Monday, January 28, 2013

Good Cooking Tips for Day and Night

Dear George,
I haven’t always been an excellent cook.  When we first got married, Katja was excited about being a new bride, so, aside from grilling an occasional burger on our hibachi, I was mostly an appreciative eater.  Once our son J was born, we enjoyed home-cooked family meals together every day.  It didn’t require major changes because, until age 11 or so, J would only eat SpaghettiOs with meatballs. When J went off to college, our food habits changed dramatically.  Katja went into a deep funk and stopped cooking altogether.  Mainly she munched on stuff out of bags and jars.  Faced with anxieties about malnutrition, I started making my own food.  Over the years I’ve become expert at preparing two specialties.  These are known in the trade as (a) Healthy Choices and (b) Lean Cuisines.  The nutritional payoffs, of course, are excellent.  It means, on the one hand, that I’m guaranteed to be Healthy and, on the other hand, that I’ll be Lean.  I haven’t been quite as lean as one might expect (because of snacking on Oreo cookies and Graeter’s doughnuts in between), but I’m leaner than I otherwise would have been. 

I’ve complete mastered meal preparation.  You take the plastic box out of the paper container.  You fold back the cellophane just a little bit on each of the four corners (alternatively, you could punch holes in the cellophane with a fork, but the folding back method results in greater uniformity).  The most important step is getting the timing exactly right.  Basically, you push the number 6 button on the microwave for express cooking. Then you wait six minutes, take the box out, carefully peel off the cellophane, and your gourmet meal is ready.  The company doesn’t brag about it, but it’s likely that Lean Cuisines were created by a world-class chef from Paris, France, and they come in an amazing variety of mouth-watering dishes.  I wait till Krogers is having a $2 sale, then stock up for months at a time.  My favorites are Tortilla Crusted Fish and Swedish Meatballs.  Healthy Choices are a little more bland (necessarily so because they are so Healthy), but they have the advantage of coming in more robust 10-oz. portions. 

A perfectly prepared L.C. entree which I enjoyed for lunch today (Tortilla Crusted Fish)

In the last year I’ve expanded my cooking repertoire in entirely new directions.  This came about totally by accident.  Sometimes when I have difficulty getting to sleep at night, I’ll get up and take a sleeping pill.  The morning after one such event, I was looking at photos in my camera’s memory, and I was baffled by a picture of a plateful of food which I had no recollection of ever seeing before.  Then it dawned on me that I must have gone downstairs and made a snack after taking my sleeping pill, even though I had no memory of it.  Over the next several weeks I figured out that every time I take a sleeping pill I seem to wander down to the kitchen an hour later.  I usually didn’t remember it, but the evidence was there in the morning in the form of cucumber peelings, olive pits, and/or spilled mustard drops.  Over time, I’ve accumulated a collection of photos of creations I’ve made during these late night excursions, sometimes aware of what I was doing, sometimes not.  Whether it’s because of the sleeping pill or the late night hour, I seem to be much more creative at 2 a.m. than in my daytime waking state.  Here’s a sampling of some of my best early morning concoctions:     

Delectable Reese Witherspoon Salad:  Boston Bibb lettuce, apple slices, carrot sticks, hard salami, Roma tomatoes, black olives, stuffed green olives, feta cheese, Red Wine Vinaigrette dressing

The Cosmic Wonder:  Kroger chunk tuna in water, Kalamata olives, red pepper slices, mozzarella cheese strips

Entrée de Maison Mike & Duffy:  Blueberries on lemon yogurt with sides of orzo, strawberries, black olives, mozzarella cheese, and a glass of merlot

Menekaunee Carrot Burger:  Hard salami on carrot strips with sprinkled black olives and a glass of cabernet sauvignon

Sandwiché Magnifiqué de Élégance:  one slice of toasted 15 grain bread, Skippy Crunchy peanut butter, Belgian endive, grape tomatoes, blueberries, salad olives

Floo-Floo Lemon Fluff:  Lemon yogurt, raspberry goat cheese, salad olives, green grapes

Blueberry Frozen Delight:  Spumoni ice cream on Almond Nut-Thin crackers, topped off with a large blueberry

El Dreamo Supremo:  Belgian endive encrusted with peanut butter and blueberries; Bibb lettuce spread with cream cheese and grape tomatoes; mushroom slices and cheddar cheese; all sprinkled with hazelnuts, walnut chunks, and pine nuts. 

It’s never too late to take up new pursuits, so I’m going to be busy developing my cooking abilities over coming months.  I don’t know how to turn on the gas stove in our kitchen, and the complexity of the dials intimidates me even if I could.  Instead I’ll concentrate on new recipes when out camping with the sheepdogs (who will also help me with the leftovers).  I’m already adept at charbroiling things on my Coleman stove.  My favorite meal is black crispy bacon served with blackened pancakes and syrup.  Now I need to get better on burnt chicken breasts and scorched corned beef hash.  I’ll take some pictures and send them along when they’re ready.  In the meantime, Bon Appetit!

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (1-29):  You get so creative on ambien,..  I have started to cook, every week I do try one thing new, it's not as great first time. Then I have to make it one more time to try to make It perfect.  Will send you pictures.
-Jennifer M (1-28): Very fancy looking food.  I wonder if it tastes good? 
-DCL to Jennifer (1-28): Pretty tasty, on the whole.  Items with peanut butter are best.  Last night I used a bunch of little seeds I found in the refrigerator.  They were good but Katja scolded me because the container cost $15.    :>)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What If Goliath Battled David on the Basketball Court?*

The “Southwest Tech Scourge”

Dear George,
I’ve been going to basketball games at Southwest Ohio Tech for a dozen years or more.  Partly it’s convenience – the team (nicknamed the Scourge) plays just a half-mile down the street from us.  Partly it’s because Southwest wins most of its games handily, and it’s easy and rewarding to be a fan of a top-ranked team. They’ve been a regional force for years, and they’ve gone to the national Junior College championship tournament numerous times.  They’ve made it to the championship game twice in the last five years, though they’ve yet to win the whole thing.  When I first started going to Southwest games, about half the players were from Greater Cincinnati.  Now, with a strong push toward national preeminence, the coach recruits from the entire Midwest.  This year’s team has players from Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville, Akron, and Detroit, as well as two Cincinnati players.  The Scourge play a wide open offense, are pesky on defense, often score a hundred points or more, and are sheer fun to watch for their energy and skill.  

The “Pitney Torpedoes” warming up

The other night the opponent was Pitney Community College from Porterfield, Ohio. The game looked from the outset like sheep being led to the slaughter.  Porterfield’s a town of about 15,000, 90 miles northeast of Cincinnati in a predominantly rural area. Pitney’s student body is about one-seventh the size of Southwest’s.  Several of Pitney’s players are from Porterfield, and the rest are from small towns in a thirty-mile radius, e.g., Napton, Pleasant Hills, Zandelia.  The team is nicknamed the Torpedoes.  Its players are mostly white guys; the Scourge, all African-American guys (which doesn’t necessarily guarantee an outcome, but has some predictive power).  Southwest’s players were taller and looked to be stronger, faster, and more athletic.  Pitney’s won a few games this season, but has a middling record at best. Their center was chubby and under-sized; the point guard, short and scrawny.  Even the Pitney coach looked kind of mopy.  At one point in the warm-ups the Pitney team missed 20 practice shots in a row.  They must have been nervous.  I’m sure it was their most intimidating game of the year.

The game started off as you’d expect.  Southwest won the tip, raced down the floor and scored within seconds.  Pitney got the ball and promptly threw it out of bounds.  The Scourge made a three point shot.  The Torpedoes turned it over again.  And so on.  As the first half proceeded Southwest kept doubling the score: 6-3, 10-5, 17-8, 23-13, etc.  Toward the end of the first half Southwest cooled down a bit, perhaps out of boredom or decreased adrenalin, and the half came to an end with a 33-23 score.  I was just surprised the margin wasn’t larger.  There were lots of Pitney fans present, but the visitors became quieter and quieter as the game went along.  

The half-time dance team

A local high school hip hop dance team performed at intermission, getting lots of applause.  As the second half got started, Southwest continued to pull away.  Katja was home sick in bed, and, since the game was effectively over, I decided to leave early. I figured I’d stay till the Scourge got 15 points ahead.  With about ten minutes left in the game, the score reached 49-33.  I thought to myself, they might as well cancel the rest of the game.  Just as I was gathering together my stuff, a Scourge player made an ill-advised pass, and a Pitney player raced down the floor and dunked the ball.  Then the same thing happened on the next possession.  I set my coat back down and decided to watch just a few more minutes.  Suddenly, however, the whole Southwest team seemed to come down with a seemingly contagious case of fumble-itis.  They literally had their passes intercepted on their next six possessions in a row, and Pitney scored on most of them.  The Surge’s lead kept shrinking – 14 points, 11 points, 9 points, etc.  I didn’t know if the Scourge were tired (they only had 8 players suited up), distracted, or even flu-ridden, but their level of play got worse and worse.  On the other hand, the more errors the Scourge made, the more energized the Torpedoes became, and their fans starting cheering at the top of their voices.  Then, the Torpedo players started hitting long three point shots for the first time in the game – one, two, three in a row. 

The Scourge mascot, undoubtedly worried

With three minutes left on the clock, the score was suddenly tied.  I don’t think anybody in the gym—fans or players on either team -- believed that such a huge comeback could be happening.  Pitney took the lead by one point; then a Scourge player made a 15-foot shot to regain the lead.  Pitney moved back to a one-point lead from a pair of free throws, and then, with thirty seconds to go, the Scourge went up, 65-64.  I still felt pretty relaxed.  As close as the game had become, I was convinced there was no possibility that Southwest could lose.  The Torpedoes came down the floor, passed the ball around, and one of the Torpedo guards got open and made a 10-foot shot from the sideline.  The score was 66-65 Pitney with only three seconds to go.  The Pitney fans were jumping up and down and screaming nonstop.  The Scourge threw the ball inbounds, and one of their guards made a desperation shot from midcourt.  It bounced off the top of the backboard, stopping the clock at 0.3 seconds.  With less than half a second left, Pitney got the ball back, and their player wisely heaved the ball as far down the court as he could throw it, which would make it impossible for the Scourge to get back and get off a shot.  However, the ball hit the ceiling and again was ruled out of bounds.  Because no time had gone off the clock, Southwest got the ball back under their own basket with 0.3 seconds still left.  The gym fell silent.  I’m sure everyone was wondering whether the Scourge could pull off a miracle.  Hypothetically, Southwest could toss the ball in off a player’s fingers and into the basket in only a fraction of a second.  The gym was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  The Scourge player threw the ball inbounds to his tallest teammate, but the play didn’t work -- the buzzer sounded before the guy could get a shot off.  Miracle of miracles, Pitney had won, 66-65.  Everyone stared at the scoreboard, and no one moved for a second.  Then I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sports team more excited than the Pitney Torpedoes.  All the players from the bench rushed onto the floor, as did the coaches.  Everybody jumped, hollered, ran in circles, gave one another high fives.  One guy lay on the floor, kicking his legs in the air.  The fans yelled and jumped up and down, shaking the floorboards of the stands.  The Southwest players looked deflated and in total disbelief as they slowly filed off the floor.  Their coach simply looked disgusted.  As a Scourge fan, it was disappointing -- definitely a blemish on the season’s record to date.    At the same time, I decided it was probably the most remarkable game I’d ever watched in person.  It reminded me of the Gene Hackman movie, Hoosiers, about an equally amazing basketball outcome.  These two teams could play a hundred games, and the Scourge would win 99 of them.  I’m sure that the Torpedo players will remember the victory and their individual roles in it for the rest of their lives.  It shows why sports can generate so much excitement.  You never know for sure what in the world is going to happen.  Even in real life, David can beat Goliath.  

*Pseudonyms are used in this story. 

G-mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (1-24): David,  Pretty cool!  Sounds very exciting!  I bet your heart was pumpimg the whole time.. Glad you had a great time..:)  Lots of love :)  G

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The View from Late Middle Age

Dear George,
A friend of mine occasionally claims I’m a master of the art of denial.  That’s so untrue.   Like everybody else, I do reject most ideas when they don’t fit my preconceptions.  However, I’m in crystal clear contact with reality the rest of the time. 

A good example is the topic of aging.  Fifteen years ago (as I was turning sixty) I remarked to one of my psychology colleagues that I was starting to show some signs of middle age.  He looked at me sort of funny and said that it had been a long time since I’d seen middle age.  That was a new (and troubling) idea, and I gave the matter some serious thought.  Eventually I concluded that my colleague was confused.  Life stages are slippery, and it’s not simply a matter of some objective number of years.  The difference between one life stage and the next, e.g., middle age and old age, has less to do with how long you’ve lived, more to do with qualitative changes in mind, body, and behavior.  As they say, you’re only as old as you’d like to be.  

To get a better handle on exactly where I am in the life course, I designed an objective test which measures whether one has entered “old age”.  The ten items (with a yes-no response format) are as follows:

·       Do you have more trouble climbing the stairs?
·       Do you usually wear Depends when going out for pizza?
·       Do your children subtly hint that you should move to a nursing home?
·       Do you have a pacemaker?
·       Do you wear a hearing aid (or two)?
·       Do you regularly lose your car keys, credit cards, and toothbrush?
·       Are you too creaky to get out of bed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?
·       Are you afraid to leave the house because of your fear of germs on doorknobs?
·       Do you forget family members’ telephone numbers (and/or their names)?
·       Do strangers on the street stop you and ask if you’re all right?

Assigning a 1 for “Yes” and a 0 for “No”, I figure that a score of 3 means you’re on the cusp of old age, and a 7 confirms it.  For myself, I wound up with a score of zero.  That was exactly the same score as if I’d taken the test 40 years ago.  The implication seems obvious.  I’m functioning at the same level now as when I was 35 (e.g., mildly confused then; mildly confused now).  After several years of working out at the gym, my muscle tone seems about the same.  And I don’t seem to be any more subject to illnesses or physical maladies than I used to be.  So I guess not only are we living longer these days, but middle age apparently lasts two or three times as long as it used to.

Just like everything else, it makes sense to think of one’s life as having a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning lasts up to somewhere around early adolescence, about the time that males start to get the first signs of fuzz on their cheeks.  The end stage varies dramatically, depending on whether one has begun the process of ending or not.  And all the rest of it is the middle.  Sometimes the middle can go on practically forever. For myself, I’d have to conclude (as my objective test results prove) that I’m still in the midst of middle-age.  Maybe it’s best to think of it as late middle age, but it’s middle age nonetheless.  This also seems to be true for most of my relatives and friends.   I’m going to explain this to my friend who has the mistaken impression that I’m prone to denial.  I think my careful reasoning will demonstrate that I’m in excellent touch with the facts.

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (1-20): David. Mine was 0 also, when I told a doctor ( not the ones we know) that I did not take the revived up super flu vaccine he asked  me why I didn't chose it.  I said no need since I don't feel like I am immune depressed.  He suggested, nicely , that next year I should take super dose because even tho I felt good I was with out a doubt on my way to being immune suppressed because of age, I call it immune depressed.I was not happy with his accusations that I was immune suppressed. Did my research and sent immune depressing article to you.  I sent it to K and J also but bet 50$ neither bother to read it.  Have sent it to my friends my age and they are much more interested.  If you didn't get it let me know.  I am finding a gerontologist In Ann arbor next week.  I think I need T cell assessment.  Hello to all love linda
-Donna D (1-20): Oh master this is very interesting and factual.  Your friend's reference however was not one about age but other topics such as relationships, communication, functioning.  Enjoy late middle age!  For you it is going to last a long time. :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

After the Storm

Dear George,
Our winter has mostly been chilly and damp, at least up till late December when we got a couple of minor snowstorms in quick succession.  Three or four inches of snow on the ground totally transforms the environment and reminds us how amazing the change of seasons can be.  I trotted off to Burnet Woods in our Clifton neighborhood and took these photos which I’m passing along for people’s pleasure.

G-mail Comments
-Linda C 1-18):  I wish we would get one storm like that this winter, it is so white and dreamy.
-JML (1-17): So glad to be here in nola right now. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Sheepdogs Turn 75

Duffy (Foreground, black ear) and Mike (white head) at Mt. Airy Forest with Sophie

Dear George,
Our Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, are ten and 3/4 years old this month.  If you count one dog year as equivalent to seven human years, that’s about age seventy-five.  Such a shock.  When we got them as two-month-old puppies, we were 60 times as old as they were.  Now we’re all the same age.  People on the street are always amazed when they ask how old the dogs are because they have the looks and manner of youngsters.  However, they’ve clearly become senior citizens.  In the past they’ve always come rushing when I arrive home and put my key in the lock, but now they usually don’t hear the key.  They’re less keen on going out for walks, and they struggle more in climbing up the stairs.  Mike, in particular, prefers to hop up with both of his back legs together.  Duffy has taken to barking at the top of his voice whenever Katja calls to me from the other room.  I’m not sure if this is a matter of jealousy, excitement, misguided helpfulness, or simply a muddled mind.  Despite these frailties, though, we adore the doggies more each month that goes by.

We took the Mike and Duffy to the animal hospital recently for their annual checkup, and the vet said they were doing well for their age.  One of the technicians gave us a flyer for a special “Wellness Exam for Senior Dogs” which included testing every bodily organ for every known malady that could possibly inflict an older dog.  It would cost about $1200 for the two dogs and reaffirmed my belief that the sole motive of our animal hospital is making exorbitant profits.  When the vet came in, I mentioned to her that we’d been taking Mike and Duffy to a dog chiropractor to help with their arthritic hips.  She said that was good, then added that their hospital has a new liquid form of glucosamin/chondroitin for arthritis that can be injected monthly and is more effective than the pill form (which she’d previously prescribed for the dogs).  Injections would cost $1260 for the two dogs per year. Since their pills cost about $75 a year, that struck me as a little extravagant.  Katja was all ready to write out a big check.  When I disagreed, the vet excused herself from the room, and my thriftier but less generous voice won out.

A few months ago we took a day trip with Duffy and Mike along the Ohio River and stopped for a mid-afternoon lunch at Augusta, Kentucky.  We were pleased to find that the town’s best restaurant allowed dogs at their outdoor patio tables.  We’d only been seated there a few minutes when Mike decided to throw up his entire breakfast on the slate floor next to our table.  Moments later a couple came in and began to sit down next to the mess.  I warned them off, and, when a waitress came by, I explained that we’d had a mishap and that I’d be glad to clean it up if she could bring some paper towels.  I guess these are the risks that a dog-friendly establishment takes.  I couldn’t even remember the last time that Mike had thrown up, and it was ironic that he selected the only dog-friendly restaurant he’s ever been to for such a clearly unfriendly act.     

After Katja’s shoulder replacement surgery in the autumn, the nurse said we definitely shouldn’t allow the dogs in the bed at night because of the risk of their bumping into Katja and dislocating her new shoulder.  Katja didn’t think such extreme action was necessary, but I went ahead and built a barricade around the bed of desk chairs, laundry hampers, waste baskets, and small end tables.  The dogs were entirely bewildered and sat at the edge of the barricade each night staring at us soulfully.  After three or four nights Katja couldn’t stand it anymore and removed all the impediments while I was out of the house.  The dogs were visibly grateful.  In fact, they turned out to be extremely well-mannered in the bed, perhaps sensing that Katja was injured (or that missteps on their part would result in permanent banishment). 

Our bed is fairly high off the floor, and, while I’ve been helping Mike get in for some time, it’s only been lately that I’ve been doing the same for Duffy, his more agile brother.  The hitch is that, whichever dog is in the bed first (normally Mike), that dog starts barking incessantly when I start to lift up the second dog.  That, in turn, elicits a lot of counter-barking by the second dog.  It gets so noisy we can’t hear a word on the TV.  I don’t normally take the uproar too seriously since the dogs calm down once they’re both laying down in bed.  Recently, though, their standoff was more intense than normal, and, the moment I hoisted Duffy up, he launched into a vicious attack on Mike.  Katja grabbed Mike, I grabbed Duffy, and we pulled them apart.  Once they’d settled down, Katja checked Mike for bites.  At first she didn’t see anything, but then she discovered a large bloody gash just under his left eye.  We took Mike to a neighborhood vet first thing in the morning, and the vet said it was lucky that Duffy had missed the eyeball.  She put a liquid with dye into Mike’s eye to see if his tear ducts had been torn, but they were o.k.  Because of the wound’s location, the vet gave us an antibiotic in the form of tear drops since any medication was likely to wind up in his eye as well as in the wound.  I’m still lifting the dogs into the bed at night, though I’m definitely more cautious and alert to the hazards.

When we arrived home a while back Katja walked into the dining room and was startled to find one of the Venetian blinds from the living room window lying on the floor, some 25 or 30 feet away from its normal location.  Then she noticed that a sofa end-table had been tipped over as well.  We surmised that one of the dogs, probably Duffy, had gotten up on the leather chair next to the living room window and somehow gotten tangled in the Venetian blind cords, pulling the entire apparatus off the wall and dragging it across the room.  It must have been terrifying, and we felt badly that we hadn’t been there.  I tried putting the Venetian blind back up on the wall, but it appeared to be damaged.  After some pushing and pulling and bending of its various parts I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed to be working again.  This seemed to have been an entirely freak accident, and I’m trusting it will never happen again. 

I try to take the dogs out for a 1.4 mile walk each day, though that’s slowed down in our wintry weather.  Mike never wants to go along, and he retreats to the leather chair in the living room as soon as I start to put their collars on.  He seems to think the chair a safe place where I won’t see him.  I go and get him, and he growls at me, but I’m usually persistent.  Outside I need to drag both dogs along for the first half a block or more.  They usually start moving on their own by the time we reach Morrison Ave., three blocks away.  When we circle around and get back to the other end of Ludlow Ave., Duffy goes into a panic mode because of the possibility of encountering skateboards in our business district.  Panting and straining at his choke collar, he pulls Mike and I all the way home.  I’m just glad the dogs can still do a reasonably long walk, especially Mikey with his arthritic hips.  I’m sure it’s good for my joints too. 

Sheepdogs are large dogs, and their life expectancies aren’t that long.  Vets tend to estimate ten years, while the average report from owners is 12.48.  I am going with the owners.  In a way, it’s comforting that we humans and dogs are all growing older together.  The dogs, of course, are aging at a quicker pace than the humans.  I see an important part of my current mission as making life as enjoyable and rewarding as possible for the doggies in their remaining years.  That might be a lesson that applies to human beings as well.