Cooking with a Wallflower…

Is the name of a blog run by a California dental hygenist. According to the tagline, it’s a blog about “cooking, baking, crafting, writing.” While I initially looked at the site because it deals quite a bit with food (always a good choice, in my opinion) I’ve found there is much more there. The blogger, Andrea (I use her name because it’s on the site for all to see) really does write about, not just cooking, but baking, crafting and writing as well. More than that, she does so in a way that’s fresh and easy to read. There’s none of the “I’ve become an expert at everything I write about so you should just accept everything I say” tone that some bloggers seem to have. But, I want to tell you about the really important stuff…the recipes.

Asian food, Asian fusion, Asian inspired food, it’s all very popular now. Even my West Texas town of Abilene has more than one restaurant that offers sushi and a Chinese restaurant that has been ranked as the 6th best Chinese restaurant in America. My wife and I sometimes eat at them. We enjoy the experience. However, regardless of the kind of food, there is something special about making it at home. Andrea’s site has a number of Asian inspired recipes that I intend to work through. Each one sounds delicious and the photos she includes only add to the impression of good food, lovingly prepared. I’m hooked. Then, of course, there are the Italian inspired recipes, breakfast recipes, beverages, entrees, soups..the list is really impressive.

There’s much more there, both in types of recipes and non-food content (the information on blogging is helpful to a new blogger like me). I can’t recommend the site highly enough. Go to the site, here, take a look around and see what I mean.

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Of Holidays and Food

I love the holidays. My wife and I like to cook and the holidays give us a chance to do some things we don’t get to do very often. That’s good, because the other 2 residents of our house, our daughter and an elderly parent, as well as many of our friends, are uh “gastronomically challenged.” Still, even for the holidays, we can’t wander too far afield or we’ll be the only ones eating what we cook. Sometimes, that’s okay. There’s a lot to be said for cooking and sharing seared ahi tuna with a honey-soy glaze, or shrimp fried rice with kimchi, with your spouse at 2 am. For Thanksgiving dinner, though, we need to do something more traditional.

Anyway, this year I dry brined a turkey. I’ve had traditional wet brined turkey before and I found it rather unsatisfying. Tender? Yes. Moist? Very. And largely devoid of taste. I like turkey and it frustrated me to have a beautiful looking bird that had everything you might want in a traditional Thanksgiving meal except the most important thing – taste. What to do? As it turns out, dry brining was the answer! I do it every time I roast a chicken, so it seemed reasonable to try it with a turkey. It was gratifying to look online and find that dry brining is pretty highly recommended for turkeys. The result was a moist, tender and flavorful turkey, with none of the hassle of wet brining. Sadly, I neglected to take a picture of it. In the interest of tradition (there simply must be a picture of a roasted turkey in a post like this) I offer the following.

Did I say one turkey? Actually, it was two. On Thanksgiving we enjoyed our meal together as a family. The next day, our daughter’s friend and family arrived (due to work schedules they’d been unable to have a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday) and we did it all again. And, a ham (7 additional people requires quite a bit more food). There are some complex recipes out there for dry brining turkeys. Here’s the one I used. Please note, all temperatures are in fahrenheit.

Ingredients
  1. 1 turkey, fresh or thawed. Size is dependent on how many you need to feed. I used the same recipe for both turkeys. One weighed almost 13 pounds and the other almost 18 lbs. Fresh is best. If possible, avoid self-basting and kosher turkeys. The risk of it being too salty is very high.
  2. Kosher salt. How much? Some.
  3. 1 navel orange, quartered
  4. 3-6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
  5. 2-4 celery ribs
  6. 2-4 carrots
  7. 1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced
  8. 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  9. 1 bottle of Reisling
  10.  1 stick melted butter
  11. 1 1/2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
Instructions
  1. 24-36 hours before roasting, remove all giblets and rinse and dry your turkey, inside and out (you don’t want to introduce more water into the equation, diluting the flavor).
  2. Liberally coat the outside and cavities of the turkey with kosher salt. I coated it like I do chicken – until the skin seems to sparkle with salt crystals.
  3. Place it in a food grade plastic bag and refrigerate. Alternatively, you could put it in a cooler surrounded by ice. Just make sure to check the temperature frequently. You don’t want the turkey to freeze or let the temp get above 40 degrees.
  4. Approximately one hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and allow it to warm a bit. Lightly rinse the outside and inside and dry.
  5. Preheat your oven or roaster to 450 degrees.
  6. Thoroughly mix the smoked paprika into the butter. Using a brush, coat the turkey with the butter/paprika mixture.
  7. Place the garlic and rosemary in the body cavity. Pour the wine into the roasting pan and lay the remaining ingredients in the bottom of the roasting pan.
  8. Place the turkey, on a roasting rack, in the roasting pan. Cover with lid or foil. Place in the oven/roaster and cook at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and continue roasting to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  9. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.

Note: if you want gravy, do not use the pan drippings as they will be far too salty. Instead, use the giblets for making broth. Do not stuff the bird as your dressing will be too salty, also.

Our oven was in constant use so I resorted to using an electric roaster. I’m glad to report the results were fantastic. A wonderful bird and I was able to place the roaster on our patio. This freed up counter space and reduced heat in the kitchen.

I’m not roasting a turkey or ham for Christmas, this year. I think it’s going to be prime rib, instead. Recipe ideas, anyone?

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…at a place known as Phantom Hill

Sometimes, in our eagerness to explore the far off and exotic, we miss what is close by. While the U.S. doesn’t have a history nearly as long as most european countries (there’s a brewery in Germany that has been brewing beer non-stop since 1040 AD!) our country, like most others, was shaped by events that occurred long before anyone now living was born. Shortly before Thanksgiving my wife and I decided to do some local exploring…

What is now called “Fort Phantom Hill” was a U.S. Army post established in Texas in 1851. While relations with the Comanches were pretty good at the time of its establishment, by 1854 things had changed significantly and the decision was made to replace the infantry with cavalry. As a result, the post “on the clear fork of the Brazos River at a place known as Phantom Hill” was abandoned. Its remnants stand today as a record of how quickly things can change in a country expanding into the frontier.

One should always honor traditions, so here’s my nod to the “include a picture of the sign that tells you the name of the site” tradition.

Fort Phantom Hill

Fort Phantom Hill

Phantom Hill Guard House

Phantom Hill Guard House

Unlike the majority of the post, the Guard House, which also functioned as the jail or stockade, remains relatively intact. I was impressed with just how solidly built it was. Notice the thickness of the walls in the doorway.

Wooden door and thick stone walls!

Wooden door and thick stone walls!

Many of the chimneys remain intact. These are from the officer’s housing area.

Chimneys

Chimneys

There’s a lot of debate as to what would have happened had the Comanche and other tribes had access to the same technology, especially the weapons, of the Army. Would the eventual outcome have been different? One can argue that there’s evidence to suggest it would have. The Army’s rather disastrous pursuit of the Nez Perce in the northwestern United States is an example of technology and industry not always translating into immediate combat superiority. Still, a friend of mine noted that it wasn’t weapons that led to the eventual defeat of the various tribes. It was that the Indians didn’t think of war in terms of long campaigns. Still, they were able to adapt somewhat to that view. My friend said that it was the sheer number of settlers that brought about the downfall of the tribes.As one author noted, “we could defeat the man with a rifle but we couldn’t defeat the man with the plow.”

the most powerful weapon on the frontier?

the most powerful weapon on the frontier?

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Not You

I am firmly convinced that travel can lead us to an ever increasing degree of responsibility and self-discipline. This assumes that we aren’t routinely having someone else take responsibility for everything: where we’re going, how we’ll get there, what we’ll do, where we’ll sleep, what and where we’ll eat, etc. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being coddled or pampered occasionally. If it’s the norm, though, our travel becomes less than it could be, and so do we. Which leads me to my Jim Rohn quote:

Let others lead small lives, but not

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The Good Ole Days

Ah, the “good ole days.” We talk about them. We long for them. If you’re a now retired country music quartet from Staunton, VA, you write and record songs about them. Waxing nostalgic is common. It was so much better, back then. Life was slower, at least in my hometown. We had bullies, but, at least among boys, there was a prescribed and very direct way of dealing with being bullied (good, bad or indifferent it was nonetheless effective if executed with reckless abandon). Drug use was something that largely happened elsewhere. Summer days lasted forever and winters were crisp and clean. Colors were brighter, sounds were clearer and rainbows were seen in Technicolor. Families were close and ate dinner together, virtually every night. Yeah…I also remember this:

Being told racism was either a good thing or “just the way things are” (to which my dad would say “tradition does not excuse stupid and Godless behavior)

Being paddled in school and having the teacher and principle try to pressure me into saying “thank you”

11 year old kids smoking

A judge telling a rape victim she “asked for it”

People throwing trash out the windows of their cars

Draining wetlands to increase tillable acreage on farms

The only way to cook fish was to fry it

Lard was the fat of choice for cooking

Disagreement with someone in a position of authority was a sure sign you didn’t “know your place.”

Sadly, some of these haven’t changed. We still have people whose behavior is stupid and evil. People still say foolish things. Our environment needs our constant attention (after all, good planets are hard to find) and we tend to make some pretty bad health decisions at times. And yet…

Life expectancy in the US is higher than it has ever been

People are far more conscious of their choices regarding exercise and food and the effect those choices have on their health

There is widespread understanding that racism, from or toward any group, is wrong.

Crime rates, including violent crimes (of which rape is one) continue to trend downward.

Could things be better than they are? Of course they could. But everything was not good in “the good ole days” anymore than everything is bad now. There are two delusions that can lead us into difficulty. The first is to believe that everything was better “way back when.” If we believe such a thing, it becomes hard to be relevant today. That matters because today is where we are. Today is where we live. The second delusion is related to the first. It’s the belief that everything is bad. This is a killer of motivation. If we accept this false belief we become fearful and live our lives in hopes of somehow managing to hang on until the bitter end, hoping that perhaps all the evil of the world will pass us by. I believe these two delusions are common to every generation. I propose an alternative.

Why not, instead of accepting a delusion as truth, simply recognize reality. Are there bad things going on today? Beyond any doubt, there are. Watch or read any major news source. They’ll be glad to tell you about all the things that are wrong. If you want a good dose of bad news, make sure you pick news sources from both ends of the political spectrum. That said, it is also a fact that there are good things happening, too. They just don’t get as much coverage. There are people feeding the hungry and clothing and housing the poor. There are families and friends supporting and encouraging one another. Every day, there are those who put forth the effort (sometimes significant effort) necessary to change their circumstances for the better.

Hope and opportunity abound every day. They are not dead. Compassion is not gone. Things are as bright as they are dark. The glass that is half-empty is also half-full.

It rained in my town, yesterday. As much as I like the rain, I was ready for it to end when I was out running errands. And then, on my way home, I saw the most vivid rainbow I have ever seen…

note: this is a delayed post in response to the daily prompt “salad days

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Nurses are Horrible Patients

My right hand itches.

My right hand hurts.

Those are not the opening lines to my latest attempt at bad poetry. They’re just true.

About two weeks ago, I noticed I had what nurses, like me, like to refer to vaguely as a “skin lesion” on my right hand. Dermatology is not my thing, so, although I had a pretty good idea of what it was, I thought I’d bounce my thoughts off my wife, who also happens to be a nurse. The conversation went something like this.

Me: “Hey, babe, I’ve got something on my hand.”

Her: “What is it?”

Me: “Ummmm. “ (Holding out my hand) “What do you think?”

Her: (After a less than 1 second glance) “It’s a wart. Did you actually go to nursing school?
Me: “Jealousy of my clinical acumen is so unprofessional.”

Her: “Uh huh.”

It’s important to understand that nurses will go see a physician or other healthcare provider only under duress. Besides, it’s only a wart. That’s why we have Compound W, right? Which leads to my second conversation(I wasn’t really talking to myself. I was thinking out loud, okay?).

(While reading the directions) “‘Apply one to two times per day.’ Duh. Still, I bet more frequent applications will get rid of this thing more quickly. I think I’ll go for every 2-3 hours.”

It was not my best idea. Now I have this nasty looking lesion that’s red and inflamed. Even better, I have the lovely long red streaks that mean cellulitis running up my arm. How special is that? The joys of self-medicating…

In actuality, I woke up yesterday with the nastiness. Fortunately, we had to take our daughter to see our family doc, anyway. He wrote me a script for high dose Bactrim. My hand and arm are feeling and looking better, already, though there is still some pain and itching. At least the red lines are gone and the lesion isn’t such an angry red. Perhaps I should reconsider the whole “nurse medicating self” thing.

Nah.

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Motorcycling “in the Zone”

I like to ride motorcycles. Even though my knee dragging days are behind me, I recognize that the same basic skills, with a few alterations depending on circumstances, are necessary for riding every kind of bike out there. Steve Briscoe makes the point, here, that there is more to truly mastering your ride than the simple acquisition of skills. Skills are important. They are, in fact, vital or even essential to being a successful motorcyclist. They are not, however, the most important thing. He sums it up nicely in the final paragraph of his post “Master Your Ride.”

“Mastery of our riding skills is important, but it is not enough. It is the mastery of your mental attitude while riding that will prolong your life so you can enhance your skills or the lack of that mastery will place you in a situation where no amount of skill will get you out of what you just got yourself into.”

As a rider, there are times that I find riding to be almost effortless. The bike feels like an extension of me and seems to respond to what I want it to do even before I think or take any physical action to bring it about. I know that’s not the case; it’s just how it feels. Sometimes, we talk about athletes who are “in the zone” meaning they are performing at an amazing level, seemingly without conscious thought. Musicians will speak of how much easier (and more fulfilling) it can be to play when they simply feel the music rather than consciously thinking about the beat, the next measure or an upcoming chord change. I believe the same thing is true of riders. We, too, can be “in the zone” or not and our riding and control of the bike varies accordingly.

Hypnosis has long been used as one of many tools to assist athletes increase their performance by helping them get into “the zone”. It can be equally effective for those who ride motorcycles, whether they do so competitively or not. A rider who has experienced and can remember being “in the zone,” even if only once, can use hypnosis and self-hypnosis to help bring about that state more frequently when riding. It’s a service I offer to some of my life coaching clients who also happen to ride motorcycles. Virtually every one of them has said it has increased their enjoyment of riding while making it much easier.

The truth is, though, hypnosis is simply a tool and not one with which everyone is comfortable. Is there an alternative? I believe the answer is “yes.” As I was thinking about my years of riding and all the things I’ve done that have made it easier (and some stupid things that have made it harder) I realized some of the most effective were things I did long before it occurred to me to apply hypnosis to my riding.

For many years, I immersed myself in motorcycles. I thought about them a lot. I rehearsed riding techniques and studied the physics of how they work (counter steering, for instance). I read literally hundreds and then thousands of books and articles on motorcycles and motorcycle riding. When I’d have a really good and enjoyable ride, I’d relive it over and over (which meant, of course, I also had to actually get on a bike and ride). Whether visualizing myself riding successfully or dwelling on a particular type of riding, I spent countless hours thinking about motorcycles. What had I done? You can call it a lot of things. I think of it as self-hypnosis because of what I do for a living, but it doesn’t really matter. Self-hypnosis, visualization, guided imagery or even “putting it out there to the universe” if you’re an aficionado of “The Secret” doesn’t change its effectiveness. The end result has been finding myself “in the zone” more and more often when I ride.

It’s funny, to me, that many of the things I suggest for my clients are things I’ve often done unconsciously in past years, even before I understood what they were and why they are effective. Success as a motorcycle rider is not really all that different from success as anything else.  Wanting it badly enough to immerse yourself in the thing, whatever the thing is, and being willing to give it the hours of attention, thought and controlled practice it needs are key elements to finding yourself, more and more frequently, “in the zone.”

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Of Boots, Mission and Travel

I own a pair of Justin boots. In fact, I’m wearing them right now. They’re several years old, which doesn’t really give a feel for the mileage on them. I’ve worn them on virtually everyone of my last 50,000+ motorcycle miles, including when I laid the bike down in the rain and slid down the road (thank God for good gear – all I got was some bruises and a small scar on my elbow). They’ve been on hunting trips and hikes in the desert. I’ve had them on my feet in the sun, the rain and the snow. They’ve been covered with green lawn clippings and dust in hot summers. The soles have been caked with mud and what my very southern mother referred to politely as “rabbit pellets.” With all that, they are still very wearable. On the other hand, I have another pair of boots that I wear very seldom. While they have been subjected to less harsh use and conditions, they are not in very good shape, though they, too, were quality boots when I bought them. They’ve not been neglected; they just haven’t been worn very much. Why the difference then? I think it comes down to purpose. Boots, at least any that I think are worth having, are made to be worn. Just as guitars are made to be played and motorcycles are meant to be ridden, and both tend to fall apart if not used as intended on a fairly regular basis, boots need to be used for their purpose.

Used for their purpose

Used for their purpose

I’ve known people with expensive, high quality guitars who don’t play them. When they are finally picked up and played, the tone is often not as rich as that produced by a lesser guitar that’s been played more frequently. Motorcycles that are allowed to languish for too long in a garage are frequently far more difficult to initially ride when returned to service than bikes that have been ridden regularly – even if the owner was careful to maintain the stored bike.

It’s the same with our talents and abilities, isn’t it? Just as muscle tone is lost in the absence of exercise, our skills, both learned and innate, tend to atrophy or “grow rusty” with nonuse.

As I grow older, I become increasingly convinced that each of us has, and needs to have, a purpose. Life needs a mission. If you don’t have one, you will drift on autopilot to your default mission. Though your default mission may look different than mine, they’re really the same. Our default mission is a life that’s lived just to survive rather than a life lived for the mission for which we are intended. Our intended mission, though, is far different. When we live our intended mission, we find ourselves far more engaged and more vibrantly alive

One of the best ways I know of to live a life that’s devoted to what a person is intended for, is to live a life that involves travel. If you really travel, meaning if you travel with your all your senses open and mind engaged, I believe you are very likely to encounter the reality of your mission, whatever it is, on a regular basis. The experiences and all the sensory input provide abundant opportunities to not only learn what your mission is, but to actually do it (or at least part of it).

Take a look at your passport. Do you have one? Is it well used, worn and filled with stamps or is it as pristine as the day you received it in the mail? When you look at a map of your home country, can you draw out the routes and trips you’ve taken? Can you point to the places you’ve been and recall what you did? Or, is a map simply a picture of places you’ve never bothered to visit and a list of things you’ve never done?

Don’t let yourself atrophy! Don’t settle for your default. Don’t live just to survive! Get out there. Go places, do things and experience life. Find your mission and live it.

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Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Originally called Armistice Day, it was initiated to remember the end of “The Great War” (aka the First World War) and those who served. Later, it was expanded to recognize the veterans of all wars. As a veteran myself, I want to take a moment to recognize the sacrifices made by veterans and their families through the years. Separated families, missed life events, holidays apart, being in harm’s way and the fear that a loved one will not come home, these are things veterans and their families endure every year and someone is enduring them virtually everyday. Regardless of your political views, take a moment and remember the veterans past and present, especially those in combat, and those who wait at home, longing for their return.

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The Mighty Mulberry Project

Ah, the around the house project. Travel is great but home is where we live, so the projects are inevitable. For those of us of the married persuasion, those projects are sometimes referred to (dare I say, derisively?) as a “honey do” list. In my case, it revolves largely around our back yard which has become sort of overgrown and neglected. The truth is, that to enjoy the benefits of an inviting back yard, you have to first put in the effort to make it that way. My wife and I like to cook and entertain. Eating outside can be a delightful addition to a meal shared with friends But our yard and patio need work. I’d like to say they need attention, but they need enough attention to call it work.

The first task was taking care of the rather large mulberry tree on one side of our yard. It’s a frequent dining spot for a woodpecker, which means it has a number of dead limbs and branches that attract bugs. It’s also sitting close to the house and one of the tool sheds. The challenge was reducing the risk of damage from falling branches while preserving the buffet for the woodpecker. With the help of a couple of friends, I removed the limbs most likely to fall. The best part is, I didn’t damage the house, the tool shed or myself!

The Mighty Mulberry, before removal of the dead and dying limbs.

The Mighty Mulberry, before removal of the dead and dying limbs.

Eventually, I had everything off that needed to be removed.

The now far less Mighty Mulberry. Notice that the buffet (dead branches) are still there for the woodpecker.

The now far less Mighty Mulberry. Notice that the buffet (dead branches) are still there for the woodpecker.

Now, we don’t only need to not worry about limbs falling onto the house or tool shed, but we also have wood for the fire pit.

A good amount of firewood...unless you need to heat and cook with it

A good amount of firewood…unless you need to heat and cook with it

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