Beetle Juice

Shellac Flakes. Don’t say Beetle Juice Three Times in a Row.

Most people don’t know that they eat one of the main ingredients in one of the best wood finishes regularly, and that it comes from a bug, but that doesn’t bother me that much. Like my man HD Thoreau, “Yet, for my part, I was never usually squeamish; I could sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it were necessary.” It all depends on how good the relish is.

The wood finish I am referring to is shellac, which is essentially the secretions of the Asian Lac beetle, dissolved in denatured alcohol. There are a thousand recipes for proportions to be used, and I would refer you to Shellac.com. They also list eight main colors of shellac flakes, though most of those shades can be made with just these three.

People who eat sweets are the main ones who are likely to be eating beetle juice. US manufacturers of sweets use all manner of euphemisms for bug juice, such as confectioner’s glaze or candy glaze. It’s really bug juice, but people like to eat things that are bright and shiny. Why, I don’t know.

Also check for Natural Red #4 on the ingredient list. That’s squashed Cochineal bugs, which get the red color from cactus. The Aztecs used them for red dye.

Bugs. It’s what’s for dinner. And the dinner table.

January Blooms

Our Favorite Crocus

One advantage of enduring the heat of a Southern summer is that we get great vegetables in the summer, and great blooms all winter long. Blooming right now is one of our favorite crocus plants. The rare shrub Neviusia alabamensis will be next.

MJ and I have something of a sentimental attachment to crocus, as we both have birthdays next month, during peak crocus season. The two of us teamed up to make this art work:

Enjoy the Cold Weather

The cross stitched sampler is based on a Danish design, and naturally, MJ did that. I made the the oak frame, and did the ball and sausage carving. Fairly simple carving, but another classic design.

Our spring is only a few weeks away, and I have a new crop to experiment with–olives. Mr. Jefferson would be proud, as he could never get them to grow.

French Chickens are Now Legally Allowed to Make as Much Noise as They Want To

Cackle Away, Frenchies

Once again on the subject of I wish I could make this stuff up, the French Senate has just finalized a law saying that country chickens can crow and cluck as much as they want to. “Neo-Rurals,” aka rich people who buy country vacation homes, have filed a number of lawsuits regarding chickens, ducks, and geese, who disrupted their bourgeois lives. No more.

The final straw, so to speak, was a rooster named Maurice. The saucy fellow would crow every morning at dawn, and in 2019, his owners were sued because of the noise–a kind of disturbing the peace, of the chicken variety. Maurice became a celebrity chicken, with petitions signed to support him. Go Mo!

Once again, the great journalists at Agence France Presse are on this like a chicken on a June bug, as we say here in the South. Here’s a quote from them:

“Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,” Joel Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers.

Agence France Presse

The French have a Minister for Rural Life? I want that job. Until I get it, I will just feed my chickens.

Presidential Pie for the Inauguration Day

Emma and Siegfried Wish You a Hippy Inauguration Day

I have been waiting for just the right opportunity to make this pie, and here it is. It’s a combination sweet potato and pecan pie, and it only has about ten million calories in it. It was also the favorite pie of one President Obama. Naturally, it’s from a bakery in Virginia.

A digression here: since Mr. Jefferson of Virginia was asked to write the constitution for the first French Republic (he declined,) let’s have a few lines of the French national anthem.

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé, 

“Arise, Children of Patriots,

The Day of Glory has Arrived!

Against us, the Tyrant’s banners

Are elevated.”

Damn skippy. Now, back to pie.

The origin of this pie is Red Truck Bakery in northern Virginia, and the genius behind it is Brian Noyes. Go buy his cook book.

Ingredients

1 Creole Pie Crust (more Southern than the original. I really can’t follow a recipe very well.)

Hickory Nuts (not in the original recipe. See above. As it turned out, mine were all ruined anyway.)

Baked and mashed Sweet Taters, Precious

1 Egg

1 Cup Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Whipping Cream

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Bourbon (as much as you dare)

Fill up half the pie dish. That’s plenty.

That’s just the bottom layer. To quote Will Shakespeare, “I will call it Bottom’s dream.” Quoted out of context as usual. Now to the pecan top layer, which is the scary part.

Ingredients

2 Eggs

1/2 cup Sugar

1/4 cup Sorghum Syrup (VERY southern)

Some Bourbon and Cinnamon

2 tablespoons melted Butter

Pinch of Salt

Here’s where I really depart from the recipe: corn syrup, as called for, is verboten in our kitchen so we improvised a replacement.

Honey

Maple Syrup

1 tablespoon Flour

A layer of Pecan Halves

The last ingredient is a thickener. The result is a masterpiece.

“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.” Or at least for Couple of Days

The crust is a bit ragged, but it will have a short life anyway. Handsome Joe and Handsome Kamala should drop by for a bite. Otherwise I am gaining several pounds.

Shirley the Sheep, Australian Shepherd Version

A Comfy Spot–Leaves on Concrete

Emma the Aussie is a big dog. She spends her days sleeping in the sun, and her nights on the dog bed. At 70+ pounds, she is far past the size of a registered Aussie. Think Shirley the Sheep from the great show Shaun the Sheep, who was three times larger than the rest of the flock.

Her sleeping habits surprised us the other day. She came to snooze on our couch downstairs, and to have me scratch her back at the same time. As soon as I started, a worm looking creature came crawling out of her fur. I grabbed it, yelled, and threw it on the floor.

The ever logical MJ inspected it, as it was sine curving it’s way across the floor, and said, “It’s a salamander.” That is the signature amphibian of the southern Appalachians, and I have seen tiny ones, up to ones more than two feet long (re: Hellbender.) I liberated it back outdoors.

I created a limerick to celebrate this episode:

There once was dog name of Emma,

Who found herself in a dilemma.

She had no tale to tell,

About her lack of a tail,

Although she was quite a femina.

Isn’t this called Dog-gerel verse?

Woven White Oak Wood Baskets

A Complete Masterpiece

That’s a white oak basket, made by an elderly Black gentleman from Montgomery county, Alabama. We purchased this back in the 1980’s. The oak splints are finely split and woven. We honor his incomparable craftsmanship and legacy by storing all our veg seeds in it. No one else that we know has ever seen a hinged handle like that.

Another masterwork from an equally elderly Black gentleman named John Reeves, which we bought in the eighties in the town of Gay, Georgia (population: 92.).

Sturdy Basket

This thing could haul an orchard full of apples. However, it can’t touch our mac Daddy basket, when it comes to payload.

Quilt Heaven

That’s a cotton basket, once common everywhere in the South. I get to add that I am one of the last generation to pick cotton by hand. It would take a good long while to fill up this thing. Made in my home county of Cullman, Al.

My Handiwork

An earring rack for MJ to house just a few of her immense stash of earrings. It’s what to do with dead Mountain Laurel.

Seven Dirty Food Terms You Should Never Use

A decade or so back, I went to a job interview in a building with bars on the windows, and I had to be given a security code to get in the door. Then one of the women interviewing me called me the following:

A Foodie

I had just enough restraint to not slap her up both sides of her head. Everyone alive eats food. I probably should have called her an alcoholic.

Mouth Feel

You can only use this term if you own a high class brothel.

Fork Tender

Stick a fork in it. That term is so last century.

Cheap Recipes

Seriously? I have a recipe for acorn flour (actually, I do.)

Paper Thin

Get out your micrometer. Don’t cook anything that thin for more than ten seconds, and never get it hotter than 451 F. See Ray Bradbury.

Tantalizing

No comment.

Neo Nazi

A food term? This requires a brief dissertation. Anything that begins with the word “neo” is to be avoided, if not shunned. You are either a nazi and a fascist, or you are not. I am only waiting for someone to use the phrase neo foodie. Oh snap, I just did.

My favorite job interview was where I was asked, “Have you ever been too drunk to fish?” My answer was “No, but you don’t know how much I like to fish.” They offered me the job almost immediately.

Apologies to the late great George Carlin.

Cracking the Code on Tempera Paint

When the temps hit freezing here in the South, many people go into semi-hibernation. Not me–I’m as busy as a porcupine sticking spines into the mouth of a fox. I think I have a paint recipe that doesn’t require ten coats to cover something. It may take even only one.

New Tempera

2/3 cup Boiled Linseed Oil

1 Egg

1/3 cup Water

3 tablespoons Pigment

Mix them together in that order. The extra oil and pigment make this is a nice thick paint. I must have been channeling my hero Sandro Botticelli. My covid mask has a print of the Birth of Venus on it. Thus far, no one has objected to the nudity–on the mask, that is.

Lemon Chicken

Where’s the Chicken?

My main man HD Thoreau wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” I have done this with my lemon chicken recipe, which I have been obsessed with for years.

Sauce

Juice of one large Meyer Lemon (or two smaller other lemons)

Sugar

That’s it. MJ and I ate this dish a hundred times at a Chinese restaurant in Tuscaloosa, and it took me years to realize the Zen truth of simplicity.

Chicken

Cubed Chicken Breast

Cornstarch

Salt and Pepper

Peanut Oil

The last is for deep frying, and an inch and a half is enough. Serve with rice and green peas. Nosh away, as this is fantastic.

Blooming Today. Where Baby Lemons Come from.

Just writing this makes me hungry again.

Shirred Eggs with Ham

Health Food

Everyone has a recipe like this, but add real eggs and real ham, along with fresh herbs, and you have a real breakfast, or an anytime dish for two, for that matter. Cut directly to the chase, with two ramekins/custard cups.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 Eggs (or more)

Cream

Diced Ham

Diced Onion or Shallot

Toppings: Grated Cheese and Chives

Cook this in a bain-marie, a hot water bath, a method which allegedly was invented by an alchemist named Mary. How she got in all that hot water we’ll never know. I crank up the stove to 550 F. This can also be cooked on the stove top.

How much cream, ham, and onion? Fairly small quantities, but let your conscience and doctor guide you. The cheese makes this a gooey work of art. It’s done when the cream bubbles.

Tomatoes, in season, make this the best egg dish imaginable-wild cherry tomatoes are the best, cooked whole in the dish. Complaining about having your favorite fruit being out of season is as old as ancient music. Oh, snap, that’s the title to a great satirical poem by Ezra Pound.

Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

Comment: Tomatoes, come back, we love you.