Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fantasy life

I was five years old when the Colts packed up and moved to Indianapolis in the middle of the night.  My father, like most Baltimoreans, was extremely bitter about this and switched his allegiance to whichever team was playing against the Colts at any given time.  When the Ravens came to Baltimore in '95 my dad became a Ravens fan, but for most of my childhood we weren't really a football house.  We weren't really a sports house, to be honest.

That might be why I am fairly neutral about sports.  I don't like watching sports on TV, but I enjoy going to games on occasion and usually go to a couple of baseball and hockey games each year.  Professional basketball bores me, and I have always had some weird kind of pride in the fact that I do not understand football at all.

So naturally, when I was given the opportunity to play fantasy football, I said yes.

It was a spur of the moment decision that I immediately started second guessing.  I'm a quick study but I absolutely hate not knowing what I'm doing, and believe me when I say that I had no idea.  I really hate not knowing what I'm doing when I'm among those that do know what they're doing.  I hate asking questions and being unsure and I particularly hate feeling like an idiot.

So I went into this with a certain amount of trepidation.  But then I asked a couple of questions and sort of figured out what I was doing, and then I started winning and then I asked more questions and figured out that what I had figured out was actually wrong but it was working anyway, and then I changed what I was doing and started losing, so I went back and have found a happy medium.  I've pretty consistently stayed in the top half of my league.

All of this, by the way, without ever learning how the game of football is played.  I have an okay handle on how fantasy football is played, but I have not the faintest idea of where any of these points these players keep earning for me are actually coming from.  (Perhaps I should fix that?  Volunteers?)

What is most amazing to me about this whole situation is not that I'm doing okay--though that was certainly unexpected--it's that I'm having a lot of fun.  I have a little bit of a competitive streak, and apparently this has triggered it.  I check almost every day, I make little tweaks to my lineup up to the last minute, I downloaded ESPN's fantasy football app onto my phone.  Maybe this is a sign that I should step out of my comfort zone a little more often, because if you had told me a couple of months ago that I'd be enjoying this this much, I would have laughed in your face.

By the way, that whole "not a football house" thing I mentioned?  Ancient history.  Sometime in the last couple of years my mother spontaneously became a huge Steelers fan, and this has triggered the mother of all football rivalries between my parents.  We're expecting my grandfather to disown her at any minute.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good grief.

One of my students died suddenly last week.  I don't really want to talk about it, and this isn't about him in particular, but his death is what prompted musing and conversations on the subject, so it is relevant.  Suffice it to say, I've been thinking a lot about grief lately.

My first real experience with death came when I was already an adult.  My great-grandmother and my grandfather died within about a month of each other in the winter of 2000-2001.  Mamaw died in late December.  I made the trip down to southern Virginia with my mother and grandmother for the funeral, and it was a very emotional, somber time.  There were, as you might imagine, a lot of tears.  I felt uncomfortable and out of place.

Grandpa died toward the end of January, just under a month later.  While Mamaw was my mother's grandmother, Grandpa was my dad's father.  I'm not going to mince words here: Grandpa's wake was like a party.

I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, though there were certainly conversations going on that some might have considered disrespectful.  If there was a funny and/or ridiculous thing that Grandpa did at any time during his ninety-some years of life, we made fun of him for it.  There were some isolated outbreaks of tears, but most often they were tears of laughter.

My mother and my sister were aghast.  I was accused at least once of not caring that Grandpa was dead.  The word Vulcan may have been used.  And I determined that my way of grieving might be weird, but it was weird in exactly the same way as my father's whole family.  By the time my paternal grandmother died a few years later, my mother had accepted the fact that we were not actually unfeeling, terrible people, even if we did seem so sometimes.

Over the last several years, I've heard many references to stoicism in the face of grief being an Irish characteristic.  This week, as I talked with a colleague about our reactions to grief (which are similar) as well as a third colleague's, she made reference to it as well.  All three of us have extremely stereotypically Irish last names.

Is it reasonable to ascribe my reaction to a country I've spent approximately eight days in, and which my ancestors left nearly two centuries ago?  Perhaps not.  But it does make me feel a little more normal, if that's possible at a time like this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A new addition...

I had a one-cat household for a grand total of two weeks.

Two weeks ago, my 19 year old cat, Spats, died. Putting it that way sounds wrong to me, because I made the very difficult decision to take her to the vet to be euthanized. She had, over the past several months, gotten incredibly thin and stiff. She would sit down to try to scratch herself and fall over. She got herself stuck in corners-corners that contained nothing other than herself-and howled until I would come to find her.

I second-guessed my decision right up until we arrived at the vet's office. As we waited for the doctor to arrive, I took her out of the carrier and held her, and she just laid her head on my shoulder. I held her for fifteen minutes. Those of you who knew Spats know how unusual that is. When the vet tech held her down so that the doctor could administer the sedative, she didn't even try to bite. This is a cat who was notorious among the staff at the vet's office and who had a big red flag in her file, as she had taken a chunk out of more than one overconfident staff member. Her behavior that day confirmed that I had done the right thing. For her to have acted the way she did, she must have felt terrible.

Spats, in younger years.

I got Spats when I was thirteen years old.  She had been part of my life longer than she hadn't.  And while she was all kinds of irritating in the last few months of her life, I miss her.  A lot.

I had a vague thought that I would get another cat at some indeterminate point in the future.  My other cat, Alfie, while absolutely adorable is also a bit of a bully.  He did not seem to notice nor care that Spats was gone, and he didn't show any signs of wanting to have a friend.

Alfie, being adorable.

Alfie, up close.

So, we were all set.  I had half the number of litterboxes to clean, half the amount of cat food to buy, and a slightly smaller amount of cat hair to clean up.  And then...I went home to my parents' house for the weekend.

Here is what you have to understand about my parents.  They apparently have a beacon in their front yard inviting stray animals to come and stay for awhile.  The last time my dad took one of their dogs to the vet, this was on the door of the exam room.

Their vet has a sense of humor...and possibly a new BMW.

At one point a few years ago, my parents had four dogs and three cats.  They now have only two dogs and no cats, but they kind of have a reputation for having 1) a lot of animals and 2) a lot of animals with health problems.  So it was pretty much par for the course that when I came up to visit there was a stray cat hanging out around their house.  So, when I saw the cat, my parents had the following conversation:

Mom: Go upstairs and get a can of food for him.
Dad: Grumble, grumble, if we feed him we'll stay, etc.
Mom:  Whatever.  We only have cat food because you went and bought it after he showed up.

I am as big of a sucker as my parents, apparently.  After a fairly costly vet visit (though not nearly as costly as it would have been if I had done it at home) let me introduce you to Schrödinger, who is going home with me tomorrow.

He absolutely refused to look at the camera for me.

As an aside, we knew last night that we were going to take him to the vet this morning-he has a fairly minor health issue and another issue that we thought was major but turns out to be a weird birth defect and not a problem at all-but we did not bring him into the house last night.  This morning, after my mom called to make the vet appointment, I said "Well, we have to see if we can find him first."

My dad snorted and said "He's out there with his suitcase."  There was a hilarious little hand motion that went with this, but I can't describe it with justice.

So, we are once again a two-cat household, although Alfie doesn't know that yet.  I'm predicting high drama when he finds out.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Cookbook Project-Prosciutto and Parmesan Rolled Chicken

Let me offer this piece of advice. If you've had a shitty day at work, cook something that calls for beating the crap out of a piece of meat.

It helps. I swear.

Every couple of weeks, my friend D. and I trade off cooking for each other. Last time I was at her place, she upped the ante with a fabulous sweet potato gnocchi, so I wanted to try something a little more challenging today. Instead I did something really, really easy that looked complicated.

The recipe is from this cookbook.

I picked this up a couple of months ago at Daedalus Books. If you live in the Baltimore-Washington area and you don't know about this place, you should. You'll never leave without spending a bunch of money-but you'll walk out with so many books you won't believe it. They sell remainders, books that were sent back to the publisher, and most of their books are $5 or less. I've had to seriously limit the number of times I go there, because I have no more space on my bookshelves.

The cookbook was written by the authors of the blog Two Fat Als, and the whole idea is that people who are living on a tight budget can still afford to cook amazing food. Each recipe is broken down by cost for the entire recipe and cost per serving.

The recipe I decided to try is called Prosciutto and Parmesan Rolled Chicken, which is more or less exactly what it sounds like. It was extremely easy and extremely tasty. According to the recipe it's $5 per serving, but that doesn't take into account that I had to buy an entire package of prosciutto that I have no idea what to do with now...

I served it with roasted potatoes and acorn squash, and bread. Side note: how awesome is it that Harris Teeter sells teeny tiny loaves of bread? It's like the best thing ever for single cooks.

Two cookbooks down, 48 to go.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Veggie Pasta

When I left the house, I had every intention of ordering takeout for dinner tonight. I ran up the street to the organic market to grab a few things for tomorrow night, because my lovely friend D. is coming over for dinner. My plan was to run in, pick up two or three things, and run back out, but I saw spinach fettucini and got inspired. What I really wanted was fettucini alfredo, but milk and milk products have not been agreeing with me for some time and I wasn't really willing to suffer tonight. So, I backtracked to the produce department and picked up a couple of things.

This is my mother's recipe--I've made it several times, and it's a little different every time. It's so incredibly easy that it's not really a recipe at all.

Cut up some vegetables, put them on a cookie sheet, and spray them with Pam. I usually use a squash, a couple of peppers and a red onion.

Toss the vegetables in the oven until they're tender and brownish. While they're cooking, boil the pasta. I usually use angel hair but the spinach fettucini is what inspired this little endeavor, so I used that instead.

Drain the pasta. Add a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes (they've got jalapeno peppers in them, so they're spicy) the vegetables and whatever seasonings you want. I usually use oregano, because when I don't know what to use oregano is almost always the answer. You can be a little more creative, obviously. What you should NOT do is add red pepper flakes, because combining those with the Ro-Tel tomatoes makes you wish your tongue were detachable. I only made that mistake once.

Toss it all with olive oil. That's it. Voila-dinner.

With the pasta, I had a slice of the Brown Rice Bread I made a couple of days ago. It wasn't really the right kind of bread to serve with pasta, but it's what I had around and it actually tasted quite good with it.

In other news, this is actually the third time I've cooked this week, and I'm doing it again tomorrow. I don't really intend to turn this into a cooking blog-God knows there are other people more qualified for that-but it's making me cook more and write more, so we'll see. I am planning to blog about my cookbook project, since that will make it (slightly) more likely that I'll actually, you know, do it. Slightly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cookbook Project

This is my cookbook shelf.

I counted them today, and I have 50 of them, plus a couple of years worth of Everyday Food and random other recipe magazines. I bought two of them yesterday. Out of the 50, I've cooked a recipe out of six.

Yeah, six. I buy cookbooks-I don't cook from them.

Until now.

This is my project for the summer: cook one thing from every cookbook I own. Correction: one good thing from every cookbook I own. If the recipe sucks, I have to try again. After all, if I can't find one decent recipe in a cookbook, it probably deserves to go.

My first attempt was from this book.

I haven't got a clue why I bought this in the first place. I assume that I bought it at a yard sale back when I was in the habit of buying every single cookbook I could possibly find. It was published in 1984, and it hasn't necessarily aged well. It's full of recipes for congealed salads and many other things that I have absolutely no interest in making. Because it's a cookbook written for family gatherings, all of the recipes are scaled to serve between 12 and 20 people, and I never cook for that big a crowd.

I was a little skeptical, I'll admit, but there are some really interesting recipes here. I've found several that I'd like to try, even though I'm going to have to pull out a calculator to scale them down to more reasonable quantities. The book is organized by different types of gatherings: a wedding breakfast, a bar mitzvah, a Greek New Year's dinner. One of the gatherings is for a (University of) Arkansas Tailgate Picnic. This gathering had a recipe called Razorback Roast Sandwiches, including a recipe for Brown Rice Bread. I wasn't particularly interested in making a pork roast, but the bread looked pretty good, so that's what I decided to try.

I've been looking for a good sandwich bread recipe for quite some time. The lovely Jenni sent me one that I've used quite a bit, but I've been having trouble getting it to rise the way it's supposed to (user error, I'm sure) so I wanted to try a different one.

This recipe was fantastic. The original one was for three loaves, so I cut it in half and made one slightly larger loaf.

I couldn't be happier. It was easy, it looks good, it tastes good...a perfect Sunday project.

I want to reprint the recipe here, but my little librarian heart won't let me break copyright. I've actually emailed Southern Living, who published the cookbook, to ask for permission. If they give it, I'll post an update.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Question and Answer

The first thing you need to know about my father is: If you have a question, he has an answer. The man does not know the words "I don't know." He's pretty famous for this among friends and family, which is why a few days ago as we were all in the car on the way back from my sister's girlfriend's concert, my aunt asked him why the Pigeon Hills were called the Pigeon Hills.

He immediately launched into an answer, and this is the second thing you need to know about my father: About 50% of the time, he is full of shit. If he doesn't know, he'll make it up, and he is good. On a long ago family trip, we passed a sign for a fort. Someone said "I wonder what happened at that fort." Dad launched into a five-minute lecture on the role of the fort in the Civil War and the definitive battle that was fought there, etc., etc., etc. When he was finished my mom asked "Did you see that on the History Channel?"

Dad's answer? "Nah, I just made it up."

That is the good thing-if you call him on it, he'll always admit when he's made something up. The problem is, you have to recognize that you need to call him on it-and when he's giving one of his bullshit answers, he's fairly indistinguishable from a history professor.

Years ago, when I had first started driving, I asked him why some traffic lights have those flashing lights inside the red light. He told me that it was to draw your attention, so you'd always see that the light was red. Years later, we were sitting in the car together, and Dad mused, "I wonder what those flashing lights are for." I stared at him for a moment, then gave him the same answer he'd given me. His response? "Oh, I must have been making that up. But it sounds plausible, doesn't it?" I still don't know if he was right.

So as we were in the car and Dad was giving his response to the Pigeon Hills question, I immediately challenged him. What possible reason could he have for knowing that piece of information? I was absolutely sure he was making it up. But that brings me to the final thing you need to know about my father, which is that if there is a sign or a plaque to be read, he has read it. Going to a museum with him is completely maddening, because he will read every single word that is posted anywhere. And he remembers it all. So on the one hand, when he gives an incredibly detailed answer to an obscure question, you want to think that he's making it up. Yet there's that other 50% of the time that he knows exactly what he's talking about...and he can almost always cite his source.

In this case, it was a historical plaque in Codorus State Park. Apparently passenger pigeons used to roost in the Pigeon Hills, and there were so many of them they'd block the sun when they all flew. Who knew?

My dad, apparently.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Walking Tour

This past weekend was the most relaxing one I've had in ages. I feel like I got a lot done, but in a very laid-back, unhurried way. And the best part-I walked or Metroed everywhere. My car stayed parked all weekend, except for a very brief early-morning trip to take a friend to the airport.

I haven't spent a whole lot of time just walking around my neighborhood. I'm not really big on hot OR cold weather, and I'm really likely to retreat into a climate-controlled car when temperatures are extreme. But I always feel so freaking virtuous when I walk somewhere, and I don't know why I don't do it more often.

On Saturday I walked to the library to return some books. From there I walked up to the Brookland Cafe for lunch, then over to the Franciscan monastery for their plant and herb sale. (Aside: WTF do you do with French Sorrel? I don't have a clue, and I'd better figure it out because I'm currently growing some.) On the way home, I dropped in to the organic market for some milk. All told, I was out for about 2 1/2 hours and walked about three miles, and I felt awesome afterward.

Why don't I do that more often? Now that the weather is nice, I should be taking the bus to work and walking the mile from the bus stop. I should be out enjoying spring while it lasts, and I should be getting to know the neighborhood. I have a slightly half-baked plan to leave my car at my parents' house for part of the summer to force myself to get around without it.

I'm going to try setting my alarm early enough to take the bus to work tomorrow. Getting up early is going to suck, but I know I'll feel better for doing it.