Saturday, November 27, 2010


Foods you enjoyed as a kid never taste exactly as you remember them; but sometimes you can get pretty close.

Today we made footballs according to the by guess and by gosh method. Using the old hand cranked grinder we ground up about a pound and half of leftover turkey (both white and dark meat) along with about the same amount of cooked Swiss Chard. Then we added about an ounce or so of grated Locatelli, about a teaspoon each of salt and garlic powder, and about a half teaspoon of pepper. I mixed that all up well, Alex and I tasted it for flavor, and then I formed it into footballs about two inches in diameter at the equator. I floured, egged, and breaded those; and then deep fried them.

Excellent! We ate them with mashed potatoes, leftover turkey gravy and swiss chard saute'd with garlic.

Now the question is whether they actually were different from Mom's because she used frozen spinach and we used the last picking of Swiss Chard from the garden (leaves only - the stems are now pithy); or whether 62 year old taste buds don't work exactly the same as 10 year old ones.

Either way they were very fine indeed. A very fine way to dispose of leftover turkey without having to suffer the taste of leftover turkey.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winter is a comin'

The signs are now too numerous to avoid that winter is on its way. I just picked the last Swiss Chard in the garden. The last five of the tomatoes I picked green in early October are almost fully ripe and will probably be used up within a couple of days. And virtually all of the leaves are down on the lawn except for those on the stubborn Sweetgums, and those on the Post Oak, the tatters of which won't fall until they're replaced by new leaves in the Spring.

Also, the price of olive oil has risen quite smartly to its late Fall, Winter and Spring level in the market. Having carefully observed the annual trends in that market for several years I invested heavily in olive oil futures during the late Summer and early Fall. As of now I have an unrealized 50% gross return on investment. My ROI is even higher on an annualized basis.

In other news: I've learned that bamboo, in addition to its many other uses, makes excellent kindling for the woodstove.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gnocchi or Cavatelli

I've often wondered why Mom always said she was making "cavadeellie" from leftover mashed potatoes when we were kids, since actually she was making gnocchi. Not that I knew it at the time. I don't think I ever heard the word "gnocchi" until some time in the 1970's or 1980's, when Mom, paradoxically, had started making actual cavatelli, with ricotta instead of potatoes.

Anyway, today I made gnocchi from some leftover mashed potatoes. They went down just like Mom's old cavadeelies, but not so elegantly. Mine were all shapes and sizes. It turns out to be hard to get them nice and uniform. Mom and Aunt Mary no doubt had those little mocking smiles on their faces if they were looking down this afternoon when I was struggling with that dough.

In other news: Sam and Don and I went down to Norfolk last weekend to take a tour of the Enterprise. It was good to see and walk around the old ship again, especially because, just by chance, the Ensign who served as guide for the group we joined is the Assistant First Lieutenant and thus happens to hold the same job title that I had back in the day (after I had spent a year as a Division Officer and more or less knew which end of the ship was the bow and which was the stern).

His job function is hugely different from mine since he got his commission via OCS after rising to First Class Bosun's Mate as an enlisted man, so he actually knows a lot about the management of the anchors, the mooring winches, the ship's boats and such, and he actually functions as the Ship's Chief Bosun. I was more or less the administrative assistant to the First Lieutenant, helping with paperwork that required an officer's signature and overseeing the department watch bill and duty assignments and such so the young department yeoman wouldn't be bullied too much by the petty officers. In port the job took me a couple of hours a day in the office, plus a couple of hour long walking around tours to check the various department spaces and go over stuff with the Division Officers.

Underway I was on a one in three rotation on the bridge; so the department management function was a duck in to the office and do a couple of hours of paperwork every couple of days sort of thing; and I did wandering tours of the department spaces on the way to and from bridge watches.

It was good to stand up there on the bridge and go back mentally to those heady days when the captain left the bridge and trusted me in charge out there, back when Enterprise was still "the largest warship in the history of the world," as he put it to me when he qualified me as Officer of the Deck. Heady days. The 1MC box next to the Captain's chair still connects to all those innumerable watch stations throughout the ship that could call in the middle of the night to report a problem or an emergency.

Mostly, even an actual emergency could wait on a decision for the few moments it took to call and wake up the captain in his sea cabin so you could explain the situation to him and get orders that you would merely pass along for action. But occasionally there would be an emergency that couldn't wait, one that needed orders right now; and you informed the captain after you had actions in train to put things right.

Then to, every so often there would be a merchant ship that was clearly in a privileged situation that suddenly and inexplicably changed course and put you in a situation where you had to maneuver right now to avoid a collision, and inform the captain only after you had given the necessary helm and/or engine orders, while the ship was already in process of making the unexpected change in course or speed. It was very gratifying when he merely gave you a "very well" over the phone after you had reported on what you had done, or when he came out in his bath robe, looked around and listened to what you were up to for a few minutes, or perhaps asked a couple of questions, and then quietly left the bridge to go back to his cabin.

One thing I noticed is that they've cluttered up the windows on the bridge with a whole lot of electronic equipment that was not there in 1971 and 1972. Back in those days we figured the course and speed for flight operations with a circular slide rule, and we kept track of nearby ships and did maneuvering board solutions for collision avoidance by hand on plotting sheets. They have special dedicated computers with touch screens for that stuff now.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Today is Armistice Day, or at least it used to be Armistice Day. It used to commemorate the truce, or armistice, that finally ended World War I, which used to be called The Great War, before World War II, which started a bit more than twenty years later, proved that it wasn't so uniquely great at all. And certainly proved that it wasn't The War to End All Wars, another one of its names.

Armistice Day was quite a thing for those Doughboys who had, until the truce that took effect at 11:00 AM on November 11th in 1918 ended the killing, crouched in their trenches and dugouts waiting for the random artillery shell with their name on it, or for the order to go "over the top" and charge into the machine gun fire.

Such artillery! And such an unimaginable volume of fire! A volume of fire such as had never been imagined in the quaint world before 1914. More than eight hundred thousand artillery rounds were fired in one battle toward the end of the war, with the guns on the allied side averaging one for every eight yards of front. The poor Germans, their economy struggling by that point, had only one artillery piece for each 25 yards of their front.

It all seems so quaint now. After all, it occurred more than 90 years ago. Long enough ago for Armistice Day to have been morphed into Veteran's Day and long ago enough so that the original reason November 11th was seen as a notable day has been all but forgotten.

I'm thinking on this in part because Sam and Don and I visited the Fredericksburg Battlefield National Monument on Sunday on our way back home after touring the USS Enterprise on Saturday. Fredericksburg, because it was a Civil War battlefield, is on a scale one can grasp. One can walk a one mile loop trail there and see all of the area on which the most furious part of the fighting occurred. One can stand in the sunken road, which is overall barely longer than the 1000 foot length of the Enterprise, and look down the slope onto the several acres where the Union Army, insanely trying to advance against a perfect defensive position, lost something like 10,000 men in a day, most of them killed within an area smaller than the four and a half acre flight deck of the Enterprise.

Artillery played an important role in the battle of Fredericksburg because of how perfect the defensive ground was for the Confederates. The Confederate artillery officer in charge of the nine guns on Marye's Heights right behind the sunken road assured Robert E. Lee before the battle that, "a chicken could not live on that field." He was a being a bit boastful about his artillery, but only a bit. His artillery, firing like giant shotguns at point blank range; but most of the killing was actually done by the several thousand Confederate troops lined up shoulder to shoulder a couple of ranks deep in the sunken road who fired something like 100 rounds each over the course of the day into the dense packed Union troops that kept madly trying to advance uphill over the open ground.

The deep irony is that those Union troops were never intended to attack up toward Marye's Heights. Burnside, the General commanding on the Union Side, only intended them to advance toward the heights as a diversion to pin down some of Lee's troops while others of his troops attacked a more vulnerable point on another part of the battlefield. The attack on Marye's Heights was all a big misunderstanding.

Just like the War to End All Wars, which was expected by all parties to be over in a few months when it started in 1914.

Update: Naturally I wrote the above and thought about it being Veterans Day; and then I proceeded to go to the post office to send some mail, and I was surprised to find the windows closed. All other government offices are also no doubt closed, and the banks, I guess. Banks, of course, have been so heavily regulated by government since the 1930's that they were probably all but ordered to close for Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is just another day for most of us, even us Veterans. But the fact that holidays are becoming meaningless, including a rant about one of my favorite pet peeves, is a post for another day.

Update 2: Here's a short clip of actual World War I combat footage that I got at the Optimistic Conservative Blog, which is always interesting even though she writes much of her best stuff for Commentary Magazine's site and she's apparently not allowed to also post that stuff on her own site. Opticon has an excellent post about Veterans Day, and she quoted In Flanders Fields, which I was thinking about when I wrote the post above.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hopefully you're not suffering from torschlusspanik

I deliberated about whether to share this word I just found, because it seems to me that I've very rarely suffered from torschlusspanik; but I'm mildly suffering from it now that I've found the word and reflected a bit on its meaning.

I recall telling Alex, on the beach in North Carolina when he was about thirteen or fourteen years old, that he should glory in the day because, "It doesn't get any better than this."

The sad fact is that's the the plain truth, at nearly any time and at almost all times.

But enough of brooding. Clearly it's time to perk up my spirits by watching and listening to this.

Update: I wonder if there is a name for the class of words, each of which, by the very fact of learning and reflecting on its meaning, is a bummer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A great video

The next time you hear some idiot commentator or politician talk about the decline of civility in politics remember this video which shows you how viciouslyThomas Jefferson and John Adams attacked one another back when politicians were more polite.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Beach

We've been back for four days now, huddling by the wood stove, staring out at the nearly bare Sugar Maple, Boxwood and Persimmons, and watching the leaves fall, fall, fall, from the Red Maples.

Last week we travelled down to spend a couple of days at the Luna Sea Motel in Cocoa Beach, where we walked on the clean, pleasant beach in high 80's temperatures and waded a bit in the mid 70's water. While we were there we visited The Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for a pleasant and interesting few hours, seeing the technological marvels our country is capable of creating when it isn't wallowing in hyperlegalism and self doubt. The Saturn Five Moon rocket, lying on it's side, now enclosed in a vast museum a couple of hundred yards long with a fifty or sixty foot high ceiling, is impossible to adequately describe. A thirty six story skyscraper that once lifted itself off the ground and flew, it's payload eventually reaching a speed of 25,000 miles per hour. You have to see it.

You can no longer go up close and walk around the giant crawler tractor that transports the assembled rockets, or the vast vehicle assembly building, as I could when I was visited there many years ago, before the 9/11 attack that so changed the nature of security at any sort of government installation. But the crawler is still amazing from a distance as pick up trucks parked near it provide some sense of scale. The vehicle assembly building, seen from a half mile or so away, is not nearly as impressive, even if you realize that the medium sized flag painted way up there on it's side is bigger than a pro basketball court. Besides the bus and walking tours the center also has a very good 3D IMAX movie about the Hubble Telescope. There are some awesome 3D scenes of the astronauts spacewalking to repair the telescope in orbit.

Cocoa Beach itself is a relatively undistinguished beachfront town, although you have to grant that they have it landscaped and planted pretty nicely. They also have it very clean and pleasant despite the empty storefronts in relatively new looking shopping centers that show it was no stranger to the huge overbuilding of commercial space in some parts of the country. I suspect there are also a lot of empty condos available there for attractive prices; but as I mentioned they are clearly going to a lot of trouble to keep the town desirable looking.

Linda was especially taken with the big surfer statues in front of Ron Jon Surf Shop which is quite an eye catching store. And we both liked the very good food at Rubio's Cuban restaurant, a little place, and at the Florida Seafood House, a much bigger place. Cocoa Beach is well worth a visit for the sun, surf and endless beach. The prices were also very nice although that may have been a function of it being the off season.

After Cocoa Beach we headed over to The Villages for a four night stay with Jas and Kathy in their new house in the kingdom of pickle ball, pinochle, pools golf carts, dancing and crossword puzzles. More on that next time.

In other news: The other day all of President Barack Obama's many enemies, for that's how he very clearly characterized everyone who doesn't agree with him last week, got together and delivered termination notices to a whole bunch of his political cronies. Taking back the House of Representatives from the lefties and achieving a better balance in the Senate are, of course, only the first necessary steps; but it is good to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we must keep the feet of all the newly elected Republicans to the fire to ensure that they don't get the Washington disease that spreads so easily to newly elected members of the political class.