Category Archives: Dogs

A Perfect Autumn Day

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We’ve got a houseguest with us this weekend, a real outdoorsy-type.  She’s Bulgarian, and this explains a lot.  All of us packed out for the Berkshires to stretch our legs in the hills, and wound up at Tyringham Cobble, a property of the Trustees of Reservations.  Notice this link, here.  The Trustees are one of my favorite things about living here, and I’m proud, I say proud to be a member.  We originally joined in order to get free cross-country skiing at Notchview (some of the best XC trails anywhere, and that includes in Wisconsin) – but then we discovered the Trove of Riches that comes with being a member of this organization.  The properties include superb hiking sites, like the one we visited today.  They include well-preserved houses, such as Naumkeag and its famous gardens in Stockbridge (yes, Stockbridge of “Sweet Baby James” fame), the William Cullen Bryant homestead, and – one of my all-time favorites – The Old Manse.  The Old Manse is the old house of the Emersons (like Ralph Waldo) and was also the first home of Nathanial Hawthorne and his new bride Sophia.  You can see where she scratched “Sophia + Nathaniel = Love” (or something along those lines) into the glass windowpane with her wedding ring.  I’m sure that the Emersons – who rented the house to the Hawthornes – were entirely thrilled with this little piece of vandalism.  The house also has the distinction of having the Old North Bridge (yes, of Shot Heard Round The World fame) in the backyard.  It really is in the backyard, too.  You stand in the kitchen and look out over the lawn, and there it is, right in the yard, the Old North Bridge.  It’s a sobering thought, considering a family standing about in the kitchen watching a battle of any kind, and this sobering thought escalates right into hallucinogenic when you think of standing about in the kitchen watching the Revolutionary War kick off.

The road to our hiking destination took us through an incredibly quaint village, one featuring this structure:

Santarella

I ask you. This was built in the early part of the last century. It looks like Brandy Hall, from Buckland. It was supposed to be a thatched roof, but the crop failed, so they spent 12 years making an ersatz thatch roof from asphalt.

While this is definitely on the fringes of reality, it didn’t look bizarre in this village, which tells you quite a lot about the village.  My Bulgarian friend conceived an instant and lasting desire for this structure.  I, on the other hand, noticed the vast evidence of numerous horse farms. Including the “Warning: Horses On The Road” sign.  I’d do it, too, because the road was that awesome, and the scenery was that awesome, I’d be willing to take Huey The Wonder Horse out into a place like that. I don’t know how he would feel about it, but I would think I had died and gone to heaven.

The hike was superb. It was right up the side of this giant mound, hook up with the Appalachian Trail, crest the rise, and then loop back down.  The incline was enough that I certainly knew I was getting a work out.  I dealt with it by stopping every 2 minutes to photograph some stunning new vista, eldritch vine, or brightly colored leaf.  We started hiking under a steel grey sky that made it feel 5 degrees cooler than it actually was, but by the time we hit the summit, or crest, the sun broke through and chased the clouds off, and gave me plenty of the light I wanted to capture images of this charming valley and village.

At the summit, we encountered a tribe of late-middle-aged New York Jews hiking with their two pugs.  All of them, including the pugs, should probably consider Assistive Listening Devices.  As with many a band of New York Jews of a certain vintage – and believe me, I have experience on this matter – they hiked through the woods, happily maintaining a high-volume traveling Bicker, and vainly attempting to control their entirely untrained animals with voice commands.  As my Bulgarian friend observed, “they seemed to be having a good time, but were critical of the way the trail and mountain were put together.”  And that just about sums up these folk.  My desire to move out of their Argument Range intermittently conflicted with my desire to stop and photograph the Wonder Of It All…so we ultimately finished the hike with unseen, but certainly not unheard, company.

I noticed on the way up that there were a great many old stone walls – possibly 350 years old, given the vintage of the settlement – that went right up the side of the cobble.  This means, I understand, that at some point in the distant past, this property was farmed.  Someone cut down the trees and plowed on a jolly stiff incline.  The matter of Erosion is a powerfully sobering thought…as is the thought of plowing, with animal assistance, on the same jolly stiff incline, in an era before ibuprofen, cold packs, hot tubs, or orthopedically-correct mattresses.  Now, however, it has reverted to hardwood forest.

On the way down, then, we encountered the other part of the farm:  the apple orchard.  The first sign of this were windfall apples rolling under our feet, at which point we stopped to take note.  Actually, my friend stopped, picked up an apple, dusted it off, and started to eat it.  Things must be different in Bulgaria.  I had some, and it was actually pretty good, a very tart apple, possibly a pippin.  Small, hard, and red.  If I wind up giving worms to Huey, now, that will serve me right for eating things right off the ground.  I won’t say my mother didn’t warn me.

I counted eight different kinds of apples – everything from the tiniest possible red crabapples, to big fat green ones, some fore-runner of the Granny Smith perhaps.  All of those apple trees, out there, producing for no one, for centuries.  With a great view.  It was a…remarkable…experience.   There’s nothing to give a person a taste of history like eating crops from plants that were sowed before the United States was a gleam in the eye of our Founding Fathers.  I’m sure it happens all the time in Europe, and Bulgaria, but it’s a real novelty for a Texan.

In honor of these ancient apple trees, here is one of my favorite apple pie recipes:

1 2-crust pie shell (make it or buy it, your choice)
3 1/4 pounds tart baking apples (about 8 medium), peeled, cored, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, room temperature

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Combine apples, dried cranberries, flour, brown sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg and cloves in large bowl. Toss to blend. Fill pie crust, mounding slightly in center. Dot with butter. Top with second crust, drape dough over filling, and trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Press top crust and bottom crust together at edge to seal. Fold edge under; crimp edge decoratively. Cut four 2-inch-long slits in top crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake pie 45 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent overbrowning. Continue to bake pie until crust is golden, apples are tender and juices bubble thickly through slits, about 55 minutes longer. Cool pie on rack. Cut into wedges.

Tyringham Valley

I am pretty sure that is a horse paddock by the house!

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My Pit Bull Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student

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No kidding.  I saw this on a bumper sticker on the way back from the City this evening.  My first thought was “My Cat Is Smarter Than Your Pit Bull”, but my second, third, and fourth thoughts all had to do with the fact that there was actually a market for this kind of thing.  And while the “pit bull” angle may have been a Custom Job, we’ve all seen these things.  First we had indulgent parents warning everyone that they had a Baby on Board, then we had a hundred Pit Bull on Board, Patriots Fan on Board, Axe Murderer on Board to follow.  Then we had the same parents now advising all and sundry that their kid is an Honor Student (or that All Kids are Honor Students), followed by My Cat Can Beat Up Your Honor Student.

I don’t really understand the market for any of these things.  Why use a vehicle to boast about a child?  What’s wrong with giving the kid a hug and a gold star?  Why do their accomplishments (or lack thereof) need to be broadcast to everyone following your car at 65mph?  Did anyone really believe that people who were so inattentive as to rear-end them in a collision would somehow notice, and be deterred from this behavior, by the information that the car held a child?

It may be, though, a more puzzling question to me about the rebuttal items.  My interest in the subject ends with “so, nu, why use your vehicle to advertise your pride in your children?”  but it is clear that other people are actually willing to spend money in order to deliver a snarky rebuttal.  And not only that, but to deliver it to the world in general:  I don’t actually have children, and yet someone put it my face this evening that if I did, and if these putative children had been honor students, then this person’s Pit Bull would be smarter than them.  That seems like a lot of “if” to me.

The biggest question I have, though, is when the devil did we turn into a nation of self-absorbed individuals, and when did it become socially acceptable to say nasty things in the public forum?  When did we get to be the kind of people that should insults at random passers-by, on the off-chance that they might stick?  When did we develop the notion that we are the first generation ever to know what a treasure our children are?  Where did this stuff come from?

I can’t open the paper these days without witnessing some kind of incredibly bad behavior.  There is the hooliganism of the college students at the local state school, who seem to routinely get involved with violent conflict with their townie neighbors, and are routinely taken into custody for throwing bricks and beer bottles at police who have come to investigate a noise complaint…and to match this, the administration of that school reprimanding the citizens of the town for criticizing “normal” college-student behavior like urinating into private flower beds, vomiting on other people’s front doorsteps, or screaming profanity at the top of their intoxicated lungs as they stagger drunkenly back into their rental in the neighborhood at 3am.  There is the vitriolic debate over whether the leash-laws should be enforced (why this is a debate at all, I do not know.  They’re laws, enforce them or take them off the books.).  There are the jaywalkers who disregard the walk/stop signals, and waltz out into traffic utterly oblivious of the effects of their perambulations on the ten drivers who have the right-of-way yet are and held up by this self-absorption.  There are the urchins whose parents let them run free in sit-down, full-service restaurants, shrieking and caroming into diners there presumably for a quiet meal.  The people who feel compelled to race their engines and travel at 40mph down a narrow residential road with family houses and kids on either side.  The guys behind my house who go out and get drunk and talk at the top of their lungs until 2am, throwing their empty alcohol bottles over the fence into my neighbor’s yard.   The people who walk their dogs on other people’s lawns, and don’t pick up the messes.  And, for pete’s sake, don’t get me started on the ugly scene at the national debates the other night, where the answer to “should we let this person die” was a shout of “YEAH!” and a round of applause.

When did we become this society?  When did we stop giving a damn about the people who surround us?  When did kindness and consideration and respect become the exceptions to the rules of self-absorption, rudeness, and insults?  I am pretty sure that it was not like this when I was a kid.

I’m wondering if it happened in the 80s, when we hit some limits on our ability to expand the population and continue increasing access to resources.  Is that what happens when resources become scarce?  People just get increasingly nasty to each other?   I think a lot of what goes on here can be ascribed to fear, and that’s a sad, sad thing.  The massive increase in ugliness that I’ve seen just in the last ten or fifteen years makes me wonder if the world of my step-kids’ children is going to look like Mad Max.  I don’t see the resource situation improving – just the opposite.  We’re being warned nine ways from nowhere that our resources are already scarce and likely to become more so, and that’s everything from space, to food, to energy, to clean water.  The only solutions I can see to this are 1) people suddenly deciding to band together and work for a common good instead of focusing on getting their nut and making damn sure no one else can touch it; or 2) a massive pandemic that cuts the population of the globe by, oh, 1/2.  Maybe more.  And that will only forestall the inevitable, because nothing breeds with more destructive potential than a human being.  Or maybe, a goat.  But at least goats just destroy the flora, they don’t bomb each other into oblivion as well.

Two miles down the road, I saw another bumper sticker, and wondered if this, too, had to be said.  It stated, simply, “Remember To Be Kind.”

As my act of kindness for the evening, here is a terrific, and terrifically-easy chicken dish. I served this to my husband and a dinner guest last night, and everyone raved about it. Be generous with the lemon juice – you may want to use even more than I’ve marked in the recipe.

Greek Chicken

4 T olive oil
8 whole chicken legs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
large bunch fresh oregano, chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 1 large lemon
1 C pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
1 C chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until very hot. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally and sprinkle half of the oregano over the pieces. Place the chicken skin-side-down brown on both sides (about 5 minutes per side). Remove the chicken from the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the garlic and the lemon zest. Sauté, stirring often, until the garlic is fragrant but not browning. Stir in the lemon juice, return the chicken to the pan and transfer to the oven.

Roast the chicken, turning every 15 minutes about 1 hour or until the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh with a knife. After 45 minutes, add the olives, sprinkle the remaining oregano over the top and keep roasting.

When the chicken is done, transfer the pieces to a warmed platter and set the pan over medium heat. Add the broth and scrape the pan to bring up any browned bits. Salt and pepper to taste, and simmer until liquid is reduced by at least half. Pour over chicken and serve immediately.

Serves 4 or 5.

Jacuzzi

Here's a mellow picture from Sonoma. Much nicer to regard than aggressive bumper stickers on I-95.

What I Know For Sure

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Oprah had, or has, a regular column by the same title, usually full of pithy wisdom and meditative insights.  What I know for sure, on the other hand, runs more toward the pragmatic than the poetic.  Here, then, is my wisdom:

  • When the dewpoint is in the seventies, any temperature above 80 is too bloody hot to sit outside all afternoon watching a baseball game.  Even if you’re in the shade.
  • If you must attend sporting events when it’s that hot and sticky, put a couple of water bottles in the freezer the night before.  They’ll double as hydration and as ice packs.
  • Stay well away from beer or any other alcoholic drink in the above situation, unless you really like to feel queasy, sick, and get a splitting headache.
  • On the topic of health, it’s never a good idea to put your medical symptoms into a Google search.
  • That goes double for any search that you’re thinking about doing between the hours of midnight and 6am.
  • Developing this theme further…don’t read the four chapters in the Horse Bible on the numerous and bizarre diseases that can afflict the horse you are thinking about buying.  I am sure that there is a great time to read that stuff, but the period during which you are contemplating your first horse purchase is not the right time.  It’s just Far Too Frightening.
  • This probably goes triple for reading the same four chapters in the Baby Bible right after the stick turns blue.
  • If you must do either one of the previous two, invest in your relationship with the vet/pediatrician – you’re going to be seeing an excessive amount of that individual, so you may as well get someone you like.
  • For a change of subject…having time off isn’t going to Recharge Your Batteries.  It’s only going to make you want more time off.
  • Don’t bother buying the cat toy.  Just wad up a bit of paper, or leave the empty box lying on the floor.
  • Better yet, leave the empty box on the floor and forbid your cat to look at it, let alone touch it.
  • Leash the dog when you’re in public, even if he is the Perfect Canine and always comes when called.  Otherwise, you’ll inevitably become the subject of an angry Letter to the Editor.
  • One call to your local city councilperson requesting more enforcement of the leash laws is likely to yield a more permanent effect on the problem than 5,000 angry Letters to the Editor.
  • Even the most expensive custom window treatment will have at least one improperly machined mounting bracket and have to be hammered into place, just as if you had purchased it off the shelf from a Walmart.
  • When preparing to execute any home improvement project, start with the assumption that the drill/screwdriver/reciprocating saw battery will be completely dead when you unpack it.  Charge it the night before.  And bring every tool in the house to the work site, whether you expect to use it or not…unless you are the sort of person who will require regular applications of Cooling Off Periods in order to keep your temper in check and your knuckles unbloodied.  In that case, leave the tools where they are and use the inevitable trips for more unexpectedly-required items to blow off steam.

This is pretty detailed stuff, so I’m going to close with a few Universal Truths.  They may not give anyone the Warm Fuzzy that reading Eckhart Tolle does, but I promise, they’ll dramatically improve your quality of this life, possibly this week.

  • Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge.  Leave them out on the counter.
  • Never buy shoes that hurt your feet in the shop, no matter how cute they are.  And don’t talk yourself into doing this by telling yourself that “they will stretch”.  They won’t.
  • Get the furnace serviced in the summer, and the A/C serviced in the winter
  • Have your chimney swept every three years whether you think it needs it or not.  And don’t forget to change your HVAC filters four times a year, whether you think they need it or not.

And finally,

  • Take the comforters and winter coats to the cleaners in the spring; don’t let them sit around all summer with Winter Ook on them.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking lately about having to make that Rough Decision between “sleep” and “eat”.  As in, “I need to eat but I’m so exhausted I may just have to go to sleep.”  Here’s a fantastic dish for nights like that, as long as you can keep your eyes open for 30 minutes:

Provencal Tomatoes and Eggs

1 lb. fresh tomatoes
a lump of butter
a few cloves of garlic, minced
parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, herbes de provence, or similar herbs out of your stash. Fresh is great, dried is fine.
4 eggs
¼ C milk

Set a saucepan of water on the stove to boil. Cut an X on the bottom of each tomato, and drop into a pot of boiling water until the skin cracks and starts to peel.  Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into dish of ice water.  The skin should fall off directly. If you’re really tired, skip this step and just pick the skins out after everything is done cooking.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet.  Cut the tomatoes into chunks and put them into the melted butter with the garlic.  Add the herbs.  Cook over medium-low heat until tomatoes melt and cover the bottom of the pan. This may take a while, but you can seize that opportunity to crawl into your PJs, all the better to collapse into bed with a full stomach.

Beat eggs with some more of the herbs and the milk.  As soon as the tomatoes have melted, add egg mixture and allow to cook through, stirring occasionally.  Serve with toasted french bread if you have some, or just eat it directly out of the pan.

Bay Sailing

The last thing I Know For Sure, at least for now, is that looking at this kind of picture drops my blood pressure by 5 points. Enjoy. (It is from Sausalito)

What The Hell IS That? And Where The Hell AM I?

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I hate having thoughts like that when I’m behind the wheel.  Unfortunately, Ph.D.s as a group are known for a tendency to lapse into Deep Thought upon the least provocation, and to do so regardless of whatever they were doing before the Deep Thought Attack occurred.  If we’re lucky, all we were doing was having a cup of coffee, or watching a bird.  All too frequently, it happens in the middle of giving a lecture, or cooking dinner, or having a conversation.  Today, it happened while I was driving to work.

Fortunately, the first question was triggered by an onslaught of skanky old-school disco music erupting from my car speakers.  I’d been listening to the first copy of The Clash’s “London Calling” I’ve owned in twenty years.  The intervening decades had served, mercifully, to expunge “Lover’s Rock” from my memory banks, and it was extremely upsetting to find it filling my car.  Following hard on the heels of that rocky jerk to awareness was the second question, also fairly disconcerting.  A few moments of inspecting my surroundings yielded the answer: In Holyoke.  I was able to infer, based on my direction, that while in my Meditative Fugue I’d decided to take Secret Ninja Route Number 3 to avoid the construction along the interstate.

What was I thinking about, that caused me to teleport in my car ten miles down the road?  Two things, on alternating tracks:  horses, and cost accounting.  These two subjects, strangely enough, are connected.  I’ll start with the horse, because anything with a horse is more interesting than anything without a horse, in my book.

I am trying to decide whether I want to buy a horse.  Of course, I want to buy a horse – this is about whether I want to buy a horse, as in a particular horse, and do I want to buy a horse now.  This would be my first horse, and for anyone who doesn’t know this already, deciding to buy a horse is like deciding to adopt a kid.  Unlike with making your own children, you usually get to pick which horse you want, and you have some latitude in when that happens.  Otherwise, it’s kind of the same.  You’re planning to add a member to your family that will consume a vast number of resources, and you are doing this with the expectation of having (usually) a particular kind of relationship – with hopes and dreams and fears – with the new member.  It’s not like getting a dog, or a cat, or even a parrot, because while you do want to interact with those pets, their job is mostly to hang around and be cute and warm and cuddly.  Or to tear the limbs off of thieves and invaders, but I think for most people it’s about companionship.

With horses, it’s companionship, but to a lesser degree because no matter how goofy you are about them, they don’t live in the house and they don’t sleep on your bed and they don’t ride around in your car.  Unless your horse is Patches, of course.   No, horses are typically supposed to perform some kind of job in exchange for their board, and usually that job involves acting as a mode of transportation.  Transporting you down leafy trails or over rocky mountains, transporting you in loops around a ring, transporting you over a jump, transporting you into a herd of cows.  They’re meant to be ridden, but they’re prone to accidents and bizarre diseases with names from the fourteenth century, like “mud fever” and “strangles”  and “poll evil” and the dreaded navicular and colic.  They’re prone to parasitic infestations with equally colorful names: bot flies, strongyles, horse flies, deer flies, black flies.  And that doesn’t include all of the vile stuff horses do to each other, like biting, or weird vices they can develop, like cribbing (a complicated obsessive-compulsive problem where the horse grabs onto a piece of wood with its teeth, arches its neck up and quickly sucks in a bubble of air, making a belching noise.  This messes up their teeth, sounds disgusting, destroys pieces of the stable, and gives them a buzz, so it’s also addictive.  They learn to do it from watching each other.  This, alone, tells you many important things about the way a horse mind works).

So as with kids, if you start to think about the 100,000,000,000 devastating things that can possibly go wrong and ruin their lives, and possibly yours along the way, you wind up never doing it.  And then you miss out on the Wonder Of It All.

That’s the stuff that can go wrong with any horse – and then you get into the stuff that can go wrong with a particular horse.  This horse I’m thinking about is on the older side.  I think he’d be about 55 in people years.  I was caught up in thinking about the stuff that could happen.  This horse could die.  He could become unrideable.  He could become impossible to sell.

Somewhere around “The Guns of Brixton” – this is all cogitating to the Sweet Sound of 1979’s best punk – I switched tracks abruptly to cost accounting.  Today’s class was about uncertainty and biases and how to handle those things effectively in decision-making.  People don’t spend enough time considering uncertainty, in general.  It’s uncomfortable.  And, well, it’s mysterious because it’s, well, uncertain.  A lot of the time, what people do is to sink their head in the sand like an ostrich and pray that it goes away – which it frequently does, but by then, it’s too late to make a good decision.  The best way is to examine your problem thoroughly, lay out the uncertainties, decide which of them you can make go away and which you can’t, clear up the stuff you can, and expand your plans for the stuff you can’t.  A key factor here is in knowing what’s relevant.  If some factor is going to be the same for both of your options, it’s not relevant.  No matter what you decide, you’re going to have that factor come into play.

I meditated briefly on that and became distracted by the total god-awfulness of the example problem I’d found for the students to work on their skills in exploring uncertainty.  This thing came out of what is in the main a very good book, but on occasion, it falls flat on its face.  And I realized, in Brixton, this was one of those moments.  It presented a situation where a hospital administrator needed to make an investment decision.  So far, so good – should we get a CT scanner, or an MRI?  Should we have a state-of-the-art surgical suite, or expand the neonatal intensive care?  These are sensible.  The one in the book problem was not:  this administrator was having to decide between buying a bunch of heart monitors (ok) or a hotel (?!?!?!). Yes.  Heart monitor vs. hotel.  I just don’t know in what world this makes any sense at all.  It’s ludicrous.

Right around then I got the 1979 Punk Disco Blast from the Past and woke up, thinking how in the heck did I get from the horse to the hospital administrator?  Then it hit me.  Like a moron, I’ve been dwelling on the fact that this horse is older and [impossibly long list of things] could go wrong with him.  But – as I was about to teach thirty other people – it’s not relevant if it won’t change based on the decision.  My decision is not “do I buy a horse” but “do I buy this horse”.  And any horse is going to have [impossibly long list of things] that could go wrong, and I was assuming, thanks to some kind of weird Age Bias I didn’t know I had, that age had anything to do with this.  The internet is absolutely bursting with people who have young unrideable horses, and for every one of those, there is also someone with a geriatric horse that jumps.

Wow, I felt like a total moron.  Partly because of using irrelevant information and biases, which I teach people every year not to do, and partly because I zoned out behind the wheel of a moving car.  Proof that the learning process never stops, for teachers either, and also proof that distracted driving doesn’t just come from cell phones and texting.

Here is a weirdly delicious use for all of those radish tops you have lying around the house from your CSA box this week.  It has a surprisingly delicate flavor and makes a very good first course.  It’s probably not enough for a whole meal.

Radish Top Soup

6 Tb butter
1 cup chopped onions or leeks
8 cups loosely packed radish leaves
2 cups diced peeled potatoes
6 cups liquid (water, chicken stock)
Salt
1/2 cup cream (optional)
Freshly ground pepper

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, add onions or leeks, and cook until golden, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in radish tops, cover pan, and cook over low heat until wilted, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook potatoes until soft in liquid along with 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with radish tops and broth, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes to mingle flavors. Puree finely in a food processor. Add cream if desired. Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

And sort of a nice Ta-Ta to Summer for you:

Race Point

Race Point, on Cape Cod

Well, The Sky Really Is Falling, Now…

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Holy cow. The last two days have been absolutely exhausting!  The last time I went through a Tropical Event was Charlie, I think in 2003, in Orlando, and there wasn’t any “getting ready” for it because 1) its appearance in central Florida was a complete surprise to everyone including the meterologists, and 2) I was at Disneyworld in a hotel, and not going anywhere even if I had wanted to.  So I let Disney “get ready for it.”  I wish I could have done that this time, too.  Disney’s logistics are unsurpassed, and they have absolute armies of bodies to direct at various tasks.  We did have about 18 hours notice on the storm, and the entire place was swarmed by Maintenance Ants taking down anything that might fly, pruning the heck out of trees that might drop branches, and getting ready in every other imaginable way.  I don’t think we even lost power in that storm, and the afternoon after it passed through, we were watching a movie at Downtown Disney as if nothing had happened.  Of course, it did basically flatten a lot of the airport, and we had to drive to Jacksonville to get out, which is when we learned that Vital Lesson:  always fill your gastank before it hits, because after the power is knocked out everywhere but Disney, most of the pumps won’t work, and for stations with ancient equipment where the pumps do work, they’ve been drained for chainsaws, generators, and four-wheel vehicles.

Since, despite my desires, I do not have Disney on-call to fix this stuff up for me, I had to take care of it by myself.  I did have some help from my guy, but since he’s using our experience with Charlie (a small but intense, fast-moving storm) as a baseline upon which to formulated his expectations, his input was not as useful as it might have been.  His shining moment has been doing – and finishing – the absolute mountain of laundry with which we returned from Maine.  Since our washer and dryer are in the basement, which I expect to experience Water at some point, this is not trivial. He was at it positively all day on Saturday.  His second contribution – non trivial – was in locating and procuring two five-pound bags of ice with which we can turn our freezer into an ice chest when the power goes down.  Which – at this point – the National Weather Service is telling us directly is a matter of when and not will.

For the last two days, I have been grocery shopping like a demon, laying in gallons of water, batteries, bungee hooks (for trash cans and other potential aerial missiles), bringing in the detritus around the house, performing a Public Information Officer for the other people living in our building, only one of which has personally experienced a Tropical Event before.  She’s from Miami, and has been through hell and back on this front, and I’ve been grateful for the backup.  Because – as always seems to happen – we did have a small contingent of the it won’t happen here folk.  The ones who are certain that the media is over-hyping things, etc.  Not that the media doesn’t do this, but this storm is so damned big that when the astronauts on the space station took a video of it, you can actually see it curving with the earth. It’s not really possible to “over” hype something like that.  Also, my grasp of risk management indicates that even if you consider the probability of a negative outcome to be small, if the outcome would be catastropic if it did occur and you were unprepared, you. prepare. for. it.

Zzzooo.  I spent yesterday morning cooking for four or five days, making soups that can be served at any temperature, and making the Fritatta of the Gods.  This would be the recipe I provided in my last post, only doubled or tripled.  The bloody thing is three inches thick if it’s a millimeter.  AND we had to bring stuff up from the basement, AND tidy the outside again AND stake the heck out of the tomatoes with velcro and prayer. AND put the cars in the municipal garage where they will be (I hope) safe from flying debris and rising waters.  I was also very happy to hear the roar of chainsaws around my neighborhood, as sensible people took down branches rather than leaving them to fall.

Ah.  Now there’s the rub.  Rising Waters. NWS is telling us to expect a flood because, duh, we’re getting the biggest and slowest moving tropical storm that anyone has seen in decades, and the ground here is already saturated because we’ve had a very wet August. And me, I’m thinking, OK, 3 inches of water in the basement.  What a PITA that will be.

We started to get the little outlying rain bands yesterday afternoon.  Just a tease, really.  The rain started in earnest several hours ago.  But the center of circulation is still far off enough that we’re not getting any wind.  It’s hot, sticky, wetter than water, and flat calm.  Creepy, in a way, like being in the Eye is.  My friend who is staying for the Duration and I took advantage of the Calm Before The Storm to take her dog for a walk.  I got a chance to check out the Storm Sewer Action, and…urk…aagh…let’s just say I spontaneously and dramatically revised my expectations for what kind of water to expect.  The sewers – even at that point – were already running 18″ below the grate, and they were absolutely thrumming with the volume of water that was moving through them.  Parking lots were already starting to get standing water. Now the bottom of my street is getting standing water. “Ponding” I believe is what the weather service calls this.  And – crud – the wind still hasn’t kicked in.  NWS thinks it will start in a few hours, and then things are going to be very nasty.

Per their update yesterday afternoon, the NWS gave us the Final Warning, and said that “Final preparations should already be underway” and reminded us that by the time the wind starts up, it will be Too Late.  The latest updates don’t mention “preparations” at all, and just warn us that anything outside that is not tied down is going to become airborne and destructive, and – this kills me – actually said right out that the power lines are going to be coming down. Period. Not like this is a surprise.  Verizon’s cell network started to go Ka-Blooey by 4pm yesterday, and Sprint’s data net has been mostly out of commission in this area since yesterday at 5.  I haven’t even bothered to turn the phone on this morning, because I can’t imagine that this situation is going to get better.  The power company sent out an e-mail last night to all their customers telling us that they have as many people on hand and on call as possible and that they’ll be dealing with the problems that they expect to arise as quickly as humanly possible.  I’m sure they will, too.  I have huge respect for anyone who winds up in a cherry picker during a storm.  It’s not a job I’d be willing to do, and I’m deeply, unspeakably grateful, that there are people who will.

I really hope my street doesn’t go under water. I really hope that the Connecticut River doesn’t breach the levee.  I hope that no one here dies.  School was supposed to start on Monday, but the administration dealt with that decisively and sent out an e-mail saying that unless you were living in the residence halls already – this is move-in weekend – or working for the residence halls, food service, or physical plant, please do not present yourself on campus before Tuesday.  I can’t imagine the chaos that must be going down with thousands of students trying to move in to the zillions of colleges that populate this area, or what it means for the administrators.  I’m glad my job is just to show up and teach.  I hope that will happen on Tuesday.

Here comes the wind. I thought it would start small and then get big, but that isn’t what is happening.  It’s come on in a blast.  The power lines outside my window are thrumming like the strings of a guitar, and the tree out front is already loosing leaves.  We just had a gust that I could feel come up through the floor.  Not around the window, but the wind got into the framing of the house.

In the meantime, here is my recipe for Hurricane Chowder.  Keep some in the fridge and heat it on the gas stove when the power goes out. Freeze it in blocks and then eat it as it thaws.

Hurricane Chowder (with a red pepper cream)

For the red pepper cream:
2 large red bell peppers
2 T fresh oregano leaves
1 t ground chipotle or other hot pepper
1 T olive oil
½ t salt
4 T heavy cream

For the chowder:
2 bacon (or turkey bacon) slices, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 C chicken broth
1 lb red new potatoes, diced
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
½ t salt
½ t freshly ground pepper
2 C milk, warmed up
Kernels from 6 ears of corn

Broil or grill the peppers until they are blackened on every side, then put into a paper bag and fold the top over to seal it. Let sit 10 minutes, then cool under running water and rub to remove the skins.  Remove the stems and cores. Chop and puree in a blender or food processor. Add the oregano, ground chili, olive oil and salt and. Pulse the processor to puree while pouring in the cream. Puree the mixture, drizzling in the cream.

Put the bacon into a heavy soup pot and warm it over medium-low heat.  If you use turkey bacon, you will need to add a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil to the pot as well.  Cook until the bacon is getting crispy. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the celery and onion to the pot and sauté 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the heat up to high and add the broth. Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Stir the red pepper cream into the pot of chowder, and serve hot, if you can.

Jacuzzi

For purposes of distraction, here is a picture from Sonoma.