Let Mark Twain Love You

This morning, one of the first things that happened when I got out of bed was this: I discovered that Alan Rickman died. From cancer. At age 69.

It reminded me of a day earlier this week, when one of the first things that happened when I got out of bed was this: I discovered that David Bowie died. From cancer. At age 69.

The universe is stuck in a rut. That’s typical of this time of year. The holidays are over, and we all have to go back to work. There’s ice all over the goddamn ground, the sun rarely shines, and everyone’s hot, sexy bodies are covered in layers of bulky cloth.

Don’t let yourself get bummed out. Get a Happy Light and a good book. The light bouncing off the pages and directly into your eye holes will make your brain feel awesome. For optimum awesome, I recommend Mark Twain’s descriptions of California and Hawaii. Yes, it’s old-timey escapism, but consider this: So far, 2016 has killed some of our favorite people. Perhaps it’s time to cut our losses and abandon this present reality.

Roughing ItRoughing It by Mark Twain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twain’s semi-autobiographical account of his time on the Western frontier of the United States around the time of the gold rush. He tells of his work in mines, in processing mills, and on newspapers, as well as buying into a few get-rich-quick schemes. These schemes never work out as he hopes (of course; few plans of this type ever do), but they make for brilliant fodder: Humorous accounts of youthful hubris and naiveté. Character sketches that are a goddamn scream.
The book ends with a trip to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands). Though this section seems to have been tacked on as a sort of bonus track, it’s an exceptional piece of work in and of itself. Prepare yourself for some good old fashioned racism, but take mild comfort in the fact that Twain’s perspective seems progressive for a white guy in mid-to-late-1800s; he takes the piss out of the Christian missionaries who demand that the native Hawaiians abandon the hedonistic ways that Twain says perfectly suit life in such a Paradise.

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New Amsterdam

One of the great things about abandoning your blog for over a year is the feeling of renewal when you get that email telling you your domain name is about to expire and you decide, what the hell, this is my piece of the Internet pie.

I’m an American. And a Viking. I’ll take this already occupied land and call it something new; we’ll chop down some forests, reroute a few rivers, and voilà! It’s The New World.

awholenewworld

Remember the ’90s?! REMEMBER?!?!

In this New World, it won’t matter that we can’t commit to a theme. It won’t matter that we cherry pick the rules of grammar and punctuation. It won’t matter that we can’t stop listing examples in groups of three.

Because, in this New World, we make the rules. That’s the New Deal. And we’ll mix metaphors all we want because FREEDOM.

Online Exile and the World Wide Wilderness

My body is currently covered in a giant rash. It’s pretty embarrassing, but apparently I have no problem posting about it on the internet, where strangers can read about it forever and ever.
The thing is, I can’t really leave the house – anything but jammies exacerbates the itching, plus I look like a leper – and am getting stir crazy. Like, bored enough to dig deep into the darkest depths of the internet.

come play with us...

come play with us…

I’m not talking about adventures into the Deep Web, which are a gamble. You run the risk of seeing things you can’t unsee. These are sites that are not indexed on your standard search engine. They’re not meant to be found by the general population for reasons that are… nefarious. For example, according to The Daily Dot, the Deep Web drug market is more robust than it was prior to the big Silk Road bust of 2013.

Snuff films, weaponry that defies the Geneva Conventions, human trafficking, hitman services, the most reprehensible pornography imaginable – these are all fodder for the Deep Web. I’ve never surfed any of the types of sites listed above (thankfully, many of the worst Deep Web pages require downloading a special browser to view them), but I’m probably now on one or more government watch lists just for blogging about them. If you’re curious, do yourself a solid and just read this article from The Next Web. Your IT guy/gal will thank you.

The “depths of the internet” of which I speak are more like “deep web” – note the lowercase and quote marks. These are sites that do appear on Google, but they serve such a niche audience that they are buried, virtually invisible to the casual surfer.

Stuff like this! It’s a forum populated entirely by people who believe that Digimon are actual, living beings that exist in an alternate dimension and “…there could be a top secret government agency trying to stop monsters (digimon) from bioemerging.” Users of this site refer to themselves as Digimon Existence Theorists.

Ah, theorist sites. There are a million of them, and they’re all great. Everyone’s favorite, however, has got to be Time Cube 4ce. Here’s a direct quote: There is no human entity, just human Cubics – as in 4 different people in a 4 corner stage metamorphic rotation – never more than 1 corner at same time.” If that well of text intimidates you, The Men in the High Castle has snack-size examples of conspiracy theories that’ll help you procrastinate for days.

My favorite “deep web” sites, however, are the ones that are essentially interactive avant-garde pieces. Like Neave.tv: Television without Context. Or StaggeringBeauty (click with caution, epileptics). I spent a good fifteen minutes exploring Alcyone oo, which is impressive considering years of internet abuse has left me with the attention span of an eggplant.

If you clicked the above links and are hungry for more, check out the subreddit /r/InternetIsBeautiful.

For now, I will leave you with this, another oldie that may have been missed by those of you who have real lives:

He did indeed.

Manic Zines and Murder Ballads

There’s something about zines that I find irresistible. Maybe it’s because they’re so democratic – accessible and relatively sustainable.

Cary Grant Died Here is a newly-launched comedy/music zine out of Davenport, Iowa that relates to one of my favorite stories about the city. Like all good hometown legends, it’s full of speculation and misremembered facts, such as the common assertion that Cary Grant died at the downtown Blackhawk Hotel, whereas he actually died at a hospital a few miles away.

And again, in accordance with tradition, the local media response was as pitiable as it was hilarious.

Image

Your grandmother wrote this headline… and everything else on the page.

The zine is not a medium that invokes reverence. That said, Cary Grant Died Here actually has very little to do with the man himself. That’s all I’ll say, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. You can pick up your own copy of Issue #1 for free at Rozz Tox, Ragged Records, and The Artery, as well as the trunk of Jeff Tady’s car.

Meanwhile! – To tide you over until you can get your hands on your very own copy, here’s my contribution to Issue #1;  it’s an article about a fascinating/disturbing musical phenomenon known as the murder ballad, which sort of makes me want to launch straight into Emily Dickinson mode re: my social life. I’ll have to learn to bake.


He did indeed.

I don’t know why the Fort Armstrong blockhouse is above his head. He did not die at the Fort Armstrong blockhouse, either… or did he?

If you were born after 1995 and have a pulse, it’s safe to say you’ve seen Raising Arizona and remember that beautiful, chilling melody that accompanies H.I.’s dream sequences. Late in the film, we hear part of the actual song, as sung by Holly Hunter to the baby: “… the scaffold waits for me, for I did murder that dear little girl…”

It seems like a weird song to sing to an infant, especially when you hear the rest of the lyrics. In this particular song, titled “Down In the Willow Garden,” a young man takes the girl he loves on a picnic. He then poisons her, stabs her, and throws her body in a river. When performed by the Everly Brothers, the song gains an extra layer of creepy as the horrific events are related to the listener in ethereal harmony.

This is a murder ballad, a song about a brutal (usually sexually-motivated) murder, and a genre has been popular throughout modern history, spanning generations and crossing continents, from 17th Century Scottish bards to the shrieking banshees of modern country-western music.

The best murder ballads, however, come from the Appalachia region of the United States in the first half of the 20th Century, when writings about that area were commonly sensationalistic, portraying its people as impoverished, desperate moonshine drunks prone to impulsive violence and spectacular revenge. So you know a murderous narrative set in that time and place is going to be way more thrilling and dramatic than anything on TLC.

One of my favorites is “Knoxville Girl,” which tells the story of a man on an evening walk with the “girl [he] loved so well,” whom he decides, apparently on the spur of the moment, to beat to death with a large stick. After the first blow, his girlfriend falls to her knees and begs for her life, but he kills her anyway, beating her until her blood runs all over the road. Then, he grabs her by her beautiful, golden curls, drags her body around for a while, and finally chucks her in a river (a common method of disposal in this genre – I guess there are a lot of rivers in Appalachia).

The narrator implies that he kills her simply because he loves her so much, which doesn’t make sense until you remember that this is the bible belt. They aren’t married, so they can’t get down, and masturbation is, of course, a sin. Basically, the subtext is that this fellow was driven mad by lust, and, in a fit of sexual frustration, killed the shit out of the object of his desire.

That’s what makes Appalachian murder ballads the best – while jealousy and revenge are typical motivations, the songs in which the only motivation is love (read: sex) are the most provocative. Imagine how exciting it must be to go on a date in this environment, knowing that if you refuse to give your boyfriend a blowjob, he might get blue balls and strangle you.

For more songs about sexy, sexy murder, look up the works of Lead Belly, the Kingston Trio, Gillian Welch, Kristin Hersh, and check out “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen.

What Is Mental Illness?

My brain doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to. It hasn’t for as long as I can remember.

For example, it doesn’t always process sensory information properly, like sight and balance. My field of vision is sometimes interrupted by angular flashes of light, or I’ll go to scratch my nose and end up smacking myself in the face because my proprioception switched off for a fraction of a second – that is, my brain momentarily lost track of where my hand was in relation to the rest of my body. Or, as I walk down the street, my sense of balance disappears mid-stride just long enough for me to fall into a stranger’s path.

People are not very understanding about any of this. They find it disturbing that my brain doesn’t function 100% perfectly – as if I must have committed an unspeakable sin in a past life and this is my punishment. Sometimes they behave as if I am doing it just to irritate them.

This must be so difficult for you.

This must be so difficult for you.

But the occasional failure of my brain, while frustrating, is not a character flaw. Some of it is possibly related to my having Guillain–Barré at age five. GB is a disease that affects the nervous system with symptoms similar to those of multiple sclerosis (in fact, I had to have a spinal tap to rule out MS, which means they stuck a giant needle into my tiny spine with no anesthetic) and for months after I left the hospital, my reflexes were non-existent.

I consider it likely that a neurological disease in childhood had an impact on my neurological function later in life, and I fail to see how this is much different from someone who lost the tip of their finger in a childhood accident. When I was in my tot-sized wheelchair, people didn’t look at me with disgust; but that all changed when I forced myself out of it. Instead of being in a wheelchair for up to a year, as the doctor’s predicted, I spent a couple of weeks in it before I decided I’d rather be a little unsteady on my feet and crawl when I had to – because, apparently, 5-year-old me was stubborn as hell.

People were sickened by this – seeing a 5-year-old climb a flight of stairs on her hands and knees.

Awww, I feel so bad.

Awww, I feel so guilty.

People are similarly sickened by any mildly strange behavior I exhibit as an adult. The difference is that, when I was a child, and my mother explained that I’d lost my strength and balance temporarily due to physiological circumstances, those same disgusted people suddenly sympathized. Or, rather, empathized, because they correctly recognized that they themselves were not physically perfect, either.

Mental issues are, at their core, physiological. My brain doesn’t always make appropriate use of neurochemicals, just like a Type 1 diabetic’s pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Basically, I’m not physically perfect. This doesn’t mean I deserve to be treated like I’m sub-human.
To anyone who can’t grasp this: you have a lot more problems with your own brain than I do with mine.

Making Bacon – The Easiest Cure

Warning: this cure makes bacon that tastes better than any you have ever had, and it will ruin all store bought varieties for you forever.

Curing bacon is not hard.
Artisans on the Food Network have the general public thinking that it’s a grand undertaking. While this may be true for the entrants in the Bacon World Championships – who say, “Bacon is no longer just a food…it’s a way of life” – you can cure mouthwatering bacon all by yourself at home, even if your home is a bare bones studio apartment where the toilet is three feet from the stove.

This recipe is so easy that it appeals to even the laziest of post-adolescent males. It requires common kitchen equipment (meaning: you can still buy that extravagant bacon paraphernalia you saw on the Internet, but you totally don’t need it), and produces a quality slab of bacon so tantalizing that you may soon find yourself at the center of an underground bacon supply ring among your friends and neighbors. (Note: learn from my experience and give the first few samples away; then, once they’ve got the taste for it, start charging.)

I think what intimidates people is the cure time. This recipe uses what’s called a “speed cure,” and it take 7-10 days for the pork to transform into bacon. Through all this time, however, you might do about an hour’s worth of actual work.

What you need:

5 lb. skinless pork belly
2-4 tsp. curing salt (this draws the moisture out of your meat; less curing salt will give you a hammier, almost salt pork taste, while more curing salt will make your bacon more jerky-like)
¼ cup coarse kosher salt (for flavor as well as further drying your meat)
¼ cup brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey (to counterbalance all that salt)
4 Tablespoons ground black pepper

Spices:

5+ cloves garlic, crushed (I usually do 10-14, but I love garlic)
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5-10 springs fresh rosemary and/or thyme
1/4-1/2 cups dried herbs like oregano, chives
4 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper

Pick and choose your spices. I typically just use whatever I have on hand.
Below is the illustrated tutorial. For just the recipe text, scroll all the way down.


You can get most of the ingredients at any old store. Depending on where you live, however, you may have to call local butcher shops to find your pork belly and your curing salt. In Iowa, I go to Johnnie’s Meat Market and get a 5 lb. belly for less than $20. Iowa’s easy, though – we have more pigs than people. Up in Minneapolis, however, many butcher shops give you a blank stare when you ask for skinless pork belly. I go to Everett’s Foods and Meats (which is an awesome store in the Powderhorn neighborhood) and pay more than $30 for a little over 5 lbs.

A smallish pork belly (I think this one was 4.8 lbs.). The curing salt is in the white bag with red lettering.

A smallish pork belly (I think this one was 4.8 lbs.). The curing salt is in the white bag with red lettering.

Curing salt is sodium nitrite and includes dyes to make it easier to distinguish from regular salt. As you can see, this particular brand isn’t the super bright pink most curing salts are. You can just barely tell the difference between it and the regular salt.

Sodium nitrite on the left; sodium chloride on the right.

Sodium nitrite on the left; sodium chloride on the right.

Slice the belly into quarters. It’s easiest to cut if it’s partially frozen. It also helps to have a giant knife.

I only recognized this as a meat cleaver because of Psycho.

I only recognized this as a meat cleaver because of Psycho.

Assemble your essentials as well as the spices you want to use. For my sugar in this cure, I used honey, but I’m usually more of a brown sugar/maple syrup type of person. I’d also like to try some molasses.

Garlic (1 head's worth of crushed cloves in the bowl), paprika, onion powder, herbs de province, crushed red pepper, honey, curing salt and regular salt (in orange cups), and crushed black pepper.

The usual suspects: garlic (1 head’s worth of crushed cloves in the bowl), paprika, onion powder, herbs de provence, crushed red pepper, honey, curing salt and regular salt (in orange cups), and crushed black pepper.

Now you just combine your ingredients in a container. I’ve found the easiest containers are plain old 1-gallon Ziplock bags. I get four of them, put a quarter of the pork belly along with a quarter of the cure in each. Insert the meat first, then add each ingredient, making sure to get all the spices, etc. evenly distributed.

BaggingBaconCureAddingIng

You really want to make sure the meat is coated. Get your hand in there and rub the ingredients around if need be.

You really want to make sure the meat is coated. Get your hand in there and rub the ingredients around if need be.

Don’t forget to take care of your curing salt. Seal it up and store it in a cool, dry place away from your other salts to avoid any confusion. Sodium nitrite does not taste good on your eggs when you’re barely awake at 5:30 in the morning.

If you have particularly dumb roommates, added precautions might be necessary, such as additional labeling or burying it alongside the Ark of the Covenant.

Added precautions might be necessary, such as big eye-grabbing labels or burying it alongside the Ark of the Covenant.

Let your bacon chill in the fridge for 7-10 days. Flip it over once every day or two. About halfway through curing, open the bags and rub the cure into the meat, making sure it’s good and coated.

One week later…

Your cured meat should look like this:

CuredNot too bacon-y, but that’s because we haven’t cooked it, yet. I’ve listed instructions for roasting your bacon in the oven, as well as for smoking it using a smoker box and an outdoor grill.

If you’re going to cook your bacon in the oven (which is not only easy but almost as tasty as smoking it), preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius).
To prepare the meat for cooking, remove it from the bags and rinse off all the seasonings with cold water. Try to get it as clean as possible, but don’t worry about the few flecks of herbs here and there.

This may not be a good project if you have bad OCD.

This may not be a good project if you have severe OCD.

Once you’ve rinsed the meat, pat it dry with a paper towel. Then, it’s ready to go in the oven.

This is after it cooked for a while – notice the drippings that have accumulated, which is why the aluminum foil is there to catch it.

This is after it cooked for a while – notice the drippings that have accumulated, which is why the aluminum foil is there to catch it.

Oven temperatures vary, so the bacon will need to cook between 1.5 and 2.5 hours – until their internal temperature reaches 150°F (66°C). These stayed in for 2.5 hours. Be sure to rotate and flip the slabs every 45 minutes. They should come out looking like this:

OvenBacon Wood smoked bacon over a grill is tastier and takes just a little more prep than oven roasting. You’ll need a smoker box, for one thing.

It's just a metal box with holes in it.

It’s just a metal box with holes in it.

Soak your wood chips in water for at least an hour. Moisture is what makes them smoke, so don’t cut corners with this step.

Jack Daniels Wood Smoking Chips: Because when it comes to pork, Iowans do not mess around.

Jack Daniels Wood Smoking Chips: Because when it comes to pork, Iowans do not mess around.

How you position your chips on the grill will depend on what type of fuel you’re using. If you have coals, the smoker box should rest directly on top of them. If you have a gas grill, let the wood chips sit over the flame until they start to smoke; then, move them so they’re only partially over the flame. This will keep them from burning up before your bacon’s done cooking.
Let the grill get between 150-180°F (66-82°C). Once the heat is up and the chips are smoking, put your pork belly on the grill so it’s not directly over the heat source (i.e., the hot coals or the gas flame).

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the smoke coming out of the smoker box. Trust me, it was there.

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the smoke coming out of the smoker box. Trust me, it was there.

As with oven roasting, rotate and flip the slabs every 45 minutes, using this time to make sure the grill it maintaining its temperature. Again, the bacon’s interior temperature should be about 150°F (66°C). Depending on grill temp., this will take anywhere from 3-5 hours. In other words, if you’re in a hurry, turn your grill heat up. Your patience, however, will be rewarded:

I have no words. The beauty is... indescribable.

I have no words. The beauty is… indescribable.

Once it’s cooked and cooled, let it rest overnight. Do not slice a bit off and fry it up right away.
Ha! Just kidding. You know you’ve got to try some. I find it’s easiest to slice if I put it on its edge and slice down the length of the slab. Again, it helps if it is cold and/or partially frozen.
Speaking of which, you can freeze this stuff for up to a year. In your refrigerator, it’ll last about a month. That’s assuming it survives all the breakfasts, sandwiches, and late night/early morning bacon cravings.


Just the text recipe:

1. Get your 5 lb. slab of pork belly and cut it up into four equal pieces.

2. Place each quarter into a 1-gallon Ziploc baggie along with 1/4 of the curing elements (that is, the salts, sugar, spices, and herbs listed above).

3. Mix the curing elements well in the baggie making sure the meat is completely coated.

4. Let rest in a refrigerator for 7-10 days. During this time, flip the slabs once every day or two. Mid-way through the curing process, open up the bags and rub the cure into the meat well to ensure your bacon has a nice, even flavor.

5. After the meat has cured for a week or so, it is ready to roast or smoke. Just prior to roasting/smoking, remove the meat from the baggies and rinse it well under cold water, making sure to get as much of the herbs and spices off in the process. After rinsing, pat the meat dry with a paper towel.
To roast in the oven: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius). Place the meat on a rack (with some aluminum foil or a pan underneath to catch drippings) and let it cook for 2+ hours or until the slabs have an internal temperature of 150°F (66°C). Rotate and flip the meat every 45 minutes.
To smoke on a grill: Using a smoker box with your choice of wood chips or chunks, cook the bacon on an outdoor grill set at 150-180°F (66-82°C). Rotate and flip the meat every 45 minutes. Depending on your grill temperature, your bacon should take 3-5 hours to cook, reaching an internal temperature of 150°F (66°C).


If you like this recipe, please help me to spread the Gospel of Home Cured Bacon. It makes me sad when I think of how many people in the world are eating inferior breakfast meats.
Also, I am interested in feedback because I am toying with the idea of putting together a small cookbook of easy, low-budget meals that are robust yet healthy.

We’re All African

My aunt took a DNA test recently and was excited when the results came back saying she has 4.8% African DNA (with a 0.11% variance).
These results aren’t that surprising to me, however. Though my family is mostly Scandinavian and Western European, that 4.8% is practically the least amount of African DNA anyone can have. This is because humanity came out of Africa (like that book, Out of Africa, only not at all). Every single one of us has at least a small percentage of African DNA, no matter how blindingly white you may appear to be.

Derp

Pictured: blindingly white.

Interestingly, according to Harvard genealogist Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the average African American only boasts 65-80% Sub-Saharan African DNA.

A video made the virtual rounds a while ago where a grizzled old white supremacist learned on a talk show – much to the amusement of Trisha Goddard, the black female host – that he had 14% African DNA.

That fist bump-refusing jerk STILL has almost 10% more African DNA than my aunt does. Being that she’s my aunt, however, there’s some genetic variation between us. It makes me want to take the mail-in DNA test in the hopes that maybe I have a little more.
Why do I care? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because, again, everyone has African DNA, so having more would make me feel more like a child of the world, somehow? I guess? Yeah, I know I sound like a hippie.
Put it this way: it’s kind of like that time my grandmother told me we were related to the Norwegian royal family. I got all excited, then found out that this was probably just an old family story and I’m probably more closely related to Carrot Top than I am to King Harald V.

Orange

Better him than Craig Cobb. shudder

The disappointment feels similar. I don’t know. Maybe I just wish I were more exotic. Like Blake Griffin.

So. Foxy.

So. Foxy.

Instead, I’m most likely this:

So. Bland.

So. Bland.

Seriously? That’s what I get? Boo. Variety is the spice of life, people. Would you eat a queso dip that was 95+% cheese and only 4.8% peppers/onions/garlic, etc.? Not only would you not touch such a boring dip, you would ostracize the idiot who brought it to the party. I’d rather eat a 3-bean salad or even vegan chili – anything as long as there’s an intriguing heterogeneous distribution.
Sorry. I didn’t set out to compare people to food, but Oscar party appetizers have been on my mind a lot lately.