Way back when, in the Good Old Days, I had a good score on the English portion of my SAT’s. As a result I got recruitment letters from hundreds of liberal arts colleges.
The most intriguing of those, to 17 year old me, were colleges that had Great Books programs. Their curriculums were based around reading and discussing the great works of literature.
That was incredibly exotic to an Indiana farm boy whose exposure to great literature consisted of comparing Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story.
But then, as now, I was a practical fellow, and I chose my course of studies based on what could result in a well-paying career. I don’t regret that. I’ve had an interesting and well-paying career doing interesting work.
But now, staring retirement in the face, I thought, “What do I want to do?” or “What do I regret not doing?”
And those high school dreams of studying the great books came to mind. I looked around and found that the University of Chicago offers a 4 year program where you read classical literature and meet once a week online to discuss them.
I thought that would be cool do when I retired, and then in a fit of optimism that I could allocate the time to do it, I signed up for it and started this fall.
Before the class actually started there was a 3 week session on how to read classical texts using Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book.” I’ve found Adler harder to read than Plato!
4 weeks into the program I’m saying, “See 17 year old me, you should’ve done this!” And 17 year old me answers, “Could you afford to do this now if you had?”
Here in Indiana you can get trees to plant for practically nothing from the Department of Natural Resources. I just checked and you can get 100 black walnut trees for 34 dollars 1. Of course, they are 6 inches tall. You’re buying twigs to stick in the ground.
About 40 years ago I did just that. There was a hillside on one of our farms that had scruffy brush on it. I cut the brush down and got black walnut and black locust trees from the DNR and planted them on that hillside.
And pretty much forgot about it. Last week I thought I’d take a walk around that farm. Debbie and I had seen a puffball mushroom while hiking on an Acres property and I wanted to see what sort of fungi 2 were growing in my woods.
I was stumbling through the woods when I looked up and thought, “what a nice walnut tree!” I stumbled a little more and there was another a nice walnut tree. After stumbling over a few more I remembered that I had planted them.
I don’t remember the details of planting them, but as I walked from west to east along the hillside the black walnuts gave way to black locust trees.
We have 3 acres next to our house that we recently bought. We seeded it last year to clover while we decided what do with it. After seeing those walnut and locust trees I think we may plant it to saplings. I’ll never see them tall, let alone climb them.
But someone will.
1. That’s 34 cents a tree. I think 40 years ago it was more like 5 cents a tree.
I went to the credit union today and closed the account I’d created for my Mom’s estate. Just a few days past a year from when she died the estate is closed. Bills paid, assets dissolved, proceeds distributed to the heirs.
It was all a bit unnerving, writing the final checks on estate account, spending it down to $0.00. But in the end it all balanced.
I can make all the numbers come out right. I’m still struggling with the emotions though.
I made bagels the other day. Working at home I’m going a little stir-crazy and looking for distractions.
Bagels aren’t any harder to make than any raised bread. Just mix up a bunch of flour, yeast, and liquid, let it rise, and bake. About the only thing that makes a bagel a bagel is that you boil them before baking.
To shape the bagels you roll the dough into a ball and then press your thumb to make a hole.
They’re surprisingly easy to boil. You drop them in a pot of boiling water, cook them for 2 minutes on one side and then flip them and cook them another minute.
After they’ve boiled you let them dry for a few minutes then brush them with an egg wash and top with seasonings if you want.
Then into the oven for a few minutes and you have bagels!
1 package yeast
1 T sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water
4 cups bread flour
1/2 T salt
1 egg beaten with a tablespoon of water for egg wash
Combine the yeast, sugar, and water, set aside.
Mix the flour and salt together, then stir in the yeast mixture.
Mix in a mixer with a dough hook or by hand until smooth
Lightly grease the dough by rolling it around in the bowl with a little oil. Cover and let rise until doubled, around an hour.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
While the dough is rested bring a pot of water to a boil. Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Shape the balls into bagels by pressing your thumb through the middle to make a hole. Make it a little bigger than you think you need to, it’ll close in as they cook. Let rest again for about 10 minutes.
Boil for 2 minutes and then flip and boil for one minute longer. You can do as many at once as fit in your pot without crowding.
Let them dry for a moment then move to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. If you’re adding seasoning sprinkle that on a plate and lay the egg-washed bagel on it top side down to cover with the seasoning. I used an everything mix we’d gotten from Trader Joes.
We made couscous for a side dish the other day and ended up with way too much. Like 3 cups of leftover cooked couscous. I like couscous, but that’s a lot to use up.
I was looking around for what to do with couscous and came across “Couscous for breakfast” ideas. A lot them were what you’d expect, grain bowls with an egg on top, which is nice enough.
But one recipe was a couscous skillet where you stirred cheese and an egg into the couscous and then cooked it in a skillet like a potato rösti.
I grated about a quarter cup of gruyere cheese and stirred it into about 2 cups of couscous with an egg. I pressed that into a small cast iron skillet, it was about an inch thick and cooked it on the stovetop until the bottom was getting brown and crisp.
Then I put it under the broiler to brown the top. It came out crispy on the outside and creamy and cheesy in the middle. So good!
The first presidential election I could vote in was 1976, Jimmy Carter vs Gerald Ford, that was a no-brainer, and I’ve voted in every election and primary since then.
But I’d never watched an inauguration until January 20th, 2020. I’m not one for pomp and circumstance, and politics and political speeches bore me to tears. Throughout the dark years of Trump I always thought the center would hold. I believed in the checks and balances of our government and didn’t believe Trump could subvert them.
January 6th, 2020 proved me wrong. A mob egged on by Trump and enablers like my very own congressional representative Jim Banks attacked our Capitol and overran it to attempt to overthrow the election by violence. Our democracy was poised on the edge of a knife.
And our democracy survived. The traitorous insurgents were turned back. Trump was driven from Washington muffled and disgraced. The center had held.
On January 20th then I was glued to the TV, watching the peaceful transfer of power, listening to the ceremonial words and oaths, listening to Biden’s elegant words, and to the amazing poetry of Amanda Gorman. I’d taken all of that for granted, never realizing that a reality TV show host and a failed real estate agent came to the breadth of a hair of bringing it all down.
But they didn’t, and I was ready to celebrate! As usual, when I want to celebrate I think of food. Debbie and I were kicking around ideas for an inauguration day feast when Debbie’s sister sent us a link to an inauguration day menu that Jose Andres was doing.
This was our menu, an unabashed ripoff of Jose’s. The theme is that it features ingredients from Biden and Harris’ home states of Delaware and California. The “Delaware Capon” seemed like a bit of a stretch, but when you have the native cuisine of Delaware as an inspiration I guess that might be the best you could do.
Arroz a Banda, what I always called paella, with crab and shrimp.
Gazpacho de Remolacha, gazpacho made with beets, served cold. It sure was pretty, but I hate beets. When I was in elementary school we had to eat everything on our trays at lunch, and when beets were on the menu I’d hide them in my milk carton. I hated them then, and I hate them now. But I wanted to be faithful the Jose’s menu and the occasion so I made it and choked it down.
A nice salad of fennel and orange with a bright vinaigrette was the perfect thing to get that nasty beet taste out of my mouth.
I think our Delaware capon was actually a northern Indiana fryer, but stewed with dried fruits and walnuts it was delicious.
Finally a flan infused with orange. I often have troubles with custardy desserts but this came out perfect. I steeped the custard with orange peels for about 10 minutes and it came out just lightly perfumed with orange.
And we just happened to have a bottle of California sparkling wine in the cellar. Neither of us could remember when we got it or why we had it. We usually don’t buy good champagne, but it was an unexpected stroke of good fortune to find it in our cellar.
The center has held! Cheers!
1. The aforementioned Jim Banks. He failed at selling real estate and moved down the socio-economic ladder and got a job as an Indiana State Representative and has continued his downward slide until he’s now a mouthpiece for Trumpism on the Tucker Carlson show.
When we packed up my Mom’s apartment after she died we found some pearls among her things. I’d forgotten about those pearls, if I ever knew about them. My sister Anne said they’d been given to her by a Japanese educator who visited Elmhurst High School when Mom was an administrator there. I remember Toshi, the visitor. I’ve forgotten his last name. Anne said Mom had told her the pearls were really nice.
We took the pearls to Steve Mauger who does business in Fort Wayne as “Your Personal Jeweler.” I’d gotten an opal necklace from him years ago for Debbie for our anniversary, maybe around 2004? Steve looked at the pearls and said, “these are really nice.”
We decided to split up the necklace so each of the heirs could have a few pearls to do something with. I decided to do a bracelet and I talked with Steve about what could be done. After some back and forth I ended up sending him a rough sketch.
Steve took that idea and produced this bracelet.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the final product. Steve explained to me all the particulars. The “same piece as the clasp hooks through” actually has a specific name in a jeweler’s world. I’ve forgotten it, it was several hours ago when he told me.
Feeling thankful and blessed and nostalgic and sad for all that Mom gave me and all that I’ve lost. It’s fine to have a little reminder to wear.
When we last butchered pigs, early in 2019, I took one of the hams, cured it, and left it to hang in my garage. That’s right, no typos there, the ham has been hanging in my garage at ambient temperatures since early 2019, almost 2 years.
Until today. On a lazy Sunday I thought it was time to see how it was doing. I hang hams from the rafters in a cloth bag. I took this one down and turned it out of the bag.
That’s a ham? Eww, that looks pretty nasty. But I wasn’t daunted, I’ve cured hams before and they never look good right out of the bag. After a good scrubbing with a bristly brush it looked better.
Looks pretty good! But you never know until you cut into the ham.
Ohh, look at that! Perfect! Cured all the way through to an even rosy hue.
Well of course this is one of the best slices I cut. Long and so thin you can see my fingers through it. I have plenty of hacked up little pieces and pieces thick as a shingle.
While a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s not worth a single bite. I thought after hanging that long the ham would be even more dry and salty than a home cured ham usually is. But it’s not, it’s mellow and mild, succulent and salty.
I think the next ham may have to hang for 3 years!
I went to Menards today to buy supplies for what seems to be the never-ending porch renovation. Happily I found everything I needed and I parked my self in a line that seemed surprisingly short for a holiday weekend to check out.
But it wasn’t short enough for the guy in front of me. At the head of the line was a lady of approximately my age with another lady of an age to be her mother . They had a cart full of plants and stuff and each item had to be explained and relayed from the clerk to the daughter to her mother and then back through the daughter to the clerk.
The guy in front of me huffed and puffed, craned his neck around to look for a shorter line, and finally went stomping off to a shorter line.
“You inutterable  prick,” I thought. “Did you never have a mother?”, I thought, “Do you think you’ll never grow old,” I steamed.
Then a cashier opened up a new line and I dashed over to it, my self-righteous indignation discarded by the opportunity to get out of Menards 30 seconds earlier. I wasn’t being snotty and huffy like the guy in front of me, I was just choosing a shorter line . I bought my stuff and wheeled it out to the parking lot…
And there was the lady and her mother, loading their plants into a car. Mister Crankypants who huffed and puffed to another line was just coming out the door of Menards when I drove off through Menards’ puzzling parking lot.
Is there a point or a moral to this? I don’t know. I’m just missing my Mom and wishing I could take her to a store again and take forever to get checked out.
1. I’ll just assume she was her daughter from here on, it doesn’t really affect this tale.
2. I had to look that up after I got home, I couldn’t remember what sort of prick he was, “inutterable” or “insufferable.” Turns out it he was either unutterable or insufferable. But not inutterable, I made that up in my pique, although some dictionaries very kindly allow that “in” or “un” utterable mean the same thing.
3. I’m a nice guy, neither unutterable nor insufferable, really, I’m a much better person than Mr. Crankypants. Really.