Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How to bake a potato from 12/19/14

This post is celebrating its third birthday today and furthermore falls exactly on the day of our staff holiday potluck!


How to bake a potato

I am not averse to singing my own praises occasionally, but when I say my baked potatoes went over well at the staff holiday potluck, I mean it merely as a point of order, a statistical accounting, mere impartial reporting. There was a stick of butter, some salt, sour cream, and many a toasty baked potato. On a snowy December day, amid the festive hubbub of the library staff chowing down on hot casseroles of jumbo pretzels stewed in dried onion mix and Kraft ranch dressing, my potatoes went like hotcakes, I mean, if they were potato hotcakes, albeit potato hotcakes where the potatoes were not made into cakes but rather were left in their original form. And because my potatoes were so delicious many people eagerly pressed me for my recipe.

I told them to check my blog, and I so provide it here now for any and all interested parties. 

 How to bake a potato


Some people, who have no respect for fine cooking, may scoff and think it takes nothing to bake a potato, but the reason my baked potatoes are so good is because they are done right. You can probably pop a potato in the oven for an hour and have it be okay, but for a mind blowing potato you will need to carefully follow my detailed instructions. This will produce a succulent, fluffy, out of this world steaming and lush baked potato. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it!


I only use one of three obscure heritage varieties of potato, the Russian Black Fist, Olde English Russets, or Grandpa's Knuckles. If you can't find one of these varieties with a "waist" circumference of 8.5 to 10 inches all is not lost! Any good, obscure organic variety in use before the Irish potato famine and with the right sugar reading will do just fine. You will need to bring a good quality glucose reader to your local organic farm. Only choose potatoes with a "sweet" reading of four or higher, otherwise the result will be too tart and starchy.

A note on choosing your potatoes:

Besides the obvious size ("waist" circumference of 8.5 to 10 inches only!), variety, and sugar content issues, pay careful attention to picking the best potatoes. They should be free of green tinge, water should bead freely on the surface, and they should be unscarred and unblemished. Test for firmness. They should be quite firm to the touch, but never hard. Test for a rich water content by knocking on the roof of the potato, but it shouldn't be too wet. Don't be afraid to ask your organic grower detailed questions about the past six month's weather.

Preparing your potatoes:

Rinse your potatoes lightly in Evian water (from glass bottles, not plastic!). Do not scrub your potato! You will want to brush it lightly with a sable brush (no synthetic, camel hair in an emergency) while pouring the Evian over it. This can be easier with two people, but a single person will eventually get the hang of it. Just keep the water pouring in a slender stream like you are making mayonnaise. Do not pat dry your potatoes, rather air dry them, handling them as little as possible. When they are fully dry you will be piercing the potatoes with precisely seven holes, using a stitching awl.

Using the stitching awl:

I keep an ancient Roman stitching awl for puncturing or piercing my potatoes. This tool is made of iron. This is the single most important step in the preparation of baking potatoes. Your awl must be iron. The older that iron has been in its current form the better. A good friend of mine makes baked potatoes exactly as I do, but his are slightly tastier. The only difference between us comes down to his beautiful stitching awl, which is a two to three thousand BC Chinese stitching awl.

I would kill for that awl.

But we make do with what we have. Our awl should be clean and completely free of rust. Gently heat the tip of the awl to 130 degrees F over a wood source fire. Puncture each potato in exactly seven evenly placed spots, each to a depth of exactly 7/16 of an inch. I find that I do not need to heat the tip back up after each puncture, and can do two punctures if I work quickly, which saves a lot of time.

Resting your potatoes:

Let the potatoes rest at room temperature for 8 to 10 hours.

Curing your potatoes:

"Bury" your potatoes in a wood crate of rock salt. No potato should be touching anything but salt. Refrigerate like this for two days. Remove your potatoes and very lightly brush them clean with songbird feathers. Discard the salt.

Your potatoes are now ready to cook!

Cooking your potatoes:

Place your potatoes on a slab of Italian marble in a convection oven set at 225 degrees. After 20 minutes remove your potatoes and drizzle a thimbleful of good champagne over the top of each potato. Dig a pit in your yard, reserving the displaced earth, and fill it with unvarnished teak wood. Burn this wood until the flames are nearly gone, and you are left with a pit of glowing coals. Sprinkle a large bottle of Asahi beer over the coals. Coat the potatoes evenly in about a quarter inch of raw, low fire clay. Wait an hour.

Place your clay covered potatoes carefully on the cooling coals. Cover over everything with your reserved earth. Let rest for at least 12 hours. Carefully remove potatoes from the pit and gently peel off the clay coating. Brush the potato with a stiff brush made of organic hay until it is clean. Return the potatoes to the Italian marble slab and cook at 275 degrees in the oven, without any convection setting active, until the center temperature of the potatoes are 140 to 143 degrees.

Serving your potatoes: 

Remove the potatoes from the oven and rest them for five minutes. Discard the marble slab as it cannot be used again. Serve the potatoes immediately with salt and butter, yelling at everyone that they are ready now, and will be worthless in ten minutes so they'd better get to it. They will think you're being a jerk, but they will forget all about it once they taste these potatoes, your potatoes. 

They will never have had better, guaranteed!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ready at desk from 9/14

From September 4, 2014:

Ready at desk

Sometimes lately when I am at the front desk I like to stand there, looking alertly out upon the library, with a pleasant, welcoming smile on my face. When people come to me, as they do, for help, I help them, and then I return to the alert, welcoming posture.

I don't do it much, but when I do it makes me feel very daring.

Perhaps you are wondering why it makes me feel daring. Perhaps you have an inkling that this is the absolute best mien for any clerk at any service desk. Perhaps you suspect that this is exactly how one should be between patrons.

You would be right. 

And yet, almost no one likes it. Almost no one approves when I idly (but alertly) stand facing the library, ready to be of assistance. So few people really like it that I only do it when I'm feeling like a bit of a rascal.

My managers don't like it because I am not getting anything extra done. There's always a lot of extra to get done.

My co-workers don't like it because either I am not getting anything extra done, or, more likely, because I am not entertaining them. The hours get pretty long.

Patrons who don't need help don't like it because it looks like their tax dollars are going to waste. They may be in the library looking for a job, or because they have nowhere to go and there I stand, just smiling and raking in their tax dollars.

And even I don't like it because I get bored. I get bored and restless. I could be entertaining myself with reading, writing, surfing the Internet, chatting with my co-workers, or getting a few library things taken care of. But instead I am all there. It is hard to be all there. If it were easy to be all there, we would all be the Buddha.

The fact is that standing there all pleasant and ready for business doesn't look so good. It looks unmotivated, unbusy, slackerish. If I feverishly look up exotic coffees on the Internet, listen to my co-worker tell me about flea market finds, or look through a book before putting it on a cart in order, I am being completely non productive, but I look a great deal like I might be being very productive. I look like I am super busy and engaged.

Just look at this dynamic library with the workers all flapping around! That is some place! How do they keep up?

So naturally nobody likes it when I just stand there, openhearted, for the next person who needs help. Nobody! Well, nobody but the people who need help, who, I sometimes madly dare to believe, are the people I am standing there for in the first place.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Proper Care and Handling, April 13, 2017

The following is from last April. I think it may be a kind of joke I like to make and have done so more than once in my various "Dear Publisher" letters. I suppose you are seeing this one here then because this, overwrought and fully committed, is my favorite version. Though perhaps I should add: so far.

Proper Care and Handling

Dear Publisher:

I know that everyday that you receive a manuscript query from an unknown author is an adventure of discovery, and you are keen to tear right into the pages below. But hold your horses! At least, just for a minute or two. You may well enjoy my collection of attached essays as is, but if you'll allow me the unusual opportunity to explain how to read these essays your experience will be vastly richer. Indeed, read properly, you will find these essays revelatory, magnificent, and all that you have sought for in your medium length publishing career. So bear with me.

How do you feel about wine? Many studies have shown that if people, even experts, are told, in a blind tasting, that a particular bottle of wine is expensive they will rate it higher, far higher, than a comparable wine that they are told is not expensive. And if they are told a wine is cheap they will rate that even lower.

No one wants to be a fool, which is why all these tests are a little cruel. But let us accept the psychology: A lovely, fancy, expensive, Chateau Margaux, served sloppily in plastic cups at a neighborhood art opening of no great distinction is not likely to elicit epiphanetic ecstacies from even the most studied palates, whereas a $9 shiraz served with all pomp and hushed tones by a sommelier whispering tales of terroir and black cherry and smokey rose petals likely will. 

But let us, you and I, not throw all our objectivity out the window. Let us reserve some respect for the scrupulous craft of wine making at its highest level. Let us say a gorgeous, meticulously nurtured wine, tasted in convivial mise en scene and with serious respect can, given its fair chance, raise the roof of the soul because of what it is. And a mass produced wine, though capable of bringing joy, can't reach the stars no matter how high and mighty the wine glass.

Which brings me back to my enclosed essays. These are essays that have been thrown to the world of the Internet like dross wine. Essays scattered ridiculously to the wind to find their way. Essays crammed in corked bottles to bob in the ocean forever. Essays plunked unceremoniously on your desk like all manner of unsolicited bulk rate prose. Whether they are the finest of their kind, or merely workmanlike, what chance will they have, and how will we know?

You may be thinking then that I am going to suggest that the way to read my work, to their best effect, is with careful respect, as if something fine and good has been delivered to you, and that with a little care they will bloom in your mind. You may even find that a bit cheeky, and believe that you are better than any wine taster, able to evaluate purely, in any situation. You may think "Let his work scrap it out like any other work. If it is good, I will know."

But no. That is all wrong. I am not asking for paltry half measures anyway. I do not request a quiet, ahead of time respect to let my pieces flourish. If that were all I were asking I would simply trust your judgement.

I am asking you, suggesting, that to get the best experience from reading my pieces, you must decide now, with a razor sharp and impermeable will, that I am a genius and that you will never see the likes of my work again. You must decide that you are in the presence of a once in a lifetime mastery operating at the outer edges of your comprehension.

Then, from there, go look upon my essays. If you see nothing, look deeper. Scour them for their velvety tannins and endless finishes. Hear the voice of God in them, notes of chocolate, and the breath of tall grass in rain. Faced with their obsession with trifles, their preposterous vanity, and their discursive rambling, pick out the thread of holy music lying in wait for true souls and pure seekers. Believe in your heart in their beyond-all-measure worth until the universe's answers are suddenly lying at your feet, shuddering, still live and smoking with the lightning bolt of truth. And if you read them over and over again, certain of their immortal soul, but are unable to divine any magic, do not give in to your doubt. Look deeper, again and again, until, bleary eyed, full of skepticism and hungry for illumination, it all falls into place and you realize this, yes, this absurd fool's work, unacclaimed, almost abandoned by the world, is endowed with an endless brilliance that cuts a swath through the measly face of modern literature as we know it, and finally, in the darkest times, rips the clouds away to reveal, against all the odds, that the night is full of more stars that any of us ever dreamed was possible.

And then at that point, with regret, politely decline to publish them, because, seriously, even I can see how that's hardly likely to attract many readers or sell many books.

Thank you for your time.

With all due respect and appreciation,

F. Calypso

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Clerk Code from May 18, 2013






I just stumbled onto this almost 5 year old piece. I might even clean it up and update it for the main blog, but here it is in it's original form (well, with some updated formatting).







The Clerk Code (1.1)

A code. What fun! Clerks should definitely have a code to guide them, to keep them pure of heart and noble, wise and true, righteous and strong. I thought it would be a great thing to put on my blog so I looked around for someone to write this code. I was thinking it could be done by a really good writer, maybe, but also one with some clerking experience. Of course, naturally, Melville came to mind. Shyness and the vagaries of blogging delayed me, but eventually I wrote him a short, but very polite letter that I'd like to think was quite convincing. Unfortunately when I sought his address I stumbled upon information indicating he had passed on. What a loss! A mere 122 years ago now and I'm kicking myself for being such a procrastinator!

So fine. Fine. I'll give it a spin. All by myself, or, maybe with your help if you have any ideas that you're willing to share. The code doesn't feel like the sort of thing to pop out of one lone blogger all perfect all at once. It's too big and important for that. I am thinking of it being just a tiny bit more Talmudic in nature, or like a Wikipedia article. I'm thinking actually this is more how the ten commandments should have been done.  Maybe I could start here with a rough feel for it, and then just sort of update, add to, and refine it according to inspiration, comment, suggestions, and celestial visions. A work in progress if you will, and then, after a few hundred years of this, when we feel it's all lined up and as ringing true as we can imagine, we'll lock it down. Don't feel like you can't use the clerk code in your workplace right away, just recognize that the code is in more of a beta state, and as you are guided by it, think of yourself more as a field tester than an acolyte, an agent more than an adherent.

The Clerk Code
version 1.1
1. Look down not up.
With the paltry organizational and societal powers of the clerk, we tend to look up the ladder of power and compensation in two detrimental ways. We covet and glorify what those above us have, and we dwell on, understand and ascribe importance to those above us. Our attention fills out these people, makes them more complex and makes their actions have more meaning. We make them more human. Meanwhile those hierarchically below us, offering less danger and less glamour and less possibility of personal advancement, recede from our vision and become clerical things to be dealt with, more like shelving, or emptying a bin. But the only true way to defeat the ignominy of clerkdom is to look down. Struggle to dwell on how you think the way you respond to the shy volunteer will make them feel, rather than, for instance, what your bosses strange greeting to you meant. Think less of the Board's absurd new policy and their reasoning behind it and more of how you can safely transcend and subvert that policy to bring justice and happiness to lowly patrons. I am not saying those above us in power and compensation are less human than those below us, only that the relentless default and encouragement of our society and our problematic nature leads us overwhelmingly to seeing them as more human. Looking down not up is the corrective.

2. Do the job that needs to be done, not the job you are supposed to do, unless you might get in trouble for that.
Being the puppet agent of either an institution or a superior leads only to being a monster. You must fight to remain conscious that your actions and choices are always yours, and even a compromised action should be understood as such and suffered.

3. Find and expand the delightful parts of your job.
Even if the delightful parts of your job are out on the edge of your job, do them. If you love to discuss Vivaldi with a compatible co-worker discuss Vivaldi with them. Prioritize it and do it as safely as possible. Don't treat it as an accident or goofing off just because a boss would be inclined to think it is. 

4. A full time work week is 20 hours a week. 
This is a guess, but anything more is a lie we are told and tell ourselves. We do not (yet) have the power to enforce this directly, but it remains true nonetheless. Therefore you should try to do a really good job half the time. Go for it. See how good a job you can do. Pick good spots, especially ones that will effect your co-workers and the public. The other 20 hours are an extremely complicated free time. Keep it honest.

5. See yourself in your co-workers.

That deadbeat that takes an extra ten minutes for break, that stands there chatting to someone for 15 minutes while you're racing around, that got a cushy assignment for the hour and is, apparently, enjoying it, that leaves you mysteriously alone at the front desk for five minutes with a crowd, that hardly got any shelving or transit processing done because they were running around doing their own things. That person is you too. No, seriously, that person is you too. 

6. Be grateful but not too grateful.
Co-worker Carol used to sometimes say fervently "We are lucky to have these jobs." And she really meant it. And she was right. But she didn't also mean that they were lucky to have us and that we deserved those jobs, which we did. Contrary to what you've heard, the world does owe you a living, because you are you, and you are beautiful.
Okay, that's our start. I know many of my readers are not big commentators, but this is the place, what with it being for the ages and all, so chime in. I'll re-post this periodically whenever we do changes and updates. And don't feel like you have to be a "Clerk" clerk. I've been reading the definition of 'clerk'. Everyone is a clerk sometimes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Expiated, from July 30, 2014

Sometimes when I write about a subject here, no matter how fiercely it had been churning inside me, when I write it, it's like it's released. Whether it's the aggravations of some awful co-worker, an obsession with fruit syrups, or some bit of nonsense rampaging through my brain like a gaggle of frisky coyotes, I give voice, and there is silence. Maybe all art is like a more or less polite exorcism. We invite some demon to possess us. We're lucky if it's a terrible one. This terribleness is usually indicated by causing a spinning head and a lot of throwing up. Then we begin the pleasurable and laborious exorcism, the setting down of the right words, the sentence testing, the exasperated starting all over again, the ceremonial 14th rereading. And then it's over. The demon is safely locked away in a poem, or a painting, a cartoon or a blog post.

But it's a tricky process. Sometimes the exorcism doesn't take. Sometimes there are still things to be said.

Those are the ones I keep coming back to. Sometimes they are too mighty to get at; my anti-quest for fame, the complexity of book jacket covers, my feelings towards the automated check in machine. Some are fathomless, like cats or birds, and some are trivial and require a lighter touch than I can sometimes find, like the passive aggressiveness of bicyclists, or people returning books in stacks as the pleasant machine voice is asking them nicely to return their books one at a time. But whatever it is I keep trying. The exorcisms never end. And if I can't get these demons out I don't mind too much. After they've been in there awhile they're my demons. Irritating, yes, but like bits of sand in an oyster, they are layered and transformed in me. Whenever I get one of those pearls out you know it. You may even comment.

"I liked your post today." You say when this happens.

"Thank you." I say. "I miss it already."

Saturday, August 19, 2017

No Secret to Me: from 7-20-15

Each individual piece of art that has ever been made is uninteresting to most people.

It's a strange way to look at it, but accurate. I can easily wander around my workplace and find people who couldn't care less about Bob Dylan. Indeed, it's just a handful who do care. Van Gogh? Mary Oliver? Caravaggio? Ursula K. LeGuin? Drawing from a pool of 40 or so culturally involved library workers I can rest assured that we would get nowhere near a majority interest in any of those lions, and would do no better with anyone else. And no doubt the fractional percentages of interest we do get in, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald, would drop significantly in the backroom of a library in Indonesia.

Nothing made by the hand of man has been loved by most people. When it feels like everyone around you is fervently talking about Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones or Gone Girl, take a breath. Look around. It's just four excited people, loud in the way of people in a group, feeling the numbers on their side. Twenty people scattered around those four have busied themselves, trying to make a little space to breathe. They don't care. They love something else.

There is always something else.

This morning I woke up with a line from a song in my head. It's one of my favorite songs ever. Getting up has been so hard for me lately. Something about this song today helped me get up, this line:

Just don't make me go through this again.

And then as my eyes clear the song comes to me:

But oh, it's one more tune,
I can't figure out.
Just don't make me go through this again.

And I can wake up.

Who knows this song? It is not famous. My friend Grape wrote it.

I love it like I love Nowhere Man or Karma Police or River. It is not due to my personal relationship, to my great affection for the artist, though I have those. I just love it. We are free to pretend that that is a normal thing, because it is. Grape wrote a masterpiece. Masterpieces are not so rare, but that doesn't make them any less wonderful. The famous ones are the tip of an iceberg. Almost no one will ever see most of the ones that have been made, the thrown away manuscripts, burnt paintings, songs that were never recorded, books that couldn't sell their paltry 1000 print run and faded away, scribbled poems, transcendent home movies. There are millions and millions of them. They may or may not find more than a single person to love them, but the beauty and wonder and feeling they evoke in a single person cannot be diminished.

What makes art a viable commodity anyway? If two percent of an audience loves it we can make it business, but if only half a percent loves it we can never send it around. That's just money talking. That's just the disease of culture, the weakness even in the heart of democracy.

Here is your Internet. Here is your Publishing industry. Here is your library. Dig deeper, but you cannot get there. Much is buried. Most is lost. Have friends. Listen carefully. See the graffiti under the bridge. Hear the song in the cafe. It's all around you. 

It's no secret to me,
That what I'm missing,
Is the very thing I wanted out of life.

It's all around you. And all the wonder and heart, it's all yours alone.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

An introduction to the Best of Clerkmanifesto

Welcome. This is one of two new side projects, or maybe bonus features is a better way to put it, to my blog Clerkmanifesto, which is a blog about, I dunno... stuff. Trust me, it's super good! This is the more sedate of the bonus features; The Best of Clerkmanifesto. Now let's get to the FAQ because I like FAQs.

What is The Best of Clerkmanifesto?

It is periodic re-postings of my favorite blog posts from out of the history of clerkmanifesto. Clerkmanifesto currently has roughly 1,600 blog posts, with a new one coming out daily. I don't run repeats and I am saddened by the prospect of my funniest, brightest, wittiest, and most perceptive pieces breaking apart on the ash heap of history through sheer neglect. So I have decided that on occasions when I am roaming through old blog posts for fun and narcissism, and I find one I think is truly terrific, I will post it up here.

Who is it for?

I like to think it is for people who love clerkmanifesto and simply cannot get enough of it. But it might also be for people who like clerkmanifesto, but get too much.

So then, how should I read it?

I can't explain reading, it's too complicated. But I'd sign up to receive it, at least, by email. There is a place to do that on my sidebar to the right. While The Best of Clerkmanifesto will have no steady timetable of postings, I would describe the rate of emails you will receive as occasional, and more like a sporadic surprise that you will find delightful. For people subscribed to the standard clerkmanifesto, and find the emails of new posts to be a barrage that it is impossible to keep up with, this may be a relief. 

What was the other side project?

It's called the B blog and features an erratic mismatch of impolite, odd, and erratic bits that don't quite fit in clerkmanifesto proper. Also has a fair share of soccer commentary. You can find a link over on the sidebar.

Okay, I'm sold on this Best of Clerkmanifesto dealie! Can you please sign me up to receive it by email?

Alas, unfortunately I cannot, as you are merely a fictitious question asker. But thank you for your positive spirit and your belief in me!