Thursday, August 30, 2007

first day on the job

Tomorrow is my first day on the job. My first real day you see. It should be quite the first day, H will be back at work, and I will be all alone in double-monkey-ville.

I'm a bit scared.

Last time the venture into the unknown involved one crying mouth. We managed. The elder monkey is healthy and seemingly well adjusted and I'm working on three and a half years experience on the resumé. But now the job description involves two mouths. Screeching and squeeling in stereo is the norm from here on out (it is uncanny how much the elder can imitate the new guy.) My workplace now contains a few more decibels as well as more demands. I have visions of young monkey taking a bottle easily, napping three times, and only having one nice clean load a day. Yeah, visions. Based in a reality, some reality, that contains what we are aiming for. Speaking of aim, hopefully I'll only be peed on every other week.

Luckily, (and due to some careful planning and negotiating) two weeks ago I ventured into the Sierras to fill my brain with visions from two miles up. Visions and memories to fill my mind as I wonder where my sanity went during my "training" period at the new job.

My mind will certainly drift toward this scene. Standing on a granite slope near the shore of Hungry Packer lake, staring at all the fish that wouldn't come anywhere near my lures. Well, they came near and even took a wee nibble, but nothing was landed. Oh well, it was the middle of the day, breezy, and I really wasn't that hungry anyway. We hiked on, traversing over to Moonlight lake to catch a few brookies near the outlet stream. They were all around eight or nine inches, but hit the lure with speed. Poor little brookies. They are tasty.

We caught a few rainbows and rainbow/golden hybrids. The latter tended to be a bit bigger and just a touch lighter in flesh. All them fishies fried up nice though. Tito liked their eyes, cheeks and brains. Skin too. He said the cheeks were incredibly sweet. When he eats fish, he eats pretty much the whole fish. In the mountains, Tito fuctions at a level of conservation and recycling that I like to think I am achieving while out backpacking, but really don't come near. Maybe next time, I'll try the cheeks, and I think I can handle some skin. But damn, I am no where near eyes or brains.


The next day we wandered up to Babboon lakes. They looked a tad milky. With a slight amount of glacially derived "flour" in them, they appear more turquoise than other lakes in the vicinity. They contained tons of teeny little fish. Easy to catch, oh boy. You would find it hard to go hungry here. We roamed the four main lakes and fished the streams and ponds between. Tito bagged the two best rainbows of the day for dinner later. After a few hours and well near a dozen fish landed (at least 30 between three rods) we made our way back downhill to camp. It would be another fish fry night.

Lemons may be heavy to pack in, but the reward is devine. A pinch of salt and some butter (also heavy, but come on you NEED butter) plus some heat under the pan and trout bliss was ours. A taste of Maker's Mark or two afterward and we were set to lay back on the granite and enjoy a few shooting stars. We were treated to some spectacular ones, including one extra wide and seemingly near, streaking at least halfway across the sky. Nearing the end of its burn, it broke apart resulting in two separate pieces tumbling together for the briefest bit. Cool. The sky was filled with stars. Just filled. Satellites were easily picked out and the Milky Way was a big milky mess. The granite profiles stood out as angular voids against the speckled universe. The mountains are indeed as beautiful in full sun as they are in absolute dark. Visions.

So, I'll be trying to think of these things. My granite and fish mantras of the Sierras. They will come in handy as things to focus on and visualize. Something to remind me that while I'm mired in pee and the screeming and the general chaos of a three month old and nearing four year old while not being the parent with breasts, that I............wait, what was that? where was I?......Uh, oh crap did the day start already? Am I out of time?

Wait.......ok there's that train. Visions. I'll have Sierra filled visions in my mind to sustain me through the tough parts of the day. Visions of mountains. Big, bold, starry, teeny little fish filled mountains. I'll need all the help I can get, because the younger monkey is looking like trouble so far.......

I mean, check out who he hangs with: cool dog and g-raffe. And what about that seahorse on the knit cap. Talk about intimidating. If ever there is a creature that just exudes power and attitude it's a seahorse. Guess I'll have to take it easy with this fella till I'm through the first few weeks on the job and the house has an established routine. Or else I'll be gettin' NOSHT. Or in the local hood speak, fall prey to a North Oakland Sea Horse Thug.

Thank goodness our local union provides for a three day weekend after the first day on the job.......I'll need it to recover and gain strength for the rest of week one.

It's gonna be a long September.


Monday, August 27, 2007

garden pests

Is is just me, or are the aphids going bonkers this year? Not only in sheer numbers but in individual size too. And what about other mites and worms and stuff like that? I say this because it seems to me like everything is getting good and munched this year. In fact, talking to one of my neighbors this morning, I heard of the biggest pest of the year. The kind responsible for eating the corn that is just becoming ripe. Get this, it was a gigantic corn worm that topped out about 5 foot 7 inches and came complete with opposable thumbs. In my yard!

Back in April, I built a large cold frame in our front yard and sowed some seeds. After the seedlings were well established I started to remove the cover of the frame for incrementally longer times until I felt they were ready for our foggy nights in the low fifties near the bay. At this point some of the corn and a few 'maters were pressing against the top so it was definately time. The tomatoes were looking promising but only about half of the corn came up. The cucumbers, cantaloupe and zucchini were still wispy and in doubt. Anchoring the front I needed something that could withstand the occasional shot of dog urine, so I transplanted some rhubarb from the backyard for experiments sake. I felt that in celebration of the cover being off, I should take my first picture. It was the summer solstice.

Just two short weeks later everything seemed like it was enjoying the full sun. The rhubarb filled nearly the entire front spot (and wasn't being watered by canines) and the corn was no longer looking like upright crab grass. The zuke were beginning to fill in and I was worried for a while that the majority of the corn would start being shaded out. Still. I started drooling at the prospect of fresh corn. Last years experiment resulted in stalks about a foot high with ears looking something like the earliest corn, only having some 8 to 12 kernals, so this year came loaded with hope.

Two more weeks later and I had confidence the corn would be just fine. The cold frame was almost completely obscured by greenery, except for a glimpse of the front panel afforded by me hacking out two large rhubarb leaves that were infested with enormous patches of aphids. After seeing the front panel in the picture, I started looking up how I could try managing the pests with a home remedy because I was sure cutting off leaves is only a temporary solution. In our back yard, we had begun harvesting some sungold cherry tomatoes and the early girls were looking a bit orange. Out front the tomato blooms were going mad and I started dreaming of tomato sauce.

{static} Uh, roger that Houston, we have tassels. Over.

The rhubarb is straight up nuts. The squash is blossoming rather profusely and the cucumber and cantaloupe (that I had nearly forgotten about by now) is working its way out into my neighbors yard to get out from under the corn and squash. The first zukes are being harvested and the corn is showing promise of having ears longer than the lilliputian kind, maybe even approximately the right size. We'd begun picking a few romas and loads of cherry tomatoes were being set. The first brandywine are looking good and few have been sampled.

Although some of the veggies are being used on nearly a daily basis, we are still eagerly awaiting an ear of corn. Well, truthfully, what I mean is an ear for boiling, as last week the older monkey and I ate one raw. And dare I say, holy crap it was good. Sweet, white, but a tad under ripe. After another week the first few should be just right.
This morning while going out on an early morning walk, I noticed that the couple ears I have been eyeing as just about ready have been being eyed by another and are now gone. Some rat bastard, two legged, opposabled thumbed, mammalian corn worm, with a bag and child in tow came and swiped them. My neighbor, bless her heart, witnessed the event and assumed that I had given permission to the lady due to her level of preparedness, casualness and sense of family. Hell no. I mean, the folks who do have permission do so when I'm around. I'm trying to give this person the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are horribly misled and think that this is a community garden of sorts. It is. But it's for my family. We live on one income, things are always tight and I really don't appreciate folks taking the harvest of my hard work. It's a small garden, unfenced and out in the open. My sister warned me. She said folks would steal whatever I planted out front. Especially corn.

Why can't they steal the zucchini? Or a few cherry tomatoes? I mean, these are prolific enough that with careful attention to time of day, I'd hardly notice they were gone. But the corn? Damn! And teaching your children that this act of theivery is ok. Shame on you. Shame, shame, shame. With any hope they got the ears home, boiled some water, shucked the corn and discovered that the choicest parts were infested with aphids and ants.

All of which makes me ponder the meaning of cornholio. I've wondered where the term came from but now I have a clear idea. It's the spot on a person you aim for with your slingshot or bb gun when yer home and witness them yankin' produce from your yard.

Not to brag, more like a warning: I'm a good shot with just about any high velocity pest deterrent. Stay out of my garden or your ass is mine.......

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

two great tastes (?)

The door opens without knock or notice of any kind and in pops my cousin "greetings D!"

"Oh, hello Rohan. How are you?"

"You mean, are you well? You americans say it all wrong."

"Right Ro. Sorry. Are you well?"

"Yes, thank you for asking. Dearest of cousins, please forgive my intrusion but what on god's green earth is this next to your fruit. A tastie of sorts?"

"Wha?.......uh, oh that? A few gifts from my SIL. Want some coffee and a nibble of chocolate?"


"Well, take a closer look."

"Bloody hell, what the %#&! is this?"

"A few gifts."

"GIFTS? Like from a, what do you call it, a white elephant party?"

"Yes. I mean, no. No white elephant component, but yes, gifts like the thank you very much, I will enjoy these items immensely KIND. Ones that I will enjoy without fail. Ones that on some strange level, I have been searching for going on 5 plus years!"

"Are we really going to have coffee that has passed through an animal while enjoying a square of bacon flavored chocolate?"

"Yeah, check it out. It says mit speck on the bar and weasel on the bag. Everyone knows what that means."

I really have been trying to find a chocolate dessert item that contains bacon. More specifically a bacon chocolate chip cookie. I've never been brave enough, no, make that drunk enough to have attempted a batch at home though, and then into my lap drops a candy bar containing bacon, that puts off the experiment for at least another year. Wheew!

And the passed through an animal coffee? Haven't you ever heard of the stuff? Well, this gifted version doesn't actually pass through the weasel, or any weasel for that matter. It has just been processed with enzymes to simulate the passing through a civet's intestinal tract and out it's butt, only then to be dried in the sun, then ground up and brewed. Ah, technology.

Mmmm, that's some tasty weasel.
And Zotter is my new culinary hero.
Just thought I'd share.

Monday, August 13, 2007

last post of the year

I can't believe it's been one complete trip around the sun for this blog. I mean, I've actually done it and managed to write something for an entire year. I know this is nothing compared to some of y'all out there who've been plugging away for the better part of this millenium. I applaud you. But, I'd like to take a moment to say "self, I'm proud of you" and "kid, keep it up and maybe someday more than 8 people will read your blog."

So where to now? Do I continue the exploration of sight and sound and continue crankin' out posts, documenting things like how I nearly asphyxiated myself with peach smoke whilst creating my first jerkey? I think so. It should be written down. Only now with two monkeys, the task is going to be a much taller order. Wish me luck.

So back to that jerkey. I went and begged my local butcher to slice me up some Marin Sun rump. I took this and marinated it overnight in my own special concoction. The following afternoon I fired up the smoker with some peach wood, creating an enormous amount of smoke, causing anyone downwind for a few blocks to wonder why they don't hear sirens blaring. Anyway, after the grill was filled and the fire turned down low (which is really difficult) I let the pieces get about two hours of smoke. At this point the flavor was developed plenty, so I got out the dehydrator racks and began tranferring some to be finished off inside.

It only took seventy three more hours to dry, or so it seemed. I did three batches on the grill, finishing all of them on the dehydrator. With two pounds of finished product from a six-plus pound roast, the half-day smoke fest came to rest. With veggies and fruit dried already, the grub for my upcoming backpacking trip is complete.

I'll be back in a week. Much stronger, well rested and with a belly full of fish and sourdough. I'll give you a full report when I return.

Well, within a few weeks of returning that is. Written between changing a diaper, reading a story, stirring some sauce, kneading some dough.......trying to get some sleep......

PEACH SMOKED BUTT JERKEY (a recipe of sorts)

6 pounds of beef rump roast
2 cups soy sauce
1/2 of a large torpedo onion
6 cloves garlic
2 inches fresh ginger
6 blistering hot tiny peppers
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup salt
4 extra ripe peaches

Talk someone into slicing the beef into very thin sheets across the grain. Dice the onions, mince the ginger and garlic and chop the chilis. Combine with the soy sauce, sugar and salt. Skin the peaches, remove pits, and thoroughly mash, then add to the sauce. Place the sliced beef into a large bowl and pour the marinade over, using some water and another splash of soy sauce to insure that the beef is all submerged. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. The next day fire up the smoker with some peach wood. After a nice coal bed is established and the smoke chamber is running at or below 200 degrees (F) place the marinated beef sheets on the grill and commence smoking. Try not to inhale too much yourself. Especially since you'll be doing this for nearly eight hours if you are doing such a large recipe. After the beef is somewhat dry (on the surface for sure) place the beef on a dehydrator rack and dry until done. (Another 2-4 hours depending on thickness.) Eat some immediately, give a taste to the butcher, and bring the rest up to the high mountian lakes to snarf on while tossing small metal objects out into bodies of water in hopes of pissing some fish off enough to bite. Store in a bear-proof canister. Which by the way, is not monkey proof.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

zucchini: fried and baked, hold the steam

We've entered that time of year when the garden is a jungle. Even here in foggy ol' oakland, in a yard with southern exposure and nicely amended soil, you too can enjoy the sensation of summer squash coming out your ears. And if you have corn currently doing the tassel and silk dance, it can be coming out both of your ears. This is great and all, but about now is the time when you've had it steamed so many times that you need a new preparation or you just might hurl. Childhood memories, formed by a full stomach at my italian grandma's house are recalled and I find myself reaching for the fry and bake method. One that is very near my heart in the kitchen.

We browsed in the yard, wondering what the take would be today. A bowl full of squash and tomato. Hmmmm. What to do now? I brought the loot in the house, then decided we needed some fresh mozzarella. This meal would become a one-two garden variety punch. One I was craving. One simple, with bright flavors.

With my ingredients assembled, I gave the squash a cursory wash and began cutting it into 1/4 inch slices. I halved our cherry tomatoes. With a dip in a simple egg and milk wash, then finished with a lightly seasoned whole wheat and corn meal dusting, the disks were placed into a large pan with a nice layer of hot olive oil. A quick fry, turning once, followed by a quick rest on a rack to drip, and our bases were nearing completion.

Arranged on a cookie sheet, with the oven warming, I placed a cherry tomato atop each disk and then sprinkled it with a healthy pile of finely grated dry jack cheese. It was a little hard to not eat them at this point. (Well, a few disappeared, but really, they wouldn't fit on the pan without ruining the symmetry so I had to do something.) With our assembly complete, I put it in the oven and turned my attention to part two.

This next one was really easy. You probabaly all know the drill: Drain the mozzarella ball and slice. Slice the rest of the tomatoes, Go pick some basil, maybe give it a chop or tear and get out a bit of olive oil, and you're done.

Plated, I was in heaven. We we're having squash. Again. But this time the steaming basket was nowhere near. It was a celebration of summer, with all ingredients from the yard or the farmers' market. Well, wait, I used black pepper, and that came from a distant land. Whatever. I've been over that one before. Besides, grandma would probably not approve of me flouring squash without it. With a picture of her on my kitchen wall, it's a nice reminder of where dishes like this that fall out of my head really come from. They emanate in my heart, travel up through the memory bank up top, where through my hands it gets expressed as dinner. Which with some thoughtful chewing resides again in my stomach, next to my heart.

I wish you were still here to share this with me grandma. You'd be proud.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

sometimes, a baguette is just a baguette

I was in need of feeding the beast. It had been well over a week. I pulled it out of the fridge, mixed up some bread flour and water, and combined it all in a new bowl. I covered this for the night and left it out on the counter. I was jonesin' to make a loaf. All the summer fruit and veggies we've been consuming has me craving fluffy bread products. In the morning I asked the family if they had any special requests, because the beast was ready to do some work. "How about a nice plain baguette. Maybe even seeded?" was the response.
"Sounds good!" I pulled out the ingredients and got to work.

With everything in order on the kneading board, a strange calm came over me. It was somewhat like slipping into a dream, or maybe that moment in the dream where you realize that you are dreaming. Then it hit me. It has been far too long (like what, 2 months?) since I have made a baguette. As the dough came together and I turned it out onto the board, I found myself looking forward to being with nothing but the dough for the next five minutes. A return to nothing but kneading was what I needed. It turns out. Weird how life is really like dough.

After the dough rested for a bit, I added the salt and finished the kneading. A smooth satiny ball was awaiting fermentation. I oiled the big green casserole, plopped the dough in, and put it in the oven to rise. After punching it down about four times over the course of the day, it was ready for some shaping.

I wanted to make two baguettes so I left the baking stone in the cupboard and cut my dough in half. I took one piece and gently tugged it into a rectangle, then placed this on the floured board and rolled them lengthwise. After repeating this with the other piece I put them on my nifty little non-stick perforated pan dealie. Three slashes with a razor before putting in a 450 oven and my mouth started salivating. I was a mere 25 minutes from hot steamy bread. (By the way, that's approximately 16-17 minutes to bake, 1-2 to remove from oven and set on the rack, and 6 more to wait to cool under the "loss of skin when handled" threshold.)

Mmmmm, homemade sourdough. This and a stick of butter, and my life is complete.
Okay, my family, homemade sourdough and a stick of butter.
And water.
And.......oh crap! I was so excited about putting the bread in the oven, I forgot the seeds.

So they really ended up being just plain 'ol baguettes. I reached for the butter and then figured wheat bread, so why not wheat beer. Luckily, the latest batch was a hefeweizen, so I cracked one open.

Yeah......summertime and the livin' is. Well, here in the northern latitudes it's summer. For y'all up in this hemisphere I say stick to the simple things and enjoy some bread and beer. With veggies all around it's a nice change. Besides, you can make a toast to the first of August. That crazy month when the tomato plants are quietly taking over your garden. Now's the time to show them that you eat other things too, to keep them jealous and producing fruit like mad. Then in a few weeks, raid them and get to saucing. You're gonna need something to dip these baguettes in.

Or, if no tomatoes are running rampant in the yard, go get some salami, cheese, and mustard and go make yourself one of these. They're really yummy. Even when served on a plate contaminated with fruit.