Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Mr. Bean's Turkey Dinner

Sun and Fun RV Park, Sarasota

This video shows Mr. Bean preparing a classic turkey dinner with an unusual stuffing.

I'm working on a 25 pound turkey dinner myself.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Turkey Gravy

Firecloud Turkey Gravy

Turkey neck
2 jars turkey gravy

Cover the giblets and neck bone with water in a large pot. Add a stalk of chopped celery, a chopped carrot, some parsley, and a chopped onion (include the peel as to give the broth a color). Add about 4 cups of water; let simmer approximately 1 hour. Remove from heat and strain broth to discard cooked vegetables and reserve broth for gravy. Chop the giblets and pick the mwat off the neck to add to the turkey stock.

Make a pourable slurry of turkey and water and add to the turkey stock until the stock is the desired thickness. Allow this to cook slowly at least ten minutes to be sure that the flour is properly done.

Add two jars of turkey gravy from the grocery store and some of the drippings and crucchy brown bits from the turkey roating pan for flavor. Simmer a few minutes and serve in a gravy dish.

Turkey Dressing

Firecloud Turkey Dressing

2 cups diced celery
1/2 pound sausade
1 chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 packages of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

Saute celery and onions in butter until softened. Remove from heat. Stir in chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Let cool.

Brown sausage and add this and other ingredients to stuffing mix. Tossd gently. Cook in an uncovered casserole dish at 350 F. for 30 minutes.

The Katrina Depression

Main Street, America

Today the Government sunk an additional $20 billion into Citibank and guaranteed them against losses of another $300 billion on their mortgage portfolio. They're swapping treasury bonds for bad mortgages.

We stood by in stunned disbelief three years ago as we watched our Government fumble and mismanage the Katrina disaster and its aftermath. There was plenty of warning. We knew the storm was coming three days in advance. We watched the disaster unfold on TV. Apparently our government officials were too busy to watch TV and seemed unaware of the catastrophe for nearly a week.

I told my neighbor that it looked like a $50 billion problem in the making as we watched Katrina move slowly north that weekend. A year earlier, I told him that adjustable rate mortgages would cause big problems for homeowners sometime in the future.

The last depression, in my opinion, was caused largely by speculative and unsound lending practices. You could put down $1,000 and borrow another $9,000 from a local bank to buy common stock on margin. The resulting wave of bank failures after Black Monday depressed economic activity and increased unemployment for a decade.

This time lending practices became even more bizarre. Mortgages were bundled into strips by the originators and sold as securities. Insurance was purchased in the form of credit default swaps. The issuers of this insurance did not have assets to cover the losses. Despite this, the rating agencies ranked these bundles of mortgages as investment grade securities. These were called CDOs or Collateralized Debt Obligations.

We all know about the subprime mortgages. Those were issued to folks with bad credit ratings. What the hell! The commercial banks and mortgage companies got fat fees for originating the mortgages and passed most of the risk on the Fanny Mae, Freddy Mac or investors. The Investment Banks racked up huge profits securitizing the mortgages and passing them along to foolish investors.

Then there were the ARMs or Adjustable Rate Mortgages. These came with a low initial monthly payment. Several years later the payments reset, sometimes to more than twice the original payment.

There were also “No Doc” mortgage loans where the borrower was not required to provide and documentation about income. The bankers amusingly called these “liar loans”.

Even more insane were the “pay option” mortgages. Here you pay a low teaser rate of interest only until your mortgage balance hits perhaps 125% of the original loan and then your payments reset to maybe triple the original monthly payment.

The speculative bubble in housing prices caused by insane monetary policy and Republican deregulation of our banking system sprang a leak and started to deflate two years ago.

We are a long way from the bottom of this economic death spiral. Houses still cost three times as much to buy and maintain as they do to rent. Even with millions of homeowners “underwater” (which is why I call this is the Katrina Depression) on their mortgages, home values will continue to decline for probably another five years until 2013. As a result, even strong borrowers will simply walk away from their mortgage obligations in droves, piling up an increasing supply of ever less valuable housing for sale.

The mortgage modification programs being implemented by banks right now will not be effective. They simply reduce interest rates and payments, sometimes adding the reduction to the mortgage balance. This keeps the homeowner trapped in an unsellable home until eventually and inevitably they walk away, leaving the bank with a bigger problem down the road.

If you own an investment home or a second home, a bankruptcy judge can modify the terms of your mortgage in bankruptcy. The judge’s options include reducing the interest rate AND reducing the principal balance of the mortgage. Due to a 1978 modification of US bankruptcy laws, this option is not available if you actually occupy your home and need it for shelter.

A further wrinkle is that most mortgages are simply serviced and not owned by banks. When a bank services a loan, it has no incentive to modify the mortgage terms. On the other hand, the bankers get paid “cost-plus” to foreclose on the home and nobody is auditing the cost or the plus.

For years, we have been living with an economic engine supercharged and overheated by cheap and freely available consumer credit. I feel a little sorry for the Chinese and the Russians. They were largely unaffected by the Great Depression. Now that we have sold them on the benefits of the capitalist economic system, we introduce them to the Katrina Depression. Surprise!

Our economic hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of Obama. I think he is “The One”...Maybe I'll rent The Matrix again today and wake up from this bad dream.

-Bob the Blogger (aka Phred Firecloud)

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Mangrove Snapper with Toasted Almonds

Eastern Gulf of Mexico

A fishing trip of this type is for a person who is willing to undergo a large financial loss in exchange for a chance of obtaining an unknown quantity of fresh fish. It takes a certain risk profile coupled with the love of fresh fish.

I show up at noon Friday. They search me for alcohol, GPS devices and cell phones prior to boarding. A barge smashes into the drawbridge nearby. The Coast Guard shows up in quantity. They grab the Captain of the tugboat. "Here. Piss in this. Blow in that." A drunken boater also smashes into the bridge attempting to turn around. They grab him too. We have to run down the Inter coastal for an hour to the next drawbridge.

The trip out takes ten hours. At 8 PM, the red fiery tail of the Shuttle appears in the sky 150 miles away. It blasts straight up toward the full moon. Its cranking out some horsepower. We start fishing at 1 AM, fish 19 hours until 8 PM, then make the run back. The day is spent with endlessly tangled lines and snagged bottom. The bunks remind me of the barracks: snores, wheezes, farts and smelly socks.

A big cold front moves though about noon with heavy rain. For the rest of the day the winds are strong and the waves reach 12-15 feet. The anchor winch burns out and they call for volunteers to stand on the bounding bow in the rain and tug on the big anchor rope. The water is beautiful and crystal clear. We see porpoises and big sea turtles during the day. I'm too busy fishing to take pictures.

Many on board are old and grizzled. Almost all of them still smoke for some reason. I watch a near fistfight between two of the younger fishermen that still have an overabundance of testosterone over the ownership of a large Amber jack. "That's my f***ing fish!". I wouldn't eat a Jack on a bet.

I catch a big Black Grouper, two small Porgies and a large Mangrove Snapper. We get back to the dock at 6 AM Sunday morning. Fresh Mangrove Snapper is said to be delicious. We'll see tonight.

I tip the boat crew and tell them, "Goodbye...and thanks for all the fish".

1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 snapper fillets, about 6 ounces each
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped parsley

In a frying pan, toast the almonds over medium heat. Set aside.

Warm the olive oil and butter in the frying pan. Add the snapper. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the fish to a warm serving plate and cover loosely with foil.

Add the lemon juice to the pan and whisk to blend with the pan juices. Pour over fillets, add the chopped parsley, and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The High Seas

John's Pass, Florida

We drive to Johns Pass and book a 39 hour fishing trip on the Friendly Fisherman. We leave Friday at 3 PM and return Sunday morning at 6 AM.

That's two full nights and a day with the stars wheeling about on the horizon. I buy the meal plan, 3 dozen pinfish and rent tackle.

I hope for some gray snapper and a grouper or two. Red snapper are highly protected and need to have a length of 31 inches to retain. For lunch I have bacon-wrapped shrimp. This sounds better than it tastes. Live and learn.

We have to cross the new Skyway bridge. The old one fell in when a freighter hit it in the early 80s. The toll is still $1. A bus and a bunch of cars went off the broken bridge in a blinding rainstorm.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Hunkered Down for Winter

Sarasota, Florida

We're parked in our winter home in Sarasota. We'll be here until April 1st and then resume our journey.

Ann and Andy arrived a couple of days ago. They want to trap the raccoon. I leave little gifts of apples and other things for him to find. Andy gets my current copy of "The Last Ship". I just reread it for the 4th time. It's a brilliant story, fulgently written in the style of "Moby Dick" with many words that send me to the dictionary.

We've cancelled our April cruise to Europe. We've decided we want to get on the road with the new Blue Bus more than we wanted to cruise the Atlantic.

We recovered a few things from storage. There's a place in the basement for a 3rd high-def TV so one can watch tennis programs outdoors. I brought back a TV from storage, but forgot the power supply. We recovered a lamp and some lawn furniture for the long pause.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Firecloud Declares Obama Winner

Dixville Notch, New Hampshire

6:01 AM: Last summer we visited Dixville Notch. They open the polls there one minute after midnight. Usually they go heavily Republican. For example, they went for Reagan over Carter 17-3. Today they voted for Obama by a margin of 15-6. This is the first time a Democrat has taken the Notch since 1964. It's finally over...the rest is just a formality

We've were  camping for three nights in the White Mountains. It was cool in the mornings and evenings. You can understand why people like to vacation here in the summer. When the leaves change color in the fall it's a spectacular place.

There's a place here called Dixville Notch. During every election the 20 or so registered voters gather at midnight and cast their votes. By a few minutes after midnight the polls close and the results are announced around the nation as election news.

The results are always heavily tilted. This is the most "red" of all states. You see results like "Reagan 17...Carter 3". We drive up to the notch expecting a quaint little town. We are surprised to find a very posh resort with pools, clay tennis courts and a fabulous golf course.

The doorman invites us to go take pictures of the "ballot room" in the hotel and suggests lunch up on the mountain at the golf club. Many famous people show up here on election day. My own guy, Ralph Nader, has been here. Both Bush I and Bush II visited the room on election day.

We spent a day driving the road up to the top of Mt. Washington. The road is eight miles with an average grade of 12%. You have to use 1st gear all the time both ways. They recorded a wind up there of 231 MPH in 1934. People like to set records on the road. One guy was the first to push a wheelbarrow with 100 pounds of sugar up to the top (he was also the first to walk up backwards). Another was the first to ride a water buffalo to the top...lot's of firsts. I snap a few shots of the old cogwheel coal powered steam train. We rode it two years ago. When it pulls in about 60 old men make a dash for the three urinals, so you want to be finished with your business before the train arrives...

Lunch in the golf club is very good...we have a sandwich and leek and potato soup, white wine and finish by sharing a mixed berry pie with a "dollop" of vanilla ice cream. This morning we move on to the Coast of Maine.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A Long Wait to Vote

Sarasota, Florida

It's two days before the election. This roving reporter has already voted. Come take a trip to an early voting polling place to see if the reports of unreasonably long lines are true.

There appears to be 150-200 voters standing in line to vote. About one voter every five minutes is getting in the building to vote. That's an estimated wait time in line of 12-16 hours.

As I stand there, many more cars drive up, look at the line and drive away. Elections shouldn't be so hard. Are they just incompetent or is something more sinister in play?

Let's Go Kill Some Baby Seals

There's a report out on the Reuters wire that Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, got "punked" pretty badly by the Montreal comedy team duo, the Masked Avengers. The Avengers called Palin impersonating French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Here is the audio of the interview . The audio is carried on the MSNBC website, so if the whole thing is some kind of incredible hoax, some big players have been taken in.

During the seven minute telephone call Palin:
- Agrees to take "Sarkozy" on a helicopter hunting trip to kill baby seals.
- Tells "Sarkozy" that "Joe the plumber" is not her husband.
- Thanks "Sarkozy" for complimenting her on the new Hustler porn flick "Nailin' Paylin", which he tells her is a new documentary on her life story.
- Agrees that taking current Vice President, Dick Cheney, on the hunting trip would not be a good idea.

The degree of absolute obliviousness comes though clearly on the recording, despite increasingly outrageous comments from "Sarkozy" during the telephone call. "Sarkozy" tells Palin that thay have a lot in common since "I can see Belgium from my house". After Sarah explains who "Joe the Plumber" is, "Sarkozy" likens him to "Marcel, the guy with bread under his armpit". Sarkozy names the Prime Minister of Canada as "PM Deaf Cars" and Palin discusses her cooperative efforts with that Prime Minister. You can't make this stuff up.