The Joy of Home Winemaking

Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
December 1998

Plumbing the Depths, December 5

Dandelion December, December 10

Salubrious Solstice, December 21

Half-Price Half-Wit, December 29

Title of the Month: Seductions of Rice

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Plumbing the Depths
Saturday, December 5

A plumber came earlier this week to install the new kitchen faucet. We'd been replacing the O rings and gaskets for years on the thing, not to mention using Liquid Solder on the holes on top of the spout. Sometimes you could wash dishes and get your face washed at the same time. So convenient.

This last time I tried to replace the innards, I stripped the Allen wrench hole. We realized that The Time Had Come and went out and bought a new faucet.

Anyway, the guy came. I was prepared to shove Nelly the cat into the bedroom to keep her out of the way, but she's so profoundly deaf these days she actually slept through it. Nelly loves to help repair people. Especially if they have power tools. We've never been able to figure out the attraction.

Dover the cat, being stupid but sensible, headed for the basement at the first sign of danger, but when the guy went down to turn on the water, Dover came right back up again. I stashed the poor confused thing in the bedroom.

Twenty minutes later I went in to check, and couldn't find him. It's a small room, with only a few places to hide. No white cat with pink ears. Not in the closet, not under the dresser. Windows were shut. Uh oh.

Went round to Denny's side of the bed and out of pure luck, spotted a few inches of white tail.

Dover had wedged himself head first into the space between the mattress and the wall, and was convinced he was safe. When he realized it was me, and not the Evil, Deranged, Cat-Hating Repair Person, he struggled to back himself out. Once up on the bed, he helped me stare at the door in wild surmise.

Tried petting him to calm him. Didn't work. The plumber clanged. He wedged himself into the space again, tail sticking out in a dead giveaway.

I realized then and there that Dover, out in the wild, would be one of those animals that gets its head stuck in a tin can. A sad scenario. It wouldn't be because he was trying to lick the food out, but because he was trying to hide.

I think in Dover's case, domestication came along just in time.


Dandelion December
Thursday, December 10

A friend and I went for a walk around Lake of the Isles here in Minneapolis the other day. The weather was quite balmy for December. We found a patch of dandelions, both yellow and white. True, they were hugging the ground rather defensively, but they were flowers. We oooed and ahhhed.

Then we walked through some of the streets by the lake, looking at ritzy houses, approving styles, decorations, and yards. Back by the lake we came upon a inlet, about the size of a small pond. It looked odd.

I realized this was because it was completely still. Being more shallow than the main lake, there was a thin skim of ice of it. Cassandra went to the edge and tested it gingerly. The edges were quite firm and very smooth. We tossed a small stick out to the middle and it held. We were like little kids seeing ice for the first time, poking and prodding.

Further out in the water was a sweeping, graceful line between the free water of the lake and the glazed-over inlet. The tiny waves lapped up to the line and stopped dead. We wondered where the energy went. Under the ice? Where?

Cassandra told me stories of Taiwanese visitors she'd entertained once who had never seen ice or snow and how they had played and jumped around like children, delighted with the new experience. I told her about the film on PBS I had seen of an Ojibway man explaining how the Ojibway ice fished, making the hole, making a little teepee over it so they could see through the water to the bottom, luring the fish within spearing distance by jigging little carved minnows.

We finished our stroll and went back to her place. She went up to her apartment and I drove home. That night I had very pleasant, but surreal dreams of skewed seasons, strange vining plants in snow and tropical animals and penguins talking together, sewing moccasins.

I doubt I'll ever have a day quite like that again, given the history of Minnesota winters. Or maybe there have been days like that before and I was too busy to notice. It could foretell bad things or good things, I don't know. But I'm glad to have experienced such a wonderfully strange day.


Salubrious Solstice
Monday, December 21

"darkest evening of the year. . . " wrote Robert Frost. Coldest, too. A week and half ago I was gallivanting around in my shirtsleeves and tonight the low is supposed to be -14 with a windchill of -50. We are not planning to have a bonfire, but I thought I'd light a candle, at least.

Well, my friends, let us hope for peace and sanity in this coming year. This past year Ireland acquired hope, after so many years of violence. This coming March I will allow myself to wear green on St. Patrick's Day for the first time in many years.

Green for hope, green for the Earth, green in our memories those departed.

note a creature was stirring

"note a creature was stirring"

Stay safe and warm, my friends, and make light in the darkness.


Half-Price Half-Wit
Tuesday, December 29

Went to a local mall to a local department store the other night to buy some of the nice sensible cotton underwear I favor, which was on sale.

My friend Rebecca accompanied me. We had lots of fun going through the store, which is ornate, and full of half-off bargains. I avoid malls before Xmas and hadn't been in one in quite a while. The people who do the displays at this place are good. Sometimes it's just fun to roam around and look at all the pretties without any intention of buying any of it, even at half-price. I did get the underwear, and some socks. Passed up the pearls and the elegant feathered hat, although it looked durned good on me.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize how long we had been in there, and had a low blood sugar episode. I could feel myself getting stupider and stupider as we walked and walked. Then the shaky feeling started. Rebecca got me to the deli. We shared some pasta and I munched on glucose tablets. Hadn't had an episode for quite sometime, since I'm not on meds any more.

I read somewhere that although striding along briskly is good for the cardiovascular system and good for the muscles, it doesn't burn as many calories as shuffling along shopping, and I think it may be true. We had been in there for well over three hours and my 4 p.m. snack was long gone.

After about 15 minutes I felt much better, could see colors more brightly, and felt almost intelligent. I had promised to make us sweet and sour tofu for supper, so Rebecca drove us home.

Things seemed to be going along just fine. Denny was watching wrestling and had fed himself. I put some rice on to cook, then got out the wok to deep fry the cubes of tofu. There wasn't quite enough oil so I reached waaaay up to get a new bottle but somehow lost my grip and it came crashing down to the floor.

At first I thought it was Ok, being a plastic bottle, but no, the bottom was cracked.

Rebecca bravely mopped up the escaped oil with the help of Nelly the cat who lapped industriously at the small flood. They made a good environmental disaster team. No endangered otters in my kitchen!

In the meantime I was holding the cracked bottle upside down with one hand and trying to get a funnel into the old bottle with the other so I could transfer what was left of the oil. One or two mishaps later I succeeded, then got out the Citra Solve to finish cleaning up the floor so we wouldn't kill ourselves. Nelly retreated in disgust at the orange smell.

By that point the rice was done, but rice holds, no problem. The vegetables were all cut. I deep fried the tofu cubes in batches and drained them on paper towels. Something was bothering me, but I couldn't think what. My, I was hungry.

After the tofu was done I began ladling the hot oil into a jar so I could re-use the wok. I realized what was wrong— I usually deep fry in the small wok, so the oil can cool down before I funnel it into the jar. Instead, I was using the big stir-fry wok, and the oil was NOT cool. The plastic funnel warped and twisted. Luckily, no hot oil escaped.

It was at that point that I happened to glance down and see that in setting the ring around the gas, I had put it on upside down and instead of a fairly stable wok locked onto a wide base, I had been using one merely perched on the narrow end.

The ghost of the old fry cook deep within me shook me by the back of the neck and whapped me up alongside the head a few times. What a ding dong!

After several deep breaths, I quickly finished off the dish and we sat down to eat, at nearly 9:30. It was quite good, and gradually I got my equilibrium back.

What I should have done when I got home was had some milk or bread, of course, to make sure I had enough 'fuel' so my brain would work while I was cooking, but I hated the thought of wasting carbs that I could have used for nice fresh rice.

Thank ghod I hadn't needed to use the cleaver on the tofu, I thought.

The incident pointed out to me the thin line we walk most of the time, assuming our brains are chugging along doing their jobs. This is what it must be like for people in the first stages of mental impairment. Just small things can cause major disasters—little misjudgments, tiny miscalculations can make ordinary routines into mine fields. Scary.

But all's well that end's well, I guess.

Here's to Laurie's absent gall bladder, Rebecca L's continued safety in Israel, Don's garden in L.A, and Karen's jelly-making enterprise. Here's to good works, good writing, good reading, stout hearts, life, love, health and prosperity to us all in the coming year, here in the States, over there in Australia, England and up there in Canada. And here's to peace.

Take it easy, have fun, and try not to wok on the wild side. Happy New Year, my friends.


Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
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Copyright 1998 by Terry A. Garey.