Saturday, March 31, 2012
HOTR will be posting from Amish Country next week and beyond.
Two people who are not related by blood, but are my family, had a necessary trip to make, but no one to watch their homestead and animals (including a retriever). It looked like they wouldn't be able to go. So I volunteered.
I raised my hand to work on a tedius but necessary project with squirrel central in a virtual capacity for a few days. When that is done, I would use my leave time, since the long flight to see Dad is out for a few a couple more months (knee still not doing long sit times well).
A LEO friend is taking care of my place and Barkley is coming with me. By the time you read this I will be making a stop to play lumberjack this weekend with Midwest Chick and Mr. B. to take care of some downed timber with the Og family (warning, mayhem may ensue). Tonight, dinner with a few of my favorite people, with whatever pies she and I come up with this afternoon.
Repeat after me "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK. . "
Friday, March 30, 2012
Shame and rules
Afraid to love
Afraid to love
more than you could lose
Let it run
Held back no longer.
For it's your life
No longer afraid
Let it out
even if it hurts
Don't be afraid
you've nothing left to lose
A few years back, in another life, another employer, one night late, I got a phone call. The caller was LEO, female, a friend. We chit chatted regularly but a call this late was not good news and I was afraid it was professional in nature. She said "B., I need you to help me rescue a dog."
Apparently, the deadbeats who'd been living in an old rental house down the road from their farm booked out in the middle of the night. She saw the vehicles loading up and leaving, good riddance, she thought. Then, late at night she heard, carried on the wind, the pitiful cry.
A coyote? A dog? The neighbors are gone, it must be someone else, she thought. The next night she didn't hear it over the cold wind, the third night she did, a high pitched whine of a soul's abandonment. The house remained dark, the utter stillness, utter silence, a testament to the tears outside.
Her husband away on business, she crept over, no sign that the residents were anything but gone, house empty of belongings, yard covered in trash. It was a pup, a retriever, purebred from the looks, left chained up in the backyard with a bowl filled with rain water and no food. Left to die when they vacated in a hurry. She called - "I need back up." Off the clock, just civilians, I knew what she meant. So off I headed, no purse, just a weapon, with ID, some cash and dog treats in my pocket. I got there; the house definitely vacant, no meth heads coming back and surprising us.
The poor animal was starving and cold, temps had been down in the low 40's. That night was supposed to go below freezing; she wouldn't have survived the night. My friend pointed at something, hard nosed law officer that she was, with tears in her eyes. The dog had outgrown her collar, and it was actually was cutting deep into the flesh, leaving bloody tracks in would have been the soft fur of contentment. She had to be in terrible pain, but she only licked our hands and tried to snuggle up. My friend said "can you get it out?" I always have some first aid/medical type implements in my bag but I had to say "I've never cut on anything still breathing". I expected the dog to bite me as I worked, gently, with small tools to free it. She just continued to nuzzle our hands, even though in my attempt to remove this tiny round torture device, I had to be causing her more pain.
Just as we got her free, we heard the crunch of tires, both of us putting our hands near our weapons. There was the flash of a bright flashlight, the glint of a shield, a hand probably on the butt of his gun, and a voice. "What are you ladies doing out here?!" My friend called out "hey D.!" He replied, calling her by her LEO title, ". . . . What ARE you doing out here? I was keeping an eye on this place in case they were back and up to no good."
She said, "I'm just stealing this dog Sir" He looked at the dog , a puppy really, and looked at me (I was not a local) and said "who's this?". She told him who I was, his eyes widened a bit, recognizing the title and he chuckled and said "and what are YOU doing out here?" I said "HELPING her to steal this dog, SIR!"
He just laughed. Calling the local animal officer was suggested, but we told him, given this rural area, that might take an hour or more, the pup was in bad shape and had lost blood, she could die if we didn't do something. My friend told him we'd take him to the vet, pay the bill ourselves and get her a good home. The dog clearly was a "stray" in the eyes of the law, abandoned to die. The Sheriff just said "Dog? What dog? I didn't see any dog", and tucked $30 in our hands to help towards the vet bill before he helped us load up and drove off.
The dog was cleaned up at the vets, an after hour emergency call, the wound not causing any permanent damage, but serious. In a few hours, "Brandy" was bandaged up and home at my friends, after an amber toast in crystal goblets, recognition among tired friends, soon curled up to sleep near the fire, joining a household that already had two spoiled dogs.
I hadn't thought of that in years, until yesterday. A friend told me of a a couple dogs spotted by her office building, a place I often drive past on my way into work. The dogs were obviously dumped, she said, skin and bones, and she couldn't lure them close to her. A couple others had tried, with no luck. She was almost in tears as she told me, having a soft spot for strays (though we agreed stray cows do make tasty cheeseburgers). Animal control was called, then, and later, but the dogs ran off into some woods behind an old building nearby.
Today, driving by her office on my way back into the city, I saw, along the side of the road, a young woman pulled over, petting the form of the dog laying on the grass next to the curb. It had to be one of the dogs my friend described. Emaciated, maybe a year old, bulldog/chow/ a little pit bull/mystery dog mix. It was hard to tell, the dog so malnourished, the coat so worn. The dog kept licking the girl's hand. I pulled in behind her, and put on my emergency flashers, my work I.D. hanging around my neck, and saying "can I help?"
She said "another woman from that office there (pointing) was by, she got food for the dogs and is fetching a car to transport him, someone else has already taken the other dog to the humane society, this one is in bad shape."
The lady who had brought the food was my friend, another employee in a nearby building taking the other dog to the dog shelter. The dog remaining had eaten the half dozen or so burgers that my friend had brought and a lot of water, and just lay there, panting, as this young women stroked him and talked soothingly. Yet he had an expression, as bad off as he was, as if he knew no one was going to hurt him ever again. I called my office to let them know I'd be late returning and would do a leave slip for payroll when I got back.
I called my friend, back at her office trying to find a vet. She said "if I take him to the humane society as bad as he is, they'll just put him down". She had called several vets, no one could get him in right away. She said she then called one animal hospital, not super close, but within driving distance. They could see him. It was Barkley's vet, not just one of the many vets there, but HIS vet, the pretty little blond he adores.
She came back with a coworker, we rounded up a blanket and a box from our vehicle supplies, and the dog was loaded into the back of an SUV, one person driving, one person, continuing to pet it, off to the vet. The exam was done and the dog admitted. A few hundred dollars were left for vet bills, my friend securing any additional payments with her credit card, which likely will be more. The dog had fleas, ticsk and numerous bloody scrapes in a coat that was badly in need of care. They'd have to check for heart worm. One eye had an injury but it was fairly clear. An IV was set up and my friend stayed with him while they got him settled in for a night or two stay. My friend is widowed, and recently had to put down the very elderly dog they'd bought together, a bull/terrier/chow/mystery dog mix. She said she absolutely did NOT need another dog but wasn't going to let him die alone and in pain along the side of a road. She was NOT going to get attached to him.
She said "I wanted a lab, a healthy, pretty dog". I looked at her and said "Sometimes God doesn't give us what we think we want, sometimes He gives us what we need" and just waved as I drove off. We've all learned love, we've all learned loss, sometimes we have to learn hope.
Somehow, I think if the dog pulls through, they're both going to have a really good friend.
UPDATE: "Lucky" the dog made it through the weekend and will be released from Barkley's vet Wednesday. The dog was severely dehydrated with a host of other issues, all treatable. The vet said the dog is about 4 months old and would not have lived another day. Lucky is going to a good home, with lots of love and care.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
What is it about certain things, perhaps certain people, that make you realize what's important, that make you feel safe?
Is it the abiding strength radiating from within, a calm and unflinching repose when problems arise? Is it that which cloaks itself with outward trappings and values that have withstood generations, that bone deep integrity that makes you feel at peace in the company thereof?
Is it a look? One that has weight to it, a look that has such depth that you feel you could hold it in your hand? Is it a form? One that stays strong, even when tested, the little nicks and scuffs, simply the marks of battles fought and overcome. It's all that and more. It's the promise of dependability, sublime yet infinite, that carries you in its company from the evocable past to the continuing present.
If you lose it, mourn its passing. If you find it, never let it go.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
For you see, the amazing and quite persistent Mrs. Dragon had contacted some folks out in Hollywood, including the prop masters for my favorite TV show NCIS, and they had Dennis design a Flatjack holster for a female character who was complaining that all the holsters made the butt of the gun stick out or dig into her ribs.
Long story short, the FlatJack was a hit, the actress could wear a blazer-type jacket and not print...all was right with the world.
Then came a call from the NCIS prop master last week with a special order request. It was built in one day and shipped the next. A leather goth themed lunch box (I so want one). I think he did an amazing job with it given their brief description of what they wanted. He is not sure if the scene it is in, will air, or be on a cutting room floor but I guarantee I know at least 5 people (Midwest Chick, Mr. B, and me and the Dragons) who will be glued to the set that night like we usually are when NCIS is on.
Since I had a novelist/reader ask a question about small of the back holsters today so I thought this would be a good time to put up a review of my first holster made by Dragon Leatherworks.
There's good holsters and bad holsters out there. Most of us end up with the 'big box 'o holsters' that most shooters acquire over the years. Trying one, then another, searching for the perfect rig. There's soft ones, hard ones, some that only MacGyver could love and some that are to artistic design what plastic forks are to fine dining. Still most of them are durable if not functional.
Designs I'm NOT fond of are are the “small of the back” and ankle holsters. The “small of the back” holster has some problems. The draw is difficult and therefore dicey. There is a danger of sweeping the muzzle of the gun in directions you don’t intend to cover. This is an easy holster to disarm. Someone can come up behind you and grab the pistol, and from where it is on your back, it's going to be hard if you aren't trained in tactical to stop them from taking it. Lastly, should you fall on your back, the small of the back holster is a steel bar across your spine that could accentuate the impact of hitting the ground. If you're small boned to begin with this is NOT a good place to be as the injury could make you an easier target. The leg holster is only really valid as a backup option and it’s not really great as a backup. The ankle holster is great concealment, but unless you are a professional or one of the Amazing Walendas the draw is so problematic that it is almost useless.
There's another one recently out, designed by a woman for women, that carries just under the bustline. No, not the waist, but right underneath the bust. I admire the woman for the idea, but it seemed to me the perfect way to get a accidental fire into the femoral. I can't even see my FEET, how am I supposed to instantly get the gun out from underneath Sigfried and Roy, not to mention the risk of now having a clear field to draw up and away from the holster, let alone doing it in a stealthy manner. A rapist may not be looking at my hand down by my waist or hip but I guarantee he's going to notice my hand going for the twins. (As well, it it just being ripe for those punch lines. . . if the bad girl is wearing one, do you shout out "you're busted" when going in for the arrest). Sorry, but you get the picture. I'm all for free enterprise and the promotion of self defense, but that just seems like a bad idea.
No, I wanted a holster I carry on my hip. One that is well designed, functional, with quality workmanship and that new holster smell. So I got a Dragon Leatherworks holster.
Modeled here last January, is my holster, which D. made for me and asked if I'd post about it only if I liked it. I LOVED it..
Dennis had been working on a new pancake holster for the 1911 in honor of the 100th anniversary of John Moses Browning's most celebrated design, and I was anxious to see where that has taken him. His craftwork is all 100% made in the US, not machine stitched in Albonia and then sent to the U.S. for assembly so someone in marketing can attach a "Made in the USA label" on it. Even better, it's made out of America's greatest renewable resource, leather! (Bacon holsters might be nice, but they wouldn't last as long).
The first thing I noticed when I got mine was the smell. I'm a person who is very much in tune with the senses, sight, smell touch, feel. That's probably why my cooking is generally more gourmet than Tatar Tot. Why I love the feel of leather on my skin, and the smell of good quality leather and dye.
The holster was beautiful, polished black, smooth to the touch. The stitching, tight, defined, perfectly even (is luxurious too much of a girly word?). There was no roughness on the outside, no loose stitching. It was pristine. Dragon Leatherworks has come a long way from the Fugly, the dependable but ugly sidekick may a gun has welcomed. The fit of the Talon is sweet, and its beautiful enough to serve as an Open Carry accessory even with my best little black pants.
Holsters should be designed by need first, not looks, finding the solution, then crafting the holster to be as visually appealing as it can while still doing its job. There are a lot of holsters, especially those crafted to draw in the female customer, that are designed to appeal to the designer in you, NOT the shooter. I don't need embroidery, fancy lines or froo froo, I want a holster that allows for comfort in conceal AND quick draw. I want one with good looks AND functionality and the Dragon Leatherworks Talon fits this bill, worn forward of the strong side hip, proper placement on the hip being a secret of an efficient, fast draw .
Out of the box, I noticed that this is not some puny little holster, made out of thin material, machine stitched and easily collapsible. The holster was form fitted to a Colt M 1911 A1 5" semi-auto pistol, but grabbed on tightly to the Kimber 1911 Tactical, the interior being a rough surface that gripped the firearm, but still gave it up when I needed it to (come to Mama), to draw rapidly if need be. It's not likely to be grabbed by someone else easily, or dislodged by accident. Even held upside down, with an unloaded weapon inside and trying for the tactical version of the Dance of the Seven Veils, the Kimber did not want to dislodge on its own. It liked its new home and wasn't going to come out until I wanted it to.
As a female, I like that it holds the weapon outside of my pants. I'm very particular about what gets in my pants, and a clunky, bulky holster riding up and chafing between fair skin and jeans that may already be a wee bit too tight is NOT something I want. I prefer the holster to be outside of the pants, under the belt, a perfect fit of form and design. Yet, like some other models of that type, the Dragon Leatherworks holster is not bulky at all, and on other than the most petite of women, would not be too big to carry a .45.
The rear panel is extended and flat and stays flat, hugging the body comfortably while the front panel gets molded to the gun. The pancake design hugs the curve of the hip while at the same time, the combat cut body shield facilitates grip and draw, quickly, if necessary. The holsters belt loops slots were a perfect fit for the belt loops on female jeans, fitting nicely in between the belt loops on a couple of different style of jeans I tried. The belt used was as much fashion as function, showing that even with a lightweight belt it held up well. I've found, as have other women shooters I queried when talking about this holster, that other manufactures holsters are sometimes too big and we find that our jeans will bunch up badly on the holster side. This didn't happen with the Talon even with a belt that wasn't really heavy. (Just a note: though the Belt slots are standard, optional Yaqui-style belt tunnels are available.)
For myself, I like the under the belt cut, where retention is good with no additional features I do not need that will add bulk. It pulls in tight, so it's very concealable as well under a lightweight jacket or an over shirt or blazer. I could wear it all day and not really think it's there. For all day comfort in the field, I do NOT want the Victoria's Secret Push Up Holster, that rides, chafes and gives me a rash.
Face it, I'm never going to be some tiny, little delicate thing. I'm Scot-Irish, Norwegian and Cree. I'm tall and curvy with a smaller waist than hips. I'm not one of those gals you have to shake the sheets out in the morning to find and I usually carry a very large caliber, even concealed. The Kimber 1911 is not some little girls gun, it's sturdy. But the weight is distributed quite evenly in the Talon, the design naturally fitting where my thumb would rest, making it easy to hold the platform steady while the gun was removed for a quick draw.
I admire any holster that cares more about a commitment to a product that will fit the average adult form than trendy style. Dragon Leatherworks is also now offering the Talon with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. If workmanship of the holster fails during normal use to the original owner, it gets repaired free of charge. If it can't be repaired, it will be replaced with a brand new one. I don't know too many companies that will that any more without you paying an additional fee.
Male or female shooter, a good holster makes the carry much more comfortable and with comfort comes safety. A good holster will allow you to carry a heavier gun with less discomfort and greater concealment.
In the first photos of just the gun and holster, the leather was still a little stiff and the gun didn't seat all the way in. That is not unusual for a brand new holster made of thick, quality materials. But you may wish to make sure you get a "break in" time before wearing it for self defense. Just as I wouldn't try to run from a pack of zombies wearing brand new leather boots, I'm going to wear a holster a little time before taking it out in the field, giving the leather time to release its newness and embrace its new friend.
After I'd had time to wear it a while, it really started to fit like a glove. With just a few hours to break it in from the "new holster stiffness", the trigger fit into the holster as it was designed, and with more wearings, over time, would be even better.. The price, less than $100, half the cost of some other accessories we carry.
A good holster is a blend of quality materials and commitment to quality, designed by a mind that knows form and purpose is more important than flash, something that will hold up in thick or thin. Like those we choose to keep company with, strong, yet flexible, designed of stern stuff, giving and dependable.
The perfect partnership of design and function. Now, I just need a niftier lunchbox.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I made this for my team at work. I put it in a big glass jars and passed them around with the morning coffee. The third fellow who took a piece out of the jar poked his head out in the hallway as I was leaving and said, quite loudly, "Will you Marry Me??"
That would be a "no" but you can have more toffee.
It takes some patience and the hints will really help it turn out, but it's worth the trouble for special friends.
Dark Chocolate Toffee
2 cups butter (use the best quality butter you can buy, it's a key ingredient)
2 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
drop of Penzey's Mexican Vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. With distinct smoke, wine and fruit flavors, this is not your childhood chocolate chip. Low sugar allowed the chocolate flavor to really shine and the shape makes for easy melting.)
1 cup finely chopped almonds and pecans, mixed
Instructions: (Basic instructions in BOLD, helpful hints in regular type).
Before you do anything, test your candy thermometer. It should be 212 degrees F. in boiling water with the thermometer about 1/2 inch off the bottom of the pan (don't let it touch). If off by much, get a new thermometer and make the recipe another day
Allow to come to a steady but not rolling boil, and cook until the mixture becomes a dark amber color, and the temperature has reached 285 degrees F, (137 degrees C), stirring occasionally (it should not burn on medium). This takes about 20 minutes.
You are aiming for a final temperature of 285 to 295. The higher the temp the more brittle the toffee will be. 285 is the "soft crack" stage where the toffee may be somewhat soft and pliable after cooling. If it seems to be rising faster than that, turn the heat down a tiny bit. If slower, do NOT increase the temperature, just cook it longer. If you cook it too fast and too hot it will separate.
At 285 put a drop of toffee in a cup of ice water, it should be brittle. If not, cook to 295 for brittle, melt in your mouth toffee. I cooked it 5 minutes past 285 degrees and it was perfect. Remember to look for the dark amber color in addition to the cooking temperature.
When the toffee is done, pour into the prepared pan. If the top appears a little oily, blot with a clean paper towel, that will help the chocolate adhere. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top, and let it set to soften for a couple minutes, then spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle the almond/pecan mixture over the chocolate, pressing in slightly (put your hand in a baggie to keep the mess down).
Place the toffee in the refrigerator to chill until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container. In an airtight container it will freeze nicely for up to a year. During the winter, store a container of this in your chilly shop. It makes a wonderfully brittle treat with a cup of hot coffee after a trip to the range with your revolver and some .357 rounds.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
First, a stop at bd's Mongolian Grill, for the all you can conquer buffet. The place was busy, as always, and we were really happy to see a new mural on the wall. Can't go wrong with Marauding Hordes and a good train.
There's a big buffet of meats and seafood, pasta and vegetables (plus a salad bar). You load all your selections in a big bowl (there's a pile of rib-eye, there under the vegetables in mine) with an egg to be scrambled into it, stir fry style, with sauce and spices. I chose General Khan which is similar to General Tso to which I added fresh cayenne and red pepper.
Then you get to watch them cook it up, entertainment in its own right.
With it you get hot tortillas (to make a wrap) and/or white or brown rice. When your plate is done, they bring you a new bowl. If you go home hungry it's your own fault.
After lunch, a stop at Penzey's. The cocoa is going to be a homemade German Chocolate cake, the other things were picked up for blog friends who had expressed an interest in trying them. I was looking for some Thai seasoning, not sure what peppers are used for the heat. I'm one of those that asks for "Thai Hot". I think Roberta just orders with "Try and Kill Me". We love our spicy food. I didn't see anything and the clerk was busy so Tam was talking into the magic elf phone trying to look it up.
". . used on Thai food?".
"Not "HOUSTON Thai Food", you idiot!"
Supplies in hand we were off voices raised - "TO THE MOUNTAIN OF GEESE!"
You thought I was kidding. There he was in the parking lot, peeved he had to get out of our way so I could park the bat truck.
Someone looking for a green wookie suit?
Russian ammo in a sardine can.
I got some ammo and my cohorts made several purchases. We did look at firearms, but in the pistol department I didn't see anything that made me want to spend that much money today. But I'm always pleased by how quickly I get service at the Indy Gandor Mountain gun counter, within a minute, a clerk behind the gun counter always asking " Can I help you?". Trust me, as a female who regularly looks at, and occasionally purchases, firearms, you don't always get that at a gun store. That's the reason I bought my hunting rifles here.
Loading up the car, I placed my one bag, of .45 acp in the back. It was fairly heavy. Then Roberta's bags, one of gear, the other containing a small box or two, lightweight, and rattling like small arms. .
B: ".22 ?"
They were Good and Plenty's.
The G and P box cracked open, were were off for a drive to World Market. As we headed up north we spotted a increasing number of businesses gone bust in this affluent part of town, wondering now many of the many, many McMansions around here were underwater. Still, there were a few new places open. Cafe du "what??" and of course, some old ones including our destination, the always fun, World Market. As we drive we're discussing everything from food to geology
B. - "Is it Stalactite or Stalagmite?"
Roberta: "Watch out for the Transvestites. One of those could come crashing down."
Tam - chuckle
Roberta: "Seriously, there's some neighborhoods you want to avoid."
Tam and I: major giggling
Roberta - "don't laugh, some of them are heavy!"
While we were there we picked up a number of wondrous items, teas and some teacups, a couple cool things for a friends birthday next week, some kitchen and cooking gadgets, English biscuits and even a little plastic sandwich container that would be perfect for Colt bits. Not to mention. . .
Bacon Hot Sauce sauce with a fire breathing pig? I so have to buy this.
I can use this new brew to put out the fire.
Soon it was time to head home. It felt good to get out again, even if we missed coffee at Café du Merde.
Cheers! - Brigid
I guess there's times you're driving down the freeway, stomach empty and rumbling and you think. "Dang, I wish I could have a giant prepackaged lukewarm dill pickle right about now."
If you're traveling, travel safe, the weather is pretty ugly tonight up north of the Ohio River Valley. If you're home asleep, consider yourself fortunate to be in safe and warm.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
This is a Micro crack in steel as seen through an electron microscope.
I've vacationed at places that looked like this! (click to enlarge)
Of course the folks on NCIS wouldn't need an electron microscope. Gibbs would just squint and go "ahh yup - micro-crack", before Abby could even consider micro-cracks at the surface of metals detected and imaged by near-field microwave techniques from the crack-induced variations of the resonance frequency and of the resonant circuit quality factor. I mean really, you have to get this thing solved in an hour WITH commercials.
Fire up the welder Festus, we're off to Ferrous Canyon! You all be safe out there, I'm off to work.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The first day of Spring and it was 82. The sun dips towards the water, its glow, burnished breath upon my skin. The sky so clear, the soft trailing puffs of clouds, spun air gathered around the tops of the trees like cotton candy. I love that time of day, somewhere between the first cool breeze that blows against the back of my neck like a lover's kiss, and the first stinging bite of the mosquitoes, marking their territory in blood, driving me in. Outside my home, Cicadas will soon strike up the band, off in the distance, the sound of the first Spring lawnmower, heard without interest but with the comfort of familiarity. I'm safe in where it's cool, the air conditioning on, the house safe and quiet. Too quiet.
I hope the mild winter and the hot Spring isn't a portent of another scorching summer, of the bat phone going off, requiring a day or two outside in it, hot brutal work, everything you touch, burning.
I was based someplace once extremely hot and arid. I remember a little "science experiment". I wrapped a roast beef in foil, leaving it in a vehicle with the windows rolled up at the beginning of a training flight in July and carefully unwrapped it at the end of the afternoon to find it perfectly cooked. We shredded it and served it with buns and cold beer, toasting another successful mission and "Jeep as convective oven". Who knew?
But heat can not only burn away what is unnecessary, it can also destroy that which is fragile.
Dad doesn't have central air conditioning. It's not that he couldn't afford it, he just refuses, saying he lived in the house 53 years without it and doesn't need it now. Though he did put in a window unit in his bedroom, thermal windows and insulated drapes, which work on those occasional really hot days.
As kids, when it did get hot, Mom would close up the drapes, turn on a fan, and try not to use the oven. Dinner was usually grilled, or a plate of cold meats and cheese, lefse, and a glass of wine or beer for the adults, kool-aid for the kids. Sometimes we'd leave the house and head to Dairy Queen. It was, other than the inevitable and forgettable McDonald's, the only "fast food" in town.
I remember those trips, sitting in the car, also with no air conditioning, trying to eat the cone before the ice cream melted and ran down my shirt. Our dog even got her own, which my Mom would patiently hold while our wiener dog lapped at it, crunching the cone like it was the world's best bone. Days of heat and glory. For a moment it wasn't hot, there was just the clear cold of the ice cream, eaten in hurried silence with the people we loved, cool salvation taken from summer's scorn.
Summers were anticipated joy. For when the snows had melted, spring had sprung and the land was warmed by the sun of summers sustenance, we'd gather at an irrigation ditch at my Uncle's ranch, hear the water rushing down the sluice way, from the sound of it, as if a whole ocean had come apart, roaring through the culvert, taking whole cows and houses with it. But in reality, though strong, it not enough to drown in unless you were some sissy city kid. We'd wait until the flow increased, then jump in with an inner tube, rushing down, rushing on, the water releasing something in us that adulthood hadn't dampened yet.
We'd be out after breakfast and play all day, with kids gathered up from around the area, a posse of potential. We'd drink from the hose if we got thirsty and ripped more than one pair of knees out of a pair of jeans, which our mothers would patch, not replace. We exposed our bellies to the sun, offered up skinned elbows to the skies, gaining confidence in our movements, in ourselves, breathing deeply, nourishing ourselves on the scent of grass. Summer days flowed endlessly, we were immortal, the clouds rushing by so fast we could not keep up even on a bicycle. Glorious days. Only the sound of the dinner bell would bring us in, dirty and hungry and aching to be outside again.
We didn't have a mall, we hung around the water, near bridges that could be jumped off of, near streams in which you could paddle around like a pre-school kiddie pool. The older kids, the braver ones, would jump off the rocks or grab an inner tube and then propel down through some rushing water to a pool further down. I hesitated to take that first leap into the abyss until some older kid double dog dared me and I raised an invisible middle finger to gravity and went over the edge.
At home, there was a sprinkler or even a Slip N Slide, where with a deep springing run you could lunch onto a wet plastic superhighway off into the grass. Geronimo!. . . Wheee!.. . argghhh. . . DOG POOOOOP!
It leaves me to wonder. When the days of summer come to pass, do we ever really grow up? I guess it's how you look at life, as an imagined feast, like a holy wafer placed on the tongue or just something for the body to consume before it dies and turns to earth.
Soon it will be summer again. I have air conditioning now in my homes and in my truck. Yet I still spend many a day out in the open air, sun beating down as we catalog each and every burning piece of earth in which someone lost that fight with going quietly into the night.
There's no escaping that kind of heat. The sun rests atop an inverted tureen of hollow, muted air. Even our words to one another as we worked, faded slowly and knowingly until they were lost in the murmur of shimmering heat within which even the flags that marked our work, gave in to windless defeat. We moved slowly, casting shadows on scorched earth that we had not yet quit, cataloging the frayed dimensions of a moment in time that lay so solemnly upon the shifting earth.
Finishing up, even getting shed of our gear, there wasn't enough water to cool us down. We dove into sweating bottles of water in a cooler, gulped down, the liquid without taste or even cold until we finished it, the drops on our lips already dancing like water on a skillet as we headed back to our vehicles.
We could hear the roar of it before we even saw it. It was not a warning of approach but a sound of playful challenge, an indictment against the hard shame of earth that held it back, the vast weight of years of fluid need rushing as fast as it could into an unknown future, searching for that inviolable pool in which it would finally find home.
After our work for the week was completed and we had a day off, we came back. There are canoes for rent. We are still hot. We can almost taste water that will actually refresh. It's not a river for beginners. Before us the thick current challenges us in a undertone of superiority, the silver surface dimpling into foaming ropes that splash up against a rock, then disappear in silence. Bubbles dance around the rocks, as if something large were alive down there, something that woke in our presence and will only sleep again after it's done battle with us.
We look at it, we look at 40+ year old knees and arms and we grin at each like children. There's been a few thundershowers; just enough to raise up the water level above the level of our spirits. We grab our craft and go in, the water yanking at the edge of that last bit of fear and hesitation, pulling us down, water fast and huge and furious. Once we picked up the paddle, there was no going back, we had to be there, to see if to the end or die trying, water in a place that's inside of us, water in a place that's somehow holy.
The fear of my youth is gone, and those around me know that double dog daring me still works. Our work for the week is done, it was time to break free of it, the heat and the solidity of it weighing down even our sleep if we let it. As I stepped into the canoe I held my breath and in the silence that followed, so did the water, tremendous and patient and waiting for me to make up my mind. And we hit the water with solemn abandon, simply in recognition of the life left in us, the air rushing from my lungs, supple muscles gathered into the forward motion of arms, and head and heart.
Perhaps it's the heat outside that makes us bold, perhaps it's the heat within us. It's always the first jump into the unknown that is the hardest, that hesitant leap upward propelled by desire and only held back by the gravity of restraint. Once you are past that feeling of helpless weightlessness as you stop off into space, it gets easier. For life awaits. It comes to you in the heat of the day, secret and swift, wearing air and water and blood and need that flows away like a garment revealing all that you knew. If you close your eyes to it you will see, drifting until the water grows tepid and the sound of future Cicadas is all that remains.
Hot or not, I'm going to head out to the wild soon. Where my life waits for me. For though we've all been burned in the past, there remains those who will never live so long that we don't believe that what is in our ardent wanting is out of range of our ardent hope. We just had to open the door, dive into the water, no worries, no shame, no forgiveness necessary, and seize what we know we needed.
For it awaits. Awaits in the heated movement that is not the wind, Awaits in a rush of roaring water; in a patient pool in the evening, where the hurts of the past are left lying upon a drifting and imponderable shore, washed clean in the heat of a yellow afternoon.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
After the flight I spotted the nearest French uniform and asked "OK, WHAT did I say?". Apparently it was "We're becoming unglued, guard your nose for a quick abruptness!" (Well, actually given the airstrip, that was probably close).
But even if my French skills bite, I can make a number of tasty bites from various French menus. One of my favorites, a simple but hearty sandwich, the croque-monsieur. Basically, it's a grilled hot ham and cheese (typically Emmental or Gruyère, noted for their melting properties). Yet it's so much more than that, like most French cooking, rich in flavor, even when simple in construction. Golden Brown, crisp toast with almost lip blistering creamy melted cheese that lurks in the background of the slightly salty ham.
C'est Magnifique as Mr. Cole Porter would say.
It originated in France as a quick meal served in cafés and bars. Versions exist with béchamel sauce broiled on top or ones topped with a fried egg (which are called Croque Madame, supposedly due to the egg resembling a 1900's ladies hat). Seasoning is normally just salt and pepper, and only ham is used.
It's so popular that it's even on certain French McDonalds Menus as the "Croque McDo", though I would seriously recommend that you Croque McDon't.
The HOTR version has an additional kick of cayenne and nutmeg and two cheeses in the béchamel. The sauce is drizzled on Applewood smoked bacon inside, rather than broiled on top. That keeps the bread, pan grilled in Clarified Butter rather than oven toasted, buttery and crunchy outside, the perfect pair to the fried egg placed on top.
It's a knife and fork sandwich and not one for either the meek or the dieting. But it's worth a try and makes a great brunch meal. (click on photo to enlarge).
Béchamel sauce: (makes enough for 4-5 sandwiches, leftovers good in egg dishes, or you can cut recipe in half)
2 Tbsp butter (don't even think of using margarine)
3 Tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Gruyère
For Each Sandwich:
2 thick slices of Italian, Brioche or bakery quality white bread
1/2 cup grated or one thick slice Gruyère or Emmental cheese
1 nice thick slice or 2-3 thinner slices ham (3-4 ounces per sandwich)
2-3 slices applewood smoked thick cut bacon, cooked until done but not crunchy.
1 to 3 teaspoons mayo
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon
Make the béchamel sauce:
Melt butter (on medium heat) until it starts bubbling. Then, add the flour. Stir. Let the mixture cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, (or until it smells nutty and looks to be a light blond color). Whisk the milk in, then bring it to a bubble, whisking constantly. Lower the heat (to low). Add the Parmesan and 1/3 cup Gruyère, salt, and peppers, nutmeg and cayenne (still whisking). Cook the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Don't be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat, you'll just burn it. Remove from heat, stirring occasionally.
Assemble sandwich, each sandwich having one slice of bread spread with Dijon, the other with Mayo (amount to taste but remember you're adding some sauce to the sandwich). Top bottom piece of bread with ham, cheese, and bacon and then drizzle with 2 generous Tablespoons of the béchamel sauce, just enough to lightly drizzle the contents, and place the other slice of bread on top.
For 1-2 sandwiches, put 1 Tablespoon of clarified butter per sandwich in a medium or large sized heavy bottom, oven proof pan over med/high heat. Heat JUST until the butter is very hot but NOT browning, swirling so it covers the pan. Lower heat to medium and lay the sandwich(s) carefully in the pan, pressing down (or using a bacon press, just lay it on the top). The
sandwich(s) will brown fairly slowly on the bottom so let it heat about two minutes. Add another Tablespoon of the clarified butter per sandwich to the pan and carefully flip the sandwich(s) to brown the other side, also pressing down a couple of times or using the bacon press until light golden brown on both sides.
Place the pan in an oven preheated to 300 F, and bake for about 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted. While that is in the oven fry one egg per sandwich with just a tiny dab of butter.
Serve with fries, or if you are feeling particular guilty, salad. (Note: this makes an excellent breakfast when you don't have to dépasser un puma later.)