Red Beans and Rice

Ah, the national Monday food of Louisiana, red beans can be put on the back of an already hot stove (behind the wash water pots) and ignored all Monday. Toss in several handfulls of rice just before supper time, and all is ready. Plus you can add in any leftover bits of meat or ham bones and so on from Sunday dinner if you have them.

Last week, I found the tail end of a sack of red-beans-n-rice mix, chopped up some andouille sausage, and tossed in some other veggies toward the end of cooking. The flavor was good, but I think I found four red beans in three cups of rice. That’s not really red-beans-n-rice.

So if you are doing the old fashioned version, soak a pound of dried red beans overnight, changing the water once or twice. If you are doing a modern version, open and drain two cans of red beans (total of 30 ounces).

In addition to the beans you need:

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 medium green bell-pepper, chopped fine.

2 sticks of celery, chopped fine (or you can buy the frozen veggie blend in a bag if you live in a place where the Holy Trinity is in high demand)

6-8 cups of water (less if you use canned beans)

oil

garlic to taste

1 bay leaf

thyme, dried parsley, other pot herbs to taste (I’d avoid sage, but that’s just me)

pepper sauce like Tabasco

leftover meat, or a pound of good, spicy sausage chopped into chunks. Or skip the meat.

1 1/2 cup white rice (or brown, but keep in mind that brown takes longer to cook)

Filé powder if so inclined (not traditional but I had cousins who liked to add it)

Sautee onion, bell-pepper, celery, and garlic in a heavy pot. I use olive oil with a bit of garlic flavor, but whatever you have on hand is good. You want the onions translucent, but not brown. Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, along with dried parsley, a bay leaf, thyme, and anything else you think you’d like. I add two shakes of chipotle powder (dried smoked jalapeno pepper). Other people use “Cajun spice” blend and two shakes of Tabasco sauce (Louisiana kind, not Tabasco Mexico kind). Stir until well blended, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium low, cover, and ignore while you do other chores.

Check on the beans and stir every so often. After an hour or so, add the sausage, bring it back to a boil, then return to a simmer and keep ignoring as you do more chores. I prefer my beans a little soupy, but you might like drier. If so, as the rice cooks, leave the lid off the beans and stir so they lose some moisture.

After two and a half hours, or longer, check everything, adjust water and spices as needed, and start the rice (if using white rice) cook rice until done. Serve rice with red beans, a shake of filé if you want some, and more pepper sauce.

Makes a lot.

Looking Up after Looking Down?

On Wednesday’s post, Louraine P. observed that people will always wonder about “what’s out there,” and will get curious. I’m . . . of two minds on this. First, I agree that yes, someone will always push to learn more, even if they can’t see something. In some cases, especially if they can’t see something. But second, I am observing less and less curiosity among younger people, meaning thirty and below.

I don’t know if it is because younger people have gotten used to “I’ll ask the internet” if they have a question, so they don’t ask questions. Or perhaps because they have been overloaded with “this is the Truth” only to be told a while later “No, no, this is the Truth and that never was true,” or because they are carefully protected from “out there” and they are sincerely worried that the unknown is all danger and hazard. Or a bit of yes. I’ve met a few teenagers who were so sheltered that I almost boggled. One or two of those became curious about “what’s out there?” The others rejected intellectual discomfort.

Many of the younger people (35 and below, give or take) seem to walk with their heads down literally or metaphorically, intent on a device in hand or in pocket, eyes on the ground. Now, older people can be inattentive, and I’m always surprised by the people who never see the hawks, or who are startled when I come huffing and puffing beside them as I walk. The screen has captured their attention, be it selecting music or reading and answering texts or browsing social media or watching a video. Granted, many on-line things are designed to keep people locked onto the screen. That’s a problem for others to sort out. My concern is that “what’s out there” turns into “look online and then move on” more more and more people.

One thing that impressed me when the great conjunction happened in the winter of 2020 was how many people were out in their yards, looking up at the sky, and talking to other people about the stars. It helped that two of our regional weather forecasters are astronomers, and they’d been happily geeking out about the conjunction for a week, so everyone knew it was coming, where to look, and why it was a Big Deal*. But it wasn’t teenagers out looking. It was 30+ for the most part, and younger kids.

I’m pretty sure that LP is right, that some people are always going to be curious about “What’s out there?” even if they never get to see stars before they are older teens. But what’s the effect of so many younger people living head-down for so long? I suspect that older people fussed when printing presses made books inexpensive. And I know that older people fussed that really cheap “penny dreadful” mass-market thrillers hit the newsstands in the late 1800s, because they were morally unsound and were rotting the brains of young people, and encouraged violence, and so on. Some things never change. That the same “corrupting trash” also pulled kids into wanting to learn more about the American West, and encouraged travel and exploration, well, no one could see that in the 1890s.

Are smart-phones and screens the same, and just a temporary blip that we will chuckle about later? Or is there something different that will keep people from wondering about the world and what lies beyond us? I have no idea.

*I know. They happen fairly often but they are not as visible as that one was. I remember several professional astronomers and so on mildly scolding people for getting so excited. Which strikes me as exactly the opposite of what you do if you want to encourage a Sense-o-Wonder!

Plot Bunnies! Arrrrrgh!

So there I was, minding my own business, when a gang of plot bunnies showed up and chased me into an alley.

OK, maybe it just feels that way.

For non-writers, the term “plot bunny” refers to ideas that show up and won’t leave you alone, demanding to be written, or added into as story they have no, zilch, zero place in. Some people say “plot kittens,” with the mental image of the (in)famous video of “popcorn kittens.” I think of plot bunnies the same way as I do dust bunnies – I wish they’d go pester someone else.

I’m trying to get the draft of the next Familiar Generations stories done. I know where one is going, I’ve got chunks of the second one done, and the third and fourth (both shorter) are sketched out. Except . . .

That story I began that’s based on Dark Ages Scotland is pestering me, and I’m finishing the last research reading on it so I can really dig into the tale proper. No, I don’t know what role Myrdden-the-Wild is going to play, but I’m starting to get an idea as I read this book, as well as locking in geography. I’d thought the story would be set in the Pictish lands, but it wants to happen mostly in Dal Riata. OK, fine. Be that way. Dun Add here we come.

And then, as I was driving back from the Metroplex, listening to Avantasia (the next album releases in late October), plot stuff attacked. It started riffing off of a scene in Preternaturally Familiar, then spun into a completely different direction that only fits the “Blue Roses” short story. Short story? Novella? Not novel, I know that much. And it is the end of the story, not what I need. And it sort of wants to have a moody Gothic atmosphere, which completely breaks what I thought it would be. Maybe. Or maybe the main character is playing Byronic Hero just to jerk my chain. Twit.

Oh, yeah, and Paulus and Attila from the Elect are poking me to get that book done, too. Because it is dark, and spooky, and it’s a dark and spooky time of year, yes?

So, at the moment, I am going to finish the main story of Familiar Generations, get “Blue Roses” out of the way, do the Elect thing, go back to Familiar Generations, and then the Indus Valley fantasy book.

Unless more plot bunnies mug me.

“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

” . . . tossed upon cloudy seas.” Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” was one of the first long ballads I remember reading. Louis Untermeyer included it in the wonderful anthology for young readers that I still have. Even before then, I remember hearing my mother and father quoting the lines when winter winds blew and shreds of cloud dimmed the moon.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

And the highwayman came riding—

         Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43187/the-highwayman

Loreena McKennitt arranged parts of the poem, not the full ballad of doomed love and blind fury. I was reminded of both ballad and song on the eve of the Harvest Moon, when I glanced out a window and saw the above. And below.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—

         Riding—riding—

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Book by a New Author

So, a while back, a young-to-the-field writer asked if I would mind looking at a manuscript. The writer had been recommended by someone I trust, and vice versa, so I agreed. Below is the result of this writer’s work. I recommend the book – it has an interesting take on magic and how humans relate to a magical species, among other things.

https://www.amazon.com/Starlight-Jewel-Gifts-Auldtree-First/dp/B0BDXVT9B3/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2QL9LVHA0YPAJ&keywords=starlight+jewel+book&qid=1663292793&sprefix=starlight+jewel%2Caps%2C126&sr=8-1

Fair in the Air

The smell of fried, and of animals. Rows and rows of home-canned goods and cupcakes and Pumpkins of Unusual Size. Flashing lights on spinning rides, and excited voices trying to persuade you to buy a new gadget, or upgrade your storm windows, or to plant native plants, to wear more cotton, and to find Jesus (preferably at their place.)

Yes, it’s fair season!

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

Continue reading

“You Darkness that I Come From . . . “

Darkness, night, dark nights of the soul, following a star in the heavens, comets as portents . . . What does it mean if all of that goes away? Both in terms of astronomy and interesting people in star-gazing and studying the heavens, and in the sense of culture and religion? Those were some of the topics batted around at one of the FenCon panels.

The title phrase comes from one of Ranier Maria Rilke’s letters to a young poet, in which he (Rilke) muses about preferring darkness to firelight, because night includes everyone, while light shuts out those beyond the glow. I confess to having always been one “acquainted with the night,” as Robert Frost phrased it. I grew up star-gazing, taking walks after dark, going on Owl Prowls at the nature center, and so on. I prefer to keep lights dim, even as my aging eyes are less sensitive to light in general. I grew up understanding all the star references, and learning celestial navigation, and so on. But what about generations that can’t see stars, or anything dimmer than the quarter moon, because of city lights?

For astronomers, to lose the stars is both sad and a professional problem. Who will pick up the mantle after the current generation retires, if younger people don’t learn to look up, and are not fascinated by the wonder of “what’s out there? Why does it look like that?” Light pollution is a serious problem for migrating birds as well, in some cases. It can be a real pain for pilots, because finding the airport in a sea of lights is Not Easy if you don’t already know what to look for. Especially if you are not on an instrument approach with everything set to get the radio beacons or GPS fixes. There’s a runway down there. Somewhere. Or is that I-80?

Some people reply to the plaints with “There’s an ap for that!” You can point your phone or tablet at the sky, or ground, and get a star chart for whatever you are aimed at. Hubble and Webb telescope images are far more colorful and detailed than what you can see through a 6″ backyard telescope or binoculars. And some places still have a planetarium, to simulate going out at night without the bugs, traffic, light pollution, stiff neck, or risk of mugging. Who needs real stars?

We humans do. We need darkness to properly rest. We need to be reminded to things outside of our ken, of worlds greater than ourselves. There’s a sense of wonder and amazement kids and adults get from seeing the stars and identifying the patterns and shapes, the nebula and galaxies and planets, that even a great planetarium can’t quite match. There’s no ap that will reveal the heavens in their glory on a cold October night in Yellowstone, when so many stars filled the sky that I couldn’t identify constellations or planets. The Milky Way cast shadows, it was so bright. Or out at Black Mesa, Oklahoma, as the summer stars marched across the peak of the heavens and a coyote or ten called back and forth.

Darkness stands for evil in many religions. Darkness is when bad people lurk, and thus when heroes do their thing. Humans generally don’t see as well at night as by daylight, although there are a lot of variations on “not as well.” We don’t see color, and discerning patterns and “is that a shadow or a hole” becomes a bit more challenging. Not that it stopped people from working, traveling, or doing things at night in the past. Today, we flood the night with artificial light to make travel (in vehicles) safer, to discourage footpads and robbers and other mischief makers. We fear darkness more than in the past. Which came first – not going out into the darkness, thus leaving it for evil to use for shelter, or evil growing in the shadows and chasing “good people” indoors when the sun sets? Yes?

St. John of the Cross reveled in night, in his extended poem and meditation “Dark Night of the Soul.” Night brought the lover (G-d) and the beloved one (the mystic) together. Night is for lovers, for philosophers, for socializing. Night holds sweet secrets, conceals private pain from those who would mock or minimize what is very personal and real. Night is greater than we are. Darkness and stars, the moon and planets, remind us that we are tiny creatures in a big, mysterious, wonder-full universe. Who made the moon and hung the stars? What are the stories of the shapes in the night sky?

Without stars, we humans lose both astronomy and spiritual wonder. At least, that’s what the panel and those present eventually drifted toward, although no one said it in those words.

Tuesday Tidbit: The Naming of Hunters

Jude meets the Judge.

After lunch, he found a loafing bench in the shade and read his book as she went through every bolt of quilting fabric in the shop. He’d thought the little magnet on his sor-talushu groscha’s icebox proclaiming, “She who dies with the most fabric, wins,” to be an exaggeration. Now he knew better, far better. Martha could upholster at least two rainbows with the contents of her “stash,” as she called it. He found his page and returned to the history of the Missouri River. He enjoyed reading about places he’d never visit, and the Missouri River in the early eighteen-hundreds certainly counted. Bernard DeVoto wrote with a gift, and Jude made a mental note to seek out other books, if the man had any others.

Martha appeared just as the courthouse clock tolled a quarter to two. She marched up to him and he stood. “I’m done. For now.” With that ominous warning, Martha handed him a very fat plastic shopping bag. She had a second one. Jude unlocked the car and they hid them in the trunk. She came with him to the office.

“Mr. Ionescu?” A young lady now worked at the desk. Martha didn’t bat an eye at hearing is true name.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You really are in luck. Judge Grissom has an opening at two-fifteen, and says there’s no reason to delay the start of the name change process.”

A few minutes later, a door opened and a bailiff called, “Mr. Ionescu?” Jude stood and went to the door. Martha had her own book and was deep into something with a unicorn on the cover. “This way.” The bailiff led him to a courtroom. “Your Honor, Mr. Karol Andreas Ionescu, petitioning the state to change his name.”

Judge Grissom swore him in, then picked up his documents and studied them. “You have excellent handwriting, Mr. Ionescu,” he observed. “And you are rather older than you appear.”

“Thank you, your Honor, and I have good genes. My mother was still being carded at age fifty, as is my older sister.”

“Huh.” The judge had a round face that tapered into a weak chin. A large class ring flashed in the light as he turned a page and studied the next one. “You are petitioning for a name change based on familial separation?”

Jude took a deep breath. Please, Lady of Night, help me find the words. “Yes, your Honor. I am estranged from my family. I spoke in jest at the wrong moment and it was taken very, very badly. One of my cousins has sworn to kill me if I return to the family property, or even to River County, and he was and is quite serious.”

Judge Grissom leaned back in his elevated seat. “Do you fear for your safety, Mr. Ionescu?”

“Yes, sir. My cousin has a very short temper and a long memory. To my knowledge he has not killed anyone, but I do not want to test him, or any of my other relatives. I was stupid and should have stayed quiet. I didn’t.” He shrugged, hands outspread. “I have also been legally disinherited.” Since Karol was dead, with blood price paid, the news of his mother changing the inheritance line had not come as a surprise. All the more reason to sever the final connection.

“This is . . . most unusual. However, an initial search shows no outstanding reasons why the court should deny your petition—no felony convictions, no outstanding debts or child support payments.” The judge considered the pages once more. “Mr. McAllen said that your chosen name is familial?”

What—? Oh. Jude nodded. “Yes, sir. Lukás and Tainuit were both found in my mother’s family, before they immigrated to North America in the mid seventeen hundreds.” He hesitated, then added, “That is, we think the mid seventeen hundreds. Baptismal records from what is now Romania are hard to locate, and the family has not found much on this side of the Atlantic.”

Judge Grissom chuckled. “I can imagine. That part of Europe changed hands fairly often before nineteen forty-five.” He sobered. “Normally there is a requirement for a minimum of two weeks public notice and comment, with the old name published in local newspapers in order to allow any creditors to step forward or other challenges to be made. But you truly fear for your life?”

“Yes, your honor. The woman for whom I work waits outside the courtroom, and she can attest to the injuries my cousin inflicted on me.” Jude removed the glove and held up his left hand. “Some of this is from trying to stop his knife blade, even before the farm accident last year. I also had slash wounds on that shoulder and on my chest.”

“I see. Quite clearly in this case, Mr. Ionescu.” The judge made notes. “When there is fear of life, a different procedure is followed, and the court will begin that procedure. Unless any challenges arise between now and two weeks, the court grants the petition of name change. You will need to contact the DMV and Social Security office to update the records, and to get a current driver’s license.” Judge Grissom glared at him. “I trust you have not driven using this?” He held up the expired license.

“Only a tractor, and that on the farm, not on the road, your Honor.” Which had been true. He’d gotten the false document just after his proper one lapsed.

A nod. “Which is legal. I recommend that you remain legal until this is confirmed, Mr. Ionescu. The legal documents will be sent to your permanent address, again, unless there is a problem.” The judge tucked everything together, then handed the bailiff the birth certificate and license. “Thank you for choosing something reasonable. I get very tired of names that are supposed to be trendy and cute.”

The bailiff smiled as he brought the documents to Jude. “I don’t know, your Honor. I thought Thundermug had a nice ring to it.”

Jude boggled before he caught himself. “Truly, sir, er, your Honor?”

A weary expression suffused Judge Grissom’s countenance and he slumped a touch. “Truly. The—individual—had not done proper research.”

“Ah, no, your Honor.” Why would anyone care to be called by the term for the container used when you couldn’t get to the outhouse? A lack of research indeed.

“You are dismissed. Next petitioner, please.” The bailiff saw Jude out, and a nervous young woman with a still-healing burn on her cheek hurried in. She glanced over her shoulder, and Jude noted a very stern and well-armed deputy watching the doorway. He could guess the problem, and he fought down his urge to find the abuser and hurt him in turn. Instead he paid the fee. It was all of his saved wages from the bakery, but what else did he have to spend them on?

“Success?” Martha inquired after they left the office.

He nodded and held the door once more. “Yes, ma’am, if nothing turns up. No problems or unpaid debts.” Once they reached the car he said, “It would be better for you to drive, ma’am.”

She gave him a shrewd look. “I think I can. I’m not as stiff as this morning.” He held the car door for her, then closed it before getting in the front passenger seat.

“Monday afternoon we will go to the courthouse and file the claim of adverse possession,” she informed him. “Tomorrow you are going to work, then getting my Friday shopping. And it will go on my account, because you need to be saving your wages, young man.” She did not turn to glare at him, but she did not need to, either.

“I’m working on Saturday afternoon.”

“Good.” The rest of the trip passed in silence, save for the sound of the engine, and the road under the tires. They reached the farm a little before five. He got the mail, then pulled the car into the garage after helping her into the house. She’d stiffened up again. He also brought the fabric in. He ought not roll his eyes too loudly, since he dreamed of owning every well balanced knife and sword that he found. And an Italian shotgun or two, and . . .

“Step one complete,” he told Shoim when he went out to check the shields that night.

“Good. I do not care for the air around the Devon County courthouse. The sooner you are Jude under the law as well as in heart, the safer for you and for Martha.” He flipped his wings.

“That will be good.” He studied the clouds drifting over the stars. “We need to Hunt. Two more nights, and Martha should be well enough.” He tapped the tree’s trunk, just in case.

Shoim tapped his branch with his beak. “Agreed. Things are moving on the land that I distrust.”

Jude bowed his head. Lady of Night, please may it not be more than we can defeat, and please may the Great God help us, please.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Apple-Crisp Days

No, not for baking, although right now I’d really like a plop of apple-crisp with vanilla ice cream, or apple pie with vanilla ice cream. No, I’m thinking about the sort of day that starts chilly, turns crisp, and is full of smiles, laughter, kids doing kid stuff, and signs of the turning season. It might not be perfect, but it’s worth savoring.

Most days, I still can’t go out for a walk unless it is early morning, because the sun is still too intense, and the weather too warm. However, more and more strong cool fronts are coming through, dropping temperatures and warning that winter will ease in (or roar in) sooner than we’d like to think. The berries on the hawthorn are half-turned, green shifting to blazing orange. The leaves are also starting to shift color, soon to be crimson. The sweet gum trees are also turning, brown crisping the edges of the large green leaves. Acorns have begun to drop, to the delight of doves and other birds that wait until a car rolls over them, then feast at ease.

Soon, fireplace smoke will start to replace the perfume of smoking meat in the evenings, although not entirely. When the weather permits, grills and smokers remain in service all year around out here. Piñon firewood and other specialty woods are starting to pile up here and there with prices posted by the bundle, half-cord, and cord.

The Mississippi kites have gone south. Autumn is here.