Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

3. “Fancy” – Bobbie Gentry
Bobbie Gentry courted controversy in 1970 with ”Fancy,” an unlikely feminist anthem. Raised in squalid poverty, Fancy’s mother sees prostitution as the only way out for her teenage daughter. Using the last of the family’s scant resources, the mother gives Fancy a slinky red dress and a heartbreaking piece of advice: "Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they'll be nice to you." After that, the suffering family falls completely apart in the worst way possible, but Fancy indeed survives, climbing the social ladder as a call girl to the point where she carves out her own niche amidst high society, yet she continues to hold on to her humble, tragic roots like a defiant badge of honor. Reba McEntire’s 1991 cover became a top 10 hit, and remains one of McEntire’s most popular songs.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Billie Holiday.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Whitehorse The Northern South vol. 1
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Friday, January 06, 2017

Going bananas!

Remember when we had our last big arctic blast of cold air here in Texas just before Christmas? It was almost a full week of chill weather, with temperatures dipping down below--or close to--freezing each night. I set about covering several outdoor plants that haven't quite grown enough to ward off freezing weather, and hauled into the garage a number of other potted plants of a tropical nature. Planted near the swimming pool, however, are a couple of banana plants that've been in the ground a year and a half, and by my thinking, were approaching fruiting maturity. They'd grown quite a bit bigger than they were last winter when a scrap of landscape cloth was enough to protect them. I wrapped them top to bottom using some plant frost blankets picked up at Lowe's, along with a large fabric drop cloth I had from one of my home improvement projects. The freezes were never severe, but as the temperatures were unpredictable, I left them covered for the better part of the week. When I finally uncovered them with the onset of 70-degree weather, I was surprised to find this:

The crazy banana plant decided to flower just as winter began, during the coldest week of the year! Since then, fortunately, we've had two weeks of unusually warm weather--even for Texas--so it's put on some good growth and opened several more petals to reveal several more bunches of proto-bananas.

Alas, the warm weather was not to last, and Wednesday we got a shot of cold air that prompted me to start planning protection (which is actually good news, as my other fruit trees need some more cold weather if they're going to produce any fruit). The previous cold spell resulted in a number of dead banana leaves, as the frost blanket wasn't enough to protect those in direct contact with it. The looming arctic air mass had the weather forecasters predicting temperatures dipping down to the mid-20s for New Braunfels, and I know from experience that we generally run 3-4 degrees colder. Clearly, the flower and bananas would be at risk if I didn't increase the cold protection.

Turns out I had the solution at hand. We've been replacing our old Christmas lights with energy-efficient LEDs over the past few years, but hadn't thrown out the old lights. I had a few old strings of big C9 size lights, and those give off a nice amount of heat. Plus, I picked up a couple more strands post-Christmas at a deep discount. It's a good thing I got the extras, because I discovered our new puppy, Belle, had chewed through two of the old strands. Wednesday night, I wrapped the two banana plants up with C9 lights--the larger, flowering plant getting three strands (it also has two large daughter plants, or "pups," growing with it--and one for the smaller plant. Over the top of each I draped an old, small blanket, then wrapped them with the much larger (and thinner) plant frost blankets. I clamped all the edges and corners closed with plastic shop clamps to shut out any drafts and gaps, then anchored the bottoms with landscaping stones. I plugged it in and went to bed. Alas, three strands of C9 lights strung together proved too much for the older strand's fuse, and it burned out sometime during the night. Fortunately, we didn't get down to freezing. I did get to enjoy the fun of hunting up a 5 amp fuse today. I found one, finally, and restored the old strand to working order. I also ran an additional extension cord out to the banana and connected the two new C9 strands separately. This should reduce the amp load across the board enough for them to burn all night without incident, and even if we lose a fuse, there will be at least one strand powered separately to keep the banana plant, flower and baby bananas warm. This is how it looks:

I'm not a huge banana fan, although I like them well enough on their own. But I remember growing up that my grandmother always had banana plants growing in the back yard, and was always disappointed they never fruited because of winter die-back. The possibility of actually getting a big bunch of home-grown bananas has me surprisingly excited, and if it takes Christmas lights and clamped on blankets to see it across the finish line, then so be it.

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah/Lawrence Laughing Orenda
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

4. “Love for Sale” – Cole Porter
“Love for Sale” is the only song on this list attributed to the songwriter rather than the performer, because Cole Porter was in a class all by himself. Originally penned for the Broadway play “The New Yorkers,” the song’s blunt lyrics earned it a blanket ban from radio airplay and generated such scandal that the play was reworked to assign it from a white actress to a black one—such were the racial attitudes of the time. The song—as with all of Porter’s work—has been covered by many, many artists, but perhaps the most affecting is Billie Holiday’s rendition. Considered in relation to her own troubled history with prostitution and addiction, it takes on a powerful poignancy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Flight of the Conchords.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Earth, Wind and Fire The Eternal Dance
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Drafthouse redemption!

Those of you keeping score at home may remember my tale of woe from late December, where The Wife and I attended a screening of Gremlins at the Alamo Drafthouse in New Braunfels with the intention of obtaining a limited-edition Gremlins-styled tiki mug produced by Mondo for the popular theater chain. The email we'd received in November indicated that the mugs would be available only to those who purchased tickets for Gremlins or a number of other movies scheduled for special screenings. Well, turns out that turned into a logistical headache, and the Drafthouse quietly dropped those plans and simply sold the mugs to anyone who wanted them. By the time of our Gremlins screening, the New Braunfels Drafthouse location was completely out, and The Wife and I were out of luck.

Enter Tim League. The cinematic guru behind the Drafthouse, I received an email from him less than 24 hours after my initial blog post went live. He was professional and apologized for my being caught up as "collateral damage" as the promotional strategy changed. He promised to make things right, and with the aid of the uber-helpful Sarah Pitre, this package arrived yesterday:

Pretty cool, no? I'm developing a nice little tiki mug collection to go along with my tiki bar out back. Thanks a million, Alamo Drafthouse! All is forgiven!

Now Playing: Various artists Margaritaville Cafe Late Night Menu
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday Miss Edna!

Miss Edna Milton Chadwell last Madam of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas and inspiration for Miss Mona Stangley of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Today would've been Edna Arretha Milton Chadwell's 88th birthday. Miss Edna passed away in February of 2012, the last surviving madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, and inspiration for Miss Mona Stangley and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Throughout the six-plus years it took to research, write and publish Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse, there was no bigger supporter than Miss Edna. As I've said elsewhere, my biggest regret is that she did not live to see the finished product. I can't say for certain what she'd have thought of it, but others who were close to the Chicken Ranch have given me the thumbs up, so I like to think Miss Edna would've approved (while giving me an earful about what I got wrong).

Let me share something about her that didn't make it into the book. When I first met Miss Edna, she asked where I was from. I answered that I was originally from Columbus. Miss Edna paused a moment, then said, "Twenty-two miles." Then she asked my wife where she was from. Bastrop, Lisa answered. Miss Edna paused again, then said, "Thirty-six miles." Almost four decades removed from her life in La Grange, Miss Edna still remembered those details that would've mattered to her prospective out-of-town customers. I'll wager we could've sat there for hours, tossing out town names like Brenham, Hallettsville, Bryan, etc. and she'd have come up with the distance between them and La Grange like there was nothing to it. I have long felt that a fascinating glimpse into her character.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Primitiva
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

5. “You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute” – Flight of the Conchords
Not all serious subjects have to be treated seriously to have an impact. The fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand took on the Police’s iconic “Roxanne” with the ska-tinged thematic parody, “You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute.” With its overly-mundane lyrics and affected melodrama, the song (and accompanying video) skewer pretty much every pop culture cliche about prostitution that’s out there.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... ZZ Top.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Georg Solti: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Wagner: Orchestral Favourites
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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Metheglin and apfelwein

Back on December 12 I wrote that my current batch of mead had pretty much fermented dry, and that I planned to let it sit for a week or two before racking. Well, on December 24 I took that step, and racked the dry mead into a three-gallon glass carboy. I have to say (and this was my experience with the old Mr. Beer fermenter as well) that having a spigot at the bottom of the vessel makes racking sooooo much easier than siphoning from the top of a carboy.

I placed the primary vessel on the raised level of the kitchen bar, and set the glass carboy in the sink, linking the two with a clear siphon hose. Needless to say, I sanitized the hose and carboy with bleach (and thoroughly rinsed) prior to this step. I removed the airlock from the primary and stuffed a wadded paper towel in the opening, so as to allow air to flow but limit other contaminants.

As the mead transferred itself to its new home via the miracle of gravity, I prepared my secret ingredients that will turn this somewhat bland wildflower honey wine into a spiffy-keen metheglin. First up: Vanilla beans. I used two Rodelle Madagascar vanilla beans, mainly because that was readily available at the local HEB Plus. No Mexican vanilla beans to be had, unfortunately. I split these beans in two and the pasty innards immediately began throwing off a rich, sweet vanilla scent. Very nice. The potency of these beans is significantly higher than the previous beans I used, as I remember, although that was three or four years back and my memory isn't always accurate.

Next up, Icewine Tea. We picked this up a few years ago on a brief visit to Vancouver, and it turned out to be an amazing addition to a previous metheglin. Essentially, it's tea infused with ice wine and/or the pre-fermented juice from grapes destined to become ice wine. Most icewine tea is black tea, and I'd assumed for a long time that's what this was. But now that I look at the label, I realize this is herbal tea, not black. The "herbal" ingredients include rooibos, rosehips and hibiscus. I'm not a huge fan of rooibos, but in hindsight the earthy/spicy notes that worked so well in the icewine tea metheglin I made before are directly attributable to that rooibos. Curious.

Into the three gallons of mead, I added the two split vanilla beans and six bags of icewine tea.

Here's a closer look. In the days since, dissolved CO2 in the mead has gradually worked its way out of solution and pushed the tea bags up into the neck of the carboy. This has resulted in some of the mead and bits of vanilla bean bubbling up through the airlock. Yeah, that's a little messy. I've punched it down, and it seems like we've finally reached a sort of equilibrium. Already, the vanilla notes are pretty strong in the samples I've tasted, but the tea isn't noticeable yet. I'll check again in another week to see how it's progressing.

Now, we're entering unknown territory. I harvested the leftover Wyeast 1388 from the primary by "washing" it. I added roughly a gallon of boiled (then cooled) water to the primary and sloshed the mixture around to suspend the yeast, then let it settle for half an hour or so to let the trub--dead yeast and other impurities--precipitate out. Then I decanted into a large jar, and let the process of settling out repeat itself. Then I siphoned off the light yeast water into smaller jars, leaving the heavier fermentation leftovers behind. The Wyeast 1388 Belgian strong ale strain seems to be an outstanding performer for mead, at any rate, that I want to perpetuate it for future use. I ended up with five pint jars, which I placed in the refrigerator of safe keeping.

Which brings us to the apfelwein segment of our show. I've made several batches of German-style apfelwein in the past using variations of Ed Wort's recipe, and I drank the last remaining 12-ounce bottle back in November. So I've been hankering to make some more. This time, however, I've decided to use the Wyeast 1388 rather than the recommended Montrachet wine yeast, because I suspect the 1388 might preserve more of the apple flavor and aroma, as well as perform better at higher fermentation temperatures. Which, in theory, would produce a drinkable product in a shorter period of time (technically, one isn't supposed to use second-generation yeast for fermentations differing from the initial pitch, ie this yeast is attuned to honey from the previous fermentation, so isn't optimized for cider or beer or wine. I'm not convinced such evolutionary adaptations will be apparent in the second generation, so that's a risk I'm willing to take). I picked up three gallons of plain apple juice from HEB--always check to make sure there are no preservatives other than ascorbic acid. Another variant to the basic recipe I'm trying is the addition of undiluted apple juice concentrate to the juice, to increase the sugar content whilst simultaneously increasing the apple-intensity. I'd originally planned on adding four cans of concentrate, but the kids took one to make some juice.

The specific gravity of the concentrate/juice mix at this point was 1.060, which would ferment out to a 7.8 percent alcohol content. Ph at this point was 3.6. I want a little higher content to increase its keeping and aging stability, so I added 14 ounces of cane sugar, bringing up the specific gravity to 1.070. That should ferment out to around 9.1 percent ABV, which is in the range of a good riesling wine. To bring the ph up to make the must more hospitable for the yeast, I added 1 tsp potassium bicarbonate. Also, adapting the BOMM process I used for the above-mentioned metheglin, I added 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient and 2.25 tsp yeast energizer to the must. This is different from the DAP and Fermaid K I added to the honey must last go-round, but apple juice has a lot more nutrients in it for yeast to thrive on than honey does, and the basic apfelwein recipe doesn't call for any additional nutrients at all. I suspect I'm safe.

So, how to mix all these additives together and effectively aerate the must? I'm glad you asked! I just happen to have a new toy that came in shortly before Christmas that I've been wanting to try out--a drill-mounted wine degasser. After sanitizing it, I tried it out.

Works pretty well, huh? I whipped the apple juice and such up into a pretty good froth. Afterwards I checked the ph and found it to be around 4.8, which should keep the yeast happy. Earlier, I'd taken one of those bottles of yeast from the fridge and, after letting it warm to room temperature, added it to a quart jar half-filled with apple juice and a teaspoon of Go Ferm yeast nutrient. After six hours, give or take, I pitched it to the apfelwein must.

Today, the fermentation is steady although not as aggressive as I'd expected. There's a donut ring of kreusen that's formed, and a significant amount of foam built up when I degassed, but overall this is a sedate, restrained fermentation. I'm going to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't stall out.

Now Playing: Whitehorse The Northern South vol. 1
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