Post #551 NCOD, A National Day of Courage

October 12, 2017 at 2:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day (NCOD).  I meant to write this yesterday, but events conspired against it.  So bear with me.

I knew from a very very young age that I was different.  I didn’t know the term to put to it until I was a teenager, but because of personal circumstances, I couldn’t accept it of myself.  I spent most of my life despising myself.  I was hugely unhappy, felt reviled and unloved, struggled daily with depression, and at one time came perilously close to ending my life.

My story isn’t so different from most others of my generation.  It was a different time, a different place.  But this post isn’t about my story, which I’ve shared here before.  I came out about twelve years ago, and I’ve been largely comfortable with myself ever since.  This post is about someone else.  Someone I was lucky enough to meet early in my coming out process who was considerate enough to be my friend and stay my friend.

There are a lot of unsavory people “out there” and dating is difficult at the best of times.  My job didn’t leave me with a lot of free time and I traveled a lot.  I considered very carefully and decided to create a profile on a gay dating site.  Back then, things like Facebook and MySpace were in their infancy, and Grindr didn’t even exist yet.  So the site I went to was like a personals column dedicated to gay men.  Your profiles could allow you to narrow the scope of your search, and it had email capability so no one had to have access to your personal account information.  You could even add up to five pictures!  Woo Hoo!  Chuckle if you want, but that pretty amazing then.

I emailed a few guys and started conversations, but nothing ever really clicked well.  Either I wasn’t in town often enough, or we had differing goals.  A lot of the guys were looking for one night stands while I was after the elusive LTR, whether it was friendship or something more.  Then a guy contacted me.  He seemed pretty interested in me.  He lived close by.  We liked the same kinds of things.  He didn’t seem to mind that since I was newly out I was still shaping my life.  He also didn’t mind that my travel schedule kept me out of the country so much.

Over several weeks, emailing only, we got to know each other better.  He’s a teacher (retired now), and taught 6th grade history.  So he was very focused on using current technology to enhance his syllabus.  We finally decided to meet at a local diner to talk in person.  In all the novels, that would have been that “magic moment” where everything fell into place and we walked into the sunset together for the rest of our lives.  What really happened is that I spilled ketchup on a white polo shirt, and he uttered the famous line about his standard relationships “Usually, we meet, we do it, we’re done.  We never see each other again.”

I’ve never been like that, my whole life.  Hell, Partner/Spouse and I didn’t “do it” until we were practically living together.  I can’t give up the physical side of things until I’m certain of the emotional side of things.  But he was okay with that.  He didn’t mind taking things slow.  I almost decided not to waste his time after he made his history clear, but he said he wanted to build a friendship first.

So we did the date things.  We walked our dogs in the nearby National Park which we both knew inside and out.  We went to local plays and productions.  He went shopping, hung out, watched television.  My first night back in town, we’d get together over dinner at a restaurant so I could regale him with all the stories of where I’d been.  Once, I even flew him to where I was so we could experience it together.

We were sitting at a hamburger place in our town one Saturday afternoon.  His burger had so much stuff on it, it was dripping out one end.  Mine was the same as I always order.  Once I find a combo I like, I generally stick to it.

“What’s on that?” he asked.

“It’s a double with extra cheese, mustard, and dill pickle.”

“How is it you’ve never eaten a Cuban sandwich?”  It was something we’d discussed before.  I’d never heard of it until he brought it up.  “Those are most of the ingredients for one.”

“What’s missing?” I asked.

“Pork roast, mostly.  And it needs to be grilled.”

“Hmm, I have some left over pork roast at home.  Wanna make me one?”

His eyes lit up.  “Sure!  Come over tomorrow with it, and I’ll have the rest of the stuff.”

I nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll bring a salad too.  What time?”

“Let’s do this at 3 and we can walk the dogs after.”

So the next day, I loaded up my jeep with my dog, a bowl of salad made from baby spinach, walnuts, mandarin orange slices, shaved parmesan cheese, croutons, and a light thin dressing made from plain yogurt and juice from the oranges, and the left over pork roast, and drove over to his house.

I watched as he made the sandwiches.  I’d never watched him cook before.  He had a small kitchen, smaller than a walk in closet.  He told me he had plans to renovate some day, but for the moment, he could do whatever he wanted.

Cuban sandwiches aren’t really from Cuba, and I used to know why they were called that, but I don’t remember right off just why.  Essentially, they are a grilled cheese sandwich on a sub roll stuffed with provolone, yellow mustard, thinly sliced ham, thinly sliced pork roast, and thinly sliced dill pickles.  Usually they are made in a sandwich press of some kind.

He didn’t have one, so he heated a large skillet so he could make two at a time.  Inside the skillet were two bricks wrapped in clean aluminum foil heating up too.  I watched as he sliced the buns, slathered on the mustard, layered the cheese, meats, and pickle, then put them in the pan.

“Now comes the fun part,” he said.  “You need to keep pressing on them.  Most of the time you’d use a panini press, or something like that.  Since I don’t have room for one, I make do with bricks wrapped in foil.”

“Oh, right, that makes sense.  I suppose that’s what they did before machines were invented.”

“Who?” he asked with a grin and a twinkle.

At a loss, I replied, “Whoever was making these sandwiches.  I guess it wasn’t Cubans, then?”

He laughed and finished up the sandwiches which were amazing and delicious.  Along with the salad and wine, it was great.  So he taught me not only to make the Cuban sandwich, but also how to make do when you don’t have “the right” equipment.

Later, as we were waking the dogs, I was mildly complaining about life in general.  “I never thought that at 47 years old, I’d be reinventing my entire life.  And certainly not as a single gay man.”

He said, in a quiet voice, “I admire you tremendously.  It’s not everyone who has the courage to leave everything they know and do something new.”

I was surprised.  “What are you nuts?  You’re the one with the courage!  You came out when you were 20, back when coming meant everyone would disown you.  Back when you could be killed for it and no one would care.  Back when you could lose your job, your home, everything.  You were the one who paved the way for people like me.”

We were both silent for a moment, then the dogs barked wanting to be on the move again.  We never shared those sentiments again, so if he’s reading this I hope he knows that I still admire him for that.

And for teaching me about Cuban sandwiches.

And a lot of other food things, too.


Post #550 What Another Week!

October 4, 2017 at 11:57 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So, there are some big changes coming up in my life at the end of the month, and I want to tell you about them because it’s going to impact the blog.  But first let me say that I have no plans to stop blogging, so don’t let that trouble you at all.  So, back in 2009, I stopped working the M-F 9-5 type job.  With the incredible support of my partner/spouse, I dove headlong into the world of writing as a full time career.  Only trouble was, I made no money at it.  I wrote the blog; I wrote a novel; I published a book based on the blog; I started three more novels which are in various stages of completion; I assisted my father in law in recovering from a stroke; as a couple we assisted my father through his final illness; and I ventured back into the workaday world on a semi-part-time basis.  I found that I missed the daily grind and since we’ve moved to the New England area, I’ve been actively searching for a full time job that paid well enough to consider it.  I finally managed to find one, and boy, did I have to jump through a few hoops to get it.


It start out innocuously enough.  Driving by the building in which they’re housed, we saw the Help Wanted sign.  I looked them up online and created a profile and searched the job board.  I applied for two or three positions that I thought would be interesting.  One by one, I heard back negatively.  Either I wasn’t qualified or they’d filled the position.  I had joined a job search board online and saw a position with the company and applied almost out of habit.

Two weeks later, I got an email for a phone interview.  We set it up and it went well.  The recruiter and I hit it off as though we’d known each other our whole lives and by the end of the conversation we had each other laughing like old drinking buddies.  Two days later, I heard from the next level up.  She asked more pointed questions but overall liked my responses so we set up an in person interview for two days later.  It happened that partner/spouse already had that day off, so we canceled whatever plans we had for that day, and waited around for my interview.

Which went incredibly well.  As they were escorting me out of the building, I asked when they were planning to make a decision about the opening.  The one lady looked surprised, as though it wasn’t completely obvious that she’d made up her mind, but they both quickly regrouped and said I’d hear within two business days.  Since it was already Friday afternoon, that meant I would hear by Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, I’d already convinced myself that the job had gone to someone else.  In this economy, and given my age, nothing new there.  It was a higher level position I was applying for, and although I have an impressive resume and skill set, it’s been 8 years since I’ve actually worked in a professional office environment.  And it didn’t help when the online job service sent me an email with the exact job I’d applied for again!

Except Tuesday afternoon, I got the email to call the recruiter to discuss the steps going forward.  As Homer Simpson always says, “Woo Hoo!”

So I made chocolate chip cookies to celebrate.  I must not have been paying close attention because they came out oddly.  They were still soft and doughy the way we like them, but instead of having nooks and crannies with chips sticking out all over the place, they were smoothly domed and the chips sank to the bottom.  I have no clue what happened.  But we ate them all.

The steps I’d taken up to that point were standard, and the steps going forward were standard.  Background check paperwork, check.  All filled out within minutes of receiving, despite the panicked texts to partner/spouse about old addresses, etc.  They only wanted info back seven years but in my head I did the math wrong and filled out the info for only five years.  Don’t ask me how I subtracted 7 from 17 and got 12.

Once that was submitted, they must have liked what they saw because about an hour later I got the email outlining the procedure for the drug test.  Again, standard stuff, and I had 72 hours to get it done.  Just to figure out where it was, I looked online and the place was open until 8:30pm.  I texted partner/spouse and we decided to go that night as soon as he got home from work.  That way, I wouldn’t have to get up way early to get the car.  He gets home between 5:30 and 6.  It was only going to take about an hour to do the drug screening and get back home.  What to make for dinner that late that would be easily digested?

We had breakfast for dinner!  I made fresh biscuits during the afternoon and wrapped them in aluminum foil then set them in the microwave to stay warm.  When we got back, he started frying bacon while I took the dogs out.  Then, I took over, warmed the biscuits in the oven (still wrapped) and made sunnyside up eggs.  I meant to do fried potatoes, but forgot.  So within a few minutes of arriving home, we were chowing down on good stuff.

The next day, I received several emails detailing the next steps, web sites to go to take care of paperwork, forms to print out and fill out.  But it was the weekend again, and the major think, the fingerprinting, I couldn’t take care of for a couple of days.  I was very methodical, and as I read through the emails, I made a list of everything that needed to be done, and checked them all off as I did them.  By Sunday, all of them were checked but the fingerprints, and I had 30 days from my start date to get them done.  But I didn’t want to wait.

So I made a cake that afternoon to celebrate a new bundt cake pan we’d just got.  Again, I probably wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have, and it came out weird.  It was a cake, but it wobbled like a jello mold.  Even after it cooled, it was strange.  It was a chocolate cake, and I made an orange glaze with powdered sugar, orange extract, and orange zest.  I made way too much, of course, but that just meant there were puddles to lick up.  Despite it’s wonderful flavor, we each only had one piece then tossed the rest.  Couldn’t get past the wobble.

But while I was making the cake, I checked out the fingerprinting place to see when I could set up an appointment.  Yeah, it was very easy.  I got one for Monday, two days ago.  So, up early, take partner/spouse to work, come home, wait for the place to open, go get my fingerprints taken electronically by the friendliest and chattiest woman I’ve met since we’ve been here, then home.  I wanted to make some sandwich rolls.

We don’t have a bread machine anymore, but I figured I could get these made by hand.  I followed the same process I would if I was using a bread machine, but the dough seemed sticky.  I added flour until it seemed normal, and followed the standard process.  It didn’t really rise the way it was supposed to, but I used the dough anyway.  When I was shaping the rolls, I noticed some brown crunchy bits but couldn’t figure out what they were.  It looked like bran, but I didn’t put any in the mix.  Just as I was putting them in the oven to bake, I figured it out.  It was bits of raw yeast that hadn’t dissolved for some reason.   And there were lots of them.  The rolls didn’t turn out exactly as they were supposed to.  After they cooled, I ate one with some cheese, but it didn’t taste very good.  A few hours later, as I was driving to pick up partner/spouse, my stomach felt like something dead was in it.  He told me the yeast bits were dying in my stomach and expelling gas.  Once home, a bit of baking soda and some time, all would be well.  I’ll never sneer at Paul Hollywood for not eating raw bread dough ever again.

So yesterday, I get up and I’m feeling a little doughy.  I still want some sandwich rolls, and I know I can do this.  So this time, instead of putting the ingredients together as I would for the bread machine, I dissolved the yeast in the water and sugar mixed together.  I let it work for ten minutes, then added the rest of the ingredients, putting the salt in last on top of the flour.  Salt kills yeast and I wanted a fairly good rise so I wanted it to mix at the very last.

Then got an email that one of the background check entities didn’t have a record of the ssn # I provided and could I scan my card and send it back?  Yes, I could, thankfully.  And did so within minutes, also offering to scan my driver’s license and passport if needed for verification.

The result was wonderful sandwich rolls just like I used to make.  We’ve both eaten a couple and no distended abdomens from the yeast.

Then, after dinner (which was leftover chili made into chili mac) just to prove I could do it, I made another cake with wonderful chocolate frosting.  Oh, and I made chocolate chip cookies over the weekend, too, that turned out great.  So whatever happened to my baking skills while I was concentrating on the new job did not repeat themselves.

And the upshot?  Got the email this morning that all hoops thoroughly jumped and everything cleared.  I’m an official employee now with an Oct 23rd start date.

So what the heck was this post all about?

When I start working again, there’s a three month training period, then I’ll be assigned a shift.  It’s M-F 8:30 – 5 during the training period, then M-F 8am-7pm in 8 hour shifts.  Initially, I’ll be taking partner/spouse to work at 5am, then picking him up when I get off.  As soon as I can, I’m getting my own vehicle, but I’m not certain when that will be.  I’m also working on my newest novel, and working at the general household stuff.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t working.  I had large blocks of time during the day to write and research, even to cook as I chose.  That’s going to change.  And the blog will change with it.  The first change is I will be posting only on the weekends now.  I will post at least once a weekend, but possibly twice.  I will also start focusing on the logistical challenges facing my family, and how we overcome them.  I don’t want to spend hours on the weekend making meals to freeze, although I’m probably going to end doing that.  But there are other ways to face these challenges and still eat fresh and healthy.

So there she is, folks!  A fun and exciting new era for me, my family, and my blog and friends.  Wish me luck!

And, as always,

Post #549 Lettuce Play

September 25, 2017 at 12:05 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guess what this post is about?

I saw this cartoon on FB a few days ago and it got me to thinking about lettuce.  You know, there’s a ton of different kinds of lettuce, but I’m not going to go into them in this post because as I thought about lettuce, the first thing I thought about was salad.  Once I started thinking about salad, I started remembering some humorous things about it.

My first ever memory of lettuce as lettuce, per se, was on burgers.  Mom always made our hamburgers the same way when we were little.  Two slices of Wonder Bread, a smear of mustard, a slice of cheese, three pickles chips, the burger, a slice of tomato, and some lettuce.  I loved the flavor combination of mustard, pickle, lettuce, and tomato so much that for years afterward, I would eat that on toast, sometimes with a slice of cheese.  Even as not-so-long-ago when I was in working in Sri Lanka, I’d ask the cook in the cafeteria to make a lettuce-tomato-and-cheese-on-toast sandwich for lunch about three times a week.

I don’t recall eating salads when we were very young, but I have a vivid memory of a neighborhood friend in South Carolina who had taken a cucumber from his fridge and shared it with me.  We must have had salads often enough for me to recognize what the heck a cucumber was when I was four.  We left the skin of and he’d take a bite, then I’d take a bite.

But the meal where lettuce figured in heavily and remains a lifetime favorite started as a very young kid.  Tacos!  Love the heck out of tacos.  We’ve been eating tacos for decades and a bunch of different forms, but my favorite will always be the one from my youth.  A soft-fried corn tortilla with plain salted browned and drained hamburger topped with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, ripe juicy tomatoes and shredded lettuce.  My mouth is watering now.  My father, mother, and sister would put tabasco sauce on theirs, but that hurt my mouth so I seldom did that.  My younger brother did the same.

One time when I was a teenager, we had tacos again.  It was inevitable parts of the filling fell onto the plate.  I’d always just scoop ’em up and put them into my next taco.  One time though, with overfilled tortillas and feeling lazy, I left all the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and hamburger that fell out on the plate.  Looking at it, I realized it was all the fixings for a salad.  So I tossed some extra fillings onto my plate with a little salsa fresca and ate a salad.  About five years later, taco salads became a popular thing and I figured I’d lost a chance to become a bazillionaire.

When I was a teenager, we barbecued every weekend.  It was a big production and lots of dad’s marine friends would end up out at the house turning the whole thing into a pot luck.  Steak, chicken, beef roast, sometimes fish, the protein changed each week, but the sides were nearly always the same.  We’d have a big bowl of potato salad (which I sneered at), a tossed green salad, grilled corn on the cob, and sometimes fire roasted potatoes.  I usually was in the kitchen putting all the stuff together.  One day, the girlfriend of one of the marines volunteered to make the salad.  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what she was doing.  Salad was salad – lettuce, cucumber, celery, onion, tomatoes.  In our house, it didn’t change much.  Her salad was amazing!  I asked her later what she did to it and her secret?  Salt and pepper.  Just salt and pepper sprinkled onto the veggies.

One of my best friends ever in my whole life invited me to a new restaurant in our home town.  Keep in mind, this town was small and isolated by the Arizona desert.  So the new restaurant that was making waves at the time was Wendy’s.  I know, but it was a small town, just one McDonalds at the time.  So my friend invited me to go to Wendy’s to have a salad.  At the time, Wendy’s had an open salad bar with minimal choices.  But they did have two kinds of lettuce!  Standard iceberg which was grown in the area and everyone ate, and Romaine which stayed fresh and crispy for so long.  I built a towering salad that from that moment on I named my BLT salad.  It had a base of lettuce, a ton of tomatoes, some sunflower seeds, a generous handful of cheese, croutons, and vinaigrette.  We sat and ate our salads, and for dessert, she had a chocolate frosty, and I had another bowl of salad.

When I first moved to the DC area, I was sharing an apartment with two other guys who happened to be in the Navy.  We portioned out our household tasks and I was nominated “cook”.  Which wasn’t a problem for me.  I asked them what they liked to eat, and planned meals accordingly.  They had said they like salad, so I made a big bowl of what I called “garbage salad.”  Everything that didn’t go into the garbage went into the salad.  It had every fresh vegetable I could find plus seeds, hard boiled eggs, cheeses, croutons, herbs.  It was a masterpiece.  It was one I learned to make while living with my sister when I was in college.  So along with the baked chicken, fresh biscuits, and steamed potatoes, this huge bowl of salad sat on the table like an ornament.  I started with a bowl of salad.  Once that was done, I ate a single piece of chicken and a biscuit, then had a little more salad.  The other two plowed their way through the rest of the chicken, most of the biscuits, and the potatoes.  The salad stayed untouched by them.  I didn’t think anything of it.  They were probably full, or not in the mood for a salad.  The next night, I made dinner and put the salad back on the table.  I again helped myself, but noted they didn’t eat any of it.  So the next night, I freshened the salad with more lettuce and a few more veggies, but it was getting a little weathered.  Again, they ate plenty of everything else, but no salad.  I shrugged, tossed the rest of the salad, and stopped making them unless I wanted some.  And even then, I only made enough for me.  So we go along a few months, and they come to me one weekend afternoon to discuss food and meal planning.  Mostly, they were wondering why I never made salad anymore.  I was gobsmacked!

“You guys don’t eat salad.” I said.

“We love salad.” they replied.

“So why was that when I put it on the table neither of you touched it?”

“You put things in there that we don’t like.”

“Like what?”  I listened and checked my mental list.  “So basically, you want a bowl of lettuce?”

“That’ll work.”

I started putting a bowl of lettuce on the table and they started eating it.  A lot.  I eventually expanded a little to Cesar Salad, Wedge Salad, and Chef Salad and those were acceptable, too.

I’m going to close with a story from a comedienne from back in the 90s.  She was cleaning out her fridge and found a lime.  She stared at thinking, “Hmm, I don’t buy limes.”  Then realized it used to be a head of lettuce!  I’ve had heads of iceberg lettuce shrivel and dry up on me, too.  So Fun!

Post #548 What a Week!

September 11, 2017 at 1:11 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Today is the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on NYC and the Pentagon on Sept 11, 2001.  It feels like the culmination of a lot of bad events.  Hurricanes Harvey and Irma slamming Texas and Florida.  Hundreds of thousands of people without power, shelter, or food.  Animals wild and domestic left to fend for themselves.  Earthquakes and wildfires, floods, it seems like everything that can go bad has and all within the last week or so.  It’s overwhelming.

We want to help.  We’re human beings and we want to help others.  But it seems like too much is going on.  How do you prioritize?  Given limited resources, and feeling the pull from a dozen different disasters, how do you choose?  If you put your dollars or time in one area, then another more needy area comes up, how do you handle it?

First, you handle it by reminding yourself that no one can do it alone.  You help when and where you can, then you trust others to help.  You don’t beat yourself up.  How you make your help available is entirely up to you and no one else.  Well, maybe your significant other and family, but that’s all.

Second, you do what you can when you can, and find ways to extend that help.  Buy products to put in donation bins.  Buy products whose manufacturers or sponsors are donating proceeds to help the tragedies.

Third, remember that whatever else is going on, life goes on.  Your life goes on.  Your responsibilities don’t change.  You have to pay bills, go to work, play with the kids, walk the dogs, and make dinner.  And sleep.  And enjoy yourself.

Here’s an allegory.  Last Thursday, I made dinner for Partner/Spouse and I.  I’ve been a big protein/starch/veggie man since about the first grade when we learned in the early sixties that your plate had to have all three to be healthy.  So, since I was also working on a story (which I started writing on this weekend), I was making one of my favorite easy dinners.  It really is amazingly easy.  All you do take two cups of stuffing (mix or not) and put it in a glass baking dish.  I use whatever dish will hold the protein well.  I was making chicken, leg and thigh quarters.  I used an 8×8 dish and sprayed it with cooking spray so nothing would stick.  I added a cup of chicken stock and stirred it around.  I oiled the outside of the chicken so it would brown well, and ground some sea salt/jalapeno pepper mix we have over the top.  I wanted the chicken to taste zesty, but the stuffing to stand on its own.  I covered it with aluminum foil and put it in a 375 oven for 90 minutes.  The last 30 minutes will be uncovered so the chicken will brown nicely.

I’ve made this dish probably 50 times before.  It’s one of my quick go-to meals.  The stuffing will turn in a bread pudding due to the chicken juices so no gravy is necessary.  The chicken will be crispy and well seasoned and taste delicious.  Throw in a salad or some other veggies and it’s done.  So this night, I decided to roast some Brussels sprouts for me, and fry some okra for him.  The chicken and stuffing stayed in the oven until minutes before hitting the table.  I’d looked at it a couple of times, and the stuffing looked odd, but I wasn’t too troubled by it.

I set the table and got everything ready.  The okra was bubbling and crispy.  The Brussels sprouts were steaming and toasty.  The chicken and stuffing smelled incredible.  I deftly moved one quarter to my plate without burning my fingers, then looked at the stuffing.  And stopped.  The only cooked portion of the stuffing was what was directly under the chicken.  The rest was brown as leather and turning to dust.  I’m not kidding, when you touched it with a spoon, it went to powder.

So I warned him to eat only the part under the chicken which had absorbed the chicken juices and was “normal”.  More than a bit tough, tho.  I cut into my chicken and raw juices flowed over my plate!

“Stop!”  Luckily, he hadn’t started cutting into his chicken yet.

So, we both ate a ton of veggies, a little bit of stuffing, and this!

We don’t do desserts in our house very much.  But I had all the ingredients for cocoa fudge brownies, and nearly a full jar of raspberry preserves (not jelly or jam) and on a whim, I made raspberry swirl brownies.  It was easy, and as it turned out, necessary.  I won’t reiterate the recipe for the brownies since I’ve blogged about them several times.  So with that recipe in the pan, I dotted the batter with several teaspoons of the preserves and used a spoon to swirl them into the batter.  Then I added an extra five minutes to the cooking time to account for the extra moisture from the raspberries.  So by the time dinner was done, we were full.  We only had a couple of brownies each.

So how is this an allegory for disaster assistance?

My goal was to feed my family.  Admittedly, a small family, but keep it in scale.  Dinner was destroyed.  I still don’t know what exactly happened.  I’ve tested the oven and the temps are correct.  You’d think that 90 minutes at 375 would cook a whole chicken much less two legs and two thighs.  It apparently overcooked the stuffing.  The chicken was completely thawed out.  It’s a puzzle.  But rather than make us wait another 45 minutes for the chicken to cook and to make up a pot of rice only to let the okra go soggy and slimy and the sprouts to go mushy, we did what we could.  We ate most of the stuffing.  He ate all of his okra while I ate nearly all of my sprouts.  And we had a couple of slices of bread and butter.  Then the brownies.  And it was all good.

When faced with the overwhelming, just do what you can with what you got.  I’m not making light of everything that’s been happening, but I’m also not kicking myself for not doing more.  No one else should either.  You do what you can.

Post #547 Travel Tales – Bujumbura

September 4, 2017 at 1:06 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It’s been a long time since I wrote about my travels and the foods I enjoyed, and for whatever reason, I got to thinking about one of the African cities I spent a few weeks in during the early part of the 2000s.  My two teammates and I had a short trip to Bujumbura in the Republic of Burundi at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika.  I’m not going to say much about the details of the trip, partly because time has clouded some of those details, but also because I’m not certain what details I can share without getting in trouble.

During the time we were there, the civil unrest that typified the country and was centered around the capital city was in full swing.  As Americans with quasi-diplomatic status, we were under a strict curfew.  Wherever we were at sundown, that’s where we were staying until sun up.  So it was best to be back at the hotel by sundown.  Additionally, we weren’t allowed to use any vehicles except embassy vehicles, so if we wanted to go anywhere outside of work, we had to either walk, or schedule a driver.  Apart from that, it was pretty easy work.  We were there to replace the computers and train the staff.  There were four computers, one and a half staff, one part-time officer,  and the place closed at noon.  We were on our own during the afternoons.  There were three of us.  I could have done the job by myself.

The hotel were at was very nice.  It had its own restaurant, a wonderful garden and walking trail, a large pool, and wildlife walking the grounds unconcerned.  We saw mostly birds, but once in a while there was a mammal of some kind causing a stir.  We were there during the Spring, so the temps weren’t outrageous.  We were treated well.  Since we were in the center of the city, there were several places to go eat and have a drink if you knew where to go.  Sundown was fairly late, so the curfew was seldom an issue.  The city’s power grid went down around 11pm, but the hotel had its own generator.

Breakfast was easy at the hotel.  You just had to make sure you gave yourself enough time in the morning.  It was mostly bread and fruit, right up my alley.  Lunch could be problematic.  There were no restaurants nearby, and the closest store of any kind had only raw ingredients.  One time, I bought a small bag of pistachio nuts and spread them over a desk while I worked and munched.  I ate probably five before I saw a small green worm inching out of the bag.  I’m not afraid of eating bugs (as many long time readers of this blog will know) and The Rule (see post #3) makes certain I don’t turn up my nose at anything.  However, I will say that I prefer my bugs to be cooked.  So I swept the nuts into the trash along with the worm, and went hungry for the afternoon.

There was a restaurant directly across the road that billed itself as a Chinese restaurant.  I was a frequent visitor, although the whole team went often.  It was standard fare, but cooked in a manner that was familiar yet unique.  I’m sure it had to do with the type of fresh ingredients that were available.  They had one dish that once I tried it, I was sold on it, and it was the only thing I ordered from there after that.  It was called Beef with Three Onion and it was served with rice.  But it was so much more than that.  In its basic form, it really was thin slices of beef and three different kinds of onions, but its flavors went so far beyond that.  The sauce was thick and deep and rich.  The beef was aged perfectly and cooked to just the right point.  Even the rice was cooked to a point where every single grain stood on its own.  Everything together was sublime.  It started with caramelized onion slices, then the beef is cooked in them.  Just before serving, whole scallions are stirred into the pan so they just wilt then the whole thing is placed over rice and topped with french fried onions.  If you’re wondering how I know this, it’s because since then I’ve played and tested and recreated this dish on my own so that it tastes and looks like what I remember.  Everyone I’ve served it to has liked it, too.

There were places outside of our area to go to and the officer we worked with made sure that he took us to several of them.  One particular Saturday late afternoon we spent on a mountainside at a restaurant veranda eating pizza and watching the city.  We weren’t too worried about the curfew since we were with the officer so we got see the beginning of a spectacular sunset.  The pizza was really good.  It was hand tossed, irregular shaped, and grilled over an open flame.  I had a cheese and prosciutto pizza but everyone else got adventurous with their toppings.  The mozzarella cheese was fresh made and delicious!  And anything grilled over open flame when done correctly is going to be good.

Eating at the hotel restaurant as often as we did, we got to be friendly with the staff.  They loved us, of course, because we tipped.  And they got to practice their English skills.  From them, we learned about a local specialty called banana wine.  We talked about it at work and the locals there praised it, while the Americans were mixed in their reactions.  Eventually, one of my team found out from one of the hotel staff they his grandmother made the stuff, so my teammate ordered a bottle, and overpaid, of course.

Banana wine, as near as I could figure out was mashed banana with a little water added then placed into sealed bottles and fermented for a few weeks.  I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but I never asked because when the bottle showed up at our table, it contained some of the vilest concoction I’d ever seen.  It looked evil, and smelled worse.  And for the first time since I’d named it, I told The Rule to F-off.  I wasn’t drinking it, I wasn’t tasting it.  My other two team members each poured a small glassful and sampled it throughout dinner, but there was still plenty left in their glasses and in the bottle by the time we’d cleaned our plates.  Eventually, the guy who’d bought the wine donated it to the servers at the restaurant.  You’d a thought we just gave them Christmas!

After that, the already great service we’d been getting was turned up several notches.  Whatever we ordered came fresh, hot, and plentiful.  The hotel chef was a good cook, but he knew his audience and kept the standard fare.  Burgers, fried chicken, etc. and the inevitable french fries.  They had higher scale entrees but we were more interested in saving money so we seldom ordered them.  About the third time we were eating dinner at the hotel, one of the team asked for some ketchup for his fries.  I don’t always use ketchup on my fries so I didn’t ask for any, and the other guy didn’t hear or didn’t care.  BUT,  when the server brought out the ketchup, it was in a very small metal dish, and was a scant tablespoon in volume.  I mean, not nearly enough to dress the fries on the plate.  So, the guy who ordered it dunked one or two fries into his ketchup, when the other team member asked if he could have some.  The small amount of ketchup swung to the other side of the table where it disappeared.  The second guy, with no thought whatsoever, demolished the ketchup forthwith, even to the point of wiping the small metal dish clean with his finger and wiping it onto a fry.  The first guy who had actually asked for the ketchup but never ate it remained silent, although I saw his eyebrows go up a bit.

So the next night, we’re at the hotel restaurant again.  I’ve ordered a pizza, and the other two have ordered their meals.  The one guy asked for ketchup when he ordered so it came with his dinner.  Without a word, the other guy reached out for it, whereupon the first guy clamped a strong hand on his wrist.

“Order your own,” he said in a calm, deadly voice.

I, naturally, snorted Pepsi out of my nose.

PS – One other story I wanted to relate but isn’t food oriented.  The first day we were there, we were introduced to the Marines guarding the post so they would know who we were, and that we were part of their responsibility for a few weeks.  They immediately asked us if we had any old clothes we were interested in donating to their cause to take care of locals.  A couple of days later, we were riding to work and going through a large crowd of people.  My eye kept getting pulled in one direction but I couldn’t figure out why.  Then, I figured it out as we were passing a kid about 12 years old.  He was wearing a tshirt from the college I graduated from.  I recognized the colors which is why I kept looking in that direction.  On our last day there, I handed over every piece of casual clothes I had except what I’d be wearing home.

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