This is only a test

A while back I was wandering about in the local antique mall. One of the vendors was closing up shop, and marking everything down 80 percent. It was a random assortment of undesirable junk for the most part, but I did see in one case a small cardboard box with two old lenses in it. The price written on the box was $10, so the sale price to me would be two dollars. How could I resist?

The style of shutter and the names Ernemann and ICA suggest that these lenses probably came off of a couple of “pocket” folding-type cameras made between WWI and the late 1920s, when those companies were swallowed up in the consolidation that produced Zeiss-Ikon. Not too surprisingly, the shutters don’t work very well. Slow, by a factor of about 100. They still operate, which means they can probably be cleaned and made well again, but it wouldn’t be worth the expense.

I put them aside for a while, and went on to other things, but the the other day I decided to try to clean up the glass on the Ernemann—probably the better of the two lenses, and would likely cover 4×5. It was fairly dirty, having been poorly stored and handled over the years. I managed to get most of the grunge off—you have to be careful not to scratch the coatings on these old lenses—to where I figured I could actually get an image out of it.

The lens did not quite fit the spare Graflex lens board I have, it’s too loose, but this was remedied with a strip of gaffer’s tape. I just forced the shutter to stay open with a cable release, and figured to make the test with the Speed’s focal plane shutter. Unfortunately, I don’t the correct cable to sync a flash to the focal plane shutter, so I had to make with available light from the window. Fuji FP3000 instant film seemed to be the thing to try here, because patience is not my strong point. I pulled a couple of shots to gauge the exposure, and then added a yellow filter. I had to just hold the filter up in front of the lens; I have no idea what the thread size of an Ernemann Doppel-Anastigmat is, and most of my filters are sized to fit my Nikons. The end result:

Squash, sweet potatoes, green tomatoes, and onions from the CSA on the counter. These instant prints, especially with the high-speed film, tend to be a little soft no matter what lens is used. I’d have to say, not bad for an 80-plus-year-old lens that cost me all of a dollar. So the next test will have to be with real film and better light.

Farm Stand

The other day I was out for my usual Saturday morning ride. It’s starting to turn to fall here, so the early hours are getting chilly. This is okay, though, since I prefer it to riding in the heat, and after an hour or so it’ll be warm enough anyway. A long loop through Sherborn out to Medfield, then back through West Roxbury and Newton. On the road through Newton I went by a place I haven’t seen much lately but was familiar with as a kid, the Angino farm, now known as the Newton Community Farm.

The story goes that when my dad was a kid, Jerry Angino was the truant officer for the Newton public schools, and got to know my dad in an official capacity pretty well. Later, when Jerry took over the family farm (it had been owned by Anginos since about 1917), and my dad was my dad, we’d go over to visit him at the farm. It’s not a large lot—only about two acres altogether—but to a kid it seemed a huge space.

One of my earliest clear memories—possibly the earliest I can be reasonably sure of when it happened—was the day when I was about four years old when we went to the farm to pick out a kitten from a litter that the Anginos’ cat had had. The kittens were in the chicken coop—you can just make it out in the photo, on the left, the squat rectangular shed—and we picked a little calico kitten.

When I was, actually, I’m not sure, maybe six or seven, I got lost in the corn field. I remember that the Anginos kept a row of sunflowers growing along the edge of the cornfield. I always liked looking at them because they were so huge. At least it seemed that way to me—the corn and the flowers were much taller than I was. So I went wandering into the rows, and came upon the scarecrow in the middle of the field, which was quite surprising and actually kind of scary.

We did, of course, take home some of the produce. The Anginos had a farm stand to sell what they grew. The farm was the last commercial farm in the city of Newton. It is my memory that we got mostly corn and tomatoes, proper yellow corn-flavored corn, not the candy corn that seems to be bulk of what’s available these days. Occasionally there would be a tomato worm in the bag, as a free bonus.

The farmhouse at that time did not have central heating (I don’t know if this has been updated since), and much of the heat for the house was provided by an enormous cast-iron wood-burning stove that took up much of the kitchen area. It is said that the house was originally built in 1700 or thereabouts. This plot of land has been farmed more or less continuously for 300 years. After Jerry died his kids didn’t want the farm, but fortunately, they were able to make a deal with the city to keep it as it was. So although the Anginos are gone, the land is still producing food. One day Jerry told my dad that he’d turned down an offer of a million dollars for the land. This was in the early 1970s, and already large open lots in the city were getting scarce. But Jerry wanted to keep farming. He could take the money, he said, but what would he do with himself?

I think this place is part of why I still think it is important to support local farmers as much as possible. If farms like this disappear, then all we will have left is industrial-grade produce from huge corporate farms, trucked in from far away. We still have a choice. Around here, at least, there are an array of farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSAs offering a pretty wide variety of food products from the region. So take advantage while you can.

Our Sundae Best

Sometimes you have to wonder if childhood memories are better off left as memories, or if you should go and revisit them.

Today the wife and I decided to reward ourselves for doing a pile of yardwork with hot fudge sundaes. The wife in particular wanted to have a sundae in a glass cup, like we used to get at old ice cream parlors. But these days most ice cream shops use paper cups. This was the price of the “premium” ice cream revolution: better ice cream, cheaper service. Paper cups do the job, but they are inelegant, especially for a sundae. In Ye Olde days, paper cups were for cheap ice cream, the crappy stuff sold by street vendors and ice cream trucks, whereas when you went to a nice ice cream parlor, a sundae was special. You got table service and a glass and a spoon. A paper cup is a downgrade.

Meanwhile, I’d had a hankering to revisit a place I hadn’t been to in some few decades, since driving by it last summer on Route 1. When I was little, my grandparents would take my sister and me to Putnam’s Pantry in Danvers. Putnam’s Pantry is a candy shop with an ice cream parlor attached. The novelty of Putnam’s Pantry is the Ice Cream Smorgasbord, a buffet line of sundae toppings for the gluttonous to create their own dish of pancreatic damage.

The process works something like a cafeteria: you order your sundae at the register, and the server writes your flavor on a paper dish and hands it through a window. A dish is returned with ice cream. You then proceed down the toppings line, loading up on whatever toppings you want, limited only by the capacity of the dish. And, to some extent, the paper plate, as you will almost certainly have some overflow, unless you are not doing it right.

Here’s what the buffet looks like, and I have to apologize for the crummy cell phone photo:

Now of course, I remember it as being much more extravagant, though it probably hasn’t really changed that much since the early 1970s. Only my perspective has changed. The toppings choices are pretty pedestrian by today’s standards—hot fudge, butterscotch, strawberries (that looked kinda nasty, so I passed), coconut, jimmies, that sort of thing. If you’re an esthete looking for your basil-fennel sorbet in an white-tea-infused olive oil sauce, this is not the place. This is strictly Food of the Proles. As a kid in the early 1970s, I was not distracted by such notions, only by the thought of having all the toppings I wanted.

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to make the return trip, because of the fear that it would turn out to be really terrible. And it turned out to be not so terrible. The ice cream itself was all right, basic ice-cream parlor ice cream, not as rich as you would get at, say, Christina’s or Tosci’s, but with all those toppings piled on, that is not really such a drawback. I skipped over some of the dodgier toppings (the canned fruit) and ended up with this:

You might notice that this is not in a glass, but a metal bowl. Only the small sundae is in a glass bowl, and there was no way I was going to drive a half an hour and only get a small sundae. Actually, there’s no way I’m going anywhere and only getting a small sundae, but that’s a different problem. A metal bowl is okay, though somehow it seems to be not trying quite as hard. But at least it wasn’t a paper cup.

Violet, You’re Turning Violet

In my last post, I mentioned that we are now getting produce from a CSA farm. It’s Redfire Farm in Granby, Mass. One of the distribution points for the CSA shares is close to the house, so it’s actually fairly convenient. Costwise it’s more expensive than the produce from my usual source, Russo’s in Watertown, but the shares are generally a fairly good quantity of food, and the quality is very good. And of course, it’s all organic, and the money supports workers in our regional economy. Personally, I like being able to buy my food direct from the producer as much as possible. In the summer, there’s also a good farmer’s market near here in Somerville, but we’re getting enough from Redfire that I haven’t had to go over there yet this season.

One of the benefits of having a share in the CSA is the privilege, I guess, of being able to go to the farm and pretend to be a field-hand for a morning and pick your own produce as part of your share; no additional cost except for actually getting to the farm. Which for us, is more than an hour’s drive. But we did go out there a few weeks ago at the peak of the strawberry harvest and came away with eight quarts of strawberries, and also some nice field peas and snow peas. Here’s a photo of the wife pretending to be a field hand:

It turns out, eight quarts of strawberries is a lot of strawberries. And strawberries, as you may know, do not keep for very long at all. The next morning, we had strawberries with waffles (I use a beastly, chrome-plated early 1950s-vintage Sunbeam W-2 waffle iron that still has its original cloth-wrapped cord. Works better than anything you can get new.). Then I made some strawberry ice cream. Then I made some strawberry jam, which actually used up most of the remaining berries. I’d actually gone out and bought some canning supplies just for this.

Another benefit is that they offer some of the produce for additional bulk purchase, and also sell some produce from other nearby farms. After we used up the strawberries, I was able to get a flat of 12 pints of blueberries.

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes. Then blueberry syrup, 5 jars. Blueberry jam, 7 jars. Blueberry buttermilk ice cream. That, I have to admit, did not come out so well. I started with the recipe I’d used for the strawberries, and substituted the buttermilk for the milk. But the blueberry pulp started to clump before going into the custard, necessitating the use of the blender. The result was less than satisfactory flavor and texture. I realized too late that I’d made an error; I should have made a syrup out the pulp and used that. And since I still have so much syrup, I suppose I could give it a try to find out. Or the syrup could go almost directly to a sorbet; that would be nice, too.

Blueberry muffins. The last pint has been going into my granola. When they’re gone, I’ll have had enough blueberries for a while.

Holding up one-seven-billionth of the sky

I mentioned in a previous post, some months ago, that I do some freelance work. Recently, my temp job became a permanent job, which is a good thing, but I’m still taking some freelance work. The freelance work is how I pay for my toys. The freelance work often involves reading some pretty wretched books. So often, when I think I want some bit of consumer goods fluff, I think to myself, is this worth reading some vampire romance novel for? Frequently, the answer is no. This can get tested to the limit when a) the assignments are dreadful conservative pundit books and b) the object of desire is a new bicycle.

Now, you’ve seen these guys on TV, or at least, seen Jon Stewart making fun of them on TV. So, you have some idea of what they go on about and how stupid they are. Now imagine 300 pages or so of this concentrated and uninterrupted stupid. Even when they on occasion hit upon some notion that makes half a bean of sense, they treat it so halfassedly that you want to disagree with them just for the sake of form. If you have a passing familiarity with facts, logic, and reason, or even just a sense of human decency, these books are extremely irritating.

I’ve given up trying to point out errors of fact or consistency. Why bother? Most of the time, it’s deliberate. They don’t care, and they’re not going to change anything because of some snotty proofreader. Well, okay, it’s not entirely true—when I pointed out to one author that there were no Mormons in Colonial New England, that was fixed. (Why these things are not caught by the editors or copyeditors is another rant entirely.)

I should pause here to point out that in my experience, liberal pundit books are not much better, but somebody else must be getting those to work on. I mainly get the conservative ones. But pundits are generally worthless as a class, regardless of ideology. A pundit is like a used car salesman; their job is to sell you a product that might look shiny and clean on the outside, but is badly damaged in the guts of it. They know this, so they need to get your money and hustle you off the lot as quickly as possible, and they’ll say anything to get the job done.

The point is, I could pass on these books. I don’t really have to take them. I won’t starve or be homeless. Heck, I could pay for the new bike without them, it just makes it a lot easier. I even told the production editor who gives me the work, I’m going to spend the proceeds on organic vegetables and a new bicycle, just for karmic balance. She was amused. It helps that I like the client I do the work for. They pay a decent rate and they’re easy to deal with. The projects are sometimes actually fun.

The organic vegetables come from a CSA-organized farm in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, it’s more expensive than buying the industrial produce at the supermarket, but not really more than at say, the local farmer’s market. The quality of the produce is good, and the shares are more than enough for the two of us. In fact, it’s a challenge to use it all. There will have to be zucchini bread this week. A couple of weeks ago, I made strawberry jam. Now I have a fridge full of blueberries.

The bicycle is a shiny red Jamis Aurora Elite. I wanted a bike that could take daily commuting through New England weather and carry loads of groceries, but still be fun to ride on the weekends. So far, I’m pretty happy with my choice, though there’s still a few things I want to change—like the cheesy flat fenders. This is a fairly well-equipped bike, and the stock rear rack is actually quite nice and sturdy, so what’s with the crap fenders? Replacements have already been ordered.

But more about that stuff later.

Meanwhile I know that the bookstores of our country are being flooded with this pure, unadulterated bullshit. I mean, I’ve been in the publishing business long enough to know that it mainly floats on bullshit of one kind or another—whole categories of bullshit—and that this has been true to some extent for as long as the industry has existed. And meanwhile the entire global economy is crumbling and the Gulf of Mexico is as oily as . . . the gulf of Mexico. I can’t even come up with a metaphor for that one. Largely due, in both cases, to a long history of corporate and regulatory incompetence malfeasance.

Okay, well, of course, we all know about this. We’re all mad about it. I just get irritated and cranky because my work sometimes makes me come face to face with the fact that there’s one group of people trying to sell the idea that the solution to our problems is to basically ignore them, pretend they aren’t real, because any actual substantial change threatens the whole system they leech off of. It’s to their advantage that shit like this keeps happening. And on the other side is a group of people that think that the way to deal is to shuffle the deck chairs of the regulatory Titanic, because any actual substantial change, etc.

You know, we try to do our bit. Live within our means, ride and walk to work, recycle, compost, and so on and so forth, and all of these assholes are doing their best to make sure that nothing you do matters one little bit. They want the message to be: you don’t matter. The answer comes from the free market or from government, but not from us. We need to get back to work and and the mall and buy more stuff. From China. Just shut the fuck up and buy more stuff from China. The last thing anybody wants is for large numbers of people to actually start considering the consequences of how they live.

So I get to be trapped in a room with these bozos* for hours on end, listening to them droning on and on. Kind of like this post, except much, much longer. Imagine this post, going on and on for hundreds of pages. That would suck. You would probably say, I’d rather be out riding my new bicycle. And you’d be right.

Okay, enough venting. I’ve vented. It’s the heat. The heat is making me cranky, too. And the ants. The ants are getting in the house. It doesn’t take much to make me cranky. What I want to know is, why aren’t all the stupid fuckwads who said there was no global warming because we had a lot of snow last winter now coming back and saying they see the light, or at least feel the heat?

Sorry, that was more venting. Once started, it’s hard to stop that train.

And when the venting is done, I just have to remember: there’s a new bike. And blueberries.

*This is unkind to bozos. I recently worked on a book about Bozo the Clown. Who, it turns out, was a decent likable guy who just wanted to make people laugh. Maybe if more of these cretins were actually a little more like Bozo, things wouldn’t be so bad.

pic of the day

It’s raining today, and will be raining tomorrow. So I’m just putting up a picture.


Normally, I don’t like to complain too much about work. At least, not too much in public. In private, sure, don’t we all? Especially with other people who do the same sort of work. Because, of course, they understand. They’ve been there. Actually, that’s a lie. I complain in public, or at least pseudo-public. If the Internet counts. Though that’s often not so much complaining about my work specifically but the industry I work in, which is publishing. Which, as we all know, is a dying, soon to be obsolete business. The book business has been slowly decaying for decades, but the process has been speeding up lately. Thanks to the Internet. And no one having any money to spend on food, let alone books.

For the past seven or eight years, I’ve worked mainly in the “editorial production” functions—copyediting, proofreading, working as production editor—the stuff that happens between the time an editor hands over the manuscript and page proofs get sent off to the printer. I freelance, taking proofreading jobs, even when I’ve got full-time work, but the full-time work never seems to pay quite enough.

But lately, or actually really the past two or three years, there have been, for me at least, a steady stream of political pundit-type books. Mostly by folks at the more conservative end of the political spectrum, because, as we know, the media is controlled by liberals. Now, I have a bit of science geek background, spent a little time in an engineering school—RPI, which, unlike MIT, encourages you to flunk out–so I am slightly predisposed to favor things like facts and logic and reality. These attributes are frequently absent from political pundit books, which probably comes as no surprise to any of you. And it does no good to point out even straightforward factual errors; these corrections will generally be ignored.

Anyway, I just finished another one, by a Fox News Blowhard, which I can’t really say too much about, since it was embargoed. That means the contents are supposed to be secret until it gets published. I didn’t explicitly promise to honor the embargo, but I like the client I got the job from, and want to work with them again, so I will. I’m not entirely sure the reason for the embargo—the book was largely a rehash of conservative talking points that have been covered elsewhere.

Clearly, these folks are really, really unhappy that Barack Obama is president. For conservatives, this is the unhappiest thing to happen to them since the Clinton years. So some of it is just the transfer of the infrastructure of Clinton Hate that had been built up over the previous 16 years to Obama. I mean, there was an extensive cottage industry devoted to Clinton Hate, and the Clinton Hate had to be nurtured and maintained throughout the Bush years because Hillary would just not go away. Then Obama came along and kept Hillary out of the White House, but you can’t just flush 16 years of Hate down the crapper. The Hate had to go somewhere. Add to that the fact that Obama is Not One of Us, and you have a recipe for much of the teabaggy goodness we’ve been seeing on the news lately.

My wife and I have a small collection of cookbooks of the sort that were promotional giveaways and supermarket checkout items in the decades past. Many of these are notable for the execrable photography and printing that frequently makes the prepared food appear to be have been something left behind at the scene of crime, or perhaps an auto accident. Some of these feature amusing ancillary illustrations that I suppose were intended to be comforting to the reader.

When you see a teabagger on the news saying they want to take the country back, and they seem a little vague about who they think took it from them, and what they did with it, it seems a good guess that the country they want back looks in their mind something like this:

How quaint and wholesome! An old-fashioned country fair. Everyone was happy and getting along fine, and then this guy shows up:

Jeez, thanks for the wine, but we’ll have to count the silverware after he leaves. And probably disinfect everything, too.

Not surprisingly, the publishers of these books pretty much assumed that the readers were middle-class WASP women. Anything beyond the realm of the middle-class WASP woman was “exotic.” The illustrations make this pretty explicit. “Exotic” is probably the most charitable way to view it. In fact, I can’t quite wrap my head around the inspiration to include these guys:

Anybody want to hazard a guess what was being suggested here? Is it too far-fetched to think that the average WASP housewife of 1956 is going to find this maybe a little threatening, with an implication of cannibalism, yet at the same time she is supposed to see a welcoming invitation to soups?

So now we live in a world where it is possible for an African American man to be elected president, after graduating from Harvard Law School and teaching at the University of Chicago, and still, in the back of some people’s mind, or even not so far back, they’re still afraid of these guys and their soup pot.