Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Cheesy Story

Long ago and far away, those being relative things, I was a young college student working in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It was the summer I turned nineteen and I was off to work for a couple that I had never met, although they were old family friends, doing whatever needed to be done for them. You who have followed this blog for a while have heard about some (not all) of the fascinating people I got to meet working for the McKennas for those three summers. I was also introduced to some other parts of their cultural world that I had not been exposed to in my young life, but that made an indelible impression. One was cribbage and another was Herkimer County cheddar cheese. It is the latter I wish to tell you about.

Map of New York highlighting Herkimer County 


 It was aged and sharp and I had never tasted anything like it. A white cheddar in a world of Kraft slices was something a little new to me. Sure, my European father had little stashes of exotic cheeses which I thought, for the most part, smelled too bad to eat. The exception being Norwegian goat cheese, or brunost, in which I did get to partake. I love it to this day and can even get it in this tiny town.

 Ski Queen Gjetost Original Goat Cheese, (8.8 oz), Size: One size, Ivory  

Image result for brunost
After a long day being the “boy” around camp (Adirondack cabins are referred to as “camps”) we would often have a few hors d’oeuvres and a drink before dinner. We were civilized even in our buffalo plaid. Several times a week we would have this delicious treat along with bourbon, sherry, or beer (His, Hers, mine) while we discussed the events of the world, the nation, or our own little spot on the planet. Anyway, I grew to love this taste treat by itself or with a few crackers. In addition to my room, board and $50 a week cash (all stashed for tuition), this cheese made me feel like life couldn’t get much better. 

When it was time to return to school for my sophomore year I knew I would miss this sophisticated taste treat. I decided that I had the ability and money to order a whole cheese to have, to savor, and share with my friends until it was gone.  Five pounds of cheese would be my treasure and souvenir of my first whole summer away from home.

 It arrived about a week after I got to school. Big and round and covered in black wax, it was a sight to behold. The only knife I had was a hunting knife so that had to serve my needs. I had never cut into a five-pound cheese before and I probably even then didn’t realize just how much cheese five pounds is. Let me tell you from experience that it is more cheddar than you would be able to eat in a week unless you were into some kind of self-punishment. Not to say I don’t love the stuff because I still do. I do, but too much of anything, no matter how enjoyable, might not be so much fun after all. 

Over the next few weeks I would have a cheese and crackers snack any time I wanted to or to remember what a great summer I had. There was plenty for all, so I always tried to share. After a few weeks of sharing and eating I had only gone through a wedge that was maybe a pound. My consumption slowed as the school year got more intense and eventually I started to forget about it. It was an old dorm and there really wasn’t any good, safe place to store my still massive cheese.  I would remember now and then to eat some after I cut the mold off of it, but the times lengthened and the mold thickened. Mold can be a good thing when it comes to cheese, but in this case not so much. 

 Image of moldy cheese
I finally made the big decision sometime during the winter. It was time to dump the holy cheese. It broke my heart, in a way, but by then I was pretty sick of it. By the next summer back at camp I was ready to eat it once again, but sparingly from that moment on.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A trip to anywhere south of here

I suppose you don’t believe that I really am back. Well, I had a little getaway, some of which I will share with you all. I also have this “problem” of the first world sort. I have too much vacation time built up. I am only allowed to carry over 200 hours of PTO (paid time off) and I am well above that. Otherwise I will forfeit it; at least that is the threat. So I took this week off and traveled a bit in order to visit some old friends and watch autumn all over again. I got down to the southeastern part of Iowa, Iowa City, where I lived for a couple of years back in the mid 1970s. 

Before leaving I asked a friend who is from a small town in Iowa if she thought anything might have changed. She basically said, “It’s Iowa. Nothing ever changes.” While that may be true of the many small rural towns there, Iowa City is a dynamic university town with constant growth and change. The street names were recognizable to me, but they didn’t look at all like I remembered. The houses I had lived in were still there, but updated and the university hospital where I worked was unbelievably huge and complex. Several buildings had been added and the old ones added on to. I was lost wandering around the area, but as I said, the street names were the same so I was never that lost. 

The Iowa River was high and nearly over the dam into the spillway and as much of the upper Midwest there was a bit too much water everywhere and the harvest has been delayed. Along with lower prices and less access to international markets (thank you Donald of Orange) the agricultural sector, the people who grow the food we eat, are hurting. This is never a good thing. 

I opted to head over toward the Mississippi for part of the return trip for a look as I hadn’t been along there for quite a few years, either. It is still quite lovely and fascinating in so many ways. It is a major shipping route and bird migration route and just damned pretty, too.   

I am afraid that all the leaves at home have dropped from the trees so the forest looks like a jumble of vertical sticks, but at least I got to have another week of colors for myself. Now we have to brace for the next phase. When I lived in the Middle Atlantic States it seemed as though autumn lasted a few months. Here we are lucky to get a whole month in before the inevitable change to winter. This may be an exaggeration as my memories and observations are subject to my own prejudices, but it sure seems like it’s not much of an exaggeration.    Click the pics to embiggen.

 That's me on the right.

 Corn still in the field.

 Strawberry Point, Iowa. The strawberry is about fifteen feet tall.

 The Mississippi isn't at flood stage, but it is getting there. Fortunately, it has been a dry week.

 Some bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river.

 The river is a major flyway for migratory birds. There were hawks and eagles in the sky and various waterfowl on the river. This is a swan, but I saw numerous species of ducks and some pelicans, too.

  It was worth it just to see all the colors again before coming home.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

I'm back!

It has been a long time. Definitely longer than I had planned, but then you know how plans go. I figured the reason for this is that there was too much to do and I don’t do most of it as fast as I used to. I did manage to do some of the same seasonal things I do most summers like taking in the local Arts Festival, Rendezvous Days at Grand Portage, and the Hymers Fair just up the road in Ontario.
The biggest issue is my job. I am getting past the age where most people retire and I am working overtime nearly every day. It’s good for the paycheck, but bad for the energy level. I have been pooped out more than I want to be and, quite frankly, I am tired of being tired. But enough whining.
Here is a pictographic account of the last few months. Click on the pic to embiggen.

Do you remember Vinny? He was the feral cat I originally thought was a female when I first saw him (he has forgiven me for that) and after a year of getting him comfortable with humans I finally did what needed to be done. When he wasn’t paying attention I stuffed him in a cat carrier and hauled him to the vet. I wasn’t sure how he would react, but I tried to do the gentlest thing I could when we got there.  He was scared, but he stayed in my arms on the exam table. After a quick test for Feline Leukemia came back negative he was off to surgery for a neutering and a repair of an infected cat bite he got quite some time ago.  A few hours later he was on his way home to an isolated kennel in the bedroom.  This wouldn’t be unusual except that Vinny has never been indoors. He stayed curled up in a ball, groggy and fearful, until I coaxed him out (physically pulled him out) and cradled him for a bit. After doing that a bit more during the day he was okay with it. A little trepidatious, but adapting quickly. We are a couple of weeks out now and he is starting to come out into the rest of the house.  He sleeps in the bed and seems to be adapting to the life of an indoor cat. No more standoffs with wild critters, miserable weather, or doing his bit to decimate the local bird population. He is sweet and adds little cost and time to the rest of the herd now that his vet bills are nearly done.  Here he is being a lazy indoor cat.
I am hopeful that life has settled down a bit and I can be back to once a week posts or whenever, but I kind of missed doing this. If there are any of you still interested. I'll probably do it whether you are or not, but maybe I can play around a bit more. See you all soon!