This Is Christmas

Just before Christmas, I stopped into the tobacco shop for some last minute supplies. Since my son is no longer a minor, I’ve enjoyed sitting and having a cigar with him occasionally. Thank God, he seems to have inherited his mother’s lack of nicotine receptors, so he doesn’t crave the tobacco. He can have a smoke once in a great while, and that’s it. Since he turned eighteen, the three of us have sat down to some small cigars on a handful of occasions, and it’s been a great time. I usually like to keep some Nat Sherman Natural Original cigarettes on hand, as my Dad will take one on some Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t even happen every week, but on the rare occasion, I like to have them around. He won’t buy his own cigarettes, because if he does, he winds up smoking a whole pack.

So, there I was at the tobacco shop, I picked up a tin of some Davidoff Mini Churchills (one of our favorite cigars), a pack of Nat Sherman Natural Originals, and two ounces of my golden Virginia pipe tobacco. “If you have two ounces there,” I noted the mostly empty jar.

“Oh, I have more under the counter,” assured the clerk.

I had not checked out yet, but milled around the shop for a bit, looking at beautiful pipes and other paraphernalia. An older man came in with a woman around my age while I browsed. They walked up to the counter and started looking at the pipe tobacco selection.

“What do you want, Dad?” she asked in a loud voice. There was impatience in her voice. She was not being unkind, but she did sound like she was wearing thin.

He picked out a few tobaccos, and the same clerk was bagging them and labeling the bags. On a lark, I went back to the clerk and said, “would you please get this gentleman two ounces of that golden Virginia that I buy, and put it on my ticket?”

“You bet,” he smiled, and bagged up the additional tobacco. I suppose they didn’t notice my interjection, because the woman confronted the clerk and told him that they hadn’t asked for that.

He continued what he was doing, nodded his head towards me, and said, “this is from him.”

They both turned and looked at me. I nodded my head back at them. The daughter made eye contact with me and said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I smiled, “Merry Christmas.”

Then, the old man shuffled over to me, “thank you, sir,” he said, extending his hand for a handshake.

I reaffirmed my reply, and took his hand. He clamped onto my hand, in the ‘I’m going to talk to you now’ shake, pulled in close, closer than I’m usually comfortable with a stranger in my personal space, locked eye contact with me, and began to speak, “so, you in the service?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said, “I managed to avoid that somehow.”

His old eyes, going blue with slowly developing cataracts sparkled as he smiled, “well, you rascal!” And then, he continued, “I served for over twenty years. I was in Vietnam.”

I often forget how old our Vietnam vets are getting at this point. “Thank you for your service, sir.”

Still pumping my hand he said, “thank you, sir, for the tobacco.”

“It’s the least I can do. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.”

Once he finally let me have my hand back, the daughter said to me, “thank you so much. You really didn’t have to do that.”

“I know I didn’t,” I said, “I hope he enjoys that. Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” she said again, visibly more at ease than when they entered the shop.

With that, I left. I honestly can’t tell you exactly why I decided to buy him my pipe tobacco. And no, I know full well that I didn’t need to buy tobacco for that guy, but it was totally worth the eight bucks of tobacco for that interchange alone. And, I do hope that he’s enjoyed it! The stuff that he was asking for was all English blend of one stripe or another. The golden Virginia isn’t nearly as sweet in flavor, but most pipe smokers can appreciate the difference. I suspect that dude has been smoking a pipe since before I was born.

R. I. P., Friend

I could hear the motor whirring on his mobility scooter as he approached, a black flag flying behind him. At a glance, it looked like a Jolly Roger. On closer inspection, it was a Dia De Los Muertos styled skull, adorned with The Legend of Zelda imagery. He didn’t pause for pleasantries, as was his custom, but went right to the point.

“I started on your pen,” he said, rocking his head side to side, as was his characteristic, signature body language.

Probably about a year before, I’d admired some hand-turned pens he was displaying for sale. They were all very nice roller balls, beautifully finished exotic woods. I asked if he did any fountain pens, and he said that he could do a fountain pen, but he’d need to order the kit. He asked me about material, and I told him that I wasn’t picky. He had a good eye for that sort of thing. I offered him some pink ivory pen blanks that I wound up with, and he encouraged me to get a pen lathe and try my hand at it instead.

“It’s not that hard, and the lathes are cheap,” he said, “but, I’ll still make one for you. I’ll make it special.”

So here, a year later, I responded, “Oh yeah?

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you. Yeah,” he said, “you’re getting antler.”

I exclaimed, “oh, cool!”

He started explaining, “it’s taking some time because I had to rough cut the material and resin impregnate it…”

I interrupted, “because it’s so porous. That stuff is like bone sponge.”

“Exactly,” he nodded.

That was the weekend that my last thirteen posts have addressed. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, April 30, because the lights were on in the building at the fairgrounds. It may have been that awful Friday though. The time stream kind of blurs in there. And, that was the last weekend we saw him.

Michael Logan was the kind of man that didn’t know a stranger. He would talk your ear off, and just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, he’d buzz off on his scooter, other people to talk up, other things to do. We were friends from the first time we met. I usually distrust people who are so friendly on first meeting, and I’ve been working on that. The back of my mind asks “what’s your angle; what are you trying to get from me?” I’ve since come to learn that some people just really are that friendly. Michael didn’t know a stranger. He was a cancer survivor, and despite his broken body, he would show up to the party anywhere his mobility scooter would allow. He was a very special person, and more alive than most people I’ve known ambulating on their own two legs. He would send me a message every now and then, at random, reading, “Good Lord, man! Go back to bed!” Most of the time, this had absolutely no context, night or day, but became a beloved surprise when he sent it. I’m sad that I’ll be receiving no more of those.

I met Michael through the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society. Whoever says that video games have no redemptive quality has clearly never met in a room with like minded folks to communally enjoy the fandom. I feel loved by these people, and I love them in return. They’ve seen me at my worst, and maybe near my best, but they have always accepted me. If it weren’t for video games, I would have probably never met him.

I kind of always knew that I’d outlive him, but I could never be prepared. I found out last night via FaceBook that he had passed from this mortal coil. I was shocked. Numb. Of course, I was sad, but I couldn’t even fully feel that, if that makes any sense at all. He’ll be missed by many. He’ll be missed by me. The mutual friend who shared the news asked if we had any pictures of the two of them getting into “wheel chair races.” Regrettably, we do not. He actually wrote up a piece about Michael on his own blog here, which is quite touching. Said friend is not relegated to a wheel chair, but there was one available, and he likes to clown around like that. Michael was the kind of guy that saw the good time in such shenanigans. I’d love to have some pictures of that kind of silliness. Please do go and read Jennifer’s write up, if you haven’t already.

I don’t know what finally took him, but his health was poor, so I don’t even care to make conjecture. Still, I don’t even get my damned pen. My Michael Logan, antler, fountain pen. Not that the pen itself matters at all, but he was making it special for me. I guess I’ll have to pick up a pen lathe after all. As a tribute. R. I. P., friend.

Savory Pie – Not Quite a Recipe

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I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while now. For a few years, I’ve been making savory pies for dinner. I made up a duck pie and served it to some North Texas friends, with good reviews. LawDog got a mouth full of it and blurted out, “Oh Gawd that’s good! You made this?” Dorothy Grant asked me for the recipe. Happy to oblige, I assured her that I’d write it up. Then, I sat down to my laptop to do just that, and went blank. Recipe. *tapping fingers on desk* Right. That’s one of those things that tells people the details on how to cook something. Hrrrm.

See, I’m kind of weird. I don’t really do the whole “recipe” thing. Maybe I’ll kind of “follow” a recipe once or twice to figure out how to make something, but then I wind up tailoring it to my taste for subsequent preparations. And, although my savory pies may taste like magic, there’s really nothing magical in the making. Honestly, this whole thing started when we had a bunch of green tomatoes at the end of the season. We didn’t really know what to do with them, and so they became a green tomato pie. since then, pie has become a way to deal with leftovers. It may seem a little gauche to serve your leftovers to your friends and family, but really; I will often prepare more than the three of us can eat in a sitting so I will have materials for a subsequent pie. So, rather than spelling out a recipe here, I’m going to try to explain the science behind the pies in question.

I’ve got a few old Pyrex pie plates. These things are awesome. You can make up a pie, cover it with foil and freeze it. These will go straight from the freezer into the oven without issue. They clean up easily, and store well. When your pie is in the oven, you can see the crust to monitor how done it is. If you don’t have any, you should acquire some. Look for them in junk shops and estate sales, and expect to pay between $.50 and $2.00. If you make your own pie crusts, great. I use the pre-made store bought ones. When the local grocery puts them on sale for under a buck a pair, I usually stock up and put them in the freezer.

The basics of my pies fillings are a mix of meat and starch, in the range between 50/50 to 65/35, the balance going either way, with some kind of binding agent. I have blended the filling all together in the past, but more recently have had great results with layering the starch and meat. If you can butter your Pyrex pie plate and roll out the dough, then this is a cinch. I usually do these two at a time

1 – Prepare the pie plate. Take a stick of butter and tear the paper off one end. Holding the butter stick by the wrapped end, smear it all over the inside of the pie plate until it is thoroughly coated. This does two things. It will act as a release agent so the baked pie slices come out cleanly, and it will help crisp up the crust. Roll out the pie crust and press it into the buttered plate.

2 – Starch layer – I like to use potatoes, but about anything starchy could be used here. about 1.25-pounds of plain, red, boiled and drained potatoes, mostly smashed into the bottom of the crust works great. I usually leave them lumpy, as the texture is nice in a pie, but mash them well enough to eliminate most air space. It never hurts to throw a few pats of butter on top here. You can also blend cheese or other delights into the potato layer. Alternatively, leftover french fries or tater tots are pretty wonderful for this layer. I used to hate leftover french fries until I started doing this. Now I plan to have leftover french fries. I suppose you could use rice or some other starchy agent with similar results, but I haven’t personally strayed much from potatoes on this part.

3 – Meat. This can be just about anything. I’ve used multiple types of beef (brisket, prime rib, pot roast), chicken (fried, boiled, roasted, grilled), pork (pulled, loin), and other things, such as duck and lobster. Tender slabs that are sliced lay into this layer fine. One of my more recent pies was brisket and ham on french fries, and it was amazing. In the case of chicken or duck, I like to pre cook it until it’s largely falling off the bone, and chunk the meat. If it’s leftover fried chicken, just break it up into bite-sized pieces and spread it evenly. Whatever kind of meat you have, lay it onto the starch layer, more or less evenly. Be careful with fowl, as it’s very easy to miss a few bones and have them wind up in the pie. If you have awesome friends like mine, they won’t mind the bones anyway.

4 – Binder – A lot of the time, whatever I’m putting together is chunked in such a way that I lack confidence that the structure will hold together on its own when served. some grated cheese in the mix helps, and adds wonderful flavor to boot! Indeed, a quarter pound of freshly grated parmesan or asiago mixed into the meat adds a lovely zest, and helps the meat to physically hold together. A half pound of grated Jarlsberg makes even the blandest of boiled chicken fit for a king’s appetite. Another great binding agent is egg. With crumbly meat such as pulled pork mixed with an egg or two makes for a delightfully firm slice of pie. With the duck, I spooned the duck fat (liquid freaking gold) off the water and added it to the mix as the primary binder and never looked back.

5 – Top that pie! I top my pies in several ways, depending on my current whim. The store bought crusts come two to a package. Sometimes, I top my pies with the second crust. If you do this, make sure to cut some kind of vent in the top. My mom always cut a “~” kind of mark in her pies, but you can do anything, even “IZ PAH!” as pictured above. Also, drop a few pats of butter on that top crust. When you bake it, the butter will melt into the crust and give it a lovely golden brown, crispy, awesomeness. I’ve been known to weave a bacon mat and top a pie with it. Thick sliced bacon usually comes about twelve or thirteen slices per pound, and a six by six woven bacon mat is awesome for all kinds of culinary tricks. If you cook, but you haven’t played with this, you need to get your butt in the kitchen and do it now! Grated or sliced cheese sometimes makes a good pie topper. Keep in mind that some cheeses tend to melt an get gooey and others will crisp and brown more. It can be good either way, as long as you’re mindful of the end results. Then, there are times that I’ve simply left the pie open on top, as I did with the aforementioned duck pie. That one got topped with freshly ground pepper and Himalayan pink salt.

6 – Store and/or bake. As previously mentioned, I usually make these two at a time, because that’s convenient to how my ingredients come out, most of the time. Your mileage may vary, of course. When I’ve made two, and it’s the three of us eating, I’ll foil cover one and throw it in the freezer for later consumption. The other one goes on the middle oven rack at 350-degrees. Cooking time may vary between a half hour and a full hour. Just keep in mind that pretty much everything inside the pie is pre-cooked. So basically, when the crust is golden brown, and your bacon is done, or your cheese looks the way you want it to, whatever egg is in there is finished, and you’re done. I usually put mine in for a half hour and then monitor it after that. Remember what I said about the Pyrex pie plates? This is where seeing through the pie plate comes in handy. From frozen, take the foil off the pie and put it on the middle oven rack at 450-degrees for a half hour. Then, turn the oven down to 350-degrees and bake as needed. My frozen pies typically take a total of anywhere between one and two hours to get done.

7 – Serve. From fresh or frozen, it’s best to let the pie sit outside the oven and cool for about fifteen minutes. Depending on the size of your pie and the appetite of your crew, you can slice these in quarters, sixths, eighths, or whatever. There were seven of us miscreants, and I sliced the duck pie into eights. I don’t know who got the eighth piece, but somebody went back for seconds. LOL! Season to taste. Sriracha or Louisiana hot sauce see heavy use in my household. A very ripe avacado sliced tops a savory pie nicely too. Other times, I like to eat them without further embellishment. Whatever you don’t immediately eat will store nicely for several days in the refrigerator, and makes awesome subsequent lunches. (Meta leftovers)

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If there’s a wrong way to do this, I’m not sure I’ve discovered it yet. Growing up, leftovers were leftovers, and never became anything more interesting. Now, when they’re trying to push leftovers at family gatherings, I get all grabby. The vast majority of our leftovers go into fried rice or pies at this point, which are good enough that I don’t feel ashamed to offer them to friends and family. As I mentioned, I often cook intending to have leftovers for pie filling now. For instance, I roasted the aforementioned duckling until it was medium, cut off the breasts for dinner that night, and continued stewing the rest of it so I could bake it into a couple pies. I used to make leftover fried chicken into chicken salad sandwiches, but it makes amazing pie. Get creative with it!

So, Dorothy, I hope this helps. Kind of recipe but not a recipe, I guess. But yeah, pie is awesome, and more people should be having awesome pie for dinner. If I can help facilitate that, the world will be a happier place. Please do let me know what you come up with in the comment section, and have fun!

Rebecca Romijn

Not to be confused with ramen.

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But, it might be fun to ask her to sign a package of ramen noodles. Some celebrities have a better sense of humor than others. I’ve never met her and this picture was already autographed when I acquired it. However, as we go to cons and whatnot, I might start thinking about sillier things to ask guests to sign. She was stunning as Mystique. Then again, she’s been stunning in about everything she’s done.

I Guess It’s Finally Winter

It’s 34-degrees out there. There’s mixed sleet, freezing rain, and the occasional flake coming down. We had no plans to shop Black Friday. So, we went to the YMCA to swim for a while. And then, in 34-degree winter mix, I went into the liquor store in a Speedo swimsuit. In all fairness, it’s really Speedo-branded boardshorts. And, I was also wearing a long sleeve shirt, fleece vest, and a jacket. But, it makes for a good story anyway. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

KTKC Final Day

Here we are, in the last day of Kilted To Kick Cancer 2015. The team standings have been blacked out. I am still matching donations to Team Hast. Show me the money.

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That’s $1,000.00, folks. That is money that I’m matching your donations with. Last I checked, we were up to $400.00. Not bad. However, I want you to make me donate every last penny of this cash to KTKC. This money:

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Donate here. Mark your donation for Team Hast. As I’ve said previously, if you put me in the top three, I’ll wear the kilt for the remainder of the year. Get yourself checked and donate to the cause.

I have some really nice jeans.

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Keep me out of them. If I finish in the top three this year, I will go kilted for the remainder of the year. There’s a thousand dollars burning a hole in my bank account that you can claim for Kilted To Kick Cancer. Jennifer and I have been thinking of getting our lifetime hunting licenses. Your donations may mean that my white knees will keep us from harvesting deer this year. This is not a far-fetched proposal. I’m not at the head of the pack, but I’m close, considering my donation match. Let’s do this thing. On Thursday I’ll be back in my jeans unless you put me over the top. Donate here and note your donation for Team Hast.

Kilted to Kick Cancer 2015

Most of y’all already know that September means wearing a kilt. I wear a kilt to raise awareness and funding for male specific cancers. Yes, all September. Here I am at the liquor store:

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Why yes, I am carrying a .45 in that photo. The shop’s proprietor, “Mom,” asks me every year why I’m wearing a skirt in her hard Korean accent. I’ve tried to explain, but English is not her strongest understanding. This is just part of the job. Over the next thirty days, I hope you’ll support my efforts in this endeavor. There will be challenges and promotions. I’ll do stupid things to earn your sponsorship. Please be gentle. Go here: link. Donate and tag my name to your donation. It’s a great cause and we’ll have fun.