Archive for November, 2011

Publishing’s Future, in Parts

November 28th, 2011

sIn the walk-it-like-you-write-it mode, contributors to Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto break conventions. They conceptually and practically cover the current nascent forms of publishing.

Book Review Note: This is another in my ongoing series of technical book reviews.

Most obvious include that this work is in process. The intro material and part one of three is available now. Buy it and you get the upgrades as they are ready. The electronic versions are much cheaper. You can also stumble around on the authors’ site to read it for free online, but not take it away.

This work lives its content and requires flexible commitment by the reader. Nothing could be more reasonable for authors Huge McGuire (writer/technologist) and Brian O’Leary (publisher/futurist), and their set of essayists. They come from various angles on how books will come to be conceived, designed, written, laid out, distributed, updated and more.

This first cut is The Setup: Approaches to the Digital Present. It’s 91 pages at the moment. Coming up are in the next months will be The Outlook: What Is Next for the Book?, and The Things We Can Do with Books: Projects from the Bleeding Edge.

Part one tries with fair success at defining the concepts of old and new-style books. Various chapters by different writers cover largely conceptual material, backed up by small to moderate specifics. In the main, a shortcoming is that having set us up for a whiz-bang new world, their uses of links, graphics and other technologies are only so-so.

Never mind, their ideas are big and sound.

Sure, we’ve all noticed and used ebooks in various formats on disparate platforms. The writers in the manifesto tell us how we got to this point, from technological, artistic and business perspectives. It is well worth wading through the differing voices of part one to get a fix on how format and form, context and content, truly differ and how each affects the present and will affect the future of publishing.

Note for example that context is key, above content, already. Writers and publishers are already responding to the new truth that “Increasingly, readers want convenience, specificity, discoverability, ease of access, and connection.” That is bringing with it such features as automated updates and links that go beyond the footnote model. Extra information now has to offer two kinds of new utility. First it must be “immersive” — appearing at a point in the book where it is most useful, and second, it must be nontrivial — “Primary source material, topics not easily discoverable via search engines, or deeply curated dives into ancillary topics represent rewarding additions that readers will want to explore.”

That requires a heightened, self-aware level of savvy that the writers claim is in the works.

So you can see what’s happened so far and what is in the works, they dive into the related technologies as well as the concepts. There’s a good introduction to a dozen development, publishing and distribution tools with examples. There’s also a tutorial on the benefits and drawbacks of the different digital rights management (DRM) schemes. Distribution, design and metadata each get a section by a different expert.

While O’Leary’s Context, not Container piece is self-serving, it is specific about how O’Reilly approached epubs. He details the technologies and distribution methods they used. They clearly were not afraid of jumping in and learning in the process.

He criticizes publishers who fumble in this transitional period. Many do in fact just want to figure a way to continue as they have as much as possible, while keeping profit margins. He calls this attitude “container myopia.” He figures that new entrants and existing publishers who get it will thrive by delivering books or book-like-things that let the readers discover in the process, as well as reuse the material. The old minds who simply see digital publishing as a cheaper way to deliver will get left out.

Instead, this work includes calls for deep and early tagging, for products that solve readers problems and let them satisfy their curiosity with related material and seems to flow from the content. Publishers will have to adhere to current and emerging standards and encourage reuse of their products.  Success should come to those who help readers/purchasers manage abundant information well.

This first third is, as they admit up front, a teaser. I want the rest. The epub itself makes a compelling argument for updatable books, purchases that include improved versions as they are ready.

I already want more from writer/designer Craig Mod, who framed his section with Everyone asks, “How do we change books to read them digitally?” But the more interesting question is, “How does digital change books?” And, similarly, “How does digital change the authorship process?” He provides examples of divides between products delivered as printed, on an iPhone or Kindle, and on an iPad. The tablet leaps over the limitations of the other deliveries.

Another touchstone is Wikipedia. It lets us “develop a text in real time, erasing the preciousness imbued by printing.” Or in futurist terms “Time itself becomes an active ingredient in authorship.”

With its flaws, such as fairly lame links, the manifesto is plenty of value in its first third. More please.

Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto
Hugh McGuire, Brian O’Leary
Publisher:O’Reilly Media
Formats: Print Ebook Safari Books Online
Print: December 2011 (est.) $24.99
Ebook: October 2011 $7.99
Kindle at Amazon $6.39
Pages: 91 for first release
Print ISBN:978-1-4493-0560-4 | ISBN 10:1-4493-0560-1
Ebook ISBN:978-1-4493-0559-8 | ISBN 10:1-4493-0559-8
PressBook free version for online commenting. Click on ToC entry to read it.

Big Tree in Small Town of Hyde Park

November 27th, 2011

I know small towns and attended a lot of parades, tree lightings, and speeches in childhood. This afternoon’s tree lighting in Hyde Park’s Logan Square had that feel.

Yeah, yeah, there was Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino on stage with Police Commissioner Ed Davis, state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, Councilor Rob Consalvo, Council President Steve Murphy and a local bank head. Fact is though, it was pretty small town…and delightful.

HPTM Da Mare loves this stuff. He’s at his best working crowds and going one on one with present and future voters.
An unusual appearance by his shy wife, Angela, got her a reward of a posy. HPmeninos
HPtree This was the 31st lighting of one of the few living Christmas trees on Boston property. The 45 footer was grown from its original 8 feet. Who’s counting, but the MC read that it has 1200 lights.
The one-way guys, Murphy, Consalvo, Menino, Scaccia HP1wayguys

Pix Notes: These are far and without flash. You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons.

Several hundred HP’ers milled around the stage when they weren’t at the kiddie rides or grabbing fried dough. It really was a small-town event.

The steps and plaza of the municipal building had maybe 100 kids from elementary through high school. There were carols and Broadway holiday tunes, a local version of the Rockettes, and sincere singing all around.

The minister giving the invocation went oddly on and on about 9/11 and the hopes we retained afterward. It ended up not being so strange.

The local tie-in was when the emcee and the mayor spoke of Mark Bavis, a local hockey player who grew up to be a pro hockey scout and who died on Flight 175, which hit the South Tower on 9/11. His mother, Mary was on stage, next to Angela. They presented her with a large framed image of the tree.

In a very nice, very Tom Menino touch, he had her pull the  lever to light the 1,200 bulbs.

He is mayor of Boston, but he’s also the unofficial mayor of our shared neighborhood.

My-Hand-To-Your-Mouth Syndrome

November 27th, 2011

mymableMy wife and I each had grandmothers Mable. My version was le chef redoutable, or as she didn’t speak French, the formidable cook. She was famous in her family and town and county for her baked goods and her overall kitchen skills.

Moreover, she so strongly identified with her food, there was no separation. She had three children — girl, boy, girl, and taught none of them to cook. They were born in the 1920 and as understandable for the period, her son was expected to marry a cook, not be one. Her daughters were shortchanged in that Mable’s kitchen was just that. On occasion, such as canning and pickle making seasons, you might be pressed into service as a culinary lackey, but it was almost as though you were blindfolded. It was Mable’s hand to your mouth, the magician keeps her secrets.

In many ways, my Mable was my nemesis. She was often severe to a circle of us — her husband, her daughters, her sister, and my sister and me.

Yet we owe her much. Most obviously, physically I got my big feet, absurd chest and shoulders and bone structure from her. Granddad was more delicate, with size 8½ shoes for example.

She was also demanding in the dining and living rooms. We were expected to participate in conversations…and no jive. She wanted fully formed arguments and opinions based on facts.

She also pressed my sister and me into service in the many summers and holidays we boarded there. We regularly cleaned the windows and storms with ammonia and newspapers, subject to her inspection. Likewise, we dusted each newel and stairpost daily, subject to her inspection. She was quick to find fault.

Now of course, an bit of humor is that I exhibit some of her traits. Foremost is that I am the family cook. Although I eagerly teach to wife and children, I have that emotional tie to my kitchen and the pressures and joys of my-hand-to-their-mouths cooking. I’m good with food, know that I am, and enjoy people enjoying what I produce.

Unlike Mable, I have cooked tens of thousands of unique dishes. She lived by her recipe box, which I own. I combine drawing on what I’ve picked up over the years. I know what will taste good together in what quantity. In another sense of the term picked up, I cook by what I pick up from the Haymarket, farmers’ markets, green grocery and supermarkets. My week’s menus generally reflect what’s available at the food sources, including our backyard and side yard gardens.

For a couple of decades, we’ve hosted a Southern Thanksgiving. At least one member of each couple and family has roots in the big arc from Virginia through the Carolina into Arkansas. Generally, I planned the table and cooked nearly everything. It’s an exhausting death march for 15 to 25, but I love it. Slowly over the years though, my wife and the two sons still at home have become cooks too. They’ve caught the pleasing-others-with-food disorder and want to participate.

This year was thus different from most others. While guests often would bring their families’ favorite pies, and occasionally a side dish, this time was edging toward participatory cuisine.

As I recall the low and high living room tables and the dinner table, we served the following in 2011. I likely forgot a few items, but this is the gist, our version of a groaning board. The remarkable aspect is how cooperative this year’s was. Note the parens with initials of various preparers who are not I.

brie en croutem (EB) kasseri various crackers
hummus (EB) jalapeno mustard pita
baba ganoush (EB) sparkling ciders (various fruits) ales
collards (JL) red wines mashed potatoes
beer still cider white wines
turkey red onions filled with vegetarian stuffing cranberry chutney (EB)
cornbread turkey (CT) green beans almondine sauerkraut
stuffed shells (IB) vegetarian and turkey gravies tea
coffee sweet potato pie (JL) pumpkin pie (TC)
cherry pie (CT) Boston cream pie (IB) pecan pie (KC)

Previously, I would work steadily a day or two before and throughout the entire appetizer period up to the moment of the main seating. Not this year. So much was done by others before or in the prep period that I socialized much more. That was definitely something gained and something lost.

Perhaps I’ve matured enough to share.

Butt Out, Then Back, in Pakistan

November 23rd, 2011

As usual, alternating her smart views with silliness, Rachel Maddow had fun with Pakistan’s announcement that it was banning well over 1,000 words from texting. F-word phrases of course made it, as did one that amused her, if you pardon, no end — crotch monkey. Then in what she lightly proclaimed as “a small reprieve for foul mouthed liberty,” the government stepped back, saying it was kind of a test.

The initial list includes 1,109 English words and 586 Urdu ones. Selections from the four major regional languages are in the works.

robertyoungmandrillMaddow was also amused that one of the officials who would been (and likely will be when this comes to fruition) responsible for implementing the spying and censorship had the last name of one of the banned English words, Butt.

Pic Note: The image is adapted from John Paul Young’s photostream and under Creative Commons license.

That’s a fairly common last name there, as it is in the singular or plural in many English, German and French speaking countries. I bear my own surname cross and empathize with the Butts in the puerile ridicule they often endure.

I’m not big on censorship and snort at the vainglorious and futile effort to re-cork the texting genie. Yet, I’m not surprised that Anglo-Saxon vulgarities and common phrases for sex parts and acts made the initial thousand-plus.

However, in a country where people surnamed Butt run the soccer league or are stars in it, as well as are high ranking officials, how silly is that to ban their names?

Years ago here in MA, I was not amazed to learn that my last name, Ball, is not deemed suited for display on a license plate.

Even Wikipedia has a page listing some of the noted Ball sorts and I have that occasional blog in which I have tunneled down to some of the many with my specific version. I feel that over the years I’ve more than earned Ball.

We moved every few years throughout my childhood. While Ball is a fairly common last name — 300 and something down the list of the tens of thousands of U.S. last names and much more common than non-ridiculed ones like Robertson — it gets far more than its share of puerile jokes. As we moved, I endured the same highly obvious repetitive puns and insults again and again and again. It was worst in junior high and high when kids and even teachers always had sex in mind.

In college days, I had a discussion with an Ivy linguist about risible surnames. He figured that mine had the greatest number of possible jokes. For a few like Fuchs or Shoemaker, there are jokes, but a pretty limited set. Mine includes, but is not limited to, most sports, primary sex acts, sexual body parts, myriad clichés like on the ball, have a ball, behind the eight ball, and get on the ball, food like meatball, non-sexual body parts like eyeball, formal dances, and down the list.

Over the years, it turned out to be a sort of intelligence test as I moved into a new school or neighborhood. People who made the most predictable insults invariably stood grinning as though someone was supposed to confirm how clever they were. These are the same folk who ask a tall person how the weather is up there or inform a balding guy that he’s losing hair. Sigh.

I briefly wondered whether ball made the Pakistani list, or just the more obvious balling. The beadles compiling the list must be bureaucrats’ bureaucrats.

Hack-Me-Now Passwords

November 22nd, 2011

Seems to be time again for the semi-annual true scare about passwords. As always, the latest list of most hacked PWs shows we don’t have imagination or good sense.

At the very least, we should make hackers do a dictionary attack — running through an automated series of attempts of words in a lexicon or commonly used numbers. Instead, we seem to have some delusion of cleverness.

In the real world, of course, many of us choose PWs on a single criterion. That would be can we remember it easily?

This season’s list of the top 25 hacked ones appears in Gizmodo. It publishes SplashData‘s compilation of the top guessed PWs from millions. These are:

1. password
2. 123456
3.12345678
4. qwerty
5. abc123
6. monkey
7. 1234567
8. letmein
9. trustno1
10. dragon
11. baseball
12. 111111
13. iloveyou
14. master
15. sunshine
16. ashley
17. bailey
18. passw0rd
19. shadow
20. 123123
21. 654321
22. superman
23. qazwsx
24. michael
25. football
  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. monkey
  7. 1234567
  8. letmein
  9. trustno1
  10. dragon
  11. baseball
  12. 111111
  13. iloveyou
  14. master
  15. sunshine
  16. ashley
  17. bailey
  18. passw0rd
  19. shadow
  20. 123123
  21. 654321
  22. superman
  23. qazwsx
  24. michael
  25. football

If you recognize any of yours, change it/them. The number one takeaway here is that we are not nearly so clever as we pretend to be.

Not All That Clever

I’m good with passwords and so far have not been hacked. Yet, I have had my own experiences that made me realize the poverty of my wit and imagination. For example, years ago I wanted a private domain and generated a list of maybe 20 to be ready when I registered one. They were clearly unique, certainly not taken, and illustrative of my fine brain. Ha! Each and all were taken. I ended up grabbing an eponymous domain name, which has great utility, but serves to remind me that the world of billions is rife of people at least equally clever.

Note that the above list comprises largely obvious keyboard numeric or alpha neighbors. My given name, which is always in the top baby names list too, appears. Others are common words and concepts. Even substituting a zero character for the o in password is ordinary as dirt. Not clever!

At its extreme, PW generation is automated…and severe. My wife’s financial-biz employer hands out tiny devices that constantly generate complex PWs on their smalls screens. When you need to log into the network, you use the current one, which quickly changes. Alternately, we lesser mortals may use a pseudo-random PW-generation utility, which produces highly complex PWs on demand. These are never anything you’d likely memorize.

More sites and services have also installed rules for PWs. They won’t accept those that don’t meet these requirements. These might include at least eight characters, with at least one each upper and lower case letter, two numbers, and one or more special characters like punctuation marks.

Advanced automated hacking routine are often up to the task though. If a log-in routine does not freeze at least for awhile on three or five failed entry attempts, the hack software will pound away and may get even obscure combinations.

Even a solid PW may not be immune to manual or automated hacking. Knowing that, why make it too easy?

Most of us know now that we should not use obvious personal terms, like birthdays, street addresses, pet or relative name and such. A hacker can gather many of those frighteningly easily.

Beyond that, look over the most-hacked list. If you’ve ever used any of those or something remotely similar, take it as proof that the plug uglies out to get into your accounts won’t have to work too hard.

Taking a Pass…Twice

November 21st, 2011

Flat out, I don’t have a personal story of childhood sexual abuse. To those of us who don’t, the number we read or hear directly is stunning. With the infamy of the Penn State cases, more moving, inevitably confessional tales broadcast, such as the poignant one by a Notre Dame law professor in today’s Slate.

An oddment is the very brief moment of jealousy in not having a story, very similar to the feeling of us boomer men who did not get thrown into jungle warfare in Vietnam. It is all too human to want to share in the zeitgeist of your various eras. Something seems amiss and missing when you don’t, like those moments when you feel your soul is off somewhere else.

Dispassionately, of course, there’s no reason to visit horrors on yourself. Yet, we want to feel both that we are a part of our times and that we are the sturdy stuff of heroes.

As a very mild expression of these needs, many people I knew in high school, college and my 20s embroidered their shared experience samplers. They were hippies, they smoked pot and hash, they tripped on acid and more, they were sexually profligate, and of course, they protested and rioted on their campuses. All gross exaggerations and outright lies…in the name of shared experience.


Non-Nam


Many of my male chums past and current did go to Vietnam. Some sat on ships or in offices, while others fought, including some who died and others physically and emotionally maimed. Much like those of my father’s generation who killed and who saw the horrors of war, those who did don’t talk about it and if pressed say those who did not were much better off.

There was that pesky military draft, in which I had a very low number. My draft board made a relentless effort to get me, but finally seemed to give up, going for easier pickings.

While in Cambridge on a grant to look at a couple of underground newspapers, I found my board decided I wasn’t technically a full-time college student, so they had a place for me to go. I replied that I would not carry a gun, but I would go as medic, photog or reporter if they needed me in Viet Nam. They responded with CO papers and a notice that I could not pick what I’d do. I sent back that under their absurdly tight CO definition, I didn’t fit, but they could take my deal or send me to jail. They sent another batch of CO applications.

Eventually, they sent me a deferment they gave to fathers of multiple children. Eh? Some vets are positive there must have been someone  at the board looking out for me. A more likely story was through a friend whose father was on the board. He said in such cases, they went after guys who didn’t cause so much trouble and paperwork.


Unabused


Nearly all my best friends and quite a few women I’d kept company with in my single years have tales of being fondled or raped as small or teen kids. A few times, it was strangers they had just met, but more typically, it was a father, brother, cleric, teacher or camp counselor.

The stats sexual abuse prima facie don’t see so terrible, until you read deeper. Start for example from the Wikipedia entry and follow the references to places like Health and Human Services reports to first see that 15% to 25% of girls and 5% to 15% of boys were physically molested. From what I have heard directly and from learning that many of these stats are reported cases, and those percentages are very low.

In retrospect, I wonder whether our itinerant life protected me. We moved every couple years throughout my childhood. It seems that those I know who were abused either were in situations where the perpetrator had gained trust of the family and child, or in which they were in stereotypical abuse hells like boarding schools. It probably helped that my sister and I were not physically abused at all at home by beatings as most of my peers said they were. We were not taught to be submissive. The atmosphere of child as chattel was not part of my life. I also surmise that my willful personality may have acted as a shield.

Motivation for sexual abusers seem clear enough. These tend to be crimes of opportunity. The children are younger, smaller, weaker and often under the older child or adult’s control. Also, there is a strong correlation between having been abused and abusing.

If my second-hand knowledge is accurate, such abuse is never something simply gotten over. There seems to be a spectrum from those who live in victimhood perpetually to those who discuss it was friends or shrinks to those who sometimes shock into recollection to those who sublimate. Yet to those of us who lucked through childhood without being sexually abused, what is astonishing most is how common such behavior is.

This area is another good pointer to humans as not being all that evolved.

After it all, where is evidence of our better nature if we prey on the weakest of us as wild mammals, raptors and even insects do? Where is our alleged striving to be like angels or our god? If the cliché that character is what we are in the dark is true, what does it mean if so many of us even create the figurative dark for our evils?

HTML5 Tutorial for the Likes of Me

November 16th, 2011

s
Head First HTML5 Programming is not a reference book and does not pretend to be. Go through the easy-to-follow book page by page, exercise by exercise. Come out at the end understanding how to program in JavaScript and knowing enough about HTML 5 to build superior websites. You can always pick up a reference book to pick up the odds and ends.

Book Review Note: This is another in my ongoing series of technical book reviews.

Don’t be intimidated by the alleged 600 pages in a tutorial format. First, lots of white space, graphics and big type mean you won’t be looking at sheets of man pages. Moreover, all those design elements serve real purposes. Each topic gets a breezy, easy-to-assimilate intro. Then it presents the key concept with clear illustration. Next, you have to think about what you just learned and construct real-world examples.

After the overview, each of the nine main chapters follows the same pattern. You learn as you go. The authors present the key basic information and techniques for each category. Sure, you have to follow the book in order to build on each topic, but you really only have to work on one at a time. You won’t find yourself hitting the TOC and index to try to tie in the related content. Freeman and Robson have handled that brilliantly.

For just one peek, the web storage (chapter 9) starts off with a cutesy closet analogy in words and a 50 photo. It jumps directly into a history of the development of browser storage, particuarly cookies. It illustrates the functions of cookies and presents a quiz on what problems using cookies might present.This leads immediately into verbal and graphic descriptions of how the HTML5 JavaScript API differs and how it has some of the same functions as cookies. This flows into an exercise where you think of the API as a Post-it note system, with tasks on creating a web page with browser storage. This is functional and you test your work in a browser. Afterward, words and images explain what happened in eah stage of the browser implementing the code.

The chapter continues along that line, dealing with each aspect of storage, through flushing data no longer needed. When you complete the tutorial, including the programming, you know plenty about how web storage works.

In short, using this book is a commitment. The authors make it as painless as possible and if you have a little tolerance for cute, you are likely to think it is fun going through each section. I worked through it all and don’t regret it.

Serious programmers would quibble about what it leaves out. The authors are plain up front that they expect you to know HTML4 an CSS first, but nothing else in the field. I definitely benefitted from the JavaScript first half of the book. The HTML5 up front and in the second half are perfectly adequate for most of us. This volume goes beyond clever and into the near brilliant class in delivering what it promises.

Head First HTML5 Programming:
Building Web Apps with JavaScript

By Eric Freeman, Elisabeth Robson

Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Released: October 2011
608 pages
$49.99 paper
$47.99 ebook
$54.99 paper and ebook
O’Reilly
Amazon

Acorn Agon

November 16th, 2011

oaktobe

Nearly two months ago, a friend of my wife lamented the lack of acorns in these parts. She has a stake in it, as a wild foods type. She leads foraging tours, including gathering oak fruit to make bread with as a reward. Not this year.

Folks at the Globe covered the dearth today (unfortunately behind their rapacious paywall). Not even the experts they quote are exactly sure why. It may be that two years of lots of acorn output depleted the oaks. Alternately, the heavy rains of the past two years might be to blame. It seems it takes about 18 months after such moisture that prevents pollination for the effect to be seen in acorn output.

Regardless, everyone paying attention agrees that there aren’t many this year and that may continue into 2012′s fall.

For us that will have some small, but nasty effects. Our wild rodents will be hungry. The chipmunks, squirrels and such are seeking other food. That will likely be out of the trash, those expensive bulbs we, including I, recently planted for the spring and summer flowers, and next year’s vegetables.

While inconvenient to us, this will be fatal for a majority of those rodents. The experts quoted say up to 90% of chipmunks and maybe half the squirrels will die.  Beyond that, the birds and mammals that prey on the rodents will hunt other food, like raptors killing more birds instead. Bigger critters, like deer, bears and raccoons will like survive, but may come closer to humans, and mess with more trashcans.

The Colonel’s Surprise

November 14th, 2011

Not the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the cookbook that Harland Sanders left may be useful and amusing. A.k.a. Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, he hand typed 200 pages of his favorite country foods, replete with anecdotes. That manuscript recently appeared in Yum! Brands files. Word from the company is that they’ll make the book available online.

Photo Note: I claim fair use of this crop of a Stars & Stripes pic of Harland Sanders. There seems to be no known public-domain images of him and this appears adapted and to illustrate him, with credit.

s&ssanders

It’s certain without seeing the work that his recipes will be more authentic and tasty than what the KFC chain serves. It’s had three owners since he sold his interest in 1964. Along the way, the chicken allegedly has kept its secret 11 herbs and spices he specified, but little else.

The company may withhold some of the book’s recipes and is testing some now. Among the personal snippets it revealed was his two life rules — Do all you can and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you ever get that feeling of accomplishing something.

The only time I ever chatted with him was by phone the year before he died, 1980. I was doing an article for American Management Association’s Management Review maggy on the ramifications of when the CEO has celebrity status, which was pretty uncommon at the time. I don’t think I ended up using any of his material, but I found him charming.

First of all, he’d have none of the celebrity thing and second, he had nothing to do with the company’s board or other management in a long time. He was delightfully humble, admitting to being the founder of the giant franchise operation, but referring to himself as “just a chicken plucker.” He had run gas stations, frying chicken to supplement that, and considered himself still a country boy.

As he said to others, he was not happy with that the subsequent owners did to all the side dishes that would make a Southern meal out of just fried chicken. He had particular criticism for the new versions of his mashed potatoes and gravy. He said the result tasted “like wallpaper paste.”

I’ll be checking the Yum! site. What would the Colonel eat…and cook?

Granny Tricks

November 13th, 2011

cookiesMy Granmother Mabel was almost certainly the most respected baker in the wee county seat of Romney, WV. That’s a big deal considering the pride country women take in their oven output.

Her cookie jar was the first stop for all her grandchildren. The youngest, Randy, brought smirks and chuckles as he turned around with two cookies in each hand and and one in his mouth. Hey, she made excellent cookies.

Likewise, my mother, Wanda, could scarcely have been more different from her mother, Mabel. Yet it came down to both to please with baked goods, particularly cookies.

Mabel was a kitchen possessive. She did not teach either of her daughters to cook. That was her kitchen. She had a strong identity as a great cook. Life on Marsham Street was her hand to your mouth. Her husband, my Granddad Bill, was a fine cook too, but I knew that only because I spent my summers and holidays in the house. Sometimes Mabel was visiting or on occasion in the hospital. He’d cook then. His dishes had a spare richness that made the most of the meats, vegetables, herbs and spices, without the traditional fats and sugars. I like both their cooking, but like their daughters, he wasn’t allowed in Mabel’s kitchen when she was in the house.

At the memorial service and gathering following the death of my nephew Tom that I saw the coincidence of Mabel and Wanda on treats. Tom’s Santa Fe friends, whom I had known as little boys, were there en masse…except they were men in their 30s then, several them a few inches taller than I. One after another told me of the glories of Wanda’s cookies and her constant catering to them.

From early teens, Tom had been in various local bands. To my incredulity, it was my mother who allowed them to practice their sincere if cacophonous ditties one afternoon upon the next.

That was odd for several reasons. It was understandable in that from elementary school, she had taken care of Tom and his sister Kathy throughout the week and on many weekends. Pat has brought them after she left her husband. In effect, Wanda raised a second set of kids (all the while being annoyed at me for having children in my 40s [ha!]). In addition, just before she moved to NM, her life collapsed. Her beau suddenly departed to Singapore fleeing a financially vindictive ex-wife, her company sold to a giant which paid off the entire sales force and told them to go away, she got a breast/lymph cancer diagnosis, and the abrupt cessation of her menopause hormones made her irritable and sometimes irrational. Whew, even writing that seems overwhelming.

She did not have the makings of a Christmas-movie granny. Yet, when it came to her grandson, she was. She literally gave the loud boys milk and homemade co0kies. It was that combination of letting them shake the house and stuffing teen boys with goodies that those men recalled to me.

So this came to mind again this afternoon as I continue the theme. My 18-year-old is here with his girlfriend. I made them cookies. That seems to be what old folk do.