(Let the) Good Times Roll

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Ric Ocasek: The Cars
I suppose the deaths of long-time rock n' roll icons Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek of The Cars have me feeling a bit melancholy. Maybe even a bit scared. I suppose it makes me think of my own mortality. I was a young man and very much a fan during the heyday music stardom of both music-making stars and now that they're gone, I have this story to share.

I must warn you before you invest too much time into this that I have nothing earth-shaking or dramatic to reveal. You won't learn anything new other than a few musings about a time long-ago and perhaps a bit of bad behavior on my part. I never met Mr. Ocasek or Mr. Money, and this blog post is really nothing more than a long post you might find on a social media page like Facebook.

Beyer High School: Modesto, CA
It's just the memory of one man from a time and place long ago that no longer exists except in my memory.

I am a 1981 graduate of Fred C. Beyer High School in Modesto and a later (much later) graduate of CSU-Fresno in Fresno. This story covers both cities and a time that becomes more special as it ages into obscurity.

My sister Mary Bird had blazed a trail the size of an Interstate by the time I first entered the hallowed halls at Beyer in 1977. Mary had since taken her act and fame to the University of Southern California, but not before instructing her younger brother on the ways of high school life and the path that she insisted I must follow.

That path would lead me to the classroom of legendary Forensics instructor Ron Underwood, a high school radio station called KBHI (Beyer High School), an up and coming Program Director by the name of Lane Clark and the super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick: Cindy Webb.

Ron, who has since retired to Fresno, was a fan of radio. He left that radio imprint wherever he went. He was one the founders of CSU-Fresno's KFSR (Fresno State Radio), put KDHS (Downey High School) on the air during his first stop as a high school forensics instructor in Modesto and later took that act to the newly minted halls of Beyer High School in 1972. One of his earliest moves was to put KBHI on the air, a massive ten-watt flamethrower at 88.9 on the FM dial that had a listening raidus of about one block around the high school campus. We didn't have many fans, but we had our fair share.

This is where Bill Bird got his training to be a not-a-very-good Disc Jockey. But, most importantly, this is where he would discover and up-and-coming band out of Boston called The Cars and a very special first album effort. In 1978 Program Director (PD) Lane Clark received an advance copy of the debut album The Cars from Elektra Records. It featured the charting singles of "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll." The album was electric to say the least. Nobody had ever heard anything like it before. The Cars would help lay the foundation for the 1980's New Wave style still to come.

The Cars Debut Album
The debut album, featuring the obscure Russian model Natalya Georgievna Medvedeva on the album cover, would spend the next 139 weeks on the charts which is probably due to the fact that I wouldn't stop playing it. KBHI followed a "free form" type of format. This meant you might hear me saying (screaming) something not too terribly witty or good into the station microphone along the lines of: "if you liked that Cars song, you'll love this one" before allowing the album to move right into the next song on the disc. Which probably drove PD Lane Clark crazy, provided he was listening. He lived more than a block away from the Beyer High campus. On Sunday nights, as I recall, KBHI would play an entire album from start to finish with no commericial or DJ interruptions. My memory isn't that great, but I would swear that the album choice during 1978 was almost always The Cars during those Sunday night shows.

That poor promotional album Lane received was positively abused. But, just when you might think we played that album until the grooves wore off (we did), Ric Ocasek and his band-mates rewarded us in 1979 with their followup album: Candy-O. It featured the followup hits "Let's Go," "It's All I Can Do" and the now famous cover art by the legendary pin-up artist Alberto Vargas.

Cynthia Ann Webb
It was about this time when the super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick Cindy (Cynthia Ann) Webb used to hang out with me at the KBHI studios (which was essentially a closet located next door to Ron Underwood's office). To this day I cannot tell you why any super cool or devastatingly pretty chick was hanging out with me, especially the likes of Cindy Webb. But I don't recall being bothered by her presence one bit. It was during this time where I flipped the now famous Candy-O cover art around for her and inquired when she had the time to pose for the album pictured below. Super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick Cindy Webb proceeded to turn three shades of devastatingly pretty pink.

It has since been revealed that Candy Moore, an actress from Maplewood, New Jersey, was the inspiration for Vargas' most famous work. But, to this day, I'm still convinced that  the super cool DJ chick Cindy Webb may have also been on Alberto's mind.

The Cars: Candy-O
Cindy, as it turned out, was just as enthralled as I was when it came to The Cars. Our association would eventually morph into a tandem DJ act where I would say (scream) not something too terribly witty or smart into the station microphone such as: "And Now, Cindy Webb!" And she would proceed to inform me that I was not too terribly witty or smart, to shut the Hell up and play the damn record.

I wonder if Lane was listening?

All good things, unfortunately, do come to an end. Changes in rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would put an end to many high school radio station efforts, including KBHI. The station signed off the air in 1980, the year before I graduated and moved onto CSU Fresno, where I brought my talents to KFSR and other commercial stations such as KYNO AM-FM, KJFX FM, KMPH FOX 26, KMPH NewsRadio and NewsTalk 1530 KFBK to name a few.

Lane Clark
Lane and Cindy moved onto commercial radio station efforts themselves after graduation. Lane spent time at KDJK in Modesto before becoming a successful small business owner in the Sacramento, CA area. Cindy also moved into commercial radio. I never saw her after our high school days together. Sadly, she passed in 2010 at the age of 48. I will never forget her.

Rick Ocasek and The Cars, of course, would go on to churn out many more top-selling albums and become one of the biggest bands in the world. But they will always be so much more than that to me.

They are, as A.V. Club writer Erik Adams once described them, "the type of band that put out a perfect debut record, and then had the audacity to not pack it in after that." The debut album, as he put it, left "little wonder that the members of The Cars have jokingly referred to it as The Cars Greatest Hits.”

1978 Stars and Stripes Yearbook
Ric Ocasek and The Cars are a reminder of a time in my life that is bits and pieces of a misty memory now. It's a time of my life where I was growing up and discovering the person I would become. It was the gentle and wonderful tutleage of legendary forensics instructor Ron Underwood, the never-ending patience of Lane Clark and the sharp wit of the super cool and devastingly pretty DJ chick Cindy Webb.

Super Bore Or Super Bell?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Best Super Bowl Ad EVER!
With all due apologies to the fresh corn industry, I must admit, I thought the Bud Lite Corn Syrup commercial was the funniest thing I've seen on TV in quite some time. Don't get me wrong! I love me some corn. I personally believe corn grown in the Sloughhouse area of Sacramento County is, in fact, the best corn in the world. I wish no harm upon our fine corn farmers!

But that Bud Lite Corn Syrup ad that ran during last Sunday's Super Bore was absolutely hilarious. I am still busting up over the line of: "would you please smoke outside?" However, Bud Lite's pun and knock against all thing corn syrup will not stop me from purchasing Sloughhouse corn. Additionally, you will not find any Bud Lite in the Bird refrigerator. However, if you look hard enough, you just might find a bottle of the High Life. But, enough of that already. I've strayed much too far.

Cat Bowling Pins?
My friends, rather than watch the NFL bestow yet another title on Tom Brady last Sunday (BORING), my mind was positively fixated on the image that appears to your very left. Can you guess what those cups might represent? Bowling pins for the naughty Cat that is Lenny? That is a good guess, but NO. And although Lenny has already cast a rather envious glance at the cups placed on that bedroom window, I hope that cat knows better.

I hope.

Those cups placed against yonder windowsill represent the start of my summer 2019 vegetable garden. Would they represent the 13 varieties of heirloom tomatoes I will be growing this summer? Good guess, but also wrong. It's still a bit too early for that activity, though some have already started. No, the seeds placed in those cups all contain the same variety: The California Wonder Bell Pepper.

First introduced in 1928, the California Wonder is now a sweet staple in nearly every backyard garden. These are these big and blocky peppers that can be found in nearly every dish, ranging from salads, stir fry meals, fajitas or just brushed with olive oil and placed on a grill. You can also find them in home-canned items such as tomato sauces and SALSA. Roasted or fresh, the California Wonder represents one word: SUMMER.

Garden grown Bell Peppers are nearly as popular as home-grown tomatoes. According to the Masters of Horticulture Blog, "Bell peppers are the most commonly grown pepper in the United States.  According to the National Nursery survey, 46-percent of gardeners grow them every year.  Second, according to the same survey, bell peppers are the third most popular vegetable grown in American gardens.  Third, the bell pepper is the most consumed pepper in America.  According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Americans eat 9.8 pounds of them per year.  And finally, bell peppers are the only peppers in the genus that do not produce capsaicin.  Capsaicin is the compound that makes most members of the genus Capsicum hot."

Perfect for Seed Starting Efforts
The reaction from most of my pepper growing friends is going to be pretty typical, I think. People like Jake Seed and Dave Jesse are thinking along the lines of: "PFFFT! ROOKIE!" And you know what? They're right. To them? My pepper planting efforts are rather late.

You see, while the vast majority of us are thinking about  the Peppermint Wishes and Candy Cane Dreams of the Christmas Season, the pepper guys are thinking about peppers so hot they would melt Santa's tongue. There's a reason why Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer gives these homes a wide berth. These guys are serious. January 1st doesn't just signal the start of the new year. It means it's time to plant pepper seeds of all shapes and sizes for the upcoming summer gardening season.

Planting Seeds
Why start pepper seeds so early and why am I late? There's a good answer for that. Pepper seeds tend to grow much slowly than tomato seeds, which essentially sprout and grow like weeds until they are transplanted. As KFBK NewsTalk 1530 Gardening Show Host Farmer Fred Hoffman put it so eloquently to me once: "PEPPERS NEED HEAT!" Unfortunately, there's little heat to be found during the Northern California months of December, January and February. So, pepper growers get very inventive to creating the kind of heat they need to give seedlings the boost that they need.

I recall that one of these growers, and I won't mention names (Dave Jesse), placed his seeds in sealed starter cups and placed them under a woodstove. Where his cat promptly found them. Great fun ensued.

What's the payoff for my seed starting efforts? 13 large and healthy California Wonder Bell Pepper starter plants. Do I intend to plant all 13 in my summer garden? Are you nuts? Gardeners do not live on bell peppers alone. This means I will have plenty to share, or trade, once the transplant season begins (provided it stops raining at some point).

Danger Will Robinson! Danger!
Hopefully, the seedlings I have planted against my bedroom windowsill will sprout and start to grow (albeit slowly) in another day or two. Also, hopefully, the giant shade trees that dot this Citrus Heights neighborhood don't blot out the needed sunshine.

Finally, hopefully, here's hoping a certain Maine Coon cat can ignore the urge to start swatting what's been carefully placed on a windowsill that he can easily reach.

Hope springs eternal.

Another Day of Sun

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sam Aanestad and I at Frank's Pizza in Grass Valley
To be brutally honest, I should be working right now. I should be hard at work at the moment looking at the Help Wanted sections of Capitol Morning Report, Senate Daybook, the State of California employment website and so many others. That unemployment clock continues to tick despite my best efforts to slow it down. I should be doing so many things at the moment.

But I can't. I just can't. Not at the moment anyway. Today my thoughts are consumed by the memory of a boss, a leader, a father figure and, most of all, a friend. I can't help it. There are only so many special people that you run into during this game called life that you can count them with the fingers of one hand. He was one of them.

I last saw Sam Aanestad about this time last year at the legendary Frank's Pizza restaurant in Grass Valley. I had just finished up with an interview with the Nevada County Fairgrounds (I didn't get that job), and Sam texted to inform me that he was "waiting for me to arrive."

Sam and Susan Aanestad
"Uh oh," I thought at the time. Making a State Senator wait -- even a former State Senator like Sam -- is never a good idea. Although I'd spoken with my former boss on occasion, I hadn't actually had the opportunity to see Sam in person for quite a long time. I had the fortune for working for him in his Senate office for six years, but when his term ended in 2010 we parted ways. That's life with term limits in the California State Legislature. By the time you really get to know someone, it's time to say goodbye.

Sam passed away just yesterday. I find that line a little hard to write. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to write it. Sam was just 71-years old. The last time I would see him -- at Frank's -- he seemed to be in the picture of health. He was also in great spirits and as he and his wife, Susan, would soon depart for their summer home in Sam's home state of Wisconsin.

I remember that vacation home with a great deal of fondness as I would be reminded of it daily during Sam Aanestad's term in the State Senate. I remember when I interviewed for the position of Communications Director in his office early in 2005, following an all-to-brief term in the Office of Senator Rico Oller. "You're not going to have as much fun in this office as you had with Rico," Sam would warn me sternly during that first interview.

Sam with Talk Show Host Tom Sullivan
He was right. I had more fun.

It was in this office where I would learn more about medical issues that I would ever want to know thanks to his background as an Oral Surgeon. As for his political leanings? Strictly conservative and without apologies, sir. Sam put the "C" in conservative thought, which fit his largely rural and very conservative Northern California Senate District to the perfect "T."

New taxes and fees were the enemy that must be fought at all costs in the Aanestad office. "Unless," he explained to me once, "an organization had voted to raise its own membership fees." It was then, and only then I might add, would he allow himself to punch that "yes" button covered with dust on his State Senate desk.

But to describe the man as a conservative politician would be grossly unfair. Sam was far more than that. He was a family man first, speaking with pride often about his children and grandchildren. He was a physician second, relating story after story about his Grass Valley and Nevada City practice, as well as his time as Vice Chief of Surgery at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. But, most of all, Sam Aanestad cared deeply about people. This was especially true about the people he had the honor of serving in the 4th Senate District.

CA State Senate Floor
Sam never let his care for children and families get in the way of his conservative political beliefs. I would come to learn this the hard way after Sam had been appointed to the highly coveted position of Vice Chair of the Senate Rules Committee. Serving in a committee such as this has its perks. It also makes you a bigger target.

In the business of politics, communications people are often the "last people to know." This may be an unwritten rule. I would find out in the stairwell of the California State Capitol where I was approached by a long-time friend, who proceeded to inform me that Sam "had just voted" for a bill that would allow more women to receive testing for signs of cervical cancer in his Senate District.

"That sounds like something Sam would do," I reasoned at the time, knowing Sam's medical background. "No, you don't understand," came the response. The careful explanation revealed that the conservative, pro-life Senator I worked for voted to approve a measure that provided additional funding for medical clinics to provide these screenings.

I still didn't "get it." Until I learned that many of the facilities that provided this kind of testing in the Northern California district Senator Aanestad represented were clinics run by Planned Parenthood. It was, about this time, that big, dark light bulb above my head suddenly flickered to life. Planned Parenthood clinics offer numerous services, some of which conservative, pro-life activists detest.

People in the business of communications, such as myself, do not involve themselves in policy decisions. However, they do ask for guidance on responding to media and constituent requests following a vote that could prove to be possibly contentious. Perhaps "contentious" isn't the right term to use. Earth shaking might be better.

Sam knew that his vote on this particular item would inflame many people in his district, many of whom had voted to put him into office. But it didn't matter -- not in this case as he would carefully explain to me from a physician's point of view. "The best way to defeat cervical cancer in women is to catch it early," he patiently explained. "Early detection is key. The earlier it's detected, the better chance at survival."

Sam never wavered from this belief, despite the thousands of phone calls that poured into his Senate office from constituents outraged by his vote. He knew that his vote to provide funding for additional cervical cancer screenings would save lives. His care for children and families outweighed even his most strongest of political convictions: the rights of the unborn.

It still didn't stop the protest phone calls, which rolled in like waves on an ocean. There were some days where it seemed like that phone never stopped ringing. I would imagine there are some activists who still haven't forgiven him for that vote.

Yet -- his support only went so far. When a commemorative plaque from Planned Parenthood arrived in the mail one day, thanking him for his vote, he handed it to me with careful instructions to place it behind my desk and to keep it well hidden from the light of day. It may still be buried behind that desk in that Senate Rules Committee office, covered with the dust of State Capitol history.

Sam Aanestad
Although I have many countless memories of Sam Aanestad, it's this particular one that came to mind when I learned over the weekend that he was not doing well. The health problems that claimed his life started soon after the last time I saw him at Frank's in Grass Valley. I had been kept blissfully unaware, but that was the way Sam Aanestad operated.

Sam Aanestad was probably the only politician I ever had the honor of working for who steered clear of any attention placed on himself. His focus was always on the people around him, whether it be family, friends, former employees or his constituents. His first and foremost wish was another day of sun for all of those who surrounded him.

And, although the sun shines today, for me at least, it's not as bright as it should be.

Chocolate Poetry

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chocolate Cherry Tomato
"I think that I shall never see
A cherry tomato lovelier than thee.

A Chocolate Cherry that I planted here;
Alms from a grower with vision clear.

A cherry tomato that produces a gift;
Providing every tomato lover with a lift.

A taste so sweet, so undeniably tart;
It can only be classified as work of art.

It’s that special tomato in my garden;
A taste I will miss, when the season is done."

Modesto's 7th Poet Laureate
Somewhere, Stella Beratlis, the City of Modesto's 7th Poet Laureate, is doing a face palm. (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer, meanwhile, a hero of World War I who penned the poem "Trees" that I ripped off with no shame whatsoever, is probably spinning in his grave.

Why pick on Stella? Because she is an avid vegetable gardener, and published author I might add, who has also professed a love for cherry tomatoes. That, and we went to high school together (go Patriots!). As for Kilmer, I needed something even my simple brain could comprehend.

Chocolate Cherry Tomato Plant-Citrus Heights
My friends and tomato growing maniacs, I come to you with a message today: If there is room for only one cherry tomato in your garden next summer, I highly recommend the Chocolate Cherry. A close cousin to the treasured Black Cherry tomato, there are also subtle differences that set it apart. Both are black or deep purple in color. Both are cherry varieties. But the comparison ends there.

My Chocolate Cherry tomato, which now stands at a height of roughly ten feet in front of this temporary rental home, resulted from a $1 investment into a starter plant grown by a Citrus Heights tomato maniac by the name of Melanie Steffens. Melanie had extra plants from her seed starting effort. I had room for one extra plant and a spare buck.

Call it a marriage made in heaven.

Forest of Cherry Tomato Production
Of the six tomato plants that comprise the Bird tomato growing efforts this year, three have been Grand Slams in terms of tomato production. Yet another has been a steady, get on base producer and the other two, much like this year's San Francisco Giants team, struck out at ever opportunity.

I bet you didn't know growing tomatoes and baseball had so much in common. But I'm getting way off topic here, plus I get depressed whenever I think about the Giants. So, back to tomatoes I go.

Memorial Stadium: Berkeley, CA
I like cherry tomatoes because they represent a portable snack. You can pick them and take them everywhere. I saw a young lady produce a bag of cherry tomatoes at a Cal football game in Memorial Stadium several years ago and thought it to be a rather brilliant idea.

I had been focused on somehow smuggling a flask of whiskey into that stadium -- so much so I didn't think about the three cherry tomato plants at home -- teeming with production I might add. While I'd sentenced myself to some overpriced, deep-fried snack from a stadium vendor, this rather brilliant young lady managed to produce something far more healthy and far more satisfying. And, I'll tell you this much, she didn't have to sneak it in either.

A Transportable and Healthy Snack!
Taking a cue from this lady, I load up a plastic sandwich bag with Chocolate Cherry tomatoes before heading into work every morning. It is at a size now where's it's producing 10-20 ripe tomatoes nearly every single day. The numbers diminish somewhat late in the week, but by the time Monday morning rolls around again, there's my Chocolate Cherry, teeming with this week's breakfast and lunch snack.

Pros and cons: The Chocolate Cherry appears to be more disease resistant than the Black Cherry. Either that, or I'm just the recipient of dumb luck. But I can't begin to tell you how many times disease has either interrupted or curtailed Black Cherry production in my garden. That hasn't been a problem this year with the Chocolate Cherry, and it's resisted a leaf spot problem that struck the Thessaloniki tomato planted just a few feet away.

The Chocolate Cherry
Unlike many cherry tomato varieties, Chocolate Cherry fruit does not split. They're portable over long distances. The skins are much tougher. Indeed, there's almost a slight crunch when one bites into an under-ripened Chocolate Cherry. You can dump a bunch of them into a sandwich bag and won't experience the problem of split, mushy cherry tomatoes when you arrive at your intended destination.

Finally, in terms of taste? I'll be honest. The Chocolate Cherry does not offer the zesty taste explosion that is the Black Cherry. It's a bit more mild. This isn't to tell you that Chocolate Cherry doesn't taste good. It does. This variety will find a home in next year's garden, that much I can tell you. But I'm not going to tell you it's the best cherry variety I've tried.

It will, however, rank among the best I've ever grown. It will join that pantheon list that includes West Sac Crack, Pink Ping Pong, Black Cherry, Sungella and countless others that have graced previous gardens in previous lifetimes.

After all, a cherry tomato that drives a man to write really bad poetry can't be all that bad, can it?

Blame, Properly Placed

Friday, February 24, 2017

John Lennon
A wise British-born philosopher and poet once stated the following:

"Everyday we used to make it love
Why can't we be making love nice and easy
It's time to spread our wings and fly
Don't let another day go by my love
It'll be just like starting over
Starting over"

But I'm not blaming John Lennon for my sudden burst of strange activity last weekend. Nope, that would be blame misplaced. The fault lies squarely upon the shoulders of a certain garden writer who toils for a certain daily newspaper that is printed and distributed in the Sacramento area.

Time to Plant!
The words written by Debbie Arrington in the Home and Garden section of the Sacramento Bee were quite simple really: "It's time to plant (BLANK)." And that's all Bill Bird really needed. Because the first thought that jolted through my gin-addled mind was, plant? PLANT! It's time to plant! "TIME TO PLANT," the voices in my head suddenly screamed at the top of their lungs.

Which is why my new neighbors in a well seasoned subdivision of Citrus Heights were treated the sight of a strange man bundled up in a heavy coat, tearing up a planter area in the front yard of a rental home in a heavy rainstorm. If that activity didn't raise any suspicion, certainly my chase down neighborhood gutters for hundreds of worms that came out to enjoy the deluge certainly sparked discussion.

Free Worms! Free!
Or perhaps they've been treated to somewhat crazy behavior before? Or perhaps they know that worms are good for the garden? And, yes, there is a garden. There will be a garden everywhere I go. I may be "Starting Over," as Lennon crooned, but the garden goes with me.

It's not much when compared to the massive garden efforts that consumed an entire quarter-acre in an area once known the Bird Back 40. But it's enough to plant a row or three of radishes, six broccoli plant starters and six red leaf lettuce starter plants.

The Spring Garden
And although Ms. Arrington's specific instructions didn't say so, my new/old planting area also contains rows set aside for green onions and carrots. Because you can't make Pam Farley's famous Loaded Fried Rice meal without a proper helping of carrots and green onions.

I had wondered through the months if this desire to plant would ever return. The skies opened up and began to cry after I had just moved into the new neighborhood. In doing so, I left behind the remains of a garden and a home that hurt anytime I stepped near it.

The Mantis Tills Again...
But time in a new setting and time alone has a strange way of healing a broken heart. The Mantis Tiller that churned up countless raised beds in North Natomas found the soil to be more than adequate in the new Citrus Heights setting. The worms that I captured on their mad rush to the drainage gutters found the spot I'd amended to be quite acceptable and moved right in.

But, more importantly, the love for digging in the dirt suddenly returned with a vengeance. I didn't lose that passion. It just took a short vacation. The only thing that's missing now is a gardening partner.

Perhaps, in time, that will return as well.

Confessions of a Serial Abuser

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The mental health professionals who fawn over me at nearly every turn these days tell me that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem to begin with. What the Hell do they know? Seriously, however, this is my confession to you. On this Super Bowl Sunday, I'm here to admit that I am a serial abuser.

I abuse beans. I didn't mean too, of course, but I've been abusing beans for years. It's always been a goal of mine to make the perfect pot of home-cooked beans. But it really didn't matter what recipe I used as my beans would turn out more like a refried bean dish than anything else. Barbecue beans came out looking and tasting like barbecue refried beans. Boston Baked Beans? You guessed it, Boston Baked Refried Beans.

Ranch Style Beans Copycat
Oh -- I tried all sorts of tricks to solve my little abuse problem. Additional ingredients? Check! Soaking the beans overnight? Check! Different types of beans? Check! But, in the end, it really didn't matter. My beans would fall apart into a sad looking mush.

What in Hades was I doing wrong?

But, thanks to this wonderful invention called the internets, I would find a solution to my problem. The internet, at some point, replaced grandmother and her fine advice. It was a simple problem with a simple answer:

Don't Abuse the Bean!
I was abusing my beans. I had been for years. Beans are fragile things the man on the other side of the internet portal explained. Treat them like you would treat your own children. Not that I would drop my own kids into a vat of simmering water mind you, but I got the idea.

If you are to believe the old Klingon poverb (Wrath of Khan) that "revenge is a dish best served cold," then one must also believe that "beans are to be treated with care." They are not to be boiled or placed on a hard simmer for many hours. That just results in a mush. Beans are to be brought to a boil and then allowed to simmer gently over a period of three to four hours. No bubbles! Bubbles are bad! Bubbles in your slow-cooked bean mixture mean BAD NEWS. Nope, the aim here is for a gentle, slow roil.

Selected Spices
This isn't as easy as it sounds -- especially for those of you to be stuck with electric stoves. Gas works best. And when it comes to my home-cooked bean creations, I'm an expert at gas.

I've always had a love affair with beans -- especially on Super Bowl Sunday. Those legendary Hamm's Scam (you think we're serving great beer, but it's really just Hamm's) parties of the past featuring deep fried chicken strips or wings plus a pot of home-cooked beans may be history for me now -- but they will never be forgotten.

My most recent goal has been trying to recreate one of my favorite canned bean dishes: Ranch Style Beans. Although there's a pretty good copycat recipe on a blog called Homesick Texan, it wasn't quite what I was looking for. It was close, but it was missing a key ingredient and I wasn't quite sure what.

"Must Have" Ingredient
I'm not here to tell you today that the recipe I've stumbled upon is by any means perfect. But it's a pretty good imitation in my fair opinion. To be honest and fair, it's not the healthiest meal on the planet. Which means you shouldn't be serving yourself this creation every week or every month for that matter.

But for special occasions like Super Bowl Sunday? When you really don't give darn about the two teams in the big game? And the team you do root for is coming off a pathetically bad two win season? This makes for a good meal. And helps erase the pain of a 14-loss season.

Ranch Style Beans Copycat Recipe

Three pieces of thick cut bacon (I usually get the peppered or honey-cured bacon from meat counter at Raley's or Bel-Air.
1-3 cups of Pinto beans (soaked overnight)
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 12-ounce can tomato juice
1 32-ounce container beef broth, plus 3-4 additional cups as needed

Directions: Cut three pieces of bacon in half and fry in a skillet over medium-low heat until well browned. Remove bacon to drain and cool and pour bacon fat into the pot you will be using to cook your beans. Add container of beef broth, plus two additional cups of beef broth, leaving two in reserve. Add tomato juice, chili powder, ground cumin, oregano, cocoa and garlic salt.

Rinse soaked beans and add them to pot. Place cooked and cooled bacon into a food processor or blender and chop into fine bits. Scrape bacon into pot and bring to a solid boil. Reduce heat to a slow roil. Cook beans at a low heat, stirring every 30 minutes, until tender. Beans should be ready in about 3.5 hours, but may need additional cooking to completely soften. Test taste and add additional garlic salt if needed.


Henrí the Peach

Monday, June 27, 2016

In a small corner of a treed city, paradise bloomed. It was one of those carefully tended gardens where honeybees nourished themselves on a never ending supply of pollen from a various supply of delicious sources, and where migrating Monarch butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbird moths stopped off to dance and play among an assortment of brightly colored blooms.

A tree grew near the center of this glorious landscape. It stood near the top of a gently sloping ridge. Its branches spread over and provided shade for the myriad of wildflowers and insects below. But this was no ordinary tree. This was the territory of Henrí the Peach. And there was no finer peach tree in the land than Henrí (pronounced "Ahn-Rhee").

Henrí fancied himself to be French in origin, but he had been planted at that spot for so long that nobody really knew. He had heard someone remark at one point during his life that all peach trees hailed from France, which really wasn’t the truth, but Henrí the Peach fancied himself as the finest French peach in the land.

He would greet visitors to his garden with a healthy “Bonjour.” Which was inevitably followed by “Je m'appelle, Henrí” (Hello, my name is Henry). “Comment vous appelezvous?” (What is your name?). His accent, if you could hear a peach tree speak the French language that is, bordered on the comical Pepé Le Pew, a fictional character from the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons.

All of this, of course, was rather ridiculous. But Henrí had his share of fans and visitors in the paradise that had been created just for him. You see, Henrí was more than just a fine specimen of a peach tree. Henrí produced the finest peaches anyone had ever seen or tasted. Nobody was quite sure what variety they were, but he shared his bounty willingly every summer from the dozens who came to sample his delicious yellow freestone juice and texture.

It’s safe to say that Henrí wasn’t just a peach tree. Henrí was the finest and most extraordinary peach that anyone had ever tasted. His fruit went into a myriad of creations, including pies, cobblers, jams, jellies, salsas, spreads and any concoction that fans could dream of. Fruit tree growers from far and wide came every year to clip branches and twigs from his wide canopy, which would be propagated with other peach trees that grew nearby in the countryside. Everybody loved Henrí. And Henrí loved them.

Henrí the Peach was as happy as a peach tree could possibly be. But it’s not just because Henrí was loved by so many. Yes, that was important. But more important than anything else was, Henrí was in love himself. His love, which he saw nearly every day, tended the garden in which Henrí grew. And, although this garden was wide and diverse, she devoted most of her attention to Henrí.

He received more attention and care than any peach tree ever should. She made sure that Henrí always had a plentiful supply of water. The food and nutrients that Henrí consumed on a daily basis had been lovingly worked into the soil around his root system. Henrí was never one to want anything. Yearly applications of sprays and herbicides kept bugs and disease at bay. The minerals Henrí received created a strong and vibrant root system. The water that Henrí received was the finest in the land, originating from crystal clear streams that started in the high country and weaved their way to his garden.

It’s safe to say that Henrí led the charmed life – or as charmed as any peach tree could possibly imagine. His love not only made sure he was well fed and protected; she would at times sit underneath his impressive canopy and lean against the strong and powerful trunk that she had helped to create and nourish. It is here where she would whisper her love to Henrí and even sing his favorite songs.

Henrí would fancy that he could bend his powerful branches around her and protect her from any harm or disease that might strike in her direction. His heart, if peach trees had such a thing, sung with joy in her presence. “Je veux être avec toi,” he would whisper to his love (I want to be with you). Henrí was as happy as any peach tree could possibly be.

This is one reason why Henrí would reward his love with the finest peaches in the land. The mother of his love would sometimes stop off to visit during the August harvest season. Mrs. Willoughby came for a purpose. Mrs. Willoughby’s pies were the stuff of legend. Nobody baked a pie like Mrs. Willoughby. Nobody produced fresh peaches like Henrí the Peach. Combined, the two produced a magical pie creation that would bring joyous tears to the eyes of anyone who tasted near perfection.

It was during this point in his life where an excited Mrs. Willoughby visited the home of her daughter with the most exciting of news. Although Henrí couldn’t overhear exactly what the two were sharing with one another, he knew it involved him in some way. Henrí noticed that Mrs. Willoughby clutched something very bright and shiny in one hand as she moved in his direction and proceeded to pin the shiny object on one his outstretched branches.

As Henrí would come to learn from the excitement shared between his love and Mrs. Willoughby, pies she created featuring his peaches had captured first prize at the local county fair. The reward for Henrí was a shiny first place ribbon and even more love and adoration from those who prized his peaches. It was proof positive that Henrí produced only the finest peaches in the land. He could not have been happier.

Life continued much like this for Henrí for as long as he could remember. “La vie ne pouvait pas être plus parfait,” he would whisper to his love during those warm summer nights (Life could not be more perfect). But as Henrí the Peach was soon to learn, life does change, and sometimes it doesn’t always change for the better.

The first inkling that something was wrong in the life of his love came during the fall, when Henrí was beginning to shed his impressive summer foliage and preparing for his long winter sleep. He noticed his love standing on the porch of his garden. What seemed like raindrops fell from her eyes. Henrí beckoned his love to move closer. He wished to comfort her and wipe away her tears. But despite his repeated calls, his love stood on the porch of the garden and cried like he had never seen her cry before.

Henrí did his best to stay awake and stave off the long winter slumber that so desperately called to him. But, eventually, time and the gray skies of the winter season caught up to him. Henrí fell into a deep winter slumber that all peach trees need to rest and recharge themselves for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. All the while, he noticed his love standing at the porch and staring at him with a sadness he did not understand, nor could he possibly comprehend.

It wasn’t until Henrí awoke next spring did he finally begin to understand the events that had taken place the previous year. The migrating warblers that perched on his branches informed him that the mother of his love and the creator of those wonderful, lip-smacking pies had passed. It was cancer they told him and Mrs. Willoughby slowly slipped from this world while his love, powerless to stop what was happening, watched and grieved.

His first reaction of course was to reach out to his love to provide the comfort and understanding that only Henrí the Peach could provide. They had been through so much together; he and his love, and he vowed that they would make it through this. But fate had other plans.

It started slowly at first, but as time passed, Henrí noticed that his love spent fewer and fewer hours in the garden they shared together. The wildflowers that once grew in abundance weren’t as numerous as they had been in previous years. Honeybees and other insects would soon migrate to other nearby areas. The water that had once been applied in abundance no longer flowed. The minerals that sustained Henrí through the growth spurt every spring season did not get applied. Worse yet, Henrí the Peach had developed a nasty case of peach leaf curl. Though it would not affect fruit production, it wasn’t long before Henrí went from beautiful specimen to downright ugly.

Henrí, of course, noticed the change immediately. During the windy season that normally came every March, he allowed his branches to whip around too and fro, in hopes of getting the attention of his love. But Henrí would soon come to realize that he didn’t see his love nearly as much as he once did. She didn’t visit like she once did. She no longer applied her love in a tender way. The long conversations he enjoyed became fewer and fewer. Worse yet, his lover no longer sang to him in that silky, beautiful way she once had.

Henrí could only stand helplessly and watch from a distance as his love would appear and then disappear just as quickly. He would immediately call out to her “Je ne comprends pas” (I don’t understand). But his love did not hear him. For peach trees cannot speak. Not even the famous Henrí the Peach.

Henrí could not begin to comprehend at first why his love no longer seemed to care for him. If peach trees had such things as feelings, Henrí would have been deeply hurt. His love, for all intensive purposes, had slowly pulled away and abandoned him. Henrí had been left behind in a garden now overgrown with weeds and vines that sapped the moisture he so desperately needed.

As spring slowly progressed into summer and the weather began to warm, Henrí awoke one day parched with thirst. This was a new feeling for him. Henrí had never known want before. His love had always attended to his every need and desire. But as his thirst grew from day to day, he noticed that the irrigation system that once provided him with abundant, clean, cool and crisp mountain spring water had broken down over the winter months.

The ground around his impressive canopy had gone from lush to brown, cracked and dry clay soil. Henrí had produced an impressive crop of peaches that spring, but his dry branches now began to bend and crack under the weight of a terrific crop. Henrí knew he would be forced to sacrifice some of his fruit if he didn’t get water soon, but he noticed his love didn’t seem to care about the fruit falling in worrisome numbers to the ground below. Henrí simply could not understand. Worse yet, he grew frustrated.

Like most lovers, Henrí wasn’t ready to give up and move on, even though it seemed as if his love had done exactly that. He would fight for the attention of his love, even though she now seemed to treat him as nothing more than an afterthought. Henrí did everything a peach tree could possibly do to gain the attention of his lover. He would have stood on his head if a peach tree could do so. But not even Henrí the Peach could pull something like that off.

Still, Henrí desperately wanted to demonstrate his love and affection in the hope that his love would notice and care for him once again. During a rare trip out to the garden, she walked closely enough where he thought he could just reach out and caress her with a soft branch and leaf. It would be his way of saying how much he still cared for her, how much he missed her love and attention and how much he wanted her back.

But Henrí didn’t realize that the lack of care and water that season had turned his once soft and supple branches into hardened and sharpened sticks. Instead of a caress, he managed to poke her so hard with a sharpened branch that it tore the skin on her arm, leaving an angry red welt. As she pulled her arm away in anger, her reaction wasn’t what Henrí had hoped for, or the hurtful words that followed.

“You stupid, ugly thing,” she exclaimed in a nasty and angry tone that Henrí had never heard before. “I’m so sick of you. I just can’t stand you anymore.”

The words tore at his heart, had Henrí had such a thing. Tears began to fall. Peach trees aren’t supposed to have hearts, memories or even cry for that matter. They certainly aren’t supposed to feel emotions like love either, but Henrí the Peach was one of those special trees that did feel emotion and felt terrible about the pain he had caused. “Je suis désolé mon amour,” he exclaimed (“I am sorry my love). But she could not hear him because peach trees cannot speak. He only felt a great sorrow for the pain he had caused his one love in life.

Time has a way of passing. His love continued to spend less and less time in the garden. What had once brought her happiness now seemed to only bring tears and pain. The visitors who once fawned over him visited less and less. Henrí dealt with the loneliness and pain of abandonment the best way he could, by delivering a crop of only the best peaches.

He didn’t notice, of course, but due to a lack of water and care, his peaches were much smaller than in previous years. They were also pockmarked, bruised and beaten from numerous diseases and pests that Henrí did his best to fight off. But when harvest time came, no one came to visit. The peaches that were once desired by all, no longer commanded an audience. Slowly, one by one, his peaches rotted on the branch and fell to the cracked, brown clay soil below. There would be no more pies. There would be no more cobbler. While Henrí could not understand why the love of his life had changed in the way she did, he vowed to do even better.

But, what Henrí failed to realize is that his love had moved on in life. Life changes people, which can be both good and bad. Henrí was doing his best to recapture the love, attention and adoration he had once received. What Henrí failed to realize is that he could only be Henrí the Peach. This wasn’t a bad thing. Henrí had spent the better part of his life impressing those around him. But what he could not control is change.

Change was coming. It was coming in ways that he would not understand.

As Henrí fell into his deep winter slumber that fall, he vowed to do better. He would do his best to conserve the rainfall that dropped over the cold winter months. He could do without the best water. He would make do with what he received. He vowed to fight off the pests and disease that had made such a mess of the previous year’s crop. During the tears of sorrow and lost love that came more often now, he vowed to do better and win back his love.

When Henrí awoke that next spring he immediately noticed a difference. The flowers, butterflies and honeybees had returned. His watering system that had been hopelessly broken the year before had been repaired. Most of all he noticed his love dancing about the garden again, as happily as she had ever been.

Henrí bloomed with a love that he hadn’t felt for many years. His love had returned. His love once again danced around him. The visitors who had stopped coming a year ago had returned. Henrí felt life returning to normal. Everything was right in his world again.

But what he failed to notice is that he was sharing his space and water with another. And he slowly came to realize that another peach tree sat patiently in a container nearby. Worse yet, Henrí began to understand that the love who once whispered and sang her love for him had found the love of another.

“Isn’t this the most beautiful white peach you’ve ever seen,” she would croon to anyone who would listen. “White donut peaches are the best peaches under the sun,” she would brag. It was almost as if Henrí was invisible. Though he still dominated the garden he was in, he was no longer the center of attention. If anything, Henrí was invisible. In the eyes of his love, he no longer mattered.

His love didn’t speak of him much nor pay him much attention as she had in years past. But the few words he did hear were not encouraging. Henrí was “in the way” as he would come to understand. Despite his magnificent production of years past, despite his love for her, Henrí had been replaced. As he began to comprehend that his love had eyes for another, the jealousy and anger began to grow.

But the worst injustice, at least in the eyes of Henrí the Peach, was still to come.

The group of men with power tools arrived in the garden one day without warning. They weren’t there for the peaches. It was June you understand. The peaches that Henrí produced wouldn’t ripen until August at the latest. But his rival, the white donut peach, was already producing ripened fruit that the workers and many others had come to sample.

The first cut is the deepest. Henrí felt the pain but couldn’t understand what was happening to him. The loud noise he heard blocked out just about everything. But something was happening to Henrí the Peach that he couldn’t quite understand at first. It was only at the last minute did he understand that the loud noise he heard was that of a chainsaw. The pain he felt was the sharpened blade of a power saw cutting him down at the stump.

At first he could not believe the injustice he had been subjected too. This was his yard! This was his garden! How could the love of his life allow this to happen? It was then that Henrí noticed his love a short distance away, clapping with joy as he was slowly cut down. It was then when all pretenses of the French language and origin dropped and Henrí began to cry out in plain English: “But wait,” he silently cried! “I am Henrí the Peach,” he exclaimed. “My peaches are award winners,” as he thrust forward the branch that Mrs. Willoughby had pinned a first place county fair medal on years earlier.

But what Henrí failed to realize is that time and nature had done its damage to the first place prize ribbon that had hung on his proud branches for so long. The wind and rain of multiple winters had long ago washed away any wording or glitter that his award ribbon once contained. All that remained were tattered remains of a dull and dirty scrap of paper that nobody recognized as nothing more than trash.

The essence of Henrí barely had time to rush into the trunk and root systems of a once proud tree that now fell to the ground with a loud groan and crash. He watched as the men with power tools proceeded to slice up and stack every last branch. Henrí knew his fate. His once proud branches were stacked neatly near a fire pit in the corner of the garden. He would be next summer’s fire pit fuel. The branches that once produced the finest peaches in all the land, would soon roast over an open flame.

As Henrí the Peach sunk lower into the root system to ponder his fate, the men with power tools finished the professional job they had started with a stump grinder. As they worked to eradicate every last trace of Henrí, he realized that the wood chips from his stump would serve as the compost that the fancy white donut peach would need to not only survive, but thrive in its new setting.

The men with power tools left later that day. Dust and wood chips scattered the ground where the great Henrí the Peach once grew. The fancy white donut peach stood in the same hole that once contained the remains of his mighty stump – the same stump that his love at one time leaned against as she sang her garden songs of love.

Henrí survived the initial onslaught, but now came to fear the woman he once loved with all his heart, had peach trees had such a thing. If he dared allowed his root system to send up even a single leaf’s worth of growth, it was hacked into pieces and sprayed with a substance that stung his remaining roots. Henrí knew to stay below the surface and could only watch his love sing the praises of another. The fight to stay alive for his love grew into a daily struggle, as the fancy white donut peach grew to a size where it began to consume the water and nutrients that had once been reserved for Henrí the Peach.


Henrí isn’t sure when he died or if he did die, but one day he realized that he was no longer in the garden that once contained his very essence. As he slowly became aware of the conditions around him, Henrí didn’t recognize the setting he was in nor the garden. Worse yet, by the time Henrí did become aware of the environment around him, he would fall into a deep slumber, only to reawaken in another strange place.

At first, he could not understand where he was. It felt like a peach tree but it wasn’t his tree. He shared it with another or sometimes, several others. They were all peach varieties just like Henrí, but also unlike him. After all, time may have passed, but the peaches that Henrí bore were still unique.

Henrí can’t remember how long it took before he finally understood, but it must have been a period of several years. His very essence was contained in a series of peach trees that were planted on different farms or in different gardens. He survived in the cuttings that growers had taken from his magnificent tree years earlier, which had been grafted to other peach trees. Henrí was glad to discover that he had not been forgotten. His fruit was just as prized now as it ever had been.

As for the love that sang to him and nurtured his soul through the years, his memory had faded to the point where he could no longer remember her name and not even her face. Henrí knew that she never visited him again, but did remember her love with a fondness that would never die. Because nobody ever forgets a true love or the joy and pain that a true love can bring.

Henrí could only realize that, at one time, he was loved and he was cherished. He remembered the good times with great relish, and tried not to dwell on the pain and tears of the past. His only wish, had peach trees had such a thing, was to feel her caress on his branches once again and hear her songs of love.

A love like this comes but once in a lifetime. While the tears and pain of loss did not come as often as they once did, from time to time the old sorrow came to visit. For we all feel the sorrow and tears for a deep love that comes to an abrupt end. That is especially true for Henrí the Peach.