"Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit." Elbert Hubbard

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tuna steaks...mmmmm

In my efforts to improve my cooking and baking skills, I took two classes this spring. I'm self taught and wanted to actually get some professional training. To supplement that, I'm doing a lot of reading on the subject and subscribed to two magazines. Edible Jersey and Cook's Illustrated.

I highly recommend the latter if you want practical information without all the fluff and advertising of other culinary magazines. Edible Jersey is excellent too, but only concerns itself with the local and seasonal foods of New Jersey.

I decided to try a recipe from Cook's for a red wine vinegar and mustard vinaigrette designed to help prevent tuna steaks from over or under-cooking on the grill. I don't own a grill, the money was set aside when I moved into this house, but I haven't gotten around to buying one. I just pan fry on a non-stick skillet.

The finished vinaigrette, seen here, was easy and quick to make. I did modify it slightly to suit my own taste and ingredient availability.

Here is the recipe:

Vegetable oil (to coat the grate if you're grilling)

3 tbls + 1 tsp red wine vinegar

2 tbls Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon is best)

2 tsp honey

2 tbls freshly chopped thyme or rosemary (which I didn't have, so it didn't go in)

3/4 cup olive oil (for this type of cooking, extra-light is best)

1/2 tsp salt

Whisk all the ingredients together except the olive oil. Use a stainless steel bowl as aluminum will affect the taste because of the acidity in the vinegar. While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mix until thickened.

Generously coat your tuna and place on the cooking surface, which should already be pre-heated to temperature. I had the burner set to medium for my skillet on an electric stovetop. Salt and pepper to taste. Save the remaining vinaigrette for dipping or applying to the steaks when served.

The tuna steaks after preparation and just put on the skillet. Looks good, doesn't it?

After I turned them. Look even better, don't they? Normally I use tongs, but I also used a spatula because fish can fall apart on you quite easily. Don't fuss with it, you only need to turn a piece of meat once really, unless you want those fancy cross-hatch marks when you grill. Cutting into it or using a fork is bad and so is pressing down on it. Yeah the sizzle sounds great but is actually drying out the meat.

The finished product with a side of steamed golden and white corn mix. Yeah, that's a paper plate. Lazy of me but I'm not cooking for an audience here. Once I tasted the tuna, I didn't care what it was on. It was that good. Nicely seared and charred on the outside, still pinkish on the inside. The vinaigrette was excellent with the taste of vinegar and mustard definately there but subtle and complementing the tuna. Cooking time about five minutes per side as they were thick steaks cooked on medium heat.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It's not about sales at the car dealerships. It's not about going to barbeques. It's not about the start of the beach season. It's not about getting a three day weekend off from work or school.

That's not to say don't enjoy these things this weekend, but during it all remember why. It's called Memorial Day for a reason. This is why.

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings up sorrow into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon-1914 (Emphasis is mine)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fishing for blues

My friends Rich and Deb have invited me several times to go out on the water with them and do some fishing. This year I took them up on it and was glad that I did. Here we are putting their boat in the water at the Barnegat Municipal Dock.

It's the season for Bluefish and that's what we were heading out for.

Here they are as we head across Barnegat Bay.

Rich was giving me primers on everything. Navigating the bay, recognising hazards, landmarks, and how to find 'blues. We had to go all the way out to where the ocean enters the channel to the bay just off Barnegat Lighthouse. Several dozen boats were clustered there as you can see, which was the first indicator. The second was the flights of birds gathering overhead and diving for small fish, which blues feed on.

Deb caught one and I handled the net, which was interesting. It also prevented me from getting a picture as I really didn't want to go overboard or lose the fish. Blues are strong and they fight. It took me two or three tries to get it in the net and then onboard. You have to be very carefull getting them off the hook as they have sharp teeth and will bite you.

Here is Old Barney as seen from the ocean side of the channel.

Folks taking a break on the bay side of Island Beach State Park.

A perch and nest for the Osprey which you can see all along the barrier islands and coastal wetlands of the New Jersey shore. We stopped nearby for lunch and watched one catch a fish.

After that we headed out to cruise along the bay and Rich had me take the helm. A bit scary at first as we were in shallow water and I've never handled a boat before. He was quite patient with me as every two minutes I was asking him what to do and where do I go. Eventually I got somewhat of a feel for it although it was a bit harder than I imagined.

We headed south to go visit friends of theirs and Rich wisely took over to dock the boat.

All good things must come to an end so we headed back in for the day. Here we are pulling back into the boat launch. Only one fish to our credit, chilled, salt sprayed, and wind burned but a good time was had by all. We met again later that night for dinner and trivia games. My knowledge of history, literature, film, and politics is always a welcome addition to the team.

They're good folks and becoming good friends. I'm happy that I met them as it's been extremely difficult for me to form attachments since I've come home. That's not the fault of people I meet, It's mine and I do feel bad when people think I'm being standoffish or rude.

We met my first night out on the streets after returning from Iraq. The only open stool at the bar was right next to them and I was just wanting real food. A steak, potato, and scotch on the rocks. Didn't even bother to change out of uniform, just drove straight from Ft. Dix to the Lighthouse Tavern. I remember clearly how friendly and welcoming they were and will never forget it. They've been quite patient, kind, caring, and generous to me and it means more than mere words can say.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Buddy Poppy, Part 2

Beautiful morning to be outdoors and I spent it with John Rivers, our Post Commander. He joked with me about my being the next Commander at my first meeting. Who knows? I'm the "kid" in my post and the thought of officiating before men who have been there and done that before I was born is intimidating. But they're a good bunch of guys and I feel comfortable around them because they know and understand what I'm going through right now. That's been difficult to feel because I find myself thinking and behaving like I'm still in Iraq most days.

Once again we met many kind and generous people. The season here at the shore is just starting and I found myself guessing who was not a local based on what people had purchased at Walmart. Pillows, bedding, and towels seemed to be the majority of what was in the shopping carts of folks heading to LBI for the first time this season.

John was in the Army and fought in the Korean War. Not a "Police Action" or "Conflict", it was a war plain and simple even if not declared officially as such by the legislative and executive branches of our government.

He started his service on Occupation Duty in Japan in 1949. Assigned to George Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Participating in the landings at Inchon and the battle to retake Seoul, they were relieved from the front to prepare for another amphibious landing, this time on the east coast of North Korea at Iwon. Again working alongside the Marines, the 31st fought at the frozen hell of the Chosin Reservoir. During his service, John went from being part of a machine gun crew to Platoon Sergeant.

Eventually rotated back to the states, he was assigned as an instructor for basic trainees at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. John recounted to me his most famous recruit, the singer Vic Damone, whose attitude and performance he was not very pleased with at all. Having been considered a total idiot by my own Drill Sergeant, I know what it means to be on the receiving end of their disapproval. Not pleasant, not in the least.

I look forward to further involvement with the VFW and getting to know my brother veterans. It helps a little with the feeling of being totally isolated and the emotional shutdown that impairs my ability to come back to the real world.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friends Meeting House-Barnegat

If you head down E. Bay Ave towards the municipal dock and the bay, you'll pass through Barnegat's historic district. On your left is one of the town's oldest buildings, dating to 1767. It belongs to the Religious Society of Friends-The Quakers. A serene and peaceful place, it has it's own cemetery and is still an active house of worship.

This was the oldest headstone that I could actually read. If you can't see the detail, it reads: SAMUEL ARNOLD BORN 11th, mo, 30th, 1768. DIED 4th, mo, 2nd, 1817.

The most recent I found was from 1993. I didn't count but the name Collins seemed to dominate throughout the cemetery. No suprise as the first house built here was by the Collins family and Quakers were the majority of those who permanently settled the area starting in the 1750s.

I did find one gravesite that stood out. It had a memorial marker from The American Legion. A rarity as Quakers are pacifists. The most famous exceptions are such veterans as Pres. Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Boone, Nathanael Greene, and Smedley Butler.

Sometime in the near future, I plan on attending a worship service here. It's part of getting to know my neighbors and learn about aspects of religious faith that I'm unfamiliar with. I'm quite happy in my faith as a Methodist, but am curious about others, especially the Quakers and the Amish.

Barnegat is now my home for good and I plan on sharing my wanderings and discoveries along this area of the Jersey Shore with you, my dear readers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, farewell

Sadly, Ronnie James Dio lost his fight with cancer. Lead singer for Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, and his own band DIO.

Because I'm too computer illiterate to figure out how to post a video, here are links to two of my favorite songs from him with Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell. Neon Knights and The Mob Rules.

In my youth I was a total metalhead and still rock out to it today, as undignified as it may seem in my mid-forties. Why not? Dio himself was still touring through last year in his mid-sixties.

For all the great tunes, thank you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

T-Wall Art

Soldiers being what they are, love to leave behind signs of their passing through. It's become a bit more developed than the "Kilroy was here" of WW2. Here for your amusement is a sample of the art on T-walls in Kuwait, left by units as they waited for flights into Iraq. Our particular symbol for units of the 50th IBCT was the Jersey Devil as seen in the last two photos.

T-Wall is the generic name for concrete barriers that are probably the most remembered and recognised symbol of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for those of us who were there. Jersey, Texas, and Alaska are the three most common sizes. Compare the size of those states and you can visualize the difference between the height of the barrier. They do save you the trouble of filling and maintaining the equivalent in sandbags.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Frank Frazetta, farewell

Another person whose work was an influence during my youth has passed away. His obituary from the New York Times this past Monday.

I clearly remember discovering my first book by Robert E. Howard in a used bookstore in my neighborhood while still in grammar school. That book is pictured above. I had already seen Frazetta's work on the covers of horror magazines such as EERIE, CREEPY, and VAMPIRELLA but this sent me over the edge into the world of heroic fantasy. The tales of sword and sorcery in the Hyborian age of Conan the Barbarian opened up a gateway in my mind to the fantastic. This led me within the year to The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkein and then Dungeons & Dragons (the original game, not the nonsense it has since turned into).

I was already into science fiction and horror films, but it was the finding of that particular book in a musty used book store that opened up whole new worlds of imagination to me at an impressionable age. By the time I hit high school, I was devouring books as fast as I could find them back in those days before the internet. It required a sense of adventure and discovery itself to spend my Saturdays finding bookstores and hours of digging through them for the right books. Being new to the literature of the fantastic and bookstores in general, it was all trial and error to find what I sought. But it was wonderful and exciting all the same. I can still picture those haphazardly organised bookstores and remember the motes of dust dancing in the sunlight of their front windows. The smell of homemade shelving and musty paper as I sat in a corner trying to decide on what to buy with the few dollars I had managed to bum from my father or earn doing yardwork.

I look back on those formative years with fond memories. How they truly opened up my love of reading. The chance meetings of others with similar interests, some who I am still friends with today. A rare occurrence as none of the kids in my neighborhood were into these things. They considered me a weirdo because of my interests.

To you Mr. Frazetta. For that one single book cover. For that moment that lit a spark in me. For the lifetime of reading pleasure that it has and will continue to give me. For a sense of wonder and amazement. For the friendships it led me to. I will always be grateful.

I thank you.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Buddy Poppy

I've become active with the VFW and joined a post. Barnegat, Post 10092. It's part of my finally setting down roots in my community. They are an amazing group of men, some of whose stories I will tell in the future.

Yesterday I participated in the Buddy Poppy program for the first time and I'm glad I did. I'm helping fellow veterans and their families. The Buddy Poppy is not sold, we distribute them to anyone who would like one regardless of whether you generously donate or not. By accepting one you honor all veterans and we thank you for that.

I only expected to spend four hours out there yesterday but wound up staying all day. It was a good experience and being an old sergeant, I wisely brought a thermos of coffee with me. Good thing too as it was rather cool and quite windy.

I spent the morning with Dan, who was a Marine in Vietnam. We got to know each other and trade stories about our service. It was good to be with someone who understands. He didn't give me too many details, but it was good to be with a brother veteran.

The afternoon I spent with Dick Pollaid, pictured above. Dick went into the US Army at the tail end of World War 2 and joined the Army Reserve after his discharge. Called to active duty at the outbreak of the Korean War, Dick was an aircraft maintenance specialist. He spent his time keeping L-5 observation aircraft and H-13 helicopters flying. Both aircraft were vital to the troops on the front lines; engaging in spotting for artillery and close air support, emergency re-supply, and evacuation of the wounded. Dick was first assigned to Charlie Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, "Wolfhounds". Of course the Army being the Army, it was soon discovered that he belonged elsewhere and was transferred to Regimental HQ where he could do what the Army had spent time and money training him to do.

The good folks at the Walmart in Manahawkin have allowed us to be in front of their store for the month of May. We will be there through Memorial Day and at various other locations throughout Barnegat and Waretown.

It was a good day and I met many kind and generous people. By getting involved and volunteering I'm also helping myself deal with issues. As a veteran helping other veterans, I'm slowly bringing myself back to the real world.

In Flanders Fields (1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still singing bravely, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

Friday, May 7, 2010

Barnegat Bay

It's beautiful here and I really can't picture myself living anywhere else. I'm five minutes from the bay and fifteen from the ocean. Eventually I'd like to get a kayak to paddle around the bay and explore. A friend has a sailboat and he'll teach me the basics of sailing this summer.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poetry...I get it, sort of

In my younger days I didn't appreciate poetry. But somewhere, somehow in the last few years I suddenly got it, at least as far as certain poets go. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and Homer. I'm still not so sure of my take on Rudyard Kipling but I'm trying.

Wadsworth calls to me, there's just something there. I don't know why or how, it just is. No two people get the same thing from anything. A painting in a gallery, a photograph, a film, or the printed word on a page. We all see them, but we process them differently in our mind. We react to the thoughts and emotions brought about by these things in our own way.

As I'm getting older, I've become much more noticeably reflective and thoughtful. Much more appreciative of the creative process that allows others to express themselves. I guess it's just age, experience, and gaining wisdom (I hope) that has changed how I view and think about it all.

For you, my dear readers, let me share one of my favorites by Longfellow. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Sound of the Sea

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Masque of Pandora and Other Poems-1875

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Words from the war

The pages of my journal from Iraq didn't make it home. I tore them out and burned them in an attempt to forget and erase my pain. Futile, but it seemed the thing to do at the time and I was out of my mind with emotional and psychological torment. Somehow this survived and I'm pleased that it did.

The desert wind

Listening to the wind sigh across the desert in the early morning darkness.
It's a sad, lonely sound.
I am one with it.
It knows no home.
Take me to my father.
There...there is where peace will be for my soul.

THU 19 FEB 09 Cp. Cropper, Baghdad

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Baking as therapy

There's something about baking just for the sheer pleasure in it. The creation process that goes from raw ingredients to hot, fresh from the oven, smells oh so good. I have realized that since my return from Iraq, I seem to be doing it as therapy without knowing it. What led me to this conclusion is the fact that I have given away almost all of what I've made even before I was diagnosed as diabetic.

As I look back through my life, I can see how there was always an interest in baking. Of course in my younger days it was all pre-made mixes out of a box. But being young without a focus, and too many interests in other things, it never really developed.

It's only now in my mid-forties that I'm looking at it as what I want to do for the rest of my life. I would like to do it for a living but am prepared to accept it as just a sideline if that's how my life goes. My military career is drawing to a close after twenty-six years and making my living in the culinary world seems to be the only thing that brings out any passion and interest for me (aside from books of course). I need to do something that I love and care about, just punching a clock for a living at a job is living death as far as I'm concerned.

My ultimate goal is to be involved in food somehow. My dream is to open a small cafe or make and sell baked goods at farmer's markets. Only time will tell if I realize those dreams. Who knows what the future holds, I sure don't.

I do know the satisfaction of watching others eat what I've made. It tells me I've done something good. That I can create a solid, tangible thing that not only is sustenance, but pleasureable to people. Something real. I've taken good things from the earth; grains, fruits, and vegetables and turned them into a finished product that gives someone nutrition and is pleasing to the palate.

The two instructors I had this past semester told me I had talent and worthy goals. Their words meant something to me and I have to pursue it.

"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating