Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost Signs and Wall Dogs

As part of my research for my new book Hidden History of Denver (to be released next week) I studied the unusual signs I’d seen painted directly on brick walls, not only in downtown Denver…but in other towns too. I wondered who had created these works of art. They were obviously talented individuals, but how did they work so high in the air? I found their lives and work really interesting, and felt they had to be included in the book.

Following is an excerpt:

They were called “wall dogs” because they worked on walls and worked like dogs. The derisive term did not appear to concern the men who were part artists, part daredevils and, most of all, part chemists. Instead, they let their work speak for itself. Some of it can still be seen on the streets of Denver to this day, a testament to the quality of the work.

During the late 1800s, sign painters mixed the paint by hand, using a complex and intricate balance of chemicals, color pigments and a white base, which contained high levels of lead. The shopkeeper may have asked the sign painter to help him design a message that would best portray the shop. Since many of the people were illiterate or did not speak the language, signs were particularly beneficial.

The price the wall dogs charged depended on the height of the building. The higher floors were considered more hazardous, even if the weather was good. Sometimes Mother Nature was not kind to the men as they swung from a rope attached to their waist at the top of the building, paint in one hand and a brush in the other. Some men used a hanging basket or trellis, but either way it was still very dangerous work. In effect, they had to be part gymnast and part artist.

There was one potentially devastating effect from a long career as a wall dog: lead poisoning caused by exposure to white paint. It permeated their skin and their eyes, crippled their hands and weakened their bodies as it slowly poisoned them. Their brains were affected, they lost the ability to hear and then the deadly paint affected their nervous system. It was not until one hundred years later that lead was discovered to be the culprit, a fact not known to the men as they mixed a lethal dose of lead, linseed oil and color pigments. Later in life, the afflicted men appeared drunk or otherwise impaired, but in reality they suffered from “painter colic.”

Over the years, as businesses changed hands, so did the signs. One sign was painted over another, but in the right light, both may be visible. These are often referred to as “ghost signs” because they seem to appear in certain lights and then disappear at other times. It is a strange phenomenon, and one can only imagine the level of lead paint that had to be used for the images to last more than 120 years.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Traditional Pub Food - Scotch Eggs

A close friend made these Scotch Eggs -

A long time tradition in many pubs, the Scotch Egg is one of my favorites...and one I have introduced to many American friends. The usual comment is, "I've never seen anything like this before..."

They are delicious and a good "finger food" for parties especially if they are quartered. Following is my recipe.


4 hard-boiled eggs
1 pound package of sausage meat (any variety)
¼ cup of flour
1 egg
Oil for frying


Hard-boil the eggs (about 10 minutes). Plunge into cold water to stop a black line forming between the yolk and white part of the egg. Peel the eggs and roll into the flour. Divide the sausage meat into 4 pieces and carefully shape around the boiled egg. Roll the sausage in the flour, dip in the beaten egg mixture, then roll again in the breadcrumbs. Place in the hot oil, reduce the heat and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes until the sausage is cooked. However, if you slice in two with a sharp knife, and it appears the sausage is not thoroughly cooked, you can pop them into the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baking "Blind"

Many times I've been asked the question, "what does baking blind mean?" Since there have been many requests for the answer...I thought I'd address it here.

Baking “blind” basically means to use some kind of weighted materials to keep a pastry shell flat while cooking. I use dried peas or rice for this purpose, and keep them in a jar so that I use them over and over.

The best method is to line a pie plate or pan with your basic short crust pastry (see recipe below). Prick the bottom all over, place some aluminum foil or greaseproof paper in the bottom of the pie plate, and spread the dried peas or rice out evenly.This will weigh the pastry down during cooking…usually at around 400 degrees F. until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven, lift out the aluminum foil and contents, and return the pastry to the oven for about three minutes. The base of your pie shell should be flat. Allow it to cool, and fill the pastry shell with your favorite filling -- top with cream.

Basic short crust recipe:
2 ½ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
¾ cup of shortening
About 1/3 cup of cold water.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

And More....

Hard-boiled egg shells can be removed easily if you place them in cold water immediately after cooking. This method also stops the dark ring from forming around the yoke.
For “fuller” omelets, add a small amount of cornstarch before beating the eggs.
Cheese will not harden if you butter the exposed edges before storage.
If you have a bag of lumpy sugar…place it in a refrigerator for about 24 hours, and it should soften.
When measuring syrup, honey or treacle, dip the spoon in hot water. The sticky measure will then slide off the spoon easily.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Even More Kitchen Hints

Potatoes will bake much faster if they are boiled for about 10 minutes before placing them in a hot oven. They will bake even faster if you place them on a skewer.
When browning meat, be sure that the meat is very dry – and the fat is hot.
When you take a pan of hot muffins out of the oven…place them on a wet towel  for a moment, then the muffins will slide right out of the pan.
A small piece of butter or a teaspoon of oil added to noodles will prevent the water boiling over.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Kitchen Hints

To avoid a “weeping” meringue, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar before beating it into the egg whites.

To remove skins from almonds, place them in boiling water for a couple of minutes. The skins can then be easily removed.

 Place a couple of slices of bacon in the bottom of the pan when baking a meat loaf. The bacon provides a tasty addition to the dish, and also helps the loaf slide easily out of the pan.

Thaw fish in a little milk because it enhances the flavor.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From My Kitchen To Yours

Over many years of cooking for my family, I've made mistakes and had some dismal failures. Some I've been able to correct by asking friends what they've done in similar circumstances. I've written some of those remedies down, and will share those with you over the next few weeks.

Don't discard butter and margarine wrappers...they make wonderful cake pan liners

Brown sugar won't harden if an apple slice is placed in the container - however, if your brown sugar is rock hard...use a cheese grater to grate off the amount you need

A few drops of lemon juice added to whipping cream helps it whip faster

A small amount of baking soda added to gravy will eliminate excess grease

If you have used too much salt in your soup or stew - add some raw potatoes. They will absorb the salt and you can remove them when the soup/stew is cooked

Poached eggs won't spread in the boiling water if you add a little vinegar.

More to come another day ----

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cap Lamp Signals

Communication is an essential part of everyday mine operation. If communication breaks down, the safety of the workers can be put at risk, and lives could be lost. Other than the obvious telecommunications methods, there is is one method that is easily recognizable underground -- the cap lamp signals. At a museum in Alaska, I saw the following exhibit, and explanation:

An up and down motion (nodding) means move away from the source of light.

A circular motion means move towards the source of light.

A side to side motion (horizontal) means stop!

"Most accident investigations have indicated that poor communication, or a break down in communication often contributed to the accident."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Siege Weapon Engines at Caerphilly Castle - Wales

Following information supplied by:

Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of Western Europe. Several factors give it this pre-eminence - its immense size (1.2h), making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, its large-scale use of water for defense and the fact that it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. Of the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning.

One of Henry III's most powerful and ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, built this castle. His purpose was to secure the area and prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last, who controlled most of mid and north Wales. De Clare built other castles on the northern fringes of his territory for the same purpose, such as Castell Coch. He had seized the upland district of Senghenydd, in which Caerphilly lies, from the Welsh in 1266 to act as a buffer against Llywelyn's southward ambitions. Llywelyn realised the threat and tried but failed to prevent the castle from being built; it was begun on 11 April 1268, was attacked by Llywelyn in 1270, and was begun again in 1271. This time it was completed without hindrance. Its message was not lost on Llywelyn, who retreated northwards. Apart from the remodelling of the great hall and other domestic works in 1322-6 for Hugh le Despenser, no more alterations were carried out, making it a very pure example of late 13th-century military architecture.

Following information from:

Siege Weapons and Warfare

The Medieval era of the English Middle Ages saw the advent of the Crusades to the Holy Land and the construction of hundreds of castles at home. A totally new form of warfare and weapons were introduced to England with the castles and following the experiences fighting the Saracens and their fortresses during the Crusades - Siege Warfare. Siege warfare tactics and weapons varied according to the role of Defender or Attacker.

Medieval Siege Weapons DesignSiege weapons were made to order! They were far too cumbersome to move from one place to another. In a siege situation the commander would assess the situation and the siege weapons design requirements to break a siege. Engineers would instruct soldiers as to the design and construction of siege weapons and siege engines. 

Construction of Siege Weapons

Medieval Siege warfare and building siege weapons was an extremely expensive business! All sieges had to be carefully planned and the exact type and number of siege weapons had to be established. Medieval Lords, knights and their Siege Engineers identified the weakest parts of the Castle or town that they needed to attack and planned the design of the siege engines accordingly. A workforce including carpenters and blacksmiths had to be transported to the site. The surrounding area was checked out for materials and supplies. Armed men and soldiers were expected to help prepare for the siege by helping to build the siege weapons and engines. Many elements needed to be taken into consideration when designing siege weapons.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Art of Knitting

From hats to socks to sweaters (or jumpers as they’re called in the U.K.) knitting has been a hobby of women and men for centuries. Queen Elizabeth I of England had a love of fine silk stockings that were very decorative and obviously expensive. The regular folk wore stockings made of wool and, during the late 15th century, knitted stockings were in such a high demand that men, women and children learned the art of knitting to supplement their income. Knitting became so fashionable that schools were established to promote the art and the people of England became well known for their fine work.

As a young child growing up in England, knitting was a required part of my curriculum. Perhaps teachers wanted to continue the ancient art, but the exercise teaches hand/eye coordination, and of course dexterity.
Knitters in Scotland developed patterns that are specific to certain areas. Aran sweaters are known worldwide for their warmth and their designs. As with quilting patterns wherein a design is specific to an area in the U.S. the Aran sweaters also tell a tail. The ribbing section has a "twisted" stitch, there are twisted cables, interlocking diamonds and  “popcorn” stitches that represent a certain area. Sweaters were essential garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Squash - Racquetball - Tennis

Is it possible to play all three sports? Having played squash at the local club in Essex, England for many years–my family was transferred to Kansas City, Missouri. At that time, there were only two squash courts located at the Kansas City Men’s Club, and women players were not encouraged to play. After twenty plus years of racquetball, and several years of tennis, I decided to try squash again. Is it even possible to return after such a long time? Would all those bad habits return? Who knows - but I'm trying!

Lifetime Fitness in Parker, Colorado has two racquetball courts, and two squash courts. The club offers excellent programs and league play. There are professional instructors for both sports. For more information go to:
Since I’m interested in history…following is a thumbnail sketch of racquet sports in the U.K. and U.S.
The game of squash appears to have developed from possibly five other sports wherein one or more players hit a ball against a wall with their bare hands. In the 12th century, monks used a kind of webbed glove to hit a hard ball against the walls in the monasteries (similar to handball.) During the centuries to come, a racquet and net were introduced and the game of tennis evolved. King Henry VIII was known to be an excellent player, as was King Charles II of England. The game of tennis was called “The Game of Kings.” Almost 100 years later, King Charles (1660) wrote a letter to a family member wherein he stated that he “played some tennis this morning after breakfast…”
During the late 19th century, a game called “racquets” (or rackets) was played in the courtyards of prisons in England and most likely in prisons all over Europe. An early sketch of a London debtor’s prison depicts two men, racquets in hand hitting a ball against a prison wall.
The equipment for racquet sports has changed over the years. My first squash racquet was a “Lady Grey” given to me by Barbara Sanderson, now world champion in her age bracket. Barbara received many such racquets as prizes, and graciously gave me one to get started. That racquet was made out of laminated timber or carbon-based materials. Today, the racquets are a different shape and they are lighter in weight. Manufacturers use a combination of materials.
Eventually, the sport of squash spread to America and Canada, and eventually around the globe. No reference to squash can be made without mentioning the Khan dynasty. Just recently, I had the pleasure of taking a clinic with Salim Khan at the Lifetime Fitness Club in Parker, Colorado. “Sam” as he is known to the players described his father’s life, and how he attained the title of world champion. “My father was once a ball boy for the British squash players in Pakistan. He was fascinated by watching the men play, their stance, and the way the ball bounced off the floor and walls. Eventually, he began playing himself and was a mature man when he was asked to represent Pakistan in the world championship. He was very nervous, and lost the first few points, but then rallied and dived to get a shot between his opponent's legs. After that, he didn't lose one point and beat the Englishman to become world champion. He trained others in the sport, mostly in our immediate family, and began a dynasty that would last for many years.”