This Fort Walton Beach possum allegedly stole a $30 bottle of good French Cognac from a liquor store, and drank it all. It was given fluids (?), and relocated to a wildlife refuge. Whether or not it went through rehab is not reported.
Month: February 2020
I just have to begin with one of my favorite poems. This was actually the first poem I ever taught in a college class, when I was an old man of twenty.
“I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Who would have thought Walt Whitman was into atomic theory? That influenced me into turning these crap taco shells, and their crap packaging, into their individual atoms.
Hereby hangs a tale.
My wife Melanie Jane decided she had a hankering for some really crispy Tacos, of the restaurant variety. I said I could make some shells, but she insisted that I buy some instead. I trucked on off to our local supermarket, and they had a grand total of one brand for sale. The package said “Made with three ingredients,” so I assumed that was better than a M*Donald’s bun, that was made with fifty.
Wrong, because three wrongs do not make a right. One or two of the three ingredients were said to be “genetically engineered,” which is a weasel way of saying genetically modified. The “Limed corn flour” was the obvious first choice, but then there was also the vein clogging palm oil. Pick your poison.
I had to do some genetic engineering myself. These jokers were about to be lit.
These taco shells were far too bad to donate to a food bank. No one should have to eat garbage just because they are poor. Perhaps these atoms can be reincarnated into something useful.
A man can always dream.
Food and Semiosis
As if I needed to prove how much of a nerd I am, I have been reading the magnificent book Elements of Semiology (1964) by the great French writer Roland Barthes. That would be about the structuralist science of signification, or the way that meaning is created in whatever system of signs that is being considered. Naturally, being French, Barthes talks about food.
In the section titled “the food system,” Barthes makes the following distinction: “The menu for instance, illustrates very well this relationship between the language and speech: any menu is concocted with reference to a structure (which is both national–or regional–and social); but this structure is filled differently according to the days and the users, just as a linguistic ‘form’ is filled by the free variations and combinations which a speaker needs for a particular message.” So cooking is like talking, in that a person has the structure (ingredients, equipment) and then creates whatever dish they want out of them.
However, my favorite comment is his about fast food, the bête noir of the modern world. Whether this is a really bad translation, or just another of Barthes’ incredibly witty puns, is up for the reader to decide. He talks about the creation of new speech “when new needs are born, following the development of societies.” One example he gives is “the birth of new patterns of quick feeding in industrial and urban societies.” So now we have wonders of linguistics such as the M*Rib, and the Chicken M*Nugget. Both are favorites of people who live in McMansions, and who drive Land Yachts.
The M*Rib is composed of about 70 ingredients, including one that is used in yoga mats. There is no rib in it at all, as the “protein” portion is comprised of pork hearts, intestines, and scalded stomach (allegedly).
No wonder a new language had to be invented to describe this expletive.
Optimus 11 Explorer/Trangia Mashup. Gott in Himmel!
This rig has been years in the making, as I lacked the extra long control knob for the 11. I have had the Trangia/Optimus adaptor for the Trangia windscreen cook set combo forever, but didn’t bother with it because I couldn’t regulate the stove easily. Then I saw this 4mm control knob on Fleabay, made for an Optimus 8r, 99, 111, or 199. Guess what, it also fits an 11.
It came from South Korea very quickly, and it turned out to be mostly solid brass. It’s a quality piece of equipment, and I now have a whole list of things to order from that same vendor–shockingly, they all have to do with Swedish camp stoves.
I did have to alter the bottom windscreen to allow for the 11 to settle properly into this contraption. All you need is a drill, and the courage of your convictions. And a bit of stupidity.
I will file and polish up that hole. The wind was blowing pretty hard when I lit this thing, and the stove took no notice, buried in all that Swedish design. This could be the ultimate combo for the backcountry chef, or even for the backyard ranger.
Fortunately, I had someone to supervise this project.
One day I will try and teach her how to cook.
Optimus 45 Retrofit III-Original Tools!
Some days you feel like Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (played by Groucho Marx), who claimed that one morning he shot an elephant in his pajamas. Then he wondered how an elephant got into his pajamas. I feel that way about finding these original Optimus tools on Fleabay.
The wrenches are used to remove and replace the burner assemblies, and I have two different burners, and at least one more very expensive version is available. The small tool is used to take off the burner jets, though it can only be used on one of the silent burners.
These came from across the pond, in Brexit Britain. The price was right, and the shipping was fast. Not being a collector (cough, cough), I will take off the rust and polish these. Sandpaper, a micro-abrasive, and then auto polishing paste is the sequence I use. Then these guys go to work.
They must be quite old, and I could find out by looking at all the old Optimus catalogs on the interwebs. I am altering the size of the wrenchs by a half millimeter or so, to fit the modern stove I have, though I should point out that the 1970’s constitute modern for me.
Old school is still the only school. Here’s the sort of final result of the rehab.
Optimus 45 Retrofit II-Wind Screen and Flame Spreader
Being a gear head is like being an immortal deity, in that there is always something else that needs to be done. Stitch up this, repair that with duct tape, or punish the wicked. The last is my favorite–just ask some of my former students.
That’s the stove being primed with alcohol, though not the drinkable kind.
I have added the windscreen to my Optimus 45, and it didn’t quite fit the brass flame spreader. I suspect these reproductions were made by different manufacturers in either India or China/Taiwan. Looking at photos of the original Swedish ones on the interwebs, I concluded that they were meant to friction fit into one unit. A bit of filing with a round file accomplished that purpose.
The number of add ons for this stove are staggering, down to and including rubber feet for the brass legs, which I will pass on. To keep your house from smelling of kerosene, the fuel tank has a reserve cap, which screws onto the end of the pump while the stove is in use–very clever. Put on the roarer burner, fill the round reservoir, aka spirit cup with alcohol, and slide the wind screen/flame spreader combo on top. It now fits perfectly. Then light the alcohol, and wait for the kerosene to gasify. After that, it’s time to cook.
A magnum opus is in the works by moi about how to work the various kerosene stoves properly. If it’s like some of my woodworking projects, it should be finished by the next decade, around 2030.
Gamma Seal Lids
Though in general I hate all plastic products, occasionally one comes along that is actually useful. In this case it is the classic Gamma Seal lid, which turns those disposable and ubiquitous five gallon buckets into something valuable. We have storage now for all the dog food, chicken food, and wild bird seed that we can handle, and I’m talking about fifty pound bags of each, which is what we now purchase, mainly because we have these lids.
Boaters as well as country folk love these things, as they have an o-ring seal that makes them next to waterproof. Even though I literally have a closet full of Cascade Designs dry bags, which I now mainly use as luggage, these are the first choice for the canoe, in that they will hold-you’ll never guess-five gallons of junk.
The trick to properly installing these things onto a bucket is to have a nice heavy wooden mallet. It will still take some whacking on every side to get these properly seated. Once on, though, they are not likely to ever come off again.
The great French writer Roland Barthes asserted that “the quick change artistry of plastic is absolute: it can becomes buckets as well as jewels.” I will leave the plastic jewels for everyone else. I just want the buckets.
Chickens and Brooder Design
Even though we are down to four hens, after two of ours were killed by the neighborhood Bloodhound, we still can’t eat all the eggs they produce. At last count we had 27 eggs, and the number expands daily. So naturally, we are going to buy more baby chicks, four Rhode Island Reds, as an insurance policy against any more dog attacks. Excess is the American way.
My brooder design is the product of some research. It consists of a plastic storage container, a lid made of scrap wood and chicken wire, a couple of commercial feeder/waterer devices, some perches, and a heat lamp. Each was chosen for a reason.
After I stopped laughing at all the experts on the internet who said that plastic boxes were more of a fire hazard than cardboard boxes, I quickly decided the real fire hazard was the heat source, which is usually an infrared heat lamp bulb. I went instead with a ceramic “lizard light,” which is a standby for reptile owners. Mine has both a heat control and a digital thermometer, and it emits no light, so the chickens do not lose their ever important circadian rhythm. The ceramic socket on the lamp is also a must, as those lamps get roasting hot, and melted plastic socket is a disaster. The chicks stay plenty warm with this lamp.
The waterer and feeder are both Little Giant brand, made by Miller in the US. They are superb, and all you need are some mason jars to go with them.
The last part of the chick’s crib are the two perches. The long one is some drift wood of Mountain Laurel. The big practice one I made from scrap trim. Waste not, want not.
The bottom will be lined with newsprint, then paper towels, then pine shavings. The chicks will be able to scratch, perch, eat, and drink. Kind of like me. And then I had a McGyver moment.
If it gets really cold, I just pull out this old countertop piece to keep the heat in. Now Melanie Jane and I can sit in the basement and watch Law and Order, while the chicks grow up next to books such as History and Class Consciousness, A Southern Renaissance, and The Savage Mind. That last one was written in French, and the title is possibly the greatest pun in history. La Pensée Sauvage can mean either The Savage Mind, or Pansies for Thought.
So we will have chicks chirping behind us, while we are entertained by the semi-fictional mayhem of NYC. Another favorite book of mine is The Country and the City. I’ll take the country, and the city can remain an image on the TV.
Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.
Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.
Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine
28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)
Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano
That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.
The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.
Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.
Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.
On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.