The Good War

Hint: There is no such thing.

The above image contains some of my decorations. I’ll tell you a dirty secret about combat awards- what you get depends on who saw what and then what they wrote down for Higher. The process is not objective, although the army tries.

A lot of what happened was never recorded or memorialized in any form. The ambiguity that lies behind the medals is thick. Depending on who perceived what was frequently the difference between who was the “hero” and who was not.

In extreme cases, command perception decided who went to jail and who got a shiny medal.

It all comes down to killing, and the manner in which it is done.

I will never be able to describe the feeling you have when you are unleashed upon a lawless wasteland with the power of life or death, held in a black package with a magazine containing thirty rounds of M855 ball.

What it is like to hunt men as if they were deer.

What it is like to catch them and shoot them down.

As a civilian you’d go to jail for decades. In the service it is different.

The business is squalid. I’ve described it in my books, most specifically in the first one. This was directly based on my service in Afghanistan.

My final tour ended. I got back to the ‘States a mess.

Physically and mentally I was shot.

Blast exposure. Blunt force trauma injuries. Hearing loss. Loss of consciousness episodes. Uncontrollable shaking of my extremities.

Then there was the psychological stuff. Bad. The worst were the “intrusive thoughts” that would come at wildly inappropriate times, along with emotional extremes.

Of course the Army threw me to the medical board and retired me. I was “old” and “broken” at the age of thirty-seven.

So I read about what happened amongst the ranks of the Aussie SF guys and I wasn’t surprised. Saddened, but not surprised.

I suspect that this was a command failure, period.

A commander worth his salt would recognize what was developing amongst his troops, and he would halt it with prejudice before “it” could happen.

“It” being shooting prisoners, etc. These acts are curses upon the consciousness, deeds that follow the perpetrators all of their days.

Ghosts are real! They haunt, they follow. You never forget the dead, the screams of the wounded, the resigned look of men who know they will die. These are tormentations that stay, planted front and center upon your soul, your consciousness.

There is no helping the dead. They are gone.

Help must be extended to the living.

I don’t know much about what happened with the soldiers in the Australian SF’s Area of Operations. I was not with them, I don’t know their situation. What I do know is that most of them probably served with honor in tough, horrible situations and now all of them will be subject to an Army investigation and some will be punished.

BTW- if the Australian Army is anything like the US Army, being the subject of an investigation is a terrible thing. And then the courts-martial, the sentences for the guilty.

Bad.

And all of this could have been prevented by a sharp commander in the field.

Maybe, that is. Because of the ambiguity.

This makes me want to scream.

OK, so I have a few gongs. Whatever. They have never done me any good. And in any case they do not represent what I perceive to have been my finest hour, followed by the low point of my military service.

You see, I could have let my prisoners die.

It would have been so easy. Simple inaction would have doomed them.

My commander made US Army guidance very, very clear, and I had his stern advice to fall back on. Command policy made all the difference!

What happened.

OK, so we were in a predawn firefight, according to our air cover the first one in all of Afghanistan on that fateful day.

We took casualties.

No one was charitably inclined to the enemy dead and wounded who lay upon the field.

I directed my medic to work upon the captured and wounded enemy after our guys got fixed up. They were a sorry sight. One man was shot seven times, I watched as my medic stuck his entire fist into the hole in his thigh in an attempt to staunch the bleeding.

They screamed. Like rabbits. They flopped. Like fish.

My Afghans decided they needed to finish the job. As the wounded keened, my co-commander spoke.

“We will kill these men.”

I felt the need to piss. I looked him in the eye. This. This was a moment of truth. These were my prisoners. They were under my control, custody and care.

My duty was clear.

“No, you won’t.”

What followed was harrowing. An argument between two heavily armed men who were coming down off of a battle high. The standoff ended with Captain Massood storming away and his men dispersing. The Afghan Police showed up, I handed the bandaged-up and drugged prisoners over to them.

As I watched them being transported away, I felt like a cat losing one of its lives. That was close. Too close.

And then I faced the family of one of the dead insurgents.

Low point.

Especially because I had pulled the trigger.

You fucking monster, was what I thought.

I was within my rights. Those men were my enemy, and they had tried to kill me. I was right!

It didn’t matter. A ghost floated out of one of the leaking bodies and landed in my head.

Within an hour my finest hour mixed in with the worst.

Some would call the fight that morning a meaningless skirmish in a broader campaign. Insignificant. A clash of less than a hundred men. Light casualties.

I would say you should have been there.

It is too easy for heroism to become mayhem.

The line is fine and razor-sharp.

Superhuman as a bare minimum

Why did I post a pic of one of my books? Well, I hate to beat my own drum, but I called some recent developments in the field of modern war and combat.

Recently I saw an article at cheeseburgergothic.com about the fighting in Armenia, it was frightening in its implications.

Around the same time I saw another article in yahoo news/military.com about how the US Army is once again attempting to field infantry networking systems.

If you combine these two articles together, you come up with the inescapable conclusion that the age of unaided light infantry is drawing, or has drawn, to a close.

In the case of the fighting in far Armenia, the Azerbaijani forces were able to prevail using cheap drones over well-equipped conventional forces. Many, many armored vehicles were destroyed using loitering “suicide” drones. The little flying bombs would simply float over a target area and they would wait until a suitable target presented itself.

Boom. No more tank, command center, etc.

This is one reason I have always hated armored vehicles. They draw too much fire. Apparently nothing has changed. In fact, it has only gotten worse.

The implications for the world’s conventional forces are stunning.

An example would be the US Army’s pride, the M-1 Abrams tank. We have literally thousands of these; each is worth millions of dollars. So much scrap to a drone.

These flying mines prosecute one of the principles of war; MASS.

Massing forces these days will get you killed. All the humans that are in the drone’s decision chains have to do is to determine approximately where enemy forces are massed. They can dispatch the drones and kick back, maybe crack open a beer and watch the footage.

Guys/girls gathered around a tank. A dusty black explosion. Nothing left but the crying.

How do you counter the rise of the drones?

Your own drones, plus you make the infantry harder, faster, and smarter.

The mission is, and will always be, to “close with and kill the enemy.”

Tanks are too big. Too easy to hit. Similar conclusions will soon be drawn about navies, as well.

Drone swarm over a carrier group, anybody?

Ugly. We need to think about this now. The solution is the Armored Infantry on a supersonic troopship. Worldwide power projection within hours, independent of cumbersome vehicles. Tanks and by extension carriers/carrier groups are deathtraps; our forces need to be lethal and agile.

Right now we’re not there, and neither is anyone else. But someone, somewhere is thinking hard about this problem. They have seen Armenia, they understand the implications.

The age of conventional combined-arms forces has past.

If you grab a rifle and you go up against new-style forces, you will die. This is an inescapable truth; ten years ago I saw this over and over again. There is even less reason to believe that its true now. If you think you can take on a motivated government-backed military with courage and an assault rifle, you will fail. Not only will you fail, but you will pay with your life.

(Caveat and glaring exception: The wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is like whack-a-mole. Kill all you want, and they just keep coming. They can’t win, but they can outlast. This is the insurgent’s strategy in a nutshell, and it only works against humans. Remove humans from the loop and the insurgencies would fail.)

The machine doesn’t care about whether your cause is just. The machine could give a rat’s ass about your courage. The machine doesn’t grow tired, unmotivated, or hungry. It either works, or it does not. If it does work, you die.

To counter the machines, we must be paired with a machine. A machine that is loyal to us. That aids us. That enhances our fighting ability, our decision making capabilities. There is no other choice.

If we continue to field strictly human armies we invite defeat by those who do not.

Like love and sex, no one ever plays by the rules in war either. Any advantage will be grasped immediately and exploited ruthlessly.

We cannot afford to continue doing what we’ve been doing; shoveling mountains of money into obsolete weapons systems and paradigms.

Think about it. How survivable is a C-5 Galaxy in a non-permissive air environment? Or the vaunted F-35 JSF? The lumbering M-1 tank? The list goes on.

Too big, too slow, to rich a target.

We need the infantry fighting suit, the hypersonic troopship, and the doctrine to match. It would be helpful to have our own hunter/killer mini drones as well.

This is not a wish list. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is a must.

Rough November

Well, I just spent the last three weeks laying around sick as a dog. For the past three or four days I’ve been recovering, but it’s been a pretty slow process. No, I don’t know what I had other than to say I’ve never had a malady like this. Never. And I’ve also never been sidelined for longer than a week; I ran a fever for nearly two weeks.

This was crazy man stuff. But I’m not going to waste any more breath on it other than to say that it was bad.

Today I actually got out of the house and walked in the crisp fall air; I spent the morning cleaning up the sick room. Washed everything, swept, etc. There’s no way I was going to have another family member do that for me. On the off chance that there are some lingering germs, viruses, etc., this was a job that I needed to do myself.

So I did it.

Now everything is either tossing in the dryer on high heat, or it is freezing outside on the line.

It’s a logical morning to sit and take stock of things.

On the writing front there is nothing new at the moment; as many of you know some of my work has gone into John Birmingham’s World War 3.1 project over on his patreon.com page.

The disease pretty much sucked all of the creative oxygen out of the room; I haven’t done much.

Another distraction has been the US election. This is not a political page; I won’t go on about this at length. Suffice to say that after much turmoil the system appears to have worked as intended and the President is obliged to make room for his successor.

I’ve watched the whole spectacle from my fever-bed; my phone did a yeoman’s work keeping me entertained in between bouts of staring at the wall or sleeping.

So yeah, it’s good to finally be able to sit up and type without feeling the need to go lay down for a few minutes… which always seemed to turn into hours or half a day.

Feeling better just in time for Thanksgiving. I got sick shortly after the election; probably got infected on the weekend before we all went to vote.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, we are keeping it simple this year. But then again we’ve done so since the death of my Grandma, she was the glue that held the family together. But this year there will also be no visiting friends or close family- it’s inadvisable.

This will be a nuclear family only type of gig this year. Just the four of us. I wimped out and ordered a complete traditional meal from a local grocery chain; it might not be gourmet cooking (or Grandma’s!) but it’ll probably do.

All that good American ethnic food. Turkey and stuffing. Gravy. Cranberry. The works for 69 bucks!

For that type of money, why should we kill ourselves?

Maybe it ain’t the best Thanksgiving ever, but you know what? I don’t care.

Let me tick off what I’m happy for.

Solid family. Good friends. Roof over my head. A full belly. Reliable cars.

The list goes on. You know what? When I started compiling this list, I realized that I’m a pretty lucky guy surrounded by pretty lucky people. Yeah, it’s super easy this year to be pissed off at everything, but why be that way?

If you are reading this, you are already a step ahead of the game.

The other day I had a tele-meeting with my TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) group up at the VA, and we were talking some stuff over. All of us are combat veterans. Someone brought up how the villagers in Afghanistan would perceive Corona.

It didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that the pandemic probably doesn’t mean much to them. When you are worried that the Taliban will come to take your sons in the night, or that your daughters will be kidnapped by the neighboring village boys while doing their farm work, a little disease doesn’t mean a whole lot. When you can lose a child in an instant to cruel and capricious violence, not much else holds the power to frighten.

The conversation was helpful; although I was still weak and sweaty it made me think of the basics.

Life. Liberty. Cleanliness. Reliable food supply.

So yeah, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

May we be thankful and not pissed off, this rough November is nearly gone.

Good.

Mr. Birmingham poses a question…

Here I go, off onto another wild goose chase occasioned by a simple question posed on another website, John Birmingham’s cheeseburger gothic.substack.com.

He was doing a mini-review of a Netflix series called “The Liberator.”

Here was his question:

He was “exploring why men would fight for a country that wouldn’t extend them the basic courtesies, let alone the same legal rights as their white officers and squad mates.”

It occurred to me that I might have some extra insight into this question, having grown up somewhat mixed, and definitely military.

The photo above is all that remains of my uncle Dick, who was killed in Korea a few weeks before his eighteenth birthday.

The woman below was his Grandma.

She was born on a reservation in the 1870’s in Minnesota, shortly after the greatest one-day execution in US history, when 38 men from her tribe were hung for rebellion.

Surely she heard something about this growing up. How could you not? You would think that she would never have a single thing to do with the US Army or government; but this was not so.

At the tail-end of the Indian Wars, along came a blue-coated soldier. The details are vague, but he and Great-Grandma got along fairly well and when he finally got out of the Army they had a son.

The Indian Census of 1910 was coming, and Oatszela, Matilda, didn’t want her son to be officially marked down as a “native.”

So they moved. Back to Ohio where her ex-soldier man came from, to a place where no-one would recognize them.

Of course, you can tell all of the stories you want, but there are some things you just can’t hide. Such as an imperfectly white shade of skin. “Matilda” could squawk all she wanted to about being “French,” but did anyone believe her?

No. Her kids tried the same game, but it didn’t matter. My Grandpa got in trouble with the law (his first offense? He stabbed a fellow with a pitchfork while attempting to steal raccoon skins.) and stayed that way for a while. Eventually he ended up in a Wild West show as a horse handler.

Up until the Second World War, it would be fair to say that my Grandpa had a pretty tough time- yeah, it would be easy to blame all of it bigots and jerks but part of it was some pretty poor decision making on his part, too.

But the Army didn’t care that he was a jail-bird. Not during the war. He and his brother answered the call. His brother Russell was an infantry NCO and a hard-bitten man; his war ended at the doorstep to Japan. Luzon, 1945.

My Grandpa? He started as a private and finished that way. The A-bomb saved him from Operation Downfall, 1945.

What I’d like to point out is that both men were willing despite their backgrounds. Neither cared about the decidedly unfavorable aspects that the US Army had played in their ancestor’s lives.

When the time came, my Grandpa allowed the false enlistment of his oldest son, Dick, who left for service with the 3rd Infantry at the age of 15 (!).

Grandpa isn’t around to ask, but I have the idea that allowing his son to follow the warrior’s path was an acceptable solution for a difficult relationship.

Dick’s luck ran out in Korea. He never came home.

The years went by, the stories were told and re-told. Some left for Vietnam, the Gulf, Africa, Europe, Asia, to all corners of the globe. Where America stood, we went. Where America fought, we fought.

Hearing my elders talk as a kid I had the idea that yeah, we had some hard times; prosperity didn’t truly come until around when I was born, the 1970’s.

No silver spoons here; just dozens of flat, brass, complimentary VA markers.

So let me return to the original question- why? Why would you do it? Why would you risk your life in someone else’s war?

First, let me say that none of us ever deserved the title “sucker.” I don’t think a damn one of us was fooled into service. I think it is a real thing, from time out of mind, that when the tribe said “you must fight,” that we fought. There’s not really more to it than that.

Second, my family always had a strong oral tradition, a real sense of family and an unbroken line of ancestors, many of whom were soldiers. Long-time readers may have noticed that I speak of Uncle Dick quite a lot. There’s a reason for that! His death went off like an A-Bomb in the family; he was mentioned quite a lot when I was a boy.

A secret, and this will come off a bit odd. As I fought through those windy, craggy valleys I always had a feeling I was watched. That my actions were judged. By whom? A long line of ancestors, starting with Dick.

Crazy? Illogical? A construct of a mind under extreme stress? Yes.

But pretty damn real, nonetheless.

Finally, I guess the racism, the bigotry, just didn’t mean all that much to my family in the end. That it was there was plain to all. That the US isn’t a perfect country would be <zero> surprise to any of us.

Maybe the reason we picked up the sword, tomahawk, assault rifle, etc. was as old as time: our (place relevant name here) tribe was threatened by outsiders; we offered our lives in our children’s defense.

Not because we were suckers, and not because we were saints, either.

Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

Dog DNA Test, a review.

OK, Maybe you all remember my write-up about Amazon Prime Day. It may have escaped you, but somewhere in the list of things important and frivolous that I bought that day was a dog DNA testing kit.

If you are interested, you can buy one too.

I would definitely list this as a frivolous purchase. However, all of life can’t simply be necessity; this would make for a pretty dull existence.

So let’s get down to the brass tacks. Why am I writing today. Pretty easy. I’ve gone through the entire dog DNA testing process, and I am ready to display the results. This was particularly interesting as I could compare it to 23andMe, the human DNA testing service.

The first thing you do after receiving your kit is to collect the sample.

See the swab above? This is after the sample has been taken. To get the sample, you take the swab and jam it into the saliva pouches in your dog’s cheeks. Some dogs react better to this than others!

Dixie wasn’t pleased.

She got over it, though. After the sample has been taken, you stick it into the provided tube and mix it with the preservative fluid in there. This differs with the 23andMe sample process a tad- probably because it would be difficult to get a dog to neatly spit into a tube.

BTW- same as with 23andMe no eating for an hour or so before sampling.

After that’s done, put the sample in the postage-paid envelope. Somewhere around this time be sure to register the sample on the Embark website, then put the sample in the mail and wait.

In my case it took about two weeks. Not long at all.

Here is what I found out.

It turns out that Dixie really is 100% Aussie Cattle Dog- of course, by definition that breed is super mixed, anyway. So purebred Australian mutt? Guess so. It was a surprise that she was purebred- I always had the idea that where we got her from was pretty dodgy.

Guess they were legit, though.

Nice that they gave percentages- although Dixie’s was pure and mine was not. Pretty fascinating stuff.

There was more, though.

There was a family tree.

Then there was a chart showing worldwide where her genes came from. This was accompanied by a description of where her genetic markers were often found, which I thought was interesting in its own right.

23andMe has something similar; for example, my maternal haplogroup was passed down by the Saxons. Dixie got something like that, but for dogs. Pretty cool.

And then another feature similar to 23andMe, but a LOT less fraught.

Dixie’s relatives!

Pretty cool, and as I said a lot less controversial than the human version. Mine ended up snagging me in a minor family dispute, even though that too was a learning experience.

This was a window into who Dixie’s “family” was, and other dogs that shared her traits.

So that was about it. Was it essential? Did it need to be done?

NO.

Was it cool and fun?

YES.

So the choice is really yours, readers, as to whether you want to throw some money away. Personally I would recommend to wait until Black Friday, Prime Day, etc., so you get some money kicked off. But then hit the “buy now” button and give it a whirl.

Geeky fun, right up my alley!

1865 vs. WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part Three.

Today I’ll be baking another pumpkin pie, this time using the 1940ish recipe listed above, in my Grandma’s own hand.

See below. This is Alice, around the time the recipe was written.

I won’t go into the particulars associated with making this pie as my methodology will be unchanged from the last pie, see part two of this series.

There are four constants:

  1. The fresh pumpkin filling, baked and prepared yesterday.
  2. Land O’ Lakes cream.
  3. Straight from the coop eggs.
  4. The Walmart pie crust.

Here’s what is going to be different. Grandma’s recipe uses an additional egg, as well as less milk/cream. Also, she made the brown sugar/white sugar proportions identical, and she used different spices.

And that’s going to be a big difference in this pie. She wrote a note on her recipe about substituting cloves and ginger for nutmeg, I am going to do as she suggests for the following reason; Dad says she never used nutmeg in her pies as long as he knew her, since 1972 or so. (when I did the substitution for nutmeg I used 1/4 tsp each for ginger and cloves. It worked fine!)

So I’m going to try to play this straight. I’m curious if the pie turns out similar to the pies I remember throughout my life; she baked past her ninetieth birthday.

I do not doubt that this pie will taste and cook differently from the Civil War pie.

Let’s see, shall we?

Using the same method as described in Part Two, I stuck this in the oven.

It could be my imagination, but this pie mix seems to have a more orangish cast. Probably because there’s a hair more pumpkin in the recipe, 2 cups (16oz) as opposed to 1 3/4. BTW- that eight inch pumpkin had exactly enough puree for two pies! Be sure to conserve puree- I barely had enough.

I’m curious about a lot of things with this recipe, not the least of which is taste. How will the cooking time be affected? How rich will it be? Will the heavy dose of cinnamon stand out?

All there is to be done now is to wait.

A surprise- if anything, this pie took longer to bake! Here’s what my cycle looked like as I did it- I checked the pie with the knife method after 45 minutes. Shouldn’t have bothered- it wasn’t close until about an hour and ten minutes on 350F. 15 @ 400, 30 @ 350, 15 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 2 @ 350. So in total 77 minutes at 350, as opposed to half an hour.

An observation- don’t bother to poke it while the center is still cratered.

Finally, the pie was done (hopefully).

Here’s how it looked after it cooled a few minutes.

This pie looked a little different from the 1865 pie; perhaps a darker shade of brown-orange and a more porous look. I think that might have to do with its higher egg content. Maybe.

Proof’s in the pudding, though. After this cools, I’ll sample it and write it up.

So I had two pieces.

That really says enough, but I’d like to go a bit in depth. The WW2 pie is definitely sweeter, less exotic tasting than the 19th century pie. Its taste is more in line with a conventional product, although I must say that if you use your own pumpkin, fresh eggs and cream you will get a superior pie. Both recipes make that clear.

My two cents? Both of these pies are excellent. I give a slight edge to the 1865 pie, though, because of its originality and the way it makes its ingredients really shine. Grandma’s pie, while awesome, is just a tad too sweet. However, if I would not have had both pies readily available, I would have never noticed.

And my family? They prefer Grandma’s pie because of the sweetness.

So it’s kind of a toss-up as to which pie is better.

Clear take-aways-

  1. Fresh pumpkin kicks the crap out of canned.
  2. Go with cream over evaporated milk. I get why they used it years ago, but cream is better.
  3. Nutmeg, while not overpowering, makes a real difference.
  4. Walmart ready-made crusts rock!
  5. If you have access to them, get quality free-range eggs. Better yolks, happier chickens.
  6. Less is more with sugar.

Final reflection- I am really glad I tracked down these recipes and did this. Also, now that I’ve set them on the internet, they will live forever.

In some small way, this is a tribute to my Grandma, a kind lady who lived a long and meaningful life.

If you get a chance, try these recipes this Thanksgiving. For my friends in Australia, try to source a genuine North American pumpkin and put something unusual on the table this summer.

Cheers! J.

1865 vs. WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part Two

Alright, so above you can see the ingredients for the pie prep, as you may have noticed I wimped out and bought a pre-made Walmart pie crust. Way easier. I used a Pyrex pie plate, lightly buttered. Then I got all the ingredients ready. I put the eggs in the mixing bowl first and I whipped them with the hand mixer. Then I added the puree, followed by the sugar and spices. Last, I added in the cream as the mixer ran. This pointer came from my dad, who said Grandma did it that way.

So I followed his guidance faithfully.

The end product fit almost perfectly in the pie form, with maybe a quarter-inch of wastage. Not bad for a 150 year old recipe! One thing that struck me immediately was the honey color of the batter. I am curious how this will translate to the color of the finished product (turned out fine).

Into the oven it went, preheated to 400F. I ran it for fifteen minutes at the higher temperature, then I reduced it to 350F for thirty minutes. At thirty minutes I gave the pie the “knife test” i.e. if you stick a knife in it and the knife comes back dirty, then go another five minutes.

Well, the pie was definitely not done yet, it still sloshed. So I set the timer for another fifteen minutes and decided to check it every five minutes. Lesson learned? This old recipe has some serious weird mojo, my dad was shocked when I told him it took a full 25 extra minutes to bake; maybe the old recipe was optimized for wood stoves. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This is what I saw at the end of the process.

It seemed to look and smell OK… I allowed it to reach room temperature.

It was time for the dreaded taste test as the evening’s dessert.

How did the Civil War pie fare?

Well, as soon as the pie cooled I decided to try a piece before the fam. Just in case it was dreadful, you know. Well… here’s my report.

I’ve eaten a lot of pumpkin pie over the years, and this one was a different breed. Different in a good way. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but maybe it was because it was all fresh ingredients, with the eggs and the pumpkin sourced right here on this little patch.

There is no better way of describing the pie than to say it had a distinct nutty flavor, underlain with a rich creamy texture. It really does seem as if fresh cream is a shining star in this recipe, along with the just-picked-and-baked pumpkin itself.

Nothing was particularly overpowering, but I think it could have done with a bit less nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit less. Surprisingly, the Walmart crust was excellent, it was just right and blended well with the pie. Crispy, but not too much and definitely not mushy.

As I stated above, it surprised both me and my dad how long this sucker stayed in the oven, but in my opinion it was really worth it.

The recipe stands as written, the “excessive” two cups of cream and all.

Whoever came up with this recipe really knew what the hell she was doing. I can’t take any credit at all; all I did was followed the departed woman’s measurements and proportions. Also, I didn’t freak when the pie took much longer than we had figured, and don’t sweat it when it rises like a soufflĂ©.

Very, very good. Actually, one of the best I’ve ever had. Seriously.

This was a good experience.

Next up is Grandma’s gem from World War Two.

I plan to use fresh pumpkin again, and cream, just so that this is an apples-to-apples comparison.

Stay tuned. More soon.

1865 vs WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part One.

Hey, all. It’s a dark, cold and rainy day over here, so the time has finally come to try out my Great-Great-Great Grandma’s Civil War Era pumpkin pie recipe.

See the recipe below.

As I looked this recipe over, I did not doubt its provenance. It is old. Why would my Grandma say the recipe came from her mother’s Great-Grandma when it did not? She wouldn’t have. However, I was struck by the use of evaporated milk; I wondered when that ingredient came into widespread use. A simple Google search gave me my answer; evaporated milk became widely available in 1885. So my guess is that the recipe was modified for evaporated milk around 1890 or so.

Not such a big deal. Further research indicated that people used cream in pie-making before evaporated milk, so in the pie I am attempting today I substituted cream for evaporated milk. This is how it would have been made around the Civil War or earlier.

For those who had no milk cow, or did not have a subscription with the milkman, I can see why evaporated milk made sense. Shelf-stable and cheap. We really do take things like fresh milk for granted; this was not a given around the turn of the twentieth century.

But I’ll bet cream tastes better. We’ll see. If this pie tastes like I remember from twenty years ago, it’ll be different. Different in a good way.

OK, so let’s get down to brass tacks. How do you make a traditional pumpkin pie?

First, the pumpkin must be selected and prepared. We can skip the selection process because this came out of my garden. It is a Sugar Pie Variety small pumpkin, an heirloom seed type. I don’t mess with hybrids.

Split the pumpkin in two as shown. Pumpkins are tough, use a sharp knife and don’t cut yourself. Grab a stiff spoon and scoop out the seeds and strings. If you want, save the seeds for roasting or next year’s planting.

Once the pumpkin is cleaned out, grab a cookie sheet and put a piece of parchment paper on it. Place the two halves of the pumpkin on the sheet as shown. See why you must use a smaller pumpkin?

Preheat the oven to 400F (205C). When it is hot, place the pumpkin in there for about forty-five minutes.

You’ll know it when the pumpkin is done. A fork will stick right in. This would have been difficult in a raw pumpkin. Take the baked pumpkin out of the oven and let it cool down.

Note how the skin easily pulls away from the cooked pulp. This is desirable. See below.

The pumpkin at this point smells pretty good. If you’d like, grab a chunk and eat it; it should be slightly sweet with a hint of caramel. One eight inch pumpkin will give you a plate full of pulp.

Now you need to process the pulp into a puree. You can do this the old-fashioned way, or be like me.

Jam that sucker into a food processor and hit “fast.” A minute or two later, and your fresh pumpkin is as fine of a puree as that gunk from a can. But yours is fresh. In my case, I remember planting the seed. There’s a certain satisfaction in that. See below.

There you go. This is what you were after when you picked up that little sweet baking pumpkin from the farmer’s market. Bright orange, fresh as heck, caramel-smelling pumpkin guts.

This. This is what the baker wants. This is what leads to delicious pies. Hopefully; I am a real novice. In any case, the eight-inch pumpkin yielded five cups of usable puree. According to the recipe, this is enough for a little less than three pies.

I want to do two pies, so this is good.

One pie will use the 19th century recipe; the other one will use Grandma’s WW2 era recipe.

The recipes are different; to lower the number of variables I’ll use the fresh puree and cream in both and I’ll see which my family prefers in a taste test.

All I’m waiting on now is for the chickens to lay some eggs.

Waiting on eggs? Yeah, seriously. With the approaching winter the chickens have gone into their fall molt and egg production is down.

But that’s OK. I’ll stick the puree in the fridge.

All good things come to those who wait.

Stay tuned…

The Whitetail

The North American White-tailed deer is an old friend of mine. They are a common sight around these parts, they are frequently harvested for meat. Unfortunately, many of them die in traffic accidents as well. Over the years I have hit five.

There’s a reason I’m talking about this today.

The mix of Whitetail and advanced technology.

Guess I have to start at the beginning.

We all know that 2020 is a really bad year. Everyone has taken a hit, whether from health concerns or the collateral economic or social damage. Well, an industry that has been beaten up is sales of all types.

The car industry is no exception to this rule. They want people to buy cars, so at the moment many manufacturers are offering some amazing financing deals- Subaru is one of them.

Depending on a few factors, it is possible right now to get a new car for 0% financing over sixty months. In layman’s terms, this represents thousands of dollars. Also, the 2020 models are hanging around like a beached fail-whale, the dealers are desperate to ditch them.

If you can do it, this makes for a buyer’s market.

But I digress. What does this have to do with technology or for Pete’s sake the whitetail deer.

OK, our old car was due for a little expensive TLC. Nothing major, but still. I was at the Subaru garage, and I found out about these deals. I did some thinking. Hmm, dump a ton of cabbage on a high-mile vehicle that was out of warranty, or maybe trade it in.

Grabbed up a sales lady after checking Kelley Blue Book on my phone. I knew what my vehicle was worth, bottom line. A casual conversation followed; she made me an offer and we crunched the numbers.

My mouth dropped a little. They gave me excellent trade-in, and the interest rate and finance terms made it so that we got a better, brand-new vehicle for LESS per month.

It was a no-brainer.

This is how we got a new Subaru Outback.

I say what kind of vehicle it was for a reason.

The mind-blowing technology.

The car is not mine, so I didn’t drive it home. The next morning at about 0545 I decided to take it for a test drive. I knew this would be a different experience, but I wasn’t really prepared for how different.

Holy cow. When I opened the door my eyes fell upon an enormous center console that looked like a giant iPhone, and acted accordingly.

Menu this, setting that, precise temp controls. Every last bit of the driving experience could be customized, from the volume of the traffic warnings to the temperature of the flipping’ seats, for heaven’s sake.

Whoa. After convincing myself I hadn’t hit a self-destruct button somewhere, I turned the old-fashioned key (a feature I like). The Boxer engine growled to a start, I put the beast into reverse and looked at the night-vision backup cam.

Seriously? Yeah.

I backed onto our quiet rural road, put it into drive and headed on my test drive.

More technology- this must be mentioned. The Subaru lets you know when you cross the yellow line; there is a function that pulls your vehicle back onto the road. It isn’t gentle. Even when expecting it, it startled me. Also, there is an intelligent cruise control that maintains a precise three vehicle separation with the car in front of you; this function is enormously helpful when driving on a two-lane highway and you are stuck behind a drunk who keeps accelerating and slowing.

This is borderline auto-pilot stuff.

So into the inky darkness I drove; I went through a local twisty hollow to judge how the vehicle cornered, etc.

I ended up testing a feature I knew of, but didn’t appreciate.

Not fully.

My odometer read 114, the wonderful smell of new car tickled my nose. What a luxury, to drive in a factory fresh-vehicle. The white-blue headlights did a fine job of illuminating the darkness.

They lit a blur from the right.

Everything that happened next was like the taffy-speed of combat. Time stretched and everything went s-l-o-w.

In one second, probably less, I heard a strange machine hum. I noticed the Subaru rapidly decelerating. Like a photo strobe a large, beautiful Whitetail buck, probably an eight-pointer, leapt in front of the car and ran off into the woods to the left.

My foot hit the brake at the same moment that the car came to a complete stop. It didn’t even skid.

Holy. Shit.

I nearly wiped out our brand-new wagon on a deer.

There is no doubt that the auto-brake function prevented the collision. It saved the deer and left the Outback unscathed.

Things happened faster than human reaction times; I was wide awake and alert. There was no way I could have reacted faster than what I did.

The deer was long gone. I let out a breath and accelerated away.

Saved by technology.

Again.

Putting back the pieces

I’m having an odd day in an odd year. Not really sure what direction this discussion will take, but what the hell. Hold onto my beer and watch this…

It all started with a beautiful cover of a Hendrix song.

Since I came home, music has been tough for me. Not sure why, it just makes me a bit sensitive (for lack of a better word). So I ration my listening fairly carefully and I turn it off if it gets to be too much.

Today was one of those days. I could barely stand to hear the soulfully played song.

No idea why this is, I’ve never brought it up with the VA people. I have only noticed this lack of control since Afghanistan, though.

I could go on at boring length about some of the stuff that plays in my head, but I won’t. Anyone can wikipedia some of the results of combat exposure and blast trauma, so if you feel like making yourself smart about this stuff, go right ahead. I won’t stop you.

I dunno, a lot of this thinking was brought about by the weather and the re-discovery of some old images hidden deep within the files of my old computer; I backed up the old MacBook when I busted out the new machine (Thanks, Prime Day!). Lo and behold I came across a couple of Power Points my old boss had me write.

I thought they were corrupted beyond any use, gone forever.

It turns out they were just outdated and inaccessible with the junky old software.

With some degree of trepidation, I opened the file called “Explosive Hazards of “x” Province, Afghanistan, October 2011.”

Good God, it was riddled with images I took and catalogued some nine years ago. Stuff I thought I had forgotten, like the blast crater below.

Just a dumb hole in the ground, you say. Yeah, it is that.

But there’s a story there. You see, I watched that hole being made. I watched as an Afghan Police truck passed over that exact spot. The IED with my name on it, but not that day, exploded violently.

The bomb was planted along a road I travelled daily, either on foot or riding as shown below.

Riding as the gunner on an 1151 Humvee.

Good God I shook like a leaf as we rode through that crater shortly thereafter. I nearly pissed myself as I felt the truck lurch while passing through the hole. That bomb. That Improvised Explosive Device. It sought to tear the life from me, to blast me and my friends to rags and red filth.

So yeah, maybe I should have never opened that file.

But that’s the hell of it. These days nothing electronic ever truly dies. Long after I have passed someone cruising the web or whatever will be able to search for images of the Afghan War, and there I will be, in living color. Maybe even rendered in a 3D hologram or something.

So the war will never truly die with us, its combatants.

It will be preserved, like a fly in amber.

I have my doubts as to whether this is a good thing. No, you know what? It’s not. But it doesn’t matter, the cat is out of the bag for good. Digital immortality is upon us, for better or worse.

For an eternity I will ride on top of my machine in my gunner’s harness, my right hand on my trusty PK. For uncountable years I will wait on the explosion.

This. As I sit behind this computer typing, my teeth chatter. I remember.

There is no forgetting. Likewise forgiveness. Understanding, the same.

All that is left is to endure.