Friday, October 29, 2010

Fear and Optimism on the Campaign Trail, 2010

It's weird out there this year.

I've been knocking doors for various campaigns since 1993, so I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on how folks react when somebody shows up at their door ready to discuss politics. For a lot of people, I'm the only politician from any office or party that they're going to get a chance to talk to, so I'm pretty used to getting an earful. That's not all bad. I try to listen to what folks have to say. I try to be mindful of it when we're looking at issues that come before council, and sometimes I hear of something important that hasn't yet come before us, but that we should pursue.

For the most part, folks are pretty reasonable. Some are happy to see you on their doorstep; some are unhappy; and most are doing something totally unrelated to politics and really just want to get back to whatever they were doing.

But more people than usual are mad this year.

Two years ago we had an election around the theme of "hope". This year's theme seems to be the old slogan from the movie Network: "I'm mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it any more." Add in a healthy dose of economic malaise and the remake of "Hawaii Five-O" on TV, and it's beginning to feel a lot like 1978.

It's pretty easy to understand why folks are mad, especially in Michigan. I surely don't need to document the long decline of the domestic automobile industry and what that's done to this state. (Nor am I going to drone on about Wall Street, mortgage-backed derivatives, the collapse of real-estate values, the credit shortage, etc. Worry not, gentle reader, I'm sure I'll drone on about those things at some point this winter, so you've got that to look forward to.)

But I think there are also some reasons for optimism around here that aren't getting much attention. I thought I'd mention a few things that I'm going to try to bring with me during this final weekend of campaigning:

1) The auto industry is on the rebound -- The bailout of GM and Chrysler worked. Both companies are growing and repaying their debts. Ford was kept out of bankruptcy, and the automotive suppliers are starting to see their business improve.

This matters to us in Michigan.

Two years ago our neighbor was unemployed after having been laid off by two companies. Today she's working on the Chevy Volt out, and that's a car with a future. That story can be told by thousands of people in thousands of different ways as the auto companies begin to hire again.

2) We will not be as dependent on the auto industry in the future -- The Ford Wixom plant just a few miles from our village is being reborn as a green-technology park manufacturing batteries, turbines, and other renewable energy items. That means American money is being invested in American manufacturing instead of being sent to Saudi Arabia for oil. We will grow stronger as a nation when we invest more in ourselves than in Middle Eastern oil fields.

Michigan still has the infrastructure, the skilled workers, and the resources to be a hub of American manufacturing. We need to keep bringing projects here to build 21st Century technology, and I think we're going to do it.

3) Real-estate prices already collapsed -- We're fortunate in one way that we never had the big debt-fueled boom that some areas of the country experienced, but for all of us living in houses worth less than they were worth ten years ago, our drop was plenty big enough. But the silver lining is that we now have a lot of good, affordable housing. That's a pretty attractive deal for a lot of folks. I could go on about this point for a while, and might in a future post. The economy runs on cycles, and while I would never wish for a real-estate collapse, where we are now puts us in a great position to attract new residents and new investments.

4) The village has its fiscal house in order -- The top three points apply across all Michigan, really. But at the most local level, we put a lot of effort this Spring into making sure that the village is ready to ride out whatever remains of the financial storm of the past several years. It was very painful, but we did it, and we did it for the long run. Wolverine Lake is still a great place to live, and we now have a rock-solid foundation upon which to build and improve. We are going to make this village a better place to live. Most importantly we can do things to make this village a better place to live because we have our fiscal house in order.

So, yes, I understand that there's still a lot of anger and fear out there. Some of it's been whipped up by the media, but I think it would be a mistake to point the finger at those who exploit anger and fear without recognizing that there are some legitimate reasons for people to be angry and worried.

However, at some point we need to choose between fear and the future.

I choose the future. We are going to get out of this mess. We are going to get stronger. We will move forward.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A goal for 2011? Maybe not.

I just wanted to pass along a fish photo to our international fishermen, the famed Pontoon Pirates. You won't find this freshwater fish in the Seine, but you will find it in the Fraser River in British Columbia. It supposedly weighed more than 1,000 lbs (450+ kg) and measured 11'1" (3.38 meters) long and 56" (1.42 m) in girth (around the middle):

The momentarily exciting thing about it was that it came to me via an Internet hoax that claimed it was from a little lake only about an hour's drive from Wolverine Lake. Believe me, we would've tried to catch it had that turned out to be true!

So, if there aren't any 11-foot sturgeon in Michigan, what is the biggest sturgeon hereabouts? The Michigan record for a lake sturgeon was set in 1974 by a fish that measured in at 187 pounds (85 kg) and 87" long (2.21 meters) in Mullett Lake, which is about a four-hour drive north of Wolverine Lake.

Sorry, no photos of that one!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Colts/Katie/Kaylee/Quince, Week 6

Today, our intrepid Indianapolis Colts haiku correspondent adds quinces to her 17 syllables of pigskin poetry as she recaps the 27-24 victory that Indy squeaked out over the Washington Redskins:

When the Quince Hits the Fans

Kate and Kaylee wince
At the evidence evinced:
Colts played like minced quince!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Unlike Lions fans, Colts fans are apparently finicky about their victories. (We Lions fans don't even know how to pluralize the word "victory.")

As to the added haiku content, you may be asking why we've asked Mary to add quinces to the already busy task of including Katie the Beagle and Kaylee the Granddaughter in her Colts haiku. Rest assured that it's just for the alliteration, since nobody has yet proven that we're a wholely owned subsidiary of the American Quince Growers Association*.

We would never sell out to Big Quince.

As far as you know.

*The AQGA reminds that, "Quinces to you, quinces to me, quinces we shall eat!" is the foundation of a well-balanced quinceful diet.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quince Week Comes to the Patio Boat Blog

After the arrival of the bucket of quinces from our neighbor's quince tree it was a quinciful week around the Magee residence. The drama played out on Facebook, so I thought I'd copy a few posts and comments back here.

As to rumors that this blog is on the take from the American Quince Growers Association, I have no comment. I can, however, assure you all that the AQGA is, "Making America great again, once quince at a time!"


Saturday, October 9

John Magee
As long as we're talking food, you'll all be glad to know that I moved on from spaghetti tacos for lunch to the best pot roast I've ever had for dinner.

Patio Boat: Quince Pot Roast

Daniel Steinbach I am glad


Sunday, October 10

John Magee
Monique to John this morning: "What do you mean you can't figure out what to make us for Sunday breakfast with what's left in the fridge? You have quinces. You have beets. You have half an eggplant. I'm sure you can figure something out."

Justine Carson Hmmm, challenging ingredients; so what did you come up with?

Dean Tiernan Time to turn the duties over to Monique.

John Magee I kept the quinces and beets on the sideline, and made an eggplant, bacon, and gruyere omelet with rye toast. Yum.

Daniel Steinbach Hmmm. I had a bowl of cereal with lactose reduced skim milk.

Sheila Nason That's cheating. You didn't say you had eggs, bacon and gruyere. Where's the challenge in that?

John Magee What I figured out was that I needed to keep digging through the fridge to find better ingredients.

Marti Bush WHAT?!?!?! No spagetti tacos?


Friday, October 15

John Magee
We finished up the leftovers last night, so I thought I'd give folks a second crack at the quince pot roast recipe. It was truly amazing.

Patio Boat: Quince Pot Roast

Pamela Tolleson John I posted a question a few weeks ago but I just looked and it's not there...hmmm odd. Anyways, it was asking if I can buy the quince at any grocery store?

John Magee ‎@Pam - I think it depends on your store, and how far down the "specialty fruits and veggies" they go in their produce aisle. I don't recall having seen them very often, but it is the season and it might be worth asking the produce manager if you have an adventurous store. The best bet might be a farmer's market or an orchard. We got ours from our neighbor, who has a little quince tree.

John Magee P.S. You might also try an ethnic foods store if there's one near you. They tend to see a lot of use in Turkish, Southern European, Middle Eastern, and South American foods.

Pamela Tolleson Thank you, I will ask Wegmans, i go there almost everyday (the grocery store) ............ I will keep you posted on how that goes ♥


Friday, October 15

John Magee
Monique made quince crumble for dinner tonight. Oh, so yummy. Alas, we're now down to two final quinces.

Marti Bush I wish I could have had dinner at your house. That sounds wonderful! Tell your lovely wife I said hello!

John Magee Um, I guess technically the quince crumble was for dessert. But who's kidding who? Dinner was just a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches designed to move us quickly on to dessert.

Catherine Dufresne-Magee I need a wife!

Lori Pasto With all of the rain and wind -- we opted for grilled cheese and tomato soup . . . no dessert -- sounds way better in Michigan! :)


Saturday, Oct. 16

John Magee
Quince Week continues. Yesterday, quince crumble, then quince syrup with the leftover bits of quince. The latter led to today's treat: quincetinis on the pontoon boat for a sunset cruise. Tomorrow? Quince and green tomato mincemeat pie.

Marti Bush And still no dinner invite?

Susan Magee Riordan I suspect the Patio Boat blog has been purchased by the American Quince Growers Association.

John Magee Ahhh, the good folks of the AQGA, "Making this nation stronger one quince at a time."

Mary Campbell-Droze Good grief, Muggy---keep this up & I'll have to add "quince" to the Colts/Katie/Kaylee haiku! (well, it *would* maintain the alliteration)

John Magee I'm beginning to sense a lot of jealousy from all those who had to go without a quince-tini this evening.

Jon Hopwood Like I've said, the only Quince I know about was played by Jack Klugman in the 1970s.


Sunday, Oct. 17

John Magee
just made a big batch of green-tomato-and-quince mincemeat. ("Quincemeat"?) We canned a couple of big quart bottles worth, and the rest will just have to go into pies now.

John Magee Well, into pies tomorrow. It's a bit late to start baking pies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mr. Crankypants sez, "Farewell to morning 'news'."

I had a dentist's appointment this morning, and while I was getting my teeth cleaned they had a TV in the corner of the room tuned to a morning news show. It had been quite a while since I've looked in on any of the morning news shows, so this seemed okay to me.

In addition to the occasion genuinely helpful weather update, I also saw: a lengthy interview with Vanilla Ice about home repair, lingerie models, a "guess the celebrity" photo contest, how to make a pizza with soy faux mozzarella, Tom Brady in a Michigan State t-shirt, some video showing that strokes are really bad, and a midget playing badminton. No, I did not make up that final item. In fact, they played that clip several times.

What I did not see was any actual news.

I feel like I lost about 20 IQ points.

I don't want to seem all media-elite here, and I don't think the morning news shows need to be Hunter-Brinkley or McNeil-Lehrer. But, um, wow.

Sure, that last brief sentence may not seem all that expressive, but what do you want from a guy who watched 30 minutes of television "news" this morning?

On the bright side, my teeth are all clean, shiny, and cavity free! So I've got that going for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And just one day after Week 4 comes Week 5

The Patio Boat blog remains unstuck in time as our Week 4 Colts/Kaylee/Katie the Beagle haiku is succeeded by the Week 5 haiku after just a single day of subjective time.

Football poetry scientists are unsure what has caused this damage to the space-time continuum, but we all suspect that the Lions winning by a score of 44-6 has something to do with it. As we all know, a 38-point Lion victory margin over the Rams was one of the seven signs of aproaching Armageddon cited by Nostradamus:

In these end days the Lion shall no longer lie down with the Lamb,
But it shall instead devour the Lamb with such savagery
That thirty-eight ribs shall enumerate the carcass,
And the hosts of the City of Wagons will proclaim this deed good.

As for the Colts this week, we turn the rest of this blog over to our Indy haiku correspondent:

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, But Ugly Colts Blight the Red Zone

Colts win, but don't play
As pretty as a beagle
Or a grandbaby.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, October 11, 2010

More True Tales of Time-Travelling! Colts: Week 4 Haiku

In this edition we travel backwards in time one week to enjoy the Katie/Kaylee/Colts Haiku in which -- on the day that Peyton Manning passed John Elway in all-time passing yardage -- a Colts fan expresses her admiration for the Hall-of-Fame career that Elway enjoyed after he refused to play for the Colts when they drafted him with their number one pick:


Eat THIS, Elway, you
Colts-snubber! (Kate and Kaylee
Know naught of grudges.)

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quince Pot Roast

This was the best pot roast I've ever had. How did it come to be?

We have a neighbor with a small quince tree, and a couple of days ago he gave Monique a small bucketful of little hard golden fruits that looked a bit like unripe apples. And so, since all I knew about quinces was that they were a handy crossword puzzle word if you need a six-letter fruit beginning with a "Q", I launched myself into the world of the quince.

My first surprise as I researched the quince came when I discovered that they need to be cooked quite a while before they're edible, but that once cooked they take on a tart and fruity flavor, a bit like an extreme apple. Even more surprising, they eventually turn in color from golden yellow to pink or even ruby red.

The alchemy of the quince is interesting. Raw quinces are very heavy in tannins, which makes them so astringent as to be inedible. When cooked over time the tannins break down, which removes the bitter taste and releases a deep, complex fruit flavor. The end products of the tannin breakdown contain anthocyanins, the pigments that give plants their red color. And thus a bitter golden quince becomes a ruby red treasure. In addition to tannins, quinces are very heavy in pectin, which is what makes them a favorite as the base for an assortment of jams, jellies, sauces, and fruit pastes.

Quinces originated in Southwest Asia near the Caucuses, and Turkey remains the world's largest quince producer. They were more popular than apples in much of the ancient world, and because of their golden color may be the fruit actually referred to where the name of the fruit has been translated as "apple" or "golden apple." (For example, the mythological tale when Paris chooses Aphrodite for the prize of a golden apple, thus kicking off the Trojan War.) Quinces were popular with the Romans and the Franks, and so became widespread across Europe, especially Southern Europe.

Alas for the quince, it's fallen out of favor in modern times, undoubtedly because it doesn't fit an immediate-gratification world.

So, when it was time to decide what to do with our bucketful of quinces, I reckoned, "How better to give a few old-fashioned quinces a good thorough cooking than to pop them into a good ol' pot roast?"

Here's the recipe we put together. You could probably add a few quinces (or even a single quince) to any pot roast recipe you like -- just be sure to add them early enough in the process to give them a couple of hours to cook and mellow.

1 large pot roast (We used an English-cut chuck roast.)
Olive oil
4-6 quinces (We may have used 7 ... they were small. Really you could get a nice flavor out of just a couple of quinces, though.)
3 pounds baby red potatoes
1 pound carrots
1 large red onion (A pound of baby onions might do nicely here ... or perhaps a leek or two.)
3 stalks celery
1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper (You could use one bell pepper of either color, but I thought the color mix would look pretty.)

1) Brown the pot roast in some olive oil.
2) Peel and core the quinces, cut into quarters. (A sharp paring knife is good for this, but be careful, they're hard and tricky.)
3) Once the roast is browned on each side, add the quince quarters, cover with water, and simmer for an hour-and-a-half or two.
4) Peel and cut the carrots, onion, celery, and bell pepper into chunks. (Do the same with potatoes if they're large.)
5) About 45 minutes or so before you're ready to eat, add the veggies.
6) Add a bit more water if you need it to cover the veggies. Keep your pot simmering.
7) When the potatoes and carrots are tender to the fork, you're ready to eat.
8) Use a slotted spoon to pull out the veggies and the roast.
9) The juices are delicious. Ladle them into a gravy boat and pour some over your potatoes, meat, and veggies on the plate.

Enjoy! As I said at the top, this was the single most delicious pot roast we've ever made. The quinces mostly fell apart after all that simmering, and they never really turned red, but their flavor spread through everything.

It was quince-a-licious!

*True culinary confessions time: after I added the veggies we headed out for a quick pontoon cruise on this lovely October afternoon. I didn't want the veggies to boil over while we were away, so I turned it down very low ... a bit too low as it turned out, and so our veggies really got about an hour on very low heat and then another 30 or 40 minutes at a decent simmer after we got home and discovered that the potatoes were still rock hard. It was almost a bit more like crock-potting by the time it was done. Come to think of it, a crock pot might be a very good way to go with a quince, since it would give you a nice, long cooking time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

When I really enjoy a book I will often tear through it several hundred pages at a time. However, on rare occasion I find myself enjoying a book so much that I parcel it out to myself in much smaller doses, so that I can make it last days and days.

How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is such a book.

A description of the plot is entirely inadequate to describe this book, yet I shall provide one nonetheless. The narrator -- coincidentally also named "Charles Yu" -- has taken a job as a travelling time-machine repairman while he tries to find his father, who disappeared from their home universe shortly after inventing a time machine of his own. Aided in his travels by his nonexistent but ontologically valid dog Ed and his time machine's operating system TAMMY (who suffers from low self esteem) Charles Yu becomes unstuck in time, visits his mother, who has chosen to spend her remaining days trapped in a one-hour time loop, then finds himself stuck in a time loop of his own in which he writes a book titled How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe as he tries to keep from shooting himself when he finishes the book ... again.

But the joy of this book isn't in the plot, tightly woven though it is. It's in the prose, the humor, Yu the protagonist's family life, and in the way time travel ultimately becomes a metaphor for fiction and our own travels through life.

Eh, I could spend a lot more time trying to describe this book without ever hitting the mark, but I don't think you should spend any more time reading this review. You should spend your time acquiring and reading this book. It's one of the best that I've read in the last few years.