When I was in my 20s, three friends wanted to play bridge but needed a fourth. Since I was the only one around, I received a crash course. I played a few times, I read the bridge column that appears next to the comics in the daily paper, but I was never a bridge player.
I was a nerd, seen as the smart kid. I was on the debate team but was also on wrestling, swimming and diving, and soccer teams. Later I was the weird guy in a counter-cultural organization. I suggested we provide health insurance to our employees. We eventually got that and I suggested a pension plan. That got me some pretty strange looks and it was another 10-15 years before the organization (after my departure) instituted a pension plan. No one (except me) thought anyone would do that work as a career. We tried to get bank financing for an expansion and got nowhere. So I braided my hair tightly, put on a coat and tie, and went to a reception where I drank Scotch with the bank vice president. He told me to call him the next day.
I fixed washing machines (among other trades) and did the accounting for a subsequent employer. I fixed the appliances and then explained the organization’s financial picture to its owners. When I figured out that I was a Jack-of-all-Trades and Master of None, I became a plumber.
When I worked in Nicaragua I was the only English speaker on the logging crew. No one on the carpentry crew that we delivered to spoke Spanish. I was the only one who spoke both languages.
When I left the building trades and went into health care, I chose a field that was 93% women.
WordPress issued a prompt for the month of March. The prompt was bridge. I guess that’s what I’ve been all my life. I always thought I never fit in. Another way of saying that is that I was a bridge. I think I prefer the sound of that.
Here is my St Patrick’s Day Black and Tan, which I should be drinking with hamantaschen. Alas, I made no hamantaschen. A good thing, since I may fail a random drug test after eating too many poppy seed ones.
Also this week, the full moon known by many names arrives. The Ojibwe call it The Sugar Moon for the obvious reason noted in our last post – the maple sap is flowing. The Dakota call it The Worm Moon, as beetle larvae appear out of thawing tree bark. It might also be The Crow Comes Back Moon (northern Ojibwe) and several other names.
Spring arrives Sunday morning (March 22); unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case fall arrives. Along with the previously-mentioned signs of spring, the lakes melt. In early winter, as the lakes freeze, they give up large amounts of heat for the change of state from liquid to solid, resulting in fog. In late winter, as they thaw, they absorb large amounts of heat for the state change from solid to liquid, with the same result.
In other weather-related news, the Good Weather Bike made its first appearance. The studded tires remain on the Bad Weather Bike, anticipating the spring snowstorm.
My local paper runs a list of celebrity birthdays every day. Tuesday, March 15, was a banner day. Saxophonist Charles Lloyd is 84. Bassist Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead) is 82, Singer Mike Love (Beach Boys) is 81. Bandleader Sly Stone is 79. Guitarist Ry Cooder is 75. Drop down a generation and rapper will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas) is 47.
After waxing nostalgic about making maple syrup, I decided to stop dreaming and start cooking. I read about tapping Norway Maples. (An invasive species in these parts, they were heavily planted as street trees – when I asked the city for a street tree, I could have anything I wanted as long as it was a Norway Maple.)
Depending on the author, you either can’t tap them or they make great syrup, a bit more caramel in flavor than sugar maples. I decided there was a way to settle the matter. I went to Farm and Fleet and bought a spile, then to Fleet Farm (yes, the partners split and one had to find a new name for his stores) for a stainless steel bucket to collect the sap. My tree is 26 years old (well, 26 years in the ground here – not sure when it was born) and just big enough to tap.
It was on the way to 50 degrees Sunday, so I made the shopping trip and tapped the tree Monday morning. Sap began to run before I could get the bucket under the spile.
When the sap is running, I collect 2 liters every day or two. Boiled down, that nets about 50 ml of syrup. It doesn’t look like maple syrup and it doesn’t taste like maple syrup. It is sweet but probably more like corn syrup than sugar maple syrup. It will sweeten a chocolate ancho pecan pie. If you’ve ever eaten Mole Poblano, you know that chocolate and chiles belong together. You may not know that they belong together in dessert. It was this pie that brought me back to Eldorado Grill (okay, that and the huge selection of tequilas) and for this pie that I bought their cookbook.
Pi [π] Day
Chocolate ancho pecan pie
(from Eldorado Grill, with minor alterations by half-fast cycling club). The recipe is for two pies. I have halved it successfully, using 4 eggs rather than 3.5 eggs – you try cutting an egg in half).
Make pie crust (It is a single crust pie. The recipe is for two crusts and two pies.)
Make ancho puree
If you choose to use a store-bought crust, I won’t tell – but you’re depriving yourself of the most fun part of baking pies.
Crust 2 cups flour (pastry flour if you can get it) 2 sticks (½ lb) salted butter, cold 8-10 Tablespoons ice water (may need slight adjustment depending on weather and your flour) ½ teaspoon salt 1 Tablespoon sugar (may be omitted)
Mix flour, salt, and sugar. Cut butter into small pieces. (I cut the stick lengthwise in thirds, rotate it 90 degrees and repeat, so it is now lengthwise in ninths. Then I cut widthwise so I have a lot of pea-sized cubes.)
Add butter to flour and cut in with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse meal. Add half the ice water and toss lightly with a fork. Add the other half and toss again. Mix lightly with your hands until nearly uniform. (You can squish remaining large lumps of butter more easily this way.) It will look marbleized, with a few small lumps of butter remaining.
Form into 2 rough balls. Place each on a sheet of plastic wrap. It will not hold together completely. If it is not close to holding together, you need more water. If it is a sticky mess, add some flour. Wrap it in the plastic wrap and knead lightly through the wrap to get it a bit more uniform, until it just holds together as you flatten it into a disk.)
Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. If you refrigerate overnight, let it warm a few minutes before rolling (or it will crack).
2. Puree 5 ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed 1 cup hot water
Soak the chiles until soft, about an hour.
Puree in blender until smooth. Add a little water if needed. It should be pourable but not thin. (This will be more puree than you need, but I’m sure you can find other uses for it. If you try to make a half batch, your blender may not actually blend it.)
3. Pie ¼ pound (1 stick) butter 7 eggs 1 cup sugar ¼ cup ancho puree 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (Use the real thing, not vanillin) 1 cup corn syrup (or other syrup -dark corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, sorghum, mixtures…) 4 cups pecan pieces ½ pound semi-sweet chocolate chips (or mix ½ and ½ with dark chips)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll out crusts and trim. Lay into pie pans. Crimp a generous edge, as it will shrink when parbaking, and you want the edge high enough so filling doesn’t leak out. Line crust with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with weights (raw beans or rice, or pie weights – I find beans work best). Parbake 10 minutes. Remove parchment and weights. [You should have some extra crust trimmings. Roll them out, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, and bake lightly in another pie pan – about 12-15 minutes. When cooled, you’ll have a snack while waiting for the pie. This was always my kids’ favorite part.]
Melt butter and set aside.
Beat eggs and add sugar, ancho puree, vanilla, and syrup. It works best if you continue whisking while you add ingredients one by one.
Add the melted butter to the egg mixture. Add pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into two pie shells.
Bake 35-40 minutes until the center is just set and the crust is golden brown. [Original recipe says to toast the pecans first and bake for 50 minutes @375. I found the pecans burned well before that and the crust burned before 50 minutes.] I generally cover the crust edges to keep from burning – if you don’t have a pie crust guard, cut a ring from aluminum foil so the inner edge is a bit smaller than the pie diameter and the outer edge a bit larger. If the crust is not browning, take it off for the last few minutes. Or you can start without the guard and place it later if the crust is browning too quickly.
Cool to room temperature on a rack. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
As a public service and sacrifice, I baked (and ate) this pie before Pi Day so I could post this as soon as the day began.
In my youth, I learned what I thought were important lessons about inflation- both economic and air-related.
Bike racers used tubular (“sew-up”) tires. The hoi polloi used clinchers. Tubulars had narrower cross sections and could be run at higher pressures. High pressure and narrow cross-section were said to decrease rolling resistance. It was all about the science. Wanna-bees rode tubulars. Touring and commuting cyclists rode clinchers. Being half-fast, I rode clinchers. In fact, the deciding factor between two bikes when I was shopping in 1974 was the wheel and tire combination.
Rim and bead technology improved. They made clinchers that could run at 120 PSI (~8.25 bar). Clinchers got skinnier. I once had some nominally 700 x 18c. Even racers started running clinchers.
Now the science says lower pressure and wider cross section equals lower rolling resistance – or does it? Most current research seems to point to wider being better. As for inflation pressure, claims vary widely. Fashion now dictates 28 or 32c. Conveniently, this also means re-designing bike frames for increased tire clearance, so if you want to be fashionable, you need a new bike.
I just read an article on rolling resistance that compared the same tire in 23, 25, 28, and 32c widths at 60, 80, 100, and 120 PSI. They found that the widest tire (32c) at the highest inflation pressure (120 PSI) yielded the lowest rolling resistance. Is wider than that even better? Where does it end? (Most articles seem to concede that at some point the increased weight and air resistance of a larger tire will offset the savings in rolling resistance. I haven’t found anyone citing evidence – maybe because the equivalent tires don’t exist that much wider and they are not sure that evidence with different tires will translate.) They also tested and rated the best tires in various configurations – with tubes, tubeless, and tubular – rated as “best all around”, “fastest”, “most puncture-resistant”, and “best low cost”. I won’t list their results, as I can’t vouch for them, but you can follow the links. I will say I feel vindicated, as they picked the tires I ride. Do you need to buy a new bike to fit 32c tires? Only if you race bikes for a living and someone else pays for them. Will you notice the difference between 7.8 watts of rolling resistance and 8.5 watts (the difference between the 32c and 23c sizes of the Continental Grand Prix 5000)? Probably not, unless you’re a time trialist. Definitely not, if you’re half-fast.
As for the other type of inflation, I was taught in economics class that inflation was a spiral (actually a helix) caused by rising prices and rising wages, each feeding the other. That theory appears to blame each component equally. The real world seldom looks like that, especially since union membership has declined drastically. (For example, union membership in WI was 34% in 1964 and 11.6% in 2014. Even TX, never a union stronghold, dropped from 13.5% to 4.9% over the same 50 year period.)
We are currently being sold a bill of goods; that inflation is the fault of supply chain issues, or “the great resignation”, or increasing the minimum wage, or it’s all Joe Biden’s fault.
Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and current editor of The Hightower Lowdown has done some searching. He provides a few interesting examples. The worldwide diaper trade is controlled by two companies – Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark together hold an 80% market share. In April, 2020 P&G announced that COVID-driven production cost increases were forcing it to raise its prices. Its quarterly profit was $3.8 billion. Six months later the quarterly profit was >$5 billion and they bought back $3 billion of their own stock, partly to cash in on those profits and partly to reward top execs. My econ class taught me that Kimberly-Clark could undercut P&G and make money. But did they? No, they raised their prices at the same time – because they could.
Beef prices went up 21% in 2021. Is that because farmers made more money? Is it because of shortages? No. 85% of the US beef market is controlled by 4 companies. They get to set the price at which they buy beef. If you, the farmer, don’t want to sell to them, good luck. While retail beef prices rose, the price paid to farmers fell. Profits to the big 4 rose by 300%.
US corporate profits in the 4th quarter of 2019 were $2.4 trillion. Two years later (3rd quarter 2021), they were up to $2.9 trillion. At their worst during the pandemic, they were $1.9 trillion. (from statista.com) As a whole, US corporations continued to make money during the pandemic. As the rest of us hope to recover, they plan to profit even more handsomely. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. That is not an accident.
Hightower always urges us to do something, not just feel depressed, about the news he presents. Here are his suggestions from this article:
Food system monopoly is particularly distasteful, squeezing both growers and eaters. The Family Farm Action Alliance (farmaction.us) inspired President Biden’s billion-dollar plan to expand independent meat processing capacity and re-inject competition into those markets.
The National Farmers Union (nfu.org) has launched a “Fairness for Farmers” campaign, “fighting for stronger enforcement of antitrust laws and breaking up . . . corporate monopolies.”
The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (r-calfusa.com) is pushing for a federal “50/14 Spot Market Protection Bill” aimed at stopping the sell-now, we’ll-dictate-your-price-later BS that Brazilian meat Goliath JBS pulled with rancher Steve Charter.
And the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (morural.org)–founded with a grant from the first Farm Aid!–aims to help family farmers not only battle corporate predators, but also offer assistance with sustainable farming practices, accessible rural healthcare, and more.