Saturday, December 9, 2017

Visit To A Magical Kingdom

A powerful Wizardess contemplates
A birthday
A perfect time to bring his energy to us

I will call forth my minions and we shall together bring him to us
"Come to me Oswaldo!"
 "Yes, great Wizardess"
"Come to me Minnieo"
"What is your bidding great Wizardess?"

"We shall go forth and bring this one to us"
"Delightful Great One!"
"I shall go forth in my powerful sleigh in joy of the hunt"

"Now we must call upon our army of a stroller soldiers"
"In there hundreds"

"And their thousands"

"And of course we have our secret agent"
"What would you have me do Great Wizardess?"
"Pin him down. Project him to our magical kingdom"
"It will be done"

I toss. I turn. The world is spinning around me

There is a vision
A vision of a Great Rodent Deity
Finally the world starts to stop spinning

Where am I?
In some strange land for sure
Must think of how to survive
Ah blend in
Become one of the multitude
Now observe
What a topsy turvy world this is
All seem to do their devotions by the practice of standing in line
Lines upon lines upon lines
And giving giving monetary devotion at every turn to the Great Rodent Deity

ARG Cute...too much Cute

What kind of place has a 'birthday salad'?
What kind of place offers restaurant reservations that give you the right to wait 40 minutes until there is an opening?
"If you didn't have a reservations, you wouldn't even be allowed to wait! Bwahahahahahaha!

What alternative? What alternative?
Eating in the blast cooler!
Of course!
Trying to light a candle in the gale

To the birthday devotional offering to the Rodent Deity

I am fighting too hard
Must let myself become one with the magic

Ah a Princess!
(Actual conversation that took place with some minor changes)

"Hello, you are a Princess
I am 70 today and feel being with a Princess would be just the ticket"
"Sir. I am a married woman!"
"Not a problem. I AM A MARRIED MAN"
"Well then let us go forth and give homage to the Great Rodent Deity with standing in long lines and paying through the nose for everything and anything"


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Taking Stock At The Milestone

In a couple of days I will be officially 70. I have kind of felt like I was there already because of the family surprise party we had back in August when the clan was here.

In a lot of ways 70 feels a lot better rolling off the tongue than 69. I don't know, 69 just seems like such an awkward number. It's that point where you can't possibly fake that you're in your early 60's (which is just the 50's on steroids). But 70, that's a number you can get your hands around. No one is saying '70 is the new 25' or 'Age is just a number'. Nope. 70 is...well it's 70. And that's not young by anyone's definitions with the exception of those who are 85 and older.

I am feeling pretty good about things these days and being the over thinking, over analyzing person I am I kind of did an inventory of what's going well with life and realized there isn't much that I'm unhappy with. Love our lifestyle, traveling and working at a reduced level. Happy with our finances. Feel things are under control and don't have to worry about much. Feel we have good contingency plans for the future when things start deteriorating.

Very happy with my relationships. Love spending time with Wife and helping support the things that are important to her. Cherish the wonderful friendships I have with my children and the sons-in-law. Like how things are developing with the grandchildren considering the difficulties of being so far away.

Health? Honestly, I think in a lot of ways I am in better shape than I have been in a long time. I've lots of ailments for sure (arthritis, glaucoma, asthma, hearing loss). But most of these I've had for a long time and whatever regimes I'm doing seem to have them bothering me less than they have for many, many years. Don't have any illusions that I'm really getting any better but I feel I have more leg strength and better balance than just a few years ago.

Then I did a little exercise and did a quick review of my past. I asked myself, "When was the time you felt better than you do now?" The surprising answer (at least to me) was NEVER. I can't remember any time when I felt as good as I do now. When I was really young? No way. Hated growing up, and young adulthood was miserable until I met Wife. Raising a family? Felt  totally over my head not to mention dealing with all the crap and deprogramming of stuff from my Father. Financially? Ha! We struggled and had crisis after crisis. It wasn't until our 60's that any kind of feeling of getting ahead of the curve took place. Physically and pain? Pain has been with me my whole life because I was involved with athletics and pushing my body my whole life. Couldn't sleep for decades without a lot of painkillers. Seems more under control now.

So yes, I'd have to say that there is no other time in my life that I would have any desire to go back to. Think I am going do even more of what I have been doing...being grateful for each and every moment I have now, immersing myself into what I do each and every day and enjoying the heck out of it for as long as I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Making Of An Italian Style Ragout

Greetings Food Fans!

 Today we delve into the making of a close to real Italian Ragout

I will not pretend understand the technique of making a true Italian ragout. But having eaten our share of them during our recent trip, I will tell you they all have the as a base the flavor of long simmered, slow cooked meat. Further south there may be more tomatoes in them whereas in a place like Bologna the tomato might be barely recognizable. But ragout is all about the meat and meat flavor

 Quite by accident a couple of years ago I had made a sauce trying to use up a ton of left over pieces of roasted meat and bones which I cooked with tomatoes low and slow and came up with a very tasty, meaty sauce. I hadn't replicated it since. But with the growing and smoking  done this last summer I had an idea.

All through the summer growing and smoking season I collected. I collected tomato pulp and dried tomatoes. I collected every bone and piece of skin from the pork shoulders, turkey and chicken that I smoked. And I put the all in the freezer with purpose...a single purpose in use them to make a spectacular ragout.

Behold the harvest
On your left is a sample (not complete) of all the bones and skin I had secured. On the right are bags and bags of tomato pulp. In the metal bowl is re-hydrating dried tomatoes.
Please ignore that glass of white liquid. That certainly could not be any kind of white alcohol being consumed by the chef at 10 AM.

A base of aromatics - bell pepper, celery, carrots, onion and garlic
Nothing exotic at all in the cooking department
Saute the aromatics with some dried crushed red pepper
Add the tomato products (the re-hydrated ones broken down with the immersion blender)
Bring to a simmer
Add all the freaking meat product, easily equal to the tomato product in volume and weight
Add some water as necessary so not too thick
Salt and pepper - no other herbs or spices used
Cook the entire thing for about four hours over low heat
Forget that when you cook down poultry carcasses that all the small bones fall apart leaving your ragout filled with them. AND they cannot be strained out because you will lose all your meat, tomatoes and aromatics
Wonder why you didn't put the bones and meat into some cheese cloth
Spend two hours then next day going through the entire chilled massive pot by hand to extract all the freaking small bones

Ah! But at the end you are rewarded
At the rate that Wife and I consume, this is probably two years worth of ragout!!!!

Tasting note: I made a baked pasta dish with the ragout on Tuesday
It was freaking awesome!
(He says with the modesty that de-I is known for)
I had one whole bag of nothing but fatty skin from birds and pork shoulder. I didn't want all that fat in the sauce so I cut it all into pieces and put it into a skillet
Twenty minutes later
Yummy crispy cracklings

If you happen to be stopping in Albuquerque anytime this year, let me know. For I will tell you that this ragout combined with homemade pasta sheets makes an incredible lasagna which I will gladly make for you.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Italia 2017 - The Great Post Trip Analysis

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This was our 7th long trip – trips of 6 weeks or more – since my official transition from full-time work and my discovery of a passion for travel of this nature. With each of the previous 6 trips, I felt there was a deep, important learning related to the travel process – the kind of travel we wanted to do, the experiences that really nourished our soul and those that didn’t, the realizations of the restrictions our aged bodies and minds were going to impose on us, the realistic amount of time we should be gone, how to manage our home and remaining business, how best to deal with transitioning over many time zones with the least ill effect, how to transition from our living at home state to our travel state and back, etc.
I feel this trip was much more a harvesting of that learning rather than the exposition of some deep new learning. We successfully integrated the learning from the trip last spring to Asia. Even though we were predominately in one country, we moved frequently and covered a number of different, very different regions. The addition of Albania was a welcome diversion into the vast, non-wealthy world that we get so much out of. We mixed our modes of transportation so no one got on our nerves. The length seemed just right; long enough for the real travel experience feeling but not so long that you felt you wish you were home with weeks to go. We still pushed ourselves hard but seemed to have enough restraint that it did not seem to be over the top or more than we could handle.
Yet to say that there was no learning on this trip would be totally wrong. I would say that the learning was more in the positive vein. More of “Oh yes, this is good and we should plan to do more of this.” Or “That wasn’t as great as it could be but if we changed it thus, it could really be good.”
So let’s run down some of the general impressions of the trip and then get into the overall analysis.(Impressions in no specific order of occurrence or importance)
·      We’ve traveled enough in Italy that there was little in the way of adjustment when we arrived which was actually a bit of a weird feeling.
·      Italian food is so good it is hard to get a bad meal. You almost have to work at it. I mean even when we were in Rome and were in the most touristy sections, we kept having excellent food. The first couple of weeks, I had posts focusing just on food. By the end of our time, good eating was so normal that I just fit them into the daily posts.
·      And on the subject of food in Italy, can I just say there may be nothing more sublime than the pasta there. While on the same note, with one exception, I was not that impressed with the pizza – think there is plenty of good pizza at home and that we ourselves make pretty damn good pizza.
·      Even though we’ve been to Italy, this was the first time we really focused on art and the churches. I was quite taken by just how different the churches are from styles one sees in the rest of Western Europe with their extensive internal art work, baptisteries, etc.
·      And really, do you think there is some final upper limit on the number of churches, cathedrals, basilicas, mosques, temples that Wife and I are willing to visit? All evidence points to there being none.
·      The whole ‘learning’ aspect of our travel is becoming more and more important. By that I mean all types of things we are learning. On this trip I had a major breakthrough in my appreciation of art and a similar one on the use of my camera and the photographs I was taking. Also learning all about Albania and the Salento was very expanding.
·      My breakthrough with photography has put my interests more in line with Wife’s and led to Wife and I starting to really look forward to our times when we can just wander a place looking for things photographable.
·      Can anyone tell me why so many Renaissance paintings have a woman with a single breast exposed?
·      I continue to be amazed by Wife’s ability to communicate with people of other languages even though she speaks not a word of their language. There were three occasions – buying crackers at a store, laundry detergent at another, and getting the laundromat to work – where with no inhibition whatsoever she began talking with women – she in English, they in Italian – and somehow whatever needed to be figured out was figured out. Amazing!
·      Favorites of the trip? It is so hard but I think I would say Ravenna (OMG!) Parma Duomo, Siena Duomo, and the little church in the Salento with the Byzantine paintings.
·      Finally experiences, those small moments where you meet people and have these incredible interactions. My favorites from this trip are:
o   The Japanese woman from Yokohama who wanted me to take her picture and we chatted about the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum
o   The lawyer in Bologna who got us into the yard of the famous poet
o   The bar owner in Albania with the brother in New York
o   The miracle of the local boys smiles lighting up at our guide’s home town in Albania
o   Our interaction with the good looking host at a Firenze bar who was Albanian and all excited about our trip to Albania
o   The long conversation we had with our Firenze photo workshop guide and our fellow participant who was from Canada and seeing another side to Canada
o   Meeting the three women in Burtrint who came from the Salento and were astonished that we had been there just the week before.
Sigh, so many cool little things that spice up the travel experience.
So there you have it. Less cosmic revelations, more organic growing into our command and appreciation of our travel experience.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Post Travel Depression Syndrome

As it is the day before Thanksgiving, I will start by saying that despite what I write here, I am unbelievably grateful for all that I have in life and the opportunity to do what I do. So take all below with a grain of salt...maybe a shaker of salt.

I'm sure I've written these words before, but coming home after one of trips is like you've been involved with this incredibly intense competition involving full focus and effort and then the competition is over. Our days when we travel are so full! There is no routine. Each day you are planning what you will do and how you will do it. No brain dead get in the car and drive to some appointment using the same roads you've used a thousand times before. Eating, shopping, transport all become exercises. At home they are routine. And we go out of our way to ensure we are in that state. We purposely limit how long we stay any one place because the excitement is in the discovery.

We are usually physically very tired and it doesn't end with the days activities because once we are wherever home is that night, we need to look at all our pictures and try to get a blog post up. Yes, yes, yes, we don't have to do that. But we LOVE doing it.

So each day is filled to the brim with activity.  Once home, there is nowhere near that requirement of mental focus. Wife truly loves her home routine and misses it when we travel. So she is always much happier to be home. For me it is transition that is more difficult. But the more travel we do, the easier it becomes. I think this is because I am confident that I will be off traveling again.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Italia 2017 - Homeward Bound

We're doing our now time tested method of breaking our return trip into two segments. Flew from Amsterdam to Chicago today. The flight was completely uneventful. United has made this big to do about their 'new' Polaris brand business and first class service. We didn't see any difference in the seats but I have to say the quality of the food was up substantially.

We napped on the plane ride and took a second nap in our hotel. So hopefully we will be staying up until normal go to sleep time. Then tomorrow morning we will be flying back to Albuquerque and will be back around Noon time. I will be going through my posts tonight and coming up with the post-trip retrospective and analysis.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Italia 2017 - Finale in Amsterdam

It has become somewhat of a tradition in our European trips to finish up visiting the #3 family in Amsterdam. As we got together with them in Umbria in October we had in our early planning decided to not go to Amsterdam but return directly from Rome. However, for some unknown reason, the airline I have permanent status on, United, only has seasonal flights out of Rome directly to the US hubs. That meant I was going to have to fly to another European city to get the routing home I wanted. And to do it with the timing I wanted it meant either getting up terribly early to account for the extra flight or going to the other city and staying overnight. Once I decided that getting up super early was not a good idea for us and going to another city the night before was the preferred option, going to Amsterdam where we could see family and not have to pick up another hotel was the attractive option.

If you've followed the blog for any period of time, you are more than aware that our visits to Amsterdam include a repertoire of mandatory required street food along with an equally mandatory number of grandchildren pictures. Despite cold weather, we threw ourselves into it.

We were in full grandparenting mode. You may remember from our day with 3.1 and 3.2 and the massively popular stories made surrounding the picture I took of 3.2 with an orange in her mouth, there was desire to do something similar today.

We are in Amsterdam during a short period of time when olliebollen - fried dough with powdered sugar - is available.
3.2 announces that olliebollen and some other breakfast cake will be served
The announcement is greeted enthusiastically
Coffee is brewed
However, it is important to guard one's olliebollen from the inevitable predators that will seek it out
"Grandpa, are you ready for the fun to start?"
What could be more fun than pictures of orange in the mount?

Olliebollen in the mouth of course. 
But wait there is more!

I would like to point out that certain children, son-in-law, and spouse feel that I may not be the best influence on said grandchildren. 
Meanwhile 3.1 was plotting out our strategy for further street food eatery.

You will recognize our destination from prior posts

YES, it is Frites

It is hard to get into the 'food in the mouth' when it is cold

Wife looks like she's taking a picture
She's actually covering the bare spot on her face with her camera from the wind
Displeasure was shown to certain grandparents enabling grandchildren 
They were told they could eat ater with a fork
I was able to avoid his prohibition and earn some herring
And one can't forget the best doner kebab we've had outside of Turkey (though I hear Berlin is even better)
Our time with our family is too short
We will be winging our way back to the US tomorrow
A seagull contemplates our departing Europe yet again.