a luxury we are not afforded, before another tragedy strikes. Many people in Puerto Rico don't yet have water and basic supplies, we've already lost track of where things stand in Houston and Key West, not to mention Mexico and now this terrible act of mass murder has taken place in Nevada and changed our focus again.

The dead outside Mandalay Bay have barely been identified and I'm already bracing for the next devastating act by humans or nature. Will we get a chance to breath, to grieve properly and take stock of what needs to be done? So many infrastructures, cities, buildings, homes and lives to be repaired and rebuilt. All while we wait for another shoe to drop.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Down With The Sickness

The autumn crud came early. Just about the time the weather cooled down and the rain moved in, I got hit with the rhinovirus from hell. There is so much to do around here, but picking the ripe tomatoes wears me out and I have a hard time catching my breath. I've had a collapsed lung before and this is almost that bad. And the initial phase, where I have a throbbing sinus headache, runny nose and constant sneezing lasted five days. It was like the damn thing just wouldn't settle in. I still have to water the greenhouse, but thankfully, most end of season tasks can be put off for a few more days.

Details of illness are boring at best, so let's change the subject.

The new television season is finally here. I only have broadcast television, so there isn't a lot to watch, but cable was always a whole lotta nuthin' when I had it. I might be missing a few shows, like Better Call Saul and Fargo, but mostly it's a vast wasteland.

The Orville continues to be worth watching. The critics seem to want it destroyed, but they are awful people who want us to watch old Norwegian films and wear berets. The Orville is funny, but it also has a decent story line, tackles some hard social issues and generally just satisfies my craving for spaceships and spiffy uniforms. Plus, it has strong female characters, which makes it more believable, since I've always had strong females in my life.

The new Star Trek: Discovery is pretty good so far. It has a certain amount of humor, strong female characters, spiffy uniforms and plenty of spaceships. It's sort of a noir version of The Orville. I watched the first half of the first episode before my cold forced me to crawl off to bed, but I'm sold on this latest edition of the Star Trek saga and I will be watching it.

Criminal Minds is back. I will avoid spoilers because some people DVR shows to watch later, but Hotch is not back and probably isn't coming back. Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia continues to be the glue that holds the show together as other characters are killed off. I look forward to Criminal Minds every week so I can get my serial killer fix, but enough of the mega-criminal-masterminds! Just stop. Super criminals belong on James Bond movies, not a "ripped from the headlines" FBI show.

Chicago Fire is also back. Lots of spoilers I could let drop, but I won't. I like the strong characters, the team/family relationship among the characters and the problem solving involved in their not-so-routine fires and rescues. The Chief, played by Eamonn Walker, is a great character and the real backbone of the show. I can't imagine anyone else playing the role, or him playing anything else, even though I've seen him in other things. I don't like soap opera in my dramas, but Chicago Fire manages to walk a fine line, so I'll be watching.

That's about it so far. The various medical dramas, like Chicago Med, all run together for me. It's hard to keep track of who's who, but they give me something to watch when nothing else is on.

Stephen P.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pepper Surprise

Last winter I bought a selection of pepper seeds from an online source. One pepper variety I bought on a lark was the Aji Dulce #2. The product description said "Looks just like the fiery red habanero, but without the heat!" I thought it would be fun to pop one in my mouth when I'm at a party at the home of one of my pepper growing friends. Mister Macho eats habaneros without even blinking.

The seeds germinated fairly quickly. Peppers are notorious for taking their own sweet time in sprouting. In fact, some hot peppers take weeks and require very specific temperature and moisture levels. This is why I haven't grown any Aji Amarillo peppers yet, though I've tried--Lord how I've tried.

The Aji Dulce plants were robust, growing quickly and transplanting easily into the garden. It didn't take long for the plants to reach their full height, about 18 inches. It also didn't take long for the plants to blossom and in what seemed like no time there were little peppers hanging down like Christmas bulbs. Green Christmas bulbs.

For at least two months I watched those peppers. They taunted me. They seemed to get lighter green over time, but that was probably an illusion brought on by wishful thinking. Finally one day, today actually, I noticed a red pepper on the plant. It had that nice warm red color of the habanero, as well as the classic shape.

I plucked that little beauty from the plant, excited that I finally had a ripe dulce. It was about the size of a strawberry--not the big strawberry, more like one of the smaller strawberries in the box. I just couldn't resist. I popped that baby in my mouth and chewed, ready to experience the smoky, sweet flavor that Aji Dulce are famous for. And it was hot. Really hot. Not run screaming for a glass of milk hot, but Louisiana Hot Sauce hot. Jalapeno hot. What the hell were you thinking? hot.

I was too distracted by the heat to notice the flavor. I like spicy foods. I enjoy eating peppers. There is no question that I enjoyed the dulce, once I got used to the burn, but what a shock. I'd say it was just about right for a raw pepper. It was sweeter than a jalapeno. My mouth burned for about half an hour. I don't usually like pepper heat that lasts that long, but this wasn't bad. In fact, it was good. I liked it.

Yet, I felt a little betrayed. This pepper was supposed to be mild and sweet. I've heard of surprise peppers. That's when a pepper variety is a little unpredictable and one in ten might be a little spicy. I've also heard of unstable cultivars. That's when a pepper variety is new and still hasn't become consistent in what results are obtained from the seeds.

Being the obsessive researcher that I am, I went right to Google. Wikipedia is such a great resource that I send them a donation every year.

Wikipedia informed me that Aji Dulce has been around a long time and has become a part of traditional cuisine in Venezuela and many other Latin countries. They are commonly used as a seasoning pepper.

I never depend on a single source, so I went to worldcrops.org and did a search. They confirmed that the Aji Dulce peppers have been around a long time. They may have originated in Brazil and spread to Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other countries. The peppers are prized for their flavor without heat. They're famous for it.

Unfortunately, there may have been a little cross-pollination with habaneros going on and now the Aji Dulce has lost the trust of many buyers, particularly at markets in the United States. Too often someone with a sensitivity to the heat has gotten a nasty surprise. Bummer. I can relate. I used to be really sensitive, but I've built up a tolerance. 

I have gotten more interested in medium hot peppers since I ordered my seeds and this one definitely falls into that category. It might make a really good sauce. I'm pretty sure I've got left-over seeds in my seed vault.

Woohoo!

Stephen P.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Keeping My Kitchen Like a Pro

My only restaurant experience was back in high school (see how I avoided the whole "when I was a kid" cliche). The first job was as a dishwasher in a steakhouse. The second job was as a dishwasher in a B-B-Q place. I say B-B-Q because the actual barbeque was made in a factory of some sort down in Wichita Falls and then reheated in our kitchen.

While my title at the steakhouse was dishwasher, my duties included cutting steaks, cutting up chickens, cutting up sides of beef into chunks and grinding those into ground beef, making salads, cutting french fries, fetching supplies from the storeroom for the cook, and of course washing dishes.

Around here I do a lot of the meal planning, shopping and cooking. I would say "most," but then someone would prove me wrong and make me start keeping a time sheet. The thing is, I really like working in the kitchen. Oh, and cutting up onions is entirely my job. I enjoy doing it and onions don't make me tear up, so Patrick always asks me to do it for him and Kathy will do it but doesn't mind if I volunteer.

When I work in the kitchen, I run it just like in a real restaurant. Except, of course, it's nothing like that in the least. For one thing, I'm only cooking for three most of the time and when that's done, I'm done. For another thing, I'm not under any huge time constraint. I try to get dinner ready before my "patrons" give up and eat a bowl of cereal, but other than that, what are they going to do? Take their business elsewhere? So, yeah, it's like a completely no-pressure restaurant job that I don't even have to show up to if I don't want.

When I fix breakfast, I start the bacon first. When it is almost done, I drop some bread into the toaster and start the eggs. I do one plate at a time, buttering toast, adding a few strips of bacon and then dishing up the eggs. I keep a little bell like cooks in diners use. When a plate is ready, I hit the bell and yell "order up!" Then I start eggs for the second plate. We mostly have eggs over easy, but I can make a mean omelet.

Kathy is great at kitchen organization, so all I have to do is put things back where she had them and I'll be able to find them again. Most of the time, I clean as I go, washing mixing bowls and cooking pots and putting them away. I don't like my knives and cutting boards ending up in the sink, so I always wash them and put them away--almost always. Sometimes I'm feeling lazy, fix a half-assed dinner and leave a big mess, but I try not to do that.

One thing I used to be terrible at is having all the dishes ready at the same time. I've made great strides in that area and I can now have a main course and four sides ready all at once. More often I make one-pot meals, but hey, they are some of our favorites. Casseroles, soups, stews.

Once in a while I get on a roll and have a clean kitchen and the dishwasher running when I go to bed at night--for a week straight!

Oh who am I kidding? I suck at this running a kitchen stuff. I mean well, but it takes so much work. I do okay for a day or meal, but then I slack off and spend more time reading recipes than preparing them. I want to run the kitchen like a pro. I keep the salt and pepper shakers filled. It's just so hard.

Okay. Time to turn over a new leaf. I'm going to go wash last nights dinner dishes.

Stephen P.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Making a Pepper Seed Wish List

It's that time of year again when I start seed shopping online. By that time of year I mean any month between January and December. Seed shopping is a bit of an obsession. It takes the form of "what if I do this next year instead of that?"

A friend gave me some fairly hot heirloom peppers that he gets from one of his friends every year. I don't know exactly what they are, but they look like small red jalapenos. I used them to make hot sauce, really great hot sauce, and it spurred my imagination.

I started cruising every online heirloom seed catalog I could find, considering possibilities for making hot sauce next year. Heat is not the issue. Jalapenos are hot enough, I'm not even going to consider habaneros or ghost peppers or anything like that.

I'm thinking about buying tabasco seeds and then I'll use the patented Tabasco process of fermenting and aging the sauce. Or I'll get some serrano seeds and make a nice garlic hot sauce and steep it in the refrigerator for a month or two.

Then there's my salsa. Different peppers add different qualities like fruitiness, sweetness, sharpness, smokiness and citrus quality. Not to mention, I can use different peppers for different levels of heat. Right now I make mild and hot. I could add medium.

Oh, and chile rellenos! I could grow pablanos again, but add Anaheims and green chiles and Big Jims and anchos. We could have lots and lots of chile rellenos.

And of course I have to have bell peppers. I'll grow yolos and keystones again, oh and sunbrights. Maybe I'll try something more exotic like the chocolate or purple or even those white bells. California wonders might be good.

For my hot sauce I used a very simple recipe I found at pepperscale.com. The ingredients are peppers, distilled white vinegar and salt. Did I mention it's really great hot sauce?

I'm not sure I save any money by making my own hot sauce, but it's so satisfying. And growing my own peppers is also a lot of fun.

Oh, hey. Here's a website that has over two hundred different varieties of tomatoes. I could can my own spaghetti sauce!

Stephen P.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Watching The Orville

Over the past two weeks I've read several reviews of the new Fox Television series The Orville. One writer said it was "just awful."

When I was a kid (there's that phrase again), television was a brand new thing. We had a black and white Zenith, a big black cube with a 17 inch diagonal screen. My dad controlled the TV and we watched what he watched or we read and did kid-type stuff, like build models, in our rooms. The big weekly television event for us kids was when Dad let us watch The Twilight Zone. It was science-fiction-y and futuristic and we loved it. Then one day, Star Trek came on and things changed forever. Unfortunately, Star Trek only lasted three years and we had nothing to replace it--until it came back in syndication.

Over the years since then, I was an avid fan of the Star Trek movies, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. I watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but it was mostly set on a space station--kind of like Star Trek: Shopping Mall. DS Nine had memorable characters, but unlike the other shows, I didn't mind if I missed a week or two, or a season. Star Trek: Enterprise may have been a good series, but it had two things going against it: it was a prequel and it had a really awful pop/rock theme song.

It's been a long time since I've had a TV show that made me want to turn off my phone, pop some popcorn, turn off the lights and tune in five minutes early.

It was a fluke that I changed channels just in time to watch the premiere of The Orville.

I don't watch sitcoms. I hate running gags. I hate strained attempts at humor. And I really hate laugh tracks. They offend me. I'm not too stupid to know when to laugh and I don't need canned laughter to tell me. Plus, laugh tracks laugh at everything, whether it's funny or not.

Which brings me to The Orville. The Orville isn't really a comedy, but it has plenty of humor. It is a drama/comedy, but it's subtle. Seth MacFarlane, the creator and star (as well as the creator of Family Guy and American Dad) called it "something new." It is that. One reviewer mentioned Spaceballs as a better spoof of the Star Trek genre. Spaceballs is silly and over the top and, while I love Mel Brooks movies, I would not watch a Spaceballs series.  The Orville is not a satire or a spoof. If it had been a spoof of Star Trek, I probably would have turned it off in the first ten minutes. It's more of an homage. And it has a lot going for it in its own right, like original characters and good writing.

Fox rebroadcast The Orville a few nights later and I watched it again. And I enjoyed it as much as the first time. Perhaps it's escape or perhaps it's something else, but I'm looking forward to the next episode. I've got the popcorn popper warmed up and ready to go.

Stephen P.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Water, Wind and Fire

Irma is still whipping parts of Florida with wind and rain and making her presence known in Georgia and the Carolinas. Things could have been worse--Irma could have been slower moving, like Harvey. We still don't have much in the way of video and reports from the Keys and Miami. It seems like the news cameras grab five minutes of film and those are the images we see over and over again for days.

Harvey is kind of old news, yet much of the flooding persists and the damage reports are generic at best. Port Aransas is a complete loss, as far as I can tell. I've done some Googling, but photos are scarce. Rockport is in bad shape and the thousands of acres of cotton in the hurricane's path are at least a ninety percent loss.

Agriculturally, we won't begin to know the extent of the damage to Florida for quite some time. I don't know what crops are planted when, so I wouldn't even hazard a guess. Texas lost quite a few cattle and the grass they feed on to the extreme flooding, so beef may be more expensive for some time.

Flooding in various farm states earlier this years have reduced surpluses, but I haven't seen any significant price increases yet. Shortages are still a possibility.

Here's some really bad news: well over ten million people have lost days, even weeks of work, if they even have jobs to go back to. The amount of property destruction coupled with lost productivity could add up to staggering economic losses.

The wildfires, which continue in Montana and in the West and Northwest, have destroyed billions in timber resources--more than likely driving up the cost of materials needed for reconstruction Texas and Florida.

Now for the worst news--the areas hit by the fires, flooding and winds are also very active parts of the tourism industry. Billions of dollars a year are spent by visitors to Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Montana and the Texas Gulf Coast.

I live in an area that has been hit by wildfires and tornadoes. I see how long scorched forests remain ashen moonscapes, how long twisted, denuded trees take to heal and regrow, and how many years it takes to rebuild hotels, homes, businesses and neighborhoods. The cleanup and reconstruction began almost as soon as the winds passed and the rains let up. The fires are still burning in many areas and five hundred year old trees take centuries to regrow. It's going to be a long process.

 Humans are horrible, dirty, destructive beings, but we are also resilient, caring and industrious. When faced with almost insurmountable odds, we draw together and work for a common purpose in legendary fashion. If we can only get on the same page and work for our common good we can rebuild (I'm liable to break into the Six Million Dollar Man speech any minute). Opportunity brings out the worst in some people and there are already scammers working overtime, but we have reason to hope and maybe we will come out of this all right. Maybe.

Stephen P.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Night Sights

During our time out here in the woods we've gotten used to the variety of night sounds. We hear owls. Not just hoot owls, but screech owls, caterwauling barred owls and something we haven't identified yet. We hear a variety of frogs, toads, crickets, katydids, cicadas and all kinds of insects we haven't identified yet. Oh, and don't forget that annoying mosquito that comes whining up to my ear over and over and over. And the ringing in my ear from swatting at it.

Smaller night birds are not as frequent, but we have a few whip-poor-wills and mockingbirds. Barking dogs are common everywhere, but there are many more dogs in our neighborhood and we all depend on them to notify us of intruders--and imagined intruders. There's a donkey at a nearby farm who brays occasionally at night, and a cow or two who low in the dark (low is country talk for moo).

During most of the year we hear coyotes yipping and howling in the distance. Sometimes not too distant. Several times we've heard them as close as a hundred yards. We've been told they only yip and howl when they've found food (read: killed something). We don't have a lot of stray cats out here, anymore, and small dogs left outdoors at night disappear pretty quickly. Even big dogs tend to hang close to the front porch.

We can always tell when deer or coyotes are on the move, by the progression of barking. First the dogs up on Tecumseh start to bark; then the hunting hounds bay three houses closer; the dogs on Tecumseh stop, but the dogs next door to the north start. We can tell if they turn and head west or continue south by the dogs that begin to bark. Sometimes our dogs and the dogs next door to the south start barking and don't stop for a while.

The other night the neighbor dogs were barking and our dogs were just growling. And then the neighbor's dogs just growled.

I saw a late night ad for one of those tactical flashlights last year and just had to have one. I got one for Christmas. It really is a great flashlight. You can focus the beam down to an intense rectangle and identify things in the dark that would be very indistinct and hard to make out with a standard flashlight.

The dogs continued to growl, so I got my flashlight and swept the beam across the south meadow, across the driveway and into the woods. And stopped.

We're used to all the night sounds and many of the sights: the Milky Way, the moon, the planets, even an occasional bat flying really close.

Eyes staring back in the dark from a hundred feet away are not something we are used to. Glowing eyes in the darkness. They just stared. "Maybe it's just an old bottle or a plastic bag caught in a tree reflecting the light." The eyes kept staring. Then they did something really creepy. They turned, trotted twenty feet north and then stopped, turned and stared at us again. We went in the house and closed the door.

Ah, the peaceful country life !

Stephen P.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Retro Obsession

Recently I've subscribed to about a dozen newsletters. Email newsletters. Newsletters that I find really interesting.

The older people in the audience may remember when email was a brand new thing and almost everybody had AOL dial-up. I started getting people's email addresses and I would email them. And then I would check my email a dozen times a day to see if I'd gotten a response. After a time, email was like a primitive form of Facebook. Then somebody invented spam and email got even more like a primitive form of Facebook. Pretty soon I started getting into arguments and misunderstandings and finally people started to troll me and email became exactly like Facebook only without so many pictures. And I kept on checking it.

But then I didn't. I discovered websites that interested me. I could pursue my hobbies and interests online, learning more, finding sources for materials, or whatever. Some of the websites had discussion boards and that became an obsession, waiting for responses to posts.

MySpace came along, but I resisted it. I knew people who were on MySpace and I may have checked it out a time or two, but I just couldn't imagine exposing myself like that, inviting identity thefts and, of course, trolls.

I got old and old friends started tracking me down to catch up on things. And they would invite me to join them on Facebook, to stay in touch.  I got on Facebook and soon I was checking it a dozen times a day. Then, Facebook started giving me lots of spam and I started getting into arguments and misunderstandings and finally people started to troll me. Facebook took over my life.

One day I just decided Facebook had become too hostile and tedious and I quit checking it. I discovered websites that interested me. I could pursue my hobbies and interests online, learning more, finding sources for materials or whatever.

These websites had email newsletters with links to other articles of interest. Now I'm checking my email a dozen times a day to see if I've gotten any new newsletters.

Good grief!

Stephen P.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Save the Pollinators

It has been a tough year for gardeners, homesteaders and farmers. A lack of pollinators has resulted in smaller crops and even crop failures in some areas. Just this morning I read about the sad state of Maine blueberries. Harvests had been increasing and prices dropping, but this year a combination of mummy berry disease and lack of pollinators has reduced harvest as much as 36%.

Several homesteaders I keep up with online have mentioned smaller harvests of crops dependent on pollinators. In my own garden it seems I have problems with lack of pollination.  I haven't seen any honey bees at all this year, but I have seen a few bumblebees and smaller pollinators that I might not have noticed before.

Crop failures and reduced harvests have been occurring worldwide this year. Corn and wheat don't depend on pollinators, but weather patterns have taken a toll. Fungal diseases such as mummy berry mentioned above can thrive in unusually wet weather and warmer winters.

Future food insecurity is becoming a very real possibility. I'm not advocating that we all become doomsday preppers and hoard food, but it is time we start to recognize a looming crisis and it's important that we know there are things we can do.

Reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides is crucial to restoring pollinator populations. We don't see how much and how many chemicals are going into our environment, but on a recent trip to a home improvement store's garden center I was a little overwhelmed by the smell. Looking around, I realized how many pallets of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pest control agents there were. Tons. Just in one store. I also noticed hundreds of gallons of liquid chemicals. If you consider the number of garden centers citywide, it is staggering, especially given how few counter measures are being taken. On a side note, think about all of those chemicals ending up in our water supplies.

One suggestion, aside from doing all you can to go organic, is plant wildflowers. I've read that clover doesn't supply the nectar necessary for healthy bees and that native plants are far better.

Even the smallest gesture can make a difference. Containers and hanging baskets of flowering herbs or compact vegetables can supply a small source of food for a household, as well as providing flowers for bees. With more space available, raised beds can produce enough food to provide surplus for preserving, and companion plants like borage and marigolds will attract and feed pollinators.

The term "homesteading" probably conjures images of Little House on the Prairie for many people, but modern homesteading is many things. There are urban homesteaders, making use of community spaces to provide fresh produce in areas where there are few other sources. Some people are making use of their own back yards to produce much of their food and enough surplus to trade or sell to pay for other necessities.

I've read criticisms of those who move out of the cities to small acreages and begin raising crops and livestock. Critics think these people are taking away from commercial farmers and grocers and hurting the food supply. I disagree. The small farmers are increasing food security for all of us by creating alternate sources to draw on when traditional producers have bad years, and they provide a gradual transition to an organic food supply.

It may seem that I've digressed, but these things most certainly relate to bees and other pollinators, because they provide an important symbiotic relationship by providing chemical-free zones for beneficial insects.

While it isn't for everyone, becoming a beekeeper will absolutely help increase bee populations, as well as providing a honey source for the grower.

Probably the simplest way to help bees is to buy locally-produced raw organic honey. It isn't significantly more expensive than refined honey and it's healthier for you and the bees.

Stephen P.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Living On Less

Lately I've seen a couple of articles with titles like "Living on less and loving it!" The first time I ever heard the "and loving it" phrase was in the movie The Pirates of Silicon Valley. The Steve Jobs character made members of his Macintosh development team wear t-shirts that said "90+ hours a week and loving it." The only one loving it was Steve Jobs. His employees hated it. Many were suicidal, considering giving up their careers or ready to be institutionalized.

In the process that led to our move to the country, we gave up 80% of our income. We have no choice but to find ways to live on less, but that's not what we love. We love the peace--it isn't quiet out here among all the little creatures that feel the need to vocalize. It's tough when I see something I want but don't have money for: a new rake, a package of seeds, Chinese food. In fact, that list can include gas for the mower, groceries and toothpaste. Scaling down is hard to do.

I do have a few tips based on my experience these past three plus years.

1. On some items, the dollar section of the grocery store might not be the cheapest option.

2. Sales are a good time to stock up on some items, but can hurt your budget if you don't practice restraint.

3. Stocking up when items are on sale might not be a good deal. Check expiration dates. You may not be able to use all those jars of peanut butter before they start to taste rancid.

4. Learn to cook from scratch. In many cases, you can make it for less. Homemade mayonnaise tastes better, costs far less, and it's so easy to make, you don't have to store large quantities.

5. Don't do impulse driving. All those trips to get a soft drink or ice cream cone add up in the mileage column and is money you could be saving to spend at the farmers' market.

6. Learn to get up and do things. We live in a part of the world where sweet tea is a necessity of life. Over the past twenty years or so, grabbing a jug of tea at the market has become routine. At $2.50 and up for a gallon, we were spending easily ten dollars a week. Now, when I notice the tea pitcher is getting low, I put on water to make more. Using our own tea bags, sugar and filtered water saves us, um, a lot. A 5# bag of sugar we use for more than just tea lasts us over a month. A box of Always Save tea bags lasts about three months (Always Save tea is better than some of the premium brands), and a filter for the water pitcher lasts about two months.

7. Filter your own water. We have our own well, which we test periodically and it is safe for human consumption, but it has minerals. Our coffee maker was getting clogged up every few months and required a gallon of white vinegar to unclog. Eventually the coffee maker would become too clogged to salvage. Since we got our Brita filter pitchers we haven't had a problem. We also save by never buying bottled water.

8. Don't go crazy. Spending money to save money is always risky. When our freezer went out a few years ago, we bought a good new one, not the cheapest, but nothing fancy, either. Every time we had a little extra money, we took advantage of sales on meat, fish and chicken and filled the new freezer. We saved at least a thousand dollars. One day I went to put a bargain ham in the freezer and discovered it had been off for three days. The warranty covered the freezer repair, but not the $2000 worth of food we lost. Now we make a point of checking the freezer every day and we never buy more than a few weeks worth of food to freeze.

9. Grow your own food, but don't go crazy. I've seen it a hundred times. Someone decides they're going to save money by putting in a garden. They go out and spend a fortune on cedar lumber for raised beds, bags of soil, seeds, transplants, fertilizer, tools and time-saving gadgets. Then they decide it's too much work, or they do the work, but they're too tired and sore and don't follow through, or it takes too much time, or they get discouraged by how long plants take to grow or by how quickly weeds grow or how many bugs there are in the world. By the end of the growing season they've harvested three dollars worth of tomatoes and a zucchini the size of a semi trailer. Start small. Some containers with tomatoes and peppers are how most people do it. Learn. Expand slowly. Keep it cheap, or at least reasonable. Work up to the next level.

There are plenty of ways to save money, but the trick is to avoid overwhelming yourself. You know all the cliches like "baby steps," etc.  Do it a little at a time. Read, get rid of cable, spend more time outdoors.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Cooking with Lard

Grit is one of my favorite magazines. When I was a kid Grit was a tabloid format publication that was thicker than a Sunday paper. At the time it was distributed by neighbors who went farm to farm, selling it for a little extra income. We rarely saw the same person selling it twice and availability was spotty, but we always bought it when we could. I'm not sure what all was inside, but it was targeted to farm families. I know there were plenty of recipes, but the thing I cared about was the twenty pages of newspaper comic strips. Our "local" paper was the Tulsa World, which was delivered by the rural mail carrier. Tulsa was about a hundred miles away. Grit had dozens of strips the World didn't.

Today's Grit magazine is an offering from Ogden Publications, the parent company of Mother Earth News. It is a standard magazine format, available in some book stores (if there are any left) and at the checkout of rural Dollar General Stores, and by subscription. I subscribe. They have a little bit of nostalgia content and a lot of farming and homesteading content.

I also subscribe to their email newsletter. I have to take exception to one of their recent emails. It advertises a new cookbook, Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient. My grandmother's secret ingredient was Crisco.

My mother grew up with biscuits and gravy at least two meals a day, made with lard, and she was done with it. We hardly ever had biscuits or gravy and never both at once. Once my grandpa died, my grandmother was alone (she came to live in a trailer house on our farm) and she did all of her baking for us grand kids--and she used shortening. My mother associated lard with poor people.

We lived on a farm near Watts, Oklahoma, a railroad boom town that had shrunk to a population of 300 when diesel engines pushed the steam locomotives out of service. All my friends were farm kids I knew from Watts School. We rode the school bus every morning on winding dirt roads through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

Whenever I went to spend the night at friends' houses, I got to eat biscuits and gravy--made with lard!

Everybody cooked with lard, which they bought at Waldroop's store in lard stands. A stand is a six and a half gallon tin can with little folding handles on the side. Search "lard stand" on eBay and you can see what I'm talking about. Lard stands are a big nostalgia item. Truth be told, we had an awful lot of lard stands around our house, so shortening must have been a fairly new innovation in our house. I was fourth of fives kids and I don't know what they ate before I came along, except that squirrel was on the menu a little more often.

Lard served as an all-purpose ingredient. It was cooking oil and shortening and lubricant for squeaky hinges. The empty lard stands were washed out and used for storing things, like clothes that older kids had outgrown and younger kids hadn't grown into yet (you'll never know the joy of first day of school wearing a pair of slightly too big OshKosh overalls that smell like mothballs). Kathy and I still have a lard stand around, but it's out in one of the storage sheds, full of old baby clothes or something.

I'm sure the cookbook is great, just don't talk about my grandma. Lard has been rediscovered by chefs and bakers in recent years. Lard has still been in stores all along, but in smaller plastic buckets. It's essential for making refried beans, as far as I'm concerned. Now you can also find gourmet lard in upscale stores and organic lard in health food stores. If you've never eaten lard, it is similar to bacon grease, but without the bacon flavor.

Around here we do most of our cooking with peanut oil. It has a mild, unobtrusive flavor and it is healthier than "cooking oil," which is likely to contain GMO soy, corn and or canola, or palm oil from some third world country. We use sesame oil as a flavoring and olive oil for occasional sauteing.

I've read a number of articles on cooking with lard and the consensus seems to be that lard has gotten a bad rap as far as health concerns. So here's the breakdown: lard tastes good, it makes a good shortening, it's healthy for you and it has roots and traditions that go back to the beginning of cooking.

Okay, maybe I'll order the cookbook. It's $19.99 and you can Google it or go to Grit.com. I don't get paid for endorsing anything, let alone Grit or this cookbook. Maybe someday.

Stephen P.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Memory And Memories

Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke with a strange thought in my head. It occurred to me that I could probably write the same blog post over and over and I wouldn't know the difference. This isn't about failing memory, it's about the repetition of thoughts, the shear volume of thoughts, and not being able to keep track of what I've already said or decided not to say, or for that matter, temporarily forgot while I was writing.

Somebody once said that 90% of life is just showing up, or something like that. That's true. Life happens whether we plan it or not and only a certain small part is under our control. Some people are better at controlling life than others. Daytime television directors, for instance. They show up determined to control what happens for that hour, according to script, and seem to succeed to some extent.

I don't have a script. I'm not even very good at improvisation. Life just unfolds before me with only a small amount of input from me. I can make a plan and one day in twenty some small part of my plan will be accomplished. Living with other people generally means there are multiple plans in motion, usually at some level of opposition, or at least incompatibility.

Don't get me wrong, other people are delightful creatures who lend spice and surprise to life, it's just that they are unpredictable. If I plan to spend the day working in the garden, one of my peeps informs me they had planned for me to go to town. And here's where that other kind of memory problem comes in: "You know we have that [wedding, funeral, graduation] to go to." "Oh, was that today?" I say, having no idea whether I've heard about this before. Besides, at the risk of seeming insensitive, if you've been to one [wedding, funeral, graduation] you've been to them all.

My blog posts are like that: old guy complains, reminisces, philosophizes, occasionally offers a recipe. Not that that's a bad thing. My memory is such that I can go back and read some of my old posts and be pleasantly surprised and entertained. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm not really saying anything that hasn't been said before. I just can't remember if I've said it before.

Stephen P..

Friday, August 25, 2017

Homestead Life

When we embarked on this homesteading adventure, we were looking for something undefinable, a feeling as much as anything. We saw a tiny house on a lake and hoped that might be the place, but it didn't work out. We saw a place with a large greenhouse, acres of land for growing vegetables and a newly planted orchard, but it had only a seventy-year-old, single-wide trailer for housing and a clear view of neighbors on three sides. No privacy. It was perfect, but it wasn't. We looked at it more than once and it just didn't feel right. Most other places that seemed promising had one or more problems and just weren't home.

This place was lacking in growing space, no traditional garden space or grazing land. No lake in the front yard. But it had a special feeling. And privacy without isolation

We hoped to begin cutting ties to the grid and to get closer to the earth. We were looking for a different kind of lifestyle: a closer relationship to the source of our food; a closer relationship to the weather and the seasons; a closer relationship to the stars and the sky, if I may wax poetic for a moment. Since we've been here we have watched more sunsets than in our entire lives previously. We have seen more falling stars, heard more frog songs, seen more varieties of birds and spent more time over at the lake. Don't get me started on clouds.

This morning our daughter Melissa came over and she and Kathy made blueberry zucchini bread with applesauce instead of cooking oil. The busy kitchen activity was cozy and with Melissa's baby bump there were three generations in that kitchen.

We gave Melissa our excess Revere Ware. I bought it on eBay last year, half from a man who got it from his mother who got it from her mother, and the other half from a woman with the same basic story. They were downsizing their kitchen clutter and passing on heritage cookware to another family, as were we. I paid ten percent of what it costs new, and for pots and pans that have stood the test of time and come through in almost new condition. Not to mention, lower price and better condition than other offerings seen on eBay.

While sitting on the deck drinking tea, Kathy and Melissa got to see four white tail fawns playing hide and seek where the woods meets the north meadow. That's why we're here.

There is magic in growing some of our own food, in cooking with pots and pans that have cooked family dinners for over seventy years, and in seeing animals going about their lives. There is magic in making a home in the woods without displacing the other creatures living there. We get to know that magic and we get to know the magic of living everyday knowing something special is always going to happen.

Stephen P.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Back To School

This time of year I used to feel that yearning for the smell of fresh school supplies, new school clothes and the first day of classes. I'm not sure when that changed, but this year I am so glad that I don't have to go back to school. I've been out of college for twenty-four years and I graduated high school over forty-five years ago. I still have dreams of hunting for the right classroom until it's too late to show up for class. And the dream where I suddenly discover I'm enrolled in a class I've never been to and it's the day of final exams.

So here it is almost the end of August, school has been in session for over a week, and I don't have to go.

I study constantly, reading about gardening and farming and folkways, but not because I have to. Because I like to. I'm what they call a lifelong learner. I loved my time at the university, reading, studying, researching, but the stress was overwhelming at times. Summer break was always a nice little breather, but I knew not to get too comfortable, too relaxed, or going back in the fall would be too hard. Thankfully, even in college I had the yearning for the smell of fresh school supplies and all that.

Soon the leaves will begin to turn, the first crisp notes of autumn will frost the air, and college football will begin to take up an annoying amount of my time. As the weather cools I'll feel more like cutting firewood, raking leaves and baking bread.

Then the bite of the cold winter wind will start to get old, I'll tire of always bundling up to go outside and I'll begin longing for spring and gardening and before I know it, it will be time for school to start again.

Life is a vicious cycle.

Stephen P.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Peeves

There are certain misused phrases that drive me crazy. These are not my pet peeves, these are feral peeves, untamed and unconstrained.

Almost every day I hear an anchor or reporter on television news say "Authorities are still honing in on the problem." Honing in is not what authorities do. One does not hone in on a target. One "homes" in. Gunners home in on their targets, bombadeers home in on an enemy base and authorities home in on a problem.

We hone knife edges. We hone our skills. We belabor the point.

Another phrase refers to a business floundering or a ship floundering on a reef. When a horse gets down in the mud and struggles but can't get up, the horse is said to be "foundering." I suppose one could say one was "floundering" and be correct if one was being a fish. I don't know why one would be a fish. Foundering is the correct term for anything struggling, but failing. This argument is foundering.

Recently, I saw the phrase "the protesters were from diverse groups who had to ban together." I've heard that before. I don't know what they are banning, but brothers band together. There are bands of roving troublemakers and bands of musicians.

I could rant and rave about mixed metaphors and other offences against the grammar politic, but I will settle for correcting just these three chronic abuses. For now. Someday I will draw up my manifesto of proper English, but first I probably ought to clean up my own usage.

Stephen P.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Again With Irritating The Old Man

Everything is a video these days. I have a friend that I exchange memes with several times a day. Good memes are hard to come by so I stockpile when I find extras. Lately I can't find any memes that aren't in GIF format. Okay, you're saying that's not video, it's GIF. It's still video and no matter how short, I don't have time for videos and my friend (we'll call him "Larry") wouldn't watch them anyway. He doesn't have time, because he is very busy using his time efficiently. Seriously, "Larry" crams more into a twenty hour day than anyone I know.

I read constantly and I subscribe to a number of magazines and their e-zine counterparts, email newsletters, blogs and web sites dedicated to organic gardening, homesteading and self-sufficiency. There are plenty of weblogs on YouTube that I could follow, but I just can't slow down to their speed. If I had to watch videos instead of reading the material, I would learn a lot less.

When it comes to making a repair on my car, I'll take time to YouTube it and I'll watch it over and over 'til it makes sense. I also read that section in my auto repair manual over and over, but a given repair may only have one indistinct photo, while the video goes step-by-step. Sometimes that isn't even enough and I have to call a lifeline. But auto repair is the exception.

And I don't do audio books. I had a couple of audio books on cassette tapes years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I had to stop what I was doing and actively listen. I do like the occasional podcast, and I enjoy Science Fridays on our local NPR station, when I remember to turn it on. Radio was still a big deal back on the farm. I always listened to the livestock reports and the news, and talk radio wasn't just about politics. I don't remember what it was about. There've been plenty of airwaves across the old antennae since then.

It's not that I'm technophobic, I carry an iPhone, which doubles as my camera, calculator, calendar, clock and any number of other words that may or may not begin with "C." I would rather text than talk on the phone, so I've evolved that far at least. As a matter of fact, all this high tech reminds me of all the futuristic stuff I read about in science fiction when I was a kid. If I understand it, the whole point of all these things is to save time. Video doesn't save mine.

Stephen P.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Corn Is Evil

Corn has an agenda and it isn't good. Thousands of years ago, corn as we know it didn't exist. Back then it was called maize and had only small ears with uneven rows of little kernels. So how did corn get to be the big, parallel-rowed, golden, juicy nuggets on a cob that we've all come to crave in the summer and the shorter cobettes we always order with our fish at Long John Silvers? By brainwashing and enslaving the human race. Yep. Maize used some kind of mind control to trick prehistoric people into cultivating it and selectively growing it until it became the massive world power that it is today. I was tempted to say "primitive people," but as we all know, the ancient Mayans had a sophisticated society with cars and airplanes and computers and the internet, until corn reduced them to mere agrarians, scratching in the soil to please their cornly overlords.

In order to prevent rebellion, corn made itself tasty and used its addictive qualities to keep a hold on its servants. Anthropologists have discovered that tooth decay didn't exist among the native people of the Americas until they began eating corn. The combination of rich sugars in the corn and grit from using stones to grind dried corn wore away at the enamel of their teeth the same way it had worn away their free will.

As Europeans easily invaded and conquered the powerless addicts, they too discovered what corn could do--and it wasn't pretty. In Spanish dominated areas, corn began to be used as tortillas, tamales and even cooking oil. In North America, the formerly sophisticated settlers from the British Isles were overtaken by the diabolical corn whiskey.

Always unsatisfied, corn continued to develop itself through the labor and at the expense of humans. Selective breeding gave way to hybridization, hybridization has been replaced by genetic modification. Corn, in its drive for immortality, has given itself immunity to herbicides and strives to be tolerant to drought and disease. It increases its addictive nature and spreads dependence through its high fructose syrup, its sweeteners and its meals and flours as additives to almost everything. It promotes itself as "gluten-free."

If you doubt that you are addicted, think back to the last time you were in a Mexican restaurant with a basket of tortilla chips and cups of salsa and queso in front of you. Did you eat until you barely had room for your entre? Case closed.

On the other hand, there is corn's harmless cousin, popcorn. Popcorn has changed little in a thousand years. It has only one use: producing the most fragile and delicious delicacy known to man. Popcorn has resisted all attempts at modifying its genes and remains true to its legacy. We always eat popcorn at important life events, such as movies, ball games, family night, Friday at the bank depositing our paychecks, stopping at 7-Eleven, being at home, breaks at lunch, getting gas at a truck stop, winter evenings in front of the fire, summer days at the beach, popcorn Tuesdays at some elementary schools, and others.

Plus, popcorn isn't addictive. I eat it all day everyday and I don't have a problem. I can quit anytime I want to.

Stephen P.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The End Is Nigh

The future seems a little iffy right now. President Trump keeps provoking an already dangerously paranoid and delusional leader of North Korea. While I admit it's tempting to consider doing something drastic about that whole annoying Kim Jung Un regime, I don't think a nuclear war would be good for our fragile planet.

Meanwhile, the Yellowstone caldera has experienced a huge swarm of earthquakes the last month or so. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal, but Yellowstone is a giant volcano just itching to blow and it sits on an ocean of glowing magma. If it erupted, people all the way down in Florida would have problems with the pumice from volcanic ash scratching their sunglasses. Then, a month later, they'd be in the market for firewood, heavy parkas and ice skates as nuclear winter sets in.

I have two words for you: pyroclastic flow. That's the boiling mud that floods out of the volcano at like 300 miles an hour in a tidal wave fifty feet high. I'm much more afraid of pyroclastic flow than I am of lava. Have you seen video from Hawaii? Lava moves so slowly you can outrun it at a walk.

We've finally reached the point where almost all of us believe in global warming, we just disagree about the cause. Wheat crops are failing worldwide, corn harvests are way down in the big corn growing states and unusual weather patterns have affected any number of other food crops. Dozens of species of plants and animals have died out in just the last few years. Scientists have discovered a number of new flora and fauna right before they went extinct. Biodiversity is being destroyed by monoculture agriculture and genetic modification. The oceans' fish populations are so depleted that many peoples in the world are having to seek other sources of protein and other means of earning a living.

Let's not forget all the recent flooding. California is washing away. Texas is washing away. South Carolina is washing away. Then there are the wildfires all over the southwest and northwest and yes, even Florida. Most of the country that isn't flooded is on fire. Some places the flooding is making it hard to fight the fires.

Zika virus, Lyme's disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile, e coli, ebola, salmonella, listeria, cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, hepatitis C, bed bugs--we don't have a chance. Water. Our water is full of terrible things like benzene, mercury and Viagra that can't be filtered out. The air quality in the national parks is as bad as L.A. in the Sixties and smog is back with a vengeance in all of the world's major cities.

The strange weather patterns have Oregonians suffering under triple digit heat, Alaska as balmy as the Bahama's and Siberian's wearing short shorts. Storm surges from tropical storms and hurricanes are much higher than in the past, Arizona has Sahara Desert inspired dust storms and Tornado Alley has moved to Saskatchewan.

If all of that isn't enough, our odds of getting smashed by an asteroid increase every other day.

The outlook for human survival is bleak.

I seem to remember a line from the old 1950s movie The Blob: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." But maybe not.

Stephen P.