Wednesday, October 31, 2012

XKCD remembers Hurricane Zeta

In regard to this: I present:

Thank you, Randall Munroe for this and all the XKCD awesomeness you have rendered. Original version here

Addison through the Looking Glass

My day began under a tormented gray sky, blowing a thick layer of pine needles from the roof and skylights and flashing and gutters, then policing the odds and ends subject to being wind-tossed from the open spaces, then felling the massive, spectral skeleton of a pine tree which menaced the turkey yard and which nearly menaced me...all while the temperature slowly fell and the winds slowly rose.

But shortly I found myself six miles above some vaguely discernible part of the south in an airplane packed every cubic inch with restive travelers and their Brobdingnagian rolling suitcases and ubiquitous iFarkles. On arrival, despite the boogeyman of checked luggage, my bag reaches the concourse seconds before I. I have arrived in a broad, flat tan landscape strewn with scores of mirror-faced office buildings gleaming like chunks of galena shattering the light of the setting sun. In the east the gibbous moon takes ownership of the sky. I feel like I have been teleported into a terrarium.

I ditch my bags, shuck my travelling clothes and spend my first hour just walking around taking stock of my new neighborhood and getting my bearings. The air cools down quickly with so little humidity to hold the day's warmth, and it is warmer here than at home during the day but colder at night. In Texas. Go figure. On a Sunday night, late to me, the traffic is manic, hostile and unrelenting.

And the birds...there is some kind of dark flocking bird, similar to grackles or starlings, who are all but invisible in the trees and amidst the buildings, but whose cries and calls absolutely fill the air. As I walk, I notice the sidewalks beneath the overhead lines—beneath anything that offers a perch or roost-- are thickly whitewashed with their droppings. Their screeching and calling is otherworldly in this garish landscape.

Back in my room, I roll through the cable channels as quickly as the remote allows. I am concurrently watching a dozen programs, serial snippets in rapid rotation, comprehension uninhibited by the mosaic but assisted by the glacial pace of television storytelling. I am trying to feel like a part of the growing catastrophe that is consuming the eastern seaboard while I am exiled here for the week, a storm for which a new vocabulary must be created.

I look for news of the wind, of the rain, of the coming snows and the loss of power and of the dozen other vectors of misery and suffering and dislocation and loss. I look for news of home, and feel so powerless to be so far away. There is no need for me to be there, nothing I could add or bring to bear, but it is in my blood and soul to wish to experience the darkness of such an event, to be able to say I was there, and came through it unscathed.

I watch long into the night, image after image relentlessly strobing the bland room and its bland furnishings. I am so dislocated; I feel warn and exhausted but not sleepy, so continue to provoke my senses until long past the time I should have given up, given in.

The dawn comes oddly late in my temporary home. A full ten minutes later, by my recollection, than it had come on the last cloudless morning. Timezones are funny things. East and west, north and south; if you notice these things, then you know when they are not right. And though we acknowledge the east and west of things, we rarely comment on the north and south of things, and how changing longitude will affect your sense of time in a different way than simply where you fall in time. Relative differences and absolute differences.

It is cold and clear at dawn, but the air quickly warms with the sun and its fun-house rising. Again I am transfixed by the flashing images, of the process proceeding without me. Back there the cold rains have come, the sideways rains, and in some places things are beginning to fall apart, though not in my places. Things remain mostly routine in my place until some hours after nightfall, when the power finally fails. It will stay failed for just over a day, and then it will return with little fanfare, and as best I can tell, little disruption of the normal routine.

The cold rains fell for many many hours, until over four inches had fallen. In those places where our rains usually came in, this time they did not. The snow did not come, the leveling winds did not come. All appears to be normal, for the most part.

But from my vantage point in this terrarium, I still cannot resist making the ice-blue images march unrelentingly across my eyes. I cannot turn away, and it fills my brain with shrapnel and shards that will not let me sleep. Images of flood and wind, of streets turned inside out, of homes evulsed, of arc flashes bringing day to night, of towers rent asunder, of masks of anguish, of crushing snows and tides of broken pieces and of ravening fires consuming all, unquenchable in the dark heart of a hurricane. In the middle of the night, I admit defeat, acknowledge that sleep is not coming anytime soon, and open the floodgate once again for another bout.

I walk briskly to lunch in my shirtsleeves; were there any humidity, I would probably break a sweat. My glasses darken in an instant from the sunshine, and there is still not a solitary cloud in the sky. I spend the end of the afternoon on the patio, chatting amiably with the other until the sun finally goes down and the chill arises. The bird calls begin to rise as the darkness encroaches. I am here right now and there is no other place I can be for the time being.

I will try to sleep tonight. Happy Samhain.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Time isn't holding us; time isn't after us.


October 6, 2012: Fired up the wood stove for the first time of the season. I love the smell of hot dust.
October 13, 2012: First frost.
October 14, 2012: Cabernet bottled, 25 bottles.
October 15, 2012: Last hen transferred to the winter yard. Summer yard gets a chance to rest.
October 15, 2012: Sauvignon blanc started.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Long Day in the Dairy

Sunday began bright and early with a quick post-coffee cleanup of the kitchen. Without pause or interruption, we proceeded directly into the first of a long series of interwoven projects: I delabeled the last few wine bottles we needed for the oft-postponed bottling of the Cabernet, and Mary brought in three gallons of milk from the outside refrigerator so it could slowly come to room temperature. She then skimmed the many quarts of milk on hand, gathering six pints of cream. As the milk and cream tempered, Mary packaged up an earlier batch of butter.

Then began the making of the new batch of butter. No homely churn for this task; the blender is a fine and expeditious helpmeet. In relatively short order, the butter was churned and the extravagant buttermilk set aside as a treat for the poultry. The scrubbed wine bottles were ready for a thorough washing. On to the next project—about five pounds of pure white fresh cheese, made the previous Sunday, waiting to be salted, divided and improvised upon.

The greatest measure of this cheese was simply salted and frozen as an ingredient for later. For the balance, we decided to take two tacks—Mary would make savory cheeses, I would make sweet. So together we crafted several flavors of soft, spreadable cheeses (including a savory Boursin clone and a brandied five-spice sweet cheese) which joined the butter in the freezer for enjoyment over the long dark winter.

By now the large pot of milk was ready to begin its magical transformation. We spent the bulk of the afternoon and well into the evening transforming three gallons of fresh milk into a small wheel of cheddar cheese through a process of strictly regulated heating, enzymatic action and physical manipulation that made mashing and brewing an all-grain beer look like fixing a glass of lemonade.

I would have to say there are a handful of magical transformations in the realm of the cooking arts. Mashing is one, where suddenly thick, starchy porridge becomes a sea of grains suspended in a clear, golden wort; another is the nixtamal reaction, where thick cooked corn is transformed in a different way, releasing the smell of fresh sweet corn where a moment earlier there was nothing; and cheese making, where in an instant, milk polarizes into clear liquid and a snowstorm of curds.

Did I mention that somewhere in there, we also started roasting one of our turkeys, to have for dinner?

So, by sometime after dinner, the cheddar was ready to be set aside to drain for a bit. But we're not quite done yet—still one more dairy project to take care of.

The three gallons of whey from the cheddar is heated, and to it we add a pint of whole milk. Somehow, from this meager beginning, we manage to produce over a pound of fresh ricotta! That is the most amazing step, because it really gives the appearance of getting something from nothing. (In reality, the cheddar extracts most of the casein protein from the milk with the help of the enzyme action of rennet; ricotta uses a near-boil heat and mild acidity, provided through the addition of a small quantity of cider vinegar, to capture the remaining albumin proteins from the whey). After this final magical transform, the last iteration of whey—stripped of protein but still vitamin and mineral rich—will be fed to the poultry as a supplement.

It is bedtime when we are finally done. The cheddar is undergoing its first pressing; the ricotta and butter are in the refrigerator chilling. The turkey carcass has been picked apart and the leftovers are put away. For all intents and purposes, we have spent the entire day on our feet, in the kitchen, by the stove or around the island, working together on these interwoven projects. It is all we can do to tie up the loose ends of the day, to make sure what needs to be closed up is closed up and what needs to be secured is secured. We are as sore and exhausted as had we been working in the garden or in the woods for as long a day.

And still the cabernet sits, unbottled.