Chair 1

Alright dear readers.  I know how you’ve been fretting about the incompleteness of certain tasks – tasks begun in all great earnestness but seeming to fade without grandeur … into the woodwork!?  Here we have a tale of such a task now nobly redeemed, having arrived at completion, freeing psychological energy and brightening attitudinal space.  It’s a chair, basically, the first glimpse of which you got almost three years ago here.

It began with finding some wood at the dump, three six foot long one by eights.  At the time I thought they were oak but in the intervening years I’ve learned a lot about wood and I know that they’re not oak, thought what they are I do not know.  Hard though, almost a color like poplar, but surely harder, just not sure.  Let me know if you have an intuition.

Also I had found at the dump an oaken (this was oak, not sure if red or brown, but not white) tall cabinet.  I took the front off it.  Some nice pieces there.  Basically this chair is green, the way folks like to use the word in these days of sustainability, and up-cycled. Those adjectives certainly adhere – we’ll keep building on that.

The ideas then, not that I don’t reject Platonic idealism, but in this case the pattern holds more than not, of the chair came first and I sketched them out in wood.

Chair 1 - Ideas

You can see a three piece back (the carve outs on the outside pieces were there in the oak cabinet but at the bottom, so here they are inverted).  That piece in the center is a piece of hickory, the only not up-cycled piece in the assemblage.  It was selected for the grain.  We’ll come back to that.  An Adirondack chair it was to be and I made some legs that I thought nicely addressed the need to be flush to the long leg base but perpendicular to the arm.  No nails or screws in this baby.  Is there a word for that?

Chair 1 - Rough Leg

Anyway, I selected, cut out, and planed the five seat slats.  Two of that cabinet oak, three random, of which one was perhaps butternut and the other two I have no idea.  Suddenly though, about August 2013 the project goes fallow.  I had so many irons in the fire, gourd banjos, gourd mbiras, oaken pliers, making the shop more capable, also I had a regular and sometimes intense work life too, and also I was intimidated by the joint I had selected for where the arms meet surrounding the back – I’d decided that none of the commonly used props and supports were really needed, that it would be sleeker and cooler and better – but I was not sure, so I paused.

Fast forward two years.  The thing sat in the shop taunting me.  My nephew was going to be around for a few weeks and he’s a useful one.  He helped affix the slats (and adjust them as needed), work out some of the geometry in the arm joint plan, and get the back attached.  At the end of his contribution all that was really left was the attachment of the arms.

Fast forward eight months.  I have no idea how inertia is overcome, why things not in motion get into motion and things in motion cease to be in motion.  Is there a scientific word for this opposite of inertia?  It was right after the completion of the table, which came out nicely and filled me with confidence, that I put it up next.

Chair 1 - Right Chair 1 - Left Chair 1 - Center

I used a marine spar varnish, which seemed the right thing if this is to live outside.  It came out strong.  I used epoxy-resin on the joints where the arms join to the back piece and where the arms join to the legs.  These struck me as the joints subject to the most stress and having the least mechanical advantage.

Chair 1 - Back

I had mentioned the grain of the hickory.  Click on it to expand.

Chair 1 - Kundalini

to me it certainly looked like a fire with smoke.  Euphemistically kundalini perhaps.  Made me think of a next chair where the stone capture technique from the jade box could surround one appropriate stone slice for each chakra.  <Sigh>.  More ideas than time, certainly, but I’d love to get to that one and you heard it here first.

I must also thank my Mother, for whom this was to be a birthday present back in 2013. She has been patient and kind in waiting.  May she have many years of comfort (if, of course, it is comfortable – I sure hope so – there are so many things one does not know when one builds a first thing in a genre).  I test sat in it.  It was not flimsy.  I felt as if I were at Campobello (translate as “some legendary place where folks who really matter contemplate the destiny of the world in the relaxed comfort of their private estates).  I mean, isn’t that the feeling that a proper Adirondack chair is supposed to generate?  Maybe also I felt this exaltation because of the kundalini channeling somehow made manifest in the chair – we’ll have to test it out on various subjects.

It was a fun project and I’m so glad to complete it.

 

Table 1

This is the first fruit of the new jointer being set up.  The joined boards were initially merely tests of having no daylight whatsoever in the joint, of having the joined boards form an honest plane, of the strength of the joint, etc.  The ‘no daylight’ requirement was fully met.  The ‘honest plane’ requirement, perhaps not fully.  I think the combination of making sure to consistently and equally pressure the board (passing of the jointer cutting head) to the fence and the blade) as well as insuring that the fence is “””perfectly””” (can’t put that in quotes enough) at 90 degrees are the refinements to be made, as well as to be more rigorous about what compromises can be accepted.

Table 1 A

The top is two pieces of zebrawood and the bottom is three pieces of birch, set perpendicularly to the top.  For each joined plane a piece of mahogany is notched into the cedar legs so that it goes across the seam of the joints it is supporting.

There are a lot of little imperfections in this one (as if that’s not always true), but I did not undertake it with any purpose except that I learn something.  The bonus benefit is that I had a Cable/DVD thing that resting on some milk crates inside the house.  Now I can have the use of those milk crates in the wood shop and house can have an upgrade.  Win-win, it seems (house and work room) with perhaps another thrown in (experience/knowledge).

Table 1 B

Some Beech

When some ways back I built those oak steps, I had obtained the material from a local tree guy who air dries what logs he can allocate and slice up himself on his portable sawmill.  In addition to the oak I had gotten two pieces of wide beech because they were cheap and I’d not worked with beech before.  These particular pieces, I’m not sure why, after I brought them home and lay them fallow for two years, demonstrated great warping and cupping – as if perhaps they were not as dry as he thought.  Next time I’ll being a moisture meter, but at the time I was not so sophisticated.

I decided that I’d be a frugal miller and see if I could get any utility out of them, beyond that of firewood.  The smaller piece was about six feet by 11 inches by one inch thick.  I cut it in half to reduce the impact of it not being straight but rather vaguely like a bow shape and put the halves seven times (sounds biblical, the halves seven times, or Talmudic, or alchemical, or) seven times the halves were put through the thickness planer, and though this cost them almost 5/16ths of their thickness most of the cupping/arching was removed. With a straight edge and tablesaw I took out the long curves and obtained the shelves you see below.

New Shelf April 2016

It was a harder wood than I thought, had to pre-drill the holes for screws (usually I don’t use nails of screws, but for rough carpentry I make exceptions).  The blond verticals are hackberry.  The gourds on the top shelf are very happy with the setup.

Tobacco 2

Greetings Dear Readers, earthbound or nay.  This transmission comes to you from the usual place on the usual frequency.  Those transmissions encoded in the shifting shapes of clouds and the specific patterns of raindrops landing I will not take responsibility for, though I will reluctantly acknowledge to contributing, albeit to the most minor of extents, to that grander milieu of phenomena.  Thus are the skids of mysterious incredulity greased.

Today’s post, a trifle long in being made, follows up on last August’s Tobacco 1 post, wherein our hero, Umgurk, having lost his reindeer, and it being dark and cold, sets forth… (wait, that’s not what it’s about).  That prior post detailed a little of the history of tobacco and that I was seeing how it grew.  Following that post came the tale of a strange ark, not a water bound ark, that would carry life forms (plants) across a condition they could not survive (winter) with ample room for roots.  OK, looked at another way it’s just a large wooden flower pot, but strange ark is much more poetic and suggestive to the imagination.

I had put the chosen tobacco plants which otherwise would have died and set them in the strange ark.  All winter long I watered them and throve they mightily.  By the end of March behold –

Tobacco plant

with flowers no less

Tobacco Flower

Not long after these pictures,, the largest of the plants fell under weight of its luxuriant leaves.  This told me it was time to harvest the first batch of those leaves.  The internet is full of accounts of how tobacco leaves are to be dried, subsequently fermented (cured), and thereafter used.  At the end of last summer when I had many tiny (3 or four inch) leaves I had tried to dry a few.  When stuck together they would molder.  Those not moldy were somewhat fragrant.  I tried an experiment – you heard it here first – I had some bluefish (I seek the collective permission of the universe to refer to the bluefish as mackerel here – there are meaningful similarities, a dark fishy-fish, though of course there are differences too) so anyway I had this mackerel (how easy was that?) and a whole bunch of fresh tobacco leaves – what about tobacco smoked mackerel?  How could an avenue as appealing as this have gone unexplored by earthly civilization?  Forty or fifty little leaves later (thrown into the grill underneath the fish), and it did produce a zaftig fragrance, I possessed the prize.  A similar result might have been produced by soaking the fish in water long standing in un-emptied ashtrays … but not really.  I just think that important adjustments might need to be made such as how many leaves, how much fire, tiger mackerel?, under which stars, etc.  The culinary road to heaven crosses many uncontemplated byways.

Trying to be fair to the many forms of goodness available in our universe I did consider the converse, of setting the leaves (misted) on the grill and the mackerel into the fire itself, so that the mackerel smoke could condition the tobacco.  I think that such tobacco would really open olfactory minds.  That idea is filed under “For another time”.

Back to the main theme, then.  I clipped off the biggest dozen leaves from the fallen plant and stood it back up.  I strung the leaves on a wire next to a heating vent in the workshop, hoping that the flow of air would deter mold.

Drying Tobacco 1 Drying Tobacco 2

and as yet (+ ten days) there is no mold.  The leaves continue to feel damp.  It is surprising how much moisture they contain and how strongly they clutch it.

Episode 3 of this series may feature efforts at curing and fermenting (assuming the drying does not fail), further escapades in tobacco-fish synergies, news of subsequent generations (the lead plant, having flowered, has produced many seed pods), or heaven knows.  Until that time may you thrive peacefully, or lean more in that direction, or not find the pain of being unable to thrive to be unspeakably odious, or – just do your best, ok?

 

 

Welcome 2016

Hello fair Readers, persons, life forms all

I have not much here today, other than a recognition of my posting slump and overdue wishes for health and strength and joy in 2016.  In fact, I’m so far behind in thinks to take care of (because I’m taking care of so many things) that the picture, indeed, you see that right, in fine January light, is from January 2015 and I believe that it’s now February 2016.  C’est la vie?

20150101 Desmond at Plum Island

Since early December I’ve been on a project that has required a great amount of new learning from me.  This is the main reason I’ve been so non-productive elsewise.  I earnestly hope to brightly fulfill these currents demands sooner than later and return to my happy practice of sharing experience with you.

 

 

Wintergreen

This will not be such a learned post, in that I could/should provide a host of links to educative references, so forgive me those who have come to rely on those.  Here’s one link though, Wintergreen, that should give gross background, more than that this is a flavor of chewing gum.

Wintergreen Leaves

The basics here are that it grows in the many oak/pine/maple woods locally and for decades I’ve occasionally picked and bruised a leaf just to smell the very lovely smell, thought of in gum as a kind of mint but really not being a mint at all.  Nowadays they get the same flavor from birch twigs so these little leaves get left alone.  The plant grows very close the ground, never gets big, but the leaves stay green in the winter.  I wonder how it got its name?

I did enough online research to learn that the native Americans made a medicinal tea from it and that just boiling the leaves does a very poor job of extracting either their flavor or their virtue.  OK, I did do enough research to learn that the Wampanoag word for it is gôgôwibagok.  Say it five times fast.  Seems that to extract the flavor and goodness it must be allowed to ferment for some days in a warm place, till it starts to bubble.  I washed the leaves, put them in a water bottle, and set them on the windowsill.

Wintergreen Leaves Immersed

Days pass.  And more, as if days pass of their own volition.  I notice the bubbles.  Smells good.  Ten days I let it ferment, or at least sit in tepid water.  The water vaguely tinted brown.  The bubbles never got too rowdy.  Eventually I figured I had to boil, test, and bottle.

Wintergreen Tea

So far the test has gone well.  I drank five ounces 45 minutes ago and here I am typing. The active ingredient is methyl salicylate, a cousin of salicylic acid, which in turn is the active component in aspirin.  The easing of aches and pains and the reduction of fever really were the only highlights I could expect, and I did not have aches nor a fever, so I’ll take the absence of detriment as the ok for this concoction.  Be warned though, methyl salicylate is toxic in sufficient quantities and you should probably only go this route if your insatiable natural curiosity so commands.  To temper the warning though, folk wisdom is wise for a reason.  In their day, these leaves helped the sick.  You’d have to go way way beyond soaking a handful of leaves in water for a few days, like off the spectrum beyond, to turn a natural medicine into an unnatural disaster.

Anyway these are my happy bits for the day.  May you explore the natural world with continuing ontological wonder.

Vigor

or perhaps vigor with no outlet.  Perhaps all revved up with no place to go.

In this case we have the resolution of the matter of Box 17, which spent a week in limbo, unclear as to whether it would take up local residence as a plant pot or would have to take its chances in the great big world.  Long story short, the local authorities issued a variance in the grand design, and so it was deployed.

Deployed

The main focus of this post though is on the captive plants, those that reach a point where their captivity is much at odds with their instinctual drives.  Plants want to grow.  The palm tree here had pushed up the soil in its previous pot easily four inches above the brim.  Transplanting it I could see how.  These are the roots I pruned off.

Root Circle 3

What a tremendous amount of vigor in that root system.

Root Circle

Root Cirle 4

I’ve never done any root pruning before and I hope not to again.  I can see it in the context of having a plant that grew mal-adaptive roots because of unnatural constraints, as here.  I hope not to put plants in that position.  The current placement of that palm tree in Box 17 could well keep it satisfied for five to seven years.  I can note on my list of accomplishments that I temporarily removed one invisible stress.  How I would like rather to say that I had fundamentally aligned vigor with opportunity.  Maybe to small extent, but it does make one think.

Box 17, the Cincinnati Connection

or maybe it’s the Blob connection.  We’re talking about a big box here, at least compared to the size of any previous box I’ve made.  Greater than 16 cubic feet..  Only two previous boxes (4 + 6, the tool box and the tombstone planter) vaguely pushed at a cubic foot. The idea of it kept whispering ‘Cincinnati, Cincinnati’ to me, as if something that big was meant to consume something even bigger, to grow, a force unto itself.  There was a movie.  Actually, here I was about to insert a hyperlink to a move called “The Blob that ate Cincinnati” – HOWEVER – apparently there never was such a movie. There was a movie about a cockroach that ate Cincinnati, and apparently the Blob was not as vigorous as I’d imagined, eating whole municipalities, so the connection must have to something to do with rational proteins making a memory where none existed.  I could have sworn till moments ago that I could picture said Blob (from memory) overwhelming the skyline of Cincinnati on its way to heaven knows where.  So this connection, this whispering by an idea of a (false) memory.  Subtle are the workings and non-workings in the mind.  First things first though.

Going back to early 2004 I was in Santa Barbara after a long project.  I spent a day collecting seeds, since they have such beautiful things growing there.  One was a palm seed that eventually sprouted and has thrived since.

Palm

Of course every year it gets bigger.  The last few years I’ve not re-potted and I guess the roots keep growing, they’ve pushed it up in pot till the soil is over the top of the pot.

Palm Soil

Also the pot itself is crumbling.  Long story short it needs a new pot, but there are not so many pots that would be a fit step up.  Flash now to 2010, in Hawaii, stopping somewhere near Punalu’u at a roadside coffee farm where also there were lots of macadamia trees.  Took a bunch of the nuts home, planted a few, one took and for a few years each year did better and better.  This year though it too was getting tired of it’s pot and something happened too where it dropped most of its leaves.

Macadamia

It too, therefore, was in the new pot market. Maybe a pot big enough for both of them?  Cincinnati, Cincinnati!  The existing pots, truncated cones, were about eighteen inches in height and also 18 inches in diameter at the top.  I wanted not to do this every year or two.  Twenty four?  For each, as cubes, 2 x 2 x 2, x2, or 2 x 4 x 2.  It’s only sixteen cubic feet.  How much could that weigh?  I looked it up…

Weights of Other Materials in Pounds Per *Cubic Foot

Earth, Common Loam    75.00-90.00
Earth, Dry/Loose            76.00
Earth, Dry/Packed         95.00
Earth, Mud/Packed        115.00

Hmm.  How much does a milk cow weigh?  About 1500 pounds, it is reported.  Light dirt would bring it in at 1200.  Packed mud at 1840.  Somewhere in the middle, about a cow’s worth.  It’s hard to believe though.  And the box itself probably adds 100 pounds.  Mud + box plus a few decorative rocks on top?  Perhaps a ton.  Sounds like a realistic plan, so.

Grooved Posts with Pegs

Notched 4 x 4’s for strength.  No screws, so nothing can be screwed up.  Dowels.  Can’t rust either.

Frame Ends

Two end frames.

Frame clamped

I was pleased with this, only having four foot long pipe clamps, that by using the middle bars I could effectively brace the whole thing for assembly.  I had a bunch of  1 x 6 fir tongue and groove boards left over from a dozen years ago, had to supplement a bit.

Clad Frame

Got a feeling of building a barn or an ark.  A mighty thing it seems, initially, but would a cow just laugh at it?  Clearly the design banks on the inertness of the soil.  A ton of earth is not a ton of live and kicking muscle.

Clad Frame Emerging

Here it is emerging from the workshop into the world.  So uncertain, these first steps.

Stops for a sanding

Stood up nicely, first on one side then the other, for a final sanding in a well ventilated area.  The lowest two slats worth of cladding and the bottom are lined with plastic sheeting, to keep water off the wood and to force it to drain out that center opening you see.  A catch pan will sit under that.  During this sanding process it started to snow – this being October 18th, mind you, and the first frost only having been the previous evening.  I had taken the sanding outside both for the open air and also to see what my assistant wanted to contribute.

Assistant sees the snow

The assistant first has gone to get some lumber, but then he saw (see the white streak in the picture) the snow flakes.  He decided instead then to contemplate them

Assistant contemplates

Tonight Box 17 sits outside on the deck waiting domestic blessing.  The palm and macadamia, had they eyes, would be able to see it just on the other side of the window.  I don’t know what they know, if a plant knows it has a mentor.

Another post on this will follow, showing either the rejected box, no doubt angry, hitching a ride for Cincinnati, or a box living a purpose driven life, holding the world together for two trees and probably a ton of smaller experimental plantings.

Until soon

 

That under which

It is almost dark on the night when the first frost will visit.  Not that it is not an integral part of the circle of life, yet doom it is to so many.  This cosmos, for example,

Cosmos

was late in being planted.  It managed one bloom, but will not seed.  Tomorrow it will have fallen.  Next to it some blue flower, also late planted, also bloomed but will not seed.

Blue Flower

I have taken also a photo of the sky under which is here.

That under which

It’s almost as if it could snow.  May the winter be gentle to you, dear readers, and the spring find you strong and ready.

Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak

Really.  In many ways this missive will miss many marks, yet squirrels do eat acorns.

First, to translate, the Mohegans, a Northeastern US tribe of Native Americans, whose language is in the Algonquin family, might declare “Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak” if they meant to indicate that squirrels eat acorns.  I get to this for several reasons and in several ways, but first, myself not being much of a Native American, wish to briefly go on record against the titling of this post as being an wicked act of cultural appropriation.  I don’t think I even need to testify that my respect of all indigenous peoples in the practice of their culture far exceeds my respect of we in the practice of rabid modernity.

OK.  It was my intent this week to gather a great mass of acorns and make them into cookies and acorn butter.  I had done this once before three years ago and it turned out plausibly well, but that was before I had this ability to document such an enterprise so readily.  I figured that this experience ought to be preserved that others might benefit (I do have to wonder how my imagination comes up with such hypotheses).  Let me start with the process of gathering the acorns.  Even though it’s really a pretty straight forward thing I found so many points on the way that were not acorns yet held related interest.

I set forth with my dog one morning near the end of September to the local woods.  It’s a big woods, well, in this suburban area a woods of 1000 acres is considered big.  It’s no wilderness.  Much of it is forested in pine, maple and oak.  Knowing when the right time is is very important.  Too early and nary an acorn.  Too late and the acorn weevils have won the day.  Acorn weevils, you ask?  Yes.  I’ve never seen an adult, but I’ve seen the larvae. The larvae are planted into the acorns by their mothers.  They eat their way out and drop to the forest floor.  Funny looking things, supposedly.

Acorn Weevil - Lignyodes helvolus

Anyway, I know to avoid acorns with a tell-tale little hole in them – that’s where the weevil larvae have eaten their way out and wreaked important havoc on the integrity of the acorn, especially for eating.  I’ve not always noticed the hole that gets the larvae eggs in there.  I was encountering about a 1 in thirty ratio of acorns with larvae.  Maybe one in twenty where somehow there had been a larvae, you could tell from black marks in the nut flesh itself, but no larvae to be found.  Most were clear though, of those I picked up, but if I picked up all I think most would not have been clear.

Now the actual looking for the acorns – of course they are near to oak trees, and in the woods I was in these would be red and white oaks, so named for the tones of the wood they yield.  Red oaks drop acorns every second year, while white oaks produce new ones each year.  The actual looking involves looking for the recently fallen, so to see a few recently fallen ones together suggests some sort of active drop zone, as soon the squirrels will come, and they can tell the good ones.  Thankfully the squirrel population in this woods is low, as we have just enough wild cover that we have natural predators. Foxes, coyotes, an occasional lynx.  Now and then a bear proves that he’s more than a myth, but I don’t see the bears as really gobbling up all the squirrels.  Remember the fox who ran by in the early spring?  I think that’s a squirrel in her mouth.  The looking for acorns though, as one goes quietly in the underbrush, guided by what seem nearer or further oak-like silhouettes and the occasional sudden messenger sound of an acorn falling close or just a little farther away – should I go and pick that one up?  Has it fallen just for me? Quercus, Quercus, can you hear me – do you laugh that I would think to call you Quercus?  Might the Algonquins who called you mitigomij, the Abenaki who called you wachilmezi, the Cherokee who called you tsu-s-ga – might they know your real name?

And here I stopped for a moment.  Real name.  How powerfully romantic.  And for what, the ancestor spirit of all oaks?  Still present?  Are you here, can you hear me?  If I could speak your name, if you had a name, would you answer?  Will you open the door for me, the door to where the great oaks live powerfully ideal oak lives,raining apple-sized acorns down, fit for dire Pleistocene mega-squirrels, the door to where abundance and magic dwell?  If only I knew your name.  Even the earth-wise natives who roamed the forests and lived on the acorns, did they know your name, and if so how, how is it that they had different names, unless a name is only a name for the limited experience we can have, so that a name is like “I encountering what I imagine you to be” and is more colored with our imagination than the real oak or object named.  Maybe names are the weakest things, a device of megalomaniacal monkeys, a tool perhaps for them to refer to some cluster of phenomenon (and thereby hopefully control them), but by no means possessed of the magic and truth they’d like to imagine.  Quercus, can you open the door?  If there were true names, names inseparable from the being they named, what would it be?  There’s another challenge I’ll mention, that of this oak vs. that oak.  It is easier to imagine that a given oak has a given name.  The tree Orgovius.  The tree Reefshnees.  One might never know how they got such names, but it could be that only the given tree could have such a name.  All trees though, especially trees, are connected in time and space through the seeds, that the first tree morphed and gave life to ten or a thousand trees – I think it is right to consider those children very much like branches, and those children then each another thousand, until somewhere some one of them was Oak, and the millions of children and progeny are also oak and that invisible tree which spawned them all lives in them and (it taunts the imagination) in many ways is presently here, is a giant thing that is more than spirit, and the name of that – perhaps such a name, were it to exist, would be not something rendered in a narrow frequency of sound, but maybe in smells and a music of sounds and patterns of growth and decay, or maybe (the name) is just not a thing for it, that while it is real and immense and present it has no recognition whatsoever of our puny magic of names.

Without true names I am only as good as my attentiveness to what is here.  If there is an available magic it is found in being present.  I hear you, though I know you not.  Look, there are a bunch of, why they are practically watermelons they are such big acorns, and there, where the path rolls down, look how the fallen acorns have gathered in clumps, and here, in this hollow with last years leaves, so many, so many fat and good ones.  The more I looked the more the blessings I received until I had filled the five pound bag almost all at once it seemed, and indeed, could have gone on had I a village of helpers to un-shell them, but for now, this business of gathering acorns, accomplished, and with wonder and thankfulness.

Before going on I do must have to say that another branch of the thought on names, their true-ness (as inseparable from the being so named), and even leaving aside for a moment the comparatively new idea to me that no true names may exist, a rush of thoughts were drawn along the line of the ancient story of the Tower of Babel.  Remember that thing with the tower?  Supposedly at that time all persons spoke the same language. Perhaps not a language of “true” names but one shared by all.  The word for oak, whatever that was, was never in dispute, there was only one name.  A very amazing circumstance.  That across the whole of the earth all monkeys shared the same words for the same things. And it was arbitrary?  The word was somehow randomly chosen?  Or is it that the names came from our nature, as I suggested above, I encountering both you and what I imagine you to be.  Tiger.  What a grave muddle, not a random thing nor necessarily a true thing, yet from our nature.  Something perhaps of a necessary consequence.  Anyway I’ve not even gotten to the point yet, that here supposedly we were, all sharing a language and building towers and other monkey what not when supposedly God takes notice.  Not liking the look of that, he says.  I shall confound your tongues so that you will no longer understand each other.  Is this why I cannot talk to a tree?  Back before this confounding, if there was only one language, did all creatures understand it?  There’s a lot one gets into when gathering acorns, or at least that one can.  The forest is full of avenues of wonder.

This story of the confounding of tongues has always sat ill with me.  If we’re gonna go for an omnipotent creator God, could that God really be so piddling that he was afraid that people might understand each other?  Or was the message subtler, that since perhaps there really are no true names, that therefore to rely on truths that can be gotten to via language alone, is to be deceived from the start, is to be self-enchanted, too much in a land of monkeyshines and too little in the immense sea of what is possible.  Maybe even knowledge, if this is the metaphysical digression paragraph, is like that too.  In the grand scheme it’s either small or wrong or both.  Whether the reason we don’t have true names is because such just aren’t available, or because the almighty creator got wigged out at us very tricky monkeys, the facts are that neither do we understand each other nor do we understand things with a keen and magical precision.  It’s not going to happen soon either. The long and long of it is that I gathered up a bunch of acorns.

Full Dish

So finally I can get on to the story of what I did with these acorns, but it could be that most of you will not get here.  Oh wait – I’m having a reflective moment.  Maybe, oh, no  – I won’t go that way.  Really – we get to progress on the acorn channel.  Here I am preparing philosophical cookies.  I know beforehand that unless great care is taken they will come out objectionable to modern man.  Bitter.  But this is a little ahead of the story line.  Shelling.  Five pounds of acorns.  About three hours.  Here are the tools I used.

Tools

The nut cracker is excellent with that backing plate.  The knife is good too in that it’s not too sharp.  It’s pretty easy to stab or slash oneself accidentally when applying what sometimes is more than a little force.  The array of bowls follows.

Shelling in Progress

Cracking one acorn then prying out the nutmeat was a very slow way to go.  Better to crack thirty or fifty in a row, then pry out the batch.  The cost of changing the tools in your hand fifty times pays back well.  Also more force on the crushing better than delicate.  They are not brittle, so it’s not like a little crack in the shell means the resistance is broken.  Crush quickly and strongly.  Next.

Three hours later, a bowl of shelled acorns.  I did not take photos of the acorns containing acorn weevil larvae, that is too visceral a negative association.. Google it if you must.

Bowl of Acorns

I set the acorns in water and set them down to leach.  When the water got red I dumped and re-filled, about every four hours.

Let the Leaching Begin

Tannins in the water

I think the last time I did this step I leached with a low simmer of heat.  This time I did not.  It took six rinses to get the tannins out, or so I thought.  Foreshadowing.

I then took the acorns and put them under a towel and beat them.  It was nothing personal. I think this step would have been better before the leaching, so as to expose more surface area.  After roasting they looked great.

Roasted

Roasted Close Up

And I ate a few but they were still quite tannic – bitter.  I plowed forward though, for sugar and honey were on the other side – what is not fixed by sugar and honey, oh America?  Tell me!

I used a blender to grind them to a peanut butter like consistency.  About half of them actually.

First Grinding

In the first cup above are just a few shelled acorns, as I said, noteworthily bitter, not a flat stop don’t eat it bitter, but only for those not against real bitter.  The second cup is just a dry grind of same.  The third adding honey, but not so much, maybe two ounces.  The fourth with salt and honey.  Overall these all were just a little too bitter for any common taste buds, mine notwithstanding.

Not wanting that the cookies should be a fail, though, I wondered if heat in the leaching would produce a stronger tannin removal.  I took the second half of the acorns and gave them two hour long boiling rinses.  The water turned heartily brown red the first time and less so the second, so I thought, I think rightly, that the end of the utility of the method was near.  I could have ground them more and repeated, but to my taste they now had a nice ‘signature bitterness’ – flavorful, like hops or too long brewed tea, something one could identify and appreciate.  Therefore once again, I proceeded.  The acorn starch below I got at the same Asian market from which I rescued the radish last year.

Acorn Starch

Acorn Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 light brown sugar
3/4 cup coconut sugar
2 eggs medium eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup acorn starch
1 cup rolled oats
11.5 oz milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup acorns ground to a chunky nut butter consistency
3/4 cup acorns not too much chopped at all – chunky

Mix it all together, use a tablespoon to portion out dough.  Bake at 350.  Made 36.

Acorn Cookies

Fine milk chocolate chips, a cup and a half of sugar were enough to persuade the majority of tasters, including some very polite Jehovah’s Witnesses who had stopped by, that these were good cookies.  Eating a few myself I feel the anticipated benefits – clear vision, increased strength, enhanced clarity of thinking, exuberance, I think I’ll live longer, I’m now impervious to dull axes.

I ground the remainder of the acorns with a hand grinder and mixed them with the initial bitter ground nut butters.  I mixed a much more liberal amount of honey with these, and added just enough salt.  I am thinking an acorn baklava next, with this surplus.  I know it will work.

Second Grinding

All in all this was a very satisfying journey.  Lots of mistakes, lots of things learned, lots of little surprises and twists, some decent eats, some knowledge of what our ancestors had to negotiate to eat acorns.  I’ll close with a link to real native American acorn preparation narrative.  Much more grounded and direct than this.  At the same time those are California acorns, and this is Massachusetts, and maybe the deal is that you have bring who you are to your acorn process or it won’t come out right.  Or maybe not.

Thank you and all the best to you dear readers.