Friday, March 27, 2009

Chicken & Ham Pie

Inspired by Brigid's wonderful looking Chicken & Biscuit Pie, I decided to make my own version of Irish Chicken & Ham Pie for dinner tonight. I found the recipe for this originally in an Irish cookbook years ago - and I've altered it many times since. Mostly it depends on what I have around the house.

Usually, I make this as a standard size pie in a deep dish glass pie pan. Tonight, though, I didn't want the left overs tempting me. I made two individual pies instead.

The filling is simple. I didn't measure anything, so amounts are approximate. This is for two individual pies.. if you make a bigger one, just increase the amounts appropriately.

Dice half an onion, and saute in 3 tbls butter in a heavy saucepan. I had some roasted bell peppers in the fridge, so I diced some of those up as well. When the onions start to become translucent, I add 1 tsp of dry mustard, and 1/2 cup (or so) of diced ham. I've also used fried diced bacon and even diced pastrami - on occasion. Traditionally, though, it's ham.

Once the ham is heated up, add 3 tablespoons of flour and mix it all up. It'll look like a lumpy mess, but that's ok. Just mix it around to incorporate the flour and butter. The fat in the pan will coat the individual particles of flour, and keep them from making lumps when you add the liquid. Fancy word for this is "roux" (pronounced "roo").

After it cooks a minute or two, add 1 cup milk, and whisk it all together. Keep whisking for the next several minutes so you don't scorch the milk at the bottom of the pan. As the mixture reaches the simmering point, it will start to thicken. Keep stiring, and when its the consistency of thick cream gravy, take it off the heat.

At this point, I added about 1 1/2 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken. I used left over roast chicken, but I've used grilled, broiled, boiled, and pan-fried chicken before. Mix everything up well. Salt and Pepper to taste.

Divide mixture between two 6 inch ramekins. I like the idea of Brigid's biscuit topping, but I didn't have any canned biscuits about. I did have some ready made pie crusts, though, and I topped both pies and brushed with beaten egg.

Here's what they look like before going in the oven:

I put both on a pan, and baked at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the tops are browned nicely. Here's one, right before I took a big bite and burned my tongue :)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick and Easy Project

If you know me at all, you'll know I have a penchant for old stuff. I'm particularly fond of every day items that where made with a level of care and beauty that is largely missing in their modern counterparts. I don't have a huge budget to feed my addiction, so most of the items that I pick up would look right at home in a landfill.

Plucking them from the jaws of destruction and "bringing them back" also appeals to me a lot.

I've mentioned a recent trip to the Trade Day (flea market) in Bowie, where my Wife and I picked up a couple of nice finds. One of those finds was an old Oak dovetailed phone ringer box. Here she is, just as I found her:

IMG_2030 008
The bottom is cracked, but it's not real noticeable unless you turn it over. The door is cracked, and warped as well. Its really dirty, and the finish is all but gone. However, box itself is sound and the dovetailed corners look solid.

Here's what the inside looks like:

IMG_2031 009

Its missing the magneto, the crank handle, the bells from the front, and the latch that held the door closed. About the only thing left is wiring remnants, resistors, and dirt.

All in all, its a mess.... but it's a mess with POTENTIAL! Due to its condition, I got it for next to nothing. The purchase price was less than I would have paid just for shipping had I bought it on ebay. Most people wouldn't have looked twice at the old dirty wooden box. Having refinished old oak boxes like this before, though, I had a clue as to what it would look like with a little effort.

I stripped out all the old wiring, and removed the door - if it had been just cracked, I might have salvaged it too. With it being warped as well, though, it just didn't fit into my plans. Next, I used a product called
Formby's Furniture Refinisher. This is great stuff on items like this. When you follow the directions, it removes the remnants of old finish, and helps you clean a lot of the gunk and grime from the pores of the wood. Its very easy to use. You basically just dip squares of scotchbrite pads into the refinisher and scrub the wood a bit. The entire process took less than 10 minutes.

When the box was clean, I wiped on some
Watco Danish Oil (natural). Again, this is a no-brainer when it comes to application. Just wipe it on, let it set a few minutes - then wipe any excess off. If you think it needs more, just do it again. I'm always amazed how it really brings out the beauty of old oak, without covering stuff like a traditional wood stain might. A left the box to sit for several hours after applying the Watco, then sprayed on a couple of light coats of clear sealer.

I had a victorian brass escutcheon plate and an old brass skeleton key, that I added to cover the crank hole as a decoration. If you didn't want to do this, you could just as easily just turned the box around so the hole is in the back.

I gutted an old wicker planter we had with a silk plant in it. After trimming the foam insert down a bit, it fit perfectly inside the box. Here's a shot of the completed planter sitting on my mantel :

phone planter1

The old oak takes on a really warm look after cleaning and application of the danish oil. Here's a detail of the escutcheon and key. The key is just stuck into the florist foam inside the box that holds the silk plant.

phone planter

Total actual time involved from start to finish - less than an hour.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Reluctant Passenger

I found this picture while browsing the Library Of Congress Archive online...

1912 reluctant passenger

I liked this picture for several reasons: the look on the girls face, the death grip she has on the plane, the fact that her feet are tied together (!), and the evil grin on the pilot's face. The caption for this picture reads, in part:

"RIVIERO, Senorita Lenore, Rex Smith Aeroplane 1912"

Bobcats and Bass

God, I love spring….

I’ve always been a fall/winter guy. The heat and humidity of Texas summers has always been a constant in my life. That over-riding weather feature tends to make everything else more of a novelty. I’ve worked outside most of my life and I suppose I love fall, and even winter, because they offer much dreamed about relief after a usually brutal Texas summer.

As I get older, though, I find myself becoming more and more of a fan of Spring. It means a return of good motorcycle weather, opportunities to fish, and a chance to indulge my newer interest in gardening.

My Wife, Daughter, and myself took advantage of our recent warm weather this weekend and dusted off the fishing gear. Growing up in the North Texas countryside, I learned to fish in stock ponds, or “tanks”. I still enjoy fishing that way the best. Luckily, my parents have a large tank on their property that we’ve stocked with bass and catfish.

We caught many small bass, along with the two beauties you see below.

j bass


The first was caught by my Wife, and the second by me. I’ll admit, her fish is a tad bigger than mine– but they’re both nice fish.

The only bad thing about spending part of the weekend fishing, is that I find myself not wanting to go back to work afterwards. My workweek starts on Sunday, and I definitely would have rather spent the day fishing than holding my nose to the grindstone.

The day at work wasn’t a total loss, though. I noted a couple of entries back, about bobcat sightings in the town where I work. I mentioned, at that time, that healthy/normal bobcats generally weren’t a threat to humans in urban environments. Of course, should something happen to change that balance, we sometimes have to step in.

This morning I was dispatched to a particular neighborhood where we often receive reports of bobcats. This time, however, the report stated that the cat was missing a foot. I patrolled the area and was able to locate the animal hiding in bushes near the entrance to a resident’s home. A neighbor had seen the cat trying to stalk rabbits in the neighborhood and was concerned enough to keep an eye on it until I arrived.

Together with another Animal Control Officer, I was able to get close enough to the injured bobcat to capture it. If you can imagine the ruckus and fuss an adult bobcat makes when you capture it in a large net – you can imagine the touchy nature of that procedure. Our city doesn’t employ chemical capture methods (tranquilizer darts), so we have to do things the old school way. Which often means it takes a bit for your testicles to return to their original position once everything calms down.

Here’s a shot my partner took right after I caught the bobcat in a catch-net. She’s balled up in the net, partially hidden by the concrete planter.


Here’s a better shot of the bobcat in the net... looks pretty pissed off, don't she? I don't look too pleased either, but that's just my regular look :)

She's missing the right rear foot, most probably due to a leghold (steel jaw) trap. Those are illegal in the city where I work. Most of the problems I've seen associated with them are associated with the human user. Either the idiot doesn't stake them down well enough, allowing the animal to drag the trap away - or they just don't check the trap and the animal is allowed to just linger on until either it dies of starvation, or the leg deteriorates enough that the animal will gnaw its leg off to get away. That appears to be the case with this poor girl.


She's safe at the rehab group now. Several neighbors came out to talk to use after she was safely on the truck. Everyone was curious about what was going on.

Its times like these that I seriously think about rigging up a video camera that I could wear on my body. It's impossible, most times, to handle a video camera and do my job safely with the other - however, it would have been interesting to film how we actually physically capture animals like this, dangerous dogs, etc.

Have to see what I can come up with that won't break the bank...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Road Trip 03/07/2009

Had a pretty good road trip yesterday. It was windy as hell, but at least it wasn’t cold. This time of year I’m pretty much done with winter, and clouds, and brown. I’m ready for blue skies, warm weather, and GREEN!!!

We hopped over to Bowie, Texas for the 2nd Monday Trade-days. Pretty good turnout for this time of year. We found a couple of “bargains”. My Wife has been wanting a penny candy machine, to have at our house for the Grandkids. Actual “old” ones are way expensive in any condition. Reproduction ones aren’t too cheap, for that matter.

We found a repro unit for sale. Unlike some of the table models you see, it was mounted on a fairly ornate cast iron stand. Someone had painted it a Gawd-awful pink color, but beyond that it is in good shape. At $25, it was too good to pass up so we took it home. After a little tweaking, it works as it should. Now I just have to find time to strip and repaint it.

I also picked up a beat up old oak telephone ringer box. The bells and magneto are missing, and the front door is cracked. I’ve got a couple of ideas in my head for what to do with it, so we’ll have to see.

Made a quick swing through the Bowie Cemetery, which we had never visited before, as we were leaving town. We’ve done quite a bit of Cemetery photography the past couple of years, and I like to think I’m a little more selective on what shots I take now. This marker did catch my eye though:

Bowie Cemetery 1

The deceased were a minister and his wife, who passed within a few days of each other. I really liked the condition of the stone, with the green of the lichens, as well as the carving. The two hands reaching out to each other at the top, with “Forever” inscribed between, is especially nice. I love the art and care that went into some of these stones. You can feel the love these two shared coming all the way from 1892.

Leaving Bowie, we traveled up Hiway 59 toward St. Jo. I wasn’t aware that there was a windpower farm around here, although we’ve been seeing more and more of the semi trucks on the highways transporting the huge blades.

Windmill Farm

We turned off 82 onto County Road 335 and wound around through some of the gravel roads to make our way toward the big spinning windmills. These things are GIGANTIC! I’ve seen big ones like this on TV, but never in person. It’s hard to describe the scale.

Prairie Behemoth

Here’s a short vid of the windmills spinning. Sorry about the quality – I didn’t have an actual video camera with us and it was windy as hell…

After satisfying our curiosity, we got back on the main road and headed home. We passed through Van Alstyne, and had planned to stop at our favorite old style soda fountain – The Yellow Rose – for a milkshake.


I’ve written about my fondness for the place before. We were saddened to see that it is no more….. The Yellow Rose has closed her doors. We visited the soda shop several times each year during the spring, summer, and fall. We had looked forward to taking Grand-kids there…

The only silver lining is that the Wife and I have decided to make our own soda fountain at home. We already have odds and ends of old soda shop antiques, and it’ll be a good excuse to find more, and for me to build a backbar and soda fountain bar.

Yet another item on the things to build list :)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty disgusted by what I'm seeing and hearing take place in Washington these days. I was proud of the Conservatives that stood firm against the "Stimulus" bill, but then massively disapointed by how many Republicans turned right around and joined in the earmarking party as a part of the budget.

I'm hearing more and more people speak out against the "change" that President Obama is cramming down our throats, and I may take the opportunity before long to throw my own two cents worth in... but this post is about the totally unfounded stance that some in the the media are taking that speaking out against the President, and even wishing his plans to fail, is somehow un-American.

My Favorite President is Theodore Roosevelt. His character and life both speak to me in a way that not many other President's do. Here he is with his family...

roosevelt family jpg

The tall pretty girl in the back is Alice Roosevelt, his daughter by his first Wife (who died giving birth). Teddy's most famous quote about Alice was:

"I can control the Affairs of State, or I can control Alice. I can not possibly do both."

Her most famous quote was:

"If you don't have anything good to say about anyone.... come sit by me."

Here's my favorite Roosevelt picture. He's holding his grandson, Kermit.

1916 roosevelt kermit jpg

So why bring up Roosevelt?

Because he had particular views about criticizing the President. I think his viewpoint, as a former President, lends a good deal of force behind his words:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

May 7, 1918

Livin' the Wild Life

We often receive calls from frightened residents of the town where I work, who wish to report sightings of coyotes, bobcats, and the occassional "badgerdillo" (wtf?).

Intuitively, people automatically think there's extreme danger to having wildlife near their home. When you tell them that the odds are really small, that anything "bad" would come of the bobcat passing through their neighborhood, they want us to guarantee them that nothing will happen.

My response is always the same.

I can't guarantee you that a meteor won't fall on your house in the next 5 minutes, but it's really unlikely. Likewise, its extremely unlikely that anyone in your family will be harmed by a bobcat. In 14 years of working in Animal Control, I've never, EVER, had to deal with a bite on a person by a bobcat or coyote. Contrast that ZERO number to the over 3000 dog and cat bites that I've had to document quarantine on..... and you can decide for yourself where the actual REAL danger is.

Yes, people do occasionally become injure by bobcats and/or coyotes. But it is exceedingly rare, and is often the result of the human doing something ridiculously stupid.

Here's a shot of the last Bobcat call I recieved. I had to take the pictures through a dirty truck window, since they run away faster once I've gotten out of the truck. I was going to shoot video once I was on foot, but the cat took off as soon as my feet hit the ground.