Friday, December 20, 1996

Work At Work.

ust before the Christmas and New Year Holidays officially get here, there is one last medium-sized landscape job remaining, and then we're finished for 1996. Considering the just over 56" of rain this year, we've played catch-up to the weather all year long and it's nice to finally be in the position of being able to call it quits until next Spring. We're all tired and need some rest, before it starts all over next March.
We've also made considerable progress in getting a long list of work accomplished at the Garden Center. With several hundred trees and shrubs lifted, root-pruned and stored in a holding area, we got ready for some heavy equipment to arrive. A large CAT bulldozer was brought in and did some serious earth-moving, as part of an overall physical reorganizarion plan. But even that simple project was fraught with problems. Guess what kind?
Last Wednesday afternoon, it started raining and didn't stop until early Saturday morning. 5.64+" of rain. Or, it could be argued, 56" of snow; take your choice. Duh.
I shot some pictures and will put a few up for you to get an idea of the scope of an operation like this. This is major excavation and earthwork endeavor. There's a lot more to do to get ready for a new building, renovation of an existing storage building into offices, restrooms and a landscape design and contracting facility. There are many more projects that need attention; I have a substantial list that my Landscape Foreman, Alan Miller and his Foreman, Marc Sprenkle each have a copy of. The goals are clear. Cooperation from the weather isn't a given factor at this point. We've got to work as fast and efficiently as we can before the snow arrives. And it will one day soon.

Playing Santa.

On Christmas Eve, I'm scheduled to be Santa to about 10-15 little kids at a daycare center in New Freedom. I can't remember the last time I did something like that; but it'll be fun, I'm sure.
My friend, Janice also runs a pre-school day care center in additon to making cutting-edge corporate and personal websites, a successful publishing business and doing marketing plans for customers asked me to put on a Santa suit and have some fun with the little ones. Their parents will be bringing them by to meet Santa; some of the them for the first time. I hope none of them pee on my lap because Santa scares them!
I guess I can live up to the kids' expectations. Oh, no pressure here at all. shit, I can't even remember the names of the darned reindeer. Maybe there's a tutorial for Santa-wannabees somewhere on the Web. I'll check.

Five-Alarm Chili.

As a boy scout back in the midwest, I had several cooking specialities that kept everyone from starving on campouts; one of them being great, one-pot chili. Everything was prepared in the same pot at strategically different times though and gained tremendous flavor and aroma. At first it was a personal meal, or one I'd cook for the patrol, usually 6-8 guys. The the troop of about 50-75 would want some. Then the whole encampment of several hundred would smell it and want some. I switched from a 2gal pot to a 4 - 50gal stew pots. Hell, you could boil some missionaries in those big pots!
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of available recipes for chili; cookbooks full of ideas and suggestions. But I watched my parents make it first, liked it better than any I'd eaten, and improvised the recipe from there on. And since, I've made it for thousands of people over the years.
After watching countless others prepare "authentic Tex-Mex" to it's hottest degree, I decided heat wasn't the way to go. The Chinese get heat and sweet from the same sauce. I reasoned that it was very possible with chili too. And I was right. My theory was that unless the top of your head sweats, the chili isn't hot enough. The use of brown sugar changed that forever. Now I can get both heat and sweet from every batch.
In the following recipe, you'll notice that I add the beans just before serving; that's so they don't turn to mush in the mixture and don't impart their particular taste to the rest of the chili. Here's a quick, very delicious and award-winning Five Alarm Chili recipe from yours truly:

whacker Chili.

Lean hamburger - 6lbs
Sweet Vidalia Onions - 1lb
Sweet Red and Green Bell Peppers - 1lb
Pinto Beans - (2) 13.5oz cans
Garlic - 1 fresh bud
Tomato Sauce - 1gal
Brown Sugar - 2cups
Masa Flour - 2oz
Chili Powder - 4oz (yes, that's 5 alarm, but season to your taste)
Serves 4 people.

Brown off all meat in pot on medium heat. Pour off grease and juice. Add peeled, whole garlic bulbs to flavor meat; remove before serving. Slice onions into chunks as they will reduce with simmering. Add onions, simmer for 30 minutes, Add brown sugar and simmer for 25 minutes. Slice bell peppers into rough 1" chunks, add to mixture. Simmer 30 minutes. Add tomato sauce and stewed tomatos (optional but I like them) and simmer for 30 minutes. Add masa (corn) to thicken and stir well. Add chili powder and simmer another 30 minutes. Add pinto beans 20 minutes before serving. Total cooking time of about 4 hours. Serves 4 large bowls with some great second helpings. Use saltines, nachos, tortilla chips; whatever tastes good to you and provides some 'crunch' with the chili.

Chefs Note:
I always find that chili like everything else gets a little better with age. By that I mean a few days of aging in the 'fridge and it becomes an elixir that can cure anything. Anything long term, unless frozen, will destroy the flavor of chili as chemical reactions will begin to render the ingredients inert. Yuk.

In the 1988 National Chili Cook-Offs in Laredo, Texas, I took 2nd Place to a guy named Wick Fowler, who had invented the art of hot chili. (He has 'quick chili' products for sale all over the US.) I used enough brown sugar that the judges wanted more and more tastes of the unusual concoction, which I obliged them every time. They were stunned, as were hundreds of other people, that an outsider could come in and walk away with 2nd Place. It was easy. And I've improved the original recipe just a wee bit since then.
I make five types of chili, depending upon the circumstances and people who will be feasting. Vegetarian chili sounds awful, doesn't it? but it is actually very, very good. The list of ingredients is somewhat longer than traditional Tex-Mex, but the flavor and consistency is awesome. Just because it doesn't have meat in it, doesn't mean it's not good chili.
In an upcoming Journal, I'll provide two or three vegetarian chili recipes that I've tried and like very much. If you don't like the results, mail the remainder to me in a sealed container, and I'll eat it.

Holiday Blues.

I read a lot about depression over the Holidays from Thanksgiving to Christmas through New Year and often wonder why that is the case with so many people at this time of year.
Doctors theorize and they're good at theorizing that it's the concurrence of three Holidays all in the same close time frame, and specifically Holidays meant for family gatherings, that affect all people the most. The greatest number of people beset by these woes are 1) singles without partners, 2) the elderly without immediate families, and 3) those who hate being confined to their home because of the Winter weather.
There are many ways to combat this problem. While browsing through some on-line magazines, I found this one: Holiday Depression Guide. It helps define the disorder and recommends ways of helping to cope. Maybe someone you know has the affliction; send them the address of that Website and it could help explain things to them.
I've never experienced that phemonema, but I understand it can be a very powerful problem for many thousands of people. It's a shame to allow it to rule one's life. Go visit that URL and see if they can help make things a bit brighter.

Happy Holidays.

In case anybody's driving instead of flying around the lower 48 this Christmas and New Year's Holiday Season, here's the latest National Hi-way Forecasts for that period. Drive safely if you do.

A White Christmas?

It beginning to look like it. Really.
Early Thursday morning a Winter Storm blew through the south-central Pennsylvania area with a fury we haven't see since The Blizzard of '96, way back on January 8th, 1996. Actually, this is the first snow we've had, so that's all I have to compare against.
The Plains states and midwest had been hit hard on prvious days with record-setting snow and cold, but our storm came up from the Gulf of Mexico (thanks, amigo!) and turned into a nor'easter; the very worst kind.
The warnings were coming in from the Internet all day on Wednesday; my landscape crew had just finished the last job for the year. After they'd returned, we readied the equipment - a John Deere 675B SkidLoader and a John Deere 955 Tractor - for snowplowing duty. (With that kind of equipment, one would think I had stock in JD; I don't.)
After staying up until midnight doing work on the 586 Pentium PC, I saw the storm arrive. The next morning at 5am the cats let me sleep an extra hour it wasn't even a small blizzard. Nothing. I have a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee V8 LTD, and it's an easy match for up to 2ft of snow. Hell, last year in The Blizzard, I made it through 3ft drifts. The 5ft snow banks stopped me, but that's another story.

Live Trees vs Dead Trees.

There's just a few days to go before Christmas and, if you haven't gotten a tree yet, don't cave and get a cut, dead Christmas tree. And don't buy any Asian artifical tree; they're made by slave-labor children getting little or no money per day for their efforts in a concentration-like camp. Wait, there's a better way. Get a Live Christmas Tree, take it inside for one week and then take it outside and plant it. Enjoy the tree for many years to come.
Read a piece I wrote last week for David Siegel HTML Terrorist and Web design proponent for his Weekly Journal. I was glad to share what I knew.
See you next year!

J o h nS h e l l e y

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