14 December 2010

On turning 48

Today, I am 48 years old.


The voice rises on the first syllable and falls like an anvil on the second. Compare that to twenty-one, where the voices rises expectantly on the second. Even numbers are strong. Sturdy. Resolute. Odd numbers are lingering hopefully, always waiting for something. Even numbers are Marshall Dillon. Odd numbers are Festus. They have a hitch in their giddyup. Forty-eight. My last even year on this side of the divide. That year whose name shall not be spoken is still a long walk down the trail. Today, I am 48, and 48 is good.

I got a nice birthday treat when D-ennis let me borrow his girlfriend for a visit. We had a great evening eating, drinking, reminiscing, and baking, which just happen to be some of my favorite things. Good company makes it all the more enjoyable.

It's been a remarkable year. I saw things I could have only imagined. I traveled from south Texas, to Rhode Island, and to New Mexico. I saw the Grand Canyon. I slept in parking lots, ate out of coolers, and wore out a great pair of hiking boots. I got a new friend in Scout, and I buried my Jake. It was a time of change but a good year all in all.

I’ll admit I’m past my prime. The knees are weak. The back has seen better days. Not like Scout who merely wills Frisbees to his waiting jaws on long, effortless arcs through the air. At 48, I still get wild ideas but I need six months to prepare. I’ve marinated a bit. I’m more like artisan bread. My shining moments require forethought. Methodical kneading. Time to rise. But, when I come out of the metaphorical oven, it is a satisfying smell. It’s got substance. Oh, I can still impress myself now and again with extraordinary feats of physical prowess, but not like the old days.

I’ve survived the years of angst, the years of self-doubt, the years of anger over betrayals both real and perceived. I loved and lost. And lost and lost. And picked my ass up and tried to love again. I’ve been hard when I should have yielded. I’ve compromised when I should have held strong. I’ve ignored red flags. I’ve made spectacularly bad decisions. Some of them still make me smile. :-)

I’ve learned most of life’s lessons the hard way. I’ve learned to forgive when appropriate, forget when it’s not, and push the worst of it out of the way so at least I don’t trip on it. I’ve learned to pick my battles more carefully. I’ve learned to stay away from toxic people. I’ve learned not to give anyone power over me they haven’t earned. I’ve learned to shut up and listen. I’ve learned that life doesn’t happen to me, and that I have control over how I integrate what happens into my life. I’ve learned to accept, reluctantly at times, the hand that I’ve been dealt (because, after all, I was the dealer) and to make the best of it. I know all too well my weaknesses, my foibles, and my bad habits. I know how hard it is to overcome myself. I don’t need everyone to like me. I’ve learned when to push myself and when to throw in the towel. I’ve learned when to ask for help and how to accept it graciously. I’ve learned what and who matters, thankfully, before it was too late. I know what I am capable of, even if I don’t always know where that capacity will take me. I can trust my abilities, my judgment, and my intuition. Experience is a hard teacher, but there is a melancholy sweetness borne out of that experience. I appreciate others. I know who I am.

When I think back now on the worst times in my life, I can see that even those awful experiences contributed to the person I am today. They shaped me. And since I like who I am, scars and all, I guess I have to accept that those things were in some small way…valuable. I think this is what they mean when they say “with age comes wisdom”.

But birthday posts aren’t all about aged reflection. They are about assessing where you are now and your vision of the future. For better or worse, after 48 years, this is where I am today.

Favorite Music: I seem to switch a lot, although 70s R&B still tops the list. I love Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Manhattans, the Temptations, and the Spinners. I’m also very fond of Elvis Costello, Flogging Molly, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Over the past year, I saw Willie Nelson and John Prine in concert.

My Secret Wish: To be effortlessly thin.

Favorite Food: Peanut butter and popcorn. Although, my current favorite food is Peanut Wonder (a lower-fat peanut butter substitute). Diet’s suck.

Things I Don't Like to Do: The dishes. Humor my advisor.

Greatest Accomplishment this year: Weight loss.

Most valuable lessons learned early:

People very rarely lie to you when they look you in the eyes.

The least among you is your equal. Same goes for the greatest among you.

I can say no, stick to my guns, and people will still like me.

Most valuable lessons learned late:

At my age, people are single for a reason. If you meet someone and can’t figure out why they are single, just wait for it. It will appear and when it does, you’ll go, “Aaaah, there it is.”

I am single for a reason. I know what that reason is, but you don’t need to…unless you want to date me.

Excess weight is a tremendously effective man deterrent, which is fine, you know, if you actually want to deter a man. Otherwise, not so much.

Coping mechanisms can outlive their usefulness. Unfortunately, by then they are often habits and habits can be very hard to break.

Something I firmly believe that probably isn’t true:

That most people are doing the best they can at any given time.

Squirrely ideas I harbor:

Some things you have to earn by achieving personal goals, including North Face jackets, trips to Africa, and soft pretzels. It makes no sense, but thems the rules.

Stuff few others would know about me:

I chew almost everything on the left side of my mouth. I have no idea why.

When presented with a plate of food, I eat the thing I like least first. I do this with tasks as well. I get the worst part of the job out of the way first.

Banjos and yodeling make me happy. Violins stir my soul.

My favorite Christmas carol is We Three Kings. I love baritone voices.

I do not believe in the supernatural. That includes heaven, God, the devil, angels, ghosts, zombies, black magic, and miracles. I can live with the world just as it appears. I think a lot of the world’s strife would disappear overnight if everyone believed as I do on this one.

Stuff few others get about me:

I’m addicted to novelty.

I like speed, descent, and adrenaline.

I do not lack for ambition. It’s just that my ambition is not focused on most people’s vision of success.

Favorite restaurant food: Currently, chicken chimichanga. I think my favorite part (since I always eat it last, is the refried beans with corn chips). Pizza is a perennial favorite.

Things that make me happy:

Driving with the windows down.

Traveling with dogs.

The West.

That moment in a long trip when it actually sinks in that you are free.

Cold, crisp, clear, sunny mornings in the mountains.

That deep blue that spreads across the sky just after sunset.

Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London. I always howl.

Things I wish I could master:

Tolerance, patience, the violin, dancing, and the French language.

Things I've got in mind for the coming year:

Meet Jahi. Meet Roo. Have my picture taken next to a giant redwood. Visit at least one foreign country. Visit Scott and Sue. Whale watch. Camp a few nights in the desert. Finish the job on this weight loss.

Favorite day of the year:

The first really warm day of spring.

Things I Miss:

Double-double animal style, ice cold Coca Cola in a glass bottle, camping in the desert, Jake, Nevada, Dakota, Olivia, Melissa, Suzan, Scott, Jahi, Josh, Kristal, reading for pleasure, free time, bread soaked in olive oil and Parmesan, most cheeses, cooking, and having a man in my life.

Stuff I’ve noticed:

If people worked as hard to find me a date as they did finding me a dog after Jake’s death, I’d be in a successful relationship by now.

Dogs are wonderful companions. In many ways, they trump humans. But I still want a man.

Most of my clothes are dark blue, dark green, or maroon or red, but my favorite shirt is pink.

I spend more time agonizing over hiking shoes than I did over my wedding dress.

I must have something to look forward to. Otherwise, I’m irritable and lost.

Things I’m looking forward to: Graduation, climbing a mountain, snow skiing (snowboarding?), steady employment and a livable paycheck, with hope, meeting someone special


I have a few. Would I do it all the same again?

Hell no.

I’d do it bigger. Faster. Louder. Sooner. And I’d take more pictures.

I am Daktari. Forty-eight. On a screaming roller coaster toward 50 but not half done yet. Oh, no. Not even close.

05 December 2010

Remember me?

Maybe you remember me? I'm the one who had the bright idea that I'd be able to blog, do my work, play on Facebook, read my email, and scour the vast internets for new cooking ideas--all through my 3G mobile network.

Yeah. That worked.

So I bit the bullet, squeezed some blood out of my budget and got the slightly-less-than-speed-of-light internet package from my cable-internet company and here I am.

But even then, I've been sort of ignoring this blog. Oh, I've enjoyed your many posts. In fact, I would actually get incensed on days when NONE of you post something for my entertainment. The nerve of me! OK. Enough is enough. It's my turn. But first....let's catch up.

It's December again, and if you guys find Sherman and Mister Peabody and take the Wayback Machine to last January, you'll remember that my New Year's Resolutions (both of them) were to get in shape and stay there. So, I dutifully began a weight loss-exercise program in January and did pretty good right up until the field season began in April. Then, I basically took the summer off. I had lost about 20 lbs and put seven of it back on by August. In September, my sister (without asking ME, I might add) signed me up for Weight Watchers. WW gives you an allotment of points per day and you can use them as you see fit. On the up side, I will say it works, which is basically what I'm looking for in a diet program. And it's true that there is no food off limits. After 10 weeks on the program, they did a complete overhaul and revamped their points algorithm. No problem, I thought. I live for change.


One would think that I should be able to eat the same foods I was eating before (and losing weight) on the new program. Oh contraire. Transfer my old diet to the new program and I was over my points allotment every single day. In addition, that claim that you can eat any food you want is a bit disingenuous because it is virtually impossible to follow the program and eat any bread product without starving for the rest of the day. I kid you not. Two slices of even the lowest calorie bread on the market take up such a chunk of your daily "points" that you will go hungry. Contrast this to the program they had in place a week ago on which I had a sandwich every single day--and still lost weight! They have made some concessions. I can fit more meat and beans into my diet and they give you fruits and vegetables for free. I still suspect if I ate bananas everyday, that the diet wouldn't work, but I'm willing to give the program a chance. I will be quite upset if I plateau because of these changes. (It's all fine and well to change a program to integrate new research, but if it slows down progress for people WHO ARE PAYING FOR IT, that seems like gouging.) This feels like the South Beach Diet now. I have done the South Beach Diet and it works, too. My thing is, if I wanted the South Beach Diet, I can do that on my own.

I guess the positive thing from the entire Weight Watchers program has been my self-realization that I'm pretty good at losing weight, but I'm even better at packing it back on. I don't really need someone to hold my hand through the weight loss process (I seem to have a sufficient amount of willpower and self-motivation). My problem is that I have no idea how to go off a diet and not gain weight. What I need is help in maintaining a healthy weight and that is why I am sticking with Weight Watchers. Once you become a "lifetime member", you no longer pay as long as your weight remains within two pounds of your lifetime goal. I want to get to the free stuff.

I can't say I'm thrilled about the brand new changes they made but who is every really happy about dieting? In any event, I've been following the Weight Watchers program (old and new) and have gotten back into the gym for regular exercise. By regular, I mean shooting or 5 hours a week, and usually getting at least three to four. For my exercise, I have concentrated on elliptical machines. They are a good aerobic workout and with my still mending hairline-fractured tibia, something I can do without jolting the hell out of my leg. Plus, this girl in New Mexico convinced me that I need to learn to ski. She's always getting me into trouble. Like that time she convinced me that what we really needed to do was poke a Mojave green rattlesnake. You know. To get a good picture.

So I have been researching, teaching, exercising, dieting, and playing with Scout dog. It's been a busy fall. Thanks for not giving up on me. I promise I'll do better with the blog.

11 November 2010


That's how I've felt lately. Just....blah. It all started about 3 weeks ago when I realized that I had run out of reagents I needed to finish the work I was busting my ass to finish.

And all the air rushed out of my balloon. And then I moped around for a bit. I tried to figure out what to do. I waited for my trip to Chicago to see my brother. I moped around Chicago for a bit. I had a terribly non-productive date (can dates BE non-productive???) while there. My whole life seemed to be turning into this big...MEH.

D was in desperate need of getting her groove back.

And I only just got my mojo back this week. Tuesday, in fact. I don't know what happened, but I managed to drag myself to the gym and after that was my meeting, and suddenly, I felt like I could at least approach the horse again.

So I made a decision to spend what I had to spend, get the damn internet back so I wasn't playing Howard Hughes anymore, and get my life and career back.

And so, that is how I came to be in the lab on a Thursday evening of a holiday. It was a beautiful day today. At least I took my time getting here today.

Next Tuesday, I have so much to catch you up on.

16 October 2010

My, my, my said the spider to the fly

Cameras are interesting things. With one big lens, we get a window on a world too fine for our optic nerves on a daily basis.

If a camera can give us this, think how a fly must see the world with all those lenses.

I wonder sometimes if the detail we miss by being big is just the tip of the iceberg. What else are we missing. Is there an entire social order just outside our comprehension? For a fly, every day is likely filled with travel, interesting smells, exotic meals, and busy diners.

Do they fly the same route? Do they have homes? Is home where you find your next meal?

And then I wonder. Do flies have personalities?

They might, you know. What about this guy? He looks interesting. He looks greedy. Look how he rubs his hands together. He might be the fly banker.

And this one. He might have talent.

I'll call him the Maestro.

And what about these guys?

Hanging out at the bar after the late shift.

Flies are just about as interesting as stinkhorns. Just about, anyway.

12 October 2010

My poor neglected blog

I see that all my regular blog friends have been dutifully updating their blogs. Several times a week. I feel bad, but honestly, life got in the way.

First, teaching exploded.

Then the computer exploded.

Then, I needed some fun.

The good news is, I've lost about 10 lbs on my diet. Yay!

The bad news is, I may have to leave my classroom for the next 4 weeks. Boo!

Once we get over this hump, I promise a few posts about the weather, the dog, my food exploits, my weight loss progress, and the wonderful things I'm doing with the new baking equipment in my kitchen.

Until then, hang tight.

16 September 2010


This year, my garden was a nearly complete failure. 36 tomato plants produced a grand total of 4 tomatoes. None bigger than the size of a golf ball. But I have had a bumper crop of something else. Stinkhorns. If the name doesn't say it all, the flies will say it for you. And yeah, they do stink. But they are interesting if not ingenious and slightly, dare I say it, beautiful in their own right. So please, stroll with me down the garden path and let's appreciate one of natural selection's more interesting end products. I present: the stinkhorn.

12 September 2010

The Amazing Flying Scout

The Freezer Rules

So I was making pizza dough for Liv's visit (surprise!), and while pulling out the pizza flour, I realized I didn't have a lot of room in the freezer. How could I get my string beans from the farmer's market in if something else didn't come out?

Let's face it. Some of this food has to go.

It's hard, but these are desperate times. I have had to implement the Freezer Rules.

They're pretty simple really.

  1. If you pick it up and don't know what it is, you have to thaw it and eat it for dinner.
  2. If you pick it up and notice that its been in there over a year, you have to thaw it and eat it for dinner.
  3. If you have more than 4 pkgs of the same thing in the freezer, you have to thaw and eat one for dinner.
It's sort of like playing Russian Roulette with dinner. And while these may seem like crappy rules, they're actually bad ass on every level.
  1. I should be eating food I already have before I go out and buy more food. Obvious.
  2. I eat the food before it really does go bad. The other day, I made some bacon for a quiche and the bacon was so old, I really did have to throw it out. It tasted funny. Not as in going-to-give-me-food-poisoning, but just not good. You see, I date most things I make and put in the freezer. My brother, who always gives me tons of venison, also dates the meat. I may think the old meat is going to be awful and tasteless, but sometimes it turns out to be delicious.
  3. It's a creative challenge to figure out how to use what I've thawed. The challenge is to use it without another trip to the grocery store.
  4. I cut down on the September/October grocery bill and considering that car tags, flood insurance, house insurance, and property taxes are all due in September/October, that's not a bad thing.
  5. You never know what you are going to get. You may think it is chili, but it turns out to be spaghetti sauce, or taco meat, or beef stew. You may think it's chicken noodle soup, but it turns out to be stock for seafood gumbo.
  6. If you have to eat the food you already own, you are less likely to go out to eat.
So today, I had homemade chicken and rice soup for lunch. (Hell if I remember when I made that!) Since I've decided to clean out the fridge once a week, I'm making a carrot cake with the leftover carrots I had in the bin. I didn't have walnuts for the cake, so I'm using pecans that I did have. Sure hope it's good! I bought about 20 poblano peppers, so I'm saving some for the pizza tomorrow and the rest are going into a poblano pepper and polenta casserole. I'm making it up as a go along! I have too much flour in the freezer, so I'm making pizza dough and dog biscuits. I bought a TON of yellow squash so I'm going to make zucchini bread. OK, technically, I guess it's yellow squash bread, but if you don't tell, I won't tell. I've got so much squash that I'm sure I'm going to have extra loaves of the bread. I guess I'll have to pull something else out of the freezer.

Fish for dinner!

16 August 2010

Oklahoma is interesting

I'm assuming some sort of swallow nest and not the world's largest honey bee colony.

Probably a rare plant.

Nifty red rock canyons.

Reminiscent of Long Canyon. Ok, not really.

It was beautiful.

Bonus: snow cones!

15 August 2010

Damselfly or Dragonfly?

I think the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly is the ability to close the wings over the back when at rest. In any event, this little one from Red Rock Canyon, OK, had the ability.

14 August 2010

My Traveling Companion

Meet Ivy. Sweet girl. She's 23.

Inquisitive mind.

Hard worker.I am reminded of how green I was on the camping front on my first road trip with Liv. It was painful to watch her struggle with her tent the first time in the dark.

She's got it now.

Another one bites the dust

Like a red rubber ball

I am not a morning person. I don't get to see many of these. Let's savor this moment.

08 August 2010

This man is my hero

Granted this is an old picture. Before he became a husband. Or a papa.

But he saved my ass and kept me from looking like a complete idiot in front of important people.

And that, is what friendship is all about.

This is my friend. Always will be.

To you, J.

25 July 2010

Around the Kitchen

I'm on an organizing kick. Blame the outrageous amount of work I should be doing. Blame Liv who is moving and got me thinking about having to move myself. Blame my own foodie tendencies. But whatever it is, I'm tortured by thoughts of what I actually need in my kitchen and how to make better use of it.

I have a lot of crap in my kitchen.

A lot.

This photo belies the amount of stuff I actually have. This was shortly after I moved in. I have accumulated since then. I'm a foodie. And I'm a collector. Even though I have a big kitchen, it's getting overrun. I have one hell of a utensils drawer. And even my best efforts at organization are getting overwhelmed. It's seriously time to purge.

Anyhoo. I recently dumped recycled a lot of old cookware to Liv and other friends. And I have begun thinking about moving. I can't take all this with me. I guess I could, but I shouldn't. So, I'm trying to compile a list of things that a foodie's kitchen actually needs. Consider this a working list.

Cookware: at least one cast iron pan. Whether you get a preseasoned one from a discount store or find one in a junk shop or antique place, this is a must. Properly seasoned, cast iron skillets are virtually non-stick and are great for everything from searing meats to frying eggs. I currently have three cast iron skillets. The largest is big enough and deep enough to fry a entire chicken. Not that I fry chicken, mind you. It's much too dangerous. Someone might propose. I also have an All Clad non-stick omelet pan. I can't tell you the last time I used it. Must have been sometime before I discovered Poach Pods.

In the pots and pans department, I have found that I use three pans regularly. One is a 2 quart saucepan made of heavy aluminum. It was given to me and has no lid. Oh how I wish it did. I use a lid from another pan--which doesn't quite fit this piece--when I'm in need. Like when cooking rice. The other is a lighter 2-qt copper bottom saucepan with a glass lid. This is the lighter one. This is also usually the lid I borrow.

I think you need two medium sized sauce pans to make a standard meal. Think rice and vegetables. Yes, I do have another 2-qt. anodized aluminum pan, but I don't use it as my "second". I have no idea why. That lighter pan just fits the bill most of the time. My last pan is a cheapo non-stick 4-qt. pan that gets chosen because it has a colander built into the lid. Roughly $16 at Wally World. I gave the rest of my pans away. Oh, I think there is a stock pot in the back somewhere for when I am boiling ball jars for canning jam. It's about 25 years old. And that's it or my standard cookware.

I have several baking sheets, an embarrassing amount of cake/cupcake/bundt/angel food/coffee cake ring pans tins, brownie pans, and Pyrex casseroles, but then again, I'm a baker. I have three pie pans (two glass which are perfect for crustless spinach quiche and a ceramic one for making actual pies, assorted Corning ware that is only used for pot luck dinners, and don't even get me started on the specialty cake-deviled egg-and insulated carriers. Fancy Christmas serving ware and dishes could fill a series of posts on their own.

I really consider only a few utensils indispensable. A set of wooden spoons and spatulas. Chop sticks. A large, restaurant quality spoonula. A zester, potato peeler, a meat thermometer, a candy thermometer, and a high quality set of kitchen knives and knife sharpener. I don't own a steel, but I will one day. In my opinion, if you can't afford anything else in your kitchen, you should have the best possible knives you can lay your hands on.

Specialty stuff I couldn't live without: a dutch oven. Got this one at an antique shop.

I have two. One is a heavy aluminum and the other is an enameled cast iron. Workhorses. Go from oven to stovetop. Great for stews, breads, whole chickens, roasts, soups, and even boiling spaghetti and making stove-top popcorn. Yes, two is probably overkill, but I can't be expected to give away some of my favorite pieces. The aluminum one can double as a mixing bowl in a pinch. I like making my cookie dough in this thing because when you cycle it in and out of the fridge while a batch is baking, it keeps the dough nice and cool as you work. You wouldn't want to put a hand mixer anywhere near an enameled pan unless you had a mind to destroy it.

A George Foreman grill. Quick easy hamburgers, chicken breasts, veggie burgers, steaks, pork chops and grilled vegetables. It's a bitch to clean up and I'd probably have bought the kind with removable plates if I was buying it for myself, but it was a gift. Still, I use it. I have the $13 version. Big enough for two good sized hamburgers at a time. It's a champ. In fact, I think that's the name of this size grill. Brilliant.

A crock pot. Been around forever and still wicked popular. There's a reason. I love these things. Makes the best Italian beef ever. Chili. BBQ spare ribs. Man, the possibilities are endless. I love these things. Folks, don't get the kind that has a crockery liner you can't remove. These things are under $30 for the top of the line version. You don't want to have to work around that cord and heating element to try to clean out the crock. Crack open your wallet, because this workhorse is a savior.

Bamboo steamer. I bought mine about 25 years ago. It came in a stacking set of two. I forced myself to use just one of the two (logic was I would save the other for when #1 wears out). I'm still waiting for #1 to wear out. Who would have thought that bamboo would last so long. Only drawback? When steaming broccoli, it retains the smell. This is no way affects the taste of the food.

Put this over a boiling pot of hot dogs and you can steam your bun while your dog cooks. See? There are some perks to not using your microwave for EVERYTHING.

A high quality blender. My idea of a high quality blender is not one with a million different speeds. Mine is an Oster beehive blender with two speeds. Low and high. A high quality blender is one that can chop ice easily. Like this one.

Then there is the thing I never thought I wanted that, once I got one, I can't believe I lived without for so long.

It really is a time saver and it is a breeze to clean. If you ever have a $200 windfall, I can't recommend this highly enough.

I saved the best for last. The pizza stone.

Queue the Hallelujah chorus. The day you receive one of these, the heavens will open up and all things good will come to you.

I'm not kidding.

Seriously, I'm not.

The other things I have in my kitchen.....well, they are nice, but I don't consider them essentials. Sure, I depend on them now and again, but for the average cook, they would be superfluous. Yes, I have a Kitchenaid mixer. Do I use it a lot? Yes. Could I live without it? Probably not anymore, but I use it to knead bread. I also have a hand mixer that I should probably pass along, but it is a retro thing and I sort of like it.

So that's it in a nutshell. The backbone of my kitchen. The stuff I'd recommend. And if I had it to do all over again, I'd not buy any of the cheap crap (I'd pick it up second hand at Goodwill), and save my money for the really top quality stuff, added a bit at a time. Now I've just got to convince myself that I can live without the rest of that stuff.