Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pizza Pi - Kitchen Engineering

Saturday was work around the Range.  The kitchen is getting ready to be gutted after the holidays, the floor already stripped down to its last ugly layer of floor covering , the 1930's cupboards (covered with contact paper) to be replaced by white wood cabinets and a really cool antique sink and drain board, against a different wall so this whole area will be prep space from which I can look out onto the tall spruces while I make my bread.

But not today.  Today was for checking on supplies, such as refreshing the emergency water and rations. Holding up one of these water containers is not easy, so how to get water in it with no physical effort and without having to watch it?

Meet the water-nator!
Supplies refreshed, it was time for a late unch.  I had a hankering for pizza, one of the big thick Chicago style ones with a crispy base, thick moist interior and piping hot toppings.  But they want $20+ around here for a deep dish delivered. But I don't have a pizza stone to ensure a crisp crust (which also take forever to heat up, making them great for a crust but about as energy efficient as the Bat Truck on a steep grade). To get the pizza I want, I need a high-temperature cooking surface to crisp the bottom of the pizza and a high-temperature cooking environment to rapidly cook the top.

Cast Iron to the RescueIt's not just for cornbread any more.  It's  going to give me the thermal mass I need to cook and lightly char a pizza base before letting the oven rise and cook the dough. And I've always got cast iron skillets and their covers lying around. 
Cast Iron Deep Dish Pizza

Start with one loaf of bread dough. Make your own or thaw out one you've made (or bought frozen, but keep it wrapped in plastic wrap tightly  so it doesn't rise as it thaws). Roll it into a 14 inch round and place in a very lightly oiled (and well seasoned) cast iron pan (this was a No. 8, the base of which is 9 inches wide) putting the dough up the sides of the pan a ways to form a thick rim.  Actually the rolling pin didn't work that great, stretching and shaping it with my hands while cursing in a combination of Gaelic and Norwegian did the trick.

Top with -

1/2 to 3/4  of a 15 ounce can tomato sauce (depends on how saucy you like it)
3 to 4 Tablespoons of tomato paste
3 Tablespoons of  grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons assorted dried Italian herbs (I used basil and oregano)
1/8 teaspoon, or to taste, crushed red pepper
a couple dashes of seasoning salt (I used Jane's Krazy Salt).

How about BACON! (pre -cooked but not too crispy)
caramelized onion
and a handful of pineapple

Topped with about a cup and half of mozzarella
MMM Bacon!

Heat the pan on the stove burner on Medium High for 3 minutes.  This is key to getting a good crust is having the dough cooked at a high temperature.  Doing this uncovered on the stove with the cold pan works much better than trying to preheat the pan and wrestle the dough into it without burning yourself.  The pizza won't change in appearance, but the pan will be nice and HOT.

At 3 minutes, place in a preheated 475 F. oven.  Bake for 14-18 minutes, uncovered, until golden brown.
The cast iron mimics the commercial pizza oven's tremendous heat which cooks the pies quickly, yielding a crust that's every so faintly charred on the underside and rim, but moist and tender inside, with a sauce and toppings that's bubbling hot but not dessicated.

You could probably bake this in an ordinary round pan, but the cast iron gives it a great finish and the handle makes it a breeze to get in and out of the oven. When it comes out of the oven you can easily slide it to a cutting board to cut into slices.  This made big thick slices, enough to feed three or  four people. If you use a bigger pan, the dough will be thinner, but the concept will still work.
You could use whole wheat or sourdough dough for a different taste, sausage and spinach and mushroom instead of bacon/pineapple (with some fennel in the sauce), pepperoni and black olives, anything would work.
Get a sturdy plate and a knife and fork, it's ready!  But the best part  - it was better than the local Chicago style pizza place, the thick Amish Smoked Bacon being much tastier than their "ham" topping. Plus it was a  fifth of the cost of one their large deep dish and with thawed dough, on the table in 30 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dog Day Afternoons

Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

William Shakespeare

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Range on a Budget - Weekend Adventures

You know money is tight when you make half dollar pancakes.

OK, that was actually a flipping accident, this morning. The weekend flew by much too quickly. Saturday was chores, a few things to be picked up.  My household likes a good bargain (I am part Scot) and you'd be surprised what you can find if you have a keen eye. A "scratch and dent" sale at a food wholesalers resulted in a lot of new canned goods, marked with a marker on the label with the date to use by, so they can be rotated through regularly, keeping the emergency pantry fresh as well as very stocked.
 For example, this  was only Sixty Nine Cents, found at a discount a while back. 

 Since I'd had a long week, Partner offered to cook dinner last night while I relaxed with some wine from Aldi (don't laugh, they have some decent table wine) with my feet up.  This is what he came up with and it was delicious!  I'm going to check out some of the other Nantucket Off-Shore sugar and salt free rubs, this one was really good! (click on recipe name to open)  Herb-crusted Chicken.

And yes, in honor of the 11th Doctor on this 50th anniversary show night - bow tie pasta.
Sunday late morning  found us sorting through a few other of the bargains.  This fake security camera had a broken part, easily fixed and was $1. 
It has a motion sensor that then flashes a light at you like it's taking your picture. I'm not sure if it will deter anyone but it will be fun to mount up somewhere above the back door.  I wonder if I write "NSA" on it with a Sharpee, anyone will notice.
This Mission table is a current work in progress, found sitting by a trash can on a street, being thrown out.  It had a scuffed particle board top and bottom shelf, but the mission ends were solid oak and in excellent shape but for a few surface scratches.  Quick, stop and load. The top and shelf are an easy replacement with real wood, and with a refinish to hide some minor wear, this will be a nice addition to the Range.

I'm not too proud to grab something someone threw out just as most of my kitchen ware is from thrift shops.  Nothing matches, but each piece is unique and has a story. One I do not know, but can catch a glint of as I wash it and put it away.

I recently got a complete set of very high quality cast iron cookware, including a huge griddle that crash pad neighbors threw out after they apparently ran it through the dishwasher and watched it rust.  A good clean and seasoning and they were perfect. 
There's also a Mission sofa being  repaired and re-stained downstairs.  The "made at home", new black Ultrasuede covered cushions replaced the worn, paisley ones, but considering it was once an $1800 couch and it joined the range for a case of beer, no one is complaining about the work.

But to work, one needs fuel.

Silver Dollar pancakes with Thick Cut Bacon.
Cooking the pancakes on a griddle that still has a bit of Bacon drippings makes for a particularly good little pancake .
Some of the afternoon was games. There was still some cleaning to do, but I can do that tomorrow when Partner is working and I have one more day off.  We will  NOT mention the Mexican train wreck that was my dominoes game but then it was on to cribbage.  The wind chill being down in the single digits today, we were not lured back out of the house to go play with anything 'spody.
I overcame the dominoes disaster by winning more than one hand of cribbage.  After one particularly brutal crib (thanks for the  air of Jacks) . . .
that moved me well into the lead, I managed to fumble the entire deck of cards all over the table

Partner (smiling):  How do you DO that?  You're like the Columbo of Cribbage! 

Barkley went outside once, going to the bottom of the steps and coming right back as if to say "it's too cold!".  He then laid on his bed in the office, sulking because he doesn't know 1000 words like the Border Collie we saw on the news yesterday
If it wasn't for those darn pronouns!

Before you know it, it was time for supper.  I knew what it was going to be.  A Canadian blogger was kind enough to give me the recipe for her Lebanese rice.  She gave me the ingredients and the basic amounts (use as much as you like :-) which let me play with what worked or not for my palate.  There was just one extra secret ingredient (cinnamon) to make it my own, as well as pitas and an addition of a side of yogurt/mint/cumin cucumber sauce that offset the spicy  dish perfectly.

 I present the HOTR version of  Herbed Lebanese Rice.
Thank you Kymber, for the inspiration.  This one is a keeper.  It's easy, it was less tan $1.50 a serving, using spices already on hand, would freeze well (like we'll have leftovers after tomorrow), and made enough for more than one meal. Adding more rice to stretch this would easily to feed a large, hungry family.  Plus, it was VERY tasty. Partner raved about it and asked that I make it again sometime soon.
The evening is ahead, so I will be signing off for now.

Thanks for stopping by.  I needed a couple days to just relax and regroup.  It's easier to write, to plan and to work, when I can do this, and I appreciate those of you who wish to share it when I do.
 - Brigid

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It followed me home, can I keep it?

Why buying a Smart Car instead of a truck might have saved even MORE money.

Friday, November 22, 2013

R and R

It's been a long week and a tough one mentally.  The day was too long  to safely hit the road  tonight so I'm getting some hot food, a good night's sleep, then I'll drive home. (And yes, that's a flip phone.  Before you give me any grief, remember I could probably whoop you at Asteroids :-)

I have no plans after that  involving anything more than old westerns, reloading, attempting to beat my husband (at cribbage), baking more bread and sleep. 

I'll be back with a post Sunday.  Until then,  I have the "three b's" on standby with a "breakfast for supper".  That would be Barkley, Bacon and Biscuits (with lingonberry preserves and a hot beverage with a shot of Jameson in it), before the long bubble bath.   Cheers!
click to enlarge photo
When you rise in the morning,
 give thanks for the light,
 for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food
 and for the joy of living.
 If you see no reason to give thanks,
 the fault lies in yourself.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

IQ Vs. NEQ - Smart Storage of Primers

Your valuable things.  They vary from person to person, but for reloaders they include primers.  Primers are sometimes readily available, sometimes as valuable as gold.  If they're available at a good price people tend to stock up.

If you are new to reloading there is some basic information that you should consider before you start tucking them in your sock drawer. I would also strongly suggest you do some homework and check your local laws rather than just rely on info from someone like myself who just stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night. Various state and national fire codes have minimum standards for storage regarding methods and quantities. That's what the insurance companies go with, for what it's worth.

I am still learning about primers but over the years I learned about smart, AND dumb things to do with explosives.  Alaska, somewhere back in the 90's.

Just as I think many of you know about hazmat to some degree.
Due to their explosive nature it is recommended that only an absolute minimum should be kept in storage. The National Fire Protection Association' NFPA 495 says that not more than 10,000 primers should be stored in a private residence. This recommendation is law in most communities so you might wish to check your local laws.
But think of it, 1,000 each large rifle, large rifle magnum, small rifle, large pistol, large pistol magnum, small pistol, small pistol magnum, and shotshell primers. That's 8,000 primers folks so with care in replacing those supplies used, most people should have plenty on hand.

What about long term storage?  Time isn't much of a factor in primer performance, but temperature cycling is. Going up and down in temp induces condensation.
The two biggest dangers for primers (outside of not being able to find any) is
(1) HEAT
(2) HUMIDITY.It goes without saying that you want to store primers in a remote location away from any source of ignition (that includes bullet impact). Watch for any potentials for high heat, spark, electrical percussion in your storage area. A general run through for potential dangers before setting up your reloading and storage area before you make your purchases is a good idea.Keep them away from from oxidizing agents, flammable liquids, and flammable solids (including handloading powders), children, pets or idiots (including those related to you). Always store primers in their original packaging, which is designed for safety. Never store primers in bulk, such as in a can or jar.
A gun safe is NOT the best place to keep them. A storage cabinet is strongly recommended, constructed of at least 1 inch thick lumber which will delay the transfer of heat to the contents in the event of a fire. The storage cabinet should be kept away from direct sun rays, open flames (well duh), trash or other combustibles, sources of heat, furnaces, solvents, flammable gasses (well you get the picture). Near the floor, as well, is the coolest place in a fire, but not touching the wall.
And yes, despite commenter's warnings on my blog from fire marshal Bill and other friends, I do store some primers in an ammo can. Why? Long term storage. (Think future days of not being able to find primers as opposed to saving a few for a rainy day during the zombie apocalypse). I have primers stored this way that go back to the Clinton era that still work.

Yes, there are inherent dangers of this, frankly, in ANY storage of explosive bits and pieces.
Primers are a primary explosive and just putting too many of them together in one place makes them "a bomb" whether they are contained or not.  (Someday if we're under the cone of silence I'll tell you a story about a "reloaders grenade")  The metal box storage would be a concussion explosion and the shrapnel not as much as you think, but certainly is a risk. Anyone that reloads in any bulk has all kinds of stuff that will go "boom". Some do it in shops separate from the home, some do it in home with precautions, such as a magazine built in to the structure.

The hazard from the metal box is really almost as much about it creating an isothermal (uniform temperature) environment inside during a fire as it is about fragmentation. I would not want to be the fireman working near a hot metal box full of primers. Yes, the house could catch fire That's a risk I live with. I, for one, drive too fast to lose sleep over it. But if I plan on storing something for really long term, I'm not sure if there are any other options.

Stored in their original containers, packed in a can, I think the risk of them "cooking off" on their own is pretty slim. But NO, an ammo box WILL NOT "contain" them if they did cook off. But I wouldn't want something that strong anyway, because it would only increase the explosive release if it does go up (why I don't store them in a gun safe, among other reasons). For long term storage I think the sides of a GI box would blow out plenty fast enough to prevent excessive pressure build up and it protects your primers from humidity like nothing else if you want to store for years, not months.  I know folks who have taken a 1 inch hole saw (fine tooth) and thinned a place from the inside of the lid, to direct the force of the blow out
, though it brings to mind "The Crimson Permanent Assurance".Some of the primers that have lived around the Range over the years were stored for a very long time , and were still good when used.  Had they been in plastic, even with desiccant they'd probably have ended up duds  (click to enlarge and look at the price on this box. Want to guess how old it is?) This box was stored in an ammo can, not the plastic can and they are as good as new. The problem with plastic containers may be the vapor permeability of the material itself. Plastic gas cans/vehicle fuel tanks were only possible after the development of a flourination process used to create an impermeable layer in the plastic after the part is formed. But I know there will be many that disagree with me and there's lots of discussion pro and con in the forums on storage. If you're worried about a fire, store your primers in a plastic ammo box, like you see pictured, still in their original packaging. The original packaging is designed to be non-static so you shouldn't have a problem with the plastic box. If a fire will causes the box to melt and if the primers cook off, when the first package pops it will probably help scatter the rest of them. A pack of 50-100 primers would make a decent bang but the flying bits are small and low powered. Plastic is fine for short term, but in my humble opinion if you want primers that will be useful 10 years from now, plastic is not going to cut it unless you own a desiccant factory. (Note: dessicant  is going to do less than you expect if the individual boxes aren't sealed. The primers are assembled in 30% humidity, and anything much less causes the cake (the pressed mixture) to crumble.)

My primers are stored in their original boxes, with several desiccant pouches and a humidity indicator. I have the primers I'm going to use soon in plastic containers, with desiccant, but I also have a couple ammo cans packed long term need, one for one for small rifle & pistol primers, the other for large & magnum primers. They're kept in a cool, dry environment until I might need them some day when times get tough, and I only keep the can in use long enough to select what I'm going to use, and occasionally replacing the desiccant.
I've never heard of primers, in their box, stored in an ammo can, going off on their own. In a reloader, yes, but the can no. Has anyone else? If my house burns I'm in a lot more danger from the ammo then from two or three cans of primers stored in a carefully constructed magazine.

Powder is a whole other issue for long term storage. Powder stored in a pressure containing device (like a sealed ammo can) is NOT a good idea because powder is designed to burn and create a gas and if you put it in to a sealed container. . .well. . .

I don't keep my powder in any kind of a sealed or air-tight container, but I feel safe in putting some of the primers in an ammo can. I don't want anything to crush them and make them pop, and I don't want flame to get to them and make them pop. I also don't want humid air attacking them.If you are going to store primers in some cabinet in your house there ARE some basic rules you wish to follow. Don't use your primer cabinet to store -
(a) your girlfriends Cosco purchase of 8 gallons of nail polish remover,
(b) your blow torch or
(c) your emergency bacon rations. (well just because).
(d) your powders

You can also identify your storage area with NFPA markings to aid firefighters responding to an emergency at their home -

The NFPA 704 marking system consists of a diamond-shaped placard divided into four sections: a white section on the bottom for special hazards; a blue section on the left for health hazards; a red section at the top for fire hazards; and a yellow section on the right for reactivity hazards. Each color box contains a number from 0-4, specifying the corresponding hazard level for the material contained in the container or area.

So for powder, primers, and most reloading materials, the white square at the bottom would be blank, the blue square on the left would contain a "0" for no specific health hazard, the red square at the top would contain a "3" for moderate fire hazard, and the yellow square to the right would contain a "3" or a "4" for high reactivity hazard, depending on what you're storing.   Click on NFPA Marking System for more detailed information.Naturally, never smoke around primers. If where you reload is frequented by guests or household members that may not be familiar with the process, No Smoking signs in the storage area and at the loading bench aren't a bad idea.

Again, these are just some basics and what I do. Others will have better info,, others will disagree. But on the issue of the ammo argument you might wish to reference

49 CFR, Subpart 173.62, packing instruction 133.

Boring yes, it's the federal requirements for packaging Primers, Cap Type, UN0044 (i.e., ALL small arms primers that we the public use). According to that reference, primers MUST be packaged in a certain way, but choices are allowed within certain parameters. For example: It references inner packing consisting of "Trays, fitted with dividing partitions" as one option, (this is what some of you are used to seeing). The reg above requires that if the primers are housed in trays, as mentioned in (1), then intermediate packagings are required. Follow the link above to page 11 of the PDF, look at the "Intermediate packagings" column for packing instruction 133, and see that we can store the tray of primers in a receptacle made of (our choice) fiberboard, wood, plastic, or METAL.

Finally, the regulation gives folks that fall under their guidelines a choice of outer packaging, noted in the 3rd column of the same page 11 of said PDF-- steel box, aluminum box, wooden box, plywood box, and plastic box, among others. I know these regs don't apply to us the individual, but it's nice to read what they consider some safe choices for various purposes. Use common sense, check out local laws if you are so inclined, and follow some standard safety practices of not just HOW you store them, but WHERE. For frankly, given where I live, and what's on the radar this time of year, I worry more about Mother Nature than Mr. Primer. Boring yes, it's the federal requirements for packaging Primers, Cap Type, UN0044 (i.e., ALL small arms primers that we the public use). According to that reference, primers MUST be packaged in a certain way, but choices are allowed within certain parameters.

For example:

It references inner packing consisting of "Trays, fitted with dividing partitions" as one option, (this is what some of you are used to seeing). The reg above requires that if the primers are housed in trays, as mentioned in (1), then intermediate packagings are required. Follow the link above to page 11 of the PDF, look at the "Intermediate packagings" column for packing instruction 133, and see that we can store the tray of primers in a receptacle made of (our choice) fiberboard, wood, plastic, or METAL.

Finally, the regulation gives folks that fall under their guidelines a choice of outer packaging, noted in the 3rd column of the same page 11 of said PDF-- steel box, aluminum box, wooden box, plywood box, and plastic box, among others.

I know these regs don't apply to us the individual, but it's nice to read what they consider some safe choices for various purposes.

Use common sense, check out local laws if you are so inclined, and follow some standard safety practices of not just HOW you store them, but WHERE.

For frankly, there's more things to worry about than your primers some mornings.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bacon Spoonbread - Gluten Free Cooking Week 2

Week two of the gluten free bakeout to support a friend who has Celiac.  OK,  the popovers Saturday weren't gluten free, but the  first gluten free version resembled moon rocks.

Sunday Brunch was much better.  A lot better.  Let's just say "serves 8" was more like "serve four" as everyone had seconds. Even those mindful of calories, never have seconds, had seconds. Corn spoon bread with bacon and jalapenos.
It might be called spoon"bread" but the consistency is more of a wonderful cross between polenta, custard and a cornmeal soufflé, an airy, delicate puff of smooth corn flavors across your tongue. Some are sweet, almost dessert like, but for this one I went savory, with bacon, onion caramelized in bacon drippings, ancho and jalapenos.

The ingredients might take 10 minutes or so to assemble, but stove top cooking is just minutes, with a bake time of about half an hour.  Everyone who had a plate (OK, two plates) agreed it was worth a little extra fuss.  And it's gluten free!

In an assortment of bowls  assemble:

- A handful of chopped sweet onion
- 4-5 slices of thick cut bacon
- 2 cups milk (not skim) to which you've added 1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and two pinches ancho chili powder (or cayenne)
- 1 cup stone ground corn meal
- 4 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup milk  (yes, in a separate bowl from the  2 cups above) to which you've added a pinch of sugar
- 3 large eggs separated (whites in one larger bowl, whisk the yolks into the one cup of milk above)
- 1 cup cheese (I used half pepper jack, half cheddar) grated
- 1 cup fresh or thawed corn and 1 large jalapeno (chopped with all but a few seeds removed, or all if you want it really mild)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Fry bacon until cooked, but still tender, remove and chop.

Drain off all but a little bacon grease and soften onion in pan drippings until starting to turn golden, removed with slotted spoon.

In a saucepan, heat the 2 cups of the salt and peppered milk, whisking constantly over medium to medium high until at a low boil.  Lower heat to medium low and slowly pour in 1 cup cornmeal, stirring constantly and cook for 2 minutes (it will be quite thick, and switching from whisk to wooden spoon helps when you pour in the corn)
Remove from heat , pour into large clean bowl and stir in butter until melted.

Slowly add remaining milk/egg yolk mixture into cornmeal mixture in a thin stream,  stirring constantly so the egg yolks don't cook.

Add corn, peppers, cheese, chopped bacon, and caramelized onion and set aside

Whip the bowl of egg whites with hand mixer until defined but not stiff peaks form. Drop a heaping spoonful of the whipped eggs into the corn batter and stir well, then gently fold remaining egg whites into the corn batter, a third at a time, just until combined.

Bake in greased large casserole pan for 26-32 minutes until puffed and golden brown (knife inserted into center should come out clean).

Serve with sour cream (if you wish) and chopped chives.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You Know It's a Slow News Day

When this pops up on& your local police blotter.:

A white cat was reported near a fountain on South Sixth Avenue. The cat attempted to attack an officer, jumped out of the officer's arms and fled. It was last seen refusing to go near a fireman.
Look Mom!  There's a cat trespassing in the window!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pointed Thoughts - Things that go Bump in the Night

I have a gal friend that I go to dinner and the movies with  a few times a year when her husband is out of town on business, as her house is pretty quiet, kids grown.  We pick a little restaurant, then a movie, alternating who gets to pick.  Usually we pick something we both like, but when the last Twilight movie came out, she wanted to go see it, not having read the books, just to see what all the fuss was all about.

You've seen Mystery Science Theater? That was us, not seated by anyone, making jokes about most every scene. I've not laughed so hard at a movie in ages (and it's not a comedy). When the werewolves appeared in wolf form, their lips moving and talking in English, I couldn't help but mimic Duke (probably a bit too loud) from the Bush Baked Beans commercial "roll that beautiful bean footage".

And it went downhill from there.
I am not sure what was more silly, vampires with abs, or werewolves with pecs (all of whom Chuck Norris's Mom could take). Also, if your clothes are destroyed when you instantly transform into a wolf, how is it you are still in your pants and T-shirt when you reappear as human? (I asked a similar question about pants and the Incredible Hulk to my Mom and she just said "they, uh, they were stretchy)

It was easy to tell the vampires and werewolves apart. The vampires were all overly groomed metrosexuals and society women with occassional upper crust voice inflections living in giant glassed houses (you know, since vampires like sunlight so much). The werewolves were of Native Indian descent, living in extremely modest homes of the working class.

There were quite a few tears in the audience as the epic love story (snort) played out across the screen. We had tears on our faces as well, but from laughing so hard. We found it humorous, not just due to bored looking stars who had the range of emotion of an Irish Setter, the storyline that moved in knots and the bad dialogue, but the whole romantic concept of life and death that is so unlike reality as to forever skew in some 13 year old's mind what they will expect from love and life among mere mortals.
I thought of such things one night time I was out in open ground.  The woods were chilly from a passing cold front, the air violent and raw, leaves and remnants of blossoms having flung themselves down with one last rush of motion. The fieldswere littered with fallen branches and the footprints of invisible deer.

At the base of one tree, was the trunk of another, felled during a storm, where I could stop to sit and think. I've spent more than one day or night out on the ground. As kids we'd sleep in the yard on starry nights, dragging out the little pup tent and setting it up under the canopy of the apple tree. We'd lie on our backs in our sleeping bags, tracking satellites through the air and speculating on the nature of the heavens and why the plain Hershey bar was just better than the one with nuts in it. We were kids, and there were no worries, about elections or taxes or bears or the future. We'd wake, ground cold and soggy with dew, and hike back those 10 yards to the house, bleary eyed from lack of sleep yet energized with the joy of believing that we would live forever.
But we grow up, and our concept of what is lasting changes forever, I think, my shadow small against the mighty form of the tree. There is comfort in my smallness, for I am stricken by the thought of the tremendous history of this tree, mighty roots as old as this land, knitting themselves to the earth, embracing the soil with firm resolution not to be parted from it without great force.

I'm not the first person to pass here, in the ruins of an old farmhouse, the remains of a chimney, choked by plants that search out implicit ghosts. People were born here, people likely died here, only a chimney remaining, no house to warm.

Then, a few yards away from the farm house, the bones of a small animal, a raccoon it looked like. How long had it lay here? Long enough for the bones to bleach to soft white, the flesh now part of the earth, the eyes, silent spheres of history. The shape was benign as if the creature simply stopped quietly and ceased to breathe, unlike other bones one finds in the wild, the animals of the tar pits, trapped in the primordial ooze in the posture of shock. Other animals dropped while running, the bones scattered by predators til the remaining pieces are simply laid out in a question mark.
It only takes a few days for an animal to decompose during the summer months, likely when this creature took its last breath. Only a few days to return to bone, to the simplest components of life, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur. Only bones left, pressing into the soft welcoming earth, the soil a rich bed of late summer.

Sometimes all I find are bones, laid bare to the elements, or burned clean. With the right temperature all things will burn, yet bone itself stubbornly resists all but the hottest of fires. Even when all the carbon is burned from it, bone will still retain it's shape. An insubstantial ghost of itself, it crumbles easily, the last bastion of the person's being transformed into ash. Yet in that ash remain large pieces, calcined and with the consistency of pumice, yet when held in the hand, almost seeming to posses a trace of warmth from within their core.
Life is not some paranormal landscape where the men are mysterious, live forever and would rather watch you sleep than watch sports or Mythbusters.  Real women aren't physically perfect and the ones to admire don't give up their life and their self to be with a guy just because he's "hot". That's a premise for an insecure person's fantasy. We're born, we die. In between we live and we'll love as hard as we can, until the day comes when our bones, as well, become part of the rough skin of the planet, as time settles into itself, as we're remembered like the smell of woodsmoke, sprinkling ash upon the cradle in which we will all sleep.

As a young woman, I read books that would be considered fantasy when compared to my life, but the heroes were the explorers of space and time and science was the only poetry, forming order out of chaos. It was a world I could only dream of at that age, but it was a world I could actually witness and one in which I would spend my life to pursue.

I pick up one of the bones from the ground , and my mind goes into it's usual thought process. For even if they have no voice, sometimes what they say proffers a clue. Who was this divined creature? In what manner of violence was their end? It's a world few wish to visit, yet it drives me, the mystery, the puzzle, perhaps because I realize that the final mystery is ourselves.
The use of physical evidence to build a theoretical model of crime or accident involves a number of sciences, the chemistry of death, and the engineering of the body. Out of habit, I stop and survey the scene, making mental notes in my head. How long had it been laying here? Bones, especially ones that have burned, do not give up a time of death. For that you need to trace the extent of decomposition in volatile fatty acids, in muscle proteins and amino acids, all which are normally destroyed in a hot fire. Even today my brain sifts through ideas, time lines and theory based on simple white bone. I pry a bone from the soil, the blade's cold, sharp whisper drawing out that which may be hidden but is not afraid to speak.

For it can tell me a story.

I do not live in some romantic fantasy of mortality, for I walk among the dead, treading carefully on the small broken artifacts of life, part pathology, part engineering, going beyond either. For after the mechanics of motion have stopped, after human physiology has broken down, and what once was animated life, a heart that loved, a soul that dreamed, is reduced to flesh or ash, decay or dried bone, the dead will still bear witness. As sanguine angels in cold marble muse, so will I, long after that which is of the earth is returned to it.
The bones tell me no stories today that I do not know, branches above moving above like a priests hands over the cup, moving with that defining gesture of nature's absolution. What's formed of earth returns to it, amidst the dying brass, lying softly vanquished, there in the juncture of faith and death.

Leaning against the trees, drops of rain splashing off mighty stone and wood, the secret whisper of wind invisible to me and silent. Truly, would most of us wish to live on this earth immortal? Would we find the beauty in anything if we lived forever? Would the gems of thoughts and feelings and desire be so precious if we knew they would always be upon our shelf? Or would they fall to the earth, trickling through our hands like water, evaporating on the cold ground, because we thought our hold on them was eternal.

So I'll pass on the whole paranormal romance think, preferring to hold onto that which may not be immortal, but which is so real and so rare, to be held close and savored in the time that remains.