Monday, April 30, 2012

We Deal In Lead Friend - Reloading, Lead and You


Reloading sure beats waiting in line at the store hoping that they have one more box of your favorite ammo. After the last election you could hardly FIND ammo around, let alone primers. Those days could happen again.

But with the technical aspects of it, there are safety aspects. And that is lead. Lead was around long before there was OSHA and your Mom telling you not to hang around guys that  drove Mustangs or played guitars in bands. But there is no sugar coating it - lead dust and vapors during the casting process are poisonous in high amounts. Mankind developed in an environment that has always contained lead in some form.. It would follow we have some tolerance for it so a brief exposure isn't going to kill you.  However, once ingested, the body does not naturally get rid of lead like a bad burrito. Though some of it might be secreted out in urine or bile (the elimination rate depending on the tissue that absorbed it) most remains in your body. The side effects and health risks of long term, unchecked high exposure are NOT good.

"I hear it interferes with the absorbtion of Bacon!

Most lead stays in the body storing it up (chemically similar to how calcium is stored), at high doses causing developmental and brain issues in children where the effects are manifold and include delayed or reverse development, permanent learning disabilities, seizures. In adults add in renal and neurological damage, death and voting Democratic.
How?

In Scientist speak
: Lead perturbs multiple enzyme systems. As in most heavy metals, any ligand with sulfhydryl groups is vulnerable. Perhaps the best-known effect is that on the production of heme. Lead interferes with the critical phases of the dehydration of aminolevulinic acid and the incorporation of iron into the protoporphyrin molecule; the result is a decrease in heme production. Because heme is essential for cellular oxidation, deficiencies have far-reaching effects.

In Plain Language speak: Bad juju. BAD.


I'm NOT saying that by reloading and shooting you will get lead poisoning and cases in the U.S. are rare.  However it is still something that is harmful that you don't want in your body if you can help it and especially important if you have youngsters in the household who might be exposed to it.  (as  kids we liked the lead paint better than the latex stuff, it tasted  *twitch* so much better *twitch*)

Lead poisoning is cumulative, so any reduction in lead intake will help prevent lead poisoning. The human body maintains a normal blood lead level of about 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL). 10 ug/dL is generally recognized as the early stage of lead poisoning, with anything above 20 ug/dL requiring an immediate chemical cleaning of any lead contaminated environment or removal from that environment. Serum levels of 40 ug/dL usually require chelation treatment to remove lead from the body. Trust me folks, you don't ever want to go through chelation, it's painfully slow, expensive and saps the very life out of you. It's the medical equivalent of having to watch an entire season of Jersey Shore.


Even if you don't do your own casting, certain reloading components contain lead or lead compounds and it's possible to have some exposure during reloading. Primers and bullets both contain lead, and the lead residue is present in fired cartridge cases.

Cast lead bullets develop an outer layer of lead oxide. Lead is relatively soft and the lead and lead oxide can be abraded from the surface of the bullet and transferred to the surface of your fingers when you handle lead. The biggest avenue for ingestion is through the nose and mouth.

Precautions are simple.

Yes, that's a body fluid clean up kit.  But you don't need one of these for precautions (and I'd recommend against dropping it in front of the neighbors as  you get your mail they will look at you funny after that)

(1) Wash hands thoroughly with soap and cool to warm water as soon as you finish loading or shooting (hot water just opens the pores, possibly allowing for more absorption).

The type of soap is less important than the temperature of the water and how long you wash. I scrub like I was preparing for a lab, thoroughly, with lots of running water, lathering up over my wrists and lower arms where the skin may have been exposed by a sleeve riding up when firing.


At the shooting range, I take some baby wipes and if I'm shooting a lot of rounds, periodically wipe my hands clean with them (I wear long sleeves rain or shine for shooting) storing the soiled cleaning cloth in a ziplock that is then sealed and thrown out.

At home at the bench you can also wear latex or nitrile gloves for extra protection if you wish to be extra cautious. I don't, but simply wash my hands thoroughly after reloading.

(2) Wash your shooting clothes separate from the rest of your clothing, especially if you have small children. Run a empty load after if you can. Leave your range shoes in the garage or outside, tracking that in the house simply sets up lead to be blown around by the vacuum cleaner so all household members would not have that exposure, even if negligible.



(3) Never eat or drink while reloading. The biggest risk of lead poisoning is through ingestion. You might get more than you bargained for with your snack. Keep your fingers out of your mouth (there's a reason none of those sexy movie scenes where they feed each other strawberries never occur at the hero's reloading bench). Don't smoke, pop in a piece of gum or chew tobacco while reloading. Don't hum show tunes or yodel while reloading., It has no bearing on lead exposure but it IS annoying to anyone else in range.

(4) Primers are gradually becoming lead-free, but many of them still contain lead, and many shooters and reloaders do not consider that new and spent primers are a potential source of lead contamination. So use the same safety precautions when handling primers - good hygiene, avoiding inhaling any dust. Note: When reloading, the yellow dust you might find in the priming station is a toxic lead compound. Clean the effected parts and equipment with a disposable towel dampened with a good cleaner and then properly discard of the towel. Don't' even consider using a can of compressed gas to blow off the dust like you would on a computer board. It will just become airborne where it can be inhaled and/or settle back on another surface as a contaminate.


(5) Avoid breathing dust in the reloading area. Wear a dust mask when working with dry case cleaning media. As a general rule ,all dust is not good for you (even pine wood dust) and metal dust is badder, heavy metal dust is real badder. Metal vapor is never good either, think of it as VERY fine biologically active dust.

If working indoors you might want to consider a home/garage fume hood.  I'm not sure if there are DIY instructions on the Net but I bet you could make one with some sheet metal, plywood, some ducting and a computer muffin fan, vented through a HEPA filter, on some raindy Sunday afternoon.

Around friends who reload with me,  the sound of a tumbler filled with mildly abrasive medium churning away is a common sound. The inside of the case and particularly the inside of the spent primer contains lead compounds. Tumble cleaning removes these fine particles and they remain in the cleaning media. But they can become airborne just waiting to be inhaled when sifting brass to separate it from the cleaning media. Most people don't think about lead contamination when cleaning brass. One trick to collect the fine black dust that's generated during vibratory bowl cleaning is to place a used dryer sheet in there which will grab a lot of it and then can be disposed of.

(6) When the cleaning media starts to get gray it's time to replace it. Don't sift it through an open colander to separate the cleaning media, use a covered rotating basket style separator and keep the lid closed while the basket is spinning. Keep the lid closed for a minute after rotating the separator basket to allow the dust to settle. Clean the area around the tumbler and media separator after every use, by spraying a cleaner on the surface and wiping the damp surfaces with a paper towel. Be careful not to stir up the dust and allow it to circulate in the air. Lead residue from fired cases builds up with use. Wear a dust mask when pouring the media into and out of a case cleaner. A general wipe down of your reloading equipment will suffice between uses.


(7) Keeping the loading area itself clean. It might be cluttered but make sure the surfaces are cleaned regularly with a damp cloth. Damp moping the floor around it is the preferred method of clean up, I use those Swiffer type mop clothes, and then remove them with a paper towel that gets discarded with the used cleaning cloth.

If you setting up a new reloading area, and have some choices, avoid one with carpet. Carpet is a static electricity hazard as well as just being harder to effectively clean. If your reloading area is carpeted buy one of those big plastic easy to clean, mats that people use in their cubicles and place that under your work area.

At the range:

(8) If you pick up brass put it in its own bag, don't put in pockets of your clothing which will only contaminate your clothes.

(9) See rule no. 3. No eating or drinking (which actually is Zombieland rule No. 24) if you can help it. If you need a bottle of water (or two)  at an outdoor range on a hot day, simply wash your hands before and after if handling the cap. Also avoid ANY contact with Pirates Booty, a dangerous substance especially if you have only one bag and two people.

Some General Notes on Indoor Ranges:

The lead vapor created in firing a handgun has multiple sources: the action of hot propellant gases against the lead base of the bullet, the friction of the bullet against the barrel itself, and the combustion of lead contained within priming compounds. Numerous studies have shown that shooters, safety officers and others in the shooting area at ranges frequently have elevated blood lead levels caused both by inhaling lead vapor and by inadequate personal hygiene prior to smoking and/or eating.

The air in the range should not be reused or, if reused, it should be filtered. Remember, if there’s a constant cloud of “gunsmoke” and you can taste the sweetish metallic taste of lead in the air it’s time to go shoot elsewhere. If you don't see the smoke or taste that but leave with a sore throat you might wish to speak to the owner about the ventilation if you can do so.

Lead removal from a firearm is a separate matter and is something I've written of before. But for those new to reloading, just some simple precautions, simple steps.

But don't let these simple rules scare you, lead poisoning itself in the United States among shooters and non shooters alike, is rare, but you still should take precautions. With simple hygiene and habits, your risk of exposure is quite negligible. If you know the hazards you can control the hazards. Taking simple precautions to avoid lead exposure should be an essential part of your shooting safety knowledge and practice.

 - Brigid

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What is Essential - A View From a Sherpa

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye
 - Antoine de Saint Exupery

At first there was nothing, just a haze of blue sky, to our West, a cold, faint rain draped around the mountains like a shawl. We were flying over high desert, the sky so devoid of cloud, the land so flat and colorless, that there was no sense of movement forward.  It was one of those lazy days of flying, when you aren't on a time table and no one's shooting at you, you simply hang suspended in a state that is neither distance nor time, as though the simple act of flying was not intended to cover ground, but simply to watch your life unfold aloft.  We didn't speak, simply scanning the gauges, scanning the sky.

Then we saw it, a dot, then two, glimpsed and then gone, like that deer that has already seen you and then is a ghost, gone before your eyes had even captured what it was you were looking at.

This was some years back. I was still a pup, wet behind the ears, bobbing around the skies in the left seat of a Sherpa, hoping soon to go back and be trained on something a little faster and more technologically advanced than this. Girls I know dreamed of wedding dresses and babies, I dreamed to the smell of jet fuel, of  EPR's and whether there were really dragons lying there beyond the speed of sound.

We were on a course that was a military training route, talking to ATC when up on my copilots right the two dots coalesced, becoming aircraft.  Fighter aircraft.  Out of the NAS. My copilot had been working the radios but when I saw them, moving in close to us.I broke in and said

"Acme 89 (or whatever our call sign was).  "Are you working a couple of Tomcats (F-14's)". 

The controller said.  "Affirmative, Ma'am".

There comes a long held breath, and then I asked.  "uhh, do you know what they're doing up here?

Long pause (chuckle)  "looking for something slow and square to shoot at. . .  . Ma'am".

Sometimes though, being slow is good.  Stopping to just look around you and savoring all that you have.

I don't feel this in the city  The city has its own excitement, of lights, noise, fine dining and theater.  But after a day in a strange city, I somehow feel like I've spend the day in the company of a hyperactive 3 year old.  I'm ready to get home, to hardwood floors, to crown molding, and plaster dust, tools and the deep sleep of being loved and happy in my own element.

Growing up in a small town left something with me that remained, despite the urgent need as a teen to get away from it.   Nothing much happened there.  Certainly, nothing happened fast.  A parade could last two days it seemed, and if you wanted some work done on your place someone would be there, but not right away, dashing into your drive with their tools and a credit card reader.

Behind the house of our Sixties ranch home was open land and a small rural highway.  There were no "Coming Soon! Starbucks" signs. There were cows, nothing on the horizon but the shifting of rumps, the clang of metal as they swung their heads, checking to see if you were bringing cow chow.  That was  years before the escape to the big city, when mornings dawned early, chickens haunting the rafters. 

As a child, all of this seemed larger than life, just as it was familiar and unchanging.  Days dawned slow and time rose and swelled like the curve of a woman's breast.

My Dad went to work every day week day, was home every night at the same time.  Friday was steak and Westerns, eating on TV trays, Saturday was chores and grilled burgers.  During the afternoon we explored, cheered on by the sawmill buzz of a lawn mower, the sound of the ice cream truck.  Sunday was church, sports for my Dad, and more outside play for us while Mom curled up with her books or the the ceramics she liked to make and fire.

On those days of play it seemed as if time itself was suspended, hanging in the air like a curtain, waiting to be opened, laying on the ground to be picked up and put in our pockets, with that piece of string and the little bazooka army guy. We'd play hard all afternoon, there in time's motionless shadow. It was only with the call of Mom's voice for dinner, that we realized we'd been outside 7 hours, drinking from the hose, dashing in from the gunpowder dust of August to grab a homemade cookie, in furtive raids. Mom always pretended to be surprised by the spies and soldiers that infiltrated her house and made off with the Toll House rations.


Now I wake, the city near, headed to work in a couple of hours.  My body wakes in its own time zone, whatever country I'm in.  The days are filled with rushed deliberation, deadlines and demands, everyone expecting the answers to come within an hour, the time we've  come to expect ANY problem to be solved, thanks to TV.  It's food on the run, and conversations stammered like an old type typewriter, noise and air, sweat and motion. I usually don't rush to get there, the first responders have done their business, what waits me for isn't going anywhere, nothing left but the tragic, unspoken  bones that will wait for me forever.  But once I'm there, time is a blur of heat and sweat and thought. The sun falls, the night grows cold, lights are brought in and I realize I've not been out here one hour I've been out there for ten.


I think it's time to go back home and see my Dad, to walk into that home that's unchanged since I was a child, to simply work in the garden with him.  There we will lean over a garden rake and talk softly about everything that will matter in the rest of his life, which is so very short, while all around us ceases to be sound, except our words and the faint, free running roar that is blade upon grass.

He would like me  to live close by, but my  heart is in the Midwest and he knows that, only wanting me to be happy, and safe.  So we talk every couple of days, those chats filled with bursts of words of "we saw THAT!" or "I found THIS!"  spoken in the same voice as we did as children coming in from school or play.

I remember a moment  on a previous visit, walking into the home of my childhood, carrying groceries and seeing my Dad so still on the couch, it appeared he wasn't breathing. For just an instant, everything went into high relief, like a scene in a 3-D movie, the Safeway bag dead weight in my arm, the sun glinting off my old piano against the wall, Dad's slippers on the floor. My whole life suspended, bathed in bright sunlight.

In the short terrible space between that moment and the next, when he opened his eyes and smiled, I got a glimpse of grief as it would look in this new incarnation. And perhaps, for those of us who have had that glimpse, it is partly the encroaching darkness that makes the light so vivid.


Artists in the 17th century understood this so well, depicting it in paintings of still life and fox hunts,  the fox so carefully wrought that a single drop of blood can be seen along a fine whisker. In studies of faces that bloom in layers of ancient varnish, a light shines on a Coat of Arms, on the curve of a woman's breast hinted at only gradually, the promising, secret gleam in her eye that belies the fact that she is hundreds of years gone. In those views, in those moments, the immutable chasm between all life and all that's left us, vanishes.

But Dad will be 92 in a few weeks.  He knew, adopting me in middle age, that he would be leaving me when I was still relatively young, but it does not make it any easier. 

I need to get away from the city, get away from the rush if only for a few hours, give my Dad a call, plan a trip to see him, laugh about silly things, and then watch the stars of my childhood erupt in the sky.  We spend what time we can, even as he gives me the freedom to follow my heart, to live where I am happy.


Yet, I am aware more every day,  that time no longer parts like a curtain for him, for any of us.  It looms as a room nearly, its door one of finality, yet hope.

We never speak of it, but both are thankful for every day we have together, because we know there is another one coming, where time again will lay suspended, as the heavens open up.. That day where 90 some years is crowded into an instant of time, with no space left for air to breathe, only that step inside, into the glory.

- Brigid

Friday, April 27, 2012

Kitchen Engineering

Most of the time, when I cook with my closest friends, outside of baking, we don't measure, using a palm of a hand, or a pinch of the fingers, so probably half of my recipes are just approximations of measure.. It's a skill you learn over time, just as I can generally gauge the seasoning simply by smell.  I've had better luck with that than  with some"cookbooks".  When I first started cooking for friends, trying new and exotic things, there was one paella-like rice recipe out of a "famous food product" cookbook that involved  stuffed green olives, tomatoes, chili powder and (ahem) Coca cola, the smell of which, when combined and heated, literally emptied the house before someone drove out for pizza.

Tonight, I'll give you something less likely to result in an uncommanded evacuation. This is easy and incredibly tasty, another meal that is on the table quickly.  It was a joint production , my doing the prep of ingredients and EJ manning the broiler and stove. I use garlic/ginger and olive oil in my steak marinade, but his idea to add it to the panko was genius and it tasted incredible, especially paired with the root vegetables.

Lamb Chops with Garlic/Ginger Panko Crust with root vegetables. (the light was not good for a photo when it was done, but you get the idea).
.
The perfect chop, like the perfect steak is  sizzling, almost singed on the outside, and juicy, almost buttery within.  Famous steak/chop houses achieve that by salting/aging and/or using such a high temperature (higher than OUR ovens) that the moisture on the surface of the steak evaporates immediately.   Since that isn't not something easy to do at home, there's another plan.

You just need a little salt, a little cornstarch and your freezer.  The freezer's intensely dry environment sufficiently dehydrates the meat's exterior, and since they're only in for a short time, the interior stays tender and juicy..  Rub two thick lamb chops with a mixture of  a little more than a half teaspoon of salt and a little more than a teaspoon of cornstarch. Not exact measurements, but I didn't measure, just enough to lightly dust both sides of the chops.

Brush off any excess, put on a plate uncovered, and  place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  That draws the surface moisture out so broiling it initially makes for a nice crisp surface during a broil.


Now, get out your chopping board at your favorite  kitchen counter and  mix about 1/3 cup (roughly, it was two small scoopfuls in the hand). of unseasoned panko bread crumbs,  a tablespoon of crushed garlic (not powder) and some roughly chopped fresh  ginger (a piece about the size of a woman's thumb and peeled).  Don't chop the ginger as fine as the panko crumbs, you want a little bite of it in there as you dine.  Add just enough extra virgin olive oil to moisten and set aside. 

Chop a couple medium potatoes and 3-4 carrots into large but bite sized chunks., Toss with a splash of olive oil and several dashes of Penzey's Ozark seasoning (a mixture of a whole bunch of spices and herbs)  Place in a sauce pan with a half cup or so of water and steam for about 10 minutes while you broil the lamb chops about 5 minutes  per side.  While that steams, heat a  good spoonful of bacon fat in a deep cast iron skillet.  When pork chops are gently browned  and developing a bit of a crust (but NOT cooked through),drain the water off the veggies ( that should JUST be starting to soften) and place in the cast iron pan with the bacon fat, stir slightly and put lamb chops on top.  Top chops with panko crumbs.   Place in preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes for medium. (140 F. with a meat thermometer).  Remove foil the last 5 minutes to brown the crumbs if you wish.

Put on your serving plate,  sprinkling some of the savory panko crumbs on the potato carrot mixture. and sit back and relax.  Cooking with friends, the perfect way to end a work week.
click to enlarge, from a favorite - .The Whiteboard

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Leash on Life

15 weeks post surgery , the knee works normally, though it will be a year before it's as strong as it was. and there's not much pain, unless I overdo.  I'm still doing the PT exercises and I still have to avoid any sort of twisting motion on it for quite a while.  So until it's 100% healed, I'm avoiding "Nantucket Sleigh ride Dog" on a leash. One torn meniscus is enough, thanks.

Friends walk him or take him on runs, and he has doggie day camp  (a place which I recommend to all my local friends and coworkers) when I have to work long days.  It's a bit of a drive there and back,  but they have toys, a half acre yard, and kiddie wading pools full of fresh water.  It's the only dog place he's ever wanted to go to.  (he usually RUNS in,  not looking back. . "See ya, bye!")




But it's still hard getting Barkley in and out of the house for "business" in the wee hours without a leash, because I don't want a a repeat of "look! another dog!(crash!)" some early morning.

But with a little ingenuity and help from my friends, he's been taken care of.  Tam and company just take him for a good run around the neighborhood on the leash while I take up the tail gunner position, ever alert for hippies.. Up in farm country, Mr. B, installed a zip line out at their country home where I visit often, with a spring/bungee thing on the endsto keep him from hurting himself if he comes to a quick halt.  With it, he  can roam  a good length  of the back area right behind the house.

But what to do for houses where the road is  close and the backyard is an obstacle course of bushes and spruce trees to get the line tangled in?


This worked out well, the hole was already there from an old railing, a couple things from the hardware store, some line that is weatherproof and durable.   Plus,  a way to adjust the length with a ratchet (to keep him out of any muddy areas after a storm).

It's time to smell the flowers!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Night Off

Tornado watches south and northwest, and up north, more storms coming on down thru town.  Coming off a work assignment, I had raindrops hitting the windshielf the size of guppies, where even on high wiper speed, it was hard to see.

So it's a good night to batten down the hatches and make sure there is plenty of ice. Today was a 14 hour day so I'm probably going to bunker down early. :-) 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Brazen Cooking Secrets

After a day in the field or in the bat truck, and spending way too much on keeping it going, I was ready for a tasty but not wallet busting dinner.  With gas $4.27 in the big city, plus the cost of upkeep, transportation costs are taking a larger bite out of every one's monthly budget.  Add to that all the maintenance items you have to buy, especially if there's a British car in the garage - Heimlich valves, muffler bearings, lunar wain shafts, flux capacitors, clutch belts, blinker fluid, bottom tire air (the tops of the tire never needs it) and the list goes on and on.

So when my Partner in Grime offered to cook me dinner the other night, I was not going to say no.  He had some chicken, some veggies, a big cast iron skillet with lid and some herbs.  Plus the man knew how to braise.

Braising is a good way to prepare a  cheap cut of meat and often the one people are the least experienced with.  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a  pressure cooker or heavy Dutch oven,  or, in many kitchens, simply big cast iron pan with a heavy metal lid that may not seal tightly, but  it covers.

The basic steps involve seasoning, sauteing the meat lightly in a bit of oil or butter until brown, deglazing the pan with broth, stock or juice, stirring up the browned bits, adding cooking liquid and then finishing in the oven until it's completely tender (for large cuts of meat, such as cheaper cuts of roast this can range from 1 to several hours).


For braising chicken, the best cuts of chicken are the legs and thighs, preferably on the bone with skin on so you get the connective tissue and fat that will make the dish really savory. There's no need to braise boneless, skinless breasts, they will do much better grilled or just sauteed.

Braising is a good way to use up cheaper cuts of meat. If you have a local butcher, see about leftover pieces from a specialty cut or the dismantling of a whole bird to give another shopper some chicken breasts.  They often will have some and sell to you at a reduced cost if there's not enough to make up a big "family pack". Also check the "reduced" section. Such items, if cooked right away are still quite good and often heavily discounted.

 You've all seen those prepacked dinners that can be made quickly. Most are full of artificial ingredients and tons of sodium, and run up to $10.00 or more. You can make something 10 times more tasty for less than half of that, if you shop carefully, and get veggies and other staples in family packs or bulk. Even better, put your best Semaphore Code "tablecloth", some candles and place mats and enjoy a meal that's not eaten in your car or in front of the TV.


Tonight's posted recipe is a slight adaption of the traditional method, using bacon fat in addition to the oil to sear the meat and using less liquid, so that the veggies maintain a bit of crispness as the meat cooks off til it's fall off the bone tender

Start with chicken pieces. It was going to be a light supper so a thigh and a leg per person.  Before prep, the pieces should be rinsed and patted dry. 

A sweet onion was cut into reasonably thin chunks and then the thighs were deboned by hand to keep a bit of the connective tissue but make them thinner so they cooked equally with the smaller legs.  Prep the veggies THEN work on the chicken to keep the work area as clean as possible.

Brown 2-3 large pieces of double smoked bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove and set aside. The bacon  fat from that is just the perfect amount for the pan with a  splash of good quality olive oil.  Add the oil to the bacon fat, stirring up the brown bacon bits.  Add chicken pieces with the heat on medium high. Cook skin side down for 5-6 minutes (more if really big pieces) until lightly brown, flip and remove and keep warm. In the same pan add the onion, Cook, stirring in the drippings until softened but not caramelized (you want a bit of bite to it still). Add to that was a good splash or three of balsamic vineger (Artesano's 18 year old, incredible stuff) and some chopped thyme.


Stir it around and return chicken pieces to pan, skin side UP and place about 2 tablespoons of water in and around the chicken and cover again with a heavy lid.  As it finishes in the oven the top of the chicken will crisp up just slightly.

This is different than traditional braising that fully simmers the bigger cuts of meat in a lot of broth.  For this recipe, you don't need to as it keeps the onions perfectly cooked with a texture and taste that's more roasted than boiled.  Place in preheated hot (roughly 400 F.) oven for 20 minutes, until no pink remains in the meat.  Throw in a a couple nice baked potatoes, partially cooked in the microwave (4-6 minutes depending on size) and then wrapped in foil and placed in with the covered pan to finish cooking with the chicken..


When done, rub the potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil and course sea salt and serve with fresh butter and the chopped bacon as well as some steamed veggies to which you added only white pepper. I've had more photogenic meals but few that were as tasty for a "budget" minded chef.



From start to finish, one person cooking, one person "back seat braising", it was only about 30 minutes from start to table. With some bargain chicken pieces from a small town, non chain, butcher and some bulk veggies, less than $4.00 for the entire meal for two.

That leaves enough money for a replacement 710 Cap.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Morning Breakfast - Baking a Memory

Meals together as a family were a constant as a kid. We were allowed to eat in front of the TV on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The rest of the time it was at a table, though for breakfast on weekdays it was usually just the kids as Mom would eat with Dad as he often left for work quite early.

Those times around the table were good, though as usual, when kids eat together we didn't always behave well. I will admit, somewhere in there, a pea was flung. Dad was Scot/Irish, but Mom was Norweigian. Peas were a staple. I was also quite skinny and physically very active, with a healthy appetite, so one day when I wasn't eating as quickly as I normally did, Dad noticed and said "What's up B, you're eating like a bird", to which my brother R. muttered under his breath, "yeah, Rodan."

You remember Rodan, the murderous superpterodactyl in the Godzilla movies. Rodan was the Japanese monster version of the F15-E and the nemesis of Godzilla. Most of my generation saw them, if only in reruns on Saturday years after they came out, with Godzilla intent on eating Tokyo and battling with an assortment of monsters. They were really cheesy movies, usually dubbed and good for a laugh.

Laughter was a constant in our house, as was home cooking. Food was always a measured production. Nothing gourmet, and rarely something out of a can. Growing up towards the end of the first great depression, Mom learned to make up a delicious meal out of almost nothing left in the fridge. To this day, I still prefer a meal made myself, even if it's wheat crackers and some good brie and a beverage, to  something fast food-like. So we ate well. But with active lives, outdoors at every opportunity, walking and running, exploring, running full forward into our life, none of us had a spare pound of flesh.

As a kid those breakfasts were special. We'd start with a beverage. Coffee. Well the adults anyway, for them, as myself now, coffee was a food, not a drink. We kids got milk and orange juice. I always begged for some coffee (without success) because that wise looking man on the Hills Brothers can, which was wine red and studded with twinkling stars, always looked so content, full of knowledge of those secret adult rituals as he drank deep from the coffee bowl. The decidedly grown up feeling of the act itself and the Hills Brothers man with his deep coffee contentment ,was likely the reason I thought that my parents lingered over the table. And they did, whispering the quiet whispers of long lovers, while we snorted and charged around them, playing soldier and spy.

(As always, click on food photos to enlarge.)
When the meal began, it was a silent flurry of crunchy bacon, the soft doughy texture of homemade pancakes, french toast or rolls, and perfuming us all, the deep seated comfort of cardamom and cinnamon.. The meal would last until every last morsel was taken; it seemed as if we could eat endlessly, as if we'd had some successful inoculation at lunch time and could handle anything. The kids would help my Mom clean up as Mom and Dad lingered around the breakfast table for one last cup of coffee.

As we bustled about, washing up and blowing bubbles at each other with the dish soap, we could hear them, the laughter, and the comfort of their being there. As we finished, I went to pick up from the table the can of coffee with the little man and the stars. But instead, I sat down beside it, full to bursting and simply happy to sit, surrounded by family, unable really, to move past the moment. Whatever laughter there was, there was, whatever deep worries we might all have had still swirled outside our door, but for now there was something deep and starry in the kitchen. Someplace not just magical, but safe. No matter what happened to us, it seemed like we had these moments to reinforce our bonds, and I lived through many a hard year on the memories of that measureless family security.

This Sundays breakfast brought that back in small ways, as I gathered with those I love near or near in spirit and thought, the smell of morning coffee bringing a smile to my face, even if I don't have a big brother around to pick on me.

BAKED FRENCH TOAST WITH PEACHES. It's a classic recipe from the Pampered Chef which I just tweaked a little bit.


My changes?  I tried adding a little extra of the quality vanilla I use and a couple extra secret seasonings. One of those was Cardamom, used by my Mom in a lot of Norwegian baked goods.

The rest is easy, some day "real" bread, homemade country Frrench here, slathered with a thin layer of cream cheese on each side, poked with a fork and topped with fruit and walnut meats. Then over the top is poured a whipped mixture of eggs, seasoning, pure maple syrup, milk and butter, baked until puffy and golden. It only takes 10 minutes to put together, and 20-25 to bake. You'll have it on the table before you know it.

It's the perfect family breakfast or you can make it and share with friends. It makes a nice big pan full, perfect for when you have folks over who are hungry enough to eat Tokyo.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Zombie Spider Rule No. 2


For my new readers - a classic tale of woman vs. spider.  Duty calls and I will be away for a bit, but not before  a bite to eat with Tam and long time friend PA State Cop near the airport so I can get on the road.  But there will be some saved posts  of meals and adventures past to come up til I return.  - Brigid

On a hunting trip with the boys, Og brought over these round green balls that appeared to be some kind of pod or alien fruit. "What the heck are those?". I asked. Apparently they were the fruit off of the Osage Orange tree, otherwise known as Hedge Apples. He's found a bunch on Frank James Farm where we are invited to hunt. He said they repel spiders. You put them in a bowl or on a piece of foil and place them around the house. They won't spoil or mold and eventually just shrink to the side of a walnut. I should have brought more of them home.

For I am afraid of spiders.

Snakes, bats in my hair (been there, done that), no problem. When you're out in the wild, sometimes hunting, sometimes working, you run into it all, bears, wolves, coyotes, horny toads, horny tourists, bugs, ants that bite and those little plastic containered, cellophane-covered sandwiches they carbon date for freshness and sell at gas stations.

I lived in the desert after grad school, and woke once to find a tarantula in my bed. My roommate, raised there, heard my shout and got a dust pan and gently picked it up, talking to it softly, and took it back to the yard to be released. "They do more good than harm" she said. I slept on the couch for the next month.

Moving to the country years ago, spiders were a constant, short of running them over with your giant Chevy Subdivision, they were pretty hard to kill.  One night I opened the door to let the dog in and in rushes a grasshopper, into the house as fast as he could go.  What the. . ??  He was being chased, by a large spider.  I got the door closed before a spidey security breach, got the grasshopper picked up in a jar, and put him out the back door.  Next time I opened the front door, the spider was waiting, rushing at the door again. . .  "I Am Sparta!  SLAM.  We used the back door for a couple of weeks.

I can handle a lot of things, be it heights or hippies. But not spiders.


So there I was, safe at home, up at 3:30 in the morning to use the bathroom (note to self no Guinness after 8 pm) and as I'm taking care of business, a wolf spider about the size of a Buick runs across the floor towards me. Barefoot, bare everything, I threw a hand towel on it and proceeded with my rendition of the Grapes of Wrath stomp.

Stomp Stomp Stomp. Die Spider Die!

No movement from under the towel. He didn't escape, the floor around it was clear. I left it there for the morning.

At 5 am, I got up (wearing slippers just in case) and look at the towel, prepared to just shake it outside and then throw it in the wash. But what caught my eye was the large dead spider, legs curled up, a few inches away. He'd managed to crawl out and expire next to the tub, rolled up like a crescent roll. OK. At least he was dead. I went to get a paper towel to dispose of the remains.

This is where the fun started

I came back and Mr. Spider was completely reanimated, and pissed off, on TOP of the towel, ready to pounce on my foot like a Chihuahua on a pork chop.

He'd been dead. I'd been sure of it. I'm kind of trained in those things. Now he's back.

I had the only zombie spider in all of Indiana.

Fortunately, I was highly trained in zombie spider removal and wearing nothing but tactical bunny slippers, beat him to death with a roll of paper towels.

Zombie Spider Rule # 2
The Double Tap

Thursday, April 19, 2012

POINTY!



Sometimes even better than shiny!

It was a gift from Mr. B. from Cold Steel knives that arrived in an "easy open" package.   I've not tried any of their products but this one looks interesting.  It's a hairbrush


But it's a hairbrush that's illegal in Illinois. . . . .

. . . . if you carried it outside the home to give a criminal getting ready to hurt you the "brush off" with it.

Why?  Because the handle is a stiletto dagger and the blade part is 3 and 1/2 inches.  It's hard to tell from the picture but the blade is  cruciform in shape if viewed by cross section, is half an inch thick at the handle tapering down to a very sharp  (ow!) needle point. It's made  of Fiberglass reinforced Zytel, which is advertised as being good as a metal replacement as it can take some pretty high heat (though I may have to stick with my stick for roasting marshmallows).

This would be illegal to take into the secure area of an airport and beyond or those buildings where you can't carry a concealed weapon, even with a concealed permit. Remember -If you carry a knife for utility or defense, make sure you check the State laws for where you live or travel. States vary greatly. Illinois laws are both convoluted AND vague, other states are much more succinct.

Thanks you two. It will be a great little item to have around even if the only time I use the pointy part is on one of those Easy Open packages that you need blasting caps and a light saber to open.

I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness,
 nor the arrow for it's swiftness,
nor the warrior for his glory.
 I love only that which they defend.
-J.R.R. Tolkien