Greetings from the Great Northwest

Greetings, all, from the great and friendly Pacific Northwest! I’m currently propping up a counter at the Top Pot Doughnuts on the corner of Galer and 4th atop Queen Anne Hill in the great city of Seattle and thought that, since I don’t have a camera with me, I’d paint you all a picture of my experiences in Seattle thus far.

Why am I in Seattle, you ask? Good question and there’s a good but convoluted answer.

I’m here in Seattle at the invitation of my brother, Bigwig. He’s out here for some kind of training class and he had a weekend to kill. He’s a huge fan of beer, especially if it’s beer he’s never had before. In theory, Seattle offers a whole new world of beers and bars and breweries for him to experience and explore. But there’s one problem. My brother hates to drink alone.

It’s more than that, though. I actually believe him to be incapable of drinking alone. It’s like a physical law of some kind. When forced into an environment in which he is to be drinking alone, my brother can, will and must do everything in his power to befriend those around him, just so he won’t have to drink alone. More often than not, the environment is a bar and, more often than not, the people around him are inveterate drunks. This can lead to interesting and entertaining encounters but, more often than not, it leads to conflict. More on this in a minute.

In this particular instance, my brother decided that the best way to keep from drinking alone was to invite all his buddies to join him in Seattle for the weekend he had free. Together, we’d all explore Seattle and try lots of new beers and have a grand old time. As luck would have it, I was the only one who could make it. Everyone else begged off due to the expense or the time or whatever.

So that’s why I’m in Seattle. I am designated drinking buddy.

If you’ve been following the logic thus far, you’d likely conclude that this would prevent my brother from having to make friends with those around him in the bar. You would, however, have come to that conclusion erroneously. Tragically, I just got in last night and he’s been here by himself for two days. He’s explored every establishment within a two-mile radius around the hotel. And he’s already made friends in at least one location, the one location we hit upon my arrival last evening.

I don’t recall the name of the place but it’s maybe half-a-mile from our hotel. Apparently my brother visited this same location the night prior to my arrival and made friends with the bartender. The bartender gave him complimentary Japanese Whiskey and a permanent bond was established.

My brother also apparently befriended some guy named Tom who spends 318 days of the year on a fishing boat somewhere in the Pacific. Tom, apparently, on the days he isn’t out fishing, spends his time in this particular bar pickling himself with Bud Light. Well, it just so happens that Tom wasn’t fishing last night and my brother, being the social critter that he is, invited Tom to join us whilst we sampled beers and sang a little karaoke.

My first impression of Tom was that he was awfully quiet and possibly shy. My second impression of Tom was that Tom couldn’t speak because he was stone drunk. Guess which impression was the more accurate?

Tom did eventually speak to me. After three or four minutes of sitting with us at table, Tom looked at me and said “Do you arm-wrestle?”

Now, I don’t know about you but, in my experience, people don’t generally open polite conversation with that question. I don’t think anyone has ever posed that question to me, certainly not since I left high school. Maybe this is what they do on fishing boats. I assume when you’re out on a boat for weeks at a time, you get a little bored and do silly man things. Like get monstrously drunk and arm-wrestle one another.

Regaining my composure, I replied that I did not, in fact, arm-wrestle on any kind of regular basis.

“I could beat anybody in here at arm-wrestling. Do you thumb-wrestle?”

WTF? Seriously?

“Um, not professionally, no.”

“I could beat you at thumb-wrestling.”

This is when I let myself get sucked in by the whole affair. He began both to try upon my patience and practice upon my competitive nature. I decided that, not only was this guy a drunk but he was also a jack-ass. So I decide that, fine, I’ll arm-wrestle. And thumb-wrestle too.

So we throw elbows on the table and some thoughtful, experienced soul wanders over and removes our beers from the table top. I’m thinking to myself, “This happens here often. I’m going to lose.”

Sure enough, I did. We start to throw down and he does something with his wrist, twisting it inward somewhat. This totally destroys my leverage and the match is done before it’s begun. Fine. Whatever. I do my best to earn my revenge in thumb-wrestling but to no avail. I have always sucked at thumb-wrestling. I don’t have the thumb length for it or something. I dunno. It’s not important.

Tom goes on to arm-wrestle my brother, carrying the match even faster. Salving some of the Stafford pride, Brother actually wins the thumb-wrestling follow up and the two retire to the out-of-doors to share a victory cigarette.

Eventually, the two come back and things have obviously turned sour. Brother, in addition to finding it impossible to drink alone, also has a difficult time shutting up about things about which he does not know. After some while, this almost always leads to his new-found friend threatening him with some kind of beating.

In this case, he has taken what little knowledge he has about commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest and expounded upon it at great length, extolling the virtues of the crab-fishers on “The Deadliest Catch”. You’d think that would be safe enough ground but, no. Apparently drunk fishermen who spend 318 days of every year in a cramped boat greatly resent the crab-fishermen of “Deadliest Catch” as self-serving glory hounds that hog all the media attention.

Oh, and Brother also suggested that some of the fishing activities in which Tom and his mates engaged were probably illegal.

I start rolling up my sleeves, convinced I’m going to have to save my brother from having his teeth fed to him. He’s no fighter, that’s for sure. I was the one that grew up doing all the fighting. It’s what happens when you have two older brothers.

I should know better. It never ends in fisticuffs. It always ends peacefully. He always manages to talk himself out of every richly deserved ass-kicking. I don’t know how he does it but he does. He talks himself into being friends with even the most lost souls at the bar. He talks himself into their good and then their bad graces. And then he talks himself through it and back into at least some kind of peaceful resolution, swallowing every shred of pride he might have had in the process.

How does he do it? I’m sure I don’t know. My own nature is such that I would never engage the damn drunk in the first place. And I would never go out of my way to earn their good will. And I would certainly never swallow my pride just to keep the peace. I’m sure it’s a great failing of mine. God has been talking to me about my pride lately. I’m doing my best to listen and learn but…well, I’m not there yet. I guess I’ll just keep trying to see everyone through His eyes rather than my own.

Anyway, I’m shutting down and moving on. There’s a coffee shop across the street that was particularly recommended to me, Cafe Fiore. I need a refill on my latte and it sounds like the place for me. There’s also Umi Sushi to hit up for lunch. I can’t wait to try it out.

Unlike my brother, I’m perfectly capable of doing these things alone. Maybe when I learn to conquer my own pride, I won’t have to any more. Certainly wishing some of you were here to share the trip.

My Father, My Self

Do you ever have those days when you wake up just knowing it’s not going to be the best day in the world. That was how I woke up this morning. I was pissed off at the world as soon as I opened my eyes. Mainly I was aggravated that I had to open my eyes.

Maybe I was annoyed that my landlady was going to swing by to spray for bugs and my home was a complete and utter disaster. In addition to getting myself ready for work, I had to rush around stuffing things into hampers, closests, trash cans and dish washers. My landlady knows that I’m not the greatest house keeper in the world, and she doesn’t care, but I feel that the apartment must be at least presentable when she comes every month. She gives me a little less than 12 hours notice, typically, so I don’t have a great deal of time to prepare.

If I’m a poor housekeeper, and I am, it’s largely because I am the son of my father. My father, as I have noted previously, is the world’s worst house keeper. He is the perfect combination of unmotivated and blind. I’m sure it’s one of my mother’s great frustrations in life.

My father is also absent minded and given to doing things like searching the house for his reading glasses whilst they are perched atop his head. It was a great game for us. He’d ask if we’d seen his glasses and then we’d send him all over the house with places we had seen them last. We’d have him tearing the house apart for half-an-hour before he realized he was wearing them the entire time.

I’m sometimes like my father in this respect. I’m not nearly as bad as he is at misplacing things. My oldest brother and sister are much more like him in that respect. Each of them has lost their keys, wallet, drivers license more times than I care to count. I am still prone to goofiness though. I can’t help it. It’s genetic.

Like this morning.

I wake up annoyed and, therefore, somewhat distracted. I get myself together, get the apartment somewhat presentable and get out the door for work. I get to work and everyone wants to talk to me. This only makes me more annoyed. All I want to do is put on my headphones, drink my coffee and get my work done.

Along about 11:30, after my coffee has had a chance to do its work, I head into the mens room. I’m sitting there, enjoying my quality time, when I note the tag in the front of my underwear. “That’s strange”, I think. “The tag is usually in the back. Must be because I’m wearing the fancy Calvin Klein underpants.”

Notice anything wrong with this picture?
Notice anything wrong with this picture?

Then I noted the crotch flap in the “rear” of my boxers. “Son of a…” Yes, in my rush to get myself and my home in order, I’d put my underpants on backwards. And here I was just assuming they were the kind that didn’t have the easy access crotch flap.

The rest of the day got little better. It’s hard to have a good day when your underpants are on backwards. Everything is just a little off all day. Especially when you have a tiny metal snap digging into your posterior every time you sit down.

All-in-all, I’ll be happy to have this day behind me. I did finally make it home to turn my underpants but the damage to the day had been done. There was no salvaging it.

Hopefully, tomorrow will have a better beginning. If not, I have only myself, and my father, to blame.

I Made Butter

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about the importance of setting goals in life. Setting goals and trying to reach them is how we grow in life and how we keep from stagnating. We talked about how important it is to continue to learn things just so we can keep moving forward.

One of my goals for this year is to learn how to make things. Mostly the things I want to learn to make are food or kitchen related.  I don’t know why, exactly. I’ve never been the picture of the domestic in the kitchen. I can cook if pressed and will do so if I have someone for whom I can cook. If it’s just me feeding myself, my philosophy has largely been to put it in a bowl, pour milk over it and consume. It’s quick, it’s easy and I’m perfectly happy with it. My roots in the kitchen run deep, though.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have always been at home in the kitchen.  My family has never been rich but recipes and cooking skills have been handed down with pride from one generation to the next. To hear the stories told, the matriarch of the previous generation was always more accomplished when it came to cooking. I regret that I can’t have Grandmamma (that’s “grand maw maw”) Harris’ biscuits. Apparently they were heavenly. My grandmother, Mamma (“maw maw”), made great biscuits but always claimed her mother’s were better. She herself made great meringue pies that my mother claims she can’t duplicate. Mom makes things like peanut brittle and pear honey and has written a cookbook with all the “family” recipes. I think she’s gotten more active in the kitchen since her retirement.

My father also isn’t too bad in the kitchen. He tells stories of his Grandmother Holloway and her icebox rolls and talks of how he would compete with his cousin to see who could eat more of them in one sitting. His own cooking is always a bit of an experiment, however. You never really know what you are going to end up with when he fires up a burner.  We like to tell the tale of when my father took canned tuna and married it to canned fruit cocktail and presented it as a meal. I personally don’t remember it but the story is told on a fairly regular basis whenever the family gathers. Rumor has it that it was as gross as it sounds.

I do remember muffins made with pistachio pudding mix and a particularly patriotic red, white and blue cake.  There was fresh made snow cream and grape syrup made from melted Smuckers.  He made us milkshakes that were basically colored milk with a little sugar in it. Most of Pop’s magic was accomplished with a generous dash of food coloring, now that I think of it.  But he was always cooking up something new.

Given that history, I feel like I’ve been letting down the side when it comes to the kitchen. I feel that it’s incumbent upon me to learn what I can in the kitchen in order to preserve the heritage and so that I can leave the same to my own children one day, God willing that I ever have any of my own. So I set a goal to learn how to make things

Tonight, I made butter. I have always had an appreciation for homemade foods, whether it be beer or bread or whatever. They seem to satisfy the palette as well as the soul. There’s little better than real butter on a fresh piece of bread and I know my brother has made butter in the the past. I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. Certainly the instructions for making butter make it seem relatively straightforward. “Put whipping cream in a jar. Shake like mad.”

Shake like mad? This I can do.

I made a run to Trader Joe’s today in preparation for the assault on Mt. Butter. Two half-pints of whipping cream, a strainer and  a Mason jar. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, there were no Mason jars to be had at either of the two locations I tried. I settled on a plastic bottle that doubles as a measuring cup and bore a “shaker” label.

This becomes a crucial piece of information a little later in the story. A plastic shaker is not the equivalent of a Mason jar.

Anyway, I get home and launch into a full scale cleaning of the kitchen. It seems improper to make anything in a disorganized kitchen. Maybe this was my OCD coming out or maybe it was just a delay tactic. I don’t know. I had to wait for the whipping cream to reach room temperature so I couldn’t get an immediate start anyway.

I cleaned my refrigerator, washing all the shelves and organizing my condiments by size and type.  I reorganized my pots and pans.  I unloaded the dishwasher. I took out the garbage. Twice.  I threw out no less then 7 two year-old bottles of salad dressing.

This last bit is odd as I do not eat salad, ever. Why I had 7 bottles of the stuff, I’ll never know. I think it’s because I’m a bachelor and bachelors are required, by law, to have a refrigerator full of condiments and beer.  I have three bottles of mayonnaise, six things of mustard (various types and flavors), two jars of pickles, four things of strawberry jam, four bottles of lime juice, three bottles of lemon juice, two unopened containers of maraschino cherries and two equally pristine containers of salsa. Somehow these things accumulate. I suspect them of multiplying through secret condiment carnality whenever the refrigerator door is closed.

I also have one metric ton of butter. Literally. The last thing I need is butter. The picture below is all the butter that was already in my fridge.

The butter that was already in my refrigerator.
The butter that was already in my refrigerator.

Why do I want to make butter, for crying out loud? I might as well make my own mustard.

***

Having appeased the obsessive compulsive voices in my head, I was ready to proceed. I poured the now lukewarm whipping cream into my shaker, pressed down the lid and started to shake. The instructions I’ve read called for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes of vigorous agitation and, being me, I assumed 45 was more appropriate than 15. I settled in for three-quarters of an hour of vicious and aggressive palsy.

45 minutes is a long time to shake anything. I quickly decided I was going to have to find something I could do with my unoccupied hand…k. Let me stop right there. I know some of you and I know where your minds are right now. Stop it. “Master butterer” jokes are just too easy at this point.

*Ahem*. As I was saying, I quickly decided I was going to have to find an alternate task I could accomplish whilst continuing to churn my butter. Updating my Facebook status happened to be the first thing that came to me,  as I felt it necessary for the entire world to know that, yes, I was following up on my promise to make butter.

This is when I took my eye off the ball. We’ve already established that a plastic shaker does not a Mason jar make. Whereas a Mason jar has a nicely threaded lid that can be screwed on tightly, a plastic shaker has a lid that snaps shut. Given this, it is possible for the lid to be removed by the simple application of repeated vertical force.

I found this out the hard way.

Five minutes later, carpets once again free of whipping cream and string of swear words fading into echos, I resumed my activity with one finger firmly atop the container. For the next half-an-hour, I churned.

Eventually, I began to feel the thumping of something more than whipping cream in the jar.  I opened the container and poured the whole mess into a strainer. I probably got two or three teaspoons of buttermilk but, by and large, the contents of the shaker were solid. I wanted to be sure, however, so I scooped it all back into the jar and shook it for another five minutes. Can’t be to sure about these things, right?

Straining the buttery goodness.
Straining the buttery goodness.

I also drank the buttermilk, by the way. It was a lot sweeter than the buttermilk from the store. The one time I remember being given buttermilk, it was really disgusting. This wasn’t bad at all. I kinda’ wish there’d been more.

Anyway, I strained it all out again, put it all back and started mixing in cold water to wash out the remaining cream. Leaving in the cream causes the butter to turn rancid faster, so I’ve read. Being a tad bit on the cautious side, I repeated this step for something like 15 minutes. There shall be no rancifying cream in my butter if I have anything to do about it.

Lastly, I strained out all the water, created a container from some aluminum foil, packed the butter in and dumped it in the fridge to solidify. I have to say, it turned out really well. I made myself some toast and eggs and the butter tasted really fresh. It actually tasted like butter too. This was something of a relief and a surprise to me. I was pretty sure I’d failed.

Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.
Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.

Except for the minor catastrophe involving the flying lid, it was a fairly satisfying endeavor. I’m sure I’ll repeat the experiment some time in the future. Hopefully this is just the beginning of my activity in the kitchen. One of these days, I’d like to make my own bread to go with the butter. If I ever make that happen, I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

Until then, I raise my glass to those that have gone before me. To my mother and father, to my grandmother and my great-grandmothers, I honor you for the legacy you have passed down to me and I will strive to keep it alive for the next generation of Staffords, Holloways, Harris’ and Wrights.  So help me God.