Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rise and Swine

I was up early, taking a day of leave to spend time with a friend who could use some company. On our way out and about, we passed Goose the Market. Well, one just HAS to stop now don't they?

This IS the store where you can get a T-shirt that says "Vegetables are what food EATS" and "I love Pig Butts, and I can not lie."

This isn't just your average neighborhood deli with meat and cheeses.  It's  This is a store for serious meat, food and wine lovers, a business that proudly proclaims "Pork is King".

I have to say, the meat selection will pull you in like an attenuated linear graviton beam.  These folks love their pork and the selections of other meats rivals anything I've seen in the Midwest, despite the store's modest size from out front.

click to enlarge photos, the lighting wasn't good for a pocket point and shoot

Yes, that's fresh duck breasts there in the middle and rabbit at the 1 o'clock position. To the right in the top photo, the bacon starts, with applewood smoked bacon, lamb bacon (not just yes?! but YES!) and jowl bacon . There is also this air-dried prosciutto that you can buy or have served up in one of their made to order sandwiches such as the the Batali, an amazing Italian sandwich with coppa, soppressata, capocollo, provolone cheese, and tomato preserves.  Bon Appetit magazine listed Goose the Market as #1 in their 2008 hot ten sandwich shops in America. Right here in Indy.  Need some dessert?  There's a dozen fresh gelatos.
Down in the cellar they have a pretty amazing collection of gourmet cooking goodies, sauces and grains, and an outstanding assortment of wine meant to be pared with meat (as well as a cool place to do a wine tasting). There's beers too, but I just had a soda, as I am charged with driving us where we need to visit today, with directions I scribbled on a napkin.

I'd have done better were it not for laughing from a six foot blond in vertical insoles doing her best GPS impression as I dash across three lanes of hippies in a truck the size of the Queen Mary.


But with the fragrance of bacon in our hair we arrived in one piece at our destination.

Not a button?

Stay in and safe, enjoy some food, enjoy some friends, such are the small things we don't always stop and savor like we should.  Each day we can still laugh is a gift.

Happy Halloween

From our home to yours - Brigid and Barkley

Monday, October 29, 2012

Come Hell or High Water - Bulk Food Storage

Like most all Americans, I'm trimming my budget as gas and food prices skyrocket. I am very blessed with a good job and health, something no one should ever take for granted if they have it, but I'm also aware, how quickly it can all be taken away.  So I am learning to prepare.  I am buying cheaper cuts of meat or using more game, marinated and cooked with care, cooking in bulk and freezing portions rather than eating out, and used bookstore, not new bookstore. I spend "vacation" time off, not at a resort or on a beach, but at my Dad's doing chores and repairs around his place with a sibling, cooking in quantity and making sure he's healthy and comfortable in his home.

I found I could make really tasty meals in bulk for him and put them in small containers for him for an extra freezer in the garage, to simply reheat at a fraction of the cost of the premade stuff he was buying.  I include lots of veggies from his small garden which friends help him maintain, using little salt, as his doctor advised, just  lots of herbs and natural ingredients to lend flavor.

The rest of  family is  also getting into the shopping in larger quantities. (Hey where's my big yogurt bucket?)  It's not just for cost savings but if you are staring into the jaws of a storm such as Hurricane Sandy, do you really want to be standing in line in the cold for hours hoping you get the last can of Pringles, as that's all that is left?

I'm also spending more effort on storing up food supplies for the long term, buying at good prices, and storing in bulk. I'm by far not the only one. I've been seeing, at numerous places, people selling food-grade buckets (no off-gassing from the plastic), along with desiccant packets, heat-sealable mylar bags and gamma lids. For longer term storage of dry goods, such as rice and beans and such, it's a very good start. Plus they are stackable and the gamma lids have a nice watertight seal if you should ever have to crack into your stores. Just a note though, don't put a desiccant packet into sugar storage unless you want a giant sugar lick. 

If you have a lot of freezer space, storing fresh and properly sealed food is easy. But what about if you don't have a huge or extra freezer? Sure there's peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but there's a lot of other more dubious cheap food products with a long shelf life.

There's canned food such as Spam or "Armour Potted Meat Food Product." What exactly is potted meat? According to the label it's: Beef Tripe, Beef Hearts, Cooked Fat Tissue Solids, and Partially Defatted Cooked Pork Fatty Tissue. . . mmmm, it's "America's favorite" the old label used to say - favorite what?.
I remember the first time I saw THAT on the shelf in the pantry and read the ingredients. "What's beef tripe" I asked my Mom. She said "it's in the middle of the cow". I got that same of vague answer when I asked how babies were made

The potted meat looked like something from Gross Anatomy 101 after running it through a wood chipper and closely resembled a can of "Mighty Dog". No thanks. In those days that pretty much just left the Spam and Beenie Weenies. But if you were snowbound with no food to eat for a month because you didn't think to store food properly, would you want your family only eating Beenie Weenies? In perhaps a small enclosed space? I think not. So you need to have some other food sources on hand. Fortunately there are a lot more choices

Freeze Dried Foods:  Not just for backpacking in to the campsite any more. A favorite brand among friends is Mountain House. They are airtight NITROGEN PACKED #10 cans or pouches. Up to 98% of the residual oxygen has been removed, according to their website. They advertise a 30 year shelf life. I can't say any have been purchased with that intent, but for camping they were found to be very good and worth the little bit of extra $$, less per serving that any fast food you'd eat in town. There are other great brands as well, and I'm sure some on my sidebar will have their own recommendations. 

Remember, though,  with commercially prepared "survival meals". The "serving size" are sustenance only. You may need significantly more calories per day if you are working hard outdoors, wood chopping or making repairs for example and should double up your pre made meal storage amounts if you plan on doing anything beyond "Hunkering 101".  You'd be amazed how much food one adult needing an average of 2200 calories a day can eat in a month or a year.

Home Dried Foods: 

Jerky:  Jerky is tasty, stores well, and can be flavored with other items for a little variety Just some basic rules here. Do not package until completely cool to the touch. Like all dried foods, store in small batches to minimize the change of contamination. Like dried vegetables, dried meat will keep up to six months; well dried and stored in a freezer, it can keep well for years. There's some jerky around here from an elk hunt LONG ago that's still good, kept in the freezer.

For vegetables dried in a dehydrator - see your unit's instructions for conditioning instructions prior to storage or refer to How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables with a Dehydrator. Use only air tight containers or freezer bags from which ALL air has been removed before closing it up.

Sulfured fruit -  store in non-metal containers. Dried fruits will keep up to a year and longer in the freezer. Again - cool dry and dark, but they will keep well at temperatures up to 60 degrees, though slightly cooler than that is optimum. If you see condensation on the inside of any of the containers, you MUST re-dry it again.

Hickory Smoking:   It does not matter if it is rain or shin,e Barkley will sit on the porch n a puddle of drool while this smokes away, refusing to come inside. Smoked products will keep a fair amount of time and unlike "mystery sausage" you know what went in this.

With the multiple racks within the smoker, 15 pounds were made in one batch. It still needs to be frozen if not eaten pretty soon, but sealed well, it will keep a LONG time.

Canned Foods:  A basic rule - If it is high acid, can it. If it is low acid, freeze it.  My friend Dann and his wife at God Gals Guns and Grub recommended to me The Ball Blue Book of Home Canning. It is the bible of canning, and really goes into safety considerations, especially important for low-acid or steam-canned things.

Root Cellar storage  - Potatoes - Inspect all potatoes for soft spots, sprouts and mold. Only perfect potatoes are suitable for long-term storage, if you find soft spots. use them now. If yours are home grown, allow to dry thoroughly before storing. Do not wash potatoes first. Store in a cardboard box, or mesh bag to ensure enough ventilation. Store where it's cool, dry and dark (50-60 degrees is ideal) with some ventilation. Check on them regularly and remove any that go soft, sprout or shrivel. Place the potatoes in a cardboard box, paper bag or mesh bag to ensure good ventilation. 

Apples  - Dried apples are a favorite of the dried fruits, but whole apples will keep a long while if stored properly. You want to store in a cool basement, garage, fruit cellar or refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is 30-32°F with 90% humidity. If temp falls below 30 apples will be damaged and if it gets over 40 they will ripen too quickly.

Onions - Inspect like you do for potatoes. For this use a couple of clean and dried ladies stockings (yes, on the exceedingly rare occasions wherein I don a dress, I wear real stockings as I HATE, hate, hate, pantyhose). Or if you use pantyhose, cut off the legs. Drop an onion into the leg and tie a knot, continue adding and knotting until the leg is full. Store where cool, dry and between 40-45 degrees. When you need an onion, simply get out your handy little knife and carefully cut a slit in the side of one of the knotted off sections. This will allow you to reinsert an onion and reuse the stocking.

Corn -  I'll be honest. I've never stored corn other than in the freezer so I'm not sure about other ways to store it. Any suggestions readers? Here is some of Frank James corn, which he so graciously shares, prepared as he recommends in his blog and prepped for the winter freezer with the "food saver". Yum!  The food saver is invaluable to extending the freezer life of things.  You can also use it to store medicines and diapers for your bug out kit if you have elders or juniors with you.  After the air is sucked out the diapers use 1/2 the space as before. 

But Brigid, I don't live out in the "burbs" or the country. I don't HAVE a root cellar, garage space or a basement?

Even in the burbs, a shelf an inch or two out from the wall (avoid condensation) right down near (but not on) the floor, will guarantee a pretty consistent and cool temperature in the mid to upper 50's as long as the adjacent wall is below ground level.

But if you have a bit of yard, and you have no other options, you can make your own in a pinch in many climates (though around some of these parts you'll just dig down and find rock). Still something useful to know.  If you rent, it takes up little space and can easily be returned to it's previous state before you move out so not to annoy your landlord. Simply dig a hole in the soil to accommodate a large sized plastic container. Think kitchen storage bin with lid, new garbage can or an old cooler. Put your container in the hole, making sure you leave an inch or two sticking out of the ground to prevent rainwater from entering the "cellar". Even better, dig a little drainage ditch around it. Remember to cover with insulating straw and plastic as well (which will also further protect it from run off.

Place your food items in the container. Don't store apples with potatoes by the way. Pack it with straw or other insulation quality material and pop the top on securely. (This should keep out the local bugs and smaller critters). Remember though - if it's above the frost line IT WILL FREEZE, unless adequately insulated. Check the food periodically and remove any immediately that is looking soft or discolored. Apples will keep (approximately as found in my climate) up to six months, carrots 5 months, potatoes 5 months,squash 5 months, beets 4 months (like that's going to happen, I HATE beets). If you see condensation there may well be mold which is a real hazard for consumption.

Note: This is NOT an ideal solution, but there may be a time in your life when it's necessary.

When you buy in bulk, get the food prepped and stored right away. Bags are fine but the long term life is limited.  I've got food like that pictured below packed in nitrogen now that will last 20+ years.

So go on and buy some bulk food and get started storing it properly. You won't ever regret doing it.

Though you might regret asking about the tripe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Avoiding that Thick Winter Coat - Some HOTR Nutrition Tips

"Seriously, you're not going to eat that are you".
I get comments on the blog and emails from folks I know off blog about how I stay healthy with all the bacon, cheese and dessert recipes.  It's simple.  I don't eat like that on a daily basis.  Like 1792 whiskey and a chance to wrap one's self around the sky in a T-6, such things, as fun as they are, aren't indulged in every day, or even every other day.

It's not easy as I LOVE to cook and create new recipes (all the photos here have recipes on my right sidebar).  
Pate Chinois

None of it makes for a "low cal" diet plan, even including all the healthy produce available here in the Midwest.

So here are a few HOTR hints for eating healthy with the occassional whole pig worked into your diet plan. If you eat healthy most of the time a big, blow out, take no prisoners, lock up your women, HOTR bacon infused dinner is fine once in a while for most people (if you are under doctor's dietary restrictions, you know the deal, ask him or her before any dietary changes).

Maple Bacon Whiskey Cream Scones
95% of the time to eat only real food, prepared by people, not machines.   Yes, I have my vices , some of it comfort food from childhood- Bologna or peanut butter sandwiches on white bread, Beavertail pastry, Caesar salads with garlicky croutons, Tourtière, Buttermilk biscuits and gravy, Midwest Chick's Brownie Cookies,  homemade mac and cheese,"Mr. Squishy" Slushee Drinks from the Quicky Mart and my best friends creme brulee browned with acetylene torch. But they are comfort food treats, once a week or so, NOT a daily indulgence and for the most part, made from scratch when able.

I believe that only seagulls should eat food tossed at them out a McWindow.

Eat lots of garden fresh and lacto-fermented vegetables, grown naturally, with a regular but small portion of meat and some animal fat for seasoning and baking (avoid tub margarines and Crisco, which is laden with trans fats).  Learn to freeze and can if you have the time and space to do so, but keep tin canned food consumption to a minimum (tin can food is for the zombie Apocalypse). If you want some recipe ideas on fermented food, some of which you've never tried and are really missing out, visit my Canadian gal friend Kymber
 at Framboise Manor . She and her man know how to eat well, and you will leave their blog from home, content, smiling, and just a wee bit hungry.

Disappearing Appetizer - a HOTR favorite (meat and dairy free)
Use game, pasture raised meats and fresh caught fish when you can. Avoid shellfish that come from polluted waters (sorry, but they are just the little oil filters of the sea). Avoid "Blinky the Tuna" canned or frozen fish from China (seriously, I'd avoid any consumable product for man or dog from China)

Some of us get a 4 H cow every year which is raised with only the best feed and care and have it butchered.  It's great quality, minimally "doctored" beef, four times the quality for the price you'd pay for "Two Buck CHUCK" at Cosco. 

Smothered steak (mushroom gravy with horseradish cream and red wine)

If you can safely include alcohol and dairy in your lifestyle, drink raw, fermented or lacto-fermented beverages such as a little ale or mead with a meal (make your own) and some kefir every day.   This helps with digestion when eating grains and other carbs as well.  I'd never had Mead until Partner in Grime made some and Miss D. and Bayou Renaissance Man, as well, showed up with some as a housewarming. Wow. Good stuff, though it's been rumored that Miss D and I get silly and start telling Lucas Wiring jokes after a couple of glasses.

Eat more whole, unprocessed grains, keeping your servings of white grain products to small portions of simple breads prepared at home. Discover homemade Sourdough bread. Sprouted grains are good if you have a sensitive stomach and some food allergies. Ezekial brand sprouted grain tortillas are usually found in my freezer, to be used for wraps for sandwich and salad fixings for a quick lunch I can pack.

Irish Brown Bread
Organic is often over hyped and priced. Buy from sources that use minimal "gunk" on their food, but buying produce, locally and fresh, and washing it thoroughly, can provide excellent produce at half the price of "shipped in from who knows where and you WILL pay for it" organic. Even better, grow your own.

Other than on splurge day, breakfast here is barley cereal or steel cut oats with berries and kefir, or eggs cooked with a piece or two of bacon and yogurt, with sourdough or whole wheat toast added when it's going to be many hours til lunch.  Lunch and dinner is a small portion of meat (about 15 % of daily diet,  more in winter) salad, grains or pasta,  steamed or roasted veggies, or soups and stews with salad and homemade bread.

Guinness Stew

I often, like my Mom, make up a condiment tray of cold regular and pickled vegetables and a few olives to munch on before dinner.  Dessert after dinners is usually just a slice of cheese and apple or pear.

I snack on fruit, Greek yogurt (non flavored with just a dab of homemade jam or honey added), venison jerky, roasted plain, cinnamon or cayenne almonds and an occasional piece of cheese with whole grain crackers.  I can't remember the last time I ate a candy bar, but I do keep some Tootsie Pops and Smartees in big beakers in my office (like the Mr. Squishy slushy drink, an on the job vice).  Fried foods, as well are a rare treat, be it pan fried walleye or beer battered onion rings.  Fortunately, I don't like french fries so that's easy  to cut back on (mashed potatoes and gravy though, that's its own food group). Popcorn popped in a brown paper bag with vanilla, some raw sugar and a tiny bit of olive oil and sea salt or salt and ancho chili seasoning  is excellent and will help you break the "chips" habit.

Eat Seasonally - eat more meat, especially game meats and animal fats in the winter when your body needs the extra fat and calores along with the produce you've frozen or canned from fresh picked. If you don't time have to prepare a meal every night, make an assortment of thick soups and stews using meat and vegetables with homemade stocks (boiling bones and the remants of a dismantled chicken with some herbs and some chopped onion makes a great stock).   That can provide several meals by themselves  or served up as leftovers, ladeled over a small portion of biscuits,  cornbread or homemade noodles. In the Spring  enjoy lots more leafy greens and dairy as you reduce your meat consumption a bit.

With Summer, enjoy a wide variety of fruits along with your veggies and meats. With fall and cooling temperatures, take advantage of the abundance of root vegetables with game and grains. Fruits and vegetables should take up to half of your plate.

turkey and stuffing  with pear/cinnamon balsamic glazed sweet potatoes.
Don't eat when you're driving, texting, on the computer or racing any vehicle on a closed track on Top Gear. Eat when you're hungry, savor the food and stop before you are stuffed. It won't make you wafer thin after you hit middle age and your metabolism moves to an offshore island, but it will help you stay healthy and full of energy.

That being said, here's my biggest bit of guidance:

Enjoy a "splurge meal" a couple of times a week (or just pick one day a week where you eat what you want). For those few meals, for that single day, unless you are on strict doctors orders with dietary restrictions,  there is/are no rules, bacon wrapped bacon with a side of bacon and a piece of pie, carbs, dessert after your meal, whatever will fit your need and your plate (but no seconds). Throw in an extra half hour or so of walking with your best friends of both the two and four legged variety and just enjoy your day. Whatever rocks your boat. Then go back to healthy eating.

Most of my recipes on my sidebar are "splurge" meals.  Go on, enjoy one this week, we always do, either a favorite, or a "new" experiment in the Range kitchen.
Irish Boxty with Pork Tenderloin Whiskey Cream Sauce
If travel and life stresses are such you can't always eat a "healthy" meal, consider some quality meal replace protein shakes and bars (I love the "wow, this actually tastes like creamy chocolate milk, not goat sweat mixed with a hint of cocoa" Advocare protein shakes, which I ordered from Tin Can Assassin on my sidebar).  They are SO much better  than the "Slimfast"  store or "Ensure"  type drinks,  which will just make your blood sugar crash later (or the store meal bars and shakes that taste like plastic infused drywall material).   I also take a daily multi vitamin, a B and C energy drink, fish oil and Glucosomine since I blew my knee out (also Advocare).
salt roasted potatoes
Am I a size 2?  No, not even close.  But my total cholesteral is 154, my bad cholesteral is about 29 and my blood pressure, passing my 50th birthday was clocked at 105 over 58. Blood sugar as well, is very low. My doctor says I have the cardiovascular health of someone in their 20's (just not their right knee.).  Look, I am not a stick, never will be.  I have no desire to be one of those women whose biggest meal of the day is  a rice cake and a breath mint so I can  wear a gun sock as a frock to a cocktail party.  Nor do I want to spend hours a day working out with a personal trainer who yells at me like a drill sargaent and shoots me with a tranquilizer dart if I make a run on the last piece of bacon.

I want to be healthy.  I want to stay active.  The rest is window dressing. I'm round and curvy but I always get carded in the "we card under 40" grocery.  Even more importantly, I can keep up with team members in the field and many close friends, twenty or  thirty years younger than I.  Attention to nutrition, no smoking and healthy habits plays a good part in that.

But having folks over for the occassional Guinness Brownie and wheelguns never hurts either.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bayonets in the News - When Redheads Get Bored

Bored Redheads - Trouble Then. . .

Still Trouble . . . .

Me:  Dialing (cough cough) lowering voice

Ring Ring

Me:  "May I speak to Agent D. Please, yes, I'll wait."

Division of Wildlife Agent: "D. speaking, how can I help you?"

Me: "Yes I'd like to inquire as to when bayonet season is?"

Agent: "HUH. . . . did you say . . . bayonet?"

Me: "Yes, I'd like to take a deer using the bayonet on my Mauser "

Agent: " Wait. Miss. Did you say a Mauser? No. Firearm season doesn't start for a couple of weeks. You can't take a deer with a firearm yet."

Me: "I don't want to shoot it. OH no. I just want to Bayonet it! I've been practicing! I bet I can rush it now and kill it with one good poke."

Agent: (long pause. . . . heavy sigh)

Me: "Sir, Is it before or after Archery?"


Agent: Brigid?!. . . .

I'm lucky I have family members who have a good sense of humor. I promise, I may on occassion poke the bear, poke fun at politicians and do the hokie pokie,  but I won't poke the deer.

Love - Brigid

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flu Season is Here - The Realities, The Risks

Just to let everyone know I'm still here (yes, I usually post something on Friday nights).

Friday night was spent, however, at the risk of TMI, with my head in a bucket.

Consider this a public service announcement, at least around these parts and into MO where friends live, there's a nasty short lived"bug" going around.  I felt kind of tired yesterday morning but not "sick" so I went to work. By afternoon I was throwing up, and it didn't stop, No one noticed though, many off, several home with sick kids, vomiting like crazy, or sick themselves. I went home.

I talked to someone who had it in their family.  They said "you'll puke nonstop for 12 hours. The entire family had it.  Only then will you be able to take a sip of water that stays down".  They weren't kidding about the non stop part, it was about every 10 minutes.  I was trying to talk on the phone with Partner in Grime and every fourth talking point, I'd interupt  him with "excuse me"  (sounds of upchuking). It was like trying to watch the recent moderators at the debates.

I took a bubble bath (replacing the small floaty plastic 7th fleet with my bucket), let Barkley for a quick potty break and went to bed with my bucket. I was too sick to go out for Gatorade and didn't want to infect any friends who offered to drive over and stay, so I put a Tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt in some water and tried to sip it. That was about as successful as The Battle of Archeloos,and probably less messy.

My friends were wrong, but not by much. It was 15 hours.

I got on the scale this morning, I'd lost six pounds.  Sure I felt lighter, but not in a good way.

But the reason I'm grossing up your otherwise normal Saturday reading is this (ahh, I was hoping she'd be blogging about furry kittens with bacon).  There is lots of hysteria about some strains of flu, particularly  H1N1, the"swine flu, on the TV the last few  years, most of it being at CNN. Why the fuss? It's a flu that acts much like our normal flu and has infected only a small number of people in the country."Regular" flu affects anywhere from 5 to 20% of the population and is responsible for an average of 36,000 deaths that are flu-related, in America each year, yet that has barely been mentioned in the news. No one worries about "regular" flu, just these fancy strains on TV. Recently a healthy high school athlete died, this year's first flu death. He hadn't got a flu shot, who would think a healthy kid would need one?  Right?

A few years ago, when H1N1 popped up, here and in Mexico, there was much talk of conspiracies and Doomsday theories to keep peoples eyes away from the economy ("It's Captain Trips!! Start walking across Kansas for the great showdown in Las Vegas. Beware a man whose boots make sparks").   Even the poor pigs got bad press over this, with the virus originally being called the “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But in actuality, study has born out that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It's actually a quadruple reassortant virus, with two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes.

Another thing that came up in the conversations was people referencing the WHO "level 5" the Spring of what I believe was 2009. Remember, if that sort of warning pops up again - this warning level is primarily a means to qualify and communicate 1) that this outbreak has crossed regional borders and 2) it has the capability to be spread between human(s). It is not a reasonable scale for giving an accurate indication of how serious or life-threatening the illness may be.

Unfortunately, the media takes that, and runs with it even if the paucity of the facts doesn't add up to the level of threat they are going to make it out to be. Now THIS is why we should keep medical and scientific discussions in Latin and Greek. Attach a catchy namelike swine flu to illnesses and even journalists teleprompter readers can pronounce them.  Keep everything in unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce terms and you won't be able to whip people into a panic. With a populace already highly frustrated by the economy, leadership, or just modern stresses, with the media blasting "Run for your lives - WHO Warning Level 5 !" the mortality concerns of the outbreak are only going to be exaggerated and fear builds.

Yes, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic killed 10's of millions, with the cytokine storm effect resulting in the deaths of primarily the young and the healthy, as was the case in many SARS deaths, wherein, the immune systems of the young and healthy counteracted so vigorously it killed them. Yes, the 1918 flu was caused by an H1N1 strain. But the H1N1 subtype is now very common, causing many of the seasonal flu outbreaks over the past 90 years. The current vaccine even includes a strain of H1N1, first identified in Brisbane in 2007. Anyone remember the "Swine Flu Outbreak of 1976"? That was a rehash of the 1918 strain and it killed about 90 people, tragic yes, but not the 18 million of the original episode. I was a school kid, but I remember, especially the scary public service announcements, the ominous echo of kettle drums, bad acting, dismissive attitudes resulting in feverish visits to the hospital and the obligatory "old person death". Fear mongering at its finest.

But if the new flu's contain H1N1 and H1N1 subtypes have been around for years, should you ignore them?   NO. It's simple. The arrangement of genetic components of the new flu have never been seen before—whether in pigs or people. That, in and of itself, concerned a lot of folks.  Also, by being different from recent strains, the body's immune system may not be able to mount an effective response. Nor is there adequate data yet to see if this strain will target typical "flu death" groups, the very young and elderly, or go another course, even if that course results in few deaths. For people will die from this strain, just like any flu strain. Any flu can kill you, not just one with a unique name.

Scientists are constantly studying new and old strains and the flu vaccine each year gets tweaked using such studies. The sequencing and resurrection of the influenza strain responsible for the 1918 pandemic has helped researchers to interpret the sequences of contemporary flu strains. We continually learn from the past,  If you look at sources other than the network news, there is accurate information out there (on medicine AND politics) There are many people, like myself, who have an identification with Orson Scott Card's concept of the Speaker for the Dead - someone who's job it is to make each death more than a statistic.

For I have spent some time in a bio hazard suit, and have some education in contagions. On my computer desk there are a few plushie microbe toys from ThinkGeek. Yersinia pestis. My favorite -  the microbe some folks think was responsible for the black death. They've done some interesting historical forensic DNA work on the issue to prove otherwise, as not all scientists believe black death was bubonic plague in it's pure form.

Certainly there was the speed with which it killed, death often occurred within three days of the first symptoms appearing. Anthrax or a haemorrhagic-fever-causing virus similar to Ebola would be more likely than plague to cause such a rapid demise, say some. But, in my personal opinion, black death was not at least primarily Y. pestis even as it does cause every symptom associated with the historical black death. The symptoms, the high mortality rate, the speed at which the disease spread, and the way the disease spread -- none of it jibes with typical bubonic plague

It's a puzzle, one that may give clues to other plagues that could pop up in our own backyards. Although pestis had evolved to be less fatal to its human hosts over time, it's really changed very little, the genome of the Black Death strain different from the modern & pestis "reference" strain by only about 100 nucleotides.  But each of those genetic differences can be found in at least one of the modern strains. Something made the Black Death "special", but we're not sure why,  rearrangements to the genome, are damn hard to determine from short fragments of DNA. One could try and resurrect the Black Death pathogen by modifying the genomes of the contemporary strains (oh, come on, it'll buff out!) in a controlled lab, where even an accidental infection could be handled with antibiotics. Perhaps they have.

It makes me really, really glad there are experts that continue to study this because Swine Flu panic notwithstanding, there are pandemic threats that exist, and bio terror is not just a source idea for a "thriller" (and having found out by 2 days in ICU that I'm one of those folks that can't take Cipro for Anthrax prevention or anything else, I am even happier.)

Yes, I'm a geek. A geek with a gun, and a little blue-eyed, plushy microbe named "Nessie" (though I do not yet have virus DNA sequences on my iPod).

So I wanted to say this, not as someone trained in science but only as Barley's Mom.  Get a flu shot.  If you see symptoms, stay home, do NOT go to work and spread it.

Use the same precautions you would use in any flu season- staying home if you are sick, washing your hands with soap and HOT water. (How long to wash? Sing the Happy Birthday song while scrubbing, that's the right length of time, but avoid doing that out loud or often or people will call for professional help). Avoid those openly sick, or if family, use normal precautions in their care. Seek medical help immediately with a sustained high temperature, difficulty in breathing or if you can't keep water down after a day.  Nausea and vomiting accompanied by pain in the chest and arm can be indicative of a heart attack, and heart attacks in women are persistently sneaky in their symptoms.

 I will get a shower and make a trek out for some broth and jello and saltines.  A colleague who is a doctor said "do the BART diet for a few days".  I was very disappointed this did NOT stand for Bacon, Ale, Roast beef and  Tortellini. 

Now for me, a quiet weekend of sleep, plenty of fluids, applesauce and toast and a few books.  Perhaps too, a little quality time with Mr. Barkley who sat up awake by the side of the bed all night, and who really doesn't look like he likes Mr. Yersinia pestis.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Barkley - Lessons in Socialism

I worked hard all year, barking at strangers, retrieving things and keeping Mom company. So I earned a toy!! I'm proud of my toy.

MY TOY! Hard work and loyalty DO pay off!

But Barkley, there is a dog down the road that lays on his ass and whines all day and does nothing. HE doesn't have a toy. So the man will come and give him YOUR toy.

Come on, we're not taking it we're just redistributing the toys.

How do you feel about the whole idea now Barkley?

Bad Politician. No Vote!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Barkley Goes Green - Dinner Goes Bacon

Mom, I'm not in the way, I'm recharging my solar cells to be ready in case my arch enemy the UPS man shows up. 

It was one of those quiet days around the house, I worked in the home office all day and Barkley lazed in the Sun.

Dinner needed to be good and easy to put together. No recipe, no precision, just a handful of that and a pinch of this (though I tried to give you an estimate of how much of what).  What's in the fridge?  There's some fresh chicken breasts, cheese and spices, salad stuff and leftover real perogies (not frozen). Oh, and imagine that! There's bacon!

Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Bacon and Brie (late night lighting folks, but you get the idea).

Four boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat but not throw rug flat.   Stuff each with -

a couple of pieces of cooked Amish bacon crumbled into big pieces (add any leftover tiny bits to the crumb coating)
a sprig of fresh basil chopped.
a slice (somewhat narrow but long so it tucks in well) of Chive encrusted Brie (from Trader Joes).

Fold the chicken around stuffing and secure with a couple of toothpicks. (This is much easier after you consume a bottle of HofBrau or maybe you just don't care.)

Smear entire breast with some garlic mayo.  I used a generous half cup of Kraft low fat mayo with olive oil and four cloves of chopped garlic and a splash of  Indiana made Scoville Brothers Singing Smoke hot sauce (or a tiny pinch of smoked paprika). 

Roll that in a mixture of a generous cup of Panko bread crumbs to which you've added several pinches  of crushed red pepper (see photo above for amount I used) and any little bacon dust (even better than fairy dust) left over after crumbling it. Panko are the Japanese bread crumbs.  They are larger and courser than traditional Italian bread crumbs and make a wonderful coating.  If I can find them in a family owned grocers in a Polish neighborhood you can find them.

click photo to enlarge.
Place  the chicken toothpick side down in non stick sprayed pan and bake at 350 until lightly browned and 160 degrees F. internal temperature.  About 30 minutes in an old gas oven.

Serve with a starch and lots of fresh salad. "Green Dog", long having given up solar power and earth sustainable kibble, will be begging for a bite.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bohemian Rhapsody - Little Bohemia Restaurant

In every little town in America there's the little "Mom and Pop" type restaurant. Unassuming with a meal very much like your Mom would cook (well would if Mom was the Czeck equivalent of Pioneer Woman). If you drove past too quickly you might miss it, and advertising is word of mouth from the locals.

The Little Bohemia Restaurant in Riverside, IL  It's just a train ride away from friends (the train stopping just a stone's throw away from the restaurant) or an easy drive from the city.

THAT, my friends, is their pork tenderloin.  The breading was light and crispy without a drop of  grease, the pork, tender, all served on top of freshly made dumplings with a boatload of delicious gravy to pour over the top.  On the side was homemade rye bread, beef noodle soup, seasoned green beans and sauerkraut.  It was hard to decide on what to order, so many different roasted meats to pick from  (Barkley was sending subliminal messages from  home, order the duck!  order the duck!) as well as various noodle based marvels. We heard that if the roast beef with dill gravy was on the menu, to get it.  It wasn't today, another reason to come back.

Indiana is known for it's tenderloin but I've not had one as good as this, even half the size. That baby was as big as the deficit.

Soup, coffee or tea and a little slice of dessert is included with every meal.  I went for the cream puff (light, flaky pastry that's never seen a freezer, filled with homemade whipped cream, not the canned stuff) and my friend had apple strudel.

The service was outstanding and the place was as clean as a whistle and casually but carefully decorated so you can come in in your church best or just jeans and a sweater.  The big surprise, all of this, for two people totalled $21 with taxes. And yes, there was a big "to go" box" as we headed out towards the train station, tornado sirens going off (life in the Midwest - well fed, never dull).

Thank you folks for a delightful dinner.  I will definitely be back.