Privilege Freely Given:

..The Only Legitimate Kind?
(c) 2014, Davd

There is an ugly—not very ugly, but unwelcome—pair of tire tracks through the edge of my prayer garden, past the \_ shaped herb bed to the front of the porch where it meets the deck. They display as two grooves in the grass-and-clover lawn, not as bare dirt nor gravel; but i’d much rather the lawn’s surface were something between elegant very gradual curvatures, and the slight roughness which the winter freezes and spring thaws seem to impose on the local ground surface.

Those tracks betray the passage of machinery where i would much prefer that only feet pass; bare in the warmest days of summer, and shod at other times. I would rather the prayer garden be walked, and only walked …
… but i wouldn’t rather exclude crippled men who do the best they can despite their handicaps, and want to pray and reflect here. The tracks don’t go all over the garden, they come through from the edge toward Claude’s home to the nearest doorway.

Claude loves machinery more than i do; and he gets around using an ATV that i’ve called “his wheelchair” for two years or so. I prefer skis, a bicycle, and walking boots; but they wouldn’t serve him as well as they have served me.

If Claude had to walk here from his house—a little more than 400 metres away—he would come far less often and arrive in far more pain. His knees are severely arthritic; he wears a back brace which he needs because of a work injury; i cannot remember seeing “a spring in his step.” Sure, it would do him good to lose weight (and it would do me good to lose about half as much weight; i’m on the stout side myself), but would i serve him or the cause of brotherhood by nagging and scolding, better than by occasional gentle wry references to our mutual overweight? I don’t think so.

I do think letting him have the privilege of defacing the prayer garden lawn for 10-20 metres of that 400+, so he can come to talk and pray, “is the lesser of two evils”; or more precisely, is an unwelcome bother for me, that frees Claude from an evil consequence of his work injury and his arthritis. I grant him a privilege i would not grant to an able bodied man, from compassion for his weaknesses and respect for his diligence and good work.

Claude has been Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus, and he’s one of the men with whom their priest confers about local concerns. He fixes equipment for his brothers and some other folks along the road, much as my grandfather did for his neighbours sixty and seventy years ago. Often when he goes somewhere to run errands, he asks me if i’d like to ride along. Considering his handicaps, he’s quite a contributor.

If by some marvel of modern medicine, Claude were to gain freedom from his back injuries and his arthritis, so that he could walk with a spring in his step, i might start telling him, “so leave the ATV outside the prayer garden and it’ll look that much better.” I might also walk him ‘way back into the forest to look at some reforestation problems and techniques. But i don’t have the power to heal by command, that the Scriptures report Jesus and some of his Apostles had; and it looks like modern medicine can’t heal him either. I have to deal with him crippled, the way he is now, and respect how much he does in spite of his handicaps.

Respect for what he contributes and compassion for his handicaps, are the basis for his privilege. One or the other, alone, might not persuade me to privilege “the next man”*. It was a personal decision to welcome him on his 4-wheel-drive wheelchair, rather than insist he walk; and not one i would trust to a bureaucracy.

I can sympathize with those who hope and who argue for a world without privilege. I expect to write “against” privileges that i regard as undeserved, in the coming months. Before condemning some privileges, i thought it might be good context to write about a privilege i myself, freely grant to a hard working, good hearted, crippled old man—and to emphasize, “freely grant”.

If enforced rather than freely granted, privileges become something different. Perhaps, much as taxes one must pay differ from voluntary donations to charity.

There is more than one basis for privilege; and so there is more than one kind of privilege. A privilege enforced by law, by threat of punishment and often of violence, a privilege imposed rather than freely granted, puts the privilege holder “above”, and denigrates, those who lack that privilege. A privilege granted in respect and compassion for the recipient, denigrates no one, and indeed raises both granter and recipient, one for showing generosity and one for evoking it.

I suggest as a principle, that imposed privileges are illegitimate.

Note:

* For reasons based in Orthodox Christian doctrine, i am sexually abstinent and avoid the unchaperoned company of women; so while a women might be welcomed here chaperoned, a more general welcome applies to other Christian men.

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Harvest Tomato Sauce for Pasta:

..So your tomato plants gave you a good crop and you hate to waste any?
… and what’s worse, the frost is about to kill your basil?

(c) 2014, Davd

Winter’s coming, soon (unless you’re reading this from the tropics, or the Southern Hemisphere.) The maple leaves have turned a range of reds and oranges and over half the birch leaves are yellow. Even one of the bur-oaks on the downhill side of the orchard has mostly yellow leaves on it. The cucumber and bean plants died mid September in a hard frost—a frost 3-4 degrees warmer than the average January daily-high temperature around here. I protected two short rows of tomatoes and picked the rest the day before that killing frost. Those last two rows came in at the end of September, with -4C predicted and the tomato leaves yellowing.

There’s a time lag, of course, between the growing and the eating. With leaf lettuce, sweet corn, and cucumbers, it should be kept to as few minutes as practical; while with apples it can stretch to several months and the fruit will still taste fresh. (Cabbage can be stored very similarly to apples, and last winter, i wrote about how to use one stored cabbage as 2-3 different winter vegetables. Fairly similar storage techniques work with beets, carrots, and potatoes—of which only carrots are eaten raw.) The time lag allows us to eat tomatoes and cucumbers in late September and early October—but not in June, unless we have a
greenhouse, though June is warmer. So September cooking and salad making uses summer vegetables from the garden, and winter comes to the kitchens of Canada in October and November.

Once carried indoors, tomatoes should be used sooner rather than later; and at this time of year good gardeners are likely to have more than they want to eat fresh. They can be frozen in their skins, but that merely postpones the work of cooking them1. It’s more compact to cook those tomatoes into pasta sauce or salsa-picante, and either “can”2 them in jars or freeze them in margarine tubs or some such plastic containers—and if you do it now, you’re more likely to be able to include basil.

I’ve already written about making salsa-picante and chili from canned tomatoes. Use fresh tomatoes and they’ll be as good, or better. (In making chili, a blender does a better job than a “food processor” [motorized chopper], of cutting fresh or frozen tomatoes into a semi-smooth state. For making salsa picante, the motorized chopper is better if you have one, but a blender can be made to work. For making pasta sauce, the blender does the better job—you want it more smooth than chunky—but the chopper can reduce the chunks small enough to work fine. It’s the flavour that matters most.

For Italian tomato dishes, three seasonings are standard: Oregano, onion, and basil. This being Canada rather than Italy, basil can be scarce and expensive; but at this time of year, i usually have a decent supply of “spice basil”—a hardier, less succulent, somewhat stronger-flavoured close relative of the Sweet Basil that is what you usually see in markets and gardening stores. I grow them both: Spice basil outdoors as a companion for tomatoes, and sweet basil in pots on the deck or porch. Spice basil can survive down to freezing [0 Celsius, 32 Fahrenheit] while sweet basil starts to die at +4C [about 39F] and needs to be taken into the porch when spice basil is safe outside. I use the sweet basil leaves in tomato sandwiches and maybe salads, and the spice basil in cooking, for the most part; but sweet basil certainly will serve well for cooking also.

Basil, then, is optional in this sauce—use it if you have it. To give the sauce plenty of flavour with or without basil, i add liveche (Levisticum officinale, a celery-like herb with a richer flavour—so if you don’t have it, substitute celery leaves [fresh or dried], cut-up coarser celery stems, or add “celery seed” which keeps like dry herbs generally) and hot paprika.; and if there’s no basil, i’m almost certain to add garlic. I might use garlic and basil in the same sauce.

The job starts with the tomatoes: Cut them in quarters or eighths and “blend” until it’s not quite as smooth in consistency as you want the final sauce to be. I have my blender jar marked just above the ¾ litre mark, at the level for the volume of a 28-ounce [.796 litre] can—the size can of tomatoes i buy. That way, i can use the seasoning quantities that work with one can of crushed or diced tomatoes. If i have a big harvest to cook up, i can make double, triple, even quadruple batches.

You can put fresh basil (leaves and flower stalks, not stems) into the blender with the tomatoes, and it will chop up the basil fairly well. Unless you live in India, the US Gulf Coast, Northern Australia etc.—somewhere that is sub-tropical or tropical, and wet rather than desert or Mediterranean—basil will be hard work to grow and you’ll be thinking “how much do I need?” rather than “how much can I put in without wasting it?”

Chive, oregano and liveche are hardy enough that most Canadians can use “plenty” and feel comfortable about it. In Climate Zone 4 and warmer zones, all three will winter over with a little mulch for protection. Chive has been known to winter over where the lowest temperatures go below -50C [-55F]. Greek Oregano—a pungent flavourful variety as well as hardy—and liveche [Levisticum officinale] probably aren’t hardy in Zone 3, but in Zone 4 i’ve wintered them both, several years now. Both dry well for winter use. (I hang mine in bunches in the woodshed, which is dry and shaded. If they don’t dry crisp enough for hand crumbling, they might be too damp for jar storage, so i “finish dry” them for a few hours in a sunny porch window.)

I recommend scissoring all three into the cooking pot, rather than try to chop them in a blender3. Chives must be fresh or frozen, not dried. Liveche and oregano can be added dried and crumbled, at the rate of one high-rounded soup spoon per .8 litres of tomatoes. (After you have tried the amounts i suggest here, use your own likings to decide whether to increase them, decrease them, or stay with the suggestions. I haven’t yet cooked a tomato sauce with so much chives that i said to myself “Less chives next time”—but that’s me. You might have different tastes.)

I add one low-rounded teaspoon of hot paprika, and half a teaspoon of salt. I then bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and simmer it for about ten minutes—longer won’t likely hurt, but i enjoy a fresh tomato taste when cooking from my garden.

My late September test batch—to verify the technique for this blog—was made with Scotia tomatoes, fresh chive and spice basil, mostly dried liveche and oregano, and [of course] dried hot paprika. Though the sauce looked to be a relatively small amount for the pasta, the flavour was rich and tangy, fit to serve to a guest and to enjoy several times a week—even without mushrooms.

This sauce is also very good with white rice4—I tried the combination for the sake of this “post”, and was actually surprised how well they go together. Since pasta presently costs a bit less “on sale” than rice, and has a higher protein content; and since rice with salsa picante is also very good, and a good deal better than pasta with salsa picante; i don’t expect to use this sauce with rice in most situations… but if you’ve rice handy, and not pasta, it can substitute well.

For a second “trial”, i added a few sautéed Suillus mushrooms to the sauce (with spaghetti) and wished i’d added even more. Several kinds of edible wild mushrooms are good with pasta and tomato sauce, as are “grocery store mushrooms”… and if the grocery store mushrooms are very expensive, the sauce is good with pasta only.

If you read back over the text, you’ll see several ways you can vary the seasonings in this technique; and the final “arbiter” should be your likings and those of the folks who share your meals. I’ve developed my version to be tangy and savory, with a fresher taste when the sauce is done, than canned tomatoes can produce. Having made chicken cacciatore with both fresh and canned tomatoes, i expect the seasonings and amounts given here, will work with canned crushed or diced tomatoes when i’ve eaten up the home-grown, some time toward the end of the year…

… but the harvest version, i also expect, will be the best. If you like this sauce as much as i do, when you try it; then i suggest you make plenty while the herbs and tomatoes are fresh, and freeze or ‘can’ a few pints for the coming winter.

Notes:

1. Nobody i know eats a frozen and thawed tomato, “raw”: The texture is not appealing.

2. In the Atlantic provinces, people refer to “bottling” food in sealed jars. To me, a bottle is a container from which the contents must be poured because the neck is too small to accept a spoon; and any glass container from which things can be spooned is a jar—in function, a re-usable can made out of glass. When i refer to bottling, the substance going into the bottles pretty well must be a liquid, such as beer, wine, cider, and the mehu concentrate produced by steam juice extraction, and the bottle is closed by a cork or cap rather than a lid.

3. Blenders will chop chives, basil, fresh oregano, and liveche when making mayonnaise; the oil makes the mixture thick enough that the blender knives can cut through the soft plant material. When making this pasta sauce, only the basil cut really well.

4. Brown rice is more nutritious than white, but it is also about twice as expensive around here—and it will keep only a few months, while white rice will keep a few years—so i usually cook white rice. Ideally, if i had an abundance of free time, i’d get a “pasta machine” and make whole wheat pasta.

 

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Chicken Cacciatore

(Pollo alla Cacciatora, Poulet Chasseur):
My Favourite Low-Cost Technique from Last Winter

and even better with fresh tomatoes
(c) 2014, Davd

Winter clothes unpacked yet? Shorts and swimwear boxed up and put in the attic? (If you put a few mothballs in the box with the out-of-season clothes—even though most summer clothing has no wool in it—and put them in the cellar or wherever mice usually invade your house, my neighbour Smitty tells me the mothballs will repel the mice. I’m giving it a try; it sounds plausible—and from inside a box, the mothballs should leak out their fumes slowly enough that the house won’t smell of naphtha.)

We don’t literally put our barbecues in mothballs, but we Canadians do use them seldom to never between early October and late May. And once the barbecue season is over in Canada, and the slaughtering season is here, food stores are likely to shift focus from luxury to economy. That’s what happened last year, anyhow: Starting last autumn, the nearest full-size grocery store to my home sold 5 kg boxes of “broken chicken drumsticks” (Pilons de Poulet Cassées) for about $2.50 per kilo. What’s broken off is mostly bone—the packages contained chicken drumsticks, with a third or so of the bone missing at the lower end—for about half the price of whole chicken drumsticks. It was the least expensive meat in the nearby grocery stores—and i like chicken maybe less than beef, trout, or wild salmon, but at least as well as pork; so last winter, i ate more chicken than any other one kind of meat.

Chicken, pasta, and tomatoes go very well together, and i like all three well enough to eat them just about every day. Mushrooms too, for that matter. With chicken the bargain meat last winter, chicken cacciatore became the commonest main dish of the season—and i remember those meals with pleasure.

(If you don’t forage wild mushrooms, start cautiously. There are a few deadly poisonous mushroom species, and some that can make you sick but not likely kill you, as well as a larger number of good to very good, safe ones; and there are many species that are neither poisonous nor pleasant to eat. To start with, read a good basic mushroom hunting book and take your first foraging trips with an experienced companion—one you trust, and who hasn’t made himself or herself sick with any recent mistakes.)

My favourite vegetable, among those that can be easily stored for winter use, is the tomato. It’s healthy, it’s versatile, it’s tasty. I can eat tomatoes twice a day for weeks, and not get bored with them. Sure, there are times when i prefer a fresh cucumber, 6-8 inches long and picked that same day1, quartered lengthwise, with a sprinkle of salt. In early spring, if i’ve had cooked tomatoes all winter, i’d rather have asparagus steamed to a bright green (and in early spring, fresh tomatoes are not an alternative.) And if i’ve had tomatoes every day for a week or two, i might prefer broccoli or green beans, picked that day and steamed to a bright green. But the number of meals per month i can enjoy tomatoes is more than the number i can enjoy cucumber, broccoli, or green beans.

Most fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, are intermediate in “storage life”: They needn’t be eaten within a few hours of harvest as asparagus, sweet corn, cucumbers, green beans, and leaf lettuce reallly should be… but they won’t keep for weeks without losing quality.

Tomatoes, however, have two properties that make them more useful as “winter vegetables” than green beans, sweet corn, or even broccoli: They are acid, and their skins are virtually waterproof. Because they are acid, they can be sealed in canning jars with no risk of botulism2. Because their skins are virtually waterproof, they can be frozen in plastic food bags (even in grocery store carry-home bags) and they won’t freezer burn. (If you grow too many green beans, you can blanch and freeze them, but they won’t be like fresh cooked. If you grow too many broccoli, their texture after freezing will be even less fun.3) So while you shouldn’t plan to grow more green beans and broccoli than you’ll want to eat plus give away while they’re fresh, it makes good sense to grow lots of tomatoes and use the rest in winter cooking.

Few of us, once we realize how tomatoes can contribute to winter menus, will have the garden space and spare time grow a full year’s supply of tomatoes at home. Fortunately, canned tomatoes are about the least expensive canned vegetable: A 28-ounce [796 ml] can has cost 80 cents to a dollar on special, last year and this. It makes pretty good sense to buy ahead when you find a price below the dollar mark; because the “best before date” will usually be 1-2 years after the day you find them in the store. I like to have 2-3 dozen cans in the house by the time the snowplows first go to work, even if i’m still using my home grown tomatoes in the kitchen.

Cacciatore is the third tomato-sauce main dish i’ve described here: The first was salsa-picante; the second was chili. (The fourth will be a generic pasta sauce, and the fifth, St-Laurent pasta sauce.) Maybe it’s time to write a little about the common patterns to the seasoning of these five “presentation grade home cooking techniques”, all featuring tomatoes.

If you’re familiar with making turkey stuffing, you might remember the four seasonings Sage, Celery, Onion, and Pepper. Add those four to cubes of bread—stale bread works fine—and some fat and fluid, in proportion; and you’ve made yourself a good, standard poultry stuffing that also works with many kinds of baked fish. Beyond stuffing, and expressed more generally as Strong herb, Celery, Onion, and Pepper .. it’s a seasoning checklist worth remembering, especially with poultry or fish, often with pork, and not so often with beef, lamb, and mutton.

Using the general form, Strong, Celery, Onion, and Pepper , oregano or thyme could be the “strong” herb in place of sage… and oregano is, in most tomato sauces for pasta. Use chili powder as the strong herb, paprika in place of pepper, and add cumin or cilantro, and you’ve listed the seasonings for the basic salsa-picante technique i posted late last autumn. Celery or the richer, celery-like liveche [Levisticum officinale], and onion [or chive, or shallot with delicate meats] go well in nearly every soup or sauce that’s meaty rather than sweet, and some, like salsa-picante and chili, that are meatless but savoury. Some strong herb should be present, and usually, either pepper or one of the paprika-chili group.

In chicken cacciatore, i use both sage and oregano, liveche, chive in summer and onion in winter, and “hot paprika”. Rare is the cacciatore that doesn’t have some kind of mushrooms in it. And i usually cook only “dark meat” chicken pieces in cacciatore—chicken ‘breast’ i usually steam if skin-on, or sauté if skinless, preferably with tarragon and chive. You don’t have to follow my patterns slavishly; and as you learn to think in terms of flavours, it will help that flavour thinking if you know that my cacciatore seasoning choices are made for “dark meat”.

“Hot Paprika” is something i’ve only recently found in bulk food stores. I suppose it’s been known for years in the boutique gourmet trade—but I’m a gardener-forager-fisherman gourmet, not the boutique sort. If you don’t find it near you, use regular paprika plus a pinch of hot pepper or a couple drops of hot pepper sauce. If you do find it, give it a try; in my humble opinion it’s a bit better.

My first batch of cacciatore this autumn, was made from two “chicken thigh, back attached” pieces, some wild mushrooms [genus Dentinum] that are close to store bought Agaricus in taste, seven small tomatoes, a generous volume of cut chive, and what most recipes would call ample amounts of dried home grown oregano and liveche, plus a smaller but still noticeable amount of dried sage (about two rounded teaspoons, but of hand crushed home grown herb, not commercially powdered.)

The chicken was thawed from Wednesday morning to Thursday late afternoon, in the ‘fridge. This is usually the best way to thaw meat and fish. I cut the excess fat from the pieces and put it in the frying pan to begin melting, and when the fat sizzled, “borrowed” some chicken fat i had saved in the ‘fridge4, and a wee bit of canola oil… just deep enough to brown the skin on the chicken pieces.

While browning the chicken pieces, i cut the mushrooms into a smaller frying pan at low heat, added a tablespoon or two of scissored chive, and left them to cook slowly. I also collected together the herbs and diced the tomatoes. When the skin had browned, i turned the chicken pieces, lowered the heat a little, and when the other side had had a couple minutes to brown, added tomatoes, a substantial amount of cut chive, and the oregano, liveche, sage, and [a bit less than a teaspoon of] hot paprika. Then, the mushrooms being nearly cooked, i added them to the larger pan, along with some salt. When the tomatoes softened, the sauce filled the frying pan over half-way up the chicken pieces; i simmered them 10-15 minutes and then turned them so each side had that long in the barely boiling sauce. By this time, the seasonings had mixed into the sauce.

Since i’m an old man and hadn’t spent the day at hard manual work [just an hour or so], i took one piece of chicken, about half the sauce, and some pasta, for dinner; and put the frying pan with the rest of the chicken and sauce, aside for a second meal later on. (It went into the ‘fridge when it had cooled near room temperature.)

Though the sauce looked to be a quite small amount for the pasta, the flavour was rich and tangy—a special meal even before i cut into the chicken. The chicken was just fully cooked, the sauce had begun to flavour it and, adding the sauce in the spoon to what the chicken had absorbed—yes, this is a presentation quality “dish” when you get used to the seasoning amounts that you like best…

… and in this case, the ingredients i bought cost about a dollar per meal ($2 in total): Pasta, salt, hot paprika, and chicken. The tomatoes, chives, sage, oregano, and liveche were home grown (and i could say the same about the mushrooms, which came from the forest on this land.) I didn’t have to drive to a store for anything i used; indeed, everything that went into that cast-iron skillet had been in the house for more than a week, except the fresh herbs, mushrooms, and tomatoes. The chicken having been frozen didn’t detract from the result, which “freezer robustness” is often a benefit of brown-and-simmer cooking.

A technique worth knowing: Inexpensive, very tasty, handy at harvest time, and come winter, everything you need can be waiting in the house for weeks5.

Notes:

1. There are two choices for “the perfect fresh cucumber”: Eat it as soon as you’ve washed off any dirt or mulch, or put it in the ‘fridge for 2-3 hours and eat it cold. Which is better? De gustibus, non disputandum est [chacun a son gout].

2. Botulism is a deadly bacterial food poisoning that does not give the tainted food a bad taste nor smell. The bacterium that causes it, Clostridium botulinum, doesn’t multiply in acid environments. Tomatoes, in a can or in a jar, are acid—so botulism isn’t a danger if the seal isn’t perfect or the contents didn’t get hot enough to kill the bacterium.

3. Green beans, cucumbers—and broccoli, and most other vegetables—can be pickled for winter use. The result is different enough from the raw or fresh-cooked vegetable that it has quite different places in the menu; and the pickling process is quite a lot of work.

4. The fat trimmings stayed in the pan until the skin side of the chicken pieces had browned, to be exact; then i took out what was left of them to cool for the dog, and poured a little excess fat back into the children-fat container—which ended up less than a teaspoon lower than when i began.

5. Tomatoes freeze and ‘can’ well; chive can be frozen and the technique works well with regular onions; mushrooms can be dried, salted after parboiling, or sautéed and then frozen, to use when they can’t be foraged. (Mushroom hunting and wild-mushroom cooking books will tell you which preservation techniques work with which species—and more important, how to avoid the poisonous ones.) The herbs and spices, other than chives, dry very well.

 

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Quick Pickled Mackerel:

Tasty, Fairly Easy, and Keeps Well{!}:
(c) 2014, Davd

This recipe will be of most interest to readers who live near the sea. It’s tough enough to buy any fresh saltwater fish in say, Winnipeg or Kansas City—but mackerel? They don’t keep as well as many other fish—which is why the {!} after “keeps well” in the subtitle. (It’s true, too—vinegar is a good preservative, and this recipe seems to include enough vinegar to preserve the pickled fish for a week or two in the ‘fridge.) Salmon and cod and sole—often haddock, “Alaska pollock”, and some exotic farmed fish like ‘basa’—can often be bought “fresh frozen”; but if you find mackerel, or herring, inland, it’s almost certain to be smoked or pickled.

Living near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, i found mackerel to be one of the few species of fish that are available for ordinary people to catch in quantity for food. Salmon and sea bass are very restricted, i’m not sure if the public may angle for cod or haddock at all… but mackerel, you may catch all you can. Late summer and early fall are the easiest time to catch mackerel fairly near shore—so here, if you have a place nearby to fish for them, or somebody gave you a few, is something to do with mackerel that will make them a treat, and give some enthusiasm to your thanks for the next ones.

If you start with “round” (whole) mackerel, my first advice is: Fillet them soon! If somebody brings me a few mackerel and i don’t have time to fillet them that day—make it, within three hours—i put them in the freezer. Since they fillet rather well half-thawed, that’s a practical way to organize the work. I suggest peeling the thin, plastic-like skin from the fillets. (If you have a dog or cat, then when you have cooked the fillets,, pour the “juice” from the container that held them into the cooking pan, add the skin, and cook slowly a few minutes for your pet. My dog likes this treat and giving it to him helps him to let me eat the fillets in peace.)

If somebody gives you mackerel fillets, thank him [or her] enthusiastically. They’re well worth having if you know how to pickle them quickly [or smoke them]; and if you fillet them yourself, you’ll have the task of disposing of the rest of the fish. It has a fairly strong odor and will attract cats and larger carnivores1.

In Europe, i had eaten smoked mackerel that were delicious. Here—well, i won’t name the “brand” i found to be fit to eat but not nearly as appealing as the smoked mackerel i had met in Finnish (and if i recall correctly, Swedish and German) stores when on sabbatical. I didn’t find any processed mackerel that appealed to me as those in the Baltic countries had—and i had learnt to appreciate mackerel over there.

Reading several Internet recipes, and Lapointe’s Poissonerie, i found these seasoning patterns repeatedly:
— bay, onion, and pepper
— mustard and butter
— onion, vinegar, and mixed pickling spice

Dill and parsley were fairly often specified.

So, given what was in the house, including the fillets of two mackerel, i tried: Half a cup of white vinegar,
— 10 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, a teaspoon of dill seed,
—and a generous amount of chive [cut no longer than ¼”—about half a centimetre—long],
… simmered in a small stainless steel pan. (If you don’t grow chives, i suggest you start with a rounded tablespoon of finely chopped onion [bulb or greens], and then adjust how much onion you use, according to your liking.)

When the liquid had simmered for 3-5 minutes—and it must simmer very gently or the pan will boil dry or too near to dry—i poached 4 fillets [2 fish] in that liquid, which required me to cut the fillets to fit in the pan, and cook them in 2-3 “batches”. Each pan-full took less than five minutes to cook, turning the fillets once, with the vinegar just barely boiling.

The mackerel came out delicious, not rank at all—and rank taste can be a problem with mackerel. It was good plain and with mustard. And unlike the cast iron frying pan in which i had slow-fried fresh mackerel, the stainless steel pan in which i pickled fillets, washed clear of the odor, so i could use it to heat salsa and rice without giving them a fishy taste.

I usually eat mackerel with potatoes or rye bread. I also tried some pickled mackerel with rye porridge for breakfast, just to see—and that was pretty good, too.

Take some time, i suggest, with the first batch you make: Be sure the vinegar doesn’t boil hard2, let the dried herbs simmer slowly so they can have 4-5 minutes to flavour the vinegar, and cook the mackerel at “barely a boil”. If you pickle mackerel often, you’ll get used to the timing, and then the work will not need your full attention.

It’s worthwhile making up plenty of this, and freezing it in small amounts to take out now and then over the winter and spring for a treat, if you have the time and the mackerel. If so, you can double, triple, even more than triple the amounts of vinegar and herbs. (You can also use this recipe to cook thawed fillets during the winter. I wouldn’t keep mackerel frozen all the way through spring.)

Like white fish poached in salsa picante, this can become something that distinguishes you as a cook. It’s distinctive, most men like it [and fairly many children and women, too] and it “repeats well”: A guest (or a host to whom you take it as a contribution) will be glad to see and taste it again.

Notes:

1. I recently filleted two mackerel, and buried the carcases about a foot deep, covered with some crab shells, then dirt, then a layer of dog dung, then more dirt. Two days later i saw that a passing fox, or perhaps a raccoon or cat, had started to dig for the fish and stopped at the level of the dung.

2. If much of the volume boiled away, you’d have to add water, and guessing how much water is difficult. Vinegar contains much more water than acetic acid, and the boiling point of acetic acid is hotter than that of water, so the little bit that is lost by gentle simmering causes no trouble.

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Divorce Insurance

An Instructive Concept: Does it Exist? Should it?
draft(c) 2014, Davd

Before registering your car, in this province of Canada and in many provinces (of Canada, France, .. and “states” of e.g. Australia and the USA), you must get liability insurance and are urged to pay additional fees for collision, fire, theft, storm, and even insurance against rocks hitting your windshield and breaking it. If you drive rather little, the insurance may cost you more than the gasoline you buy to fuel the car—even at this year’s and last year’s prices—but few people complain. Legally required it may be, but most people accept that paying for car insurance is prudent.

If someone in my grandfather’s middle years, between the World Wars, had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy. Cars were relatively new as a technology, speeds were lower1, experience with road accidents and the damage they did, sketchy. (Experience with divorce was also much less in those days—and even as recently as my own childhood after World War II.)

Today, if you can’t afford car insurance, you can’t afford to drive… and that got me thinking about marriage and divorce. If you can’t afford to insure your marriage—does that perhaps mean you can’t afford to get married? Divorce risks are becoming known and understood now, as car “accident” risks were becoming known in the middle decades of the 20th Century.

I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that i know of more men who have suffered terribly from marital mishaps, than from highway mishaps. I’m not writing about “fender-benders” in parking lots or getting tar on the paint driving past a construction project; and i’m not writing about arguments over whether you ought to eat breakfast in your pajamas or who takes out the garbage. Those can be frustrating, they are definitely not fun, but they aren’t disastrous like a divorce case, or having a woman get violent on you and get away with it, or a false accusation being treated as if it were true, or a major property or custody dispute on separation.

A divorce case, a violent wife who says “nyaa! Nyaaah! Can’t hit a gir-rul!“, an undeserved criminal conviction or even charge one must defend (sometimes even an undeserved restraining order) or a major property dispute on separation, is more like a head-on collision or skidding off an icy road and down a 200-foot cliff. You might survive. You might not2. And if you do survive, you won’t have the same easy graceful attitude toward life or the same sense of vitality that you used to have.

Suppose before marrying, a man “priced out divorce insurance”? What would it cover? What would it cost? How many men could afford to marry if the cost included divorce insurance?

[Suggestions, readers of this draft?]

It’s fair comment, to point out that the worst aspects of divorce—separation from your children especially—cannot be covered by insurance3. The same applies to being killed or maimed in a road accident: Money won’t make things right; what it will do is “mitigate the harm.” The concept of divorce insurance directs our attention to the increased—perhaps still increasing—insecurity of marriage in this century compared to half a century ago.

It’s been argued that requiring drivers be insured has motivated people to drive more carefully—because traffic tickets and accidents increase the cost of the next year’s insurance. Some analogy to divorce insurance exists, in the sense that if actuaries ever did design divorce insurance, they would identify risk factors and assign higher rates to clients whose “risk factor profiles” were not promising… but there’s no analogy to the annual setting of driving insurance “premiums”. The risk factors will have to take forms that can be identified well before marriage.

To me, it’s a sad comment on the past several decades, that this ‘blog’ can be worth writing. Fifty years ago, in 1964, marriage was safe for most men, and divorce was usually fairer for the unlucky, so it would have been fair comment to call writing about divorce insurance, alarmist… unless one knew what was going to happen between then and now.

One might add, that fifty years ago, in 1964, air travel was safe enough and easy enough to use, that it would have been fair comment to call any forecast of today’s “security precautions” alarmist… and eighty years ago, to repeat, if someone had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy.

Methinks the two declines in safety, air travel and marriage, have different causes4. But it is worth asking—how, in the past few decades, has life got easier, safer, and better? Are jobs better? No. Are they getting better? Not likely! Is higher education more or less affordable? Is a degree more or less worth having economically? Does the interest rate you can get for retirement savings even “keep you up with inflation”? Is economic growth a political mantra that might have made sense fifty or a hundred years ago, but doesn’t any longer?

It might just be, that the declines in “easy life based on economic growth”, though they never needed to include a decline in the safety and fidelity of marriage, are going to bring back some respect for men as husbands, fathers, and brothers.  Because the phenomenon, the “end of the easy-going world of Europe, North America, and ANZ” includes more than misandry, perhaps a longer piece i’m drafting about “the end of that world” will appear in a coming week.

Meanwhile, if you have been wondering if you ought to get married under today’s somewhat misandric laws, the questions “What would divorce insurance cost me?” and “Can I afford it?” might give you a useful perspective on the subject.

Notes:

1. Around 1950, when as a boy riding in the back seat, i first paid attention to speed limits, 50 mph was a normal highway maximum, 25 mph was normal on city arterial streets—and my grandfather was already an old man.

2. Might not survive? Ask Sergeant Tom Ball! (Many other men have died as a consequence of misandry in law and bureaucracy; Sgt. Ball’s last words have become relatively well known.)

3. To me as a Christian, what’s really needed is a revival of fidelity. So far, the one way to exert effective pressure toward fidelity, that i’ve seen reported, is for a church to expel those who divorce for no or frivolous reasons.

4. The (earlier) increase in the danger of driving seems to reflect mainly higher speeds, more distance driven, and much more crowded roadways. As an analogy, bringing down or hijacking an airliner probably has a closer parallel to divorce, than does a road accident.

 

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Chili-sin-carne*

… Beans With Respect
(c) 2014, Davd

Among bean cooking, chili has a special prominence. Many people who generally avoid beans, like chili. While pea soup and even pintos with oregano and chili powder, aren’t distinctively men’s [nor women's] cooking, chili is very often seen as masculine. It’s not because of the beef, either, as i shall now undertake to prove—by telling you how to make really good chili with no meat in it. The essence of chili seems to be beans, tomatoes, and Mexican spicing… not beef.

The tomatoes in my garden are starting to ripen, which should imply that the gardens in most of BC south of Prince George, mainland Nova Scotia, and the populous part of Ontario are now ripening enough fruit that besides salads and sandwiches, there will be some for cooking—which i take as my cue to post “the chili blog.” If you live in an apartment, or read this after tomato season has ended—don’t worry. Canned crushed or diced tomatoes produce good chili.

The first few times you make chili, i suggest you allow plenty of attention for the job. It’s a skill that could be called hand-to-eye coordination, but in fact, it’s hand to eye to nose to taste coordination. So is all cooking, but when you make porridge or coffee, even salsa-picante or tuna and noodles, with the techniques i’ve posted earlier, the follow-the-recipe approach usually produces good results and you can refine your skills with time. Chili seems to be more demanding.

Though chili-sin-carne follows the same basic cooking pattern as beans generally, with overnight soaking; the tomatoes complicate things enough that i cannot tell you mechanically “what to do”. Times run long (as they do with pintos and to some extent with black beans); and chili, like pea soup and pintos, benefits from savory, onion, and celery or liveche; but the other seasonings are distinctive.

You can make chili with pintos, but red kidney beans are the best, at least in my humble opinion. I prefer the dark red ones to the light, having tried both.

Because chili involves tomatoes, the amount of beans to cook must be in ratio to the amount of tomato—not exact ratio, but within a fairly narrow range. The amounts i write here are for a single man who will eat much less than half of even this sized batch of chili “fresh cooked.” and put well over half into the fridge to eat later. For a group of three or more, i suggest doubling this recipe, especially when using canned tomatoes, once you have tried it a few times and made any adjustments to the seasonings that your taste calls for. That way one batch will use one ,8 litre = 28 ounce can of tomatoes—no half cans of tomatoes taking up fridge or freezer space.

The basic pattern, to repeat, is:
[1] Soak with savory, and at least overnight for beans;
[2] add a little soda for quicker cooking,
[3] season with herbs (and smoked fat for white but not red, black, or pinto beans),
[4] bring to boiling (stirring down foam is more a problem with black beans than reds or pintos, but still requires attention) and
[5] simmer until the texture is “done”, which with these beans will require one to three hours.

First thing to do is measure out the beans: I use a “pasta sauce jar” which held 650-700 ml [about 24 oz, or three US measuring cups] of sauce, and i would suggest starting with at least half a litre [two measuring cups if you're using ounce measures] of dry beans, because the work takes about as much time for more as for less, and chili keeps well—some say, improves with a day or two in the ‘fridge. I find that half a 28-ounce [796 ml] can of tomatoes provides the right proportion of tomato to one “pasta sauce jar” of dry beans, so i use one of those pasta sauce jars as my measure.

Having measured out the beans, measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat to a gentle bubbling, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the beans. (You can also put the beans in a bowl or empty plastic container, or leave them in the jar; heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the chili, and pour in the beans when it’s simmered.)

Next, let the dry beans soak up water for 8-12 hours. (They shouldn’t need longer, but especially in cool weather, they can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm. Simmering the savory and putting the beans to soak in the evening works well if you’ll have chili for lunch or even dinner/supper, the next day.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.

Since acid legumes take much longer to cook, add some baking soda to the beans when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) A level teaspoon or a little less should do. Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—perhaps less likely than with peas or lentils.

While heating the beans in their soaking stock, fry some onion in beef fat or vegetable oil (you can use only chive if you’ve an abundance of chive growing in your garden, but i believe from old habit, that some browned onion taste is good in chili.) If you use only onion, no chive, then brown one onion the size of a tennis ball, as a first estimate, and adjust depending on how much you and the men who eat with you, want more or less onion in future batches. Still, i’ve made mighty fine chili with chives as the only onion contribution. (And by the way, vegetable oil is healthier; but some people prefer the slight taste of beef that beef fat provides.)

Add chili powder [of course] abut twice as much as for pintos—my cooking spoons are nearer to two than three teaspoonfuls in size, and i add two rounded spoonfuls of chili powder to 2/3 litre of dry beans [soaked up overnight to well over a litre]. However, chili powder varies in “heat” and you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find how much of the kind you have fits with your personal tastes. (As usual, err on the “light” side to start—put in less chili powder rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.) I add one slightly rounded teaspoonful each of cumin and regular paprika [both as dry powder] when i add the chili powder.

If you have celery leaves and trimmings, or liveche [Levisticum officinale, “lovage” in English] add that, preferably before heating. (Dried celery seed would also provide about the same flavour. It’s optional; i grow liveche and believe it improves chili, chowders, and many soups and sauces.) Add some of the chives when cooking is at least half done, if you use them; and some should go in while the beans are heating if you don’t brown and add some onion. Fried onions should be added as soon as they are lightly browned.

As the beans come to a boil, they will tend to foam a little (like pintos, meaning much less than peas or black beans do.) Stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is something to watch and be ready for, when cooking any legumes from scratch.

How much salt to add is to some extent, “a matter of taste.” The dietary advice seems to be quite strongly, these days “add little, if any.” I add salt “by eye”, and when i do taste commercial foods, they tend to taste saltier than what i cook at home—so i figure what i add counts as “little.” And to repeat what’s become a frequent theme: You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.

After half an hour to an hour of simmering, when the beans are just starting to soften but aren’t soft enough to call fully cooked, add half a 28 ounce [790-800 ml] can of crushed tomatoes. Diced tomatoes will do if they have at least a half hour to cook. Fresh tomatoes will of course “do”, and in my opinion make better chili—but they should go in early enough to cook an hour, with the beans and seasonings. Over an hour won’t hurt.

To measure in fresh tomatoes, i keep a washed, empty can handy, and fill it at least half full. There’s air space between the tomatoes if you don’t chop them really fine, so i tend to fill the can about two-thirds full if using whole or quartered tomatoes. If tomatoes are abundant in your garden, err toward more—even cooked for an hour, they’re good for you—but 400 ml = .4 litres ≈ two 8-ounce measuring cups, is enough.

Once the tomatoes are added, keep the heat to “just boiling.”

As an estimate, chili beans [red kidney beans] will take one to three hours to cook to a pleasant softness, and here’s one of the subtleties of chili: You should develop “a sense of” when the beans are just over half cooked, and then add the canned tomatoes; and when you use fresh tomatoes, they should go in when the beans have an hour or so left to cook. Another subtlety is how much water to use.

As the beans begin to soften, and you’re ready to add the tomatoes, take out a bean or two and a little liquid, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep a jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) If it seems to you there should be more chili powder, celery-liveche, or chive, add more now; but if in doubt, don’t. Some seasonings seem to gain strength with time.

Chili probably counts as the most hearty of all the legume “dishes”. Like black and pinto beans, it can even be mixed with plain boiled rice or barley, and will give the grain enough flavour to make a decent tasting dish—but i’d regard that as something to do if you’re in a big rush.

Chili-sin-carne, like black and pinto beans and even more-so, can be good eaten cold, with bread, cornbread, tortillas… even popcorn or “corn chips”. If you have more corn on the cob than usual, you can cook plenty and let that be the grain with your chili. (Grain and legumes, remember, combine to make the protein in each, more valuable to your body than it would be eaten alone.)

When you can reliably make good chili, it’s a relatively inexpensive thing to contribute to a picnic or a potluck. If it’s meatless, that’s an extra benefit anywhere and anytime there are some vegetarians coming to the event (and if you expect to have vegetarians eating your chili, then brown those onions in canola or other vegetable oil, not beef fat.) With reliably good chili, coffee, pea soup and-or pintos with oregano and chili powder, salsa-picante, and fish poached in salsa, plus the basic skills to cook grain and pasta and cabbage, and make a few salads, you could start to hear people call you “a good cook.”

Come autumn, when the oven warming the kitchen is welcome rather than unpleasant, will be a better time to write about making bread. Homemade bread is not very easy, but neither is it very difficult. You can bake two or more loaves of fresh bread, a beef roast, and a couple of potatoes, all-at-once, and have a special meal with de-luxe leftovers to add to your repertoire.

This is one of the best times in history for a man to take up cooking: Many skills that once were known far and wide, are now relatively rare because of city lifestyles and “convenience foods.” They are as easy to learn as ever, and stainless steel especially, plus some special ceramics and plastics, have made kitchen equipment easier to use and clean. “Convenience foods” are starting to get expensive, and “fast food” is no longer cheap. Becoming a good cook is as possible as ever, and a little easier—while the respect it earns you, and the money it saves you, are greater than a decade, or a few decades, ago.

The same basic facts of “social change”, by the way, apply to gardening. Having the food you eat grown as well as cooked1 by your own hands, saves you money, increases your security, and earns you respect. When i was a boy, gardening and cooking were things i learned from my grandparents, and my Dad, more than from my mother (and i learned other practical food skills, including clam digging from Granps and fishing from Dad)—and y’know, i respected them more for that.

There’s a folklore, these days, about men who can make good bread having wisdom and discipline, which i might elaborate a little when i write about making bread. To a smaller extent, it applies to making things like chili, sausage, and smoked fish… and it might even be true. Methinks the time and practical study involved in making chili, and to some extent in all good cooking and gardening (and fishing, indeed most skilled manual trades) are well spent.

That’s why this post is longer than might be absolutely necessary. Good cooking, good skilled manual work, are part of making good, the human condition. Some skilled manual work, “heavier” than most cooking, is part, arguably the most important part, of our claim to respect for simply being decent men. Chili, being a hearty and stereotypically masculine food, belongs in your repertoire, and when you’ve mastered its difficulties, along with a half dozen or more different foods—call yourself a man who can cook, and others will agree.

Notes:

* sin is Spanish for without; and carne is Spanish for meat—so logically enough, sin-carne means “without meat.”

1. .. as the Carrot-Raisin Salad example shows, cooking isn’t always a matter of heat, though usually it is.

 

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You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone:

given what Nice really means
(c) 2014, Davd

You can’t be Nice to everyone because what one person considers Nice, somebody else might consider foolish, ill-mannered, rude, sarcastic, sinful, even wicked.

The pink-and-purple necktie will do as a trivial example. Big-City Cousin Anne, to continue with the same imaginary personages, may like gaudy clothing and accessories, and genuinely believe pink-and-purple neckties look Nice on you. (I invite you to imagine what pants, shirt, and perhaps jacket she thinks go Nicely with a pink-and-purple necktie*.)

Aunt Maude, on the other hand, while she might just possibly accept a rather bright Kelly green necktie as “nice”, thinks men should avoid gaudy apparel. You’re not going to please both her and Cousin Anne with the same “outfit” [set of clothing and accessories], because their “tastes” in apparel are so different. Being Nicely dressed for Aunt Maude and also Nicely dressed for Big-City Cousin Anne … is impossible.

Not all examples of the impossibility of being Nice to everyone, are trivial. Suppose for instance, that Aunt Maude is an Orthodox Christian who is fasting—as Orthodox practice requires—before Holy Communion, and Big-City Cousin Anne wants to be pampered with an elaborate Sunday morning breakfast. If they are both Mommy’s weekend house guests, Mommy is in a bind: Be nice to Anne, and she offends Aunt Maude, who of course doesn’t want to smell all manner of tempting food while dressing for Sunday Liturgy. Being Nice to Aunt Maude, means no cooking until she has left for the church; and that, to put it mildly, disappoints Big-City Cousin Anne.

(Saturday evening would likewise be quite different for devout Aunt Maude and gaudy hedonistic Cousin Anne: Maude’s agenda includes an Examination of Conscience and perhaps a visit to make confession to a Deacon or priest—the tone of which is somewhat too sombre for Big-City Anne.)

If Cousin Anne and Aunt Maude are ever actually Mommy’s house guests on the same weekend, that might be a good occasion to present this principle to all three of them: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone.

What tends to happen in everyday life, is expressed in the old saw, “birds of a feather, flock together.” Either Aunt Maude will find a more devout relative than Mommy to be house guest of, or Big-City Cousin Anne will find a less devout one, most of the time. We can imagine Big-City Cousin Anne saying to her hostess, “Old Aunt Maude doesn’t know how to have a nice time,” and Aunt Maude saying to her hostess, “I guess you can call Big-City Cousin Anne nice in her way, but a lot less frivolity would do her a lot more good.”

I’m more inclined to Aunt Maude’s view (and if i must wear a necktie, i prefer forest green to pink-and-purple.) I’m also inclined to predict that Aunt Maude will be less likely to demand that i be Nice, and more inclined to be thankful for things i do that please her. One of the merits of Christianity, is a bias toward modesty, in expectations as well as in dress and demeanour… and from that modesty comes appreciation of the good things life contains, even the little ones.

Aunt Maude and Big-City Cousin Anne are both fictional characters; the point i sought to make with them is not fictional at all: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone… and since you can’t, and neither can i nor the next man, nor even super-woman—it is worse than merely unfair, to demand others be Nice…

… unless, perhaps, you are royalty, and your whims have established privilege in support.

Notes:

* Wryly, my imagination drifted back to the 1950s, and a character on the “Howdy Doody” television show called Clarabelle the Clown. My little sister liked that ‘show’, and i saw far more of Clarabelle the Clown than i ever would have done voluntarily.

 

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Two Good Women:

… of many, and especially well known to me:
(c) 2014, Davd

However many disputes i have with Feminism, they don’t add up to misogyny. I remember two women well, toward whom my attitude was and remains far more positive than that; and i hear and acknowledge other men’s current reports of good women.

One of the two women i especially remember was pleasant to look at, but not an eye-stopper, a tallish, athletic woman loyal to her husband, her children, and her Faith: My ‘kid’ sister.

The other i remember as quite tall, almost six feet, chunky rather than pudgy, well short of The Misandry Bubble’s “fatocalypse”, but well heavier than a Barbie doll or a lingerie model; determined, affectionate and principled; a good cook and a better philosopher: My grandmother.

I don’t remember either of them for her beauty; i remember Kid Sis as a mother and a Christian, a good gardener, cook, and tennis player, whose fatal flaw was a willingness to strain herself too much trying to do the impossible—specifically, to make a genetically handicapped child “normal.” Her tragic flaw was to carry a mother’s love beyond her strength, in two ways: That child could not be brought up to average, and her life was shortened by the stress. I believe her early death was a greater tragedy for the family, than the child’s handicap.

I remember Grandmother as pastor of a successful “evangelical” church, as a fine speaker who had a sympathetic ear for honest people of all ages, rich and poor—but scant patience for liars and frauds. Perhaps she’s the source from which i picked up such attitudes (and if so, thanks, Grandma!) She is definitely one major source from which i learned the lesson that a capable woman can succeed without a bureaucracy to force others to accept her. In the 1940s and ’50s, when i went to her church and saw her up there in the top spot, there were no such bureaucracies. (Seems to me that Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Pat Carney, Sheila Fraser, Helvi Sipilä, Coco Chanel, and dozens more were even more successful than Grandma, in those times before Affirmative Action.)

Her flaws were not fatal: She could “say grace” over the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys at such length that the meat cooled to eating temperature—she could take the turkey directly from the oven to the table, pray for fifteen minutes, and then start to carve, and we children who were served last might even complain the food was starting to get cold. We didn’t complain of the nature and content of the prayers… they were merely a bit too much of a good thing.

She “worked herself to death”, someone said after her funeral, serving her church—but since she died between the ages of 75 and 80, that presumed that she ought to have lived to maybe 90. My best guess is that she ought to have done what she did—worked hard in labours of love, delighted in the successes of her church and of those she had preached into it, and if she died at a merely old age, not an extreme old age—well, she preached often enough that a Christian’s death was a move to improved conditions, and as a fellow Christian, i do believe hers was.

Notice, readers, that these women were women i was “born to be close to”, not selected from among hundreds but from among three1.

My larger point in writing this blog, “to repeat”, is to advocate for identifying, recognizing, and rewarding good women, be they a small or a large fraction of the population today. All women are not alike, nor are all women of equally good or bad character (nor of equal competence, beauty, charm, etc, etc... nor are all men.) My sister and grandmother may have passed on from this life, but they were not the last of the good women.

A friend i will not name, praises his wife nearly every time we meet, and especially for her “steadfastness”. Since i don’t know whether she wants to be identified, nor whether he does, i will keep back their names, and put forward only the point that good women exist, in some unknown number and percentage, even today, even with misandric laws and practices tempting them to exploit and to abuse.

It is in our interests, men, and it is in the interests of the societies in which we live; to make distinctions among women, to treat good women better than bad, to demand that women be “held to account” for their misdeeds as strictly as if they were men2; to reward them as well for their contributions as if they were men, but not better than if they were3.

That’s equality. If Feminism be for equality, that’s what Feminism will support.

 

Notes:

1. My mother, i was told years after leaving her home, by a psychiatrist and a Benedictine nun who knew more than most about my childhood, was abusive. My aunts all lived more than 1200 km from where i did, so i never got to know them very well. My other grandmother died before i reached school age… and i have sons but no daughter.

2. For instance, why did many women giggle and even cheer and placard in support of Lorena Bobbitt? Why was Valerie Solanas’ violent misandry widely praised, and was she given sympathy for her purported mental illness from many others? while a crazy man named Marc who attacked women was used as an excuse for—more misandry. Why did Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka get so different treatment from the Law? (btw, while my particular Faith opposes vengeance, Indira Gandhi got what a man who had held her office and did what she did [especially, ordered the military to attack the Golden Temple], would almost certainly have got also.)

3. It may be worth mentioning “random fluctuation”: Men aren’t all rewarded nor punished in exact proportion to their good and bad deeds. We can expect that some men will receive better, and some worse, then their deeds merit—and we usually do “put some differences down to luck.”

Well, folks, what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose: Some women will receive better, and some worse, then their deeds merit—and we should “put those differences down to luck” also. Neither the misfortune of some unlucky women, nor the good fortune of some lucky men, constitutes misogyny—just “random fluctuation”.

 

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Nice is a Four-Letter Word:

First in an Occasional Series About Men and Tendentious English
(c) 2014, Davd

Do not ask me to be nice. It is actually a selfish, mean-spirited demand. If someone asks you to be nice, be sceptical instead.

If some of the men reading this blog have had an intuitive shudder when ordered to be nice, maybe this reflection will help them put words to that shudder; and if some women didn’t realize just what a Four-Letter-word, Nice is; i hope this helps them figure out why. Let’s begin with the fact that nice is not a virtue.

I hope you will not need to ask me to be charitable, fair, faithful, friendly, prudent, temperate, or truthful1. Those are virtues in the classic sense—good qualities for men to have and to live. (Virtue begins with vir, which is Latin for—man. A virtue is a quality seemly to a man.) Virtues are lived the same way “all the time”—whoever it is you’re dealing with, they lead to the same basic conduct.

Nice, doesn’t: It’s subjective. Being nice means doing and saying whatever pleases the person you’re being nice to. It means organizing your conduct around—making your words and deeds the servant of—that person’s feelings. If Aunt Maude likes green neckties, and you’re being Nice to Aunt Maude, you’ll wear a green necktie when you socialize with her. If Mommy likes brown neckties, and you’re being Nice to Mommy, you’ll wear a brown necktie when you socialize with her. If Big-City Cousin Anne likes pink-and-purple neckties—well, for me anyway, that would be too much.

Being Nice can get complicated and difficult! If you go to a family dinner where both Aunt Maude and Mommy will be present, it might be possible to find a green-and-brown necktie that isn’t too ugly—but what clothes to wear with it? (In fact, i haven’t worn any neckties in more than two years—as you might have guessed from my overall attitude toward “Nice”—and especially if you’ve read about my pre-retirement work history.) This isn’t primarily a “jobs”, blog, but conventional jobs do seem to demand more Niceness than self-employment does: What if the boss likes pink-and-purple neckties?

The influence of Feminism seems to have included heavy pressure on men, to be Nice. In his book Emotional Intelligence [Bantam, 1997, p. 130], Daniel Goleman recalls an extreme example, “As i was entering a restaurant … a young man stalked out the door, his face set in an expression both stony and sullen. Close on his heels a young woman came running, her fists desperately pummeling on his back while she yelled, “Goddamn you! Come back here and be nice to me!” (No hint from Goleman, nor from what i read on men’s websites in 2011-12, that the woman would be punished—but if the sexes were reversed …? Goleman goes on to blather about women being more emotionally effective; but from what he reports actually observing, i’d say the man’s behaviour was closer to saintly and the woman’s was closer to mentally ill.)

It does seem that women demand Nice much more often than we men—we’re more likely to ask each other to be fair, a good sport, … qualities which are matters of group rather than personal assessment.

There is no decent cause nor reason why a man (or anyone of either sex) should let himself be bullied into “being nice”. Nor would one expect any sane man to try what that young woman was doing—especially not the police. Back in the third quarter of the 20th Century, many of us who grew up then might have considered it normal for a woman and perhaps a homosexual man to use the word “nice” in a demand—but not a heterosexual man—and even then, it would have been outrageous for a man, however effeminate, to use violence, however ineffective, to back up a demand to be Nice.

“Nice”, then, seems to function as a code-word for catering to the feelings of a woman—whether or not any eros be involved. It shifts the burden of a woman’s demand that she feel good, onto the man or child, perhaps sometimes another woman, who she is demanding “Be Nice.” As a somewhat awkward definition, “being Nice” means making the satisfaction level of who demands it, the most important influence on your conduct.”2

Methinks that’s too much to ask. Ask me for a favour, and i might do it for you; demand i be nice, and in a backhanded roundabout way, you’re trying to make it my social duty, to please you.

No fair!—You wouldn’t want anybody else to demand you make it your social duty, to please her—so in fairness, don’t ask what you wouldn’t want to grant.

Notes:

1. The order is alphabetic. The sources of the list are the Four Cardinal Virtues, the Three Christian Virtues, and the twelve Boy Scout vitrues—with emphasis on fidelity and
truthfulness. The lists overlap: For instance, fidelity overlaps with loyalty and trustworthiness on the Boy Scout list and is to some extent a derivative of Faith on the Christian list. Fortitude [A classic and Boy Scout virtue] isn’t listed because in these times men aren’t as welcome to be brave as our grandfathers were, and because bravery has been confounded with granting women undue privilege [as
when the Titanic went down].

2. “Being nasty” could conversely be defined as making lowering the satisfaction level of the demander, the most important influence on your conduct. This is worth some attention: If you do something because you enjoy it or it has practical value for you—say, getting your pant knees dirty working in the garden—and that lowers the satisfaction level of Aunt Maude when you meet her for lunch, dirtying your pant knees was not being nasty—it was being less than fussy about your pants, while gardening.

 

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Bureaucracy as an Ill Effect of Job Employment:

Double Burdens, Social Inefficiency, and …
2014, Davd

The obvious benefit a man gets from his “job”, is money. Many men would work if not paid, but few of us would work in the “job pattern”, if not paid. It turns out, what’s worse, that money brings some “adverse consequences” with it. This “blog” is about a consequence few men would voluntarily accept by itself—and i suspect, few men recognize as “brought on by being paid in money.”

Money invites bureaucratic impositions: If i give my neighbour Olav one or two wheelbarrow loads of red pine branches for Christmas decorations, and six months later he gives me one or two pickup truck box loads of horse manure from behind his stables, for my garden, each of us is getting rid of something he has in surplus. All those branches are worth to me is a very small amount of soil improvement under the pines, if i don’t give them to someone; so i give them to Olav to whom they’re worth much more. It’s an ordinary Christian or charitable thing to do—they are worth much more to him than to me, so i give them to him. Similarly, all that horse manure is worth to Olav, once he has fertilized his own garden, is a bit of a stench in his back yard. It is worth much more to me than to him, so he gives it to me—and-or to some other gardener[s] who also value it.

But if we sold those surplus products of Nature to one another—ah! then! we could be taxed. We could be compelled to keep elaborate records of our dealings. We would lose not only some of the money—the taxes plus perhaps fees paid to accountants and book-keepers to help comply with the bureaucracy—we would also lose some precious time. In fact, i don’t believe either of us would be willing to sell to the other, given the bureaucratic costs of doing so—we give, or “forget it!” I’d rather leave the branches under the trees they grew on, than do all that paperwork.

Government bureaucracies impose—force workers to carry—a double burden: We must pay taxes to support the bureaucrats, and then in addition, we must spend time and money doing the “paperwork” they command us to do. That’s right—a bureaucracy is something that forces the rest of us to pay them to force us to do “paperwork” to their specifications*. It seems hard to believe, that people would freely and democratically choose to have that—to have offices that boss us around at further, high cost to us—doesn’t it?

Yet that’s just what “income tax time” is all about. It’s what the police and much of the school systems are all about, for that matter; and there are others [mostly smaller]. How did we wind up in this predicament?

There’s an old folk saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” To a considerable degree, good intentions were involved when men consented to be administered by a complicated income tax bureaucracy, to send their children to schools run by another bureaucracy, to support a “health care” bureaucracy, a “social assistance” bureaucracy, et cetera ad nausaeum. Also involved were governments whose usual way of solving problems was passing more laws, government bureaucracies which, being staffed by people who like bureaucracies more than the average, recommended forming more bureaucracies when there might have been other, better ways to do the job, and the English-colonial history of Canada, which unlike the United States and France, never rejected the notion of a ruling class. Much has been said in Canada in support of human equality rather than a ruling class—but it has never quite become Public Policy—or why would our Head of State also be Queen of England?

Job-dependence as a mentality contributed to the immensity of bureaucracies today; and most present-day job employees are subject to an employer’s bureaucracy as well as those which we all suffer. During the “glory days of the job”, the third quarter of the 20th Century, jobs provided men who had come home from war, been let go as war industries closed down, and graduated from school during or at the end of war, with a quick way to make a good income and begin adult life as a marriageable employed man. That possibility was much more appealing to most of them, than being a schoolboy, a soldier, or a laid-off war worker. The bureaucracies those jobs “came with” were generally less pervasive than employers’ bureaucracies are today; and thus, something those men were quite willing to put up with for the sake of respectable work at respectable rates of pay.

Today, employers and even labour unions are more bureaucratic than around 1950, and jobs are less appealing… but the habit of submission to bureaucracies has had some 60-65 years of establishment that it didn’t have then. Without the “force of habit”, i doubt the burdensome bureaucracies we suffer today could persist—and very plausibly, they cannot persist very much longer even with it.

An important theme of this “Men Working” series is Social Efficiency. I have argued that full-time employment, with unemployment as the dichotomous “other alternative”, is less efficient than for instance, co-operatives, Hutterites, monasteries, and old-fashioned farm families, and in particular wastes the productivity of children and the old; that commuting to jobs lowers the worker’s overall time efficiency (and has other serious adverse effects); [¿was household size published before this or will it come after?]. Bureaucracies can at times facilitate social efficiency, but more often, they do the opposite.

It’s worth keeping in mind (to go back to the example of “me and Olav”), that while growing pine timber is “producing [or at the least, stewarding] real wealth”, and the branches pruned off those timber pines are a by-product; and while horse manure has real value in raising garden productivity; bureaucracies do not produce subsistence. They confiscate means of subsistence directly or “via money taxation”. The subsistence on which the bureaucrats depend must be produced by the rest of us. If there were no bureaucracies, there would be more people, more main-d’-oeuvre, available to do Real Work. In terms of human subsistence, bureaucracies are inherently inefficient—or worse, they are often counter-efficient.

Brothers, the bureaucracies should have the burden of proof: They should be deemed harmful until their beneficial ‘effects’ are proven to be for real, and significantly greater than their costs.

Meanwhile, if in doubt, work outside rather than inside the “job economy.” Bureaucracy is one more reason to work co-operatively, or even on-your-own, rather than “get a job”… or in other words, “get a job” can be read to demand, “become a cash cow for bureaucracies that don’t themselves produce subsistence.”

Notes:

* The word is French+Greek [pronounced “Freek”?]: Bureau is French for office [not the place so much as the function], and kratos is Greek for rule [in the sense of command].)

References:

Djilas, Milovan 1957, The New Class. NY: Praeger.

Schumacher, Ernest Fritz 1973. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs. (1974, New York: Harper and Row. Cited in a 1974 Abacus edition, London; several other editions exist.)

 

 

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