There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Head Cheese

An old tale of mine from days spent on IRC. It falls under the category of nostalgia. Read it or don't.

Amidst the fond remembrances of my youth there lie scattered here and there the occasional memory which might best be consigned to oblivion. But constant urging from friends and acquaintances not to let folklore of this nature perish convinces me to reluctantly preserve for posterity an eye witness account of the arcane ritual by which the substance head cheese is conjured. The author assumes no liability for the results of attempts to duplicate this process but urges you "DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME."

It would be in the crisp fall air of October at that time when thoughts of children turn to the donning of ghost and goblin gear and the winesap apple plucked right off the tree hurt your teeth and squirted you in the eye. During Indian Summer, that brief return of warm temperatures before the plunge into winter, the last summer activities would be put to rest. Yards would be raked, the garden shed would be put in order and closed for the season, and the last potatoes and onions would be dug and consigned to the cellar. And surely on one of those fine fall days, early in the afternoon the clank and clang of the huge cast iron kettle could be heard as it was wrestled atop the woodstove. At this sound little children would run for home, dogs would crawl under crumbling porches and strong men would hurriedly close open windows, for all knew that granny was preparing to make the dreaded head cheese!

No sooner had the stove been fired and stoked and the kettle brought to a boil than Grandpa would make his appearance. Fresh from hog butchering on the farm he would emerge from the decrepit old ford truck carrying a pair of hog's heads..or maybe three. These heads were in exactly the same condition as they were in life, with all their accessories excepting only their detachment from the majority of the hog. Notwithstanding the baleful stares still seen peering out from their rapidly cooling brows, Granny cheerfully seized the heads and hurled them into the kettle.

Now followed a period of time that drew onward into the late evening when the fire snapped and crackled in the stove, the water boiled merrily and was topped up from time to time and the aroma proceeding from the kettle became more and more indescribable. This fragrance was of such potency that it actually had WEIGHT, and would flow out from the kettle down the stove and onto the ground where it would propagate outward in an ever increasing radius until it gradually began to dissipate at a distance of some three blocks from the epicenter of the event, meanwhile crawling up back steps and seeking entrance to unprepared houses where unwary denizens could be heard to exclaim, " it headcheese time AGAIN??" Meanwhile Granny, without the protection of a gas mask, nay without so much as a moist dish towel to cover her nostrils would walk right up to the stove and stir the kettle time and again until all the soft parts of the heads (that's ALL the soft parts....yes even THOSE parts) fell off the skulls which she would then cast into the yard to the army of cats which had been gathering by the kitchen door all afternoon.

Hovering over the steaming kettle in the darkening evening like one of the three sisters in Macbeth, Granny would pass a sieve through the water and catch large undisintegrated pieces of hog physiognomy which she would drop onto the chopping block and gleefully reduce to appropriately bite sized bits with a meat cleaver. Once everything in the kettle (it doesn't do to think to long about everything in the kettle) was of the requisite homogeneous size, salt, pepper and vinegar would be added, the fire stoked up to full force and the evil stew would be rapidly reduced to a sludge-like consistency. During this final step the odor of the miasmic fog covering the neighborhood would reach such an intensity that any clothing or household linens inadvertently left on clotheslines would irrecoverably bond by some mysterious chemical reaction with the Eau du Swinehead and become fit for use only as bootwipers. Even indoors with the door closed, within three blocks of ground zero the eyes would itch and run and the sinuses would begin to drain.

The final act of the evening would be to pour the reduced contents of the kettle into large crocks held in readiness since the decimation of last year's batch sometime during the long nights of the previous winter. Granny and Grandpa would tip the huge kettle on its side and hope that most of its contents would find the crock waiting on the floor below. The batch would roll into its containers, steam would rise in prodigious quantities and Grandpa, who was not nearly so immune to the corrosive fumes as his spouse, would swear mighty oaths audible a block away.

The crocks, now brim full of their precious cargo would be wrestled down the stairs and into the fruit cellar to cool and solidify.

During the ensuing 48 hours, the fumes abated. The cats got over considerable intestinal distress. Dogs could be seen daring to cross Granny's back yard and those families living nearest to the scene of the manufacturing process began to think about actually consuming food again.

The end result? The mass left in the crocks would jell while cooling and become a grey amorphous semi-solid which could be sliced and eaten on bread with liberal quantities of mustard and horseradish. I have heard tell that headcheese is more toothsome than its nightmarish origins would lead you to believe but I am not able to confirm it, as it takes a stronger stomach than mine to even contemplate the consumption of this pig-face jello.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

National Paranoia Gone Wild

As my wife and I are preparing for our annual escape from the eternal battle with the weather in Iowa I've been recalling an incident that occurred on our vacation last year.

Early September in northern North Dakota and we are spending most of our time collapsed in our cabin recovering from Iowa toxicity. Casting about on the map for possible locations of interest I note that we are only 90 minutes from the International Peace Garden. This could be interesting and perhaps present some photo ops. So the next morning we load the two dachshunds and a picnic lunch in the car and head north.

We should have sensed an omen as we headed up US 281 into the hills locally known as the Turtle Mountains and the fog gets thicker and thicker. By the time we reach the entrance to the park it's a real pea souper and the temp is 58-60 degrees. There is the familiar park service brown sign on the side of the road directing us to the park entrance. We pay the $10.00 entry fee and receive a brochure. I proceed to the nearest parking lot and stop to read about the scenic delights awaiting us (that we have no hope of seeing through the fog). A brief glance at the first page and I say to the wife "Oh-oh, it looks like we may actually be in Canada." Having closely followed the panic of isolationism following 9/11 we know that in order to stop the flow of terrorists from Canada to the US (pause for derisive laughter), for the first time in either nation's history, a US passport is now necessary to return from Canada to the US. Canada, still retaining a modicum of common sense, lets Americans drive right in.

So after we huddle shivering in the cold fog over a picnic table eating our lunch and then drive around the park where everything worth looking at is totally obscured by fog we decide to leave. As we leave the entrance of the park I sense the proximity of an odious substance to a fan when I see that in order to proceed south I must pass through a check point. When I pull up to the booth housing the Federal Border Thug (FBT) in my car bearing Iowa plates the FBT asks "You from the states?" followed by "Got any identification?" After both my wife and I offer our Iowa driver's licenses, the FBT says "Got passports?" Of course we don't so we are ordered to pull our car into a building resembling a warehouse, the FBT retaining our IDs.

Second FBT approaches the car:

"Give me your keys, grab your dogs and get out of the car."

We are led into the holding area where another hapless couple is waiting on a bench holding hands and visibly frightened. My wife is ordered to hand over her purse and I am ordered to empty my pockets. All these items vanish behind the counter and then we are questioned.

"Do you have a job?"
"If you work in Iowa what are you doing in Canada?"
Duh! there's an International Peace Garden here. Ever hear of tourism?
"Did you meet anyone in the woods."
Are you kidding me? Yeah this older middle aged couple came to the International Peace Garden with their dachshunds to pick up some grenades and rocket launchers. We couldn't think of a better way to make the exchange than trying to pull this off without passports.

"Sit down."

Which we did. And now I begin to worry. The FBTs have my car keys, all my ID, my credit cards, my money and all my wife's similar objects.

Meanwhile other FBTs are in the warehouse searching our car. I begin to wonder if they are so anxious to stick aging hippies with something that they will plant evidence in my car.

But, thankfully, after 30 minutes of holding our terrified dogs while we sit on a bench, our belongings are returned and we are allowed to proceed on our way. As we are escorted out to our car I mention to the FBT that there is no sign of any kind indicating that entering the International Peace Garden (a name which has now assumed a certain irony) entails leaving the United States, much less that there will be grave consequences should you try to re-enter.

The FBT laconically replies "Yeah, we get a lot of that."

I'm not sure I can comment rationally on this level of stupidity, let alone waste of tax payer money as the facts speak eloquently for themselves. And I have to wonder about the collective IQ of congress (I don't have to wonder about the IQ of George W. Bush the architect of all this paranoia - his level of intelligence or lack of it has always been glaringly evident) who let thousands of undocumented aliens pour across the border with Mexico, but want to harass midwestern tourists trying to visit the International Peace Garden. As John Stossel would say "Give me a break".