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.