Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hey, Khren!

I want to share a passage from A Writer At War:  Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.  The book contains passages from Vasily Grossman's wartime writings, with copious explanatory text.  I'll share some other passages that are horrifying, but this one is fun.

By way of background, the Germans at this point have pushed the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad to a narrow strip of land along the Volga River.  The other bank of the river is under control of the Soviets, and they resupply the defenders with barges, but the crossing is very dangerous.  To supplement the supplies, and to harass the Germans, Soviet pilots using training planes (apparently called U-2s), which are unsuitable for combat, fly over the city at night, cutting their engines so that they fly silently.  For the Soviet soldiers, they bring food and ammunition.  For the Germans, bombs tumbling out of the sky with no warning (remember the planes were running silent), haunting their sleep.  By the way, most of these pilots are women, and I like to imagine the pilot in the following anecdote is a woman.

Here's Grossman:

During the night, U-2s drop food for our troops. We mark the front line with oil lamps (flat dishes), which the soldiers light on the bottom of trenches. Company Commander Khrennikov once forgot to do this, and suddenly he heard a hoarse voice coming from the dark sky above: 'Hey, Khren! Are you going to light those lamps or not?' That was the pilot. The engine had been switched off. Khrennikov says this made a terrifying impression on him: a voice from the sky calling his name.
Fun story, right?  It gets better.  Here is the editors' note on the passage:

'Khren' in Russian means horseradish, but it is also a euphemism for an insult similar to 'motherfucker'. So when the pilot shouted, 'Hey, motherfucker!' Khrennikov was astonished at hearing what he thought was his own name.
There are a million stories like this in the book.  However dire things got for the Soviets, they don't seem to have lost their sense of humor.

Friday, December 16, 2016

It's Basic Physics

This weekend it is forecast to reach -17°F in Duluth, Minnesota, and 4°F in Detroit.  Meanwhile the surface water temperatures on the Great Lakes are quite high right now.  So to those of you saying that Great Lakes water temperatures aren't going to drop this weekend, all I can say is:  I think you're fucking insane.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Recipe: Squash Seeds

I just cooked up some squash seeds and they were delicious.  Here is my recommendation.  This is loosely based on Mark Bittman's advice in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I started with a smallish buttercup squash.  I think this recipe would apply equally well to butternut squash or pumpkin seeds.  I sliced the squash in half along its hemisphere(?) (its prime meridian?  whatever man) and scooped out the seeds and the surrounding goop.  (Basically, inside a squash there are two kinds of flesh, the firm flesh that adheres to the skin, and the goopy flesh that occupies the hollow chamber and contains the seeds.  I scooped out the goopy stuff, scraping it from the firm flesh.)

I then separated the seeds from the goop.  This is the messy, laborious part of the job.  I wish I had measured the amount of seeds I got, but it was maybe...  I don't know, half a cup?  Maybe a little less?  This is painstaking work, I basically had to remove the seeds one by one (the goopy, stringy flesh tends to cling to them).  A little bit of squash stuck to the seeds is tolerable, though, so don't drive yourself crazy with this step.

I put the seeds in a bowl and covered them with warm water.  The point was just to dissolve some of the goop that still clung to them.  After maybe 10-15 minutes, I poured the seeds through a colander and then put them back in the bowl (which now had no water in it).  Then I added 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon salt, stirring it around a bit to dissolve the salt and form a very salty brine.  (The seeds ended up very salty, which I found delicious.  You could reduce the salt quite a bit if you don't care for really salty results.  I will probably use more like 1.5 or 2 teaspoons next time, which I still expect to be quite salty.  But note that the ratio of salt to water is probably the relevant factor.  If you have to use more water to cover the seeds, adjust the salt accordingly.)

I let the seeds soak in the brine for maybe half an hour.  Then I poured them through a colander again but did not rinse them.  I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat.  Then I added the (still wet with brine) seeds and stirred them—they hissed in the hot oil.  After a few minutes of stirring, I spread them out over the bottom of the frying pan and left them over low heat.  I stirred them a few more times, every few minutes, and after a total of about 12-15 minutes of cooking they were starting to brown up.  I removed them from the heat, let them cool down a few minutes, and ate with no further seasoning.

They were delicious.  They had a nice popcorn-like character.  I devoured all of them in like two minutes.  Oh man, they were so good.  It's my new favorite snack.  (One thing is, they were pretty oily.  I ate them with a spoon, so my hands wouldn't get all oily.  You could probably use a bit less oil, but I bet they would still be somewhat messy to eat by hand.)

One variation would be to skip the brine and salt the seeds directly in the frying pan.  That would probably use less salt, which I guess would be economical (though salt is pretty damn cheap).  I'll try that sometime and see how it works.  My concern would be that the saltiness would be less evenly distributed.  But I mean, it would probably still be delicious, maybe even more so.

One problem is that the ratio of seeds to squash is such that you'll have to eat a fair amount of squash if you want to enjoy the seeds very often.  But I mean...  squash is great too.  I will experiment with how well the seeds keep once they've been removed from the flesh, and once they've been fried.  But I doubt I will very often be able to resist eating them all at once.

You could easily season them however you want.  Pepper, garlic, whatever.  They were fantastic on their own, though, with nothing but the salt and the olive oil to flavor them.  You could also probably put them on top of various savory foods as a garnish type thing.  But again...  they were amazing on their own.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Woe Unto Them

The Scripture I am thinking about today is from Isaiah 5:20:  "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil."  In "The Wire," Prop Joe uses this passage to express his feelings on the passing of Butchie.  This is on my mind because of the way Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee have been understood.  Anyone who claims the Confederacy was "honorable" and "courtly" should confront the realities of the POW camp at Andersonville (do not click that link if you are squeamish).  There are those who call Grant a "butcher" and Lee a gentleman.  And then, today, there is any amount of bullshit flowing freely and with no apparent consequence for those who peddle it.  But woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.