Saturday, December 26, 2015

Restructuring Christmas

Until I married Wife, Christmas was a none-event for me. In my family not only was it not a part of our tradition, but my Father was against celebrations in general.

When Wife and I moved in together we had only been together for 5 months (we were married 2 months later) and she asked me what we were going to do for Christmas. I said nothing and quickly realized this was not going to be an acceptable answer. So I surprised her with a small artificial tree for our apartment and from that point Christmas was in our life.

With Kids coming very shortly thereafter, Christmas became a big deal. As the kids grew up and started to go away* and started having families of their own, it became more and more apparent that the Christmas of those years was gone.

In the highly rewritten, sanitized and revisionist history of this story, Wife and I discussed what we should do about the holiday in the calm, rational manner that we approach everything - 42 years of uninterrupted bliss and harmony can only be achieved in this way. In the end it was decided that whether children and grandchildren were here or not, having a holiday celebration was important. It might mean that not everything was done to the same extent but that it should be done. For us this meant some decorating, a tree, music, food, presents.

The music was frustrating. We bought this new Sonos system but Wife's computer from hell (another post) on which most of the music was housed refused to stay connected to it. We ended up digging out our 80's era cassette tape player. 

Presents were another issue because let's face it, we pretty much buy whatever we want whenever we want it. But we looked at the tree so naked with nothing underneath it and at the last minute, I caved and said I would buy presents for both of us...which of course got Wife guilty and she went out too! We actually ended up going to the same small store within minutes of each other. As a special bonus we opened our presents up just as we were Skyping with Daughter #3 so it was sort of like having a bit of a family Christmas.

Making pizza is our meal tradition dating back to when the kids were little and they said they didn't like the lasagna I used to make. In recent years we have gotten it to a real science. Wife is now using a dough that takes two days of slow rising. I made my sauce using tomatoes (pulp and dried) and chile from my garden. Our new oven gets up to 600 degrees so with our pizza stone and the new dough we get a great crust. We've learned to not put too much on the pizza so that it all cooks in a short amount of time. We had pepperoni, Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms, and green chile along with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. We made six pizzas with varying combinations freezing most for later and for taking to a neighbor couple who is older than we and having lots of issues.

Wife Getting Ready to Prepare the Dough

We follow the advice of our friend Gaius Derf that no pizza should be made without wine

The Wine of Choice

Our Pizza Assembly Area

One of the Final Products

The 1980's Musical Christmas

*Really away. I mean you have to wonder what trauma you inflicted on them that they have gone almost as far as possible away without going all the way around the globe and coming back!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Snow Hiking

I was planning to go hiking this morning. Yesterday was a grey and rainy day but higher up in the mountains they got some snow. This was just a minor storm. On Friday night we're supposed to get some real cold weather and more snow. This is not at all unusual for us in December.

I was hoping that the trail that has become my favorite for my 'conditioning' type hikes, would still be snow covered and not all wet and slushy. The morning was grey too. I looked at the weather report on my phone and in the newspaper (yes we still use those here on the Eldership). They called for some snow this morning but just flurries. So I figured I'd go out any way.

I try to get out early. Most people during the winter don't show up until around 10 AM. I get out by at least 8:15 AM.  Even if it warms up later, the trail is still hard and not mushy then. I wasn't 20 minutes into my hike when it started to snow. It snowed all the way through but never really hard though there were a couple of times when I thought it might be prudent to turn around. But in actuality there was little accumulation...just enough to put a soft cover over everything. It was very quiet and peaceful. Snowing seems to deaden the sound. I didn't run into a soul until I was just about all the way back.

Wife and I have been doing lots of things to get ready for our departure from this plane. Sounds morbid doesn't it? But we see and we read about all kinds of people our age who are passing. We might have another 20 years or more. But we might only have 20 days or more. I find that focusing on the end actually makes you focus exceedingly intensely on what is happening right now...this very moment. Thus a day like today when I was out and enjoying the mountain and the peace and the snow and the ability to still be able to do this!

Have a wonderful holiday today and tomorrow and focus on experiencing and enjoying each moment of it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Catching Up

For a person who posts like a maniac when I travel in circumstances where time is always compressed, I have the hardest time staying up to date on posting when I'm at home. I think about things I want to be posting and then get caught up in nothing particularly important and then the day is gone. So this is going to be a general catch up on the last few weeks.

Is Your Dishwasher Blowing Up?

Recalls of food products - happen all the time. Automobile issues - recalls all the time. Dishwashers? Not so fact don't know if I've ever heard of least until a week ago when we got a notice by snail mail telling us of this big ass problem with a power cable in our dishwasher that has the potential to blow your machine up and burn everything you ow down to the ground! Okay they didn't use exactly that language but they did use dire language and told you to stop using your machine in bold type so it obviously was important - but not important enough to communicate via something other than snail mail. We're now waiting the some two weeks before the part will get her so we can get it back. THE HORROR OF IT ALL HAVING TO WASH OUR DISHES BY HAND! Someone of Fox News should be shouting outrage over this.

Back Hiking

The recovery from the pneumonia has been a bitch with lingering symptoms. I went on line (Yes! Self-diagnosing web sites - the hypochondriacs best friend ever!) and found it is not unusual for the post illness symptoms to last for a month or more. Yet I am definitely not sick and I have up hiking again. As often happens in our neck of the desert during this time of year, we've had some snow and that means 'snow hiking' one of my favorite things to do.

Our IT Transformation

I was checking to see if I'd written anything about all our transformations in computing and media. I saw I posted only 4 times in November. That's pathetic. Any way we're doing all kinds of things to move into the 21st century. We got rid of satellite and cable TV, brought in really high speed internet, got Roku devices and over the air HD TV. We're getting a home server so we can back up all our data in one place and a VPN so we can access our files when we travel and a media PC for one of the TVs to access other content. We have a Sonos sound system now to access our music.

A lot of this is all supposed to be easy plug and play type of stuff. None of it has been. There are all kinds of issues between this device and that device and Wife's deadbeat laptop that has been doing weird stuff since the day she bought it and my MAC which seems to have issues coordinating with just about anything that isn't MAC. The server arrives today and it will replace Wife's laptop as her main computer so that will be a relief since we have been expecting it to die at any moment.

A Quiet Holiday But A Holiday

Through the intervention of a UN crack negotiating team, Wife and I have managed to come to a mutually agreeable set of terms for what the heck we are going to do during the Christmas season when the children and their families are not here. That is most of the time now with everyone all over the world. 42 years of living together is clearly not close to enough time to be work these type of things out organically. Thank goodness we were recognized as a potential world hot spot danger soon enough that the UN took us under its wing. This means we have decorated, we are meal planning, there are gifts bought and under the tree. Unfortunately the seasonal music has been thwarted as the Wife's laptop keeps dying every time she tries to connect to the Sonos and the MAC and Sonos refuse to talk to each other. Hopefully when the server is in today and we can get Wife's music over to it, we will have overcome that problem.

Good Problems From Semi-Retirement

We met with our accountant the other day and as we expected found out that we'd made much more money from my part-time working than we'd budgeted and had to pay out a bunch of taxes. This is not a bad problem.

Hopefully will be reporting on our holiday festivities next.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Party Comes Off Fine And We Did Not Blow Up The House

The party was a success. The food was well received and the guests seemed to all get along well - a good thing since none really knew each other before hand.  We had a number of cancellations the day of the party which was annoying as it led to us having quite a bit of leftover food. If all had come who had originally accepted, we would have judged our food pretty well. I took some pictures but because of it being in the evening and with the lighting of our house the way it is they really didn't turn out very well so I'm not posting them. However here is the menu.

Antipasti/Tapas/Hors d'oeuvre/Mezze

Three kinds of Spanish Chorizo
Jamon Serrano
Home made Pate de Compagne
Two kinds of home made bread
Four kinds of cheese including a crazy Spanish blue cheese that everyone scarfed up
Borani - a Turkish yogurt and roasted vegetable paste
A Turkish inspired bean paste


Austrian pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin oil
Cambodian style chicken soup with coconut milk


Austrian goulash with buttered potatoes
Bucatini with Veneto style ragout


Three (count'em) Three home made gelatos
Home made chocolate salt truffles
Peppernotten  - a Dutch specialty cookie
(hand carried by maidens across the Atlantic from Amsterdam)

We had a bit of excitement as I was trying to cook the bucatini in broth, a trick I got from an old Italian cookbook to replicate the flavor of the pasta we had in Italy. Unfortunately broth does not react the same way as water and when I put the pasta in literally half the boiling liquid boiled over the top. Fortunately my gas stove top has a deep pan and most of the liquid stayed there. But then we had the problem that I'd flooded all the burners. Guest and friend John Le Grain had had a similar problem and we were able to gradually get things dried out enough so the electric starters were no longer arcing (which was freaking everyone out) and we were able to finish the pasta.

On another note it also happened to be my birthday - the party was not a birthday party it just happened that was the best day to schedule it - and wife went online to the World of Errev store a bought me my very own Purple Wizard Official Bathrobe Complete With Evil Spell Warding Cowl And Matching Harmonic Power Back Lighting. Sweet!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

More Foodie Stuff - Gelato!

One of the hits of our Hapsburg Renaissance trip was gelato - we ate it everywhere. So when we came up with the idea of having our upcoming party focus on foods of our travels naturally Wife's thoughts went to gelato.

Many, many hours of research, many hundreds of dollars, and many agonizing if it will be shipped in time later, our genuine Italian manufactured gelato machine arrived yesterday. Wife has started the experimenting on recipes today. We are pretty much eating nothing but gelato from now until the party.


Dr. Gelatostein working her magic


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Introducing The Stuffing Burger - I Heart My Pressure Cooker - And Other Cooking Stuff


The Stuffing Burger!

The Stuffing Burger was created a couple of nights ago when looking at a rather large amount of leftover Thanksgiving stuffing and no other Thanksgiving related food I came up with the idea of using it as a binder for some kind of meat to make a patty. I had some BBQ Pork in the freezer so I used that. It came out great. I can see all kinds of opportunities - different types of stuffing/dressings as the binder with all kinds of proteins. Can you see the Cajun Crayfish version using oyster stuffing and leftover crayfish tails!  I can see chains of these across the county.

And please don't bother me with any thoughts such as people have been doing this for ages. I refuse to have my genius sullied by inconvenient truths.

In the meantime I am reminded again just how much I LOVE my pressure cooker. I used it to make my turkey stock for Thanksgiving. Just an hour of cooking and I had tons of this rich luscious stock with that I'm using for my party cooking. Just today, I was making an Austrian Goulash. Stewing/Braising meat at altitude can be a real pain because of the lower boiling point of water means you're cooking at a much lower temperature and thereby have much longer cooking times. Not with the pressure cooker. It only took an hour again in the PC to have fork tender meat and lots of rich sauce.

Wife has been baking up a storm making mini-loaves for the party.

A whole wheat bread

And a light rye bread

And while we're on the subject of baking, Wife and I are really getting the touch with making pastry dough. I do the dough assembly and she does the rolling out and assembly.

Look at those flaky layers!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Catching Up

I haven't posted in quite a while so I'm going to catch up the month in one post.

The major theme of November was illness. Right after the month began I came down with what seemed like a fairly minor viral infection over a weekend. I didn't feel too bad afterwards but I did notice issues breathing. It morphed into bronchitis. That's when I made my major error in that I should have gone to my alternative medicine folks then when that type of thing would help. But there were a number of times when it seemed like things were getting better so I held off.  Then it went down into my left lung and it was definitely NOT getting better. Just before Thanksgiving, I finally decided I needed to do something but unfortunately my doctor was out of town so we were doing consultation by phone. We tried some things but they didn't work and we made the decision I should go to Urgent Care and get a chest X-Ray. The doctor there said, "let's listen to you first because if it is obvious, there's no need to radiate you unnecessarily." This was Monday morning. He said it sounded like a classic case of pneumonia and prescribed some antibiotics that I started immediately and I can say within 48 hours I've seen a big improvement.

In spite of all this I've been doing a lot of cooking. We had a very quiet Thanksgiving with Cabinet Lady, Dr. Debbie (ret) and Dr. D's sister. The turkey I did was crazy good. I've been working on this recipe from Saveur Magazine the last 4 or 5 years that is an apple cider based brine with a very high temperature cook. Each year I seem to get it refined a bit better.  I also finally pulled the plug on the great stuffing/dressing experiment. My Mom always used Pepperidge Farms packaged stuffing in the bird and everyone loved it. I've tried so many from scratch recipes without success. So this year I just bought the package - less work, better results.

Wife and I are also putting on a party this weekend so we're doing a bunch of cooking for that. I decided a while ago that I'd had it with people coming to our place for meals and then saying something like, "Oh we should have you over but I couldn't possibly cook like you do." and then we never hear from them again. So I started this year to recruit people who could be my audience. My rules are simple:
  • I like to cook and I need people who want to eat so I can cook
  • If you come there is no obligation
  • I don't want you to bring anything and I don't expect you to invite me back
  • If you can accept those rules, you're on the list.
I had quite a few takers so we'll have a dozen folks here not counting ourselves. Our theme is FOOD FROM OUR TRAVELS. So we've been working on finding recipes for all kinds of things we've eaten and loved over the years. It is going to be a progressive buffet. I'm not sure that is a real culinary word but it should be. It means we'll have an initial amount of cold buffet and then start adding hot dishes but not take anything off of the buffet.  I will give a full report on this next week. I've already made a number of dishes and so far everything is tasting great. Hopefully I will take some pictures though I've been terrible about that lately.

We also cut the cable meaning we no longer have cable TV or satellite TV. We have a high speed internet connection, a Roku box, and an over air HDTV antenna. It really doesn't affect me as I haven't watched a lick of TV since before our last trip because I AM ADDICTED TO WRITING!

It's crazy. I've talked about it before but I would rather be writing every night than just about anything.  I finally finished Book #2, the sequel to my first book. Three people actually read the first book and the feedback was it was like drinking straight Coke syrup - too much going on, too jagged, too intense. In Book #2 the conflict between the original younger author and the current older author's voices was finally resolved. And things definitely stretched out. The subject matter of Book #2 was so much that I pushed lots of it off to yet another book. And Book #2 came in at 364 pages compared to Book #1 which was 187 pages. I should be on to Book #3 any day now. Then there is the prequel and the rewrite of Book #1.  It was funny when I was done on Monday because on the one hand I was "Yay I've finished" and on the other it was "Boo Hoo, I'm going to miss all the stuff and folks I've been living with these last 9 months".