Monday, January 06, 2014

Man Made Gumbo Warming

Early Sunday the consensus among reliable media prognosticators was it would get really really cold. Temps so low they haven't been felt in the lower 48 for decades. Awful, simply awful conditions were on the way. Oh well. Nothing like a free trip to Alaska.

How cold was it?

It was so cold in Washington D.C. politicians were seen with their hands in their own pockets. Ba-dum.


In the morning we awoke to another 12" of snow after at least 8" from the previous day added to about the 6-8" left over from Thursday and the snow continued to fall all day Sunday. There is well over 2' of it on the ground but at this time the drifts make it difficult to measure accurately.

So what to do on a lazy Sunday with the threat of a dreaded polar vortex Zamboni breathing down our necks? 

What else? We make gumbo!


We've been saving some real gulf shrimp, not the bland Indonesian kind which most stores sell these days for dishes such as this. On top of that the bro made and smoked some Andouille and gave me a few links. Without real genuine smoky andouille sausage and genuine gulf shrimps it simply ain't a tru rad gumbo. Makes the home smell like a restaurant and warms us up real I garontee.

During the therapeutic stirring of the roux I recalled all the past polar vortexes (vortices?) I personally experienced and believe me these are serious conditions. But they can be beaten. Or…on some days you get the bear and other days the bear gets you. For many alive today this is the coldest they have ever experienced. Not me. I been around a while.

January 20, 1985. That was and still is the coldest single day ever recorded in Chicago history. We lived in Homewood IL at the time. Being the young, reckless, adventurous sort I found beating weather extremes to be a personal challenge. About one year before that coldest day I purchased a used 1976 Toyota FJ, the first Japanese 4WD import that was built to resemble an American Jeep. Getting that vehicle out into bad conditions is something I couldn't wait to do and now I had my chance.

On that day the temp was -27 during the mid day hours. It had snowed prior and I was determined to start the FJ in my detached unheated garage and drive about town in the snow on the coldest day ever just for gigs and shittles. The wife already knew I was cuckoo and this was added proof of it. To my surprise the old FJ cranked up. I pulled it out onto the snowy drive then went back into the house while it warmed up. It wasn't too long before I locked the hubs, put it into low 4WD and plowed through the deep snow in the driveway. All systems worked well considering what may have gone wrong such as thermostat lockup, frozen coolant, bad battery, frozen fuel line, etc.. Nothing failed. The FJ all worked just fine.


Dressed in all my ice fishing insulated outerwear I drove about town for about an hour and had the streets all to myself. It was toasty and warm in the cab but I did notice many noises coming from the suspension I never heard before. Creaks, thumps, moans and grinds. Certain it was cold shrunken metal against cold shrunken metal I finally headed home just to say I drove around town on the coldest day ever in recorded history before the undercarriage broke. It was fun, I did it and lived to tell the story. What the wife always knew was confirmed. She married a fool.

February, 1988. A few years later when the kids were old enough we took a trip to Florida in January. WallyWorld. The high temps down there were in the mid 60's - low 70's and locals were not happy about it. That year on that week the temp was below zero in Chicago but not enough to get on the record books. Neener-neener. Our smugness soon wore off soon as we came home and were greeted by a major malfunction upon our arrival at our 70+ year old genuine Sears Roebuck house in Homewood. The neighborhood lost power that week for a few days. The house was cold when we opened the door and an unmistakeable aroma of rotting flesh was obvious. I noticed a runny puddle of red liquid that ran out from the refrigerator door. The powerless freezer could not support the frozen beef, chicken, pork and venison so it all thawed and began to rot. That's not all.


Going upstairs to the newly constructed bedroom/living space I stepped in a puddle of water. The pipe that delivered circulating hot water to the baseboard radiator system and heated the home had burst since the power loss was unable to run the boiler pump. The rotting flesh I could deal with but the burst copper tube was another matter. I drained the water from the system in the basement. We had three burst pipes in the second floor water circuit that leaked until I drained the system that evening. The rest of the family went to her parent's home for the night while I stayed and slept in my insulated coveralls, Sorel boots and neoprene gloves on the sofa near our blazing cast iron wood stove. The next day I called a local heating company to replace the copper pipe. Costly error. The lesson learned was to insulate all the upstairs pipes, which I did immediately after the repair work.

January 18, 1994 was the first winter living in our new country bunker. A new home should be worry-free one would think. Our contractor joked that we may need to crack a window open in the winter since the windows and doors were so tightly sealed and insulated. "Just to get some fresh air in" he added. In addition the exterior is constructed with 2x6 lumber adding more insulation than a conventional 2x4 home. Reveling at the notion of low heating bills was enough for us to put our guard down. On Saturday, January 18 the early morning temps dipped to -21.


Our young son opened the upstairs bedroom door to awaken and inform me the water faucet in his bathroom was not working. Mumbling that I would look into it later I was suddenly jolted by a short shock to the central nervous system and jumped right out of bed. A pipe was frozen. Holy crap I thought, recalling the Homewood pipe episode. Sure enough the water worked everywhere in the entire home but in that one upstairs bathroom. As far as we could tell there were no bursts and no leaks. Immediately I called the contractor, Vern.

Vern was a local legend known for his quality built custom homes and reliability. After all this was why we chose him. He was a real character too. Since Vern was in the process of building other homes nearby he was proud of his reputation which was at stake every day he tooled around the area in his Ford F-150. Vern answered my call and was at our door within 30 minutes. He was astonished at my frozen pipe claim. He then discovered it was true. Vern took this occurrence as an assault to his reputation. He took it personal.

What had happened was a roof vent under the soffit was close to the pipes entering the bathroom from the lower level. The wind blew hard that night forcing air into the wall void just beneath the attic where the partially exposed pipe had froze. Vern called his heating/plumbing sub contractor from LaPorte who showed up amazingly fast. What they did next surprised me.

The heating guy who was as large as a pro football lineman went to his large truck and returned dragging a very long cable. It was attached to an arc welder in the truck. He hauled another cable to the basement. One cable was connected to the frozen pipe and the other to the central ground utility. Then he turned on the welder juice and in about five minutes the pipe was thawed. No breaks at all. Whew, dodged a bullet.


Vern then stuffed a ton of insulation into the wall void behind the sink pipe. He also went outside, climbed a ladder, took off the vent screen and stuffed insulation into the void where that vent was located. He did this in below zero temperatures while I watched from inside through a window. No charge. At that time Vern was in his 60's. I was so impressed and thankful of the service he and his crew provided that day I was probably Vern's best PR/ sales agent from then forward. To this day nobody in town has a bad word to say about Vern, who passed away last summer.

Since that day we have had only minor home issues that any 20 year old home would have and are to this day very pleased we had the country bunker built new, from scratch, by a small-town old-school tradesman-pro like Vern.

Last night as I awaited the full force of the latest polar vortex all these past occurrences came to mind as I lovingly stirred the roux. 

This morning I got the call, the store was closed today so what was there to do on an unplanned day off?


What else? We bake home-made cinnamon buns.

5 comments:

Dan from Madison said...

Looks like you have condensation on the inside of your windows. This means that you need to turn your humidifier DOWN or you will begin to create mold and rot. In the colder temps, the air simply cannot hold any more humidity so you are actually being counter productive. Push it down in increments of 5% until you see the condensation go away and then you are optimal.

Outside of that - GUMBO NOM NOM NOM.

Carl from Chicago said...

That Gumbo looks great. We made wild rice pilaf here in the condo way up in the sky last night. The missus cooks some fine vegetarian dining.

Those cinnamon buns look like they were out of a can! How did you get them to look like that?

I should dig up some of my memories of the cold they are rattling around in my head somewhere...

I have been taking the bus to work and back and that actually works pretty well now that we have the "bus tracker" on the web or smart phone. And I am wearing snow pants to work too ha ha.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Thanks for the humidifier tip. The wife messes with the controls and it's an ongoing battle out here. I could go on but…

The cinnamon bun is a mix and pan kit from Williams-Sonoma. Good stuff too.

Dan from Madison said...

As the temp goes up, it works the same way. Keep bumping the RH until you begin to see frost. Then you are at the max the air in your house can hold. Back it off a bit until the frost goes away and you are good. Never go above 35% RH as after that you breed mold and bacteria.

Dan from Madison said...

I have had a request for the actual recipe - is there one or do you just do it by feel?