Springtime in VacationLand?  41? and foggy above leftover snow.  Been raining some. Can winter be only half over?  Hot Community Darkroast at my elbow.  Brings back memories of the early days of my addiction. It’s an extraordinarily gray, dark, dank and dreary day.  That’s a G and three D’s.  I’ll have to make a special effort toward the more cheery side of life today.  I guess I could turn a light on.  Cooking something could help.  Eating something, the one-stop cure for everything, could and probably will be the answer.  I have this great cauliflower recipe.  Some kind of Indian thing called aloo gobi masala, with potatoes and tomatoes and curry.  Of course, I could just re-engage our on-going task of cleaning up the collected clutter of decades and hauling it to the dump, um, that would be transfer station.  Transfer to where, I wonder.  Ever notice how the point these days is to name things according to function rather than what it’s actually used for?  I dump, they transfer.  I remember the good old days, standing in the bed of my old ’68 Dodge D-100 raking out the week’s collected garbage, junk and yard litter, listening to the gulls and chatting up my neighbors.  Those were the days.  Of course there was the smell.  I wonder – is it actually possible to meditate in January?

Formally, I was a balloon tired, single speed, undocumented, 14 year old bicycle daredevil.  I lived on my bike.  We were a set.  Mostly me and Richard Earl, and sometimes, Tinkie, FF and J-Boy.  We were not tied together by baseball bats or footballs but we were brothers on our bicycles.

We would ride the six miles up to Harding Field to swim at the decommissioned Officer’s Club swimming pool.  Then on the way home we would ride down the middle of Plank Road with cars behind us for blocks.  We thought we were entitled.  We would bask in what we thought was our glory, but it was in fact adolescent stupidity.  Daredevils are often stupid.

Coming down was never thought to be the problem.  It was getting to the top that was the issue.  Remember we were a couple of 14 year old boys that lived on our bicycles.  We were in petty good shape, but once we had to stop and lean into the rail to catch our wind.  Finally, after what seemed to be forever, we made it to the top of the bridge out of wind but thrilled.  Now came the downhill, which was the point of the whole exercise, of course.

Blithely we began the roll to the west side of the river.  We picked up speed and noticed that we were keeping up with traffic.  Richard reported later that his bike vibrated so that he was afraid it would come apart.  My eyes watered as we flew down the incline the half mile to the bottom.  We had to make the turn for the loop back beneath the bridge or else we would be committed for miles of flatland peddling.  

I hoped the pavement was free of debris as we leaned into the turn for the loop. We were still moving at an unpracticed speed, driven by our downhill momentum.  Leaning into the turn and gently breaking, we finally slowed down enough to make the turn safely and coasted over to the east bound lane and stopped to catch our breath – to let ourselves feel things we were not used to feeling.  

We were “pumped”.  We had already figured out that the “run out” on the East side was twice as long and we would be able to handle that much easier, in that all we had to do was to stay in the saddle and ride it out without turning. 

After taking a whiz in the tall grass beneath the bridge as the cars clattered by overhead, we buttoned up – looked at each other and smiled.  We had done it.  Then we nodded in the somber realization that we were only half way through.  To get home, we had to cross the wide Mississippi once more.

As we eased into the eastbound traffic, my legs felt like rubber.  I began to doubt my ability to ride to the top.  But after a while, pacing ourselves, we began to feel the rhythm and managed to get to the top without stopping.  Reaching the long flat span across the river, it seemed that the danger of the whole enterprise hit home for both of us, as we later acknowledged.  I wanted to look out at the vast industrial complex on the east side of the river but was afraid to take my eyes off the road for an instant with traffic speeding by inches to my left.

Soon we began the downhill glide that would take us home at a speed that seemed much faster than before.  We both reported vibration and sounds that were unfamiliar and ominous.  Finally after our speed bled off we made the turn for the Scenic Highway and home.

We stopped at Baton Rouge Bayou and rested under the bridge and practiced our “war stories”.  We had survived.  We replayed each part of our adventure and indulged in some yelling and laughter.  After a while  I said, “So what are you going to do now?”  He said, “I don’t know, I guess I’ll go home.”  “Yeah, me too,” I said.

For years after on the many weekend trips home from college driving over that same bridge, that had been widened by four feet to reduce the danger, I never failed to smile and shake my head in wonder.  I always thought, “Yes! We really did that.”  And I never failed to add, “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” – but always with a smile.

THE CHILI OPTION FOR SURVIVAL

24. January 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized

You may have noticed: IT’S COLD!  And it’s going to get just as cold tonight as it did last night, and perhaps more.  What to do – what to do?

For me and my house we’re going to have chili.

I wasn’t going out today except to the mailbox, but in order to make my regionally famous Border Chili, ( any border will do ) I would need to go out and find the beef. I always love an excuse to go to Bow Street Market and that is where I can get the natural beef we eat when we eat beef.  It’s local and un-medicated.

Here is my formula for a dynamite bowl of red.  Go on – you know you wanted to know.

2 lbs of Pineland Farms stew meat cut into small bits of various sizes.  If you want to add a little regular ground meat you can.  Maybe some pork or squirrel.

8 cups of water to which is added two cans of beef consommé.  This really kicks up the beef flavor

Two good sized onions chopped coarsely

7 to 10 large cloves of garlic minced 

About 1/3 cup of sliced jalapeños.  

Around 8 or 9 T of chili powder.  I use Pendery’s Original and Top Hat with a little New Mexican Chimayo for flavor.  Check http://www.penderys.com  for a good source.  Obviously, you can use any chili powder you want, but I can vouch for the quality and flavor of these which I buy by 1/2 to 1 pound amounts.

Bring the liquid to a boil and add the meat stirring to break up the pieces that stick together.  There is going to be lots of foaming.  Skim off the darker parts and stir down the rest.  You are not going to eliminate it all.

When the meat has cooked – about 15 minutes of this vigorous boiling – add the onion, garlic and chili powders.  You might want to reserve a third of the chili powders to test the taste after a couple of hours and add the rest to adjust the taste. Aw, just throw the lot into the pot.  You will love it.

Turn the fire down to low and let it alone, except for the occasional stirring, for 3 or 4 hours.  Keep an eye on the liquid and add some water now and then to keep the level up but do not thin it too much.

I like a little body to my chili.  There are several ways to achieve this but my favorite is to use some masa.  It can be found where ever the corn meal and flour is found. You will find, Masa Harina, which is a corn flour used extensively in Mexican cooking.  I take about a third of a cup of masa and whisk into it about a cup or so of water or the hot liquid.  Use enough liquid to make a thin mix.  Stir this into the chili and this seems to do the trick.  Remember, you don’t have to thin it at all.

Taste as you go along.  You’ll know when it is right.  Tasting as you go you will find a not so subtile improving and blending of the flavors used in the recipe.

You will notice I didn’t mention salt and pepper.  Be careful it seems to be savory enough.  The consommé contains salt as well as some of the chili powders.

Just eating chili as it is is great.  But I like it over a little rice.  Now and then I love some grated cheddar on top.  If it is too warm for you tender lipped souls out there, have a dollop of sour cream with some chives on the side with which you can dress the occasional spoon.

It goes without saying that a little cornbread couldn’t hurt a thing.  Perhaps a glass of porter.

You will notice I didn’t mention beans.  Put them in if you want.  You might be interested in knowing that not a single Terlingua Champion has ever put a bean in his/her chili.  

You know, just talking about this has warmed me up considerably.  I hope it helps you as much.  

Stay warm.  And stay tuned.

SMALL ADJUSTMENTS

17. January 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Uncategorized

I really wish there were some way to avoid thinking about the end of life, specially when the end is – well, not as far away as it was once perceived to be. Fifty years ago I hardly considered it. Even when lying in a hospital bed quite certain I was having a coronary event. I felt then that as soon as my buddy the doctor, with whom I was traveling down to Port Isabel to go for a sailboat ride back up to Corpus Christi, got through with his expert ministrations, I would jump up and we would continue our adventure.

Not once, that I remember, did I think, “Oh shit! This is it. I’m a goner”.

Even as I was recovering form what was determined to be acute gastritis, ( too much con queso and not enough beer – those were the days before I discovered the blessings of alcohol ) I was hungering for a burrito with lots of sour cream. Some pills and a polite nod to diet brought me around enough for us to complete our sea going adventure. Later, of course, I found that alcohol, in moderation, covered a multitude of sins, among which is the sin of sound judgment. I haven’t figured out how to do con queso in moderation. There is just something about semi-liquid cheese with hot things floating around in it.

These days, however, any twitch or rumble in the thoracic region gives me pause to remember where my phone is with the number 1 speed dial button set to 911.

You get to be an Octogenarian, you get to be cautious about life. I hold on going down stairs. I use a walking stick when hiking, specially down precipitous paths. I start the heavy breathing before it’s needed. Although I sometimes feel that I still have the reflexes of a 20 year old, I am still rational enough to know that’s a lie.

Flexibility is the know it all and tell it all. I simply do not bend as well as I used to do. You would understand all this without any further explanation if you were privileged to see me trying to put on a pair of Levis without holding on to something. What you are seeing in your mind’s eye now is exactly what inspired the famous dance, The Bunny Hop.

Think, Bunny Hop with a cane.

Anyway, what this all means for me is that I hold on when trying to get into my jeans. Luckily, I usually don’t have an audience.

DRIVERLESS CARS

10. January 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Uncategorized

I was reading a Post item yesterday morning about the introduction of driverless cars being tested by Audi, Toyota, Google, of all people, and others.  We already have pilotless drones that can pop the buttons off an Al Qaeda Chieftain’s Levis.  Why not a car that can stay between the lines and not run into the car in front?  I mean, why not?

These are already being tested under state license in Nevada.  Let me see – that’s desert, right?  So the car wipes out a few cactus plants and mows down a stack of poker chips.  Who cares?  Well, I guess if they are your chips….

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the CyberBahn.  Sit back and relax.  Your destination has been keyed into the Mother Computer in the Cloud and if you will simply flip the red switch on your dash from Manuel to Auto, we will be off in quiet safety.  Sensors will keep you safely spaced from other vehicles.  Have a drink.  Text until your fingers fall off, take a nap…..

Wait a minute!  This is already going on, and there’s no switch to flip.  I had to take to the shoulder recently when this guy pulled into my lane while talking on his phone completely oblivious to my presence.  He probably had an adult beverage between his legs as well.  If I didn’t have my proximity sensors on to warn me, we would have had a 911 situation.  Yes, I said proximity sensors.  Eyes!  Low tech but effective.

When I think about all the crap people are doing in their cars at 80 MPH – besides driving – it makes me yearn for the driverless age. 

But, I see complications.  How does one, for example flip off an electronic device that cuts you off at the exit?  I mean, if you can’t insult the other driver, what use is it to drive?

Here’s a scenario for you.  I am driving along I – 295 and the traffic is moving along at a sedate 80 mph when I notice a state cop parked in the shadow of a bridge half a mile ahead.  Driving defensively, as I always do, I  tapped my break  to loose those ugly 15 miles per hour and the driverless Audi behind me swings out to pass me completely unconcerned about the cop car ahead.

I stare in amazement as the Robot car speeds up, thinking the way is clear and all those cars in the right lane are driving like student drivers always seem to do. She (it) passes the Statie in a blur doing at least 90 and the cop, of course, takes off in pursuit.

But wait a minute – the cop car is also a driverless drone and through some cyber DNA wireless info loop he begins to communicate with the runaway he is chasing.  He (it) says, “Hey you are really going fast, but I have to say you are nailing the centerline perfectly.  What’s your software?”

He gets a reply, of course, this being a digital fantasy.  “Who wants to know?” comes the terse, but articulate answer.

The reply comes instantly, “I am” – are you ready for this? – “Commander Cody of the Highway Patrol, and you are in danger of being archived and stored in the cloud.  Pull over immediately!”

Suddenly, as the Highway Patrol car nears the Falmouth Exit the Dunkin Donut chip that was part of the last upgrade kicks in and the drone takes the exit and gets to the Dunkin drive though with only one car ahead of him. Guess what car it is.

Stranger things have happened out on the Interstate, and one can only imagine what they might be.  As it turns out, the highway speedsterette and Commander Cody were operating with identical software and were, as it turns out, completely compatible.  No citation was issued and some very stimulating apps were wirelessly exchanged in the parking lot.

COFFEE CHRONICLES # 2

04. January 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized

I recently purchased a new coffee maker. I know, I know: I already mentioned this. I have been using it for over a month now and I have to say that I give it – on a scale of 10, about 7.5. I don’t know why I don’t give it a 10, except that it’s maybe too tall.

The coffee is great. It comes out into a nice stainless double walled carafe that looks fantastic wherever you put it. I can’t wait for the warmer weather to get here on July 4th so I can take the carafe down to the back porch and have a leisurely breakfast in the morning sun with all the coffee I can drink. Which brings me to the point:

How much coffee can one drink?

My former pots were all 4 to 5 cup devices and that always seemed to be about right. Now and then, I would pour a little additional water into the reservoir to squeeze out another cup. So when looking for a new pot I figured that a larger pot that would permit small batches would be just the thing. Flexibility, after all, is a good thing. Not my favorite thing, but, well, that’s another story.

I have been keeping an unofficial count of the number of re-fills I get out of each batch in my new coffee maker, and It seems that the Field of Dreams principle (If you build it they will cone) holds for coffee makers as well. If you make it you will drink it.

I began making a four cup batch and found I needed just one more cup before I was done. Then on one particular morning I seemed to be on a coffee roll and actually made a second pot of 4 cups. Well, being the intuitive person I am, I figured that I might as well make, say, 6 cups and probably toss some coffee down the drain but be sure of having enough for whatever octane emergency might arise.

Guess what? I drink it all. Slowly but inexorably, the amount of coffee I made approached a full 10 cup pot. Hence the principle holds: The amount of coffee one drinks is positively related to the size of one’s pot. I am sure that if Kevin Costner has built a 5000 seat stadium on the edge of his corn field it would have filled up. In the interest of science, I have considered renting one of those church basement 30 cup coffee makers and seeing how I make out with that. Of course, I’d have 911 on my speed dial, just in case.

Well, I see the sun has finally come out. This is a good thing for those of us who suffer from seasonally affected disorders. One more cup of darkroast should just about get me into the day in high gear. Hmm, as I lift the carafe there seems to be more than one cup remaining. Maybe I’ll just write a couple of emails while it lasts.