Pete's random thoughts

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chocolate cookies!

Ok, I'll admit it, I'm a chocoholic.

In everyday 21st century life, this is not a problem. You can get chocolate in pretty much any form you can imagine, whenever you want. It is problematic, however, when you are doing your best to approximate a mid 18th century diet.

In a few weeks it will have been a year since I started my experimental diet of "period food" only. (only applies at home, eating out while traveling doesn't count) For the first year, I ignored the seasons and allowed myself the raw materials year-round. Historically, there wouldn't be all things available at all times. Now it is January, there wouldn't be any fresh vegetables available, nor eggs. I'd be living on dried stuff, root veggies and stuff that keeps well, like cabbage, fresh or salted meat, dried grains etc.

For the first year, I cheated and allowed myself such luxuries year-round as frozen berries and fresh veggies from the supermarket. The long and short of it is that I've left out white flour, white sugar all additives and preservatives. This means no chocolate treats with their trans-fats, corn syrup and chemical preservatives. I've gone nearly a year without a Ring-Ding.

I've lost around 35 pounds. My clothes don't fit right anymore. I need a belt to hold my pants up, and even then gotta keep hitchin' them up.

In the old days, chocolate was an expensive luxury. Not for everyday eating. Most of the time it was reserved to either flavor things like cakes or for drinking in the form of hot chocolate. The French and Indian raiding party that came to attack Township #4 in 1747 was issued chocolate: if I recall, the leader of the expedition got a pound.

If he could have chocolate, then I should be able to as well! Some French packs were captured after an ambush in the swamp off of Lower Landing Road here in town in 1746, near the site of where Captain Stevens built his blockhouse. They were sold at public auction. I'll stretch my imagination and pretend that I, as a lawful citizen of Township #4, bought a pack at auction and it happened to contain a precious pound of chocolate!

Fanciful or not, it is the justification that I used to go and buy a pound of unsweetened baking chocolate in the store. Then the experiments began... I tried to just nibble on a chunk. That's when I learned just how nasty unsweetened chocolate is; it is no Hershey Bar. So I melted some and tried to sweeten it with maple sugar: no dice. Then I tried to add muscovado sugar in some quantity. Eventually it became palatable, but it never "set up" right, so I spread it on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. Eventually it firmed up enough to eat. There had to be a better way!

I started looking through reprints of period cookbooks, someone had to give me a hint of how to get my chocolate fix... Then I came up with an idea: COOKIES! They weren't called cookies then, they were cakes. The vernacular of junk food gets a little fuzzy. All of the recipes called for massive quantities of ingredients meant to maximize the heat from firing the oven and entertaining large crowds. I needed them just for me.

What I ended up doing is going to an antique cookbook (not colonial era, 1920's) and using their ratios, but substituting my all-natural ingredients. For instance, in stead of a cup of white sugar (well, it is presumed white, they didn't specify) I used muscovado. I was able to use the egg it called for because one of the girls actually left one in a nest box for us last week. Ten minutes in the oven, and I miraculously produced two dozen all natural chocolate cookies made with ingredients that fit within my 1750's diet! I say miraculously because I was on the phone with a customer at the 11:30PM on a saturady night.

What a rare treat. If I can muster up the self control, I'll allow myself one a day to make them last longer. As I sit down here at my desk and type this, it is hard to fight the urge to go attack them, cookie-monster style. I can't though, I have to make my precious chocolate last until the next hapless Frenchman flees the scene without his pack...

In all seriousness, a big part of the success of this diet has been earning my food. For instance, I get to eat apples today because we picked, peeled, cored, sliced and dried a couple of bushels of them in the fall for the winter supply. It took a week with them hanging on strings from hooks in the ceiling to get them dry enough to store long-term. Since I only have a finite amount, and so much effort went into them, I am far less likely to just gobble them up. Instead I savor each dried, leathery apple ring. What I think I will do to "earn" the next package of chocolate is to try and shoot a coyote. Then I will have a hide to theoretically trade off down at Phineas Stevens' truck house for a block of the precious stuff from South America. No coyote = no chocolate. Fair enough.

Once my cookies are gone, it's back to the old daily diet of meat, dried stuff and cornmeal hoecakes. Not that I'm complaining, I am really enjoying that stuff, it's just that sometimes you just gotta have something chocolate.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

UPS outdoes themselves

It's a new record!

Over the course of a year, UPS probably smashes half a dozen guns.

In the past 10 days, they have managed to smash 2 Long Lands and 2 1717s, for a total of four broken guns in calendar year 2007!


Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Plymouth

Once upon a time, I had a little black car.

I had bought it sort of because I had to. It seems that I had accidentally totaled my previous little black car when it got rammed amidship by a drunk driver, which took place a few days after being rammed from behind by an unlicenced driver who fled the scene. I walked into my insurance agent's office on Monday morning to report not one, but two accidents that had occurred since the close of business on Friday afternoon. Since the middle of it was pushed in about a foot, the appraiser told me to go buy another car, so off I went to go car shopping, one of my favorite things to do at the time.

In a little car lot on Lakeview Ave in Dracut, MA, I spotted a car that looked pretty cool, so I stopped and checked it out. It was a Plymouth Tourismo. The Tourismo was a performance version of the TC3, which was the three-door version of the Horizon econobox. It came with a 2.2 engine and four on the floor. It was the kind of a car you'd call a "pocket rocket".

I was into street racing then. Not many folks were, it was that inbetween time in American car design. The emissions control laws had really choked off American performance and all the kids of street racing age could afford were crappy little economy cars like Ford Escorts. This is before the aftermarket manufacturers started making stuff for more modern cars that the subculture of "tuners" enjoys today. There were'nt any good car songs like in the 50's and 60's, there weren't any good car movies either. It was a sad time for American cars, and therefore american youth.

I was always a throwback to earlier times. I grew up listening to oldies and watching classic car flicks on our old black & white TV. Here are a few classics: Vanishing Point, Grand Theft Auto, Gone in 60 Seconds (not the Nicolas Cage version), and Two Lane Blacktop. Let's not forget American Graffitti!

With the help of a friend who worked in a garage, we turned that $2500 Plymouth into a stupidly fast little machine. Every time I'd break something in it, we'd put a higher performance part in to replace it. The little Plymouth was a huge part of my life. I won't go into the stories because I'll be here typing all night. It was faster than an IROC Camaro, and by the time we were done with it, it could outhandle a Corvette. It was my life, my very existance was wrapped up in that car and what limits I could push with it. I was working a couple of jobs then, and I could hardly wait until Friday and Saturday nights to go out racing, cruising, and just being behind the wheel of my Plymouth.

My Grandfather was killed in a fire in 1987, he lived next door to us in a basement apartment. I had been unable to get my Grandfather out of the burning building, was it because I was afraid? No, it was because the apartment was engulfed in flames, impenatrable without firefighters equipment. It had been so hot in there that the pots and pans melted. The next morning, as we came home from the hospital in my Plymouth, I realized that my clothes were scorched and burned from trying to get in, and we pulled a jagged piece of glass out of my leg from where I kicked in the window to try and get in from a different angle. I had done all that was humanly possible to get him out of there, but it's pretty hard to accept that kind of defeat when you are 19. I had some serious driving to do to prove myself to myself.

It got to be kind of an addiction. I had to go faster, win every time, do things to prove that I dared to do them. Crazy things, like taking a lap of a big rotary clockwise because my buddy Harry Casey said that I didn't have the balls to do it, like going by a speed trap at 135 MPH late one night because I knew the cop wouldn't dare get into a pursuit on those roads that fast and I had to prove that I was more daring than him.

My Mom was the benficiary of my Grandfather's $10,000 accidental death insurance policy. She gave $1000 each to my brother and myself. In a moment of sanity, and knowing that I had really exceeded the engineered capabilities of the Plymouth, I used the $1k as a downpayment to trade in the Plymouth on a brand new Jeep, like I had always wanted (as a little boy I used to love Rat Patrol, I always wanted a Jeep, a Tommy Gun and a Browning MG to mount on a pedestal in the back just like in the show, now that I'm a big boy, I have all three LOL!).

The Plymouth never left me, there isn't a week that goes by that I don't dream about it. It's like it haunts me because I abandoned it at the Jeep dealer. Maybe it haunts me because I ran away from it, trading it in before I died in it. I've decided to find one, to make things right again. Not neccesarily to hop up like my old one, but just to sit in, to touch, to feel the shape of the steering wheel and the shift knob. I've got a picture of one from a magazine ad hanging up down here in my office. Just looking at the ad (ignoring the goofy 1980's people in it and the fact that it is red instead of black) I can feel every crease of the sheet metal fender, the curve of the spoiler, the smell of interior, the sound of the cherry bomb exhaust.

The strange part is that there don't seem to be any in existance. I've been searching the web for one for some time now. There is one for sale for $500 in San Antonio, TX which is 2000 miles away. It's slightly newer than mine was, mine was a 1981 and the one for sale is a 1985. There were little design changes, all styling stuff, but the body shell, drivetrain and interior should all be the same. I've been daydreaming about hopping a Southwest Airlines flight to Texas and driving home with it.

If anyone has a line on a 1981 Plymouth TC3 Tourismo, let know know! I have unfinished business with it.

Wiring in the lights

The wiring for the three new ceiling fixtures in the room that will contain Wendy's office/Caleigh's play area is fianlly done.

Now I remember why, way back in electrician school, I made the decision to get into industrial control wiring instead of going the standard residential electrical journeyman route. At the time, there was a building craze on and on every tiny little patch of land that was available condos were springing up. (why anyone would want to live in one is beyond me, living in an apartment is enough of a drag, why would someone pay closing costs on an apartment?) All of the other guys I was in school with were getting co-op jobs with local contractors who had them "roughing" condos. Seems like a good thing to be involved with when you are 18, but my drafting teacher pointed out to me that it's not the kind of thing you'd like to be doing when you are 50. (he wanted me to be a draftsman instead)

I took his advice to a point, and pursued a course of learning where I leanred about industrial control wiring, which led to robotics and custom automation machine building. That was a couple of careers ago, so I won't get into details too much. My point is that I never got into residential wiring as was the goal of all of my friends, so I never had to roll around on top of ceiling joists in mounds of fiberglass insulation to run wires to light fixtures...until now.

It makes me glad that I got into industrial wiring instead, and even gladder that I sell guns instead of industrial wiring.

The good news is that I only have to do it a couple more times: we'll be adding ceiling fixtures in the new dining room, one in the new bedroom, and at least one in the new living room. The living room wiring job will suck, it is located under the lower part of a low-pitched shed roof that is studded with roofing nails. The rest of them won't be as bad because they are under a peaked roof, so there is actually some headroom and I won't need to belly-crawl across boards laid on the joists through a sea of pink fiberglass like I did last night. I hope my friends from school are having a good time doing it every day!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Remodeling, phase 1

I know I owe you all a report on the surveying trip, I just haven't had a chance to sit and write it yet. The idea to remodel the house has gripped us, and we have been concentrating on it fully.

We had bought this place at a HUD auction. The first floor is the shop, having been built commercially as a rock and mineral shop back in 1989. Upstairs is the style of house called a "raised ranch". It's a weird house, consisting of a giant 26 x 26 bedroom, a little bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, a sorta galley like kitchen and the rest of the house is one big room that serves as the living room, dining room, and Wendy's office.

You'll notice that I didn't mention a single closet. Given that situation, where does one keep our thousand or so books? Where does one keep all of my reenacting clothes, gear etc?

What we are doing is dividing up the two large rooms to create a real living room, a realistically sized bedroom for Wendy and I, a pantry, and an office that will have enough room for the kids to play in and still be supervised by Wendy.

As is par for the course, we aren't hiring a contractor to do it, yet are planning to get it done ASAP. Surprisingly, we are actually doing it in a methodical manner instead of just jumping in and going at it. The framing is up, and we are about to start painting ceilings. While Wendy paints, I'll be wiring the new walls for outlets, switches etc.

The first step, of course, is to move all of the existing stuff out of the work areas. In doing so, I've learned a few things: first, books are heavy, it is just the cost of literacy. The more books you have, the more trips you need to make carrying them. Second: exercise equipment is heavy and awkward to move. I now understand how one gets exercise with the silly things; the husband gets a workout carrying them down icy stairs, across the yard and into the shed. I'm not quite sure how this benefits the wife though...

Oh well, another thing to ponder when carrying a seemingly endless supply of books down to the shop for temporary storage until the remodeling is done.