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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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eat them when they want to be eaten
may 1, 2011

Q: So what have you been doing this past month?

A: Actually, Mary and I have worked it out to where we can now stay in our home a full month without having to go out (other than me walking down the street to our mail box a few times a week, walking to the curb twice a week to take out the garbage, and us going out in our backyard every other day to fill the bird feeders with more seed, and water our plants.) We don't even have to mow our front lawn anymore - we hired some guy to do it for us. Our only interactions with other people during these month-long stay-at-homes are through email, which is cool.

Q: Just out of curiosity, how much does it cost to have your lawn mowed?

A: $20 a mowing. We have it done twice a month, so $40 a month. For years, whenever we'd open our front door to get a delivery from Fedex or UPS or whatever, flyers and business cards would fall off our outside doorknob, from different lawn care companies. Mary, who is much smarter than me, collected all the promotional materials, just in case. This Spring, when we needed to do our first mowing, to cut down all the rising green stems of dandelions, we pulled on some clothes and I rolled our lawn mower out of the garage, onto the white concrete slope of our driveway, yanked backwards on the cord, and it just wouldn't start. I mean, it didn't even almost start. Just nothing. Like on a medical TV drama, everyone in green scrubs crowded into an ICU cubicle, and the doctor says, "Call it."

Q: So how many companies did you contact?

A: A lot. The thing is, guys who mow lawns for a living, they usually don't have an office. The telephone number on their card or flyer is usually a cell phone, and oftentimes, all you can do is leave a message. We tried that with a few companies, but never heard back from them. Finally, with the next business card in the pile, a woman answered, and we explained what we wanted, mow our front lawn twice a month, don't do the back (because our backyard is a large garden without much lawn other than grass paths we tend to ourselves.) She assured us "he" (I suspect her husband) would come out that Tuesday.

As it turns out, we got a little rain that Tuesday, so no one showed up. The next day, lying in bed, watching movies we had DVR'd, at one point we heard the faint buzz of lawnmowers. I put on some clothes, pulled aside the white lace covering the tall, narrow window at the side of our front door, and saw a slice of outside where three men were walking back and forth across our lawn, heads bent, behind mowers.

I went outside. The guy in charge walked up to me, grinning. We shook hands. "Too much rain yesterday. But every two weeks, we'll mow your lawn on a Tuesday."

I wrote him a check for that day, and we worked out a scheme where in the future, Mary and I will leave a check under our front doormat (so we don't have to get dressed again.)

Q: You really don't like getting dressed, do you?

A: If I don't have to. I spent decades with a closet full of two and three piece suits I had to put on each weekday, just as Mary had her own closetful of business clothes. It is fun sometimes to dress up, but usually, it isn't. Pajamas are just so much more comfortable. This week, in fact, Mary and I got rid of the last of our formal clothes, giving them to charity: a tuxedo and a ball gown.

Q: If you're now staying in for a month at a time, and I know the two of you are really big on fresh produce, isn't there a problem with fruits and vegetables going bad after the first week or so?

A: At first that was an issue, until we started experimenting with how to best preserve our foods. Meats, of course, we simply vacuum seal and freeze. And boxed, canned and jarred foods aren't a problem. But items like avocadoes, tomatoes and bell peppers were an issue. However, through experimentation, we've found ways to make these items stay fresh for extraordinarily long times.

For example, for avocadoes, buy the hardest green avocadoes you can, and immediately put them in the refrigerator. They'll keep without any spoilage at all for about a month. The cold drastically reduces their ripening. When you know you have a meal that calls for fresh avocado, just remove the avocado from the refrigerator a couple of days beforehand, and put it in a closed plastic bag (or you could use a paper bag.) Avocadoes, like most fruits, exude a gas that hastens ripening. By trapping that gas in a bag with the avocado, you'll speed up the ripening process. It's really just a question of manipulating how the fruit ripens.

For celery, cut off the top inch, and place it top down in a pitcher with about three inches of water, in the refrigerator. Change the water every other day. If for any reason the stalks do get bendy, put the whole celery bunch in your kitchen sink, filled with cold water and some ice cubes, for a couple of hours. They'll crisp right up.

For herbs, grow them yourself. We have healthy batches out back of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives and chervil. It's amazing how much flavor they add to a dish, particularly if you add them a second time, towards the end of the cooking process, to "refresh" the dish. If for whatever reason you use store-bought herbs, wash them then wrap them in moist paper towels and place them in a closed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Change the wrapping every few days. This same method works for different parsleys and cilantro.

Buy most fruits hard, like pineapple, papaya, apples, pears, plums and peaches, and they'll last a really long time. Again, manipulate their ripening by keeping them refrigerated, then speed up the ripening process by enclosing them in plastic or paper. Melons and grapes are a little more difficult to manipulate, but just eat those the first two weeks. Strawberries are unforgiving. Eat them when they want to be eaten.

Most chilies, like Anaheims and Poblanos, are roasted anyway, so there really isn't an issue roasting them ahead of time, vacuum sealing and freezing them. Jalapenos are often used raw, so seed them and freeze the halves. There's a small loss in texture, but not much. Same with bell peppers. If around week three they need to be preserved, either cut them into strips and par-fry them in olive oil and freeze them, which works really well, or seed them, seal them, and freeze the raw quarters. Again, some loss in texture, but it beats having to get dressed and going to the store, instead of staying in another one or two weeks.

Mushrooms we slice and fry in butter, then seal and freeze. (They turn out really well.)

Tomatoes are a bit of a challenge. But we've had a lot of success storing tomatoes in a wide bowl in one layer, stem side up. They've lasted an incredible three weeks that way. If one particular tomato starts to go bad, remove it to a separate bowl elsewhere in the kitchen (never place tomatoes near any other fruit.) And of course, while we're at the market, we always buy lots of green tomatoes, which won't ripen until the third or fourth week of our indoors stay.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I've had a good streak of writing, lately. Last year I hit a lull, where I went a month or two without really feeling inspired about any of the story ideas I'd written down. That happens sometimes over the years. Writer's block. Although it's definitely frustrating, I don't fear writer's block that much, because it usually seems like it's your subconscious wanting to take your writing in a new direction. And this block eventually broke like all the others. I've since done four stories in as many months (it usually takes me about a month to write a story), and I'm at work on a new story.

Here's something interesting related to the current story (or at least I find it interesting): There's a scene early in the story where a woman sings a few lines from the song "Big Rock Candy Mountains." Big Rock was written in the nineteen-twenties by Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock. You may think you're not familiar with it, but it's one of those classic songs from the American songbook you know even if you're not aware you know it. It shows up often enough that if you heard it being sung, chances are you'd recognize it (I believe it's used in O Brother, Wherefore Art Thou?)

Here's the opening lines and chorus:

"On a summer day in the month of May a burly bum came hiking
Down a shady lane through the sugar cane, he was looking for his liking.
As he roamed along he sang a song of the land of milk and honey
Where a bum can stay for many a day, and he won't need any money

"Oh the buzzin' of the bees in the cigarette trees near the soda water fountain,
At the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings on the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

The song depicts a hobo's paradise where "There's a lake of gin we can both jump in, and the handouts grow on bushes / In the new-mown hay we can sleep all day, and the bars all have free lunches / Where the mail train stops and there ain't no cops, and the folks are tender-hearted."

I wasn't sure of the exact lyrics, so I Googled to make sure I got them right, and arrived at a federal government site, NIEHS Kids' Pages. (NIEHS stands for National Institutes of Health Department and Human Services.)

I thought, how cool! Our government is introducing kids to some of the classic songs of our nation. But as I read further, I saw that the lyrics page was filled with one heavy-handed disclaimer after another.

Want to read some? (And I swear I'm not making any of this up, even the exclamation points.)

"IMPORTANT REMINDERS ABOUT THE LYRICS: Mr. McClintock's song was written from the outdated perspectives and manner of speech common many years ago (in the 1920's), with the intention of humorously portraying an imaginary place for people living "on the road". But please remember that being unemployed and homeless are very difficult situations for anyone to face! Visit HUD's Help the Homeless Children's website to learn more about how YOU can help!"

"In addition, smoking and alcohol addictions are extremely harmful to your health; and no situation will be improved by having easy access to cigarettes or alcohol, as promised in the fictional (and extremely unhealthy!) Big Rock Candy Mountains."

"And speaking of candy, please also visit Obesity and Your Environment and My Food My World!"

"Smoking is Hazardous to Health!
Learn more about the dangers of tobacco products from:
[list of anti-smoking sites]"

"Alcohol Abuse is Hazardous to Health!
Drinking excessively is also hazardous to your health and could lead to serious problems and addictions. In fact, addictions of all types can be very serious health concerns. Please visit:
[long list of substance abuse sites]"

How sad. Here's the song, kids, but please don't enjoy it, and better yet, stick your little fingers in your ears if you ever hear it.

Q: Anything else?

A: I decided to experiment a bit with using different media to make my stories available, and in that spirit I created a Kindle version of my novelette A Woman Made of Milk (which has never otherwise been published, in print or online.) It's a haunted house story, 11,000 words long. I'm selling it for 99 cents, and at an equivalent amount in England and Germany.

In order to read the story, you have to have a Kindle (or have to download Kindle-compatible software to your hard drive.)

Click here to learn more about the story, and to purchase it:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Amazon Germany

Q: Name one thing of the hundreds of things you're looking forward to.

A: Finding out who the guest stars will be on the new, sixth season of Dexter.