I’d like to think that three weeks away were due to some important, life-changing set of circumstances that will help fill the page here for months. But alas, no such luck. April, May and June are shaping up to be overwhelmingly scheduled with Events–yes, those momentous occasions that cause titles to be capitalized–and that leaves the weeks in-between as times to refresh and retool, and not to sit and try to unload thoughts onto the computer.
But I’ll try.
My wife has regaled the family with the story, so now it’s my turn…Along with some minimal defense.
But keep in mind that I tend to buy my shoes from Target. Or Famous Footwear (where we have a frequent buyer card). Or somewhere equally cheap. And why do I buy cheap shoes? Because I have big feet, and big shoes tend to cost more and are harder to find. Because I don’t spend money on myself simply as a matter of course–I buy what I need for myself and don’t tend to go for extravagances so that there’s more to go around for the family. And because I’ve pretty well decided that I can live my life with three pairs of shoes: winter boots, tennis shoes, and a dress pair. When one of those wears out, then I “need” another pair.
I don’t hold the same thought when it comes to my family. “Need” has different meanings there. If I can afford it in the budget and they want to buy something that will serve a purpose in their life, then it’s as close to a “need” as I can get. So when Jenni decided that she needs new Birkenstocks because I can’t remember the last time we bought the pair she has, I did honestly consider that a need. And since we’ve become big fans of Schuler Shoes, we go there for a lot of our shoe needs.
So on Friday, Jenni and I headed to Schuler to get her sandals. And while I had been thinking about needing to fit in a purchase of new tennis shoes for me, it still wasn’t fully on the radar–my tennis shoes didn’t have holes, were moderately comfortable, and served the purpose of covering my feet whilst out in public.
But the hitch in shopping for shoes at a good shoe store with actual knowledgeable salespeople is that our sales guy looked at my feet and began lecturing–or selling, or explaining…take it as you will–about how the support I wasn’t getting from my two-year-old tennis shoes wasn’t worth anything. So we looked at shoes for me.
I came away with a dress pair–which feel as comfortable as almost any shoes I’ve had for a long time–and a pair of tennis shoes.
But they aren’t just tennis shoes: they’ve got extra support, a “roll bar,” cushioning, breathable fabric, a 12-volt power system, roof rack, and fog lights. All they need is an airbag.
And for the first couple of days I wore them, they hurt. My feet, unaccustomed to how actual podiatric support was supposed to feel, were uncomfortable with the extra attention, and came out sore. But today, the comfort is noticeable.
So now I’m thinking about sandals. After all, it is almost summer. But then Jenni will need something else, too.
See you tomorrow.
No. I am not a binge viewer, nor will I ever be, I fear. I just can’t take that much of anything for that long. So when faced with a TV series that has but one season so far that consists of just four twenty-three minute episodes, you’d think I could have polished that off in one sitting.
Nope. It took two.
As you can see on that DVD cover, A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a “darkly humorous” adaptation of a Russian writer’s autobiographical account of being a doctor in a small isolated village somewhere probably in Siberia.
Dr. Bomgard (Daniel Radcliffe) has been assigned to take over for a deceased doctor in a hospital in the middle of nowhere in 1917. He’s fresh out of school, having excelled at his certification exams, but doing well in school clearly has not prepared him for what he’s about to discover in the real world.
Isolated from society, surrounded by an odd collection of nurses and assistants, and left basically on his own, Bomgard is overwhelmed by the task–faced with patients with syphilis, breach babies, mangled limbs, and the like. And he is reminded of this as an older version of himself (Jon Hamm) appears in hallucinations…Or it could be the other way around as the older, morphine-addicted doctor is being investigated for writing prescriptions for the drug for himself and he is going back through his notebook from that time in his life.
While the younger doctor is struggling with his job, he becomes afflicted with a strangulated hernia, which begins his reliance on morphine–a descent that the older doctor tries to talk him out of.
It’s a funny show–really, it is, in spite of the truly dark material. And this is actually aided by the quick pace and short episodes. But four episodes per season is just too few to make it really impactful.
Both Hamm and Radcliffe play the doctor wonderfully, and the hallucinations are handled very well and often comically. And the supporting cast, small as it is, is very good too.
I’d recommend it, especially since through binge-watching, you could clear the first season pretty quickly. There is a second that has aired in Britain last November, but that hasn’t come here yet, so look forward to that.
Four out of five stars.
See you tomorrow.
Welcome, kids, to a new and somewhat regular segment of the show here where I unleash to the world some of the music I’ve collected over the years. Some of it’s good. Some’s bad. Some’s just absurd.
First, some backstory: ages and ages ago, when I was still young and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, I received one of the greatest birthday gifts ever–a record player. Sure, it was cheap, and the tone arm had no balance to it whatsoever, and it had cheap sounding speakers, but it was my own record player. I joined the RCA Music Club (bad idea), and thanks to a friend, I frequented a neighborhood record store (remember when both of those things existed–record stores AND neighborhood record stores?), and slowly built up a record collection. I picked up more music at garage sales– in fact, the single greatest musical score of my pre-teen years was purchasing the entire collection of 45s from a former baby sitter (over 50 records) all for just $2. The finest pop recordings that the early 1970s had to offer were now mine!
Somehow, I’ve always enjoyed collecting music. Even though it’s so much easier these days, it’s still fun to find music I want.
I envision the meeting going something like this: “Hey, we should cash in on this disco thing and do an album of disco music.” “Cool! We wouldn’t have to even rewrite anything because we could just take existing songs and put them to a disco beat!” “Ooh! What if we get one of the Bee Gees? Is there one who isn’t popular who we could call and get cheap?”
A couple of coffees later, and Robin Gibb was enlisted, songs were rearranged for the disco format, and someone actually wrote one entirely new song. Because disco.
By the way, yes, Bert’s wearing a gold chain on the album cover there…Because that’s how Bert rolls.
So what say we get this train wreck moving, eh? First, I give you the title track from the album. Feel free to shoot your computer at any time.
Oh, it goes on from there. Five more songs worth, but I’ll spare you a bunch of them. Though I do need to inflict this one on you, in which Cookie Monster tells Robin Gibb that he’s a “cookie eating, cookie dancing fool!” You just can’t make this stuff up…
Sadly, all I can say is that Julie and I listened to that album endlessly. We adored it and got to know the songs. And it stuck in my brain so much that over 30 years later, I found that damned album and downloaded it. Because those six songs would help complete my music collection. Dammit…
Or course I wouldn’t actually pay to download it, but don’t worry I got it for free (gratuitous plug for Freegal, if offered by your library…Hennepin County offers it, and you get three free downloads per week from an admittedly thin library, but this was in there…).
I’ll give you a few days to sleep this post off and get over the nightmares. I’ll be back with another What I’m Listening To This Time post in a few days. In the meantime, I’ll post something hopefully more normal here later.
See you tomorrow.
Yes. This turned out as well as it looks. As did this:
So we can declare the ATK gluten-free crust recipe a winner–it’s flaky, tasty, not gritty, and is everything that a normal crust should be. Except it isn’t a normal crust. Since starting on this journey, pie crust, like bread, has been one of the big stumbling blocks. Now it isn’t.
Like the bread, though, making this crust is different than “normal.” I mean, in addition to having two rice flours, potato and tapioca starch in it, it’s got sour cream and rice vinegar. But the very good news is that it’s easy–time consuming, but easy. It’s kind of a usual process through the start, cutting the butter into the flour, then adding the liquid just until it comes together, then wrapping it in plastic wrap and putting it in the fridge for at least an hour. But then you roll it out, not adding any more flour because that will make it grittier. Put it in the pie pan and crimp the edges, and then put it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so until it’s hard, because apparently if you bake it without freezing first, it will just sag into the pie pan as a lump of dough. So freeze. Then parbake–except more than usual. Then fill. Then bake.
But somehow this whole thing works. And there is much joy here. I can probably throw away the gritty thick crust I have in the freezer now.
So after a couple of recent disappointments, there is reason to be pleased.
See you tomorrow.
I know. It’s Saturday. And I’m blogging. WTF? Read on.
Seeing as how the last time I posted, I was talking about the quest for the perfect loaf of gluten-free bread, I’ll give you the report on that and some updates.
The America’s Test Kitchen sandwich bread was, as I said, okay. It was softer than Udi’s, but much denser and a bit chewier, which makes it less palatable. It was okay untoasted, but seemed to do really well when it was toasted…a lot.
Then I moved on to the Gluten Free On A Shoestring “Soft White Sandwich Bread.” It was, as I’ve said before, almost like performing chemistry instead of making bread: in addition to the flour mix which is required for any gluten-free baking, there was the addition of the myriad of oddball ingredients which, while all very well-reasoned in the book, seem just a bit over the top.
I mixed it up as instructed. Put it in my spiffy new proofing bucket and put that in the fridge. Where it sat. For two-plus days. On the third day, much like Jesus, the stone was pushed aside, and the dough was removed from the fridge. I reviewed the instructions and proceeded to knead and then form and then place the dough in the pan.
Where it didn’t rise quite as expected.
I baked it anyway, tried out the cooled loaf, and found that it was almost inedible. Dense, hard, and disappointing. About the only plus going for it was its nice crumb.
So I went back to figure out where I went wrong. And there, in the fine print was a reference back to a different section of the book telling me that kneading isn’t really kneading (more just folding over on itself while flouring lightly), and forming is nearly the same, just a bit more delicate.
Yep. So any chance I had at having the bread turn out right was blitzed almost the minute I pulled it out of the fridge. At some point, though, I will try again. And I’ll remember not to knead.
But tonight, I moved on to the next experiment which actually has great importance: pie crust. See, Jenni loves pies. Pumpkin, lemon meringue, apple…and she loves the quiches I make, but prefers them to have a crust rather than the crustless versions I’ve made lately. If this one goes as well as it sounds, she’ll be in pie heaven once again. And I can give mom the recipe so she can make a gluten-free lemon meringue pie for Easter.
Fingers crossed. More coming.
See you tomorrow.
Regular readers of this irregular blog will recall that in January 2013, Lathropworld went (mostly) gluten-free. A collection of non-specific, low-level maladies and feelings led to the decision, and we have been living the lifestyle pretty much ever since.
Sure, there have been occasions that have caused Jenni in particular to go off of her self-imposed dietary restrictions, but as I said, since it isn’t a medical necessity, and more a question of overall health and well-being, she can just take it with the understanding of how she’ll feel afterward.
I’ve been able to adapt pretty well on most things: less pasta is consumed, with more rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and even squash showing up in the equation. I’ve been able to make pretty tasty gluten-free alternatives to favorite dishes, like chicken parmesan, chicken nuggets, fried chicken, crab alfredo and even a lasagna.
But the difficulty has come in any form of baked good.
Cakes, muffins, pancakes, and bread have all been huge challenges. Because nothing hydrates quite like wheat flour.
We tried two gluten-free breads before discovering Udi’s. The first two were horrible. Udi’s is passable to the point where it is the gold standard. Even though it’s still not a very satisfying bread. But Jenni’s wonderfully committed to the diet and, in spite of the bread’s shortcomings, still has it every morning for breakfast, and occasional sandwiches during the week.
But when it comes to cooking, I’m always looking for something better if a food comes up short. Jenni loves her baked goods–especially sweet ones–and I’d love to find that one wonderful recipe that makes something that’s at least almost close to the real thing.
Last week, my copy of the long-awaited America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free cookbook arrived. In the course of an evening, I’d scanned it cover to cover, and started taking in their ideas, tips and tricks as to how to overcome the no-wheat baking problem.
A month of so ago, I bought an e-book written by a woman whose gluten-free blog (Gluten Free On a Shoestring) I follow online. And like ATK, she’s laid out a huge discussion of what ingredients and methods need to be used to achieve her results.
And here’s the biggest frustration: everyone who has written a book or blog about gluten-free baking has a different formula for making an alternative flour. In fact, the Gluten Free On a Shoestring woman actually has four or five different blends, depending on what you’re making.
One night last week, I made a lemon pound cake that actually wasn’t gritty, nearly melted in your mouth, and tasted fabulous. The ATK book must be on to something.
So I decided that I would move on to their soft sandwich bread recipe.
Bread has been the big killer for me. Up until this weekend, I’ve tried two boxed mixes and two recipes found online, and the bread has consistently failed to rise properly, has come out dry, gritty, really chewy, and in one case, was so horrible that I threw it out even before I had Jenni try a piece.
I’ve read different theories about gluten-free bread baking from so many different sources now that I’m skeptical of all of them until one actually proves itself in a loaf of bread. One blog claimed that since you don’t need to form gluten, you don’t need very much rising time at all–20 minutes of rising and a baking cycle later, and I had a really firm, ghostly white rectangular Frisbee. Another said you need to mix in the xanthan gum at a specific time so that it would provide the needed structure at just the right moment. That one rose but otherwise tasted so horrible I threw it out.
The box mixes brought me some hope, but in the end, they too failed to meet the expectations raised by the photo on the box or package.
Over the last couple of weeks, deciding that the ATK book and GFOAS (Gluten Free On a Shoestring) blog are probably the two best options at this point, I’ve been gathering the oddball ingredients needed to make their breads. Sure, there are the standards: white rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch and flour, even oat flour. But then ATK calls on powdered psyllium husks, which are more a dietary supplement than baking ingredient.
You see, psyllium is commonly used as a fiber supplement, and apparently, their powdered husks can provide some pretty kick-ass structure to a collection of flours that otherwise have no structure. In addition, it offers the side effect of some startling regularity when eaten. But psyllium husks aren’t something commonly found at your run-of-the-mill grocery store. However, it is offered at The Vitamin Shoppe.
So imagine, if you will, Patrick and I walking into our neighborhood Vitamin Shoppe location on Friday afternoon. The two bulked-up gentlemen at the counter didn’t bother talking to me when I walked past them, and eventually, I found the “Helps you poop” section of their store, and picked up the $7 jar. At the counter, well-built guy number two informed me that I want to make sure to drink lots of water when using this, because, you know, that’s how it makes things move down there…And then I told him that I was going to use it in a recipe for baking gluten-free bread.
I don’t think he knew what to do with that.
A couple of other ingredients have necessitated purchasing foodstuffs online. One is a “modified tapioca starch,” which of course begs the question as to what exactly was modified. But the other is “isolated whey protein,” which also makes me wonder what the poor protein did to deserve being isolated from the rest of the kids.
All I know is that the modified tapioca starch is a “professional food-grade thickener,” presumably used when you’re making gravy for 5,000 and need to thicken it up quickly. I, on the other hand, need 16 grams of the stuff in one loaf’s worth of bread dough.
Isolated whey protein, for those keeping score at home, apparently is something used by body builders.
Honestly, as the bread decision is coming down to pooping more or having bigger muscles, I have no idea what to choose.
Friday night I made the ATK bread. It came out okay–not great, certainly, but it rose well, is reasonably soft, but still really dense and somewhat chewy. It does toast up fairly well, but between the oat flour and the powdered psyllium husk, it is far from a white sandwich bread–it’s a distinct shade of greyish tan.
Today, I mixed up the soft white sandwich bread as offered up by GFOAS. Outside of feeling like some sort of mad scientist when mixing up the 18 or so ingredients in the bread and the flour, she has oddly specific instructions about making the bread, including needing to let it sit in a proofing bucket in the fridge for at least 12 hours and no more than 3 days.
I’m planning on baking it tomorrow night or Tuesday night, depending on schedules. I’ll offer up a side-by-side comparison at that time.
Next stop: pizza crust. Wish me luck.
See you tomorrow.
I’ve been working on a bit of a project lately, and figured I’d share with the class, not because I’m trying to say that this is the reason I’ve been away from the blog for so long, but because of what I’m finding in the process.
For some reason, I’ve always been pretty organized about my e-mail at work–having filters running to automatically sort and organize incoming mail into specific folders so that everything’s either easy to find or ignore. I did that more out of self-defense than anything else, because I can get dozens of e-mails each day, but not that many at home.
But I’ve found that my personal addresses are getting pretty littered, and finding something lately has been nearly impossible. So for a few weeks now, I’ve been sorting, organizing, filing, deleting, filtering, and the like. It’s been an intensive process, because while I can run filters and rules on some things, I can’t do it on everything, so I’ve ended up rummaging through a lot of old individual e-mails.
My Gmail account, which I’ve had since 2006, has been trimmed down nicely now, where the inbox folder has just a hundred or so messages, and those are getting further sliced and diced into nice subcategories. And I’m finding messages to delete, like the restaurant reservation confirmation to Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill in Las Vegas, when Jenni and I were there in April of 2006.
I’ve still got all of the reservation information for our family trip out west two years ago–including, I discovered, the confirmation for our ill-fated stay at the Super 8 in Casper, Wyoming, and even the follow-up e-mail I got from the hotel manager who took the time to respond to me after I took their poll asking about how our stay was…Don’t think I need to keep those, even though there’s that part of me that thinks that it’s part of the trip’s documentation. And yet, I created a folder and stuffed all of them in there.
This whole task is compounded by the fact that I have 4 personal e-mail addresses, and that I’m trying to shoehorn each of these into specific purposes: one for junk mail, one for personal and family stuff, one for more professional or formal communications, and one that gets used when I don’t want the other 3 used.
My Yahoo account, for example, has been open since 1996–in fact, back so far that Yahoo didn’t even have webmail at the time; it was Rocketmail then–which in itself is terrifying that I’ve had e-mail there for almost two decades. But the crap I found sitting in there is astounding.
In the meantime, filters are being made, folders are being created, messages deleted. And I’m reading through my electronic past, including messages with relatives long gone from this Earth. Or silly and serious conversations with my wonderful wife.
It’s an electronic minefield of memories.
Fortunately, I’m not an e-mail hoarder, needing to just move on and create new accounts whenever one becomes full or overwhelming. Or at least I think I’m not a hoarder.
The project is as fascinating as it is overwhelming. I’ve got e-mail conversation chains with my grandfather, who died a year-and-a-half ago. I’ve got e-mails chatting with family about the impending birth of Hannah and Zoe. And receipts from online orders from Amazon or other places from years ago.
The most immediate problem, though, is that I don’t think there’s every going to really be an end to this project. I’ve come back in a couple of cases and added folders to a couple of accounts, even though for the most part, I’ve tried to keep the same folder names wherever possibly across all of the accounts. But the other problem actually found an answer today: I’d wondered if it would help speed the process of finding past e-mails. And the answer is yes…to a point. Today, I volunteered myself to coordinate the Easter Breakfast at church. And job one is digging up messages from last year to find out how much food we need to plan to bring. I’ve found some of them. More apparently need to be sorted.
Wish me luck!
See you tomorrow.
Long ago, practically in a previous life, we lived in North Dakota. We lived for a while, in fact, on the eastern edge of the Bakken oil field, and then later, further east off of its eastern edge.
But that first year, we lived in Plaza, ND, a town–if it could indeed be called that–that was no more than about seven blocks wide and maybe five deep (though the Google Maps view seems to charitably assign road indices to what pass for alleys in town). The stated population was 150, though I frequently thought that was being overly charitable.
The town had a gas station, a bank branch (usually just staffed by one lone person), a post office that really was not much larger than a two-car garage, and a “mall,” which simply housed a small grocery store, a small hardware store, and a small cafe.
Then there came us. Two twenty-somethings, setting up shop in our rented five-bedroom house. There were no street addresses, in fact, no marked street names. So we made up our own street address (occasionally not the same one) for the UPS guy to use for deliveries. But truth be told, he knew where we lived and complained once that our doors were locked so he couldn’t stick our delivery in the entry for us.
But more than once, we were asked about the status of baby making, for purposes of keeping their school funded. You see, back then, in the mid- to late-1990s, North Dakota was slowly, quietly dying, bleeding out population. And we swam upstream to move into the state. And it wasn’t just that town, it was others, and other people from across the state who I came into contact with, who said that they really wished the state could grow a bit.
Then, sometime last decade, it finally became technically and financially feasible to mine the Bakken for oil. And the boom was on, with thousands of people moving in to run the mines to suck–or more appropriately with fracking, push–out the oil. The exodus stopped. The fortunes reversed. North Dakota is growing again.
They got their wish. But they never thought about the cost.
Just today, a news story hit saying that Williston, ND, a town that had no more than 10,000 people living within its borders when we were out there, now has the highest rents in the nation. The city, practically in the center of the Bakken, is now estimated to have 30,000 people living there, and that has made housing so scarce that a 700 square foot apartment will run you nearly $2400 a month, more than New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The glut of six-figure salaries is largely to blame, though the lack of housing is another cause. But in a recent series on NPR, it was almost sad to hear people who almost certainly were lamenting the slow death of cities like Williston just 15 years ago, now saying that they don’t even recognize what the city and state have become.
But it’s what they wanted, right? It was the dying wish of a dying state to have fortunes beyond measure come to them. But they never thought about the downside: the cost, crime, overcrowding, lack of infrastructure, or even, as shown in a recent satellite photo, the constant bright light of hundreds of wells burning off excess natural gas.
Sure, it isn’t all their fault–there have been wells out there hopelessly pumping low-grade crude for decades. But they didn’t do anything to slow down the rush by drillers to get in there once the technology was available to get the oil out of the flaky rock deep below cities like Williston. So now it’s becoming almost impossible for the people who were there first to live in homes and apartments they had been in for years.
This is the progress North Dakota wanted.
See you tomorrow.
Okay…Before we start the festivities, know this: mom, I love you. And that’s why I can laugh at (and with) you.
I have decided that my mother does her best and most active thinking on Sunday mornings. And if I pulled my cell phone records for the last eight years or so, I could prove it. And actually, I think I can pin down the timing of her best Sunday morning thinking to a block of time between nine a.m. and noon.
How do I know this, you may ask?
Because I and my family are, more often than not, in church during that block of time. And, that is when I frequently get messages from my mom of one sort or another…Thank goodness I am pretty good about muting my ringer. Unmuting, on the other hand is a bit trickier…
Back before we introduced her to texting, voicemail messages were the mode of communication. My pocket or hip would vibrate the requisite three times (sometimes inconveniently mid-sermon), and then it would be gone, shuffling her into the ether of my voicemail. Then, post-text-introduction, I’ll get these text messages regarding one thing or another. Sometimes carrying attached photos of whatever she’s doing at the time.
Are they important? Sure. In the sense that regular communication with your mother is important. And they can be topical. Or necessary. And I can’t say I want them to stop. It’s good to know that she’s up and pondering the world and needed to share some part of it with me. But it makes me laugh every time I see a message come from her during church hours.
So it’s a running joke in my life: church time equals time for mom to call or text. It’s what she does. It’s who she is. And as inconvenient as it may be, it lets me know that I’m always there, somewhere in her head.
At least on a Sunday morning, I am. And I’ll take that.
Love you mom!
See you tomorrow.
And it was.
The story is about Emmet, an ordinary Lego living in a huge Lego city, following the instructions that all Legos live by. Then, after falling into a hole at a construction site with a red block stuck to his back, he is identified as “the Special,” who is supposed to return individuality and creativity to the Lego world.
He falls in with a group of “Master Builders” who can build just about anything they can imagine from the bricks they find around them. And they look to him for leadership.
They are fighting against President/Lord Business, who wants nothing more than the perfect world he has built to stay that way.
It’s a simple story, and an allegory about following directions, being creative, embracing change, and so much more. But it’s done really well at various different levels, so it’s entertaining for the kids and grown ups. It’s quickly paced, and filled with all kinds of humor. It’s a crisp story that only stumbles a bit at the end as it works too hard to make the ending too deeply emotional.
And the animation–most of the movie is CGI, though some of it is actual Lego–is so well done that the Lego world is just truly overwhelming to look at at one time (we’re going to need to go frame-by-frame when we get the DVD or Blu-Ray). The water, fire, streets, buildings, and everything are Lego, and it’s just amazing to look at.
Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a great movie? In many ways, yeah. In some ways, no. But I think its shortcomings are easier to overlook because the rest of the movie is just so fun and great looking. But for every kid who has ever had a collection of Legos, there is so much of this movie that you can relate to and celebrate: the different types of sets, the instruction manuals, and that playland that exists in your head when you’re building and playing with these toys.
It was a movie that was worth seeing on its opening night. And we’ll see it again several times, though probably on DVD. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.