Hoya! Empty Shelves and Hyper-Inflation

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity will know what Hoya! means. It’s the stuff you don’t want to step in whilst in the Horse barn, or any other barn, for that matter. These days, I can’t even look at the news media on the interwebs without having a bushel of Hoya! chunked at me.

My two favorites–empty shelves and hyper-inflation. I have actually seen one empty shelf at the supermarket, but that was a year ago when all the toilet paper hoarding was going on. Even then, it wasn’t completely empty–some brands remained in stock. As I am not a a fan of any particular kind of this sanitary product, I grabbed some and left. No harm and no foul.

Gas prices? They have gone up, but buy a Prius like ours, and you won’t notice or care. We still have to buy a tank of gas every couple of months, but it is usually in the twenty buck range. Stop driving your Ford Extinction, and get over the worries.

And then there is the all-time world champion, the fate of the un-vaccinated. They are in fact dying like flies, but if you live with the intelligence of a fly, you are probably going to die like one. The CDC can issue all the mask guidelines it wants, but as the cliche goes, you can’t cure stupid. As my hero Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

In short, I am going to have to go back to one of my favorite writers, the nineteenth century American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce. He devised the most famous definition of the formation of a hypothesis, a procedure he named “abduction.” An astute person applies a general rule to a particular problem, and acts according, though the general rule MUST BE BASED ON FACTS AND REALITY, if it is to be useful. Four vaccinations later (three Covid and one flu), and I have not grown a single crocodile scale, or truthfully, even had a single noticeable side effect.

Maybe that is just me, but as HD Thoreau said, I don’t know anyone else nearly as well as myself.

Home Cooking Equals Homemade Meth–in Montana

Meanwhile, back to the department of I wish I could make this stuff up. The following gem about home cooking came from an honest to god US Senator, who apparently misses the days of home cooked meth.

Senator Steve Daines gave the following speech twice this week, so it was no slip of the tongue. Here is an exact quote:

“20 years ago in Montana, meth was homemade – it was home grown. It had purity levels less than 30 percent. Today, the meth that is getting into Montana is Mexican cartel.”

Doesn’t sound much like Neil Young’s song “Homegrown,” so I will quote one of my favorite Reggae songs instead, “Junk Food.” “It was like your Granny’s cooking.”

I think the Senator’s speechwriter is named Walter White. I always suspected that he faked his own death.

111 Year Old South Carolina Woman Reveals the Secret to Living Past 110–Eat, Drink, and be Merry

Maria Aulenbacher is my new hero. She received her Covid vaccine, and while drinking a giant glass of red red wine, gave up her secret to long life to CNN, during an interview. It fits in perfectly with my lifestyle.

The secret? Drink lots of wine and beer, and eat the best food you can. That’s been my philosophy for years. I can hardly think of a better.

By the way, she also has a great German name. And get your shots, please. If a 111 year old will do it, so should everyone else.

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.

Optimus 199-The Classic Multi-Fuel Stove

Root Hog or Die, or in this Case, Prime the Stove or go Hungry

My mid 1980’s Optimus 199 is still going strong, and I bought it brand new for less than $100, so in the used car business, this would be known as a one owner item. That’s probably a good thing, as these are more than a little collectible, with prices of upwards of $500 not uncommon, if you can find anyone willing to part with their’s. This is the stove that started me on the downward slope of collecting, hoarding, and gear heading.

There is something innately satisfying in carrying everything that’s needed to cook in one small container. On an overnight trip, it may not even be necessary to carry any extra fuel. I always do anyway, as I pack light and really like to cook.

Blue Hot. Look, but don’t Touch

The wind screen doubles as a pot support, and makes for an incredibly stable set up. Those Swedes, they are so clever. I did move the fuel bottles, as I once set the MSR one on fire.

Safe Cooking. Keep the Adjustment Key away from the Stove

Will it boil water?

Ramen Noodles in a Couple of Minutes, or Instant Grits instantly

Now, how multi fuel is it? White gas (benzene, petrol) is easily the best fuel. Kerosene requires some practice, as the stove has to be properly pressurized, and that little pump is what you might call small. Alcohol is anybody’s guess. A few years back, I talked with the Optimus experts at A&H Enterprises in California, and they knew of no one who used this as an alcohol stove. Why would you, when a bag of Optimus parts costs more than a Trangia alcohol stove?

The famous Optimus Cobra silent burner is everything it should be, the armored vehicle of the stove world. My stove lives in this little Cascade Designs stuff sack. It’s much better than a strap, to keep all those parts from wandering around.

Behold, the Complete Package

How many modern little weight weenie stoves will still be working, 35 years from now?

Great Southern Food Essays–“The Pleasures of Eating,” by Wendell Berry (1989)

Every writer runs across an essay occasionally, and says, “Damn, I wish I had written that.” Let’s just say that there are probably thousands of writers who wish they had written “The Pleasures of Eating.” Brilliant and prophetic at the same time, it has to be the best takedown of the current food system dominated by big agriculture.

I’m just going to start with one of the finest sentences I’ve ever read. “Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing.” Industrial sex? What a comparison. Every time I drive past a fast food place like Chickin-fil-whatever, I have the same thought.

Here’s another zinger, about how oblivious people are to the garbage they are eating. “One will find this same obliviousness represented in virgin purity in the advertisements of the food industry, in which the food wears as much makeup as the actors.” I actually had a student who worked as a food “stylist” and photographer, and she sprayed her food with hair spray before she took a picture of it. Enough said.

I will end with the thesis, which is something of an odd way to end, but it is “the proposition that eating is an agricultural act.” I won’t give all of Berry’s recommendations, but a revised version of the entire essay is posted on the interwebs. Alas, it omits the industrial sex reference. Read it, and weep anyway, for the current state of our food system. Then go to your local farmer’s market, and buy some real food.

I saw Mr. Berry once, when he gave a reading at the University of Illinois. He drove up from his farm in Kentucky, and showed up wearing a pair of overalls. That’s what we call keeping it real.

Svea 123–The Ultimate Outdoor Stove

A Stove with Drama. Swedish and Proud of It

No one needs a 30,000 BTU kerosene burner all the time, so my go to outdoor stove is the venerable SVEA 123, based on a design which is well over a hundred years old. It’s so complex my version, the 123R, has TWO moving parts. In two decades, it has never needed a single repair.

Then there’s the drama. It burns white gas, aka petrol, coleman fuel, benzine, etc, so it needs to be primed in order to light. Pour a little fuel over the burner, light a match, throw it in the direction of the stove, and RUN AWAY. This stove is not recommended for use on oak tables.

Will it cook?

A Fast Boil

After the starter flame burns out, the stove is easily lit, and then comes the famous sound–a jet engine, or a rocket taking off. Mine sounds like a locomotive trying to get up a mountain-chug chug, chug chug. This is my favorite outdoor stove.

Buy one of the old solid brass Swedish made ones from eBay, and if you’re incredibly lucky, you can get one with the Sigg Tourist cook set. I admitted to my wife that I have a fetish for camping stoves–I have six–but I could live with just this one.

All the Parts

Growing Citrus in the Central South

Key Limes

Key Lime and Meyer Lemon, grown north of Birmingham, Alabama.

Our latitude here may be more or less the same as northern Morocco and Libya, but it still gets nice and cold. The hardiest citrus plants would still survive outside during the winter, but the problem is that the fruit would not. Who wants that? The answer is growing in pots, aka containers.

The advice here is simple: buy the largest size container you can handle, and then get a plant trolley/buggy to wheel them around with. I made my own out of pressure treated pine. We wheel our plants in in November and put them outside in April. The honeybees love the blooms, and can locate them within minutes of putting the plants outside. It’s almost scary.

Our favorite varieties are the Key Lime pictured, Satsuma Mandarin Oranges, and Meyer Lemon. Year in and out the Meyer is the best, though it is really a hybrid between lemons and oranges. Even in a container it has enormous fruit.

You can also underplant your citrus with something like Christmas Cactus, to make it more decorative.

Great Southern Food Books–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, and Family (2007)

Kingsolver BookWhy not begin with the best?

If you are looking for a Southern Fusion “Food” book, this is it. This is not a cookbook, in any sense of the word, but a series of interlinked essays about food, Southern and otherwise. Naturally, there are recipes here, but the concept of the book lies in the subtitle: “A Year of Food Life.” It doesn’t hurt that it was written by one of the best writers around, Barbara Kingsolver, who really is a national treasure.

The premise is this: Kingsolver and family move back south from Arizona, after spending years in the Cadillac desert (check out the book with that title). Instead of her native Kentucky, she, her prof husband Steven Hopp, and her two daughters end up in the beautiful mountains of southwestern Virginia, on a large farm. What a sacrifice! Soon thereafter, they decide to conduct a year long experience of living as “locavores,” or people who eat primarily food that is grown locally, within a reasonably short distance from their home in Washington County, Virginia.

Not wanting to give away the entire contents of the book, I will add that Kingsolver goes to New England and the Midwest, and even manages to make it all the way to Italy, as part of her exploration of local food aficionados. It doesn’t get much more fusion than that.

Speaking of that, here is a weekly May menu, compiled for the book by daughter Camille Kingsolver:

Sunday~Grilled chicken, fresh bread, and a giant salad of fresh greens, carrots and peas

Monday~Asparagus and morel bread pudding

Tuesday~Asian summer rolls with spicy peanut sauce, served with rice

Wednesday~Vegetarian tacos with refried beans, pea shoots. lettuce, spring onions, and cheese

Thursday~Cheese ravioli tossed with stir fried spring vegetables, oregano, and olive oil

Friday~Chicken pizza with olives and feta

Saturday~Frittata packed with cheese and vegetables, salad, strawberry-rhubarb crisp

Applebee’s menu, this ain’t. I personally would like to be there for the Monday meal.

In short, this is as inspiring a food book as there is. It even ends with a completely fascinating chapter long examination of turkey production and reproduction, written after Kingsolver made herself an expert on the two subjects. I guess everyone has to be an expert on something, other than just winning one writing award after another.

I was a Teenage Fast Food Worker, Part One–The Night I Cooked for the Mob

ChickenWhy is there a derringer pointed at where this organic chicken’s head used to be? Why is a whole chicken in a skillet? Why am I asking you? Read on.

Nineteen year olds rarely have a chance to cook for a couple of mobsters, and that was not my intent when I showed up for the night shift at our local fast food fried chicken franchise in my home town of Cullman, Alabama. I just wanted to get my work done, and get the hell out of there as fast as possible, because I had a hot date at ten o’clock that night. Ladies, gentlemen, and all you other guys out there, any young woman who will wait until ten to start a date is worth the time.

Speaking of extortion schemes, the University of Alabama was starting a series of tuition increases that have not stopped since then, and I needed some extra money to cover the bits and pieces. After one year there, I was actually headed into my junior year, having begun college with a year’s worth of credit. At any rate, I was one of the last people to see tuition at $98 per semester.

We had two cooks at two different stations that night, as the restaurant served two different types of fried chicken: one that was pressure fried, which gives the chicken a texture impossible to duplicate in the average home kitchen; and another that was just plain old greasy deep fried chicken, though it was marketed as being “crispy.” I manned the deep fryer, as the pressure frying machine was obviously too complex for an English/Physics double major (I later dropped the Physics part).

By 9:15 I had gone through my usual eighty pounds of chicken, and was ready to leave. We locked up at 9:30, and then we two cooks would mop and de-grease the floor with a combination of scalding hot water and Clorox. At exactly that time, a black Cadillac with Illinois plates pulled into our empty parking lot. Two rather large gentlemen with no foreheads and fancy suits stepped out of it, and headed toward our lobby door. Everyone knew it was the Chicago mob.

How did we know? We were in a small town in north Alabama, but none of us fell off the turnip truck on the way to work that day. A local millionaire, who went by the name of Bully Moon, lived a block behind our restaurant. He was rumored to be an acquaintance of many shady folks, including the Chicago mob. Everyone knew this, except for the police, apparently. Bully was eventually convicted of obstruction and tax evasion, and given six years at Club Fed. He only served three. There, he couldn’t touch Little Man Popwell, who owed $400, 000 of tax penalties in 1955, and also spent some time in Club Fed. Little Man was 5′ 6″ and weighed 300 lbs, and allegedly ran the Birmingham affiliate of the New Orleans Mafia, which is said to be the oldest mob group in the country. He ran an illegal mini-casino out of his home in Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, and was even inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in Vegas.

Our two visitors made their way into the lobby, and found themselves face to face with our cashier, who had long fake fingernails, and a beehive hairdo that even Marge Simpson couldn’t compete with. I am able to translate her Southern and their Chicago-ese because of my five year residence in Illinois, and my many more than that years long residence here.

Cashier: “Kin I hep yu?” (Can I help you?)

Goon 1: “We wan sum chickn.” (We want some chicken.) The goon 2 never said anything. Maybe he was shy.

Cashier: “Woold you like the crees-pee, or tha oorigeenul res-a-pee?” (Would you like the crispy, or the original recipe?)

Goon 1: “Whut’s da diffunce?” (What’s the difference?)

Cashier: “Tha oorigeenul has a see-crette blee-end of erbs and spices, and the crees-pee is marry-nated and deep fri-iid.” (The original has a secret blend of herbs and spices, and the crispy is marinated and deep fried.)

Goon 1: “We’ll take uh buckit uv da kispy.” (We’ll take a bucket of the crispy.)

Damnation! If any of that chicken was bad, I was a dead man. There’s nothing worse than someone who misses a date because they’re dead. Maybe my sweetie would cry at my funeral. Then I remembered that there weren’t any tables in our lobby, and only one plastic chair. We were a take out place. They were going to have to eat at Bully’s.

The date was back on.

Or so I thought, as they took the bucket of chicken two feet down the counter, and tore into it standing up. It was awesome to watch. The only difference between those two, and an Alaskan Grizzly eating a live salmon, is that they didn’t eat the bones. Instead, they chunked them back into the bucket, and grabbed another piece. Within five minutes, there was nothing left but a bucket of bones.

They both wiped the grease off their mouths with their jacket sleeves, and Goon 1 turned to our cashier, and said, “Pudy gud.” (Pretty good.) And then they got back into their Caddy, and in my imagination, drove down a block to give Bully the business. So there it was–the mob thought my fried chicken was pudy gud, and I still had a hot date waiting for me. Life was pudy gud.

This needs an epilogue of sorts. A couple of years after my two months at that fine establishment, the kitchen caught on fire, and both chicken fryers and chicken eaters moved across town to a brand new building. They even had tables and chairs there. My date turned out to be even hotter than expected, and four years later, we were married, and still are. As it turned out, I married the best Phi Beta Kappa fryer of chicken in the South. Maybe one day Melanie Jane will have the chance to fry some chicken for a couple of wise guys from Illinois, the state University of which, strangely enough, happens to be her Alma Mater.

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