I was assigned to RAF Digby in 1999 and worked there for two years with a couple dozen British people and maybe eight or nine Americans. I can’t tell you what I did there for the Air Force but I can tell you I drank a lot of tea on the job. That’s not a cliched stereotype; the British really do drink a lot of tea. We had tea first thing when we arrived, took a mid-morning break to drink tea, had another break in the afternoon when we drank tea, and I think we usually shoehorned at least one or two more cups in while we were working. Someone would come around with a tray to ask if you wanted any; all you had to do was give them your cup and your order, and ten minutes later they’d be back with a steaming hot cuppa.
When we took a proper break it was usually to stand around chatting while we sipped our tea. One of the blokes I worked with, Sean, did not sip his tea. He’d stand there, happily chatting away with his cup in his hand for the entire fifteen-minute break until, in the last ten seconds or so when other people downed the last drops of tea and began to make their way back to their work stations, he would say something like, “Well, suppose we’d better get back to it,” and suddenly upend his entire cup of now-tepid tea down his throat. That’s just how he liked it.
My Darling B broiled a couple of one-pound salmon fillets to perfection for our dinner with Tim last night, served with a pot of brown rice. Simpler is better. We finished off one of the fillets; the other will go into a pasta dish she’s already scheming for dinner tonight.
She also steamed a pot of plump sea bugs (shrimp) and whipped up a cocktail sauce with horse radish that was so very yummy I ate probably way too many bugs. Tim doesn’t eat sea bugs so we had them all to ourselves. Couldn’t let them go to waste!
Red beans and rice has been a holiday tradition in our house for the past twenty years. When we would buy a ham for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, the next day’s dinner was red beans and rice, from a recipe My Darling B found in the Misawa Community Cookbook — you’re not gonna find that at a used-book sale anywhere, sorry. I cut the bone out of the ham the night before, then B stews it in a big pot with red beans and lots of other goodies, adjusting the recipe to suit our needs — for instance, the recipe calls for two cloves of garlic. TWO CLOVES. If you don’t want to taste or smell the garlic, why do you even use it? A big pot of red beans and rice calls for at least two HEADS of garlic. This is an opinion neither I nor B will budge on.
Tim came over at four to join us for dinner and a game, but the dinner wasn’t ready until about five so we just hung out while B made the rice and put the finishing touches on the stew. She wasn’t happy with the way the rice turned out — it was sticky, but I like sticky and Tim didn’t complain — but the stew was wonderful and we all filled our bowls up with generous helpings.
There is still so much ham left that we’ll be eating it through the end of next week, and that’ll be the last time we have a ham until about a year from now when we might be far enough removed from a week of eating ham that we’re looking forward to it again.
I spent last Friday and Saturday night at a state campground on North Trout Lake to do a little hiking, a little paddling, but mostly just to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.
The campground seems to be really popular and I can see why. It’s right on the shore of the lake, which is so picturesque it ought to be on a postcard (it probably is). Several of the camp sites are right on the shore; you could launch your canoe from them or just wade out into the lake, which has a hard sandy bottom and is very shallow along much of the shore line. If I had been lucky enough to snag one of those sites I probably would have set up my camp chair facing the water or strung my hammock between two trees on the shore and done little else but gaze out on the lake all weekend, it was that pretty.
I unfortunately did not have a camp site on the shore. Mine was in fact about as far from the shore as it’s possible to get and was rather ugly, which is probably why I was able to reserve it for a weekend at short notice. It was ugly mostly because of all the trees which had been cut down and left in heaps around the site. On the plus side the site got lots of sunshine, was open to the breezes off the lake which kept the bugs at bay, and it was very easy for me to gather firewood, but there was no getting around the fact that heaps of dead branches do not make for a good-looking camp site. I didn’t care much. It served its purpose as far as I was concerned. I had a place to park, a nice big camp site, and a ring to build a fire in. All good.
I left the house at about three o’clock Friday afternoon and arrived at the lake a little past six-thirty in the evening, making pretty good time but feeling more than a little fatigued, not to mention stressed out, after spending three and a half hours on the interstate highway with the hundreds if not thousands of other people heading north for the weekend. When I headed back home Sunday morning I stuck to county and state roads all the way, and it was honestly worth every minute of the additional travel time. I had the road to myself practically all the way, so the drive was virtually stress-free. A+++ would definitely recommend.
At six-thirty in the evening around this time of year there are still at least two hours of daylight left, so almost as soon as I got there I unshipped the kayak from the roof of the van, trundled it down to the shore on a handy-dandy little trolley I have just for that purpose, and launched it into the lake for a short paddle up and down the shore along the edge of the campground. The wind was rather brisk that evening so the surface of the lake was the tiniest bit choppy but not enough to make me want to head back to shore. I paddled around for thirty or forty minutes before I decided I’d better get back to camp so I had enough daylight to gather firewood and set up for overnight camping.
I had already collected a few fallen branches which I broke up into tinder to start the fire. After I got that burning, I began to collect larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going – a rookie mistake; you’re supposed to get all your wood together before lighting it off. I knew better than that, but it had been a few years since I’d built a camp fire from scratch. After gathering enough larger pieces to keep a fire burning for at least an hour, I broke up more smaller branches into tinder and built up a pretty respectable fire from the coals that remained of my original effort, then built a teepee over it with the bigger pieces I’d gathered.
Now that I finally had a proper fire going, I could prepare something for dinner and settle into my camp chair next to the fire. And when I say “prepare dinner” I mean that I smeared some salmon cream cheese on some thick-sliced nutty bread and called that dinner.
After gobbling down some carbs next to a crackling camp fire, I slept like a baby.
Saturday morning I woke way too early, but I had to answer the call of nature so I tottered off to the nearest pit toilet, which was not really very near at all, another shortcoming of my particular camp site. My site was about as far from the toilet to the north as it was from the toilet to the south, smack dab in the middle. Not a problem most of the time, but for that first trip of the morning I had to lengthen my stride and move with a sense of purpose and urgency. That taken care of, I crawled back into bed and dozed pleasantly for another hour, wrapped tightly in many many blankets against the early morning chill.
When the sun was finally high enough to shine its warmth down on my camp site, I begrudgingly extracted myself from my bunk and gathered up enough fruit juice, fig bars, and nuts to make a decent light breakfast, which I noshed on in my camp chair that I gradually scooted across the camp site to keep up with a passing sunbeam. I passed the time reading two or three chapters of the very excellent book “Allow Me To Retort,” by author Elie Mystal, who examines the ins and outs of constitutional law from the perspective of a Black American. Wonderful book, would gladly recommend it to anyone.
Once the fruit juice was gone it was time to move on to more serious stuff: coffee. I neglected to bring the fixings for coffee on my previous trip up north, but not this time around. With a pourover cone carefully balanced on top of a big mug I slowly brewed the java, then settled back into my camp chair to read two more chapters.
The important stuff out of the way, I set out on my morning constitutional. My initial thought was to walk the complete circuit of the campground road, but when I got to the beach I decided to include a detour to the boat ramp about a hundred yards away. At the boat ramp I noticed a marker for a paved bicycling trail that disappeared into the trees by the road.
If I’d known there were paved cycling trails for miles and miles up here, I definitely would have brought my bike but, sad to say, I didn’t. But I just had to get a look at the trail, so I took a short stroll along it, only as far as the first intersection, the road to Cathedral Point. Along that particular short stretch of trail it rose and fell over a few very steep hills and ducked around maybe half a dozen sharp turns, but the asphalt pavement was in good condition. Cycling it would be a lot of fun even though the hills would present a bit of a challenge for me, a rider who generally prefers straight and level trails.
Having gone as far as the first intersection, I turned around and shambled back in the direction of camp. I have to admit with no small amount of embarrassment that I accidentally left my hiking shoes at home for this trip. The only footwear I had with me were a pair of sandals, not ideal for long hikes. Also, they leave my feet exposed to the elements 24/7. When I was young and indestructible I would walk barefoot all day in the summer, over smooth ground, gravel or hot asphalt – it didn’t matter. My feet were tough enough to walk on anything. Well, they’re not now. I’ll spare you the details, but after tramping around all day in sandals, I had to carefully clean and bandage my feet Saturday night before bed. Used up half a box of Band-Aids and many a generous dollop of Neosporin. Which was why I was taking it easy on this short hike along the bike trail, loafing along at a leisurely pace. Even so, I got back to camp around ten o’clock, still plenty early for a morning paddle on the lake.
North Trout Lake is a fairly big lake, but Trout Lake, to the south (natch), is even bigger, and they’re connected through a narrow strait. My aim on this Saturday morning paddle was to go as far as the strait, have a look around, then come back. Which turned out to be exactly what I did. I had to paddle against a light but continuous breeze out of the south on the way there, but after I crossed through the strait it was almost dead calm thanks to a couple of islands at the north end of Trout Lake screening me from the wind. I happily paddled around on the glassy water for a while, circling the islands and drifting along the shore.
I grounded the kayak at Cathedral Point, jumped out and had a little walkabout to take in the surroundings. The point had picnic tables, a water pump, toilets, and fire rings, but looked as though it hadn’t been visited in a while. One teeny tiny little sign caught my eye and curiosity compelled me to get close enough to ready it. “This sign is surrounded by poison ivy,” it warned, “don’t touch it.” So warned, I tiptoed back to my kayak and paddled away.
I returned to my camp site at about half past twelve and made a hearty lunch of thick-sliced summer sausage on slices of nutty bread, then sat in the sun with my book as I ate. The air was still cool and the breeze was pleasant. It wasn’t long before I began to drowse. Napping seemed like a good idea just then, so I stretched out in the van and got myself a few winks. Best thing I could has possibly done. There’s really nothing better you can do in the early afternoon, especially after you’ve been active, than get a restful nap. At least, nothing better for me. You can do what you like.
And after a restful nap, there’s nothing better than driving into town to spend a little time relaxing in the local beer garden. There’s a brewery called Rocky Reef in Woodruff, about a twenty-minute drive from the campground. I’d been there once before and enjoyed sitting in the sun with a cold, refreshing glass of hefeweizen. There weren’t any open seats on the patio last Saturday because they had some live entertainment which had attracted quite a large weekend crowd. I only wanted to pick up some beer anyway, but hung around for about ten minutes to sample a beer they didn’t have on tap the last time I visited.
When I got back, I sat in the sun and read my book again, and in the evening I lit a fire and played with it because on the inside I’m still a twelve-year-old boy who does that kind of thing. There wasn’t much peace and quiet to enjoy Saturday night because all the other campers had returned from wherever they’d gone, and they all felt the need to yell at each other a lot and share their recorded music with each other. The popularity of state parks is the only thing I don’t like about them.
I packed up fairly early Sunday morning because I didn’t want to hurry getting home. I wanted to take the back roads and make a few stops along the way to get out, walk around and return home stress-free, and that’s pretty much exactly what I did.
At work, we use a Microsoft Access database to keep track of the cases we investigate. It’s a simple database. It’s designed to give us a case number for each investigation, record the type of case, has a place for us to make notes. Very basic stuff.
In The Before Times, everybody would keep the database open on their desktop for convenience, but when we started working from home we discovered that Access doesn’t work well over the VPN we’re using. It’s very slow and when more than one person is in it, it gets very janky and sometimes makes records disappear, so we adopted a policy of only one person in the database at a time, and we would notify each other in a chat room when we were going in.
One of my coworkers has a set of fingers which almost always fumbles the phrase “going in” so it comes out “goin gin,” and whenever she does that, I feel it’s my obligation to find a gif of somebody hoisting a cocktail glass in salute, or mixing a cocktail, or drinking straight out of a gin bottle. Turns out there’s an infinite number of gifs out there on the subject of drinking liquor. I wonder why.
My Darling B was looking for a shaker filled with pepper flakes she got from the grocery last week. She asked me if I knew what happened to it, as if I had a clue where she shelved her herbs and spices. I don’t put that stuff away, not because I have this highfalutin idea that I shouldn’t have to, but because she bought it for what I can only assume was a specific recipe, and if I put it away it’ll be lost forever because I’ll forget where I put it and wherever it was that I put it won’t be remotely like the right place. So I don’t do that. If it’s not in my way I don’t touch it. If it’s in my way, I set it on the counter or on the table so she can put where she’ll be able to find it later.
Well, that’s the theory, anyway. Where she put this particular ingredient, the aforementioned chili flakes, was apparently a bit of information that didn’t get transferred to her long-term memory. She looked in the kitchen cupboards, she checked the drawers under the counter, she looked through all the flotsam and jetsam on the countertop and the table, and I don’t even know where else she looked. But she kept asking me where it could be, so I fired off a few suggestions. Each time I did, she said she already checked there.
“Did you look in the refrigerator?” I asked. She said she did but was going to look again.
Since I wasn’t being any great help and since there’s only room for one person in the kitchen at a time, I left to go do whatever it was I had been doing before she asked me where the chili flakes were. Each time I came back, though, she asked me again, and again I offered what I thought were useful suggestions but which turned out to be dead ends.
Finally I came back to the kitchen to get something, maybe a glass of water. I don’t know. Whatever it was, by the time I went back, the cupboard doors were wide open and at least a dozen bottles, jars and other containers stood in a loose gaggle on the countertop. B stood in the kitchen, hands on hips, brows furrowed deep in thought.
“Let’s go over where you’ve looked already,” I suggested. “You said you searched in the fridge, right?” And I opened the fridge, reached in and took a big jar of salsa off the top shelf and what do you suppose I found right behind it? Yes! That big container of chili flakes she had torn half the kitchen apart looking for! Dear reader, the astronauts on the space station must’ve heard me laughing.
The rest of the country might be open, but My Darling B and I are still in isolation here at Our Little Red House – 76 days as of today. That’s a lot of days to be isolated from everybody & everything.
Full disclosure: It’s not like we’re hunkered down inside with the doors locked. Yesterday, as on most Saturdays, I made a run into town to pick up an order of sauerkraut & brats from Stalzy’s Deli and a couple cases of beer from Giant Jones brewery. We made a decision early on to support our local businesses as much as we were able to, either by purchasing from their curbside services or by donating to any of the many support groups that emerged to help them. It seems to have worked out well: Giant Jones is a very small brewery but seems to get a good response to their weekly curbside sales, and Stalzy’s was scheduled to open at the very time the governor shut down all the restaurants, forcing them to reinvent the way they served food to the public, which couldn’t have been easy.
We’ve also taken turns going to the store for groceries, each time coming home with a car jammed to the rafters with goodies (I know, cars don’t have rafters, but the metaphor seems awkward with more technically accurate terminology). Our last trip was two weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure we still have enough stashed in our pantry to go another two weeks without having to crack open the frozen leftovers that are our emergency backup comestibles.
And although I’ve been working from home, I have been making periodic trips to the office, usually once a week, in rotation with my coworkers, because somebody’s got to collect the incoming mail, send the outgoing mail, and print daily reports and other miscellaneous documents. My Darling B has worked exclusively from home these past 76 days, as is the case with most of her coworkers, I think.
Beyond those essential and semi-essential road trips into town, the only other times I’ve left the confines of our house is to stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood (few times a week), or go for a paddle around the lake (twice now), or work in the yard (pruned the trees on the front lawn yesterday afternoon). B has left the house only to work in her garden or relax in a lawn chair with a beer.
So we are still in lockdown because the virus is still out there and, so far as we’re aware, still as contagious as it ever was, and because the reports of the disease’s effects from people our age who contracted it make us really not want to catch it. On my trip into town yesterday, it looked like my fellow cheeseheads were nowhere near as concerned about passing this bug around. Almost none of the people I saw out & about on the pavement and in the parks wore masks, and the grand re-opening of the Tiki Bar at the East Side Club appeared to be a huge success; the lawn out back was teeming with revelers. That’s going to come back to bite them in the future, I’ll bet.
Our favorite restaurant in town reopened two weeks ago after a fire gutted their kitchen. Took them almost a full year to rebuild. They announced their reopening just as the governor closed everything down, so they had to scramble to set up an online ordering system that would allow them to provide curbside service, like all the other restaurants in town.
Of all the restaurants in Madison, they have our favorite Friday fish fry, so when they announced their first fish fry would be available on April tenth, we were dizzy with joy, until we logged in to their web site and discovered they were sold out. After noodling around in social media a bit, we further learned they sold out fifteen minutes after they put the fish fry on the menu that day.
So last week when they offered fish fry again, I clocked out of work early after making special arrangements to flex time with my boss. They added the fish fry to their menu at 3:03 pm; I know because I started hitting the refresh button at 2:59 pm and didn’t stop until the fish fry showed up. I added an order for two to the shopping cart and went straight to checkout. The last thing I saw was a message telling me it would be ready in twenty minutes, which is just about the time it takes to put on a pair of shoes, hop in the car and drive to the restaurant, so that’s what I did.
Turned out it would take them a little bit longer than twenty minutes for the fish fry to be ready for me to pick it up. When I pulled into their parking lot a little after three-thirty and dug my phone out of my pocket, I found a message in my voice mail from them saying the earliest my order would be ready was four o’clock. Well, okay. Not a big problem, I guess. I’ll just sit here and listen to the radio for a while.
I don’t remember what I noticed was wrong with the dashboard, but one of the displays looked screwy so I turned the key to fire up the engine so all the displays would be lit up. Well, they lit up, all right, but the engine wouldn’t crank. Turned the ignition all the way off, waited a few seconds, then turned the key all the way on again – lots of pretty lights, but nothing from the engine compartment. All the way off, then all the way on again (because three is a magic number) – still nothing. And now the clock said one-ten and the date was 1/1/2015. Not a good sign at all.
I had to pop the hood, get out and stare at the engine for several minutes, because that’s what you do when something like this happens. Don’t know why. It’s not like maybe there’s a big neon arrow pointing at the problem or something like that. Didn’t see any obvious problems; it all looked very mechanical. Tried starting it a couple more times and got the same results, but now the panel displays were all dark, including the clock.
I most likely had a dead battery, because why wouldn’t I? Car runs perfectly for years but the first time I drive anywhere in a week and I’m in the middle of a pandemic, it craps out. Of course.
I called a local garage, and they sent a wrecker out to give me a jump, which showed up at about quarter to five. After the guy got my car running and as he was running my credit card, he said let the engine run at least a half-hour to charge up the battery again, and warned that I might want to think about getting a new battery (I did, the next day). About five minutes later I got a call from the deli, saying my fish fry (remember the fish fry?) was ready to pick up. They’d been hugely overloaded with orders once again so it took them a little longer (!) than they thought it would.
Tim tipped us off to a show he watches on You Tube called Hot Ones. In it, Sean Evans interviews celebrities while they eat hot wings that get hotter as the show goes on. Some of the celebrities bail out before they get to the hottest wings, earning themselves a place on the Hot Ones Wall of Shame. Others press on to the very end even while they regret every moment of it. A few endure the experience with a calm stoicism that is truly impressive to watch.
We had our own Hot Ones challenge last night, using the lineup of hot sauces the show featured in Season Nine. Well, okay, not the entire lineup. I ordered the first five sauces because, while I enjoy spicy foods, I wasn’t entirely sure I could endure the whole lineup of ten sauces, so I decided to try the bottom half to see just how hot they got.
I like a little hot sauce on my eggs and had been dabbing them with The Classic, which has lately been the first hot sauce in the Hot Ones lineup. It’s tasty and not quite as hot as Cholula, which is the hot sauce I had been dressing my eggs with because that’s what the waitress brings me when I ask for hot sauce in a restaurant. I have to say I favor The Classic over Cholula because I think The Classic is tastier and I like that I can put more of it on my eggs because it doesn’t set my mouth on fire.
I ordered The Classic from Heatonist, a store in New York, which sells most of the sauces seen on Hot Ones, and while I was on their web site I also ordered the bottom half of the lineup so we could do our own home-grown Hot Ones challenge one day. Well, that day was yesterday after dinner while Tim was visiting. B heated up some chicken nuggets and we dunked them in a dab of each of the sauces, working our way up to number five. All of them are just delicious and even the hottest one, Los Calientes, was not quite as hot as some of the Indian food we get for take-out, although all were respectably spicy.
Then, there was Da Bomb, the famously superhot hot sauce that takes down all but the most seasoned guests on Hot Ones. I think probably the best response any of the Hot Ones guests had to Da Bomb was best voiced by Trevor Noah: “It’s just pain! What? Why? This is not ‘da bomb,’ this is trash.” (His complete thoughts on Da Bomb start at 14:10 and they’re hilarious.)
I never intended to ever try Da Bomb because almost all of the guests on Hot Ones were virtually unanimous in their condemnation of it, but My Darling B bought a bottle of it when we first started watching the show and she dug it out of wherever she was hiding it and put it on the table with the rest of the hot sauces last night. It was practically a double-dog dare. I’m a great big chicken who can back away from a double-dog dare with no regrets, but I was thinking the other sauces were tolerable; how much hotter could Da Bomb really be?
Imagine filling your mouth with gasoline, then setting it on fire with a flame thrower, then instead of putting the fire out you hit yourself in the mouth with a red-hot poker while you let your face burn. That would be almost as hot as eating something with Da Bomb on it. I have never eaten anything that hot before and with any luck, I never will again. It didn’t only burn my mouth, it cranked up my heart rate, gave me the shivers, and sent my brain into orbit. I’m getting a little dizzy just recalling how hot it was. I felt the way Tom Arnold looked by the end of his Hot Ones interview. At the peak of Da Bomb’s spiciness, I had to drink ice water constantly just to keep my head from exploding. I would slurp up a mouthful, slosh it around until it was a little warmer than ice, swallow, slurp up more, slosh, swallow, et cetera. I did that through three pint glasses of ice water and I only stopped at three pints because I wasn’t sure I could hold any more.
My Darling B, the cocky little wench, had to immediately spit out her mouthful of Da Bomb and for a few harrowing moments she was sure she was going to throw up. “It tasted the way natural gas smells,” she very accurately described it.
Would I do it again? Hell no. I’m sorry I did at all. Gonna try some of the other hotter sauces featured on the show, but I’ll never try Da Bomb again. I don’t know how Sean Evans eats that crap every week.
Just FYI, we grabbed things from all over the kitchen looking for an antidote to Da Bomb and it turned out that sucking on orange wedges helped a lot. I ate the wedges because the pulpiness seemed to help mop the fiery heat off my tongue as I chewed them up.
I had a hankering this morning for a plate of scrambled eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs in the fridge so I did what I usually do when I’m trying to figure out where to eat: whipped out my phone and began to virtually search the city for a place that looked like it served a satisfyingly big plate of eggs with their usual breakfast.
Google maps is simultaneously very good and very bad for this task. Very good because it knows where a lot of the best places to eat are, drops a pin on them in their map, and provides all the links you need to see their menu, reviews from customers, photos of pretty much everything they serve, and so on. Very bad for much the same reasons. I don’t want to see hundreds of photos of scrambled eggs. Just tell me they have scrambled eggs, thank you. Also, I don’t need to know where McDonald’s is. That should be a setting in Google maps: Chain restaurants on/off.
But on this particular morning, my search reminded me of one of the best breakfast restaurants in the city: Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room, situated right next to the flight line of the Dane County Airport and only a fifteen-minute drive from our little red house. I jumped into the car (after it had been given a fair amount of time to warm up on this fourteen-degree day) and headed north.
One critically important thing I’d forgotten about the Jet Room: How friggin popular it is. The lobby of the Wisconsin Aviation building was crowded with people waiting to get in, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I could almost taste those eggs so I went in anyway to see how long the wait was. Forty-five minutes, it turned out, but only if you don’t answer “yes” to the question “would you be willing to take a seat at the counter?” I was so very willing that I was seated immediately at the number-one spot next to the wait staff’s station — the pole position!
The service was awesome: I got a glass of water and a hot cup of coffee within minutes of sitting down, they took my order not more than five minutes later, and I was digging in to a big plate of eggs (and hash browns, and bacon) no more than ten minutes after I set foot in the place! How do you beat that? I just don’t see how. Bonus points to the wait staff for keeping my coffee mug full. And I don’t know why, but I have to mention how much I love that the mugs and plates have the name of the restaurant on them. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it does.
And here’s what my sufficiency looks like after it’s been serensified: