Saturday, April 2, 2011

I can see clearly now the rain is gone

If you’ve ever been caught in a heavy rainfall you know what it means when they say it’s “raining cats and dogs”.   Its unclear how this phrase originated but I’m pretty sure it didn’t originate by someone witnessing fur bearing critters falling from the sky.  However, the possible explanation may be equally gruesome as our fuzzy housemates splattering all over the ground during a particularly strong storm.

Johnathan Swift illustrates what it was like during a downpour in his 1710 poem entitled 'Description of a City Shower'.  During his lifetime, Swift had the displeasure of experiencing 16th century urban drainage technology; which is to say it was quite inadequate.  During heavy rains the sewers would overflow into the streets.  Besides the expected, nonetheless foul, human waste streaming along, anything else that might have ended up in the sewers . . . like the corpses of any animals that had accumulated in them.    The last stanza of the elegy says it all . . .

Now from all Parts the swelling kennels flow, 
And bear their Trophies with them as they go: 
Filth of all hues and odours seem to tell 
What streets they sailed from, by the sight and smell. 
They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid force 
From Smithfield, or St. Pulchre's shape their course, 
And in huge confluent join at Snow-Hill ridge, 
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn-Bridge. 
Sweepings from butchers stalls, dung, guts, and blood, 
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,  
Dead cats and turnips-tops come tumbling down the flood.

Go ahead and say it . . . I know you’re thinking it . . . EW!


There are actual documented reports of actual creatures falling along with the rain . . . frogs and fishes. 

In 1901, A Minneapolis, MN newspaper reported - "When the storm was at its highest... there appeared as if descending directly from the sky a huge green mass. Then followed a peculiar patter, unlike that of rain or hail. When the storm abated the people found, three inches deep and covering an area of more than four blocks, a collection of a most striking variety of frogs... so thick in some places [that] travel was impossible."

Similar occurrences were reported in Missouri (1873), Massachusetts (1953), Greece (1981), England (1995), London (1998), Serbia (2005), India (2006), and Spain (2007).

In 2010, Austrailian news reported – “Weather experts said the fish that fell on a remote Australian town for two days had likely been sucked up by a thunderstorm before falling to the ground.  Residents of Lajamanu said hundreds of small white fish, believed to be common spangled perch, fell from the sky during the weekend despite the town's location 326 miles from the nearest river.  Locals said many of the fish were still alive when they hit the ground.”

Villagers in Honduras, are accustomed to preparing containers like buckets and basins every year during the rainy season.

In Honduras, the Lluvia de Peces (Rain of Fishes) is a unique phenomenon that has been occurring for more than a century on a yearly basis in the country of Honduras. It occurs in the Departamento de Yoro, between the months of May and July. Witnesses of this phenomenon state that it begins with is a dark cloud in the sky followed by lightning, thunder, strong winds and heavy rain for 2 to 3 hours. Once the rain has stopped, hundreds of living fish are found on the ground. People take the fish home to cook and eat them. Although some experts have tried to explain the Rain of Fishes as a natural meteorological phenomenon, the fish are not sea water fish, but fresh water fish; they are not dead, but alive; they are not blind, they have eyes; they are not big fish, but small; and the type of fish is not found elsewhere in the area. There is no valid scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Many people believe this phenomenon occurs because of Father José Manuel Subirana, a Spanish catholic missionary and considered by many to be a Saint. He visited Honduras from 1856-1864, and upon encountering so many poor people, prayed for 3 days and 3 nights asking God for a miracle to help the poor people by providing food. The Rain of Fishes has occurred ever since.

Other accounts of fish falling from the sky were reported in Singapore (1861), South Carolina (1901), England (1948), Alabama (1956), and Australia (1989).

Believe it or not, raining animals is a fairly common meteorological phenomenon.  What’s really surprising is that birds come in third on the list of most frequent creatures raining from the heavens . . . after fish and frogs.  It’s interesting to note that often the animals survive their fall to the earth, stunned perhaps but alive. 


I have an even more shocking rain-related story to pass on.  I call it The Umbrella Incident or It’s Raining Poopheads.

We, here in New England, have had a lot of rain the spring.  Those of us with even a smidgen of common sense are smart enough to come prepared with the proper apparatus . . . an umbrella. 

My job requires me to walk between three buildings to perform my duties.  Not far but far enough to get drenched if it happens to be raining.  People leave their wet, soggy umbrellas just inside the entrances so that they don't have to drag a dripping umbrella all over the place.

One particularly rainy afternoon I was making the trek with an armload of equipment.  I was grateful for my umbrella because it was raining cats and dogs. 
I did what I had to do and when I went to grab my umbrella I noticed it wasn’t where I had left it but I didn’t think too much about it and headed out into the rain protected from the deluge.

When I got back to my desk there was much giggling and conversation going on in the next department.  I came to find out that a pair of them had come back from the building and had taken my boss’s umbrella because they had forgotten theirs.  They weren’t going to return it but leave him, who had gone out prepared, to get wet.  Someone in the group managed to guilt one of the poopers to do the right thing.  So my boss got back to the building dry and clueless to their treachery.

Man, I would have been pissed of if they had done something like that to me and I found out about it.  Somehow my boss found out about it.  I can’t imagine who told him . . . *cough* me *cough*.

So he confronted them about it.  They fessed up but it turned out it wasn’t his umbrella they absconded with.  It was mine!  One of the dookieheads actually came over to me and sort of owned up to his misdeed.  SORT OF . . .  He said he “borrowed” it and brought it back all out of the goodness of his heart.  So, I asked him if he had been cajoled or persuaded in any way to return it.  He swore up and down and all around that it was all his idea and he returned it because he didn’t want me to get all wet.  Well . . . isn’t that just special

Anyhoo . . . 

Beer Bacon Soap

16 ounces bacon fat
2.3 ounces lye
7 ounces Ice Cold or Part Frozen Flat Beer

Remember that when you’re making your own soap that you should have a dedicated set of equipment set aside just for this process. 

This recipe is for a cold process soap.  The basic tools required are:

A Large Pot . . . Enamel or cast iron do very well for this.
A Large Wooden or Plastic Spoon
A Hand Mixer (Optional)
A Large Baking Pan or Shallow Cardboard Box

Put the ice cold FLAT beer 1 to 2 quart container.

Using the stirring spoon (known to soap makers as the "crutch"), pour lye slowly into the beer,  stirring until the lye is all dissolved. Remember that lye is very caustic and will burn your skin and eyes! Any splatters must be washed off immediately with lots of water!

Cover the solution to keep out air and allow to cool (or warm up) to about 85 degrees F.  No need to apply heat – heat will be chemically produced when the lye comes in contact with the liquid.

Melt the fat in the 4-6 quart bowl or pot. Don't use aluminum or galvanized bowls!  When the fat is melted, cool it down to 95 degrees F. Prepare the box with a plastic trash bag lining, so the fresh liquid soap can't leak out.  Note that I am using a shotgun shell four-pack box.  This is the perfect size for this recipe to create a nice thickness for the soap.

When all is ready, begin to stir the liquid fat in a circular direction while pouring the lye water into it in a thin steam (pencil size or thinner) until it is all added. Crutch (stir) the mix vigorously, using “S” pattern or use a hand blender alternating with a circular pattern until the mix begins to cool and thicken.  At this point do NOT stop or the mix may separate!
First the soap will be murky, then creamy, then like heavy cream and finally, like hot cooked pudding and will show traces when you dribble a stream from the crutch onto the surface. This process can take from 10 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature, weather and purity of your ingredients. Stir vigorously but patiently! With hand blender stir time is cut to 1/10 of the regular time.

I've found that using my old Kitchen-aid Classic is the perfect tool for stirring my batches of soap.  Although I am constantly monitoring the mixing process, the stand mixer lets me be a little more hands off and I can be doing other things around the kitchen while the soap is mixing and cooling.

When your "trace" does not sink back into the surface, add the honey.

The soap is now ready to pour into the lined box. Wear rubber gloves and treat the raw soap like you treated the lye water. Wash off all splatters immediately. Have 10% vinegar and water and a sponge to neutralize splatters.

After 3-5 hours the soap may be cut into bars with a table knife, NOT a sharp knife. Allow the soap to cure in the box for about a week before breaking it up and handling it, and another month before using it.


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