Saturday, August 31, 2013

My mom's Awesome Relish

Or, What to Do with A Giant Zucchini

My mother used to do a lot of gardening and a lot of canning. One of the things she made was a relish that over the years became known as The Awesome Relish. Everyone loved it. The Younger Daughter once had a boyfriend who liked it so much that when they broke up, Tammi told me she had a feeling that the ex was going to miss the relish more than he missed her.

As long as my mother was making it and even after she passed along a copy of the recipe, I assumed she used cucumbers. Nope. Turns out she'd figured out that Awesome Relish was a good way to get rid of the Giant Zucchini that appears in the garden every year. There's always at least one summer squash that goes from being just barely noticeable and not quite pick-able to wow, this is usable as a weapon in less than 24 hours.
Ingredients and weapons assembled on the picnic table
Solution? Well, there's always grating the thing and using it in zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini fritters, zucchini pizza, you name it and zucchini suddenly becomes a viable ingredient. Or there's Awesome Relish.
I use the meat grinder my mother gave me. It chops stuff to just the right degree of coarseness. The downside is a lot of juice runs out the back of the thing, hence, the use of the picnic table. The puddle forms on the ground instead of the kitchen floor.
On the other hand, one advantage of working outside is that the fumes from the ground onions dissipate faster.
Giant Zucchini sliced and with two quarters seeded. Once the zucchini is sliced into manageable sections, the seeds are removed. No one wants zucchini seeds in relish, chopped or otherwise. 
Slightly out of focus ingredients mixed in enamel-ware pot
Yield, 8 pints
Now I need to go looking in the garden to see if there's another Giant Zucchini hiding in the weeds. The S.O. pointed out that 8 pints won't go very far when there are multiple people expecting to receive a jar or two as a gift.
The peppers are sweet bell peppers; I think the main reason for the red peppers is to add color. I used three green and one red this year because the green ones were cheap, the red ones expensive; some years I use all green because there simply aren't any red ones available in the local markets and no one's ever noticed any difference.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Travel notes

We just got back from a quick trip to Minneapolis. I had to confer with a friend about a possible contract job we're considering bidding on, and I also needed to pick up a sewing machine that's been stored in her basement for awhile. As usual while traveling, we encountered a few oddities, like these elk crossing signs.

Okay. I understand putting up wildlife crossing signs of various types to alert motorists to the possibility that large animals of some sort -- deer, bison, moose, whatever -- might come wandering across the pavement. These elk crossing signs near Clam Lake are, however, a little more high tech than the usual warnings. They have flashing lights. According to a sign posted at the beginning of the stretch of Wisconsin highway 70, the lights flash when elk are in the vicinity. I immediately had visions of elk nudging the equivalent of a pedestrian crosswalk's "Walk" button while at the same time I was cynically thinking the only thing that flashing lights really did was signal the presence of cars. I noticed that a couple of the signals started flashing right about the time we got close to them, so I couldn't help but wonder if the motion detector was actually a radar gun aimed at the highway.

My cynicism was misplaced. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I now know the elk detectors really do detect elk. Elk were transplanted into northern Wisconsin in 1995; the herd was never big and has been struggling. Quite a few elk were lost to vehicle collisions so the DNR decided to try the elk detection system in 2006. Because the herd remains small and is closely monitored, most of the elk have radio collars. When an elk wanders to within a certain distance from the elk detector signs, the lights start flashing.

I have distinctly mixed feelings about trying to transplant wildlife. I can understand the desire to return wildlife to habitats where those animals may once have been common, but after reading about the elk program it felt way too much like the DNR is simply engaged in elk ranching, just done on a larger geographic scale than the typical commercial operation. In cooperation with the US Forest Service, they actually go out and mow large sections of land to keep it open for elk to graze. And why are they doing all this? Is it for species diversity or to protect an endangered species? Nope. It's for the same reason commercial elk ranchers raise elk: the ultimate goal is to give someone a chance to hunt elk. Wisconsin is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to nurture its elk herd for the same reason that Michigan spent a lot of money to introduce moose: so that at some point in the future some asshole with a gun can go out and kill something.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Testing, testing

Just checking to see if it's still possible to embed videos. One of the other blogs I read has been having trouble with YouTube -- maybe it depends on the specific video because this one seems to work.

Inquiring minds want to know

It's another one of those mornings when I'm awake much too early so have been just kind of wandering around the intertubes doing mindless linking from one site to another. This little gem from the Dallas Morning News caught my eye:

Nude woman flees after crashing car on I-30 in Fort Worth

Fort Worth police are looking for a hit-and-run driver who fled a one-car crash without a stitch on. Police say the woman slammed into a guardrail on Interstate 30 about 1:45 a.m. and jumped out of her vehicle just west of downtown. Witnesses reportedly told police she was nude when she ran off. Officers arrived shortly afterward, but after a search on the ground and by air did not find the suspect. No injuries were reported in the crash.
Naturally, I want to know more. Why was someone driving around naked in the middle of the night? How well-lighted is the freeway at that point that witnesses could tell the woman was naked? Did she remember to grab her purse? Was she wearing shoes? If so, does that still count as naked?  And where did she run to? How does a naked person just disappear while jogging away from the freeway?  

It did occur to me that no one, not even a crazy person, would flee naked from the site of a car crash here in the U.P., especially at night. Nine months out of the year he or she would know they'd drop from hypothermia pretty quickly, and during our brief summer they'd want to avoid being sucked dry by killer mosquitoes. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Games authors play

I've been reading a book set one county over from us here in the U.P. Cache of Corpses is apparently the third book in a series written by Henry Kisor that feature a deputy with the "Porcupine County" sheriff's department. Why Kisor felt the need to change location names is a mystery, but he does. Like many other authors, he indulges in minor name changes that seem to serve no useful purpose. I know there's a long tradition of creating fictional locations in literature -- Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County springs to mind -- but if you're going to tell the readers that your mythical county is abutted by Lake Superior, Houghton County, and Gogebic County, why not just keep right on using Ontonagon County instead of changing it to the utterly ludicrous Porcupine County? Anyone who knows the western U.P. is going to know it's Ontonagon County as soon as they read Kisor's description of the old county poor farm (an impressive ruin standing spitting distance from M-38; see photo above), and anyone who doesn't know isn't going to care. Was he worried that if he referred to Ontonagon as Ontonagon the people who run Syl's Cafe would sue over his description of the edible but not particularly good food at the loosely disguised "Merle's"?

I don't get it. I can understand authors who live in a community playing games with place names and trying to establish a fair amount of daylight between their work and whatever inspired it, but when the author is a FIP* who falls into the summer people/occasional tourist category? Why not just call places by their proper names instead of making up ludicrous crap like "Coppermass"? It makes no sense for the author to call places like Matchwood, Topaz, and Bruce Crossing by their actual names and then make up something for White Pine and Silver City, especially when the fictional names are just a notch off the real ones (Lone Pine and Silverton, respectively).

Alternatively, if you're going to make up names, come up with ones that mesh with the way the other counties in Upper Michigan got named: pick something Ojibwe (e.g., Gogebic, Ontonagon) someone notable (Schoolcraft, Baraga, Houghton), or something mineral (Iron). But Porcupine? Give me a break. That's just laughable.

As for the overall quality of the book, although I'm not quite done with it, I think it's safe to say its merits fall right in line with the food at Merle's: mediocre but tolerable. There's a fair amount of condescension laced through his descriptions of the locals, he gets a lot of the local color wrong -- how he can describe a typical U.P. wedding reception and not include a mention of the old ladies doing the chicken dance is beyond me -- and the flannel shirts we Yoopers wear are Union Bay, not Pendleton (seeing Yoopers described as wearing Pendleton was definitely a WTF moment). I also found its basic premise to be highly implausible, but I've read worse. Would I recommend to other mystery buffs? Probably not. If this had been a book I'd made the mistake of purchasing instead of checking out from the library, I'd toss it into the St. Vincent de Paul box rather than pass it on to either of my daughters.

As for why the Poor Farm photo, it's the setting for the first chapter of the book.

[*FIP = fucking Illinois prick. One of the many things Kisor gets wrong. He calls them FIBs. As long as I can remember, those asshats with the Illinois plates have been FIPs in northern Wisconsin and the western U.P.]        

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Would you like fries with that?

The topic du jour on NPR and other news media seems to be fast food workers having the gall to strike for higher wages. To say the stupid runs deep in most of the discussions would be an understatement. What amuses me no end is the suggestion that the folks working at McDonald's and other grease pits should simply acquire additional technical skills and move on up the career ladder. So who's going to serve the burgers once the current crew is gone? And why should the new employees be any more willing to work for shit wages than the folks assembling the Whoppers and Thickburgers are now?

The harsh reality is that we live in a service economy. One reason the average age of a fast food employee is 28 is that the fastest growing job sectors are the ones at the bottom of the economic scale: burger flippers, nursing home attendants, hotel maids, discount store cashiers. There aren't enough jobs to go around for the people with the four year degrees now, so what kind of miracle is supposed to occur to permit the workers at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy to move up? We've all been hearing the stories for years, the ones about recent college grads discovering they've incurred thousands of dollars of student loan debt and now can't find a job that actually requires a college degree or that pays enough to live on. If they ever put down their smart phones and I-pads long enough to figure out just how thoroughly they've been screwed by society's lies, there'll be riots in the streets.

Further, the people doing those jobs work damn hard for the pittance of a wage they do collect. Isn't hard work supposed to result in a financial reward? Why is it that the jobs that society absolutely needs -- all the service workers of various types, from fry cooks to garbage collectors -- are the jobs that garner the least respect? Over and over we get to hear that entry level jobs, the ones that don't require much in the way of training, shouldn't pay decent wages. Neither should any job that requires physical exertion or that results in your hands getting dirty. If it doesn't require multiple years of education or if you're standing while you do it instead of sitting at a desk it's not a job that the elitists think is worth doing. There is a remarkable amount of hostility out there towards the idea that the guys working at a tire shop should make as much as the dudes selling you life insurance, all of which seems to be premised on the the classic white collar vs blue collar distinction. Doesn't matter how hard you work, if at some point doing the work day you're reaching for the GOJO, then your job isn't valued by the chattering class.

Given that there are businesses out there in almost every sector of the economy that do pay their employees decent wages and still manage to make a profit, it seems rather self-evident that the businesses that persist in paying low wages are motivated more by pathological greed than by necessity.

The cartoon is from the Virginia Tech newspaper, The Collegiate Times, and is now 20 years old. Some things never change.