Friday, February 13, 2009

Orifice Spuds, Mini-Pigs, and Smelt

You think your day was rough? Consider the poor workingman who reported in to our local fishmonger. "Five hours out, and a grand total of four smelt."

Smelt, for the unfamiliar, are small silvery fish with a remarkably mild, sweet taste, perfect for quick pan-frying. After they're cooked, there's the added fun of sliding your finger down between the fillets to neatly lift the skeleton away. Then, with a tangy splash of lime juice, a toothsome crunch of cornmeal and just a flick of salt, the little fish flips into your mouth...and melts.

In Maine, the smelt aren't running yet, as evidenced by the fisherman's reported misfortune. Tonight's supper came, instead, from Canadian waters, but they should be running south of the border soon. In celebration of the brief smelting season--and our newly-installed, blessedly functional gas cookstove-- I brought home half a pound of the "silver darlings" to dip in egg/milk mixture, dredge in cornmeal & flour, and fry on the stove-top. It was another blythe Scottish foodie meal: fresh pan-fried fish, a thick soup of leeks, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and pearl barley, and hot butterscotch pudding for dessert. (Okay, the pudding's a stretch, but the use of fresh, local whole milk and a splash of single malt whiskey may have redeemed it.)

We have a stove, a real working stove. Two days ago, the workmen arrived to install a "mini-pig" (the official term for a smallish propane tank) and hook up our second-hand bargain stove. I was glad to be there when they arrived and thankful for the time to watch, and learn from, their work.

An Aside: I have a great respect for workers in The Trades--especially those that show up as/when requested. (We will say nothing of plumbers here...especially a CERTAIN plumber who surely will show up ANY DAY NOW.)

One of the workmen mentioned that their boss knew The Bagpiper. Turns out the fellow took piping lessons from her a while back, before he joined the Public Safety Pipe Band. It's a good sign when a tradesman conveys greetings from his boss, particularly when your partner turns out to have been his pipe teacher!

For the next half hour, I did my best to stay out of their way while trying to view the proceedings as closely as possible. We discussed tank (pig) placement and figured out where the gas pipes should run. Once everything was settled, they made very quick work of the installation. During their final test of the gas stove, they checked each of the burners and installed some tiny bits of hardware to regulate respective flame heights. Only after they left did I notice the name of these specialized units: orifice spuds. Hmm! What interesting mental pictures the term generates! It suggests a proper implement for punishing AWOL plumbers: the orifice spud.



It's just that we're a little testy around here, having moved out of the old house a month ago in a desperate plea for reliable, retainable warmth. At first, it wasn't so bad, running back to the old house to do laundry, take showers, and otherwise make use of the facilities. Why, it was perfectly manageable--until the pipes began to freeze. We lost the kitchen sink right away, but saved the rest of the system by draining it during every hard freeze. Last week's thaw cycle caused the kitchen pipes to burst, so now our water use is limited to a single cold-water hydrant--the same hydrant that supplies water for our cows and chickens. Meanwhile, we place half a dozen calls to our plumber every day, all of which he carefully avoids with the help of Caller I.D. We tried to get estimates from some other plumbers, but they're not returning calls either. I wish we could find a female plumber, one who understands the added indignities and frustrations laid upon women by a lack of functional plumbing. Instead, we're doing our best to get used to "winter camping." We wash dishes at the neighbor's, take showers at the community center, and take our laundry for little rides in the car now and then.

Well, we still don't have a functional bathroom or working kitchen sink, but we DO have a working stove, so we'll celebrate what we've got: decent food, a place to cook it, and a warm roof over our heads. Since tomorrow's the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, we'll celebrate a house built by hand and warmed by love: two tired people, one soft-but-aloof grey cat, and a devoted little Border Collie. We'll celebrate the music that feeds us, the tasty roots and fish-runs, and all the sustaining systems on which we depend.

1 comment:

Mama Pea said...

I can't believe that #!**% plumber hasn't shown up yet. That is really low, low, low. Especially since he's already been paid. I'm gritting my teeth just thinking about it.

Mmmm, a smelt fry tonight. Yum. We have them here in MN, too, but they've been severely declining in the past couple of decades. Sources say they hit their peak in the 70s and then because of predation of the lake trout and introduction of salmon, they are now almost done for. So sad. Paltry that it now is, our smelt run doesn't usually start until late April.

Congrats on the installation of your gas stove. Another step toward house completion!