Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/16/16: The Unsinkable Marsha, LCC Memories, Stir Fry with Noodles

1. I don't know what Marsha, our water aerobics instructor, did to rack up her shoulder. I admired her for coming to class today and directing our class from the side of the pool. Marsha volunteers her time to lead Senior Swim. Her arm was so immobilized by her injury that she brought her husband to class so he could drag the large containers of aquatic noodles out of and back to the storage area. All through class, he sat at her side and watched us flop around in the water for forty-five minutes just so he could be of help before and after class.

2.  After shopping at Costco, I zipped over to MOM's Organic Market. The woman who checked me out at the till took me back in time and space to Lane Community College.  She was young, scrawny, rough around the edges, a drawn, lined face with piercings, pink streaks in her dyed white hair, and worn down teeth. From my two dealings with her, I can tell she is smart, witty, hard-working, and earnest. I worked with several students over the years at LCC who had her look and sounded like her, who worked hard in the face of many challenges outside the classroom and who were deeply appreciative that going to LCC was possibly giving them a chance to improve the conditions of their lives. I got the same sense from this woman, that she'd found a good employer, was appreciative, and was working hard to make things work. Now that I've been away from LCC as long as I have, I can't remember these students' names, but I can see them, hear their voices, hear their laughter, remember some of their essays, and remember the deep respect I had for their intelligence and determination.

3. Tonight I got out the electric frying pan and combined some canola oil and sesame oil and stir fried onion, mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli. I boiled a batch of shrimp noodles and fried them in sesame oil when they were done. I whipped up a quick stir fry sauce, combined it all, and the Deke and I had a dinner we both enjoyed a lot -- nothing fancy, but tasty and satisfying all the same.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/15/16: Warming Up at CVS, WMATA Employee of the Day, Scotch Ale and Pizza

1. I bought Sally and Adrienne SmarTrip cards at CVS and the woman who waited on me seemed a little perturbed, but when I swiped my credit card in the payment machine and it honked because I didn't insert the card's chip into the chip slot, I smiled and said, "Shoot. I haven't been fully trained yet!", she laughed at me and the ice broke and our next few minutes of business were warm and friendly.

2. It turned out that the CVS store didn't have the machinery needed to add value to the card, so I buzzed over to the Greenbelt Metro station and went to a vending machine. Twice, machines rejected my attempts to purchase added value. I was very grateful that an employee of WMATA was posted at the vending machines. I told her I'd been rejected twice and she very kindly, without condescension, told me to try the "credit" option, that often the machines reject "debit". That worked. We shared huge smiles, I thanked her very much, she told me it was no problem, I stopped myself from hugging her, and I almost posted this most positive experience on Twitter where people in the DC Metropolitan Area post complaints all the time about WMATA employees. This employee was terrific.  (By the way, WMATA=Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority.)

3.  The Deke and I love to motor down to DC Brau on occasional Sunday afternoons for a few freshly brewed local beers. I wanted to try DC Brau's limited release Scotch Ale, Stone of Arbroath, and am I every glad I did. It's a sweet, malty beer, kind of brown sugary, a perfect winter drink and a fun way to take a break from the more bitter IPAs and pale ales. While enjoying our beers, a mobile wood fueled oven from Timber Pizza had appeared in the parking lot. While I was settling up inside, the Deke was buying a perfectly charred, Neapolitan-ish cheese pizza outside. We took it to the Sube and heartily (lustily?) devoured the small pizza before heading up to the Diazes where we paid a visit and ate some take out from Lucky Noodle. We may not need to eat for several days now.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/14/16: Good Stores, Simple Sauce, *Alex's Day Off*

1.  I can't remember why I went to MOM's Organic Market rather than the Co-op Saturday morning. I remember saying to the Deke, "Okay, then, I guess I'll go to MOM's", but I don't remember why. Oh, well. As always, I was glad I did. Yes, the milk, half and half, onions, bananas, apples, bulk basmati rice, and other items cost a little more, but that sample of some blueberry bread item at the Spring Hill Bakery counter in the back of the store melted as I ate it. Three different employees went out of their way to be kind to me with solicitous offers and warm smiles. I enjoy the Co-op, too, for different reasons, mainly having to do with how welcoming the Co-op is to older people in Greenbelt -- older than I am -- who are often slow, sometimes not feeling well, and often in need of patience and goodwill. I'm glad the Deke and I landed in Greenbelt with two such fine stores both within fifteen minutes of our apartment home.

2.  The Deke asked me to prepare pasta sauce to take to the Diazes for dinner tonight. I immediate flashed on one of my favorites: the velvety, simple, elegant sauce called Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce, here.  All it requires is combining canned tomatoes, an onion peeled and cut in half, salt, and butter in a sauce pan and simmering it for about 45 minutes. After the sauce simmers, the onion is discarded, although I know of people who keep the onion and eat it as a side.  All the adults loved the sauce spooned over penne pasta, garnished with grated fresh parmesan/romano cheese. Hiram enjoys food with heat, so he added red pepper flakes to his serving -- the sauce is so simple that it opens the way for such additions.

3. I watched a bunch of videos this evening -- Sleater-Kinney and Pearl Jam joining forces to perform "Rockin' in the Free World"; Charlie Rose interviewing Robert Altman not long after the release of The Player; a few more episodes of Chopped After Hours. I also discovered a series of videos entitled Alex's Day Off. They feature chef Alex Guarnaschetti cooking in her apartment.  Watching the episode, "Steakhouse Dinner", excited my food lust. Chef Alex not only pan fries the most delicious looking porterhouse steak I've ever seen, she also prepares stuffed mushrooms, a romaine salad with bleu cheese, and a butter for her steak. Wow! What a gorgeous meal and Chef Alex is very generous with her instruction.  I'll be watching more videos from this series.  If you are a steak lover and if you want to excite your desire for a nearly unimaginably superb, possibly decadent steak dinner, just click here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/13/16: *The Food Lab*, New Exercises, Relaxing at Old Line

1. I sat quietly for a few hours and read the early chapters of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's informal, conversational, and brilliant book on better home cooking through science, The Food Lab.  As I was reading Lopez-Alt's chapter on essential kitchen gear, I chuckled, thinking how fun it would be to buy all these different things: high power blender, food processor, eclectic knife set, tri-ply cookware, wok, and so on, but I don't really have a lot of money to spend on these things and there is no room in the tiny kitchen of our apartment home to put them. So, I'll keep learning more about cooking and do the best I can with the pots, pans, knives, cast iron skillets, crock pot, electric frying pan, and other gear I already have and try to be imaginative and make it work. I just want to get better at cooking. I have no illusions of ever knowing what it's like to be an accomplished home cook with a fully stocked and spacious kitchen. But, hey, I really enjoy reading about it.

2. I am happy to say that I went to the pool four out of five days between Monday and Friday. Thursday night, I read this article describing effective pool exercises and I tried out a couple of them today, adding to my routine.

3. It was a long slog of a week for the Deke at school. Take my word for it. We went to Old Line for a couple of beers. I very much enjoyed my pints of Bell's Roundhouse India Red Ale and my order of Old Bay seasoned chicken wings. We came home and continued our party, splitting a bottle of an old favorite of ours, Yeti Oatmeal Stout. Our party helped the Deke relax and we began to look forward to a three day weekend with no plans.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/12/16: Donelle, Burmese Noodle Bowl, *Chopped After Hours*

1. Today, for the first time in over two years, since moving into our apartment home, I ran into our across the hall neighbor, Donelle, away from the apartment complex.  I saw him outside the Co-op in the parking lot. He and his mother were just climbing out of her car as I was heading to the Sube. Donelle has been a great neighbor. He's lived in his apartment for eighteen years. But, he decided he needs a three bedroom apartment home in another building here at Lakeside North. I thanked him for being a good neighbor and especially for accepting the corgis (they can be noisy). He arched his back a bit and laughed and said, "I love your doggies" and went on to tell me how much his little dog loves to sniff the area around our door where Maggie and Charly come in and out and thought maybe his little dog had a crush on them. His mom laughed and laughed at this. So did Donelle and I before we went our separate ways.

2. Wednesday, at Hung Phat, I bought a jar of shrimp paste without having any idea how I would use it. I spent time this morning searching online for recipes calling for shrimp paste and, at www.food52.com, I found one that looked very good, Burmese Noodle Bowl, found here. It required me to get out the blender and make, and then saute, a paste of onion, garlic, ginger, and shrimp paste, to which I added tofu (instead of the chicken called for in the recipe), along with seasoning, coconut milk, and water.  I also bought shrimp noodles the other day and boiled and drained them.  The Deke and I each ladled soup in a bowl, dropped noodles on top of them, and garnished the soup with lime juice, cilantro, chopped hard-cooked egg, and fried shallots. Almost everything about making this recipe was new to me, making it fun and challenging, and both the Deke and I were very pleased with the results. I especially liked the way the chopped eggs gave the soup's broth a creamy texture. The soup was mild, to me, and I was tempted to add some hot sauce or pepper flakes, but I decided I'd enjoy its mildness and I think its layers of flavors were more available to me because I didn't make it spicier.  One day, I'll make this dish again with chicken thigh meat, but the Deke and I both agreed tonight that the tofu was just what we wanted.

3. I exercised for over an hour in the pool. I made the Burmese Noodle Bowl. I cleaned the kitchen. I ended the evening by relaxing with about four ten minute episodes of Chopped After Hours. I really enjoyed watching the chef/judges facing the challenge of baskets that had been used on past shows. I also enjoyed that the chefs were not competing -- no prize was at stake -- but were simply putting together a thirty minute entree or dessert and having a blast doing the cooking and then enjoying one another's work.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/11/16:Adrienne and Alex Return, Hung Phat Spree, Old Line to the Rescue

1. The traffic was light under a cloudless sky, making the twenty-five minute drive to the Baltimore Washington airport easy and, when I arrived, Adrienne and Alex were at the curb. We swept out of the terminal area, buzzed down to the Diazes, and I listened happily as Adrienne and Alex told me all about the fun they had on their get away to Chicago.  Alex and Adrienne reunited with Jack and soon were on the road to New York.

2. I picked up some coconut milk, coconut cream, different kinds of noodles, and other items at Hung Phat, the Asian grocery I enjoy shopping at in Wheaton. I enjoy slowly perusing the shelves at Hung Phat, marveling at all the different sauces, pastes, fish products, noodles, and other foodstuffs that I wish I had a better knowledge of and knew how to add to dishes in my kitchen.

3.  Because of another teacher's absence, the Deke had to take thirteen extra students into her classroom where there were no chairs or desks for them. She worked with thirty-nine third graders today. (If simple solutions to this problem have just sprung up in your mind, believe me, none of them were options in the school where the Deke teaches.)  It was a difficult day, but she pushed through it, with some help from the school librarian, and I knew when I picked her up after work that we'd be heading straight for Old Line where we relaxed, drank a couple of beers, and enjoyed calamari and, later, margherita flatbread. Sometimes this place, tucked into a corner of a former Circuit City building, is a life saver -- and that was the case this evening.  The Deke ended a difficult day with a great party.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/10/16: Giddy PetSmart Checker, Agility Drills in the Pool, Jack's Visit is Ending

1.  So, Maggie eats prescription dog food and to buy it at PetSmart I need a prescription form printed out and the Deke wasn't sure where the form was so I went to the vet's counter in the back of PetSmart to have a new one printed out and it was closed because the employees were having a team meeting so I thought I'd take a chance and I plucked a bag of prescription food off the shelf, but the checker kindly and apologetically told me she couldn't sell it to me without the printed prescription form and I understood and I decided to see if while I was in Idaho if maybe the printed form was still where I keep it, so I went out to the Sube and checked the glove box and there it was and I returned and the checker who had apologetically turned me down when I didn't have the printed prescription form now accepted my purchase and, when she saw that I found the printed prescription form, she was downright giddy.

2. Okay. I was having some foot problems in 2016 that have cleared up, it seems. Today, I realized that I used do freshman football (we were the Kellogg Kittens) agility drills and run in the pool. I quit because of foot discomfort. Now, that my foot feels fine, I ended nearly an hour of jogging in place, cross country skiing in place, and other exercises by returning to those other conditioning drills. It felt awesome.

3.  Tonight was Jack's last night at the Diazes before Adrienne and Alex return on Wednesday when they will head back to New York. So, the Deke and I had some dinner at Molly and Hiram's and soaked up all the excitement David, Olivia, and Jack experience with each other and watched Ana just try to figure out her place amidst all the boisterous activity.  She seemed most at ease when the Deke held her and read her books.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/09/16: Beaming at the Pool, Making New Soup Out of the Old, Pecan Pie Party

1.  After Luis came over to our apartment home and fixed our kitchen sink, I darted down to the swimming pool and beamed all through this morning's swim class because it felt so good to be flopping around with the other seniors in the pool. 

2. I asked the Deke if she'd like to have the Sweet Potato Cauliflower soup I made on Saturday for dinner and she answered with a qualified "yes". Her request? Please make the soup more peppery and the Deke told me she prefers pieces of food in soups and this soup was currently totally pureed. I smiled. I thought, no problem. I can fulfill this request. The peppery part was easy. I added red pepper flakes. Now the soup is sweet and peppery, one of my favorite combinations. Meanwhile, I roasted a chopped yam and some chopped red potato. I sprinkled the pieces lightly with cinnamon before I put them in the oven. Once roasted, I folded them into the newly peppered soup. Presto! In my mind, I wagered that I had remade the soup just the way the Deke requested and I won the bet. The Deke liked it a lot. (Note: If I'd had cauliflower on hand, I would have roasted some cinnamoned pieces and added them.)

3. After dinner, I was reading about techniques in different cookbooks I have checked out from the library and the Deke asked me if we had any brown ale. I responded that we have that bomber of Evolution's Southern Pecan Pie Imperial Brown Ale, and asked her if she'd like to try it. We split the bottle and this sweet, maple-y, brown sugary pecan pie of a beer, weighing in at 10% A.B.V., turned our evening around, lifting it out of the doldrums of a chilly January evening, and suddenly the Deke and I had a great party going, The beer warmed our bones and inspired some great conversation about our always uncertain future. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/08/16: Airport Drive, Deep Sleep, Back Home

1.  About 8 o'clock, Adrienne, Alex, and I piled into the Sube and I drove them to the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport so they could fly to Chicago. Fortunately, right around Greenbelt, we haven't been assaulted by any lasting snowstorms, let alone ice storms. The trip up and back was easy.

2. The Deke drove Jack over to the Diazes and she decided to stay over there until I drove over later in the day, so I had our apartment home to myself and I took Maggie and Charly into our bedroom, where they are quiet and love to rest with me, and I crashed into a long, deep, satisfying, log-sawing, z-catching, at once paralyzing and reviving nap. I am hard-pressed to remember a better one.  It turns out that the Deke did the same thing over at the Diazes -- a day of rest, indeed.

3. I gathered up containers of the chicken rice soup I made on Saturday and blasted over to the Diazes where cousins Jack, Olivia, and David were exhilarated to be together and were playing hard, filling the house with the laughter, screams, and occasional disagreements. Ana is still a little young to join in.  I was happy that the adults enjoyed the soup and Molly and I had fun talking about soup making and soon the Deke and I headed back to our quiet apartment home, leaving Jack to spend the night with his cousins. I relaxed with a bottle of Zeke's Pale Ale from O'Fallon's Brewery. It came in our beer club box earlier in the week and this was the only one of the four styles of beer included that I hadn't tried yet. I enjoyed this beer, meaning that I enjoyed all four styles in this month's box -- the Kolsch, the wheat beer, the brown ale, and the pale ale.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 01/07/16: Blankets and Beer and Groceries, Drinking S-L-O-W Beers, Soup Kitchen

1. To more comfortably accommodate Adrienne and Jack and Alex's overnight visit with us on Saturday night, the Deke and I decided we needed a couple new pillows and a couple of blankets for the twin beds in our guest room and so I vaulted into the Sube and whizzed through the light snow flurries up to Laurel and went to Kohl's to buy these items. Total Wine is just a short distance from Kohl's, so I dropped in and picked up a variety of beers for me and the Deke to try out before I went to Old Line's liquor store and bought another sixer of Sleigher and a couple of fun looking bombers. In the short time I was in the liquor store, the light snow flurries turned into heavy snowfall with lousy visibility, but I made to the Co-op and picked up the groceries I needed to make the two soups I wanted to have ready when Adrienne, Jack, and Alex were going to arrive around 9 o'clock.

2. I settled into a long, luxurious afternoon and early evening of slow soup making and slow beer sampling, splitting bottles of various beers with the Deke and making 12 oz. of beer last for nearly an hour. I enjoyed letting some of the beer I was drinking warm up a bit, especially the Give Me Stout or Give Me Death raspberry and blackberry infused Imperial Stout, but also the Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA. Drinking creative beers slowly helps offset their higher alcohol content and makes drinking beer something I never knew in my younger days: a leisurely pursuit of the countless different flavors available in contemporary beers.

3. Jack really likes Chicken and Rice Soup. I returned to a recipe from Food52 I enjoy, here, subbing rice for noodles. I boiled a whole chicken, knowing I would use the carcass of the chicken for the soup's broth. But, instead of pouring water over the carcass and the other broth ingredients, I poured broth I made today from a carcass I had saved in the freezer.  I wanted to see how it would affect the soup if I used broth to make another broth. I will taste the soup more closely on Sunday, but I was happy that Alex, Jack, and the Deke all enjoyed the soup.

I also made a Sweet Potato Cauliflower soup and Adrienne enjoyed it a lot. The recipe is here. I made two improvements. I added a can of coconut milk to make the soup richer. I also spiced it up with a discreet amount of nutmeg which goes well with the soup's cauliflower, sweet potato, and carrots.

If the garbage disposal hadn't quit working and the kitchen sink weren't backed up with water, it would have been a perfect afternoon and evening in the kitchen.  Ah, well. So it goes. I probably overtaxed the disposal.