Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Samp anyone?

I am on a quest of samp. "What is samp?" Well Samp is twice-cracked corn that is stewed various ways until it is a mush. It is an old New England/Long Island food that was passed to us by the natives of the US Northeast.

My father used to feed it to us in the depth of the New England winter, and I was never a fan as a child. He would stew it all day on the stove with a good half pound of some sort of hamhock and a bit of salt. I would pour even more salt and as much pepper as I could muster. As an adult, and in charge of my own kitchen, I have some ideas to use ham that should make it taste a bit better.

The real trouble with my mission is that you can't just go to your local, or even specialty, shop and pick up some samp. My father has quite a few stories about how he would find samp by calling around in the days before the Internet, only to find that they were asking him how many train-car loads he wanted. Fortunately for both of us, my father has found a local supplier here on Long Island, and on my way home, I stopped by the store and inquired if they had any samp.

The local store is in Jamesport, NY which is close to Riverhead. The store is aptly named "The Jamesport Country Store." Last week I stopped by and found that they didn't have any samp but were expecting it soon. The visit was not entirely futile, as i was able to find myself some beach plum jelly, and while it isn't as good as the jam my grandmother used to make, it certainly was good.

I returned to the store yesterday on the way home and got to meet the owner of the store, a gentleman named Herb. He hadn't gotten his 500 lbs of samp in yet, but took my name and phone number so that he could notify me when he received it. Of course samp wasn't his typical request so we got to talking about local family and history. Eventually the location of my house, and the old family farm came up and it turns out that he used to spend many a night at my house back with his friend used to rent it from the previous order. He even mentioned that they had made up T-shirts that said something to the effect "Windsong farm: halfway house for bachelors." It is too bad that he didn't have a T-shirt to trade for one of our family T-shirts featuring the cottage on the next plot.

I am hoping the samp comes in soon so that I can make a batch up and get my father's supply before my next trip to sea.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rocking Out

I went to a birthday party for a college student last night. The highlight of the evening was gathering around the Playstation 2 and TV for games. The TV we used was actually a video projector, giving a widescreen TV that was somewhere between a HDTV and the old-school projection TVs. The view angle was great, but didn't have the "pop" of a HDTV.

I've never been one to play video games, as I've never been adroit at them. The first game I was pressed into service as there was no pause option, and one of the players was needed elsewhere in the house. The game was a gameshow/trivia game and i had the misfortune of taking over the last place player. Through luck and a my vast knowledge of useless trivia, i was able to pull out a win in the last section, but didn't place in the final game. The second round, my girlfriend Brooke and I, were a team and won every round until the last round. We did take the overall win in that round.

After two long rounds of the trivia game. We started playing in Guitar Hero II. For those who many not know what that is exactly, it's a game where you plug in a wireless electric guitar. The guitar has five buttons and a "strumming" button, as well as a whammy bar. Basically the game entails picking a song at one of three levels of difficulty. The harder the difficulty, the more buttons you need to be able to handle. I am a neophyte so I chose the easy songs and the easy level (only 3 buttons). The game works by the song playing in the back ground and then different color circles come down the screen. You need to hit the correct button and strum just as the circle hits the target on the screen. Some of the notes you have to hold and there are certain notes that are stars which allow you to gain "star power" which helps you stay alive, even if you miss notes. I managed to do respectfully well considering my lack of coordination.

Brooke thoroughly stomped my play. She rocked harder songs and scored much better then I did. I was very proud of Brooke and she illicited cheers from the party for her performance.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

When it comes to the point in a conversation when people ask me what I do for a living, I usually get blank stares when I tell them I am in the Merchant Marine. "What is that?" I am asked. Well here's what it is.

The Merchant Marine is the fleet of cargo carrying ships under a nation's flag. Basically in the United States, it is a fleet of about 350 ocean-going ships and a myriad of smaller vessels. If you have ever traveled on a ferry, you have been on a US flagged ship. My fellow mariners and I are the crews of those ships.

As a brief aside, the cruise ships that you see on TV are merchant ships, but if you catch the fine print, they are not US flagged ships. This means among other things, that you are not subject to US laws or protections while on board, and nearly every crew member is from another country and getting paid far less they you can imagine. All I can say is tip well because they certainly don't make much in straight wages.

For my part, I am licensed by the US Coast Guard as a Chief Mate (aka 1st mate) as well as a 1st Assistant Engineer of Steam and Motor (diesel) ships. I am licensed for unlimited tonnage, on any ocean, and any horsepower. I am what they call a "dualie" in the industry, which is fairly rare. Most mariners go with one department or another.

Currently, I am the Chief Mate on the MV MAJ BERNARD F FISHER. This is a container ship under contract with the US Navy. My job is to be a department head in the deck department. I am responsible for the maintainence of the deck as well as the cargo, and stability of the ship. I have about six unlicensed people working for me as well as two junior mates. I report directly to the Master (captain).

Life at sea is different. I work for about four months straight. That is to say, I work 12 hours each day, for 120 days or so. There are no weekends or days off, and sick days are frowned upon. On the flip side, when I leave my ship, there are no phone calls or emails to worry about, and every day is a weekend.

During my copious spare time, I tend to enjoy photography and a bit of amateur radio, with the former taking most of my time. I will be sharing some of my photography and thoughts on this blog during the relatively dull periods of my shore time. When I am at sea, I will be posting stories from distant shores. While there is an old adage that says the only difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is that a fairy tale begins "Once upon a time..." and a sea story begins "This ain't no @#$@#$..." I will attempt to make my stories as accurate as possible.

I do hope that you enjoy my blog, and I will try to post to it as often as time, internet connection, and exciting stories allow.