24. December 2014 · Comments Off on It’s Christmas Eve Already… · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

… in England. Listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.

(Linky here.)

06. November 2014 · Comments Off on Arrived! · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Working In A Salt Mine...

The first definitive day of fall/winter has arrived, and never been more welcome than here in South Texas. It has actually been cool to chill … and even more welcome … rain. It’s been raining more or less constantly since about 9 PM last night; from sprinkles to drips, to heavy downpours and back to sprinkles and drips again. I presume that the plants in my garden are reveling in the abundant moisture, after a good few weeks – or maybe it has been months – of a little grudging moisture alternating with day after day of bone-dry. The arrival of this happy moisture and chill coincides with a good few days of us not having to go anywhere, after a solid week of long-distance trips to Killeen in one direction and Brownsville in another. And I have a book project to work on for a Watercress client, another (a reprint of an existing book) to shove out the door as soon as possible, a third waiting for the client to review and for me to request the art-work for – all so that I can clear the decks for yet another client, the one with an extensive autobiography with lots and lots of pictures to incorporate … Alice would have been so happy to know of this project, and of the other potentially big one, coming up. (Also involving a lot of pictures and a complicated lay-out and a generous budget.) All the better that I have this week and most of next week to concentrate on it all.

The kitchen as it stands - a black hole of clutter

The kitchen as it stands – a black hole of clutter

My daughter is adamant about using some of the profits from the big projects to renovate the kitchen. Not in any way complicated, or involving extensive rebuilding, but incorporating more efficient cabinets and a nicer countertip. The kitchen in the house is relatively tiny – about 9 feet by 9 and U-shaped – and it has always annoyed us that the two corners on either side of the stove are wasted space. The original builder just whanged in some relatively narrow rectangular cabinets at right angles to each other, slapped some cheap laminate countertop over the null space in the corners and called it a day. Everything in the kitchen was basic contractor grade stuff, and brought into the development by the box-car load, and now it is more than twenty years old. I repainted the doors, and the fronts of the cabinets more than ten years ago, which made it look at least OK, but it didn’t help the basic bad layout any. So – researching means of upgrading to something more useful and visually attractive, and for a fairly reasonable price, as these things go. I am working on that as well, running out to the kitchen with the tape measure every now and again, to see exactly how far (to the half-inch) the windows, the pantry door and the plumbing stack are from everything else.
We are tending towards some elements from Ikea – like an archaic looking range hood, and a country sink – and maybe some of their cabinets or countertops. I think that assembling such cabinets is within our abilities, and hiring some local handymen who have redone kitchens in the neighborhood is within the realm of possibility. Or buying some quality cabinets already assembled from an outfit like Kitchen Resources Direct may also be doable. It’s not like we’ll be needing a whole lot of them anyway. Get the knobs and drawer pulls from a local place we know, organize the countertops from one of the big-box stores which has a nice selection. We did consider going to them for the whole thing, because of the veteran discount, but we made the mistake of showing up and asking for a consult after walking the dogs and working a bit in the garden, and I think the consultant took one look at us and figured that we weren’t a good prospect at all. The lack of enthusiasm and interest was thick enough to cut into slabs, even though we had a whole raft of necessary measurements. Ah well – cut-rate place here we come.

03. November 2014 · Comments Off on Another Long Saturday Drive · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

This one not as long as the trip to Brownsville on Monday/Tuesday, which was more in the interests of Watercress business rather than a book event – but anyway, it was long enough; to the main library in Harker Heights, which seems to be a bedroom slipper to Killeen. We zipped up there in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with a tub of books and some freshly-printed postcards, on the promise of about eighteen other authors, and a very popular local event – a book sale to benefit friends of the library. Alas for us – the event was one of those which ask $1 for hardback books, .50 for paperback, and no one staggering away from the main event with a bulging bag of books and change from a $20 bill seemed inclined to pay full price for any of ours. But I handed out a lot of postcards about my books, and talked to other authors, and on the way back … we decided that we would stop in Round Rock and enjoy the Ikea experience.

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

Well, not enjoy as one thoroughly enjoys something like a clever Disneyland ride … This was more like a Teutonically-organized forced march through an endless household goods warehouse, following the arrows on the grey linoleum pathway which took you through precisely every department, even the ones you weren’t interested in. Ve Haf Vays Of Making You Shop!

There are shortcuts available – but they are not obvious, and seem to be a secret held only by the employees on the floor. They will cheerfully point them out to you, upon asking … but still, this is not a store where you can run in and pick up just one or two small things and run out again in fifteen minutes. No, this is an expedition which requires a significant degree of planning, most of an afternoon … and a certain amount of money. Not terribly that much of that though; to be absolutely fair, even if someone setting up a whole house of Ikea-sourced stuff must be prepared to write a large check. This must be where the yuppies who turn up their nose at Walmart but haven’t very much change to spare come to shop. To be honest, the goods on offer were of good quality, attractively designed and priced very fairly. They were the sort of thing that my daughter and I remembered very well, from seeing them in Europe when we were stationed there. But by the time we had staggered three-quarters of the way through the store – after looking at kitchen cabinet options and stuffing ourselves on a most-welcome lunch in the Ikea cafeteria – we were moaning, “I’ll buy anything, I promise – just let us out!”

We did escape, eventually – discovering the cash stands at the end of the long trail winding – and a small deli-grocery store on the other side of them, where they stocked all kinds of Swedish delicacies – including the lovely small Swedish meatballs featured in the cafeteria. And they were scrumptious. We came away with a family-sized bag of them, frozen for later use … for when we don’t feel like driving up to Round Rock …

The Magnificent Shed

The Magnificent Shed

I’m in a bit of a lull at present – having wrapped up a couple of books for Watercress in the last week or so, and it will be another few weeks before some of the others come up to the point where I have to set aside everything else to work on them, full-tilt. There will actually be three and possibly four. Two of the four are … high-value clients, the other two returning clients, so … yes, I am doing the happy dance.
I have finished the first draft of the next book, which was inspired by a light-hearted blog post regarding the crash’n’burn of the recent Lone Ranger movie, the one with Johnny Depp and a dead crow on his head. Yeah, that one; I began kicking around ways that the franchise could be re-booted, first as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more fun it looked like – of course, not the Lone Ranger per se. That’s all under copyright, and I understand that the copyright holders are ferociously protective. But what about a narrative bearing a suitably distant likeness to the original premise – that is, a young Texas volunteer soldier-ranger in the time of the Republic of Texas, sole survivor of a massacre, with his good friend and buddy, an Indian scout, wandering around pre Civil War Texas on missions of goodness and niceness? Nix the mask, the silver bullets, the horse named Silver – indeed, just about every other telling detail – and make it more or less a historical, although with a looser grasp on the straight historical record than my other books. Believe me, there was enough strange stuff going on in Texas during that time, and certainly enough in the way of real historical characters and incidents to generate any number of adventures. I scribbled out six initial historical romps, my daughter suggested that I aim it toward the YA audience, especially boys who have nothing since the final Harry Potter tome and aren’t interested in the adventures of sparkly vampires … and there it is – gone to some alpha readers recruited through the Ace of Spades Sunday morning book thread for critique and analysis. I will incorporate their suggestions, plus any additional additional inspirations that their suggestions spark … and the book will be out in late October, likely. Just in time for Christmas shopping.
So – that’s done. Until I hear from the alpha readers (or really, anyone who wants to check out the adventures posted at my Celia Hayes website and drop me a line), that project is on the back burner.

As the garden looked earlier this year

As the garden looked earlier this year

August has descended on us – traditionally the hottest month of a Texas summer – it’s been over 100° every day for the last week or so. So, my enthusiasm for doing anything outdoors is pretty much under control. Walk the dogs, water the garden, that’s about it. This week, though – we finally got the antique Chambers stove moved off the back porch and into the shed. This chore had to wait until the shed was actually built, and we could round up two willing and strong neighbors to help us shift it the fifteen or twenty feet. Yes, the darned thing is heavy – when it was built in 1941, they made them to last. Eventually, we’ll have to remodel the kitchen to accommodate the Chambers. So – aside from starting the fall garden, I’ll also be revamping the back porch, once things cool off just a titch.. There was more than just the stove kept on the porch – and now it has all in the shed – so that I intend to reclaim the porch for when the cool weather returns.

19. April 2014 · Comments Off on Plaza Mayor · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, History

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral

That is what they were called in towns and cities in Spain – the main plaza or town square, which served as the center of civic life, around which were ranged the important civic buildings, the biggest church; this the regular market place, the assembly area for every kind of public spectacle imaginable over the centuries. Every plaza mayor in every Spanish town is alike and yet different; different in size and shape, and in the confirmation of the buildings around it. Some are bare and paved in cobbles, and some have trees and gardens in them now. This custom carried over into the New World, and San Antonio is no exception. The town as originally laid out early in the 18th century was more or less in the shape of a cross, outlined by four intersecting streets, incorporating a large square with the church (later cathedral) of San Fernando in the center of it. This essentially split the plaza into equal halves – Main and Military plazas. The oldest streets in town – Soledad and Lasoya, Navarro, Dolorosa and the road which led out past the mission across the river, the Alameda – now East Commerce – are the heart of historic San Antonio. Well, that and the old mission, out at the then-edge of town and over a loop of the San Antonio River. The house belonging to the commander of the Spanish presidio’s garrison – which may have been the largest of the early dwellings – occupied part of the western boundary of Military Plaza. Late in the 19th century, San Antonio’s city hall would take up much of the center, where once soldiers had drilled, and General Lopez de Santa Anna’s soldiers had bivouacked. The Bexar county courthouse would take up another side of Main Plaza – but not until the Plaza had been the center of life for San Antonio de Bexar for more than a century.

It is a curiously restful place, these days, considering that invading and resident armies fought over San Antonio and around the Plaza several times. A momentous peace treaty between the residents of Spanish Texas and the eastern Apache was marked by a formal (and one assumes eventually rather raucous) ceremony in the Plaza involving the ritual burial of weapons of war … including a live horse, while the Apaches and the Bexarenos danced in celebratory circles. The catastrophic failure of 1842 peace negotiations with the Comanche at the Council House – a civic building on the Plaza set aside for that sort of thing – led to a running bloody fight in the streets and gardens of San Antonio and more than three decades of bitter warfare with the Comanche. The first stagecoach to arrive from the east stopped in the Plaza – the first commercial hotel was there. At the very beginning of the Civil War, according to some stories, a senior U.S. Army officer commanding the Department of Texas was unceremoniously hustled from his residence on the Plaza by Confederate sympathizers, taken to the edge of town and told in no uncertain terms to leave at once. As the story has it, the officer had voiced it as his opinion that assisting in a Texas withdrawal from the Union would betray the principles of the Founding Fathers. In a private letter, the officer had condemned the so-called Cotton States for a selfish and dictatorial bearing, and for wanting to re-establish the commerce in slaves from Africa. Kidnapped or not, Colonel Robert E. Lee went to spend some quiet quality time at the cavalry post at Fort Mason, before returning back East and withdrawing his services from the U.S. Army upon the secession of his home state of Virginia from the Union.

Everything happening in San Antonio until the arrival of the railway tended to happen in the Plaza Mayor; a lively and eccentric community split into three different ethnicities by the mid-19th century, as Frederick Law Olmsted realized during his visit to Texas in the mid-1850s.
One of the local peculiarities which Olmsted and other visitors noted were the numbers of open-air restaurants – moveable feasts in various public squares, beginning with the most august of them – the ancient Military Plaza – local cooks, most but not all Hispanic – set up tables and benches, and cook-kettles full of chili simmering over mesquite-wood fires. Local musicians played – often hired by the proprietresses to entice patrons … as if the taste of peppery meat and bean stew for hungry patrons wasn’t enough. The picturesque spectacle of the ‘Chili Queens’ tables – as they would come to be known – enchanted locals and travelers well into the 20th century. Imagine – good, simple – and tasty food – all eaten in the open air. The after-sundown breeze rustles the leaves of the trees fringing the swift-flowing San Antonio River, oil and kerosene lanterns flicker, the musicians play, while stars sparkle in the sky overhead and the evening business of certain establishments spill out into the relative cool of a South Texas evening …yes – that would be a draw, especially to people accustomed to cooler and less highly-spiced localities. The popularity of things like canned chili and specialty chili seasonings came about when an enterprising cook and owner of a saloon and beer garden in New Braunfels – Willie Gebhardt – developed a process for making and packaging a dried seasoning powder – chili powder. Up until then, the chili had been a local and seasonal specialty, but Gebhardt’s process, which preserved the flavor of the chili peppers, and which he sold himself from the back of a wagon, grew into a million-dollar business and inadvertently popularized Mexican food … including chili … when his company published a small cookbook instructing cooks who were unfamiliar with Tex-Mex cuisine in how to use his product.
From civic architecture – to chili powder; how eccentric is that?

16. March 2014 · Comments Off on Some More Amusing Linkage · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Fun and Games, Literary Good Stuff, Media Matters Not

This one laments life in a quaint old English village … where there are just too many dead bodies. Read the whole thing, and then try and watch Midsomer Murders

07. March 2014 · Comments Off on Just for Fun Linkage · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General Nonsense · Tags:


How a European visualizes an American breakfast. Scroll down, the comments are hilarious.

(Found courtesy of Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom. Yeah, I slum, now that I am apparently not permitted to post comments at PJ Media. Which I find to be pretty ****ing insulting, since apparently any doofus whose cousin-friend-sister’s-mother-in-law can make $70 an hour from home on their computer can post comments.)

23. February 2014 · Comments Off on Awesome New Kitchen Appliance · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General Nonsense

So, we have been having fun with a new kitchen gadget – nnnooo, not the kitchen gadget what is on the to-buy list at the Scratch and Dent Superstore (the awesome side-by-side refrigerator freezer which is on layaway and due to replace the 20-year old Whirlpool in the next month or so) – but the Food Saver vacuum device which came with half a roll of the plastic medium and the instruction manual. I spotted it at a neighborhood yard sale, barely used and for the unbelievably low, low price of $5 cash. The previous owner said that it worked – but not why she was letting it go, when it is so useful a gadget. This, when new went for a cool $170 or so. I had been considering purchasing a home vacuum-packing system now and again, but was always put off by the price. Yeah, I’m turning into my pinch-the-penny-until-a-booger-comes-out-Lincoln’s-nose grandmothers. Deal with it.

With the price of groceries going up and up, my daughter and I are running through all the means of saving here and there; to include copious use of coupons, buying on sale and freezing, and making a whole lot of different things from scratch. But the trouble with freezing is that even the sturdiest zip-lock freezer bags grow frost on the inside, and the stuff gets refrigerator-burn and generally unappetizing, and within a short time you forget what the heck it is and how long it has been in there anyway.

Insert the truism about the freezer being only interim storage for leftovers, before they are old enough to be thrown away.

But the Food-Saver eliminates the frost and freezer-burn, along with the air from the sealed package. We also discovered to our joy and surprise, that it makes the package of pre-made and pre-flavored hamburger patties or marinated chicken-leg quarters so much smaller that space-saving in the freezer is achieved almost instantly. Now we can buy the family-packs of chops or chicken-breasts or whatever, and package them in two-serving-sized bags which will not degrade the quality of the meat when frozen, or leave me trying to pry apart lumps of hard-frozen meat.

I’m already considering my options as far as purchasing a half or a quarter of a cow in one fell swoop … and we are racking our brains now, for the names of people we know who hunt. I’d like to have a bit of venison or wild boar in the freezer now and again, also.

Ah, the New Year is upon us, now that we have successfully negotiated the month-long holiday hurdles – and no, I am doing my best not to ask myself what fresh hells await, since I am barely done with the rich banquet served up to us at year-end.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh, and laugh, and laugh at the spectacle of a boat-full of global-warmenist tourists venturing on an Antarctic expedition to prove that the polar ice is melting faster than the Wicked Witch when Dorothy emptied a bucket of water onto her … being caught in the ice … and having to be rescued by ice-breaking ships. The topper is that this is actually the summer season at the bottom of the world, and the darned stuff is supposed to be melting seasonally anyway. But apparently not, and the gales of laughter at this bit of misfortune are not quite strong enough to dislodge the ship. Was Al Gore anywhere around? The unseasonably horrible weather hitting all of the United States but a tiny band along the west coast argues the presence of He Whose Chakras Need to be Raised, or at least smacked with a bucket of cold water.

Ah, the fortunes of the ruling dynasty in North Korea have taken a positively surreal turn into I, Claudius territory, with the long-time advisor and uncle (with a handful of Uncle’s top aides) of Pudgy-Boy Kim executed by being served up naked to a pack of starving dogs – and the ruling echelons made to watch the proceedings. To encourage the others, I guess. This was reported via Chinese news media, which makes me wonder how tired the Chinese are getting of the antics of Pudgy-Boy and all the other Kims. Given that dog-meat is a traditional Korean delicacy, and in North Korea eating it is likely a matter of survival, perhaps the dogs considered this arrangement a fair turn-about. No wonder Dennis Rodman appears to be getting fond of North Korea; height and color aside, he blends right in with the general freakishness.

And speaking of a parade of … well, not freaks exactly, more a case of being freakishly out of touch, I give you MSNBC, or as I have begun to call it, PMSNBC – now in a dead heat with Time Magazine as they race to the bottom. Well, both of these media entities were once respected, popular and purveyors of the news. Now I suppose it is commentary and opinion all the way, and very strident and in-your-face opinion, too. The insults are just the extra, although I am certain Melissa Harris-Perry got an earful over that notorious segment poking mean-girl fun at Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson. Being that she was a child of color – or anyway, half-color – born to a white Mormon mother, one would have thought Ms. Harris-Perry would have been a little more circumspect. I can hope that perhaps her own mother put her straight, about how painful it would be for mother and child alike to hear sniggering cracks about how one of these things is not like the other, and one of those things does not belong.

And finally, Obamacare, sweet Obamacare, the unAffordable Care Act, now in the act of a slo-mo clash and burn even more spectacular than that of the Hindenberg. Yes, thank you, I’ll have my serving of schadenfreude in chocolate flavor, with a spritz of whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry on top. Harsh? I’ll save my sympathies for those people now caught within the deadly toils of trying to work out some kind of healthcare coverage for themselves and their families who did not vote Dem in the last two elections. For those who did, and are now unpleasantly confronted with the results – sorry, we warned you, over and over, and all we got for that was abuse and ridicule. Sometimes enlightenment is only achieved through pain. I haven’t ventured into Open Salon lately to see how enlightenment is progressing these days – I’m not a sadist that way. I’ll just settle for my tasty cup of schadenfreude.

Hang tight – it’s gonna be an interesting ride through 2014.

24. December 2013 · Comments Off on Christmas Book Special · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Literary Good Stuff

Packed and Sealed Tins
All right, then – as promised, I have set up another special sale; the Nook and Kindle versions of all my printed books ( all versions of The Trilogy, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, The Quivera Trail and To Truckee’s Trail) are 25% off from this moment (on Barnes & Noble) or by sometime this evening (Amazon) – until the 29th.

This is especially for everyone who will be receiving a Kindle or Nook e-reader as a Christmas gift this year from their nearest and dearest. I got a Kindle myself last Christmas as a gift, and although I spend too much time staring at a computer screen and really prefer print books – it is absolutely invaluable whenever I have to go anywhere and spend time waiting. It fits neatly into my purse, I have a whole library of interesting books loaded into it and will never have to pass the time reading whatever tattered magazines are laying around.

21. December 2013 · Comments Off on Reprise – Favorite Christmas Carol · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General, Good God

Well, it’s a darned good thing this woman is a well-paid CEO, because she sure doesn’t have any skills for living in poverty, no good recipes for tasty, nourishing food, and seems to be innocent of any knowledge of coupon clipping, shopping the ‘reduced for quick sale’ case or the fact that dried beans and rice in bulk are always cheaper than the canned version. And blowing a good sixth of the weekly budget on prepared gourmet pasta sauce … spare me the tales of woe concerning your one week on a tight budget – I can tell you how I lived for a year in the early 1980s on a budget of 25$ every two weeks, plus another 10$ for sundries like detergent and diapers for my toddler daughter. (Advantage being that on weekdays, she had breakfast and lunch at the child care center.) Eggs, cheese, dried pastas, home-made sauces and casseroles, home-made applesauce from a box of apples from the farmer’s market, yoghurt brewed up in the yoghurt maker, and no meat protein that cost more than a dollar a pound. Yes, I shopped with a calculator in my hand, every payday, and usually finished out the day or so before payday with small change in my purse and a dollar or so in the bank account. Other enlisted military members at the time did pretty much the same and likely still do.

How on earth Ms. Moulton even got the notion that a single person or a family on food stamps must get along on that amount is a bit of a puzzle, for it seems that it is merely the amount which has been subtracted per month for a family of four. If the well-off want to see how the other half eats and budgets I would suggest an amount more in line with what a person on food stamps actually will be receiving … and then perhaps a quick consult with those of us who have actually had to pinch our food pennies for realsies until a booger came out of Lincoln’s nose.

36$ a week amounts to $144 monthly for a single person, $288 for a couple – and a whole $576 for the much-vaunted family of four. I could make that budget easily (and have), providing three good meals a day, and no one feeling hungry or tired of lentil stew. Yes, it means no prepared foods, lots of home baking, and getting certain items in case lots or in bulk – and giving a miss to places like Whole Foods. Looking at the comments attached to the linked article, I would guess that Ms Moulton is getting well-schooled along those lines.
Any tales of heroic food budgeting are welcome to be shared in comments

03. December 2013 · Comments Off on Miles Per Gallon · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry

Miles Per Gallon on Main Street

Dickens on Main, Boerne, Texas – December 2013

November already? I swear, where does the time go. At least we can turn off the AC – finally! – and open the windows. Although that does heighten our appreciation of our next door neighbor’s relations with his two basset hounds; one male who is alert and ready to give voice at any provocation, and one female who is quiet and sedate, and very likely pregnant. Well, when you have two young unfixed dogs of the opposite sex this kind of thing is gonna happen sooner or later. He has also not been able to housebreak them with any degree of reliability (although we have tried to tell him about crates) so they spend a large part of their day outside. This does mean that anyone who comes close to the front of either of our houses gets barked at, which does have some benefit. He has offered us one of the puppies, though.

We will have a booth at the Boerne Market Days this weekend; half with my books and half with Blondie’s origami art. This is her big roll-out for Paper Blossom Productions. She has been working away at various pieces for the last couple of months, and only this weekend got around to inventorying and packaging up a number of pieces … like $300 dollars worth of earrings featuring beads and miniscule origami cranes. I will have three plastic tubs of books – as this month is the roll-out for The Quivera Trail. Later on in the week we will turn from organizing inventory to organizing the display of it; stands, hooks, baskets and s-hooks and hangers, as well as table cloths to cover the tables with. The weather is predicted to be mild – neither too hot or too cold, which is a good thing. The Market Day is traditionally held on Town Square, under the shade of a massive stand of pecan trees, but we have to be there for two days, from 10 AM to 5. Having a broiling hot day, or a freezing cold and /or rainy one will be … uncomfortable, to say the least. This is the time of the year when I do most of the face-to-face book-selling – so, apologies in advance if the blogging is brief and to the point.

The land sale meant that there is a cushion of sorts to fall back on – and I was able to clear away one ongoing debt entirely, although having to have the transmission in Blondie’s Montero rebuilt entirely has delayed plans for replacing the windows in the house. Ah, well. On the bright side, she went through a lot of trouble early this year to procure health insurance for herself, believing our President’s assurances that if you had a plan you could keep it. So she went with an $87 a month plan from Humana – which she could afford without much stress on the budget. Call it The ACA-compliant plan offered by Humana as option B this last month cost $230. For now, she is sticking with option A, in the fond hopes that the whole unAffordable Healthcare Act will implode as terminally and as messily as the planetary monster transported through the digital conveyer on Galaxy Quest.
Spent part of the weekend setting up two crocks of homemade sauerkraut; yeah, we’ve gotten a taste for the stuff, and it couldn’t be easier and cheaper to do. Cabbage, 4 heads, finely shredded, and a scant cup of pickling salt. Pack tightly into a clean glass jar, ad a little brine to the top if the cabbage hasn’t exuded enough moisture to cover – and let ferment for three to six weeks. Then heat to a simmer, pack into hot canning jars, seal and process in boiling water. We’ve just eaten the last of the jars that I processed last summer. Oh, and the last of the mixed vegetable pickles as well, so here goes some time and fresh carrots, cauliflower, pearl onions and sliced cucumber the weekend after next to stock us up. We’re doing OK on jams and preserves, though – and still have some jars of pickled okra. And that’s our plans for the immediate future.

18. October 2013 · Comments Off on Accidental on Purpose · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Fun and Games, Politics, Tea Time, Technology

You know, I have never been one given to donning a tinfoil hat when it comes to pop-paranoid theories about this and that. I firmly believe that JFK was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald (a well-known commie-symp acting alone), that the Bilderbergers are nothing much more than a fantastically wealthy international social group (a kind of Chamber of Commerce on steroids) and that there aren’t any mysterious black helicopters flying from sooper-secrit bases in the American West – after all, the damn things have to come down sometime, be refueled, crewed and maintained somewhere, and as wide-open and thinly-populated as parts of the west are – a quasi-military base with an active flying mission cannot help but attract notice of the locals. Yes, I love to puncture conventional wisdom; it’s one of my hobbies. And yes, oh 9/11 Truthers … steel does indeed melt.

However, increasingly of late and upon considering the current administration, I do find myself looking speculatively at the roll of Reynolds-Wrap in the kitchen drawer. Gun-running to Mexican narco-traffickers, spilling confidential information on political opponents, the IRS coming down like a ton of bricks on Tea Party groups, the Park Service on members of the park-visiting public, the NSA listening to everyone, and whatever shenanigans was going on with regard to our consulate in Benghazi a little over a year ago … one cannot go wrong underestimating the veniality, or at very least, the competence of the Obama administration.
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16. August 2013 · Comments Off on OK, So I Worked as a Pop-music DJ for a While · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry, Geekery, History, Media Matters Not, sarcasm, That's Entertainment!

And I did notice certain musical trends, and many of them for the worst. Enjoy

… it was a farce the first time around, and then it comes around again? I speak of Anthony Wiener’s wiener, of which the candidate for the mayoralty of the Big Apple is so insensately proud that he continues thrusting it – or the pictorial evidence thereof – into the public sphere, through the medium of Twitter … which I categorically insist is a fiendishly clever means of proving celebrity idiocy beyond all doubt and ensuring life-time employment for their public relations experts. But I digress … and yes, the grade school impulse to make fun of someone with a thoroughly risible name is something one never quite outgrows.

But seriously, Mr. Huma Abedin – how stupid are you? How stupid do you think the voting public is, that you could offend with the sexts and the pics of your unclothed bod, humiliate yourself and your spouse, and for all I know, the rest of your family and your neighbors – and then turn right around and do it again! Usually reckless impulses of this pellucid-pure stupidity involve the phrase “Hold my beer and watch this!” and a Darwin Award nomination, but since this involves a member of the bi-coastal ruling elite, that famous last-words phrase likely didn’t apply.
Sigh. Look, y’all in New York, it’s all on your heads if he is to be your next mayor. On the positive side, maybe tweeting pics of the mayoral junk far and wide will just be seen as an amusing personal foible – and a welcome distraction from fussing about salt consumption and the availability of large soft drinks.

The injudicious use of which has led to Paula Deen being booted from the Food Network, never mind that she was speaking under oath, and is a lady of a certain age and of a background where the n-word was … well, I honestly can’t say how current was the use of that word back in Paula Deen’s early days. It’s certainly scattered generously all over 19th century literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn like chocolate sprinkles on a frosted Krispy Kreme donut, and piled on by the handful in the 20th century oeuvre of rap artists and edgy comedians of color.

It’s a word that I don’t use, myself. The very first time I brought it home – in the first grade, I think, having heard it on the playground, Mom landed on me like a ton of bricks. I don’t think I actually got my mouth washed out with soap – Mom wasn’t that old-school – but the lesson came through loud and clear. The n-word was not to be used, ever. The fact that I had gotten to the first grade, or thereabouts and had never heard it is likely a strong indication of how generally it was frowned upon in middle-class and mid-century So-Cal suburbs anyway. Matter of fact, I can’t even bring myself to use it in writing my own books, where it would certainly be appropriate and historically correct. I just can’t – I have to smooth it out and write it as it might very well have sounded phonetically. No, the use of racial epithets was frowned upon, as being low-class, tacky, and rude at home – and in the military it was even more strictly verboten. So there you are – very likely I could swear honestly and truthfully to never having used the n-word, ever.

I’ve never been particularly a fan of her show or her cooking; too much fried and way, way too rich for my taste, but I might be willing to extend some indulgence to Paula Deen, being of certain age myself. My daughter, though, is most definitely not inclined to indulgence, when it comes to the n-word, although I have repeatedly pointed out that the only people who seem to be able to wield it with impunity are the aforementioned rap artists and edgy comedians of non-pallor.

To judge from some of their output, if they couldn’t use it, there would go about a fifth of their vocabulary – but I digress. I only wish to point out the basic hypocrisy. If it is an ugly, demeaning and degrading term, then it ought to be across the board, without exception. One is reminded of how a certain kind of feminist wishes to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and proudly throws it about at slutwalks and such-like events, but comes totally unglued when the term is applied to say – Sandra Fluke, proud professional feminist.

So – circling back around to the original thought – Paula Deen dropped from the Food Channel for … essentially being honest, old-fashioned and perhaps consciously or unconsciously reflecting values of a different era and at somewhat at variance with the expected TV norms, and having the bad luck to be drawn into a legal imbroglio with a perhaps-vengeful former employee. One wonders … but I honestly don’t know enough about the case, or the people involved to venture any sort of opinion but this one; what if? (Firmly donning my tinfoil hat here…) What if the Food Network has established a preference for the young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy metrosexual male chefs/restaurateurs or decorative young to young-ish and non-threatening of the female variety, and that would account for the rush to ditch Paula Deen, simply for the crime of being not-young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy, etc.

If such is the case, I hope that Ree Drummond (rural, devout Christian, non-minority and home-schooling) has no skeletons in her metaphorical closet. Otherwise, she might very well be next on the chopping-block.

All academic to me, though – now that we have ditched cable and gone to a Roku box and a couple of paid subscriptions – but still food for thought, eh?

(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

22. April 2013 · Comments Off on Monday Music – Sting Sings John Dowland · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry, History, World

Enjoy. It’s controversial, apparently, that Sting took to singing 400+ year old pop music … but to each their own.

18. March 2013 · Comments Off on A Matter of Taste(r) · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Fun and Games, Politics, Stupidity · Tags: ,

It is apparently not news to anyone that the office of the President of the US involves a degree of security – to include an official food-taster, as medieval as that sounds. Been going on for years, apparently, so having a designated expert to cover food safety with regards to the President isn’t something to have a conniption fit over. So someone has to eat a couple of bites – a whole helping? from a dish prepared for the White House table, and if that person doesn’t fall over, gasping and foaming at the mouth, then it is OK for POTUS consumption. Got it. And yes, I do understand very well that security ought to be tight when it comes to food supplies and preparation for any President … but the recent story about President Obama sitting by at a private luncheon with GOP senators and not being able to eat a bite because his food taster hadn’t vetted the food first strikes me as a matter a little deeper and much more insulting than it has been played.
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25. February 2013 · Comments Off on Wait, Were the Oscars on Last Night? · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Media Matters Not, sarcasm, That's Entertainment!, Veteran's Affairs

Well, damn … so they were. They were written up in the media this morning, which was nice, I suppose. I skimmed the list of winners and noted that I had not gone to see any of them at all. This has been happening more and more often, of late. Curiously, those movies are being released on DVD almost as soon as they have premiered, so that ones’ chances of actually catching them in a theater are, shall we say, diminished. The only movie that we actually made an effort to go see was “The Hobbit” and we went all out to see it at the local Alamo Drafthouse, where we could get dinner and a drink in the theater along with the movie. If going to the theater to see a movie is the expense that it has become these days, might as well go all out. Getting back to the Oscars, I also skimmed the pics of the various personalities arriving, and didn’t see any outrageous get-ups, not like Bjorks’ infamous swan dress. The only big tizzy is that Michelle Obama appeared via remote feed to help present the best picture award. Sigh. There, too, oh Lord? Like Chicken Man, she’s everywhere, she’s everywhere! Just another reason not to watch self-reverential award shows for an increasingly incestuous industry. I might also get away with throwing in the observation that the old canard about Washington being show business for ugly people is in danger of being invalidated…

Sigh … where was I? Oh, yes, Hollywood and showbiz in general, and the fact that most of Hollywood’s shining stars seem perfectly willing to jump into bed, metaphorically speaking, with the Obama Administration. The thought of being a repeat guest at the White House must be a tempting prospect to the many Hollywood A-listers, and those who only dream of it … but still, there is a large chunk of the country who is not absolutely enamored of Barry O and M’Shell. I count myself among them, naturally – and I am given to wonder, if the Hollywood elite who are inclined to worship at the shrine of Obama won’t eventually pay a price for it, in popularity with the general public. I do know that my own household is maintaining an ever-growing list of personalities whose movies and shows we will no longer patronize, precisely because of this unfortunate tendency. As the cost of producing mainstream movies goes up, and as the general public picks and chooses more carefully, won’t this eventually begin to bite? Something to think about, anyway.

16. February 2013 · Comments Off on Bros Before Hoes – Classical Edition · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, World

When I was a kid, and hearing this on the classical station which was all my mother allowed on the house radio, I thought this was the most beautiful and lyrical thing I had ever heard. Presented for your edification with subtitles.

Yeah, so I’m a middlebrow with conventional tastes. Deal.

Trissie the cat, resting in the Nesco Roaster Oven & Slow Cooker

Trissie the cat, resting in the Nesco Roaster Oven & Slow Cooker

A news story in an English tabloid rather amused me today, as it listed the top ten little used kitchen appliances which might (or might not) be in the average English kitchen. Being the owner of a house with a painfully small kitchen, but one who still enjoys cooking – from scratch, yet – I will plead guilty to owning some under-used gadgets. Of course, at one time or another, things like the slow-cooker got a great deal more use. And before we began experimenting with the paleo-style diet, we did get a lot more use out of the bread-making machine. But at lease we can plead that we did not waste money on purchasing most of the underused gadgets. In some cases, we bought them second-hand, or at rummage sales, and so paid mere pennies, compared to the original price.

Looking down at the list, though – I wonder how some of these gadgets aren’t used more. I mean – a blender? I use the blender all the time, and the food processor, too. From the top of the list – a toasted sandwich maker. That’s one I don’t have, although I think my daughter had one, living in the barracks. And my father was very fond of making sandwiches in the stove-top non-electric croque-monsieur iron. A George Foreman-type grill is another kitchen tool which apparently 17% of English purchasers never use again – which is sad as I would really like one, especially the model which has the interchangeable, dishwasher-safe grill plates, and which can either lay out flat or be used as a Panini press. I do have a rather nice little one, picked up on sale at Williams-Sonoma; nice to use, a bear to clean afterwards, though. Kitchen scales – unused by 16%? Say what, then? Sorry, I have a cheap little one which I use all the time, and would love to replace it with a nice Victorian-style antique one with the interchangeable weights. Juicers are unused at the same rate as kitchen scales, but it’s a good and healthy thing that this means 84% of English owners of juicers are using them regularly. Bread-maker (also going %16 unused in England); we plead guilty to several, all of them bought at yard or rummage sales.

They seem to have been the gadget of choice for wedding presents, about fifteen years ago; they’re everywhere at second-hand sales, and usually barely – if ever- used by the original recipient.
Hand-blenders are next on the little-list, at %15 unused. That is one I don’t have, or even thought about buying. Seems kind of pointless, when I have a selection of balloon whisks handy. And finally, rounding out the little-used list, at %14 percent – a coffee machine. I don’t have one … for the very good reason that I don’t drink coffee. Lately though, the very high-end cappuccino machines seem to have taken the place of bread-making machines as the go-to gadget for up-scale presents, so my daughter – who does drink coffee and is known as the Queen of All Garage Sales – looks forward to seeing them available at thrift shops and yard sales.

In the foundation-legend of the Swiss confederacy, Alberect Gessler was a cruel and tyrannical overlord installed by the Austrians, who installed his hat atop a pole in the public marketplace and decreed that all should bow to it … to his hat, not merely his person. Such a declaration was, I think, a way of rubbing in his authority over the common citizens – indeed, rubbing their noses in the fact that he could make them do so, and do so in front of everyone else.

Having read now and again of small businesses run by devout Christians, such event venues, a bakery doing wedding cakes, or a wedding photographer, even a bed and breakfast refusing to provide a good or a service to a gay couple, I am lead to wonder if this isn’t a kind of Gessler’s hat, metamorphosed to the 21st century. Of course, in this best of all possible worlds, anyone’s money ought to be as good as anyone elses’. And in the case of some of the complainants, loud comparisons are made, comparing the way in which small businesses dealt – or didn’t deal at all – with customers of the African-American variety, fifty years and more ago. Left unsaid, but still implied is a kind of smug satisfaction that devout Christians will be called to heel just as unrepentant racists were.

Somehow, I can’t be so certain of that outcome. Browbeating and bringing suit against the religiously observant into compliance with society’s dictates most usually has the opposite of effect intended, even if superficial compliance is eventually gained. Devout and observant Christians do make up a larger portion of the population than gays – who for all their prominence in media and entertainment, still only comprise less than 3% of the population overall – if that. African-Americans, give or take a couple of percentage points either way are at about %12, which is probably not a market segment which can be ignored by someone selling services or a product.

So, can you refuse service to a member of the public, and for what reason? Do you need a reason? Or will just a polite demurral do, such as “I am so sorry, we can’t fit that into our schedule” ? Making the question a little more complicated – will any religion do? Suppose a Jewish photographer didn’t want to photograph a Catholic quinceanera celebration, or a Muslim-owned halal caterer refused to provide food for a specifically Jewish or Christian event? Seriously, even if such a thing happened in the real world, I can’t imagine the customer getting too bent out of shape by the refusal – unless the refusal was couched in less than tactful language.

So what are we to make of stories such as those that I linked, and others of the same sort? I am pretty sure that it’s not so much a question of civil rights for a very small, but socially influential minority at issue here. Rather, it’s a metaphorical Gesseler’s Hat, for which is not sufficient to merely tolerate – all must be seen to approve, and in loud voices in the public square. Discuss.

It’s been another one of those weeks, blog-fans … now, I do want you all (all both of you) to put your hands together and welcome back Radar, a contributor from away back, who has decided to get back into long-form blogging again. Yay, Radar! Welcome home!

As for the rest of it … well, welcome to interesting times. Now it is something like six weeks, give or take a handful of days until Election Day, and honestly, it cannot come too soon for me. Every week and every day there’s some new bit o’drama inflated by the lapdog mainstream media into something that spells Certain Doom for Romney/Ryan, and Glorious Victory for the Dear Leader. A sooper secrit recording of Romney talking to fundraisers and being bluntly honest that a certain percentage of potential voters probably wouldn’t vote for him and upset their entitlement applecart … oooh! Gaffe of the week, according to all the talking and editorial heads. That a good number of the conservative-libertarian blogger types taking note of all this would not have disagreed with this insight – although the exact percentage might be open for discussion – appears to be something that the usual media lapdogs have chosen to ignore. Also – that the tape was edited, and Jimmy Carter’s hapless grandson chose to do his bit for the Dems … jeese, doesn’t he have a real job to go to? Apparently many of these Millennial’s don’t. The Daughter Unit, better known as Blondie does – having several different jobs to go to, none of which offer health care benefits. Not a shock, considering that some of them are part-time, and for the rest, she is an independent contractor – and is qualified to go to the VA.

OK – back to election matters – wish I may, wish I might – know why Mittens Romney is the party of the clueless, disconnected rich, Thurston Howell-type … whereas, a candidate who has a fund-raising event at a venue owned by a fabulously wealthy rap music* entrepreneur and his performer wife featuring a tower made of $800 bottles of champagne and charging $40,000 a plate for the privilege is a defender of the downtrodden middle- and working-class. This is probably one of those mysteries, like that of Hollywood blockbusters which never turn a profit to pay off the hapless actors and writers who signed contracts for a percentage of the net profits.

But $800 bottles of champagne, all in gold – Talk about ghetto fabulous. I’ll shudder over the gross vulgarity of that and move on, while noting that if the stuff tastes any better than Crystal, I’ll be mildly surprised. And Blondie has sampled Crystal – through the offices of a date with a surfer dude she met in Ocean Beach, once upon a time. She tells me it didn’t taste any better than the $6 supermarket champagne that we buy for celebrating the New Year.

It does look as if the O-Man did, in his rounds of entertainment and talk shows, actually stumble into some real reporters, prepared to ask hard questions instead of the usually softly thrown Nerf ball. Just a hint, big guy – the local Hispanic community does care very much about what has been happening south of the US border for quite a while. Fast and Furious has managed to kill hundreds of Mexican citizens, many of them innocent bystanders to the drug gang wars. Meanwhile, the rest of us look at the Middle East going up in flames, and wonder if a brand-new Obama campaign motto and a logo featuring a re-imagining of the US flag with stripes bearing a curious resemblance to the dragging finger-marks made in blood on the doorway of the US consulate in Benghazi was all that good an idea. Your mileage may vary, however.

Let’s see … is Twitter a means for hapless celebrities to reveal themselves once and for all as utter morons and/or bigots? I guess so; the evidence is compiled at Twitchy. Alas, it looks like Bette Midler joins my steadily lengthening list of stars and personalities who have so pissed me off that I will never pay money for anything they are in. Bette, Bette, Bette … we do not, in fact, have a blasphemy law in this country. Citizens may not be arrested for saying things that embarrass the government or an established religion … and if they were, then Andres Serrano and the producer of The Book of Mormon would be in big, big trouble.

And that was my week – yours?

(* insert viciously skeptica quote marks around that word)

The Cure – reminded of this by those nice folks at Ace of Spades HQ.

I was very fond of this song, when it was first popular, and when it was in our reocurring hit-list, because the musical up-ramp to it was just about a minute long, and when I used it as the last song in the playlist at the end of an hour, I could do an outro, promo the next hour and read about half of the spot reader book over that mad minute of music.

Enjoy, y’all.

You know, I meant to do this on Monday, for part of my Monday Morning Miscellany series, but I had a deadline or two, and the time and writing energy just got away from me … but all to the good, for the last five days have actually provided something to muse upon, in these dog days of summer. (Fittingly called the dog days, as one of them is curled up underneath my desk at this very moment.)
The first of these is that Newsweek – tottering towards it’s nearly inevitable doom – has either recovered something of its journalistic backbone, or thrown caution to the winds and tried to win back those droves of disgusted conservatives and libertarians by doing a cover story suggesting that it might be best for all if the Dear Leader start packing. I couldn’t have been more astonished to hear the White House Press Corpse-men suddenly break out singing, “Hit the Road Jack, Don’t You Come Back, No More, No More,” in four-part a-capella harmony during the morning White House briefing . Not surprised that a pop historian like Niall Ferguson should say so, but in Newsweek? The deeply cynical opine that it’s a sort of “Get out of Jail” marker, against future accusations of being biased in favor of the Dear Leader – so at a later date, they can say in their defense, “We did too criticize him, so there!” I wonder if it isn’t one last vain attempt to cut themselves free from the sinking USS Obama, seeing that the ship is going down by the head, the engine room is flooding rapidly, and the last lifeboats are being lowered.

Further indication that the White House Press Corpse is perhaps less enamored of the Dear Leader lately is this recent picture … captured by a Reuters photog. Further comment would be superfluous … but somehow one senses that the bloom of enchantment with Dear Leader is pretty much wearing off with the working press stiffs.
And as for our own Mittens, our hero in the upcoming joust in the 2012 campaign lists … the phrase “Bless your/his/her heart” is a somewhat loaded one, in flyover-country-speak. It can be a mild and gently charitable wish for the person of whom it is said to have a nice day … but when said in a certain tone of voice and under certain circumstances by certain practitioners of the passive-aggressive arts (usually but not always Southern ladies of a certain age) the unstated meaning is a suggestion that the person referred to should sodomize themselves with a rusty chain-saw … or something even more painful and humiliating. Glad to clear that up for my bi-coastal and international readers. Moving on …

And it seems to be true that the Obama campaign is stiffing host communities on paying for the additional expenses attendant on hosting a Presidential event in their dear little towns. Whereas the Romney/Ryan campaign is paying up front, even paying in advance. Seriously, I wonder how long this kind of thing – stiffing cities and municipalities for the extra expense of having Dear Leader swoop into town for an event – can go on without serious repercussions. A pattern? Do bears perform ablutions in the woods? IIRC, Los Angeles commuters got pretty darned tired of the Presidential motorcade making traffic a nightmare … or more of a nightmare than usual, whenever he attended a Hollywood event.

The Todd Akin rape kerfuffle … hard to know what to say about that; he is not running for office in a district where I vote, and the suspicion remains that if a sentiment so dubious and so clumsily expressed were mouthed by a candidate with a D after his or her name, it would get the full-enable treatment. Still – a clear pitfall, in the question posed to him and a bad response to it. Seriously, if you need follow-up explanations, clarifications and footnotes about what you said – then you have not put the best foot forward … unless that foot is comfortably lodged in your mouth up to the kneecap. I note that the gentleman in question is a long-term establishment Repub, which in my way of thinking is at least one strike against him. The other strike being that if you cannot enunciate what you mean, clearly and unmistakably, without legions of commenters arriving on gossamer wings on a mission to disentangle you from your thoughts … then perhaps you should consider another career, outside politics. One mush-mouthed, gaffe-producing and deeply confused career politician of Social Security age at a time, please – and that slot is already filled bountifully by Joe Biden. Alas, the only useful suggestion I have for GOP/Independent/Tea Party voters in Mr. Akin’s district is to consider a write-in vote, and to campaign on that basis over the next two months and a bit.

And finally, Prince Harry in the tabloids after a loosing round of strip pool in Los Vegas. Hmmmm, yes. Very nice and thank you, sweetie. Now put on your trousers before you catch your death of cold, as your Gran is going to be pretty pissed for a while.

And that was my week; yours?