Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pin Party

This last Sunday instead of our normal midday Sunday dinner, Wife and I decided to have Pin Party.

What you ask is a Pin Party?

It is an event that combines one desire to redecorate with one's love of travel.

Here is what you need:

Pizza & Wine (it is a party you know)
A framed World Map on a foam board
 You will also need:

A list of everywhere you've been (be expansive...changed planes in Taiwan? It's included)
A box of colored pins
The result:

Map in our hallway that replaces the absolutely worst family picture taken ever.
A big improvement

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Early Monsoon

It's only the last week of June and already we are in our monsoonal weather pattern. The really hot dry weather came later than usual so we only really had around 3 weeks of really hot (100 degrees + or -). With the monsoon comes lower temperatures around 10 degrees lower daily and much more moisture.

I went out to look at what the humidity was and it was registering 55%/Normal. That's crazy high! We were at a party last night that was outdoors and everyone was complaining at how humid it was. Were is our normal 10 degree/you die in 15 minutes if you don't drink humidity?

One thing that's benefiting big time from the cooler and more humid weather are my limited number of vegetables and herbs. All the herbs are doing great. The parsley that normally takes a vacation for the summer is awesome. The basil - regular and Thai - that also wait until it cools down in July/August are doing fine too.

My New Mexico Chile already have a bunch of fruit.
Last year I didn't get any until August.

And I have a whole bunch of tomatoes starting including these weird ones. Wife and Granddaughter 1.1 picked them out so I have no idea of what they are or what they will be like.

Friday, June 24, 2016

It's Not Vacation, It's Travel

I so often get questions and comments that go like this:

How can you guys take such long vacations all the time?

This is shows how locked in we are to the work-a-day mentality. Because when one is working all the time, the only time one travels (unless you travel for work and that's something else entirely) is when you are taking a vacation. By definition, one's vacation is a relatively limited amount of time when you are allowed to get away from your work realities and recharge yourself mentally and physically (assuming you're not in the new plugged in reality when even when you are away you are getting your email and texts).

But in the transitioned state where you have the opportunity to redefine all the things that you do, the term 'vacation' really doesn't even enter the vocabulary. In the fully transitioned state, you've defined all the things you want to be doing. You've determined how much time and energy you want to put into each thing. And therefore, you've reached a state of balance which fully nourishes your body and least until such time as some life crisis comes which you know will come and therefore throw yourself into your enjoyable transitioned state with as much vigor and concentration as possible.

So Wife and I do not take vacations. We travel.

Travel is an activity unto itself, just like I still do some work, and I exercise, and I meditate, and I cook. I travel

Travel is something that allows us to satisfy a wide variety of interests whether they be photography, food, history, culture, etc. It makes us use of all kinds of skills that atrophy if you are just staying home doing the same things over and over. You have to figure out where you're going to go, what you're going to do, what something says, where things are in a grocery store, how you're going to get from point A to point B. You walk all over the place because there are things to see. You have to plan. You have to react. You have to make judgments and decisions. It is the antithesis of taking a cruise. You don't want all things planned out for you.

When I get home from one of our travels, I feel my mental and physical facilities have been sharpened to a fine edge. Within months of being home and back in a routine, I find that I'm slowly becoming more rote, less engaged, lazier.

Travel is just part of who we are.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Repurposed Dinner

My friend Gaius Derf said, "Don't you mean we're eating leftovers?"

I politely (after hitting him severely with a cane several times) replied, "No. Leftovers are if you just take something out and reheat it. Re-purposing is taking advantage of things you have to create entirely new dishes. (So Take That!)

I was inspired because I had a number of things in my fridge and freezer that were quite yummy but of which I only had small amounts. Thus the need for some creative re-purposing.

I started by making a bruschetta.

I had made a pot of fava beans the week before with onions, garlic and sage and ended up with way more than we could eat. I thought these would be great as a spread.

 So for this dinner, I did just that, pureeing them with some olive oil, salt and pepper
And then I put the puree down as a base on some toasted French Bread and put a salad of sauteed shallots & garlic with fresh tomatoes, parsley, and basil from our garden. It was pretty good I must say.
Next up was a lasagna.

My making of lasagna has evolved over the years. When I was younger, it was a dish for a special day and was a humongous project with enough food for a dozen people. In recent years, I've toned things down, making smaller versions that are true to the original flavor profiles of the original but with more creativity.

I was motivated for this one by some leftover cooking gravy I had from an Austrian Goulash project last winter. I like my lasagna sauces now to have a distinct meaty component. I augmented the goulash gravy with some tomato puree from last year's crop and some dehydrated tomatoes from the same.
I had some Italian sausage and some ground pork that I used for meat balls.
I'm kind of off of ricotta cheese these days for lasagna. I think the dish ends up too heavy. Daughter #2 uses a bechamel sauce in hers. I like to add cheese to the bechamel. I used a Dubliner cheddar and some Parmigiano Reggiano for this because it was what I had.

I've started using pasta sheets that don't require boiling
If I have the time and energy, I would make my own pasta because that really gives the dish a lighter complexion but it is also a lot of work.

Here is a layer with the sauces, mozzarella cheese, and meat
And here it is ready for the oven
And a slice ready to eat
I was inspired for cocktails by Daughter #3's recent ode to the Negroni and an article I read about them shortly there after. It's a very simple mix of one third each of three ingredients.

For dessert Wife continue the quest to rid ourselves of all last year's peaches before this year's crop comes in with a totally kick butt peach gelato. Sorry no pictures of that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"No Change" - Beautiful Words

Those were the words I got this week from my eye doctor.

I have glaucoma. I was diagnosed with glaucoma when I was 56, exactly the same age that my Father was when he was diagnosed with the same. My Father lost all but a minor fraction of his vision in spite of intense care of a number of years - an event that I feel he never really recovered from.

I am fortunate however that the state of the art of medical care for the type of glaucoma I have improved drastically during the intervening years. I take a medicine in the form of eye drops every night. I am religious about this. I never miss a night. They always ask me at my eye doctor appointments if I'm taking my drops. I respond that of course I am Why wouldn't I? But they tell me that patients frequently don't take them and then find that they've lost a substantial amount more of their vision.

I go in three times a year. They always check my pressure (pressure build up in the eye is a primary cause of glaucoma). Once a year they take a picture of the retina. And once a year you do this test call a 'field of vision' exam. This is a little like playing a video game. You look into this machine and have to use your peripheral vision to see these lights flashing. It is always a bit stressful because some of the lights are very faint and there are periods where you don't see any lights so you're wondering if there has been new damage.

The doctor gets the result right away. So you're sitting with him (or her), he looks at the charts. Then come the words I'm always hoping to hear..."No Change." Sigh, keeping that demon at bay a little longer.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Balancing The Buckets

Having completed the evolution to the post-'career defines you world' - what some might call retirement but prefer the word transitioned, I can look back at the process and recognize certain realities that were hidden from view while living through the process.

I think one of the most illuminating - sort of a 'ah ha' moment - things I recognized is just how important the natural reduction in energy level as we age is in the whole process. It is well recognized that people toward the end of their careers tend to be less enthusiastic than when they began. Some of this can come from boredom - having done the same thing for such a long period of time. But I think energy loss compared to energy required is the biggie.

When we are in the full flush of our careers, we tend to work balls to the wall. This is especially true for the entrepreneur or the highly career motivated person. Our work life which dominates our persona is based on expending a lot of energy which we can do when we're say in our 40's. As we go into our mid-50's and beyond we find our natural energy levels declining. Yet our work life is designed on an energy burn rate based on our younger energy level. A person starts feeling tired and that feeling of fatigue increases. It manifests in a negative attitude toward various things especially those aspects of work that we are less than excited about.

This gap between energy needed and energy available continues to grow as we get older. Most people finally hit a wall and end up stopping what they're doing without any plan for going forward. This leads to the scenario we've all seen of some one retiring and going into a funk or worse. Now their energy level is higher than what they have available to do and they're frustrated again.

The key to resolving this is to determine what one wants to do in the post-transitioned state...easier said than done. In my case I've been lucky enough to find a number of things that I like to do each of which provides something different to me. I couldn't do all of any of these things and be happy. I need the balance of them. So I have travel which fulfills the type A part of my persona, I have my highly pared down work which provides satisfaction from using my skills, keeps me socially engaged in the world and adds to the ease of our finances, and there is what I call my 'solitude stuff', the things I do totally by myself including my hiking/exercise, meditation, writing, and cooking that fulfill my inner being and peace-of-mind.

Together these three 'buckets' as I call them give me what I need. The key is to make sure I put the right amount of energy into each. Too much into anyone and I'm out of balance and feeling stressed. Too little and I'm bored and not stimulated enough. When I have the right balance of energy (tied of course to my energy level now) going into the right buckets, I find each day to be nourishing and fulfilling...just what one wants from the transitioned state.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

More Chicken Discussion

After the last post there was a comment asking for the details - how much time in the oven, and what temperature, and the brine amounts and times?

I will give you what I'm doing but you need to understand they will most likely not work for you! Why am I saying this? Because, each cooking condition is different. You will be using a different oven. Your oven's performance is most likely very different than mine. In fact much of my work over the last two years has related to trying to figure just what would work with my oven because when I followed the original recipe I just ended up with chicken charcoal.

But for what it is worth, this is what I'm doing.

The Brine - I use 3/4 of a cup of salt and 3/4 cup of sugar to a gallon of water. The recipe calls for one cup each but that gave me a bird that was too salty/sweet. I brine a 5 pound chicken for 3 hours at room temperature. A gallon of brine is enough for two-5 pound chickens. I add flavorings to the brine as fit my whim at the moment. This last time I put in big handfuls of thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley because these are all abundant in the garden at the moment. I put in four crushed garlic gloves as well.

Oven Temperature - I'm currently using 375. The original recipe called for 450.

Cooking Time - 2.5 hours

Oven Setting - I use my bake setting to start (elements only firing on the bottom). I put it at roast (elements on top and bottom firing) for the last 30 minutes. I am going to put it on roast for the last hour next time as I thought the skin could be crisper.

Oven Rack Height - I have the rack at the lowest point of the oven.

Other Flavorings - Other than the brine, I don't season it at all or put on any fat. The brine is sufficient for the bird to be moist through even the white meat.

Resting - I let the birds rest for 30 minutes after they come out of the oven before I carve them...actually I suck at is more massacring of them :(

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Practice Makes Perfect

I happened to be on the phone with one of my multitude of fans (In the de-I universe anything number greater than 20 is a multitude!) when I was chastised unmercifully for not having posted anything to my blog IN AGES. Evidently he was going through some kind of withdrawal. I mean on the one hand, I have to say that I'm pretty damn pleased that my attempts at writing can cause at least one case of addiction. But on the other hand, it hasn't even been a week yet since the last post.

Well never let it be said that I am not sensitive to my audience. In fact I have had a couple of posts in my head but had let the work of finishing my third book get in the way. Shame on you de-I!

Let's talk about chicken...roast chicken in specific (I include roasting turkey in this same subject). Ever since we built the Crystal Palace and redid our kitchen, I have struggled to produce a reasonable roast bird. This mostly related to the proclivity of my new oven to cook hotter than my prior oven and the changing of my technique to a brining then hot oven cooking technique.

Over many repetitions I was consistently burning the top of the bird long before the bird was actually cooked. Gradually I started to make adjustments. And that the holy maker, I actually kept notes of what I was doing! So gradually, I adjusted the amounts in the brine, the time it was in the brine, the rack height in the oven, the temperature of the oven, the setting of the oven roast (both top and bottom elements on) or bake (only bottom element on) or some combination, the actual cooking time, etc.

This Sunday I am happy to say that while I did not achieve roast bird perfection, we got the best result I had in a long time.

These were mighty fine tasting birds, let me tell you. Still need a bit of tweaking between the amount of time in the bake mode versus the roast mode to get the skin to perfection.