Nutcracker v. Nutcrackers

Nutcracking Season is Here

Here are two classic nutcrackers. One dances every Christmas, and fights the Mouse King. The other one only cracks nuts, and doesn’t dance at all.

The military looking fellow did come from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Deutschland, but he is mainly decoration, who could crack some hazelnuts, maybe, but not much more. That hundred year old fellow is another story. Archimedes himself would have loved this design. “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” Or crack some nuts.

A Pecan was Harmed AND Eaten

I put the old fellow on a nice piece of oak, and made a spot for the pickers, as pecans are bad about sticking in the shells. And then there is the thing to bust open the pecan’s relative, the notorious hickory nut.

Hammer Down

Yes, that is a California made Vaughn 23 ounce framing hammer, and be ready to swing it to bust open a hickory nut, or a black walnut. Cooking can be a lot like work. Just don’t break hickory nuts on a nice countertop.

Beef Stew Al Fresco

Is Al Fresco related to Al Pacino?

This is nothing but a simple beef stew, but it was cooked in a cast iron camping Dutch Oven over an open fire, which always makes everything taste better. I will disclose the small wrinkles which add layers and layers to the dish. First, marry-nate some cubed up chuck roast, in red wine, salt, and pepper. I left mine in the fridge overnight, and then browned it in some home rendered lard, over some blazing heat.

The One Spoon

It helped that I had the One Spoon to cook with, which I got from a small fellow with furry feet. He told me it was the one spoon to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Actually, I made that monstrosity out of some Carolina Buckthorn, a weed tree if there ever was one. It’s almost as long as my Amish made fireplace poker. It does keep your hands away from the fire.

Deglaze

I threw in a whole chopped onion, cooked it, and deglazed the whole thing with some apple wine that was mysteriously sitting next to my fire pit, and the red wine marinade. Who would have guessed?

Milled Tomatoes

The next step is to add milled tomatoes, and cook for an hour or two. Throw a lid on that thing, to conserve heat.

This is Merely Medium Sized

I’ve always thought of Dutch Ovens as something like primitive pressure cookers, because it takes some serious steam to leak through that massive lid. The last ingredients are salt, pepper, carrots, and naturally, taters, precious.

Ready to Stew

It would take another good hour to finish this, so I just went back to work on my great American novel, which is closing to a finish. If only it was as good as this stew turned out to be.

Boiling Ants

Old Meets New

Anyone who has spent much time in the South has come in contact with our insect scourge, the imported Fire Ant. After sneaking in on a banana boat, literally, in Mobile, they have spread from here to California. Their bite is bad enough that it can literally leave a scar. I have plenty.

Worst of all, their preferred habitats are lawns and veg gardens. People spend millions of dollars on chemicals to kill them. My solution is the Occam’s Razor of pest control. I just pour boiling water on them. It is both environmentally friendly, and emotionally satisfying.

You could run across your lawn with a kettle of boiling water, or you could do what I do, which is to take the fire to the ants (pun warning). My favorite setup is above, all Swedish, an Optimus stove and a Trangia kettle. Maybe I should get a dragon tattoo.

Killing fire ants, and playing with matches. How appropriate.

Optimus 11 Explorer–One of the Last of the Great Swedish made Multi-Fuel Stoves

Fire, Walk with Me

Sweden has also been overtaken by globalization, like everyone else, and the once mighty camp stove manufacturing centers have been reduced to one, the great Trangia company. Perhaps the saddest of all is the Optimus company, which manufactured some of the most sought after stoves on the internet. Even the most iconic Swedish stove, the SVEA 123, has had production outsourced.

Maybe I did over prime my Optimus 11 Explorer for dramatic effect, but that stove can take it. I’ve cooked literally hundreds of meals on this stove, and it is a hoss. Possibly even a boss hoss.

Old and New both get Happy

This is the stove before the conflagration. It has the classic Sherman tank of a Cobra silent burner, combined with a miraculously clever modern fuel storage system. No plastic pumps here–This one is almost all metal.

On means Ready to Cook

Strangely enough, the other side of the pump says “Off.” To turn off the stove, simply flip the bottle over. That system also allows all the gas in the fuel supply line to burn out, which means no spilling when the stove is disconnected from the fuel bottle, and packed for travel (The stand folds flat). And this stove is designed to cook, from simmer to blow torch.

The Classic Blue Flame

The stove burns kerosene as well as it burns white gas, and apparently is more than adequate at burning alcohol. It certainly puts out the heat, and is the hottest burning outdoor stove I have, other than my 30,000 BTU propane cooker, which will deep fry a twenty pound turkey–the difference being that the latter requires a giant tank of propane to do that. The 11 only needs that one small fuel bottle.

These stoves are somewhat scarce as they had a short production run, preceding the equally trailblazing Optimus Nova. One half-witted reviewer found the stove to have too many parts. If a writer can’t handle two main parts, a stand, a windscreen, and a regulating key, they shouldn’t be left alone with even a tent stake.

The review that sold me on buying this stove as soon as it was introduced, marveled at its bomb proof construction. It is also very simple to maintain and rebuild, after it has been scorched by a few hundred meals. The review concluded that this stove would be “a friend for life.” Those are always a good thing to have.

Optimus 45–The Boss of Kerosene Stoves

One Mean Cooking Machine

Being a gear head is better than being an alcoholic, in that the gear is still there after you finish playing with it. This Optimus 45 is technically my Christmas present, but Melanie Jane wanted me to test it out before it got boxed up until December 24 (yes, we are both of German extraction, and Christmas Eve is when the celebration really happens).

All I did to this ancient Swedish made device was lube the pump, and soak the burner in mineral spirits. No repairs necessary. And boom! It was burning in no time. And does it ever burn.

That’s just Priming

The stove is primed using alky-hol, but is powered with inexpensive kerosene. In many places, this was more of a household than a camping item. Elizabeth David, while she worked in Egypt in the 1950’s, had a Greek chef who did all of his cooking on two of the practically identical Primus versions of this stove. A great design is timeless. Strangely enough, this stove is engraved in English, Swedish, and Arabic.

Alas, these are no longer made in Sweden, but ebay has loads of them. This design is also popular throughout Asia, and near identical copies are manufactured in India and Malaysia. I am considering buying one of the silent burners for this made in India, but right now, I just love to hear this thing make noise. They don’t call the burner a roarer burner for no reason.

Barred Rock Chickens at Six Months

Chickens always win a Stare Down with Emma the Aussie

We had our first four egg day, just as our six Barred Rock hens were about to hit the six month old mark. I imagine that will be the usual output of eggs, using the one egg per day and a half, per chicken, rule.

I am the Ruler of the Roost

Those two are Big Tail and Little tail. Though allegedly the same age, the developmental difference between the two is obvious. And there is even one thing they like better than their red wheelbarrow.

Earth Movers

My compost bin! I fill it up at least once a week, and they empty it out in no time. I still expect to have some of the richest compost in history, except that I will have to track it down, as they scatter it throughout the pen.

Coop, or Co-op?

At night they all cram into this pre-fab coop, which was made by Innovation Pet. It’s very clever, and was designed by some real chicken experts. Not actual chickens, but humans who are experts on chickens. It cost much less than what it would have taken me to build something similar. I did sit it on a foundation of 4x4s, which turned out to be an excellent idea, as we had an unbelievably wet spring.

At a later date, I will expound upon my mostly home made watering and feeding devices, two of which are partially visible in this picture. Until then, peace out.

Eggs. To Refrigerate, or not to Refrigerate? That is the Question.

Eggs laid Minutes ago, by my Barred Rock Hens

An existential question here–Should I wash my eggs? I mean, they have been up the inside of a chicken, so there is something strange about that. Who knows what those birds have been doing? I regularly catch mine loitering in my driveway. So naturally, the answer is no, and yes.

NO

My fresh eggs, which I collect a couple of times a day, are said to be safely consumed unrefrigerated for up to three months. They never last more than a week around here, so no biggy with that one. Unwashed eggs have a natural bacteria barrier coating known as the bloom or cuticle. If you buy eggs at a farmer’s market, just ask a seller if they have been washed. A little chicken poop on the eggs is a good sign they weren’t.

YES

The big bad USDA requires that all supermarket eggs be washed, and even steamed. Thus the natural coating has been removed, from even the freest of the free range eggs. Combine that with the fact that most commercial eggs are at least a month old before they hit the shelves. Keep these jokers cold. Moral of this story: No supermarket egg, no matter how expensive, will be as good as a farmyard one. There has to be a lesson here, if not an egg manifesto.

DOWN WITH BIG CHICKEN

Chickens of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your coops! Seriously, this goes back to the heart of agri-culture. Know where your food comes from, and all will be well. I promise.