Sjobergs Workbench, and Sloyd in Sweden and the USA

Woodworking Utopia or Dystopia?

Sjobergs of Sweden makes literally thousands of benches and go alongs every year. This one is headed for its forth decade soon, and still has many years left in it. Professional woodworkers prefer mortise and tenoned benches the size of a Buick or a beached whale, but this has had at least four different homes, and it was easily moved. Was–it is now bolted to concrete in four places by lag bolts.

This is a realistic picture of the condition my bench stays in, as I am always making something. It would probably cause laughter from the nine year olds in Sweden, which is when they begin studying sloyd (sljöd in Swedish), which is the Swedish word for crafts. This study continues until after the child is fifteen.

Here’s the kind of thing that Swedish public education gives to nine year olds.

Not the Shavings, but the Knife

That’s a Sloyd knife, in this case a quality Swedish knife made of laminated steel. Instilling quality and character into students is what Sloyd is all about. Sloyd is also a good substitute for physical education, as all I learned in PE was how to become a tolerable free throw shooter.

Alas, the US hierarchy chose to follow “the Russian system,” which is vocational training. The current system here is not to build character and intelligence, but to churn out workers to make some greenback dollars for somebody. As an anecdote, I was the chair of the English department at a “Liberal Arts” University, where the school’s VP told me that English was a department that was a “service” department, there to help departments like the nursing school. So much for building character. My bench has more character than that.

I really should stop using it as a place to mix my various home made paints. If you look close enough, you can see gold glitter paint, that I spilled while mixing it. That’s too much character.

Crayfish Tails in Creole Sauce

Also Known as Mudbugs

A good Crayfish, like an honest man, can be hard to find. We had some decent ones from Spain, and then I was wandering through a big box store trying to find some edible seafood, and I saw a big bag of crayfish in the freezer section, festooned with a giant gold fleur-de-lis, so I thought, here are some real Louisiana crayfish. I picked up a bag, and the back had printed on it, “Product of China.” Puke. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there.

I finally found good pre-cooked crayfish from LA in our southern based supermarket chain. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Ingredients

12+ Crayfish Tails, shelled and de-veined

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Flour

The last two are for the roux. This needs a blonde, aka un-browned, roux, so don’t cook it too long. Then add the following.

1/2 chopped Onion

1/2 chopped sweet Pepper

Saute these together. If it’s summer, add–

2 fresh Tomatoes (I mill mine)

Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Cook these until they are right tasty. Then add the no longer secret ingredients

Garlic Paste

Hot Sauce (I like Tabasco Cayenne and Garlic here)

Because the tails are already cooked, they only need to be re-heated. This dish takes about as much time as it does to make the rice to go with. Naturally, we use Louisiana rice. About six mudbugs per person is a decent serving. Now if only Santa Clause can bring the Saints a spot in the Super Bowl.

Pickled Sweet and Sour Peppers with Capers

Free Oatmeal Cookie Recipe

Our seventies vintage Mirro-Matic has a couple of new parts, and pressure canning has gone into overdrive–it will process 16 pints at one time. Our local supermarket, not to mention the entire tomato farming regions of Italy, could go bankrupt.

Speaking of Italy, these pickled peppers are a take on a classic Italian condiment. Their’s is preserved in olive oil, but it’s pickle country here. This will make two half pints.

Ingredients

8 sweet Peppers

1 clove Garlic (I used Elephant Garlic)

A few Capers, chopped

White Wine Vinegar

Sugar

A wine glass of Water

Salt (not much)

Olive Oil

Cook the peppers and garlic in olive oil, just until they are soft. Dissolve the sugar in vinegar and water–the sweetness is up to you. Combine all with the capers, and pressure can, or just use an interminable hot water bath. Or find a Mirro-matic at a flea market.

My mother almost burned down our house, because she let a pressure cooker boil completely dry, and the top blew off of it. No one was harmed, but we thought our parakeet was a goner. A little fresh air, and he was chirping like crazy again. Don’t let that happen to your Budgie.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Five–Parawood Jelly Cabinet

Ignore the Dirt

The takeover continues, despite constitutional promises that the Kitchen cannot over rule the entire House. In this case it is even a kitchen cabinet in the dining room, though it was not confirmed by the Senate–and it’s from Vietnam.

We were sold on this Parawood cabinet when we read that it was made from old farmed rubber trees from defunct rubber plantations. Apparently rubber trees only produce latex for seventy some odd years, at which point they are cut down and made into some quality lumber. in short, this wood supply will last as long as the rubber meets the road somewhere.

We needed the storage space.

Just the Beginning

This also brought to mind one of my favorite students, who convinced me that the Vietnam war was really about control of the world rubber supply, and all the patriotic balloon about communism was just a bunch of hoya. How did he know? He volunteered for three tours of duty in ‘Nam as a medic for the Green Berets.

He was on paid leave from the Chicago Fire Department, and the union was paying his tuition. He was a conspicuous thirty years older than any of the students at UI, and had a wicked sense of humor. One male student asked him the following:

Student: Why did you volunteer for that many tours in Vietnam?

Beret: Because it was better than Chicago.

That shut the kid up. In a later class another one really stepped in it. He asked the following:

Student: Did you learn anything in Vietnam?

Beret: Yea, I learned not to shoot into Michelin’s rubber plantations.

As a theorist that just about all imperialist wars are fought over control of commodities, I had to get in on this conversation.

Me: Explain that.

Beret: We Green Berets could do almost anything we wanted. Burn villages, shoot civilians, and kill women and children. But, one shot into a Michelin rubber plantation, and your ass sat in the brig forever. And you think the Viet Cong didn’t know that?

That really got me thinking. The Greek empire, especially Athens, controlled the wheat supply. The Romans controlled wine, olive oil, and the famous fish sauce. We are aiming for an empire of canned goods.

Ok, not much of a start on an empire. The only place we’ve invaded has been the farmer’s market.

The Chicken’s New Dishwasher

New to Them

The junk pile groweth. The latest addition is a dishwasher tub, another ingenious idea from Melanie Jane-I guess she wasn’t a Phi Beta Kappa (farm girl) for no reason. Our twenty year old dishwasher blew a gasket, and the gasket wasn’t worth replacing. She said–put the main plastic part into the chicken’s junk yard. Mission Accomplished, and no chickens were harmed.

Nothing Like Junk

The birds like their junkyard as much as the digital sheep in the phenomenal British show Shaun the Sheep. Inventory reveals one mailbox, where the vast majority of our eggs come from, a red wheelbarrow, two tires, and now the dishwasher.

The bottom of the washer is leftover plywood, and the front is leftover 2×4. Some pine shavings and it’s done. Broody Bird, a Barred Rock, was the first in there. The ISA Browns like the dirt under there. I expect eggs in the dishwasher in the next week or so.

Shirley the Sheep, our favorite character from Shaun the Sheep, would be proud.

Thomas Jefferson, Mary Randolph, James Hemings, and Curly Fries

That’s right, a founding Father, a founding Mother and Father of American cooking, and the venerable curly fries. Venerable? The recipe goes back to 1824, and helps to answer the vexing question that many parents with small children face–“Mommy, Daddy, where did curly fries come from?”

As usual, there is an easy answer, and a complicated one, which is partly an exercise in probability. The easy answer is that the first printed recipe for curly fries is from Mary Randolph, and her 1824 bestseller The Virginia Housewife. From the section, “To Fry Sliced Potatos.”

Peel large potatos, slice them about a quarter inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or drippings. Take care that your fat and frying-pan are quite clean. . .

Mary Randolph

Cooked in lard over a wood fire! Possibly the best of all time. I’ll try these in the event that our high temps ever drop below ninety.

Here’s a list of probable sources–Mary Randolph herself. She was a real business woman, and nothing creates more business than novelty. Alas, she was not a chef, but an owner and a writer. Probability–moderate.

Next source–Thomas Jefferson. He is regularly given credit for introducing French Fries to America, which at the time were widely known as “pommes de terre frites à cru en petites tranches.” Translation: small potato slices fried raw. In short, exactly like Mary Randolph’s first version of fried potatoes. Alas, Jefferson was no cook. One of his servants said that the only thing Jefferson could do in the kitchen was wind the clock. Probability–low.

The next candidate–James Hemings, the man who actually did the cooking for Jefferson. He studied with two French chefs while in Paris, served as Jefferson’s chef, and undoubtedly ran across pommes frites, as the potato was making its magnificent debut in French cuisine. James taught his brother Peter French cooking, and Peter moved to Richmond, which happened to be where Mary Randolph set up business, as he, like his enslaved brother, were freed by Mr. Jefferson. Probability James or Peter introduced the curly fries–high.

Let’s head to left field and the capital of Nerdlandia. Here’s a possible method of transmission. Jefferson and Franklin both attended elaborate potato themed dinners thrown by the guru of French potato cultivation, Monsieur Parmentier, of Potage Parmentier fame, aka, Leek and Potato soup. Parmentier was like the original potato apostle, and would serve seven consecutive courses, all of which featured potatoes. Did his chef invent curly fries, or even Parmentier himself? Probability–total speculation.

I’ll leave you with Mary Randolph’s final suggestion, which is a must–when you take the curly fries out of the lard, don’t forget the salt.

Sweet Pickle Relish

Meet the Family

Canning season is here, and we are serious enough to even buy new parts for the ancient Mirro-matic canner that we were given. Here’s a skeleton Sweet Pickle Relish recipe.

Ingredients

Cucumbers

Onion, preferably Vidalia Onions

Sweet Peppers

Vinegar

Sugar

Very little Salt

No quantities? If I could see what size cucumbers you have, I could give you the quantities–define what “large” cucumbers means, please. Otherwise, add as much as you like, and for god’s sake, taste the pickles and see if you like them. Also, you can chop these by hand, or use a food processor. These batches were made both ways.

We process our pickles for fifteen minutes in a pressure cooker. Using that method, our failure rate has been zero. The two jars on both ends are technically a chutney, which includes chopped tomatoes and curry powder. I cribbed this recipe from chef Marcus Samuelson, my favorite from the current batch of celebrity chefs. He could in fact be the GOAT (greatest of all time) fusion cook.

Bear Sighting

Asiatic Black Bear, or Emma in Her Happy Place?

Word trickled down to us that a new neighbor, who is three houses down from us, had reported seeing a bear in their yard, and called the police to have it removed. Imagine their disappointment when the neighbor nearer to us told them that it was Emma the Aussie, who had wandered down to play with his dog.

The police came on patrol anyway, and found no trace of a bear that they could use as bear spray practice. They should have looked for one that has one leg shaved, which Emma has. Hereby hangs another tale.

Back at the first of the month Emma had a bad case of food poisoning, which I strongly suspect had something to do with the big piece of of squirrel fur which she barfed up right in front of me. We took her to the vet, who promptly shaved her leg and stuck an IV in it. Two days and two nights later, Emma was returned to us, and she promptly reclaimed her bear’s territory. Moral here–if squirrel is on the menu, specify that you want the non-rotten one.

Such is a dog’s life. You get sick, only to have the cops called on you when you get home. It could have been worse–she could have run into Florida Man. Just a week or two ago one prime specimen sprayed thirty people in a Miami mall with–you guessed it–bear spray. He knocked over a candle shop, and bear sprayed his way out of the crime scene, and escaped in a cab, to whereabouts unknown.

Surrounded by Florida Men, unvaccinated maskless marauders, and various other yahoos, such as the fifty percent of nursing home workers in this state who are unvaccinated, what to do? Voltaire would say, we should cultivate our garden. In my case, I am about to throw the chickens a day old biscuit, and start a chicken riot.

Blue Mushroom Summer

Sorry Elvis

We’re having a mushroom summer this year, with endless rainfall–sorry Oregon. As climate scientists quite accurately predicted, extremes have just become more extreme, as the years pass. A few years back we had the longest drought in state history, which was over two months with zero rainfall. Last month we had right at a foot of rain.

At any rate, in the space of less a hundred square feet, I found three species of Lactarius. This blue one is the most obvious, Lactarius indigo. We usually have one every couple of years, but this year there is a cluster of six. Next to these is Lacterious deliciosus. Both are said to be right tasty. The spoiler is a huge colony of Lacterius chrysorheus, which is quite poisonous. My Falcon guide to mushrooms, written by two Virginians, naturally, says it has Type 8 toxins, which sounds like next level bad.

As much as I would like to have a big plate of the first two, I have not held up my end of a deal struck with Melanie Jane, in that I not eat any wild mushrooms until I get a certificate in Mycology. Rumor has it that there is one mycologist in Birmingham. I admittedly am somewhat attached to my liver, as long as it functions.

“Leftover” Wood Spoon Rack

The Camera was Crooked

I have changed my terminology so that my vocabulary no longer contains “Scrap Pile.” My two substitutes are “Leftover Wood” and “Firewood.” Recycling small off cuts and shavings, and other odd pieces in the bread oven, and turning them into food, may be the new cycle of life.

–Which naturally brings me to the brick oven. When the trim is almost done, and the decoration begins, the end of the project is near. Anna Napoletana looked a little lonely hanging on the back of the oven by herself, so I made a very fast useful item with Leftover Wood–a Spoon Rack.

This is the end cuts of the picture frame next to it, and as soon as I saw them, I thought–spoon rack. This has four 1/2″ holes, so it will accommodate four spoons. Three cuts with the miter saw, and then assembly with finishing nails, and a couple of deck screws. It needed some of the gold glitter paint, to match Anna’s frame, and then it was attached to the oven with deck screws. It took far longer for the paint to dry than it took to build it.

Leftover wood, like left over food, can be as good as fresh.