camp cook

Secret Ingredients

Over a lifetime of cooking and ever-increasing study of food, I have found that certain ingredients just love each other. When trying various things to make a dish work, certain flavorants work with the main ingredient to bring it alive, make it taste more like itself. Sort of like an additional note resolving a chord. Below are some of the pairings I have found. Some are cooked in with the main ingredient, others are added as sauce or garnish. What are some others you have discovered?

Fruit dishes

Apples: cinnamon
Berries in trifle: Galliano liqueur
Cherries: almond extract
Oranges: Galliano or Amaretto
Peaches: mace

Meat dishes

Beef: garlic; horseradish
Beef Stew: porter or barley
Fish, battered: malt vinegar
Fish, naked: dill
Ham: mustard
Pork, generally: apples
Venison: garlic; rosemary

Veggie dishes

Greens: bacon grease
Leeks: bacon
Peas: pepper
Pinto beans: cumin
Potatoes, boiled: parsley
Potatoes, fried: ketchup
Stir-fry: ginger
Tomatoes: basil

Other combinations

Chocolate: bourbon
Pancakes: vanilla

Looking past the virus

Item: I read that Hollywood is holding back the release of its summer blockbusters until Christmas. The one or two "big" movies that have been released so far have struggled and lost money. Apparently, the public isn't ready to go back to the theaters in any numbers.

Item: I saw a picture of an airline cabin during flight. Everyone was masked. Every seat was full. Obviously, some part of the public is still ready to take commercial flights. And all of them can't be traveling for essential business. There is still some elective/vacation travel going on.

At first glance, the balance between these two reports don't seem to add up. The risks of sitting in a large room with considerable spacing between customers for two hours seem much less than sitting in a small cabin cheek-by-jowl with strangers. The air circulation in the aircraft would seem to be more likely to be toxic than the air circulation in a suburban theater. And these are not activities chosen by different groups. Most of the flying public probably also see movies in theaters, at least under normal circumstances. That means that some people are making the personal choice to fly, but not go to the movies, even though the risk of exposure to covid-19 is probably much greater in an aircraft cabin than a movie theater. What gives?

What is going on is a complex, highly personal calculation comparing risks and rewards. Let us say that the risk to one's health from going to the movies is x, while the risk to one's health from air travel is 5x. People who choose to fly but not go to the movies would seem to be making a foolish choice. But let us then say that the reward -- the pleasure, mostly -- of going to the movies is y, while the reward of the big trip involving air travel is 50y. Whatever the balance of x and y, air travel comes out as a good decision: the ratio of risk to reward for the movies is x:y, while the ration of risk to reward of air travel is 5x:50y. The risk is five times greater, but the reward is 50 times greater. Under the circumstances, air travel looks like a pretty good bet.

Not all people would calculate the ratio quite that way, or make the same choices. How much money you have available, how much time you have available, what personal precautions you think you can take in a given situation, your current state of health/wellness all come into play. But my point is not to say that this person is wise, while that person is foolish. I'm not advocating for any particular approach to handling the challenge of covid-19. I'm just saying that, ultimately, each person will make prudential judgments for highly personal reasons on what is safe to do or worth the risk, and what is not. The free market is not only concerned with money. All questions of price (whether in risk to health or to pocketbook) are determined by the individual actor in unplanned concert with millions of other individual actors. Some will find a given price worth paying, others will not.

Most of the churches I personally know of are meeting in person again, though with various protective measures in place (and livestreaming or recording continuing). Still, not everyone has returned to meeting in person. They're not ready yet, even if others are. Even after we all abandon masks and scattered seating, some people may not return to their regular activities for some time. Meanwhile, individuals who feel that their churches -- and their other regular economic or social venues -- are going too fast or too slow in response to the threat of covid-19 may choose to change their custom to embrace other venues that suit their risk:reward calculation better.

In the end, it'll be over when people decide it's over. Deciding it's over doesn't make the virus go away, but then the virus is never really going away. Like Swine Flu, it will be around for generations. But there will come a time when we will, as a society, decide that we can live with it, like we live with influenza and other endemic diseases. Government will not make that decision. We will make it, all together, by the sum of our individual choices.

What's that you say?

Certain sounds don't normally occur in some languages. When speakers of those languages have to pronounce a foreign word using an unfamiliar sound, they tend to massage it into a form they are used to.

For instance: I was listening to an old German folk song about the various colonies that imperial Germany maintained. In a verse about Tanganyika (now Tanzania), it mentioned the local language, Swahili. It spelled and pronounced the word in four syllables: Su-a-he-li. That's because German doesn't use the bilabial glide /w/; the closest it normally gets is to say u-a quickly.

A prominent example from English is the name of the Welsh character Fluellen in Shakespeare's "Henry V." The double-L sound in Welsh is like no sound in English; it sounds like an angry cat hissing. Consequently, English hearers have a hard time pronouncing Welsh names like Llewellyn. Fluellen is Shakespeare's attempt. This is also why we have two names in English, Lloyd and Floyd, which are actually the same name in Welsh.

When learning to speak a different language, one of its challenges is to try to sound like a native speaker, instead of mangling it to make it a more comfortable fit for your native sound-inventory. And some languages are easier to wrap your mouth around than others. Don't get me started on how Hoosiers and Kentuckians pronounce Versailles.
camp cook

"We've been waiting for this for hundreds of years."*

Cornbread 3.0 turned out to be a winner. For those who asked (and equally to those who didn't ask), here is the recipe. No oils, no fats, no eggs, no dairy. And very tasty.

(Vegan cornbread)

Basic recipe:

¾ cup yellow corn meal
¼ cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp molasses
½ cup almond milk
Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Add molasses and milk. Mix thoroughly until dough comes together. Do not overwork.

Drop by soupspoonsful on parchment paper. Do not press down.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Makes about 5 little drop biscuits. Recipe is easily multiplied for larger batches.

*About the quote: This is a line from The Firesign Theatre's skit, "Temporarily Humboldt County." It's about the exploitation of Native Americans (who are expecting the coming of the "True White Brother") by various greedy Europeans/Anglos who are encroaching upon their homeland. When the Spaniards arrive, they ask if the Indians have gold. "No," the Indians reply, "we have this." To which the Spaniards reply, "Corn! Now we can make tortillas! We've been waiting for this for hundreds of years!" Later on, the Americans show up looking for gold, too. The Indians show them their corn. The Americans reply, "Corn! Now we can make whiskey! We've been waiting for this for hundreds of years!" So, I give you vegan cornbread. Your line is . . .
by himself

With apologies to the Beatles

Well, she was fed twice today
So she should be okay
But the look she gave to me said, "You don't care."
Now, I'll never let her go hungry,
Since I saw her standing there.

Now, she had some food left,
But she looked so bereft,
That I gave her more, so she would not despair.
Once again, I've been conned by a housecat,
Since I saw her standing there.

Yes, you.

Feed me.
old whig

Voices, off

So, Donald Trump said something outrageous recently, and the media is aflame with it. The usual people express the usual horror, the other usual people make the usual excuses, and life goes on. Like many Republicans, I really wish that Trump could better control his mouth (and his Twitter urges). I am embarrassed and angered by some of the stupid things he says.

On the other hand, my friends who are Biden supporters seem blissfully unaware of the stupid and ugly things that he says. And he has said a lot. This is not "deflection," not "making a false equivalence," not "whataboutism." It's just the truth. Whether Biden's offensive statements are fewer in quantity or less offensive/stupid in quality than Trump's is a thing we could discuss, but it's not relevant here.

On the one hand, partisans tend to pick up on the outrageous things the other side's guy says, and ignore the outrageous things their guy says. As Paul Simon wrote,
All lies in jest
till a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.
But I thought of another thing recently. It's not just what somebody says. What other people -- people who report and comment and publicize -- say about what somebody said, matters. It frames the event. It adjusts the focus. And the reporter/commentator/publicist has a point of view, too. Sometimes, an axe to grind. This is something I learned from reading the book of Judges in the Bible.

The recurring theme of Judges is, "In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." In other words, the writer of Judges was a monarchist. He thought it was important to have a king. A king would stop all these outrages he's telling about. (Sure, he would.) I'm not saying the author is reporting anything he doesn't know or think is true, but he picks and chooses his stories to fit his narrative. He plays up some details, and plays down others. He has a point of view, an axe to grind. And even if you accept the Bible as true and authoritative, you've got to keep the author's POV in mind when you read this book -- and when you preach on it.

So when my eyes are assaulted by news stories and commentary and social media about the latest awfulness coming from Trump, I tend to wait to see if another shoe (one being deliberately withheld by the reporter/commentator/poster) is going to drop. So often, the first story told is not the whole story. That said, my personal opinion on this election is that both candidates are doing their level best to lose. Still, I'll take GOP control over the Democrats any day. I understand that other people see it the other way round. Spare me both pious denunciations and unctuous excuses either way. These are the guys we've got, God help us. We have to choose between them (or vote third party), but we don't have to like either guy all that much.

Sweet Memories

So, I'm sitting here, eating a bowl of granola, thinking how sweet it is. But it's nothing compared to the breakfast cereals of my childhood. Marketing to kids was new in the 1950s, but our parents -- who all went through the Depression and World War Two -- were pretty indulgent toward their kids. They didn't want them to be deprived of anything. Plus, they remembered when sugar was rationed, so "sugar" was a selling point to adults as well as children. Everybody approved of sugar. (And we're talking pure cane sugar; high-fructose corn syrup hadn't made its appearance at this stage.)

So, we had Frosted Flakes, Sugar Corn Pops, Sugar Smacks, Sugar Crisp. New cereals were being developed all the time, with cute, cartoony characters like Cap'n Crunch, Quisp, Count Chocula. These cereals may not have trumpeted "SUGAR!" in their names, but all of them were loaded with it. And you know what we little Boomers did with those cereals? That's right, we took a spoon and started dumping more granulated sugar on top of it. Often, not just one spoonful, and every spoonful was heaped up as high as we could get it. When we got to the bottom of the bowl, there would be this thick sludge of sugar in the leftover milk. And more than a few of us then drank that off to finish breakfast.

It's a wonder any of us are alive today.
junior woodchuck guidebook

Wouldn't have missed it for the world

I'd have to dig through all my mementos to find my card to remember the exact date, but sometime this month is the 50th anniversary of my Eagle Scout Board of Review. Being an Eagle Scout is a big part of my identity, though I don't think about it all that much. It was so long ago, and I've done so much since. But that's the way it's supposed to be. Becoming an Eagle Scout is an achievement, but being an Eagle Scout is about the life you live thereafter: a life of service and adventure.

The phoenix is an eagle. According to legend, when it grows old it immolates itself and out of the fire, a renewed eagle emerges. In an echo of this idea, Isaiah says (Is. 40:30-31),
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
That is a promise we old Eagles cling to. So, even though they're making ground harder to sleep on than they used to, I'm still looking for more adventures and more opportunities to serve. And I hope to see many more -- and especially, my two young grandcubs -- take the same journey.

Eagle Scout

Court of Honor
New Eagle with parents

Exodus 3:13-14 in Old English

A friend has been preaching a series of sermons on the names of God in the Old Testament. Here is what God told Moses, translated into the English of a thousand years ago.

Ða cwæþ Moyses to hym: Nu ic ga to Israhela bearnum ond ic secge him, "Eowera fædere God me sende to eow," gyf hi cweþaþ to me, "Hwæt is hys nama"? hwæt secge ic him?

Ða cwæþ God to Moyse: IC EOM SE ÞE EOM, cwæþ he; Sege þus Israhela bearnum: SE ÞE IS me sende to eow.

What "correct" English is

English has never consisted of only one dialect. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who invaded Britannia in the Fifth Century AD spoke a number of mutually intelligible dialects, all forms of what we call Ingvaeonic, or North Sea, West Germanic. The Frisians also spoke a dialect from this speech continuum. After the establishment of various small kingdoms, each kingdom’s people spoke their own local dialect. Just before the Viking invasions, the four most prominent dialects of Old English were West Saxon, Kentish, Mercian, and Northumbrian, centered in the kingdoms of Wessex, Kent, Mercia, and Northumbria.

The Vikings took half of the Old English kingdoms’ land out of the middle, and almost took the whole. Their elites spoke Old Norse, which had a profound impact upon the English spoken by their new subjects. The conquest of the Norse kingdoms and the unification of what came to be called Angelcynn, then finally Englalond, took place under Alfred the Great and his descendants. Alfred’s grandson Athelstan was the first king of a united English nation.

The language of the king of this new, united realm was from Wessex. Alfred and his successors also sponsored a literary revival of English as a means of unifying the realm. So the dominant dialect of Old English, in which the vast majority of surviving manuscripts are written, was West Saxon Old English. This was the “standard” English of its day.

That day ended shortly after the conquest of England by William of Normandy. In a few years, almost the entire English nobility and senior clergy had been replaced by newcomers who spoke Norman French. This didn’t mean that English was no longer spoken, but only that nobody who was anybody spoke or wrote in English.

English continued to be spoken by ordinary people, of course. And English continued to change, as it always has. Already at the end of the Old English period, certain changes were evident from Alfred’s day. The impact of Old Norse upon English was now evident. After 1100, we call the language that people were speaking Middle English. And as the Frenchified elites grew up speaking English (and had to learn French in school), eventually literary works began to be written in English again. Several different dialects of Middle English – descendants of the various dialects of Old English – were current, but with the increasing commercial and royal importance of London, the East Midlands dialect of London became more and more important. This is the language that Chaucer wrote in. His English, the language of business and government, became the “standard” English of his period.

English continued to change, and by the Tudor period, we begin to talk about Early Modern English. This is the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. These two sources, especially, define the “standard” English of the period. For years afterward, everybody knew them and tried to imitate them.

Modern English dates from about the time of our Constitution. And from this time, competing Standard Englishes begin to appear. American thinkers of a nationalist bent began to attempt to modify the spelling and pronunciation of English for Americans. Noah Webster, with his dictionary and spellers, began to define American “standard” English.

While America has fewer dialects of English than Britain does, there are still several distinctive ways of using English in America. What we call American Standard English does not align perfectly with any of these regional speeches; nevertheless, when we talk about “correct” English usage (and assign grades based upon its mastery), this particular dialect (ASE) is the one we call “correct” or “standard.” We teach it to schoolchildren all over the country not as a fossil, but as a ticket to advancement. The more one has the mastery of ASE, the more opportunities one will have for employment beyond the old neighborhood. “Standard” English is the language of business, government, education, and publishing. The better your English (by this criterion), the more you can mix with and influence others who circulate in those arenas. Not only that, but if you move from one place to another, from one dialect region to another, you can still use ASE to communicate wherever you go.

What we call “standard” English at any given time is the language of business, government, education, and publishing. If you were living in 1040, we would be teaching you West Saxon Old English. If you were living in 1400, we would be teaching you East Midlands Middle English. If you were living in 1640, we would be teaching you the language of Shakespeare and the KJV. But since you are living in modern America, we teach you the language current across the all the leading elements of our society.

However you speak and write at home is fine – for home. We don’t need to teach you how to do that. But when you go to school, we will teach you American Standard English – the “standard” English of our day and our society – and mark you “incorrect” for every non-standard usage. That’s the teacher’s job. If you were learning German, we would be teaching you Standard German, not Swiss German or Bavarian (though we might note some differences appearing in those dialects). But we would want you to be easily understood, and to garner respect, wherever you used your German. (I attended a church service in Switzerland a few years ago. Most of the liturgy and hymns were in Swiss German, but when the pastor began to preach, he switched to Standard German. I understood much more of his sermon than I did of the rest of the service.)

So when the teacher corrects your English, that’s not a put-down. You are not less of a person for the way you speak or write at home. But it’s the teacher’s job to teach you this particular dialect, and your job to master it. What you do with it later is up to you.