Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Pluck of Raspberries as Autumn Returns

 Today we made yet another trip to Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton. Google sends us North on Rt 3 till we reach the Dunstable exit. From there the trail is southeast thru still viable New England farmland. It is a pleasant ride. Beth wants more raspberries to freeze. Again, it’s just an excuse to feel the early autumn sunshine on our faces. 

Fluffy clouds and steely sunshine filled the eye, with a constantly blowing and gravely refreshing breeze. On such a Sunday afternoon we were by no means alone along the lengths of raspberry plants. Apples too, Honey Crisps and Macs, were available for picking. The day’s largesse of ripe berries was nearly done by the time we arrived after one. We got two quarts but it took close perusal among the bent stalks to accomplish that.

I haven’t recounted yet how I picked raspberries one summer while a teenager, thus prepping me for these labors years later. My friend’s neighbor had a raspberry patch. My friend, his younger brother, and I got to pick the berries then take them to the local farm stand. I don’t know what profit the neighbour took but I got enough money for some records and books. Because the brothers routinely would end up throwing things at each other and chasing each other, I picked the most pints. It was a sweet deal. Now Beth and I pay for the privilege. The warm sun, the cool wind, the blue sky, the imposing white clouds, and the apple trees full of fruit indeed made it a privilege. I should now read The Shepherd’s Calendar by John Clare, and maybe I will,

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Calming Pandemic Response of Almond Butter

 Made a cup or two of almond butter. Roasting, blanching, and peeling the almonds took upwards of two hours. Nothing onerous in the task, it feels peaceful. Once blanched the almond skins mostly squirt off. They need reblanching when they cool. Sitting in boiled water for a minute constitutes blanching. I watched MST3K while I removed the skins.

Processing in the Cuisinart took 12 minutes. I added two teaspoons of sugar, painting the lily, and two or three teaspoons of coconut oil. Roasting supposedly brings out oil that the raw almond doesn’t release. The addition of oil makes the butter smoother, and imparts a sweet fragrance. I could have made more had I not chomped on quite a few of the roasted beauties that I had prepared.

The time/labour aint straightforwardly worth it if you wish to be a capitalist prod about it. The butter tastes like my effort, tho. It is as good as any commercial brand that I’ve had. I am not kidding anyone. I could buy better bread than I make. A good portion of France’s economy seems based on that thought. Store bought bread provides no feeling of accomplishment, however, nor yeast aroma in our abode. I like having almond butter on my to do list. My almond butter on my bread: It gives a rhythm to my life. That is to say, tho the results please, it is the making that matters. Despite the constrictions amidst the pandemic, happy chores make a widening.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Cooking Up A Pandemic Response

 I have been writing considerably about our Covid-19 Shit-Hits-The-Fan Food Gathering And Prep Initiative, ongoing. The intent is not to show that I remember hippies, Age of Aquarious, and all that righteous. I doremember all that, and feel a curious warmth towards it, tho I hardly breathed that air. More importantly, however, I just want to see the result of a little extra effort.

Beth and I went to the organic farm today to purchase 15 pounds of tomatoes. The property is sweet-looking, trailing down to the Concord River. The land is in trust, can never be subdivided. This is a big deal, what with all the monied estates nearby. The farm land can remain so as long as someone wants to dig.

A sign outside the stand said no more than three customers at a time inside. Two people entered just ahead of us. An employee at the door invited Beth in, and I joined her. There were at least six customers scanning the provender, plus a handful of employees: so much for the sign. Room enough to maintain social distance, at least. The rules are kinda random these days, err on the side of safety.

Because of a drouthy summer, lettuce and corn were unavailable. Beth picked up some cilantro and I immediately smelled it six feet away. Basil looked wilted. Some cooking greens came home with us, as well.

The above exploit occurred while bread rose. Couldn’t take the slightly more scenic route home (I’m talking a couple extra miles), the bread comes first. I readied the dough for a second rise, then looked to our new vacuum bagging system. This gizmo will help us freeze more goods, tomatoes for instance.

I have never used such a thing but it seems practical. The tomatoes can be processed tomorrow. We sourced cheap locally-grown peaches that we will pick up tomorrow. They are utility peaches, seconds. Not pretty, but they can be used in baking or more peach butter. Cost will be some 50% cheaper than farm stand pretty peaches

I just saw this article about quarantine envy. I cannot say that I suffer it, tho I don’t doubt people do. I have worked 40+ hours a week right along. While there’s a part of me that would like to have stayed home huddling, I had the stabilizing effect of my normal routine. Beth lost two temporary job opportunities to the pandemic, but her main job during this time was to study for her real estate appraisal test (which she passed yesterday). The job that Erin was to start in April was delayed till May. At least we were together, remained healthy, and held our own.

I didn’t have to adjust my work life to the use of Zoom. Outside of Beth’s mother, we have no family nearby, so there is little in that way that the pandemic curtailed. Beth has been cautious about visiting her mother because I didn’t isolate but the phone eased that.

The pandemic has reminded us that we must make do. Thus, we have looked to gather food and find ways to maintain an abundance as hedge against whatever the hell comes next. Beth and I have put our heads together deciding how to maintain our own food supply, and do so affordably. The act of preparing the food and freezing it has been both creative and cooperative. In that, then, we have established a dynamic act. We are engaged in a positive pandemic response.

Maintaining our distance and wearing masks won’t soon end. Our key focus is figuring what we can do for ourselves, because our government no longer sees social welfare as a goal. This is a betrayal, and it will be remembered, but for now, we do what we need to do for ourselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Don’t Let the River Beast Get You, the filmic experience

 This is an oddly satisfying, low-budget monster movie. Not to give anything away but this film offers the least scary monster ever. It also has a charming, goofy vibe. It is intentionally funny tho it looks like your average cheesy b-flick sloppy mess.

Look at the title. Instead of Beware the River Beast or Revenge of the River Beast we have the scary words in the middle of the title, trailing off to the diminuendo of ‘Get You’. This movie clearly isn’t trying to make you jump out of your seat.

To make that clear, the movie begins with a warning. We see an uncomfortable looking man seated in a chair. At the advice of counsel, he tells us, the producers have added red flashes to the screen just prior to appearances of the dreaded Beast. When they occur, he says, you should put your hand over your eyes. He demonstrates, leaving a gap so that he can see. He reads his lines as if he had not seen them before, which seems quite likely.

The credits reveal a lot of shared family names. An abundance of family and friends made this movie possible, on both sides of the camera. It was filmed in Manchester, NH, and environs, with the Merrimack River as the home of the River Beast.

The story concerns the return of Neil Stuart to River Town. He left town in disgrace several years ago. He had seen a monster, the River Beast, in some unexplained circumstance. He tried to warn the town but no one believed him. Instead they ridiculed him, called him RB.

He returned to River Town at the behest of his godmother. She wants him to represent the godfamily at the wedding of Neil’s godcousin. Sic. His. godmother refuses to go because she doesn’t like the fiancé. Neil rents her basement as he tries to start over.

As he gets to town he meets his ex-fiancée Emmaline. She had broken off their engagement because of the River Beast kerfuffle. She too is now engaged to a jerk. Neil carries a flame. 

Other townies show him disdain, call him RB. He retained a couple of friends, Troy and Millhouse aka Milly. Troy calls Neil the greatest tutor this town has ever seen, obviously awed by the vast but true nature of his statement. He offers to get Neil some jobs. Milly is the town’s greatest poetry tutor. The three of them had a band, which might get back together now that Neil is back.

Living with Neil in the godmother’s basement is Teddy. He plays guitar and has been in the dumps since Neil left and the band broke up. Neil encourages him to get back to playing guitar. While busking for bucks in the park, a young woman starts dancing to the music. She explains that she is popping. That’s a kind of dance, you see. From what I can tell, she’s just moving a bit but okay, they meet cute. Her name is Pamela, and she’s a free spirit. She moves in with the boys, getting the bed while they get mattresses on the floor.

The movie actually begins with Allie Stone, a student at a finishing school. She concocts a way to get a pervy professor at the school fired. In doing so, she gets kicked out of school. Her father Frank hires Neil to straighten her out. Frank is always referred to as ex-professional athlete Frank Stone. Thru out the movie he practices various sports with his son but which professional sport he played professionally is never expressed. “I don’t pay people to lose to me in horseshoes,” he told Neil by way of telling Neil to get tutoring.

The actress who plays Allie, Sharon Scalzo, deserves notice. She is the only actually lively person in the movie. She resembles Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. She is perky, mischievous, and energetic. Her face constantly moves with rolled eyes, lifted eyebrows, widened eyes, wrinkled nose. She’s a great counter-balance to the stodgy discomfort of the rest of the cast. I am not denigrating those others. The amateur level of the acting is a central dynamic of the movie.

The movie now pretends to develop plot tension. Neil doesn’t get along with Emmaline’s fiancé, nor with his godcousin’s fiancé. He is hounded by the editor of the River Town Daily Standard, who spearheaded the mockery of Neil. The editor’s name is Sparky Watts, just so you know. The actor playing the editor drags on his cigarette like no smoker ever does.

Things are almost getting exciting at this point. In an effort to win back Emmaline, Neil hired noted big game hunter Ito Hootkins to find the River Beast and clear Neil’s name. Ito is also a noted lady’s man, tho on what basis this could be true is not clear. Ito tells Neil “It’s easy for a woman to fall in love with me, I have je ne sais quoi.” Like the professor that Allie took down, Ito is much interested in the so-called picnic babes, young ladies who picnic in the woods. His method of finding the Beast is wandering in the woods playing his harmonica.

I neglected to mention that Milly is obsessed with food. He, along with Ito, express interest in eating the River Beast. ”Must be some good eating,” Milly speculates. In an early scene, Milly reprimands Troy for not offering Milly some peanuts. Troy counters that Milly never shared his squash that time. The greatest poetry tutor this town has seen replies that squash is not a food you can share.

The wedding of godcousin Cynthia to that jerk gets tense when Emmaline’s jerk fiancé takes seconds from the buffet before Milly gets firsts. Fisticuffs almost ensue but Neil saves the day by getting the River Mud Wranglers or whatever the name to play a tune. All the producer’s friends and relatives start dancing, and Pamela pops. 

There is indeed a River Beast and it appeared early on with proper warning. A take on the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but with expense spared. Various antagonists of Neil get killed by the Beast, implicating Neil. Pamela gets wanderlust—she’s a free spirit—seeing a lady hobo, sic, skipping with bindle and staff, double sic. She tells no one she’s leaving so suspicion falls on Neil. Neil is jailed. 

Allie works to free him. She visits him in the jail. Continuity fans will enjoy that when she entered the building she wore jeans. Talking to Neil she wore a dress. Neil has her take Troy and Ito with her to get pictures of the Beast. At this point, Allie is wearing shorts. They find the River Beast. Ito gets the pic but the Beast kills him. ito drops the camera as he dies. Troy volunteers to grab the camera. Before doing so, he requests that Allie call him Soldier Moons. Where’d that come from?

Soldier Moons grabs the camera and tosses it to Allie. The River Beast kills him. Allie gets away because she has professional athlete genes. Neil is allowed to be freed as further deaths occurred while he was in the pokey. He, Teddy, and Milly go after the Beast. Neil honors the death of a hero, Solder Moons, then they find the Beast. The Beast quickly knocks out Milly and Teddy Three Stooges-style. Neil does what he can but the Beast looms for the kill. Ex-professional athlete Frank Stone appears, ready for a scrap. He gestures to the Beast to bring it, then starts slugging. With unexpected canniness, the Beast grabs some leaves and throws them in the ex-professional athlete’s face. Of course that disorients the ex-professional athlete. Frank Stone dies, almost sadly.

When Teddy met Pamela, she told him about the wonders of kitty litter. It can do many things, she declared: melt ice, be used as confetti, absorb moisture. The couple gave Neil a bag. In the dire moment Neil pulled out the bag and threw some on the Beast. The desiccating power of the litter kills the Beast. 

The final scene reveals Neil as a hero, Allie as the new reporter for the River Town Daily Standard, and Emmaline and Neil as engaged. They intend to adopt the ex-fiancé’s son from a previous marriage. Cue the credits.

The consistently flaky meta quality of the movie intrigues me. Plot-. wise, there is no tension whatever. Every blockbuster you’ve ever seen relies on that tension but here it is eschewed. Instead, you have Neil meaningfully drinking chocolate milk at odd moments of the film.

Something gung-ho pervades the movie. It’s like those Let’s put on a show! movies, and they really did. The dialogue is quirky. Teddy refers to his basement digs as domicile and abode. Who does that? 

Charles Roxburgh co-wrote and directed. Matt Farley co-wrote, produced, and played Neil. There’s at least one other film by them, with largely the same cast. I will take this sort of movie over any number of well-funded spectacles. The energy comes from the creative spark rather than the giddy vigor of profit. I am telling you, Don’t Let the River Beast Get You is a hunk of fun

Monday, August 10, 2020

Shopping the Pandemic

 I have a week off, which means a little less attention to Covid-19. Routines have developed over the past five months. Wash hands, wear mask. Work is just work now, albeit with the experience heightened.

I continue messing around with sort of pandemic-related production of foodstuffs. Making food that I might otherwise buy. The supply chain has been rattled and will continue so. Get used to making do.

Nut butters have been my latest interest. Almond butter made from blanched, toasted almonds proved righteous. Butter made from toasted walnuts less so. You may or may not like the toasted taste. Honey helped, salt did not. I can confirm that raw walnut butter with honey is a smooth, dessert-level confection.

We headed North today for canning supplies. First stop Walmart. I haven’t stepped into the belly of that beast in years. I didn’t see the sign that says Give Up Now And We’ll See What Happens but I’m sure it’s there. Beth thought they could fulfill our need for canning jars. The parking lot exhibited an enclosing sort of heat, with humidity cheerfully present. Tape blocked off the entrance in such a way that people had to enter single file. There was a greeter at the door, tho he didn’t really greet us. Beth greeted him, as is her wont. He probably had to watch for the maskless and those who would scoot under the tape to crowd ahead.

The store is vast and grubby. We sought quart-sized canning jars. We were directed to the appropriate aisle but only found pints. We got some kitchen utensils and left. Beth gave the man out front a bottle of water.

After a quick stop to see Beth’s mother we passed from Taxachusetts to Live Free Or Die. Which doesn’t sound like freedom, after all. The or else vibe comes across as threatening. And what, really, does freedom mean?

Walmart isn’t exactly grim, at least the one in Lowell isn’t, but I get the feeling that second rate is first rate there. I got a similar sense Saturday when I had to pop into Ocean State Job Lots in search of rubber gloves. OSJL sells remaindered items and, I think, anything at all from China. They stayed open during the lockdown because they could source toilet paper and masks from somewhere. Even Walmart cannot match the grimness of Ocean State. It’s okay, you don’t need to know why the stuff is so cheap. In the end, I couldn’t find gloves in the squalor of the store. The hardware store did me better.

After those stores, Costco seems pristine. It is an efficient machine. A vacuum-packing food storage system provided our target. We mean to fill that freezer of ours. Of course we got other stuff, too. We began the pandemic with a galore of toilet paper and olive oil by virtue of not remembering what we had at home when faced with Costco’s largesse. I saw no one without a mask despite New Hampshire‘s license plate exhortation. Walmart likewise.

Beth always engages cashiers and other store employees she may speak to. The cashier yesterday unburdened herself a little about working during the pandemic. This boat we share makes us conscious of others, like it or not. I don’t have the outgoing gene but I try to see that person before me. We’re all dazzled by the calamity.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Charles Olson, Thoreau, and the Distance to Mt. Wachusett

 The author Robert Sullivan, in The Thoreau You Didn’t Know, several times notes that Mt Wachusett is on the edge of Concord or vice versa. It’s probably more than an hour by car between the two. I think I am even under-estimating. In his research, Sullivan maybe didn’t haul out to Wachusett, it is not a significant place in the Thoreau annals. He probably looked at a map and judged the distance as small. I am not blaming him. It just reminds me how local local is. Many years ago, my father flew somewhere for work. He had boarded but there was a delay as a late passenger arrived (I noted that this was long ago). The passenger turned out to be Tip O’Neil, Senate Majority Leader at the time. He sat next to my father. O’Neil, whose nickname derived from an old time baseball player, famously said all politics is local. Their conversation during the flight centered on their both having grown up in North Cambridge. Charles Olson’s historical musings placed seemingly excessive weight on bits of information that hardly seem worthy of general regard. That is exactly where my interest sharpened for The Maximus Poems. Travelers to Walden Pond are no doubt surprised to find that busy Rt 2 is so close to the pond that Roberto Clemente could probably have heaved a baseball into the water from the highway’s edge, assuming the trees were gone. There is value in what we know, but also, it seems, in what we don’t know. I once read a book by a local writer, set locally in the Boston area. I stumbled on what I detected as minor errors. One that I remember is referring to a fancy Boston restaurant at the time as Biba’s. The correct name was Biba. The possessive makes it sound like the restaurant was named for a person, when I believe the word is Latin for imbibe. Whether I am right about that or not doesn’t matter. The cognoscenti would never have said Biba’s. What this all comes down is that it is Sunday morning, I don’t have to work for a week, and writing is my pleasure. Just to complete the wobbling circle, I grew up in a house on Wachusett Drive.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Peach Butter in the Age of Trump

Enterprise! Two loaves of peach bread in dough chrysalis are baking. An excess of bread dough that I refrigerated is now rising to the occasion (sic). Several pounds of peaches have been processed and remain chill in the freezer. I mention this for the usual Facebark reason: look at me!

The exercise holds something more, however. In the recent and much-bruited interview that the president gave, he answered a question with five grey words: It is what it is. In reference to the pandemic. Translation: I got nothing. We are in trouble.

My spidey sense tells me that we all will need a higher level of self-sufficiency. The supply chain is rattled. You may (and anyway should) become more active in the education of your children. The things you depend on, whether it is NFL games, vaccines, or Heineken 12-packs, may not be readily forthcoming. Not to say peach bread will save us but an attitude of make rather than take might be beneficial.

I don’t mean to sound gloomy. Both Beth and I felt invigorated by the process of dealing with our largesse of peaches. It was not just making peach bread and peach butter but getting a freezer and where to put it and how to freeze peaches and when to do this. Peach butter is the happy by product of our endeavor. Well-placed endeavor and kindliness will be key as we process the mess that we face.