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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Not literally live. Really more like “after-the-fact” blogging. Or maybe just blogging? Okay, we are spending too much time on minor details now, when we could be reading Dracula! Let’s get to it!

8:26 PM: Gutenberged a copy of Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Don’t really remember why. But then, you don’t need a reason to read Dracula!

8:30 PM: You don’t see a lot of guys named “Bram” anymore.

8:48 PM: Jonathan Harker is awfully chill. It would take far fewer Slavonic peasants madly crossing themselves and waving crucifixes before I was all, “Fuck this shit. I’m outie.” Also, blue flames and mysterious wolf packs. Yeah, SOMETHING’S UP, DUDE.

8:51 PM: Vampires AND werewolves? C’mon, man. That’s a little too Twilight.

9:00 PM: Trying to forget that I know all about Count Dracula and his bloodsucking ways, for the sake of suspense. Otherwise this novel is a comedy about a tragically dimwitted man who lumbers around Castle Deadly Bloodsucker, whistling brightly and sucking down vintage Tokay while a monster drools on him.

9:21 PM: Woah. Everything just got sexy.

9:23 PM: I don’t think those ladies are good people.

9:45 PM: Break to look up Vlad the Impaler on Wikipedia. Also Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bathory, the Ottoman Empire, “Hapsburg lip,” and Invasion Literature. May have gotten a little sidetracked.

9:51 PM: This is actually pretty scary. Harker is trapped in the castle, he’s been forced to write letters informing everyone he’s peachy and definitely not vampire bait, and the Count has stolen his clothing and letters. Getting a serious Misery vibe off this bit; maybe Bram Stoker was a Stephen King fan. And the Count can climb walls like a spider. NOT COOL.

10:05 PM: Blah, blah, blah, marriage proposals, blah, blah, blah failing the Bechdel Test. Mina is learning shorthand, so she can be a secretary for her husband. Presumably she’ll do that in between having babies and making sandwiches. I take a moment to appreciate trousers, contraceptives, and jobs for women in STEM fields.

10:25: Stoker’s seaman patois is simultaneously incomprehensible and hilarious. My favorite: “These bans an’ wafts an’ boh-ghosts an’ bar-guests an’ bogles an’ all anent them is only fit to set bairns an’ dizzy women a’belderin’. They be nowt but air-blebs.” AIR-BLEBS. That is some literary literature.

10:30 PM: THE CRAZY MAN IS ALSO SCARY. More crazy man, please.

10:39 PM: That storm scene was wicked. Someone should really make this into a movie.

10:42 PM: AW CRAP, LUCY GOT DRACULA’D.

11:30 PM: Van Helsing to the rescue!

11:44 PM: Guys, she’s being sucked dry by a vampire. It’s really starting to frustrate me that you’re not seeing this. (Spoiler?)

11:46 PM: Break to look up “history of blood transfusions” on Wikipedia. I take a moment to appreciate that my doctor has never injected me with sheep blood to calm my nerves, because apparently that has side effects like death.

11:55 PM: Have you guys considered putting a lock on that window? Because you are going to run out of male characters to transfuse from, and then Lucy’s gonna be fucked.

12:03 AM: SHIT, LUCY DIED.

1:00 AM: Just remembered I left the chicken coop open. It is very dark outside. Vampires are not a real thing, and also the chickens are basically screwed, because I’m not going out there.

1:57 AM: Is Bram Stoker getting paid by the word? It is really not necessary to hide in the graveyard, rescue a small child, and see proof that vampires stalk the night, then do it ALL AGAIN, only with some more bros. I am only halfway through and this is taking forever. You don’t see Mary Shelly pulling this shit.

2:17 AM: Dr. Seward uses those newfangled phonographs to record dictation. Dr. Seward will set up the phonograph, and show Mina how to use it. Mina will transcribe the wax cylinders with her typewriter. She will make copies for everyone. “Riveting” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

2:25 AM: Every workman in the world can be bribed with a shiny coin and a glass of beer, and because of the aforementioned repetition issues we will get to read about every single one.

2:30 AM: Avengers assemble! Mina will pass out the memos and make coffee.

2:38 AM: Mina, you have been courageous and helpful. You tamed a murderous madman, nursed a husband with PTSD, calmly threw yourself into a vampire hunt, and have shed fewer tears than any of the men in this room. You also spent many hours collating our journals, before which we were disorganized and confused. So stay in your room from now on, because you’re a woman.

2:47 AM: Three small terriers 1, swarms of hell rats 0. Ball’s in your court, Dracula.

3:25 AM: Jonathan: Well, Mina, the search is going well! Don’t know what that Dracula fellow is up to, but we’ll soon find out!
Mina: *gurgle*
Jonathan: Don’t get up, I’m just grabbing my crucifix.
Mina: *cough, gurgle*
Jonathan: Don’t be silly, old bean, you don’t need one. Crucifixes are for men.

3:30 AM: “Count de Ville.” Subtle.

3:35 AM: Graphic description of a traumatic head wound. I’ll be reading the rest of this chapter from the floor.

3:36: “Stertorously.” There’s a word you don’t see very often.

4:07 AM: Zzzzzzzzzz….

10:13 PM: Mina has developed a rather fierce communion wafer intolerance, and Van Helsing has a suspiciously well formed plan for breaking and entering.

10:55 PM: In the midst of her pain and torment, Mina finds the wherewithal to send you guys a telegram warning that Dracula is coming. Later, she will hit upon the plan that helps you hunt down Dracula as he escapes back to Transylvania. GOOD THING YOU LEFT HER BEHIND.

10:58 PM: Just now realized that Dracula only feeds on young women. I’m beginning to suspect there might be some subtext going on here. Sexy, sexy subtext.

12:10 AM: Van Helsing is the Poirot of vampire hunting.

12: 20 AM: DRAMATIC FINALE!

12:26 AM: That was pretty good.

So that’s Dracula. A gripping yarn, certainly. I’m looking forward to reading some more Gothic literature, and possibly boring you with it. The Mysteries of Udolpho is a classic, and it’s MASSIVE.

P.S. The chickens were fine.

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If you thought my blog needed less Victorian verbiage and more U-joint repair, this might be the place for you!

My Truck is Still Broken

About a year and a half ago I bought a rusty, beat-up pickup truck from a redneck in a trailer park.  It had a bent valve, so it only fired on five of six cylinders, and it had a soft spot in its frame, but it started and moved.  It even had four-wheel drive.

Since then much has happened, but my truck is still broken.

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In any reasonably sized town one generally has one’s choice of supermarkets. Mine has three worth speaking of:

The upscale “Market,” where people buy quinoa and sushi rice. I like to shop here between midnight and 4 a.m., because the patrons, most of whom have 9 to 5 jobs, are generally asleep or at Ivy League frat parties at that point. This is a good place to shop if you need dragon fruit or essential oil, but avoid it if you’re allergic to natural fabric or palpable smugness.

The People’s Supermarket, where normal people shop. The radio will play country hits, the vegetables will not be organic, but the lines will be shorter. I do most of my shopping here because I used to work the deli counter at The People’s Supermarket, and I like to remind myself how far I’ve come up in the world. (“But Sei, I thought you said you were unemployed!” Yes, and you’ve obviously never worked a deli counter in a supermarket.)

And there’s Aldis.

There’s also the shady supermarket, who’s shopping carts are generally an amalgam of carts from other stores, and where the asbestos in the ceiling is the only thing keeping pooling rainwater from dripping into the shriveled lettuce. Of this I will say no more.

Now, I may have mentioned that I love food, and as it happens I also love shopping for food, and I particularly like shopping for new and exciting food. Not always good tasting food, but certainly new. (Which is why I often end the week with a pound of chicken liver, a can of kippers, and a jar of water chestnuts, but nothing else. It’s like an episode of Chopped, the difference being that the people on Chopped are professional chefs and I am just unreasonably optimistic.) So I was rummaging around behind the veggie burgers when I discovered a stack of frozen beef suet.

“Aha!” I said to myself. “‘Rendering beef suet.’ That’s a phrase I’ve heard! I should do that.”

So I did, and it was kind of gross.

Chopped Suet

Also, to be authentic, I didn’t use a tripod to take these pictures. They didn’t have tripods for their digital cameras in The Olden Days!

First I chopped up the suet into chunks. All the online tutorials said it would melt down faster if I ground it up in a food processor, but I like to do things the old fashioned way because I’m a moron. (Seriously, I spent all summer pushing tomatoes through a sieve BY HAND with a spoon, instead of just blending them in the freaking blender like a normal, functioning human.) It chopped up very satisfyingly, although there was some weird stuff in there. Like, some papery, cellophane-y stuff that made a crinkling sound wrapped around everything, and some vessels and whatnot. Maybe some cartilage? I don’t even know. All the tutorials said “kidney fat” is the best, but I don’t think I’d know a kidney if you slapped me in the face with one, let alone kidney fat. The label just said “frozen beef suet.”

(It’s worth noting here that yes, I DID pass Biology class, thank you very much, so shut up. Cows are hard.)

Suet Chunks

Chunks! Even the dog wouldn’t eat them!

The next step was to add water and a couple spoonfuls of salt, and then simmer the fat until it melted. All the tutorials said it would smell. It did. It smelled like how chicken bones smell when they come out of a stock. Kind of a… fatty smell. Waxy, fatty, faintly beefy. It’s the middle of winter, and we don’t have a range fan, so basically it was four hours of Eau de Beef Fat. Mr. Cloud Ring was not pleased.

Simmering took FOR-EVER. I really should have listened to everyone when they said to grind the fat, because it got to be about 10 at night and I was still in the kitchen, staring listlessly into a pot of semi-solid grease chunks. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED.

Melted Suet

Awesome prank: tell people you’re cooking soup and see if you can get them to stick their heads in the pot and take a big whiff.

But eventually it was more or less liquid, and I strained most of it through a sieve. (I saved the sieve, which was full of glop, thinking I would re-melt it later and get the rest out. Then I left it on the stove for days and it started to smell.) The oil floated to the top, and cooled to a solid white mass. It still kinda smelled. But hey! I rendered tallow! This tallow I’ll be using to make soap, because I don’t fancy the idea of rubbing it in my hair as a pomade. I also understand why tallow candles were for everyday and beeswax candles were for church, because burning that stuff has gotta be rank.

Tallow

Beautiful.

From The Art of Perfumery (G. W. Septimus Piesse, 1857):

The most important thing to consider in the manufacture of pomatum, &c., is to start off with a perfectly inodorous grease, whatever that grease may be. Inodorous lard is obtained thus:

Take, say 28 lbs. of perfectly fresh lard, place it in a well-glazed vessel, that can be submitted to the heat of a boiling salt-water bath, or by steam under a slight pressure; when the lard is melted, add to it one ounce of powdered alum and two ounces of table salt; maintain the heat for some time, in fact till a scum rises, consisting in a great measure of coagulated proteine compounds, membrane, &c., which must be skimmed off; when the liquid grease appears of a uniform nature it is allowed to grow cold.

The lard is now to be washed. This is done in small portions at a time, and is a work of much labor, which, however, is amply repaid by the result. About a pound of the grease is now placed on a slate slab a little on the incline, a supply of good water being set to trickle over it; the surface of the grease is then constantly renewed by an operative working a muller over it, precisely as a color-maker grinds paints in oil. In this way the water removes any traces of alum or salt, also the last traces of nitrogenous matter. Finally, the grease, when the whole is washed in this way, is remelted, the heat being maintained enough to drive off any adhering water. When cold it is finished.

Although purifying grease in this way is troublesome, and takes a good deal of time, yet unless done so, it is totally unfit for perfuming with flowers, because a bad grease will cost more in perfume to cover its mal odeur than the expense of thus deodorizing it. Moreover, if lard be used that “smells of the pig,” it is next to impossible to impart to it any delicate odor; and if strongly perfumed by the addition of ottos, the unpurified grease will not keep, but quickly becomes rancid. Under any circumstances, therefore, grease that is not perfectly inodorous is a very expensive material to use in the manufacture of pomades.

Now here’s a little math: I bought my frozen suet for $6.50. I got two and a half pounds of tallow. That’s $2.60 a pound. A pound of olive oil out of my giant, restaurant-sized gallon is about $3.80, so tallow is actually cheaper, although you have to take into account prep time versus just pouring it out of a can. You can get a quart of pre-rendered tallow from a soap making supplier for about $7.50, which, while it may be less smelly, is also more expensive. You can also buy lard in blocks for cheap, but lard is Satan’s Grease, so, you know… FYI.


If you’ve ever been unemployed for a while, particularly in the middle of winter with no car, you’ll be familiar with that point at which you lose all sense of proportion. You become one of those people. People who care deeply about their lawns. People who haunt Facebook, posting blurry pictures of their breakfast (“Waffles AND bacon! Crazy!”), commenting relentlessly on other people’s posts, other people who don’t reply because it’s two in the afternoon, they have real jobs, and to be honest they’re a little sick of you. You’ll spend hours shuffling your CD collection because you can’t decide whether release date or album color would be a better organizational system. You’ll start explaining the plot of Korean soap operas to your dog, because you’re afraid otherwise you’ll forget how to form words. It’s like being Tom Hanks in Cast Away, except he couldn’t annoy people via email.

Which is a long way of saying “I got dolled up and went grocery shopping with Mr. Cloud Ring.” Shopping is very exciting for me, not only because I love food like nuns love Jesus, but also because it’s my only legitimate reason for putting nice pants on. (This is why your housebound grandmother does her makeup before she gets the mail.) I thought it was an excellent opportunity to wear my “Pound Mary.”

Pound Mary

If anyone knows what the Chinese bit says, please share. Particularly if it explains who would hate women so much as to design this dress.

Pound Mary is a brown, shapeless dress-vest-thing I found at the Salvation Army. It’s made of some kind of scritchy brown fabric. It’s cut far too tight below the waist, and very generously proportioned above. The buttons are horrific, plastic affairs spangled with rhinestones. But the label says “Pound Mary,” so obviously it’s one of my treasured possessions. Feeling like a million yuan, and looking like a paper bag that had been attacked by the 80’s, I figured it would be a good day to visit my imaginary Chinese grandmother. (Imaginary in the sense that I would like for her to be my grandmother. She does actually exist.)

Full Pound Mary

“Shapeless bag” is in this year.

My imaginary Chinese grandmother is the lady who owns our local Asian grocery. Well, I don’t know if she owns it, but she’s the only member of her family who speaks English, so she runs the register. It’s absolutely my favorite place to shop. I only recognize about half of what they stock. Most of the labels are in Chinese, Japanese or Korean, and the English tends to be unhelpful. (“Elementary Noodle.”) There’s a wall of dried medicinal herbs in bags, mostly labeled with Latin names, and a rack of Chinese patent medicines I want very badly to buy, but I have no idea what they are or what they do, and I’m afraid I might get up to the register with a bottle of incontinence pills. It’s also very soothing. My imaginary Chinese grandmother  is a devout Pure Land Buddhist, so at the checkout is a little display of Amida Buddha icons and charms, which she gives out for free. A little television behind the register plays an eminent-looking monk, lecturing. The subtitles are in Chinese, but his voice is quite calming, and he is always happy. She plays a CD of sing-songy chanting through the store speakers. Whenever I shop there I spend the rest of the day humming that little ditty. She must drive her family nuts.

I spent a good 20 minutes deciding which soy sauce to buy. Seriously, twenty feet of soy sauces. I ended up picking the one with the prettiest name and calling it good. (“Pearl River Bridge.”) When we got up to the register she greeted us with her usual good cheer.

“Hi!” she said. “What’s the matter with your face?”
I touched my fingers to my cheeks, trying to look like a delicate princess. “I have sensitive skin.”

This is where your average, middle-aged woman would pick up on “sensitive” and start telling you about her new gluten intolerance, or her favorite $50 facial scrub made out of organically farmed mung bean husks. To tell the truth, the average middle-aged woman would not ask about your face, because if there’s one thing we white women are good at it’s awkwardly avoiding discussions of obvious things like someone’s acne flair-up.

“You have acne?” she asked.
“Um. Yes.”
“You drink dandelion tea?”
“Uh…”
“Very good for acne! My son have acne, very bad! He drinks dandelion tea, it goes away.” She disappeared behind the register and came back with a bag of dried leaves, which she placed in my hands. “Put this in water, maybe seven liters? In a large pot.” She mimed the size of the pot. “Boil for 45 minutes, then strain. Drink tea, every day drink a liter. It will wash out all your bad things. You pee a lot! If bad not come out, comes out in skin.”
“Thank you!” I said. The bag was definitely dandelions. I could see dried puff balls, and little serrated leaves.
“My son had a cough.” she continued. “He coughed for three months, doctors couldn’t do anything! I told him to drink this, he didn’t want to. He says he doesn’t like it cold.” She made a face. “I said, neither do I! Put it in microwave, heat it up, I say ‘Drink this,’ and three days later…” We were on tenterhooks. “He coughs once!”

At this point I was completely sold, and ready to pay the $3.99 for a bag of what was basically dried weeds. But she took the bag from my hands and put it in with my shopping. “This is for you,” she said. “Drink this at home, don’t drink at work. You will pee a lot.”

My lunch

Big ol’ jug of dandelion tea and some lightly toasted sunflower seeds. I’m like Fox Mulder if he was Charlie Chan!

So, well instructed and a little teary-eyed, we said thank you and went home. I fetched out my big pot and boiled my dandelions like my imaginary Chinese grandmother taught me. It didn’t smell too bad – like a mix of spinach and hay. Mr. Cloud Ring looked in the pot and noted that drinking seven liters of anything will make you pee a lot. This is true, but you have to listen to your imaginary grandmother. She once told me that goji berries are “very good for eyes and kidneys,” and I haven’t had a kidney go bad yet, so she must know something. It’s worth noting here that if anyone else had suggested I flush out “toxins” with an herbal tea I would have given them such a withering look their great-grandchildren would have lost weight.

When the dandelion had finished boiling it looked like a horrible mass of rotten seaweed, and a bit of fine sand had settled at the bottom. (Exotic Chinese sand? We lacked the forensic equipment to find out.) I ladled out several large pots of tea, and I am now sipping my way to a clearer skinned me. Of course this means I can’t go shopping for soy sauce until I have beautiful skin, because I don’t dare disappoint my imaginary grandmother. But it’s good to have goals.

Coming up next: My Imaginary Chinese Grandmother II: The Ong.


Maybe you think potpourri is boring. For oldsters. Something your grandma keeps in the guest rooms. Maybe you think it would be more interesting if it involved, like, thirty-million obscure ingredients, a long period of fermentation and possibly mold. Well buckle up, grandad, because I’ve got news that’s gonna blow your mind all over your face.

“Moist” potpourri. Yes. Because it turns out “pourri” is actually French for “rotten.” (Oh, you knew that, M. Smartie-pantalons? Well why don’t you write a blog if you’re so clever.)

As it turns out, “pot-pourri” was once a mix of fresh herbs, which were salted and kept in a crock until they fermented. Incroyable! For a first hand recipe, take a look at this letter to the editor, from The Monthly Magazine, published 1804:

Moist Pot-Pourri AMoist Pot-Pourri B

To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.

SIR, it appears, that your Correspondent Rosalba, following the directions given in your number for July, p. 550, has failed in her attempts to make the pot pourri : and permit me to add, Sir, that whoever follows those directions must fail ; for the genuine pot-pourri never was and never can be made according to that recipe. To prevent future failures, and furnish a proper answer to Rosalba question, have the goodness to publish the following, and you will oblige your’s, &c.

Manchester Sept. 8, 1804.

ROSARUBRA.

A RECIPE for making the famous PERFUME, termed by the FRENCH POT-POURRI.

Orange-flowers, and common rose-leaves of each one pound.
Leaves of red pinks, half a pound.
Leaves of marjoram and myrtle, care- fully picked, each half a pound.
Leaves of musk roses, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, camomile, melilot [sweet clover], hyssop, sweet basil, and balm, of each two ounces.
Jessamine flowers, two or three handfuls.
Laurel leaves, fifteen or twenty.
Exterior rind of lemons, a large handful.
Small green oranges, about the same quantity.
Salt, half a pound.

Put all into a well-leaded earthen jar, and stir the whole carefully with a wooden spatula or spoon twice a day for a month.

Afterwards add,
Florentine white iris, and benzoine, of each twelve ounces.
Cloves and cinnamon powdered, of each two ounces.
Mace, storax, calamus aromaticus, and Cyprus (bois de Rhodes) of each one ounce.
Lemon-coloured sandal, and long sweet cyprus. of each six drachms. [A drachm (dram) is 1/8 of an ounce.]

Stir all together, as before directed, and the issue will be the complete genuine delightful perfume, termed pot-pourri. The proportions specified above must be care fully attended to ; as on this much of the perfection of this elegant composition depends; the quantities being so adjusted that in the combination of all these fine odours not one is found to predominate beyond another.

The Monthly Magazine or British Review, vol. XVIII part II 1804: 312. (With many thanks to Google Books.)

Is it just me, or is that letter awfully sassy? Actually, the whole magazine is like that. I’ve been paging through it, and it’s mostly been people writing in to correct previous letters and bitch about the roads in foreign countries. The more things change…