I’ve Been Framed! No, the Brick Oven Has Been Framed.

Framed!

My wife MJ barely knew me at all, when I spent every summer in high school framing houses. That experience made me want to go to graduate school, and stay as far away from construction as possible.

Now I spend my time cooking and building things–and writing. After a dozen years or so, I am framing in my brick oven. It was stupidly simple.

Here’s the rear view.

Needs a Cleanup

Easy work, that. I do need to de-clutter all that stuff, but it will be easier once the siding is put on.

Sideways! Kreuzweise!

Goodbye, Concrete

Admittedly, the old framer here used as many deck screws as nails in this project. It will take a kiloton nuke to bring it down.

Favorite Green Woodworking Tools, Part Two–Flea Market Axes

The Real Motley Crew

Though my recollection grows dim, I believe that all three of these beastly tools came from the same flea market in Indiana, where they also had fantastic funnel cakes. I put new handles in all three, and the handles cost at least twice as much as the axes. I did inherit the German thriftiness gene.

The broad axe is right handed, beveled on the right side only, and also has an offset right handed handle, important if you want to keep any skin on your knuckles.

The adze was rusted and pitted on the body, so I sprayed it with a couple of coats of Rustoleum. The cutting edge was fine. To quote Neil Young again, rust never sleeps.

My favorite is the yellow broad hatchet, another right hander. I made the leather sheath to protect the edge. It’s been used for every green woodworking job.

They Call Me Mellow Yellow

About the yellow paint. An old timer at the flea market saw my hatchet, and said that everyone in his high school Ag class had been told to paint all their tools yellow, so they could be found easily, if, say, they were dropped in the cornfield. There certainly are plenty of cornfields in Indiana.

Favorite Green Woodworking Tools-I Need Swedish Steel

Apologies to Uma Thurman

I was once in an axe fight, and the axe won, resulting in fourteen stitches to my left calf. The culprit was the Swedish axe at the top. I still use it constantly. My two favorite axes are both Swedish, a Granfors Bruk and a Wetterlings, AKA the Swedish Axe Works.

The larger axe is a forest axe from Granfors, a present from one of my past employers. It’s deadly. Just ask my left leg.

The hatchet was made by SAW, now part of the Granfors empire. Alas, they are no longer sold in the US, or even outside of Sweden. Your choices, if you want one, are to hit Fleabay, or go to the factory in Sweden. Fleabay would be cheaper.

Green Woodworking is taking fresh cut wood and working it while it is still full of water, and soft. It’s the way to work with woods like cherry, which are often compared to metal. Trust me, as I tried to use the forest axe on a small dead and dried cherry limb this weekend. The cherry won.

Kiddo in Kill Bill needed Japanese steel. I’ll settle for Swedish.

Great Food Poetry, Part Four–“The Bear”

The great American poet Galway Kinnell gives us the greatest gross out poem of all time. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation once again.

The Bear

BY GALWAY KINNELL
         1
In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam   
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored   
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.

         2
I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out   
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark   
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.

         3
On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would   
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,   
and rise
and go on running.

         4
On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,   
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,   
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
died.

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,   
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.

         5
And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,   
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.

         6
Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,   
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze   
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood   
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up   
and dance. And I lie still.

         7
I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?


Galway Kinnell, “The Bear” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.Source: Three Books (2002)

Now that is a poem about food. Digest that one.

Shelling Peas during a Hurricane

Field Peas, That Is

I was once scheduled to take the now former Editor of the New York Times fly fishing, but his condo on the Gulf coast got hit by a hurricane, and he had to go and board up the windows instead. He actually is a great writer–a Pulitzer prize winner, in fact,– despite the fact that he had to survive the Alabama educational system. But so did I.

We live in the mountains, where we love a good hurricane. We get the rain during the driest part of the year, and hardly ever get any of the wind. In fact, our last four inches of rain came from tropical systems.

Hurricane Sally stayed around for so long that I thought she was one of my in-laws. Hurricane Delta got out of here like a dog with it’s tail on fire. But Delta gave us some really needed rain.

Here’s how fast it moved. I looked at the radar before I fed my chickens, and there was nothing there. I get to their pen, and it starts raining. I get back to the house, and our entire county is covered with rain.

However, nothing can stop MJ and myself from going to the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, not even a hurricane. An older gent there had the latest season field peas that I have ever seen. We bought 1/8 of a Bushel from him, and I spent the rest of the rainy day shelling peas.

Time for another trip to Nerdlandia. A “Market Basket” back in the old days was a standard of dry measure, and this guy had an authentic wooden market basket. That was 1/2 of a Peck, and four Pecks equals one Bushel. File that in the appropriate file.

Now for the backstory. My Aunt June ran the only real restaurant in our community, and she insisted on fresh ingredients. We began selling her field peas, and she sold them as fast as we could grow them. Then my father had the idea that we should sell to every restaurant in the area. So we planted fifteen acres of peas one summer.

The problem: Cooks want shelled peas. I spent a summer developing advanced pea shelling technigues. A sharp thumbnail helps, but there are ways around that.

Just rip the end off the pea. Then there is the thumb bulldozer approach, where your off hand thumb plows out the peas, while your dominant hand yanks on the shell. A really ripe pea gets the zipper approach, where you just pull the shell apart.

A really green pea? Just feed it to the chickens.

Italians and Their Egg Yolk Rules

Some of These Eggs will have Orange Yolks

Italians buy their eggs according to the color of the yolks. Yellow yolked eggs are labeled giallo dell’uovo, and the prized orange yolked egg is called (actually) red yolked egg, rosso d’uovo. I’ll do chemistry first, and then the backstory.

Since Dr. Leroy Palmer first published his research in 1915, it has been known that yolk color is caused by the chicken’s diet. Different carotenoids called xanthophylls are the determinants. More recent research has narrowed down the two main chemicals to Lutein and Zeaxanthin, and one scientist has determined the first is the source of the yellow yolked egg coloring, and the latter for the orange color. That led me on the search for the second one.

Veg! Feed the birds leafy greens, corn, wheat and carrots, as all are good supplements to the diet. This supports my observation that their favorite food is Dandelion greens. I can start a chicken riot with those every time.

Now to the backstory. I was fascinated by the great food book by Bill Buford called Heat. He became so fascinated with Italian food that he goes to Italy regularly to learn from the best of the best cooks. Even though he was the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine, he was born in Mississippi, and knows his eggs. Hence his experience with a woman who is a legendary pasta maker in Italy.

Bill describes the master of pasta, and why he went to study with her:

It was also why I’d got so interested in the egg, because on my first morning, watching Betta prepare the dough, I saw that an egg was a modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided that it is a very good egg, which was evident (or not) the moment you cracked it open. If the white was runny, you knew the egg had come from a battery-farmed animal , cooped up in a cage, and the pasta you made from it would be sticky and difficult to work with, exactly like the unhappy batch that Betta produced one evening after Gianni fell asleep, having had too much wine at lunch, and failed to buy eggs from the good shop before it closed and had to drive to the next town to the cattivo alimentarii, the nasty store, and pick up a dozen of its mass-produced product. The yolk was also illuminating. The nasty store’s were pale yellow, like those most of us have been scrambling for our urban lives. But a proper yolk is a different color and, in Italian, is still called il rosso, the red bit …

Heat, Bill Buford

Poor urban folk, deprived of all the goodies. I have a mixture I now feed my birds. The basic bit is as follows:

16% Protein Organic Chicken Crumbles

Corn and Wheat Scratch

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Carrots

Various Greens in Season

Maters, Precious

Other Fruit and Veg that are left over (Squash and Pumpkin are especially good)

Ours yolks just keep getting more and more orange. I may one day even get one of the legendary red tinged yolks.

The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, 1901 Edition Reprint

I love people who hate on Amazon and our corporate overlord Bezos, when I know that they are buying like crazy from them. Life these days would be nearly impossible without them.

I have been saving writing about this cookbook for a couple of years now, and this is only a teaser. I’ll begin with the modest assertion that this is the greatest cookbook ever written (or at least it’s my favorite). You are allowed to ask why.

First, thanks to archduke Bezos, I was able to purchase a mint quality hardback of the 1989 version of the book for $3 plus change. It is expertly edited by a great cookbook writer herself, Marcelle Bienvenu, who wrote the definitive cookbook on Cajun cooking, Who’s Your Mama…? And please don’t confuse Creole food with Cajun food, unless you want to get laughed at.

Then, the recipes are superb, especially the meat recipes for chicken, beef, and Gulf seafood, as well as every vegetable imaginable. There is even a suggestion about how to serve broiled Robins or Larks–this one is not suggested by me, but the recommendation is to serve your songbirds on buttered French toast, and garnish with parsley.

The last mystery was as to who wrote this mammoth book (this latest version is 629 pages). An intrepid young scholar at Tulane University named Rien Fertel has determined that the author was one Marie Louise Points, a writer for the Picayune, who was “from a white, French-Creole family in New Orleans; her ancestors were from Virginia and around the Gulf Coast.” This is a common enough history, as my two favorite “Louisiana” writers came from Missouri and Alabama, respectively.

Bienvenu took the interesting approach of using the recipes from the second edition, but the introduction to the first edition. Anyone who has a copy of the second edition knows why. The second edition has an introduction that contains every racist stereotype that one would expect from the city that brought us legalized segregation with the case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896–only four years before this book was first published. Fortunately, when it comes to the kitchen, all women and men are created equal.

Sandvik/Bahco Scraper

Hand Forged or High Tech, the Swedish know their Metals

When one of top woodworking tool sellers in the country describes a single thin piece of steel as being “legendary,” it’s time to pay attention. The wood certainly does, when this well sharpened Sandvik (now Bahco) scraper gets in on the action.

It’s easy enough to sharpen a good scraper blade, as it can be done with just a file and a burnisher–a screwdriver will do as a burnisher in a pinch, but mine (re:gear head department), is carbide steel. The edge is a “hook” edge, not a chisel edge, like a plane blade.

Let’s have a trans-Atlantic coalition:

Western Europe, Meet Eastern US

Gott in Himmel! A Swedish scraper blade in an American tool, which was designed by a German immigrant. This floor will be refinished in just days, if I can keep the stinking dogs from walking through the wet water-based polyurethane.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Four–Arthur Umanoff Stools

“And I Saw you on the Barstool, Where You held that Glass so Tight”–Neil Young

Seriously, I had never heard of this great designer of mid-century modern furniture until yesterday. Umanoff was the owner of a company called Post Modern Ltd, and his work was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Then we end up with two of his stools for $18. Read on.

MJ and I both grew up in dire straits, or as we say in the South, dirt poor. We did have houses full of books, and the beautiful Southern outdoors around us. Even with that, a dollar is still a dollar, to this day.

Example given, our shopping habits. Our most famous shopping trip was buying a piece of layered Swedish art glass (an Orrefors candle holder, no less), and a classic Stanley woodworking tool, for $4. I didn’t even bother to get a better price, which I usually do.

Yesterday was as good. These stools were under a pile of junk at a flea market, but looked good. MJ, wanna be art major, saw them first. I thought $18 was a bit much, but we needed better bar stools. What the hey.

MJ, who should have the research degree instead of me, found these on the interwebs after we bought them. Three were going for $800. Maybe being cheap is it’s own reward. At least we have a nice place to sit now.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Three–The Storage Wars

This is how the Kitchen always Wins

The shelf under my baking bench was meant for baking equipment, but guess again. Three cast iron pots and a brass/ceramic beauty walked in and said–out of the way, jokers.

So we now have three Dutch ovens and a French/ American double boiler ruling the shelf. One Dutch oven is an eight quart Lodge model, and as heavy as a sea anchor. The other is a Franken Oven, made of a Dutch oven bottom and a skillet lid top. An old Creuset enameled Dutch oven hides in the back. The best, however, is the double boiler.

The Bazar Francais double boiler is a gem, with a French made copper body and a lining from Hall Pottery in the USA. I had a brain infarction, and decided today this would be perfect for keeping mulled wine hot during Xmas.

Wait, there’s still wall space.

Yes!

What, actual baking equipment? These dudes are serious. The cherry French style pin was made in Kentuck, and the bad mother Dogwood one made in my basement, though everyone thinks it is Walnut. I know Walnut, and this is no Walnut.

A fifty/fifty split. The pins are used more often than the interlopers. But I can’t get that mulled wine off of my mind.