Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blackened Mahi Mahi Fish Taco: Take Two

The Fixin's

Toasted Tortillas

Guest of Honor

The End Result: Delicious

Monday, March 29, 2010

Discovery Toys

I was clear across the office when I heard my cellphone still attached and charging at my computer commence to play the opening rifts of Smoke On the Water. It never rings and it took me a moment to place that it was my phone that was making the music. Nobody knows my number, on purpose, except for my wife, also on purpose, so it must be her. Why is she calling me in the middle of her shift at the hospital?

The above picture is the reason she was calling. An outfit named Discovery Toys had set up a booth in the hospital lobby selling toys for children. Actually they were selling two different toys. A doll for girls and the above "Motor Works" for boys. My wife proceeded to describe the toys to me and ask which I thought Little Abbey might like. I immediately knew that the one for the boys is the one she would like. Then my wife asked if she could buy them because they were terribly expensive. How much I asked? $30 was her answer. Honey, you don't need to ask my permission to spend $30 or even $300. However is there was three zeroes after the three then I might like some input on it. Did I mention my wife is a Filipina and thus very thrifty?

So Little Abbey found these waiting for her at our apartment in the Urban Jungle and really enjoyed putting them together into the motor vehicles in the picture below. She still has a hard time figuring out where the pieces go but she is real handy with the cordless impact gun and loves to put in and take out all the plastic screws.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Guess I Missed Out On the Singing Gene


I didn't want to blog about this earlier for fear of jinxing things but the danger of that is over. In short, a cousin of mine made the top 24 on the show American Idol, a fact I didn't learn until after the fact. Mind you this isn't a first cousin but we did share the same set of great grandparents so that makes us something like second cousins and since I am one generation older, I have to add a once removed to it, I think. Although I never actually met this cousin, I knew my cousin's parents and especially the grandmother quit well and spent many an hour at the latter's house as I grew up.

Once I heard the news I had to log into the American Idol website to check it out since I don't watch the show. Later, I tuned in one Tuesday to try and hear my cousin sing but alas, the other gender was singing that night. For some reason when I looked at the listings the following week, I thought they were just doing eliminations from the week before but alas, I had instead missed hearing my cousin sing. I checked my cousin out on YouTube since they have everything there and though my cousin has a set of pipes and sang some really good songs, the audition that I missed watching wasn't as stellar as some of the others. In short, my cousin was eliminated in the crunch to reduce the field size to twelve.

It's too bad because I would have maybe actually cast my first text vote on American Idol had my cousin advanced and I had actually watched the show to see what number I had to call but it just wasn't meant to be. So I am left contemplating the fact that my family actually has a singing gene in it somewhere but as people who know me can attest, I obviously didn't get it. I did get the high score once at karaoke night of my wife's family reunion but I had a few beers in me at the time, it was held in the Philippines and I was the only one who was singing in my native language. I don't think this counts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Iowaville: Hamburg Locker

At the official start of Main Street in Iowaville, which really doesn't start until you have reached the top of the hill and the buildings once upon a time lined both sides of the street for it's two block long length, sits Hamburg Locker. Although it has always been a butcher shop in my lifetime, the building where it sits probably used to be an auto body repair shop or perhaps a fire station judging by the large overhead doors facing Main Street. I would also assume that since it is built from cinder blocks that in a previous life there had been a two story brick building or two that filled the spot just like on both sides of the two blocks of Main Street, at least before they began to collapse one by one into piles of rubble.

Back in my youth when Iowaville though dying, was still alive and had vigor, the street in front of Hamburg Locker used to be the staging site for Friday night ice cream socials. For a token price to cover costs, homemade soft-serve ice cream would be served up along with a variety of topping and popcorn for those without a sweet tooth. Everyone showed up early with their lawn chairs which we arranged in the street in clusters so we could socialize as we ate our ice cream. The reason for showing up early and the reason that the street in front of Hamburg Locker was the chosen location was because those big white overhead doors were perfect for projecting a movie onto. It was Iowaville's answer to the disappearing drive-in movie screens minus the huge screen and the cars. But in a reoccurring theme, the depopulation caused by the farm crisis also took care of the movie nights.

Wayne Hamburg, the owner of the locker, would eventually become the driver of the bus that would pick me up and take me to school. He was of solid German heritage which meant he was slow to anger but when he did, look out! I spent more than a couple weeks in exile up in the front seat of the bus away from my comrades for some stupid stunt or the other. His son who was many years younger than I was used to ride the bus and because my brother, the son of a neighbor and I needed a forth in our card game we played in back on the way to school, we taught him how to play cards. I never thought about him after I graduated school but became reacquainted with him a couple years ago when he transferred from second shift to first shift at the company where I work. In another twist of fate, Wayne Hamburg's son is now the owner of the property where the school used to be located before it was closed (also do to depopulation thanks to the farm crisis) and where his father used to drive us on the big yellow bus.

When my parents got into raising hogs later in my youth, I would frequent Hamburg locker more often either bringing in a crippled hog that needed to be slaughtered or picking up some of the meat to take back to the farm for consumption. It was always a treat to enter the huge walk in freezers on a hot summer day and thoroughly cool yourself off as you slowly filled up the cardboard boxes with bacon, sausage, chops, ribs, loins, etc. Hamburg locker was still in business a year and a half ago when I had a deer that someone shot for me processed there. I use the loins in stir-fry and the sausage on pizza but my favorite is the deer jerky which I include at times in my lunch bucket. Though Hamburg's Locker is still in business on Main Street of Iowaville the last time I drove through town, it appeared to be the only functioning business. Yet another reminder of the farm crisis.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Joseph Baker: Part Two

According to the obituaries of two of his children, they were born in Illinois in 1869 & 1871 placing Joseph there four years after the end of the Civil War. One obituary went on to say specifically in Colchester, Illinois. However, there is no census record in 1870 to back that up nor is there one that I can find anywhere in the United States. I tried requesting the birth certificates of the two children from McDonough county (home of Colchester), but was told they don't exist. This isn't all that surprising as before the mid to late 1870's, reporting births was not common or mandated. I plan to someday swing by to look through courthouse deeds to see if I can find something to tie them there but due to their nomadic existence and the one census record that I have on the family, Joseph's occupation was as a farm laborer and thus not likely to own land.

This brings me to the one census record I do have which finds them in 1880 living in Parkersburg, Iowa in Butler county, a town nearly wiped off the map a couple years ago by a gigantic F5 tornado. There Joseph aged 34, his wife Frances aged 32, live with most of their children Frances age 11, Robert age 6, and Charles age 5 and a saloon keeper named W. H. Beckwith aged 43. Missing are Mary who would be born later that year and my 2nd great grandfather John who at age 9 was nowhere to be found. I still have yet to find him in any census record for 1880. I can deduce from the birth states of their children that the family moved to Iowa sometime after John was born in 1871 and before Robert was born in 1874 and until recently had always assumed that move was to Parkersburg. However, an obituary of one of the children says that there was a stop in Fayette county (two counties east of Butler county) before they reached Parkersburg. I have requested birth certificates for the Iowa born children in both counties and again have come up empty.

Two years after 1880, Joseph Baker would be buried in a quiet corner of Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls in Black Hawk county, the county between Butler and Fayette counties. When census records resume, his now remarried wife and two sons would now reside in Cedar Falls and would do so the rest of there lives. Joseph's two daughter's Mary and Frances would marry and move out of state. The remaining son Robert would live in West Union in Fayette county from before 1910 until after 1930 according to several newspaper articles and yet not once of the three census records covering that time list him. Disappearing from census takers evidently runs in the family.

So what happened to Joseph Baker that he ended up six feet under 35 years after being born? One newspaper article may hold the answer. It says in its entirety, "George Dyne has been arrested in Chicago for the murder of Joseph Baker." Although the article was published in two papers, one on 23 September 1882 and 20 September 1882, both the same year my Joseph Baker ended up buried in Cedar Falls, both papers are in a county halfway across the state from Butler, Black Hawk or Fayette counties. What would he have been doing there? Had he moved? To make matters even iffier, there was another Joseph Baker that lived in Palo Alto county where the articles occurred during that same time frame but he had been born 10 years before my Joseph Baker and lived until sometime after the 1910 census, more than 28 years after the article in the paper. There are also several Joseph Bakers living in Chicago at the time so were these papers merely reporting news from that area? If so, why don't other papers, including some in Chicago at the time report the same story? I have not found any more articles in either newspaper earlier in the year of 1882 to further explain that single sentence. Just another mystery that remains unsolved at this time.

What all this pontificating boils down to is that I have little clues to go on and have exhausted any resources that can be accessed via internet or snail mail. What remains is that I must schedule quality time in the courthouses, libraries and genealogical societies in five counties scattered across two states to try and find any more clues that might solve some of these mysteries or at least give me more fodder to pontificate on future blog posts. As always, if you stumble upon this post via some search engine result, drop me an email through my linked address on the left sidebar and let me know what you know, or if you have any suggestions on where I should look next, I'm always open to advice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joseph Baker: Part One


When I first looked upon the gravestone a couple years ago in the picture above, I asked myself, "Who were you Joseph Baker?" I've have asked myself that question perhaps on a weekly basis since that day. At the time I didn't know if I was related to him but since he was a Baker and buried not to far from his son John Henry Baker who was my 2nd great grandfather, I took a picture just in case. If is funny how many times taking extra pictures has paid off dividends. In this case, after lots of research and blog post pontifications that can be found here, here, here, here and here, I found out that Joseph Baker was indeed my 3rd great grandfather. Though I have made lots of effort to further that family tree branch, which is tied in a three way tie for the shortest branch in my family tree, I have not made any progress.

Joseph Baker intrigues me in many ways. He is a mystery and continues to elude me at every turn. Despite living during a time when tracking people via census records is a fairly easy task assuming you have the access to them as I do, I can only find him in one of the four federal census records he was alive. Which brings me to the second reason he intrigues me. Joseph died at the age of 35, younger than I am and in a family that has pushed past average life expectancies all the way down my family tree. What happened to him? He fought and survived the Civil War and was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and yet I haven't been able to find a military record or GAR record for him. He and his family were apparently very nomadic and I have yet to find proof of any of their brief stays in various towns and states. Then upon Joseph's early death, his family becomes the definition of permanent and raises generations almost within a few miles of each other. Finally, every time I begin to think I have him figured out and pinned to a location, I request a record that should exist only to find out it doesn't. The only fact set in stone seems to be included in that picture shown above.

From the census records of Joseph's children and from the one I do have of him, Joseph Baker was born in England in 1847. I don't have record of his arrival to our country, as there is perhaps a thousand Joseph Bakers to choose from that immigrated to our shores between 1847 of the end of the Civil War in 1865 in which Joseph Baker fought in for the Union. Because he would have been younger than 18 when he immigrated, I'm guessing there is a good chance he immigrated with his parents but that is a mystery for a much later day. I only know that he fought in the Civil War from a notation at the cemetery that he had a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) marker by his grave, at least once upon a time because there wasn't one there a couple years ago. That organization for people who fought in the Civil War for the Union is now defunct and replaced by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) but the records are still kept in our state archives. All around the B's were cards full of information about families of the veterans, their parents and useful genealogical information but Joseph Baker simply had a card that stated his name, where he was buried and at the bottom the words, "Index Only." Not sure what that means but for now, my theory is that he transferred from another state and that his records are there.

I don't know what state he served for and tried requesting his military records from the National Archives only to be told they couldn't be found. A later letter stated that the reason they couldn't be found is because there were several Joseph Baker's from different states who all served for the Union and unless I knew what town and state he enlisted from, they couldn't send me the record. A Catch 22 situation. I suspect for reasons obvious in the next post that there is a chance that he could have served the military of Illinois but their records are stored at the local level, unlike Iowa which keeps ours all in one spot, and will take a lot of guessing to figure out if his GAR record is located there somewhere.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Fish Taco Experience


The stars recently aligned for the first time in a long time. My wife had the entire weekend off and didn't have any reason to be in the Urban Jungle. We didn't have any social obligations during said weekend off. The weather was beautiful and by beautiful I mean that the temperature was slightly above freezing and the sun was out. Best of all, my daughter's godmother had been angling for a few hours to spend with her goddaughter. So the missus and I went out for a date.

Living in a small rural town means our options for eating out at a nice sit down place are few. We could have eaten at one of the four Mexican places, one of the two Indian places or two Chinese places, or even the Turkish place. (We have an inordinate amount of ethnic options due to the local cult that presides here in town.) In the end, we settled on an American restaurant that caters to the finer food crowd though it is located above a bar on the ground floor. We don't go there often because it is a bit pricy compared to other options, our lunch date there ran close to $40 with tip, and because you used to have to walk through the crowded smoky bar to get to it. Well Iowa eliminated smoking in public places a year ago and it being Saturday a little after lunch, the bar crowd hadn't shuffled in yet.

To make a long story short, I opted for the fish tacos which I have heard Pablo rave about, albeit in a different state and different restaurant, on his blog a time or two. This restaurant made their tacos with blackened mahi mahi served in a soft shell with the fixings. It sounded good so I tried them and I was blown away. They were the best things I have eaten in a long time, even better than some of the bbq I've eaten during my search for the holy grail.

My wife of course didn't order the fish tacos and evidently tired of listening to me rave about them so later that evening, she decided that I was going to make fish tacos for supper. So during our grocery shopping I picked up some frozen mahi mahi along with the rest of the ingredients I would need and attempted to make them. My wife gave me some blackening rub for the fish, which I proceeded to put on liberally like I would any other meat rub. I even asked her if she thought I was putting on too much since I had never used it before. She didn't think so and so I cooked the fish, assembled the tacos and we sat down to eat.

For the first two or three seconds, I was thinking that I did a remarkable facsimile of the fish tacos as the restaurant, at least until the burning set in and the smoke began to roll out of my ears. I tried two or three more bites before I gave up and got some pop out of the refrigerator to attempt to coat and protect my mouth a bit. It didn't work. Every bite was agony. Abandoning the first taco, I opened my second one and scraped most of the mahi mahi out of it trying to selectively pick those chunks with the most blackening showing. I tried a couple more bites of that taco before giving up altogether and going to the leftover quesadillas in the fridge.

But for two or three seconds, they were good and much cheaper than at the fine dining establishment so I know there will be another attempt soon in my future. I'll just go much much lighter on the blackening spice or perhaps skip it altogether.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Boys of Everest


The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing's Greatest Generation
By Clint Willis


I knew before I was a third of the way through this book that I would have a hard time writing a review of it for my blog. First of all, it is hard to pick a word or phrase to describe this book other than haunting. The book roughly follows the career of Chris Bonington who ascended the throne of leading well-known British expeditions into the mountains and then bridging over to equally well-known though much smaller alpine style climbs. Bonington was the end of one era and the beginning of the next. He was also the rock on which many other climbers crashed upon and died or fell out of favor. By the end of the book, most of the characters were dead and the remaining few had fallen out of favor, grown old and gone different ways. This book roughly follows this group led by Chris, not really trying to add insight into what they did or for what reasons but merely as if we were just a floating observer watching these people climb and die. For me, it was a haunting feeling.

The book lacked purpose other than to chronicle about a succession of climbs undertaken by these climbers. The book was well written, easy to stay entertained, but I just kept expecting that it would end with some moral to the story. Instead, it ends just as it began, another detailing of another climb. None of these things bothered me in my enjoyment of the book other than they were unexpected going into it.

There was one aspect of the book that did annoy me. Willis seemed to take liberties with internal monologues of the characters on their fatal climbs when there were no witnesses or documents to record what really happened. The first couple deaths were really surprising because I subconsciously knew that because there was a dialogue and no witnesses that the climber must have survived. After I realized that Willis was creating these dialogues from imagination, I then learned not to be surprised when the climber would suddenly die. However, this made me ponder how many other liberties were taken when writing this book. Another aspect that I felt took away from this book was a lack of maps. Much time and many pages were spent describing routes up various mountains and not one map existed in the book so you were often left confused and wondering which ridge was where.

Overall, it wasn't a waste of time to read the book, I did learn some things especially about the British climbing circles in the 50's, 60's & 70's. It was also neat to hear described in detail how mountain faces are climbed, especially on multi-day situations. The lack of focus and the liberties taken by Willis in the accounts of various deaths among the climbing circle keep this from getting my must-read recommendation... For what that is worth.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crazy About Turkey Burgers


A couple weekends ago, I decided that nothing in the standby recipe box was what I was in the mood for so I dug out one of my wife's favorite cookbooks with the intention of flipping through it to find something to make. Although I did find something to make, I didn't do any flipping because the very page that I opened the book at somewhere in the middle had a recipe for something that I had never tried before but sounded good. The recipe was turkey burgers.

I made the recipe, more or less, and was blown away by the very moist and flavorful burgers, so much so, that I would rather eat a turkey burger any day over the best beef burger that I have had in my entire lifetime. My wife got home in time to enjoy one hot out of the pan and really raved about them too. This will be a staple in our family from now on, especially when grilling season starts again though the ones done inside in the fry pan were outstanding anyway. I'm anxious to take this one down to the farm the next time I go down and blow away the parents whom I like to impress now and then with my cooking when I find something unique like my famous homemade chicken teriyaki or stone baked pizzas. So without further ado, I have decided to post the recipe for the turkey burgers on my blog. Try them out and be prepared to be blown away.

Turkey Burgers
2 or 3 pounds of turkey thighs, deboned and ground up in food processor
1-cup ricotta cheese
4 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp of Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together and form into 1" thick burgers. Cook on one side until a dark crust has formed and then flip cooking until internal temp is 160 degrees. Definitely go for the turkey thighs because the thigh meat is hard to over cook, which is why they were so moist. Our store doesn't sell boneless thighs but since there is only one bone and I'm grinding it up later anyway, it is easy to debone. Having never cooked turkey burgers before and especially since they are on the thick side, I used a quick read thermometer to verify that the temp was 160 degrees. I ate mine between a toasted bun with some yellow mustard. I would have liked to have a slice of red onion on top had I any. Next time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Fever?

Grill On Snow

Reason Behind Grill On Snow

Fire For Warmth... and Nourishment

Pork Loin Marinated In World's Best Marinade Cooked Over Fire

Friday, March 5, 2010

What do I see?


Besides the remains of three snowman, I see some brown stringy substance that looks kind of dead growing on top of the soil. I haven't seen that since the first of February when it made a brief two day appearance and before that, I have to go all the way back to mid-December. Its supposed to be 50 degrees here this weekend, the first time since the latter part of November last year, the fourth longest stretch of sub 50 degree weather in the history of record keeping for this area. The last time it went longer was about 40 years ago. I have my suspicions about what it happening but I'm not going to say it. I learned my lesson the hard way last time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Charlie Chicken

In a major push to learn more about my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker, a story that is currently in draft form and will probably end up in several parts on my blog in the future, I found a newspaper article about one of his sons who evidently changed his last name from Baker to Chicken and back to Baker again. Why he assumed the last name of Chicken is a story that I would love to know. Did he raise fighting cocks like Chicken George in "Roots" by Alex Haley? Add another thing to check out someday when time travel becomes affordable for the average Joe genealogist.

Notice of Change of Name

Notice is hereby given that on the 19th day of September, A.D. 1900, an order was made by the district court of Black Hawk county, Iowa, by which the name of a person described as being twenty-four (24) years of age and who would be twenty-five (25) years of age on October 29, 1900; height five feet and eight inches, having light hair and brown eyes; born in Fayette county, Iowa, and whose father's name was Joseph Baker and whose mother's name was Francis Baker, and said mother's name now being Francis Heppenstall, that said applicant herein assumed the name of Charles Webster Chicken when young; that said applicant Charles Webster Chicken's name was changed from Charles Webster Chicken to Charles Webster Baker and that said change will by order of said court take effect on and after the 1rst day of November, 1900. - H.D. Williams, Clerk District Court. (Waterloo Courier, Oct 9, 1900 & Oct 23, 1900)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Iowaville: Jake the Barber


"You had better sit still as a statue if you don't want your ear cut off," every kid heard in Iowaville heard sometime in their life before heading into Jake the Barber's little shack of a house nestled in-between larger brick buildings on Main Street. Rumor had it that some kid hadn't sat still and actually had gotten a chunk of his ear snipped off. Looking back on it through time aged eyes, I'm pretty positive that didn't happen because I've yet to see a pair of scissors sharp enough to cut through cartilage without offering up some noticeable resistance. More and likely someone got their ear nicked and there might have been some blood involved but too a young and naïve kid, the image of an entire ear laying on the floor was very real and very possible.

Jake's Barbershop was one of those classics right out of a Leave It to Beaver episode. It had a large chromed out chair that rose up and down with a large pedal, one of many arranged around the base. There was only one chair for the cutting and three or four for those in waiting. It wasn't unusual for you to go in and wait for a couple hours while the three in front of you had their hair cut and it really didn't matter anyway that it took that long. There was always an interesting discussion going on and if you were a kid like me, Jake always had a few comic books to read through. Best of all, you always got a big lollipop at the end.

One wall behind the chair held a large mirror that ran its length with a couple shelves below full of lotions and liquids in an assortment of colors and smells. Below that was a counter top that held the sink and a wide assortment of scissors, shears, attachments, straight razors, leather strap and a couple hair dryers. The front of the shop had large windows on either side of the door with a layer of dirt that always gave the outside a yellowish tinge and of course, a large striped barber pole held on one side of the door. If you were a female, you went to the local beautician and if you were a guy, you went to Jake.

My experiences of going to Jake's Barber Shop were limited to most. Jake used to put some sort of greasy green goo in my hair before cutting it to make it stand up. It worked well but smelled like a wet dog that has just rolled around in something that had been dead for a while. It was terrible and my mother agreed. She tried telling Jake when dropping me off, that she didn't want any of that green goo put in my hair and sometimes he obliged but more often than not, it went on and my mom would raise a stink when I climbed into the car. She finally gave up and decided to cut my hair herself. That went on for several years until crew cuts became the latest fad and after much persuading, I had my mom make me an appointment with the local beautician. Fifteen minutes later, my head felt pounds lighter and my mom's jaw dropped when she saw me without my long locks. However, always the spendthrift, she bought one of those attachment kits that fit over the end of the shears and cut my hair for the rest of my home days with the #1 attachment. Twenty-five years later, I still use the #1 attachment.