Monday, February 20, 2012

Hostage Taker

"The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, "Daddy, I need to ask you something," he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan."
~ Garrison Keillor

I promise I am not going to turn this into a baby blog.  Everybody thinks their child or grandchild is special.  And they're right.  

But I have been distracted lately by the spectacle of new parents slowly realizing in their bones that everything has changed forever.  I guess there is no way to teach this.  It's not just an idea.  You have to learn it the hard way to learn it right, and some people never do.  They can't have a schedule of their own any more.  They are going to have to pack that away for 20 or 30 years.  They can't come and go as they please, or be themselves alone.  It's only been a week, but something tiny has taken over the world.  And she means business.

Forget the birth.  Incredible as that is, evolution has conspired to make most of it automatic.  The really amazing thing comes in the weeks after that, as a couple plus one struggle to understand how to become something more, something that wasn't there before.  Something that matters more than they do.

They are learning how to be a family.

The Beast Is No More

So why do I have a trailer now?  What happened to La Daze?  Well, all that took a while to come about.  And may take some time to explain.

First off, lamentations.  The Beast is no more.  After the accident, it sat out there in the garage for 6 months.  I rode it a couple of times.  But it just wasn't fun any more.

Motorcycling is one of those things that gets dramatically more dangerous as it becomes less fun.  Like downhill skiing.   Even the semblance of physical grace requires a certain gleeful ignorance.  Otherwise known as  faith.  Without it, your natural human clumsiness comes to the fore.  All the terrible things you imagine happening are more likely to happen if you allow their potential to distract you.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is think too much.  I don't believe my brother ever had that problem.

It's not all imagination, of course.  I had a few real close calls up in the mountains.  Twice in one day, deer ran right out in front of me while I was cruising at 60 mph.   A car turned abruptly into my lane in Arkansas, without giving any signal.  I was nearly thrown a couple of times by almost invisible cuts and ruts in the road.  And once on the Interstate I got boxed in by huge rumbling trucks, and had to ride in that box for several miles.  They probably thought it was funny.

But what finally took the air out of motorcycling for me was all the grinding worry and daily toil of dealing with my brother's care.   It's still going on a year and a half later.  Nothing is worth putting someone else through all that.

I sold the Beast to a guy with terminal cancer and an apparent death wish, who rode off blithely without a helmet.  He said he'd lived his life too quiet, and was determined to finish the last months loud.  Well, that's what he said.  Good luck to him.

As an RV ploy, a motorhome pulling a big road bike sounds better than it turned out to be. Big bikes, the sort I like, are only stable on pavement.  And in reasonably good weather.  I turned the Beast over trying to ride up a mildly rutted 4 wheel drive road out of Silverton, just to prove I could.  And actual off road bikes are not to my taste.  Can't stand the nee-nee-nee whine of the the motors or the riding position.  And I'm certainly too old to carry off the look.

Give me a jeep, or a 4wd truck.  I really missed my truck, up there in the mountains.

I sold both bike and trailer for what I gave for them a year before.  I was out about $600 for motorcycle paraphernalia like helmets and rainsuits, etc.  It was fun while it lasted.

To paraphrase Chief Joseph, "From where the sun now stands, I will ride no more forever."

Yeah, nobody believed him either.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I intended posting earlier, but events left me wordless.  At 3:30 Saturday morning I was rudely awakened by a breathless call from my stepson.  "We're in the Delivery Room at St. David's.  We're having a baby!  See you in a couple of hours!"

Evie was born at 1014.  An easy delivery with no complications.  6 lb 15 oz.  Ten fingers, ten toes, a lovely pink complexion, and a decided ability to turn everyone around her giddy. Seems a contented lass, as long as she gets fed not long after she starts sucking her fingers.  About every 2 hours.  Apparently finger-sucking is baby sign language for "Feed me!"  Failure is not an option.

Yes ma'am.

Mother and daughter are fine.  Dad looks like he's been through the wringer, but should recover.  Grandma is radiant.

Me?  I brought roses.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Loaf Roast and Lemon Cake

Yeah, I know.  65 years old and still playing with my food...

Despite a very busy day yesterday trying, I had yet to test my stove top oven to failure.  It cooked perfectly everything I threw at it.  O, it hiccuped a bit on the toast, but what oven wouldn't?  Ovens aren't designed for toast, unless you are one of those characters who likes to burn their fingers for sport, in which case go right ahead.

And the croissants?  Well, they're my cross to bear.

But I was inclined to test the load this thing would carry.  Call it perverse.  Call it a challenge.  As luck would have it, I had half a roast in the freezer, so I set it out last night to thaw, and this morning I tossed it in a bread pan with some carrots, onion, and a large potato all cut up.  This is precisely the sort of thing I used an oven for back in the day, when I was gallivanting in my 5th wheel - preparing something hearty in quantities large enough that I could cook one morning and eat for three days.  I even cooked while driving, arriving to find the smell of garlic, beef gravy, and roast potatoes about knocked me off the steps when I opened the door.

I wish I could claim credit for that bit of originality.  But I learned it at the virtual feet of the Master - Reg "Fireball" Hunnicutt, he of legend.  A rare hero for these troubled times.  If you want to learn more, look him up:  .  Try to be appropriately reverent.

Inspired once more, I plotted this morning to show this stovetop wonder its comeuppance.  "So, Hot Shot," sez I.  "You think you're an Oven.  We'll see."

Okay.  The comeuppance was mine.  The roast did just fine.

When I checked after an hour and a half, it was a bit dry, so I added a can of consomme and put it back in.  After another hour I dined like a king.   The meat was falling apart, melded with the broth.  Perhaps a little salty.  If I wasn't such a cheap bastard, I might have bought a fatter cut, and avoided having to add soup in the middle of the ceremony.   Alas, like Popeye, I am what I am.

And all's well that ends well.  I'll get two big meals out of this, and a number of sandwiches.

A glass of wine and a short nap later, I was feeling expansive.  Went down to the store and picked up a box of Duncan Hines lemon cake and some dark chocolate frosting.  I'm really not a cake eater, but all this success called for something special.  Who am I to turn down advice from Marie Antoinette?

I was surprised to find the mix called for two 9 inch loaf pans, but with a little squeezing I got both of them in there and left to roam the Internet.  Half an hour later I returned, brimming with confidence.

Hmmm.  What's that smell?  Is something burning?

It was the cake, of course.  Or the bottom part of it, anyhow.  Turns out you can't crowd things like that, or heat won't circulate.  It builds up at the bottom, and matters get pretty crusty darn quick.  It was finished cooking though, and I managed to disinter most of it.  With careful trimming and a little creative frosting, it almost looked respectable. Showing the usual uncanny timing, a friend of mine turned up soon after, wolfed down a piece, and pronounced it fittin'.  So the damage was superficial.  When I dug it from the pan, it looked deader than hell.  But, like most of us, it just needed a good home.

Well, that's it, f-f-folks.  I'm packing this miracle away in the box it came in.  Next time I get it out will probably be on the road somewhere.  There's no longer much point in testing it out in my driveway.

I recommend this thing to anyone who hasn't got anything better.  Certainly it opens up possibilities to vary the usual stovetop fare.  With a bit of care it will feed you as well as your favorite greasy spoon cafe.

If anyone takes a notion to try it out, I also recommend you get a couple of small pans of a size that will encourage proper function.  You can't put a 12 inch pizza in there whole unless you want to burn it.  But at the very least, if you carry fixings and a spot of starter, you'll always be able to have biscuits of a morning.  Unless the pigs get 'em first.

Here's URLs for the stuff:

As for that last piece of cake, I'm taking it over to my brother.  It won't kill him.  I'm beginning to think nothing will.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Un-Oven

Hey good-lookin' !  What's cookin' ?

It is a recurring fantasy of mine that one day I may get to travel again, at least loosely tethered to central Texas.  Pursuant to that, I've purchased a small trailer, and I am slowly improving it in various directions.  Unfortunately, it doesn't have an oven.  This appliance, which used to be standard on even the smallest RV, is getting pretty rare on smaller trailers and motorhomes.  The manufacturers seem to think it an extravagance.  Maybe it is.  For me to put one in would enrich Camping World by some $700.  That might just kill my appetite.

Not that I used an oven all that much when I was gallivanting around the continent.  Maybe once a week.  When traveling steadily, it was too easy to dine out.  But boondocking with a gas oven meant I could eat roast beasts and casseroles, bake bread and cookies, even enjoy the occasional lasagna.  Did I mention cookies?  I tell you there is something magical about fresh cookies, especially when you are parked in the back of beyond.  It fosters the grand illusion that maybe it is possible to avoid the clamor of civilization without real hardship after all.  Or even minor privation.

Hey, it's my fantasy, ain't it?  A man can dream.  And this one has wheels under it.

I thought for a while about a toaster oven.  Cheap enough, but they require electricity, and that means running the generator.  Who wants to listen to that?  Shall I turn myself into one of Pavlov's dogs, learning to salivate to the tune of a mechanical contrivance?  Besides, even a smaller oven of that sort would take up half my counter space.

Enter our Hero.  The Coleman Camp Oven.  Forty bucks from Amazon.  A 12 inch cube that sits on top of one of your burners and claims to bake cakes, etc.   How could I resist?

It arrived only yesterday, and I've been putting it through its paces today.  Much to my surprise, not even once has it failed to please.  It folds flat into a 12 inch square for storage, leaving my counters clear.  It is all one piece, and folds out into a cube in seconds.  You would be clever to make sure Tab A really goes firmly into Slot B before the thing gets hot.  I neglected to lock the bottom down the first time, and the burner pooked it up during the biscuit exercise.  No bother at all to fix when it's cold.

At full heat you can hold your hand an inch or two away without discomfort, but like any pot on the stove, if you touch it you will get burned.  There is a thermometer on the door.  I have no idea how accurate it is, but my burner drives it up to a nominal 350 degrees on high and just pegs there.  It pays to preheat for baked goods.  This takes ten minutes or so, but after that you can expect the cooking times stated on packages to be broadly accurate, just like in your big oven at home.

I got golden brown biscuits in 15 minutes.  Perfect.  I tried some toast, but it came out like oven toast everywhere:  fine on the burner side, merely dry on top.  If toast is your obsession, you can use tongs to turn the slices.  It does brown up quickly.  Crumbs everwhere, of course.  Fortunately this oven can be upended and shaken out in the yard.  No problemo.

A Crime punishable only when it's a hundred miles to the next croissant.
My 11 minute croissants got burned, because the so-called cook left them in there for 20 minutes.  What can I say?  He obviously had his head up his ... ah... book.  They were not inedible.  Not entirely.

But I did not eat them.

This incident reminded me of an epigram by the Roman poet Martial.  Goes something like this:

  "Sir?  You do not think it fit
   to beat the Cook for spoiling the broth?
   Sir, I ask you, in all truth,
   What greater crime can Cooks commit?"

No oven can perfect the careless cook.  But meats are more forgiving.  I seldom time them in any case, being more of a sniff and peek sort of cook.  I broiled two chicken thighs for lunch.  Checked at 30 minutes, a knife test showed they were done, but I took the foil off and put them back in for a quarter of an hour to brown the skin.
Enough Talk!  Let's Eat!
Mighty Fine

There was a lot of burbling splatter-sounds going on in there while the chicken browned, and I dreaded the cleanup, but apparently little of it escaped the pan.  What little grease popped up on the inside was wiped away in seconds with a spritz of Windex and a single paper towel.  O, and this oven cools down quickly.  Five minutes after the fire is removed, the metal is room temperature and can be folded up and stored.

I'm beginning to love this thing.  I haven't got a thousand words left in me.  But I do have a few more pictures:

Dinner Rolls
Cookies, of Course!

And finally, the Staff Of Life.   In the mortal words of the Permanent Poet Laureate of Texas, Mr. Burma Shave:

The Dough has Riz
The Oven's Set
But here we iz
In Texas yet!