Archive for January, 2010

Cooking the Ugly

January 30th, 2010

root veggiesA fellow Stop & Shop-per was my guide to using some of those particularly ugly veggies today. That’s fair enough. Dozens of times, grocery and Haymarket browsers have rushed to me when I turn with a vegetable or cut of meat and they ask what I do with it. In fact, that is a real community benefit from food shopping.

I have largely looked at the bins of uglies for a long time. Lately, I’ve been buying and then researching this or that. Latino markets, like Hi Lo in JP, the Haymarket, and more recently Stop & Shop have produce bins of the funkiest looking roots — stuff that seems to come out of an animator’s spare cycles.

Unfortunately for us ignorant sorts, the markets are generally not much help. I’ve asked. At Hi Lo, Latino shoppers would say they don’t use something, that their grandmother did but they never liked it or just “boil it.” Haymarket vendors are even less help as is Kenny and the other Italian-American staff at Baby Nat’s at the top of Roslindale.  They sell the stuff because, well, it sells. They don’t know what to do with it.

I’ve been a Haymarket regular for 30 years and Nat’s for over 20. I recall asking owner Kenny about some of the root vegetables and about the huge tins of ackee.  They move many cases of ackee on American Legion Highway to native Jamaicans. “I don’t know what they do with it, but they buy a lot of it,” he said.

My family has its own love of various uglies. After most of them migrated to New Mexico a long time ago, they got me into jimaca.  I used to think this frightening looking thing was a real ugly, like a bloated shrunken head. Yet, Texans, New Mexicans, Mexicans and Californians have it all the time and know just what to do with it. There are even website pages with details.

It’s a generally difficult with the Caribbean roots. Big sites like Epicurious don’t deign to deal with non-European specialty items like batata (top lump in image above; click for detail) or malanga (bottom thingummy). Similarly when I brought home a hunk of nãme, I was stressed and pressed to find out what to do with it. Even the few the Stop & Shop signs had any description of would only uniformly say to boil it. That reads like a stereotypical joke about Irish cooking — “Bile it.” “What if it ain’t done?” “Bile it some more.”

It’s a hard net search, particularly as search engines, as well as Wikipedia and so forth, treat nãme as the word name. That’s about as common in a string as and or the. Adding terms for recipe, Jamaica and so forth didn’t help. Eventually, I stumbled in the Brazilian link to the root (and the root of the word for the root). Nãme is the Portuguese version of nyam from several African languages, where it originally just meant to taste. It’s also were we get our word yam.

Well, sort of…the African, Brazilian and Caribbean yam is nothing like the misapplied term to a sweet potato. These nãme things are big and not at all sweet, and toxic. They can grow to six, eight or more feet long. They are highly starchy. They also require considerable boiling to remove the natural, and even fatal, toxicity, but a simple prolonged boiling neutralizes the poison.

Nãme has long been a subsistence food in Africa and is particularly useful where they don’t have rice or grains for bread or our New World potatoes. It’s grown in tropical regions in all the Americas, is available all year, and having cooked and eaten it, I don’t have to do that again. It is starchy, but neither savory nor sweet. It seems to be a vehicle for herbs, spices and main dishes.

My take-an-ugly-root-home version today was both batata and malanga. Batata is more common and better known. The woman in the store today suggested thinking of it as a white fleshed sweet potato. She boils and slices it before serving it as a side dish, generally tossed in butter. Next up will be the malangas (I bought several). She recommended first peeling and dicing it. Then cook it with chicken or other meat in a spicy stew. She said she also likes to chop it long, boil it until tender and use it with meat in a sauce where you might use noodles.

I intend to go through all the ugly root veggies I can find. Then I’ll give them my best shots at  getting advice in person or online, getting the family to join my adventure and then posting a short list with suggestions and comments. I don’t know that any will be a stand-alone delight. Then again, I haven’t tried them all yet.

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Round Red Relics

January 27th, 2010

lutein capsulesI do eat my kale and every day I take a lutein capsule. These are both iffy insurance and in memory of my mother.

While raised as a Christian, I don’t view this as any form of physical communion. Yet, the little, red treasure is a daily reminder of my late mom.

She and a long-term friend (a UU minister in his 90s whom I’ve been buddies with for over two decades) got age-related macular degeneration (AMD or just MD). From its start, they hated it…worse than any chronic or acute condition they had. Broken bones, heart trouble, on and on were nothing compared to not being able to read, to drive, to see.

When the macula, the inside back layer of the retina, hardens, it’s game over. The center of the eye sees less, then nothing. To a woman used to the independence of driving and to the constant stimulation of reading, it was the worst of disasters. She got three or more daily newspapers, watched news and educational programs, and read several books a week.

Similarly, my minister chum has remained a theologian and scholar into his tenth decade.Yes, he’s distressed at needing someone to guide him around the street. Even that’s nothing compared to not being able to pick up a book and read it on his own. He does what he can with computer screen readers and has some part-time secretarial help reading and corresponding. It is not the same.

Both Wanda and Farley fit Dylan Thomas’ admonition to rage against the dying of the light. That seminal verse was written to note his father’s pending blindness, although many readers assumed it was about death. Neither of the MD suffers I knew was about to go gentle into that good night, as the poet put it.

My MD preventatives include both the daily capsule and the right foods. Wanda rued her ignorance about such measures when she was young enough for them to work…or maybe not. She urged my sister and me to do as she belatedly had. It was kale and capsules.

There was no day when she did not prepare kale or have it as a leftover. It is at the top of MD-preventative pyramid. I have it several times a week as well.

Our FDA is not terrifically helpful here. The research on the major chemical that may slow or prevent MD is not advanced nor a high priority nor well funded. It would seem that the attitude is that old people often go blind and that’s that.

Health food folk, including supplement makers and vendors, have to stop short of saying lutein does anything. The bottle of the brand I take now does not go beyond DIETARY SUPPLEMENT.

There is a Lutein Information Bureau that nudges up against promises though. I assume it represents a few makers of the supplement, although its website doesn’t reveal that. “Lutein is an important natural antioxidant that may help your eyes stay healthy…” is about as far as it dares go. On the other hand, it does cite serious research that supports eye-health associations.

The cautious attitude of the scientific and bureaucratic communities may best be seen in a Tufts University mention:

The Lutein Information Bureau offers abstracts of studies that all highlight its benefits. But they leave out the numerous studies that have not shown that higher intakes of lutein actually protect the eye. (They also claim lutein benefits the skin and protects against breast cancer.) The rationale behind lutein and AMD makes sense. But more clinical research is needed to show that lutein does, in fact, reduce the risk of AMD or other eye diseases. 

Beyond my mother’s exhortations, I did snoop around research myself. It looks like there is a good chance that lutein either from capsules or food (think dark greens)  is good for macular health. Moreover, with careful online shopping, I find 20mg capsules for only a few cents a day. It seems like cheap insurance to me.

To the emotional aspect, it’s a good thing to connect daily with your ancestors. This is not exactly a ritual for me, but it does remind me daily. I swallow a red capsule and think fleetingly of my mother, of her wishes for my well-being,  of her hopes that her children fare better and avoid obvious traps, and also her fury at blindness.

By the bye, I have found, fine-tuned and created recipes for kale — soups, salads, and just cooked up. I am likely to put a couple here or on Friendly with Food. I haven’t been putting much there and it’s time to return.  Then again, I’ve always liked my greens, cooked and raw. Some don’t and there’s always those capsules.

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From Kitchen to Ear

January 23rd, 2010

Even I have gotten a bit of politics fatigue with the fall and special election for U.S. Senator here. At our weekly podcast, we couldn’t seem to stop talking about what had, should, and might happen. This Tuesday, we sort of take a break.

FruitsWe’ll have a food-oriented show, with only minor political content. The Boston-based Chefs Collaborative‘s executive director, Melissa Kogut talks sustainable and local food.

I being I, there’s bound to be political overtones. Think is this a class thing for those who eat in fancy restaurants? What about the vast majority of middle-class as poor Americans who not only don’t know but couldn’t afford high-end politically correct groceries?

We’re sure Kogurt has considered all our questions. We look forward to learning what they’re up to and how the chefs got involved.

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God Guy Wins Another One

January 21st, 2010

Faith in action can work just fine. We see that in a follow-up to the tale of the New Hampshire preacher who early last year took a paroled ex-con into his home…to the anger and horror of nearly everyone. See the original post on that here.

The ex-criminal, Raymond Guay, had a particularly gruesome record of torture, murder and kidnapping. Yet, the Rev. David Pinckney was, well, a lot more Christian than nearly everyone. After getting to know Guay, the minister was convinced that Guay 1) had gone through a born-again transformation, and 2) had truly paid his debt to society.

See the original post for the details and links to the backstory. The key component is that Pickney took the paroled Guay into his home, replete with the minister’s wife and kids. The idea was to find a more permanent setting and help Guay get work. In other words, this was both rehabilitation as the justice system claims to want and Christianity as the New Testament describes it.

Pinckney’s neighbors, even some not very close, were beside themselves. Loving forgiveness? Nothing doing.

In my follow-up, Pinckney and I exchanged email. He made his offer and commitment and took what many self-identified Christians said was a gesture doomed to failure and maybe death. Not so, sports fans.  Instead:

Ray is doing very well, living in New Hampton, NH with a Christian couple on a 60 acre spread at the end of a mile long driveway…   He stays very busy on this property helping the couple, and does side jobs when they come available (he’s presently replacing a kitchen floor for a couple in our church).  His craftsmanship and work ethic are unmatchable in my estimation.   He has been accepted warmly into a church in Meredith NH and continues to find great joy in his faith in Jesus.   We stay in contact regularly and I see him at least once a month. 

Having covered justice and jail issues for newspapers and having worked with former prisoners, that is what I hoped. Rather than assume all the incarcerated are lost forever and deserving of perpetual punishment, in and out of prison, we should know that some do just fine. Invariably though, the help they get on this side of the walls and bars can make that difference.

We can’t think this didn’t depend on Rev. Pinckney. Not only is he a religious sort who actually lives his faith, he was very discerning. Unlike those women who communicate with and meet prisoners, he didn’t fall in love thinking this is someone who will really need and depend on me. He accurately assessed the man. He almost certainly is a better judge of minds and souls than you or I.

Let us praise those who make life better for another and provide an example for us all.

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Boston Ballots’ Beauty

January 20th, 2010

While recapping my battlefield promotion from clerk to warden at a Boston polling place yesterday, I thought repeatedly of the arcane and essential ballot control in the process. At least to a tech geek such as me, it has a true beauty.

A lot of planning and training and procedure development goes into ensuring one-voter/one-ballot here. Clerical controls are in the middle of it. The city accounts for every damned ballot many times with abounding crosschecks. While not impossible to scam the system to get two or more ballots, it would be damned hard and almost certainly not worth the trouble or risk.

Follow an unused ballot from the time it arrives at a polling location.

  1. Polls perk an hour before the 7 a.m. opening time. Elections workers have already brought the signs and other supplies and a police officer has brought a scanner and the blank ballots in a locked case.
  2. Workers (inspectors, interpreters, clerk and warden) arrive to tape up the many necessary signs, prepare check-in and check-out table, turn on and validate the scanner andassistive ballot preparing machine, and count the ballots.
  3. Depending on the expected turnout, blanks come bundled in nominal rubber-banded packs of 50 or 200. Poll workers first count bundles assuming the right number in each. These can vary by 6% (3 more or less in a 50 pack) because Elections prepares them by weight for efficiency.
  4. The clerk records the supposed number of blanks in the book.
  5. Before opening, inspectors hand count a group of bundles and put a Post-It on each with the actual number. The clerk keeps a running tally of each as it is brought into play to fine-tune the count of blanks.
  6. The scanner tracks each ballot it accepts, incrementing its count, which starts at zero. Throughout the day, Elections calls every few hours for the number and in busy elections, particularly primaries, observers from candidates and parties may look at the total, which does not differentiate by candidate.
  7. Spoiled ballots go back to Elections in their own envelope. If a voter mismarks a ballot, changes the decision before putting it in the scanner or marks too many candidates, the clerk or warden writes SPOILED on it, places it in the envelope and gives the voter up to a total of three ballots to get it right. The clerk tends to keep a tally of spoiled ballots and records them in the book at closing time.
  8. Absentee ballots arrive with the officer at opening and sometimes throughout the day as Elections sorts them. The clerk or warden opens the larger envelope and each absentee’s cover envelope to find the sealed envelope with the ballot. Then each ballot is treated like a voter, checked in at one table off the voter list and out at the other table. Then the ballot is removed from the sealed envelope and fed into the scanner. The clerk records the number of absentee ballots in the book.
  9. Provisional ballots for voters Elections cannot clear to for scanned ballots go into unique envelopes, one per ballot. That’s an elaborate process touched on in the battlefield promotion post. The warden provides each provisional voter with a ballot, which goes to Elections separately and is not scanned. The clerk records the number of provisional ballots as well as the voter’s name and address.
  10. At poll closing the ballot procedures align. First, the officer at the check-out table and the clerk or inspector with the check-in book compare notes. They verify that they have the same number of voters checked off per page of their respective voter list. Any discrepancies give them the chance to identify anyone missed ormismarked. They end up with a total count of voters.
  11. Meanwhile, the warden has generated totals from the scanner. If there is a difference between the voting books and scanner’s total, the three identify and correct it.
  12. The clerk then totals ballots  the book. The total ballots received needs to equal ballots cast, accounting for the spoiled ones,provisionals, absentee ones delivered,  and unused ballots remaining. Again, all stops until the numbers are accurate.
  13. The warden removed ballots from the scanner. Any that fail to scan are in one compartment; the get a re-feed and if necessary a hand count and recording in a log and the book. Write-ins are in another; they are hand recorded and placed in one envelope. The other ballots get a look for write-ins not ID’ed as such but clearly intended even without the write-in oval smeared. All scanned ballots go into envelopes that the officer delivers under lock to Elections.

If you were able to divert one or more ballots, then what? Without collusion of a worker and the officer, it would not qualify for the scanner. Even if you were able to sneak one in the scanner, it would mess up the total. Those and similar ploys would be possible, but elaborate, involving several people and surely not worth the exposure and punishments.

From my years of documenting computer software, I am impressed by the flow here. Elections has had a lot of time…with many eyes watching…to get this working well. It shows.

Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Fallen Poll Soldier

January 20th, 2010

I got a battlefield promotion yesterday, as the Boston elections trainers had said often happens. Our warden left right after the polls opened, not breathing well and shirt cascading with sweat. So the number two, the lieutenant, the clerk took over.

Many who know me say I can be intimidating. I snicker at that. True, I am big and I do look folk right in the eye, but I am fairly shy and was raised with Southern politeness. I am prone to let others bluster rather than mark my territory or shout anyone down.

Asked a few time before whether I was interested in a wardenship, I said I was comfortable as an inspector (the bulk of poll workers are inspectors or inspector/interpreters)  or clerk. I would just as soon have avoided the extra warden responsibilities and interactions.

It turns out what I was avoiding wasn’t so bad and might be a bit easier than the clerk duties. The primary things I had evaded played off my shyness:

  • Troubleshooting potential voters who don’t appear in the voter list (that book inspectors use to check addresses and names), are on the list as inactive or requiring ID, or otherwise exceptions.
  • Locating voters in the city database and directing them to the proper polling location or getting them plugged back in if they have been deleted.
  • Toning down the irate who swear (often incorrectly) they had voted at that place recently, had returned the annual voter census, or otherwise entitled, damn it, to vote then and there.

The Savage Breast

Not surprisingly, my upbringing has me well suited for the latter duty. My mother ran Red Cross chapters, which are similar to polling places in a key aspect. Many volunteers are like potential voters in feeling a strong entitlement to be there and do their thing. Anything that disrupts  the seamless operation is an insult. I watched her deal with the difficult and pleasant alike and learned how to do it on my own in volunteer organizations as well as  my work.

It comes in handy as a warden. A calm and gracious explanation of the problems and resolutions turns the voter/warden contact from adversarial to cooperative. No one left unhappy yesterday, even those whom I worked with to fill out the two-page provisional ballots and affirmation of residence forms.

There were others whom I told could not vote that day. Elections had deleted one for not voting for five years and not returning the confirmation letter saying he wanted to remain on the voter list. Others had moved three or more times in the previous two years, some form as far as Mansfield, and had not registered in Boston or not registered in time. Each sat and filled in a new voter-reg card and left content. Our work is done here, Tonto.

With the tales of City Hall shortcomings common chatter at places like the men’s locker room at the WR YMCA, I was repeatedly pleased at the competence and thoroughness of the Elections staff and their database. Using ID such as a driver’s license on my end, the saints downtown located every voter with cues such as date of birth. That was true even for the nomadic sorts with multiple tent locations over short periods.

Sometimes the phone call lead to a redirection to a previous polling spot. Others meant that reg card for future elections.

Sort of Voting

The most strained and strangest process makes sense and may be necessary but is convoluted. Provisional ballots let questionable voters prepare a ballot and sort of cast it. If Elections and the warden cannot be positive that someone really qualify by residence and registration, they fill out several forms — swearing they are who they say and live where they say. Then, they mark their ballot, put it in a sealed envelope. The warden has assigned it a unique number, marked on the form that goes to Elections, on the envelope, and on the take-away form the voter gets, as well as recording the voter’s information on a list. That night or soon after, Elections staff evaluates each ballot in light of the available data to decide whether to count the vote. The voter gets a number to call on the take-away form that coupled with the ward and precinct and unique number can let Elections say whether the vote counted.

Whew. I admire those who cared enough about the process and their role in it to go through their work in preparing their provisional vote.

At the end of the polling day, the clerk and warden diverge again. Closing duties  for the clerk include filling out the detailed clerk’s book that she or he has updated all day. That has detailed tabulations of ballots as well as checklists and records of virtually every anomaly.

Closing Time

The warden ends up as the key master.  In Boston, the main voting machine in a precinct is the AccuVote terminal. The same company makes this and the AccuMARK assistive ballot preparing equipment that we use. Locked throughout the day, it tracks and stores every ballot inserted and is the linchpin of the clerical part of our ballot integrity.

Warden duties at the end of voting include:

  • Retrieving the AccuVote key from the police officer on duty
  • Opening the side compartment where any unscanned ballots feed (reinsert those and hand count them if they fail again)
  • Unlocking the front panel, insert the bar-coded sheet that stops the machine while simultaneously pushing two YES/NO buttons, and generate three copies of ballot summaries.
  • Having  poll workers and the officer sign the summaries, and posting one on the wall for public viewing next to the one with zero totals for ballots and each candidate from the morning, one in the clerk’s book, and one taped to the machine.
  • Removing the actual machine (about the size of an attache case) and placing it with its cord in a case for the officer to take to Elections.
  • Opening the stand for the machine to remove any write-in ballots from one compartment for hand recording and the mass of ballots from the other compartment. Those can be quickly examined for any write-ins that the scanner did not catch or the voter did not smear the write-in oval, and shuffled into marked envelopes for the officer to take to Elections.

Off the oddments  — spoiled ballots, provisional ballots and forms, voter reg cards, absentee ballot envelope and such also go into a large pouch that the officer delivers to Elections along with the machine, the clerk’s book and the keys to both voting and ballot marking machines.

For folk who see each other twice a year or less, there is an impressive efficiency at closing. There are many obvious exceptions like problems on the voter list throughout the day that the electorate notices. The setup and closing happen where the officer and custodian are the only witnesses.

I confess that I too have been known to carp about Registry and City Hall inefficiencies. Perhaps it is my closeness to the elections process and roll as a minor official in Boston’s voting army, but I have no complaints about how they handle and prepare for massive one-day pushes.

The undone business from yesterday has little to do with the election. All of us on our team want to know how our stricken warden fared. His cell went to voice immediately in numerous tries and he didn’t call those whose numbers he took. That’s an issue not in the training manual.

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Man-Sized Hominids

January 18th, 2010

This must be a wee taste of farmer’s pride. My two teen sons made quick and thorough work of a lot of heavy snow with me. While not what they were bred for, I confess to pleasure.

Our past couple of snows were the powdery sort, more prone to blow off the shovel than cause a grunt. This one was three or four inches of the nasty stuff — as dense and heavy as Ukrainian black bread.

The new-to-us house has twice the sidewalk of the old, plus a long, wide driveway and a deck that is the primary entrance from the cars. While I also clear the parts of the deck and lower level leading to the compost machine, that’s not essential.

Today with both the 16 and 19-year-olds home, I asked them to join me in the serious work. They did and we were done in under and hour, down to asphalt and concrete, curb to garage and steps.

Perhaps I’m aging simply. Regardless, I was gratified for the help, admiring their sturdiness and generally being a dad. I know that men tend to tender up as we age. We’ve been known  to mist or even tear at thing that would have brought derision and snorts decades before. This sort of emotion now is much more fun and satisfying.

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Chucky’s London Digs

January 17th, 2010

A pleasant surprise in London was the Charles Dickens Museum. My wife decided that was a stop while in town and I admit that was wise.

This is the only surviving of his homes there and is chockablock with artifacts and exhibits. I was most taken with his life-long miserable love experiences, but there’s plenty else.  Get a sense of the offerings in the virtual tour. Unfortunately, neither the tour nor the exhibits description gives you a good image of what you’ll see beyond the furniture and portraits.

The basement is set up with an artificial library, as in this was a kitchen in the late 1830s when he and his wife (and soon their first three of 10 kids) were in residence. The museum claims over 10,000 documents available for researchers. They needed a library.

He wrote three key novels here, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. That raises a sore point with the curators. While the house clearly shows the daily life of the family — replete with professional and personal furniture — one key item is absent.

You can see his commode (pic by Issac), his wine cellar adjacent to the ground floor garden, a reading desk and living and bedrooms fully decorated with Dickens’ originals.  However, I noticed several illustrations of him at a magnificent desk, where he wrote. I asked the caretakers and got the wistful looks and sighs.

It turns out a tarot reader ended up with it. The fuller explanation is that a relative had inherited it and let Christie’s auction it, with proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  Charity won and London lost.Moreover, Dickens has contributed to that hospital from early in his career.

The museum has set aside up to £80,000 for the desk, which was the top estimate of its bidding price. However, Irish journalist turned very successful clairvoyant Tom Higgins, bid it up over £400,000. He let the museum display it briefly before having it shipped to Ireland. The caretakers were reduced to hoping he wills it to the museum.

Door knocker Dickens knocker
Dickens commode Commode
Wine cellar, adjacent to his garden. Dickens wine cellar
Dickens door A bit of Christmas color on the front of the house
The garden fountain still spews. Dickens garden fountain

I was most drawn by the bedroom on the top floor, where his sister-in-law died in his arms. The descriptions of the women in his life is most instructive, most sad, and most revealing.

As much of what he experienced, his several unrequited passions came to us as characters, events and plots of his novels. Perhaps had he been better skilled in love, he would have been happier and much less of a writer.

Consider his first, teen fixation, Maria Beadnell. She was of a higher class, her dad would have none of their love talk and he shipped her to Paris to school. Done and done. She married another. Then Charles married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of one of his editors. They seemingly had lust, if 10 children are an indication, but they were dissatisfied with each other always and separated. However, her younger sister, Mary moved in with them early, as was the custom at the time. Charles clearly was stricken with her. He never got over her death a year later after a short illness. He mooned after her, idealized her too and used her as the basis for numerous heroines.

To read the exhibit on the top floor, we have to assume that his passive nature in matters of the heart was to blame for a live of loving, longing and losing. Terribly sad for him, but we benefited.

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Woe Is She

January 16th, 2010

alas.jpgOh, self-pity, how inviting you are.

Yesterday in the grocery, I was smile to glower with a splendid object lesson for us all. Facing my fellow shopper and fellow human, I was all too aware that in my weaker moments, I too can roll in the pleasures of feeling wronged.

The dour, dolorous dame did surprise me. Coming up to one of numerous open checkouts with only one person at the conveyor belt, I did notice the other woman and her cart. She clearly was not in line though, being perpendicular to the check-out chute, holding and examining goods in the displays between the two adjacent checkout stations. Plus, she has not approached the line much less put anything on the open half of the belt.

A few seconds after I took my unloading post, she pushed her cart into the side of mine. When she said, “Excuse me!” in a hostile tone, I assumed she was trying in a socially clumsy way to apologize.

Not on your life, rather my life. She had just received her slight, for which she may have a jones.

She then whipped back the cart, cut right behind my behind and muttered in very nasty tones that she had been in line. Continuing to be foolishly unaware of what was really happening, I said pleasantly that she was welcome to that spot in line, that I was in no hurry.

She’d have none of it. She wanted neither civil interaction, nor a resolution to her stated issue. She wanted to feel wronged. She wanted to feel sorry for herself. She wanted to blame someone else for something.

I should have known from her face. We don’t get so many frown lines so deeply gouged without considerable repetition. Here was a human who lived for disappointment and may even set up woeful circumstances. For these few, victimhood calls.

Up front, I am not the world’s  jolliest person. I am known to think ill of drivers who do not signal, children and adults who reach across the table instead of asking, and other intentional social criminals. Yet, this sad shopper appeared on the one hand to be about my age but on the other because of her overly practiced frowns, pursed lips and furrowed brow to be much, much older.

When I meet those so intent on suffering, I have to wonder what in her experience has led to such a love of self-pity. Was it the proverbial browbeating parents? Did she have relationship or career reversals early and often? Did she fall into fantasies that pathetic is noble or romantic?

Regardless, she is a good cautionary tales on the hoof. May we each age gracefully.

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Quaint? You Can’t Take Quaint!

January 14th, 2010

Oddly enough, the village pub doesn’t rate on the Alfriston, Sussex, website. I immediately suspect a tale of abrasive personalities and history thereof behind that oversight.

I can tell you two things though:

  • We truly enjoyed our lunch at Ye Olde Smugglers Inne
  • Alfriston lives up to its rating as the most picturesque village in England

After a full day of subjecting ourselves to the persistent winds and chill on the Channel beaches, we were ready for a pint. Wife, two sons and brother-in-law and I had held off on walking Alfriston on the way to the water. It’s just as well; among other treasures, I found my best pint and best ploughman’s lunch of the trip — of many tests of both.

This was one of the last days of the trip. By then, my brother-in-law and I had fallen into a very comfortable pattern. We’d see the sights and sites and keep one to four eyes out for a likely pub. Yes, there was the play in London proper, and yes, there were cathedrals, and yes, there was the Charles Dickens house, but pubs there are as common as donut shops in Boston.

We had also gotten to ordering and evaluating the ploughman’s here and there. That would be a slab of cheese or pate, a wee bit of salad, an even smaller bit of chutney, and maybe a few tart pickles. Typically we picked a Stilton or cheddar version.  Brits do cheeses right.

I am not a total Anglophile though. I admit that I was disappointed on the trip from the lack of IPAs and other pale ales. I am an IBU lover. I don’t drink ales to get high, so I don’t mind that typical English brews are 4% alcohol or less. However, in contrast to my regular fare here, theirs seem sweet. Even their bitter does not reflect its name.

I ordered IPAs at several pubs in and near London. The Smugglers Inne version was unquestionably the best. It was a Dark Star Brewing Hophead.

It would seem Brits prefer a maltier, sweeter brew. That’s odd in that pubs are wonderful in not rushing patrons. You can sit with a pint for an hour or even two if you can make it last that long. To my taste, that would work best with something sharp, with a bit of bite, like my beloved IPAs.

By the bye, we did not tour the whole inn. It turns out that it has three rooms to let, serves breakfast, has a bike shed in the back for cycling tourists, and has had links to bicycling since it was a mere 520 years old in 1878.

There is more to the village as well. Among its super-quaint aspect is the retention of the original artisan names. For example, a high-end gift shop remains the Apiary on its signs, despite not having a beekeeper there for many centuries. There’s also the first property the National Trust purchased, the clergy house, of the same 14th century vintage as the inn.

There’s much to see, delightful shops, and even a crowded medium-sized book store run by a fussy couple who check visitors’ shoes and insist they don blue cloth covers if they are suspected of having any mud anywhere on their treads.

Finally, if you go and come from the east be sure to have a camera ready. I did not and missed the wonderful warning sign on the highway a couple of miles out that had the warning triangle with an exclamation point. Underneath was the single word BADGERS.

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