Suitable for Any

Debbie works at Arbor Farms Nursery [1] and every year they have a company party to celebrate Christmas and the end of another nursery season. They do a white elephant gift exchange and this year I was lucky enough to get a good gift, a basket of Burmese goodies from one of Debbie’s co-workers who’s married to a Burmese man.

One of the items in the basket was something called Cake Mout Chout which was described as a dried butter cake to dip into tea or coffee. It was cold and dark and windy and snowing this morning, so I thought it would be a good day to dip some butter cake in tea.

I got the package out and noticed something on it I hadn’t seen before.

Cake Mote Chout

Down at the bottom right it says “Suitable for any race & Religion.”

“What a nice sentiment,” I thought, “what a good idea to think about to start my day.” Oh, I know what they mean, it’s kosher and not made with lard. But in these days when I can barely stand to open the newspaper in the morning I chose to see it as open and inclusive, a gentle greeting for my day.

Our country seems off the rails, there’s so much hate and bigotry and misogyny and religious persecution that seems to have become mainstream and acceptable. But I don’t believe that will last, I believe some day, some day soon, America will be a place that fulfills its promise, a place “Suitable for any race & Religion.”

1. Plants, not children.

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One Year

One year ago on December 1st I made a change. Changed jobs, started working out on regular basis, started eating better.

Things happen slowly, that’s the hardest part. You don’t really notice the changes day to day or even month to month. But looking back over a year you can see good things have happened.

Then and Now

A year ago I weighed 234 pounds. Today I weigh 183. [1]

Runnning Then
Runnning Now

A year ago I was doing 2 miles at a 16 minute pace. Today I’m doing 4 miles at 9:40 pace.

A year goes by fast. Looking back at I what I did last year I’m wondering… what to do with the coming year?

1. I pointed out to my son Josh that being proud of losing weight is much like being proud of fixing a bug in my software. I conveniently forget that I caused the problem I solved. But I don’t care, both of those give me a lot of satisfaction.

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When Life Gives You Cherries

My mom moved to a smaller place and gave us her freezer. She cleaned it out, but she had a couple bags of frozen fruit that I said I’d like to have: a bag of pie cherries and a bag of blackberries.

Today’s a cold and rainy Saturday so with nothing else to do I thought it was a good day to do something with that fruit.

Fruit 3 Ways

That’s, from left to right, cherry jam, cherry barbecue sauce, and blackberry barbecue sauce.

The cherry jam is tasty, sweet and tart and tasting like cherries. The cherry bbq sauce is great, hot and spicy with a sweet undertone from the cherries. The blackberry bbq is different, it has smoked paprika and chipotles and it’s smokey and spicy and fruity. I think it will be really good on the right dish, but I’m not sure what dish that is.

Sour Cherry Jam

From “Food In Jars” by Marisa McClellan
Ingredients

About six cups of mashed, pitted sour cherries. That takes about 3 – 4 pounds of pitted, frozen cherries
3 cups sugar
1 packet liquid pectin, or 2 tablespoons of sure-jell

Process

Combine the cherries, sugar, and Sure-Jell in a saucepan and boil for 20 minutes.
(If using liquid pectin add it at the end.) Skim off any foam that arises. After
20 minutes it should be very thick.

Process in a boiling water bath like any jam.

The recipe says this makes 3 pints. I don’t know what I did, but mine made about 3 1/2 half pints. It tastes right, not like it has twice too much sugar.

Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce

From Serious Eats
Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped frozen, pitted cherries
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Process
Saute the onions in the butter until soft, add the garlic and cook until fragrant
Add everything else and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until it’s thickened.
Process in a blender.

Makes about 2 pints.

Blackberry Barbecue Sauce

From Food & Wine

Ingredients

1 pound blackberries
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons seeded and minced chipotles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons oregano

Process
Saute the onion in the oil until soft, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add everything else except the 1/4 cup minced onion and oregano. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Process in a blender, then stir in the oregano and minced onion.

Makes about 2 pints.

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My g-g-g-generation

Fort Wayne used to have two newspapers. The News-Sentinel, the Republican newspaper, published in the afternoon, and the Journal-Gazette, the Democratic newspaper, published in the morning. Both were managed by the same parent company, Fort Wayne Newspapers.

I used to get both, but back in the late 1990’s when the Republican party went from being the party of small government and low taxes to the party of telling people who they could marry, xenophobia, and objectivism [1] I dropped the News-Sentinel because their editorial content had followed the party and had become too stupid to let into my house.

Fast forward to 2017 and the News-Sentinel has folded. Despite being in the reddest of red states, not enough people would buy it for them to be able to pay for paper and ink. So they stopped printing. But since they’re run by the same parent company, evidently the now unemployed and unemployable editors of the News-Sentinel needed work, so Fort Wayne Newspapers decided to include their opinion pieces in the Journal-Gazette.

Today they ran a piece by Kevin Leininger [2] about the woe that will befall us when the millennials come of age.

Will millennials’ views on God, economics threaten even Thanksgiving?

This piece of garbage will gag any thinking human being, so in the event you can’t get through it, let me summarize: the millennials, those born from the 1980’s through the early 2000’s, are godless socialists who are going to turn America into a Soviet gulag, or maybe even Sweden.

Well, Leininger can have his ignorance and his paranoia. I see a different a world.

I work in the computer biz, so I work with millennials every day. I’ve been working recently with high school kids doing a web design competition[3] .

Web Design Poster from TechFest

And the kids are all right. They bring such passion and enthusiasm to their work. These high schools kids do such good work it makes me embarrassed to remember what I did at their age.

And unlike Kevin Leininger they want the world to be a better place: healthier, cleaner, fairer, inclusive.

I’m 60 years old and getting ready to step off the stage, and I couldn’t be more pleased to hand it off to these kids.

1. I.e., they went off the rails on a crazy train.

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate

Even Ozzy sounds wise compared to the Republican party these days.

2. A “pompous strutting blowhard” from reputable sources.

3. You can see my company’s logo in the bottom right of the poster. My boss, Linda Passmore, is the best and gave me time off to do this.

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I Wish I Was

It’s a cold and rainy night here. We have a nice fire in the fireplace, the heat and light radiating from the fireplace is so pleasant. It would be more efficient if I’d close the glass doors, but the crackle of the flames and the faint smell of wood smoke is comforting.

A Nice Fire

Except a few minutes ago one of the logs popped really loudly. We [1] all jumped.

Owen had been sleeping across the room and when the fire popped he got up and trudged over and flopped down beside me. Clearly I would make sure nothing bad would happen to him.

It was so touching, that complete and utter trust. It’s the stuff of country music songs, but I wish I was the man my dog thinks I am.

1. Debbie, Owen (the Wonder Dog), and me. Spenser, the other Wonder Dog, is deaf as a post. He missed all of this.

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Just Another Manic Thursday

Dang, “Manic Thursday.” That doesn’t quite work, and “Manic Monday” is so catchy. Oh well.

Pedal to the metal all day at work, and then over to Mom’s to help with a few things. Home at 5pm and what’s for supper? We had a piece of salmon thawed out [1], a nice bunch of greens, and some frozen limas. Et voilĂ !

Salmon on greens with limas

The whole plate is Asian themed. I tossed together a sauce of soy sauce, garlic, ginger [2], a squeeze of lime juice [3], and red pepper flakes.

Basted the salmon with that sauce and put it under the broiler.

Meanwhile I stir-fried the limas [4], then poured in a cup of chicken broth and cooked them until the broth cooked off. Tossed them with a bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds and we were ready to eat!

We’re eating lighter these days and this was a delightful meal. A bit of protein from the salmon, a lot of veggies, and spicy seasoning to make it all intense and interesting.

1. Thanks to Debbie’s good planning.

2. Minced garlic from a jar and ginger paste from a tube. Am I going to mince garlic and ginger when a deadline is looming? I think not.

3. We had half a lime in the fridge, otherwise I would’ve used a squeeze from that bottle of ‘Real Lemon.’

4. Note to self, thaw the limas first. Otherwise they splatter like crazy when they hit the hot skillet and then the oil in the skillet ignites and then you have a towering column of flame.

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Cioppino

I first had cioppino in 1977. Bruce Wright and I drove a pickup load of stuff out to San Diego for my sister Anne who was moving there. My Uncle Dean (one of my Mom’s brothers) lived there and he took us to the Brigantine [1] on Shelter Island Drive for cioppino.

Cioppino, at least in its roots [2], is a rustic seafood stew. For a 20 year old Indiana country mouse, it was about the most exotic thing I’d ever eaten.

I make cioppino every now and then, and with the weather turning cold it sounded good so I made it again today.

Cioppino

It’s just a tomato and seafood broth with shrimp, fish, mussels, and crab. [3] It’s light and tasty and exotic, and for me, nostalgic.

This is how I made it tonight. I’m the furthest thing in the world from an itinerant fisherman, so there’s probably nothing authentic about it. But it was the best cioppino I’ve ever made, and almost rivaled my memory of the Brigantine’s from 1977.

Cioppino

Main course for 2, with leftovers

Ingredients
Yellow onion
Fennel bulb (with fronds)
Olive oil
4 garlic cloves
4 ice cubes of tomato paste (maybe the same as an 8oz can, I make tomato paste and freeze it in ice cube trays)
2 pint jars crushed tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups of white wine
5 cups seafood stock
salt
pepper
bay leaf
seafood (I had a small tilapia fillet, a pound of mussels, one cluster of crab legs, and 10 oz of shrimp)

Process
Roughly chop the onion, fennel bulb, and garlic. Saute them in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on low heat until they’re softened.

Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, wine, stock, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Toss in the fennel fronds. Simmer for a half hour or so.

Fish out the bay leaf and fennel fronds, then puree it in a blender.

Return to the pan and cook until it’s thickened a bit. Taste and add salt, pepper, and red pepper to your taste.

At this point you can refrigerate or let it simmer until it’s almost time to eat.

About 10 minutes before eating time throw in your seafood. Bring it to a boil and then crank back to a simmer until the seafood is done.

Enjoy with crusty bread and remember 1977.

1. It’s still there. But there’s no cioppino on their online menu. I was in San Diego in 2006 or thereabouts and went there for supper out of nostalgia.

2. In its roots it’s what the fisherman ate, cooking what they couldn’t otherwise sell. Now it’s an expensive restaurant dish.

3. That’s what I had left over after selling my catch at the docks! Hahaha! No, that’s what looked good in our very limited seafood choices here in northeastern Indiana.

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A Good Time to Quit

I quit day to day farming at the end of harvest last year and handed my part over to my nephew Tom. The farm magazines keep coming though. I don’t generally read them, but John Phipps who writes for the Farm Journal magazines is one of my favorite commentators. So today when a Top Producer[1] magazine (a Farm Journal publication) showed up in our mailbox I flipped it open to the back page where John’s column runs.

And this was John’s column

(It’ll be available in text format in a few weeks, click the image above to read the scanned in magazine page in the meantime.)

I love you, Tom, but I’m glad I’m out.

1. I in general despise Top Producer. It’s all about glamorizing big farmers. I usually read it just to get outraged.

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Still Standing

On December 1st, 2016 I tipped the scales at 234 pounds, the most I’d ever weighed in my life, a good 50 pounds overweight. I felt every pound of it. My feet hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt. I couldn’t keep my pants up because my gut was bigger than my hips and I had constant heartburn. I was getting through the day with Aleve and Tums. Something had to change.

My nephew Tom was ready to take over the farm, and I was happy to turn the day to day work and worry over to him. I had been working part-time for Complete Wellness Solutions doing computer programming, and on December 1st I started full-time with them.

With the change – back to a regular Monday through Friday job, I started exercising daily and eating lighter. Running was excruciating, I’d run 100 feet, and walk 300. Foot pain, shin pain, knee pain, hip pain… I ran a marathon 20 years ago at a faster pace than I could maintain for 100 feet now. I was embarrassed to be me.

The weight started to come off, fast. The running improved, but not as fast. I was still lumbering along, trying (and failing) to run more than a half mile at a time. But I was improving, and in a paroxysm of optimism I signed up to run the Turtle Days 5K.

If you’re not from around here, Turtle Days is our annual summer fair commemorating a farmer who thought he saw a turtle “as big as the roof of a car” in a local lake back in the 1940’s. My Dad was a teenager then and remembered driving out to the lake to watch the attempts to find the turtle (spoiler alert: they don’t find it).

I hadn’t run a race since 2006. When I started farming after we lost my brother Dave running fell by the wayside. I still liked to run, but there was no time for it in the planting and harvest seasons. It got harder and harder each year as I got older to pick it up after the 2 month layoff for planting or harvesting.

And so on June 17th I toed the line in front of Churubusco High School for my first race in over 10 years. The course went around through town and finished with a lap around the track at the high school.

I last ran around that track in 1974. Back then I could run 800 meters [1] in 2 minutes and change. It was strange to trundle around it, 40 plus years gone by at a 5 minute per 800 meter pace.

But I finished, still standing in 30:02, exactly 10 minutes over my personal best for a 5K. And I couldn’t be more proud of that time.

I promised myself a prize after I reached my first set of goals, which were to run a 5K and to get under 200 pounds [2] . When I finished the Turtle Days 5K I’d reached both of those, so after the race I went into Summit City Bicycles and picked out my prize, a Specialized Roubaix.

I love to bike, and I’d been riding a 20 year old Cannondale I’d bought over 10 years ago secondhand from a buddy of mine. A Roubaix is way more bike than I need, but I love to get out and ride, and I love the precision and quality of the bike.

I’ll turn 60 years old in just a few days now, and I figure on July 22nd I’ll be cranking out some miles on the Roubaix, still standing.

1.Back then we ran yards, not meters. But despite whatever you may have heard, a yard and a meter are the same thing.

2. I’m at 192, down 42 pounds as of July 4th.

Progress!

This chart is from the application I program at Complete Wellness Solutions. It hasn’t hurt my progress to be working at a company whose business is wellness.

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Raspberries 2017

Owen and Spenser (the Wonder Dogs) and I went picking wild black raspberries today.

We went to the hay field first that has raspberries growing around it, but the Japanese beetles had decimated those vines. I gathered up the Wonder Dogs (Spenser couldn’t believe we were leaving so soon, he practically defined “hang dog” coming back to the truck). But little did Spenser know we were heading for the woods at the home farm.

I parked on the north side of the woods and we worked our way around the north side and then down the east side. There’s a swamp on the east side and around it the raspberries were plentiful.

I was picking and Spenser was getting his hound on, running through the woods and howling as he tracked various woodland creatures. Owen was following me, but when we got to the swamp he turned aside and I heard him getting a drink in the swamp.

I kept picking and Spenser kept running and howling and I didn’t hear anything from Owen. That wasn’t unusual. He tends to loll in the shade as much as possible.

A half hour or so later it was getting on towards lunchtime and I had enough berries. Spenser was coming around in one of his howling passes near me so I captured his attention and said, “Let’s get Owen and head home.” And then I looked around and Owen was nowhere to be seen.

Now Owen is a little dog (or at least short) and the grass is tall, so I didn’t think much of it. “Ohh-En” I called… Nothing…

“Well, bleep,” I said. I started slogging around the swamp. Owen’s stubby and I imagined him bogged down somewhere. I fought all the way around the swamp through muck and brambles and fallen trees. No Owen.

“Maybe he went back to the truck,” I thought. So I stumbled across the northeast corner of the woods to the truck, still calling “Ohhh-En” thinking that if he had cut through the woods heading for the truck I might find him in the woods. I get through the woods to my truck and… no Owen. I went back around the outside of the woods to the swamp, thinking he might be hunkered down in the shade along the edge of the woods. Still no Owen.

“Spenser,” I said, “go find Owen.” He dutifully ran off into the woods howling while I made another lap around the swamp.

No Owen.

I was about to call Debbie and ask her to come over help me comb the woods for the Prodigal Corgi when I thought, “surely he wouldn’t have gone back up to the barn?” It’s a hard half mile from the woods to the barn, through brush and trees and up and down hills. But before I called Debbie and admitted I’d lost Owen I figured I’d check.

I thrashed across the woods yet again, got in my truck and drove up to the barn. And there was Owen.

The Prodigal

He looked at me with an expression like, “what are you doing here?” I boosted him up into the truck and we went back to the woods to get Spenser. Spenser had realized he’d been left and was heading up the lane pell-mell. He’d run so much I thought I was going have to boost him into the truck too, but after only a couple tries he got in himself.

And now we’re all enjoying the fruits of our labors.

The Wonder Dogs are sacked out.

Tired Spenser
Tired Owen

And Debbie and I are enjoying delicious wild raspberry pie.

Black Raspberry Pie

(Through enormous self restraint I got a picture of the pie before devouring the last slice.)

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