Bigleaf Magnolia in Bloom

That’s a big bloom.

After a couple of decades, our signature plant in our outdoor kitchen is blooming. Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macropphyla) has the largest leaves and largest blooms of any North American tree. This is the last of five blooms on this tree this year.

There are a couple of varieties for this species. Ashe magnolia, which is common in the higher mountains, was formerly considered a separate species, but is now lumped in as a sub-species. The most unique variety is a yellow flowered one that is found in Bankhead National Forest in Alabama. And yes that forest is named after the Bankhead family of politicians and actors.

I think this would have been the favorite tree of Talulah, as it is as extravagant as she was.

Big Chicken Company Increases Profit 718%, Blames It On Bird Flu

In yet another case of “Did they really say that?”, Cal-Maine, which has 20% of the US egg market, outlines the real cause of egg-flation–bird flu. Said CEO Sherman Miller: the profits were caused by “the ongoing epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza which has significantly reduced the nation’s egg-laying capacity.” By 718%? Not likely.

If not, then the real cause? Good old fashioned corporate America ripping off customers. After that comes the BS PR campaign that no one believes. This one is so stupid it’s amazing that the news industry even bothered to report it.

The answer is, as usual, to take the means of production into your own hands. Buy some chickens, get a coop, and whip inflation now. As well as some pigs of the capitalist variety.

Cherry Tool Handles, Part One: Backsaw Handle


Having found myself with enough (free)Black Cherry to replace every handle on every tool I own, I began with the neediest–an old Disston backsaw that has spent years in the spare parts bin. The broken Apple handle was/is usable but unsightly, and it was the first candidate for replacement. If I had known how easy the handle was to make, I would have made one years ago.

While the saw rested in a miracle product called Evaporust, I researched how to make a replacement handle with a Google search. The best post I found was the one that advised the simplest approach–just trace a handle that you like on graph paper, and copy it. I traced the remaining piece of the old handle, and went with it.

The handle itself was split from a much larger chunk of Cherry, and then planed to size. I rough cut the shape with a bowsaw I also made from Cherry and Maple. Then I made my first mistake–I cut out the back end of the handle first, and when I went to rough out the inside of the handle, I promptly snapped off the top. It glued back on easily, but the note to self is rough out the middle first, and then the outside.

With that repaired, I moved to final shaping and finishing. I started out with the universally suggested tool, a rasp, but found it both tedious and seriously slow. After an hour of that torture I said screw it, and pulled out my roll of spoon carving tools. That decision saved the proto handle from the firewood pile, and myself from much more work. A good Swedish Sloyd knife can remove wood much faster than a rasp, and is ideal for the curves on the handle.

The fitting of the handle to the saw blade was simple enough–cut a slot for the saw blade, and mortice out for the iron back. The finish here is super blonde shellac. My last criticism is that the connecting section where the saw blade joins the handle should be beefier, but the function of the saw is unaffected. Overall, for a first attempt at saw handle making it is acceptable, and should last through many years of sawing.

Montreal Style French Bagels

Not Exactly Southern

Not only is this recipe not Southern, it is only half North American–but it is still very tasty. As usual, it involves a transatlantic dispersal of culture and food.

This is essentially the Canadian version of a Parisian Jewish recipe for water bagels, which means the bagels take a swim in boiling water before baking. Here’s my method for making these.


This makes six extra large bagels, or ten-twelve normal sized ones.

For the Dough:

1 1/2 cup “00” style flour

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 Cup warm Water

Mix these in a stand mixer, or use whatever you have.


2 tablespoons warm Water

1 teaspoons dry Yeast

1 tablespoon Maple Syrup

Let the yeast mixture rise until it increases by a factor of three, and then mix with the dough. Let the dough rise until doubled.

This step is where the French and Montreal styles diverge. The traditional French additive is Malt syrup, which was not widely available in Canada. Maple syrup was, and still is. I should learn how to make Poplar syrup one year, and turn this into a Southern bagel.

Forming and Boiling

The home baker’s method of forming bagels is simple. For monster bagels, divide the dough into six pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten with your palms. I use my thumb to poke a hole in the middle, and then widen out the hole to the desired size. Jo Goldenberg of Jo Rosenberg Restaurant in Paris makes the hole large enough for her palm to fit through. Place the finished bagel on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and let rise while the water heats up to boiling.

Two things are important about the boil: the pan needs to be large enough so the bagels are not crowded, and the bagels need to boil long enough so they will not collapse while baking. I use an enormous fourteen inch skillet for the boil, which is still barely large enough.

For the Boil

Enough water to float the bagels

1 tablespoon Brown Sugar

Here is the most important step in the whole process, for which eternal vigilance is needed. As the bagels boil and expand, they will crowd against each other, and one side of a bagel will try and submerge. If you let this happen, that part of the bagel will become inedible soggy pasta bagel. With that said, the bagels should boil at least two minutes on each side. After that, remove the bagels with a slotted spoon, place them back on the parchment paper, and bake at 400 degrees F until light brown. Cool on a rack, and decide if you want cream cheese or a bagel sandwich.

It takes some practice to get this right, but when you do, it’s goodbye supermarket bagel, or even deli bagel. I make these about every two weeks, and they improve just a little with every batch. It’s a stretch to eat just half of one of these, but the dogs love the leftovers as much as we do.

New School Gumbo Paddles

Get Out the Gumbo Pot

Having finally found a decent quality bandsaw (Rikon) that cost less than a car payment, I decided to break it in by making three Gumbo paddles. The handles on all three are Yaupon holly, a Gulf coast species, and the paddle blades are Black cherry. I made two of the bottom ones, for myself and one Brother in law. The large one is for another Brother in law, who cooks ten and twenty gallon batches of gumbo for St John’s Church in Cullman, which was founded by town father Johann Gottfried Cullman. Said Brother in law’s Son in law just happens to work there.

The paddles blades were cut with the bandsaw from the stump of Cherry tree in our front yard. It had been wind blown for about a year, so it didn’t need much drying. The handles as well were band sawn from wind blown Yaupon, and then turned into ovals by planing first with a Jack plane, and finishing with a Block plane. They were left smooth enough that they needed no sanding.

The mortises in the handles were likewise sawed out with the band saw, and then the waste was chiseled out. Final attachment was with a glue joint held into place with French diamond head nails, which serve a double purpose as decoration.

The larger paddle was finished with straight Walnut oil, while mine was finished with a Walnut oil wax finish. I broke mine in on Sunday cooking Beef stew in our fire pit in the Outdoor Kitchen. The paddle is long enough to have kept me away from the heat, and more importantly the smoke, which was whipped up by a ten mile an hour Southwest wind. The final addition was an accessory cord hanger, which in the case was made from some old worn out boot laces. Waste not, want not.

Favorite Woodworking Planes–Partner Planes

Stanley #3 and #5 1/4

Partner planes are planes of different lengths that have interchangeable parts, from the blades on down. The most common example is the Stanley #4 and #5, both with 2″ wide cutters, which make a versatile duo at 9″ and 15.” Less common is the Stanley #3 and #5 1/4, which makes an attractive alternative to the 4-5 combination.

What we have here is a closer match in the length of the two planes, at 9″ and 11 1/2″ (the #4 and #5 are 9″ and 15″ respectively). The idea for the 11 1/2″ inch length, often referred to as the “Junior Jack,” actually came from the Ohio Tool Company. Logically it makes good sense, as the gap between the standard Smoothing and Jack planes is large at 6.”

With either combination you can do the following. I deep sixed the #3 low quality standard cutter, and replaced it with a Lee Valley 1 3/4″ one–a considerable upgrade (Lee Valley just purchased Hock Tools of California, giving them a huge market share for quality blades.) I took the also not-so-great factory cutter from the #5 1/4, and reground it to an exaggerated camber shape, turning the plane into a long scrub plane. I also have a #5 with a re-ground blade as an extra long scrub plane.

At any rate, I can just switch cutters on these partners and have a really long smoothing plane (or a short Jack plane), and a short scrub plane. The best thing about the #5 1/4, no matter how it is used, is the weight–it’s a full pound lighter than a #5. To me it’s a case of bigger is not necessarily better.

Winter Vegetable Container Garden

Most gardeners in USDA Zone 7 or higher could easily have a set up like this.

For our Winter garden this year I went with all container plantings. It was a good thing too–when the bomb cyclone hit in December, and our temps went down to 8.9 degrees F, I just wheeled three cart loads of plants into our 60 degree basement, left them there for a couple of days, and then brought them back out. We will now have fresh greens until spring planting, which actually begins this week.

Pictured is a mixed planting of lettuces, spinach, boy choy, radishes, onions, chard, collards, kale, and one container with a mesclun mix that includes arugula. The potting soil is 95% composted chicken manure, a by product of our egg layers, that produce a more than steady supply of it. The spinach quiche we made was the perfect combination of their products.

Grand total of the expenses for this garden was $20 for seeds. I’m going to splurge and spend $40 on the summer version, which will easily be double this size. You won’t hear any complaints about the price of lettuce from me.

College Board Celebrates Black History Month by Removing References to Black Alabama Farmers From AP Black History Course

The war on independently verifiable information (history) is on a roll in Floriduh, the state that is run by head Florida Man, Goobernor Ron DeSanctis. German studies are fine, but African-American studies are verboten, especially when it involves Black farmers from Alabama. And some of those farmers happened to have been communists as well.

While you may think that I have broken into the medical marijuana stash, the book that has been banned from the African-American studies course, first by DeSanctis and then by the College Board, is titled Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Worse still, the author is a distinguished history Professor at UCLA, Robin D. G. Kelley. To people who have survived the Alabama public school system, such as myself, the book was mind blowing, as it is the perfect example of history having been erased.

The history is both simple and understandable. Black workers, deprived of any other form of political representation, turned to union organizers who were affiliated with the Communist party. The great oral history by Theodore Rosengarten, All God’s Dangers, is about one branch of the party, the sharecropper’s union. Sharecropping was the system that replaced slavery, and it was designed to replace chattel slavery with debt peonage–a person perpetually in debt can be coerced into obedience. Sharecroppers saw the union and the party as their quickest way to freedom and prosperity.

The industrial workers in the steel mills of Birmingham, who were mostly Black, unionized as well, for better wages and working conditions. The result was predictable–US Steel and other corporations paid the local KKK to terrorize people, to the rate of 50 bombings in 40 years. The biggest was 54 sticks of dynamite, laid at the foundation of Temple Beth-El in 1958. It failed to detonate due to a rainstorm.

When the national media discovered that Birmingham existed in 1963, they often commented on its resemblance to Berlin in the 1930’s. Maybe that’s why the Goobernor prefers German history to American.

Great Seasonal Poems, Part Two–The Schoolboy, by William Blake

William Blake was only one degree of separation removed from Thomas Jefferson. They were both friends with the great enlightenment thinker and writer Thomas Paine. This poem is very much a poem of that enlightenment, the spirit of which we could use now. This is from Songs of Experience.

The Schoolboy

by William Blake

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn.
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy.
But droop his tender wing.
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother. if buds are nip’d,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip’d
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay.

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear.
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year.
When the blasts of winter appear.

I used to love teaching summer school at the five institutions of “higher learning” where I was employed. There were only two types of students–highly dedicated ones, or those who had no intention of attending class. I forget which one I preferred.

Great Seasonal Poems, Part One: Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

California residents may not be a big fan of the west wind right now, but never fear, spring is not far behind.

Ode to the West Wind



O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, 

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead 

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, 

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, 

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, 

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed 

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low, 

Each like a corpse within its grave, until 

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow 

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill 

(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) 

With living hues and odours plain and hill: 

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; 

Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear! 


Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion, 

Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed, 

Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean, 

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread 

On the blue surface of thine aëry surge, 

Like the bright hair uplifted from the head 

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge 

Of the horizon to the zenith’s height, 

The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge 

Of the dying year, to which this closing night 

Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre, 

Vaulted with all thy congregated might 

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere 

Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear! 


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams 

The blue Mediterranean, where he lay, 

Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams, 

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay, 

And saw in sleep old palaces and towers 

Quivering within the wave’s intenser day, 

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers 

So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou 

For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers 

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below 

The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear 

The sapless foliage of the ocean, know 

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear, 

And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear! 


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear; 

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee; 

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share 

The impulse of thy strength, only less free 

Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even 

I were as in my boyhood, and could be 

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven, 

As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed 

Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven 

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need. 

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! 

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! 

A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d 

One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud. 


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: 

What if my leaves are falling like its own! 

The tumult of thy mighty harmonies 

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, 

Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, 

My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! 

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe 

Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth! 

And, by the incantation of this verse, 

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth 

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! 

Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth 

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, 

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Thanks again to the Poetry Foundation.

I repeated the famous last line and a half of this poem on Sunday, while cooking some beef stew (with Piedmontese beef) in our fire pit. The fire pit was built by my brother-in-law from an old propane tank, and the west wind blew smoke in my face one time too many. The same BIL has a herd of these fancy Italian bovines, and gave us a freezer full of meat for Christmas. Ashes and sparks, indeed.


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