Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Real Burgoo

I'm plotting my escape carefully, printing out maps of highways, exits and possible stops on the return trip homeward and north, which might occur sometime before my birthday in September.  While I await the wrapping up of the long-delayed repairs and the completion of the household goods dispersal via my new best friends at UPS near the often-fatal intersection of FL Route 674 and US 301, I've got time in between constant e-mails and little chores, but nothing much to do with it.  My temporary pass to the amenities of the Kings Point community expired a day or two ago, and the pool is empty anyway, getting some maintenance (pools, boats, appliances, the blasted garage door opener at home -- everything always needs maintenance).  So I pulled an old "Southern Cookbook," copyright 1939, off the pile of kitchen stuff to ship out, and looked through it at lunch (all the books are gone, and the free box at the community library is worthless).  What a find.  I remember this being in the kitchen somewhere all the places the family lived over the years, and must have read it before, but it's a pleasure to re-find.  Delightfully but politically very in-correctly written, it is also graced with little drawings as publications were back in the mid-century, with snatches of blues songs, sayings and quotes next to them, like:

'Case cookin's lak religion is --
Some's 'lected an' some ain't,
An' rules don' no mo' mek a cook
Den sermons mek a saint.

The first recipe, for Kentucky Burgoo, is so Southern and so fine, you could stop right there.  I have been fortunate to try a few versions (and they are infinite) of this, as well as the equally famous Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich, and can heartily agree with Jesse Winchester that "a man sure is lucky, to live down in Kentucky."  This stew is of folk origin, unlike the sandwich which was invented in a hotel kitchen in Louisville; the recipe in the abstract is any meats, a variety of vegetables, and beans or potatoes for thickening, and soup bones (or no soup bones, depending on the local tradition).  Early on, those meats were those caught in the wild, like squirrels, possum or birds.  Your backyard pest is probably safe now, as beef and chicken are now preferred, and easier to catch at the supermarket.

Made usually in large quantities for social occasions or festivals, it has been especially a requirement on Derby Day, those endless political rallies (in the South, you'd better have food for the potential votes) and horse sales.  Don't forget the corn bread to go along with; if you're real old-time, it will be corn meal dodger or something else your great-grandmother would have made several times a week.  If your GGM wasn't some Yankee.

The recipe in "Southern Cooking" is from a handwritten original by a Mr. J. T. Looney of Lexington, Kentucky, who was known as the Burgoo King.  He made it the old way, too, outdoors in huge kettles simmering over wood fires all night.  Since he made about 1200 gallons at a time, this required:

600 lbs. lean soup meat (if you use those squirrels, it's a dozen of them per each 100 gallons)
200 lbs. fat hens
2000 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
200 lbs. onions
5 bushels of cabbage, chopped
60 10 lb. cans of tomatoes
24 10 lb. cans of tomato puree
24 10 lb. cans of carrots
18 10 lb. cans of corn
red pepper, salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco

And it's said to ensure delectibility, a rabbit's foot at the end of a yarn string must be properly waved by a preacher whose salary has been paid to date.  These people were serious.

Both Kentucky and Illinois claim towns as the Burgoo Capital of the World.  I have no doubts which is the correct one.  Maybe I'll take I-75 north and west and find some of that savory stew.  Well worth the miles, it will be.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Private Eye

Yesterday I paid a all too brief visit to the fitness center in the morning for the first time, and found that's when it's really crowded.  Only one treadmill was open, and that one I knew was directly beneath the relentless barrage of Fox News always on the TV facing it, so that's why my stay was brief.  I'd like to use the rower also but it is in front of an even bigger TV also always on the Noise channel.  Oh, well.  It's either a soft stomach or a soft brain, and I guess it will be the former, being the lesser of two evils.

Then back at home, what is the daily topic of friend Cliff's blog "Just Another Life," but a look at journalism?  And I've been thinking a lot about that lately, since seeing yesterday, on the Fake News scroll, their claim that over 50% of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act.  Any other source has it that over 50% support it.  They just make it up; you decide.

The Heritage Foundation agitprop machine just recently touted the results of a survey which I'm sure cycled through Fox, the Washington Times, Limbaugh and all the rest, which had numbers they liked.  On a much less noticed website, a reporter took that survey apart and found the usual:  it was taken from a very small sample in a heavily Republican district who were polled with misleading questions.  I guess those too slimy to even be lawyers find their way to employment at the Heritage and the thousands of similar Institutes and Foundations.

Even eyewitness reportage and testimony without an axe to grind or an ideology to spin is often less than half accurate, despite having great weight in our justice system.  I can think of stories in VA, PA, TX and especially IL in which men have spent a large part of their lives in prison, innocent, due to eyewitness testimony.  More entertainment and hyperbole than reportage, stories of the bad guys of the Old West were seldom witnessed at all but printed in newspapers of the day, written from far away with much more fiction, color and rumor employed than facts.  And the audience is always receptive and ready to believe a juicy myth, like the Spanish explorers lured inland by natives' tales of cities of gold, or on the pages of today's tabloids.

History starts out as reportage but the essential stories of serious,  influential events are often lost or suppressed if they don't fit the kind of tale that the powers that be want in the official or popular record.  The history we read in school did not make clear the importance of exactly what Lewis and Clark saw and carefully recorded:  the diseases of the Europeans moved far in advance of explorers and settlers, penetrating  fast and devastatingly into the interior.  They found Mandan and Hidatsa villages in the northern plains where a European had hardly been seen in decades (a few fur traders at most) full of people dead and dying from influenza and smallpox.  Their journal and drawings are available to us now, but we surely did not hear of or understand the great extent of these plagues and how native society was mostly destroyed before ever being contacted.  Thee hundred years earlier, the Spanish had barely landed in Florida when their diseases destroyed 80 - 90% of the population all the way into Texas.

We still have a report from a rational, not sensationalist, English chronicler in the year 1150 who admitted he had heard from "many and ... competent witnesses," about an unusual event which defied his understanding.  It seems that reapers going about the harvest in East Anglia were surprised by two children, a boy and a girl, who emerged from depressions the locals called "wolf pits," who "were completely green in their persons."  It was such a novelty in that small and out of the way place that the locals kept the two captive without food while they marveled at the novel sight of green children.  Eventually someone showed them how to remove beans from the pods they had been offered and they ate that for months before being introduced to bread.  Then, "at length, by degrees, they changed their original colour, through the natural effect of our food, and they became like ourselves."  The boy, unfortunately, did not long survive his baptism, but his sister lived to be married and eventually explained that where they had come from it was always twilight and they had found themselves in the pit after hearing a great sound, but that is all they knew.  Our chronicler, William of Newburgh, concludes with

Let every one say as he pleases, and reason on such matters according to his abilities; I feel no regret at having recorded an event so prodigious and miraculous.

Be it literature in the rough, the science of opinion molding and propaganda, fancy and humbug, a razor-sharp report by Hemingway or half-literate babble from a television mannequin, we all like the stories journalists tell us.



Tuesday, August 6, 2013


   The Banda Islands -- Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

My head is swimming, even though I haven't had much time to actually do some of that, whole body, in the nearby very nice pool.  The old folks in their visors, hats and sunglasses just bob and are well behaved, the blue sky and rustling greenery are soothing and the music on the loudspeakers is surprisingly agreeable -- Link Wray and some old surfing instrumentals the other day.  Okay, that's just what I like.  The jury's out whether that's good music or not, if analyzed objectively.
What has my head swimming is not the presence or lack of such pleasant things, it's what I'm engaged in here daily at Sun City Center, FL.*  Have spent hours each day visiting Dad in his rehab hospital, and it is sad to see people having to give up what they are.  I enjoy getting engaged with fixing problems (TV and remote screwed up, laundry MIA, cords all tangled around the bedframe, probably for years) as that gets Dad involved in little details of the real world for a few minutes.  There's nothing else real-feeling about lying in a bed for 23 hours a day.  No fault to be found; inevitable age has brought the patients to their knees.  Dad said he's tired of the regimentation and is about terminally bored.  Can't read, can't really see or understand what's on TV, and the lower end of the staff (the only ones who seem to be working) only buzz in quickly, do whatever the thing is at that moment and disappear like Houdini.  Instead of paying yet another R.N. to ignore everyone and everything, shuffle papers or noodle on a computer screen while at the station, how about one to visit each patient and find out what little things they need and have a normal conversation?  Now, many patients are beyond that and are lost in their own interior wilderness.  But you'd be surprised what happens sometimes when you look one in the eye and talk to her sincerely.  For a few moments at least, they return to life.

So, I've been there enough time to observe how, as with every organization, inattention and incompetency rule.  The laundry disappeared, and Dad spent three days in a food-stained shirt, because (as I found) Housekeeping had him in two rooms he was not in, and had removed the hamper when his silent roommate left.  I went directly to the "back of the house" this morning, found all his missing clothes, and got the stinkeye from an employee as I was stacking them to carry back to his room.  With little effort, I had found a lady the previous evening who was the institutional TV expert and who could fix those electronic problems in a few minutes.

That's how it goes.  You either do, and get, what you need in any organization directly without asking permission or filling out forms (like Radar on "M.A.S.H.") or you find that one person with the skills.   And I didn't learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten as the book said; I learned how to go through the "back channel" in the school system, military and in pathetic non-profits on one hand, and how to deal with people, on the other, from my smart and sweet wife. She reminded me long ago that it doesn't cost anything extra to be nice and treat everyone with respect from the start.

A lot of the people around here are 70 - 90, and the men in particular seem to be egotistical, demanding authoritarians who were previously career military or business executives, whose style was to intimidate and demand; when that no longer works they just become complainypants malcontents.  Apart from a very few loud and unbalanced types, most of the women have long mastered the art of being positive, well-mannered and skilled in people relations.  What the men miss is the simple fact that other people like to be treated well, are probably being used by their employer and they know they're not valued, don't appreciate being abused or put in their place, and will generally be as helpful as they can when approached with courtesy to cooperate in solving a problem.

All this works in person better than on the phone.  When someone can keep a safe distance from all your warming radiating sincerity, they are usually more mindful of the time limits their employer puts on each call than of solving your problem the first time, accurately.  While dealing with the myriad details of our mother's estate, for example, just getting Dad's new insurance member ID number and card (which they changed without notifying him or us) and getting it to Medicare has been a comedy of unnecessary errors.  In these sorts of dealings, you must find or already know the key words that will elicit the correct response.  I don't have any pointers about how you do that, because neither the company's literature or information on the internet will be helpful providing those all-important terms so both you and the company rep can cut to the chase and just get the small job done. My Brother The (relentlessly efficient) Executor found out that the operative term was "Automatic Crossover," and after hitting the rep with that after many calls, she said okay and it was done.  Why oh why does someone who does the same thing all day, every work day, not ever get good at it?

The movie "Groundhog Day" seems to me to be a pretty good description of life as it is.


*When things get you down, think about what happened to the previously happy natives long ago in the Banda Islands (part of present-day Indonesia), once the only source in the world for nutmeg.  As you learned in junior high history, worldwide trade has always been spurred on by the search for commodities to sell that the folks back home can't (or think they can't) live without.  People have gotten very medieval when it came to getting those commodities, be they spices, tea, sugar, rubber or even free human labor, making our daily frustrations look pretty microscopic in comparison.  The Dutch East India Company hired Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost all the adult males in the Banda Islands to enforce their total control, and limited production of cloves, nutmeg and other rare items to keep prices up; trees producing them were even cut down and cargoes dumped at sea to enforce that policy.

So, we've got to keep things in perspective, don't we?