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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

In Doubt

This is the second time I've brought this up in about a week, but it's preying on my mind. Why did CBS cancel Doubt after only two episodes had been broadcast? They paid for and produced a full thirteen episodes. Two episodes? Really?

The show had a great cast, including Dule Hill, Katherine Heigl, Laverne Cox, Elliot Gould and Judith Light. The plots were solid, the storytelling was well-structured and smooth. As courtroom dramas go, Doubt was a good one.

CBS has been running NCIS and its various spin offs for eons and they are crap, in my opinion. Well, okay, NCIS: New Orleans is not too bad, but I only watch it when there is nothing else on and my internet is down. The various CSIs were good and ran for a respectable number of years. Criminal Minds could go on to become the longest running series in television history if the network doesn't screw it up, which they've tried repeatedly to do.

Bull is a pretty good show, but it seems a little fantastic that anyone could afford to hire a huge consulting firm to help them manipulate a jury. Once was great, like Leverage--twenty-six times strains my credulity. Still, I could watch it.

Sure, there is a bit of formula about Doubt, like Elliot Gould as the eccentric senior partner, but as Shakespeare said "there is nothing new under the sun." I think Shakespeare was getting a little tired of  NCIS also.

I know it's tough being a broadcast network these days. HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and cable channels like TNT are grabbing all the best scripts and the biggest audiences. I read recently that the pay channels are killing off broadcast TV. But then I read that Millennials are killing off pay channels by rediscovering broadcast and antennas. I've rediscovered antennas, because I live out in satellite television hell, but I'm still waiting to rediscover broadcast. A few good shows like Doubt would help.

What's killing broadcast television is a dependence on reality TV, game shows, talent shows, prime time news features, awards shows and an endless number of sports events that preempt scripted programs. Don't get me wrong, I have my favorite team, but thirteen college football games a year should be enough sports for anyone.

Out here on the fringes of civilization we watch a lot of reruns on ION television and we stay up 'til two a.m. to see our two episodes of Psych a night. It's possible that broadcast TV might make a comeback and start giving us some good dramas again, but I have my doubts.

Stephen P.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Fried Chicken Recipe

When I was a kid I didn't start sentences with "when I was a kid." Now I do it all the time. Back in my childhood ("when I was a kid...") chickens had ten pieces, plus miscellaneous extra parts like a neck, heart, gizzard and liver. And sometimes the feet, but that was an old man thing. There were two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, two breast parts, a wishbone and a back. The back was my dad's favorite. At sixteen I got a job at a steakhouse. Part of my job was cutting up chickens. They still had ten pieces. Now days chickens only have eight pieces. The breast is only cut into two pieces, splitting the wishbone. The back is discarded or used to make stock. Ducks aren't cut into pieces at all in my world.

I still love fried chicken, but I only make it a few times a year. My mother always pan fried it, but, thanks to a garage sale bargain, I have a deep fryer ($2 for a 6 quart Presto). When I was a kid they were called deep fat fryers. Here is one of my favorite fried chicken recipes.


Stephen's Infamous Spicy Fried Chicken

1 cut up chicken
3 qts. peanut oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbs. black pepper
1 Tbs. poultry seasoning
1/2 Tbs. garlic powder
1/2 Tbs. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika

In deep fryer, heat 3 qts. of peanut oil to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the eggs and milk. Place chicken in the bowl, turning to coat each piece with the mixture. Leave chicken in the mixture to soak, turning frequently.
In another bowl, combine dry ingredients, stirring with a fork to mix thoroughly.
Remove two pieces of chicken from egg mixture, allow excess mixture to drain off, place in flour mixture, turning to coat well. Let sit for a few minutes. Gently shake off excess flour and place chicken into fryer. Cook for ten to twelve minutes, until golden brown. Check with a meat thermometer for an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. Repeat with remaining chicken. Discard leftover egg and flour mixtures (I like to use some of the leftover flour mix to make country gravy).

Warning: Spicy.

Stephen P.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kitchen Chronicles

Cooking is one daily chore I really enjoy. I usually prepare breakfast and dinner and occasionally lunch. By some stroke of luck, we have a great kitchen. It has plenty of counter space (there is no such thing as plenty of cabinet space in any kitchen). It's small enough to have everything within reach when I'm cooking alone, but it's big enough we've had four people working comfortably at the same time cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Having the right tools makes cooking a pleasure.

I love cutting boards. I would collect them, but Kathy discourages hoarding behavior. We have a nice large maple cutting board, a large plastic cutting board, a glass one and a small plastic one. I really like the wooden one for chopping and dicing vegetables. We use the large plastic one for cutting meat and then clean it with a bleach solution. The glass one is mostly for carving roasts, chickens and turkeys fresh from the oven, and the small one is for slicing cheese, making sandwiches and general use when we don't need a large one.

Good knives are essential. We got rid of all but three of our knives when we moved out here. The ones we kept were wooden handled and had been my mother's for most of my life. One is a short paring knife, one is a long paring knife and one is an eight inch slicing knife. The blades are thin and I don't know about the quality of the steel, but they sharpen easily and hold an edge very well. Shortly after we moved here we bought a set of two cheap kitchen knives at Dollar General Store. One is about four inches long with a wide blade, the other is a short, very pointy thing. They both come in handy for specific tasks and do a good job. I found a Miracle knife out in the pump house and cleaned it up. It is ten inches long, has scalloped serrations and a fork on the end. I think it was intended as a carving knife, but I like it for slicing bread. The most important knife in the kitchen is a good quality chef's knife. I have two. One is an eight inch Kitchen Aide that my brother Randy gave me and the other is a Swiss Victorinox I bought on Amazon. Both are extremely good, professional quality knives.

With all of those knives, using a whetstone is impractical. I bought an expensive Chef's Choice XV electric knife sharpener. It re-bevels blades to fifteen degrees, rather than the thirty degrees standard on most knives. After sharpening my knives with this machine I had to buy a Kevlar glove and a stainless steel finger guard. Aside from the bandaids on my fingers, good sharp knives are a pleasure to work with.

I also have four cast iron skillets in different sizes that were my mom's and I use them constantly. Cast iron may seem like a cult thing, but I wouldn't be without it. I've tried non-stick skillets, but I always go back to my cast iron.

Something else we got rid of when we moved were our Revere Ware pots and pans. At the time it was about down-sizing and uncluttering our lives. Bad move. After two years of nonstick pans, we tossed them and I bought thirty-six pieces of antique Revere Ware on eBay. We now have multiples of pots and pans from 3/4 quart to twelve quarts with lids for each and every one. It makes for a storage problem in the cabinet, but there's nothing better for most cooking.

We also have a variety of utensils and small appliances, but they are too numerous to list here.

When you cook as much as I do, it's nice to have a kitchen that works with you.

Stephen P.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hot, Hot, Hot

The heat of summer has gripped Oklahoma for the better part of a month. Now I don't want to be one of those guys who complains about the weather all the time. Instead, I'll express my appreciation for how good I've had it.

People always say "it's a dry heat." It's not. This summer has been extremely humid--but that's okay. The past year has been great. Last summer, if memory serves, was really mild compared to a few recent years.

It was a warm, mild fall. Most of the time we didn't even need coats. Then the winter came and was very pleasant. There were a couple of cold weeks, but by February we were having nice spring weather--most of the time. Sometimes it was hot. Sometimes it was cold.

When spring really arrived, it wasn't a typical Oklahoma spring, dry and dusty with temperatures in the nineties. No, it was a real spring like we used to read about in books. Not too warm, not too cool, just right. And then the heat. But not terrible three digit heat.

It has been my good fortune to have spent almost my entire working life indoors. For most of that time I worked in drafty shops with inadequate heating in the winter, so I had to dress in layers, and inadequate air conditioning in the summer, so I dressed in shorts and tank tops and kept a fan blowing right on me.

That is why I've been so fortunate. So many of my friends worked outdoors through the coldest, iciest winters and the longest hottest summers, often twelve hours a day.

For me, a snowfall is a delight--a winter wonderland. A hot day is a welcome break from the howling wind of December. Rain is welcome to ease the drought and freshen the air.

I've also been fortunate that I haven't suffered the loss caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, hail and ice storms.

It has been hot, but I won't complain. The bitter cold will be here soon enough. And I have a good coat.

Stephen P.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Evasions, Fibs and Whoppers

We live in a post-truth era. Nothing is certain. You can believe whatever you want and the other guy is always wrong.

There was a time when I believed in ideals such as truth, justice and the American way. Now it's hard to tell what any of those things are. Truth used to be an absolute, but now it's gotten very subjective, distorted by preachers, politicians and propagandized by pundits and news outlets. Justice used to mean something. Now it just refers to which side won in court. Prosecutors ignore proof of a defendant's innocence, insisting that a jury's verdict outweighs everything else. As for the American way, there are simply too many factions with too many opinions. I won't even try to name all of the different isms.

Nothing can be counted on. Photographs and videos can be altered through Photoshop or even simple phone apps to create whatever false narrative the editor wants. Audio can be faked with Auto-Tune and other pitch shifters so that even those without an ability to sing can sound good. Fiction passes as non-fiction, legend passes for history, and even history can be tweaked to fit an agenda.

Social media tells me my favorite actor or musician has died, but the person in question insists it isn't true. Who do you trust, Facebook or some dead celebrity? Memes can be completely fake, but no matter how often they are fact checked, they come around again and convince a whole new group of people of their validity.

The Earth has been proven round any number of times over the centuries. By the time of Columbus, the "Round Earth" was an accepted fact. Now an entirely new flat Earth movement has taken hold, along with "proof" that the Moon landing was faked. Unfortunately, the truth of both positions seems clear from direct observation. Only scientists can figure out the truth of the matter and nobody trusts scientists anymore.

Global warming, which causes climate change, is another one of those elusive truths. There are too many subtleties. We can predict a lunar eclipse, but accurately predicting how many hurricanes we'll have, how much ice will melt and how high the seas will rise this year is impossible. Scientists can do computer models and pick the most likely one, but if they are wrong, then their credibility is shot in the eyes of those who are skeptical or have an agenda.

I could go on and on, but the point is, these days, the truth is what you choose to believe is the truth and no one will ever change your mind. If facts can be faked, then you believe anyone who supports what you already believed.

As Fox Mulder said on The X Files, "the truth is out there." Trust me. I only tell the truth, present the facts and support the American Way.

Stephen P.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vast Wasteland Report

It seems as though I rarely have any good news about the current state of television.

Sitcoms have been off my viewing list for decades now. I'm happy for people who love Big Bang Theory. I'm not interested, but that's just me. I don't care for anything with a laugh track. By the way, I'm sorry to predict that Young Sheldon will be cancelled mid-season. And I won't care.

Let me apologize for being harsh, but I'm bitter over the cancellation of Rosewood. It was a great crime drama with a great cast chemistry and I will miss it greatly.

Bones has finally ended. It was time. I've enjoyed the show, but I think it had run its course and keeping it on life support would have just been cruel. I like David Boreanaz, but I doubt that I will watch Seal Team--or any other military/Middle East war dramas. Some things are just too real and too dramatic for me. I don't need to punish myself by watching reenactments of a conflict that makes me very sad.

Survivor is still on, I don't know why. I've never watched more than fifteen minutes of the show and I don't understand why anyone would. Reality television has never caught my attention for very long. Pawn Stars, Gold Rush Alaska and American Pickers were entertaining for awhile. I might still watch Gold Rush, scripted though it is, but I got rid of cable.

All of the medical dramas kind of run together in my consciousness, so that I can no longer tell them apart: Code Black, Night Shift, Chicago Med, Saving Hope. I'm not saying they aren't good, they just aren't very distinctive. The strong female leads are probably the best part, but all four have them. I still miss the short-lived Monday Mornings. Now that was an original series. I've still never watched Gray's Anatomy, although I used to have a copy of the book.

Pure Genius, APB and Scorpion were all shows about very smart people and I never missed an episode of any of the three. Scorpion is the only one still on. Katharine McPhee is the highlight of a really good cast. The plots all follow a very structured formula and Scorpion is more fun than intense drama.

Bachelor and Bachelorette are two more shows I have no interest in. I haven't watched soap operas since I worked swing shift back in the Eighties. I don't watch dance shows, either. However, I do respect people who watch these shows, I mean, what else is there to watch.

Fargo and Better Call Saul are definitely worth watching, but I got rid of cable, so I don't. Okay, I do, on Hulu/Netflix, but I've already bitched about internet providers limiting me to a few episodes of each per month.

This past season of Criminal Minds was a mess. Firing Thomas Gibson was a mistake, but the show can still go on. The whole Spencer Reid goes to prison mini series within the series went on way too long. They can catch a serial killer in twenty-four hours, but they can't get Dr. Reid out of jail? While Criminal Minds has been going on for twelve seasons, I see no reason it can't keep going. Penelope Garcia is the thread that holds the fabric together. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was a dumb idea.

Doubt was a good show. Why they cancelled it after two episodes is a mystery to me. If they had aired the remaining episodes sooner, the ratings might have improved.

Another dumb idea was ABC's drama/comedy The Catch. Mireille Enos was brilliant in The Killing, and it's nice to know how beautiful she is when she let's her hair out of a pony tail. The Killing was so good, I used my precious data allowance to download and watch the entire series twice. The catch was awful. If you are going to do a ripoff of White Collar, at least make an effort. While the show had a good cast and some interesting fragments of character complications, it seemed like the actors knew it wasn't going anywhere and didn't make much effort. Enos deserved better.

Supernatural still won't die. There are things I like about the show: the cast, the characters, even the original premise, but I'm not really interested in vampires, demons, zombies, fallen angels or any of that, so no matter how good the show is, I'm not likely to watch. I hope it keeps making its fans happy for years to come.

Super heroes. I was a big fan of Marvel comics for decades and I was bummed that there weren't any good comic book series on TV. Now there are too many and it waters down any novelty there might have been. Enough! Stop it!

Mysteries of Laura was entertaining. I'm sorry it's gone.

Chicago Fire is mostly good. The cast is great and I will keep watching, but as usual, I'm interested in what the characters do for a living, not how their lives are going at home. Is that so wrong?

Chicago PD: don't care. Game shows: not interested, but I'll watch if I'm desperate. How to Get Away with Murder: don't care. Quantico: not even. Secrets and Lies: nope. Scandal: don't think so. All of those time travel shows: try again, Quantum Leap had a good gimmick.

Blue Bloods is the only thing in that Friday night time slot and I still don't watch it. If I'm going to watch Tom Selleck  brood, give me Jesse Stone.

Zoo is too convoluted for my taste. Primeval did it better.

That's enough. It hurts my head to think about it anymore.

Oh, wait. One more. I love Steve Harvey, but I'm starting to get an overdose. Take a break, Steve, six shows is enough.

Stephen P.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fast Lane Blues

The world seems to be changing fast these days. Or maybe it's just me getting old.

This planet has always seen bursts of rapid development, from hunter-gatherer to agrarian--okay, maybe not that, but aviation between 1914 and 1919, for instance. So many things have happened since World War II. Television has gone from limited availability analog black-and-white broadcast to unlimited high definition digital satellite-direct, interactive. Computers have gone from massive mechanical devices, to analog vacuum tube monstrosities, to analog transistor monstrosities, to digital microchip handheld devices. One iPhone now has more computing power than all of the computers in existence in 1968 combined.

Sadly, human space travel hasn't gone very far in the last forty years, but unmanned exploration has discovered amazing things--few answers, but lots of new questions.

Many "advancements" in chemistry and biology have been ill-advised and potentially disastrous, but the world of physics has made great new discoveries--few answers, but lots of new questions.

Now here is what really put a burr under my saddle. It started with home computers. Every time I got the latest, fastest model with the biggest hard drive and the most ram, software developers came out with a new version of their program, which my computer was only marginally fast enough to run, which took up most of my hard drive, and which required a ram upgrade to run. Fine. When I could, I bought the latest, fastest new computer with an exponential increase in ram. Bingo. The new programs made my computer seem like a snail.

Then came the internet and the problem was modems. Each time I got the fastest modem, websites became more graphics intensive and I had to have a newer computer to run a faster modem. WiFi came along and modems seemed to become irrelevant, but I needed a newer computer with a faster graphics board, or whatever. Every time I upgraded my computer, web developers added more video to their sites, higher definition and anything else that would exclude my computer from full participation. Fine.

So computers get faster, with more ram and higher definition video capabilities and what happens? Internet providers limit my data usage to a maximum twenty gigabytes. If I'm lucky my internet works for a week out of every month. Not fair.

Most of the time when one advancement is made it makes something else obsolete. Now we have a technology that throws a big wrench into the usefulness of all these other technologies. One of these days maybe everything will work together, but for now I'll avoid watching videos, Facebooking or downloading music. My favorite technological advancement is having a massive library of information and imagination at my fingertips. From my point of view, that's a great change.

Stephen P.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Remember When

Nostalgia is one of those things I always associate with older people. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an older person, but I've always had a fascination with things from the not too distant past.

When I was growing up, at least half of the adult males I knew were World War I veterans. I loved listening to their stories about the Great War. You might say I was a bit of a history buff.

Where I grew up, we were less than an hour from half a dozen or more Civil War battlefields. The school, parks and most city buildings in my hometown were built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a program of the New Deal that provided jobs during the Great Depression.

My favorite books were about the flying aces of WWI and I still love the old biplanes. The Golden Age of Aviation fascinated me: the air racing, the aerobatics and the barnstormers.

The modern milking machines and stainless steel milk tanks of modern farming never interested me as much as the wooden stanchions, Dutch doors and hand cranked cream separator of our old milk barn.

Recently I've subscribed to a couple of farming/country living magazines, Grit and Capper's Farmer--revivals of publications from the past hundred years, that have a mix of current articles and nostalgia features. While I gain useful information for my own gardening and homesteading efforts, I'm really enjoying all the glances back at a different time. You notice I didn't say simpler. I believe that all of our modern conveniences have been a result of trying to make life simpler, even if it wouldn't seem like it for someone from the past.

Would I go back to the old days? I'm more realistic than that. There are a few things I might like better, but I realize that life was tough then and always is. On the other hand, I might like to travel back in time and buy a nice big piece of farm land with today's money at yesterday's prices.

Stephen P.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Writing Space

Last year I was offered an opportunity to co-author an episode of a new science fiction series. I have to say I was honored, since the series was created and is co-written by T.Y. Carew and the first episode is co-written by Jess Mountifield, one of my favorite contemporary authors. The series, published by Red Feather Writing in the U.K., is titled Adamanta. My contribution, the second episode, is subtitled The Shafts of Kudos.

In the series, Earth has been destroyed and all humanity is threatened by an army of drones and their controllers, the Beltines. Humanity's first best hope rests on a telekinetically controllable metal and the ship's crew trained to use it.

Writing my episode was great fun. The Shafts of  Kudos is my first old school science fiction piece and I hope to do more. Maybe I'll write another episode of Adamanta.

https://www.amazon.com/Shafts-Kudos-Season-Episode-Adamanta-ebook/dp/B072LZC4TD/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1500687764&sr=8-5&keywords=TY+Carew



Stephen P.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spring Fever

Spring began at the end January this year--and again in early February, then again later in the month and every two weeks after that. The temperature even reached 90 degrees in February. It's been great weather for working in the garden, but a little too confusing for the plants. May and June were pleasant, with very civilized temperatures, and now July is somewhere just east of hell.

When we have to go into town we stick to shady back roads as much as we can, but sooner or later we find ourselves in the blazing sun of the concrete desert. I see new housing developments going in, moving closer to our rural refuge, and I just don't understand how anyone can live in a neighborhood without trees. Out here the abundance of trees keeps the temperature several degrees cooler. We have to move our chairs once in awhile, but we can always manage to sit in the shade.

Our house sits hundreds of feet from the road, so dust isn't a problem for us. I feel bad for all the people who built their houses thirty feet from the dirt track. Whenever I drive by I try to slow down to spare them some dust, but I'm not sure it helps.

All winter long I look forward to warm weather, but I'm already looking forward to the cool of autumn.

Stephen P.