Growing Mushrooms, Part One–Blue Oyster Cult

Mycelium Coming at You

My first el cheapo attempt at growing shrooms is looking up. Those are King Blue Oyster mushrooms that are beginning to form “knobs,” which will generate mature shrooms. These have only been in the jar for a few weeks, and we should have good shrooms by next month.

Now to explain the el cheapo part. I have had the Paul Stamets more or less bible on growing mushrooms for years, but it breezes past the easy to grow part, and is geared more toward the pro grower, which I am not. Then I ran across an article by fellow Southerner Tradd Cotter about growing Oyster shrooms on used coffee grounds. It works like a charm.

The process is this: layer used coffee grounds with the filters, and then add some mushroom spawn–I bought mine on fleabay, and they were top quality and dirt cheap. Repeat this until you reach about an inch from the top of your container. As Cotter rightly points out, this is the perfect way to recycle kitchen waste.

We should get more shrooms than we can eat here, so we will have to learn mushroom preserving methods next. I bet they will can well.

Fire Pit Chicken with Carrots and Purple Fingerling Potatoes, and Brioche Rolls

One Hot Bird

There’s nothing I like better than cooking a meal that requires welding gloves. This is a sure enough one, as that fire was as hot as seven little devils. Fortunately I had my crane arrangement with S-hooks, and could move the dutch oven up and down that chain. There isn’t a tremendous amount to this, but it’s all about heat and good ingredients.


One blazing hot Fire

Home-rendered Lard (bacon fat)

One chopped Onion

One organic Chicken

Organic Carrots

Organic fingerling Taters

White wine

Salt and Pepper

The only trick here is to sear the chicken in the lard before the other ingredients are added. Then de-glaze the dutch oven with the wine, and add the onions first, and then the other two veggies. An inch of water and a heavy dutch oven lid will turn this rig into a primitive pressure cooker. Those little taters cook fast, so don’t mess around.

The pot juices make a superior sauce or gravy, especially if you brined your bird. Any kind of bread with gravy is good, but the brioche rolls allow us to get rid of some of our surplus of eggs. It’s either that, or give them to the in-laws.

Meth Addicted Attack Squirrel Released into Alabama Woods

Or so the story goes. There is actually no physical evidence to prove that said squirrel was living on a diet of nuts and meth–only that it’s owner had a pot full of meth in his possession. Said owner was an ex-felon and probable future felon, as the pending charges against him are the following–possession of stolen property and a weapon, various other weapons charges, child endangerment, trafficking meth, and worst of all, possession of a wild animal.

Going to the slammer for squirrel possession will not get him much mileage with his fellow inmates, unless he confesses that he actually had a meth-charged trained attack squirrel. He originally gained attention from the authorities in northern Alabama because neighbors said he was keeping a squirrel that was aggressive toward people. I personally think that the squirrel was letting out a cry for help.

At any rate, the official story is the following. The police department that raided the house of said alleged meth head released this statement: “There was no safe way to test the squirrel for meth.” This information comes from AL.Com. Therefore the beast was set loose in the woods. Currently, the whereabouts of the squirrel are unknown, so watch your back when you go outside..

Escaped Alabama Kangaroo Lured Home with Pabst Blue Ribbon

I’m going to read any story that involves a Kangaroo and beer, and it’s even better when it happened in my home county of Cullman. In mid January Jackie Legs escaped from a farm that raises long horn cattle and tortoises. If I were Dave Barry, I would have to say that I am not making this up.

In addition to the PBR, the extra treat for the roo were cheese puffs, which apparently go great with the beer. It is not known if the owner tried this while drinking one of those giant cans of Fosters.

According to a local news station, “Jackie is wearing a dog collar, is very friendly toward people and will get into a truck.” Therefore, if you see Jackie at some point in the future, just pull a cold one out of the cooler in your F-150, and hide your cheese puffs.

Seven Tomatoes

Despite our annual tomato virus pandemic, MJ picked out five new tomatoes to grow for this year. I piled on two myself, and these are mostly paste tomatoes. Our favorite Festhalle tomato vendor certainly has a few thousand tomato plants already started. We can’t even grow them for as cheaply as he sells them–canning tomatoes, that is. I’ve already used a quart and a half today.

Cipolla’s Prize–An expensive little devil, about fifty cents a seed. A special Italian paste tomato.

Black Prince–Not from Wakanda, but a nice looking small tomato anyway. Black Prince forever!

Nepal–I know about as much about this one as I do about Katmandu. Still, another good looking mater.

Moskvich–Assuming this is a Slavic heirloom. They do have some great maters, along with some great dictators.

Napoli–My choice, a classic Italian paste tomato.

San Marzano–THE classic paste tomato. Check out the price for a good can of these at the market. Required for an authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Sub Arctic Plenty–My choice again, an experiment for our crazy spring weather and late cold snaps. Will allegedly take some seriously (for us) cold weather.

We have already passed our coldest average days, and February looks to be much warmer than this month. Spring fever is here already.

The Time I was Mistaken for Being Black

This has a food angle to it, so I thought I should write about it. I was in NYC for job interviews, and was really hungry. I checked out the yellow pages for food tours, and some of the most popular were soul food tours of Harlem, complete with fried chicken and collard greens. As I had eaten both of those the day before I left Alabama, I said, “What the hell is this?” I had pizza instead.

Then came the great interview for a job at Connecticut State University as a Professor of African-American Literature. When I walked into the interview room, it was more than obvious that the interview committee thought I was Black, as a Southern PhD who had written widely about African-American writers. I’m the whitest guy, genetically, that you know. I just do love a great writer, and some good soul food, but we cook the soul food ourselves.

The interview was crash and burn, but entertaining. I was asked if black students would question me about me teaching black writers (none ever has), and I responded that the knowledge of literay texts is not genetic–you learn it or not. That logical answer got me nowhere.

Alas, I am in the warm South now instead of the frigid Northeast. We may have an epidemic of stupid down here, but we know good food. If you know better than that, let me know. I’ll give you a job interview.

Chicken Liver and Mushroom Pate

Burning Down the House

No critter, not even an Aussie Shepherd, likes chicken livers as much as I do. Fried, and with ketchup, are good, but pâté is supreme. Here’s how I make it, which means simplicity, along with some fire, is better.


1 tablespoon Butter

1/4 pound Chicken Livers


A handful of Porcini Mushrooms–I rehydrate dried ones

1 clove chopped Garlic

Enough Brandy to set the house on fire (that’s a joke)

A few drops of Heavy Cream

Heat the butter at medium heat, and fry the livers with a pinch of salt–they don’t need much. Throw in the diced Porcini when almost cooked, add the garlic, and prepare for the conflagration.

Pour in the brandy and light her up. Poof! There is nothing as good as a kitchen fire, unless it is a sure enough grease fire. A good hot fire is the last step in the cooking.

After things cool off, pour the livers and mushrooms into a food processor. MJ and I had to step up to the plate and buy a French made Robot Coupé machine, which is advertised as “Three Robots in One.” That company did invent the things.

Add the cream–NOT TOO MUCH–to make the stuff even richer than it already is, and let the robot go to work. I leave some texture to the meat, as I didn’t like baby food even when I was a baby. Put it into a terrine/custard cup and refrigernator it. From this point, get as Frenchified as you want–I love this with a crostini, a cornichon, and nothing else. There is nothing like this kind of food to make life worth living.

Three Drying Oils, Natural Version–Many People Are Talking About This

Centuries of Technology have produced These Three Containers

Time to cut straight to the issue–the oil content of three of the most common drying oils. This information comes from the scholarly text Painting Materials.

  1. Walnut Oil–63-65%
  2. Sunflower Seed Oil–50%
  3. Linseed Oil–35-40%

And yet Linseed Oil is the most commonly used. Why?

Linseed Oil

To answer the question–tradition and availability. All these oils have a single molecular bond, which means they dry into a polymer when oxidized–i.e., when they are exposed to air (O2). Of the natural oils, only Tung oil has a double molecular bond, which makes it the most waterproof natural finish.

However, when heated for a long period of time, these natural oils form a double molecular bind, which means they dry faster, and become a durable polymerized surface. Heated linseed oil is often sold as “Danish” oil, which is a meaningless term that is used for all kinds of oil finishes.

Raw Linseed oil is a trendy diet item as well, sold as flaxseed oil. This has a very short shelf life, so treat it accordingly. You could just boil it and put it on your dining room table.

“Boiled” Linseed oil is just cheap Linseed oil with a bunch of toxic chemical dryers added. It makes a nice enough finish, and makes a very good base for an exterior paint, which is what I use it for. I don’t use it in any living area, but that could just be overly fastidious me.

Linseed oil , or Stand oil, sold to the art crowd (to make oil paint) is extremely high quality thickened oil, and is very expensive. No wonder a Van Gogh costs so much.

Sunflower Seed Oil

This is on my old Oak dining room table, which belonged to my grandmother, so the table has been around for awhile–she was born in the nineteenth century. This oil is cheap, durable, and dries fast. In fact, it is barely a fraction of the cost of a high quality Linseed oil. If you want to spend more for Linseed oil, just think that it is only money.

Walnut Oil

I loves me some Walnut oil. Expensive, yes, but it smells great and also tastes great. I keep mine in the frigernator to make it last longer. It also makes a superior base for a wax finish. It was also allegedly the secret ingredient for many of the old master painters

Making a Drying Oil

Any of these oils can be thickened using the old “stand” method of drying oils, which is leaving them out in the summer sun. In short, they stand out in the sun, which is quite intense here in the South. The danger is having the oil turn rancid, which could also explain the popularity of Linseed oil–less oil content means a lower chance of spoilage.

Which brings me to all the woodworking folks on the internet who insist that all natural oils turn rancid. These are drying oils, dopes. Olive oil isn’t, as with many cooking oils. The reason that the Louvre and the Uffizi galleries don’t stink is that the paintings were made with drying oils. More than a few were painted with tempera paint, which was often made with eggs as well. See how tough a dried egg yolk is sometimes.

Just because many people are saying something stupid doesn’t make it true. The great English woodworker Robin Wood (magnificent name, btw) pointed out that buying an expensive synthetic finish is illogical, when natural finishes are traditional, abundant, and less expensive–not to mention food safe and totally non-toxic. However, if someone admires the skull and cross-bones on the label, they should go for it. See who turns rancid first.

Food First, then Morality–a Poem for Today

Those immortal words came from my favorite writer, the German Bertolt Brecht. In German it is

“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”

Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera

Brecht was apparently right at the top of the list of people Hitler wanted to be killed. He fled Nazi Germany, and then the Republican US–but not before exposing the fools on the US House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC). There is actually an audio tape of his testimony, which is so funny that I only listen to it on my birthday, and we happen to have the same birthday, February 10.

Anyway, here is the poem for today.

Long I have Looked for the Truth


Long I have looked for the truth about the life of people together

That life is crisscrossed, tangled, difficult to understand.

I have worked hard to understand it and when I had done so

I told the truth as I found it.


When I had told the truth that was so difficult to find

It was a common truth, which many told

(And not everyone had such difficulty in finding.)


Soon after that people arrived in vast masses with pistols given to them

And blindly shot around them at all those too poor to wear hats

And all those who told the truth about them and their employers

They drove out of the country in the fourteenth year of our semi-republic.


From me they took my little house and car

Which I had earned by hard work.

(I was able to save my furniture.)


When I crossed the frontier I thought:

More than my house I need the truth.

But I need my house too. And since then

Truth for me has been like a house and car.

And they took them.

Bertolt Brecht

Thanks to the Brits and Methuen publishers for this translation. Food, house, and car first, indeed.

Third Low Workbench

What Happened to the Second One?

Yes, I forgot to write about the second low workbench, but that way there can be a flashback about it, as if this was a modernist novel. This latest bench is no modernist–it is based on a Roman wall tile image from 79 AD. The accompanying three legged stool is my design, which is pseudo-scandahoovian.

Have a Seat

The finish on the stool is the Walnut Oil Wax finish I made on my workbench. I will use the same on the Roman style workbench.

Proton Torpedoes Fully Operational, Captain

This is it with the peg/workholding 3/4″ holes drilled, which make this thing ready for work. I will use it mostly for carving, though anything else is game as well. At 6′ 7″ long, it will handle some large pieces.

I need to make four more legs, so it will have eight legs like the original from Herculaneum, which was buried in ash by Mt. Vesuvius, and which is why this design survived. Old school really is the only school.


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