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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Restaurant Review: Al's Hot Dogs in Naugatuck, CT


This past Saturday, Boys In Hats had a 1:00pm gig at a block party at the Mill Plain Union Church in Waterbury, CT. That morning, Ian and I loaded up the car with the BIH sound system and instruments and headed off up Route 8. As we rolled up the Naugatuck Valley, making better than expected time, Ian and I made a quick decision to stop for a slightly early lunch.

When I worked in Naugatuck back in the late '90s, Al's Hot Dogs (Exit 26 off of Rt. 8 at 248 South Main St. in Naugatuck) was one of my guilty pleasures. Al's son, Ivan, was one of my confirmation students, so I could at least convince myself that I was supporting a church family when I went there, even if I wasn't exactly eating health food when I was there.

Al's is one of the fairly typical roadside hotdog stands that one finds in this part of Connecticut. During the summer months, you stand outside and order at a window and, when your food is ready, they call your number over a loudspeaker. There are picnic tables out front and a porch around the side. There's also limited seating indoors, which makes winter visits possible.

While Al's is primarily a hotdog stand, they've got a fairly extensive menu and you can have almost anything you want, so long as it is fried. From my perspective, however, the main reason for wanting to go is Al's famous "Hippo Dog" which, as I understand the lore, is named after a regular customer who always ordered several of them. Said customer was shaped, so the story goes, much like a hippopotamus. While I'm certain that, if I were to eat enough hippo dogs, I, too, would end up looking like a hippopotamus, I figure that, at the rate I consume them, I'm not in too terribly much danger.

But what, you ask, is a hippo dog? Al's famous hippo dogs are foot-long deep-fried hot dogs, served with chili, cheese, sauerkraut and bacon. Al's has the usual condiments that you can put on them as well, plus two of their own signature relishes. The hot relish is spicy enough that I know several people (Sissies!!!) who avoid it. At some point in the last ten years, Al has added a Hawaiian relish to the condiment table. With a sweet-and-sour flavor, it is quite good, but I prefer the hot relish and some brown mustard to complete the flavor signature of the hippo dog.

Al's is the only place I know that has birch beer on tap. That, along with a side of onion rings completes what I consider the quintissential Al's experience. Of course, there's also the "Bulldozer" burger, which also comes loaded with all kinds of heart-stopping goodness, but it would be silly to have one of those in the same week as a Hippo Dog.
Ian enjoys a Hippo Dog at Al's

Monday, June 28, 2010

Conservative Conservationists??

I am not a Southern Baptist. Even when I was one, I wasn't a very good one. I tended to think for myself a bit too much and usually came to the "wrong" conclusion, at least in the opinion of those who held the strings of power in the Southern Baptist Convention. I tended to side with women, minorities, gays, and the poor, while my old denomination tended to side with straight white men who owned businesses. I tended to think that it was important to interpret scripture as being particular to a certain place and time, rather than "inerrant" or "infallible." I tended to think that it was important to teach science in a biology class, not creationism.

This past week, one of my parishioners sent me a link to a report from National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, where Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, was interviewed by Audie Cornish about the recent SBC resolution on the oil spill that is ravaging the Gulf coast.



That resolution (full text here) stated: "God has designed us with a dependence on the natural resources around us and has assigned us a dominion of stewardship and protection of those resources for future generations," and goes on to say "Our God-given dominion over the creation is not unlimited, as though we were gods and not creatures, so therefore, all persons and all industries are then accountable to higher standards than to profit alone."

The resolution continues with a call for the government "to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis; to fortify our coastal defenses; to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up and restoration; to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities; and to promote future energy policies based on prudence, conservation, accountability, and safety." Wow!

This is a remarkable resolution, at least from the SBC, where the conservatives have long forgotten about conservation, and have simply become far-right-wing culture warriors. It serves as a spark of hope that the SBC may, at least on this one issue, be joining the mainline in having an understanding that a major part of our faith is manifested in protecting the world that God has placed in our care.

Younger evangelicals are less rigid in their positions than the previous generation. While many of their parents' generation still deny the reality of climate change, most younger evangelicals understand the scientific reality, and believe that care for the earth is an important part of their theology.

"Social Justice Evangelicals" like Pres. Jimmy Carter, who last year followed my lead in leaving the SBC and who has spent decades promoting justice through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity, and Rev. Jim Wallis at Sojourners have long understood that even a conservative theology leads faithful people to progressive politics (see A Pledge to the Next Generation here). Care for the environment, concern for society's most vulnerable people, opposition to war: all these are core Christian values, which come directly from the Bible. Without drawing theological lines in the sand, Carter and Wallis have both worked to build practical partnerships, even among those who have broader theological disagreements.

While all of the other social resolutions passed at the SBC's annual meeting this year are the expected anti-gay, anti-divorce, pro-male-domination things that you'd expect, this one resolution is like a pinpoint of light in a dark night. It gives me hope that, maybe, there's something that Evangelicals and the rest of Christianity can work on together.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Steel, Leather, Ropework, Pine Tar and Marlin Spikes

Since coming back from Cuba, I've had the opportunity to work with Amistad on two occasions. First, I met the ship in New London, CT, for the formal homecoming celebration, which involved a lot of events in conjunction with the Customs House Museum. This past Friday, I was back with the crew for the Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport, where we had more than 700 people visit the schooner over the course of the day.

Aboard a tall ship, the general rule is that you don't go on deck, whether you're on duty or not, without your rig. At its barest minimum, a sailors rig consists of a knife and marlinspike. Mine started out as a Myerchin fixed blade rigging knife and spike, which came with a (rather crummy) nylon sheath.

Over the years, my rig has evolved to include a bit more. I quickly replaced the right-handed sheath with a leather sheath that I made for myself. A couple years ago, one of the blacksmiths at Mystic Seaport made me a marlin spike, which has replaced the glittering chrome one that came with my knife. That, of course, required a second generation sheath to accommodate the new spike. I've rounded out the rig with a leather and brass lanyard keeper, a leatherman supertool, a mini mag-lite (with red lens for night vision), and a matching red carabiner for securing the flashlight's lanyard or other general uses. All of it hangs on a US Army "Class A" belt, though I'd love to replace the belt with a leather one, when I come across a suitable one.


My leatherwork has had many people admire (and copy) it. I made my sheath out of heavy grade leather that I wet formed so that the knife and spike would both fit in it perfectly, locking in place instead of having to have a keeper strap to fiddle with -- a particular nuissance when working aloft. As a final step, I treated the sheath in the cuir bouili method, a technique I learned in college when I was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism and was interested in learning how to make leather scale armor. To do this, I immersed the completed sheath in melted paraffin. (See, folks, those old church candles DO still have some good use left in them!) The real benefit of the cuir bouili method is that the finished leather does not absorb moisture, so it never loses its form, even in the wet conditions that a sailor's rig is constantly exposed to. Finally, a matching lanyard keeper was a cinch to make. The lanyards are made of tarred seine twine, as old-style tarred marline is somewhat difficult to find.


This past Friday, I stopped in at the booth of knife-maker Capt. John Johnson at the Wooden Boat Show. His knives were fantastic and we got to talking about the sheaths that he included with them, which were only loosely fit to the knives. We discussed the wet-forming and wax-hardening techniques that I use on my rigging knife sheaths and I volunteered to bring my rig by later in the day so he could see the end result. Shortly after 5:00, I showed back up and we spent a good bit of time in show and tell.

As I was leaving, Capt. John, invited me to take one of the marlinspikes tht he had made -- out of the actual spikes of swordfish, with beautiful and functional knot work. (Go ahead and click on the picture so you can see a large version of his beautiful work, as well as the nice work that the Mystic Seaport blacksmith did.) Capt. John finished his knot work on this spike with pine tar, so it'll last forever and has a fantastic smell. As it doesn't have anywhere to attach a lanyard, I won't be wearing it as part of my rig, but it'll have a prominent spot in my ditty bag, right next to my ropeworking palm, sailmaking needles, whipping twine and cake of beeswax.


As it turns out, the marlin fish takes its name from the marlinspike, not the other way around. The fish, in fact, has only been referred to as a marlin since about 1917, whereas the name of the marlinspike (also "marlinespike") tool has been around since 1626. Marline, (also "marlin" or "marling") the two-stranded line, has been around since 1375 and owes its name to the Dutch "Marl," meaning "to twist" and "Lijn," meaning "line." Who knew???