On the Other Hand… Good Stuff

While I was typing yesterdayʼs whining post about software intrusions hindering my efforts to actually use the computer, I was also eating my lunch. In yesterdayʼs case (actually right now, as I begin this new entry, intending it to auto-post itself tomorrow/today), I was consuming leftovers (a not uncommon practice, alternating with a Romaine salad). Yesterdayʼs deliciosity remained from New Yearʼs Eve* when The Lovely One made one of my favorite dinners (probably my most favorite and the subject of todayʼs post) — her own particular recipe (somewhat modified as time has passed) for Beef Stroganoff.**

Iʼll be kind and post the recipe (almost) right up front.

Janetʼs Outstanding Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound beef sirloin (cut into quarter-inch strips — bite sized)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms (I recommend 2 cans)
  • ½ cup onion (half an onion, chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 2 or 3)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ cup beef stock or 10 ½ ounces concentrated beef broth
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream (we, of course, use fat-free)
  • 2 Tablespoons dry sherry (My Beloved has started using any dry white wine)
  • 6 ounces noodles (a couple cups of brown or brown-and-wild rice is better)
The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

Combine 1 T flour and salt. Coat meat with flour-and-salt mixture, then melt butter in a large skillet. When butter is liquified, add meat and brown quickly on both sides. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook 3 or 4 minutes or until onions are crisply tender. Remove meat and mushrooms, using a slotted spoon.

Then add 2 T butter to pan drippings and blend in 3 T of flour. Stir tomato paste in rapidly. Stir in cold stock/broth. Cook over medium high heat until thickened and bubbly.

Return meat and mushrooms to skillet. Stir in sour cream and wine. Cook slowly until heated through. Do not boil.

Serve over noodles (cooked, of course) or, better, brown and wild rice. [total prep time = 30-40 minutes, tops]

Lately, after our (for which read: “The Lovely Oneʼs”) tongueʼs awakening to the joys of paprika during the 2011 trip to Budapest, we spice with garlic (more than suggested above), pepper (just bought some Tellicherry black peppercorns, which we ground into the sauce) and both hot and sweet paprika. The paprika is a definite must — makes the dish wonderfully better, richer in taste, slightly more exotic. Sometimes (I donʼt recall right now what we did New Yearʼs Eve) we also add garlic powder and onion powder.

We usually have this dish only once or twice a year, almost invariably in the colder seasons. But it really is wonderful. More than well worth a try.

* Ah, with reference to yesterdayʼs justifiable criticism, the computer permitted itself to ignore the “v” I typed between the capital and lower case “e,” thus not creating “Eve.”

** And I deliberately made beef stroganoff (both above and here) a link so you could check out other, lesser recipes for this wonderful meal.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

My (In)Famous Potatoes

Attending potlucks and having guests was a difficulty for me when I was single and for a long time thereafter (probably former guests and potluck attendees would say it still is). As a youth, I had no idea what to make or bring to gatherings. I think once, here in Maquoketa, I actually pulled the college-student thing with pretzels or chips. Sigh. The situation was even worse if anyone came to visit me: we ate out, or maybe I would concoct homemade pizzas (which were generally quite good — still are).

For parties, I might buy potato salad at the grocery store and put it into my own container (before I discovered how infamous this particular deception was). And I think I actually tried making some stuff from actual recipes that I could barely follow before I began to contrive my own things-to-bring.

Later on, I invented my personal version of refried bean dip, actually a couple different versions, which I used to take, with chips (still there!) to any event requiring me to present food. It was pretty simple — just lots of refried beans, lots of hot sauce, taco sauce (worked better than most salsa) and cheese (also successful and tasty without cheese), heated on the stove and brought to the gathering as warm as possible (although crockpots had been invented by my young adult days, I hadnʼt figured out their utility). Notice all I needed to do was to dump a big can (or several smaller cans) of Old El Paso refried beans in a dish and add other stuff from containers — taco sauce, cheese. I have refined and played with the fundamental ingredients over the decades, but the last time I made it, a couple of years ago, I went back to basics. Someday Iʼll refry my own beans to start. (On that infamous other hand, I avoid making the treat almost altogether any more because itʼs really not a healthy snack, although neither are the nachos I have also learned to make with the stuff, or just plain refried beans, and Iʼve had a hankering for nachos recently…).

the dish before baking

And then one day, after I got married, I think, but the first fruits of invention may have occurred just prior to that momentous time in 1982, I invented my own mashed and baked potatoes. I believe I started trying to recreate storebought frozen twice-baked potatoes, and realized after an attempt or four that there was no need to try restuffing the potato skins that I could never maintain in the perfect bowl-like condition the frozen things possessed. Instead, I could mash up as many potatoes as I wished (sometimes — in the past, believe me — more than five pounds) with my ingredients and bake the concoction in a casserole dish. It worked like a charm, and for a while, maybe a decade, those potatoes were in big demand at parties (even copied by others).

They would still be popular (I brought them to a community theater annual gathering last fall or maybe two years ago, and they all vanished from the nearly scraped-clean bowl), but Janet likes to make other more imaginative dishes these days — also more than just popular.

The Lovely One asked me to make these super-mashed potatoes on the evening Dawn and Kevin arrived for their visit over Labor Day weekend, to complement a beef bourguignon dish she had found online. (Note the peasant food theme going there.)

The recipe for Johnʼs Super-Duper Mashed Potatoes from the Oven is simplicity itself. To begin you need:

  • Potatoes (any number, but adjust the other ingredients accordingly; I often use eight, ten or a dozen medium potatoes)
  • Onion (diced — more than one medium required with more potatoes)
  • Garlic (diced)
  • Sour cream (one medium or large container — we use the nonfat or reduced fat stuff)
  • Milk (or, as we just did for Labor Day — yogurt)
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese (one large bag, at least)
  • Other spices and herbs (I have taken to using basil, rosemary, sage… — the basic Italian ones — pepper, garlic powder/salt, onion powder, paprika, hot sauce, red pepper)

I cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths. I put some spices and herbs in the big pan in which I am going to boil the potatoes and add the cut-up potatoes. Cover with water. Boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water. Mash the potatoes, adding sour cream and milk/yogurt — the regular mashing procedure. We have a nice old potato masher (and a new one that we just donʼt use) with which I mash the potatoes about thirty times before switching to a spoon to mix everything together. (I read somewhere once that itʼs bad to overmash the potatoes, so I donʼt, although ours lately have noticeable chunkage of actual potato in them.) While mashing and mixing, add garlic and diced onion (I use a lot of garlic in the form of that diced stuff in jars that you can find in the grocery store and a whole medium onion) and more spices to taste. I crank the pepper mill about forty times for an average batch. Mix in the shredded cheddar (we use some lowfat or nonfat and some regular), also to taste (we use a lot, generally the equivalent of  whole bag of shredded cheese). Put the mixture into a greased casserole dish (our two-plus-quart one holds what I usually create) and cover with remaining cheese. Bake in a 350° oven for half an hour or an hour (we bake with the casserole cover on for most of the time and remove it to crisp up the cover of cheese for the last third of the time). Serve.

I like mashing my potatoes with the skins on (an especially delicious and nutritious part), but that is definitely not necessary — just campesino-like.

Itʼs great, although like everything I enjoy, pretty much in the peasant food line (no surprise that I come from a long line of farmers). As I said already, people seem to like it a lot. There wasnʼt much left over for The Lovely One and me to finish for supper on Labor Day.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

A while back I mused on my weaknesses for things not good for me (in particular Starbucksʼ bottled Frappuccino). At a slightly cheaper price (but only slightly), I do regularly indulge in a beverage that doesnʼt pack the calorie wallop* of that creamy coffee drink — diet Snapple® (“no calories — made from green & black tea leaves”). Although I have made a point of brewing sun tea regularly, I do find myself irresistibly drawn not to the homebrew but the large-corporation stuff. Maybe itʼs the peach (or raspberry or lemon) flavoring or possibly Snappleʼs much vaunted (in their own advertising) “good stuff” from which they make their teas or perhaps itʼs the clever bits of trivia on the underside of the bottle caps (so much more interesting and preferable than, say, Cokeʼs deceptive and pointless “winning numbers” to get buyers to continually log into the tedious, excessively busy and cookie-setting MyCokeRewards web site), but I have come to really enjoy drinking a bottle or two of the caffeinated, mass-produced tea in glass bottles.

I know why I like Frappuccino: itʼs the fat content (and the coffee). I am not sure why I like diet Snapple (except maybe the delicious, refreshing taste). I know I started drinking it after I realized I had to end my Frappuccino addiction. I knew then (and now) that I should not acquire yet another caffeine push (Janet and I had seriously decaffeinated ourselves back in the mid- or late Eighties except for periodic and minor interludes of drinking a Diet Coke — for me, who remains amazed how difficult it is to find caffeine-free pop at convenience stores or restaurants — while on the road or ordering coffee drinks and forgetting to stipulate decaf; I have wavered from the clean lifestyle in this millennium). And I donʼt recall how or why I sampled a diet Snapple, except that Janet has a penchant for picking up bottled tea when weʼre traveling sometimes and perhaps I sampled one of hers. Whatever, somehow in the last few years (maybe three), I have bought a good quantity of the Snapple six-packs — originally to place in my little fridge at school (in place of the evil Frapps) for a midday pick-me-up as I worked on typing out daily bulletin announcements and reading/grading student writing, later as a summer drink in place of (too much) pop here at home. (And later still I started regularly making sun tea as a cheaper and healthier — being decaffeinated — alternative to the Snapple.)

I wasnʼt much of a tea-drinker in my fledgling years. Yes, I bought some Earl Gray and English Breakfast to brew for myself as a wintertime treat, feeling all (pseudo) sophisticated and Brit-like. But overall my tea-drinking wasnʼt much more consistent, probably less so, than my pipe-smoking (sigh, admittedly true) in the foolish days of youth. And I have enjoyed a cup or twelve with The Lovely One, who does like tea and grew up drinking iced tea with big family meals (her side all still do that). But in my fifties, this manufactured, corporate tea thing has become a genuine daily pleasure.

I want to find Snapple Diet in these unbreakable plastic bottles!

Somehow the Snapple tastes cleaner and sharper than our homebrewed tea. And I do like the flavors. We started with peach (still the only one Janet really likes, although she got me to add a six-pack of the lemon tea on our most recent Snapple-buying spree), but I quickly added the raspberry stuff, too (a little too sweet, but the raspberry flavoring adds a tartness, too). And while working the Census, with no other choice in the grocery store one Saturday, I added the lemon tea in July (I liked drinking a Snapple on my way home from meeting the crew in DeWitt). The peach is still the best (in our humble opinions), tart, full flavored and yet still tea; but I enjoy them all. And I discovered in the August heat-and-humidity wave that the lemon tea really cut my thirst and refreshed, coming in, soaked from crown of bald head to to saturated socks, from mowing the lawn. Now that the cooler days are coming, Iʼll probably drink less tea (and unfortunately rediscover the pleasures of several daily mugs of hot chocolate-infused coffee instead — at sixty calories a mug).

Of course, the tea has to be a morning or early afternoon delight only: old folks canʼt risk that caffeine later in the evening. (In fact, the reason we cut out the caffeine back in the Eighties started as an effort to get us both more restful at night.) However, at least during warm weather and when I want a refreshment (carefully chosen word there) other than water, diet Snapple rates high and remains in our refrigerator.

* As I have fessed up to my history as a poor speller, Iʼll just admit that until composing this post, I had always thought that “wallop” was spelled with an H — “whallop.” Itʼs not. Now we remember what value spell checkers have, not just for incessant typos.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Weekend Cleanup

Driveway Completion

The guys are about to smooth a section with the two-by

Notice the guys deep in the wet concrete

And we have a driveway! (Actually it was finished by just about noon on Wednesday, as I tried to add to some of the earlier posts — like Wednesdayʼs). We wonʼt be able to step or drive on it for a few more days yet, but itʼs there, and even with fallen leaves and other shed tree-trash, it looks great.

It should last, too. I know they put steel rod in when they poured the cement, so I am optimistic that this driveway will be more sturdy/longlasting than the original. In fact, it seemed to me that our main guy and everyone on the crew worked really hard and with great care.

The framing was removed on Thursday. I went out to bring in our lovely, damaged blue Maquoketa recycling bin and found Scott, the guy in charge, waiting in his truck. We talked briefly, me complimenting them on the effort and care needed to perform the job correctly, him assuring me that we could drive on the new pavement this coming Wednesday.

And I do think, so far, that I can recommend the gentleman who is the boss on our job. He did good work well. Weʼll make it official once everythingʼs set — in concrete.

Awaiting more concrete down the chute from the cement-mixer truck

The finished, wet result just after the crew left.

The pictures show the guys at work on Wednesday morning (rather repetitively, but I was fascinated — especially watching them slog around in the raw, wet concrete to get everything set) and then, to the left here, the first shot of the final product once they had finished up and taken off. I never knew, having never worked with cement, that you could walk around in it (wearing rubber boots that you were willing to get concrete stuff on), but it made sense watching them. Being right there in the midst of the heavy mush was the only way they were going to get the stuff spread where it needed to be or do a big part of the smoothing process. I was also engrossed in the final smoothing (using a lightweight paddle on the end of a very long, extendable pole, which you can see well in the lower part of the first picture above on the left — itʼs orange and blue). I even observed the ultimate cleanup.

The guys really looked like they were working hard (it did not appear easy to pull the stuff with big rakelike paddles) and carefully, so I truly hope and anticipate that the new driveway will be great. With our first rainfall and when we can first drive on it sometime next week, weʼll know.

As of now, it appears that this improvement will be worth all the many, many dollars it will cost.

Next up are the plumbing and heating guys to remove the old boiler and then install our new furnace. Soon. End of the month or thereabouts weʼve been told.

Soup Update

We have made our squash soup for the third time (on Wednesday), and this one was a huge quantity (six squash/zucchinis from the Dubuque farmersʼ market a week ago and four boxes of chicken broth). In fact, I made it in two batches, three squash and two boxes of broth (and all the curry powder we had left in the house) on Wednesday afternoon, making a huge potful then. I scooped out a couple of quarts to freeze before adding the cheese (we had found reduced fat at Hy-Vee on Sunday) to the rest for Wednesdayʼs supper. And there were still leftovers.

I made more on Thursday (couldnʼt wait until Friday as I got a call Wednesday, while making the first batch of soup, for my first substitute teaching job of the year for yesterday!), and we ʼll freeze all of that whole second batch, I assume (I am writing Wednesday evening just before making Janetʼs Thursday lunch, anticipating a lack of time on Friday for the substitute teacher to compose blog verbiage). That should give us enough for about five meals (maybe).

I have gotten adventurous with the recipe, and I recommend my changes. Now I automatically double the onion and garlic and have added mushrooms (we just used the canned button babies, but I am sure some kind of fresh or wild would be outstanding) and shredded carrot (Iʼve always felt that carrot adds a liveliness to simmered foods). I am pretty sure that this soup can handle a lot of other variations, too. Try it for yourself. Experiment.

The original recipe is here.

We still havenʼt made it any other way than with curry as the principal flavoring. I shake in garlic and onion powder and our Greek spice (and some jolts of hot sauces), but principally itʼs a curried squash soup. And of course, plenty of pepper.

All the posts this week have run lengthy (yesterdayʼs nearly twice as long as I shoot for; I am sure the fallout from that FoxHunt hasnʼt ended yet), and as I frequently say, it is the weekend. So weʼll leave this one as it is. Iʼll try to get creative for tomorrow…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Sweet and Milky Coffee Goodness

I enjoy many things that are not good for me, and as I type, anticipating yet another hotly humid, intolerable day in a row, I am enjoying one of them. First, letʼs review some of the not-so-good pleasures:

  • Guinness (more on that to come) — both the beverage(s) and the branded stuff,
  • chocolate (not to sound like a romantic girl, but chocolate has called my name inexorably since babyhood),
  • chips (potato, veggie, pita… you name it and deep-fry it and I will go there),
  • crackers (Wheat Thins and their offbrand copycats, Triscuits of all shapes and flavors, soda — plain and with frosting on them for dessert),
  • pretzels (and Iʼll leave this item to indicate all the other crunchy snack foods to which I regularly succumb)
  • sleep,
  • reading (instead of writing or exercising  — and perhaps I need to compose a post on the evils of reading because they exist, oh, yes, they do exist),
  • loafing (instead of even reading, as I have been doing far too frequently in this humid heat),
  • watching movies at home (such an utter waste unless I can, as recently, turn the experience into a post),
  • playing the lottery (I just have to acquire those hundreds of millions… although I have yet to add Mega Millions to my periodically biweekly purchase of losing tickets; it felt so much better to throw that money away on temporary fantasies of wealth when I knew it was all supposed to go for education),
  • buying things,
  • continually undertaking unpaid writing jobs (as I have just done again — possibly Iʼll report on that in the future),
  • keeping up this blog (instead of, you know, generating financially gainful literary concoctions),
  • arguing politics with the brainwashed (it really is pointless, but it can also be so much fun),
  • inventing endless lists like this (and this list could go on much longer),
  • and — to get us back on track — Frappuccino, Starbucksʼs intoxicating (well, not literally, but that could be easily solved at home with the liberal addition of Kahlua or other coffee liqueur) and addictive chilled-coffee and milk beverage.

My Submission to Utter Weakness

The wicked temptress herself, glistening gloriously in the sultry, excessively-summer air…

As those who read both yesterday and todayʼs post may have discerned, I am beginning to realize the pleasures of creating lists (as so many blogs have become — or degenerated into). In both cases (so far anyway), the list was just a generational phase in arriving at the fully formed and elegantly developed essay. (Yes, my fleshy muscular organ in the mouth used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and articulating speech is firmly situated in my inner side of that aforementioned opening for food consumption — in my case, I have been told, presumably the left cheek.) And todayʼs topic is the divine swill that I am currently quaffing, that which makes Starbucks not just omnipresent (in larger cities of the appropriate population density, which excludes my home town, naturally and for me, fortunately) but possibly valid: Frappuccino.

Arriving back in Maquoketa yesterday afternoon, following a wonderful lunch with The Lovely One (at again Carolineʼs, for the first time in months, only to discover they had changed their menu, excluding our favorite items, although Janet persuaded the fine waitress, Lisa, to cajole the cooks to fabricate for her a Chicken Caesar* Wrap, even though it had been dismissed from the carte du jour; I was fine with the ale cheddar soup — of the day — and salad combo, complemented by a quartet of truly tasty breadsticks), I stopped at our local Fareway (whose constantly throbbing refrigeration units annoy our westerly neighbors far more than us; I could not understand why Dickʼs, the original owners, didnʼt place all the refrigeration stuff on the far western end of the store, where no houses were or will ever be) for the Wednesday lottery purchase and some luscious Snapple tea (the good stuff, in bottles, packaged as six packs, flavored peach or raspberry), only to be as frustrated with this purveyor as I had been at Wal-Mart. Whatʼs happened to the Snapple? I did buy their green tea (peach flavored) in plastic bottles, but I know it just isnʼt the same. And worse, in my search I descried the taunting presence of the boxed quartets of Frappuccino.

And I succumbed to their bottled, milky sweet, caffeinated allure.

I know what made me susceptible. On Sunday, with Diane and Steve, we patronized a local coffee shop (directly adjacent to the pottery store) in Cambridge, Wisconsin, where I selected their mocha iced coffee libation, as I had earlier fallen victim to Starbucksʼs own crushed-ice concoction, the original Frappuccino, while in Dubuque a couple of weeks ago. The icy goodness of the shop-crafted drinks is fantastic, but as I had learned to my peril years ago, Starbucksʼs bottled creation, vended in stores, is addictively irresistible. During the latest Nineties and earlier years of this millennium, I had stockpiled bottled Frappuccino to place by the dozen in the little refrigerator hidden in the back of my classroom (along with a miniature microwave — all so college-dormlike that I should have had incense burning in brass containers on the imaginary brick-and-board bookshelves) for excessive consumption during my preparation period, lunchtime and after school paper-grading/journal-reading sessions of work. For about six years I drank far too many of the 200-calorie bottles each day (sometimes six or seven, I sadly admit). They were actually quite inexpensive when bought by the twenty-four-load flat at Samʼs Club (although I had to learn to like the vanilla and mocha flavorings as well as the heavenly pure original coffee drink) — not. Per bottle the cost at Samʼs was originally about eighty cents, as opposed to the buck-twenty or thirty in grocery stores and Wal-Mart; and both prices went considerably higher over the years.

The sadly emptied soldiers en route to recycling…

As I find Starbucksʼs coffee drinks usually pretty bland — perhaps intentionally so in order to force from me the additional fifty-five cents for a triple shot latte so that I get at least a tiny hint of actual coffee flavor — the bottled wonderfulness (thanks for that word, youthful, Sixties Bill Cosby) of Frappuccino may be the actual (paranoiacally Real) Secret Reason behind the companyʼs existence and semi-omnipresence.

Anyway, I bought a four-pack on Wednesday, thinking I would enjoy them for four days. It didnʼt take that long. Theyʼre already gone.

So, 800 calories to the worse before noon (at least I did my four-mile swamp-air slog this a.m.), I humbly acknowledge myself a failed human being, subservient to the blandations of American consumerism (and chilled sugary, milky coffee in a bottle). However, I did try to create my own version with skim milk, artificial sweetener and leftover morning coffee which I intend to mix over crushed ice (at least I hope our blender will crush ice) for consumption yesterday afternoon (I am finishing this post about 11:45 on Thursday morning). Maybe the experiment can yield another post already.

My damnably few hours of weakness at least provided the pleasure of composing this post.

* Is anyone else annoyed at the burgeoning number of restaurants that insist on misspelling “Caesar” as “ceasar?” I should have included that along with “potatoe” in Arkhamʼs rant about menus in “Mantorville.”

By the way, what would you have thought if I had made my subtitle: “My Submission to Udder Weakness” instead of the unpunny original? Or may I take my readersʼ assumption of the intended innuendo for granted (as I did, except for weakening — again — to add this ration of obviousness)?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Working for a Living

Posts might be getting thin for a while. I just got a job.

The Census called last Thursday evening, and the gentleman in charge offered me a position. I am training this week. Itʼs also a more authoritative position than I had anticipated, so I will truly be working, leaving me little time for posts, I fear. This one at least is going to be brief.

I have been training since Monday and earning some cash while doing so — not a bad deal overall. I even get mileage for the forty-mile trek to the training center. As a government employee naturally I must keep secret all the top secret details of my new temporary career or else I would tell you about every exciting minute so far. Fortunately, my loyalty to the United States isnʼt really forbidding me from revealing anything (figure it out…), so you are not missing much.

…or… some random stuff for a Wednesday

Actually, I am writing this post on Saturday (last Saturday, not this coming one) in anticipation of a busy week, so I really canʼt give you any details yet.

Other things I can report on. Dawn and Kevin did come for the weekend (well, for a brief part of the weekend). At least I hope they did: theyʼre supposed to be here within the hour, but they havenʼt arrived yet nor let us know theyʼre on their way. But that pattern is not uncommon for their visits. We should be getting a cell call soon indicating that they are north of Davenport and getting close. Janet is planning Indian food for dinner tonight, and I keep interrupting myself typing (not dictating just now) this post to cut veggies and do stuff for her/with her.

Dawn and Kevin will be leaving early tomorrow (Sunday—sorry about that: Iʼm feeling stuck in my actual present just now), so Janet intends that weʼll search out the site for my training as an activity on Sunday (that way I wonʼt be having to think/find it Monday morning). That should be fun for us, I hope. Maybe we can take the opportunity to enjoy a nice Sunday late lunch or dinner somewhere interesting.

The Decker House, eastern (front) view — click for a link to the intertesting take on my home town in someoneʼs blog

We did enjoy a pleasant lunch at the Decker House (a fairly frequent Saturday noontime event for us) and learned all about our waitressʼs life as a college student working three part-time jobs. She made my use of time sound downright pathetic (and I know—you all thought it was pretty pathetic all along). The Decker is pretty nice, essentially a bed-and-breakfast operation now (if you click the link/the picture, you can see one of the rooms on the photographerʼs blog; amusingly he is currently living in Prague apparently). The Deckerʼs evening menu is quite miderwesternly boring, but we like sitting in the sunshine for lunch—me having the soup and salad with a couple or three Fat Tires. Most of our friends and family have gone there for dinner with us, sometimes more than once.

Unfortunately, except for Flapjackʼs (a family place with big food) and Obyʼs (a longtime bar famous for their nontraditional but really good “Mexican” food—get the burrito), the only choices after the Decker for eating out in Maquoketa are a newish Mexican place (pretty good) downtown, pizza and bars (nasty, divy bars, too, if you know what I mean). To eat, we choose the Decker or go out of town. Which is why I try to cook so much for us at home (although the new job is going to be making that harder to pull off; even making lunch is going to become more of a squeeze-it-in-as-possible chore).

Of course, working for the Census means I have had to cancel some of the sub jobs I had accepted at Andrew—in particular the one this past Monday, when I had hoped to take my photo of the famous third graders. Now I guess I have let them down (letʼs hope instead that their notorious short attention spans have left them with no recollection that I promised to take their picture, perhaps even with no recollection of that one sub they had not too long ago). Truthfully, I had three days slated for this week, and they all had to go for the Census training (and Iʼll be training my own people toward the end of the month; that should be an interesting experience: I never have taught adults yet in my life, outside of directing community theatre plays and doing some how-to-use-a-computer and how-to-get-online workshops back in the Nineties). I hope Andrew will still be interested in hiring me as a sub in the fall…

Janet just had me search for the naan sheʼd bought while visiting her sister in Milwaukee a couple of weekends back (the reason for this interest in Indian cuisine), so this entry keeps getting more disjointed. Maybe I should say that getting toward a thousand words is okay and quit for now. I am, after all, now five days ahead of real life, and maybe work will leave me with a few spare minutes for the blog and actual writing. Weʼll just have to see.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Honoring Paul

I got up at 3:30 AM on Friday morning last week. Seriously, no exaggeration, no lying.

It worked out fine, and I didn’t even feel bad, surprisingly. The reason? My brother Paul was slated to receive the Charles. Martin Award for Association Leadership — the highest award of the Iowa State Education Association.

It is an honor he richly deserves. Like me he has been a member of the Association throughout his entire teaching career, but unlike me he rapidly moved into leadership positions, including long-time presidency of his local Association, chief negotiator for about thirty years as well as serving as head of grievance and negotiations for the same amount of time. He’s also been prominent and important at the state level — representative to the Delegate Assembly for nearly twenty years, many roles for the Unit Nine Board, and the ISEA Executive Board. The presentation of the award especially acknowledged his mentoring role for younger teachers in Oskaloosa and around the state, which is, as they said, “perhaps, his greatest legacy.”

The ISEA Delegate Assembly was last Thursday and Friday, and I wanted to be president to see him receive the award, as did my sister Margaret, Paul’s superintendent and many, many friends. My brother David would have been there, too, except he used his personal time to attend the recent state math conference.

Anyway, I set the alarm or 3:30, and when it let off I actually got up easily, having fallen asleep deliberately at 9:00 PM on Thursday evening. Showering, shaving, dressing, packing some beverages for the trip, and wolfing down a half a grapefruit and some milk in the dark consumed not quite an hour. Janet had recommended I buy a convenience-store cappuccino for the drive and warm it up in the microwave just before I left, it’s was a good idea except I let it cook too long and wasted some time cleaning up boiled-over cappuccino before hopping in the truck and heading out into the dark, just about an hour earlier than I might have headed out for a morning run.

Why is this ISU picture of Hilton Coliseum mostly sky?

I drove east out of Maquoketa to Anamosa, picking up 151 to Cedar Rapids, and then it was all Highway 30 across the state to Ames. Dawn light started to appear in the rearview mirror somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Tama. Predictably there were not many cars on the road at that unusual hour, but there were more than I expected, and the route around the Cedar Rapids was plentifully hectic, thinning, as one might expect, as I drove west beyond the city. Although Google Maps had predicted a three hour and forty minute drive and even directed me within a news into a neighborhood east of where I wanted to go, the middle of nowhere, basically, and I had to seek out the Hilton Coliseum using my own wits, just like it was the 20th century, I had parked the truck right near the south entrance by 7:40.

If you ever want to plant a bomb or otherwise terrorize a large gathering in a public place like that, my recommendation (not serious, of course) is to arrive early, dressed like everyone else and ask to go to the bathroom. In truth, I think the guards like me had no reason to suspect that anyone, not even the state Association of school boards, would have any desire to bomb the ISEA Delegate Assembly. I killed a little time writing on my Sepharad story and then hiked around the oval outside the basketball court about three times before spotting my relatives — Margaret and sister-in-law Nancy — waiting for me to arrive. Paul’s honor occurred about fifteen minutes later than predicted, but that’s large meetings for you. He gave a splendid speech, far better than I would have done, lasting about 12 minutes, filled with nostalgic memories, wit, personal acknowledgments, genuine insight and truth. Afterward we hung about until the end of the morning session, not really attending to matters of the redistribution of Uniserve regions or the recommendation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in order to provide more money for education, and chatted as Paul received well-wishers and old friends at the rear of the assembly.

Eat here only if you enjoy this kind of joint

For lunch the family and some of his friends drove over to Hickory Park, a restaurant with which the rest seem to be familiar but which I fear will probably not receive my business again, just not my kind of place — too loud, too folksy and with far too hard benches for seating at the tables. Our waitress young was excellent, and I really enjoyed my spinach salad (except for the excessive amount of bacon bits). I took a note to tell Janet that if you crossed a Cracker Barrel with Thunder Bay Grille (on the north end of Davenport and part of a small chain owned by a rich Republican businessman) with a hint of TGI Friday’s (something about looking down the hall by a long row of booths), and hung a powerful stench of smoked meat in the air, you’d have something like Hickory Park. Intriguingly for such a place, their portions — except for the salads, of which Paul and I were the only partakers — were curiously small.

Anyway we all chatted amiably, and I was heading home, having switched from a dress shirt and jacket into a hoodie Guinness sweatshirt, about 2:00 PM. I preferred to drive out in the dark to drive home, although it was a beautiful cloudless afternoon, and I really had good luck not getting behind semis or pokey drivers, usually. I had planned to stop at the Mesquakie reservation for gas (and desperately needed to urinate at that point and therefore did stop), where the price was listed about three cents less than elsewhere in the state, but apparently every other driver on Highway 30 had the same plan — there were at least twenty cars waiting to go through the pumps.

So that was my Friday. I’d intended to make this honor Paul (who is retiring this June, as I and his wife did a year ago — but he is becoming a Methodist minister as a second career, one he has been accomplishing already for at least a decade, even founding two Hispanic parishes in Oskaloosa and in Ottumwa), but the post degenerated more into a tedious trip summary. Oh well. Let’s see what you get for tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Several Short and Sweet

Since yesterday’s post was so massive, I figured I had better keep today’s simple and brief. First, if you read any of yesterday’s long post, thank you. Looking back, I do like my introduction to the post, and I may truly have to develop that week in London into a little narrative. Not only did we have a blast—a wonderful time, we did go through some adventures.  I also still enjoy the actual essay’s introduction. Former students: could you spot the thesis statement and identify where the intro ends? (No, there will be no test, although I do still have some of those Dum-Dums I used as prizes for the last twenty years in class. I am not sure how well a Dum-Dum pop will attach to an e-mail, however.) For the critics, I do admit that the text of the essay is more than just dry. I had apparently been reading far too many art texts (and I was trying to overawe the professor, whom I still have not forgiven for the impossible scope of the actual assignment). And I am just pretty pompous that way (viz. previous commentary)… Am I not?

Anyway, here are some random thoughts on several topics for today.


the last two waffles

My favorite part of yesterday came about noon, when I decided to try out a Christmas present from Janet’s folks (arranged by her, naturally)—a waffle maker (I almost wrote “waffle iron,” as we used to call the devices back in the last century, when evidently description topped purpose in naming things). Janet had purchased some box waffle mix, but I had wanted all along to try making some whole wheat waffles, not because I’m a granola but because I think whole wheat food tastes better than bleached, whitened-wheat products: I like big flavors not mediocrity (whitebread braindead screaming heads at Fox News to the contrary). So I went online, as everyone does these days, and searched “whole wheat waffle recipes.” I acquired of course 198,000 results in 0.26 seconds on Google. I printed out three selected almost at random and then combined/ignored/invented my way to my own recipe. And the waffles were delightful (all of them, which I greedily devoured through the day)!

I hadn’t eaten a waffle for at least a decade. Janet and I are after all getting older and not wanting to get any fatter (thinner would be preferable, however little I find myself running these days). However, staying at a motel over a long weekend in November, I encountered that newest (for me) treat at motel breakfasts: the waffle-batter dispenser and rotating waffle maker. While Janet prudently ate fruit or something equally dull and valid, I tried out the waffles. And loved it. When we stayed at the Oskaloosa Super 8 over Christmas, they had the same system, and I overate waffles for our two breakfasts there. Well, Janet’s no dummy: she had picked up on my excitement in November, and when we arrived in Anamosa on December 26, among my gifts was a small (two-waffle) waffle maker, which I initiated into service about noon yesterday.

My downloaded recipes were pretty similar, which is why I just randomly picked one and got started. One day I will make it as listed here. However, I wasn’t sure we had the applesauce (especially not unsweetened), so it was at that step I started improvising, as suggested by the other two recipes. Here’s what I finally ended up with (the total milk by estimation because I took seriously the recommendation of one to keep adding milk until I achieved the proper batter runniness; and I believed I should make it about like what the machine sproduced in the hotels):

Whole Wheat Waffles

  • 1 and 3/4 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 and 1/2 to 3 cups of skim milk
  • 3 packets of artificial sweetener (go for the sugar if you wish; I may try brown sugar sometime soon)
  • 1+ teaspoon of vanilla extract (we don’t have the real thing so I use a generous supply of the faked stuff)
  • 2-3 teaspoons of canola oil or margarine (or butter, if you wish)

Blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix up the eggs, milk, vanilla and oil in a separate small bowl and then dump into the dry stuff. Beat with a whisk until it’s batter. Use in your waffle maker as directed by the manufacturer of your small appliance.

Yield: 12-14 “Belgian waffles”

Enjoy ’em!

Winter Wonderings (or maybe Wanderings)

The snow fell soundlessly through the night, Wednesday to Thursday, and then continued to whiten a gray but somehow not gloomy Thursday. I got up at 5:00 AM yesterday to shovel us out so Janet could get to work. When I actually shovel (as opposed to using the snow blower—hurrah! I am so glad Janet convinced me we needed to buy a new one!), it generally takes me close to ninety minutes. Although the air seemed clear as I started, the snow fell while I worked and the darkness gave way to gray daylight. I was pretty well snow-drenched (or ice-encased) by the time I finished. The city plows came by about 6:15, which was (for once) convenient, as I had already cleared the drive and partially the street in front, so there wasn’t a lot of snow to push away once the plow truck had finished his three passes, and I was able to rescrape the driveway on my way back indoors. We got her lunch packed, breakfast out and eaten, and the lovely wife on her way not much later than usual.

Most of the schools all around were closed, I quickly learned. (A year ago Janet would have fielded the phone call announcing the cancellation and then come to the front door to yell at me—pointlessly, since then, like now, I would have had my iPod blaring in my ears; but I knew what her appearance in the doorway meant.) I think those that had school got out early later on. Overall, I was glad I didn’t have to care (although Thursday evening play practice seemed a kind of school-like threat, considering the winter storm warning). I watched a movie we had rented for the New Year’s weekend and hadn’t gotten to, State of Play with Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren (I’ll let you use your own search skills if you want to check out the actors online). Although darkly illuminated and weak on the start, I liked it a lot, being a sucker for political thrillers (and a journalism junkie of sorts after all those years teaching Mass Media). I missed the BBC series it’s based on, and now I kind of want to see that.

With making waffles (and making a start on this blog post), the movie lasted until about 1:00, when the city plow came by again, so I had to return outdoors and shovel again, hoping Janet might be able to get off of work early to drive home in daylight (perhaps before the big winds to blow the snow into blizzardly white-out conditions).

Oops! It Appears to Have Become a Foxhunt Friday (apologies in advance—sort of)

As one of my pedagogical peeves was pupil innocence of the distinction between “wondering” and “wandering,” I amended my title for this section to make it clear there are two separate words, thus the old “I wonder as I wander…” In case the title bemused you or made you wonder.

The picture, by the way, is our unlovely view northwards of our back yard. Please appreciate the scenic loveliness of the Super 8 sign, the embodiment of the neologism gynormous.

(I hope you enjoy the illiteracy of the Urban Dictionary. I get their daily e-mail, and no one there cares about the language, actually.)

At length, why did I want to entitle this portion of today’s post “Wonderings?” Did you dutifully click on the links I have so conscientiously provided? Especially those involved in my apparently irrelevant (and as always irreverent) swipe at Fox (“We decide what to report so you don’t… know… —anything, really”) News? (Yeah, sometimes I love what you get when you search the internet.)

While shoveling yesterday morning, I got to thinking about global warming and climate-change deniers on the radical right (I’ll think about anything other than how all that snow is just flying to the right and left of my shovel, meaning I will absolutely have to go back over where I just shoveled at least two more times to clear it away). It has been a severe winter here and in Europe. I am sure this tough winter will seem to provide grist for their blind-eye-turning mills (that I feel sure some of you probably want to accept). Unfortunately (and I will leave to you to verify my assertion; your favorite search engines are just a browser tab away), I am certain that the computer models used to explore the drastically warming climate (which I learned about fifteen years ago—maybe longer—in Scientific American) include periods of cool summers and wild winters while the global temperature continues to rise until the Midwest dries into a desert (please, not a dessert), as weather patterns wobble, destabilized by the gradually increasing heat and water. Thus the Beck link to Discover magazine above (from even before he joined his pals at Fox).

Waffles sound good about now, don’t they? I guess cold and snow make me grumpy or something… Your comments are welcome.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.