Monday, July 18, 2011

Gibsonton, Florida: Gib Town, Freak Town, Show Town

Last night's episode of The Glades (cool show, check it out) featured "Gib Town" Florida, also known as Freaktown, Showtown, or more correctly, Gibsonton, FL. The town on the show wasn't so much the town I remember.

In the fall of 1981, shortly after high school, I traveled with my brother working some state fairs. We worked a trailer that sold cheap junk souvenir jewelry. You'd be surprised how many people buy that stuff and how many of them are willing to settle for "engraving" done free hand with an old vibrating engraving pen.

During my short stint in the carnival business I saw a guy beaten nearly to death by a swarm of carnies because a girl identified him as the guy who supposedly attacked her in some way.

I saw an attraction tent catch fire and cause quite a panic.

I watched police cars careen wildly through crowds as they raced to The Swinger where some lunatic was taking potshots at the ride with a handgun. That was the last night of the Texas State Fair.

I also saw and talked to a few of the so-called "freaks." There was an old guy, a small person who had no legs, who was billed as being half of a man. Before the fair opened in the morning he would tool around on a little dolly cart, pushing himself with padded blocks that he gripped in his fists.

There was a girl who liked to hang at our trailer and talk. She worked with the side show and had a horrifically bad dye job that was a mess of orange and black. And she was working on covering herself in tattoos so that she could one day be The Tattooed Lady. The sad part was that the majority of her tats were of the "prison tattoo" variety--cheap, black, and not very well done. To see the number of people who just casually run around town today with most of their bodies covered in colorful and--I suppose--artistic skin art, I can't help but think she didn't quite see her dream materialize.

Overall, the "freaks" I met were decent and nice people trying to make the best of limited opportunities. They rarely seemed sad, but too often they made me so.

The guy who owned the trailers and the novelty business we worked for was based, as many in the carnival business are--or were--in Gibsonton. Once our run at the Texas State Fair was finished we headed back to Florida--that was to be the end of my stint with the "independents" (Don't ever call us carnies!).

The town I remember, at least what I saw of it, was run down and old. A scattering of junk in nearly every yard hinted at the rural south I was familiar with in Kentucky, but it was all flatland and all the junk was in the form of carnival rides and signs and sideshow attraction sets.

I didn't see a lot of action in town. In fact, the only person I remember seeing was a little person walking an elephant down the road like you'd walk your dog, like there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. I suppose in that town, there wasn't.

Anyway, there's no real point to this post. I just started thinking about it after seeing The Glades. I think however fictionalized the town might be in that episode they handled the topic well. There must be a lot of mixed feelings about their heritage. I doubt there are any working side shows anymore. I'd be surprised if there were. But the history is there and the town must still bear evidence of it. Still, a lot can change in thirty years.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Boules Had A Baby And They Named It Crusty Roll

The Birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain

Let it be known that I am a man of leisure. This means that if I think something can be done more easily, in a way that will save me effort, I will inevitably work twice as long and twice as hard to find out.

Do I want to stir my infant levain every few hours and risk inadequate oxygenation? Of course not. Do I want my Frankenstein Starter, resurrected from dehydrated and frozen sourdough to return to the land of the living through such mundane means? Of course not. Something mechanical and unnecessary is certainly required. Thus the birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain.

The set up could not be simpler. A small aquarium pump, quarter inch hose, and my tub of levain. Unfortunately, I already had the aquarium pump and some unused hose so I wasn't able to turn this into a several hour project with mulitiple trips to the pet store, and if lucky, the hardware store to boot.

I started with 300 grams each of flour and room temperature filtered water that had sat around for a day or so to get rid of the chlorine. Because Frankenstein must have an extra boost (and lightning being both spare and dangerous in the kitchen) I dipped my stirring fork into a jar of barley malt syrup before whipping flour and water into a honeymoon suite for the (hopefully soon to be) frisky yeast I had disinterred from the freezer. I was hoping for a procreating frenzy.

The whole thing was a crap shoot, to be honest. I had cultivated the original starter strictly from wild yeast found wandering aimlessly and stealthily in the air of my Tucson kitchen. I had no idea if the wild yeast of Tucson would be tasty yeast or recalcitrant beasts that would leave a nasty taste in your mouth. But I was lucky. I ended up, after a lot of coaxing and care, with a very nice, pleasantly sour starter that I kept going for a couple of years. Then I hit the wall and didn't want to bother with it anymore. I knew this phase would pass and I'd regret losing my starter so I gambled and spread a batch on some waxed paper and let it dry thoroughly. I crumbled it into an airtight zippered plastic bag and stuck it in the freezer. There's no guarantee anything viable will remain when you do that, but what the hey. Give it a whirl.

Apparently I got lucky. It didn't take long for my levain to start bubbling and begging for food. It was while stirring in another feeding that I hit on the idea of the aquarium pump and I immediately gathered the pieces (all two of them) and plugged one end into the wall and the other into the belly of the beast. Bubbles. Big bubbles. Oxygen bubbling up from the bottom of the tub to the surface. This certainly seemed like it would work. If I wandered through the kitchen I would sometimes move the hose around a bit to make sure air was hitting different spots, but other than regular feeding, I didn't spend any time whisking and stirring.

Several generous feedings and a few days later, I followed William Alexander's recipe for French peasant bread and sequestered the monster to the fridge. The bread turned out well. Delicious, though I suspect the crust too brown, possibly close to flirting with the edge of burning. But delicious. I'm thinking through that result and coming up with ideas. By the way, a questionably sharp Exacto knife is no substitute for a razor blade for slicing the top of your dough prior to cooking. Get a real razor blade. I know I will before the next loaf is baked.

As for the pump, it worked great, but I'm sure no better than frequently stirring the levain with a fork or whisk or bread hook. If you're into that kind of thing. But I can't help thinking that they probably make some kind of octopus fitting the would allow me to sink the hose into the starter with three or four of more pieces of hose radiating throughout the levain and feeding the oxygen to all corners at the same time. I might have to do that. You know, for those weekly feeding sessions. Time for a trip to the store.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Signs I Would Like To Carry At The Rally To Restore Sanity

I won't be able to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. on October 30, 2010. But I'd like to. These are some signs I would like to carry at the Rally To Restore Sanity were I attending, which I am not, because I can't. I'll have to settle with watching it live on Comedy Central. Maybe I'll carry my signs while I sit on the couch eating white cheddar popcorn and drinking a delicious club soda while I watch the Rally To Restore Sanity live on Comedy Central on October 30, 2010.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

SunChips Just For Grins

Now that the compostable bags have been eliminated from the bulk of the SunChips lineup, I figured I'd put up recent photos of my bags in progress. The oldest one has been in for a little over thirty weeks. Again, this has not been under ideal conditions. Now that the bin is very full things might progress more quickly, but it is what it is. So here you go, two bags from in the compost barrel tumbler and one that has been simply staked out in the yard to see what happens--a backyard recreation of a bag tossed from a car window and left to the elements in a roadside ditch. You'll also see a Quizno's cup that was labeled compostable. It has held up remarkably well, too. Anyway, for what it's worth, here are the latest pictures.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Frito-Lay and SunChips Back Away From Environmentally Sound Packaging

Thirty-two Weeks. That's about how long the compostable SunChips bag managed to last before Frito-Lay decided it would rather back away from tiny steps to protect the environment than listen to a few people complain that the bag is "too loud." Yes, because the compostable bag is loud (it is), people complained and Frito-Lay said, "Screw the environment. Late night secret snackers must be protected from this insidiously loud menace!"

Frito-Lay will continue to offer the Original Flavor SunChips in the new bag, but it is discontinuing the use of the bag in all other flavors. Apparently those whiny secret snackers only eat the more exciting flavors like Harvest Cheddar and Garden Vegetable.

I'm not pretending the new bag was going to save the environment. It wasn't. How many of those bags were actually getting composted anyway? (I can only vouch for three.) But it was a step in the right direction for a company that generally does more harm than good in the world of nutritionally sound snacking (I'm not picking on Frito-Lay, almost all such companies are equally guilty--but Frito-Lay is easily one of the largest and has a huge environmental footprint). Unless companies can take a stand and stick with such products we're not going to make much progress in the world of responsible packaging.

Certainly Frito-Lay realized the bags were loud. They most certainly spent tens of thousands of dollars on the marketing aspect alone, which had to have included consumer reactions prior to a full release. "It's really loud" could not have been a surprise reaction. If it was, then they didn't do their homework.

The company plans to do further research to find a quieter alternative. I suspect doing so will involve chemical additives that might not belong in a food container. But that's never stopped food and beverage companies in the past and it certainly won't again unless we force Government regulations upon them. In our current political climate that is unlikely.

In an ideal world we will see a quiet bag that is more readily compostable. Company estimates of 12-16 weeks for composting require ideal composting conditions. Most back yard composters don't quite live up to those standards of green and brown balance, temperature control, etc. We compost the materials we have and make the best of it. Where did I get my thirty-two week figure from at the beginning of this post? That's how long my bag has been in my composter and I bought a bag as soon as they hit my local store. Are my bags fully composted? No. They are still easily identifiable as SunChips bags and still have a degree of integrity to them. Like I said, ideal conditions.

I hope Frito-Lay reconsiders this decision and continues to move in the direction of environmentally sound packaging. It's unfortunate that this initial step ended in what I am sure will be dubbed a marketing failure. Maybe they should come up with some adds that feature the loud bag--perhaps with some new "loud" flavors. I'm not going to hold my breath, though. Frito-Lay and almost any food and beverage company of such magnitude have one thing in mind--profits. The environment and your health are probably not even second on the list of priorities. Heaven forbid a few crazies say they're going to boycott SunChips because the bag is too loud. That might mean a decrease in profits by .001 percent!

How about this one? I hereby refuse to buy SunChips because the "original" bag they are returning to ISN'T LOUD ENOUGH!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tortoise Housing

We received two hatchling desert tortoises from a friend of a friend. They're cute! Since the hatchlings are vulnerable to both predation and, as we soon learned, Munch, I needed to set them up in a protected environment. So I built a tortoise box (box for a box turtle, you could say). I was able to keep cost down a little bit by going with redwood slats as opposed to larger boards. I cut those to length and screwed them to 2" x 2" corner supports to make the sides. Once I put the box together I put chicken wire on the bottom (to prevent them from tunneling out), put the box where I wanted it, and filled it with organic soil. I made a framed lid with chicken wire to prevent predators, added some shadecloth to the back, and we're good to go. I'm not the handiest guy on the block, but I think it turned out okay. I figure in a couple of years the tortoises will be big enough to be introduced into the yard with Munch and then the tortoise box will become a lettuce box. That'll be nice, too!

I added some rocks and rock "piles" that I hope are inviting places to burrow and hide. I have also planted various things along the front edge of the box--blue flax (probably get too tall if they don't eat if first), chia, nasturtiums, swiss chard, and chickweed, for a start. That will give them plants to forage on, crawl around in, and hide in. I think they'll like it. I even ran a dripper to the water dish so they will get water whenever the drip is on (the larger one in the picture, not the little one as shown).

I never thought of Munch as a big tortoise but compared to the hatchlings she's enormous! She was very aggressive, too, initially. She tried to bite them. I've put them in the same vicinity for small periods and she's still very interested in them but the head bobbing and biting seem to have stopped (I hope). With luck the hatchlings are both female. If one is a male that won't be a big problem, but if they are both males it could eventually cause problems. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

SunChips Go Compostable, Week 21/13

Slowly but surely is the motto, I guess. There's not a lot change week to week but I did add a small detail section that (hopefully) shows translucent and broken spots in the bag where it is finally starting to break down in a noticeable fashion.