Saturday, August 19, 2006

Flintlock Afternoon

Today my son and I went out to a rifle range nearby (you must remember that in rural Arizona, nearby probably means a greater distance than it does to city dwellers and back easters)

We took only our flintlocks. The rifles were replicas of the Pennsylvania Long Rifle that was so famous (not all that justifiably though) from the American Revolution. One is in .54 caliber and one is a .32. These are hunting weapons. While they have amazing range and accuracy the loading process is long and involved, but I'll get into that a little later. We were using only open sights. I also brought along a replica Colt 1851 Navy cap and ball revolver.

We took along a big ice chest that was full of 1/2 gallon milk cartons, filled with water and frozen. These make great targets, especially if you're shooting out in the sticks because there's no debris to go and pick up. They also explode nicely and give off a sparkle when you make a direct hit.

I love these old weapons. There is a definate skill set to shooting them. We used a newer synthetic powder because it's much less caustic to the rifles, more stable to store and has a longer shelf life. One of the appealing things about the black powder guns is that they are made and used with technology I am perfectly capable of doing myself. In a pinch, I can make my own powder, cast my own balls, find my own flint. It's a sustainable technology. If the supplies for newer higher tech weapons ever dried up the folks that rely on cartridges and lots of moving parts would be up a creek, I'd still be shooting. I also have a healthy respect for the people back then who fed and defended their families with these weapons.

To load a long rifle you stand it upright and brace the stock with your instep. Measure your powder (I use a measuring flask for this but I also have a small brass powder measure that hangs by a chain from my powder horn). Overloading on powder will not improve your muzzle velocity, it just blows out the barrel or, and this is not a good thing when you're shooting black powder, remains in the barrel unburned. Measuring is important. Then you take a lubricated patch and your ball and place it at the muzzle. A short, stout, starting ram and a hammer get the ball and patch started down the barrel. This was one of the steps that made the rifle a liability on the battlefield. It takes too long and you have to lug too much equipment around. While the riflemen were reloading the enemy would be charging with fixed bayonets, that's is several kinds of no fun. The backwoods riflemen were generally used as snipers (one shot and run like hell), or on the flanks of the main formation with the task of picking off the officers and non-coms. Still one or two volleys was about all you could expect from them. The effect of rifles on the battle is more the stuff of legend than of fact. When the ball is started the long ram is pulled out and you force the ball and patch down tightly on top of the powder. It is important to get it all the way down. You want zero gas leaking around the bullet and you want the explosion of the powder to be contained in as small an area as possible. Now you bring the stock of the rifle up to your waist and bring the hammer to half-cock so that it is out of the way of the pan and the frizzen, which is the rough face steel cap on a hinge that you tilt forward to expose the pan. Pour a small amount of powder into the pan and give it a light tap to make sure that powder goes down into the channel that leads to the chamber of the rifle. Snap the frizzen closed and shoulder your weapon to sight. Bring the hammer back to full cock and take aim. When you trip the hammer with your trigger it falls forward, the flint on the end of the hammer strikes the rough steel face of the frizzen and creates sparks while at the same time pushing the frizzen forward to expose the loose powder in the pan. This ignites in a flash and puff of smoke (some of which and maybe a cinder or two will always go right into your eyes) then if you don't experience the cliché flash in the pan the powder in the chamber ignites and expells the ball. You have to stand steady through this process. You can't flinch when the pan goes off in your face, you have to stand steady against the push of the discharge too. There is more of a push than a kick to a flintlock and holding straight and true aim through this process is what makes for a good rifleman. It takes practice. Lots of practice. As soon as you fire the weapon it's a good idea to blow a quick puff of air into the pan to clear the channel and get any hot sparks that might have lingered out of there. Running a plain cloth swab is a great idea right now too, if you have the time.

The main thing we are doing, besides the cliché Way Out West thing of going out in the sticks (OK, further out in the sticks, we live in the sticks) and blasting away at stuff with great big fucking guns we are preparing for our fall ritual hunt of elk and deer. The last eight years we have done this only using the muzzle loaders and open sights. This requires a great deal of actual hunting. Since my son's ambition in life is to guide elk hunts professionally the extra hunting skill serves him well. While I have, with age, and nagging memories of combat, become much less bloodthirsty, I still enjoy the hunt. With black powder weapons, you have to get much closer. I generally try to be within the 150-100 yard range. Also, referring to the process above, with these weapons you simply cannot count on getting another shot. You have one. It must count.

We both have our rifles loaded and primed, there are two targets set up at the 100 yard mark. We take our aim. Son fires first. Dead center. An explosion of ice is a visual reward, chunks fly and glitter in the air. I shoot. I hit, but not dead center. Mine spins and falls. We reload. (this takes a little over a minute) Again my son obliterates his target beautifully. I hit mine, but it's a little bit high sending the ice block spinning end over end where it plunks in the deep sand. My son offers to trade rifles. He's shooting the .50 and he thinks that the bigger projectile will increase my chances of creating a crushed ice explosion. I thank him for his kindness but tell him that the fault is not in the rifle but in the shooter. He begins to run downrange to set up a couple more targets. I set to work loading both rifles.

When he returns we go for another round. Again, he's perfect. Again, I make a hit but not totally on mark. We load again. He, once again, right on target. I am really taking my time on this one. Timing my breathing, tuning in to the slight bump of the sight picture as my pulse throbs through my cheek resting along the stock. I exhale, blowing any excess out through pursed lips. S.q.u.e.e.z.i.n.g.s.l.o.w.&.s.t.e.a.d.y. This time. Total success. Wanting to quit a winner I talk my son into launching an ice block with our surgical tubing slingshot. He does. Out comes the big .44 revolver. I hit it twice on the fly. Which is not a mean feat with an old single action pistol which needs to be fully cocked by hand for each shot and possesses a vicious recoil. My son gives the old man some props and then says "You know, if those targets were shooting back at us, I wouldn't want anybody but you in the fight with me."

He's trying to make me feel better about the semi-misses I've been making all day. Then I realize what a sweet and considerate gesture that really is. I also realize that on this day my son, at almost seventeen, is not only a better shot than me. He's a better man.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday's Random Ten

Good morning all, it's time for the random listing of what's on my iPod this morning, so without further dithering I hit random and we get:

Frankie and Albert - - -Taj Mahal
Kyle's Mom's a Bitch - - South Park (movie version)
Many Rivers To Cross - - Jimmy Cliff
Springtime In Alaska - - Johnny Cash & June Carter
Buachial an Eirne - - Clannad
Come Monday - - - - -Jimmy Buffet
To Love Somebody - - -Flying Burrito Brothers
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness - - John Prine (live bootleg)
If I Needed You - - - Townes Van Zandt
Carey - - Joni Mitchell (live bootleg featuring moi on mandolin only valuable for its extreme rarity)

Bonus Track (hit random twice and take the top)

John Law Burned Down The Liquor Store - - Chris Thomas King

what's on ya'll's playlist today?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


In an email recently from a correspondance friend who is in some financial straights she really brightened my day when she said "I have learned to do amazing things with a bag of potatoes." Which sent me right back to when I was growing up out in the sticks. We were not only poor, we were reservation poor. The brightest spot in that was the monthly "Indian Commodities" of surplus government food. Me Da, bein' Irish an' all, also knew from growing up poor and had more than a few tricks up his sleeve. So, in honor of my friend (who shall remain nameless but if you're reading I want to tell you again how much I admire you) I present traditional poor folk's food from the beautiful green isle.

3 pounds of potatoes
2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 cup hot milk
1 head of cabbage, cored and shredded
1 pound of ham or bacon (in keeping with the spirit of the dish get what ever is on sale or the cheapest)
4 scallions finely chopped
chopped parsley for garnish
freshly ground pepper

If using ham, cover with water and boil 30 to 40 minutes, drain and cool and cut into cubes. For the bacon, chop and fry till it's cooked but not crispy (except around the edges) drain well and set aside.

Steam or boil the potatoes in their skins. Peel sloppily (little bits of skin add to the charm of this dish but you don't want so much that it will discolor the dish) then cut and mash with a hand masher. Some people want all totally smooth, but I likes me some lumps here. Not choking size, but big enough to remind your teeth that they have a job to do and that these are potatoes. When you're about half way done with the mashing begin adding the hot milk and 1 stick of the butter a chunk at a time. When it's all incorporated, give it a few grinds of the pepper.

Boil the cabbage in lots of unsalted water until it changes color, then add 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter to help tenderize it. Boil for two more minutes after that, then drain it well. You can also chop it again here, but I prefer to leave it in shreds. Some people insist on mushy colcannon but I'm not one of them. I picture this dish being made by a woman who doesn't know when himself is going to tear away from the pub and she's trying to stretch the table money he left of a Friday and besides all o' tha' worra isn't she tryin' her blessed best to be keepin' track o' the wee ones who tear around like red indians don't they. . .whew! That made me tired. You get the picture? Not a lot of energy, time or effort will be expended on nuance here. This is a boil it, mash it, mix it dish.

Mix in the cabbage, bacon or ham, the scallions (you can also add some ground mace for good measure) to the potato mash, stirring gently.

To serve, put in soup bowls, make an indentation with the back of a wooden spoon and put a pat of butter in the middle.

This is good, solid, peasant food. Potatoes, cabbage, a touch of pig meat for flavor (although Mom used to skip the meat part all the time and blame some innocent but conveniently obscure saint) is all good, simple food. It will fill you up and nourish the soul too.

My kids all love this when I make it for St. Paddy's or Halloween. I love it too. I like simple poor folk's food enough that I might even do Government Macaroni and Cheese next.


For those who don't care for cabbage a substitution may be made of either kale, mustard, or collard greens. Make sure to wash them in a full sink of water and to completely remove the center stems. Increase the boiling time until they are al dente

To use leeks (which is a wonderful, unfairly neglected vegetable way out here in the West) Cut off the bulb roots at the shoulder (widest portion of the bottom bulb) and separate outer layers to make sure you get all the dirt while scrubbing with a brand new sponge. Trim off about an inch off the top. Then shred like cabbage. Increase the added butter by a tablespoon and increase the cooking time until tender.

For everyone who reports in the comments that they have tried this dish I will donate $5 to my friend's tip jar. I'm trusting in the small readership of this blog but also in you. Really make this dish, really eat it. I bet you'll really love it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tachih Nádáh

This ceremony is common to almost all north american native cultures. There are as many variations as there are among people. There are many more similarities than there are differences.

Let me remind you that I do not believe in the supernatural. I do not pray in the sense that I expect a god somewhere to listen and give a damn. I still go into the lodge with people. I talk and follow the forms of the traditional prayers. When I leave, I feel better. That's enough. No jealous sky demon has ever acted like it was going to strike me down. I don't get into all of that. There might be some Jungian tribal memory thing going on, I dont care.

We meet in the early afternoon a clan cousin's house. (Apache connections are byzantine in complexity and I won't go into that here) They have a semi permanent lodge set up in their back yard. They are far enough out in the country that it is quiet and we won't be bothered by city noise or prying eyes. There are eight of us tonight, equally divided between men and women. Some cultures have a total ban on men and women doing this ceremony together, some wear clothes. We tend to be more pragmatic about things. After being hunted for the better part of two centuries by the Spanish, the Mexicans, then the Americans a lot of separation of men and women got discarded because there simply weren't enough of the people (indii) to keep things workable. Sometimes we have problems when those from other cultures that have these barriers come to visit. We will warn them about our customs but we don't try to adapt to them any more than that. Warrior societies are like that.

Many of us fast on the day of the ceremony. I will drink fluids but I don't eat. It's just a personal thing. I know people who do the whole dry fasting thing and I have done it before but mainly since it would mean doing without my coffee and having a raging headache before the dehydration sets in I choose not to.

We start by covering the bent willow framework that forms the shell of the Tachih (sweatlodge). It's about five feet tall at the peak and makes a nice circular dome. We are covering it with a combination of blankets (nothing special for the blankets, just old blankets is all) on the first two layers, followed by elk, deer and buffalo hides on the outside. We are looking for something that will be light and waterproof. There are sheets spread out on the floor of the lodge, mainly this is so we won't get all crusty mudded up while we are trying to cleanse ourselves. When we are finished we all go inside the house.

We gather in a circle in the living room and the leader (ha'taallii) welcomes us to the ceremony. We go around the room and introduce ourselves. We use our "medicine names" here. That is the name we use when we are in ceremony. There's a whole involved structure around naming, there's the name that it used in the state records, a medicine name, a name given by your warrior society, a sacred name that is never spoken aloud, and then there's the name everybody calls you by. Again, it's pretty alien and hard to explain. My medicine name translates roughly to "Singing Snake." We pass around a smudge bowl with a combination of sage, cedar and lavender. We let the smoke waft around us, fanning it with an eagle feather. If there is anything specific we want to look for inside the lodge it is stated at this time.

The leader takes out his pipe and puts it together. He (it can be a woman but tonight it is a man) takes a small pinch of tobacco (actually, it's a mix of stuff that grows out in the desert mountains and I am not going to go into the ingredients beyond saying that there is nothing in this pipe that would interfere with my program of drug and alcohol abstinence but when I am talking about tobacco I'm not talking about the Virginia leaf) and begins to fill the pipe a pinch at a time, saying the appropriate prayers for each pinch. When the leader is done the pipe and the pouch go around the room and we each add our own pinch and our own prayers (these prayers can be said out loud or be said in silence). When the pipe is once again with the leader he begins to smoke and pray. He smokes to the four cardinal directions, above and below, the center of things. Then he calls in the powers of nature and the world. It's long, intricate and involved. For me this part is like the sermon they make derilicts listen to before they get fed at the soup kitchen. I maintain a respectful silence but I'm not really all that into it.

Once the leader has finished his job the pipe again goes around the circle and we each smoke a little bit and say our own personal wishes for the ceremony. Then we get naked and go out to the lodge.

The entrance of the lodge is facing to the east. You stand before the entrance and the leader brushes you with sage smoke and a fan made from the wing of an eagle. When this is done you kneel down, touch you forhead to the ground and say "ahéhe'e shik'iihi" (thank you my people), then you crawl slowly around the lodge until you reach your place. There is one special position in the lodge that is right next to the firepit (which is roughly north northeast). The person that sits there is the last to pray each round and tries to keep themselves in tune with the flow of the ceremony. They are also there to aid the leader in any way that might be needed. I like to sit in the slight south west position. When the water hits the hot rocks the steam billows up and across the dome of the lodge right on top of you. I like it hot. During this part of the ceremony we remain silent, focused in our own thoughts.

When we are all in the leader enters and asks for the fire tenders to bring four rocks, one at a time from the firepit. We are using rocks from a dry river bed that have been baked for a couple of days right after they were gathered. River rocks hold the heat longer and seem to get hotter. If you don't put them in a 200° oven for a couple of days there's a chance that when the water is poured on them they will explode. I've been in a lodge when this happens and it's no fun at all. As the rocks are brought in they are sprinkled with fragrent herbs and flowers and the appropriate prayers and welcome is made. Then three more rocks come in. Same thing is done. After the first seven rocks are in more are brought in two and three at a time, the leader uses an elk horn to arrange them in the pit, the person sitting in the northeast begins to sing a song in Apache until we have a total of twenty rocks. The flap on the entrance is closed and we are in darkenss except for the glow of the rocks in the pit. The leader pours twenty times on the rocks, saying the ritual prayers of welcome and calling in the powers. Then one at a time we go around the lodge and say our prayers for ourselves. There aren't any real hard and fast rules on what to pray for. The form is to address the god or power you are intending to talk to and introduce yourself by your medicine name, you clan affiliation, and any honors from battle you might have be given. Then you pray for yourself. I pretty much follow the 11th step of Alcoholic's Anonymous here and tend to pray that I be given only the knowledge of what god's will for me might be and then have the power to carry out that will. It's enough. Sometimes people will ask the leader to give them a medicine name or change the one they've been given before. When everyone has had their turn the flap is opened and there is a slight respite from the heat.

During the rounds of the sweat lodge no one goes in or comes out. If someone gets in distress from the heat they can ask that the flap be opened for them to leave but the round is then started over from the beginning.

The leader asks for six stones, he can ask for as many or as few as he wants, it's pretty hot in there tonight, the steam is scalding and feels alive. We don't need a whole lot of it.

The flap is closed again and this time the prayers that are said are for others. People pray for family, friends, whatever. As long as it is not about you. The flap is opened again.

Some folks drink water in between the rounds of prayers. I don't but that's a personal choice that I made. It's not mandated one way or the other. I just feel a bigger ceremonial connection by having the time in lodge be about stuff going out

This time he asks for nine stones to be brought in. The flap goes down and we begin the "give away." Here we give away the things in our life that are not serving us well. You might have noticed that I am not going into any specifics about what I pray for in the lodge. It's very personal. It's very private. It's between me and what ever power might be out there, not between me and you. After everyone has taken a turn we do another round where we give away things about ourselves that we give to the people and society as a whole. The good things that we bring. After listing all the stuff that's not that great and isn't working it's good to identify what is good and doing the job.

The flap comes up again and he asks for seven stones, one at a time. They again get sprinkled with herbs and flowers, the flap goes down and while the leader does the twenty count prayer and pours twenty horns of water we are dreaming. Trying to be open to any message or emotions that be out there for us.

The flap is opened and one, at a time, in reverse order of entrance we leave the lodge. We stay in silence. Some people use an outdoor shower that is set up, others lie down on towels and stare up at the sky. We are coming back into this world slowly. I finally get up and douse myself with cold water, and start to drink some gatorade that I brought. It takes about forty minutes for us to get in the present enough to go inside and get dressed. Then we attack the pot luck buffet that has been set up. I am still drinking deeply and ravenous. The food tastes great. I am tired, but full of energy.

After the meal we gather again and go over what we felt in the lodge. The pipe is smoked and then put away. We stand around talking quietly about little things. The big things are through for the night. One by one we give gifts of tobacco and a small token of thanks to the leader, the three people that tended our fire, and the hosts who graciously opened their house to us. Then we drift away into the dark night. Cleansed in body and spirit. Part of this world and some other place I can't really explain. There is a thread in this ceremony that runs through us all the way to the beginning of time.

We aren't real hard core about keeping this ceremony all to ourselves, there have been outsiders invited to join our circle. It's rare, but it is not unheard of. I will leave you with the words from an old prayer

biihill hishash aaii diji jooni (may i walk today in beauty)
yexahedela go deya tc'indii (having been prepared, he walks, they say)

good night.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Promise There Will Be a New Post

late tonight. There is a sweat lodge ceremony that I am attending. We go deep into the center of the earth and creation, and above all into ourselves. Ancient songs, old ways. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Creme Anglais (traditional sauce to serve on soufflé)

My 3rdX has been reading the blog. She called to say that when I made soufflé for her there was always creme anglais spooned over it. She said that without the sauce the dish is dimished. Since I owe her a huge karma debt racked up by my being a drunken asshole and faithless husband I will say right now that she is right. So, without further ado, je presente le creme anglais.

In keeping with my last bit of criticism, also valid and welcome, here's what you will need to work with.

5 egg yolks (can be left over from the soufflé or the angel food cake which by the way is a hallmark of a well tempered kitchen)
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
13 ounces of whole milk (1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons)
1 vanilla bean (cured, not dry)
pinch kosher or sea salt

Take a wet towel and make a ring that the bowl you will be mixing the sauce in will fit snugly on the counter. Whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar and salt together until very creamy and lemon colored. Set it in the towel ring.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a very sharp paring knife. With the back of a demitasse spoon or anything small with a blunt end, scrape out the vanilla specks. Put the specks and the bean hull in the milk to scald. Use a heavy bottom pot (I have cast iron sauce pans for just this kind of thing, although stainless steel or heavy aluminum will do I prefer the even heat distribution you get from well seasoned cast iron pots) to scald the milk. This means you have it over a high heat without stirring until a fine topcoat of small bubbles appear. You do not want this to boil. The whole idea of a scald is to bring it right to the edge of a boil and then pull it back. Take this pan off the burner and replace it with a pot big enough for your mixing bowl to fit over with at least two inches of water in it there to come to a boil.

Slowly. Methodically. Ever. So. Slowly. Ladle in some of the hot milk, whisking steadily the whole time. This is called tempering. By bringing the egg yolk mixture up to temperature slowly the yolks will not scramble. If you notice scrambling taking place, throw it out, call the dog or the cat and start over, going. Slowly. And. Patiently. This. Time. Once the milk and the egg yolks are close to the same temperature you can begin to pour the milk straight from the pan, but, remember, Not. To. Rush. This. Step.

When all the milk is whisked into the egg put the bowl over the boiling water on the stove and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook it until the custard begins to coat the back of the spoon and has started to thicken. Do. Not. Let. This. Boil.

Still stirring transfer the mixing bowl to an ice bath (a big ass bowl with ice cubes, water and salt) until it feels cool to the touch. Sieve through a fine mesh strainer into a plastic or glass container that you can cap tightly and refridgerate until ready to use. This will last in the fridge for a week if you don't open the container to air. Once you've opened it, use it all. Which is actually pretty easy because this is a beautiful, golden, silken, voluptous dessert sauce.


You can add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and half a cinnamon stick to the milk before scalding. Or finely grind half a nutmeg and put the other half in the milk.

You can also add 1 1/2 tsp of rum, cognac, or coffee liqueur (The best I have found is Starbucks®, but feel free to add your own personal favorite to the milk as soon as it is scalded.

Another completely decadent use for creme anglais is to dunk a fresh strawberry to the shoulders, immediately roll in brown sugar and bite. Be carefull with this one though, spontaneous orgasms have been documented at the table with the combination of flavor and texture. Unless you're down for an orgy, save it to finish off the romantic dinner for two.

IMG_5929 Random Flickr Blogging

Originally uploaded by BigDaddyBry.
I swear as god is my witness
I will not fly again until
they give this bullshit a rest
or the rivers all run dry
which ever fucking comes first