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All too short a lease


Here in the foothills, some of the leaves are hanging on. But not far north in the Blue Ridge mountains, it’s all over for the summer of 2018. It was a good growing season, though, with more than 60 inches of rain so far this year in many areas of the mountains.

1953 lunch counter deliciousness



Egg and bacon sandwich. Photo with iPhone XR.

I have written here before about the Red Rooster, a drug store lunch counter in Walnut Cove, North Carolina, which not only is thriving but is beating the fast food competition. The Red Rooster happens to be only about 200 steps from the county headquarters of the Democratic Party, so it has been part of my compensation as a political operative to have breakfast or lunch there for the past few weeks. If the food is in any way different from the diner food of 1953, I can’t detect it.

The breakfast menu includes egg sandwiches for $2. Dress the sandwich however you wish, says the menu. This morning I added — sinfully — bacon, along with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.

In 1953, lunch counters in the American South would have been segregated. Today the Red Rooster is anything but. Walnut Cove has an African-American mayor, and two members of the town board are African-Americans.

Apple Pay? Yes, you should …



When I first heard about Apple Pay a few years ago, I assumed that it was nothing more than a play by Apple to insert itself into the lucrative credit card transaction business and extract a cut. To some degree, that’s true. But, as far as I can tell, Apple gets only a meager 0.15 percent cut of each transaction. That’s not much, so Apple has other motives. I believe those other motives are the usefulness of their devices such as iPhones, and security. The bank pays the 0.15 percent, and you get the benefit of the convenience and the added security. Apple Pay doesn’t cost you anything. To use Apple Pay, your credit card stays in your pocket. Instead, you hold your phone close to the credit card reader. To the merchant, it’s as good as swiping your card. To you, it’s free. Plus your credit card information can’t be stolen. And you get a receipt stored inside your phone.

On my recent trip to Scotland, I noticed many people paying with their phones — far more than I had observed in the United States. Europe, it seems, is ahead of the U.S. in this area. Consequently, Europe also has a lower rate of credit card fraud than the U.S.

How Apple Pay works is fairly technical, and we need not get into that here. The important factor is that the merchant never sees your credit card or your credit card number. Instead, the merchant sees only a “token,” presented wirelessly from a chip in your phone, which is good for that transaction only. Thus your credit card information cannot be stolen when you use Apple Pay. (There are similar services for people who use Android phones.)

That’s another thing I noticed in Scotland. Whether I was in a restaurant, a hotel, a grocery store, a book store, or a train station, my credit card never left my hand. Instead, you were always presented with a card reader into which the customer inserts the card. In the U.S., we are moving in that direction. But it’s still common for credit cards to vanish from the table at restaurants while the charges are run somewhere else. When credit card information is stolen, that’s often how it happens. Someone “skims” your credit card data while it’s out of your sight. Last month, for the third time in ten years, my credit card information was stolen or compromised. I’ve vowed to never let a credit card out of my sight, or out of my hand, again. My bank has always detected the problem very quickly when my credit card was compromised. And I have never been stuck with a charge that I didn’t make. But it’s a huge aggravation to come to terms with the bank on the illegitimate charges and to wait for one to two weeks for a new card to be issued.

I would have adopted Apple Pay sooner. But it was only a few days ago that I retired my six-year-old iPhone 5, which did not support Apple Pay, and upgraded to an iPhone XR. The Internet is a dangerous place. These days we (or our banks) can be robbed by someone who is thousands of miles away in a corrupt country such as Russia. We need not only to protect ourselves, but also to take advantage of improved technologies that make crime harder for criminals.

Pie, from a heroic little pumpkin


Y’all knew this was coming, didn’t you?

What’s remarkable, though, is that the pumpkin I used for this pie was just over one year old. I was hoarding the last of the little pumpkins from the 2017 pumpkin crop, which was much smaller than the 2018 pumpkin crop, which is now stored under the stairs for the winter. But it wasn’t just hoarding. I also was experimenting, to find out whether the last of last year’s pumpkins was as well-preserved as it looked. It was. When I cut it in half before baking it, it looked as fresh inside as a new pumpkin. I have previously blogged about these amazing little heirloom pumpkins here.

The little pumpkin that finally met its end today in the kitchen is the little pumpkin that I used as a photo prop last winter. One of its portraits, shot in December 2017, is below.

It had a good life.

I gave its seeds to the chickens.

October magic



Click here for high-resolution version.

Lots of things that come from the garden are magical, but First Prize for magic goes to the little pumpkins. This year’s crop is in, with a total haul of 90 pounds.

The friend who first gave me these seeds called it “the Kraken vine.” That’s because the vine is enormous and will keep growing until the first frost stops it. This year’s Kraken vine succumbed to the frost on Oct. 21. It’s best to leave all the little pumpkins on the vine until frost, then harvest them all at once. The crop started with only three hills, three seeds each. By harvest time, the vines were 35 feet long. The vines had jumped the garden fence in two places and were working their way across the yard.

Though I call them “little pumpkins,” if you buy the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, they are called “Long Island Cheese Pumpkins.” I assume that’s because they resemble a wheel of cheese — and they’re just as heavy as a wheel of cheese. The 6.5-inch pumpkin in the photo below weighed 3.3 pounds. My pumpkins are smallish and rarely exceed 8 inches in diameter. Check out the rave reviews for these pumpkins at Baker Creek. The Baker Creek variety seems to be a slightly larger variety than my variety, which came from a friend. He acquired the seeds from a community seed bank.

Another remarkable thing about these pumpkins is that they will keep forever. I still have one left from last year’s crop! I plan to wash the new crop and store them under the stairs. They make an incredible winter food for storage.


This 6.5-inch pumpkin weighs 3.3 pounds.


The wheelbarrow was so heavy that I could hardly push it.


The Kraken vine, after it jumped the fence into the yard and headed for the house.

The authoritarian lust for scapegoats



Transgender teenager Ally Steinfield, who was murdered last year in Missouri. Her body was mutilated and set on fire.


We live in a strange society in which a rather sad, vulnerable, harmless teenager like Ally Steinfield is seen as sick and dangerous. Whereas the people who have a mysterious need to scapegoat people like Ally Steinfield are considered normal.

It blows my mind how effectively this society programs most of its young to think so rigidly about gender and sex. After she was murdered, Ally Steinfield’s body was butchered. Her eyes were gouged out. Her genitals were stabbed. The body was set on fire. Then the remains were put into a garbage bag and hidden in a chicken coop. Four people were charged. One of them was 25, one was 24, and two were 18. And this is just one example of violence against transgender people that occurred last year. By high school age, most of our young people will have acquired thoroughly crummy educations in most things. But they will have acquired the equivalent of Ph.D.’s in this society’s notions about gender and sex.

Once again, the difference between liberal and conservative minds makes all the difference. Liberals don’t feel threatened by harmless differences. Liberals don’t feel a need to police other people’s private lives. Whereas authoritarian minds are terrified that the sky will fall if their fetishes for authority, obedience, and conformity can’t be policed, and if their scapegoating of out-groups isn’t sanctioned. This terror is so prevalent that our dominant religion is desperate to be permitted to legally discriminate. The terror is so prevalent that billionaires will put big money into lobbying for the legal authority to discriminate. For more on that, see this piece in yesterday’s New York Times, ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.

The Republican Party, allied with fundamentalists, has retailed this sky-is-falling sex panic all the way down to the local level.

Last month at the county fair here, the Democrats’ tent was, as usual, close to the Republicans’ tent. A Republican candidate for county commissioner, accompanied by the Republican Party’s county chairwoman, were haranguing me about transgender people and bathrooms. They brought it up, not me. They are inflamed by the issue. The Republican Party has made authoritarian scapegoating into a key political wedge issue, and their preachers have made it into an urgent religious issue. I have had similar encounters many times. Nothing I’ve ever said has gotten through. A person’s sex, they will soon say, is “God given.” I ask if they’ve ever known a transgender person. They haven’t, of course. Even though they’re not aware of ever having met a transgender person, nevertheless they believe the threat is imminent, personal, and severe — the sky is falling.

There is no mistaking one’s God-given gender, authoritarians say. Apparently they have never heard of the list of birth conditions that blur physical gender. Those conditions include ambiguous genitalia and gender indicators that don’t match up (external parts, internal parts, or chromosomes). In such cases, gender is often “assigned” at birth, based on a guess. But we have learned that children — and certainly adolescents — will let us know how they experience themselves from within, regardless of how they came to be that way. Who would argue with that? Authoritarians, of course. Mere argument wouldn’t be a big deal. But authoritarians are compelled to go much farther than that — policing, scapegoating, persecution, and sometimes violence — because for some mysterious reason they feel threatened, and because their politics requires scapegoats.

Even in discussions with other liberals whose lives and identities fit comfortably inside the range regarded as normal, it’s difficult to get them to see just how strange and rigid our training in gender and sex is. It isn’t difficult to compare that training with other human societies or even with our own society’s history. We didn’t have to be this way. And there are better ways to be.

One of the things that I found striking in in Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain (which I recently reviewed here), is that our prehistoric ancestors in western Europe seemed to see very little difference between the sexes. To a considerable degree, this attitude can be reconstructed archeologically, from images such as cave paintings, carvings, stoneware, and metalware, and also from burial rites. Writing about relatively recent (728 to 352 B.C.) statues found in the British Isles, Hutton writes, “The one from Scotland is of alder wood, and may be female, although the sex is hardly emphasized, while that from Devon has been called male and is of oak; sexual ambiguity seems the case at Roos Carr.” Writing about much older images, from the Paleolithic, Hutton writes, “Modern Western culture has long drawn a sharp distinction between human and animal, and female and male but, in pictures at least, the Paleolithic did not.”

Historian Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Hutton writes, “… has shown how the blurring of lines between species was accompanied by an equivalent ambiguity in representing gender, and a disinclination to distinguish clearly between the human and divine. When human and animal were combined, special types of beast were chosen, namely horses, dogs, stags, and bulls, and the stag above all: indeed, its antlers were sometimes given to female human-like figures as well as male. At the least, all this plausibly suggests a spirituality which depended on a regular sense of crossing ‘natural’ boundaries and of fluidity of identity.”

Sociologists have found a similar fluidity around sex and gender in Native American (and other) societies. Sex and gender weren’t a big deal. Those who were different actually were valued for their differences, and those who were different often took on special roles that were helpful to the community. Not only that, but those who were different were often consulted for their different perspective on tribal or personal issues. It could work that way today, if only we’d listen.

Instead, our society continues to insist on stark gender boundaries, though much (such as who can wear pants, or earrings) has been renegotiated. But where renegotiation is not complete, those who are different are somehow threatening and, through some strange psychological mechanism that is somehow trained into us, arouse fear. Then there is identity, which, we are learning, is a double-edged sword that can both liberate and obstruct. The authority of authoritarians is worth a whole lot less than it used to be, as people come out of the shadows to demand fairness and to defend their right to self-respect — and to not be scapegoats. Authoritarians aren’t used to that, and they don’t like it. It used to be that gay men and lesbians were the scapegoats. But unless Trump’s new Supreme Court can overturn gay marriage and Lawrence v. Texas (authoritarians will surely try), gay men and lesbians are not nearly as vulnerable as they once were, thanks to the law. Transgender people remain vulnerable. This move by the Trump administration is an attempt to make transgender people even more vulnerable and thus to increase their value as scapegoats. Republicans don’t want another good set of scapegoats to slip away by giving them — gasp! — basic civil rights.

When authoritarians choose a scapegoat, it has to be someone vulnerable. That vulnerability needs to be not just vulnerability under the law, but also vulnerability like Ally Steinfield’s vulnerability, the vulnerability generated by social training that set her up for violence by marking her as disgusting, threatening, deserving of punishment, and weak. Just one thing alone — the fact that authoritarians rely on their lust for scapegoats to keep the sky from falling — reveals how wrong, and how wicked, they are.

Sprout season begins, with an eye on the election


Good kitchens roll with the seasons. When fall sets in, and the summer tomatoes and basil have been mourned, greens and sweet potatoes appear as compensation. Peppers will keep going until the first frost. Come winter, we’ll have nothing fresh other than what is shipped in. So sprouts are a winter thing, especially if you have a sunny kitchen window.

Sprouts are cheap, too. These days, Amazon has all the sprouting seeds and apparatus you need. Growing sprouts is no trouble. The only moderately pesky part of sprout farming is the final washing and rinsing away of the seed husks. You want not just salad sprouts, but also bean sprouts for Asian dishes.

I’m not turning into a food-only blog. It’s just that it’s also political season at the moment, and I have political duties almost every day, such as making sure that our county’s Democratic headquarters are open during the hours we’ve promised. Political responsibilities have cut into my time for doing and thinking about other things. After the election on Nov. 6, that will change.

There are other cycles in good kitchens — not just seasonal cycles. Just now I’m in a healthy-kitchen cycle. But there are times when a good kitchen turns out comfort food, calories be damned. I’ve been there, and you probably have been, too. After all, we have to look after our psyches, not just our bodies. The aftermath of the 2016 election was such a time.

Let’s hope that, the day after election day, Nov. 7, 2018, progressive people and their progressive kitchens will be celebrating, while deplorable people’s kitchens will be turning out even more deplorable things. We have just over two weeks to figure out the menus. I promise to post about whatever fare seems appropriate for Nov. 7.

Sweet potatoes again


After all, it’s high season for sweet potatoes. I was trying to figure out what to do with a sweet potato for breakfast. The only thing that seemed appealing was a sweet potato cake. It’s just like the potato cakes you might make from white potatoes. There is diced onion, with an egg, some wheat germ, and some food yeast to make the cake set. I slowly fried the cake in butter, then fried the egg in the same skillet to give the egg that bacon-grease look. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any bacon.

Buffalo: Who knew?



Quorn cutlets in Buffalo sauce with mozzarella

I was Googling for ideas for what to do with Quorn faux-chicken cutlets. I came across chicken breasts in Buffalo sauce with mozzarella. Hmmm. But what the heck is Buffalo sauce?

A little Googling revealed Buffalo sauce to be a zesty sauce served with chicken wings. It originated in Buffalo, New York. I put two and two together and also surmised that “Buffalo wings” must have gotten their name from Buffalo, New York. Googling showed that to be true.

The Quorn faux-chicken cutlets are the most difficult form of Quorn to deal with, I’ve found. It’s hard to overcome Quorn’s dryness and mealy texture. The faux chicken nuggets, and the faux ground beef, are easier to deal with — if nicely sauced.

Except for the Quorn, the supper above is very local. The greens and peppers came from a neighbor’s garden. The sweet potato came from a sweet-potato farm just up the road.

That’s Buffalo china in the photo, in addition to the Buffalo sauce. Buffalo china was made in Buffalo, New York. My post on Buffalo china is the most Googled post I’ve written here in more than ten years of blogging. Buffalo china is simply the best commercial china ever made. The abbey’s everyday dishes, bought piece by piece on eBay, are Buffalo china.

Way to go, Buffalo.

Chicken pot pie, Quorn version



Click here for high-resolution version.

The Quorn chicken nuggets make a very fine chicken pot pie. I previously wrote about Quorn here, and Scottish meat pies here.

I am acquiring the opinion that crusts for pot pies and meat pies don’t need to be flaky, and that lower-fat hot-water crusts work just fine. The 4-inch non-stick spring-form pans work great. The pies come out of the pan free standing and intact.

Seasoning for the chicken pot pie needs a good bit of celery, some peas, and maybe a bit of carrot. I used a white gravy made with olive oil.

I bought the sweet potato this very morning from a local farmer. In fact, I bought five pounds of them. He was selling potatoes at a local fall festival. The Brunswick stew was free. Consequently they made the biggest pot of stew I have ever seen. I used the word “pot,” but “cauldron” would be equally valid. I also wrote recently about what archeology tells us about the prehistoric Celts of the British Isles. We know that cauldrons were a status item, and we know that cauldrons were used for feasts. I strongly suspect that the local tradition of serving chicken stew and Brunswick stew to one’s neighbors at harvest festivals is a very old tradition. That tradition is still very much alive here.


The Democrats’ table at the local harvest festival