Monday, January 21, 2019

Eclipse And Chill

     It's not going replace video-streaming-service and chill, but last night's eclipse probably would have gotten good Neilsen numbers, if the ratings service kept track of natural phenomena.

     Last night I napped a bit, then added a thick robe and sandals to my socks and sweatpants and Winter nightgown to go looking for the Moon, peering out windows until I realized a total eclipse was going to be pretty much overhead.  I stepped outside -- into air about nine degrees above zero -- and discovered high, thin clouds were making a rainbow ring around the moon, which was already showing an edge of the Earth's shadow.  I took a deep breath and realized I wasn't going to be able to stand outside long.  The cold air was overwhelming!

     The soles of thick sandals make good insulation and my toes didn't feel too cold.  Multiple warm layers kept my core comfortable but fingers and ears and the tip of my nose were well-chilled in only a few minutes looking.  I watched the rest of the eclipse on a handheld, warm in my bed.

     This morning, the air was clear and the Moon was exceptionally bright.  Temperatures are below zero at the official measuring points.  In town it may be above zero, but only barely.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

...Then They Came For The Coffee.

      Look, when it was just snail darters and polar bears, I worried, but not so much.  But now they're warning that wild coffee may be in trouble, and that's a whole different thing.

     We don't so much drink the wild stuff, and it's not quite as bad a dead-end as the banana,* but there are only two main branches of the coffee family we drink; all of the lovely different kinds are just little variations on one or the other, grown in different soils and conditions, roasted differently and occasionally specially sorted (Tanzanian peaberry) or passed through a civet cat (no, really).  The wild relatives are used to breed in resistance to disease or pests, or to get a different flavor.  The seeds don't store well, so you need places where the stuff grows wild.
* There have only been two varieties of dessert banana sold in the U.S. and each one was essentially a cloned plant.  The Gros Michel was gone by the end of the 1950s, all but eliminated by Panama disease.  It was replaced by the Cavendish and if you're under 50 years old and haven't traveled, Cavendish may be the only dessert banana you have ever tasted.  Panama disease is going after Cavendish bananas now; there's a disease-resistance Gros Michel under development but you might bear in mind that the old song, "Yes, We Have No Bananas" refers to some of the earliest banana crop shortfalls in the 1920s -- and, perhaps, to the power of positive thinking!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Little Dinner

     It's actually leftovers from last night.  A good meal for a cold evening: temperatures are in the twenties now and predicted to reach single digits overnight.

     Ingredients include kielbasa, a pound and a half of on-sale New York Strip steak cut up (it was considerably cheaper than their steak tips and they were out of stew beef), fennel bulb, onion, carrot, a few Brussels sprouts (quartered)* and diced giant Portobello mushroom caps. Once that was cooked enough to suit me, I added some beef stock and fire-roasted crushed tomatoes...which were kind of overpowering, so I put in a little more stock, a handful of raisins for sweet and sliced black olives for salt.

     It was pretty good last night but it still needed...something. So tonight, I added a can of black-eyed peas, basil, and celery flakes with a dash of Per-Peri sauce and that did the trick!

     I was especially happy with the kielbasa's contribution; it was just one sausage squeezed out of the casing but it smelled heavenly as it cooked down and added to the broth.

* A little bit of cabbage improves the broth, but you have to buy a whole cabbage.  Brussels sprouts are at least as good, and you can use them a few at a time.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Breakfast Omelette

     I brought home cooked chicken breasts from the deli for dinner last night.  Tam didn't want any; her cat Rannie Wu had been unwell and they'd spent much of the afternoon at the vet.

     Rannie is better, but worry ruins Tamara's appetite.  That meant there was left-over chicken, with a half-life measured in days (and not many of them).

     So -- why not a "Simon and Gafunkel" omelette?

     Why not!  Leftover chicken, cubed and fried in bacon grease with a little Peri-Peri sauce, Colby Jack cheese, black olives and a few garlic-pickled mushrooms and red peppers.  I put a little parsley and a few crushed corn chips dissolved in water in the eggs,the first for flavor and the second to help them hold together.

     But why is it a "Simon and Garfunkel" omelette?  Here's why!

     The song was named for a chicken-and-egg dish Paul Simon saw on the menu in a Chinese restaurant.The equation's reversible, right?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

There's Still Plenty Left

     Sweet orange marmalade* on toast: good.

     Sweet orange marmalade in oatmeal: not bad, don't know if I would try again.

     Sweet orange marmalade and peanut butter sandwiches?  So much better than grape jelly!  It surprised me.  It's a real treat.

     I bought a jar of orange marmalade on a whim, week before last.  The store was out of rye bread and if I'm going to have to eat white bread,† I'm going to have something to put on it.
* Traditionally, marmalade should have a bitter component from the acid in the citrus juice that helps it set.  The Smucker's orange marmalade of my youth -- and occasionally, adulthood -- is made to be sweeter and less bitter.  I'll buy Dundee or another traditional type occasionally, too, but for "comfort food," the sweeter version wins.

† Mass-produced white bread is much too cake-like for me.  The "hearty" versions toast up all right, with Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse White" and "Italian" among the best.  Most store-baked white bread is okay, but shelf-life is short and having to slice it is unhandy.  Home-made bread?  It usually gets eaten within a couple of hours of baking!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Federal Shutdown: Day 25

     The streets are strewn with wrecked, burned-out cars and the gnawed remains of the dead.  A cold wind howls down from the north, seeking the gap at the collar of my coat like an arrow to the heart. It is a half-hour before dawn, with the only light a faint, bluish skyglow and the flickering of candles down the block -- or perhaps larger fires, farther away.  A coyote howls and another. closer, answers.

     I can't let it frighten me.  With a prybar, rubber tubing and gas can, I hope to siphon enough gasoline from the wrecks to get to work, if there's anything left downtown.  A dozen hours ago, the generator was running and my co-workers were patrolling the fences, a block-sized island of order in a world gone mad....

     Except, of course, that hasn't happened.  I won't kid you: the news isn't great and the dim light of Caesarism flickers over the horizon like heat lightning.  This is good or bad, depending on your choice of pundits, and a cunning plan or the surprise outcome of mutual intransigence, also pundit-dependent.  Me, I don't know; all I know is that the rough beast slouches on towards our modern Babylon, with no recognizable face save that of Everyman.  Tick-tock!


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Good Morning, Readers

     I'm drawing a blank.  The current Congress is a nearly-endless source of amusement -- but it's as funny as riding in a bus going over a cliff.  You can laugh all the way down, but it's still going to hit.

     On the other hand, how hard is it going to hit, and what is at the bottom?  The Federal government has been shut down* for over three weeks and yet civilization has not fallen.  Who possibly could have predicted it?
* N.B., a "shut down" still seems to be operating at a level that George Washington or Calvin Coolidge might have recognized as a functioning Federal government.  It's not like Congress has gone home and there's a stack of sign-in sheets at the abandoned border crossings.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Oxtail And Root Vegetable Stew

     It's seriously and officially Winter in Indianapolis.  That means it's time for slow-simmered stew!  Sunday, Tam braved the elements, with a promise to bring home "stew fixings."  I didn't press for details -- it's more interesting that way.

     She returned with a half-pound of Italian sausage, a pound each of steak tips and oxtail, a huge rutabaga, several turnips, a bag of carrots, a whole fennel,* a couple of onions, sliced shiitake mushrooms and a big carton of crushed tomatoes.†

     So, here's the procedure for turning all of that into supper:
     Set the meat out before you start cooking; put salt and pepper on the steak tips (or stew meat) and oxtails and let 'em get less cold.

      I started by cooking the half-pound of (loose) sausage with a little Italian spice mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper while I peeled and cut up the rutabaga, which was huge. As I cut it into 1/2" cubes, I put them in a bowl and sprinkled a little ground chipotle and sea salt with garlic on each layer. Don't go overboard!

     The sausage is cooked like ground beef for sloppy joes, you just keep breaking it up, When the sausage was cooked, I removed to a bowl it with a slotted spoon, covered it and set it at an angle. So there's grease in the pan; the rutabaga goes in, maybe with a little sesame oil for smokiness. You'll get some more grease from the sausage after a few minutes, just pour it over the veggies. Cover and make sure the heat's not too high. (Once you get the last of the grease from the sausage, set the meat somewhere to keep warm.)

     As the rutabaga cooks (and the more you cook it, the better), peel the turnip and cube it, then add it to the pot and stir everything around. After it has cooked down some, you can add a little water (and deglaze, the spatula is your friend and that goodness needs to get cooked into the vegetables), but not enough to cover. Then cut up the carrots, 1/2" cubes, and add them. You're sauteing all this as you go. The photo shows this point in the process.

      (About here is where I should have put in the oxtails, salted and peppered, but I hadn't noticed them. Get them well-browned on all sides. I added them with the steak tips and it went fine.)

      Wash and cut up the fennel bulb -- a little bigger then 1/2 cubes, since the layers will fall apart. You can wash some of the feathery bits and add them in small clumps, if you'd like.

      Dice the onion and add it, too -- I put 3/4 of it in now and saved some back, on a whim.

      Add the mushrooms right after the onion. Follow package directions. Most of them need to be rinsed off. Chop them up if needed.

     Cook all that down, while cutting up the green and red bell pepper. Use something with heat here if you would prefer. They go in last. Peppers are kind of delicate and shouldn't be overcooked.

     Add the stew beef (half pound to a pound) and brown it. Once it's well-browned, add the sausage back in and some beef broth (I use Better Than Bullion, which is not cheap but worth the price. A little dab dissolved in boiling water will do you, read the directions); deglaze, get it simmering, add the tomatoes and then cover. (My biggest stewpot and one of the saucepans have clear covers. Handy as can be for keeping an eye on the food.)

      You might want to grab out the biggest oxtail right before you add the tomatoes. Haul it out and set in on the cutting board and let it cool a little. The go after it with a small, sharp knife and pointy kitchen shears, removing meat and discarding fat and small bits of gristle. Toss the meat in, and put the bone back in once you have it as picked clean as you can manage. Don't worry if you missed some. Fish out another section of oxtail -- Tam bought three good-sized ones -- let it cool enough to handle, and give it the same treatment. You will probably do this at least twice for each section. Keep returning the bones to the pot: there's all manner of good stuff in there that you want cooked into the stew.

      It's done when the rutabaga and turnip is soft and the oxtail bones are as clear of meat as you can get them.

      This will easily serve six. Or two people for several days. It generally gets better after a day in the fridge and reheating -- and leave those oxtail bones in if you can!

* Not everyone is familiar with this.  It's kind of like celery, turned way, way up.  Stalks with feathery green leafy parts emerge from a large bulb.  The taste is distantly root beer-like but not overpowering, and works way better in savory dishes than you might expect..  As far as I know, the whole thing is edible, though people generally use the bulb and feathery parts.

† Our favorite brand recently stopped using cans in favor of lined cardboard boxes.  I was doubtful, but it's fine.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Snow Total

     The official total is nearly seven inches.  My back yard varies but the average is about six.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Snow Day!

     It's snowing.  It's been snowing.  My Bobbiometer snow gauge (which readers will recall measures snow depth in inches and "kiloPascals," only the latter not really) reads two and a half inches on the ground and lots more on the way.

     Our plans today include not going anywhere.  There's a gun show in town, but it runs through Sunday.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Eggs Pomodoro Rides Again!

     Now there's a pulp story you'd not forget!

     But what it was last night was dinner.  I like Eggs Pomodoro, especially when the weather is cold.  It's a tasty, hot, filling meal that doesn't take a lot of effort to cook;

     Start with the base -- here, Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, sliced fresh cherry tomatoes, onion and ha;f a green bell pepper.  The sausage and green pepper each got a little chipotle powder.  The sausage went in first and I drained the fat immediately after adding the mushrooms.

     When that's done, pour good pasta sauce over it and stir; I found a nice imported tomato/basil version marked "no sugar added."

     Once that's bubbling, add the eggs and cover until they're done enough to suit you.  Tam didn't want any, so I kept them to one side.

    We devoured our dinner, so no photo of the plated version.  But there is this:
     Leftover sauce can come back as omelette filling the next morning.  It's as good in eggs are eggs are in it!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Adventures In...Panic?

     I spent nearly seven hours in the Emergency Room yesterday, with what at first appeared to a heart attack but turned out to be....well, they don't know.  Possibly lingering effects of whatever I had last week.  Clear chest X-ray, nice EKG, no weird heart-attack enzymes in my blood work.

     We're not going to play doctor, so I won't bore readers with a list of symptoms.  (I loathe the kind of "amateur doctoring" many people indulge in, so comments are off and that does not mean you can go to another post and comment.  Look, if medicine was that easy, it wouldn't pay so well.)

     Other than intensity (often quite lower for women), it was a good fit to a heart attack and I will be following it up.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The President Was On TV Last Night...

     Or was it the night before?  I didn't watch.  Federal politics have become a tired joke to me.  Are we living in Mencken's "great and glorious day?"  I don't know.  He wrote::
     The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.
      The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. 
     It seems harsh, hopeless and -- despite the hand-wringing pontifications of pundits in the Press -- not exactly here yet. Can't kid you, sometimes I think we'd be better off with an honest and self-aware moron in the White House than the kind of egos that run for the Presidency.  Yet it's such a lousy job that without that excessive dollop of ego, who would want it?  Live over the store on 24-hour call, and whatever you do, no matter how clever you are, no matter how glib you are, no matter what a great salesman you are, right around half of the electorate will loathe you and three-quarters of them will blame you for anything that goes wrong.

     Oh, I know -- your guy, whoever he or she is, is essentially all right, despite a few foibles.  It's those other bastards, or perhaps stubborn or sneaky or personally-ambitious underlings, or the devious activities of the opposing party. (And the same is true of Congressthings and Governors and so on all the way down.)  But it always is; the only thing that changes is the color of the choir robes and the flavor of the promised pie in the sky.

     Google and Toyota and handful of other big multinational corporations are pleased you feel that way.  Me, I wonder what Adam Smith would make of it.  We're richer than ever; this world feeds more of the hungry than ever before, infant mortality is way down and we've nearly eliminated the killer diseases of the past.  Influenza remains slippery and the planet keeps coming up with new ways to kill us, or pulls old ones out of the back file and loads them onto modern transportation, but looking from Smith's day, we've built a paradise -- a loud, rude, garish paradise, to be sure, but a paradise nonetheless.

     Why aren't we happier about it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

TV Keeps Running Lawyer Ads And Funeral Home Ads Back To Back

     "Are you dead, or do you know someone who is?  Are you pestered by annoying relatives in the Afterlife?  Stuck in Purgatory?  Were you sent to a worse Hell than you feel you deserved?  Yama and Mictēcacihuātl may be able to help!

     "Our team of highly-trained intercessors, mediators and death-cult priests go to work on your case at once.

     "If you've been unjustly zombified or fatally exposed to vampirism against your will, there is a legal remedy!  Concerned your heart may outweigh a feather?  Worried it might become Ammit-chow? We know the right spells to prevent that!  And remember, there's never any fee (other than a small portion of your soul.).

     "If you need help after death, remember the firm of Yama and Mictēcacihuātl, leading you through the Afterworld!"

Monday, January 07, 2019

Populism And The Cult Of Victimhood

     There's been a small furor over a Tucker Carlson monologue, from Left, Right and points between.

     To me, it's more of the same-old, same-old, the same tired nonsense the more obnoxious rabble-rousers on the Right and Left like to trot out about "bad leaders" and "they" who are keeping you down, and possibly kicking you down to begin with.  It's crap.

     First off, if you need some damn leader to follow or loathe, please look for a new hobby and/or a better religion: this is the United States and our "leaders" are supposed to be doing the legislative and executive grunt work or making sure the streets run on time and the criminals are kept on the run, not to mention avoiding foreign entanglements and providing for the common defense.  They're not supposed to be shining examples on a hill in the sunlight whom you should aspire to emulate.  Most of them are lawyers who weren't all that good at practicing law and thought writing laws might be easier; the evidence suggests they don't have much knack for that, either.

     Second, the person with the largest responsibility for your troubles, the most power to do anything about them and the greatest interest in fixing them is the person you see in the mirror every morning.  Maybe your bootstraps or biceps are so weak or worn that you need a hand up; there's nothing wrong with that, but you have to reach out for it and keep on reaching -- and not to pick your benefactor's pocket, either!

     Third, this is the kind of politics that leads to trouble.  See the run-up to World Wars One and Two if you need examples.

     The ignorance of history is going to make us relive it in full color, 3-D and with plenty of missed meals.   If people knew more history, they wouldn't be so keen on the possibility.

The, Er, Goober Stuff?

     If things about or pertaining to the person and office of a Governor are "gubernatorial," does that mean persons who run for the office are "gubernauts?"

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Feeling Better

     There's a long list of things I need to do, most of which are long overdue.  Today, I'm going to try to accomplish a few of them.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Recovering, I Hope

     Yesterday started okay, but stalled about 7:00 a.m., when I ran out of energy.  Today is better, which doesn't take much.  Still not sure what it was, since the sinus phase mostly passed in the first day.  Some mild flu?  Possibly.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Still Sick

     Started getting ready for work and I am too unsteady.  Sneezing, blundering around -- at the very least, I'd be a cow in a china shop if I tried to work today.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

When Sinuses Attack

     Maybe it started yesterday at work -- in the afternoon, I was increasingly unsteady and unexpectedly sleepy.  Maybe it started that evening, when I was stumbling and sneezing.  At one point, I came a little too close to falling down the basement stairs, but caught myself just in time.

     Whatever.  I awoke in the night, as women past a certain age do, and once up and mission accomplished, my nose felt stuffy.  Cleared it, laid down -- and woke up fifteen minutes later from a dream about being in a shipwreck. My nose was bubbling like a percolator.  "Ah," think I, "My sinuses have cleared!"

     Yeah, no.  Did the obvious, went back to sleep and not a half-hour later, my spacesuit's got a bad rebreather valve, or at least it did until it woke me up and turned back into full sinuses.  And so it went.  After the fourth or fifth time, I gave up and stayed awake, tissues not far away.  I was kind of stumbling into doorways when I was getting up to clear my nose anyway.  That approach worked, or seemed to, until a sleepy and mildly irked Tamara appeared in my doorway to remark, "If you're going to sing, I'm going to give up on my last ten minutes of sleep and start my day."

     Had I been singing?  H'mmm.  Yes, I had.  And perhaps not softly. How does that happen?

     Survey says...  Fever!  This was confirmed fifteen minutes later, when I was making coffee and Tam was questioning the continued presence of a largish cardboard box in the kitchen.

     "Bobbi, what is even in this?  Can't we throw it out?"

     "Oh, I need to check it first."

     Tamara started to open the box.

     I warned her, "Oh, don't do that!  It's full of packing peanuts.  They get all over and you'll kill me!"  And I began to giggle.

     N.B., despite the provocation they present, Tam has never killed me or anyone over plastic packing peanuts.  I quite doubt she ever will.

    So yes, I'm unwell.  I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

New Year's Day Dinner

     You can, in fact, grill corned beef brisket. It tastes great! I'd become frustrated with simmering; it's too easy to overcook.
     The corned beef should be rinsed very well before cooking. You might even want to soak it to get some of the salt out. Apply the contents of the seasoning packet to the non-fatty side before you cook.
Use a pan on the center of the grill bars and no coals directly under it (or only a few); they're all pushed to the sides. I let it cook for a half hour with the fat side down (and could have gone longer), then turned it over, covered it loosely, and added half a cup of of hot water. Checked it every thirty minutes, adding hot water if needed. Took a couple of hours for the center to reach 160 degrees F. I added four shishito peppers for the last twenty minutes or so -- had them left over and figured it couldn't hurt
      It was cooked over hardwood lump charcoal and some hickory chips. Now I'm going to have to try this with a plain brisket!

     On the side: carrots, onions, potato and cabbage, simmered in lightly salted water and served with butter and pepper.  Start with boiling water, add  carrots and onions first, followed five minutes later by quartered potatoes, then a head of cabbage cut in six wedged five or so minutes later.  Ten to fifteen minutes later, it's done.  You can tell by the potatoes going soft.  Cabbage will be tender but not rubbery.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy New Year!

     Weelcome to the far-future year 2019!  Let's take a tally, shall we?

     -Television is still not 3-D.  However, the screens are huge, the colors are true* and the rolution is nearly as good as film.  An awful lot of the programming is still, well, awful -- but the same could be said of books, plays and films.

     -There is no Lunar colony.  There is no Mars colony.  There's a space station, but it's government business only these days.  On the plus side, it's a whole lot of governments working mostly together.  Occasionally there are two space stations, but the second one is run by a government the others don't much trust, which decided to go it alone.  That's going to be a problem, eventually.

     -There almost is commercial space travel.  Passenger flights may begin this year.  Downside, they won't go anywhere, just up and back.  But we had barnstormers and balloon demonstrations long before commercial air travel, so don't give up hope.  Commercial cargo and communications satellite flights to orbit have been around for a long time (remember SeaLaunch?).  SpaceX is doing well as a government contractor, with United Launch Alliance (ULA) and OrbitalATK nipping at their heels. Blue Origin is making good progress as a commercial space transport company.  Watch this space!  Well, that space.  Space in general, watch it.

     -The rich are getting richer faster than everyone else is getting less poor, sometimes a lot faster.  Many people think this a problem.  If enough of them decide so, they'll make it everyone's problem.  Meanwhile, fewer people are starving; fewer are dying in childhood.  I keep wondering if the trade-off's not worth it, a handful of people living like Emperors in exchange for a steadily-increasing number of people doing okay.  History suggests you don't get anything but a change in bosses if you simply expropriate the assets of the extremely wealthy and hang a few as an example to the others -- and you don't get anything but a mess if you start working your way down the ladder, "equalizing" by main force.  Angry men, hungry men, men convinced they're not getting a fair shake are generally not amenable to logic; the "big picture" means nothing to parents with a house full of hungry children.  Nature -- yes, even human nature -- generally fixes this by population reduction, war and disease being the best-known means.  When you have a choice, choose wisely.  When you don't, run like hell.

     -Cars are better than ever; roads and bridges suck.  I'm sure this means something but I don't know what it is.  Do road-use taxes (on fuel and the like) go into the general fund, or are they earmarked for the roads?  The problem with public funding is that "economy of scale" keeps scaling up, and an increasing percentage of it seems to vanish into administrative overhead.

     -We still don't have flying cars.  We do have smartphones, which many of us can't keep ourselves from using while driving.  This is why we shouldn't have flying cars, at least not 'til they get that self-driving thing worked out.

     -Speaking of telephones, you have one in your pocket.  It can even make "picturephone" calls, but most people don't bother.  In fact, many people don't bother with the talking part either, and prefer to use telegram-like methods -- texting and Twitter.  Who could have known the only objection to the personal telegraph was the need to learn Morse code?

     The future isn't what it used to be.  It's better -- and worse.