Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Funny Fantasy and Silly Scifi

When Life Hands You Snow, Make Snow Ice Cream. Because, mmmmm Snow Ice Cream

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 05•15

At my house, I have five or six cans of sweetened condensed milk in the pantry because last year my addled mommy brain made me get that mixed up with evaporated milk, and buy that instead whenever I made mashed potatoes (as you do).

Which ended up working out today when we decided to make snow ice cream.

When I was little, we got snow maybe once or twice a year, and it was maybe an inch. If we could scrape up enough clean snow (or put out a bowl in time for it to collect) we would have snow Ice cream.

The way I’m used to snow Ice cream is to mix snow, milk, sugar and vanilla. Then eat the resulting soup. It’s not really anything like Blue Bell, or even real homemade ice cream from a churn. But because we hardly ever got snow when I was little, it tastes nostalgic.

Tonight hubby and I looked up snow ice cream on the Internet, and found out how Paula Deen does it. Instead of milk and sugar, she adds sweetened condensed milk. 

(null)

I have a pantry full of it, and a husband who is like the little shoulder angel who says “do it!” When it comes to things like this. So we mixed up a batch of sweetened condensed snow ice cream.

(null)

All I can say is that I think I’ve been making it wrong all these years. This stuff tastes like Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, only richer.

The recipe said it made 8 servings. I think I are about 4 of them. Good thing we didn’t make more.

I finally learned how to chop an onion.

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 27•15

This last Christmas, hubby told me not to plan anything for Valentine’s Day weekend (which meant that Con DFW was out). Completely unbeknownst to me, he booked us into a cooking class at the Winthrop Rockefeller institute.

(null)

The Rockefeller in that name is the same as in Rockefeller center in New York City. Winthrop Rockefeller was a younger son of John D. Rockefeller JR.  He moved to Arkansas and became a rancher on the advice of an army buddy post WWII. After he passed on, his ranch became an educational facility.

So I got to take a cooking class in an old barn, and had dinner next to an old silo.

(null)

The class is called table for two. In it a master chef demonstrates how to prepare a meal. Then the students go into the lab and prepare the same meal. Then we get to eat the fruits (and vegetables, and meats) of our labors in an elegant candlelit setting (under a silo).

Our meal included bruschetta, creamy Italian chicken soup, bacon wrapped stuffed chicken with Asiago cheese sauce, Italian vegetables, polenta and tiramisu for desert.

(null)

Now, I cook every day. And I think of myself as an advanced amateur. Even so, I learned a thing or two that made the class worth the price, and enduring the waiting list to get in. I sharpened my knife skills, and learned easier ways to chop vegetables and butterfly chicken. And we’ve since made the soup at home.

The tuition includes an overnight stay in the facilities, which are on par with a lot of nice lodge hotels that I’ve stayed in. The next day, after we checked out, we borrowed bycicle a and explored the grounds.

(null)

The institute is on top of Petit Jean Mountain, so the scenery was terrific. There is a working, self-sustaining demonstration farm on the grounds, a lake and a botanical garden.

If this interests you, here is the link to the cooking class information. http://www.rockefellerinstitute.org/educational-programs/culinary

History Y’all: That time Boston never wanted Gingersnap Cookies Again

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 17•15

Last week when I was writing about the London Beer Flood, I learned of the most bizarre disaster to occur in US history.

On January 15, 1919, a storage tank along Boston’s waterfront burst, sending a 15 foot high, 160 foot wide wave of molasses rolling through the streets of Boston at a speedy (for molasses) 35 miles per hour. The wave flattened buildings, knocked rails off of a nearby elevated railway, nearly knocked a train car off it’s track, and crushed or drown people, horses and other animals under it’s horrifying, sticky mass.

Background
Molasses (or Treacle, if you happen to be British) is a byproduct from making sugar from sugarcane and sugar beets. It is what makes brown sugar brown. It’s a syrup, as thick as honey and darker than motor oil. In addition to cooking, molasses may be fermented to make ethanol for alcohol or munitions.

These two products were in high demand in the previous years. Munitions for World War I, and alcohol in the lead up to prohibition.

A Rush Job

Just three years prior, Purity Distilling Company had the tank constructed to deal with the massive amounts of molasses moving through their distillery.

At five stories (50 ft. High) and 90 feet in diameter, constructed of seven riveted vertical rows of steel plates that overlapped horizontally, the tank dominated the neighborhood.

The tank was completed just three days ahead of an expected shipment of molasses, leaving no time for the construction company to fill it with water to test for structural weaknesses.

Warning Signs

Neighborhood residents noticed problems with the tank as soon as distillery employees filled it with Molasses. The tank’s overlapping steel plates leaked profusely.

Children playing nearby would scrape the leaks with sticks to make molasses suckers. Adults would collect the leaking molasses in jars to take home.

More ominously, some employees noticed rumbling sounds from within the tank. The distillery had the tank painted brown to hide the leaking.

The Dam (actually the tank) Breaks
At 12:30 pm on January 15th the tank ruptured, spilling 2.3 million gallons of Molasses (26 million pounds) into the streets.

The wave flattened the entire Boston Waterfront area, including the offices of the distillery and a three story fire house nearby.

Aftermath

116 sailors of the USS Nantucket, which was docked nearby, rushed to the rescue.

By the time doctors arrived, they described treating finding victims who looked like they had been covered in a heavy oil slick. Some victims couldn’t even be seen through the thick, syrupy glaze. The final victim wasn’t even discovered for four months.

In the city stables, police had to shoot trapped , injured and struggling horses.

Volunteers set up a makeshift hospital to remove syrup from noses and mouths, so that survivors could breathe, as well as eyes, and ears.

The molasses clung to anything it touched, including the clothes, hands and hair of rescue workers.

Gawkers tracked the molasses back through the rest of the city, where it stuck in the streets, on handrails, doorknobs, public phones and the seats of public transportation.

The Cleanup

Removing the funk took an estimated 87,000 man hours.

Firemen pumped water from the harbor through fire hoses to spray away the gunk. Others used chisels, saws and brooms. Although the accident happened in January, the water in Boston Harbor ran brown into Summer.

Investigations into the accident pointed to the tank. Investigators said it was too thin and had too few rivets to contain so much molasses.

Additionally, the temperature on the morning of the accident rose from 2 degrees Farenheit to 41 degrees, which could have caused the Molasses to ferment and put further stress on the tank.

By August of the following year, 119 lawsuits had been filed against Purity’s parent Company, United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA). The suits were all consolidated into one lawsuit which took three years to settle. It remains one of the longest, most expensive suits in Massachusetts’s history.

The USIA settled out of court, and as a result, most of America today requires that building projects must be signed off on by an architect and an engineer. Plans must also be filed with most city building departments.

Today the site of the tank is now a playground. The events have passed into folklore. Some Boston residents swear that they can still smell molasses on hot days.

(null)

(null)

(null)

History Ya’ll: Beer Tidal Waves Aren’t As Fun As You Might Think

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 10•15

The Super Bowl has just passed, which made me think of today’s topic: the London Beer Flood of 1814. (And if Super Bowl commercials don’t make you think of beer tidal waves, you and I don’t watch the same sport).

On October 17, 1814 George Crick, a storehouse clerk at Meux and Co. brewery (sometimes called the Horseshoe brewery) noticed that a 700 pound iron hoop had slipped off of a three-story tall vat of porter (a type of beer that the brewery specialized in. ). Although the vat was completely filled with the fermenting beverage, Crick wasn’t alarmed. The hoop slipped at least three times yearly.

On the advice of his boss, Crick left a note for another brewery employee who could fix the vat.

At 5:30 pm, crick heard an explosion as the vat splintered under the pressure of 1 million pints of beer.

Like a twisted game of dominoes, the flood of beer knocked the taps off of surrounding vats, causing them to empty their contents and growing the tidal wave.

An estimated 570 tons of beer smashed it’s way through the streets of St. Giles Rookery, the poor tenement neighborhood where the brewery stood. Since the streets had no drainage system in place, the beer had nowhere to go but straight into the homes.

Under the pressure of the wall of beer, Two houses collapsed, and eight women and children either drowned or were crushed by debris.

In the wake of the tragedy, a jury ruled the accident an “Act of God,” and refunded the brewery for taxes that it had already paid on the beer. The brewery closed in 1921 and was torn down a year later. The Dominion Theatre was built there immediately after.

Ironically, a Hillsong Church London holds services there each Sunday.

(null)

It’s Groundhog Day! It’s Groundhog Day! It’s Groundhog Day!

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 02•15

(null)
So today is that American holiday where we all gather around the TV set and watch Bill Murray repeat the same day over and over until he learns to play the piano and build Ice sculptures to win the woman of his dreams.

Just kidding. Sorta. When I was a kid, I learned that Groundhog Day was when the groundhog comes out of his burrow and looks around. If he gets scared, he goes back in and there will be six more weeks of winter.

Then I saw news coverage of the “official” groundhog pux pax Phil. Let’s just call him Phil.

Phil gets a ceremony every year in which a ton of paparazzi gather around his burrow before the sun is up, and a man in a top hat reaches in and pulls him out. Then the man in the top hat holds Phil in the air and let’s everyone snap photos of him.

Generally the report after that is that Phil got scared and went back in his burrow.

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone.

History Ya’ll: That Time Washington wore Falsies

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 21•15

gilbert-stuart-george-2Whenever I see portraits of George Washington (and I see them a lot. I live near an American Art musuem.) I’m struck by how his jawline reminds me of my grandmother’s. Like Washington, my grandmother wore false teeth.

Despite the name, Washington’s false teeth weren’t actually false. Nor were they wooden (contrary to popular myth). Most of his dentures actually had real human teeth in them. During his lifetime, he steadily lost his teeth. Often he saved them and had them wired to his real teeth. By the time Washington became president, he had several sets of dentures made using hippopotamus ivory or metal for the foundation, and “donated” human teeth.

George-Washington-teeth-hippo-ivoryAccording to Mount Vernon, Washington disliked the teeth, because they were uncomfortable and made his lower jaw stick out. The ivory ones tended to stain and needed lots of cleaning.

“Donated” teeth weren’t always donated. After wartime battles, looting of soldier’s bodies wasn’t only confined to their valuables. A looter could pull a soldier’s teeth and then sell them to a dentist. Some career soldiers even carried tools for extracting teeth from fallen enemies in case they had just such an opportunity. After the battle of Waterloo, so many solder’s teeth flooded the market that even up through Victorian times dentures were known as “Waterloo Teeth.”

But Washington’s teeth weren’t “Waterloo teeth.” By the battle of Waterloo, he’d already had his dentures made. The-antique-dentures.

You’re Welcome

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 12•15

I’ve noticed that the more I’m plugged I to the headlines, the more depressed I feel. The local news station, my Facebook, content aggregators like Flipboard. Reading it all makes one inclined to believe the world is a messed up place.

Yet statistically, we live in the most peaceful time ever.

So In order to prevent that negativity here and now, I present to you baby platypuses wearing fedoras.

image

Now go pay it forward. Spam the world with awesomeness and cuteness. Kittens and dragons and Darth Vader. Or maybe a kitten riding a dragon battling Darth Vader.

You’re welcome.

So This is a Thing

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 06•15

imageThis came in the mail this weekend.

My story is the second title in the anthology, right behind the editor’s. He must have liked it.

If you want your own Kindle copy, you can get one on Amazon. The title has been out since Halloween.

History Ya’ll: Ain’t No Party Like a Donner Party

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 31•14

imageWhen I was in high school, my sister participated in history day (which was like a science fair, only with history). Her project was based on the Donner Party.

The movie Alive, about the soccer team that crashed in the Andies and had to resort to Cannibalism had just come out, so cannibalism was on everyone’s minds. (Much like recently, with the discovery in Jamestown of Jane, the cannibalized skull from the starving time).

But this isn’t a post about cannibalism, even though I think the way we sensationalize taboo subjects is an interesting, yet morbid part of human nature. Instead it’s about how archaeology can give us new insights into historical events. Especially ones we think we already know everything about.

Take the Donner Party. In 2003, a group of Archaeologists went back to Donner Pass to explore the site. One of the things they thought to do (that hadn’t been tried before) was to ask local Native American tribes if their oral histories held any accounts of the Donner Party.

As it turned out, there were Washoe tribesmen living in the mountains at the time. These natives tried to help the starving settlers out of pity. Unfortunately the settlers shot at the natives who were trying to help them. Later the Washoe say they saw the settlers eating their own dead, and stayed away out of fear.

This same 2003 archaeological study collected artifacts from the Donner site, including hundreds of bone fragments from around one of the campsites. Microscopic studies failed to find human bone among those fragments. But an earlier survey that used archaeological cadaver sniffing dogs (and before today I didn’t even know that was a thing) indicated the presence of human remains around one of the old hearths, so it may just be that any cannibalized human remains have decomposed.

On a less gruesome aspect of the story, IO9 reports that the storm that stranded the Donner Party may have been a cyclical Pineapple Express storm. I like to end on that (slightly less morbid) note. It’s always nice to have a little context to tie an event into the wider tapestry of history.

Yes Virginia, Santa Was a Real Dude

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 23•14

st-nicholasEveryone knows who Santa is, right? Fat dude in a red suit that lives at the North Pole and goes Ho, Ho, Ho! Right? Er . . . maybe not.

The Santa that everyone thinks they know is based on a real person. And that person might just have gone on his own naughty list.

I’m talking about Nicholas of Myra, a third and fourth century bishop who lived in present-day Turkey. In recent years scientists examined the skull of this saint and discovered that in life he had a broken nose. Perhaps he was a brawler? One (probably not true) story is that he punched a heretic in the face at the council of Nicaea in 325.

So who was the real Santa? And did he belong on the naughty or nice list?

To answer that question, we have to go back to 170, when Nicholas was born in a port city of Patara. At the time, that part of Turkey was culturally Greek and politically Roman. Nicholas’s wealthy parents died while he was still young, and the boy was raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas). Since Old Nicholas was the bishop of Patara, it seems logical that when young Nicholas went into the church that he was engaging in family business. Eventually Nicholas became Bishop of Myra.

According to legend, Nicholas performed so many miracles throughout his life that people called him “Nicholas the wondermaker” and even “Saint Nicholas.” That was to his face, Ya’ll. Notable actions include raising the dead, helping sailors, solving murders and giving to the poor in secret.

I kind of want to read a book about St. Nicholas, gumshoe P.I. now. He could find the bodies and then bring them back to life.

So the stories go, on one occasion a man had three daughters but was too poor to afford a dowry. He worried that his girls would go into prostitution to support themselves if he didn’t find them proper husbands. Hearing of his plight, Nicholas hid bags of coins in the girls stockings that they had set out to dry overnight.

Many of these legends are probably just made up, but the one about the daughters is probably true.

After his death, Nicholas was a very popular saint in the early church and the later middle ages. Unlike many of the saints, Nicholas seemed approachable. This was a man who punched heretics, but also gave to the poor. He could be any of us, just . . . you know, with a job that involved wearing a funny hat. So many people loved Nicholas that there are churches dedicated to him all over Europe. Eventually, immigrants from the Netherlands brought their tradition of honoring “sinterklauus” to North America along with Christmas trees and other holiday trappings.

As for the actual St. Nicholas, when the Turks took over his homeland, sailors from Bari stole his remains. Trafficking in relics was a common practice in those days. A good relic would bring in tourists pilgrims to a city. Venetian sailors stole the bones of St. Mark for their own city in just this way.

So what did the real Santa look like? In the 1950’s scientists made a cast of the saint’s remains. A few years ago, a facial reconstruction was made based on that cast. Based off of that, this is probably what he looked like:
St-Nicholas-forensic-reconstitution