Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It’s Wrong to Wish on Space Hardware
We found a good spot by the rural edge of town for star-gazing. The elevation is higher, there's unobstructed views, and is in a relatively safe area with a small sub-division nearby. Distant without being secluded. The community centre and library are closed until next year (the city is out of money from Covid) so we set up in the empty parking area on clear evenings. There's a restored prairie and marsh nearby, and most nights we can hear a barn owl with its distinctive call sounding like canvas being ripped apart. One evening we saw it, in shadow at sunset swooping into the field for dinner.
We finally saw comet Neowise, though it continues to fade each night. There's a smaller comet, Lemon that looks like little more than a fleck through our Orion binoculars, but it is nice knowing we were able to locate it, impressive or not. What we saw that was impressive was a meteor streaking low across the sky and fading out in a pop of light. I've only ever seen that sort of brightness from space-junk re-entering (which is a somewhat terrifying thing to observe until you realise what it is). We were in the right place, at the right time, and what a thrill to have experienced it.
I suspect Dan is just happy to get out of the house at this point, but he's been excellent company on these clear-night adventures. Like the barn owl, he sleeps until 3 or 4, has dinner, and is then up all night.  Something you can easily see in the night sky is the ISS. You may go HERE for the times when viewing is best in your area. You can even wave to it as it passes if you want to, just to embarrass any nearby teenagers ;)
The light pollution from Omaha isn't bad at all once you get a bit out from the heart of the city. It always surprises me just how much I can see from my own backyard, and how just a few miles to our west it is possible to look up and see the Milky Way. Obviously not as well as we could see it on the farm, but we were miles away from city lights, and the nearest city, Lincoln is quite small.
I'm running again. I got tired of waiting for an appointment with a cardiologist who will more than likely shrug, and charge me a small fortune for advice to keep doing what I'm doing. Honestly, going to a doctor right now is more dangerous than anything running is likely to do to me. It is going OK. The first few days were hard, but I did 17 miles yesterday (I won't tell you how long it took but I'm in my 50s and have arthritis so you do the maths :). That's fine-I'm not trying for any times that would qualify me for any respectable marathons. I prefer running alone anyway. I'm slow, but have excellent long distance endurance.
Omaha at long last has a mask mandate starting in August. It took reaching widespread, uncontrolled transmission before the board of health worked up the nerve to defy the governor, but finally, we can do something sensible. Because of their time wasting nonsense, schools will be unable to open as planned and are working out 50% capacity plans and remote learning. Dan is already signed up to stay home and attend by Zoom video, but it must be hell for parents of younger kids that need to work and figure out childcare. I'm sure at the rate we are going it will be all remote by the time school starts in two weeks. I feel especially bad for the teachers. 

Our 20 year old tumble dryer broke last week, and although I do have a drying rack, we figured it was probably worth having repaired. A new one isn't that expensive, but I doubt it would be built like our old Kenmore. We called the repair service we've used for other household fixes and they sent out a technician wearing a mask, and observing all good safety standards. Our old dryer is back in service, and while the repairman was in there, he went ahead and replaced a seal that was drying out from age. I don't know if we'll get another 20 years from it, but I was pleased to avoid the ordeal of shopping to replace it.  Obviously can't just pop down to Sears for a new one any longer.
I’ll leave you with a photo of our Nebraska state flower, goldenrod. It is beautiful but invasive so plant with caution. 

Next time I will post some outfits. Until then.

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Every summer there's that one week when all the vegetables for ratatouille come together at the same time. The boys aren't really aubergine/eggplant lovers, but will tolerate it in something flavourful. For the horridly hot weather we've been having, it would be hard to find a better meal than ratatouille with some crusty bread. 

I admit to being conflicted between my desire for ratatouille and all the extra olives, celery and capers in caponata. They're such similar ingredients, but completely different dishes. I dealt with it by serving a dish of mixed olives with dinner. 

In my experience, ratatouille isn't the place for shortcut recipes. Some dishes don't suffer from streamlining, but ratatouille does. I grew up eating a version of it that was mushy and watery because everything got chucked in a pot together and boiled within an inch of its life. Sure,I lived with an appallingly bad cook, but in her defense she was following a recipe (it was the 70s) even if it probably came from ,a weight-loss cookbook. So let's establish that you absolutely should not use vegetable/and or tomato juice to make ratatouille and you need to cook the ingredients in a certain order. Block off about an hour of time, more if you're slow chopping vegetables. 

Over the years I've decided Julia Child's recipe is best for the cook that requires details often overlooked by people like Raymond Oliver. La Cuisine is a cookbook for after you've learned to cook just as Elizabeth David's bread book doesn't give good directions as she assumes the reader can bake. Julia Child knew her readers were going to cock it up-so the steps are very, very precise. 

I love the way Mastering the Art of French Cooking is laid out. The ratatouille recipe calls for peeled, seeded and juiced tomatoes, and there's the instructions for the technique right at the end of the recipe. The recipes begin by telling you what equipment will be required, and ingredients are listed in order of use. 

A reprint of the recipe may be found HERE. I do however encourage you to buy the book as it is a great help with foolproof recipes for crepes, aspics, etc. You also learn technique. I've had my copy since the early 90s, and I use it less as the years go on, but when I was learning to cook it was a great reference. 

Finally, don't be intimidated by photos like the one at the link. No one arranged ratatouille like that before Instagram😊. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

School’s Out Forever
Well, maybe not forever, but one by one the districts are giving parents the option of remote learning via computer,  and there’s been a rush to sign up. Proper homeschooling has increased as well. Teachers are not thrilled about going back without adequate safety measures in place so expect threats of strikes, etc. I don’t blame them- I wouldn’t risk my life for $30,000 a year. At the very least they could offer hazard pay. 
We signed Dan up for remote learning first semester but I suspect by October it will all be remote. The virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

The past few evenings we’ve rode out away from city lights to look for the comet ( no luck, too many clouds) and have passed crowded ball fields full of children playing baseball. They’re shoulder to shoulder in the dugouts,  and the stands are packed with families. No social distancing, and probably not many masks either.  I rarely “parent shame” others because there’s no one correct way to rear children. That said, I am beyond horrified by how cavalier people are willing to be with their children’s well being. These are the same people ready to call the police if they see children playing unattended in the park because it might “be dangerous”. They’re concerned by theoretical risk, but a pandemic is nothing to worry over?!  You can’t let a 10 year old wait for you in the car because they might get kidnapped, but you can sit them in a dugout teeming with virus. People are fucking idiots- thanks for coming to my TED talk🙄.
Here’s a pretty photo of a finch at our feeder to make you feel better.
How about a nice stack of bakelite bangles? That always makes me feel better. The bottom one has some carving that’s still sharp and bright making me think it wasn’t worn much by the previous owner. The blue and brown wood grained bangle is  unlike any others in my collection. I’ve not been able to figure out if it is actual wood treated with plastic ( which was a thing in the 40s) or plastic made to look like wood. Either way, I do love how different it is. For some reason, I rarely find blue bakelite.
Plenty of yellow bakelite out there. Most pieces are dulled with age but occasionally I find bakelite that still shines. There are companies that specialise in reviving old plastics but I suppose my taste is for the authentic patina .  The cameo ring was something I bought in the early 90s when I worked at Jordan Marsh department store. There’s a matching brooch as well. It was expensive for my budget but they had a generous employee discount, so I splurged. I’m glad I did. The ring on the left was thrifted.
My collection includes a few glass bangles but I am always a bit nervous wearing them. This green one was a yard sale find for half a dollar. The brooch is bakelite and dates from the 40s (I think).
This giant bangle is so heavy I can’t wear it long as it bangs against the bones in my wrist. It was a spectacular find ( a dollar at Goodwill) that I still can’t believe no one else spotted. The wooden earrings are very light, and just perfect for summer.
These bangles aren’t bakelite but rather lucite. I paid a whopping five dollars for the spotty one, which was probably too much but I loved it. I was on holiday - I tend to spend more generally when away from home. Not that I’m going to be worrying about that any time soon!
Here’s a reverse carved lucite bangle and a swirled bakelite. I wore the reverse carved one throughout my pregnancy because it was the only one large enough to fit over my swollen hands! So now it has sentimental value.
Another bangle, this one made of a quartz- like material. I love wearing it on very hot days as it stays wonderfully cool.

I’ll leave you with one more glass bangle and a wood and lacquer bracelet bought retail maybe 20 years ago. The shell hoop earrings are summer favourites. 
Next time perhaps we can have a look at handbags. Until then, wear a mask, keep your distance, and don't do stupid things. See you next time. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

You Say Potato, I say Potato
Cardoon staus is: blooming. This is an entire month earlier than 2019 though the two smaller plants haven’t bloomed yet. I’ll leave this one for the bees that enjoy frolicking in the purple polen but will harvest the others. 
I watched a local gardening show on PBS last night that had a feature on the garden centre the original plant came from. I was happy to hear they are surviving in the corona disruption.
It was only a matter of time before La Cuisine came down from the shelf. I was looking for cardoon recipes, but became distracted by the stuffed tomatoes. I had some large ripe tomatoes waiting to be used, so that’s what I made. To my delight, vegan cheese  and oatmilk worked just fine.
I had homemade breadcrumbs to work with which is always nice. Filling hollowed out tomatoes with breadcrumbs and fresh herbs doesn't sound  exciting, but I promise, it is!
After hollowing out the tomatoes I was left with the pulp. Rather than throwing it away I made a reduction and added sherry and olive oil. I used this along with chopped olives, capers, parsley, and preserved lemon to bake some cod fillets.
The finished meal had some puy lentils cooked with onions and herbs and finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar.  It was lovely, and I enjoyed making a special meal from rather mundane ingredients.
This is kung pao seitan. It shouldn’t work, but it does. 

The potatoes are harvested! We grew both yellow and purple this year
  That’s quite the harvest from our little garden.I wanted  to do something special so I roasted them with 4 tablespoons margarine, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons horseradish relish, and salt/ pepper. Baked at 350 degrees F for an hour.
Perfection. They’re shown here with lamb chops, mushrooms and grilled toast. I had some potatoes but passed on the lamb😁.
I also invented a mocktail of grape juice, lemon, and ginger ale. I had some paper umbrellas from a party a decade ago, so into the drinks they went. I mean, if you have cocktail umbrellas you might as well use them.
Following the big roasted chicken dinner last week, I put the leftovers to use in several meals. This Thai style curry with coconut milk, basil, and chilies was a hit.
The end of the chicken went into a sauce and was served with spaetzel ( from a box) and a bit of sautéed red cabbage and apples. No waste, and several good meals from a single roast chicken. 

Tomorrow we are having a high heat warning with high humidity just for fun🙄. I’m planning to make some purple potato salad and serve it with  vegan bacon sandwiches because there’s no way I am using the oven with 109 degrees coming in. 

Still haven’t been able to see the comet, but maybe tonight will be lucky. 

What’s cooking in your kitchens?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Comet, It Makes You Vomit

If life ever does return to something resembling normality, it is going to take quite the effort convincing my body to keep regular sleeping and waking hours. Most nights I attempt going to sleep by 11PM, but somehow that seems to be the only time my teenager wants to have anything to do with me. He only rolls out of bed by 3 PM at the earliest, more often only in time for the evening meal. I understand. Perhaps he's found the best approach to the pandemic is sleeping through as much of it as possible. School will resume soon enough (Though we still don't know if that will be physically or virtually) and he'll adjust, but for the moment there seems only benefit from extra sleep. Most teenagers are on the deprived end of the sleep scale. 

So we'll talk, or Dan will. I don't have anything encouraging to offer, but sometimes just getting it verbalised is helpful. These generation Z kids take no prisoners though, I'll tell you that much. That's good-someone should be holding those in power to account. 

The past few days we've been getting up at 4 AM to try and catch a glimpse of the comet Neowise. Our skies in Omaha are fairly dark and we have good views, but we've been thwarted by clouds. This morning I thought we might do better driving out to the country and getting to a higher, more open space above the tree lines. It was a better view, generally but still obscured by clouds. We'll keep trying as long as it is there-we need something to do. We've had clear views of Venus, and several constellations so perhaps the clouds will shift enough on the horizon to give us a chance. 

He went straight to bed when we got home at sunrise. I made tea, and decided to just get on with the day.  Whatever optimism I might have started the day with at 4 AM was quickly diminished by a quick glance at the morning news. It feels foolish to even bother looking, but there's always a chance that a  useful cure will be found, only to have that hope dashed quickly by reports that whatever immunity is derived from antibodies lasts a far shorter time than suspected. How do you keep boosting a vaccine that only lasts but a few months? I'm an anthropologist, how the fuck should I know? I took biology at school like everyone else, but I wouldn't claim expertise. That hasn't stopped politicians and pundits with even less science background offering their thoughts on the subject as facts. It is all so terribly depressing. 

I showered and got dressed. Made the bed because for the time being it is my office as Mr. Eat The Blog is working downstairs. It is a king sized bed with plenty of room to spread out, and my night table is an antique child's desk with room for a lamp, a mug of tea, and other items. There's a north-east facing window that gets the morning sun without heating up the room too much, so that's pleasant enough. Sometimes I take outfit photos for Instagram, but with such an early start this morning I don't much feel like putting on makeup. I'll work until three or so, then start thinking about making dinner. By then, Dan will be starting to wake up, and the local Covid numbers will be getting posted by the health department for the day. They're not really going up, but they're not decreasing either. We've plateaued more or less in Omaha, but that's poor consolation to the families of those two or three people that seem to die daily. We're doing better than the rest of the country though, so it feels rude to complain. 

Tomorrow I have a visit to the dentist-it could only be delayed so long. I'm hoping that the lull we seem to be in will last long enough for me to deal with what needs attention before the next, almost certainly inevitable lockdown comes.  They're taking precautions, and I have the first appointment of the day in an office that hasn't yet been breathed on! In a strange way, I'm looking forward to it. Getting out is getting out at this point. I'll take whatever distraction I can get.

I wonder how we'll fill our time once the comet is gone? Chasing after something elusive is about all there is to sustain us, be it cures for the seemingly incurable, or snowballs of ice and ammonia, their tails reflected in the sun. 

That last paragraph is a horribly over-written attempt at being thoughtful. Maybe I should get some sleep. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

I Don’t Want to Go Out, I Want to Stay in. Get things Done.
The last of the holiday fireworks have exploded leaving the neighbourhood peaceful again in the evenings. Omaha is experiencing a record stretch of heat and humidity that’s bad enough to keep tomato plants from setting fruit. I don’t ever remember that happening. In a normal, non-pandemic summer I would feel trapped at home with the extreme weather,  but in our current reality I’d hardly noticed. Most of my walks are at dusk.
Some plants clearly like the heat. Tropical ones anyway.
Cardoon staus is excellent.
Lemon cucumbers and sweet potatoes are doing great as well. We had a bit of a Japanese beetle infestation, but I plucked them out by hand with a torch in the dark. They were small, so hopefully that was just a recent hatching,  and it is now under control. They demolish leaves, but don’t do too much damage to the plants otherwise. I suppose pestilence just goes hand in hand with plague. Perhaps the new comet being seen in the sky will turn out to bean  asteroid racing to earth. We’d probably admit we deserved it, if we were being honest.
Trips to the grocer are very much a matter of buying what’s available rather than what I’d prefer. This is celerac/ celery root/ knob celery. It wouldn’t be my first choice of root vegetables, but we were happy to have it.
I prepared it by tossing the peeled and cut root in lemon juice to keep it from browning. After 30 minutes I boiled it in salted water for another 10. Rinsed  in cold water to stop the cooking,  it then dries on a towel. I heated some olive oil in a frying pan and before frying tossed the celery root in flour. Fried a few minutes until golden and served with a tomato, caper, and olive sauce it made a
Lovely accompaniment for a fish dinner.
Smaller celery root can be shaved thinly and used in salads. Anyway, I’m not going to limit myself to whatever is on my monthly list as there’s a good chance of it being unavailable.
I’ve had no such difficulties finding chicken from a small local producer.
I don’t let my inexperience with poultry ( I’ve been vegetarian since the early 80s) stop me ftom cooking for the meat eaters in the family. My chicken recipe is this:
Let chicken warm at room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. Salt, pepper, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary if you like it. Rub the chicken with olive oil, season and then shove two cut lemons inside. This solves the need to truss and also flavours it. For a 5 lb. chicken, give it about an hour. That’s it. I don’t bother basting. This will give it crisp skin without drying it out.
I’ve also been putting the fresh basil to good use! This was a simple sauce made with fresh tomatoes and onion.
In addition to the cherry vinegar I am making, this is a jar of nasturtium vinegar. I’m rather excited for it.  Sometimes all a sautéed vegetable needs is a splash of vinegar to season it. I like this sort of thing on greens, carrots, etc.
Clothes this week have been random. I haven’t bothered planning outfits and have taken an improvisational approach. This dress almost certainly began life as a bedsheet.
I was wearing this blouse the day I found out I was pregnant. Obviously it is sentimental to me. The skirt was thrifted ages ago.
I bought this mask from SewingbySelena on etsy.  It is beautifully made.
I’m still not seeing very much mask wearing in Omaha, and am terribly disappointed. I was especially upset by the schmuck standing behind me in Walgreens screaming (unmasked) into his phone about how he doesn’t want to be “cooped up at home with a screaming baby”🙄. The cashier pointed at him and scolded, “You! Six feet!”, but he continued spewing into the phone. I reckon thst baby doesn’t want to be with him either.  People are such assholes.
This dress is so sheer it can’t be worn without a slip, but is so lightweight it still feels like wearing almost nothing. I’ve owned it close to 40 years 
and never tire of it.
And that’s about it for the moment. I continue to plod along with the novel, cook, clean, and do the shopping once every few weeks. We still haven’t heard much guidance from the schools about autumn, and will probably have to be flexible day to day. Deadly Dan the future exterminator took out a wasp nest for me, so his summer is now complete 😂. He’s careful
, I promise. 
If only he could do something about the Japanese Beetles.