Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year-Ender 2012

A long time ago, when I was learning how to use FrameMaker, I created a bogus newsletter. I set up a three-column template, made a second "jump" page, and connected the two so text would flow from one to the other.

The whole thing was an exercise in formatting. I wanted to give it a silly, playful name, and settled on Lung. Years later, I dredged up that name for this blog.

Here, at the tail end of 2012, are some of my favorite Lung posts from the last twelve months.

A series of posts relate to an injury sustained by my daughter – including, but not limited to:
Broken Arm
She Said No
Back in the Saddle.

Another post, Everything Hurts, relates to an accident my wife had.

In June I noted the passing of tenor man Faruq Z. Bey.

Earlier I'd become fascinated by the fate of a century-old structure in my town, and wrote about it in more than one post.

Right after Thanksgiving I went to an exhibit of Vincent van Gogh paintings and drawings.

The Presidential election inspired several posts.

And I began the year with a whimsical flight of fancy centering on the new year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pie Crust 101

Some people have a hard time making pie crust.

Let me share a secret with you: it's easy.

My mom made legendary pie crust. "Why, it just melts in your mouth," her mother, my late grandmother, would say.

So maybe there's pie crust in my genes.

But it's easy. Let me show you.

First, the ingredients:
  • 1 1/3 (one and one-third) cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening (plain)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons ice water

These proportions are for one crust. If you want a pie with a bottom and top, you'll need to double them.

I usually start by filling a glass with water and adding the ice, so it's ready when I need it. Then, these steps:

1. Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter or fork. (It never completely mixes. When it's ready, it will still look like flour, but with chunks of fat in it.)

Do not use your hands to mix it. This is a textbook no-no. The heat from your hands is supposed to be bad for it. (I've handled the dough more than is recommended before, and it turns out okay. But you should go by the book until you get a feel for it.)

2. Once it's the right texture, add the ice water and combine with a fork. Quickly gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. (This will help when you roll it out.)

Wrap in plastic (I use produce bags from the grocery store) and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 

3. Remove dough disk from refrigerator. If stiff and cold, let stand until cool but malleable. 

4. For this last stage, I suggest using either wax or parchment paper. (There's a better way, which I'll get to momentarily.)

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough disk out in each direction, forming a 12- to 14-inch circle. I usually rotate the paper as I roll it, to help keep the crust even.

To transfer the dough, roll it around the rolling pin, lift,  center it over an ungreased 9-inch regular or deep-dish pie plate, and unroll. 

A couple of years ago my mom, that maker of legendary pie crust, gave me a big piece of canvas to use for rolling out the dough. It came in a kit that included a sleeve for the rolling pin. What a difference! The dough doesn't stick. Makes things a lot easier.

My crusts tend to be light and flaky, and to die for.

Note: I did not make the crust in the above picture. I don't know how to do that fancy crimping thing around the edges. I think you just use your fingers to wedge up the sides. Also, see those fork holes in the picture? I don't do that. I'll have to try it next time.

Another note: I usually use plain old unbleached all-purpose flour, most often the King Arthur brand, although any will do. I've used bread flour once or twice and it works fine.

I also usually use Spectrum brand organic vegetable shortening, but in a pinch have used Crisco. I'd rather not. But I have. Works fine.

Final note: my daughter is on a gluten-free kick, so I sometimes make pie crust with white spelt flour instead of all-purpose wheat. The all-purpose wheat is better, I think, but the white spelt flour works pretty good, too – much better than I thought it would.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Front Page News

Our local paper had an extraordinary front page today.

We're only a few days removed from the savagery of the mass murders in Connecticut. But even as victims are buried and politicians pledge to do something, that horrific case barely made page one – because we've got yet another case of mass murder on our hands.

It appears to be what, in America, is an all-too-common, garden variety mass murder-suicide. Some asshole with a violent streak shot his estranged girlfriend and two others and then killed himself.

Apparently the girlfriend left the man who would become her killer on Thanksgiving day. He was jailed this past weekend on domestic violence charges, the victim being the estranged girlfriend. He got out on Monday night. Around 4am Tuesday he went to the home where the ex was staying and killed everyone.

Grislier details include the fact that the murder of the girlfriend and the suicide were both recorded in a frantic 911 call. The dispatcher heard the woman's futile pleas, heard the gunshot that killed her, spoke briefly to the killer – and finally heard him kill himself.

As tragic and sickening as all of this is, some asshole murdering his girlfriend or wife and then killing himself is all too common an occurrence in these loosely united states. You barely need to pay attention to know that.

The reason it all seems so extraordinary to me is that beneath the front page article about this murder-suicide is an article about those friendly, responsible chaps at the National Rifle Association vowing, or at least pretending to vow, to do something about the availability of assault rifles, in the wake of Connecticut. That, and a third front page article about the governor of my fair state also making noise about doing something to stem unstable people getting easy access to guns. This, in a state that experienced the Aurora shootings last summer and the Columbine High School murders in 1999.

There's been much talk and much media attention about all this since the slaughter in Connecticut. It remains to be seen how much of it is sincere, and how much is public relations. Clearly it is the duty of elected officials to listen to the will of the people, and to enact laws that increase public safety.

Meanwhile, our national bloodbath continues.

Pressure them!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Violence

Can anything good possibly come out of the unspeakable carnage at an elementary school in Connecticut?

Yes – if the majority of Americans finally stand up to the gun-toting minority, and insist that enough is enough. The slaughter of innocent children should be ample motivation.

I am heartsick and outraged at what happened. It's a simple enough equation, really. America is a violent culture and it's armed to the teeth. So twenty children, none older than ten, are brutally gunned down because someone with an unstable mind had easy access to firearms.

It happened yesterday, as I write this – and just days after the mass murder in Oregon that, but for some trick of fate, could easily have exceeded the magnitude of Newtown. And it happened only months after the slaughter in Aurora, and the mass murder of Sikhs in Wisconsin by a bigoted gun nut.

It's been quite a year.

There's no way to predict and no way to stop the sort of violence that killed all these people. But we sure as hell can reduce the odds of it happening again by enacting stricter gun laws.

Tell the NRA to fuck off. Make pariahs of the Ted Nugents of this land.

I've written this elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

On average, guns kill or wound 100,000 people every year in the United States, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Over one million people have been killed by guns in the U.S. since 1968.

Lock and load that one.

Think John Lennon. Think Gabby Giffords, and the eight people who died senselessly in Arizona after being shot by an opponent of gun control.

The National Rifle Association has had our collective common sense in a hammerlock for too long now.

Friday, December 7, 2012


For most of my life, I’ve been intimidated by tools. Couldn't really drive a nail straight, didn't do well with measuring – that sort of thing.

This is changing – due in part, I think, to a new-found interest in bike mechanics. But I am not merely losing my intimidation of tools; I am getting interested in them, and in repairs.

Take the job at right. This is a clever little fix I learned from a guy in a hardware store. After years of loosening, the door to our laundry room finally came off its hinges. Stripped screw holes. What to do?

The hardware guy said to take ordinary tooth-picks and tap them into the stripped holes, along with lots of wood glue. Cram in as many as possible – round tooth-picks, not flat ones. Snip off the protruding bits. Let dry for twenty-four hours.

"It'll be like virgin wood," he said.

It wasn't quite that effective. But it worked very well indeed.

My growing interest in tools is quite the sea change. There is still a lot to learn, but I'm at the point where I'm welcoming household repairs. Small ones, mind you, like the toothpick affair. But I'm beginning to enjoy these little fixes, and appreciate a job well done.

The down side? I need more tools. Bike tools, in particular, like a cassette locking and a chain whip. Maybe Santa will read this.