Archive for August, 2012

Even Bugs Die

August 31st, 2012

I’m at nature a gentle sort, so much so that in the frenzy of the Vietnam-war draft, my beloved grandfather unbidden handed me a conscientious-objector reference letter. While he had sneaked away from the farm to enlist in the WWI American Expeditionary Forces to fight the Hun, he knew that I would never be one to kill another person.

Yet at a much lower level, he and I had teamed for years to slay insect pests. He had long farmed “patches” as he called them. These one-acre farms, one or two every summer were wide, deep expanses of vegetables and fruits, 150 running feet each. He’d plant, and from my elementary school time, I’d weed, water, train to trellis, cull, harvest, and more. Inherent in this was the elimination of bugs.

Many years later in my master-gardener course, I learned nifty terms such as integrated pest management. I already knew that part of the curriculum.

Early on, he used nasty chemicals, like DDT. He’d strap big spraying drums to his shoulder and squirt the toxins. Yet, also early on he somehow ran across the Rodale pub, Organic Gardening and quickly converted. We were out there with the pyrethrum (fundamentally a natural, harmless-to-humans insecticide made from marigolds) and with our eyes and hands. Destructive bugs did not like and died in innocuous baths of soapy water, beer, or water that had soaked the juice from a nickel cigar. I’d knock the hornworms, Japanese beetles, potato beetles and their ilk into my coffee cans of to-them toxins. While time-consuming, it killed them, did not hurt me, and did not poison the veggies and fruits.

With that background, I was a bit amused when my wife called to look at this thing on the back deck plants. Asked, she agreed it might be a bug but she was not sure.

What we had, and what had been ruining my wee, grown-from-seed tomato fruits was a tomato hornworm. What it had was parasites. The white thingummies festooned on its back were the growing offspring of a parasitic moth. It was infested and near death with wasp babies eating it from the inside.

There’s a conflict for the gentle guy.

This dreadful caterpillar has been destroying my tomatoes, fruit and plant. These wasps were gnawing at it en masse. Shortly the hornworm will die, the wasps will grow and fly off to create more parasites.

Who should feel sorry for whom?

Truth be told, as a gardener from childhood and by avocation and certification, I have little use for insects that live to eat my crops. Yet a small part of me empathizes with the reality of being eaten alive from the inside by nasties.

I think we could well do without the hornworm. Some versions of it munch on tobacco, which distresses me far less. I don’t have tobacco salads and sandwiches. I also think we could do well without mosquitoes, even though many bats and birds consume them as main parts of their diets.

My wife is very unhappy at the sight and thought of of the besieged caterpillar. I had no problem clipping the leaf and tossing the mess aside. I know that the wasps will finish their business and thrive. I might even hum The Circle of Life.


Hands-on Loaves

August 24th, 2012

As a counterpoint to my accepting an automated ice-cream maker, I can’t or rather won’t stop kneading bread.

I’m in the middle of the several day process of making salt-rising bread per my maternal grandmother’s recipe. It’s a pain au levain and kind of kitchen magic. While it uses a pinch of baking soda, it has no yeast and the leavening is partly of what bacteria in the air do interacting with the starch of the potato sliced into a quart jar at noon, per Mable’s index card.

The mix sits in a loosely covered jar for half a day to two days and generally, but not always, produces a froth that will rise the bread when added to flour. As Mable’s card says, it has to have a peculiar odor along with the froth. Otherwise don’t use it.

Then you let the dough rise until double, which can take an indeterminate number of hours the next day. Next comes kneading until smooth, from 20 minutes to 35, depending on how much dough you made.

Now there’s the likely spot for automation. I won’t have it.

I own a heavy-duty KitchenAid® stand mixer, replete with dough hook. I’ve tried kneading with the hook, but find no pleasure in that.

Cook folklore has it that the heat from your hands aids in transforming the gluten and the dough into the ideal substance for rising and baking. I’m not sure that’s true, but I do enjoy kneading.

Pressing down with the whole upper body, mushing the dough between my fingers and under my knuckles gives a sense of ownership and oneness with the food. It’s a physical and emotional investment, albeit time and energy inefficient.

I have no doubt using the mixer with its hook would produce smooth dough in much less time. I generally am very efficient, but this is one area where I’d rather not be.

OK Dessert Automation

August 16th, 2012

Many years ago…back in the one-child days…we received a Cuisinart food processor as a gift. Julia Child loved hers and used it regularly; she was a real pulse kind of prep cook.

It didn’t last long in my kitchen and I gave it away. I did and still do like chopping vegetables and kneading bread. I grok the ingredients and feel better about handing out and eating the results. Plus, with your hands and knives, you have a lot more control over the appearance of the veggies. I’m big on presentation.

However, I must admit my current backslide into automation. I recently bought an ice-cream maker. After decades of making my own ice cream, I won’t be giving this one to anyone. For a few years, we would use the old-style, messy, loud wooden bucket with rock salt and ice. That was awful. Then I took to making a quart at a time by hand. I’d get all the ingredients working and return to the freezer every hour or so to hand beat and thus aerate the confection.

That latter operation turned out superb ice cream (not hard to predict from great ingredients). Yet I didn’t have the emotional attachment to the result. A frozen mass looks pretty much the same whether beaten by machine or hand with a spatula or spurtle.

With friends coming up to marry at our home, I figured the reception would have to include one of my favorites, saffron ice cream. So there, I can say it. I made my ice cream by machine last week. I’m surprised at my development, but I’m not ashamed and I’ll do it again.

For detail, I chose the Cuisinart (that name again) ICE-21 machine. It’s widely available around $60, discounted from its suggested $110. Mine came from Amazon, which gave the full color choices. I went with purple (a.k.a. Plum in Cuisinart speak). Honestly white, black and red get old.

It’s almost too simple. There’s an on/off switch on front. Make ice cream by freezing the mystery-liquid filled tub overnight, mix your ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, flavorings), put the tub on the machine and place the plastic paddle inside, turn it on and pour in the ingredient mixture. In 15 to 20 minutes, you have soft serve. I like it firmer and froze it for a few hours. I don’t miss the repeated hand beating.

As a cook, I use my 30-some-year-old traditional steel French chef’s knife and similar tools. I like sturdy in the kitchen. So when I first touched the paddle that goes in the drum, I projected trouble. It felt like Cracker Jack-prize quality. The machine and drum are heavy. The paddle is well deigned for the machine though. It locks into place inside as the drum turns, moving the potential ice cream over its blades. It’s like your fingers dipped in the lake over the side of a moving canoe.

The other eyebrow raiser is the lidless outer case. The clear shell that fits over the drum has no top, just the circle where you pour your goodies. We regular blender and mixer users could see messy trouble. Nah. Just follow the proportions to make a quart and a half or less of ice cream and the mixture stays put. The drum is not sudden or fast enough to spit anything toward you or the ceiling. Over filling the drum would be the only dumb move.

I confessed my automation to the wedding guests. No one minded. In fact, I don’t think they listened. Saffron ice cream is saffron ice cream, not matter how it gets mixed.

Marrying Types

August 11th, 2012

Surely, we each have our own rituals, large and small. For Karl, you can’t have a wedding without jordan almonds. Among the wedding favors he and his groom handed to guests yesterday were those in splendid iron and porcelain tea cups.

One of the rituals in this house seems to have become using the living room as our rite space. My grand nephew William received his blessing and naming in the living room recently. Yesterday, long-time friends married there.

We intended a backyard wedding and had chosen a grove setting under the big dogwood. Rain didn’t defeat us; we had also picked an indoor spot in case New England was New England.

The grooms are from Florida, but the wedding was certainly a personal and not political statement. In fact, the men, while bright, educated and liberal sorts are nowhere near as political or lefty as I. Undoubtedly, you can’t belong to any group legally discriminated against without being aware of the unfairness of it, particularly when you are boomers raised in ideals of equality.

Guests were largely long-time friends of one of the grooms. Charles and I go back longest, having been childhood playmates in a little town in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Similarly, a couple of guests were Karl’s high school chums. More currently, long-term co-activist buddy of mine, John Hosty-Grinnell showed with his husband Ray. Mixing the metaphors, Jasper and Jay were both hoary chums and political allies. Jasper and I go back to freshman in college and I performed their marriage right after the Goodridge decision. This is only the second same-sex marriage I’ve solemnized of the five I’ve done. I treasure each wedding and highly recommend Massachusetts residents take advantage of our wonderful designated solemnization process to unite their friends.

I’ll write a bit about the politics of yesterday at the more appropriate venue, Marry in Massachusetts.

Yesterday was not for politics, rather for long-time and brand new friends. It was awhile in the making. While the grooms have been dedicated partners for decades, they live in Florida, where same-sex marriage is not likely anytime soon. I’d offered repeatedly to solemnize their marriage up here and they relented. We had a grand week racing around Boston, taking the ferry to P’town and such, plus, they had the dubious pleasure of the gentle, but plodding bureaucracy of filling out the license forms, waiting the three days and returning to leave with the actual license. Previously, I had gone through the one-day solemnization process (which I confess I enjoy; petitioning the governor, indeed).

Certainly marriage is not right for everyone. My wife and I are long-term marrieds, who had no intention of wedding anyone until we met each other. Likewise, Rob and Michele are. Jasper and Jay even had a civil union in Vermont before SSM became legal here. For folks like us, it works well and for folks like Charles and Karl, they have been devoted, loving partners for many years, they are in every sense and now actually married.

We had a solid, brief ceremony. Karl and I dickered a bit. He chose his favorite parts from several of the previous wedding’s I’ve conducted. That made for a meaningful 4-minute service. (Video available on request.)

The many who know how food-oriented I am asked. We had a cooperative effort here. Not only did Eli do the vows video, he made figs wrapped in prosciutto skewered with rosemary sprigs and also prepared guacamole, Isaac made insalata caprese with pesto instead of chopped basil. We had crab cakes, raw shrimp, lox, sundry dips and sauces, salsa cruda, numerous cheeses, several white wines still and sparkling, beers and ales, andouille sausages, breads, crackers, tortilla chips, and lobster tail. The cake was from Party Favors in Brookline, with large, garish icing flowers in tropical colors. Oh, and with the coffees was my saffron ice cream (a personal favorite).

Charles and Karl were de facto married for a long, long time. We were delighted to ratchet that up a notch. My blessings on them fall.

Stop Sign Philosophy

August 6th, 2012

Even though their heads are muddled, their hearts mean well. When cycling and public-transportation groups chant, “Same roads. Same rules.” they do think they’ve solved the cycling/driving/walking problems.

Alas, such highly oversimplified and illogical solutions solve nothing. We can get deeper in a moment, but you might divert to read cycling scofflaw Randy Cohen in yesterday’s NY Times. The former writer of the paper’s ethics column puts a philosophical spin on the issue…from a very personal perspective. He justifies his own daily trumping of strict interpretation of traffic laws and regulations. He hurts no one and doesn’t even endanger himself by treating stop lights and stop signs as yield signs. He slows and makes sure the way is clear, then makes his own way, darn it.

Whaa. He’s cheating!

You just know that the literalists, the rules-are-rules types, will fume and perhaps send chiding emails. That is the way of the bike/ped/drive conflict. The majority of adults seem to despise, disparage or at least distrust cyclists and are quick with the hyperbolic justifications — all cyclists are reckless, running all lights and endangering everyone on the roads; all pedestrians are jaywalkers who live to imperil themselves and inconvenience drivers; all drivers obey every traffic law and rule…except maybe fudging on speed limits a tiny bit.

Unlike many European nations, we here are not ready for the physical, intellectual and emotional shift to urban cycling. We see in number of cyclists, in lack of enforcement of driving laws, and in the combined driver-oriented actions of the police, prosecutors and judges that Americans illogically and emotionally would like bikes to go away and stay in the kids’ toy class.

Yes, yes, we talk the game of conserving energy. We talk the game of reducing traffic, noise and pollution. We talk.

When it comes time to remove parking spaces to make room for cycle tracks and bike lanes, most of us stomp and wail about the unfairness of it. When we see daily what scofflaws too many drivers are, we still pretend that it’s those damned cyclists that cause the risks, congestion and injuries. The stats report, in the strongest terms, that it’s otherwise, that drivers are the dangerous lawbreakers. Yet, this is cultural and our hearts aren’t there. We’d rather point to real or theoretical bikers running red lights and pretend the problem is with others, not ourselves.

Roads and rules

Back to same roads/same rules. That’s crap. That is intentionally naive and even dumb. There are tremendous differences between cars and bikes. We can’t really set up the roads and laws properly until we become more realistic about those distinctions.

Same roads. First consider that there are numerous essential distinctions between motor vehicle and cycle roads. For example, bikes are forbidden from using limited access highways and toll roads. Motor vehicles can’t legally drive on sidewalks anywhere, even out of business districts, can’t use many designated parkways (although cops rarely enforce that even when the signs are plain that commercial vehicles aren’t allowdd) or shared bike/pedestrian paths or bike lanes or bike paths. Cyclists though can use streets and roads, even when there is a parallel bike path, and can (over the steaming objection of drivers) use a full lane if it is necessary to travel safely. The laws are OK here; they just need to be enforced to the tune of frequent, large fines for motorists.

Same rules. Here’s a huge cultural difference. Motorists in the main are oblivious to physical realities of cycling, while cyclists are or have been motorists and grok the corresponding limits and benefits. More than once, I have been cut off by or threatened by or even brushed by drivers and spoken with them. Most are truly unaware of things that should be obvious, like when a bike stops, the cyclist falls over unless a foot goes out for the pavement or there’s some skilled balancing act. Think about that as a possible driving issues. Bikes can easily go 15 to 25 miles per hours, so turning right immediately as you begin passing a cyclist is both illegal and dangerous. Bikes can stop from speed in 5 to 20 feet, while a car will go 100 feet in the time it takes a driver to move a foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal, not counting the actual stopping time. Cyclists have minimal inertia to overcome and can leave from a dead stop before a driver can being to move. Drivers behave much more sanely when cyclists leave an intersection first and the car can overtake them, otherwise the drivers don’t seem to have a physical sense of where the cyclist is and thus drive erratically.

After decades of urban cycling, I end up concurring with Cohen on the effect if not the philosophy of stop signs and stop lights. He likes to pretend that his scofflaw behavior is morally superior to literal obedience. In contrast, I think the physics and logic of treating those signals all as stop signs have benefits for all. Yet acknowledging those distinctions is what will require that cultural shifts, as they have successfully done in Idaho, even in the very citified Boise.


  • it doesn’t take much time or distance for a cyclist to stop or get moving again
  • cyclists can clear an intersection in a small fraction of the time it takes a driver to get moving and get across
  • drivers are very uncomfortable leaving a light at the same time as cyclists beside them
  • drivers are comfortable and seem to feel in control when they overtake and pass cyclists ahead of them
  • motor vehicles are heavy, fast and deadly; they are aim-able weapons
  • silent bikes can startle inattentive pedestrians but by physical reality and by stats are far, far less likely to hit much less damage a person or vehicle

So rephrasing the simpleminded chant is limited. Think, “some of the same roads and many of the same rules.” That demands too much thinking for ordinary folk, particularly the literal minded. It is a potential big education issue and process.

Yet, that’s where major European cities and countries have arrived. We’re far from that though.

More bikes for more awareness

Many biking advocates say repeatedly that when there are sufficient bicyclists commuting and recreating on the streets and roads, people will get it. Drivers and walkers will begin to pay attention, both for their safety and those of the cyclists. A few U.S. cities are almost there, but most are quite a ways off. If preponderance is what it takes, we may be several decades away from drivers and pedestrians taking personal responsibility, as well as the chain of enforcement bring the hammer down on feckless, reckless folk. That, of course includes cyclists, although stereotypes aside, they are far from the most frequent or most dangerous offenders.

Meanwhile, skilled cyclists will likely advocate for Idaho-style sensible laws and acting out their personal versions of them. I doubt many will do the situation ethics justification that Cohen uses, but the effect will be the same. Maybe a few drivers will realize how good it is that those pesky bikers are out of the intersection where they can keep an eye on and pass them. I suspect that many more will have the puerile attitude that someone gets a privilege they don’t. There’s not a lot of prevention or cure for that sort of childishness. It will come with changing laws, the eventual matching enforcement by cops on all concerned, and that distant future of lots of cyclists.



Vroom again

August 2nd, 2012

Nine weeks after my apparently spectacular single-bike crash, I am back in the saddle again. With trepidation, I took a moderate (18-mile, pretty flat) ride to see if my bones disconnected again and if agony made me call the uxorial unit for a lift. It was OK.

For those who have not obsessed with me over my big boom, I had a great, at-speed spill, resulting in a severely busted clavicle (comminuted in medical lingo) and a half dozen cracked /broken ribs. That meant hard drugs, sleeping upright on a sofa corner for three weeks and absurd pains in performing such tasks as breathing.

So one would wonder, when can I get back on the bike, when can I hit the free-weights again, and are there absolutes to consider? For the latter, the ortho surgeons offered a singleton — don’t fall down for at least a year (with pause and emphasis).

Although I’ve had only a single surgery in my life (that 14-plus-inch titanium rod in my shattered left tibia), I did learn a bit about ortho surgeons in my hospital stay. For example, according to the regular doc, physical therapist and ortho nurses, following my major surgery, it would be three days or so before I could even move enough to stand or leave the hospital, the surgery team thought that since I had a pin in my leg, I was stable and should be fine. As the nurses said after the first surgical team visit the morning after the operation, “Fucking surgeons!”

Regardless, they have the advantage of being able to see and touch and physically diagnose a patient’s problem, conditions denied to most docs in most cases. Yes, in general, surgeons are schmucks, but they are in a position to fix problems by the mechanical nature of their jobs.

From that operation and follow-up, I did learn to ask the right questions and ask them several times to different surgeons.

After two months, I did get some answers I liked to ameliorate those I did not. This week, I got the OK to hit free weights again and to get on the bike, as long as it didn’t hurt too much…and again, as long as I did not fall for the next year.

My left clavicle will never again look like an illustration from Gray’s Anatomy. It’s in two very separated pieces. There are, in the pic right, white lines illustrating new bone growth along the edges of the two pieces, as well as an amorphous area between the separation that the overseeing surgeon says is new bone in the works — works that will take up to two years. Meanwhile, I have a tangerine-sized lump, most of which will remain forever. Yippee do dah.

So today I felt the twinge that justified Scientology. I got back on the bike, the same yellow marvel from which I fell to the pavement at 22 MPH.

I thought of the dichotomy of experience. There are the once-burned-twice-shy (or in Scientology terms, once-burned-forever-shy [unless you give us all your cash]) versus the fall-off-the-horse-get-right-back-on camps. I clearly am in the latter. Do you deal with your issues and problems or seal up and seal off?

I confess that with the don’t-fall-for-a-year dictum cascading around my skull, I did a moderate ride on city/suburban streets, roads with 30 to 45 MPH speeds, a.k.a. 35 to 60 MPH vehicles passing and approaching.I was less concerned about the regular Boston-area loonies than whether the pull and vibration of steering and climbing would separate the clavicle pieces.

It turns out, it wasn’t so bad. The ribs hurt more than they had in weeks. I guess I was breathing deeper than I had even on the stationary bike-like-object and the elliptical machines. That’s OK. Some climbing reminded me to let the right side pull on the bars only. That’s OK too.

I’m back in the saddle again.

I am aware that my uxorial unit is less than pleased by the concept. She has been reminding me of the years I took and years I taught spinning classes. Wouldn’t it be swell (and smart and safe) to get off the road?

Well, no. Y spinning is wimpy. You are hard pressed to work up a sweat. I was taught by Martha, who often said you were dogging it if you didn’t leave a puddle under your bike.