Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Written Word Endures #7

Then one Sunday evening, Jurgis sat puffing his pipe by the kitchen stove, and talking with an old fellow whom Jonas had introduced, and who worked in the canning rooms at Durham’s; and so Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Durham’s; they advertised a mushroom-catsup, and the men who made it did not know what a mushroom looked like. They advertised “potted chicken,”–and it was like the boardinghouse soup of the comic papers, through which a chicken had walked with rubbers on. Perhaps they had a secret process for making chickens chemically–who knows? said Jurgis’ friend; the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was “potted game” and “potted grouse,” “potted ham,” and “deviled ham”–de-vyled, as the men called it. “De-vyled” ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis’ informant; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long; where men welcomed tuberculosis in the cattle they were feeding, because it made them fatten more quickly; and where they bought up all the old rancid butter left over in the grocery stores of a continent, and “oxidized” it by a forced-air process, to take away the odor, rechurned it with skim milk, and sold it in bricks in the cities! Up to a year or two ago it had been the custom to kill horses in the yards–ostensibly for fertilizer; but after long agitation the newspapers had been able to make the public realize that the horses were being canned. Now it was against the law to kill horses in Packingtown, and the law was really complied with–for the present, at any rate. Any day, however, one might see sharp-horned and shaggy-haired creatures running with the sheep and yet what a job you would have to get the public to believe that a good part of what it buys for lamb and mutton is really goat’s flesh!

There was another interesting set of statistics that a person might have gathered in Packingtown–those of the various afflictions of the workers. When Jurgis had first inspected the packing plants with Szedvilas, he had marveled while he listened to the tale of all the things that were made out of the carcasses of animals, and of all the lesser industries that were maintained there; now he found that each one of these lesser industries was a separate little inferno, in its way as horrible as the killing beds, the source and fountain of them all. The workers in each of them had their own peculiar diseases. And the wandering visitor might be skeptical about all the swindles, but he could not be skeptical about these, for the worker bore the evidence of them about on his own person–generally he had only to hold out his hand.

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,–they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan. There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years. There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years. There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the “hoisters,” as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,–for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,–sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

*My Mom and I often trade books and give each other recommendations. This was a book she read in high school and I added it to my reading pile. I pulled it out this summer and have been slowly devouring it. I’m not normally a slow reader, but summer kept me busy and I’m only half way through the book. It’s a frightening account of the way in which food is treated and the horrendous working conditions that the people within the processing factories endured. I say “is” and not “was”, as unfortunately food safety standards are still in this day and age not being met. In the past month I have read two shocking articles about the food industry, one published this morning (see below). It’s quite grim really and is most surely food for thought!

UK’s top supplier of supermarket chicken fiddles food safety dates

The chicken run: blood, sweat and deceit at a UK poultry plant

Food brands ‘cheat’ eastern European shoppers with inferior products

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Colour Scheme

It’s not always fun to be practical. I’m in the realm of pumpkins, hot apple cider and walks through the woods that are slowly turning a delicious golden and red hue. However, I do have to put my practical hat on because October is just around the corner. In fact, October will be here this weekend and I don’t have that much longer to design this year’s Christmas card so it can be sent off to the printers.

Last year, I did a full watercolour winter scene. The year before that a Christmas in London theme. In previous years I’ve also created a collage and used a photograph of a winter wonderland that I designed. This year, I decided I wanted to keep it simple. I toyed with a lot of ideas, sketching them out and then scribbling them back out. But, I’ve finally decided on what I want to do.

It’s going to have a 1950’s/60’s design flare. Almost everything will have been created out of basic shapes that I’m reinterpreting.

Above is the current colour scheme, there is still some tweaking to do, but I’m very happy with where this project is going. It’s always nice to see an idea come to fruition.

Here’s a sampling of some of my previous cards. Goose Girl & Foxy managed to get onto one of them:

Christmas Card 2013

The Anatomy of a Christmas Card

A New Years Card

Goodbye, Summer!

Goodbye, Summer! Hello, Fall! Today is the Autumn Equinox and it truly felt like fall on my morning run. It was 46°F when I left the house; the sun was streaming through the leaves, the ground was still wet from yesterday’s rain and there was a mist rising off the fields.

The earth was littered with almost neon yellow leaves and the apples are now full and lush on the branches. The grasses around the pond are beginning to turn varying shades of a chocolatey velvet brown. All of the webs that were spun last night, were glistening with morning dew. It was glorious!

Next week the weather is supposed to turn warmer again and I just want it to stay cool and crisp. I’m ready to live in a hut in the middle of a field of pumpkins. I’m ready for all things fall, I mean it is almost October!

This weekend we have errands to run and we need to finish off planning our weekly menu. But, I’m hoping for some downtime in there, where we stroll through the woods, breath autumn in, in all of her golden glory and where we drink coffee and listen to music while laying in a heap on the couch.

There always seems to be a particular vibe to summer. This summer I was definitely in a 70s mood and among other things, we listened to Bob James’, Touchdown album a lot! We had this record playing almost non-stop. I don’t care that it sounds cheesy, cheesy is good! Who doesn’t love a good saxophone?

So here’s to the beginning of Autumn. And, here’s to a wonderful weekend!

A Surprise!

I walked to meet Mr. Michie on his way home from school yesterday evening. We were discussing how each of our day’s had gone, when he suddenly stopped in the middle of the street and told me to open up his backpack.

I reached into the peppermint stripe interior and felt a thick cardboard envelope. I pulled it out; slowly opened it and inside was a cookbook. Now, I have a bit of an obsession with cookbooks. I don’t cook from all of them; some I use for inspiration, some are vintage and were too good to pass up with the pictures they contained and some are like my bible, I’ve returned to them again and again.

In reading an article that Nigella Lawson wrote this weekend, he discovered Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson and knew that although I would probably not make deep-fried calves’ brains, or roasted lambs’ kidneys; I would be enthralled with other recipes within the book.

He was absolutely correct! What’s even better than the recipes are Hopkinson’s notes and stories that accompany a chapter or recipe. I’m already working on our weekend menu and I think a recipe or two will definitely be featured out of this book.

I’m very a lucky girl to get surprises, especially when they are cookbooks!

Nostalgia

I don’t know why and I know that it just isn’t me, because everyone I’ve spoken with today has said they feel as if this has been the longest week ever!

The woods were so quiet this morning. I only passed one other person out with her two Jack Russells. The sunbeams were distilled through the leaves, moving in and out as the breeze shook the branches; little tracks of light making the path glow. I could see my breath. It was a perfect autumnal morning.

I love the way the light changes this time of year. The shadows become longer. The light becomes whiter. My Nana’s dining room was at the corner of the house, so light filtered in from the front and the sides. Near one of the windows in the corner she had a Christmas cactus that sat on a tall wooden plant stand.

The afternoon autumnal light would be so pure the cactus almost appeared as it was glowing. The light would move across the dining room table and come to rest on the opposite wall. I would sit at the kitchen table watching the light dance about. It always made me think of Cranberries, by Andrew Wyeth.

We hardly ever turn on the TV, but last night the Mercury Prize Awards were on and Mr. Michie wanted to see some of the acts perform. Sampha, won the prize and we were both very happy with the judges decision. He played, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”.

I have no idea why, because there was not a piano in the dining room, or even in my Nana’s house for that matter. But, this song makes me think of her home. I suppose it speaks to me because her house knew me well.  I used to clean for her and my other Grandmother for pocket money. I was usually saving up to buy Christmas presents. Her walls heard my voice, her furniture knew the touch of my hand. Her stove was incredibly fun to cook on, this perfect 1960s avocado green beauty. I think this song makes me feel nostalgic. The changing of seasons makes me feel that way as well, excited for what is to come and sad to let the previous season slip away.

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Easy Breezy

I woke up this morning at 3:23am to our curtains blowing and then slamming back into the window screen. The wind was so strong, it’s still strong.

I was bleary eyed as I got up and closed the window. I went downstairs to check on everything and peek out at our plants. I’ve had to do a search an rescue in the wee hours of the night before when the wind has carried one of our pots out into the middle of the street. All was safe. I headed back upstairs and curled up in bed. I laid there for another hour before I fell back to sleep, just listening to the wind whip around the cottage.

It’s gorgeously sunny today and I’m indoors waiting on that wonderful package to arrive. It never arrived yesterday because although three people told me it was on a delivery truck, the fourth person said, “Nope! It’s still sitting at the depot! What would you like me to do with it?” Oh, lucky me!

So this morning, I’m taking it in my stride, even though I’m annoyed I can’t do my morning run. Obviously the Universe just wanted me to wait till today to receive this parcel. So, I’m drinking coffee, listening to Father John Misty and reading e-mails.

I’ve got laundry to fold and a marinara sauce to start this morning too. We’re making a Friday night dinner for some friends of ours who have a lot going on at the moment. So, the pressure of cooking dinner is one thing they can take off of their plate and instead feast on homemade lasagna, bread and chocolate cake with my Nana’s mocha frosting.

Here’s to Wednesday, we’re almost there!

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It’s Not Wednesday

I woke up this morning thinking it was Wednesday. So, I wasn’t really off to great a start when I realised it was only Tuesday.

It is cool, bordering on chilly and gorgeously sunny outside and I’m stuck indoors waiting for a package to arrive that was supposed to have arrived yesterday. I’ve been assured it is on the delivery truck making its way to my front door. But I don’t quite believe it, since this process of trying to get it delivered has been going on for about a week now. In the grand scheme of things, I know this isn’t a big deal, there are bigger deals going on in the world right now, then worrying about a package. But, in my own little world, I find it frustrating to be stuck indoors on a day like this.

I’m using the time to my advantage and catching up on some paperwork and articles that I have been meaning to read. Getting laundry done and listening to music.

One article I read related to British Pathé. They were a company who created newsreels and documentary films from 1910-1970. Their work is now digitised and you can watch them online. There are a number of their films that completely enchant me. The first film reel of theirs that I truly remember seeing was “The House That Jack Built”. It was projected on the wall of an exhibition I attended on British Folk Art. It was so very British and absolutely hypnotic!

This article was specifically about their “how it’s made” film series. While I’m waiting for a knock at my door, I thought I’d share with you three of my favourites. I especially love how thermoses are made. I’ve got my eyes peeled for an old thermos to make something out of. I’ll know the right one when I see it! These films are fascinating, charming and jolly good fun. I just adore the clothes and the hair. Especially the blue dress the Wedgwood lass is wearing with her hair piled high (she’s painting a coffee pot)!

Enjoy!

Woo-Hoo!

Woo-Hoo! We officially went back to school this week and we survived. This is cause to celebrate and relish the coming weekend and all that it holds!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, wherever you may be. x

P.S. I have no idea who these party animals are, but I think it’s a HOOT! that they’ve packed their cocktails in what appears to be a large pickle or jam jar for a backseat libation.

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The Space In-between

We’re in that strange part of every season, where one season is slowly slipping in to the next. Our days are starting to feel more autumnal. The mornings are cooler, followed by rainy afternoons and the leaves are beginning to metamorphose into brilliant shades of crimson red, gold and tangerine orange. The shadows are transforming too and the quality of the light is altering. It’s getting darker sooner. Gone are our summer nights of light till almost 10pm. I’m okay with that, I welcome new seasons with open arms. But, right now I feel stuck in the space in-between.

I see my woods change every day as I walk through them. I use them as my seasonal barometer. There are bales of hay in all the fields, slowly drying out. The air smells different. As refreshing as I find it, moving from one space into the next, this space in-between is making me antsy lately. After a few cool days here and there, I’m ready for sweater weather, for hot chocolate nights and pumpkins everywhere. I’m not ready to have two days of being bundled up and then back to shorts and t-shirts and then back to being bundled up again.

Maybe it’s where I am personally right now. I’m ready for some major changes and we are working hard to make those goals happen. I’ve also teamed up with a marvellous woman on a project we are embarking on and we are slowly and surely finding our feet and picking the right route for us. I’m ready for the ball to roll a little faster. But life is going at the speed it is supposed to be for me right now and I have to accept that.

Autumn will come entirely into her glory when she is ready. I will simply have to take a page out of Mother Nature’s book and be patient. To just enjoy where I am right now, to enjoy this Indian Summer we are in. To look at this time as a renewal and a refresh before we fully move in to leaves crunching under foot, crispy apple scented air and the smell of wood fires permeating the world.

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