Holiday, part 1, is over

Well, Christmas of 2011 is now over.  Today, being the 30th, is almost the last day of the year too.  Our Christmas here was very quiet.  Our granddaughter is down in Texas going to college there so there was just three of us to exchange gifts.  We have a friend, who we’ve known for over 40 years, living in our basement.  Of course, he was invited up to share Christmas dinner with us.

We had a great dinner – probably ate too much – and then settled down in the living room to open gifts.  I got some very nice pocket tee shirts.  They are very hard to find, especially in short sleeves.  I dislike getting tee shirts that don’t have a pocket because (now) I carry around a small notebook to jot down things I want to remember.  The old brain cell isn’t functioning as it should since I’ve gotten older.

I got a couple of books from my wife.  Both are in my small group of favorite authors, and both were brand new releases.  Unfortunately, I’ve already blown through Griffin’s book, but Clancy’s book will take a lot longer.  My most surprising gift came from my friend Rick.  He gave me a 30G iPod.  Only recently have I discovered that if I use larger, over-the-ear, earphones I can hear music very well.  I can’t use ear buds because I have to take out my hearing aids and that negates hearing music because I can’t distinguish the middle frequencies enough to enjoy it.  Now, I have to get busy and continue transferring my vinyl collection (450 records strong) over to MP3 for the iPod.  To that end, I bought a USB turntable a while back.  It works well but the bundled software that came with it was really badly written and difficult to work with.  I now just fire up Audacity, start the record playing, and come back in a half hour to stop recording.  Then, all I have to do is chop up the half hour recording into tracks.  Easy.

Regarding my post a while ago about my rusting truck I now have to consider putting inner tubes into all four of my tires.  I paid almost a hundred dollars to have all four tires remounted (after cleaning the rims) but since they are aluminum alloy wheels, they have developed corrosion enough to cause air leakage.  They are still slowly leaking.  Short of buying new wheels (which I definitely cannot afford) tubes are the next line of defense.  I never knew that there were inner tubes specifically designed for radial tires.  They are a bit more expensive, but will keep the heat down from the sidewalls friction.  Conventional tubes will blow out quicker due to all the heat.

The weather has not been cooperating at all.  We’ve had lots of rain, blustery winds, and even a tiny bit of snow for the last ten days.  Definitely not what I’d consider proper Christmas weather.  Right now, I went out to refill the bird feeder and add another cob of corn to my squirrel bungee.  As I look out the window, I see that the little brown chickadees (or whatever they are) are having a blast picking out the smaller seeds and kicking the larger ones down to the ground for the larger birds to eat.  I don’t mind that, but in the spring some of the seeds sprout instead of being bird food and then I have a darker patch of grass to deal with.  Every year I move the feeder to another branch so I can clean up the sunflower shells.

My squirrel family across the road have been hunkered down in their nest most of this winter so far.  They venture out only when they spy a new corn cob on the rope.  I’ve lowered it somewhat so that the younger squirrels can jump up to it.  A couple of weeks ago I watched an older squirrel carefully pulling the rope up to the limb he was sitting on.  Once he wedged the cob into the fork of limbs, he went about stripping it of kernels.  Tricky animals, these squirrels.

My remaining desktop computer developed a case of ‘fan-itus’.  The cooling fan at the back of the case began to sound noisy from time to time.  I removed it and manually spun the blades.  They wouldn’t even make one revolution before stopping.  One, or both, of the bearings appeared to be bad.  This explained why, when I booted up a couple of times, I got told that the “system fan has failed, press F2 to continue”.  That sounds ominous, but it only means that the RPMs have fallen below what the BIOS has deemed to be safe.  It was still turning, but not moving a lot of air.  I ordered a new fan from Newegg (I love that place) and it arrived yesterday.  It was installed and now the temperatures inside the case are back to normal.  One strange thing though: The shipment started out as a UPS shipment but when it got to Dayton, for some very strange reason, it was turned over to the US Postal service for delivery.  Since I was tracking it, I noted that it arrived in Dayton very early one morning, but wasn’t delivered until TWO DAYS later by the Post Office.  So, this package took two days to come eight miles from central Dayton to me.  No wonder the Postal Service is whining about money.

That’s about it for now.  Not planning much for New Years.  I did note, however, that Lady Gaga will be putting on a couple of performances before the big ball drops.  I haven’t watched Dick Clark’s narrative of the Times Square happenings for years, but I just might this time.  For some undefinable reason it turns out that I like Lady Gaga’s music.  I couldn’t tell you why, but I do.  I’ve watched the DVD I made of her “Monster Ball at Madison Square Garden” performance on HBO several times.  The ‘A Capella’ rendition of Born This Way during the closing credits is great.  I guess you’re only as young as you feel.

A Homemade Holiday Treat

A couple of years ago I was wondering down memory lane and came across one of my mother’s writings.  She was an accomplished wordsmith and I always read her articles with enthusiasm.  This particular one contained a recipe for a “Futchin”.  A Futchin is simply a glob of deep fat fried dough interspersed with raisins and shaken in a paper bag filled with sugar.  They are delicious.  Here’s the article she wrote back in 1952:


Christmas is a warm Futchin

Gourmet magazine replied coldly when asked for the origin of Grandma’s futchins.  Raising high their respective eyebrows, the editors said loftily that each small section of Central Europe had its own version of a Christmas-time light bread.  They implied they could not worry over trivia when they already had a Gateau Tourterelle in the oven.

Less snobbish, however, our family continues to enjoy these sugary puffballs each holiday season.  They are doled out lavishly to visitors, heaped upon plates to be taken to stay-at-homes, and packed into boxes to be mailed to absent relatives who would obviously drift into melancholia without a Futchin for their Christmas snack.

Futchins were standard yuletime equipment long before I was born, but it wasn’t until my German Grandmother was in her seventies that my aunts began insisting that the recipe be written down.  At that, I believe it took three years before the process was pinned down – Grandma being a cook who believed in ‘pinches’, ‘handfuls’, and mixing batter until it ‘looked right’.

Eventually, the recipe reached me, and I fight it to a standstill each Christmas.  It isn’t that the recipe is not clear; it is just unlikely.  And each year I must convince myself anew I really do need 19 cups of flour and only one cake of yeast.

First, only a dishpan or possibly a turkey roaster could hold the sponge that develops the first night.  The yeast cake is dissolved in two quarts of lukewarm water, with enough flour to make a sponge.  In about three hours, the sponge becomes very bubbly and wild; the bubbles plop and spread in slow motion like rapidly-cooling lava.  This is punched down.

Next one and a half cups of sugar is added to 6 well-beaten egg yolks, three cups milk, one and a half cup of raisins, and three-fourths teaspoons salt and mixed into the original sponge along with enough flour to make a medium stiff batter.  Then 6 stiffly-beaten egg whites are folded in.

The following morning the kitchen is stripped for action and a kettle of deep fat is set to heat on the stove.  At the exact moment – and this is something you must find out for yourself – a spoonful of dough is dropped into the fat and watched nervously until it pops up, surrounded by a halo of small bubbles.

Small children are useful now because they eat the ‘cripples’.  The technique of making a perfect Futchin, with a surface broken only by a raisin struggling to escape, must be learned again each Christmas.  Meanwhile, the first dozen or so always resemble misshapen octopi.  Shaken in a bag of sugar, these first misfits are always gobbled by the youngsters.  When they are finished, the kitchen floor always crunches underfoot.

Then the elders take over.  The fragrant odor of a pot, two pots, of coffee fills the steamy kitchen; neighbors with keen noses ring the doorbell; the air is full of excited ‘Do you remember when’s …’

Gourmet magazine doesn’t know what it’s missing.

(End Quote)

I definitely agree, but I’m not adventurous enough to attempt this cooking feat – even though my mouth waters at the thought of tasting yet another Futchin.



Last month of the year.

For some reason it just seems like I haven’t been posting here in a very long time.  Except for the occasional funny joke or two there just hasn’t been anything of note.  My old computer (13 months old) that I tried very hard to get running has simply given up the ghost.  I think the motherboard has fried something but I am unable to locate the fault.  Naturally, there are no motherboards that will fit this case so I am left with a shell from which I have removed RAM, hard drive, video card, and power supply.  It now sits on the floor gathering dust (and serves as a cat hideout) while I flail away on my other machine.

Even the various animals haven’t played a large part this summer and fall.  Of course, I mad a bad decision to buy those horrible suet cakes and perhaps they thought I was trying to poison them.  (Cue: “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” by Tom Lehrer)  But I wasn’t, really.  I just tried to save a buck or so.  I learned my lesson.

My truck continues to decline.  Even at 85K miles, my ’97 Nissan Frontier is turning to rust before my eyes.  The latest was all four tires losing air through corroded tire rims.  The aluminum rims apparently reacted to the steel of the tire weights and created channels that eroded enough to break the seal.  I took them over to NTB and had all four tires remounted (for $100).  Now, at least, they hold air again.  I saw the condition they were in and it wasn’t pretty.  You don’t even want to know what my spare looked like.  It hung under the bed in a little chained cradle which was so corroded that the entire worm-gear mechanism used to lower the tire was a solid mass of rust.  I had to resort to cutting the T-bar to let the tire down.  When it hit the pavement, there was a POOF of air and the entire rim just disintegrated.  It seems that Nissan hadn’t figured that a tire lying flat against the bottom of the bed would act as a water/mud/gravel catchment.  Who knew?

As I gaze at my calendar for the month of December I am amazed that there are no marks on it.  In a given month, I may have as many as three or four doctor appointments, medication pickups, and other items that I need to write down.  If I don’t, I tend to forget them.  This has begun to worry me now – the forgetting thing.  Yesterday, I headed downstairs to do … something.  While I was down there I did three other things, but didn’t remember why I made the original trip.  It wasn’t until an hour later that I remembered I was supposed to take the clothes out of the dryer.

Speaking of the dryer, it has apparently blown a heating coil.  It was reported to me that “my load of clothes is still cold after a hour in the dryer” by my downstairs lodger.  Since, at the time, it was raining somewhere in the middle part of 3 inches of rain, going outside to hang them wasn’t an option. Today, I went over and spent $35 on a new element.  Hard to find one for a dryer that’s over 24 years old.

Even though I have retired from active computer programming I am still receiving help requests from some of my format clients.  I got an email the other day wanting me to figure out how to take a page full of frequencies, offsets, and frequency steps and put them into an EEPROM image so it could be sent up to a scanner.  I’ve done this sort of thing before, but the last time I did it was over a year ago.  Time makes me forgetful.  Have I said that before?  So now, I have to pore over the specifications documentation and re-figure out how to do it for the guy.  It is horribly tricky and I don’t blame him at all for seeking help.  The radio is a Radio Shack model that is built in Japan (I think) and has Korean tech support.  Any email to them results in something that reads like a assembly manual for the space shuttle (only from right to left and top to bottom).  I got to thinking about it yesterday and calculated I’ve been in the computer business now for 48 years.  That’s a hell of a long time and I find my interest is flagging a little.

The year 2012 will contain my 70th birthday.  Yuk!  That just doesn’t seem possible.  What seems more palatable for some reason is that 2013 will contain my 50th wedding anniversary.  We plan on some sort of cruise to commemorate these two events.  Since they fall in July and August, we thought maybe an Alaska cruise.  But, even though it would be nice, they are very expensive for some reason.  Since heading down into the Caribbean in the summer is madness, that only leaves a few places left.  We would love to take a Scandinavian cruise, especially one that hits St. Petersburg.  My whole time in the navy was spent intimately with the Soviet Union but, now that it is defunct, I would love to spend some time and check out what it has become.  One of the side trips is a train trip to Moscow.  I’d love that.  Another cruise could possibly be some sort of Asiatic cruise – maybe Australia/New Zealand, or Japan.  The main problem there is getting to and from any of the departure ports.  Plane tickes are very expensive.

A while back, I posted about the explosive decompression of my water softener.  We replaced it with Culligan service (and their water softener system).  The price for each bag of salt was a little higher than what we’d been paying ($6.50 vice $4.98) but now Culligan has quietly jacked up the price to $8.99 a bag.  The best part is that they only come around once every couple of months and dump EIGHT bags of salt into the hopper at a time.  Adding in the delivery fee ($5) this brings the total to over $75 bucks.  I have tried and tried to get them to come more often and give us less salt but it has fallen on deaf ears.  A small ray of hope appeared today in the form of ‘Hey!  Culligan Man!’ showing up and putting exactly four bags into our softener.  Maybe they’re finally getting the message.  Being on a rigidly fixed income sucks.

So, that’s about it for now.  It’s after 1800 and time for dinner but neither one of us has a clue what to fix.  Maybe we’ll just hot doggit.