Quick Pickled Mackerel:

Tasty, Fairly Easy, and Keeps Well{!}:
(c) 2014, Davd

This recipe will be of most interest to readers who live near the sea. It’s tough enough to buy any fresh saltwater fish in say, Winnipeg or Kansas City—but mackerel? They don’t keep as well as many other fish—which is why the {!} after “keeps well” in the subtitle. (It’s true, too—vinegar is a good preservative, and this recipe seems to include enough vinegar to preserve the pickled fish for a week or two in the ‘fridge.) Salmon and cod and sole—often haddock, “Alaska pollock”, and some exotic farmed fish like ‘basa’—can often be bought “fresh frozen”; but if you find mackerel, or herring, inland, it’s almost certain to be smoked or pickled.

Living near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, i found mackerel to be one of the few species of fish that are available for ordinary people to catch in quantity for food. Salmon and sea bass are very restricted, i’m not sure if the public may angle for cod or haddock at all… but mackerel, you may catch all you can. Late summer and early fall are the easiest time to catch mackerel fairly near shore—so here, if you have a place nearby to fish for them, or somebody gave you a few, is something to do with mackerel that will make them a treat, and give some enthusiasm to your thanks for the next ones.

If you start with “round” (whole) mackerel, my first advice is: Fillet them soon! If somebody brings me a few mackerel and i don’t have time to fillet them that day—make it, within three hours—i put them in the freezer. Since they fillet rather well half-thawed, that’s a practical way to organize the work. I suggest peeling the thin, plastic-like skin from the fillets. (If you have a dog or cat, then when you have cooked the fillets,, pour the “juice” from the container that held them into the cooking pan, add the skin, and cook slowly a few minutes for your pet. My dog likes this treat and giving it to him helps him to let me eat the fillets in peace.)

If somebody gives you mackerel fillets, thank him [or her] enthusiastically. They’re well worth having if you know how to pickle them quickly [or smoke them]; and if you fillet them yourself, you’ll have the task of disposing of the rest of the fish. It has a fairly strong odor and will attract cats and larger carnivores1.

In Europe, i had eaten smoked mackerel that were delicious. Here—well, i won’t name the “brand” i found to be fit to eat but not nearly as appealing as the smoked mackerel i had met in Finnish (and if i recall correctly, Swedish and German) stores when on sabbatical. I didn’t find any processed mackerel that appealed to me as those in the Baltic countries had—and i had learnt to appreciate mackerel over there.

Reading several Internet recipes, and Lapointe’s Poissonerie, i found these seasoning patterns repeatedly:
— bay, onion, and pepper
— mustard and butter
— onion, vinegar, and mixed pickling spice

Dill and parsley were fairly often specified.

So, given what was in the house, including the fillets of two mackerel, i tried: Half a cup of white vinegar,
— 10 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, a teaspoon of dill seed,
—and a generous amount of chive [cut no longer than ¼”—about half a centimetre—long],
… simmered in a small stainless steel pan. (If you don’t grow chives, i suggest you start with a rounded tablespoon of finely chopped onion [bulb or greens], and then adjust how much onion you use, according to your liking.)

When the liquid had simmered for 3-5 minutes—and it must simmer very gently or the pan will boil dry or too near to dry—i poached 4 fillets [2 fish] in that liquid, which required me to cut the fillets to fit in the pan, and cook them in 2-3 “batches”. Each pan-full took less than five minutes to cook, turning the fillets once, with the vinegar just barely boiling.

The mackerel came out delicious, not rank at all—and rank taste can be a problem with mackerel. It was good plain and with mustard. And unlike the cast iron frying pan in which i had slow-fried fresh mackerel, the stainless steel pan in which i pickled fillets, washed clear of the odor, so i could use it to heat salsa and rice without giving them a fishy taste.

I usually eat mackerel with potatoes or rye bread. I also tried some pickled mackerel with rye porridge for breakfast, just to see—and that was pretty good, too.

Take some time, i suggest, with the first batch you make: Be sure the vinegar doesn’t boil hard2, let the dried herbs simmer slowly so they can have 4-5 minutes to flavour the vinegar, and cook the mackerel at “barely a boil”. If you pickle mackerel often, you’ll get used to the timing, and then the work will not need your full attention.

It’s worthwhile making up plenty of this, and freezing it in small amounts to take out now and then over the winter and spring for a treat, if you have the time and the mackerel. If so, you can double, triple, even more than triple the amounts of vinegar and herbs. (You can also use this recipe to cook thawed fillets during the winter. I wouldn’t keep mackerel frozen all the way through spring.)

Like white fish poached in salsa picante, this can become something that distinguishes you as a cook. It’s distinctive, most men like it [and fairly many children and women, too] and it “repeats well”: A guest (or a host to whom you take it as a contribution) will be glad to see and taste it again.

Notes:

1. I recently filleted two mackerel, and buried the carcases about a foot deep, covered with some crab shells, then dirt, then a layer of dog dung, then more dirt. Two days later i saw that a passing fox, or perhaps a raccoon or cat, had started to dig for the fish and stopped at the level of the dung.

2. If much of the volume boiled away, you’d have to add water, and guessing how much water is difficult. Vinegar contains much more water than acetic acid, and the boiling point of acetic acid is hotter than that of water, so the little bit that is lost by gentle simmering causes no trouble.

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Divorce Insurance

An Instructive Concept: Does it Exist? Should it?
draft(c) 2014, Davd

Before registering your car, in this province of Canada and in many provinces (of Canada, France, .. and “states” of e.g. Australia and the USA), you must get liability insurance and are urged to pay additional fees for collision, fire, theft, storm, and even insurance against rocks hitting your windshield and breaking it. If you drive rather little, the insurance may cost you more than the gasoline you buy to fuel the car—even at this year’s and last year’s prices—but few people complain. Legally required it may be, but most people accept that paying for car insurance is prudent.

If someone in my grandfather’s middle years, between the World Wars, had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy. Cars were relatively new as a technology, speeds were lower1, experience with road accidents and the damage they did, sketchy. (Experience with divorce was also much less in those days—and even as recently as my own childhood after World War II.)

Today, if you can’t afford car insurance, you can’t afford to drive… and that got me thinking about marriage and divorce. If you can’t afford to insure your marriage—does that perhaps mean you can’t afford to get married? Divorce risks are becoming known and understood now, as car “accident” risks were becoming known in the middle decades of the 20th Century.

I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that i know of more men who have suffered terribly from marital mishaps, than from highway mishaps. I’m not writing about “fender-benders” in parking lots or getting tar on the paint driving past a construction project; and i’m not writing about arguments over whether you ought to eat breakfast in your pajamas or who takes out the garbage. Those can be frustrating, they are definitely not fun, but they aren’t disastrous like a divorce case, or having a woman get violent on you and get away with it, or a false accusation being treated as if it were true, or a major property or custody dispute on separation.

A divorce case, a violent wife who says “nyaa! Nyaaah! Can’t hit a gir-rul!“, an undeserved criminal conviction or even charge one must defend (sometimes even an undeserved restraining order) or a major property dispute on separation, is more like a head-on collision or skidding off an icy road and down a 200-foot cliff. You might survive. You might not2. And if you do survive, you won’t have the same easy graceful attitude toward life or the same sense of vitality that you used to have.

Suppose before marrying, a man “priced out divorce insurance”? What would it cover? What would it cost? How many men could afford to marry if the cost included divorce insurance?

[Suggestions, readers of this draft?]

It’s fair comment, to point out that the worst aspects of divorce—separation from your children especially—cannot be covered by insurance3. The same applies to being killed or maimed in a road accident: Money won’t make things right; what it will do is “mitigate the harm.” The concept of divorce insurance directs our attention to the increased—perhaps still increasing—insecurity of marriage in this century compared to half a century ago.

It’s been argued that requiring drivers be insured has motivated people to drive more carefully—because traffic tickets and accidents increase the cost of the next year’s insurance. Some analogy to divorce insurance exists, in the sense that if actuaries ever did design divorce insurance, they would identify risk factors and assign higher rates to clients whose “risk factor profiles” were not promising… but there’s no analogy to the annual setting of driving insurance “premiums”. The risk factors will have to take forms that can be identified well before marriage.

To me, it’s a sad comment on the past several decades, that this ‘blog’ can be worth writing. Fifty years ago, in 1964, marriage was safe for most men, and divorce was usually fairer for the unlucky, so it would have been fair comment to call writing about divorce insurance, alarmist… unless one knew what was going to happen between then and now.

One might add, that fifty years ago, in 1964, air travel was safe enough and easy enough to use, that it would have been fair comment to call any forecast of today’s “security precautions” alarmist… and eighty years ago, to repeat, if someone had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy.

Methinks the two declines in safety, air travel and marriage, have different causes4. But it is worth asking—how, in the past few decades, has life got easier, safer, and better? Are jobs better? No. Are they getting better? Not likely! Is higher education more or less affordable? Is a degree more or less worth having economically? Does the interest rate you can get for retirement savings even “keep you up with inflation”? Is economic growth a political mantra that might have made sense fifty or a hundred years ago, but doesn’t any longer?

It might just be, that the declines in “easy life based on economic growth”, though they never needed to include a decline in the safety and fidelity of marriage, are going to bring back some respect for men as husbands, fathers, and brothers.  Because the phenomenon, the “end of the easy-going world of Europe, North America, and ANZ” includes more than misandry, perhaps a longer piece i’m drafting about “the end of that world” will appear in a coming week.

Meanwhile, if you have been wondering if you ought to get married under today’s somewhat misandric laws, the questions “What would divorce insurance cost me?” and “Can I afford it?” might give you a useful perspective on the subject.

Notes:

1. Around 1950, when as a boy riding in the back seat, i first paid attention to speed limits, 50 mph was a normal highway maximum, 25 mph was normal on city arterial streets—and my grandfather was already an old man.

2. Might not survive? Ask Sergeant Tom Ball! (Many other men have died as a consequence of misandry in law and bureaucracy; Sgt. Ball’s last words have become relatively well known.)

3. To me as a Christian, what’s really needed is a revival of fidelity. So far, the one way to exert effective pressure toward fidelity, that i’ve seen reported, is for a church to expel those who divorce for no or frivolous reasons.

4. The (earlier) increase in the danger of driving seems to reflect mainly higher speeds, more distance driven, and much more crowded roadways. As an analogy, bringing down or hijacking an airliner probably has a closer parallel to divorce, than does a road accident.

 

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Chili-sin-carne*

… Beans With Respect
(c) 2014, Davd

Among bean cooking, chili has a special prominence. Many people who generally avoid beans, like chili. While pea soup and even pintos with oregano and chili powder, aren’t distinctively men’s [nor women's] cooking, chili is very often seen as masculine. It’s not because of the beef, either, as i shall now undertake to prove—by telling you how to make really good chili with no meat in it. The essence of chili seems to be beans, tomatoes, and Mexican spicing… not beef.

The tomatoes in my garden are starting to ripen, which should imply that the gardens in most of BC south of Prince George, mainland Nova Scotia, and the populous part of Ontario are now ripening enough fruit that besides salads and sandwiches, there will be some for cooking—which i take as my cue to post “the chili blog.” If you live in an apartment, or read this after tomato season has ended—don’t worry. Canned crushed or diced tomatoes produce good chili.

The first few times you make chili, i suggest you allow plenty of attention for the job. It’s a skill that could be called hand-to-eye coordination, but in fact, it’s hand to eye to nose to taste coordination. So is all cooking, but when you make porridge or coffee, even salsa-picante or tuna and noodles, with the techniques i’ve posted earlier, the follow-the-recipe approach usually produces good results and you can refine your skills with time. Chili seems to be more demanding.

Though chili-sin-carne follows the same basic cooking pattern as beans generally, with overnight soaking; the tomatoes complicate things enough that i cannot tell you mechanically “what to do”. Times run long (as they do with pintos and to some extent with black beans); and chili, like pea soup and pintos, benefits from savory, onion, and celery or liveche; but the other seasonings are distinctive.

You can make chili with pintos, but red kidney beans are the best, at least in my humble opinion. I prefer the dark red ones to the light, having tried both.

Because chili involves tomatoes, the amount of beans to cook must be in ratio to the amount of tomato—not exact ratio, but within a fairly narrow range. The amounts i write here are for a single man who will eat much less than half of even this sized batch of chili “fresh cooked.” and put well over half into the fridge to eat later. For a group of three or more, i suggest doubling this recipe, especially when using canned tomatoes, once you have tried it a few times and made any adjustments to the seasonings that your taste calls for. That way one batch will use one ,8 litre = 28 ounce can of tomatoes—no half cans of tomatoes taking up fridge or freezer space.

The basic pattern, to repeat, is:
[1] Soak with savory, and at least overnight for beans;
[2] add a little soda for quicker cooking,
[3] season with herbs (and smoked fat for white but not red, black, or pinto beans),
[4] bring to boiling (stirring down foam is more a problem with black beans than reds or pintos, but still requires attention) and
[5] simmer until the texture is “done”, which with these beans will require one to three hours.

First thing to do is measure out the beans: I use a “pasta sauce jar” which held 650-700 ml [about 24 oz, or three US measuring cups] of sauce, and i would suggest starting with at least half a litre [two measuring cups if you're using ounce measures] of dry beans, because the work takes about as much time for more as for less, and chili keeps well—some say, improves with a day or two in the ‘fridge. I find that half a 28-ounce [796 ml] can of tomatoes provides the right proportion of tomato to one “pasta sauce jar” of dry beans, so i use one of those pasta sauce jars as my measure.

Having measured out the beans, measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat to a gentle bubbling, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the beans. (You can also put the beans in a bowl or empty plastic container, or leave them in the jar; heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the chili, and pour in the beans when it’s simmered.)

Next, let the dry beans soak up water for 8-12 hours. (They shouldn’t need longer, but especially in cool weather, they can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm. Simmering the savory and putting the beans to soak in the evening works well if you’ll have chili for lunch or even dinner/supper, the next day.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.

Since acid legumes take much longer to cook, add some baking soda to the beans when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) A level teaspoon or a little less should do. Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—perhaps less likely than with peas or lentils.

While heating the beans in their soaking stock, fry some onion in beef fat or vegetable oil (you can use only chive if you’ve an abundance of chive growing in your garden, but i believe from old habit, that some browned onion taste is good in chili.) If you use only onion, no chive, then brown one onion the size of a tennis ball, as a first estimate, and adjust depending on how much you and the men who eat with you, want more or less onion in future batches. Still, i’ve made mighty fine chili with chives as the only onion contribution. (And by the way, vegetable oil is healthier; but some people prefer the slight taste of beef that beef fat provides.)

Add chili powder [of course] abut twice as much as for pintos—my cooking spoons are nearer to two than three teaspoonfuls in size, and i add two rounded spoonfuls of chili powder to 2/3 litre of dry beans [soaked up overnight to well over a litre]. However, chili powder varies in “heat” and you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find how much of the kind you have fits with your personal tastes. (As usual, err on the “light” side to start—put in less chili powder rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.) I add one slightly rounded teaspoonful each of cumin and regular paprika [both as dry powder] when i add the chili powder.

If you have celery leaves and trimmings, or liveche [Levisticum officinale, “lovage” in English] add that, preferably before heating. (Dried celery seed would also provide about the same flavour. It’s optional; i grow liveche and believe it improves chili, chowders, and many soups and sauces.) Add some of the chives when cooking is at least half done, if you use them; and some should go in while the beans are heating if you don’t brown and add some onion. Fried onions should be added as soon as they are lightly browned.

As the beans come to a boil, they will tend to foam a little (like pintos, meaning much less than peas or black beans do.) Stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is something to watch and be ready for, when cooking any legumes from scratch.

How much salt to add is to some extent, “a matter of taste.” The dietary advice seems to be quite strongly, these days “add little, if any.” I add salt “by eye”, and when i do taste commercial foods, they tend to taste saltier than what i cook at home—so i figure what i add counts as “little.” And to repeat what’s become a frequent theme: You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.

After half an hour to an hour of simmering, when the beans are just starting to soften but aren’t soft enough to call fully cooked, add half a 28 ounce [790-800 ml] can of crushed tomatoes. Diced tomatoes will do if they have at least a half hour to cook. Fresh tomatoes will of course “do”, and in my opinion make better chili—but they should go in early enough to cook an hour, with the beans and seasonings. Over an hour won’t hurt.

To measure in fresh tomatoes, i keep a washed, empty can handy, and fill it at least half full. There’s air space between the tomatoes if you don’t chop them really fine, so i tend to fill the can about two-thirds full if using whole or quartered tomatoes. If tomatoes are abundant in your garden, err toward more—even cooked for an hour, they’re good for you—but 400 ml = .4 litres ≈ two 8-ounce measuring cups, is enough.

Once the tomatoes are added, keep the heat to “just boiling.”

As an estimate, chili beans [red kidney beans] will take one to three hours to cook to a pleasant softness, and here’s one of the subtleties of chili: You should develop “a sense of” when the beans are just over half cooked, and then add the canned tomatoes; and when you use fresh tomatoes, they should go in when the beans have an hour or so left to cook. Another subtlety is how much water to use.

As the beans begin to soften, and you’re ready to add the tomatoes, take out a bean or two and a little liquid, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep a jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) If it seems to you there should be more chili powder, celery-liveche, or chive, add more now; but if in doubt, don’t. Some seasonings seem to gain strength with time.

Chili probably counts as the most hearty of all the legume “dishes”. Like black and pinto beans, it can even be mixed with plain boiled rice or barley, and will give the grain enough flavour to make a decent tasting dish—but i’d regard that as something to do if you’re in a big rush.

Chili-sin-carne, like black and pinto beans and even more-so, can be good eaten cold, with bread, cornbread, tortillas… even popcorn or “corn chips”. If you have more corn on the cob than usual, you can cook plenty and let that be the grain with your chili. (Grain and legumes, remember, combine to make the protein in each, more valuable to your body than it would be eaten alone.)

When you can reliably make good chili, it’s a relatively inexpensive thing to contribute to a picnic or a potluck. If it’s meatless, that’s an extra benefit anywhere and anytime there are some vegetarians coming to the event (and if you expect to have vegetarians eating your chili, then brown those onions in canola or other vegetable oil, not beef fat.) With reliably good chili, coffee, pea soup and-or pintos with oregano and chili powder, salsa-picante, and fish poached in salsa, plus the basic skills to cook grain and pasta and cabbage, and make a few salads, you could start to hear people call you “a good cook.”

Come autumn, when the oven warming the kitchen is welcome rather than unpleasant, will be a better time to write about making bread. Homemade bread is not very easy, but neither is it very difficult. You can bake two or more loaves of fresh bread, a beef roast, and a couple of potatoes, all-at-once, and have a special meal with de-luxe leftovers to add to your repertoire.

This is one of the best times in history for a man to take up cooking: Many skills that once were known far and wide, are now relatively rare because of city lifestyles and “convenience foods.” They are as easy to learn as ever, and stainless steel especially, plus some special ceramics and plastics, have made kitchen equipment easier to use and clean. “Convenience foods” are starting to get expensive, and “fast food” is no longer cheap. Becoming a good cook is as possible as ever, and a little easier—while the respect it earns you, and the money it saves you, are greater than a decade, or a few decades, ago.

The same basic facts of “social change”, by the way, apply to gardening. Having the food you eat grown as well as cooked1 by your own hands, saves you money, increases your security, and earns you respect. When i was a boy, gardening and cooking were things i learned from my grandparents, and my Dad, more than from my mother (and i learned other practical food skills, including clam digging from Granps and fishing from Dad)—and y’know, i respected them more for that.

There’s a folklore, these days, about men who can make good bread having wisdom and discipline, which i might elaborate a little when i write about making bread. To a smaller extent, it applies to making things like chili, sausage, and smoked fish… and it might even be true. Methinks the time and practical study involved in making chili, and to some extent in all good cooking and gardening (and fishing, indeed most skilled manual trades) are well spent.

That’s why this post is longer than might be absolutely necessary. Good cooking, good skilled manual work, are part of making good, the human condition. Some skilled manual work, “heavier” than most cooking, is part, arguably the most important part, of our claim to respect for simply being decent men. Chili, being a hearty and stereotypically masculine food, belongs in your repertoire, and when you’ve mastered its difficulties, along with a half dozen or more different foods—call yourself a man who can cook, and others will agree.

Notes:

* sin is Spanish for without; and carne is Spanish for meat—so logically enough, sin-carne means “without meat.”

1. .. as the Carrot-Raisin Salad example shows, cooking isn’t always a matter of heat, though usually it is.

 

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You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone:

given what Nice really means
(c) 2014, Davd

You can’t be Nice to everyone because what one person considers Nice, somebody else might consider foolish, ill-mannered, rude, sarcastic, sinful, even wicked.

The pink-and-purple necktie will do as a trivial example. Big-City Cousin Anne, to continue with the same imaginary personages, may like gaudy clothing and accessories, and genuinely believe pink-and-purple neckties look Nice on you. (I invite you to imagine what pants, shirt, and perhaps jacket she thinks go Nicely with a pink-and-purple necktie*.)

Aunt Maude, on the other hand, while she might just possibly accept a rather bright Kelly green necktie as “nice”, thinks men should avoid gaudy apparel. You’re not going to please both her and Cousin Anne with the same “outfit” [set of clothing and accessories], because their “tastes” in apparel are so different. Being Nicely dressed for Aunt Maude and also Nicely dressed for Big-City Cousin Anne … is impossible.

Not all examples of the impossibility of being Nice to everyone, are trivial. Suppose for instance, that Aunt Maude is an Orthodox Christian who is fasting—as Orthodox practice requires—before Holy Communion, and Big-City Cousin Anne wants to be pampered with an elaborate Sunday morning breakfast. If they are both Mommy’s weekend house guests, Mommy is in a bind: Be nice to Anne, and she offends Aunt Maude, who of course doesn’t want to smell all manner of tempting food while dressing for Sunday Liturgy. Being Nice to Aunt Maude, means no cooking until she has left for the church; and that, to put it mildly, disappoints Big-City Cousin Anne.

(Saturday evening would likewise be quite different for devout Aunt Maude and gaudy hedonistic Cousin Anne: Maude’s agenda includes an Examination of Conscience and perhaps a visit to make confession to a Deacon or priest—the tone of which is somewhat too sombre for Big-City Anne.)

If Cousin Anne and Aunt Maude are ever actually Mommy’s house guests on the same weekend, that might be a good occasion to present this principle to all three of them: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone.

What tends to happen in everyday life, is expressed in the old saw, “birds of a feather, flock together.” Either Aunt Maude will find a more devout relative than Mommy to be house guest of, or Big-City Cousin Anne will find a less devout one, most of the time. We can imagine Big-City Cousin Anne saying to her hostess, “Old Aunt Maude doesn’t know how to have a nice time,” and Aunt Maude saying to her hostess, “I guess you can call Big-City Cousin Anne nice in her way, but a lot less frivolity would do her a lot more good.”

I’m more inclined to Aunt Maude’s view (and if i must wear a necktie, i prefer forest green to pink-and-purple.) I’m also inclined to predict that Aunt Maude will be less likely to demand that i be Nice, and more inclined to be thankful for things i do that please her. One of the merits of Christianity, is a bias toward modesty, in expectations as well as in dress and demeanour… and from that modesty comes appreciation of the good things life contains, even the little ones.

Aunt Maude and Big-City Cousin Anne are both fictional characters; the point i sought to make with them is not fictional at all: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone… and since you can’t, and neither can i nor the next man, nor even super-woman—it is worse than merely unfair, to demand others be Nice…

… unless, perhaps, you are royalty, and your whims have established privilege in support.

Notes:

* Wryly, my imagination drifted back to the 1950s, and a character on the “Howdy Doody” television show called Clarabelle the Clown. My little sister liked that ‘show’, and i saw far more of Clarabelle the Clown than i ever would have done voluntarily.

 

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Two Good Women:

… of many, and especially well known to me:
(c) 2014, Davd

However many disputes i have with Feminism, they don’t add up to misogyny. I remember two women well, toward whom my attitude was and remains far more positive than that; and i hear and acknowledge other men’s current reports of good women.

One of the two women i especially remember was pleasant to look at, but not an eye-stopper, a tallish, athletic woman loyal to her husband, her children, and her Faith: My ‘kid’ sister.

The other i remember as quite tall, almost six feet, chunky rather than pudgy, well short of The Misandry Bubble’s “fatocalypse”, but well heavier than a Barbie doll or a lingerie model; determined, affectionate and principled; a good cook and a better philosopher: My grandmother.

I don’t remember either of them for her beauty; i remember Kid Sis as a mother and a Christian, a good gardener, cook, and tennis player, whose fatal flaw was a willingness to strain herself too much trying to do the impossible—specifically, to make a genetically handicapped child “normal.” Her tragic flaw was to carry a mother’s love beyond her strength, in two ways: That child could not be brought up to average, and her life was shortened by the stress. I believe her early death was a greater tragedy for the family, than the child’s handicap.

I remember Grandmother as pastor of a successful “evangelical” church, as a fine speaker who had a sympathetic ear for honest people of all ages, rich and poor—but scant patience for liars and frauds. Perhaps she’s the source from which i picked up such attitudes (and if so, thanks, Grandma!) She is definitely one major source from which i learned the lesson that a capable woman can succeed without a bureaucracy to force others to accept her. In the 1940s and ’50s, when i went to her church and saw her up there in the top spot, there were no such bureaucracies. (Seems to me that Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Pat Carney, Sheila Fraser, Helvi Sipilä, Coco Chanel, and dozens more were even more successful than Grandma, in those times before Affirmative Action.)

Her flaws were not fatal: She could “say grace” over the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys at such length that the meat cooled to eating temperature—she could take the turkey directly from the oven to the table, pray for fifteen minutes, and then start to carve, and we children who were served last might even complain the food was starting to get cold. We didn’t complain of the nature and content of the prayers… they were merely a bit too much of a good thing.

She “worked herself to death”, someone said after her funeral, serving her church—but since she died between the ages of 75 and 80, that presumed that she ought to have lived to maybe 90. My best guess is that she ought to have done what she did—worked hard in labours of love, delighted in the successes of her church and of those she had preached into it, and if she died at a merely old age, not an extreme old age—well, she preached often enough that a Christian’s death was a move to improved conditions, and as a fellow Christian, i do believe hers was.

Notice, readers, that these women were women i was “born to be close to”, not selected from among hundreds but from among three1.

My larger point in writing this blog, “to repeat”, is to advocate for identifying, recognizing, and rewarding good women, be they a small or a large fraction of the population today. All women are not alike, nor are all women of equally good or bad character (nor of equal competence, beauty, charm, etc, etc... nor are all men.) My sister and grandmother may have passed on from this life, but they were not the last of the good women.

A friend i will not name, praises his wife nearly every time we meet, and especially for her “steadfastness”. Since i don’t know whether she wants to be identified, nor whether he does, i will keep back their names, and put forward only the point that good women exist, in some unknown number and percentage, even today, even with misandric laws and practices tempting them to exploit and to abuse.

It is in our interests, men, and it is in the interests of the societies in which we live; to make distinctions among women, to treat good women better than bad, to demand that women be “held to account” for their misdeeds as strictly as if they were men2; to reward them as well for their contributions as if they were men, but not better than if they were3.

That’s equality. If Feminism be for equality, that’s what Feminism will support.

 

Notes:

1. My mother, i was told years after leaving her home, by a psychiatrist and a Benedictine nun who knew more than most about my childhood, was abusive. My aunts all lived more than 1200 km from where i did, so i never got to know them very well. My other grandmother died before i reached school age… and i have sons but no daughter.

2. For instance, why did many women giggle and even cheer and placard in support of Lorena Bobbitt? Why was Valerie Solanas’ violent misandry widely praised, and was she given sympathy for her purported mental illness from many others? while a crazy man named Marc who attacked women was used as an excuse for—more misandry. Why did Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka get so different treatment from the Law? (btw, while my particular Faith opposes vengeance, Indira Gandhi got what a man who had held her office and did what she did [especially, ordered the military to attack the Golden Temple], would almost certainly have got also.)

3. It may be worth mentioning “random fluctuation”: Men aren’t all rewarded nor punished in exact proportion to their good and bad deeds. We can expect that some men will receive better, and some worse, then their deeds merit—and we usually do “put some differences down to luck.”

Well, folks, what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose: Some women will receive better, and some worse, then their deeds merit—and we should “put those differences down to luck” also. Neither the misfortune of some unlucky women, nor the good fortune of some lucky men, constitutes misogyny—just “random fluctuation”.

 

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Nice is a Four-Letter Word:

First in an Occasional Series About Men and Tendentious English
(c) 2014, Davd

Do not ask me to be nice. It is actually a selfish, mean-spirited demand. If someone asks you to be nice, be sceptical instead.

If some of the men reading this blog have had an intuitive shudder when ordered to be nice, maybe this reflection will help them put words to that shudder; and if some women didn’t realize just what a Four-Letter-word, Nice is; i hope this helps them figure out why. Let’s begin with the fact that nice is not a virtue.

I hope you will not need to ask me to be charitable, fair, faithful, friendly, prudent, temperate, or truthful1. Those are virtues in the classic sense—good qualities for men to have and to live. (Virtue begins with vir, which is Latin for—man. A virtue is a quality seemly to a man.) Virtues are lived the same way “all the time”—whoever it is you’re dealing with, they lead to the same basic conduct.

Nice, doesn’t: It’s subjective. Being nice means doing and saying whatever pleases the person you’re being nice to. It means organizing your conduct around—making your words and deeds the servant of—that person’s feelings. If Aunt Maude likes green neckties, and you’re being Nice to Aunt Maude, you’ll wear a green necktie when you socialize with her. If Mommy likes brown neckties, and you’re being Nice to Mommy, you’ll wear a brown necktie when you socialize with her. If Big-City Cousin Anne likes pink-and-purple neckties—well, for me anyway, that would be too much.

Being Nice can get complicated and difficult! If you go to a family dinner where both Aunt Maude and Mommy will be present, it might be possible to find a green-and-brown necktie that isn’t too ugly—but what clothes to wear with it? (In fact, i haven’t worn any neckties in more than two years—as you might have guessed from my overall attitude toward “Nice”—and especially if you’ve read about my pre-retirement work history.) This isn’t primarily a “jobs”, blog, but conventional jobs do seem to demand more Niceness than self-employment does: What if the boss likes pink-and-purple neckties?

The influence of Feminism seems to have included heavy pressure on men, to be Nice. In his book Emotional Intelligence [Bantam, 1997, p. 130], Daniel Goleman recalls an extreme example, “As i was entering a restaurant … a young man stalked out the door, his face set in an expression both stony and sullen. Close on his heels a young woman came running, her fists desperately pummeling on his back while she yelled, “Goddamn you! Come back here and be nice to me!” (No hint from Goleman, nor from what i read on men’s websites in 2011-12, that the woman would be punished—but if the sexes were reversed …? Goleman goes on to blather about women being more emotionally effective; but from what he reports actually observing, i’d say the man’s behaviour was closer to saintly and the woman’s was closer to mentally ill.)

It does seem that women demand Nice much more often than we men—we’re more likely to ask each other to be fair, a good sport, … qualities which are matters of group rather than personal assessment.

There is no decent cause nor reason why a man (or anyone of either sex) should let himself be bullied into “being nice”. Nor would one expect any sane man to try what that young woman was doing—especially not the police. Back in the third quarter of the 20th Century, many of us who grew up then might have considered it normal for a woman and perhaps a homosexual man to use the word “nice” in a demand—but not a heterosexual man—and even then, it would have been outrageous for a man, however effeminate, to use violence, however ineffective, to back up a demand to be Nice.

“Nice”, then, seems to function as a code-word for catering to the feelings of a woman—whether or not any eros be involved. It shifts the burden of a woman’s demand that she feel good, onto the man or child, perhaps sometimes another woman, who she is demanding “Be Nice.” As a somewhat awkward definition, “being Nice” means making the satisfaction level of who demands it, the most important influence on your conduct.”2

Methinks that’s too much to ask. Ask me for a favour, and i might do it for you; demand i be nice, and in a backhanded roundabout way, you’re trying to make it my social duty, to please you.

No fair!—You wouldn’t want anybody else to demand you make it your social duty, to please her—so in fairness, don’t ask what you wouldn’t want to grant.

Notes:

1. The order is alphabetic. The sources of the list are the Four Cardinal Virtues, the Three Christian Virtues, and the twelve Boy Scout vitrues—with emphasis on fidelity and
truthfulness. The lists overlap: For instance, fidelity overlaps with loyalty and trustworthiness on the Boy Scout list and is to some extent a derivative of Faith on the Christian list. Fortitude [A classic and Boy Scout virtue] isn’t listed because in these times men aren’t as welcome to be brave as our grandfathers were, and because bravery has been confounded with granting women undue privilege [as
when the Titanic went down].

2. “Being nasty” could conversely be defined as making lowering the satisfaction level of the demander, the most important influence on your conduct. This is worth some attention: If you do something because you enjoy it or it has practical value for you—say, getting your pant knees dirty working in the garden—and that lowers the satisfaction level of Aunt Maude when you meet her for lunch, dirtying your pant knees was not being nasty—it was being less than fussy about your pants, while gardening.

 

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Bureaucracy as an Ill Effect of Job Employment:

Double Burdens, Social Inefficiency, and …
2014, Davd

The obvious benefit a man gets from his “job”, is money. Many men would work if not paid, but few of us would work in the “job pattern”, if not paid. It turns out, what’s worse, that money brings some “adverse consequences” with it. This “blog” is about a consequence few men would voluntarily accept by itself—and i suspect, few men recognize as “brought on by being paid in money.”

Money invites bureaucratic impositions: If i give my neighbour Olav one or two wheelbarrow loads of red pine branches for Christmas decorations, and six months later he gives me one or two pickup truck box loads of horse manure from behind his stables, for my garden, each of us is getting rid of something he has in surplus. All those branches are worth to me is a very small amount of soil improvement under the pines, if i don’t give them to someone; so i give them to Olav to whom they’re worth much more. It’s an ordinary Christian or charitable thing to do—they are worth much more to him than to me, so i give them to him. Similarly, all that horse manure is worth to Olav, once he has fertilized his own garden, is a bit of a stench in his back yard. It is worth much more to me than to him, so he gives it to me—and-or to some other gardener[s] who also value it.

But if we sold those surplus products of Nature to one another—ah! then! we could be taxed. We could be compelled to keep elaborate records of our dealings. We would lose not only some of the money—the taxes plus perhaps fees paid to accountants and book-keepers to help comply with the bureaucracy—we would also lose some precious time. In fact, i don’t believe either of us would be willing to sell to the other, given the bureaucratic costs of doing so—we give, or “forget it!” I’d rather leave the branches under the trees they grew on, than do all that paperwork.

Government bureaucracies impose—force workers to carry—a double burden: We must pay taxes to support the bureaucrats, and then in addition, we must spend time and money doing the “paperwork” they command us to do. That’s right—a bureaucracy is something that forces the rest of us to pay them to force us to do “paperwork” to their specifications*. It seems hard to believe, that people would freely and democratically choose to have that—to have offices that boss us around at further, high cost to us—doesn’t it?

Yet that’s just what “income tax time” is all about. It’s what the police and much of the school systems are all about, for that matter; and there are others [mostly smaller]. How did we wind up in this predicament?

There’s an old folk saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” To a considerable degree, good intentions were involved when men consented to be administered by a complicated income tax bureaucracy, to send their children to schools run by another bureaucracy, to support a “health care” bureaucracy, a “social assistance” bureaucracy, et cetera ad nausaeum. Also involved were governments whose usual way of solving problems was passing more laws, government bureaucracies which, being staffed by people who like bureaucracies more than the average, recommended forming more bureaucracies when there might have been other, better ways to do the job, and the English-colonial history of Canada, which unlike the United States and France, never rejected the notion of a ruling class. Much has been said in Canada in support of human equality rather than a ruling class—but it has never quite become Public Policy—or why would our Head of State also be Queen of England?

Job-dependence as a mentality contributed to the immensity of bureaucracies today; and most present-day job employees are subject to an employer’s bureaucracy as well as those which we all suffer. During the “glory days of the job”, the third quarter of the 20th Century, jobs provided men who had come home from war, been let go as war industries closed down, and graduated from school during or at the end of war, with a quick way to make a good income and begin adult life as a marriageable employed man. That possibility was much more appealing to most of them, than being a schoolboy, a soldier, or a laid-off war worker. The bureaucracies those jobs “came with” were generally less pervasive than employers’ bureaucracies are today; and thus, something those men were quite willing to put up with for the sake of respectable work at respectable rates of pay.

Today, employers and even labour unions are more bureaucratic than around 1950, and jobs are less appealing… but the habit of submission to bureaucracies has had some 60-65 years of establishment that it didn’t have then. Without the “force of habit”, i doubt the burdensome bureaucracies we suffer today could persist—and very plausibly, they cannot persist very much longer even with it.

An important theme of this “Men Working” series is Social Efficiency. I have argued that full-time employment, with unemployment as the dichotomous “other alternative”, is less efficient than for instance, co-operatives, Hutterites, monasteries, and old-fashioned farm families, and in particular wastes the productivity of children and the old; that commuting to jobs lowers the worker’s overall time efficiency (and has other serious adverse effects); [¿was household size published before this or will it come after?]. Bureaucracies can at times facilitate social efficiency, but more often, they do the opposite.

It’s worth keeping in mind (to go back to the example of “me and Olav”), that while growing pine timber is “producing [or at the least, stewarding] real wealth”, and the branches pruned off those timber pines are a by-product; and while horse manure has real value in raising garden productivity; bureaucracies do not produce subsistence. They confiscate means of subsistence directly or “via money taxation”. The subsistence on which the bureaucrats depend must be produced by the rest of us. If there were no bureaucracies, there would be more people, more main-d’-oeuvre, available to do Real Work. In terms of human subsistence, bureaucracies are inherently inefficient—or worse, they are often counter-efficient.

Brothers, the bureaucracies should have the burden of proof: They should be deemed harmful until their beneficial ‘effects’ are proven to be for real, and significantly greater than their costs.

Meanwhile, if in doubt, work outside rather than inside the “job economy.” Bureaucracy is one more reason to work co-operatively, or even on-your-own, rather than “get a job”… or in other words, “get a job” can be read to demand, “become a cash cow for bureaucracies that don’t themselves produce subsistence.”

Notes:

* The word is French+Greek [pronounced “Freek”?]: Bureau is French for office [not the place so much as the function], and kratos is Greek for rule [in the sense of command].)

References:

Djilas, Milovan 1957, The New Class. NY: Praeger.

Schumacher, Ernest Fritz 1973. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs. (1974, New York: Harper and Row. Cited in a 1974 Abacus edition, London; several other editions exist.)

 

 

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Moncton, Mayerthorpe, madness, and misandry:

How Not to Advance Your Cause—and a Better Alternative:
(c) 2014, Davd

The 70th Anniversary of D-Day was pushed out of first place in the Atlantic CBC news by a multiple murder—all of whose victims were police. For a whole day, June 5th, Moncton, New Brunswick was shut down: No bus service, schools and stores closed, residents of one section of town ordered to lock their houses and hide in their basements. In the first minutes of June 6th, the man “everyone” said had done it, was captured.

Justin Bourque, the radio news told me June 5th, had recently become a survivalist, moved out of his parents’ home [at age 23 or 24], and was reputed to have taken up drugs more worrisome than ‘recreational pot’. He expressed hatred for police and government control. A gun dealer whose shop had survivalist clients and staff, stated publicly that Bourque had not bought weapons nor ammunition from it, though he was socially linked to staff. (When Calgary’s Earl Silverman, frustrated for many years in his efforts to gather support for a safe house for men violently abused by women, committed suicide, his friends remembered him kindly1. People who were linked to Bourque that i heard of, were “distancing themselves”.)

Then, once Bourque had been captured by the RCMP, the news mentioned a court appearance and charges of murder, but no more about his background and character, only that his father had expressed concern to the authorities and been told nothing could be done if Justin had not yet committed a crime..

Several years ago now, in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, another lone gunman killed four Mounties. I did hear his name mentioned once on the radio this past week, in connection with the problem of identifying potential multiple murderers before they kill. (Will Bourque’s name be shoved in our ears every June? I doubt it. The name of the Mayerthorpe killer hasn’t been. Marc Lepine’s name is shoved in our ears by ideological Feminist “vested interests.” The normal reaction to a despicable deed by a probable madman is to let its memory fade with time, which is what happened after the Mayerthorpe murders.)

Bourque’s was not a “men’s rights” nor even misogynist action. One of the two wounded police was a woman. The other wounded constable, and the three who were killed, were men. Given that women make up a minority of police, it seems evident that Bourque’s hatred was directed at police, not women.

As an act in support of anarchy or even increased liberty, it was a dismal failure: The evening of June 6th, after Bourque’s capture, people gathered at the Moncton police station in a vigil of sympathy and support. Before and after, flowers and candles were left at the station in memory of the officers who had been killed and sympathy for the wounded. For six days sympathy and public support for the RCMP dominated the CBC News—the shooting dominated the news for longer than the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which over 3,000 people were killed, dominated the US news2.

Far from bringing the police or the law into disrepute or even doubt, the attacks increased public support dramatically. Those who agree, somewhat or greatly, with survivalism, or oppose the increased regimentation of these times (as compared, for instance, to the times when i was a young man and a boy) are going to be less rather than more likely to express their anti-authoritarianism—for fear of being associated with Bourque, and because of the increased sympathy for “authority”.

If he thought he was some kind of Robin-Hood, he was very much mistaken. Robin-Hood was one of a band of two dozen or more “outlaws”, men who the Ruling Class of the time had denied the normal protections of the law. Robin-Hood, Little John, Alan A’Dale, Friar Tuck, and the rest, robbed rich people who passed through Sherwood Forest—and gave much of what they took, to the poor. They occasionally committed, and much more often threatened, violence—but what they did about wealth was much more like the teachings of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad than like self-serving bandits or pirates… and they were a community, living an alternative to the legal and social-class arrangements of the time, and linked socially to the common people around them.

As for Western Canada’s Louis Riél, he had more men—and women, and children—with him, by far, than Robin-Hood. The Prairie Métis had a working society in much more harmony than conflict with the “First Nations” around them—and even a Provisional Government—they weren’t rebels; they were defending themselves. Like the First Nations, they were defeated by a colonial army with more weapons and troops than they had.

Justin Bourque did himself and his cause, much more harm than if he had gone to the police station or the courthouse, doused himself with gasoline, and lit it on fire; or hanged himself in some out-of-the-way place, in either case, without hurting anyone else. Tom Ball “set himself on fire in front of the Cheshire County Court House,” (in the State of New Hampshire, USA, as reported in a local newspaper); and his Last Words are respected by many men’s interest advocates3. Earl Silverman hanged himself in his garage shortly before the sale of his house closed; he had struggled for two decades to gain some recognition and social support for men who had been violently abused by women, being himself such a man. His story is respected, and if we can get his Last Statement, we intend to provide it also.

In other words, by killing three police and wounding two others, Bourque made himself more of a loser, not less. Or as my Christian faith teaches, seek fellowship, seek refuge, but don’t seek vengeance.

I believe we do live in an overly authoritarian society. How valid Bourque’s grievance against police and government was, what it was even, i can’t say; and unlike Earl Silverman’s last words, i’m not looking for Bourque’s. He tainted them too badly with his last acts. I can mourn Earl Silverman, and wish he had accepted my invitation for a retreat. I can mourn Tom Ball likewise, though i learned of his life only from his death, too late to think about inviting him. Like most sane men whose work is not “doing psychiatry”, i don’t want to meet, much less invite, the sort who might go on a murderous rampage.

Notice that i did not recommend suicide. I respect it as a better alternative to futile violence; i also regard it as an inferior alternative to getting together.

If anyone reading this has strong negative attitudes or feelings—antipathies, is the Latin word—toward some social wrong, and has come to the end of his [or her] patience, my advice is, to repeat: Seek fellowship, seek refuge, but don’t seek vengeance. Even better, don’t wait until you’re bitter—seek fellowship, and if you don’t have a good home, seek refuge with other like-minded men.

If there’s a man like Earl Silverman out there who doesn’t have the fellowship or the refuge he should have (maybe simply because where he lives, shelter is so expensive, as it was in Earl’s Calgary) there’s an e-mail address at everyman dot ca called replies—human readers should be able to put that together, spam robots, i hope, can’t—and i check it every week or so. Maybe this week i’ll try to check it oftener. I have two spare bedrooms4, over 90 acres of mostly forest, and a good prayer garden; and i’m interested in corresponding with men who are getting together in other places.

I expect to give a little priority here, to those who like ecoforestry and horticulture, who write well, and to fellow Christians; but Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and men of smaller well-disciplined faiths like Sikhs and Native American spiritualities, need not be shy.

Notes:

1. Silverman’s faults were mentioned; they were faults many men and women have. He was honoured not by pretending the faults weren’t there, but for who he was even with them.

2. This is not to imply that the Moncton shootings will claim as much public attention in future, as the destruction of the World Trade Center has repeatedly claimed since 2001. (The damage to the Pentagon building has had far less subsequent attention.) I happen to live a few hours’ journey from Moncton. What this is meant to assert, not merely imply, is that public support for the RCMP and for “authority” was strikingly increased by the shootings.

Since the state funeral for the constables who were killed, there have been many local stories about memorials to them and for other police killed on duty, about grief counselling for their families and colleagues, and about charitable fund raising for the families they left behind.

3. Not all of us who respect the statement overall, advocate the use of Molotov cocktails. It is worth remembering that the USA began with a Revolutionary War in which, Tom Ball wrote, his ancestor Elijah served—also as a sergeant.

4. The house is plain and awkwardly designed—but i could afford to pay for it and the land “in full” and have some savings left. A handful of good men could build a much better house to live in, and this one could become the guest house.

 

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To Honour Good Stepfathers:

… and Grandfathers, Uncles, and Scoutmasters, Mentors strong i’ th’ arm*
(c) 2014, Davd

This is no slur on my own father, whose name i share. He was not perfect, but i remember him fondly despite his faults. He stayed married to my mother until his death, which sometimes wasn’t easy; and most of what he taught me was good. Some men have, or had, even better fathers; some, not so good—and many men and boys, these years, have none. More children lack fathers, than have inadequate ones—and that lack lessens their hopes for good adult lives.

It is a wise child, went an old French saying from before DNA testing, that knows who father is. Fifty years ago, Americans and Anglophone Canadians could hear that and pat themselves on the back for marital fidelity, but no longer: It is widely agreed that far fewer children today than two generations or even one generation ago, are reared by their natural fathers; and that this has had adverse consequences for the children, for crime rates, and for societal well-being generally (Dafoe-Whitehead, 1993)

My grandfather was born around 1880, when more people died in young adulthood than today, and most stepfathers were married to widows. He never saw his natural father when he was old enough to remember it. He often praised the stepfather who raised him through boyhood.

Tom Lincoln, President Abraham’s father, was a stepfather also: He married Mary Todd when they were both widowed with young children, and his proposal to her is one of the most famous oral statements in English1: Mary,he said,I need a wife and you need a husband. If you [think me a good man for you and your children] I’ll come with the wagon on Sunday.” History knows nothing of their sexual life; their family life reared one of the greatest US Presidents. Abraham Lincoln praised them both, and especially his stepmother—perhaps because her concern and care were more by choice, Tom Lincoln’s, by nature—perhaps also, because stepmothers in general had a dubious reputation. (Cinderella is an obvious example.)

We have heard and read of bad “stepfathers” or more accurately, single mother’s bedfellows, in recent years. It takes more than a sexual entanglement with a mother, to make a stepfather—and it be very important to note, the sexual entanglement is not required. My fathering did not all come from my natural father: That same grandfather whose chief [but not only] mentor was a stepfather, served my boyhood in much the same way: There were things he knew and Dad didn’t, like the electrician’s trade and gardening (while Dad was a driver by trade and the better cook of the two)—and Granps was retired while Dad had a job, church, buddies from work, a wife, and a daughter to take up much of his attention. (Mother could be difficult; even Granps was rather quieter in her presence than her absence2.)

Uncles often do stepfather work, also church youth leaders, coaches, and Scoutmasters. What stepfathers have “best going for them,” uncles and grandfathers next, coaches and Scoutmasters least, is time under the same roof with the boy. 55-60 years later, i can remember my grandfather’s house as well as i can remember the one where my parents lived at that time, and from which i walked or bicycled to school… perhaps because when i spent weekends with Granps we had whole days together; while my parents didn’t have that kind of time for me, and their home was more a base camp from which to go to school, to Scouts, to church, to play with friends, even out to fish or garden.

After completing “high school”, Granps was urged by a local physician to go on to University, and offered a loan of [between two and five years' pay for a tradesman at that time] to enable him to attend. He thanked the man but declined the loan, for the cautious reason that he could not forecast what work he might expect after graduation, that would pay enough more than a tradesman’s wages to enable him to repay the loan.

His caution is wise for boys today—many a university graduate can’t find work that’s enough better than what [s]he could have had without university study, to pay back student loans. In the 1980s, over a generation ago now, i advised the university students i taught and the adolescents who cared to hear my advice, to treat a trade license as more valuable for earning income, than an Arts degree: “A university education is good for you, but not usually gold for you—unless it carries a professional ‘ticket’.” The Spearhead’s W. F. Price (2014) seems to agree, writing of discrimination against boys in university admissions today, “it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Granps never complained that his stepfather did not give him money for university studies; and one reason may be that step-parents are not culturally expected to give money for that3. Dafoe-Whitehead (1993) points out that step-parents generally are less inclined to support step-children through higher education.. Another important reason may be, in the late 1890s, that the town physician might have had such money to loan, but not an ordinary working man.

Granps’ life was part of the basis for the advice i gave as a professor. He walked some two thousand miles over a few years’ time, learning trade skills as he worked to support himself, and eventually found a good job as an electrician. He became a master of that trade, and co-inventor with men who had engineering degrees. And while he was learning, he got some healthy exercise, and some pay—not classroom seat time and growing debts.

Today, boys (and also girls) still need fathering. Millions upon millions of them will not have it in the natural way—they will not be reared by their own biological fathers. Those of them who have grandfathers, uncles, and good4 stepfathers under their home roofs, are fairly fortunate—because the majority of fatherless boys, won’t have. Many millions of boys will need some kind of mentoring to make up for the lack of any such kin; and with marriage and divorce laws biased against men, with many men prudently avoiding marriage, we need to look for, perhaps even develop, ways for men to be stepfathers without marrying the mothers of the children they nurture.

Today’s situation calls us to support stepfathering that is free of the risk of “divorce theft;” to find ways to nurture boys independent of their mothers’ faults. No boy (and no girl, but let’s begin with boys) should be punished for his mother’s failings.

I encourage readers to look at stepfathering not just as something that tries to imitate natural fathering, but as mentoring comparable to that given by grandfathers, uncles, church youth leaders, Scoutmasters, and coaches, often combined with a shared residence of uncertain permanence and trustworthiness. That my grandfather’s stepfather was such a good mentor as Granps remembered him to be, is to his credit—especially when seen in context of his wife’s lifetime total of not two but four husbands.

Today, sadly, Granps’s mother’s “serial lifestyle” is more common than it was then.

For those who have good fathers nearby, and those who are, the obvious thing to do, is get together and choose how to celebrate Father’s Day. For them, this is a social rather than a personal concern.

Those who by distance or lack, don’t have that choice, might seriously consider getting together in the spirit of good stepfathers and step-sons5, and begin building not just the alternative to natural fatherhood, but one that also supplements and strengthens natural fatherhood as it was strengthened in Abraham Lincoln’s and my grandfather’s day. A few of you might be able to hold a Stepfather’s Day event this coming Sunday; others might get together to talk about how to work with boys year-’round and have something to celebrate next June. It might be reviving the outdoor-and-crafts Boy Scouts that i remember from the 1950s. It might be done through a church’s Sunday School programme, but not just on Sundays. Some of you reading this might have other good patterns to try, and to share. (There’s an e-mail address at everyman dot ca called replies—human readers should be able to put that together, spam robots, i hope, can’t—and i check it every week or so.)

It is no accident that the “Great Abrahamic Faiths” all pity the fatherless, nor that Father is the earthly title of the Creator [the First Person of the Christian Trinity]. The work of the stepfather is repeatedly blessed and indeed, the Psalms and the Prophets, who Christianity and Islam also honour, declare God’s care and protection for the fatherless. (Some might even say, given that God is not our sire, that He is our Heavenly Stepfather6.) Since we have arms and hands, and “God is Spirit”, our mentoring of those who lack good fathers, is part of what Jesus Christ blessed when he said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto [for] one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25: 31-40[-46])

It is no accident, either, that in strengthening our brothers and our nephews, in strengthening any boys and men who have been harmed by the misandry of this century whether kin or not, we strengthen ourselves.

References:

Baskerville, Stephen, 2004. “Divorce as Revolution:The Government Has a Vested Interest in Destroying Marriage and the Family.” The Salisbury Review, July 22.

Dafoe-Whitehead, Barbara, 1993. “Dan Quayle Was RightAtlantic Monthly, April.

Glubb, John Bagot, 1978. The Fate of Empires. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd.

Nathanson, Paul, and Katherine K. Young, 2006. Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systemic Discrimination Against Men Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Price, W.F., 2014 “…‘Who Cares?’ About Sex Ratio in College”. The Spearhead, April 23

Turnbull, Colin M.1968. The Forest People. NY: Simon and Schuster paperback.

 

Notes:

* Mentor was a Greek warrior who was also a good teacher of young men. In the English translation of one story, i recall him being saluted that way, as “Mentor strong i’ th’ arm.” It is worth keeping in mind, that gentle “mentoring” is not only consistent with strength, but that strong men are more reliably, more consistently gentle than the weak.

1. Abraham Lincoln’s speeches were famous for their clarity and directness—perhaps his father Tom was one source of that straightforward eloquence.

2. “It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling [quarrelsome] woman and in a wide house.” (Proverbs 21:9, 25:24, “King James” translation. This is traditional wisdom shared by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. At that time in Mediterranean countries, the housetop was usually flat and except for a winter rainy season, dry enough to sleep on.) “The Proverbs” praise good women but do not pretend all women, or even nearly all, be good.

3. Another factor may have been, that Granps’s mother was married not twice but four times; and his favourite stepfather may not have been in her household when he was of university age.

4. One aspect of good is the man’s character. Another is his lasting presence. Neither Tom Lincoln nor Mary Todd chose to be single parents—the deaths of spouses they gladly would have kept, put them there. When they married, they fully intended to keep their vows, and they did. They chose one another for character, for qualities that would work well together rearing children and getting the household subsistence.

These days, lasting presence is less common than it was when most stepfathers were married to widows.

5. I don’t want to leave fatherless girls out of the picture; but me-thinks that if men and boys get together first, and begin building a mentoring culture from the examples of good stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, and the rest; that in a year or two, ways will be found to reach out to the girls as well. In the Canada and USA of 2014, gynocentrism is dominant enough that the men and boys might ought first recover the androcentrism that is its mirror image, and when androcentrism and gynocentrism are more equal in cultural weight, then meet the girls on more equal terms. (Yes, this is one way Feminism has ill-served a generation of girls.)

6. I am not trying to revise any church doctrine or ritual; but the expression seems to have some reflection and perhaps teaching value.

 

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Dandelion Wine:

It’s About That Time:
(c) 2014, Davd

I’ve delayed a couple other blogs because the dandelions are in bloom—and this recipe is useless the rest of the year. This is a more difficult technique than the other Bachelor Cooking posts, but you can’t make dandelion wine without fresh dandelion flowers… use it now or wait until next spring.

This is written for people [mostly men, that i have seen] with cooking knowledge but little or no wine- and beer-making experience beyond following the directions for a kit. The how-to will be lengthy and some of you will already know some of what i specify, and why—but it’s better to err on the side of excess detail than to have someone miss an important precaution and spoil a jug of wine. Grape-wine vinegar and malt vinegar are valuable; dandelion vinegar, i doubt it.

Start with:
‣ a 160oz., 4litre, or US gallon clean glass or plastic jug, (or if you’re ambitious and confident, a 23 litre/5 gallon “carboy”. Glass jugs are best; the old 4-litre plastic milk jugs, cleaned and sterilized, work well.)
‣a generous equal amount of blossoms [let them settle; do not push down] in a food-grade plastic container, typically a 4l ice-cream pail.
‣3 pounds of sugar, or 2.5# for a dry version; limit to 2# for the first invert (so as not to overload the yeast)
‣1 medium-large or 2 small-medium stalks of rhubarb, or alternatively, 1/2 grapefruit, per 2# sugar..
‣ a kitchen pot, 4l or larger, with lid; strainer, maybe a slotted spoon .. things you should have in most
kitchens.

First, go out and pick that pail full of good, wide-open or early almost-wide-open dandelion blossoms. They will be open only on a sunny day, and mid-day is the time to pick. They open gradually in the morning, and after mid-afternoon they will start to close. Pick the flowers only, pinching off the stem with your fingernails. Let the flowers settle naturally in the pail; don’t push down on them but don’t fluff them up either. When with that natural settling, the pail is full, you have enough.

Either right before or soon after you pick the blossoms, put some wine yeast into a solution of orange juice, or malt syrup and water [without any hops] or white grape juice—some fruit or malt sugar solution that will give the yeast a good start. Set on top of the fridge or in some other spot that will be above 20C most of the time [but below 40C]. (Beer yeast, i’ll guess, would work; don’t try baker’s yeast and blame me if it fails.)

(You do not need a whole “7 gram” envelope of yeast, if you use this trick. When making up a wine kit whose “best before” date is several months in the future, i often save a wee bit of the yeast in the packet, fold and staple the packet, and keep it in the fridge until needed.)

Bring about 3 l of water to boiling, then pour over the blossoms. I have found ice cream pails do take the heat, which of course is 10 degrees or more below boiling by the time it gets through the blossoms to the bottom. (Set the pail on a piece of plywood or a wide board rather than on heavy metal which will carry away the heat too quickly.. a wooden counter-top should be OK, with or without arborite/formica) Cover the pail lightly with its lid; if you snap it shut expansion and contraction will “give you grief.”

Take the same pan that boiled that plain water (or you might prefer to use a smaller one,) add 2# of sugar and the rhubarb, and just enough water to dissolve the sugar [a cup or two should do]. Bring to boil on medium heat, adding the rhubarb cut 1″long or shorter; simmer about 10-15#. The sugar should turn a tan “straw colour.” Cover the pan and set it to cool—in this case, setting it on a heavy metal woodstove that’s not hot, will help it cool sooner. You want the flowers to stay hot for a while for their flavour to go into the water, but the ldquo;inverted” sugar needs no such “steeping.”

(lemon juice or a small grapefruit sliced 1 cm or thinner will serve for the acid; i specify rhubarb to make the recipe as locally sourced as practicable.)

Sterilize the jug with bleach solution, washing first if it was dirty. For me this is no hassle because i do it often in making beer and wine. An ounce or two of bleach with 2-3 times that much tap water should do; and when this has been shaken or rotated to contact all the inside surfaces of the bottle, pour it through a funnel into a glass jar; rinse with clean tapwater or rainwater, pour that into the same jar, and put it in the laundry area for use soaking something, or in the kitchen to clean up dirty corks, bottlecaps, Scotchbrite pads, vegetable brushes, etc. ad lib

Remember this basic technique because you will use it to sterilize the bottles when the wine is ready for bottling. In the case of bottling, you should use the bleach followed by clear water, to clean the siphon, en route to the first bottle; and the same bleach-water mixture can sterilize all the bottles.

Bleach decomposes into salt and oxygen; and a minuscule bit of salt in the wine will not degrade the taste the way sulphite sterilizing chemicals will. Beer-making may actually benefit minutely from the residual salt.

When the inverted sugar is cool enough that you can comfortably hold the body of the pot in your bare hands, you can pour it into the sterilized jug. Strain out the rhubarb (I pour the sugar through a strainer and funnel, into the jug, then set the rhubarb aside to later sweeten cooked rhubarb. Rhubarb will be too soft for candy: The rind of grapefruit used to invert sugar, can be cooled, cut up, and treated as sticky candy.) Then strain the “dandelion tea” into that same cooking pot, where it will take up the sugar that stuck to it when you poured most of the batch into the jug. You may have to strain the dandelion water in two or three “gos”.

When the dandelion “tea” is cool enough that you can comfortably hold the body of the pot in your bare hands, you can pour it into the sterilized jug. Using this order, you’ll get nearly 100% of the sugar into the jug, and leave the pan clean enough to use again.

Cover the jug with a clean plastic bag [a new sandwich or food bag you can later use for ordinary food] and a rubber-band, if you haven’t a clean cap for it. The bag and elastic can be used as a fermentation lock later, or you can fit a regular fermentation lock if you have one.

(If there is quite a lot of airspace still in the jug, you can “sparge” the dandelions with clean water, pour into and swirl through the pot if it is still sticky or direct into the jug if the pot is clean. Leave enough space that you can later add another half pound to pound of inverted sugar when the yeast has used up much of the first sugar; (too strong an initial sugar content can slow or stop the yeast.)

When the temperature of the jug is slightly warm to the hand but not to the cheek [about 25-30C, 35 should not hurt the yeast) and the yeast has begun to bubble the orange juice, add it through the funnel and follow with a small rinse of clean water or spargings. Leave enough room for the later sugar. If you have to let the jug cool to 20C before the yeast is ready, that should not hurt.

Keep the fermenting dandelion-tea in a place where its temperature will be 18-25C… a little cooler at night should not hurt if the daytime temperature reaches over 20 for 5-10 hours. 25C is better for the very first days, and cooler after the fermenting is well started. There is usually a warm spot in most kitchens where the jug can spend its first two weeks.

After 2-3 weeks, when the ferment is starting to slow*, simmer 1/2 — 1 pound more sugar with water, making a “winemaker’s syrup”. Inverting it will help the wine finish sooner but by now is not totally essential. When it has cooled below body temperature [can still be warm to the hand] pour it into the jug, and if there is still room in the jug, rinse the pot with clean water as above.

(If you make more than one jug of the wine, you can top-up the sugar for them all at the same time—saves bother.)

Expect the wine to spend 2-3 months in the jug*, after which sterilize your siphon and five wine bottles [750 ml/25-26 oz] per gallon. Siphon the wine into the bottles [with the siphon bottom above the dregs until the last] and cork. Rubber caps will work; for ageing real corks softened [and sterilized] in gently boiling water and put in with a real cork driver, are best.

I have typically used up my dandelion wine over the fall and winter, and i doubt i’ve ever aged any past a year. It resembles a white equivalent of Dubonnet or Campari, made as above; if you think you would like a more bitter variation on dry sherry you could skip the second lot of sugar. I’d not recommend it as a table ine with most substantial-food, rather as a “social wine” or semi-tonic.

Think of this text as being under some terms like the GNU Free Documentation License.. use and improve it freely, don’t profiteer or restrict, let me know of the improvements, and don’t restrict any improved versions. The recipe is original with me, based on notes made between 2006 and now.

Notes:

* Dandelion wine tends to ferment more slowly than grape wine or beer does.

# is a common abbreviation for “pound[s]” and l for litre[s].

 

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