Hey good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?

Old faithful hand-me-down. First published by McCall in 1963.

I was having lunch with an old friend not long ago who asked me how I manage to stay so thin. I told him it has a lot to do with my lack of motivation in the kitchen.

The term “cooking” is defined by my trusty internet dictionary as the act of preparing food for human consumption with the use of heat, such as boiling, baking or roasting. There’s more to it than that, of course.

When my son was a youngster, most evenings I would come home from work and prepare a proper, well-rounded meal for him and any other kids from the neighborhood who happened to show up at the dinner hour (I was a single parent at the time). But now that he is grown and has moved out, and with me being a confirmed bachelor, I no longer cook often enough to keep my chops up (heh heh). And though I still enjoy putting together a nice repast for myself on any given Saturday or Sunday evening, I am rarely inspired to do so on a weeknight.

Okay, listen to this: dinner at my house tonight, a miscellaneous Wednesday (I’m sure you will want to save this too-lazy-to-cook recipe.):

Start with two fingers of Jim Beam, one slice of pizza saved from last Friday night and a solitary grilled pork chop from Saturday, two weeks ago (it had only one bite taken out of it—judging from the dental impression I’m pretty sure that bite was from me). Fold the pizza over and wrap it in foil together with the pork chop and then warm in the toaster oven at 350 for 15 minutes or so, or whatever, depending on how the Jim Beam works out. I also boiled up some water for an ear of sweet corn I stumbled upon in the refrigerator’s meat bin. (Had it been in the veggie bin I would have found it sooner. Days sooner, probably.) If you forgot to do that first, put the foiled stuff back in the oven and turn the temp down to “warm,” apply another jigger of Jim Beam where it will do the most good, and wait for the corn to be done. It will be done when the Jim Beam is gone. Remove it from the pot and immediately smother it in butter and salt. Dessert? Three of four remaining sections of a navel orange I peeled last weekend as a snack while watching the Cubs get their butts kicked by the St. Louis Cardinals—again (what is it about those Cardinals?). For the record, I discarded that last orange section: it was dry as a bone (I do have my limits).

In case you haven’t already figured this out, let me share with you a hint to my secret for staying so thin (so far, anyway): Years ago, back in my corporate days, I would sometimes grab a quick lunch at a sandwich shop near the office. The food wasn’t great but it was cheap and fast (insert old joke about the women I typically date). Well, one day I bounced in the front door only to find one of the elder senior executives at the company where I was employed seated alone at a table. When I returned to the dining area with my pita and tuna salad, he invited me to join him. I sat down and asked if he came in there very often. In full earshot of the owner and all his customers, he said, “I try to. The food is so bad it discourages me from over-eating.”

Antiques and collectibles

Me at 100 years of age

I was surfing through my TV channels the other day and happened upon PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow”. For those of you who might not be familiar with the program, the producer and his crew, which includes a group of professional specialty appraisers, take the show on the road to various cities around the country. Upon arrival at each destination they set up shop in a conference center or something and then invite the local citizenry to bring in items to be appraised. These items are generally deemed to be “antiques” and run the gamut including jewelry, furniture, artwork, musical instruments, floor coverings, various decorative objects and so on. The premise: Do you have some heirloom or flea market discovery that may turn out to be a rare and valuable collector’s item?

You never know!

As a teen I recall my grandfather passing on to me a few of his things he thought I might like to have. I left the items at his house for the time being but later told Mom about them. She responded with words to the effect, “You should hold onto those. Someday they’re going to be worth something.” They included among other things some old, yellowed books I discovered stashed away in his ancient, dirt floor garage; his ivory-handled straight razor, which he no longer used (he had upgraded to Gillette Blue Blades by then) and the front page of the South Bend Tribune announcing the assassination of President Kennedy.

On this particular show a young woman brought in some chintzy psychedelic-themed poster dated to the mid-1960s. As I watched I was disturbed to learn that an item created when I was barely out of high school is apparently considered by some to be an antique. An antique? Give me a break: I have dental work older than that.

According to U.S. Customs laws, an antique is defined as an object created or produced at least 100 years before the date of purchase. I am inclined to stick with this definition. That means I still have about 30 years to go before anyone can refer to me as such. In the meantime, just consider me a “collectible”. And as for those items I told Mom about? The razor was eventually stolen; the books are still in my den (upon doing a little Googling I learned that the proceeds from their sale plus five dollars might get me a latte at Starbucks); and I don’t know what happened to that newspaper although I’m pretty sure Grandma used it in the parakeet cage.

Yoda, when he was just a pup

Critters

Wrigley Birong

I grew up in a dog family. My father was particularly fond of German Shepherds, so it seemed we always had at least one in the house at any given time over the years.

Dogs aren’t the only pets one might find in a typical American household, of course. Felines are in abundance (cat families—although I seem to recall Mom owning a cat at one time, but it was after I had grown and moved out. Wait, though, it might have been a Chihuahua), but we also share our respective living quarters with everything from chickens to ducks to baby piglets to anacondas to tarantulas (tarantula families—I suppose they don’t get much in the way of company dropping by). Consequently, our homes become the primary training ground for teaching our kids how to get along with the all these animals with whom we share this world.

But even if one were fortunate enough to be raised in a family that enjoys the company of various family pets, understanding the nature of some of these creatures and learning how to deal with them can still be a challenge: For example, have you ever wondered which end of an octopus is the front? Is that enormous bulge his nose or does he just have a really big butt? I have a gaze of raccoons that live in the woods behind my house. They saunter up onto the patio from time to time and peer curiously through the sliding glass door.  Apparently casing the place. I am hoping they don’t figure out how to climb up on the roof. This concern is borne from the fact that they did learn how to climb up on the roof of my shed out back and apparently being too lazy to do in the woods what a bear does, choose to do so on the roof of my shed (this behavior becomes particularly annoying if one has the need to enter the shed shortly after a rainstorm).

As an aside, I recently learned that having sex with a dog in North Carolina is considered a crime of nature and is officially against the law there. One can only speculate as to why the state legislature felt it necessary to carve out that particular activity. But then, one never knows what North Carolina’s lawmakers are going to come up with next.

Hooked

It’s my dad’s fault: When my younger brother John and I were kids he decided to keep a bag of chocolate covered peanuts in the fridge. He made it clear to us that those little gems belonged to him and we were to keep our hands off. So that meant we had to sneak them.

But we had to be careful. No opening the bag from scratch. We had to wait for Dad to do that. But once he did: game on.

It was usually a pretty good-sized bag, so I surmised that two or three or even four nuggets at a time were unlikely to be missed. Thus, early on, Dad was probably amazed at how many peanuts he was pounding down in a week, which, in the beginning, was about how long the bag lasted. And then, one week, the bag was nearly depleted by Thursday. And then, the next week it almost empty by Wednesday.

Eventually, Dad put two-and-two together and John and I found ourselves called on the carpet. We, of course, denied absconding with his candy and teased him about his chocolate/peanut habit: “Dad, how can you eat a whole bag in five days?” which, of course, is exactly what he was thinking. We then proceeded to continue snitching from it, making sure we never, ever took the last ten or so. That would have been a dead-giveaway (not that it mattered by that point).

But, in any event, it was too late for me. I was hooked.

The sharing of that story was inspired by my recent craving for a Mr. Goodbar. [In case you didn’t know, a Mr. Goodbar is a milk chocolate candy bar jam-packed with peanuts.] That craving was likely triggered by my sudden realization, for some unknown reason, that I didn’t have one. But I also knew that if I did have one I might not eat it right away. But I would know it was there. Just in case, you know, I needed one.

After obsessing on this for a bit, I finally gave up on “just say no…” and headed for the nearest quickie mart. But all they had were those huge, half-pounders (let’s not get crazy). Rats. So, I drove on to Publix: they didn’t have any at all! Gah! Next: stop for some gas and head for Winn-Dixie, fingers crossed.

Aha, finally, in one of the checkout lanes. At $1.19 apiece. Plus, tax. Jeez, one would think there would be a black market for these things.

I scored four and polished off one as soon as I got home. I stuck the other three in the fridge, where they have remained for the past couple of days. I don’t really need one right now. But I know they are in there. Just in case.

Hard water

See James Spier’s blog “Birding the Bend” for more. Link below.

For many years, my paternal grandparents resided at the corner of Arctic Street and Red Bud Trail on the north edge of Buchanan. As I mentioned in my preceding post, I was fortunate to often have the opportunity to spend time with them when I was a boy. And during those visits, in addition to the occasional fishing trip, my grandfather would sometimes take me for a summertime walk a mile or so down Red Bud Trail just beyond the city limits to visit the site of an old artesian well. (Artesian wells are those where geological strata, such as rocks and gravel, confine the groundwater. Thus, a spring will flow from such a well under natural pressure without need of a pump.)

It was always a pleasant stroll along that stretch of Red Bud. The steep hills on the west side of the road are heavily forested, and looking up to the canopy of the towering hardwoods one would see the afternoon sunlight filtering through the verdant foliage in flashes of sparkling fluorescent greens and yellows. Ahead, narrow shafts of light would blink through the lush overhang providing spotlights for flitting insects and dancing particles of dust.

The road is similarly forested on the east, where a steep embankment leads down to the meandering waters of the St. Joe River. And if our timing was right, we would find both sides of the road festooned with blooming red bud trees. As we make our way deeper into the wooded section of the road, we become enveloped in the humid, musky smells of virgin woods mingled with an occasional wisp of Grandpa’s Prince Albert pipe tobacco, until we finally reach our destination.

The well was not particularly impressive though—no circular stone base with a hanging wooden bucket or anything like that. In fact, it consisted of a rusty three-quarter inch steel pipe that someone, many years previous, and for reasons unknown, had driven horizontally into the side of a steep hill just off the shoulder of the road. Ice-cold, crystal clear water flowed from that pipe as it no doubt had been doing for countless years.

My grandfather would capture some of the water with the Mason Ball jar he had brought with him and we would each take a long slug to cool us off after our walk. That water, with all its minerals, could slake a thirst like none other. Once we were rested, Grandpa would fill the jar one last time to take some back to Grandma.

Back in the eighties, my wife and I decided to build a house here in Florida. We were pleasantly surprised when our builder informed us that, coincidentally, the well he had just driven for us was artesian. But be assured, the taste of the water from our new Florida well was no match for the crystalline outflowings from that simple spring well on Red Bud Trail.

And be sure to check out James Spier’s blog, Birding the bend, for more beautiful photos like the one above of our avian friends who hang out in the red bud trees along the St. Joe River.

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[For those who are familiar with the area, the well was located on the west side of the road just north of what in those days was a forty- to fifty-foot hillock of sand that had been largely cleared of trees and brush. Folks from all over the community harvested clean, white sand from that location for use with everything from do-it-yourself concrete and mortar mixing to childrens’ sandboxes. The dune is long gone now, and the site is currently home to the Wheatberry Restaurant and Tavern.]