Crazy Food Cravings

Craving foods 01-23-2014A Facebook friend who goes by the moniker Sherry Senile Camper Swanson posted a photo of a can of Hormel Tamales on her timeline: “For my gourmet dinner friends…here is my post of my lovely lunch of canned tamales…which I LOVE. Be jealous. Hee he.

Wife Lila chimed in, “Ken Steinhoff loves those things. Our grocer here quit carrying them, and I was charged with finding some… NOW! About six weeks later, I found them at another store and bought enough to keep him from going into a fetal position.”

That launched into a long discussion about those foods people keep in the back of their pantries for emergencies (in our case, hurricane supplies) or for the once or twice-a-year cravings. (If you can’t get them locally, here’s an Amazon link for Hormel Beef in Chili Sauce Tamales.)

It was interesting how many Cape Girardeans admitted to tamale urges. It must be a Bootheel thing, one said.

Smoked clams and oysters

Craving foods 01-23-2014

When nothing else hits the craving spot, I’ll reach into the hurricane supplies to pick up a can of smoked baby clams or oysters. I like them scooped up on Ritz Garden Vegetable crackers. I didn’t see the brand we buy listed on Amazon, but I haven’t been able to tell much difference in brands. For as seldom as I eat a can, cheapest is best.

All things being equal, I think I belch smoked clams for a shorter period of time than smoked oysters. Now, THAT’S a food review you don’t see on Friend Jan’s food blog.

Vienna Sausages

Broccoli, Vienna Sausages and KLSI was doing OK with this food talk until Ms. Swanson brought up Vienna sausages. I don’t think I’ve cracked a can of those things in 30 years, but I decided I should pick up a couple cans (they were on sale) when I went to the grocery store this afternoon. When I got home, Wife Lila was getting ready to make greens out of the broccoli leaves from her backyard garden.

She took one look at my cans and said, “You know how you have to leave the room when I drink buttermilk, well, I’m going to have to leave the room if you eat those.”

They DO look nasty

Broccoli, Vienna Sausages and KLSMs. Swanson rhapsodized about her VS experience: “I still have a can that I carried all the way across the US on my bike adventure. I was always afraid I’d end up in some podunk place with nothing to eat. I ate in a lot of gas stations on that trip…and the can of VS made it to the Atlantic Ocean and back here to Missouri.

When I cracked my can, I wish I had carried it unopened from one coast to the other.

Reading the ingredients didn’t make me feel any better: “Sausage: Mechanically separated chicken, water, salt, corn syrup. Contains less than 2% or less of beef, pork, Dextrose, natural flavors, sodium nitrate, garlic powder. Broth: chicken broth.”

Still, I had 50 cents invested in this adventure, so I had to go through with it.

I now know what “bilious” means

Broccoli, Vienna Sausages and KLS

Wife Lila didn’t run screaming from the room after all. She consented to photograph my experiment. She kept saying, “That one didn’t look exactly right. You’d better eat another one while I shoot it from a slightly different angle. Oh, there’s a bad shadow on that one.” [Editor’s note: For the record, Proofreader Lila doesn’t remember the photo shoot that way. I think she is suffering from sausage-induced amnesia.]

I had a horrible, guilty flashback. We had a feature columnist who did lots of what he thought were “funny” stories requiring personal deeds of (not) so daring feats. We photographers resented the space devoted to him that we thought could be better used by serious stories, so we didn’t cut him much slack.

One shoot involved a test of a laundry detergent to see if the stains really would come out after [name removed] had been dragged through a mud puddle by a motorcycle. One of the most reliable photographers on the staff had the darnedest time that afternoon. They light was wrong, the timing was off, his film slipped on the reel… Poor [name removed] and his clothing were certainly muddy after about half a dozen takes, but, to his credit, he didn’t gripe about the misfortunes the photographer had.

I now sympathize with [name removed] and feel a little guilty.

After I finished the seven “sausages” in the can, I looked inside and saw a gelatinous goo left behind that wouldn’t even pour out.

A word floated into my mind; a word that I hadn’t used in so long that I had to look it up to make sure it was the right one. Yep, “bilious” was the right term: “Bilious fever was a medical diagnosis often used for any fever that exhibited the symptom of nausea or vomiting in addition to an increase in internal body temperature and strong diarrhea. “Bilious” means the condition was thought to arise from disorders of bile, the two types of which were two of the Four Humours of traditional Galenic medicine. The term is obsolete and no longer used, but was commonly used by medical practitioners in the 18th and 19th centuries, often cited as a cause on death certificates.

 Topics for future exploration

When I get over my bilious condition, we can explore those other foods of Swampeast Missouri like tongue with horseradish, pickled pig’s feet and brains and eggs.


Preparing for Hurricanes

Tropical storm and hurricane warnings are something you get used to in Florida. It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. We’ve been coasting since the 2004-2005 season when four hurricanes passed over us, so I used the prospects of a brush from a Category One storm to check out the generator and take inventory. (Click on any photo to make it larger.) Looks like you folks might get a little rain out of this one. I hope it’s not like Ike that missed us but blew down trees in the Midwest.

Hurricane supplies

I’ve always been a disaster buff. I chased 13 hurricanes for the paper and wrote the hurricane coverage plans for the newsroom. When I moved into telecommunications, my staff was responsible for figuring out how to keep the phones and networks linking our remote offices up as long as possible. I took a lot of ribbing for my multiple layers of redundancy, but it paid off. Generally we never had to touch Plans C, D and E.

We have a 10×30 shed in our back yard. A 10×10 section is where I keep old prints, film and clips, plus my bikes. A 6×10 section has a workbench and tools; the back 4×10 room contains the pump for our sprinkler system, garden tools and the hurricane supplies.

This shelf has tarps, extension cords and a plastic container with Coleman air mattresses from the days when I had to camp out at the office for the duration of the storm. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to use the blue tarps except to make a covering for the generator. I did loan a couple of 30×30 tarps to a coworker who had a tree go through her roof.

Hurricane Central

I finally got the supplies organized where they are easy to find and deploy. The Generac 7550 EXL generator is stored under a shelf and next to the aluminum storm panels that cover the doors and windows. On the shelf above the storm panels are miscellaneous items like cans of Fix-A-Flat. The streets are full of nails and debris after the storm. We found the two most valuable things to carry were Rain-X for driving DURING the storm and Fix-A-Flat for driving AFTER the storm. You’re on your own and there aren’t many places open to patch tires.

I have extra oil and several oil filters for the generator, plus the wrench needed to change them. (It’s smaller than your car filter and a bear to get to.) There are nylon tie-downs to strap our aluminum awnings down to keep them from acting like big kites. I have two electric chainsaws with spare chains and chain oil. (I prefer electric to gas because they don’t require as much care. They aren’t as powerful as gas, but I have a whole lot better luck with them.)

Aluminum hurricane panels

I used sheets of 3/4-inch plywood to cover the windows for years, but it was heavy and took up lots of room. In the early 2000s, I switched to aluminum panels. I wish I could have afforded accordion shutters or hurricane-rated windows, but what I bought was a big improvement over plywood. The coffee can and plastic box contain the hardware to put up the shutters. When I finish with it, I spray it down good with silicone spray to make it spin on easier the next time.

If one of the kids is available to help, we can cover the whole house in about two hours.

I love my generator

After Hurricane Hugo, I bought a 300-watt generator and didn’t use it for 10 years. Even at that, I considered it a bargain. After the first time I used it, I upgraded to a 7500-watt unit and bought an adapter that would let me run it on gasoline, natural gas or propane. (Kid Matt inherited the old one.) It was great not to have to run around buying and storing gasoline for storms that missed us. Running on natural gas meant that I didn’t have to run out to fill the tank every few hours, either. The best part was that I didn’t have to worry about the gas going stale and turning to varnish.

I tried to make a practice of dragging it out annually to crank it up for 10 or 15 minutes and change the oil and filter. I got sloppy and hadn’t done any maintenance on it for at least two years. The battery had been hooked up to a trickle charger, but it was going on eight years old and didn’t have enough oomph to start the motor. I yanked on the starter cord a couple of times and was rewarded with a satisfying throaty roar from the engine. A roar that lasted about eight seconds.

Yank, Yank, Yank ROARRRRR, silence

Yank, Yank, Yank, ROARRRRRR, eight seconds, silence. I was too old to do the yank, yank, yank part, and eight seconds wasn’t long enough for me to try to make any adjustments on the running engine. I went in search of a new battery. Eighty-two bucks?!?! It fit in a bracket that was on odd size, so you couldn’t just walk into your basic big box store and pick up a generic one.

I opted for a lawnmower batter for less than half that amount and hooked it up with a (too-long) length of  No. 6 gauge wire. Once I got the thing running, I figured I’d go back and make it pretty. It turned out to be more battery than I needed. Kid Adam has the same generator and the same dead battery problem. After seeing my experience, he opted for a less expensive, less powerful battery and found that the existing cables were long enough that he didn’t need the extension.

How to keep your generator

Generator theft is a big problem. I heard a story which is just strange enough to be true. If it’s not, it should be.

A guy put his generator right outside his bedroom window so he would know if anyone was fooling with it. It had enough power (like mine) to run a small window AC unit so he could sleep comfortably. About three in the morning he felt the room getting hot. The AC unit had shut off and the light at the side of the bed didn’t turn on. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong because he could hear his generator purring away outside the window. He grabbed a flashlight and went out to see if the cord had vibrated loose.

What he found was a lawnmower running where his generator used to be. Like I said, the story deserves to be true.

The frame of my generator is bolted down with the biggest chain I could find. If I get really paranoid, I’ll take the wheels and handles off it. It has a shipping weight of 270 pounds, so they’d have to REALLY want it to carry it off.

Load balancing is important

The gray box at the bottom of my breaker box is where I hook up the generator. The first step is to throw the main breaker to take us off the grid. I don’t want to be sending power down the line where it could electrocute some utility worker. If I balance the load properly, I can keep the refrigerator, ceiling fans and most of the wall receptacles going. A small window AC unit will cool one bedroom.

We use natural gas for the generator, stove, hot water heater and dryer, so we’re better off than most folks. During one of the recent storms, a major water main broke, cutting off water to a lot of the city. The generator kept our sprinkler pump going, so we ran a hose into the bathroom to flush the toilet. We had enough bottled water on hand for drinking and cooking.

Solar lights are great

If you’re looking for a great source of light, pick up a few Solar Garden Lights. They’re cheap, put out a lot of light and recharge in sunlight. They take AA batteries, so you could charge several and have them on hand or use regular AA alkalines if there hasn’t been enough sunlight to give them a full charge.

Chemical light sticks

Hit the party aisle for a handy light that doesn’t put out heat, stores practically forever, lasts eight to 12 hours and is inexpensive. Cyalume Chemical Light Sticks will give enough illumination to move around a room when they’re first activated. Even when they start to fade, you throw them on the floor to help your find your way down hallways.

We bought a bunch of them at the office to hang over door knobs to mark “safe rooms” that would have been the shelter places of last resort. We never got a storm that strong, fortunately.

Cops found a unique use for them in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. They didn’t have the manpower to process looters, so they would break open the plastic tube and splash the harmless glowing chemicals on the bad guys, saying “This is your one warning. If we see you glowing on the street again, we shoot.”