Post #573 Ten Years On

May 28, 2018 at 2:53 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ten years ago, something kind of special happened.  Two people who’d known each other less than a year decided to make a life-long commitment to each other.  There was not legal or binding about what they did because at that time, at that place, what they were doing wasn’t legal.  And in the state they were living, it was actually illegal to be in the relationship they were in.  Doing the things they were doing could get them thrown in jail.  They decided to do it anyway.

It could have cost them a lot.  It ended up being the best thing they ever did together.

Partner/Spouse and I met through an online dating service nearly eleven years ago in Manassas, VA.  Our first date was epic in its length.  We had agreed to meet at a local National park to walk my dog.  My dog took to him immediately, running up to him as though he were a long lost friend.  We had only decided to go for a thirty minute walk starting at about 9am one Saturday morning.  The walk ended up lasting two and a half hours, then turned into lunch, and we were both reluctant to have it end.  We started dating and it quickly turned into seeing each other every day.  We were exclusive and inseparable right from the start.  By the time Memorial weekend rolled around, we both had ideas of how we wanted to celebrate it.

He booked a room for the long weekend at a gay B&B on the island.  My ex-wife/best friend agreed to babysit at my place.  We left about noon on Friday to join the traffic heading south to the beaches, but we crossed the bay bridge-tunnel and made our way up the peninsula on the other side to our turn off toward the ocean and the island we were staying at.  We got there around 4-5 in the evening and got settled and had our first dinner on the island.  I think it was pizza.

The owner of the B&B (which is no longer owned by him but is still a B&B) gave us a brief welcome tour and told us about the area, then left us to our own devices.  We had a bottle of champagne with us and a couple of other bottles of wine (and a nice store about two minutes away to get more chilled wine if we wanted it, which we did); and we had a beautiful back garden with flowering roses, and a ton of other plants to sit in.  We exchanged a few words, toasted ourselves, places rings on each others fingers, and it was done.  Very low key, very simple, but something we honored and treasured.

I immediately lost my ring which was the harbinger for the years to come.  I’m currently on my fourth ring.  We found it the next morning.

It was a B&B so obviously, we had breakfast each morning.  That first morning, we had a breakfast casserole and a baked egg dish along with something to drink and breads and pastries.  The casserole was so good, we bought the cookbook it was listed in.  That morning there was a parade for Memorial Day so we parked ourselves on the lawn in front of the hotel on the street and waited.  The parade started with little kids walking in front handing flags to everyone gathered on the street.  We spent a pleasant five minutes talking with other hotel guests and watching a fire engine trundle by, along with a boy scout troop, some little girls with batons, and a couple of other groups.  We sat talking for another ten minutes before we all realized at the same time that it was over.

We wanted to see the other island where the ponies were, so we drove, following the signs and ended up where we wanted to be.  We went to the visitors center and wandered around, and found a walking trail that had interpretive signs so we would know what the heck we were looking at.

Partner/Spouse exhibited his first superpower when he levitated for several minutes and several feet with only my shoulder for support as he avoided a small (very small) rat snake sunning on the asphalt in front of us.

Then we found a very flat beach and Partner/Spouse had his first physical experience with the Atlantic ocean.  From where we sat, we imagined the other side was Ireland, one of our favorite places.  Mostly likely it was Portugal, but what the heck.  It was romantic.

We drove back to town and drove around a little to see what was there.  We stopped at a couple of shops and bought a few things.  I bought a pair of day glo sneakers that I kept for years until they fell apart.  They were Nike, too.  We bought a few presents for his god-daughter, too.  We were getting hungry, so stopped at a local diner.

This proved to be the highlight of the trip, something we still talk about.  It was just a small hamburger/seafood place.  It was nearly empty, only two other tables being occupied.  We sat down and the waitress handed us our menus.  She asked us what we wanted to drink and said she’d be back in a minute to take our orders.  She was brusque but friendly.  While perusing the menu (very basic), I noticed her interaction with a nearby table.  They weren’t ready to order yet, so she turned on heel and walked away.  I figured, I’m gonna be ready, I don’t want to piss her off.  We both got burgers and fries.  They were good.  The people at the third table left while we were ordering and hollered goodbye to her.  The people at the second table were still waiting to order and making snide comments while we were receiving our food.  They were very rude overall, so we were silently amused at their discomfiture.  They did finally order, but started making sarcastic comments to her.  Her reply?  “Do you want to wait some more?”  She wasn’t having any of it.  We weren’t so silent with our laughs when we were outside.  We fell in love with her the minutes we stepped inside and stayed loyal to her for the last ten years.

We had booked a sunset boat ride for that day.  We were the only two on the boat besides the captain so we got a longer and much more informed tour.  We learned a lot about the horse auction that sponsored the book “Misty of Chincoteague.”  I’d read that one back in grade school and several of the sequels so it was neat to make the connection.  We got to see some of the wild ponies, too.  He’s not going to like this, but here’s the only picture of the two of us from that day:

We got back to the hotel, and took our bottles of wine along with some appetizers and sat out in the back garden.  Our friends from the morning parade joined us for the evening and we had a rollicking good time.  They were hilarious!  Her and Partner/Spouse fell in love with each other right away and were thick as thieves.

The next morning we had another breakfast inspired by the cookbook and made our way home.  We’ve had ups and downs.  We’ve stayed together.  We’ve never regretted it.

Through it all, we’ve always lived our motto:

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Post #572 The Mixer Gets a Workout

May 20, 2018 at 7:57 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #572 The Mixer Gets a Workout

Hey, remember this guy?

This is the stand mixer that we found accidentally on sale for $75 at Walmart as we were there to get some incidentals.   It was raining off and on, and Partner/Spouse was working in the morning, so it got a workout today.

I knew a couple of days ago that I was going to do some baking this weekend because I wanted to adapt my favorite bread recipe (courtesy of a friend in Food Interactive on FB whose name always escapes me when I’m writing this blog) to a diabetic friendly product.  Easy enough to do as long as you take care.

But then, I also decided to make a cake.  That got changed to chocolate chip cookies.  So now, at the end of the day, I’ve got two loaves of bread and two dozen cookies, spaghetti sauce on the stove for tomorrow, and resting for just a moment before starting pasta for the lemon pasta with steak strips that we’re having tonight.  And in the middle of all that, we managed to take an hour and a half drive and see some new neighborhoods.  We love doing that.  It was the only break in the clouds today, so we got lucky.

To adapt the bread recipe, which I’ve posted here before so I won’t post it again.  The basic recipe makes two loaves.  It starts by dissolving yeast and sugar into warm water.  But sugar is not really good for diabetics.  So I was going to go with honey, but opted for agave syrup.  It’s a little sweeter so you don’t have to use as much, but we’re only talking about a tablespoon split between two loaves so I went with the whole amount.  You wait about ten minutes for the yeast to activate then add three cups of flour, a tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of vegetable oil.  I typically split that into one tablespoon of oil and one of soft butter.  Then you mix it with the paddle attachment rather than the dough hook because it’s going to be very soupy.   You can use AP flour, but I used bread flour because of the changes I was making.  Then after the dough becomes smooth, you add another three cups of flour all at once and let the mixer incorporate it all in at low speed.  So to make the recipe more diabetic friendly, I added three cups of white whole wheat flour.  In the container, it is white.  When it’s mixed in, it turns a light brown.  So once the flour is incorporated, you turn it out on the counter and knead for ten minutes.  Or you can use the dough hook on the mixer.  I like kneading so I can judge how well the dough is doing.  It’s first prove is supposed to be 90 minutes, but I gave it a little longer due to the wheat flour.  Then you gently deflate it, divide it into two and form the loaves using the roll-up method.  Let it prove for 45-50 minutes, then bake at 375 for thirty five minutes after brushing an egg wash on top.

Haven’t tried it yet, because you have allow it to cool completely, but it looks great!

When the bread came out, I turned the oven up to 475 and did a slow low roast to slice thin for sandwiches during the upcoming week.  All you do is keep the roast in the oven at 475 for 7 minutes per pound.  Then turn the oven off and don’t open it for three hours.  That’s when we went for the drive.  At 4:30, the roast came out of the oven, the oven went on at 375, and the butter that had been sitting out went into the mixer bowl to cream.

Yup, cookie time!  Whenever I make chocolate chip cookies, I think of my nephew.  When he was little, my mom convinced him that I ate over 300 Christmas cookies that were actually in the freezer.  I’m sure he still believes that.  However, I did get to use a new toy.  A few weeks ago, we got a baking scoop!  It’s like a miniature ice cream scoop.  I miss the craggy look of my old cookies, but these look good too.

However, the scoop is a little larger than the spoon(s) I normally use so I only got two dozen instead of the normal three and half dozen I typically get.  Small price to pay.

When the last of the cookies came out, I started the spaghetti sauce for tomorrow.  Standard tomato with meat sauce.  So I don’t have to cook tomorrow after work.

So, bread, roast for sandwiches, cookies, spaghetti sauce, and then dinner tonight.  Sliced steak over lemon pasta.

Now that I think about it, maybe it wasn’t the mixer that got the workout.  It was probably the stove.  Go figure.

Post #571 It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

May 13, 2018 at 3:12 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nope, not Christmas, although that’s pretty special.  I’m talking about the time of year when fresh, farm-to-table produce starts to become available.  Usually at the start of the season you’ll see small zucchini and mounds of green beans.  Shortly after, the tomatoes start showing up, and before you know it, going to a farmer’s market is a bonanza of fresh fruits and veggies.  We just bought a dehydrator, and today we’re drying oranges to make pot pourri.  But I’m anticipating the mounds of things we’re going to dry in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, what to do with the great produce?

Well, obviously, side dishes become the stars.  Think mac and cheese with fresh veggies in it, and casseroles swimming in sauce and cut veggies.  Or my personal favorite, salad.

Remember recently I wrote that I love the simple flavors of food?  Salad is the epitome of that.  Once in a while, I get tired of salad, but not too often.  When I was growing up, salad followed the same formula:  chopped or shredded iceberg lettuce, diced or wedged tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and sliced onions or scallions.  Toss and chill, then serve in bowls with your favorite dressing.  In those days, mine was Italian or French.  I’ve evolved since then.  In both dressing preferences, and how I build a salad.

Nowadays, salad is mainly a collection of small-cut veggies tossed together.  Doesn’t matter what kind as long as they’re fresh.  Also, because of personal preference, I like cheese in my salad, and as often as not, I have some sort of protein in it too.  I’m always looking through magazines and cookbooks to catch other people’s ideas of salads.

And I found one yesterday as I was thumbing through my new copy of the Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook which includes every recipe featured on the show for the first ten years.  I’m making it today, but I’m so jazzed about it, I thought I’d share the salad now.

It’s called Chinese Chicken Salad.

  • 2 oranges
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Asian chile-garlic sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
  • 4 medium-large chicken breasts
  • 2 cups of thin sliced romaine lettuce hearts
  • 6 cups of thin sliced Napa cabbage
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup salted dry roasted nuts
  • 1-2 bunches scallion, chopped

Slice rind and pith off oranges and cut sections into small bowl.  From leftover orange membrane, squeeze 1/4 cup of juice into small bowl.  Combine orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and chile-garlic sauce in a bowl until well blended.

Put 1/2 cup of the mixture into a large skillet.  Whisk sesame oil and vegetable oil into remaining orange mixture and set aside.  Bring orange mixture in skillet to a boil over high heat and add chicken.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook or 10-15 minutes, turning once half way through.  Chicken should read 160 on a thermometer.  Move chicken to a plate and rest for 5-10 minutes.

After chicken has rested, boil pan juices until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 3-5 minutes and set aside.  Use two forks and shred chicken to bite-sized pieces.  Off heat, add chicken, any accumulated juices, and two tablespoons of marinade to skillet and toss chicken to coat then let sit for ten minutes.

While the chicken is sitting, prepare the vegetables and toss with remaining vinaigrette in a large bowl.  Transfer to a serving platter and place oranges on top.  Scatter chicken over top and serve.

Now, because I can’t leave well enough alone, let me tell you what I did with it.

I used already cooked chicken that I had on hand.  I made the vinaigrette per instructions without cooking the chicken in it.  I added fresh asparagus to the mix.  I put in more cilantro than is called for.  Then, at the end, I added the fried crispy noodles that come in a can that I sprinkled over the chicken along with a few sesame seeds.

Salads can be complicated with layers and layers of specially prepared veggies and flavorings.  Or they can be as simple as shredded lettuce.

When I was a teenager, we had a type of salad that has come back into popularity.  It’s called a Wedge salad, although back in the day it was just a salad.

Take a full head of iceberg lettuce and peel off the few outer layers so the lettuce is clean and fresh.  Cut off the stem but leave the core.  Cut the whole head into the number of wedges you need and place each wedge into a small bowl slighter larger than the wedge.  Dress the wedge with anything you like.  As a teenager, for me, it was just plain old Italian dressing.  Nowadays, it’s a whole recipe of things, starting with ranch dressing (which I loathe) and adding bacon chips, bleu cheese, etc.  You eat your way down starting with the sweet inner layers.  Good stuff.

 

Post #570 Steak Tartare Well Done

May 5, 2018 at 7:40 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #570 Steak Tartare Well Done

One evening this past week, Partner/Spouse and I were having dinner of grilled steak and salad.  It’s fast, easy, delicious, and one of our favorite go to meals when we’re running late.  I had thawed out a sirloin steak that was about a pound and a half, and about half an inch to three quarters thick.  I grilled it on a well heated cast iron stove top grill pan for four minutes on one side, then four minutes on the other.  I finished it off my grilling for an extra three minutes on the first side.  I figured this would get the steak nice and medium rare, the way we like it.

It didn’t.

When I cut the middle to see how well done it was, it was still raw and purple in the center.  A large part of it had not cooked.  So I put it back on the heat for five minutes, then pulled it off and covered it with foil for about seven minutes to rest.  At that point, it was perfectly cooked so I sliced it thin, salted it lightly, and we had salad with steak slices on top.  So yum!

But it got me to thinking about one of the funniest incidents that happened while I was traveling.  I’ve shared it in this blog before, but it bears repeating.

I was working in Paris installing computer systems and applications and training the end users on the whole process.  Since I was the database conversion specialist, I was there through the entire trip, while the application specialists came in and trained then left when their app was up and running well.  The team lead was there from start to finish where my job finished shortly after the final application data was converted and the app went live.  Because the team was fluid in members, it became the habit for anyone who was leaving to be able to choose the restaurant for the goodbye party.

One of those gatherings ended up as some restaurant that we’d all enjoyed in the past and consisted of about sever or eight of us sitting around the table.  The menu was in french, naturally, but my high school french stood the test and everyone was able to figure what they wanted.  The guy next to me asked me to order him a plate of steak tartare.

I was surprised so I asked him, “You know what that is right?  It’s raw meat.”

He looked puzzled but replied, “No, I saw a little girl eating it the other day at a restaurant.  It’s just a hamburger.”

I nodded.  “Yes, it’s a ground beef patty that hasn’t been cooked.”

“No, it’s a hamburger patty.  I saw it.”

The lady on the other side of him chimed in, “Listen to him.  He knows what he’s talking about.”

We discussed it largely for a few minutes with him insisting that he was going to order it, but get it well done.

Now, for those who don’t know, steak tartare, or any meat made in the tartare style, is simply chopped, minced, or ground with some spices added, and a raw egg cracked on top.  Sometimes a cool sauce made from the blood of the meat is added.  Other times, a cool sauce made from fresh vegetables is used.  The two most common forms of tartare are steak and tuna.  I’ve eaten it, but don’t really care too much for it.  I don’t mind my steak being rare, but I want it cooked.

So the waiter appears and we each order what we want.  I ordered potato gnocchi with “fromage quatre”, a four cheese sauce using white wine as its base.  I like gnocchi, a small potato dumpling in various sauces and it makes a filling, vegetarian style meal.  Someone ordered chicken chow mein, another asked for lasagna, someone had a burger,  some wanted an omelet, and someone else had a steak with fries.  It was a very eclectic mix until he got to the man sitting next to me.

“I’d like steak tartare, well done, please.”  He looked quite proud of himself for that order.

The waiter’s pencil stopped and he looked up.  “Well done?”

“Yes, please, steak tartare well done.”

I was biting the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling as I let the situation unfold.

The waiter, still clearly puzzled, looked at my friend and finally asked, “Do you mean no blood?”

As I explained, steak tartare sometimes comes with a cooled sauce made from the meat juices, but I didn’t explain that to my colleague.  I watched his face and could read the thoughts flitting through his brain.  Blood?  Oh, the meat juices that collect when you are eating a cooked steak.  So that would mean there would be some pink in the middle, and he wanted it well done.

“That’s right,” he said.  “No blood, not a speck of that anywhere.”

Me, being me, I turned that screw just a little tighter.  I leaned over and said, “You realize there’s a raw egg on top that, right?”

He looked up at the waiter and said, “Could you ask the chef to fry that egg for me?”

The waiter gave up all pretense of professionalism and replied, “I’ll check, sir.”

I know he was going back to laugh his ass off and share the story of the stupid Americans.  He returned fairly quickly, reporting the chef said he didn’t have the right pans to fry an egg.  I didn’t laugh, but it was close.  After all, someone at our table had ordered an omelet, after all.

So we all sat at the table talking about the work and the upcoming flights and other trips.  After several minutes, the waiter returned with our food and set the plates down.  He very purposely set the “steak tartare well done” down last.  Then he stepped back discreetly, knowing what was coming.

My friend looked at his plate holding a simple ground beef patty, uncooked, devoid of anything but some salt and pepper.

“What is this?” he asked in a flat voice.

“It’s steak tartare with no blood and no egg, ” I replied.  “Exactly what you ordered.”

“Why isn’t it cooked?”

Someone at the table replied, “Because steak tartare is raw, not cooked.  He tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen.”

“They’ll take it back if you don’t want it,” I said.

“No, no, I’m gonna try this.”

I started eating my gnocchi which was delicious while watching him toy with his food.  He finally braved the inevitable and put a small piece in his mouth.  He immediately spit it out onto his plate with a loud splat.

“It’s cold!” he exclaimed.

I nodded.  “I know.  To warm it would be to cook it and it’s served raw.  At best, it’ll be served at room temperature, but not often since that could breed bacteria.”

He turned to the waiter who was standing by at the ready.  “I’m very sorry.  I can’t eat this.  I’ll be happy to pay for it, but can you bring me some of that?”  He pointed blindly at my dish.

Very quickly, the waiter brought back another heaping serving of potato gnocchi with four cheese sauce and set it down.  My colleague took a bite and set his fork down.

“Joe, what the hell am I eating now?”

I explained what it was.  He sighed and toyed with it for the rest of the meal.  We had a pleasant evening, left the waiter a big tip, and headed out.  As we exited, I took my colleague by the arm and guide him toward the nearest metro station.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“We’re going to the nearest KFC to get you something to eat.  Come on.”

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