Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Drunk Rooster

Long before there was a Rooster in the Hen House, there was a rooster in the kitchen.  A ceramic, "Majolica" rooster, bought at an estate auction, but a rooster none the less.  He has graced our kitchen for over eight years.

 "Majolica" seems to be a somewhat loosely used term for almost any brightly colored, brilliantly glazed and exuberantly decorated ceramic.  It is a pottery that was originally developed on the Spanish island of Majorca. Mai Yorrrrrrr Ka.  

In Renaissance times this tin-glazed pottery was heavily imported into Italy, as were Spanish olives and Flamenco dancers.  These should not be confused with dancing Flamingos, which usually only appear after you've been binge drinking for a couple weeks.

By the fifteenth century, the potters themselves were imported to Italy and were provided with many incentives, such as pizza and Tarantella dancers.   These should not be confused with the much aligned Tarantula, which actually is the reason the Tarantella dance was invented.  Supposedly the dance has the ability to cure the bite of the tarantula spider, which is silly.  Tarantula venom is weaker than that of a honeybee and, though painful, is virtually harmless to humans.  That doesn't mean I want to keep one in a jar on my night stand.  Or the garage for that matter.  In case you were curious.

I have heard the term "majolica" used by some of the experts on Antiques Roadshow when referring to any brightly colored ceramic covered with an opaque glaze of tin oxide.  Victorian majolica supposedly originated in Britian in the 1850's, modeled after the Italian original.  It's a big basket of stuff, only I probably wouldn't put it in a basket if I had a bunch of it.  It'd probably break.

I'd pack it in a big heavy box like I did during our four year, five move walkabout marathon.  I got pretty good at packing things.  I had to.  My lovely wife loves lovely, breakable, wonderful objects of ceramic and porcelain enchantment.  Witness the packed china cabinet behind the rooster.  Tea pots; beautiful, colorful, whimsical, incredibly fragile tea pots.   

I have asked her, "Why not collect stamps?  They're beautiful, colorful, whimsical, artful and appreciate in value.  And they only flutter when they fall.  And they can all fit in a cigar box, which can fit under the front seat of the car any time you move."

Then came the roosters on the wall.  They've been around the house for almost as long as our majolica buddy above.

Then came a ceramic hen with a couple concrete chicks.  My wife don't mess around.   Those chicks are about the weight of an eight pound shot put.  Or chimpanzee.  One or the other.  I'm not really sure right now.


This brings up a very good point.  Most all these roosters, hens, chicks, and other delicately fragile porcelain creations of visual pleasure and art that reside throughout this house have come from the browsing of and meanderings through antique shops, antique shows, garage sales, thrift stores and kitschy-kool boutiques on a couple continents by my lovely wife.  She is the preeminent interior design and fashion queen, with a keen, artful eye for color, space, coolness and whimsy.  Nope, no unicorns or cowboys here.  We got a lady with a balloons, baby!

I am but the humble underbelly guy.  I'm out in the real coop with the chicken poop while she's on Mill Street, Grass Valley or somewhere in the south, like the Carolina's, or Tennessee, discovering more marvelous porcelain wonders.

Speaking of underbelly, I am actually in the process of making a repair on the Drunk Rooster, the subject of this post, and that is why we're even going to press.  He came next, but since he's the star of the show you're going to have to wait until he's good and ready to arrive.

After the Drunk Rooster came the rooster rug, a bright little throw that sits on the floor where you stand on his face when you're doing the dishes.  At the kitchen sink. 

I think the pewter water pitcher came next.  He's been supplying water on the dinner table for a number of years now.  I think he's pewter.  I doubt he's silver.  Hope he's not lead.

All of those creations have been with us prior to moving into this house.  After arriving here, my lovely wife found this ceramic planter.

And then a dear friend and Nevada County realtor extraordinaire Pam Amato, knowing of my wife's affection (affliction?) for roosters, recently gave her this little wood cabinet.   If you are ever thinking of buying or selling real estate in Western Nevada County (Grass Valley, Nevada City, North San Juan) Pam's the one.  She knows the area well and knows the intricacies involved with every aspect of the real estate transaction.  There's none better, we know.

And then, quite by accident, about ten months ago, Goldie came along.  You can read all about his arrival and the genesis for this blog in my first post, "There's a Rooster in the Hen House!"


Was it pre-ordained that I write a blog about a rooster?  Did some of my wife's design motif somehow rub off over time and subliminally direct the course of our lives?  Did the constant visualization of that creation allow a live one to show up at our door? 

I understand the actual visualization thing, the power of visualizing, appreciating and directing the course of your life force.  Chanting mantras under the moonlight.  Making it happen.  Being the ball.  Singing in the shower and so on and so forth.  But I'm talking about accidental visualization here.

I mean, what if you had a few monkey action figures, as well as a couple stuffed apes and a few orangutangs in frames upon the wall.    The next thing you know they could all start to fly.  Then what are you going to do?  There's enough monkey business going on out there, it doesn't need anybody's help.  Help, where was I?

My lovely wife has three lovely sisters.  One of them is a twin.  Of my wife.  It's been a fabulous experience  for me, having all of them gorgeous women as a large loving part of my life for over forty years now.  Wow.  Seems like only yesterday...

One thing I have always understood is the special bond those girls have for each other, especially my wife and her twin.  Ah-chi-mama!  That's a relationship that began before time. They were waltzing together to Doris Day or Perry Como before time began.  For them.  In their womb.

One thing they all did together prior to this economic down turn was an annual "sisters" vacation.  Three of them live here in Northern California, and the outcast now lives in Tampa, Florida.  I say outcast with love and affection.  She and her husband are a couple of the subjects in "Florida, Ann Curry and..." posted somewhere in this here blog.  She's just an outcast because she doesn't live here in California.

One legendary excursion linked the sisters up in Charleston, South Carolina.  Besides all of them being timelessly gorgeous, these women are a heck of a lot of fun.  They can drink, howl, arm wrestle and dance like beauty show contestants.  Or roller derby queens.  Angelic and bawdy auras of frivolity radiate from their attraction like a rainbow over a cascade of colorful carnival balloons.     

One magical evening of debauchery (as the story goes), while on the lightly impaired, unfettered excursion from the restaurant to the circus or from the circus to the lounge or maybe the car, my enchantingly lovely wife happened upon the Drunk Rooster in a shop window.

She promptly forgot about the meeting until he showed up via UPS at our door in Grass Valley, California several weeks later.   He is known as the Drunk Rooster for the obvious reason that one of the parties was slightly inebriated when they first met.


This bad boy is about the size of a real rooster, standing at twenty inches high.  We weren't exactly sure what he was made of for years, thinking maybe he was even a wood carving.  But then I dropped him on the floor, part of his base broke and I figured it out.  It's some kind of plastic.  Very hard and dense.  Probably from Brazil. 

You may have noticed the base above, here's a couple more shots:

These shots were taken after a bit of it had been glued back together.  The rest of the base essentially went poof.

How do you drop a rooster that lives on the floor?  Well, when stupid (that's me) was cleaning the floor the rooster went up on the table, and then stupid tried to one hand him back down after cleaning and he slipped right out of stupid's hand.  Nice mark on the hardwood floor, which isn't from Brazil (thankfully) but is now scarred hardwood nonetheless.  And shards and bits of the base went everywhere.  Thank me very much.  As if I had nothing else better to do...

This was not something that could just be left alone, he's one of my lovely wife's favorites.  And he certainly was not going to fix himself either.  Kind of like the rattlesnake under the deck.  Pretending he wasn't there didn't mean it would be so.

After some reflection, I hearkened back to my Cub Scout youth of ten or eleven, when my Mother was also the Den Mother.  She had us boys involved in all sorts of crafty type projects, one of which I recall involved Plaster of Paris.  Plaster of Paris is a powder that you can moisten to just about any useful consistency and which can then be used for many purposes of creation and repair. It's nothing like getting plastered in Paris.  That's something totally different.  In case you were wondering.

Another Cub Scout project involved working with plastic resin, like putting rocks, bugs or toads in a mold, pouring resin over them and then giving the ensuing paper weight to your weird Uncle on Halloween.  Or your Mother for Christmas.

After playing with all that resin in an enclosed space it's a wonder I can even remember the Plaster of Paris thing.  That was the mid-1960's, followed by a drug and alcohol infused 1970's.  Geez, it's a wonder I remember anything.

So I got me some Plaster of Paris and I filled in the spaces.  I rubbed it all down with a moistened cloth until it was a pretty even surface, let it dry and then wet sanded it with a real fine grit until it was smooth.  Fortunately the base was already kind of wavy and had an uneven surface, which made it very easy to match.

I've already painted the base bottom black with an acrylic paint found at a craft store, and I am now working on matching the existing base top color and feathering it in.  The first coat (above) is a little dark, so I just need to lighten the shade a bit more.  It won't be a direct match, but it'll get close enough to work.  In the shadows.  Of a very dark closet. 

And even as we go to press, a new, antique T-Pot has arrived in our home:

Cock A Doodle Do.

Chicken Update

I have recently experienced having some of our chickens spazzing out at night.  I don't know if it's the colder temperatrure (this is their first Winter) or what, but a few of them have been downright spazzy.

What do I mean by spazzy?  Well, imagine you really like cookies.  And you're really hungry.  And you're in front of a bakery that specializes in your favorites of everything that's cookie.  And the aroma is fresh and inviting, and the door is open, and you wander back in forth in front of the open door trying to figure out how to get in.

And the more you walk back and forth in front of the open door the more frustrated you become because you can't figure out how to get in.  Even one of your buddies, who was already in the bakery gorging herself on Macaroons and Snickerdoodles, comes out, yaps at you for a few, tells you to follow her (you idiot) and then shows you the way back in.  And you still can't figure it out.  That's what I mean by spazzy.

The flock is usually pretty self-regulating, all of them perched up in their cage about 4:45 PM these days, which is just before sunset here in Northern California this time of year.  But one evening last week, they were all huddled together in the outside coop in back of the secure cage.  Goldie, our rooster, had already walked around and perched up inside, essentially showing them the way.  But the rest of the flock remained huddled in back.

A chicken's metabolism slows dramatically when the sun sets.  They're like Ozzy on cough suppressant or Nolte on PCP, which really should be a monkey tranquilizer.  (See, I told you to stay away from monkeys.  You never know how the visualization will manifest!)  You could end up on PCP in the shower with Nick Nolte.  

So I had to get up there and try to herd them around and get them into their secure cage for the evening.  Only they could barely figure out how to get around a corner let alone how to get in the cage.  Which they do EVERY night.

So then they started to get agitated.  And then Goldie, their other protector, got agitated and started gunning for me, so I had to tap him a few feet with my toe.  Kind of like a delicate field goal by a baby ballerina.   

It took a few minutes, but I finally got them all in.  I have to.  There's too many varmints and potential nocturnal predators out here that would love some form of chicken a la king for dinner.  Anytime.  Of course, many precautions have been taken for our girls and boy.  You can read all about those in Chicken Fantasia Land, some where else in this blog.

A couple other nights I had two different hens spazz on me.  One night I had to physically pick a Myrna up and put her in.  She was as docile as cucumber.

I also had to corral an Ethel another night.  She went bat shit nut spazzy.  She went by the open door about seven times, with just about everybody else in the flock inside telling her where they were and how to get in.

I remember something like that happening to me at Winterland in San Francisco back in the early 1970's.  Come to think of it, I'm still missing from one of those shows... 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Burn Baby Burn

We finally got some rain here in the Sierra Nevada Foothills in Northern California, y'all.  Actually, we got some a few weeks back, before the Thanksgiving holiday.  Then we just got a whole helluva lot more this last weekend (or two), the first of December.  We got twelve inches here on our humble hillside...over a three day period!  Yowzah!  That's some rain.

My wife and I drove back from visiting our kids and grand kids in Oakland Sunday morning in the thick of one of the fronts.  Can I get another yowzah?  We probably should not have been driving, but my lovely wife, the church lady and finance minister of said church had to be at church that morning.  So we risked life and limb, not so much dealing with wind but sheets of water on the highway, to wash away some sin.  OK, pun intended.

I swear there was a good two hundred foot run where our wheels weren't on the pavement.  Hydroplaning slippage was constant, and so was a (much slower than I usually drive) 55-60 MPH, which dropped to about 25 during a couple hellacious downpours.  Like when you couldn't see the tail lights ahead through a periscope even if you had a submarine.  Or something like that.  Fortunately there were not many folks on the road at six am, so even though it was a slower and dangerous slog we did okay.

I had a father-daughter date that Saturday to see a matinee of  "The Sound of Music" put on by the Berkeley Playhouse at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley.  Wonderful 350 seat venue, fantastic show.  My daughter and I share an affection for the Julie Andrews movie version, donning our cowboy (and cowgirl) pajamas around the holidays and singing along.   We're going to try and catch the sing-along community function in the Castro district in SF next holiday season.  Now that she has moved to within a couple hours we have started an annual father-daughter date.  Her mother and her have been doing it for years, now it's my turn too!

So, I was just finishing editing Sauce and my ankle was feeling good and I decided to test run it a few times with a couple of burns.  I had a couple of piles that had "summered" over much to my chagrin, I hate to have extra dry fuel lying around during fire season.

That's about all we really have to worry about around here as far as natural disasters go.   Well, with climate change a small tornado was spotted a couple months back about fifteen miles south of here.  Other than that, we're out of any major fault zone area, no hurricanes or volcanoes (that I know of)  to deal with.  So that leaves wild fire as the main potential threat.  Well, that and farmland zombies.  They migrated out here from Nebraska I understand.  Fortunately our Grandson is an expert zombie hunter and exterminator.  And there's always the potential of locusts.  Really hot summers.  No gin.

One of the most important, as well as my main time consuming and physically demanding chores around here for the last two years has been clearing and burning (on my terms) all the old vegetation laying around.  As well as thinning the trees.  Just where the heck has Paul Bunyan been?

Yes, I am well aware that it would be incredibly better to chip it all and amend the clay soil around here then to send smoke up into the atmosphere.  Well aware of it, and would love to, but there is only me, and I am rapidly approaching sixty!  I can burn in a couple hours what would take me all day to chip.  Just where the heck has Paul Bunyan been?

That's one thing, and then there is the scope and magnitude and scale of what I'm dealing with.  Right now I'm dealing with a combined brush pile about the size of a small house, give or take a barn or two.  If you lived in the country of course.

I also burn real clean.  I mostly burn Slash (dried brush, tree limbs and stuff-not the musician) that has been aged for a few months.  Once the fire's really cooking when newly cut green stuff gets tossed on it doesn't really smoke at all.

I'm also an ex-firefighter (somewhere back there in my impetuous youth) and always have the relevant permit if necessary.  And the freaking LAST thing I ever want to happen is to have to call the fire guys to come out for an uncontrolled control burn, something we were called out on all the time!  OK, breakout the marshmallows, weenies, beer and sub-machine guns, let's make some fire magic and have us a bonfire.

Every firefighter is a latent pyromaniac, so given an opportunity to burn something legally is akin to dancing at a Grateful Dead show on some Orange Sunshine,  sunshine.  Or slathering down pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  If you were an ice cream junkie of course.  Or whatever your fun loving, feel good sumptuous grand time deal is, that's what making fire is like for a firefighter.  Well, that and putting it out.  It's almost as much fun putting it out as it is making it.  Quite the delicious dilemma.

When I stage a burn I usually set the burn pile in the clearest, nearest area where I have accumulated a brush bonanza.  I'll make a nice pile of smaller twigs about 8-10 feet from the main brush pile and then if I'm not burning soon, I'll cover it with some form of rain resistance.  As long as I have at least a shoe box size dry seat I can get recently rained on slash scorching!

I use BBQ fluid to get it going, definitely NOT gasoline.  You lose your eyebrows unless you light a gas moistened pile real quick, like before you strike the match. And then you'll look like Richard Pryor running down the streets of LA for all the wrong reasons.

Once the seat gets cooking I start adding the surrounding brush, generally feeding it with the closest stuff and working out.  Even though I had three piles to burn this day, I will usually only burn two active fires at once, it's about all this old fart can handle!

This day I started the smaller pile above (with the brown tarp) first, then a much larger one about forty feet below it.  Once I was done feeding the smaller brown tarp fire, I started the blue tarp pile on fire.  By the time the third fire was roaring the first fire was pretty much coals.  Then I was just moving laterally between two larger fires for about two hours until there was no more (nearby) fresh dead brush to feed them.  Then it's just a matter of cleaning up the escaped twigs and odds and ends that always evade the flame when working with a large fire.

Lateral flames:


It was nice burning the two lateral fires, there was no tree coverage to be concerned with so I could let them rip vertically.  It's nice to work with two fires because you can feed one to extreme and let it rip while you feed the other.  By the time you've finished the second feeding then the other pile is ready for more.  These two big piles went down in about an hour, and then there's the customary couple hour clean up and burn down to simmering ash.

I usually start my burn around 9:00 AM, which is the recommended time by our air regulatory agency.  I'm usually done by 1:00 PM, many times I'm done feeding the fire by Noon.  And if I'm really really lucky, as I was on this particular day, some rain comes in mid-afternoon and eradicates any small chance that there might be a spark.

I have done two more piles since these photos were taken, with two more large ones remaining on the lower, lower forty.  It's a lot of work, but it sure cleans up real nice.  Tighten logic with malleable spanners.

Chicken Update

I have recently had my first experience with a broody hen.  Why, what is a broody hen you may inquire?  Well, just stay with me because I am about to inform you.

Broodiness is essentially is a hen's instinct to set on a nest and hatch eggs. You can read more here Cures for Broody Hen |,
if you so desire.  Or you could just read more here.  Whatever you prefer.  Sunshine.

There is broody cute, there is broody mean, and there is broody psycho. 

One of our Barred Rocks, or "Ethels" was the broody antagonist.  My lovely wife has affectionately named the hens, but it's just one name per breed.  It was an inspired idea, I'll be damned if I can tell them apart, except for the breed that is.

So the Barred Rocks are both "Ethel", the Black Star's are both "Myrna", the Red Stars are both "Betty" and the Orpington's are all "Baby".  Except Goldie.  He's the Rooster and got his own name.  It's easy this way, and way less time consuming.  And the birds don't care.  They'd never come if you tried to call them anyway.

It's either that or bright neon spray paint, and I think that's probably inhumane.  And time consuming.  And possibly as insane as a broody hen.  Especially when you try to spray the other side of the feathers.  It's kinda like the other side of the looking glass, only if you were the hen and had inhaled vapor from the spray paint.

So anyway, Ethel starts hanging out for an inordinate amount of time in one of the nest boxes.  (There are three boxes, which is more than enough for nine laying hens.)  They're usually only in there to do they're business, which can be from fifteen to fifty minutes.  Depending on if it's express or regular delivery.

Ethel was in there all day and was cooing and cute and not aggressive (as some broody hens can be), so I just pretended she was cooing and cute and the whole situation would evaporate tomorrow.  

The next morning she was in the same box, and still cooing and cute.  That afternoon though she had moved to another box.  I discovered she had apparently been sitting on three eggs, all of which could not have been just hers. She was in the new box for another day, then switched back to the first box.  It is now when things begin to get psycho, it they're not already.

There were two eggs in the second box, so it began to look like she was trying to hatch everybody's eggs, only they were in different places.  And then, eggs started appearing broken on the floor.  Even though it is covered with rice hay, a concrete slab will still apparently crack an egg after a five foot Humpty-Dumpty fall.  
I don't know what was going on in her pee-picking little bird brain, but it sure looked like Psycho to me.  Anthony Perkins.  Janet Leigh.  Bananas in the shower.  I was getting pretty irritated with her and so I started tossing her out of the hen house.  She'd grouse around for fifteen minutes or so, which is odd because she's a chicken, and then she'd head back into the hen house.

The rest of the flock were still sleeping on perches in the outside enclosed cage, the weather and colder nights have not seemed to drive them into the somewhat warmer climate inside the hen house.  But Ethel just hung out in the nesting box area, flinging out eggs and talking nonsense to herself and her pee-picking bird brain. Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, or Joan Crawford in anything.

The rest of the flock would exit the cage in the morning, and then, when allowed, would scamper out through the gate to dine on bugs the front lawn.  But Ethel hung out in the hen house, like Rapunzel in her tower, inordinate little bleeps of psycho thoughts orbiting about her pea size bird brain cranium. 

This psychotic event went on for about a week when I finally decided I better get educated on the situation.  I was only getting 1-3 eggs a day, down from 5-7.  Not only was she sending little yolks to their premature death, I think she was also disrupting the harmony within the club house.

Instead of listening to some mellow jazz or new age hip-hop the wanna be laying hens were subject to a non-stop rolling tape of Yoko Ono squelching out all her rabid hits from the seventies, like this one.

After some rapid research, I learned I essentially needed to remove her from the nesting area to disrupt her disruptive behavior pattern.  Easier said than done for me.  It was going to be extremely difficult for me to remove her without either endangering her at night or cutting off the other hens from their nesting area too.

I landed on what I thought might be a trial or maybe solution.  Since the rest of the flock was still sleeping in the cage outside, I just put a small board across their little door to the hen house.  It usually stays open all the time for their ingress and egress.  Then I closed the main door and forced her to spend the night with the rest of the flock.

The next morning I opened the hen house door so they could all get access to the nesting area, and much to my surprise our antagonist pretty much hung out with the flock the entire day.  (The previous week she was never seen with the flock-she was always inside screeching like Yoko and listening to Sound Garden and Barry Manilow interchangeably while she'd throw eggs on the floor.)

 I cut her off from the house again the next night, but it's now been a couple weeks and she appears to be over her broodiness.  How about that?

I didn't need to do a chicken liver labotomy or chick-o-shock therapy.  She went from acting like any sit-com mom from the fifties to one of them postpartum psychotic depression murderesses like Andrea Yates, after she drank gin and snorted some PCP.  Probably.  Or maybe like Margot Kidder on acid  looking for gnomes in strangers backyards.  Which I suppose is better than looking for Nome, Alaska, especially in a backyard in Los Angeles.

The poor flock was also confined to their club house and cage for the twelve inches of rain three day weekend.  It gets tough on them in there, they can only read so many books.  So I got them the game Angry Birds, and they seem to enjoy that, along with Twister and Chicken Cha Cha Cha.  It helps wile away the rain soaked hours, but for them there's nothing like frolicking on the lawn and eating bugs.  Well, that and crowing, if you're a Rooster.   And now, a picture from our sponsor for all you suburban chicken followers:


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let's Get Sauced

Once again I am claiming literary license with the title to this post, only we won't venture into homonym land as much as we did with "There's a Seal on My Driveway."   I mean, "let's get sauced" really sounds like a semi is backing up to the garage and cases and crates of alcohol and stuff are getting off-loaded in the driveway just so you and I can get acquainted.

Or it could be that this semi-whacked blogger has changed from his homestead/logging/land-clearing/African Violet and other manly type venues and is writing on a cooking topic?

Well, this blogger gave up alcohol misbehaving a couple decades back.  I had to, otherwise there wouldn't have been enough booze left for the rest of yous.  I'd a drank it all.  They couldn't distill it fast enough.  So it must be sauce.  Some other kind.

OK, OK, OK, so I'm still sporting this dang cam cast thing I first wrote about way back when, like a couple months ago.  And like I'm running out of outdoor things I can do.  And then write about.

I've already gone beyond the Doc's recommended six weeks, but I have had to take the cast off for my real job as well as a couple other things around here (eg "There's a Seal on my Driveway").  I figure I have been wearing it about 80% of the time.  My Achilles tendon is still rather painful and swollen, but both those symptoms are diminishing as time moseys on.  I'll be back to bouncing soon I reckon. 

So, to keep the literary flow going I have decided to offer a few wonderful, simple cooking tips.  I may have alluded to the fact I cook before, and now I'm going to totally come out of the closet.  In an apron and everything.  A manly apron of course, no frills or lace.  It's made of Nomex because I like the heat.

I think we're going to mainly talk about sauces this go round, because a sauce can elegant up any meal.  Put a Mushroom-Madeira or Mushroom-Cabernet Sauce on a ground beef pattie with a sprig of parsley on the side, and wallah, "Sirloin Suave!"

That reminds me of "Spam Surprise", another one of my not-so-famous appetizer recipes.  And no, I'm not talking about unwanted, errant email ya'll.  I'm talking about the canned meat.  At least I think it's meat. 

For an elegant looking "surprise" appetizer, take the Spam out of the can and place it on a serving plate, paper or otherwise.  Spread soft cream cheese (or any other sort of cheese spread-depending on the crowd) all over the block of Spam, covering it entirely.  Place crackers all around the cheese covered Spam, again Ritz or Gourmet, crowd depending.  Then place a few sprigs of Parsley around and you have "Spam Surprise." (By the way, a sprig or two of Parsley always helps to elegant up a dish too.)

Here are two true stories about how a sauce can elegant up any meal.  The first one turned me into a believer thirty years ago, the second one only bolstered my opinion. 

There was once a restaurant called "The Jacks" in Nevada City, CA, a locally famous elegant eatery that was open during the 1970's and 1980's.  The "Jack's" were actually a couple of gay gentlemen whose first names were Jack.  Go figure.  One had a penchant for entertaining, the other for cooking.  They had several different restaurant ventures during a twenty or thirty year period, but the most memorable to my wife and I was "The Jack's".

They lived in a large, third story flat above another bar and restaurant in downtown Nevada City.  They also owned the building.  Several nights a week they opened up their flat to the public, offering a five course Prix Fixe menu.

There was a large, open area on two different levels where they were able to put six to eight dining tables and probably served no more than twenty dinners per night.  Each table had it's own set of fine china, crystal glasses and silverware.  The room was also fabulously designed with artful gay flair, it was quite elegant, tasteful and appealing.  The Jack's was our place to go for a very romantic and intimate dinner.

With the tables towards the windows and sides of the large room, near the center was the sunken kitchen area where you could watch chef Jack ply his trade on a free-standing six burner Wolf.

The appetizers were always wondrous, a flavor, aroma and texture parade across your palate.  The salads an adventure, a waltz among fields and meadows full of lilacs and daffodils and anchovies.  The deserts were always sweet and extreme, like a ski run of cream running through chocolate fondue on the taste buds of your tongue.

The main course though, the reason for the story, was always some sort of roast, either pork or beef.  Or duck.  Maybe some duck.  Or it could have been fish.  Hell, I don't remember because what made the meal was the sauce.  Always of perfect consistency, always an excellent flavor pairing with whatever it was.  The sauce made the main course, and it made the meal always sound so elegant.  Hollandaise, Bearnaise, Madeira, Peanut Butter.  The sauce made the meal.

I'm probably missing a course here.  Maybe the palate cleansing deal with sorbet, melon and Prosciutto.


Back in 2005 my wife and I left Nevada County for a somewhat short walkabout, finally ending up back here in Nevada County, CA in 2009.  She was head-hunted away from her occupation here (in 2005) to a prestigious position in the same industry in Monterey, CA.

While there we had to attend public functions from time to time, and one of those functions was some benefit for women in Africa at Clint Eastwood's golf course named Tehama.   It was hosted by his wife Dina, before she became another dancing diva in the ever blooming spotlight.   

A couple of luminaries were there, including Joan Baez, looking spectacular as she ever so gracefully continues dancing in the sun.  We met a couple other couples there, and it was a tuxedo type affair.  It was a few hundred dollars a plate, or maybe something like nine hundred or a thousand.  I dunno, I was the arm candy in a tuxedo.

As we wandered around socializing prior to dinner I began to wonder, what do they serve at a benefit like this?  Obviously if you're in a tuxedo and paying hundreds of dollars for a dinner, you'd sort of expect a little lobster.  Crab?  Maybe some Filet?  A little Mignon?  Pheasant?  Sturgeon?  Spam?   Everything but the Spam would defeat the purpose of a benefit.  What would they serve?

How about a really, really fatty, gristled snarl of chuck roast.  With a really, really, really good sauce.

I rest my case.

I think I ingested more saturated fat from that piece of meat than I had in the previous thirty years.  I ingested more gristle that night than John Candy did in that steak house scene in the movie "The Great Outdoors".  I think I ingested more saturated fat that night than exists in every hot fried food southern belly on the gulf coast, by golly.   

By the way, there's a steak house just like the one in "The Great Outdoors" up in Chester, CA, on the northern shore of a beautiful Northern California lake, called Lake Almanor.  The scenery is simply breathtaking up there any time of year, and the steak house perfectly melds with the total outdoor ambiance and experience that permeates the local culture and tourist trade.

I usually don't swallow any hunks of fat, let alone half a carcass.  I leave them on my plate.  But when the whole thing was covered with a really, really, really good sauce I couldn't see the knuckles coming.  So then how do you gracefully get rid a mouthful of snarl when you're in a tuxedo and seated at a table with lovely women dressed in lovely gowns and wearing sparkling diamonds?  Gulp.

I should have ordered the fish.  It was probably from Gorton's

Seriously, you could toss together a really quick mayonnaise-based tarter sauce or a ketchup-based cocktail sauce that would make those fish-sticks look like they were wearing tuxedos. And hats.  Painted on mustaches.  Swaying back and forth, rollicking in rhythm to some McCartney tune, like Junior's Farm.  And as you watch them dance you drift back to the Rock Show at the Cow Palace in the mid 70's, staying and straying all too long as your mind really begins to bebop and wander...

Or you could just buy them ready made in the store.

The sauces that is.

Not the flashbacks.  You can't buy those anywhere. 

Store bought stuff works in many instances and for many palates, but sometimes you gotta go stronger and a little more longer than ketchup for a Filet Mignon.  Or a pork tenderloin.  Or a boneless chicken breast, or "Girlfriend Chicken" for all you bachelors out there.  We'll include a recipe and sauce for that a bit later.  

There a lot of different "bases" for sauces, just like there are a lot of different bass's in rock and roll bands.  Sometimes my son goes fishing for bass, but even though it's spelled the same it's pronounced differently.  Base (ball) / Bass (music) would be called a homophone if we ventured into homonym land again.  And Bass (music) / Bass (fish) would be a homograph. And there's your English lesson for the day.  Sorry if you're homonym-phobic. 

There are milk based, water based, cheese based, mayonnaise based, ketchup based, mustard based, egg based, Etc., Etc., Etc., which of course brings to my mind Yul Brynner in the King and I, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's greatest musicals.  "Shall We Dance",  "Hello Young Lovers", "Getting To Know You", "We Kiss in a Shadow", to name a few for all you true show tune aficionados. 

Some really fancy sauces require boiling down different mixtures and the making of other, different sauces just to make the sauce you wanna make.  But we're gonna keep this essay simple and basic.  We're going to cover a couple favorite egg based sauces in a bit, like Hollandaise and Bearnaise, but right now I want to give you a basic formula that is quite flexible and will harbor the illusion of fancy and gourmet.  Here it is:

Basic Formula: 2 T (Tablespoon) Flour
                       2 T Fat (Butter, Olive Oil, Drippings)
                       1 C Liquid

That's it.  That recipe will give you a nice, medium consistency sauce or gravy that can also be diluted or thickened to taste.  That's all you need to know.  You can toss it all together and be ready to go in fifteen minutes.

The flour is a constant, after that it's quite flexible.  As you can see, the fat can be many things.  If you're doing a beef or pork roast, try to get some of those drippings.  Poultry, same thing.  What about fish?  I'd probably use butter, or half butter half olive oil.  If you are cooking anything that's not creating it's own grease then you go to butter or olive oil.  Or both.

The liquid, ah, that's when we can get really, really creative.  For any of the aforementioned roasted items you can simply use the same flavored stock or broth, eg beef or chicken.  Then essentially you would have a beef or poultry gravy.  For a pork roast, I would use chicken broth, but substitute about 1/4 C Very Dry Sherry for 1/4 C of the broth.  Get the idea?

So, how do you put it together?  Heat the oil over low heat.  Once heated, or butter is melted, add the flour and stir until all the flour is absorbed.  (I usually take the pot off the heat when doing this.)  This is also called making a Roux.  Some roue's require some lengthy cooking and stirring, but we're gonna keep this simple.

Once all the flour is absorbed it will have the consistency of a paste.  Add about a quarter to a half a cup of your liquid.  Then heat and stir the bejesus out of the mix.  I use a wire whisk.  Once you have a lump-less environment add the rest of the liquid and heat through.  Keep stirring, you will get rid of the lumps.  Just whip it.  Whip it good.  It helps to dance sometimes when you're doing this.  If you're so inclined.

Things go south when you try and cook it all too hot and quick.  Once you have incorporated everything and have whipped it good, then you can turn your heat up to medium or so, stirring just about constantly at the higher heat to allow the sauce to thicken.

At medium, your sauce will be ready in a couple minutes.  If you keep the heat at low, it will take a little longer but won't be quite as critical for constant stirring.  Just don't let it go for more than a minute or so without at least a touch. 

When getting fancy, I usually add my base liquid first, like the chicken broth for the pork roast.  Once the 3/4 cup of stock is totally incorporated in a lump free environment, then I'll add the Sherry.

I like to use Very Dry Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Port, Chenin Blanc, and deep dark reds as far as wines go, but most any wine will do, depending on the course, of course.

I will use a full cup of apple juice for the liquid when making an Apple Gravy for apple stuffed pork chops.  It tastes amazing.  Get crazy, it's OK.

I wish I could take credit for the term, "Girlfriend Chicken", but that was gleaned from PJ O'Rourke's hilarious book, "The Bachelor Home Companion".  I love PJ's writing, I owe some of my own writing style to him.  And Brautigan.  And of course Vonnegut

My recipe is different than PJ's though.  Here it is:  Bake a couple boneless chicken breasts at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, more or less, breast size depending.  Drizzle a little olive oil over them before baking, and you can sprinkle a little Rosemary or Parsley over the top.  Sprinkled herbs over something in the oven always gives the illusion you know what you're doing.  Squeeze some lemon juice over them. 

Make the sauce as above substituting 1/4-1/2 cup Chenin Blanc (or other sweetish white wine) for the same amount of broth.  That's sweetish, not Swedish.  I don't think they make decent wine north of the Arctic Circle.

Serve with a box of Rice A Roni and a bag of Birds Eye Vegetables.  (Throw the box and the bag out before she comes over.)  Girls are impressed by guys that cook, and this meal, while extremely simple, can give quite a grand illusion.

For a simple mushroom sauce: Saute three to four sliced mushrooms in butter.  Add flour.  Add liquid, maybe 3/4 beef broth, 1/4 Cabernet .  A lot of recipes tell you to remove the vegetation before adding flour, but I find that an unnecessary step.  Just incorporate thoroughly, whip it and heat through.  Whip it good.

I have a great and simple Scampi recipe.  It was taken from one of those famed restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, with a couple revisions to make it my own.  I saute a few cloves of garlic and several cut up green onions lightly in an olive oil and butter mix of about 1/4-1/3 cup, then add the shrimp, after they've been dredged in flour.  Once pink on both sides, I'll add a cup or so of Chenin Blanc and let it thicken and bubble together.  Squeeze about a half of lemon over the shrimp.  Yum.  Serve with wild rice, rice pilaf or new potatoes.  A green vegetable.  Wallah.

Obviously, you can always increase the amount of sauce you're making by adding more of everything. 

What to do if it's too thick?  Add more liquid, a little at a time.  Slowly.  Heat and stir through.

Too thin?  Get a small cup or bowl.  Put 1-2 Tablespoons of flour in.  Then take 2-3 Tablespoons from the pot and mix that in with the flour in the bowl until you have a paste.  Then add the paste to the mix, about 1-2 teaspoons at a time, stirring until incorporated and heated through.  Give each paste addition a couple minutes to help thicken it up before adding more, otherwise you'll be adding more liquid to thin it down.  And if you don't eventually get it right you'll end up with enough sauce to grace a buffalo. 

Huge Note: DON'T ADD MORE FLOUR DIRECTLY TO THE MIX.  For some reason it does not mix in so well.  Aw, hell, go ahead and try, you will anyway.  And then you'll discover what I just told you and when it happens again, rather then throwing out the entire mess you will do the separate bowl thing.

You can also use milk, or cream for the liquid for a real creamy sauce.

Now let's talk about egg sauce.  My brother and I became quite adept at making Hollandaise sauce back in the day when we would have to have champagne brunches just to feel better from the night before.

We would make up huge trays of Eggs Benedict, usually tripling the basic Hollandaise sauce amount.  And since only egg yolks were used for the sauce, what did we do with the whites?  Why make simply fabulous gin fizzes of course.  Actually, I'm not sure now which came first, the Gin Fizz or the Hollandaise?

Best gin fizz recipe hint: (Frozen Lime aid) I don't know if you've ever had a true old fashioned Ramos Fizz, but they're pretty bland.

Best morning gin fizz recipe:  Add equal parts gin and milk (or cream) to blender.  (EG 1 Cup each)  Throw in 3-4 egg whites.  Add about 2-3 Tablespoons undiluted Lime Aid.  Blend.  Drink.  Repeat.  Have some Eggs Benedict soon before you fall down.

The next two sauces, Hollandaise and Bearnaise retain the same base.  The liquid will change.

Three yolks.  One half cup, or one cube of butter.  Throw them in a medium sauce pot and cook over LOW heat.  Take your time, especially when just getting going.  Stir them as the butter melts, and then is fully incorporated.  Then add your liquid.  2-4 T lemon juice for Hollandaise, and a liquid reduction for the Bearnaise, recipe for which shall follow.

After you add your liquid (flavoring) you cook over low to medium heat as the egg yolks cook and the sauce thickens.  This sauce requires a little more attention than the last one, you can overcook it if it stays on the stove too long.  The other sauce can simmer lightly for a number of minutes before it blows up, this one merely seconds.

If it separates, which will be the usual problem of letting it linger too long, you can still save it.  Make sure you have your trusty wire whisk: Add a tablespoon of water and whip it over low to medium heat.  Whip it.  Don't be shy.  1 to 2 tablespoons of water will usually bring it back.  Just keep whipping it.

Sometimes one may add too much water, and when the sauce comes back together its too thin.  If this happens, and if you make it a thousand times it'll happen at least once, add another egg yolk.  And whip.  You also may want to add another 1-2 t lemon juice to adjust for the other added ingredients.

Here's the liquid reduction for a Bernaise Sauce, a staple if you're having Filet Mignon.

You take 1/4 cup white wine
               1/4 cup white wine vinegar
               2-3 green onions chopped
               2-4 T Tarragon (Depending on if it's fresh or not.  Use more if fresh.)
               1-2 T Chervil

Put all that in a small pot and simmer until it's reduced to about 2-3 Tablespoons.  Strain out the herb and then add the liquid to your eggs and butter.

You'll find that Tarragon is the lead flavor herb with this sauce, and I like it so much there's a nice sprig of it sprouting out in the herb garden.  I'll frequently include it in a beef marinade.

Good luck, happy saucing.  Just remember, when you're putting it all together go slow and easy.  Once incorporated, then turn the heat up to medium and it will thicken up in a couple minutes.  Egg sauces will take longer.

Here's a quick tip that will make ANY coffee cake the best ever: Triple the amount of topping.

And of course, a quick recipe for buttermilk:  Add 1 T cider vinegar to 1 C milk.

Coming Soon: "Burn Baby Burn!", as of yet untold tales of conflagrations of magnanimous proportions.

Chicken Update

The other day I experienced a state of the art, self-sufficient homestead type moment.  I have recently succumbed once again and allowed the dang rootin chickens out to have a festival of a grand howdy doody time getting exercise and eating bugs out in the yard.  We must have a lot of bugs because they're hunting and pecking all the time all over the place.  You'd think we'd run out after a while, but no, that doesn't seem to be the case.  So I'm watching a few of them huntin and pecking on the hill out back when our other cat Joe, youngest of the two at sixteen, ambled by with a mouse in his mouth.

Joe is as solid a panther, same color too.  A little smaller though.  He doesn't eat near as much store bought cat food as Tom, our one-eyed elder statesman.  He's probably got a diet of a rodent a day keeps the dry food away.  He's doing all this without either of his fangs, which fell out a year or so ago due to lack of feline dental hygiene.  I mean, we bought him a toothbrush a while back but he never uses it.  Try to teach a cat anything and they'll just cop an attitude and go smoke cigarettes in the bathroom.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Rain Drips and Rattlesnakes...

...and corn cobs and chickens, 

Warm chocolate doughnuts and puddin that thickens,

Rose crested roosters with bright shiny wings,

These are a few....

For some whimsical reason (in my impetuous youth) I seem to have garnered a minor in Broadway show tunes from Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe.   Those two prolific songwriting duos wrote an incredibly delightful amount of toe-tapping happy sing-a-long feel-good sappy songs that I have occasion to break into at any given moment with (or without) any sort of insipid inspiration.  You know, like when that wind comes sweepin' down the plain...  

And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet 
When the wind comes right behind the rain...

It's a problem, I know. 

I think my relationship with the musical began when I was eleven and my mom took me and some old lady from the old country to the brand new Century 21 theater in San Jose to see The Sound of Music.  1965.  From there it was an on going parade of movies and live stage, culminating with a live performance of Hair, the musical, in San Francisco when I was sixteen.  I mean, what sixteen year old wouldn't want to go to a musical where there were nude women in a scene?

I don't recall being incredibly enamored with the musical back then, I think my mother was.  I must have caught collateral exuberance because she brought me along.  Or was I forced to see the musical?  And this propensity of breaking into song insipidly inspired really needs to be saddled by a therapist?  I also have this propensity to rhyme.  Hmmh.   I think I'm getting confused.

So anyway, there have been remnants of a sprinkler system for the front lawn at almost every home we've ever owned, dating back thousands of years.  Well, at least thirty-seven.  They've also never worked and I never bothered to get into them and make repairs.

This house also came with an automatic sprinkler system for the front lawn.  About half the sprinklers were toast, the other half old and really not suited for what I had in mind.  The control area, with electrical wire connections, was exposed to the weather for years and looked a lot like this: 

I couldn't make heads or tails out of the mess, kind of like your first time driving in Washington D.C. and trying to figure out where you are when there are two of every named street.  Some are over here and some are over there.  Kind of like that.  The first summer here I just used a regular hose and sprinkler, that mess looked way too scary and there were way too many other priorities.

But then this black, round, valve type thinger kept leaking a bunch of water when I turned on the main underground water line to the front yard area.  It's that black, round whatzit with the wire running over the top below, an anti-siphon valve I later learned.  That new looking black hexagon thing to the right of the anti-siphon valve is a solenoid, I also later learned.  But for this part of the story, they were just whatzits.  And thingers.

So the black round thinger was leaking and I didn't know why.  I needed the water on in that area of the yard but didn't want to lose buckets of the stuff an hour just to water the apple tree.  I figured I would just get a cap and then figure it out when its time came around.

It was about time for another sojourn down the road to Home Depot, one of my most favorite stores in the universe, so this cap was added to the list.  And by the way, I am all about buying local when it makes sense.  BUT, when the local wholesale plumbing store is selling a water heater for $150.00 more than what I can get it on Amazon for, I gotta save the money.  It's true of the hardware stores here too.  They're a good twenty percent higher than twenty miles down the road.  Sorry, I gotta make the drive, especially if I'm buying a bunch of stuff.

As I ambled around the depot between the indoor and outdoor plumbing sections I was just not finding anything that made any sense.    I was apparently trying to compare apples with power tools.  Did you know there are like, over 7,500 varieties of apples?  There's a lot of different kinds of power tools too, at least a hundred.  Can you see why I was getting confused?

I first learned there were more than seven varieties of apples when we lived in Oregon.  My wife and I took a road trip from Portland to the enchanting Hood River Valley right in the middle of the apple harvest season.   We, quite by accident, ended up on the Hood River Fruit Loop, "a 35-mile, scenic drive through the valley's orchards, forests, farmlands, and friendly communities. Sample delicious fruits and take your favorites home, visit a winery, experience fields of fragrant lavender, meet adorable alpacas, savor delicious baked goods, and create memories by participating in family activities hosted at Fruit Loop locations throughout the year. The Fruit Loop is just an hour away from Oregon's largest city, Portland. Located in the national scenic area called the Columbia River Gorge, and the nation's largest pear-growing region, this is one of the few places that offers the complete experience of growing, producing, and then enjoying fruit and wine."

I couldn't have said it better!  And didn't for that matter.  It was a lovely drive and we did stop quite often to sample (and purchase) various fruit growers wares. We didn't meet any adorable Alpacas though.  Why would I want to meet an Alpaca?  What on earth would we talk about?

I first learned there were lots of kinds of power tools when I was twelve and went into a hardware store and saw them there.

Anyway, as I was ambling along, confusing myself, one of Home Depot's finest could tell I was consternated (much different than constipated) and asked if he could help.  Man, if I was constipated I really would have refused help.  For that matter, I probably wouldn't have told anyone either.

It has been my experience of late, like the last thirty years or so, that most folks that find themselves in a position to offer assistance at an expertise place like a hardware store don't know a good bologna from a decent salami.  So I usually say I'm doing OK rather than get sent on a wild goose chase in over half the store when I'm just looking for a new Pez dispenser.  Or thermal coupler. For the nuclear fission experiment I'm working on in the basement.  Just kidding. We don't have a basement.

Well, as luck would have it for me, and probably not he, this guy knew what he was talking about.  I'm thinking he used to be a landscape contractor, or something along that line, but with the construction downturn he was now making $12.00 per hour at Home Depot.  Lucky me!

The whatzit ma jigger I was trying to unsuccessfully find a cap for was actually an anti-siphon valve and should definitely NOT be capped, since it prevents the flow of that irrigation water back into the house supply.  Or something like that.  If it was leaking the solenoid was probably stuck open.  I would need to replace the solenoid (I got four of them for twenty bucks) and that should take care of it.  He sounded pretty sure, so I went with his recommendation. 

Since I had no friggin idea what a solenoid was, or really what he was talking about in general, when I got home I thought I would do some research.  I stumbled upon this great site called:, saw the irrigation light and I was changed.  Forever.

I discovered the solenoid is the gizmo that receives the electric current from the control panel and then opens and closes a valve so water gets through. It basically controls the water flow to each "station", or set of sprinklers.  I then learned how they work, and was able to go out, trouble shoot and replaced or fixed every darn one of them solenoid thingers, just by perusing "How to Repair an Irrigation Solenoid Valve."  I also replaced the main solenoid in question and that stopped the arbitrary flow of the anti-siphon valve.  The guys fix worked.  Hot diggity dog.

I then "mapped" which section of the yard belonged to which solenoid by electronically activating said solenoid manually from the old control box, you know, the one that was NOT digital and therefore about eighty-six years old.  Give or take a few decades.  I then selectively capped about half the existing sprinklers by removing any existing parts.

That included risers, which are from one to six inches long and are a threaded piece of PVC that screws into the threaded female of a supply line to increase the height of the sprinkler.  If necessary.   The take apart also included some working sprinkler heads as well as parts thereof.  I then selectively put in new pop-up sprinkler heads with a wider swath all around.  They work perfectly.  I've just got one small area of lawn that is not covered, and fortunately, it is in the shade almost the entire day.  I am currently watering that area with a sprinkler every two weeks in the summer, and will work out an automatic response for coverage this next spring. Or when I don't have anything else better to do.

I bought a new timer at a cost of about thirty bucks, a digital one.  Easy.  It's much like replacing a new thermostat.  Sounds like it might be hard, but with the thermostat, for instance, you're only re-connecting 2-3 wires. I had about six to connect with the timer, but it took no time at all.  It's color coded and everything.

I set up the three main lawn stations to go for twenty minutes each (each day) over the summer.  There are two more stations, one for the front planter area and one along the slope beyond the picket fence.  Those will remain idle at least until next spring, or until I get the perimeter of our land fenced and secure from those dang deer.

With new wires and new solenoids all nicely connected and working, I also decided I'd shelter all that from the elements.  Here's what we got; it's a little made to fit two-sided plywood affair with (leftover from the main house) composition shingle roof.  Cute and functional.

As the story progresses, a couple weeks before Mothers' Day of this last year (2012), I was down on the lower forty weed whackin with a hired hand for the day.  "Tennessee Dale" was a mediocre handy man at large.  He came mildly recommended, and did a fair enough job for the fifteen per hour we paid him.  But I know there are a lot of other folks out there that can sweep off a poop deck in less time than it takes to make the poop.  Or something like that.  But he was a congenial sort with a bit of that southern accent accustom to the Great Smokies, or "Grace Monkeys" as my wife would tell.  Funny hard of hearing story here... 

The Great Smokey Mountains are on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, a lovely mountain range that hosts a National Park, Gatlinburg, home of the Gatlin Brothers, Pigeon Forge, home of Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Dollyworld, home of Dolly Parton.  Dolly needs a whole world for her, well, you know, her well endowed frontal apparitions. Or Appalachians.  You know, those other mountains.

My lovely wife and I were on a visit back to the country suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee, where her sister and brother-in-law (of  "Florida, Ann Curry and the big's Midlife Crisis" fame) were currently living.  As is our custom, we usually try to get out on our own for a couple days when visiting anyone just to give them a break, although we are great guests.  Just ask us.  Plus we get to have motel sex.  I can scream, or yodel, depending on the particular situation, unabashedly in a motel, but I really can't scream or yodel at the in-laws.  They usually start laughing and it spoils the moment.

And, color us strange, we absolutely love the old style motel or motor inn, the one story, privately owned Shan-gra-las where you can drive right up to your front door.  It's gotta be CLEAN, and cute, but otherwise we're open to most motel adventure.  And most of the owners love showing you around their worlds.

It was this case when we ambled on over to Asheville, North Carolina, to take a cruise through the Great Smokies as well as take a gander at the Biltmore, George Vanderbilt's eight thousand acre escape from everyday life.

George Washington Vanderbilt III was the youngest child of industrialist William Henry Vanderbilt.  He was born with oodles of money, and really had nothing to do but read lots of books and build a two hundred fifty room country escape with over four acres of floor space.  To get away.  Get away from what I wonder?

It was simply stunning, and for some reason didn't seem quite as ostentatious as its west coast counterpart, Hearst Castle, publishing magnate William Randolf Hearst's overindulgent extravaganza of unrestrained arrogance.   I mean, I'm all for enough room, but wouldn't ten thousand square feet be enough?  Twenty?  For your second house, your get away place?   Does anyone really, truly need over an acre of square footage in which to live?  I mean, maybe if your family is the size of the population of Milwaukee...

On the other hand, they are both now open to the public and offer a fantastic visual array of "Gardens and fountains and gargoyles and space ships, big naked statues and paintings and stuff..." 

So we stumbled onto this lovely motel with impeccably manicured lawn abounding underneath lush southern trees, whatever they were.  They had leaves.  And bark.  Branches, things like that.  There were quite a few cabins with efficiencies scattered about, here and there, like a bunch of really large, structurally sound non- pastel Easter eggs hanging out amongst the lawn and trees.  This place also had a very congenial owner who was all too eager to show us around.  The rooms were charming and clean, and Floyd was a great host.

When we were back in the office dealing with the pertinence, Floyd continued on with some recommendations about what to see and do while in the Great Smokies.  After what seemed like about forty-five seconds but was probably only really thirty, my enchanting bride interrupted Floyd and asked, "I'm sorry, but just what are the Grace Monkeys?"

Floyd looked a little bewildered until I interjected that he was indeed speaking about the Great Smokies, not making something up about Dali's famed painting "The Three Graces of Monkeys." 

It was just a hard of hearing misinterpretation of audible expression.

Another funny one happened when we lived up in Portland.  Some friends were over for dinner and our female guest had started talking about male rain coats.

"London Fog?" I inquired.

"Leather thong?" she responded, trying to maneuver this new article of apparel into her conversation about Singing in the Rain.

So, anyway I'd a been a weed whackin and a hackin, and ended up having to cross the lawn to get to the garden shack to get some more string.  Or something. 

I walked by our front deck, that looks a lot like this:

BTW-that white lattice covers a fairly fine meshed screen, because you have to enclose any "under" locations; such as under the house, under the deck, or what's under the raincoat.  Otherwise, not only will you have homeless rodents, raccoons and reptiles moving in, but probably homeless people as well.  Eventually there will be luscious blooming plants in the planter there, once we have our deer problem taken care of.  You can read all about that battle in "Bambi Can Eat My Drawers" somewhere around this here blog.

So as I amble by, I hear this hissing, or phissing sound.  And I think, hmmh, sounds like a pipe had sprung a leak.  I had, after all, just spent the last couple days working on irrigation issues and the sound was familiar.  So as I continued on to retrieve whatever I was after, I thought about the sound and location.  I walked back by and heard it again, continuing on my mission for another ten to fifteen seconds until I said wait a minute, there's no plumbing there and that sound is probably not going to go away by itself.  Dang.

So, I ambled back by and continued to hear this sprite little phissing sound, seemingly coming from under the deck.  I hopped up on the deck and walked over to the corner, and that "leak" got a whole lot louder.  I was starting to think "snake" at this point, so I walked back down the steps and around, pulled out the grate and looked in (underneath the deck) the opening, which looks a lot like this:

And there, right in the corner to the left of the opening was a little rattler all coiled up and raring to go.

We pretty much just have the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake up here in Northern California, or "Crotalus" something or other.  I'd rather have one of them under the deck than an Anaconda, or a Hippopotamus for that matter.  Or an alligator.  Those creatures would pose a whole nother problem. 

Tennessee Dale had come up to the house at this point and we hatched a plan.  Rather than have me plink it with a pellet gun, he really wanted to rescue and relocate the little critter.  Fortunately, I appeared to have all the necessary equipment.

The first was a bucket with a lid.  I have a small metal ash bucket that looks a lot like that one down there on the right behind the white furniture.  It's a good eighteen gallon or so.  That's also a great shot of "Gaga's Amaryllis", which is a whole nother story altogether.  Some other time though.  I'm sorry, but we got deadly snakes and things we're dealing with right now!  

With the bucket in tow, we also needed an old t-shirt and the most important tool of the entire operation, one of those litter picker upper grabber things, that looks a lot like this:

BTW, that thing is actually called a litter picker upper grabber thing, in case you were seeking particulars. 

With the bucket positioned by the door, Dale tossed the t-shirt on the frightened but deadly little guy to blind him.  Or her.  Whichever.

How do you tell the sex of a snake?   Why bother, unless you're a herpetologist, or Strother Martin.

The shirt toss was to minimize any strike potential.  What do you do in the case of a snake bite?  Click here.

Don't cut it open and suck the venom out, unless your name is John Wayne and the victim is Rita Hayworth.  Or Glenn Ford.  And the bite happens in the Mojave desert.  Or Utah.  That's it.  John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, Mojave Desert, Utah.  Otherwise, just don't friggin do it.

With the snake blind, Dale reached in with the grabber, gobbled up the shirt with snake and made the drop in the bucket.  I put the lid on and then he ended up dumping the snake out along a creek somewhere quite a ways away from any homes.  BTW, this was Dale's second or third rattlesnake capture-I was all too willing to let him run the show.  My solution was a couple pellets to the brain.  (I didn't want to use the .22 because the snake was coiled up next to the concrete foundation and I was concerned about the potential of a ricochet.) 

Since he was a little guy, I was acutely concerned about the potential of more.  I was also concerned as to how he got under there since it is all walled with a concrete foundation.  After some very close scrutiny, I did find a couple cracks and minor breaches.  It's amazing the spaces these varmints can squeeze through.

I have since closed all of them with that spray insulation stuff that really expands and is soo sticky that if you got some on your hair you could attach yourself to the bottom carriage of a hot air balloon and dangle in the wind for a number of hours.  I mean, if you wanted to that is.

Fortunately, as of this writing (some six months later) we have not had a repeat snake performance. 

I ran across a gal  on some acreage outside Smartsville, CA (Yes, Mathilda, there is such a town) which is about fifteen miles West from here and about half way down into the Central Valley.  Give or take a few miles.  It's about ten degrees warmer down there, just a drop of a thousand feet or so.  She said they employ seven cats to take care of the rattlesnake problem around her place.

I have also heard that Guinea Hens are good reptile hunters.  I do plan on adding a few birds of that faction possibly next spring.  I'm still a bit hesitant about upsetting the harmony within the current flock. 


Rooster Update

I have discovered (quite by accident) how to silence a crowing rooster at 05:30 in the morning.  Invite a pack of yipping coyotes to have a yip-a-thon across the street and up round the bend.  Far enough away so that I do not have to engage, yet close enough to dissuade Goldie from offering up any further "good Mornings" until mornings first light was more pronounced.  And the howling pack had left for at least an hour.

With the first major rain of the season (and the first ever in their your lives), I have also duly noted the rain seems to dampen his enthusiasm for crowing.

Just yesterday we discovered one of our red hens has gone missing.  Betty Lou was the little renegade that was continuously flying the coop, literally.  We would find her wandering around, usually trying to figure out how to get back in with the rest of the gang. We could usually coax her back in pretty easily offering some sort of vegetable treat.

And then one day last week Goldie was out, and he doesn't coax so easily.  So I decided to open the gate and let them all roam free.  I figured what the heck.  The night before deer had ransacked our front deck (Yup, up the five steps and then down the planks to some yummy Violas.) and we're heading towards winter so there shouldn't be too much for them to tear up.  That way they'd all self-migrate to the cage and their perches once it got dark.  And they did.  Or most of them anyway.

To be honest, I'm not sure when she went missing.  Or how.  I haven't stumbled across any feather piles which would indicate she became some wild one's dinner.  No idea.  I'll keep you posted.