Monday, February 5, 2018

Social positioning and puffed spelt with truffles

"A great many women," I observed to my husband as we sat down to a meal, "hate to cook."

"Well, a lot of them can't cook. They live cooped up in the cities with no kitchens, or in row houses with only one kitchen at the end. There's no place to cook, so they have to eat out." He replied, digging into the steak I had purchased from a vendor in individual vacuum-sealed packaging months ago, and just now thawed, dusted generously with twists from the salt and pepper grinders, and seared in an enameled cast iron pan with virgin coconut oil. (Coconut oil has a very high smoke point, which in a kitchen with inadequate ventilation like mine, is a hefty consideration. I hate washing walls.)

I shook my head. "Reversal of cause and effect. A lot of women have always hated to cook. A lot of them have always been mediocre at it, because it's hard to improve on something you hate doing. But prior to the advent of industrial canning, and especially prior to refrigeration available as a mass commodity, most women and many bachelors had to cook to keep body and soul together unless they lived in a city where they could eat out, or hire a cook. You can see it in the cookbooks from antiquity up through the early 1900's; the vast majority were "Here's how to do that thing you hate well. Or at least well enough to keep body and soul together. And a lot of recipes were bland not just due to the lack of available ingredients, but because they tended to the foolproof 'boil it to flinders and it'll be edible and uncontaminated.' Or otherwise didn't expect that women would go out of their way to get fancy equipment, exotic spices, or techniques. Because many women out have always found it a chore that gets in the way of everything else they have to do."

"Go on." Peter applied himself to the steak, and speared a few baby Brussels sprouts served straight from the steamable microwave bag. I should have taken the time to put them in a serving bowl and dress them with infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but I had popped them in as an afterthought while concentrating on the experimental side dish and the steaks. They were quite edible, just not amazingly delicious like they could have been.

"Once we had refrigeration in the stores, women and men alike flocked to the TV dinner as a way to avoid doing a chore they hated. The only people who continued to cook, en masse, were the traditionalists, the very poor, and the people who loved it. For two generations, there were women raised deliberately ignorant of how to cook - because having to cook was now a social stigma, and the ability to microwave everything  was seen as a marker of social status. The new feminists would deliberately raise their daughters ignorant of how to cook, because they wanted their daughters to climb the social ladder and become doctors and lawyers and engineers. So they crippled their ability to choose to be home-makers."

I tasted the experimental side dish, and decided that it was best balanced with the slightly bland brussel sprouts - together, they were an excellent combination. "Go forward thirty years, and what do you get? Cooking shows. We now have people flaunting their social status by having a skill that the middle class doesn't - cooking - and their ability to take the time to do it, and spend money on exotic ingredients. And you see it in the cookbooks - we now have a lot of them with 'How to cook exotic ingredients into elaborate dishes.' But even most of those spend a fair amount of time on how to boil water and fry an egg, because people don't have the basic skills.

As with any social status commodity, though, it's quickly made available to the masses, where people still don't have time to commit. So the market is focused on offering both convenience and exotics, for ultimate extraction of middle class money.

And that is why we're eating spelt with button mushrooms and truffle shavings tonight; I wanted to see if the boxed side dish was worth it as a backup 'I need to make dinner within 30 minutes' option."

Personally, I'll probably go back to bulk-bin couscous flavoured with stock and whatever I have on hand that compliment the main dish. The price per serving, and small amount per box, is not worth it when I have sufficient skill and options - but if I were living alone, didn't have a pantry, and were trying to impress a date, it's a nice change from rice-a-roni as a side dish.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Can I count to five?

Game shows are a great example of ordinary people, some of whom are very smart, making less than stellar decisions under intense pressure. I'm afraid I can't point and laugh too hard, because I resemble that remark; in flying, it's why I like my checklists so much.

In the gym, it manifests as a really hard time counting to five. Yes, five. Like the number of fingers on one hand, five. No, I can't move my fingers to track - they have to stay gripping the barbell, because my work set is, by design, the heaviest weight I can handle.

And when my entire focus is on completing this barbell movement, in perfect form, with the heaviest weight I can manage, straining the limits of my ability so I can force my body to adapt to an even heavier weight... it gets really hard to remember things like "Is that the third time I've accomplished it, or the fourth?"

This leads to technical errors, like sets of 6 where I'm so exhausted I flirt with injury as my form gets sloppy... because I was supposed to stop at 5, and lost count. (I default to more reps instead of fewer reps, in a "When in doubt, assume you have more work to do." Fitting right in there with assuming fuel burn is higher than estimated, there are no tailwinds ever, weather is worse than forecast, repairs will end up at double the cost and the time estimated, and there are never enough Eno's fruit salts to cover the whole crew*, it's a good way to make sure you don't get caught short. Some people call it pessimistic; they also tend to wonder why life is fond of hitting them out of the blue with unforeseen problems.) 

I will feel really, really silly if I end up getting a coach again, just so she can stand there and count to five for me. Maybe I'll bribe my husband instead...

*South African advert: "Is the bottom falling out of your world? Take Eno's fruit salts, to stop the world falling out of your bottom!"

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dust storm

Many, many years ago, Peter was dragging me through the hinterlands of the United States on a campaign to convince me where we should mutually relocate upon marriage. Oh, and we were seeing friends, too.

Fresh from coastal Alaska, with its glacier-capped mountains dropping into the sea, days of soft sunshine and weeks of rain, and its taiga in dramatic sweeps of gold and green, moss and lichen and fern, I found northern Texas to be flat, dusty, arid, flat, dull and dun, flat, choked with unfriendly and uninteresting mesquite thickets, dry, dusty, and did I mention flat? Not a fan.

But it did have awesome people. I met LawDog, and then while Peter took a nap, I went out and helped him tear out a ceiling and do some remodel work. Polite and social greetings can't compare to actually working with folks to get to know them, and he was (and remains) really good people, while his lady is just awesome.

When tearing the ceiling out of an old house in Texas, one has to deal with dust. Not like Alaska, where you're thinking of the health hazard and abrasiveness of volcanic ash and glacial silt... no, in Texas, the procedure was to pry a section of ceiling loose, and run. Because as soon as the ceiling came out, the dust that had built up above it came pouring down like a red-brown waterfall. We stood on the porch outside the open front door, breathing the fine fresh air of Texas, and waited for the billows of dust to stop issuing forth before going back in to take out another chunk.

Texas grew on me - even if it's not Alaska, it also doesn't have seven months of winter. It's not the unbearable heat and humidity of Louisiana in the summer, and I'm not increasingly allergic to every blooming thing, like Tennessee. So we moved back here in the middle of their version of winter, and I noted it was just as achingly flat, dry, and choked with mesquite thickets as I'd seen before, but not nearly as bad after exposure to the rest of the Lower 48 alternatives. And it has great friends, which makes up for far more than just the flat and heat.

I forgot about the dust.

Until yesterday, when I had the windows open at work, celebrating a beautiful day in the 60's after a week of freezing cold. And looked up from a task, only to find the beautiful blue skies had turned distinctly dun, and the distance was rapidly closing and getting rather... misty.

Ah, dust storms. Fortunately, not as bad as sandstorms, but yech. When the sun is a pale white disk in a brown sky, and the distance is rapidly dwindlingfrom 40 miles to mile and a half or less by blowing dust, the air not only smells of dirt but tastes like it, too, when you open your mouth...

Well, this explains where all the dust came from on that remodeling project!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ball? Ball? Ball?

So, passing through the kitchen, I turn on the electric tea kettle and walk away. It'll take a while to heat, and instead of standing there, I head over to the doorway to my husband's office, to talk to him.

Kili sees me, hops off my husband's lap, and comes around to the base of the chair. When she sees I'm watching her, she crouches down, does a full wiggle-butt followed by a leaping pounce onto my right foot. Before I can even react, she runs between my legs, and off. I turn, going "What in the world?"

...and find her sitting, facing the garage door, looking back over her shoulder at me.

"All right, cat, I got it." I walk over, and let her into the garage. As I shut the door, I hear the kettle click off, so I walk back into the kitchen...

and find Ashbutt sitting patiently at on the floor right in front of the tea kettle, with his latest string toy. He looks at me, looks at the toy. Looks at me, looks at the toy, bats the toy tentatively... and looks back at me.

"All right, cat, I got it. But I'm making my tea first." So I do, and then I play chase-the-string-toy for a minute or two. Then I let Kili back in, as she's satisfied everything in the garage is still in order, and head back to my computer. I sit down, sip my tea, and hear a thump.

In the doorway to my office, and there's a great mass of black fur, two bright eyes, and a red string toy...

Yeah, dogs don't have a monopoly on "Out? Out? Out?" or "Ball? Ball? Ball? Ball?" at all. Excuse me, I need to go play chase-the-string. Again. And again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hot Toddy Time

Peter and I are down sick, and the house is slowly devolving into that "We'll clean it later" state. Right now, I don't care. (In fact, caring about that will be a great sign that I'm getting better!)

In the meantime, in between making a dutch oven of chicken soup and sleeping, there are naps, hot tea, and hot toddies.

The non-alcoholic version:

Take a mug, add about a teaspoon of honey to the bottom. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Top up with boiling water. Stir. Breath the steam deeply, and it will feel and smell wonderful. When the drink is cool enough to sip, it'll taste good and go easy on the throat, too. Stay warm and hydrated!

The alcoholic version, and the "you're sick, so make this easy" setting:

Do as above, but leave enough room for a small dose of whiskey, bourbon, or rum (your preference.) Drink, and after blowing your nose in copious quantities after your sinuses unblock, go back to bed and sleep some more.

Either way, if you have really good honey, this is the drink that will really make the honey shine. Peter's gotten several bottles of sourwood honey from Killer Bees Honey, and it makes the best hot toddies! If you're already sick, use what you have on hand - but if you're stocking up against future sickness, I highly recommend the Sourwood Big Red.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolutions?

This is traditionally the day for taking stock of the year gone by, and deciding how to tackle the next one. For a lot of folks, starting the new calendar is a way to make a clean break and start afresh - but Peter's deep in the latest novel, typing away and trying to get it wrapped up so he can get it out to alpha readers. He's not exactly up for clean breaks and starting over right now, thank you.

Later today, we'll see if the predictions that our gym doesn't get a new year's crowd rush are true - but being a dedicated black iron gym, with lots of weightlifting racks and almost no aerobic equipment, it's not exactly aimed at the planet fitness crowd. When I went in twice last week (I admit, I skipped working out on Christmas), most of the usual crowd was there as well - it doesn't suffer the post-Christmas desertion I'm used to.

But we won't be starting afresh; Peter & I have workout logs and training plans. They've been working pretty darned well in the last 6 months, so we'll keep on keeping on.

Okay! I finally found a place to take stock - just organized the pantry, tossed a couple date-expired things, and made an inventory so I can plan meals to use up the oddball little things that have made their way home. (sundried tomato pesto? Goat cheese filled cherry peppers in olive oil? apple cider confit with calvados? Four boxes of bagged black tea... okay, that'll all be drunk. But clearly I looked in and said "Only one box left" a couple times too many!)

May you all have a wonderful, happy new year! Hope you get the things you want to accomplish done, and make plenty of happy new memories!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

How would we wake up

How would we wake up, if it weren't for cats?

Or, 4am rolls around. Normally my darling husband is up - but tonight he slept on, blissfully unaware of the universe and the felines in it.

Kili knows that her large human should be up, making his first cuppa, and able to be coaxed into sharing the milk when he pulls it out for his tea. At about 0415hrs, she evaluated her options. Prior experience has taught her that any aggressive motions may result in flying cat (and the humans still asleep), so she resorted to being overly friendly. Yes, overly friendly. Walking between her humans on the bed, she started to purr so loudly her little body was shaking, a rasping, full-throated purr.

When that failed to wake either humans enough for them to move, she started gently grooming a hand sticking out from under the covers. But even that failed to wake Peter (even if I came to half-awake at the sound). So she adapted and overcame.

Turning to the me, she started licking and nudging until I turned over in bed to get away from the grooming, and ended up flat on my back. Then, she gently and delicately climbed on top of me, settled down with two paws pressed into my diaphragm while she kneaded my bladder, and purred fit to vibrate said bladder like driving down a washboard road.

At which point I have to throw back the covers (and cat) and dash for the bathroom. She follows, purring and wrapping a tail around my ankles, confident I can now be led to the fridge and made to pour milk even if I will go back to bed instead of making tea and a lap to sit in... because if I go back to bed, the purring and grooming and bladder-kneading will redouble until I finally get back out and give her milk so I can be left in peace to get a few more hours of sleep in.

You know, for only weighing eight pounds and a brain the size of a walnut, the cat is pretty clever at figuring out a way to get what she wants. I may not appreciate the method chosen, but it was effective. Sigh.