One More…

Here’s another interesting bit about making use of resources.

One Sunday morning at some long-distant re-enactment, the BadGuy camp ( the Confederates ) decided to all pitch in on a communal breakfast because everyone seemed to be running low on stuff, but we could put up a pretty good table if everyone contributed; so ten separate campfires all kicked in together.

All I had to offer was a pound of bacon and four large sweet potatoes. I had used up all my other stuff in making a what-should-have-been a terrific chicken stew the night before in my three-legged pot ( one day old ). But I had thrown in a few cayenne peppers from the garden, and it was so hot that it had to be declared inedible. I tried diluting the broth, but then had to wait hours for it all to reheat. In the meantime, the pale and wan faces of all the battalion’s privates had taken on a truly pathetic countenance. ( Many people will show up for two or three nights of camping with a canteen of tap water and a box of Cheez-its. ) We had one young man whose tent would be littered with Killian’s bottles, pepperoni, and Twinkies wrappers by Sunday; he was often visited by the local wildlife ( the bear, raccoon, and we-hope- that -was- not-what-we-thought-it-was whisperer.

I  cooked the bacon, of course; and then tried frying thickly sliced sweet potatoes in the renderings. This turned out wonderfully, but had heart attack written all over it.

But the discovery ended up being very well-received, and was therefore usually repeated on consequent Sunday mornings. I would typically make something for the camp on Sundays anyway, being a bit of a mother hen; after all, I would likely be leading them once again to their deaths later in the day.

A Yankee contingency even began to make unusual regular Sunday visits; I suspected that the now re-knowned sweet potatoes might have been at the root of this. We would have cups of black camp coffee, bacon, eggs, biscuits, and fried sweet potatoes with the godless Yankees, who once even brought strawberry short-cake; apparently, even a black Yankee soul might yet be redeemed through the whipping of fresh cream for the strawberries.

And then it was off to an open-air church service to see if one’s last functioning artery might still be spared.

On yet another side note, I recall my first Sunday service; the regular pastor was not in attendance, and the senior captain had been called on to conduct the service. After some truly terrible singing, it turned into an impromptu AA meeting.

The best of times.


Update ( Leadville )…

The other day, I happened to see a movie.

It sported the usual array of primary and secondary characters and a somewhat fantastical main plot.

The thing that caught my attention about this one in particular; its uncanny resemblance to our old Leadville novel, in one regard.

It was set against the same outline and framework; what happens to normal people in a small-town setting when extraordinary things begin to happen all around them. Of course it all works out nicely in the end, as they do.

It’s called Super 8.

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  

More Soup…

It all started with the French Onion soup.

I was enjoying this perennial favorite one day, and was pondering why it is always recommended that the bread used should be a day old. ” Why not use fresh bread? ” I thought. ” What’s the difference, it’s going to be in the broth, under the cheese anyway…”

So I ate and thought. I’m much better at one than at the other, so understandably this could take a while. And there may be an awful lot of soup involved.

There was an awful lot of soup involved. All kinds of soup…months of diligent research…and finally, as I was enjoying yet another wonderful French Onion…

There was a Soup Revelation. The fuzzy cloud that my brain spends most of its time suspended in parted, and the Truth About Soup came shining through.

Starkly, shockingly simple. I dropped my spoon and gaped into the bowl; beyond the melted cheese, through the bread, and straight into the onion broth.

It’s not about a classic refined French recipe. There was never a damned recipe.

You used lots of onions because you had lots of onions; you used old bread while it was still barely usable. And you scraped the mold from old cheese and melted the usable part over the top… or maybe just used it all. A little mold never killed anyone…or has it?  There was only one way to find out.

It’s about not wasting resources.

The further back you go in history, the more important that edict becomes; people had to work harder and harder to acquire their food items. And frontiersmen and farmers were still only a few steps removed from the immediate risks that the early hunters had to take.

Food was  not just vital, but eminently sacred; a failed hunt or crop meant that people died. And saying grace over food was a heartfelt thanks, because they had risked everything to get it. To waste it would be…dare we use such an arcane word in the 21st century…a sin.

Soup goes back in history about 6000 years; as soon as clay pots became usable over fire. There was just one recipe; anything in danger of going to waste that would fit in the pot went into the pot. Actual recipes probably took centuries to become what they are today.

And why is soup always the first course served? Because you always used the leftovers first; less chance of waste. Nothing very refined about it. Don’t waste food.

I have tested my Ancient Soup Theory. I have a three- legged black wrought iron cooking pot that goes to re-enactments with me. I have successfully made French Onion soup over an open fire, using old onions, old cheese, old bread. It came out beautifully.

I absorbed all this from a bowl of soup ( my little French Onion joke) and might I suggest that you also try staring deeply and intently at your next meal. There’s a lot going on there. Your lunch may be trying to tell you something. Even if it’s from a drive-up window. Just make sure to take it out of the bag first, because staring at a bag is just weird.

And don’t even mention pizza…pizza just won’t shut up.


Pease Porridge hot, Pease Porridge cold…Pease Porridge in the pot, Nine Days Old…”

Soup in the Wild…

Oddly, many of my most vivid recollections and memories are anchored to food.

Should I happen across an ice cream sandwich, parslied potatoes, chocolate cake with white icing, pizza strips…I am reminded instantly of steel cafeteria trays, small glass bottles of milk that cost 4 cents each…and of course, the angst that goes along with being 12 years old in junior high school. Girls, who previously seemed OK with my existence, had apparently had a meeting…

 I have been known to make a chocolate sheet cake with white icing, cut it into proper squares, and serve them on waxed paper, but only in September; one wants also to recollect the additional angst of the summer being over, and returning to school. The Full Angst Effect.

And here is a similar story from adulthood; this one is angst-free.

I’ve spent several years in the oddly satisfying hobby of civil war re-enacting. I’m sort of retired now, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the outdoors. It is especially good for families with kids; it provides a perfect environment for them to spend whole days running and playing in complete freedom, with someone nearby at all times.

On one October weekend years ago, I was attending an event in Uxbridge, Mass. The weather was spectacular; clear blue sky, brilliant maple leaves everywhere; the air was perfectly warm and perfectly cool at the same time. Food prepared over an open fire, and fine comfortable conditions for sleeping in camp.

Saturday nights were the very best. A  roaring fire, encircled by good friends, all with beverage of choice in hand; tucked into your woolen greatcoat against the chill. Music, sudden bursts of standup comedy, good stories…

But this particular Saturday had brought sudden rain, which quickly turned to a full gale. All the campfires were drowned out, tents were pulled up by the wind, and many chose the better part of valor and packed it in. In my company, the 21st Mississippi, we decided that we’d be just as drowned in breaking camp, so opted to hold on. Tent floors were all washed through, and for those who slept on the ground it would be a truly miserable night. I was an officer, and could get away with a folding cot; I would be fine as long as the tent held on.

By late afternoon, we were huddled miserably under our tent fly. There was no hope of supper; we were reduced to crackers and cold coffee ( with a bit of Jameson’s, strictly for emergency use only…)

And then, in the distance… a lone SUV was seen climbing the long road up to our camp. All who were going were long gone, so we wondered who might be unhinged enough to be driving towards this mess of their own free will.

It was Paulette, Gary‘s wife. Gary was one of our privates ( and a VP of Putnam Investments in the real world ) Paulette usually attended events, but never stayed in camp; day-trip only. Gary slept in two woolen blankets on the ground, and that was a bit too far for her.

She backed her SUV into camp, opened the hatch…and started unloading dutch ovens. Five altogether; piping hot, they traveled on cooling racks and didn’t lose a drop in transport.

I’m sure that the Berlin Airlift never received a warmer welcome.

She had made us supper, all from scratch; knew that we would not have gone home, and drove it all out to us.

She also had a fever of 104 the whole time.

One oven had apple cobbler; another two with corn bread made with corn cut right off the cob, and jalapenos; one with biscuits, and one with the main course; a chunky butternut squash soup, with butter beans and ham; and a half-gallon of hot mulled cider.

We were all saved; we devoured that meal with Pentecostal abandon. We praised Paulette to the very skies. We even shared some with a few Yankee friends who wondered what all the ruckus was about; they, in turn, worshipped at Paulette’s fevered feet.

It was really, really good.

And when it was all gone, Pvt. Gary drove her 20 miles home, saw her safely to bed; then drove 20 miles back…and slept in two wet woolen blankets in the mud.

Some people…always seem to rise above circumstance.

I have actually dreamt about that soup. That soup has been fondly recalled over many campfires since, and people still speak of the cornbread in hushed tones. Paulette launched herself into culinary history that day, and when asked for the recipes…she doesn’t exactly recall. She was winging it.

That actually makes it even better.


Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In The Beginning…( Posts About Food )

 English: Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake w...

…there was really only one all-purpose recipe. It served everyone equally well.

Chase it, catch it, kill it, eat it. And since they didn’t have index cards yet, I’m sure that there was a lot of memorization going on; with the occasional pop quiz. ( Dammit, what was number three again? )

Or, the equally viable alternative;

It chases you, it catches you, it kills you, it eats you.

Most days, it could go either way.

Early dining may not have been terribly sophisticated, but it was certainly dramatic enough. On a good day, you were only one step removed from your food source; on a bad day, there were no steps at all, because you were the food source.

And then there was fire ( along with National Grid to regulate it, I suppose )… and life got much better.

Because now… there was roasting. Food tasted better, was much safer, and would keep longer. Survival rates went way up. National Grid instituted their first rate increase…

But now, early people were two steps removed from their food source;  procurement, and preparation.

So rudimentary society began to form around campfires, and soon after, recipes were being exchanged. Tribes were formed based on one’s preference for barbecue sauce or a dry rub. Early cave drawings in the south of France included a Samsung 24-c.u. side-by-side with water and ice on the door, packaged with a Jenn-Air cooktop ( free delivery w/ rebate, once the wheel is invented; special order only, once Sears is invented)  Bobby Flay’s ancestors began a rough draft of the first grilling cookbook ( The Joy of Killing ) and the first Food Network series went into pre- production ( Iron Chef  Caught Your Dog…Sorry! ) Admittedly, plating was going to be an issue.

And nowadays, there are so many steps separating modern man from his food sources that we no longer even care that there are steps involved at all. It’s traumatic enough just having to keep track of all the new kinds of Oreos. ( Gluten-free lo-carb whole wheat double-stuffed with flaxseed and zesty guacamole filling…)

Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where Oreos are good for you. Oreos may be the last dignified form of suicide that we have left.  And, I’ll have whole milk with ’em, too.  I just don’t care anymore…

English: Double Stuf Oreos, by Nabisco.

Rumor has it that Jack Kevorkian owned stock in Hostess Twinkies…just an urban legend, I suppose. But they found six cases in the trunk of his car…

Recipe tip: 4 oreos= 1 twinkie.

In Texas, you can get deep- fried twinkies at the state fair. Mother of God, you would have had better odds of survival if you were defending the Alamo…


And on our next food-oriented post…Paulette, the Soup Angel.


For those of you who might care…

Jerry Gaskill ( King’s X ) has recovered well enough from his heart attack to be declared ok to go back to work by his doctors. Yay!!

King’s X will be touring with Kansas, have three gigs booked and adding more. This would prove to be an excellent show if they happen to play through your respective necks of the woods. Come on, dammit, let some of those moths out of that papyrus wallet of  yours and show some support…just sayin’.

On the home front, the hair is filling back in around my styling mishap of last week. Children have stopped racing for the protection of their mother’s aprons ( difficult, there just aren’t that many aprons around any more; typical to see one apron with 46 kids crowded in behind it).

 Not nearly as traumatic as a heart incident, but I still get a little verklempt just thinking about it…

Very good to know that Msrs. Gaskill/Tabor/Pinnock will continue to be out there fighting the good fight.

End transmission.

Now everyone will want one…

All is vanity.

Especially hair.

Or rather the lack of it, in particular places.

No one ever seems overly concerned with the abundance of it in other places.

So it’s not a ‘ quantity’ thing.

It’s purely a vanity thing.

But when you wake up to realize that you suddenly have Flock of Seagulls hair, then it’s best to address the problematic protein before the authorities are summoned.

The authorities would presume that such a thing came into being on purpose; they  would never suspect that Flock of Seagulls hair descends on the innocent like a thief in the night, poisoning relationships, altering career paths, and traumatizing children. Dogs bark…cats begin to howl…

I drove quickly and with determination to the local barber guy. He’s a bit older than I am, always cuts a bit too starkly short, but that’s all right. All is vanity, remember. I got past all that a while ago.

He wasn’t there.

His kid was. The one who started working there about a year ago; the one who cuts all the young guys’ hair, and somehow messes up anyone else. Been there, done that.

I drove home again. Not today, Kanye West…not today.

Long story short…Barber in a Box. One of the many thousands of gizmos that my living quarters are overrun with; every kitchen counter-top device known to man, assembled for posterity by She Who Is Driven To Purchase Every Kitchen Counter-Top Device Known To Man for Posterity.

It’s been lurking for years, just like the Salad Shooters and Onion Smashers, the Panini Makers, the Crockpots of various sizes and shapes…Dr. Seuss gone completely mad.

Of course, my junk is not included. My stuff has an elegantly engineered and divinely inspired Purpose. That much is obvious.

It was going surprisingly well. I did it myself; it’s actually quite a practical little device, and really easy to use. It has these little ‘spacer’ things that go over the blade, so that you can only cut to that particular length. Pretty simple. And I was really enjoying getting the upper hand on Kanye the Fake Barber.

Almost done, and there was just a small bit in the back that I couldn’t quite get to…so I asked Sandra to assist ( SWIDTPECTDKTMP).

She did so; reluctantly, hesitantly.

She was apparently going to trim two atoms of hair off at a time. This could take weeks.

I took the device from her, meaning to show her just how much pressure could be applied; the little spacer thingie was designed to prevent unfortunate mistakes. Says so right on the box; it even shows a little kid using it.

But…as I brought it up behind my head, the little spacer thingie slipped off. I didn’t see that, and I ran the last pass right up the back with a bare blade.

In almost twenty years time, I have certainly heard the poor girl scream, cry, and laugh…but never all at the same time.

I laughed too, at first. It kind of looks like a crop circle from a distance. Up close, it has more of a reddish, mangy hue. Diseased.

But now… I’ll have to saunter past the barber shop, desperately hoping that the fake barber might spot a new trend on the rise. Kanye wouldn’t want to be seen as uncool, would he? I’ll tell him that I got it in New York for only $200.

It could work.

All is vanity.

Published in: on July 3, 2012 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment